Toddler ready to swim in Lake Austin. Old tech.

 Remembering the film days. Out for a Summer swim in Lake Austin. A pier at Emma Long Park. 

Photographed with a Contax G2 camera and a 21mm Contax Biogon lens. On Agfapan B&W film. Scan from a print. 

Ah. Austin 24 years ago... Where are the crowds? Where are the boats? 

I'm working hard to figure out why I like the cameras I do, why I like the styles of photography I do and why other people are so different. I guess it's all different for everyone.

 I'm not smart with gadgets and appliances that have lots and lot of features. To make use of overly customizable devices one must either carry around in one's memory lots and lots of instruction sets and must have developed operational sub-routines (which, to my mind, complicate regular thinking) in order to really understand and take advantage of these "labor saving/thought saving(?)" features. It's all too much. Condemning people who just want to make photographs to the equivalent of memorizing all ten thousand plus pages of the tax code seems....counterproductive....at least from a creative point of view. 

I guess this goes a long way toward explaining my own preference for cameras, computer applications, even washers and dryers that have few unneeded features and very straightforward controls and interfaces. There are many things I love about my Subaru Forster but the menus on the big screen in the center of the dashboard are not part of that love. In short, car/computer/phone interfaces suck...hard. We are only now, twenty some years into the new century, able to somewhat reliably connect our phones to our cars' audio systems. But earlier attempts were like pulling molars without painkillers. 

I used to complain about some camera brands. I thought long and hard on what I really disliked about a camera like the Sony A7R2 I once owned. Was it really the handling? Yes and no. I could have adapted to the basic configuration of the body if only it hadn't been covered with endless, programmable custom function buttons. But it was the core operational stuff that left me cold. The endless and fragmented menus and weirdly cut out connections between menu driven features. Grayed out selections of great mystery and frustration. I'm sure I could have learned to play "all the keys on that keyboard" if I'd donated dozens of hours of time and practice but why would I waste so much time on some things that could have been made so much simpler and more logical? Why indeed?

It's the same with programmable buttons on lenses. Why on earth are they there? Or the dual position levers on some Fuji cameras and some Olympus cameras. Who remembers what that second set of settable commands is for and why do we care? It's more stuff to memorize. More stuff to deal with when changing conditions trick us into thinking we need to change the way our camera operates. It's all madness. 

I remember when even digital cameras had simpler menus. Striving for a simple menu should be an enormous goal and one that is ultimately a net positive for consumers! We no longer require elevator operators to get us from floor to floor. It's as easy as pushing one button. When I look at my churn of cameras I notice that the periods of heightened churn correspond to buying cameras that promised better performance but sabotaged the enjoyment of the camera in order to "gift" the user with ever greater complexity. Ever the optimist I always felt as though I could master the menus and make sense of the offerings but my brain isn't built to jump through oddly connected hoops for tiny or non-existent rewards. 

I have friends whose brains are wired differently. They get a new camera and settle in to "customize" it endlessly. They've got buttons set for just about any contingency and they seem to know, almost instinctively, what each buttons now does and how it can be re-customized to do even more. 

I am routinely baffled by their excitement about gaining a new function button. Or being able to customize that button in dozens of different ways. 

I notice that I haven't yet sold any of the core Leicas I've been buying over the last three years. Sure, I got rid of a Leica TL2 but only because its menu was so experimental and so out of touch with the way the menus operate in all the other L mount cameras. And this led me to try and understand why it is that I enjoy shooting with the Leica L mount digital cameras so much. It's down to the wholesale reduction of visual clutter on the external body and an equally wholesale reduction of menu complexity on the inside. 

We can drone on and on about the "glorious" Leica lenses (and they are very good!) or the build quality of the bodies, or the color science "magic" of the sensor implementations but in reality, for me, it's all about how easy the camera is to use. When I compare something like the SL2 or even the now discontinued CL with a recent camera from Sony it's like being asked to drive a car with automatic transmission through rush hour traffic as opposed to driving an 18 speed manual with no sync between gears and a heavy, heavy clutch pedal. Masochism versus photography. 

In many ways this very issue explains the popularity of the Q and Q2 cameras to a large segment of the market for high end compacts. Sure, the ads call out the quality of the lens and the resolution of the sensor but I conjecture that most buyers are coming from complex cameras and trading the complexity for a logical interface that gets out of the way of taking the actual photographs. They are buying back brain space, simplicity and time. And time is the most valuable of the three. 

