A Pair of Portraits for Friday. Just some random observations. Nothing earth shattering here.

This image of Ben was done with a Kodak DCS SLR/n full frame digital camera.

This image of Lou was done with a Hasselblad 500 ELX film camera. 

I'm beginning to really enjoy the 6 a.m. workouts. All through high school and most of college our teams were in the pool and breathing hard most days by 5:30 a.m. so I guess I can rationalize that 6 gives me an extra half hour... But I probably move a bit slower now in the mornings than I did back then. 

I've changed my schedule because everything was getting too disjointed. We're limited to sign up for 4 masters swims during any seven day period and I was trying to devise a schedule based on spreading out the days in some sort of way that would aid in the overall training. Maybe two days on and one off. A pattern of sorts. But the problem with "on again, off again" was the interruption of a semi-sane sleep pattern. On the days I could sleep in...I couldn't. On the days after a break it was hard to wake up early enough. I decided to switch to four swim days in a row on the presumption that I'd have a fairly well regulated sleep schedule for at least four days in a row. This week was the first trial of that idea and I have to say I think it worked better. 

The sunrise over the pool was beautiful today. I first saw it when I was coming off the wall underwater, dolphin kicking on my back. The pool was not hit directly by the first light and was still distinctly blue while the sunrise painted the sky with magenta and orange. The contrast was really wonderful. In this instance the world seems to have had a very, very talented lighting designer. 

There are little things that drop hints when your worrying has turned a corner and you find yourself wracked with optimism. I had one of those on Wednesday morning. I photographed a radiologist who was quite beautiful. I asked if she would come back in the near future, off the clock---so to speak, so we could collaborate on a black and white portrait that's more my style than client style. She agreed and that flipped a switch in my brain that suggested I should ask more people more often to come by, play, and try a different approach. I'm looking forward to a new session; already working out the lighting...

My lens fascination for today is the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art. I know it's too big and I know it's too heavy but the lens makes up for all that with it's stellar performance. Especially wide open! I've bought many a fast lens only to find that I was paying for glass and speed but not really great results when used wide open. It's disappointing to pay thousands for a fast lens only to find that it doesn't really hit the zone of acceptable sharpness until you are a couple of stops down from maximum. 

Sigma seems to have understood that having a fast aperture is somewhat meaningless if you can't get solid (and I would presume: stellar) results when using it wide open. They certainly delivered in my copy of this Art series lens. I love the effect of having a tiny wedge of in focus area in a photo but I love it even more when the wedge is fully and satisfyingly sharp, detailed and contrasty!


Getting back in the saddle. Ramping up with selected, trusted clients before anybody else.

I started letting clients know that we were ready to accept assignments; at least the ones that everybody agreed were pretty safe. By that I mean jobs such as photographing one person at a time in our studio, or photographing buildings and infrastructure projects outside. I'm fine with doing environmental portraits outside as well. Once I started reaching out and conveying details about our slow motion return to work I've been getting requests for bids, and actual assignments for multiple engagements in August. And it feels good to get started back. 

Since many of my clients are medical practices (radiology, cardiology, oral surgery, oncology, etc.) we don't have to explain much about the safety procedures we're requiring from everyone. If people are coming to my studio they'll need to wear their face masks until we get ready to photograph. We have an A/C system set up to bring in constant fresh air; no recycled stuff. I'm swabbing down surfaces like a professional HazMat team. If people don't want to do it my way they don't need to book my time. 

So far only two requests for bids have come from ad agencies and both projects got put "on hold" the day after the bids were delivered. The rest of the work, and offers of work, is coming directly from the companies I've worked with a lot in the past. Most of the first wave of jobs I'm scheduling are simple headshots in the studio but we are bidding on several video projects that will have their own sets of logistical challenges. I have a feeling everything will take longer now and move slower. And the approach to craft service (the traditional food/snack tables at video shoots) will be an entirely new experience. 

There is one large law firm I work with that loved the in-office, environmental portraits we were doing for them for the last five years. Since many of the lawyers are still working from home and are reticent to all come into the office for the traditional, tightly scheduled photo sessions we're changing gears a bit and working with some PhotoShop solutions. I'll spend some time in their offices during an off time (Saturday or Sunday) with one point of contact there as a host. My goal is to photograph a bunch of great environmental backgrounds in their facility that I can use in an ongoing library to make composites with portraits that we'll do, one at a time, in the studio against a plain, neutral background. 

