9.09.2012

Going Shopping with a Camera in my Hands. Looking for Color, Texture and Grooviness. Sony Nex 7+ 35mm DT






















Okay. I surrender. I'm using the built in HDR feature on both my Sony a77 and my Sony Nex 7. And it works.


I don't like a lot of the HDR stuff that I see on the web. In fact, I hate the flattened look and grainy, clarity overkill that I plainly see in so much of the work. But my friend, ATMTX, seems to have a light touch with it and he's always pushing me to stop being such a curmudgeon and try doing things like using the concepts of HDR to improve my work as well as using the rear screen of my cameras to compose with. "Use the force!"  He says.

After a recent post I read about throwing away a lot of stuff I knew I knew I decided to shelve my prejudices about photography and just go out and respond willingly to the stuff I saw. No big agenda. Just like moth to flame or a child to colors.  I gave up some control by putting my ISO on auto.  But I gave up a lot of control when I decided to turn on the in camera HDR in my Sony Nex 7.  This will seem old hat to some of you but in the Sony Nex there is a menu in which you can select HDR and then make a second selection for how many stops difference you want between each of the three shots that the camera uses to combine into one final frame.

The camera shoots the frames really fast and then micro aligns them and processes them into pleasing HDR files. For the uncertain it's nice to know that the camera also gives you a separate untouched jpeg that is the "correct" or center frame of the the three frame bracket.

All of the images in this particular blog post were done with in camera HDR and at ranges from 3 stops to 5 stops. I think they look darling and I didn't have to buy a book or go to a workshop in order to get them. Which makes me think that Sony is making a pretty damn sophisticated camera to be able to do exactly what I want it to do without any intervention from me....


All but the last image in this series were taken at the Austin Hilton Hotel, just across from the Austin Convention Center. I was out test shooting with the Sony LAEA-1 Alpha to Nex lens adapter, the 35mm 1.8 DT lens and the Sony Nex camera.  I like the combination very much and I can see using the Nex 7 as a primary shooting camera for professional work. I think mirrorless has come, now, totally of age and it's ready to compete with traditional camera paradigms. The Nex cameras, the Olympus OMD and the upcoming Panasonic GH3 are/will be capable of delivering nearly everything a typical, regional working pro needs in order to supply clients with professional images.  There will always be exceptions to this statement. I freely admit that micro four thirds and mirrorless Sony aren't ready to tackle high end architecture photography. Not because the sensors aren't ready but because there are no tilt/shift optics available and adapting the ones out there that are made for other formats isn't a solution because they are too long...


What I found after pixel peeping my take this afternoon is a camera that out resolves everything I've used before, handles like a dream and basically-----kicks ass. The other thing I found out is that the Sony DT series of inexpensive prime lenses kicks ass, squared. You can read tests based on flat resolution target bullshit or you can go out and shoot with the optics you are interested in and make up your own mind. I'll take the latter path every time. In my experience the Sony 35mm 1.8 DT, the 85mm 2.8 DT and the 50mm 1.8 DT are some of the finest performing optics I've shot with. But I'll be the first one to tell you that I don't shoot newspapers tacked to the wall or air force resolution charts.  And neither should you.  

If you want to test a lens you put it on your camera and then shoot the stuff you enjoy shooting.  Look at the results and make up your own mind.


So, all of these images are hand held with the camera setting shutter speeds between 1/60th and 1/80th of a second. I am consistently amazed at how the camera is able to align all three of the frames and make such perfect images.  If I'd had the camera on a tripod and the ISO set to 100 I can only imagine just how great the images could have been. But would I have liked them any better?



The Nex 7 is turning out to be the camera I really wanted from Olympus and Panasonic. But it's even more eccentric which endears it to me even more.  So much performance.  So many wild features. So many lens choices.  Has there ever been a better time for the actual practice of photography?


Finally, I've spent the last two years denigrating the whole idea of HDR. Do I feel guilty? Was I wrong? NO. The stuff that became known as HDR in common parlance was atrocious stuff. And it was applied to all kinds of inappropriate subject matter. I'm changing my mind and finding that judicious use of a three frame blend adds another tool to my creative and professional tool box. And that's okay. It's only when carpeting steps over the line to lime green shag that we have an aesthetic problem.....

Final note: The more I use the Nex 7 the less I want to use anything else. 














Out for a Sunday Afternoon Stroll with a customized Nex 7.


