9.04.2011

Hollywood on the Brazos. Elle Magazine Assignment.

Subject:  Richard Linklater, movie director.  Camera:  Pentax 67.  Lens: 150mm 2.8.  fstop 8.  shutter speed 1/60th.  Film:  Fuji Velvia. (ISO 50).  Assignment:  Elle Magazine Profile.


Richard Linklater had just become famous in film circles for "Slacker" which both changed the face of independent film making and introduced a new and highly descriptive word to our lexicon.  He was about to embark on his second big project, "Dazed and Confused" and the editors at Elle were doing a profile piece on him.  They called and asked if I could provide photos.

I looked him up in the phone book, called and set up a shoot time.  We did some images here on his front porch,  some in front of an old theater with a wonderful mural, and even some reclining in a trash heap.  We had no make up artist, no publicist, no art director and no shot list.  We used no lights.  We never contemplated the inverse square law or any of its new derivatives.  We just went out and shot stuff and had fun with it.  My assistant carried one of my two camera bags and kept one of the two Pentax 67 cameras we were shooting with loaded.  The Pentax shot 10 frames on a 120mm rolls so we didn't do a lot of "machine gunning."  I did have along a third body that was permanently fitted with a Polaroid back so we took one Polaroid at each location just to make sure we believed the meter.

The Polaroid back was made by NPC and used fiber optics bundles to get the image from the film plane to the Polaroid film.  At a buck a pop we tended not to chimp much Polaroid.  We could pretty much see the effect we were getting with our one old piece of foamcore, used as a fill card......

We shot about 10 rolls (120 shots) and then retired to Quackenbushes Intergalactic Bakery and Coffee Bar for some coffee and some giant cinnamon rolls.  Elle magazine liked the photos and ran them a month and a half later.  Then they sent me a check.

I liked the Pentax cameras and, if you locked the mirror up before each shot they made very sharp and contrasty images.  But the loading was finicky and I never liked the 6x7cm aspect ratio so I sold them to someone else and continued on with the square format cameras.

I find that there's a tendency to complicate shoots now.  Back when we shot this we were just doing our work.

9.03.2011

First Roll. New Camera and Lens.

Camera:  Hasselblad 501 C/M.  Lens:  150mm Zeiss Sonnar f4.  F-stop 5.6,  Shutter Speed 1/60th.  Film: Tri-X 400.  Lighting:  Sunlight thru 12 by 6 feet of white diffusion.  Location: My living room.   Model: Ben.

9.02.2011

In the end it all goes into the number one tank.....

It's instructional for me, and a good antidote to the gear lust that many of us feel, when I go back and look at projects from 2002, 2003 and 2004.  I consider those the early years for professional digital shooting.  Yes, we had digital cameras before the turn of the century but those were the transition years when clients, art directors and others finally felt comfortable using digital images for big print projects and not just quickie stuff on the web.  It's also about the time photographers in the middle of the Bell Curve got engaged and started eschewing film and it's drawbacks and calibrating their monitors and getting serious about delivering electronic files to their clients.  

I took a complete Leica M system along on this project and ended up using it far less frequently than I intended.  The clients loved to see the images we were making on the rear screen of the camera.  It helped them feel comfortable with the process.   By the time this project was finished and printed as a four color annual report I'd pretty much decided to retire the Leica from this kind of use.

When I look back at the photos from this project I see that the restriction all along has never been the performance of the cameras but the lack of diligence in my technique or my laziness in not pushing for more time on a project or more time in the field.  In our quest to master this new set of techniques (digital) we've plunged into research.  And in the course of our research we've plunged into online forums.  And some of us have a hard time walking away from an argument even when the resolution has absolutely no effect on our real lives or our bottom lines.

I hope I've come full circle.  The cameras are no longer a mystery to me or anyone who shoots professionally.  While we are called fickle by amateurs and poseurs what fickle really means is that we've actually tried a lot of options instead of just talking them to death.  Ditto with arguments about equivalence or lighting depth of field.  Thinking and arguing about these things is a nice way to pass the time when you are stuck in a cubicle doing work you wouldn't do if no one paid you to do it and being frustrated at the lack of personal freedom to do what you really want to do.   And occasionally I get sucked into one of those arguments and realize that it's like sticking a foot into the quicksand of fictional reality.  You never get the time back.  You never get the prize.  You might get a momentary "win" but you will have pissed off as many people as you will have won over.  And for what?  There's not even a trophy for "best endless argument on the web."

