Keeping The DSLR Handy

I have stated in a previous article that I probably will sell all my DSLR gear eventually, so rarely does it ever get used. Virtually all my work now is done with mirrorless m4/3 (Olympus EM-5). But I must admit to being glad that I brought my DSLR along with me to a recent trip to The Lake District and Scotland. And while I used my EM-5 for virtually the entire trip, canoeing on lakes and hiking up hills with it in a small camera bag, I knew the DSLR would be more effective at capturing the night sky. I was hoping at some point the skies would be clear enough for me to capture some stars, possibly even the Milky Way, and since I had my car bringing along extra gear was not an issue.

1a-Milky-Way-

(Nikon D600, Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8)

One limitation I have found with my EM-5 is that it struggles with long exposures of the night sky, especially at higher ISOs. I have used it for this purpose but with disappointing results. Perhaps other users have had better success, but I haven’t mastered it on m4/3 yet. The sensor does seem to get a little hot on longer exposures at higher ISOs, such that are needed for decent night sky shots:

2-Gloucestershire-Night-Sky

 (Olympus EM-5, Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 – since sold)

Now this is not reason enough for me to disparage it or starting trolling with comments about DSLRs vs micro 4/3. Sorry to say there are infinitely more bad photographers than bad cameras. My EM-5 has taken some very pleasing long exposures in dusk light (at low ISOs):

3 Windermere-Jetty

 (Olympus EM-5 and 12-40mm F/2.8)

I had just been canoeing on Lake Windermere and watched (and photographed) the sunset from a small island in its middle. Back on shore, I took some more long exposures of the lake with the EM-5.

5 Windermere Jetty

4 Windermere-Sunset

(Both images: Olympus EM-5 and 12-40mm F/2.8)

Later on, driving back to my lodging, I noticed the clear night above me. This was now after 2am, and the trajectory of the Milky Way was visible to the naked eye. There were some nearby man-made light sources, but they didn’t seem to affect my perception. So, out of the boot comes the full frame DSLR (in my case the Nikon D600) and the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 used as a 16mm prime. And unsurprisingly, it had no problems capturing the night sky at ISOs of 1600-3200. I set my tripod overlooking Lake Killington, over which the Milky Way was arching. I manually focused to infinity and after 30 seconds at F/2.8 and ISO 1600, I got this result below (same settings as top photo).

1 Milky-Way-

Composition isn’t great, owing to my location relative to the lake and not being able to really see anything in the dark. But at 2.30am, my brain thinks little of details and was simply happy to capture the Milky Way. I would have preferred to shoot it from a small island in the lake, but  you can dream on if you think I’m going to re-inflate the canoe and go for a paddle at that time of the morning. This next one looking straight up at ISO 3200.

6 Milky-Way-2

(Some of the surrounding light sources leeched into the shot at the bottom.)

While I have often extolled the virtues of my mirrorless/micro 4/3 gear, I have never claimed that one system was superior to another. Each of you finds merit and advantage in your choice of gear. And while many people prefer to waste their lives comparing and debating every little camera specification or brand rather than going out to shoot, I prefer to think of my gear simply as tools to achieve a result. I would say that I personally don’t like having more than one system, so I do envisage selling off the DSLR gear at some point. Hopefully when the m4/3 sensors will improve enough to allow me to take these kind of shots, or I’ll simply invest in a small mirrorless full frame sensor and wide-angle lens just for night sky shots. Either way, it’s all about the right tool for the right job.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Frank Kelly
    August 10, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Beautiful work. Your camera captures your heart.

    I got a nice bonus from my day job, enough to buy a full frame DSLR, some good glass for it, and had a little left over for small mirrorless Fuji X-T1. The big Nikon gets used, but not as much since the little Fujifilm came along which has opened up some new ways of taking pictures. For me they complement each other, but I get how someone with more experience would find joy with smaller camera that’s good enough to realize your vision and have some fun doing it!

    Enjoy your travels,

    Frank

  2. Avatar of Rick Keller
    2
    ) Rick Keller
    August 10, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Hello Sharif,

    Thank you for your article and sharing your lovely photographs. Well done!

    I also viewed your gallery of photos on your “Evening on Windemere” blog. Wow, you recorded some amazing light, colors, and textures in the skies, which is a subject to which I often gravitate myself. I enjoy your Milky Way exposures, too. The mood in every photograph is lovely. I feel transported there.

