4.23.2018

During your tenure as a photographer is there one camera which you regret having sold? Why did you sell it and, just as important, why did you regret it?

I sold off a Nikon D810 and ended up with a Sony A7Rii. I wish I could have had a "do over."

The Nikon had better files. The Sony had a finder I liked better. But in the end it was really the better files I craved.

Your experience?

Interior Mexican Cuisine and one of the owners of El Naranja Restaurant in Austin, Texas.


I like photographing food so when one of my advertising agency clients asked me to make some images of the food at El Naranjo I jumped at the chance. Mexican cuisine at its best is so much more than crispy tacos and the like. There's an emphasis on fresh ingredients and unique blends of flavors. Fresh vegetables, spices and herbs seem to make for the most interesting food photographs.

Most of my work was done by leveraging the very nice available light coming through the windows on all sides of what used to be an old house on Rainey Street. I set up a shooting table on which to shoot a number of prepared plates and used a 40 inch portable, circular reflector to bounce light into the areas of the photos that might need a boost in the shadow areas. I also used a 40 inch round diffuser to temper the sunlight that started to come in more directly as the day wore on. 

On that particular day I was working with a Sony SLT a77 camera. It was an interesting camera with a permanent, pellicle mirror instead of a moving mirror and it created very nice 24 megapixel files from its APS-C sized sensor, if you stuck to ISOs under 800. Actually, 400 and under was the better choice...

I used Sony's ultra-cheap and plasticky 30mm macro lens as well as the much more solid (and expensive) 16-50mm f2.8 zoom lens.  Most of the shots were done on a tripod but the portrait and the shot just below were handheld.

It's funny, as I go through the shots I've taken since 2008 there are few distinctive signatures or tell tale signs that would identify any particular camera. It's almost as if they had become interchangeable. With the nearly constant use (in controlled situations) of custom white balances there isn't even a different color inflection that gives away one camera model from another.

There is something I miss about most of the cameras I've used over the years. Some got replaced for good reasons (battery life, noisy shutters, etc.) but most of the replacements were just bad judgement on my part. I could easily have skipped whole replacement cycles and kept the cameras that worked for years longer with no diminution of quality in the work. 

Here are the cameras I've sold and later (much) regretted having sold: The Canon 5Dmk2. The Nikon D810. The Nikon D750. The Olympus EM-5ii. None of the Sony's or Panasonics that I've sold have generated much regret but the cameras I've just listed poke at me repeatedly as I look through my older and more recent files. It could be that times were different and I was somehow more engaged in the process of work but it could also be that each of those products were mature and reliable working tools whose image quality ventured far beyond the narrow strictures of sufficiency. 

It's interesting to think about because I'm of the opinion today that it was my boredom with assigned work in general that led me to churn most gear. Why? Because it was more fun to shop and learn that to deal rationally with the work in front of me. Clearly a very first world problem....





4.21.2018

Just checking out my new haircut in the reflective window at "The 360" condo project in downtown.


I find self-portraits instructive. I shot one last week and when I took time to look at it objectively I found that my uncut, unkempt hair was making me look like an out of control mad scientist who had recently escaped from a senior living center. That's when you know you're long past due for a decent haircut...

I've always been self-conscious about taking photos of myself but I do it anyway because it constitutes a visual feedback loop that's different from a quick glance in the bathroom mirror.

As I continue to regress in my camera selection I'm guessing I should go out int search of reflective windows so I can see how I look sporting an enormous, and anachronistic, camera+lens around with me on a daily basis. The photographic results might constitute the most compelling reason yet to toss the old DSLRs back into a drawer and pull the svelte m4:3 cameras out for a bit....


4.20.2018

A day spent defying logic and reason in the realm of professional photography.

Want a full frame camera cheap?
I noticed that our local camera store is 
full of used Nikon D600 and D610 cameras, 
most for less than a thousand bucks.
This post is about a different camera.

