In Praise of good, cheap lenses. Let's start with the Nikon 50mm f1.8G.

I had a little revelation on Friday. I'd been getting comfortable with the new D750 but in the momentary compulsion to aim for perfection (not a trait I usually aspire to in my work...) I had, of course, stuck the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens on the front of this willowy camera. I liked everything I shot with the combo but it sure got heavy quickly and it really felt front heavy. Out of balance. I'm totally okay with that when I'm working because I'm willing to make some compromises to get the clients what they need. That's especially true if the compromise is a little extra weight and a little less balanced of a hand holdable package.

But walking around shooting for fun in the 100+ degree heat and just photographing stuff for my own pleasure is a whole different issue. It's too easy for my hands and shoulders to compare the burden of a bigger camera since they still have pleasant memories of recent forays with Olympus EM5.2s. (And you may be interested to know that much as I like the battery grips on the EM5.2s when the Summer temperatures crest 100, and I am out walking instead of driving an air conditioned car, the grips come off and stay in the equipment drawer).

With all this in mind I looked into the Nikon drawer and spied a lens that was definitely not getting its fair share of love since the arrival of the Sigma 50; it was the Nikon 50mm f1.8G lens that I picked up back when I first re-entered the system. I switched it onto the front of the D750 and instantly rejoiced. The balance is perfect. Just perfect. I put on the hood, tossed the lens cap in a drawer, and went out for a long walk. The camera is just right with this smaller, lighter prime.

While the Sigma is significantly better at the widest apertures the Nikon is not at all bad and by f2.8 it shapes up nicely. When I start shooting stuff in the f4.0 to f8.0 range, handheld, any difference between the two 50's is so effectively masked by my human frailty that there is no reason to choose one over the other except for parameters of handling and weight--- one area where the Nikon 50mm just walks all over the front heavy Sigma.

Whenever I put an inexpensive 50mm lens on the front of a full frame camera it takes me right back to some of my very first film camera experiences and gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. The combination of the 50mm 1.8G and the D750 reminded me of one of my first good camera and lens combos in that the lens is a chameleon (it can be "wide" or "long" depending on how you use it...) and the body becomes invisible. Everything just works.

We always assume that the lenses made in tiny batches and selling for ruinous sums must be much superior, optically, to the everyday, pedestrian lenses but I think this is not so. I think that producing a lens like the 50mm f1.8, in bulk, flattens out production problems over time and gives the maker a lot more metrics to work with in engineering improvements to both the designs and the manufacturing processes. The more "hand made" lenses are these days the more "leaky gaskets of error" there must be. Humans can be so fallible and I sincerely doubt that many of the lenses we might consider to be "luxury" models in a maker's line are subject to any more testing than the regular product lines.

Of all the different focal lengths I've shot over the years I always find the disappointments or flaws to occur in the lenses that have cost me the most money. The fewest "bad samples" come from the basic and inexpensive prime lenses. There's just a heck of a lot less to go wrong. And since most of them are modified designs of optical classics that have been around for years, you are getting decades, maybe centuries now, of R and D benefit in even the lowliest standard prime. Something to think about when you want to travel lightly and without excess financial frisson.

Just a few thoughts I was having as I was fixing the family's clothes dryer... One hint: It's always the lint traps...


Elinchrom Lights Need a New Home. Too Crowded in Their Current Environment. Swiss Flash, Cheap.

I was out impulse shopping last week and came across a set of lights in a case that I couldn't pass up for the price. It was a lightly used set of Photogenic Powerlight 1250 DR's (monolights) , complete with brand new, medium sized Photoflex Platinum soft boxes, Chimera quick release speed rings and an almost new, Kata large rolling case. Turn key for about $600. I brought them home, played with them. Liked them and decided that having two different sets of monolights is NOT downsizing. One set has to go. Since I'm still in the honeymoon period with the Photogenics it looks like I'm breaking up with the Elinchrom monolights. 

I sold off my Profoto strobes to buy four Elinchrom D-Lites because I was also using an Elinchrom Ranger RX AS power pack and heads and they all shared the same reflectors and other accessories. This model, the Elinchrom D-Lite4 it has a lot of great features. First of all, each one of these is about 1/3 the weight of my older, power equivalent Profoto monolights. The interface on the back is digital and the lights have built in thermal protection and cooling fans. The D-Lite 4 it is a 400 watt second unit with a recycling time of around 1.6 seconds at full power and a full power flash time of 1/800th. 
You can use the digital controls on the back to change the power settings from full down to some small minimum in 1/10th stop increments. You can ratio the modeling light, use it on full or turn it off altogether. 

I bought all four of my Elinchrom D-Lite 4 it flashes back in June or July of 2011 but they came at a time when I was omitted with LEDs and then fluorescent lights so they haven't seen the daily, hard work they would have had they arrived on my scene back in the earlier days. All four work well, haven't been dropped and aren't beaten up. They come with a protective front cap made of some space age polycarbonate. They come with a 100 watt modeling light and a sync cord. They have a built in optical slave but, unlike the model replacing them now, they don't have built in radio slaves. 

