Rome. Pre-Smart Phone.
Paris on a rainy afternoon in the Fall.
It seems like every new invention and gadget that people like to carry with them, and play with frequently, makes social life and existence within a consumer culture meaner and more coarse. I hated the way the original, simple cellphones allowed people to take phone calls in every inappropriate place imaginable; from nice restaurants to movie theaters, from libraries to quiet parks. No place was immune from the thoughtless intrusion of a gush of loud, insane and highly personal conversations. What made it even worse was that one had to hear one side of the conversation only which added to the disconnection and discomfort.
Until now my biggest gripe has been with "smart" phones which have invaded every corner of modern life; at least here in Austin. People walk down the sidewalks of downtown like entitled zombies clutching their phones in front of them like social divining rods. They blaze down sidewalks on scooters seemingly unaware of the pedestrians in front of them, limp hands holding the phone toward their unobservant faces. The prevalence of the bright shiny phone screens has limited my choice of movie theaters. If I want to see a movie in a theater I have to make sure it plays at the Alamo Drafthouse which expressly and aggressively prohibits illuminated screens, phone calls and texting during movies. If I go elsewhere my focus on a movie is destroyed by a constellation of bright points of light scattered among the selfish audience in front of me.
When I go out and walk with a camera I can peer into cars as they go by at various points in my walk. I see legions of people steering with their knees so they can actively text with their handheld phones and occasionally glance up to make sure they aren't about to impact with anything. They are the same people who sit at the front of the line at traffic lights and need constant horn prompts when the lights turn green. It takes a while, and often their car is the only one making it through the light before it changes...
But iWatches are more surreptitiously destructive (I single out Apple because their stuff actually works well but other brands are equally obnoxious). While smart phones are macro erosive by dint of being obvious and ubiquitous the smart watches serve to erode not the comfort of the group but on a more micro level the shared pleasure of one-on-one social interactions. A watch isn't too obviously distracting and intrusive to everyone in a coffee shop, it just serves to degrade the relationship between two people who, in the past gave each other their full attention in conversation. It's the person without the watch who is the screwee.
Now, because of FOMA (fear of missing out) any wrist thumping pulse from the watch which notifies the wearer of: an incoming text, a phone call, an e-mail, a calendar reminder, a temperature change, etc. pulls the wearer out of the engagement and creates a series of micro-barriers, robbing his counterpart of the watch wearer's full attention. His commitment to the conversation. His attention. His shared humanity.
Smart watch users seem to become more addicted and obsessed with their watches than with any other piece of personal tech. That may be because it's readily available, the action of looking at the watch derives from the casual look at a traditional (mono-purpose) watch making it seem acceptable, and it offers a potent, distilled dose of the very essence of what makes smart phones addictive = the fiction that constant interruptions means one is not missing out, is still loved, is part of a group. Even though most aspects of both watch and phone are more or less automatic feeds set into motion by the user themself.
If you were sitting in a coffee shop having a hot beverage with Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, or Picasso, would you interrupt your once in a lifetime moment with a legend to run a 30 second, one lead EKG on yourself? Would you really need to check in every few minutes to see what the sound pressure levels inside the café are? Would that reminder text that your personal butt wipes have now shipped from Dollar Shave really seem so important? A good time to check on your 401K?
People generally have the best of intentions (at least I like to think so) but the erosion of social contracts and the degradation of the niceties that make society worth living in are gradual and, as the lowest common denominator of human being plumbs just how intrusive their use of personal tech can be there is a concomitant acquiescence from other users who subconsciously are empowered by the lowering of the bar to feel no guilt about their own transgressions.
The smart watch is just the latest way of making personal relationships less rewarding. Social engagements much less fun and business meetings much less effective. Bravo smart watches - helping to bring on the collapse of polite culture since 2012.
Better rush home and make sure those butt wipes and razor blades aren't stolen out of your mailbox. You've been alerted! Your phone demands answers...
A view of the swimming pool at the Carpenter Hotel in Austin, Texas
Lumix S1 + 24-70mm f2.8 handheld at 1/4th second.
I was busy this weekend. Busy mostly relaxing and hanging out with new friends. It's a little strange for me to get a new lens on a Saturday and not open the box till late Sunday afternoon. But, you know, priorities, priorities. I decided to get the Lumix S Pro version of the 24-70mm f2.8 lens instead of the Sigma version, mostly because the Lumix is supposed to be much faster and better at autofocusing than the Lumix, a bit higher performance than the Sigma, and....most importantly....I could have the Lumix lens right away. No waiting list. After using the manual clutch feature and checking out some images I'm pretty happy with my choice. We'll see how it works out for video in the next week or so.