I would not have offered or considered this approach pre-Covid, but that was before the latest upgrade to Photoshop more or less perfected the "Select Subject" command. (It's in the selection tools). If you have not upgraded and experienced the huge leap forward in this automatic selection tool you owe it to yourself to check it out. "Select Subject" makes the cleanest drop outs/selections I've ever seen. It's about 10 times quicker than using a pen tool and you can use it in conjunction with the refine edge tools as well. 

I had occasion today to drop out the backgrounds in 16 images I shot for another law firm. We'd shot against a plain background and it was amazingly easy to click one button and see a  perfect cut out. The 16 images, working in 16 bit from 47.5 megapixel raw files, took a little less than 2 hours of time. Last year I would have blocked out a day to do this kind of detailed selection process. I'm so impressed. 

Saving between 4 and 6 hours of time today and getting great results is the best argument I can make to anyone who thinks the $10-12 a month is way too much to spend for PhotoShop and Lightroom bundled together. I calculate that I made a year's worth of subscription charges from the time saved on today's job alone. And I provided what is probably a better product that I could have produced a year or two ago. 

While it feels good to look at August's business calendar and see it filling up there are still projects I won't accept. One kind is any sort of day long event work in interior spaces. No convention hotels for me yet. I also won't fly for work. I do have one client in North Carolina I'd love to continue on with but that will have to wait until we've got a better handle on either vaccines or iron clad curatives. Even though I always imagine myself as being bulletproof I am 64 years old and the statistics are not in my favor...yet. 

On  the other hand, if someone would like me to do larger, infrastructure projects anywhere in Texas I'll be happy to drive to the locations and do the work under the same constraints I've outlined above. I'm even considering a rooftop tent for my little SUV which would free me from having to flip a coin about how safe a hotel/motel might be... But no one is asking right now so that's more or less a contingency plan at the moment. Maybe something better saved until the cooler weather arrives...

I can't predict what will happen next. I have friends who've lost long term jobs at ad agencies and from corporate MarCom departments but I have other friends who are working through the pandemic, in marketing, without a hitch. I'll be happy to work a bit after months of twiddling my thumbs and boring you with images of Austin's mostly closed up downtown spaces. But I'll be equally happy just hitting the pool in the early morning, grabbing delicious take out for lunch and lounging under the ceiling fans with a great novel on my Kindle. Whichever way the universe leans. 

Favorite lens of the moment: The Panasonic 24-70mm f2.8 S-Pro. I used it on some in studio images of people against white and was impressed by the sharpness at both ends of the focal length range. And across all f-stops. Better than many, many prime lenses I've used. And not a hint of flare or contrast flattening even though the white background was a half stop hotter than the subjects. No flare from the hair light just out of frame either. The lens and camera combination focused speedily and accurately and  working with the lens was easy as pie with the face detection AF in the camera. It's a pricey lens but it's so darn good I've almost forgotten what I paid for it. In a few months I'll forget that altogether and wonder why I didn't get it sooner. 

For everyone who suggests that if I can't find fun portrait subjects to work with I should find some other subject matter to replace them with in the interim: Go read Michael's post todayhttps://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2020/07/bill-jay-on-the-thing-itself.html

It's a bit of writing from the late Bill Jay. Pretty much sums up my POV. 

At any rate, happy that the cameras and lights still work the way they are supposed to. More adventures on resurrecting my autumnal career in the near future. Keep your powder dry. 


Troubleshooting stuff that goes wrong. Don't be so quick to blame the camera. If you are using flash it's probably your ________!!!!!

Notice how the top half of the frame is darker than the bottom half?
When I lit the scene and metered it with a Sekonic meter
the whole background was evenly lit to half a stop.
What went wrong?

And who's to blame?

As usual: operator error.

As you may know, in addition to my full time, unpaid job, as a volunteer photoblogger I also do some professional/commercial photography on the side. You know, just to pay the bills and provide a budget to pay for canned tuna fish and ramen. So, in my capacity as a working pro I accepted the amazing challenge of photographing not just one, but two doctors this morning. We set up the appointments an hour apart so I could do mundane things in between, like wiping down doorknobs with Clorox wipes or re-brushing my teeth so I wouldn't have to live with coffee breath recirculating in my face mask...

