Last week was a great week to suspend blogging. There was too much raw emotion and too much happening outside the sphere of photography for me to concentrate at all on my favorite passion, pastime and career. Like many of you I spent the time reading the news and, from time to time, I attended some of the protests here in Austin to see with my own eyes the reality of the moment and how different it was from some of the television broadcasting. I reminded myself that the news media survives by finding outliers and the most "newsworthy" or salacious moments even if they don't accurately reflect the 99% of protesters who were peaceful, polite and truly impassioned to express their anguish. It was refreshing to bear witness to reality so I could insulate myself from the emotional responses that inevitably came from each end of the political spectrum. The protests are legitimate and a necessary part of much needed social change.
Instead of letting the events of the week consume me I worked on getting things around the studio/office ready for an opening of the business in stages. After donating a bunch of gear to a local non-profit I spent a few hours further "editing" my almost random collection of lighting and photography gear into "keep" and "donate or toss" piles and I feel I've made real progress forward. Another couple months of lockdown and I'll be able to fit most of my gear in one camera bag. That would be novel...
But we're also getting direct mail cards ready to let clients know we're re-opening and ready to start bidding on jobs. We also want them to know that we are fully engaged and didn't have to sell off important gear or change our ways of billing, etc.
I'm back on schedule with daily swim workouts, long, hot walks and intermittent napping. The process of getting back my swim endurance has been less protracted and painful than I imagined it might be which gives me a modicum of hope that I'll crest my 60s more or less intact. Since the beginning of the "stay at home" period I've logged about 168 miles of running and 28 swim days. Sadly (and hopefully, temporary) I've gained two pounds of body weight. Working on its swift removal.
One thing I rarely discuss here is financial planning and investing but it's an interesting time to take stock and re-balance our strategies for the future. I spent much of the last few months honing my basic understanding of finance and economics (both of which I did study at university) trying to understand the strategy of investing in a time when government bond returns hover around 0%, many state and muni bonds are flirting with negative yields and the marketplace has been flooded with trillions of dollars of stimulus money. I've also watched, with interest, as the dollar has declined in value by about 6% against an international basket of currencies. You'll have to draw your own conclusions but my play since March 23 is a weekly move into U.S. large cap equities and mutual funds to dollar cost average my per share purchases. So far the strategy is working well and my thought is that equities will be the one zone for profit and growth for at least the next two years. There will obviously be bumps and set backs but the longer term success seems probably. For the moment we're feeling good.
When I am able to compartmentalize the social unrest and the vagaries of the financial markets and think of other stuff I find I am still enjoying my time with photography. I keep working to better understand the Sigma fp and every time I take it out for a casual photography walk I feel I'm rewarded with files that are really, technically very good.
It's such an interesting camera because at its heart the sensor and the color science are both state of the art and actually a step above the actual imaging potential of every digital camera I've shot with. Even the high ISO files are a step above the other 24 megapixel cameras. But, on the other hand, anything other than central zone, S-Af is less than stellar and I'm not even sure the camera actually does multi-zone C-AF at all. The body is obviously little more than a metal brick and the screen on the back, which, while lovely to look at, doesn't move, flip, rotate or otherwise add to overall usability. The camera, in one sense, is like a big litmus test for photographers. Which do you value? Absolute Image Quality? Or, All the operational niceties we've come to take for granted?
It's not a totally binary thing. Most fine arts photographers whose subjects are relatively stationary will be able to master the camera operation without issue. But if fast moving subjects, long lenses, and the requirement for quick and kinetic focusing are real considerations then the camera will present a lot of unwanted friction.
Which brings me to my latest camera acquisition.
After dragging a Panasonic S1R with the 50mm f1.4 Pro S lens around town, and then the Sigma fp with a finder magnifier and some big Sigma Art lenses, I was looking for some relief and I went through the gear cabinet looking for a "comfort" camera. Something I could bring along on a protracted, hot walk and not feel like I was carrying a house on my shoulder. I came across the Canon G10 and took it with me as I walked through downtown with my friend (an amazing actor and singer), Kenny. The real reason for the walk was just to catch up and check in with each other. I shot Kenny's portraits for his first album cover and we've know each other since my early days as Zach Theatre's photographer.
I didn't want the fumbling around with a camera to take away from my time with my old friend so a Canon G10, set to "P" and locked in at 100 ISO was just right. It fit into my very smallest bag, along with my wallet, car keys, and an extra face mask.
