11.16.2016

Hindsight. 20/20. Still.....

Sony a99 camera.

Of all the camera and lens combinations I've bought and sold over the years there are few that make me the least bit regretful. For a while I regretted selling my Contax RTSiii and some lenses, like the 85mm f1.4, but the regret diminished when it became obvious that digital was here to stay and we were never going back to 35mm film. But in the digital world there are very, very few partings with gear that I can remember that really made me think. Even if the bodies were beautiful the interiors were mostly getting obsoleted as fast as the engineers could upgrade. But still, there are some that I deeply regret consigning, trading in or selling. I thought I'd reminisce and list...

In the realm of lenses, there are more than just a few. I should have figured out some way (and rationale) to hold onto my Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens. I've never been very happy with the 24-70mm lenses that replaced it and, when I look back, the overall image quality from that lens was just great. 

Once you've owned an Olympus 35-100mm f2.0 lens you will have really understood just how good a 70-200mm equivalent could be. Forget all the equivalence nonsense for a moment and just look at files that people actually shot with this multi-pound behemoth... Even wide open the images were incredibly sharp. The issue became that no one knew what the future roadmap looked like for lenses from a discontinued lens mount system. If we'd known that the OMD EM-1 was coming down the road it would have been a whole other story but attempts to use the lens on bodies made prior to that were less fun, so the lens had to go. No way I was going to try to keep a handful of E bodies around and working just to use that one lens...

People talked smack about the Sony Alpha system (and sometimes with good reason) but one of the joys of that translucent mirrored system was the selection of vaguely disguised Zeiss lenses for cheap. My absolute favorite from the system was the 85mm f2.8. It was plasticky but it was also small, light, cheap and sharp. Really sharp. By f8.0? Otus-y sharp... and all for less than $300. 

A more expensive, but equally mourned Sony lens was the 16-50mm f2.8 DT lens. It only covered APS-C sensors but it was everything you might want in a wide angle to short telephoto, premium kit lens. I thought about picking one up recently and using it with an adapter on an a6300 but the 16-50mm f2.8 DT really seems to have held its value in the used market. I'll pass on it for now. 

Another Sony lens, one that was neither cheap nor small, was the 70-200mm f2.8 for the Alpha system. I have more stand out keepers, shot wide open, from that lens than from similar lenses I've owned in either the Canon or Nikon system. It got sold when we purged the Alpha system. Something we did when it seemed like Sony was putting all of its eggs in the mirrorless, A7xxxx basket. I've now got the 70-200mm f4.0 FE lens but it's just shy of the old magic...

There are two workhorse lenses I've always liked in the Canon system and I wish they had counterparts in the Sony FE universe. One was the 20mm f2.8 which, when stopped down moderately, was almost without distortion and pretty convincingly sharp on my old 5D. The other was a wonderful, small portrait lens; the 100mm f2.0. It needed to be a stop or two down from wide open to get sharp and contrasty but when you arrived at f4.0 you were working with a very nice lens system and the results for portraits were always pleasing. 

Can't think of any recent AF Nikon lenses I was heartbroken over. Most were serviceable but had clunky exterior designs and felt plasticky in my hands. Maybe I just avoided spending the outrageous money asked to buy into the really good stuff. That, and the fact that most of my camera bodies either focused in front of or behind whatever it was I wanted to photograph...

There are two lenses from the Panasonic system that I found very pleasant and very ergonomically well behaved. Both were zooms. I have to say that I really liked the 12-35mm f2.8 and the 35-100mm f2.8. They never failed to deliver great files for me and, perhaps I should have kept them and a GH4 body around last time instead of doing into a binary purge. With those two bodies and those two lenses (and maybe a nice macro) a person could sustain a decent imaging business. But the (mostly false) lure of full frame cameras was a powerful lure...

Moving on to "lost" camera bodies is also a sad mess. The first one I wished I'd kept was, at one time, the ultimate "bridge" camera. It was the Olympus E-10. Alloy-tough body, great lens and rock solid overall performance from the early days of digital. That camera was a workhorse and we did so many portraits with it for website headshots that it was probably the prime money maker in my inventory for at least a year and a half. We needed more control over depth of field so we left it for another 4 megapixel camera, the Nikon D2Hs, which was also a great performer. It's only flaw was high ISO performance, but then nothing was that good at available dark photography back then. 

