7.31.2014

If you think, as I do, that all cameras are really good these days then now is the time for bargain shopping.

Or, how to make your hobby (or business) less of a financial drain...

Olympus OMD EM-5 with 17mm 1.8 lens, and hand grip.

Can we talk? You and I love to buy cameras and lots of other photographic stuff. I actually write about new gear on my blog all the time so you'd think I'd be racing to the poor house with my incessant gear purchases, right? Well, maybe not so much. You see, I like to wait for everyone else to buy the gear first and work out the bugs, then use it for a while and figure out the best workflows. Then I kinda hang around until they get a whiff of the newest stuff and get the urge to upgrade. At that point I get interested in the gear and buy it used. Never for more than fifty cents on the dollar.  If I don't like it I can almost always sell it a bit further down the road for more or less what I paid. 

Now, I don't always work like this. I ran out and bought the new Panasonic GH4 when it came out because I had specific video projects that I knew I wanted to use that camera for (and make money with) and, being the first real user 4K camera on the market it's not like I had older, cheaper options to consider.

But more often than not I try to love old cameras more than the latest cameras. Especially the ones that earn universal kudos before they are put out to pasture. One of my favorites was the Sony a850. It was an almost identical copy of the a900 full frame, 24 megapixel camera but in came out about a year later, cost $1999 instead of $2799 and was the absolute cheapest way to get into a full frame and 24 megapixel cameras at the time. I probably had a sales associate pull one off the shelf twelve times so I could play with it and even though I wanted it I knew I didn't "need" it. Not at the full price. 

Early last year I found one in great shape for around $850. Now this was before the launch of the Sony A7 cameras and, for a Sony user, the full frame choice of the moment was the a99 at $2799. I bought the a99 and paid the new toll but I couldn't see paying that again for a back up camera. If you aren't a professional user you might not need a back up. I do. It's total paranoia on my part but I can't go out on a shooting assignment without one. My brain just won't let me. Too much liability...

So I finally plunked down money for the a850. It was a great camera. The used one I bought was half the price of a new, APS-C, Sony a77 at the time. It was an amazing bargain for a studio photographer. When I bailed out of the Sony stuff this year the a850, used for another year, brought me exactly the same amount of money back when I sold it. Even Steven. I basically got to use, play with and leverage a fun, full frame and very professional camera for a year----for free. 

I don't always make such good bargains but then again I generally only lose money if I need the new technology (thought I needed the a99 for video---I was wrong) or if a camera is so lasciviously captivating that I can't extinguish the flames of desire and have the money in the bank. I lost as much money when divesting of the a99 as I initially spent on the a850. That's the price of having the camera of the moment. 

If you look back two years in the VSL archives you can read my high praise of the Olympus EM-5. I think it's the camera that really made mirror less cameras legitimate in the eyes of the center of the Bell curve consumers. But I was over equipped at the time it was launched with various Sony cameras and couldn't justify paying the "opening season" premium for the camera and the requisite lenses. Since that time I've watched legions of photographers gush about the quality of the files, the colors and the incredible in body IS. I envied them but I bought practical stuff like the Panasonic GH3's that I've used for a dozen video projects and nearly a hundred still shoots. I also knew I needed the video capabilities of the GH4 before I needed the particular attributes of the EM-5 for my style of business shooting but I never lost my admiration for the product and the engineering. 

A friend recently upgraded to a brace of EM-1 cameras, and a GH4 to keep his GH3 company. Feeling a bit overstocked he was ready, after two years of  EM-5 ownership, to lighten his inventory and sold me the two cameras at an amazing price. Less than half of the new price and paired with some great accessories which further sweetened the deal for me. Wow. These are great, low mileage cameras and I'm enjoying them as though they were brand new to me. 

Essentially what I'm getting at is that we've pretty much reached the consensus that cameras have hit a point of quickly diminishing returns. The stuff that was on the market two years ago isn't just half as good as today's products it's something like 98% as good as today's products and in some cases (many cases?) you'd have to be practicing pretty damn precise and careful techniques to see the difference. So----why pay for incremental improvements you are hardly likely to perceive?

I was motivated to write this after a trip yesterday to purchase a cheap lens at Precision Camera. There I saw several fervent photographers getting ready to trade in Nikon D800's and D800e's in order to purchase the new Nikon D810. Now, I know that the new camera sports the same number of pixels and most of the same features as the cameras it is replacing but I also know from reading what smart, experienced shooters have posted about how small and incremental the actual, visible quality differences are. Most will be obscured by lenses that aren't of high enough resolution to resolve those differences.

How old is the oldest D800? Is it two years old? Has anything in the 35mm format come out that trumps the performance by a discernible amount (and I mean discernible to mentally healthy people...)? Not that I know of. So I marveled at the folks who would willingly lose about $800 to $1,000 on the trade. What is it that they are seeing that I don't get? Doesn't matter. If they can perceive the difference, and value it, that's all that matters. 

But going forward here's my suggestion for truly enjoying the gear end of the practice of photography:  Buy stuff used! There are tons of used lenses and used bodies that are wonderful to work with but have been replaced by newer models, most of which don't add much to the spec list. 

I was combing the web and looking at bargains last week. Here are some I found:

The Fuji EX1 with the 18-55mm zoom lens (the fast one), in almost new condition for $600.
The difference between the EX-1 and a new EX-2? The finder is a bit better in the 2 and the screen on the back is two tenths of an inch wider. The sensor and the imaging pipeline, as well as the lens, are identical. And both of those camera have the identical sensor and imaging pipeline you'll find in the Pro-1.

You need a faster, more traditional body with class leading performance? Smart guy, Thom Hogan tells me that there's only 22% difference in resolution between a Nikon D7000 at 16 megapixels and the newer D7100 at 24 megapixels. His take? Not enough discernible difference for most people to care about at the final file sizes 99% will use. A new D7100? About $1100. A lightly used D7000? About $500. The difference in operation? Minimal. 

If you are mostly a mirror less shooter or APS-C shooter but you've always wanted to play around with the full framers (not for the resolution but because you know that perspective and depth of field is different) you could ante up for a D610 or a 6D from Nikon and Canon respectively or you could pick up a lightly used original Canon 5D for a whopping $600. My friend Paul and I were fondling one yesterday at the camera shop and it looked as though it had just been taken out of the box for the first time. The tariff? $600.  All the depth of field magic with the nasty depreciation already sucked out of the camera. 

The 17mm Olympus 1.8 lens above retails for around $500. The one I bought is in great condition and cost me less than $350. It works just as well as the new ones. 

We could go on and on but it's not like the old days where the jump from three to six megapixels was amazing and career changing. It's not like the days when Nikon and Canon jumped from six to twelve and then to 22-24 megapixels. The changes are a lot more subtle and they are happening at a slower pace. For all intents and purposes we're at the point where skipping generations of our favorite products doesn't make us feel like we're falling behind. 

Just a few thoughts on keeping the passion affordable. Now, who's got a lightly used Leica S they'd like to sell me at half the going new price? I might want to take a look at that...

7.30.2014

Musician's Dog on Sixth St.

