10.31.2021

Goal reached for October 31, 2021. Happy Halloween!!!


Well...we pulled it off. We just hit the official 28,000,000 mark for 
individual page views here at VSL. That doesn't count re-posts elsewhere
or the ubiquitous blog feeds. Add those numbers in and we've crossed over the 80,000,000 mark. 

We also hit 5200+ completed blog posts with 99 % of them being about 
PHOTOGRAPHY.

Over 25,000 photographs posted. Lots of letters typed. Many paragraphs indented.

I'm celebrating by stealing a Snickers candy bar from the trick or treat candy by the front door....

More to come.

 

Late Afternoon Cloudscapes.



There is a short little season in Austin when the temperatures drop down into the 50s and 60s, the sun sets earlier and the clouds scoot through in an interesting way. Late afternoons on these days are my favorite times to get out and walk. No excessively fabulous gear is necessary or even desired. Just decent shoes and a functional camera, with even a pedestrian lens. 

I was out walking on this particular day with the little Sigma fp and Panasonic's 50mm f1.8 lens for the L mount. There's nothing particularly striking about either of these images but they do remind me of the reality (largely ignored around here) of a season change between Summer and Everything Else. The cue is when the highs in the afternoons drop into the mid-70s instead of staying pegged at the mid-90s.

The 50mm lens is almost always a fine companion. The Lumix version is mostly thermoplastic in construction so it's very light even though its footprint is fairly big. It's a modern 50mm construction so there are more elements, and fancier ones, than in the older Gauss lens designs that were a standard in standard lenses for decades. Now, instead of expecting a lens to be soft everywhere but in the center when used wide open, lenses like the Lumix 50mm are satisfyingly sharp across almost the entire frame even at their widest apertures. Stopping down improves the overall performance by small percentages and even close up performance is excellent. 

The 50mm f1.8 Lumix is one of the few real bargains I've found in the Panasonic L mount alliance catalog. When I bought mine it was about $450 (new) which, if you factor in inflation, is probably less in real dollars than 50mm normal lenses from the heyday of film cameras. The Panasonic "bargain" line-up of recent f1.8 prime lenses seems like a good place to put together a modest and minimalist system. I'd consider the 24mm, the 50mm and the 85mm f1.8 lenses and then stop and catch my breath. It's an interesting alternative to a zoom-based system.

In a month we'll have even lower temperatures and the sunset will be earlier. The light in winter comes in at a more interesting slant and is generally more dramatic near the end of the day than our summer and mid-year light. I'm looking forward to it. The changing seasons also means a lot less sweating on walks but, conversely, more stops for coffee. A nice trade.

 

10.30.2021

I had fun walking around shooting the camera and the newest lens... Oh! I didn't tell you about that? Well.....

 

I screwed up on a scheduling thing. The Day of the Dead Festival at Waterloo Park in Austin, Texas is tomorrow afternoon/evening, from 2pm to 7pm. Not today! I got to an empty park and then, surprised, I checked the details on my phone. Dumb photographer. But undaunted I headed downtown to see if anyone else was celebrating. 

As you can see in the image above I was using my new (to me) Leica CL and also a small, new lens. The lens is an inexpensive, TTartisans 35mm f1.4 lens which covers APS-C but not full frame. I bought it to have something small and light to carry around on the CL. It's totally, totally manual everything; no AF, no exposure automation, no exif info. But it's available in L mount without the need for an adapter and even destitute bloggers can afford one... it's a whopping $75 at B&H Photo. Less than the price of a Leica brand lens cap. 

I've never used it before. It just came on Thursday. So it's the only lens I took with me this afternoon. I have to say that it's reasonably sharp in the center at f1.4, much better at f2.5, and absolutely fine at f4 and f5.6. I included this dour looking image of myself because it was shot at f2.0 and I think the detail around my angry looking eye is really good. I also like the way stuff falls in and out of focus. I'm loving the punch in for manual focusing and now that I've had the opportunity to use the camera with a fully manual lens on the front I'm happy to report that I spent three hours downtown, shot about 175 photographs and came back home with the original battery I had inserted this morning still showing a full charge. Much better. That's more like what I expected.

Here's some color stuff from the ramble through town: 



I stopped in to use a restroom at the historic, Driskill Hotel.
You gotta love a place that still provides cloth hand towels.
A nice touch. I'll drop by more often.

And the restrooms are so well appointed. 

Austin photo pro and teacher, Chris Caselli, shooting some 
photos for the Mexic-Arte Museum festivities. 






















The signature squint.

All images= CL + TTArtisans 35mm f1.4 for APS-C.

