Ancient History

Flower close-up - Minolta 7i
Flower close-up – Minolta 7i
It is interesting the way time is measured by modern technology. The cycles are so short that a new product may be almost obsolete on the day it is released for sale. We have become used to a constant flow of goods, sometimes in categories that didn’t even exist in the ancient past of two years ago. So it is with some amusement that I publish this post featuring an image shot with a digital camera fourteen years ago.

I was new to photography when the Minolta 7i was released in 2002. I had started doing photography about a year earlier using an Olympus C2000z 2 megapixel camera. By the time the Minolta became available I was anxious to stretch my skills ‘to another level’. Funny, thinking that I spent nearly a thousand dollars on the 7i without having much of a clue as to how to make a decent photograph. It could be argued that I still am clueless about photography but we’ll have that discussion another day.

The Minolta turned out to be an excellent camera for me. It was slow with pretty bad auto focus and used a proprietary RGB color space. I loved it from the moment I held it on my hand. I even made a few decent pictures with it. It was obsolete even before it was released, being superseded by an improved model within a couple of months. Just a year or two later the entire company became obsolete and was acquired by Sony. Technology marches on and consumers must keep up.

Fujifilm GFX 50S

I admit to being a fan of the FujiFilm X series cameras. The X-E1 and X-T1 were my go to gear for more than two years. During that time both worked flawlessly capturing everything from stage performance to desert landscapes. With that in mind I expect the new GFX series to be top-of-the-line in every respect.

Size Matters

Looking at pictures of the Fujifilm GFX 50S gives me the sense of a purposeful tool. A piece of gear designed for day to day use without fuss. It is made from modern industrial materials not carved from a solid block metal using exotic manufacturing techniques. That says something about how the maker expects the tool to be used.

The overall design of the camera represents a fundamental change in attitude about what is required to support professionals in the field. It is not a reflex camera. It is significant in the professional market for that reason alone. With the body being roughly the size of a Nikon D810, probably about the same weight and far less complex internally. It is easy to argue that it will be more reliable in the field and easier to maintain than an equivalent DSLR. The GFX series represents an important new direction.

Impact on the Pro Market

The big Fuji calls into question the strategy of major camera makers who have chosen not to produce truly capable mirrorless cameras. So far the most important camera manufacturers in the world, Canon and Nikon, have decided not to participate or maybe not to innovate. These two brands control the professional DSLR market. It is possible they have large R&D efforts working behind the scenes. I hope they do.

As a Non-Professional

Medium format digital cameras have interested me since the semi-affordable Pentax 645D became available. As a non-professional photographer buying and supporting a medium format system is an extravagance. I don’t have a daily need for such a camera. That makes owning one more about ego than capability. Still I could make good use of a large sensor camera on my adventures in Big Bend National Park. I can never capture enough detail in images of the place.

It is possible to appreciate a camera as an object that combines form and function. Many people become obsessed with cameras rather than photography because they are beautiful things. That is a common pastime for non-professional photographers everywhere. I imagine most professional photographers are most concerned with how the camera handles and captures images but no doubt aesthetics play a role even for them.

The Right Legacy Lenses

Rust Hardware
Rust Hardware – Zuiko 35mm 3.5 @ f3.5
Since getting involved with mirrorless cameras several years ago I have tried to use legacy lenses a few times with decidedly mixed results. My cameras didn’t support non-system lenses very well and my skills using manual exposure modes was lacking. Certainly it is difficult to use legacy lenses effectively without investing time to understand how to do manual exposure. If you find yourself in a similar position my advice is to shoot with a cheap manual exposure only film camera and 50mm lens for a few months. You will learn everything necessary to operate a camera effectively or it will help you decide to find another hobby.

My newly acquired Sony A7II has the best support I’ve encountered for shooting with legacy lenses. It has a lens mount that supports a huge range of adapters, a great electronic viewfinder, good camera customization options and most importantly excellent focusing aids. These cameras have the right mix of tools for using non-system lenses.

Once you have the right camera you have to decide which legacy lenses to use. Actually this has been difficult for me. I started out with the idea of using some Olympus OM glass I already owned. I will have to expand my reach to other lens makers in order to get the best possible image quality for the least cost. The problem is objective information about legacy lens quality is surprisingly hard to find.

If you want good to excellent glass at a good price you have to do some homework. High end legacy glass users only recommend high end lenses and gearheads will use anything at all. To help find the right glass at the right price I expanded my reach by purchasing an M42 lens adapter. Using the M42 mount gives me the option of trying out literally hundreds of different lenses from more than a dozen makers. To put one toe in the water I bought a cheap Super Takumar 35mm 3.5 lens on EBay the other day. I suspect this will be the first of many M42 lenses I’ll try over the next year.

After the Flood
After the Flood – Zuiko 35mm 3.5 @ f3.5