Taking a look at some photos I did with the Pentax K1 and the 100mm f2.8 macro at "Dracula". "Bitingly" sharp? "Bloody" good?

A few weeks ago I photographed a technical rehearsal of "Dracula" at Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas. I brought several different cameras with me but I mostly played around with the Pentax K-1 and two lenses. I brought along the 28-105mm f3.5-5.6 (because it's the only Pentax zoom I currently have) and also the new 100mm f2.8 macro. I'd played around a lot with the zoom and was comfortable with the performance envelope provided by it, but I'd just recently purchased (new in box) the 100mm macro and I was curious to see how the lens would perform in a live theater environment. I was pretty sure it would be sharp but I worried that the focus might be too slow.

Both of these images were created using the 100mm and I'm satisfied with both of them. They were taken one half stop down from wide open and the camera/lens combination did a fine job nailing focus and providing good sharpness and tonality in the photos.

Relative to a long (70-200mm) zoom lens, the 100 macro is small and light, and since it is so well optically corrected I had no compunction about using it either wide open or just slightly stopped down. 

Based on the image quality I could see in the images I took that night I pressed the 100mm into service recently to take some portraits. I wanted to use a lens with good resolution and a high megapixel count camera body because I wanted to work in a square format which meant going from a full frame resolution of 36 megapixels down to a 1:1 format resolution of 24 megapixels. While an uncropped, square, 24 megapixel file is adequate (perfectly good!) for just about every use I left a generous amount of space around my portrait subject in order to leave lots of cropping options for my graphic designer/ final client. If she cropped tight, in a vertical orientation, we'd lose another 6-8 megapixel of information and, being a worrier, I always like to build in a margin of safety for commercial work. Everyone was pleased. 

With Vampires in the neighborhood everyone was having a bad day. 

I've also found a new use for the two Pentax K-1 cameras and that is shooting with flash at dimly lit events. We're doing our yearly photographic assignment of making candid portraits of about 400 people (200 couples?) gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel here in Austin to raise money for the Texas Appleseed Foundation (legal and constitutional issues...). I've used all kinds of cameras in the past as I've photographed this event annually since the days of film. It's the one kind of photography assignment that I've come across where a traditional optical viewfinder can be superior to an EVF. Mostly because it's all lit with flash in a not so bright interior ballroom.  

With an EVF camera if you keep the camera in the "Constant Preview" mode and you are shooting at f5.6 or f8.0 at 1/60th of a second (or faster) at ISO 400 with flash you'll find the image in the EVF to be very dark. VERY DARK. If you take the camera out of the constant preview mode the EVF has a slow refresh rate, lots of noise in the frame, and an automatic exposure setting. Neither option is particularly good for working with on camera flash!!! 

I've used mirrorless cameras in this venue/event before and my work around was to switch to using totally manual flash exposure, and carefully maintaining the same camera to subject distance whenever possible. But I've also shot with cameras like the Nikon D800 with TTL flash and walked away with more keepers more easily. 

This year I'm planing to lean on the Pentax K1 with a Godox V1 flash, using TTL exposure. I've got a second body as a back up and a couple of fully manual hot shoe flashes as a back up for the Godox. My lens of choice for the social hour of the event is the 28-105mm zoom lens.

I just took delivery of the flash today and as soon as the battery (a big, lithium one) is fully charged I'll start testing it around the office. 

Funny/strange to buy a flash for the Pentax because doing anything to flesh out that system seems counter-intuitive. I really can't help it though as I've been loving the files I'm getting out of the system. And, as I wrote, this is one situation where the traditional DSLR really seems to shine....

In related news: I had lunch with my friend, Andy, at El Mercado on Burnet Rd. today. Every time I have lunch with Andy it ends up costing me big bucks $$$$$$. The issue is the close proximity of the restaurant to Precision Camera. After a great lunch of Tex-Mex food we tend to talk each other into dropping by our favorite camera store to see what's new. Last time we lunched I went with him to Precision Camera where I stumbled across the first Pentax K1 and ended up buying it. That's where the slippery slope of Pentax-ality all started for me.

Today I was irresistibly drawn to a $1,700 lens. Not for the Pentax..... but I guess we can discuss that here on the blog tomorrow. 

Hope everyone has had a good start to the week. If you are having problems with alcohol please see Michael's Sunday post on his site. If you just want to read about the unplanned purchases of a serial camera buyer then come on back here.... we'll be waiting. Sitting here reading the latest catalogs...


Designing the perfect lens for me. Balancing needs and wants.

Photo review sites spend way too much virtual ink describing, reviewing and deliberating about camera bodies. They spend too little time discussing lenses, and that's too bad because most good photographers think lenses are where the magic is. I remember back when Modern Photography Magazine was still published. It was generally a big deal when a camera got reviewed; especially since new camera body models were rushed to the market far, far less often than they are today. What the magazines concentrated on instead was the reviewing of several, or a handful, of popular lenses along with one or two speciality lenses thrown in just for good measure. Nearly every month. 

Instead of comparing the Nikon Z7 to the Sony A7r4 camera bodies I'd love to see a side-by-side comparison and in-depth review of each maker's "holy trinity" of zoom lenses (14-24, 24-70, 70-200) to see where the whole system stands, not just the naked body. Perhaps a comparative overview of all the different macro lenses on the market. How about a toe-to-toe exploration of zooms in the 100-400mm focal length ranges? And with all the new and pricey 50mm lenses coming out maybe we could see a nice comparison there. 

