Photographing little slices of Texas.

Sony a77 with 85mm 2.8 Sony DT lens.

I had a wonderful time at the grand opening party for the newest addition (the Topfer Theatre) at the Zachary Theatre complex. We were entertained by Tony Award winner, Brian Stokes Mitchell, treated to open bars and fed lavishly by some of Austin's finest chefs. Today I'm off to shoot the opening reception of a very interesting conference and, knowing both the client and the venue, I'm sure I'll be well fed there as well. Social Photographers; as long as we stay busy and booked we'll never have to pay for dinner again... :-)

The image above is part of the signage at the Nutty Brown CafĂ©, out near Dripping Springs, Tx. I shot it as an afterthought to a job. I'm very please to have the image because it reminds me of growing up in Texas.  Back when the state seemed to be all about cowboys, oil and cattle. Now it's all about business, tech and entertainment. Life changes. It's always good to have a front row seat. That's one of the perks of being a photographer.

The image was made with a Sony a77 camera and a Sony 85mm 2.8 DT lens. 

"We've got miles and miles of Texas....."  -Asleep at the Wheel.

Monday and Tues. I continue at the conference and Weds. we're shooting some advertising materials for Esther's Follies. Weds. evening is another short event and Thurs.& Friday are all about getting back in the pool and catching up on the post processing. A week of fun.

But that means that blog entries might be a bit thin on the ground.  There are over 1200 previous entries you could catch up on.......Just keep scrolling down.


Why camera selection has become....meaningless.

fun at the Pecan St. Festival. Today.

There's a point at which the technology in nearly every industry gets (for want of a better word) homogenized. It's the point at which everything you consider buying in that industry's category works as well as everything else and you're buying decision is relegated to trim, design and specific feature sets rather than reliability, performance and technical parity with competing brands. Consider broad categories like cars, sound equipment and food processors.  Or scanners or inkjet printers. 

In the early days of each category you were rewarded for diligent research and wise choices. If you did your homework you ended up with a car that was reliable and safe. If you shopped and listened intently you'd end up with a sound system that was faithful to the recordings and didn't introduce pain into the listening stream. Intensive evaluations of the charts in Consumer Reports might have led you to a food processor that sliced, diced and mixed perfectly and lasted decades and if you listened well to the earliest adopters of ink jet printers you would either have (rightfully) decided not to enter the fray, early on, or, if you did partake you may at least have saved yourself from buying a clogging money pit of an "art machine."

Now, in each of those fields the choices have largely homogenized. All cars are more or less reliable for about 100k miles and nearly all provide an equivalent feel and performance in plodding rush  hour traffic or cruising the nation's highways at 55 mph. Choose a Honda or a Ford or a Kia or a VW and chances are good that you'll have satisfaction for the first four years of your car owning experience.

A current Canon, Epson or HP printer will print faithful images and, for the most part, dodge the expensive to clear head clogs of yesteryear.

When Sony produced the now ubiquitous 16 megapixels APS-C imaging sensor that is now in nearly all of the mid-range DSLRs and most DSLTs they effectively (and amazingly) homogenized that entire market. Now they'll do the same with the full frame market by offering a choice of 36 and 24 megapixel sensors that will also become omnipresent. While it's true that each camera maker's iteration will have some differences in noise and color performance due to processing decisions the underlying engine will be largely the same and each participant will have the opportunity to take full advantage of the basic infrastructure to make high quality files.

According to a recent review by DP Review the $600 Sony a57 is competitive, in terms of image quality and noise performance with the Nikon D7000, the Pentax Kr5 and a bit ahead of the latest Canon 18 megapixel versions.  

While it remains to be tested we can safely assume that the performance of the 24 megapixel sensors in the Sony a99 and the Nikon 600D will be roughly equivalent as well.

At this point, when it comes to image quality, it all comes down to lens choice. And we have a game changer in that sector as well. Independent lenses makers are stepping in and offering amazingly good lenses that are, for all intents and purposes, cross platform.  Sigma introduced two lenses this year that are making waves for micro 4:3 users and Nex users alike. The Sigma 19mm and 30mm 2.8 are, by most accounts, remarkably sharp and defect free lenses and they set a new standard by pushing prices downward. Each is available for less than $200.

The Sigma 50mm 1.4 is widely thought to be the best fast 50mm on the market for the Sony, Nikon and Canon cameras.  Zeiss is also offering a complete, cross platform product strategy which makes the choice of camera body less dependent on the glass offerings of the major camera companies.

This is not to say that there won't always be outliers in the field. The Fuji faux rangefinder line exists because people are willing to pay more for design and form factor.  In a way this is an extension of the Apple design strategy.  Nikon and Canon are operating like the Dells and HPs of the world did five to ten years ago. They were selling hardware strategies based around the speeds and feeds of the physical technology. They got killed because someone else paid more attention to making products that felt and looked right even if many (most) of the internal components are largely the same. That's a benefit of good design = higher margins and more customer differentiation.

If you look at the product side of digital photography in a new way you'll see that the homogenization brings two side effects. It should create a continued push down on pricing of new cameras and, at the same time it should create a drive to better design and feature sets, beyond the sensor, to capture new markets and retain customers.

In the traditional camera field camera makers lock in their customers with unique lens mounts. While the mounts are accessible to third party lens makers they are not interchangeable between Sony's Alpha DSLT line, Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Samsung.  But the world of photography product marketing changed profoundly when Olympus, Panasonic, Leica and other signatories to the micro 4:3rds lens mount standard came together to create a semi-open standard. Users could keep their existing optics from just about any maker and use them interchangeably on any of the m4:3 camera systems.  An Olympus 45mm 1.8 works equally well on a Panasonic GH3.  A Leica/Panasonic 25mm 1.4 works equally well on an OMD. The smaller lens mount of the m4:3 cameras and the Sony Nex cameras, along with the much shorter register between lens mount and sensor in each of these systems means that almost any lens from the older Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony/Minolta catalogs can be used on these cameras with a wide range of inexpensive adapters.

And the best Nikon lenses can, with the right adapter, be used on Canon's bodies.  This changes the lock in quotient profoundly.  

Another thing that's going to bring strange market forces to bear on the big two (Canon and Nikon) as well as the next three (Sony, Pentax and Samsung) is something that's already happening in the video end of the business. There Zeiss and other specialty lens makers are creating lens systems that can be used on different mounts. It's only a matter of time until all third party lens makers harken back to something like the Tamron Adaptall lens system that emerged in the 1970's and allowed users to buy the lenses they wanted only one time and then to buy adapters to use the same lenses on new systems if the consumer migrated from their previous systems.

In the new paradigm you would cherry pick your lenses first and then buy the adapters you needed to work with the camera with which you are currently smitten.  Suppose you started with a Nikon D-Something and you were pretty darn happy with its performance and image quality. You bought a Zeiss trio of lenses that constitute the lenses that really define your personal style.  And then you buy a set of Nikon adapters for them.  Somewhere along the line a friend hands you a Sony a99 body to look through and in a flash you have an epiphany and discover for yourself just how incredible, efficient and effective a really brilliant EVF based camera can be. Easy fix. 

You sell the Nikon body back into the very efficient used market (along with the converters) and you buy a Sony a99 and a new set of adapters. The lenses you have come to love, and more importantly, understand, follow along with you and bring the utility of your visual training with your prized focal lengths to a newer and better system.  And when Nikon finally gets the message from the future and introduces a pro camera with a 4 million pixel EVF it's just as effortless to switch back.

And since Sony makes the sensors for both you will largely make your decision on these kinds of features rather than photonic performance.  Which may mean that we actually need to change systems far less often.

Isn't this essentially what Hasselblad said to the public when they showcased their Lunar camera collection to the public in Photokina?  They basically said, "Okay, this sensor and imaging pipeline is more than good enough. Soon it will be in a large number of cameras. We will use it but we will add value by creating a design aesthetic that some will perceive as a tremendous attraction."  In effect Hasselblad said, "We will Apple the Nex."  Only they were thinking in terms of multiples of margin instead of percentages.

