My elastic analysis of "favorite" cameras and lenses.

After I posted my Eeyore's Birthday blog I got several e-mails asking me why I wasn't using a better camera.  Each, in some way, presumed that I was using the best camera I could afford but were concerned that perhaps my budget wouldn't stretch to cover the cost of a "real", "modern" camera with "full capabilities."  I thought I'd explain why, for some months now, the Canon 1dmk2N has been my favorite camera.  My camera of choice.  The single camera I would choose from among those I own right now for one of those "lifetime on a desert island" questions.

First I should declare that I can afford other cameras and that I do own various other Canons, including:  a 5Dmk2 (which I press into service when shooting very wide angle images or images that require extreme enlargement.) a 7D and a 60D.  The last two are really more like production video cameras to me although their image files (especially around ISO 200) are very, very, very good.  But at equivalent sizes (up to the uninterpolated limit) the 1dmk2N is very much up to the same level of imaging performance.  But really, in my mind, that's not even part of the equation.

So why am I so smitten with this big, clunky camera from the mid-decade?   Let me count the ways.  But first let me say that there are two things I've added that make this camera more fun to shoot than a stock version.  I added a split image rangefinder screen that makes manually focusing easy and fun.  I bought an aftermarket battery that never runs down.  Really.  I swear it's got a small arc reactor inside.  I'm getting up to several thousand frames from a charge.

Here are the reasons I like shooting with this camera:

1.  The heft of the camera adds inertia which means that "an object at rest tends to stay at rest....etc."  A solid, heavy camera dampens user vibration well and that's a plus for those of us who like to shoot with manual focus lenses.  That's because I haven't come across any MF lenses that have IS (or VR).  I guess I could be shooting with Sony's a900 but that's a whole other story.

2.  The finder is very nice to look thru and makes it a pleasure to focus manually.  At least as good as the Canon 5Dmk2 with the upgraded screen and better with wide angle lenses.  Sexy finder.  Luscious.

3.  It focuses better than the other cameras.  Maybe even better than the 7D, which is supposed to be good at focusing.  The 1Dmk2 focus isn't complicated to use in AF and I've never had problems getting sharp focus in the plane I wanted it to fall in.  Doesn't really matter for the most part as this is the camera I tend to use with the manual focus Zeiss ZE lenses.

Take a look at the close-up view of the back:

That's where two more reasons reside.

4.  See the open card door?  There are two card slots.  One is CF and the other is SD.  And the SD slot does SDHC.  That means I can put a 16 gigabyte card in each bay and have the capacity to shoot over 2800 raw files.  Without reloading.  That's cool.  And in my studio we buy both kinds of cameras:  those with CF and those with SD slots.  So I always have both at hand.  I call it planned "un-obsolescence."  And lately I've been buying  SD cards to shoot video on.  Recent Amazon purchase was three 8 gigabyte cards at $12 each.  24 gigs of fast storage for a whopping $36.  Hmmmm.  Sounds good to me.

5.  See the contoured grip to the left of the card slots and just above the big wheel?  This camera body was designed to be comfortable in your hand.  And when you have it in your hand for four or five hours that makes all the difference in the world.  Canon makes pro cameras for people with normal hands, Nikon makes pro cameras for people with gorilla hands.  If you have big hands seek out a D3 instead....

6.  The screen is pretty good for such old technology.  I can almost accurately judge a shot from the screen unless I'm in full sun.  Then all bets are off.

7.  While my other three, newer Canons brag bigger numbers of pixels I'm not convinced that it makes too much difference for 90% of what most people shoot.  Great to have on client jobs but on jobs where I have only myself to please I find that the eight megapixels of the 1d2 are great.  And each pixel is twice as big as the ones in the 7 and the 60.  It's a different feel and a different equation when it comes to optical diffraction.  But the neatest thing about having just enough pixels is that post processing becomes a quick pleasure rather than a time consuming chore.

The back story is that I always wanted to play with the one series cameras.  I'd like to own the 1dmk4 but I'd hate to pay for it during a down cycle.  Right now everyone is sold out of the current body because they came from plants in the hardest hit area of Japan.  I couldn't buy a new one today if I wanted one and had money burning a hole in my pocket.

One day I walked into Precision Camera and scanned the used shelves.  They test and guarantee the used gear they sell.....  I saw this clean 1D2N and an equally clean 1d2 original.  But there was a problem.  I wanted the N version for the screen but it came sans battery.  The older version came with the charger and two batteries.  I bargained and bargained and walked out with both cameras (and the charger) for right around $1,000 or about $500 per camera.  My rationale was that I'd sell off the older camera and have a fun toy for a low price.  Then I shot the cameras.  And then I fell in love.  Didn't sell the older one either.  I'm rationalizing but I'd like to take them as a pair on my next road trip-shooting adventure.  They'd make a nice set.

