Portrait of Renee. A rumination about process.

I like making portraits of people that I find attractive. Often, well meaning friends will tell me, "You just have to photograph my friend Solange!!! She is so beautiful." Not wanting to disappoint my friends, and mostly being optimistic about the possibility that I'll discover someone so photogenic that I am just bowled over, I almost always invite my friends to act as model agency match-makers and to help make an initial connection between me and the portrait subject.

More often than not I'm disappointed and, honestly, the person on the other end of the lens ends up being a bit.....underwhelmed with my photographic capabilities. The problem usually isn't that the person isn't beautiful in some way, or that I've suddenly lost any technical or aesthetic skill I had only days or weeks before; no, the problem is that what I find to be interesting, attractive, captivating, alluring or just plain photogenic in people is generally different from the tastes or cultural perspectives of my friends.

Part of this is the disconnection between the way people, who are not interested or trained in photography, see the people in front of their eyes and the way a camera would see the same person. They tend to subconsciously minimize flaws that the camera can't ignore or they are captivated by some facet of the person that doesn't translate well visually. In many cases it's just a difference in what I'd like to see, specifically, in my portrait subjects and what my friends think would just be a generally attractive person.

I never want to hurt anyone's feelings so we generally set a date, try really hard to make good photographs and I'm happy if the sitter finds some good images that I can retouch for him or her to reward them for their time and effort even if the results are something I would never consider putting into my own collection. All I will have lost in most of these encounters is some time and, sometimes, even if the imaging doesn't work out or the results are inconclusive, etc. I make a good, new friend and we are able to connect well on topics that are removed from photography.

One of my friends here in Austin, back in the days when I rented a large studio in the east side of town, was a wonderful painter named Mercedes Peña. She had, for a while, been married to another great painter named, Amado Peña. Mercedes was every bit the classic artist. She kept her own chaotic schedule and had a house that was so colorful and vibrant that many people mistakenly believed it was some sort of contemporary art museum devoted to brilliant and intense color.

Part of our connection was the popular morning meeting point in the Clarksville neighborhood, a bakery called, Sweetish Hill Bakery. I had a revolving show on the walls of the bakery which included some of my favorite portrait work. Mostly people with their favorite pastries or their favorite coffee. Some were a bit naughty such as one image of my friend, Renae (not Renee above) who posed for a black and white image nude, holding pastries over her breasts.

Mercedes and a large group of our mutual friends would gather in the morning for coffee and the most excellent pastries and we'd dissect and argue/discuss the issues of the day. One warm Summer morning Mercedes mentioned a younger friend who she described as "very beautiful" and asked if I would interested in photographing her. I agreed and days or weeks later Renee came to my studio.

At the time we were working in about 2,000 square feet of live studio space and it was my practice to have at least two lighting setups that I was interested in trying out set up, metered and ready to go. I thought it was the height of bad manners not to be prepared; to waste the time of someone who was, in turn, sharing their time and energy. 

When we start a portrait session I like to place the person on a stool or chair in the middle of the light I've designed and to start a conversation. Nothing deep or serious, at least at first, but touching on what the person's interest in being photographed might be, what their preconceptions of a session are, what they like and dislike in portraits that have been made of them before. 

During this conversation, in which the subject is in the sweet spot of the lighting design, I'm also making adjustments to the lights and to the black scrims that I usually use to intensify shadows and mid-tone to highlight transitions. I watch how the light plays across the person's face and how they sit in relation to my camera (which is generally anchored to a tripod). At the time I was doing this portrait I was enamored of a style of lighting that used big soft sources as main lights but very little fill. I was excited about the potential of the shadows and the intersection between deep shadows and flesh tones.

I was looking for the light to create a triangle in the midst of shadow on her right cheek (on the left side of the image and I was looking for a catchlight in each eye. 

Most portrait sessions start with big smiles and lots of anticipation from the subject about what the photographer might want to see. I like to suggest early on that we do more serious looks. That squinch-y eyes and a toothy smile are not at all what I usually want to see. 

In some ways it was easier for me in the time of Polaroid test materials and film because when we struck gold in a pose or expression or gesture I could share it with the person I was photographing and we could extend the thing I liked about the action in different ways. Shooting in this more intimate style with digital means taking the camera off the tripod and walking it over to the subject to share the image on the back of the camera which then invites a look-see at any number of previous frames; some of which might be counter productive. Certainly, this kind of review breaks whatever spell the two of you have woven between each other and requires some retrenching and re-advancement. 

