It's a cliché by now but I'm making a list of all the stuff I want for Christmas. Surprisingly, the list is fairly short. Perhaps I'm not being strategic enough.

 It should come as no surprise to anyone here but I do like my cameras and lenses. When December rolls around, and the consensus is that I've been better not worse, I like to think about acquiring just a few more things to tuck in around the corners of what I already have. 

The first thought is always that it would be an exciting holiday if I just did a full system change. That would keep me busy for a while but it's definitely not going to happen this year. I keep playing with the new "toys" my more advantaged photography peers buy and parade in front of me and, to be frank, with the exception of a Leica SL2 there's not much out in the market that piques my interest. The SL2 itself is only interesting to me because of what I think is a very beautiful implementation of industrial design coupled with a minimalist operating menu. That's the long and short of it. Because underneath I believe that the SL2 is really a re-bodied Panasonic S1R. Sure, the colors and tones are tweaked with Germanic special sauce but after playing with raw files from an SL2 I'm pretty sure, if I spend hard time in PhotoShop, I can make some profiles that will get the differences in looks between the two cameras pretty close.

Then there are the stand alone cameras, like the Sigma fp and the Fuji X-100 V. The X-100 V is tempting. And after reading through a torrent of comments in response to Michael Johnston's article about the monochrome Leicas I went so far as to reserve the last new Fuji X-100 V (in black) at Precision Camera. I thought it might be interesting to work with the monochrome profiles represented in that camera's menu. I stopped myself when I remembered my low level distaste for the 35mm equivalent focal length. I quickly texted my guy and cancelled the hold on that one. Much to his relief as he had someone standing right in front of him ready to buy it. The Fuji camera was the group collated choice for "poor man's Leica Monochrome" in the comments at MJ's blog.

Paul (photographer and friend) texted me this morning to tell me that Precision Camera had just taken in trade a minty Leica S2 (007) and what is reported to be a fantastic Leica S zoom lens; the 30-90mm. I could have the pair for the paltry sum of only $12,000. I knew better than to consider dropping $12K on a camera and lens from a company that is legendary for taking its time to repair their ailing medium format cameras and I also realized that without access to a functional warranty that camera might just break me financially. And, of course, I'd want to supplement that zoom lens with some faster and longer optics; all at breathtakingly high prices. Pass. 

But that put me in the mindset of getting something medium format-ish. Being cheap and frugal I started researching the Fuji MF line and nearly settled on the 50R and a 110mm f2.0 lens to go with it. About half the price of the Leica stuff and with a much more Kirk like lens. I thought about this combination while I took a brief nap on the couch in the living room. And, by the way, the light coming through the doors in the dining room and reflecting off the Saltillo tile floor onto the high ceiling in the living room was just gorgeous today.

When I regained consciousness, surprisingly, the Fuji medium format lust had passed. Too many systems and too many rabbit holes to burrow down. While those pixie format MF cameras might seem "medium format" to most digital camera users I would always know that it could never compare to a "real" 2.25 inch by 2.25 inch negative or sensor. Just not the same thing. Plus, I'd done a few comparisons with files from the 50R and the S1R I own and found very, very little advantage to make grasping for mild sensor size upgrades even a thing.

I looked around the studio and thought about lighting. Hard to argue that one can ever have too much lighting gear. Hard but not impossible. That's why I've given away five or six big flashes and four or five smaller flashes this year. I also keep throwing out tattered light modifiers and crippled light stands. No, I'll have to look elsewhere for a satisfying addition to the pile this season. It's not going to be in the lighting field. Not unless someone invents something so exciting and new that we all have to have one.

And believe me, it won't be a flash.

In short I've looked and thought about the rich assortment of stuff in the market place and I've come up with only two things that I really think I want this year. Happily neither is pricy or prestigious. In fact, they are both kind of anti-prestigious in the current age of photography. 

Both are lenses. Both are from Sigma. And both are infinitely interesting to me. In this moment.

I've already mentioned the Sigma Contemporary 65mm f2.0 lens. I like the focal length very much and would love a lens that's engineered more to be good than to be fast. I don't mind carrying the fat Lumix S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 around with me for work, or hoisting the ample 70-200mm around just to get close to that focal length but for my own jovial and relaxed personal work I think it would be really nice to have a lens that's slightly portrait-ish, smaller and lighter, while also highly corrected and ready to replace any number of 50 and 55mm lenses. So, that's my first choice and it's already on order. I hope I get one from the first delivered batch.

I know most of you would rush to get the matching 35mm f2.0 Sigma lens but I can hold off on that. It's so close to the 45mm and in a contest for my admiration the 45mm would always win. No, the other lens I want from the newly announced Sigma i line would be that delightful 24mm f3.5. It seems just right. No heroic measures taken to make it super fast! I'm happily surprised to see a wide lens like this enter the market with such a slow aperture became I interpret that to mean that Sigma compromised on f-stop and not on image quality. It's reasonably small and three or four copies of this would tilt the scales about as much as the one copy of my Sigma Art series 20mm lens (which I always find to be just a touch too wide for me...).

There are two configurations I imagine for the new batch of lenses. For work, where appropriate, I could arrive with an S1R body along with the 24mm, the 45mm, and the 85mm f1.4 (a recent purchase) and be ready for the kind of projects I really enjoy. The second configuration would be my "artistic" travel system which would include a solitary Sigma fp camera, the 24mm f3.5 and the 65mm f2.0. Those and a little plastic bag filled with additional camera batteries. 

All small enough to fit in a very small shoulder bag and all competent enough to make me look like a better photographer than I may be. 

I thought about buying a sports car instead and I drove two of the ones that interested me from Subaru. One was the WRX and the other a BRZ. But as I was test driving each in turn I kept imagining how frustrating it would be to actually own an exciting performance car in a city with one of the worst cases of traffic congestion in the country. A heavy clutch and a responsive six speed manual transmission might be a joy on winding country roads but in stop and go traffic, with the required cup of coffee in one hand, it's a recipe for nightmarish scenarios and disappointment. And, sadly, as a very practical person every time I exited the sports car/driving experience and re-entered my pedestrian Subaru Forester I found my comfort and joy level rise. I think I found the appropriately sorted vehicle for me already.

Truth be told I feel unsettled buying anything for myself this year. We've been fortunate in this economic down period and pandemic but I watch the (real) news and see so many suffering and I can only imagine how desperate things will get for people when the rent moratorium ends and the last of the money runs out. 

Something tells me it would be karmically a bit wiser to save some dry powder and be ready to help out. At least locally. There are bound to be people I know in the arts who will need a helping hand. Not sure how I'll feel trotting out new gear knowing a friend or acquaintance is grappling with profound need. 

Maybe I'll just get that set of replacement inks for the printer and call it a day. Hmmm. Somehow that seems better than yet another lens. 

I know almost all of you would love to donate to me this year. That's why I've established here on the blog a Patreon account, created numerous affiliate links to online retailers, started to accept PayPal and Venmo donations and am begging for you to send me hard cash so I can pay for and write about more photography gear. 

Oh....wait....none of that is true. I don't need any donations. But if you feel overwhelmed by your own good luck and wonderful personal situation perhaps I could suggest a donation to your local food bank instead. The people who benefit will likely never know you did it but I don't think that's really the point. 

Me, I'll suffer along with the meager gear I've managed to accrue so far. Hope you have a happy holiday season and I hope you take a moment in these rough times to make the holidays a little happier for someone less well off. 

End of soapbox.

Sorry, that's it for the "must have holiday gear listings."

Interesting results with black and white files from the Sigma fp; along with some dynamic range enhancement by the Sigma's "fill light" setting in the shooting menu.

We're heading into the holidays. Is it any wonder people's thoughts are rushing to black and white photography? 

A bowl in the sink. A weird little camera.

The Sigma fp is a weird, little camera. Like a chameleon it sometimes presents itself to me as a formidable video camera, festooned with all the regalia of motion picture production. Sometimes it wears a "cage" and has an SSD and an external monitor mounted on it. At times it also sports a shotgun microphone to capture scratch audio. When in its guise as a production video camera it also hauls around an LCD finder that's as big as the camera.

But there are those days, especially after I've had a hard and introspective look at old work resting patiently in the form of flat, black and white prints, I feel compelled to strip the little bugger down to its very minimal essentials and take it out for a regular guy shoot. 

My first foray with "naked fp" was on Sunday evening when I dropped by Zach Theatre to see how the outside concert series was coming along. The cast of five, on a very narrow stage (front to back = 10 feet),  was doing a dress rehearsal and I wanted to see how they would handle the new stage, holiday program and new space. I also thought it would a good, low stress, low expectation moment in which to try out the Sigma fp on a newly acquired, Zhiyun Weebill S gimbal. Maybe it would give me a chance to check out a little moving video footage.

The Sigma fp with the 45mm f2.8 lens is the lightest combination I've tried on a full sized gimbal yet. It's far smaller and lighter than the GH5 or G9 which are my "go to" cameras for gimbal work. And the fp has a secret weapon for night time gimbal work; it's outrageously noise free at most ISOs. Certainly noiseless when shooting video at 3200 or even 6400 ISO.

While it was obvious from my experiences that evening that I need more practice with the new gimbal it was also obvious that the Sigma, by dint of its compact form and lower weight, gave the gimbal (and my left arm) a running start. All imperfections of production were on me. The lighter weight of the camera package made that gimbal sing. I was just a less perfect accomplice. 

When I filmed that evening I worked in a different way than I had with video in the past. I set the camera to ISO 4000, used the 180° shutter angle (1/60 @ 30 fps), set the camera to the All-I, 4K mode and then resisted the usual compulsion to shoot with the lens near wide open and instead tried shooting at f11. WTF?

Why? Well, the Sigma fp might as well not have included C-AF on its menu because in low light, on a moving gimbal, with moving subjects, the C-AF is worse than worthless. It's counterproductive. I figured my best shot at video greatness, in the moment, was to work with the idea of hyperfocal lengths. With the focus set around 15 feet and the aperture at f11 I calculated that I probably had enough depth of field to render subjects between 10 and 25 felt with acceptable-to-great sharpness. And, damned if it didn't work perfectly. The combination of hyperfocal distance focusing and Promethean ISO performance was awesome. All I needed to worry about from that point on was piloting the still alien in my hands gimbal.

When I looked at the footage the next morning I was amused to see that it was at least as good (and maybe better) at 8 bit, 4:2:0 than some footage I've recently shot in other cameras at 10 bit, 4:2:2. Which, considering its competitors, speaks highly about the sensor and color science in the fp.

And all that pre-loaded thinking pushed me to want to further explore this camera again as a photography tool. 

I took the little brick beast out for a walk yesterday, all through the city. The only accessory being a neck strap. No rear loupe, no cage, no stuff. Rather than my usual f2.8-f4.0 fixation I played around with f8 and f11 as my preferred apertures and felt freed from the constraints of having to produce images with limited depth of field. And in the process discovered that the lens, at f8 and f11 was magnificent; though probably no better than many, many other lenses when stopped down so far.

The sun was bright so the rear panel was difficult to see in certain situations. In any use where the screen was not in direct sun it was fine but it did remind me how habituated I have become to eye level finders. Maybe the phones will somewhat cure me of that over time.

One control on the camera that I played with a lot was "fill light." It's got five steps up and five steps down of adjustment rationed in thirds of a step. When you set it the camera takes two exposures and processes them together to give you a fixed amount of increased or decreased "fill" light. Since there is processing involved it's a feature only available in single frame shooting; no bursts. And it takes a few seconds to finish processing before you can see the result. But it really does work. This tames wildly dynamic scenes as surely as the shadow slider in Lightroom. 

I included the scooter shots above so you could see the results of a 1.66 x increase in fill light when shooting against the sun. It almost looks as though I shot with fill flash but it is just the "fill light" control. I'll be experimenting with that a lot.

An interesting point, at least about my reaction to shooting with the camera, is that I don't feel compelled to shoot multiple frames of the same subject with it. I seem to take a bit more time in composing but once I really look at my proposed composition and exposure on the finder I feel comfortable taking one frame and moving on. 

The camera has some faults. The C-AF is slow and ponderous. The rear screen is overwhelmed by direct sunlight (but what isn't?). The battery lasts about as long as warm mayonnaise at a picnic in the Texas Summer. And I wish the non-raw video files could offer more bit depth and more color information. But it's a camera that is sincere and honest. It's a wonderful way to drive out the demons of over-featurization and get back to fundamentals of still shooting. With L-mount lenses it's a breeze to shoot in manual since one touch of the focusing ring brings up a central window with a magnified view of the frame. 

What I like most about the Sigma fp is the feeling of solidity and quality. The camera feels indestructible and  darn near bulletproof. It's a disaster of a camera for people that need to operate quickly. It's an unexpected pleasure for people who work, as I do, slowly and methodically. It's a bad "sneaky" street camera. But it's got loads of nice, non-threatening character for those of us who are comfortable approaching and engaging with our subjects. 

Blogger note: I go in tomorrow at 11:00 am to have the sutures (stitches?) removed from my left cheek. I have followed every step of the surgeon's orders. I've not exercised (almost killed me with pent up energy and ensuing boredom). I've cleaned, treated and bandaged the site on the proscribed schedules. I've done a course of oral antibiotics. I've even customized my own bandages for this ordeal.

The incision was about one and 1/8th inch long, running vertically. It's hard to tell with the stitches still there but I think the skin is recovering nicely and there's no redness or discomfort. 

In fact, the lack of pain or bleeding/gore has been a high point in this little medical adventure. I anticipated becoming good friends with Mr. Extra Strength Tylenol (much to the anticipated chagrin of my liver....) but the lack of pain made it superfluous. 

I've already put a Saturday and Sunday swim back on the schedule, predicated on the anticipated approval of my "medical team." I hope this comes to fruition. 

One more note about cameras in general: There seems to be much discussion about needing a dedicated monochrome camera on MJ's site: TheOnlinePhotographer. I'm always curious about stuff like this and I get Michael's point that it's nicer on the brain if the camera works in a way that's in thrall to our desired outcome. I, for one, can't stand having to pre-determine cropping when working with a camera that doesn't feature the ability to change aspect ratios. 

While I'd like to have a monochrome camera I'm not sure how the maker would handle so many different understandings of what the curves and feel of a black and white file should look like. How is my soft, Ektalure G rendering of Belinda going to be interpreted versus the chalk and soot of a Ralph Gibson vision? And will the makers provide the tools to affect a specific vision of what monochrome is to me?

Interesting questions. I'm certainly not the least bit interested in dropping kilo dollars on a Leica Monochrome of any variety. But I might be interested in the black and white profiles in a Fuji camera or I might just need to fine tune my understanding of the Sigma fp's mono setting.

What is the general consensus of black and white fans here? Drop me a comment if you have time between napping and secret missions.