Tom Hogan writes after market books which are like readable, understandable owners manuals to deal with the complexity of new cameras. I remember him saying that each new camera model requires longer and longer books to cover all the "features" of a new, higher end camera. And he's just writing about Nikon cameras. Imagine the tomes he'd have to construct to cover and explain some of the cameras from other companies. 

I looked in a filing cabinet and found the owner's manual for one of my old film cameras. It was a little over twenty pages, filled with illustrations and small enough to carry in the back pocket of my pants. Most people buying a camera back then looked to see if there was anything out of the ordinary with their new camera purchase, tossed the manual back in the box and were out shooting in minutes. Not now. Not today. 

So, to the first topic, the cameras I like and am attracted to offer simplicity above all. They make setting the exposure and the basic color simple and straightforward. A photographer with a narrow set of requirements might only need to visit the menus in a number of my cameras to re-format a memory card. Or to (easily) update firmware. I like cameras that are plain and well designed. Designed as objects.

Why do other people seem to have different ways of assessing cameras? I can only imagine that they construe all the levels of customization as extras that they are getting for the purchase price of their camera. They equate added features with some metric of both financial value and operational potential in their camera purchase. They predict that they will use some subset of features that the camera offers in a much different way than I might use them. I might be put off by very complex autofocus menus while others might imagine that they need to complexity in order to ensure success in some sort of photographic endeavor. But, of course I am endlessly baffled by those who select cameras with super fast, continuous AF but who profess to be "landscape shooters." A speciality in which AF performance is as necessary as ventilation holes in swim goggles. 

Some people are logical to an extreme believing a camera or hammer or tool of some kind can be evaluated by looking at all the features on offer, placing said features on a series of spread sheets and creating a numerical measure or score for each thereby allowing them to dispassionately see the advantages and disadvantages of each product under consideration. Then factor in the price and hit "compute." 

Almost like a television-era Star Trek episode in which societies are controlled by omni-powerful computers that have become both misguided and malevolent. The computer controls all the decisions and comes up with the most logical conclusion. And it becomes law. Only to have Captain Kirk rush in, destroy the computer and bring back idea of love, individual freedom and so much more. 

Okay. So I like cameras that just work. I like cameras that don't require frequent visits to the owner's manuals. I dislike cameras on which there are so many extra buttons that I have to handle the camera gingerly to prevent pushing something that will require yet another dive into the owner's manual to learn how to reset or correct. And I like cameras that are big enough to feel good when I hold them, point them and use them. Ah, now I begin to understand the owner's of Pentax K-1 cameras. And the new Hasselblad owners. Trimmed down menus, well done design work. Nothing archly rudimentary or banal about design. 

Photographic styles. Here, once again, I am lost. I have a preference when both photographing and looking at photographs for portraits or candid images of people. I also have anti-preference for wide angle, wide frame shots of people. Which is kind of weird. I like seeing people clearly and without a lot of surrounding clutter which goes a long way toward why I'm not a huge fan of "street photography" done on the run with wide lenses, like the ubiquitous 28mm that seems to be the choice of a whole new generation. Even worse would be a 24mm and beyond that, when photographing people, you would lose me altogether. 

If I could spend the rest of my life just making photos that I love I would wish for a never ending stream of interesting people to come into my small studio space and slow down enough to make really thoughtful portraits with me. But I hear from so many people that this is not what they are interested in photographing. They profess to want to photograph sports or wildlife or landscapes. And that's fine with me. But when I look around my office and my home all I see are interesting faces looking back at me. Not a landscape or a still life on any of the walls. 

I have a theory about this. My father was in the U.S. Air Force. We moved a lot. My parents were okay with spending only one year at a time in a location. But as a kid it was traumatic to make friends only to lose them twelve to eighteen months later. Sure, we'd promise to keep in touch but what five year old or eight year old sits down with a neat and complete address book and crafts timely correspondence to multiple people he subliminally knows he will probably never see again? And where would he find the time in yet another location while trying as fast as possible to make new friends and new connections? 

Is it any wonder that our memory keepsakes would revolve around trying to fix and preserve our truncated relationships with people whose company we've come to enjoy and even love? By the time my family settled down in one spot, with me starting high school at the time, we'd lived in a dozen cities, visited many different countries and I'd seen enough spectacular landscapes and monuments to last me a life time. And generally the landscapes are almost always re-accessible but the relationships are lost forever. Which should I document?  Which should I cherish?

