Once a year I confront my nemesis... and every year it wins.

Leica SL + Nikon 24mm D lens.

Yes. I tried to resist. I pushed away from the table. But the powerful attraction was too much for me. I found myself clutching the triangular shaped tool. I had no control as my hand crept toward the glass pan. I was shocked to find an enormous wedge of Bourbon Pecan Pie sitting on a white plate in front of me. But I totally succumbed to the immense pleasure as I took the first bite. Gastronomic heaven on earth. 

I was certain, after finishing what had to be 2,000+ calories of fresh-baked happiness, that I gained five pounds in a single go. 

Hours later I was still pondering which treat has the most effect on me, a new camera or a still oven warm and perfectly made pecan pie. When I woke up this morning and saw that we still had pie remaining I think my decision was easy. Pie trumps cameras. At least in the short run.... 

Marketing suggestion for Leica: Make New Products smell like Pecan Pie. Easy sale.

I also indulged a bit in a "Black Friday" splurge. I bought a couple more SD cards and, to push the purchase over the top --- a Peak Design wrist strap. 

That's it for now. 


The joys of home ownership. Off topic? Not for me...

Quick quiz: When is plumbing most likely to fail?

Oh, that's easy. It would be either the day of or the day before any major holiday. 

I was reading an old novel by Hemingway trying to figure out why I think his way of writing is so much more reader-accessible than many modern novelists when I heard a shout from the back of the house. B. was calling for me to help her...... and there was the sound of rushing water. I glanced at my watch which is something I do at the start of every homeowner drama. It was 11:00 pm, the plumbing witching hour.

I loped down the long hallway, through the master bedroom and into the master bath. B. was standing in her robe trying her best to turn off the hot water in the shower. She moved aside and I gave it my best shot. Turning the knob on the hot water side had no effect on the flow; the steaming, scalding water was gushing out of the shower head at maximum intensity. The bathroom was filling up with steam. 

I trudged out to the curb on the far side of the front lawn, carrying a flashlight the batteries for which I had replaced just the day before (dumb luck? Abject paranoia?) and pulled the cover off the ancient shut-off valve for the entire house, turned it off and then jogged back into the house to make sure my fix worked on the immediate problem. Yes, the flow was quickly subsiding and finally stopped altogether. It was helped along by opening the exterior,  lowest lying valve for the outside garden hoses.

I called my favorite plumbing company and left a panicky message with their answering service. They promised a call back at seven in the morning. 

Even through we're not entertaining in our home on Thanksgiving day we are preparing side dishes like mashed potatoes and stuffing, pies, etc. to bring along to a family gathering. With the water shut off we wouldn't be able to shower, wash dishes, or even flush the toilets. The horror!

We tried to get some sleep. B. is better than I at dropping off to sleep quickly. I have one of those horrible brains that dives into the worst case scenarios and my defensive approach is to start thinking about all the plan "Bs" I can think of while putting off getting any rest at all. 

I was working on the idea of learning everything there is to know about home plumbing by first light and then going out and buying the needed tools and replacement parts when a thought hit me. 

There is a certain logic to plumbing and I wondered if the hot and cold water were on separate lines and, if so, was there a way to shut off the hot water while leaving the cold water running. I crawled out of bed as quietly as I could and headed for the dining room table to fire up my laptop and see if there might be a solution. Hunched over the laptop in the one pool of light in the house I tried to couch my query in the most straightforward way for the search engines...

It turns out that most showers have a turn off valve somewhere nearby. Not in our 50 year old house. A bit more Googling informed me that the hot water heater is the actual nexus of all things hot water in a home. A bit more research let me know that turning off the cold water intake valve and turning the water heater to "pilot light" would disable all the hot water ----  including the terroristic shower ---- while preserving full function for the cold water. We could flush! We could rinse stuff! We could fill pots of water and boil it on the stove for ..... sponge baths. We could maintain a tentative grasp on civilization.

