Sometimes life looks stranger through the lens.

After lunch I took a walk in the park.

It was hot so I lingered under the bridge for a few moments.

When I walked out the other side I found rocks stacked like skinny pyramids.

Organic Eiffel Towers.

Millions of years of erosion.

And I could swear they were multiplying before my eyes.

I looked around and there was a field of carefully stacked rocks.

It was a total denial of entropy.

Or a nod to the notion that there are patterns within chaos.

I walked back to my car. No rocks followed me.

Writing about writing.

I recently wrote a review of the Samsung NX300 and the review was generally well accepted. By that I mean the flying monkey boys of the various fora didn't rush in to question my morals, ethics, mental acuity, allegiances, ability to think beyond a first grade level, etc. When I realized that most of the comments attached in the next few days were positive I felt deflated. I must have done a poor job of peeling back the onion-esque parts of that camera because I didn't draw metaphoric blood from anyone. No one even blinked at my continued criticism of EVF-less cameras.

The one glancing complaint I got was that the article was longer than a typical article in a magazine known for running lengthy (and serious) articles. And that made me think about the basic differences between writing, as I practice it, and photography. 

When I sit down to write it's a process of having more than a one sided conversation. As I type I'm working through my arguments or my observations and after each point I pause for a second or two and wonder what one of my friends would say about what I've just written. As though we were sitting across the table from each other, jealously admiring whatever really cool camera each of us brought along, in a thinly veiled attempt to make each other envious, as we enjoy a coffee in cool weather or a nice glass of  beer in the warmer weather. The momentary "silence" sprinkled through my practice of writing acts as my own devil's advocate and most of the time he's either pressing me to defend my premise or to admit where the argument loses steam.

In the case of the review of the NX300 I was trying to be passionately objective, knowing my penchant for falling in love with cameras, racing through a delightful and torrid relationship with them and then succumbing to the wiles of the next one. I felt like I needed to walk my readers through the whole process of what I liked and didn't like about the camera rather than just resort to a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" approach because my prejudices are well known and at the same time the camera does some things incredibly well and a certain camp of users doesn't really care about my need for an EVF or my desire for microphone jacks. By supplying enough information I'm able to feel like I've provided a neutral spreadsheet of pluses and minuses but anyone who reads my stuff on a regular basis will be able to sniff around the nooks and crannies of the construction of the piece in order to separate my predilections from actual camera design foibles.

When I write I'm doing something that's one hundred and eighty degrees different from my picture taking. When I snap the shutter I'm trying to distill down to one quintessential expression combined with one natural feeling composition. The images are available to viewers as a snapshot, in the most positive meaning of the word "snapshot." While I'm happy if you linger on the image and savor it my intention is always to create locked up package that needs no intervention, captioning or fluffing to deliver it's more or less visceral message. And the message is nearly always the same: "Look! Isn't this cool? Look! isn't she beautiful? Look! Can you imagine that something can be so amazing?"

And I'm really not looking for insight or instruction or critiques when I post a photograph because who can really understand what it is you are trying to transmit to your audience? Who can have the same experiential resumé as me...or you?

But when I write I mean for it to be in the nature of a two way conversation. I know that ideas are never (in my mind) fully formed and perfect. A case in point is my recent take on the decline of the camera market. I gleaned a lot of value from the good comments that came flooding in. Most augmented my argument while others made me stop and think. Which is something I need to do more often.

People ask me why I write since the perception is that it's a time consuming habit and one with meager financial returns. The only answer I can give them is that I like the process. I genuinely like the process of trying to explain myself. I want to connect with people and tell them what it's like to think with my brain. And when I look out across the web I'm looking for that same connection from other writers.

I think that both writing and photography are archly solitary practices (or should be) but I think the sharing of the end product is where we are able to come out of our shells and experience the almost tactile feedback of the people we've attracted to our endeavors. I like the process of writing nearly as much as I like the process of wandering down an urban street with a ripe camera. And I like both of these processes as much as I like sitting in a cool cafe slowly sipping a perfectly made coffee.

One of my goals is to only do things I like. That's a hard target these days for artists and writers trying to keep food on the table. But if we don't make the attempt then what do we really have?

Studio Portrait Lighting

Insight for people who are not totally involved in the creative process. This is important to read if you want to understand your friends who do "art" for a living.


Please go read it. Then come back here and comment.

Studio Portrait Lighting


Pentax K-01. Please send me a case of these cameras. They are quirky, eccentric and fun. I want more...

I guess I should confess that, at this point in my career, I just don't really give much thought to SUPER CAMERAS. If you sent me a Leica S2 or a professional  Canon or Nikon I'd turn right around to sell it and buy more whimsical cameras that make good images and make me smile. Cameras like the Pentax K-01.

It's just a crazy little camera with an intriguing and counter-intuitive, modernist design and lots of happy eccentricity piled on top. I read all about it when it first came out but at the time I had such a strong prejudice against cameras without viewfinders that I literally couldn't see why anyone would plunk down eight hundred dollars or more for a camera that focused like molasses and had one big, reverse cyclops viewing mechanism on the back.  But times and tastes change. I'm hardly as serious about cameras as I had to be when cherry picking between models was a necessity. Now almost all cameras use some variant of a Sony sensor (except for Canon which seems to love sensors with low noise and even lower dynamic range...) and the quality from brand to brand is uniformly good.

