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Alex_Mustard

Wildlife Photographer camera choices

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I have just got back home from the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and it seemed like a good occasion to have another crack at the digital vs film debate.

 

This competition is open to both and limits digital post processing to little more than RAW conversion - to keep it fair. I think this event acts a good barometer of what types of cameras photographers are favouring (although you have to account for the time delay between when the photos were shot and now (usually about 1 year)).

 

Last year, the first to accept digital, there were few digital pix amongst the winners, although Doug Perrine won with his stunning sharks was a notable exception. And there were more digis in the UW section.

This year I would say it was half and half. But perhaps surprisingly many of the digital cameras were not "pro" bodies (the overall winner was a 10D) and the most common cameras were 20D, 10D, D70 and D100. This may be partly to do with the fact that these dedicated wildlife photographers are generally poor, and partly because Nikon's D2X was only released this year. But it is marked contrast to the film cameras which were nearly all pro-level F5, EOS 1 etc.

 

Dunno if anyone has any thoughts on this.

 

Alex

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Hi Alex,

 

Good thread!

 

There are WAY more D60/10D/D100's out there than there are pro digital bodies. It's purely a numbers game, IMO. If 90% of the cameras out there are "prosumer" DSLR's then most of the good photos will probably be from those cameras.

 

And as we all know, a lot has to do w/ being in the right place at the right time.

 

Cheers

James

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Can you expand about 'limits digital post processing to little more than RAW conversion' ? What is allowed to do more?

If its a linear graph then next year there will be few film cameras and majority of digital bodies.

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To give you some stats on the UW shots:

 

The UW Category winner George Duffiled's leopard seal was shot with a 1DS Mk2 in a Seacam housing. With a 17-40mm (which is noticably naughty in the corners). He got his housing from Wetpixel member Paul Kay!

 

Runner-up in the UW category is Magnus Lundgren's starfish larvae. Shot with a D70 + 50mm lens.

 

Specially commended was Charles Hood's Hammerhead (he also won an award last year for a different shot of the same fish!) taken with a D100 + 28mm + Sea & Sea housing.

 

Highly Commended was National Geographic photographer Tim Laman's Coral Grouper, taken with a F100 + 105mm lens in a Sea & Sea housing. Also HC was Malcolm Hey's Imperial Shrimp - F90X + 60mm Subal housing and Michel Loup's Pike which was taken with a Nikonos V + 15mm.

 

My images were in other categories. The Animal Portraits winner was taken with a D100 + 105mm in Subal housing and the Animal Behaviour (other animals) runner up was taken with D100 + 28-70 in Subal.

 

Alex

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I've quoted the RPS Nature Photographers' Code of Conduct elsewhere on Wetpixel, but its well worth requoting here as it is very pertinent:

 

"The truth of the final image - A nature photograph should convey the essential truth of what the photographer sawat the time it was taken. No radical changes should be made to the original photograph....... The removal of minor blemishes or distractions is permissible."

 

To me this suggests that the removal of backscatter (which could not be seen when the photograph was taken) should be permissible. I'm not sure that this would currently be acceptable in many competitions BUT such adjustments are here to stay!

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To me this suggests that the removal of backscatter (which could not be seen when the photograph was taken) should be permissible. I'm not sure that this would currently be acceptable in many competitions BUT such adjustments are here to stay!

 

I haven't checked this for certain but I am sure that the printed versions of my snapper have had a tiny speck of backscatter removed from just to the left of the mouth compared to the ones I submitted (its the sort of speck that only the photographer would spot). I guess that the organisers chose to clean that little speck when optimising the images for printing?

 

Also on George's shot you could see a bit of the writing on the front of the lens (the -40 from 17-40mm) reflected in the dome. This is visible (just) on the backlit shot in the Museum, but not in any of the pictures in the book or magazines. Again cleaning or just the difference in printing?

 

Obviously there is a big difference between cleaning up a speck of backscatter and blacking out a whole snowstorm into a smooth black background. But generally I think cleaning refers to correcting for dust on the sensor etc rather that a stray object in the environment (backscatter).

 

Alex

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Congrats Alex! I'm a firm believer in using software to remove irritating and unwanted blemishes - and I'd certainly add backscatter into this category. My theory is that such 'manipulation' will become increasingly common, increasingly accepted and eventually everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about!

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Obviously there is a big difference between cleaning up a speck of backscatter and blacking out a whole snowstorm into a smooth black background. But generally I think cleaning refers to correcting for dust on the sensor etc rather that a stray object in the environment (backscatter).

 

 

Actually, depending on the lighting, it's sometimes possible to black out a whole background snowstorm in the raw convertion process, now that raw converts have curves tools built in. Crafting specific rules is difficult.

