A glorious day for a walk and a spell of photographing with one of the "lost boys" of the lens world, the 135mm.

(click on the images to see them larger).

after having written about the benefits of physical exercise and its positive effect on the process of photography, I was inspired to pull out one of my heavier combinations of camera and lens and amble aimlessly through the ever more homogenous environs of downtown Austin. I didn't have an agenda, and I had ample free time, since I've more or less put my life on autopilot for the holidays and whatever algorithms are being used to run said life are much more effective and efficient than my usual, "hands-on" approach. 

The camera I decided to "open carry" was the Nikon D810 and the lens was the new/old 135mm f2.0, manual focus behemoth. I considered bolting on a few pounds of lead to the tripod socket but thought I'd save that addition for the time in the future when I am able to do a thousand push-ups without breathing hard...

All suited up in cap and jacket I stepped out of my car and took a moment to set up the camera. I chose the slowest ISO I could find in the menu (64) and decided that I'd shoot the lens at apertures between f2.0 and f4.0. Once or twice I veered into f8.0 but it was only as a test. 

The cup, saucer and plate above is a shot taken wide open after having an impromptu coffee with friend, Frank, at one of our favorite caffeinating spots, Caffe Medici, on Congress Ave. (Frank! Good to see you out walking with a camera on such a beautiful day!!!) The photograph is just me playing around with two "worst case" scenarios involving the 135mm, high speed lens: a wide open aperture at the very minimum focusing distance of the system. Oh, and add to that a handheld camera...

I hope a certain workshop teacher/blogger doesn't look too closely at the image because I fear there is no sharpness in the corners --- or much of anywhere else but in the focus plane. Not sure how to judge the nano-acuity(tm) in a dark corner that's out of focus but perhaps someone will direct me to an appropriate white paper so I can find out...Perhaps a paper from the Chambers of Measurement Secrets.

the image just above is taken from about thirty feet away and is in a zone that might be considered more "comfortable" for the lens. It's at a good distance and the aperture is two stops down from wide open, or, f4.0. Chain link fence against blue sky. My favorite idiom for mixed development. 

When one is playing around with the world's sharpest camera and the world's bokeh-y-ist lens it's impossible to resist shooting the sharp end of a plant leaf. The needle, as it were. I'm not really concerned whether or not the plant needle is infinitely sharp but I sure am pleased with the smooth as whole milk out of focus areas in the background. You could make some nice art with the right subject matter. 

I'm always a bit perplexed by modern landscapists who feel the need to stop their rigs down to f16 or f22 to get "everything" in focus. I'm happy that the foreground wall at the W Hotel is out of focus and that the Colorado building in the background appears to be all sharply in focus. It's all part of the fun of shooting longer lenses near their max apertures, outside, on sunny days. In this instance, f4.0.

In this instance, at our state Capitol building, I'm more pleased with the tonal range and the color palette than I am concerned with issues of sharpness, resolution or nano-acuity. I like the look of the image, holistically, and wouldn't hesitate to make one of my Platinum HyperPrints from this file. Sadly, if I had the foresight to bring along a tripod I'm sure we could have seen the grain on the window shutters. How that would have warmed my heart...and validated the quality of my gear!

The 135mm focal length is not for the lazy. You will often find that you are too close to objects, with this longer focal length, to photograph them the way you want to, and may have to walk a bit further from the car to get a "looser" cropping. But honestly, it's a good way to walk off a bit of that sticky bun from breakfast since actually moving oneself, instead of zooming, does use up more calories...

On the other hand the 135mm equivalent focal length is a great tool for shooting details and some larger close-ups. 

I did need to go up from the usual ISO 64 to photograph this coffee house customer standing at the bar near the back of the shop. I was happy to guess that I would need a minus one stop exposure compensation without having to chimp. (yay!) I was also happy that, with the new eyepiece magnifier on the D810, I was able to focus accurately enough to shoot this manual lens at f2.0 and mostly hit sharp focus. 

From my casual walk about town (my first longer adventure with the 135mm f2.0 ai lens from Nikon) I am ready to declare the lens, "fit for service at VSL." In fact, I think the lens is pretty remarkable. Bright, sharp and snappy, even wide open. By f5.6 it's a wonderful lens. 

I think (and have read on the Nikon site) that this lens was designed specifically to be a perfect lens for portraits and that part of its design was predicated on delivering great bokeh (or nice looking out of focus areas).  I know the prevalent judging metrics for lenses in the U.S. is all about sharpness, resolution and flatness of field, but none of these interests me nearly as much as how pleasant the lens might be in rendering skin in portraits and capturing comfortably smooth backgrounds, also in portraits. I think this older lens is great in these regards and still sharp enough to impress a generation trained to salivate only when exposed to high accutance, and impressive levels of detail at 100% inspection. 