My decisions about cameras are rarely logical.  If they were I'd still be shooting with a Nikon D700.  The files from that camera were great and I'd made my peace with it's handling.  But like the Canon 5d2 I never liked the feel or the sound of the shutter.  See what I mean? Totally irrational.  Seems not to make sense to shoot with an eight megapixel camera when I already own two 18 megapixel and one 21 megapixel cameras but there it is.  It all comes down to the feel and the fit for me.  I can always seem to tolerate smaller files better than bad or sloppy handling.  And I know that sentiment will be different from person to person.

Back when I was successfully shooting magazine covers with the 4 megapixel Nikon D2h all the photographers I knew saw the 8 megapixel cameras as the holy grail.  We said we'd stop there because that was all we'd need.  And I'm right there right now.  For most stuff.

The only thing I miss when I pick up these two classics and head out the door is the potential to shoot video.  And that's okay because it constrains me to always make fewer choices.  And, as I'm sure you know, more choices is hardly ever a good way to go.

Finally,  why the 50mm Zeiss ZE?  Two things.  I love to focus manually.  The focus stays where you put it.  And secondly,  It just looks better than the Canon normal lenses from 2.8 to 11.  And that's where I tend to shoot.  All personal choices.  I have my eyes peeled for a 1dmk3.  Besides the AF issues I've heard the image quality is superb........and they're going for a song.


Belinda and Kirk go to the museum.

We went to the Blanton Museum this afternoon to see the new show about portraits.  It was okay.  The show felt small, haphazard and weakly curated.  But we didn't care because after we studied the portraits we headed for a show on the first floor called, Rediscovering Beauty: the 1990's in Buenos Aires.  We hadn't paid attention to that show before but it was wonderfully powerful.  The blossoming of democracy in the 1980's and 1990's led to an explosion of beautiful art.  And art that was about beauty.  Unapologetically about beauty.

Here's a link about the show:  http://www.blantonmuseum.org/exhibitions/details/recovering_beauty_the_1990s_in_buenos_aires/

We saw work by artists we'd never heard of that was powerful and inflected with joyfulness and optimisim.  Nods of appreciation to artists like Keith Herring, Warhol and Lichtenstein were seen scattered about.  But the work was beyond a modernist reprisal.  The artists of BA seemed to fling off the quasi-academic "manifesto art" and trade it for "exuberance" art.

If you're in Austin head over to the museum some Thursday this month.  That's when the Blanton Museum is open to the public at no charge.  You're sure to agree that the trip across town was worth it.

Something about museums always makes me smile.  The first thing I imagine is how cool it would be to have about two acres of open, air conditioned space to make into my own portrait studio.  Then I smile because people are much more reverential about art spaces than they are even about libraries these days.  Everyone was whispering and staring hard at the art.  Almost as if they were trying to force meaning out of the work by dint of powerful laser eyes.  Another thing that makes me smile is the similarity in postures that people assume when looking at the artwork.  It's almost as if there's a handbook of additudinal poses for proper art viewing.  Except for the older codgers who walk up to a piece in their shorts and Teva sandals (with socks), turn their heads sideways for a squint.....then shake their heads a bit and hike off to the next piece.

After our "art encounter" we headed over to the Galaxy Cafe on West Lynn for a mozzarella, prosciutto and roma tomato sandwich (with fresh basil).  We talked about the shows.  We talked about museums and we talked about making art.  I'm supposed to have two shows in May.  One is of some big images I shot in Rome back in the 1990's.  That show is framed, matted and ready to go.

The other show is one in a local coffee shop that I committed to over a year ago.  I'm thinking about taking a short break from my obsessive-compulsive relationship with photography, gesso-ing a couple of big canvases and doing some whimsical acrylic paintings instead.  A nod to art school from decades ago.
We'll see......  If I do you all are invited and I'll have a virtual opening here on the blog.

Happy Sunday.

Love the out of focus background areas.  Refuse to write the "B" word about that.  The 50mm Zeiss ZE, in conjunction with the re-screened 1Dmk2N is my favorite shooting combo.  When I look thru the finder the whole rig just screams at me,  "HEY PUNK! DO SOME ART."


If you don't own the company this one is NSFW: Eeyore's Birthday Party. Austin. 2011. Photo Insanity. In a good way....