But even though I've been taking these kinds of studio portraits for a number of years, and should have some sort of competency in both setting up the gear and getting my subjects to flash winning smiles, I'm  not so complacent that I'd wait till the last moment to set up and test the gear. Yesterday evening, between watering the grass and settling in for yet another one of Belinda's ultra-healthy dinners, I decided to head into the studio and set up all the lights, the background and the camera and then test everything a couple of times. I tend to sleep better that way.

When I got everything ready and started to test the images on the rear screen looked fine...except they didn't. One half of the frame was noticeably darker than the other. Yikes. Okay. I've done this before. I'm sure it was just an errant camera setting.

My first thought was about the lights. I was using two Godox monolights. The kind you plug in the wall. The kind with big modeling lights. While they tend to be binary they were part of different lighting method than I've been using in the recent past. I had been using Godox LED lights and never had a problem like this. Could it be the lights?

I switched them out with a second set of lights, turned everything back on and did a test. The issue was still there. It was unchanged. Uh oh. Might be something wrong with the camera! I was using a Panasonic S1R. It's one that was thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly) checked by Panasonic just a few months ago and it was working fine all last week. But you never know....

I went through and checked the shutter speed setting for sync problems but the phenomenon was unchanged. If it was the camera I would be pissed off but for the moment it would be an easy problem to solve. I'd just pull a second one out of the drawer, put a piece of tape on the broken camera and get on with the job. But to my horror the second camera showed the exact same issue. Half the frame graded to darkness. Well shit.

With my platinum strategy, the camera switch out, not working I was starting to get a bit nervous. I should be able to make a simple photo set up work. I've done it....forever. My next step was to go through every single menu item on the camera to see if I had set anything, ANYTHING that might affect the flash. Two trips through the menu and I still came up empty handed and saddled with a very annoying enigma.

While logic told me the lens couldn't possibly be the issue I reached into the magic studio drawer and pulled out another lens. It showed the exactly same messed up frame as before.

In scary times like this the options seem so limited. What to do next? Call the client and reschedule? Quit the profession in shame and embarrassment? Shoot with a half dark frame and try to get away with calling it ART?

No. A true master, like Richard Avedon, would have stepped away from the situation, gotten a cup of coffee and tasked his team of assistants to figure out the issue or face banishment.

It did dawn on me that I have no army of assistants onto whom I could foist responsibility but I'm always up for a cup of coffee so I headed all the way downtown to Intelligentsia Coffee to get a double cappuccino. Sure, I had to pass sixty or seventy closer coffee shops to get there but it's really all about the journey. The longer the journey the more time your subconscious mind has to work on the issue.

I got my coffee and headed back home. I was waiting for the coffee to cool down before taking that first sip. When I crossed the bridge over the river I thought enough time had gone by and I took in that first tentative slurp of perfect coffee. And then, like an electric shock violently tickling my medulla oblongata, the solution came to me. Fully formed. Springing like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. Maybe it was the dedicated Godox X1T flash trigger!

My right foot hit the accelerator and the incredibly dynamic Subaru Forester sped up from a pokey 35 miles per hour up to a death defying 43 mph as I rushed home to get to the bottom of the exposure

I grabbed a big, theatrical looking magnifying glass and examined every square centimeter of the triggering mechanism; paying special attention to its infernal interfaces, and: there it was. The last untested possibility. The high speed flash sync enabling switch, or THSFSES!!!

It was set to allow high speed flash sync. A totally unnecessary setting given that the monolights were in the studio where the ambient light is totally controllable. I took another swig of coffee, took a deep breath and flicked the switch to the "off" position. Then, with trembling hands and no small dose of trepidation, I turned everything else back on and took a test shot. Voila! Success. A completely coherent and even white background. I had conquered the last Everest on my list. The flashes would now do my bidding with no further wobbling or subterfuge.

I finished my coffee with a triumphant flourish that only served to spill precious brown juice on the studio floor. But after I cleaned that up I knew I'd be able to complete those two assignments and I would still be able to hold my head high as a nearly fully functional photographer. And that's my story.

Next time I'll check the trigger first. Apologies to my big, fat Lumix S1R. It's not your fault, it's me.


Medium format digital becomes accessible. People take notice.

Interesting to me that three of my good friends (who are also photographers....but I guess that goes without saying...) have recently added Fuji medium format cameras to their collection of toys and tools.  One is my friend, Paul who is a very experienced architecture photographer, the second is a very advanced enthusiast named, Andy, and the third is an eclectic and self directed art photographer named Jim. All three had their reasons for giving medium format a spin and all three of them are happy they decided to give new Fuji line of MFs a whirl.

