9.30.2019

Getting to black and white. From a raw file out of the Pentax K-1.

My formative photography years were spent learning to shoot, develop and print black and white images. Color was too expensive, too complex to do on my own. I still spend time trying to make conversions from color digital raw files to monochrome to see if I can get close to the feel of the images we used to make on some of the premium papers (loved graded Ilfobrom paper) back in the days of the wet darkroom. 

These two images are the same file but imagined in two different ways. I like the black and white better.  But I think a propensity for liking one or the other is generational. And even within my generation there were those who were confirmed Kodachrome (color slide) shooters and the contingent of black and white shooters so there's also a divide there. 

Curious how it breaks down amongst VSL readers. Anybody want to chime in? Which do you prefer and why?



The more "colorful" side of downtown San Antonio. Assisted by the original Pentax K-1 and the HD 28-105mm zoom lens.

Who doesn't want a flaming scull to decorate their home with?

I've traveled a fair bit over the years and seen lots of amazing places, mostly with a camera over one shoulder. I've been in and out of Paris and Rome at least a dozen times each. Lived in Turkey for two years. Did a two week long project in St. Petersburg, Russia in the dead of winter back in 1995. Back packed through "classic" Europe for months and months back in the 1970's; slept in tents and hostels, cooked eggs nearly every day with a small frying pan that hung off my pack and a little Blue Gas burner. But over the last few years travel has become more crowded, more frenetic, more....mundane. I traveled 22 times out of Texas on business last year. Not much of the actual travel was fun... 

That's what I love about having San Antonio close at hand. If I feel the need for a break from the  "exhausting excitement" of being in Austin, Texas I can hop in my car and more or less reliably be in San Antonio in about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

What I love about San Antonio is that it has not (yet) been destroyed by a steely-eyed core of highly entitled groups hell bent on making it into the next Yuppie Paradise. There are many more working people and solid, middle class families than there are denizens of fortified enclaves of flashy wealth. Which means that the downtown area hasn't been made over as a hipster vacation spot, replete with avocado toast and an Aston Martin (or two) on every block. Which further means that the city has retained some authenticity and some of its historic vibe. Which means more street festivals, more diversity in public, less expensive attractions and dining and, a more welcoming disposition. 

Sure, you can find expensive hotel rooms and pricey restaurants in The River City but you'll have to try a bit harder than you would in Austin. San Antonio depends on a different kind of tourism. Instead of executives flying in from some place chic to sit in posh hotels and plan the next disruption in their industry, or the pampered children of the upper middle class flying in from around the country for a three day ($$$$) concert in the park you get many less affluent people who drive in to San Antonio from towns and cities across Texas to see the Alamo, buy giant margaritas and take selfies in front of the giant dinosaur at Ripley's Believe-it-or-not. For the most part these tourists are: not big spenders, not obnoxious, not destroying as much nature (flying = massive carbon footprint) and, seemingly, more likely to be having fun. Not a gritted teeth, latest Patagonia outerwear, Let's run a marathon across the glacier and then have a bottle of Cristal at the lobby bar to loudly celebrate sort of fun but just casual, walking around, looking at stuff, eating gorditas and churros, hanging out in Tex-Mex restaurants, listening to mariachis, and buying Bart Simpson piƱatas kind of fun. 

All of which makes it a great city to visit if you just want to walk around taking photographs with a big, little, or phone camera. 

Yesterday I posted images of mostly buildings from my time there last Saturday but I also wanted to show the silly, fun, zany, weird stuff that just seems to crop up when walking from the Alamo to the Mercado and back. All shot with a Pentax K1 and the 28-70mm zoom. No muss, no fuss. And home in time for dinner...

Make up your own caption...

Above and below, the Ripley's Believe it or Not across the street from the  Alamo. 



The workers depicted are also part of the mural. The car is the car.

One above and two below: Altars at the entrance to one of the most popular, 
24 hour operating Mexican food restaurants in the center of the city. 
I should have gone in to look and see if the big altar to singer, 
Selena is still there.






After all these decades I still love taking photographs of the ticket office
at the Majestic Theater on Houston St. 

And they've done such a nice job keeping it maintained. 

9.29.2019

Walking with a camera in downtown San Antonio. Part 1. What interesting buildings!

Flowers at a fountain in the old courtyard of the McNay Museum.