The very next day after receiving the Fotodiox Sony Alpha to Sony Nex lens adapter I found a Sony branded one, the LAEA-1, on the Precision Camera used shelves so I bought that one too. Today I put my LAEA-1 on my Sony Nex-7 and put a 35mm 1.8 DT lens on that.  Then I went out for one of my long, Sunday afternoon walks. About an hour into the walk I came across a small group of people at 6th Street and Brazos who were painting each other's faces and I asked them if they'd mind me taking a few photographs.  Of course they were more than happy to oblige.


I used the lens and adapter combination in the same way I would normally use the Nex 7, minus the autofocus.  I keep describing the Sony LAEA-1 as not having autofocus capability and I keep getting corrected by sharp eyed readers who are quick to let me know that, technically, the LAEA-1 will autofocus with most of the recent and current Alpha lenses.  I am here to tell you that while the reader/correctors may be technically correct no one in their right mind would describe the painful process of LAEA-1 try-to-focus as true AF.  Let's just say that if you have infinite patience you could use the Sony adapter in the AF mode and eventually you might have a frame creep, with great hesitation, into focus. Of course your chances are better if you are in bright, bright light (say a daylight scene supplemented with an 18,000 watt HMI for fill) and a focusing target with more detail than a ten million piece jigsaw puzzle... But why stress over it when the Nex 7, in combination with the 35mm 1.8 DT lens, does an amazing and quick job of assisting you in manually focusing with focus peaking?


I'm probably just responding to the newness of the process but I'm really enjoying the pleasures of manually focusing my photographs. It seems to also give me back more control over my sense of composition.  I'm not always starting from top dead center in order to get and hold a focus lock.  The focus peaking works over the entire frame.

So have I found out anything new by using the Sony Nex7 with an adapter and an Alpha lens? Yes. I've found that the Sony Nex 7 becomes the most responsive camera you can imagine because you'll never have to wait for focus lock. The lens info even shows up in the exif info in Lightroom.  Just don't think you'll be enjoying laser fast auto focusing. It's not in the cards for the economy model adapters.













A little ambiguity is bad for your anxiety but may be just what some photographs crave.


I photographed Jana downtown. It was a hot, clear day. The kind that makes your eyes see into the colors and the details of everything. We didn't talk much but we did create the outline of a little story and I just followed her around and documented our "story."  It seemed a fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

I hope no one has decided to spend their Sundays indoors with the TV on and some sports team running back and forth on the screen, in between commercials for beer and Viagra. There's so much fun to be had outside. Camera in hand.

The Canon 85mm 1.8 seems to have "Modigliani" bokeh in the background. Look at the way the two people on the right side of the frame make hemispherical slices off into nothingness.












9.08.2012

For once, a do everything camera that combines high image quality with ultimate flexibility.

Advisory for newcomers to the blog:  This is not a review. This is an article which talks about bridge cameras and specifically the Fuji camera. It exists because the product being highlighted might be of interest to my long term readers. There are no charts or graphs. There are no "conclusions."  I like the idea of the camera. That's all that really matters here on this blog.

With all the attention that's been focused on FujiFilm cameras like the X-100, the S Pro 1, and the X-10 there's one product that hasn't gotten anywhere near the attention I think it deserves. Maybe that's because it resides near the top of a category that many of us serious photographers have more or less written off, long zoom lens "bridge cameras."  Just calling the category bridge cameras seems to demean the value of the niche in the minds of those of us who crave ultimate machines like Leica M9s and Nikon D800s.

While most previous bridge cameras look like miniaturized DSLRs and come with long range zooms they've mostly been plagued with tiny sensors that were overpopulated with tiny little pixels.  If you shot them at their base ISOs they would yield fairly good files but once you started to crank up the gain (increase the sensitivity) they files quickly fell apart.

There are some good, current cameras in this class, like the Canon SX-40.  Panasonic has a couple as does Nikon. Most use the same smaller sensor sizes (1/1.7) and nearly all of them feature fairly big swivel screens on the back and okay to good EVFs.  One of the early favorites of mine, a camera that pretty much busted out the category, was the Sony R1. It had a wildly good Carl Zeiss zoom lens that gave you 24-120mm equivalent angle of view performance and it had a sensor that was just about APS-C size. Many times bigger than most of the other cameras. But the R1 came at a cost that most wouldn't pay for a camera with a non-removable lens, and the early EVF was coarse and slow.

The camera I handled today the FujiFilm x-S1, is the first bridge camera since the Sony R1 (2005) that made me go, "Wow!"  First, let me show you the camera and then I'll tell you why.