Paul, the architecture veteran, is always looking for an edge and he's not a newbie when it comes to large and medium format cameras; both digital and film based. When I first met him Paul was working with Linhof Technica 4x5 view cameras while keeping a Hasselblad SWC/M handy for quicker wide shots. He's worked recently with the bigger Hasselblad digital cameras as well as the Leica S medium format cameras so he knew what he was getting into when he bought a Fuji GFX 50R.

Andy is nearly as crazy about collecting various cameras as I am and his purchase of his GFX 50R was, I think, his first foray into medium format digital imaging. He picked up the basics in a matter of hours and has been using the 50R non-stop since picking it up a few months ago. I've seen plenty of samples from his work with the camera and he should be a spokesperson for Fuji. He's got that enthusiast's enthusiasm especially hard for the medium format space. All his stuff looks great. (And he's reviving his appreciation for his tripods).

Jim is the anything for art and all-in member of this loose coterie. He sprung for the GFX 100 (100 megapixels) and three of the lenses and he's become a bit zealous about how much he likes the bigger format. From the west Texas desert to the Colorado mountains, he seems to drag that kit around with him everywhere. It's a change from previous years when I could always count on him to show up with everything and anything Leica.

But what all three have in common is that they are generally in the first wave of adapters for camera technologies that make a difference in the actual look of the images they create. They aren't necessarily waiting for the reviewers to give them a sign. They are willing to adapt without the safety net of the herd to bolster their resolve. And they each deeply love making photographs.

So why the sudden lunge toward medium format? (Or, in Paul's case, back into MF).

In each case I think it happened when Fuji took all the goodness of the 50 megapixel sensor that appeared in the Hasselblad HD1X and the second generation Pentax 645D and put it into a system that is rationally affordable. In the case of the 50R when the price for a body started dropping down to the $3,500 price point it entered a dollar-to-value zone that made it irresistible for photographers who wanted a different look than what they (and everyone else) were getting from the 35mm sensor sized DSLRs and mirrorless full frame cameras.

In the case of the 50R the user is getting a sensor that's about +50% bigger than the 35mm models which translates into bigger pixels, which generally means a nicer looking file. But since the tech is based on the same underlying magic across sensor format sizes one still retains all the high ISO performance of the current smaller format sensors. And, unlike Hasselblad and Leica medium format cameras the lenses you'll want to use on the Fujis don't require selling a kidney on the black market to come up with enough money to purchase. I find the Fuji lenses bordering on affordable. The second part of the equation that really works for Fuji is that they quickly fleshed out the lens line up and did so with lenses that have a lot of appeal. I'm still salivating over the 110mm f2.0 lens. Oh, and the 45-100mm f4.0 lens. Even Mitakon makes two lenses for the system; a super fast 85mm f1.2 and a super fast 65mm. And I can't imagine a portrait photographer who wouldn't be at least mildly interested in the 100-200mm f5.6 zoom for a bit less than $2,000.

They've moved quickly to introduce lots of perfectly thought out zoom lenses as well as a collection of wides, normals and longer lenses. Venus Optical (third party) makes a 17mm for about $700 that's supposed to be good and is the equivalent of a 13mm on a 35mm system. But if you just want to get your feet wet with a pancake style "normal" focal length Fuji makes a 50mm 3.5 (a 40mm equiv.) for a hair less than $ 1,000.

Compare that to the Leica S series MF lenses and you'll find you can by three Fuji lenses (or more) for the price of one German marvel. That wouldn't be as exciting if the Fuji lenses were crap but by all reports from knowledgeable users the Fuji G lens are quite sharp and perform well. And the autofocus is decent. Both from a speed and accuracy point of view.

The EVF finder on the rangefinder style 50R body is one of the 3.69 megapixel versions so it's nice and detailed. And, if you travel a lot for your photographic work (does anybody do that anymore?) the body is currently cheap enough to make a second, back-up body nearly practical. (Not so practical if you are addicted to the 100 megapixel GFX100 version = which is still hovering around $10K. But then again....100 megapixels!!!).

What do I think? I think if the pandemic hadn't shut down my entire 2020 fiscal year's business income I'd find the $3500 price tag for the 50R body, and the $2,700 price tag for that slick looking 110mm f2.0 a very reasonable and highly justifiable purchase. I might still find them to be so.

