Since I tossed up a Sony A7Rii portrait I thought I might also play around with an image from the Nikon D810. All over the imaging map here today.

An image made for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative's Annual Report in 2016.

This image was done in a medical center near Kyle, Texas. It's one of dozens and dozens we set up and shot for an annual report project. A nicely "old school" assignment on which photographs were printed nicely across two page spreads and the design and printing were first class. 

I liked this image because I added a tiny bit of front flash fill to the two men on the right of the frame and even I can't tell I did it. I needed the extra puff of light to pull up the darker tones but I worked hard to not get any telltale shadows in the rest of the photograph. 

This was a quick set up using the Nikon D810 on a tripod, along with an 85mm f1.8 lens set to about f2.8. I wanted to shoot the "let's look at the iPad!!" shot in this location because it was such a nice way to show depth. Having the hall go on forever in the background makes my eyes happy. 

I tweaked the color a bit this afternoon with the new controls in Lightroom. Nothing earth shattering but every little step they improve means one more bit of control you have over your work...


A portrait of Rebecca. Playing with the new color controls in Lightroom Classic.

About a year ago I saw Rebecca L. in a production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and I asked if I could make a portrait of her. She agreed and we were off and running. Since we met at Zach Theatre we thought it would be appropriate to take the portrait there too. We asked permission to use the Serra Lounge (best bar in town...) and the Theatre graciously agreed.

I lit this with with one LED panel blasting through a 50 inch, round, collapsible diffuser and depended on the ample ambient light streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows to provide the fill light and background light.

At that time I was photographing with the Sony A7Rii and I used the Rokinon Cine 135mm f2.2 lens because I loved the compression I could get in that space.

Last year I wasn't into contrast the way I am now. I've ramped up the contrast and saturation to achieve this effect.

There was a new update to the Adobe Raw converters in PhotoShop and Lightroom today. The update adds some profiles and looks and is a quick way to get started on a look which you can then fine tune as you like. I've got a few more images I'm re-imagining using the new updates. It's fun.

I love this portrait not only for Rebecca's eyes but also because I really like her hands. 

It's a slow and doggie time around the studio this week. Everyone seems to be "on hold" for some reason or another.

Studio Dog's eyes say it all. "If there's nothing you have to do shouldn't you be taking a nap?" After a disjointed but fairly busy couple of months, beginning just after the New Year, I was as busy as I needed to be but then, about two weeks ago, everything just seemed to go quiet. The e-mail machine lay fallow and the text unit docile and a bit forlorn. Of course, as an optimistically pessimistic freelancer I immediately started to panic and started walking back into the house frequently, imploring my (still hard working) spouse to assure me that I would work again---one day---in the not too distant future. She assured me that we go through this same song and dance just about every year, right around tax time.

I called one of my best friends (who is also a professional photographer) and I immediately regretted it as he launched into a tale of work woe that eclipsed mine by several orders of magnitude. I think we could sense each other's discomfort and we both worked to change the conversation around to, "So, what new gear have you snapped up lately?" He's a long time Canon and Leica shooter who is making a seemingly happy transition to the Nikon D850 along with a bold selection of new Nikon lenses. The turn in our conversation took the edge off but later reminded me that if we worked more we could buy more gear....

Having a master's degree in anxiety I am quick to panic and am always making alternate plans which I hold in the ready just in case everything goes to hell. As I wrote notes to various client this morning I daydreamed (day-nightmared?) about possible "twilight" jobs for which I might be qualified should this whole 30+ year experiment in self-employed photography not work out.

Obviously my first thoughts ran to Barista but I dismissed this one as too cliché. I was also thinking neurosurgeon but a quick peak on the Google informed me that I'm a tad under qualified. I batted around a rewarding stint at Costco.com but couldn't quite come to grips with what department I might enjoy most... Selling big screen TVs? Wearing a hairnet and serving up pure beef hotdogs, and fresh hot pizza? Studio Dog stepped in to remind me that I dislike interfacing with the general public, and that none of  these jobs provided the freedom of schedule needed to both walk with, and then nap with, the Dog at random hours during the afternoon.

Seriously though, the life of a freelance artist/photographer/videographer is like a random chance generator. Some weeks you have so much on your plate you feel as though you need bigger forks. Some weeks there is so much silence it is deafening. There is no middle ground. Feast or famine. Ah well, at least we're through paying for college...

On a different but related note, I've come to trust Studio Dog's taste in many things and so, as an experiment today, I laid out all of my cameras in a row and had her come into the studio to sniff test them. You know, to see which ones pass the "smell" test. Sadly, we might never know her true feelings re: Nikon vs. Canon vs. Panasonic because she snatched a Milk Bone right out of my hand, chewed it up, and then curled up in front of the cameras and took a nap. I took her general disregard for the assembled gear as a sign. It's time to stop thinking about cameras and get serious about that afternoon nap. At least she didn't pee on any of them...

