Personalized Marketing Goes a Long Way Toward Differentiating You From Your Competitors... At Least That's the Theory.

A three dimensional view of today's card.

(click the images to see them bigger...)

I wrote recently about a marketing project I've been working on. It's a series of folded cards with images on them and a short, written piece inside. I print the cards on my Canon Pro-100 inkjet printer and mail them out in envelopes. After reading the article a number of VSL readers asked me to go into a little bit more detail about the cards. Here's all I have. 

The easiest part of the project is choosing the card stock. I buy boxed sets of pre-scored, large cards from Museo. They come 100 to the box, with matching envelopes, and my local photo merchant sells the boxed set for about $80. Add in the cost of inkjet ink ( and spoilage ) along with a first class stamp and your per unit cost for a card is about $1.50. Yes, you can get printed postcards on the web much cheaper but my strategy is predicated on being able to modify or fine tune the art and the story in small batches, for specific markets. 

To get a bit more technical, the cards are 5-1/2 inch by 7-3/8 inch, 220 GSM, acid free cotton, in an art/matte surface (there is discernible "tooth"). 

The hardest parts of the project ( aside from the obvious issue of procrastination... ) is choosing the right images and writing the correct story for each audience. You may be good at this but I always run my choices past a designer or art director friend before spending ink.

I print my name and return address on the envelope in a type that matches the type I use inside ( Georgia, 13pt ) but I am superstitious about using labels or having the printer address them. I am a believer that if you are personalizing a mailing you should take the time to hand address to the recipient. You may have different deeply held beliefs. Such are modern times...

Front of card with matching envelope.

Inside of the card. 

I always sign the cards I send and, usually, I write a brief, personal note to the recipient in the space you see under the image, just above. This allows me to purpose the card as either a "Thank You" card or a reminder card; or a straight forward marketing impression. I sent one out today with a note of thanks to someone who had recommended me for an assignment. I sent out another card today with a note confirming and out-of-town  lunch for next week. I sent out a third card to gently remind a client that we still need to finish up our video edit and are waiting for their input. 

In all, I sent out twenty-five cards today. 

By the end of the week I will have sent out around 90 cards to customers who have done work with me in the past or to acquaintances who I know but have not worked with yet. The most productive cards are always the ones that go to our best clients. It seems that seeing images "reminds" them of projects they need to get done. The cards remind them that I am ready to help them. 

With copy I have learned not to be technical and to always try to make some sort of story. The one here is plain but serviceable. 

I keep a list of the people I have sent cards to on a legal pad I keep in my top desk drawer. I like to keep track of what I've sent out and to whom. 

This is the back cover. It has my contact information. 

Over the course of a year my core audience of around 200 people will get eight different mailers from me as well as e-mails and other "touches." My goal is not to generate immediate sales (although that's always nice) but to maintain "top of mind" awareness of my business and what I offer to them.

When this mailer is complete I will immediately start planning my next marketing effort. I am leaning toward a color post card mailer with location portraits. I won't know until I'm in the middle of the project exactly which images I will use and how I will design it. I will probably choose to use the Hahnemuhle FineArt Inkject Photo Cards in the 285 gsm pearl finish. The base is a bright white and the finish allows for an impression of high sharpness with good color saturation. It works well with the Canon printer. 

Marketing is the lifeblood of most businesses. Buying cameras is more fun. A good mailed-card campaign can be much more profitable. 

Historically I can expect about a 10% response rate over the quarter. Not too bad for direct mail. 

Hope this answers the bulk of your questions! Tomorrow is April Fools day. Stay tuned.


"One inch" sensor cameras have been very useful for years now. EVFs work very, very well for a growing swath of serious photographers.

Michael Dell Volunteering at Austin Easter Seals.
Shot with a Nikon V1. Years ago. 
©2010 Kirk Tuck

Just a few blog reminders for those who visit infrequently, are new to the blog: 

I receive no money or free gear from any of the companies whose products I discuss here, with the following (past) exceptions: I was a member of Samsung's Imagelogger program and received several cameras and lenses in exchange for posting images (but not reviews or commentary!) taken with the gear. They (Samsung) seem to have exited the camera business last year. At no time did anyone at Samsung request, cajole, plead, beg or ask me to write anything at all about their products, nor did they offer to pay me for any sort of endorsement or online discussion of their products. 

The Cactus company sent me three triggers and one flash to test and review. I was under no obligation to review the products. I did so because they worked well and represented a fair investment for users who work with small flashes. 

In 2009 Olympus paid me to present several demonstrations using their photographic products  to a live audience at a Photo Expo here in Austin. I have received no additional payments from them and, while I have been loaned equipment to review it was promptly returned. Olympus have never tried to influence my reviews nor have they paid me to make any assertions about their products on any of my blogs.

I have shot with Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony in the past three years and have not received from any of them, or their agents or assigns, any gear, money, consideration, junkets, travel or even swag. Nothing. Nada. Not from any of them. Not even a promotional coffee cup. (Cheap bastards).

I am a Craftsy.com instructor and believe that the courses I've taught are good and have value to photographers who are learning the craft. I use the blog from time to time to promote these classes. They are offered with a "no questions asked, money back guarantee." 

Our blog site, like almost every other blog site in the photography niche, is an Amazon affiliate. We sometimes link products I am writing about back to Amazon. If you click on the link and go through to Amazon and buy something Amazon gives me a commission on that sale that does not effect the price of the product or service to you.


Why am I writing this? Disclosure is always good. And I'm getting tired of anyone who disagrees with something I've written immediately stating that, "Tuck switches systems because he's a paid shill for XXXXX." Anyone who thinks the camera market is full of people getting paid to use gear from camera makers is delusional. There are a few people who get consideration, assistance with travel, and the use of the latest gear in exchange for their honest reviews and assessments but I bet we could count those U.S. photographers on two hands....  And I'm sure not one of them. 