At a certain point both the photographer and sitter feel they've exhausted one lighting set up and it's time to move to another look. We might take a break to go outside for fresh air or have a glass of wine and talk about painting or whatever but we build up from scratch new energy in the fresh lighting set up. Almost every session like this is rife with trial and error. Which lens draws the subject the way you want it? Which expression is most in line with the photographers subconscious preconception. 

And all the while you are gauging the interest and attention of the sitter; hoping it doesn't wane as you clumsily zero in on the exact look and energy you were looking for. 

Portraiture can be a classic example of "I'll know what I like when I see it." It's almost always that way for me. I'll start with a lighting idea and a general idea of how I think someone would look best and then the subject will turn their head slightly and smile in a certain way that just hits the mark in a way I could not explain in words. Sometimes we get the shot in the moment but sometimes we have to acknowledge what I saw and work back towards it. 

At some point you've exhausted the possibilities of that day. That session. You probably pushed past it to the point that you are both ready to give up for now. But if the session worked and the images emerge in post that make you both smile it's almost a certainty that you'll want to work together again and see if you can push a new set of images in a more daring or experimental direction. If nothing worked then mostly you shake hands, thank each other and chalk it up to just another mystery of the universe. 

At least, that's how it works sometimes....


Mr. R--------- R------ suggested: "Might be fun if you wrote a piece on why it's better to stick with one system rather than trying them all. :)"

Should we all just buy a Sony RX10 IV and be done with it for life?

Well....sure; why not? But what if I don't really believe that?

Let's try.

Many of my friends believe that my inconsistency with camera systems is an offshoot of our conversion (decades ago) to digital camera from film cameras. Somehow there is the notion that I bought a set of Nikon lenses and bodies, Hasselblad lenses and bodies, and Leica lenses and bodies, and used these for the entirety of the film-centric part of my (excruciatingly) long career.

Well, no. I started with some Canon FD stuff and then got pissed when Canon pulled the FD mount rug out from under our feet so I gave Nikon a try. The Nikons were fine but I was bored. I tried the Contax cameras. They were good and I was mostly happy until several of them fell apart in my hands. The last film centered system I owned (God! Business was good back then!!!) was a complete Leica R8 system with a couple of cameras and a bushel of R series lenses.

In the medium format realm I bounced back and forth between the Rollei 6000 series cameras and the Hasselblads; at one time owning a fair amount of both. In my defense we were shooting assignments six days a week and it was pretty easily to become comfortable in a bi-system environment. Each system had its set of interesting features.

But the era of camera buying driven by perceived NEED only arrived with professional digital equipment. We started with Kodak DCS cameras but $16,000 per body was hardly a sustainable business model. Happily, the Kodaks used the Nikon AF lenses so the transition to the much less expensive D1X camera was less painful (and thousands and thousands of dollars cheaper). What led me to abandon the Kodak cameras, which had such promise and such great files when shooting at ISO 80? Well, it was probably the 80 shot battery life and the fact that all the early cameras absolutely sucked at anything over 80 ISO. The Nikons were demonstrably better.

I could regale you all day long with rationales for my hopping adventures through the various catalogs of Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and now Fuji but I'll cut to the chase to please Mr. R-----.

With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight I should have stopped right here: Nikon D700 (the best digital Nikon ever made.....still) the 80-200mm f2.8 AF-D zoom lens (sorry, no I.S. but no issues with the focal length becoming shorter as one focuses closer as in the later 70-200mm lenses, and just as sharp. And paid for) supplemented by the Nikon 28-70mm f2.8. Yes, you read that correctly. Not the 24-70mm f2.8 but it's optically much better predecessor, the 28-70mm 2.8 which spanks all subsequent Nikon mid-range zooms for sharpness and a general look that is more detailed and confident than anything following it.

The widest lens I ever owned for the Nikon system was a manual focusing 20mm f2.8 that worked perfectly and had minimal geometric distortions even though it was not correctly by voodoo in the camera bodies. 

With this equipment I could have done pretty much any assignment that came up in the 10 years since. Many will bitch and moan about resolution but I'm almost certain that in most cases we could easily use interpolation software to increase the overall file size and implied resolution and no one would be the wiser. Toss the D700 raw files at the latest rev of Lightroom and maybe you'd get the same resolution as native 16-18 megapixel files. Plus, the camera just worked all the time and the batteries lasted forever.

Everything since has been like extra cup holders or rear seat entertainment systems for the kids. Fun to have; convenient, but totally unnecessary. I'd go so far to say that if you can't do a job with a D700 and the lenses I listed above (go ahead and add in the 55 macro lens, if needed) using professional, industry standard techniques, then I would say the problem is with the user and not the gear. Professional cyclists don't need training wheels to compete in road races either.

