The One Camera that has me Salivating Today. And the one that's still prodding my acquisition gland....

I've got a short list of cameras and lights I want for Christmas. It's a really short list. There are only three objects of desire on it as of right now. And with bountiful rationalizations all three of them could (just barely) be considered practical purchases. The top of my list is pretty obvious. I've been buying up Sony and Minolta lenses over the course of the year and I seem to have jettisoned all my other non-historic cameras in favor of Sony a57, a77, and Nex 7 cameras. All of which have evolutionarily cool electronic viewfinders. So it's only logical that I should rush out and buy a Sony a99.  It's got all the stuff I like and adds in what may be the best all around, full frame sensor sitting in a camera today. Yeah, I know that people are losing a lot of saliva playing around with the Nikon D800 but while its specs seem drool inspiring I think the reality is that 24 megapixels is the current hyper-sweet spot for most workflows and for most subject matter.

The 36 megapixel chip in the Nikon feels kind of like an after market hood scoop and super charger slapped onto a Honda Accord. Not the most practical everyday car. And, at a zillion megabytes per file the D800 might not be the most practical daily driver for a working photographer either.

I want the Sony a99 but I'm trying to be disciplined and wait until I've saved up the cash to pay for one. I turned over a new leaf this year and decided to go easy on the credit cards where non-essential camera purchases are involved. But to quote Wayne Campbell in the movie, Wayne's World: "It will be mine.  Oh yes, it will be mine...." It just seems to be taking me longer than usual.

The more I read about the Fuji X-E1 the more I think that this camera might just leapfrog over the Sony a99 and cut in line, priority-wise. The truth is that I was ready to buy the Fuji Pro-1 when it first came out and I rushed to the store with a checkbook in hand when my personal sales consultant called to tell me the store was holding one for me.  I went and played with the demo and I was even willing to overlook the slow focusing but the one thing I was not willing to overlook on a modern camera (and at my eyes' age) was the absence of an adjustable diopter adjustment. Yes, at sometime in the not exact future I might be able to special order an eyepiece that would make the camera workable but in its raw form....no. And I'm not really a special order kind of guy.

I'm glad I waited because it appears like the X-E1 is everything the Pro 1 offered but more by having less. In getting rid of the vestigial optical finder Fuji was able to provide the same sensor and guts for about 1/3 less scarce American dollars. I like the X-E1 because it's simple and the body is elegantly spare.  I've owned Fuji S2's and S3's and even an S5 and while the bodies (largely Frankenstein adaptations of cheesier Nikon bodies) were operationally ragged the sensors were really, really good. The skin tones remarkable.  All reports so far (both the Pro-1 and the X-E1) point to the same gorgeous skin tones and color palette but this time around bundled with ample pixels and very low noise.  My Nex 7's will get jealous, no doubt, but I'm not in this to make friends with my cameras. They need to serve me and not the other way around.  I'm heading into town tomorrow to look at the X-E1 and the kit zoom lens, which is also supposed to be a cut above the competitors. I'm sure, if I pull the trigger, my VSL readers will be among the first to hear about it.

The final thing on my short list is just more and more of the small Fotodiox 312AS LED panels and more of the generic (cheap) Sony camcorder batteries that work with them.  At some point I'd live to build a frame and make a free standing LED softbox that's about four feet by four feet and usable anywhere. I just need about eight or ten more panels...... I'll add them one at a time. I've already put them on the Christmas list for my family and friends.  Thinking about getting me something really nice of the holidays??????? I'm sure there's another Fotodiox 312AS out there with my name on it........

What do you guys have on your always ready short list? 

Great stocking stuffer for almost every photographer on your list, a good, solid 16 gb SDHC card for the price of 3 lattes:

My absolute favorite photography purchase of the year is a cheap LED panel.

I want to start by saying that the commercial image above is one of my absolute favorites from the entire year of 2012. We shot it on the run during a long day of image making for an enormous radiology practice. I like the very authentic interplay between the two people in the image and I like the way the round structure of the machine intersects the frame diagonally; both from side to side and from front to back. I like the tonalities of the white machine finish both in the shadow areas to the left of the frame and the bright but detailed highlights on the top right of the machine. I like that we were able to achieve a perfect light balance between my lights on the two human subjects, the diagnostic machine and also the computer screen in the far right background.

The white, translucent curtains in the background plane frame the technician in a wonderful way; dark against light. But most of all I like the captured gesture of the technician's hand.

Although we have sunlight outside the window, florescent lights overhead and three LED panels in the room the white of the "patient's" robe and the white of the machine are very neutral and there are no rogue areas of color shift.  

With enough time I could do this well with flash. It would take some trial and error and a lot more time than I spent doing it my way. This image was shot with LED panels and that made my job easier, the image hold together better and our set up faster and much more fluid. It's not an "over the top" or adrenaline drenched shot by any means but I think it has a balance and feel of reality that makes it a good image for the world of medical commerce.

Fast forward from the summer (when the above shot was done) to yesterday. I spent all morning photographing in a pet hospital. We did portraits, animals, treatments, procedures and interior wide shots and we lit everything with the same three panels. I was able to shoot non-stop for almost four hours with the lights on most of the time. The light are battery powered so they don't need power cords or extension cords. No flash and no noise means no skittish dogs and no cringing cats. The lights can be made to blend seamlessly with the light I find in most interior locations.  And when we're done they go back into a small Tenba case that rides on top of my Think Tank rolling case.

I own a lot of lights and I've used many more lights of just about every type over the 20+ years I've been working as a professional photographer.  These particular LED panels are the most amazing lights I've played with so far. And pretty much among the cheapest, considering what they do.

I have an image of them below. They are the Fotodiox 312AS LED panels and they run about $150 in the Fotodiox storefront at Amazon. Why do I think they are so amazing? Well, they put out enough light to do many of the fill in tasks we mostly need. In a darkened room they make great main lights when used with modifiers and either higher ISOs or lower shutter speeds (use your tripods, they are magic).

They have two controls. And they have two sets of LEDs. One control is a stepless dial that takes the light from a minimum power setting to full power in a smooth twist of the control. The other dial allows you to balance between an equal number of tungsten balanced LEDs and daylight balanced LEDs. Twisting the knob on the back takes you from daylight to tungsten and anywhere in between. I've found that a setting near the middle of the rotation gets me right into the ball park to balance with most popular florescent lighting.

The fixtures come with a diffusion panel that attaches to the front of the unit with magnets. Very cool. Three or four of these in a small case gives me enough flexibility, when combined with the recent slew of cameras that perform well at 800 and 1600 ISO, to do just about any interior lighting (for one or two people) that I need. Your mileage may vary. I wouldn't choose these small panels to light a large group. And I wouldn't choose any continuous light to try recording sports or fast action.  But when I pack these are the first lights into the cases and they generally get used on every shoot. Even when I'm shooting mostly flash there always seems to be the need for just a little fill somewhere. The need to bring up the levels in a dark corner. 

I have used all three, crowded together on a couple of stands, and set behind a diffusion panel, to do some fun portrait lighting with both film and digital. The panels don't have the big green spikes of their predecessors so the AWB on most digital cameras makes short work of providing you with neutral files. 

I recommend these panels. Come to think of it they are the only new studio lights I've purchased all year long. That I am not hungry for something different speaks volumes about their value to me. I suggest you try one if you are curious about LED lighting

If you want to trim the learning curve where LEDs are involved you might want to pick up a copy of my LED book. One of the Fotodiox 312AS Panels combined with my LED book might make a thoughtful gift for someone you know who is working as a photographer. It might also make a great, self-indulgent indulgence. Just a thought.