“f8 and be there”
When my father handed me my first camera, he said “The trick to great photography is f8 and be there”. That was his way of saying “It’s a camera, the image making is up to you” – much like my attitude towards bikes and cycling.
In the 80’s, when I was in school, I got very into photography – we used film back then. I learned as much as I could from as many people as I could. I started working out ways of processing images and doing contrast masks. Then everything changed, photography went digital, my work in contrast masking became a slider on Photoshop. I lost interest in photography for a while.
A few years ago I saw something while out on an early morning bike ride, that reminded me of my father’s advice – mostly the “be there” part. A dense layer of fog had pulled down about a foot above a grass field, and a deer had run across the road (right in front of me, as they so often do) and left a deer shaped tunnel in the fog. It was an image that few people will ever see, so it’s up to me to show them – it was time to carry a camera again.
Photography was simple in the 80’s, 35mm was the standard for SLRs, large format was for when you wanted more detail and a better workout. Digital is a bit more confusing. Nikon and Canon still make traditional format full frame DSLRs, which simply replace the film plane with a digital sensor. This brings up the point that film isn’t the same as a digital sensor, you don’t have to hide the sensor from light when not taking the picture. So why do DSLRs still use the flip-up mirror? A format called Micro Four Thirds had come into existence, just as I was getting back into photography, it seemed to have everything I needed. It’s a mirrorless format, the viewfinder is showing what the sensor is seeing – why would it use anything else? It’s a format adopted by two manufacturers, so I knew there would a wide variety of lenses. It uses a sensor that’s 1/4 the size of a full frame DSLR – that was the game changer for me. The camera body is smaller and lighter because there’s no mechanical mirror flipping up and down with each exposure, the lenses are tiny! The size of a good M43 camera outfit has been reduced to where a camera body, a 24-70mm zoom and a 70-200mm zoom are about the same size as my old SLR with a 50mm lens. I’ll let image quality speak for itself.
“f8 and be there” has become my new photography challenge. It means being at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment. The choice on how to get to the right place was made long ago – my bike. In most cases it’s my cyclocross bike for it’s ability to go just about anywhere. It’s shown up in a few pictures…
The right time often means leaving my house at ridiculous times, and having a lot of lights on the bike. Who needs sleep?
The right equipment and how to get it to the right place has been the real challenge. Most photographers use large and heavy DSLRs with even larger, heavier lenses. Putting that much on my back and then riding 30 miles, often in the dark, isn’t realistic. The question has become how do I get the best possible image quality with the least weight and bulk. This is where the Micro Four Thirds format comes in
These are what I have left from the 80’s, both metal bodied SLRs that weigh about twice as much as my Lumix GH3.
These are three Micro Four Thirds bodies. The GH3 is the pro level camera with a battery grip, so there are no worries about battery life. The G7 is a consumer model packed with many of the high end features of the GH4, but without the weather sealed body. The GF3 is my reference photo camera, it’s tiny by comparison but it uses the same lenses.
This picture really illustrates the difference in Micro Four Thirds. Those lenses have the same zoom range, but the Micro Four Thirds lens is 1/3rd the size and 1/5th the weight.
This is the equivalent of a 24 – 70mm and 70 – 200mm lens combination, which would have taken up a far larger and heavier camera bag in 35mm
This is a full range of prime lenses, none of which are larger than the standard 50mm “normal” lens of an SLR. The 6.5mm circular fisheye packs a 190 degree field of view into a circular image. The 7.5mm fisheye fills the frame with a distorted 180 degree view. The 12mm ultra wide angle lens is my go-to for landscape work because it takes filters. The 25mm lens is the equivalent of the 50mm “normal” lens on an SLR, it’s roughly the same field of view that you see. The 30mm macro lens allows focusing up to 2cm from the front of the lens. The 60mm is a moderate telephoto which is good for portrait work.
Sometimes there’s a reason to carry the bigger glass. All three of these lenses are adapted from full frame lenses, which is why they are as large as they are. The advantage of the smaller sensor in this case is edge sharpness. These lenses are all sharp across the frame, even wide open, because the softer edges don’t make it onto the image sensor.
And lastly, there’s this. It’s the equivalent of an 800mm lens, with fast autofocus, image stabilization, and it fits in a backpack. Nothing like this could exist for a full frame camera.
This is my method of getting there. The bag on my back is a LowePro Flipside300 holding two camera bodies, four lenses and my tripod. It’s one of a half dozen bags I’ve been working with to get the perfect combination of the right equipment, the lightest weight possible, and the best organization to shooting is easy. I’ve put together a few kits which contain everything I need for a specific type of shoot. My bird shooting kit is one of my GH3 bodies with battery grip, along with the big 100-400mm lens, my carbon tripod and my gimbal head, all in the Flipside300 bag. My reference photo kit is just my G7 body with the 12-32 and 35-100 zoom lenses. It’s tiny, so I can fit it all into a belt pack.
What can’t be done in full frame:
This is my big camera body plus battery grip (I never want to run out of power when I’m out there), my 100-400 zoom (equivalent to a 200-800mm on a full frame camera), my 85mm f1.4 (for when things are hiding in the shadows) and another lens – could be an ultra wide angle, could be a macro… They all fit into a well padded insert case, which fits perfectly into the main compartment of a pannier, which then securely attaches to the rack on my bike, with room to spare in the outside and top pockets.