So, what would I have gained? I'd probably have saved (according to some quick glances at my yearly tax spread sheets) something like $40,000 over the past ten years. (This is based on depreciation, deductions and trade-ins). I would know this gear so well that we could always finish each other's sentences.

So, no real differences in job applications, money in the bank (which I would have had to pay income taxes on...), and the thrill of knowing, as I ventured further down the path of image making, that I never took the path less traveled...

If you are inherently a cheap son of a bitch and need to watch every penny I conjecture that you could buy whatever the current top of the line Canon Rebel and two, maybe three of the f2.8 zooms and use them to complete professional assignments for the next ten or fifteen years. You could also watch your diet and wear the same pants for the next fifteen years. Buy a Honda, Toyota or Subaru, do all  your scheduled maintenance and replace everything that naturally wears out and you could drive the same car for 20 years......the seats might be a bit frayed but you'd probably be used to your Spartan existence by then.

I'd rather not shoot with the same cameras forever. I like to try new stuff. I want to see if there's really a difference in dynamic range with new sensors. I like the live view of current mirrorless cameras. I like EVFs better than optical finders (oh! the Heresy!!! Burn him. He must be a witch) and I like being able to inveigle my clients into paying me more money for a bit of video programming on the side.

I'd rather look at the cost/benefit analysis of any purchase through the lens of total net worth; not just the absolute cost of a product or service taken totally out of context.

Gear does wear out. It does become (for a tech forward client base) obsolete. The rise of 4K video and the embrace of this programming by clients is a salient point in this case. There are tax advantages to deducting new gear. But most of all the new gear keeps the game interesting, fun and engaging.

Do I need a 90mm f2.0 and a 50-140mm f2.8? No. Is it fun to try different portraits with the two different lenses to see just how something looks when shot wide open at f2.0 instead of f2.8? Absolutely.

So, if a young photographer is dead broke, can't make the rent, just had his car reposed and his girlfriend finally kicked him out of her apartment then (contextually) buying a new lens (or pretty much anything other than food) is just flat out crazy.

But let's say you are a famous novelist/photography hobbyist with a track record of say....ten bestselling thrillers on the NYT Bestseller's List, you're pulling down a couple million dollars a year. You've paid off your house, you bought your last couple of Bentleys with cash. You've put so much money into your retirement accounts that they are starting to look like the entire yearly budget of a third world country. At what point is it "okay" to drop a few thousand extraneous dollars on a new camera? And even if you are one of the .01 % you are so frugal that you sell off your old camera for 75% of its value on E-bay? Is that okay? Does that make sense? Is that defensible?

I'm sure there are readers here that are watching their dollars carefully. I'm equally sure that a few of my readers could buy their own town to shoot in if they wanted to... The idea that there's a set rule of thumb that requires us to remain in a camera system for life is a concept that lies on a continuum and only makes sense within the restrictions of context.

I don't have a plane. I don't play golf. I no longer ski because I'd hate to have an injury that wipes out walking or swimming. I don't have a drug habit (again, interferes with the swimming). I don't buy exotic cars (unless you are unlucky enough in life to consider a Subaru Forester to be a luxe, exotic car) but I do know that I love to play with new cameras and, in fact, am one of the very few people in our culture who knows how to leverage cameras in order to make income. Should I believe that freezing my gear requirements in amber is a good idea? Not on your life. I point to the intangible benefit of: Joy.

Hell, all of you should get off your high horses and go buy two new cameras. One just for fun and one to thumb your nose at complacency and abject fear of loss.


We're closing in on our 4,000th blog post. Is there anything you'd be interested in hearing about here that we haven't already covered?

I've been writing this blog and populating it with photographs since 2009. We've covered so many topic and in so many ways. At this point we're also coming up on 25,000,000 page views directly on the site and over 80,000,000 indirect page views (according to Goggle). I'm not nearly finished with this whole photography thing (love taking photos for work and pleasure) but I thought I'd take a breath and ask for some feedback from consistent readers.

Are blogs totally obsolete?

Are videos the new blogs?

Are we still supposed to dislike HDR?

Do you want to hear about what I'm shooting with (gear) or should I bone up on my Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss and just write about the philosophy of image making in a post intelligent society?

Are we happy with the general guidelines of not talking about politics or should I spend more time pissing about half of you off?

Do you hate downtown Austin now or are you willing to see more photographs of the nihilistic hipster environment?

