Bucking the Wisdom of the Web. Can cheap lenses be sharp? Yes, of course. Careful Dave, we're talking about those little sixteen megapixel cameras again...

I've been going back and forth about which cameras to use for a math conference. It's largely a silly self argument because I can rationalize equally well in either direction. But the one thing that was holding me back from enthusiastically embracing the Olympus EM5.2s was the fact that I sold the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 that I used with good effect last year and I didn't replace it or get the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8. I looked around at less expensive alternatives but just about everything else has reviews that give me pause. That pull me up short. I wanted the Olympus 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 to be decent because it is affordable, lightweight and downright cute in its silver finish. 

But there were those reviews. "Okay at the lower focal lengths but quickly loses sharpness at the longer focal lengths..." Or, "Too soft at the long end..." Or, mostly, "Meh. What do you expect from a cheap lens?!"

But being a contrarian I bought one of the little zooms for $125 and decided to test it out for myself. I was pretty sure it would be fine at the shorter focal lengths but I wanted to see for myself if it turned to mush as it tromboned out toward its longest length. 

I had time to walk around today so I stuck the 40-150mm f4.0 to 5.6 onto a loitering EM5.2 body and went for a walk through downtown Austin. I stopped and shot whatever caught my eye and, of course, I shot all of it handheld. The camera focused the lens quickly. I used aperture priority to keep the lens wide open all the way through the focal length range. 

These are the images I got. The lens is quick and easy to use and balances well on the EM5 series cameras. The  images are a little flat (low contrast) but there's an easy fix for that in Lightroom. 

I think I'll keep mine. 

Look for a rebate!

Shooting with the new Berlebach wooden monopod. On site at the JW Marriott Hotel.

The uni-directional head on the top of the Berlebach "crutch". 

Right off the bat I'll say that I loved working with new monopod and a Nikon D610 + the Nikon 24-120mm f4 lens. The combination of vibration reduction in the lens and the added stability of the monopod made for a quick shooting day yesterday and no failures due to camera shake. None. The monopod only has two sections so there is only one leg lock, and it's easy to get to and easy to set. There's even a scale on one of the leg sections so you can find your preferred settings and return to them quickly.

The one thing that's always vexed me when using monopods without a head of some sort is trying to take verticals. Of course it's pretty much impossible to do with one's camera screwed directly onto of the monopod but I've always found conventional ballhead to be cumbersome on a stick because I don't really want the all directional capability of the bullhead when I release the lock. Mostly I just need to be able to tilt up and down. If I need to rotate the camera I can just rotate the whole thing. Same with side to side tilts.

The one thing I wasn't sure of with the "pan only" design of the Berlebach was how to handle verticals. It's easy as pie. One loosens the screw enough to turn the camera sideways across the head and then flips the head 90 degrees to one side. Instant vertical orientation. 

I'd forgotten how nice it is to have all the weight of a camera and lens on a support when doing the kind of job that requires moving, waiting, shooting and waiting some more (mostly waiting for show attendees to move along so I could photograph signage and stuff, unpopulated). When standing around waiting you have all the effects of gravity transferred to the "stick" rather than to your shoulder, via a strap; or to your arms and shoulders, via handholding. 

The other nice thing about this particular monopod, in its natural wood finish, was how nicely most of the people I encountered treated me when I carried it or used it. Everyone seemed especially solicitous yesterday. Then, of course, I found out that many people thought the wooden tripod was some sort of crutch! Inference: I had some sort of disability!! Well, other than wanting to be a photographer I am not particularly disabled but I thought the immediate connection of the tripod to a crutch was humorous.

Better for people to think it is some sort of medical device rather than concluding that it is some sort of weapon, as people sometimes do with the black monopod I used to carry around. Collapsed the Leitz monopod did remind law enforcement and security people of a collapsible, tactical baton. Ah well. Symbols, symbols. 

The Freescale FTF show is in full swing. The main session for today just wrapped up. The keynote speaker was Steve Wozniak, one of the two founders of Apple. He was speaking about the future of technology. Very interesting.....  While the show goes on my part is complete and the images I shot Sunday and yesterday have all been retouched and delivered. 

I'm spending most of today packing up for our upcoming math education conference at the AT&T Conference Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I start tomorrow morning and end on Saturday afternoon. It's a quiet, congenial, collegial conference; filled with nice, bright people and lots of discussions about teaching, learning and sharing. The two conferences, one in the commercial/technology world and one in the world of education, are so different in character and feel. Each one is fun. Only one is moderately stressful.

