4.02.2020

A very quick video about a DIY face mask solution. For people for whom manufactured masks are not currently available. NOT for Medical Professionals.


An Alternative to the traditional face mask. A PSA. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

So, I've done some research and it's pretty apparent now that everyone in north America (and probably everywhere else for right now) should be wearing a face mask every time they go out of their home. Not just sick people or people caring for sick people, but everyone.

In Laredo, Texas face masks are required by law!!! Go Laredo!!!

At any rate, I won't go on and on about "why" but I did want to make and show you a very short and low tech video about my current solution ---- until such a time as I can buy a ready made mask or two...

We'll all look like banditos for a while but then that could be pretty cool.

If you want to see the video bigger and better you can click through and watch it on the Vimeo site.

I'm not selling anything and this should not be construed as professional, medical advice. I'm just sharing my stop gap solution to an ongoing potential problem. The paper towel in between layers is of vital importance in increasing the protection of this zany construct. Sorry for the ham-fisted edit but... now hearing that the blue shop towels (thicker paper towels) are better because they are less porous. Use one of them folded over instead!!!) But just about everything is better than nothing. Just remember to treat the shop paper towel as a single use and to wash your cloth mask everyday (or more often depending on usage). 

The stretchy things I'm using are made by a company called, Buff, and they are also sometimes sold under the "National Geographic" label. I buy them over at REI. If you have a sewing machine a a bit of stretchy cloth you could probably make one at home in about five minutes. If I tried to sew one by hand it could take five days.

That's all. I'm just excited to have a reason to use my video stuff. Stay safe.

Be kind and generous and maybe someone will be equally nice to you.

KT

Note: This post got posted a couple hours after my "more interesting and less serious" post of the day about buying Leica's. If you missed it please go back and check it out. I worked on it just for YOU. 

Why, with all the other cameras in the world, am I still interested in getting an obsolete Leica SL? Maybe that's a question better directed to my analyst...

Sigma fp + 45mm. 

One of our readers asked if I would explain my renewed interest in acquiring a Leica SL camera body. I think that delving into the psychology behind my desire for any particular camera might devolve into a long and boring mining operation into my anxious neuroticism but I think what he was really looking for would be my rationales for spending money on an older camera that I demonstrably don't need. That might be closer to the mark. 

Okay. I'll leap at the bait. 

First, I think I'm starting to feel that 2020 is the year I'll cure my overwhelming desire to change cameras and camera systems frequently. With no ongoing client work there's nothing pushing the button in the back of my brain which gears up the internal propaganda pushing me to keep up with the industry or to find that one camera that makes super special files. I'm coming around to the idea that it's never going to make a profound difference on the quality or type of images I create. Although Annie Leibovitz confesses in her book about making images that she often goes through 4 or 5 different digital cameras in a year, looking for the one that works best...for her.

I know you guys have been telling me that the camera doesn't matter for years but I'm constantly under the influence of my own confirmation bias. A good example would be my long tenure with the old Kodak DCS 760C camera. If you looked at this camera rationally, even a decade or more ago, you would no doubt see that it was big, ponderous and slow. It was a Frankenstein build that combined a Nikon F5 body with a huge amount of Kodak digital tech attached to the cast iron bottom. It was an outsized idea of what a pro might want or need in a digital body; right down to the full size firewire socket and the dual PC/MCIA slots. 

But the LCD on the back was... challenging... and the battery life was abysmal. If I ever got more than 100 shots per battery I would have been shocked. But, back then there were only a tiny handful of options for cameras capable of shooting raw files in a high bit depth at 6 megapixels. And most had some similar matrix of obstacles to use. 

But!!! I used that camera to shoot a campaign for the Austin Lyric Opera and the images were great. Of course I was really, really into my lighting then and worked hard on getting it just right. Then, I was using the Nikon 105mm f2.0 defocus coupling lens then and it had a wonderful look. I lit the set with thousand watt tungsten fixtures (the main light through a 6x6 foot silk) and I worked from a tripod so I was able to work at the camera's only optimal ISO = 80. The images came out so well. We won Addy Awards for the whole campaign and that triggered, in my brain, the idea that the camera brought some of the magic to the shoot and therefore I could not abandon it entirely for years....