Sorry to be so slow at moderating comments lately. 
We're trying for an hour or less but we have to sleep sometime.

The CL is a fun camera. I'll be using it a lot for a while. Sorry.
Hope it doesn't get too boring. But take heart, we're still publishing 
7 days a week, barring acts of civil disturbance or the intrusion 
of an angry God. Let those comments fly; I'd like to practice my speed moderation skills.




A First, Tentative Outing with a Leica CL.

 

PDA Band. I found these guys at the Tau Ceti art installation and asked 
if I could take their photos. They were delighted. 
And delightful. 

I talked a little bit about the Leica CL earlier. Yesterday, with three batteries charged and the Panasonic 20-60mm lens on the front of it I took the small, unobtrusive camera downtown just to get the feel of it. The two wheels on top mystified me at first. I finally got them figured out but I should have read the owners manual first. The CL is a small, light APS-C camera which is an obvious homage to the original Leica screw mount cameras of the 1930's, 40's and 50's. It's visually spare and minimalist which makes it ultimately stealthy. Cover the red dot with a piece of black tape and you'd have a nearly invisible camera to work with. 

The camera has a very good 24 megapixel sensor and fast processors. A major advantage for someone who already owns Leicas of a similar generation (think: Leica SL or SL2) is that the menus are very, very similar so there's not a lot of confusion going from one model to another. A second advantage is that the CL shares the same lens mount with the SL series of cameras as well as a TL series that is dedicated to the APS-C format. The lenses in both systems are interchangeable between all cameras although using the TL lenses on the full frame cameras will automatically trigger an APS-C crop. 

The CL has a very usable, but not remarkable, EVF with which to focus and compose. It's a nice and compact camera that would make a very good back-up camera for an SL or SL2 system. There are a number of TL lenses and after market, third party lenses that will fit on the L mount but are designed for the cropped, APS-C sensor only. I am hesitant to buy a whole series of dedicated lenses for the CL if I can just as happily press full frame SL and full frame, after market L designs into use. But your mileage will vary. There is an aesthetic advantage to some of the lower priced Chinese lenses as they are mostly much smaller and unobtrusive. Less obvious. But all are completely manual in use. No auto exposure, no AF, and no exif information transferred.

Right now the logical zoom lens to use with the camera, for me, is the Panasonic 20-60mm lens since, in APS-C World, that combination of focal lengths equals a very useful range. In "full frame speak" it's equivalent (in terms of angles of view...) to a 30mm to 90mm zoom lens. And for me that's a very useful range of focal lengths. It's also a logical body to use if you need extreme telephoto reach since your garden variety 70-200mm zoom would extend to 300mm and the density of the sensor means good detail and resolution even at 300mm.

So, how did it feel to work with? I've grown more and more comfortable with Auto-ISO lately and that takes a bit of stress out of the equation. I set it so the lowest shutter speed with this camera is 1/125th of a second. I tend to use the "A" mode of the camera so that eliminates yet another variable. That leaves me with having only to intervene with exposure compensation and switching to appropriate apertures to get the depth of field I want. All of this makes it more of a point and shoot camera and less of a customization nightmare. 

You can set up a CL so that the camera uses the EVF exclusively for all the shooting duties; from composition and focusing to exposure evaluation. The rear panel, when used in the this mode, is only active for image review and when you need to access the menu. It's a great way of working because there isn't as much temptation to stop your process and gander at the rear LCD after each little flurry of exposures. It makes the camera, at least for me, into more of an analog style shooting camera instead of an always on digital camera. 

As far as handling goes, the body is rounded and doesn't have a lot of points of good purchase for my hands in its stock form. I knew from using other, smaller cameras that it would feel better in my hands with a thumb rest on the back. I ordered a Hoage thumb rest that fits into the hot shoe of the camera on the same day I ordered the camera. I was not disappointed, the thumb rest makes my camera-hold more secure. 

When I'm walking to get somewhere quickly I toss the camera over my left shoulder on the original, leather, Leica strap that shipped with the camera. It's so light I can barely feel it there. But when I slow down and look for images I'd like to shoot I tend to wear the camera with the strap around my neck and the camera bouncing on my rock hard abs. 😆 Then, when I see something interesting, I just grab that camera and bring it up to my eye. It's not as stealthy as it would be if I were to give up the full camera strap altogether and just use a wrist strap with the camera but I'm never really worried about being ultimately stealthy so I'm fine making the visual declaration that there is a photographer in the area... It's hard to miss seeing any camera that's bouncing there, right in the middle of one's torso. 

