Currently "testing" two different cameras. From nearly the same era. But what does "testing" really mean in this instance?

Belinda cleaned out a closet and found an older camera. It's an Olympus epm-1 which is a very small, very thin m4:3rd camera that hit the market around 2011 and did not take the world by storm. At the time the Olympus offerings, regardless of price, were limited to a sensor resolution of 12.3 megapixels. The epm-1 is the smallest interchangeable lens mirrorless camera that I've come across yet. It's just a tiny bit bigger in one dimension than an iPhone XR and smaller in another dimension. But I don't want to get too multi-dimensional here....  Olympus sent it to me out of the blue. No request to review. No request to write about it even in passing. It came to me some time in 2012 along with a tiny flash that fits in the hot shoe and a highly promotional, super small, black backpack to hold the camera, charger and flash unit. I spent a day trying to figure out where they hid the controls and then, frustrated, I gave it to Belinda to see if she could get any use out of it. Turns out that she is much smarter than me and she used it right up until she discovered the Canon G15. At which point she handed back all the epm-1 stuff to me.

It's funny because the epm-1 arrived back in the studio this week and shortly afterwards I took possession of another G15 so I could have one too. A confluence of weird cameras. (They seem right at home with the equally eccentric - but loveable - Sigma fp).

So, right now I'm "testing" them. What does that really mean? Let me explain.  I have a camera test pedestal that is a massive lead and nickel alloy tripod head on top of a reinforced concrete pillar that goes down through the floor of the lab  (without touching the actual floor --- too many vibrations!!!) to bedrock forty seven and a half feet below. I mount the cameras on this and use a laser interferometer to get the camera perfectly level and parallel to the NASA test target that I had micro-etched with blue lasers onto an 8 by 12 foot sheet of one inch thick titanium. It's a good test target. It seems dimensionally stable.

I can't be in the room at the time of actual testing because we create a complete vacuum in the space in order to rule out atmospheric anomalies during testing. This also helps to prevent dust from impinging on our test results.

The room isn't state-of-the-art since we only filter particles down to 1.5 microns but we're working on improving our technologies because of the important work we're doing here with used, $100 to $150 dollar cameras, which were created nearly a decade ago.

Before we have our robotic interface run the actual tests we mould the center of a 30 pound warhead core of spent plutonium into the shape of the exterior of the camera and place the final plutonium construct on top of the camera to minimize any residual, external vibrations. A tight fitting, low gamma emitting plutonium pseudo "bean bag" is just the right solution for any shutter shock that might be resident in the cameras as well.

Once everything is clamped into place we test the cameras over a vast range of temperatures starting with an immersion in liquid nitrogen and then increasing the temperatures up to the point of failure, or until the camera's exterior begins to melt.

All professionals should know the "melt" point of their cameras if they are to truly deliver the best results for their clients. So far, of all the cameras VSL has tested in this manner, the Pentax K-01 tops the scale for heat resistance and resistance to electromagnetic vituperative lashings. It did, however, fail our test for high pressure immersion in Diet Coke (one of the toughest tests our lab currently has, in house, for satellites and cameras).

Once we've gotten several thousand terabytes of "metrics" that cover aspect from Nyquist quiescence to  all the relevant Ferbil integers from our lab tests, we feel more confident in taking said unit out into the "real world" and "making" test images to evaluate its actual performance. It's a months' long process as we need to shoot the camera in all natural lighting and weather conditions and we sometimes wait months for the right intersection of temperature, humidity and astrological star stage.

Finally we give it to our physics guy so he can take pictures of his girlfriend standing next to her mountain bike. That's the crucial end point of the testing.

We're in early days on the two cameras mentioned above. Really early days. How early? We're still in the battery testing stage at this point. How do we test the batteries? Glad you asked that. First we fire up the cyclotron and.............

Somebody make coffee! This might go on for a while...

But in all seriousness (if I have any left) I'm having fun playing with fun, basic, stupid and cheap cameras this week. Maybe I'll discover something no one else has. Maybe they'll end up back in a drawer for the next 10 years.

Microaggressions. That's when your camera won't switch modes as fast as you want it to. But it seems to require sentience from a camera and that may be a stretch. Conversely maybe it's really the action you take against the camera when it doesn't perform as you'd expected. But really, isn't that why we test?

It's June 10th. Absolutely nothing is happening today and that's okay. Sometimes it's nice if life just proceeds on its own.