The G10 is a camera I loved, then sold, then in a moment of remorse bought another copy from my friend, Frank. The sensor is a 14.7 megapixel, 1:1.7 inch CCD Canon unit that does its best work at ISO 80 or 100. It's happy to shoot in bright sun but it's usable at up to 400 ISO, for the ultra-picky, and up to 800 ISO for the "content is more important than ultimate performance" crowd. The camera features a 28-140mm equivalent lens which isn't very fast but is very sharp and tech issue free.
If you loved easy to use cameras that are not menu-driven you've come to the right instrument. There is an external ISO dial, concentric with the mode dial, on one side of the top plate and a +/- EV compensation dial on the other side. Pretty much all you need for actually taking photographs.
There is a little, optical tunnel finder but I find the rear LCD bright enough even to use in solid daylight. Nice to have the optical finder, just in case.
How good are the images if you do everything right? Hmmm. Really good. I illustrated a large portion of a book on lighting with this camera (on a good tripod and using ample light) and no one noticed that we weren't shooting on a bigger camera at the time.
But...This camera already exists in my inventory and somewhere above I talked about ordering a newer camera. I ordered a second Canon G15 yesterday. The short answer to: Why? is that I bought one, used, about a year ago and loved it. Not as high a megapixel count as the G10 but much faster to focus and capable of yielding a much less noisy file for those times when a higher ISO is just plain necessary. The camera and I got along swimmingly and I was so impressed with it that I lent it to Belinda to take as her main camera when we traveled up to Montreal last year. I never got the camera back. She liked it that much. In fact, I'll say that it's one of the very few cameras she's really enjoyed using since she bought her first real camera back in college: an Olympus OM-1 with the 50mm f1.8.
I'm exploring the two ends of modern photography. On one hand I've recently done a family portrait for our neighbors with a 47 megapixel, full frame S1R and then, almost as a reaction to the technical perfection of that solution, I'm out on the streets and the trails with a "last decade" point and shoot camera, blazing away in program mode. Somehow it all makes for a nice balance.
I can hardly wait for my new (used) G15 and three batteries. I already know the G15 to be one of the very best compact digital cameras where price, performance and reliability is concerned. At less than $200 it's a steal. Belinda and I were kidding around about the compact Canons yesterday over dinner. I brashly stated that I was only going to take the G10 and G15 with me on our next vacation. She was quiet for a few seconds and then, with a very serious expression, she said, "I'm going to hold you to that..."
In other news: Panasonic announced a new lens that I would like to buy. It's a weird focal length range. It's a 20mm to 60mm and it has a slow-ish fixed maximum aperture of f4.0. Why do I want one? It's supposed to be smaller, lighter and cheaper than anything Panasonic has yet introduced in the S1 system. A really nice, carry around solution. The pre-order retail price is set at $599 and the marketing hype points to it being a very good optical performer. If you use an S1 or Sigma fp the slower aperture should rarely, rarely be an impediment to good photography as both of those cameras can shoot at nose bleed ISOs --- but without the nose bleed.
The one thing that keeps me from pre-ordering is my lack of excitement about wider angles of view and my trepidation about having a zoom that only goes to 60mm. I don't have any hesitation about optical quality but right now I think my shooting methods match up better with the 24-105mm Panasonic S lens I already own. And it's a darn good performer as well.
To recap: We spent the last two months staying in reasonable shape and then getting back into good shape. I spent (way too much) time learning about finance and economics and re-balancing my portfolios. So far, I've had surprising overall success which is partially a result of getting over any fear of the market collapsing and investing early and often. When it comes to cameras I've been playing with the Sigma fp and loving it for controlled shooting. The S1 cameras I consider to be the best compromise between performance, solid build and crazy good image quality (especially when using S1R and S1 cameras for their optimized strengths as an intermixed system) and I'm embracing the small and bullet proof Canon G10 and G15 cameras for just messing around, or working light and under duress. A G15 is, in many ways, a perfect protest documentation camera....
Happy to be back to work --- even if only marginally. Even happier to be back at the blog --- though everything is changing all the time. Let's look forward, not backward. We all still have a lot left to do.
Welcome back! Kirk
P.S. Just editing this and fielded four phone calls asking for bids. I guess the end of our extended "vacation" is now in sight.
fp skies are outrageous.
I'm still wearing a mask whenever I leave the house.
Better safe than sorry. I'm also starting to think of it as a fashion expression...
The big flagship J.W. Marriott still closed up tighter than a clamshell.
The revenue loss at the bars must be staggering.
Most of the graffiti is gone now but my favorite piece is still up.
This is Charles Morgan. He is telling people about the epidemic of
veteran suicide in the U.S. He asked me to take his photograph.
I was happy to do so. I should have gotten about 18 inches lower.
I'll go back today and see if he's still at Congress Ave. and 6th Street.