By using an ostensibly open lens mount they opened the way to re-badge lenses not only from Sony but from other makers as well. It's open systems run wild.  The down side for consumers is the tendency for homogenization and consolidation to eliminate seemingly eccentric other options.

And that, in a nutshell, is what Sony's 36 megapixel sensor is doing to the medium format digital market.  We now have a sensor that matches (and in many cases exceeds) the performance in nearly all the sensors in medium format and, for the first time, lays bare the little fib that keeps MFD alive = that the bigger sensors give a decidedly different image rendering.

The biggest current MFD sensor out there is slightly smaller than the 6x4.5 cameras that defined the smallest boundary of medium format in the older, film days. Most of the sensors are quite a bit smaller than that with the Leica S dimensions being only 50% larger than the 35mm frame. By comparison film images from a square Hasselblad negative or chrome are four TIMES larger.  That overwhelming difference in size is the main and most critical factor in making MF look so much different than 35mm. The obscuring of this fact over the last 15 years has been largely based on the fact that, pre- Nikon D800e, the only way to get a massive amount of data was through medium format digital.

When professional reviewers and photographers realized that the D800e created largely a condition of parity with all by the most expensive of MF cameras the industry was granted permission to also homogenize the high end of the market.  At a certain point I feel almost certain that we'll all end up shooting variants of a standard 35mm full frame sensor.  There will be differentiators in style, body features, software features, etc. but not in sensor geometry. When we reach that state (three years??) we'll accelerate the homogenization of lenses as well since everyone will be aiming for the same target in a market that expands and is contracting simultaneously. 

Once we're all shooting with the same sensor geometries and with the same lens choices and with the same bayer pattern overlays the inevitable next step is the homogenization of vision.  When everyone has a finish hammer everything looks like the same nail.

The wide spread use of food processors drove artistic chefs back into a rediscovery of hand skills and exquisitely made knives. The pendular swing was realized.

And once cameras are rationalized and made as interchangeable as different brands of whole milk it will be the crazy people who jump back to big film or crazy little cameras that will drive the next revolutionary capitulation of the camera market.

All the little cameras you see announced are like little weather balloons being sent aloft. How many features will we be willing to lose to hit a price point? How similar can cameras become before we are unable to differentiate them in advertising? How long can we sell the idea of hierarchic lens performance when everything is diffraction limited beyond f5.6? 

The herd loves homogenization because it means we're all in this together. The artist hates homogenization because it means the tools for a unique expression of unique vision are lost.  And it's the artist that will drive the next re-imagining of photographic tools.  And they hate it even more precisely because it does seem to mean that we're all in this together.

I love the Sony's new cameras for their EVFs but I dislike the whole genre for robbing me of square aspect ratios, for forcing me to wade through CMOS color and for making all of the lens choices seem the same.

I hate the Hasselblad 503 CX because it costs me real cash money every time I use it but I love it for giving me a format that matches my vision, a choice of colors and renditions and for making all of the lens choices seem different (and wonderous).

Where will it all stop?  Nowhere and never. You just have to choose what and how you want to see right now and take care of business. That's all we ever could do.  But we had more real choices in the past. Now we are constrained by what industry can pull off silicon wafers. What a lame way for art to exist...


Big conference starts Sunday. What am I packing? What am I taking?

Every Fall, about this time, I get hired to provide photographic coverage of a very cool conference. People come from all over the world to spend three days discussing the state of the real estate economy on a global scale and how all the myriad details of growing and falling economies will punish and reward the markets. The conference is fairly small, as conferences go. A total of less than 400 guests but the most of the guests and all of the panelists and speakers are what we in the USA would call, heavy hitters. Billionaire investors, hedge fund managers, government officials and representatives from some of the big banks in in North America and Europe. I attend every minute and document everything that looks interesting.

This will be my fourth or fifth year to photograph the conference and each year I've used a different camera system. Last year was Canon's year. The year before was Olympus and the two years before that were Nikon.  This time it's Sony's turn.

A lot of the coverage is in a darkened auditorium and most of the rest is available light work in cocktail receptions, lunches and break out rooms. Since we're always working with low light situations at this show I was hoping that Sony would have an a99 in my hands by now but it was a vain hope. So I've tested everything I currently own and I'm going in light.  And cheap.

I want to use long glass and fast glass and that means I need to be choosing from the SLTs and not the Nex 7 category. The low light capability of the camera is critical so after my low light tests I've decided to go with the a57.  I have one and Ben has one but he won't need his right now because he's at the Pre Nationals Cross Country Invitation in Portland, Ore. till sunday night and then he's swamped for the next few school days----catching up.  He gave me the thumbs up to use his a57 body and a couple extra batteries.

While the a57 shoots a 16 megapixel RAW file it's more than big enough for my client's needs and the smaller (than the a77 ) file will help keep me from loading up lots and lots of SD cards.
I am perfectly satisfied with the camera's noise performance right up to and including ISO 3200 and very comfortable going to 6400 in a pinch.  The camera (according to the testing druids at DP Review and DXOmark) also has class leading dynamic range chops which will help with the contrasty stage light.

I'm going mostly with zoom lenses on this job since I don't want to move around in front of the stage very much.  I'll mostly have the very stellar 16-50mm f2.8 Sony lens on one body and the very good 70-200mm 2.8 G lens on the other body.  I'll bring along my 50mm 1.4 if I want to use something faster or smaller.  Three batteries per camera and a pouch full of 16 gigabyte SD cards for overkill.

I'm going way outside the zone on this show and I'm going to do most of my supplemental lighting with a Fotodiox 312 AS LED panel.  I'll bring along the big Sony flash just in case I get cold feet...  Finally, I'll bring along my old Tiltall tripod just for those overall room shots and long shots from the back of the auditorium.  Not a lot of gear but that's a fun way to work.  I'll spend the real budget on the suits and ties that are mandatory wardrobe. When you hang with the bankers and policy makers it's expected that you'll dress like they do.  I hope my ties haven't gone totally out of fashion.

With a little bit of luck I'll be totally over my combination illness/structural dramatics and ready to make some really fun images of people being smart and saying smart things. Do you think anyone will notice that I'm not using professional cameras? 


Freelancing and calling in sick....

Nothing sucks worse than coming down with whatever sore throat, grungy thing your kid had last week and then throwing your back out while struggling to find the clementine that rolled over by the refrigerator at six o'clock in the morning. Addled with lack of sleep you bend over at the waist to pick up the errant fruit and all of a sudden your lower back goes KAPOW! and you feel like you're never going to walk again.  And that's the easy part. The hard part is rescheduling the shoot you had booked for 2:30 pm at Esther's Follies because you know they've been looking forward to it and I've been looking forward to it and they've had lighting people and actors and magicians booked and ready to go since last week.

If you're a cube pilot or and engineer or a banker you get to pick up the phone and-----call in sick. Someone covers the slack for you and if anyone feels like giving you crap about staying home you can unleash the HR goons on em.  And generally calling in sick means that you still get paid and  still get all the goodies that go with your job, wherever it may be on the totem pole.

Around here everything wants to grind to a halt but once you cancel you can't replace the lost income from today. It's gone like mayonaise left out on that picnic table in the August sun. So I'm getting a friend to help reconfigure my computer so I can work standing up. At least I can try to get those 36 portraits on my to do list that need post production/retouching scheduled and pumped out today.

So, here's the drill:  Blow nose, cringe at back pain, blow nose again, cringe at back pain. Look desperately to see if anyone has any left over pain relievers beyond Tylenol.  Work on file. Repeat.

I can wade through the scratchy throat and the sniffles but feel free to send me your magic cures for lower back pain----the nemesis of working (and aging photographers). I need to work through this one with a certain amount of expediency, I have a three day conference that starts on Sunday and will keep me moving for 12 hours a day and today's shoot, rescheduled for next Weds.

Please don't bother to tell me I need three weeks of bed rest in the Bahamas. My private jet is out for repairs and I can't bear the thought of flying coach...

