Monday, May 23, 2016

Thoughts On Camera Envy

Fame - Mojave, California
Solomon lived a few thousand years ago. Some say that he was the wisest man to have ever lived, and, while that might be debatable, he certainly is one of the great philosophers of all time. He wrote parts of some books that are in the Bible and the entirety of the book Ecclesiastes.

The book of Ecclesiastes is about finding meaning in a meaningless world. Solomon, a wealthy king, devoted unprecedented resources to uncovering the meaning of life. 

Why am I bringing this up on a photography blog? Even though the words were written thousands of years ago in a much different time, they still apply today--even to the pursuit of pictures.
When New Times Aren't Any Better - Pismo Beach, California
Solomon wrote, "Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless--like chasing the wind."

People want what other people have (or what they think other people have). Keeping up with the Joneses. Or even getting it first. It's what motivates most people to do what they do, make the decisions that they make. But it's like chasing the wind--endless and empty.

That's a depressing message: most people are living a meaningless life, following an impossible pursuit of envy. But Solomon cautions against giving up, saying, "Fools fold their idle hands, leading them to ruin."
Tipped Wheel Chair - Lancaster, California
Then he gives a valuable piece of advice, "Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind." In other words, it's better to have a little and be content and happy than to have a lot and always worrying and striving for more.

"I observed yet another example of something meaningless under the sun," Solomon continued. "This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, 'Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?' It is all so meaningless and depressing."

That's a picture of Scrooge or anyone who puts money and things ahead of family and friends. Whenever one scratches their way to the top, climbing over whoever they need, they end up very lonely.
Abandoned In California - California City, California
Solomon concludes, "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken."

How I understand all that Solomon said in this passage in Ecclesiastes (chapter 4, verses 4 through 12), is that most people are envious of others (which is an empty pursuit), that it's better to have a little and be happy than have a lot and always wanting more, and that what's really important in life is not possessions, but friends and family that you can count on (and who can count on you).

Street photographer Eric Kim put it this way: "In today's age, we are obsessed with the concept of 'more.' We falsely believe that we need more stuff, more money, more cameras, more lenses, more megapixels--more, more, more."
Done Shopping - Arvin, California
There is a cost to the pursuit of more, which is a meaningless and lonely life. The truth is that if you are reading this, you are (in comparison to the entire world) quite wealthy. If you have a house, a car, a computer, a cell phone, food in the fridge and some money in the bank, you're rich. You might not feel rich, but you are! You are already wealthy, yet you don't think you have enough. You need that new DSLR or that expensive lens. But do you really need it? The truth is that you don't need more.

It's better to have a camera that works and you're happy using than to constantly pursue the latest releases from Canon and Nikon and Fuji and such. Just because someone else raves about some new product doesn't mean that you should go out and spend a bunch of money that you don't really have on it.

The best pursuit in photography (and life) is people. Photography shouldn't be lonely. Focus less on gear and focus more on connecting with others. Relationships are what matter, and envy can ruin that. Don't chase more, choose contentment instead.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

DIY: Building A Decorative Wood Box From Scrap Lumber

I moved from California to Utah and I'm trying to get my house set up. I needed a new bed frame, so I drove to Ikea to buy one (and a bunch of other things). In my haste to get through the store in one piece with three young children in tow, I forgot to grab the wood slats that keep the mattress from falling through the frame. No problem, I could easily make my own slats from lumber at Home Depot.

After that project was complete I had some 19" sections of 1" x 4" boards leftover. Our table needed a centerpiece decor, so I decided to use the extra lumber to make a wood box. I'm not particularly handy or crafty, and I don't own any special tools. But I decided to tackle this project anyway.

I took three 19" sections of 1" x 4" boards, which I had cut with a circular saw, and made those the two long sides and the bottom . I used another 19" section to make the two end pieces (I cut them about five-and-a-half inches long each).