Many of you already know this kind of stuff. I've tried hard not to learn it because owning tools and being handy is a nasty, nasty rabbit hole to fall into. I won't recount the story of the tree saw I once bought but I will note that it cost me about $1600 in medical bills after five to seven minutes of use. And it was not a gas powered or electrical type of tree saw. Just an old mechanical one. I want to be good at what I want to do most --- which is photography. I don't own plumbing tools for the same reason I have never owned a lawn mower or a weed whacker. There are people who can do these things for me and also reduce my risks of either screwing up everything ( try repairing your own lens or camera some time) which ends up costing me much more money, or injuring myself, or someone else. This leaves me more time to do the things I like.

The phone rang at 7:00 a.m. on the dot. It was the dispatcher. The plumbing company asked about the specifics of the problem and I told them as much as I could even though I don't have a clue about the names of the parts involved. They promised to have a plumber at the house between 8:30 and 9:00 this morning. 

B. insisted I go to swim practice. I'd been looking forward to one more session in the pool before the two days off; inflicted by the holidays.

The plumber from Clarke Kent plumbing got to the house at 8:30 and was out getting parts when I got home. The shower was fixed and the hot water heater re-ignited by 10 a.m. and we were back in the business of domestic tranquility. I did ask him to take a look at our old turn off valve. The one up near the street. The pre-historic one.  That's our next project and I think we'll get on that before the first big freeze. We've decided to become more proactive homeowners. 

The swim was good. The post swim coffee outstanding. And our total bill for parts, labor and knowledge was a modest $300. I could have spent a day of time, more $$$ than his invoice on tools and parts and still not had the gusher staunched by end of day. Hire experts. It's more fun to type than to skin my knuckles doing something I have no clue about and less talent to work with. 

Our plumber saved the holiday. Now to investigate why these home repair emergencies only happen at night and right before, or on, the holidays. Right?

At least the raccoons have not moved back into the chimney.....


Ah. The ancient Nikon 20mm f2.8 D wide angle lens. Maybe it was the adapter.... Maybe it was the operator.... A bad shooting day?

A friend gave me a lens. It's the Nikon 20mm I mentioned yesterday. After a long day of accounting and chasing down vendors so I could pay them in a timely manner --- I decided to put the lens on an adapter I have and to walk around the downtown area taking random photographs. I came back with nothing spectacular or even very good. But I did come back with some thoughts about the lens and maybe an appreciation of how far lens design has come since the 1990s. At least where wide angle lenses are concerned. 

I used the lens, with adapter, on a Leica SL. It's a camera famous for the thin glass stack on the imaging sensor which is supposed to give better edge performance with Leica's huge selection of legacy lenses that were designed to work best on the more forgiving medium of film. Seems light rays hitting film emulsions tangentially aren't degraded in the same way they are when interfacing with the pixel wells in digital cameras. The thin stack wasn't enough though to bring this lens into the excellent or stellar category.

Like most lenses of just about any in the modern, multi-coated era of lens design the 20mm has a sharp central area and only really falls apart near the corners. At f2.8 the performance overall is mediocre to just good. At f5.6 and f8.0 it sharpens up, increases its contrast and looks decent. On all the images I took there was vignetting in the corners. In the very far corners the vignetting was massive and dense. Sure, you could crop but why not just start with a fully corrected 24mm lens in the first place?

One thing the lens has in quantity is distortion. And the distortion is not the easy to correct barrel distortion but the more pernicious mustache distortion. With a lot of patience and some talent in post production one could go a long way toward correcting it but..... again....there are better options at hand. 

At f8.0 the lens is capable of high sharpness in most quadrants of a frame and the trick is to use a camera with a good manual focus magnification feature. If you punch in as far as you can you can make images come alive with detail. But careful focusing is critical even when considering the vast depth of field the lens and aperture provide. 

The pros of the lens are: that it can be found for not much money. Samples are rampant at around $200. The lens is very light and very small compared to more modern (and more corrected) lenses. The focusing ring on my samples was smooth and had a short focus throw which is really neither a plus or a minus.

The negatives include that the focusing ring is hardly damped at all and feels different than most manual focusing and AF lenses with nice focusing rings which provide some tactile feedback. MF was definitely an afterthought on these lenses. But the flip side is that a short focus through and a very light MF construction probably increases the autofocusing speed a lot. The "cons' also include the fixed vignetting and the geometric distortion. Which largely disqualifies this lens as a choice for serious architectural photography. 

In a side-by-side, quick test I have to say that the Panasonic 20-60mm kit lens is better when used with any L mount camera because both vignetting and distortion are corrected in camera, via software. If I needed good technical performance at 20mm I'd grab the zoom first. But really, if you hang out at 20mm a lot then something like the Sigma 20mm f2.0 Contemporary might be the best choice for overall optical performance in the system. I owned the 20mm Art f1.4 Art lens from Sigma for a while and at most of the wider apertures the vignetting is bad enough to show through even with in-camera corrections. I'd rather have a better corrected lens with a more modest aperture. I could never really divine the value of the f1.4 aperture on a such a wide lens...

On the other hand this lens does have a lot of character. If you have an editorial use for the lens it could be fun. I'm withholding final judgement on this lens until I have the opportunity to shoot it on a sunny day and until I have more experience with it on the various L mount cameras. 

some might suggest that the lens adapter may be responsible for the vignetting but it's not a hard, mechanical edge as a physical blocking would cause and there is photographic detail if you take the time to correct for the vignetting in post. 

It was a fun distraction from an otherwise busy and fussy day. 

f5.6 at ISO 12500. 

ISO 12500. 

 I am looking forward to using this lens in good light.
I think the color rendering can be quite nice. Some of that is 
down to the camera....


New lens (to me) arrives suddenly and unexpectedly.


Again...it was cold, damp and the day featured endless, plodding rain. The little heater in my office barely kept up with the falling temps. I put on my boots to keep my toes warm. I worried about seasonal affective disorder until I remembered that I live in central Texas and that next week it might be in the 90s with bright sun. Not time to cover up that air conditioner just yet...

I'd just wrapped up the first stage of accounting on last week's three projects. The first stage being the payment of all the vendors, the talent agency, assist, make-up, etc., etc. The fun billing happens today when I send the clients the final bills. But it's always anticlimactic when shoots are over. 

My friend, Paul called to see what I was up to and to suggest an afternoon coffee at our usual joint, Trianon Coffee. It's just up the street from my place. I usually walk but not in a chilly downpour.

Paul is also a professional photographer so we sat with hot beverages and groused about the state of the industry, the inevitable changes in commercial work, the scarcity --- post Covid --- of assistants and support crew, the continuing ascendency of video, health insurance and retirement planning. And, of course, most of the conversation centered around cameras and lenses. We just about had everything figured out....

Near the end of our coffee conversation he pulled a plastic bag out and slide it across the table to me. "Here..." he said, "You might want to play around with this. If you want it it's yours." I opened the ZipLoc bag and pulled out a Nikon 20mm f2.8D lens, complete with caps and and a hood. Also a Nikon filter. 

I just happened to have a Nikon to L mount adapter in the studio so I mounted up the lens as soon as I got home. I remember owning one of these lenses back in the days of film, using it to good effect shooting interiors when the jobs called for it. I also owned the Canon version and liked it equally well. 

I didn't remember that the Nikon 20mm was so small. And lightweight. The focusing ring is almost completely undamped but that's typical for "D" lenses from that time. AF was becoming so popular I'm sure few people ever bothered to use their lenses in a manual focus mode. And in the early days of digital focusing medium speed wide angle lenses through smaller, lower res viewfinders was a complete game of hit or miss with "miss" nearly always winning. 

Since I recently gave away my TTArtisan 20mm lens and kept my Panasonic 20-60mm lens for occasional wide shots I was happy to have, once again, a prime lens for those times when you just want to distill your shooting experience down to the absolute fundamentals. And limit yourself to one focal length.

If the weather breaks and my work life slackens I'll head out this afternoon to give this lens a tour of downtown Austin. I hope it's as nice an optic as I remember. Nikon sold a huge number of these so they couldn't be that bad. 

