Best overall value for MY money? This past year it would have to be the Fuji X100V. A camera so nice I bought it twice.

 This is one of the first camera lines whose charms I resisted right up until the fifth generation of evolutionary refinements. I've played with all the previous generations and always found something about each one that kept me from buying it. With the X100V I think Fuji have finally made a nearly perfect digital version of Canon's much beloved Canonet GIII QL17 mk film, fixed lens, rangefinder camera. And I write that as high praise since the Canon GIII was my favorite of all film cameras when it came to being the perfect camera to just walk around with and document life as it endlessly unfolded in front of me. 

I just pulled the GIII out of a drawer to look at it while I write this and the one thing that immediately struck me was how much more it weighs than the Fuji X100V. The Canon has a density and a heft that belies its size! Perhaps the insanely great build quality of that camera is a prime reason that now, some 40+ years after buying the camera new, it still works as well as it did when I pulled it out of its box and loaded in the first roll of home-rolled Tri-X film. It's never seen the inside of a repair shop and has endured not only the ungentle college years but also endless roadtrips tucked into a primitive and unpadded backpack. What a wonderful highpoint in mechanical camera manufacturing. 

While my current flame, the X100V, is a bit lighter it's still so much more solid in feel than Fuji's first generation of the X100 series. It's solid enough now to feel like it will stand up to rough situations and inevitable wear and tear without having to be babied. On the flip side of the comparison with the older film camera the X100V is crammed full of digital goodness and its imaging abilities far outstrip anything I could have dreamed of back when the Canon GIII was my daily carry. 

Lately, I've been vacillating between using the Leica SL2 and the Fuji X100V as my camera of choice when heading out the door with no official photographic mission in mind. With the Leica I have the unspoken promise of getting the highest quality files for the format size. With the Fuji I have the guarantee of using a smaller, lighter, camera that's still capable of filling the quality bucket to the brim. In some regards it's a contest between an overflowing bucket of potential versus a "fill to the brim" approach combined with the handling advantages or constraints of each. And lately, once we fill that bucket we end up trying to pour the contents into a shot glass to put it on the internet...

I have to be totally honest and say that, so far, I'm having more luck pulling files that I love (color, sharpness, saturation, snap, crackle, pop) out of my little $1400 Fujis than I have had with the $6,000+ Leica. All the usual caveats apply. I think the Fuji was designed from the ground up, and then evolved, to become one of the most ferociously good street cameras on the market at any price. As long as you are happy with a 35mm equivalent focal length being your widest option. 

I think the Leica was designed to be a heavy duty platform with which to show off the excellence of their lens line. It's a camera that seems most at home in the studio, on a tripod or applied toward a specific assignment. The kind of assignment that provides opportunity for total control of most photography  parameters. Realistically, it's not the best street shooting camera and the weight of the camera, the weight of the usual lenses and the overall size profiles of the "best" combinations thereof fight the need for the camera to be transparent and agile for just walking around with a camera.

Sure, you can strip the SL2 down to its essentials. You can put the small and light Sigma 45mm f2.8 on the front to reduce the profile. You can use a wrist strap. You can minimize the menu options, etc. A good photographer, in sync with the SL2 can make great photos, but in a different way that one might with the X100V. When I use the SL2 for quick, instinctual photos on the fly, I have to make some mindset adjustments. There isn't enough flexibility in settings to make it a convincing/comfortable Jpeg camera. The settings for sharpness and contrast are coarse. Two settings above and two settings below the neutral/center position. None of the nuance provided by the Fuji. This means I must change gears and shoot my files in raw. But in raw there's no way to shoot a reduced resolution, full frame raw file. You're shooting in 47.5 megapixels every step of the way. There's also no ability to select between compressed and uncompressed raw files. So, if I want the color, sharpness, noise, saturation, and sharpening control in a Leica file I'm constrained to go for the whole enchilada of the hand's-off raw file. And I'm pretty sure that the designers in Germany wanted it this way. 

In defense of the SL2 workflow, if you are inherently a raw shooter you'll more than likely love the camera because it presents a minimalist workspace that allows for concentration on getting the shot at the front end coupled with having complete control and an almost insane potential for high resolution quality in the post production back end. When you want that personality in a camera you'll find the Leica in the top tier. And, when I'm working on client jobs that's pretty much what I want. I crave a camera that's so over the top in image quality and post production potential that it works to safeguard me from my own mistakes and misjudgments in the field. The SL2, and a really great collection of lenses, is heaven for commercial work. At least the kind of commercial work I like to do. 