"Hold that thought."

Who are your current favorite photo bloggers (besides me, of course)?

Who are your current favorite photo Video-loggers? Don't say "Jared Polin" Please. Don't.

Are we soooo over 4K video yet? How about raw video formats? And those pesky codecs?

One thing I'm pretty certain about but feel compelled to ask; you DO want to read more about swimming, right?

Will small sensor camera systems die off? If we look to archeology I'd bet we'll kill off the dinosaur cameras first....

Will Nikon survive? How about Olympus? Will Sony snuff out all competitors and then exit the market to concentrate on VR? Where will we get new cameras to argue about?

Will Fuji ever get around to putting image stabilization in any of their APS-C cameras other than the XH1? Will Canon transition to 21st century sensors? Will Olympus ever hire someone rational and sane to write their camera menus? Is Pentax still in business?

Why the f-word to people walk around and shoot with their lens hoods mounted on backwards? WHY?

Should I consider the recent demise of comments to indicate a waning of interest which might suggest I turn my attention to something else other than writing about photography? Hang gliding? DIY surgery? A career in fast food? Actuarial Science?
Macramé? Scrapbooking? Politics?

Are you getting bored with black and white portraits of people?

Can we narrow down who invented the combo words, "Dealer Killer" then hunt them down and verbally repudiate them?

"Need the info...." (from Dr. Evil. Austin Powers #1).

Another day in the life of a photographer. Sunny and warm.

I don't know why but I woke up around 5:30 a.m. I pulled on an old pair of jeans and headed out to the kitchen careful not to disturb the restful slumbers of Studio Dog and Spouse. I made a cup of coffee and toasted up a frozen waffle. I read the news of the day. I wrote a blog about a new lens I'm excited to try.  

Then I grabbed a fresh towel and my camera and headed out the door. My destination was the Western Hills Athletic Club; or, more precisely, the pool. The car told me it was 60 degrees when I pulled into the parking lot. The first light was just breaking as I jumped into lane 2 at 7:01 a.m. Our coach, Will, had put up a long warm-up I put my head down and got to work. The yards flowed past and the light bloomed in the east. By 8:15 I'd finished all the sets and was ready to get the day started. 

I don't have too much on my schedule today. Coffee with my friend, Frank. A trip to my dad's bank to make some deposits. Lunch with an old work acquaintance. Maybe a nap. And, since our high temperature today is supposed to be something like 86 degrees, a long walk through some picturesque part of town with a camera in my hands. 

I had the presence of mind this morning to grab a camera. I wanted to shoot some photos of what it feels like to swim on a warm winter morning. The camera on the dining room table was the Fuji XH1. It had the weird looking, and tiny, 7Artisans 35mm f1.2 on the mount. I didn't bother heading into the office in search of some super lens to shoot with. I thought the 35mm would work just fine. 

I have two things I need to get done today. One is to schedule a portrait for the medical director of a large practice. Our schedules have been slippery lately... The second is to lock down accommodations and a final shot list for next week's advertising shoot in San Antonio. Everything else today is going to become executive time on my calendar. Either that or maybe another swim....

Big, fat, fast lens. I'm giving it a try for event work and theater.

As you may have figured out I'm buying a lot of Fuji camera bodies lately. XH-1 cameras (plural) seem to be leaping into my shopping bag with alarming regularity. But it dawned on me that it's not enough to like a company's cameras bodies; in order for this to all work out for me I also need to tack a few lenses on to the front of those bodies and make some sellable images with them.

Many of the Fuji users amongst you have written to tell me how much they like the 50-140mm f2.8 zoom lens so when I had the opportunity to pick one up (new) at a reduced price I decided to go for it. The lens is massive (relative to the format), built like a proverbial tank, endowed with many pieces of precious and gifted glass elements and comes ready to work with non-I.S. camera bodies like the XT3 since the lens features very, very good OIS (optical image stabilization). Not shown in the image above is a robust tripod mount, which can be removed, if you like.

When you juggle the math of the sensor geometry and the focal lengths on offer, and run it through the currency calculator of full frame-ness, you have a lens with the equivalent focal range a 76-213mm. That makes it comfortably long enough to handle the work I frequently do making images of plays and musicals and it's also more than adequate for the kind of work I do at corporate events and showcases, which mostly involves (where long lenses are concerned) getting good shots of speakers on stages and speakers at podiums.

It's very early in my evaluation process but I've already shot, processed and looked at about 250 frames and so far find the lens to be every bit the equal of similar types of lenses I've owned for Sony, Canon and Nikon systems.