Before assembling I sanded all of the wood with 200 grit sandpaper (I chose 200 grit because I already had it). I did this by hand. I made sure everything was smooth because I didn't want my kids to get splinters should they touch the box (and they will!). Once sanded, I nailed all of the boards together using 1.5" nails that I had lying around.

I stained the wood with a stain + polyurethane combination that I had left from a previous project (following the directions on the can). The color was "espresso" but I didn't necessarily want the box to be dark, so I only applied one coat.

To give the wood a bit of distressing, after the stain dried I sanded the box lightly (but purposefully unevenly) with #000 steel wool that I found in my tool box. I didn't want the wood box to appear new, but like it's something we've had for awhile.

To give a contrasting texture, I put black metal "L" brackets on the corners (they're not structural, they're decorative, and I placed them in such a way that they cover the nail heads). I had to buy these since I didn't have any spare ones lying around, but it was only about $5 for all eight of them.

For a pop of color (and another texture) I added some fake grass that I found at Micheal's for 50% off. It was the final touch needed to complete this project.

Some scrap wood, an hour-and-a-half of work, and a few odds and ends, is all it took to craft this decorative piece. Now it's the centerpiece of our table.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Move To Utah With A Camera In My Hand - Part 2: A Day In Arizona

Cactus Thorns - Surprise, Arizona

We drove the long way to Utah, detouring through Phoenix, Arizona, so that we could visit my grandma in Sun City West. We hadn't seen her in awhile, and we knew that it would be even more difficult to visit after our move, so this stop was important.

We also visited other family members while in town, seeing different aunts and uncles. My parents happened to be there visiting during this time, so we saw them. My sister-in-law lives in Phoenix, so we met up with her, too. A lot of family in a short time. We only had one full day.
Palm & Building Storm - Surprise, Arizona
I had my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 with me in my pocket the whole day. It's a good camera to carry around with me all day because it's small and lightweight and doesn't get in the way, yet produces decent image quality. You probably wouldn't know that these images weren't from a DSLR if I hadn't told you.

Normally I would have captured in RAW with this camera, but, because I knew that I'd be very busy for several weeks (and I wanted to get these pictures on the Roesch Photography Blog as quick as I could), I captured them as JPEGs. This speeds up post-processing because 1) the software runs quicker with JPEGs than RAW and 2) the amount of editing required is significantly less. Because I'm still unpacking and moving furniture and painting walls and such, I don't have much time to sit in front of computer editing pictures. I gave the images a quick treatment to make them look more film-like.

All of these photographs were captured while visiting or driving around or at the store, etc. I didn't go on any photo excursions or anything like that. This day wasn't about photography, yet, because I had a camera with me, I captured a number of interesting images.
Palo Verde In Spring - Surprise, Arizona
Red Yucca Blossom - Surprise, Arizona
Red Fairy Duster - Sun City West, Arizona
Flower Cluster - Sun City West, Arizona
Pollen - Sun City West, Arizona
The Cactus Blossom - Sun City West, Arizona
Cloud Reflection Cross-Processed - Sun City West, Arizona
Little Bird On The Palm Circle - Sun City West, Arizona
Saguaro Blooming - Sun City West, Arizona
Saguaro Flower - Sun City West, Arizona
Bee & Saguaro Flower - Sun City West, Arizona
Saguaro & Building Storm - Sun City West, Arizona
Cactus Hotel - Sun City West, Arizona
Reach For The Sky - Sun City West, Arizona
Dark Saguaro - Sun City West, Arizona
Saguaro Cactus - Sun City West, Arizona
Small Rainbow In The Stormy Sky - Sun City West, Arizona
Sun Power - Sun City West, Arizona
Palm Design - Sun City West, Arizona
Grandma Using An iPad - Sun City West, Arizona
Squares - Phoenix, Arizona
The Long Hall - Phoenix, Arizona
Apartment Architecture #1 - Phoenix, Arizona
Apartment Architecture #2 - Phoenix, Arizona
Palm Branches & Moon - Phoenix, Arizona
Stay tuned for Part 3!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Fuji X70 vs Ricoh GR II vs Sony RX100 II

Come To Jesus - Pasadena, California
Captured with a Sony RX100 II.
I get asked frequently about gear. People are scouring the web looking for opinions on different cameras, and (surprising to me) people even want to know my opinion. Most recently someone asked which camera I'd recommend, the Fuji X70 or the Ricoh GR II?