The camera should be a very popular one come winter as it seems to stay fairly warm if you turn off the power saving mode and just let the camera sit on "simmer" between shots. It won't warm up a cup of coffee but alternately you probably won't need gloves for any but the most severe weather.

And all that heat has to come from somewhere so you really do need to bring along extra batteries. If I were walking around a new (to me) city for a full day, and shooting with abandon, as I usually do, I think I'd go thru a battery just about every two hours. So, a long shooting day would need at least one battery in the camera and three more in the pockets. Four total for leisure work in a long day. But if I were shooting for money and it was a typical, busy job I'd feel more comfortable with six total batteries in the bag and a charger in tow. 

And that brings up another point of resistance for some people... the camera is completely port-less. You will not find doors on either end of the camera. No USB, no HDMI, no microphone or headphone jacks. It's just bare, rounded corners. If you want to recharge a battery you'll need to pull it out of the camera and put it on a charger. If you need to transfer files to your computer you'll need an SD card reader. The camera is set up to be almost a completely dedicated shooting tool and not a post production hub. You need to know this going into your purchase of a CL. Believe me! With this camera you are NOT paying more for video capabilities...

If you want ports and plugs and internal battery charging then skip this camera and get an SL2 or SL2S camera instead. They've got the ports and the set-ups you want. 

I spent some battery time setting up the camera and then I used it to take photos during my walk. I depended on the "power saving" setting to extend the battery life but by the end of the walk (about an hour and a half) the battery was just about to throw in the towel. I currently have three Leica batteries and two Sigma fp batteries, all of which work in the camera. I'll likely buy a couple more Sigma fp batteries because they are half the price of Leica batteries and I'd conjecture that they are identical, aside from the logos and part numbers...

It would be nice if batteries lasted longer but then Leica would have had to increase the camera body size and some of its charm would have been cancelled. Batteries are relatively cheap. We can always use them again in a Sigma fp or fp L. 

I need to get used to handling a smaller and lighter camera. Reducing the weight and making the camera more invisible is different for me. And you know how badly we humans react to change. 

I will say that no one took as much as a second look at my camera. It just screams: "tourist/amateur/toy" camera. No one batted an eye when I asked if I could photograph them. And that's exactly what I wanted out of the camera. 

Now, let's take a moment to discuss the results. The camera is highly neutral. The images I got were sharp and detailed and the color looked great. The output seems to match the kind of color and tonality I've been getting from my appropriately tweaked SL cameras. That's a great thing, in my opinion. I like for camera families to match; more or less. 

I shined my Cole Hahn shoes just before I left the house but I'd already scuffed them only a half hour in to my walk. I should walk more carefully but that might interfere with the "fun quotient." 
f5.6 is snappy, sharp, high res, and contrasty. More of a nod to the lens
than anything else. But I have to give the camera some credit too. 
Still trying to get a good photo of the mannequin with the big flashy bow...
Day of the Dead art on the windows at the Mexic-Arte Museum on Congress Ave. Lovely. 
Spiffy car detail. Twin turbo something or other. Goes 10 MPH on Mopac at Rush Hour.
Just like all the other cars....

I think that the CL can be a bitchy little camera that has some operational glitches. I noted today that when I brought it into the office it had abandoned the settings I'd engaged earlier and headed back to its defaults. I had the new settings set up in "profile #1" so it was a one click operation to reset them back to where I'd set them before but I need to understand if the internal clock battery just needs some longer term charging or if I'd hit a reset somewhere. But that means the CL has a certain amount of personality and I'm glad to tolerate that if the other choice is just another homogenous and mundane tool, bereft of the certain whimsical nature that makes all of this more fun....

This afternoon I'm going to a Day of the Dead Festival and I'm taking the CL and the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens with me. They look perfect together and I'm hoping they work well with each other. Both have the latest firmware installed so.... we'll see.



10.29.2021

A quick still life in the kitchen. Light from the back porch.

Technicolor Homage to Edward Weston...
 

Birthday Camera Arrives. Customer is Very Happy.

 

Kirk's Leica CL with Panasonic 20-60mm S lens on the front.
A full frame equivalent of a 30-90mm lens. Just the way I like it.

One of the earlier (film era) Leicas I owned was the original CL with its extremely sharp and contrasty 40mm f2.0 Summicron lens. The camera and the lens were a delight. The body was a bit fragile and one point of failure was the little metering probe that sat right in the optical path and which was supposed to swing out of the way milliseconds before the exposure took place. Ah, the days of mechanical complexity... 

The CL stood for: Compact Leica. I imagine the thoughts behind the digital CL are the same.

As you know I talk a lot about cameras here but buy new stuff very, very rarely (just kidding!!!). But life is short and there are so many cameras I haven't even played with yet. The CL was just such a logical addition.

