The Holiday Season is Upon Us. Now is the Time to Spend More Hours Taking Photos and Fewer Hours on the Web. (Web = sticky, sticky, deadly....like a spider web).


Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley. 
Dicken's "Christmas Carol." 

December marks the start of the holiday season and with it comes more free time to plod through websites, blogs and videos on the web. Most are either directly or indirectly trying to get me to buy more stuff. All kinds of stuff. Any stuff. It almost worked over the weekend. I had nearly convinced myself that I needed a second Leica CL. Someone close to me suggested I learn to use the one I already have before lighting another $3,100 on fire and tossing the burning embers into the fire pit of commerce. In the cold, hard light of day they were absolutely right. I was misguided. I should stay focused on the Leica Q2 instead! (Joking, just joking. It seemed to write itself...). 

I hate the fact that if I look up the price of a camera on B&H Photo or Amazon I can "look forward" to seeing an infinite number of ads for the same camera pop up as ads on all my newsfeeds. There's an ad for X camera on the Washington Post site and here's the same ad on the business section of the New York Times site. And the ads are kinetic. The camera in the ad keeps jumping out at me from a whole ad full of similar products. 

Business tends to slow down around the holidays. With my parents gone and the locus of celebrations dispersed there's less required attendance and supplication to family events than ever before. It essentially means that I'm more free to do things like supervise this morning's repair of our septic system or to wait on the phone to schedule having the same system pumped, later in the week. I might even have enough holes in my schedule to be present for that exciting event as well. 

Since my small, nuclear family has been well provided for no one really needs or especially wants to get presents galore. In fact, everyone I know is busy trying to clean out clutter, to simplify their lives, and to remove all the over-aggregated possessions they've spent so much time and money getting in the first place. The running joke in our house is that I buy everything I want when I want it so instead of trying to be creative and finding the one thing I haven't gotten for myself the family can just come out to the office, sort through the cameras, wrap up the newest and shiniest one and put it under the Christmas tree. No muss and no fuss. 

To a person we're all more interested in sharing a great meal with friends or buying stuff for extended family members who are still struggling to get established. It's much more fun that "getting something." 

But, as photographers, I think the coolest gift we can reward ourselves with is the free time and the permission to go out on adventures taking photographs hither and yon. So, right now I have choices; I can sit in front of the computer and talk myself into ever more expensive and mostly useless (to me) camera gear or I can plan out shooting trips, get in the car with the right camera and lens (which I already own) and go have an adventure. I can watch tutorials on YouTube or I can go out and live my own tutorials in the world outside of my computer. 

I love walking through various downtowns at late afternoon and early evenings, in new places, with a camera in my hands. I need to head to San Antonio during the holidays and spend a few evenings photographing the holiday trappings along the river walk. I need to head to Johnson City to see the 1,000,000 Christmas lights that Pedernales Electric Co-op puts up in the trees around their H.Q. and I really want to make it to San Angelo to see how they decorate their historic downtown for the season. 

Since a lot of people are taking time off around the holidays I think it's high time I pressed some of this needlessly expensive photo gear I've been buying into taking personal portraits of all the friends I've wanted to have come over to sit in front of the lights and camera for me. 

It's time for me to stop shopping for gear and start using what I've amassed. It's also time to turn off the mercenary photo sites and start looking around for things like good holiday movies, great cookie recipes and fun events I haven't discovered yet. If you can't make time for some of this stuff you might be working too hard. (But if that's fun for you then go ahead and do it. Advice seems specific to the particular human giving it). 

It's a good time to write a few checks to the charities we support. It's time to remember friends who seem to inadvertently fallen off the radar. But it's mostly a time to celebrate making it as far as we have with as much grace as we can muster. 

I guess when you hit a certain age you become happy all on your own and you finally realize that making other people happier is the secret.

Besides, the sales are generally better in January....

Don't look for gear links here. We're not part of the sales team.


Random Observations. Monday Morning Opinions, Etc.

Loving the diagonal.

 I spent some quality time walking up and down Austin's current "most popular" tourist area this weekend. That would be South Congress Ave. or, as some locals call it, "SoCo." The street is lined with trendy restaurants, boutique hotels, coffee shops galore and many, many local and national retailers. If the weather is nice the sidewalks are crowded and the outdoor coffee shops even more so. 

While I was walking along with my camera it occurred to me on Saturday that I'd been out on that popular walkway for the better part of two hours and in all that time, passing by hundreds and hundreds of people, I had not seen a single person carrying or using a dedicated camera. 

Sure; there were plenty of people taking selfies, group shots or photographs of buildings that amused them but not one...single...person carrying a Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica, etc. Had this same venue existed when I first became interested in photography I can assure you that every second or third person would have had their Pentax, Olympus, Nikon or Canon over one shoulder, usually on a wide strap with colorful embroidery. 

