A New Camera Showed Up On My Doorstep Friday. It's the Samsung NX30. I Took It To SXSW.

What is it? It's a Samsung NX30. A 20 megapixel, APS-C, Mirror Free
Interchangeable lens camera. It arrived on Friday in the Fed Ex 
shipment and I've agreed to shoot with it for a while and post a few images on a regular basis. 
No other strings attached. 

When I experimented with Samsung's experimental Galaxy NX camera last year I was very happy with the sensor but less so with the paucity of physical control interfaces (buttons and knobs). I also felt that the inclusion of the Android operating system and all of the software and connectivity bells and whistles interfered with the pure photography aspect of the camera. My final criticism was about the low res and not very color accurate EVF. When I sent the camera back to Samsung I also included my notes about what I wanted to see in a future gen camera. In almost every respect that camera is the new NX 30 camera. Samsung's P.R. agency sent me one and a kit lens to use with it last Friday. Here's a report of my first 24 hours with the camera:

The box was small. The camera is small. About the size of a Panasonic G6 but with a rounder design aesthetic. The camera body itself is smoother and more rounded. The camera is a mirror less, APS-C sensor camera that uses the entire range of Samsung NX series lenses and has both a "twisty/bendy" rear LCD screen as well as a nicely done EVF. The EVF is a much higher resolution than the previous Samsung cameras and it's nice to look at. It could use a bit faster refresh rate for fast moving objects but it's a big improvement and it's at least competitive with the majority of EVF finders in it's class. The EVF does have one magic trick. You can pull the finder eyepiece out away from the camera body and angle it up to 90 degrees. Nice for low angle shots and an advantage for studio table top work. 

Like most of the new cameras I've come across lately it doesn't come with a conventional charger, the camera comes with a USB charger and cable that restricts you to charging in camera. Since I currently have only one battery I don't really mind... yet. From my point of view there's a lot to like about this camera. It's got a nice 20 megapixel sensor that seems to perform well. I shot stuff from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 yesterday and noise was not problematic. On a few frames I thought the noise reduction was a bit heavy handed but that's probably what I get for not shooting raw and not paying attention to the noise reduction settings in the menu. I've now opted for "off" because I love to go to extremes. I'll get it fine tuned as I continue to use the camera. 

The exterior control buttons give me quick access to most of the operations I want to use and pushing the FN button gets me a few more. Once the camera is set up you'll rarely have to dive into the menus but if you do you'll find them logical and well structured. The camera has all kinds of connectivity niceties but as you might guess I've turned off as many of these as I could find. There's still a little drain to the battery but I'll try to hunt that down and squash it as well. For me a camera should be ALL about taking the image. Anything that interferes with that, even if it's just a quicker battery drain, is to be avoided. 

I know that many of you feel uncomfortable if you can't upload your images immediately but until everyone gets the shooting experience of the cameras just right that fast access capability is just a distraction. Agree or disagree. But I'm speaking from my own experience. 

So, on the camera you have buttons for a quick menu call up (FN--which is programmable), WB, AF, Drive Modes, Display, Metering pattern, a big exposure Mode dial and two control dials. There's also the EV compensation button and an AEL button. If you need more controls you can enable the touch screen and customize the quick menu on the rear screen. Also, some of these controls are available by pushing the fn button on many of the Samsung lenses. The settings come up on a dial and I actually like the representation and the sound effects that go with them. This is the first camera on which I have not totally disabled sound effects. Almost forgot, there is also a movie start button on the top panel of the camera. All of these physical controls are a good thing because I don't care how good a touch screen might be there are situations like cold, dry weather that interfere with the touch interface and nothing is more frustrating to me than a camera that can't be controlled at will. My will. 

I'll confess that I didn't read the owner's manual. I felt like my experiences with the Samsung Galaxy NX would put me in the control ballpark for this camera and, so far, I have not been wrong. I charged the battery while I worked on a proposal and when the green light came on I packed up my stuff and headed out. We're in SXSW (South by Southwest Interactive, Film and Music Festivals) for two weeks. 50,000+ people from around the world descend on our town for this and the parking goes from tight to non-existent to $100 a day. I walked a half mile to our neighborhood bus stop and rode the bus to the epicenter of the excitement. It cost a buck. Chalk one up for mass transportation!

The bus ride also gave me time to go through every menu on the camera and personalize it to my shooting requirements/proclivities. S-AF, Single point AF, Auto-ISO, diopter fine tuned, Jpeg Super/turbo fine, matrix metering, etc. By the time I hit Congress Ave. I felt like I'd used the camera for weeks. Easy and straight forward. 