 Dog in a guitar case.


I don't remember exactly when I took this shot. I know which camera I used but it really doesn't matter because the exif info tells me I shot the image at f7.1 with a modern kit lens and I doubt a better (or worse) camera or a better lens would have made any difference at all. I was at loose ends and I was walking around with a camera in my hands looking for interesting stuff to photograph. 

I smiled at the owner, dropped a buck into his case and asked him if I could photograph his dog. "Sure."

I was happy to see that the dog had a fresh cup of kibble just to the left of his (or her) head and a collapsible bowl of clean water just outside the guitar case. I also was happy to see that the owner was using a harness instead of a collar. Studio Dog says that's her preferred rig because if they make a fast break for a squirrel and come up short on the leash it doesn't put stress on their necks. 

I wish I'd made a few different photography decisions but I'm happy to have the photograph. 

The camera I used to take this is long gone but the image, and its attendant memory for me is still right here.


7.29.2014

Reading the Austin Chronicle on a sunny afternoon.


Jaston Williams (of Greater Tuna fame) in costume for his upcoming one man play: Maid Marian in a Stolen Car.

Jaston Williams as "Maid Marian"
Camera: Samsung Galaxy NX

Zach Theatre will be presenting Jaston Williams' one person play, Maid Marian in a Stolen Car, at the end of August. I spent a couple hours with Jaston shooting promotional photographs for print collateral, the web and the transilluminated posters that front the theatre on Lamar Blvd. and I can ensure you that it will be absolutely funny. When we did the shoot that yielded this particular shot and several hundred others I was in a big experimental phase with new cameras. I'd been bringing two or three bodies, sometimes from two or three different manufacturers and shooting the all to see how they were different and how they were alike. 

We had fun shooting with the relatively bizarre Samsung Galaxy NX because we were able to compose on a five inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. The art director and I were standing side by side in low light while Jaston performed in the high light levels of the modeling lights on the flashes I was using. This allowed us to see the rear screen with no glares or reflections. Nice feedback loop between photographer/trusted art director/animated talent. 

It was also great to be able to move the focusing point around with a finger. Something I also like to do on the Panasonic GH4. The Galaxy NX camera had some operational quirks and I stopped using it much after getting the newer and more streamlined NX 30.

Recently I've been going though thousands of shots from hundreds of shoots and trying to find fun new stuff to stick into a portfolio. I came across this one and, after playing with it for a while in PS I realized that while the camera and I didn't make a happy couple from a UI perspective the sensor and lenses were very, very good. It will probably be lost to the small file size on the web but the sharpness is high, the noise low and the colors are great. Always interesting to discover attributes in a camera that you didn't appreciate the first time around.

Fun stuff. 


The Photo Fiction/Action Adventure Novel 
of Summer 2014.

The frames between the frames.

Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60 mm macro lens. 


Photography, as we practice it at the Visual Science Lab, is hardly ever deadly serious business. For the most part I chose this career because when I was working at an ad agency back in the 1980's the people in the ad business who seemed to be having the most fun were the photographers. They'd show up with a retinue of assistants, set up magical lights and fill the room with glorious energy. Once they got the perfect frame they played around some more, until they got bored or ran out of time. 

The fun thing; the wonderful thing is that the images we all loved and wanted to use in the ads were mostly the ones that came in the moments after the serious shooting. Those were the moment where everyone involved felt free to just play. Like kids. 

I'm all for photographers getting their technical ducks in a row but in a business like this, with all the budget cutting, uncertainty and competition, there's no reason to be in it unless you are actively having fun with the actual process of taking the pictures and making your art. 

I shot this for Samsung. Gloria was a wonderful model. We have tons of frames of her looking seriously alluring but the ones were we break away from the expected seriousness and play around with no seriousness involved are the most fun. A photo with the joy of the experience showing through is the target we're aiming at. You get there by letting go. You get there by sharing the fun.



7.28.2014

A photograph from The Gospel at Colonus. Zach Theatre. Austin, Texas 2014


A shot during dress rehearsal. There's really nothing else to say.

Camera: Sony a99. Stage lighting. 

Meeting young Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater, Director. 
© 1992 Kirk Tuck, All Rights Reserved.

I got a call from an art director at Elle Magazine. "Would you take some portraits of a young, Austin director for us?" he asked. This was way back in 1992. I told them that I'd be delighted and asked for a little direction. They gave me very little direction.  The art director said, "Just something casual." and then they gave me his telephone number. 

Richard had already done the movie, Slacker, and was in pre-production for a new movie called, Dazed and Confused, but he still answered his own phone and we made a date to meet at the apartment he was renting just off campus and to walk around shooting some photos. I talked an aspiring young actress named, Renee, into coming along with me to help carry a flash. There were no publicists involved, no fashion editor from the magazine, no entourages.

Richard's apartment was one of five or six that had been carved out of an old house just on the corner of 24th street and San Antonio St., a block over from the venerable and famous Les Amis CafĂ© and only two blocks from the University of Texas. When we got there he was sitting out in front on the steps waiting for us. Richard, Renee and I talked for ten minutes or so and discovered that we had all been in the English department at UT at one time or another. 

We walked down the long alley behind the main drag where we found this wall that all of us liked and we took a bunch of photos in that area. Richard even agreed to do some shots in a little brick area made for trash cans. The pictures of him laying on his side in a glamor pose are still funny.  

Everyone is very buttoned up now when it comes to things like make-up and costuming/wardrobe but on that day Richard was carrying a couple different shirts in a backpack and if we wanted to do a costume change he'd just pull off one t-shirt and pull on another one. It was Austin. He'd directed Slacker. Everyone was quite laid back. 

My favorite images from the shoot were taken with the Varsity Theater in the background. The vaguely out of focus murals in the background were of movie stills. It was cool. I've moved a couple of times since I shot those and I'm still looking for that box of medium format transparencies. I know they are here somewhere.

We ended up shooting some soft box lit portraits back in the studio but I think we all (including the magazine) knew we wanted to use the outdoor shots.

The magazine selected their favorites from six or seven rolls of 120mm transparencies. That's about 70 different 6x7 cm images in total. The image ran big enough to be decently credible with my peers and I enjoyed telling my women friends that I had a shot running in Elle. It was cool.

I shot with two different Pentax 6x7 cameras. One had a normal lens and one had a short telephoto on it. Almost certainly the lens we used was the 165 mm f2.8. What a wonderful lens...

I shot the whole collection of images handheld with ISO 100 transparency film and I can see that by today's standards the details in the images are a little soft. The main reason was that the Pentax 6x7 camera was the ultimate granddaddy for what we are now calling, "shutter shock." Back then we called it "mirror slap" but it all in the same category: unsharpness caused by camera vibrations.

Richard's newest movie, Boyhood, has opened to rave reviews from ...... everyone. And it's an amazing project done over twelve years. It's a small town here in Austin, the actress who plays the younger girl (11 or 12) is the daughter of a videographer whom I have worked with on many projects, for decades.  Another friend and one time writing partner spent part of that year as the official chaperone on the movie set of Richard's second feature.

