Need for Speed / Really?

_dsc9943NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO400)

Today everybody is seems to be obsessed with speed: Fast planes, trains and cars., fast internet, fast communication. All this fast things have one purpose. They should help us to save time. Do you have more time today?

Unless you are retired it’s very unlikely. All the tools of fast communication should help us to improve – well – communication. Does it work? Today people email, send SMS, facebook, twitter, post or blog but the hardly speak to each other. If to save us time and to improve communication and interpersonal relations was the aim of those innovations they are an epic fail.

Back to photography: Today everybody seems to be obsessed ( I think I used that phrase already … ) with speed when it comes to cameras. Does all the new technology lead to better images?

Most important is:

speed of operation: Turn on time is very critically. If the camera does not turn on instantly you might loose the shot of your live. Of course nobody wants that. One of my favorite cameras of all times is my Fuji X100. It doesn’t have the fastest turn on time on the planet. To be honest compared to other cameras I have used it is very slow. Did I miss the shot of my life? No.

focus speed: Fast AF is a good thing – no doubt. I owned very fast cameras. The Nikon D2H was the fastest. Combined with a fast focussing lens like the AF-S 2.8/300 ED it was a dream to use. I used to be a passionate bird photographer and shot thousand of bird images with that combo but it was almost impossible for me to find an example where I really needed the fast AF. For most birds I still used prefocus or even manual focus. But fast AF helps for all kind of nature and sport shots there is no way to deny that.

What about street photography? AF is always too slow for proper street shooting but the solution is old and simple. The best pictures in this area have been made a long time ago. Long before autofocus. How did they do it? The set focus manually, stopped down the lens and set shutter speed according to the sunny 16 rule.

Today it’s even easier: Take a wide angle lens, stop it down to f8 or even f11, set shutter speed to 1/250s, set focus manually to about 1.5 m distance and you are done. AUTO-ISO will adjust exposure for you. Every camera is fast enough now. Even the X100. My main concern with the X100 is the lens which is not wide enough for “shooting from the hip”. I know – I tried. Something in between 20 to 24 mm ( speaking full frame ) would be better. The upcoming 14mm ( 21mm full frame ) will be perfect.

You are not into street photography. The same technique works for your kids at play. Point is: Unless you shoot sport or wildlife you don’t need fast autofocus.

fast frame rate: A fast frame rate is really an advantage. In my example my favorite shot is the second one.  This shot: The bird is in the perfect position in the frame because it got enough space in front of it’s bill. The wings are in a perfect angle as they do not cover the the head, there is lot’s of dynamic and the reed in the background is in the perfect spot. You can’t control composition and care of all these small details because you are working hard to keep the bird in the frame.

_dsc9944NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO400)

My second favorite frame is the one before the last one of this burst. Both shots would not be there if I had used a camera with a frame rate 4 frames per second instead of the 8 frames per second from the D2H. Fast frame rates are very very useful in situations that are just too fast to be controlled. This is also true for sports. You can choose the frame you like the most. In that sense the Nikon 1 V2 would be the perfect camera. I have just realized that it allows to shoot 60 frames per second! 60 frames! That is amazing. But the next line says that it shoots only 40 frames in a row. That’s a burst lasting less than 0,7 seconds! How useful is that? But almost all DSLRs and most mirror less cameras today offer at least 5 frames per second and that should be good enough for kids at play.

_dsc9945NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO400)
_dsc9946NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO400)
_dsc9947NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/500 sec, ISO400)

Conclusion: ( be honest, you have seen all the text and jumped right here ). The kind of speed you really need for “daily action” shots like your playing kids is a fast shutter speed to freeze motion. And the second thing you need is to stop down to f8 or f11 to increase DOF.

To get both you need either very good light ( a good solution is to go outside ) or a camera with very good high ISO. Here is the good message: Today cameras offer unbelievable good high ISO performance. Most new APS-C or full frame sensors today have an ISO 1600 performance with almost no loss in image quality. You will even get good results shooting at ISO 3200 or ISO 6400! No need to use a lens wide open and risk out of focus shots when shooting action. Just use street shooting style and even the Fuji X-Pro 1 can handle action.

The point is: Think twice before you buy a camera. What is really important to me? What is my main subject? Do I really need ultrafast AF and frame rate? If the answer is yes you need to dig deep in your pockets and get a Canon 1DX or Nikon D4 or at least a Canon 5D mkIII. No mirror less camera can give you that ( at least today, early 2013 ).

If the answer is no you can choose from a lot of cheaper and smaller cameras today that can give you the same or even better image quality and better features.

_dsc9948NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, ISO400)
_dsc9949NIKON D2H (700mm, f/5.6, 1/640 sec, ISO400)