Allergies have been breathtaking (literally and figuratively) this month and I have been walking around with my head in a fog but it didn't deter me from spending a couple of hours walking through Austin, Texas's downtown and trying out the new lens on a high res, S1R body. I'm lazy today so I shot mostly in the Jpeg mode and didn't stray too far from my favorite paths.
Nothing tumultuous or revelatory to report so far. A very nice lens that seems sharp and mostly artifact and flare free. My only glitch today was a dust bunny on the sensor that I only became aware of in the post processing of the photographs. Here's some samples, be sure to click on the images to make them bigger.....
Yes. It's February and it hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit today...
focused on the wires in the foreground. Honest.
shot through a glass window...
This is a horn sculpture out in front of the Topfer Stage at the Zach Theatre campus.
I've walked by it a million times and never photographed it.
At either end of the flared horns there are speakers that play
whatever is happening on main stage performances.
It's kinda cool.
Shot with the Lumix 24-70mm f2.8 on an S1R.
Lumix S1R camera + Lumix 24-70mm S Pro f2.8.
I don't think many would argue that one of the most popular lens types for full frame cameras are those featuring the 24-70mm focal length. The sweetener for that kind of lens is getting one with an f2.8 aperture that stays constant through the focal length range. It's a type of zoom that all the camera makers (and some independent lens makers) offer and it's a very useful tool for people who shoot a range of events, on locations, and including a wide-ranging subject matter.
It's no secret here that my favorite focal length is 50mm so I guess it's no mystery that many of my favorite lenses in every system are clustered around that focal length. Consider my current infatuation with the L-mount cameras from Sigma and Panasonic. If you look into the equipment drawer you'll find the typical "must have" lenses like the 70-200mm and a fast 85mm portrait lens but I think it's revealing that the majority of my purchases include or are close to what is considered "normal."
Were I looking in from the outside and playing pop psychologist I would probably diagnose myself as being very optically conservative as well as too lazy to master either edge of the lens angle-of-view distribution pattern. No 14mm's here. Nothing longer that 200mm tugging at my heartstrings...
I now have two Panasonic zooms that seem, in many ways, to be redundant. The 24-105mm f4.0 and the 24-70mm f2.8. I look at the 24-70mm f2.8 as the perfect lens to pair with a 70-200mm for theater photography and an all-around toolkit for a photographer who works in many locations but mostly specializes in making images of people. I don't ever want to make environmental portraits at a focal length wider than 24 (actually happier at 50 and above) and the long end of a 70-200mm gives me more than enough isolation and compression for my work.
The 24-105mm f4.0 (aka: the kit lens) is continuing to reveal itself as a wonderful video lens for quick work (ENG type and basic interviews) and especially work done solo where I need to be able to go in tight and be able to trust the face detection AF to help as a second set of hands. The benefit of the 24-105 when shooting either video or stills with a camera like the Sigma fp is that the lens brings its own powerful image stabilization to the table. The electronic stabilization in the fp works okay with the Sigma 45mm lens but it's not much more than okay. When I use the 24-105mm I can see a big improvement in I.S. which allows me (especially at the wider settings) to use the lens and camera hand held and still get acceptable results.
To my mind all the contemporary 24-70s across the major brands are very, very good. But when buying into the Lumix S1 system I made a conscious decision to abandon my old ways, born of early career financial constraints, and stop buying "stop gap" or "good enough" or "but it's funky and has character!" equipment. To my mind the Lumix S1 system is only one of two really professional, full frame systems available. That's not to say that Sony, Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses aren't every bit as sharp and as capable of making equally great images, rather I'm saying that you pay more for the Lumix cameras because they are built in a way that should provide a maximum longer term benefit for professional users. More robust bodies. Better thermal management. Better video capabilities. Better handling. And access to some of the very best lenses in the world --- if you are willing to pay for them!
While it's true that Nikon's D6 is a great tool for some professionals, as is the new Canon 1dx2, both of those are aimed directly at sports photographers and are even pricier than the Leica SL2, which, agruably, has even better overall image quality and surprisingly superior video imaging. The Nikon and Canon are very heavy and bulky, and so is the Lumix S1 when paired with a battery grip. The difference is that you can remove the grip on the Lumix cameras to slim them down but can't do the same for the competitors.
I'm not suggesting that anyone else change systems. If yours does what you need and you like the way it feels and operates, then stay the course and reap the financial benefits of constancy. But if you've cobbled together workable but less than the best systems for decades and are ready to negate various compromises...