It's fun to look back at where currently famous people started out. I will remember Richard as being one of the least pretentious and most accommodating people I've worked with. And it was nice of him to hire my assistant for a part in his next movie. It is obvious that his current celebrity was fairly and well earned.

Finally. Kirk stops horsing around with dumb format philosophizing and puts up something useful. It's about time. "How to keep your camera comfortable."



I'm tired of thinking about camera sensors and arguments about why one format is better than another. I know it doesn't really matter because no matter what anyone else says I'll still go on shooting some stuff with tiny cameras and other stuff with big cameras and I'll use all the stuff in the middle too. I decided that this morning I really just wanted to share a stupid idea that came to me yesterday afternoon. I know it's painfully obvious but I just figured it out right then. 

Let me set the stage:  It's about a hundred and one outside yesterday afternoon around 3:30. It's not the pleasant, desiccating, dry heat that the people in Phoenix get to enjoy. This is Austin humid/heat. We had some nice rain last week and when the sun amped up the humidity came along for the ride. Anyway, it's hot and a little uncomfortable outside unless you happen to be in a pool. Or on the lake. 
I was playing with a different camera and lens and I decided it would be fun to go out and walk around the lake and try to get some great Summer shots. You know, people on paddle boards, people in swan boats, people in skimpy swimwear, crazy people running in the heat, kayakers, canoe enthusiasts, etc. And I knew all of them would be out in the afternoon. 

I grabbed a camera and headed to the downtown hike and bike trail that surrounds the lake. I also grabbed a little scarf-like thing thinking I would soak it with cold water and wear it around my neck as a tool for evaporative cooling. I buy these stretchy cloth things from REI for just that reason. They also come in handy in the winter. I wear one over my mouth when I run in the cold to warm up the air before it hits my lungs.  The ones I buy are from a company called, Buff. They are essentially a big rectangle of cloth that's sewn on on side to create a tube. You can roll them up as in the image just below and wear them around your neck or your forehead or you can unroll them and adapt them in other ways. 

Buff cloth, rolled up and ready for neck ware.

Here's what the cloth looks like unrolled. 

And this gives you an idea of the construction. It's just like a ski gaiter. 

So, I start walking. Now I've got on my sunscreen and a good hat and a pair of cool sunglasses but I look down at the camera dangling off my left shoulder and I realize a couple of things about dragging a camera around in a hot climate. First of all most of the cameras I use are black and even the least knowledgeable among us know that black soaks up heat instead of reflecting it. We also know that heat messes stuff up. While it might not cause lasting damage to a camera using one with a core temperature over 104 is woking outside the expressed operating range. That might cause the lubricants to get a bit more lubricant-y than intended and the increased temperature might cause more noise in your videos or image files. 

The next thing I realize is that I'm grabbing the camera with my sweaty, drippy hands and that salt water in the form of sweat is almost certainly not good for the exterior of the camera or the little control knobs and what not. Even with total disregard for the health of the camera I had a moment of selfish satori as I realized that the camera would be harder for me to handle when wet and/or sticky. What I have over my shoulder is a precision instrument baking in the sun and exposed to caustic chemistry every time I handle it. 

Now I'm beginning to understand the rationale of those leather, ever ready cases that were somewhat popular many years ago. Of course you could always pop the camera into a camera bag or into a backpack but then you've made it many steps more difficult to access the camera when inspiration strikes you. I wanted my camera somewhat protected by easily grab-able.  Just in case inspiration does strike a glancing blow...

It must be something in the air. Here's what Zack Arias has to say about sensor size this morning..... It's a good read.

http://dedpxl.com/crop-or-crap-math-or-moment/

Zach is a photographer in Atlanta. His written work is fun, high energy and occasionally bombastic. I love it when we're on the same page.

Go read and enjoy.

Happy Monday.

(Thanks to Jean Marc Schwartz for pointing me to Zach's current blog post!).

7.27.2014

Most of the stuff we shoot is just for fun. Sorry, no available metrics for fun.

Upside down woman at Eeyore's Birthday Party in Austin, Texas.



Starting new projects. Building on old ways of seeing.



 I photographed this image behind the scenes at an international fashion show held on the beach in South Beach Miami. It was many years ago at a time when digital and film were just intersecting. I was in Miami to shoot a sales meeting/celebration for a long since expired telecom company. During my work times I shot with a brand new Olympus e-10 digital camera. During my non-telecom time I shot with a film camera I'd brought along for comfort. Almost certainly it was one of the Leica R8's and the 90mm Summicron lens along with some Kodak 400 speed Ektapress color negative film. The R 90mm was a nice enough lens for its time. Contrary to legend it wasn't really critically sharp wide open but there were other things to keep track of back then so we didn't worry a lot about it.

I love the simplicity of the shot. If you take a close look at it there are so many diagonal lines that lead your eye around the frame. The shooting was not painstaking or involved. I flashed my press credentials and got ushered right into the show. I even got a commemorative t-shirt. I spent an afternoon photographing beautiful people getting their make-up applied and then strutting down a giant runway in an enormous series of air conditioned tents. When I finished I headed to the bar at the Delano Hotel in hopes of catching a glimpse of Madonna who was rumored to be staying there as well.

7.26.2014

The roaring debate over small differences in digital sensor sizes masks the reality that we've lost powerful visual tools. Caution: Many Words.

Beautiful Person. Camera: Hasselblad. Lens: 150mm Zeiss Sonar.
Lighting by Kirk.

There's been a roaring debate on one of the popular professional forums about what kind of gear is "professional."  As I'm sure you know this kind of hysterical defense of whatever is most popularly aspirational in the gear catalog has been going of for the better part of a decade in the digital space and for the better part of 70 years in the film space. The argument goes in two directions. There are two traditional and strongly held beliefs on the bigger and more advanced is always better side. One says that a 'true' professional must always bring the highest quality equipment that is capable of the highest metrics of performance in order to fair and appropriate for clients.

Recently the advocates of this position found themselves arguing that even if one were only to be hired and paid to make images for the web they are duty bound to use something like a Nikon D800 so that their client will be future-proofed by the resultant images. The idea being that while this year your client may think they only need (and want to pay for) low resolution images to put on a website they may increase their marketing reach next year or ten years down the road and we, as true professional photographers, are duty bound to protect these poor client from their own lack of foresight and provide images that will best stand the test of time and the ever increasing resolution of all media. In other words, you'd better make sure you shoot huge raw files when you shoot for that one time, work for hire, giveaway job because that same client who spec'd the web job is almost certainly going to come back to you and have you making 40 by 60 inch posters of the same images a year down the road. Right.

If you've been working in the industry for any amount of time I think you have a good handle on what has historical legs and what doesn't and I'm here to tell you that the headshot of Vicki in accounting is never going to be a photo that will be used bigger than 640 by 480 no matter how hard you dream otherwise.

The second leg of the argument is that every client deserves a photographer with the best gear imaginable because it confirms the photographer's commitment to excellence and his commitment to craft. Hiding behind this argument is the fear that if the photographer making the argument shows up with anything that the client's mail room clerk or girlfriend can afford to shoot said client will realize that only gear matters and will give all future photo duties to the girlfriend of the mail room clerk.

