6.22.2013

I made a critical error in judgement today. Only my relative poverty is preventing a stumble into the German fantasy world of cameras.

Cigarettes are totally addictive and the best way to avoid addiction is to never pick up the habit in the first place.....and now the Leica story.

A few days ago I wrote a blog about the new Leica X vario. While I waffled a bit and admitted that the camera may have some appeal to a tiny demographic I was, for the most part, dismissive of the value proposition. The camera looked pretty cool but the slow lens wasn't sexy and the lack of a built in EVF gave me pause (as it always seems to do..). I could have spent the rest of my life never thinking about it again and the impact of the void would never even amounted to a blip on my gear lust radar.

But that was before I went searching for a ten dollar part with which to fix a six hundred dollar flash. I hadn't been in my favorite camera store in a while so I did a fearsome amount of looking around and self-directed tire kicking. I considered a new monopod and rejected it. I considered a really enormous and rock solid $1800 video tripod but in the end its lack of portability kept my credit card in cold storage. So after a hard target search of the entire inventory I headed toward a friendly and professional sales person to make my meager purchase. As I stood on one side of the glass case and, Ron, my sales guide and camera crack dealer stood on the other side and worked the controls on the cash register, my eyes wandered behind him and came to rest on the Leica display. 

Now, the new Leica X Vario was just announced a little more than a week ago so I thought that accessible inventory would be months away, but there on the shelf was the latest toy in its dark, dark gray finish. I should have turned my head and looked at cheap video sliders instead but in the moment that I hesitated Ron could sense my weakness and he pounced like a mongoose on a dizzy cobra. Yes. He handed me the camera.  And that was all it really took. Now I am in love.

I won't go into details. I haven't bought one yet. I haven't even committed to buying one, but on the way home I was looking for refundable soda bottles beside the road and when I got home I started looking behind the couch and chair cushions on the outside chance that someone's $2700 pocket change had fallen out of their pockets and come to rest, sub-cushion. The camera is that seductive.

It's much more beautiful than these photographs might indicate. The body style is right in line with the "M" tradition and the heft and balance of the body are remarkably seductive. I didn't want to let it go back on the shelf. I started snapping images and the shutter had the old Leica snicking authority combined with enough body mass to dampen any kinetic effect of shutter travel or acceleration/deceleration. 

Do you remember the movie, "Wayne's World"? In it Wayne (played by a younger and more talented Mike Meyers) is smitten by a Stratocaster guitar at a local music shop. Each week he stops by to look it over and play it. His mantra is, "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine."  Substitute the Leica for the Stratocaster and I'm right there with Wayne Campbell. "It will be mine. Oh yes, it will be mine." It's so nice I'm not even sure I care if the files are great. Really good will be enough.  The flesh is weak. My only question is whether or not the Olympus VF-4 will work in the EVF plug.....

Warning: If you love beautifully crafted cameras (way beyond the Fujis, Nikons and Canons) and you don't want to impoverish yourself, don't ever handle the camera. It must be coated with heroin, dusted with nicotine, and finished off with a bit of Xanax. Addictive and dangerous.


A small victory against the engineering stupidity of the new Sony flash system. Dammit.

Some proprietary designs are just chicken poop.

Hey there! Do you own a Canon or Nikon camera and use it, along with the same brand's flash units to make lots and lots of flash lit images? Are you happy with the way your flash and camera work together? Can you use all the different radio triggers out there with a minimum of cussing and pulling your hair out??? If you answered "yes" then do yourself a big favor and don't switch to Sony's new a99, a58 or Nex 6, especially if you were also planning to buy the Sony HVL 60 flash unit. Uh Oh! is Kirk getting ready to dump his Sony cameras and look elsewhere?

Well, no. I think the a99 is the best camera I've shot with in the entire realm of digital but I think that whoever is in charge of the product category of Sony flashes should be required to come to the house of every system owner of cameras using the new flash interface (the one that should have a trigger contact right in the same place every other flash in the universe does) and personally retrofit their flashes with either a new shoe that makes the cameras work with my Flash Waves triggers or your Pocket Wizard triggers.  Now.

Here's my short list of Sony screw ups with flash: 1. I liked the old Minolta shoe and people made converters for them. It's bad marketing to have two concurrent shoe standards. Especially when neither one of them is "standard." 2. The new flashes (HVL 60) have put the firing pin for the flash at some random position where it fires almost no third party radio trigger. Work arounds include taking a hacksaw to your flash trigger. 3. I've tried to figure out the flash menu to be able to use the HVL 60 as a master (on camera) to trigger an HVL 58, and vice versa, with no luck whatsoever even though I've read every tutorial on the world wide web.  4. Sony doesn't make an off camera cord for their new flashes and cameras. And guess what? Neither does anyone else. It's simple, simple, simple engineering. Dear God, someone please step up and make a connection cord. And yes, I've finally found out that the newest $600 flash will shut down if you shoot it more than once or twice a minute.

My biggest desire was to be able either use my HVL 58 flash or my (new non-standard connection) HVL 60 on my very nice and tiny Flash Waves radio triggers. The trigger fits on the a99, the a58 etc. just fine, and it sees trigger current and triggers the sender. The problem is that the HVL 60 doesn't sit far enough in to the shoe on the receiver to make contact with the center pin. The problem with the HVL 58 is the none standard foot with NO center pin. I despaired. 

