7.08.2019

Mechanicals. Found abandoned behind a building that used to house a printing shop.



I was out strolling with a camera on the 4th of July when I noticed some older machinery behind a building that used to house a print shop, on the west side of downtown . I stepped into the old parking lot and looked around. There were a number of ancient mechanical devices that did things like fold printed paper to make brochures. Another machine was used, I think, for staple stitching brochures and booklets. Some were just like a vague puzzle with no starter clues. Perhaps an old school printing craftsman would have known exactly what each was for, even though they were beyond salvage. 

The parts were mostly monochrome and dirty so I thought they'd render better in black and white. The Fuji camera I was using has a black and white profile called, Acros, and it tends to add sharpness and grain to make photos more like what we used to get from the wet darkroom. The profile also gets me closer to the way I like the tones to appear in black and white photos. 

I spent a few minutes fiddling around with my photos and then moved on. It made me a little sad because I remember ink-on-paper printing very fondly. We used to do a lot of it when I worked in the advertising industry. I remember many a middle of the night press check. The smell of solvents, the viewing booths with their color corrected lighting, and even the little, folding printer's loupes that we used to check registration of the plates. That, and the endless clacking, and soft roar of the four and five color presses. To see parts of the old way cast aside after decades of daily use seemed like a repudiation of all the art and craft of a certain age. All the angst and loss captured by a digital camera, of a subject that was so relentlessly analog.




Side tracked. But still interested.


Do you ever get side-tracked from your primary interests? Man, I do. And I have one of those bulldog personalities that won't let me unclench my tight bite on whatever I have in front of me until it's done, complete, finished and wrapped up. There's very little ability to multi-task over here at the VSL studio. I don't do stop and start well. I am compartmentalize-challenged. 

What am I talking about now?

I should be hunkered down in the studio office trying to get the marketing done that I'll need to succeed financially in the 3rd and 4th quarters. A mix of post cards, e-mails, some Linked In posts and a splattering of Instagram posts. It's a good time to do this stuff because we're officially in the doldrums of Summer when clients run and hide from the heat and nothing much gets done, but I have two things (at least) that are pulling my attention away from doing the work. The first is a re-start of what was, at one time, a never-ending construction project at the multimillion dollar house next door. I've gotten used to the daytime hammering; even the jack-hammering, but what I can't get used to is the contractors mindlessly parking their trucks across both of our driveways --- it's almost like they can't understand that two separate houses could have two separate driveways and that parking across the one that isn't your client's is stupid, and wrong. 

If we were in the perfect world of my imagination my neighbors (who I do like) would be at home instead of out of town for two months. If they were home I'd just stroll next door and ask them to have a word directly with their various contractors and instruct them NOT to park in front of my driveway. Then my neighbor and I would crack a bottle of fine Champagne open and we'd take turns making inane conversation like, "Wow! How about that last game of the World Cup???" But in the real world the neighbors are gone off to somewhere cool and restful and I can't even locate the foreman for the ever expanding project next door. 

So, in those quiet moments during which the offending trucks have been relocated (by me) and the blank stares of the workers have turned back to other tasks, I'll start working on my own stuff until I get a phone call, e-mail or letter asking for clarification of something about my father's estate. Can I send a death certificate? Can I send letters testamentary? Can I fill out this form? Do I know my great grandmother's social security number? Usually I try to return calls quickly only to find that I'm ushered into the original caller's voicemail which then begins the routine so prevalent at big firms; the call back and message left five minutes before closing. I've have been trying to connect with one person who called to "assist" me on this "estate project" about ten times. She's never there. But she does seem to hit the office once or twice a day, usually during lunch or some other inconvenient time, to leave a voice mail in which she consistently tries for an interjection of humor with the hoary and withered, "We seem to be playing phone tag!!! Ha. Ha.

I have a f@cking cure for phone tag. It's called setting up a time certain in which to make and receive the phone call. As in, "Hi Mr. Tuck, I'm sorry I wasn't able to reach you. I'll try again at 10 am tomorrow. If that's a good time can you just send me an e-mail to confirm? If not, can you suggest an alternate time?" But, of course, I don't have a clue as to the nature of her call or what I can offer but it's coming from one of my dad's investment companies so I feel duty bound to find some sort of closure. 

Ah, the mail just came. I picked it up out of our mail box after tracking down another slack-jawed, barbarian worker who once again positioned his oil leaking Chevy pick up truck right in front of my driveway. I was heading out for coffee.... So, now there are letters from three banks, an insurance company, and the Texas Retirement System, and all three of them would love to have... something. Something I'll need to find, research, prepare and send. It just never seems to stop.

And all I really would like to do is take some photographs. You know, use the cameras a bit. Maybe finish an assignment without some unwelcome interruption. 

I'll even blame my recent gear purchases on a repressed desire to actually use photographic devices. Maybe my internal logic is that by buying yet another camera or lens I'll show the universe my intention to make photographs and the universe will move mountains to assist me. In reality, the new toys mostly sit in their boxes or on my desk....taunting me and making my lack of clear direction and unencumbered enthusiasm painfully; excruciatingly obvious. 

I'm actually thinking of going out to buy my own tow truck tomorrow. I'll be hooking up horrifying pick up trucks of the workers (parking illegally) at projects all over my neighborhood and I'll tow them to downtown parking garages where the prices to free one's vehicle are a hundred bucks a day, and let everyone else sort it all out. But I really won't because I can't see how that will help me at with all the paperwork requests.

I've included two photographs from Iceland to remind myself that cool weather will come again someday. That I do get to do fun stuff, usually. That I can afford to take the time off to get stuff done. The only thing I am not sure of is whether the constant remodeling, tearing down and rebuilding, etc. in our neighborhood will ever abate. When pesky homebuyers buy million dollar houses with the intention of demolishing them in order to build much bigger and more expensive homes one wonders whether it's a never ending cycle which will eventually morph into new buyers buying the two to four million dollar houses only to tear those down and start again on even bigger and pricier ones. Maybe it's time to move.....

Sorry, no time for photographic writing today. Too busy being inconvenienced. 


Proof that at some point in the past I actually had time to photograph.

