What lens? Which lens? Testing a couple of lenses in anticipation of tomorrow. The first shoot of the year.

35mm f1.2? 55mm f1.4? 60mm Macro?

I love to act all spur-of -the-moment-y about life but I still believe in testing the tools before you start a project. To that end I set up a 4x6 foot diffusion scrim in the studio, set two Lightstorm LS-1/2 LED lights on one side and Ben on the other. I asked him to take sit for ten minutes while I banged off some frames with three different lenses that are relatively new to me. I wanted to see if all of them or any of them were up to the task of shooting some fast moving, available light, behind the scenes, still photographs at a commercial video shoot tomorrow. The lenses in question were the two 7Artisan lenses I've been playing with and the brand spanking new, just out of the sealed box, Fuji 60mm f2.4 Macro.

I used the Fuji X-H1 as the taking camera and tried focusing the manual focus lenses with both focus peaking and then focus magnification. I used the Acros color/B&W profile and dialed in the green filtration. I'm not totally thrilled with the tonality imparted by the green filter setting in conjunction with my LED lights but I was looking, in the moment, for sharpness and physical usability more than perfect black and white flesh tone. Give me time. I'll get the B&W stuff dialed in. I shot in Jpeg Fine so most everything about the files is baked in.

I'm not always happy with the way Blogger compresses my images, and I upload them only at 2200 pixel on the long side, so I would take any rigorous assessment of lens quality based on web analysis with a grain of salt.

I tested the 55mm and 35mm at f2.0, 2.8 and f4.0 and found them to be as sharp as I would need them to be. I looked at the full frames in Photoshop and zoomed into 100% to make my judgements. I think the 55mm is great. The 35mm is good. And the 60 Macro is optically excellent (but the AF could, as everyone has said, been improved --- something as simple as a range limiter would be useful on that lens) and gives the smoothest skin tone with the most natural resolution. 

I'm packing some stuff for tomorrow's shoot. Mostly the two "big" Fujis; the X-H1 and the X-T3. But I'm also taking a bunch of different lenses ranging from the "Fujicrons" to the manual focus lenses to the kit zoom. I'll round the kit out with a monopod and a couple of small flashes; just in case available light is impossible (from time to time). 

I'm excited to get the new year started. I've spent the holidays doing accounting and that's not my forté. 

Today starts with physical visits to three banks (no drama, just deposits, etc.) and the post office. There's heavy rain and the temperatures are hovering around the 39 degree mark (f) and it finally feels like Winter. We'll see at noon how many swimmers and which coach will brave the elements in order to let the swimmers get some yards in and stay wet. 

Tomorrow we begin to make photographs in earnest. 

Ben and Belinda are off to their respective P.R. and advertising agencies. I'm trying to convince Studio Dog to head out into the wind driven rain and pee. It's a tough sell. 

Hope your year is off to a good start. I'm starting in on my 31st year as a self-employed, freelance photographer. Always scary. Always interesting. Sometimes quite fun. Oh, yeah. In my free time I also write and illustrate a blog....

Happy New Year, 2019. Help each other stay connected!

Battle Loneliness.
Yours and other's. 
Reach out and say "hello" to someone everyday.
Join. Share. Connect.

Test shots from the 7Artisans 35mm f1.2 lens. All handheld with the Fuji X-T3. Most shot between f2.0 and f4.0. Jury is still out.....


Last lens purchase of the year. Something fun to put on the front of my Fuji X-T3.

I bought a 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens a few weeks back and after shooting with it for a bit found it to be a good performer. It's sharp enough in the middle of the frame, even wide open, and then sharpens up to modern, $500 normal lens sharpness, which is nothing to write home about except that the 55mm 7Artisans lens retails for about $118. It's ostensibly a simple design, with six elements in five groups but the ad copy does brag about the aperture having 14 blades for better bokeh. After my dalliance with the Kamlan 50mm f1.1 (which is mostly sharp only in the center of the frame) I was happy to find the 55mm from 7Artisans to be much sharper everywhere and much better made. It's also a decent focal length for portraits. Not quite long enough for some of the work I like to do but workable with todays file sizes. A little crop to the right composition would go largely unnoticed.