The gateway to this purchase was my recent (and ongoing) fascination with the idea of the Fuji XH1 camera which was designed and built to stand up to the physical rigors of bigger heavier lenses used by ardent amateurs and professionals. I had tried the 50-140mm f2.8 and the 16-85mm f2.8 on an XT3 camera (without a battery grip) at Precision Camera but they both felt awkward to me on that smaller body. When I tried them on the XH1 with grip they seemed to be a much more comfortable and rational combination.

I have two different productions to photograph at Zach Theatre in the next few weeks and am looking forward to once again being able to shoot through the range of (FF-equivalent) 24mm all the way to 210mm with only two lenses. In combination with the extremely quiet mechanical shutter in the XH1, along with its in-body image stabilization, it should be a very pleasant and effective way to shoot theater photography.

Next week I have two days of mixed location photography for an advertising agency in San Antonio, Texas and I'll be bringing a complete Fuji kit along for that assignment. It's fun to change gears and it will be a nice, comprehensive test of the system. While I'm sure the majority of the work will be done with the two zooms I'm also looking forward to giving the 14mm f2.8 and the 90mm f2.0 a solid field testing.

My friend and associate, James Webb will be in San Antonio with me shooting video b-roll with an extensive Panasonic system configured around several GH5s and a bunch of interesting and well tested lenses.

Off Topic: I've enjoyed getting to know the Subaru Forester I bought less than two weeks ago. My trip to San Antonio to visit my father last Sunday was my first longer highway use of the car and it did very well in the driving rain as well as getting through San Antonio's famous standing water.

I drove 150 highway miles, mostly at speeds of 70 to 75 mph and according the the trip computer I got 36.1 miles per gallon. Not too shabby for a 3500 pound vehicle with all wheel drive....

I think I'll keep it around for while...


7Artisans 35mm f1.2 lens on the front of a Fuji XE3. Not bad. Not bad at all.

What a beautiful Valentine's Day here in Austin, Texas. It was mostly sunny and got up to about 78 degrees (f) this afternoon. Our yard guy came by and power washed our shamefully be-sooted chimney, our walk ways and our back deck area so the house sparkled from the outside. I spent some time cleaning files off my computer and out of a couple cameras I mostly use for casual, personal work and I found these images that I'd made a few weeks ago, during another bout of happy sunshine. I thought I'd share them. 

About a month and a half ago I put up a bunch of quick images from this lens that looked a bit funky. I think I was playing around with really flat camera profiles at the time and had also set a wonky white balance. Many people were quick to judge the lens, and I can't blame them for that. But looking back at that post and comparing it with the more carefully created images in this go-round and I can only admit: Mea Culpa. I totally messed up that initial shoot. 

These images come from the camera with profiles set to  standard, and in the case of the image just below, velvia. They also were beneficiaries of correct white balancing. I set the little icon to the "sun" image and shot them in broad, midday, daylight. Now we can actually look at the lens without interference and judge it more or less on its own merits. 

My take? The lens is actually a very good performer at nearly all apertures (up to f8 = diffraction) except the widest. It makes good images and while it won't be as clinically sharp as some of the better Fuji lenses it's still more than adequate for lots of imaging uses; from video to big stills. 

I'm happy I gave it another shot as that first test was a disaster. Hard to believe but I'm not always right on target.

Of course, a good Texas sky never hurts.....

Happy Valentine's Day!!!!

On the sidewalk in front of Brock's Books in San Antonio. 
Ancient Nikon film camera + 28mm f3.5 lens

I've been using this image as my "Valentine's Day" 
message every year for the last 
twenty five years. 

I hope everyone finds true love and romance. 



Is it possible to judge (review) a camera anymore? Don't constant improvements to firmware make each review only a snapshot into one slice of a camera's life?

Fujifilm's Professional APS-C Camera.
Now effectively sidelined by its early reviews. 

There is a tendency among camera makers now to emulate the questionable habits of (software) operating system makers, app designers and other kinds of electronics manufacturers. That tendency is to create a product and get it to market while it is only 80-90% completed and then to depend on a long and sometimes complex series of software/firmware fixes to bring the product up to its true potential. 

A case in point, from my vantage point as a late adopter, is the Fujifilm XH-1 which I find to be an exhilarating camera with many commendable features and beautiful looking files. But apparently the XH-1s that I am handling are almost a completely different camera than the ones that came into the market nearly a year ago.

The first generation of firmware in this camera disappointed a lot of people and led early reviewers of the camera to steer people to make other choices. 