But it just isn't as warm, friendly and enthusiastic as the X100V for the kind of work I crave for myself. That's why I have both. 

Yesterday I took the little, silver finished X100V out for a walk with me. I have an older, Canon Powershot neck strap on the camera because it's such a well made strap and it's so "right sized" for this camera. For most of the time walking around and hanging out I wore the camera tourist style with the strap around the back of my neck and the camera square in the middle of my torso. Not the paranoid tourist style where the strap is over the neck and over one shoulder, all bandolier/cross body style; (otherwise known as fearful strap style). 

When worn with the camera just hanging down right below one's chest (in tourist style) it's a simple movement to grab the camera with your right hand, operate controls with your left hand and grab a quick shot. Once the moment is passed you just let go of the camera and move on. No hysterics involved. No strap wrestling necessary. 

If you walk with any grace at all your X100V will not bounce against your chest and call attention to itself. In fact, I think of it as a feedback loop device that helps teach one to walk smoothly. 

The camera, when worn in that mode, looks like a cheesy tourist camera from the 1970's and no one pays attention to it. Worn in this way no one supposes that you are a devious journalist out to humiliate your subjects with unfairly revealing images. Not hiding the camera defuses the idea that you have nefarious goals for your picture taking and mimics the aspect of the happy tourist venturing about our fine town making photographs of his new discoveries. At least that's how it feels to me.

Yesterday I had fun just walking around with the camera. I've been practicing using the optical viewfinder with the bright frame lines. The biggest part of the practice is to turn off the image review and just trust that either I or the camera have judged the exposure and color correctly (enough) and to shoot just as fast as the camera can hit focus (which is pretty fast). It's a style of shooting that I used out of necessity when working with rangefinder film camera since there was no such thing as a post shot review or the representation of the frame with color and exposure overplayed in a preview mode. What I've found over time is that, unlike the way I worked with a camera like, say, the Mamiya 6,  with which I framed and committed to the shot, then walked away, modern cameras that allow previews and reviews (like most of our digital cameras) break the cadence of fluid shooting. They introduce a fear of missing something we could have controlled because we now have the ability to instantly quality control each frame. So we do. 

We stop the process of shooting, or anticipating shooting, in order to look at what we've done just a few seconds before. The act of interrupting the active process and looking at the finished frame also invites the ponderous part of our brain along for  an instant critique of the shot. The brain hems and haws and suggests. Did you try this? Did you try that? Can I see it just a little wider/tighter? Could you step left/right and try it again? Are you sure that's the composition we want? Hey, human, can we try it again with a different focal length? Do we look funny doing all this stuff? Are people going to like this photo enough? Should we try it in black and white?

And the process of iterative re-evaluation puts a pillow over the face of subconscious creativity and attempts to smoother it. I can see with my experience using any number of digital cameras that, while looking at the potential image in an EVF there is an undeniable urge to start fine-tuning the image before I shoot it. To tweak the color or exposure. And there is another layer of indecision that comes from seeing the image in its "finished form" that manipulates the photographer into shutting down the usual interactive shooting process because "the image in the EVF is "exactly" what I want." Because, in my experience, the happy accidents created by continuing to shoot even after you feel you "have one in the bag" is one of the joyful aspects of loosening the tight grip of the need for control. 

I'm liking the Fuji more and more as I use it more and more. With some cameras the charm is front-loaded and a few months later I'm looking for something new. With cameras like the Fuji I'm a bit diffident and stand-offish at first; almost challenging the camera to win me over, and then, months later I really don't understand how I could have lived without it.

Besides the optical viewfinder with the bright lines the other thing about the camera that endears me to it is the ability to use the in-camera crop to see a 50mm version of the file and to commit that to a Jpeg. 

I have several wishes about the whole X100V line. First, I'd like to see several more models of the camera. Especially one on which the actual focal length is 35mm giving me a native 50mm equivalent lens, in full frame speak. It would be especially cool if the finder magnification was matched to that focal length. I would also like to see a version of the camera that's got a 14mm lens giving me a 21mm equivalent focal length. It would come bundled with a 21mm bright line optical finder that fits into the hot shoe. The combination of the 21mm and 50mm lensed cameras would be an amazing system for a super-light travel system for professional and addicted aficionados of quick photography. 

Also, I would love for Fuji to lose the Q menu button altogether. It's poorly placed. They might consider what Leica have done for a quick menu. With the SL2 one press of the "menu" button brings up the user customizable quick menu. A second press of the button takes you to the full menu. It's a very elegant way t  get rid of an extra button on the back of the camera which inevitably gets accidentally pushed just when you don't need or want it. 

