Out for "ice cream" with the tantalizing trio. The Sigma Pixie "Art" lenses.

All material ©2014 Kirk Tuck and presented exclusively at www.visualsciencelab.blogspot.dom  If you are reading this on another site, without proper attribution it is not an authorized use of the material. If you are reading this on an unauthorized site DO NOT CLICK on any links in the body copy as it may infect your computer with serious viruses. Sorry to have to put this warning here but a recent search turned up dozens of similar infringements. Thanks for your authentic readership.

There's always something going on in downtown Austin. This past weekend one of those events was the "Gelato World Tour." I wouldn't have known about it but my swimming buddy, Emmett Fox, is the owner of several fine restaurants in Austin and was telling all of us about the Gelato Fest after workout on Saturday. They held it in Republic Square, which is usually a deserted block of land in the middle of downtown, next to the Federal Court building. I decided to drive down and check it out. 

The weather was hot and sticky with bright sun. I took along a Panasonic GH3 body and three new lenses. I recently bought the three Sigma dn "art" lenses for the m4:3 cameras. They are also available for the Sony Nex cameras...

All three of the lenses have f2.8 maximum apertures and all three of them have a smooth, shiny metal focusing ring that gives the lenses a very minimal aesthetic. I like slower lenses for general shooting. It's my understanding that it's many times easier to design and manufacture a very, very high quality camera lens with a modest aperture than it is to even add one stop of speed. It all has to do with the precision required in shaping and polishing the glass elements. According to a Leica expert (Erwin Puts) it requires eight times more precision for every doubling of a glass element diameter. The faster the lens the harder it is to make the elements meet the design criteria. 



Snark-asm. The leaving of snarky, sarcastic, snitty comments on blogs. Love my readers. At least most of them. But there's always a hand full that are just......unpleasant. That's why we're going back to not allowing anonymous commenters. I realize some of my readers just want to stay off the grid and others are bothered by Blogger's commenting labyrinth and I am sorry for the inconvenience but I'm spending too much time moderating smugness and sniping to actually enjoy the process of blogging so I'm dropping that feature.

Wanna say something devastatingly cute, smug and insulting? Sign up for an I.D. and I'll gladly moderate your non-anonymous comment (that way at least you know I'll read it....) and then toss it.

To all the other 99.99% of VSL readers: Thank you for coming by and reading.

Knowledge. A good differentiator.

Studio Portrait Lighting

What is the archival potential of CF cards? How long do memories on a card persevere? Were cameras any worse in 2000 AD?

All material ©2014 Kirk Tuck and presented exclusively at www.visualsciencelab.blogspot.dom  If you are reading this on another site, without proper attribution it is not an authorized use of the material. If you are reading this on an unauthorized site DO NOT CLICK on any links in the body copy as it may infect your computer with serious viruses. Sorry to have to put this warning here but a recent search turned up dozens of similar infringements. Thanks for your authentic readership.

Belinda walked into the studio yesterday holding a CF card in her hand. She handed it to me and told me she'd found it in a desk drawer. She wanted to know if I needed it anymore. I don't think she assumed that there were images on it because we're both pretty good about always backing stuff up. The card was a MicroTech 64 MB (megabyte, not gigabyte) card. Records show that it is one I bought in 1999 for a trip to Madrid for a company called Tivoli (now a subset of IBM).

I expected that a fifteen year old card would be corrupted by now but I stuck it into the card reader and opened up all the files in Preview. The files originated in a Nikon Coolpix 950. It was one of Nikon's swivel body compact digital camera, sporting a whopping 2 megapixels of sensor resolution and a 3X zoom lens. It took four double "A" batteries and its native ISO was around 80.  You can buy one used on Amazon now for about $35. If I remember correctly the cameras costs about $1200 when they were new.

I used that camera as well as a few other Nikon Coolpix swivel body variants do document trade shows back in the very early days of digital, in conjunction with film. The film shots were for posterity and the digital shots for uploads to news sites and web sites.

When I moved on to bigger cameras, like the Kodak DCS 660 and 760's I handed the Nikon 950 to Belinda to use for fun, social picture taking.

The two images above are of me and five year old Ben. We're playing the Pokemon version of Monopoly which nicely combines two of Ben's favorite games.

While the images were taken with direct flash I think the camera did a good job at exposure and it certainly did a good job getting everything in focus. The skin tones are nice and there's enough detail for a decent snapshot.

