My most interesting camera purchase of 2011.

I've been working on an advertising project since last monday and while I don't really want to go into detail about it right now I did spend all day yesterday and most of today doing clipping paths on 70 images that my client would like to get tomorrow.  I had an internal deadline of sorts.  I wanted to finish in enough time to have some daylight left for walk through downtown.  It seems a bit counterintuitive to push a photography project out the door so that you can go and do more photography but, in truth, my walks through downtown are more of a walking meditation with a side order of looking at things further away than my monitor.  

It was gray and sulky and flat by the time I got down to 5th St. and Lamar to park my car but I didn't care.  I try not to have conscious agenda or intention when I start out and that goes for the weather as well.  For today's walk I decided to take my favorite camera purchase of 2011 with me.

I've bought some interesting cameras this year.  I bought an EP3 which I use on a fairly regular basis and find to be a very comfortable and workable rig when combined with any number of older lenses.  I'm especially partial to the feel and operation of the EP3 with some of the older manual focus Pen FT lenses that I've written about.  For about 90% of my Pen shooting I've used the 40mm 1.4 FT lens that was part of the kit Belinda gave me last year for the holidays.  I also love the look of the 60mm FT lens when I use it well at its maximum aperture of 1.5.  Pretty snazzy for old tech......

But much as I enjoy both the look and feel of the Pen EP3, and its older sister the EP2, that camera didn't make it into the car for today's adventure.  I know you're probably mentally jumping ahead and figuring that I took the new, little Nikon V1 and a pocketful of lenses.  And I really considered it as I was zero-ing in on the last five or six tedious, point by point clipping paths.  I've used it a lot lately and I'm really getting comfortable with it.  It's always on my short list for its tremendous and tenacious image stabilization alone.  But today I was in the mood for something with a little more meat on the files.  Something......depthy.

That last statement might lead straight to the assumption that I talked myself into a film frenzy and dragged out on the two Hasselblads that came back home, so to speak, to roost.  Nothing really beats the image one can massage out of a nice 500 series body, some Zeiss glass and a few rolls of ISO 100 transparency film but, with the low light of late winter and the afternoon growing long in the tooth I would have needed to haul around a tripod and after a turbulent week of being beaten up on line I hardly had the energy to leave the house, much less to go out in full equipment-nerd regalia.  No, the Hasselblads stayed all snuggled up in their drawer, surrounded by their lenses for company.  While the 250 boxes of Tri-X tugged at my heartstrings I just couldn't do it.

So I went semi-old school and tried to walk the middle path.

The camera that has consistently interested me the most this year, and the camera/lens combination that's returned the most income and the greatest number of images that make me smile for 2011 is one of those choices that I have a hard time explaining to most other photographers.  The camera is heavy and "outdated" and the lens is inconvenient to use.  But there's something about the images that come from the combination that work for me.  It's not the ISO performance because, frankly at 1600 I'd do just as well with the Nikon V1.  And it's certainly not the pocketability  because there's no pocket big enough to swallow this combo.  And it's not the AF performance because, well, the lens is manually focused.  I'd love to say I chose this camera for the incredible LCD screen on the back and its amazing live view chops but.....the screen is tiny, sucks and is probably my least favorite thing about the camera.

I took the Canon 1DS mk2 that I bought from my friend, Paul.  I coupled it with my Zeiss 85mm 1.4 ZE lens.  And I felt a calmness come over my shooting that's totally different from the smaller or larger cameras I've used.  Here's the deal from my point of view:  Even though the 5Dmk2 is supposed to have a totally superior sensor I'm not buying it.  I like to shoot at 100, 200 and 400 ISO and I find that the ancient 1DS mk2 is wonderful and rich right there.  Couple it with a fast lens and the imaging world is your oyster.  Unless you're allergic to shellfish.  The camera does a good job of letting me know when the monster big lens is in focus and the lens, in turn, does its part by slamming out sharp images even wide open.  By f2.8 it's a pixel peeper paradise and by f4 the same pixel peepers think they're being tricked because they've never seen anything as sharp.