That's pretty much my complete wish list for the camera. 

I bought a used one in chrome and always thought I'd like the black better. So when I had a little extra cash I picked up a black one as well. Now I have both and to be honest I always like shooting with the chrome one better. It's more "obviously" an amateur carry-around camera in appearance and because of that it's better ignored by most people on the street. The black looks really nice but the chrome matches my earliest perceptions of the "rightness" of cameras. I can't wait until Summer when the lighter finish of the chrome camera delivers more value by staying cooler in bright sun. Nice to have a choice. 

Here's some photos from yesterday: 

The photographer is not wearing a headlamp she is wearing a plastic face shield.
Shot next to the Austin City Limits Studio at the W Hotel. 

Brushed metal for nice reflections at night.

This book was tossed in the car to look at while having coffee at the park.
I'd forgotten how bad the writing and commentary was but how 
beautiful some of the black and white photos of famous fashion 
models being casually nude were.

Austin is a patchwork of dead plants and plants that survived all odds. 

A hardy little fellow down by the convention center. 

Crusty, old photographer with a shiny camera. Face mask is from Van Gogh's "Starry Night." 


My ambulatory testing of the Panasonic Lumix 20-60mm lens. With support from the Leica SL2. Walking off the effects of the vaccine...

I've had none of the sinister side effects from the Moderna vaccine that I hear so much about. I'm about 28 hours out since getting the shot and I'm happy not to be suffering. But I did have one side effect that dogged me all day yesterday. I'm not sure it's totally a result of the vaccine since I had trouble sleeping the night before (rare for me) but after I came home I was incredibly sleepy. I took a nap for half the afternoon and fell asleep on the couch after dinner while trying to read a book. I went to bed early and slept in a bit later than I normally do. That's it. That's what I've been dealing with. But, since I didn't schedule anything else for the second half of yesterday or for all of today it's not like getting some extra rest is an inconvenience. Also, by way of supplying additional data: my arm is no longer sore. Unless something untoward occurs I'll be thrilled to be back in the water swimming tomorrow morning.

Okay. I wrote yesterday about my change of heart about pursuing all the super high performance lenses and decided to be more measured and scientific in my approach to lens acquisition and use. Part of this new "restraint" comes from bountiful successes with ancient Contax/Zeiss lenses and partly from the realization that I've been carrying around the "prime lens prejudice" since the film days. And it seems to be mostly an irrational carry over of lens preferences from the days before every (every thing!) got so good. 

With this in mind I've started paying more attention to one particular, inexpensive but good zoom lens. It's the 20-60mm f3.5-5.6 lens that I picked up from someone else's "kit dissection" during the recent S5 camera craze. I think we have a tendency (at least I do) to sometimes dismiss a lens out of hand when  popular and well regarded reviewers drops remarks about the corners being unsharp or the build quality of the lens (as if they'd taken it all apart and assessed each component under their microscope) isn't up to their standards. But I convinced myself, at least in this instance, that I'd just go ahead and buy the lens and see for myself what the fuss or non-fuss is all about. 

I've been walking around with the lens all week.  Here's what I like about the lens in general: It's mostly plastic so it's half the weight, or less, than the 50mm f1.4 S-Pro Lumix lens but it covers focal lengths from 20mm (as wide as I like to go --- comfortably) to 60mm which is a good, long normal focal length for me. The lens is chubby instead of long so it looks well proportioned on the SL2 body. The zoom ring is very smooth and well laid out. It's got a long throw and the focal length markings are well spaced out around the barrel of the lens. This makes it easy for me to set a focal length of something like 35mm and pretend that I'm shooting with a single focal length lens. I like having a AF/MF switch on the lens barrel so I can quickly change between the two settings without having to hit the menu or find the right switch on a camera body. I like that the lens hood locks on and has a button you push to release it. This means far fewer episodes of the lens hood dropping off the lens at an inopportune moment, clacking loudly on a concrete floor and then rolling under the theater seat in front of me or under a table at a social event. Nothing like crawling around on your hands and knees trying to find your lens cap to make you look like a real pro... especially while the keynote speaker is at the podium.

Finally, I like that the lens is slow (smaller aperture). I guess that doesn't make any sense but a slower lens formulation might be much easier to both design and also to manufacture well so my rationale is that image quality doesn't need to suffer much when a camera company is trying to hit a certain price point. 