I still haven't decided on which camera system I'll use for the math conference. I used the Nikon on the tech job but I'm leaning toward the smaller cameras for the math people. Charging batteries for both so I guess I'll decide an hour before I head to bed. 

I love the new "wraps" people are using to temporarily brand show venues.
And I love this year's designs for FTF.

Getting ready for technical break out sessions at the JW.

Lobby branding for the technical showcase at Freescale's FTF show.


A Rookie Mistake. I Make It Every Year. Beware the Air Conditioning...

Was the Nikon 24-120 a bit soft....?

Naw. I just made a rookie mistake. I spent the morning is the JW Marriott Hotel documenting various parts of the Freescale Semiconductor FTF show and I (like most Texans) luxuriated in the arctic quality air conditioning. It's been rainy for, like, 5,000 days straight and now that Summer is heating up it's humidity soup outside. I walked around in the 60 degree (f) air conditioning enjoying the minus 15% humidity in the lushly carpeted hallways of this new hotel and then, when I stepped out of the hotel with my camera on a monopod, slung over my shoulder, the front element of my camera's lens condensed over like a cold can of Lone Star beer on a blazing hot day. For a few minutes the condensation was as thick and opaque as a lens cap but left alone for ten minutes it began to clear. 

I took the image above, of the Computer Science Corporation building, to remind me of what happens to the gear with sudden changes in temperatures and atmospheric wetness. I did resist the temptation to swab at it with a shirt tail or old piece of burlap.....

I'm sure people want to know how I liked the Nikon 24-120mm lens so here goes: Don't try to use this lens for anything with straight lines while shooting raw unless you are certain that you'll be using the latest revision of Lightroom or Photoshop with the included lens profile for this item. The uncorrected distortion is almost psychedelic. One click makes the lens as straight and true as a German macro lens. The combination of the software and the high inherent sharpness of the lens is a good team and I was well served. The nano crystal lens coating seems miraculous and resisted any flare; even when pointed directly into spot lights.

Have you noticed that there is a panel within the basic lens correction menu in Lightroom that gives you auto corrections for vertical perspective and other kinds of geometric user errors? It's called "Upright" and it is suggested that you first enable profile corrections and then choose from: auto, level (yes, it levels things in your image), vertical (one dimension) and full. 

So maybe you tilted your camera backwards to get in the top of a sign you are photographing. Now the sign keystones. One click on the "auto" correction gets you back to normal straight lines. I used this control set 226 times today to make small but noticeable corrections to files of signage, decor and room shots. It was fun, quick, efficient and charming. Much, much faster than trying to do the same thing manually with "transform."

You probably already knew it was there. I am a slow learner...

OT: Arugula and Avocado Salad. With Vinegar and Oil.

We just whipped this up on Sunday and I loved the mix of flavors. Served alongside a nice New York Strip. 


Curious to know whose photography or video blogs you read after you make your very first stop of the day at VSL....???

I'm always curious about new blogs or blogs I have missed that either showcase good photography or have some unique viewpoint about cameras, lenses, lighting and technique. I try to balance topics here but I'm an avid reader of other blogs as well. I suspect you are as well. Please consider sharing fun to read blog resources that you read on a regular basis.

As I am asking the question I guess I'll get the ball rolling.

My favorites, in no particular order, are:

The Luminous Landscape 

The Online Photographer 

Bythom (Thom Hogan's site)

Dedpxl (Zack Arias)

Petapixel is a good aggregator

Robin Wong

Ming Thein



The Camera Store TV (video programming about cameras)

Help me find more and share them.

edit: definitely list your own blog if you have one!

Reasonable and appropriate lens buying. Part two. A do-everything zoom?

The Nikon 24-120mm f4.0G lens is not big news.
But it may be a good problem solver for event shooters.

I know it's the opinion of many of my friends and colleagues that I should just calm down, buy into one system for the long run, and use the same cameras and lenses, day in and day out, until technology makes big leaps or the market drops dead. But they all know that this is probably not going to happen at the VSL H.Q. I get bored doing the same thing over and over again and I get even more bored doing the same things over and over again with the same cameras and lenses. Lately, I am trying to be a bit more rational and so I've really tried thinking through the cameras and lenses that might be the best fit for two different assignments this week. 

Tomorrow I need to go to a technology conference and shoot all of the signage, decor, staging and convention style showcases and demo areas for the production company that's producing the show. No talking heads, not fast moving action, just good documentation of a lot of fun graphics stuff. There are two advantages to this job: one advantage is that the graphics and signage materials are beautifully designed and extremely well implemented, and the second advantage is that the show is mostly contained on three floors of a new, big, shiny convention hotel right in the middle of downtown just across the street from Medici Coffee House. I think I may even be able to ride the bus to this job. How novel!