All the equipment in my studio right now; today, was bought and paid for either from Precision Camera here in Austin or came from Amazon.com. I neither asked for, nor have been extended, any privileged pricing from either merchant. My average monthly income from this blog for the past year is approximately = 25 Starbucks Venti Lattes (per month). The amount of time I spend writing blog posts and responding to them is approximately 60 hours a month. You do the math. 

I currently derive the majority of my income from creating photographs which I license to clients directly, or through advertising agencies. I write the blog as a way to share images and ideas. It's usually lots of fun for me and I'm met many, many fine people who I would not have known if not for their interest in the blog. The only time I regret having spent the time writing is when someone links to VSL from a forum on a major photographic website and the people there go ballistic because they either disagree or lack the intellectual capability of understanding correctly what they are trying to read. And, of course, the anonymity of the web allows them to be as nasty as they want to be. The unfounded assertions and ad hominem attacks abound. My comment queue goes toxic from time to time. Feels --- not worth the trouble...

Current Status: Happily self employed, financially stable, busy with projects and still buying whatever I want to shoot with. Also, still writing the blog...

Photograph from Primary Packaging Project in NYC.

©2016 Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved.


Why do we still design, print and apply stamps to physical, direct mail in our photography business?

This image, from a project in New Jersey, went out ten days 
ago as a printed 4x6 inch post card with rounded corners. 
We mailed it to 150 people. 

I am currently printing and mailing a five and a quarter by seven and a quarter inch, folded card with a big photograph on the front and carefully researched and written copy on the inside. Over the course of the next few days I will mail out 75 to  existing clients and potential clients who have some connection to the healthcare industry. It will be my third, targeted, physical (delivered by the mail carrier) direct mail piece this quarter.

Why? Why in the age of free e-mail barrages, instant Instagram feeds, and equally free opportunities to market on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn would I spend the time to send "last century" marketing to anyone? Why "waste" the money? And time? And resources?

It's a good question and one posed by a reader of the blog this morning. I'm going to try and answer it. 

With the advent of voice mail getting connected via phone to a real person with whom you do NOT already have a relationship is almost impossible. It's just too easy for an overworked art director, marketing director or art buyer to ignore the message. You are, after all, competing for one of their most precious resource --- their time. If art directors at good agencies took every call made to them by illustrators, videographers and photographers calling to arrange portfolio shows they would not have enough hours left in the day to do any of the work they get paid to do. When artists stop being able to cold call successfully (in this digital age) they turn to the next avenue of communications; e-mail. 

E-mail can work well if you are sending your message to people who already know your name and have some idea of what you do and why you may be sending them a message. If your e-mail isn't "invited" you have a very small chance that your intended target will open it. Blast away all you want but don't expect that your e-mail blast, with your latest images of your sad dog, or your happy girlfriend eating an ice cream bar, will make your phone ring or your mailbox chime with a request for bids. 

The underlying issue in both cases is that there are enormous numbers of people who: Want to reach and art director or art buyer (client), and don't want to part with a penny for their own marketing. E-mail may have worked in early days when it was more novel and less utterly ubiquitous but from my conversations with clients who are in the industry I hear that they are drowning in what they consider spam e-mails. They are routinely getting 250-350 e-mails advertising for commercial artists per day. 

The idea that you can join in, create a devastatingly cool e-mail ad, and subsequently cut through all the clutter is based on the ill-conceived idea that the audience is willing to open every e-mail and gaze at it for a few moments. Yours, of course, will pop out and the art buyer will bookmark your site immediately. Good luck with that. Your e-mail is statistically more likely to be read by the hardworking spam filters every single time. E-mail works only once you are on their radar. 

But what about all the people who get discovered on Instagram and Facebook? Hmmm. I've met a lot of artists who have followings on those outlets but I haven't met anyone who has been discovered and used for real advertising projects (with a purchase order and subsequent payment) as a result of something they've posted on social media. I'm sure some lucky artists exist but....  The issue is that 600,000,000 people are already there ahead of you and there's really no sure way to filter down the mess and get yourself to the top of the "interest" heap if someone has no clue of who you are. Or where you exist.

So, if clients won't/can't take your phone calls and haven't "found" you (through referrals and shared links) on social media, and all of your witty and gorgeous e-mail blasts don't make it over the spam "drawbridge" in the e-mail system, then how in the world are you supposed to meet new people in order to get invited to be considered for jobs/projects/assignments?

There are three ways and I try, diligently, to use all three. First of all, I love getting referred to new people. When I work with good clients I ask them if there is anyone who might benefit from collaborating with me. Anyone who would get good value from the kind of work I do. When good friends refer you to their good friends you come pre-approved. Vetted. And there is a tiny, almost invisible obligation to at least give you a shot at pitching, as a nod to their friendship with your referrer. Cool. That's a gold standard for getting new business. 

The second way is to go to professional events and meetings (ad club?), happy hours, etc. and actually introduce yourself to the people who do the advertising and marketing work that may benefit from your taste, vision and expertise. This can work well if you have a great business card, a winning smile and are willing to pick up the price of a few drinks. Even so, you'll have more success if you go with a wingman who is established in that community and is willing to introduce you. 

(Side story: When I was running an ad agency I had a photographer, who I worked with, call me up and plead to take me to lunch and pick my brain. He was frustrated because he went to all the photo association meetings and knew all the other photographers in town, his portfolio was good and he wasn't repellent, but he was having trouble getting any traction with art directors and art buyers. I suggested that he "hunt where the game lives." That he stop wasting his time with other photographers (competitors) and spend the majority of his time in association with the people he was trying to court as clients. He joined the Ad Club, volunteered to help with the yearly awards shows, eventually became the local chapter president, and has never wanted for work or connections since.).

