A trivial feature until you want it. Then it's pretty darn cool... (Caution: Leica oriented...).

 One thing I dislike about nearly all the "focus-by-wire" lenses out on the market is the inability of the user to set the lens to a specific distance without having to bring the camera to your eye, focus it, lock focus and then wait for your subject to be in the optimal spot. Especially frustrating when it comes to street shooting or discreet photography where pre-focusing on a certain distance can be very effective. 

Remember the days of manual focus lenses? They had distance scales on them, long focus throws, and detailed depth of field scales. You could set your 24mm lens to something like ten feet, set your aperture to f11 and be sure of getting good sharpness from 7.94 feet to 18.04 feet. Or somewhere in the very close ballpark. 

Not so with all the enormously expensive and oversized lenses we now have offered to us for our modern cameras. Big use-ability steps backwards at many turns. At least for people who like to zone focus, pre-focus or use the idea of hyper-focal distance setting. 

I'm not sure how Sony, Fuji, Canon or Nikon deal with this but there is a nice solution for Leica SL, SL2 and SL2-S users. If they are using L system lenses on their cameras and they set their lens to manual focus then a half press on the shutter brings up a nice graphic on the camera's top screen. If you've set the aperture to a specific f-stop as you turn the lens focusing ring the display will read out the exact focused distance, the focus behind the point of sharpest focus that will still be acceptable (back), and the distance at which the system will still be in focus in front of the camera (front). 

I tested this feature out again today. It works with native Leica SL lenses, Panasonic L mount lenses and Sigma L mount lenses. I don't know if other camera makers offer the same feature or something similar but for people who like to, want to, or have to manually focus anything less is a deal-killer. Yep. Deal-Killer. 

This isn't "new tech." In the M Leica world this sort of necessary and helpful information was right there on the lens for immediate visual access. And in fairness it was on all camera makers' manual focus lenses back in the day. The disconnection started with AF systems and got progressively worse in the digital age. 

Sure, Fuji and Sigma make lenses with manual aperture rings but few of them have marked distance scales and even fewer have depth of field marketings for the most used apertures. Panasonic and Olympus and Fuji make a few lenses with clutches that put the lens into a fully manual mode with hard stops at both ends of the scale and good distance and depth of field scales. That's the way to handle it on the lens side of the equation. 

But for all the other lenses the Leica SL, introduced in 2015, set the standard for this kind of usability feature. 

Not trying to be a brand champion here but I will say it's a feature I can see all kinds of use for in practice. Especially with the wider lenses. 

The perfect reason to buy a $7000 Leica SL2 body? Maybe not quite. But if you are locked into a system that doesn't have this feature, or something similar, you might consider banding together with other like minded users and starting a letter writing campaign. It might just work.

Added: A decent article about hyperfocal distance measuring and implementation.... https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/calculating-hyperfocal-distance-in-photography

Part of being engaged in photography, for me, is seeing really wonderful work. Seeing it printed and well displayed. So, let's talk about a show I saw yesterday.


The HRC promotes their shows in part with these larger than life
posters. There are smaller posters hung on nightstands nearby as well. 

The Humanities Research Center at the UT Austin campus has one of the largest collections of photography in the world. It houses the Magnum Photo print archive which my friend Will and I did a video about ten years ago. It's the location where I first met Elliott Erwitt and  then spent an afternoon with him in downtown Austin. It was my favorite place to take small groups of students to explore master works by 19th and 20th century photographers. On one visit there I ran into Arthur Meyerson. On another visit Magnum Photographer,  Eli Reed. Suffice it to say that it is, in some ways, ground zero for art photography in our city. The core of the collection was contributed by photo historian, Helmut Gernsheim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmut_Gernsheim 

I hadn't been to the galleries in a while but I noticed in an email that the ground floor gallery (the big one) was going to have a showing of Laura Wilson's portrait of writers and I knew I had to see this. Laura Wilson first landed on my photography radar back when Richard Avedon was working on his grand opus, "In the American West." Laura Wilson had been hired to help produce the photographs. Not as in produce the actual prints but as in: figure out the locations with the most potential, arrange the endless road trip travel with Avedon and his assistants. Help pull people/strangers into the project as subjects and so much more. She also documented the project, photographically, over the course of six years and...if that wasn't enough....she also wrote the text for Avedon's resulting book. There is a book she wrote and photographed for about Avedon's process and journey west that is, in itself, a very interesting look at how art gets made. My copy or her book is dog-eared. Re-read at least a dozen times.  What I did not know at the time was how she was connected and that she was also a wonderful photographer in her own right.

