The camera and lens that sucked me right back into the Nikon system this time...

This bust lives at the Blanton Museum in Austin.
I like to photograph the statues when I'm playing around 
with new photographic equipment.  They don't move around and blink.
I shot this with a Nikon D610 using a Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art Lens. 

I shot the image at f2.0. 
1/400th of a second. 

The quality of the resulting image led me to understand 
that the combination had characteristics I liked. 
From that point onward I've been buying lenses 
I like for the system along with several new bodies. 

I certainly love this focal length. 
And, at nearly wide open the Art lens 
is pretty compelling. 

I think I'll keep it.

Kirk's Books on Amazon

I"ve made at least two really good lens purchases this year. This is the one I find most intriguing.

It's a Nikon lens made a long time ago. It's the 25-50mm f4.0. I saw it sitting on the used shelf over at Precision Camera and I haggled on the price until it didn't make sense any more to leave it on the shelf. On a full frame camera it's ---- a 25-50mm equivalent (snicker).

Last night I found an interesting article about this lens and quite a few other Nikon lenses at a site I have never visited before. You might enjoy the articles there; especially if you are inclined to appreciate and enjoy some of the classic, older, Nikon manual focus lenses. The articles I found are on a Nikon website, tucked into a part of the site called, "Nikkor."

Here's the article I read about the 25-50mm lens: http://www.nikkor.com/story/0046/ The discussion of the design parameters and the process of creating the lens are very interesting. Even more interesting is just how good this lens is and how well it stands the tests of time.

I'd love to link to some retail website so you can order one and I can get a commission but, as you can see in the article, they stopped making this one (and a few other favorites of mine) a long time ago (1981).

We'll just have to enjoy the reading and keep our eyes peeled for mint examples, out in the wild...

There are articles at the site on several of my other favorite Nikon lenses; including: the 105mm f2.5 ai and the 135mm f2.0 ai. If you are a dyed in the wool Canon shooter you can ignore this.

Kirk's Books on Amazonhttp://amzn.to/1IYPzXc

Just clowning around. Austin Lyric Opera.

Sony a99 + Sony 70-200mm f2.8.

OT: looking forward to a special swim practice on Monday the 21st.

Here's the pool I swim in. It's beautiful. It's heated in the winter to 80 degrees. It's chilled in the Summer to 82 degrees. The only times we don't have masters swim practices are on (most) Mondays, big holidays and when there's ice all over the deck (safety issue).

Today I went to the noon practice and swam with a guy named, Tom. Our coach wrote a fun workout on the board and we dragged ourselves up and down the pool, bracketed by faster swimmers in the lane on one side and slower swimmers in the lane on the other side. We knocked out about 3,000 yards from noon until 1 pm and that was that.

After swim practice I pulled on some running shoes, and a pair of running shorts, and did a leisurely run down at the lake. There are three loops most people run. There's a 2.9 mile loop, one that's about 4.5 miles and a third that's around 7 miles. If you are really ambitious you can run from Mopac to the damn on the east side of downtown, and then back around on the other side of the lake for a bit more than 12 miles. I'd already swum so the shortest loop felt like a good option to me.

That's all pretty routine, but I was excited to hear about one cool, upcoming workout that should be a lot of fun for obsessive swimmers; it's this coming Monday morning and it's 10,000 yards. We start at 8:30 am and we do 100 x 100 yards on a one minute and forty second interval. For non swimmers this means you have one minute and forty seconds to swim 100 years and, if possible get a few seconds rest. You leave on a new 100 yard swim (four laps of the 25 yard pool, per) every minute and forty seconds.  Until you've done this one hundred times in a row.

Everyone is going on the same interval. No faster lanes and no slower lanes. If we stay on pace and do the whole set we'll have swum 10,000 yards in about 2.5 hours. That's about 6.2 miles and 300 flip turns. I think I'll be ready for a big lunch right after this....