I was at Precision Camera here in Austin yesterday and I saw a yellow Pentax K-01 on the shelf. I'd just seen the camera on the web in low res photos and I enjoyed the opportunity to hold it in my hand and check it out. I was delighted. I love the control designs. I love the chunkiness of it. I love the retro/jet age/modernist/metro clunkiness of the whole design. I think it's brilliant. After walking around the store with the yellow used one in my hands I couldn't resist so I bargained like a rug trader and paid less for it than I did for the first really high density memory card I bought. It was a 64 megabyte compact flash card and it seemed to modify and then fulfill Bill Gates assertion that no one would need more than 640 Kb of storage. Only upgraded to 64 megabytes.... (Funny that now gigabyte cards are about as expensive as Tic-Tacs or a Starbuck's latte).

The camera is slow to focus but I have high hopes as I just now upgraded the firmware from 1.00 to 1.03. I'll be happy if it's improved but I'll be fine if I need to use it in the manual focus/focus peaking mode for the rest of my life.

The camera is designed like a Metropolitan car. It's that boxy. I shot with it for a few hot hours this morning and there's nothing really to say. The files are sharp and saturated. The menus got mastered in minutes. The screen on the back is good. It's better with a Hoodman Loupe (I should buy their stock...).  It's a perfect camera for someone would works slowly and methodically. 

I'm finished writing this particular entry because I'm impatient to go to Amazon and find a couple more. If all your cameras are serious tools then you are NOT having enough fun doing photography. This failed and lovable camera is just a blast. I could use four more. And I'd like to get one of the rare blue ones....anybody?


Studio Portrait Lighting


The Samsung NX300. A review.

Samsung NX 300. With a really good kit lens. Sony Nex 5 killer? Yep.

I have to start out with a paragraph of disclosures. It's the only honest way to approach this review. Here we go: Samsung was off my radar until some time in the late Spring of this year. They never seemed to jump over the wall of marketing awareness and imprint on my consumer consciousness. I'd written a lot about mirrorless cameras over the last three years. I've shot extensively with the Sony Nex system and I was an early adopter of the Olympus Pen system and I've reviewed those systems too frequently to list. But a person at Samsung's U.S. public relations agency had previously worked with me during several other camera launches and he reached out to me with an offer.  He/Samsung would send me their new NX300 camera, with the kit lens and battery, if I would agree (loosely and non-bindingly) to shoot with it and post four or five images a week to their Facebook site or send the images along to the PR agency to share on the client's NX300 page. I was curious so I decided to bite. Worse case scenario? At the end of a few months I'd have a camera I could pass along to a niece or nephew and I would have gained some experience with a new camera company's product.

Added info:

I thought I should introduce the NX 300 for people who haven't read previews elsewhere.
The camera is a mirror less, interchangeable lens system which builds on previous Samsung NX models. It features a 20 megapixel sensor that incorporates AF points on the sensor to increase speed during contrast detection AF. The camera does not accept an EVF. It has a good range of settings in the movie mode. It accepts all Samsung NX lenses. It has built in wi-fi. It features a touch sensitive screen. For the rest of the specs you might want to check out the preview at DPreivew.com. The camera, with kit lens, sells for around $700.

When I first received the camera I had both positive and negative feelings. I really liked the design of the camera. It sits well in my medium sized hands and all the buttons seem to be where I would want them to be if I thought about designing a camera. I was impressed with the PR agency that they thought to include an extra battery. That's a great idea. All the mirrorless cameras really need two batteries to get through a day of shooting with someone who's got a heavy shutter finger. Another point in favor of the whole package was the fact that the camera had an easy to master menu. You can go deeper when you need to but most of the operating basics are right there on top and a quick learn.

At the same time there were some negatives with the camera and the package. For years I've been talking about the need for eye level viewfinders and this is a camera that lacks an eye level view finder or the facility to add one on. If there is one mis-step in the marketing of the camera to older shooter this is it. I don't consider a built-in EVF a "must have" but it sure would have made sense to continue what Samsung had done with previous models and add a port on the back of the camera so that real photographers could plug an EVF into the hotshoe and regain a sure purchase on their technique when shooting in situations like full sun.

The second misstep is totally a marketing one. Every camera should have a separate battery charger as part of their basic packaging. It should be there in the box. If you have two batteries and no external charger your camera must be tethered to electricity to charge either battery. You can't shoot and charge simultaneously. Tragic oversight. Corrected with a quick trip to Amazon.com and the expenditure of $34 on a Wasabi Power charger and extra batteries.

As per most mirrorless compact cameras the battery and the SD cards both 
go right in the bottom of the camera. Notice that the tripod socket is centered with 
the lens and far enough away from the battery and card door so you'd 
probably be able to change out either without having to remove the camera from 
a tripod? That's nice for studio users. It's nice for all of us who use tripods.

When I pulled the camera from the box and attached the zoom lens I found a control on the side of the lens called, "i-function." It's a button you can push that toggles through some of the basic controls like exposure compensation, ISO settings, white balance and digital zoom. It's a quick and easy way to access these routinely changed menu items.

The screen on the back of the camera is big and fairly high resolution and the hot shoe is a conventional one. It allows me to use standard flash triggers and standard hot shoe flashes. The screen on the back is slightly larger than 3 inches and it while it doesn't swivel to the sides or flip around so the narcissistic can peer at themselves from the front of the camera it will flip out into a waist level like position or downward by about 45 degrees for an over head, "Hail Mary" shooting stance. The screen is bright and  clear under normal circumstances but there's no way any screen is going to win a fight with the sun or high levels of ambient light.