The Leica CL hit my radar earlier this year when I realized that the bigger SL variants, while being superb picture taking machines, were a bit heavy to carry around when you just want a companion camera with which to capture ephemeral and errata. When I recently unearthed a box full of black and white prints I made after a trip to Mexico City in the early 1980's my brain started mixing together my experiences with that ancient and small "original" Leica camera, my years with the film CL, and my time lately with the color science of the SLs. It seemed to me that the new digital CL was a great combination of features with just a few downsides. 

The camera came yesterday, near the end of the day, so I had ample time to unbox. And with a well preserved total retail package the Leica unboxing can be an extensive undertaking. The camera came with all of its original packing, including the black fabric bags that hold the various accessories, the original strap, all the documentation, all the body covers and even the box which unfolds into a series of drawers. This camera has no discernible wear, came with the latest firmware pre-loaded, and ticked every box. It also came with the original Leica battery and two additional Leica batteries. The price was, by most standards, outrageous --- but everything, including economics, is contextual. It wasn't going to "break the bank".

I haven't had time to shoot anything with it yet because no matter how beguiling a new addition to the camera collection might be morning swim practice always takes precedence. I meant to shoot some tests later this morning but the utility company is trimming trees away from power lines today and I wanted to be here to supervise and keep those numbskulls from butchering my 100 year old live oak trees. Now I'm headed to lunch with one of my favorite creative directors. 

After lunch I'll spend a good part of the afternoon seeing if it's really true that the colors are great, the files are wonderfully but complexly sharp and that the batteries are weaker than Popeye with a year of NO spinach. 

With that I mind I think I'll just circle back at the end of the day and add some first impressions. Given that the menus and the color science are all in the same current family I'm not sure I'll have much to say other than to make a glancing discussion about basic handling. 

It's a beautiful camera and it's less than half the size and weight of an SL2. It's a promising combination. 

10.28.2021

Photography and the fear of the unknown.

 

There are dangerous places in the world. I'll readily acknowledge that. But a lot of people carry fear around with them like a malevolent cellphone. Always on. Always transmitting danger signals whether there really is peril ahead or not. It's like the old saying trotted out in the movie, Buckeroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension: "Wherever you go, there you are." 

I've walked down dark streets in many cities around the world, late at night, alone and dragging along cameras and all the accoutrement of photography. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I've been accosted. I've never been robbed, never damaged and never relieved of photo gear. Not at 2 a.m. in Mexico City and not while stumbling back to my hotel near daylight in St. Petersburg, Russia and not when returning to my hotel from a casino in the dead of night in the Dominican Republic. 

I'm not big or scary. I'm only 5 feet and about 8 inches tall. I don't carry some wicked firearm. 

I only carry with me the expectation that I'll be fine and, in the worst imaginable scenario, I'll only end up losing an easy replaceable camera and lens. And maybe a wallet full of easy-to-cancel credit cards. In most major cities of the world I could be out shooting with a new camera and a replacement credit card the next day.

I don't go to war zones. I don't go to areas in beleaguered countries where people are absolutely desperate. But just about anywhere else? Let's go. Leave the fear at home. If you survive you'll have great stories to tell. Fear just breeds fear and once you've got the stink of fear on you only then do you start to attract predators. Cameras just aren't worth that much to thieves anymore....

Re-imagining my pour over coffee maker. Rinsing grape tomatoes.

 


We were having Emmett and Lisa, two restaurant owners, over for dinner and I was trying to get all the prep work done for my dish. I wanted to rinse some grape tomatoes and I noticed the pour over funnel we use to make coffee sitting on the drain board. Voila. Re-imagined as a different kitchen tool. 

The tomatoes just needed to be rinsed...but not to worry, they got baked for 25 minutes in a 425° oven. 

I was busy, but not too busy to grab the old camera I keep on a shelf near the kitchen for times like this...

The dinner was a success...but mostly because Emmett and Lisa brought some incredible bottles of wine with them. 


10.27.2021

My Least Planned Out, Most Adventurous, Early Photographic Adventure. Mexico City.

Walking aimlessly through Mexico City.

 In 1982 I was working mostly as a copywriter and more haphazardly as a photographer. It was early days for me as a photographer and I had only just mastered (become barely competent?) at developing my own Tri-X film and making my own black and white prints in our co-op darkroom. Times were easy back then; Austin was cheap and opportunity was hiding around every corner. We were just heading into Summer and I'd wrapped up my teaching duties at UT. I was between jobs and waiting for projects to boil up from the creative minds of the ad agency people I'd started to write for.