This has absolutely nothing to do with new cameras or photography of any kind. I write about it because I think it's important for photographers (and everyone else) to think about getting exercise and staying in good physical condition. I believe that when you are in good physical shape your brain is sharper, your attention is more acute. The discipline of exercising regularly also translates into habitual discipline in other areas; like photography. You can carry more, go further, stay in the field longer and be present to take advantage of chance interactions with nature or whatever it is you shoot.

Here's a link to the U.S. Masters Swimming: http://www.usms.org

Real skin versus retouched skin. Lenses, lighting and signatures.

There is a technique I sometimes use to repress detail on problem skin. I make a duplicate layer of a portrait, introduce a gaussian blur at 28.5 pixels, hit the quick mask icon at the bottom of the layer menu box and then use a paintbrush, set to 20% opacity to brush in a softness to the image. The benefit of this very simple method is that I can use the opacity slider in the layers panel to pull back on the effect. I try to be judicious when I use this method because I think most people's eyes are very good at seeing this "deception."

I try not to use any blurring techniques for most portraits. It really all depends on the skin quality and the way a portrait is lit. Contrasty lighting can make even the nicest skin look worse. Clients with big pores or rough skin texture love the softening effect and, when the images are for their use, I am not disinclined to please them. When I photograph for myself though I am too keenly aware that the introduction of the softening technique diminishes the value I find for myself in prints and images. I can only conjecture the same is true for my intended audience for these sorts of portraits = VSL readers and others who appreciate photographs.

The image above uses no post processing blur technique but takes advantage of a close, large diffuser to moderate the transitions between highlights, midtones and shadow areas. In this regard shooting with 14 bit raw files is helpful to prevent even slight banding in shadow areas and transition areas by dint of throwing more information into the mapping mix. That my model is young, has great skin, and has used make up well, is a big benefit to the final image as I pre-visualized it. (Actually, I can only pre-visualize in giant swaths, like putting up a big fence. Everything creative happens unconsciously in smaller sections of the big fence, mental ranch).

One uses retouching on images when there are details that take attention away from the main goal, a subjective but positive rendering of the subject in it's holistic form. At times one must "kill" the details so the whole construct can serve its purpose.

The right lens can also help. I am doing more and more research into why various lenses were designed to function the way that they are. I started getting interested when I discovered that the lenses that made the best black and white images for me were one with under corrected spherical aberrations. Those would include the 135mm f2.0 I recently picked up, as well as the raft of 105mm f2.5 Nikons I've been collecting.

There is a similarity between them which is a signature of sorts. Stopped down they rival anything out there for sharpness  but at the wider apertures they create out of focus backgrounds that have a very pleasing aesthetic look. I know that the current mania, at least in the U.S., is to value a lens based on its ultimate sharpness. As I get more experience under my belt, and shoot more portraits, I'm beginning to think there are other considerations in lens design (and performance) that are equally, if not more, important.

My friends wonder sometimes why I seem to have a preference for older optics. It's not that I want the burden of manually focusing these lenses, it's that they render photographs of things in a way that seems both more pleasing and more real to me.....regardless of which camera I use them on.

Besides, if everyone photographs with the same little trio of zoom lenses then visual life gets boring.

reflect and direct.


What's on your "photographic" Holiday wish list? What do you hope Santa drops (gently) down your chimney?

Martin Burke and Meredith McCall in a series of images
marketing "Santaland Diaries" at Zach Theatre.

It's a tradition for photographers who blog to do a laundry list of stuff they recommend to their readers. I presume that the conceit is that you would never have heard of these products if talented bloggers had not brought them to your attention. And now that you've been informed the smart thing to do is to click through the links supplied and make sure you get that perfect camera, lens or light before the stores run out. Or before the companies making the goodies decide to give up and move on to greener pastures; like the design and marketing of innovative new microwave ovens and smart phones. 