 Here is the five pound package that the DCS 760 in shooting form weighed.

On of my favorite images of (a younger) Ben after swim practice. 
Shot with the DCS 760 and the Nikon 50mm f1.2.

From the Austin Lyric Opera project.

 From the Austin Lyric Opera project.
From the Austin Lyric Opera project.

So, that, in a nutshell, is how my brain works. I get a camera and incorporate it into a really fun and creative project that features a fun location, a great lighting design, and good casting and then I end up giving 99% of the credit to whatever "magic" camera I happen to have attached to a unique and exciting  lens. 

When I say it like that it makes no sense at all. But when I have supreme confidence in a camera then I am more confident in my photographic abilities. It all comes down to confirmation bias. A self-fulfilling prophecy. I might have been able to do just as nice a job with other gear but this, the shoot just completed, is finished proof that the gear in question can deliver.

Here are three more samples from a shoot done with the Kodak nearly a year later for one of my favorite ad agencies: 



The real reason I have fond memories about the Kodak camera is that its useful life in my studio corresponded with a time in which many fun projects were coming in week after week along with budgets that would amaze photographers who might have started their careers after the 2008-2009 recession. In my memory the great camera, the wonderful assistant and the amazing business and art opportunities that were offered to me in that time frame all blended together and one would have been foolish to try to dissect the success and change big parts.  Falls under leaving well enough alone

The above is all an attempt to explain why I approach camera purchasing and use from a less  than rational point of view. Why my judgement is clouded by an emotional attachment to gear that was used in the process of making images that I liked. And in that time period one day of shooting would completely pay for one camera. 

There is a second mental disconnect that is in play here as well. That is the logical of contrarian wisdom (or self-delusion).  When I see work by photographers using very popular cameras (think Canon 5Dmk2, Nikon D800, Sony A7xx) I start to associate their work with those cameras and the thought of being "one of the club" pushes me to find cameras with different personalities and different looks to their files to use for my work, mostly as a way to differentiate myself from what I perceive to be the mainstream. It's a failure of logic, to be sure, since we can more or less replicate the "look" of most cameras with some work in PhotoShop. 

But it reminds me so strongly of a time in film photography when I eschewed the saturated and similar color palettes of Kodak and Fuji film and embraced the much different color palettes and saturation characteristics of various Agfachrome and Agfacolor films. Agfacolor Portrait was very much a favorite of mine because its look was so different from that of film from the two leading film makers. Much closer to the look now preferred by so many modern cinematographers and, at the time, a conscious rejection of the hyper-color look of so much 1990s photographic work. 

This contrarianism is also a symptom of someone who wants to show off the power of their own vision and their own operational capabilities without a reliance on the technical support of the most highly specified cameras of the day. How else to explain my embrace of the m4:3 format (most recently in my work with the Panasonic G9) while so many other photographers raced to squeeze every ounce of quality out the burgeoning selection of newly available full frame cameras?

I pushed that disconnect between camera technology and individual photographic point of view even harder when I insisted, at least for a while, on using one inch sensor cameras like the Sony RX10 series or the Panasonic FZ-2500 to complete big swaths of my commercial photographic work recently. But, in fact, the lesson learned is that the camera can be as transparent as the artist wills it to be....or as opaque.

So, all of that is a preface to explain my (now waning) desire to acquire and work with a Leica SL camera. 

Let's start at the end first: The camera is not a fast focusing machine and depends entirely on its contrast detect AF to focus big and ponderous lenses filled with lots of heavy glass elements. In a way it is set up for focus remorse. Especially among those recently arrived photography adherents who expect every current camera to focus on fast moving objects without a hitch. If one considers this camera as an "all around" commercial user camera that can handle press events, portraits, products and fast moving sports you'd probably only be in the ball park for two out of the four uses = portraits and products. 

But the mechanical capabilities of the Leica SL camera don't have much part in driving my curiosity and interest in the camera. I think I'm getting ahead of myself so let me back up a second and lay out just what the camera is:

The Leica SL, introduced four years ago, was the first full frame Leica mirrorless (excluding M series cameras) that used the L-Mount and was designed to bring Leica style imaging to the market. It featured a full frame, 24 megapixel sensor, a unique exterior button interface and a different approach to the menu/user interface. Priced originally at $7495 without a lens it was definitely a luxury purchase for most photographers. At the time it included the highest resolution EVF on the market and a nice range of video specifications, including a deep 4K capability. The SL had twin SD card slots which were both UHS-II capable and a body mostly carved out of a block of aluminum alloy. So, well built, well spec'd and, to me, a beautiful example of industrial design. 