Later in the weekend, yesterday, it was beautiful outdoors. The temperatures in the afternoon were barely into the 70s and the sky was post-rain, clean and beautiful blue. Downtown as getting its dose of new Christmas lights and ornaments. Shop windows boasted new displays and the coffee shops were doing good business. But, again, not a single person in the whole of downtown that I walked through had any sort of camera other than what was included with their phone. In the space of a couple of years cameras have vanished. Just vanished. 

And it's not like Austin isn't a tourist destination. In 400 yards of walking on Second St. I heard Spanish, French and German spoken by different groups people. And, I think, one of the Scandinavian languages as well... but in all groups from everywhere else --- no cameras. None. Non-existent. 

At first I considered that this might be the result of a demographic shift; that younger people were so glued to their phones that any other implementalia would just be a distraction for them. But dashing my assumption was a preponderance of silver-haired tourists. And, again, no cameras. No zoom lenses. Nothing. 

You may live in a city that has far more tourist traffic than does Austin and you may still see people out photographing with real cameras but I think Austin is somewhat of a "canary in a coal mine" city that tends to trend out stuff a bit ahead of the rest of the country. And it looks like we're done with cameras. 

Personal anecdote: I swim with a number of people who are somewhere around my age or younger. Three of them in the past week have, in an off-hand way, asked me if I'd like to have their cameras. Not an offer to sell, none of them need the money, but an offer to present the cameras to me as a gift; with no strings attached. I demurred and suggested they donate to one of the photo programs at the community colleges. I don't need extra cameras either. But it's telling that, to a person, they told me the cameras hadn't been used since the person acquired some recent generation of smart phone which answers all their needs for photography. 

I think we've hit a tipping point and I wonder if it's equally reflected in declining sales from the major camera makers. It's my assumption that, with the exception of people who "need" to use a camera for specific work or art tasks, that we are witnessing the slow but accelerating death of all manner of traditional cameras; mirrorless or DSLR. The grim reaper of old trends isn't differentiating. 

Writing this in no way implies that I think we should quit our jobs as photographers or stop enjoying our hobby or passion as photographers. It's just an observation. I intend to go on just as I have been and merrily sporting cameras around town. It's just that I  fear I'm going to start sticking out like a neon brilliant sore thumb in short order...

Electronic Shutters. For those of us who might keep using and buying cameras I think we're about to experience another one of those technology shifts with our gear. First Sony and now Nikon have introduced cameras with electronic shutters that have jumped over the hurdle of working well with flash sync and also reading out information fast enough to combat obvious rolling shutter effects. What was required to let makers eliminate the necessity for mechanical shutters was sensors that can read out tons of information at a deliriously fast pace along with processing components that could handle the torrent of data with equal dispatch. And I think we've hit that spot. 

I don't see this as necessarily a big win for buyers and users of the gear. We have cameras now that offer both electronic shutters and mechanical shutters and the ability to switch seamlessly between the two at need. We can have good flash performance and very fast shutter speeds in the same box. 

Yes, the images that are taken with fast electronic shutters will now have less rolling shutter effect or motion artifacts but I think few users really experienced problems from these things since the mechanical shutters do a great job right up to 1/8,000th of a second, in most of the popular cameras. Sure, now it's easier to shoot 20 or 30 fps with the electronic shutters but when has that ever been a rational and passionately felt need?

What is really means is that camera makers will be able to remove the very last set of parts that materially effects camera reliability: the actual, mechanical shutters. After the removal of moving mirrors with the introduction of EVFs a few years ago the mechanical shutters became the single most frequent reliability weak spot in all current cameras. They are fragile and all of them, no matter how great and wonderful the camera, eventually just wear out. Some far sooner than others. As the camera manufacturers move to make electronic shutters the only shutter in their cameras they are removing a big headache for themselves. They will reduce the amount of warranty work required by a huge amount. They will eliminate the entire structure of moving parts. In theory, once the investment in fast processors is amortized the cost savings should be profound. 

But don't worry. The cost savings will NOT be passed on to consumers. No, I'm betting that camera makers market the electronic shutter as a new feature and something highly desirable. And you'll pay more for it. Instead of reading advertising about dynamic range or megapixel count get ready to hear breathless accounts from the camera maker's influencer lackeys about how shooting at 20, 30 or 50 fps has changed their lives....how they are able to capture the more perfectly perfect moment in time. The ne plus ultra of fleeting expressions. And be prepared to withstand their condolences for those poor schmucks whose cameras limit them to only 8 or 10 frames per second. A whole swath of users relegated to shooting only things that don't move. At all. 