I thought I'd take a different tack and ask you what you are actually interested in getting for yourself during this holiday season. And I thought I'd start the ball rolling by letting you know which two or three things I have bouncing around in my head right now:

1. Since I'm a sucker for the "idea" of really good lenses the first item is a "want" and not a "need." I have my mind set on thinking-about-getting (as opposed to actually getting) that Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 zoom lens I rattled on about a few weeks past. I love big, heavy zooms because the implication is that fewer compromises in design and construction were made. My fantasy for this lens is that every time I need a wide angle of some sort I'll be able to put one of these amazing lenses on a D810 and out image the hell out of everyone else.  Buildings will be sharper and more three dimensional, faces more animated and products made more desirable just from having been photographed by this two pound wonder lens. The fantasy continues all the way through post production when I will hand a finished print to a client who will be so impressed, and content fulfilled, that he or she will faint onto a convenient settee and need to be revived with smelling salts. 

The reality might turn out to be that I buy one and compare it to my ancient, Nikon 25-50mm f4.0 and realize that the old lens is at least 90% of the new lens but is already paid for and nicely broken in. But by then I'll be too embarrassed to sell the new lens or return it because of the amount of uninformed gushing I have been doing on my blog.

2. All of a sudden I want a Nikon D4S. Don't know why. Maybe it's a reaction to all the pixie cameras I've been buying and using over the past five years. Maybe I believe that if I spend obscene amounts of money on a camera that it will have special imaging powers that most people don't understand. Maybe I want a camera with a battery that lasts all week instead of all day (or just a couple of hours). 
I'm pretty sure I'm not going to buy one of these either. But I'm sure if I wore it around my neck all day as I walked around downtown two things might happen: a. A lot of people will ask me if I am a "full time," "professional" photographer. And, b. I will have a very sore neck by the end of the day. 

There are things to like about the big camera. The finder is extremely nice. The sensor is supposed to be extremely good, and it will most likely take more of a beating that a more reasonably sized and priced camera.

All very rational stuff but I'd still like to find one in my stocking this year ---- unless those people at Nikon want to buy me off for a while by sending me a D5 for free instead. I'll take a prototype, as long as the firmware is upgradable...

3.  I would dearly love to have a Leica M4. The original M4, not the "P" version. I'm a little light on M bodies since I lost one in that horrible Range Rover accident in Lisbon. That's what I get for loaning equipment to Henry White.  If you are sending me one as a gift for all of my hard work and brilliant (and funny) writing here on the blog, save yourself some money and don't send along a 50mm lens for it. I already have one that will work. This is one camera I would buy, if I had the money and could find one in mint condition (black, enamel, please). 

Those are all my camera, self-gift fantasies for right now. Sad (or happy) thing is that I can't really think of anything I need, photographically. Nothing I can point to and say, "Not having this is holding me back!" But it's nice to think about what I would buy if I got all capricious and silly and went on a spending binge. But that will have to wait a while as most of my extra cash goes off to a college somewhere. 

So, this is the interactive part. Is there some cool stuff that's not on my radar? A camera out of the mainstream that we haven't written about? Some product or finely crafted tool that you think all VSL readers might need to know about? What do you want for the holiday? Tell us in the comments.

(and yes, I think all of us would list PEACE ON EARTH, and all the other planets too...)

Coolest lenses?
Coolest cameras (existing or imagined)?
Coolest lights?
Coolest light modifiers?
It's kind of an open forum: Go!

Sorry. No gratuitous links. You'll have to look up your own "must have" gear.

This used to be the view walking toward downtown Austin. Now it's littered with high rise buildings. I guess that's not so bad.

I was struck more by the range of colors and tones of this image. It was not taken with one of the modern, super cameras but with an older, Kodak SLR/n. That was a bitchy camera that often stopped to "recalibrate" itself in the middle of a shoot, but when it was good it was very good.

