A few thoughts on the new Hasselblad medium format camera. Just a few...

I think it's interesting to see all the old players in the camera market scramble to try and divine just what the modern consumer really wants, and where the profitable niches still exist for their brands. Hasselblad has been floundering since the dawn of digital and there are probably more reasons than most of us know for their perilous situation. 

I have been a Hasselblad user for a long time. Well over twenty two years. I've watched them (with sympathy) go from being the prestige camera maker, favored by the top working professionals in photography, to a company trying to re-brand decent cameras from Sony and then price them as though the addition of the H-Blad nameplate was a tremendous value-add. 

I think it's important to understand what initially made the Hasselblad product so sought after; pre-digital. I think the single most defining feature of the V series cameras had to be the square aspect ratio. This allowed the camera to be used in exactly the same way whether shooting with a vertical or horizontal intention. This meant that the camera never had to be turned sideways. While it was a very convenient way to shoot it also made it incredibly easy to shoot images square for final use. Legions of portrait photographers and artists of all types came to find the balance and integrity of the square to be very valuable. Seductive, almost.  In truth, I had no real loyalty to the Hasselblad brand but I have been (as a medium format practitioner) very loyal to creating in the square. In addition to the Hasselblads I have owned, I have also owned, and been very happy with, the Mamiya 6 cameras (square, 6x6) the Rolleiflex 6000 series cameras (square, 6x6), the Rollei twin lens reflex cameras (square, 6x6) and even the occasional Yashicamat 124G or the Mamiya C220. 

The common denominator across all these cameras was the wonderful and glorious square. 

Now, I have a bit of background in semiconductor technology and I understand very well that making larger sensors with a high yield is a very, very expensive proposition. In the early days of making medium format sensors the aspect ratio of the chip dies was a direct result of the need to maximize the use of wafer space and that meant using a rectangle. Making a large, square sensor for what was perceived as a very limited market was just illogical. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Dalsa and Kodak didn't get around to offering one to the rarified MF market until much further into the evolution of medium format cameras. But, in point of fact, by denying previous customers of one major attraction to their products, Hasselblad was already falling down. 

Continuing along the evolution of the digital products, the other major attraction of the square, film Hasselblads was the sheer surface area of the film. Having a 6 by 6 cm canvas to create with meant that lenses with longer focal lengths were required to get the same angles of view as smaller formats.  This meant that the optical signature of the system was much different. At any angle of view the fall off between areas of sharp focus and out of focus was much quicker and much more pronounced. I call it focus ramp but other people (wrongly) refer to the effect as bokeh. Some of the allure of all the film medium format cameras was the way the longer lenses elegantly separated the in focus subject with an out of focus background. With the need to engineer and design around much smaller (geometry) sensors, early on, (and still, today) the visual results of today's MF systems offer a compromise; the focus falls off more quickly than does that of a 35mm equivalent but much less quickly than it's run-of-the-mill ancestors. 

So we don't get the square and we don't get the full effect of the focus ramp I've described but what we did get was a frightfully expensive series of cameras that required a whole new series of lenses and provided (as a minor justification to the absurd cost of said lenses) us with autofocusing, which most of the intended consumers for the product neither needed nor wanted. Gosh, this just sounds worse and worse as I write all down....

In the film days one could pick up a decent and highly functional, used, square body for about $800 and a nice 150mm portrait lens, complete with T-star coatings, for about $1200. You could put down your $2K and start shooting fashion, portraits, editorial stuff. No problem. But in the mid-era of Hasselblad's engagement with digital we were looking at bodies in the $30,000 range and the need to buy a totally new collection of much pricier lenses. It was almost as if the company (already a lux maker) had used the move to digital as an excuse to make insane price increases.  And all for cameras with small, 645 aspect ratio sensors, and a handful of pricey lenses made under license by Fuji. 

The market voted with their feet, and out of necessity all the but most well heeled professionals opted to figure out how to make cameras from Canon and Nikon work well enough to serve their markets. The cost of entry into Hasselblad's version of the future was just too much to bear for the vast majority of photographers who had loyally used their products for decades. 

