Photography

Top 5 Pieces of Gear Every Photographer Must Have by Adrian Galli

Sorry, I got you to click. It is a clickbait title but bear with me for a moment.  

I read a lot of technology articles and a lot of them are about photography or cinematic gear. I’m the first to admit I LOVE new gadgets and gear but I also am very pragmatic about what is needed versus what is wanted. I will spend good money for good gear but I'm also a huge fan of doing a lot with less.

A lot of articles about photo gear are all “you need this to be a photographer” or whatever... blah, blah, blah.

So here is my list:

  1. Camera
  2. Lens
  3. Memory card or film
  4. Tripod  
  5. Lens cleaner

That’s it. Don’t be duped by people telling you that your camera is not good enough or your lens is bad or whatever. Go out and shoot. If you said, "Adrian, I have $500 and want to be a photographer," I'd say, "you can get everything above."

  1. Nikon D3100 — $239
  2. Nikon 35mm f1.8g DX— $166
  3. Sandisk 16GB SD Card — $11
  4. Polaroid 42" Travel Tripod — $17
  5. Zeiss Lens Cleaner Kit — $30

A grand total of $463. It may not be superlative gear but you’ll be photographing. And that’s more than can be said about a lot of gear reviewing and blogging clowns. Check out a few examples of photographs taken with the Nikon D3100 and Nikon 35mm DX lens.

Adrian's Life Rule #56: Go out and shoot.

Nikon D500 Love Story, The Beginning by Adrian Galli

Love at first touch.

Nikon D500

My first serious money I spent on a camera was in 2009. I bought a Nikon D700. It is one fine camera even a decade later. This is thanks in part to Nikon’s tireless effort to find some of the best sensors around and build cameras for photographers. It was a $3000 purchase so one would expect it to hold up for some time. Then again, with how quickly technology changes, ten years is a long time.

A testament to its greatness, I actually never upgraded from it. I still shoot with it to this day. In fact, the Nikon D700 is still used by many—it was a camera used for several World Press Photo award winning photographs.

However, anyone who knows or follows me also knows that I really love Micro Four Thirds as a format. My cameras of choice in that family: Olympus E-M5, Olympus E-M1 Mark II. Both rival many cameras of thousands of dollars more. They are small, weather sealed, light, powerful, and fun to use. I recently shot using my Olympus system for a friend’s wedding, iPhone 8 and iPhone X launch at Apple Michigan Avenue, and many of my Geometry photographs were shot using my E-M5 or E-M1 Mark II.

My Nikon digital 35mm (FX) camera, love was never wavering. But the Nikon D700—it is a beast of a camera. Weighing in at nearly 1000g (2.2lbs) without a lens—it is also a boat anchor. I joke with friends and colleagues that I only shoot with it if I’m getting paid. That isn’t entirely accurate… one of my favorite photos, Gold and Aquamarine, was shot with my Nikon D700 and the ever impressive 70-200mm f2.8 VRII.

 Gold and Aquamarine, Chicago, 2015

Gold and Aquamarine, Chicago, 2015

The point being, I love Micro Four Thirds and use it because Olympus (among others like Panasonic) have made the system powerful and feature filled yet mobile. I fell in love with the E-M5 and travel with it everywhere. My highest end camera loyalty is, however, really to Nikon. The story of how I came to own my D700 was more like something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I did not choose the D700, it chose me. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down and that is important. A photographer needs to love his camera. It is a tool and an extension of his creativity and mind’s eye.

The ergonomics of the D700 were so much better than what I was consider buying (Canon 5D Mark II) and its low light noise performance was the best at the time. It didn’t shoot video, like the 5Dmk2 did, but I wanted a camera for photography and owned or had plenty of access to cinema cameras. I never regretted that decision. Even with new cameras, the D700 has been such a creative companion that long after it becomes obsolete, I’ll have it as a token, a monument to years of hard work.

My Olympus, on the other hand, sits right across from me as I write this story. With a grip, fantastic M.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens, and a turquoise blue couchguitarstraps strap, it will make its way out into the world soon for some photography. But for now, I needed an upgrade, and something to spark a new creative endeavor.

