We've arrived, somewhat intact, at the end of 2020. Here's my year-end review. (Not a good year for photographers. -understatement).

Noellia as a counterpoint to the zeitgeist. 

Ah. Where to start? We came into the year with a certain amount of promise. The stock market was rising and the jobless rate was low. It seemed that photography and most of the arts associated with advertising and marketing had finally recovered from the last recession and people were once again able to spend and save instead of having to choose one or the other. And then? BAM. Total shutdown. 

We were working on photographs and videos for two very good productions at Zach Theatre. I think that a day or two after the final edit of "Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch" the show was cancelled because of the pandemic. Followed the next day by Zach's production of, "Every Brilliant Thing." The lockdown hit suddenly just on the 13th of March and all at once we had to consider things like: at total absence of toilet paper, Chlorox Wipes, paper towels and most pastas, rice and beans at our local supermarkets. We rushed to source face masks. And we sat next to our computers as client after client got in touch to tell us what we had already surmised; that X project would not be going forward. A week later the stock market went into free fall and family members and friends texted to ask, in a panic, if they should sell off all their stocks. 

One of the biggest disappointments for me was the closure of all the pools in Austin. No swimming for the next couple of months. I'm still wondering how I was able to survive...

The saddest day of 2020 was the day my dear Studio Dog passed away. I may not ever recover fully from that... sigh.

Slowly we started coming to grips with the new rhythm of life. Mask up to go to the grocery store. Mask up to go for a walk anywhere there might be other people. Stock up on toilet paper. Order face mask in one hundred count boxes from Amazon.com. Learn to walk in the neighborhood without my dog.

These are common stories or personal stories so I guess we should cut to the chase and talk about the impact of 2020 on photography and related industries.

Most commercial photography ground to a halt for months until, at least, people developed some protocols to deal with the potential risks. Face masks on all shoots were a given. As was having gallons and gallons of hand sanitizer on tap. I did a few projects taking portraits of people, individually, in the studio but all of them were done as safely as we could make them. Nearly all the subjects were medical doctors from the non-emergency practices we have had as clients for decades. Most came to the studio having been very recently tested. I cleaned all contact surfaces after each appointment and I worked to make the actual in-person time as short as possible. It was appreciated.

But this was a year for learning new things. I volunteered to do a giant project for Zach Theatre which was 100% video, and my theater counterpart and I agreed that large parts of the content we were making would benefit from footage that could only be effectively generated using a gimbal-mounted camera. I watched every video I could on the subject, bought a phone gimbal to practice with, and then bought a Zhiyun Crane V2 to do the actual project. 

Mastering a moving frame is a big learning experience for someone who comes from a background where we make every effort NOT to move a camera. I spent a week before our big, giant cast, kick-off day just learning how to walk with a gimbal, walk backwards with a gimbal and how to make moves that worked well with the constraints of a gimbal. 

My favorite camera, at the time, to use with a gimbal was the Panasonic G9 along with the 12-60mm zoom lens. The main reasons being that at the time of the project the G9 had the best AF of all the Panasonic cameras and was the lightest one that could do 4K, with 10 bit, 4:2:2 color  in camera. It was my relative success with this camera on a gimbal that eventually persuaded me to get a GH5. It has the same basic weight and size as the G9 but offers some improved codecs. Most valuable to me is the All-I codec which seems to handle motion best. A very important consideration for a camera moving via gimbal while tracking along with subjects who are also moving. 

We did a lot of work with the gimbal in a short amount of time and it's that compressed learning that I think yields the best results. At any rate, without a  client needing a "virtual" gala for fund-raising I might never have ended up buying a gimbal and learning, in depth, how to get good stuff from it. So I guess that's one silver lining presented by the adversity of 2020. I should do a behind-the-scenes video called, "Mastering a Gimbal in Ten Full Days of Trying." But maybe not... 

Now I also seem to have attracted a Ronin S gimbal and a newer Zhiyun Weebill S gimbal. Inventory juggling might be called for shortly.

We didn't stop with the generation of lots of performance content for the theatre's gala live-streaming event. I also provided the cameras and camera work for the event itself. A three camera show, switched live, over the course of three hours. I switched from using cameras based on their nimble-ness to cameras that matched up well and had long run times. At the time my main camera was the S1H and the second string cameras were the S1R and S1. Normally, I would not have considered the S1R for a production like this since its run time in 4K was limited to 15 minutes. But the editors handling the live switching and uplinks only needed 1080p footage and all three of the cameras could do that for as long as the batteries and memory cards held out. 

All three cameras were linked to the main switcher via HDMI cables and we rolled live with them for 1.5 hours of actual performers working live. I'm a nervous Nelly on jobs that can't be re-done so each camera had a back-up power solution. The S1 and S1R both had Anker power banks feeding into the USB ports on the cameras. The S1H had the battery grip attached and an extra battery installed. We used the camera mics for scratch audio in case we wanted to edit stuff down the road but the actual audio was from lavaliere microphones run into the digital recorder at the switcher. 

My digital video education continued with a series of live shows on  Zach Threatre's open air plaza. At first we used a two camera set up to record live concerts for 1.25 hours. Both cameras were set to record at 4K, at 30 fps. One was set up a fair distance back from the stage to keep from blocking any audience member from seeing the stage. That camera presented new learning experiences for me as I grappled with the need for very long lenses. I needed to be able to go in tight with this camera since it was the only one that would be manned by an operator. And that operator was me. I started out with the 70-200mm on the S1H but I needed more reach. I switched from full frame to the APS-C crop and it worked well enough but I still wanted more reach. Also, I had a hell of a time maintaining good, manual focus. I had to work with an external monitor so I could magnify the frame while rolling to constantly check and tweak the focus. The problem with the set up was that every time I touched the focusing ring on the lens you could see camera movement/vibration.

The next time out I tried using a longer lens on a smaller sensor camera, the 50-200mm on the GH5. It worked well but the files were noisier than those from the full frame, state of the art, S1H. But the extra, equivalent 100mm was nice to have!