Third (our real subject here): The best way to reach large numbers of potential clients, who do not know you already, is to send them marketing pieces that tell your story and show off your work beautifully. No one in the industry gets much physical mail anymore. It's almost a novelty because it has become so rare. Very few people will throw away, unopened, a hand addressed, first class stamped (not bulk mail!!!!!), enveloped piece of mail that was sent directly to their attention. If they open it, see your photograph, and see your name, you will have made your first impression on them. 

With good paper stock, good art, a good story, and a good mailing list, you can fine tune messages for small groups of people. Today I am targeting healthcare clients. Next week I may do a mailing of 50 pieces to the people who commission executive portraits. I may do a micro mailing of 20 cards to people in the local semi-conductor industry the following week. But well done cards in hand addressed envelopes are hardly ever considered "junk mail." 

There is an old, advertising rule of thumb that says you need to reach a person 7 times before they are aware of your existence. You'll need to intrigue them 12-20 times before you solidify in their consciousness and are allowed into their world. The physical, direct mail campaigns are designed to get you and your impressions past the voice mail and spam filters. They are designed to connect with the people who are too busy to aimlessly cruise the web looking for interesting work out of the 200 million images being uploaded every day, across the social networks. They are intended to differentiate you from the masses of people who will never get around to making prints, buying stamps, tracking down contact addresses and following through. 

While I don't know of anyone being hired sight unseen from a social media site to do an assignment for a legitimate advertising client I do know scores of artists who have been asked to submit bids or proposals as a result of their direct mail introductions. This is the stuff that gets your foot in the door. E-mail is what you send to people after they know you and invite you in.......

The more things change the less they change. If everyone in the world advertises exclusively on the web because it's free the clutter is too profound for even the most determined client to wade through. But if your promotional piece is the only one coming through the mail slot in their office door I can almost guarantee it will be read. 

Have you ever tried to tack an e-mail blast to your bulletin board? Doesn't work nearly as well as a nicely printed card. Believe me.


Self promotion currently under production. Happy but sad to have found that one, little typo...

Under Construction. 
Hasselblad Film Shot from 2010. 

I'm working on a self-promotion project. I have a wonderful photograph of a neonatal nurse holding a premature child in her arms. It's sweet and wonderful. I'm printing the image on a Museo Artist Card with my Canon Pro-100 printer. The warm, matte surface paper is perfect for this, and the Moab Fine Art Rag profile works very well for this image and this paper. 

I wrote a nice narrative inside the card, about my experiences creating images and image libraries for a wide variety of medical practices, clinics and hospitals. I will send the card to medical clients and potential clients. I spent time this afternoon perfecting the design and the overall presentation. But this evening, when I sat down to address a few envelopes, I gave the card one last look over and found the one, elusive typo. I had transposed the "v" and the "i" in the word, "provider." 

Into the trash can (actually, the recycling can --- as I live in Austin, with a "green" spouse...) goes twenty really beautiful cards. Out the window goes the time and energy getting everything ready. And now we start the two sided printing all over again. 

I don't do well with dumb failures. Especially when they are mine. But I'd rather eat the cost of some paper and ink; and my leisure time, than send out a marketing piece with a typo in it. 

Seems like we all mess up from time to time. It must be the nature of being human...

Now reprinting and checking that type one more time. We can always address and mail tomorrow.

Spring. Spring cleaning. Allergies. Blue Bonnets. Cameras and Kitsch.

Ben and his Mom at Emma Long Park. 

Hard to know when Spring started here in Austin. The trees were already showing their leaves in February and we've had none of the late freezes that marked past winters. Now we're almost submerged in a vast sea of green. We've had good rains and, for the most part, the moderate temperatures that seem to tickle the growth instincts of our lawns, gardens and random flora. 

I generally spend a few days in the Spring getting rid of lots of material objects that I find myself mindlessly hoarding from year to year. Right now I am looking at a Fotodiox 72 inch Octobank that seemed like an especially good idea about four years ago. The fatal flaw for this modifier is that, at nine to ten pounds (steel rods x 8) the soft box is so front heavy that it pops the speed rings right off the Elinchrom flashes and tries the patience of the tightening mechanism on my Profoto monolight stand brackets. The damn thing is a beast. I've put effort into it and about three years ago I just gave up using it. It's almost new...  And it's sitting on the floor with some other junk as I try to decide what to do with it. 

I can say the same thing about an ill (self) advised purchase of an early LED panel. If it was just an LED panel that took double A batteries I would have passed it along to someone who needed a quickly deployed light source that's small. But it's actually a "system" that came with a five pound, lead-acid battery and a big charger. The battery and charger were overkill for the small panel --- except that one could run said panel for eight to ten hours before it would finally dim and sputter. The battery and charger were just too much effort for too little reward and so they've sat in a dark corner, slowly deteriorating, and the LED panel kept them company. 

This is also the year I do something about all the damn frames that live in the studio. They appear to multiply like bunnies. Most of the frames are utilitarian ones that I used for doing photography shows in Sweetish Hill Bakery over the course of the 20 odd years I displayed work there. They aren't quite what we might want to use to decorate in our home and there's little available wall space in the studio. These will probably go to the curb (after I've removed the images) along with a sign that says, "Free to Anyone who Needs Them." I think we are quickly coming to be a "post frame society." 

Then I really have to do something with the growing forest of tripods that threatens to take over my space. I think I hit the tipping point last month when I capriciously acquired a very big Benro tripod that extends up about seven or eight feet in the air. Well over my head without having to extend the center column. I thought I was going to need it for a job but it turns out, no. So, it's joined eight other tripods and the assortment of monopods and I think they are all plotting a takeover of the rest of the space. They are inanimate so they are patient. The patient ones are the dangerous ones...

The sneaky ones are the old tripod heads that seem to be free ranging around the studio floor. I thought there was a place on a shelf for these renegades but apparently gremlins come in and free them every once in a while and scatter them over the floor. They use some sort of high speed computer to calculate the exact spots throughout the room that will do the most damage when I inevitably trip over them.