I have a client that makes physical stuff. Not software or vaporware or social networking opportunities, but real stuff made from metal or plastic and sometimes both. They fabricate everything from sheet metal enclosures for data hubs to wiring harnesses for the auto industry. They even populate circuit boards using surface mount technology. And like just about every other business they need to advertise, and market, which sometimes means that they need photographs and videography. Like most companies of a certain size they aren't rushing to have an intern create their content with an iPhone; they actually hire people with experience to come to their locations and make images. Amazing, right?

I did work for them back in 2012 and 2013 but I hadn't heard from them since. I never conjecture about where a client has gotten off to because having run an ad agency I know that some clients think of creative tools as a five year investment and some are hoping the materials people create for them will last ten years. Some times client circle back and some times they disappear and you never see them again. It's just the nature of the business...

At any rate, this particular client has expanded, they now have facilities here in Austin as well as in India, Mexico and China. They figured that with all the new locations and all the new services they are offering it's high time their almost six year old website (and print collateral materials) got updated. The ad agency they used in 2013 is gone; out of business, as is the production company that did their first and only video. I'm the last guy standing. Pretty weird if you ask me, but the company got in touch and they'd like me to handle the content creation. If I were rational and logical I'd just cherry pick the stuff I like to do, and which has the most profit attached, and ignore the rest. There is an old saying amongst therapists; it goes like this: "Just because somebody throws you a ball doesn't mean you have to catch it." But I am a slow learner so I agreed to make a new set of photographs for their Austin and Mexico locations and to try to salvage a good video edit out of the materials they were able to rescue from the now non-existent production company. My first call was to my favorite editor. That's the easy part; getting the client to do things my way is, inevitably, the hard part.

The first leg of our new journey together was to photograph a day's worth of material at their Austin location. This included images of their new surface mount circuit board assembly resources, their wire harness production line and a bunch of similar subjects. Just for fun we took another run through their machine shop to document the continued existence of their CNC machines and some of their precision mechanical toys.

When I packed last night I had every intention of using the Nikon D800e to do all the heavy lifting today; I packed the D700 as a back up camera, just in case. But this morning when I opened the backpack with the camera gear I just had the most contrarian impulse to pick up the D700 instead and to spend the day shooting it. So that's exactly what I did.

This was a "throw back" Friday for my photography. Armed with a raft of lenses that I've used in previous iterations of my business, and a stout and solid tripod, I sallied forth to capture photons across the big pixels on the D700 sensor. Out of a selection of eight lenses I mostly leaned on some ancient favorites like the 20mm f2.8 AF-d, the 24mm f2.8 AF-d, the 28mm f2.8 Ais, the 85mm f1.8 AF-d and, for ultimate flexibility, the 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens.

When I got to the location I was very happy to learn that the nasty old florescent tubes that flickered their way through our previous shooting had all been uniformly replaced by very nice LED tubes. One custom white balance got me through the entire day and my own LEDs were perfect for discreet fill lighting. What a time saver it is to have an entire facility uniformly lit!

So, how did the ancient and battered D700 fare? I'm going to say it did really well. Most of the images were of people engaged in their jobs; anything from fabricating braided cables to quality checking circuit boards. In a job like this people aren't moving quickly and the light levels are high enough to keep the ISOs under 640 (for the most part). I worked almost entirely on a large tripod and took advantage of the mirror lock up coupled with a shutter delay setting. I tried to figure out and shoot at each lens's optimum aperture but I did use the 85mm at f2.0 a lot in order to blur backgrounds.

What did I find out when I came back to the studio and started post processing in the newest version of Lightroom? I learned (for the millionth time) that your ancient D700 can look as good as the newer cameras if you take time to: Set a good custom white balance. Watch your histogram. Nail your exposure. Use prime lenses. Use prime lenses at their best performing apertures. Put your camera on a dense and vibration free tripod. Use the mirror lock up. Use the shutter delay setting. Stay close to the lowest real ISO on the camera. Focus carefully. Add fill light when needed (also called: instant dynamic range). 

I'm uploading 650+ images to Smugmug.com right now to share with my client. They all look great.