If you are relatively young you'll think that this irrational worship of gear is an affectation of the digital age but nothing could be further from the truth. In the "oldest days" only a view camera with a bellows was considered pro. Then it was slowly displaced by medium format camera and then again those were displaced by 35mm film cameras. There has always been a progression in which the two conflicting parameters of image size and film quality shift and one medium can displace the other by dint of supplying a quality level commensurate with current industry standards.

When I first started shooting integrated circuit dies at high magnification my clients at Motorola insisted that the images be made on 4x5 inch transparencies. As the geometries of the dies got smaller and smaller the process required more specialized lenses and much greater bellows extensions. At some point I reached the point where we were trying to image 4 x 4 mm die squares onto 4x5 inch transparency film with two or more feet of bellow extension and so little space between the lens front element and the die that we had to invent new ways to pipe light to the surface of the die. Yikes.

The shoe dropped when we were confronted with a new line of integrated circuits whose geometry was 20% smaller. Our choice was to totally retool, with tens of thousands of dollars of spending to fulfill a handful of jobs per year. In desperation I called the president of our local ASMP chapter, Reagan Bradshaw and asked him if he had any secrets he could share.

He thought about it for about twenty seconds and then he advised me like this: "Get a micro lens for your 35mm camera that will fill the frame with the chip die. You might need a bellows. Fill the frame with the dies and shoot it on Kodachrome 25 film. Take the film to such and such a lab and have them dupe the image up to 4x5. Deliver the 4x5 and keep your mouth shut."

I did as advised and discovered that it was a much better way to shoot the tiny dies. There was more depth of field which was critical at those magnifications. The parallel planes were more accurate. It was easier to view and focus the images. We could cost effectively bracket and not have to worry about the focus drifting. And, because there was additional control in the duping process, we could deliver an image that was more technically perfect. The upshot? The clients loved the new and improved imaging.

The whole debate today seems to center around whether or not a professional must have and shoot with full frame cameras in order to be certifiably professional or whether one of the "lesser" formats can provide a workable solution.

We've been doing our research lately as regards various camera formats. The bottom line is that full frame 35mm style cameras with the latest sensors are marginally better than the next smaller sensors when all cameras are used under some sort of duress. By this I mean in situations where the camera must deliver the highest quality with no supplemental lighting in dark situations. Or, jobs that require massive enlargements of printed material that can be examined at unusually close viewing distances.

Most professional photographers, the vast, vast majority, are shooting with flashes in their studios and flashes on location. Part of their jobs is creating beautiful light. Good photographers are not just strict industrial documentarians who show up, meter wretchedly ugly light, set the correct settings on their cameras and then blaze away. Also, an amazing number of people are shooting in glorious, bright daylight.

The people who "can't imagine living without my 36 megapixel D800" are the same ones who once defended their APS-C, Nikon D2X cameras as "the best camera I will ever need." And the funny thing is that the final use targets for the images haven't really changed at all, it's just that the same photographers have spent the better part of a decade doing what their clients and audiences will likely never do: examining each digital frame at 100 or 200% on desktop computer monitors. If 150 mph capability is good in a car then 200 mph capability must be even better even though the speed limit is invariably 65 mph. This is probably why rational drivers buy Hondas and Buicks and Volkswagens and why generally only dissipated former rock stars, Justin Bieber and incredibly sociopathic hedge fund managers commute around town in Bugatti Veyrons.

So, in my research and in my forum reading the real conflict seems to be between people for whom good enough really is more than good enough and the people who must have the absolute best even if they are never in a position to use even half the capability of the best camera and even when the budgets for photographic assignments are static or declining.

The crux of the ongoing push and shove is the pervasive idea that professional metrics are all about things like weather proofing, size, indestructibility and impressive exteriors but the leading conflict is always about the size and the density or resolution of the sensors. The biggest contrast is between the folks who've jumped into small mirror less cameras versus those who hold steadfastly to the faux standard of the late 1990's, the 35mm "full framers."

Both camps are totally wrong. Absolutely, totally wrong. Once we crested the 12 megapixel mark I strongly suggest that just about everyone hit a sweet spot for resolution that works of most rational practitioners. I'll agree that people who routinely print and sell prints bigger than 20 by 30 inches have benefited from higher resolution cameras. But I'm also willing to bet that among all my professional friends and all of my advanced amateur friends I could count perhaps 5 who print larger than that on a regular basis.

I know that I've not printed anything bigger than 12 by 18 inches for a long time and I know that my clients aren't asking for large prints either (I shoot for commercial clients so if you shoot weddings or babies or big families you have different needs). Almost all of my clients are using the materials we generate to make ads on the web. Or they use the stills in television commercials. Large prints are largely an unfulfilled afterthought.

The real obvious but silent elephant in the room is the look of the photograph. People praise full frame because they can put stuff out of focus in the backgrounds more easily and at a slightly steeper ramp than can people using APS-C sensored cameras and those APS-C guys can do the same in comparison to m4:3 shooters who can now brag that they have less depth of field than the new 1 inch shooters. But of course it's all unadulterated bullshit because anyone who knows the history of photography can plainly see that if the gold standard metric is narrow depth of field and a quicker ramp from sharp to lusciously blurred then that visual effect can be much, much better achieved by shooting with a full 6x6 cm or 6x7 cm camera. And ultimately can be achieved at the very, very edge of diminishing returns with an 8x10 camera and a long lens (which matches the angles of view of the smaller formats).

If it's the look that is vital and not the technical gobble-dee-goop then all these people jockeying for ultimate pro status would logically reject then small format cameras (including FF) and make a bee line for the big stuff. Yes, big digital (as in medium format) is expensive but I just saw dozens of Hasselblad film cameras advertised on KEH.com for around $1000 each. A medium format image is just a scan away....  And I know my local dealer still carries bricks of medium format Tri-X so I know someone is still uncompromising with their aesthetics.

So to all the web experts who rise up and excoriate their professional brethren for shooting less than the holy grail of full ass 24x36mm I say "suck it up and get a bigger camera if your goals are imaging the way it was meant to be." And at the same time, by embracing the larger cameras they will ensure that their volatile clients will always have the actual, highest quality, future proofed formats at their disposals.

When I posted a blog two days ago about full frame cameras I was very clear about my particular expectations, I clearly stated that resolution or dynamic range were not a real consideration for me and that if I bought another full frame camera it would largely be to enjoy the "LOOK" of the format when compared to the smaller formats. There is no race here in my studio to see who can blow stuff up the biggest, the goal here is the LOOK. How does the focus slide off in the distance? How are the tonalities affected by the focal length AND the angle of view of the lenses we use? How do imagers respond to the out of focus areas.

If you are still measuring the success of a camera by how tightly the makers can pack pixels into a 24x36mm rectangle you may be missing the photographic art boat altogether.

