10.10.2019

Photograph of a happy person standing on St. Paul St. in Montreal. Soaking up some cool weather before returning to the Texas Heat Wave. Yes, we love the 50mm lenses.

B.Y.

We're back from vacation and too relaxed. But my camera and lens choices were right on the money and perfect for the kind of casual photography we were both doing....

I went "old school" and took only a Pentax K-1 and two lenses. 
The lenses were the 50mm f1.4 and the 28-105mm.
I brought 4 batteries. I used one.... (but recharged it one evening).

It was time to take a vacation. You know it's time when your friends and even some of your creative partners start hinting that you need to take a break. Belinda and I had always wanted to see Montreal and we were getting tired of the endless heat wave here in Austin so we made that our destination for this last week's vacation. It wasn't a long one like those crafty Europeans are able to take but it wasn't one of those American Executive vacations spent checking work e-mails, texts and phone messages around the clock either. We took our phones but mostly used mine to check out restaurant reviews and to see what time museums opened or closed. We did not bring along iPads or laptops. Our whole plan was to leave work behind for a while and just learn about some place new. 

I wrote too much before leaving about my deliberations over which camera (or camera system) to bring along. I shouldn't have bothered to think about it since any of the cameras I own would have done absolutely fine. But I will say that going "old school" with the Pentax K1, a traditional 50mm f1.4 and a flexible, but not fancy, variable aperture, standard zoom felt just right. I was really happy with the way it worked and the way it felt as I walked around. Funny thing I was thinking about while watching other tourists shooting in the squares, churches and museums; there were some people using mirrorless cameras of various brands the bodies of which were much smaller and lighter than my K-1, BUT the folks attached to these cameras were many times dragging bags around with a whole selection of professional quality lenses, which added easily five times the weight of my "one camera/one lens" approach. 

I hewed to a simple plan; if we were going to be outdoors all day long I'd grab the zoom lens and use it for everything, leaving the 50mm in the room. Without a second lens there was no need for a camera bag and no attachment to the idea of just bringing along a few accessories. If we were heading out to see museums, churches, or evening stuff I'd take the 50mm and leave the zoom in the room. If stuff didn't fit in the pockets of my jacket it didn't go out with us. The benefit, at least to me, is that my brain adapts to the limitations at hand and starts looking for equipment appropriate subject matter. 

Belinda tends to be camera resistant, personally, but I thought she might want to take some photographs along the way so I did think long and hard about the best camera for her. She is smaller and has small hands. She hates to carry stuff around. She's a professional art director who works with photograph on a continual basis at work but has less interest in doing photography as her primary mode of creative expression. I finally offered up a Canon G15 point and shoot which she decided was a really good travel camera. She shot around 150 images with the Canon and was still working on the first battery when we headed back home. The one thing that was a bit disconcerting for her was the realization that the G15's finder showed only about 80% of the image instead of the 100% she could see on the back screen. Being a picky art director that realization marked the last time she used the finder, depending instead on the dirty baby diaper hold for the rest of the trip (that's the method of holding in which the camera operator holds the camera out in front of themselves with both hands. Far from the face. Like you might hold a really smelly baby diaper).... I did not offer criticism or commentary of her technique (and this may be why I have been successfully married for 34 years and counting). 

So, all this talk of cameras aside, how did we like Montreal, Canada? OMG. The first thing that stood out to both Belinda and me was how wonderfully kind, patient and helpful the Canadians we encountered were. We come from Austin, Texas which, in the USA at any rate, is considered to have some of the nicest and warmest people in the country. No comparison to the people we interfaced with in Montreal. They have us beat by about 50% when it comes to calm, quiet, niceness. And, NO, being nice or kind is not a weakness.