But for my own stuff, in the moment, the S1 and S1R cameras are filling the bill. When the first green shoots of new business sprout, or when that lucky lottery ticket pays off, you'll probably find me in line at B&H or Precision Camera waiting for the 50R to come off back order. Yes, "back order" in the midst of the camera industry meltdown. Fuji must be doing something right...

My friend Paul likes the camera for its files but he's equally engaged by the short lens mount-to-sensor plane distance that allows him to adapt and use a vast collection of medium format shift lenses from previous, much more expensive camera systems. He's becoming a master at adaptation. Especially with shift lenses. Maybe he'll step up to the 100 megapixel GFX100 after he sees some of Jim's work with that camera. Then he might need to get rid of the 50R. I know someone who might willingly take it off his hands. I wonder if I can adapt some old Hasselblad V lenses to it.  You never know...

So, $3900 for a Canon R5, or a Lumix SH-1, or save some cash and step up to MF for nearly $500 less... An interesting question.


Just sharing a little "Canon Love" that has absolutely nothing to do with new camera launches...

Jana at a test shoot for a book project.
Little City Coffee Shop on Congress Ave.
Canon 5Dmk2 + 85mm 1.8

I think sometimes we forget how many really fun and wonderful photographs we were able to make with the gear on the market ten or twenty or even thirty years ago.

Looking back is always a good exercise.

My Canon 5D mk2 always worked and never even thought about overheating....


Emmett Fox, owner and executive chef at Asti Trattoria.
In Austin, Texas.

I was sitting in a comfortable chair reading a book late yesterday afternoon when I looked out the window and saw that the sky had turned quite beautiful. I caught myself wishing I had some assignment or any reason at all to be out photographing and taking advantage of all that sweet, late day light. I re-oriented my thinking just a bit and remembered that my friend, Emmett and his partner, Lisa were re-opening their restaurant this week for take out. Their patio was also re-opening too. Just no dining room right now...

I decided that Emmett would be a great subject to photograph so I grabbed the Lumix G9 with the 25mm Meike Cine lens, as well as my trusty iPhone and headed over to the Hyde Park neighborhood, just north of the UT Law School, in the center of Austin.

Emmett and I walked together for exercise earlier in the week but he was still surprised to see me show up with my camera. I shot a bunch of images of the restaurant exterior with my iPhone (auto HDR can be a wonderful thing...) and then got serious with my G9 and the 25mm.

This weekend is the 20th anniversary for their business and I've been a delighted customer every step of the way. Emmett and I also swim together in the masters program at The Western Hills Athletic Club. 
The thought of them working the 20th anniversary of the restaurant without some photos to document the occasion seemed wrong. Sitting around in my chair while the light sparkled and amazed seemed lazy and stupid. Sometimes it's incumbent on us lazier photographers to push ourselves just a little harder.

Two big benefits to my impromptu photo session: 1. Emmett and Lisa sent me home with tiramisu for two (amazing, delicious, comforting, fattening --- but in a good way). and, 2. I know Emmett can't repurpose this series of breathtaking portraits for his passport because of the face mask!!!
Emmett Fox, owner and executive chef at Asti Trattoria.
In Austin, Texas.

Emmett greets me in front of the restaurant. Mask and apron, the new norm.

Ben, Belinda and I have been coming here on as many evenings as we could 
over the last 20 years. Ben had his first escargot here. And his first sorbettos. We are 
all addicted to their house made bread sticks and focaccia. I love Emmett's 
fried artichoke hearts with aioli. 
Belinda is a fan of any risotto they happen to make.

Lisa and Emmett Fox. In front of Asti. Ready to feed you!

All images available light. Really nice available light. 

ISO 25!


I'm still fascinated by the Meike 25mm T2.2 Cinema lens. That means, by extension, that I'm re-fascinated with micro four thirds. Especially the G9.

I guess this is a continuing review of the Meike 25mm Cinema lens that I wrote about two weeks ago. At least it feels that way. Yesterday I wrote about the importance, for me, of having friction in the photographic process if I was to both enjoy it and also feel as though I guided the picture taking process rather than being led by the nose through the routine by a smarty pants camera. I was thinking of this lens while I was writing about the 90mm Elmarit R because more than most lenses the Meike Cinema series is an unalloyed ode to total manual control. 