A couple of days with the X-Pro2 have helped me sort out a new working methodology. And use up some shoe leather....


After a bit of trial and error, and the purchase of two competing lines of lenses, I've come up with what is for me a nice, small kit to take when I go out for walks in our lovely urban spaces. It consists of an X-Pro2 body (see the welcome grip attachment in the photo above...)  along with a 23mm f2.0 and the 50mm f2.0. I also bring along two of the NP-126S batteries; just in case. The small bag (it's really very small) is big enough to hold two of the f2.0 WR lenses along with a wallet and, if wanted, a phone. The camera doesn't go in the bag. It would take up too much space. It goes mostly over my left shoulder on a traditional strap but sometimes I wear it, bouncing up and down, on my chest like a 1970's tourist, and that's okay too. 

I guess you could consider this my "day time" rig; the lenses are the f2.0 variety instead of their faster, f1.4/f1.2 counterparts. I'm pretty sure that if I were doing mostly interior photographs (at the museums, in coffee shops, in hotels) that I'd switch out the lens selection and go with the 23 f1.4 and the 56 f1.2 APD. But in broad daylight the max aperture differences are inconsequential as I seem to be settling in on f4.0 and f5.6 as my preferred settings. 

I also keep my car keys in the little bag and, as you can see in the above photo, I keep the batteries in a separate plastic bag to prevent an unfortunate marriage of the battery terminals with the metal keys. 

I've made a few mistakes in shooting the Fuji X-Pro2's but nothing so embarrassing that I'm hanging my head and leaving the field of play. The X-Pro2 just requires a "newbie" like me to pay a bit more attention to the process and the difference in controls; especially when using the optical finder. I tend to get into using EVFs so much I just assume automatically (and incorrectly) that the camera will "see" what I see through the OVF and that's a bad presumption. I'm working on it....
This gentleman was working on a music video with his friend. The camera is a Sony A7xxx. He asked me if I could play a small part in their video and so I acted the part of a photographer taking images on Congress Ave. His actor rode up on a scooter and showed me an I.D. card and asked if I had seen the person in the card. I said "yes" and point off down the street. I'm proud to say we got the shot in just two takes. 

This is the actor I worked with for my short cameo.
It looks like they were having a lot of fun and had their 
camera work well figured out.

The traditional group shot upon completion. 
23mm (I'm still learning with this one).


This store always has the best signage...

One step up from a food trailer? Weird business model in my mind. Cook burgers and fries. 
Delivery them to customers who sit in the sweltering heat under a little tent. 
Want some sweat with your burger? Maybe it all makes more sense in the winter...

This is a new addition to the ever increasing inventory of downtown hotels.
It's called "The Fairmont" and it was the site of the WP Engine Summit Conference 
that I was photographing just two weeks ago.

Big flag on a Rainey St. bar.




Love a good ad. 


So, I discovered Bangers during the WP Engine Summit and I made it the 
"turnaround" destination for my long walk yesterday. I broke with long 
tradition and stopped in for one of their lower alcohol IPAs. 
Very refreshing and a bit of chancy hydration for the long walk back to the car....

I was walking by our new (giganctic, grandiose, over the top) public library when I realized 
that I'd swum hard, walked far and hadn't had lunch yet. It was already 3 pm when 
I ventured into the library's very nice cafĂ© and ordered their version of 
heuvos rancheros. The beans were spicy and delicious. The bacon downright sybaritic. 
Washed down with a blueberry Italian soda.




Nicely manageable walking kit. I'll re-use this packing concept.

Quick Swim news. Our regular pool is closed today so I'm heading over to the spring fed pool known as "Deep Eddy." It's 33 and a third yards long and the water temperature is about 10 degrees (F) cooler than our regular pool. I just want to get a mile or two in before I start my day in earnest. 

7.06.2019

It's Summer everywhere but it's been mild in Austin this year. So mild that I'm paying less in utilities which leaves me more $$$ to buy gear. Surprise!

Lifeguard at eight of a mile long, spring fed, Barton Springs Pool. Shot with a Sony R1.

Here we are in early July and I have yet to pull a sprinkler out to water the lawn. We've had bi-weekly rains all through the Spring, the lakes are full, and the grass is emerald green and growing fast. It's certainly a contrast to many other places; Alaska is setting new high temperature records this week, and the week before parts of France hit record highs of around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time I was able to do a long walk in mid-afternoon, through downtown Austin, without breaking sweat. It's just not fair.

I took advantage of the mild Summer weather over the last two weeks to go outside and get to know my newest camera addition; the X-Pro2. It's a camera that's been out for over two years so I'll assume you know it's a Fuji camera that is configured like rangefinder cameras of yesteryear, complete with a hybrid viewfinder that gives users a nice EVF or a bright line, optical finder reminiscent of the Leica M series optical finders. The camera also features a 24 megapixel sensor and great external controls. 

I have yet to use the X-Pro2 for a commercial assignment but that hasn't stopped me from using it daily for personal work. I've used it mostly with the 35mm f1.4 and the 23mm f1.4. I'm not much interested in using the camera with any of the bigger and heavier lenses like the 16-55mm zoom lens or the 100-400mm zoom lens. I like the notion of the OVF and the bright frame lines, and they seem ready made for the moderately wide and normal/standard focal lengths. 

So far I've been leaning more towards the 35mm lens as the "favorite-take-anywhere" lens but I keep the 23mm handy just in case some slightly wide scenic inspiration presents itself. 

Lately, as I've warmed up to the X-Pro2, I've started hearing lots of rumors about the imminent release of the next model in the line, the X-Pro3. No official information about this model yet but I'm sure it's only a matter of weeks or months before it turns real.  This time around I'm convincing myself to focus on the current generation, the ones I have in my hands, and only look to the new camera if it's so wildly superior to all of the current Fuji cameras that not buying it would be as stupid as not buying Apple Computer stock in 2002. 

Instead I've decided to dive as deeply as I can into the X-Pro2. That includes becoming operationally efficient and thoroughly understanding how to best leverage the hybrid finder. It's no small thing that the viewing window on the camera is positioned to the far left of the camera, as it faces me, which means I can keep my nose off the rear LCD while shooting. 