    I congratulate and admire your zeal and patience to get the perspectives and the lighting you sought, in particular canoeing to the small island in the lake for your sunset photo shoot.

    Sharif, you have amazing talent and skill. Keep on shooting and writing! :-)

    Cheers!

    Rick

    • August 11, 2014 at 1:42 am

      Thank you very much Rick! And thanks for taking the time to visit my blog :)

  3. 3
    ) maghi cat
    August 10, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    I know you are using mirrorless but do they not have auto focus issues with the EVF when shooting sports or wildlife? And isn’t there a limited number of lenses? Low light issues, etc. I would think mirrorless will come around but not at this moment. It is the rage to debate, and you can’t escape it where and whenever you mention it. Regardless of camera, the work is very nice, composition is very good.

    • August 11, 2014 at 1:43 am

      Yes, m4/3 have AF issues with continuous focusing for fast moving objects. I alluded to this in a previous article.
      However, one of the advantages of m4/3 (less so with other mirror less formats) is the huge ranges of available lenses for that format.

  4. 4
    ) Geoff C. Bassett
    August 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Some great work here! How has your experience been with the tokina 11-16mm on full frame? I’m looking at wide angles for my D800 and I loved using that lens when I rented it for my DX kit.

    • August 11, 2014 at 1:46 am

      Thank you Geoff.
      The Tokina has been ok on full frame, but you can’t use it at less than 16mm because of vignetting, so it becomes a 16mm prime. But it’s still pretty sharp. Little soft in the corners maybe at F/2.8. Since I wanted to get away from the bulk of DSLRs and primarily use m4/3 now I just wasn’t interested in getting an FX wide-angle lens. But the Tokina has been quite useful, even for some interior shots.

  5. 5
    ) bele
    August 10, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    I find myself in a similar situation, but for lowlight I believe there is already a mirrorless solution with The Sony A7 range. Same sensor as in the D600 or D800 and with the night monster A7s. I’d still keep my Nikkor 14-24 and use it via adaptor. so lowlight isn’t what is keeping me back at the moment. What I still miss however is really fast focus and framerates at shallow depth of field for sports work. Here the D4s is still unbeatable. Anxiously awaiting the Oly 40-150 2.8 to see how far it takes me.

    • August 11, 2014 at 2:03 am

      Yes, you right about the Sony cameras, but I’d want a much smaller wide-angle lens option than using the Nikkor or anything else via an adapter, as doing that would negate my intention to scale down size and weight. I’m also awaiting the Oly 7-14mm F/2.8 and 40-150mm F/2.8.

      • 28
        ) Sean Tomlinson
        August 11, 2014 at 2:35 pm

        How about that new Rokinon 14 mm F2? I’m a ways out from being able to afford it, but it sure sounds like a fun lens! Can even get it in native E-mount.

        • 29
          ) Sean Tomlinson
          August 11, 2014 at 2:38 pm

          Err, it’s 12 mm and it’s only E-mount, I thought it was FE. Darned crop mode.

  6. 6
    ) Al
    August 10, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    No star light trails at 30 sec exposure?!

    • 15
      ) Marcus Lundberg
      August 11, 2014 at 5:00 am

      Not at 16mm.

  7. 7
    ) Richard
    August 11, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Last year I bought my X-E2 + 18-55mm, then the X-T1 + 10-24mm, a decision I have yet to regret. I took the X-T1 with the 10-24mm and 18-55mm to Norway and Iceland on holiday. The results were excellent equalling my dSLR results and they continue to do so. However, I also took my Nikon D7100 with the AF-S 80-400mm lens just for one reason, Whale watching. The Nikon did its job and allowed me to capture images of a breaching Humpback, even with my Fuji 55-200mm I would have been struggling as the response is slower. So, yes I now have the perfect kit for all occasions and that also includes a Nikon D610 which I bought after selling my D800 and regretted it. Fuji and Nikon together can get any job done, anywhere.

    Getting rid of the dSLR completely as many have may be like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    Richard

  8. 11
    ) autofocusross
    August 11, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Love the night shots, very evocative lighting.

    Addressing the ‘one system’ philosophy, there is no reason, finances permitting, why you should feel bound to ditch the D600, not if you can produce images of this standard with it.