Thanks Paul! Always fun to play with something new even if it's old.


The Sigma 65mm f2.0 lens is wonderful. All the right stuff in one package. And affordable.


 I finished re-reading a favorite novel this afternoon (Ada. By Vladimir Nabokov) and decided to get out of the house and get some fresh air. I grabbed the Leica SL2 and the Sigma 65mm lens and headed over to the UT campus. I wanted to see Laura Wilson's show of Writers' Portraits one more time before the holidays kick in and schedules get crowded. Once again I was the only guest in a large gallery space on the first floor of the UT Humanities Research Center. I took a quick glance at their copy of the Gutenberg Bible, took a gander once again at the "first" photograph by Niepce and then headed in to really examine my favorite portraits from Wilson's show.

I'm drawn to classic portraits like the one of Carlos Fuentes just below. I wanted to look at about a dozen that I really like and since no one else was there I could get close enough even to examine the grain structure of the prints and make some observations about where we are in the state of art of large, exhibition printing. The images from digital were interspersed with images from traditional film and the printing technique was so polished that all of the prints fit together. Unless you looked to the grain --- and you'd have to have your nose nearly on the print to see it clearly, you couldn't tell which came from what medium. 

There is a freedom in seeing a show by one's self. You can criss cross the gallery from favorite to favorite, circle back again and never have to wait for someone to get out from in front of a print. You also don't have to listen to any inane mobile phone conversations.

Again, I strongly suggest that photographers in Austin make an effort to see the Laura Wilson show at the HRC before it comes down in January 2023.

After I soaked up what I came to look for I headed across Guadalupe street to Medici Coffee which is just opposite the UT campus on what used to be the main drag. I guess it's still considered the main drag but it has none of the foot traffic and vibrance that it did when I attended UT as a student or when I taught there shortly after. Many of the older building on the street have been shuttered and are awaiting demolition so they can be replaced by much bigger buildings with much less character.

I walked into the coffee shop and immediately felt my chronological age. Every person in the shop was so much younger. The young woman at the ordering station was soooo patient with me. I got the sense that she felt I might have never ordered (non-drip) coffee before. She was walking me through the process like someone explaining a concept to a person with a limited vocabulary or hampered cognition. She seemed amazed that I knew how to tap my credit card on the sensor to pay for my drink. Or that I could sign for the charge on an iPad screen with my finger. 

I also ordered a scone. In a kind and quiet way she let me know that since it was after 3 pm and since I was also buying a coffee the scone would be half price. She looked at my unshaven face and my clunky, ancient camera with sympathy bordering on pity. I'm presuming she jumped to the conclusion that someone my age, alone on a cold, gray and rainy day, was.... down on my luck. It's okay. I get it. I have white hair. I guess I can't hide my battle with imminent mortality from the youth of today. But, on the other hand, it was nice to see a display of kindness and compassion. Even if I don't necessarily deserve it.

Moving on.

I used to change camera systems more quickly than many in our audience might change their underwear. But I've held onto the Leica SL2 since the Autumn of 2020 so that makes my tenure with this particular camera and the surrounding infrastructure a little over two years and there's no sign yet of me tiring of shooting with it. I do like to add a few lenses from time to time just to keep the credit cards well greased but I've yet to come across a camera or a system I'd prefer to shoot with now. That bodes poorly for my local retailer but it does help me focus on working with the camera more intently.

The L mount system in general has been a lovely platform for shooting with a wide variety of lenses.

Today I pulled the 65mm Sigma out of the drawer and took it out for a spin. It's a solid lens and a bit heavy but it's a good and comfortable match for the SL2. The finder image is really good for two reasons: the first is that the camera's EVF is nearly 6 million dots and uses Leica glass in the viewing path. Secondly, the lens itself is very sharp and contrasty all the way to f2.0 so the performance of the lens enhances the look of the image in the finder compared to lenses that provide less performance. 