So I pull images and look at where I've been and think about where I'm going.  I'm not happy with the last three or four years.  We spent too much time worrying about the economy.  It will be what it will be.  We spent too much time waiting for consultants from the web to tell us what's next.  I spent too much time behind the keyboard writing books.  And all along I knew that the real prized goes to the person who walks out the door and shoots every day.  And, if necessary, we could have made  it all the way through the last four years with nothing but a couple of Fuji S2's and a small bag of Nikon glass.
(Not to imply that I think this is a magical camera or anything like that.)

Now I'm heading out the door to do some transparency shooting with one of the new cameras.

Added in response to a comment:  William comments below that he's decided to stop reading any of the columns about gear and that he and his clients are happy with his steady and enduring choice of one digital camera to provide content and product for the foreseeable future.  All I can say is that it must be nice to have such near religious certainty about your course of action.  I have four photographer friends who came instantly to mind when I read his post last night.  One, Paul, is up for any new piece of gear that he thinks will provide his clients with better images than they can get anywhere else.  He competes in one of the few profitable niches left and his clients are constantly being wooed by new, aggressively potent competitors.  Paul's recent purchase of an expensive, digital medium format camera system cost more than a typical new car.  Folly?  Not if he can turn the investment into profit.  And judging from his past  results I have no doubt he will.  He moves forward.  He isn't resigned to accepting the descending parabola of income that many in our field have come to expect.

And I know two photographers (both of whom I actually adore and respect) who wouldn't buy new gear if you put a gun to their heads.  They were both amazingly profitable ad photographers in the 1990's and earned more each year than a good surgeon in an affluent market.  But they still want to do the business exactly the way they did ten years ago.  They disparage having to buy gear or keep up.  And each of them imagines that the business has declined, will never recover and will never be profitable for them again.

While it's obviously folly to flop over and show your stomach to every camera manufacturer who wants you to buy their goods it's also a very good idea to acknowledge that change can be good.  That refreshing the look and feel can be good.  While I am accused of having a revolving door of gear it's good to remember than many, many pieces of equipment that I write about are lent to me for the purpose of review.  I neither pay for them nor do I get to keep them.  But learning about them and sharing what I learned does tend, if you read between the lines, to punch a little hole in the balloons of marketing hyperbole.  I do not own a Leica M9 but enjoyed using one for a few weeks.  Love the images, hate the price and the restricted flexibility.  I wrote about the Olympus EPL2 but chose to keep the EPL1 instead of "upgrading."

It's true that I've changed systems a few times.  And, if I had been able to see the future I probably would have just stayed with my original Nikon stuff instead of buying an Olympus system (paid for, largely, buy the sale of depreciated Nikon assets).

The last photographer that came to mind for me was one who was so cheap that, even though he had a number of good clients in the 1980's and 1990's he refused to even buy an extra Hasselblad body as a back up for his system.  Whether he had a lemon or whether his assistants and he were just clumsy I don't know but, his camera and lens would lock up on a regular basis.  This can happen to Hasselblad film cameras when changing lenses if you are not careful to keep from touching a small switch on the lensmount.  When this happens you can't shoot and you can't remove the lens from the body.  Your shoot grinds to a halt.

The fault is easily fixed by inserting a special tool thru the back of the camera and recocking the shutter mechanism on the lens.  Once done the camera springs back to operational health.  My friend had this happen on many occasions and, when it did, the whole shoot would stop until an assistant could rush the camera to the local repair shop where the owner would fix the problem.  Big trouble if the owner of the repair shop happened to be at lunch.  The rest of us spent (at the time) about six hundred dollars on a back up body.  If the body and lens we were shooting with locked up we could continue with our spare.  Jack Resnicki, in his 1990's book on advertising photography mentions this.  He maintained two complete systems with duplicates of ever lens and body he used.  He felt (and mostly we all felt) that this one time expense was dirt cheap compared to the cost of producing an advertising shoot.  And for high end corporate stuff it still makes sense.

I can remember a time when I used a cheaper brand of medium format equipment and was shooting an ad campaign for a national home improvement store chain.  We had multiple actors on rented baseball field in the middle of August ( why must all good exterior jobs surface in August, in Texas?).  It was dusty and hot.  One camera died.  We pulled a back up out of the bag and kept shooting.  Then that camera died and we pulled yet another one out of the bag and kept shooting.  The client was amazed but really, I could buy an additional body back then for what we paid one talent to be on the set for the day.  And who's on the hook if the talent is there but the cameras aren't?  Right.....I am.  Cheap insurance for sure.