In regard to pixel density and pixel size I've been reading some stuff from some more advanced photographers I follow who are interested in the visual effect and differentiated rendering of cameras with big sensors but small pixel counts. Cameras like the older Nikon D700 or the first Canon 1DS. They are seeing the imagers and lenses work together to create a different overall look than what they are able to achieve with the newer, denser cameras. The conversations started in response to some of Michael Reichmann's comments about the new Sony A7S camera with its "meager" 12 megapixels.

I don't know how to describe it all but I also read ATMTX's blog and I notice that he's picked up an ancient Olympus E-1 (not EM-1) camera and has been surprised and very pleased with it's very, very good color rendering. He notes that it does color and tone differently (and in some ways much more pleasingly) than current "state of the art" cameras. One famous fashion photographer recently wrote that he's buying a second copy of the original version of the Leica medium format digital camera because he sees such a profound difference in color rendering between the older CCD sensors in those cameras and the ubiquitous new CMOS chip that's infesting every new MF camera on the market.

To wrap this all up I'll end with two observations I've made many times. First is that until the advent of electronic viewfinders digital took away our choice of shooting formats (yes, I know you are a linear thinking, rational photo god who can crop in your head and you don't need guidelines or boundaries to see in a square or a 16:9 ratio......get over it). This robbed us, for at least ten years, of really easing back into the formats that worked for us individually and it was driven by the manufacturing need to homogenize the offerings and that, in turn worked hard to homogenize our collective use of formats as part of our art work.  Now the cameras with EVFs have given those back to us. Hopefully it will only be a matter of time until MF cameras and their signature looks are more widely available to photographers (financially).

The second observation is that faster lenses on smaller formats don't have the same focus fall off or reverse ramping that lenses with the same angle of view on different formats do and the leap between full frame 35mm style cameras and the beautiful 60 x 60mm cameras is a much more profound and visible leap than that between APS-C and full frame or that between m4:3 and APS-C. All three of those formats give you a rather constrained degree of variation. To get the real stuff requires making harder choices.

I'm happy to shoot with small cameras or large cameras but I do so (pun intended) with my eyes open. I know from experience what I gain and what I lose with each choice. If you've never used a medium format film or digital camera and you are busting someone's chops for choosing a one step smaller than full frame digital camera (APS-C) as being a profound difference in imaging I suggest that you: A.  Shut Up. B. Rent a bigger camera and shoot with it using lenses that match the ANGLE of VIEW of your favorite 35mm lenses and from the same distance to subject and then come back and tell us what you saw. It just might shift your visual sensibilities....

We tend to think these days, because of cost, that our only choices are between m4:3, APS-C and 24x36mm sensored cameras but that's just not true. The other variants are still out there. They exist in film cameras and they exist in ever less expensive medium format digital cameras. But the truth is that they take more sacrifice to buy and to use. And most of the self-proclaimed pros who "can't imagine not shooting with the best tools" and who don't take that plunge are being duplicitous. And perhaps duping themselves.

The bottom line is that the markets and the technology change all the time. The way I see the digital landscape today is that the m4:3 cameras ARE the 35mm cameras of our time. The APS-C cameras are the medium format cameras of today. The 35mm's are the bigger versions of the medium format cameras just as the Pentax 6x7 cm camera was the big daddy to the Pentax 645 cameras. And, finally, the best of the medium format cameras are the 4x5's and 8x10's of right now.

With the ever declining budgets and the ever diminishing use in print media you really have to ask yourself, as a business person, "do my clients really deserve THE BEST of all camera gear?" If we were in the pizza delivery business I think the analogy would be: Do my drivers need to be driving late model Porsches? The pizza could get there quicker and the customers would be most impressed.....

Practical?




7.25.2014

The battle ground expands. Did the jump up in megapixels in the Nikon D7100 outflank Micro Four Thirds?


Love doing the research and looking at all the different permutations of what's available out in the market. While I was mulling over full frame bodies from Nikon, Sony and Canon yesterday I ventured over to look at the sensor scores for each camera at DXOmark.com. DXO tests sensors and while some people think that the test scores don't always correlate with visual reality I've found them to be pretty spot on in terms of what I'm seeing with various cameras.

While comparing different cameras I had the disquieting thought (occasioned by the list) that there might actually be something in the APS-C range that tested close to what some of the FF cameras deliver. I started looking at the descending order of wonderfulness as it related to sensors and I was pretty amazed to find one or two APS-C cameras that really stuck out. Of these the camera that seemed most correspondent to my needs was the Nikon D7100. Now, I know I started yesterday's column with the premise that the only reason to buy a full frame camera would be to use the 85mm to 105mm lens range as it was intended to be used when it came to depth of field, depth of focus decay and angle of view.


The reality is that I'm doing fine with the M4:3 cameras and recently had a lovely shoot with great results using a Samsung NX30 camera and the NX 85mm 1.4 lens in a manner than made the system look great. The portrait assignment was with 12 different people at outdoor locations where shallow focus was part of the assignment. We shot in open shade and mostly with apertures at f2.0 to f2.8 and shutter speeds in the 1/320th range. The lens is magnificent. I wish I could adapt it to every camera I own....

7.24.2014

A Strictly Hypothetical Question: Which Full Frame Digital Camera (Under $2000) Is the One You'd Buy Right Now?


There you are, sitting around with a stack of APS-C cameras and a bigger stack of micro four-thirds cameras with glorious, jewel-like lenses, and in the back of your mind, no matter how logical you are and no matter how many times you've proven to yourself that your selection of cameras does exactly what you want it to do, you start to think you just might really need a full frame camera. You know, mostly for those times when you'd really like that depth of field to be......tiny. For those portraits like the one above that was done with some sort of esoteric, ultra fast 85mm lens on some splendid, old 35mm film camera.  Maybe you were digging through boxes of prints and some random image just grabbed you by the short hairs and made you uber nostalgic for a look you thought you'd have gotten over by now.

We'll leave out whatever personal or psychological reasons might be driving you to even consider getting back into that full frame....situation and we'll consider the whole exercise to be entirely hypothetical, Okay? This isn't (necessarily) an admission that as soon as I finish typing that one of us might be jumping up, grabbing the credit card and the car keys and heading out to acquire one of the cameras under discussion.  Rather it's intended as a high minded discussion of the various attributes of three different cameras that might appeal to someone who might be considering adding a bit to the kit. 

Just above I mentioned that I was thinking of three different cameras. That's because, to my knowledge, there are just three that can be purchased brand new for under $2,000 each. The candidates I want to discuss are: The Sony A7, The Nikon D610 and the Canon 6D. All three feature full frame, 35mm area, sensors but all three of them are different enough so that a person with no allegiance and no ties to any particular brand might have a hard time choosing. 

When I look at them this is what I see:

The Sony A7 is the odd man out. This is because the camera is designed as a compact, mirror less design and uses contrast detection auto focus. The pros of the camera are (because of its shallower dimension between lens flange and sensor plane) its ability to use just about any full frame lens from any system and from just about any decade. At one point I fantasied about buying the camera along with a Nikon 20mm, a 55 Micro Nikkor lens and the much adored (but probably over romanticized) 105mm 2.5 ais lens and having a wild system that spanned the ages. And probably at the lowest cost of the three system choices. 