I spent a lot of time in San Antonio over the last year and a half taking care of my father, who passed away at the end of May. I had not been back to San Antonio since then but I woke up yesterday with the idea that I needed to revisit the city to keep from having those recent days of responsibility and sadness harden into my lasting impression of the city in which I grew up. There is so much I like about San Antonio and its vibrant downtown is part of that. I needed to feel welcome again.

So I decided to give downtown Austin a day off from my Paparazzi abuse and, after early morning swim practice, I grabbed the camera that keeps resurfacing as an odd but highly attractive choice, and headed out the door. I stopped by the Goodwill store to donate an old scanner, then hit Starbucks and was on the road by 10 a.m. Traffic was light heading down IH-35 to the River City. I pulled up to a parking meter just a few blocks from the Alamo and laughed for a few seconds when I saw the parking rates. San Antonio still charges 30 cents an hour in the very center of their downtown!!! About a quarter of the usual parking fee charged at meters in Austin....

I was dressed for comfort and a bit of protection from the sun and, to lighten my load, I only carried one camera and one lens. My choice for the day was a Pentax K-1 and the small, elegant and dense-packed 28-105mm lens. In my mind it was the perfect choice for an afternoon of random rambling. Beautiful files, lots and lots of resolution, and enough dynamic range to keep even the wizards of DXO moderately happy. Yes, the camera is chunky and a bit heavy but it's bits of friction that keep us paying attention to our process.

As is my habit, I kept an extra, charged battery in my pants pocket, along with a wad of cash and my wallet. No camera bag. No sling thing. No backpack. Nothing to make the process physically arduous. 

The Pentax K-1 has a sharper, brighter look than the Fujis I normally use and it just begged to be unleashed on some architecture. I'm not an architectural photographer but I love photographing urban "landscapes" when I'm walking with no purpose other than to walk and look. I did find myself waiting in front of old buildings, like the ones below, waiting for people to either enter the scene or to move on, or for clouds to blow over, so I could harness the hard edge of bright sunlight. I also found myself (uncharacteristically) stopping just to look at a building facade for a while as though by doing so I might unlock some secret to making a better image. 

Of course, I was just shooting for myself so I wasn't feeling compelled to shoot in a certain way or to come home with images that look like all the other "perfect" images of buildings, which I tend to see a lot. I felt as though I was doing "snapshots" of old friends because these are buildings (for the most part) that existed long before I started heading into downtown S.A. in the 1970's with a little film camera in my hand. I've seen the fronts in disrepair, seen them renovated and smelled the fresh paint, and then seen them decline again. It's like a special season that follows the economic conditions of the city. 

I like the look of strong, stark blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. I like hard edges on most architecture. I try to look for compositions and color pairings that are bold and contrasting. I'm rarely trying for subtlety, and even more rarely trying to make a "classic" image of a structure in which all the blinds are drawn to the same measure in each window and all the edges of the building are parallel and straight up and down. I'm more in the mode of trying to coax out the character of the old storefront or apartment house. 

I walked around in the heat on my usual route. I start near the Alamo and then walk across downtown via Commerce St. (passing by the St. Fernando Cathedral) until I get to the Mercado; mecca for all tourists to The Alamo City. After mingling with the other tourists and becoming overwhelmed with all the insane and tacky souvenirs, I resist getting a temporary tattoo, or having my face painted, and I head back in the  direction from which I came but I do so on Houston St., just for the visual variety.  I laughed to myself when I thought about this route I've constructed because the family of my beautiful girlfriend in high school owned a clothing store on Commerce St. while the family of my best guy friend owned a tonier men's wear store on Houston St. Both stores have long been sold off by the respective families and it's always interesting to me to see what kinds of businesses are in the spaces now...

I'd been walking since 11:30 and by 2:00 p.m. it was really hot and the air was sticky and moist, like steam from a kettle, whistling on a burner. It was time to find some air conditioning, a cool drink and a calm lunch. I didn't want to go to a regular restaurant with table service, wasn't in the mood for Tex-Mex, and not of a mind to try something exotic and new either. I looked around as I walked and was happy to find a shop called, The Royal Blue Grocery. It's a small, small chain of stores that started in Austin as little deli/grocers for people who lived in the big, high rise condominiums that dot our downtown. They serve great, hot sandwiches, make killer coffee and have a better selection of wines that one might imagine. The one on Houston St. in San Antonio is new and is their first one in that city, and maybe the first one outside of the magnetic pull of Austin. 

