Aerial Dancing at Seaholm Power Plant. Austin, Texas.

An aerial dance troupe.
Practicing for a series of shows in September.

It was breezy and less humid this morning in Austin. I grabbed a camera and headed out for a walk while the heat index clocked in around 90°. Funny how context and comfort go together. 

I was feeling camera-egalitarian so I paired the Leica SL2 with a battered by serviceable Canon FDn 50mm f1.8. The last FD iteration of their manual focusing "nifty-fifty." It's the one without the metal bayonet lock and it has a 52mm filter size instead of the previous models' 55mm filter size. But it's a charming, small and light lens that I think does a wonderful job as part of a rudimentary walk-around kit. And actually, the optical performance is not at all poor. By f4.0 and f5.6 it's actually quite nice. 

The focusing ring is smooth and light on the touch. It moves without too much effort and that makes it a wonderful choice for manual focusing. It's a very simple optical formula with 6 elements in four groups and a set of five curved aperture blades. I use it on the Leica SL(x) cameras with a Fotodiox Canon FD to L mount "dumb" adapter. There is no electronic connection whatsoever between the lens and the camera so everything, EVERYTHING is manually set. 

I walked along with my camera slung across my chest on what Peak Designs calls a camera "leash" and it was comfortable enough. I turned the corner into the Seaholm Power Plant (now decommissioned and an active retail and office environment with a nice central courtyard) and walked right into a really fun aerial spectacle. Graceful dancers suspended dozens; maybe up to 100 feet, up in the air pushing off the sides of the old power plant cooling towers into classic dance and action movie poses. 

They were practicing for an upcoming series of performances that will take place on the same towering cylinders in the middle of September. Being a bit acrophobic I was astounded at the ease and fearlessness of the dancers. I found it all quite amazing.

The lens and camera worked well but I wish I'd brought along a few longer lenses. But isn't that always the case? You chance upon something and you just have to make the best of what you brought. Thankfully the high resolution of the camera sensor meant that crossing by 50% wasn't an issue. 

There was more to the walk but I was just thrilled by what I found in the first five minutes. I'll definitely go back for the show....

Cheap lenses on pricy cameras. It's a thing.


Same lesson over and over again...

 Like many photographers who are inordinately fond of gear I keep looking for that one perfect lens or camera that will unlock my true photographic potential. Yeah...as if. 

If you read the blog regularly you'll see that I've really tried hard to substitute hardware for talent. Over and over again. But as the old saying goes: "Wherever you go, there you are." Or, in my world: "What ever camera you are shooting with you still have the same photographer." 

In a moment of delusional weakness I actually paid full pop for a Leica 24-90mm zoom lens for the SL system. I thought that this would be the one. But it's big and heavy and a slog to carry around, and when I did finally cart it everywhere with me I found my images to be maybe a bit sharper but by no means any better in terms of insight, impact or overall splendor. It took me decades to stumble into the trap of considering new gear as an important factor in successful imaging and I'm afraid it's also taken me additional decades to figure out (or to admit to my recalcitrant techie self) that all of that motivation to buy new stuff was an error. Not a life or death error but certainly a stumbling block of sorts. 

When you get bit by the acquisition bug you waste a whole lot of time doing mindless comparisons between products which are, for the most part, far better than anyone really needs them to be.  You waste time watching obvious shills for affiliates wax on and on about the "glory" of the latest 35mm lens or the perfect Q2 camera. You waste effort in working for more money only to give up a big part of your profits to buy yet another step "forward." You encounter many opportunity costs. Trading time you could have spent finding a great model, a great location or a great client in exchange for another piece of gear that will eventually, again and again, lay bare that the only important thing is the strength of your ideas and your own concept of a photographic vision. 

Why am I beating this dead horse once again? Hmmm. A few weeks back I came across an older zoom lens that was labeled with a brand badge that marketing people have inflated into an icon in the industry. It was an ancient, heavy, well used Yashica/Contax zoom lens made by Kyocera in Japan, but festooned with the Carl Zeiss branding on the front ring. It was offered used for "only" a couple of hundred dollars. I bought it.  I like it but I don't know why...

I went out shooting some landscapes yesterday and intended to do the whole shoot with my newly acquired Sigma 35mm lens just to see how that would work out. But, as an afterthought I put the Yashica/Contax zoom in the backpack and brought it along. After a few preliminary shots I got bored sticking with one focal length so I pulled out the big zoom lens. The Contax-to L-mount adapter makes it look even bigger than it really is. I added a cheap, rubber lens hood for some protection against flare. 

The rest of my time spent on the hot rocks was occupied shooting with the big, old zoom. It's a bear to shoot. It's used in "stop down" mode exclusively so you have the choice of slowing way down and opening the aperture to its maximum in order to fine focus. If you are shooting at f8 or f11 the depth of field delivered to the finder makes fine focusing hard. Really hard. Couple that with a "one touch" zoom mechanism and you'll really have to work to get stuff in focus and ready to shoot. It's hardly a quick process...

With the current Leica zoom lens all of this gets handled by the camera. No user sweat is involved in getting stuff in focus. 

But here's the deal, the $250 used lens was perfectly adequate for the photographs I had in mind out in the field. The reality is that we're mostly using the lenses at something like f5.6 or, even more likely, f8-f11 and at those middle apertures each lens is delivering image quality to the camera sensor that is more or less identical. Which, once you've spent five or six thousand dollars on a different lens is something that's hard to admit. Especially to such a critical audience as yourself.

It's a bit unreal to come to grips with the fact that you've duped yourself into believing that a specific piece of gear can be so, so, so important to a process that you can rationalize spending a fortune on a lens that you end up rarely using. Which also brings up the question of why I chose to drag along an older and supposedly less capable lens instead of instantly reaching for the penultimate lens in the collection. 

