9.29.2021

San Antonio Street Photography with an Olympus Half Frame Camera.

A sketch artist plying her trade at the Mercado in San Antonio.

Waiting with a raspa on the square in front of the Alamo.

I'm often asked to post a few images from the Olympus half frame cameras (Pen-F and Pen-FT) and I keep meaning to get around to it. Yesterday, I was looking through an older archive of scans I'd made with a Nikon CoolScan 4000 of Kodachromes I'd shot with a Pen-FT and the 40mm f1.4 lens. Kodachrome 64 always seemed like the perfect companion for those little cameras. 

So, here are two images that I quite like which I think show off the capabilities of those small and agile cameras quite nicely. Since the cameras were already old by the time I started using them the metering wasn't incredible and the batteries for the meters had been mostly discontinued. I learned to use the "cheat sheet" of typical exposures which came packaged on each box of film from Kodak. That methodology seemed to work even better than a hand held meter, and at least as well as the metering in most new TTL metering cameras. 

Whatever shortcomings you see in the images (technically) please blame my scanning acumen and not the camera or lens. They are both just fine. 

Wasn't Kodachrome 64 a very beautiful film? I certainly miss it. 

But I'll never miss the process of film scanning....

 

OT: in regards to yesterday's column about food. And weird food. And zany diets. And stuff.

n
The cook at Nutty Brown Café.

Yeah. So I'm not bulletproof. I got a coronary calcium CT scan and my doc didn't like the numbers all that well so he conferred with my cardiologist who suggested I come in and do an exercise stress test. In the interim I went into "research mode" and did a deep dive into related subjects. There's a lot to sink one's teeth into if you have the time and inclination. So much swirls around imflammation and diet. I went to a source I know to find out more. Yesterday's post was based on that fun and deep-diving conversation. 

This morning I presented myself in a pair of running shorts, running shoes and a compliant attitude to the staff at my cardiologist's office. They wired me up with something like 12 electrical leads, got a baseline EKG, and then put me on a treadmill. For someone my age they like to start slow and try to get to a pulse rate of 130 beats per minutes before stopping. They are diligent to monitor blood pressure and to make sure the test subject isn't in any way symptomatic. After a long time and much treadmill acceleration, as well as an ever steepening angle, we were able achieve our 130 mark and the tech was about to stop. I suggested we instead continue and aim for some time at 150 bpm, since my Apple Watch tells me I spend some quality time at 150 during swim practice each morning. 

They complied and after a short while we hit 150 and I suggested we try for 160. We got there and by that time I was getting a bit out of breath and, to be frank, bored. We stopped the test and I waited for my heart doc to come read the results. No abnormalities on any of the nodes. Not at 130 and not at 160. Took a peek at my blood panel numbers and asked, "are you sure you are 65?" I assured him I was and asked him for a prognosis. He suggested I continue doing exactly what I have been doing and maybe we'd retest in five years.

I mentioned the beet juice, the anti-coffee stance, and the tragic abandonment of red wine. He shrugged and mentioned that beet juice tastes terrible ( I concur ) and that I could get the same effect with L-Arginine supplementation,  and that red wine, on the whole might just be something "occasional" instead of being staunchly canceled altogether. We got to coffee and he just stared at me as if I was nuts... But he did suggest I stop using the half and half in the coffee as a "baby step." 

This whole episode caused me some anxiety. Not the exercise stress test part but the reminder of my own ever approaching mortality. Belinda's suggested regimen? Just loosen up and have more fun. Enjoy stuff more and stop worrying about whether or not you'll do or not do "work". In fact, get used to just saying "no." 

I don't take this all unseriously. My numbers were too high. The tests are accurate and can be predictive. Life is short. Commerce is officially boring for me now. I guess "more fun" is a good prescription. Thanks Dr. Belinda. But tightening up on the diet can't hurt. Adding anti-imflammaries and nitric oxide progenitors can't hurt. My take? It's stress that kills you. For the moment my only stress is.... nothing comes to mind.

And Eric, don't worry. I won't start posting recipes for kale, soy paste and wheat husk brownies here. And yes, black coffee is back on the menu. But the red wine will have to wait until I get up to Calgary....

No whining (whinging???) tolerated. 

 

It's almost like I called someone's girlfriend "ugly." So much affection for a camera....


 I feel so chastened now I can hardly wait to defrost my credit card in that ice cube tray (do they still have those?) and rush out to buy a Ricoh GRIIIx. The fact? that it's somewhat made out of magnesium sure turned the tide for me. I've also been over to Nordstroms to buy some extra large trousers in which to ensconce said camera; pocket-wise...

Seriously, I get it that some people love cameras that I don't. But the whole point of writing the column wasn't to disparage the GRIIIx but the industry in general for never reattaining the ability to put out the highly shootable designs they mastered during the film days. There are few cameras today, regardless of the maker, that are as fun to shoot as various film cameras of old. This is even true in the nose bleed arena of Leica M series cameras. They are mostly too fat, front to back, today than even the basic M6 of yesteryear. I wonder why this has to be so...

Hey, I get that people love to stick things in their pockets. I see girls with cut off jeans shoving enormous phones in their back pockets everyday. Guys with chubby wallets stretching the fabric of pockets with intensity. Seems like everyone is super okay with that. Just don't expect me to always love the same cameras you do cuz that's not going always going to happen. 

But Ricoh, If they read the comments posted to yesterday's post will be happy to see that so many people care so deeply for their products. Just to be contrarian; I still love the Pentax K-1. It's a great camera. Just superb.


A portrait from a while back. An actor named Amber.

Amber. Austin.


 

9.28.2021

I used to spend a lot of time in San Antonio. I saw a lot of fun stuff.

 


The two images above are scans from color slides. Slides I took back the late 1970's and early 1980's. 