The menus are rational and well laid out.
The screen is viewable in everything except bright sunlight and very high
ambient light.

The screen will flip up for waist level viewing or cantilever down 45 degrees
for "hail Mary" over the head viewing. And the touch screen works well.

Since I had already committed to using the camera I decided to work around the lack of an EVF and I plunged into the drawers of the equipment cabinets and found a Hoodman Cinema Style loupe that just covers the entire screen. Wow. What a difference that makes. With the loupe in place your view is on par with a good EVF. And I like the stability the hold, with the loupe pressed against my eye, offers.

The marketers of the camera seem to think that the functional built-in wi-fi is a major selling point of the camera. Here's the drill: Download an app from Samsung for your iOS or Android phone and set it up in your phone. Turn on the phone and then enable wi-fi on your camera (there's even a pictogram on the mode dial just for wi-fi). Set up the camera to send the images automatically to your phone and then you will be able to stream images from your phone to your network. I imagine that a news photographer would find this kind of quick access priceless but if you are shooting big files or raw files you may find it less so. In use, with my phone in the same room a full sized, high quality jpeg took between 8 and 12 seconds to upload. That's a long time for someone like me who might shoot a thousand images in a day, in the studio.

But I did find a good use for the wi-fi capability. I did a job on location for a client who could not be on site with me. The job involved setting up a big (Elinchrom Ranger) strobe pack and matching ambient light. We also were using models. It was great to get set up and take a test shot and then upload it to the art director back in her office while we were in the field without tethering a camera to a laptop and all that entails. The art director was able to give us nearly instant feedback on the first test shot. Then we shot until I got what I liked and we moved on to the next set up. It took the guess work out of the equation for the art director and that increased her comfort level without making me jump through too many technical hoops----and that's always a good thing for me. Would I personally accept or reject a camera based on its available wi0fi capabilities? Probably not. In either direction. But if it's there I generally like to at least know how to use it. It was much easier to implement than the wi-fi on my Sony Nex-6. There is even a dedicated button on the top of the camera called, "direct link" that allows you to send the image you are currently reviewing quickly. It's really well implemented; even for an iPhone user like me.

Since I brought up the Sony Nex-6 there  is one direct comparison I would like to make. The Samsung camera comes with a lens that has familiar focal lengths and apertures. The kit lens I received is the 18-55mm OIS (image stabilized) lens that goes from f3.5 to f5.6. It has one switch on the side for AF on or off and the iFunction button that I mentioned above. It comes with the standard petal shaped hood and a nice lens cap. It is much bigger in volume than the Sony equivalent. In directly comparing the performance of the two lenses the Samsung is the absolute, clear winner at every focal length and at every aperture setting. It is sharper, the camera does a better correction for geometric distortion, the lens is contrastier and it has much less of a tendency for flare. I found myself wishing I could put this lens in a Nex 7 instead of the one Sony provides.  The Sony looks good because it "seems" to be a more rugged, metal finish but the bulk of the Samsung lens feels good and the markings on the lens barrel are easier to see.

While the lens seems large for the camera it's well balanced and someone took the time
to match the lens to the sensor in a good way. It's very sharp at all the focal lengths.
Much better than the average kit lens. I can recommend this one.
Also, nice big lens hood.

Notice the nicely designed right hand grip. The big "bump" and the textured leatherette 
combine to create a good gripping surface. I like the body style. I wish it had a matching EVF....

Two controls on the lens.
The top one is the iFunction button that you can set up to toggle through
popular menu choices such as white balance, exposure compensation and
more.  The second switch is a manual focus / auto focus switch. 
Sometimes I quickly switched to manual for tricky focus and 
was happy to find the focus peaking automatically engaged.

I wondered about the rest of the line of lenses and a couple weeks after accepting the camera I was delighted when Samsung sent me the much faster 30mm f2. It's a superb lens. It's sharp even wide open and it's relatively small. Kind of a fat "pancake" lens but it is half the length of the kit zoom. If all the lenses are as good, relatively, as these two I would have to say that Samsung is putting their optical money in the right place. Of course, it's smart to only have one real line of interchangeable lens cameras so that the company doesn't have to spend money on creating multiple lens lines for different formatted cameras with different lens to flange distances.

All of this would be meaningless if the performance of the chip wasn't competitive but it is. I've been shooting mostly in the large, highest quality jpeg setting and the 20 megapixel, APS-C sensor is really good. We can set up low light battles and rattle on about performance at 3200 but I prefer to talk about the performance in the sweet spot (for nearly all cameras) of ISO 100 to ISO 800.

When I compare the Jpeg engines between my Sony Nex cameras and the Samsung NX 300 camera I see a few big differences. In the first place the files from the NX300 seem (and are) sharper right out of the camera at the default settings. For the most part I blame the Sony kit lens but I've also seen this with some of the other Sony lenses as well. Since the Nex 7 ostensibly has a higher resolution sensor I can only think that there's a difference in the chip designs and the way they interface with the lenses that makes a difference. I wish I had two of the Sigma 30mm lenses. One for the Sony Nex cameras and one for the Samsung camera so I could do a meaningful and direct comparison but I don't. I can only depend on what I see when I make comparisons on a big monitor at 100% and in those circumstances the 30mm Samsung f2 lens at f5.6 provides a higher level of detail than the Sigma 30mm on the Nex cameras.