I parked my camera on a table, grabbed a (glass) bottled water and order a Cuban sandwich. Pulled pork, some ham, delicious pickles and onions, some melted provolone cheese, and just the right amount of a picante sauce. It was exactly what I wanted in the moment. Absolute comfort food and nothing budget straining.

I shot and walked for another hour before heading to the McNay Museum which is one of my favorite art museums in the world. By the time the museum closed I'd shot a couple hundred images, had a great lunch, made a modicum of peace with the city and its ghosts, and felt like I'd accomplished something I have a hard time putting into words; not actually relaxation but maybe re-integration. 

I knew the images I'd shot on the K-1 looked nice on the back screen of the camera but I've been fooled by LCDs so many times before. Because of that I was especially happy to sit in front of my computer today and find so many that I liked so much; most of which were good right out the camera and great with just the tiniest bit of Adobe-coaxing. Always just a little brighter. Always just a bit more shadow detail. 

I have more stuff to show but it's far more quirky than these buildings. I thought that instead of mixing them in one post I'd get two days of posting joy from one afternoon's adventure. So, if you "hate the buildings" stay tuned and I'll get some non-building stuff up in your face tomorrow. 

So, how was the Pentax? Vexing! I never expected that camera and that lens to be so good or so comfortable to use. Now I'll never be able to make up my mind about which camera to take with me to Montreal next weekend. A very nice problem to have. Thank you very much.

Commerce St. 
Commerce St.
Commerce St.

Commerce St.
Commerce St.
Commerce St.
 Commerce St.
 Commerce St.
 The Signage for the historic Aztec Theater.
 The Robert E. Lee Hotel as seen from Houston St.
Don't know if you can read it all but the sign underneath the name says, 
"Air Conditioned." 
 Houston St.
  Houston St.
  Houston St. The old Bromley Communications Bldg. 
One of SA's big advertising agencies. Now headquartered in
some other part of the city. 
 A Pillar at the McNay Museum.
 The McNay Museum.
 Entrance to the sculpture gardens at the McNay. 
 And no trip to S.A. is complete without at least a view or two of the Alamo.

A beefy camera and a moderate zoom lens. What more could you need?
Well, at least for walking around a city...

9.28.2019

A Sculpture by Robert Indiana. At the McNay Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

Lovely presentation in a courtyard just off the main entry to the museum.

9.27.2019

I've been playing with a Panasonic Lumix S1 this week and thought I'd share a few thoughts.


I was intrigued when Panasonic first announced it's full frame line up of the S1 and S1R cameras. But I was in the middle of managing my dad's declining health, my mother's estate and lots of other un-fun stuff so I didn't pay the announcement much attention at all. I figured it would take a while for the cameras to hit the store shelves and a bit longer after that for actual user reviews to hit the web. Plus, I was very satisfied with the images (and the handling!) of the Fuji cameras on which I had been stocking up. 

The Panasonic  S cameras are pitted against a couple of strong mirrorless adversaries, such as the A7III and the A7R4 as well as the Nikon Z6&7, and since the Lumix FF cams are the new additions on the menu they seem to currently be an acquired taste. I decided to take an afternoon to do a bit of reading about the cameras and then make the trek up to the local camera store to play with actual cameras in my real hands.

Most of the stuff people have written (or spoken) about the Lumix s1 is true; the camera is by far the largest and heaviest of the batch. The EVF is far and away the best finder I've ever had the pleasure to use and makes the EVF in the Sony A7III look.....sad, lame. The construction feel of the S1 is the best in the class with second place going to Nikon and last place to Sony. 

While playing with the S1 I had a sense of deja vu, the menus and basic buttons and controls are very close to those on the smaller format Panasonic G9 and I felt right at home after twenty minutes or so of menu diving.

I shot at the theater with the camera for a dress rehearsal/marketing shoot on Tuesday evening and photographed Jaston Williams (Actor/Playwright and co-originator of the hit play, "Tuna Texas") in the studio this morning. In both situations; one using the camera handheld at ISO 3200 with a fast moving live production, the other using the camera on a tripod, lighting with big flashes and shooting at ISO 160, the camera performed perfectly and returned files that are as good as anything I've seen from any camera, short of a medium format Phase One. 