We'll be working on getting a concept nailed together for re-making their video and, in a couple of weeks, the CEO and I are heading to Mexico to shoot at their facility. I hate to make the dilettantes unhappy but I'll probably shoot that with the D700 as well. But not to worry, I'll take along the D800e as a back up.

And yes, we are shooting all the video as All-I 200 mbs 10 bit, 4:2:2 with twin Panasonic GH5's'; the video in the D700 sucks...

4.19.2018

An exercise in Nikon Nostalgia. Out shooting an assignment with a D300S and a D700.

Here is the dynamic duo that I used to complete a P.R. assignment this past Tuesday afternoon. The camera on the left is a D300S and the camera on the right is the D700. The D300S was equipped with an old, push-pull 70-210mm zoom lens with the D700 sported a slightly used 24-120mm f4.0. Why were they a good choice for this assignment?

Yeah, I know this is all a bit crazy but I've reacting to the widespread false narrative that working professional photographers need to be using the newest and highest performing cameras on the market in order to get the shots that pay the bills. Actually, I'm beginning to think that in many cases nothing could be further from the truth.

About a month ago I started getting interested in cameras with fat pixels. I think some of them, because the pixel sites are so much bigger, have a different look to their files. In many applications the files actually look sharper and better defined. I can't argue about situations where raw resolution is essential, vital or otherwise preferred but in uses where the file's resolution exceeds the resolution of the final target my preliminary dive into the issue seemed to confirm to me that there is an aesthetic difference that most people can see. I won't go into the "why" of the effect; I am certain there are smarter folks here on VSL who can explain the science or engineering behind my observations.

The obvious cameras to grab from the dusty used cases were the ones where the biggest sensors have the smallest number of total pixels because....each pixel is bigger. This led me back to the D700 which has pixels that are bigger than 8 microns across. For reference the pixels in my GH5 are about 3.3 microns across. My intuitive break point between bigger pixels and smaller pixels seems to be set at about 5 microns. At that size and smaller I'm thinking the pixels are small while at anything over 5.x microns the pixel are in the larger camp. Anything over 7 gets me into a zone that yields the visual effect I've come to identify as the big pixel look. 

There are several cameras I've owned that had enormous pixels and, even with the huge pixel wells they were still plagued with high ISO noise that was off the charts, so I want to make it clear that what I am seeing is not about noise or lack of noise but more about edge effect, acuity and the perception of file sharpness. The Kodak DCS 760, the files from which I was always impressed, clocks in with pixels that are 9.18 microns while another favorite, the Nikon D2HS has pixels that re 9.32 microns.

Even though the last two cameras are not full frame it's their pixel size that sets them apart in my mind.

In contrast the Nikon D800e whose files are nicely detailed but which lack, for me, a certain snappy look have pixels that are closer to those of my micro four thirds cameras at 4.87 microns. Even my D2XS and D300S cameras have pixels that are 5.48 and 5.51, respectively. This may account for the perception that the D2XS files seem sharper if neither the D800e files or the D2XS files are used in final targets at more than the native resolution of the D2XS. We get the benefit of the greater perceptual acuity of the older camera and its illusion(?) of greater sharpness.

At any rate my curiosity has led me to buy and borrow various cameras and to test their files at various magnifications to see, just perceptually, which ones yield files that look most photographic to me. (And be aware that this could be a prejudice of visual habit, of variations in each camera's contrast rendering and a host of other parameters). I've shot some files with a camera I never owned; the Canon 5D, and can see how it pushed the 5D line into prominence. Big pixels and nice tonality with an undercurrent of well managed sharpness.

Recently I added a D300S to the mix because I found a treasure trove of old concert photo files that I re-imagined in the latest rev of Adobe's raw converter and was pretty surprised at the quality inherent in the files. So my curiosity about bigger pixels is now intersection with the idea that older cameras created raw files that contained much good information that was neglected or sub-optimally processed by older raw converters which led us to conjecture that it was new camera hardware that was making newer cameras seem cleaner and better when, in fact, it may just be the continual introduction of much more processor power being available to process the files which has led software engineers to be able to distill more detail, color information and nuance from all files. This also seems to be apparent as I test more stuff.