I've lived in Austin since 1974 but at the end of that decade and for a few years beyond that I used to get in my car and drive to San Antonio to take photographs. I guess those were my early days as a "street photographer." My friends used to ask me what the attraction to San Antonio in that era really was and I had, at the time, a ready answer. 

San Antonio, as a city was much more diverse than Austin. It was also a city with lots of foot traffic downtown, a thirst for tourism, and wonderful old buildings and shops that survived from a time when everything was slower and change happened at a glacial pace. People caught buses, they clustered around street musicians, and a shy photographer could count on a big, boisterous crowd in the outside space of the Mercado on the weekends. Just bring a longer lens and you could "people watch" all day long.

The restaurants had roaming mariachis, the square had conjunto bands and the prices for food and alcohol were affordable. Even by wannabe photographers fresh out of college. Two things I really enjoyed in the downtown space were the giant parades (especially during the week of Fiesta) and the assortment of older cars; some well maintained and some on life support. 

I found these two when I was going through some files and thought I'd share them here. I remember the Fall day when I shot these. I came down and stopped by my parents' house and then caught a bus into downtown. That way I didn't have to pay for parking. I shot all day long; mostly with Kodachrome 64 film, and I got a lot of good shots. But no where near the number of keepers I'd get walking through the parades. If you could wangle a press pass then you were golden and no one ever objected to being photographed. It was such a different time. 

I usually topped off a trip down to SA with a dinner at Mi Tierra Café and Bakery. A very traditional Tex-Mex restaurant which thrives even now. It's quintessential Tex Mex food and now there are additional attractions such as a painting of Bill Clinton (before his vegan diet) and a giant altar for the music legend, Selena. 

The restaurant operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week. And it's amazing who you might run into there at all hours. 

But the cars! Some days it's like being on a movie set that spans the decades from the 1950's to the current century. One time I could swear I even saw my family's old Chevy Biscayne, long since traded in on something else, trundling down North Main St. I could swear that little dent in the back left fender was there almost like my signature on the car. And that would have been over a decade since any of us owned it.

San Antonio is growing up quickly. The high tech people have discovered it. And the transplants from California. If want to live in Texas and you can't afford Austin then San Antonio is your next best bet. Just remember, like is too short to live in Dallas.


Super OT: Experimenting with diet. Experimenting with me as the guinea pig. So much fun.

Lou. With inverted coffee cup.

I had some questions about swimming performance and cardiology over the weekend and I decided to go to an expert to get some answers. I had a nice phone conversation with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who is a fairly well known expert on heart matters and exercise (he was a gold medal Olympian, after all...) who has had a long tenure at the Cleveland Clinic. We discussed many aspects of diet as they relate to cardiac health and declining performance. I got many great pointers for vastly improving my diet but the thing that was most interesting to me, in the moment, was information he gave me about the role of nitric oxide in coronary artery health and the ability of arteries to dilate effectively. 

Apparently the endothelial tissue in arteries makes it's own nitric oxide but, like most good things, it gets progressively reduced by aging. Nasty stuff this aging. But the good news is that by aggressively adding foods rich in nitrates to one's diet the body is quite capable of converting the nitrates to nitric oxide. The advantages are healthier blood flow, less damage to blood vessels from the aches and pains of aging, and because of the increased ability to dilate well, and stably, better endurance for exercise....and life. 

The plant with the most nitrates are generally the leafy greens like kale, arugula, Brussel sprouts, and the like. One powerful source is found in beets. Not cooked beets as the cooking changes the bioavailability but in unaltered beet juice. I immediately went to the local Whole Foods to buy more kale and beet juice. The beet juice I like best has added ginger and turmeric which are also very good antioxidants. I've been on the recommended amount of beet juice since yesterday morning and while I'm sure this is somewhat from the placebo effect, but my workout this morning felt a lot less arduous that the same basic workouts I did in the pool through last week. 

But what does this have to do with the coffee cup? In the course of our conversation Dr. Esselstyn suggested that coffee isn't that great for you and that by eliminating the caffeine I might have less overall load on my heart while exercising and, well, doing everything else. I thought I should give that a try as well. 

I cut out the caffeine on Saturday and after the headaches and lethargy I went through on Sunday I felt better yesterday and back to normal today. I'm drinking a "no buzz" blend of decaf coffee because having coffee with people is part of the structure of my existence. But it's the people in front of me that are important, not necessarily the blend in my cup. 

So, today's report is: Beet juice is an acquired taste. Beet juice turns body waste pink. I swam equally fast today but with less effort. My resting pulse is about two beats per minute slower. I want to take a nap. 

That's it. 


 

Let's all give Ricoh a rousing round of applause for reinventing a camera that a different company got just right about 43 years ago.

 


Lots of people seem pretty excited about the launch of the Ricoh GRIIIx. It's a mostly plastic camera with a new, 7 element, 5 group, 26mm lens on the front. Since the lens is mounted on a 24 megapixel, APS-C sensor body it's effective focal length (when compared to a full 35mm frame camera) is that of a 40mm. The fastest stop is f2.8 and the lens stops all the way down to f16. 

But what we have here is basically a small, lightweight, plastic version of something like the Leica TL2 but with no option to change lenses. To my eye the Ricoh GRIIIx is a stripped down point and shoot camera without much to recommend it beyond whatever subjective color science mojo Ricoh adds, along with the ability to toss it into a convenient pocket without damaging either your trousers or the camera. 

Don't get me wrong. It's nice to have options like this but at the same time it's hardly the groundbreaking introduction that some seem to think. There's no integrated finder. All composing, focusing, and menu diddling has to occur on the moderately sized rear screen. You can buy a small optical finder for the hot shoe but it's an added cost and another thing to strip off the camera before you slide it into the pocket of your Armani jeans.

The final negative point I'll make about the GRIIIx is that the tiny battery it uses gets (according to Ricoh specs...) about 200 actuations. Hmmmm..... Hardly enough for a short afternoon of street shooting for me. 