Why it's still a "Canon versus Nikon" choice for so many photographers. And, which one is best?

Canon 7D.

I've recently been playing around with two interesting cameras. One is a Canon 5Dmk3 and the other is the D800, a predecessor to one of my recent favorite Nikons, the D810. My romp with the cameras comes shortly after having divested all of my Sony mirrorless cameras and lenses. I have now shot professionally (and as an enthusiastic hobbyist) with full frame cameras from both Sony lines (DSLT and mirrorless) as well as many of the recent (and older) Canon and Nikon cameras including 1DSxx cameras and  D8xx cameras, I think I've come to some conclusions. 

Both the Canon and Nikon cameras are mature products which, when used to create raw format files, deliver very good results and very detailed images. But why, with all the competition out in the world do these two brands still dominate the marketplace and what might change?

If we look at the niche in which the two brands have the most dominance it's in the higher end, full frame markets. It's no mystery that a full frame sensor can deliver extremely good files with less noise than other formats but the real idea most people have is that by using the bigger sensor it's easier to create good files while using smaller formats might require more shot discipline, better technique and more attentive processing in order to get the same quality results.

That being said my first two brand examples (above and below) are both from APS-C cameras and are from older products that have not been on the market for a while. It's obvious to me that both are capable of capturing very good color and, for the web at least, very satisfying levels of detail. I am always surprised when I revisit the photo just below and remember that it was taken with a 2003 vintage 4 megapixel camera, the Nikon D2H.

I think that if everything else was equal and people wanted cameras to use to most easily create day-to-day images of their family, friends and events in their lives that most people would be better served by a mirrorless camera like the G85. It combines an affordable purchase price, a good kit lens with lots of range, wonderful image stabilization (which I think is much more of a boon to casual amateurs than to working pros) a more than ample file size for both social media and actual prints, all combined with the highly useful, constant feedback of its live view system. What you see is mostly what you get... But instead people tend to end up with Rebel Kits or Nikon 3x00 kits because, like an incumbent president or congressman, these brands have much more name recognition, and because of their long tenure in the market and their overall market share they have bigger budgets with which to advertise. Most of the other brands and their current models just get lost in the noise.

But I also tend to think that looking at the bottom or middle of the market really isn't interesting to people like us, who have a keener interest in photograph. The place to look is in the upper middle and top of the market. It's interesting to understand what drives people in this sector to select the big two instead of other options.

The best answer is that most people who are in this market are more likely to have been in photography longer and to have made some selections that created a pathway to future purchases long before mirrorless options where even available. Chances are you started out with a Nikon FM film camera or a Canon AE-1 and upgraded from time to time as new models came to market. When digital came into vogue you selected from one of the big two because they came to market with what looked like more mature and usable products. Plus you already had some lenses that worked. 

Nikon and Canon users traded systems back and forth, depending on their photographic specialities, until both systems had in place full frame cameras with more than 20 megapixels, then the system abandonment based on ever changing standard specifications slowed down. People locked into their lens silos more faithfully. There were a number of bleak years for Nikon in which Canon had full frame bodies with 16 megapixels counts while Nikon's flagship offerings topped out at 12 megapixels in a cropped frame body--- but that's all history now. 

I think reason for overarching market segment loyalty is that for the longest time people have been taught and marketed to that full frame represents a gold standard for formats and one that pros and serious hobbyists aspire to in their tools. For the longest time they were really the only game in town. Yes, Sony came out with their a850 and a950 but they were already considered obsolete by the time they hit the markets and, by comparison, there was nowhere near the number of branded or third party lenses available for that mount. It's only since the second generation of Sony's A7 series cameras that Nikon and Canon have had any competition to speak of in the full frame space. 
Nikon D2H.

Obviously the big disruptor since 2013 has been the ever expanding line of Sony A7 series, full frame cameras along with an increasingly well filled out lens offerings. They are new, novel and fun and Sony's success seems to have taken Nikon and Canon by surprise. For me the advantage of the Sony line has little to do with the size of the camera bodies or the inclusion of various features; it has everything to do with the inclusion of an EVF as an eye level viewing mechanism. I was lured into the Sony system because of the potential of combining high image quality with the distinct usability of the constant live view of the electronic finders. 

I am still a big fan of the EVF but I'm not so sure anymore that there is an image quality advantage to the Sony line when it comes to the character of the files; raw or Jpeg. Sony seems to make some color and tonality choices that are less advantageous for portrait photographers than the color and tonality from cameras in similar price and performance ranges from Canon and Nikon. 