The sensor in the A7 most probably shares its DNA with the sensor in the Nikon D610 and both of those sensors are highly rated. The 24 megapixel sensors have AA filters in front of them so I suspect that the performance of both is much like the overall performance of the Sony a99 camera with each company changing the secret sauce of file processing to hit the tastes of their respective markets. I'm sure each sensor resolves plenty of detail and does so even at high ISOs. But I think the reason most cognoscenti are looking at full frame isn't necessarily for performance as much as it is the look of the lenses at particular angles of view. The selling point of any larger sensor camera (at least to me) is

7.23.2014

Taking time off even from time off.

From a shoot on Monday. The GH4 hardwired to a big strobe box.

I have what I suspect is a nasty habit and I'm further convinced that most of the people I know have it too. It's the need to be constantly busy even when there's no need to be constantly busy. I've worked a bit in June and July and ample cash is flowing through the business. My body and my spirit want to take time to sit and contemplate and enjoy just being on the couch in the sun drenched living room, drifting in and out of sleep and tickling the Studio Dog's tummy with my bare toes. I don't even want to pick up the novel I've been trying to read through and "get some reading done." In fact, I don't really want to participate in anything that requires me to think about a process that ends with "done."

But my usual way of being is to keep my plate full of commitments. If I'm not writing I'm marketing. If I'm not marketing I'm shooting and when I'm finished shooting for clients my frenetic mind wants me to keep on moving like a perpetual motion machine and so when free time comes along I let my linear brain boss me around and send me out into the world with a camera and a lens and an agenda that's loosely predicated on "experimenting with new photography". Getting some practice in. Grabbing some images that I can use on the blog. But sometimes the forced photo leisure just flies apart and becomes a forced march through a landscape denuded of interest by my own lack of engagement. 

I think that certain strata of our culture feel useless if not wearing the yoke and plowing the fields of commerce. And yet, our underlying ideal; at least the one we give lip service to, is that one day our work in the vineyards of commerce will produce the wine of leisure and we'll enjoy it. 

But will we (collectively) ever know when to let go? I think it's all tied to worry. I'm sure I worry, on some level, that if I am not constantly available to my clients they'll find a path of less resistance and come across someone who can be available 120% of the time. I am certain on some level just below the surface of rational thought that if I buy something like an expensive lens or a computer all work will cease and all cash will stop flowing in some balancing action of nature that's meant to punish my hubris in buying these things in the first place. 

I worry that if I don't write a blog a day that my readership will slowly fall off and the community I've worked to build will relocate to a livelier location on the web. Someplace where they can be guaranteed constant action and adventure. I'll lose whatever audience I've earned and become isolated and bounded by physical geography. 

The thought has crossed my mind that if I don't learn how to disengage at times when it's appropriate I may never be able to enjoy doing nothing. I'll be unable to sit quietly and meditate and push out all the restless activity of my mind in a quiet quest to find some balance and harmony. 

In so many ways photography becomes an analogy for my life. When the jobs are flowing I see myself as successful. When the jobs stop I have failed. When I buy new gear I am bolstered and a bit more invincible. When I don't buy new gear and don't "keep up" I feel like I am diminished and vulnerable. When clients call I feel appreciated and valued. When the phone doesn't ring and the e-mail is empty I feel abandoned and sidelined. 

This can't be a good way to look at life. There have to be moments of recharge and rest. It's good to step away and come back with new energy. I took a step forward today. After lunch I put away all the cameras and turned of the studio phone and the cell phone. I put the computer to sleep. I took a nap. I hung out with no agenda on the couch. I made it through the afternoon without doing one traditionally "constructive" or "productive" activity. Nothing that moves anyone's ball forward and nothing that will "move needles" or "create new synergies."  The postman came by late in the day with various notices, letters and bills. One was a bill for the new computer. I went out into the studio, wrote a check and then left and locked the door. I headed back to the couch where I am planning to do something I so rarely do......I am going to "waste time" and watch something mindless on TV. 

Being busy and productive can be highly overrated. 

The big strobe box hardwired to a Panasonic GH4.

First actual image with the Panasonic/Leica Nocticron.


It was a warm and muggy afternoon. I'd spent most of the day working on accounting and then choosing images for a hardback book I'd promised to make for a client. Frank called to see if I wanted to take a break from the drudgery of work and have a cup of coffee and a nice conversation. Who could say no to that? We agreed to meet at my neighborhood Starbucks. Just before the appointed time I stood up from the desk, grabbed an Olympus OMD EM-5 with a Panasonic/Leica 25mm lens on the front and hustled out to the VSL ultra-performance Honda CR-V.

Since it's a stock car I had to use my imagination to hear the throaty growl of the tuned exhaust. I also had to imagine that I was shifting at the perfect moment in the power curve since, of course, the car has automatic transmission. I also imagined the smoke coming off the tires as I accelerated and  pulled out onto Bee Caves Rd. because I was actually following an older person from the neighborhood who was pushing their Volvo wagon right up to around 15 miles per hour....

I arrived at the agreed time, uncharacteristically I ordered a coffee frappucino, and then joined Frank at a table. I placed my camera over to the side and Frank reached into his camera bag and pulled out the 42.5 mm, f 1:1.2 Nocticron lens. It's a beast. It's dense because it is built with a certain amount of rare metal called, unobtainium. It appears to be completely constructed from metal and glass and, on the camera, it feels like the lenses I used to own for the Leica R system. How does that feel? It feels like you are using the best lenses made anywhere for any money.

Frank allowed me to put the lens on an Olympus OMD EM-5 and play with it to my heart's content. I turned 30 degrees to one side and snapped the image above. While it may not come across on the web (especially if you are reading this on your phone...) the image is crisply sharp and the out of focus areas are subdued and calm.

Frank offered to let me borrow the lens for a week or so for an extended evaluation but I'm afraid I will have to decline. Just having it in my hands created such desire that I know a week of use will make any resistance to buying it as futile as resisting being assimilated by the Borg.

If you are using the Olympus or Panasonic systems and you have buckets of cash sitting around on the floor which you don't have pressing need for you might consider evaluating this lens. It's an ultra fast (an eminently usable wide open) 85mm equivalent, has a real aperture ring (operating on the Panasonic cameras only) and has Panasonic's image stabilization built in. The image quality wide open is, to my eyes, stunningly good.

I am not putting a link to the lens from a camera store because I would feel too guilty pushing you over the edge. If you don't have the budget to spring for one right now and you are weak when it comes to luscious gear then do not handle this lens. If you do, and you are partial to short telephoto lenses, the probability that you will be drawn into its gravitational field is high. You've been warned.




A computer progress report.


The 27 inch iMac arrived on schedule last Thurs. All programs migrated successfully from previous machine with the exception of Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop Application. This is the little program that serves as the gate keeper for updating and loading new software. It's also a key piece of Adobe's security for managing authorized and unauthorized users. When we finally got everything loaded up there was a little red triangle on the tool bar icon that caught my eye.

I was able to open and use all my Adobe software but I figured I needed to take care of this. I spent over an hour with a very impatient support person from Adobe trying to figure out why the program wouldn't load correctly. We finally escalated and the problem was resolved by going through the hard drive and removing every single piece of Adobe software, running Adobe Installer Cleaner, booting up in safe mode, running disk permissions, re-booting, and then re-installing all of the Adobe software. I am happy to report that everything is up and running well.

The machine is much faster than the one it replaces. The screen is four inches bigger and has not seen the ravages of time that my old, faithful cinema screen survived. The new screen is much sharper and is much easier to calibrate. I timed the two computers running a folder of DXO raw file conversions and the new machine is at least twice as fast. I am also now able to open and work on 4K files without hesitation in Final Cut Pro X. This is a nice thing.

The one issue I have with the new computer and the new, jumbo sized screen is that watching movies from Netflix has become so much more fun that I may quit working and just catch up on all the movies I have missed.

Unlike cameras, now that I've done the replacement and gotten everything squared away, all desire for anything computer appliance-y has faded back into its usual, very low level stasis.  To all those who wrote to tell me that I could have gotten the same performance for about $50 if I had built my own windows based machine I can only say that, while I may be very eccentric, I am happy to pay the extra $1750 for the beautiful design. After all, if history is a guide, I'll be looking at it every day for the next four or five years....

7.22.2014

Loving older lenses and enjoying the heck out of using them.

55mm Micro Nikkor lens. On two adapters.

I am uncomfortable calling older lenses "legacy lenses." I don't really know what that means but the common usage in photography circles is meant to convey that these are lenses left over from something---usually the film days. They are being re-purposed on cameras for which they were not originally designed. However uncomfortable I am with the nomenclature I am comfortable with the practice of using older lenses on newer cameras. That's one of the (fulfilled) promises of the new wave of mirror less cameras. The lens flange to sensor plane distance is so much shorter than the distance on cameras with mirrors that just about any lens can be easily adapted while maintaining infinity focus. 

As a portrait photographer there are a couple of focal lengths that I find comfortable and "just right." I like the angle of view that matches an 85mm lens on a 24 by 36 mm camera but sometimes I find it too short. That's why I'm hesitating in buying the Nocticron with its 42.5 mm focal length. It's right at the edge of almost too wide for me. I bought the Olympus 45mm 1.8 lens and I think it has very good performance but when I shoot on the 4:3 format I find myself wishing the lens gave me just a slightly narrower angle of view.  But by the time I get to 60 mm's, and especially 75mm, I feel like I'm getting a lens that's just a bit too long. Goldilocks and the Three Bears strikes again. 

So I've been playing around with something in the 50mm to 55mm focal length range. I did a job a while back in which I shot all the portraits with an older, manual 50mm f1.4 Nikkor lens and it was pretty good. A totally different feel that the modern lenses. The colors felt heavier. The images were technically sharp but something was off. 

Last weekend I was out and around and I found a 55mm Micro Nikkor (f2.8) lens, used, at Precision Camera. I remember that lens well because back in the film only days we got a lot of good use out of it. I remembered it as being very sharp. And one of the ideas in choosing lenses for smaller formats is that they need to be both sharp and of high resolution in order to fill the hunger of those little pixels.

I had always remembered the 55mm as being very sharp, even wide open and I was intrigued by the focal length. The price was modest (under $200) and I already had an assortment of adapters back at the studio to test it with. If it passed I might invest in a dedicated Nikon lens to M4:3 adapter just to cut down on the number of parallel surfaces in the mount. 

I am happy to say that the lens does well on the body. I've been using it wide open on a few portraits and by f4 it's pretty amazing (but really, what good, modern lens isn't amazing when it's shot two stops down?). It has a different color rendering and a different tonal character than my more current lenses but I've started thinking that the lens character is something we often confuse with the difference between digital and film---wrongly. It may be that a good part of what makes images from film cameras look different from digital cameras is the way the two different sets of lenses are designed. 

A big problem in early digital imaging is that many of the lenses designed in the film days didn't have the right coatings on the rear element as it faced the sensor. This allowed the light coming through the lens to be bounced off the somewhat reflective sensor and return to the back element as flare or as a hot spot. But there may be other more subtle effects to different lens design that all add up to a different look. Most sensors now are coated with their own anti-reflection coatings and some of the initial problems have vanished. Some lenses have such a weak rear element coating that they still make trouble for sensors when strong light sources are near enough to the lens axis to have light rays touch the front elements. It's still a matter of trial and error. 

Even in digital designs there are differences between manufacturers. It's a known problem to use the Panasonic 7-14mm lens with some Olympus bodies, including the OMDs. The encroachment of any strong light can cause hot spots in the images. This doesn't happen with the Panasonic bodies. I'm sure then coatings tell the story but, of course, all the information is proprietary to each maker so we'll probably never know exactly what the disconnection is. 

So far the Micro Nikkor exceeds my expectations but be warned that I haven't walked around pointing it at the sun (yet). For studio work with soft and gracious lighting it provides exactly the focal length I was looking for along with a little "bite." Next up? Probably my fourth or fifth go around with a 105mm f2.5 Nikkor. They are plentiful and I remember every one I owned as being really nice. Too long for the m4:3 (at least the way I shoot them) but wonderful on a full frame Nikon body---should one catch my eye. 




The Social Marketing Sciences. How a photographic session becomes content beyond its original content.

Fame sits uncomfortably with Studio Dog.

Social Media. We hear about it all the time. People post links to their projects on Facebook and Twitter and write about their adventures on their blogs. Some are interesting. Others less so. I sometimes like to look at images from behind the scenes of other people's photo shoots just to see what we do differently from each other. But there is a new twist for me this year. Today I received my fourth request that I sign a model release so that my image could be used on my client's website and in their social media. 

We were on assignment yesterday at the headquarters of a large medical services client. We (me and the marketing team...) were making images of a group of four practice managers for an upcoming ad for Breast Cancer Awareness month (October). While I fine tuned the lighting a make-up person was putting the final touches on our models. During the set up and pre-production, as well as during the actual photography my client had her Canon Rebel out and was shooting all kinds of available light, behind the scenes images. 

I think this is a win-win for me and the client company. We were shooting "real people" and it shows how much work goes into lighting and cajoling great expressions out of four people simultaneously. The images show how much "gear" the make up person brings and how diligently they work on their clients. For the client it creates a sense of transparency between them and their customers and referrers. It also builds some buzz for their upcoming marketing efforts. 

Of course, I am hoping that I'll be discovered by one of Austin's wonderful film directors (Hello Robert Rodriguez, Hello Richard Linklater) and cast as an ongoing and endearing character actor in some of their upcoming movies. It could happen....

Another example of the constantly changing tides lapping at the flip-flop wearing toes of a working photographer and his long term clients. 



7.21.2014

If you're going to use an umbrella you might want to go big...


I like big umbrellas. 
I used two of them today. 
The one above is a Fotodiox 72 inch white/black model. 

The one below is an ancient Balcar
Zebra umbrella. It's 60 inches in diameter
and has alternating white and silver panels. 

Both are wonderful modifiers for flattering portraits. 
You know, the kind that sell.

On location this morning at Austin Radiological.