I guess CF cards are decent medium/long (10 years?) storage devices. I guess I'll figure out a use for this stack of newer Sandisk, high capacity cards sitting in a stack on my desk. The only camera I have left that uses them is the Sony R1 and I think a couple of 32 gig cards will be adequate for that camera for some time to come....


And while we're on the subject of economics and change..... Get ready to lose your film printers.

I walked into my local Costco today to pick up some prints I'd ordered online. They were all profiled with the latest profiles and they looked perfect. My wife sent me along to Costco with a small envelope that had three 35mm negatives that she also wanted printed. Costco had printed work for me in the past and had done a nice job. I smiled at the clerk and asked her if she would help me remember how to do a print order. She smiled that oh I'm sorry to tell you this smile and nicely told me that they no longer could actually print from negatives. No prints from film of any kind. None.

When I got back home I started doing a little research on line. Prints from negatives have fallen dramatically for mass marketers like Walmart and Costco. So much so that Costco has started designing a new generation of stores with no photo finishing departments at all. None. And many others are following suit.

But it doesn't stop with film. My quick research shows that overall print sales in consumer mass merchandizing stores, grocery stores and drug stores chains is down by as much as 40% year over year. The decline seems to match, in slope, the same relative decline that happened when digital imaging eclipsed film cameras. The slope is quicker than many expected.

My feeling is that we've hit another inflection point in our society's transformation from artifact collectors to digital information consumers. We want the  visceral delight of seeing our digital images immediately, on our little screens. We are no longer interested (as a cultural) in getting the little envelope of actual prints and looking at them and then storing them somewhere until they retire from our memories.

You will no doubt write to tell me, anecdotally, of all the people you know who crave physical prints to hang on walls and send to aging aunts and grandmothers but that may be because you are a selective and self-selected audience and not representative of the mainstream demographic for whom the machine print 4x6 was a ubiquitous (pre-digital) sharing medium. People with the ability to chose have chosen. Images are meant now to be enjoyed on screen. Not as shuffles through an envelope filled with paper prints.

Terminal Ubiquity (tm). When everyone offers it no one needs to buy it...

This photograph is unique to me because it is my own kid.
He's running a cross country race in the Texas heat. 
The image reminds me (as if I needed reminding) that  
he is a great son. 

I read too much. But I kept reading things that reinforce some thoughts I've been having. One is that when everyone pursues the same goals and everyone has a horse in the race at some point whatever is offered becomes truly ubiquitous, loses the values that make it special and reinforces a commodity expectation. Take online advertising for example. The early and ongoing promise for companies advertising on the web was that, like early TV, people would be magnetically attracted to content and would complacently look at any advertising a company cared to pair along with the paid content. In the earliest days this meant absolutely horrible banner ads and then pop-up ads which led users to invent ways around the pop-ups while helping the target market become immune to even acknowledging the banner advertising. 

But, of course, the web is built around the pervasive idea that everything should be free and that content will drive profit everywhere. As an example this blog is hosted for free on Blogger which is a Google service. Google monetizes the "bold" Blogger experiment with Google Ad Sense. That is the part of Google that generates lots of innocuous, little ads that bloggers can choose to sprinkle around and through their content. The ads, theoretically, will pay for the cost of maintaining Blogger and also return a profit to Google. Not sure how that's working out. I tried working with Google Ad Sense in the early years and the system placed a number of totally unrelated or competitive ads on the site and returned less that ten bucks, total, to me as their affiliate. At some point Google may decide that the decade of blogs is over and shut the whole thing down. That's one of the downsides of stuff being free, you don't ultimately have any control over it. 

But what really got me thinking was a news story I heard about Alibaba, the giant Chinese company that will be going IPO on the NYSE sometime soon. The company is into everything, and it sounds like a blend of Amazon and Google but the operating theory is all about selling advertising. The products are secondary or even loss leaders for the service, it's the advertising space sales that currently bring in the revenue. And that's their business model. And Twitter's business model. And Facebook's business model. And DPReview's business model. And Yahoo's business model. And Pinterest's business model. And Instagram's business model. And everyone else's business model. 

It's almost gotten to the point where everyone's business model, no matter what service they provide or trinket they push, is really all about selling advertising surrounding the service or trinket to other businesses around your neighborhood, your city, your state and your country. But if everyone everywhere is selling advertising space does this mean that the market for advertising is infinitely scalable? I don't think that's really possible. 