With 2017 wrapped months ago and A Year in Photographs ended, I had considered for some time what camera it was time to upgrade. Was it time for a D700 replacement? See what Olympus has in store for the O-MD series (E-M5 and E-M1)? 

I don’t know what came over me but I suddenly knew I needed the Nikon D500. Something was telling me it was the right move for a camera. I’ve had my eye on it for some time. But as with my instinct on the D700 drove me to buy and the same with the E-M5, this must be the right move.

Other considerations were the Nikon D810 or newly released D850. I do want to own those but at the end of the day, they are more than I wanted to spend and all that extra resolution is not terribly important to me. They are FX sensors, however and therefore really are the next logical step to a D700. 

Some have asked, “Why not a D750?” To be fair, having intimate experience with the D700 and D810, the D750 may have the ‘700’ numerical value but it is not the replacement to the D700. The D8XX has the same feel, look, weight, and powerhouse features that the D700 did in its day. As a comparison, in 2009, the D700 was the flagship, non-integrated vertical grip, FX camera for Nikon. Today the D8XX is the same. The D750 is a superb camera but maybe one small step below.

The Nikon D500 has been reveled as the best APS-C (DX). Its high-ISO performance is stunning. Its 10 frames per second puts it in a class similar to a Nikon D4 but with the resolution for the Nikon D5 (the ultimate in Nikon performance.) And that is part of the D500’s charm. How could I turn my back on FX sensors? They are superior because they are bigger! I have always argued that is a false assumption. It is a good rule of thumb but not a guarantee. Your lens is your most important camera accessory but that is for another article.

Nikon has made the D500 is in the class of FX cameras. In fact, the performance is likely partly due to the DX sensor. While sensors of different sizes have their advantages and disadvantages, at the end of the day, I’ve shots with more than a dozen formats and it is, overall, a non-issue. FX, DX, Micro Four Thirds, 1/2”, 2/3”, super35, medium format, iPhone, 1-inch, etc.—let me tell you something, and I’m not going to apologize for it, the sensor behind your lens does not determine anything. You do. You are the photographer. Any other argument is a construct of your mind—dogma from a thousand other photographers out there who can’t see beyond the technical specifications of the camera in their hand.

 
Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
— Steve Jobs
 

If you can’t afford a Nikon D850 (or just don’t want to move that kind of cash) don’t. Get a Nikon D500. Or a D7200. Or a D3400 (it’s around $400). Or use your iPhone. Just go out and shoot!

I choose the D500 for a good price point, blistering performance on multiple fronts, and knowing that it will be a workhouse. Correction, a god damned battleship of a camera. I will be able to take it out in the rain, walk through the desert with it, a blizzard, concerts, film shoots, in the air, underground, all over the planet, drag it through the mud, and it will still fire and capture exactly what I see just as my D700 did for nearly ten years.

As I write this, I pick up my D500 for the first time and already recognize, I’m gonna love this camera.

Price: $1896

Hexagon by Adrian Galli

Hexagon Logo.png

Rebranding my 'Blog' page, I've never been a fan of the word. It is ugly and clumsy shortening of 'web' and 'log'—weblog—blog.

My passions: Filmmaking, Photography, Science, Travel, Design, and Technology. Back in the day, I ran a site called Adrian's Gear all about the cool gear I had found. And it is high time to bring that back.

I have no one thing I wish to write about but many. These passions form the sides of this journal and the evolution of AdrianGalli.com.

Welcome to Hexagon.

Full Frame Misnomer by Adrian Galli

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Anyone who knows me will tell you Adrian Galli is a rational, logical, creative, scientist, and appreciates intellect and justice over most anything else. In the film production and photography communities, you’ll hear so many gear enthusiast talk about what one “should” shoot with or what one “can’t” shoot with or what one “needs” to be a “real” photography or cinematographer. It is all bunk.

First, just go out and shoot. Have a good time with whatever gear you have. Push it to its limits, learn those limits, and turn those limitations into advantages; you'll be a better photographer for it. I, personally, enjoy such limits or having someone tell me, “you can’t use that camera for that.” I then show them a series of photos and ask them to tell me which photos were shot with my iPhone(s), Four Thirds*, APS-C, or Full Frame. They invariably fail because it isn’t the camera that creates the image, it's the photographer. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than from DigitalRev and their “Cheap Camera Challenge” where they give a professional photographer a “junk” camera and see what they can do with it. A photographer is someone who can consistently produce exemplary work with their camera.