My favorite party of the year is Eeyore's Birthday Party at Pease Park, here in Austin.  For the last 30 years or so it's been a wonderful excuse to dress up (or undress) and officially welcome Spring and craziness to Austin.  This year was no different.  The barely clad women danced inside the drum circle.  Live bands played all over the park and the smell of pot wafted thru the air like incense in a head shop from the 1970's.  If your city doesn't have a party like this one  you might want to start one.  Or buy a plane ticket and come join us.  

This is, maybe, my 25th Eeyore's party.  In the early years I was a more active participant but for the past few years I've been more of a spectator.  One thing I'm pretty adamant about for my own work is rejecting the easy way out, photographically.  I see a lot of guys with big-ass zoom lenses, trying to take photos of characters and nymphs from far, far away.  I think that's cheating.  I think you should be of the crowd and photograph with the tacit approval of the subjects.  My advice for photographer attendees is to "grow a pair,"  leave the voyeur-zooms at home and get in close.    

To make it easier and to keep from being paralyzed by having to make choices I take one camera and one lens.  If you've read my blog for a while you'll probably guess that the lens is a 50mm.  It makes you get close.  And it's more fun.  My choice of cameras for today was the Canon 1Dmk2N.  And I'm glad it doesn't have a video mode because it would be another layer of choices.....  The camera I pulled out of the drawer is the one I'm using the split image screen with.  It was great with the Zeiss 50mm 1.4.  I set the lens on f4.5, put the camera on "A" and the ISO on 160 and shot raw.  On an 8 gigabyte SD card you get 772 raw files.  I must be slipping because by the time I called it quits (in the heat of the afternoon) I still had a couple hundred images in reserve.  

The party goes on till dark.  But I got hot and thirsty so I walked down the street to Whole Foods for an incredible light ale, full of hops, and then called it a day around 6pm.  Following are my quick edit favorites with captions (when I felt like a caption was called for......).   Will we see you down there next year?  Help us keep Austin Weird !!!

The woods on the west side of the park are like a magnet for the......alternative, alternative lifestyle people.  I spent some time up there photographing but eventually the pot fumes started to make me woozy (and hungry).

The variety of butterfly and fairy wings attached to beautiful women was amazing.  I love the blue.  And the sunglasses...

Moving away from the Milne books this person decided on a darker interpretation of Christopher Robin's childhood stories.  More of a Norse Prince of Darkness vibe....

No public gathering would be complete without the minstrels.  And they sang.

Some people dress up with wings while others have "live snake" bling.  Funny to hear women asking, "Can I pet your python?  Very inappropriate.

While all manner of face and body painting is expected I saw so many tatoo'ed people I thought I was in prison.  Really.  And the piercings were awesome too.

The star of the dance and drum circle.  And she never spilled a drop of beer.

Austin photographer, John Langmore, tests the limits of the social contract by stepping inside the dance circle and inside the five foot interpersonal space boundary to feed his hungry film Leica.  No, really, right in the middle of the dance circle.  Yes.  In the middle.  

This young lady has a very big unicycle.  I didn't care whether or not I shot the unicycle but her face was too adorably cute to pass up.  Angelic?

The dance circle princess leads her people to the western hills.  Right out of a Tolkien book.

This couple forgot to bring their drums or any other musical instrument so they decided to play percussion on her butt instead.  I couldn't hear much but they did have the rhythm "down pat."

The Alpha leader of the main drum circle.  

Part of the Eskimo drum circle.  Did I mention that it was, like, 95 degrees this afternoon?  But still, it was a more seasonal outfit than the guy in the giant Winnie the Pooh outfit......

Thing One and Thing Two.  Perhaps different than Dr. Suess imagined them.... I vote: Most creative.

Hundreds and hundreds of dogs.  Largely, they were not amused.

And no Austin festivity would be complete without......the guys who wear Dickies T-Shirts and give me caps.  Ambidextrous beer handling skills?  Check!

On my six block walk to Whole Foods I went along the hiking trail, under Lamar and saw this wonderfully calm image.  After four or five hours with the nobility of Austin this was a welcome respite.  There's something about industrial piers I find comforting.

What a wonderful end to a busy and corporate sort of week.  It's stuff like this that makes Austin special.  And Eeyore's also serves as a fund rasier for many local charities.  Every beer, turkey leg and waffle cake you buy helps support one non-profit or another.  If you don't like to watch people having fun you should probably steer clear.  It's a judgement free zone for the day.  And that's nice.