10.21.2021

Cheap product. Nice performance. Yet another yeoman-like 50mm lens.


I'll keep this one short and sweet. Maybe toss in a few captions just for fun. But first, a disclaimer: I bought the lens shown above and just below with money I earned taking professional photographs for clients. None of the clients were being blackmailed or coerced. None were held against their will. The money all went directly from my account to B&H Photo and Video in a direct exchange for the product. No discounts were offered or whined for. Years ago they (B&H) approached me about becoming an affiliate and offered to pay me for the referrals we call, "click throughs." It was a nice offer but one which I declined to accept. The people at the lens maker almost certainly have no idea that I exist and neither they nor I exchange Christmas cards with each other or share financial relationships with other third parties who may tangentially profit from my review of this product. My family is not being held hostage in order to coerce me into writing a good or beneficial review of their project. In fact, my family doesn't even know I have already bought the product. I would claim it was "with my own money" but in Texas, legally, it is also B's money so I guess the only person left out of the loop here is she. For the moment. That should satisfy the attorneys....

Months back I read, with great interest, a review of a 35mm lens from TTArtisan made expressly for Leica M mount cameras. It was a fast, f1.4 lens, rangefinder focusable on M cameras, and reviews from all sources (not just the sources with a direct and obvious profit motive) agreed that it was a very good performer. Surprisingly good. My brain book-marked that lens and stayed tuned. A few months later I came across an announcement that TTArtisan had delivered to the market a similar 50mm f1.4 M mount lens which also got laudatory reviews. I toyed around with getting that lens and an M mount-to L-mount adapter in order to try it out on one of the L Mount alliance cameras. But by then I'd gotten a bit tired of endlessly adapting lenses and keeping up with all the accessory parts and I banished the M series TTArtisan lenses into the mental repository where I archive "what seemed to be a good idea at the time" ideas. It's also the home of the Sigma fp L, but please be aware that products often move around, almost at will. 

Just a month or two ago a friend (conniving enemy?) sent me a note to "inform" me that TTArtisans was now delivering the 50mm f1.4 lens in a dedicated L mount and encouraged me to give one a try. I challenged him to a knife fight for inflaming my gear lust but he chickened out at the last moment when he caught a glimpse of that nice, big, razor sharp, Ka-Bar lock blade I was sporting and realized the speed and dexterity with which I handled it. But that's a story for another novel....

The lens was listed for sale at $285 along with a vague delivery date on Amazon. B&H more honestly advertised a price of $235 and told us that they didn't have a clue when they might get some in. I placed a pre-order and let it go for a while. Almost dutifully the lens showed up yesterday. I wanted to grab it and go out for a long walk with it but the third dose of Moderna vaccine had brought me to my knees and I was hanging on to dear life with steady infusions of Bollinger Champagne and Tylenol. Just giving my liver a good workout... The "cure" must have worked because not only was I able to have coffee with my friend, Frank this morning but I felt downright chipper walking through downtown with the new arrival clicked onto the front of a pristine Leica SL. 

I've been studying blog writing and this is where I should add some personal crap from my past to cement my artist's credentials with my audience, so: I studied photography. I have friends who are photographers. Most of us went to four year colleges. My great, great uncle, Amos Tuck, founded the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. I was accepted there, handily, but declined their offer of admittance. Amos Tuck lived most of the latter years of his life in Paris. My father, mother and I visited the Amos Tuck Museum in Paris and were treated almost like royalty. Apparently he was quite the philanthropist. But not a photographer so I'll just let that lie there. Hope I got the blog ethos correct... 

Back to the lens. The TTArtisan 50mm f1.4 for the L mount is an interesting lens. Made of ten elements in eight groups it features an amazing number of ED elements and also an aspheric element. It also features twelve aperture blades which the maker suggests deliver incredible bokeh. I took the lens advertising with a grain of salt because I'd played around with Chinese made lenses before and each had its own weaknesses. Could this one be different?