The only thing I don't like much about this lens is that it trombones as you zoom to the longer focal lengths so it does increase in length. If I'm not actively observing the tromboning I don't really care. It just looks funny when you are sitting around playing with the lens and getting to know its feel. 

For the kind of found scene photos I like to take it focuses quite quickly and silently. I've loosened up my stance on slower lenses for another reason; cameras like the S1, S1H and the Leica SL2S are all low light monsters, capable of being used at ISOs like 12,800 with very little image degradation. At least very little that I notice. Now that the constraints of noise have been largely removed from our gear (across nearly every line of cameras) the differences between fast and slow lenses start to blur and then the only difference becomes...the blur. 

With wider focal lengths such as the range on this lens, or the native focal length on the Fuji X100V, I've started really embracing the idea of getting deeper focus. Shallow focus and wide angles of view are rarely as convincing an effect as I want it to be and I'm starting to consider the teeny-tiny slice of sharp focus with massive blur in front and behind to be the provenance of the longer, faster lenses. If you like the super-blurry background/foreground effect you'll get it with much more ease if you stick with super fast 50mm lenses, very fast short tele lenses, like the 85mm f1.4s and then just about any lens longer than 100mm with an aperture of f2.8 or larger. 

Today I mostly set the 20-60mm lens to f8.0 and left it there. If I moved in close that aperture worked to give me a sharp main subject and a subtly blurred background. If I moved further away from the main subject I got more and more of the overall frame in focus and this worked well for me. 

Even though it is considered a venal sin in some circles I did use the camera in Jpeg today and I cranked down the resolution to "medium". My idea was that the reduction in size would both reduce noise and increase overall sharpness and, secondly, that I'd spend much less time futzing around with the enormous 47.5 megapixel files in post where they would end up needed to be reduced for web use anyway. I'm pretty sure 20 megapixels will give me enough quality on the blog....

When I actually looked at the files at length I was quite happy with the results. The lens didn't disappoint me with its corner performance and I found most of the frames to be snappy, contrasty and filled with juicy detail. In all it's a lens that I'm using more and more of the time. 

Next week, when we're photographing models for a very large medical devices manufacturer, I'll switch back over to shooting raw, using a series of really good single focal length primes, and lighting the models with sharpness, contrast and color in mind. For a gentle walk around the city I think it's fair to forego the 15 pound camera bag full of primes. I really just need one camera hanging off my left shoulder, equipped with a lens that isn't so front heavy that the bottom of  the camera rests against my side. The 20-60mm fits the bill nicely.

Outside everything is the current rage in Austin.
Those are not coasters under the plants, they are 
QR codes to make ordering easier...

New businesses are starting to move into Second St. 
There is a presumption that we're getting closer to 
a time when we'll all feel normal again and want to 
shop like badgers on amphetamines. 

The Willie Nelson statue at the W Hotel and Austin City Limits
Stages is now, officially, a tourist destination. Maybe now 
more popular with some groups than the Capitol. 

As you might guess, today was signage day.
I gave myself bonus points for every sign I liked and shot. 

Adaptive re-use of public parking spaces. 

Why not place your tables and chairs right on the handicap parking 
sign? Really, who in their right mind wants to sit with their 
back to four lanes of traffic? Especially with those new-to-Texas
drivers who don't quite understand the rules yet....

The restaurant, North, seemed to understand the right way to 
surmount the lockdown early on. Ample enough outside 
seating to allow for social distanced dining. 
The safety of which fell apart as non-podded couples met 
for dinner and drinks and sat across from each other. 


I was out taking a walk this morning and ran into this...

You may remember my recent, frantic search for my missing Gov. Ann Richards slide and my subsequent adventure in scanning it once I'd found it. I forgot that the final images were going to be put up on light poles all the way from the state capitol down to Lady Bird Lake. I was walking along looking at life on the street in downtown and I looked up and saw my work flappping in the wind about twenty feet above my head. 

My photo is one of maybe a dozen different ones from a handful of photographers being displayed along Congress Ave. It's tightly cropped but even so it looks great. It's paired up with one of my favorite Ann Richards quotes.... A tip of my Stetson to the fine designers at Pentagram for making this all happen. 

And the flip side.


OT: The second dose has landed. The process was efficient. Now, back to work.

Long flowing dead grass. Just outside Trader Joe's at Seaholm.