Every model of camera has its own palette. Some more interesting than others. The one area in which the old Kodaks excelled was in the rendition of skin tones and colors. Operationally it was less wonderful. But back then we had to suffer a bit for our art.....

A portrait of Belinda.


Someone recently suggested that I only want to shoot "beautiful" people. This is true. But one's definition of beauty can be so wide and encompassing as to include the majority of people one meets in life. Sometimes we are "blinded by love." But most of the time I like to think people don't work hard enough at finding the combination of things that make a person "beautiful."

Eyes. Poise. Strength. Wisdom. Calmness. Being comfortable in one's own skin. These things are the nature of beauty. Harder maybe to capture in photography than traditional measures of beauty, but more permanent and engaging. 

People have said that a portrait can only capture what is on the surface. I think a subject's presentation and energy can provide much more.

We just need to shoot with more appreciation for the beauty that exists at a remove from popular culture's glossy surface.


Portraits. Sometimes it is the quiet moments that seem to bring forward images we didn't think about when we started our sessions.

Fadya and I were in the studio making portraits. There was a lull in the conversation. Things were quiet. She looked away and I shot a frame of that pose. It's not one of the compositions I generally try to work within but it seemed to me to reveal a different perspective about my subject.

On a technical note, the image above reaffirms my preference to work with continuous light sources when making portraits. I know that flash is all the rage but..... When I work with continuous light sources there is always a softness within the detail that feels seems more natural. Skin is smoother without resorting to typical post production. The need for the sitter and photographer to be more synchronized when it comes to motion and stillness creates even more of a collaborative spirit.

This image was lit with a K5600 HMI light bouncing into a large umbrella. A second HMI light head was aimed at the background. It's simple lighting. But light is always simple in the real world.

Have you tried my favorite portrait exercise? It goes like this: Find a model who is also an interesting person and who is patient. Set up your lighting and camera before the subject gets to the studio. Make tea or coffee for your subject when they arrive. Have the subject settle into their space on their designated chair, posing stool or whatever. Sit on a chair or stool next to your camera. Ask them about their day. Ask them about their kids. As them about their passion in life. Ask them where they grew up and what their favorite kind of food is. Ask them what ideas they have when the think about portraits. Ask them what they want to be doing next week, next month and next year. Let them talk. Sip coffee or tea. Find the things you have in common. Listen to the things that they are focused on.

Then, tell them about the portrait process you are trying to do. Tell them what they can do to help you make the process work. Tell them what your goal in this project is.

Once you've discussed these things, and you've both had a warm beverage, and you are both comfortable. Start the process of making the portrait. Only at this point should you begin to handle the camera.

Finally, don't hide behind the camera. It severs the connection you have both tried hard to build.

Some Thoughts about Holiday Marketing.

If you are the marketing director of a regional theater, and holiday plays are a big part of your yearly budget, it makes good sense to advertise as hard as you can during the last quarter of the year. If you have a retail store and you sell seasonal (4th Q) holiday stuff I think marketing is also strongly indicated. If you are a restaurant that can host large gatherings then, yes, go, market. But, if you are an advertising photographer who isn't interested in developing a following in family portraits or making hundreds of photos with Santa at the mall, you might want to delay your marketing push just a bit.

Relax and let your advertising agency clients and marcom directors, your product managers and your corporate communications people have a little breathing space. The budgets for 2015 are mostly gone by now and very, very few people are rushing to spend on, and produce, big projects right down the middle of the holidays. Seriously. My wife works at an advertising agency and I spent eight years in an advertising agency, and at this point in any given year the focus is on final execution. Is that brochure back from the printers? Is the new website up and running? Did the magazine insertions drop on time? Did we finish getting our clients' holiday cards to the list/sort provider? Did we get our corporate gifts out to the clients who pay attention to those little niceties?

I'm going to think that having you send them yet another e-mail blast about your latest project is something that's really far down the list of priorities for them right now, especially given their time management struggles of the season.