So, I guess, the story really is that there is a continuum where gear is concerned.  Some people err on the side of excessive fiscal caution, some on the side of excess gear lust.  But there is a middle ground.  And there is a rationale for every position.

I love trying the new stuff.  But I love being able to send it back to the maker after the magic wears off ( usually a week or so....).  I also have the idea that there are improvements that both the client and I can see.  In the case of my ad client who pushed me to embrace the higher pixel count of the Canon 5D2 over the Olympus E-3 we both can see a big difference in sharpness and the ability to blow up the files for larger uses.  Staying with the e-3 would have meant losing a major client.  One who had paid me well for 15 years in a row!  I could have held my ground and kept to my choice but in one project we amply covered the cost of trading systems.  And now I've had the use of the system for over a year.

My current dalliance with film based medium format cameras has cost me a fraction of what it would have cost to buy these cameras and lenses new ten years ago.  So far I've spent far less than $2000 on the whole collection....and that includes film.

Every photographer has their own reality when it comes to what is expensive and what isn't and a lot of that depends on your market and your specialty.  I do corporate work and I do advertising work.   The pay (when the jobs come) is much, much better than I could make if I chose to be a retail portrait photographer.  And I've weathered the recession and started to see more and more light at the end of the economic tunnel as far as my business is concerned.

I don't want to be like my friend who had only one Hasselblad body.  I can't justify emulating my friend with the new MF digital system.  But while I realize that most of the puffery around new cameras and lenses is fluff I also realize that refusing to learn and refusing to try new things is the moment at which you begin to die.

9.01.2011

Try not to fall or drop anything into the number one tank.

 Why? "Oh, that's because it's the raw sewage intake tank." my client said casually.  "It'll be months before we find anything.  And it's really hard to swim in...."

One of the glamorous assignments that I truly loved came in 2004.  It was for one of the largest water and wastewater treatment companies in the U.S.  We cruised around and made images of all kinds of facilities.  It was on this trip that we introduced our art director from L.A. to the pleasures of Krispy Kreme donuts but our timing was off. We gave him a bag of fresh hot donuts about an hour before our twin engine prop commuter plane roared down the runway and into some really bumpy skies.

But what I liked about the assignment was the walking around in giant industrial plants looking for a shot.  All three of these came from a short slice of time at a single plant.  We'd done some shots to cover ourselves and we were about to go eat and recover from the rigors of the day when we saw the sunset and the wonderful soft clouds in the sky.  We stayed till long after dark shooting frame after frame.

Truly a situation of "waiting for the light to get neat."

These were early days of digital and we were shooting with a camera that was frustrating and fascinating all at once.  It was a Fuji S2.  The color was beautiful and the camera's ability to handle contrasty situations was pretty unique but it used two different kinds of batteries.  Four double "a" batteries for the mechanical parts of the body and a separate DL 123 lithium battery for the digital part of the camera.  And the batteries staggered their dissipation so that you ended up changing out batteries twice as often.  And you had to assess which set was going down.  But the camera did long exposures well and the files were easy.


I was just about to leave on this job and I was taking two camera systems.  One was a set of Leica M6's with a range of lenses which included the 15mm Voigtlander for the M series.  A few hours before we headed to the airport Ian called from the camera store.  They'd gotten in a new Nikon lens.  I ran by and picked it up.  The lens we used most on the Fuji was the Nikon 12-24mm DX lens.  It was actually very good but got "better" when Adobe started including a profile for the lens in PhotoShop.

While the people at Fuji insisted on calling the S2 a 12 megapixel camera it was really a 6 megapixel camera but that didn't stop anyone from making a series of large prints for the client to display in their offices.

Don't know why I posted this today but it reminds me of how much fun assignments of exploration can be.....

Ten ways to win an argument on a forum.

1.  Make up your own facts.  This is such a good strategy.  In advertising it's called, "Data Free Research."  Many people will believe whatever you tell them.  Works for politics, why not discussions about photography?

2.  Trot out algebra 2 and wiggle the numbers around ad infinitum.  To the people who didn't make it through algebra 1 everything with an equation attached is scientific fact.  Even the taste of a raspberry sno cone can be described and proven with a long enough stream of numbers and symbols.

3.  Be the last one standing.  Every time someone raises a question or disputes your data free research  shout them down and keep repeating your "facts" until everyone gets tired of the whole circus and moves on to "which camera should I buy?"

4.  Infer, imply or just go ahead and say it out loud: everyone who disagrees with you is a liar, a cheat or someone with a hidden agenda.  I have a friend who describes all the other drivers on the road like this:  "Everyone going faster than me is an asshole.  Everyone going slower than me is a moron."  It's the operative working methodology of forum rats as well.

