Random Sunday Evening Notes. Wrapping up Summer in Austin.

I just got off the phone with the boy. It's his first semester at college and he seems to be handling everything in stride. He's got a small amount of work study which provides him with his first menial job, working in the dining hall. Funny to think of my distinguished scholar scrapping congealed food off plates, chopping vegetables and cleaning stuff. Nothing he was trained for at home... (humor intended). I've adjusted pretty well. The Studio Dog has made peace with his absence and she follows me around like a furry shadow.  

We've had a lot of much appreciated rain here over the last week and there's a small area at our back yard fence that gets a bit muddy after prolonged rains. The Studio Dog has a daily routine that she very much enjoys which consists of listening intently for the arrival at the fence of a pack of hostile chihuahuas that come rushing from out of our neighbor's back door. When she hears their barking she begs to get out, rushes to the fence and runs back and forth, growling ferociously. The chihuahuas respond in kind and it gets very dramatic. Then Studio Dog turns her back on the pack, walks back toward the house, stopping ten or fifteen feet from the fence to urinate. I think she does this as an additional insult or slight to the other dogs. Then she hustles back into the house. I don't know what all these dogs are saying to each other but it's pretty clear that they are talkin' trash.

I asked Ben today if he misses his parents and he artfully deflected my question and volunteered that he did miss his dog quite a bit...

Last week and the week before have been busy ones for the studio and I'm taking a day or two off to get the car inspected and the registration renewed. I'll do some more book keeping and a bit of marketing but it's nice not to be committed to being anywhere at any specific time this week. It gives me an opportunity to catch up with my swimming. And walking. 

We have press proof copies of the novel coming on Weds, and Belinda and I will pore over them to make sure nothing is out of place. Once that's done the print version of the book will be available for ordering on Amazon.com. I will also order several cases of the books for the studio, just in case someone needs a signed copy (hint, hint).

I've gotten a follow up call from K5600 Lighting which means the review loan of the cool HMI lights I've been playing with is probably about to come to an end. I haven't had as much time to play with the lights as I would have liked and I have to say that the portraits I've shot with them show some incredible tonality. It's almost as though HMIs were custom made to make camera sensors sing beautifully. I'll hold onto them as long as I can. I'm searching for beautiful people to shoot and I'm dying to get some images up on the blog. The first three portraits I've shot were all done for clients and are embargoed until they use them. If you are into continuous lighting (as I am) you will find these lights to be pretty darn perfect. The only conceivable downside is the price. But that's what you get if you want to use professional gear made for the movie industry. It makes our little photo toys seem lame. 

PhotoKina is drawing to a close and so far I have a very short wish list of gear I want to get my hands on. Top of the list is the Samsung NX1. If it does all the stuff the spec sheet promises I think it will be a seriously competitive camera and perhaps a notch or two better than the APS-C offerings from Nikon, Canon and Sony. If they have the EVF perfectly figured out....I'll be thrilled. 

I took one look at the Panasonic LX100 and pushed the pre-order button. It seems like the perfect point and shoot camera. If it performs we may be looking at a new, compact cult classic. I doubt I'd use it for video but for a bus ride across the western states or a side trip to Marfa, Texas it seems like the perfect, little camera. 

The other camera I saw that I liked, a lot, was the silver version of the Olympus EM-1. After shooting in the Moody Theater (black walls, black drape, black high ceilings) and being in the audience area (dark) facing the stage I found that my chrome EM-5 was easier to navigate than my black one. It all had to do with being able to see the buttons and dials in the dark. The EM-1 in silver looks like an entirely different camera to me. I found myself hovering over the pre-order button on that one as well.

That's about all I saw in the Photokina new feeds that interested me at all. It was a quiet show.

Finally, I went to Precision Camera today and did something I haven't done for several years. I bought a 50 sheet box of 13 by 19 inch, matte, ink jet paper. Don't know what possessed me but I thought I'd try cranking out 20 perfect portfolio prints from recent work. I don't know if my older Canon Pro 9000 printer is up to the task but I thought I'd give it a whirl. If it doesn't work out I have my eyes on an inexpensive Canon Pixma Pro-100. We'll just have to wait and see. 

All Images Shot With Samsung NX30 and 85mm 1.4.

Re-visiting a camera after a firmware update. A new lease on life for my Samsung NX30?

(Disclosure: I've been given the Samsung NX30 and the 16-50mm lens discussed in this review by the manufacturer to evaluate. I am not bound by agreement or contract to write reviews or content on my blog about the camera or lens. Samsung has hired me in the past to demonstrate their cameras. I am not currently being paid by Samsung for any consideration, demonstration, etc.)

I am using the Samsung NX30 as an example in this article because my experience with the bounties of firmware upgrades was just reinforced by the enhanced usability a recent firmware upgrade brought to my use of this camera. A camera I had mixed feelings about until....yesterday.