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Agreed. This competition also asks you to enter the RAW files so they can see if you have overstepped the mark. Alex

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One tendency i have noticed is how insecured many wildlife photographer are to digital in the begining, hence they buy a lot of entry level DSLR as, originally, a back up but end up shooting a lot with said camera, there is a transition period with those people, but once they get going, they will go for the big machine, they just need to be convinced before they mortgage the house, (I know I needed to in the beginning), a lot of the top pro are beast of habit, if it work don't touch it, so yeah most likely, they will not buy expensive until they are tried and true convinced by themselves.

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. This may be partly to do with the fact that these dedicated wildlife photographers are generally poor,

 

 

If you ever wanted an example look no further than me... ;)

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Many wildlife photographers use long lenses, as the smaller format dSLRs effectively lengthen them it makes sense to use these - the D2X wasn't available prior to the competition entry so logically most dSLRs being used would be smaller format. lower MPixels.

 

Also, wetpixel is fundamentally about digital, many wildlife photographers I know are keen to use digital, but less keen to spend a great deal of time learning digital skills and sitting in front of the computer. Hence the large film entry still existing and as someone else said, the start up with lower end dSLRs. I have a suspicion that the Canon 5D will change this.

 

On this note, a local pro (wedding and general photography) amazed me the other day. He has been shooting on Pentax 645 and Rollei 6x6 until last week when he bought his first digital camera, and first Canon for 25 years - a 5D! Interestingly he sees this as the first viable dSLR for him - full frame, lightweight, and at a viable price. He already seems to be finding it is just what he wanted and especially since he is using a well-used 16~35 with it. (As he sells cameras in his shop and has handled all the pro dSLRs too, I was quite surprised that it was the 5D which finally tipped him into digital).

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Good points. I was looking in the book this morning and actually there are quite a lot of 1D and 1DS shots too, but no pro-Nikon digitals!

 

Alex

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On this note, a local pro (wedding and general photography) amazed me the other day. He has been shooting on Pentax 645 and Rollei 6x6 until last week when he bought his first digital camera, and first Canon for 25 years - a 5D! Interestingly he sees this as the first viable dSLR for him - full frame, lightweight, and at a viable price. He already seems to be finding it is just what he wanted and especially since he is using a well-used 16~35 with it. (As he sells cameras in his shop and has handled all the pro dSLRs too, I was quite surprised that it was the 5D which finally tipped him into digital).

 

I'm interested in this camera and have been lurking on the dpreview 1D/1Ds/5D forum the last couple of weeks. One poster complained that their forum has been taken over by newbies asking novice level questions, and he got quite a few replies from people who explained that they are very experienced photographers but new to digital.

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We as a community have been amongst the first in wildlife photography to push the digital on the scene, and for obvious reasons, the 36 exposure rolls was a major hurdle to us.

 

But there is also RAW and white balance access that where major arguments also, top side the swapping rolls of films issue is not a dramatic sale argument, as is white balancing which is not as crucial to successful top side imaging as it would be for u/w work.

 

The first group of photographer I have seen switching is press photographer and they did so for the urgency of theirs work, todays new is tomorrow’s fish wrap… The second wave was wedding photographers for the ease of working, cleaning blemishes, pimples, special effects etc. Then the amateurs and the last will most likely be the landscape photographers. Many are still working the large format and not being under such heavy time constrain as press photographer, in need of the multiple frame rate of wildlife or long lenses magnification, the Canon 5D will attract a lot of these folks for its resolution, compact size, wide capabilities and more common sense price.

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In addition to the points already made, a plus for film is the possibility of taking pictures without any electricity. For example, at remote field camps where the sole power source is a single 12v battery hooked up to a VHF radio kept charged up either with a solar panel or with a small generator. A minus for digital is very dusty places.

Food for thought

Tom

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Just a quick aside in response to the last post. Dusty is bad all around, but all things considered, I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have a reasonably well-sealed digital with a 2- or 4-GB card than a film camera. Changing lenses when there's a lot of dust around would obviously be nuts, but not a great idea with a film camera either. But being able to shoot 100+ (raw, or 1000+ jpg) frames without having to open the back of the camera to change film (and being able to change ISO without changing film either) might be a plus for digital.

 

When I lived and worked in China in the 80s and early 90s, the camera I used (for more than 10 years) were Olympus. I think it was a 2N. Anyway, it had a mechanical shutter, mechanical film advance, and was the perfect body to use in a country where one couldn't buy camera batteries (then) or get a body with sensitive electronics repaired except by taking it to Hong Kong or Japan. It had very decent spot and center-weighted metering, but as long as you remembered the Sunny 16 rule, you could still use the camera even if the electronics went out, or you ran out of batteries, or it was so cold that the batteries didn't work. THAT was the utimate camera for remote locations, I always believed. All it needed was film.

 

Re: 2Oceans post: I completely agree on Provia/Velvia. I loved those colors, but at least half of the time they weren't remotely real. I remember plenty of overcast dark days shooting in water that was definitely grey (or grey-green) that still came out on Provia the most beautiful blue you could ask for. But now, can you please tell me how I can emulate the effect of a polarising filter using Photoshop? That's something I didn't know was possible.