5.  Try to pick apart all the small parts of other people's arguments instead of concentrating on the big picture.  This might consist of arguing about how fast a ship is really sinking instead of acknowledging that the ship is sinking.  Or, that "it wasn't the bullet that killed him, it was the vascular damage and the subsequent loss of blood."


6.  If challenged about why you are reinventing dirt, or why you insist on counting angels on the head of a pin, get very defensive and let them know that you are sharing your argument for the good of generations of future children as well as the miserable and intellectually downtrodden every where.

7.  Graphs.  Lots and lots of graphs.  (See: data free research above).

8.  If someone actually takes up the challenge and tests your idea, hypothesis, pipe dream, fantasy, terrible delusion, and finds it wanting in every way then immediately go on the defensive, protesting your brutal treatment at the hands of a reckless bully bent on derailing the train of intellectual progress.

9.  Drink lots and lots of Red Bull so no one can outlast you in a thousand post grudge match.  See point #3.

10.  The best way to win an argument on the web is to shut down your computer, go for a walk, take a nice photograph and be secure in the knowledge that arguing on the web is addictive behavior and you just got yours under control.  For now.




8.30.2011

Took the Canon 1DS mk2 out for a spin. I put the Carl Zeiss 50mm ZE on the front. Yeah....it's soft wide open....NOT.

I spent the afternoon on location doing a job for a new client.  We photographed a new medical device that uses pulsing xenon light to irradiate hospital rooms with UV.  It automatically kills pathogens to reduce MRSA infections and other nasty stuff.  So we photographed in a cardiac care unit and we did images of the company officers with the product and then the product by itself.

When we added a staff person at the hospital to the shoot, at the last minute, I got to use Easy Release  on my iPhone to get a model release.  It's a cheap app but it's a life saver.  You use templates to build a model release, get the subject to sign with a stylus or their finger and it sends a PDF copy, with photo, to your e-mail address.  Nice.  Come home, print out, be legally happy and safe.

For the most part I used the tried and true Canon 5D mk2 and the 24-105L lens on this job but I brought along the New to me but not very new to anyone else, Canon 1DS mk2 to try out for a few of the shots.  I love the feel of the camera and the assurance of the focus and focus lock-in.  Judging from what I've seen in early results I really love the look of the files.  But the one thing that will take some getting used to is going backwards on LCD screens.  I gave up looking at the image on the little, pixie screen and just used the histogram for exposure assurance.  And really, isn't that what the photo gods really intended with most things digital?

When Ben and I got home (I picked him up from school so he wouldn't have to trudge home in the triple digit heat) he was standing around in the kitchen making snack and I made him stand still for just a minute or two so I could shoot some stuff nearly wide open with the light coming thru the glass French doors from the side yard.  Most of the light came from the direct light bouncing off the warm Saltillo tile floor.  Since the Saltillo tile is so warm in hue when I color balance for skin tone the daylight that shows in the window behind Ben goes quite blue.

I shot at 320 ISO and used the Zeiss lens nearly wide open.  I focused on his eyes.  And I'm very happy with both the manual focus capabilities of the camera and the sharpness of the 50mm lens.  This is a reduced file so we don't endlessly clog up Blogger but I can tell you that the full size file shows a tremendous amount of detail in Ben's eyes.

Verdict:  Love the 1DS mk2.  Glad I got one.  And it feels so good.  So now I spend the rest of my evening rushing out the post processing on this hot job.  Deadline to a major magazine on Friday.   I want to make sure my client has clean, corrected files to work with.  That's part of the reason they like paying for photography.......

Update:  Last night, after downloading the images from the card and putting the same card back in the camera and reformatting I got the dreaded "err 99" message.  For now the camera has "bricked."  So sad to pull an image I really like only to have the production tool fail.....tear falling down side of face....

New update: Sept 29th, 2011.  Got the camera back from the store, back from Canon.  Record time for repair.....less than a week.  Can't argue with the pricing, free on a five year old camera... Anyway I've used it on two jobs this week and it's a great machine. Not so great over ISO 800 but that's not what I got it for.  Lower ISO's for flesh tones?  Absolute happiness right here.

8.28.2011

Going backwards in time. Buying up yesteryear. The cameras I wish I'd had back when....



