I snuck in one more new lens before the end of the year.

Iceland. 2018
Panasonic G9. 
Olympus 12-100mm.

I've really been enjoying the Fuji X-H1. I like the way the shutter sounds and I'm pretty impressed with how quiet it is. I'm not using it in the silent mode either; it's just quiet. I am very satisfied with the EVF too. But the one thing that was missing for me was a good portrait lens. The 55mm lenses are really close but just a little short for a traditionalist like me. The 55-200mm zoom is fine for most of the commercial portraits I'll do; in fact, it's actually a very good lens; not just sharp but also capable of creating images that are, for want of a better phrase, likable. It's just that I was missing that fast, prime 90mm-100mm equivalent focal length and it was important to me. 

After a lot of reading, and a few times playing with lenses that my friends have for their Fuji cameras, I decided to buy the 60mm f2.4. Yes, it's not the fastest focusing lens in the system, and in poor light it can hunt just a bit, but my initial tests show the lens is capable of high resolution and sharpness, coupled with a high image likability quotient. 

I took it out for a spin this afternoon and it rides nicely on the X-H1. 

I've got the studio more or less organized now and I'm ready to start taking portraits on my home turf again so I'll have the opportunity to use the lens in a concentrated burst after next week. 

A word to anyone considering this lens for their Fuji cameras: Huge. The lens hood is huge. But unlike some reviewers I see this as a distinct plus. It's metal, robust, and does a great job blocking all non-image forming light. If you think it's too indiscreet you can always........remove it. I'll keep mine on. Mostly for the theoretical increase in contrast but also because I think it looks cool.

More adventures with the 60mm to come.


OT: What the holidays mean to me has changed so much in the last year.

Martin in the snow. For a Zach Theatre Holiday play.

My family was like most, a bit contentious, a bit nostalgic and always busy, busy, busy. We were all getting ready for Christmas last year and converging on my parent's house. I'd done my usual sloppy job at shopping for presents while Belinda stepped in with her compassionately professional gift-wrapping skills and made my mostly mindless purchases at least presentable. 

On Christmas Eve my mother collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. By December 30th she was gone.

That's when my brother, sister and I realized that our 89 year old father's dementia was much, much worse than my mother had let on. She and a caregiver had been covering up my father's deteriorating mental condition for the last few years...

We all pitched in to help but my brother and sister are both school teachers and couldn't afford to take much time off. On top of that my sister lives in another state and is battling cancer. The responsibility for round the clock care of my father, and also finding a memory care facility for him, fell almost entirely to me. I made funeral arrangements for my mother while microwaving meals for my dad and me. I had my brother come over after school some days to watch my dad while I met with administrators from different "senior living" facilities in order to choose one that was right for him. And I spent hours with our family lawyers, doctors, and my parent's CPA in order to take over as dad's power of attorney while falling into the role of administrator and executor of my mother's estate. I didn't sleep much in January or February and spent most of my time in my parent's house in San Antonio instead of in my comfortable house in Austin. 

Belinda would drive down to bring me care packages of clothes, mail, paperwork, cash and kindness. 

Over the course of the last year I've been down to San Antonio more times than I can count. I've been to visit my dad every Sunday. We have lunch and catch up with news of the family; which he forgets minutes later. I've driven down on many weekdays in order to visit with a probate judge, ferret out paperwork at the house, and meet with other necessary professionals whose office hours don't include weekends. 

This Summer we rushed my dad to the hospital after his remotely monitored pacemaker indicated a few random cardiac arrests!!! I spent a week in the cardiac ICU with him, eating sandwiches from the gift shop and drinking coffee from the nurse's station. I couldn't leave him alone overnight because he became confused, agitated, angry. During that week I also put the family home on the market and, in five days, got a contract to sell. Which required more visits with my realtor, more paperwork, more input from attorneys. Selling a house with power of attorney means jumping through a few more flaming rings than normal...