I walked around downtown and shot a couple hundred snap shots. I was looking for things like: How fast the focus locked in (very fast! Snapped in is more like it...must be the PD on chip), How quickly the camera shifted from LCD to EVF (quick indoors and slower in full sun. When I shoot in full sun now I just go into the menu and choose EVF all the time. Works great. 

The camera is a great size for my average hands. It's also a good size for my wife's smaller hands. 

When I started my journey to the great intellectual marketplace being held downtown there was a weak but present sunlight punching through wimpy patches of clouds but as the afternoon wore the clouds moved in and everything was over cast. I took a very small leather backpack along with me for the usual collection of modern clutter. My cellphone. A pair of reading glasses. A back up camera in the form of the Panasonic G6 (in case the sole battery for the Samsung raced to zero) and two extra batteries for it. I also dropped in my Kindle Fire so I could read Anthony Artis' book, Shut Up and Shoot. (A good but slightly dated resources for videographers who do documentaries, interviews, etc.).

At first I was a bit put off by the camera for two reasons, both associated with viewing. The EVF is about a stop hotter than the LCD in its rendering of scenes. The LCD and the histograms agrees and my computer agrees with them too. But while there is a control to change the brightness and color of the LCD I haven't found the same control for the EVF. The second point was that in bright, exterior lighting the sensor that decides when to switch between the EVF and LCD seems to see too much ambient light and is loathe to switch to the EVF unless you crush your eye socket right into the eyepiece. Well, I don't much use LCDs in bright ambient light so I found the menu item that would allow me to select my viewer manually and I set it to always be the EVF. That will come in handy when shooting theater as well. Then I set up the menu display to always show the live histogram and I was making a subconscious accommodation for the bright finder within the hour. Done. 

The rear screen is just like every other rear screen on cameras that I use. It's bright, sharp and detailed as long as you are in the studio controlling the light. If I'm are standing around in the sun shine I can't see a damn thing on the screens. And if I'm wearing something reflective like a white t-shirt I can see even less... This is why for the last few years I've railed about the need for all cameras to have some sort of eye level viewing mechanism. Even if it's the contrived, giant loupe I have for my Pentax K-01 Super Cameras. The screen on the NX 30 is no different. A pleasure in the studio or in a restaurant or bar but a freakin' nightmare in high EV settings with lots of photons bouncing around. Thank you very much, Samsung, for the EVF. 

All in all my initial reaction to this camera is different from my reaction to the Samsung Galaxy NX. That camera refused to work for me, out of the box, until I logged on  and registered it online. The new camera comes with the connectivity in the "off" mode. And in no way does the mania for wi-fi or NFC effect my ability to snap the shutter in a timely fashion.

I've used two lenses on the camera so far; both with very good results. The first is the kit lens (18-55mm) which I originally got when Samsung sent me an NX300. It's a good kit lens and it has a control button on the side that you can push and the camera ratchets through four frequently used controls, including my favorites, EV and WB. The lens seems sharp enough and the range is nice. But the one I really like a lot is the 30mm f2. It has neither the I.S. nor the function button on it but it's small, light and quite sharp. 

I was nervous about battery life so I found myself turning the camera on and off again much more so than I do when I use a camera which I have a pocketful of batteries for. But during the course of my shooting the battery indication never dropped below 70% and the battery does seem to charge pretty quickly. 

I think Samsung has made a good competitor for the rest of the mirror less systems on the market. While it's not as polished as the Olympus OMD EM-1 the bigger sensor offers some advantages. Will I switch everything, drink the KoolAide and shoot everything with the Samsung? I think you know me better than that. I would get bored to tears just shooting one model or brand of camera. But I will stick a strap on this one and squire it around for a while to see just what I can get out of it.

Below are some images I shot at SXSW yesterday. Nothing spectacular but I was looking for technical stuff on this go around...

Kirk daringly executes a selfie. 

The Cavernous "Check in and Get your Badge" area.

People of the floor.


I like to stick images up on the wall and look at them and try to figure out why I like them.

Back in the days of film and darkrooms 
we used to make 20 by 24 inch work prints
like they were free Xeroxes. 
I just wanted to see what stuff looked like

So, after a long day of paperwork and planning and phone meetings I came back into the studio after dinner and played. I looked through boxes with hundreds and hundreds of large, black and white prints and I pulled some out and laid them out on the floor and thumbtacked em to the walls. I pulled out some fun nudes we did back in the 1990's and some great portraits from the 1980's and few from last month that I just got back from a real lab and I laid them out and just walked around the room looking at them. 

I'm not planning a show or anything like that-----I just wanted to see how work looks when it's big and it's aged like a fine, old red wine. And it's really having an effect on me that I didn't anticipate. I'm happy with my portraits. One thing I've been missing from digital is printing stuff really big. Printing it really big and printing the perfect frame and the frames on either side and the frames on either side of those. And then living with the work for a while. Big.

