Happy Halloween.

It was a weekend in September that I remember for two reasons.  First, it was our annual encounter with Austin City Limits Musical Festival, and second, it was the first day of rain in over three months.  I was walking around downtown with either an EP-2 or an EP-3 (don't remember which) and a pocketful of older prime lenses and I decided to head for home when the clouds broke open.  I put my hat over my camera to keep it dry and walked back to my car.  Whole Foods was on the way.  I walked up to the front of the store and there they were.  Pumpkins.  The light was wonderful.  A cloudy sky with hazy, diffused light and pumpkins just underneath an overhang.  Nestled in the shadows but tickled to a gentle glow by a tentative. lingering light coming in from one side.

I like these pumpkins so much that I made a stack of 5x7 inch prints to hand out to my friends.  Someone at my favorite coffee shop asked me to sign one for her.  I was so flattered.  I'm always incredulous when people ask me to sign stuff.  I always thought people only wanted signatures from famous people...

I consider my pumpkin shots the closest thing to a landscape I've shot all year.


Nikon V1 part two. Wet performance.

Just adding a bit more information about the Nikon V1.  I did not get it wet.  I did take it to our first Annual Rollingwood Pool Masters Swim Meet this morning to catch some photos of people swimming fast.  Yesterday's post contained photos that were all shot using the basic 10-30mm kit lens.  Today, all the images were shot with the little telephoto lens, 30-110mm.  Now, if someone tells you that these lenses are too big I'm here to tell you that person has been off their meds for too long.  Both lenses are in the size ballpark of the Olympus Pen lenses, for equivalent focal length ranges, and at least one quarter the size of lenses with similar angles of view offered in APS-C camera systems and full frame camera systems.  Tiny.  Really.  There is one lens, which I do not own, that ranges from 10mm-100mm and it's big but it's pretty much a specialty lens for video.  It's still not overly large for what it offers.....

 So I stuck the lens on, set the camera for auto ISO (between 100-400), the camera on A for aperture and I was using the mechanical shutter in the continuous mode which gives the camera operator about 5fps for what seems like an unlimited number of frames.  I could have used the silent, electronic shutter at 60fps but it reduces the file size and is vulnerable to the "jello" effect that can be seen on DSLR's that shoot video.  I mostly used the lens at its widest aperture and let the camera compensate with shutter speed and ISO shift.  I used the matrix mode for metering and never touched the exposure compensation dial.
The camera locks focus quickly and very rarely hunts.  Certainly less so than my Canon 5Dmk2.  While the camera is fast on frame to frame performance the shutter has a bit of lag and I found myself having to make some big adjustments in timing compared to using my Canon 1Dmk2N for shooting swimming.  On my first tries I was missing the peak of action by 40 or 50 milliseconds.  Once I learned to predict the moment my keeper rate rose.

I haven't shot RAW yet because I'm not sure if I have my hands on conversion software to make the files work in Lightroom or PhotoShop CS5.  The Jpeg files are the "fine" setting and there is very little to select in terms of fine tuning.  In fact I can't find any sub-menus to change things like contrast, saturation and sharpness.  What squirts out of the camera and into Lightroom are files that are very well exposed but somewhat low contrast vis-a-vis the Olympus files I'm used to. (And with the Olympus cameras there much be 813,000 possible setting combinations for the Jpegs.....).  Since the files are nice and flat they accept a good amount of nudging without going nuts.  I pull up the blacks by about ten percent in levels, add a bit of contrast with curves and push up the vibrance control in Lightroom about 10 points.  I'll keep hunting for more user controls but I have a sneaking suspicion that, once all the Adobe products are updated with the latest raw information,  I'll shoot this camera as a raw machine.

 The thing you notice after your first hour with the camera is just how light and small the rig is compared to our traditional cameras.  And how deep the buffer is.  You can shoot and shoot and you'll never wait for the camera to catch up.
Nice high elbow technique.  Just an observation.

I haven't played around with some of the more modern settings like the one that shoots ultra fast and then presents you with the "best" four frames.  But I'm happy with the files I'm getting from the more pedestrian settings.  A quick aside not related to capturing swimming:  If you set the camera to electronic shutter and turn off the sound effects in the menu the camera becomes absolutely silent when shooting.  There is no "click," no mirror slap noise, no fake motor drive noise, nothing.  The perfect courtroom camera if Nikon decides to come out with a few fast primes.

This is coach Chris.  He was an All American at UT Austin.  He stood up on a sleepy Sunday morning and banged out a 1:45 200 free.  I thought that was amazing.  Loving the shadows from the backstroke flags.... 

I love the way the meter locks in and handles dappled sunlight.

Once I got the lag time figured out I was able to pretty consistently catch the moments I had in mind.

I shot 484 frames this morning, in between my volunteer duties of timing and counting laps for a swimmer in a distance event. (And coffee drinking.  And bagel consumption.)  The camera meter (which reads out in percentages) showed that I still had an 80% charge left.  Not bad at all.  I may go against twenty years of tradition and NOT buy a second battery.....

 The three frames above are a sequence and it was easy to capture once you get the cadence of the camera down.  I need to figure out how to turn off the instant review function if I'm going to use the camera for serious work.  David's a darn good 200 butterfly swimmer.  I think that beats having a cool camera any day of the week.
All in all I think the lens performs very well and the camera does a good job focusing it.  I'm pretty impressed for an optic that gives me roughly the same field of view as a 90 to 300mm zoom on a full frame camera and costs only $249 WITH BUILT IMAGE STABILIZATION.  

I've read a bunch of comments on the web about these new cameras and it's amazing (and depressing).  According to the "experts" this camera can't do much.  And what it can do they suspect it can't do well.  If you really want to know what a camera can do take one out and shoot some images with it.  Because, as they say on the web, "Your Mileage May Vary."

The smartest thing Nikon could do is to run program where people can come into a store and borrow a camera and lens package for 24 hours with no strings attached.  I think they'd have a hard time getting them back out of people's hands.  

Note to the highly literal and people with "JTCD" (jumping to conclusions disorder):  Just because I like this camera doesn't mean I think all other cameras are bad, deficient, unusable, etc.  Nor does it mean that I'm putting all of my other cameras in a box and heading down to Goodwill to donate them.  It does mean I'll be shooting with it for a while to see what I can squeeze out of it.  And then I'll turn on the video and squeeze some more.  This doesn't mean that anyone else has to like it.  Really.  



Nikon 1. Counterintuitive. Crazy. And a whole lot of fun.

Nikon V1 Camera with Kit Lens. Sweet.

I got some money for my birthday on Thurs. and it was still around when I decided to drop in and see what was new at Precision Camera, my local, grown up candy shop.  I was thinking I'd take a look at the Canon SX40 because Ben and I have had fun with the super zoom cameras from Canon in the past and it's a lot of camera for $400.  My camera guy, Ian, and I played with the SX40 for a few minutes and then I asked him, "What's new?"  And that set of the chain reaction that led to the insertion of VSL into yet another camera system.  

When the Nikon 1 Series was announced I thought it looked pretty cool but I didn't take time to understand any of it, and the howl from the denizens on the web forums threatened to kill the whole system before it even hatched.  It is amazing to me how entrenched people get with their current systems and the level of disbelief they have that technology can march onward.  People are shaking their heads at the "small" sensor while gushing over cameras like the Panasonic LX5 and the Canon G12 which have much smaller sensors.....

Ian sauntered over to the case that holds the Nikon goodies and pulled out the V1.  He asked, innocently, "Have you played with one of these yet?" and he put the camera in my hand.  Can I say, "love at first sight?"

I have average sized hands and this camera fit perfectly.  The thumb rest on the back and the finger grip on the front are as close to perfect for me as I can imagine.  If you have gorilla hands you may have a different experience.  While I love the control covered carcass of the G series mini-pro cameras from Canon I was pleasantly surprise how much I loved the minimalist control protrusions on the V1.

But let's back up for a second and I'll describe the V1 for those who haven't kept up with new introductions lately.  Nikon supposedly has been working on this camera system since 2007.  It's got a smaller imaging chip than the micro four thirds cameras and the chip has a 2.7X crop factor compared to full frame 35mm.  There are two bodies available but the cheaper one doesn't allow for an EVF so I pretend that it doesn't even exist.  The body I am interested in is the V1.  It has a built in EVF with a 1.4 million pixel res screen in the eyepiece.  The camera can be set up like the old Minoltas and Sony's so that the screen on the rear is live until you bring the camera up to your eye and then it switches to the electronic viewfinder.  Nice, but the first thing I did was to use the display control to turn off the rear screen all the time.

The camera is small but not too small which makes it easy to carry but nice to hold.  You'll hate this camera if you like all your major controls front and center.  Just about everything on the camera is menu driven.  And it's the Jekyll and Hyde opposite of the EP-3.  The menus is barebones.  Where you can fine tune and finesse just about every setting imaginable in the Olympus the Nikon is almost delightfully straightforward and uncluttered.  You can't fine tune many of the settings but maybe that's because it's intended to be a raw shooter.

You can look at the picture of the product at the top of the page and you'll find it to appear very rudimentary.  I like it.  But I like Mid 20th Century Russian Industrial too.  I think, once you hold it in your hand and shoot it you'll find it's a cross between "collective functionality" and the kind of simplified interface that makes Apple products so usable.  If you are the kind of guy who likes to replace the motherboard in your PC just so you can say you built it yourself then.....nope, this one might be something different.  To me, clean, spare and functional are attributes.
When Ian and I were playing around with the camera in the store we shot photos of the inside of a camera bag.  Silly test, but at ISO 3200 we saw very, very little noise and lots of non-smushy detail.  There was a little bit of evidence of noise reduction taking the edges off eyelashes and what not but not much.  On par with a Canon 7D at that setting.  Maybe a little better.  

I beat Ian out of a 4 gigabyte card because I wanted to go out and shoot immediately.  The battery had a 40% charge fresh from the box so I saddled up, asked my full service camera guy to put the strap on the camera and set the date and time and, a grand lighter, I was out the door and headed for downtown.  I thought I'd head to Cafe Medici and read the owner's manual.  Something I do with every camera I buy.

OMG!!!!  Nikon managed to do the IMPOSSIBLE.  The manual is only about 60 pages long and yet manages to cover everything I needed to know with good, clear explanations.  Amazing, since even the most rudimentary cameras these days come with books that rival War and Peace  for length.  I was back out the door one cappuccino and ten minutes later.  
I'd write more stuff but I just spent three hours and 200 files with the camera.  Look above.  It's a shot right out of the camera in Jpeg.  Click on it because I uploaded some big files.  You'll see lots of detail and lots of dynamic range.  I know the sensor is small and I won't be able to put lots and lots of stuff out of focus but I also know that I can lean over a bridge, shoot in total automatic, and come away with a shot I like.
What are the "gotcha's" that I've found so far?

1.  I don't like the fact that they use a brand new mechanical interface for the flash.  I'll have to use their dedicated flash and figure out how to use it to trigger studio flashes if I want to use it that way.  They haven't shipped flashes yet so I'll see what that's all about when they get here.

2. "Wake from sleep" takes far too long.  When you turn on the camera from the "off" position it leaps into action and is as ready as a teenager.  But when you've let the camera go to sleep it wakes up like a grumpy old man.  Figure on several seconds and some pressure on the shutter button before it says hello and asks for Sanka.

3.  Shot to shot recovery is too slow in the single shot setting.  You click, it shoots, then it pauses and then it shows you the shoot and then waits for you to put a little pressure on the button before it comes back to pre-shoot readiness.  Fine for still life and things that don't move much but not so good for my kind of shooting.  Switch to continuous and gain immediate shot to shot responsiveness and a 45 shot buffer.
 What do I like about the camera?

Can you say, "Image Quality?"  Forget all the crap you hear on the techno sites and just look at the images.  They're gorgeous.  I don't remember which ones I uploaded at full size but if you click around I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding them.  I think the out of camera jpegs are very, very good.  Maybe the color is different than Jpegs from Olympus Pen cameras but it's not necessarily worse color and the sharpness and resolution are second to none in the tiny class.

The other major thing I like is the use of the big, D7000 style battery.  It's rated for 500 images.  I'm tired of tiny batteries that cough up the spirit after only 200 or so images.  

Do I like the camera better than my EP3?  No.  But I do like it just as much.  The EP3 is very elegant and so beautifully designed.  The V1 seems more industrial.  Will I get rid of the Olympus stuff to replace it with Nikon stuff?  Naw.  I still like using all my legacy lenses and Leica lenses on the Olys.  And I still love their color.  What do I like about the Nikon? I love the crisp feel of the files, the perfect meter, the fast autofocus and the incredible ten frames per second I can get at the full 10 meg image res.

There's a lot more to this camera and I've barely scratched the surface of it's capabilities in video (can you  imagine 400 fps video played back at 30 fps for incredible slow motion?).  The camera is small, discreet, focuses faster than my Canon 5Dmk2 (the whipping boy of modern focus...) and fun to handle.

I've only had my hands on it for five hours and I'm still learning.  But I've learned on thing: If most people who've never handled a camera hate it.......it might be really good.  More.  Much more to come.


Another fun review by one of the VSL readers: http://www.b-vong.com/journal/nikon-j1-review-by-a-girl/

It's a moveable feast. A portable picnic.

HEY.  Looking for the blog?  It's Saturday and I've started a brand new tradition with Michael Johnston, the grand curator and wizard at THE ONLINE PHOTOGRAPHER.  I'm doing a blog on the last Saturday of each month on his site.

Go here if you want to read it:  http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/blog_index.html/the_online_photographer/blog_index.html

Then bookmark Michael's site if you haven't already.  My suspicion is you're going to like his stuff at least as much as you like mine.  And it's usually a different take.

Thanks for being a reader.  We'll be back tomorrow.

Best, Kirk

P.S. someone reminded me of this ancient article,  vintage camera now: http://photo.net/equipment/leica/m6


Lonely hunter. Better hunt.

 I did a trip to Paris solely to take photographs for myself back in 1992.   That sounds selfish but I didn't have any children to take care of and my wife was enmeshed in a busy career as an art director for a prosperous advertising agency.  I was approached by Agfa that year to be a tester for their line of APX films and I requested a case of their 100 speed film and another of their 400 speed film.  They asked me where I wanted to photograph and I said, "Paris."  A month later, in late October, I was there with a camera bag full of new Canon EOS lenses and a couple of camera bodies.  Oh, and a big shopping bag full of black and white film.

I have a Friend who is French and lives in Paris.  We've hosted his family and his kids here in Austin a number of times.  When I travel to Paris I stay in a small "maid's apartment" above his home in one of the central arrondissmonts.  The apartment is near the top of the building and is very spare.  Just a shower, a sink and a bed.  But what more do you need?  My friend is like a lifeguard at a pool.  When I visit he tells me what has changed and what's remained the same.  Areas to avoid and areas to visit.  While he is always busy with work and a family we make time for one really nice dinner when I visit.

On this trip I spent every day doing much the same thing:  I would get up early and have coffee and a small breakfast at the cafe around the corner.  I stood at the counter.  My order was always the same:  cafe au lait and a croissant.  Then I would put a 50mm lens on one EOS-1 (the original Canon pro AF body) and an 85mm 1.2 on the other and I'd head out into the streets just to hunt for fun images.  I'd stop for lunch at the Fauchon cafe or duck into McDonald's on the Champs Elysee when I'd get nostalgic for American haute cuisine.  In the evenings I'd connect with American friends who were temporarily living in Paris and we'd go out to neighborhood restaurants.  It was always an adventure.

On that trip I shot thru 100 rolls of ISO 100 and 100 rolls of ISO 400 APX.  When I got back to Austin I sent all of the film to BWC photo lab in Dallas and they developed it and made contact sheets, courtesy of Agfa.  I still look through the notebooks I put together, pull negatives and make scans of new favorites.

But until I did this trip on my own I had always traveled with, first my parents, then my college girl friend and finally, with my wife.  And in all those scenarios photography takes a back seat to the social appeasement of travelling with people and spending time with them.  You might want to wander aimlessly but the other person or people you are travelling with might have an agenda.  A list of museums to visit and stores to shop in.  They want to ride on the Bateaux Mouche and climb the Eiffel Tower.  Try as they might they don't really understand your desire to walk around, stop, turnaround, click the shutter, walk ten feet and then do it all over again.  Friction arises.

I must say that Belinda is the best traveling companion any photographer could ever want.  She can be totally autonomous.  I'll wake up and ask her what she wants to do when we visit a foreign city and she already has two itineraries devised.  One if I am tagging along and one if I'm not.  If it's the latter option we make plans to meet up for supper.  

But in 1992 it was up to me, continuously.  These were the days before the internet so there was no need to "check in."  No compulsive e-mail checking.  No silly/obnoxious tweets.  And no cellphone either.  I could go days without speaking to anyone I knew and that was cool because it concentrated my attention onto taking photographs or getting myself into position to take photographs.  I came to know the feel of the EOS-1 in a way that I can barely fathom now.  It was an amazing camera. (But this is certainly not a camera review!!!)

Here's what I learned:  If you want to do photography at a level that really satisfies your soul and your ego you'll need to do it alone.  Forget having the spouse or girlfriend or best friend or camera buddy tagging along.  Forget the whole sorry concept of the "photo walk" which does nothing but engender homogenization and "group think."  Leave all electronics in your hotel room.  Cut off all communications, during the day, from or to the "real world" and immerse yourself in the hunt for images.  Learn what makes your brain salivate and why.  Learn to operate that camera by braille. And make your decisions based on what your inner curator wants you to say.

Everything else is just play time bullshit. 

None of your non-photographer friends will understand, and that's okay.  Your real photographer friends will either be jealous or nodding their heads in appreciative approval because they've been there. When you see the world unfold in front of you, unencumbered by the social construct of the group, you become freed to see differently and make different decisions about what you'll photograph and why.  In the end you'll come home with intensely personal photographs.  Quirky photographs.  Powerful photographs.

Many of you will throw your hands up and complain that you have kids and obligations and can't possibly get away by yourself.  Others will whine that "their spouse would never let me go to Paris without them."  But you only get one life.  If you have a spouse like that you might think about a quick divorce.  If you have kids you might think about the example you are showing them.  That life is the adventure and you either sit at home and watch or you get up and participate.

When my son was six months old I had the opportunity to go to Rome to shoot in the streets for ten days with free film provided by Kodak.  I was out the door as soon as I could find my passport.  My wife is a strong person who doesn't need my constant presence for validation.  She was thrilled for my opportunity and again I came home with images I love.  Make the time.  Go out to shoot.

I know people who will only travel on tours or cruises.  They are missing out on so much.  It's like being guided through paradise with a blindfold on.  

My favorite story from the Paris trip in 1992 was when my friend's wife took me to lunch.  She met me somewhere near their home with her Vespa, handed me a helmet and stuck me on the back and then zoomed through the streets like something out of a movie chase scene.  I was riding "bitch" on the back and terrified.  We parked on a sidewalk and went through an ancient pedestrian corridor to a restaurant that I'd never be able to find again.  The table tops were covered with white butcher paper and the waiters would come by and ask what we wanted and then mark it in pencil on the paper.  If we ordered wine that would go on the paper.  The meal was incredible but even more incredible was the people watching in the ancient dining room.  Professional waiters addressing the kitchen.  Lovers leaning over the table to share a kiss.  Business men in dark suits sharing bottles of wine over boisterous lunches.  And me, clicking away with the 85mm.

My lunch companion asked me what I'd like to see that afternoon.  I said, "Paris."  And she kissed me on the cheek and left in a puff of smoke.  I headed out to see more.  Always just a little bit more.  

What do I do with all these images?  I look at them.  I remember my feelings of "thought" freedom from traveling unecumbered.  And I incorporate the feelings of freedom, from time to time,  in whatever work I am doing at the moment.

It's important to travel outside your usual visual space. Outside your cultural comfort zone.  Outside your social network/safety net.  It's important to learn to be comfortable by yourself.  Many psychological studies point to the power that groups have to subtly and even unconsciously push you into conforming.  Into synchronizing into the pattern of the group.  If you want to express an individual vision you have to become individual.  There's no other way to do it.

And if you want to take images just like everyone else, and tag along with everyone else, you might as well just stay at home and download some stock photography from the web.

Reject the idea of the "Photo Walk" unless it's a solo walk with your camera. 

Leave the social anchors and straight jackets at home.  There will always be another time for an inclusive family vacation.

Experience the joy of unique discovery.  More powerful in many ways than the shared experience.

And do it NOW before your life has passed you by and you regret the choices you never made.

Cameras may change but the hunt goes on, unabated.  Don't wait for all the stars to line up.
Don't wait for the lottery.  We feel richer from our experiences than from any item we buy.
It's just our human nature.

A quick nod to Ben who turned 16 on Sunday...

 Ben at Emma Long Park.  Contax G2 with 21mm Biogon Lens.  Kodak T-max 400 CN  (C-41 process, black and white film).

Ben at Asti.  Leica M6 .8TTL,  50mm Summilux.  Tri-X film.

Ben.  A few weeks ago.  Dining room table.  Hasselblad 501 CM.  80mm Planar.  Tri-X.

I guess everyone likes their kids.  I really like the one I got.  He's smart and kind.  And he's very patient when I ask him to help me with photographic stuff.  I find it funny just how many photographs of Ben are done in black and white or with the intention of black and white.  I also find it amusing that he's been photographed with such a wide range of cameras.

He just turned sixteen years old and he's still socially adroit and happy.  I know, I know, it's only a matter of time before the rebellion kicks in.

Ben likes "hand me down" cameras, but only if they do video.  Extra points if they have microphone inputs.  He's got a collection of Canons super zooms that he and his friends use for video projects.  He owns his own Gitzo Tripod, complete with side arm and fluid head, because he used mine way too often.

Will he become a photographer?  Naw.  He's way too smart for that....