But I'm not here to praise the Panasonic cameras or Leica SL2 bodies, I'm writing today to explain what it is about the Lumix 24-70mm f2.8 S Pro lens that cudgeled me into purchasing one, in spite of my already owning (and liking) the 24-105mm.
To set the stage, I once had a prejudice against most zoom lenses. Then I bought a Nikon 28-70mm f2.8 lens which was the predecessor for the future flurry of Nikon 24-70mm lens. It was amazingly sharp and well mannered. At least as good as the handful of Nikon prime lenses I owned at the time. Later, when I plunged into the Panasonic micro four thirds cameras I took a chance and bought the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens and was immediately blown away by the sharpness and lack of visual compromises the lens presented. Now, I'm almost predisposed to consider fast, low zoom ratio lenses to be excellent optical performers. When I bought into the full frame Panasonic system I knew I wanted a fast, medium range zoom but having bought the 24-105mm 4.0 in a package I thought I'd take my time and see what became available. I wanted to see how much better or worse the Sigma 24-70mm 2.8 would be and whether it would be close enough to the overall performance of the Panasonic zoom to make me happy and save me $1100 into the bargain.
Then the Sigma lens got delayed (and still is not available for me at my favorite retailers...) and I did more research as to what the differences might be. Early adopters of the Sigma (lucky people on the early lists) were mostly happy with the imaging performance but less happy with the speed and certainty of the continuous AF of the lens on L mount cameras. Users who owned both Lumix S Pro lenses and the Sigma lens found that the dual focus mechanism and the tight integration of DFD technology in the Lumix products made focusing much faster and more certain. Even in C-AF for video the Lumix lenses locked in and maintained focus about as well as most of the top end competitors cameras and lenses in the same class.
One day I played with the Panasonic 24-70mm lens on an S1R body for the better part of an hour and came away convinced that Panasonic had gone to the wall in engineering and building this S Pro lens model. The specs are almost intimidating: 18 elements in 16 groups. 3 Aspheric elements. 4 Extra Low dispersion (ED) elements. 1 Ultra high refractive index lens. All put together around an 11 blade aperture for beautiful out-of-focus rendering.
I looked at the test images I was shooting (always wide open), smiled, and slotted the lens in as a future purchase priority.
Last week I shot 38 very short video interviews with an S1 body and the 24-105mm. When shooting in desperately low light I quickly hit ISO 6400 and f4.0. I would have been thrilled with another stop of light. The 24-70mm popped back into the front of my mind. I went back to the Panasonic site and started comparing MTF charts ( I know, I know, gear nerds will use any handy justification for their purchases) and was impressed by the luxe product.
On Saturday I was showing a friend around Precision Camera and I asked to see the 24-70mm one more time. The store made me an offer I didn't want to refuse so I bought the lens. It now joins all the other lenses in my collection that cover, or come near, the 50mm focal length.
The difference with my current purchases is that they are all best in class and uncompromised pieces of equipment which take away any technical/gear excuses I might have had for any failings of my images.
As I work on my own personal video projects; projects in which speed and flexibility are secondary to the look and feel of the work, I find myself appreciating features that I have already discovered and tested in my other two S Pro lenses; the 50mm f1.4 and the 70-200mm f4.0. Most important is the manual focus clutch that all the S Pro lenses offer (but not available on the 24-105mm...) which allows me to pull the focusing ring back to take advantage of a long through manual focusing ring, complete with great distance markings, that has stops for infinity and closest focus and which makes focusing manually both accurate and repeatable. In concert with the 5 million plus pixel resolution EVF the big MF ring makes manually focusing a breeze. Even without using my Atomos monitor.
The second feature of all the S Pro lenses is more esoteric. I may not yet be sophisticated enough in motion picture production to appreciate it yet. But the lens is designed to reduce focus breathing (change of image size when focusing from near to far, etc.) which many feel is one of the essential differences between cine lenses and consumer photography lenses.
There is one final "feature" that plays to my own pride of ownership and that's the little line of type on the back side of the lens barrel that reads: "Leica Certified." Which a technical representative explained to me as indicating that the lens was at the same quality level as a Leica lens product at the same focal length and that, in some instances, very expensive Leica glass was included in the construction of the lens. Say what you will about Leica's penchant for Ostrich hide M cameras and weird collectibles but you'll get very little push back on the fact that Leica makes many of the very best contemporary lenses you can buy at any price for photography and motion picture production.
In some senses, the Leica certification means we can now buy Leica quality, and a certain sought after "look" to our images, but at half or less than the previous price of entry.
I'm looking forward to putting the new 24-70mm f2.8 S Pro through its paces in the next few weeks. I'll keep you apprised of my progress. Thanks.
So. This is the spot where the big, flashy
ad would go if I did affiliate advertising!