And then there are the books. Like viruses in a verdant Petri dish, they just keep reproducing in an attempt to overwhelm the bookshelves and give me a complex for not having enough time to read them all; expediently. 

As it is Spring in Texas all my acquaintances who know that I am a photographer, but who have no clue what sorts of things I like to photograph, are either asking me where the most photogenic patches of native bluebonnet flowers are to be found ---- or they are texting, Facebooking and e-mailing me (not so) secret maps the motherlode of these plain, low-lying flowers. I'm sure the last group think they are enabling me to fulfill my pent up desire to photography chubby, cherubic children nestled in among the plants, and, are looking forward to seeing the rosy cheeks of children, over-lit with poorly done fill-in flash. My only advice to them (and it's serious!) is to watch out for rattlesnakes. They love the blue bonnets....

I like to mess with the folks who seem disposed to love the kitschy photographic adorations of the bluebonnets and other native flowers. I always say how much I love to photograph the rich color palette of the flowers but, like Ansel Adams, I always shoot my landscapes in black and white. For all of you who came of age, photographically, just in the last ten years, let me translate: "black and white" means "monochrome." 

I've been cleaning up all morning and trying to find new homes for the endless materiel I've accumulated recently whose value to me didn't match my anticipation. Now I am taking a break to head out for lunch. 

Which camera will I take? Oh, I am so glad you asked. It's the Sony a6000, saddled up with a Sony nex-to-Nikon adapter and an ancient (pre-Ai) 50mm f1.4 lens. All the fun, none of the progress.....

Any hints on what to do with a stout and heavy, Canon promotional ball head from 25 years ago?
Didn't think so....


It's a quick assessment but I thought I'd write a hands-on review of the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens I bought a few days ago.

Front door to the pool.

After I bought the little Sony a6000 I upgraded the firmware and then started researching lenses. I really have no intention of making a very deep dive into Sony's E system but I wanted a good, all around, walking around, all terrain lens. Something I could keep on the camera for all the times I'm not shooting old Nikon lenses, or even older Olympus Pen-F lenses, with adapters.

I would have loved to have purchased some exotic Zeiss lens. If I couldn't find an E mount Otus 12-120mm f1.4 zoom I would have enjoyed shooting with the Zeiss 16-70mm just fine. But, like almost everyone else, I do have to operate with some budget constraints. Boy in a private college, property taxes soaring quicker than my income, that sort of thing. So I looked for a good compromise. I remember some basic math from my days in electrical engineering school at UT Austin and I ran the numbers; realized that $600 is less than $1000 by a lot percent, and decided I might be able to be happy with the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. After all, it's a servo zoom and has an extra switch on the side that the Zeiss dream lenses do not. 

My preliminary research pulled up formal lens reviews from the early days of this lens's appearance. I read that the corners (especially at 18mm and thereabouts) were not "critically" sharp and that the lens has some distortion. Imagine that! a 6x zoom with distortion. After I got confused by the melange of conflicting opinions from the professional testers I defaulted to the user reviews on Amazon.com which led me to believe that, while not in the stellar, once-in-a-lifetime, high performance category of lenses, this one made the majority of people who bought it with their own money pretty happy. Four or five star happy. I'm of the opinion that older technical reviews aren't always a good indication of the state-of-the-product as it exists two or three years later. I think conscientious lens makers probably go back and tweak stuff over time; especially based on user reviews. I found that this lens's performance was closer to what I was reading in user reviews and much less odious that what I had been led to believe by the reviewing "savants" of our industry. 

The lens is simple. The only external switch is for a servo zoom. That's a motorized zoom that is also endowed with variable zoom rates; depending on how precisely you can push the button. There is no I.S. on or off switch, no manual/autofocus switch and, of course, no aperture ring. There are two rotating rings near the front of the lens. The one closest to the camera body is the zoom ring, which duplicates the work of the servo toggle (the lens is zoom by wire and focus by wire). The forward ring is the focusing ring. In manual focus and DMF you can grab that ring and control focus. There's not much resistance but I found it easy to get used to after only a couple days of playing. 

The lens is long and gets wider at the front end, culminating in a 72mm filter size. It comes with a fairly big, tulip lens shade. While it looks big the lens is actually quite lightweight and rides around on the camera without making a big deal of its presence. Just be prepared though; the lens is much bigger than the a6000 camera body itself. 

Heading up to the pool from the locker rooms.
Not as much distortion as you might think;
the rock wall is circular....

I'm not going to go into depth in this article with an exacting analysis of the lens's f-stop by f-stop performance. I'm just going to say that I used the wide angle settings and I can blow up the image above and see clearly defined and well reproduced leaves on all the trees (even the ones on the edges). I shot this image at f6.3 and think the vignetting is well under control, the sharpness quite good and the general image quality more than acceptable for my work.

I shot wide open at the wide end and wide open at the telephoto end, and at random settings in between. I notice that, wide open, and with light bouncing around everywhere, the f4.0 aperture can give an overall image that's slightly veiled by overall flare but this is gone by the time you get to one stop down. This means it's probably not the optimum lens for shooting directly into the sun....

When I shoot in Jpeg the lens seems to have no distortion at all. When I shoot raw I see some distortions at the wide angles settings but nothing much worse than I see with the wide angle setting of any other zoom lens from any other maker. My Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 (which I like very much) has much worse distortion at the widest settings....

From the deep end of the pool, an hour before the noon workout on Friday.
So crowded. But I guess the 75 degree weather was keeping people away. 
Fortunately the pool is heated to 80f. 

Some nice things to know if you are considering this lens is the fact that it's all internal focusing and doesn't change lengths as you zoom or focus. The focus is absolutely silent, and, in good light, very fast and accurate. Since there is no distance scale, and the lens resets itself to the wide angle setting if you turn off the camera, you probably won't be using the lens to zone focus in the manual focus setting mode. That's okay with me. I have other lenses sitting around for the times when I want to play street photographer with an "old school" methodology.

