More photos from my romp around downtown channeling my mid-1970's black and white documentary persona. Cue the G9 once again. And a saga of the worst plane flight home EVER.


I love trying new (old) stuff with my G9. The walk I took last week with the G9+60mm f1.5 lens and the camera set to L. Monochrome yielded some of my favorite architectural photos of the Summer. Not aiming for technical perfection but working toward a style is a mentally freeing experience in which one can just sample the scene in front of the camera and try to assemble the pieces of the puzzle in interesting ways. I do find that I play more when I'm knowingly and obviously photographing in black and white.

When I see the mostly empty streets of Austin and look around at the masked people, whose underlying faces hold so much unleashable photographic potential I start pining to take a trip somewhere else. Some place where well dressed men and women converge socially without masks and with knowing and informed expressions. Sitting at serious cafés together, sipping serious coffees and making nuanced small talk. And I would chance by with my little camera all preset to make the perfect exposure...

And then I remind myself that not all parts of travel are so pretty. To quench my misguided and rose colored memories of the glories of travel I have only to remind myself of the worst plane flight/travel experience I have ever had....

We'd just finished a corporate trade show with an IBM subsidiary in Lisbon, Portugal. I was traveling home with two hefty cases of gear and some carry on. I was excited to be heading home because on the day after I was scheduled to arrive back at the house my wife and I had tickets to take our three year old son to see the circus for the very first time...

When I got to the check in counter in the Lisbon airport there was the usual back and forth about the two, large Pelican cases I needed to check. The United agent insisted that they were too large and too heavy and couldn't be checked at all. Which flew in the face of their own rules and necessitated that we get a supervisor involved. After a bit of wrangling and the onset of anxiety about missing my flight altogether we "negotiated" a higher bag fee. It was pure usury and I resented it strongly. But I would have resented even more having to abandon thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. I paid the fees hoping that my client wouldn't bulk at the added cost. 

When I looked at my itinerary I was depressed to find that I'd become a victim yet again of some cost cutting corporate bean counting travel pro from the client side. Instead of a two jump return flight (Lisbon to Miami; Miami to Austin) I was booked on a painful excursion that would in the end take nearly forever and cover almost double that mileage. My ticket had me booked from Lisbon to London, where I would have a long lay over, and then on to Chicago where I would have a very, very short layover and then on to Austin. Of course it didn't work out very well. 

The flight to London was passable. The plane was crowded and even though corporate employees were entitled to fly business class overseas the same courtesy was never extended to contractors who were, of course, welcome to upgrade to business class at their own cost. I didn't want to suck up nearly $9,000 extra dollars for the flights so I crouched in my middle seat, in a middle row of a very large and noisy plane. 

London is always a mess. It was worse back then. When you arrived you de-boarded and were shepherded into buses that move you from one terminal to another with a pass through customs and immigration. Then into a great hall filled with seedy shops and duty free shops but a strange paucity of decent, and decently priced, restaurants. 

As has become routine for me and Heathrow, my flight out was delayed for hours and hours. I was already exhausted from eight days of dawn-to-midnight-shooting and at that point might have considered paying a fortune for some place in which to lie down and take a nap. But that didn't exist. 

Finally we were called to our flight and we lined up to take our places for the great transAtlantic journey. My seat was mid-plane and I felt fortunate to be sitting on one side (the left) and sharing seats with only two other passengers. One was plump and grumpy and seemed to have carry-on parcels everywhere. They overflowed like the fake lava of a child's model volcano. The person on the other side (yes! Middle seat, arggggg.) was gaunt, unnaturally quiet and looked pale, perhaps a bit...ill. 

The flight over the ocean was typical. No one got too drunk and no one raged about the cabin making deranged political announcements. The food service was slow and sloppy and felt less like "service" and more like "punishment" for those having the temerity to actually purchase "economy class" tickets. 

We arrived in the Chicago area around four in the afternoon but we did not land. Instead we circled the two hundred miles surrounding the airport for nearly three hours waiting for a band of huge thunderstorms to abate. At a certain point the continual right hand turns started to make many of the children on board air sick. Finally, our captain decided that we might run out of jet fuel before the weather actually cleared and we were re-routed to the airport in Toronto, Canada. 

We made a bumpy landing (sorry kids!) in a rain storm there and then taxied to a gate....which we were not permitted to use. The plane's captain came onto the intercom and explained that if we exited the plane we would all have to go through customs and immigration to get to the restrooms and the food courts and that there were no planned agents available. Not to worry, he assured us, we were going to refuel and get airborne soon!

Three hours later, darkness having descended over our Boeing 747, and the air getting stuffy and thick inside, the captain had someone deliver bad pizza to the plane to distribute amongst the now starving economy captives. The giant person next to me started to softly cry...

At this point, according to the schedule, I should have been home with my family having a fine dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and catching up on the events of the previous week and a half over a nice bottle of wine. We'd laugh as I told stories about some 'now funny' corporate mishap or another. But this was not in fate's plan for me this time.

The captain came back on the intercom around 9 p.m. and suggested that we "might" be getting ready to continue our flight to Chicago but warned us that the weather had "messed up" a lot of the connecting flights and that there might be a lot of people trapped in the terminals...

He was so right. We finally arrived a little after midnight. By this time I'd been traveling for over 18 hours but we weren't done yet. 

We arrived to an airport in which all the amenities, shops and restaurants were closed up tight. We made a long and painful slog through the entry formalities before entering into a scene of travel madness. Thousands and thousands of stranded passengers. Some slept on their luggage and others begging whoever would answer the phones at Unitied to help them get on a flight. Any flight.

