Cameras of the Past and Present

20160228

 

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The Experience

I realized after checking disk space on my server that I have taken a LOT of photos over the years.  Of course, the next question is "how many?".  That as it turns out was harder to determine as it required some shell scripts (and later python) to unravel that mystery.  The summary answer is as of 20160228, the number is about 115,000 plus or minus a few.  And, of course, since a photo library is a "living thing" it changes daily.  Upon seeing the summary, and given that I have had many cameras over the years, the next questions were "How many cameras?", "How many photos per camera per year?". "when did I get that camera again?".

To answer these and other questions, some Python code was needed.  Even though I am quite careful about maintaining a "clean" directory structure, things happen over time.  For instance, some photos were chemical and not scanned until 2006 so the metadata is from the scanner, not the photo or camera.  In some cases the metadata is missing, wrong or unreliable.  But, to gain access to the photo metadata (which usually includes tidbits like camera make, model, date digitized and in some cases the lens model other parameters) you have to crack open the image file itself.  This, in and of itself, is not that big a deal, but the file formats vary and reinventing that wheel was both a waste of time and effort.  Some code hacking and 3 downloaded EXIF utilities later, the answer was within my grasp.  A slippery data structure was required to account for all the information and there were over 120K files to be scanned so testing was burdensome and time-consuming.  But, I prevailed.  It was necessary to "prune" the data structure of elements that I knew to be "foreign" (photos were given to me by someone else or came from a scanner).  Once the foreign files were pruned, the results were tabulated.

The table below shows the vetted results as of 20160228.  For the "chemical" photos that were literally stored in a shoe box, the counts are uncertain.  Those photos have been scanned and the original photo thrown away.  Scanned photos acquired metadata from the scanner itself, so the dates associated with those files are inconsistent with the date the photo was taken.


Camera Brand
Model
Style
Type
Resolution
Start Year
End Year
Total Photos
as of 201602
Canon
AE-1
SLR
Film
Chemical
1975
1990
Hundreds
Nikon
N-90
SLR
Film
Chemical
1990
1999
Many hundreds
Nikon
E-900
Hybrid
Digital
1.2 MP
1999
1999
691

E-950
Hybrid
Digital
1.9 MP
1999
2002
5,196

D-1
DSLR
Digital, APS-C
2 MP
1999
2004
7,651

E-990
Hybrid
Digital
3.3 MP
2001
2003
5177

E-995
Hybrid
Digital
3.3 MP
2002
2002
360

D-100
DSLR
Digital, APS-C
6.1 MP
2003
2004
2,085
Canon
EOS 20D
DSLR
Digital, APS-C
8 MP
2004
2009
3,064

EOS 1Ds Mark I
DSLR
Digital, Full
12 MP
2004
2005
4,263

EOS 1Ds Mark II
DSLR
Digital, Full
16 MP
2005
2008
12,371
Leica
M8
Rangefinder
Digital, APS-C
12 MP
2006
Current
2,893
Epson
RD-1
Rangefinder
Digital, APS-C
6 MP
2006
Current
2,370
Canon
G-7
Compact
Digital, 1"
10 MP
2006
2012
2,300
Panasonic
Lumix LX-1
Compact
Digital, 1"
8.4 MP
2006
2013
2,400
Canon
EOS 1Ds Mark III
DSLR
Digital, Full
21 MP
2007
Current
30,274
Pentax
Optio W-60
Waterproof
Digital
10 MP
2009
Current
853
Fujifilm
X-10
Compact
Digital
12 MP
2012
Current
1,861
Olympus
EM-5
Mirrorless
Digital
16 MP
2012
Current
9,895

EM-1
Mirrorless
Digital
16 MP
2013
Current
7,759
Fujifilm
X100S
Rangefinder
Digital
16 MP
2013
Current
596
GoPro
Hero3+
Action
Digital
16 MP
2014
Current
273
Ricoh
WG-4 GPS
Action
Digital
16 MP
2014
Current
312
Sony
Alpha 7 Mark 1
Mirrorless
Digital, Full
24 MP
2015
Current
5,888
Sony
Alpha 7R Mark 2
Mirrorless
Digital, Full
42 MP
2015
Current
707

 

There are some interesting observations to be made from this table.  First, in the early years technology changed rapidly and resulted in "churn" in camera models and makes as I sought the "best" for my situation.  At the root was the "megapixel race" where each manufacturer was interested in specs-manship rather than overall utility.  Some of the early cameras took good photos but had essential issues like slow auto-focus, shutter lag or poor durability (both mechanical and environmental).  Once certain minimum requirements were met, these cameras became useful tools and they tended to stay in service for some years.  The most "durable" cameras I have are my rangefinders: Epson and Leica which I purchased in 2006.  Both work fine and I have recorded a modest number of photos from each (~2500).

My most "used" camera is a professional-grade Canon 1Ds Mark III that has logged over 30K photos taken in adverse conditions (dust, rain, etc.) on several continents.  To be sure, the camera did require maintenance several times in it's service since 2007,  but given the thrashing it withstood it was surprising it did not completely fail.  It DID wear out the shutter after 25,000 frames, but dust is harsh on equipment.  I am surprised it lasted THAT long.

The pro Canon is a great camera and if you want the job done right, it is a great choice.   But, it is a beast: it is physically big and heavy.  The body alone is 4 pounds.  My primary lens is another 3.5 pounds and 10" long.  It's size is not subtle and in poor countries a big kit like that says "please, rob me".  You have to really WANT to take a picture to drag it along.  But the Canon pro bodies were the only real game in town for many years that met my robustness requirement.  Now, newer mirrorless technology has supplanted the need for "big iron" like the 1Ds line.  Unless you have some special requirement with regard to long focal-length, the rangefinders do a great job: they are small, inconspicuous and take good to great photos.

I purchased the Olympus EM-5 as a "shop camera" to take photos of projects because it was small and light.  My expectations were not high because it was "mirrorless" but found after some use that the camera took great photos, had great dust control, was water resistant and had outstanding in-body image stabilization (IBIS).  And, as a plus, I found out that I could use my manual lenses on the body (with adapter).  I found myself not taking the Canon and started to rely on the Oly.  The biggest gripe was "ergo" (ergonomics or usability like button placement, etc.).  I anxiously awaited their upgrade and was very, very pleased.  The new model, OM-D EM-1, was all that I had hoped for except better IQ (image quality).  Don't interpret that statement to mean that the photos are not good -- they are in fact very good.  But, given that the camera format is micro-four-thirds (MFT) there is a physical upper bound to IQ due to constraints of the size of the imaging chip itself.

To get more resolution and better IQ requires either a physically bigger imaging chip, more pixels or both.  Sony announced a mirrorless full-frame camera with IBIS.  I purchased the Alpha 7 Mark II and was very pleased with the improvement in IQ -- it has a full-size imaging chip and 24 MP in addition to the IBIS.  When the follow-on A7RMII was announced, I got in line.  This camera has so much resolution it shows the limits of the lenses that are used.  In my case, it meant using better lenses (Zeiss, Voightlander) which gave the best IQ.  Both of these lenses are fully manual, but they do a great job.  I evaluated a series of automatic lenses for use with the A7RMII but could not find even one that was up to par with the camera.  Sony has announced upgraded lenses to be available in 1Q2016 time frame.  It will be interesting to see the improvement in the "G Master" lenses over the regular consumer lenses, if any.  Also, just recently announced is a "smart" converter that allows use of Nikon and Canon lenses on the Sony body.  Sigma, the manufacturer of this adapter, claims that the unit will also allow PDAF focus modes using non-Sony lenses.



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