The camera is wonderful to hold in your hands. It's beefy and much heavier than its competitors. Whatever coating they used over the exterior of the body I think is just the right blend of sticky-I-can-hold-on-to-this and comfortable. It's not much smaller (if it actually is smaller) than a Canon Rebel or a Nikon D3200. The thing that grabbed me upon picking it up was the heft and the feeling that it was wonderfully solid. And very well built. (love the metal knob that just begs for your right hand thumb to caress it...).

But here's the deal, you get a camera with the same sensor they've put into the wildly successful X-10. It's a 2/3 ich EXR CMOS sensor that does the same tricks as it does in the X-10.  You get 12 megapixels which means every pixel is bigger and better defined and this very good sensor performance is combined with a 24 to 624mm zoom lens that starts at f2.8 and finishes up at the long end at f5.6

I didn't get to spend a long time with the camera but I did go through the menus and try out the focusing and the EVF. The EVF is a 1.44 million dot LCD monitor which looks very similar to the EVF image and imaging performance in the EVF of Sony's a57 DSLT camera. The refresh is fast enough to have made me unaware of tearing or blurring when I moved the camera while framing.


The screen on the rear of the camera is 3 inches with 460,000 dots. The camera can shoot at highest priority at 10 fps (short burst) but only in medium and small file sizes. If you need a full res file you can still get 7 fps. Of course the camera also has RAW file capability and RAW+Jpeg file capture. In fact, it has just about anything I would look for in a full bore, higher end DSLR or DSLT including Fuji's film emulation modes.

It may also be an efficient video production camera for web destined videos. It shoots in the H.264 (MOV) format and offers resolutions up to 1920 by 1080.  And yes, there is a standard plug in for external, stereo microphones.

This camera and lens weigh almost twice as much as my Nex 7 with its kit lens so if you are trying to lighten the load you may be looking in the wrong place but you have to consider the tremendous range of lenses you get over the range of the zoom. Early reviewers have praised the lens, with the same caveat that it is better at the wider to mid ranges than at the extreme telephoto end. The only critical issues I've heard relate to slow focus under lower light and some difficulty locking focus at the very long end of the zoom.

So, who is this camera perfect for? Anyone planning a round the world trip with  the need for flexible and high quality imaging and video capability. If I had a ticket for year's unrestricted travel I'd snap one of these up so fast it would make my own head spin. Then I'd buy four or five more batteries and a case of class 10 SD cards and grab my passport.  It would also be a perfect tool for the in-house web designer who needs to be able to capture good video and still photos under lots of different conditions with lot of flexibility.

Like most cameras that are too feature-rich you'll need to spend some quality time with the manual in one hand and the camera in the other but from what I've seen in sample images it might just reward you in a way that will surprise photographers who've long dismissed this category.

The camera generally sells at a street price of $799 but Amazon has it listed these days for $599.95 which I think is an absolute bargain. But then I like the idea of Swiss Army Knife cameras like this. They are so closed loop that they free you from so much excess decision making and that can be really good when you are out and around and working the shutter release in response to the world in front of you.

Sadly, this one will probably get lost in all the noise and introductions at the upcoming Photokina and that's too bad because it may be just what so many people who are moving up from compacts and phones are looking for.  Ditto for people tired of the lens rat race and the constant upgrade cycle. Oh well. Good to read some of the reviews, handle one, and see what you think.




Cheap Adapter to use Sony Alpha lenses on a Sony Nex 7. It works.


Web pundits besmirch the Sony Nex 7 for its paucity of lenses. Maybe yes, if you want to use only lenses specifically designed just for the Nex system. Positively no, if you are open to spending less than $30 on an adapter and opening yourself up to all the lenses that are currently available for the Sony DSLT cameras. In the image above you see the Sony Nex 7 camera body, the Fotodiox AF-NEX adapter and the inexpensive, but highly capable, Sony DT 30mm Macro lens. The assemblage is easy to work with and delivers really good performance.

Unlike the two Sony branded adapters that are available to do the same task, the Fotodiox adapter doesn't give you any electronic connection between the lens and the camera body, only a mechanical one. The adapter controls the aperture with the ring labelled "lock" and "open."  The ring moves a peg in the adapter which in turn stops down the aperture in the lens. It works totally by guess-timation. There is no readout anywhere of the aperture value.

When the adapter ring is set to open you are shooting with a wide open aperture. When you go to the "locked" position you are shooting at the smallest aperture. And you get to choose an infinite range in between.  You can do it by assessing how much depth of field you need, visually, on the EVF or LCD finder or you can look at the front of the lens and try to make each small increment reduce the circle created by the aperture blades by half to stop down one stop.  Not the right adapter for control freaks who need to see an aperture read out and to know exactly what aperture they are shooting at...