Her specialty has always been portraiture. I was blown away when I looked at her bio here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Wilson_(photographer) Her book on the Hutterites of Montana was well received by the arts community and was probably one of the reasons she was hired for the Avedon project. But enough about Avedon. I'm here to praise Wilson's amazing work.

She's spent a large part of her career photographing internationally renown writers. Novelists, poets and playwrights. The work being shown at the HRC is all black and white (except for a small wall by way of a collage) and printed large....  and well. The space in the HRC is enormous and so each section of the show is well lit and well hung and viewers have ample space to step back and understand how expansive it is. When I walked into the gallery yesterday around 2 pm I was the only visitor. I had the whole show to myself. It was amazing and I felt privileged to see the work absolutely unencumbered by the presence of anyone else. Not even a guard or a docent.

Two interesting additions to the story. First, Wilson has some famous children. Luke, Owen and Andrew Wilson. Owen is one of my absolute favorite movie actors. He credits being constantly a subject for his mom's photography as a small child for his comfort now in front of movie cameras. ( loved him as "Hansel" in Ben Stiller's great movie: Zoolander).

A second addition to this story is a Six Degrees of Separation coincidence. I noticed on one of the placards next to an beautiful print of a Scottish writer Wilson mentioned that the writer cooked dinner for her and her photographic assistant. The assistant was a fellow named, Matt Lankes. He's a native Austinite and I have worked with him from time to time. He used to be one of the best of the best photo assistants before he moved on and became a very superb portrait photographer in his own right. He was the still photographer for Richard Linklater's movie, "Boyhood" and the stills from that movie are incredible. 

Matt assisted me on the day I photographed former president, Bill Clinton for Dell, Inc. He's not only a great photographer but apparently an excellent soccer player as well. He reached out to let me know that he accompanied Laura Wilson on a large number of shoots the photos from which ended up in this show. 

One can look at images on the web or in books but it is a completely different experience to see works printed exactly as the artist intended, in sizes big enough to make an impact and to allow deep exploration even by older audience members like me who need to look through the top part of my bifocals to see large prints in their entirety and then look through the bottoms of the glasses to see the detail. Yeah, I should try no line bifocals again.... sigh.

I suggest anyone interested in photography who lives within 100 miles of Austin to make a day trip of Laura Wilson's wonderful show. If you are flashy wealthy then by all means hop on that plane from wherever and comes see the show. It's pretty darn wonderful. 

One of a half dozen long walls covered with portraits of writers.

Writer, Zadie Smith. 

My favorites from the show are these images of Carlos Fuentes. 
He is one of Mexico's greatest writers. I love that each artist is shown not only
in a formal portrait but also in his or her environment in a series of detail images. 
The formal portrait of Fuentes is amazingly well done. (The little blue dot just
about his head in the forma portrait isn't part of the print; it's a reflection of a gallery light). 

blog note: 

I want to thank everyone for responding to my short, casual survey.

I love writing about photography. I just need to get better about ignoring 

distractions and such. I'm certain I'm still having trouble dealing with the  

trauma of the international pandemic which totally changed my art and business, 

and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Next week I'll get around to worrying about the stock market.... 

I ask for your patience. I've been afflicted throughout adulthood with 

acute anxiety and all of its attendant issues; one of which is being too reactive 

to criticism. I'm working on it. That's all I can promise.


Taking a casual poll of y'all blog readers...

 What do you like about the VSL blog?

What do you dislike about the VSL blog?

What content is useful for you?

Would ceasing the blog affect you in any way?

What would be the best way to improve the blog without entailing even a tiny shred of more work on my part?

Do you think the changing nature of photography has made the blog and its content worker irrelevant?

Do you think photography has become irrelevant?

Do you like the gear reviews?

Do you really hate the posts about swimming/lifestyle/etc.?

Are articles about how Kirk handles jobs/projects/assignments still useful to you?

How much notice would you like to get if the executive decision is made to discontinue this blog?

How would you feel about a new blog that contains only new images and relevant captions?

What would be the best way to keep in touch if a decision was made to discontinue the blog?

Where do you get your photo information?

That's about it. I'm feeling like the blog is getting stale. It's been a twelve year project and I've written something like 6,000 posts, put up tens of thousands of images, and suffered through 60,000 comments (many good but a ample percentage of well intended but unhappy ones...). I'm not sure what I've been spending my time on still has value. The blog is not and has not been a source of income for me. 

I've polled all sorts of clients (the people who do continue to line my pockets) and not a single one of them is a reader of the blog. Most were blissfully unaware of its existence. 

I'm in an actual quandary because I know I get emotionally attached to stuff like this even beyond any utility or positive affects. If I were rational I probably would have pulled the plug long ago but, in my defense, I thought people might still want something to read during the pandemic lock-downs. 

Let me know as honestly as you'd like....what would you do? And how would you do it?



Fine-tuning the vacation system. Looking forward to days of sightseeing and photography.

Before every vacation....oh, who do I think I'm kidding?....before every job, road trip, day out to the park I am plagued by having to decide which camera and lens(es) I'm going to select to take along with me. I am loathe to sell off stuff anymore even when it becomes clear to me that I've lost interest in it because I have a miserable track record of then missing what I've sent away only to have my resolve weaken, and in some cases even buying a new copy of the very thing I disposed of earlier. It's not a good way to build systems or keep a tight grip on money. But it does seem to be a pattern. 

Lately I seem to be operating with more logic and resolve. I've been very good about dividing my photographic gear into three discrete categories. They are: video tools, work tools and personal tools. These categories reflect, for the most part, how I end up using the various cameras I am lucky enough to have held onto. 

The video cameras are represented by my micro four thirds cameras. Specifically three Panasonic camera bodies: The G9, the GH5ii and the GH6. In my mind their highest and best use is for video production. They have tremendous powers of stabilization, the lenses available for them are great and well suited for shooting video and two of the three represent the state of the art when it comes to codec and format choices. Adding in the audio interface and the great slo-mo abilities and, for commercial work, they tick all the boxes. 

The video system is supported by a bunch of good lenses. In fact, one of my favorites is the Leica 42.5mm f1.2 lens, the results of which are represented here in the blog post. There are several Pro Olympus zooms as well as the Leica 12-60mm zoom and the Leica 25mm f1.4 (fixed after publishing. Thanks Helmut). Since all three cameras can run on the same batteries and take the same lenses it's a great closed system with good back-up resources. It's the system I'll shoot with for my upcoming testimonial video project.

The work system includes the cameras I use for corporate portraits, still life shots of products, lifestyle and environmental images. My main cameras in this "work" system are the Leica SLs and the SL2 but I also press the Lumix S5 and the Sigma fp into service from time to time within the same compartment. I have ample lenses to support this format and use profiles as well. 

And then we come to the personal tools which I'll also couch as the "vacation system." In this category I've pretty much landed (at last) on the most recently discontinued system; the Leica CL. But in this regard ( APS-C ) I've always been conflicted about lenses. Recently I've dumped every single lens I've bought over the last year or so for this system and have rebuilt the inventory from scratch. I tossed all the manual focus lenses, all the weird and slow optics and all the stuff that was redundant. I finished my last acquisition for the system today. Now the whole of my "play" cameras fit in one smallish bag. 

Today's purchase was the 16mm f1.4 which is the full frame equivalent on a CL of a 24mm lens. Something that's wasn't my highest priority but then again, I am learning to love the wider angles more as time goes on... I blame my smartphone's wide camera lens...

The system now consists of two black Leica CL cameras and four lenses. All the lenses come from the Sigma Contemporary product line and include: the 16mm f1.4, the 30mm f1.4 and the 56mm f1.4. The fourth lens is a "convenience" lens and it's the 18-50mm f2.8. When I pack for a vacation I'm planning to take the two bodies and the three primes. All the prime lenses are quite fast and all are optically very, very good. Lately I've had very good luck with all of the Contemporary Sigma lenses I've purchased, regardless of format.

I thought I could get by with the zoom for the wide end of the range but having all three primes with the same fast apertures is a keen draw. All the primes are relatively light. The 56mm is counter-intuitively the lightest and the smallest but all deliver very nice images. While I like the little zoom I like the three primes just a bit more. Since the system is for fun and self-directed creative work I don't need or want to add a flash to the system. I'd rather have grainier files or files that are a bit less perfectly sharp. 

It seems comfortable to have the systems sorted by their strengths. Fewer decisions to make from mode to mode. The nice thing about the "work" and the "personal" systems is that all the lenses are also interchangeable between the cameras. I can add and subtract to or from each system as needed. 

All of the images above and below were shot yesterday with the (fabulous) Panasonic G9 and the 42.5mm f1.2 lens. I tried to shoot everything around f2.0 but caved in when I felt I needed more depth of field. I used the D. Monochrome L profile and shot the photos as Jpegs. 

All good here. 

  Weird to see brown, fallen leaves, a la Autumn, when it's still 95° outside....

Found an old hat in the closet yesterday. Thought I'd wear it for a while.
Giving the bucket hats a rest until I head to Vancouver. I hear they are all
the rage in Canada.


Gearing up a bit for a video project on the calendar a couple weeks from now...


