7.30.2021

A New Rule I Just Made Up. If it's over 95° and I'm just shooting for fun the camera I bring along has to be small, light and preferably have a fixed lens. Sweaty hands are bad news for lens changes.


It seems like climate change is inevitable and the world is going to heat up whether we like it or not. Might as well dress for the worst and aim to carry a camera that won't sap your strength but will still deliver good photographs. 

I headed out the door around 4 p.m. today to walk in the downtown area, which is already a heat sink. The phone suggested that the outside temperature was 97° but the "feels like" temperature was closer to 103°. 
I don't recommend walking around in that kind of soup unless you've spent some time acclimating for it. It's the same logic that would tell us not to try going directly from sea level to Southern Colorado and trying to Summit a 14,000+ footer like Long's Peak the very next day. It might make more sense to get used to the altitude in stages. 

And just like mountain climbing, when you are walking in bright, hot heat you might also consider paring down unnecessary stuff like camera bags, 70-200mm f2.8 zooms, giant, beefy cameras and so on. You'll go further if you go lighter. 

Today the UV forecast was 11 out of 10. I chose to wear a long sleeve technical shirt from REI to keep the death rays of UV off my forearms. I put on sunscreen but....

I also wore a wide brimmed hat and took along a good pair of multi-coated UV proof sunglasses. 

The hat is NOT a Tilley Hat. It's a Sun-Day Hat but it looks close enough to a Tilley Hat to cause at least some amount of embarrassment and shame. I lived through it by rationalizing that on days like today UV protection overrules fashion and, that I have never had to compound the shame by carrying a Billingham camera bag with me. That ensemble, and a pair of socks with some sandals, would just about do me in. Agoraphobia would descend upon me...and I would deserve it. (yes...I am fashion-shaming).

But all kidding aside, it was nice to have a small, light but potent camera with me on the walk. The chrome finish on the X100 made it even better. I'm off to the vineyards tomorrow. Finishing up a paying photo adventure. Have fun this weekend and stay away from the crowds. Don't be deplorable.


 

Photographers carrying their cameras with them everywhere is one of the bedrock traditions of the discipline and has been for decades and decades. You can't make a photograph if you can't be bothered to bring your camera.

I was driving home from shooting an assignment out West of Austin. I stopped for gas. I turned around while the gas pump was draining my credit card and saw these beautiful and dynamic clouds. I grabbed a camera off the front seat of the car and shot off a few frames. I like this photograph very much. 

It's hard to understand why people don't have a dedicated, carry anywhere camera. Hell, we've trained like 95% of the population to never leave their cellphone alone even for a second. One would think that people whose lives, passions and businesses revolve around making beautiful photographs would have at least one serious camera that they can hang over their shoulder or on a strap across their knee when sitting at the coffee shop or restaurant and be ready for opportunity. I've learned from experience that trying to recreate something you saw and didn't shoot in the moment is a futile exercise. 

Bring a camera with you. You wear pants. You wear shoes. Maybe you wear glasses every day. So when you get dressed be sure to pick out a camera. Wear it proudly.  Nuff said.
 

A quick review of the Leica SL 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit after a day's use toiling in the fields of advertising.


 The Leica Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm zoom lens was one of the first of three lenses Leica delivered along with their original SL camera back in 2015 or 2016 (depending on whether you look at the first announcement of delivery or actually being able to get delivery...). 

The lens was specifically designed for the shorter distance from the rear element to the image sensor in the camera and additionally was designed to deliver high performance results with the 24 megapixel sensor in that model. The lens is heavy, weatherproofed and features image stabilization. Leica's design goal was to create a standard zoom that would match or exceed premium, individual prime lenses at each focal length. It's performance has only recently been exceeded by a handful of primes and these are mostly the frightfully expensive Leica SL series prime lenses. 

Roger Cicala of LensRental fame did a tear down of this lens and his statement (near the beginning of his article) of what makes a Leica lens different from the rest is a very interesting read: Here's is a snippet from Roger: 

"Overview

The 24-90mm contains 18 elements in 15 groups, similar to lenses like the Canon or Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 II lenses. It also contains 4 aspheric and 11 low dispersion elements, compared to 3 of each in the Nikon and 2 aspheric and 3 LD in the Canon. Additionally, the Leica has 6 different moving groups inside the lens, which is rather more complex than most standard range zooms."

One of the commenters, Heinz Richter, in the post comments also added this: 

"Aspherical elements are very expensive to make, if they are individually ground from lens blanks, as is the case with all Leica lenses. Precision molding, as employed by Nikon only lends itself to certain types of glasses and conventional glass lenses with an acrylic aspherical surface added do have considerable drawbacks. This is a method first developed by Zeiss, but ultimately discarded because of too many ill side effects."

The full article is here: https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2016/02/a-peak-inside-the-leica-vario-elmarit-sl-24-90mm-f2-8-4-asph/

My experience with the lens is, as I've said, very short. I put it on the Leica SL2 and headed to Kerrville, Texas, which is two hours from Austin, yesterday to photograph the process of sorting and pressing grapes for wine-making. My brief as to shoot the process any which way I wanted to.

We were working under a high metal roof and in the fermenting station so there was ample light and I chose to work only with available light and to rely on the clean, high ISOs on the camera to get the photos I wanted. 

I used the lens mostly at its maximum aperture except in situations where I thought I needed a bit more depth of field. I shot samples from 24mm all the way through to 90mm and at the widest aperture for each the sharpness was great. But it was the perfectly balanced contrast of the lens that I really liked. As far as I can see the 24-90mm is, optically, a perfect substitute for the best prime lenses. The only two provisos to that are that you won't like the lens if you need faster apertures/more speed, and you'll absolutely hate the lens if you mind heavy gear. But if that was the case you probably would have never ventured into the SL bodies anyway.

I hand-held the lens for about four hours yesterday and have suffered no ill effects today. No sore arm, no sore back.

The lens performs very well and focuses nice and quick on the SL2 body. I haven't tried it yet on the SL bodies but am hopeful that the performance will be similar. I would say that this is the only lens I need to take out into the field with me for most jobs but, as you know, I'm a bit paranoid about failures in the field and always take along a back up of each critical piece of gear. Yesterday, in addition to the system I'm writing about here, I also took along an SL body and the Panasonic 24-105mm zoom lens (which is a good lens as well). The cameras take the same batteries and the lenses offer the same basic coverage. 

I thought to trade-in the Panasonic lens when I bought the Leica zoom but I remembered how often I want flexible, standard zooms on both a camera for video shooting and a camera for photographs and decided to keep the Panasonic for most of the video shooting I do. It's more than crispy sharp enough for anything I do in 4K video --- and beyond.

The Leica 24-90mm zoom is beautifully made and the lens hood is over-the-top big. The asking price is toasty high at $5600 but there are a number of them in the used market for anywhere from $3500 and up. 
I preferred to buy a new one just for the warranty and the fact that I'm squeamish about spending over a certain amount on a lens without knowing how it was handled and stored before it came to me. 

There is a lot of merit to wide-ranging, standard zoom lenses. Especially ones which perform like a bag full of German primes. But it's hardly game-changing. The Sigma 24-70mm Art lens is almost as good, optically, at one fifth the price and the same goes for the Panasonic 24-105mm. But, I figured if you are going to take the deep dive into the SL2 you might as well splurge and get an authentic Leica lens to pair it with. You only go around once. Unless you believe in reincarnation...


A Few Reasons Why You Really Should be Swimming. Really.

 https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/16/health/swimming-covid-blues-weight-loss-wellness/?hpt=ob_blogfooterold

Swim, walk, jog, run, play water polo, bike, walk, dance, move. Your happiness depends on it.

Just an hour a day. One less Netflix movie. One less (badly done and uninformative) YouTube photo "tutorial." One less session of online "research." One fewer shopping trips per day to your favorite online merchant. That's all you need.

Take a Leica with a 24-90mm lens along with you if you also want a weight intensive workout....

Added: Thank you Richard!: https://theconversation.com/swimming-gives-your-brain-a-boost-but-scientists-dont-know-yet-why-its-better-than-other-aerobic-activities-164297

7.29.2021

New Lens Arrives in the Studio Just in Time for the Grape Harvest.

Pulling the grapes into the hopper slowly so as not to overwhelm the transmission 
pipe into the crusher. Did not know there is actually a special tool for this...

I spent today out in Kerrville, Texas at a winery. Today they were bringing in grapes, crushing them and filling giant tanks with the resulting juice. It's hard work but the wine isn't going to make itself. 

I bought a new lens for the L mount system yesterday. It's the Leica Vario-Elmarit 24-90mm f2.8-4.0. It's big and heavy but it's reputed to be a superb performer. Today was my first day to shoot with it. It's the only lens I used. It was on the Leica SL2 and it made for a very nice combination. Sharp wide open, fast to focus, and contrasty too. I'll know more when I've had more chances to shoot a wider variety of subject matter. I'll be using this camera and lens combination all day Saturday as I document the actual harvest of grapes from the vines at a neighboring winery. We're almost done with the big Texas wine project and so far I'm happy with almost everything I've shot. We'll debrief that one later....

 


Love to photograph machinery. 90mm focal length, f4.0.

I was experimenting to see if I could bridge the gap between an area covered completely by a tin roof and the bright sky in the background. It's at least a five; maybe six, stop difference between the 
barrels and the sky. The only thing I lost was detail in the clouds. Not bad.



This impeller delivers the grapes to the crusher. 
Hand adjustments while operating are 
contraindicated. 


Multi-tasking.

Forklift pilot.

7.28.2021

Lunch.


 Blueberries, muesli, 2% fat Greek yogurt, and walnuts = protein, 
fiber, anti-oxidants, and crunchy goodness.

You can't be expected to hit the streets without some good nutrition. 

Gearing up for a couple more days of "Hill Country Wine" shooting and wouldn't you know it? the heat is back in central Texas. Gathering together some white bandanas for the cameras and lenses. So far I haven't see anyone come out with sunscreen for cameras...

Heading over to the local camera candy shop in a few minutes to trade around some gear. Might be shooting with a very interesting lens tomorrow. All depends on how brave I am about changing stuff.




7.25.2021

Sunday Afternoon Street Combo. A Leica SL2 and the Sigma Art Series 24-70mm f2.8 DG DN. Add some blue skies and a few people and you've got some potential street photography.

 


I've owned the Leica SL2 for a number of months now and I'll admit that because of the pandemic and the inability to do the volume of work I've done in years past my learning curve with the SL2 has been longer, slower and less immersive than I expected. Part of my hesitation is that old puritanical concern about "using the camera up" on stuff that isn't important. And by "important" my subconscious really means, "doesn't generate income." But I think I'm over that now. I've been warming up to the camera more and more lately, and taking it with me everywhere. It was in the car this morning while I was swimming. I grabbed it after practice and made some photographs of the pool. I keep it with me most of the time.

After a late breakfast and some light office work I grabbed the camera and the Sigma Art 24-70mm and headed over to see what the social scene looked like at the South Congress Ave. area. I wanted to get there well before noon because the most "photogenic" side of the street; the one with the most shops, old architecture and restaurants, faces east. 

It was impossible to park on S. Congress Ave. proper. Everyone from everywhere had already arrived. Parking is by permit on the streets just to the east and west of the main drag so I drove in three or four blocks to the west and found a spot in front of an old church.

My usual routine for carrying gear is extremely minimal. I limit myself for all personal work to bringing along a lone camera and only one lens per excursion. I think that the more you carry and the more options you have at hand the more you question your choices. Your attention quickly gets divided between "right gear" and "subject" and a decision-making paralysis intrudes into what should be a smoother process. For me, today, the camera of choice was the Leica SL2 and the lens was the 24 to 70mm f2.8 Art lens. Added to that is an extra battery, contained in a small plastic bag, stuck in my left pants pocket. That's it. If you are afraid of running out of card space I would say that it's past time for you to invest in a set of memory cards with a lot more storage space. I have two V90 SD cards, which are each 128 GBs, loaded into the card slots of the camera. If I'm making photos for myself I'm using the cards sequentially. Fill up one and go on to the next. No redundant back-up here because the chances of me suing myself are minimal if I happen to lose a file while out shooting... 

Happily, it's a lot easier to photograph when you are just one person in a big and ever moving crowd. I find that a guy with a camera and a hat, who is over 50 years old, is largely considered a harmless eccentric. A "Boomer" hobbyist holdover. And with a large and fluid crowd out on the streets and sidewalks it stands out so much less if you adapt the technique of finding a background you like and planting yourself, with the camera obvious and up to your eye, as if patiently waiting for people to pass by so you can make the shot, while all the while the shot is continuously evolving and is, of course, the people passing by.

When I'm working in full sun I find working with the SL2 can be optimized by shooting only raw files. They are chock full of dynamic range and I know I can shoot a bit dark, not burn out highlights and then bring up the shadows after the fact in post. I set the camera to Auto-ISO and set the range from ISO 50 to ISO 6400. I raise the minimum shutter speed in Auto-ISO to 1/250th and let the camera keep track of exposure. I am always ready to step in to dial in some exposure compensation if I feel it's needed but at the same time I have much faith in the accuracy of this camera's metering system.

I'm using the camera's AF system in a zone orientation. There is a series of boxes within a zone and the camera chooses the right box or boxes for me. I don't work this way in low light but in bright light it works well. I always use S-AF and have little-to-no use for C-AF. I can work quickly and with a certain amount of confidence this way and I generally keep track of exactly where the focusing is taking place within the frame. 

Knowing that I was going to shoot raw and also that I would be working in unchangingly daylight I set the white balance to 5200 K and left it there. If I use AWB I find that the day's files vary too much in terms of color consistency and I spend a lot of time in post processing corralling the color back to a neutral or pleasing setting. Each frame becomes a custom project. Unhappily.

So, I walk down the street with the camera set and the lens zoomed to 35mm or 50mm and I look for static backgrounds and dynamic groups of people. I set myself off to one side and frame how I'd like the background to work. Then I stand still and use my peripheral vision to keep track of groups of people as they approach the frame. I keep the camera up to my eye and wait and usually the people ignore me and continue on without a second, or even first, look. Occasionally someone will graciously stop and wait for me to take my "shot." I oblige by firing the shutter, smiling and then looking down at my camera's rear screen. Then I re-engage into the process and try again. Eventually, hopefully, I get what I wanted all along. But I'm quick to let go of pre-conceived notions of what my frame "must" look like and try as much as I can to just go with the flow of the moment.

Instead of trying to get "the perfect shot" and then move on I like to stay at the scene and in the moment shooting frame after frame as the people come together and then break apart. I like to watch for different gestures and different "poses" as people talk to each other, queue up for coffee and generally present themselves to the world out in the great theater of the public. 

I shot a lot this morning and worked through the files after a late lunch. Instead of considering the images below as some sort of gallery or final presentation, I've included, in some cases, a series of exposures to show what I mean by "waiting for things to change in the scene." Like a contact sheet this might better show how I like to build shots and wait for luck. I hope you'll view them with that in mind. 

My takeaway from carefully processing the huge raw files from the SL2 is that its ability to render and deliver detail is amazing, and state of the art. The colors are wonderful and the files are malleable and rugged. Pushing shadow and highlight sliders all over the place in post does nothing to "break" the files and that's wonderful for people who need to process a lot of files in a short amount of time. Direct sun and uncompressed raw files seem to have been made for each other! 

I'm using the Sigma lens in such an optimized way that I'd be embarrassed if any one of the images wasn't sharp enough, or possessed of sufficient nano-acuity. I spent my several hours at the location working at f5.6 to f8.0 and at ISOs like 50, 100 and 200. Done in this way the SL2+Art lens is overwhelmingly competent and delivers better results than I even expected. I hope you have fun looking through this work. It's a tiny fraction, numerically, of what I shot today but it's very representative of the work I did in general. Thanks goodness I warmed up with a good swim....

bawdy murals at the Italian restaurant, Vespaio.

lining up 50 deep for coffee? I guess so....