Then there is the question I am nearly always asked by some very diligent and well intentioned(?) web expert: Why does it seem that I only like photographing beautiful people? And drilling down a bit more: Why beautiful female people? Why do people enjoy eating delicious food? Why buy beautiful furniture? 

I had a friend who is a documentary photographer. He photographs only in black and white. He photographs mostly people in distress. Farm workers doing backbreaking work. Prison inmates.  Protests. Famine and floods. Victims everywhere. He asked me why I don't do the same. 

I replied that one approach is the carrot and the other is the stick. One method appeals to guilt and shame. The other is aspirational. I want to photograph beautiful people to show their beauty to an audience. I want life to be beautiful. I'll only be here to savor it for a short time. I don't want to spend that time feeling bad, guilty, privileged or otherwise incorrect. You can stare at the sun or you can stare at a flower. You can spend your life pushing against social injustice or you can aim for some sort of balance. 

When I grew up in photography documentary work was king. Prevalent. Lauded. But relentlessly depressing and for the most part it has never moved the needle on human suffering. There are exceptions just as there are in politics. But have things gotten better for everyone?

We create policies for the masses but as humans we connect individually. I want to look at a beautiful human face and see the glory of existence. I want to show a beautiful face as an example that is different than someone else's determination of beauty. I want to see eyes filled with compassion, curiosity and resolve. I'm not looking for easy sensuality but for consummate beauty that comes from confidence. And sometimes I am successful photographing that. Which, for me, trumps all. Why women? Because I don't understand them in the same why that I do fellow men. We're easy, they're complex. I'm always curious.

I photographed several national presidential conventions for a Texas newspaper. It was fun in an "event" sort of way to be in the middle of a big political transition and a big show but the images aged quickly for me and the fun, in retrospect, was like eating Twinkies or donuts. It got old quick. I photographed a series of landscapes on medium format transparency film for the Nature Conservancy. The landscapes were beautiful if you "lived them", if you were there, but much less so in the rear view mirror. Over the course of my career I've photographed architecture and an almost endless collection of products but they all pale in comparison to a single portrait sitting with someone who is destined to become a friend. Models who grow up and bring their children back to meet you. Faces that are so welcoming. Eyes that speak a language all their own. 

Portraits are my souvenirs of human interaction and relationships. It's a simple as that. 

Different ideas.

When I read blogs and essays on the web or in newspapers I wonder why people who grew up in the same country and same relative demographic as I did can be so different, think so differently and believe so strongly that their experience and point of view is superior and....pervasive. My psychiatrist friends tell me it all stems from the result of childhood experiences tightly wired into the brain. Emotional strategies developed in early childhood to protect and provide some measure of security against the traumas of growing up. And in this each person is somewhat unique.

Some feel the clinging to "superior" expertise will provide safety or an advantage in our culture. They surround themselves with a moat of their learned knowledge. But a moat keeps people inside as effectively as it does keeping them outside. And so much energy goes into defending the territory. And then technology conspires to eradicate the value of that tightly held knowledge.

You've met them. The expert on 1950's vacuum tubes. The expert on wines from a certain region. The economic expert who appears at every rent in the financial system to make prophecies that are never accurate and never come true. The expert on aviation who has never flown a plane. The expert on photography who no longer makes photographs but instead expounds on historic photo lore. The person who can name every piece of classical music but plays no instrument. And can't read a score.

I'm not interested in being an "expert." It requires too deep a dive into minutia. It takes too much time. There's so much else to see. I'm happy enough just being curious and being able to also change my mind when new facts, styles, trends, inventions and even ways of understanding arise. I'd rather jettison a practice than continue it without any passion. 

I can't tell you which Leica lens was made with a radioactive element. I don't memorize model changes by serial numbers. But I am willing to try a new way to look at stuff. 

Being a simple thinker I am apt to divide the people I engage with online into two camps: The passionate artists and the logical rationalists. Each camp finds it very hard to cross over to the other team. We'll forever disagree about basic technical stuff because of the divide between the camps. One camp will always be perplexed about the other. I realize that now, so late in my career. 

It's always hard to reconcile the difference. But maybe it makes no difference at all. 

I think I'll go out for a walk.


I joined a gym. I have a personal trainer. She kicked my butt today.


