I was depressed today until I re-read this old post that showed up in the stats. When I read the comments they brought happy tears to my eyes.

Would X
The comments reminded me that we all have something to give. Something to donate to the conversation. I'd like it if you re-read this post once more. Just because I think we need to understand how important a well rounded education is... And if you like what we've collectively said would you pass it along to new readers?


West Texas through the eye of an Olympus EP-2.

The upcoming trip to Berlin. Why I'm going. What I'll be doing.

 Blanton Museum. 

In late Spring I was asked to participate in a fun little program to help get the Samsung NX300 some increased exposure. The reviews of the camera are uniformly good but it never hurts to have some additional traction in social media and what not. 

About 25 of us in the U.S. were asked to use the cameras and post interesting images. People in different corners of the country are shooting and uploading some really fun work and it seems like the camera is doing well.  I've done quite a few shoots with the camera and shared a hundred or so images over the last two or three months. One of the benefits I get from the program is to keep the NX300, the kit zoom lens and the 30mm f2 pancake-y lens.

Then, a little while ago, I was asked by Samsung if I would like to try their newest camera, the Samsung Galaxy NX.  If you aren't familiar with the specs it's understandable, the camera hasn't launched in the U.S. yet and just launched in the U.K. this week. Here's a microsite about the product:

While I've always thought of myself as a traditionalist I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to mirror less in 2009. And how quickly I've become interested in the intersection of flexible immediate uploads and social media. The new Galaxy camera is all about two things. One is the always on nature of its wi-fi and cell capabilities. Basically, the camera can upload images from just about anywhere to just about anywhere. If you can get a signal you can probably get to your folder on the iCloud or other service. The second aspect of the camera is one I haven't explored yet. That the Android system and the potential for an open systems approach to creating apps for the camera and apps that will run on the system backbone of the camera.  Not interesting on a 3 inch screen but more interesting, by far, on a five inch screen....  

When Samsung approached me to shoot with the camera before the rest of my fellow American photographers I did one quick check to make sure the camera shot video and I accepted. I couldn't see any real downside and maybe I'd wind up with a camera and some lenses that would be fun to shoot and helpful to my business. Then they presented the "carrot."  Would I like to fly over to Berlin on their dime and shoot my test images over there? I was delighted. I am delighted.

Samsung is bringing in photographers from all over the world in conjunction with the IFA show which is a big consumer and industry products trade show. I have a suspicion that the camera will be "presented" to the world at the show and will start to ship soon afterwards. It will probably be available near the end of Sept. This would be an opportunity for me to see Berlin, shoot fun stuff with the new camera and meet with interesting photographers, bloggers and photo-bloggers from all around the world. 

The camera and some choice lenses are due to arrive in the studio next week. I'll do a training course aimed at teaching me how to operate the camera with an app as opposed to the usual dedicated buttons and dials and then I'll do a few long walks on the boiling pavement around Austin to get up to speed on the interface and the nuances and then, off to Berlin!

I'll be flying out of Austin on the 2nd of Sept. and arriving in Berlin on the 3rd, in the early morning. For the entire week I'll be prowling the streets, cameras in hand. I'll be soaking up all the new inventions and photo stuff at the trade show and wining and dining with fellow Samsung Galaxy shooters. Of course I want to see as much of Berlin as I can before I fly back out and arrive home on the 8th.

In this bold product centric experiment I'll be blogging as much as I can. While I'm sure Samsung would love for me to concentrate on the things that differentiate the camera (apps, Android, always connected) I'll be working harder to see, primarily, how it operates just as a camera. How does it feel in my hand? How conducive is it to shooting fast? In the street? How stealthy can it be? How do the files look? I'll lean on the techie features to get images up for my blog as quickly as possible but that will be in the service of finding out just how good an imaging tool the camera is.

If you've been to Berlin I'd love to hear what you found most visually captivating. I'd also like to hear where you think I should find coffee and if there are any great camera stores left. I want to know what parks are filled with interesting people and anything else you might think of to help me make the trip more efficient and fun. Feel free to clog up the comments. You know I'll read every single one.

I hope my clients have a big pile of work waiting for me when I re-open the studio on Sept. 9th....

Do I get to keep the camera?  I sure hope so!

Studio Portrait Lighting

Today I want to talk once more about fast 50mm lenses. Because I love them.

Ten foot high painted self portrait by Chuck Close.

There are a number of things I like about 50mm lenses. Especially really good ones. I can't afford the 50mm lens I really want. It's the new Leica 50mm Summicron APO and while the price is upwards of $7,000 it may be the best 50mm lens on the planet. If I scrimped and saved I might be able to afford the actual lens but the lens only shines when you have the right body to put it one and I'm not heading down the Leica digital M rabbit hole any time soon. At least not until we're able to get those day rates well over $5,000 and the phone is ringing off the hook....

Anyway, there are a good things about all good 50mm lenses that bear telling or repeating. First, they are generally really good optics that render sharp, contrasty images onto camera sensors. If you are used to horsing around with kit zooms you'll find the difference between a very sharp f2 aperture on a 50mm and a so-so "just good enough" aperture of 3.5 to 5.6 on the zoom. While shooting yesterday in the Blanton Museum I watched the little exposure graph in the camera and realized that a lot of what I shot was snugged in a f2.5 and the shutter speeds were in the range of 1/60th of a second. Even so the images were sharp. Especially in the middle of the frame where it counts for me. If I used a kit zoom I might need f5.6 to get the same kind of quality performance and that would kick the shutter speed down into the handholding danger zone or rocket the ISO up in the negatively charged stratosphere, adding noise and sucking out dynamic range from my work. With a good 50mm 1.4 you get, not just speed, but speed with quality.

If you fill the frame with a subject and you're shooting with a fast 50mm it's easy to use wide apertures to drop stuff in the background out of focus. Really out of focus. And that can be cool too. Because with a good lens the stuff in focus isn't just "in focus" but it's truly sharp.

A good 50mm 1.4 prime is a lot cheaper than a professional quality zoom lens. And it may be better where it counts, near wide open. Sure, a 24-105mm f4 gives you a lot of range but if you look at the images from that lens at f4 and a good prime at f4.0 the primes still have the edge is sharpness, contrast and some almost intangible parameters that just subconsciously make us say, "Wow."  I paid about $399 for my 50mm 1.4 Sigma and I'm amazed at how well it performs. But part of that amazement is that I'm comparing it with zooms I've been using....

Finally, I actually consider the 50mm focal length and the 85mm focal length, on full frame cameras to be just about a perfect angle of view. The wide lenses have angles of view that seem gratuitous to me, almost garish in their frantic desire at inclusion... While the longer lenses, especially above 200mm seem claustrophobic. My eye settles down nicely when we're right in the middle.

Traveling on my own dime these days this is the focal length and the lens I put onto my full frame camera and just shoot with. Happy not to have to make too many choices. Once you have the lens figured out you get down to important issues like where to have coffee....

My favorite shots lately are coming from the Sigma 50mm 1.4. It came onto the market with some issues like front and back focusing with some cameras. It also came with a price tag of around $500.
The price recently dropped by $100 and the lens I got seems to have all the kinks engineered out. I'd buy it again in a heartbeat.

Studio Portrait Lighting

Out for lunch with the nostalgia-cam. The Sony a850 tags along to remind me of cameras from the 1990's.

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.

And the ad:

Studio Portrait Lighting

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