I finally landed on a good solution by using the same long lens on a GH5S which is much better at handling lower light with less noise (dual ISO). The other big difference between the GH5 and the GH5S is that the GH5S lacks image stabilization. It's not a problem when you are using a big, fluid head tripod. And yes, I bought the GH5S just to use in situations like this. But I was still trying to focus manually. 

More research, and trial and error, and I finally narrowed in on a focus routine that consisted of setting up the touch screen for focus and touching the area with the face in it that I wanted in good focus. Damn if it didn't work! Once I got this figured out and could also see confirmation on an external monitor I pretty much learned how to do image magnification camera work acceptably well.

At the same time the editor and I both realized how great it was to have multiple angles to cut to during the performances. There were no costume changes, no props, no fancy lighting and no great decor at these concerts so the performers were all we really had to work with, visually. Seeing them from only two angles was limiting. After the first week I incorporated a third camera so we could have a wide shot of each stage as well as a follow camera (the one way back from the stage) to follow the performer and get close ups. 

By the final week of my involvement we were four cameras deep. One follow camera on a big, fluid head tripod, also equipped with an external monitor, as well as three other cameras mounted on smaller tripods or table top tripods, pre-focused and taped down in place. 

Just before the recording of the shows started (with full audiences!!!) I'd walk around from the furthest camera to the closest one turning each one on,  confirming that they were manually focused on the right spots, and that the WB and other settings were as we wanted them. I'd make it back to the main camera just as an announcer wrapped up the lead-in (which I labelled: Here's the part where we beg for money) and I'd slip on my headphones and get the final camera rolling. 

I learned a lot about camera positioning and how much better it would be if we could do the tapings without audiences so we could put the cameras anywhere we liked them. Or even use a gimbal mounted camera! If I do something like this again I'll try to push for additional camera operators who could zoom in and out and change compositions from their positions based on what they see happening on stage. The final touch would be to put everyone on a communication system and to also feed the view from all their cameras to a single show director who could call out camera moves or say which performer to highlight/focus on in the moment. But some of this is pie in the sky when you consider that our prime motivation was desperate money raising. 

Just as we got the system totally figured out Austin's Covid numbers rose to a new, high level which triggered a stricter shut down and we shelved the outdoor concerts entirely. It was an expensive building project for me. I started with my base cameras and added both a GH5 and a GH5S specifically to meet the challenges (as I saw them) of this project. I also bought the Panasonic/Leica 50-200mm lens to use as the follow lens for the GH5S which was another $1,600.

So, even though most of my projects in 2020 ended up being charity donations I still spent like a drunken sailor on gear. In fact, by the time we ended the live concerts I had already acquired three different gimbals in 2020; besides the one for the phone. 

I was happy to see a number of new, and very good, cameras hit the market this year. Not just the ones I would buy for my use but also models that various friends have quickly come to love. 

I picked up an S1H and I like using it for video. In fact, since all the firmware upgrades for the S1 cameras have been installed, tweaked and re-installed, I love all three S camera models more than ever. I've toyed with buying the new S5, which seems like a great, all around camera but I think my current S inventory covers me pretty well right now. Especially as client work is currently in limbo. 

I bought two new lenses for the S system this year. In February I bought (on a misguided whim) the Lumix S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8. It's a wonderfully sharp and capable lens and it's "Leica Certified" but I really didn't need it since I already had the 24-105mm f4.0 lens and find the cheaper zoom to be great. Both lenses came in handy (and presented a bit of overkill) when I used them on remote cameras for the video work

The second lens is one I picked up earlier this week but have not tested yet. It's the Lumix 20-60mm lens that Panasonic is pairing with their new, S5 body, as a kind of "kit" lens. Andrew Wong highly recommends it and I'll know on the next sunny day how I feel about it. Why buy it? Some one parted it out of a kit. In the first flurry of S5s to hit our market they could only be purchased with the kit lens. I was able to buy a basically new lens for a song since the original owner pulled the camera out of the box and handed his ready salesperson the lens to sell off for him. 

For me it makes a lot of sense. I'm not much of a wide angle fan but sometimes I need to go as wide as 20mm to get everything in that a client wants in a shot. I'd bought the 20mm f1.4 Sigma Art last fall but it was big, heavy and unwieldy. And, as an architectural photographer friend commented, "Who ever needs to shoot wide angle lenses at f1.4? Doesn't make sense." The 20-60mm, if it's sharp enough at 20mm, will fill the bill nicely and save me some weight in the camera bag. Bonus, the 20-60mm is weather sealed.

I didn't buy the S5 and was quickly (effortlessly?) able to rationalize that the money I saved by not endlessly duplicating the camera capabilities in the Panasonic S line could reasonably be put to good use buying a camera that everyone, EVERYONE! more or less demanded I try. That would be the Fuji X-100V. So, when I saw a barely used (500 actuations?) chrome version on my local dealer's website I meandered up to the store, haggled a bit (just for fun) and bought it. Turns out it's much, much better than the Fuji X-100T I actually did purchase three or four years ago, and it's infinitely improved over the very original X-100 I played with at the line's inception. It's so good that I can now say that I am happy to tolerate a fixed 35mm lens. 

The X-100V is a camera that launched this year and its sensor is great. How much do I like it? Well, I may still be in the "infatuation" phase but after shooting it for less than a week I went back and paid full price for a brand new black one as well. 

But in reviewing the gear that hit the market this year I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't mention a camera from a different brand that is equally impressive. It's the Sony A7Siii. Yes, it's a video centric camera but I long since decided that we're all heading towards producing web content almost exclusively and 12 megapixels just isn't a roadblock anymore. We've given up the pretense that all cameras have to be able to push out enough megapixels to make 40 by 60 inch wall prints. Do people even put prints up anymore?

Sony has made so many improvements over their previous A7mk2 that it's a totally different camera. An amazingly high resolution EVF, a much more robust battery, faster processing, higher data rate codecs, the ability to deliver (ostensibly...) 16 bit raw video files via an Atomos Ninja V or Shogun and a full complement of tools to make the camera faster and easier to use. Add the audio adapter to the hot shoe and you have a camera that is adaptable to just about any video or cinematic project. Even the memory card implementation is super; you can use either SD or CFE cards in either of the two slots.  Vrooom!