I do not get free cameras or lenses
from any camera maker or retail store.
I buy the stuff I use and I buy or temporarily
borrow (but always return!!!) the stuff
I write about. But lately.... I mostly buy
it if I'm interested in a product or
ignore it entirely if I have no need or desire for it.
Waiting for my offer from a major camera
company which would have to include
a Bentley company car with platinum
We're only human. I'm only human. We tend to look at information coming in from all sides and then...panic. Over the course of the last year I've read that many bloggers have seen their readership and incomes drop precipitously over the last few years. I've read over and over again that interchangeable lens camera sales are plunging ever lower. I read that everyone (meaning potential clients) is more than happy enough with photographs that spring from the latest iPhones. I hear from photographers (about whose marketing and skill sets I know very little) announce that all commissioned work is drying up and Armageddon is approaching our industry like a cyclone bomb of economic doom.
What's a person trying to reconcile data points to do?
I'm falling back on anecdotal evidence. Business in my little geographic niche seems to have picked up quite well after the holidays and future dates are being booked for events and advertising projects. Local friends are back at work after a lackluster Fall season.
I have a suspicion that a partial explanation for the business wobbles has to do with the nature of advertising and marketing. It seems that everyone wants to get advertising for free. Photographers seem to think that exposure on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is all that's required to grow a business and generate queries that lead to jobs. For many social media is their total marketing strategy.
Being older, and old school, I have a different point of view. While I think one needs to select social media that is appropriate for them (and constantly test it) it's business suicide to abandon all the traditional media. Targeted traditional media has a strong place in the overall combination of customer facing communications and the fact is that businesses still need to spend money for physical direct mail and placed advertising to be successful in regional and smaller markets.
"Free" social media is saturated. Amazingly oversaturated. There are millions (billions) of people vying for attention across the platforms and even if one builds an impressive list of followers (quantity) the eyes on your material are not necessarily the target market that wants to buy any photography at all (quality). They may visit a platform like Instagram just to see what other people are producing and how it stacks up to their own work. They may be there for entertainment but a tiny, tiny percentage of them are qualified buyers of creative content.
I write this blog (God only knows why.....) and it's been up for over ten years. It's got thousands of posts to read and at least ten thousand images to look through, but I can quickly point out that no client or client type has ever landed on the blog site, evaluated the work, and proffered either a job or even a chance to bid. No, the constituency I seem to be writing for is other photographers. Competitors, hobbyists, enthusiasts and, of course, the trolls. By the logic of the web, with tens of millions of page views and high Google recognition numbers, I should at least be rolling in job offers or invitations to submit bids. The reality is that what I gain is an audience of peers who, if anything, are absolutely the worst potential customers for the actual work we produce = original photography.
100 written blog posts generate fewer inquiries and action than one, single, direct mailing of a great postcard to 250 targeted, potential and existing clients. Pretty amazing.
I've learned a lot about the real buying habits of the customers I am interested in because I have friends and former co-workers in the advertising industry, and also the corporate event industry. I'm also lucky to have two family members who are well versed in advertising and public relations by dint of having worked for large agencies. From all the conversations I have with friends and family concerning how agencies and corporations use photography and video I've been able to see a "real world" pattern that's different from the assumptions that bounce and echo around the web.
While very young advertising people at very big agencies in several really big cities might spend part of their days surfing through sites like Instagram searching for new talent I was surprised to hear that in the "real world" of advertising, with it's fast paced production schedules and shorter and shorter deadlines, the folks who work at agencies servicing international technology companies are focused on finding "rights managed" stock photography on one of three or four venerable stock agency sites. Rights managed images give the client company a bit of control so the images used in marketing don't show up at trade shows, or run in advertising campaigns that use the same images as their competitors, in the same time frame.
Word on the street is that art buyers and art directors find new photographers from a small subset of photographers who happen to be proactive; who reach out to targeted art buyers and show samples: self-published magazines of images, collections of targeted post cards, etc. Or even enticing e-mail promotions that direct buyers to creative websites, curated with images that target specific industries.
After direct contacts with these art buyers the creative (and marketing savvy) photographers might then garner the art buyers as new followers on sites like Instagram but it would take sheer luck to have an art buyer hit a random creative spirit by chance. Another route to the intersection of a photographer's work and an art buyer on the web is a link provided as a recommendation from one of the art buyer's trusted friends or co-workers.
When Instagram was nascent and posts were less overwhelming in sheer numbers it's possible that some standout people really did get discovered that way which probably led to the groupthink that now permeates the very idea of social marketing but that changed when image postings went from millions to billions. A corollary thought is: How many inhabited planets have we discovered in our galaxy from the billions of planets out there...?
