It was a friendly, f2 sort of day. An interesting exercise to try if you are more interested in walking than getting the perfect photo.

I walk a lot because it's fun but also because daily exercise is emerging as the #1 "miracle cure" for a long and healthy (and happy) life. I walk, in addition to a daily swim workout, because it's a weight bearing exercise. And that's a good thing. Add a Lumix S1R and the Sigma 85mm Art lens to your walk and you can also add it a bit of resistance training for your biceps and wrists. But the best reason for me to walk through Austin is to stay in tune with the feel of my city. 

Yesterday, just for fun, I decided to take along a heavy camera and a big lens. The S1R and the Sigma 85mm seemed like just the right combination. But to make things more interesting I decided to add a restriction to my photographic approach. I decided to spend the entire walk with the lens set to f2.0. I thought it would be fun to restrict my options and see what the rig was capable of with the lens nearly wide open. 

I think that as we get more and more experience in our photography we forget the "happy accidents" of the early years. We learn dogma about lens quality and optimum apertures that might make our images sharper but more...boring. 

I was thinking about this as I went through a box of old black and white prints from a time when films were slow and lenses weren't nearly as good as the best ones are today. I found a bunch of images from the middle 1970's that were shot with a Canonet QL17 rangefinder camera and remember that I shot a lot of pictures of people inside buildings, houses and dormitories; places that had low light levels. This meant that most of the time I was making photographs with my camera set to f1.7 (wide open) since my fastest film was Tri-X rated at ASA 400. 

If you think about it a lot of the images from the period were shot "full frame" (the Canonet was a 35mm camera) and "bokeh" was unintentionally plentiful. But the interesting thing to me, when I look back, is how much more interesting the images were with their smeared backgrounds and cinematic lack of high sharpness. 

I thought about the cameras and lenses we have today and our manic pursuit of high sharpness, crisp contrast and a general obsession with image quality over everything else. And I thought it would interesting to take a step or two back and at least see what modern life looks like when we go "over the top" wide aperture. 

It is cheating a bit to use a very modern camera. Some of my sun-drenched scenes would have been far outside the range of my old film camera. I could never have shot wide open in the sun with a film camera, the shutter of which could only go as high as 1/500th of second. With the S1R I watched in several situations as the camera's shutter pegged at 1/16,000. Fun stuff. 

Looking back at the old prints makes me wonder why I set off in pursuit of more "image quality" because it almost always came at the expense of so authentic feeling in the images. Another case of media reinforcing an easier to understand method, or commercial considerations beating the creativity out of us working photographers. 

For my next walk I'll grab an older, manually focusing 50mm and shoot that wide open but with the additional overlay of shooting nothing but Jpeg and always in monochrome. Let's see if we can create a time machine and turn back technique to a more visually interesting period. 

The Photographer at work.



Chuck Albertson said...

Very nice. Over in Wetzlar, Peter Karbe (head of Leica's optics design) is cheering you on. He maintains that all of their new lenses are designed to be shot wide open, for just that 3D effect.

Don Karner said...

You don't know how much I have missed your walks thru Austin. Thanks for sharing these.

Ronman said...

F2 sort of day. Love the title and implications that less than perfect clarity is just about right.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks guys. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed writing for you.

Greg Heins said...

"...commercial considerations beating the creativity out of us working photographers." Yes, spot on. It's hard to put the joy back in!

Unknown said...

Great to have you back in the saddle.
What a great assignment you have created. I'm going out this weekend with my whizbang DSLR and mount my very old 50mm f1.4 Nikkor from the 70's on it. And in honor of your idea I'll set it at F2. Should be cool...

Abacus Photography said...

I totally agree that black and white pictures shot on fast film definitely have something other than sharpness to commend them. Often they are a joy to look at. Truth be told the bulk of my personal work is done on digital now but I still shoot a little film for the look it can give. You can't beat disappearing into the darkroom when the rain is beating down outside (I live in the UK)and immersing yourself in that other world. Glad to see you are back, Kirk!

Eric W said...

Thank you for posting again. Your comment on not chasing the image quality over authentic feeling in the images hits home to me. When I do something photojournalistic I like to shoot in accurate colors and let it ride as is. When I shoot for "art" or special memories I always crave that authentic feeling I had when I learned how to shoot in the 80's. I am always happy to have some reassurance like this that I am not crazy in a world of ever sharper, higher density, see in the dark type cameras being all the rage.

Anonymous said...


Love the walk images.

May I make a suggestion for a future walk?

How about a 150mm lens, wide open, with a square crop (in camera).

Please keep sharing the walk photos. They do serve as motivation to go look.


Morgan said...

Interesting post, thank you! I recently acquired a X-T1 and picked up a cheap, Chinese 35mm (Meike) for exactly the reasons you posit. I have to say that it brings a lot of joy to have an imperfect (but competent) lens on a manual body. Of course the X-T1 performs well above 35mm film, but I do get a similar feeling at the end of the day.

Bob said...

Great post. Thanks. I'm right there with you.