The sensor, the manufacturer of which has not been disclosed, seems to be designed with a different compromise than the 24 megapixel sensors from Sony (at the time). My perception of sensors in that time frame is that there was a compromise to be made in which designers could choose either the lowest noise at high ISOs or a much more complex and differentiated color response, but not both! Sony chose low noise because that parameter is easier for consumers to see; easier to show off. Leica chose to optimize color, making more complex and nuanced color differentiation because that would appeal to more experienced photographers who might represent a higher income demographic than photographers who would not spend $7K+ on a camera. 

While both sides of the compromise have implications for users I shouldn't belabor the differences in approach too much because they make somewhat subtle differences between the two philosophies in actual practice. I will say that I think we have ample tools to control noise in post production but that once color differentiation/discrimination is compromised in capture we don't have equivalent tools to re-capture baked out color in post...

If you understand the way my thinking works, based on the explanation I gave above it should be clear to you that the camera appeals to me on the basis of some theoretical constructs and by dint of its contrarianism more than any measurable parameter. 

Here's what appeals: Even though Leica is a luxury maker there is still value in the engineering and design they put into this camera --- to say nothing of the superior quality of materials used. You are, in essence, at today's used prices, getting a $7,000 camera for the current 9+ grade used price of around $2200. Even if you believe there is an enormous "luxury tax" connected with all Leica goods you could say you are getting a $4,000 camera for half price. 

Next, each camera maker has their own ideas about color. How saturated a file should be. What kind of color palette each system will put forward. How much fine difference between color shades should a camera be able to define. And then their are other imaging choices, baked in, that make a difference in the way we see and appreciate files. How much processing will be devoted to careful noise reduction? Not just overall noise reduction but also noise reduction in areas of large and small detail. And noise reduction in various color channels. To my mind the files I've seen from Leica digital products always hedge towards accuracy over impact. For convincing sharpness over absolute absence of noise. And these decisions seem to align with the way I feel cameras should interpret and present scenes to me. 

Four years ago the idea of spending $2200 for a four year old, used Leica would have been ridiculous. At that time there was no L-mount alliance. No opportunity to buy less expensive lenses from Sigma and Panasonic. But today we have a wide choice of great lenses to use on the L-mount cameras. Where I would have had to spend upwards of $5000 for a 50mm lens from Leica to use on the SL in 2016 I now have the choice of: the 50mm f1.4 Lumix lens (certified by Leica for performance), the 50mm f1.4 Sigma Art lens, and, if I can fudge the focal lengths just a little bit, also the $550 Sigma 45mm f2.8 Contemporary lens. 

Since I own eight or nine different lenses, all very, very good, that will fit and work well with the SL I needn't make any huge financial sacrifice if I want to test the camera and see for myself whether the differences in color and overall rendering really create $2200 worth of value to me. 

I was all gung-ho about getting a used Leica SL a couple of weeks ago but the more I think about it the more I come to believe that Panasonic and Leica (and to a degree, Sigma) are much closer to each other in the way their cameras make images look and further away from how Sony, Canon and Nikon make their images look. I'm almost at the point of believing that the Lumix S1 is a more modern re-imagining of the SL but with more capabilities. Since the market for commercial photographers is slowly grinding to a full stop right now the rationale of using the SL as a powerful differentiator for client work has all but evaporated. 

I'll keep watching the prices. The Leica Index for SL used cameras is dropping week by week. When I first started looking a clean, 9+ body was trading for $2895. Last week that dropped to $2595 and this week it dropped to $2395. Decent bodies (8,8+) can be had for $1995 now signaling that an important floor price has been busted through. I'll keep checking back to see when and if I can source a 9+ body in a box for less than $2,000. That will be the point at which the pain of purchase might be less than the ping of desire pushing me to try out something new. And different. 

And that, in a nutshell, is how I go through the dreaded process of rationalization. Fertile material for the friendly neighborhood analyst, for sure. 

YNMV.