One of the benefits of having shot with a variety of cameras when wearing my "professional photographer" hat is that I have a rich store of "test" shots and "real world" shots I can go back and examine when I get in my head that one camera or system has better or worse color or tonality than a competing system. I can look a ten or twenty thousand examples, shot in a range of job types, from low light, available light to studio flash and just about everything in between. 

During my recent down time I started looking in earnest at lots of old files across systems. One observation is that nearly every camera I've owned is able get into the "excellent" ballpark without much effort. Some are better than others, some are easier to use than others.

If I look back through all the modern cameras I've used (from 2008 onward) I'd have to say that there are two that really stand out as portrait cameras. One is the Canon 5Dmk2 and the other is the Nikon D610. Both had their foibles but with the right lens on the front both made files that made peoples' skin look better than other cameras I've shot. Both were capable of high sharpness tempered by good handling of highlights. Both were solid and reliable. 

In an age with lots of good choices I can see why wedding, baby and portrait photographers are drawn to traditional cameras. I think it has a lot less to do with usability and mirror versus no mirror and a lot more to do with how the two big players have optimized their files for rendering humans more beautifully. I don't have extensive experience with Fuji cameras so I can't really compare them.
If I were to counsel someone today whose goal was to make the best possible portraits, budget not an issue. I'd direct them to either the Canon 5Dmk4 or the Nikon D850. 

You can do good work with any good camera and across formats. It might just be easier to make a classic portrait with one of these two cameras. Mostly by dint of the sheer amount of color science research and development that's gone into them over decades. 

Which one is the best? The one whose lens system you already own.....

Canon 5Dmk2

Nikon D610.

Nikon D2H.

Sony a850.


Observations about cameras as a result of a nostalgic dive into three and four generation old models. Warning: This one is about traditional DSLRs, not Mirror-Free.

Everyone needs a hobby. Even professional photographers. My hobby is photography and in the pursuit of this I sometimes follow Alice through the mirror and have adventures that are....less than rational.

About a month ago I was bumming around Precision Camera, handling all the lights, asking to see weird lenses in the used case, and generally making myself an annoyance. Didn't seem to phase the staff who are either used to my shopping habits or just had nothing better to do at the time. They dutifully pulled out old Hasselblad lenses and ancient Broncolor flashes so I could play with the focusing rings or the knobs and controls before shaking my head and moving on to the next shiny object that caught my eye.

And that next shiny object was a very nice, relatively unscathed Nikon D2XS which was sitting, unloved, in the glass case with other cast off Nikon DSLR bodies. I had someone extract it from the case and I played with it for a spell, all the while remembering when I had owned and extensively used one, many years ago. The price was minimal so I bought it, rationalizing that I'd use it with some of my older Nikon manual focus lenses.  I came home and charged the battery and re-familiarized myself with the old and simple menu and then shot with it for a while.

There are a few things I remember from shooting murals with this camera back in 2007, one is that this camera is exuberantly happy at ISO 100, relatively content at ISO 200 and starting to get a little edgy at ISO 400. By ISO 800 we're veering into full blown noise anxiety. Shooting raw and post processing with finesse and experience might get you a relatively decent ISO 800 (if you nail exposure!) and a fairly usable ISO 1,600. I also remembered that when I shot my original D2XS at ISO 100 and used my best techniques the files that I could get were pretty much perfect on many levels and could be easily enlarged to just about any end application. I find that is even more true today with all the Adobe PhotoShop's constantly improving re-sizing tools.

The D2XS is huge and heavy and the shutter is loud like banging trash can lids together. But the whole package certainly has its charm for an old school photographer. I give muscle memory a nod for a certain amount of my current nostalgia --- decades of form combined with function make re-accessing old cameras just like getting back on a bicycle....

A week or two later I ran across another old Nikon I remembered from my past. It was a nicely preserved D700 and after I played with it for a while I remembered the beauty (especially for files used on the web or used smaller than 11x17 in print) of the large pixel files I routinely got out of that model. I decided to add it to my growing collection of "hobby" cameras. This purchase engendered a secondary purchase of a smattering of older lenses, hand-picked for their cheap pricing and their under appreciated sharpness and general performance.

The one lens I had that I wasn't entirely happy with was a used 50mm. It was too new and I wanted to find a nice, older 50mm f1.4 ais model to augment the plastic AF model. So I pointed the car north and went back to the store one more time----- just to look. As far as lenses go I came home empty handed but continued my collecting lunacy by buying a nice copy of the more recent Nikon D800e.
And that's what I wanted to write about today, the D800e.