I can overlook any of the negative responses Fujifilm got from potential buyers when it came to the overall size of the XH-1; its heft and girth. Many see the only reason for mirrorless camera's existence to be that they are the "small size and weight" option in interchangeable lens photography. That's never been my perspective here at the blog and I'll always welcome size as a compromise if it means a camera is easier/more comfortable to hold, if it means the engineers needed the extra space in which to lovingly place features like near perfect in-body image stabilization, if it means that the camera is more robust and better able to wick away heat from mission critical components. 

Things that are harder to overlook in newly launched cameras are features and specifications that don't delivery what they promise. While Fuji flogged their marketing hard to make the XH-1 into an acceptable answer to hybrid shooters who craved good video they fell short by having the initial camera limited to 6, 10, or 15 minutes of continuous 4K shooting (apparently the single battery got too hot under the various loads). They failed to initially deliver image stabilization that was artifact free when panning in video (although this has also plagued many competing cameras as well) which led to many reviewers posting YouTube videos with jerky stops and starts in video files, weird corner motion distortions when panning, and other symptoms of I.S. distress. 

Another misstep was the decision by Fuji to only supply a headphone jack for videographers using the XH1 if they also purchased a $325 battery grip (which, in its defense, eventually led to the camera being able to provide 29.99 minutes of continuous video, finally) which drove the price of the new camera + grip to about $2225 and put the product firmly into the pricing arena of full frame cameras; which the public seems to steadfastly believe are superior to any smaller sensor camera.....

There was more. The camera had some early glitches that caused unexpected shutdowns that could only be remedied by removing the battery or batteries. In order to take advantage of the in body image stabilization the existing lenses required a seemingly unending series of their own firmware updates which could only be done on a body which also had the latest firmware. 

Is it any wonder that, confronted with so many black marks against a camera so widely and breathlessly awaited, the bulk of buyers read or watched the painful reviews and chose to take a different path to hybrid happiness? 

I'll confess that I didn't keep up with anything related to Fuji cameras since selling my last S5 in 2007 or 2008. They just fell off the radar for me. I did take a cursory look at the Pro-1 when it first came out but things like the lack of an adjustable diopter steered me away in short order. 

Over the last few years friends and blog readers would mention the cameras or lenses to me and I would nod and move on to the next thought with no stickiness for the Fuji brand. It was only in late October or early November of last year that I started paying attention as so many of my friends seemed enthralled by the Fuji XT3. I became interested and, impulsively, traded one of my Nikon cameras for a new XT3 and a lens I'd heard much good press about; the 18-55mm f2.8 - f4.0 "kit" lens. 

At this point I'd read nothing about the XH1 and was thoroughly convinced that I'd always be shooting hybrid or video projects with the cheap videographer's "industry standard" Panasonic GH5 or GH5S. Cameras that had never let me down. Since I wasn't in the market and don't review cameras I don't use for a living the Fuji flagship still stayed off my radar....

The XT3 was a nice introduction to the system and I liked shooting it for portraits. I found a few great video projects people had done and posted to the web also using the XT3 as a 4K cinema camera and I started experimenting with mine as well. I liked the video (don't like the pixie sized HDMI port, wish it had an audio interface....) and I started using my camera as an alternative to my Panasonic cameras for casual, personal projects. 

So, it was probably just a month ago that I was out at Precision-Camera.com buying something droll, like seamless background paper, when I came across a tricked out Fuji XH-1, with a battery grip with its two extra batteries, sitting in the used case, looking brand new and priced at something like $899 for the entire package (three batteries+body+grip+chargers). I'd read a few things about the whole Fuji product line after buying the XT3 and I'd read the sale brochure online.  I had my sales guy pull the camera out of the case and I played with it for all of five minutes before actually writing out a paper check to purchase the item. (Always fun to proffer a traditional check as most electronics stores actually no longer accept them). 

Since buying my first XH-1 I've been doing a deep dive into that camera to try and figure out exactly what Fuji was trying to do with the creation of that camera and to understand more about some of the features that didn't get the right kind of press but which might lead an eccentric camera buyer/user like me to appreciate it a bit more. 

While I wasn't really paying attention at launch time there are several mechanical attributes that appeal to people like me who can be hard on cameras and who demand reliability. First is the strengthening of the actual lens mount to make it more reliable and more resistant to deviating from true plano-parallelism with the sensor imaging plane. The mount is sturdier and the anchor screws longer, wider and stronger. This attention to mechanical engineering carries through to the body itself with an alloy substructure that is 25% thicker and has more cross supports than any other camera in the line up. The body cladding is also thicker and more resistant to damage. Even the paint is a harder and more abrasion resistant type than on the other cameras in the mix. This is probably one reason why the camera is only available in black....

