Ah. Zeroing in on the sweet spot. Spending a few hours at the Day of the Dead Parade and celebration in downtown Austin. Camera and lens in hand.

I was sitting around after swim practice today thinking about trying out a different camera and that new lens that came in yesterday; the Voigtlander 40mm Nocton. While drinking some wonderful coffee (one of the few things I have mastered in my long a sometimes frivolous existence)  it dawned on me that the annual Day of the Dead parade must be this weekend. I used my friend, "search" to see what the schedule was. Today. Oh joy! People in costume parading around in my downtown and being mostly happy and open to being photographed. Especially if you ask nicely. Lens test central.

My first intention was to put the lens on the Panasonic S5 and give it a go but the lure of the ancient Leica SL overwhelmed me and I grabbed one out of the drawer, tossing an extra battery into my pocket (the battery carefully wrapped in plastic....). 

I got to downtown about fifteen minutes before the parade started and took a few moments to just chill and enjoy a rare bright and clear day, but one with temperatures in the 60s and not the 90s.  Then I started looking for things to photograph. I guess I should say, "people to photograph." 

At this juncture I should admit that I am a frame glutton. If one frame is good then why don't we stick around and see if the next one will be better? Eh? and the next dozen after that..

I went for a photo walk once with a psychiatrist who was my exact opposite when it came to photographing. He would spend minutes (long, long minutes) carefully composing and re-composing and jostling around before taking even one frame. Once he found whatever he was looking for his face would take on a grim expression as though he was trying to will the camera to stay perfectly still and then he'd take one frame. One shot! And then he'd move on. There were no experimental adjustments; nothing. Just that one frame. Reminds me of the old Texas Rangers motto: "One Riot, One Ranger."  He'd have about 20 frames to play with in Photoshop when he got home. 

Me? I'm happy shooting until I get bored, tired, hungry or chased off by a big, glowering boyfriend. I'll work the angles try to get different poses from complete strangers and tax the crap out of my camera battery. Just watch me. I can be photo reckless. 

Today was an open schedule for me. No place I needed to be. So I stayed downtown for a few hours and really gave that new lens a workout. I ended up plowing through 1007 .DNG frames between 11:45 and 2:45. Of those 1007 about 400 made the cut into the first round of selections and 67 of them became finalists. It's not that bad of a ratio and I find that I'm a fairly quick editor. 

I hate to intrude on people but on the other hand I have never been accused of being shy. If I see a face in the crowd that I like I walk up to the person and ask them in as humble and vulnerable way as I can if I can take their photograph. Of the 100 people I asked today no one said, "No." That's a good day. A really good day. 

One of the things that photographers on the forums say a lot is: "that lens isn't sharp wide open. Why would I buy a fast lens if I can't use it wide open???" On the surface the idea makes sense but then you start thinking about the car analogy and I trot out: "My BMW 540i could go 140 mph. I never drove it faster than 90. But I really liked the leather seats and the German fascination with minimal cup holders." 

Seriously though. Some apertures are held in reserve for those times when getting the shot is more important than getting the sharpest photograph you could possibly imagine. And it's the same at the opposite end of the aperture dial. I'm more scared of f22 than I ever am of using f1.4. Scary diffraction.

So, in my old, soft, muted green sweatshirt and a comfortable pair of pants with too many pockets, along with a bucket hat, I walked around looking for faces or scenes or human connections that seemed like they would make fun photographs. If I came in close to take portraits with the little 40mm lens I tended to use apertures like f2.0 and f2.5. I shot raw so I could really evaluate the resulting photographs instead of risking that my haphazard technique might obscure my assessment of the results. Bad technique masking otherwise good performance.

I tried taking a few images in black and white just to see if the lens did a good job in that realm. And I've included those images as well so you can make an assessment. I'm no Michael Johnston but I'm working on my black and whites too.

In many ways it's easier to take photographs of strangers now. I think there are so few photographers left (other than cell phone camera users) that most of us are, to the younger generations, someone's grandparent who is behind the times and is incapable of giving up his "boomer" hobby and getting with the times. The people I cajole for the gift of their time seem more patient now. More compassionate. I think they see the white hair and think, "poor thing. He's wandering around aimlessly, probably doesn't know where he is but he seems quite harmless. let's humor him...." But I'm shameless. I'll take any advantage I can get. At least no one yells at me anymore.

I did actually run into several photographers while I was downtown. There was one man (in his early thirties) with his wife and two kids and he noticed my camera at the same time I noticed his. I was much more impressed. He was carrying the one camera that I think of as "the king of cameras" and perhaps the best camera I have ever used. It was a Mamiya 6 camera. The one that shoots square film and had a three lens system to support it. (This writer turns as looks at the 36 by 36 inch black and white print of a beautiful model on the Spanish Steps in Rome who was immortalized at least to me by one of the same cameras many years ago). 

We chatted for a few seconds and I left him as he took photographs of this family, faces all well painted, with his iPhone...

I ran into blog reader and fellow Austinite, Don, who was shooting one of the Fuji X-Pro cameras and had a second camera over the other shoulder. And I ran into fellow Austin pro photographer, Chris Caselli who has been photographing this yearly event for the Mexic-Arte Gallery for years. He also teaches at a local high school. He was one of the guys out in the thick of it today with a fill flash blazing...

I hope you click through the images in the full screen mode so you can see why I like these small prime lenses with fast apertures. There is something fun about being able to drop out background details when you want to that's cool. And also something fun about using the kinds of lenses we started out with. A nod to sentimentality, at least.

I don't know how I spontaneously became a group photographer here but I did get this group set and ready so that one of their associates could snap a photo with an iPhone. 

this young woman asked me to photograph a small group with her friends. 
She handed me an iPhone and asked (nicely) if I knew how to use one....
At least she was gracious about it...

always good to make at least one test shot in full sun...

and, happily, there was a low-rider component to the parade this year. 
Some really fun cars...
Considering this one as the company car at VSL. Lots of space in the trunk for gear....
But is it electric? At least it's prettier than a Tesla...

the color and contrast from the new lens and the Leica  SL
seem more than adequate for me.

Don. Austin photographer.

there is that Mamiya 6 I was coveting...

"The Mamiya 6? last time I saw it was over there by the gorditas.

Yes, I actually asked them to pose with the phone because that's what they were doing 
when they caught my attention. 

Yes. Those are hotdogs wrapped in bacon sprayed with mayo.
A fiendish plot by cardiologists to ramp up demand...

My favorite shot of the day. Everyone should be able to identify their favorite shot of the day. But they are fully capable of changing their minds the very next day.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the folks at the 
wonderful W Hotel for the gracious use of their rest room facilities which are
always sparkling clean and welcoming. Now, could they please explain to me
why they have a fire in the fireplace in the middle of the Summer 
heatwave? I would guess it's so they can justify keeping their A/C
at 68°.

The "rig" as seen in a mirror. 

And finally....the coffee/bokeh test. 
And yes, the lens is adequately sharp wide open.