It's curious. After the passage of long years I seem to like the alternate frames. The ones I didn't show. The nudes between the sensual and the prurient. The expressions that were just to one side of alluring. 

I'm thinking I need to send more stuff out to be printed big. There's no question that today's cameras can handle it. And I'd like to have another dozen or so boxes of 100 prints or more in the "just because I can" vault before I hang it up. 

Maybe I am thinking much more along the lines of what I see in this project (motion/film/video):


Hope you are having a nice Thursday. Any time to go out today and look at stuff?


The mindset of one photographer.

All the business stuff we talk about exists only to support my inherent laziness and my desire to walk around with a camera and point it at stuff that might only interest me. Cameras are props that allow me to stare longer at people and situations by circumventing typical social conventions concerning direct staring and spatial intrusion. Everything I shoot is source material for future fictional writing. Or it's a resonant reminder of amalgamations I want to remember.

Everything I shoot for myself is a form of archival memory of a feeling, a thought, a visual  juxtaposition. My goal is rarely the printed image hung on a wall. My sharing mainly consists of putting images up on this blog to illustrate what I write about.

The images are self contained historical artifacts that I use to prove to myself that I've lived and experienced the things I have. If other people like them then my ego is happy. If no one liked them I would keep shooting but stop showing. How can the images have the same resonance for others that they have for me. None of us share the same unique set of experiences.

We are all on a journey through life and the only important thing in my mind is to understand where I've been and where I might be going. The camera helps me keep track of my progress. This is selfish but it's true. I don't do this (writing or photography) for anyone else and I suspect anyone who says that their over riding motivation is to share their work for other's benefit of either trying to fool their public or trying to fool themselves.

I had a thought today when I was talking to another professional photographer over coffee. Maybe the cameras that help us elicit our best work, the machines that help us break through the clutter. are the ones that give us the most friction and the least handling satisfaction. Maybe  having to fight against a recalcitrant machine is an important part of some sort of process. Maybe the operational friction makes us bear down harder and commit to our purpose more forcefully.

I was reminded when I selected this photograph that I was working at the time with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera and there were things I didn't like about the apparatus. The EVF was mediocre and the operational speed of the camera was much doggier than my usual cameras. Saving files was more an art than a science.... But it was the camera I had in my hand at the time. (and in its defense still very much a beta product). But somehow I felt more invested in the images that I successfully shot because each one required more of my attention and more of my focused intention.

Maybe we've been thinking about all this photography gear in the wrong way. Maybe we should be looking for cameras that create more challenges for us. More obstacles to overcome. Maybe the determination to win is vital to mastering the image rather than being handed the image on a spoon, with tremendous ease. Perhaps the challenge brings a deeper spirit to the fore and moves us to think more clearly.

Then again maybe all current cameras have become more or less transparent. The obvious ones being too transparent.  And it's the very transparency or lack of effort that diminishes our feelings of satisfaction and competence.

Someone recently remarked about the image of the art historian that I put up that they didn't understand. Was I pranking my viewers? The image had graininess and wasn't acerbically, surgically sharp. Could my reader have missed the entire point of a portrait or did I misunderstand the need for technical perfection in every modern piece of art? Non-perfection. The new feature set.

A good reminder from Thom Hogan... The value of "unique."


Had coffee with an interesting person this morning who pointed me to Thom's column. It's a good read.


Important announcement from the CEO of the Visual Science Lab: All serious cameras are now better than they need to be.

If you are ancient enough to remember the early days of digital photography you might remember that Kodak (the people who largely invented digital imaging...) announced that the "Holy Grail" of digital would be to match the performance of slide film.  Estimates varied but most experts at the time figured that the number to hit was about 6 megapixels. When we hit that number with the Kodak 660 and 760 cameras a lot of professionals and well heeled amateurs figured we had arrived, dumped the film cameras and stared bravely into the future. And that's when the whining started....


My long overdue review of the Sony a99.

It's got a 24 megapixel sensor. It focuses native Sony lenses very quickly. The colors it generates are good. The dynamic range is super groovy. It's fun to handle. It's got lots of nice bells and whistles for video. It's full frame and weather resistant. It has an EVF instead of an OVF. I've had one since the Fall of 2012 and I haven't wanted to get rid of it yet. It's got focus peaking for optimal use with manual focus lenses like the Rokinon 85 and 35 1.5 Cine lens. Everything works just like it's supposed to. If I forget about the nuts and bolts and use it in the same fashion I've used all my other cameras throughout time it helps me make images that are technically good. Sadly, it does not provide inspiration, insight, warmth, context or vision. We have to add those to the mix ourselves.

