Don't take the bait. Don't take the bait. Don't take the bait....


"If only Leica had....."

I've been reading reviews of the new Leica M11 all over the web and I'm amazed at the perspective of many, many readers/viewers of online camera reviews. At times it feels like they believe Leica has somehow betrayed them, dropped the ball, failed in every technical sense, and because of their inability to understand and react to the market that Leica must be on the verge of bankruptcy, or headed there in short order. The only thing saving them in their moment of incompetence, the forum dwellers posit, are the obscene profits being made on the sale of Hermes scarves and the pomposity of an ego-driven wealthy elite, too addled to understand that they are being horribly swindled by this small German company. It borders on comedy. Very poor comedy.

It's the same old story I discussed when I wrote an article about Leica (film) rangefinders for Photo.net in 2000. The article had millions and millions of page views.  The push back from compact camera users, Nikon and Canon users, and just straightforward photo curmudgeons quickly rose to include hundreds and hundreds of angry comments and vicious attacks on my skills as a camera user and the underlying belief that somehow Leica was hypnotizing rich people and evilly manipulating them to buy obsolete and mostly worthless cameras. To which I can only add now: Here we go again. 

Here's some input from the instant "experts":

"I hate rangefinder focusing. And I hate "window" finders. The M11 would be a much better camera if it had an EVF instead of an optical window." Got it. Replace the rangefinder with an EVF.

"Surely, a company in the 21st century could engineer a rotating/swiveling rear screen so the camera can be used at waist level and (most importantly) for selfies. That they lack the engineering capabilities to do this borders on criminal." Got it. Change the fixed rear screen and make it a swivel screen. Pave the way for more selfies.

"OMG!!!! I just realized that Leica is trying to sell a camera in 2022 that doesn't have autofocusing. That's just insane. I can't believe they could sell any camera that does not have full AF capabilities!!!" 

Got it. Go back to the drawing board and make those M cameras capable of AF. Now, what about those 55 years of legacy lenses with an unchanged lens mount?

"I just found out about Leica and went and looked at photographs of the M11 online. There's no right hand handgrip! Whoever designed this camera should be fired out of hand. The thing is un-holdable. No professional in his right mind would ever use one of these." Got it. Make the camera body more rounded, easier to hold. Add a big grip extension to the front right side. See: Canon Rebel.

"It's 60 freakin megapixels and they didn't include Image Stabilization in the body? That's just insane. No one can hold a camera still enough to take advantage of all those megapixels at any shutter speed unless it has really good I.S. It's been proven that it can't be done. Maybe they could start making their lenses with stabilization instead."

Got it. Re-engineer but this time include image stab. The only way a pixel-ly camera can be used in a person's hands...

"One of my friends was going to buy one of these but he tried it out and the continuous AF did NOT work at all. D.O.A. I can't imagine spending $9,000 on a camera and having it arrive obviously broken. Then I did some research via my favorite YouTube Photo Experts and none of them can make it auto-focus AT ALL for video shooting. These people won't last the year in this business..." 

Got it. Add continuous AF. 

"Massive fail. Deal killer. Someone got theirs today and immediately noticed that it shipped without a battery compartment door. Can you believe that? A camera that costs more than my wife's car and my car combined and no freakin battery compartment door.?"

Got it. Sigh. Add battery door. 

"I'm a sport shooter and I make a lot of money. A LOT of money shooting kid's sports. And I thought I'd treat myself to one of these M11s. But when I did my research I found out that you can't add a battery grip. What kind of professional camera do they think they are making without giving you the option to add a second battery in a grip. Jeez."

Got it. Make the camera a better high volume, sports camera. Add a battery grip.

"This is unbelievable. You won't believe this because it's so unbelievable but this model of camera has interchangeable lenses but there are NO zoom lenses. None at all. I do a bunch of super high level BIF work and this is just unusable without a full stable of long zooms. No pro would go near a camera like this knowing that the Leica people don't know how to make zoom lenses. It's just a classic non-starter. And the market for this is so tiny that not even other super-popular zoom lens makers include the lens mount on their lenses. Just a hideous fail." 

Got it. Add zoom lenses to the inventory. (see also: Tri-Elmar).

"I have two advanced degrees in physics and am also a self-taught expert at mechanical engineering. I've looked at the advertising specs on this thing (M11) and I pronounce that it absolutely lacks the precision to focus accurately enough with the mechanical rangefinder because of equivalence and ISO invariance. No one has ever really been able to focus with an optical rangefinder. It's just there for the retro appeal." 

Got it. Add phase detect AF. 

"The tragic mistake Leica made with this line of camera is their choice of materials. I have a Fuji X100 and it's much better camera and it's less than half the weight of this one. No one keeps cameras around for more than a year or two so it makes no sense whatsoever to fiddle around with supposedly high class materials. What a waste in a product that will devalue to next to nothing in a year and then end up in a landfill...." 

Note to self: start looking around at landfills.

"It's all about the brand and egotistical elitism. That's the only reason people buy camera like this. The red dot. So trustfunders and hedge managers can wear their costly cameras as jewelry and smile at each other when they pass by each other on their yachts. It's almost criminal. All of their children will go without shoes. Snobbery at its worst." 

Got it. Pry off red, circular logo and repair with black electrical tape. Problem solved. 

"The prices they charge for lenses are insane and totally out of touch with photographers. I have a whole camera bag filled with (fill in blank: Nikon, Canon, Sony, Zeiss, Pentax, TTartisan, Tamron, Kalimex, Sears) lenses and everyone of them is sharp. Tack sharp. And I've got the charts and graphs to prove that all of them. ALL OF THEM. Are sharper and better than these Leica lenses. And all at less than 1/5th the price. That company is just robbing people. No one can see a difference in lenses. No one. They've studied this. That's why I would never buy an "HD" TV. You can't see the difference between a regular set so why would you pay for it?"

Got it. Scrap the whole lens line and start over. Make them mostly out of plastic. Make em cheap affordable cheap! 

I could continue. "Why doesn't the M11 have a cooling fan for the sensor? Where's the program mode? How do I set the focus bracketing? Where's the panoramic mode? How many scene settings are included? Where's the focus limiter? Why is the strap so expensive? And my favorite: "You'd never find famous photographers like the Magnum photographers using crap like this...."

But what all this really says is that people don't understand or want product differentiation. They don't want multiple solutions to photographic processes. They have a fixed idea of "what you should be able to get for your money." They have been trained to compare every camera by the same set of features and technical specifications with no ability to understand different approaches  to work. 

I find it sad. But I'm sure the marketing guys at Leica get a good chuckle from some of the misrepresentations since I heard somewhere that Leica is the single most profitable camera company (highest margins per product) currently, in the entire world. They understand their market demographics. Their target is: People with higher educational achievement, professional jobs, large bank accounts, an understanding of the differences in ways various cameras work. They want a camera that does just a few things better than any other camera. If they need a sports camera they can pick and chose one of those as well --- not instead of. They value well crafted products. They can see a difference in lens performance and are willing to pay for it.

It always amazes me that everyone who even vaguely understands photography gear has a staunchly held opinion about rangefinder cameras (true optical rangefinders) and the Leica company in particular, but so few have ever actually used a Leica M series camera out in the field. Out on the street. Out on a job. But boy oh boy, they do have opinions. And most of them aren't pleasant. 

I will grudgingly admit though that I can't seem to find the focus tracking or eye detect AF on my friend's copy. I can't believe they would leave important stuff like that out. Focusing that Noctilux will be hell....


Gloomy Winter Time. Just right for some black and white. Or monochrome. Or Whatever. Fuji X100V.

Above: flood remnants. 

Underground utility repairs.

Lonesome park statues in the middle of the town. 

In Austin we generally think of tear downs as being reasonable 3 bedroom, two bathroom
houses from the 1960s and 1970s being deconstructed to make way for multi-million dollar mansions.
I rarely think about the cool, older, two story buildings downtown being smashed apart to 
make way for a giant, unaffordable tower. 

An absolutely bizarre poster campaign on Congress Ave. 

And then there was the movie someone was making over on 4th St. 
How much crew does a quick location pick-up really need?
Is 25 too few? Is 40 too many?

18K Arri HMI fixture across the street from the action. 

And in the heat of movie action the sad abandonment of four 
breakfast tacos. I guess they can reheat them later.

All images: Fuji X100V
Tri-X simulation. 


Art Monday. Daniel Johnston's work writ large..

This was the scene just off Congress Ave. The Daniel Johnston mural officially "opened" this 
week and a steady stream of Austinites cruised by to document the wall. 
The mural coincides with a full gallery exhibition of Johnston's work on 
the first floor of the museum. 

 The Contemporary/Jones Center in downtown Austin is having a show of Daniel Johnston's art. Johnston's bio can be found here: Artist's Bio. His work is lo-fi, distinctive and sometimes biting.

The first public art by Johnston that I saw was on the side of a building on 21st Street, here in Austin.

Here's a photo: 

Photo courtesy of Carol Highsmith ©Carol Highsmith. 

Here's the story behind this mural:

"Original caption: ""Hi, How Are You," while one of the simplest murals in Austin, Texas, is also one of the city's favorites.  Also called "Jeremiah the Innocent," the sketch on the side of the Sound Exchange music store was commissioned in 1993 by store owner Craig Koon.  According to several stories, Koon paid a local musician, Daniel Johnston, $100 to spray-paint the image of the happy frog that had appeared on the cover of one of Johnston's albums.  The frog image had recently become nationally recognized from media images of Kurt Cobain wearing a "Hi, How Are You?" t-shirt during Nirvana's promotion of their 1991 album "Nevermind." After the record store closed, the building remained unoccupied until 2004 when a Mexican grill franchise called Baja Fresh took ownership and decided to remove the wall that held the mural. Following street protests, a group of people who lived in the neighborhood convinced the managers to leave the mural intact. "
It's fun being in a city that celebrates art the way Austin does. 

In other news: It looks like the annual South by Southwest Conference will be held, live this year, sometime in March. If it comes off as expected it will finally seem like a fledgling return to normal life. The show producers are emphasizing that vaccinations will be required and all events will, additionally, require face masks. If it happens I think the Chamber of Commerce will breathe its first sigh of relief in a long while.

Financial stuff: Looks like the stock markets are taking it on the chin right now. The S&P Index just hit a 10% correction this morning, off its record highs. I'd love to jump in and buy some "bargains" right now but I think I'll take wiser advice from B and wait to see what Vladimir Putin has in mind before I do anything rash. A lot of people seem to be taking a lot of money off the table...

It's interesting to watch consumer behavior when the markets go in one direction or another. When the stock markets and real estate markets were marching ever upward people enjoyed the feeling of being wealthier and, over the last year, adjusted their overall spending upward to match. A lot of new homes were commissioned on the irrational premise that stocks would spiral ever upward. Hondas got replaced with BMWs and Teslas. New, custom homes got a lot pricier. People started drinking better wines and taking better vacations. And the debt load of upper, upper middle class families increased with the promise of low interest loans forever.

Funny (but not in the "ha, ha" sense...) how two weeks of stock market losses and profit taking change sensibilities. I wonder how this will affect luxury goods like cameras? And lenses? Locked in a weird dance of inflation driven cost increases and rapidly declining wealth it seems that consumers will soon be tightening up on their pleasure spending and start "treading water" instead. 

Putting off that Bentley delivery van purchase for the foreseeable future....


Mirror Selfies. Keeping track of which glasses I wear when.


I was feeling mighty minimalist today. On days when that feeling hits it's time to revert to the absolute basics. Old, dark green sweat shirt. Analog watch. Trash glasses from the back-up pile. A single credit card in the back pocket of a worn pair of jeans. Grab a "no frills" camera and put a manual focusing 50mm lens on the front. Set everything to black and white. Go out and see if the world looks different. Yeah. It  does.

I shot a lot of stuff out and around town. Some good and some just bad. I had tacos at three in the afternoon and coffee at five thirty. It was a gray day complete with grayscale images. But it felt just right. 

I keep coming back to the most cosmetically challenged Leica SL body I own and I keep re-discovering how great the TTArtisan 50mm f1.4 lens is. Extra battery in one pocket and the adventure is on.


A Saturday of Leisure and an appreciation of an inexpensive lens.


Last week I walked around at dusk photographing in the downtown area and returning once again to the "Sail" building (future home of a complete battalion of Google employees) as the remaining daylight whispered away and fell off over the horizon. This is an angle I particularly like because of the curve. It's not a "fisheye" shot and you can tell that from the straight lines throughout the image. It was done with an odd combination: The Leica SL2 (used in APS-C) mode and the TTArtisan 17mm f1.4 lens. 

Many will struggle to understand why one might put a lens designed for a crop format on the front of a full frame, high resolution camera, but my instant rejoinder would have to be: "Why not?" Or, "Just to see how it works." 

I was photographing at the edge of the acceptable technical envelope for the SL2. It's a camera that's happiest at ISO 50, ISO 100 and other settings in that ballpark. But with no light I needed to let the camera take its chances at ISO 6400. I wanted to stay around 1/125th of second so I could handhold the camera and get all the edges sharp but a high resolution sensor gets noisier as we go up the ISO scale...

I could have gotten a lower ISO with f1.4 but I wanted to use f4.0 so I could get the whole structure in reasonable focus. That "three legged stool" of exposure parameters is a strict set of compromising options...

Of all the weird, manual focusing, made in China, lenses I've bought brand new, this year the 17mm f1.4 is clearly the tremendous bargain of the bunch. Even wide open the center of the frame is sharp enough for most fun work and when stopped down to f5.6 or f8.0 the performance is...awesome. If you enlarge the image above (by clicking on it...) you'll see that it does have a lot of noise in it but you'll also see that the lens has performed very well and there are few artifacts to pooh-pooh over. 

Swim. Damn. It was hard getting out of bed this morning. It got cold last night and I was toasty and sleepy under a stack of covers. The air in my bedroom was in the 60s and by comparison with my warm nest it felt freezing. I stuck out a tentative toe and then turned off the alarm clock and hauled myself out of bed. I'm always running against the clock in the mornings. I needed to make sure we didn't lose any water pipes to the surface of Neptune-like low temperatures we had overnight and I needed to grab something to eat and some half caffeinated coffee to begin the thawing and coffee-hydration process before the Saturday morning swim. I have a little check list. It goes: Coffee. Toast with peanut butter and blueberry preserves. Swim suit and thermal swim cap. Swim bag. Big towel. Brush teeth. Water bottle. Keys.

My unflinching iPhone told me that it was 25 degrees when I left the comfort of my rambling house. That's pretty chilly for an early morning, outdoor swim practice but it's better than no swim practic at all. I was wearing a new winter coat from a company Dan Milnor pointed me to called, Beyond Clothing. They specialize in techie, layered winter clothing and support stuff, like gloves and hats. The jacket is warm and bulky enough for a sweatshirt or down vest underneath. I like it. Today was its maiden voyage to the pool. 

There's the pool in the photo above. I took that image a while ago, in warmer weather. Today there were clouds of steam rising up from the water's surface. The water temperature was 82° and the air temp. was 25° and that vast spread makes for pretty dramatic vaporous fog at the interface between air and water. 

Our coach was bundled up and had one of those restaurant-style, radiant gas heaters going at the end of the pool. It was too cold to write the workout details on a white board so he just called out the sets as we went forward. That's fine, even at my advanced age I can remember workout sets and intervals because it's part of the fun. We did a lot of backstroke and freestyle today. It must be I.M. Season (individual medley = all four strokes) right now because we've been incorporating a lot of non-freestyle strokes into our workouts. 

The hard part of working out early, in a warm pool, on a freezing day, is the emotional difficulty that comes from pulling oneself out of a warm, comforting body of water onto a freezing pool deck and walking as fast as you can over freezing walkways to the far off locker rooms. The next worst thing is waiting an eternity for the showers to finally warm up. After that, everything else is a piece of cake. 

I was lazy for the rest of the day. I was re-reading a Tom Clancy novel about a Russian invasion of Lithuania for most of the afternoon. It was my turn to buy lunch so we ordered our favorite subs from Thundercloud Subs. Then it was back to the action/adventure page turner. (Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney). We barely won this time...

I spent the entire day NOT doing anything with or about photography. Well, if you overlook writing this blog. It was fun to blaze through an action/political thriller novel today. Since the plot of the book was about a Russian invasion it was eerily close to geopolitical events of the day.