Focusing is more elegant. Set the camera to use focus peaking, grab the small rubberized ring at the front of the lens and------focus. In my camera I have the focus peaking indicator set to strong and red. When the red splotches invade the area I want to have in focus I'm done focusing and it works well as long as there is detail to focus upon.

While I'm happy with the few Nex lenses I have I'm even happier to be able to tap into the entire collection of lenses I've picked up for my a77 cameras.  The 30 macro is a good, cheap macro and I like using that focal length with the cropped sensor. While the camera doesn't auto correct for distortion (not much in there to correct) or CA or vignetting the lens performs well and the camera, in aperture priority seem to hit exposures correctly as well.

There are certain lenses I am hesitant to use on the smaller camera. For instance, I can't see that it makes a lot of sense to mount the five hundred pound Sony 70-200mm 2.8 G lens on the camera. They see to be at philosophical cross purposes.  Same with the big 16-50mm 2.8 zoom.  But with a petite collection of primes the combination really comes into its own. I use the adapter with the 30mm, 35mm, 50mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.8 and the 85mm 2.8. Owning both the a77/Alpha systems and a barebones Nex system is fun now that they're unidirectionally compatible.  But other than the macro or lenses like the 35mm and 85mm which are not single focal lengths provided by the Nex system I really don't think it's a vital tool. 

The Nex cameras excel at being small and discreet---especially with the kit lens installed. The a77 is right at home with big lenses and professional camera performance. It's nice though that they can exist in the same equipment drawer and the addition of the Alpha to Nex adapter makes the Nex 7 a nice back up companion to any Sony APS-C primary system.


The two images above were made with one of my favorite "adapted" combinations. The taking body was a Sony a77 while the lens was the 120mm Hasselblad/Zeiss Makro Planar lens. The couple were joined together with yet another inexpensive Fotodiox lens adapter.  Using the Zeiss medium format lenses on the a77 camera is like coming home again.  Just make sure you use the stop down switch on the Hblad lens or you'll be shooting everything wide open.

This is a quick sample of the 30mm Macro Alpha lens on the Nex-7


If you already own the Sony DSLT system the 30mm macro, on an adapter, is the perfect way to add close-up capabilities on the cheap...

If budget is no object you could snap up either of the adapters from Sony.  The barebones item is the LAEA-1 which is a tube with electronic connections that give control and display power over aperture.  It does provide for autofocus but from everyone I've heard from who's used them the focusing is very slow and doesn't not work with older, screwdriver drive AF lenses.

The LAEA-2 is a bigger adapter and comes with a pellicle mirror and a module that allows for fast phase detection focus when using most of the Sony DSLT lenses.  In the end, whether you need to adapt other lenses to the Nex system in the first place is something you'll have to consider based on how you use or intend to use your Nex 7. Next on my order list is an inexpensive adapter that will allow me to use Leica M series lenses on the same, Nex 7 camera.

Having fun doing it "wrong."

9.07.2012

Do you ever wish you could banish all the images you've seen in your life and start over fresh?


When we first start learning about photography most of us begin a voracious process of research. We want to know how to do stuff that looks "professional." We want to know who is at the top of the game in the specialty in which we're most interested. We start noticing the photographs in ad campaigns, in magazine editorials and on sites all across the web. When we're beginners we generally have two attributes: We're incredibly excited to learn the breadth and depth of photography and we are like sponges, soaking up so much of the visual environment in which we exist. Logging it away in our memory banks for future (mandatory) reference.

Many teachers have the idea that seeing works by masters and then having students imitate the works they like will help us to better develop as photographers. Almost everyone thinks it's a good idea to know the visual history of our medium. And we seem to go to that inspirational well again and again when we get stuck.

But all of this is a double edge sword that does two things: It teaches us how to make familiar images that look like everything else out in the photographic world and it corrupts the unblemished expression of our very personal approaches by implanting indelible, subconscious templates of the standards  which we carry around with us, unwanted and maybe unknowingly;  like a governor to our creativity.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like if we could erase the decades of seeing other work and go out into the world to see and to photograph in a way that would be absolutely and uniquely your own?  I do.  And I do because when I lift the camera to my eye I sometimes hear the jaded, internal, eternal conversation that says, "This is like a watered down Henri Cartier Bresson image meets that cool ad in Outdoor Magazine for Patagonia, combined with just a touch of Bruce Davidson."  And that's generally followed by the thought that,"everything has already been done."

I remember spending time at a progressive pre-school here in Austin when my son was very young. And for some reason I was remembering just this afternoon the way many of the children attacked their art with such passion and lack of judgement.  They marveled at how blue the blue was that came streaking out of their crayons. How deep and rich the yellow was as the paint spread across the paper from their chubby paintbrushes like flames from a rocket, and how dynamic and fierce the red was as they spread it around with their hands and let it soak into their imaginations.

And if they looked at another kid's art it was to admire, not copy. They admired without judgement and then stepped back into their own world of kinetic creation. They were their own audience and they weren't imitating something they saw in GQ or on Flickr.  They were pushing through their art just for unalloyed joy of getting covered with color and making shapes and images that resonated with the flow of life as they knew it.

I try to get back to that state of joy with my photographs but sadly I seem to know too much. I know how to do stuff. I know how it's supposed to get done and what it's supposed to look like when I finish.  And when I do finish a piece or a project my mind has a catalog of the acknowledged masters in the field and my work always seems to fall short in comparison to theirs.

Sometimes I have the idea that if I limit myself to one subject and try to do that one subject all the time, and in a new way each time, I'll produce work that surprises even me.  Sometimes I limit myself to one camera and one lens but there's always some rationale that upsets the apple cart and makes my mind start thinking about the "lost potential" of not having some other "perfect" tool at hand.

You've seen me bounce from camera to camera in a vain attempt to mix up the way I work in the hopes that a temporary incompetence with the gear will create a handful of happy accidents but it usually just slows down the process.

The only thought that always brings me back into a creative cycle is the idea that, "Wherever you go, there you are." That to make more exciting art you must be more exciting. Or better, your ideas must be more exciting.  In the end all the images are about what you think and what you select. If you've held firmly to the same ideas, notions, prejudices and tastes for the last decade or two or three it's little wonder that your or my creativity is sitting at the curb idling.

Sometimes it's good to take a deep breath and plunge into something we thought we didn't like or wouldn't like....just to try it.  Like the first time a college girl friend convinced me to try sushi.  The first time you paid for a massage. The first time you tried an alternative  art or photo process or the first time you played laser tag.

I feel this way about video right now.  I don't want to see anyone else's work in video. I want to start fresh. I'm purposely ignoring everything I don't already know about video because I think it's more important to know what I want to say than how I'll say it. I want to know how I see in video before I see how everyone else does it.

I think the way to original thoughts and impulses is to learn the bare minimum you need to know and then unplug yourself from the omnipresent visual grid, the matrix, and go off to experiment on your own. Chuck the books and educational websites. Turn off the galleries and the blogs and remove yourself temporarily from everything that works as a crutch to reinforce the unconscious standard and then--- just play.

My exercise for the week is to try to photograph "love."  What I love. Who I love. How I express love. How strangers express love and how best friends express love.  "It's the only thing that there's just to little off...." (songwriter, Hal David, who passed away recently).  It's a different idea for me because I always leave the house looking for the classic photographic inventory of physical subject opportunities like, beautiful girls, majestic skies, yummy presentations of food, interesting faces and all the other obvious stuff.  What does love look like? What does the taste of a perfect slice of pizza look like.  What makes me happy and how can I share what "happy" looks like.

Anyone can copy a technique or a look. But know one can picture your universe of feelings and thoughts the way you can, if you really do it your way. Maybe the most powerful art describes a feeling or a passion instead of a subject.

After I learn how to see what love looks like to me and my camera I would like to make a little movie about the idea of love as the ultimate glue for our human society. And none of these ideas really have anything to do with the technical side of imaging. If you're reading this blog you already know all the facts you really need to know.  Now we need to stretch and show ourselves what we love to see. Disconnected from expectation. Disconnected from the desire to do it "right."  Really.

Wow. That was so not a Kirk Tuck style blog. But it's out there. How do you make your photographs special? How do you banish the idea that it's all been done? How do you block out all the references and just make work for yourself?  No. Really.  I'm asking-----

Comments are open. Fire away.


9.06.2012

The studio is a special place to make the photographs that your mind already sees.

Mad, Beat, Hip and Gone.

Here's what Zach Scott Theatre says about, Mad, Beat, Hip and Gone: Steven Dietz, the most-produced playwright in America who also calls Austin home, is creating this World Premiere specifically for ZACH's first season in the Topfer. In the late 40's and early 50's, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady famously went "on the road." But what about Danny Fergus and Rich Rayburn -- the young guys in the car right behind Jack and Neal, the guys whose history never ended up in books?

It's one thing to go out into the world and to be open to whatever happens in front of your camera. It's whole other discipline to step into the studio and create the world that's already in your imagination. Neither method of shooting is more valuable or correct but they are both such different disciplines.