Seriously, miracle cures?


One of those weekly phone calls that makes you question your career choice...

I was driving home from Maria's Taco Express, where I had a great lunch, when my phone rang. I thought it might be my errant lunch companion who failed to show up so I answered it. The call started out pleasantly enough, it was a woman from a publishing company in another city. She immediately went into the sell mode to tell me "what a wonderful series of books they produce about major cities in the U.S. and, isn't it wonderful?" They're going to do one on Austin.

Well, that's okay with me, I guess, but why was she calling me? "Well, in order to make it a great book about your city it would have to have photographs of stuff, including some food shots from some of our more famous local restaurants. So the publisher asked the restaurants to send in photographs. But here's the problem, the photographs from one restaurant are too small and mushy and they need big, meaty, high res images for their super deluxe, super high quality printed book." And they just kinda think I may have taken the photographs of this wonderful food that they want to put in a wonderful book that might just put Austin on the map as a city. Imagine that. Austin as a famous city. I can see people walking with more spring in their step right now....

I described the image I thought the person on the phone might be interested in and she more or less agreed that it probably was that image. Great, I say. What is your budget for the use of photography (one time) in your beautifully printed book that will put Austin on the map and save us from obscurity?  "Zero.  Ziltch. Nada."

But there are a couple of stumbling blocks to her wishful "free" thinking... The first is that the images were done for a magazine on a one time usage rights agreement. Oh darn, you mean the restaurant didn't get all the rights to my magazine assignment? That damn, pesky copyright law. Then came the "leverage."  "But well, if we don't get the high resolution files to use then we'll just have to pull that restaurant out of our book!!!!"  Oh no!!! This particular restaurant with a two hour wait for a table on week nights, the restaurant that's been here for twenty five years-----all that may crumble if I don't send off my intellectual property, ASAP.

Then why are you calling me? I ask.  "Well, you see, we need a high res version of the image and since you might be the person what took the image we were thinking we might be able to get the high res version from you. Because we need the high res image. See? For this impressive book."

Why didn't you ask the restaurant for a high res image? Isn't that their responsibility? "Well, they like this image but they weren't sure where it came from.... "  So why are you calling me? "Because we need a high resolution version for our book." But you don't have any budget to pay for it?

Now I'm getting a bit feisty. So you're producing a book to make money? "Yes." Your company is in the business of making books for profit? "Yes!"  And the restaurant will get free advertising because it will be in the book? Is that right? Yes!  And so why is the artist of the work the only one who doesn't benefit from the use of the work?  Why is the photographer the only one who isn't getting paid?

"Well, stutter,  I just trying to find out if you have some deal with the restaurant, like they pay you a yearly fee or something so we can use the image...."

But I don't have any business relationship with the restaurant. I own the photograph and I need to be paid if you intend to use it.

And then she asked, "Why are you getting so upset? Is someone you know dying or something?" (actual question...).

And I asked, Do you have any intention of paying to use my photograph?  "NO!" she said ".... .and you've been so unhelpful and mean I'll never call again and if I ever see your name come across my desk I will never use you!!!"

Thank you, I said, because you'd only be calling to see if you could get more stuff for free.

I don't remember who slammed their phone down first. But it never helps my blood pressure to be on either end of a call that's all about getting shit for free.

LED Lighting. My first choice for studio still life projects.

As you may or may not know I wrote a book about LED Lighting for photographers that was published this past Spring. Naively, I expected the book to be the hot seller of the season.  After all, who won't want to read an "edge of your seat" thriller about the promises and perils of the coolest hot, new lighting trend of the decade? Well, as it turns out photographers are more like stamp collectors and model railroad train hobbyists than they are adventurous revolutionaries. While the vast majority of reviews are five stars, and people who've actually read the book love it, most people keep looking for yet another iteration of a book on... How to Make Happy Light with a Battery Powered Flash... (can we all say, "been there, done that. and the t-shirt was lame?).

I've given seven or eight speeches and demonstrations about LED lighting and I guess I'll have to admit that I'm not a fiery on stage evangelist. I think my big marketing mistake was showing off the lights by using live models. People. The average photographer has worked hard to become comfortable shooting family and friends with his reliable electronic flashes and is loathe to learn new tricks if he or she can help it. But, I'd like to try a different tack in both selling my book and the general use of LED lighting------it's the best thing yet for anyone who does still life photography.  No long explanation, rather it's really just a matter or what you see is what you get. Or, what you light is what you get.  Good quality LED panels have never been cheaper, easier to use or more visually reliable. I still believe they are the game changers in the lighting space, going forward.  And with the special secrets revealed only in my book or my two week long, $15,000 workshop you too can learn the.......

I'd like to formally request that, if you have been a long term reader of the blog, you consider ordering a printed copy of the book. Even if you never decide to pull the trigger on purchasing a single lighting panel you'll have the knowledge to at least convincingly attack the whole folly of everyone else's adaptation of LEDs... And you'll make me happier into the bargain. But, if you shoot food, still life or studio work, and especially if you are dipping your toes into the world of DSLR video I think you'll be amazed at how fluid and easy LED lighting can make your jobs.  And, of course, your book club will thank you for introducing the drama and power of LED Lighting: Photographic Techniques for Digital Photographers, to them....

Below is a quick tutorial about using LED lights to photograph an old, folding Kodak camera. It goes like this:  "set up camera. set  up two lights, one on either side. turn on lights. play with positioning until the effect looks good in the viewfinder of your taking camera. Push shutter button.

 An in-depth look at the very complex lighting set up.

By using an EVF endowed camera I was able to pre-chimp the entire shot, from comp to exposure, to color balance, without looking away from the finder.

If you are interested in dipping your big toe into the LED waters and trying out the promise of the future I recommend one inexpensive lighting unit about all others. It's is the Fotodiox (or similar OEM) 312 AS.  The output is great. The color balance is infinitely adjustable between 3200 and 5500 and the whole fixtures output can be controlled with a simple rotary control on the back of the unit. It comes with two rechargeable lith-ion batteries and a keen carrying case. It's about $160 bucks.  But if you have to choose get the book first.  It doesn't have three easy steps to losing weight or making new friends but it is the first book on the subject on the face of the planet......


The good stuff is in the wiring. The dirt just holds the wires in the ground.

I've been grappling with the mental mechanics of re-invention. What can I offer clients that they can't easily get somewhere else for less money? How can I re-configure what I do for a living that will match the income I used to make as a photographer before the barriers to entry in our field came crashing down and the destination for our photographs changed? How indeed.

I've come to the conclusion that all the good stuff is in the wiring. The wiring in my head. And the biggest threat to future performance and happiness is the tendency we all have to cling to what we used to do in the past. The paradigms of our industry that once worked. The idea of a professional camera and the idea of a professional career as a photographer. There's so much more. I'm no longer a "picture taker" I am now a creative content artist. The medium matters much less than the idea and the process of creation.

I wrote about considering a video-centric VG 900 camera as my new still camera instead of the obvious form factor choice of the Sony a99 as my next full frame camera. Part of my mind kept screaming, "This isn't a real still camera. The form factor is all wrong. It's set up to shoot only horizontal. It doesn't fit in my hands the same way." Very much a pattern of thinking tied to the way I've always done things without a real consideration that my market continues to change and that I have the inner flexibility to adapt to, and try out new ways of doing things.

In this tense inner monologue some calm voice answered:  "It's not a zero sum game. If I need a camera that I can more easily turn sideways (to shoot portraits) I still have traditional cameras. The last portrait shoot you did you shot in a horizontal orientation because you were hell bent on cropping all the portraits square. If the camera doesn't work out it's not the end of the world, it's not even the end of your business.  And what if the camera helps you do better and better motion work? What if you like shooting stills with it?  What if you find it's even more flexible and fun than your existing stuff? What if you are more creative because the potential to go in lots of directions is sitting in your own hands? What will  you lose if you don't try?"