These two cameras are similar: 16-megapixel APS-C sensors without an anti-aliasing filter, a fixed 28mm (equivalent) lens, and small enough to fit into your pocket. On paper they're nearly identical. And they cost about the same amount. So which is better? Which should you get?

While the cameras seem similar, the first big difference is design--they look nothing like each other. The X70 is better hands down, except if you prefer something that's unassuming. The X70 has a tilting touch screen, the GR II has snap focus (a feature that every camera should have), the X70 has a superior auto-focus system, the X70 has an X-Trans sensor while the GR II has a traditional Bayer sensor, and there are a number of fairly insignificant differences. They're not the same camera, even though their specs would suggest that the only difference is brand.

In my article How To Research Digital Cameras I mention that I use DPReview's Studio Comparison Tool to help me decide between cameras. You can look at tiny crops of studio test shots to see the small differences in image quality. It should be taken with a grain of salt as this is pixel-peeping. The only person who pixel-peeps your photographs is you. Nobody else looks this closely at your pictures. So differences that seem big when viewed this close are not nearly so big when viewed at a normal level.

I'm using DPReview's tool because I've never owned or used the Fuji X70 or the Ricoh GR II. I have no real-world experience with either camera. To make up for this, I'm including the Sony RX100 II in this comparison, which I do own and have experience with. It has a 20-megapixel 1" sensor (but with an anti-aliasing filter), a 28mm-100mm (equivalent) zoom lens, and it is slightly smaller than the X70 and GR II.


The first thing I want to look at is lens sharpness. The lens, in my opinion, is the most important part of a camera, even more important than the sensor. The DPReview Studio Comparison Tool allows you to look at four different cameras, so I chose the Leica X (Typ 113) for the final slot. The Leica X has a 16-megapixel APS-C sensor without an anti-aliasing filter and a 35mm (equivalnt) lens that's supposed to be pretty darn sharp (and it costs a heck-of-a-lot of money).

So let's take a look, keeping in mind that these are very tiny crops.


What do you notice? The Fuji X70, Sony RX100 II and the Leica X all have pretty much identical sharpness. The GR II is noticeably the sharpest of the four and wins this test hands down. But that doesn't mean that the other cameras don't have good lenses, just that the GR II's is a little sharper. The RX100 II matches the sharpness of the Fuji and Leica despite having an anti-aliasing filter and being a zoom lens--amazing!

Note that, even though the RX100 II has a 20-megapixel sensor and the other three cameras have a 16-megapixel sensor, the anti-aliasing filter robs the Sony of about four-megapixels worth of resolution, evening the cameras out. Also note that at base ISO the cameras produce almost identical image quality, which is to be expected since all cameras produce good image quality at base ISO.

Let's look at high-ISO now. I only included the Leica X to compare lens sharpness, so, for this next test, I replaced it with a full-frame camera, the Nikon D750.


At ISO 400 the Fuji X70 and Nikon D750 look the same, while the Ricoh GR II and Sony RX100 II show a bit more noise. But at this point none of the cameras look bad and, when viewed at a normal level (and not pixel-peeping), you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

Now I will increase the ISO to 1600 and see what happens.


ISO 1600 shows an acceptable amount of noise and is usable on all four cameras. The X70 and the D750 still look nearly identical with very little noise (the full-frame sensor is slightly cleaner, but it's barely noticeable even when looking this close). The GR II and RX100 II are both significantly more noisy, with the Sony camera the worst (which is to be expected since it has the smallest sensor).

Next I increased the ISO to what I would consider the highest practical ISO for each camera.


