8.20.2021

Odds and ends. Random thoughts. Reaction to some industry introductions. General musings.

Back to the big, fat lens again. That's a project for this afternoon. 

Calling it early. A couple of weeks ago I was looking at the calendar for September and trying to process what I should do about the event job I agreed to do down on the "Redneck Riviera" also known as "The Southern Coast of Alabama." When I agreed to do the project it was a nice, sunny day in April and everyone seemed to be lining up to get vaccinated, and the general feeling was that we'd be mostly out of the woods, pandemic-wise, by the end of the Summer; latest. Looking forward from April it didn't seem like a big deal to get on a plane and take two hops over to Mobile, AL, and then grab some ground transport to a decent resort. Then three or four days of easy, fun work and the return. But that was then and this turned into now. 

Two weeks ago I looked at the numbers for the area in question on the CDC website and decided that life is too short to take a chance at making it even shorter. I got in touch with the client and explained that I had to resign the job. She was fine with that. 

I reported this all on the blog a while back and only got one saucy response about falling in the shower  (the inevitability of risk...) but there's the difference between people who run their lives on faith and a prayer and people like me who look at the numbers, the science and the facts on the ground. And the facts said that 65 year olds, no matter how good a shape they are in, should not take chances with the Delta version of Covid if they can help it. I could help it. Better to stay in Austin and get more swims in...

Well, wouldn't you know it? The organization I would have worked with still has me on the mailing list so this morning I got a message from them telling everyone involved that the physical conference would be cancelled and they would continue with an online/virtual event instead. The client included charts, graphs and CDC information, as well as reporting that there are NO ICU beds anywhere in Alabama right now. None. I'm glad I had the foresight to cancel when I did. I was able to book other, safer work instead. Work which I might not have had access to if I'd waited for the event organizers to make their move. 

The wine project wrap up. I can't express how much fun it was for me to have a big project to work on right in the middle of the Summer. This is usually a slow time for photographers unless they are wedding photographers, and I think maybe the same virus that shut down the Alabama event might be messing with productivity in the wedding photo niche as well. 

The Hill Country Wine Association project had me out in the fresh air and vineyards for a total of five shooting days and in the studio for a couple of relaxed and happy (air conditioned) days doing post processing on the files. 

It's interesting, always, to see how stuff gets made and how many steps there are between grapes on a vine to wine in a bottle. I worked with four different cameras, just for fun, and didn't need to light more than a few set-ups in a dark wine cellar. Half the fun was just driving around the Hill Country looking at the scenery and trying to navigate to the right spots at the right times. 

I've probably regaled you guys with more wine harvest shots than you wanted to see but they were fresh and different for me and I was anxious to share. 

I've made a bunch of friends over the course of the project and have a slew of open invitations all over the place. I came back with a couple cases of wine and most of what my Austin friends and I have sampled is really good. No stinkers in the bunch and only a small set that would fall down into the "serviceable but not great" category. I've given away most of the bottles since I'm still of the belief that too much wine tamps down on the swimming performance and nothing is more important (hyperbole alert) than swimming fast. 

The advertising agency handling the Texas wine's public relations seems to be doing a great job. I keep seeing stuff in national media about Texas' ascendency into the top contenders, top ten of wine regions nationally (USA Today's #3), and I've got to say that when I'm driving back home after a day of shooting I drive by dozens of wineries that have packed parking lots and plenty of avid wine enthusiasts milling around. 

The job didn't teach me anything new about photography but reminded me of a few things about shooting out in big, open fields. Things like: wear sunscreen. look for ant mounds before becoming stationary in one spot. listen for rattlesnakes; there are more of them out there than we'd like to imagine. Always wear your hat. Sunglasses are good. Get a polarizing filter for your most used lens. Cover your camera with something white when you are out in the sun. Bring extra batteries. Bring water in your car. Bring a snack; sometimes the nearest restaurant isn't. Toss a tripod in the car even if you don't think you'll ever use it; I did and I did. Harvests are moving targets; confirm times the night before; not the week before. Low water crossings are interesting because they are only "low water" crossings  until there is a downpour. Cover your hands or sunscreen them often if you don't want to burn em. Wear long sleeves and long pants; that makes the ticks have to work harder to get you. Ditto mosquitos. 