Two from Sony that I regret abandoning so quickly were the a77 and even more, the a99. I will confess that I loved shooting with that camera more than just about any digital camera body in the last ten years for many, many reasons but I was finally put off by Sony's failure to deliver a decent video file out of the camera. Everything was there to make that the first great still/video hybrid camera except for the codec. A sloppy, less than sharp ACVHD file. God knows I tried everything to make it work. It was fine for low res stuff when YouTube was running smaller formats but the images just wouldn't stand up to big viewing. As as still camera? Some of the nicest handling ever. The knobs were perfectly weighted and finished and the front, programmable knob for clickless microphone level control was dynamite. I can see why they introduced a mark two model. Just wish they'd let us know it was coming. I still would not have waited three years for them to fix the video but I might not have switched so soon...

The last one in my category of actual regrets is probably the Olympus EP-2 camera with its attendant electronic viewfinder. It had a wonderful, minimal interface. It made EVFs believable and usable. It had great color. Even the 12 megapixel limit didn't bother me, as long as I had a second system for seriously crazy work. But it was part of one of those big trade deals that moves the game forward. Not always smart and sometimes retroactively painful but that's how we learn.

My only piece of advice for other photographers is: if you love the feel of the camera and the trade in value sucks just keep the darn thing. Whatever you didn't like about it will probably become unimportant to you down the road and you'll miss the 50 things you did love about whatever camera it was. Unless it was a Samsung camera and then you'll just end up cursing the void...

In reviewing my current collection of cameras I have this to say: I love the A7rii and very much like the A7ii. I am technically "in like" with the performance of the a6300 and a6000 but certainly not "in love" with either of them. The could both be recycled for more FF bodies. 

While the RX10iii is an amazing workhorse and the files are amazing, for some reason I am more bonded with the RX10ii and find it to have that stickiness that makes me understand that I shouldn't let it go. The model 3? If the 4 is better the 3 is out the door. Amazing how we have attachments to some cameras but not others... More to come. 



Jaston Williams, photographed for his one man play, "Tru."

©2012 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

Texas actor, Jaston Williams, is frequently cast in productions at Zach Theatre and I've gotten to know him from my vantage point as the photographer. It's not like we go out for drinks or play golf together but I think we've developed a good and insightful rapport with each other and have established, through long history, mutual respect for each other's talents. 

I took this photograph at the end of a quick, marketing shoot for Zach Theatre's production of "Tru." "Tru" is a one person play about the writer, Truman Capote. We had already gotten all of the shots on the marketing director's wish list and everyone was moving off to whatever was next on their schedule. I asked Jaston if he would linger for a few more minutes so I could make a few shots exactly the way I envisioned them. 

I know that this somber rendition won't appeal to all of my readers but it is one of my favorite portraits because I know it as part of Jaston's rich range of characterizations. I also enjoy the tonalities and the range from small pools of black to detailed, but on the edge, highlights. 

I did this image with a Sony a77 and the 16-50mm f2.8 Alpha lens.  It's a lens that I've always appreciated and now miss. 

Jaston and I photographed together a few weeks ago for his role of "Scrooge" in "A Christmas Carol." A totally different characterization. I'll post a few of those soon.

Portrait of Fadya using HMI lights. One on the background and one into an enormous umbrella.

 ©2015 Kirk Tuck. All Rights Reserved.

I am setting up the studio to make a portrait today at 2pm. Before I do anything with the lighting or background I look in a folder I keep on my desktop called, "My Favorite Portraits." There are a little over 100 images that span dozens of intended uses. While the portrait I'm making today is a headshot for an attorney that will be used on a corporate website I find that just looking at previous work informs my approach to new work.

Today my eyes settled on this image of Fadya and stuck. Different days bring different choices.

What I take away from looking at this image is the reminder that I really need to connect with my subject. I need people who look at the portrait to feel attached to the person in it in a warm and comfortable way.

For every project there has to be a starting point. Some parameters to aim for.

It helps to look at your own work from the past and to see what might have worked and what didn't. Both success and failure can exist in the same image. My usual task is how to maximize the first attribute and minimize the second.

That, and to make sure the restroom is clean and has fresh towels...