The D800 and D800e were interesting cameras. At a time when 24 megapixels seemed like the resolution end game for 35mm framed cameras these two cameras took the whole industry up a notch to 36 megapixels of resolution. They were also the leading edge of a generation of cameras that, along with the Sonys, were becoming ISO invariant (sensor noise floors low enough that they could be raised dramatically in post production without provoking the shadow noise that has plagued digital cameras from the beginning).

One thing I did not remember from earlier research on the D800 series was the availability of uncompressed, 4:2:2 video from the clean HDMI set up. I'll be testing that when I have some down time....

I set up some studio flashes and used the Nikon 105mm f2.5 on the D800e to test the camera. I was fairly conversant with the menus having used a D810 extensively and relatively recently. For all intents and purposes the files I created in the studio were on par with those I had routinely gotten from my D810; noiseless at ISO 100 and with detail that just goes on and on. But the thing that I had forgotten, after my long immersion with Sony, Olympus and Panasonic, is just how good and mature the color science of Nikon cameras is. They've been doing digital for a long, long time and even though I wish they'd make the leap to mirrorless in at least some of their APS-C and full frame models I have to admit that they (and Canon) know the formulas for pleasing color.

Many articles recently have been tossing around the topic of "Color Science." The general understanding (at least how it pertains to Jpeg files from cameras) is that Olympus is a master at making colors that please most users, as is Fuji, and, that while Canon colors are warmer they too have a huge fan base of photographers who find the Jpegs from their 5Dx cameras to be subjectively, visually wonderful. Nikon has the reputation for generating files that are a bit more "analytic" and less pleasing OOC but which can be edited into submission without too much of a struggle. Panasonic was, for a long time, dinged for crappy skin tones but have made huge strides in fixing their Jpeg renditions in the newest series of cameras (GX8, GH5, GH5S and G9). Sony got low marks for their Jpegs until this latest generation and they finally have circled around and started delivering much nicer skin tones and generally pleasing color.

Many years ago Kodak and Fuji both dove deeply, and with huge budgets, into the "science" of creating two kinds of color for their film stocks. There were two different objectives in the making of color films and the objectives were often at cross purposes. It turns out that there is accurate color and then there is pleasing color. Accurate color is based on delivering a recording medium in which the colors match known references as closely as possible while delivering a saturation and contrast that also matches measurable targets. Kodak and Fuji both delivered several transparency and negative film stocks that were as accurate as their science could make them. But there was an issue with acceptance by the general public.

Seems that their general consumers (the people who made up the overwhelming bulk of the film buy-in market) didn't care nearly as much for accuracy as they did for what Kodak called, "Pleasing Color." And in North America that meant much more saturated colors, warmer skin tones, less accurate but richer yellow and blue hues and, in general, a much less "correct" approach to accurately capturing a photograph. I don't know exactly how this cultural vision evolved (and, yes, it is somewhat cultural according to studies by Fuji and Kodak...) but I conjecture it had to do with what people were seeing in regional movies and on television at the time. I think domestic advertising was also pushing more saturation and color in their work at the time of the "pleasing color tipping point" as well.

This led to a decline in popularity of accurate film stocks and something of an arms race to create film stocks with ever higher levels of saturation and candy color. Not at all accurate but happily embraced by millions and millions of hobbyists, moms and dads and even some pros. But Fuji and Kodak were kind enough(?) to continue to make and provide color accurate films to working professionals who might be working with critical color requirements (the Cheerio box, fashion make up or car interior color samples needed to be a close match to reality to prevent client revolt!!!) and we made good use of the neutral stocks, especially when making color ads for book covers and when shooting floor material catalogs.

So now we're in the age of digital imaging and the software of our cameras can be tweaked to deliver a range of colors, tones, saturation, contrasts and hues from the available sensors. Having precise metrics to aim for makes it easier, on one hand, for camera makers to proceed when creating a color/tonal menu assortment for their cameras if the end goal is accuracy but if the goal is pleasing color or most acceptable color ("color" including: saturation, hue, tone, and contrast tweaks) then the design of a camera's color space becomes more like gourmet cooking and less like slavishly following the recipes in "The Joy of Cooking." 

There are qualities such as the angle of the curve of the highlight rendition, mid-range contrast tweaks, color responses in the twitchy red and blue spectra, and a lot more. Fuji had a head start in the "pleasing" color race since they could access so much data from the film days. In almost every camera with pleasing color reponse there is a gentler roll-off in the highlight areas, a bit more contrast in mid-tones and a pleasing red/yellow combination in the area close to skin tone. The one area where there is more differentiation is in the depiction of blues.

If we move from Jpegs to Raw files some of the differences between cameras become less obvious as much of the color "flavor" is provided via the interpretation of the Raw processor being used. Files from Nikon Capture, DXO and Adobe are obviously different if one uses each Raw processor's defaults.