Just one of the many problems with this idea is that most reviewers are very ham-fisted about how they measure stuff and I'd hate to see a lens with beautiful characteristics get denigrated because its corner sharpness was a few lines per millimeter less than a crappier lens that has a flatter focus field and maybe slightly faster focus acquisition. I'd always like more data than just easy to understand, cookie cutter data.

One area of lens evaluation that Roger Cicala at Lensrentals.com has brought to light is that, because of the complexity of new lens design and the equal complexity of the manufacturing processes involved in assembling modern lenses, there is a lot of sample variation even among identical models of lenses. Centering of the elements is a big issue as is calibration of the overall optical system. Any really meaningful evaluation of lens performance should probably included testing at least three samples of each model.... That's a ton of work and much harder than just deciding that one likes to have cameras with panorama modes or that one doesn't like cameras that can't process their own raw files. As if those "features" matter to any of us...

It's also clear that when popular sites do get around to reviewing lenses they tend to always do the reviews about big fast zooms and almost totally disregard really stellar single focal length lenses, unless such a lens comes with such a high price tag that the price becomes good click bait news. 

So, here is a suggestion to the big review sites: Review some lenses! Review some that aren't extreme wide angle zooms, or boring but fast 24-70s, or endless iterations of the 70-200mm models. Review some portrait primes. Review some normal focal length lenses that are price-accessible for the average camera buyer. Review some slower, standard zooms. But don't just stop with lines per millimeter measurements. Try your best educate your reviewers to understand that different kinds of sharpness profiles and rendering characteristics can also be good and interesting in real world use. 

For years Leica designed lenses for high center sharpness and acutance, and the trade off was lower performance in the corners. Not lenses that measured "well" across the frame but lenses that were loved and in demand by some of the world's most discriminating lens users. Currently, lens designers are trying to make reviewers happy by giving all of us lenses that have the same sharpness characteristics across the frame. The lens makers generally have two choices in the design process: they can make the lens equally sharp across the frame but at a lower overall level of sharpness than the numbers they could get from a lens that had its highest sharpness in the center and allowed the corners to degrade, or.... they could make the lenses equally sharp, across the frame, but only by making the overall lens enormous, costly and very heavy. (Hello Zeiss Otus. Hello Sigma 50mm ART). 

I recently bought a lens that is a counterpoint to what I consider the blunt hammer of current lens design and marketing. It's a small lens made for the L-mount system. It's a normal focal length (45mm) but it's slow, relatively speaking, as it only opens up to f2.8. It's also a bit unusual in that it isn't necessarily blindingly sharp across the frame when used wide open. The center is pretty much perfect but sharpness falls off towards the edges and corners. It's a really nice look if you have something interesting in the middle areas of the frame and want sharpness to fall off a bit at the edges. Stop it down to f4.0 and it's nicely sharp across the frame. Stop it down to f5.6 and it's perfect. 

But it's also small, light, well built, and one of the few lenses made for the L mount system that's under $1,000. 

So, as I mentioned in the title I'd like to design the "big picture" parameters of a lens that's personalized for me; for the way I most often use my favorite lenses. This isn't to suggest that you'll want anything even close to this for your own use. This is just my pipe dream....

I'll start with focal lengths and I am defaulting to a zoom lens. I want something that starts at 40mm and tops out at 110mm. According to the metrics from various Kirk Catalogs of images this is the range I use for 90% of my day-to-day, having fun, imaging. If I want something wider I can bring along a discrete 24mm or 20mm. If I want something longer for a particular I can be like everyone else and default to a 70-200mm zoom instead. 

By limiting the focal length range I think a good lens design team could design these focal lengths into a decently small package even though I would want a constant aperture f2.8 for my zoom. But they needn't give me something that's super sharp even into the edges, wide open. I'd be happy with a lens that consistently delivers a very sharp image in the central 2/3rds of the frame and then delivers average or adequate results in the corners. The corners and center definitely don't have to match! 

I also don't really care if the lens has absolutely zero distortion. As long as what distortion there is can be corrected with mild measures, by software, in post production. This would keep the size and weight manageable while still providing me with a performance profile that would work well for my usage. 

I want a real manual focus setting ring, delivered via the pull back clutch mechanism that Olympus has on their 12-100mm Pro and their 35-100mm f2.8 Pro lens. It's nice to know exactly where infinity and also the closest focusing point is on my lens. This is also something that the L-Mount Panasonic 70-200mm has...which moves me to consider that lens as a potential buy too. 

Finally, I am not interested in having image stabilization in the lens. I would depend on the image stabilization in bodies like the Fuji X-H1, the Pentax K-1 and the Lumix S-1 to stabilize my jitters for me. This also reduces the needed size and complexity of my "perfect" lens. 

I'd love to have this built as well as the 45mm f2.8 from Sigma and I'd be willing to pay up to $2,000 to own such a lens. I'd be even happier to spend about $1200 instead!

The lens I'm describing would be for full frame cameras but you can shrink the focal lengths proportionally and offer it as an APS-C lens with a max aperture of f2.2 or in micro four thirds (shrunk once again...) with a maximum aperture of f2.0. Olympus was on the right track back in the pre-micro days with their two fast zooms for the 4:3 system. The 12-35mm f2.0 and the 35-100mm f2.0. The later was way too heavy and big but it was a killer optic. The 12-35mm was just about perfect. ...

