Sunday Rants and Opinions. March 7, 2010

     It's Sunday and I'm celebrating the end of the week with a walk around downtown Austin.
     (and a vegan chocolate chip cookie at whole foods).

This note from a kind reader:

In your 'The Visual Science Lab/Kirk Tuck' blog, you first wrote nice
provocative piece called 'Sunday Rants and Opinions. March 7, 2010'.
After you got some bad comments, you edited to much milder version and
later regretted that you had done the editing and started to wonder,
if someone would have copy of it. Here is what I was able to find from
Google's cache (search your blog article from there and then selected
Cached version from search results).

And the text of the original post:

[quote starts]
The image above comes from my favorite new lens.  It's a lens I've
grown to respect in the two weeks that I've had it.  It's the lens
that Nikon and Canon will never be able to make.  It's the Olympus
14-35mm f2 zoom lens.  And it's wonderful wide open at f2.  I say that
Nikon and Canon will never be able to make one but that's mostly just
an inflammatory statement on my part. You wouldn't want them to make
this lens for the full frame systems.  Getting an f2 maximum aperture
that covered 24 x 36 mm at high sharpness would probably result in a
five pound lens with an enormous front element and price tag
approaching five figures (US).

And full frame fans will be quick to tell you that because their
cameras have incredible sensors you'd never need the extra stop on the
lens.  Finally, someone with an engineering-compulsive disorder will
also step in to tell you about "equivalence".   A lens designed for
the smaller 4:3rds crop can be opened up 2 stops and have the same
depth of field, when compared to a lens designed to cover the
traditional 24 by 36 inch sensor.  We can all understand that as the
depth of field depends on both angle of view and focal length. But the
"equivalence truthers" would also have you believe that this makes
smaller formats inferior.

Every choice has it's trade offs.  Bigger formats require greater lens
coverage which requires bigger glass elements and most optical
engineers will tell you that every doubling of the size of a lens
element requires 8x the quality control and engineering to get the
same sharpness and overall performance when compared to smaller
geometry optics.  Making lenses that cover smaller sensors gives
optical engineers many more options for speed, zoom ratio and
sharpness.  And that gives photographers more choices while they are

I had an interesting conversation with a photographer I really respect
this past friday.  He'd temporarily bought into the whole mass
hysteria that would have you believe that we should be shooting every
image with the minimum depth of field.  In a sense he was looking for
every image to be a clear example of exemplary "bokeh" ( the smooth or
unsmooth look of out of focus areas in a photo) but he finally
conceded that many times the narrow depth of field really marred the
overall integrity of an image.  Many times, in retrospect, he wished
that he has stopped down one or two more stops so that the fall off of
focus would be gentler and more convincing.

The Olympus 14-35mm f2 gives a photographer the same kind of DOF wide
open that you would expect to get with a lens of equal field of view,
but made for the 35mm sensor size, at f4.  But when we take into
consideration the ability of optical engineers to optimize smaller
lens geometries you end up with a lens that is as sharp or even
sharper than its larger equivalent.  The bottom line for me is that
the 14-35mm f2 SHG lens is one of those rare optics that people rave
about.  I didn't understand the passion until I  put one on the front
of my camera and took some images.  Once I'd seen the results I had to
have one.  In many ways it's the same feeling I had when I made my
first print from a Leica M series 50mm Summicron lens.  There was just
something  different about the way that lens rendered edges and
contrasts between tones.  Hard to describe but you'd know it when you
saw it.

If you've read some of the stuff I've written here at the Visual
Science Lab website you'll know that I love to "burn in" my equipment
by using it a lot in the wild before I trust it fully for assignments.
I broke that rule with the 14-35 by using it as one of my two primary
lenses for the TED Conference, here in Austin.  Today, I had the
chance to walk around town with it for the first time since the
conference.  I took a couple hundred photos with it, using the e1
camera body as its mate.  Here's a little gallery from an gray,
drizzly and dreary day.  I didn't care about the drizzle.  Both the e1
body and the 14-35 are splashproof and handle rain with aplomb.....