If I could go back in time and do my odd camera shopping all over again this year I would do things differently.  I'd pass on the Nikon system  and use the same slice of budget pie to snap up the new Carl Zeiss 25mm f2 ZE.  I'd have passed on all the Pen stuff and bought another mint condition, used Canon 1DS mk2 body and I'd have forgone the Hasselblad stuff and bought the 100 Makro Carl Zeiss lens as well.  Of course, I never plan things out this well and if I had done that it would all be for naught in a few months when Canon finally launches the 1DX and it turns out to the be the most amazing thing with a Canon logo ever built.  I'm always second guessing myself and regretting one decision or another.  

I really like the sharpness and depth of field one gets at f1.6 with an 85mm lens.
It seems to mirror how older eyes see.

 There's a wonderful joy in just standing in front of rotating doors and lining up a shot.
A little to the left. A little to the right. No, just a bit more to the right.   Yes.
I've walked past this building for over thirty years and never looked up from the sidewalk.
It's like a giant, inverted, square pipe organ.  And the repeating patterns are fun.

I've turned off the blog comments for the rest of 2011 which is only really a week and a half but looking on the bright side I won't have to read through comments that tell me what a moron I am for using X camera instead of Y camera.  Or being labeled a fascist because I feel random "art" generators don't really make art. (And Susan Sontag concurred).

What is sillier than a jewelry store window after closing time?  Just naked semi-necks looking forelorn in the show windows.  I liked it better when they kept the watches in the windows all the time.
I guess that kind of trust went out with film.....

Austin is in such a state of transition right now.  We have scads and scads of new high rises put on a checker board next to all the old bars and music clubs and historic buildings.  We're caught between new wealth and the previous generation of eccentric, casual and inexpensive existence.  Cyclists and drivers of vintage pick up trucks vie with Aston Martins, Maseratis and Bentleys for lane space and parking.  The cost of everything downtown has sky-rocketed while everything outside the magic two mile radius of the state capitol is largely unchanged.  I'm reminded of the schism every time I walk through downtown.  My favorite coffee shop is in the bottom floor of one of the poshest high rise residence towers extant.  Lucky's is a few block away.  I watch the valet parking staff whisk away the shining chariots of the lucky few while the musicians who play at Lucky's sometimes arrive on the bus.  Or in a van that's almost as old as I am and even more creaky.

So, what counts as "real" photography and what doesn't?  How the hell should I know.  I've heard a lot of differing opinions this week.  But the best thing I read was about 2/3rd of the way through Susan Sontag's book, On Photography.  She made the point that a photograph is an art form but photography is not an art form, it's a process.  During her life newer typewriters and then word processors came to market but good writing remained as illusive as ever.  It echoes a quote that my friend, Bill, posted recently from the Guardian.  It goes like this: The strange thing about photography is that although it's been revolutionised by digital technology, at heart it's the same medium that entranced Louis Daguerre, Eugène Atget and André Kertész, to name just three of its early masters. And although it's become much easier to take photographs that are technically flawless (in terms of exposure and focus), it's just as difficult to capture aesthetically satisfying images as it was in the age of film and chemicals. It turns out that technology is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for creating art.
I would conjecture now, as I have repeatedly, that the creation of anything approaching art takes a lot of practice, a lot of trial and error, a good dose of heading in the opposite direction from the rest of the crowd and a lot of time in the water.  When you put it all together the catalyst seems to be actually doing the art.

By trying and trying you find out what works for your creative heart and what needs to go into the wastebasket.

I want to thank "Richard" for suggesting that I ditch the comments.  
His argument included the pitch that, if Hemmingway were alive today
there's no way in hell he would solicit feedback from strangers about his writing.
I'm no Hemmingway but it sure was a good way to suck me into the 

More to come.  Peace and love.