9.18.2021

A New Fashion Brand Launches at the Austin City Limits Theater. Much hoopla in front of a temporary graphic. Fun.



 

Hey! Somebody in Austin. Give this guy a break.

Mr. Raymond Sundvall, Artist. 

I was walking around yesterday and I took a left on Congress Ave. and started walking toward the Capitol building. I was about to cross the intersection at 4th St. when I saw this guy (above and just below) walking around with this sign over his shoulder. No way I wasn't going to stop and chat. He's finished with art school in California and moved to Austin to work in the advertising/graphic arts field. He admitted that the reason he's out with the sign is that he has no real contacts in the Austin market and has had little luck getting traction. 

I quizzed him about his capabilities and he seems solid. Also has experience with video editing. I always like an underdog so I thought I'd put his (short) story here and give shout out to my Austin folks and have them at least consider giving him a shout and seeing if he's got some skills they can use. I know some of the agencies I deal with are a bit short staffed and having trouble finding freelancers for various tasks. 

If you want to see more you can check out his Instagram he's at @RAMENPABLO. 

It was a novel approach to job hunting but I didn't have the heart to tell him that no one is in the downtown offices right now; they're mostly working from home. But he's taking some initiative and that counts for something. 


Everyone in the arts has to start somewhere. Right?














 

Why Photography is a poor spectator sport. Why watching street photography videos is a waste of time. How can you tell if a lens is a good match for you? Goodbye to loyal shoes.

Man. A day goes by and one of my favorite bloggers doesn't refresh his site with some new work and I get frustrated and unsettled. Someone makes a video review of a new camera and it suddenly dawns on me that the work I'm watching the reviewer make sucks and doesn't tell me anything about the camera. I click on a video from a landscape photographer and instead of getting an explanation of why he points his camera at certain scenes and not others I get a long video segment of the photographer boiling water with a small camp stove to make tea inside a cramped van. Which does absolutely nothing to elevate my understanding of either the craft or the aesthetic of photography. I watch a camera review and the speaker spends a lot of time talking about his latest breakup with his significant other, and then how they just got an endorsement from a company that makes running shoes but all they can tell me about the camera is that it's: "lightning fast to focus on my (largely stationary) dog. Whose name is Otto-Focus." 

As a group we seem destined to spend way too much time figuring out what kind of gear other guys photograph with and then very, very little time coming to grips with whether or not we actually like the work they make with that gear. Most of the YouTube photography channels with better production values (not just a talking head in the basement....) are done by landscape photographers but the way they use their cameras and the lenses they choose has very little relevance to the work I like to do. What compels me to watch them talk about yet another carbon fiber tripod that they've taken out into the field? I hardly care about whether or not the tripod is tall enough to work well for a six foot, two inch tall photographer. I'm five foot, eight inches tall. If I want to watch a relevant review about tripods I guess I need to find a photographer who is as right-sized as me. Or someone who photographs exactly the same stuff I do...

And even when we come to videos about actually making photographs I'm not sure, beyond pure entertainment, what value we derive from watching a young female photographer coax a young female model wannabe to lie half naked and half submerged in a pool, trying to make a another titillating visual reference to Hamlet's Ophelia. I'm afraid the synergy required between model and young, hip, same gender photographer is not within reach for pot-bellied, middle-aged camera warriors of the wrong gender...

To be quite honest I find most photography downright boring. Even the big names wear quickly on the eye. Strip away the big name and the presumption that anything by a Magnum photographer is worthy and the skeleton of the work; the actual work, is mostly a boring rehash of everything you've seen before. There are a few hundred images that stand out but they are pretty much universally appreciated so we've already seen them a thousand times. And the poorer imitations millions of times.

I am mostly bored by gimmick photograph as well. I have a friend who is obsessed with making vast panoramas by shooting with highly technical camera movement rigs and super high-res cameras that can shoot hundreds of separate frames, each at X degrees apart, which are them carefully married together in the computer to create images with gigabytes of visual information but, of course, they are almost always of banal, immobile objects or scenes which don't move. And they don't move me. Why should I care how many trillions of pixels the final file contains if I will only ever see the image writ small on a computer screen? What's the point beyond proving that one has the infinite patience to make an image composed of hundreds of frames that's a tiny percent better than what could have been done nearly as well in one frame, or a couple of frames?

There are photographic works that stop me cold, rivet me in place and make me longing to have been the artist who shot them. A show of Arnold Newman's work, seen a couple of years ago, had that power. While a more recent show of Alec Soth's work had me, for half an hour or so, considering selling off every stitch of photo gear and trying something else. His work has sucked the life out of photography for me in the moment. Never, in my mind, redeemed by even the most sincere and amazing written manifesto, and no matter how many curators publicly insist that they "like" his work. It's Photo Secessionist work of this century and will probably have the same staying power as all but the best of that ancient genre. 