I get that there's room for growth in emerging markets but the trend in the U.S. period already points to both deceleration and declining web ad revenue. The media buys are already too fragmented to achieve perceptible, measurable momentum and results for any but the most enormous marketers and, the fragmentation of the market continues unabated. Twitter stock recently took a big dive because investors are unsure how adding more advertising in yet another space within an already over crowded market will ultimately drive profitability. I'm sure the same will follow along for most of the purveyors of user generated content spaces because of the sheer amount of space available. 

It all comes down to supply and demand. When ad space in a demographic sector (high capacity web users, hipsters, middle America Online ) becomes closer and closer to infinite the value of said space drops to nearly zero. A recent example is as close at hand as stock photography. Once upon a time stock images were hard to find, hard to get and hard to physically deal with. Now they are just electrons, they are sourced directly from your mom and your daughter and your Facebook pages and tens of millions of free stock image generators. The search and delivery is totally automated and we can now access billions and billions of images at the click of a touch pad. The supply has gotten closer and closer to infinite and so now the value has dropped to nearly zero. Supply and demand. In fact, Getty is giving most of your stock photography away free because they too believe the mantra that the key to profitability is to sell advertising space and they are using their product (your product) as a "loss leader" to drive eyeballs to their site in order to capture enough data to convince all the same prospective advertisers everyone else is chasing about the wonderful value of their space. 

Wouldn't be surprised in the least if Amazon was making more money in the placement, advertising and marketing of the products that they sell than they do in the actual margins on the products you queue up to buy. Wouldn't it be bizarre to find out that your camera purchase or your purchase of Nike running shoes on their site is partially subsidized by advertising revenue delivered by selling space on their own site to their own merchants. Even if it is a less than direct methodology. 

But let's dive a little deeper and see what we think the end results might be.... So, imagine a publisher starting a newspaper in a big, literate town which currently has no newspaper at all. They bring in a staff of reporters, designers, layout people, editors, sales people, distributors and all the rest. A big investment. But...they have an exclusive market for their style of advertising: Display ads in among the (riveting) content as well as consumer (user) generated ads in the "want ad" area of the paper. The newspaper makes a good profit. Which attracts another newspaper that comes in with the same basic offers and the same space. They split the market and both papers make a profit, although now the overall profits to both are reduced.

Now imagine a metro market of half a million people who are offered two thousand newspapers. All with very similar content. All with very similar ad space that is moving toward infinite availability. There are not nearly enough advertisers to go around (not enough demand) so the papers start price wars in attempts to get more of the market share. The prices drop because there is a huge supply of space resources and no increase in overall demand. As the ad space nears infinity the revenue from that ad space effectively approaches zero. But if the quality of the content remains the same that means costs remain fixed. 

So, now the papers have two options. They can try to institute a much higher price subscription paradigm but they quickly find out that they have done a good job teaching their target markets (both advertisers and end consumers) that all information and ad space should be almost free (remember that the ad revenue was supposed to be the driver that paid for the overhead). The other option is to reduce the cost of content. They could do this by crowdsourcing the content and laying off their pro staffs but in the end they may find that the unvetted and unreliable content is no longer good enough to drive consumers to consume the papers in enough numbers and with enough loyalty to lure advertisers into buying ad space to reach said consumers. 

At some point, across the board, the revenue starts to zero out. When the revenue starts to zero out the entity can no longer afford the content that drove the site in the first place. Or the market they once enjoyed in an almost exclusive way is now split between hundreds of very similar vendors, most of whom did not have to bear the same costs and time investments to create the market at the inception. 

This then triggers Kirk's immutable law of virtual content and virtual delivery economics: Terminal Ubiquity (tm). Infinite, nearly identical offerings, drive markets to zero profit. When they approach zero profits the ability to supply differentiating content also vanishes and creates a death spiral for that particular industry.

While Amazon.com may be doing well now imagine how much different their battlefield will be when there are hundreds and hundreds of nearly identical marketers, some subsidized by the governments of their countries of origin, all competing for the same high value customers. Delivery costs can't be driven to zero. The cost of actual product is just as inflexible. At some point the margins will fall to unsustainable levels. As they have in royalty free stock photography, video tape rentals, office supply stores, camera stores (outside of the three thriving U.S. markets) and many other businesses. 