So, the 40-110mm f2.8 Kirk-O-Flex lens has now been described in detail. I just need to sit back and wait for Sigma or Panasonic to make me one. You can have one too. I hope they make lots of them. 

If you could design a personal lens, just for your own use, not considering whether it would be widely sellable, what would it look like and what would it do? Just curious how far off the mainstream I might be.....



A much overdue gear review. My new goggles.

Tyr Velocity Goggles.

If you swim in a swimming pool you're going to need a pair of goggles. Otherwise the chlorine and other chemicals pool managers put in pools to keep you from dying of stuff like cryptosporidium or brain eating organisms are going to make the whites of your eyes turn red, temporarily mess up your vision, and make you look like you just smoked a big bowl full of hash. From a competitive swimming point of view it's a hell of a lot easier to swim fast if you can see clearly where you are heading. Finally, the clear, underwater vision provided by goggles will probably keep you from having collisions with the other swimmers in your lane as you circle swim. 

For many swimmers goggles are something they use for more hours during a normal day than they do their cell phones! If you are competitive and doing two workouts a day you may be spending up to 4 hours each day in the water. You'll want to find goggles that are comfortable, optically non-distorting, and which don't leak. Some people have faces that make selecting goggles tougher than others. Just as I'm a 40 regular and can buy business suits off the rack, my face is pretty easy on goggles which means I have a wider range that work well for me than some of my buddies with deeper eye sockets or noses of a certain shape and proportion. 

My big issue is that I'll find a pair of goggles that I like only to have them be discontinued (like fashion) and replaced with something that's different enough to cause me some operational friction. I've been using several sets of Speedo goggles for the last few years; buying them in batches of three, but I can't find the ones I like anymore. And, no! Goggles don't last forever. The nose pieces break over time, the straps degrade with extended exposure to UV and pool chemicals, and sometimes they just get....misplaced. 

My last pair of Speedos was nearing end of life (always a bittersweet moment) when I ventured in to Austin Tricyclist to get another tranche. The ones I wanted were gone but I was drawn to this set of TYR goggles because they were a close variation of the Speedos. 

I bought a couple of pairs (big spender!!! Yeah, they cost $16.95 each....) and adjusted them to my face. The first step is to make sure you have the right interchangeable nose piece (the part holding the two eyepieces together) in place. The goggles come packaged with three nose piece variations. Once you've got that done your only other real task is to tension the strap so that it keeps the goggles in place when you are doing your most dramatic flipturns and racing dives. But you don't want them so tight that they create an uncomfortable pressure on your face. The little, soft rubber cups surround the eyepieces go a long way toward keeping the goggles comfortable but if you have them on too tight you'll have "raccoon" eyes for the rest of the morning....

A good fitting set of goggles will feel so comfortable that you'll forget you are wearing them after a few minutes. But a good performing goggle is also set you can wear for a couple of hours without any leakage. Low optical distortion is important to prevent eye fatigue and to not visually misrepresent where the wall is when you are coming in for a turn. 

I give these goggles top rating for everything but racing. If you are hellbent of going all out and doing a perfect racing dive at the beginning of the race, you'll probably want to pick a pair with a lower profile and a tighter fit. It's hell when, after your dive, your goggles slip down around your neck and you have to swim the rest of your race half blind....

I need to add one more pair to the mix but this time I'll look for a clear pair instead of a pair with a dark tint. The darker ones work great almost all the time but with the days getting shorter I sometimes get to Barton Springs well before sunrise. Even before first glow. And there are no lights underwater in Barton Springs. Clear goggles provide a bit of situational awareness and safety. You can see the ends of the pool and better see swimmers coming your way. By the same token you'll get a clearer picture in a pool that's not well lit. 

But at $16 bucks I think I can collect a variety of types for a variety of swim conditions. 

I also wear my goggles at my dermatologist's office when he decides he needs to use liquid nitrogen to burn some actinic keratosis (or some such thing) off my face. No sense taking a chance with one's eyes. Right?

If you have a favorite set of goggles please let us know so we can share that information with our entire blog readership who, I am sure, are anxious to get this information. 

on another note: The 7:30 a.m. swim practice was packed with people this morning. Apparently UT is having one of their mindless/gladitorial football games today and people have been "tailgating" since the middle of the week. The UT masters have figured out that on game days nobody is able to get to their pool so we seem to get the refugees from football in our master program. We were four or five people deep, per lane, for the full hour. Fortunately we all circle well together and sharing lanes with four people can be easy as pie. The trick is to distribute people with similar interval times in the same lanes. You don't want a mix of slow and fast in one lane. Everyone in lane seven (the fast lane) should be able to repeat 100's on 1:10 while everyone in lane one (the slowest lane) should be able to do their 100's on 1:50.  The pace clocks are our guides and we try to space a five second interval between each swimmer. 

Good luck to all the VSL swimmers. Crank out the yards. Stay skinny. Live long and prosper.


What a strange day... I started out with one thing in my head and ended up with something else.

Production photo from "Matilda" at Zach Theatre.