When I shoot dress rehearsals for Zachary Scott Theatre I'm concentrating on recognizing the special moments within the performance. I reach in and freeze the moments that trigger something immediate and emphatic in my brain. I'm engaged in a process of high speed sorting.  Not that I always make the right decisions but I make them fast enough and often enough to build up a catalog on a work that is useful to the people who will do the hard work of leveraging my images into marketing messages that sell tickets and get people into the seats.

My real joy comes from shooting in the studio. I get to create the look, the feel and the emotion of the shot in collaboration with the actor or sitter in the photograph. That's a whole different playing field in which we get to interpret the mood, feeling, inference or intention of the moment. It requires skills in lighting, posing, composing and directing. But most of all it requires a willing and equal collaboration with the person in front of the camera.

Over the course of the last last four blog I've included images that are meant to evoke four totally different moods, periods of time and points of view. The 1940's, 1960's and the 1970's. The shot above is meant to be evocative about the Beat Generation of the 1950's.  I may have been successful and I may not have been successful in my quick interpretations but in all four cases I've had a wonderfully fun time sharing the studio space with incredibly talented people and trying to absorb and reflect their talent.  It's so different than street photography, documentation and found photography in that  you already have a word poem in your head and now you are trying to piece together what that poem looks like as a photograph. It's a process of creation that's different than the process of discovery.  But at the same time it's a process of self discovery. Moving through the ego into non-ego to pull off something that must be a sharing experience to be successful.

I am keenly aware that I'm just an average photographer in a second tier market but I also realize that it's a hell of a lot of fun and that I never stop sharing the energy of creation with my subjects and I never stop learning. That's one of the most fun things about photography. No matter what camera and lens you use....

Camera: Sony a77, ISO 160, Lens: 24-85mm Minolta. 

Comments always appreciated.....














9.04.2012

Continuing in a theatrical and retro vein...While Christmas.


I was shooting in the temporary Zachary Scott photo studio a few days ago and we needed to create a photograph for the musical, White Christmas. This was one of the shots I created and I wanted the lighting and the general feel of the image to harken back to the 1940's when so many images were lit with big, pan reflectors and lots of fill light. Our one formalist constraint was the white background, which became a leitmotif throughout the two days of shooting. To light the actors I used a large dish reflector just to the left of center and a large umbrella fill (one and a half stops down) just to the right of the camera. But, of course, the expressions make the shot for me.  It's always a collaboration.

Later, back in the studio, I was playing around with the image in SnapSeed and ended up with the image below. In retrospect, this is one occasion on which I should have considered a little bit of hair light.  I'll try it next year.

Camera: Sony a77, ISO 160
Lens: Minolta 24-85mm 3.5-4.5
Lighting: Four Elinchrom monolights

White Christmas will open on the stage of the new Theater later this Fall.












Getting ready for the emotional roller coaster that will be Photokina.

Mr. Martin Burke in Harvey. Coming soon to Zach Scott Theatre.
©2012 Kirk Tuck

Photographed with a nice big beauty dish to camera left, a nice, 
big 72 inch white umbrella just to the right of the camera for fill, 
and two lights on the background.

Camera: Sony a77 at ISO 64. Taking lens: 
Minolta 24-85mm
Post processed in SnapSeed.

From Sept. 18-23 we will all willingly or unwillingly participate in the fallout of one of the world's biggest trade shows dedicated to introducing new cameras that we just have to have. I've proved to have a shaky record on specific camera predictions but a good one on trends and I'm going to weigh in here in both areas so remember that these are my predictions and not facts or rumors...

I can feel it coming. This is the year of the full frame sensor for cropped the frame budget. Seems like Nikon will be the first ones over the wall with the nearly officially released D600 which many seem to think will come to market at around $1,500. Given the pent up demand for a big sensor at a lower price I think they'd safely sell as many as they can make even at $1700. The sensor is probably a Nikon tweaked version of the same one rumored to be stuffed inside the upcoming Sony a99. Thousands will rush to buy them. Lenses will be upgraded. Bragging rights will ensue.

If the rumors are true I'll be amazed not to see Canon stumble all over themselves to get a similar product into the pipeline by the holiday buying season. It might not be ready by Christmas but you can bet Canon will want to get the word out quickly to lock their customers and keep them from scurrying across the road into the Nikon camp.  After the two big players open the flood gates it's game on for everyone else.  If you can get a full frame camera with great IQ performance why would the average consumer look at anything else? (I know, you shoot wildlife, sports, etc and you like the crop....right).  Maybe full frame becomes the new exclusive domain of all traditional DSLR cameras while all the new innovation happens in other areas. Like the mirrorless space.