I certainly don't think you shouldn't reach out to your clients at this time of year but it's time to do it graciously, and with a light touch. A given is to send a tasteful and thoughtful holiday card along with a very brief note of thanks for making our year so great. If you must make your card all photographic think about making your card clever and fun instead of making it yet another folded, mailable, mini-billboard for your awesome capabilities.

If you have happy, continuing clients you might consider sending over a tray of holiday cookies from one of the premier bakeries in your town. Just send a small note along, don't bother having your business logo emblazoned with icing on the top of every cookie. If you know what your direct contact likes to drink (alcohol-wise) a discreetly delivered bottle of their favorite beverage is always well received but, please, no note that tells them you'd like to help them drink your gift.

The holidays are a time to be mellow and sincere and human. It's too easy for a promotion, timed to the holidays, to go dreadfully wrong and send a shallow, callow message.

Now, the time to go for the marketing juglar vein is the second full week of January. Save your resources and ready your campaign for the second and third critical weeks of the first quarter. That's when your client's wonderful children are safely back at school. The in-laws are long gone. The gifts are exchanged for all the things people really wanted. Staying home and doing chores is wearing thin for most of your clients. AND, they are just then sitting down to do strategic planning for the rest of the year. That's when you need to deliver your best shot. Or series of shots. A nice New Years postcard, followed by an e-mail blast, followed by a request to show new work, followed by a follow up card. A link to your new video project. Etc.

I can pretty much guarantee that your fusillade during the critical holiday weeks will get totally lost in the clutter or tossed by an overworked art director rushing to get gifts at the last minute. I can't guarantee your success in an early in the year surge but I can tell you that it works pretty well for the people who try it. By week three of January people are bored to be back at work and thrilled to look at anything you send them. Distractions welcome.

But all this means you have to be patient and get prepared. It's almost here. 

Love at first click. I've just used the new (to me) Nikkor 135mm f2.0 lens in the studio for a commissioned portrait and I couldn't be happier. Can't you tell from the expression on my self portrait? (recent edit, additions).

Amazing what a haircut, a shave and a cup of coffee can do...
This is today's before and after selfie event.

I wrote about waking up with a vision of a certain lens in my mind and then finding that exact lens later in the day. It all happened last week. Was it just Friday?

I made sure the lens worked as it should over the weekend and then, this morning, I used it to photograph a radiologist here in my west Austin studio. I used the lens the way I intended to: with continuous lighting, camera and lens on a steady tripod, and the aperture of the lens nearly wide open. My results were right on the mark. I loved what I saw through the lens and was very happy upon examining the 47 different files on my 27 inch screen.

As a side note, I think the reason so many people are happy when they shoot portraits on a Nikon D810, is that the camera has so much dynamic range that, when shooting in the low to middle ISO range the camera delivers the kind of exposure latitude we used to depend on when using color negative film. This is especially true if you are shooting 14 bit, uncompressed raw files. The amount of information in the files is massive and the dynamic range is very good at helping photographers preserve detail in the highlights and shadows.

I lit the doctor's portrait with LED lights. I use a 6x6 foot scrim to one side, angled from right next to the camera to about four feet out from the doctor at the other end of the panel. Two LEDs were aimed at the scrim. I used a third LED light on the background (same background we've used for this practice for nearly 16 years) and, I was going to use a fourth LED light as a hair light but it turns out this particular doctor is bald so I turned that one off.

I used a silver reflector to the opposite side of the main light for fill.

I used ISO 640 on the camera and that gave me f2.8 and a half at 1/125th of a second. Just right.

When I took the glowering (not intentionally) self portrait above I purposely under exposed the background and took the fill reflector out all together. I also dropped the exposure on my face by half a stop. I did not take the portrait out of vanity but because I wanted to show what I meant when I said I like the focal length and the character of the lens, but I didn't have any great models lingering around the studio, just waiting to be cajoled into posing, so I took on the burden of representation myself.