My favorite interaction was in the Metro. We decided it would be most efficient and cost effective to buy three day Metro passes so we found a Metro stop and went looking for them. We asked at a staffed kiosk and the man inside pointed out a machine over to one side of the station. We could get Metro passes there with our credit cards but the kiosks only took cash. We decided to use the machine. We were tentative. It's new to us. Seeing our momentary hesitation the Metro employee left his enclosure and came over to walk us through the process. He answered all our questions and then showed us exactly how to use the cards. After which he welcomed us to Montreal warmly and sped us on our way. He could not have been nicer. I've bought subway passes in NYC, London, Paris, Rome and several other big cities and in many of these location the goal of the people manning the subterranean booths seems to be to provide maximum discomfort to their victims/customers. Not so in Canada. Five more minutes and I felt like our Metro guy might invite us to his house for lunch. But in a nice way. Not a creepy way....

We stayed in a wonderful hotel in the old town. It's a great and very touristic neighborhood. If you fear using your camera to take street photographs you might want to head here to practice since the people in the crowds are all taking photographs of each other, of all the fabulous, old building facades, the other tourists and much more. In some crowded squares, such as in front of the cathedral in the old town, it's a veritable sea of Canon and Nikon DSLRs; many with pricy, professional lenses. While there were many more standard  DSLR-style cameras than I've seen recently in Austin or San Antonio there was the usual mass of cellphones working overtime as cameras, as well as iPads of all sizes being held up in the air, perpendicular to the ground, taking photographs and video. If you have any hesitation about using your camera to photograph strangers just know that the old town in Montreal is the perfect, non-confrontational, starter zone for nascent street photographer aspirants.

We loved the weather. It was in the mid- 40's to upper 50's each day and we only had rain (sporadically) on one day. That counts as perfect weather for two Texans coming from a hundred day run of hundred degree temperatures. 

I'll have a lot more to say in the days to come but I wanted to end by mentioning that we had a most auspicious start to our stay in Montreal when we checked into our suite at L Hotel Montreal. The hotel was started by Georges Marciano (fashion designer) and every room in the hotel is filled with beautiful, mostly modern, art. Actual art. Not reproductions but real Andy Warhols, real Robert Indianas and so much more. 

On the wardrobe in our bedroom there was a photograph of Audrey Hepburn. It was so welcoming and lovely. I just had to photograph it. 

Downsides to the trip? Problems to overcome? Obstacles? None. Just none. Ready for a break from the local madness? Head to Montreal. If it's cold go to my favorite new coffee shop. I'll start with that tomorrow.
We're back!

10.04.2019

Point taken. No more politics on the blog (unless someone declares martial law...). More MTF and less WTF.


I hear you. I'll keep the politics off the blog.

All packed up and ready to head off on vacation. When I return we should have some information for you about the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens used on the Panasonic Lumix S1, a first look at the Log upgrade to the same camera (4:2:2 10 bit 60p) and a review about two small tripods.

I'm leaving all my computer stuff at home so Studio Dog can keep in touch with me while I'm gone. She'll have her paws full supervising young Ben Tuck for the week. Since I'm only taking an iPhone for comms I won't be torturing myself trying to write anything for the blog on the tiny, tiny keyboard. Any brilliant ideas I come up with will have to wait.

This will be the first trip I've taken in a long time during which I'll be able to travel with only carry-on luggage. All the flights I took last year for clients required checking in lighting equipment and other support equipment in a large Manfrotto case (or two). How deliciously purging...

Belinda is warming up to the idea of actually carrying a camera along with her to Montreal but it's not one that will be very exciting to most readers here; she's taking a Canon G15. Fits in her small bag.

I'm taking one camera and two lenses. The camera is a Pentax K-1 and the two lenses are the 50mm f1.4 and the 28-105mm zoom. Oh, yeah. And some extra batteries.

We'll argue about my camera choice when I get back.

Finally, I want to thank the VSL reader who volunteered to drive up from central New York state to Montreal in order to pick us up at the airport and drive us to our hotel. I think he was kidding but I'm not 100% sure. I do appreciate the thought...

Hope everyone in Austin has fun (and stays safe) at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and everyone else has a great week making photographs and video someplace quieter. I'm pretty sure I can hear Guns and Roses from the park right now....

Adios Mi Amigos.

I know all of you probably want a Pentax K1 so here's a link to one at Amazon:



10.03.2019

Another black and white comparison. I just had to see which one I liked better.