While an active Instagram (or other) account is a net good thing it's probably a lot more valuable as a place to share new work with people you are already acquainted with than as a forward operating base for attracting new and qualified potential clients. It's not the totality of good marketing, just a smaller adjunct of a larger marketing plan. You need more focused vehicles that drive people to these "free" repositories of your work.
It's the same as it was in the 1970's, 1980's, 1990's and the earlier 2000's; what works to drive businesses forward is a mix of advertising materials that all make contributions to an overall strategy. For photographers it can be as easy as highly targeted post cards that are the initial opening gambit. Even mega-super tech companies like Apple and Dell still depend on print advertising, traditional television, and direct mail for a large segment of their marketing. And, if the traditional media didn't pull as well as their percentage of the overall spend, you can rest assured that the experts in data analysis at each of the companies would pull the dollars from those budgets and immediately put them somewhere else.
I hate to say it but you need to think like a major consumer tech company such as Apple to maximize your outreach to potential buyers. You target the customers with needs that correspond to the features of your products, invite them to investigate, make compelling ads, commercials and direct mail. Bring them into your advertising ecosystem and then work to keep their interest. Only when they have "discovered you" through your hard work in trad. media will the free social media because viable.
When I go through periods in which I'm indifferent to the prospect of work I tend to shy away from spending real $$$ on critical ad stuff and convince myself that a daily post on Instagram, a brilliantly conceived and written blog post, and some sharing on LinkedIn is all it's going to take to get the work pouring in. When it doesn't I, like everyone else, start to blame the horrifying decline of our wonderful industry. But strangely, when I go back to the tenets of traditional marketing (an organic mix of media) the work seems to crawl right back up to at least the baseline we've become comfortable with.
When I am amazingly motivated; enough to go out to some advertising happy hour functions and meet new people face to face, I am immediately struck at how effectively I can promote my work to a new cohort of potential clients. Beats the hell out of getting a few dozen "likes" for my photo of my lunch on Instagram.
A reminder that there really is NO FREE LUNCH to be had. You have to work for your clients---if you want to work for your clients. (See what I did in that last sentence? Cute huh?).
Hope you are having a nice, warm, happy, sunny Sunday out there. It's a beautiful day here in Austin.
Happy Valentine's Day to Everyone. Hope you give as good as you get. Hope you are all in love with someone.
True Romance. Brock's Books. San Antonio, Texas.
I photographed this at least 30 years ago with a rickety old Nikon camera and a very well used 28mm f3.5 lens. Oh, and some Ektachrome 100. I've posted it every year on Valentine's Day, just for fun.
My wife has a print of it hanging in her home office.
What is there in life worth living for than some sort of true romance?
Ever set time aside to take jaunt through your own photographs? I like to do so when I'm working on a new style, a new project or a new book of images.
Determined young swimmer at a swim meet.
Belinda in Verona.
The USMS Short Course Nationals. Austin, Texas. 2007.
Same as above.
Alanis Morrisette, in concert in Austin, Texas
Leica M3+50mm Summicron.
An old favorite camera; consigned to history, coupled with an 85mm Cine lens.
A camera from that too short era when Sony made really fun cameras.
You know, before they made crappy cameras with good sensors inside.
Heidi patiently posing for book #2.
Minimalist Guide to Studio Lighting.
Studio Dog in repose. On green screen.
from an earlier "Janis" play.
also from an earlier "Janis" play.
S. Korean Photographer in a Chinese restaurant in Berlin, Germany.
End of day bike commute.
the formative camera for B. Just right for her...OM1
Ben looks into the 35mm Summicron on an M6.
At Asti Trattoria in Austin, Texas.
Kirk working the Samsung booth at Photo Expo, NYC, in 2013.
The Sigma fp was not my first rodeo with a "finder only" camera.
Do you recognize the Pentax K-01?
It was actually a very good picture taking machine....
Austin Children's Museum. Hands on. All the time.
What last week's academy award winner looked like in 1991....
Young Genius at work. His own early workstation in his father's office.
Never too early to start them on bad work habits.
Lou. One of my favorite magazine covers.
A freezing afternoon in Paris.
lecturing to a small group of photographers at UT Austin.
B. Person with whom I have celebrated the last 40 Valentine's Days.
Shooting Samsung. One of the few photographers in the world to own
a Samsung Galaxy NX camera....
Out on the back porch.
Noellia on the banks of Barton Springs.
Jana, on our "get to know you" photo shoot.
She's the face of my LED Lighting book.
Michelle looking fabulously elegant.
The opening of Zach's Topfer Theatre.