By the end of the Summer I had figured out where all the essential paperwork of my parent's lives was and secured it. I worked with their three banks and their brokerage to establish my power of attorney to administer for my father. And I realized that I had barely touched my cameras and had worked for income for very few days in the first eight months of 2018. No family leave exists for the owners of small businesses. You pull the money out of your pocket and make due. 

With the house cleaned out and sold, the paperwork largely done, the legal work mostly complete I started reconnecting with clients and friends. I made up for a lot of lost work in the fourth quarter. The universe tossed in some nice jobs. The clients tossed in some nice checks. I missed one Sunday visit with my dad because of my travel schedule but Belinda was there with my dad in my place.

Now we've all hit a temporary stasis and I can reflect back over the year. What have I learned? Have I learned anything? 

Just the same stuff you've probably read many times. Life is short and unpredictable; enjoy it while you can. Adversity teaches you to cherish all the good and quiet moments. Make peace with your parents now because you can't make amends after they're gone. Work is never as important as you think it is --- I never thought I could put aside eight months of income in a year but we're still eating, paying our bills and even occasionally buying a decent bottle of wine. Taking a break from normal existence is an interesting process that showed me what's important in my life and what's not. Having millions of dollars in the bank will NOT prevent dementia, heart attacks, death and other unexpected travails. You can't take it with you. Being in love is a wonderful and miraculous thing. Getting rid of useless stuff now, while you can, is so much better than leaving behind dumpsters full of stuff your kids have to sort through. A good attorney saves not only money but mental and emotional wear and tear. A well written will can be a blueprint to get survivors through a perilous journey. Good relations with siblings is better than gold. The Christmas season can be tough on people; have a bit more patience during the holidays. Give more than you think you'll get. The greatest gift is the gift of time... 

Finally, the greatest gift you can give a loved one is....your time. 

Now, for me, the holidays are all about holding my family together and making sure everyone is taken care of. I see it not as a burden but a privilege. 

Real life does not exempt photographers. 


Just sitting in the twilight thinking about a sunny Summer day at Pedernales State Park, just up the highway from here.

I was surprised when I looked at the file info for this one. It was done with an Olympus EM-5.2 and the dirt cheap Olympus 40-150mm f4.0-5.6. Granted, it was shot at an aperture that makes most lenses look acceptable. I forget sometimes that not every image needs to be shot at the widest aperture on the fastest lens.

I like the Summer look and the wide vista. It's different from most of what I like to photograph.

It's the buying season here and, as a blogger, I'm supposed to torment you with a "TOP TEN THINGS TO BUY" list. I'm late so let's get to this.

"Casting a wide net for the holidays!"

Every website and blog I've visited in December is breathless with "news" about "incredible deals" on the most "amazing" and "must have" gear of the year. Plenty of links to click through. Lots of excitement about new camera models that have "improved" and now provide...27.5 pixels instead of the vastly inferior 26.2 megapixels of resolution.

The bloggers and review sites also hedge their bets, knowing that not everyone can afford to splash out on new, $2K+ cameras for themselves just at the peak of the holiday season. For those unfortunates the sites also have lists of "top ten" accessories, and "top ten" suggestions for online workshops that are more....affordable. I think their goal is to get their readers, viewers, visitors, members, etc. to buy something --- anything --- so the owners of these places on the web don't have to finally learn real skills or get real jobs. Those click throughs just ain't what they used to be....

So, here's my top ten list so I can fit in and not be ostracized at the next blogger convention or blogger holiday party for being a wet blanket (Link for wet blankets).

Number 10: A bottle of inexpensive (but not cheap) wine for your accountant who keeps you from governmental perils and self-inflicted business decision wounds. You want the CPA to return your phone calls and be responsive, right?  (Link for cheap wine with nice labels...).

Number 9: A set of reading super cheap reading glasses that are NOT your prescription. Use these to "evaluate" the sharpness of your camera at 100% and to compare cameras that you are pretty sure you'd like to buy. Put samples from both up on your screen, magnify to 100% and then don on the glasses and begin your evaluation. Extra points if the glasses are from the Goodwill Store and have plastic lenses. This will save you lots of time and trouble learning new menus.