 My older brother was deathly afraid of getting shots. Terrified. Once, when he was a child of about 6 we went as a family to a hospital on an air force base. My father was in the U.S. Air Force at the time. We walked up to a temporary building which served as the immunization clinic and that's when it hit my brother that this was really going to happen; we were all going to get the required immunizations so we could move to Turkey for a couple of years. And immunizations meant "shots!!!"

He bolted just before reaching the door to the clinic and crawled under the building, refusing to come back out. My father was irate and bellowed at him to get his butt out in an instant. The sheer force effect was futile against the absolute terror of the needle.

My mother tried the capitalist way and offered a bribe, the nature of which I don't remember, but that had no effect either. My father was on a tight schedule, and had meetings with his commander directly after this family event. The last thing he wanted to do was to crawl in the dirt under a building while wearing his clean and pressed uniform and his shiny black, regulation shoes. 

In the end we were reminded that rank does have its privileges. My father was the hospital commander and several of the enlisted men under his command happened to be passing by and, after assessing the situation (and the potential benefits of succeeding), immediately crawled under the building and dragged/cajoled my brother out. 

I'd like to think my brother would have outgrown this phobia as he entered adulthood but the continuing stories of his medical phobia are now family legends. And worse than shots for him? That would be blood tests where a quantity of blood is required. He might steel up his nerve now and go in to the appointment, if there is absolutely no recourse, but he routinely faints dead away on contact with the needle.

He was not the only person with a needle aversion in the family, to a lesser degree I shared his anxiety but I tried to be more stoic. I can give blood if I'm horizontal and I can get shots if you let me sit for a few minutes afterwards to regain my composure. But I do remember the time we had to get TB tests in order to volunteer at Ben's pre-school. The test was called a Schick Test and basically it's just a little prick and an air bubble under the skin. 

I went to my private doctor's office with Ben in tow to get the test done. I was led into the exam room and the nurse quickly "Schicked" me. I got up and walked down the hallway and into the waiting room where Ben was happily reading under the watchful eye of our favorite nurse. Then I felt a bit woozy. Then I sat down and put my head between my knees. Then I started sliding toward the floor. Very embarrassing, to say the least. 

We'll, I'm happy to report that I seem to have conquered this fear; at least for now. I've had several novocaine/lidocaine injections at the dermatologist's office this quarter, another at the surgeon's office and one at my dentist's office. No dramatic, visceral or regurgitant responses to report. And now I am also two for two with Moderna Covid-19 vaccine injections. In fact, in my own mind I seemed both macho and brave for both doses of the vaccine; both times I got my jab and proceeded out to the observation area without missing a step or having a vasovagal response of any kind. Not even a tremor in my hands --- and that's notable given the amount of coffee I ingest...

I wish I had been able to take a selfie today because I looked absolutely heroic while actually getting the jab. My jaw was set (rigidly) in a posture of pure nonchalance. But there were signs everywhere prohibiting photos; even selfies.

So, I was scheduled to get my second dose today at 10:30 p.m. but in an excess of hyper-punctuatility I arrived at 9:55, was ushered right in and, after cursory paperwork, plopped down in a chair in front of a steely-eyed nurse who crashed the giant harpoon of a needle nearly through my massively muscled upper arm and then recommended that I go straight home and take an extra strength Tylenol. She was formidable so I followed her suggestion. I am almost four hours past the injection and I haven't had a side effect yet. The same nurse told me to keep moving my arm around for the first half hour afterwards as that would subdue the soreness. I think she was right. 

Now, if I play my cards right, stay out of mosh pits, avoid the biker bars on Sixth St. and stay out of overcrowded elevators for the next two weeks I'll become as immune as I can be in the moment, and less cautious during every day. 

But if very many more people insist on poking me with needles in the near future I might end up under a portable building trying to become invisible. I doubt B. or B. will try to bribe me out. If they do want to try a bribe I'll quickly suggest a 50mm Apo Summicron lens. Just, you know, as a nod to system completion. 

I'll report back if there are any delayed, adverse reactions. Thanks for everyone's patience with my hypochondria. 

The follow up: We're nearly eight hours out from Vaccine Zero Hour and so far I've had no side effects to report. No fever, no chills, no nausea, no headache. Maybe they gave me the placebo... Waking up tomorrow morning will be the real test... 

The Odd Couple. My favorite camera and lens combo of the day.

 If you are like me you spend a lot of time thinking about which lens might be the absolute best lens in the world for your kind of photography and then spend even more time trying to figure out how to pay for it. And when you finally achieve the nirvana of acquisition you are stunned by the realization that the cost for ultra-high performance is a big, fat lens that weighs a ton and has a visual footprint so big that even sloths sprint away when they see you and your "best in class" jumbo lens approaching. It wasn't supposed to be this way...