If you are going to go big you may as well put some power
behind those lights. 1100 watt second Elinchrom 
light producing machine. Lovely.



7.19.2014

Book Notes. Getting a fresh copy of The Lisbon Portfolio.


Just a few notes about the novel. It's selling well despite the fact that our first version had too many typos and some inconsistencies. The vast majority of the glaring faults have been corrected with help from VSL reader, Michael Matthews (good eye!) and design elbow grease from Belinda. If you buy the Kindle book from Amazon.com today you will be getting the latest version. But if you bought and downloaded the book a week ago you probably got the first version. But don't worry, it's a pretty easy fix.

The neat thing about Kindle books (app available free for all kinds of tablets, laptops, regular computers and even phones....) is that a book becomes upgradable. Like firmware its content can be updated by the author and re-downloaded by users. In order to get a fresh version here's what you need to do:

Go to your account on Amazon.com and click on: Manage Your Content & Devices. Once that page comes up you'll see three different headers. One says, "Your Content", one says, "Your Devices" and the tab on the right hand side says, "Settings." You want to go to "Settings."

Once you are in settings scroll down to a selection that says, Automatic Book Update. By default this is off. You should turn it on. It lets you upload the latest version of a title that you've bought but may have subsequently deleted from your device. The default to "off" is for people who have done detailed annotations of books and who do not want to lose those changes by getting a new version...

Once you've made those changes go back to your device and delete the current book. (DO NOT DELETE THE BOOK IN THE "YOUR CONTENT" SECTION OF YOUR ACCOUNT PAGE ON AMAZON OR YOU WILL LOSE THE BOOK UNTIL YOU PAY FOR IT AGAIN!!!!!). Then head back to the cloud on your device and download the book again. This will be the new version. 

Thank you to all the hundreds of people who've purchased the Lisbon Porfolio and a special, extra thanks to the people who've gone to Amazon here in the states and in the U.K. to leave reviews. While most of the reviews are currently five stars even the three star reviews (generally nicking the typos) usually end with, "But all that aside the story is really fun and I'm already waiting for the next book."

For everyone who doesn't like reading on an electronic device we will have the paperback version up on Amazon shortly and it will have all the corrections of the current e-copy. The book comes in at around 480 pages. It should be fun. I am ordering a case. You know what I'll be giving out over the holidays.....

Thank you, Kirk

A Follow Up on an Earlier Post for People Who Like Buildings. The Olympus OMD EM5 and the ancient, but still alive, Olympus 150mm f4 Pen FT Lens designed for half frame film cameras.


This is a follow up to the article on the 150mm f4 from earlier in the day. I wanted to shoot some images of objects that weren't moving. I like these buildings so I thought I'd use them as a good test of the sharpness of the old Olympus Pen FT lens on the EM5 sensor. When it comes to architectural photography I'm a pretty easy sell. I think the image is a lovely example of a long lens going for details. 

The city bird of Austin is the crane. I'm showing this because the skies in the images done with the 150mm are different in color and saturation than what I get from more modern lenses. Interesting (to me) that the rendering seems more natural in the older lens. It's almost as though we've developed a taste for saturation that is at odds with our endless declarations that we are just looking for the highest accuracy in our photos.

When I stopped down to f 8 the detail from this ancient lens was astounding. 

Bridge Compression. 

The State Capitol from nearly a mile away. The detail on the dome is still sharp. Might have been sharper but for the heat waves and atmospheric clutter....

This late afternoon shot was done from the pedestrian bridge under the Mopac Hwy. Nearly a mile and a half from the buildings in the image. An interesting test.


Weird Combos for an Austin Summer Day. The Olympus EM-5 and an Ancient Olympus 150mm f4 Pen FT half frame lens.


Austin can be a really fun town when things slow down in the Summer. There is a whole series of Lakes around Austin including one which runs right through the center of downtown and is part of the Colorado River system. I'd just gotten a second Olympus OMD EM5 camera last week and in a fit of eccentricity I decided to put an ancient lens on the front of it and go out in the hottest part of the day for a walk. The lens is one I have written about before, it's the 150mm f4 made for the Olympus half frame film cameras from four or five decades ago. 

The lens is slender and compact and fabricated totally from metal. There is nothing particularly impressive about its exterior design or finish. I had done some test shooting with the lens back when I owned a Panasonic GH2 and an Olympus EP-2 and either my technique at the time was flawed or the lens and the sensors of the day did not play well together. It seemed at the time to be lower contrast than modern lenses and less sharp. I don't know what I expected when I took it out last week but life is full of surprises. 

Sprinkled through this post are an assortment of shots from the lens and the EM5. As I was out walking for fun I did not bring along a tripod so all of these shots are handheld. Most are shot either wide open or one stop down. Several are two stops down from wide open. I set the camera for "vivid" and shot on automatic in the "A" mode. 

It's rare that I shoot with longer lenses but I am a fan of compression so I guess I should try it more often and work on my proficiency. Lady Bird Lake (formerly "Town Lake") was a "target rich" environment for a person with an agile camera and long lens. There are some niggles to working with the lens but for the most part I find it to be a good performer. As I began my walk I had not yet figured out how to magnify the preview image for fine focusing. I finally realized I could apply that feature to a function button. After than my keepers (at least for sharp focus) went up. 

One benefit of Olympus's implementation of IBIS is the ability to stabilize the preview image which really helps when the field of view narrows down. I used the IBIS for every shot. 

The lens is actually pretty sharp but wide open and near wide open it does suffer from some magenta or purple fringing and a bit of chromatic aberration. Fortunately these are both easy to fix in Lightroom. The lens was a much better performer on the EM5 than in previous generations of cameras. I also used this lens recently for a dress rehearsal of Tommy at the Zach Theatre recently and it was there that I first realized that it really was a good (with caveats) lens. 

It crested 100 degrees on this shooting day so everything was pretty much shot around water. The image just above, with the beautiful, red canoe is underneath the old Lamar Boulevard bridge. After a longish paddle from the boat docks people use the shadow of the bridge to cool down and take a break. They also crawl up on the arching pillars and jump into the water. Spotters help the jumpers navigate so they don't end up hitting a paddle boarder or canoe-ist. 


Jumpers on the Lamar Blvd. Bridge.

Jumping from a rope spring in the tributary that runs from Barton Springs into Lady Bird Lake. 

In the spillway just under Barton Springs Pool. 

The ubiquitous phone. Under the Barton Springs Rd. Bridge.

There was a big crowd at the Barton Creek Spillway. 

It's interesting to be self-employed in the Summer in Austin. There is so much inertia to just give up on commerce and join in the three month long vacation that so many people seem to be on. I try to skirt work as much as possible by limiting my marketing and just accepting work that comes in "over the transom." At some point the cash flow slows down to a trickle and I realize that I live in an expensive town and then economic self-preservation kicks in and I get back to business. 

But a little part of me always imagines how wonderful it would be if I could spend the whole Summer just swimming, walking, napping and eating Frontera Fundido tacos at TacoDeli. All with a little camera over one shoulder.  

When I wake up happy from a Summer nap I always have the idea that work is over rated.