The lens is quite sharp at f2.8. It is well behaved in every way. I, however, could use about five days of really good sleep, a haircut and a shave. A self portrait every once in a while has a way of humbling even the most self-delusional amongst us. Oh well....

(the beginning of my descent into the new Selfie Regime).

Why Leica? Why Leica indeed. Here is an interesting video. One or two tiny parts aren't safe for the workplace. But it's beautifully done and homage to great work from the last century.


So many great photographic moments recreated in the service of this company's narrative...


Somewhere in Berlin with a Samsung Galaxy NX camera and the little kit lens.

Just passing by.
(Please click to enlarge).

Obviously, doing art requires some sort of tripod.

Juxtaposition. Out of time out of place.

So, would you believe that I was looking at some August Sander images from 1930's Germany and was so enthralled by his portraits of bakers that I decided to create a composite from a baker portrait made long ago; in the black and white film years?

Of course the original image of the baker  might have shown him standing at attention against a stark kitchen background, but a little time spent in a modulus molding program imbued him with the appearance of movement. And then, of course, to make a statement about the confluence of two time streams I had to composite him into a modern scene. But I am such a perfectionist that I needed to control every square centimeter of the image and so I created each person in the scene individually, using a three D modeling program. I went so far as to make authentic SXSW badges for each one of the secondary people in the composition and then calculated the exact amount of defocusing each would require, depending on where they would exist in the construct.

I didn't like the original carpeting so I had this carpet designed and produced. I photographed the carpeting at the final size I would use it and then dropped it into the construct. When I finished creating the image, after several months of intensive PhotoShop,  I worked with several curators from famous museums who helped me craft convincing and plausible artist statements. Armed with the images and the artist statements I embarked on the process of securing an embarrassingly enormous grant. This required the local government to divert several millions of dollars from programs to feed starving children but it allowed me the time and space to really refine my vision of hermeneutically colliding psycho-social spheric containment realities and then have them master printed large enough to attract top galleries. Imagine my lack of surprise or even registration of emotion when, Baker #7, Harbinger of the Duality Apocalypse, sold for a cool $10 million....

But it was all worth it because I can feel the ephemeral sense of reticence that is the foundation of the work.

Sorry, just feeling snarky today. Too much reading of works about modern artists via modern magazines about ART. My bad.

SelfieVision2015. When our universe became a mirror.

I'm throwing in the towel on elitism and snobbery. I'm ready to become a selfie taking, fully realized, modern human being. I pledge that everywhere I travel I will document me having fun, or being miserable, or whatever. I will not only use my phone to document every meal but will also shoot a bit wider as well so I can be seen....with my meal. I will document myself getting out of the pool in my slight pair of Speedo jammers. I will document myself pumping gas and yelling at the talk show people on the radio; with whom I disagree. I will document myself shooting assignments with other cameras. I will get a selfie stick. I will get a selfie wrench and a selfie hammer. I will get tiny flashes to fit on either side of my phone as it sits on my selfie stick so I can do minimalist, selfie lighting for more ART. I will get tiny, selfie soft boxes for my tiny lights on my selfie stick.

I will open a gallery and every print will be a selfie I have taken in some artistic fashion. If my own creative juices prove ineffective I will used the canned filters in Instagram with extreme (lack of) prejudice. I will lobby to have my selfie portraits used on the dollar bill, and the Euro. I will have selfie toilet paper made so I can admire myself in the most private moments, and share the gift of my image while others are takin' care of business.  I am trying to train Studio Dog to take her own selfies (but she seems stuck in the 1990's with the Zone System and the fine black and white print).

I will seek out my friends and acquaintances, and future friends and acquaintances, while I slide through public life and I will stop them and help them experience the ultimate in visual joy as I hold the small phone in my shaking (from excitement) hands and show them every image in my film roll. Sometimes I will stop and do the swiping motion that makes images bigger so I can excitedly zoom in and show them this great expression, or that great detail of clothing or jewelry.