I saw the situation was hopeless so I started calling too. Finally, I found a United agent and asked him about hotel accommodations. He agreed that they airline would arrange for hotel and a meal but let me know that all the hotels within a twenty five mile radius of the airport were sold out. At one in the morning, with no guarantee of a flight later in the day, I was willing to take a hotel room outside that magic circle. 

After a long, long shuttle ride I checked into an ancient Chicago area hotel that looked so much like a scene from Blade Runner. I hauled up two Pelican cases and my luggage to a room on the fifth floor and checked in. The room hadn't been made up but I was willing to put my Pelican cases end to end and sleep on them, using my suit coat as a blanket. 

Within ten minutes of checking in a loud and very physical fight started in the room next to mine and two or three men punctuated the fight noise by screaming, in turns, "You cheating M. F._______er! I'm going to kill you."  Some one got thrown against a wall and when I heard someone say, "Watch out! He's got a knife!" I decided that my insistence on a hotel room was misguided and that this might be my cue to get back in a shuttle, any shuttle, and head back to the airport. 

I dragged the cases backdown the hall and waited, with no little trepidation, for the ancient elevator to come and rescue me from homicidal chaos. And I was very, very hungry. 

The hotel arranged a nice, 4 a.m. shuttle for me and about five other guests who had come to believe that there rooms were also part of a remake of Taxi Driver, and we took the long ride back to the place from which airplanes are supposed to land and take off. 

I stepped carefully around the various piles of people noisily "luggage sleeping" and planted myself next to the gate from which the mythical Austin flight of the morning was supposed to originate. Hours and hours later an agent showed up and as gray daylight oozed in across the piles of airport refugees I began pleading my case with the jacketed dream killer they call: gate agent.

The flights for the next two days were fully booked. I was crestfallen. I asked if they could check on avails for other airlines and the gate agent just gave me a withering look and then gazed over my shoulder at the long line forming. At that moment good fortune smiled on me. A couple walked over and asked the gate agent if they could give me one of their spaces on the flight. They decided to take advantage of the airline's offer to give up seats in exchange for some credits and a nice stay at a local hotel (not my most recent, I hoped). The gate agent relented and got me onto the flight. It was also delayed. 

At this point I was able to scrounge the airport for my first food since the frozen pizza on the tarmac at Toronto. What I found turned out to be a very stale bagel, some iffy cream cheese and a cup of lukewarm coffee. Just a perfect micro-encapsulation of my last 24 hours. 

I arrived in Austin a day and a half late but figured I had time to make it to the circus. I called Belinda from a payphone (the days before universal cell phone service) and arranged to meet at the Performing Event Center at UT. She would bring Ben and the circus tickets. I would show up in a wrinkled and distressed business suit. I'd parked my car at the airport so I dragged the now one ton apiece cases along and put them in the trunk. I started up the car and headed west.

It was 104° at 1:30 pm on the day of the circus. Thankfully, the show was inside an air conditioned space! We waited outside for 20-30 minutes with me progressively dying of thirst and heat exhaustion. When we got in and got seated I went to look for water. The vendors had giant Cokes instead. 

At some point, after the circus started, I must have fallen asleep. Or descended into a light coma. The next thing I remember is a very tiny and young Ben tugging on my sleeve saying in his most excited voice, "Wake up, Daddy!!! ELEPHANTS!!!!!!!"  I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was good to be home.

So, on days like today, when I pine for places filled with fun people to photograph and ancient buildings to put seductively in the backgrounds, followed by infusions of near perfect cappuccinos, I just remember that dreadful and endless trip back to the circus and I'm just fine sitting in my spacious and airy office watching the deer gambol on the front yard. I can learn to make nice coffee.....


You've got to hand it to vintage lenses. In concert with black and white camera settings they make something as mundane as a mannequin's hand seem mysterious and somehow consequential.


I've walked by the poorly merchandized shop where this mannequin has languished in the window for several seasons. Each time before I had my camera set to record color. I had a lens on the front that was contemporaneously vying for world class status. But I never noticed the photograph lurking there. Then, when I went down the same street again but with the purpose of making black and white images firmly in mind the photo pretty much leapt out at me and said, "Hello."

Even though I was shooting with a micro four thirds camera the longer focal length of the lens (60mm) and the close camera to subject distance allowed for a depth of field shallow enough to effectively separate the hand from the dress in the background. 

The Panasonic G9 has a black and white setting called L. Monochrome. I start with this setting and then I tweak it to taste. For me that means adding one step more of contrast, one step more of sharpening and dropping the noise reduction down by two steps. I also set the "filter" to YL (yellow) to darken skies. Finally, the camera lets me add grain to the files. I choose the lowest setting. 

Once I get the image into Lightroom I do add a bit more contrast and open up the shadows a bit.

I like what I get in my straight out of camera Jpegs. They just need a tiny bit more camera tweak. I guess I could do it all in camera but I might have to slow down my walking pace and my shooting pace to tweak stuff for each individual frame. I'd rather walk fast and enhance images in post. 

But the important thought I was dancing around today is how my setting of the camera (defining it as, at the time, a black and white camera) came to influence what I chose as subject matter. The brain is a tricky collaborator. It takes some stuff literally....

When I take photos in downtown Austin I like to pay attention to signs. Store signs. Sale signs. Informational signs. And signs from the universe...

At some point last week I was brushing up on my relationship with the Panasonic G9 camera. A camera that is actually too good. I actually say that because no matter what lens I put on it and no matter how I handle it the camera does everything perfectly and becomes completely transparent. I feel inadequate. I feel like I don't need to put any effort into making a great shot because the camera is quietly busy just making me look good. If you ever engineer a relationship like that with a camera I'm going to suggest you keep the camera. You might be tempted elsewhere and sell it off to pursue some flashy, bejeweled unicorn of a camera but you'll end up wanting that other, special camera back and you'll have to pay for it all over again. 