So, now they've hit the wall and they are looking for a brand new camera (with a brand new set of lenses) to save their bacon. Maybe the X1D will be the camera that will save the company from oblivion. But I don't think so. It looks cute. It's small and seemed nicely designed (thank you, ex-Volvo designer....) but it just seems so much like what Bronica did as a last gasp to hold onto their film customers. They came out with a 645 rangefinder body, along with a small line of slower and less expensive lenses and it was a marketing failure. 

While I'll admit that not everyone shares my love for the square I think that Hasselblad dropped the ball on a good opportunity to differentiate this camera--- and by extension, their brand --- by not having the camera use a square format sensor. But the major failing is their inability to read the current market. One of the reasons Sony has seen significant growth in their A7xx series sales is the fact that by going digital and reducing the space between the lens mount and the sensor, they created, essentially, an open architecture that allows users to try just about any interchangeable lens on the market. Why does this work? Because there is a shutter in the A7xx body. The new Hasselblad system, based around the X1D, is designed with shutters in each lens and not in the actual body. You might be able to source an adapter sometime in the near future but if you put lenses on from other systems there is no shutter with which to actually take a photograph!!!!!

For around $14,000 you get a system that locks you into using either the large and expensive H series lenses or the two new (slow)  X1D lenses that were announced with the camera. The sensor in the camera may have twice the surface area as the familiar 35mm camera sensors but in terms of linear differences it amounts to barely more than a single digit percentage increase. In comparing the sensors in the Sony A7R2 and the X1D it's just a difference of approximately 7900 pixels (Sony) versus 8200 pixels (H-Blad). It's certainly not enough to make any difference at all in normal print sizes. And there's no matching portrait lens to boot.

Continuing with the comparisons the Sony and the H-Blad have the same EVF resolution numbers and while the H-Blad specs show a hopeful 14 stops of DR the Sony is already in that ballpark, according to DXO. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Sony makes the sensor (and maybe even the engine under the skin...). The appeal is limited by Hasselblad's limited vision of what consumers really, really want and what professionals really, really need. 

It's a cute little system that's out of the budgets of most amateurs while being too limited (lens selection) to suit most professionals. And, from my personal perspective, $14,000 in 2016 should buy you 4K video performance. The camera is limited there too. Ah well, it was never aimed at me...It's not square enough.

A few days ago I wrote a post about lighting on location with LEDs. Here's how the final image looks.

Portrait Subject. 

Several days ago I wrote a post that showed how I was using LED lights to illuminate portrait subjects at a law firm here in Austin. I wanted to follow up that description of the technical stuff by showing what the final result looks like so you can better understand what I was trying to accomplish at the shoot. The image above may not be the one finally selected by the client for inclusion in their website but it is a good example of what we were going for. No major retouching has been done.

To refresh, the taking camera was a Sony A7R2, using a Rokinon 85mm t1.5 cine lens set at f2.8. My goal in lighting is to first make the subject look great while matching to a consistent look for all the thirty+ images I've made for the same company over the last few months. My lighting goal is to control the color and quality of the light on the subject while effectively blending the existing light from three different, continuous sources (exterior through the windows (blue/cyan), mixed spectrum florescent, and more yellow spectrum from compact fluorescents in ceiling cans). The effectiveness of precisely targeted, custom white balancing can not be underestimated.

That's it. 

(Sorry for the delay between the first blog and the example photo. I wanted to receive permission to use my client's portrait before posting it here. Not necessarily required but very appropriate....).


The cheap Zeiss Y/C lens works. I'll keep it.

Belinda was making fresh corn soup on Monday. Here are the primary ingredients. 

I'm pretty happy with the Zeiss 50mm f1.7 for Contax. I bought the lens and an adapter last week and got the duo on Monday. The lens is relatively old but in great shape. I'm guessing it was the current cheap 50 for the Contax RTS system in  the late 1980's and early 1990's, and then fell away when the Contax N system came out as the last iteration of the Yashica/Contax cameras before being swept away by the digital revolution. 

I finished up my "must do" work and took some time out to do a brisk walk through central Austin with the 50mm f1.7 cobbled on to the front of the A7ii. I did one thing differently today; I put a .9 ND filter on the lens so I could easily shoot at the optimum apertures instead of being pushed into the range where there's practically no difference between cheap or dear lenses, in terms of performance. I tried to shoot mostly at f2.8-f4.0 today, along with keeping my ISO at 100. That's why the left and right sides of the fence shot (below) go out of focus. It's not a fault of the lens, it's the limited depth of field available. Where the lens is in focus is pretty darn sharp. 