That's the review. Would I buy it again? If I owned lots of Sony lenses and was upgrading from a previous Sony camera? You bet. Would I do it again, right now, if I had a fat wallet and a totally empty camera bag? Probably not. I think I'd just snag a Pentax 645D and a couple of good lenses and be done with it. All subjective information is subject to change.....

Image above done with a Sony a99 for my class on Studio Portraits for Craftsy.com. Go poke around at Craftsy and see what they offer in the field of photography. And baking. And food. And while you are there check out the trailers for my three courses. One of them is absolutely free.

Studio Portrait Lighting

Surface Tension or just magic? I'm glad someone is showing off.

From a series of bubble photographs I took in Berlin last year. 

I've been wondering about something and I'm not sure there is an answer but I'm working on at least getting the question right. It's about video. But it's also about the New Dcoumentarians and it's about snap shots and Martin Parr and Henri Cartier Bresson. Here goes: How do you make wonderful small videos that feel like the images that we who love documentary photography grew up admiring and savoring? 

I look at the images above and I remember the warm day, the bright colors of the giant bubbles, the excitement of the kids as they played with the bubble magic and the general feeling of the moment. Short of making a pretentious three minute documentary about bubbles, why haven't we invented the video "snapshot" or the video "street photography" that so captivates us in the other media?

I'm not sure that every video needs to tell a story as much as some might just need to evoke a feeling. Have I missed a genre? Is my education sporting a blank spot in the artistic motion category or is this something that we need to get inventing?

There are so many times during the day that I want to capture a complete moment; whether it's the arch of an expression, a quick kiss on a cheek, the way someone moves through space or even the interplay of wind and fashion in the streets. How do we do this and how do we create a market for it?
I'm serious. I really want to know. Is all video condemned to be a linear story (even if it is sequenced out of linear time)? Does there have to be a beginning, middle and end? Can there be a short moment that's just right like the opening notes of A Stairway to Heaven? 

It's a new interest of mine and if you have something to share about it don't be shy about commenting at length....

Spending time indoors today. Working on some old files I didn't pay enough attention to and writing the blog.

The rear of a building somewhere in Berlin.

It's been a cold, wet, blustery day in Austin. I've been cooped up in a conference room for half the week and crunched up in front of a computer for the other half and bad weather or not I decided to take a couple hours this morning and go for a walk downtown. The city is gearing up for the annual celebration of hip-ism and cultural smugness that we've come to know as SXSW (South by Southwest). I thought we just had the two weeks of it that combines Interactive, Cinema and then Music but I misjudged the show's overall ability to metastasize and continue growing and, of course I left out the newest added week, the SXSW Education conference. Yes, it starts tomorrow.

I carried around a big, black umbrella today. I held it in my left hand and swiveled it into an ever-changing compromise between the rake of the wind and the rain and good forward visibility. In my right hand I grasped the Sony a850 and it's partner, the Sigma 50mm 1.4. I tried for a while to keep water drops off the combination but eventually I gave up and focused most of my attention on keeping the umbrella from dramatically inverting every time I stepped into a new slip stream between large buildings. 

It was nice to get out and walk but I was happy to come back to the studio and settle back in. I fired up the magic imaging box and went looking for the images I'd shot last year in Berlin. I remembered that I'd shot a few good ones and I knew that I set them aside and temporarily lost track of that train of thought. I was on a vague mission of rediscovery today. 

The image above was one of those quiet images that sneaks up on me. I turned a corner and came to this quiet place in the middle of a bustling city and the quiet of the shadow side of this building made me stop and savor the intimate isolation. It felt almost like I was waiting on a rendezvous with a beautiful woman. There was a shimmer to the space that I couldn't explain. I tried to make an interesting image and pull in some of the feeling of amorphous anticipation that kept me company. 

I love the blue of daylight peaking around the right corner and the soft green saturation on the top left corner from the light filtering through wings of green leaves. Diamonds and diagonals. Rich colors and muted colors. It's puzzle and a blend. 

I was using the Samsung Galaxy NX camera I had on loan from Samsung, along with the little 30mm lens. It was a pre-production camera and it brought along its own idiosyncrasies but it was there in my hand at the moment and I used it as well as I could.

There is something so wonderful about wandering without agenda or angst through a city you've never been in before. There is a sense of anticipation and an ampleness of images that swirl by as you walk along that makes me feel as though I'll never run out of things at which to point my camera. 

So, a normal lens and an incomplete camera...maybe that's exactly what I needed in my hands to stop and take this image. Funny. I never thought about it that way before.