The shutter was reworked, in conjunction with the image stabilization system, to have a much higher MTBF and the body's interior was re-engineered (by comparison with the smaller XT bodies) to have much greater heat dissipation capability. All of these things add up to a camera that is more physically robust, can operate with lower internal thermal stresses, and which has operational abilities that the other Fuji cameras do not. The only issue that seemed to cause the camera's first introductions to stumble were unfinished software/firmware. I'm assuming Fuji was giving the market credit for more patience in their roll out of improvements than they really deserved. 

Having not emphasized the engineering of the XH1 and having over-emphasized the video nature of the camera, it was an additional blow to their ability to market the XH-1 at a premium price when they were also marketing their brand new XT3 which boasted a "better" sensor and a deeper collection of 4K video features. That camera also came with the magic specs, such as BSI Sensor, more megapixels, faster processors, etc. All things that divided and confused the potential market for the camera that should have been the flagship model of the system and Fuji's first truly professional APS-C camera. 

With the acquisition of that first, used, Fuji XH-1 camera my Fujicron lenses (23, 35 and 50mm f2.0s) camera into their own with the addition of the image stabilization. In short order Fuji launched their firmware 2.0 which fixed so many of the initial problems with the early launch version of the camera. The I.S. got better and steadier. The video (with battery grip) was good to go for up to nearly 30 minutes at a go. The shutdowns were eradicated. Essentially, what users got was a brand new camera. 

When I experienced the camera with the revised firmware I was very happy with both it's imaging capabilities but also with its video quality and most importantly (for me) the handling. The viewfinder is superb and the grip makes the camera pretty wonderful. The boost mode on the grip also delivers a performance bump that can be most welcome to power users. 

After I started really using and appreciating the camera I mulled over the idea of getting a second one for the shoots I do at the theater. The XH-1 is a far better camera than the XT3 for shooting live theater in one regard; the mechanical shutter of the XH-1 is far, far quieter. I can hear it now; a host of people who don't shoot theater rushing to tell me that I should "just shoot with the electronic shutter you moron."  But, of course, these are people who don't shoot modern theater and don't know that of which they speak. Most of the theaters that I work in these days use high powered LEDs that, unlike the LEDs designed for film production, have high flicker rates with cameras using electronic shutters. Think Venetian blinds across the whole stage.....

In some productions using the mechanical shutter is a must and the XH-1 has the quietest shutter I have ever experienced. It makes the sound of a Leica M3 rangefinder shutter sound like a drunk man banging metal trash cans lids together in a resonating alleyway....or something like that. 

The XT3 shutter is more than twice as loud. 

All of this is to say that buried under all that thick metal there is much more to the XH-1 than there was even six months ago. And more to come based on the frequency of the firmware updates. And that leads us to the psychotic pricing strategy I've been encountering. 

When I first started to look at getting a second XH-1 for theater work the price on B&H and Amazon, for a body only package, was $1999. The price of the battery grip (sans batteries) was $329. The batteries were $60 each. I stopped looking. For a while. Then, a few weeks later I looked again and B&H and Amazon both were selling the whole grip kit (body, grip and extra batteries) brand new with USA warranties for a whopping $1299.  Roughly a thousand dollars off the recent price. I was certain it was a mistake but I went ahead and ordered one from B&H because I'd already decided that this was the body I wanted for theater work. When the transaction went through and the camera got delivered I was thrilled. It was, of course, as advertised: brand new and beautiful 

I put the two cameras through their paces at the theater, at an event and in several long portrait shoots and came away thinking that this may be the best work camera I've used since the film days. The files are big and detailed, with all the resolution I need. The video is great and, when body and lens both have I.S. and work together the camera moves are jitter free. After using the two cameras for nearly a month I took the plunge and upgraded my lens inventory. Now I have the two lenses I think I'll get the most mileage out of for theatrical work; the 16-55mm f2.8 and the 50-140mm f2.8. I've also added lenses that I know I'll get a lot of use out of in pursuing portraiture, the 60mm f2.4 macro and the 90mm f2.0. 

And all of this brings me to my question. How can we review cameras that grow and evolve over time as people improve and roll out new "brain tissue" for the camera bodies? The XH-1 is now nothing like the camera that debuted a year ago. Not even close. The new camera is stable, has great I.S., has wonderful image quality and no propensity to shut down at crunch time. But is there any method that would allow people to access constantly updated reviews? I don't know of any. I think at this point that Fuji understands two different things: First, they know they've built perhaps the best and most solid APS-C professional imaging tool ever put on the market of digital cameras. And second, they know that their too early launch and subsequent ineffectual marketing efforts to rehabilitate the camera's image with the buying public was too little too late. 

