I always espoused the idea of making a cursory run through the owner's manual and then just settling in for some extended use with the camera. And that's just what I did but instead of taking time in each use cycle to get to know another feature or working pathway I found myself using the camera pretty much the same way I've used almost every camera I've owned since the Nikon F5.
Why do I date my usage tendencies back to the F5? Well, that's when I felt confident enough with auto focus to capitulate and use it as my default instead of working (as I had) in manual focus.
And how did I use almost every camera? I set the mode dials to either manual or aperture priority, set the auto focus to S-AF with the center focusing sensor selected, pointed the camera and pushed the button. While that's a bit of a simplification I'll admit to being a late adopter of setting custom function buttons and setting up menu shortcuts. In fact, I'll admit that my primitive approach to camera customization is probably what led me to (prematurely) abandon my Olympus cameras. In retrospect, the EM-5.2 is really a very able video camera and a very advanced all purpose camera. You just have to invest the time and effort to really learn it. When I look at the handheld video that my friend, James, and I shot a year back I get a bit nostalgic for that almost magical image stabilization....
The issue, for me, is that in the days of un-digital cameras the controls were all pretty much the same. Mentally interchangeable. You could easily pick up a Nikon, a Canon or a Leica camera and understand everything you would ever need to know to shoot those cameras. One of the benefits to that kind of uniform control interface is that one could mix cameras with reckless abandon and never face the reality of forgetting where, in a crowded sub-menu, was the control that you were desperate to find.
I could easily go from a mechanical Hasselblad to a Pentax LX without missing a beat. Likewise, the steps for using my Linhof 4x5 camera were the same (with the exception of pulling a dark slide) as my Canonet. When we used our cameras over and over again the only thing we were getting used to was how the camera felt in our grasp. Sure, the lenses weren't interchangeable between brands but that never seemed to matter if the acquisition and use of a different brand body came with such a truncated learning curve.
I carried that poly-brand camera ethos with me for far too long in the new, menu-driven camera age. I resisted doing the deep dive into menus and features that would have made my work with some cameras more rewarding. Instead, I collected bits and pieces and tried to apply my general approach to all of them instead of focusing on one brand, one menu style, one interface.
Now I have exactly six cameras (not counting older film cameras that languish about the studio). All of them come from one maker. All of them were created and had menus installed from the current generation of that company's products. What this means for me is that I can shift from camera to camera and body to body without the frisson of having to remember different ideas about menus and control identification. This makes for a much more fluid use of the cameras in tandem.
But it was really just hunkering down and reading White's book that made me chide myself for my shallow embrace of so many previous systems. On recent projects my deeper understand of how to more finely control focus with the RX cameras and how to implement the right look across all the cameras in one project have made a big difference in my final products. A uniformity of look, engendered by a uniform selection of picture profiles, white balances and overall looks makes video easier to edit and makes mixing cameras in still photography productions much, much easier.
Recently friends have asked me if I've tried the new Fuji XT-2 or the X-Pro-2 and I have to tell them I haven't spent much time with the cameras. I have a friend who has offered several times to loan me his Leica SL and lens to test out. I paused momentarily on the Amazon.com page for the new Sigma SD Quattro H, before quickly moving on to find more Sony batteries. But the momentary truth is that I seem to have lost my taste for constant camera change, no matter how big the promise, because I know understand the depth of commitment to a system that real mastery takes.
In good conscience, and in attentive service to my clients, I can't ignore the potential of the cameras I have and how they can bring better results to the mix, if only I use them correctly and fully. That means I finally understand the benefit of a deep system dive.
I keep mentioning the RX10iii because it's a camera like the proverbial onion; it has layers after layers for you to peel back. Using it in raw for stills or in the 4K mode for video is a constant revelation. The better I know the camera the better I use the camera and the more it rewards me.
I am more amazed now than when I bought it that its 4K video is so pristine. In a head to head test with my $3200 A7Rii and my recent tests with a PXW-Z-150 video camera I can see no real difference in the files between the two one inch Sony cameras and the singular category in which the A7Rii is demonstrably better is in lower noise at higher ISO settings.
Before the hours I've spent with the Alexander White book I was using about $750 dollar's worth of my RX10's potential and now I feel like we're really just starting to get our money's worth our of it. But, mea culpa. This is what I get for being a "know-it-all" and believing my own press...
In the digital age the real mastery of a camera has to go so much deeper....