But then I went out and shot with this one and was duly impressed. It's as nice, wide open, as I can expect from a fast 50mm lens but the interesting thing is that by f2.0 it was actually nicely sharp everywhere but the extreme corners. And I don't care about extreme corners. Not at all. I don't buy high speed lenses in order to shoot flat test charts tacked up to my drab, studio walls. And when I do one side is always sharper than the other because I can never get a test camera and a test chart perfectly perpendicular. Maybe that's a common problem for other lens testers too because so many seem to find perfectly good lenses that are only sharp on one side.... It may be the Garry Winograd Test Methodology at work: "What Tilt?"

The lens is manual. All manual. Don't expect it to chat with your camera in any meaningful way. It's like a rebel without a cause. It just sits there on front of your camera with an indifferent snarl. It's not going to dance around in AF world for you either. But that's cool because the focusing ring is like drawn butter. So smooth and free of sediment. And the aperture ring has a feel to it that would make the lens designers in Wetzlar quake in their lederhosen. It's that good. But enough talk. Let's look at some samples. And remember...these were photographed with an EVF enabled camera, not an OVF camera so factor that into your final judgements. 


this is the enlarged, in focus part of the image from just below. 
I love the tonality on the belt buckle metal. Savory goodness. f2.0.


This is as close as I could get with the lens. also at f2.0. Make it bigger to check out the center details where the sharpest focus was placed. Please. Do it. And then contribute to my Kickstarter page.
I'm tired of flying commercial and am trying to crowdsource a small, private jet. Contribute $1,000 or more and I'll send you a selfie of me riding in the jet. going somewhere cool. 


looking for texture here. You'll have to click to make it bigger and see what I'm talking about.



Bokeh-rama. end of the bench in focus. Everything else? Who knows?
Would a Kickstarter for a Leica S3 be more tenable? 






Isn't it just amazing what great copywriters and great neon artists can do when they work together in a collegial collaboration? Just amazing. Addy Awards --- we've got your next nominee...

I stopped at this small crepe shop on Sixth and Congress and had a delicious 
Smoked Salmon, avocado and micro greens crepe today with a coffee chaser. The owners were classy. They steamed the cream before adding it to my coffee. It was a nice touch. Buzzed my happiness gland.



My intentions aren't always obvious so I'll just over-explain here. I was focusing on my exposed eyeball. Not the camera. Not the lens. Not the background. Just sayin. 

Dear consumers, please make the content we can use to sell you our content. Our advertisers and  stockholders will thank you. 


the wretched embarrassment of wearing a two camera neckstrap/bondage harness while sporting only the  one camera. Artists....go figure. 

conclusion: I liked the lens a lot. I like the added friction of working with a fully manual lens. At least it focuses where I want it to. It's sharp and cheap so you'll have money left over to lesser hobbies. If that's the way you want to go...

Lens = good for the money. 

Sardonic review complete. 










 

The New Sony A7IV is here. All praise Sony. Rush to the stores and secure your place in line. It's almost required. Seven articles deep in one day at DPR. They obviously needed something new to write about.

 

 Not a record, but close to it. DP Review launches Sony's marketing efforts for them for the A7IV with amazing gusto!!! Seven different articles and videos directly related to the latest Sony camera product all catapulted into the spotlight within hours of each other, all on the same front page of DP Review's website. Jeez. Didn't that strike anyone at Amazon's marketing (oooops! I mean totally brand neutral camera review site!!!) as a bit over the top? Do they have any sense of decorum at all? Perhaps Sony's marketing people will eventually sit down with whoever it is at DPReview or Amazon who (totally?/might?) controls the "editorial" content at DPR and gently suggest that it may be a better overall marketing strategy to dribble out a new editorial piece about a product one day at a time. That would at least extend the buzz...

Frankly, I find it embarrassing for the industry. I think sites like DPR should preface each product review or introductory article of a product with a disclaimer letting consumers know that the site will profit from every click through. The FTC insists bloggers do this and what is a review site other than a giant,  highly commercialized blog site with an "editorial" facade to hide behind? 