Number 8: I can send you my complete course entitled: How to enjoy a walk with your favorite camera and lens for not very much money at all. In it you'll learn the joys of dropping by your favorite coffee shop, trying to steal a good photograph of a pretty girl/guy out in the wild, how to walk quickly enough to burn calories but not so quickly that you pass by cool stuff to photograph. Bonus: For a limited time only you can learn to bring along a friend, spouse or family member and integrate them into your grand photographic world. (Link for direct payment for walking workshop; includes: video with shoe tying, street crossing tips and more).

Number 7: One of my favorite things, if you just need a smaller gift for yourself, would be gift certificates that you can make for yourself giving yourself the gift of a midday or mid-afternoon nap. Wake up refreshed and ready to show that Alec Soth a thing or two. Naps are also generally indicated if you get to a location too early and you're willing to wait for better light. Tip: all those snazzy phones have alarm clocks built in. Don't worry, you won't miss anything.

Number 6: You desperately need a brand new Hasselblad H6D 100c camera and a couple of lenses. Without this 100 megapixel imaging machine you'll be doomed as a photographer. They're cheaper than the average family car so maybe also get a back-up body!!! You can get one right here.

Number 5: If you aren't already considering a mirrorless camera then you might be falling behind. I'm suggesting that you buy the very best one on the market so you can really enjoy all the new vistas it will undoubtably open up for you. And according to those in the know the best one is THIS ONE.

Number 4: Once you splash out for that mirrorless camera (and really, that's the future of all imaging, right?) you'll need some primo glass to hang off the front. It's well known that bigger, faster lenses are much more impressive to all the people around you as you venture out so I'm going to suggest that you look at something like a 12-1000mm f1.4 from one of the premium lens makers. If you can carry it with you you'll also save on that gym membership you didn't want to purchase. My favorite one to buy is this one: It's very, very dramatic!

Number 3: A serious suggestion. Go out and see live theater as often as you can in 2019 and beyond. You'll learn so much that you can apply to your photography. Sophisticated lighting, practiced gestures, beautiful movement and much more. A handful of show tickets will be entertaining, enlightening and probably less costly than any piece of gear you might have had in mind.... Along the same lines I'd suggest joining as a supporting member of your city's best museum. Can't hurt --- unless they put up and Ed Ruscha photography show.... My fave in Austin is the Blanton. I'll bet your city has a good one too.

Number 2: Another serious suggestion. Buy yourself a plane ticket and go someplace you've always wanted to see but haven't had the guts to splash out for. I traveled a lot in the second half of the year. I saw new stuff. I learned stuff and, after a few weeks off I'm ready to go out on the road again. Maybe if things are slow in January I'll take my own advice and find a cheap flight to Seoul or Lisbon. Maybe just to Mexico City. It really helps your photography if you've got something interesting to point your camera at.

My number one buying suggestion of the season is to get yourself the camera you always wanted. There's got to be one you've always had an unrequited love affair with. Now might be the time to buy it. But don't buy it from one of my links, find a bricks and mortar store that's fun and independent and willing to work hard for your cash. I just bought myself a Fuji X-H1. It's a gateway camera. I'm liking it enough to now start considering their GFX line of medium format cameras. But first I'm going to toss some money here to protect my rights as provided by the Constitution of the United States of America. It's the patriotic thing to do in the season.  

Well there's nothing here that will bring me affiliate cash but I guess you know that's not the point of the VSL blog. It's more about having a platform and a community. We'll kept it running and free if you promise to drop by to read and comment.

That's it for the Holiday Top Ten List. Hope you found something you'd like!!!

This is an interesting contrast to most other societies... so I documented it.

The image just above is of the president of Iceland's residence. It's the nice, big house tucked behind the cleanly designed church in the foreground. We dropped by to see it one morning and we were very early. We were there just after sunrise.