I want to take it all further so I am getting a second cellphone so I can help my first cellphone take selfies of my cellphone and vice versa. And a third phone so I can document the first two phones selfying each other. This is all so exciting.

I am certain that I will dominate the searches on Instagram and other sharing sites. Who in their right mind would not drop everything to see a grey haired man in an anonymous, button down, blue broadcloth shirt, sipping coffee at a Starbucks?

Soon I will break into selfie movies and will regale everyone with programming. Watch me as I get frustrated trying to read the small type on the Netflix screen on our TV from across the living room. Sit captivated as you watch me take an enteric coated aspirin, some vitamin C, and some CoEnzyme Q10 with a glass of water at night.

Watch my video as I explain escrow to myself. I'm all so fascinating!!!! Why haven't we done this before?


When photographing seriously, seriously, take off your sunglasses. Especially if you are using an EVF....

If you wear polarized sunglasses you will have difficulties using an EVF. There is a cancellation effect that makes viewing the whole frame well pretty much impossible. And I'll have to say that when you are in a dimly lit convention center, even with an optical viewfinder I think you'll find composing a photograph easier if you are able to get your eye close enough to the finder to see the edges of the frame.

Just a public service, education posting. Sunglasses. Hmmm.

The camera I just recommended to everyone who asked me this holiday season, "Which camera should I buy for someone who.......????"

It happens. You are a professional photographer. Your friends have this idea that you must know everything about every facet of the imaging business. I get phone calls asking me about weddings. I get phone calls asking me about shooting baby photos, and twice a year I get a lot of phone calls from friends asking me what camera they should buy for: Their spouse, their graduating senior, their college junior about to do a semester abroad, their small business, their once in a lifetime trip to XXXXXXX. Very few of these people really wanted to get mixed up in the sticky spider web of photographic technique practiced at the highest technical level. Those I send to Ming's site. To the rest I end up recommending the camera above. 

Interesting thing about the Nikon entry level, APS-C camera line, is that they all pretty much have the same absolutely excellent, Sony, 24 megapixel, imaging sensor. This means that the camera is 90% of the way to fulfilling the real technical needs of just about anyone out there. The camera represented above has shared the same basic body design, with a host of similar cameras, for fifteen years; ditto  the menus. Nikon has had a lot of time getting things just right. And to understand how to craft a camera for beginners.

But the reason I recommend the package consisting of the D3300 body and the lens above is that the kit lens, the VRII version, is sharp and well corrected, and adds vibration reduction to the system. It's the equivalent of a 28-70mm. The camera is small and light and pretty much bulletproof. Plus the batteries last twice as long as most mirrorless camera batteries. 

One of my friends came to me yesterday and wanted to know what to buy. He'd had someone recommend a Sony RX100iiii to him, or, at a lower cost level, the new Canon G5X. I looked at both of those cameras and laughed. My friend didn't want to spend $800+ on a camera. He's got big hands too. I know the one inch sensor in both of those cameras are really good but, to someone who is a casual shooter I know they'll be more comfortable dropping $395 and getting a camera that has the potential to outshoot both of the above mentioned cameras. The Nikon focuses faster, the chip has better high ISO capability and, down the road my friend or his kids, can add a flash, add more lenses or use the same lenses on updated or upgraded bodies. 

I've had neophyte friends buy trendier cameras and struggle to use them well. The Nikon line just works. If a person has been indoctrinated in believing in Canon cameras I am happy to research the equivalent Rebel. I just believe that this class of cameras are the best bargains out there today and that they provide the best platform for people who are just starting their photographic journey, beyond the cellphone. 

I was looking at yet another little camera as a possible "take everywhere" camera when I started researching cameras like the D3300 as well. Half the price for more performance, and I can put a Sigma Art lens on this puppy and get amazing results. No sense recommending more. You'll just have nominated yourself as the "camera support/teacher/coach for someone's longer learning curve. 