Samsung has also chosen what I think is a more professional approach to contrast and saturation in their standard parameter set. The files are flatter than the Sony's and less saturated. At first blush this makes the Sony files seem to have more pop and sparkle. But the proof is in the processing. The files from the NX300 seem less brittle in post production because it's easy to add just the right amount of contrast to preserve both highlights and shadows (the Sony files tend to block shadows more quickly) which give the appearance of having a wider dynamic range even though DXO measurements seem to say that the cameras in question are nearly equal.

In the realm of saturation the lower saturation of the NX300 makes it easier for me to find a correct setting for flesh tones in the images I do of people. The less saturated each channel is the less chance for anomalies in one channel to influence the color performance of the other two channels. Again, in post processing the slightly lower saturation gives me more control over my image and results in less information being thrown away.

Finally, the NX 300 does a good job with low light, high ISO files. They tend to be clean and manageable at 3200 and teetering on the edge at 6400 but they do maintain their sharpness and their inherent saturation. I'd judge the ISO performance to be on par with one of my favorites, the Sony Nex 6.

Operating the camera.  This took a bit of learning and technique changing on my part. I'm so used to composing in an eye piece that I still pull the camera up to my face when I turn it on and it takes my brain a click or two to register that I don't have an eyecup, only a flat, naked screen to compose on. If I keep my reading glasses handy I can do just about anything indoors with the set up but the Achille's heel for me is operating the camera outdoors. Some of you may have magical powers or new, bionic eyes that allow you to create contrast on a screen where there is none. But for me the screen, like just about any other LCD or LED screen on the market is not professionally usable in direct sunlight or in high ambient light. It's just not.  Remember when everyone tried to tether their laptops to their cameras and shoot outdoors? An instant market cropped up for little black tents that would surround the screens and allow tethered shooters to exclude enough light to see the screens clearly. No one could see the screens in high ambient light. And no one in the world could effectively judge color or contrast without blocking out the light. I think, in fact, that this is where the company, Hoodman, got their start in the photo market in the first place. On movie sets all the screens are covered with hoods to reduce glare and reflection on the screens so that people can actually see what they are getting. (Side note: Someone would make a fortune adapting a hood for cellphones. Once a cellphone user tried one on the beach or in downtown Austin they would never go back to shooting screen naked. 

So, in evaluating the camera I could see that I would have to make some sort of adaptation to continue. I use the Hoodman Loupe with the attachment cords (micro-bungees) in order to secure the loupe to the back of the camera. Once I do that I have a wonderful viewing experience but it changes the whole outline and design of the camera. It's bulkier and you now know that you have something awkward swinging at the end of that camera strap.

But, with a bit of practice you have the equivalent of what we used to have in the Hasselblad days, a good camera with prism finder or excluding waist level finder with which to do your eye-work. For me it works well. The Loupe has a diopter adjustment that makes my screen appear very sharp and detailed and while bulky the Loupe weighs next to nothing. A landscape or building photographer would find nothing at all strange about the set up. A view camera operator would rejoice at how quick and easy the operation of the NX300+ loupe is compared to the heat and fussiness of the traditional dark cloth.

When I go out to shoot in the street I set up the camera with the loupe and I set the controls like this: parameter: standard. All DR (HDR or dynamic range implements ) off. Aperture priority mode. ISO = 100 or the lowest commensurate with the prevailing conditions. In daylight I've started leaving the white balance to daylight (the little sun icon) so I can see some differences between the different times of the day and some richness in colors in the late afternoons. I use the large, super fine jpeg setting.

The top of the camera is pretty straightforward.
A mode dial which includes an "i" setting for information
and a "wi-fi" setting for quick set up.

See the little round black control next to the mode dial? That's a most useful dial as you can zoom with it when viewing files or use it to change exposure compensation or aperture in various modes.
Too bad it's the least positive feeling dial on the camera and the one that feels most plastic.
It does it's job...but not glamorously.

I find the matrix metering does a great job and the single point, S-AF does a great job hitting focus on objects and people 99% of the time.

Occasionally I use the manual focus setting and I'm happy to report that the camera offers focus peaking and automatic enlargement of the subject for critical focusing. That's a good thing. I think every mirrorless camera should have a standard focus peaking feature.

On the street the camera is quick, dependable and looks non-threatening enough to make taking candids of strangers pretty easy and non-confrontational. It's also easy to carry.

Samsung made a choice to include IS in their lenses instead of their camera bodies and that's fine as long as you buy lenses with the feature built-in. I don't have an adapter to use legacy lenses so the lack of in-body IS hasn't slowed me down yet. I like in-body IS just because there will always be lenses in a product line that don't have that feature and it's become obvious to me that the only way to enjoy coffee, aging and steady images is with good image stabilization...

When I used the Olympus EP-3 one of the first things I did was to turn off the touch screen. But interestingly, and maybe because the interface is so logical and simple for me, I've found that the combination of the touch screen and the function button is a fast and convenient way to change major shooting parameters on the fly. I keep it on, mostly. I turn it off if I'm not shooting a lot and have the camera hanging against my torso on a hot and sticky day. Then, the capacitance becomes too alluring for the camera and it starts to click and whir its way to new settings that I really don't want. After walking a while the other day I found the camera had jostled its way into turning on the wi-fi feature which sucks up battery juice more quickly. I turned off the touch screen until I was in the mood to shoot again.