While it should be possible to create profiles or even LUTs (look-up tables) to make one company's line of cameras resemble another company's line I think it would take a deep foray into the camera's software to match them more precisely. A deeper foray than most photographers have the time of inclination for...

Camera companies decide where on the spectrum their spectrum will exist. There is a range from "very pretty color" to "absolute color" and it will be affected by things as disparate as the coloration of lens coatings to the regional markets in which the cameras sell most profitably. The bottom line is that companies are taking pretty much the same raw data off the same kinds of CMOS sensors and overlaying a look and feel that they feel will sell best.

It seems to make sense that cameras aimed at the lower end of the buyer demographics will have punchier, more saturated and more culturally nuanced color aim points than cameras aimed at much more exacting and demanding users such as advertising professionals. The files straight out of a Canon Rebel will look, to most consumers, better than the files from cameras with lower saturation levels and flatter profiles. Since the expectation is that most consumers will perform less post production the color science of a Rebel or Olympus EM10-iii is a "win" for sales. A more accurate color response would probably reduce sales, within specific markets.

If you are curious about the color accuracy or color delta of a camera you can use controlled and known lighting to shoot known color targets and judge the results on a vector scope which can show you how far the camera's response is from the accuracy of the original color as well as the degree of saturation for each color of the target. This, of course, presumes that your camera is able to output HDMI.

What it mostly boils down to is that Jpeg shooters should have a keener interest in just how the different camera companies choose to craft their Jpeg color science because, in Jpegs the color is "baked in" and harder to change without consequences than a raw file.

If you are a raw shooter who sometimes needs real color accuracy to produce accurate results for commercial client you may need to use a camera aimed at more absolute color renditions even though you might not like the "straight out of camera" Jpegs as much as cameras from other makers. But when shooting raw it should be possible to create settings that will get your camera closer to pleasing color and further from absolute color without too much effort.

So, what do I think about the files I'm getting from my collection of Nikon's older cameras? Interestingly the Jpeg files when used with Nikon's neutral profile setting (in camera) are pretty darn accurate. They got a lot correct back in the day. If you want to get closer to a Fuji, Canon or Olympus "look" you'll need to make changes to blue hues, overall contrast, mid-range contrast and parts of the red and yellow color saturation levels and a few other things. And none of what we've discussed here includes the various sharpening settings to which the cameras default....

Interestingly enough, the more controls camera makers include for videographers (see a Sony RX10iii menu to understand just how changeable files can be, in camera, before you poo-poo the idea) the more controls you have at your disposal to transmute the Jpegs to your taste (assuming you can access these profiles in regular photography!!!). Some folks on the web have even created mini-idsutries in fine-tuning camera colors.

I cut my digital teeth on Kodak's ancient DCS 660 and DCS 760 cameras which worked in raw only in Kodak's software for a long time. You had more control but you had more options with which to fuck up. The Nikon professional DSLRs seem to be set up to be conservative in their overall color responses --- a neutral color science. While it requires more tweaking before we can put it in the same "pleasing color" ballpark as some competitors the neutrality is welcome for demanding applications where built in casts are less welcome.

What will I buy next? It's a toss up. The 45mm f1.2 for the m4:3 system or a 20mm lens of the Nikons. All depends on what kind of job hits the inbox next...


Saturday Morning Swim.March 31, 2018.

Studio portrait of Sarah, post swim. 

I couldn't sleep in this morning. Too much stuff whirling around in my brain. So I grabbed a towel and my swim bag and headed to the early morning swim practice. Not EARLY MORNING like we did in high school and college, when the first workout of the day was at 5:30 a.m. but a more civilized early workout (on the weekend) at 7:30 a.m. 

When you swim regularly and frequently you just feel better and better until you almost start to believe you might be bulletproof and immortal. But when life intrudes and other priorities push daily swimming off the calendar things fall apart. I went from a five to six day a week, 15,000+ yard schedule to, well, zero for the first two and half months of this year. Oh, there were times when I'd rush by the pool on my way out of town and try to get some yardage in for half an hour. I could count those days on the fingers on one hand...

For the first couple of weeks off from swimming the conditioning remains largely intact. The next couple of weeks you feel soft and physically ineffective, and by week six you start to feel like Jabba the Hut (Caution: Star Wars reference!) on Benadryl. Those pants with the 32 inch waist start feeling tight and you start thinking you might need to go up a size. You get progressively grouchier. 

By the first of March I started making plans in earnest to get back onto a consistent workout schedule.  At 62 the loss of fitness comes quick and regaining it takes time and discipline. And naps. Lots of recovery naps...