In addition to being a very nice focal length for portraits it matches well with the optical characteristics of another lens I have written about many times. That would be the Nikon 105mm f2.5 ais or ai lens. If you need a slightly shorter focal length for this or that application they would make a good pair. 

Why do I call this focal length one of the "Lost Boys" of the lens world? It's a playful rejoinder to Michael Johnston's tongue-in-cheek disparaging of the 135mm equivalent focal length as a FL that people might use only once or twice in a career. He wrote about it in conjunction with the Fujifilm 90mm lens here: Michael's unfair poke at 135's... 

What a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon; camera and lens in hand, ample coffee, and clear skies with temperatures in the 60's. Still waiting for winter to arrive here (although my sweet olive bushes just went into bloom...).  Hope your New Year is progressing well. 

A good exercise for swimmers and photographers. 50 push ups per day. In two sets of 25.

World class butterfly swimmer at the 2008 USMS Short Course Nationals.

I've been reading about aging. It's not a very pretty subject. Left to its own devices the body loses muscle mass every year --- unless you do something about it. Less muscle mass means vital stuff to most of us because it presages slower swim times, and less endurance in holding up heavy camera and lens combinations for long periods of time. Both situations that we want to (actively) avoid!

I do aerobic exercise almost every day, rain or shine, but until recently I didn't pay as much attention to muscle mass and weight training. I never want to join a gym and hang out with people sweating and messing around with machines but, on the other hand, I want to preserve, or even build, muscle mass as I hit middle age.

I talked about this to one of my coaches at the pool. I asked him what I could be doing to swim faster. He answered that the only way to swim faster, once your stroke is as perfect as you can make it, is to get stronger. Which means building or re-building muscle. He recommended one thing specific to swimming (Finis swim cords --- surgical tubing that allows you to practice the arm movements of swimming, on dry ground, with plenty of resistance) and one thing all of us can do to build power and endurance = good, old fashion, push-ups; and plenty of them.

Why do I believe coach, Tommy Hannan? Well, there is that gold medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and those three NCAA national championships that his college team, UT Austin, won while he swam there....

But mostly I believe him now because, since I've incorporated his suggestions into my daily routine, my swim times and swim endurance have incrementally improved, and my ability to hold silly-heavy camera and lens combinations steady has also improved.

The basic push-up is pretty wondrous. If you keep your body perfectly flat while you do them you are also getting good "planking" exercise which tightens your core abdominal muscles. The push ups put the most pressure on your chest muscles and your triceps (swimming muscles) but also puts pressure on your shoulders as well. The benefit of good shoulder muscles is the ability to carry camera bags without as much risk of injury. Good shoulder muscles also reduce the risk of injury in highly repetitive swimming motions.

Building and maintaining muscle also burns fat quicker and helps one maintain optimum body mass.

I worked up to my 50 per day gradually. I started by doing sets of ten. At first I broke them up and did ten in the morning, then ten in the afternoon. Then I added a set before bed time. After a week I changed to two sets of ten in the morning and two sets of ten in the afternoon. After another week I added in the final ten before bedtime again to get a total of 50. Now I just get it done quicker and do 25 in the morning, after swim practice; and then 25 in the late afternoon, in the studio, before I call it quits on the workday.

I am intent on getting to 100 per day, and also varying the angle of inclination at which I do the sets. I use an "apple box" from my stash of movie gear, to get my toes up about a foot off the floor, which changes the angle of my body to the floor and changes the range of muscles that get used.

When I look through various blogs I note that an alarming number of photographers are....tubby, soft, pudgy, or some permutation of fat. Being out of shape isn't something aspirational. The mind, body and eye all work together, like three legs of a stool. Fat photographer = slow, tired and ponderous photographer. We can do better. We should do better. To really enjoy our craft we need to be in good shape. Hell, to enjoy life we need to be in good shape. A few push-ups won't hurt.

Next up? Either sit-ups or an article on video codecs; I can't decide.

If you are overweight but bitching about the weight of camera systems I remember what my cyclist friends say about wealthy (out of shape) newcomers to cycling: Before you invest a fortune in a super light bike frame take some time to lose that extra 25 pounds. It's much cheaper than a great, new frame and it's the most cost effective thing you can do to go faster....guaranteed.