And I think, after pondering this last night, the reality is that working harder at making an image seems to be more fun than working less hard and letting the camera and lens do the heavy lifting for you. When I saw the image I'm sharing at the top of this post I also realized just how much post processing has to do with the success or failure of an image, tech-wise. The image is enhanced with a Leica SL2 preset I got from The Leica Store Miami and parts of the image have been selectively subjected to the clarity slider or have saturation of certain colors enhanced. 

That the $250 lens can make a file that can be quickly and easily post processed to equal the output from a much more expensive lens is deflating and basically delivers us back to the the same old story: It's not about the lens. It's not the camera. There is no "better" brand. There is no special sauce. It's all up to me. Or all up to you, or all up to whoever is out photographing. If we point the world's best camera and lens at something boring you get a nice, but basically boring photograph. Point decades old gear at an exciting subject and you capture the excitement without much (or any) compromise. 

My early work was all about people. As I got older fewer and fewer of my personal photographs have been of young, beautiful people as my age and access marched in reverse ratios to each other in lockstep. And here, now, I have relegated myself to photographing something I have very little interest in --- landscapes. And why? So I can "test" out my camera or my lens and share the results with people I have mostly never met. And who mostly disagree with my assessments.

It's not a very awe inspiring confession. But over the course of the last two decades the world, the universe and all of us have allowed for a near total homogenization of what was once a richly diverse craft to take place. At least where subject matter and style were concerned. Now it feels like we're just going through the steps in order to keep a sidelined hobby alive. Billions of cat whisker photos later...

Sobering. For sure. 

I'm sure I can fix this. At least I think I can. But it's tough if you have to learn the same lessons over and over again until they actually sink in and do some good.

I have moved from the hobby of taking photographs to the hobby of spending money with an almost seamless efficiency. I wish there was someone to blame other than myself. 

But there we are. 


A Quick Portfolio of Landscapes from Pedernales Falls State Park. Sunday, August 7th, 2022.


We had a break in the heat yesterday and I planned out a quick trip to Pedernales Falls State Park, just 45 miles and change from Austin. I wore lightweight clothes that covered my arms and legs, my newest pair of rattlesnake-proof hiking boots, a good hat and some fingerless gloves. I scrambled on the rocks and up the side of house-sized boulders until I ran out of water in both the 32 ounce bottle and the 16 ounce bottles I'd packed in my small backpack. Then I called it quits and headed home. Didn't want to take too many chances...

The park was largely empty today. No good running water for swimming and way too hot for most families.

A great opportunity for uncrowded landscape photography. Something I rarely do but sometimes enjoy.

I mostly used the old Y/C Carl Zeiss, Contax 35-135mm zoom lens, a few with the new Sigma 35mm f2.0 and all with the Leica SL2. Everything raw and then converted for the portfolio in Lightroom Classic.

Hope it rains soon. Hate to see the falls drying out. Photo of the photographer at the end.....

Watch: Seiko Kinetic. 
A self-winding automatic quartz. 
Weird? Yeah.

I took their advice and avoided hiking at noon. I started a bit closer to one.

A quick vacation to Pedernales Falls State Park. Landscapes with the Carl Zeiss 35-135mm lens.

 Pedernales Falls State Park.

Just a break from the usual cabin fever/downtown walk...

Camera: Leica SL2
Lens: Contax 35-135mm Zoom
Shoes: Hi-Tec Hiking boots. 

Sunscreen by Trader Joe's.


The Amazing and in-depth Summer Hat Photographic Inventory. Complete with "Super" model and "Mega" influencer "Mr. K"...

Ah. The hat inventory. These are just the Summer hats. We don't have enough bandwidth for the Winter hats as well. That will come later. Much later. I keep a collection of hats for a couple of reasons. First off, I carry an extra, inexpensive bucket hat with me when I walk around downtown in the Summer. Sometimes I come across someone working in the sun or walking somewhere without a hat. I offer them the extra one. Secondly, I get bored wearing the same hat every day. An added bonus is that most of these are machine washable so I can toss them in the laundry when they get dirty and know I have lots left to choose from.

I woke up this morning with the idea of doing a silly self-assigned photo essay of me and my hats. I set up a Leica SL2 on a tripod, put a flash trigger on top and then set up a 60 inch octabox with no front diffusion panel. I wanted big but contrasty light. I fired up Leica Fotos, the iPhone app and photographed myself after previewing each set up on my phone. I used the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit lens set to 75mm and got busy. 

The hat above is "lavender" colored and is one of my favorites because it's so lightweight and foldable. I rescued it from the trash at the pool. It looked brand new until I got my hands on it. 

Here's a hat I wear every morning. It's bright yellow. It's my swim cap.
It keeps the chlorine from constantly flowing past my hair. 
It is my secret for keeping my hair absolutely perfect at all times.

I actually hate this hat but I keep it around for all those times when one's hat might
not make it through a project. Like painting the fence. Or bleaching black mold off 
rock walls. Everyone needs one protective "crash" hat. 

A cheap Tilley imitation. Reminds me constantly why I don't have a Tilley hat. 
Or a Billingham camera bag. Or a Jaguar. 

My dad came from a small town in Pennsylvania. He did his undergraduate work at 
Indiana University of Pennsylvania before heading off to Washington University in
St. Louis. When he passed away I ended up with all his alumni swag.
I have a matching t-shirt as well. 

Without a doubt. This lightweight treasure from REI is my favorite bucket hat.
It's very crushable and is a perfect all-arounder. 

Finally. When you are out and about you'll need a dressy Summer hat. 
This one works for that. And at this point the "super" model was getting antsy
and ready to call it a day. Freakin' prima donna.

Got a hat? No? Get a hat.
Even if you have to settle for a Tilley hat.