Ice cream shop mannequin. Playing with wide open enthusiasm.

I started my day with a long walk to the bank. Some checks came in over the weekend and that always makes me happy. I could have deposited them via a phone app but I think any excuse for a good, long walk is a great excuse so I headed into the downtown area, parked my car a mile and a half from the bank and did the round trip. It's weird to actually go into a bank. I have one bank in San Antonio that I've done business with for nearly 40 years and have only physically been there once. It was when I had to deliver documents for an estate, in a hurry. I use an investment firm at which I have never met anyone -- in person. Amazing to me that we trust strangers to handle our important money when we'd never hire an assistant or doctor or lawyer without meeting them in person first. But I digress. I made it to the bank and then back home and the walk was pleasant. Even nicely cool.

I took a camera, shot some photos, looked at them when I got back to the office and then erased them. They weren't "bad" photos but they weren't interesting either. 

After doing mindless chores around the house and the office I changed into "workout" clothes and it was weird. With swimming it's the same wardrobe every day. Swim cap. Black Speedo Endurance Swim Jammers and a pair of Speedo goggles. On a cold day maybe a pair of Crocs on the feet to get back and forth on the freezing cold pool deck. But for time at the gym you need a whole different set of clothes. And shoes. And they have to be clean and not smelly. 

Loose t-shirt, athletic shorts (whatever the hell those are...) and a close-toed athletic shoes. Mine are Tevas. A protest against Nike? Naw, on sale at REI. And if you want to conform and be a pleasant gym member it's pretty much advised that you come not reeking of sweat and other noxious body odors. 

I joined the gym for two reasons. First, it's free because a gym membership is included in my health insurance policy. There's a convenient and well run gym less than a five minute (mid-afternoon, not rush hour) drive from the office. Makes it easy. The second reason is that my swim coaches and fellow swimmers keep proselytizing about the absolute need for older swimmers (over 50? over 40? Over 60? what?) to lift weights and do more weight bearing exercise to maintain muscle mass. To fight sarcopenia. And to swim faster.

I've been to the gym now three times. The first time I overdid the bicep curls and paid for it for days. But the facility offers a free hour of personal training so I decided today to take advantage of it. I met Renee, my personal trainer, at 2pm for an hour of fun torture. Renee is short, dark, ridiculously fit, and has a larger than life personality. But as nice as she seemed when we first met today she knows how to cajole, demand, request and coach more work out of a client than I ever imagined. Not that I'm complaining. Too much...

She took me on a painful tour of all the pertinent machines of torture on display there. I bench pressed and leg pressed and worked all manner of upper body muscles with a vengeance. We ended the hour with some much needed stretching. I enjoyed the pain, the expertise, and the external discipline so much that I'm contracting  with her to coach me once a week for the next few months; until I become my own strength/fitness expert....

We did all the major muscle groups and then concentrated on swim muscles. Tomorrow I will either feel faster in the pool or I'll be so sore I'll need Floaties (those inflatable floats little kids wear on their arms when first learning to swim...)  to survive the masters swim workout. But if it weight training  works......yow! Look out. 

So I am adding three days a week to my schedule for visiting the gym for an hour of grunting, lifting and machine handling. That's in addition to the five to six days of swimming and the three or four walking adventures each week. I may not have enough time to actually work on work. Does anyone know if you can get paid for just staying in shape? Maybe some sort of advertising ambassador-ship with Pfizer or Abbott? 

In photo news: The Voigtlander 58mm f1.4 lens was a fun experiment but it's heading back to its owner. Why? I tested it head to head against the Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 and decided that I liked the overall look, out of focus rendering, and even the handling better on the Zeiss. So why endlessly duplicate? My friend wasn't at all chagrined. He imagined I might chose the Zeiss. He's breathing a sigh of relief that the V58 lens will soon be back on the front of his Leica SL; where we both imagine it belongs. 

Still interested in testing a few more 50mm lenses but more interested in planning a shooting trip somewhere interesting. Just waiting for B.'s return. 

Now playing around again with the Leica CLs and the weird collection of lenses I have for them. Look for a lot of CL work to be done in a couple of weeks when Austin "welcomes" SXSW. Always fun and always like shooting fish in a barrel. All while riding the city buses into the town's center for a change ( the only way to get into and out of downtown without having to invest in massive amounts of time trying to find parking....). 

time to just put those cameras into Program mode and start shooting. Why overthink it?


