1.07.2022

It's Friday. It's cold. But I have more images from Pedernales Falls to share. And some thoughts about little cameras. But then, what's new?

 

You north dwellers will surely laugh at me for this one but that's me getting bundled up to go
out into the dangerous Austin Winter. It was 34° when I took this. Nearly cold enough to 
freeze water! I've got on my big photo gloves and I'm trying to figure out where the "hand heater" switch is on the Leica TL2 camera. Surely they put in hand heaters on these Northern European cameras....
Don't know why I even thought I needed a camera --- I was just heading out for swim practice and it was too cold to stand around on the deck taking snapshots.

We're slowly catching up with the rest of the world here in our little city in central Texas. The public health authorities just put us back at level five alert status for Covid-19. This time, because Omicron is so infectious (estimates suggest three to four times as transmissable as Delta) the experts are even recommending being masked in outdoor spaces that have other people ranging around in them. I'm so used to wearing a mask now that I barely notice the rash marks on my nose. Or the fact that the straps pulled so hard my ears are now a full inch closer to my face than they were just a few years ago. I guess the "silver lining" is that I'll be better able to hear myself breathe.

What this means to me as a photographer is a complete, temporary halt (once again) to taking portraits of strangers in my studio. Um. Okay. I'm kind of used to that drill by now. But Austin is not such a crowded city that we're constrained from leaving our homes. We can still go out and grab coffee, take photos of grand exteriors and also get a ration of exercise. A great example of this (minus ready access to coffee) was my trip to Pedernales Falls State Park yesterday. I saw ten people in something like 20 square miles. No one was masked, that I could see, but I would have needed binoculars to be sure.

I thought I'd regale you all today with a few more shots from the park. Those interested in geology might be pleased to see some interesting formations that have been carved out of the rocks by endless applications of water. The whole park looks calm now but after upstream flooding the waters rise here very quickly and become powerful and incredibly dangerous. And, if the heavy rainfall is far upstream, there can be life threatening flooding coming seemingly from nowhere, in a flash, even on calm and sunny days.


Most of yesterday's photographs of the park were done with the Leica CL and the Sigma 18-50mm Contemporary lens. But I did bring along the TL2 as well. I guess my original intention was to compare working methodologies and results between the two cameras but I don't have the patience for rigorous and mind-numbing test shooting so I just grabbed whichever camera appealed to me at the time and got busy shooting stuff I liked. All the images here are from the TL2.

My overall assessment is this: I don't know whether to credit the lens or the cameras for the quality of the output but I see high levels of acutance, high sharpness and lovely color rendering from both of the cameras. The look and feel of the files from both cameras is quite close; enough to be identical; for all intents and purposes. The CL is, of course, easier for me to use because I developed so much "muscle memory" and dependance on eye level viewing over the decades. But I'm slowly warming up to working "rear screen" and still being able to get what I want. The rear screen on the TL2 is nothing to get excited about but it's no worse than a big screen on any other camera of the era. I can see it clearly in every situation except where the sun is shining on it directly. 

There are a few things about the TL2 that I am not.....fond of. The most annoying being the ability or inability to set the left hand dial on the top of the camera to "focus assist" at all quickly. When I use an autofocus lens with the camera I have that particular dial set to do exposure compensation. When I switch to using a manual focus lens, and when I want to be able to zoom into an image and get really perfect focus, I must first dive back into the menus and find the square that allows for "left dial" functions. Then I have to set "focus assist" and go back to the operational mode of the camera. I don't know what they call this in German but I call it a pain in the ass. (Added note: I just figured out that I could touch the screen symbol for the dial setting and use the dial to switch between functions... not mentioned in the user manual --- at least not that I could find. But most welcome).

The main reason I prefer the CL to the TL2 for a lot of exterior shooting is because to see the rear screen on the TL2 with enough acuity to make manual focusing meaningful I have to wear my glasses. My bi-focal glasses. This need is a constant reminder of my own relentless physical decay. Up until I turned 42 years old I never needed eyeglasses and so far, at 66, resist wearing them at every turn. With the CL I can swizzle the diopter for the EVF and go right to work unencumbered by optical crutches. Not so with the TL2. It requires me to augment my eyesight. Another piece of gear I have to remember to always pack. 

Both the Leica CL and the Leica TL2 use the same 24 megapixel sensor. Well, they don't share a sensor; each body came with its own sensor and I'm 99% sure they aren't user replaceable or exchangeable between cameras. But they are both from the same manufacturing line, I'm pretty sure of that. And, whatever special seasoning Leica adds with their proprietary Bayer filters and their finely tuned color science, they both do a great job making really nice files. Either Jpeg or raw. 

One more complaint and then I'll stop. And this really, really qualifies as a "beyond first world" complaint. Here it goes: I wish both cameras used the same batteries. In fact, I wish they both used the same batteries I use for my three other Leicas. That would make life on the road a lot easier. One bag of batteries. One charger. Across four different cameras models. But in real life it never works out that way. Engineers gonna battery the way they like to battery.  I guess the inherent logic is "if we make these cameras expensive enough then people will only buy one and so will never compare batteries between models." 