In full length, full body shots in the studio the eye detection AF never missed a beat, not in over 200 photographs. The focus in the theater was very good when considering that I was using a fairly slow (f4.0) lens and shooting sometimes under very little light. 

I haven't had the camera long enough to test out the video performance but from everything I've read I'll  go into those tests with high expectations. 

Since most reviewers are reviewing cameras with the hope of getting people to click on links to vendors in the initial reviews in order to get them to buy, or at least pre-order the product, they have a vested interest in getting their reviews "to market" as quickly as possible so they can be the first in line to offer up the affiliate links. This means that cameras get reviewed very quickly and very early on. Which means that they are working with cameras that have mostly 1.0 firmware. 

Camera makers, well at least Panasonic and Fuji, are really good at continually fine-tuning their products and adding features but you'll never know about it if all you read are the initial reviews. A case in point is the Fuji X-Pro2. When the camera was first delivered it featured 1080p video but later on Fuji added 4K video to all XP2's (and a host of other improvements) via new firmware update, but if you read the initial reviews you would never know this as few reviewers go back and update early reviews. You might read that a certain camera has laggy C-AF but never read about how the maker fixed the issue.

In the case of the Lumix S1 Panasonic announced at launch that they would be adding support for a Log profile for video in a "soon to arrive" firmware update (1.2) which arrived in the Summer and added a host of additional features which made the camera more responsive and quick as well as adding waveform metering for video and allowing for a (paid) Log upgrade.

Everything I read in early reviews of the camera had little to no bearing on the camera I now have in hand. I updated the firmware to the current version before I shot my first frame.

The most amazing thing about this (more or less) bulletproof camera (shutter rated for 400K actuations!!!), after the amazing EVF is the image stabilization. With a stabilized lens like the 24-105mm f4.0 that I paired with this camera you are getting stabilization performance that rivals what you get from Olympus OMD cameras. Somewhere near 6 stops of steadiness improvement! 

My interest in the camera and in the system is largely a result of having played around with the Pentax K1, mixed with my excellent experiences with the Panasonic G9 cameras and lenses. My memories of the G9 (and evidence of ten thousand or so photographs) caused me to imagine that this camera, with a big sensor, could be even better.  The time spent with the Pentax K1 made me nostalgic for the look of a full frame sensor. While my video experiences with the GH5 and GH5S lead me to believe that the video from this camera might be equally amazing. 

On the other hand the lenses that are currently available are expensive and big. They are very much positioning this camera as a professional solution and not giving much priority to people whose main desired features are smaller size and lower weight. Since there are few fast primes available currently under $2,000 I'll be keeping and using my Fuji lenses and cameras for most contemporary work. That is, unless there is a specific project (most likely video) that can really leverage the strengths of the S1. 

So, here we are back again three systems deep and with no real game plan in mind. The Pentax might be on the block but like an ugly but affectionate puppy there is something about the K1 cameras that is so endearing I might just keep them around and watch their rate of depreciation accelerate.... The images from the K1 are different than those from all my other cameras and I've just about convinced myself that they have a role to play in my tool box just like the other cameras. But I will make a clear statement about one thing: Neither the Pentax nor the Lumix are "travel" cameras and I will definitely be taking a couple of X-Pro2s with me to Montreal and beyond. Just say the phrase: "you have to fly there!"  and I can pretty much assure you that I'll be arriving with some combination of Fuji camera bodies and lenses. I have lots of different shoes in my closet. I don't run the trails in the Summer in waterproof hiking boots and I don't walk on glaciers with a pair of Cole Hahn oxfords, or flipflops. Kinda the same thing with cameras. 

More to come as soon as I find some fun video work on which to test the Lumix S1. Now, where's that equipment bag with wheels? This is a heavy camera (kidding, just kidding). 








New Gear Added. Part One. A Gift from my Sister. Practical but showy.


My sister is a smart traveler. She looked at the expected temperatures during the time I'll be in Montreal (starting next Saturday!) and told me that my usual sandals or flip-flops (official, year round footwear for Austin) might not be comfortable. She suggested.....shoes. And, as an incentive, sent along these three pairs of socks. They are just my style but may clash with my basic black camera straps. Perhaps I need to re-think my camera straps...

I'm guessing that if it's too cold for flip flops I might also want to pack something other than short pants.... Just trying to get ahead of all this.

Just trying to do some judicious pre-planning.