When I read about product introductions like this one I always wonder just why the heck all these advanced camera makers can't come up with a digital version of a great, fixed lens, street shooting miracle like Canon did in the early 1970's with their Canonet QL17mk3.

Like the Ricoh-cam it has a very, very good 40mm lens. But a real 40mm lens, not the 26mm lens as on the GRIIIx. Why the difference? Because the Canonet was/is a full frame camera. And to add insult to injury Canon was able to adorn their flagship compact camera (43+ years ago) with a fully usable f1.7 lens aperture instead of the slower f2.8. 

While the ancient Canonet obviously didn't have a rear LCD screen for all the functions needed for photography it one-upped the lone rear screen by providing a very good and very bright coincident rangefinder that also allowed one to view and compose through an optical, glass viewfinder. Oh, and the rangefinder corrected for parallax! 

There are batteries in both but the Canonet will still take photos after the battery is long depleted and dead. Why? Mechanical shutter. Mine is still working well after some 40 years of use and abuse. Memorize a small handful of typical exposure settings and you are good to go.

While I'm sure both cameras feature leaf shutters and would allow for high speed flash the Canonet had the advantage of an accessory speed light that linked to the distance and aperture settings of the ancient camera and gave very, very accurate guide number guided flash. Probably better in exposure accuracy than most current $600 TTL flashes. Why? Because the flash shifted to smaller and smaller f-stops as you focused closer. Your duty was to correctly input the film speed. Pretty easy. But nothing like it is available, I guess, in 2021.

The Canonet is the camera that always makes me a bit sad because it was so well built and so perfectly suited to much of the market in the day. That we can't have a simple, indestructible, affordable digital counterpart after so much "technical advancement" is mind-boggling. The current answer being underwhelming cameras like the GRIIIx or insanely expensive and much less capable cameras like the Zeiss ZX1. 

My brand new purchase price for the Canonet back in 1976 was $109. I understand that inflation would probably make a new version something like $1,000. But I'd gladly pay for a real rangefinder camera with a full frame sensor, a great lens and an indestructible demeanor over the general collection of crappy, compromised cameras we're presented with today. Wouldn't you? 

And, again, I'm sure for the Ricoh is just fine and I'm probably not the target market since I don't value the ability to nestle/ cram a camera next to the car keys in my pocket as an absolute and top priority for camera ownership. I'm just saying we should stop settling and expect better. After all, a luxe, used Leica TL2 can be had for around $1,200 and will work with any L series lens. Put the Sigma 30mm f1.4 on the front and you've got, at least, a nicely structured object with a lot more flexibility. And, without a lens, you can cram it into your Levis with little issue. 

Just thought I'd share my opinion on a new product. And an older one.

Wrapping up a long portrait project. Favorite things from the shoots.

This portrait of Catie is NOT from the project I'm discussing in the blog.
It's here because I like the tonality and the look. No other reason.
I'd like to show samples from the actual shoot but.....
....the client has first dibs.

The master plan was to schedule and photograph 50 individual accountants, individually, in my studio over the course of September. But no plan survives the first engagement with...real people. Now, here at the end of the month I've been able to get a few more than half the folks onto the calendar and then in front of the camera but I guess I expected that. 

I talked to the marketing folks on the client side and they felt like we all gave it our best shot but that we might have to do a follow up day or two that are more like the old "cattle calls" we used to do for the same company. That's cool with me as well. It's a good excuse to break in a new assistant and give the idea of letting someone else do all the grunt work for me a go. But that's down the road. Probably in November. 

There were a number of positives in doing this project the way we did. I made sure the scheduling wasn't open-ended so I proactively carved out lots of time for myself. I didn't start any sessions before 10 a.m. which ensured there would be no conflicts with my all important swim schedule. 

The client and I were aiming for consistency in the overall look of the images. To that end I set up the lighting design, tweaked it during the first few sittings and then left everything set in place through the month. I decided to use LED lighting because it's easy to see exactly what you're getting at all points during the session. I set a custom white balance using a gray card and narrowed in on the right exposure by using an incident meter and fine-tuning with the cameras histogram. 

I used the Panasonic S5 camera as the only camera and stuck with the 70-200mm f4.0 Lumix S-Pro lens. I selected the lens because it has a good track record with me and also because of the convenience of the tripod mount which make it easy to go vertical with such a front heavy combination. All the portraits were shot in raw, edited (which means accepted or rejected) in Lightroom. Online galleries were generated from the Lightroom selections and the galleries shared with the participants so they could choose their favorite frame. Once the selection was made I pulled the raw file into Photoshop and got busy retouching. 

I found that a late version Luminar can work as a plug-in with Photoshop and I discovered that the Luminar "Skin Retouching" worked well for surface texture and effectively removing "shine" without taking away too much detail. So, after I got the exposure and color balance where I wanted it in PS I'd send the image to Luminar, let it retouch skin defects and shine, and the bring the file back into PhotoShop to fix stray hairs, wrinkles, etc. When everything looks good I output a layered PS file which I keep for archival purposes and then send large medium and small Jpegs to the sitter and the final client. 

There was only one incident of being "ghosted" but we had already discussed the possibility with the client and they were fine with paying the full session fee for any same day cancellations. 

I extended the deadline to be photographed under the pricing I established for the client until Sept. 30th and then, after that, I'll be unavailable for the month of October. Too much fun stuff to do to get tied down to another schedule...

Fun Swim News. We got a new swim coach this week. He'll join the rest of the coaches who guide our morning and noon masters swim practices, and he's picking up a few time slots from other coaches whose "real" jobs are disrupting their schedules. The coach is Clark Smith. He was an All American at the University of Texas at Austin and is a gold medalist from the Rio Olympics. He's a good fit with our program's growing roster of Olympic swimmers turned coaches. 

Today's main workout was a descending set of 100s. That means that we drop the rest intervals between 100 yard swims until you are working as hard as you can and just have time to "touch and go" between swims. We also did some "negative split" work which means that during your set of 100 freestyle swims you swim the second half of each 100 faster than the first half. Easy enough when you first get going but treacherously hard by the end of the last set. Total yardage was a bit over 3,000 but included a good bit of sprinting. 

Clark was just mean enough to get us moving but just nice enough to make workout fun. It's the perfect balance. Kind of intimidating having a young coach with such insanely great credentials but what are you going to do? After all, Austin is one of the great swim cities in the world. UT Coach, Eddie Reese was also the Olympic coach for the USA for five Olympic games in a row. He brought a huge bench of swimmers to Austin. It's all good. 
 

9.26.2021

Remembering a time before perfection in photography.

 


I wasted a lot of time today. I think that's the nature of the current era for me. More time to fritter away and less stuff one has to do. I spent some time looking at lenses on the B&H Website and on Amazon. Sure, I looked at a couple Leica-centric sites as well. Somehow I got in my mind that it might be nice to own one smaller, M mount 40mm lens for my SL and SL2 cameras. But I also was thinking that I might want one that's pretty fast. Pretty soon I narrowed down the selection to two different Voitlander Nokton 40mm lenses. Both are made for the Leica M mount. One is a 40mm f1.2 for about $800 and the other is a 40mm f1.4 for about $400. I'd have to spring for an M to L mount adapter so there's another $80 to $400 dollars, depending on how Leica-ish I want to be. 

I was speculating that this lens would be the perfect accompaniment for my big camera on our upcoming road trip. Small and light and a nice counterpoint to the ferociously big and heavy, 24-90mm. I started to dive in and read reviews, letting my self get swept up in everyones' rosy ownership rationales. Yep! I'd go forth with the smaller of the two lenses, adapted to my big Leica, and magically transform into the next Robert Frank. I put stuff in and out of shopping carts and also started looking for ancillary stuff like lens hoods and filters. I'm sure many of you have wasted time doing much the same sort of shopping/daydreaming.

At some point in the process I came to my senses and stopped. I reached over the top of my messy desk and grabbed a Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens and stuck it onto the front of my most shop worn SL and fired the combination up. All at once I remembered several incredible shots I'd done with that lens and the Sigma fp camera, just at the beginning of last year; before the floor fell out from under relaxed life. And I felt silly and wasteful. I already had the lens I wanted. 

But what was the lure? Well, the newness, of course. But also the promise that one of the two lenses under consideration would be sharper when used wide open. And I started thinking about that parameter for a while. Why did I care if one lens might be incrementally sharper than the other? How often do I even find myself shooting wide open? What did I expect might be different in the final files that I couldn't figure out how to do just as well today? 

The Sigma 45mm is plenty sharp for all but the most demanding and detailed technical work. Stop it down an aperture or two and it's as wicked sharp as any other modern lens and it's already small and light and beautiful to hold. As an added bonus it auto focuses on all my L mount cameras. Clearly, gear obsession was driving me a bit crazy. I closed all my open windows (on the computer) and said "goodbye" to all my shopping carts. And I went looking in the archives for an image that I really, really like but which is demonstrably unsharp. 

The one above is the result of slow film in a handheld SLR camera coupled with low light and the reckless lack of attention to detail of inexperienced youth. I tried to imagine how the photograph would be different if planes of it were rendered with the brilliant detail provided by a top tier lens, coupled with an image stabilized camera, backed by all the technical knowledge I've accrued over the past forty-five plus years since this image was taken (and haphazardly printed by someone...me... just starting their photographic darkroom journey). Would it be more evocative and profound?

Of course not. The photo was never shot for an audience of more than one and my brain can use its own computational imaging power to construct a higher sharpness by way of my imagination and memory. 

The photo was always meant to be a gentle reminder of a time, a place and a person. It was never meant to be a precise topographic study or rote documentation of a person. The ancient Canon 85mm FD f1.8 knew that was the case when I pointed and focused it. The lens was always capable of more but the hands and level of technique weren't up to the task. And that's fine. I love the photograph more every time I see it. But not because it makes me appreciate a lens, or the Agfa-Portriga Rapid paper it's printed on. No, I look back and remember days unencumbered by worry or want or regrets. I see only the amazing person I was sitting with and talking to at the time. 

It's odd to confront your own early work so many years after its creation. We worked so differently then. I found the old sheet of negatives. There was only one shot taken in that set of moments. Film was dear and I'm sure I was saving the last few frames on the roll for the next "scene change" or new location. Carefully portioning out the roll's limited potential in a time when money was tight and hundreds of like frames were never cheap. And that in itself makes the photograph more dear to me. It's because it came from a time when each click of the shutter was part of a rare and more valuable creation. We were careful then with our vision. Even more careful in our curation. Because the cost of making even imperfect art was far greater than it is now; today. And when we perceive things to have value we tend to imbue them with a certain power. Just that the image happened at all seemed to create our own sense of respect for the image. 

I had one more epiphany this afternoon before I stepped away from my work computer. Maybe I have been overly successful with my acquisition of equipment. Maybe it's possible for lenses to be too sharp; too good, and for cameras to render too much x-ray-like detail. Too much objective detail might actually obscure what it is we really wanted to see and remember. Too many leaves on trees and not nearly as much fog shrouded forest as we would really like...

Maybe that's something to think about before I get all hot and excited about the next "perfect" Art Series Lens, or S-Pro variant. Seems like lately it's the lowest common denominator of stuff in the drawer that makes the photographs I most want to look at. A painful realization for someone who just dove into one of the more expensive systems. Can't quite bring myself to put a Lensbaby on the front of my SL2 but....give me time. We'll get there. 


9.24.2021

Sometimes, when you have a lot on your mind, you have to pare down your camera to the simplest level and use it on autopilot.

Photo replaced to keep from frightening small children...

I was eating ramen at Tatsu-Ya on S. Lamar Blvd. with my good pal, 
Emmett Fox when he snatched up my Fuji X100V and started snapping 
away at me. Where was my entourage? I had no make-up person and no
stylist. Not even a ramen-eating coach. And that expression. Ouch.  Oh well. Authenticity. 

It's been a ragged week. I've been doing portraits inside and out and I guess I'm having enough fun with the process. But I've lost my interest in the hierarchy of cameras. Is a Leica SL2 better than a Fuji compact? Are flashes really still okay to use? Is the sky too blue in Austin? How are my calcium scores?

But when the going get tough the tough switch to "vivid" and run with it. Turnabout is fair play so I grabbed the camera back and shots some frames of Emmett out in the existential ruin of modern Austin and I was delighted with the Martin-Parr-Esque tangy color and odd composition.

Super chef, Emmett in one of his many amazing and topical T-shirts. 
Looking sassy after devastating a big bowl of "old school" ramen. 
Yeah. He can swim.

dysfunctional modernist construction. 

late last century urban construct. 

late last century urban construct. II

yeah. That's where we source our ramen. 

And we eat it outside, under the shelters, in the fresh air. 
Next month they are also opening a Tiki bar. Should be interesting. 


I was desperate for a walk this morning. Just to clear my head. And to get a killer breakfast taco at Torchy's Tacos down on Second Street. They did not disappoint. I carried my X100V with a certain insouciance. I clicked away with restless abandon. I found color in just the right places. I made it back to the house in time to make a cup of coffee and eat a slice of artisanal salami. Then I walked out of the house and into the studio where I rearranged the lights I moved yesterday and to "tweak the environment" in order to be on point for my two o'clock portrait session. 

The session was light and effervescent. The accountant showed up right on time. We joked around and laughed a bit before getting down to business. She was fun, funny and bright. We have a great, brief session. She was in and out in 15 minutes. Just what she wanted. Just what I wanted. I processed the files, made her a gallery and then took care of some personal business. My accountant has some idea he thinks would be just right for us. I'm old school. I never jump on something until I've done a mountain of research. But all that takes time. Still, I can't put on a blindfold and just transfer some funds. 

Second Street is getting ready for Halloween. It's actually a big deal in Austin. 
But mostly for the young adults of all stripes. Kids? Not so much. Baby Boomers?
Busy passing out candy and trying to catch up on their fave Netflix series. 
Yeah. The 31st. Millenials and Get Z night on the town...

So now construction companies no longer build houses. Don't make stuff. 
They build stories like...."Well, we can't finish your project because our supplier can't get in that rare and restricted old growth mahogany we suggested but let me tell you the one about the traveling sales person and the farmer's daughter while I cash your check..."

Looks like the future governor of Texas is already getting ready for a long and contentious 
session after he gets elected next year. Hope it doesn't interfere with his movie production
schedule but I'd be happy to have a part time McConaughey over a full time
Gregg (brain dead) Abbott any time. At least he knows how to have fun...
Not Gregg. He's just poison. But Matthew, with a glass in hand.

all praise governor McConaughey. He will bring balance to the Force. 

No Fuji cameras were harmed in the filming of this blog post. 

And the camera brightened my mood. When is the Fuji X100VI coming out?
Will it have a 50mm lens? Will it be even sexier?

Now making my Leicas most jealous.

 

Struggling with the identity of being "a photographer." Maybe it's just one of those awkward transitions.


 Since the later half of the 1980's, when I launched a full time career as a professional photographer, I've accepted and grown the identity of "photographer." In a way it's like joining a cult where the constant practice of making photographs takes precedent over so much else. Extra time goes into photo projects, vacations revolve around places that we'd like to spend time photographing in, extra money in the budget goes to paper and film and now different digital cameras and software. The language and the knowledge of so much arcane trivia made us a tribe. It all seems like so much fun until you come to grips with the idea that you placed yourself in a narrow little slice of a very big world. 

The problem with identifying too closely with the pursuit you undertake for your income; your living, is that every profession and every art form changes. And, sure, you can continue to try doing the same thing over and over again but you know at some point that you're just riding around in circles and watching your objective relevance fade into the sunset. In your twenties and thirties everything is new and exciting. In your forties (and hopefully even into your fifties) you've mastered the parts of photography that seemed daunting or complex in earlier years and maybe you are lucky enough to still be surrounded by a cadre of like minded image makers for whom the gut level thrill of making photographs (and being a photographer) never wore off. Go team Anachronism!

But it seems, at least to me, that by the time you hit your mid-sixties, it's hard to summon up the same levels of enthusiasm and immersion you once did. After you've lived through popular culture's fifth or sixth (painful) re-discovery and emulation of Robert Frank or Irving Penn, and once you've done all the top ten styles of the last 50 years for the umpteenth time for clueless clients you get....jaded and bored. 

I never wanted to admit that this would happen to me but there it is. I've started to lose interest in doing yet another assignment for anyone that consists of making work portraits of people against a gray seamless background. Or a blue one. Or a white one. Or a black one. I'm beyond exhausted by having to explain why light on a face in a portrait isn't supposed to be flat as a one toned color swatch but should have some direction to it in order to "model" the subject's features. Painfully over having to have the conversation about the physics of getting a really ultra-wide shot where the subject is "super in focus but the background is super out of focus" and despairing also of the idea that everything can happen, photographically, in the blink of an eye. Just lean in through the doorway and make us a masterpiece...

I got into the habit of always carrying a camera with me back in the days when one of my favorite everywhere cameras was an Olympus half frame with a 40mm f1.4 on it. Loaded up with Tri-X and always ready. Back in the "golden age" of art photographers and art school programs I was one of hundreds of people walking through Austin every hour of every day with cameras hanging from thin leather straps over proud shoulders. Now, in a sense, I walk pretty much alone through Austin, probably a humorous oddity for subsequent generations. Most of my personal photography now is just a reflexive response to boredom and habit more than any heartfelt desire to tackle some project. Even the thought of doing "a project" reeks to me of obsolete, art school hokum. 

All of this dissonance is, of course, tied up with my too close self-identity as an artist and a photographic technician. As though it's not enough just to be a fellow human scrounging his way through life. Having a ready label that, at one time in history, seemed like a bold and adventurous but was really was just a way of trying to differentiate oneself from the  sometimes abhorrent concept of "herd." Or even worse, "average." 

After what seems to have been a long enough career I'm a bit stunned and, to tell the truth, a bit saddened by the reality that after all this time I have only a handful of my own images that truly move me, that hold my attention. Photos I would risk rescuing from the proverbial burning house. Mostly from early trips abroad or of beautiful (to me) girlfriends and, by extension, close family. And I'm pretty sure that it's the same for everyone else who followed the same trajectory as me. We envy the Henri Cartier-Bressons and the equally driven Richard Avedons but when we weigh our output against that of those previous generations we know most of us have, in most "art" regards, fallen far short of what we were wishing for when we were young and bulletproof. Buoyed up today only by the vague and shallow assertion that, "at least we tried." 

I find myself in the process of moving on. Of jettisoning the identity and life of a commercial/professional/mercenary photographer. I have nothing left in the tank that I want to share with clients. I don't need the income and I don't need the frustrations that come with trying to match the changing tastes and expectations of a current advertising industry which has been raised almost exclusively either on cheap stock photography or the idea of collaging bits and pieces of images together to make something acceptable in post processing. I cringe every time I hear: "We can fix that in post." And I feel even worse when I hear myself say that. 

I no longer want to find myself at a beautiful location, with perfect light, at the perfect time, only to get a phone call from a harried marketeer trying to shepherd a wayward CEO to a fixed location and time calling to tell me they are running about an hour late. And I never want to be there again to suffer the frustration of knowing that if everyone had done their part correctly the light would have been perfect and the photograph marvelous but when they finally did show up the light had gone ugly and flat, the open shade was now gone and the temperature had risen 20 degrees. Now we have a sweating, corpulent man in a bad, bad suit, in a rush, sweating like he'd just run a marathon and hoping "we can get this done in a couple of minutes." 

Some have suggested I volunteer and work with good non-profits. Oh gosh! That never occurred to me...(sarcasm alert). But that's shoehorning a different package of compromises than the situation I'm already trying, it seems, to exit as gracefully as possible or as clumsily as necessary. 

I've turned over my position at the theater to a younger, trendier and much more enthusiastic photographer. Upon doing so it dawned on me that most of my buying and selling of gear in the last decade, at least, was very much predicated on how to do that specific kind of assignment as well as I could. Now I feel unencumbered by any expectation that I need to go long and low noise and fast. Half the gear I have I never needed and the other half was job specific. 

Here near the end of my desire to be commercially viable I look across the assemblage of stuff in the studio and wonder how it was I got so far afield from the slender selection of passionately acquired gear that worked so well for me in the beginning... and how to get back to the garden. I fear that my own missteps have closed the gate and that the desire for the coolest gear drove away the magic. 

So, yeah, I'm wrapping up a couple of jobs that I thought I wanted but I really didn't. I'm already telling people who call or text that I'm blocking out the month of October for "a project." But it's not true. I just don't want to do their work anymore. I'm going to spend the month searching to see if I can find a path back to my own work. My own photography. Unencumbered by client demands and taste and unencumbered as well by the legion of internet photographers who are quick to suggest what I could have done differently at every moment. 

I really am going on a road trip in October and B and I are really going further afield in November. And maybe I really will take just one old camera and one lens. And maybe I really will only photograph things that are interesting to me without any concern for outside verification, validation or acceptance. It's an interesting time. Thank goodness there is still swimming and walking. I at least still understand my attraction to those activities right now. I'm hopeful I'll find a good way to reconnect with the passion I've felt for photography right up until last year. It's at least a useful mission. But only to me. Only right now.


9.23.2021

Leica delivers firmware upgrades across the SL system universe. Even for an "ancient" camera. And for the SL2 it's a very valuable upgrade!

 

New firmware. Get some.

Yesterday Leica delivered firmware updates to its entire SL line of cameras. All three cameras got new stuff. And all three camera firmware updates also included separate firmware updates for various Leica SL lenses. The most amazing fact was that Leica, now in 2021, is still delivering free updates for the SL camera that they launched back in 2015. I think that's a great service to owners of older but still cherished camera bodies. 

The 3.8 tweak for the SL is largely about incremental improvements in the look of L-Log video files but I'm sure there are "under the hood" tweaks that went uncatalogued. 

But the real excitement are the new features and performance enhancements brought forward for their flagship model, the SL2. It features a bunch of new video stuff that most of us looked at longingly when the SL2S was launched. Now both cameras have waveform monitors as well as color reference bars and audio test tones. Leica added more video codecs, including H.265 codecs that deliver the same image quality as 400 M/bs All-I files but at half or less the size. You can now add highlight and shadow controls to image profiles for photos and videos. You can upload custom LUTs. There have been improvements for auto-focus speeds and much more. You'll have to go look it all up for yourself. It's here: 

https://us.leica-camera.com/Company/Press-Centre/Press-Releases/2017/Press-Release-Now-available-for-the-Leica-SL-System-new-Firmware-Update-3.0-with-extensive-improvements-for-an-even-better-workflow

This makes a very good professional camera system even more flexible and more capable. It also brings the SL2 closer to the level of the SL2S for the kinds of video I am most interested in. There are other fixes and additions that will certainly appeal to different users. 

If you shoot with SL cameras the firmware updates are available on the Leica websites now. Since I'm not getting paid by Leica (or by my readers) you'll have to do a bit of grunt work and find the URL yourself.

Oh, and the update for the 24-90mm make it even better. At least that's my current "placebo" effect.

From a comment on DP Review. A quick list of improvements for the SL2

  • New Autofocus algorithm
    • Improved eye/face/head/body recognition and focus tracking.
  • HEVC video compression
    • Internal 4K recording with 10 Bit at 60p/50p with h.265 codec.
  • Long-GOP
    • Recording for 10 Bit codecs with 150 – 200 MB/s means same Image Quality as All-Intra but less than half of data size.
  • Segmented Video
    • Videorecording will be split 1 minute segments to avoid data loss.
  • Individual Viewing LUT
    • Upload function for individual Look Up Tables.
  • Enhanced Live View
    • Better low light image composition control of the Live View image.
  • Image Overlay
    • Allows alignment of the camera position on basis of a previous taken image, that is displayed in a transparent mode in the EVF or on the LCD.
  • Automatic Follow Focus
    • Definition of three focus points for automatic focus shift during video recording.
    • FN Buttons are now possible to use.
    • Focus adjustment in video and live view additionally to predefined sequence.
  • Wave form monitor
    • Professional exposure valuation of the video signal.
  • Color bar
    • Reference for correct color grading and sound control in postproduction.
  • Record indication Frame (Tally Mode)
    • Camera shows red frame on LCD during video recording.
  • Highlight weighted metering
    • Metering method to save highlights instead of shadows.
  • Dynamic-range control
    • Increase brightness in shadows.
  • Highlight-shadow control
    • Precise contrast adjustment controls.

9.21.2021

Contemporary Studio Portrait with Michelle. Fun with cameras and people.

 


I have photographed Michelle many times over the last 30 years. We've cast her in fun, advertising "soccer mom" roles and in more serious roles as a "young, professional career person." She's always been fun to work with and fun to hang out with so when she called and asked me to do a new headshot for her I snapped to attention and got the studio ready. 

Michelle and I think we've discovered the secret to a good rapport at a portrait sitting; it's mostly just hanging out and catching up with each other for about an hour, maybe a little more, and then finally getting down to the photography. If we try to push forward without the gab session it never works well for either of us...

The Leica SL2 had not been getting enough love lately so I decided to use that camera and the Leica 24-90mm lens. It's a nice match for a square portrait. All lighting done with LEDs. 

I'm pretty happy with the results.  I guess I could work on the retouching a bit... but I think we have the rapport thing figured out...


Standard Zooms versus Primes. Which is, overall, the better choice?

Back in the days of fixed camera to subject distances, slow film and 
the leisure time to make every prime lens work.

In the earlier days of my career as a photographer I was a totally committed prime lens (single focal length per unit) photographer and I didn't "waste" my time with zoom lenses. Everything I shot, for at least the first twenty years of my romance with photography was done with a single focal length lens. A big part of the reason for that is I mostly shot with a four by five view camera and medium format systems. There were no zooms that I am aware of for 4x5 view cameras and the few zooms made for the Hasselblad and Rollei MF systems were big, slow and of very limited focal length ranges. You really, really needed to need an MF zoom to consider getting one...

Even up till the late 1990s I was highly resistant to zoom lenses. I presumed that the prime lenses I was using on Leica R cameras and Leica M cameras would always be superior choices when compared to zooms. And that was probably true until about a decade into this century. The way I saw it, up till around 2006 or 2007 was that there were advantages to both zooms and primes but for my particular line of photographic work the primes were a better choice. 

A lot of my prejudice was based on the presumption (based on actual and anecdotal evidence) that early zooms weren't quite as sharp as primes and all of them were heavier and slower than my collection of primes. But shooting weekly at the theater for the last 20 years made me shift...a lot. 

Here's where I see the argument between the two kinds of lenses now: The performance of the lenses at the same apertures is such that for most work the best zooms are equal in image quality compared to most primes. There are situations (live theater, performances, sports) where the flexibility to immediately change focal lengths without stopping the whole process is critical. Zooms win; hands down. I don't really care if my 85mm f1.4 is X% sharper than my 70-200mm zoom if 85mms isn't the right focal length for what I need to shoot. Right now. In the moment. 

Old days? With rigid lighting set-ups, slow films and Polaroid testing one had ample time to reach into a bag full of lenses and find exactly the right one for the job. Things are not the same now. Being able to change framing and subject size in an instant can be priceless. Certainly worth giving up that small percentage of nano acuity we seem to have been mindlessly chasing... We are not anchored in space like we used to be...

There used to be a trade-off in size and weight between the more compact primes and faster zooms. The zooms were always bigger and always weighed multiples more. Now, lens makers and lens buyers happily accept enormously large and ponderously heavy single focal length lenses such as the Sigma Art 85mm f1.4 (first gen.). It's at least as big as my 24-70mm f2.8 zoom and much heavier. The contrast between modern, high speed primes and the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 is even clearer. Now a bag of top quality primes easily outweighs the same range of focal lengths that would provided by two or three zoom lenses. 

In the days of yore (pre-AF, pre-digital) we needed faster lenses for two reasons (and "bokeh" was not one of them). We needed bright viewfinder images so we could accurately focus and we needed fast apertures so we could get usable, handheld exposures with the popular film emulsions of the day; which were mostly in the ISO 100 region. Think: Fujichrome 100 and Ektachrome 64. Even though digital cameras are breathtakingly better at ISOs like 12,500 lens makers endless buyers continue to gravitate toward making ever faster and ever bigger prime lenses. And the truth is that we don't need them anymore. At least not for focusing or exposure reasons. 

One small and efficient prime lens. 

Now I am mostly torn between primes and zooms only when shooting my personal work. The work I do for fun. The work I wish was art. When I am photographing something like a play rehearsal it's too hard to always be moving and trying to find myself the right distance from the stage while the action is unfolding. Long ago I tried shooting theatrical work with three M series Leicas hanging around my neck and over my shoulders. My hit rate was low-to-non existent. I realized at some point that no matter what a good zoom cost me in image quality and aperture speed the ability to constantly change composition and focal range was too much of an advantage to give up. As zooms got better and better, optically, there came a point at which I stopped using primes in the theater for anything other than for specialty shots where I would have the time to set up scenarios and play with my toys. 

By the end of 2019, whether I was headed to the theater or headed over to a technology company to make photographs, I rarely had more than three lenses in my bag. I'd carry a wide angle zoom; something like the  Panasonic 20-60mm, or the equivalent, a standard zoom such as a 24-70mm or, even better, a 24-105mm zoom, and a longer zoom, such as a 70-200mm. Fast or slow apertures were less and less a consideration as my cameras leapt up from being good at ISO 400-800 to being great at  ISO 6400-12,500. Usually I use just two zooms; each on its own camera body. That way there's no need to stop seeing what's in front of the camera in order to fumble around with a lens change. The standard zoom and the longer zoom were able to handle almost anything the client and I threw at them. 

There's also one more advantage I have to name for zoom lenses. When I'm out in a dusty factory in Mexico or in dusty vineyard on a windy day, in the heat of the Summer, there's so much pollen, dirt, dust and airborne particulates flying around that changing lenses in the field is just asking for a camera sensor covered with garbage. And sometimes that garbage gets on there surreptitiously and we shoot and shoot and only discover, after the fact, that we're going to have our work cut out for us removing unwanted garbage artifacts from our images with PhotoShop. Two range-matched zooms and no lens changes goes a long way to guaranteeing clean files. 

With all this in mind, and the knowledge that the optical performance of better zooms is now exemplary, why do photographers continue to buy and use primes? Why do I have so many hanging around my office?

Part of it is nostalgic memory but some part of it is also tied to the ergonomics of actually photographing. Some of the appeal of smaller primes is tied to lowering the "profile" of a camera package in order to make it more discreet. And some of it is our sticky ties to the past. To the way we used to do things. 

I can make a good argument that it hones one's vision to work exclusively with one focal length for a period to time. Michael Johnston often writes about OCOLOY (one camera, one lens, one year) as an exercise in honing one's vision. The idea of finding a focal length that resonates with you and using it exclusively. The final result being that you are intimately aware of exactly what that one focal length can do in all situations. In which case you start looking for subjects which you know can be enhanced by your focal length choice. 

I'm not necessarily a big believer in that for someone who has shot for nearly a life time but I do agree that it's a great exercise for people at the beginning of their careers and one I embraced earlier, more out of poverty and necessity rather than a desire for formalist structure....

My attraction to prime lenses in the present is their low profile, their ease of portage, all coupled with very good optical performance. I find myself trying to buck the trend toward bigger prime lenses with faster apertures and I'm very happy with what Sigma (and now copycat, Sony) is doing by making their i-Series of lenses smaller, slower (aperture-wise) and more manageable. I have several of the 45mm lenses and love them. I find the 65mm to be a classic optical gem and a nice vacation from bigger lenses, and I'm sure I'll pick up the smaller 24mm f3.5 from Sigma when the mood strikes me to do more wide street stuff. All are tiny compared to my zoom lenses. And all fall into the middle of that range I like so much; from 35 to 70mm. 

I rarely use the speed of the fast lenses that I have. Wide open apertures with an 85mm f1.4 don't give me enough of a portrait subject in focus to be usable. I generally end up with f4.0 or f5.6 just to make sure the tip of a nose and the fronts of ears are in focus. If I'm shooting an exterior scene it would be exceedingly rare to dive down to f1.4 just because so little would be in the plane of high sharpness. 

No, I end up using the lenses where they do the best job; across zooms and primes. About two stops down from wide open or f4.0-5.6, whichever comes first. 

As I pare down my collection of gear I am more and more coming to like the idea of having just one superb standard zoom; like the Leica 24-90mm f2.8-4.0 paired with a low profile street shooting lens like the Sigma 45mm or even a Leica 50mm M lens with an M to L adapter. Big and proficient. Small, sharp and discrete. Gone are the days when I felt like I needed to be equipped to handle anything that comes along. Here are the days when I dream about distilling down to two or three lenses; at the most. And only doing things that match my vision. 

Where do you fall on zooms versus primes? Why? And I guess to dig down a bit more....if you could only have one lens (zooms included) what would it be? 



Exercise: I decided to use the measuring capability of my Apple Watch to get a read on my oxygen uptake (VO-2 Max) just for fun. To see where I fall on the curve; so to speak. Apple's fitness app suggested I do a fast walk on a fairly flat surface. The watch would monitor my heart rate, pace and time elapsed and would give me a decently accurate reading. But it did warn that a precise measurement would require a much more controlled set up....

I skipped swim practice on Sunday and instead did a four mile walking course around Lady Bird Lake. According to the watch my pace was 14 minutes per mile, give or take a few seconds, which meant the four mile course took a total of 56 minutes. My average pulse rate for the hour was 120 bpm with a high of 130 bpm (going up an extended ramp). My calculated VO2 Max was 41 which put me in the top quartile of people 60-65 years of age. I was pretty happy with the numbers and it was a fun experiment. Later in the day I did a slower loop through downtown, with a camera. That was much more fun....


The benefit of a nice, wide zoom is the instant flexibility it can deliver. 
The advantage of a prime is...it's a prime. 
 

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 photography 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 had 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 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 hope 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 nattering 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 today 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 fading 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 to 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 entryway 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 just by 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.