I had occasion to use the Lumix S1 camera along with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens yesterday and I really enjoyed the images I got from that combination. I also liked using the camera; it was very satisfying. So much so that when I woke up this morning I compiled a list of all the Fujifilm equipment that I own with the intention of sending the list to the used equipment buyer at Precision Camera to get pricing. I had the weirdly compelling idea that I would winnow down all the equipment in the studio (monolights, c-stands, flags, umbrellas, booms, Magic Arms, flash meters, bags, cases, rollers and all the rest of the stuff that seems to collect, like barnacles, to slow moving photographers....) to two cameras and three lenses. These would include: one Lumix S1 body and one Lumix S1R body. The currently owned Lumix 24-105mm lens, the 45mm f2.8 Sigma lens, and, I'd also splash out for the Lumix 70-200mm f4.0 lens in order to complete the ensemble.

Of course, this kind of thinking is nothing new for me. I'm sure, if you've read the blog over time you've seen me embrace and then abandon equipment at roughly the pace of the changing seasons. But by the time I finished my morning swim and had savored a decent cup of coffee I had almost talked myself into going "all the way" this time. Bare walls, empty shelves, an equipment cabinet with ample negative space. Perhaps I'd keep a few smaller light stands and a few LED lights but I'd certainly get rid of the ancient stands that hold seamless paper, along with that infernal boom I've used only once a year since I acquired it.

But why? I know the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence but does that also mean the grass is greener in my front yard than my own back yard?

I think I'm just starting to resent the clutter and, also, the more traditional fixtures are a reminder of how much has changed in the business and how little relevance many pieces of gear have for me now.
The C-Stands are great when you need to put up heavy lights and hang soft boxes securely but we don't seem to do the kinds of big studio productions we did when I bought a lot of this stuff. So much more is being done on location and so much of that is about leveraging existing light in existing spaces, not creating worlds in a studio.

But why get rid of so many cameras and lenses? Especially since I liked them so well and used them to good effect.

I don't know if it was the cleaning out of my parents' house, a process which took months, that made me realize how much stuff people acquire and then rarely use. It could be that I feel guilty for owning more cameras than I can reasonably use up. It could be the friction of having to decide between too many lenses when I pack to go photograph stuff. It could be that my brain is just going over how many batteries, and how many different kinds of batteries, there are for all those different cameras and how most of them are going to decline without adequate use and care. Time which I no longer want to expend.

It could be that the kinds of things I've been interested in photographing no longer appeal to me and that by starting over I'll give myself permission to do things differently this time. Maybe more in line with my inclinations and intuition and less so because the decisions seem (at the time) to be rational, and an adjunct to a profitable business strategy. Maybe I'm just tired of everything that I've seen for the last few years and ready for a change. Maybe I've become tired of having too many choices.

This time, however, over the course of the day I started taking my own advice. Advice I'd given recently to a friend who was about to go on his own new buying spree. I suggested that he look at recent work to see if there were things he would miss if he changed his working gear. After a review he settled down and stayed with the system he'd been (successfully) working with for the past few years.

But what really changed my thinking was that I stopped thinking in terms of depreciation, obsolescence and work, and started thinking that it didn't matter if I kept or sold the equipment. By selling it I'd never come close to recouping what I'd actually spent and, knowing myself, I might wake up one day having nostalgically dreamed of gear now departed and gone out to buy it all over again. Might as well keep it.

At the end of the day the thing that changed my mind about my all or nothing concept of gear management was the photographs from yesterday's studio portrait session with a medical professional. I ended up not using either the Fuji cameras or the Lumix camera but I embraced the weirdness of the Pentax K-1 and shot all my images in a square, 1:1 format. I figured there would be enough resolution in the raw files to crop in any direction we might want.

I liked the look in a different way than I liked the look of the photographs I'd shot with the Lumix earlier in the day. But I liked the Fuji images I reviewed over the course of today in a way that was totally different than the other two. In the end, at least for today, I think I'll keep everything around until life changes so much that the idea that cameras systems matter at all becomes moot.

Most of the lighting gear is still going to go. I just use different stuff now. It seems more important to get everything onto an airplane these days than to do things at the level of sturdiness that we used to shoot for. Don't know why but it just seems to be the trend.

Finally, I might just move everything into a different room and make the studio more minimal. White walls, tall ceilings, one modern desk and chair, no other furniture. No gear. No prints on the wall.

Funny, when I was younger and couldn't afford exactly the gear I wanted I always wished for more. Now, when I can afford whatever gear I want, I don't seem to want much at all. It's the complicated logic of getting rid of it that now seems daunting.

A few more random shots from that northern paradise called, Montreal.

People in Montreal seem to value coffee almost as much as do photographers in Austin. There's pretty good coffee almost everywhere and truly great coffee shows itself out in the open, from time to time. My favorite locale for a nice cappuccino, or even drip coffee, is Crew Collective CafĂ© which is in a giant, ornate bank lobby. Half the huge and architecturally captivating lobby is the coffee shop while the other half is a shared workspace, something like a much upscaled version of WeWorks but without the former's former weird management vibe. 

I had a hand made (not plastic packaged and reheated) breakfast sandwich there on my first morning that was a toasted sesame seed bagel (which, on its own, was divine) on top of which was a generous dollop of nicely spicy guacamole, on top of which was a bed of sprouts brushed with just a little lemon juice. The sprouts formed a nest for a perfect soft-boiled egg. The sandwich was finished with just a bit of dijon mustard. Weird to describe but wonderful to eat. 