    I think a lot of folk (not you, I hasten to add) invest a lot of time and money in researching and purchasing gear, so to then have to admit that it doesn’t do the job, in some cases, is a bit of a moot point for them. There is a pride of ownership issue for people, especially those on a budget, to justify what they have bought into. To admit that it won’t do a good job in some situations is ‘the elephant in the room’ dilemma for them. This issue has always been with us – in one form or another. Street photography on relatively simple compact film cameras, press, pro and hobby photography on 35mm SLR’s, and portrait and often weddings, on 120mm roll film models.

    We are in a different era now, but no need to lose sight of the old philosophies, and the reasons behind them when fitting the subject to the camera. I’m sure lugging a relatively heavy full frame camera around most of the time, when your mirrorless produces perfectly acceptable results for you, at those times, is a thankless task, given the hassle of transporting, protecting and set up time.

    That said, your full frame comes into it’s own, for you anyway, in this niche area of your photography, and with results like this, excuse me saying this so directly, but you’d be mad to part with the D600 for the time being. We don’t live in a bubble, and eventually, mirrorless sensors will deliver what you are looking for, but until then… don’t sell it!

    Really lovely images you have there, keep them coming, please!

    • August 11, 2014 at 1:50 am

      Thanks autofocusross!
      You make some very good points. I may not sell the D600 just yet; perhaps I will when I want to get something smaller with a similar sensor and wide-angle lens option. The wide-angle lenses seem a little thin on the ground for mirrorless at the moment. Sure, one can use adapters, but that would negate my intention to have less gear with me. :)

  9. 16
    ) Alexander Dela Cruz Jr
    August 11, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Tokina 11-16 + Full fame camera + forced full frame mounting of a DX lens + night skies = perfect harmony…=D

    Superb snapshots, Sir Alpha! And good article, too! Kudos!

  10. 17
    ) catfish252
    August 11, 2014 at 5:43 am

    Love your handle by the way, wonderful shots, great advice, something I need to be reminded of every once in a while. I would love to visit your country some day

    • August 11, 2014 at 6:23 am

      Thank you catfish252 :)
      It really is a stunning country.

  11. 18
    ) Patrick O'Connor
    August 11, 2014 at 5:51 am

    I don’t understand the point of the post. The title is “Keeping the DSLR Handy” and extolls the benefits of a dSLR over m4/3 for astrophotography but you reiterate that you’re going to sell all your dSLR gear.

    Also, I’m impressed with your photography. Done. I’m tired of hearing about m4/3 being better for you than a dSLR. I would get equally tired of hearing, ad nauseam, how someone’s dSLR was better for them. Make your point and move on…

    Alexander Dela Cruz Jr – The best lens for astrophotography on a FF camera (aside from varying focal length needs) is a 24mm f/1.4. It gives the best balance of light capturing and minimizing star trails unless, of course, you like star trails. ;-)

    • 26
      ) Amir
      August 11, 2014 at 10:24 am

      O’Connor, we’re getting equally tired and nauseated of reading your inane comments , gripes, and pouting . After all of your fruitless typing, haven’t you yet concluded you’re talking to an empty room?

      • 32
        ) AP
        August 12, 2014 at 1:52 am

        Mighty presumptuous, Amir?

  12. 20
    ) Guru
    August 11, 2014 at 6:45 am

    Beautiful pictures. Articles such as this will no doubt convince many to ditch their SLR kit and go mirrorless as the author already has. Very soon it will be cool to be seen with a DSLR and I intend to enjoy the attention I will get. There have been way too many articles all over the internet urging people to switch without saying in as many words. Comparing dimension and weight of the two systems, the difference doesn’t work out to that much. As most of us reading blogs such as these are enthusiasts who do prioritize the cost factor, I can’t help but wonder if skimming off a few hundred grams off the overall payload is worth selling our existing DSlR gear at Half price or less, and make that switch. Its hard to imagine everyone serious about photography ditch their gear and join the mirror less band wagon, giving up years of familiarity with the gear they owned and loved. Not to speak of the comfort one would have knowing they could just pick up the camera they have used over the years and get the settings they want in a matter of seconds. It’s actually sad to see a collection of such splendid images to be accompanied by another rant about how wonderful the smaller camera is. Please keep the images coming, and perhaps share some knowledge about the subject if there is nothing else left to rave about losing the mirror and a few grams of dead weight. Apologies for the typos and grammar errors; unlike their claim, typing on iphone sucks too.