But, as you probably know, I'm adamant about the idea that cameras, like rattlesnakes, (should) always travel in pairs. I bought my first X-Pro2 used from Precision Camera here in Austin and went back to see if they had any new arrivals of used X-Pro2s. They did not but they did let me know that the camera, brand new, is currently on sale (nationally) for about $1499. With my current, staggering investment in Fuji cameras the $200 price drop was not enough to move me from the sidelines. Instead, I started looking around the web to see if I could snag a mint X-Pro2 for $1,000 or less. 

I found what I was looking for at Camera West / Leica Store S.F. It was a mint, like new, Fuji X-Pro2 in the original box with all the manuals, paperwork, included flash, camera strap, original charger and  126S battery. The package also included a very nice add on grip and the whole package was a very reasonable $950, with shipping included. I bought it and took delivery of it this afternoon. It's even nicer than my "starter" X-Pro2. This one gives all the appearance of never being used. 

It doesn't make a lot of sense to go all in on X-Pro2s when actually the X-H1 is a more capable camera but then I've never been particularly logical about camera buying and I always remember reading an interview with David Bailey in which he confessed to owning well over 100 different cameras. Believe me, I am no where close....

On the other hand, I did two portraits today and decided that I could use the opportunity to compare my three main cameras of the day. I shot one set of images with an X-H1 and one set with an X-T3. I'll shoot the same set up with Ben as a model, using the Pro2 in the morning, tomorrow. Just to make the whole exercise seem more precise I've used the same 90mm f2.0 and the same lighting and settings for the first two images and intend to maintain that rigor for the third go-round.

I'm shooting at f4.0 and 1/60th of a second, and the ISO was 640. Both times I used a tripod. The lighting was the same. While I've just done the first two cameras I do have a few small observations. The X-T3 creates a slightly less contrasty file. The X-H1 has a bit more snap and contrast. Otherwise there's not a lot of difference between the two cameras. Judging the overall balance and appeal of the Jpeg files I'd give the X-H1 the nod if I had to choose.

It seems as though the X-T3 would be remarkably better, given all the press it's gotten but then again it may just be down to the fact that my 27 inch computer screen is the limiting factor; the "filter" as it were.

I'll let you know if the X-Pro2 does any better or worse after that test.

In swimming news....the lower temperatures and the aerators at the pool are combining to keep the water nice and cool this Summer. After a rather long warm up set this morning my lane mate and I knocked out twenty-one 100's of freestyle on a set interval. Even though the holiday is in full swing the masters workout was well attended. I've been working on maintaining a good streamlined body position  lately and paying special attention to keeping my form solid even when I get tired (especially when I get tired...) and it's helping increase the pace I can keep during longer sets.

The advice I keep getting from our coaches is to concentrate on my kick during freestyle swims. Most of the power comes from the arm strokes but the speed and tempo come from the kick. Most programs use kkckboards during kick sets but I find it messes up the stroke-to-kick pattern. I've ditched the kick board and it seems to be helping me incorporate my kick in a more natural way. Some people use fins during some kick sets to work the legs a bit harder and to help create more ankle flexibility but I think fins can be a crutch and I'm finding more improvement by bypassing them and just kicking better.

A question for all the financially savvy people out here: When is the stock market going to turn and tank? If you could just let us know in advance this time we'll be sure to be more ready than last time....



7.04.2019

Someone referenced this old blog post to me today and I went back and read it. LMAO. Sad to laugh at one's own writing....

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2012/02/kirk-tuck-swung-and-missed-this-time.html

Next we'll take on the DXO believers. And the invariance crowd. Warming up for the final event: a mud wrestling match with the Equivalence Coven. Hexagrams and Wolf's Bane galore.

Happy 4th. Don't let the tanks run over your dog.

7.03.2019

Why we rarely see mirrorless cameras of any kind at major events that attract news agencies, photojournalists, sports photographers and guys enslaved by Getty Images.


I don't have all the answers but I do have one notion about why you see so many sports shooters and event shooters working with Canon and Nikon DSLRs instead of the newer generations of Sony, Panasonic, Fuji and Olympus mirrorless cameras. It all comes back to the old saying in politics: "follow the money." The newer the DSLR you see at an event the less likely it is that the photographer holding it does photography as a full time job. He will likely be supplementing his income from part time photography with a full time day job. This gives him a shot at being able to afford the newer cameras. The exceptions are staff photographers from one outlet or another.  When you see sports shooters at events, or contract photographers from Getty Images, at red carpet events you can be certain that they are working for a fraction of the fees that are commanded by photographers who are serving corporate clients directly, and even tinier fractions of the photographers who are servicing national advertising accounts. 

The low fees that websites, contract agencies and magazines currently pay are far below (when adjusted for inflation) the magazine day rates photographers could earn back in the 1960's thru the 1980's. With an average renumeration of between $150 and $250 for a full work day, plus the surrender of all subsidiary rights and copyright to the images, it's almost impossible to consider that people working in this part of the industry have the spending flexibility to change cameras and camera systems very often, if at all. 

If you look closely the next time you are at a sporting event, other than something like the Super Bowl, you'll likely see that the DSLRs and lenses in use are older models and not the cutting edge, newest models. You'll likely see a sprinkling of Nikon D500s and D5s surrounded by a sea of older D3 models and even older cameras. If you surveyed the Canon shooters you'll likely see a few of the near current 1DXxx cameras surrounded by mob of 7D cameras and the like. The longer lenses might be white or gray but they are not going to be the latest release. The reality is that the kinds of photography at which you see cameras from the past are not anywhere near the lucrative other parts of the industry when it comes to monetizing their work and so the practitioners are ill able to afford to make quick switches that might require a financial loss to realize. When the fees are low the camera in your hands is likely to be the one you'll continue to use. And most of the older cameras (older than 2 years) are statistically more likely to be Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Especially in the sports specialty fields. 