9.23.2019

I went "off script" yesterday and photographed the dress rehearsal for "Dracula" with a couple of Pentax K1 cameras. It wasn't insanely difficult...


When we make a change, say from a DSLR system to a  mirrorless system, it's generally because the emotional part of our brain got triggered into desire mode by careful advertising, marketing, or some other lure, and our logical side of the brain is then given the (after action) task of rationalizing our emotion's actions. We might never know what compelled our emotional brain to ditch a perfectly good system and venture into the great unknown but we know it probably had to do with a deeply held need to keep up with the Joneses, a need to make a statement about where you fit into the social hierarchy, or the idea that having the latest and greatest stuff might make you more attractive to the opposite sex, thus tipping the scales in your favor that you might one day mate and replicate. All this desire is mostly driven by thousands or millions of years of evolution and there's very little you can do about it.

Funny to think about how desire pushes a species forward on a general basis (desire for consistent food supply helping to create agriculture?) while it can actually impede the happiness of individuals. For example: you might think spending money on a Sony A7R mk4 will make you happy. Happier than you are now with your Canon Digital Rebel. You scrimp and save, spend more time at work than you'd like, and then you walk into the camera store and finally buy the camera of your dreams. For a while you are happy. Everyone around you is impressed with your new camera. But then adaptation takes over and you get used to your camera. Familiarity breeds contempt. The fizz wears off. The sparkle seems to dull. And you start saving up for the next big purchase which you hope with bring you lasting happiness and which will change your life. And you follow this pattern until you can no longer afford to make these kinds of emotionally driven camera purchases. Or you impoverish yourself through the misuse of credit...

You've lost the opportunity to invest the money you spent on cameras and you've lost the income's ability to purchase necessities that might have actually improved the quality of your life, your relationships, and your actual social position. You've effectively traded real happiness for short term attempts to be happy through ownership of stuff you didn't need but allowed the linked camps in your brain to foist upon you.

And the logical part of the brain (which is actually very rarely consulted during the ramping up of desire and the final culmination of the buying cycle) is repeatedly called upon to do the heavy lifting. It tells us that 2 more megapixels will make a profound difference in our work. That 1/3 of a stop more dynamic range will fix everything that currently vexes us. That having a mirrorless camera will make us "future proof" and will provide so many vital features that it just makes sense to own one. There's even a special sub-routine in the brain that clicks in to help us rationalize things like the construction of our desired object in carbon fiber or titanium. The logical side of the brain instantly supplies the rationale (after we've bought the new camera) with something like: "Well. In the near future we'll be moving all of our photography work to nature and wildlife images and the titanium will reduce the weight of our kit and also add more strength to the body. The new camera will last much longer, making the selection of the "Boy Metal" a long term.....investment, when compared to a traditional finish..." 

So, what I've found when I've made the plunge into a new system or a new kind of camera (mirrorless versus DSLR, for example) is that my logical brain jumps in to bail out the emotional part of my brain, which seems to have an iron grip on my wallet, reduce the post purchase second thoughts (post cognitive dissonance) with wave after wave of reasoned justifications. My current favorite is that I must  have the latest Fuji mirrorless cameras because the ability to pre-chimp is so vital to my success in capturing good images during dress rehearsals at the theater. If there's no time to test lighting and to make changes on the fly then seeing the preview of an image in the EVF (pre-chimping) helps me to make quick changes that ensure my success. Which ensures my place in the social hierarchy. Which should make me happy. 

When I picked up a couple of Pentax K1 cameras I'm certain it was an impulsive act driven by a recent deposit into one of my accounts of cash I didn't need in the moment. I was either rewarding myself for completing a long and arduous task or taking advantage of a disruption in the dealer's pricing model when I made the purchase. The after-action booster talk from the logical part of my brain mollified me by assuring me that the full frame sensor in the new cameras, in conjunction with the 1:1 format, and a handful of lenses, would open up a brilliant new way to make classic black and white portraits in the studio; where I would have the leisure to use live view to nail perfect focus. Another argument my brain dredged up was that a new system might motivate me to get back into the game after a tough year of domestic administration. Either argument could have prevailed because what my brain was interpreting from my emotion's actions was that I deserved the new gear and I could afford it without negative consequences. Well done, logical and emotional brains, you saddled me with yet more gear....