I have an acquaintance who spent much time and treasure to photograph Texas Cowboys with a giant view camera using tintype technology. I would never tell him this directly but the images look no better than countless sepia toned, dress up photographs, the likes of which were often offered at state fairs. You know the kind. People get to don on western wear costumes and six shooters and and cowboy hats and have their images made on (mostly) a cheap digital camera hooked up to a fast printer. The operator snaps the images, tones them sepia in Photoshop and then prints out a dye sub or ink jet print and minutes later the customer leaves with his "old-timey" photo in a period inspired, cardboard folder. Someone should have done an intervention for my acquaintance because I am certain, given the subject matter, he could have done much better work with a 35mm style camera and some current print processes. But thousands march through his site and leave specious comments because the process "looks different." "Nice Capture!"

Somehow, in our useless search for the secrets of photography, which we are certain someone else has figured out, we've acculturated ourselves to a passive search for this supposed cache of knowledge which we suppose will make our own work more "meaningful" and technically correct. Instead of going out onto the street, out into the mountains, down the highway to an event, further down the highway to look for aliens in Roswell, we've learned to settle in and be transfixed by this faux "quest for knowledge." But what we're really doing is turning photography into some kind of sad spectator sport. With only couch participation.

Were we as smart and rational/logical as all my commenters always profess to be (especially compared to me...)  we would buy the one camera and small set of lenses we KNOW would be best to help us make the kinds of photographs we love (but which almost everyone else will find mundane) and we would turn off the feeds and the blogs, and even the magazines, and we'd go out in our free time and make photographs that don't even have to be good. As long as the process is satisfying. It doesn't even have to be fun; just satisfying. 

You can laugh at me or shake your head when you have found out that I've bought a new camera or lens. But I can guarantee you it's rarely the results of months of listening to chattering nabobs on the web and has more to do with my own curiosity. But even though you may make jokes about me changing camera systems more often than I change underwear you may have noticed that I work with the cameras in my hands for hours and hour every day. Not almost every day. Every day. 

And mostly I don't care if anyone likes the bulk of the work I produce. I do photography to give me an excuse to walk around and look at the world. To look at gestures. To look at how the sky changes when a big thunderstorm rolls in or when twilight turns to gray. I look at what people wear and how they stand in relation to each other when they stop to talk. I watch how people drink their coffee alone in the outside chairs of a coffee shop, re-reading the same page in a book over and over again and hoping that someone will notice them and engage in some human conversation. Sometimes I make photos of these things but sometimes I just walk through and notice them. Maybe years from now the things I see now will make up the descriptive texture of a novel or just a poem. Maybe I'll use visual references I learn from walking and looking when I construct the next lifestyle photograph for a client. Or maybe I'll just make a visual record I can show myself a long time from now to jar my memory about the way we used to live. What our lives looked like away from celebrities and disasters.

But for whatever reason I am strongly resistant of letting photography become just a spectator sport for me and I encourage you to at least think about prioritizing your active involvement in this satisfying craft over becoming a passive audience for legions of online people who know little more (and probably a lot less!) about photography than you do. Just because a person can walk down the street with a new Leica rangefinder or a Canon something in their hands while a friend videotapes them you can be certain that the whole construction has very little to do with the actual craft of making pictures. Making pictures only requires picking up a camera and going out for a walk. Better yet, a walk with no firm agenda. Just a soft intention of coming home satisfied with the way you spent your time with your own camera. Becoming more and more aware of your point of view. 

Goodbye shoes: I hate to say "goodbye" to a loyal pair of shoes. Since I walk three to five miles a day, in all kinds of weather, I learn which shoes I like and which are burdensome pretty quickly. About ten years ago I took a chance and ordered two pairs of Croc's Swiftwater, leatherFisherman Sandals. They were immediately comfortable and even more comfortable after I broke them in a bit. They've been a constant companion on my walks whenever the weather permits. I have other shoes for cold, wet weather but this being Texas the Crocs got more than their share of pavement time. One pair wore through about four years ago and I switched to the pair illustrated above (same model). I realized one day at the pool that these were also "aging out" when I slid around on some wet tiles. When, like a practiced ninja, I regained my balance and looked at the soles of the sandals I saw that all of the tread was worn off leaving slick, smooth surfaces. Fine for walking dusty trails but not very optimal for slick pavement on warm, rainy days. Or splash soaked pool decks.

I searched for replacements and even tried a pair of Keen sandals that were of a similar style ( closed toe ) but over twice the price. The Keens are okay and I'm still trying to like them more but another couple of slips on the way to the curb, in the old Crocs, when taking out the trash convinced me that I needed to go back to the original source of happiness and get my preferred choice of footwear. 

After a few failed attempts I found the same model of sandal on Amazon. While the price had gone up (but not severely) the style and build remained identical. I chalk it up to a company smart enough to get a design right the first time and even smarter in that they left them alone and just kept selling them unchanged for over a decade. 

The Crocs were scheduled to arrive next Tuesday (today is Saturday) but on Thursday I got a note from Amazon that the package would be arriving a few days early. It would now be here in Saturday. Imagine my surprise when I got an update on my phone yesterday ( Friday ) telling me that my package had just been delivered to my front door. When I got off the road and walked through the front door I grabbed my box, popped it open, shucked off the old pair and tried on the new pair. Perfect. Just exactly what I wanted. I'll walk in them this afternoon. I can hardly wait. 

Here's a tip from a long term walker: bring along two bandaids on the maiden walks. Sometimes, with brand new shoes, some things rub until the shoes are broken in. Nothing takes the satisfaction out of a walk quicker than a spot on your foot rubbed raw just at the furthest point in your ramble. 

But what about those darn lenses: I think we're all guilty of judging lenses on how well they perform when we look at the results on a monitor, and I think that's valid but I would suggest that, over time, we're more impacted by how good a lens feels when it becomes part of a system. Meaning how good it feels when it's attached to your favorite camera and they become one unit. I thought about this a lot in the last week. Currently, I find that my favorite camera is my most beat-up, worn, Leica SL. It's a great casual camera because it works perfectly but it has some scrapes and wear marks that make it a camera I worry less about accidentally abusing than the newer, and almost pristine version, or (higher stakes) my brand new SL2. In comparison with the SL2 I think the SL menu interface is regally fabulous. 

But the real question, when I'm headed out the door to become an active participant in photography is always which lens to use. If I'm photographing or videotaping for a client or for one of my own more defined projects I know which lenses I will need to use to do the work well, but if walking and looking around at life is as important as taking random photographs I know I want to settle down to one lens and then I hope it will cover the different scenes I'll come across. If it doesn't it's okay with me to let the camera hang back on the strap and walk on past what might have been the shot. 

Usually, on the non-lazy days ( which are getting fewer and fewer ) I want to take a standard zoom lens. On lazier days one of those Sigma 45mm lens is just fine. But when it comes to the zoom lenses I have two choices that I usually narrow down to. One is the big Leica 24-90 and the other is the fast Sigma 24-70. Sure, the Leica is heavier but not by much when you consider the whole package. But what is it that makes me decide one way or the other?  (more below)

There seem to be more than a few "branches" to this decision tree. Since both are weather resistant that's rarely an issue. There are some rowdy and crowded events at which it just makes sense to leave the most expensive and valuable lens at home and to take the alternative zoom. For Halloween Night on the already rowdy Sixth St. the Sigma would take precedence over the Leica. Most of what I'd be shooting falls into the focal range of both lenses and at five times the cost I'm not sure that in "off the cuff" shooting the difference (if any) in quality versus the money sunk into the luxe lens makes taking it worth the risk. 

On the other hand, if I'm going to an event (not during Covid, level 5) where there are lots of glamorous and civilized people I'm quick to take the Leica lens for the extra reach it gives me. The same with careful and considered landscape or ex-urban shooting. It's nice to be able to go to 90mm for isolation and compositional consideration. 

Whether or not a lens is a good match for you, personally, depends on a number of things. Are you the kind of person who writes to me and tells me that, for you, wide angle starts at 16mm and goes to 12? Or, are you the kind of person who wants and needs to get closer and more intimate with your subjects? The basics of focal length choices are probably first of any number of concentric circles of rapport with your lens. The next thing for me is just how good the lens feels when I hold it in my hands (attached to my camera) and how solid the operation of the unit is. Does it feel balanced? Is the manual focusing ring well balanced and easy to use when the image in the finder is magnified? If the lens has an external aperture ring does that ring fall naturally to the location at which your hand expects to find it? Does the ring turn smoothly and yet have enough resistance not to wallow around and change your settings without your knowledge? Is the girth of the lens uncomfortable for your hands? A lens has to be comfortable to handle to make you want to take it out into the field over and over again. The overall feel of a great lens should seduce you.

You might suppose that you desperately want the absolute best and fastest lens in whichever focal range you've decided fits your vision. But what if that makes the lens a monster with a huge 82mm filter size and a diameter that only a professional basketball player could get his hands around? You might find that going by specs or performance alone delivers to you a camera/lens combination that is just uncomfortable; even if it does deliver excellent bragging rights. Handling a lens for a while will let you know if big is too big. If heavy is too heavy. And if you really need to shoot everything at f2.8 all the time. 

In comparing lenses I've found that some people who thought they wanted the Sigma Art 24-70mm zoom lens were surprised to find that the newer, 28-70mm f2.8, which is lighter and smaller, was more comfortable to work with in spite of having to "sacrifice" 4mm of reach on the long end. Some are happier with Panasonic's constant aperture f4.0, 24-105mm lens because they get more range and less weight; even though they have to give up a full stop of light gathering performance. 

It's all so personal. I've really warmed up to the Sigma 24-70 Art lens over the Leica lens when it comes to enjoyable and random street and social photography. It's a good companion when I'm out for a "no intentions" walk. But the confidence and extra reach of the Leica make it a better choice for me when I'm doing serious work. Just like swimming a sprint you learn not to leave any performance in the camera bag when big money or emotionally valuable projects are at stake. 

If the camera and lens choice is very secondary to the walk or activity on the schedule it's easier to make choices. If the camera and lens is an afterthought I'm more prone to go with a much slower zoom or one with a more limited focal length range; or both. Recent choices had been the older, adapted Leica 28-70mm f3.5-4.5 or an older Contax 35-70mm f3.3. Both those are gone now and I lean more on the combination of the Lumix S5 camera and the small but sharp (and slow) Lumix 20-60mm. (more below)

But the important thing about lenses is to either become comfortable in their use or to get rid of them at the point in time where you realize that they don't make you comfortable, happy or as productive as you want to be. We tend to think about the sunk cost over the advantage of pleasant and productive use. To torture oneself because "you've already paid for it" is a false economy if it keeps you from being satisfied with your craft and your leisure time in the pursuit of a fun hobby. So, size, weight, use parameters, intelligent interface design, good hand feel, how well it integrates into the camera package, and finally, does it give you the results you crave?  (more below)

You'll notice that all of the top priorities in the real world, not in the "researching new lenses world",  have to do with how you'll ending up carrying, handling and actually physically photographing with your lens and that things like sharpness, contrast, the number of glass elements, and the focusing speed are, for most of us, quite secondary when deciding if a lens is a good match for us. Nearly every current lens is within a whisker of every other similar lens when the optical performance is evaluated in the real world. All those tech specs are meaningless if a fat lens means it's so close to your camera handgrip that your fingers are contorted every time you bring the camera up to your eye. A lens that's too heavy for you and your use is less valuable than a slower (but equally sharp) lens that weighs much less, and has less bulk. And costs less.

I learned back when I was shooting with Canon DSLR cameras that their lowly, non-stabilized, 70-200mm f4.0 L lens was at least as sharp at every available aperture as the faster, f2.8 version. Since almost all of my use of the longer lens was in good light or outside in great light the advantage of f2.8 over f4.0 was completely erased (from a performance perspective) but the weight and size of the f4.0 lens made it much more valuable to me. Nikon currently makes two 24-70mm lenses for the Z series. One is a very expensive and very big f2.8 lens while the other choice is a small and light f4.0. According to everyone I know who have shot both the f4.0 is the better lens in almost every regard. It's also half the price and weight. Perfect for most of the uses a lens like this will be put to. And good stuff to think about when "online research" seems to have you by the throat.  (more below). 


These images are all from a two hour walk yesterday. The Sigma and Leica were set up for my continued training in "back button" focusing. I shot in .DNG and also Large Jpeg because I thought I wanted to see everything in black and white, but I was wrong. The world was alive with color yesterday. I just had to go out and see it for myself.



But I did keep one in black and white because it seemed so mysterious to me in that guise. 

If the Leica lens is sharper than the Sigma you'd have a hard time telling so by just looking at handheld photos. I guess you'll see it at those times when your technique switches from 
casual to serious. When a tripod is involved. But really, at f5.6?
Between really good lenses? Probably a wash. 


A second angle. An hour later.



 

9.17.2021

OT: Alive and well. Celebrating with a walk.


Today was the final day of my yearly physical. I'm in great shape. No markers for anything. Lipid panel looked excellent. Even my hearing still works. Nothing hurts anywhere. Celebrated with a three mile photo walk in the afternoon. Spent most of the time doing curls with a Leica SL and the Sigma 24-70mm Art lens. Keeping that muscle mass intact. Need better muscle tone? Buy heavier cameras. And lenses.

Spending time doing sports instead of watching them really pays off. Pass it on. And never stop. 

Loving the files from the SL. All those other technical specifications and metrics are meaningless unless you really like the "look" of the files...
 

9.16.2021

Thursday Morning and I'm less than halfway through the 50 portraits we need to complete this month. But it's a lot more fun that I imagined it would be.

This is not from this month's commercial project. 
This is a portrait shot long ago, in the days of 
Hasselblads, film and big lights. 

It is a bold project but we may have to change gears midway through. The client and I envisioned doing 50 individual portraits at 50 different time slots through the month of September. But here we are a two weeks into the project and we still haven't been able to motivate everyone to sign up for a slot. We're only a couple miles from their H.Q. so it's not an insurmountable distance to travel. I think my client's people (all smart, capable and nice people) are working remotely and it's a different dynamic because the individual associates are more in control of their own schedules. I get it. I like scheduling flexibility too. 

Even though the current set up is comfortable for me (I get to leave everything set up in the studio and just walk in for scheduled appointments; no constant set-up and tear down) it's not very efficient. The client and I have talked and we'll likely abandon this experiment and go back to setting a specific day and having everyone come to the office in scheduled slots to get the remainder of the foot draggers taken care of. And that's okay too. One day of set up and tear down isn't insurmountable. 

As it stands right now I'm enjoying the unhurried pace and the ability to work on my own turf for a change. I ended up selecting the Panasonic S5 as the camera for this project based on how well its eye detection AF works and I've been very happy with the raw files from the camera. 

I'm working with three LED lights and a big, white reflector as a fill so the studio stays nice and cool and there's no annoying flash to work through. I'm shooting at ISOs like 800 which is a piece of cake for the sensor in this camera. The resulting photographs are clean and well detailed.

Today I have one person booked in the afternoon and I'm spending my morning retouching and enhancing the selections from earlier sessions. The back end of the project; the private galleries on Smugmug, works very well. The galleries are nice, clean and controllable. Clients like them very much.  I'll likely deliver the images back to them via a download folder at Smugmug as well. 

The current lens of choice is the Panasonic 70-200mm f4.0 S-Pro. It's a logical choice since I tend to prefer the longer focal lengths for corporate headshots. I've looked at the exif data and it seems my preference is between 105mm and 135mm. The lens has a tripod mount so it's very stable and easy to handle. 

I've chosen to have people stand for their portraits and it seems to work better for their clothing because there are fewer wrinkles and "bunchings".  So far most of the people have been near my height but I have an apple crate standing by in case I encounter an especially tall person. I don't mind standing on a wooden box if it helps me do my job. If it's good enough for Tom Cruise.....

On extended projects like this I bill by the person/session and send in an invoice for the sessions at the end of every week. It keeps the payment stream flowing and seems to work for both client and photographer. 

Work is over-rated though so I'm thinking about taking the month of October off. I'm still planning to make a pilgrimage to Roswell, NM and the surrounding sites, and I may add a few other two or three day trips through the month. Gotta give that SL2 and the big, fat zoom a workout...

I'd Vlog my trips but I just tried to watch Thomas Heaton's hundred mile hike through some island and it was just painful. I applaud him for making the journey but half an hour at a time watching video of someone walk and occasionally talk to the camera is just....boring. I'm starting to think that videos like this are actually created as instruments of punishment for petty crimes in some countries. 

Convicted of shoplifting? Sit in this chair and watch an hour long video of a man trudging around in a banal landscape with a backpack and occasionally talking about how painful the adventure is. Yes. No. That's not the future of content. 

Finally, my latest gear purchase should arrive some time today. It's the Godox AD200 Pro and I have a use for it this coming Monday. An exterior portrait downtown. We'll have a test jaunt and see if it betters the performance of the sturdy and reliable AD200 (non-Pro). Fun with lights.

Time to toss on a face mask and answer the door. 


 

9.15.2021

The iPhone 13 Pro is the final, critical piece in phone photography's near total dominance of the camera market. Not a satire.

 


Early on, in the first years of Apple's iPhones, I was a skeptic and thought we'd never hit a point at which the vast, vast, vast majority of camera users would not only find a phone camera to be acceptable for serious daily work but would also prefer using a phone to using even the finest and most fully equipped, standalone camera. But that's where we are right now. Today. 

For me the tide started to turn with the introduction of the Apple 10 (X) cameras. I bought an iPhone XR and even though that phone camera is limited to a one lens camera it has proven itself as good in many video shooting situations as the best hybrid cameras (which with their lenses cost four or five times more!). I skipped the next two iterations of iPhones because I felt certain that the next tipping point would come with the inclusion of a good, longer tele focal length. That just happened on the Apple iPhone 13 and 13 Pro.

After I played with the XR for a while I added a few things to the package to make it even more useful. Things like Filmic Pro video software and also an app more aimed at photography; Halide. On the hardware front I added a phone gimbal for shooting moving video. Over time that phone has progressed up the ladder of usability to match most cameras for video and casual photography for me. The one step I looked for was the lens and now both models of the Pro 13 lines have the same capability. One no longer has to buy the larger "Max" version to get the lens and camera performance potential at the current state of the art. 

While hardware and firmware, as evidenced in the new line of iPhones, has progressed both rapidly and steadily so has widespread professional acceptance of the content being generated. It's not a race for equivalency, it's a race to replace one form of imaging as the dominant and historic style with a newer and highly accessible, even more kinetic style of imaging. And one very accessible to the masses of middle class and wealthy countries around the world.

Photography as I practiced it ten, twenty and thirty years ago is pretty much dead now. Frequent shows of prints in galleries, and print sales to individuals seem absolutely passé. In the days of pension funds and three martini lunches nearly everyone got their doses of photography from printed magazines like Life, Look, National Geographic, Vogue, etc. We had a defect standard to aim for.  Most magazines are now either gone or reduced in their reach and demographic. Almost everyone is accessing photography via their phone screens, iPads, Laptops, and, for us older users, our desktop computers. Even outdoor media which used to be the final argument for high resolution cameras have ceded the battlefield to large, bright video screens. 

You may think, when watching some of the promo video footage from Apple that it's all just propaganda and advertising, and that all filmmakers and video producers are using twenty thousand dollar lenses on one hundred thousand dollar cameras to shoot their projects. I have some insight into those fields by dint of having friends who make feature films and others who make corporate videos and commercials. Yes, maybe the top tenth of one percent of feature movies are done with heroic and pricy gear. The next tier down, say a competent Netflix original series, might use Canon C300ii cameras or something similar, but a fair number are being done on smaller and cheaper video cameras (Panasonic S1H) and many, many times the b-roll scenes, drone shot scenes and much more were already being shot on various vintages of iPhones. The revolution has been happening in the background for the last eight or so years. 

Why is the 13 Pro another major inflection point? There are a lot of reasons. Mostly because the image quality has become so good. Another reason is the almost transparent ease of use. The ability to override consumer interfaces and install professional controls. The almost universal familiarity with the interface.  For an extremely potent and easy to use content camera the phones are dirt cheap. If the drone hits the lake you might have to write off a phone but given it's water resistance ratings you'll probably be okay if you salvage the camera quickly and don't let it sink more than five or six feet. At the thousand dollar price point they become both replaceable and, on the other hand, the pricing makes it easy to use multiple phones simultaneously to capture various P.O.V.s and as "crash cams." With the latest version the screens are better, the refresh rates are better, the colors are better and the processing is better (best).  Add to all this the ability to share files anywhere and almost instantaneously.

These will be the first phone cameras to make use of ProRes raw codecs for video recording. This is huge for professional editors. The 4K ProRes codec  is the coin of the realm in professional video. Added to all this is the fact that the new iPhone 13s are computational powerhouses. Already things like video refocus and computational focus pulls from the cinematic mode are features that are currently undoable with other cameras. All other cameras. 

But I get that most of you don't really care about any camera's video capabilities. If you buy a camera only to shoot still images and text your spouse why should you care? But even seen just as still photography cameras the new phones are awesome. The same computational capabilities means you can control the look and feel of each frame to a much greater extent. With new lenses, new sensors and new on chip focusing the only thing the new cameras give up to our regular cameras are pixel size ( which could mean more noise....unless you are shooting static subjects and then the camera will use its computer power to sample many multiple frames and through out noise on the fly) and total resolution. Oh, an lens interchangeability.

For the few of you who still print seriously the higher pixel count of dedicated cameras will probably still make a big difference. For everyone else? Not so much. Why? Because the vast, vast, overwhelming majority of the images generated from now, and into the future, will be targeted to iPhone screens, iPad screens and computer screens. Currently, anything higher than 8 to 12 megapixels will basically have information tossed in the garbage cans of compression and dynamic resizing. 

It was the moment after I saw the final Apple presentation that I knew my predictions about photography were right. Images are now a consumable and not a physical collectible, object. Cameras have superseded photography as "the" hobby. So we long time practitioners will find it hard to give up the pursuit of gear. For artists who just want to capture the images they need the phone is the tool they will want. 

Yep. I'll be first in line to pre-order a 13 Pro (not the Pro Max --- the only difference this time is screen size and battery life). This time around I'll opt for the 512 GB version so I can record lots and lots of 4K ProRes footage. Not for "A" camera interview footage but for cutaways, b-roll, establishing footage and documentary reportage that does not require high production quality sound (although easy enough to do with a separate recorder...). 

And when I finish a production I'll stick the "camera" in my trouser pocket and walk away. 

Does this mean we're going into a full on "cult adaptation" mode with the phone? Naw. I'll keep the Leicas and the pricy lenses around for all those times when I get nostalgic or when I want to make a big print just to prove to myself I can still do it. But for a quick shot of ...... just about anything, anywhere, I'll probably just pull out the phone. Even if the big camera is hanging off my shoulder on a strap. 

You'll likely think of all kinds of reasons why I am misguided, wrong, delusional, too trendy, too quick to try new stuff, have no respect for tradition, or whatever your label might be. You can take pot shots at the messenger but it won't change the fast moving, glacial momentum paradigm in photography. 

We're all amateurs now. We're all destined to be phone camera shooters. But as hobbyists we can, of course, retain the right to shoot with whatever we want. Wet Plate cameras, medium format film cameras, 4x5 film cameras, big Sonys, fast Canons, stately Leicas. But when it all gets crunched down onto a screen we'll probably all be wishing we'd left the big cameras at home and just brought along one of the new phones....

Future arrived. One more blow to traditional camera form. 

Now to find the right Domke strap for my new phone.....

Added after initial publication: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3CZX-lnAIc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKfgdkcIUxw


9.14.2021

Today's Blog Image. And an interesting marketing observation.

 


Even though I've pursued a career in the visual arts I have long been more inclined to value the written word over photographs. I love to read and, by extension, I love to write. But while that's great for my personal enjoyment I'm finding that written instructions and paragraphs of marketing are not always the most effective way to reach various audiences I interact with. 

This is quasi-anecdotal but I thought I'd share just to make my point. 

I was asked to make 50 individual appointments for portrait sessions for an accounting firm. I created a scheduling template in a spreadsheet program, wrote out a one page "explainer" on how to sign up, how the portrait sessions would work, what Covid safety measures I would offer and also information on how to find my studio location. I sent this document, with nicely designed locator map, to my client contact and she sent it out to the associates who would need to be photographed.  Crickets.  Silence. One or two diligent people got in touch and signed up. That was interesting.

My son suggested making a video instead of just relying on the written document. I grabbed an S5, a lav microphone and some lights and made a short, quick video that covered all the stuff I'd put into the written document. I edited out the "ums and ahhs" and added some b-roll images and then sent that to my client for distribution to the same list. That hit late last week. By Monday (yesterday) I'd booked about a dozen people for this week and part of next. I've already photographed four of the initial respondents and I always ask which way they preferred to get their information. All of them said that reading one page of type was boring but watching three minutes of video was fun and also they were able to put a face and a personality to the event as opposed to what had been an anonymous instructional missive. That I was able to reiterate important points delivered benefits as far as scheduling and a more congenial understanding for the clients of what's involved.

This was yet another learning experience that I'll be folding into future projects. A good "explainer" video gets more and better results for some audiences than just.....information. It's also a chance to show who you are as well. 

Note after initial publication: Once again I've chosen to curtail comments since some commenters seem hellbent on denigrating the organization or employees I talk about in the section on creating video. I'm sure most people realize that there is a gap between generations as to their media preferences. The subjects of the photo shoot are ALL four year college or university graduates, mostly with advanced degrees. They are capable of assimilating information in any number of ways. In fact, they specialize in information technologies. But...as they are mostly under 50 years of age they prefer to get information for some things via video. 

Several commenters decided to make this post an issue about intelligence of clients or the state of public schooling and of course that was not the intent of the blog at all. My intention was to supply an observation about marketing and how to successfully market. The commenters chose to make it a battle between the intelligence of people who prefer print versus those who prefer to get information via video. 

Also, it was never a matter of equivalence between the two media. As I suggested the viewer of the video could get a sense of who they would be working with. What he looks like, etc. Something not possible with a written document. Finally, yes, we can all read fast. But there is more to content than pure information harvesting. Sad that so many were ready to pillory the director level associates of a major U.S. accounting firm for taking advantage of an offered video instead of discarding the video in favor of the written word. 

It's just fucked up thinking if people are at all serious about understanding marketing. I think we'll chill on comments for a while. The knee jerk nastiness or presumption of fault is starting to wear a bit thin for me.

Comments now closed.

9.13.2021

Fond remembrance of pre-pandemic travel. And the hope that I'll see Iceland again soon.

 











The review of a product that works. Images from the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0. Observations on work boredom.

This is my battle-scarred, Godox AD200 flash unit. I used to have two of them but 
one "bought the farm" on an adventure for a giant infrastructure company, on a remote
location, back in 2018. I'm just now getting around to replacing it....

I bought several of the Godox AD200 flash units back in 2017 and ended up using them extensively on a project that spanned locations in seven different states, back in 2018. The product idea is great. It's a 200 watt second flash unit in a compact body that features a collection of interchangeable "heads" that all mould the light in different ways. There's even an LED head. The flash is powered by a 2900 milliamp hour, lithium battery, can shoot five hundred flashes at full power, and will, at least for a time, recycle in 2.1 seconds. You can use them with X1Pro triggers --- and a few other Godox triggers as well. 

I was on a dusty location in the middle of nowhere taking portraits of people who build stuff (big stuff), using two of these units in small soft boxes. I was traveling light and didn't bring along sandbags (can you see packing a couple of 30 pound sandbags for a series of plane trips?) but I did some failed guerrilla field anchoring with big piece of steel stuck through the legs of the light stands at the location. Apparently I misjudged the ability of one such rigging to safely hold the light and when breeze came up the light went spilling over from seven feet in the air onto hard-packed, dust covered ground and broke. I had an extra, smaller flash in the bag and I finished the job with the surviving AD200 and the back-up flash. But I have always remembered just how efficient and packable the two AD200s were, as a kit, and kept thinking of replacing the dead one but have always been distracted by some pressing need to buy more camera gear or lenses (insert sad joke here). 

Since the pandemic started I've had more and more use for my surviving AD200 light. It's perfect in a small soft box, for a series of outdoor portraits I've been doing for Texas Appleseed (legal defense group), and on locations around central Texas where a portrait might need a small puff of nicely modified light to really make it work. After my success with the recent wine project there's been an uptick of clients looking for well lit, exterior portraits. I thought it was time to get a second light; after all, a bit of backlighting can come in handy on a lot of work, not just exterior portraits. And what kind of pro leaves home for field work without a suitable back up tool?

I found the light quickly on Amazon. It must be a popular unit. The price was pretty much what I remembered at about $299. But then I discovered that Godox has updated the AD200 and now, in addition to the original, offers an AD200 PRO. They use the same heads and accessories as well as the same batteries but the new light offers tighter color consistency, a slightly faster recycling time at full power, and an improved mounting system for the light stand adapter. It's a whopping $349. Just for grins I checked to see if B&H had a different package with different accessory options. Nope. But at B&H the new unit was on sale for $309. About $10 more than the older product. I clicked the "buy" button and was also pleased to see that they were including free, expedited shipping. Always a plus. 

The unit will be here Thursday and will fit nicely into my travel kit. I have an upcoming project, also out in west Texas, on which I want to do a bunch of two light portraits; mostly outdoors. I'll have the option to do a main light and a back light or to put both flashes into an adapter and double the output for a bigger soft box light. Since I harvested the battery and charger from the dead unit back in 2018 I now also have extra accessories and an extra battery. Looks like I'll be all set for location flash work. This time around, since I'll be traveling by car I'll be sure to stick a couple of sandbags in the cargo area. Hopefully that will prevent future accidents. I also have a smaller, Godox V1 flash (dedicated for Panasonic and Olympus) as a back-up. Nice flash, rarely used. We'll try to change that. 

Continuing saga of the Panasonic lens. 

I gotta tell you that I'm loving the L Mount Alliance. It's great to be able to pick and choose product from across three manufacturers/brands and be able to mix and match to my heart's desire. Through a series of wildly unplanned purchases I seem to have ended up with three "standard" zooms that mostly cover the 24-70mm range (at least) while one reaches out to 90mm and the third reaches out further to 105mm. In addition, for about a year, I also owned a fourth 24-70mm lens (Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8) that competes against these three. But four similar lenses might be considered a bit excessive so now I'm just down to the three. 

The lenses are:  The Sigma 24-70mm DN DG f2.8 Art Series, the Leica 24-90mm f2.8-4.0 Vario Elmarit, and the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 S. Try as I might I can't get rid of any one of the three. They each do things that are just right in certain circumstances. And it seems wild to me that all three come from different camera companies!!!

The Leica is the highest performer of the batch. It just nails contrast and sharpness at every turn. Long, short, fast, slow, everything turns out as well, and usually better, than almost every prime lens I own. It's my first choice for wide ranging professional work but DAMN, it's heavy. I don't mind the weight if someone is paying me but for pleasant walking around stuff it's a hard proposition to make to myself. Maybe my opinion will change if cool weather ever arrives.

The Sigma Art lens is just a hair behind the Leica in overall performance but I'd bet that by the time you put both lenses to work at f5.6 or f8.0 you'd be hard pressed to see much difference. If you do see it then it's probably because you were really working your technical chops, had the lenses on tripods and practiced a light touch on the shutter button. The reason to keep the Sigma is for those (now quickly fading) times when you really, really need that one last f-stop of light. If you are going handheld the Leica might be the better option because it's got image stabilization but then again, the Sigma is already giving you one more full stop to play with. It's also that much lighter. How much lighter? The difference between will I carry it around all day or won't I?

So where does that leave the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 lens? Actually it's a great lens to have and if I could only have one of the three I'd probably chose it as my primary, standard zoom. Why? Because while it might cede a little bit of optical performance to the other two it's very sharp and contrasty in its own right. It's also quite a bit lighter and less bulky. It features built-in I.S. which pairs with camera I.S. (at least on the Panasonics) and it reaches out the furthest which often makes it my preference for handheld portrait work. I like longer focal lengths for portraits....

One Australian review site rates it, overall, as highly as the Leica zoom but that's only because the German product routinely gets dinged for its awesome weight and girth. 

When I first bought the 24-105mm lens I thought of it as a stop gap until I could add the Panasonic 24-70mm f2.8 to the inventory. I later added that lens but never warmed up to it so the 24-104 is the standard L zoom with the longest tenure in my studio. The reason I've never been tempted to sell the Panasonic 24-105 is that it captured my imagination and endeared itself to me on its maiden voyage of street shooting. It was at the 2019 Day of the Dead Parade in Austin. Here are some of the frames I shot with the lens wide open at f4.0. You might have seen them before but that doesn't take away from my appreciation for the lens's performance. 




A perennial favorite of mine...

The images just above were done with the 24/105 mounted on a (new at that time) Panasonic S1. It was pretty amazing. Now I've used the lens with the two different Leica SL models as well as on the Sigma fp, with its newest firmware, and I'm disappointed with myself for consistently underestimating just how good it is. 

The shots below were done yesterday with the Sigma fp and the Panasonic lens. I did them along side the black and whites that I showed off yesterday. The combination of the camera and lens is pretty cool. I like the colors very much and I like that the Sigma camera has the effect of offsetting the size and weight of the lens. The 24/105 is very much the universal choice where I'm concerned. Of the three L mount standard zooms I happen to own this would be the first one repurchased if a meteorite hit the studio and the insurance people actually paid out.

Your mileage will, of course, vary. A lot. 







playing with Sigma's new "Powder Blue" color profile.