So, the giant basilica in the middle of the old town... Did the crew at Disney World light the interior? It was pretty darn fabulous. I liked the shots I got from the very earnest Pentax. I liked Belinda's perfectly composed shots from her little Canon G15 better. But I think, technically, the best shots came from... my iPhone XR. Oh well. That's what my friend, Andy, was predicting over at ATMTX just a few days ago. Something about those phones and big, contrasty scenes is like magic. If you go to Montreal the interior of the giant cathedral is well worth the time. Especially if it happens to be cold and rainy outside.

Phones. Phones. Phones. Phones. 

We're all getting grayer. Some of us handle it better than others. I should pay attention and learn from the calm people.

Yes. I asked Belinda to step into the green light at the Musee Des Beaux Arts....
Note the beret purchased in 1985 in Paris. It travels everywhere there's cold weather.

Newest marital strife, who will be the director of the selfie stick?


Window decor with flickering television set in the background.
And the burglar alarm company logo right in the middle of everything.

All Pentax-y.


The Byzantine process of unlocking V-Log on the Panasonic Lumix S1....

Creepy marketing...

I recently bought a Panasonic Lumix S1 along with the "kit" lens (24-105mm f2.8) and the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens for the L mount cameras. I'm pretty happy with the camera and lenses but I am mystified by the arcane process by which we implement the V-Log upgrade for this camera. I bought into the full frame Lumix system specifically to make some videos and to take advantage of the 60 fps frame rate the camera offers in 4K. But to get all the juicy stuff one might need if one intended to work at a higher level than just tossing video stuff onto Instagram TV you will easily convince yourself that you need the "pro" niceties like V-Log, the ability to use the microphone adapter (first introduced with the GH5 ---- no unlocking required for use on that camera) and the ability to work with .Mov files and to output clean signals in 4:2:2, 10 bit at 4K 60p.

Once you convince yourself that you need all that crap (and I will admit that I'm coming around to appreciating good V-Log for super contrasty subject matter. It just means more dynamic range and more room to rescue shadows and highlights in post....) you'll need to go through a weird process to unlock all these features. 

The sneaky thing is that all these software features are resident on the S1 camera when you buy it but they are hidden from the menus and there's no way for normal humans to access them without a ... key. What you are basically required to do is jump through numerous hoops in order to do a ten second activation, on your camera, of the stuff that's already packed inside.

First step, find a retailer who actually has an activation in stock. This is tricky. They were in short supply for a while, which is also mysterious because what you are essentially buying is a small, white, cardboard box. Inside is a very spare user's manual and, in a filmy black envelope, you'll find a small square of paper with a long code of numbers and letters printed on it. Purchasing the piece of paper will cost an aspiring filmmaker about $200 US dollars. 

I bought the activation key, opened the box and read the flimsy manual. One thing stopped me... in the disclaimers Panasonic tells you that once you've completed the upgrade you must keep the code safe and sound and with the camera. If the camera ever, ever needs service you must supply the code along with the camera in order for the camera to be serviced. Better be organized with this particular piece of gear.... One more point; the activation you are buying for $200 is for ONE CAMERA ONLY. If you decide to splash out for a second S1 body (some of us do shoot multi-camera video shoots...) you'll also be splashing out an additional $200 for an additional piece of paper that will unlock the goodies on the second camera. No bulk discount??? Not that I know of...

So, you have decided to be brave and organized. You are about to unseal the plasticized, black envelope with the code and begin to follow the chaos theory instructions. Okay. 

First you'll need to format a memory card in your S1 camera. Then you go to one of the "wrench" menu items and find "activation." You'll work through that submenu till you get to .List and you'll hit button that basically puts the camera indentifiers (serial number, et al) on your memory card in a very specific sub-folder. Now you turn your camera off and insert the memory card into your (web-connected) computer. You'll type in a long URL and it will take you to a Panasonic site where you'll work through the process of telling their app exactly where your identifier file is on the card you inserted. Once you do you hit a button to activate. 

Then the website asks you to download the activation key and place it into the same very specific folder on the SD card. Once you've done that you'll need to eject the card from the computer and put the card back into the camera. You'll scroll back to that arcane "Activation" menu item, hidden somewhere in the wrench menu, and hit the activation sequence. The final step, which the camera does on its own takes about three seconds. Then you turn the camera off and then back on again and.....if the photo gods are smiling down on you the camera will show you that the goodies are now....REVEALED.

Whew. It's a long way to go and a lot of money just to get yourself a really, really flat file. But those video folks are a crazy band and the lengths they'll go to in order to get a few stops of dynamic range can seem extreme. 

It does seem to work. My Atomos monitor/recorder only allows for 30 fps at 4K so, of course, that's the next thing that might need to be upgraded but I think I'll take my time with that since I can record what I need to in-camera. 

Just a reminder that nothing is as easy as it should be.... 

On a totally different note (can't believe Lloyd Chambers hasn't warned us of this yet!) if you are thinking how great it would be to upgrade the Mac OS on your laptop to Catalina and then head over to Starbucks to type a blog post you will be disappointed that you are unable to connect to the free wifi. Try as hard as you like but here in Austin Catalina and Starbuck's wifi is a no-go. Unless you learn one little trick. 

If you get a small screen telling you that your log-in failed then open your browser and type in: "Blue.com" and you head straight to the log-in page. There you can log in and go right on with your business. Yes, you can thank me for that one. It only took one hour and a handful of gray hair.....