Just for grins yesterday I thought I'd repudiate my logical brain's argument about the need for mirrorless cameras in order to do my best job in live theater photography. I had agreed to photograph the marketing images for ZachTheatre.org's new production of, "Dracula"  and I thought I'd substitute the older, DSLR technology and see just how "important" those mirrorless attributes actually were. 

To that end, I shot the bulk of last night's technical rehearsal with the following: Two Pentax K1 cameras, a 28-105mm f3.5-5.6(!!!!!!!) zoom lens and the 100mm f2.8 Macro WR. Sure, I dropped a couple of 50mm lenses in the bag (unused) as well as a really old and crusty 135mm f2.5 Pentax manual focusing lens (also unused) into the camera bag. 

I got off to a slightly rocky start but soon settled into the old way of working with cameras that expect me to know what I'm supposed to be doing. Exposure and color balance are always the linchpins for a good theater photo, I don't worry much about focusing because I seem to have that figured out. At first I thought I'd need to shoot exclusively in raw, just as a safety net, but after the color temperature I'd set matched what I wanted to see in random image reviews I felt fine switching back to fine Jpegs and blazing through the show. 

Both lenses worked well and that's saying a lot when it comes to the 28-105mm zoom. It's basically an upscale "kit" lens and I was using it mostly wide open, which has got to be the worst case scenario, but it seemed to deliver sharp and well detailed images 95% of the time. The other five percent are probably due to my sloppy technique or a mis-focus while shooting a very dark and contrasty scene. 

The 100mm Macro lens was slower to focus but when I got the focusing right the images were great. I shot that lens at f3.5 which is about a third of a stop from wide open and got good images from it as well. 

The trick to shooting the K-1 cameras under low light is to be patient and wait for the green confirmation light to come on before committing to the final shutter push. It's an interesting kinetic ballet (and what kind of ballet would not be kinetic) that requires one to time stuff around the time it takes for the camera's focus to lock in. 

When I looked at the images today on my computer I was happy with the rich tonality the presented. Then I remembered all the hundreds of shows I'd photographed with SLRs, DSLRs, actual rangefinders and even medium format cameras over the course of nearly 30 years and reminded myself that the camera is secondary to the instruction book in your brain. 

Mirrorless cameras can make stage documentation easier a bit easier and can be less noisy, but you can still do great work with antiquated cameras ---- if you take your time and have the right mindset. I will say that the sensor in the Pentax K1 is less noisy at 3200 and far less noisy at 6400 than my X-H1s but the trade off is that the X-H1 and the "killer lenses" (90mm f2.0, the 50-140mm f2.8, and the 16-85mm) focus much more quickly and lock in with more authority. 


Not quite ready to try photographing theatrical stuff with my iPhone. I think I'll have to wait a rev or two for that.....

9.22.2019

Fuji announced the new X-Pro3. The fans go wild. The haters go insane.

I really like cameras set up in a rangefinder style. Keeps my nose off the LCD...

It looks like the X-Pro3 from Fujifilm will be arriving just in time for my birthday. As the very happy owner of several of it's predecessor model (the Fuji X-Pro2) I can only say, "lucky me." I will order one of the new cameras right off the bat because of all the tweaks the new camera is said to have included. To wit: A much better optical finder (more room and less distortion). A much improved EVF (with more space, much higher resolution than the finder in the current, X-Pro2, and better, more accurate color). And a new body structure that is made of titanium (boy metal) and will be stronger and lighter than the structure of the camera it replaces. In addition to all this wonderful stuff there will also be several different coatings, or final finishes, to the "sheet metal." You'll be able to order the basic black or you'll have the option of two different colors of a "Dura" coating (silver and black) which is reported by Fuji to be more scratch resistant than stainless steel and almost as hard as sapphire. Come on! That's just so cool.

To my way of looking at cameras this will continue on the tradition of being a special use camera coveted by fine artists and street shooters. The rangefinder-styling and construction includes everything that's nice about a rangefinder camera (direct viewing, seeing beyond the edges of the frame, no shot black out) but adds the option to switch into EVF mode to pre-chimp or review images already taken. The one thing it removes, when compared to a "real" rangefinder like a Leica M6 is the actual coincident rangefinder mechanism. Some might miss that but a real rangefinder depends on careful, manual calibration to work well. It is also costlier to build than what Fuji has designed for us here, and, in all honesty, works less and less well with longer and longer lenses because the actual image size in the viewfinder gets smaller and smaller the longer the focal length of the lens. In my experience with actual rangefinder Leicas it's already a big bit of a compromise at 90mm and by the time you hit 135mm with an actual, optical rangefinder you'll be begging to use an SLR instead. Heading north from a 135mm? That becomes very, very challenging in actual use. 

I think it's very important to understand that this is a specialist's camera body and not at all intended to compete as a jack of all trades. Fuji says that it is designed for users who want a "pure" photographic experience and in making it for a smaller market one of their design goals was to reduce the intrusion of the camera in the picture taking process. To this end they've designed a rear LCD panel that is so strikingly against the popular notions of what a camera LCD is "supposed" to be used for that one suspects it was designed this way by Fuji just to enrage the general community at amateur photography sites such as DP Review (where a battle is currently raging between Fuji purists and the great unwashed audience, for which every camera MUST check every box).

The new screen is a flip-DOWN screen which is intended to have its active, screen side folded in toward the camera body when the camera is in use, taking photographs. There is no position in which the screen is flat against the camera's back and facing the user. None. The design goal was to reduce the temptation to mindlessly chimp when one should be taking photographs. I, for one, feel vindicated as this screen design strikes at the heart of the "Dirty Baby Diaper Hold" wherein a photograph holds the camera out at arm's length and does all of his photo business with the camera swaying and bouncing in front of him/her in the least stable hold possible (well, I guess they could do the D.B.D.H. with one hand, just to make it even less stable).  The screen, when in use,  is available in only two configurations: setting one is to fold the screen out away from the camera body and use it as a waist level finder. It faces up and is at 90 degrees from the camera body (it is hinged at the bottom to the camera). You can continue to fold the screen past 90 degrees to 180 degrees at which point it will be below the camera (top of the screen at the bottom of the camera) and the screen will be facing the user.

There is no provision to use the screen in any "selfie" mode and it won't twist out to the side or face toward the front of the camera in any way. Your choices are: waist level viewing, parallel to but below camera viewing, and having the screen tucked against the back of the camera in the off position. 

I love it. I love it because it will save battery power, not distract me, and it's a complete repudiation of composing and shooting on what should (on all cameras) be just a screen for menu setting and leisurely image review. I love it when a major camera maker's design initiatives coincide with my use profile prejudices. It shows me that there are still sane and logical camera users out in the world.

But this same screen configuration means that this camera will be very unpopular with casual video makers who need the back screen to be active and viewable during the video taking process. If you buy this camera with the primary objective of making video content I am sure it will have the electronic bells and whistles you'll probably want but I'd advise you to get an external monitor/digital recorder, like an Atomos, for convenient monitoring! I couldn't really use this camera for video without that addition. And that's okay because not every camera is made to be a complete "Swiss Army Knife Tool" ready to do anything and everything photographic and video-wise. 

Finally, the photographic "unwashed" are on fire with rancor and disgust over something that's merely a whimsical and fun design element; something that has no real effect, positive or negative, over the use of the X-Pro3. Here is the thing that has so many people twisted up and screaming, "deal killer! DEAL KILLER!!!" Fuji has added a small, square frame in the middle of the backside of the main LCD screen. When the main screen is folded in this little screen faces out from the back of the camera. It looks very much like the sub-monitor screen on the right hand of a Fuji X-H1 and it shows various bits of useful information such as the shutter speed, f-stop and ISO settings of the camera. All the information is even visible when the camera is turned off. A clever step is that the window can be set to mimic the look of the end label of a film box. Remember how film cameras had a little frame on the back and you could rip the end off a box of Tri-X and stick it into the frame to remind you about which kind of film you currently had in the camera? It's just like that but it's an electronic display, and the film box emulations are (of course) of Fuji films. It's clever and fun and the kinder-digi over at DP Review loathe the very idea of it. This means that it must be both good and useful to real photographers. 

In summary, sight unseen, I like the newest addition to the Fuji X-Pro collection and plan to buy one. Your ideas about cameras may be different from mine and perhaps you'll have reasons not to buy one. That's okay too. 


9.20.2019

OT: Coping with long term success. What's next?

Mulling over the idea that Compound Interest 
can be your Best Friend or your Worst Enemy...
whether you buy cameras or not...