It's been a mysterious week.  The heat is getting really oppressive and all out of hand and I find myself turning back the hands of time to recapture the magic of my own photography.  The photograph above was created with a handheld Pentax 6x7 film camera using a 165mm lens and whatever my favorite flavor of color negative film was at the time.  Hard to believe in a day and age when people must have their cameras focus, meter and wipe their noses for them that photographers ten or twelve years ago could go out and shoot 20 different well exposed and well seen images without any of the crutches we take for granted now.  And I've come to believe that we made good images not in spite of having no training wheels or floaties or inexhaustible sources of image frames, but because we worked within those earlier restrictions.

I've been going through a process of evaluating my work done since the dawn of digital.  As most of you may know I've been doing this long industrial art enough to have started with 4x5 sheet film.  And I was there at the dawn of the digital "revolution" shooting with everything from Kodak DCS 660's and consumer 1 meg cameras to Fuji pro cameras that took PCMCIA memory cards.  Think you're cool because you're an early iPad adapter?  Well, I've got an Apple Newton sitting on my desk.  Think we don't get what you can do with PhotoShop?  I was just looking at my 1994 copy of PhotoShop 2.0.....on CD.  And you know what I think?  I think we all got hosed by the digital "revolution."  I've got a drawer full of the latest Canon stuff but I like the images from my oldest Canon digital cameras a lot better than the newer ones.  I like the files from the 1D mk 2N a lot better than the files from the 7D.  I'm trying to snap up an older 1DSmk2 to replace my 5Dmk2 as my primary shooting camera, and I'm finding that I like focusing manually a lot better than I like letting the camera focus for me.

After I looked through twenty or thirty boxes of black and white portrait prints, originally shot on film, I've been back to Precision Camera to buy two Hasselblad 500 C/M bodies, an 80, a 120mm Makro and an old, black 150 Sonnar.  Along with a couple bricks of God's film, Tri-X.

What's got me so fired up?  I'm tired of shooting in an aspect ratio I don't give a crap about.  I'm tired of trying to find a decent SilverFX profile that even comes close to matching what we could effortlessly get with a roll of $3 film.  I'm tired of blurring backgrounds in PhotoShop when I can see em and blur em while I'm shooting with that glorious 150mm.

Have you ever wanted to start over?  Have you gotten to the point in a job or a hobby or a life where you found yourself surrounded with failed (and mildly successful) experiments that you wished you never had to see again?  Have you ever want to wipe the hard drives clean and start over from scratch?  To take all the stuff you've learned and start off in a new direction?  It's a constant with me.  There's stuff I like in my collection but I mostly keep everything, image-wise, because I fear the loss of something I didn't quite appreciate more than the freedom of being unfettered by the trappings of a past.

I've gotten over my "all or nothing" and "take no prisoners" approach to change but I think doing stuff the same way over and over again, while critical for restaurants and surgeons, is anathema for art.  And for artists.  At times I feel trapped the way Ansel Adams must have felt trapped, printing edition after edition of those same twelve or twenty greatest hits until he couldn't print any longer.

Have you ever sat down with your life's work and distilled it?  The way I do it is to look at every print and slide that stays in the "active layer" of the studio.  That's the layer where the same content rises again and again and gets used over and over again as both resource and filler.  You know it's good.  Not much of it is great.  And it amazes me, or frightens me, how few digital images would even make it into the second layer (the stuff that you shove in the filing cabinets but can pretty much remember how to put your hands on it if a client calls and asks for it.....) and how many images from the 4x5 sheet film layer are down in the primordial ooze. It seems I'd found a sweet spot with the medium format square.

For the last decade we've all been racing to find the digital camera that will give our inner artist the fully erect tool we think we've been looking for and at the same time telling ourselves and everyone who will listen that:  "It's not the arrow, it's the indian.  Horses for courses.  It's not the camera, it's the man (or woman) behind the camera that counts.  Real pros can make great images with any camera.  A true artist can even make art with the camera in his phone, Just shut up and shoot.  etc. etc. etc."  And, it's all bullshit.  Just rank bullshit by people who either don't get the search for the tool, the format and the palette or people who get it but are more interested in following the pack.  (If you've never been in the zone with a camera how could you even understand the difference it would make?)  Being in the safe spot in the Bell Curve.  The tools do matter.  If painters paid thousands of dollars for a brush you bet your ass they'd be talking about them.  If there were twenty competitors to Newton oil paints and oil paints cost a couple of house payments there'd be forums galore with all the teeth gnashing you could ever want.....

So, I'm going in the opposite philosophical direction.  I'm saying the tool leverages the artist in our field.  The tool (the medium is the message) is part of the process.   The process doesn't exist in a vacuum.  A straighter arrow kills more buffalo or cowboys.  A real pro can make a better image when he's comfortable with the aspect ratio of his chosen tool.  A dedicated artist has a strong preference for the way their medium expresses its own color palette.  And the process is as important to the art as the idea.

We've effectively cut down our choices and, thru market attrition, homogenized the vision of what a camera can be for a generation.  I realized this for the first time when I realized what made me buy an Olympus EP2 with a EVF finder......it was the ability to set the camera so I could see in the square.  And that's the way I've used the camera for the last two years.  It's not enough to crop something square in post production it's important to go thru the visualization process while you are shooting.  You have to exclude the visual clutter to realize the image.  Only those images that I shoot square really make me smile.

So, I've shot a dozen rolls of film in the Hasselblad over the course of the week.  I'd love it if it were digital and full frame (6x6) and only black and white but the process of shooting constrained is already making me a happier photographer.

I'm not suggesting that any of us is wired the same way but if you were someone who grew up shooting a different format than 35mm and you were forced to abandon it for digital's contraints you might want to revisit your roots and see how it impacts the way you see, and what joy it might bring you.

I wrote about the Sony a77 a few days ago and while their are many things to potentially like about that camera what I like about the EVF technology is that it can (Go Olympus!!!!)  put the choice of aspect ratio back into the hands of the artists in a meaningful way.  Not an "after the fact" way but in an organic way of seeing and previsualizing that helps one de-clutter their vision and provides a formalist constraint that moves the process forward.  Like turning off the hip hop on the radio when you are trying to hum the melody line of a symphony.  It works that way for me.  Less static better seeing.  Less steps to think about now for greater clarity in the moment.

A long way to go to justify my capricious purchase of a couple cheap, used Hasselblads but I mean every word.

http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/05/public-examination-of-private-process.html

Get Ready Olympus. The Sony Nex-7 is the spearhead of the next wave......Hello Canon and Nikon.



And so it starts.  I posted an article on Friday about my belief that EVFs will soon become a standard feature in DSLRs.  A number of people wrote to say that they had used an evf in the distant past and disliked the image lag caused by slow refresh cycles and movement.  Especially in low light.  They dismissed the new tech out of hand.  And they are silly to do so.  All that's required to banish image lag in an electronic viewfinder is to increase the image sample rate and the writing rate to the finder.  A faster processor than the one shoe horned into a 2003 point and shoot superzoom camera isn't that hard to find these days.  And believe me, the marketers at Sony, Olympus, Canon and Nikon know how important this next step in "look and feel" is to the successful marketing of the new class of cameras.

But while EVFs are the revolution the mirrorless implementation is the wave of the future for nearly all cameras coming down the pike.  By eliminating the mirror entirely all cameras are simplified and made more reliable.  I think the a77 is really neato but the camera that will be a game changer for Sony, if they get their lens line up in place, will be the Nex-7.  An APS-C sensor implementation in a tiny body with a beautiful finder and all the bells and whistles.  It's a total cross over camera.   Small and light enough to fit in the pocket of every metro-sexual's Dolce jacket and soccer mom's King Ranch purse but with the kind of sensor performance we've come to expect from top of the line traditional cameras.  What's not to like?

People with special niches to service might not adapt to this camera but there's a reality to the market.  And that reality says that of camera buyers less than 1% are real professionals who earn the bulk of their living shooting with cameras.  That leaves 99% of buyers free to buy whatever the hell they want without the pretension of having to buy cameras that are built out of Swiss magic steel for treks across deserts and through the Antarctic in the dead of winter.  I visit the Canon pro forums and I hear the constant drumbeat that says, "I need a weather sealed pro camera for shooting in the Monsoons..." but the reality is that most people have enough sense to get out of the rain.  And most shots for money are in controlled environments where the subject's comfort is paramount.  Sure, there are guys shooting on the edge of volcanos and on inflatables in the Bering Strait but they are the tiny, tiny minority.  For everyone else a reasonably robust camera with a great lens and really good image processing is about the sum of their needs.

I've watched as the Olympus and Panasonic companies have renewed their efforts to remain relevant by introducing great new technologies like the mirrorless m4/3rds cameras and I own three of them myself. But I'm afraid that they're about to be steamrollered by the new big three: Sony, Canon and Nikon.  My sense is that the Nex-7 will outperform the m4/3 cameras for resolution and even noise but the big news will come next year (or later this year) when the other big two unleash bold new designs in the mirrorless APS-C space that make the Fuji-100's retro look appear lame and crippled.  Nikon will likely harken back to the SP rangefinder days and those were spectacular days for rangefinder camera body and lens design.

Canon will come out with the least aesthetically challenging version but the most operationally friendly version and then we'll see where the market share ends up.  If Sony doesn't capitalize on the their introductions quickly and in force they will have made the invitational camera that gets early adopters frothing at the mouth only to see Canon and Nikon swoop in with seemingly more mature products to snap up the great bulk of buyers who cling more to the middle of the acquisition curve.  And that's where ALL the REAL money is.  Bleeding edge is exciting and new.  Ergonomic and economical is where the cash lives.

So where does this leave Olympus?  My knee jerk reaction is to say that they will be made irrelevant by dint of specifications.  Afterall, that's how the great unwashed seem to buy cameras.  But in truth I think a realization is soaking down thru the topsoil to the roots of the market and that realization is that, really, just like the guys at Olympus said last year, "Twelve megapixels is more than enough for the majority of camera buyers."  The new way to view is on the iPad (which is already starting to kill off traditional prints sales at an ever more accelerating pace) and anything over 6 megapixels is largely overkill for that.  But where Olympus still has an edge is in pure design.  The Pen EP-3 and its recent predecessor, the EP-2, are two of the most beautiful camera designs of the last ten years.  They are elegant.  And the image quality from both is good.  They stand a chance if they get their advertising put on straight, stay aways from graphs and numbers and start  positioning their cameras as artistic tools rather than mini computers with glass grafted onto the front.

Where does this leave photographers?  Well, you have thousands of professionals looking for a new niche and doing incredibly stupid things like trying to build careers around the use of iPhones as cameras.  Just about any mirrorless camera will become a step-up instrument for them and their followers as they rediscover the limitations of trying to make ALL of your art in post processing (and there's a reason that most campaigns are NOT being done with the latest iteration of the Holga).  One group of professional photographers will hold on to what they know:  Big, weather sealed camera bodies with mirrors and big honking lenses.  They'll resist change but will line up to buy whatever mirrorless camera ends up as the defacto "cool guy" camera for evenings out without the fully loaded Domke bag.  You know?  Like on a date.  With a woman.  The new generation of mirrorless cameras will take the place of the middle ground cult cameras like the Canon G10 and the Panasonic LX-5, as supplements to the "big iron" of the macho, over 40's crowd.

The younger photographers will see the mirrorless cameras for what they are, a new way of doing photography that's smaller, lighter, cheaper and as good as the stuff that came before.  And many woman photographers, who seem to care much more about the final images and much less about technical specifications will try them out, find them good and convenient, and will go out and make art with them.

In a few years the idea of dragging around a couple of Nikon D3's or Canon 1D's will seem about as cool as driving a minivan.  And not a cool minivan either.  Think mid-90's Chrysler...... because the new generation of fast glass for the smaller cameras will have arrived.  Along with high ISO performance and fewer backstrains.  In five years the mirrorless, evf, mini camera revolution will be complete.  With Nikon, Canon and then Sony in the lead.

And where will I be?  Well......I've had the mirrorless stuff and used it to good effect since the day the Pens came out but I just bought another Hasselblad 500 C/M yesterday so I'll be damned if I know where I'm positioned.  It's all fun.  And there's room for every kind of photographer and photography.  But I'm pretty clear about the 95% of people who will venture out to buy cameras in the next few years and it's not going to be about Canon Rebels or Nikon D3x's.

The Nex and it's future competitors.  That's the future.  Even for pros.

Fun books for photographers: http://www.amazon.com/Kirk-Tuck/e/B002ECIS24/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

8.26.2011

Pro goes amateur for the day. Just another dad with a camera...

I was worried about Ben this morning but it turns out I didn't need to be.  But isn't that what worry is all about?  You pay the price now for something you may never get...  Anyway, I was worried because he abandoned swimming this year to take up cross country running.  He started at the beginning of the Summer and as you may have heard this is the hottest Summer in history in Austin, Texas.  How hot is it?  Well tomorrow the meteorologists are predicting 110(f).  And it isn't like the dry, refreshing heat of the desert; the air today was laced with moisture creating an atmospheric soup that saps your energy and your will to live.  I was worried because Ben was competing in his first cross country meet.  Today's distance was three miles and by the time his heat started running at 11:00 am the thermometer had already crept over 90.  

The meet was an invitational with tons of high school kids from five or six local high schools.  It was held out at the Decker Lake Park in far east Austin. The park is famous for it's lack of trees, lack of water fountains and lack of amenities.  But they have a decent long loop course.  Two laps makes three miles.
I got Ben up at 6:15 this morning and fed him scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast.  Normally he has only a teaspoon of honey before an early morning run but we knew he wouldn't be running until after 10:30 and a bit of protein would keep him from bonking during the race....or before.