And, to be honest, most people who do any profession fit somewhere in a Bell Curve that dictates that a small percentage of an overall group will be risk takers (early adopters) and a very large percentage of the group will fall into the middle of the curve and will be two to three years behind the folks who like to dance along the bleeding edge of technological change. That means that the big hump of people in the middle of the curve have to wait until it's absolutely a proven and confirmed advantage, that has been time tested, before they release their grip on older technology and embrace the newer types of gear. There are always pragmatists that will only shift when they discern an advantage for their own work and, if someone is unchanging in their routine it's unlikely that the cameras with which they practice said routine need to change either. Since 80% (roughly) fall into this category it stands to reason that at least 80% of the cameras being used for public events will belong to that 80% who, by way of analogy, are waiting to see if CDs will actually die off before embracing MP3 music players. And those with an investment in MP3 players who are a bit less conservative are now waiting to see if streaming music is actually a real thing. 

Is it my presumption that the reason for all lack of movement to mirrorless by photographers who shoot public events is a combination of poverty and fear? Not at all. 

Some of the folks you see using newer DSLRs at events are paid staffers for local newspapers, national agencies, or large corporations sponsoring the events. Many times these shooter don't actually shoot with their own gear but are provided gear by their employers. And generally all of these employers have much, much deeper pockets than individual artists. They buy logistically which means they buy in bulk to get better pricing and service and they only buy stuff that integrates into sunk investments already on the ledgers. If they have store rooms of Nikon or Canon lenses the bean counters will make sure no one takes a chance and starts buying camera bodies that don't match up with their prior investments in lenses and accessories. It may be that their buying occurs in five year cycles and they haven't full depreciated, in their minds, the usefulness of the current gear. It will be interesting to see if the next cycle of enterprise camera and lens purchasing will change direction given that the two big past suppliers (C&N) are also moving into mirrorless systems. It's times of evolutionary jumps that deliver disruption in buying patterns ---- as evidenced by millennials shying away from the purchase of personal cars. 

The employee photographer has no incentive to buy new tech out of her own pocket if the employer is providing tools that are at least workable. 

At another level, some practices are predicated on traditions. As video became more and more important fewer people gravitated toward traditional event and sports photographer because the money and opportunities were better in video. The image workers who remained in the field are older that in previous generations, on average. They grew up with Nikon and Canon and learned on the SLRs and DSLRs available when they started out. They are loathe to break what have been, for them, successful habits. If they have the intention to stay the course they have a subconscious disincentive to try other brands because, if they find advantages to the newer tech then they will either be unhappy that they can't swing the finances to sell off their current gear at a loss while fitting out a whole new system in an unfamiliar gear genre or they will have to rationalize their current choices inspire of the new features that mirrorless cameras deliver (silent shooting anyone? Can't imagine someone working on movies sets wanting to work in with a Jacobson blimp instead of a silent shutter Sony or other brand). They will have to learn the process over again if they do jump to the new systems and, while most of us know it's not that daunting, most of us also don't have to live with the financial free fall that may follow if the wrong choices are made. That's the warm fuzziness of doing photography as a hobby instead of trying to put food on the table with your work.

There is another subset of photographers who have the money and the access to affluent clients; who have the ability to move between systems, but can't because the new mirrorless systems don't offer the range of working tools they need in their particular specialities. For example, I have a close friend who is a well known architectural photographer. He grew up shooting 4x5 technical and monorail cameras and for his work he absolutely requires lenses that shift. Tilt/shift lenses. But in the mirrorless universe there isn't a single tilt shift lens currently being offered by any of the mirrorless camera companies. Not a one. My friend could afford to drop $20K or $30K to move to a new system but will not do so until someone with an otherwise compelling feature list joins the Canon and Nikon club and offers a selection of tilt/shift lenses in all the important focal lengths. To do without those lenses would mean changing his entire visual practice and the quality of his deliverables to clients. He encounters the same constraints when moving between medium format systems. 

If you are a well heeled sports photographer who has figured out, through some combination of contracts and sponsorships, how to make real money shooting sports you probably would never consider a company like Fuji for cameras to capture football, soccer and baseball (for examples) and I could not blame you. To date they have one longer lens that would provide competitive performance at just one focal length. It's their 200mm f2.0, and I'm sure it's a magnificent lens. But I'm equally sure that you'd never try to cover a sport that requires continually variable distance between your camera and the action without having a selection of fast, long lenses at your disposal, or at least available to rent.

There are photographers like Joel Grimes, for instance that shoot sports for clients other than editorial  outlets and if they are like their other advertising photographer brethren then they undoubtably make good money doing it. I'm thinking about the folks who shoot the actual advertising images for companies like Nike, Speedo, and Gatorade. Or for ESPN.  They might continue to use Nikon or Canon because they are V.I.P.s in the system they shoot. Their loyalty might be a mix of long experience and nostalgia for their preferred brand but it's equally larded with their ability to call the camera companies' professional services and borrow specialty lenses, loaner bodies, as well as special services. Our perception of the overwhelming presence of DSLRs comes partly because we often see these system V.I.P.s touting their system allegiance in their blogs, interviews and workshops because it's such a powerful synergy for everyone involved. The classic example is Joe McNally and his decades long association with Nikon. I presume that at some point in his digital career (around 2006 to 2012 ? ) Joe could have made one phone call and gotten a crate of Nikon CLS system flashes delivered to his studio with Nikon's blessing and no invoice attached. 

But it was, of course, based on the (realized) perception that Joe would then go out and use the lights on special projects which he would use the images from to push his workshops, books, speaking engagements and pitches for future shooting assignments from other clients. His most over the top use of Nikon gear was the employment of many Nikon speed lights to overpower the desert sun in Dubai while photographing attractive models. A stunt that was covered by the photo industry press at large with almost as much interest and intensity as a moon landing. Joe worked on his brand in the process while Nikon got coverage of their differentiating product portfolio (arguably the best flash system at the time) worth millions of dollars ---- all for delivering a couple dozen flashes to a mad man in the desert. To do a stunt that most of us realized could be equalled by one powerful flash system from Elinchrom  at a far lower overall cost. Well played by Joe and Nikon if you ask me...