 

 

Frogfish (Robert Delfs)

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I honestly believe that trying to compare digital and analogue (film) systems is finally a fultile comparison. The only similarities that they have are that they utilise a similar system of laying down the image on the light sensitive surface. Most of the complaints I hear about digital stem from ingrained beliefs which come out of being used to film.

 

The primary one is that of post processing. Utilising software to optimise a digital image is an inherent part of the digital process and not doing so (ie using the file exactly as it comes out of the camera) is only seen as a viable way of doing things because that is how transparencies were produced. The belief is something along the lines of: The photographer's skill is purely in the taking of the image - ensuring all the correct settings are set on the camera and that the resulting image is a testament to the photographer's skill. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

 

Digital photography commences at the taking stage and the photographer's skill is now in envisaging a final image right from the taking stage - such an image need not be 'manipulated' but it certainly needs 'enhancement', if for no other reason adjustments to unsharp masking are required depending on output sysytem and size.

 

Lastly, colour management is both an objective and subjective issue. Objective in that colour matching (or trying to) of the image over different systems is required, but subjective because we all have different tastes and even because our perception of colur is not a constant - as we age our eyes yellow as an example.

 

I really hope that competition organisers realise that the digital process is far more than 'matching' the film process, and that 'rules' are varied in future so that the true potential of raw digital capture can be appreciated.

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I've done a lot of large format in the past (4x5 & 5x7) mostly landscape & architecture and a lot of it was B&W, Now you want manipulation, go for this combo. with all the tilt, shift and swing available on the camera and the darkroom dodging, burning and masking, nobody complained about manipulation, au contraire mon ami !, people elevated you for your efforts and craftmanship <_< . There was a time when colour photography was look upon suspiciouly and medium format was a sissy camera, not to mention the kiddies 35mm cameras, sheesh is that a camera or a toy! change, change, change, how we dread them only to embrace them later.

 

My 2 pennies worth (Canadian of course)

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Re. dust issue.

This more of a problem when swapping lenses IMHO. One might be able to go into a tent or other protected place to get way from blowing dust to change film or cards, but if one needs to change to a different focal length etc. during a shoot.....

With film, one tends to use multiple bodies to avoid having to re-load 'in the environment'. This includes pouring rain (common in coastal AK). I recall the closest I have been to bears (late 80’s - Kodiak Is.) - a sow with 3 cubs and each had a salmon in its mouth - only about 20 feet away! It was dark and pouring down rain - I was using a Nikonos 3 with 80mm lens, 400 asa film. When I ran out of film after the second shot I was unwilling to open it up to re-load! I was standing next to a canoe (it grounded as it was very shallow) and it was extremely wet - a formula for disaster to have to re-load. The pix were lousy due to the fast film and grey conditions too. A P&S digi might be good for such a situation (also potential for beefing up colors) so long as one had a good supply of batteries as this was at one of the powerless locations I referred to above.

Tom

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Next year will be the 25th anniversary of Within the Rainbow Sea.  The color separation process that existed at the time to produce this book can be performed much more easily today and yet I am stilled awed by its pages and have yet to find only a few equivalents in this digital era.

 

This book was certainly one of the most important UW photo books ever. Rather like Doubilet's Water, Light, Time (but not DD's earlier books), CN's book was widely regarded as the best ever by nearly everyone from the moment it was released.

 

That said I think it has aged a lot. Probably because CN's style has been imitated more than DD's, but IMO I find that Within A Rainbow Sea to be pretty unremarkable in photographic terms in 2005. I agree that it is very well printed, though.

 

Alex

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Just grabbed my fourth edition copy – First edition was October 1984, copyright date was also 1984. Just about all shot on K25 and K64 with a manual focus camera – Canon F-1. Some incredible colors and light balancing.

Tom

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Within a Rainbow Sea was and is a very important book for me, along with In a Sea of Dreams (and Water, Light, Time) too, and if I have a "style" myself (which i tend to doubt), then there is no question that CN would have been a big influence. It's true that some of those shots look "easy" and less impressive now than they did when it came out, but the truth is that u/w photography is much easier now, esp. with digital - as I rediscovered last year when my digital housing was being serviced and I did a few dives with my old F801s film housing.

 

More important, I think all three of these books were very important in establishing underwater photography as a serious endeavor, and showing what could be done, both in terms of capturing images of extraordinary marine life, and also as a kind of art art. We've moved beyond those cliche underwater shots (the ubiquitious wide angle shots of a woman diver wearing a colored wetsuite and a full mask posed next to a wreck (or a bommy, or a seafan) with a flashlight in her hand), or the masked diver's head framed in the porthole of a wreck, etc. etc. CN and DD were among the photographers that made that happen.

 

Frogfish (Robert Delfs)

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