[quote ends]

The old state comptroller's building on 6th street.  A detail of the steel siding.

    The offices of Simmons, Whatever and Graeber, just off Sixth Street across from Whole Foods.

    Posters on the side of Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop.  Lance Armstrong's establishment.
A confluence of corrugation and stucco.  Rendered large and saturated.
Xeriscaping meets downtown night club.  Fused with racous blue.
Another detail in the old comptroller's building.  Brick meets brick meets space age metal.
Old buildings were so cool with the interior being millimeters from the exterior.  All the office buildings I see today are behind buffers of wall and implied space.  Wow.  Nice geometry on the edges.  Good correction for a zoom.  No correction on my part, or on the part of the camera.....
This is one of those "downtown regents of UT" offices that are built like 18th century Regency palaces.  Complete with columns and arches and a preponderance of bigness.
Did I mention the big, regal, University of Texas presence in the middle of downtown Austin? This is where the elite meet to decide what happens at THE university.....and a string of lesser schools.  No offense intended to graduates of Texas A&M...
    It's fun to walk around without a care in the world and snap whatever catches your attention.  At f4 I don't worry about what might or might not be in focus.  I'm looking for intersecting planes and intersecting realities.

Speaking of reality.  I'm heading out this coming Friday for a long over due road trip.  I'm heading West through Texas.  I plan on stopping and shooting whatever I see in Del Rio, Alpine, Marathon, Marfa and all points in that area.  If you live there or know someone interesting who does, could you drop me a line?  I'm planning to do art so I don't need someone to "show me around" but I'd welcome a few contacts who might help me stay on the right track.  You can leave a comment here or you can always reach me at kirktuck@kirktuck.com

That's about all for today.  When I finalize my packing I'll do a quick blog  to let you know what I'm taking and why.  When I get back I'll put up a quick blog to let you know which gear choices were a disaster and which ones were genius.

Best, Kirk


Don said...

I love these roaming around photographing posts. Nice shots and great commentary.

Only thing is, I read on Flickr that Professional Photographers use Canikons with gazillions of megapixels and lights - get this - off camera. Whooboy... seriously dude. Gonna have to get with the system. :-)

Love the leaf shot!

Ed Buziak said...

"...celebrating the end of the week with a walk around downtown Austin.(and a vegan chocolate chip cookie at whole foods)."

"walk" good... "vegan" good... "whole foods" good... but "chocolate chip cookie"... hmmm?

Seriously though... walking really does open the eyes so much more than driving from A to B and back again. I walk every day in the French countryside to lower my stress level... and despite the countryside appearing at first sight (to most people) to be largely featureless, there's a wealth of images to be focused on with eyes, mind and camera.

Ed... who appreciates everything you post and certainly learns something from most of it even after 45 years of squinting through cameras ;-)

Anonymous said...

It's a shame "they" got to you. You were more credible when you weren't on the take.

kirk tuck said...

Yes. I'm on the take. I strutted thru downtown wearing my Olympus baseball cap, my yellow Olympus shooter's vest and borrowed a Radio Flyer wagon from the little kid next door to carry the entire Olympus inventory with me as I moved like a god down the street....

Funny what a few pens and a lens cleaning cloth will make you do.

But the anonymous poster brings up a valid point. I am doing several presentations for Olympus here in Austin in May. In return they offered to pay me an honorarium. I asked for a lens. I'll spend several days, maybe a week preparing videos and slide shows for the event and then spend the better part of two days at the event.

I want to remind whoever cares that I was shooting (and buying SHG lenses) long before anyone from Olympus noticed. And I switched to the system because........I like the lenses.

I'm fully disclosed. The FTC is happy. Take it for what it's worth. Wish I worked at Goldman Sachs.......

Anonymous said...

Genius shouldn't have to explain itself. Itself? Himself.

L Sullivan said...