Bring the lens you didn't think you'd need. You might. And a car is a convenient camera bag out on a ranch or vineyard. 

In the past I might have shot a job like this; one with a lot of frames fired off, in the camera's highest quality Jpeg setting. My rationale would have been that I'd save so much space in file storage and the files would load faster for whatever post processing I might want to do. Especially so when shooting with the very high resolution cameras like the Leica SL2. But this job quickly convinced me to shoot raw only and touch the files as needed before converting for the ad agency. 

My reasoning, after the first day, was to take advantage of the huge dynamic range that comes with uncompressed, 14 bit raw files. I quickly found that when I was working with the big raw files in Lightroom I could make dramatic slider moves with the highlight slider or shadow slider without making crusty spam out of the images. No banding in skies, no noise in shadows and a lot of highlight recovery when I needed it. 

Finally, I think for the first time in a while I really enjoyed working with two fast, very high quality zoom lenses. I used the Sigma 24-70mm DN DG f2.8 lens for anything I shot on the Sigma fp camera and the Leica 24-90mm for anything I shot on the SL or SL2 cameras. The focal length flexibility, coupled with high sharpness even wide open was eye-opening. I've only had one other zoom that could deliver this kind of performance wide open and that was the 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens from Olympus (for m4:3).

A few thoughts about cameras from different systems. I've been looking around at all the new product getting introduced and there are a couple of items that stand out to me right now. For years the holy grail has been finding full frame cameras that can deliver 98% of the image quality of top shelf cameras but come with down right cheap price tags. I've been reading a lot about the Nikon Z5 and consider this to be one of the hot bargains in new cameras right now. It's 24 megapixels and full frame. It's smaller and lighter than the Z6ii or Z7ii and it's the bargain introduction into the Nikon Z system. A system that seems to be delivering really good lenses!

Nikon has this camera on the market right now for about $1300, body only. While the sensor is not the latest BSI version used in the Z6 it's quite a good sensor and Nikon seems to have done a good job tweaking its performance. You might notice a little bit higher noise levels at the nose bleed ISOs but nearly every other parameter should be in the ball park with its bigger brother (Z6ii). Nikon saved money on the sensor, and also by removing the top panel but otherwise things that count such as the processor and the EVF are identical. It's not as well spec'ed for video but most people won't care. 

What it does deliver is really, really good image quality in an easy to handle and easy to understand package which is supported by a small but good collection of Z lenses and accessories. At this price point and this level of performance it answers a lot of what people have been asking for: a straightforward photographer's camera without a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles. It's a good competitor against cameras like the S5 from Panasonic and the A7iii from Sony. 

Another camera that's had my interest is the Fuji  X-S10. It's a weird one in the system. It's small and light but it has something few other Fujis (other than the X-H1) have included: in-body image stabilization. The camera uses the same 26 megapixel sensor as the rest of the current family and from what I've seen the photos coming out of the camera; both Jpegs and Raw files, are just lovely. Nice, rich colors, low noise and a good contrast balance. Yes, it's "only" APS-C but I've worked with APS-C cameras for years and years and the difference in image quality between them and the full frame cameras is much, much smaller than you likely believe. And I would conjecture that it's a good trade off for a smaller and light camera. 

Couple this with a collection of the smaller and lighter f2.0 primes from Fuji and you'll have a very nice street shooting camera or all around travel camera. Put a 23mm f2.0 on it and you'll have a competitor with the Fuji X100V that can use interchangeable lenses and handle in a more traditional way. 

Finally, several of my friends have whacked out their credit cards and gone all in on Fuji's GFX 100S cameras, with small collections of the Fuji zoom lenses, and I have to say that the results I've seen are very nice. So far I haven't seen anything that beats the overall image quality of something like the Leica SL2 or Sony A7RIV but the larger sensor does create a different look and it's a look which I could become jealous. If I were to stray from my usual logical and well thought through pattern of camera buying and pick up one of these cameras I wouldn't mess with anything wide or normal in the lens range. Nope, I'd go straight to the 110mm f2.0 and glory in the lovely out of focus areas of beautiful portraits. Possible loaner coming my way soon. I'll have more to say about the combination of the GFX 100S and the 110mm in due time.

Is the world going to hell faster than water boils on the sun's surface? Looking at the news is a terrifying adventure each day. The collapse of Afghanistan. Americans who are too stupid to try and save their own lives with a free vaccine. Ice sheets the size of Texas collapsing off the coasts of the Arctic and Antarctic with frightful regularity. Brain damaged people who want to turn every government into some sort of twisted theocracy. Inflation ramping up. Civility ramping down. Global warming fanning enormous fires here and, even more concerning for the planet, across huge swaths of Siberia. Sociopathic legislators who are thinly disguised lobbyists for all manner of horrible corporations (See Lauren Boebert and her husband --- let's mine more uranium!!!!). It's enough to drive one to drink. (But if you do, give Texas Wines a try! Kidding, just kidding...).

But on the other side of the coin we, as a species, are smart enough to have been able to make a lifesaving vaccine for a global pandemic in less than a year and are effectively rolling it out across the globe to all manner of civilized countries. And parts of Alabama. Most of us have a higher standard of living than our parents did (even if they had relatively more wealth). Our food is safer. At least it was until the last administration started rolling back basic food safety protections...but that will probably get put back to right in short order... Our banks aren't currently failing. Americans are saving more. More and more people are rejecting the dogma of manipulative and repressive religions around the world. And Disney is making more Star Wars movies. Our computers are faster, cheaper and more fun than ever before and our camera choices range from outstanding to unbelievably superb. We'll probably get carbon emissions or carbon remediation under control with science... which might lead to the hard right factions disbelieving in that area of science as well. But we'll manage. As long as we can keep learning and moving forward there is hope. 

Can't hardly wait for inexpensive and ridiculously fast 1 Terabyte SD cards. And phones that shoot 8K movies. And weightless gimbals. And alcohol free beer that tastes good. And chocolate cake that helps you lose weight. And more pool time. Still waiting on the flying cars and the personal jet packs. How about a vaccine for melanoma so we can get back to looking tanned and fit? What about news casts that are made up solely of verifiable facts? Mandatory civics education in red state schools (already mostly done in the blue states...). I also thought of a simple way to solve two different problems. We don't want voter fraud and we want everyone vaccinated, right? How about using Covid vaccination records as voter I.D.s? Solves two problems at once. Maybe three problems. No Vax I.D. no vote. Imagine turning Mississippi and Louisiana Blue. Ah, we can dream. 

That's it for the week. 

 

Frantic Friday Frivolity. Just wanted to do some alliteration. Should be titled: "A snapshot of an Olympus Pen FT from April 1986."

 

Olympus Pen FT and 50-90mm zoom lens. Paris, 1986.

This photograph was done with a Minox ML 35mm camera. It was a tiny camera with a 35mm lens and I guess, like most cameras of the time (except for B's Pen FT) it would be called a "full frame" camera. It was not my intention to shoot many of my images from that trip with a Minox camera. I brought a Leica M3 and a 50mm Summicron to use as my primary camera but because of a faulty repair job back in Austin the camera had a loose screw banging around inside which eventually wedged itself into the film advance mechanism and bricked what should have been one of the most reliable cameras ever made. 

Fortunately I had the Minox along as a back up. I used it extensively. B just brought along her trusty half frame system which worked flawlessly throughout the trip, and still does today. 

Two "takeaways" from this adventure: No camera is 100% reliable. Everyone should carry a back-up camera. 

I got over my disappointment pretty quickly. The Minox was fun and almost invisible. Kinda like the Rollei 35S cameras of the time. And the trip was a blast. It was early April so still cold back then and schools were still in session so most museums, galleries etc. were accessible with zero wait time. We were able to walk right into standards like the Louvre Museum and never saw a line/queue. Ah, the good old days...

Did you have a compact 35mm camera as an adjunct to your regular camera(s) back in the film days? Which one was it? Do you miss it?