When used on a micro four thirds camera like the Lumix G9 the 25mm lens has the equivalent field of view of a 50mm lens on a 35mm sensor camera. It's a nice focal length for me because I can never figure out what to do with the rest of the stuff on the edges of images made with wider angle lenses. 

Because of a more restricted schedule at our pool I can only sign up and swim four days a week. As a consequence I'm at loose ends now on Saturdays and I figured that after my neighborhood walk with Belinda I'd have some extra time this morning to grab the camera and head downtown for a brisker walk and spells of dalliance with the camera gear. It didn't hurt that we've broken the oppressive heat wave, at least for today. Our high temperature is predicted to be only 97° and the humidity is mercifully lower too. It was a perfect morning to stroll with the G9 and the 25mm. 

I set the camera to manual exposure, ISO 100, daylight/sun WB, standard profile, with a starting shutter speed of 1/640th of a second which led me to an aperture range of t 5.6-8.0 in full sun and t 2.2 - 2.8 in open shade. Just right for my appraisal of my most used settings. We had nice, bright sun diffused by high, thin and only occasional cloud cover. It worked well both for my comfort and the camera's performance. 

With the G9 set to M/F you can get full time focus peaking even with non-communicative lenses. It makes manual focus fast and accurate. I have found that either my vision is improving or camera finders are getting better because it seems easier and easier to focus most lenses on the G9, even without the focus peaking. No glasses required. 

I could write a bunch of stuff about my impressions of this lens but I think the photographs will speak for themselves. I will say that there is some small amount of barrel distortion that's easily corrected in Lightroom but there is no vignetting that I can see in the photos. I'm also not seeing chromatic aberrations anywhere. The colors are nicely accurate and the lens has a transparent quality to it that's unique. It makes photographs that seem clearer and cleaner than many other lenses. 

One more note: I'd forgotten how much I liked the feel and sound of the G9 shutter mechanism. I'm also pleased with the incredibly long battery life of that camera. It may be the current best, all around photo tool on the market. And the I.S.  Even with non- I.S. lenses the stability of the system is so good I'm sure other camera makers are green with envy....

This is my morning view from the dining room table. 
Today I made coffee and sourdough bread toast.
Thick slices that I slathered with peanut butter and 
blueberry preserves. A wonderful treat. 

Early light. 

I keep trying to get this mural right.....

 I thought this frame would be a good test image on which to try Adobe 
Lightroom's "Detail Enhancer" feature. The image above is the full frame 
while the two images below are, first 100%, followed by 200% crops. 

The G9 raw files, aided by the Meike lens performance, resolve plenty of detail.

See the distortion at the roof line? 
Of course it could be quick and shoddy building construction instead...

I looked up during a quiet coffee break to see the steam stacks from a different perspective.

Another perfect cappuccino from Intelligentsia.

I'm always curious to see how sharp and detailed a lens is. 
I expect them to be sharp in the center and I'm happy to see them sharp at the edges.
For the Meike test I used the lens at f5.6 and a half and focused on the 
machine in the center of the frame.  See below for crops at 100% and 200%.
Remember, you can click on the frame to see it full screen...

I think the detail in the grass is quite nice.

At the end of my walk I headed back home to toss the files into Lightroom and check them out. I was happy with the color and the overall quality of the files. The G9 is one of my all time favorite cameras and I think the combination of that camera with the Meike lens is superb. Really superb.

OT: Today is the first day since late February that Belinda and I got hamburgers and french fries from out favorite Austin burger chain: P. Terry's Hamburgers. Of course we ordered our favorites online and I dropped by to pick them up. I'd forgotten just how tasty the fries are. They don't use nasty, industrial oils to fry them; they use canola oil. All the produce is locally sourced and the beef is organic, grass fed. For an inexpensive lunch they just can't be beat.

It was a lovely break from our usual, healthy homemade fare. You don't miss your water till your well runs dry! Into every life a little junk food must fall. The happy familiarity of a good burger is not just delicious it also produces happy endorphins. Mustn't discount those!

I have better lenses but they're not as much fun to use. I have faster cameras but they're not as interesting.

this is a combination that repudiates "easy." 
The Lumix S1R camera is not a "fast" shooter. You won't be
using it to shoot 20 frames per second. It's big and heavy. 
The battery life isn't "class leading." 

the lens is an old Leica 90mm R Elmarit lens that opens up to 
f2.8 and has to be focused manually. The aperture has to be manually
set on the lens. With a fully "dumb" lens on the Lumix you
only get "A" and "M" exposure modes. 

so, when I'm just hanging out shooting for fun, why is it that 
I prefer this rig to ones that are easier and more 
automatic to use?