I enjoy your blog,and am glad you share your experiences and photos with us. I've been using Olympus most of my life and am just getting into didigital. I wish we had the web when I was teaching myself to use film. I appreciate your input on the lenses and their images. I feel you give honest advice both here and on Flickr. I Anonymous feels you are being compromised they should move on.

kirk tuck said...

I just went back and edited the post. I took out my subjective appraisals of the lens's performance and any mention of other brands or products. Now it's basically just a "look at the pretty pictures" sort of thing.

Bill Beebe said...

Credibility, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder. Kirk could have kept quiet about the support he was getting from Olympus, and no one would have been the wiser. But his personal ethics and honesty and enthusiasm about the brand got the better of him. Poor Kirk.

Kirk's bona fides were established early on with many excellent blog posts showcasing his talents and the capabilities of the Olympus system (as well as many other camera systems he's used in his career).

Finally, Kirk (and every other pro photographer I know) run a business, not a charity. Working for yourself is tough enough in good times, but in this challenging economy every little bit helps, especially being chosen as a spokesperson by the vendor of your camera gear. And Olympus isn't a charity either. They didn't pick Kirk because he was walking down a street in Austin one day with an E-1 swinging around his neck. This is about business, and a refreshingly open business at that.

Anonymous said...

Please don't stop giving us your subjective opinions because of some unfair criticism.

From your blog and your books I have seen full disclosure. I trust your writing and disagree with "anonymous" above.

John Krumm said...

You actually have me thinking about the 14-35, even though the logical side of my brain says my 12-60 is still quite nice and more flexible. Obviously Olympus should give you a raise. : )

David Ingram said...

Austin is a great town for wandering around with a camera! Can't wait for SXSW. Have fun on your road trip.

Dave Jenkins said...

I really hate it that you took out your subjective comments before I had a chance to read them. That's the kind of thing I read this blog for. Please don't let a few misfits to this to you.

kirk tuck said...


I got really pissed when I read the comment from Anonymous. I capriciously edited the copy. Then, when I read comments from you and Bill, I regretted having expunged the copy I did and went to retrieve it only to realize that Blogger tosses whatever you delete!

Chalk this one up to my impatience and bad temper. I'll do better next time.

Mandáš said...

Kirk, the dumb's mother is always pregnant, they say where i live.
You subjective opinions is exactly the reason why i eagerly read you, and enjoy and learn from it ebery time.

Anonymous said...

I saw your original post, then returned just now to see the comments. Your original explanations were quite insightful and interesting - it is unfortunate that most(?) people did not get to read them. I am not - and may never be - an Olympus user. I use what I use (Nikon) b/c that's what I started with, that's what I know and that's what I own. As an amateur, I can't afford to readily replace systems. That said, I still like reading your perspectives and comparisons, especially since so much of what you write goes beyond just nuts and bolts gear stuff.

Anonymous said...

I am posting from outside the United States but I want to let you know that I read the post late yesterday. It was very good. For those who didn't it was very good explanations about trading off between sensor sizes and lens qualities based on how they are made. I do not shoot with Olympus but it made me wish I did. Do not wear so thin skin and let comments which you know are false to roll right off. I speak for me but I love your writing. It goes straight to my knowledge! (Forgive my English)

Craigulator said...

matters not what snakes do, great article and captures.

Silvertooth said...

I really enjoy your blogs. Please ignore those who post these "insults." After all, it is YOUR blog. I find your opinions valid whether you shoot Olympus, Nikon, or any other gear. I have not been real happy with my E-500 lately and have considered going back to Pentax (which I shot in film days along with Oly). I don't care what others say--it is my decision. Anyway, keep us updated as to the Oly meeting in May--I have some cousins in Leander I need to visit!

JMK said...


I liked your original post much better. I was going to print it and keep it as reference. No it's gone!

kirk tuck said...

If anyone has the original you can send it along to me and I'll stick the inflammatory parts back in......

Rodney Dean said...

Don't worry, Kirk. Aggies won't take offense, especially those in Austin. You can use upper-case THE whenever you want. The A&M system has its own set of schools, too (and slightly dysfunctional leadership, unfortunately.)