And the last sentence, in a nutshell, sums up why I think experimentation and the joy of new discovery is so much fun.  What will you lose if you don't try? What is the cost of opportunities lost?

All the magic is in the wiring. How you wire your brain is mutable. You can embrace change or you can run screaming from the market. You can step into a new milieu or you can sandbag the doors and windows to the studio and hunker down until change goes away----which it never will.

My business changed when we went from shooting most jobs on 4x5 sheet film in the studio to a new phase where I shot mostly lit medium format on locations. Then it changed again when I started buying digital cameras. But the reality is that it wasn't a change of the business so much as it was a change of the gear with which to do the business.

The real changes felt different. When I offered my lighting services to the first film/TV commercial director I knew and I started down a path to learning how to better light and shoot motion film and video I felt like I'd left the Yellow Brick road and found a different and equally fun path.  When I started writing scripts for corporate productions I felt like I was branching out. When I directed my first two industrial videos back in the 1990's I felt like I crammed a year's worth of learning into a couple of weeks.

Around that time I bought a Canon XL-1 hi-8 camera and started doing video art with my friend, Renee. I learned more. And it didn't seem like a big deal to drop $3000 on a video camera back then. But working on new kinds of projects that required pre-conceived ideas and collaborations pushed me out of the comfort zone of what I thought I knew into what was fun to learn. And it re-wired the part of my brain that kept telling me I was just a photographer.

Every time I change a camera system I hope it's because I'm trying something new and different, not because I think the new system does the same old stuff just a little bit better. I think it's vital to keep adding new challenges and to look at things in new ways because otherwise you'll get stuck just glorifying the past. Dredging up the way we used to do this back in the golden years. And that sounds too much like the play,  Death of a Salesman, to me.

I didn't come pre-wired to embrace change. I came from a comfortable middle class background that preached getting a good job and doing it for the rest of your career. Get that degree in electrical engineering, show up at the office every day at eight a.m. and stay till 5 p.m. everyday. Get two weeks a year to do whatever you have on your personal agenda...

Re-wiring your brain is hard but I have a few tips for anyone who wants to try.

1.  When you get really good at something don't then just do it over and over again. Abandon it entirely and start over learning something new. (All the stuff you learned really well stays with you and becomes part of the foundation for the next step).

2.  Once you've mastered your new tools throw them away and master newer tools. The tools can constrain how you attack a problem or a project. The more tools you've used the more arrows you have in your quiver for creating new stuff.  By knowing a  wide range of resources you are then free to pick the best tool for the task. Or more importantly the most creative tool for the task.

3.  If you know the perfect way to do something that means you probably haven't paid attention to the hundreds of other perfect ways to do the same thing. To know something perfectly means you have settled into a rut and you've gotten comfortable there. Challenging art is not comfortable.

4. Start with small steps and make big jumps. Shoot a video project with your small, still camera and learn how. Then jump to bigger projects. Start narrow, grow wide.

5.  When everyone embraces the same camera, technology, subject matter, be sure you run in the other direction.  As long as that direction is one which your heart leads you.

6.  Take more naps. Lie on the floor and think. Walk around and look more. Walk around and talk less.

7.  Re-wire your creative house. Make sure your fuse box is upgraded to handle a bigger load. Turn on the lights in your brain. Just because you feel comfortable doing a creative process in a certain way doesn't mean you should.  Sometimes you absolutely need to streeeeeetch.

8. Hang out with people who are younger than you and don't try to teach them, instead watch them and let them teach you. It's a clichĂ© but kids do seem to come pre-wired for highly creative thinking and doing. The wiring gets brittle over time. If you spend time watching them you'll understand that no toy satisfies for very long but kids can play for days with an idea, a fantasy or a story.  Learn to tell your stories instead of what you think will get you applause from your same old audience.

9.  Don't try to make art, try to make statements with your art about things that mystify you or capture your imagination. Don't try too hard. The tighter you try to grasp water the quicker it flows through your hands.  The knife that gets sharpened too often quickly gets dull.

10. Even if (especially if) you do creation for a living don't get caught up in things like workflow, efficiency, standard practice and time savings. These are all things which re-focus your mind away from the process of creation and into the process of making everything measurable, comparable and routine. Efficiency and best practices are the enemies of wonder and change.

Re-wiring your brain is a life long activity. When you cease to want to learn new pathways you start to die. Do something fun everyday. Go back and finger paint. Play with glitter. Watch clouds.  I can almost guarantee that all these things will filter back into the things you offer your clients and keep them happy to work with you and intrigued at what might come next.

The good stuff is in the wiring in your head. When you share it life blossoms. People seek out those whose perspective is finding out what it possible. People want to be with those who aren't just thinking outside the box but have gone beyond  even thinking about the box.  Why? Because it might be fun....


Anatomy of a recent job. Broken down and discussed.

A killer combination: The a77 with amazing low ISO DR Performance and high resolution coupled with a Zeiss 80mm Planar 2.8. Stopped down to f5.6 for nice portrait imaging.

I got a call from a client I'd worked with extensively in the past but who had fallen off the radar for the last ten years. She'd left the ad world to run a small design shop and had gone from a situation (large agency) where she had been commissioning photography frequently to a situation that called for no photography. I missed working with her because she was a great art director and very organized.  So I was very happily surprised to hear from her again. She'd modified her career trajectory a bit and was now the in-house marketing person for a statewide business.

She asked for a bid to go on a location, set up two different portrait shooting areas and then photograph 13 different executives.  I would be making a formal portrait in an interior conference room of each person and then we'd move to the exterior location and make individual portraits there. The executives would be on site for a meeting and one of the marketing people would be responsible for pulling them out of the meeting and delivering them to each location.

I estimated for the following:

One day of photography (I was pretty sure we'd only need to be on location from 7am to 1pm but a full day fee also covered pre-packing, testing and travel. And I was correct).

One day of assistance.

Two hours scouting to go and look at the location and make sure there was a good, safe place to shoot our exterior work and that the conference room we'd be assigned was both big enough, and could be cleared of tables and chairs so we'd have unobstructed working space.

Then I estimated a full day of post production. (this would actually be broken up between two half days. First I would ingest the raw files into Lightroom to label and catalog, adjust and the output as lower res jpeg files to create a web gallery for my Smugmug Pro account. Once the client chose images the second half day would be spent retouching and enhancing 26 images in a combination of PhotoShop and Portrait Professional). The finals would be delivered electronically.

The last step of the estimate was to factor in usage. The client was adamant that they wanted "unlimited" usage rights so we added that to our budget.

My regular assistant was committed on a long term project but she recommended a new assistant to me who worked out well.  We met in the parking lot of the location at 7:15 am (I was 15 minutes early and, happily, so was she...) and started loading up our heavy duty cart. It's amazing how much gear you need to bring to do a portrait correctly in two locations.

We set up the interior location first. The background was a nine foot roll of Savage Smoke Grey seamless paper. It was lit by a small Chimera softbox used close in with an Elinchrom D-Lite 4 IT monolight set minimum power.

I used a 42 inch Elinchrom Varistar to the left of camera as a main light and a 60 inch softlighter umbrella to the right as a fill light.  I added a gridded light from the background as an accent light.  I brought my own posing stool because I can't stand trying to use conference room chairs for portraits.  I also brought a half apple crate so the subjects could put a foot up on the box to help with posing.

Once we had the first location set up and tested we moved to a third floor bridge which gave us top cover all day long and allowed for views to the northeast and southwest throughout the day.  Since this was an exterior location I had no desire to run a 25 or 50 foot extension cord into a door and tape it down (high traffic area---potentially) so I used a Profoto 600B Acute battery powered flash into another 42 inch Varistar as my sole light here.  I depended on natural light for fill.  We anchored the light with two twenty pound sandbags and tested the crap out of the location before heading back downstairs to greet our first subject.

I brought along two sets of radio triggers and two tripods, as well as two cameras and two sets of lenses, just so I would not have to move any gear between sets as we worked. The idea was to do all the shots in one location first and then move to the second location for the rest of the shots but nothing ever works so smoothly in the real world. There's always someone who needs to leave early and needs to have both shots done one right after the other. But hey, part of good customer service means that we're ultimately flexible.  And with both systems up and running it was only a matter of heading up and down the stairs a few more times.