Notice that the noise level for each camera is nearly identical. The maximum practical ISO for the RX100 II is ISO 1600, the GR II is ISO 3200, the X70 is ISO 6400 and the D750 is ISO 12800. That means the larger sensor in the Ricoh camera only provides a one-stop high ISO advantage over the smaller sensor in the Sony camera. The Fuji camera has a one-stop advantage over the Ricoh (despite having the same size sensor), and keeps up well with the full-frame sensor in the Nikon.

Let's take a look at one more thing.


I wanted to see how the missing anti-aliasing filter might impact the image. This filter robs the image of sharpness but prevents moire pattern distortion. Most cameras have an anti-aliasing filter (including the Sony RX100 II), but some don't (like the four in the image above).

The X70 has Fuji's X-Trans sensor, which has a (somewhat) random pixel pattern, and doesn't need an anti-aliasing filter because it's not subject to moire pattern distortion. The DP1 Merrill has Sigma's Foveon sensor, which stacks three layers of pixels, and doesn't need an anti-aliasing filter because it's not subject to moire pattern distortion. The GR II has a traditional Bayer sensor and is subject to moire pattern distortion, which you can spot in the fine yellow half-circles (an anti-aliasing filter would prevent this, but at the expense of sharpness and resolution). The Nikon D3300 has a traditional Bayer sensor and is subject to moire pattern distortion, but since it has more resolution (24 megapixels) it occurs less frequently.

Something these test charts don't do a good job of showing is dynamic range (the ability of the camera to capture details in highlights and shadows). Of the three cameras I'm comparing here, the X70 has the largest dynamic range, followed by the GR II, and in last place is the RX100 II. But the gap between the three cameras is pretty insignificant.
Ethical Drugs - Hollywood, California
Captured with a Sony RX100 II.
So which is better? Which camera should you buy?

If you want the best high-ISO capabilities and the best design, the Fuji X70 is the camera to get. If you want the sharpest lens and snap focus, the Ricoh GR II is the camera to get. If you want the ability to zoom and the smallest camera body, the Sony RX100 II is the camera to get.

My advice is to not worry too much about which camera to buy. All three are good and capable of capturing great images (just as long as the photographer is also capable). Vision is much more important than gear. Trust your gut and know that you'll be happy with whichever way you go.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Move To Utah With A Camera In My Hand - Part 1: California To Arizona

Small Red Berries - Redlands, California
If you've been following the Roesch Photography Blog you know already that I've moved from California to Utah. I'm now unpacking boxes and moving furniture and otherwise settling in to my new home in South Weber, just north of Salt Lake City. The views from my house are spectacular!

Along this journey I've had a camera in my hand (or my pocket when not actively photographing). I kept my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 with me the entire trip, capturing the ever-changing scenery. I did not make many stops (other than food, gas, and occasional visits with friends and family along the route), so some of these images were captured out of the car window while travelling down a highway or freeway--one hand on the wheel, the other on the camera.

I typically wait several months to post-process my images, but I wanted to get these ones out a little quicker. I captured them using JPEG format (instead of RAW, like I normally would with this camera), and kept the editing to a minimum (mostly making the images look more film-like). Even though I used a small-sensor camera, it did a pretty good job overall.

The photographs in this post were captured between Tehachapi, California and (my first intermediate destination) Surprise, Arizona, on May 7th. We took the long way to Utah so that we could visit my grandma in Sun City. It made the trip much longer, but we hadn't seen her in some time so we made it a priority.

The images are in chronological order. Enjoy! 
Pipe Dream - Redlands, California
The Center of The Desert - Desert Center, California
Storm Over The Desert Mountains - Palo Verde, Arizona
Gas Station Architecture #1 - Buckeye, Arizona
Gas Station Architecture #2 - Buckeye, Arizona
Interstate Bicyclist - Buckeye, Arizona
Large Saguaro - Litchfield Park, Arizona
Blooming Saguaro - Litchfield Park, Arizona
Saguaro In Bloom - Litchfield Park, Arizona