I have no issue with the fine folks at Sony trying to make a living by improving and selling their products to the best of their ability but I do have to call foul when  sites with so much reach and influence profit mightily from their "editorial coverage" of the same product without ever acknowledging their very tight relationship which allows them to profit from the sale of the very product they are supposedly, neutrally reviewing. Even magazines must use the header: ADVERTORIAL when gushing over the products that support them. 

I'm sure editors would rebut this with some nonsense about their editorial distance from Amazon and Sony while at the same time profiting from extensive paid advertising by Sony on their site and support from Amazon for directing a vast percentage of likely buyers directly to the world eating mega retailer. They would sound so earnest and oh so indignant. But it's all schtick. Just remember that when public radio covers a story that involves one of their financial supporters they make that disclaimer at the outset of the content.

The Sony A7iv is, no doubt, a fine camera with a modest increase in resolution, a better battery than its predecessor and a few video tweaks to brag about. The pricing doesn't seem excessive and the body has finally grown big enough to be comfortably hand held. I have no gripes with the camera only with the 500 pound advertising anvil they seem to demand their advertisers drop onto everyone's toes to get their attention. It's just shameless. 

Here's my affiliate link for the product!!!!!!! : Buy It Now or Forever Regret It!!!










Days Three and Four of the Long Overdue Vacation. Heading to Santa Fe.


Leaving Roswell and heading toward Santa Fe the weather took a turn. First the wind started to pick up and soon we had wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph which blew thousands of tumbleweeds from one side of the highway to the other where barbed wire fencing trapped them and held them. The closer we got to Santa Fe the more the sunlight waned and the clouds rolled in. As we climbed up toward the 7200 foot elevation of our destination we could both feel a need to increase our effort to breathe well.

Clines Corners is about two thirds of the way to Sante Fe. It's out in the middle of nowhere and I guess its claim to fame is that it sits at the intersection of the highway to Albuquerque and provides reasonably clean rest rooms and, sometimes, working gas pumps. We stopped there and when we got out of the car we were pushed around by the wind gusts and chilled by the dropping temperatures. 

My intention was to fill up the gas tank and also to get rid of too much coffee. I succeeded in the second undertaking but was stymied by the first. I tried two different gas pumps and both were broken. We still had ample fuel to wrap up this part of the trip and my patience with things like having to move the car from pump to pump to pump to find one the works is incredibly short... We moved on. But not before getting photographs of "The Alien" and "Zoltar."  I'm amazed that things like this still exist. Happily amazed. 





The lottery for a working pump. 

Just to amuse myself I tried getting all the way in to Santa Fe using a big, folding paper map but I kept running off the road or coming too close to other cars because the map was so big and cumbersome. At one point the map flew up and blocked most of the windshield which is probably not something you want when you are driving fast on curving and unfamiliar roads. And then there were the multiple and long detours which were not shown on the map. Finally, the ash from my cigarette fell on the map as I held it on my lap and started a small fire in the car which quickly spread from the front seat to the back seat. After a few minutes the car was totally engulfed by flames and, wouldn't you know it, the fire crew that came to extinguish the smoldering remnants suggested that I consider getting a mapping app for my phone which could be ported to the small screen in the middle of the dashboard. That's what they like to use. All of the preceding is, of course, fiction. I don't smoke. Haven't had a map in the car in years. And the car didn't ignite. But one of my readers snarked out about paper maps and I couldn't let it slide. Of all the things to shun.....the phone-powered map apps are the safest and most efficient tool for getting from here to there without interfering with one's attention to the road, etc. (fiction alert!!!)

We arrived in Santa Fe around one in the afternoon and checked into our hotel. It's located a couple blocks from the Plaza. I'll no doubt be pilloried for not staying somewhere small and ultra-chic, or wildly pricy and cool but we ended up choosing the Drury Inn in the center of the city. Why? Perfect location. Perfect price. Food options at hand. Lots of amenities. Inexpensive and flexible valet parking. Quiet and very well appointed rooms, and good security. The free drinks at happy hour don't hurt either. 