If I were still using Sony cameras I'd have this camera on my most immediate list. But, of course that presupposes that we have some clients around to do some work with. Or actors we can make movies of without masks. Still, if you have the need for video and desire stuff like 120 fps 4K and a superior EVF experience (and a lot more) this camera is a stone cold bargain at $3500. It even looks nicer than any previous A7 series camera. 

My sometimes video collaborator and full time friend, James, picked up the A7Siii early on and he was clearly impressed with the color and noise rendering performance on a recent video project for a large software company. Basically, if you set the exposure correctly and do a simple white balance you'll be through with post processing at record speed. If you use S-Log and the Sony supplied LUT in post you can pretty much deliver SOOC. That's big when it comes to video. 

On a non-video front I've played around with a Nikon Z7mk2 and it's really a great stills camera. It may also be a highly competent video machine but I just had time to play with it in its photography capacity. The AF is extremely fast and sure. The 24-70mm f4.0 is very sharp and the overall handling of the camera is great. The camera uses two of their fast processors, has dual card slots (although one is SD and the other is CF Express B), can be powered by USB and the video specs look good. 

But for me the very nicest thing about the new camera, besides its much improved speed, is the handling and the hand feel. It just feels comfortable and familiar even though the body style is very different from generations of DSLRs. This is a camera that begs to tag along for a full day of shooting. Even more so when paired with the new zoom lens. Which is phenomenally good. Worthy of that big sensor.  Nikon is not side-lined yet. And if the markets recover we may see a bump in many camera maker's bottom lines in the year to come. I'm not going to jinx it by saying "it can't get any worse..." 

Wrap up. I've learned how to spend quiet time alone this year. How to dig into books I should have read decades ago but put off while I dragged cameras hither and yon. I've learned a tremendous amount about using digital video cameras. And new-fangled accessories.  On the shooting end it's so different from the film and tape motion picture cameras I worked with in decades past. I've learned how to actually stop working and not worry. I've learned that all the new shoes I bought in 2019 probably won't get worn much until the end of next year. Not much call for suits and ties right now either. 

I've learned to enjoy eating at home and can actually cook a few more dishes than were in my repertoire just last year. And I've learned to just dive in and do the dishes without having to be asked.

I think I'm also learning to use my intuition better; I've dodged some dodgy jobs and weird situations just by paying attention to how I really feel about stuff and it's actually a profitable way to go through life. You just have to slow down enough to listen to some inner voice.

I'm waiting (im) patiently for my final delivery of the year. Will the lens hood I ordered for the black X-100V finally make it from Amazon's Carrier Facility here in Austin where it has been languishing since 8:45 a.m. today? Or will it be a tardy treat for 2021? I guess only this inquiring mind wants to know...

Thanks for reading this year. I hope you'll tune in for 2021. Maybe it will all be unicorns and rainbows, and all the markets, including photography, will recover and blossom. I'll be happy to write those stories. 

A bit less dark drama would be nice. 


Heading out for a walk, fully cognizant that rain was coming soon. So what?

I'm currently addicted to shooting into one of those highly curved mirrors
that sits at the exit of parking garages to help drivers "see" pedestrians. 
fun house mirrors indeed.

Yesterday I carefully disassembled all the camera and lens combinations in my office and put all the cameras and lenses in their respective spots in the equipment drawers. In a way this action was a punctuation of my current resolve not to work, commercially, until I've gotten a vaccine (meaning, really, until Belinda and I both have been vaccinated). Over the course of a typical year the gear is always in flux with some stuff going into short term storage (days) while other stuff came out for different style jobs. I might have a camera bag with micro four thirds cameras and lenses sitting on one part of the floor because it was coming back from a project while close by there was another bag that had just been packed full of different cameras, ready to go out. 

When camera systems return home the memory cards get pulled, the batteries are extracted for charging, and the lenses are inspected and cleaned, if necessary. The second half of this year was more an exercise in adding, evaluating and then subtracting cameras and lenses based on how they performed in certain video situations. How long a lens can I use before vibration ruins the positive effects of reach? Which cameras are less noisy? Where's the trade-off between small and large sensors? How long will the internal batteries last? Which cameras can do power delivery over USB while running? But since early December all these issues have been put on hold.

All that matters now is whether I want to take a camera along with me on a walk or not. I don't have any defined projects I'm working on now; either for clients or myself. I want to shoot portraits my way and don't want to spin my wheels doing some alternative projects just to keep busy. I can figure out how to keep busy in so many other ways. If I come up short of things to do I'm sure my family can provide me a list... (attempt at light-hearted humor).

So I now choose the cameras that are most comfortable and convenient to walk with. So far these have included the Canon G16s, an old Rollei 35S film camera (with the unprocessed roll still in it after several weeks--an encapsulated review of the current film process), an Alpa 9D SLR with a 50mm Macro Switar lens on it (also with undeveloped film lurking inside), and the new (to me) Fuji X100V.

I took the Fuji out today and, being especially prescient, I also took along a Ziploc(tm) plastic bag to use as a minimalist camera protector --- in case of rain. Of which there was plenty. I like the Fuji X100V in spite of the focal length of the fixed lens. The camera itself reminds me of many of the rangefinders I owned in the past and, as I've written recently, I really like the files the camera produces. They are --- beautiful. My dissonance about focal length is ameliorated by the ability to do a 50mm frame easily, instead.

I really wanted to walk mid-day today because the weather people were predicting that this would be the time frame during which our weather would go through a big change. And there's something refreshing and rejuvenating in being caught in the storm, so to speak. 

The Fuji of choice was the chrome version of the X-100V because it already has its chrome lens hood. I got a note yesterday from Amazon.com telling me that my black lens hood which was supposed to be delivered had been destroyed in transit and was now undeliverable. They refunded my purchase price and gave me a ten dollar credit to assuage my hurt feelings about not getting the product nearly instantaneously. I re-ordered it and am expecting delivery tomorrow. But now it's ten dollars cheaper. Funny how that works.

I've yet to run any real photons through the black one I bought on Monday but will get on it as soon as its new hood arrives. 