However, this post isn’t really about gear, it is about marketing. Actually, it is about accuracy of language which marketing departments are generally not very good. “Full frame” is a photography misnomer.

In the early 2000’s, companies like Olympus, Nikon, Canon, and all the big photography gear names were stepping into the digital age with “large” sensors. By 'large' I refer to APS-C (similar to super35 in film production) at just shy of 24x18mm and Four Thirds, just a hair over 17x13mm. Up to this point, most digital sensors that anyone could afford were much smaller. Sensor technology was expensive so larger sensors were generally cost prohibitive for most people.

However, many photographers of the film days were shooting 35mm, medium format, and large format. There were some cameras like the acclaimed Olympus Pen-F (recently revived with a digital version) that shot a half frame of 35mm film. But the time came for larger sensors to be lower in cost and 35mm sensors (36x24mm) worked their way into our digital cameras.

I would estimate that you don’t hear people call it 35mm, however. You will hear the term ‘full frame.’ It is shorthand for a sensor that is the size of 35mm film. Personally, I dislike the term. Too frequently it is used to demean any camera technology that does not have a 35mm sensor in it. “You need to shoot full frame to get the quality you really want,” some will say. Or you’ll hear the depth of field arguments being based on sensor size; if you want shallow depth of field, you “need a full frame camera.” And you’ll hear ALLLLL about "crop factor" and “equivalence." Personally, I like smaller sensors in many ways explored in this previous post. Even then, depth of field is really controlled by aperture diameter so the sensor, while seemingly a variable, I'll argue that it is not. 

The 'full frame' is a marketing term. I would argue Canon came up with it to insinuate that one needs it because anything else is not “full” <fill in the blank>. To be fair, I have nothing to support this argument other than intuition from working with many marketing teams around the world. The reason I accuse Canon is simply because they were the first company to make a 35mm sensor mainstream in a digital camera with the Canon 5D. Nikon shortly followed but they refer to their 35mm sensor as FX; APS-C as DX, and their 1-inch sensors as CX. I’ll forgo the naming conventions the many other 35mm sensor camera makers for the moment but this is my argument and I’m stand by it. From this point forward, I will not refer to a sensor in a camera as ‘full frame.” It is a 35mm sensor or digital 35mm.

Why is it a misnomer? All cameras use the full frame of their sensors. A Four Thirds sensors is not a 35mm sensor using only a quarter of the frame. It is simply a sensor with less surface area but still uses the full sensor to capture an image.

On the other hand, there is also medium and large format. Medium format digital cameras have even bigger sensors than 35mm. In the days where film was the only option, some photographers would scoff at the idea of shooting with “small” formats like 35mm. Medium format cameras come is various sizes themselves. The Leica S uses a sensor of 45x30mm†. Mamiya, Hasselblad, and Phase One use sensors that are just under 54x40mm‡. So is the Leica a full frame and a half camera? Or a 1.5x frame camera? Or .8 crop? You can see the issue with the convention of 'full frame.' 

The whole ‘crop factor’ verbiage is a spot of contention. For the same reason above concerning 35mm vs. Four Thirds, 'crop' sensors are not actually cropping anything. The whole sensors is being used. It is, perhaps, a good reference point that a Four Thirds sensor has a field of view half that of a 35mm sensor, but the image is not cropped. The image that comes out of the camera is the full image. If cropping was taking place, then a 35mm sensor is a crop of a medium format sensor, a medium format sensor a crop of a large format, and so on. 

Certainly, a baseline for comparison is valuable and 35mm is a very common size for both film and sensors. However, to be fair, the most common sensor size is around 1/3 inches which you find on an iPhone and many other mobile device, small video cameras, etc. One might argue that to be the standard by which all other sensors are compared. 

The convention that I prefer to use is simply the field of view; the angle of view spanning the horizon. It is strictly math without any insinuations about the sensor. A 50mm lens on a 35mm sensor will give a field of view of about 40° while a 25mm on Four Third (and Micro Four Thirds) will give you a similar field of view. In other words, one will see essentially the same composition using a 50mm on a 35mm sensor as one would using a 25mm on a Four Thirds sensor.

The purpose of language is to communicate and words can be clumsy. To communicate more effectively is the ultimate achievement.

As always, Accuracy Matters.™

 

 

* Four Thirds is both a sensors size and a type of lens mount. Micro Four Thirds, however, has the same size sensor but a different mount.
 Information from Leica.com
Information from Hasselblad.com

A Year in Photographs by Adrian Galli

 Sunset @ 25,000ft – Day 361

Sunset @ 25,000ft – Day 361

One year ago, I set out on a person mission, my New Year resolution and creative endeavor to take a photo every day for 365 days with each month a theme. 2018 is here and 2017 has come to its completion and thus A Year in Photographs concludes.

It is somewhat bittersweet to end this project. For an entire year my mind has been at work photographing everything around me. It is also a relief. There were days and weeks where it was very hard to get out and photograph; or at least follow my theme. Some months were very busy with work and other events. But all good things must come to an end.

I learned a lot about myself and photography. I pushed myself and took many along this journey but I think I will keep this simple.

When I set out on this journey in January of 2017, I was very excited. I felt somewhat in a rut professionally and A Year in Photographs gave me some purpose creatively. I also recall a post not too many days into this project concerned I wouldn't have enough storage for all the photos I was taking. And had I continued that path, I would have thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of photographs.

I would head out every day with my camera and take photo after photo after photo and end up with a hundred by the end of that day. Two things were an issue: I didn't want to store all this and, two, frankly, I soon found I didn't have time to photograph as much as I thought I needed to.

This need wasn't about actually needing the quantity, it was about lack of focus. While I enjoy running around, wandering, with my camera and taking photographs, it simply wasn't practical to do when sometime in the future I would find myself working sixteen hour days. Instead, I soon found that I needed to adapt and become even more creative. 

 Chicago River – Day 26

Chicago River – Day 26

My daily mission wasn't to shoot a bunch of photographs and pick my favorite one to post for the day. My mission became that of having a precise creative vision. In other words, whatever my theme was for the month, I pushed myself to envision what I wanted to capture that day and go out and find it. Rather than wandering, although I still did that when I had a chance to, I would set out to find the image specifically; knowing where I could/would find it and make it happen.

As it turned out, rather than taking dozens of photos, I would take just a few and find what I wanted. When time was short and other circumstances would keep me from taking all the time in the world to photograph, this learn was huge.

Some months I had the chance to also work with some colleagues and friends. Erik Dirksen and Juan Galindo were two who I set out on a day of photography. I also enjoyed some time with old friends—Rory Coyne, a friends and artist, allowed me to photograph him as he worked. I hope to do more small projects like this in the future as time allows.

Further, Mazi and Chrissy, two good friends, requested me to photography their wedding. While it was not a normal skill of mine, it was a great opportunity and fun to get out of my usual creative space. One of my favorite photographs from the entire year came from this shoot.

 Mazi and Chrissy – Day 245

Mazi and Chrissy – Day 245

My one opportunity with this project was to take it even further. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But let this not sound like a defeat or complaint. It is merely another learn from this that there is so much more to photograph, so many more endeavors left that one could not achieve them in a single year.

Looking back over the year, I noticed that things began to work together. Things I worked on or learned earlier in the year, for example Color or Shapes and Patterns, became important influences in Perspective and Details. People played an important part in Cinematic while Minimalism and Black and White influenced Night

While this project has come to an end, I enjoy looking back over the 365 photographs I've taken. It was tough, sometimes even foreboding when I could not imagine having time to do it, but it was an incredible experience. I recommend to anyone who enjoys photography to engage in such an adventure.

January – Black and White
February – Shapes and Patterns
March – People
April – Minimalism
May – Color
June – Architecture
July – Signs and Symbols
August – Night
September – Cinematic
October – Perspective
November – Motion
December – Details

A Year in Photography: 365 days, 12 themes, each day a challenge. Here are some of my favorites from 2017.