But at some point you have to stop testing and go out to shoot some jobs for clients. Otherwise, how will we pay for the boxes and boxes of new stuff that we're hauling back from the camera stores?

I was asked to do photographic event documentation for the groundbreaking of the new site for the headquarters of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Austin. In our pre-planning phone call the marketing director let everyone know that the ten acres had just been cleared and that the dust and pollen on site was plentiful. A continuing dry spell wasn't helping but bulldozers pushing the dry dirt around were the biggest culprit. We would walk a quarter of a mile to access the space and the whole event would take place without a covering tent. We would be in full sun on the hottest day of the year so far, in the middle of an intermittent dust storm. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this; if there was ever a case for having a couple of "trash cams" to take into the field this would be one of the front runners.

I chose the D700 because the full frame is a nice match of the flexibility of the 24-120mm f4.0, which is the only image stabilized lens I have for that system right now. I grabbed the D300S because it was a good match for my only really long Nikon lens right now; a lowly 70-210mm f4.0-5.6 consumer zoom which is actually very nice for outdoor stuff. I put each lens on its body before I left my car in an attempt to keep the sensors as dust free as possible. Then I stuffed both rigs into my all purpose Amazon photo backpack and trudged down a quarter mile dirt and dust path to the location.

With ND filters on both cameras I was able to use on camera flash to add many stops of dynamic range to the system which was very advantageous for shooting in direct sun. The flashes were used in a total manual mode with me riding the power settings for various distances.

I photographed a group of cheerleaders from a local school who opened the program. There was a drum band and then speeches by politicians, donors and board members of the organization. Every time the wind whipped up a cloud of dust and debris swirled through the crowd. By the time the event was over and I had ambled back to my car my dark brown hiking boots were covered with a light gray coating of dust. My cameras were speckled with dust every where and the fronts of the filters looked as though someone had misted them with dust.

When I got back to the studio I swept the dust off my boots outside the office door. I grabbed a can of compressed air and carefully sprayed off every square inch of each camera and lens, trying to make them as dust free as possible. I used an artist's paint brush to dust off any resilient dust specs before opening the memory card doors and pulling out the cards.

The files were uniform and good. The flash helped lift the shadows a good bit, putting them into a good level and allowing me to just finish off the files with a lift of the shadows in post. I edited down from 600 shots to 300 shots, color corrected and tonal corrected each shot (usually in small groups) and delivered them the same evening.

Shooting raw, setting a smart color balance and using fill flash judiciously were all ways of equalizing whatever improvements have been made in sensors over the years. The raw converter seems to lift all boats.

If either camera had been compromised by the dust and rendered unusable it would be much less sad than losing a shiny, new camera for which I had paid the full retail price. This was one of the many situations photographers work in frequently where just about any pro caliber camera made in the last 10-12 years would have acquitted itself well. The files are ample, the colors great and the overall look of the files generated is right in line with the work we expect from today's cameras.

If you think my P.R. client, posting images to the web and for mostly online use, really needed the latest medium format, 50 mp file camera to document an event like this----you are nuts.

4.16.2018

West Texas Landscape. Marathon, Texas.

West Texas Fence.

Olympus EP-2


Visual Note Taking. Active Looking. Passive Thinking.


You develop instincts with experience. You gain experience by trying many, many things. I carry a camera with me nearly everywhere, not because I think I'll make some piece of art that will grab a curator by the gut and make me famous but because the process of looking for visual patterns and then using the formal boundaries of the rectangle to fence in the patterns and cut them into neatly accessible notes about everyday existence. Why do it? Beyond the idea that hunting for images is a fun challenge and a nice pass time? Well, the constant trial and error of composing and exposing rectangular slices of scenes that catch my eyes seems to help me when making photographs for clients; for money. The language and rhythm of reducing three dimensional space to a two dimensional representation becomes more fluid when it can depend on hundreds and thousands of previous episodes of trial and error; and more importantly, trial and success. 

