Augmenting a Film Kit with Digital


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Jun 6, 2013
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Omaha, NE
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I currently photograph exclusively on film with a Leica M6 and Hasselblad 501CM and print in the darkroom. I'm looking for a digital camera to take images in low light without a tripod and for traveling lighter than I am able to with medium format. Most of the research I've done is leading me toward the Canon 6D, but I'm also looking at micro four-thirds because of the compact bodies and lenses. My budget for the body only is $1,400.00.

I don't think the sparse autofocus feature set of the 6D will pose any issues as my film equipment is manual focus, and it works fine for the type of photography I do. I like the smaller size of the micro four-thirds bodies, but while the low light capability easily exceeds film, it wouldn't match the huge photosites of a larger sensor. I've read that the body stabilization of Olympus bodies allows a lower shutter speed (and therefore lower ISO), which makes low light performance better than one would assume (for static subjects). Is there truth to this?

I tried both the Olympus E-M5 MkII and Canon 6D at a shop. While I was surprised with the EVF quality of the Olympus, the physical controls were pretty small and could be an issue with thin gloves. The 6D fit the hand more nicely but does not have the ultra-convenient portability of the Olympus. Given my photography background and priority of low light performance (and budget), what cameras would you give a serious look at?
I would think you would enjoy the Oly as a smallish travel setup.
The much smaller sensor size and the lower pixel count would be pretty easily negated when compared against the superiority of a Sony-made sensor that is significantly larger, and which has a much more-favorable field of view crop. Bigger sensor with better technology AND many more megapixels' worth of image data on which to run noise reduction, with which to gather more information and then down-sample for higher visual acuity. Honestly? I would rather have a cheap Nikon APS-C body like a D5500, or better yet, something inexpensive but with a BIG, Sony-made FX size 24MP sensor--thinking specifically of a used Nikon D600.

Low light without a tripod can be handled by a VR lens on the Nikon cameras. Not sure why one would willingly trade 2.3 EV of BASE-ISO dynamic range by going with a 6D instead of something with a Sony-made sensor in it. Unless one is committed to Canon's lens mount.

I mean, if you're okay with a 501C/M, and a 80mm/2.8 and an A12 magazine...that's a BIG camera...a D600 used is cheap and small, plus you get the advantage of an all-new series of high-performance G-series f/1.8 primes at reasonable prices with the Nikon F mount. Nikon D610 vs Canon EOS 6D | DxOMark

I sense a bit of mixing of desires here: smallness for traveling, yet, low-light performance. My thoughts here are slanted more toward low-light and **performance**, in multiple ways, whereas the Olympus cameras are well-understood to be small and also FUN! to use. Their new five-two body is priced very affordably. It must be, because competition from Canon and Nikon is very strong.
This is exactly why I posted here. I don't know the difference between sensors of different manufacture, so the sensors in the Nikon cameras have more dynamic range? I'll have to look at the Nikon D600/D610 as well.
Digital imaging involves a sequence of related things, among them the quality and performance levels inherent in the actual sensor's manufacturing technology; the quality of the electronics in the camera; the quality of the signal processing software in the camera; the software used in post-production; the skill of the software operator. Sensors can be evaluated, alone, and in comparison to one another. It's fair to say that the Sony-made sensors being used by multiple camera-makers, have achieved a new level of imaging capabilities that I personally,never expected would come to be reality.

I am talking about the new term, ISO invariance, as well as in-camera electronics that add/create/cause almost negligible amounts of noise to be added to the image data. Several years ago, I saw the first Sony-sensor equipped Pentax camera post that opened my eyes to the new frontier and what it actually meant. A photographer took an APS-C Pentax, and accidentally under-exposed a raw image, exposing for a 51,000 ISO level of exposure, instead of the ISO 200 level he had the camera set to. He then took the raw image into software, and "lifted" the BLACK frame's image data "up"...and there was a good image in there! Not a great image, but a "good picture", one that was usable.

200-400-800-1600-3200-6400-12800-25600-51200. The guy took an eight-EV underexposed, BLACK-looking image, and was able to use software to show a good image--one free of color noise and free of patterned banding, etc. Until that generation of Sony sensors, that degree of underexposure was simply impossible to arrive at, by any means.

That was over half a decade ago. Sony has continued to improve its sensor tech. Other sensor makers? Not nearly so much. Take a look.

Compared the gray area shot with the new Sony-made sensor in the D7200 and note the lack of banding in it, compared to the banding from the Toshiba-made sensor used in the D7100 that came before. Do you see the gray value's highly-compromised image quality in lifted shadows from other cameras? The wider dynamic range, better sensors shot at low ISO levels (100 or 200 let's say) and then "lifted" reveal the degree of hidden image degradation found in older-technology sensors and cameras.

When the low-level noise that a sensor/camera combo generates in the shadow ranges must be suppressed, by keeping those areas dark in the final images developed in software, that impacts the degree of actual tonal range in a scene that can be used with "acceptable" levels of noise in the photos. These are cold, hard factual things, but a lot of folks try to dispute this science and offer a lot of excuses and rationalizations.

And in fairness--is actually is possible to make perfectly fine images with almost any digital camera, just as one can make good images with ISO 400, grainy film souped in Rodinal, so the grain looks like salt and pepper...or one can use medium-speed film, or even slow-speed film with exceptionally minimal grain. But it's now possible to get what USED TO BE the equivalent of Panatomic-X, ASA 32, image quality, at ISO levels that exceed Tri-X's ASA/ISO 400 rating...with the right sensor in the right camera.
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Sony A7 mk2 with Voigtlander close focus M adpater and you can use all you M6 lenses same as I do but I have the original A7 and M4P and M4-2
I would rather recomment the A7s (Mk1 or Mk2) because the A7s is apparently the (by far) most tolerant of the bunch when it comes to adapting lenses (it even can handle a Voigtländer 15mm lens that the digital Leica M cant handle).

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