What I think we really want, if we can eliminate the zany idea of "having to have the best!!!" and concentrate on how we use lenses (and cameras) is a compromise. While I realize that compromise is no longer fashionable in politics I realized a few days ago that what I was looking for in a lens is really just the best compromise.

I started processing these lens thoughts as I looked once again at 50mm lenses. I want something that works natively (with all features enabled) on my L series cameras. I wanted a lens that would work well on a Leica SL2. I played with a $5,000 50mm f2.0 Apo Summicron which I should love, love, love since it's supposed to be the mostly highly corrected and painstakingly designed  normal lens currently on the market. There are two reasons not to like it. The first is how big it is. It's just so......obvious. It's ungainly. When combined with the camera it just makes the proportions ugly. 

Sure, it may help one take better photos in that focal range than any other lens of its kind on the planet. But the cost is outrageous and if the lens actually scares people then at what cost is perfection achieved?

I should have known better based on my year long experiences with the Panasonic 50mm f1.4 S-Pro lens for the L mount cameras. It's a stunning optical tool. If you live with a test bench you'll be delighted. And the times I've used it for commercial work where appearance, size and weight aren't mission critical I've been impressed by its stellar optical performance; even when used wide open. Just stunning. 

But the problem is that I've spent $2200 on a normal lens that I end up more or less refusing to carry around in the street and use on a daily basis. And that sends me back to the studio to get something more...comfortable. Less threatening. More portable. Less ponderous. And when I reach into the drawer I sometimes pull out the very likable 45mm f2.8 Sigma lens. It's adorable and looks cool. It's understated, small and unassuming. But I find myself constantly wishing it was a stop faster and 5mm longer. 

I like the 65mm Sigma f2.0 equally well and it is a stop faster but sometimes I just crave that 50mm focal length. I have an adapted 50mm Contax/Zeiss f1.7 lens and it's a very good performer but I'm then locked out of being able to use autofocus and, when in MF, I don't get the "touch the ring and see a magnified image" feature all of the native L mount lenses offer. Ditto with the older R series Summicron 50mm. 

What I guess I am really waiting for is the introduction of the Panasonic Lumix 50mm f1.8 which I'm sure will come out in the near future. At least I hope it will. 

I'm tired of pursuing the "ultimate" in performance if it means that the lens must become more or less physically unusable.

For the last week I've surprised myself with an odd combination of lens and camera. I put the inexpensive, Panasonic 20-60mm zoom lens on the SL2 one afternoon and discovered that, physically, it's the perfect match for the camera. It feels just right. The right weight. The right size and, happily, the right cost. 

I've been taking this combination with me everywhere. I'm certain that this lens pales in comparison with the much more expensive lenses I've used but on the other hand I'm equally sure that it does a competent job and, if I used it optimally, it would return all the performance my typical walking around photos require. 

The funny thing about photographers is that we tend to see camera bodies in a vacuum, rarely accounting for the haptics of a camera and lens combined together as a system. Sure. the SL2 body feels great when I pick it up without a lens on the front. It's almost a perfect gripping surface and design for my hands. But as soon as I put the "wrong" lens on the front it can feel awful. A great example is, again, that super high performance 50mm Lumix. Add it to the SL2 and the whole package becomes front heavy, large and ungainly. Take the "perfect" 50mm off the front and stick the 50mm Contax lens; complete with adapter, on the front and it once again becomes a perfect combination for actual use. 

This may be one of the reasons I've never walked around town with a 70-200mm "professional" lens. It's just too big. The big, fat lens draws way too much attention, is awkward to carry and weighs so much that I have anxiety about the whole package being so heavy that the strap lugs will get wrenched off the camera. I use that lens all the time for jobs but it arrives on set via a camera bag and goes straight onto a tripod via the included tripod adapter. But out on the street? Forget it. 

Back that brings me right back to the 20-60mm. What I think I'm "giving up" is a fast aperture and a bit of optical performance outside the center 50% of the frame. I know the corners are softer than if I had used a much "better" lens but I also know that for most of the images I make the far periphery of the frame isn't important. What is far more important is that they camera feels just right in my right hand as I carry it down the sidewalk. The lens offers me three of the focal lengths I like to use: 40, 50 and 60mm. If I carry just this one lens and see something that requires a wide shot I'm ready without having to dip into a camera bag and change lenses. 