Yesterday was super hot and sticky here. This morning I woke up at 5:30 this morning and it was a cool, dry 65 degrees. Just right for a swim. Actually, just right for anything. Yesterday's early swim practice was packed with people. I had to share a lane with Olympic gold medalist, Tommy Hannan; it was intimidating. He's half my age, twice as fast and...well, a gold medalist in butterfly. We pretty quickly determined that we should split the lane instead of trying to circle. No way I was going to swim on his intervals. It all worked out. We're still on speaking terms...

Today was a lightly attended workout; I had my own lane in the pool at 6 a.m. The water was cooler today. That means someone at the pool turned on the aerators last night. It's easier to swim faster in cooler water. 76 degrees Fahrenheit is optimum for racing but anything under 82 is fine for an hour long workout. 

The sunrise did its beautiful light show once again, this time with a deep, French blue background and warm, magenta-hued clouds accented with soft orange. I with I'd had a camera in the pool with me because at one point the whole balance between pool lights, sky, clouds, and the pervasive glow of ambient light was astonishing. I swam backstroke while I watched the colors build to a crescendo and then, like flicking a switch, just turn into normal morning light. No big yards today. Just a long, strong swim in perfect water and perfect light. 

I went home, cooked two over easy, fried eggs, made toast from sourdough bread, and tossed in a slice of ham for good measure. Yummy. But after I washed my dishes and thought a bit about sitting in front of the computer aimlessly working on....something/anything...I decided not to waste such a beautiful morning indoors. I put on an old pair of Merrill walking shoes, grabbed the Sigma fp camera  and headed downtown. 

The Sigma fp is a fun camera for casual shooting. I use it mostly bare (without an auxiliary finder) and almost always in the aperture mode. The 45mm Sigma lens I use has an external aperture ring which is handy and oh so nicely made. The 1/3rd stop clicks are just about perfect. The lens is supposed to be "soft" at f2.8, which is its widest aperture. I'm not so sure "soft" is exactly the right description for what happens to the image at f2.8. I think it's more a lowering of contrast than a major loss of resolution. That being said, if you are a stickler for absolute, corner to corner prickly sharpness then maybe using f2.8 will be problematic. 

With this in mind I like to set the lens to f5.6 and shoot just about all my street photography and little fine-artsy documentations at that setting. I find that f4.0 is also very nice: sharp and contrasty but I like that extra depth of field I get from 5.6 for most normal focal length shots on full frame. When I'm shooting bigger vistas I generally opt to go to f8.0 so I can get reasonable focus in more depth. Sharpness, and extension of sharpness in depth, are also quite dependent on the focusing distance as well as lens design. Some lenses perform better as the subject-to-camera distance increases. Most film lenses used to be optimized for best performance at a distance of 50X the focal length of the lens. I'm not sure if that changed when lens makers started implementing close up corrections that are done by moving various lens element groups independently while focusing or not. It stands to reason that a lens would be optimized for one extreme or the other. The moving groups are an attempt to have performance at both ends. And in the middle.

I remember using earlier macro lenses from Canon and Nikon (pre-CRC*, *close range correction) and experiencing noticeable decreases in sharpness as I focused closer to infinity. 

One thing I love about shooting with the Sigma fp for casual work is the ability to bring up a waveform monitor on the LCD and work with exposure the same way I do when shooting video. A waveform gives me more actionable information than a simple histogram. I just make sure the waveform doesn't go over 100% and I know that nothing in the highlights will burn out. 

On a day like today, when my photography is ultra-casual, I really end up shooting in a modified "program" mode. I want control over the f-stop so I use the "A" setting but then I also set the camera to auto-ISO. Most of the shooting was done in bright sun so I certainly didn't fear that the camera would select an unusably high ISO. I'm happy with the sensor performance all the way to 6400 ISO and even beyond but the camera was mostly selecting ISO 100. I also can't use the camera's digital image stabilization with raw files so I want to make sure I'm shooting at a shutter speed I can predictably handhold. For me, with the 45mm, I try to be conservative and set the auto-ISO lower shutter speed limit to 1/160th as a bottom/slowest speed. 

My most used control is the exposure compensation dial which is the control wheel on the back of the camera. Usually, I'll tweak an exposure up a bit for a lighter than average subject to make sure we're not dropping the mid-tones too low. With the waveform monitor engaged it's a simple strategy. I just look at the photo preview on the LCD and turn the dial in the correct direction until the waveform is where I want it. Shooting raw is part of my point and shoot strategy with this camera. I can be underexposed by up to four stops (I'm usually not...) and still get a usable file in post production. If I know a highlight might burnout I'll under expose by a decent margin knowing I can hold the highlight in post and normalize the image with a  shadow slider and some mid-tone contrast correction. 