Oh Boy!!! A real, standard hot shoe. I'll use that...everyday.
Hey Sony! Are you listening to everyone's feedback on 
your new Martian interface shoe?

Also, note the full HD logo.
They actually mean it.

I mentioned that the camera has a regular, conventional hotshoe (no doubt the pin configuration is proprietary to Pentax and Samsung cameras) and it's nice that the camera comes with a small flash (tiny) flash which draws power from the camera battery. I used the camera for studio shoot and for a moment I was perplexed that the flash trigger wouldn't fire until I remembered that I had the shutter speed set for 1/250th of a second and the fastest sync speed is 1/160th of a second. My bad. But after my experiences with both Sony's ultra-proprietary Minolta derived hot shoe and their inelegant iteration into a flash foot that sucks for conventional slave receivers it was nice to be able to use the Samsung's shoe for whatever I wanted, without modifications or adapters. Yay.

Video.  I rarely really get into video reviews when I talk about cameras. Most people don't care. I don't usually care----unless the camera's video is good enough to use for projects. And it needn't be the primary camera on a project; sometimes it's nice to have a number of "b-roll" cameras at one's disposal to get wide angle shots of a set up from different angles. I got curious about the video in this camera because I'd been carrying it around for quick snaps and I've been getting more and more interested in the art of using video in a snapshot mode.

The camera offers a wide range of choices for shooting formats. It will give you 1920 by 1080 in 60p and 30p. It will give you a stretched format 1920 by 810 at 24p, it will also give you 720 at 60 and 30p as well as smaller sizes that are set up for sharing. I shot a longish program of video clips about Austin over 100 degrees and ended up with 25 or 3o minutes of 1920 by 1080 60P ACVHD content. I brought it into Final Cut Pro X and transcoded it to 24fps ProRes and put together a small, three minute video. I was impressed by how well the camera handled full sunlight lighting extremes. It seem to open up shadows and keep highlights from blowing without much effort. And the software seem to keep trying to balance things to keep the camera's shutter speed around 1/125th while keeping apertures in the middle area. The sweet spots. I had the ISO set to Auto and the cameras seemed to favor staying as close to ISO 100 as possible.

The handheld footage looked okay and I didn't see a lot of artifacting or shimmer.

Granted, this is a $699 camera package, with the lens included, but I think they would have been smart, given how much thought they put into formats, built in slow and fast mode settings, and whatnot, if they had included a microphone plug for external microphones. I get that this is a consumer camera and most people will never, every pop a microphone into the mix but I sure would have loved one. In fact, I would have enjoyed seeing how the whole package would handle a casual interview with a lavalier mic pinned to the talent's shirt. You don't even need to give me level controls if you give me the input. I'll take care of the rest.

Interestingly, there is a microphone in the Samsung catalog, that fits into the hot shoe of the camera to provide a higher quality experience. It uses the pins in the hot shoe for information transfer. The coolest thing about the microphone is the plug on the side that allows you to add headphones to check your sound. That's smart. Now, if I can only figure out how to get that microphone out of the hotshot and keep it connected to the camera......

I am hoping that the new Android NX camera that is coming out in the first few weeks of September has a dedicated microphone plug and a dedicated headphone jack, along with a way to control sound levels. That would be a great thing. That would make the NX Galaxy Big Ass camera a great tool for shooting video. You would already have a 4.8 inch monitor on the back for composition, an EVF for shooting in direct sun and the means to do a significant amount of quick editing in the camera. It would be a big win.

As is the NX300 makes a very good b-roll camera for semi-pro and pro use and a good, basic video camera for everyday family use. The color and sharpness of the images is very good and the menus are much clearer and more obvious than competitors. There's no confusion on use. You set up the format you are interested in, put the camera into the mode you want (including full manual) and you push the red movie button to stop and start. Nice.

The camera uses SD cards which are now almost free for anything 16 gigs and under. Use class 10 or faster if you want to do much video.

The camera batteries are great. No question. When I shot in the studio last week I got nearly a thousand shots on one battery, and that was with ample chimping and sharing. With two batteries I am pretty well assured of being able to shoot for a full day and still come home with some charge left. Some people report getting far fewer images per battery but I would remind them that batteries have to be well trained to deliver the best results. That means you need to do three or four full charge cycles to get the most efficiency over the life of the batteries. The method is to charge all the way up and then run the battery all the way down (hopefully by going out and shooting with it).  If you are in a hurry try making some movies where the camera is always on and expending juice. Once you do that three or four times you'll be in battery heaven.

The camera has a burst mode of up to eight frames per second but don't confuse it with a sports camera because, while the focus is quick and accurate for a contrast detection AF camera, it's not nearly fast enough to lock on to fast moving action and it's not really going to track that action well if you lock onto it in the first place. Good for a mirrorless camera but even a Canon Rebel will out focus it when it comes to fast moving subject. I don't shoot a lot of sports so I don't care. It focused on everything I wanted it to and I never got into a situation where it would not lock on.