From time to time I took the ND off the lens so I could make sure I wasn't killing the overall performance of the lens by inserting two more air/glass interfaces into the basic lens structure...

Shooting with this lens on the Sony A7ii was a blast for me because it took me right back to the feel of my first cameras. I'm from the generation that started with manual focus lenses and I'm always most comfortable (if the finder works well enough) when I turn off the automation and just use my fingers and my eyes to get stuff focused. Once you are focused you can take your fingers off the ring and shoot to your heart's delight, right up until you change the camera-to-subject distance. Nice for faster shooting.

I didn't notice any faults in particular with the lens, and the package of lens/camera/adapter is still small and has a low impact on the user when carrying the collection around. We are now officially on the search for more wonderful and elusive Zeiss glass from this particular system. I hear they made three different 100mm models. Sounds like something I might need....

On another note: I am doing an interesting self-experiment. I have not touched the novel (The Lisbon Portfolio) since I launched it on Amazon back in the Summer of 2014. I picked it up last weekend and decided to re-read it after a two year passage of time. Would I still like it? Did it hold up? Were the editing oversights as egregious as everyone says? 

What I found is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and, after the scene with the gun fight in the bathroom, I could not put it down until I finished it. So, I will toss this out again.... If you know J.J. Abrams (the director of the latest Star Wars movie, etc.) please toss a copy of the book to him and implore him to read it. I'll be happy to option the movie rights to him. But, if he doesn't get on the stick it may be too late. I may have to send a copy to Sam Mendes (latest Bond movie, Spectre) and see how interested he might be......

If you have not read the book you probably should. It's entertaining and all about photography----kinda. Give it a try. The Kindle version is super cheap on Amazon and the Kindle app is free for many, many devices.... Really, get a copy...

Get the technical stuff right and you'll find your camera (whatever it is) might be better than you ever thought possible.

From "James and the Giant Peach." A Zach Theatre Production.

I guess it's not hard to imagine that a lot of my close friends are photographers and filmmakers. In some of our down time between projects we have a tendency to meet at the local coffee shop and discuss a wide range of topics related to our work. It's nice because it provides and information feedback loop that helps keep us current. Everyone seems to have their own point of view and their own assessment of the value, and the balance of, technical and artistic considerations.

One of the discussions that came up this week concerned video cameras but is cogent to all cameras. My friend had shot some video with his Sony A7Sii camera (a really good DSLR for shooting video) and was observing that the 8 bit files from that camera were more "fragile" than the 10 bit files from his other video camera, a Sony FS7. I asked him to explain and he told me that he is able to color correct much more aggressively with the bigger files and that smaller changes to the 8 bit file cause those files to quickly "break" and lose image quality. He said that the same was true when it came to correcting exposure or lifting shadow and recovering highlights. Much more latitude for correction in the bigger camera.

As I struggled to understand why one camera could be so much better than the other I asked a few questions about his shooting habits. It turns out that he is not as concerned about getting a good white balance prior to shooting because he feels that he can correct a great deal in post processing. He does not use a light meter and has similar beliefs about exposure correction in post processing. That's fair; everyone works in a different way. But my point of view is different.

Rather than depending on the latitude and flexibility of the final files from a still or video camera I tend to take the approach that most cameras can give very convincing results if you are able to fine tune your shooting parameters to optimize your files at the time of shooting.

Whether your camera shoots in 8 bits or 10 bits as long as the files are not raw a certain amount of color shifting is permanently part of your files if you are not making custom white balances. I'll admit that I was more reticent to take the time to custom white balance with my Nikon cameras because the procedure was complex and I would sometimes forget the process without my cheat sheet. But, if you shoot a Jpeg file and the file is too blue that means some of the yellow color information has already been thrown away and the best you can hope for in post processing is an interpolated and non-linear, subjective reconstruction of the file color. You are basically trying to boost the yellow channel and replace the lost yellow; working from memory. The information is already lost. And the loss of information in one channel overloads the color balances in the remaining channels.

Remember too that color balance also effects exposure! At some point, if too much color from one channel is discarded it is impossible to get back to a neutral balance which would have been the starting point in post processing, if a custom white balance had been done.

In my workflow at shoots the color balance precedes every other step. I always custom white balance before I set exposures.

But even in the custom white balance process there is ample room for error. While a so-so custom white balance beats auto white balance in many situations the truth is that most people are sloppy with their technique here too. The problem is that people see all white as "white." They aim their cameras at typing paper, seamless backdrop paper, a white cotton shirt, white paint, white boards and tons of other "whites" which have UV brighteners, which fluoresce, which have various color casts, etc. The use of UV brighteners makes paper look brighter and more highly reflective but it also causes magenta and purple color casting. Some papers are warm and some are cold in color. White boards have a lot of blue included in their spectrum which makes them look "cleaner" to the human eye.

The solution is to use known targets for WB that are designed with neutral white in mind. The use of the same target for every situation gets you a giant step closer to consistency and color matching between shots and between takes. Whether you use an Expo disk (lens mounted white target diffuser) or a Lastolite pop-up target or a Macbeth card, or some other known target engineered for neutral response your use of a consistent target will eventually give you greater and greater confidence in getting good white balance and will make your time correcting color in post much more enjoyable.

Buy a good white target and your camera becomes more color accurate than a more expensive camera that is poorly white balanced. Neutral is nice. It's one way of being happier with the camera you already have in your hands.

The same thing is true about exposure. The closer you get to optimum exposure the better looking your final files will be and the less work it will take to get them all to both match and show good detail in highlights and shadows. A camera with a limited dynamic range is scrupulously set to a correct, metered exposure will have more overall latitude than a more expensive camera that is set up to over expose or under expose. And even if you can "lift" the shadows with that miraculous Sony sensor you are losing detail and potentially introducing shadows banding whenever you make the lift.

I tend to use a meter because I trust an incident meter more in tricky lighting than the histograms in most cameras. And I trust the histograms in most cameras much more than I do the LCD review images. But my latest technique for good exposure setting comes from having worked a lot in video lately with cameras that have zebra stripes. I set the cameras I use to have the zebras indicate when a highlight is at 100% or higher. I aim the camera at the white balance target placed in the plane where I'll have my subject. Then I shift exposure settings until I see zebras. Then I bring down the exposure until the zebras on the white balance target just disappear. At that point I know that my whites won't burn out and that I've exposed as brightly as I can without the danger of overexposing my main subject.

A perfectly white balanced camera, set to the optimum exposure will yield the widest range of tones and the best image quality, regardless. If you have a better camera then the same holds true. The tighter your command of technique the better than camera becomes.

Once the essential camera parameters are set you are then welcome to knock yourself out and be the beret wearing, espresso sipping, monocle adorned artist you always knew you were....

Next up I guess we should look at working in a location with mixed color light sources. We've got a plan for working with that as well.


The search for my ultimate 50mm lens to use on the Sony A7ii is on temporary hold as I try out an interesting lens. It's on probation.

I've been prowling through the commercial-o-sphere looking at 50mm lens options for the clever mirrorless cameras that Sony keeps dangling in front of me. I like 50's. I like them a lot. But there is something strange and off putting about spending $900 or $1200 to get a decent normal lens when the world is filled with magnificent 50mm models from days gone by. And mostly they are available for much more reasonable prices. The only additional price of admission is an inexpensive adapter...

Back in the early 1990's I had a brief flirtation with the line of cameras built by Yashica and sold under the Contax brand. They had a licensing agreement with Zeiss and under that agreement they created and marketed a line of lenses that were really quite good. I had two different 50's from them; the f1.4 and the f1.7 and both were very good lenses for me. I have to confess that while I know I was supposed to like the faster and more expensive lens better I always favored the images coming from the f1.7 version. The benefit of that littler Zeiss lens is that it's small, light and sharp. Even with an adapter along for the ride it is not burdensome on the A7ii and, in fact, is the perfect fit where I am concerned.

I ordered the lens and the adapter from a merchant on Amazon. I was fine with the stated delivery time which would place the duo here between the 23rd and the 27th of the month. Imagine my delight when I came home yesterday and the box from Amazon was hanging out of my mailbox. Three days early! Nice surprise.