Actually the A&M Systems building is the only real "college-y" looking building on campus, so it's, of course, in every promotional shot.

Francis Dayrit said...


This is the first time I am posting on your blog since I started following it a few months ago. I was actually going to comment on your original post but was sadly disappointed when I saw that you had deleted a large part of the original post. Then I realize what had happened. My take on that is as long as there is full disclosure, what's the big deal? The proof is in the pudding. I would not let the dpreview discussion type fanboyism/girlism allow to color what you subjectively think. Remember, this is your soap box and people can stop and listen or walk on the the next person on their soap box.

I digress... The reason that I wanted to post was because I was at a photo fair where Olympus had a booth. I was there to specifically look at, guess what, the 14-35. I had been previously toying around with my trusty OMZ lenses on a Canon 5D to see if there is a difference in the way that I can isolate a subject in the wide angle range(21mm/3.5, 24mm/2.8 and 35mm/2.0 worked well to isolate subjects. There was some flare wide open with most lenses, but, like most cases, this was controlled with stopping down). I was pleasantly surprised by the image quality that I was getting with this setup. The setup was not extremely large because the lenses were small. We all know the size of the 5D. Now, I wanted to see what the 14-35 was like. My first impression was the size. My jaw kinda dropped when I saw how big it was. I don't know if I had enough time with it to really put it thru it's paces though. My initial impression was that it was able to get what I wanted from it. Isolate the subject. I need not mention anything else about the image quality, there is enough praise on the net for this. I have the 12-60mm and that just doesn't isolate subjects well enough for me. As we all know, if there is an Achilles heel for the 4/3 system it would be the lack of a shallow depth in the wide angle range and this is due to pure physics. After thinking about it, if there is anything that would discourage me from the 14-35mm lens, it would be the size. Which is quite ironic because the E system was about making things smaller. I guess in the whole scheme of things, compared to the competition, there are few that compare with the 14-35mm in overall image performance given its size. I then asked the Olympus rep if there was any chance that Olympus would come out with a fast(as in 1.4-2.0 range) prime lens in the 10-17mm range. He said that he doubted it because the market is not there. I really think that they need to round out their lens selection with a few spattering of prime lenses in the wide to normal and the short tele range (shorter than the 50mm f2.0) for the simple reason that they can make these lenses faster, smaller and lighter than the zooms. To many who bought into the system, this is the raison d'être of the E system. I don't know if it is our place as users of the system to remind them of this. You, being one of their spokespersons, might be able to give them a LOUD whisper that they need to address this hole in their lens line up. That is, if you agree with this sentiment. If not for the E system, better yet, if they will make a few fast primes for the PEN by taking a cue from the popularity of the Panasonic 20mm 1.7. I think, with the current lens road map they are satisfying the popular demand for zooms in the PEN lens line up. Now I think they have to satisfy the photographers demand for targeted primes for the PEN. That is unless they want Panasonic and Voigtlander to get the lens sales. But I digress. Thanks for your thoughts and your attention.

Juha Ylitalo said...

Google had cached the original version.
I just sent the text to you. If you can't find it from your inbox, let me know.

Raianerastha said...

Kirk, in this day the idea that some people operate cameras and others are photographers is more accurate than ever.

Some really don't get that it's the image as an expression of the photographer's vision that matters the most. Apparently some are of the opinion that an image magically degrades if they discover it wasn't taken with the right gear. LOL

hankazoid said...

Nice shots, Kirk. I love seeing your walk around shots - those Shepard Fairey posters are great. And that 14-35 is probably the best piece of photographic gear I've ever bought. Glad you like it... I knew you would!

Shawn said...

Thank you for reposting your original text. There's nothing wrong with what you said, and in fact, it really puts more "meat on the bones" and adds substance to your post.

To be perfectly honest with you, i was a little bit disappointed too when i found out you are now a paid speaker for Olympus. I don't question your honour and integrity, but i think it's a bit like eventually meeting your childhood hero in person and finding out he's not quite as perfect and superhuman as you had imagined.