Again, nothing is as easy as it should be....

Halloween table decor at Zach Theatre.  Lovely. 


Dealing with the reality of aging as a person and as a photographer.

©2019 Frank Grygier.

No matter how fast I swim or how much I run I'll never be able to outpace the process of aging. We all start young and move through life largely unaffected until one day we wake up and there are far fewer years in front of us than there are behind. And when you finally start to grapple with all this it seems as though the process of aging just jumped out of the bushes and surprised us. Almost as if we never saw it coming or, at least, we never acknowledged that getting grayer (or whiter) hair would be part of our own story. But one day you look in the mirror and you see a different person than you did the month or week or year before and, as much as you try to hide it, you have to admit that the process spares no one. 

My 64th birthday is just around the corner. It's not an event I'm looking forward to. I'm not ready for friends and family to queue up the old Beatles tune, When I'm Sixty Four, and torture me with it all day long. But I'm not exactly depressed about it either. I feel like I'm in a good place since I'm not experiencing any medical issues, or financial worry. My eyes and ears still work. My knees are pain free and my back never hurts...  But I do notice that I'm becoming less tolerant of people and events that waste my time. That would include interviews wherein the subject takes a long time getting to the point. Movies that stretch out the  patently obvious reveal. Deliveries that go awry. Flights that are delayed. 

I think, once all your bills are paid and your kids are through school, you grapple most with what to do for the rest of your life. I worked for so long as a photographer and, when everyone depended upon me financially, it didn't seem wise to even consider changing horses (careers) in mid-stream. Better to continue on as long as everything was working ... but you have to know that the sense of responsibility that drives us is also a bit of a prison that traps us into a certain well worn repetition mostly because it seems "safe." 

Belinda and I were walking with Studio Dog through the neighborhood the morning after we got back from Montreal and we were talking about what I might do next. Her response was to write more fiction. I said that I might but that I still feel an strong attachment to photography. Her advice was to continue doing as much work as I wanted to do but to reject anything that wasn't fun, didn't make me smile, and to reject any project put me in contact with assholes who work hard make life less than wonderful. I think it's good advice but I think I'll take it one step further and only do work that conforms to my vision of art. My art. 

I love the work I get to do for Zach Theatre and they'll have to pry the camera out of my cold dead hands to get me to stop, but the work I've done for most multi-national corporations is like fish. It tends to stink after a couple of days. And most of it never gets even close to making it into the portfolio because ... well, just because. 

There are two problems I can see with the whole scary idea of getting older. One is that you all of a sudden have too many choices. For example in the middle of my career I could always justify switching systems but the economic reality was that something had to go out in order to bring new stuff in. If I wanted to switch from Canon to Nikon then all the Canon gear had to go on the chopping block to subsidize the purchase of the Nikon gear. Now that everything that requires big money is paid and done with I don't have to get rid of Fuji to buy something Pentax and I don't need to peddle the Pentax or Fuji stuff to play around with the new Panasonic stuff. But, you end up with too many choices. Too many magnets pulling you out of the orbit of creation and creating tidal pools that just confuse the issue of how to proceed with the very basic practice of making photographs. I'll figure that one out. Maybe I'll have a "garage" sale at the office and sell it all to the walls except for one lone camera and a couple of lenses (always a dream I've had....). 

You also have more choices about how you'll spend your time. Fewer photo projects take entire days or weeks. Most are shorter and more focused. A portrait. And evening shooting theater. A half day on a location. So you have time to do whatever you want. Then you have to decide what it is you want to do. 

But the second problem is more significant. It's based (for me) on the idea that for men in particular it's the whole idea of having responsibility for things that seems to give the most meaning to our lives. In that respect having your kid launch and leave the nest, and being sure that he is capable, eliminates one of my reasons for existence = being responsible for his wellbeing and tangentially responsible for helping him to be successful. Ben, always the overachiever, is more competent at 23 than I was at 43. No worries there but no more feeling of vital responsibility. 

It's the same thing with my lovely wife of 35 years. She's more financially successful in her work than I am and doesn't depend on me for.....anything (other than friendship, companionship and a shared existence). I think when we hit this age our real need is to redefine some sense of responsibility; even if it's just to ourselves. Being responsible for living well. Being responsible to support our friends, loved ones, and our charities.

So, this is sounding way too serious. 

Here's something to chew on instead of grappling with issues better served up in an Ingmar Bergman movie =  Sony's camera menus suck. But their haptics suck more! Discuss!!!

Maybe tomorrow I can distract myself from the fear of uncertainty by starting a big Android versus iPhone discussion.... Or maybe I'll just do a portrait in the morning and then go for a walk. 

All good advice about aging happily accepted and shared. Thanks, KT

 ©1980 Alan Pogue

Grappling with defining a style in photography.

Texan. For a project with Live Oak Theatre. 
In the "pre-Zach" days of my theater photography.

Right up front I'll say that attempting to create a "style" for your photography immediately is like being a non-swimmer and wanting to jump right in and compete in a twelve mile, open water swimming race. We'll be pulling you out of the water in the first few hundred yards....if you make it that far. 