That's my stock recommendation. 

A triptych from Berlin in Fall of 2013.

Need to do some online shopping? Here's a link to five good photo books and one fun novel:


In a San Antonio shop window. Near the San Fernando Cathedral.

I love walking through the streets with a camera. It's a great excuse to get some exercise and stay intimately familiar with your camera and lens. Sometimes you see things you wouldn't see if you stayed home and watched TV.  If you've grown accustomed to the sights in your own city that gives you a great excuse to travel to the closest big or small city near you and start a walking exploration all over again.

To recap: Walking keeps you from getting fat and out of shape. Seeing new things keeps your mind interested. Sharing images gives you an intention that drives you to walk and see new things. I guess that makes exploring with a camera medicinal. That's my prescription for today.

Need some gift suggestions for photographers on your gift list?


Taking a new look at an older lens. The Nikkor 135mm f2.0. ai.

I've been on a search for the right 135mm lens for a while now. I've had the Rokinon 135 f2.0 in and out of my shopping cart on Amazon a couple of times. I've tested the Nikon 135mm f2.0 Defocus Coupling lens and I spent a day with the Zeiss 135 f2.0, shooting around town. Through all of this I had a niggling thought in the back of my mind. I kept thinking that the lens I really wanted was one I'd owned many years ago. Decades ago. 

I like old Nikon lenses. The fully manual ones. The ones you have to manually focus. The ones with hard stops at infinity. The ones with external aperture rings. The ones that were so well built they might never fail. I'm tired of the plastic exteriors. I'm tired of complexity. I have really come to love the big, accurate focusing rings. I wanted a fast aperture.

My friend, Paul, had been in Precision Camera yesterday and called to tell me that, as a result of a recent expo at the store, there was a lot of great used gear getting put out on the shelves. When I woke up this morning I had visions of the old 135mm Nikkor f2.0 lens I used to use, mostly welded to the front of my F4s camera. I shot many of my favorite portraits with that lens and many more with that focal length across other brands. I walked into the store and straight to the used, manual focus shelf at the back of the store. There it was. Perfect glass. No abuse. Light use. 

My favorite store clerk uses a Nikon D600 to do great food photography and he's a good judge of lenses. He's never steered me wrong. And, to his credit, he's steered me away from more lenses than he's steered me towards. His pronouncement? "That lens is incredible!"

It's really not incredible but it is very good, has lots of personality and feels good to use. There are several 135mm f2.0 lenses that might be a little sharper, if you focus them just so. And that's only at the widest aperture.  All of them have some field curvature designed right in so none of them will be sharp across a flat frame from the center to the far corners, wide open. All of them get sharper as you stop down. But for a lens designed back in the late 1970's it's nicely competitive with the rest, once you factor in price and intended use. 

You know how I'll use it. I'll be shooting portraits under continuous light, from a tripod. I will summon up the courage to shot it wide open as long as I'm on the tripod and using the live view function of the D810 or D750 to nail critical focus. But that's how I've always intended to use every fast, long lens I buy. That's also how I use the sibling of this lens, the 105mm f2.5 ais. It works well. 

If I only shot still images with these cameras and lenses I guess I'd be happy to have autofocus capability but I keep shooting interviews and fun video and I love being able to shift focus while shooting, and to preset two focus points and rack between them. It's something these older optical systems do very well.

I could parrot what others have written or I could rely on my faulty memory of shoots done a long time ago, but I prefer to get the lens on the front of the D810, round up the usual suspects (beautiful people) and do my own optical testing with this particular sample. My preliminary shots are making me happy. Stay tuned and I'll have more to say about this one after I've gotten some portraits done. 

Feeling a bit giddy. It's not every day that you conjure up the image of the perfect portrait lens and then walk into a store that has just what you wished for. And at a price significantly lower than anywhere else. Merry Consumerism! To one and all.