At the end of December I was swimming with a group of friends at the spring fed Deep Eddy Pool. The water was freezing but we managed to knock out 3K to 3.5K each day. On my first few days back to our regular pool, in March, I was struggling to even reach 2,500 yards and taking breaks; a 50 off here, a 50 off there, just to catch my breath. I came home tired and felt a bit depressed that I'd shed that much everyday fitness so quickly. 

Last week was the first week in which I felt like things were heading back to "normal." I started getting back my motivation and hitting the earlier workouts in order to better manage my schedule. I moved back up to a faster pace lane today and hung with the kids better than I have since December. It was a tipping point back into happiness for me. 

Today, under the watchful eyes of coach Kristen, we knocked out 3,200 yards in an hour. A lot of freestyle today and a lot of fast sets with descending intervals. Felt like old times!

Putting my schedule back together is vital for me and for my mental health. Swimming and fitness create a foundation and I've always added on to that. 

Now I need to figure out how to get my passion for work back. If anyone has any suggestions (which don't interfere with swimming) I'll be happy to have them. It would be great to be fired up and ready for some work challenges again. 

I'm motivated to swim. Now I need to sharpen my focus for doing my paid work; taking photographs. 

Circle Swimming at WHAC.org. 

It's not enough just to get wet.
You have to want to go fast.


Yeah. I might have to return the 70-210mm Nikon AF-d zoom lens I bought last week. It's too sharp, focuses too quickly and it takes too much work to get it to flare. I feel like I wasted $70.

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

I've been on a nostalgia buying spree lately and every once in a while I'll head into downtown Austin and walk a circuit I've done so many times I could probably do it with a blindfold on. The funny thing is that every time I walk it (about 4 miles) there is so much that's changed. Just in the last week a ten story building I've walked by since I arrived in Austin in 1974 has vanished. Last week it was there and today it was gone. Imploded. New restaurants open and close quicker than live theater productions. And the weather makes everything look different nearly every day. 

I like to walk it for the exercise and to see what people right now. I also like walking it with a camera in hand because I can shoot tests that I can compare to similar shots I've made in weeks, months or days past with a collection of different cameras and lenses. Finally, I like the walk because you get to meet interesting characters. Out in the suburbs the best you can usually do is to meet interesting cars.

Today part of my walk was about casually testing an older, used lens I bought a week ago for my growing collection of ten year old Nikon digital cameras; it's a 70-210mm f4-5.6 AF-d that uses a push-pull mechanism to change the focal lengths. By current standards it is considered to have too small a maximum aperture, it's too heavy and the focusing motor makes actual noise. The biggest knock against it for most people is that there is no image stabilization. So, why did I shell out "big bucks" for this lens (which hit the market in 1992)?

I guess I should first point out that my primary camera system, the one I'm using for the lion's share of my paid work, is the Panasonic GH5, along with a cool collection of Panasonic and Olympus Pro lenses. The vintage Nikons are more a dalliance or a "days off" camera. Something familiar from the ancient days of early digital. 

Because the cameras exist in a secondary tier I'm not that anxious to toss around major cash building a system around them. I'd like to put together just enough of a lens family to be able to toss all the Nikon stuff in a bag and go shoot an art project or personal project with them. A way of taking a break from the day-to-day commercial shooting and re-connect with a different kind of shooting. 

In this vein I've tried to limit myself to an average lens acquisition price of around $100 per. Once I picked up the D700 I started thinking about getting a longer lens than my 105mm and a shorter lens than the 85mm. A 70-210 fills both requirements in one package. A week and a half ago I saw a lens I should have bought at Precision Camera's used department. It was the 70-300mm f4.0 G VR lens. I owned one back when Nikons were my serious cameras, and it was a great lens, but I hesitated because it would have busted my fictive budget of $100 (it was priced at $249). By the time I overcame my good sense and fiduciary responsibility and circled back to snag it fate had interceded and someone else had become the lucky owner. 

While I looked through the rest of the used lenses I came across two minty examples of the 70-210mm. It was a lens I bought and sold during my last foray (D810, D610, D750) into primary Nikon shooting. While I mostly used the 70-200mm f2.8 lens for my work I added the 70-210mm f4-5.6 as a "beater" lens to use in rain, snow, sleet and dust storms. Something I could use in environmentally stressful situations and then toss if it became in operable. Three or four years ago I was surprised  at just how nicely the lens performed. 

When I checked the prices I almost laughed. $79. I asked my sales person to pick the best of the two and bought it. 

There were two things I wanted to test today. One was the 70-210mm and the other was how the lens would perform on a DX (cropped frame) camera. I put the lens on the D2XS and headed out in the crisp Spring air. 