Over the weekend I had a chance to play with the Rokinon 50mm 1.4 and, while I am sure it's a good performer, the new, little Zeiss package is much more ergonomic. My total cost for the lens and a C/Y to Nex adapter was less than $150. I've shot a few images but certainly not enough to say anything definitive about it. Yet. My cursory observations include: Wow! No vignetting. None. And, wow, the finder image is bright and contrasty. I've got the lens with me today and it's following me on my rounds. I'll shoot with it as much as I can. Then we'll see if inexpensive, Zeiss branded stuff from the 1990's can hold a candle to modern, un-adapted glass.

The lens is small and the adapter is simple.


I went to work today and made some portraits. I was copying myself and what I did for the same client a few months ago.

In the fourth quarter of last year I photographed a number of attorneys for a large law firm in one of the glorious new high rise buildings in downtown Austin. It was a fun shoot. The principals driving the photo shoot has seen a style I'd been shooting for several tech firms and liked it. They wanted a variation for their new website and so I found myself walking around the floor they inhabit, high above the street life, looking for cool backgrounds. We wanted to make a variation of environmental portraits where the background goes wildly out of focus and becomes a wash of colors and shapes.  If you are going to do this style you need some backgrounds that you can get far enough away from to drop off the focusing in a convincing way and those backgrounds should have some colors that work with portraits.

I found five or six different locations around the offices but the one I liked best was the above angle from the lobby looking down a short hall, with small conference rooms on either side.

Once the camera is set up and a subject in place this is what I want the background to do (see just below). 
I've intentionally silhouetted the person in the photo because it's an actual client portrait and I don't have permission yet to actually use her likeness in the blog. That's one of the restrictions of being a working photographer....

The windows to the left and behind the subject are interior windows of frosted glass that form the interior walls of the small conference rooms. So the (indirect) light from outside is coming through the outside window, filling the conference rooms and then illuminating the windows that the camera sees. The hall is more or less daylight balanced. Once you find a background you want then the next part of the process is figuring out the relationship of the subject to the background and the spatial relationship of the camera to the subject. Those relationships show me where I'll be standing and how I'll be lighting to get the look I want. 

The image just above shows my basic set-up today from behind the camera position. So let's break down why I have everything set up the way I do. I'll start with the chair. It's NOT for the subject to sit on. The chair will be directly in front of the subjects and they will be standing behind it using the chair back as a device to rest their arms on. Their forearms and hands are outside the crop but having a place to put one's hands goes a long way to helping people pose more comfortably. Having something to put your arms or hands on also "anchors" the subject into defined area which means less worry about focus accuracy and inadvertent changes in composition caused by our talent moving around. 

Bringing the chair in at the beginning also gives me a target zone for setting up my lighting and assorted modifiers. My next step is to set up my two 24x36 inch soft boxes. Each one has a CooLED 100 (these are the ones with the two by two inch square, SMD LED elements that effectively emulate the characteristics of a traditional bulb, as opposed to the less controlled panel LEDs we've used in the past. 

I use two soft boxes, butted right next to each other, to both soften the overall light and also generate enough light output to get me the shutter speed/f-stop/ISO combination that makes for the best image. I love lighting environmental locations with these continuous output lights because it gives me good control over the total lighting effect while helping to prevent blinking and flinching that the anticipation of flash generally causes (in people disposed to having a sensitivity to quick flashes). 

The next layer of stuff I add to the set up has to do with controlling the existing lighting that effects the area we'll be shooting in. My subject is actually standing in the lobby and nothing there is lit by natural light. Everything is illuminated by either long, fluorescent tubes or can lights in the ceiling. Since there are two different light sources, and both of them are not very well corrected. My job is to take that light off the subject altogether. I want to reduce or illuminate hard top light and the yellow/green spectrum the comes with it. 

That's where the circular, pop-up reflectors come in. One gets placed a foot or two directly above the standing subject. The role of this round, translucent diffuser is to knock down the top light by two stops and to also diffuse any light that insists on getting through. It's a vital tool, otherwise you'd need to radically increase the power of the two lights in the soft boxes to overpower the hard, top light coming from ceiling fixtures, and then you'd change the total character of the light in the room and make the whole scene look very artificial. 

The second reflector/diffuser is the one over by the wall on the right (looking from camera position). It's there to provide clean fill light in the form of bouncing the main light from the two soft boxes into the shadows on the opposite side of my subject. Having the while panel near the wall keeps the yellow cast from one of the ceiling cans from bouncing from the yellow wall paper of the wall back onto the subject. Kind of a critical addition if you want to keep your subject's face color neutral on both sides. 

The LED lights are pretty accurately 5600 K so why do the windows in the background look so blue. The frosted glass is neutral and translucent but think about it for a second... The light that's transluminating them is coming from essentially open shade and since it's not direct sunlight it's actually somewhere between 6500K and 7000K which makes it much bluer in appearance that the daylight balanced LEDs.  The room is warmer than the LEDs or the outside illumination but we are effectively controlling all the light striking our subject directly. 

The final step in the set up is to choose the right lens and then choose the right exposure/depth of field characteristics for your photographs. I was using a very fast 85mm lens on the front of a Sony A7R2. Using it at about f2.8 meant that we can reasonably tell that the background is an interior office space but without showing too much distracting details. The softness of the background goes a long way toward concentrating attention on the subject while the interplay of different color temperatures also helps to separate picture elements.

To try and do the shots with just a fast lens and no lights or modifiers would result in an image with weird shadows on the subject's face along with providing a tough time for anyone trying to deal with the ongoing cascade of colors and tones.


A few strategies for a walk through the heat in downtown Austin. With a camera.

the bar scene on Austin's Sixth Street is widely known to be a class act. 

We had a cool, wet Spring. The first part of June followed along for the ride; but last week we headed back to typical, mid-Summer, Texas weather with heat indexes heading past 107 degrees and an intense sun unfiltered by any clouds. Hot. Sweaty, grimy, oppressively hot.

We're getting the edge of a monster heat wave that's ripping through California and our adjoining states in the Southwest. You've got to have sympathy for the folks in Palm Springs where the temperature is predicted to hit 118 on Sunday and 121 on Monday. Yikes! 

But you can't spend the Summer hiding in your house with the curtains drawn and the air conditioner panting. So even on the zany days I like to grab a camera and go for a walk. I know downtown is a heat sink, what with all the asphalt and heat transferring, reflective buildings but that's where all the stuff is. Like today's 2nd St. Music Festival. And Voodoo Donuts. 

It's Saturday so I hit the pool for swim practice at 8:30. When we finished at 10 the usual crew headed to the local coffee shop to catch up. I made it home in time for lunch. The family consensus was BBQ. Ben's been up in New York all Spring and there's little stuff you can really call good BBQ outside of Texas. Tennessee BBQ? (chuckle) that's just smoked meat with sweet sauce poured over the top... I have no idea what transplanted Austinites do when they find themselves in upstate N.Y. with a serious hankering for perfectly done brisket or ribs.... I guess they just suffer until they can get back and get in line at Franklin's, or Pokejo's. 

At any rate, the afternoon was going by quick so I grabbed a small camera and got ready. Walking sandals? Check. Sunscreen on face and arms? Check. Long sleeve technical fabric shirt with an SPF of 50? Check. Khaki shorts? Check. Decent hat? Check. Non-polarized sunglasses? (All the better to see screens with...) Check. Seemed pretty thorough but on days with UV at 10+ on a scale of 0-10 I was looking for just a little more protection. 

A couple of years ago I bought a UV umbrella from Whole Earth Provision Company. It's a small, collapsible umbrella with a reflective, silvered fabric on the side that faces the sun and black fabric on the side that faces Kirk. It's a perfect piece of portable shade, and since big swaths of my usual route are in direct sun I decided to bring it along. It's really kind of cool (literally and figuratively) to be able to bring your own shade with you...

I stuck a clip on my belt so the umbrella could hang out while I was shooting. And away we go. 

I parked my car in the usual, shaded spot and started walking downtown with my Sony a6300 and its 50mm f1.8 SEL lens (the APS-C version, not the new product disaster version...). I was about 20 minutes into the walk when I pulled the camera up to my eye to shoot yet another boring shot of the skyline with cranes when I noticed the distinctive visual pattern of a dust spot, dead center in the frame. And if it's big enough to see in the finder it's got to be a whopper.

I clicked the shutter and examined the image in review. Yep. A big hunk of dust hanging out right in the middle. I found the shutter cleaning feature in the menu and tried it several times. No luck. No happiness. I sighed. It was too late to turn back. I cruised on with the knowledge of my compromised camera weighing on my mind. 

The halfway point on my walk is the (nicely air conditioned and open to the public) Austin Convention Center. I ducked in, grabbed a drink of cool water from one of the water fountains and found a comfortable chair, and then I put on the reading glasses, popped off the lens and took a look at the sensor. Yep. There it was, a white piece of dust big enough to be seen by the almost naked eye. 

Against all logic and good sense I tried to blow it off with a puff of breath. Fortunately, the heat had dried me out so no spit flew onto my sensor. I came to my senses, put the lens back on and decided that the afternoon's take of photos would create a good opportunity to practice my retouching skills later on....

I left the convention center and wended my way down Sixth St., past the sleazy bars and the homeless panhandlers, past the Oxfam volunteers and Save the Children volunteers with their bright tee shirts and their clipboards with petitions and pledge cards. I stopped from time to time to document some of the better logos and signs on display --- like the one for the Dirty Dog Bar and the one just below, for the Velveeta Room (just love the microphones around the top half of the sign). 

And, of course, I am endlessly fascinated with the mystery of tattoos. I can't buy a shirt I'll like for more than a season or two, how do people think they'll want to keep tattoos all their lives?

Eventually I made it back to the car,  after stopping by Book People to get the latest copy of Photo District News. All in all, a pleasant way to spend a quiet Saturday afternoon. 

When I got back home Studio Dog gave me the look that said, "Where the heck have you been and why didn't I get to go?" She makes me laugh. She hates the heat. We would have gotten about three blocks before she would have plunked down and refuse to go any further. But I guess that's never the point...

The dust spot came off with the first puff of compressed air. All good now.

Hmmmm. No recent Austin music festival seems complete without the appearance of underwear models. I'm not sure of the connection but it's nice to see that not everyone in the city is getting fat....

Every once in a while I make it by Esther's Follies to see if Kerry Awn has painted new murals. 

See Austin! And then please go back home...

I always wonder what they really mean when people tell me their cameras are "obsolete."

A Spread from the Kipp School Annual Report. Designed by Gretchen H. 

We are a culture of obsessive, serial upgraders. We're always looking for the "best" solution to imaging projects; as though the camera was responsible for creative decisions or building rapport with a subject. I get it when people upgrade because a feature like video might open up a new business opportunity. After shooting my first commercial project in 4K video I now get why someone might upgrade to take advantage of new video technology. But, looking around at the visual landscape, I'm not sure that upgrading still cameras is a very effective tactic. 

The longer the "digital revolution" drags on the more I am convinced that "heretics" like Ken Rockwell had it mostly correct when he preached that 6 megapixels was as much resolution as most photographers would ever need.  Or when he wrote a long piece about sharpness being an overrated parameter when judging the success or failure of an image. We've all moved on from 6 megapixels to 16 or 24 or even 50 megapixels but there is hardly any indication that the final quality of most advertising or editorial imaging is even marginally improved, in any sense, over what the previous generations of cameras provided us. 

More and more I hear from people who think their cameras have become "obsolete" because the company who made their camera has come out with an updated model. Many times the update has very little to do with image quality and is introduced as "new and improved" based solely on newer features or the fine-tuning of features none of us asked for in the first place.

While we've eventually found some uses for things like wi-fi, GPS, panoramic modes, super high frame rates, in camera HDR and more, most of these things have absolutely nothing to do with making images of higher overall visual quality and everything to do with slaking the mass market's camera attention/boredom disorder. People would rather master the working methodology of a new "feature," and find some sort of seemingly practical use for their newly mastered feature than actually practice the discipline of concentrating on the visual projects they previously professed to love or enjoy. 

It seems they are more interested, for example, in mastering GPS and being able to show people exactly where, on a map, they took a photograph than in taking the time and effort to actually make the photograph interesting enough that people would enjoy looking at it. Does it matter where in the world an image was taken if the lure of using new technology side-tracked the user to the extent that the example image failed miserably? And I am sorry but nearly everyone I know who is busy geo-tagging their images is profoundly....boring.

Does having HDR in a camera create a subconscious desire to stop looking at the subject matter you used to like in preference for new type of subject matter that might better show off the technical proficiency of the HDR feature you are attempting to master?