I am hoping to sell them to someone who needs a good set of lights and who lives somewhere within 100 miles of Austin but if that doesn't happen I'll be happy to sell them and ship them anywhere in the Continental U.S.A. I'm asking $125 for each one. Buy all four and you can have them for $400. Since I don't offer Kirk Prime there will also be a packing and shipping charge of $15 per light or $25 for all four lights shipped to the same address. 

If you are interested send me along your queries via the moderated comments on this blog. I won't post your comments if they are about the purchase of these units but will use it to get in touch with you so be sure to leave me an e-mail address to respond to. 

Help me downsize yet again!  

Edit: August 10th. Thank you! The lights have been sold. 

Extra bonus: free personal delivery and free coffee conversation for purchaser 
located in Austin. 

Reader, Ken, helps me open a new bag of worms. "Do I miss the GH4?" Do I feel I have the right tools for the job? (worms no longer come in cans....).

August. Every day over 100(f). This is the month to spend time at Barton Springs.

Everything seems to move so fast for photographers and videographers and yet everything seems to move glacially slowly for client adaptation. Get photographers or videographers together and many times the subject of conversation circles around to the latest technologies; and is accompanied with the implicit understanding that we must continually upgrade to the latest stuff just to survive in some sort of ultra-Darwinian marketplace (wrong assumption, IMHO). I'm a part-time victim of that process. I buy into the excitement and fear of tech advances and then I rationalize my way back out again. I sing the praises of the Nikon D810 and then do a wonderful job on a project with the tiny Olympus cameras. In the end it helps that I am married to an award winning, and very wise, graphic designer. 

She is currently working in a large, good ad agency in Austin, Texas. She is part of a team working on national and international ads. Her point of view on gear and camera tech?: Nobody in Advertising Cares as Long as the Image Looks Great.  And when she says, "Looks Great." she is never talking about resolution or even dynamic range but always about: gesture, pose, expression, color design, composition, propping, styling and timing. People who work with images everyday in their jobs and are responsible for knowing how things will print and how they will look on posters, or brochures, or as tiny web snippets, have long known, or sensed, that our cameras hit the point of sufficiency years ago. They laugh at us for worrying about the difference between 16 pixels and 18 pixels or 24 pixels. Doesn't matter as long as the image looks great. 

Let me explain the term: sufficiency. 

The first time I read it I was over on Ming Thein's website reading some


What sort of camera madness have I participated in today? Oh, I remember, I swam the masters workout and then headed to Precision Camera to buy a brand new camera. I really, really needed one. Hmmm.

August is a dangerous month. Fraught with all kinds of odd impulses. Way too hot for rational thought to prevail. What's a guy going to do? But let's set this up first and at least give me a chance to rationalize yet another zany and seemingly inexplicable camera purchase (full price, no special dispensation for brilliant blog writers...).

I've been playing diligently with video this year and I'm mixing with bad company. These video guys make photographers look like depression era shoppers. And when they add stuff to their "carts" the prices seem astronomical to me. According to them you can buy a Sony FS7, 4K super 35 video camera for a bit less than than $9,000 but in their opinions the camera requires another three or four thousand dollars invested in cages, follow focus stuff, monitors, memory cards and such before you can really, you know, use it. And then you'll need a lens. Or lenses.

These days all the video guys are excited and fidgety about the newest Sony camera, the A7R-2 and they are lining up only to be told that it's now effectively backordered. Amazon.com had them yesterday but today they are saying "deliverable in one to two months." But you know how those guys over at Precision Camera are always looking out for my best interests so they took it upon themselves to place me at the top of the pre-order list for the Sony A7R-2. Yesterday they called and let me know that they'd gotten a handful in and they had one with my name on the box. Did I


Since the buying of lenses has become akin to seasonal fashion shopping I thought I would re-introduce one of my favorite lenses from many seasons past. And talk about it a bit.

When I first read about the Samyang (Rokinon, Bower, etc...) 14mm f2.8 lens I was very skeptical. The lens has a focal length that has been historically hard to design and equally hard to build without a lot of sample to sample variation. That it was also a fast (relatively speaking) f-stop lens also gave me pause because, from what I've read about lens design, the faster the maximum aperture the harder it is to correct for any number of things. By the time my overactive curiosity gland kicked in there were several hundred passionate reviews on Amazon.com which variously described the lens as 
"incredible" and also "mediocre." 

When I happened to find one used, with box, in perfect condition (the Cine Version) for about $200 I decided that any risk was minimal and the upside could be interesting.

My first forays with the lens were in the nature of a gear packing afterthought. If I was going to go photograph attorneys and their new, wonderful offices, I would take it along on the off chance that a super wide shot of their lobby might be different and effective. I also took it along on several industrial projects but my experiences with ultra wide lenses was not deep and I couldn't get the hang of composing with so much stuff in the frame. 

At this point though I could make a complete catalog of the good and bad points of the lens. To start with it has some severe distortion that is often described as "mustache" distortion because