My take on hotels in destinations such as this is that one wants a good, safe base but also one recognizes that if you are spending a king's ransom on your overnight accommodations and you are spending too much time in your room you might have your priorities a bit skewed. In the past we've stayed at the La Fonda Hotel which is sprawling and historic. We've also stayed at the St. Francis, which is very nice. But our stay at the Drury Inn in Santa Fe was pretty much perfect. Get a suite. It's only a hundred bucks more per night but you can really spread out.....

After we checked in and ditched the car we headed out to see the mid to late afternoon sights. Me with my Leica SL and the 35mm lens. The next morning I switched to the SL2 and the 24-90mm lens and both worked out well, in their moments. On the first day we did a loop around the historic downtown, ate a nice lunch at Iconik Coffee and then went gallery hopping on Canyon Road. According to my Apple Watch we logged about 16,500 steps on each day. That's pretty good considering the altitude... We slept well each night. 

On the first night we wanted to try a restaurant called Café Maumou which had been recommended by a couple of well traveled foodies. We made a reservation via OpenTable.com but when we got to the restaurant we discovered that it was permanently closed. OpenTable got everything wrong. They suck. But we didn't care because we knew that we could get a great dinner at the Plaza Café. And we did. Then we walked around in the cold since chilly weather was such a novelty for we Austinites....

Tourists to Santa Fe seem older than I remember and seem also to travel in small groups rather than just roaming couples. Most of the people I saw were in reasonably good shape, and were to all appearances having a great time. People followed mask guidelines and worked on social distancing but I still got the distinct impression that most of the tourists were already well vaccinated and aware. All the staff people at shops and restaurants that I encountered were fully and competently masked. 

The one thing that visitors to Santa Fe seem overly well equipped with are Tilley Hats. I think I saw at least one example of every hat in their catalog and many duplicates of the most popular ones. It's a Tilley Hat Paradise. But everyone who was wearing one had a smile on their face and the tops of their ears were protected from sun damage so I guess I'll relent on that front. Function, I guess, can trump fashion...

Leica SL2 + 24-90mm. 

A few people have written to ask me why I chose the cameras and lenses I did for this adventure. Let's dive into that. 

I took a small collection of L mount gear. One Leica SL2, a Leica SL, the big 24-90mm zoom, the new 90mm f2.8 Sigma Contemporary, the 45mm Contemporary and finally, the 35mm Zeiss ZF (with a Nikon to L mount adapter).

Since this was a vacation and not a job I didn't need to please anyone but myself. I vacillated between this selection and the more minimalist idea of just taking the two Fuji cameras but the more I thought about it the more certain I was that I really wanted interchangeable lenses and the potential to shoot both very high res DNG files or smaller, 24 megapixels files. I knew I'd spend most of my shooting time with the 35mm and the 45mm lenses but I wanted to bring one of the zoom lenses so I could go to 24mm when needed. The big Leica zoom lens is also the only one of the group that provides image stabilization when used on the SL camera. 

The 90mm got almost no use at all. It just always seemed to be the "odd man out" when I made selections.  Weirdly, the highest number of images came from the combination of the SL camera (sheer simplicity!) and the manual focusing Zeiss 35mm. I have no idea why that is but it worked for me this time.

B's sleep schedule is different than mine. I'm happy with six or seven hours of good sleep while she prefers a solid eight; more if she can get it. So every morning I'd be up early and ready to hit the streets to make photographs. Most mornings she was still sound asleep. But she knows my habits and is used to me being up and out of the room when she wakes up. My ritual before leaving the hotel to shoot is always the same. I only want to carry one camera and one lens. I open up the small, Think Tank backpack and stare at the gear for a few minutes. Most days I opted for the SL but on the second full day in I got aligned with the SL2 for most of the day. I'd figure out what lens I wanted to use, pop an extra battery into my front left pocket and head out. If I chose wrong I'd work with the lens I had and make a mental note to switch at the next break. My favorite lens with the SL2 was the 45mm. It made the package small and light but given the high resolution of the sensor it would be easy to crop the files down in post.