Coming from the United States of America and having photographed more than one president I was expecting to see fast boats with machine guns trawling through the water just a few hundred yards to the right. A phalanx of black suited military types showing off their tactical gear and sporting the latest H&K fully automatic submachine guns. Maybe a few rocket launchers on the roofs of both buildings; you know, just in case of an airborne assault... And finally, I was expecting to see the beefy guys in mid-tier business suits, with earphones in one ear and the same Oakley bad ass sunglasses masking their authoritative, darting eyes.

No such luck. As far as we could see there was one lone police car parked on the left hand side of the main house. Not a black Chevy Suburban in sight. When we parked in front of the church in our little van a policeman stepped out of the car to get a better look at us, then waved and got back into his car. I don't blame him. It was chilly that morning.

Our native guide asked us not to go past the front of the church. It was security based on the honor system. There is no fence, no wall.

Our guide also told us a quick story about a group of people who came to see the church and the president bringing them out coffee and fresh scones...

Quite the contrast with our current regime. Almost makes me want to live in cold weather year round.

I do like the photo. I took it with a Panasonic G9 and that wonderful 12-100mm Olympus Pro lens.

Not everywhere in the world is as "dangerous" as we're constantly led to believe.

Sometimes the sky is so beautiful you just pray you'll find something interesting to anchor it.

©2018 Kirk Tuck.


Can a $120 fifty-five millimeter lens made for cropped formats be any good at all? I attempted to get to the bottom of this, and more, with a walk through Austin's downtown.

Mural just off Guadalupe St., across the street from the University of Texas. 
This was shot with the 50mm f2.0 XF WR lens. Getting me in the visual ballpark...

I've been finding my way through the Fuji X system and I kinda hit a wall when it came to shelling out hard currency for the legendary 56mm f1.2 lens in their system. Now, don't get me wrong, I think it probably worth every penny Fuji asks for it and I'm pretty sure it's filled with optical goodness of all kinds, but after acquiring four bodies and six other Fuji lenses in rather short order the thought of sliding out another thousand bucks. plus change for a lens that would have joined two zooms and the 50mm f2.0 XF in the same range, just seemed a bit --- over the top. After all, we're right in the middle of the holidays and occasionally it might be nice if I were to think about getting some nice things for other people and not just for myself. Right?

But I am nothing if not a master of rationalization and compromise and while I couldn't knock myself off the wall of indecision vis-a-vis the pricey Fuji lens I was easily able to justify playing around with a cheaper alternative. One so cheap we could pay for it out of petty cash; should the need to obscure its existence arise... I'd purchased a used Kamlan f1.1 lens and it's fairly fun but it's more a novelty optic than a serious picture taking tool. No, I'd set my sights just a little higher. If I couldn't justify springing for the Fuji lens right now I might settle (for a little while) for a 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens for about $120...

I ordered a new one from Amazon.com since my local bricks and mortar store doesn't carry them. The lens came in early last week but its arrival overlapped a busy week of post production, accounting, and elder care, and I could only just put the lens on a body, wave it around and wish I had time to photograph. Today was the first day in a while with an open schedule and I took advantage of that by grabbing the 7Artisans 55mm and the Fuji 55-200mm lens and going for a long walk with the new ( to me ) X-H1 camera. I brought along the Fuji zoom in case I found the cheaper lens uninspiring and wanted something else to play with on the walk.
The 55mm 7Artisans lens is a sweet fit on the smaller bodies. It's dense and feels well made. 
Please note that, like the 25mm f1.8 model the focusing is manual, the f-stop is manually set and the aperture ring is also click less, which makes it nice for video and perfectly fine for photos. 

The 55mm feels like a quality lens and it fit snuggly but smoothly onto the X-H1. On that camera, as with many competitors, you should set the focal length of this lens in the camera menu if you want the best results from the in-body image stabilization. I also enabled the focus peaking which works very well in the X-H1. I'm happy with the focus of everything except in images where I focused wide open and then stopped down. There's a profound focus shift so you are much better off stopping down to your desired f-stop before focusing. Since there is no communication between the lens and the camera body you'll need to use aperture priority or fully manual exposure for best exposure control. If you are using focus peaking don't forget to set the focus selector to manual. When set this way the focus peaking color cues are only visible when you half press the shutter release. When you keep your finger off you can see the frame without the peaking overlays. 