I dropped him off at the school at 6:45 because the team all goes together on the bus.  That's non-negotiable in his coach's eyes.

Then I clicked into the "dad mode" and started thinking about what camera to bring to photograph the boy with.  I decided on the Canon 7D and the 70-300 IS lens (the latest version).  A lot of reach, great image stabilization and half the weight of my 70-200L.  I figured I'd go light and blend in with the other dads and moms who would, no doubt, be clicking away.  I set the ISO to 320, the aperture to 5.6 and let the camera meter lead me by the hand.  I used the 1/2 size raw file setting and I used servo AF set to the center, large group.

Nothing else photographic in my pockets or over other shoulders.  And that worked out well because you need to go from the starting area to the middle of the race to the finish a couple of times to get all the photos you want and if your kid is fast that means you have to move fast to effect the rendezvous.  Can't imagine doing that while porting around extra bodies, lenses and bags.  

It's easier to photograph swim meets because everything is confined into the boundaries of a 25 yard or 50 meter pool.  Find the side with the good light and you can spend a few hours shooting without much distraction.  Distance running is different.  It's a lot more acreage.  And you have to move to come home with stuff to send to the grandparents.....

So Ben did really well and finished ahead of the middle of the pack.  Not bad for a first go.  I did okay with ten or fifteen decent shots.  It was odd for me in a few ways.  The last time I shot a distance running race I was freelancing for the people who hold the Capitol 10K.  There were 20,000 participants and they ran the race on closed, public streets.  Not only did I have endless press credentials I also rode in the truck that led the race and gave me a platform from which to shoot stuff from a primo perspective.  This morning the guys started with their backs to the sun and finished with their backs to the sun.  Back lit was the name of the game.  But being a dad and not a professional photographer you take what they deal you and stand where they tell you.  But next time.....I'll scout that course in advance, get them to 180 the start and the finish,  maybe bring some big lights for fill......Naw.  I think I'll stay with this plan and just enjoy the whole process.  Seems like the right thing to do.

I think over photographing your kid's sport stuff, festooned with tools of the trade (three camera bodies a bunch of lenses, some Profoto battery systems, compass and reflectors), might be just as embarrassing to your high school boy as showing up with a banner that says, "Go Fast Sweatheart!!!!  Mommy and Daddy Love You."  That's always something to keep in mind when they start growing up.
 
After a few hours at Decker Lake, in the heat, I think I chose wisely.  The pool is the place to be.  At least until the first frosty day.  But right now that seems a long way off.

Final observation:  Before I left the house for the meet today I read in the paper about America's obesity epidemic.  Seems that we're on a curve to have 50% of the population really, really fat in the next few years.  If that worries you come out and see the kids at a cross country meet.  They're putting in 6 to 8 miles a morning on the week days and doing much longer runs on the weekends.  No fat kids here.  They all look pretty much like Ben.  Lean and moving.  Come to think of it we don't have any overweight people in the master swim team either.  Oh my gosh.  I think I've found the cure to obesity!!!!  Move.  And then move more.

What does this have to do with photography?  Come scamper up an embankment with me sometime in the middle of the Austin Summer, with a full camera bag and a couple of sandbags and we'll talk about the photographic benefits of staying in good shape.  Can't take the photo if you can't get in position.....

8.24.2011

Why the Sony a77 changes everything going forward. And "I told you so."


First, here are the two columns I wrote predicting/asking for high quality EVF's to replace optical finders going forward:




So why do I think Sony gets it when everyone else is stuck at 2004?  When I first picked up an Olympus EP-2 with the VF2 finder on it I knew I was looking at the future of professional digital cameras.  Not because the EP-2 was so incredible (and for many reasons it was) but because the EVF was such a revelation.  You could see what you'd really get.  When you look through an optical finder you're seeing an image that's always at a wide open aperture setting, and it's beguiling with a narrow depth of field and a bright image.  But a great EVF shows you what you're really going to end up with once you push the button.  It's reading all the stuff you shoved in ROM and it's finessing the image exactly the way you requested.  If you set a color balance manually it's showing you THAT color balance in the finder.  No surprises.  If you set f11 or f1.4 the EVF is showing you the exact DOF you'll end up with.  The only two glitches were the shooting delay caused by moving mirrors and the fact that early EVF's sucked in low light.  As the camera's files got darker and noisier so did the finder image.  That was/is the Achille's heel of my beloved Sony R1......