  13. 21
    ) Richard Stern
    August 11, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Lovely photos! I am in the same position for slightly different reasons. I love my E-M5 for almost everything, especially since I recently bought the 25mm f1.8 prime. But I do a lot of bird photography, and for that I have not found it as good as my D7100, 300 f4 and 1.4TC, except for large birds that don’t move (pretty rare in these parts). So these days I’m generally lugging the Nikon kit for birds and my E-M5 kit for everything else. Perhaps one day there will be a M43 system with all the advantages of a DSLR system including 51 point PDAF continuous auto – focusing and the ability to use auto ISO in manual mode but at a third of the size and weight. I have also found that for portraits and close ups the bokeh and background separation of the E-M5 with the 25/1.8 is a good as that for birds with the D7100 and 300+1.4TC, but for the E-M5 and panny 100-300 it’s significantly worse, and I suppose that may be a function of sensor size.

  14. 22
    ) Ido
    August 11, 2014 at 7:30 am

    I have the E-M5 too and love it. It’s actually my only camera, I’ve never used a DSLR, so I’ll base my statements here on research, not hands-on experience.
    What you’re saying is not at all a knock against the mirrorless system cameras, but against a specific system – Micro Four Thirds.

    Fuji has a larger sensor (APS-C), and some lenses worth using for this purpose: 14mm (21mm equiv.) f/2.8, 18mm (27mm equiv., not wide enough for the Milky Way) f/2, and a 16mm (24mm equiv.) f/1.4 coming in 2015 (that one should be awesome). And there’s a Zeiss 12mm (18mm equiv.) f/2.8, and a manual-focus Rokinon 12mm f/2, that should be pretty much perfect for these shots.

    And there’s the Sony a7-series which, with Sony’s adapter, has a couple of great lenses for this – 16-35mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/2. 24mm isn’t quite wide enough for the Milky Way, but the 16-35 is great.

    • 23
      ) Patrick O'Connor
      August 11, 2014 at 7:56 am

      From hands-on experience, I can tell you that an APS-C sensor camera is okay for astrophotography but a FF sensor (assuming equal technology) is better.
      Something I’m not quite clear about is aperture equivalency between various systems. It seems like I’ve read that the same aperture number in disparate systems does not equate to the same light gathering capabilities. So, while a 24mm f/1.4 is the optimal lens for FF, I don’t know if a 16mm f/1.4, on an APS-C sensor camera, would give the same performance (not taking into account the low-light capabilities of the different sensors.

      • 33
        ) Ido
        August 12, 2014 at 4:29 am

        Yes, the bigger sensor area means more light is gathered. But really, it comes down to the difference in noise at high ISO that makes the practical difference – comparing a 35mm full frame sensor and an APS-C sensor that are otherwise identical, the former will echieve roughly the same noise levels at ISOs one stop higher. So by using the same shutter speed, f-number and ISO, the image from the APS-C sensor has more noise, and that’s simply because it’s not getting as much light – so a smaller f-number is needed and a lower ISO to compensate.

        I’ve recently read Erez Marom’s latest article on DPReview (http://www.dpreview.com/articles/6083060864/behind-the-shot-flames-of-the-north). In the article, he mentions that the image was shot with a Sony a7R and a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 via an adapter. So really, that proves the point I tried to get across previously – I didn’t intend on going further with the differences in sensor size. I simply wanted to enlighten you to the fact that what you’re saying is not a DSLR vs. mirrorless argument whatsoever – it has nothing to do with the differences between them. If you had a Sony a7 and used that instead of the D600 there, the result would’ve been identical.

        • 34
          ) Patrick O'Connor
          August 12, 2014 at 4:46 am

          I didn’t mean to infer the difference was dSLR vs Mirrorless and, again, it’s just something I’d read in various venues. I mistyped when I wrote “systems.” They were referring to various sensor sizes and, it seemed to me, the differences were more pronounced when you got into the m4/3, CX, and smaller sensors.

  15. 24
    ) Alex Sheridan
    August 11, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Sell your FF or DX system for 4/3 or mirrorless?…… Yeah, I’m not there yet. I purchased the very sexy Fuji X-T1 and gave it my best open minded field test. Despite the fact I love the camera’s looks and image quality, I could not get used to the EVF or controls. Also, with a zoom lens (18-135mm) it was not well balanced unless you use the battery grip which largely defeats the purpose of owning a smaller/lighter system. Mirrorless cameras with a pancake prime lens are really cool (and lightweight) but unfortunately not cool enough for me to sell off my DSLR. For now, I’ll spend my extra dollars on better glass and wait for the micro systems to mature.