When I leave home with a camera and lens (and it's very rare that in my own private time I carry more than one of each) I choose a lens that I want to explore and I work with it for several hours; looking for visual constructions out in the world that will show off the focal length I've selected. 

Often I'll select a long lens only to find that the sky is brilliant that day and the play of light across wide spaces is glorious and fun. I momentarily wish I'd brought along a 24mm to lasso it all in but if I set my mind to it the shots might that benefit from tighter compositions, and even a bit of compression, start to grudgingly reveal themselves. 

There are other times when I've remembered the expanse of sky and landscape and I'll bring the 24mm only to stumble across beautiful face after beautiful face which I'm desirous of capturing in tight compositions, with backgrounds that blur to cotton candy and compression that pulls infinite space in to a tight wad of stacked layers.

My usual compromise, especially after a few disjointed forays, is to eschew both extremes and make due with the 50mm lens (or its focal length equivalent on whatever format camera I'm using at the time). As I've written many times, I think of the 50mm as a wizard lens which is able to emulate a wider or longer lens based on how you use it. The neutral focal length keeps one from leaning on the attributes of the wide angle or telephoto perspective in order to make an image interesting. And interesting is always more valuable that exciting. "Exciting" is something that grabs you once and then losses it's power. Like a huge swig of a sugar-laden soft drink which is followed shortly by the insulin pumping crash.

The neutral focal length gently insists that you find something inherently interesting to record. Something you'll find pleasant, or interesting, or informational on repeated viewings. 

On a topical note: It's the time of the season for tax filings. Afterwards you can sit in a dark room with a glass of cheap Scotch and bitch about government spending and the tight pinch on your wallet, or you can grab a nice camera, and a lens you love, and walk all through your city, town, rural landscape--whatever--- and do the thing you love = take photographs you'd like to look at again and again. Something soothing and smooth, or colorful and quiet, maybe even regal and glorious. And, in the moment, let your enthusiasm for the play of photography be the thing that informs your day. 

I filed my tax return today (Thanks to my CPA, Barry) and, after writing the usual check, I'm putting that task behind me and cleansing my palette with a lovely duo that's just right for today's walk; the Nikon D700 and the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. 

It's sunny, bright and hopeful outside. Let's see if I can harness the promise of the day and infuse it into my everyday life. It's all just a click away.


















4.14.2018

Just another Saturday morning. A new (to me) camera. Swim practice. Some shop worn rationalizations.


We'll start with the swim and get that out of the way first. The wind was blasting in twenty to thirty mile per hour gusts and the temperatures were hovering around fifty degrees this morning when I made my way to the pool. I was moving slowly after our anniversary celebration last night. But I woke up quickly when I hit the water and started moving. After a long mile warm up we did a set that went like this:

Swim 3x100's (25 yards butterfly+75 yards freestyle) on 1:40 intervals.

Swim 4x25's butterfly

Swim 3x100's (50 backstroke+50 freestyle) same interval

Swim 4x25's backstroke

Swim 3x100's (25 breast stroke+75 free) same interval

Swim 4x25's breast stroke (with a double pull out off the wall).

Swim 3x100's (50 fast freestyle + 50 fast "over kick" freestyle) same interval

Swim 4x25 freestyle sprints

followed by a "pyramid" that went: 

200 yards pull > 150 yards pull > 100 yards sprint swim > 50 yards sprint swim > 2x25 sprints
> 50 yards fly > 100 yards choice stroke >150 yards pull > 200 yards pull. 

We moved pretty quickly in our lane and didn't have much time to hang on the wall and chat. I was sore by the end of the hour and a half but I'm not sure how much I should blame on that second glass of Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon I had at dinner last night. 

My swim goal for the year is to be able to swim a 100 yard freestyle back under one minute. We'll see how it goes.... I really need to work on my turns. 