I think some of us held you up as a paragon of vision and truth, cutting through the distractions and pretentiousness to provide a refreshingly honest and sensible voice amidst the chaos -- almost too good to be true, like the proverbial childhood hero.

The news of your business engagement with Olympus caused some knee jerk reactions, wondering for a moment if we could trust you implicitly now as we had so comfortably done in the past. And the resentment that ensued was purely selfish: where are we supposed to go for honest advice? What can we read without having our "Internet BS filter" engaged? It was so enjoyable to just read everything at face value. And now we can't... (or so the knee-jerk reaction goes)

As it stands, only time will tell. Kirk will be judged on his record going forward just as we learned to trust him based on his writing over the past two years. The evidence will be there on the blogroll for everyone to see.

In the meantime, I urge my fellow readers to not give up on Kirk or throw him under the bus. A relationship always takes two to build and sustain. But it only takes one side to stop trying and to stop trusting. Give him a chance, because as you can tell by his actions these past few days, he really cares and takes his relationship with his readers seriously.

Raianerastha said...

Interesting. A lot of pro photographers are offered the chance to teach classes, seminars or simply endorse Canon and Nikon and no one questions their professional integrity.

Perhaps it is the fact that Kirk DARED to give up Nikon for Olympus?

Anonymous said...

Damned Tortured Geniuses. I'm just amazed that he can write AND photograph.

Billy said...

Kirk, when in Del Rio if you have time check out Devils River, its the cleanest river in Texas. And there's some large canyons it winds through.

If you dont mind i'll post my set from new years this year.

Dave Jenkins said...

Thanks for re-posting your thoughts, Kirk. That's what we read this blog for. Please ignore these trolls in the future. Besides, if someone isn't willing to sign his name to his comment, it deserves to be ignored.

I shoot Canon, and I'm not about to get all weak and shaky because you shoot Olympus. I mostly shoot architecture these days and need the perspective control lenses that Olympus doesn't offer. But I will always have a very soft spot in my heart for Oly, because I used the OM system for 13 years in the 80s and 90s, traveling to 27 countries and around much of the US on PJ assignments. I only gave up and switched when it became obvious that Olympus had no plans to make a professional autofocus system to assist my aging eyes.

kirk tuck said...

Billy, Happy for the info and.....nice stuff. I'll put it on the list.

kirk tuck said...

Dave, thanks for the vote of confidence. And if I shot architecture for a living I'd have the Canon's and the 17mm, 24 and 45mm PC/TS lenses in a heart beat. My friend, Paul Bardagjy, shoots incredible architecture and he uses those lenses for just about everything. They're very, very good.

If Olympus every gets around to making some I hope they call me first so I can tell them which focal lengths. Like they might listen...

David Ingram said...

Hi Kirk, I've attended two of your seminars at my own expense and seen you lecture and share at a couple of others which you put on for free.

No matter the forum, you are very generous with your time and knowledge. I always enjoy your stories and willingness to experiment and demonstrate techniques on the fly with Q & A from the audience.

Your mastery of the technique allows you to be funny and conversational as you demonstrate something that would make a lesser photographer a bundle of nerves.

Please keep sharing and I'm happy you have a good sponsor that makes equipment that you like.

I am happy with my Nikon, but also happy that other companies are creating new formats and technologies that will benefit us all and force Nikon to innovate to stay in the game.

Enjoy your trip!

Michelle said...

Fabulous shots! I enjoyed watching such astonishing snaps. keep it up with continual progress.
Steel buildings

Bold Photography said...

I know what you mean about feeling burned out. I really need to do a trip like this, but feel guilty about leaving the wife home alone with the kid. I've been invited to go to Africa, and may decline for the same reason... and that one, I really want to do.

Your sponsorship will be a point of heckling later this summer at the Photo expo... :-)

As far as editing posts and feeling heat from posters - yes, getting upset about feedback from someone is entirely reasonable... but there's no need to bow to that pressure and change your posts. Your integrity means a lot to the rest of us, so keep posting what you need to get out there.... we're reading and soaking it up!