  16. 25
    ) Dave Bayless
    August 11, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Probably in the future only Pros and Serious Non Pros will be using DSLR cameras and mirror less cameras,,,everyone else will just be using a cell phone.

    Until the mirror less sensor with the smaller lenses equals a full frame 35 sensor or medium format sensor, I will stick with a DSLR.

    Beautiful pictures.

  17. 27
    ) Guest
    August 11, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Great photos, Mr. Whiskey!

    To all those who are ranting and raving here (yet again) about the pointless debate between micro 4/3 and DSLRS, look closely at these pretty pictures. If you were to see these photos at a gallery and not know anything about how they were taken, you would not know whether Mr. Whiskey had used an FX, DX, or micro 4/3 camera, or some combination thereof. But, if Mr. Whiskey had used a medium format or large format camera with a mix of the former digital cameras to take these pictures, the differences in quality and rendition would be starkly *obvious*. Did any of you read Romanas’ piece on Zack Arias’ video recently? Mr. Arias clearly pointed this out in the video! Did you see the sizes of the MF and LF image areas? The size of 645 by itself swallows the image areas of FX, DX, and micro 4/3 combined! FX, DX (even micro 4/3) are in the same bag. Good grief, people!

  18. 30
    ) Patrick Downs
    August 11, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    I love the Milky Way over the lake. DId you paint the fence with light?

    I’ve really been shooting a lot at night—stars and the moonlit landscape—and for now, the dSLR is the way for the high ISO abilities and resolution. BUT—focusing in the dark is a PAIN in the youknowwhat! An EVF would be great, like the Sony A7 has; best of all worlds?

    I’d love a smaller kit like the Oly or the X, but I’m afraid I’d be too tempted to take it all the time instead of the Nikons :)

    • August 12, 2014 at 1:42 am

      Hi Patrick, thank you.
      No the lighting on the fence came from a light source, a road lamp, behind. There were a few of them, and you can see how the colour from them leeched into the larger Milky Way shot below. It was just a ridiculous time for me to search for somewhere else completely dark after a full day of hiking and canoeing, and I had a 3 hour drive to Scotland a few hours later :)
      I agree, for high ISO shots at night the DSLR/FX sensors are superior to m4/3. I didn’t really bother trying to focus. I just set the lens to manual focus and moved the ring to around infinity.
      Cheers.

    • 35
      ) Antonio Mario
      August 12, 2014 at 8:28 am

      Patrick Downs,

      For focusing, try using a very bright star and turning on live view to put the star very roughly centered on the image frame. Then zoom in on the star and manually adjust focus on the lens, carefully looking at the stellar image on the back LCD (some lenses require you to put them on MF for that). You’ll see when you are in focus. Note that the focus position changes, as you know, as you change the lens focal length – focus when you’re not changing the lens’ f.l. any more. Then, zoom back out to 1x. (Alpha Whiskey is right in that the focus doesn’t change that much on a wide lens. If you decide to combine frames though, it might be critical.)

      That’s what I do with my Canon 40D and Tokina 11-16/2.8. It works fine. Good luck.

      • 36
        ) Patrick Downs
        August 12, 2014 at 8:39 am

        Thanks. Stars are no problem, and the landscape @ infinity too. I know where infinity is on my lens (many lenses have overtravel beyond infinity … the Zeiss lenses don’t, which I like). The problem is shooting landscapes and items closer than infinity, even under a full moon, especially if they’re moving. I was on a mountaintop photographing people watching the supermoon the other night, and can’t use LiveView and a flashlight (which I’ll do with objects) to determine focus. An EVF would have been great for these and others in this gallery:
        http://patrickdowns.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Olympic-Peninsula-and-Beyond-NW/G0000Tb7d4sZvfsg/I00003hER2HhWJL8

  19. 37
    ) Girish
    August 12, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Is the Tokina 11-16mm a full frame lens? I was confused by the DX in the full name of the model

    • August 13, 2014 at 1:54 am

      It’s a DX lens, Grish. But it will fit any Nikon DSLR, and on full frame cameras you can really only use it at 16mm. Anything less and you’ll get vignetting/black circle.

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