I felt at loose ends this morning having finished all 2020 paperwork, reporting, conferring and bill paying. I feel like I'm in a big holding pattern until we start digging into the new year. A walk always helps me figure stuff out so I parked near a giant, historic tree called, Treaty Oak, and walked past the new murals under the rail road bridge over Lamar Blvd. I've been snapping away at my favorite parts of the mural since it started and today was no exception. 

I don't know what the image below represents but I like it and I liked the shaft of daylight coming from the top left of the frame. When I parked the car I had the camera set to shoot in the Acros film simulation but I knew the photo below was really all about color so I switched to Eterna which is like using a flat file in video. You can ramp up the contrast and saturation to your heart's content in post. Which I did.

I walked around the corner to Epoch Coffee, which I found recently, in desperation, after Intelligentsia Coffee suspended operation here. The coffee is not quite as good but the shop is open and you can actually get coffee. Which makes Epoch, temporarily, better. 

A side note: I like a bit of cream in my coffee and in the days of self-serve condiments you could regulate your coffee exactly. Now, all coffee enhancements and additions are made by the people behind the Plexiglas  screens. And it seems somehow wrong to return the coffee once you've handled it and taken the lid off if you feel you might need just a touch more something. I propose that Greytag MacBeth make a coffee/creme calibration chart which would show coffees from black to overly adulterated, and all shades in between. Each shade gradation would be labeled with a number to designate a fixed value of cream to coffee ratio. We could call these CC Zones (coffee/cream zones). This would allow customers to order exactly the amount of cream they'd like in their coffee with so much higher degree of accuracy than we have now. 

I can imagine a bright and happy future in which I could order like so: "I'd like the organic Columbian Medium Roast Drip Coffee with Zone 5." At that point the barista or wait person would know exactly how the patron would like his or her or their coffee served and, if coffee drinkers have the pocket-sized chart it would make correcting a sloppy coffee server's faulty cream addition much more conclusive. But I guess there are bigger world problems to tackle... (damn! more ellipses!).   

Today's coffee was about one full zone darker than I would have liked it but 2020 has taught us how to handle adversity more gracefully. I didn't ask for a re-do; I thought: What would the Buddha do if his coffee didn't have enough cream? In a moment of satori I imagined that he'd learn to like drinking it a bit dark. At least in this instance.
After sitting on a stone bench drinking the coffee I tossed the cup into one of those binary trash versus recycling, divided waste cans, being very carefully to separate the recyclable lid and insulating cardboard into one slot and the cup into the other. And I walked into downtown. 

It was gray and sullen outside. There were few people on the street and the sky glowered like a politician in his last gasp of judicially protesting his opponent's win. Rain splashed down in unenthusiastic micro-bursts and then relented leaving all three of us pedestrians to wonder when the next micro-soaking would occur. 

As luck would have it the rain and the threatening black clouds, rolling in with a 20 mph north wind, held off until I hit the spot on my intended walk that marked the furthest point from my automobile. Then the rain started to come down with a hellish fury. Real Wrath of God kind of rain. But, having been a Boy Scout I was as prepared as I could be. The new camera went into the one gallon Ziploc(tm) plastic bag and I sealed it up. The rain jacket I'd been carrying in my left hand for most of the day got put on. The hood fastened under my chin with Velcro. 

And, without any other rain protection (for pants? shoes? glasses?) I trudged back through downtown walking the long, ever more dampening mile and a half to the car.

Did I come home with wonderful images? Nope. But I did come home with coffee ice cream because I stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home. 

I'd love to tell you the Fuji camera is a miraculous machine that just keeps blazing away regardless of torrential rain, driven by wind Harpies, but I didn't have a filter on the camera and that's the only way it truly becomes water resistant. I didn't see much to photograph; I had my head down watching for fast moving puddles.

When I left the house it was a balmy 74° and by the time I got home it was in the low 50's. Tonight we will dip into the 30's and there's even talk about "wintery mix." Whatever the heck that is. 

But I will say that it's still fun to get caught in the rain. It's still fun to smell the clean freshness of a showered world. It's fun to see how much better the paint on cars looks when they are wet. Now, if my socks dry out things will be net positive for the day.

A note: Following along in the wacky precedent of being the most bizarre of countries, our federal government  is delivering the vaccines for Covid to the 50 individual states and letting each state decide their own priorities for distribution. The smarter states have, of course, prioritized the health care providers and first responders, followed by essential workers, followed closely by ancient people living in assisted living situations. But not Texas. 

Yahoo! We've decided that we'll do heath care workers and the shut-in seniors first but after that it's a grab all for anyone over 65, or any one of any age professing to have a pre-existing condition. If we lose a few grocery store clerks or other essential workers well, that's too bad. Gotta get those 65 year olds first. And the obese. Of course, the guidance is: 

"Here's a map of all the pharmacies and clinics in your area. Just call each one of them over and over again until you finally find one that might have the first dose. It's your ball, better catch it fast!"

Confidence inspiring to say the least. I say we go full-on Capitalist here and just start bidding for doses.... screw everyone else. (That WAS sarcasm!!!). Of course, our elected representatives here and in Washington jumped the line at the very first opportunity. As if they were at all essential...



OT: My other, less expensive hobby. Cheaper than photography and probably a lot better for you...

Swimming is activity gold.

We swim hard. We try to swim fast. We constantly work on technique, which is a partial antidote for losing some muscle mass and endurance due to the ravages of age. A typical hour long workout for my masters team includes about 3200 yards of interval sets that run the gamut from sprints to middle distance. We get our pulse rates up. We breath hard. We burn calories. We head home tired. But the training doesn't stop there. Most of us also lift weights and do resistance exercises. The result, hopefully, is to stay fit, maintain a stasis of weight, muscle mass and sustained, general good health. But at what cost?

I trade about $90 per month for access to six coached, group workouts per week. Let's call it twenty-four workouts a month. In addition to a coached workout we're getting access to one of the best heated, outdoor pools in central Texas. Water clean enough to brew coffee with (once you figure out how to filter the chlorine). Heated or chilled to 82°.  A safe and secure swim environment in one of Austin's nicer residential neighborhoods.

That means I'm paying about $3.75 per workout to participate with other life long, competitive swimmers and get coached by professionals; some of whom are gold medal-winning Olympians. Wow. That's less than the price of a medium latté at most coffee shops! 