Camera errata: I've revisited the images here during the week, they were made in 2008 with a combination of cameras, including a Fuji S5 and a Nikon D300. The ones on display here are from the Nikon. I continue to be amazed at how well the image stand up (technically) ten years later! The tipping point for me was when I came across the images I shot in West Palm Beach in the same year with the same camera. Once I saw the color and detail in those images I decided to go ahead and commit to acquiring the clean D300S I remarked about a few days ago. At less than $300 I rationalized that I'd bought more expensive filters. The camera comes with about 25k actuations, two batteries and a Nikon charger. I picked it up midday yesterday and intend to put it through its paces on a walk this afternoon (I really need the exercise?). 

Surprise Lens arrival: In somewhat related news, I went out to check the mail yesterday and found a box addressed to me from a VSL reader named, Stephen. I carefully slit the tape and opened the box to find a wonderfully well preserved Nikon Series E 36-72mm f3.5 zoom lens! There was a nice note as well. I love lenses in this range and have found all the Series E lenses to be optically great. The cherry on top of the whipped cream is the fact that the lens is par focal (doesn't shift focus as you zoom) which also makes it a great candidate for video!!! The lens hasn't been off the D300S since it showed up. It will be part of my afternoon test.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH, STEPHEN. 

So, in the last month we've picked up a D2XS, a D300S, a D700 and a D800e; as well as an assortment of lenses. I'm labeling this "Old School Digital Photography Nostalgia Month" and will be reviewing each of these cameras in depth. What can I tell you right now? If you want good, competitive shooting tools from yesteryear the top two candidates right now are the D700 (for low light) and the D800e for just about anything else (still the best low light, full frame Nikon high density camera, according to DXO --- even better than the D850!). If you are a Nikon shooter and don't already have one a 24-120mm f4.0 VR is a good, all around work lens. So far, nothing over $1,000 bucks.... 

The rationalization: I started with the premise that the lower density, bigger pixel cameras might have a different/better look to the color and general acuity characteristics for files coming out of those cameras. I started buying older cameras in order to test this out. Most are available for a song... We already had many older Nikon lenses sitting around the studio. My blog will start a run on all this older gear and I'll be able to sell it at an obscene profit (seriously, probably not....). 

We've been slow around here this month, work wise, but next month promises to be non-stop with some out of town work, some out of country work, a trip to a college graduation in NY and some parental support for some minor surgery (time for someone's pacemaker replacement-- HIPAA laws prevent naming names...). Stay tuned for more exciting camera news from previous decades.....

And don't slack on that exercise program! You know you want to look great for bikini season (smile emoticon implied). 








4.13.2018

Austin selected as the "Best City in the USA in Which to Live" for the second year in a row by U.S. News and World Reports Magazine (And website). It's the blue skies, I think.


When I first moved here to go to school at UT you could get a decent apartment for about $85 a month and the cost of living was nearly the lowest in the state. You could not get a freshly baked croissant but you could find decent biscuits just about anywhere. The town was small enough and compact enough that most students didn't see the need to own a car. In fact, it was so cheap in the early 1970's that my parents could afford to have three kids at the University at the same time; including graduate school. And with fifty cent Shiner Bock beer in bottles and $7 ticket prices at the Armadillo World Headquarters (famous music hall) it was very cost effective to take a date to see the Talking Heads open for the B-52's. Or was it the other way around? And yes! we generally walked there.

All that has changed. You can get croissants pretty much anywhere in Austin but sadly now McDonalds arguably has the best biscuits in town. You need a car if you live and work anywhere outside of downtown, and it better be a comfortable car because the same magazine article points to traffic and road congestion as one of the few big cons of living here. I'll list another big con: the price of housing has been sky rocketing for years. 

We have the mixed benefit of living in a very nice neighborhood in the middle of the school district that just got named (again, and for decades running) as the best overall school district in Texas. Usually in the top 50 school districts in the USA. Demand to get kids into one of these top flight schools is red hot which means that we're deep into "tear down" territory (buying and tearing down an existing house to build a bigger, better one on the lot). People are moving here in droves from the west coast and they don't even blink at the thought of paying a million dollars for a basic 3 bedroom, two bathroom ranch style house just to tear it down and use the lot as the foundation for their new, multi-miillion dollar dream ranch style homes. There are currently five or six houses heading that way just on our block.