I'm happy I had the chance to try the camera. One or two changes and Samsung has the opportunity to dominate the mirrorless market. They need to add an EVF to the NX 300's next iteration. It's a must have for serious work no matter what the tattoo'ed boys in the silly hats tell you. Samsung needs to put a microphone plug on every camera they make going forward. The future is some mix of stills and video and we might as well have the tools to do both correctly. Or as correctly as we reasonably can, given the price range.

I must state that I like the curved style of the camera and find it, aesthetically, quite pleasant. A couple of times when I was feeling nostalgic I set the zoom lens to a little past 35mm (right at what I computed to be 50mm equivalent on a full frame camera) stuck a Leica 50mm bright line finder in the hot shoe and used the camera the way God must have intended. It was nice. And if I gave up worrying about whether or not the focus was going to work I could walk around shooting with happy abandon.

All in all it's a nice shooting camera with really great files.
If it had an EVF ...... but that may not matter to you.

My overall appraisal? A great file maker. A nicely designed camera. A shooter's camera in desperate search for an EVF (if you are an eagle sighted hipster you can ignore that...).

Here is my list of the pros and cons from my subjective point of view:


1. The camera shoots fast and starts up fast. It can do 8 fps for a about 10 frames and then it slows down.

2. The design is really appealing to me but your tastes may differ. In the best of all possible worlds I would get mine in brown leather but with a black lacquer finish. That would be cute and cuddly.

3. The 20 megapixel sensor is all most photographers really need. Even professional photographers. The sensor is very high resolution and the color is very pleasing. Be aware that it's not necessarily "consumer color", it's a bit more subdued and of lower contrast and saturation. If you need more
resolution than this in a small camera you're doing something I'm not.

4.  The batteries, once properly conditioned, deliver a lot of frames per charge. I average 550 over the course of several days. In one bout of all day shooting I was able to get to 1,000 frames on one battery. That's darn good.

5. The movie mode is well done and works in any of the camera shooting modes. The color is nice, the frames are sharp and there's not much artifacting to speak of.

6. Both the lenses I've had are top notch. I shot an entire advertising project with the kit lens and the veteran art director to whom it was delivered was quite satisfied.

7. The wi-fi is well implemented and easy to set up.


1. I'm sounding like a broken record but a camera aimed (as this one is) toward serious hobbyists should have an EVF. The back screen works well indoors but even the most agoraphobic of us head out into the sunlight from time to time and the back screens none of the cameras in the market are a match for old sol.

2. I think the top mounted dial should have been made thicker and its action made to feel more secure and substantial. Nothing wrong with the way it feels but a few bucks more might have made it "feel" better in use.

3.  If you are going to offer me a full on movie mode with high res file settings I think, even in this price range, that you should give me a microphone input. You could actually do some serious filming with one of these and it's unnecessarily hampered by the lack of an external microphone socket. Yes, there is a microphone you can stick in the hot shoe but that's the film making equivalent of using direct flash on camera. Not very elegant and not the kind of sound quality people would like to have. One little stereo input, please.

4. My only real gripe with the camera for the asking price is the lack of a battery charger that will let you charge the battery outside of the camera. I love to travel and shoot in the streets. If I shoot a lot in one day I don't want to have to "park" my camera in order to recharge my batteries. I'm pretty sure chargers are dirt cheap. The convenience of a stand alone charger is priceless.

So, where do I come down on the camera?

If I were in the market for serious interchangeable lens compact camera and I didn't need or want an EVF I would say that this camera is the front runner in the market and handily beats the Nex 5n in a number of regards. The body is easier to handle. The sensor is at least as good and I like the way they designed the color and saturation better.

Both have fast AF for small cameras. Both have bigger sensors than the Olympus m4:3 offerings.

If you want/need wi-fi then this is the best current implementation in the class. I hear that there are some announcements coming up in Sept. the IFA show that may supply more competition in the wi-fi space but as of now those are rumors and the NX 300's performance is fact.

When I compare the NX 300 to the new Olympus EP-5 directly, with no EVF, I still have to go with the NX 300 because of the bigger sensor. When you add in the fact that the EP-5 IS available with a finder then, if budget is no constraint, the calculus changes in favor of the Olympus. The Olympus current wins in two other regards: A state of the art, in body image stabilization capability and a wider range of very good lenses.  Of course it's hardly fair to compare the cameras in that situation because, fully tricked out the EP-5 body and finder is roughly twice the cost of the Samsung body and lens.

Right now the perception in the market is that Samsung is the upstart wannabe in the market, trying to take some market share from the micro four thirds and Sony Nex offerings but I'm thinking that we're about to see Samsung emerge as a primary player in a four way competition with Nikon, Canon and Sony and it's going to push the smaller players into smaller and smaller sales numbers.

While we grizzled, old timers who still remember loading film into holders complain about every new added feature set I think we are in a shrinking minority. I'll conjecture that in the world market there is strong demand for instant image transmission and more integration of computers and cameras. There is an allure for even me to the idea of being able to send images quickly, when necessary (and profitable) and I think this is an area in which Samsung has a head start on everyone else.

But before I get accused of fanboy-ism and what not let me also say that no part of the market is a stationary target and no one company has a lock on anything for long (except Leica with their lock on exceptional optical performance...). I know that several camera makers have announcements coming up at the IFA show in Berlin in September and the PhotoPlus show in New York in October and I think it will shape up into an exciting competition....just in time for the year end holiday season.