I've been testing portrait lenses lately and have really come to like the Hasselblad standard 80mm lens for several reasons. Mostly because it's just the right focal length for most portraits but also because it has a very nice out of focus look that it imparts to background.  At f5.6 the lens is critically sharp but not clinically sharp.  What I mean by that is that the lens shows the detail you want without beating the subject to death with the detail.  It feels like resolution rather than hard, crunchy, show-off-y sharpness.  Unless you want to crank up the clarity slider in PS and make everyone a dermatological nighmare....

The lens is easy to use on the front of a Sony a77 with a simple adapter.  You have to remember to use the stop down lever to lock in the shooting aperture. I focused at the taking aperture (usually 5.6) with the very, very convenient and well implemented focus peaking feature of the camera.  (This feature alone makes Sony cameras must haves for people who like to shoot with older, manual focus lenses).

Since I had only one adapter for Hasselblad lenses I used the Sony 85mm 2.8 lens for the exterior location photographs.

We carried along our make-up kit with various translucent powders, at least 13 brushes (sterilized with alcohol) and a fresh supply of hair combs, still in their packaging. We needed to "powder" most of the subjects to eliminate as much shine from their faces as possible. Our make-up kit includes a barber's drape to cover the subject's clothes and we used it on everyone since they were in dark suits for the most part.

I shoot between 25 and 50 shots of each person in each location and ended up with nearly 1200 frames for the day. During my initial post processing I eliminated about 60% of the frames in editing.

I dawned on me as I write this that the packing, moving, unpacking, repacking, moving, unpacking part of the process takes almost as long as our actual time shooting.  Someone once said that good location photography is 90% about re-arranging the furniture and I think they were right.

The process doesn't stop when we come back through the door of the studio. The lead/acid batteries for the Profoto Acute light should be recharged within a day from their use. The camera batteries go on the charger. There are DVD's to be burned. All the gear gets inspected, cleaned and replaced in the proper storage area. Invoices need to be written and a check sent to the assistant.  In the end, a seemingly simple shoot like this takes up the better part of two full days.  More if you are lazy and do things in spurts (guilty). And this is where photographers routinely lose money. They fail to bill for travel, post, packing and admin. time.  If we billed for every hour we spend on a shoot we make money.  If we let stuff slide or give time away we lower our rate per hour, mess up our margins and train clients to think that everything is included in one rate.

Kind of like going to an all inclusive resort with full open bar.  Tough to make money that way unless you're just making cheap drinks from watered down bottles....

I've delivered the galleries and I'm waiting for the selections to come back. The accounting is underway and I'm on to the next project.

I just thought I'd write about an assignment we just completed.  There's so much B.S. out there about what photographers actually do I thought you'd like to know pretty much exactly what we did on Weds. and part of Thurs.... It's a real world photo assignment from a smaller market.  I know we'd probably do this differently in NYC or LA but....


My next camera will be a full frame Sony but it might not be the a99...

I was delighted to read all about the Sony a99 and I imagined that it would be a great addition to my growing collection of APS-C Sony SLT cameras, if it was the only Sony choice around. But something interesting happened on the way to empty my bank account and revel in the glory of full frame photographs. The VG900 happened. If you are one of my readers who hates even the thought of video co-mingling with still images you might want to stop reading right now and go find something more staid and conservative to read. But if you work professionally in this field then follow my logic.  

In the last three weeks I've bid on three different video projects for three different advertising agencies.  These are agencies I've either produced video projects for before or agencie with whom I've done many still projects who now trust me to branch out and provide them motion services as well. We're taking toddler steps here but the important thing is that we're moving the game forward. Up till now I've been estimating and planning to shoot the projects with Sony's very capable a77 cameras but the recent announcement of the VG 900 has me thinking in a totally different way.

Before I go on I should explain the VG 900 camera and why it may make a lot of sense for my company. Sony pretty much shocked the market with the first full frame (35mm frame) video camera on the market. The camera uses the same sensor as the a99 and delivers great video specs including output at up to 60 fps in 1080i.  It also provides uncompressed HDMI files for the really committed video perfectionist (not me...).  It has all the usual trimmings for a production video camera including full control over iris (aperture) and shutter speeds. It does ISO 100 to 32,000. The sensor yields 24.3 megapixel still frames and includes RAW file support.

You know that great EVF in my a77 and now in the a99 and NEX 7 that I keep writing about? There's one in the eyepiece of the VG 900 as well. And a big swivelly LCD screen. Very covered in the "pre-chimping" department.

The camera includes an ISO compatible flash shoe which, through electronic connectors in the front of the shoe, provide inputs for XLR balanced microphone inputs. The camera offers zebra indicators for exposure and focus peaking for manual exposure.  The mount on the camera is a NEX mount which points to the future introduction of NEX full frame capable lenses (which also points to a full frame NEX still camera....) but the camera is also capable of shooting the line of Sony Alpha lenses in full frame, with a supplied adapter.

So the camera will shoot the same quality of files as the a99 and will also trigger and control flashes when used in the still mode.  What this basically means is that in the usual way I use my cameras I can set up studio portraits, stick an 80mm Hasselblad Zeiss lens or Sony Alpha lens on the front and shoot stills all day long. I'll get the same depth of field benefits I would reap with the big sensor on the a99 and, when my client asks me if I can go upstairs and do a brief interview with the CEO I can plop the camera on my Manfrotto tripod with its fluid head and go to town.

With LED lighting I can do two kinds of creative content creation with one set of tools. And have a bag full of compatible Sony still cameras as "B" roll cameras and back-ups.  And here's the sweetest part: The VG 900 uses the same wonderful EVF in the eyepiece as the a99 and the a77.

Yes, the form factor is different and it will take some getting used to but it seems to me to be a significant move forward for someone who wants to be a creative chameleon.  There are several things that have not been made clear yet that interest me.  1. Is the shutter a completely electronic shutter in the still mode? 2. What is the max sync speed for flash? 3. Will the LCD rotate the image if I use the camera in a portrait orientation?  4. What kind of fps will I get in still mode and how big is the buffer? (that was actually two questions....).

The total price of the unit with the lens adapter for Alpha lenses is around $3200. Street price will probably be a bit less. I know some of you are saying to yourselves that you'll never stoop so low as to use a video camera for stills just as I'm sure some of my video friends are saying they'll never condescend to use amateur still photo gear to shoot video art. C'est la vie. To each their own. But what if it's really as good as Sony claims? What if the files are wonderful and the video breathtaking? And what if you send out some really good marketing collateral and a great and long term client calls you up and says, "Hey Bob, I love your lighting. Can you shoot some video footage for us?"

Don't get me wrong. I really like the idea of the a99, and I'm also comfortable with the handling and form factor,  but I also like the idea of getting more and more video production work tacked onto already existing still jobs, for already existing clients (whom I would like to keep).  I also like the idea of being able to leverage the Sony imaging technology and lens collections in both directions.  The idea of full frame is actually less alluring to me than the idea of being able to shoot wonderful video in an easy and straightforward package with 99% of the stuff you'd find on high end video cameras. 

If I need to travel small and light I'll use the NEX-7's.  If I need firepower, good files and a sports form factor to shoot stills with I can always use the a77s. But, if I need video with a big sensor or video with motorized zoom or a big sensor still frame in the middle of a video project it would be nice to have a unique new tool in the box.  And for not many more dollars than an a99.

I'll keep doing my research. The a99 should be out soon and the VG 900 will be out in November. I guess the real issue is how likely one will be to get one in one's hands in the first quarter after the launch.  I have a feeling they'll be popular.