The New Virus. Ah shit. We're back in the middle of the pandemic again. I just ordered another 100 face masks because we tend to go through them as quickly as kitchen paper towels. Once again I'm putting much desired travel plans on hold. Once again I'm anticipating clients extending their work-from-home policies (and no "face to face" photography policies) and once again I'm bracing myself to hear from a bevy of brain dead conspiracy theorists who, if they would just shut up and get their vaccines, could possibly have helped prevent this latest outbreak ..... or at least minimized its consequences. 

I'm trying to look on the bright side. Another lockdown means I won't be buying a couple of business class airline tickets to Europe or Japan any time soon. I might as well use that budget for something over the top like a Leica S3 medium format camera and some lenses. I'm not getting any younger waiting around for everything to open up again. Maybe blowing a huge amount of cash will trigger my usual personal consequences. Meaning that the minute I drop twenty or thirty thousand dollars on a camera system I don't need the virus will mysteriously vanish and I'll have to start saving for airfare all over again. I might have to take this path as a community service.... you can thank me later...

So, what are you up to on Monday morning? 

Final thought in reading around the usual suspects this morning: Are we of a certain generation condemned to live in the past and endlessly cherish the products and trappings of our youth? Is it ever okay to accept the current state of the art and enjoy it or are we forever joined at the hip with The Beach Boys, Cool Jazz, Bitchin Camaros, and analog? Is that Lady GaGa on my stream? I think so....


Finally...a nice afternoon on which to break-in my new lens. Out for a constitutional with the Sigma 18-50mm and its new friend, the Leica CL.

One of those handheld, ISO 6400 shots that you just hope will turn out. 

Big, concrete blocks.

Once again I'd like to thank the W Hotel for their fine hospitality and clean rest rooms.

Holiday Lighting at the Power Plant.

Solitary Afternoon Coffee.

 Ben left his coffee cup on the kitchen table. I walked by and saw the shadows and light. I rushed to my office to grab a camera. I was momentarily transfixed. It feels odd when happenstance does all of your "styling" for you. 

Leica CL + Sigma 18-50mm. 


The first soggy, chilly outing with the Sigma Contemporary 18-50mm f2.8 Lens. Not perfect. Not bad, but not perfect.

 the color and contrast are great. 

I was excited to order this particular lens. It's a wide-to-moderate tele zoom lens with a fast aperture (f2.8) that doesn't change with varying focal lengths. It's relatively inexpensive. It covers the APS-C format and I was very happy that it came in both an L mount and E mount. I wanted a zoom with this speed and focal length to use on my Leica CL. The Leica version is around the same range of angles of view but it has a slower and variable variable aperture and while I'm sure it's keenly sharp and possesses some magical Leica pixie dust its price, given a quick feature-to-feature comparison with the Sigma, is a ball buster. The Leica comes in at around $2,000 while the Sigma is an easier to manage $550. As an all-arounder for the second tier system in my studio I think we're fine with it.

I took the Sigma lens out today, on the CL, and walked around the familiar downtown path. I was hampered by a continuous rain and some colder than we're used to temperatures. Very few people were downtown and outside in the rain today. But that's fine. I photographed what I could.

The new lens is not without a few flaws. I wish the focusing ring and the zoom ring positions were switched. I'm used to the focusing ring being at the front of the lens and the zoom ring being nearer the camera body. It's going to take some time to get used to. I also think the zoom ring is set up opposite from most other L mount lenses. On this lens the zoom ring rotates counterclockwise to zoom from wide to tight. My other lenses are reversed. 

While the lens is sparky and contrasty when shot wide open it seems to resolve less detail when used at maximum aperture than another lens that I've been using a lot on the camera; that's the Panasonic 20-60mm lens. Once I stop down the Sigma 18/50 to f3.5 everything sharpens right up just fine. Likewise, the lens tends to vignette a lot when used wide open. You'll either have to fix the corner darkening in post or choose a smaller f-stop to prevent vignetting... and that plays against the total usefulness of the fast maximum aperture. 

The build quality is a step or two below the Sigma Art lenses I've been using but is on par with others in the Contemporary Series, like the 30mm f1.4, the 16mm f1.4 and the 56mm f1.4. But it doesn't have the same tight and dense feel one gets when handling native Leica lenses for the CL. 

I'll give you my opinion right now: The color out of the lens (with the Leica CL) is perfect. Nice and saturated with very good overall contrast. From f3.5 on down to f8.0 there's ample detail and resolution. The handling will take getting used to. The lens isn't built like a Leica or Sigma Art lens but the counterpoint is that this lens is light and easy to carry around all day without much effort. It's a trade off. 

