I've been busy lately. One of the things I've missed was the simple pleasure of taking a camera off the shelf and heading downtown to walk around, breathe deeply the urban air, and look at stuff with both arch elitism and benign naiveté.
I pulled on some old short pants and a black polo shirt. I looked very bit of 62 years old with my white socks and brown oxford shoes. I finished off the "you kids get the hell off my lawn" look with a nice pair of bifocal eyeglasses. Oh, and a baseball cap. Nothing says "I don't really care anymore" than a nicely mismatched ensemble of too casual ware. At least the camera was topical and chic...
After weeks of dalliance and intrigue with the various Nikons I thought I'd take it easy with a camera that delivers the goods without affectation or strain. I chose the Panasonic GH5 because I missed it and I also realized that I'd purchased a Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art lens for that system back in early January and the chaos for me at the beginning of the year meant that I've barely used that lens. Almost overlooked it entirely.
A quick aside about this building: It was originally a hotel. It was originally built in the 1930's and was actually named, the California Hotel!!! It's located on East 7th Street in the downtown bar area. Many years ago a group of artists got a lease on the property and renovated it (more or less). We had a huge downstairs display space as well as a smaller gallery for more intimate art shows. There was a commercial kitchen in the back. We never air conditioned the building and we never added an indoor shower either. The shower was in the back courtyard and the "air conditioning" consisted of cheap fans from the hardware store. At one time an art director from Texas Monthly Magazine had her painting studio here, across the hall from my one room, an upstairs, studio and living space (a futon I could roll up if I needed to shoot). Musician, Charlie Sexton had a room in the left top corner while mine was on the right. We also had the curator of the Laguna Gloria Museum in residence as well as any number of wonderfully eccentric artists. I started hanging out and working here in the late 1970's, early 1980's. This was home to my first solo photography show. I made my first "important" portrait here (a 4x5 format portrait of Mike Levy, then publisher of Texas Monthly Magazine) and I did my first photo-illustration assignment for Texas Monthly in the down stairs gallery. I left after I got a teaching assistant's position at UT. The dream of air conditioning was finally realized. The nostalgia for a simpler time remains.
I'm a new convert to the "back button focus" cult. I tried it out on the Nikons, liked disconnecting the shutter from the AF and decided to see if the same set up was possible on the Panasonics. It is! In the space of several weeks I've gone from having everything tied to the shutter button and shooting only in center-sensor-single-frame AF to full on, full area AF in continuous AF. It's a weird pleasure to watch the little green boxes race around the confines of the EVF until I let go of the back button and realize that we're locked in until I decide to change something. I like it. No more focus and re-compose. I feel unfettered. The camera feels unleashed. Let the torrents of "I told you so..." begin.
I had another "mini-epiphany" this morning. I decided, after looking through some of the 550,000 images I have up on my Smugmug.com account, that I tend to post process my images to be too bright, too flat and a bit too saturated. I spent this morning talking myself off the ledge of infinite shadow recovery. Tougher than kicking other bad habits but something to work on all the same.
The image just above, of café chairs and planters is my attempt to ratchet down the drama to an acceptable level. I need to work on getting the mix just right but at least it's a start...
I have a few observations to make about the lens. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 "Art" lens is nicely sharp and contrasty. It's big but lightweight. The supplied hood is nice and deep. Images like the ones in this blog post aren't really a challenge for many lenses since most were shot at f4.5 or around there. I've been shooting some at the wide open aperture and find that, where I am focused, the content is nearly as sharp and contrasty as that at the medium apertures. I like the lens and the focal length very much; even more so when I use the camera in "Hasselblad Square" mode. The focal length seems just right for the square format.
With my appreciation of this lens realized I am looking forward to trying out its wider sibling, the 16mm version. They, along with the legendary 60mm f2.8 Sigma lens would make a very nice and compact traveling system for the photographer who prefers individual focal lengths over zooms.
Today is post production and studio cleaning day. My swim is done, my walk is over. Now to put my brain back into the game of doing my business and getting stuff done. At least until late afternoon...It's my turn to cook dinner and I've got steak and salad on my mind. Along with a nice, S. African red wine (a blend) that's just begging to be uncorked...