Some of us are laid back and seem content to let life wash over us, making do with whatever the universe decides to send along. This cohort falls into jobs and stumble into careers without much thought. Others of us are planners and worker bees and we tend to set goals, set procedures in motion, and constantly push toward some distant pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I'm not sure where I fall on the continuum but I am discovering one thing: It's more fun to struggle and work hard, and fail, and get back into the game again, than it is to be finally, successful. Why? Because, if you don't have to struggle; if the friction of artistically participating in life is reduced or eliminated, then it seems like there's no point.

"Success" as described by a freelance photographer or small business owner can have many measures and many definitions. A lot of our culture's measures of success have to do with how well we have done financially. Wealth and security are key yardsticks with which to measure small business success.

When I meet with other photographers (or ad agency people, or illustrators, or filmmakers) there is always a question that seems to get asked after everyone is into their second beer, and that is, "Do you have a plan to retire?" And usually what is really being asked is: "Will you ever be able to retire?" The implication being that people in the arts have made a stream of conscious decisions to reject economic stability and security as some sort of required payment for being invested in creative enterprises. For doing their art. For writing their books or painting their canvases.

I am disheartened when, with each mention of my having bought a new piece of gear, the comments pour in questioning whether I have raided my child's college fund, stolen communal money from the kitchen cookie jar, done this behind my partner's back, or if I have just plunged myself into the bowels of sticky credit card debt from which I'll never recover. My acquaintances who opted for STEM careers seem not to be able to conceive of a non-technical/big vision job (like photography) that isn't wedded at the hip with intractable poverty and, at the end of life, financial ruin.

But what if...... what if you had little business successes every day, week, month and year of a long career in the arts? What if you shied away from endless exotic vacations (those are trips which clients are not paying for) and big, fancy cars, and houses which were clearly a stretch too far? What if you ate evening meals that you or your spouse prepared from scratch, in your own dining room, five or six nights a week, for decades at a time (and actually became better chefs than those in 90% of the restaurants you've visited) and saved somewhere between the $9,000 and $13,000 a year the average American family, whose appetite for meals acquired outside the house, spend, on average (family of four, middle class) eating out?

What if you saved up and paid in cash for your cars? What if you started saving when your child was an infant to ensure that you could send them to the college of their choice? What if you put all your "disposable" income in SEP accounts and Roth IRA's? In short, what if you did all the things people in all those other careers do (mostly in concert with HR departments) while you were happily grinding away at a pleasurable career in the arts?

I had a big epiphany this year as I was working on other people's financial legacies. The reveal was that I had followed in my parents' footsteps by doing the 1950's work/live/save construct in which people get decent jobs (or careers), spend less money than they make, invest that money in things that generate compounding interest, and reject the ideas of conventional, contemporary status seeking. No ten thousand dollar watches. No Ferrari in the garage. No skiing in Gstaad. No gold flakes on my butterscotch pudding...And, no gold toilet seats.

Doing the final math I discovered: that I could have retired (with few financial consequences) a few years ago. That I don't need to accept any jobs I don't want and that I can pretty much purchase any gear I want without  impoverishing or inconveniencing anyone in my family. The house is paid for . Our cars are paid for. We have no outstanding debt. We're not in thrall to our credit cards. There's money in the coffers....

At this point of sudden economic realization I hit the wall and experienced my own bout of post responsibility depression. If you don't need to work then you have to come to grips with what it is you really want to do. Why you want to do it. How you want to do it. And all that this entails. You have to find a new target that has meaning for you. A new thing, besides need and want to drive you to do your work.

The realization I've been batting about is related to something I wrote long ago, called "The Passion is in the Risk." (You look it up, I don't get paid to do research...) The whole idea, in a nutshell, is that art works as long as there is fear and friction, and the chance of failure involved. Get too comfortable and you lose the spark that kept you awake at night (sweating the numbers) and working hard at doing your best work during the day.

I wonder if so many of the readers here at VSL are in the same existential boat. Is our random flirtation and dalliance with gear a substitute for the passion we felt for photography when we had to work harder at it?

I don't really have an answer and I haven't figured anything out. But I wonder, if I had the chance to do it all over again (which I may....) whether I should have emulated some of my younger friends and spent every last cent on expensive alcohol, amazingly impressive German cars, and a never ending stream of expensive and emotionally needy partners. Would my work be better now? Even better in the future?

In the end I'm okay with my choices. Now I have to figure out how we succeed once you've been blindsided by success.

the "serious" business face.