My final take? I think we can make good images with just about anything on the market today. Some are easier to work with and some are harder. All are more than we need for most of the stuff we shoot.
To underscore that thought, when I finished with the bulk of this review I took a break to go visit my friends at Precision Camera. They have a great used department. And there, on the shelves, was a yellow and black Pentax K-01. It looked so cute. I had to have it. They made me a deal I could not resist. I have paid more for a bottle of wine (in the heydays of commercial photography) than I did for this minty little camera that looks like a toy. Why did I buy it?  It shoots squares....

One more thing I found out. The people at Precision Camera did their homework, looked into their crystal ball and decided that connectivity would be a big deal for the tech forward customers and the younger crowd. They have become a Samsung dealer and will be stocking the cooler Galaxy stuff. Nice. Local.

One more disclosure. The people at Samsung have given me this NX 300 camera. It's not a loaner. I tried to be as honest as imaginable in this review. Understand that I have receive a product of value from them and, while there was no implied, stated or even hinted coercion to write this review human nature is complex. Try one for yourself before you buy. Don't rely exclusively on my words. And remember, I like a lot of different cameras. Each has something fun to recommend it.

A quick gallery of NX 300 images....click on them to see them bigger....

Studio Portrait Lighting

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....



I made this portrait in Denver. It's from the production I did for Craftsy.com last month. We made a video that's all about lighting portraits in the studio. I used my favorite lighting, one light through an big (six by six foot) diffusion scrim.  A light on the background, and....just for a little spice!, a hair light from the right. What do I really love about the image? Victoria's expression.

Shot on the Sony a99 with the 70-200mm 2.8 G lens. No manipulation or post processing beyond correcting exposure and contrast...

Studio Portrait Lighting


It got hot this week. I'm pretty lazy but when the temps. reached 104+(f) I decided to head out into the sun, walk around and shoot some video.


Be sure to click "HD" to see it in high def.

I shot this with a small camera. It was the Samsung NX300. I was surprised at how well it handled the lighting extremes. Not a big project just an afternoon of shoot and edit and upload. All done now.

No client. Just playing.

Studio Portrait Lighting

I did it. I figured out the "secret" of photography!!!! Just shoot subjects you love and only shoot the subjects you love so you can share them the way you see them.

It was too hot to cook at home last night. The boy abandoned us to go to a concert in the park with friends. So Belinda and I did what we used to do years ago when we worked together at the same advertising agency, we headed out to have a fun Tex-Mex meal. Not fancy food. Just Tex-Mex. If it's reviewed in Texas Monthly Magazine or raved about on Twitter chances are the venue has been discovered and destroyed by the monstrous invasion of hipsters that have descended upon Austin like loud vultures at a buffet. We headed to the place we know with the fewest stars on the review sites. We headed to El Mercado where the staff is friendly and laid back, the regulars drink at the bar and there's hardly anything on the menu that costs more than $10 bucks.

We crunched on a basket of chips and sloshed them around in a comfortable but indifferent hot sauce and nursed a couple of ice teas. It was so pleasant and unpretentious and so not loud.

And it dawned on me as the last light of the day tumbled and flowed and crept through the window that I had just, in that moment, figured out the whole secret of why I take photographs. I photograph people to show everyone else how amazingly beautiful these subjects are to me. If I'm out scouting for images on the street I tend to substitute easily accessible subject matter for what I really want to shoot: beautiful people. When I shoot stuff on the street I sometimes come home feeling empty and indifferent to the practice of photography. The times that I'm happy with my work are the times I've found an interesting person to photograph and had the courage to engage them.

The subjects we really choose to photograph are a mirror to who we are. They are our aspiration. They are our intention. There are really only a few critical choices in the art of picture taking. The most important is choosing your subject. If you aren't shooting something you love or are deeply, deeply interested in then you are just wasting your time. The selection of subject is the critical thing. It's the  only important thing. I know I love to make portraits of people. Why take anything else?

The next important thing that you get to control is where you stand. And then you get to control when you click the shutter. Everything else is window dressing. The techniques and esoteric lenses and all the rest, when used to shoot something you really don't care about, are really just window dressing and obfuscation. They are pink saccharine icing on a mediocre and stale cake.

The secret to success in photography is to shoot and show only what you love. That's it. It's so easy. It's amazingly easy. And it makes me wonder why we've worked so hard to make it all seem so complicated.

This is a photograph of Belinda. She is a never ending source of inspiration for me. The Muse who informs and adds some residual energy to every other portrait I make for me. It's all about the subject. Not about the craft or the frame or the manifesto. Just the love for your subject.

Too easy.

Tech note: Samsung NX300 camera with 30mm lens.



Gearing up (or down) for more change. Incessant change.

Who moved our photographic cheese and what are we going to do about it?

Isn't it funny how the relentless wheels of progress make the (antiquated, 20th century) idea of buying permanent gear seem quaint and foolish? I'm sitting here in the studio doing clipping paths and thinking about how everything felt four or five years ago. At the time I thought, "if I can just find the right camera and assortment of lenses that really produce great results I can stop buying gear and hold onto it for a long time and be more efficient." But that was several brands ago and many different models within those brands. 