We are actually starting to think of selling our house and moving somewhere else. But we'll probably be overcome with nostalgia and laziness and just hunker down and wait until we're 65 and can lock in the homestead tax exemption....

I think the biggest attractions of Austin, beside the circus we call the State Legislature, are the beautiful blue skies, the great Tex-Mex food, and the fact that you can still paddle board right through downtown... 

If you decide to move here just remember to bring a big bucket of cash. Home prices continue to rise and, sadly, so do the property taxes...


Infinite growth. Like bacteria in a Petri dish...

Gone boating. Now becoming nostalgic for a clean, low mileage Nikon D300S.

All images: West Palm Beach. Nikon D300 + 18-200mm. 

I provided photographic coverage for an executive retreat for Freescale Semiconductor in 2008. We ended up at the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach. The accommodations were lovely. During part of the event, I guess to blow off steam generated by days of arguing and debating over corporate strategy, someone arranged for everyone to go out fishing. I'm not sure why as most of the participants were not big fishermen and most came back to the dock, hours later, with varying degrees of seasickness. 

When I found this folder of images I was reminded that the two cameras I used during that week long event were the original Nikon D300's, Not the D300Ss. The lens I used the most was the Nikon 18-200mm which was more or less the state-of-the-art for image stabilization at the time. It promised (and generally delivered) about four stops of stabilization ---- mostly useful for objects that don't move around a lot). 

I also brought along an 85mm f1.4, a 35mm f1.4 and a 20mm f2.8 for all the work that I had to cover in a sometimes dim conference room. 

Reviewing the shots this afternoon; and running a handful of them through the latest raw converter, reminding me that we already knew what we were doing with digital cameras back then and that the D300 was a damn fine photographic instrument. My interiors and exteriors evoke photography just the way I always thought it should be. I was also reminded that the cameras had great battery life and comfortable handling. 

I made the (ill advised?) switch into the Canon system by the time the upgrade, the 300"S" came out so I never got to compare the cameras directly but I knew the general themes. The newer camera offered remedial video, a much faster and larger buffer and an HDMI out for monitoring. I've been told by various sources that the imaging quality was either "the same" or "much better" on the newer model,  depending on who you wanted to listen to....

What you essentially were offered in the final D300S was a 3 inch LCD finder, a very, very robust camera body, an imaging sensor that was much better at higher ISOs than the previous "flagship" body, the D2XS, a lighter package, card slots for SD and CF (and the CF upgraded to UDMA for much faster read/write speeds) at about a third the price of the earlier D2XS or the D3 that came along around the same time. In many ways the D300S was the APS-C version of the D3 series!

I found one (300S) a couple days ago at Precision Camera. It's cosmetically near perfect and has about 25k shutter actuations on it. I asked them to put it on hold yesterday but got busy today with more family administration stuff. If it's still there tomorrow I'm thinking of picking it up for the princely sum of >$300. That is, unless you guys know some deep dark secret about this model and you're quick to talk me out of it. 

On another topic: It seems chic to be personally confessional these days on photography blogs. I note that MJ has published an essay mentioning his use of online dating services. Lloyd Chambers has gone into amazing detail about the aftermath of his concussion.  I'm joining the party! No. I'm not using dating services, and I'm not a bike rider; just sharing a bit of personal information. To wit, B. and I are celebrating our 33 wedding anniversary tomorrow. Yes, Friday the 13th. Odd omen, for sure. 

Since my wife and I worked together and dated for five years before taking the matrimonial plunge this means we've been getting along (pretty damn well, considering my idiosyncrasies) for a whopping 38 years. We'll have a quiet celebration and then get back to work...




4.12.2018

Power Film Maker, James Webb, goes handheld with an Olympus EM-5ii to shoot food back in 2016. He's the real deal.

James at Cantine shooting food with the Oly EM5ii and an ancient 
40mm f1.4 Pen FT lens. See the restaurant video one more time:



I've been on an older camera bing lately. I thought I'd revisit a contemporary camera that's been on the market for a while now. The Olympus EM-5ii.