What will the introduction of the full frame sensor mean to all the people who've been thronging to the mirrorless cameras in both the Sony/Samsung APS-C space and the folks who are now happily nesting with their OMD's? Short term there will be a "disturbance in the force" but long term it won't really matter because Nikon and Canon don't get two underlying truths of the current world wide camera technology acceptance migration: 1. The EVF/constant live view is a driver all out of proportion to other considerations and it will continue to drive the sale of smaller, easier to use and easier to understand photography cameras.  Once people use a camera with a good EVF they will never want to change back. And mover-uppers from cellphones are more comfortable with the live view screen than the "clearer" but more (operationally) opaque OVF.  And 2. For most people the improvements in IQ between a cropped frame camera and a full frame camera will be immaterial for their use. Why pay for the difference? Another consideration is that people like the smaller size and lower weight of the mirrorless cameras.

That being said I'm pretty sure that the Nikon D600 and whatever Canon tosses into the ring will be the best sellers in the traditional full frame category from here on out. The real issue is whether or not a smaller, cheaper but no less capable (in terms of sheer image quality) camera like the D600 will nicely fill the needs of a huge swath of current D800 and 5Dmk3 potential buyers thus radically cannibalizing everything in the product lines above them.  The Olympics are over, who really needs to pony up for 12 frames per second and herculean weather proofing now? (Yes, I know you probably live in someplace where it rains all the time or you can't stay out of swamps because that's your chosen genre....but you already know you are special, right?).

I'm feeling the first rumblings of a trend that may not fully surface for a year or two and certainly not at this year's Photokina.  I think of it as the remedy for a pendulum that's swung too far. The relentless downsizing will end when people realize that dinky cameras aren't as comfortable to hold. Judging from the growing number of people (many of whom are camera veterans...) who are having a real dissonance to the Olympus OMD offering, camera have crossed the line and become too small to comfortably use without attaching prosthetics to aid in gripping and operating said camera. We are about to re-enter the Goldilocks period of camera design.  Not too big, not too small-----just right. I am reminded of Nikon's introduction of the FM film camera. Originally marketed as the camera for people who wanted the flagship F2as cameras but were on a budget it became the de facto pro camera from Nikon for several generations precisely because it traded off no imaging performance, only weight and price. And most of the top pros who used them raved about how well it fit their hands. How perfectly sized it was.

I think Olympus has carried the downsizing too far. It started with the skinny and hard to hold ZX-1 and the OMD seems to be the latest haptical blunder. Nice to try and downsize products to a certain point but only if you keep in mind that human hands are not infinitely (down)scalable. I'm hoping Olympus announces a new Pen style offering (along the lines of the EP3...) that incorporates the same new sensor. And I won't be upset if they make the body a bit bigger to ease congestion on the button spacing....

Continuing on. If Sony produces the camera that the rumor sites are predicting and the a99 really comes into existence, watch out Canon and Nikon! Sony is the one major company that really gets how revolutionary the EVF experience is and how it will drive the professional camera market going forward. All they need to do is stick the new camera in as many hands (reviewers and pros) as they possibly can and they will shift the hegemony in a new direction. Real time Live View, either on a back screen (for amateurs and studio dwellers) or on a state of the art EVF, with competitive phase detection AF and faster response times for shutter actuation.  The ability to dump the Zacuto and Hoodman vestigial loupes and monitor video in a professional manner, all built in.

My upgrade suggestion for Sony's current DSLT line is to introduce an a57mk2 which only upgrades one single feature: the EVF.  Give this camera the LED EVF of the Sony Nex 7 and a77 and it will dominate the sub $800 category. It's already a great camera.

If Sony continues to flesh out their DSLT lens line and continues to introduce user features that make photography more intuitive the only thing that can stop them from dominating Canon and Nikon will be their own hapless marketing...

The Sony Nex 7 is a great camera. I'm hoping the 6 carries on the same tradition instead of returning to the too small body configuration of the 5. What I'd really like to see is a new and improved (pancake NOT necessary) 16mm lens with kickass performance, and also a 70mm 1.4 lens for all us portrait nuts.  It could be an f2 or even an f2.8, as long as it's sharp and wonderful I'll buy it. If the Nex 6 carries on with the same EVF as the 7 it should sell well.

Along these lines are rumors that Fuji about to start rebating prices on the X Pro 1 because they are about to launch a less pricey body that foregoes the hybrid finder for a full on EVF and the new camera will come in under $1,000. They will certainly find a sweet spot for that offering if the sensor remains the same....