It was a black and white day in downtown Austin.

It was a quiet day yesterday. I went to swim practice and then came back home to an empty house. B. is out of town tending to a family member in hospital. I've been left to fend for myself. After some basic house keeping I got bored and decided to go out for a walk with my camera. It was a gray day and one that I thought would be better imaged in a monochrome representation. 

I took my favorite camera, a crusty, stout Leica SL. I paired it with the new lens "flavor of the week", the Voitlander 58mm. I shoved an extra battery into my pocket and headed down to walk a familiar route. 

Nothing had changed. And as I walked on I felt a certain sense of futility with yet another walk through an all too familiar urban-scape. Another stroll through the most casually dressed city imaginable. Another unfulfilling experience dodging girls in denim skirts riding recklessly fast on electric scooters down the middle of the sidewalks, here to celebrate some bride's upcoming plunge into marriage. Wending my way around the same street people begging for money. Inflation strikes even there. Used to be the active homeless would ask for "spare change" now they are demanding $5 for lunch. For some it seems like a full time, all seasons job. 

I was shooting with a lens burdened by no particular detractions or attractions other than its nod toward nostalgia and the comfort of the familiar. I'm sure every one else has been there. There is now a loneliness in walking around with a camera photographing random stuff. I spent hours in what is one of Texas's top tourist locations and not a single other person carried an actual camera. Sure, people occasionally stopped to photograph something with an iPhone but I was more or less the crazy uncle hobbyist that time and culture have passed by. Even the folks snapping away with their phones seemed less passionate about the endeavor yesterday. Almost as though we've all concluded that with the endless torrent of images being constantly shared everywhere that no individual shot or selection of shots matters anymore. Another drop in the ocean. Another futile attempt to carve out some sort of alternate viewpoint. A different visual perspective of a declining culture. Hello "The Americans" except that now everyone with a camera is a Robert Frank. 

It's almost as if we've become mini cover bands for famous rock groups sitting in dour suburban garages doing our paeans to the classics and the classical originators. Endlessly covering "Hey Jude" or "Tangled Up in Blue" but without the talent, or the advantage of being the first mover. The first person to see in a certain way. Now, seventy years after Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and so many other pioneers we keep paying homage by trying to fit our tiny feet into the deep tracks they laid into the mud of our visual culture, so long ago. And doing so mostly unsuccessfully but in enormous quantity. 

After a forgettable dinner I entertained myself by watching a movie from Disney's new take on endless "Star Wars." But all the subsidiary shows in that franchise now mash together and endlessly repeat the theme of the redeemed gunslinger working through his past and paying penance with violence ostensibly to help the universe ... in some way or another. So boring. So predictable. From spear throwing Tuscan raiders to warp drive spaceships, all concurrent.

Many, many years ago I loved movies. I was mystified when a much older mentor of mine told me he could no longer stomach movies because, after decades of enduring them, he realized that there were only a handful of plots and those plots were coupled with a financial need for movie producers to pander to the tastes and comprehension abilities of the general population. Watching yet another in an endless series of predictable dramas or comedies was, for him, unbearable. After a while they all seemed the same.

And circling back to photography that might be exactly what I'm experiencing in the moment. The Been There, Done That, Seen That a Thousand Times realization. Now we love endless gray tones. But like all styles that one is ephemeral. Tomorrow we'll see someone's work pushing out high contrast images (Allan Schaller?) and we'll worship that for a few weeks before we slide off into some reveries about highly saturated colors which will give way to subdued pastels. And it's the same for subject matter. We'll always seem to have bandwidth for young, thin-ish, half naked female portraits or suggestive glamor-posing but all the rest of the subject matter just rotates over time through the greatest hits of the genres. Stark monochrome mountain-scapes which give way to close captured shots of random people on the streets which give way to overly constructed landscapes in subtle colors which give way to garish, direct in your face studio portraits. 

And then the vanishing hordes of old duffers like me wandering around with wonderful gear in a vain attempt to re-capture the magic we felt when taking photographs in our youth. Someone should write this as a play, or a soap opera for TV. Toss in a salacious murder, some twisted love affairs and.....Oh! What's that you say? It's already been done? Ah well. 

All I can manage to say for the photographic process now is that it gets one out of the house, moving one's feet, and feeling a small measure of solace to be around other humans who share a common appreciation of coffee; especially when savored in the midst of people marking time, looking at their phones or answering messages on their laptops. All packed together in coffee shops but all so isolated and alone.

And then, this morning, I discover that the new-ish refrigerator isn't cooling the refrigerator half properly. I'd better use up the milk before it spoils. 

How was the lens? and how was the camera?, you ask. Just fine. They worked just fine. But without a spark behind the process all the trappings of the craft are mostly rendered meaningless and banal. Proven by hundreds of millions of random images tossed into the ether every day. And the slightly stinging realization that I'm in no way special or removed from the wave of hollow content producers who accompany me, shoulder to shoulder. Hell bent on somehow feeling relevant. 

B. will be home in a few days. The refrigerator will be fixed under warranty. The laundry will get done. Already the photographers I have known personally are passing away and drifting away from common memory. One foot forward all is darkness. The future is unknowable. The future of photography is predictable. And bleak. But it's still a good excuse to get out of the house and walk the walk. At some point the walks will remain and the camera will become something we leave at home. Picking it up only when something tickles our memory reminding us about the way we used to consume the art we used to love. And the process we admired.

On my walk yesterday I ran into a gallery owner I've known for 40+ years. He only shows photography and represents people like Keith Carter and Jack Spencer. He's 78 years old and still working full time at the gallery. I used to see him walking through town with a Leica rangefinder over his shoulder. Now he just walks through town. We reminisced about the "good old days" when everyone was breathless about a new generation of print-making photographers. And corporations were decorating tall towers with gorgeous prints. Anybody want to buy an NFT? 

Well, that's a day. Here's my take:



A few extras from yesterday's ramble through UT Austin and beyond...Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SL II


Yet another 50-ish millimeter lens. The Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SL II. Nicer than most of the reviews would have you believe...

I'm sure you know by now that I find 50mm lenses, and lenses in the ballpark of 45-65mm to be the natural companion to my way of seeing things; photographically.  And I'm sure you can see in my writing that I am curious to try as many different 50mm-ish lenses as I can, natively and via adapters, on my L mount cameras. A couple of weeks ago I got a Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZF.2 lens in a Nikon mount and adapted it to my cameras to play around with. Unlike modern "super" 50's it has what some like to call "character" or "personality." When people say this they mean that certain flaws are inherent in the lens and that they like the way those flaws affect the overall image. 

Typically, fast 50mm lenses designed before the age of "super" lenses (circa 2008-2010 and later) have certain "issues" that are endemic to the basic optical design. One such "issue" is that most fast 50's of a certain design (fewer elements and fewer optical groups) tend to exhibit fairly pronounced vignetting when used at their two or three biggest apertures. The lenses are also sharper in the middle than on the edges until they are stopped down from f1.4 to something like f4.0 or f5.6. The final "flaw" in the mix is the tendency of the previous generation of lenses to have more field curvature which is part of the reason why they must be stopped down to bring the edges and corners to a satisfactory level of sharpness across the frame...

But while these classic 50mm lenses have common compromises they also have their own unique optical characteristics (guilty of calling a fault "character") and that's what makes them so interesting. So collectible. I've owned lenses such as the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens and I've played around recently with a Leica 50mm f2.0 SL APO Summicron; both of which are highly corrected. Same with the Panasonic 50mm f1.4 S-Pro lens which I owned way back in 2021. They are wonderful lenses from an objective point of view but to my mind they are too good. Too clinical, and because of their giant size and freakish weight they have lost a huge measure of handling comfort and easy agility which makes them a daunting choice for a "walk around" and "have fun" lens.

Knowing that I have these prejudices about modern versus previous generation lens design, and knowing how much I enjoy a good, eccentric 50-60mm fast lens, my friend Paul couldn't help himself and brought along a small package when we last met for coffee. Wrapped in a black, cloth pouch was a wonderful lens that I had never tried before and have always been curious about. "Try this one. You might like it..." He said. 

Inside the pouch was an essentially brand new copy of the Nikon mount Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SL II. The exterior design mimics almost perfectly the design of Nikon manual focus lenses from the 1960s and early 1970s. Complete with a large knurled metal focusing ring. A well implemented aperture ring near the rear of the lens and even the little "rabbit ears" that allowed Nikon lenses to be backwardly compatible, as far as metering is concerned, with cameras made previous to AI and Ais Nikon cameras. 