It's a hoary cliché now (and so are the words, "hoary cliché) but progress is changing so rapidly that, if we are to respond to our clients and markets, we feel that we must innovate our gear to keep up. I would never have thought, pre-Canon 5D mk2, that I would require, need and want high res video in any future camera I bought. It just never occurred to me. But once Sony stuck good video into the a99 and then went a few steps further by adding a headphone jack and audio level controls on the front of the camera I can't imagine going back and depending solely on a camera like my Sony a850 or some previous, non-video enabled camera for my business. For art? That's a whole different topic. For the pleasure of the hobby? Again, a different calculus all the way around. But as a creative content creation business the whole idea is to be on the tip of the spear. To innovate faster and better and to hop to something profitable from something dying. We're no longer in a market where one jewel like image carries the day. We're in a market that expects us to do a great still image and then turn around and construct some video to wrap around it. Again, I'm just speaking about requirements only for people who are doing this stuff for a living.

It's no secret that Samsung sent me an NX300 camera to play with this Summer. I like the files from the camera and I've been sneaking it into my regular jobs now just to see how a $699 camera with a kit lens holds up against full frame cameras with esoteric lenses. It's interesting to see just how little air there is between them for a remarkable amount of stuff.  Samsung is about to launch their next big camera. You may have read about it, it's NX (Some Model Name) running Android. It's supposed to be a really cool machine but I don't think anyone has gotten their hands on one yet.

I mention it because in one sense, while I have no fear about changing systems and embracing new cameras, I am slow to embrace new technology that is at a remove from my admittedly 20th century beliefs about what "a good camera is all about..."

I fought the viewfinder-less wars and lately I've worked on trying to leverage the good stuff about working on a rear screen. My other prejudice has always been against the need to add stuff like wi-fi to cameras because I didn't see a need for it in my work (I am Kirk-centric and feel that if I don't need a feature no one does..).  But now I'm trying to figure out how to make dynamic accessibility a feature I can leverage back to  my clients. As they get younger and younger (perception only) I find that there's disconnect between the way they access content and information and the way I traditionally delivered work.

I'm trying to learn more because I'd hate to have my reticence to learn new delivery methods negate my value as a content creator. I see the day coming when I'll be on location, shooting portraits, and my client/art director/creative director/buyer will be in their office and I'll be shooting test shots and streaming them to a shared folder in the cloud for instant approval. Without being tethered. Without a laptop.  We shoot a test shot, click "send" wait for the phone call (oops! I meant "text") that either gives us the big "thumbs up" to shoot more in that style or the phone call (oopski! "text") that says, "what the hell was our model thinking wearing that purple, paisley shirt with the Budweiser logo on the pocket? Can we change that?"

I need to get over my resistance to fast access and fast image sending, for the business. If it's my own work, done for my own enjoyment then I'll get to it when I get to it. If it's for my clients I want to make the whole process as streamlined and transparent as I can.

Perhaps, since we'll be able to add apps to the new generation of cameras coming down the line I'll be able to add a billing application. Imagine, shoot, send, bill and process credit cards all on the same camera body. Insane, scary and kinda fun to understand that this is probably what some version of the future looks like.

So I'm ready to get rid of more stuff. I think the professional shooter of the future will own a small, personal system. A couple of really good bodies and maybe three lenses. Maybe no lights or stands or auxiliary gear. You come to work with one little Pelican case of gear and everything else is rented for the day or the week. Need LED panels? Rental package. Need big Fluorescent panels? Rental Package. Need high speed studio flash? Rental Package. Need a really fast, really good lens? Rental package. You get  the picture.

It just doesn't make sense anymore (as a business) to make the big investments in gear that changes so quickly or in specific gear that can't do a wide variety of day to day stuff well.

I'm currently happy with the 2K video performance I get from my Sony camera but I know that clients whose work ends up on television are already spec'ing 4K video cameras; regularly. And today I read an article about a new 6K camera from Red that movie makers are salivating over. And two years from now it will be all about the 8K cameras....

And no small, single person business has any business actually thinking about investing in that kind of  gear just to have it sit around the office more than it's in production. Only bonafide trust funders can play in that arena.

The idea going forward will be to rent as needed. Own the bare essentials. Own the specialty tools for your niche but the minute you step outside your gear comfort zone you might be smart to rent and charge back the rental fees to the clients. They are, after all, paying for your eye and your expertise. Not an endless inventory of gear.

To that end I'm anticipating another round of downsizing. I'm looking at the video cameras in GEAR's rental department and figuring that I can do home made projects with every successive generation of hybrid cameras like the Sony Alphas and the Samsung Androids but it definitely makes more sense to use a dedicated (rental) video camera for big client projects. Out goes my endless and expensive duplication.

I looked into HMI lights and I've used them for a few projects. I like the smaller ones that you can run off household currents. But I can't justify buying a set of lights at $3K or so per fixture. I can justify renting them (and charging the client) as needed.  A day of rental may run me a $100 a fixture but I don't need to make the capital expenditure for them when I'm still using flashes for some work, fluorescents for other work and even portable flashes. You just can't justify owning everything just because you may have the need to use it from time to time.

I've noticed as I've sold off stuff over the past year that the lighter the inventory gets the more creative and free I feel.

Not owning stuff means you get to cherry pick what you'll use on a project by project basis and, when your business hits a soft spot you don't have capitol tied up in something that only produces ROI emotionally...

I've got another box full of cameras and lenses to put on consignment. And some more big strobes as well. The load is getting lighter and lighter. We are becoming more intelligent about the way we use our capital.

Who would have thought that everything changes? Now, how do I get this wi-fi network to recognize this camera????