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