The lens seems exactly designed to be a good, basic videography lens; something you might get a lot of use out of on an FS5 or FS7 camera. And, even in a 4K mode, the lens out resolves the format by a factor of a zillion. It should make for crisp video. With very few exceptions I am happy with the images I get out of the lens wide open. That bodes well for its overall performance. 

From the shallow end of the pool. The clear, blue sky can get a bit monotonous during 
long swims. It would be nice if we could get a smattering of puffy white clouds --- at least during 
swim practice ---. You know, just to break up all that infinite blue...

So, this lens is the Sony E counterpart to Nikon's 24-120mmf4.0 and Canon's venerable 25-105mm f4.0. It's not as wide as those two at its widest setting (approx. 27.5 in full-frame speak) but it extends the angle of view out a bit further on the telephoto end to give you the equivalent of a 157.5 mm. Not bad at f4.0. The lens also offers image stabilization but I have no real way of measuring the efficacy of Sony's implementation. It's good but it's not in the Olympus OMD EM5.2 ballpark. Just not. 

This is the workout the coach put up on the board for the Thursday noon workout. 
It was fun. The downward pointing arrows instruct us to "descend" our times 
which means the time elapsed for each repetition needs to be faster....
The secret? Don't go all out on your first 100...

Should you rush out and dump all your other cameras and lenses and buy one of the Sony a6000s and the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens? Well of course not. Just about any camera we shoot with today is pretty spectacular and at least competent to


It's a holiday weekend. We're technically on break. Can I interest you in a thoughtful piece about drones? It's a reprint....

Interchangeable lens Sony cameras have been off my radar for a while. But this week I bought a couple of Sony odds and ends.

We've lately been inundated by news and reviews about the new, Sony a6300 interchangeable lens, APS-C camera --- for a couple of weeks now. It ends up getting re-re-reviewed in some way or another on the front page of DP Review almost daily, and everybody who does a fun web tv show about photography got invited by Sony to Miami Beach for a big, showy launch of that camera. So you see the cigar roller shots and the cabana girl shots everywhere. But.... This is NOT a review of the a6300. This is not a review at all.

This is a blog post about curiosity more than anything else. In the ramp up to the launch of the a6300 Sony trotted out a sales story. According to them the a6000 was the best selling, interchangeable lens, APS-C camera ever minted. Blew the doors off everything else. Outrageous sales! (Which makes one wonder why they didn't take advantage of that leverage to make a bunch of killer APS-C E lenses to go along with the momentum). After I read that, with the sense that I'd blinked and missed some important milestones in the camera industry, I went back and started reading old reviews and assessments and tried tracking down photographers of note who use/used the a6000. What I found is that a lot of people loved the camera ---- inspire of its faults.

Nearly every breathless review of the newer model, the a6300, starts out by comparing it to the a6000 and, if you read between the lines, the cameras have largely the same image quality (the new camera uses the copper wire sensor tech which makes overall processing faster, which leads to a bit more nuanced noise management in shadow areas --- anecdotal, not my first hand experience).  The reviews also mention


What's on the agenda for today? Oh, that's right, I get to give a presentation to the Photographers of Dripping Springs. Yikes! I'd better get organized...

You all know me as a lovable and Quixotic blogger, sequestered in my little studio, typing out opinions about photography and swimming to a vast, and nearly anonymous, audience. Tonight I'll venture out of my comfortable comfort zone and confront all my darkest fears as I give a bout of public speaking a try.

I've been invited to speak at the monthly meeting of the Photographers of Dripping Springs, in Dripping Springs, Texas. I rarely do this sort of thing now but I thought I'd give it the old college try. I'm taking a lot for granted but then, so are they. I'll probably start with a nervous synopsis of where I am today and how I got myself into this messy career. Then, of course, I'll be seized by stage fright and default to the usual photographer's dodge, which is to show a series of unrelated images, curated in an attempt to impress my audience in any way that I can.

I'll hem and haw through a disjointed slide show, adding in gratuitous comments and trying to make jokes. Hopefully the audience will reward me with at least a few dry chuckles...

After that, to atone for the slog through my visual yesteryear, I'll try to cobble together a demo on the way I like to shoot portraits. I wish I knew how I really liked to shoot portraits because that would make the demonstration more compelling. Right now I'm kind of planning on falling back to the ole giant modifier, continuous light, used close in, dodge. To that end I'm packing some LEDs on the premise that, well, I wrote a book about LEDs and maybe I should walk the walk.

If history is any measure then the demo will be a disaster. Something won't turn on, the overhead lights will be controlled somewhere outside our powers and we won't be able to extinguish them so people can see the effects I'm desperately trying to show.

Then we'll wind down and the two or three people who've managed to fight off boredom for the duration of my humbling public speaking engagement will politely ask if they can help me pack. It's inevitable because they'll see me struggling to pull down scrims without everything coming down in a cascade of chaos and damaging the windows or furniture.

It all sounds dreadful for the audience. So what's in it for me? Well, my therapist believes in exposure therapy..... and there was the promise of a free dinner...

See their website for details: http://photographersofds.us


How sharp do we need this to be?

So. How sharp do we need this to be? I guess that's what we'll be asking clients this year. Can I shoot this with a run of the mill zoom lens? Do I need to step up to one of those Nikon lenses with the gold band around it? Maybe I'll need to go up the ladder a few more steps and shoot it with that Sigma Art lens, right? Not good enough? Pull out the Otus?  But to what end?

If you are aiming your image at the web you can probably get away with putting that kit lens on the front of your D810 and shooting the camera in the APS-C mode. I can't imagine too many commercial clients making huge prints but, then again, there are those pesky trade show graphics to think about. Are you doing a lot of those?

