11.30.2016

In everyone's rush to own their camera company's 70-200mm f2.8 many people might be overlooking a better (and cheaper) alternative.

"Greater Tuna" star, Jaston Williams, as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol."

Ask most photographers which zoom lenses are best and most of them will reflexively answer, "The Holy Trinity of f2.8 zoom lenses!" and, for my money, they could not be more wrong. If we're looking at 70-200mm lenses from the major camera makers you'll find that the 2.8 lenses are brutally heavy and ruinously expensive. You might also find, if you actually take the time to shoot them in a direct comparison, that the same company's 70-200mm f4.0 is much sharper over a wider range of focal lengths. 

I've owned both variants in the Canon and Nikon lines as well as the Sony Alpha 70-200mm f2.8 and now the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 and I'm here to tell you that the f4.0 versions are much more fun to use, better optically corrected than their faster counterparts and a heck of a lot easier to use during a long day of shooting. 

I know a lot of you don't put much stock in DXO's lens rankings but in the Sony family the f4.0 G version of the venerable zoom is their top choice for sharpness, resolution and all around goodness in the Sony FE zoom lens catalog. I've been shooting one since the first quarter of 2016 and I find it boring because it's so reliable and flawless. No flare, no unsharp edges, no complaints.

I've pointed out before that every increase of one stop in lens manufacturing requires something like 5X the precision and machining in order to output the same quality results. And what are you really gaining?

I you are shooting a modern camera with a Sony sensors you'll find that choosing the slower lens and then increasing the ISO to cover the one stop difference will probably get you better image quality than trying to shoot a faster lens wide open. Not to mention that the sheer weight might have a stabilizing effect (inertia, mass, etc.) for the first five minutes of handholding the faster lens, the next hour or more will show up the hubris of trying to handhold a four pound dead weight. 

When I shoot stage shows at Zach Theatre with the Sony A7Rii my lens of choice is always the 70/200mm f4.0 G lens and I'm always shooting it handheld. The combination of good image stabilization and great optical performance means I can shoot all evening long at f4.0 and not compromise image quality. An added benefit is that my left arm (the one supporting the weight of camera and lens) isn't sore the next day. 

I suspect that the much denigrated Sony 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens is actually better than the newer, and much lauded f2.8 G master lens of the same focal lengths. I haven't tried them but I've got this sneaky feeling that f2.8 is just a Pavlovian dodge, dangled at photographers who are old enough to remember needing faster apertures to help with manual focusing. And it's faulty knowledge that's been transmitted to following generations. 

If you are following the "teachings" of a more experienced generation you probably need to be careful,;sometimes the old rules don't apply to new technology.  

11.29.2016

Here's the video Ben and I produced last Summer for a utility provider. We'd like to do a lot more in 2017.


Pedernales Electric Co-op Video. Summer 2016 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.


If you head over to Vimeo you can see it at a higher res.....

I was cleaning out my desk when I stumbled across a CD with scans from some black and white, 35mm film...

Young Ben completing the swim portion of a mid-winter biathlon in the outdoor pool.

About fifteen years ago I was still straddling the film and digital divide. All the commercial stuff got shot on electro-cameras while a lot of personal stuff still got lovingly shot on film with my little Leica rangefinders. We were way too busy back then to deal with the output of my endless stream of consciousness, personal shooting style so when I accrued a backlog of film I'd take it to Holland Photo and have them soup it and write it to CDs. These would come back with a little print of thumbnails and, after a quick inspection, would go straight into a drawer where they would languish for over a decade. 

This week I've been in the mood to throw stuff away and have been going through the filing cabinet drawers with the ferocity of a rabid tornado, tossing journals, reams of paper, corporate film archives and old telephones into the trash. Yesterday I was literally tossing handfuls of CDs and DVDs, that had accumulated over the years like old newspapers in a hoarder's living room, into a second trash can. But I can't let go of anything until I've given it a good "once over" and if it's a piece of storage with a family member or friend's photograph on it I just can't let it go. 

There was a surprise job cancellation for today. I swam early, breakfasted heartily and sat down to plow through e-mail when I remembered that I'd found a disk I wanted to check. There were only twenty or so images on it but when I brought them up in Preview I was delighted to find a tiny sliver of personal history that made me smile. 

The top image was made of Ben's first biathlon. He'd just finished his run and his half mile swim when I snapped this from the sidelines. It feels so ..... 1960's. I love the stark shadows created by the head-on flash. I love the swirl in the water behind Ben, illuminated by the underwater light fixture. I hadn't actually seen this image before this morning...

An even younger Ben unwinding after school with a favorite snack of bleu cheese and grapefruit.

The second image of Ben is one that seems so familiar to me. That was Ben's place at our little butcher block, dining room table. Every day after school he would pull up a chair, play something on his laptop and have a snack. His favorite snack food was "anything with bleu cheese." Often, he would make his own lunch for school and a standard was his crunchy peanut butter (Laura Scudders), bleu cheese and sweet pickle sandwich (on Sweetish Hill Bakery whole wheat bread) with Kalamata olives and mustard. None of the other kids ever offered to trade sandwiches in the school cafeteria. 

I love the photograph for so many reasons but one technical reason is the way the long, long "shoulder" of the highlight curve of film holds detail. An endless sea of tonality with no burnout to white.

Dear friend and gifted photographer, Will, smiling.

The final image is one of my friend, Will. We're "real" photographers. We always bring a camera with us when we meet for coffee or lunch. It's just the way it's done. But my observation here is mostly about the effortless way the Noritsu scan interpreted skin tone from the black and white negative. It's enough to make me thoroughly nostalgic for film. At least it's a prompt for me to turn down the sharpening and contrast on my current camera's standard shooting profile.....

Funny, the stuff you find when throwing things out. Now, what am I going to do with the two Leica Pradovit, professional slide projectors I stumbled across in the closet???





A blog post from one year ago today... Just a brief walk through the tangled garden of memory.

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-fond-memory-of-riding-train-through.html


11.27.2016

The Weekend Walk. A Chance to Look at Stuff and a Chance to Get Re-Acquainted with an "Old Friend."


As the pursuit of photography changes more and more I find myself drawn, intellectually and emotionally, to a different class of cameras than I would have in the past. Gone is the idea that every image I take needs to be absolutely technically perfect, or that it needs to come squirting out of the highest resolution, most advanced camera on the market. I've written many times in the past that our collective obsession with the "idea" that all images we take are somehow destined to be printing on huge inkjet printers, at sizes that dwarf life size, and that our viewers will be gallery goers who are hellbent on looking close enough at the work to see the individual ink drops, is nothing but nonsense. 

While we might, from time to time, bring together some favorite images and print them for a show, photographic sharing has moved from the walls to screens and, a new gold standard, to personal books. With that firmly in mind the almost perverse pursuit of near infinite resolution in our cameras is veering toward compulsive behavior. At my daily work as a commercial photographer my Sony A7Rii is the most capable camera I own --- but it almost always takes a backseat to the redoubtable Sony A7ii because the 24 megapixel files are big enough for nearly every client request and the economy of shooting, and the relative affordability of purchase, makes the less exacting A7ii my "all-terrain vehicle" of choice for almost everything. 

When I head out the door to shoot for myself and share photographs as graphical representations of ideas and as social documentation, my needs are different. Like everyone else I am tired of bringing the preciousness of the "view camera work aesthetic" into situations where it is counter-productive, counter-intuitive and burdensome. I want a camera that is fast, fluid, functional, fun and easy to carry with me everywhere. Few things look more dated to me now that seeing a middle aged photographer, out walking with his family, carrying a big, professional caliber DSLR over his shoulder on a Black Rapid Strap, complete with the almost obligatory "professional zoom", along with a fat and tacky camera bag weighing down the other shoulder. 

For sensible walking around, shooting during the daylight hours, having a wide range of focal lengths at one's fingertips, and enjoying the actual experiences of seeing and interpreting life, very few cameras will give one more pleasure than a manageable bridge camera with a fast, wide ranging lens. With all that in mind I stuffed all the other cameras I own into a drawer and grabbed my Sony RX10ii. Not the iii but the ii. 

It's relatively small, much lighter than the newer model. and the level of imaging capability per ounce and per dollar is off the charts. 

When I go to make images at the Graffiti Wall these days I'm trying to be less like a sports photographer who is isolating some peak of action with super narrow depth of field and more like what I see in Josef Koudelka's work: Scenes of deep focus with lots of data rich detail. Images with multiple object relationships.

When I look at images I am either drawn toward the peculiar and previously unseen and unknown subject or I am drawn into deciphering layers and layers of action and symbols swirling through a frame. Either the tightly rendered face of a person who is interesting because of their uniqueness or a broad, Hieronymus Bosch landscape of social interplay. Of course it is never so binary. It's human nature to want to cover every contingency. Photographers are no different. But with the current, smaller cameras and their increased potential, it's easier to leave the house unencumbered but ready. 

I find the Graffiti Wall in Austin interesting for many reasons. One is that artists (and there are good artists who show up occasionally) must be willing to do art that is totally transient. It may live on in their cellphone camera documentation but it will, now, almost invariably be covered with mindless word messages in a matter of hours. At best, in a few days. I find the wide variety of people the "Wall" attracts to be interesting. People from almost every social and economic milieu show up. The only exceptions are the desperately poor who have neither the time or transportation to drop by, and the desperately wealthy who seem to lack an interest in this particular urban phenomenon. All other groups are well represented. For some it's a curiosity and for others it's a cost effective weekend "stay-cation" with no cost for admission and few rules.

People in wife beater t-shirts, covered with tattoos, are walking through the crowd along with the families of West Austin doctors, lawyers and business owners. One group is intent on joining in the spray-fun while the other group seems to have extended to this venue the passive tourism of being on a photo safari or a continental river boat cruise with this being one of the "interesting" stops on the way in route to a nice dinner, with linen napkins and fine china. 

When I go I see myself as a photo-anthropologist but I know I am just another gawker. I'm there to see people doing foolish things or playing out their fantasy of being outlaw artists, even though they are breaking no laws here by participating. The young people in the crowd want to climb up the steep sides of the abandoned project while the older people are content to stay on flat land, close to their cars. 

I went yesterday hoping to find large swaths of new and interesting art bookended by exotic and beautiful people. That's always my anticipation. And always, when I get there I see a mix of people that's wide ranging and of the moment but not particularly social outliers

I find it interesting that people will give cans of quite toxic spray paint to small children and allow them to spray with abandon. I find it interesting that some people can look at the few really creative pieces on the walls and then spray a splatter of obscene words onto the same walls as their own contribution. I find it interesting that women will wear stylish high heels knowing they'll be climbing a steep dirt and mud pathway to the top level. I am always surprised that everyone considers themselves attractive or interesting enough to take dozens of selfies to commemorate their visit. I am amazed at some of the raunchy poses young women will assume in front of camera; not for their boyfriends but for their moms and dads. 

With all of this in play the ability to shoot wide, shoot tight, shoot silent and to do it all with a camera that has an un-intimidating profile is priceless. 

I still haven't gotten my head around the need to instantly propel the images onto Instagram or Facebook. I always like to curate images in a more thoughtful and focused way. I'm sure I'll come around to the new world order of mandatory instant sharing, given time. After all, my first experiences shooting at the wall were done with husky and bulky Nikons  with their lenses as fat as my arm... See how much we've changed.


















Visitation of the Patricians.