Is the compulsive use of super high frame rates really producing more "perfect moments" or is it just instrumental in building a library of almost identical images, the bulk of which are boring garbage but are good at showing off the speed at which you can operate the shutter?

I think about these things as I hear from friends, and even readers of the blog and then I open the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet closest to the door of the studio and rummage through the samples from years (and decades) past and try to see if I can actually see a difference in the final products of the cameras I use today when compared to past generations. 

The image above is a good example. It was taken with what most of us would now think of as a primitive camera. The camera was the quirky but lovely Sony R1. It boasted a 10 megapixel sensor, a slightly smaller than APS-C sensor and a two frame raw buffer. The lens was great but the AF was slow and kludgy by today's standards. The EVF was small and of a low resolution, and the camera lacked any video capability. 

But when it came out the R1 was viewed as a fine and very workable picture taking machine. In fact, because of, or in spite of its limitations I worked hard to deliver well lit and well seen image constructs to its sensor. The image in the brochure above is a tight crop of a much wider frame. The overall design project won Addy Awards for the design and photography, and it still shows well today in my portfolio. I can't think of a single "improvement" in my current cameras that would have made the images we created for the brochure any bit better. Even 11 years ago the technology already existed to make photographs whose technical qualities generally exceeded the talent of most practitioners. 

The one thing that makes me believe that this "obsolete-ism" is a false crutch is the fact that every time someone asks an audience to envision their "ultimate" digital camera the vast majority of audiences always come up with the same basic requests:  All I need are XX megapixels (whatever the current average is). I'd love a camera with no extra junk on it that I never use. I'd love a camera without video. I want the controls to be very simple and straightforward. I don't need or want any of the silly filter modes or picture modes; like sport, or lunch or baby mode. The menu should be drop dead simple and not cluttered up with too many choices. 

I think what I hear when people say, "My camera is obsolete, I need to upgrade to...." is really, "I am too lazy to go out and work to get good shots. I am too lazy to perfect my technique. It's a hell of a lot more fun to just play with new cameras. Maybe this year's camera will have an auto-pro mode that will make my photographs more interesting." 

I'm not pointing a finger at anyone else. I'm guilty of exactly the same thing.  


Why I put on a suit and nice shoes and drove an hour to a rehearsal for a corporate show I was not hired to work at.

Always bring an extra paddle.

I worked on a video project this month. At every step, from script submission, to rough cut, to final cut, the project was thoroughly inspected and approved by a hierarchy of responsible people; including the CEO. The video will play tomorrow at the company's annual meeting. I delivered the video program to the client via an FTP delivery earlier in the week. I sent the same file to the A/V company that would be in charge of technically producing the show. A day later I got in my car and drove over to the A/V company to deliver a memory stick with six different file types of the same program to make sure they had back-ups and options. Thumbs up everywhere.

But even though I had "covered my bases" I asked if I could come out this morning to the rehearsal.
I put two extra memory sticks with the video program on them into the pocket of my khaki suit coat, gave my shoes a cursory re-plolish, had a last sip of Illy coffee and headed out to the little town, thirty miles away, where the show is being held.

When I got to the auditorium I found the person I had worked with on a daily basis for the project and handed her a memory stick. I did the same for the person she reports to. "Just a bit of insurance." I told them as I handed the Lexar memory sticks off.

We chatted and then the A/V company started going through the "run of show" and I watched the video I'd worked on spread across a 24 foot wide screen in the middle of the stage. I paid careful attention to every second. I listened as carefully as I knew how. The projection was perfect. Detailed and crispy. The audio was perfectly EQ'd through the house P.A.

I shook hands with the CEO (the only other person on the premises with a suit and tie) and we said nice things to each other in passing. Then I got in my car and headed back home.

Now I'll be able to get a good night's sleep knowing that the project will be presented correctly and that my clients would indeed get the value they paid for. Call it one more step in a quality control routine....

I got back to Austin and changed into take the day off clothes. Shorts and an old, weathered shirt. Tattered sandals. I warmed up a couple slices of the pizza we had last night for dinner and sat down to work on correcting some auto-correct "artifacts" in yesterday's blog post.

I felt calm knowing I had done everything in my control to make the client's video presentation during their annual meeting as good as I could. And that's a part of the job most people never get around to writing about. But I think it's critical, if you want the next project...