Anyway, I was trundling along with the G9 and an old, favorite standby, the Olympus Pen FT 60mm f1.5. And for some reason I felt compelled to photograph just about every funny sign I came across. The one just above is of a perennial sign in front of a cute little boutique that sells women's clothes. Some times the content of their sign is straightforward and at other times it just makes me smile. I originally photographed this one head on, looking down the street, but I circled back around and made this shot at an angle because I though the mildly out of focus store was more interesting than an empty street. 

I came across the image just above at the very end of my walk and it just struck me as so funny; two women just playing around with their teeth. It's too literal, too obvious. And I think that what makes it humorous for me. The mind wonders... were they picking spinach out of their teeth? Was there a flossing failure that day? And why does the person on the left need two hands while the person on the right only needed one? Unsolvable mysteries, I guess. 

The two signs in the restaurant window were one above the other. They seem to be telling passersby that because they are currently closed it's okay to urinate (or worse) in the planters just opposite the sign... I can't look at the duo of signs without a grin on my face. I'm an easy audience...

And finally....the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young advice for the pandemic. Shades of the 1970's.


Back at work and having a really good time. Getting productive in different ways.

I touched base with last week's client yesterday. Just a check in to see how they are dealing with 938 very large image files. They are doing the post process retouching and I'm always kind of amused when I hear about "how big the files are!!!" Of course, we covered this in our proposal and our pre-production meetings so I'm not sure what they were expecting. 

On the other hand they seem to really love the files because of the endless detail contained therein. And the sharply focused back edges of the product photos make it so much easier to do perfect subject selections.

I always like to do an "after action" report to myself when I've finished a project so I can make changes to the way I operate; if necessary. Sometimes the after action reports are just good reminders of how you did something on a shoot so you can replicate the production technique for the same company when you get invited back for another round.

One thing I wasn't sure of before last week was how seriously our clients would take the health considerations that come along with the pandemic. People do have a tendency to get fatigued and let their guard down as things like Covid-19 drags on. But I have to give all four of my clients of the past ten days high marks for good natured compliance with mask wearing, distancing and hand sanitizing. In retrospect I should have guessed that a huge radiology practice and a bio-tech company that's fully immersed in making testing equipment just for this kind of public health emergency would come with a heightened awareness and a mindfulness of the important protocols. 

While I know I would never attempt to photograph a sales convention or a wedding in the current time frame I am becoming much more comfortable getting back to work with medical practices, large corporations and also the folks at the theater. They are all taking prevention steps seriously. I am too.

In some ways the seriousness of the situation seems to have been good for more proven performers in the business. I think larger companies who still have cash in the coffers are understandably reticent to take chances on less established providers of photography and video production. Their way of thinking about it is that it's better to pay a bit more and get everything done right the first time than it is to save a few dollars but potentially need to do parts of jobs over again. One of my clients also remarked that a fast and sure working methodology means that everyone involved in an assignment has less overall exposure to each other and also that many parts of a project require less client supervision. That means more potential safety for everyone. 

In the part of last week's shoots that involved photographing product our client stayed out of the shooting studio until we had a product set up, lit correctly, polished and cleaned and a test shot up on the laptop screen. We'd call them in to see and approve the shot, or give us feedback. Once they approved, or improved our understanding of the concept, they exited our space and went back to work on something else (making them more efficient). With less experienced photographers there would need to be more interaction and supervision along with more exposure between client and photo crew. It's a pertinent and valuable selling point. 

Thanks for the suggestions on keeping masks fog free. I'm experimenting with some of the methods and will report back about which ones work for me.

Zach Theatre News: My marketing specialist and partner in video over at Zach Theatre had a successful hour and a half online meeting yesterday to iron out all of the tech details for the project we find ourselves totally immersed in right now. We're essentially producing creative modules for a part live/part pre-recorded online fundraising show that will happen on September 26th. 

We wanted to do a "detail" call without the rest of the team on the line to slow things down. We covered the basic storyboards he created for the three projects and we discussed the scheduling logistics involved. Some of the scenes include up to 30 people, dancing and singing as they move across a bridge and head toward the theater. We spent time trying to figure out how to keep chatty actors socially distanced, how to handle craft service, and most importantly how to film the sequences. How many cameras to use. How many medium shots versus tight CU shots. How to handle syncing the actors with the (pre-recorded) music. 

And even the minutia of which frame rate to use and which codec will work best for the large amount of editing that will need to be done in a short time frame. And who will start the city permit process and who is in charge of providing insurance for the public area shoots. 

While the theatre's creative team deals with casting, scheduling and rehearsing actors I've gotten hold of a preliminary B-roll list. Since the "big shot" of the 30+ actors on the bridge will take place on an early morning I'm trying to shoot all the B-roll to match the time of day. I've scheduled myself to do 30 or 40 quick shots all over Austin around the same time of day. It works out well. I can swim until the sun comes up, grab coffee and then get a handful of shots each day before breakfast. 

We settled on using the S1 cameras with the V-Log upgrades. A lot of our shots will be in full sun and I felt that working in V-Log would help us keep the highlights intact. We're testing now to make sure our editor is comfortable with a basic LUT and his ability to color grade the files. We're still going back and forth on whether to shoot 4K or 1080p. The 4K gives more flexibility and it sounds sexy to the marketing director but we're also looking at "day of" bandwidth requirements for uploading and streaming on Facebook and YouTube. Might just shoot the big, wide opening numbers in 4K and save the heavy lifting on the close ups...

I just finished up buying variable ND filters for all the different lens diameters. Those 82mm filters can get pricey... 

I hope we're able to raise a bunch of money with the online show. I'm happy to be shooting video. I'm even happier not to have to edit it. (But, in a pinch I'm a soft touch to take at least one part of their hands). 

Swim News: We're into week thirteen of socially distanced masters swimming and so far we've had no cases of Covid-19 emerge. We still get our temps taken each morning before hitting the water and we still wear our masks to the pool edge. The big new is that with the kids going (virtually- in our district) back to school we're able to change up and add to some of the practice times. 

We're ending the 6 a.m. workouts and shifting to 7 - 8 a.m. and a second workout from 8 a.m. - 9 a.m. And we're adding a noon hour workout Tuesday-Friday. This should ease up on the pool "traffic."

We got in 3,000 yards in our 55 minute slot today and everyone was in good spirits and seems to have returned to their pre-CVD-19 swim endurance and performance. I can hardly wait to lard in some noon swims just to ramp up my vitamin D intake/metabolism. 

Finally, I was just about to buy another pair of clear goggles since the 6 a.m. swim is mostly in darkness but the revelation that the swims are changing schedule means I can save that money and put it towards new lenses.... (that's a joke).

Errata: I have two Japanese Maple trees on the property and the bigger one has branches that are in sun for most of the day. It's been over 100° here for days and some of the leaves are getting sunburnt, shriveling up and dying. The tree isn't too tall; about 12 feet at its highest point, and most of the branches are fairly low --- especially the branches with the sunburnt leaves.

I've taken to setting up a couple of C-Stands and topping them with 50 inch diameter diffusion disks. I go out from time to time and adjust the diffusers based on the position of the sun (as it move around the earth -- at least that's what Fox News says...) and the tree seems to exude a sense of relief at my intervention. I also read up on Japanese Maples and discovered that they like damp, moist soil. Who doesn't? So I have sprinklers on them early in the day. Fingers cross that they make it through the hot spell. 

Lighting: Does anyone have experience with the new Godox VL150 and VL300 LED lights that came out recently? They've gotten great reviews from Curtis Judd and also from Gerald Undone (both on YouTube and both smart/ non-time-wasting reviewers) and I'm thinking of ordering a couple for higher output stuff -- like lighting up the stage at Zach for this project (usual lighting crew all furloughed). If you've them and either love em or hate em, please let me know. 

Another noon call today and them I'm free to roast in the heat. May even take yet another walk. They don't seem to last much past the day you take them.


I get all excited about buying new stuff. Then I take the old stuff out for a walk and wonder when it suddenly got so good...

My apologies. This post was supposed to be about me finding out just how good the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens is and how going out and using it on Sunday retarded my passion to run out and get the 40mm Art lens that everyone says is currently the best lens in the universe.... I also wrote a bunch of stuff about using the lens and the S1R body together. 

But then, when posting, I accidentally posted over the good copy with an older post that had....no copy. 

If I have time this afternoon I'll try to reconstruct. But for now, these were all taken with the 35mm f1.4 and I liked the results very much. Thanks! (the non-infallible) Kirk


Just out surfing in the Sunday (non) traffic. Latest count; city of Austin now has over 1 million residents.

We have no surf to speak of in Austin and we are hours from even the most placid beachfront but I admire those people I come across who just radiate optimism. Heading over to South Congress Ave. to surf?


OT: Virtual meetings suck. We might need to do business this way right now but the computer app-driven meetings uniformly suck. And the coffee is bad too...

Face of photographer getting ready for video conference,

There we are on a call with our client here in Austin, a couple of his co-workers linking in from NYC and a few more from Seattle. We're talking about an upcoming project that started life as a really simple series of still lifes and proceeds, even now, to grow in scope and complexity by leaps and bounds. 

It all starts innocently enough. You've had a phone meeting with an art buyer and you've gotten a shot list and sent along a successful bid. You've nailed down the shooting days on the calendar. You've done this a thousand times and you're going through your own check list to make sure you can deliver everything you said you would. Then you get the e-mail from your direct client asking/inviting/insisting that you need to be on a call with "a handful of people" just to make sure everyone is "on the same page..." but they never are.

You've mastered FaceTime, and Zoom, and a few other virtual meeting software applications but the client tosses you a new one that requires: 1. You download and install an app that demands, almost at gunpoint, that you agree to a Tolstoy-length T.O.S. You are compelled to give over control of your computer's microphone and camera. And they would very much like to use your GPS info to "locate" you. And the company that makes the app is sinister and almost universally disliked...

All that stuff gets tossed into your machine and then, about ten minutes before the "call?" you try out the link your person sent along. Oh Lordy! It goes to a 403 screen and shoves you into a downward spiral of asking you to....download and install the program-again and again. You do this a couple of times before you pick up an actual phone and verify the link. But you get voicemail so you punt to texting. And two minutes before the meeting goes live your person responds, apologizing for sending a damaged link and now providing one that looks nothing like the old one. 

Person number three in Seattle can't figure out how to get their microphone to work for a while but it's obvious that this disfunction is not obvious --- to them. Someone finally texts them and, after a minute or two of frenzied activity their audio gets fixed. When they finally come onto the call with full service interactivity you find that they are the modern equivalent of that art director you experienced a while back when shooting for an arduous annual report. There was a model in the A.R. who reflected the "lifestyle" of their product. At the planning meeting some time was spent discussing wardrobe and it was decided that the blue, broadcloth, button down shirt was the best option. But when the shoot got closer you got a request to have available, and to shoot, with a pink shirt, a blue shirt, a white shirt, a striped shirt and...."just for fun" a forest green, polo shirt.  When we multiplied the choices by the number of people in the shots we found that there could be 24,969 possible combinations. And I'm betting the art director would have doggedly tried them all; if not for the timely intervention of a wiser client!

I guess when meetings become virtual and all engagement comes from a screen it seems like a video game and encourages people to ask for the moon. 

The call continues and I try to keep track of everyone in tiny windows along the bottom of the screen. 

All the people involved in the call are in the marketing and advertising field and yet their screens represent the worst "production values" I have see yet on a multi-player call. One person is sitting with his back to a window effectively silhouetting him entirely. Another person seems to have achieved sharp focus on the bulletin board in the background of her office but is so out of focus that we're not sure where her eyes end and her nostrils start. Or whether she has hair or is wearing a sickly hued yellow bowl, turned upside down, on her head. And yet another person seems to be making his appearance via a 1992 laptop which is currently delivering about 192 pixels (total) of resolution. 

Even though we've all received the same briefing package, delivered as a .PDF days ago, we engage in the strange ritual of reading along through the entire document together. With that done the person who originally had audio issues begins the part of the call that every freelance image maker should dread. It starts with...."So, we need three different views of the new router and I see that we've included that on the brief but I'd like to show some of the accessories too. Could we do each angle with and without the charger, with and without the accessory antenna, with and without the packaging it comes in? Would that be okay? I mean, as long as we're there.... And then finally a group shot for each product showing the antenna, the power supply and the packaging altogether?"

Since we're going to be dropping the product out to white and compositing in new screens the bulk of the real work isn't necessarily the extra time spent photographing it's the extra time in post production, that the client doesn't see, that frightens me. But it's also the fact that all the permutations will effectively double the time we've estimated and should, at least, double the budget that's been approved so far. 

The art buyer and I talk them off the ledge and explain how much the budget will need to expand and wonder if she will approve it out of her budget. She relents. But she chews her gum more quickly...

By the end of most of these calls I'm confused, bored, frustrated and wracked with new anxiety. Half an hour later I'm ready to call my direct contact and surrender the field entirely. But instead I just demand a complete dictionary of his particular company's incessantly used acronyms and gird myself for the big event. 

And each time I hit the button to hang up, whether it's from a chatty social Zoom call with fellow swimmers or an hour long video slugfest with an ad agency, I end up swearing that I'll never participate in a "virtual meeting" again. Ever. 

And then I get the e-mail with the iCal icon that asks me/invites me to join in. Seems like one of those horrible new added steps in life. Reminds me of the early days of Power Point.... (shudders at the memory....).
face of photographer after eight way video conference.

If you've already retired from the workplace I'm sure you'll respond with how great Zoom calls are because now you can keep up with grand kids and old friends. And if that was the only use I'd praise it too. But like most things/inventions pressing them into the flow of business is just painful.

Another way to do meetings....which were already mostly a waste of time.


Biggest unexpected inconvenience of getting back to work. Comfort.

Ben before becoming a professional writer.

You know me. I never complain. And this last week I was pretty darn happy to be back at work. It wasn't about the paycheck, that was a very secondary consideration. No, I like being busy, I love the problem solving of making more complex photographs for corporations and professional practices, and having jobs gives me more sense of purpose than sitting home working on some hobby or crusade.

I was very happy to do a three day project for a very tech forward company and even happier to be able to include Ben. Working with your post college-aged kid on an assignment is fun and satisfying. He had the flex in his schedule and I needed someone I could count on as an assistant and a second set of eyes and hands.

I could not have been more pleased to be "back in the saddle" with the Panasonic cameras (which I am coming to believe represent the last of the truly professional cameras in the market --- the S1 system....). The cameras were absolutely suited to this sort of higher budget work since reliability, repeatability and overall quality are much more important priorities than how many frames per second one can shoot or how tenaciously the AF can lock on with a handheld camera and a fast moving subject. I might think differently if I was a sports photographer. But I'm not.

The ability to generate highly detailed files of products via the multi-shot, hi-res feature is valuable. To hand over perfect files that can weigh in at over 300 MB is remarkable. The other joy across three days was just how competent and beautiful the results from my collection of Panasonic and Sigma Art lenses really are. I know that many reviewers split hairs and try to quantify how many Zeiss engineers can dance on the head of a pin but I also know now that after you've hit a certain level a lot of the really good lenses on the market are within a percentage point of each other for actual performance. At any rate it's nice to work with comfortable tools that deliver professional/well balanced results.

We also enjoyed the good and happy collaboration of our client who made both Ben and I feel more like friends than vendors. Working in a largely empty space, along with truly professional partners is a joy unto itself. And when we're all of the same mind on a project the work just seems to flow.

So, after all this written Kumbaya what have I found to complain about? In short, it's the discomfort of working for long periods of time with a face mask.

Having been to college, studied hard in many science courses, and having a subscription to Medscape, I very much understand the absolute need for everyone in the USA to be wearing face masks in all public settings and especially indoors. I totally get it. When I go out I have a mask on my face and a back-up mask in my pocket. I won't work next to people who don't take the relatively easy protection protocol seriously. If you want to walk around with your nose sticking out of your mask I guess that's up to you but please don't stand anywhere near me!

My discomfort with masks that are used over the course of eight hours is nothing psychological and certainly nothing ideological. If I can master just one negative thing about wearing a mask I'll be in good shape for future jobs. Here's the deal:

If you wear glasses and wear almost any approved mask your glasses will invariably fog up when you work in air conditioned spaces. When your glasses fog up you can't see to inspect a product or look at the review results of a photographic exposure on your laptop screen! I developed a few workarounds to help make the work flow but none are optimal. I can only imagine that it will be even worse when working in freezing weather as well!!!

So, in an air conditioned studio, working on very precisely focused and highly detailed product shots, the EVF of the camera becomes a big and very important feature. If you can set your diopter to a useful correction and use the EVF well you can work that part of the process (accurately manually focusing your camera and lens) without glasses. I could and that was a big plus for me. All the critical focusing was done with my eye riveted to the EVF of the S1R. In this use case the 5.75 megapixel, super clean EVF was the most superior way of working I could find. I took off my glasses and magically, no fog. 

Could I have worked with a 2.74 or 3.68 megapixel finder instead? Sure, but if I can work with a better finder experience why wouldn't I?

If I looked at the computer screen with my regular glasses (bi-focals) I would invariably get fogged lenses because I was breathing but also I had my head tilted down to see the computer which caused any escaping breath to go straight up to the cooler surface of my glasses. I found I could do better by using a very small profile pair of reading glasses instead of my regular glasses. There was less surface area to capture my moisture laden breath and more ventilation around the lenses. I tossed the regular glasses in the gear case and spent the of the time looking through the EVF with no glasses and at the computer with cheap, small profile reading glasses. This was the best way for me to work.

There is a difference, as far as comfort goes, between various kinds of masks. The two highest rated that are not N95 masks are the standard, three ply surgical masks that come in various shades of blue. These are meant to be disposable, one use masks. You'll want to brush your teeth often unless you really want to come to grips with how grungy your breath can get by the end of the day if your oral hygiene is vague....

The second highest rated face masks are the three ply cloth masks that people are making but which are also available commercially. 

I started the first day with a black, three ply cloth mask because it fits so well and doesn't move around as much as the surgical masks when I speak. But the cloth masks muffle voices more, making it hard to give and receive direction. They also heat up more quickly and tend to get damp from the repeated deposits of condensation from your breathing. 

By the end of the day with the cloth mask I was pretty miserable. It was also a day of trial and error for glasses and visibility. The next day I switched to a surgical, disposable mask and it made a big difference in my ability to work efficiently. That, and the reading glasses reduced the discomfort level down into the readily manageable category. 

By the third day we had all this nailed down and we were humming right along. Masks came off only during socially distanced coffee breaks and the lunch meal. Fortunately those events took place in a large lobby area with very tall ceilings and were attended by only four people.

So, with the right mask, the right glasses and a stellar, state-of-the-art EVF I was able to work with nearly as much fluidity and efficiency as we have in the past. You get used to stuff. When you know it's important it's even easier to get used to.  Interesting to think about but I may have just written the first "review for photographers" about face masks and masking methods during interior, commercial photo shoots. 

At the end of the second and third days I tossed my used mask into the "bio-hazard" waste bin, washed my hands (again and again) and pulled out a second mask to use exiting the building and chatting in the parking lot. I see masks falling into the same category as paper towels. Use and toss. Add a bit to the invoice for replenishing and move on. 

If you don't want to wear a mask at work you probably aren't going to be invited to work at the same companies we're servicing and I certainly won't be hiring or working with you either. No matter what you think your "rights" are. Your rights legally, morally and ethically happen to end at the interface of public domain and private property. 

Don't let (flawed) ideology kill your business. Learn, adapt, profit. 



Actively thinking about the camera I would like to buy next from Panasonic: It would be amazing and would restore the camera world to its previous stature.

Well, it seems to be a favorite thing for photo writers to dream about when none of the new cameras match their very, very particular tastes exactly. They start conjecturing about the camera they know X company should make right now. How it would see zillions of sales if only it had...blah, blah, blah. 

I rarely write this kind of stuff but I ran into a used copy of one of my all time favorite travel cameras and that sent me down memory lane and right smack into this writing subterfuge --- of imagining my own "ultimate" camera. The camera I re-visited, but just in passing, was the Mamiya 6. I had several of them. Along with the three dedicated lenses. It was such a fine camera. Google it. Salivate.

So here goes: It came to me clear as a bell. Panasonic announced (in my dreams) that they had just finished putting the finishing touches on a new variant for the S1 system. This camera, like the GX8 in their micro four thirds family, is set up in a rangefinder style. A viewfinder in the top left corner as you hold the camera for work. The eyepiece is big and generous. The screen is one of the latest 8 megapixel resolution OLED variants. 

The camera is a full frame model and features a new tri-color sensor that allows one to use the sensor as a bayer filtered machine with 60 megapixels or a blended filter which triples up on the pixels to create points that have all three colors but at 20 megapixels. I'll want to use it mostly in the 20 megapixel range where the bigger, combined pixel sites give me a different, and to my mind, better overall look. A look that seems to have greater acutance but at the expense of the currently fashionable higher res of its native 60 megapixels. 

The benefit, beyond the rendering, is also color that's halfway between that of a Sigma Foveon sensor and a conventional but miraculous sensor like the one in the Sigma fp camera. 

The camera is not small, nor is it overly angular. There is the now mandatory 3.2 inch 4 megapixel rear screen and it's worth using because Panasonic, in this new camera venture has drastically reduced menu complexity and made using the rear screen easy and fun for just about any control. That being written, the camera maintains all the major controls as physical buttons or knobs on the camera body. These include: Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO and white balance. 

In order to make the intended use of this particular model clearer to purchasers it is the one camera in the Panasonic line-up  that doesn't include any video capabilities. The idea being that this camera is for decisive moment photography, street photography and travel photography. It's not an all-in-one visual content buffet. 

Taking out the video stuff allows Panasonic to simplify the menu to make the whole camera much more responsive and intuitive for hard core photography buffs. The other side of the marketing coin is that if you love this camera and you love the L-mount lenses, but you absolutely require video, you are more than welcome; in fact, encouraged, to supplement the new rangefinder style body with a shiny, new S1H for all your video needs. 

The camera has the same basic mechanics of the S1 series cameras when it come to things like shutter life, rugged build quality and built-in image stabilization. Since the DFD focusing works well for me, and is at least as fast as the rangefinder in a Mamiya 6, I'm happy that they decided to keep the family focusing mechanisms the same. 

I'm thinking about naming conventions and Panasonic and I think we all agreed at the meeting where I forgot to sign my NDA that we'd call it the S1X. That's: S One X. But it can always be misinterpreted as "six" in order to pay homage to the well regarded and sadly discontinued Mamiya 6 film camera.

The camera will have a two position battery slot which will allow users to use either the S1 series battery or the GH series batteries thereby doing a favor to owners of either previous system or system used in tandem with the new 6. (S1-X, oh, that works). 

Since the finder in the top left is an EVF and not an actual, optical rangefinder there is no compromise when it comes to previewing shots. Nor did Panasonic consider pulling a "Fuji" and adding in a vestigial rangefinder since it represents too much of a compromise when using any lens longer or shorter than a normal lens. 

At the time of launch Panasonic also presented (fully ready to go along with the camera launch, NOT vaporware!) Three new L-series lenses made for the new S variant. Of course the new lenses will also be usable on existing S1 cameras as well as on Leicas but these were made with an eye to reduce lens size and bulk specifically for the very serious photography user the camera was designed and built for. 

The first lens is a 30mm f3.5 which though small is an advanced formula based on a Leica M lens but with optical corrections made to ensure it works most effectively with the sensor stacks in the Lumix S cameras. Sharp and diffraction limited even wide open it will quickly become the defacto standard street shooters paradise lens. No one will ever even think to ask for a 35mm or 28mm or even a faster version since the lens will be that spectacular. If you need a faster lens then look to the Sigma Art Series or browse through the Leica SL catalogs. 

The second lens is the 60mm f2.8 which will also define the state of the art for sharpness and three D quality. "Stunning yet small." I think I saw that tagline at the product meeting last year... It's longer than the regular 50mm or 45mm but it gives a new choice to people who prefer the longer focal lengths over the shorter ones. If you fall into the "shorter is better" camp there is always the current Sigma 45mm, the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art lens and the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art lens. All of which are superb. But some of us want a small, sharp, discrete long normal and since this is my fantasy I conjecture that those optical engineers at the Panasonic headquarters took my quirky request seriously. 

The final new lens is, of course, the 90mm f3.5 which, like the other two will bring shivers of fear to the backs of Nikon, Canon and Sony. The lens will be such a stellar performer that all the competitors will abandon their races for fast, fat and plump lenses and reconsider owning lenses that are truly optimized for radically good performance. 

The S1-X camera will be big enough so that none of these three lenses are ever sticking below the bottom of the camera so they will never foul tripods or baseplates. 

The S1-X will be cast and machined from a block of very special aluminum alloy that is structurally rigid and impervious to corrosion of any type. The camera skeleton will act as a one giant heat sink and the camera will be the first of its kind rated to excellent performance at ambient temperatures of up to 115°. 

Of course it will be effectively weather sealed and, when used with one of the three new lenses, can even be immersed in water for up to 60 minutes. (Legal sez: No guarantees). 

The camera will only come in black and will use a highly scratch resistant paint as did the Fuji XH-1. 

Finally, the marketing folks decided that since the whole camera is crafted and assembled by hand from the finest materials that the cost to purchase would be commensurate with the quality. The purchase price is just a hair under $4,000 USD. Or, in a special kit with all three lenses for only $8,000. 

There are no other attachments or accessories to worry about. Just get the camera and a few batteries and get on with it. 

And that's my camera wish for the rest of the year. 

And with that, here are some samples of the kinds of work I'd do with the camera. All these were done with a wild range of cameras from Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Panasonic for Zach Theatre. But that's only because the S1-X did not yet exist. Once it comes out it will be the still camera of the decade....


Critical missteps in lens design? Or a plot to weaken the muscle strength of photographers?

Let's be Frank. Real photographers secretly enjoy buying their lenses by the pound. Or Kilo. A lighter lens represents surrender and infamy. Right?

It's so rare to see a lens introduction get so much press but it looks like the very recent introduction of an "improved" version of Sigma's almost perfect 85mm f1.4 Art lens from 2018 is setting the reviewer world on fire and revealing to me very clearly what the priorities of those weak and out of shape writers and V-loggers  really are. I'm not sure they care as much as they say they do about pure performance; it's beginning to look like all they care about is not being revealed as too weak and lazy to carry around a take no prisoners, super star lens. 

The big news about the new "DN" (mirrorless native) is not that it soundly and roundly outperforms our previous, big-boned (but brimming with personality) lens of the same speed and focal length but that it's shorter and weighs a pound less than the original. The trade off seems to be that the "new and improved" lens has much, much more pincushion distortion and also slightly weaker in performance on the edges and the corners than its endlessly lauded ancestor. Yes, the new one has even more elements, and those elements are even more sophisticated and complex, but one can't help but wonder if most of the complexity and preciousness of the new design is aimed at making it almost as good as the original....but in a smaller package. Downsizing engineering as opposed to the reckless pursuit of optical perfection.

I'm mostly kidding here and I've already pre-ordered one of the new ones. But I still wonder. The "science" of optical design can not have changed a tremendous amount in four or five years so you have to understand that the "new versus old" shift is largely a recalibration of compromises. Buy the new one and watch your left biceps atrophy. Buy the old one and suffer the dreaded effects of manual portage. Suffer the ruinous added weight of the original for the extra 1% of quality in the corners or choose the lightweight version and forever wonder how much optical magic they had to remove to get the lens corpulence under control.

I guess it's really a tempest in a teapot (as usual for web reviews!) since both lenses are demonstrably better than anything any of the major camera manufacturers can come up with in their own lens lines. 

I'll confess that I dislike the weight of the original lens. It's f-ing heavy. Especially if you plan to carry it around all day long. But having just used it almost promiscuously over the last three days I have to say that I'm in awe of its sheer capability to make photographs that make me and my clients go: "Wow."

I may or may not follow through on the actual purchase of my pre-ordered lens. I might wait to see if Panasonic's S1 system roadmap plays out according to plan. They have their version of an 85mm f1.8 coming along and that may just be the sweet one to buy for carrying around and hauling on and off airplanes (if we ever get to do that again). From my experiences with their other S-Pro lenses I'm fairly certain it will be good enough, optically, that we won't be able to see any differences from the results when we peek on our computer screens. The only question, given their monstrously huge 50mm f1.4 S Pro lens, will be whether they can build one that's smaller and lighter than the original Sigma 85mm Art...

If I do opt to pick up the new Panasonic lens I'll probably keep the original 85mm Art lens out of nostalgia and some nagging belief that it's still the best lens in that focal length in the world. And if I use it then some of its magical powers will convey into my own images and help to finally make me famous and loved by the multitudes... YKMV.

Reminds me of stories I read in old magazines about the re-design of the seven element Leica 50mm Summicron M series lens back in the 1960's. Leica reconstituted the lens and removed one of the elements. Leica aficionados, even as late as the early 2000's, were still locked in debate about the relative merits of each. The overwhelming majority felt that the original ( also available as a "dual range" Summicron) was magical and obviously superior. Might we feel the same way in this case, just a few years down the road? 


Olympus lens tops non-existent test chart for charm and vivaciousness. Lack of omni dimensional psychic stabilization and no ponderous bulk = "deal killer?"

So, I wrote earlier today about Belinda finding the Pen FT 25mm f4.0 lens this week and giving it to me for safe keeping. I threatened that I would subject you to more building photographs as soon as I had time to get downtown. And, now, here we are. We finished our final project a bit early and I had time in the mid-afternoon to rush out into the blazing southern heat and humidity because I knew that finding out how this lens performed might be critical to someone out there. 

I parked under a shade tree at Zach Theatre and braced myself for the fiery embrace of August. My omniscient car told me it was 100° outside and warned me not to leave the air conditioned cocoon but how can I test inexpensive, fifty year old lenses for my friends and assorted readers if I'm not willing to take the life threatening risk of walking in a heat wave? Right? Right?
Here is the zesty little lens mounted on the front of the finest 
street shooting camera ever produced, the Lumix 
GX8. Never better for a hot walk.

When I exited the car my feet momentarily stuck to the pavement because the Vibram soles were melting. I realized I needed to get off the heat soaked black top and onto the cinder trail as soon as possible or my shoes would surrender to the heat, melt into the asphalt and I'd be stuck there like a bug in a roach motel, trapped and waiting to die of heat exhaustion....

I set the camera to "A" and ISO 200 and, for white balance, the like sun icon. I turned on the focus peaking and metaphorically got to work. 

Both the focusing ring on the lens and the aperture ring are the best implementations of all metal, structural and haptic engineering ever attempted on a consumer camera product. The feel of the focusing ring is so perfect that when I compared it to a $10,000 Leica lens I found myself feeling sorry for anyone who has wasted their money chasing perfection on the wrong continent.

But the real test is in the look and technical perfection of the finished files and that's where the Olympus excels. I have a special piece of software that allows me to look at images at 2000%. In the seventh photo down, the one of the bridge, there is some foliage over to the left hand, bottom part of the frame. On one of the leaves there was something which, at 400% looked like a dark spot. When I zoomed into 2000% (the equivalent of plastering a print the full height of one of the high rise buildings in one of the frames below). and I had that level of magnification engaged I could clearly see that it was a gnat on the leaf. But not just any gnat. He (yes, I checked) had a tattoo on his back that read: "Gnats Rule." And he had a piece of pollen stuck to his third left leg...

Usually modern lenses tend to fall apart when you examine images from them at 200 or 400% but not the ancient Olympus 25. No sir. And if you think my tale of advanced and astounding resolution is riveting I hesitate to tell you about the nano-acuity and sub-micron level ultra-micro-contrast. I can't really show it off here but just take my word for it; it's amazing. 

And it's all the more amazing given that it's a very small lens. But exquisitely built. I checked on the list price at the time it was on the market as a new lens and factored in fifty years of inflation (including the loss of 9% buying power against the Yen in this year alone --- thank you politicians!) and I concluded that to make and sell a lens like this masterpiece now would run somewhere between 12,000 and 43,000 USD dollars.  My math may be a little dicey but it's almost certainly in that wide ball park.

Or about 200 Yen.

I also did a bit of testing on the lens's resistance to the elements. At one point I was in the heat for so long my sweat was dripping down my arm and onto my camera like torrent of water from a garden hose. The sweat cascaded off the lens like vodka off a duck's back. Both the lens and camera were unscathed by the experience, and once I rinsed them off with a bath of warm Coca-Cola (for nurturing effect) followed by a quick immersion in highly distilled water they seemed no worse for the wear (be sure to send me your favorite camera if you want me to test it as well!!!). 

Well, that's all I can say about this particular lens. We're ramping up security and will no longer keep all the cameras and lenses on the front seat of my car with the doors unlocked and the windows rolled down. No. When people find out about this lens and find out how scarce it is we'll need to lock it in the subterranean
vault, sandbag the studio windows and post armed guards on the roof. The lens is that much of a must have for any true collector's hoard. 

Now, as Ming would say, "Please enjoy this curated gallery. Because curation is all about curating. And having things curated. And writing the word, "curate." A lot. But I bet he doesn't have his mitts on the Pen FT 25mm f4.0 yet. So there. I guess I should also mention that I have a pristine copy of the 25mm f2.8 as well. But that lens isn't nearly as exciting. It's 99% perfect while the f4.0 rings the bell. No wonder people stopped designing new optics decades ago and started to concentrate on just making all lenses bigger, fatter, heavier and more expensive. Give the people what they want!

Click through to see the mesmerizing photos writ larger.