I shot the image above for a client who called me up, told me they needed to shoot a picture of an falcon that would need to be reproduced really big. "What kind of files could I produce?" they wanted to know. I shot a bunch of still life stuff to give them an idea of my technical performance with the D810 in uncompressed, 14 bit raw, and I also shot this self-portrait as a humorous rejoinder to their query. I sent over a bunch of enormous, uncompressed tiffs for the advertising agency to evaluate.

Sharpness and resolution was, according to the art director and art buyer, absolutely critical for this project. "We might want to go as large as 40 by 60 inches." they said. We had several phone meetings and they liked what I'd sent them. We talked about logistics. We talked about using high speed flash to freeze motion and add to the technical quality. We even talked about specialized lenses in order to wring the last few nano-slobbers of sharpness out of the scene. We were honing in on the parameters we thought we'd need to lock down in order to give the client the amazing image quality they so richly deserved, and demanded. 

But then I didn't hear from the agency for a couple of weeks so I circled back around, called my agency contact and just...you know...bluntly asked them how the project was going.

There was a sheepish and embarrassed silence for the better part of 20 seconds on the line. "Um. The client  sourced a stock image that we ended up having to use..." they responded. I take that in stride because it happens all the time. But I always ask, "How did it all work out? Was everyone happy?" Again, there was a silent pause.

"Well, the image was shot a while back. It was done with a 6 megapixel camera. We sharpened it up and then sent it to a retoucher to have some more work done on the file... We hope it's going to work but, well, there is a lot of pixelization."

Then it was my turn to be quiet for a few seconds. Then I asked, "Why didn't we just shoot the darn thing?"

"Um. The client wanted to save some money. They'd already spent half a million dollars on the trade show booth and they didn't want to spend a ton of money on photography. The stock shot was only $250."

"Well, thanks for asking me to bid. Maybe we'll do the next one for them."

"Uh. Probably not. Their CEO took one look at the first round of enlarged prints and blew a gasket. We kind of got fired from the account."

"Sorry to hear it. But at least we found out how sharp my camera could be...."

Taking a breather. I have a novel in hand that's too good to put down....

©2016 Kirk Tuck

"Even Dogs in the Wild."  by Ian Rankin.

A wonderful book. 


Just a few camera observations of late. Yeah, it's about Sony versus everyone in the DSLR market.

I'm feeling a bit philosophical today about cameras. I'm a gear head and I think, with my logical brain, that I should just be able to go over to the DXOmark site and scroll through the list of cameras that ranks them from "best" sensor to "worst" sensor, grab one of the cameras with the highest ranking (Nikon D810, Sony A7R2) and call it a day. If all that mattered to anyone was image quality (as everyone constantly says) then those two cameras would be selling like gang busters. The Nikon D610 and D750 would rake in some good cash among the less well-heeled, but no less fastidious, while the rest of the market would shrivel and die. But that doesn't seem to be what the irrational camera buying market is doing right now.

Of course, if we look at the big picture of all buyers; moms and dads with young soccer players, retirees on the trip of a lifetime, eager eyed students getting a first camera, etc. We can see that the majority of camera buyers don't subscribe to the idea that ultimate image quality is the overriding consideration for ownership. But, then, I am speaking directly to us. To me. To the ardent hobbyists. To the people who can tell you the number of custom setting channels on the Nikon D5300 even though they currently shoot with a Fuji XT-1. You know, the hard core. The real camera users.

Everyone I know who falls into our camp seems to be relentlessly trading or selling off gear with the intention of moving to some sort of mirrorless camera. When Panasonic and Olympus were really the only two pioneers, howling in the wilderness, and being snickered at by the bourgeoisie on DP Review, it was tougher to rationalize a smaller sensor, 12 megapixels in the face of 24, and a mess of noise at any of the higher ISO settings. Owners of professional DSLR cameras smirked about the different in continuous auto focus capabilities as well as buffer depth. And don't get me started about the hordes of people who bitched about the "primitive" state of electronic viewfinders.

Now these same critics are shifting in droves to mirrorless cameras. Not necessarily the models offered by the two pioneers but certainly mirrorless cameras as a subset. What the hell happened? Probably exactly what I predicted back in 2012----some company had the brains and the balls to switch their entire full frame product line to mirrorless cameras and, consequently, they are taking the market by storm and doing it without a hint of competition from any other full frame camera maker.

Yeah. It's those crazy people over at Sony. The Sony A7 series is changing everything when it comes to high end camera buying. We who fear change can point out to anyone who will listen about how crappy the Sony batteries are while our Nikon and Canon batteries are capable of lasting weeks or months between charges. The giant-handed among us can moan about the tiny, "ungrippable" camera bodies. The casual reader of sports photography blogs and websites can regale a younger generation with comparisons in focusing speed and the ever elusive, "lock-on" powers of traditional cameras. And some whiny Wallys will continue to talk about "the crystal-like clarity of the optical finder." Like a picture window into the world.....

None of that matters to the people who've used a great EVF finder and had the now mainstream (and revolutionary) experience of being about to look through the little peephole on the back of the camera and see EXACTLY what they will get when they push the shutter button. It's a method of viewing that takes the STUPID out picture taking, along with the mystery. And it's the removal of mystery, and secret insider handshakes that steams some of us to no end. You see, we want everything to stay as it is. We've had to master things like metering and white balance just as computer geeks mastered SCSI connections in the 1990's, and we feel as though that should be part of the initiation, part of the hazing, in order to become a "real" photographer.

As more and more people (camera buying "unwashed" public at large) get chances to look through the new, magic peephole into ever better EVFs there's no way, even with hundreds of thousands of pounds per square inch of resistance to change, that we'll ever get this particular Pandora's Box closed again.

It's only a matter of time before Canon (the Chrysler LeBaron of cameras makers) and Nikon (the self-proclaimed smartest guys in the room) come to grips with the accelerating shift in taste and the adaptation of superior (and cheaper to make) technology in cameras and start introducing EVFs in their regular lines. Not some bullshit line of cameras meant to be marketed into a niche in a half-assed sort of way.