You can fight video and moan about the inclusion of it into our cameras or you can learn the rudiments like we learned to love digital when it became accessible. If you don't earn your living with this stuff it's really no sweat. You can afford to be opinionated and curmudgeonly and still be happy as a pig in shit with whatever still gear you want to use. But the reality of my market place is a shrinking number of still only or video only assignments and a pronounced uptick in combination jobs that require both sets of skills. That means I better polish the skills and shoot the samples I need.

I'm reading, researching, shooting and editing video almost everyday to bring myself up to speed. I'm building on a decade and a half (1980's to 1990's) of having shot and worked on many tape based video projects and movie film projects (mostly Super16mm) and some artsy Super8 intercuts we did for several corporate clients a while back. The tools have changed but the art really hasn't. The editing methods have changed but the flow of the images hasn't. Once I put it all together I think I'll have put together a more profitable value proposition for my existing clients and the potential to compete for new clients. But part of building the potential is getting over the fear of trying new stuff and feeling okay about falling down once in a while.

I've bought dumber stuff before and it always seems to work out (I got a whole book out of LED lights).  Anyway, it's a nice break from buying microphones and lights.....

I'm still not sure which way I'll go. Truth be told, as nice as the a99 looks I'm not noticing too many downsides with the a77s for the way I usually shoot. Could be that the VG 900 is the more interesting choice. Your mileage may definitely vary and that's the downside of writing a blog for such a large and diverse audience of advanced imagemakers.  But I'll let you know what I find out....


My thoughts on the recent silly-ness at Photokina involving Sony and Hasselblad.

Remember that company that made really, really good medium format cameras?

By now I'm going to assume that most people who read my stuff have looked at the announcement going around the web about the upcoming joint ventures between Hasselblad and Sony. If you haven't been paying attention you can read the facts here on DPReview.  And here.

The people who wrote the release could be excused for not filling in with very many facts and details of plans but almost certainly there aren't many facts to fill in at this point.  Hasselblad will most probably "re-badge" some of the cooler Sony cameras like the Nex-7 (which is cooler than the Nex-6 if only by dint of not having built in wi-fi), the a99 and the a77. But I'd love to meet the mastermind who decided to go ahead and release the Jetson's age illustration of what the future Hassel-Nex camera may look like. I'm anticipating a mini-Jihad among the Hasselblad faithful for the blasphemous mediocrity of either the artist's rendering or the actual spaz design of the camera.

The sketchy sketch made the camera look like a 1950's duck's ass hairdo. But the real problem with the announcement in general is that it made Hasselblad seem--------desperate.

Let me tell you what I think Hasselblad did wrong over the last decade and then let me tell you how I think they could fix it and get back a bit of both the prestige and market share they once enjoyed in the old days of film.

The Hasselblad that professional photographers and well heeled photography lovers came to trust and enjoy using wasn't based solely on the resolution it brought to the table but was based on a melange of parameters that included the bigger frame with its attendant different look from all things 35mm. The other factors were both the modularity of the system and its backward compatibility. 

The New Coke of Hasselblad saw a race to offer more and more megapixels and to supply features that no one really wanted and no one outside the development even asked for. The biggest "feature" being the mediocre and not very accurate autofocus.  Had they not deluded themselves into believing that working pros were pining for even so-so autofocus they could have taken a different path and preserved a backward compatibility to their enormous installed base. And that would have given upgraders and new recruits a rich selection of legacy glass to use while building their systems.

Where Hasselblad stumbled (and stumbled badly) was in trying to make a completely new and completely closed system when in fact they should have concentrated on just the opposite.  With their interchangeable back set up they could have been  in the cat bird seat when it came to adding cool digital backs to the existing system. Rather than figure out how to construct artificial barriers by making a proprietary system and shunning competing products they should have pressed all of their engineering staff and the staffs of their technology suppliers into the effort to make all future Hasselblad V series bodies and lenses fully compatible with the widest range of digital backs possible.  At most it would have required the addition of some contacts and connectors on the back tied the sync of the leaf shutter on the CF, CFi, CFe and C lenses.

Since the allure (at least to me) of shooting with medium format cameras is the way the depth of field looks when shooting from five to eight or ten feet away with a 150mm or 180mm lens on film the brain trust should have looked for a way to emulate this otherwise unattainable look that combines high sharpness with shallow depth of field by making (or having made) imaging sensors bigger rather than focusing on making the sensors more heavily populated with pixels (and, by extension, more expensive).  Imagine if they had pushed to make a 20 megapixel sensor that was a square geometry and which totally filled the 6 by 6 cm space that graces every 120mm A12 back. It would have been glorious.

Even now there are millions of Hasselblad 500C/M's and other variants floating around just waiting for someone to make a cost effective back with a large sensor that will restore them as a primary working tool. It's easy to say that the market is tiny if you've priced all of your products in a way that ensures that your market will be tiny. Had they concentrated on making stand alone backs more and more useable and affordable Hasselblad could have potentially sold to hundreds of thousands of people in their previously embedded base while continuing to churn out 500 series variants ad infinitum.

I think Hasselblad believed the usual drivel from the optimistic-new-age-the-digital-revolution-is-different gurus and decided that they'd never be able to compete in a large market scenario and could only succeed if they "upped their game" and aimed solely at the people with the deepest pockets. But those people had a notoriously short attention span and no real buy-in to the products. Not in the way a working pro or obsessed hobbyist is bought-in.  Which makes sense. After all, the current digital backs sourced from one company, new (incompatible with legacy) bodies are made by Hasselbad and the lenses sourced from a third company.  Had they aimed like a laser at their core existing market of real professional photographers they could have captured the story and defined their own trajectory and the trajectory of the markets. Instead they let their market be defined by the vagaries of focus groups and faith in new and different technology. Technology that's too expensive and too fraught with the usual dead end peril of all closed systems. If you invest and they die then it's all over and you lose...

Even now, if they came out with an affordable back that could be coupled to a V system camera and sold for around $5000 I think they would see tremendous interest and increased sales.  Even if the product was a re-issue of their own previous 16 megapixel style back with maybe 28 million big, fat 
pixels I am convinced that used 500's, 501's and 503's would go flying off the shelves and into the hands of people who desperately want and need to differentiate their offerings from the legions of rectangular small frame shooters.

Were I the CEO of Hblad I would relaunch my Classic Coke. I would have my team re-introduce the 501 C/M, update the holy trinity  of lenses (50, 80 and 150) with appropriate com-links between shutter and backs and put it on the market with a 24 megapixel back (square sensor, of course) of bigger, juicier 9nm pixels, couple it with a digital optimized 80mm Planar lens and package the whole thing at a street price of $9999. Then step back and watch it toast all the smaller format pretenders to the crown.

While the big sensor/big lens paradigm would be the primary seller the secondary consideration would be that, with a growing market, new backs would become available and instead of the entire camera becoming disposable users would get an infinite sensor upgrade path with no impingement or loss of their investment in all the surrounding hardware. 

If you were a Nikon shooter and you bought a Nikon D3x you might have gotten three years of market life before you started pining for a D800e. And two or three years down the road the same thing will happen with the next market churn. But in my scenario all you'd need to do is to upgrade the back.  

I'm keenly aware that none of this will happen and that the horse is out of the barn. They've burned away too much good will and dissipated way too much of the perceived market dominance they clearly enjoyed at the beginning of the digital age. 

But what pro wouldn't want to have a great, scalable system, with great glass, that looks, feels and works like a real production camera? 

Instead we get the feeling that we're watching a once noble camera company putting its logo and stamp onto products that don't need them and doing it in a way that's irrational. If you re-badge a product there's supposed to be a "value add" not a value subtract. The Nex 7 is a beautifully designed and very useable camera. It looks as though Hasselblad is pulling a Cadillac Cimarron.  Putting a cosmetic shell over the top of a J-class Chevy Cavalier chassis and trying to sell it at an insane premium.  It almost killed an entire GM division and it will most certainly not work well for Hasselblad. No matter how different we think the Chinese and Russian luxury markets are. Even people gauche enough to buy a $1500 purse would have more sense than to buy such a perverse camera design as has been presented in the sketches.