I think a style becomes a subconscious (but routine) part of your approach to photography only after you've gotten comfortable with all the technical stuff and you've got thousands and thousands of photographs under your belt. Then you start to feel an almost magnetic pull to approach visual projects in certain ways that are different from the decisions others would make with the same scenes or encounters. It's a natural evolution that comes from trying and rejecting thousands of choices and then narrowing in on the ones that do work for you. For instance, you may crop your portraits in a certain way (tighter or looser, top of the head closer or further away from the top of the frame, main subject off center a certain way, etc.) that makes you feel "comfortable" with your particular choice. 

Over time you'll find that certain colors, or combinations of colors, are more attractive to you. You'll find that a particular range of skin tones, when rendered in black and white, seem more natural. And you'll come to understand that your style comes in to being a bit like the process of sorting data with a computer; you have a set of sub-conscious parameters (like filters) that make you satisfied with aspects of an image, and as you do your decade or so of trial and error you eliminate the various parts of a photograph that you don't like and emphasize the things you do like. But the process runs continually in the background. 

Trying to force a style is like trying to hear the sound of one brain clapping...

Many times a helpful exercise for me is to pull prints from across several decades that I really, really love and sit with them, trying to understand the common threads that run through each of the images. You do the same thing when you look through photo books by photographers whose work you admire. Their work usually contains many of the same touchstones that also appear in your work. By identifying the work of your peers, and the inspirational artists that you are most attracted to, you are also refining your own vision by, in some way, affirming that your particular point of view works. By acknowledging your attraction to  recurring elements in your work that also appear in the work of other artists you've selected you solidify your approach to interpreting what you see.

One of the nice things about this blog site for me is that I now have a catalog, online, of over 10,000 images that I've uploaded over the past ten years to share with you. Not all of them got shared but a  majority did. Now I can go back through the catalog, looking at large thumbnails, to see what threads run through many of them and in which I can see both a progression in my personal photographic style that comes from constantly photographing as well as a distillation process that seems to be running concurrently. The review process is very energizing to me since it reminds me of the time and resources I've expended to look in earnest. And tells me how I might keep moving along the visual line I've created for myself. The review also tends to kick my butt to keep me working and playing with images. It's hard work but fun work.

Or, I could just try downloading some PhotoShop actions and ......... naw. That's the definition of giving up.

I must have been frightened by rectangles as a small child because I sure do like the square. But again, maybe part of my style is the comfort I feel with the boundaries of the square. YMMV.

Have fun out there. Or not. It's largely up to you.


I've always had a queasy feeling about ad links in blogs so from this point on we're going ad free. With one or two exceptions...

building by night. A handheld shot from a park bench.

When I started the blog it was as a vehicle to share my angst, adventures and even fun moments resulting from nearly always have a camera in my hands with a group of like-minded photographers. After a while I started using the blog to promote a series of books I was writing about photography for Amherst Media. When the books started being sold on Amazon.com it seemed sensible to advertise the books here on the blog to help with the marketing. After all, with every book sold through Amazon I eventually got my royalty share from the publisher as well as a small commission from Amazon. Double dipping at its best! (Don't worry, it didn't cost buyers one cent more....).

Since that worked so well I decided to do what all the other bloggers seemed to do and extend my use of Amazon ads to cover more photo products like cameras and lenses. But that always felt a bit disingenuous to me. I'm not a highly technical reviewer and most of my reviews were based on my very limited, and sometimes specialized, approach to photography. I could write with an authoritative bent but I was always aware that there were many aspects of every camera I wrote about that didn't interest me. Just as there were whole swaths of menu items that I never got around to using. At some point I got into reflexively adding links to lots of stuff I was writing about and the writing got bent a bit in the direction of acquiring gear because I kept getting regular, small but addictive financial rewards for doing so.

After writing a lot this year and cutting out almost all links back to commercial sites and commercial products I realized that I never really wanted the blog to exist in order to provide any sort of financial return beyond perhaps having a potential client stumble across the writing and taking a chance by hiring me. 

As of now I'm discontinuing all affiliate advertising on the VSL site and will, if I have time, go back and remove ads from older posts. I'd like to see if my subconscious writes better when there is not even a whiff of influence from potential affiliate commissions that might drive me to blunt my scathing assessment of a piece of gear, or my desire to write stuff that's a bit more controversial; more combative. 

I will reserve the right to use the VSL blog site to sell off old gear that I own from time to time or to market my own services and any product I might invent, design and make (not bloody likely....). 

If you miss the ability to click through links, support a site, and buy products I would recommend that you hold that thought and head over to the onlinephotographer.com, make your purchase and then come back here and continue reading. (Mike's business model is completely different from mine...).

I think it will be refreshing to just write about, and discuss photography (and swimming, etc.) without the idea that we need to buy more stuff or review stuff in order to have a nice dialogue. I hope you feel the same. 

No more ads here. No more subtle suggestion that it's time to......upgrade, improve the inventory or just get a buying adrenaline dose. We'll just keep writing and reading about life in photography and everything I like around the edges. I've cancelled my affiliate account so none of the ancient links should work anymore. Probably good since half the stuff on the older posts is no longer available . I hope you can live without the additional layer of commerce. Let me know in the comments. KT

the tripod that requires a two person team to set up....

the secret of doing lots of street photography is wearing the right shoes.

No, I am not trying to sell the building attached to this sign...


In defense of standard, slow, zoom lenses. What's not to like?

Musee Des Beaux Arts. 