Our workouts are one hour long and most of the people who show up are serious about getting quality yardage done. Almost to a person I find that other aspects of their lives are also healthy. The eat well, sleep well, and count swimming as their only addictive behavior (although a couple of our triathletes are on the edge of being overly exercise-addicted....smiley face icon intended). 

I've been swimming on teams nearly all my life. I've been around swimmers forever. They are, for the most part, very disciplined. They set goals. They meet goals. My goals for swimming are simple. From 65 to at least 85 years of age I don't want to get any slower. I probably won't get faster but I don't want to slow down. I have some good role models at the pool who are in their mid-70s and still impressively fast. There is some nasty mythology in our culture that once you hit 55 or 60 you begin an irreversible physical slide; a decline in health and fitness that's inevitable. But sports medicine experts are discovering that this is true only for those who give up. Performance can be maintained well into your 70s, and possibly into your 80s, if you stay disciplined and committed to the work of staying in shape.

Are there other costs involved? Well, last year I spent $20 on a new pair of goggles and $40 on a new swim suit. I also bought about 12 tubes of a swim shampoo that neutralizes chlorine and other pool chemicals. It's nice on the skin and, as you can tell by my beautiful hair, it does a great job there too. It's $7.95 per. 

And that brings my grand total of swim expenditures to: products $155.40 + dues of $1,080 = $ 1,235.40. Or just a tad over $100 per month. Such a bargain. Less than the price of one Fuji X-100V. Can you imagine?

At the end of every competition swimmers look to the clock to see how they did.
I just look left and right to see how I did.

 So, what's a swim workout like? I drag myself out of bed at 7 a.m. these days and make a cup of tea with milk. Turns out milk is a good pre-workout hydration beverage because the fat and protein in it slow down it's progress toward the exit. The milk+tea has more time to infuse into your system.

I munch on a piece of toast with peanut butter on it while I do a series of stretches to enhance ankle flexibility (one of the keys for good kick propulsion) and also to stretch out my back and shoulders. I toss on my swim suit, pull an old pair of shorts on and head to the pool. It's five minutes from my house. 

Nowadays when we get to the pool we go straight to the deck area instead of spending time in the enclosed locker rooms. We wait for the 7-8 a.m. swimmers to exit the pool and then jump into our lanes and start the warm up. 

How do we know which lane works best for us? A uniform standard in competitive swimming is the interval a swimmer can repeat for a set of ten 100 yard freestyle swims. Elite college swimmers can repeat the hundred yard distance and still get five seconds rest on a 1:05 interval; and will be able to repeat this for a long time. We're mostly no longer competing anywhere near that level so in our workouts the intervals might be 1:20 for the faster lanes, 1:25 for the tough lanes, 1:30 for the intermediate lanes (my group) and then 1:40 or 1:50 for the slower lanes. 

If you are new to a program you can just tell the coach your one hundred yard repeat times and the coach will direct you to a suitable lane. There is a natural inclination to even out the number of people per lane but it's not unusual to see 4 intermediate swimmers in lane three but only one or two swimmers in the slower lanes. Sometimes it's the reverse. People want to swim with people in their speed and endurance bracket so there's constant self-selection going on, over time. If pushed for space I'll always try to move up to a faster lane (and plan on taking a nap later) instead of a slower lane. It's good to be pushed out of one's comfort zone sometimes. 

But if the pool is crowded in the lanes you normally swim it can work fine to swim in the slower lane. The slower swimmers will set the intervals but if you are a faster swimmer you can still go fast in shorter and medium distance sets, it just means you'll have a longer recovery time for each segment of the set. If your lane is doing 50 yard swims on a minute but you usually do them on 50 seconds you can ramp up your sprinting effort and wait at the wall a bit longer for the next send off. The other people in your lane can do their usual swim and hit the same interval. 

Right at 8 o'clock we jump in and start on a warm up set. You start slow and work the muscle kinks out. You build speed through the warm up set and maybe finish with some faster sprints. Our warm up today was fairly simple: 300 yard swim, 100 yard kick, 300 yard pull set, 200 yard kick. Most people who swim together often will have a routine figured out. Some people just charge through the w/u set while other people warm up progressively. If you swim with each other a lot you know when to get to the wall and move all the way over to the right to let a swimmer who wants to warm up faster flip turn on the wall. Then you follow along.

At the end of warm up the coach will have a set written on a white board and he'll explain the set to each group of lanes. A set will consist of either a homogeneous distance and the repeat time interval (say, 5 X 200 Yards on a 2:45 interval) or a mixed set with a repeating pattern. These are the "main sets" and everyone in each lane will swim them on an interval that is agreed to by everyone in their lane. 

The fastest person in the lane goes first (and keeps the clock) while the slowest person goes last. Usually the swimmers in each lane are close enough in capabilities that even on long distance sets no one will get "lapped." All group workouts use "circle swimming." That means we go "up on the right" side of the lane and back on the right. Your right side is always closest to the lane line. We're basically swimming in a counter-clockwise circle. 

You leave five seconds apart and keep at least a full body length between you and the person in front of you. That's especially important on the walls because people move from the side of the lane towards the middle of the lane in order to execute their flip turns. If everyone is well matched and swims an effective "circle" then you can have as many as five or six people in a lane in a 25 yard pool, swimming continuously. The circle swim is the epitome of swim collaboration. If everyone does it well it's a comfortable experience. 

Occasionally some one will really be feeling their oats and even though they might usually be "middle of the lane" in speed they might ride up closer to the person in front of them. If you get too close it's the person in front's right to insist that you move up and take their place for the rest of that set. 

This is considered a gentle but necessary rebuke so that a swim workout doesn't devolve into a "drafting event" where by slower swimmers get close enough to "draft" off faster swimmers. Also, close swimming makes flip turns a bit less safe and comfortable. Someone right on your toes can be intimidating (or infuriating).

Some sets are constructed to have descending time goals. You might do a set of 10 x 100's on a set interval but you will be encouraged to drop two, three or more seconds from your elapsed swim time on each repeat. You'll go faster on each 100 but you'll get a bit more rest. It's a trade off but swimming faster is harder than the added rest time is beneficial.

