Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How the RX1 made a photographer out of me

As many photographers do, I've decided to review the year from a photographic perspective. 2013 has been a groundbreaking year for me. I have grown more in my photography this year than ever before.

Previous years have been filled with gear research, acquisitions & countless hours testing various cameras & lenses. I would then spend additional time selling those same cameras & lenses in order to purchase new gear. All the while researching & reading about the latest & greatest cameras & lenses that I couldn't wait to get my hands on.

I have been calling myself a photographer for years, but I'm probably better described as a camera & lens collector.

2013 has changed all of that. I've managed to go through most of 2013 with a single camera & a single lens. The Sony RX1. Since the lens & camera are permanently fixed, you're "stuck" with a 24mp full frame sensor & a Zeiss 35mm F2 Sonnar. But what an amazing combination to be stuck with. I won't get into a review of this camera, because there are many reviews available that are far more competent than I would ever be able to deliver. What I will share with you is how this camera has made a photographer out of a camera & lens collector.

Here's one of the first shots I took with the RX1. I remember being more concerned about how crisp & clear my son's eyelashes would look @ f2 than I was about the overall composition of the shot.

Resolution charts, brick walls & GAS

Before getting into the details of how this camera has helped turn me into a photographer, it's important to address the ugly truth about why I was a "collector". It's called gear acquisition syndrome. GAS for short. Most photographers are familiar with this term. GAS occurs when you become more obsessed with the tools of the trade, than the art of photography itself. I was so concerned about having the right equipment for when a photographic opportunity occurred, that I really never made those opportunities happen. I kept thinking things like, "if only I had a wide angle that was sharper in the corners, I would take better landscape photographs", or "That f2.8 zoom just isn't fast enough. I MUST have 3 uber fast primes to cover the same focal range so I can achieve the narrowest depth of field possible!".

At the time of purchasing the RX1, it was just another quick fix for my GAS. I pored over articles, reviews, sample photos, forum posts, etc. This was the next greatest thing in the photography world, and I had to have one!

After selling my D600 & all of my lenses, I pulled the trigger on an RX1 from Amazon. After shooting with the camera for just a few days, I knew it was something special. The image quality is amazing, the dynamic range is unbelievable, and the lens....oh man, what a lens. It was after I realized how great this lens & sensor combination is that I decided I was going to keep this camera for a long time.

I still battle with GAS. I've been eyeing the FDA-EV1MK viewfinder for months now, but I just can't justify the purchase. I've become very comfortable shooting the RX1 as a point & shoot, and I just don't think the EVF will really add anything to my photographic skills or technique. It's just another gadget to provide a fix for my GAS.

Oh, and the new A7 & A7R? Damn you Sony! Sooooo tempting.

The best camera is...blah blah blah...

For years, I had collected camera bags like I collected cameras & lenses. With the RX1, I no longer needed to hold a body, 3 lenses & every charger, filter & memory card I owned. So I picked up a small protective case, not much larger than the RX1.

It was soon after I did this that something amazing happened. I started bringing the camera with me everywhere! It practically lived in my car. I have taken many photographs with the RX1 that I would have never taken in previous years simply because I have the RX1 with me almost all the time.

"The best camera is the one that's with you" - Chase Jarvis

The 2 landscape shots below? All because the RX1 was in the car with me:

Drag a D600 around an aquarium with my 3 children, all 6-years-old or younger? No way:

Here honey, toss this D600 & these 3 lenses in the beach bag. Never would have happened:

Back to the basics

When you obsess less about the gear, you focus more on the photography. Because I spent far less time in 2013 with camera bodies & lenses, I was able to experiment more with subject matter, lighting & composition. All of which are skills that will last me forever. No matter what camera & lens I'm shooting.

A couple of cheap Yongnuo 560's, some knock-off wireless triggers, and a few inexpensive shoot-through umbrellas have expanded my knowledge of photography & lighting more than I could have ever imagined! If you're into portraiture, and you think a new lens will make a difference in your photography, do yourself a favor & go pick up some cheap, entry level lighting equipment instead. You will be amazed at what you can achieve, regardless of your camera & lens combination.

Some examples of the RX1 & my super cheap strobist kit:

Same thing goes for composition. For years, I did what I see many amateur photographers do. We use narrow depth of field as a crutch to get past the fact that our sense of composition is terrible. That uber fast, f1.2 85mm will deliver the creamiest bokeh you've ever seen, but a great photographer can make an equally interesting & engaging photograph at f8.

Don't get me wrong here. The RX1 has some wonderfully creamy bokeh. Even at 35mm & f2, the DOF can still be razor thin, but it's much more subtle than shooting with something like an 85mm f1.2. You have to balance the subject matter more consciously because @ 35mm, there's usually going to be more than just your subject in the frame.

Here's an example. The lens collector in me wishes I had a 70-200 f2.8 zoom, and was shooting from an angle where I could zoom in & see my son's face as he was about to hit the ball. The final result with the RX1 tells a much more interesting story I think:

So there you have it. 2013 taught me to keep my camera on me & focus on subject matter, composition & lighting. It seems so obvious to make that statement. But I think a lot of us get caught up in the gear, and get pulled away from the actual process & art of photography.

I hope you had a great 2013. Merry Christmas!


Anonymous said...

Great article, I loved it and I totally agree with you. I've been following your website since I find your rx1 lens hood article but I find your photos simply great!
I'm really curious about your strobist kit, I'm looking to get myself a low budget one and I'd like some suggestions (as for the Yongnuo 560) for triggers and all the rest since I followed your advice for the lens hood and it was great.
Ps. I can't see the last 3 photos, it seems they're set to private, I don't know maybe it's a problem on my side.

Scott said...

Thanks for the feedback! I fixed the last 3 photos.

I'm working on a short review of the triggers & flashes I use. Look for it soon!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much!! Awesome photos!!
I'll be looking forward for your next review!


Martin said...

Great read, and the last photo is fantastic.

pakkapol preechayan said...

After read this article.I would like to spend my money!

Pete said...

I'm similar to you in that I'm always interested in the latest and greatest gear. I've been slowly downsizing over the years going from a full frame D700 with lenses to a smaller Fuji X-pro1 system with lenses and now to just an RX1. I even sold my Wontancraft bag because it was just way too big. I use an $8 pouch now. The RX1 is the first camera that I can put into my computer bag and take to work with me, which I do. Another thing about the lenses; the lens on the RX1 is the best lens I have ever owned, and I've had a bunch.

Scott said...

I couldn't agree with you more Pete! The lens on the RX1 is truly special.

Jay said...

Very nice photography! But, you might want to reconsider the EVF.

I find that it really makes the RX1 quick and easy to use. I have the EVF set to my naked eye so I don't have to switch glasses all the time, which is a real p-i-t-a when using the LCD. I use the EVF pointing almost straight up so that I am looking down into it with the camera braced against my chest - very solid and probably adds an extra stop or two! With the LCD turned off and only the EVF on the battery lasts much longer, maybe 50% longer. Also, with the shutter noise turned off and using the EVF, the RX1 becomes are real stealth camera. Most of the time people don't even realize that you've taken a picture.

I took the RX1 to Europe last year and never regretted only having it along as my primary camera. All of the pictures on this webpage were taken with the RX1 and many others else where on my website: http://jaywpage.zenfolio.com/recentlyaddedimages

Anonymous said...

i think the trend of going smaller or mirrorless is the future. only the pros will use dslrs, but prosumers will be getting mirrorless more and more. the technology will improve too. i have a sony nex-3n and thinking about just buying a sony 35mm f1.8 lens and just sell my kit lens. in essence, i will just use that 35mm lens for all my photography. do you think it will make me think more when it comes to shooting? thanks.

Scott said...

The Sony 35mm 1.8 is a nice lens. I had it when I had my NEX system. However, the Sigma e-mount 30mm 2.8 is a much better choice for an all-around lens in my opinion. Super sharp corner to corner, and a little wider than 35mm. Granted, it won't give you the shallow depth of field that the Sony 1.8 will, but it's a much better all-around lens. Definitely a step up from the kit lens, and very economical.

Anonymous said...

i have been a very satisfied owner of an RX 1 for more than a year now. In spite of getting my hands on the a7 with the 35mm f 2.8 and the 24-70 zeiss pre ordered (GAS) ,i still use my RX1 much.
I now use my RX1 mainly to B&W. And the first year the camera was like a part of my body,it was with me everywhere. I have shot more pictures than before the RX1 and the hard drive is getting filed up.
In spite of some minor features that i miss ,i still think it's the best camera iv'e ever owned.

matej sarlija said...

If you're interested in making better photographs (these are wonderful), I can suggest a similar portrayal of little league baseball by a master B/W photographer Mark Steinmetz, to be found here http://www.marksteinmetz.net/# .

Anonymous said...

btw, that great little hood (sold separatly) also fits the Zeiss 55mm FE F1.8 (without additional vignetting) - also does that metal lens cap.

I really love my RX1 (despite its focus quirks), great picture quality in such a small and good looking package - also nearly silent due to its leaf shutters (which other camera maker offers leaf shutter in the 35mm world?).

Anonymous said...

Your baseball pictures are absurdly good.
Concerning camera... I would politely argue that something like Ricoh GR or Fuji X100 would be (almost) equally great (Fuji's optical viewfinder is surely quite wonderfull idea and I think using it could really improve one's vision) and surely a less expensive option. But I am mising the point. You should rewrite the headline of this article because you clearly are a talented photographer and the camera merely helped you to discover your abilities by allowing you to focus on photography instead of focusing on gear. And that is surely the most valid point.

Scott said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

when you play strobist with RX1 what your trigger wireless? can your RX1 reach 1/4000 when playing strobist? thank you

Anonymous said...

Nitpicking regarding the beach gear: Why the need to "throw three lenses" into the bag with the Nikon D600, yet you are satisfied with just one (slow) prime lens on the RX1? Why not "Honey, throw this D600 with 35mm 2.8 pancake into the bag", which sounds far less daunting as a comparison? Or why not "Honey, throw these three RX1's, each with 35mm 2.8, 85mm 1.4 and 70-200mm 2.8, into the bag"? That would be a far more accurate comparison.

RVN said...

how you make strobist with RX1? i mean are you using pocket wizard or trigger? what flash you use for that? thank you :D

Unknown said...

I am wondering the same question about which external flash that you used for taking these great shots. I really don't want to use Pocket Wizard Plus II since it bulks up the gear itself too much. Is there any decent external flash that you can use directly for taking portraits?

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