Today I wore the camera 1960's tourist style. That's where you wear the camera on a neckstrap, have the neckstrap around the back of your neck and let the camera bounce around on your chest or stomach. That way the camera strap doesn't keep sliding off my shoulder and the camera is instantly ready to be grabbed in both hands and used. It also makes one look very photo-nerdy so everyone just assumes you are a harmless tourist...not an opportunistic artist.

I would have taken the new (used) Canon G15 out for a spin but UPS seems to have mis-delivered the package. I got a notice telling me the package had been delivered to my front door but the time stamp for the drop was supposed to have occurred when both of us were home and paying attention. I usually hear the trucks pull up and usually the driver rings the door bell before running off. Not today. So, I've started the sad process of tracking down the lost package. It's so frustrating. I may never buy anything that needs to be shipped ever again. My local camera store will be delighted to read that... Now I'm waiting for someone at the local UPS distribution center to call me back. Right. We'll see if that happens. No big deal, I guess. It's not like I was depending entirely on that particular camera to change my life.

As I was photographing buildings and signs on Congress Ave. I noticed that the LaVazza coffee shop was open so I ducked in to get a cappuccino to go. I was the only customer in the store. That's got to be pretty safe. The coffee was as good as I remembered. They make a great cappuccino. I also like to drop by there because Elliott Erwitt did a calendar for the parent company and this shop has a big, mural sized, black and white of a couple with a small baby drinking LaVazza coffee will waiting to catch a train in some far off land. The baby is looking right into the camera and the parents are otherwise occupied. It's a wonderful photo. Seeing it enhances the effect of the coffee.

I also love the fact that their to-go cups have an insulating sleeve that runs down the entire expanse of the cup. It's a small touch but thoughtful. I haven't enjoyed a cappuccino that good in months. Really. It was that good. It was comforting to know that LaVazza is still there since, sadly, Medici Caffé is now closed up and gone from Congress Ave. Alas, it was one of my favorite haunts.

A giant, yellow wall. Too yellow. But sharp. Oh so sharp.

There were so few people downtown that it reminded me of the first week or so of the lockdown, back in March. No one was heading into any of the big office high rises and no one was in line for coffee, etc. The only people I ran into were various homeless people and private security people who are tasked with preserving the "sanctity" of all the private property. 

The homeless are at a double disadvantage in downtown these days. They have historically survived by panhandling from the downtown workers and a never ending stream of tourists, but both of those streams have effectively vanished. Secondly, they are the epitome of a "cash" enterprise since they don't have checking accounts and don't have credit card terminals. Few people walk around with cash anymore. I'm not entirely against a handout if their story is good and my (sometimes flawed) intuition prods me but I've long since stopped using cash or even carrying it around with me. I don't think I'm an outlier in this regard either.

The weather was so comfortable I could have stayed downtown all day. But I'd been up since 5:30 and needed to break for lunch, and also wanted to check on my (failed) camera delivery, so I headed back home to warm up some leftover pizza and check in. 

In closing I guess I have to say that I enjoy the Sigma fp precisely because of its earnest potential and in spite of its small flaws. Things I wish I could change? Not the AF. Not the C-AF. I just want a few little things like, the ability to attach a small EVF like we used to do with the Olympus EP-2, 3 and 5 cameras. I'm learning to modify my dirty baby diaper hold with this camera so I guess I'll survive. That's about it. Amazing that I really can't think of anything else I'd want to change. But if they do make an EVF attachment I'll get right in line to buy one. 

Coda; I talked with two very sharp and responsive people at UPS. They took my information down and advised me that someone would call me in one hour. I got a call 42 minutes later. They asked me to look outside our front door. The package had just been delivered. They were asking me to confirm. Yes! That is the best customer service I've had on a delivery for a long, long, time. Well done UPS. Very well done!!!

If you see my UPS driver would you let them know I'm at 
Latitude 30.2832  by Longitude -978030 ?
That would be nice...

The Resolution: I talked with two very sharp and responsive people at UPS. They took my information down and advised me that someone would call me in one hour. I got a call 42 minutes later. They asked me to look outside our front door. The package had just been delivered. They were asking me to confirm. Yes! That is the best customer service I've had on a delivery for a long, long, time. Well done UPS. Very well done!!!