They so don't understand the mindset of Leica camera users. At least the ones I know. 


I think the best strategy for mastering these two cameras; either together or individually, is to pull out all of the other cameras and lenses (at least the ones you wouldn't use on the APS-C cameras) from their hiding places around your home, office and studio and either sell them off or otherwise exclude them from your conscious mental camera inventory. Delude yourself that you are constrained to just these two cameras. Use them exclusively for a couple of years. Use them every day and for hours every day. Deplete, wear down and recycle multiple batteries. Take the downtime between shooting escapades to import tons and tons of images from the two cameras and spend hours looking on big monitors for the strengths and weak spots. And then develop a whole workflow around only these two cameras.

If you try to go from SL to TL2, back and forth, you'll eventually go mad. Same with the CL and a camera from any other company. In fact, I believe that Leica has psychologists sprinkled amongst their GUI designers who have worked to figure out how to sabotage one's relationship between these cameras and any other cameras. Why do they do it? Who knows?

For me the menu for the TL2 is like a Rubik's Cube. There are some people who have a natural ability to solve puzzles...and then there's me. But I am relentless and tenacious. I just wish I was relentless and tenacious about something more important than the Quixotic menu on the back of a small, pricey camera.

But with all that out of the way I have to say that these are the images I came up with yesterday, taken with the TL2, and I don't think they are embarrassingly bad (as long as you take into consideration that I am far, far, far from being a landscape photographer. Or anything more than a cursory appreciator of landscape photography. I did go to an Elliott Porter show once that I really enjoyed ...

Would I advise anyone else to go out and grab a Leica TL2? Nope, not unless they were secretly on my sh*t list and even then I'd abstain because one bad deed generates a reciprocal bad deed and I'd be forever plagued with phone calls asking me "How do I set the ...........?" There are tons and tons of better cameras out there in the wild. Sure, the sensor is great and the colors are great. But that hardly compensates for the shortcomings. So why didn't I send mine back? It should be evident by now that I love a challenge. No matter how unproductive that challenge might turn out to be. And, well, it has a red dot on the front.  And it's something new to play with. 

Many might challenge that idea --- cameras as playthings, but I think the two years of pandemic, lockdowns, shortages, masking up etc. has completely changed the thought process and the paradigm. At some point you run out of good stuff to watch on Netflix, you've plowed through the fun content on YouTube, you've read all the stuff on the NYT Best Sellers list and you've made so much sourdough bread that you'll never want to eat bread or even look at it again. 

At that point it may be cost effective, at least from a mental health point of view, to have new toys to play with and to take your mind off the limitations of current, modern life. And you can convince yourself that you'll have aspirational opportunities, when the "smoke" clears, to use the new toys to do some real art. Sometime in the foreseeable future. Maybe. 

After all, when it comes to the cost of a few used cameras it's wise to take into consideration that without your usual commutes to the office, and road trips hither and yon, you aren't putting miles on your cars, they won't need to be replaced nearly as often (as if you can actually get one...) and you'll spend less on gas. We used to eat out at restaurants multiple times each week. Now sit down meals at restaurants are off the list of things to spend money on. And speaking of lists, we no longer order wine from restaurant wine lists (because we're not at the restaurants...) so we're no longer paying 300 to 400% mark-up for a bottle of nice wine. Point being, you've already budgeted the money you're not ending up spending, and here in the USA the government kept sending us more, so you've got to spend it on something. Right? Might as well be fun cameras! 

Sure, the smart people will tell you to put it into the market. How are you supposed to make photographs with stocks and bonds? Take a risk, empty out your savings account and buy some spectacular photo gear. 

Kidding. Just kidding. 

The real star of my foray into the wild yesterday was the least expensive entry. That would be the 18-50mm f2.8 zoom lens from Sigma, made specially for "cropped" sensor cameras. No matter which camera I put it on I really liked the results. It's wicked sharp, even when shot wide open. Stop that lens down to f5.6 or f7.1 and you have incredible optical performance for the money. Less than $600. And it's small, light and available in both the Sony E mount and the L mount. Such a deal. It actually makes the TL2 look even better than it should be. 

It's a lens that also blunts my desire to start investing in what might soon be an orphaned family of lenses. The rumor mill is certain of some stuff. Like the "fact" that Leica will not be continuing the TL line of cameras. Another set of rumor is split between: "Leica will NOT be making a new CL model." And, "Leica will be announcing the CL2 this year!" I know which rumor I think, might be true and I'm a lot more comfortable spending between 400 and 600 dollars on Sigma Contemporary lenses for the Leica APS-C systems than I am about splashing out for actual Leica cropped format lenses. Just in case, you know, it all goes away. 

Silver lining? Once it's all discontinued we are well on our way to...."LEICA COLLECTORS' ITEMS"

So, back to the hike through the woods. That cost three bucks, got me out into the sunshine and layered on a couple more hours of interactive exercise and camera handling. Now that's a bargain no matter how you parse it. Just sayin. 















Thom Hogan counsels: "Don't Switch Systems." I guess that's advice for tight-fisted boomers but for those of us who want to continue having fun I say: "Switch all you want. How did you know you liked caviar if you never tried it?"