I used to put stuff off till the last minute. If I knew a video shoot was coming up I figured I could get around to gearing up or replacing older and damaged gear the week before the engagement and we'd be in good shape. Then came the "supply chain" issues. You know, as in you've got cash money to buy a car but there are no cars to buy? Or you've finally decided to order that new camera only to find it's back-ordered, stuck in transit, etc. and you just can't have it now. Bummer. And sometimes it affects jobs you've agreed to do. You might have to give up on using a certain microphone or lens and try to make do with something less.

We committed to do a testimonial video in about a week and a half and I decided to get ahead of the disappointment wave and make sure I had the stuff I needed to do the job well, in hand and ready to go. It's been a while since I did an interview-style video assignment. I knew I had enough camera gear, lenses, mixers, and tripods to outfit a small film production company but I'm always extra sensitive to audio gear. I like what I like to work with and hate having to sub in unfamiliar products in a pinch. 

I remembered loaning one of my favorite lav microphones to a friend who accidentally trashed my Sennheiser MKE II Gold Omni microphone. He paid me for it and I forgot all about it because with Covid raging we just weren't doing many new interviews. There was no pressing need to replace that microphone in the moment. I also remember that the last time we did a big interview intensive project (nearly a week of shooting) I lost a couple of tiny "dead cat" windscreens for my collection of lavaliere microphones and a couple was all I had. So, in fact, I was down to zero micro dead cats.

Back when I was teaching classes in commercial photography at the University of Texas College of Fine Arts I remember telling students time and time again that a professional shows up ready. Ready with gear. Ready with a plan. Ready with extra gear in case something goes wrong. My students probably thought I was nuts but I was trying to save them from failure. And it's been a work habit ever since. 

Before I started down the long road to photography I was more interested in audio gear. At one point in my life I wanted to go into electrical engineering in order to design amplifiers, pre-amps, high fidelity wireless systems, etc. It was a fun hobby but I could see, after a couple of internships with big semi-conductor companies, that the reality of that kind of work was much different from my fantasy of it. Big companies all expect one to show up on a regular basis and actually get work done. They expect results. The best dodge I could find instead was advertising and then photography. But I never lost my interest in audio equipment and I'm generally always appreciative of good engineering. 

So, when I head out the door to do video I feel pretty confident about the camera work but I'm always much more concerned about the quality of the audio we need to get. In my mind, and in my experience, great audio is always the most important component of a video project. You might have great footage of beautiful stuff but if you are including interviews and the sound is funky you lost the game. 

I bought two sets of Sennheiser EW 100 wireless microphone systems back in 2012. That was ten years ago. I bought them because at the time they were the reputable standard. Not as luxe as the Lectrosonic gear but still good, solid gear for the kinds of productions I do. I'm usually just using one set and keeping the second set handy as a redundant back-up. On a shoot I'll have both pairs set up identically so that if one unexpectedly dies I can quickly replace them without having to re-calibrate, set levels and pair them again while a client is waiting for me.

I've used the EW 100s extensively over the last ten years. They are reliable and consistent. Each set came with a Sennheiser MK 2 mic. I later bought the upgraded MKE II versions which are sonically supposed to be "better" but I think the originals are 95% there already. Certainly good enough for spoken word interviews. But I went ahead today and ordered another of the  MKE II Gold version and also a packet of "furrys" for the lavalieres. We're going to be filming outside and I want to be ready to step in and dress up the mics with little furry objects to kill the wind noise; if necessary. (These are not really made from dead cats. They are generally synthetic fabric fuzzy constructions that kill wind noise...).

Today was test day. I tested both pairs of receivers and transmitters and matched them all to the same pairing frequencies. I tested the microphones and both sets of headphones (weak link is almost always the cords) and made sure I have ample supplies of Eneloop Pro double "A" batteries ready to go.  I tested the gear on all three of the cameras I have in mind to shoot with. So far so good. 

The new microphone and replacement furrys are in stock and shipping. They'll be here a week ahead of the project date. Looks like we're good to go here. 

I also wanted to talk about one of the things I like about my Sennheiser wireless mic gear: I love that both units take standard, widely available, double "A" batteries. This is one area in which I do not like built-in, non-removable, rechargeable, proprietary batteries. If you screw up on charging them you can't easily fix your faux pas in the field. They are remorseless. Those proprietary batteries live to screw with you. If conventional, removable batteries decide to give up the ghost it's an easy and quick replacement. And the gear is set up to show an accurate battery level with conventional batteries. Built ins? You're on your own....

So, robust gear. Easy to work with. Easy to set up. Easy to get power. Industry standard. I know the Rode Go's and the DJI's are much cheaper but I also don't think wireless mics are based on such ever changing and cutting edge technology that the new models are important to keep chasing down. I'll stick with these until such a day as when I can justify a set of Lectrosonics and a bunch of Countryman microphones. Till then, do a sound check and watch your levels....