Sometimes we'll be asked to use hand paddles and pull buoys. These tools focus you on doing your arm strokes correctly and put more emphasis on building upper body swim strength. By eliminating propulsion and balancing from your kick you have to swim with more thought for your upper body stroke and your body roll with the two "long strokes" (freestyle and backstroke). We don't often (ever) pull butterfly because it puts so much strain on shoulders and also because butterfly is a full body stroke that requires the kick component for its basic rhythm. 

The main set is usually 2000 - 2200 yard of an hour long workout but sometimes coaches will throw in stroke drills meant to fine tune technique. I love these because often getting faster is more about improving technique than it is from increasing muscle strength. 

The last five minutes of workout is generally spent warming down from the longer, main set. Each person is doing the warm down their own way but most swimmers who habitually swim together collaborate on this as well. 

Finally, there is usually another group of swimmers scheduled directly after our workout which means the only considerate thing to do is to be out of the pool and heading for our towels and face masks by 8:59. 

Towel off and head home. Then get your day started. It's a routine, but a fun one. 

A good regimen of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, coupled with walking and weights, should yield fairly quick cardiovascular benefits. Mostly, a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, better level of oxygen in your bloodstream and more brachiation of the smaller capillaries and other blood vessels (which equals more delivery options for blood flow).  Not only will you keep heart disease, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure at bay but you'll feel better in everything you do. And live longer. And enjoy those extra years more. 

It's a nice hobby. But there's not much visual result to frame and show off to house guests. I guess you could always take your shirt off and show folks your six pack but I think that's still frowned on in polite society.... 

Eat all things in moderation. Exercise every day. Meditate often. Invest automatically. Never touch principal. 

Be in love. 

That's all the advice I ever give to my kid. 

P.S. any activity that doesn't raise your heart rate while you are doing it is a "game" not a "sport." Chess is a game. Billiards is a game. Bowling is a game. Running, swimming, cross country skiing, cycling, and combinations thereof are sports. There is a fitness difference. You may enjoy games but you will benefit physically from sports. 


Chrome Fuji X100V or Black Fuji X100V? Aesthetics versus Stealth? Also, winnowing down the number of cameras in house.

I've been making good progress on one of my goals for 2020; getting rid of a lot of the photography gear I no longer use. But it's amazing to even write a sentence about accomplishing goals for 2020 since the goal posts have continued to move throughout the year. 

Earlier in the year, after the shutdowns started, I made a contribution of video-oriented camera gear to Zach Theatre's marketing department. A camera, shotgun microphone, microphone pre-amp and mixer, a couple of LED lights with stands, and a big, fluid head tripod. It turns out that we had a lot of inventory redundancies and since it was prudent to keep as few people in the mix as possible working on projects there I thought it would be a good idea to train and equip a smart theater employee to do many of the video tasks I'd done in the past. It's worked out well.

It felt great to get rid of stuff and this mindset started me down the path of either downsizing or donating at every opportunity. I sold two duplicate Lumix S1x cameras and replaced them with one S1H. A lighter load overall but in the trade I ended up with a more capable camera for my own video work. 

While looking around the studio I saw that we had seven different electronic flash monolights and hadn't used more than two all the previous year. We packed up three, with modifiers, and donated them to a struggling school. I sold another one to an up and coming photographer.

I recently gifted and/or donated six different point and shoot digital cameras of various brands and vintages as well as a couple of micro four thirds camera and lens combinations. Young people love them. And, do I really need more than three m4:3 cameras? I'm left with the GH5, the GH5S and a G9. I wanted to thin the inventory more but those three are so addictive and effective I couldn't bear to let them go...

With three full frame Lumix S1x cameras and three Lumix m4:3 cameras plus the Sigma fp (fun) camera I think we're at our lowest stage of camera ownership since the film days. And today I also spun off a couple of big, heavy and mostly unused Sigma f1.4 Art lenses for the L-mount system while adding a used and comfortably priced 20-60mm Lumix lens back into the mix. I'm trying to make the system smaller and lighter than before while maintaining the core capabilities of the system. I still have some duplication in the full frame system; especially where zoom lenses are concerned. I have the 24-105mm, the 24-70mm S-Pro, and now the 20-60mm but each does something unique that I value so I'm stuck for now. 

Why get rid of the two big Sigma Art lenses? Mostly because they were enormous and heavy and I could not use either of them on a hand-holdable gimbal. But also, in the case of the 35mm Art lens, because in actual use the 24-70mm f2.8 is fast enough while being equally sharp and much more flexible.

I've just thinned out the aging collection of heavy and battered light stands and I'm down to one roll of grey seamless. The tripods though are like children and I can't decide which ones I like best and which ones need to head off to the tripod orphanage. At this pace I'll be down to the white walls,  the desk and a couple chairs by June.

But, of course, there is a flaw in the process. It came in the form of a random and unplanned purchase of a slightly used, Chrome Fuji X-100V. Now that I've adapted it to the way I like to use cameras it's triggered a different response from me than the previous X100's I've owned or used since 2011. It's growing on me quickly. I like the new lens hood I bought for it. I like its feel with the Sigma grip attached to the tripod socket. I even like the Canon PowerShot G shoulder strap I'm using on it.

The one remaining issue with the Fuji X-100V is this: It is available in two finishes. You can have it in a beautiful chrome finish which looks so much like the design and material of the classic Leica M3. Or, you can have it in a classic, black finish that's a bit stealthier and more like the Leica M6s I owned in the 1990s. 

I love the look of the chrome but I value the discreet charm of the black. Then a good rationale rushed to mind. I have often written that cameras should travel in matched pairs. Same batteries, same accessories, same storage medium. Why not get one of each?

I did buy a black one today to keep the chrome one company. Side by side I still can't decide which one I like best... I'll know more when I've had the chance to use the black one out and around. 

I guess you could interpret this as an admission that I like the X100V very much. The quality of the files is the effective tipping point. They're gorgeous.


Familiarity breeds attempt. I'm warming up to the Fuji X-100V. Setting a few things in the menu and adding an accessory or two helps. A lot.

Pounding the sidewalks and dragging a camera all over the place is the only way I know to warm up to a camera. You learn a little bit more every time you bump up against an impediment and dive into the menu in an attempt to fix the roadblock. Two physical things improved my handling of the new camera a lot. First, I added a Hoage lens hood to the camera. It's made of metal and fits well. Some won't like it because there's no neutral detent to let you know when you have it placed correctly. It can rotate. But it a very stiff fit and you'll know if you rotated it and you are still sentient. The defect this cured for me is that it kept me from inadvertently touching the lens with my greasy fingers. I'm sure it will theoretically increase the micro contrast and also impart some additional grooviness to the package but for now I'm happy with the degreasing technology. 

Metal Hood from a Company called "Hoage" on Amazon.com

The second thing I added was a small, dense handle that I originally bought for the Sigma fp, on a lark. It's designed to give you some additional grip on a small camera body and it screws into the tripod socket. The attachment is a small, dense knob that gives the index and middle finger of your left hand a place to grip that's safe and convenient. You won't be accidentally changing any settings. It also helps to add density to the camera to make it more stable during exposures.

A Sigma BG-11 grip. Bought for the fp but very useful on an X-100V.

I've also taken some time to go through the menu a number of times looking for settings that might make the camera nicer to operate, at least for me. I noticed that when I have the camera set to "S" for AF and the drive setting to single frame that the camera switches the OVF to EVF and blacks out while writing the file. Then it shows the file on the EVF if I have the camera up to my eye, or the LCD screen if I have the camera away from my eye. I was able to obviate the long black out by turning off the review function entirely. Now I shoot and if I want to "chimp" I hit the "play" button and the image comes up on the LCD screen (assuming I have the camera away from my eye...). The shooting operation and the playback operation can be set separately. That's a nice touch. 

I find that I chimp much less if I have to go to the button and take the extra step to review the file. I tried using the EVF instead of the OVF for general work but the EVF in no way matches the color or contrast of the rear LCD so I'm settling on using the OVF and enjoying the frame lines. 

If the camera is set up just to turn on when you bring it up to your eye you'll find the battery life is much extended over the default which is to just switch back and forth between the finder and the rear screen, depending on your proximity to the eyepiece switch. My method of using the OVF exclusively is much like the operation of my favorite, old Leica M rangefinder cameras. 

Note: middle and third finger of left hand resting on the Sigma BG-11 attachment...

Another feature I was very happy to master is the "digital tele-converter." Essentially, the camera is able to record a frame cropped into either a 50mm equivalent angle of view or a 70mm equivalent angle of view (in full frame speak). The cropped frame is interpolated in the camera so that all files appear as 26 megapixel files. Digital sleight of hand has been done to the files but it's actually hard to see without big enlargements on a sharp screen. The additional, nice part of this feature is that the 50 and 70mm "frames" are shown in the OVF, depending on which one you've selected. The framing area is commensurately smaller but then so are the framed areas in an $8.000 Leica rangefinder if you select longer focal lengths. 

One advantage of the OVF and the finder frame lines (which only show up one at a time --- depending on your focal length selection) is that you can see outside the frame which can help you anticipate objects coming into the composition. It's a nice plus. But....if you want to see each of the three focal lengths filling the entire eyepiece frame you can switch from OVF to EVF and each focal length will display itself magnified (or shrink-ified) to fill the eyepiece frame. I find I prefer the size differentiation in the OVF because it constantly informs me which one I have the camera set to. There is a symbol that shows up when you set the camera to 50 or 70 in the EVF or on the LCD screen. That's nice too. 

Let me backtrack for a second and admit that using the 35mm focal length on a rangefinder style finder seems more comfortable than using the same focal length on a more conventional finder like the ones in most mirrorless cameras, like the Lumix S1 or S5. I'm happier with the (dreaded) focal length on this camera than I usually am when shooting lenses in that class.

Once I mastered the non-blackout, non-review settings, figured out the digital teleconverter, remembered the different Fuji film simulations, got a decent hood on it and attached a weighty gripping surface from the tripod mount I started to feel more comfortable and less apprehensive about the camera's handling.

And that's good because I'm finding the combination of the camera's sensor and the improved (over previous models) lens to be a generator of some of the nicest files I've seen. I was thrown off balance at first because I assumed that the EVf would give me a fairly accurate representation of the final file but it doesn't come close enough. I supposed I can dial in the color in the settings menu but I couldn't find a control for gamma or contrast and for me that's just as important as getting the colors correct. Many people default to the EVF but it doesn't look like I'll be one of them.

While the focusing is pretty quick you have to know that I'm using the center sensor and using S-AF so I think we could all expect that focus would work as it should. Some day, for some reason, I'll try the focus tracking but it's not really the way I generally want to shoot with this kind of camera. I won't be doing sports with it so it seems a bit silly to get all worked up about slamming through a zillion frames while tracking an athlete running or otherwise doing kinetic stuff. I do like setting up the camera for street photography by setting the aperture to f8 or f11, setting the ISO to auto and figuring out a good hyperfocal manual focusing distance. Once you have all that set up you can generally just point the camera in the right direction at the right time and click the shutter. 

I do want to touch for just a few sentences on the exposure metering. Most of the time it "seems" a little hot or bright but I think that's a side effect of the meter being very accurate. I think we've come to expect metering to take into consideration light and dark scenes and automatically compensating for them. The X-100V doesn't seem to compensate in the same way. If I shoot a dark wall the camera aims for a neutral tone in the center of the grayscale. It's up to me to tweak it in one direction or another to compensate for light or dark scenes. I get a lot of use out of the EV dial and even though I've only done three, two hour long forays with the camera I'm getting a good sense of how much to compensate exposure based on how light or dark the scene in front of me might be. It works and it's very predictable and to me that means it's accurate. You just have to zero in your methodology based on getting to know the metering characteristics of this camera model.