 Many photographers I know, and many photographers who broadcast on YouTube and DP Review, look down on any zoom lens that isn't f2.8 or faster all the way through its focal lengths. The idea being that you'll finally be able to shoot in low light situations without difficulties. Another part of the supposed allure is "bokeh" (which really refers to the quality of the out of focus areas but which has been bastardized by common misuse to mean any out of focus background) or one's ability to easily throw a background into an anonymous blur of visual ambiguity. At a certain level there is also a wide spread belief that because "faster" zoom lenses are bigger and more expensive they are able to make images of better quality. By that I mean higher sharpness, butch-er contrast and more resolution.

Most of the f2.8 standard zooms are 24-70mm focal length range lenses which, for me, means some wasted engineering at the wide end and a total lack of happiness at the (modestly) long end of the lens. They are certainly not providing a focal length at the "telephoto" end that I find useful. Too short by about 30mm....

In addition to being frightfully expensive (and too short) the 24-70mm, f2.8 zooms are much heavier than their more pedestrian counterparts. Unless one is constantly shooting in low light, or training to carry weights around all day, these lenses represent an overkill case that's almost funny. My preference in lenses, regardless of your chosen system, is the new classic 24-105mm f4.0 or the Nikon version, the 24-120mm f4.0. Yes, you might "lose" a stop at the wide end but you'll gain a much great range of focal lengths and, oddly enough, you might find the slower lenses to be just as sharp at f4.0 or sharper.

I wish that Pentax made an f4.0 constant aperture zoom lens in the 24-105mm range, or even better, in the 24-120mm range but, sadly, they don't. What they do make for the full frame K-1 is a nicely compact 28-105mm f3.5-5.6 zoom lens that makes very good images, indoors and out.

Counterintuitively, I took the 28-105 with me to Canada to shoot in just about every situation. Belinda loves museums so the big Musee Des Beaux Arts was fixed on the radar from the beginning of our trip planning. I knew that it would be mostly darker rooms with brighter lights just on the painting and sculpture --- but my interest was not copying art work but making photos of the interior spaces, the venue and the people appreciating the art. In the "olden" days I would have taken several different prime lenses, each with a fast f1.4 or f2.0 aperture. But this was vacation/holiday and I just didn't have the energy to switch, switch, switch lenses all day long. Not if an alternative existed...

The advantage of a mid-brow, standard zoom lies in its smaller size, lighter weight and also its lower acquisition price. My total investment in the system in hand at the museum was about $1500. That was the price of a used, but mint, K-1 body, with 36 really nice megapixels, and a brand new standard zoom. One of the key features that makes the K-1 a good travel camera is that it has really great high ISO performance and very effective in body image stabilization that works with every single lens you attach to it.

Instead of relying on a wide aperture to provide a fast enough shutter speed to both hold the system steady and also freeze subject movement I went in a different direction and depended on the camera to produce clean raw files at ISO 1600 and 3200 while leaning on the I.S. to allow me to shoot at shutter speeds as low as 1/15th of a second with no real image quality concerns. Even when stuck at f5.6 and 105mm I felt that the images were as good as any I'd gotten with older, fast lens techniques. It also meant that I didn't need to carry along multiple lenses or multiple lens and camera combinations.
The Chinese Gardens at the Botanical Garden.

Where a small, less highly spec'd standard zoom comes into its own, though, is in exterior photographs during the day. Overcast, sunny, raining, etc. It doesn't really matter as long as you have a camera that delivers ISO performance that matches your taste in ultimate image quality. For the image just above I was shooting at ISO 100 and f8.0. I'm sure my shutter speed was somewhere around 1/400 or 1/500. I can't really imagine what advantage an f2.8 zoom lens would have had in this situation. By f8.0 nearly every lens I've used performs very well and having both the extra zoom range and the smaller lighter profile made for a more enjoyable shooting day.

The reality of lens design is that lenses with smaller apertures can be made to a higher performance standard than faster lenses with bigger glass elements. It doesn't always happen but the math points to smaller lens elements being easier to make and quality ensure. I presume that there are also more difficulties in assembling and calibrating the more complex designs required by faster lenses.

I think Pentax struck a nice balance between price ($499 US) and overall performance. But I'm also impressed by the lens I left at home; the Panasonic Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 (constant aperture). 
The optical performance of the Lumix is really superb with the lens mostly at a high level for sharpness and contrast already at wide open. I find the two ends of the focal length range to be excellent at f4.0 while in the middle ranges, if you want the corners to be sharp you might need to stop down to f5.6. The lens and S1 camera together, using dual I.S., are as close to perfectly stabilized as I've found across all systems for sensors bigger than micro four thirds. And its performance with the 24-105 is close to that of the Panasonic G9 with the Olympus Pro 12-100mm. Pretty amazing.

Given the sensor performance of the S1 I can only imagine that the system would be great for travel. It's too bad I wasn't ready to bring it along on our travel adventure but I didn't have enough hands on experience yet with the camera to be comfortable. Next time.

Anyway, don't reflexively turn your nose up at a slower-than-f2.8 standard zoom lens. You may be passing up a sharp, well behaved optic that fits into your travel and shooting parameters much better than a more "prestigious" fast lens. And you'll save enough cash opting for the slower lens to pay for the plane tickets for your next adventure.

That's all for now. Write as comment. Tell me about your favorite mid-range zooms. I'd love to know what's out there.....