The Nokton 58mm is not currently made in either a Leica M or SL mount so the Nikon F mount model becomes the easiest way to get this lens on a Leica SL or CL camera. You just need to add an inexpensive Nikon F to L mount adapter to the mix. These are "dumb" adapters that only mount the lens to the camera but don't transfer aperture information or enable any sort of auto-focus. I use them all the time and while I'm sure someone out there has tested some adapter for some camera and lens combination which ended up being "not perfect" my success rate with almost every adapter has been good. 

If you use this lens directly on a Nikon DSLR, like a D850, it does have electronic contacts (and CPU) to transfer information from the lens to the camera and will give you full exposure automation but still no AF. 

The lens "features" a classic, double Gauss optical design and a paltry seven glass elements in six groups. The parent company, Cosina, is that same entity that makes the currently Carl Zeiss branded lenses for several different lens mounts as well. If the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f1.4 ZF and the 100mm Milvus Makro lenses are any indication those folks really know how to do lens making well. 

You can pick up this lens, brand new, for around $550. There is nothing miraculous or earth-shattering about this lens. It's well built and may have some small design tweaks to the optical formula which makes it "better" but, in essence, it's a standard fast fifty. You can expect good center sharpness even wide open but at f1.4 if you are shooting flat test charts you can expect a mess of unsharpness in the corners and at the edges. Remember, there is some uncorrected lens curvature (part of the optical formula compromise) so the corners aren't exactly in the same focal plane as the very center. Stopping down helps. A lot. I got great images at f2.0 as long as I was defining "great" as being very sharp in the center third of the frame but willing to accept moderately soft corners. By f4.0 and especially f5.6 the lens performs really well. Nicely sharp and with excellent contrast almost everywhere in the frame. 

None of this is to suggest that you can't or shouldn't shoot the lens at f1.4. It gathers light well there. And if you put your subject near the center you can get great images. But never assume that a fast fifty, used wide open, is a great flat field macro lens. It's not. And it's not designed to be.

I used the lens a bunch yesterday and photographed lots of different subject matter. The lens has similar optical characteristics as the Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZF.2 but has a different color palette and a different degree of contrast and sharpness at f1.4 and f2.0. I would describe it as having higher performance than the Zeiss at those two fastest apertures; at least in the center of the frame. 

Comparing either of the lenses to current AF lenses is interesting. The build quality of both seems much better than the AF competitors which trade fast AF focusing for rugged overall build quality and joyful usability. A lens like the Lumix 50mm f1.8 (AF) certainly resolves more detail in the corners and at the edges when used at and close to wide open but it is a bit clinical and much less fun to use. The lenses built as manual focus lenses are much more engaging to use because they require your participation in a different and more immersive way. 

This lens or the Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 are very much fun to use and more than good enough for just about any sort of art-impelled photography you might for which you might use them. That lenses still exist that are this well made and this much fun to use makes me happy. I might even learn to use the 58mm as a newer, wider portrait lens. Change is good. 

I've posted a bunch of samples below. They are sized to 3200 pixels on the long side and I encourage you to click on them and view them large if you really want to see how the lens handles detail and sharpness. If you are just glancing at them on a phone then the words will outshine the photos for information. But then.....phone? How passé....

vignetting added in post. And here I thought "print was dead..." 

these guys were working on big infrastructure projects across the street from the Blanton Museum. 
They flagged me down and asked me to photograph them. How fun! (f4.0)

Young family soaking up art at the Blanton Museum yesterday.
The small child was more interested in watching the amazing 
technique of the professional photograph as amateur..... f1.4

You know a major university has gobs and gobs of extra cash when they can afford to 
plant thousands and thousands of beautiful tulips ..... just because....

I was at the Blanton Museum with the Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 lens
yesterday. They have a new show called, "Work" and it's all about the regular day 
jobs that some artists had to do in order to survive financially as they worked on
their art. Fun stuff from Andy Warhol, Barbara Krueger and Vivian Maier. And many others. 

There was a sign at the entry to the exhibit informing guests that the in-house photographer (see just above) would be making photographs in the main gallery and that by entering you agree that the museum can use your image. I guess that's fair since Thursday is free admission day. Fun to watch.

And then there are the classics. Good, solid models with which to test your
lens at its widest settings. From the Battle Sculpture Collection. Also at the 
Blanton Museum. 

Circling back. Would I buy this lens? Sure. It's beautifully made. The focus ring is exotically good. The images are solid and fun. Why the heck not?