So here we are, finally, with the product that most of us have clamored for in the past (if we are in the Fuji camp). It's finally working as it should; as it was promised, and yet, it will fail utterly because the reviews that will always come up first on Google will be the earliest ones when people were stumbling through errors and promises not yet met. There is also the misguided marketing that, in this product range, forgot to emphasize the professional build and finish to the product which were huge positives that could have been leveraged to sustain a marketing momentum while coding in the product evolved. 

This could be the product I wanted but would never have found without happenstance and my own curiosity. Some marketer at some agency in the USA was too intent on the consumer features and not nearly invested enough in selling the actual engineering. The mechanicals. The stronger mount, the better body armor. In the end the consumer misses out because they miss out on another choice. One that might have been superior to the ones that made it through the popular feature filter. Sad, to me, that somewhere in the marketing mix panoramic HDR was more appetizing that rock solid camera stability and resilience. 

I know many of you question my sanity but I hope I'm able to buy one more before either the price goes back up or Fuji pulls the camera off the market to cauterize the bleeding. We can only hope that they hire some smarter marketing people when they get ready to launch the XH-2. I'll be sitting right here waiting for their calls.... The saddest outcome would be for Fuji to stop aspiring toward making professional cameras.

Read the latest reviews for the cameras you are considering. Go to the camera maker's site and look at the firmware history for ALL the cameras you are considering. See if the "issues" you read about in the initial review from a year ago have all been handled over the ensuing year with better firmware. You might find a diamond that was "in the rough" but which is now very well polished and ready to impress. 


Okay Fuji Shooters, where do you stand on the 50-140mm f2.8 zoom lens. I know it's heavy but is it good?

Let me know if you've used it and what you think. The 50-140mm f2.8 is on sale right now and I'm trying to help bolster the global economy. What's your take?

Gloria, photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera and the 50mm f2.8 macro. 

I always thought the best portraits came from situations where the photographer and talent had a quiet, private space. Gloria proved me wrong.

In 2013 I was invited to help launch the Samsung Galaxy NX camera at the NYC Photo Expo show. I asked for a bunch of space and a sophisticated lighting set up but what I ended up with was an "open air" 12x10 foot space tacked on to the bigger Samsung booth on the trade show floor at the Javits Center. Provided was a 24 by 36 inch soft box and a smaller, 16x20 soft box. My models were about six feet from the background and I was shooting tethered so the crowd at the booth could see the working (non-post processed/straight out of camera) Jpegs on a couple of 60 inch 4K Samsung TVs. 

As I worked with Gloria I had my back to dozens of photographers at any one time who were attending the Expo and huddling at the booth. They could watch me work, ask me about my settings and see exactly how I interacted with my subject and how goofy I looked while photographing. The trade show floor was noisy and chaotic but we were able to block that out and work just as I would normally work in the studio. 

I even had a headset on so I could narrate as I shot. I've never done that before or since. It was kind of stressful because even the best photographers screw up and make lousy images as they zero in on their settings. Most of us work by shooting and evaluating > changing settings > and then shooting again to see if anything really improved. 

I may be taking too much credit though because Gloria was a cool and calm professional model who was used to big production shoots in The City with lots of crew around her. She helped me to be a better photographer through the two days I spent being a booth novelty. 

It's my contention that the Galaxy NX was the camera that killed Samsung's passion to be in the market. The response, worldwide, to the totally (excessively) connected, big screen camera was so underwhelming that you could probably have heard pin drops in Samsung's marketing meeting around the world. The final Samsung camera, the NX1 was a great camera. Had they waited until the launch of this camera instead of putting a flawed concept camera into the market they'd probably be one of the big three competitors for professional camera sales in the market today. 

The NX1 had a great 28 megapixel sensor, killer 4K video, and was, by all accounts a solid camera. Where the company really shined was in lens development. I shot in the NYC demo with the 85mm f1.4 and the 60mm f2.0 macro and those two lenses were fanstastic; easily the equal to current Fuji, Canon, Nikon or Sony lenses and maybe a few clicks better. 

One thing I did learn in this Expo event was that we could make decent portraits in spite of the cramped space, the sparse lighting gear and a full, noisy audience looking over my shoulder. A fun challenge if you haven't tried it yet.....