In this case I prefer the color. I like the skin tone. It's got just the right amount of "eeriness" 


From our photographic coverage of the "Dracula" play at Zach Theatre. 

I was tooling around with a Lumix S1 this morning. I wanted to see how it "felt" with a Sigma 45mm lens on the front of it.

Sweaty and hot as Austin continues to set new weather records with temperatures 
nudging 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the first week of October...

I've had a Panasonic Lumix S1 sitting around the studio since the last week of September. It makes really nice photographs but the camera body is really heavy compared to just about every other mirrorless, full frame camera out on the market right now. Maybe not as heavy as something like a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1DX, or even a Nikon 850 but.... heavy enough. I compounded the size and weight issues by adding the  Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 lens to the mix when I acquired the camera, which follows the current full frame lens trend of being... bigger. And heavier. 

After using the camera in tandem with several other brands of cameras I'd pretty much decided that while it's a great "work" camera it might not be my first choice (or even my second choice) as a travel camera. With the zoom lens attached it would make walking around shooting in urban settings more of a burden than a blessing. Not quite as bad as spending the day with a Fuji GFX 100 + lens over one shoulder but close, very close. 

Belinda and I are leaving for Montreal on Saturday to have a little vacation, get ourselves out of the relentless heat, and to avoid the additional 100,000+ people who are coming into Austin for the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which starts this Friday (Good Lord, what is wrong with people that they'll spend hundreds of dollars for a ticket to sit on the hard dirt and open sun in 100+ degree heat, inside a chain link fence, to hear bands play their music over giant speakers in the least acoustically pleasant environment one could think of? And to pay outrageous prices for water and food into the bargain? Just stream the music on your phone and get a decent pair of headphones --- cheaper, more comfortable and better sounding).  Sorry, a person prejudice against large, outdoor concerts...

Back on the subject: 
On trips where I don't have to come home with salable images I actually have more of an issue deciding which cameras and lenses to drag along with me. "It's a vacation." I tell myself, and then I get into an argument with myself over why I need to take along something more than an iPhone. It's crazy to feel like I have to nail every shot, especially when we're mostly just going to do touristy stuff. 

When we first discussed going on a trip I immediately thought I'd be happy taking along a Fuji X-Pro2 and maybe the 23mm f1.4 and the 56mm f1.2. After thinking about it for a while it evolved into the two lenses and an X-H1 (for the image stabilization). Then I went on a little shooting spree with the Pentax K1 and bounced around the idea of the K-1 plus the 28-105 zoom lens. The body has great I.S. and the lens is more than decent. I still like the idea but that shutter is a bit loud and I might really miss the EVF-ism of the other cameras. Then I found myself messing around with the Lumix S1 and got all excited about the (absolutely killer) EVF and the amazing image stabilization and started thinking about taking it and the zoom. But the bulk of the zoom and the body together dissuaded me...

In passing, one of my photographer friends mentioned to me that Sigma (a signatory to the L-mount consortium) was putting out interesting, and quite good, lenses for the L-mount cameras. In particular he suggested I check out the small, light and gorgeously designed 45mm f2.8 L mount lens. It's certainly not the fastest option but it sure is an interesting one.

It's a  near normal focal length lens that's designed to have great character when it comes to the rendering of out-of-focus areas when used wide open and, when stopped down just one stop from wide open, it's supposed to have high sharpness and otherwise desirable imaging characteristics. The lens is built mostly from metal, has its own external aperture ring(!) and comes with a metal lens hood. The current price is $550 and I should mention that it's also available in the Sony E mount.

The lens is designed with eight elements in seven groups and includes two aspherical elements in its design. It's nicely light and compact and dramatically reduces the overall profile of the Lumix camera package.

I need to shoot some more images with the combination of the S1 + the 45mm this afternoon in order to convince myself but the camera and this one lens are my current leading contenders to make it onto the Montreal trip with me and Belinda. I'll stick a 128 GB V90 card in the #2 slot, set the camera to large, fine Jpegs and try to disconnect from being too technically involved.

In other news I'm finding that the Fuji X-H1 is highly competitive with the Lumix camera when it comes to shooting video. A quick test shows me that I'm happier with the Eterna profile in the Fuji than either the Flat or Cine-D profiles in the Lumix. When I get back from Montreal I'll load up the Log functionality in the S1 and do a direct comparison against the Fuji F-Log (that comes free in the X-H1) and we'll see who is really the boss of 4K video.

Currently packing for the trip. The goal is to get everything I'm taking into one smallish, lightweight carry-on. I'm going back and forth about which shoes to take. Hopefully the cameras will get sorted out after a bit more experimentation with the S1+45mm. I may give up entirely and just take my new-ish iPhone....

A final note for today: If the political environment gets any more crazy here, with a full-on dictatorship blossoming as we speak, we may just stay in Montreal and send for Studio Dog. Just sayin. 



10.01.2019

Showing off a short, short TV Commercial we shot with a Fujifilm X-H1.


We started out aiming for a thirty second TV spot but ended up
downsizing the run time because of downsized placement budgets. 

It's a fun, little spot for a kid's play that we shot in an afternoon
at the Theatre 

I did the camera work while Joshua Cummins 
directed and edited the piece. 

Go see it on Vimeo rather than looking at the small frame here....

Fujifilm X-H1 with various Fuji lenses. 
Shot in 4K, edited down to 1080.

9.30.2019

Getting to black and white. From a raw file out of the Pentax K-1.

My formative photography years were spent learning to shoot, develop and print black and white images. Color was too expensive, too complex to do on my own. I still spend time trying to make conversions from color digital raw files to monochrome to see if I can get close to the feel of the images we used to make on some of the premium papers (loved graded Ilfobrom paper) back in the days of the wet darkroom. 

These two images are the same file but imagined in two different ways. I like the black and white better.  But I think a propensity for liking one or the other is generational. And even within my generation there were those who were confirmed Kodachrome (color slide) shooters and the contingent of black and white shooters so there's also a divide there. 

Curious how it breaks down amongst VSL readers. Anybody want to chime in? Which do you prefer and why?



The more "colorful" side of downtown San Antonio. Assisted by the original Pentax K-1 and the HD 28-105mm zoom lens.

Who doesn't want a flaming scull to decorate their home with?

I've traveled a fair bit over the years and seen lots of amazing places, mostly with a camera over one shoulder. I've been in and out of Paris and Rome at least a dozen times each. Lived in Turkey for two years. Did a two week long project in St. Petersburg, Russia in the dead of winter back in 1995. Back packed through "classic" Europe for months and months back in the 1970's; slept in tents and hostels, cooked eggs nearly every day with a small frying pan that hung off my pack and a little Blue Gas burner. But over the last few years travel has become more crowded, more frenetic, more....mundane. I traveled 22 times out of Texas on business last year. Not much of the actual travel was fun... 

That's what I love about having San Antonio close at hand. If I feel the need for a break from the  "exhausting excitement" of being in Austin, Texas I can hop in my car and more or less reliably be in San Antonio in about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

What I love about San Antonio is that it has not (yet) been destroyed by a steely-eyed core of highly entitled groups hell bent on making it into the next Yuppie Paradise. There are many more working people and solid, middle class families than there are denizens of fortified enclaves of flashy wealth. Which means that the downtown area hasn't been made over as a hipster vacation spot, replete with avocado toast and an Aston Martin (or two) on every block. Which further means that the city has retained some authenticity and some of its historic vibe. Which means more street festivals, more diversity in public, less expensive attractions and dining and, a more welcoming disposition. 

Sure, you can find expensive hotel rooms and pricey restaurants in The River City but you'll have to try a bit harder than you would in Austin. San Antonio depends on a different kind of tourism. Instead of executives flying in from some place chic to sit in posh hotels and plan the next disruption in their industry, or the pampered children of the upper middle class flying in from around the country for a three day ($$$$) concert in the park you get many less affluent people who drive in to San Antonio from towns and cities across Texas to see the Alamo, buy giant margaritas and take selfies in front of the giant dinosaur at Ripley's Believe-it-or-not. For the most part these tourists are: not big spenders, not obnoxious, not destroying as much nature (flying = massive carbon footprint) and, seemingly, more likely to be having fun. Not a gritted teeth, latest Patagonia outerwear, Let's run a marathon across the glacier and then have a bottle of Cristal at the lobby bar to loudly celebrate sort of fun but just casual, walking around, looking at stuff, eating gorditas and churros, hanging out in Tex-Mex restaurants, listening to mariachis, and buying Bart Simpson piƱatas kind of fun. 

All of which makes it a great city to visit if you just want to walk around taking photographs with a big, little, or phone camera. 

Yesterday I posted images of mostly buildings from my time there last Saturday but I also wanted to show the silly, fun, zany, weird stuff that just seems to crop up when walking from the Alamo to the Mercado and back. All shot with a Pentax K1 and the 28-70mm zoom. No muss, no fuss. And home in time for dinner...

Make up your own caption...

Above and below, the Ripley's Believe it or Not across the street from the  Alamo. 



The workers depicted are also part of the mural. The car is the car.

One above and two below: Altars at the entrance to one of the most popular, 
24 hour operating Mexican food restaurants in the center of the city. 
I should have gone in to look and see if the big altar to singer, 
Selena is still there.






After all these decades I still love taking photographs of the ticket office
at the Majestic Theater on Houston St. 

And they've done such a nice job keeping it maintained. 

9.29.2019

Walking with a camera in downtown San Antonio. Part 1. What interesting buildings!

Flowers at a fountain in the old courtyard of the McNay Museum.

I spent a lot of time in San Antonio over the last year and a half taking care of my father, who passed away at the end of May. I had not been back to San Antonio since then but I woke up yesterday with the idea that I needed to revisit the city to keep from having those recent days of responsibility and sadness harden into my lasting impression of the city in which I grew up. There is so much I like about San Antonio and its vibrant downtown is part of that. I needed to feel welcome again.

So I decided to give downtown Austin a day off from my Paparazzi abuse and, after early morning swim practice, I grabbed the camera that keeps resurfacing as an odd but highly attractive choice, and headed out the door. I stopped by the Goodwill store to donate an old scanner, then hit Starbucks and was on the road by 10 a.m. Traffic was light heading down IH-35 to the River City. I pulled up to a parking meter just a few blocks from the Alamo and laughed for a few seconds when I saw the parking rates. San Antonio still charges 30 cents an hour in the very center of their downtown!!! About a quarter of the usual parking fee charged at meters in Austin....

I was dressed for comfort and a bit of protection from the sun and, to lighten my load, I only carried one camera and one lens. My choice for the day was a Pentax K-1 and the small, elegant and dense-packed 28-105mm lens. In my mind it was the perfect choice for an afternoon of random rambling. Beautiful files, lots and lots of resolution, and enough dynamic range to keep even the wizards of DXO moderately happy. Yes, the camera is chunky and a bit heavy but it's bits of friction that keep us paying attention to our process.

As is my habit, I kept an extra, charged battery in my pants pocket, along with a wad of cash and my wallet. No camera bag. No sling thing. No backpack. Nothing to make the process physically arduous. 

The Pentax K-1 has a sharper, brighter look than the Fujis I normally use and it just begged to be unleashed on some architecture. I'm not an architectural photographer but I love photographing urban "landscapes" when I'm walking with no purpose other than to walk and look. I did find myself waiting in front of old buildings, like the ones below, waiting for people to either enter the scene or to move on, or for clouds to blow over, so I could harness the hard edge of bright sunlight. I also found myself (uncharacteristically) stopping just to look at a building facade for a while as though by doing so I might unlock some secret to making a better image. 

Of course, I was just shooting for myself so I wasn't feeling compelled to shoot in a certain way or to come home with images that look like all the other "perfect" images of buildings, which I tend to see a lot. I felt as though I was doing "snapshots" of old friends because these are buildings (for the most part) that existed long before I started heading into downtown S.A. in the 1970's with a little film camera in my hand. I've seen the fronts in disrepair, seen them renovated and smelled the fresh paint, and then seen them decline again. It's like a special season that follows the economic conditions of the city. 

I like the look of strong, stark blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. I like hard edges on most architecture. I try to look for compositions and color pairings that are bold and contrasting. I'm rarely trying for subtlety, and even more rarely trying to make a "classic" image of a structure in which all the blinds are drawn to the same measure in each window and all the edges of the building are parallel and straight up and down. I'm more in the mode of trying to coax out the character of the old storefront or apartment house. 

I walked around in the heat on my usual route. I start near the Alamo and then walk across downtown via Commerce St. (passing by the St. Fernando Cathedral) until I get to the Mercado; mecca for all tourists to The Alamo City. After mingling with the other tourists and becoming overwhelmed with all the insane and tacky souvenirs, I resist getting a temporary tattoo, or having my face painted, and I head back in the  direction from which I came but I do so on Houston St., just for the visual variety.  I laughed to myself when I thought about this route I've constructed because the family of my beautiful girlfriend in high school owned a clothing store on Commerce St. while the family of my best guy friend owned a tonier men's wear store on Houston St. Both stores have long been sold off by the respective families and it's always interesting to me to see what kinds of businesses are in the spaces now...

I'd been walking since 11:30 and by 2:00 p.m. it was really hot and the air was sticky and moist, like steam from a kettle, whistling on a burner. It was time to find some air conditioning, a cool drink and a calm lunch. I didn't want to go to a regular restaurant with table service, wasn't in the mood for Tex-Mex, and not of a mind to try something exotic and new either. I looked around as I walked and was happy to find a shop called, The Royal Blue Grocery. It's a small, small chain of stores that started in Austin as little deli/grocers for people who lived in the big, high rise condominiums that dot our downtown. They serve great, hot sandwiches, make killer coffee and have a better selection of wines that one might imagine. The one on Houston St. in San Antonio is new and is their first one in that city, and maybe the first one outside of the magnetic pull of Austin. 

I parked my camera on a table, grabbed a (glass) bottled water and order a Cuban sandwich. Pulled pork, some ham, delicious pickles and onions, some melted provolone cheese, and just the right amount of a picante sauce. It was exactly what I wanted in the moment. Absolute comfort food and nothing budget straining.

I shot and walked for another hour before heading to the McNay Museum which is one of my favorite art museums in the world. By the time the museum closed I'd shot a couple hundred images, had a great lunch, made a modicum of peace with the city and its ghosts, and felt like I'd accomplished something I have a hard time putting into words; not actually relaxation but maybe re-integration. 

I knew the images I'd shot on the K-1 looked nice on the back screen of the camera but I've been fooled by LCDs so many times before. Because of that I was especially happy to sit in front of my computer today and find so many that I liked so much; most of which were good right out the camera and great with just the tiniest bit of Adobe-coaxing. Always just a little brighter. Always just a bit more shadow detail. 

I have more stuff to show but it's far more quirky than these buildings. I thought that instead of mixing them in one post I'd get two days of posting joy from one afternoon's adventure. So, if you "hate the buildings" stay tuned and I'll get some non-building stuff up in your face tomorrow. 

So, how was the Pentax? Vexing! I never expected that camera and that lens to be so good or so comfortable to use. Now I'll never be able to make up my mind about which camera to take with me to Montreal next weekend. A very nice problem to have. Thank you very much.

Commerce St. 
Commerce St.
Commerce St.

Commerce St.
Commerce St.
Commerce St.
 Commerce St.
 Commerce St.
 The Signage for the historic Aztec Theater.
 The Robert E. Lee Hotel as seen from Houston St.
Don't know if you can read it all but the sign underneath the name says, 
"Air Conditioned." 
 Houston St.
  Houston St.
  Houston St. The old Bromley Communications Bldg. 
One of SA's big advertising agencies. Now headquartered in
some other part of the city. 
 A Pillar at the McNay Museum.
 The McNay Museum.
 Entrance to the sculpture gardens at the McNay. 
 And no trip to S.A. is complete without at least a view or two of the Alamo.

A beefy camera and a moderate zoom lens. What more could you need?
Well, at least for walking around a city...