Here's how it will happen: The next generation of entry level DSLRs from Nikon and Canon will both "feature" a new EVF viewing "experience." They'll keep their lens mounts the same and just eliminate the mirrors. Sony will help Nikon, at least, with PD-AF elements on the sensors and rank and file consumers will notice no perceivable hits on AF performance. But they will love the ability to pre-chimp. You already see it everywhere. Half the people with entry level cameras use them all the time in live view. They don't like to look into the finders because they can never predict how that image in the OVF will look after the cameras do their mysterious work.

Once the "feature" is rolled out to the base consumer a new marketing tactic will be to tout ever improving EVFs as market differentiators. "our EVF has 3 million dots." "our newest EVF has five million dots so you can count the silk threads in your ascot." "Our EVF responds to change at the speed of light." "With our EVF, combined with our 13th generation wi-fi, you can now watch all of your favorite TV shows through the finder, or click instantly to capture images.." 

The problem for everyone in the camera business is that Sony is just about to own the entire serious camera EVF market. Right now, today, they make three different full frame cameras, each with a great EVF, two with state of the art, 4K video performance. And they own a large part of what's left of the point and shoot marketing (RX100IV) and the bridge camera market (RX10ii) and the current highest end, high res advertising cameras, the A7R2.

If Nikon and Canon don't move now: today: immediately, to buy into what is a profound and seismic change in the way we all use our cameras then, in a few years, we won't even have the burden of having to choose between brands. At that point, if you are looking for a full frame camera it will be a Sony.

I have resisted so far. I don't like the sound of the shutter in the one body that seems cost effective and interesting to a portrait photographer (the A7II). I don't like the battery situation in the one camera definitely aimed at those who want to produce video (the A7S2) and I'm not interested in spending the extra cash for the high res model in the line up. Not when what I have still works. I am, after all, in that cohort of users who did have to learn the hard way.

Interesting data points for me were: the observation of so many Sony A7 series users at SXSW when the years before they were almost non-existent. Also interesting to me that my local camera store contact tells me that people (with money and expertise) are switching to the mirrorless Sony product from their traditional tools at an ever increasing rate. 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 over the traditionals...

I'm not (yet) a Sony fanboy. I felt a bit burned by their defecto abandonment of the translucent mirror series of cameras (a77, a99). They keep that system lingering on life support. I am sure they intend to pull a "Samsung" on the line but they seem to be doing it through a long campaign of attrition and the hopes that the market in general is so camera ADHD that everyone will have switched away to other cameras before they have to actively pull the plug and deal with the marketing fall out. I'm pretty sure Samsung has contaminated their camera marketing topsoil for at least a generation....Not an event lost on Sony's marketers.

I'm writing this more or less to strongly suggest to Nikon (and Canon) that the EVF will be the make it or break it feature for them going forward and that the time for reckless caution is past. I'd like that next D8X0 to have a beautiful and enormous EVF. Hell, if it makes focusing and exposure assessment that much better which user in their right mind would resist?

edited later. Here's what I wrote back in 2012 for TheOnlinePhotographer: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2012/05/kirks-take-electronic-viewfinders.html


A Post SXSW Sunday Morning Walk Through Downtown with a Bag of Old Lenses. March 20.

New Painting at the Graffiti Wall. Olympus 40mm f.14 Pen F lens.

The big SXSW party is over. The airport was already a zoo at 4:30 a.m. this morning when we dropped Ben off for his 5:45 a.m. flight. Cars were backed up from the terminal at the drop off. Lines at the SkyCap stations were long and serpentine; littered with luggage. The lines inside, at the TSA security checks, were even longer. Ben nearly missed his flight. He made it to the gate with minutes to spare. 

We had a cold front move in last night and the temperatures this morning were in the lower 40's. After the sun came up, and the day warmed up a bit, I decided to go back downtown and see what the city looked like in the aftermath of a party for 200,000 of our new "best friends." 

Lately I have missed using the little gems in my Pen F (original film version) lens collection. I thought that today would be good day to give them a bit of a workout so I dropped four lenses into my smallest camera bag. I selected the 20mm f3.5, the 38mm f1.8, the 40mm f1.4 and the 60mm f1.5. All wonderfully clear and very compact. Theses are all metal, manual focus lenses built in the late 1960's and early 1970's. 

I'd driven past the Graffiti Wall on North Lamar earlier in the week and it was snarled with traffic and saturated with tourists. I thought I'd start there today and see if anyone was up and around before noon. Refreshingly, most of the people in attendance were there to paint. The ones who were there to watch or experience the wall for the first time seemed to be mostly locals. Traffic was light. The mood was jovial. 

I'm always interested in the performance of my ancient set of Olympus lenses with newer and newer cameras because I think of them as high performance optics and I like to see what can be squeezed out of them as camera sensors improve. Today I chose to use a Sony a6000 camera body. I was delighted with the results. 

This is the first time I've gotten really exemplary performance out of the 20mm lens. 

Temporary Event Signage. It's all getting stripped off now. 
Shot with the 40mm f1.4 lens.

The exemplary lens of the batch seems to be the 40mm f1.4 lens. It's tiny. Nearly the size of the new Olympus 45mm f1.8 or the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7. I shot the signage above at the close focusing limit of the Pen F 40mm and also shot at f2.0. I thought I was seeing high sharpness without post processing so while I was sorting images I enlarged this one, and the one below, to 100% (24 megapixel sensor) and was amazed at the incisive sharpness on the "cinamaker" sign. I can't imagine another lens could be better. 

Temporary Event Signage. It's all getting stripped off now. 
Shot with the 40mm f1.4 lens.

The interesting thing about many older lenses is that they were initially tested and used with cameras that lacked anything like the performance in even the cheapest cameras out today. When I used these lenses on their original Pen F film cameras we knew that a half frame of Tri-X was probably the limiting factor in overall system performance but we assumed that the lenses were only as good as they needed to be to out resolve the files of their time (the 1960's and 1970's). Since we were limited to using them with a small format film camera we had no way of knowing what their full potential might be.