This kind of shooting mostly involves walking around looking for good shooting angles, staying out the client's way and making exposure choices based on how well lit everything is. In this instance I think flexibility with the gear is important. That and image quality. 

I won't have the opportunity to light anything (other than what I might be able to do with on camera flash) and there is a lot to do in a proscribed amount of time, and that led me to start considering a lens that would cover everything from a wide angle point of view to a very tight headshot crop. I used to own a Canon 24-105mm L series lens and found it to be incredibly useful so I started looking for its counterpart in the Nikon lens catalog and came across the 24-120mm f4 (the newest version of three). 

The reviews on this lens are decidedly mixed (from the pundits) but the overwhelming number of ordinary consumer reviews on Amazon and B&H Photo are four or five stars. The biggest two gripes are that the lens has a lot of geometric distortion (it does) and that it isn't as sharp at 120mm at it is at the rest of the focal lengths. 

I decided to buy a copy and test it, knowing that I could take it back if I wasn't satisfied with the performance. I bought the lens on Saturday at Precision Camera and spent Sunday afternoon shooting with it on a


Reasonable and appropriate lens buying that I was easily able to rationalize. At least to myself. One from Nikon and one from Olympus. Why play favorites? First up: Olympus.

If memory serves correctly this lens is the fourth one in the short history of micro-four-thirds lenses with the focal length of 40-150mm and a maximum aperture of f4.0-5.6. The "R" designates that it is the version with an aspherical element and an "HR" element. It's one of Olympus's "high grade" series of lenses (according the the fact sheet on B&H Photo) so I think you can expect that it's not a bad lens. Time will tell but my early shots, wide open, seem sharp, detailed and nice. 

So, why did I buy a cheap, kit class 40-150mm instead of the new, super premium f2.8 "Pro" model from Olympus? I'm booked to shoot two different conference/events in the upcoming week and I'm torn between shooting with the (much) heavier Nikons or the much more convenient Olympus cameras. 

If I chose the Nikons (two D610s) I would want to use an all purpose, all terrain lens that covers a wide range effectively and then bring a longer zoom for just in case. If I choose the Olympus cameras (two EM5.2s) I needed something longer than the 60mm Sigma or 60mm Olympus Pen FT f1.5 lens to get images of speakers on stage in a giant ballroom. Since I rarely need longer lenses for the Olympus cameras and because I see myself doing more and more commercial work with the Nikons I wasn't ready to pony up a small fortune for the premium Olympus optic if I thought I could use something less pricey and

Renae with Seagull camera. Camera subsequently donated to a photo student whose own camera was stolen.

My camera: Leica R8
Lens: 50mm Summilux
Film: Agfapan APX 100

Twin lens cameras are great to learn with. 
If you are into film. 

Printing apparatus. Lithoprint. Austin, Texas. Person press checking a job in the background.

Alternative metering?

Press Proof and Printer. Packaging printing for Chanel perfume boxes. Primary Packing. New York City.

Camera: Hasselblad 201F
Lens: (top): 50mm f2.8 Zeiss
Film: Kodak Tri-X
Printing paper: Seagull DW

Side Street in Rome. 1995. All square, all the time.

Mamiya 6 camera.
75mm lens. 
Kodak 400 CN chromogenic B&W film. 

Looking Straight Up at the Ceiling in the Alexander Palace. St. Petersburg, Russia 1995.

Cold, wet snow outside. Interiors warmed by too hot radiators. A Texan in Polartec taking portraits of the ceiling, toes thawing out. In the times before digital we shot one or two frames and then moved on. One or two frames were just enough if you knew how to read your handheld meter.

Portrait for the Austin Lyric Opera. An ad campaign some years back...

Kodak DCS 760C. Nikon 105mm f2.0 DC lens. 
Tungsten lighting. 

Happy Father's Day (where applicable) to all the VSL readers.

Wine. Shot with iPhone 4s. 

Ben got me some good wine and my wife (as a joke) got me a table top tripod made for cellphones (yes, she reads the blog...). I put the second gift to good use immediately. This is a shot of my Father's Day bounty from my vantage point at the kitchen table.  I can hardly wait to start uploading all sorts of images from my now stable cellphone to Instagram. Soon you'll be able to see all the mundane facets of my daily life...... Ah, interconnectivity.

Seriously though, Happy Father's day to all. If you didn't get something you wanted from your family you can always head on over to the camera store and snag some little jewel you've been pondering.