Hey! Guess what? This lens works really well. It will flare if you point it at the sun. It will be unsharp if you miss focus. But for the most part it's nicely sharp, snappy, well behaved and does a good job when used wide open; a great job when stopped down a stop or two. The performance is all the more impressive when you consider that everything here was shot on a cropped frame camera which means that the lens becomes the equivalent of a 105mm to 315mm lens and that all of these images are handheld by a man with a coffee addiction. For all but the most demanding work this lens is a good complement for either the D700 or the D2XS.

Another building block in the Minimalist Photographer's B-team lens collection. 

Go ahead. Find the longitudinal chromatic aberrations. Tell me why this will not end well....

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

210mm on a D2XS at f6.3.

A Portrait of my father.

 C.W. Tuck

I spend Sundays visiting my dad. I also visit him when I come down to San Antonio to meet with our attorneys or dad's tax guy. It's interesting to me that I've developed a closer relationship with him in the last three months than I had in the past, when my mother was alive. I think it's because, for the first time in my life, he needs my help. But at the same time he's teaching me patience and empathy.

I took this photograph after a family dinner last year at Cappy's Restaurant in San Antonio. We were celebrating my parent's anniversary and lingering in the parking lot afterwards saying goodbye. I looked over and liked the light falling on my dad so I asked him to stop for a moment. I shot a few frames. 

I like the expression. I like the background. I like the contrast of the color of his shirt and his skin tone. I wish I had taken more photographs of my parents over the years but my relationship with them was different from all the other people of whom I make portraits. 

I remember just before their 50th anniversary, well over a decade ago, I felt that we needed a definitive portrait of my mom and dad together. I didn't feel I was able to do the best job with them. I hired the firm of Parish Photography and asked that Mr. Parish himself do a session with my parents. Parish Photography had been an old guard studio in San Antonio for decades and had a wonderful reputation. Mr. Parish was also closer in age to my parents. I thought they would listen better to him; follow his directions, give expressions not nuanced by their need to be "my parents." 

Mr. Parish took them to a local park and made a series of beautiful portraits. I went through the proofs and selected my favorite shot and had 8x10 inch color prints, beautifully mounted, made for my mom and dad, my older brother and my younger sister. I also had a print made for myself. 

It's the last professional portrait I remember being taken of my parents and I'm happy to have it. 

It was an interesting exercise to actually select a photographer outside my circle of friends and acquaintances. I didn't ask about pricing, I just wanted the best fit, and to select a photographer who had a long track record of making the kind of portrait I was looking for. I have no idea what kind of camera he used. No idea about what lighting he used. All I cared about was the final result. I was looking for a mix of kind memory and aesthetic balance. It's always a learning experience to hire someone to do the thing that you do. I learned that portrait photographers can provide a very long term value to families for any number of reasons. The cost of the portrait is forgotten almost immediately, the photographs grow in value daily. Something to remember.


A good portrait is almost always a collaboration. If you don't play well with others consider landscapes or products.

 The one thing I regret about the demise of the Samsung camera division was the discontinuation of a particular lens. They made an 85mm f1.4 that was one of the finest portrait lenses I ever used. We shot the image above in a tiny trade show booth at the 2013 Photo Expo in NYC. Even though we were surrounded by crowds and the noise in the exhibit hall was crazy loud we were able to achieve moments where my model and I felt as though we were the only ones in the room.

It's about a connection. The connection can be one of shared purpose, a physical or psychological attraction or a shared interest. Some how both sitter and photographer must bridge the gap between each other and enter into the moment with a sense of play....and give and take.

If you don't get some sort of spark or connection that goes in both directions you haven't made a portrait, at best you've made a document...

One of my last assignments with a 4x5 view camera. Elgin, Texas.

Texas Highways Magazine is the chamber of commerce publication of Texas. They have sent photographers to the corners of this huge state, and just about everywhere in between, to photograph the weird, the traditional and the ultra-normal. I did a couple of jobs for them in the early part of this century and had a great time. The first project they tapped me for was to photograph in Elgin, Texas. The digital photography age was just getting fired up, six megapixel cameras were the only affordable option and film was not yet dead. 

I've often sung the praises of our all terrain film format, the 6x6 cm square medium format, but I really haven't written much about the 4x5 view cameras that constituted "platinum level" imaging from the early 1950's all the way up until the creation of true 12 megapixel cameras and the final substitution of the web for printed magazines. 

My first view cameras was a Calumet model which was one of the budget cameras available in 1980. I bought one along with 24 film holders and three lenses; a 90mm f8.0, a 135mm f5.6 Schneider Symmar and a 210mm f5.6 Schneider Symmar. And then there was the associated hardware with which to make it usable: a dark cloth to provide a dark space in which to view the (usually dim) ground glass on the back of the camera, and a cable release to trigger the shutter. Oh, yes, and a Polaroid back for shooting Polaroid test materials. 