One day in June I rode down from Austin with Belinda in her car (I only had a bike at the time) to visit my parents in San Antonio, B was visiting her parents a couple miles away.  I was just hanging out with family a bit, getting free meals and access to a free washer and dryer. You know, ex-student standard operating procedures. And in the middle of one warm morning it dawned on me that I was bored. I'd read all the books I brought with me. I'd recently bought a well used Leica IIIf red dial rangefinder camera that came with a collapsible 50mm f3.5 Elmar lens and I taught myself to trim the film leader so it would load properly into the camera. It was....primitive. But I more or less got up to speed with the controls and even became somewhat comfortable using the rangefinder for focusing. The rangefinder window was deal-killer tiny and it was separate from the window through which one composed. The composition window as roughly equal to the angle of view of the 50mm. There were no bright lines, no switchable frame lines, etc. for any other focal length. If you wanted to use something like a 28mm lens on that camera you could focus via the rangefinder but accurate framing would require you to buy a separate bright line finder that you would place into the hot shoe. Still, it was a small, light and unobtrusive camera...and certainly not the kind of camera anyone would think of stealing in 1982.

I called B and told her I was bored and planning to make an impromptu trip somewhere. She wished me luck. I called around to the various airlines and found a super cheap flight on Air Mexicana to Mexico City. And, by "super cheap" I mean something around $68 roundtrip from San Antonio. I went to a used book store and bought an old travel guide to Mexico City and then packed. I carried one small backpack with a couple changes of clothes. I didn't need a camera bag because all I took was the small camera and 15 rolls of home rolled Tri-X. That and an ancient, screw mount, 50mm f3.5 lens...






The Cathedral at the Zocalo.



Worshippers traveling on their knees. 

King of the park. 

flim flam. 


My hotel was the building on the left...



Texans didn't need passports to travel to Mexico back then, just a drivers license. You did have to make sure you saved $15 for the airport tax in Mexico City in order to get back home... There were no "on line" reservations back then, no cell phones for normal people, etc. I got a ride over to the airport, hopped on the next flight and three hours later I was in the middle of a packed airport in a totally unfamiliar city. 

I'd just gotten my first credit card two years earlier and thought it would be the magic ticket for the trip but most of the places I stayed and most of the restaurants I visited didn't take credit cards. That meant tightly budgeting the $300 I brought for the five day visit. I stayed on the fourth floor of a hotel on the Zocalo which was just around the corner from the big, famous cathedral. The hotel was old and great and had a café on the rooftop. The only downside was the every morning band practice for a 300+ member military marching band which struck up each day around 7 a.m. 

Every day I'd plan to see something new and different. Mostly I walked but occasionally, like the day I went out to see the pyramids, I had to go in a small tour bus because of the distance. With a very weak command of Spanish and being entirely solo I was often totally confused about signage, instructions and warning signs but most people have a good nature and no one let me walk out into traffic....

I spent days at the giant park in the middle of the city. I loved walking around looking at menus for fancy food I couldn't afford in La Zona Rosa. I loved shopping in the national pawnshop (sadly, no good cameras...). I loved drinking Sanka while having heuvos rancheros at Sanford's House of Tiles. And I loved the thrill of walking the length of the Reforma Blvd. at two in the morning. As a goofy kid with a forty year old camera and third hand clothes no one ever gave me a second glance. The city was easy back then. 

Odd to think that in 1982 one could be, for weeks at a time, totally off any grid. Off THE grid. No cellphone tracking. No credit card tracking. The only thread attached to any system was the airline manifest and I'm sure Henry White could have easily dodged that. It was sweet to be lost from the system. It was even sweeter to be totally unencumbered by clients, family, significant others, etc. No time table, no agenda, and no deadlines. Just walk out the front door of an ancient hotel, small Leica in hand, and a couple rolls of film in the pockets of your frayed and faded Levis. Letting the electric flow of a city of 20 million people pull you along.

Rolling back into San Antonio, I walked to my parent's house from the airport. It was only a couple miles away. They took me out for dinner and when I got back to their house I did a load of laundry. The next day B came by to collect me and patiently listened to all my breathless stories on the hour drive back up to Austin. She deposited me at my co-op studio on 7th street, in downtown and I got to work, all excited and energized, developing the twelve rolls of film I'd shot. About 72 frames per day. A tiny, tiny fraction of what I might shoot now in an afternoon. 

Maybe there is a lesson for me in all of this... Can't quite see what it is though. Free laundry? 

The French Actress, Marie-Christine Barrault. 
Nominated for an Academy Award for her role in
Cousin, Cousine