It's important to me that all the cameras I bring for a given event use the same batteries and can take the same lenses. It's a hold over from my work life where a broken camera and no back-up means no income. I brought ample batteries and used the SL2 body and a USB 3.0 power adapter to charge batteries when they needed it. 

I guess my decisions on gear reflected the amount of time I've spent with the two Leica cameras over the last few months. I have become very familiar with the way they fit in my hands and equally at home with the way the menus work. I love both the Jpeg and raw files that come out of both cameras and now feel very comfortable with both. I have no questions about the abilities of any of the lenses I brought along to deliver good results. And the whole mess of gear packed neatly into the one small photo backpack.

The only thing I might have changed, in retrospect, would have been to replace the manual focusing 35mm lens with the 35mm f1.4 Sigma Art lens I've had for a long while. It's a great lens and works well, and sometimes when you have coffee in your left hand and a camera in your right (and you are channeling maximum laziness...) it's nice to have a lens that autofocuses. Next vacation with family I think I'll just bring two Leica SLx bodies and two zooms. The 24-90mm and the Sigma 24-70mm. One to back up  the other. One set would stay in the hotel room while the other one would venture out with me. But....almost certainly I'd be packing up and would remember that I also really wanted a fast prime too. Packing can be emotionally tricky. I guess I should stop trying to be so prepared.

One person asked about the weight of the bigger cameras and heavier lenses. I'm so used to hauling around gear that having to carry only one camera and lens package over a shoulder seemed like....a vacation. 

People have also asked about pandemic safety in Santa Fe and I think that's a wise query. There is only one restaurant outing that I truly regret having done. There was no outside dining and the smallish dining room was packed to the gills. Once people sat down they all removed their masks. There was no attempt to moderate vocal volume which meant that the crowd was expelling a lot of hot, moist air. If ever there was a potential super spreader event it would have been our dinner last Wednesday night at Pasqual's Restaurant. It's a small space with little ventilation and every nook and cranny was filled up with customers. Lots and lots of customers. Sure, the staff was masked but not the guy at the "community table" I could hear well on the opposite side of the restaurant. Nor the woman who kept getting up to head to the rest room. 

Sadly, though it had been a favorite restaurant of ours even back 25 years ago we ate last Wednesday with as much dispatch as we could muster and even had our masks on between courses and while waiting for a check. A much different experience happened at Iconik Coffee which also serves a full lunch menu. People ordered at the counter; all masked. Then, almost to a person, they carried their gustatory treasures out into the courtyards to eat under the deep blue sky. Naturally distanced and further benefitted by gusty but benevolent breezes. We felt very comfortable there. 




My favorite attraction this time around was the Museum of International Folk Art. I'm rarely a big fan of most folk art museums but this one is tremendous. It's up near St. John's College and the collection and shows were fascinating and beautifully displayed. I'd go back in a flash.





It's lovely to see art on even the traffic blockades. This and just below are part of a "fenced" area that creates an outdoor dining area for a small restaurant on a quiet side street. 








One of the museums just off the Plaza had commemorative plaques on the sidewalk out front. 
I've always admired Laura Gilpin and didn't know she was a New Mexico native. 
Another plaque was for Elliot Porter but the plaque was half in shade and half in the sun and I just didn't feel it would make a good photograph. 


In the Museum of International Folk Art. 










Two above: from the Museum of International Folk Art. A Japanese "Demons and Monsters" exhibit.





My lunch at Iconik. On the bottom is a toasted piece of thick and chewy sourdough bread slathered with a lemon-rich aioli, then covered with delicious smoked salmon, a green salad with lots of avocado and grape tomatoes, and topped with a poached egg. Perfect. 









One afternoon we spent hours on Canyon Road. Home to a million art galleries. 
Amazing that one small town can support so much art....














B observes sculpture.





 We spent three days in Santa Fe and had a very good time. They are mostly just emerging from lockdown and the number of arriving visitors is still overwhelming their personnel resources. Still, with a good hotel and a leisurely schedule life is an endless workaround. It was great to get away from home and see so much different visual stimulae. I think a camera in one's hand wires the brain to look harder...even if you never wind up making a single photograph.