Yesterday I decided to stop presuming that I was giving up a bit of sharpness by choosing the zoom over some more effete primes so I set up a few test shots and put the SL2 on a tripod. I focused carefully and shot every lens at f5.6. The 50 Lumix S-Pro was absolutely great. But then so was the ancient, Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7. And interestingly enough, so was the Panasonic at 35mm and 50mm. 

Now, as I'm heading out the door I have many fewer concerns about using the zoom for more and more stuff. I'm starting to get more comfortable at 20 and 24mms as well. But more important than how it performs optically is how it feels when I use the whole system. I know car analogies get boring but most of us use our lenses like we use cars. They are functional. We mostly drive 65 miles an hour or slower. Our ability for aggressive acceleration is very limited. Whether you drive a BMW M5 or a Honda Accord you reach your destination in the same comfort and safety. It's almost a binary thing. You use the tool (car) and you arrive, comfortably at your destination. While there is more performance potential in the M5 chances are very rare that you'll ever realize that difference. Not in real life. 

By the same token landholding a camera and lens is a real equalizer; a leveler of performance. It's the same as going 65 mph on a good, clean roadway. It just works. The differences between ultimate lenses and workmanlike lenses evens out and you get the shot you intended in more than enough resolution, contrast and sharpness for nearly every task that doesn't require high speeds. 

It's comforting to find a lens for the interim. A system feels right when, if it's dangling by your side on its shoulder strap it begins to feel like a part of your own human system. All the stuff in the right place and nothing so showy that you draw too much attention to yourself and your photographic intentions. 

That's the formula for a well balanced photographic system. 


Where are we with the business? What's going to happen in 2021? Nobody can say for sure but.....

After a year of wearing a face mask every time I leave the house, staying away from people in general, and having been to a sit down restaurant once, and then only on the open air patio, I must say I am getting restless and bored. The recent winter weather with its version of enforced lockdown certainly didn't help my mood much either. So while I've tossed out the idea of winding down my commercial work here on the blog I'm pretty certain that a full stop isn't the way to go. I actually love the process of good photo shoots on assignment.

Tomorrow I'll get my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. In two weeks I'll be as immune as I'm going to get. I posted over on LinkedIn about getting vaccinated and three different clients (all companies I've worked with, pre-pandemic) immediately reached out to ask if this meant I'd be willing to work with them. All three are fun clients so I conditionally said yes. 

One job is for medical test equipment giant, Luminex. Another is for a large banking client, and the third is a for a tech company. All the projects revolve around people photos which is my preferred specialty. 

One job is here in Austin next Thursday, one project is in April in Sante Fe, and the third is in September in Gulf Shores, Alabama. In addition to these I've gotten several RFPs for ongoing projects from two ad agencies I've worked for consistently over the years. The new "get back to work" energy is all tracking back to people's perceptions about how ubiquitous the vaccine uptake is going to go over the next few months. I can say without hesitation that businesses are optimistic. 

If vendors are vaccinated and employees too it seems that we can all breath a collective sigh of relief and get back to the routines we've established through the previous years. Things will change; on the first shoot the client and my team will still be masked because we'll be working with models and can't be certain that we're not still liable to infect them, even if we're all vaccinated on the camera side. Each model will arrive and work in separate times slots.

We'll have lots of cleaning supplies and separated areas for make-up, and for models in waiting. I've worked with this client before and since one of their specialities is building advanced machines that detect viruses they are well versed on virus safety protocols and follow them rigorously in their business. 

I can't believe how great I felt when I booked the first job. It was with an overwhelming sense of relief after a year of relative isolation and stagnation, but there was also a thrill that I'd get to pull the gear out, devise a lighting design, work to get specific looks and reactions from my models, and also get to have socially distanced breaks with old friends/clients. An added bonus is that I'll actually get well paid for the jobs.

I add that mention of being well paid because so much of the work I did last year; both video and stills, was done "pro bono" for struggling non-profits and charities. It's one thing to give away free work but another thing altogether to have companies understand and pay for the value of what you do. Of what you bring to the projects.

Along the same lines, not everyone can just pick up where they left off and get back to work. I'm mostly a one person shop so I can start and stop with relative ease. But yesterday I got a call from the CFO of one of my absolute favorite clients; an international event company. This is a company I've worked with for 30+ years and the same five people at the top, and I, have been doing corporate work together all over the world. They've included me, as a photographer and sometimes writer, on shows in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, London, Monte Carlo, Rome, Prague and countless other really cool destinations around the country and around the world. 