Why indeed.

things have gotten so easy. You point a current S.O.T.A. camera at something, zoom the lens to match the composition that looks best, do a half press on the shutter button and the camera leaps into action, setting the focus and the exposure and you smile as you press the shutter button all the way down and the camera makes the shot. You don't have to think. You can just respond. If you are unsure you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will continually readjust focus and fire away at 10 or 15 or 20 frames per second. Surely one of the frames from among hundreds will work for you...As simple to operate as it is to change channels with your TV's remote control.

Not sure how to get the best dynamic range? Just put the camera into the auto-HDR mode and let it do all the work. You can totally automate your videos as well. 

But, after a while, doesn't all that easy photo living get a bit.....boring? It does for me... Modern cameras are to immersion in photography as golf carts are to authentic golf.  If you didn't walk the course and carry your own clubs did you really play? 

And I guess that's why I'm drawn to cameras (and lenses) that have the potential to deliver great images but at the same time require more effort from the operator. I love cameras and lenses that make me work for the prize. I hate the ones that make it too easy. Too easy is how people must feel when everyone gets a trophy. Not a sensation you'll encounter when using something as eccentric as a Sigma fp. Or even your hyper automatic model, when switched over to manual control.

I like cameras that require the owner to invest in at least some of the operation; some of the creative and subjective selections. The need to make decisions tied to the actual operation of the camera keeps reminding me that this is still, when all is distilled down to its essence, a craft that depends on my choices more than on just buying the most convenient-to-operate tools. When the operational requirements are so facile and so automated I think the process, subconsciously, is devalued by the person practicing it. I know I invest progressively less in a photograph the more simple and automated the process becomes. 

I like the hands-on action of manually focusing a lens. All the better if I have to magnify the view and decide exactly where the point of sharpest focus is supposed to go. And then get it there. I like shooting in a manual exposure mode because there's less inertia to making exposure settings that "disagree" with the automatic settings. Because it's okay to prefer exposures that are lighter or darker than the automatically selected ones.  No matter how compartmentalized your thought processes are I can't believe that a camera providing an exposure set point doesn't in some small way reduce your incentive to take control and make adjustments. 

The weight of a camera isn't a detraction from the process if your intention was to go out and take photographs. It's a reminder of the seriousness with which you take your process. Carrying around the extra weight and taking over control of all the camera settings is akin to making a hopeful sacrifice to the photo gods. It's the friction that makes the process of taking a great photograph more unique, more difficult and by extension more fun and rewarding. 

If Panasonic made a camera body with no autofocus, no auto exposure and no extraneous modes or features, but one which required your complete attention to making images, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. It would be a constant reminder to me that I am integral to the process. That the success of an image depends more on my seeing it and capturing it correctly than letting a camera implement a cookie cutter approach to capture.

There's no real style without creative friction of some kind. For me it's the mastery of the camera and all the controls, for someone else it's the search for the perfect location or the perfect post processing recipe. But I can only see the process through my approach. And for me the friction with my tools is important. 

I find composing and focusing to be intertwined and I like it best when I control it all. But I'm guessing people's ways of working are all different. I can only think that cameras like a manual Leica M, though digital, are popular precisely because they require the integration of the human brain and fingers with the mechanisms of the camera.

When you learned on a Canonet QL17 you learned a way of shooting that doesn't leave you. Knowing how to make all the changes is the core advantage. Excessive automation is the enemy. 

The Leica Elmarit f2.8 is a classic. It's a simple optical formula that's enhanced by the build quality. Superior glass in metal barrels, precision machined parts that are made to be used for decades. A smooth focusing ring, the use of which is its own reward. The knowledge that if you get everything just right you'll get a photograph that you bargained for. I love the process of selectively focusing that lens. It keeps me involved right in the center of the whole enterprise.

If, on a  walk for instance, the camera/photography is secondary and you've only brought your camera alongs in case something catches your eye, then I understand the desire not to be burdened by weight or size or complexity. Bring a compact camera. Bring a good phone/camera. But if it's your intention to make photographs I think the added complexity and required work of a more controlled approach between human and manual camera operation adds a welcome  friction that generates the needed heat of creativity.