After a few outings with the 55mm I started thinking what else 7Artisans might have on offer for a Fuji camera and that's when I came across the 35mm f1.2. It's a bit pricier at around $145 but I thought the company did such a good job with the 55mm that I'd give the 35mm a try. After all, the worst that could happen is I'd be disappointed and would spend some time returning it.

The 35mm f1.2 lens body is made from a combination of aluminum around a copper core structure. It seems very well built with smooth turning aperture and focusing rings. The lens is nicely dense but small. It's very much at home on the front of cameras like the Fuji E-X3 but equally nice on the T3. It does look a bit small on the X-H1 with the battery grip attached....

My early tests made me sit up and take notice. It's useable in a pinch even at f1.2 (center 2/3rds is sharp but it's hard to tell if the less sharp edges are caused by the optics, by field curvature or just very narrow depth of field when objects are focused in the center. By f2.0 it's good everywhere. By f4.0 and f5.6 I doubt anyone could pick it out of a line up with lenses from any of the major makers. 
Added Jan. 1, 2019: The majority of the frame is sharp but even when stopping down the far corners are mushy. It's almost like the lens doesn't cover the extreme corners correctly. Not a "deal-killer" for me but something you need to be aware of if you are looking for a lens that's sharp over all 100% of the frame!!! If you are looking for that then this is not the lens for you can you can just stop reading....

I'm keeping mine! It's about the equivalent angle of view as a 52.5mm and that's right in the sweet spot for me. I'll use it as a fast normal when I want a different look than I currently get with Fuji's very fine 35mm f2.0 WR lens. 

What do you give up when you buy one of these inexpensive lenses from makers in China? Hmmm. Well you obviously don't get autofocus. You don't get any communication between camera and lens. No data is exchanged. You don't get any in-camera software correction for vignetting or distortions and you don't get as polished looking a product. 

But what you do get is a lens that's sharp (except in the far corners!!! -added 01-01-2019), fast, fun to play with, easy to shoot when used with Fuji's focus peaking and you save a bit of money. On the info page about the lens which appears on Amazon.com the manufacturer actually says that "if you don't like manual focusing you should not buy this lens."  Fortunately for me I think that not having auto focus makes a lens more compelling. 

I haven't shot this one extensively, it just came in yesterday, so I'll shoot more when the sun comes out and I can make samples with contrasted light and even some light in the frame to test for resistance to flare. Right now I'm just having fun annoying my usually patient family with this new addition to my camera bag. 

So, the lens has a fast aperture and will do a decent job keeping things out of focus in the background. It's solidly and simply built so there's not much to go wrong. It's six elements in five groups and has nine aperture blades but I don't know what those specs would really mean to anyone other than a lens designer and I'm not sure we should care. 

Seems I'm making a habit of acquiring lenses from this company. The next one on my radar is the 12mm f2.8, but I'll have to save up some money for that one! It's a whopping $188. Yikes. Wouldn't it be crazy if it's good enough to shoot architecture with? Might drive some folks a bit nuts. 

If you want to try one of these lenses and you click through one of the links below you'll help support this site without paying anything additional to the usual price. I'll be happy. And if dozens of you decide you need one of these lenses (sorry, they don't cover full frame cameras...) then I'll accrue enough additional wealth from Amazon.com to cover the cost of my test 12mm. 

Here is a sample from the 55mm lens at a middle distance: 


OT: A Saturday afternoon with the cameras left at home. Enjoying an event camera-naked.

Jaston Williams as "Scrooge."

Zach Theatre produces the best "Christmas Carol" I could ever imagine. No hostage to anything but the barest framework of Dicken's holiday tale, Zach Theatre uses contemporary music, lavish doses of humor and pop choreography to get audiences on their feet and then, minutes later to get them quietly pulling out their handkerchiefs to wipe away tears of (alternately) joy or painful empathy. How much more could one expect from live theater? But here's the sad reality of my involvement over the last few years....

...I get booked to photograph the dress rehearsal and I also request attendance, with camera in hand, at the tech rehearsal, a few days before. The play is the same as what the one the audience will experience later in the week but I have the freedom to roam the theater, anticipating the best angles from which to photograph and getting myself in place to take advantage of them. But I don't experience the emotion, the heartfelt catharsis, or the message of the play as keenly or as deeply. I'm doing my job. Almost second by second I'm analyzing changes in the stage lights or iteratively repositioning myself for a better angle; a better composition. I'm deciding whether to continue with the long zoom lens or to let that camera and lens drop on its strap to my side and grab the second camera, with the wide-to-short standard zoom, in order to get some "air" around my compositions. In other words I'm processing too much work process to let the play connect with me in any real way that will affect me and interfere with getting the photographs the theatre needs to fill the seats. Kind of sad, if you think about it. In the middle of everything but not affected by it...

By the time I've shot the play twice (usually bringing Belinda along to enjoy the last dress rehearsal before we get a full audience...) and have processed the thousand or fifteen hundred images I've created I'm burned out in the moment and ready for a break. The photography for this production, since it's a holiday play, is usually right after Thanksgiving and in the heart of those weeks in which all other clients are making up for lost time and piling onto my assignment calendar. 

I always have every intention of getting back to see the play and soak up the energy and happiness it delivers but I never get around to it. I'm always distracted by the next shiny object...

I meant to get back and see one of the final shows last year but my mother passed away over the holidays and that was a whole different world.

This year we did the same routine, capturing the dress rehearsal and the tech rehearsal. Life sped up. Assignments cropped up. The holidays delivered a full calendar and yet, I really felt like I'd missed the boat on some level. That I'd forgotten to enjoy something really special. I could always feel the energy of Zach's "Christmas Carol", from the soulful rendition of "Halo" by a young high school prodigy to the wonderful solos that Chanel delivers; like ephemeral but existential gold...

The charmingly exuburant affectations of The Ghost of Christmas Past, and the sheer power of The Ghost of Jacob Marley singing: "Money, Money, Money." For some reason, this year, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the whole thing. I wanted to feel the redemption of Scrooge in the strongest way possible. I wanted to see the play without any interference, any filters.

I missed the showtime on Friday evening. Other plans, other plans. But after swim practice and lunch on Saturday I put on my official Zach name badge and headed over to the theater for the 2:30pm matinee. 

I was surprised to see the parking lots and the front entrance so busy, so filled with families and couples. I walked in and saw so many familiar faces in every corner of the lobby. I asked the people at the box office if there was an extra seat. Of course there was...

Here I was, in a theater in which I've shot dozens and dozens of stage shows and, in which I'd shot at least a dozen video productions, and I was in the middle of the audience with no camera bag by my side, no camera in front of my face. No calculations to make. No side-tracked attention.

The show was perfect. I "saw" so much more of this show than I ever have with a camera in front of my face. I'd given my "analytic" brain the afternoon off. I let my emotional brain take over. I laughed with joy at the fun stuff. I marveled at the way the production had come together since I first saw it. The delivery was beyond script and memory and had, for the actors, sprung into life. Every sentence, every utterance and every lyric felt so fluid, so natural and so honest. 

When the Ghost of Christmas Future showed Tiny Tim's grave to Scrooge, I had to pull out a lens cleaning cloth from my pocket to wipe away the tears streaming down my face. When Francene Bayola sang a soulful, "Halo" as a musical eulogy for Tiny Tim, surrounded by his family, I was overwhelmed with the beauty, sadness and emotion of the scene and the performance. I pulled out a second lens cleaning cloth to catch the tears. It was one of the most powerful moments I've experienced in any of the (over 500) live performances I've seen.

And moments later the rush of joy as Scrooge wakes up and is redeemed and set on the path of love for his fellow humans infected me with a happiness and upbeat spirit that's still sparking and speaking to me a day later. (Thank you, Jaston!!!)  I hope it's a feeling I can savor and share all year long. 

When the whole cast joins together to sing a rousing, Zach version of Andy Grammer's, "Good to Be Alive Right About Now" the audience jumped to their feet to cheer and deliver the most heartfelt standing ovation I've seen in, well, a long time.

The afterglow was amazing for me. I left the crowds and went downstairs to the dressing rooms. I found my friend Kenny Williams who plays many parts in the production but is an absolutely stand out in the role of The Ghost of Christmas Past. He and I worked this Fall on making the art for his newly released CD of music: Kenny Williams Sings.  Check out the link --- I love the way he used the photos!!! He handed me advance copies of his CD. His energy was amazing. And he still had a second show to do a few hours later!

I was stunned by how much I had missed when in my usual role of photographer. The real power of live theater is only open to you when you bring your full attention. Your intention to soak up every moment, every speech and every move.

Sorry, I am usually cynical and sarcastic but my experience at yesterday's show was transformative. I left believing that we really can change the world ..... if we can figure out how to get past our differences and embrace our better natures. It may be as simple as: Reject fear. Embrace love.

At least that's what I think I learned when I went to the theater without a camera in my hands...

Roderick Sanford's rendition of "Money" is was an amazing 
injection of pop culture at its finest....

Francene Bayola as "Martha Cratchitt" broke my heart  
with her amazing rendition of Beyonce's, "Halo." 

Paul Sanchez and Michelle Alexander were so uniquely perfect as 
Mr. and Mrs. Cratchitt, with their adopted family.

Chanel. The perfect Ghost of Christmas Present.

Kenny Williams (right). 

The moment when you catch the perfect expression in the background.

Wanna make a full grown, cynical, seen it all, photographer cry like a baby?
Just have Fracene Bayola (center) sing her version of "Halo." 
Box of Kleenex please to seat M 204.....

I hope that each and everyone of my readers had some sort of wonderful, heartfelt, transformative moment in 2018 which changed your idea of life for the better. And I hope it wasn't just a new camera.

Tiny Tim: "And God bless us everyone."

Special thanks to Dave Steakley and Abe Reybold for bringing Christmas to life for me...


Wrapping up an interesting year. What's in store for 2019? Who knows?

It's been a fun week. We have a tradition of spending Christmas Eve with long time friends. Some years we gather at our house and some years we end up at our friends' home. But which ever way it works each family's dog is a welcome guest at the festivities. Studio Dog was exceptionally well behaved (as always) and she and her companion were treated to little bits of very good steak for their manners and patience. I brought a camera along to our friend's house just to photograph the noble dogs. Sometimes I think they must be twins...

This was the look they gave me when I showed them the Ed Ruscha show catalog. Not recorded here was the painful whine they both let out when they looked at the black and white photographs of gas stations.

Earlier the same day we were out in Dripping Springs, Texas visiting chef, Emmett Fox and his wonderful partner and better half, Lisa. For some strange reason Emmett was using a saber to smack the tops off bottles of sparkling rosé wine. I caught him in the frame just below getting ready to dispatch another bottle. Landing an invitation to a famous chef's home for an early Christmas Eve party is always a wonderful thing. You get to eat stuff that's just magnificent. And take turns violently opening bottles.

Emmett with some of the liberated liquid.

For the moment I seem to have adopted the Fuji X-E3 and the 23mm f2.0 WR lens as my newest "take anywhere" "shoot anything" camera and lens. I do have an embarrassing story to tell about my lack of preparation with this combo. Emmett asked me if I brought a camera to his gathering and I told him I had and that the camera was in my car. He asked me if it could shoot video and I said I was pretty sure I could; most modern cameras do shoot at least moderately spec'd video and I sort of remembered that 1080p video was on the spec sheet somewhere. He asked me if I'd grab my camera and record a few bottle decapitations. I was happy to oblige. I grabbed the camera and headed back to the patio to record the lopping for posterity. I looked down at the camera and couldn't find a little movie camera icon with which to set up the camera for video. Then it dawned on me that I could not even find a red button with which to engage the video; to turn it on or off. 

I was the butt of more than a few jokes while I concentrated on trying to figure out how to shoot video. I looked through every menu, and while there are places where one can change video settings there was nothing in the menus that would allow me to actual actuate the damn thing. 

Twenty minutes (or longer) later I finally tried pushing every button on the camera. All the function buttons; everything. Eventually I got to the "drive" button on the back of the camera. At the very, very bottom of the "drive" menu lives a tiny video camera icon. What the fuck?! I set the drive menu to "movie camera icon" pushed the shutter button and we were off and running. I was trying to handhold the video for the next swing of the sword while simultaneously hand holding a glass of Champagne, without the benefit (on either device) of image stabilization, and so the ensuing footage is as bouncy as a Super Ball(tm) but I figured I can run it through post processing image stabilization three or four times and maybe it will be okay.

The next day was Christmas and the four of us (yes, Studio Dog too) headed down to San Antonio. Ben and I dropped Belinda off at her mother's house and continued on to the memory care facility to have Christmas lunch with my father. Nothing like a Christmas lunch in a nice dining room full of 90 year olds with memory issues. Actually, it was fun and cheery. Everyone loved seeing dad's grandson and everyone introduced themselves to me once more....for the 67th time this year. 

After lunch and some time spent catching up I took Ben to his grandmother's (on Belinda's side) house so he could keep Studio Dog company and I could bring Belinda back for more quality time with dad. Later, we had dinner with Belinda's family which is when I snuck away to photograph myself in a mirror with my new favorite (at least for the next five minutes) camera. (See above). 

It's actually a very delightful camera and lens combination and all of the images above in this post were taken with that camera and the 23mm lens while all of the photographs except for the very last one below were taken with the same camera and the 35mm f2.0 WR lens. The images below were done today and I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful sharpness of the 35mm! Sharp and contrasty is good for many images (but not all).

The image just below was done in Iceland with the Lumix G9 and the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. 

So, 2019. What's in store? I haven't a clue but I do have some thoughts as to how I'll make it better for me as a photographer. First, I'll be pickier and pickier about which clients I accept. We stayed well booked when I wanted to be booked in 2018 so I can only surmise that I could be a little choosier. I'll get rid of the ones who love to tell me exactly how to do my job. And the ones who are slow to pay.

Next on my list of ideas is to spend more time thinking about what I want to photograph and a lot less time thinking about what I plan to shoot those subjects with. We've crossed the point where specific cameras are important to the process. But we will never cross the line where choosing the subject itself, and my approach to it, are unimportant. 

I think I'll supplement the swimming with more running this year. I'd like to eat more interesting food this coming year as well. And I resolve to continue to weigh exactly 160 pounds and continue to wear pants with a 32 inch waist. I don't care if it's politically incorrect to even think that I don't want to be fat. But I don't.

I'd like to drink more coffee in 2019 and less red wine. 

I'd like to buy more weird, cheap and zany lenses this year instead of thinking that everything has to be "state of the art." To that end I just ordered a 7Artisans 35mm f1.2 lens for my Fujis. It cost $144. I think it's going to be incredible. And my finger is hovering over the "buy this now" button connected to the 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 for $188. Should be an outrageously fun year, if the lenses turn out to be any good, to torment my friends who can't bear to shoot with any lens that costs less than $2,000 or comes from anywhere other than Germany or Japan.

I'm also promising myself that I'll go back to Iceland again in 2019 on my birthday (as I did this year). Only this time I'll go solo, or, at the most with only Belinda. I'd like to see the place at my own speed; not in a tour. 

Those are all the plans I'm making. I'm not going to resolve to exercise more because I think 6 or 7 days a week is enough. I'm not going to resolve to stop drinking alcohol because a drink or two a week doesn't seem excessive. I would never resolve to give up coffee because that's just an evil thought. And I'm not going to resolve to make more money because I don't have time to spend the money I'm making now. 

I know. Maybe I'll give up writing blogs. Naw. Everyone should have at least one safe space in which to be archly and profoundly opinionated. 

The 35mm 1.2 gets here in the next day or so. If it's 90% as good as the 55mm f1.2 7Artisans lens that I took possession of a couple weeks ago then I'm in for a real treat. 

(That's right Stephen. I'm right on the cusp of taking the plunge for the 12mm. I'll tell you how it all works out...) KT