So, if mirrorless really is popular at all then why don't you see it everywhere? Hmmm. Mirrorless camera systems, until recently, were not as capable when it came to working with fast, continously moving subjects that needed to be captured in sharp focus. Phase detect AF was the secret weapon that allowed traditional DSLRs to hold onto various areas of the industry. The other secret weapon was the ability to shoot fast with minimal finder blackout. This meant that users of mirrorless cameras were buying  them not for sports and spot news (the bulk of situations where the general public is treated to the sight of professionals work with cameras) but for studio work, considered work, portraits, landscapes and all manner of subject that didn't require the complex focusing capabilities for subjects on the run.

When you consider where most considered photography happens you realize that it is used for just about everything from weddings to corporate executive portraits to nearly all advertising. I'll take advertising as an example as it's the part of the industry with which I am most familiar. Last Fall I spent nearly six weeks flying around the country making advertising portraits for an insanely large construction and infrastructure company. In every location and every situation we were balancing light with the sun or with ambient daylight of one kind or another. We were also making compositions that juxtaposed interesting backgrounds with our portrait subjects. This meant that I was putting up light stands with their attendant sand bags. The light stands held battery powered mono-lights powerful enough to provide enough exposure to match full sun. Even with a modifier in front of the light source. The composition was careful and exact and the lighting position critical so the super fast autofocusing was not required, in fact, some of the images I preferred manually focusing to get the plane of focus exactly where I wanted it. Having a camera with an EVF was more critical to me. 

In fact, in most of my jobs it's the same idea. A system with a good feedback system (pre-chimping) holds value for me while a super fast frame rate or super fast focusing is more or less meaningless; after having reached a level of sufficiency for the work I do. 

And, for most shooters, the differential between focusing speed and accuracy sets up its own value matrix which is subject to the operators' needs or preferences. I would rather every focusing engagement favor accuracy over speed. With portraits the accuracy of a good eye detect AF feature is priceless.

So, for every public event photographer you see who is sporting the older DSLR tech there is likely at least a one to one ratio of other photographers whose work prioritizes other camera strengths. For a long while Panasonic was my top choice because their implementation of video was so much better than their competitors. Now others are catching up (see the Fuji X-T3).  My current happiness with Fuji is that their files, straight out of camera, make for better theater images and better portrait --- at least to my color taste. But for a lot of work out on location the benefits of industry leading image stabilization from Olympus and Panasonic may be of much greater importance.

Look in the small backpack of travel photographers like James Popsys and chances are you'll be much more likely to find smaller format mirrorless systems because they deliver great files while also helping to meet the vagaries of airline restrictions as well as being comfortable enough to carry and shoot with all day long. Gone are the days when the full frame cameras were the first choice for travel. They left along with the last couple inches of airline seat width and the implementation of extra baggage charges. 

The bottom line is that change comes at a snail's pace even when most of the users of a technology understand the advantages of the newer systems. It's the reason city only commuters continue to buy big SUVs to drive to work and to leave parked all day in sun baked parking lots only to drive back home through traffic over the same 15 average miles and the 45 minutes it takes instead of investing in hybrid or all electric cars. Even though they'd save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on gas.

So, the next time you are punishing yourself by watching sports on TV and you find yourself searching the on screen shots of the photo media for what kind of cameras they might be using remember that this cohort of photographers is very small and very specialized and, if you are at all like me, they don't shoot the same way we do or for the same targets. Then take a moment to realize that life is happening all around you while you are watching someone else do something healthy on TV and that your are also shortchanging our own ability to decide your own camera choices by making unequal comparisons with low paid sports workers. Turn the stupid TV off and either grab the camera you carefully researched and enjoy using and head outside, or get those walking shoes all warmed up and ready for action.

Nothing good comes from watching television. And, as Karl Marx once said, "Televised Sports is the opiate of the masses." 



We don't all drag desktop computers with us all over town anymore....
Not the we ever did

usually all the lighting gear is much more important than which type of camera you will use to get the shot. Imagination and experience being the two most important parameters.

Lighting trumps cameras. Sandbags make us safe.

Big equipment is not agile. Or fun to drive.
My old Mamiya Six had no motor, no autofocus and no zoom lenses. I actually had to think about making photographs. 


Contax G2 with the 21mm lens. Mirrorless? You bet.

Sharks move constantly or they die. 
I'd rather be a shark than dead.

Getting to know the gear up close and personal. Plus, photographing at the theater.

Me trying to understand my new camera. Bonding through long walks and playing with all the buttons. 

It's always an interesting day when we have something to photograph at the theatre. I got up early and went to the 7 a.m. swim workout so I'd have plenty of time to get over the Zach Kleberg stage and drag my lighting stuff into the building. The marketing team was working on a TV commercial and wanted to get double duty out of the actor, the make-up person and the dresser by also incorporating a photography shoot for advertising and public relations. We were photographing the actor who will be playing Governor Ann Richards in the upcoming production of "Ann." 

Because I've been photographing in Austin for so long, and because a lot of the people on the stage with me this morning are quite young, I think I was the only person in attendance who had actually known and worked with the real Ann Richards. I'd done public relations work with her during one of her gubernatorial races and I also photographed her for an advertising campaign promoting an Austin luxury condominium project called, the Nokonah. She was a friend of the developers and had also bought an apartment in the building. We photographed her half a block from the Nokohan at the Whole Foods grocery chain flagship store, after getting permission to bring in lights, stands and cameras, and to cordon off part of the produce section early one morning. 

Today's shoot was relatively straightforward. We did seated and standing shots of our actor, Libby, in front of a rear projection screen on which a fluttering Texas flag furled and unfurled. I lit Libby with classic beauty light; a big octabox overhead, aimed down at her at 45 degrees (and used pretty close) and a silvered 42 inch bounce reflector just out of frame below her to pop in fill light. I also used a third light in a small soft box behind her to do some subtle backlight. All three lights were the Godox SL60W LED lights I've been buying lately. If two are good three are better. 

I used my trusty Fuji X-H1 and the 90mm f2.0 for the waist up and head and shoulders shots and when I could not back up any more for the wider head to foot shots I switched to the 16-55mm f2.8 zoom. 

The lights all seem to be almost exactly 5100 degrees Kelvin and that's what I set on the camera. Since I was working with controlled lighting on an otherwise black set I shot Jpegs in the large, fine setting. After shooting a few test shots the only adaptation I made was to turn down the sharpening from the default to minus two. 

The lighting setup took about 15 minutes, the shoot about 15 minutes and the tear down about 20 minutes. Having photographed in this theater at least 100 times my biggest concern was getting the TV crew out of the way so I could light....that, and finding a wall socket that was live.

I'd post a pic but the take is embargoed until the theater uses the images first. 

Although I am currently enthralled by the Fuji X-Pro2 using the X-H1 this morning reaffirmed my strategy of using one for work and one for additional shooting pleasure. 

Off topic (?) I was delighted to find out that, even though tomorrow is a holiday (apparently to celebrate tanks and airplanes...) we have swim practice from 7:30 am until 9:00 am. What a truly great way to usher in the holiday. 

Waiting impatiently for my second X-Pro2 to arrive on Friday.... 



Weird parasitic architecture. There are two hotels adjacent to our convention center. The Marriott to the north and the Fairmont to the east. Both have built pedestrian bridges over to the convention center. 
Austin, working hard to make conventional crosswalks obsolete. 

Just being a photo-nerd and looking for stuff to shoot to show off the sharp, new f1.4 lenses. 

7.02.2019

I've been photographing with Fuji cameras since last November. I just passed my 50,000th exposure with them. This is what I've learned.


Fuji makes good cameras and great lenses. Really great lenses. As the cameras get better and better I think makers like Nikon and Canon have much to fear. But I will say that while I've gotten my Fuji cameras dialed in (as far as color and tonality go...) my favorite all around shooting camera (disregarding all the mindless crap that you read in other places on the web) is still the Panasonic G9. That camera combined with the 12-100mm Olympus lens may just be the ultimate travel camera on the face of the earth. But I digress from my dissection of my Fuji experiences.

I was originally put off of Fuji cameras for a number of reasons: They seemed to have a cultish following and I'm always on guard against joining cults. The early Fuji cameras I shot with (S2, S3, S5) were decidedly glitchy and very memory card sensitive. Fuji cameras previous to the X-Pro2, the X-T3 and the X-H1 always felt less solid and more prone to operational weirdness than the products I was used to from Canon and Nikon.

My take on my favorite two Fuji cameras, the X-H1 and the X-Pro2, is not based on fact but on my perception of their evolution. I think that Fuji made these cameras as an expression of what they could do which other companies would not do. I feel, from reading Fuji's literature, that the X-H1, in particular, was built almost entirely by hand with no compromise in materials, finishing and engineering. It seems to me that the company produced the finest camera they could build from the materials and processors of the moment and then have relentlessly improved it, via firmware upgrades, wherever they had the opportunity. Thicker metal, sturdier lens mount and a shutter that Leica should be jealous of.

I owned both an X-T3 and an X-E3 before I finally bought Fuji's idea of a perfect hybrid video/still camera; the X-H1. I thought I'd use the cameras interchangeably but after several weeks of intensive use I was so enamored with the feel and obvious build quality of the X-H1 that I stuck the other cameras in a drawer and went out and purchased two more X-H1 bodies. That came in handy when we used all three bodies on a recent video shoot....

I have two ideas that feed off each other bouncing around in my mind. The first is about the idea of sufficiency (thanks for the word, Ming!); the idea that camera imaging technology has hit a point, a plateau maybe, at which most popular cameras are more than good enough for almost every photographic task, and that any improvements from here on out will be incremental. And I mean "tiny" increments. If you've bought a camera in the last five years I doubt you'll be any better served by the newer model in the same line. Sure, it may have more "features" and attendant menu complexity, but where the photons hit the printing paper any actual image quality improvement will be negligible.

The second idea I have has to do with most  modern manufactured appliances and tools, and that is that each successive generation of devices will sacrifice actual mechanical quality and expensive hand tooling while "compensating" consumers with more gratuitous menu items and silly software driven add-ons. The analogy in the field of cars is the ongoing switch from metal to plastic composites in everything from body panels to basic mechanical parts. The plastic panels and cogs are cheaper and easier to make and have moved from long tenure service over into the "easy to replace" column. In every evolution something seems to get lost. It may be that a close mechanical tolerance is replaced by a bit of software that "auto-corrects" a deficiency caused by the loss of the precision. The software fix (think lens correction!) may be invisible in most situations, to most consumers, but a true aficionado will likely miss the precision and better feel of the product and mourn the loss.

When confronted by the X-H1 I almost immediately perceived the camera to be a classically over engineered product. One on which the designers and engineers went over and above what was necessary in order to build a camera that delivers so many intangible pluses that it boggles the mind. It is the antithesis of the first two generations of Sony A7 series cameras I used which felt primitive and built as if they were held together with tape and school house glue.

I sense that Fuji was trying for a breakout with the X-H1 line. To engineer a camera that, in its finished iteration, would go toe-to-toe with the finest professional cameras like the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1DXIII. The camera was let down, not mechanically but in its operational software. Its bios, its instruction sets. I was lucky to come to the camera late, after many firmware upgrades had already been introduced. I saw the camera as closer to a finished product than the "train wreck" that many online reviewer seem to have experienced at its launch.

The early bad press, and a consumer obsession with small size and light weight, cost the camera initial momentum in the market but when the price dropped to $1299, with the battery grip and three batteries, the camera became a 2019 sensation.

I sensed, rightly or wrongly, that having made a premium, physically intriguing camera only to be shot down by consumers might push Fuji to move further and further into the direction of producing well spec'd but more soul deficient cameras like the X-T3 (before you get your panties in a bunch remember that I still have mine....it does good work, it just doesn't stand out) instead of making less compromising products like the X-H1 and also the X-Pro2. It was the idea that the X-H1 might be pulled from the market as a failure that led me to buy the extra two bodies. That, and a tightly held belief that no professional photographer goes into an assignment without an identical back up camera (and enough lenses whose focal lengths overlap...). I had, in my mind, found a camera with which to enjoy this particular plateau and I was determined not to have it discontinued before I could assure myself of enough back ups to shoot it for a year or two to come.

When I first picked up an X-Pro2 it felt light and less substantial than an X-H1 with battery grip. It was only after researching the complexity of the optical view finder + EVF that I started to understand how beautifully engineered that camera was. I've spent several days shooting the X-Pro2 and it brought back all the good memories (and none of the bad memories) of shooting with bright line, rangefinder cameras. Although the X-Pro2 doesn't use an actual rangefinder it might as well as the operation and the optical interface it creates delivers the best of the rangefinder experience along with the extra bonus of being able to switch quickly to an EVF configuration that gives one perfect compositional tools along with color and exposure previews.

I've been so impressed with the X-Pro2 as a shooting tool that I just ordered a second one which should be here on the fifth of July. That's a pretty strong statement but after using one I just couldn't get the idea out of my head that X-H1's are cameras to be used in my professional business while the X-Pro2's were the perfect camera for trips, travel, street photography, personal photography and the most primary joy of shooting: doing it for one's self.

I've always entertained the idea of having one set of cameras for money making enterprises and a second set that is used to do all the  personal work I want to do just for myself. The switch between cameras seems to throw a switch in my intentions. With one camera I am focused on not failing; not fucking up, while with a different camera my focus changes into "artist" mode where it's okay to fail, to try weird stuff with a camera, and to stretch the boundaries of what we perceive as interesting personal photography.

Again, there are no perfect cameras (other than perhaps the Panasonic G9 with the Olympus 12-100mm lens) but there are cameras that do my commercial work well and there are cameras that help me be a less lazy and unfocused artist. It just seems that, for now, both kinds of camera come from the same company, take the same lenses and batteries and are well suited for the kind of work I do.

It came to me while I was shooting tethered with an X-H1 one today. The camera was rock solid as was the tethering plug-in. I didn't have a second of doubt where camera operation, or confidence in the lenses, was concerned. After I finished my job, around 12:30, and waved goodbye to the clients I grabbed my X-Pro2 and headed out for long walk.

The difference between the two Fuji cameras helped move me from "work" mode to "fun" mode without bedeviling me with massive menu differences or the need to inventory two completely different lens systems. It's nice to have tools that serve different parts of one's brain.

The Fujis do that for me. But, just to muddy the waters, if I wasn't shooting with the Fuji cameras (and the two models I've discussed here) I would go straight back to using the Panasonic G9 with a collection of Olympus Pro lenses. The combination is that good.  Muddy waters. For sure.


Today is tethering day at the studio. We're shooting straight down onto a piece of 4x6 foot stainless steel....

I hate tethering my cameras if I'm photographing people. It just seems slow and restrictive. But there are some shooting situations that require tethering, and if you are intent on being a generalist (or your smaller market requires some.....range) you sometimes need to put your camera into places where it's impractical or unsafe for you to operate it with your hands on.

We're doing just such an assignment this morning. My camera is floating about seven feet in the air at the end of a long boom arm and it's looking straight down at the big piece of stainless steel I have carefully positioned on the floor. Since the camera is directly centered on the 4x6 foot piece of steel, and since I can't put a ladder on the props, it just make sense that I needed to make the camera a bit more autonomous than usual. I did swing the arm around to set up the camera and attach the USB 3.1 cable to it. After I set the menu items correctly and painstakingly leveled the camera I swung it back around and then plugged in the other end of the cable to a USB 3 to USB C adapter and then into one of the two USB C ports on my MacBook Pro.

I launch Adobe Lightroom (Classic) first and then turn on the camera. I go into the file menu and find the tethered capture command and then we're off and running with Fuji's Tether Pro plug-in. This plug in will allow you to operate the camera and nearly all of it's major controls ( profile settings, shooting modes, noise reduction, sharpening, etc) from the interface on the laptop. You just have to fill in the blanks with stuff like which folder you'd like the images to land in and whether you'd like to save Raws, Jpegs or both.

The app and the camera worked well together in all my testing and worked perfectly when I hit the studio earlier this morning to make sure I had all my critical boxes checked.

I got the stainless steel weeks ago. My client will arrange his props on the surface and we'll shoot several variations. I'll probably have him in and out of the studio in a couple of hours, leaving with a memory stick full of files as he goes. But the shoot will have taken far longer than a couple of hours.

We spent half a day researching the steel background and another half day acquiring it and having it delivered (just a bit too big to fit into a sports car like the Subaru Forester...). I spent a better part of the day yesterday setting up the studio and pre-lighting. Shooting a big sheet of brushed stainless steel is like shooting with a giant, hazy mirror; it picks up everything so lighting properly is critical and I was out of practice. I finally got everything dialed in just right in time to quit for the day and have a late dinner.

Once the shoot is over I'll spend time this afternoon breaking down the set and then billing. Engagements like this are not as efficient or as time profitable as shooting events like the one I did last week but in smaller markets, like Austin, it's good to have a little bit of everything hitting the ledger.
The biggest question I have now is what to do with the 4x6 foot stainless when its usefulness to me is over. I know, I know, you wannabe computer engineers out there would love to have it in order to craft your own desktop computer chassis. Blow torch ready. But I don't even own a hammer so I'm not about to start a craft project.

It is kind of fun to shoot tethered every once in a while. It feels.....science-y. Using the Fuji X-H1 + 23mm f1.4 @ 5.6.  Lighting provided by three Godox SL60W lights, two Aputure LightStorm LED lights and a few smaller Aputure LED panels for accents. Another all LED shoot. Make sense though. Nothing is supposed to move.

New motto: Everyone cares. We care harder. 

30 minutes to client arrival, I'd better put on the coffee....

7.01.2019

It's signage day at the blog. That, and a few observations about my first 48 hours with a Fuji X-Pro2.


I don't know why but I'm declaring it Sign Day here at the VSL blog. I just can't help it, when I see signs that are.... interesting I just feel compelled to pull the ole camera up by the strap and pop off a frame or two for posterity.  Some I record just for the messaging.

See the pretty pictures....

Now, on to the first blush with the X-Pro2. I will speak here as a former Leica rangefinder fan; back in the film days, before they messed everything up in their transition to digital. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they are still capable of making good cameras and lenses but having been a quick, early adopter (and early rejector) of the highly plagued M8 I would only buy a new, digital Leica from a shop that offered at least a 30 day "no questions asked" return policy. I'd hate to drop the kind of cash they are currently asking for Leica M style bodies only to use it for a few weeks and then have it languish in their repair department somewhere waiting for parts that they seem to only ramp up and make once a year. 

While so many Leica lovers have gush-y stories to share about some old M3 that has blasted through several million frames without a burp I can regale you with true horror stories of three or four M6 bodies that came to me with completely misadjusted/misaligned rangefinders right out of the box, new. Or a brand new R8 that just happened to scratch the crap out of film. I've got a couple of fellow photographers who've had to send back S2s to have sensors replaced after issues with discoloration and/or separation arose. 

But I didn't start out to write this to slag Leica. I'm sure they are a tiny company when compared to their competitors and there are never enough people around to juggle all the balls a Six Sigma company would have to employ in order to create absolutely perfect cameras every time. I will say, though, that I've never had occasion to complain about any of the their lenses....

I guess I just wanted to make the point that, at one time in my career, I was neck deep in the Leica camp and have an enduring soft spot for rangefinder style cameras.

So I don't know why it took me so long to warm up to the very idea of acquiring Fuji's very obvious homage to the historic M series Leicas, in the form of the X-Pro2. I did try my best to like the previous model but it was one hill too far for someone who actually needed his cameras to actually perform. The model 2 kept sounding better and better and when Fuji hit firmware version 4.0 I started paying attention. When they hit 5.0 I thought it was safe to at least wade into the shallow end and give the camera a chance to win me over. That and the fact that Fuji has done such a nice job filling out the line of lenses. 

Getting right into my first walk with the camera ---- I love it. I thought I'd find the faux rangefinder/optical finder a silly nod to the past and end up just using the EVF but I love being able to see the bright frame line with all the information that lies outside the frame. In fact, I've used it in this configuration 90% of the time. The caveat is the same as it was with Leica rangefinder cameras: It's great with lenses from 28-50mm but progressively sucks as the lenses get longer. The reason is that the optical finder can only show what it shows and the images from longer lenses are constrained to smaller and smaller percentages of the optical finder. Stick with the Fujicrons and you'll love the finder. Need to use longer or wider lenses? That's when you switch to the EVF. 

The same applies to accurate framing and focusing when using lenses close to your subjects. There's a thing called "parallax" and it just means that the closer you get to the subject the more discrepancy there will be between what the optical viewfinder sees and what the lens "sees." If you are going in for close ups, with any lens, it's time to switch to the EVF. But that's hardly a burden as the EVF is really good (not quite as good as the one in the X-H1 but not at all bad...) and, with the EVF engaged you get to see the color and exposure previews. 

People have made a big deal out of the fact that the ISO control is nested into the shutter speed dial and one must pull up and turn the dial to change ISOs. I find this objection just laughable. It's a good, straight forward use of space and it's not as if photographers are churning ISOs while shooting the same way that they would shutter speeds and f-stops. If your ISO needs are so acute you might just be a candidate for one of my least favorite "features" on modern cameras = auto ISO. The rest of us usually just change ISO if we run out of light. In any event the way the ISO control is set up is the same as it was in many generations of older cameras and it always seemed pretty smart and handy. 

Some have complained about the size and placement of the exposure compensation dial and how easy it is to move off neutral. I like it. When I shoot in an automatic mode I tend to like aperture preferred and I find a convenient/accessible EV control makes that shooting mode so smooth and fluid. I think Fuji got the strength of the detents just right. But then I am more or less compulsive about double checking my settings so it's rare that a rogue dial confounds me or ruins any "once in a lifetime" shots. 

My only real handling complaint about the camera is the position of the right hand neck strap lug. I don't know where else they could have placed it but it seems to interfere with the way I usually grip a camera and access the shutter button. Having only had the camera for a couple of days this may just be a muscle memory differential with my other cameras. We'll see how it all works out. 

When this camera first entered the market it only offered 1080p video but it has now been upgraded (through firmware) to shoot in 4K. That's an impressive add on for a camera that's already been in the market for about three years. I can hardly wait to see if my X-H1s will be upgraded to 6K video in a couple of years. Not holding my breath. 

I bought this camera at the same time as my purchase of the 23mm f1.4 and I assumed I'd use them in tandem. Alas, I am not really in love with the 35mm equivalent focal length and even though the lens is sharp and virtuous it was immediately relegated to the gear box when I happened to put the 35mm f1.4 onto the X-Pro2. Match made in heaven. Perfect fit for the bright line frame in the viewfinder, the perfect focal length for......just about anything.....and wildly sharp. I've tried about three different versions of the Fuji X-100x and each time I return the camera and walk away thinking, "So close. If only they would have make it with a longer lens...."  So, the X-Pro2 + the 35mm f1.4 is my version of the "OMG,THIS IS SUCH A GREAT STREET SHOOTING CAMERA!!!!" 

There is more one thing I am finding that is interesting to me. It seems that the output of this camera, the files, are different than those from the X-H1 or the XT-3. They seem to have more "bite" and more contrast than the others. I'm liking what I'm seeing from this camera a bit more than from just about any other camera I'm using. Of course, the arrival of the camera coincided with the arrival ( more or less ) of the 35mm f1.4 and the 23mm f1.4 which are both widely praised optics. It could be that the differences I'm seeing are only different in that most of the comparisons I'm making are against other cameras on which I predominantly use zoom lenses. Good zoom lenses, but still zoom lenses. That primes can be so much better is something I seem ignore or forget from time to time. 

When I pick up this camera I daydream about finding an old, used car and traveling across the country like Robert Frank or Jack Kerouac, a small canvas bag on the front seat next to me with two of these cameras and a small assortment of lenses; the 23, 35, and 56mm. A clump of cash in the pockets of my old, worn work pants and a three day stubble of beard on my face. Starting a day sitting at the counter of a mom and pop diner in the middle of some small town, in the middle of nowhere, eating fried eggs, and toast made from white bread; drinking hot coffee from a weathered, white mug and staring out the big, front window to the quiet main street. I'd see a beautiful woman in a awkward print dress and grab my camera from the countertop just in time......

It's that kind of camera.  More to come as I use it up.