So sad to watch a company get lost further and further into a labyrinth. And to know that once their products (and potential) seemed unbeatable.

Kudos to Rollei for having the balls to introduce another potentially incredible medium format camera. Film only and right in line with 60 years of design.  An elegant response to a market that's running too fast and producing too little.

Next day edit:  I shouldn't use the term "re-badge" because clearly the folks at Hasselblad are intending to do much more that just change the logo on a Sony camera. They insist that they are replacing all sorts of stuff with better materials and different physical (not technical) design inferences. But their statements and interviews have been very clear, the imaging path is all Sony from front end to back. Sensor, electronics, software; the works.

I guess the real issue for buyers is whether or not you feel that Hasselblad is adding $3000 to $4000 in value by upgrading the knobs and putting the guts of an already very good to handle camera into a new frame.  To use a car analogy, if the engine, tires, suspension and transmission are all the same have you really built your own car or are you a bespoke body shop?


What's so new about the Sony/Hasselblad Fusion?

Sony a77 camera attached to a Hasselblad 150mm f4 Sonnar.  I think they make a good combo.
Tomorrow I will shoot executive portraits with an a77 and an 80mm 2.8 Planar. Isn't focus peaking delightful?

Available light squares.

I'm in a constant process of re-inventing the way I see portraits. I'm finding that the available light images are the ones I like the best. It's good to look back when you are trying to move forward. It's part of the process of finding out what worked and what didn't. I think that's important.

Camera: Hasselblad
Lens: 180mm f4
Film: Tri-X
Subject: Lou


Photographic Ennui.

 It's been one of those days. Promised checks that remain elusive, phone calls unanswered, plans in a state of uncertainty. There is a weight that comes upon you gradually as you move through the business of photography. It's the inertia of the boulder that keeps rolling down the mountain.

The real contest is to generate enough optimism and energy to wake up every day and push the boulder back up the mountain.

"The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."  Albert Camus

From The Myth of Sisyphus  -Albert Camus.

Another blow to the survival of film...

I just saw a press release from FujiFilm that says they have decided to stop making movie film. They state that they will still make film for still photography. For now. I guess it was inevitable. Kodak and Fuji are not charities.


But if you are anxious to jump in and shoot till the very last roll is gone you might be interested in this:


Olympus Announce a new Pen, A new Compact and several new lenses. It's official.

Let's start out with the camera that many, many frugal yet demanding Olympus fans have been waiting for since the introduction of the OMD EM-5, the PEN version.

The Olympus EPL-5

All of the information in this particular blog comes directly from a press release issued by Olympus USA.  All images and information are used with the permission of Olympus.

Let's cut right to the chase: The new Olympus Pen OMD EPL-5 uses exactly same sensor and is said to deliver exactly the same image quality as the recent, blockbuster OMD EM5 camera. That alone should drive sales of this camera like nothing else. The maximum ISO setting is an amazing 25,600. Most of us will be quite happy to shoot at 3200 ISO and get the kind of low noise performance we've seen in the flagship model. To focus at the scary edges of darkness the camera is bundled with an AF illuminator and accessory FL-LM1 flash, which will add to the low light performance.

This camera has a few other cool upgrades in addition to the sensor performance. Of course it uses a touch screen and the same instantaneous shutter triggering Touch AF Shutter function technology we've already seen. At to this a more than 2X increase in frame rate of 8fps in Single AF mode.  The screen on the back is a 460,000 dot LCD and has an Anti-Fingerprint coating. According to the press release the screen is bright enough to allow composing even in harsh, midday light. (I wonder if the light in a Texas Summer counts...).

The camera allows for shooting in 1080i, full HD and includes two cool things. 1. A movie teleconverter that magnifies the image up to 4x with NO image deterioration (make sense since the actual sensor is 8X the number of dots one ends up with in 2K video).  And, 2. There is a fade effect that allows one to transition between art filters without having to stop or pause shooting.

There's some nonsense about being able to share images on your (anti) social networks wirelessly but I ignored most of that paragraph since the concept is only of interest to died in the wool hipsters...

The estimated street price is $650 and the folks at Olympus indicated that the camera will start shipping in October.  Check over at DPReview for a complete page of specifications.

My short list of specs is:

-16 megapixel super sensor, ala OMD EM5. Very, very cool.
-Improved video functionality.
-very fast 8 fps performance in S-AF
-Fast action touch shutter on the touch screen.
-Usable with the (almost mandatory) VF-2 EVF

Available, I'm sure, in all the usual colors.

If you were mostly interested in the OMD EM-5 for the low light performance and better dynamic range of its breakthrough Sony sensor here's a way to get exactly the same performance for about half the price----and in a form factor that people seem to like very well.

click on any of these to enlarge.


Olympus also upgraded their mini Pen camera. The new offering is small, cute and potent. They are calling it the Olympus PEN E-PM2.

Pen E-PM2

I'm not going to go into too much detail about this camera since I think the majority of my readers are interested in cameras that are aimed more at hobbyists and professionals but this one also has the Promethean sensor of the micro gods; the OMD EM5 sensor and, according to Olympus has the exact same image quality of its bigger and more expensive brethren. Not only that but it's also the only one available in this delightful red...  A you a real image quality purist? Not a camera snob? Maybe this one is for you....

But wait, there's more...

It wouldn't be a full on product introduction without another camera introduction. The designers in the compact camera bullpen at Olympus have repackaged and upgraded the Stylus XZ-1 and unveiled a new product called, the Stylus XZ-2 iHS which they say, "Takes the compact camera category to the E-Treme."  Right.

I could discuss this camera at length but it would be easier and more comprehensive if I just went ahead and copied the existing press release...

CENTER VALLEY, Pa., September 17, 2012Olympus pushes the compact digital camera to a new X-treme with the introduction of the Olympus STYLUS XZ-2, its game-changing, flagship high-performance point-and-shoot. The STYLUS XZ-2 is a hybrid that combines optical brilliance, the manual controls of a DSLR and the unbeatable convenience of a lightweight compact in a body every imaging enthusiast should love. Inheriting the 4x optical / 4x Digital zoom iZUIKO® DIGITAL f1.8-2.5 large-diameter lens found on its predecessor, the award-winning Olympus XZ-1®, the Olympus STYLUS XZ-2 builds on its low-light performance with new features: the world's first hybrid control ring, customizing controls so ambitious photographers easily capture the shot; a new fast, touch-sensitive tilt screen; the powerful TruePic VI image processor; Full HD movie recording and FlashAir® compatibility to share images immediately on social networks.

The digital lens of the Olympus XZ-2 (iZUIKO f1.8-2.5 (28-112mm*), a 4x compact version of legendary ZUIKO Digital lenses, is designed for clear, high-quality photographic performance, whether set at its maximum f1.8 aperture for amazing wide-angle shots, or at f2.5 for 112mm* telephoto images. The result is expressive background defocusing and sophisticated bokeh, plus the flexibility to use short, blur-free exposure times in low light. The camera’s iHS technology and the large-aperture lens work together to deliver high-sensitivity, low noise and blazing auto-focus performance that translates to the highest image quality of any Olympus compact camera.

The newly developed 12.0 megapixel, 1/1.7" high-sensitivity back-lit CMOS sensor, working with the TruePic VI processor, the same processor used in the Olympus OM-D E-M5™ system camera, provides faster recovery time and shutter release to capture images with true-to-life colors, rich details and low noise. To complement the speed of the f1.8 lens, the camera’s low-light mode automatically adjusts the ISO sensitivity up to ISO 12,800 to take sharp, full-resolution photos in dim conditions, and an easily accessible built-in pop-up flash and AF illuminator brightens low-lit subjects, reduces red-eye and fills in dark areas.

The Olympus XZ-2 is equipped with the world's first hybrid control ring, built around the lens, which allows users to easily assign function settings to their preferences as well as switch between analog and digital operation of the ring. The digital operation provides a solid click on controls, whereas the analog operation offers a smooth, gliding feeling. When the Fn 2 lever next to the lens is placed downward, the ring around the lens switches to analog control so it can be used as a focus or a zoom ring. If the lever is placed at an angle, the ring around the lens switches to digital control to change exposure-related settings quickly and easily. This feature enables fine-tuning of the focus in macro, composition selection when shooting, and exposure adjustment all without looking away from subjects.

Basic operations and settings of the Olympus XZ-2, starting with touch controls and Live Guide, as well as a new graphic user interface will be familiar to Olympus PEN® and OM-D shooters. Instantly activate the Touch AF Shutter function to select the subject you want to focus on and activate the shutter simply by touching the swivel 3.0 inch, 920,000 dot LCD screen. The XZ-2 design is enhanced with a removable grip that offers the option for a sleek style grip, and metal is used throughout the body for a strong and sharp look.

The Olympus STYLUS XZ-2 is packed with additional technologies including DUAL IS, which combines with high-sensitivity shooting to reduce camera shake and subject blur, providing double image stabilization. HDR backlit correction captures multiple images with a single shot at different exposures and automatically merges them into one image, and Super Resolution technology expands zoom power up to eight times with minimal image degradation. iAuto mode automatically identifies up to 30 different scenes. The XZ-2 also features 11 Art Filters and 5 Art Effects that easily bring artistic visions to life.

In addition to superior still image quality, the 1080p Full HD Movie capability with stereo sound captures movies in the best quality currently available in compact cameras. Multi-Motion Movie IS image stabilization corrects for the common gradual camera shake that occurs when shooting on the move, delivering more stable, higher-quality movies. Beautiful movies can be shot even longer with a 1920 x 1080 High-Definition size and MOV/H.264 movie compression that has an excellent compatibility with computers.
The Olympus XZ-2 is also designed to make sharing your amazing images even easier. Using the smartphone connection function, simply set up a compatible Toshiba FlashAir SDHC card with an internal wireless LAN to make a Wi-Fi connection. With the Olympus Image Share smartphone application (to be released in September), easy image upload onto a smartphone via a thumbnail index, adding Art Filters to images on a smartphone, and sharing images on various social networking services is possible.

A wide range of creative and practical accessories is available to adapt the Olympus XZ-2 for specific needs, including three alternative grips in a variety of colors (red, beige and purple), a body jacket and underwater housing. There’s also a sleek, matching black LC-63A lens cap that opens and closes automatically whenever you activate the camera. To expand the camera’s versatility, the XZ-2 includes an accessory port for compatibility with a growing range of Micro Four Thirds® accessories.

*35mm equivalent.

I am so happy they added a grip to this camera as it the thin body is different enough to me to confuse my fingers when I first started using the XZ-1...

I'm sure you're exhausted by this point but we haven't even touched on the new lenses.  Yes, new lenses!

Going through by increasing focal length, there are some interesting new lenses for the Olympus Pen (and all other m4:3 standard) cameras. First off is just a cosmetic change. You can now get the very well respected 12mm f2.0 wide angle lens in......black. You'll pay more money for the privilege. The estimated street price is $1100. And while it's a very good lens that puts it into the same pricing territory as Panasonic's very, very good 7-14mm zoom lens.  But then again, I guess a large part of the fun is in the selection process.  Moving on....

The "Body Cap."

Olympus is calling this one "the Body Cap" and I think it's fun and intriguing. It's a 15mm, three element, f8 lens (30mm eq. on 35mm FF). The actual designation is the BCL-15 f8.0 Body Cap Lens.  The lens is just 9mm thick and it's meant to be left on the body whenever you're just tooling around or when you've got the camera stuffed inside of some pocket or a boot or a sock.

It's basically a lens that's always in focus due to it's small aperture and short focal length. It actually seems like a perfect snapshot lens.  It can be manually focused and will focus down to 30cm's.  "A lens-protection barrier is provided  so the lens can be mounted permanently on the camera and even put in a pocket together with a camera."  No street price was given in the press release but it's sure to become a cult favorite among Lomo-ists who secretly crave a camera with more control and an infinitely better sensor...... See below for a camera mounted view of the lens.

Camera with "Body Cap."

Now here's a serious and covetable lens. The 17mm f 1.8.

But here's a lust prevention warning: The above lens is "in development" and will be available in the first half of 2013. Bummer. This is the lens that everyone I know wants right now.

When it hits the market it will be the 35mm 1.8 equivalent to get. This len on an EPL-5 camera body will be a wonderful street shooting combo, as long as they have the brains to also make it available in a nice, black finish.....

Personally? All lenses should be black. A VSL study shows that images from black lenses are 0.3275 more interesting than images from all other lens finishes.

And Finally.  The last of the Olympus introductions for Now....

Yes. It's a 60 mm f2.8 true macro. 
It's dust proof and splash proof. 
And knowing Olympus it's really, really sharp.

Since I haven't played with it anything I say about it would be total conjecture. I like using my older 60mm on the Pen cameras. It's a nice focal length. While not nearly as fast as the original Pen 60mm 1.5 I am sure this macro will be decades sharper.  We'll see. I'm sure I'll have one to test as soon as they come out.  In the meantime here's what Olympus says about it in their press release:

"""CENTER VALLEY, Pa., September 17, 2012 – Today, Olympus adds to the Micro Four Thirds family of  lenses with the release of the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm* f2.8 Macro lens, a single focal-length macro lens with a dust-splash-proof body that’s ideal for harsh weather conditions. Also joining the expansive list of Olympus® lenses is a limited edition black version of the popular M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12mm f2.0 high-grade snapshot lens and an M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm f1.8 high-grade lens currently under development.

The M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f2.8 lens features excellent close-up capability with 1X** magnification and a focusing distance of 19cm. Its dust-and-splash-proof construction enables the user to shoot macro images in a wide range of conditions, including in the rain or near the water, in addition to traditional landscape and portrait photography.

To ensure the best possible imaging quality, 13 lens elements are incorporated in 10 groups of lenses within the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f2.8 with extensive use of special glass materials such as ED (Extra-low Dispersion), HR (High Refractive index) and E-HR (Extra-High Refractive index) elements to completely eliminate the chromatic aberrations often noticeable with telephoto macro lenses. This optical design ensures consistently clear, sharp, high-contrast imaging performance.

Ideal for capturing brilliant still images and high-definition (HD) videos, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f2.8 employs an Olympus developed MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) autofocusing mechanism that features an inner focus system to drive quick and quiet focusing. A shooting distance and magnification indicator window enhance macro shooting control and precision.

A focus limit switch sets the focusing range to enable faster focusing. Three modes are available, including close-up (focusing distance between 19 and 40 cm), normal (focusing distance from 19 cm to infinity) and far view (focusing distance from 40 cm to infinity). The 1:1 mode shifts focusing to 1:1 with one-touch operation. Simply setting the mode according to the application makes it easy for users to shoot quickly and comfortably with various shooting styles and at a range of distances.

The optional LH-49 Lens Hood designed exclusively for the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 60mm f2.8 blocks harmful rays of light and can be safely stored without detaching it from the lens. The lens eliminates the hassle of attaching and detaching the hood before and after every shooting session, but also providing effective protection for the lens body. The FR-2 Macro Ring enables compatibility with the RF-11 Ring Flash and the STF-22 Twin Flash Set."""

kirk's final notes.

I think Olympus will have great market success with the EPL-5. What's not to like about it? Fast, amazing image quality, small and light, usable with a mountain of lenses and who can forget those amazing colors in the jpegs?

The 60 macro will end up in just about every OMD EM5 user's bag since it's most probably going to be a great optic and it is one of the few weather resistant lenses in the line.

I hope the Body Cap Lens is cheap enough to be an impulse purchase and I'm sure someone will create a style around the look. If it's priced over $125 I'll be amazed...and amused.  Even more so if people flock to buy it.

Looks like a well done introduction. Now all we have left is to sit back and wait for the ultra-professional Pen body, the EP-5 to hit the market.  The right form factor and this time with the right sensor. When they've done that Olympus will have maximized the value of the m4:3 proposition. Well done.