The CFO was calling to let me know, before the official announcement later in the day, that they were closing their doors. They are giving their employees three months of severance pay and will spend the next month liquidating a huge inventory of sound gear, industrial video gear, endless amounts of truss, drape, electrical cables, etc. etc. They've made the decision to close based on the reality (for them) that shows aren't going to come back in the same way and with the same budgets for quite a while, no matter how many people are vaccinated. They've calculated that the finance people in major companies can see, easily, the financial value of people meeting remotely, via Zoom et al, and the accountants look forward to throttling down "unnecessary" travel and hospitality costs. 

At some point in every business one has to run the numbers and understand just how much shrinkage can occur in the business before the venture becomes unprofitable. Or much less fun. Or just depressing. 

Fortunately for this event company the CFO was nothing short of brilliant, and a bit steely, over the last 30 years and more or less enforced the idea of saving and investing to each member of the top brass, as well as the other employees. Most are well positioned to transition into retirement, if that's what they want. 

But the impediment they didn't feel like they could overcome was momentum, or the lack of it. It's one thing for single freelance creative to come to a hard stop for a year. With some budgeting and paring down it's possible to get away with doing not much as long as you still have some liquid cash in the bank, but big event projects sometimes take months of planning and require dozens of employees and contractors to accomplish and when everything gets cancelled for a long time the company loses so much of the market momentum they've built up over the years. Trusted clients at big companies get furloughed, new faces arrive after the thaw and give credence to the old saying, "A new broom makes a clean sweep." People now acculturated to Zoom (on the client side) question the value of more expensive but more impactful live experiences, and the budgets get beaten to death with a shovel. I'll really miss these guys. They were like the lifeguards at the pool of at events; both for me and for their clients. 

I'm being choosy for now. I only want to work on projects that are a good match for my style and my way of working. But I'm not quite ready to step away from all the excitement and fun a photography assignment can deliver. 

Trying to figure out exactly how to best light a person on location is a lot more fun than trying to figure out which cable to buy for an accessory I will probably never get around to using...

I like to predict stuff. Sometimes I'm right. Usually, I'm wrong. But not totally wrong. Right now I'm going to predict that the second half of 2021 will be the busiest year for American companies (and their suppliers) in decades. Restaurants, hotels, airlines and photographers are about to get hit by demand we would have only dreamed of in the middle of last year. I'm not leaving a big pile of fun money on the table if I can help it this year. There are way too many Leica lenses still out there that need buying....

I checked in with my kid to see what he thinks about all this. He's too busy already to seriously entertain a light hearted discussion about economics with his father. But he's seeing opportunity blooming everywhere.

Hope you are happy and well. KT



Finally got that appointment locked down. Also took a fun photo with "Willie Nelson." And friends. +Bonus: The SL2 does black and white...


I got an e-mail from Austin Public Health at 3:27 p.m. today telling me I have an appointment on Thursday morning, this week, for my second dose of Moderna vaccine. I've had about a dozen friends and acquaintances tell me they got incredibly sick for two days afterwards. Fevers, chills, splitting headaches and dramatic vomiting. But I've got another dozen people who claim they just had sore arms and needed to take a nap the next day. I hope I roll the dice and get the sore arm and the (always welcome) nap. 

I was downtown when I got the message and I was pretty delighted. The appointment will slot in right after my visit with the dermatologist with whom I'll play: guess the mystery bump. I don't really care about the side effects, I'm just happy to be getting the vaccine. Last time I had blood work done the doctor told me I was low on plasma delivered, nano-tracking-bots... But I have been guaranteed that the vaccine will change my DNA --- for the better. Next picture you see of me I'll probably be 6'6" and absolutely ripped. What it really means is that in two more weeks I'll be able to go to the (outside) happy hour with my friend, Debbie K. (You first met her in the Henry White novel...). 

Since I was wasting time waiting for a text or a phone call from APH I had decided to prowl around downtown with the Leica SL2 and the Sigma 45mm lens. I used the lens today in manual focus mode and realized that I really like to shoot that way. I also put the camera into the monochrome mode so I could read comments about how much better everything would have been in color...

To celebrate after I get jabbed Thursday I'm going by the Arepas
shop on Colorado St. for a Mexican Coffee. 
No idea what's in it but that's part of the adventure.

couldn't pass up another photo of my plastic "girlfriend" at the shop 
on Second St.

Even the most caustic and cynical among you will have to admit that
the proportions of camera-to-photographer are perfect.

It's a ratio thing.