By the time of the Elgin assignment I'd being shooting at least weekly (and for some few years, daily) with the larger format camera. My first portrait for the founder of Texas Monthly Magazine (Mike Levy) was done on that old Calumet camera. All my architectural shots and many of the product shots right up until 2002 were done with it as well. 

By the time I hit the streets of Elgin I had upgraded cameras to a Linhof Technica and while I was still using the same two longer lenses I'd replaced the older 90mm with a much better 90mm f5.6 Super Angulon. Sweet glass, for sure. 

I think the art director would have been just fine with me shooting on medium format film, or even, with great care, the new digital DSLR cameras but for some crazy reason I insisted on using the older, bigger tech for the Elgin assignment. With 24 film holders I could pre-load 48 sheets of color transparency film (one on each side of the film holder) and be ready for a good day of shooting. Generally, when I hit the 48th frame that was a sign that it was time to go home for the day. I did carry along a changing bag that would allow me to offload shot film and reload my holders on location but we always worried about dust and debris from the inside of the changing back ending up on the film. 

I was working with the writer's submitted story draft so I knew which places would end up in the article. How I photographed them was left up to me since the art directors never traveled with us or gave us suggestions in the field. 

Elgin had two big industries back then (2002), one was sausage making/BBQ selling and the other was a giant brick manufacturing plant. We shot both industries. The brick making was interesting but the BBQ was delicious. 

Both these images were done on BBQ locations and I used an electronic flash to get them. Both were done with the 135mm lens which was more or less analogous to a 28mm to 35mm focal length on a 35mm "full frame???" camera. I'd get to a location, get a mini-tour from the owners or managers and then brainstorm a shot. In the top shot we had been discussing the fact that some customers had a daily BBQ habit. They'd come in and eat sausage or brisket or ribs every single day of the week. I thought it would be fun to set up a shot about "excess" and an Elgin citizen was game to play along with me. 

One figured out the basic angle and coverage of the image to be photographed long before one pulled the large format camera out of the case. You created the shot in your mind and then you constructed it. After years (decades) of working with the larger format I got to the point where I could get it set up and ready faster than most people can find something on an Olympus digital camera menu these days. 

I'd set up and rough the shot in and then toss the dark cloth over my head, and the back of the camera, and fine tune the composition. Then I'd grab the loupe hanging around my neck, stop down to the taking aperture on the lens and check the fine focus. It was always a challenge to hit focus and one of the primary reasons most pros bought electronic flashes with power modeling lights. You really needed the extra lumens to see the point of exact focus!

One of the nicest things about the larger format images, beyond the endless detail and endless dynamic range, was the ability to quickly get the overall perspective correct. Make the front and rear standards parallel to the walls of the location and then use the camera's rising and falling front standard to get the composition back. We've got tilt and shift lenses now but people seem to have relegated them only to "architectural" work. The camera movements were used so much more frequently in the days when knowledge ruled and "easy" was a pejorative. 

A few test flashes, a meter reading or two, and then confirmation via Polaroid and we'd be off and shooting. We went overboard on the top image and shot FIVE frames. Total indulgence. 

The frame below was done on the same day at an establishment across (the small) town. I'd been shown the sausage factory and found this guy hoisting a tub of sausage. He was perfect. So was the sausage. I had the Linhof out and the 135mm in action in minutes. The light was actually done on this location with a Vivitar 283 flash into an ancient and tattered, white umbrella. The whole set up and shoot took ten minutes and I was satisfied using three frames of film. You paid attention back then. It was a thing.

The sparse shooting made editing much easier. I'd look through the day's take after the lab processed it, curse myself if I forgot to make adjustments for bellows extension, or reciprocity failure, and then chose the single best shot for each set up. One frame of large sheet film per encounter, and that's what I would hand in to the art director. 

Knowing it was going to be my last, sentimental working journey with the larger format I blew through nearly 120 sheets of film over three full working days. We had about 95 keepers. I turned in 30 shots. From brick making, sausage making, antique shops, bed and breakfasts and a bunch of historic building shots, the 4x5 was fluid and effective at every step. My final shot was a veteran at the town's only donut and coffee shop. He was seated at a table with an American flag behind him. It was a nice shot. I wish I could still find it but I have a sneaking suspicion that it never came back from the magazine. 

That's one of the few blessings of using digital, you always have a copy of everything you've shot. Unless a hard drive goes suicidal and eats everything.  On the other hand we never had the drudgery or paranoia of having to do back-ups with film. You either had it or you didn't....

People who have only shot digital will never understand the lure of big, slow sheet film. Ah well. Itty bitty digital cameras? The Soylent Green of photography.