Would I buy it again? Yep. It'll make a nice everyday carry lens for the smaller CL system. This lens and a pocket full of batteries is just what the photo doctor ordered for non-stop street shooting, found object shooting, artsy photos and much more. 

check out the vignetting in the bottom corners. 
I double checked to make sure I had the hood on correctly, and no, I
didn't have any filters on the lens.

Men's suit with blue car.

Cold, soggy days help keep the streets empty and quiet.

The lens at its widest zoom setting of 18mm. 
Same camera position but with the zoom at the longest setting of 50mm.

Corners corrected for vignetting in PhotoShop.

Corners left uncorrected.

The interesting thing to me about the vignetting is that these files are out-of-camera Jpegs and the camera is reading the lens profile so these images should be corrected with in-camera processing. It's entirely possible that the Leica will need to have a new firmware update to properly provide an in-camera correction. 

Stuff like that seems to happen all the time now in our interconnected universe. 

Bingeing on Netflix and Amazon Prime movies this weekend. Watched Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in "Indiscreet"  two nights ago and loved it. In the cue now: "Roman Holiday" and then "Funny Face"; both featuring Audrey Hepburn. And what lazy holiday weekend would be complete without plowing through Fellini's,  "La Dolce Vita" --- subtitled. Never dubbed. Never. 

Also liked, "The Holiday", with Kate Winslet. Saving "Love Actually" for closer to Christmas. It's a perennial favorite. And if we feel quite silly we'll watch Chevy Chase in "National Lampoon's: Christmas Vacation." Always love the scenes with Cousin Eddie. Just hilarious. 

That's all I've got for now.

After a chaotic journey through FedEx my Sigma lens finally and mysteriously arrived.

 I finally ordered a Sigma Contemporary 18-50mm f2.8 lens for my newish Leica CL on Wednesday, Nov. 24th. I got confirmation almost immediately that my ordered had been received and the merchant sent along information stating that the likely delivery date would be December 1st, via Federal Express. The next day I got an e-mail update from them showing a revised delivery date of Sunday, Nov. 28th. "Nice surprise." I thought. 

On Thursday I checked in on the delivery information directly, at FedEx, just to be sure we were really scheduled for a Sunday delivery. But on their site it showed the delivery as scheduled for between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Friday the 23rd. Wow. The timeframe kept shrinking! But then, in the middle of Friday afternoon I got a new note from FedEx telling me they could no longer find my tracking number. It has ceased to exist.

I called their 1-800 service number and got a pleasant operator who assured me that the drop out of information was due to a system wide update and she assured me that the delivery would occur on Sunday the 28th.  Until I got a new message this morning; Saturday the 27th, telling me that the lens was on a truck for home delivery today. I didn't know who to believe at this point so I grabbed a clean towel and my swim bag and headed out into the driving rain and chilly wind to make my way to the pool for the 8 a.m. swim practice. 

It was in the mid forties when I got to the pool (which is outside) and the rain was slanting down, driven by a stiff breeze. I changed into my swim gear and walked through the cold rain the 100 yards from the locker rooms to the pool deck. Thankfully, there was steam coming off the water and the water temperature was right where it should be at 80° Fahrenheit. I hoped in and started the warm-up. 

Swim practice was fun and hard. We swam good yards and on the main set we established short intervals and a fast pace. It was an hour of pleasant penance for those extra chocolate, bourbon pecan bars I enjoyed. I think I have a few more workouts to get through to arrive back at homeostasis....

I was enjoying a cup of coffee at home around 10 a.m. when there was a knock at the front door. I opened it and greeted the guy from FedEx who handed me a nicely packed cardboard box with my new lens in it. I am still perplexed by the chaotic scheduling and re-scheduling by FedEx but essentially just happy to have my box (and my new lens) half a week sooner than B&H initially promised. 

On to the lens. It's incredibly cute. Small and light and the perfect match for the Leica CL camera. I've only shot a few frames around the studio to make sure it's working as it should but I anticipate getting out this afternoon, if the rain stops, and shooting some more critical photographs. It's pretty wonderful to have a small, lightweight zoom lens for the format, complete with a fast, constant aperture, at a price that's reasonable and digestible. 

Of all the stuff I've had delivered from a big store this year the Sigma 18-50mm wins the prize for best packaged. Wrapped in bubble wrap and then embedded in more bubble wrap in a large and all encompassing box. No nicked or crushed box corners. No visible scars of handling trauma. Nice. But few stores can match the care that the Leica Store Miami lavishes on their shipping process. Their boxes and internal packing are flawless. I might buy something else from them just to marvel again at their packing...

The camera and lens together seem like a natural pairing. Like brie cheese and red wine. Coffee and a scone. 

Speaking of coffee, I think I'll go and find some more...

Are you expecting self-Santa to get you any fun photo gear for the holidays? Always curious....