When I used them with the first generations of Olympus micro four thirds digital cameras (for me, the EP-2) I saw that the lenses were at least capable of resolving up to that standard (12 megapixels). The lenses also showed performance improvements in the last two generations of Olympus cameras with 16 megapixel sensors. Surely, I thought, this would be the bar at which the lens performance would be exceeded by the much higher resolution of OMD cameras. But every time I try them on a higher performance (as expressed in image quality) camera I find that, for the most part, the lenses continue to "keep" improving; or, at least showing more and more of the potential they have always had....

Industrial Ports. New Building at Seaholm.
Pen F 20mm f3.5 lens.

The real surprise for me was the performance of the 20mm f3.5. It has a bit of barrel distortion that's easily corrected in Lightroom's lens correction menu but the thing that impressed me is the high sharpness and even tonality I saw today. The last time I used this lens was on the front of an EPL camera and the lower resolution, combined with no focus peaking, as well as the sensor technology of the time, made the system slow to handle and not especially compelling. The edges never looked right and there was color shift or contamination in the corners and edges. Today, with the higher resolution camera, sensors designed for wider lenses used closer to the sensors,  and good focus peaking, the 20mm seems to keep  surprising me with its potential. It's a tiny lens and not a fast aperture one but there is something really great about being able to manually focus these lenses, use them at medium to small f-stops and not have to worry about endlessly refocusing them. Once set, and using manual exposure, it would hard to imagine a faster operating combination. That, and at f8.0 and 20mm the depth of field is quite deep.

Graffiti Wall. Pen F 38mm f1.8 lens.

I was originally inspired to pull out the Olympus Pen F lenses and work with them on an a6000 after reading Andrew Reid's column on EOSHD.com about the pair. Here's what he says about the 38mm Pen lens: 

"Now this lens has nothing to do with the digital PEN, it is the original fast portrait prime for the old 1970’s PEN camera, a half-frame 35mm format rangefinder style camera. The lens is wider and smaller than the smallest 50mm primes for SLRs like the Asahi Takumar Pentax 55mm F1.8. And it is quite a character. It is ultra sharp wide open, almost right up there with a Zeiss or Leica rangefinder lens."

At any rate I'd been interested in seeing how the newer sensor in the a6000 worked with the 38mm lens so I acquired a camera and put on the lens with a pen-to-nex adapter. The last real test I had done with the Pen F lenses on a Sony APS-C camera were done with a Nex-7 and something about that particular sensor caused some color artifacting with the wider Pen F lenses. Swaths of the Nex-7 frames would have magenta discolorations; mostly near the tops and sides of the frame. 

What I found today was a much different picture. (Puns always intended...). In testing the 20mm, the 24mm f2.8 and the 38mm 1.8 I saw no signs of weird color casts and no big chromatic aberrations or purple fringing. Just acres and acres of resolution.

The 38mm focal length is similar in angle of view to a 58 mm lens on a full frame camera. I would quibble a bit with Andrew's assessment that the lens is critically sharp, wide open, but I will confirm that from f2.8 to f8..0 it outperforms nearly every modern AF lens in the same focal length ballpark.

It's a different kind of sharpness. Almost a reckless sharpness combined with good contrast, and nano-acuity. The sharpness seems deeper and less brittle, to my eyes, than more current lenses. 
Apparently, Olympus didn't just get good at making great lenses; they've been doing it for quite some time.  Now they've just figured out how to cut corners that most people might not notice....

38mm f1.8

38mnm f1.8

38mm f1.8 lens.

20mm f3.5 lens.

38mm f1.8 lens.

38mm f1.8 lens.

20mm f3.5 lens.

40mm f1.4 lens.

I resisted writing this last part for a while. I took a walk. I took a nap with the dog. But I felt compelled to say this:

With my in-depth use of Nikon manual focus "classics" on a Nikon D810 and D750, and my current testing of cherry picked Pen F lenses from 45 years ago, I have come to the conclusion that the older lenses are as good or better than all but the most premium lenses on offer today in most camera systems. It's true that you'll be trading off things like auto focus and lens supplied image stabilization but I'm okay with that. 

If you turn off the software inflicted image corrections provided to most maker's "general audience" lenses and compare them directly to the lenses I'm referencing above I think you'll be shocked to see just how little improvement has actually been delivered in the past 30 to 40 years of lens making and selling. While my ancient 20mm 3.5 Pen F lens has a bit of (correctable) barrel distortion the uncorrected distortions of dozens of current Canon, Nikon, Sony and m4:3 lenses are much more egregious. The little computers in our cameras that make files into Jpegs are throwing away image edges, and tons of pixels in the corners of images, just to get the files to look nearly as good as the ones coming out of ancient lenses. The same goes for corrections in raw files in desktop post production. We only overlook this now because we have enough pixels to throw away that we don't notice the enormity (and the costs) of these fixes until we go to print images quite large. 

I know camera sensors have gotten better and better but as the sensors have gotten better I think it's become a dodge or a crutch that allows camera and lens makers to make crappier and cheaper to produce lens designs which they then, knowingly, fix in-camera with computational cosmetics that depend on sheer pixel quantity to hide the side effects. 

I shot the image of the cake, above with an absolutely ancient Pen F 40mm lens. Handheld with no image stabilization and at a fairly wide (though unrecorded) aperture. When I clicked in to look at the 100% sample I was stunned at the level of detail and the cuttingly sharp rendition the lens provided. Better than my current collection of plastic barreled, modern lenses? In their own way.....yes. And more fun to shoot with as well. We've come a long way with digital camera but lenses? Not so much. 

Well, look at the handheld image, shot through a glass window, nearly wide open and tell me what you think.... here's a one hundred percent detail. Click to blow it up.... your call: