On the wall near the railroad bridge and Lamar. Just north of Cesar Chavez Blvd..
I am about to embark on a brisk learning curve with a new camera that may change the way we work with photographs. It's the Samsung Galaxy NX. It's wi-fi enabled and fully tricked out with cell capability as well. It's got apps. It's got a giant screen on the back. I may be able to read the New York Times on the back screen while I cool my heels in Gov. Perry's outer office, waiting for my photo op. But that all starts next week. So this week, when I headed out of the frigid, hyper climate controlled space we call The Visual Science Lab World Headquarters I reached for the Samsung's nearly exact opposite counterpart, the Sony a850, with a big, chunky, traditional 50mm 1.4 hanging off the front.
Thought I'd get a bit of balance before I plunge into a new thing. In one sense my Sony a850 is my most retro camera. It's big-boned. It's heavy and fat in my hands. It's got a traditional prism and a mirror that goes, "ker-thunkkkk!!!!" every time I hit the shutter. The film camera that it most reminds me of is the Leica R8. Not built to be svelte but built to be impervious. In a big, black, Darth Vadar meets Dracula sort of way. Since there's no EVF and no instantaneous feedback loop I have to keep a closer eye on the the exposure indicator in the finder. Since the finder image doesn't really change, even if I've mis-set the parameters I do have to chimp a bit more to make sure I'm not going off the rails. But there's something fun about using it.
I spent some time yesterday at the Blanton Museum. I wanted to see the enormous Chuck Close photograph/painting. I wanted to be inside with a bunch of people, in the air conditioning. And I instantly became aware of how un-stealthy a full sized, traditional camera is. Every time I pushed the shutter button in a quiet gallery it sounded so much louder than any of the mirrorless cameras I've been using and seemed twice as loud as most of my APS-C DSLRs ever were. When to took a shot of two people in one of the painting galleries they instantly turned around to see who might be banging folding chairs together. It was a little embarrassing. It reminded me of why Leica rangefinder cameras were so popular in the days of Nikon F's and F2's. And their Canon counterparts. And it made me think about the Pentax K5ii that I played with a week ago at Precision Camera. Nicest, quietest mirrored camera I've played with in quite a while....
On my way to Whole Foods for lunch I say this spontaneous and unauthorized street art on a big retaining wall and I loved it. After lunch I braved the heat and walked down to photograph the mural as one big spread and then in chunks. The camera was heavy and ponderous but it also slowed me down and made me think about what I was shooting. I dialed in some exposure compensation because I actually looked at the scene before I brought the camera to my eye. My assessment was that the meter would disagree with me by about 2/3rds of a stop. It always likes to be a little darker = all my cameras seem to fear blown highlights. When I clicked the shutter I felt a sense of calmness and happiness.
I stopped in the shade to think about my good feelings and came to the conclusion that I'd been blindsided by nostalgia. While the images I got from the a850 were as good as the images I get from all my other cameras I felt good shooting it because it was of a form factor, sonic profile and operational personality that was so endemic in the professional cameras of the 1980's and 1990's. I was channeling the emotional satisfaction of reconnecting with twenty years of daily camera handling. Camera handling in a much simpler and direct way. Are the images "better"? Not really. Just as a 1960's Pontiac GTO is not nearly as good a car as a current (fill in the non-controversial blank) car from our current choices but, if you drove one in high school, felt the brash acceleration and listened to the throaty growl of the tuned exhausts pipes you would be equally nostalgic getting into a fully restored version today.
I'll shoot with the a850 again today when I go out. And I'll get my fill of nostalgia for a while. That way I can settle in and soak in what's new in the world of smart, connected cameras and not long for a version of the past that tickles my emotional brain cells.
When you light a wood fire and want to get it burning brighter and quicker you can add an accelerant. And accelerant is a material or highly combustible fuel that makes burns hot and quick. When I headed out with my Sony I used the the ultimate nostalgia and sentiment accelerant, a 50mm 1.4 prime lens.
In the twenty years that I carried film cameras around that was always my first choice for a lens on the front of the camera. I've owned probably 100 50mm lenses over the last 27 years and I'm always on the search of the next one. Right now I'm using the Sigma 50mm 1.4 that came out a few years ago. Mine is sharp and sassy. Even wide open the center of the frame has decent resolution and good contrast. Stopped down to f5.6 or f8.0 it's very sharp where I want it to be. And it's bulk and profile remind me of the big 50mm 1.4's and 1.2's of the past. Indestructible lenses that we pressed into doing just about anything in the imaging realm.
I am happy with the 50mm. It seems to go with my "throw back" retro DSLR.
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