When all of the web based businesses realize that Kirk's rule is also inflexible, that ubiquity drives out profitability, they will either have to offer consumers products with embedded value or they will have to exit the business. The point at which the profit/saturation curve crosses over is falling due for a number of players. Call it a bubble. Call it a thinning of the herd. The bottom line is death from Terminal Ubiquity

As an adjunct to the idea that this is a business model failure only of big social sharing and information websites it would be wise to apply these ideas to every other kind of business extant. The Chinese and Bangladeshi workers offer nearly ubiquitous labor which destroys the  markets in other countries for the manufacture of clothing. Photographers offer their work free to magazines and clients in the hopes that it will generate future, paid, work. It's a cycle that is also unsustainable. 

At some point someone will have to make something that other people would like to have. Something that can't be imitated easily. Then real profit will be returned to the businesses and they will prosper. Right now most web businesses are running on an unfulfillable promise. Infinitely scalable advertising space needs.  And we have a good idea of where that will end...


Lens Candy. The Panasonic 7-14mm f4. Tiny and cute.

Stuff comes and stuff goes. A Sony a850 sacrificed itself to I could bring this lens home. I've wanted a copy of my own since I first borrowed this lens from a friend. Nasty thing about even the best friends is that they expect to eventually get their stuff back from you....

What's not to like? The Panasonic 7-14mm is small and light and sharp. It's a 14-28mm equivalent if mapped in full frame angles of view but it's much smaller than the Nikon 14-28mm, almost by a factor of four times.

It doesn't have anything fancy tacked on. No I.S. and no knobs. The hood is part of the structure. The front element protrudes and disallows filter use.

Optically, I can state that the lens is sharp just about every where in its range of focal lengths and from wide open to at least f8. Probably thanks to good design which includes two aspherical elements and 4 ED elements.

This rounds out my optical system for the GH series cameras. These (the 7-14mm, the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm) lenses are the lenses I had in mind from the beginning when I started re-exploring the system in anticipation of the GH4 arriving. The whole system with two camera bodies fits into one, smallish Pelican case. Very cool.

If you own this lens I'd be interested in any comments relating to your use of it and the results. Thanks!

Roger Cicala (LensRental) does a great job explaining MTF curves and data!!


For those of you who may have missed it, Roger Cicala of LenRental wrote a great piece explaining the reality behind those MTF curves you see on lens test sites and in the boxes of pricier lenses. He does a great job explaining both the math (by not using math) and the relevance of the curves in the real world of lens selection. It's very well done. As is Roger's regular blog on his own site. 

And now for something completely different: The 85mm Samsung NX lens on the new-ish NX30 camera.

I was weighing one final equipment change for now. I wanted to pick up the 7-14mm Panasonic lens (I've borrowed one on and off) to add to my GH4 system. I think at that point I'll feel a sense of (at least) temporary completion and stasis with my new m4:3 system. I'll I have equivalent of the holy trinity of zoom lenses that professional photographers always seem to amass for Nikon and Canon system. High quality zooms that effectively cover the range from 14mm to 200mm (in 35mm speak). But I'm being cautious with cash and to make the final acquisition and achieve temporary system stasis I feel like I need to peel off more excess gear. The orphans around the studio now are the Sony a850 and a few attendant lenses. 

I had some hesitation about letting that stuff go because (I rationalized) there may still be times I crave that very narrow depth of field that larger sensor cameras do so well. While I was pondering and dithering about the whole roundabout deal a thought slammed into my consciousness: Would I be happy with the performance and the look of a fast, longer lens on APS-C? Especially the look and performance of a lens I already have; the Samsung 85mm 1.4? So I grabbed the Samsung NX 30 APS-C mirror free camera body (20 megapixels, at least as nice a noise profile as the bigger Sony) and headed out the door to see what's what.  That's what these images are all about. 

The camera is not image stabilized and though a number of the Samsung zooms feature I.S. the 85mm 1.4 SSA does not. The trade off is, of course, a very fast max aperture which goes a long way toward delivering higher, more handhold-able shutter speeds. I shot with the lens wide open and the center 2/3rds of the frame are very sharp while the outer areas are more typical of the fast primes from other makers. 

I stopped down to f2.8 and the lens got very sharp and very well behaved. I think that when it comes to zero depth of field portraits the camera and lens are a very good combination. Having done this test makes me a bit more confident about moving on from the Sony full frame Alpha stuff and into the ever bubbling pot of micro four thirds. The 85mm+the Samsung NX30 will be hanging around the edges like a bokeh lifeguard for those moments when nothing will do but eyelashes in razor focus with earlobes soft and fuzzy. 

One more step forward in the world domination by m4:3s, with the Samsung 85mm as an ally in the wings...

Oh goodness. An almost total immersion into micro four thirds. I may have to give up my Professional Photographer's Decoder Ring...