I tend to be blinded to the virtues of the stuff I'm shooting in the present by the promise of the stuff I might be shooting in the future. Here's a case in point: the Olympus EM-5ii. I bought two of them back in 2015 when the camera was introduced. I knew I'd probably want to take advantage of the new video codec that yielded an All-I file at 77mbs, which was a much bigger file than the ones coming from my Nikon or Sony cameras at the time so I ante'd up for the battery grips which, in addition to doubling the shooting time also provided a headphone jack with which to monitor audio. 

My friend, James, and I used the two cameras to do a video for our friends at Cantine Restaurant. While I didn't really appreciate it at the time the cameras, and the combination of contemporary and legacy lenses did a great job capturing the unrehearsed clips that we moulded into what I think is a very nice video about the restaurant. While the EM-5ii files aren't as detailed and rich as the best files from the Panasonic GH5's they are absolutely perfect for what was made to be a web-only, 1080p promotional video. Unique at the time (and maybe still....) was the camera's uncanny image stabilization which worked as well in video as it does in still photography. The files were sharp and detailed and easy to edit in either Premiere or Final Cut Pro X. 

But most of my readers don't give a rat's ass about video, and that being the case I thought I would also make the point that the photographic files were in no way shabby either. I've included three images here from the daylong shoot we did at the restaurant. The brilliant I.S. in the cameras made tripods mostly superfluous but we did use them from time to time; especially if we were using really long focal lengths. 

I shot food and pours and people during the course of the day and used whatever ISO was necessary to get the shots I wanted. I mostly worked between 640 and 1600 and found that the files were as good as any other camera I've shot---as long as I used good lenses. We had high success rates with the Sigma 60mm DN Art lens (this will be the fourth time I have owned that lens....) as well as getting great images from a contingent of older Pen FT lenses from the 1970's. 

When I think rationally about the EM-5ii I wonder 1. Why I ever got rid of them? And, 2. What more could a photographer really want in day-to-day work? If you've never tried one you should. They are pretty delightful. After playing around with the focus on the newest Hasselblad MF cameras I can tell you honestly that, given a choice, I'd take a couple of EM-5ii's and the Olympus zoom lenses I got to use on the Panasonic cameras before I'd consider the H-Blad. Your kilometers may be more scenic....




When people don't smile and look into the camera.


For a few years I did little every day other than take photographs or print photographs. Most paid jobs called for portraits or "headshots" of people looking directly into the camera and smiling as well as they thought they should. But many of my favorite images were taken when the person in front of my camera looked away for a moment. I stumbled across these three yesterday and thought I would share them with you. 

The top one is of Belinda and was taken so long ago that it was done with a Nikon FM film camera and a Tamron Adaptall 28-80mm zoom lens. The quality of the image is quite secondary, in my mind, to the way the light works and the wonderfully disordered lock of hair hanging down on her forehead. 

The image just below was taken during a silly "fashion" shoot for a Texas lifestyle magazine. We were shooting winter clothes in the middle of a heat wave and, since we were in Pedernales State Park, one of the models took a few minutes to put on some shorts and stand in the middle of the Pedernales River ( a tributary of the Colorado River) to cool off. I took the photo at that moment when the shock of the cold water had worn off and the delight of being in that moment caused our model to clothes her eyes and savor it. The image was done with a Leica R8 and a 180mm f4.0 Elmar on AgfaPan black and white film. 


The most recent shot of the three was done at a coffee shop on Congress Ave., just a few blocks from the state capitol. I was working with a talent named Jana Steele (who also graces the cover of my LED Lighting Book) and we were going for a realistic, but posed, shot of someone waiting for a first date to show up. The image was done with available light and a Canon 5Dmk2 along with the 100mm f2.0 Canon lens.

In all three images my intention was never to create a traditional portrait that people would hang on a wall but to create small, opened ended visual stories that presented a tableau from which an audience could launch into their own personal conjecture.

Nothing more than a visual poem with very few lines....