working “in camera” and in black and white

going for a rideThis is a second photo from the Lab’s trip to McDonald’s yesterday. Any dog I’ve ever known or known about loves to go for car rides. The labs are no exception. When they know we’re going out, especially my wife, they’ll stand at the kitchen door looking up expectantly. Now that our children are out in the world, their chances of going on a car ride are a lot higher than before. Their chances of rides depend on the season, with the least number and shortest times in the height of summer; we never leave them in the car, even if the air conditioning is running, from July to mid-September.

This photo was taken with the Olympus E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 12-50mm kit lens and is JPEG Large Fine straight out of the camera. The kit lens was zoomed out to its widest at 12mm (e24mm). I stepped back a bit and centered on Ruby, then stepped to my left to pick up Max’s face (Max goes in first, an alpha to the end).

The exposure is a custom monotone, with contrast set to -2 and sharpness set to +1. The gradation is set to high key. The reason it looks low key in this exposure is because exposure is set -1 to drop the background shadows to a rich black. I was able to “pre-chimp” the look using the E-M5’s excellent electronic viewfinder. Going high key in-camera and manipulating exposure in this way gives me the “look” I want without having to play with the exposure sliders in post processing. The only thing I did in post was to crop, scale, and add my watermark for the web.

That leads to my second revelation. In digging into and growing comfortable with this camera, I no longer shoot just raw, or JPEG plus raw. I now shoot just JPEG, specifically Large Fine, the largest JPEG possible. Even with that level of resolution, a 16GB card is capable of holding over 1,800 images. With my style of photography that means I can go an entire week without having to change cards.

It’s interesting how I’ve come around to just JPEG these days. When I started using digital cameras, all I had was JPEG. When I purchased my first Olympus, the E-300, in 2006, I kept to JPEG because I couldn’t afford a copy of Lightroom (back in those days it was hundreds of dollars/copy, not the free giveaway with camera purchase it is today). When I finally bought Lightroom, it was in 2009, and it was marked down to half price. I bought it to use with my E-3 in order to handle my sister’s wedding that October. Once I started using Lightroom I toggled into using raw exclusively. Five years later I’ve just now come back around to using JPEG (almost) exclusively with the E-M5. The JPEG engine in the E-M5, with proper handling, is that good if not better.

Why am I doing this? Four reasons:

  1. Black and White. I started photographing the world in the 1960s with a Kodak Instamatic 104. Black and white film was all my parents could afford in those days, and that’s what everyone in my family used as well (Kodak and Polaroid). Later I learned the value of Tri-X and black and white film processing, as well as how to print black and white. Again, it was cost, as color processing and printing were expensive. Later in life I earned enough to go color (Kodachrome), and digital makes the choice pretty much irrelevant from a technical standpoint. But I grew up on black and white, and learned to appreciate it far more than color. My background includes art, which was pen and ink drawing primarily. And that was also monotone. I choose to use black and white because I’m just that way.
  2. Time. I just don’t want to sink the time into post processing anymore. I’d rather spend the time actually photographing, or if not photographing, then experiencing life in general. I don’t have to use the camera all the time just to enjoy life.
  3. My slow permanent shift from Windows to Linux. I’ve used Linux for decades, and I’ve kept both because I’ve had uses for both. Recently (within the last six months) I’ve been using a “rescued” notebook with Ubuntu 14.04 installed and I’ve noticed I spend a lot more time with it than my more expensive Windows 8.1 Samsung. I hit 60 this year and I hope to continue to be a computer user and programmer until the day I die. But I don’t want to be beholden to Microsoft. Microsoft’s licensing and control is too draconian for me, while Linux let’s me do whatever I want, from installation on up. The rescued notebook has Ubuntu because I couldn’t get another copy of Windows 7 to replace the one it came with, and that had become inoperative. I’m not virulently anti-Microsoft, but after 30+ years (since Apple adopted Microsoft Basic on the Apple ][), I’ve about had enough. With a simpler workflow, pulling the images I want straight out of the camera, I don’t need Windows-only tools (Adobe) for image post processing. Since the majority of this goes on the web these days, the workflow and tools I use are pretty much identical between Linux and Windows.
  4. My final reason is Adobe itself. Their push to Creative Cloud and the dropping of stand-alone tools like Photoshop leads me to the conclusion I don’t want to do business with them anymore. I believe in the power of the web, otherwise I wouldn’t have nor use this blog. But Adobe’s all-or-nothing mentality about Creative Cloud leaves me quite cold and a bit angry, considering how much I’ve spent on both Lightroom and Photoshop over the years. In a way I have Adobe to thank for pushing me to learn how to be “creative” in the camera (like it should have been all along) rather than after the fact in an Adobe tool.

A final comment about the 12-50mm: it seems everyone on the Internet loves to trash this lens (along with the M.Zuiko f/1.8 17mm) for absolutely no good reason other than to attract eyeballs to their web site. I have both and they’re both excellent. I’m here to tell anyone that’ll listen that the 12-50mm is as good a kit lens as you’ll find on any camera of any sensor size for any price, providing incredible utility for both still and video. It’s environmentally sealed, and when on the E-M5, makes for a compact and resilient documentary photographic tool. It’s often asked what single lens and camera would you take if that’s all you could take, and my answer would have to be the E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 12-50mm zoom.