The image just above and right below are both done with the 50mm f2.0. The images were already on the memory card when I started today's walk and I thought they'd make nice comparison frames. The one just below was taken at f2.2 and I find the center portion of the frame nicely sharp. Curious too about the Octopus Sausage at Abel's Restaurant.... 

No lens review would be complete without a self-portrait so here's my handheld
attempt into a mirror. I'm shooting the 7Artisans at f1.4 and ISO 1600. I didn't record the shutter speed but it was fast enough in conjunction with the I.S. to work.

My renewed interest in this lens started last night. We (the nuclear family) were decorating our little Christmas tree when I grabbed the camera to take a few shots of Ben putting ornaments on. 
The light was low. It all came from the strands of LED lights on the tree. I used the lens wide open and used ISO 6400 to get a clean shot. I should have turned the noise reduction down a couple of stops. I'd rather have the noise than the plasticky skin tones...

Walking toward the Graffiti Wall today I shot a few frames along the way. The one above was shot at f4.0 and on the original, when I zoom in, I can see the uniform perforations in the white metal strips running vertically on this parking garage. I was surprised at the resolving power of such and inexpensive lens!!! 7Artisans.

I'm very pleased with the color rendering and saturation of the camera and lens in tandem. I'm also happy to see the alert dog just behind the distracted driver in the parked car.

I loved the frames I got with the 55mm, the color seems nicely neutral and once you hit f2.8 and especially 4.0, 5.6 and f8.0 there is little difference in sharpness and contrast between the 7Artisans 55mm and most other lenses in the same focal length range. Later (further down) I shot more stuff in close up and with wide open apertures and some at one stop down from wide open. All are pretty darn good. 

But, after a while I got bored and wanted the flexibility of the longer zoom. I used it on the images just below and I'll let you know in the adjacent copy when I've switched back to the 55mm. For now though I think this is a good set with which to compare two such disparate lenses in one place and from one shoot. 



A very close up shot with the 55mm. f2.0. 

Back to the 55-200mm.


So, at this point in my walk I was bored with the zoom and ready to spend the rest of the day with the 55mm from 7Artisans. I walked by the Texas state capitol building and shot a few frames at f4.0. The Goddess on the top of the dome is nicely sharp and the detail in the building amazed me. So much so that I cropped in and presented a tight crop just underneath to show you the detail.

Cropped detail to show how well the lens holds stuff together.

The images above were done at three different f-stops. They range from f4.0 to f16 but most of the subject is far enough away to be mostly in focus. No big hit from diffraction; less than I expected. 

Here is a mean, unfair and SOOC test: I shot this tight side of a menu with the 55mm wide open and at its closest focus setting. The type in the center looks pretty darn good to me. Oh, yeah, handheld.

Nice, rich color for a $120 fast lens. This (above and below) was at f2.8. 
Nice saturation and sharpness out of camera. 

Same as just above it.

Above and below is another set of comparisons between the full frame and a cropped area from the center to show off sharpness. I have NO issues with the ability of this lens to deliver a sharp image, if you focus correctly and watch your technique.

the final frame was taken at the closest focusing point of the lens and with the lens at f2.8.
It's got good detail and, since this lens is not corrected in camera you can see exactly what 
you (won't) get in terms of chromatic issues and various edge effects. 

My takeaways from a three hour stroll around town is that this lens is wonderfully compact, nicely finished and a delight to shoot with. My time in Lightroom also informs me that the lens is well corrected, very competent from f2.8 onward, and even very usable at f2.0 and f1.4 ( in a pinch). 

You can pay a lot more for a lens. You may find the law of diminishing returns hits pretty quickly. 

For me, this one's a keeper. 

Bought with my own cash. No communication with the maker or seller. You can get more details about the product here: