A quickie lens review of two or three lenses. The 50mm f2.0 X WR, the 90mm f2.0 WR and the Zany 7Artisans 55mm f1.4.

50mm f2.0 WR.

I bought Ben some new headlights for his car. They were a Christmas present. Part of the gift was that I would have them installed. I don't personally do anything with automobile maintenance other than find dealers who have barristas and who also serve pastries while you use their high speed wi-fi in their nice waiting rooms. I prefer even more the ones who automatically give you a loaner car while they work on yours. But when it comes to maintaining a 15 year old Toyota Corolla those sorts of dealerships and perks are a bit of a mis-match. 

Belinda had been having her car (now Ben's car) serviced by a local place called "Rising Sun Automotive." They specialize in Japanese cars and are knowledgable, laid back and fair on pricing. I called and they said they'd be happy to install the headlights. I arranged to get the car in last Thursday. Ben was flying to San Francisco for a few days for a business meeting and, if I took him to the airport at five in the morning I'd be able to take his car over to the shop in his absence.

I drove the car over after morning swim practice. Belinda was at work at the ad agency downtown by then. I decided to drop off the car, walk down Lamar Blvd for about a quarter mile and then catch the bus back to my neighborhood. As I walked down the big hill on S. Lamar I came upon a giant mural painted on the retaining wall across the street from me. I had the XT3 with the Fuji 50mm f2.0 WR lens on it which was just the right combination. I shot a few frames and then walked on; not wanting to miss my bus. 

When I got back to the office I popped the memory card into my computer and pulled up the wall/mural image in Lightroom. The color and resolution were flawless. When I pulled up a detail of the eyes from the mural I was happy because I could see all the surface texture on the wall. 

Wall detail. 

I've subsequently shot a number of different subjects with the 50mm lens (which is small and light) and in each instance I've been happy with its performance. I can't ask more of a long normal/short tele lens that is both economical and also weather resistant. I recommend it!

Then I went for a walk and shot some stuff with the &Artisans 55mm f1.4. Below is an image of a plant that I photographed at f2.0 and I liked it as well. Other photographs of flatter subjects show me that the lens is soft on the edges when used wide open but gets better edge sharpness as you stop down. At f2.8 and higher I'm able to use the lens interchangeably with any of the Fuji lenses and, while it's not quite in the same class when it comes to sharpness and performance at wider f-stops it's a great lens for portrait work if you keep the subject away from the edges. It's much superior, image-wise compared to the more expensive Kamlan 50mm f1.1. I'm not in any rush to move the 7Artisans lens out the door. I'll want to spend more time with it shooting portraits in black and white before I make any hasty decisions. I'll give this one a neutral rating. The price is right but some will have issue with edges and corners. It does have the latest photo buzzword: Character. (which largely means it's less sharp than ultra modern lenses and perhaps the lens coating flattens out harsh detail on portraits better than the best coatings. Let's call that a plus for portraits; a minus for other subject matter......

7Artisans Plant-ography. 

And that brings me to the lens I took out for a stroll this afternoon. The Fuji 90mm f2.0. Based on what I saw after shooting about 60 photographs I would recommend that every Fuji user who makes portraits, and likes a longer focal length for a tighter angle of view, should run out right now and buy their own copy of this lens sometime between now and the end of March while there is a $250 rebate on it. It's that good. I'm officially smitten. 

There are really just three lenses I've used in the past two years that have surprised me with their near perfection. Of course, the first one is the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro. I can't understand why any m4:3 user would not have this amazing and highly flexible optical system in their camera bag. It's just so good. And the built in image stabilization works so well on Panasonic cameras that most would not miss having I.S. in body if this lens was their primary shooting tool. 

The second lens is the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. Fast, super sharp, easy to handhold, and did I mention sharp wide open? I thought I'd have to rummage through the Olympus catalog any time I needed a superlative lens but the 90mm f2.0 from Fuji is their equal. It's sharp wide open, the out of focus areas behind the main subject are sublime and while the lens is hefty you know it's that way because it's packed with optical magic. No I.S. but so usable on the XH1 with in-body I.S. 

If I hadn't experienced the lens first hand I wouldn't believe what I had construed to be hyperbole. I do now. It's the best of the lenses I've used on my Fuji cameras.

Today I was inspired to look all over downtown Austin, Texas to see how the landscape has been littered with rental bikes, scooters, mopeds and electric bikes. These are shots from my adventure.

"A Poor Craftsman blames his tools." And, "A Poor Marketer Blames the Market."

One of my favorite images but not one I'd send to marketers at IBM or Dell. 

One of my favorite executive portraits and one that I'd happily send to corporate clients.

Over the years that I've been in this business I've found that it continually lives up to the tired, old saying of Ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus, that Change is the Only Constant. I've heard over and over again that people just want to find their style and then continue along forever doing their photography in exactly the same way. I guess that's fine if their style is something their market will embrace forever but for most commercial artists ever changing styles and fashions drive current sales. Resting on one's laurels can be....ill advised. I think the only artists who can spend their days rehashing their greatest hits are the ones who are already dead and were lucky enough to have made it to the big time before the Grim Reaper punched their tickets.

For the rest of us success comes not from just staying visually and conceptually relevant but also (and probably most important) constantly fine tuning our marketing. But the biggest marketing error I see, beyond putting up inappropriate samples, is not having a flexible but scheduled advertising strategy. 

There seems to be a depressing trend among small businesses in general, and freelance artists in particular, and that is the tendency to completely ignore marketing when schedules are full and days are busy, then, when the big job is over and the e-mails turn from clients to spam a panic sets in and the realization hits that Bob the Photographer desperately needs to get some sort of marketing out to quickly prime the pumps of commerce. Inspiration seems to strike just as the last of the cash flow gets parceled out to necessities and there's little left for any sort of campaign.

In a panic one tends to fall back on what might have worked to get business in the past. I've watched a certain arc occur when the panic from no work hits. The first impulse is to totally revamp the website. This is a black hole where time in concerned and misses the primary idea that something needs to drive clients and potential clients to the website in the first place (Please go see my website: kirktuck.com ).

After days or weeks of toil on the website (while the bank account continues to dwindle) the photographer turns to social media as the next (free) step and starts pelting his fellow  SM users with random images, disjointed stories and too many posts. Yes, someone on Instagram will give him a few "nice captures!" but delivering new work right now is not a superpower of social media. I think one's desperation and one's success from social media are inversely proportional. The more panicked one becomes the less effective the free media becomes....

The next step for the marketer-behind-the-eight-ball is to go to the lowest common denominator and cut prices on commodity work. A strategy that rarely works and still requires a buyer who needs something right now. Most good advertising projects are planned far in advance --- 

At the end of this progression Bob ends up sitting at the local professional photographer Happy Hour nursing a cheap beer and joining in the chorus that's busy blaming "market conditions" for their lack of income. The premise being that we're in a continual downturn and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.

A few words of advice. Figure out who your markets are. Introduce yourself. Send marketing information that's useful to potential clients. Send it regularly. Market across multiple media. Some direct mail, some social media, some public relations, some direct meetings to show new work (and to show off your winning personality...). Be consistent with your message. Be consistent with your logo and the look and feel of your branding. 

I have so many friends who work in advertising. I hear so many stories of random e-mail blasts showing off "boudoir" style photos aimed at art directors who work in technology or medical fields. I hear about the same art directors getting one great postcard but no follow up, no further signs of life.
And I hear at every lunch meeting about some new creative talent who is making himself/herself persona non grata by e-mailing weekly, even daily. 

Notes from experience: Instagram is fun and breathless but the corporate clients spend their time over on LinkedIn. One post card is a waste of time and money. Six postcards mailed over a six month time frame is bound to get one noticed; as long as the work is targeted to the recipient. Facebook is great if you are hunting for wedding photography or children photography. Facebook sucks for corporate and commercial work. And it's a good place to waste days and days of time.

Start by identifying the people you want to work with and then reverse engineer the process. Figure out what accounts they work on; what kind of clients they have. Craft messages/include photos that let potential clients know you understand their markets and can provide what they need. Figure out a way to create a consistent campaign and follow it over time. The creative arts are not a business known for instant success (even though the general press would like to have you think otherwise) so you have to plan for campaigns that build over time. And then you have to engage.

Usually, when I hear another photographer blame the market, or I hear myself bemoan an economic slowdown, I know we're trying to blame something we can't control. We can only control how well we market and how well our marketing changes with change. 

Yes, there are bad markets. Yes, there is constant change across industries. Your job, should you wish to be financially successful, is to spend less time and effort trying to figure out the ultimate format or the "camera of the moment," or how many dancing angels can be in focus at f1.0, and to spend that time staying in touch with the people who can write you checks. Figuring out where your market is moving next and how your messaging (not brand) needs to change with it.

I think it's true that a poor marketer blames the market.