This is more of a plea than a prediction but would some manufacturer please have the balls to introduce a high resolution, interchangeable camera with a square sensor? Now that we have the EVF technologies quickly coming to the market place a camera maker can stick in a big, square chip and electronically give users any aspect ratio they want. Slavishly lashed to the 3:2 image? There'd be a setting for that.  Ready to experience the unleashed power and glory of the big square? There'd be a setting for that as well.  And everything in between. I'm hoping this is what Canon has in mind for the rumored 40 megapixel imager that's being rumored but Canon seems to be the one maker that needs to be pulled, kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

What will Panasonic bring to the table? I waited and waited to hear about a new GH3 this summer. Rumors abounded. One user and pusher of Panasonic whispered "insider" info to me that never came to fruition. Now I'm out of the system but I'm still curious because Panasonic could be a very powerful player in the hybrid, still/video space.  And the GH2 had a lot of promise in its time as a still camera.  I think they'll be the first ones to realize that relentless downsizing is for chumps and you'll see their GH3 increase in size over its predecessor.  And I'm betting they roll out a sensor that is at least as good as the one Olympus is using in the OMD. But I'm betting the real story will be improvements in the EVF and also in the interfaces for movie making. Rationalizing sound input and bumping up throughput and frame rates would make the GH3 a natural for a new generation of multimedia producers.

Will someone please make an HDMI interface for an iPad Retina? I'd love to dump all the proprietary tethering software for all the cameras and just take video out from the ubiquitous mini HDMI plug on my Nikon or Sony and get it into a nice, bright, PC-killing iPad. Wouldn't that be a great way to do a studio or controlled location shoot?  Your raw images would write to your camera's internal card while your monitor images would feed to your Retina screen. Amazingly simple.

Why don't we have this right now? Do we? Have I just missed it?  If you know how to make this work please tell us all!

What's in store for manufacturers like Pentax? Right now they have no pathway to full frame and their execution in the mirrorless space is----------interesting. I like the look and feel of the Kr-5 and it's predecessor but that's becoming a pretty small market niche in the whole scheme of things. An interesting bit of market sabotage would be to drop the price of their medium format camera to $6,999 and chomp up a ton of low end, medium format marketshare while also stealing share from the high end Canon and Nikon "pro" cameras.  They'd need to scale up production on the 645 styled MF body but they'll know within weeks of announcing the price drop if they have a sustainable market... I'd bet that driving sales of a halo product like a MF camera would also help drive sales of their DSLRs.

Where will the medium format industry go? I think we've seen some writing on the wall.  There's basically two markets and they're pretty separate. On one hand we have the very high end advertising studio (NY, LA, Chicago, Dallas, London, Paris, Berlin, etc.) who demand and will pay for the best possible imaging resources they can get. Mostly from rental houses. The cost of the cameras is a drop in the bucket compared to ad placement costs, production, etc.  The middle of the market for things like products and even model shoots is about to be eviscerated by CGI and photographic tools like the Nikon D800 and whatever Canon answers with.

The low end of the MF market is about smaller studios in second tier markets, well known portrait photographers and a legion of well heeled hobbyist who who want the differentiation and bragging rights of owning something bigger than what the masses can access. That means there's a market in the $9999 to $19,999 space that will probably keep its head above water. Users in this space typically want to take their cameras into the field, go on a workshop with Michael Reichmann and generally have the same working methodologies they developed using 35mm style cameras. Look for small improvements here coupled with falling prices.  Bigger, brighter rear screens, the addition of live view for focusing and perhaps even more economical lines of lenses.

I predict that Mamiya and Pentax will both work to increase their shares of the market by reducing prices on 40 megapixel models and the market will reward them. There will always be advantages to larger overall geometries and the character of imaging that the longer focal length (for the same angle of view vis a vis smaller formats) lenses provide.  That's why most of us crave MF in this age of already amble megapixels.

Finally, I predict a switch in the marketing mantras from all the major companies. Dynamic Range and "rich color" will replace the megapixel race and the high ISO fascination of the IT crowds. We'll see marketing that reminds us of why we used to use slower films= quality, quality, quality.

I'm sure there will be contenders to the current pocketable throne recently grabbed by the Sony RX100 but I think we all have our eyes on the good stuff.  The bigger stuff.

Can we please  see something new from Sigma with the Foveon sensors? I've seen some cool images, I just wish they'd focus on the product a bit more. More specialized lenses for the smaller sensor inside. More compatibility with industry leading raw conversion software, etc. 

That's enough for now.