The Samsung NX30 is a very decent camera for its price point. The camera's shutter and AF are quick and I find the sensor to be at least equal to the APS-C sensors in current Nikon and Canon cameras. The Sony and Toshiba sensors in the Nikons might be a tad better in low light but certainly not by any huge margin. Where the camera always fell down for me was in the implementation of the EVF.

You see, the sensor that tells your camera when you've brought it up to your eye was...stupid. You really had to cram your eye into the eyepiece to block out enough ambient light and there always seemed to be a long gap between that action and the camera actually grudgingly switching over to show you a live image in the EVF.

The regular workaround for this particular issue in just about every other brand of camera that uses an EVF is to allow you to manually choose whether you wanted to use the EVF, or the LCD screen on the back of the camera, or stick with the automatic switching. Adamant about using the EVF? No problem, just set the menu control to make the camera always default to the eyepiece. But the initial menu of the NX30 didn't give you that choice. Your choice on the camera was to decide between the rear LCD screen or the fully automatic setting. There was no option to lock into the EVF. A big oversight.

With this limitation the camera was only really useful to me in the studio while what I really wanted to use it for was walking around in the street making Kirk-Art. Grabbing quick images from the rich parade of everyday life. Or something like that. Shooting in the Summer, in the streets of Austin, is different than shooting in the cloudy, northern climes. We have hours and hours of brilliant, intense sunshine and really, no ambient light facing, exposed, flat screen is any match for that kind of mid-day candle power.

I tried using a big loupe but at that point I might as well be using a hulking, full frame camera. I tried mashing the camera to my eye with gusto but all that accomplished was to give me a big ass headache with gusto. I used the camera less and less even though I really liked and wanted to make pretty images with the Samsung 85mm 1.4 lens. I got a copy of that lens earlier this year (again, as a test optic, for free) and I am pretty captivated with its overall performance. It's a nice bokeh machine. But I didn't feel like the camera was reliable enough to switch viewing modalities for me when needed.

A secondary point was the fact that the brightness of the screen was at odds with what I ended up seeing, after the fact, on my pretty, new, calibrated 27 inch monitor back in the office.  Since we live in a time of too much plenty I pretty much gave up and started using cameras from makers who'd figured out these two parameters. Until this week.

I was made aware that there was a new firmware update available for the Samsung camera so I charged up the battery and did the file upload shuffle. Once I updated it I noticed that the EVF and the rear monitor track more closely. It's still not perfect but now the color and tonal preview through the EVF is quite usable. But there was no mention in the update notes about a menu change in the view/monitor selections. I stumbled across that yesterday. Now you can select to lock in either to the rear monitor OR to the EVF or you can default to letting the camera auto select.  I almost jumped out of my seat. But then I would have spilled my glass of sangria.

All at once the camera had value to me again as a street shooting tool and general art camera. I tried out the "new" system with the 85mm and smiled. Then I decided to take the white, 16-50mm f3.5 to 5.6 OIS zoom lens Samsung sent along with the white NX3000 body and see just how well it worked on the NX 30. I'd tested the lens before and found it to be much sharper and nicer than the original kit lens (and better than the Nikon and Sony kit lenses I've played with)  and it also gives one a bit of extra wide angle coverage; now 24mm instead of the typical 28mm equivalent.

The camera and lens are now a highly functional picture taking duo and I'm finding working with the two to be very enjoyable. This gives me great hope for the upcoming release of the new Samsung NX1 camera body. The view menu is, perhaps, the first thing I'll look at in the new camera... Well, actually I'll check out the resolution and time lag of the EVF first...

Now, none of this should be construed as a new review of the NX30. It's not a camera that will persuade higher end system jumping (although the NX1 might be, if it lives up to expectations) rather I'm writing this to encourage everyone to keep up with firmware updates in every system. On all the cameras in which  you might have an interest. Sometimes a few mid course corrections on an initially flawed camera can have the overall effect of turning around your perspective by materially enhancing the holistic shooting experience of a camera and lens.

I can now shoot the Nikon D7100 and get distortion correction with the 18-140mm Nikon lens, thanks to a firmware update. And believe me, as much as I like most of the things that lens does, it definitely needed the in camera geometry corrections.  The EM-5 seems to have been cured of its "shutter shock" with a recent programming enhancement. And it seems as though the EM-1 is ready to move up to firmware 2.0 with a raft of usability enhancements. All good news.

So now I can use my NX30 at eye level all the time. The function button on the side of the lens allows me to toggle through WB, ISO, Ex. Comp, Aperture and Shutter Speed quickly and easily without having to consult the rear screen. An amazing difference for a dedicated EVF photographer like myself.

Fun when your gear gets better on its own.