The lens is built with 12 elements in 9 groups. One element is an SLD (super low dispersion) and two others are ashpericals. The diaphragm has 9 blades and they are rounded to enhance bokeh. The closest focusing distance is 55cm (which, I think, it just over 20 inches). The lens has an extremely nice, external aperture ring which will also click into "A" at one end and the focusing ring is very workable for manual focusing. This is a lens that can be shot wide open with no real optical compromise. It may be the sharpest lens I own in the normal focal length range. For anything really close up the nod would have to go to the Sigma Art Series 70mm Macro. 

The color rendering of the lens, even when using Jpeg format, is right on the money. And the AF is quick as a bunny on speed being chased by zombie coyotes. In all it's about as perfect as a "long normal" lens gets and the whipped cream on the top is the very sensible price of $700. Pretty much Leica performance at a very non-Leica price. I should buy an extra in case they stop making this model.....

Which brings me to my one wish/request/plea to Sigma: 
Please, please, please make us a 50mm f2.0 lens with the same cosmetics and eye-watering performance as that of the 65mm. It would fly off the shelf. Well, I could guarantee that at least two of them would fly off the shelves because I'd snap them up fast. 

After my geriatric coffee drinker meets benevolent barista I set out to walk the streets somewhat fearful that someone at the coffee shop might be calling in a "silver alert" and put out an A.P.B. for a "lost senior." I'd hate to have been snatched off the street and delivered home before I got a few frames off. But, of course, nothing of the sort happened. I was free to wander unfettered. 

And in the process I found some really nice color images in front of my camera. Lots of colors for a gray and chilly day. 

Above: A Bob Dylan graphic on the wall of The Hole in the Wall. A night club we used to go to in the 1970's. It's still there, still open and still banging out tons of live music. Right on Guadalupe St. right where it's been since 1974.

And, in case you were worried, I was able to find my car at the end of my photo walk and find my way home. I even remembered to bring the camera back with me...

Hope your Sunday was eventful in good ways and non-eventful in potentially unpleasant ways. 


OT: Cold and rainy swim practice this morning. Bracing trip from the warm pool through the Arctic blast to the relative safely of the locker room.

 We're not burdened by weather that brings life to a complete halt. At least not yet. 

I woke up early today. I guess the combination of vitamin K2 and the recent time change are changing my sleep pattern. I read the news, drank fine coffee and ate a piece of toast.

Then I got in the car and headed over to swim practice. There was a thick head of steam coming off the pool. The difference between the 80° water and the 38° outside temperature made the scene look like a Hollywood set that was completely overwhelmed by a Mole Richardson fog machine. 

Our highly weather resistant coach, Kristen, came bundled for the weather and didn't miss a beat even when a cold rain started ramping up like buckshot. Her workout was written up on two white boards and I'm sure she wrote it on them in the dry refuge of the guard office since writing on wet white boards is....difficult.

We did a thousand yard warmup and then headed into the main sets which were a series 50 yard sprints on a descending interval followed by fast 100s. Over and over again. 

It's kinda fun to swim a workout in the cold with the added sensation of freezing rain hitting every exposed part of your body and head. We seemed, as a group, to be working a lot harder on our underwater streamlines (the push off the way at the turn and the underwater dolphin kick that goes with it) so we could stay submerged longer in the warmer water. 

It was easier to cheat by occasionally pulling on the lane line during backstroke today. Why? Because the pool fog coming up off the water made it hard for the coach to witness my transgressions at the other end of the pool. 

The most exciting part of the workout came at the end when we had to pull ourselves out of the comfortably warm water onto the near freezing deck and walk briskly through the wind gusts to the locker rooms. It is on days like this that the hot showers afterwards are so rewarding.

In a break from my usually healthy diet I stopped  at a local McDonald's drive thru and ordered a biscuit, egg, cheese and bacon breakfast sandwich and a large coffee. Not the best nutrition but insanely fun comfort food after 3,000 yards in mixed atmospheric conditions. I'll try to walk it off later in the day...

Feeling mildly virtuous today. 

It seems like it's going to be one of those days with steady, mild rain, ever dropping temperatures and generally gray skies. The perfect day for an afternoon nap.

R&R after a busy week.