Because of my previous experiences with Fuji cameras I seem to have over-bought on the 126S batteries. I have four of them. I could have called it quits with two since the camera is parsimonious with electricity. It's also chargeable via the USB-3 plug so I can pop in a cable while I'm driving somewhere and recharge fairly quickly. 
One my point of interest to me and then I'll let it rest for a while. I had some misgivings about buying a modern camera without image stabilization. I guess I've subconsciously bought into the hive prejudice that image stabilization is now as vital as being able to actually focus a camera. I've found that once I added a touchable extension to the bottom of the camera and practiced my old rangefinder stance I've been able to photograph non-moving objects at hand held shutter speeds down to about 1/15th of second with consistently good results. Couple that with a fast, sharp lens, a zero vibration body and fairly noise free ISOs to past 6400 and all of a sudden, for the most part, I.S. becames inconsequential. Would I like to have it? Sure. But for almost everything I'd use this camera for we'll have more than enough light to allow for high enough shutter speeds as necessary. Perhaps the whole design of the camera and the lens has a tighter integration between them that makes files sharper from the get go. It's a thought. 

So, am I regretting having bought the X100V? Not in the least. It's a good, little camera that reminds me in a very nice way of the years I spent shooting rangefinder cameras in the film days. It's simple, direct, non-threatening and fun. Just work to personalize the menu and the physical touch points and it works like a champ. More to come later. More photos below. As always, click to enlarge. 

that 70mm focal length is nice to have. 
Yes, I know I can crop in post. I could macramé my own car seats too, if I had the inclination. 



Walking downtown with Anne.


Anne and I worked together for a number of years a couple decades ago. I had a commercial studio just east of downtown in a sprawling complex filled with ad agencies and creative types from every discipline. Anne worked as my photographic assistant and studio manager. She was, at heart, an academic and I loved it when she would correct my attempts to pronounce French words, or when I used an English word incorrectly. We had so many photographic adventures together that they all start to blur together.

At a certain point she had learned enough to go out on her own, and she'd heard all my lame jokes and stories too many times, so she worked hard to establish herself as a wedding photographer. She did well in that part of the business until the big downturn of 2008 and, seeing the writing on the wall, enrolled in nursing school at UT Austin and never looked back. She now has her masters degree and works in public health. 

But we developed a friendship back in the 1990s that's stood the test of time. We get together once a month when we can to drink coffee and catch up. I get advice from Anne, she gets to see what would have happened to her had she stayed in the photography business. And we're both unredeemable coffee snobs.

We used to sit in coffee shops for our chats but lately, in deference to Covid, we've been meeting at my favorite park. I bring the Adirondack chairs and she brings an endurance for my "wit" and ersatz conversation. 

We got in touch with each other last week to set a date for coffee and decided that today would work for both. But instead of meeting at the park Anne wanted to walk with me through "my" downtown. We made a plan to meet at Epoch Coffee which is just across the lake from Zach Theatre. She was on time. I was a few minutes late. She had a latté with minimal foam. I had a drip coffee with just a splash of cream.

As we walked along through the city I realized that walking in urban spaces isn't something everyone does! She hadn't been intentionally downtown in years. The profusion of new buildings surprised her. The clarity of the light was different than it is in the neighborhoods and suburbs. At some point it occurred to me that even the most observant and connected people mostly spend their time going to and from work, shopping for groceries and running errands. That walking with leisure through a space for no other reason than to observe and absorb the feel of the environment is a luxury that few people can do on a routine basis.

I carried the new Fuji X-100 V, which I am adamant I will master and learn to love; or at least like well enough. I took the image above over 20 years ago and it's one of my favorites. I took the photos just below with the new camera and they are over 20 minutes old.

Reflecting on my relationship with Anne over the past nearly 30 years makes it clear to me that a component of my work has always been a leisurely approach to each sitting. It's when I rush the process that everything falls apart. 

Our walk was well paced today. We stopped to look in store windows. I stopped to say, "hi" to a nice homeless guy I met when he was sitting on a bench a few weeks ago charging his collection of electronics. I am reminded that it's the act of walking that has the value, not souvenirs like photographs. That's a whole different thing.

the Fuji does 35mm.

the Fuji does 70mm.

the Fuji does 50mm. 

The image below is one I took a year or so ago, in my front yard. Anne needed a casual portrait for a work project and I was happy to try one. It was early evening in the Summer and the mosquitos feasted on our exposed ankles until we couldn't stand it any more and we retreated into the house.

I change camera systems a lot. I try never to change out friends. Especially superlative ones.




That weird feeling of looking into the gear cabinet and realizing that you've accumulated four Canon Powershot G series cameras. Along with a smattering of batteries. Time to take one mobile.

Here's a sticker on the plaza at the theater. 
The county has raised the Covid alert level to it's highest. 
The theatre was forced to shutter the rest of the holiday performances 
they were doing outside to comply. I hope 2021 is a year of 
recovery and happiness. 

Point and shoot cameras. Endlessly maligned. Now almost almost extinct. But why? And when did every photograph have to be taken with a full frame, state of the art, Uber-camera? I do my fair share of hauling around big cameras and bigger lenses but there is always a time and place for a small, efficient and highly portable camera as well. 

I have to confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for many of the PowerShot cameras that Canon has made, dating all the way back to the 4 megapixel G2 introduced back in the early digital ages. I find them to be the spiritual continuation of the most wonderful camera I ever owned; the Canonet QL 17. A wonderful film camera with a great 40mm f1.7 lens. Outfitted with a 36 exposure roll of Tri-X I always felt that camera was an extension of my own vision and not a separate tool.

Today, after trying to like a new digital camera for the better part of the week, I took a break and went out for a Christmas Eve walk around Austin with a "vintage" G16. Marvelous. And easy and competent. I felt like a beginner with a cheat sheet...

It's been a really nice evening. Belinda made au gratin potatoes and I grilled ribeye steaks. We made a salad of broccoli, kale and cabbage with a sprinkling of mixed nuts and dried cherries. Belinda made a chocolate torte. A good friend dropped by a bottle of Stag's Leap Cab. It was all delicious. Then we capped off the evening watching our favorite holiday movie, "Love Actually." It gets better every year.

Even on the years that are otherwise crappy. 

I hope you are happy, well, safe, in love, rich and beautiful. Even if you can check just a few of the blanks you'll be doing fine. The only important one is to be in love. Actually.