Now, most of the time I'm using the camera with the studio flashes and have no problem using the triggers for that. When I'm not using the studio flashes I'm probably using a fluorescent or an LED panel and those are so wonderful that no sync connection is even needed. But I'm doing a job out of town on Monday and I wanted to travel light, light like I did in the Nikon days when I'd stuff a bunch of SB-800's in a Airport Security case and pop a Nikon flash controller in the hot shoe and shoot all day. Four flashes, in umbrellas and never a misfire. Later I used Canon and I used them all in ratio'd manual with radio triggers and I was fine with that. I wanted to do the same thing here with the Sony gear. 

So, I sat in my studio with Gary Friedman's e-book and two $600 flashes and every adapter known to man except the ones I'd need to make my flashes work. But, ever optimistic, I saddled up and went up the road to Precision-Camera.com and started looking around. And then I found my work around. It's a small adapter that interfaces with the old Minolta style flash shoe on one side and gives you a dumb (but live and centered) center pin/standard flash foot on the other side. I bought two. One goes straight on the HVL 58's Minolta foot and when I attach it to the radio slave everything is jake. The "marvelous" new HVL 60 requires me to use two adapters. One converts the new non-standard standard shoe to the older totally non-standard Minolta foot type. The second one is the same adapter I talked about above which interfaces with the Minolta-type shoe interface and then gives me a standard flash foot with a centered firing contact on the other end. Now, with two cheap adapters cobbled together I can get fully manual flash out of my $600 flash. Amazingly droll. I could have done this much more elegantly 30 years ago with a Vivitar 283 flash. And those babies never shut down for heat unless they smoked and gave up the ghost permanently. 

I guess this kind of stupidity is what happens when a hapless giant blunders into the world of photography without a second thought for the professional who might want to use their stuff. Thank goodness for whatever enterprising manufacturer who decided to make and market a $10 device to save a $600 marketing nightmare. 

Now forgive me for my tantrum but I'm off to immerse myself in Gary's instructions with both cameras and flashes in front of me on my desk. I'm practicing my boxing in case I ever see the day when I meet the Sony "flash team." But I'm sure, given the feedback Sony has no doubt gotten on these issues that the whole team is probably busy practicing to be more successful at their new jobs, which probably entails learning to ask, "Do you want fries with that?"

Final point: Every flash maker with a unit that retails for more than $400 should be required to put a standard PC socket somewhere on the flash unit. That would have solved half the problem right out of the box.... 

Taking the Medicine.

I have to confess something a little embarrassing.  I only showed a real portfolio a couple of times last year and now I'm paying for it.

Can you really blame me?  I mean I had one really cool client who sent me to cool places like West Palm Beach for week long shoots.  I did lot of work on a continuing basis for a great industrial giant and also for several top designers and ad agencies.  
How was I to know everyone I worked with would fold their cards and leave the table when slapped in the face by the nastiest economic downturn since 1929?  Like everyone else I figured it would get ugly for a few months and then everything would get all better like last time.  Boy was I wrong.  It's like people dived underwater to look at something interesting in the stream and the monster from the black lagoon ate em.  So here I am doing what I should have been doing all along instead of being rather smug and self involved about writing books.  I've actually put together a new portfolio and headed out into the world to show it.

But since I am a contrarian I am doing it all "wrong".  Instead of presenting a titanium skeleton portfolio case, inlaid with adamantium and  covered with rare gemstones and finger painting, along with branded leather trim, I'm putting a bunch of loose prints in an anonymous, black clamshell case.  And, horrors, the prints are NOT painfully extracted from a giant ink sucking desktop "giclee  (ha. ha. how pretensious) inkjet printer, they all came from Costco.

But my biggest contrarian contribution comes in quantity (and alliteration....).  The old screed commanded photographers to only show no more than 20 of your best images.  Bound.  Under Swiss plastic covers. But I shoved about 50 big prints (12x18 inches) into the case and, if my first two portfolio showings are any indicator, the audience is hungry for depth.  I showed 20. They devoured them and asked for more.  I showed another 20 and that only made the room full of art directors and creative people more desperate.  I tossed out the last ten and felt like the host of a ripping party who'd just opened his last bottle of wine  as more beautiful people sauntered thru the front door, thirsty.

So my portfolio show lasted 45 minutes.  And in those 45 minutes I made two more mistakes.  I showed medical images, portraits and food.  And I almost skipped showing the food because I'd read one of those "all knowing" books from the 1990's that insisted clients are only smart enough to peg you to one subject matter.  Well, nobody at the agency got the memo because, guess what?  They do healthcare and food.  And they liked both.

Long version short.  I booked a few jobs from the first three showings (I'm batting 66%) and got some nice, vague promises for future stuff.  I'm out taking my medicine and my own advice and pretty gratified that it's working.  I guess I do need to leave the comfortable confines of my house and the neighborhood coffee house from time to time.

The economy is bad but you'll make it worse if you buy into the idea that a website takes the place of a face to face meeting.  You'll make it stink if you think a Facebook page replaces the real social networking of lunch.  And you're business will probably be on life support if you think that everything revolves around how fast you can type on your blackberry.  I've just found out for the millionth time the power of human interaction.  And it really only happens face to face.  Take your medicine and get out there.