11.11.2019

Pulled out of the camera graveyard in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. (It's a big filing cabinet).

Alpa 9D with 50mm f1.8 Kern Switar.
The construction of this particular camera makes the new 
Leica SL2 look like a Holga by comparison....

Years and years ago I found this Alpa 9D Reflex camera and its partner lens in an ancient camera store in San Antonio. It had its original black leatherette back then but we had to take it off to do a repair and never got around to re-cloaking it. The camera and lens were both built in very small numbers in Switzerland. The top and front of the camera body are all made from a solid, milled, single piece of space age alloy (really, mostly stainless steel) while the removable back and bottom are twice as thick as a Leica M removable back, and the inside workings look as though the camera was made to lounge about in a surgical lab somewhere, looking amazingly precise and well finished. 

This camera was as basic as it gets, but "basic" with over 700 finely made (think: fine automatic watch) mechanical parts. It had a rudimentary, center weighted meter but no hot shoe, and the lens was focused wide open and then stopped down to the shooting aperture as you pushed the front mounted shutter release. Even the wind knob (which still works as smoothly as polished motor oil) is different from any other model or brand of camera I've seen. 

The specs are ordinary for the period of time in which the 9D was current; shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/1,000th of a second. Flash sync at 1/60th of a second. There are sync sockets for both X sync, FP sync, and M series flashbulbs. The single piece of plastic on the camera is a little window that surrounds the shutter speed setting dial and allows the operator to see what shutter speed is set. 

The Kern Switar lens is equally bare-bones. It's non-automatic and has non-linearly spaced f-stops from 1.8 all the way to f22. It focuses down to a little less than 1/8th life size. You need to stop down the lens to meter but the lock allows you to do so without accidentally triggering the shutter while metering....

I used to use my Alpa for "hobby" shooting but it's a slow-to-work camera and, with Tri-X film, I didn't see any improvements over my "much quicker to operate" Leica M and R cameras and lenses. By today's standards it's like working in ultimate slow motion when compared to the latest digi-cams. Earlier SLRs like this one also had dim focusing screens and were notoriously difficult to focus wide open. 

Every once in a while I pull this camera out of its storage space to remind myself that one actually had to know what they were doing in the earlier days of photography to be successful image takers. Just getting an acceptable image took time and real effort. We are so spoiled today. But I did insert a roll of Tri-X into the precision innards of the camera today and took some photographs. I'll keep at it until I finish the roll. Not so much to make my own art but to, in some way, channel an era/knowledge base of our craft that is quickly being lost to the collective consciousness of today's photographers. God the camera feels nice to use!

This was my rain, shine, dust storm, perilous and foolish stunts camera. 
It shows...

11.10.2019

A small collection of the photographs of the Berlin Wall as I saw it October 2013. Remembering the fall of the Wall today.


The parts of the remaining Berlin Wall that I got to see were covered with 
commissioned, painted murals depicting fascism and repression around the world.
It's a somber place. 








Out for a walk on Sunday. Critiquing a major corporation. Getting some vitamin D. Going super-wide to clean out the cobwebs...

Let's start with this hideous cup. It's this year's "holiday" cup from
Starbucks. While Starbucks may be putting local coffee shops out of the coffee
business they are certainly not going to make a dent in the businesses of 
any decent graphic designers with this visually cacophonous monstrosity.
Yes. Yes. I can see that the letters spell, "Tuck" right across the middle of 
the cup. But it's not what I had in mind when I suggested they partner with
 a world class photographer....

Do you think this cup design is as visually repulsive as I do?

Other than the "crimes-against-humanity" cup design imbroglio it was a really nice day today. The weather was about as perfect as nature could deliver and the city was brimming with people walking, running, scootering, biking and coffee slurping outside. I saw a larger than usual number of people strolling about with cameras including one very serious looking couple (each around my age) who were both sporting Leica M series digital cameras. Fun to see some Leica love out in the wild instead of just represented as the butt of jokes about camera pricing on internet sites with jealous vloggers. 

At one time I was seriously, intensely into Leica M and R cameras and used them for many years as the primary "small" cameras in my business. That came to a screeching halt with the early ascendence of digital but I may venture back into the fold given all the fun and breathless press the new Leica SL2 is getting. If you use cameras for anything but AF-C oriented work you'd probably love the SL2. It's pricy but beautifully and minimally designed. In the nicest sense of the word, "minimally." 

My attraction is less to the new camera and more focused on the lenses. I've been reading about the new Leica 75mm f1.2 APO (real APO, not advertising APO) lens and every once in a while I have to stop and wipe the drool off my keyboard with a lens cleaning cloth. According to one of the engineers at Leica this might be the highest (best? most best?) consumer lens ever made. 

I say, "consumer" lens because the various professional cinema lenses are much more expensive but might just be a bit better spec'd. At $4,795 I'm hardly running out the door to acquire one of the 75's but from time to time, when I'm feeling maximum hubris, the thought of ownership does cross my mind...

The nice thing about my recent acquisition of two Lumix S1 bodies is that they are part of the whole Leica/Sigma/Panasonic L Mount Alliance and all the lenses are usable on all three of the manufacturers' bodies without caveat. If all one needs is a brilliant 24 megapixel sensor and a very, very well engineered body then the Lumix stuff makes perfect sense. And, with the cost savings over the Leica SL2 camera one might just be able to swing one or two carefully selected Leica primes. Or save for retirement....(an over the shoulder reminder from the in-house accounting department). But I say, "Why not both?!" 

You would think after all the nonsense I just typed above that I was out today with one of the S1 bodies and whichever Lumix lens I considered to be most luxe but, no. When I stirred today, finished my frittata and my coffee, gobbled down my blueberry waffle, brushed my teeth, my one thought was on getting out today and going with a wide angle prime lens to recalibrate away my compulsion to shoot everything with a 50mm equivalent. I chose the Fuji X-T3 (who needs image stabilization on a bright, sunny day when using a very wide angle lens?) and the 14mm f2.8 Fuji lens. I was less averse to it than I thought I would be. It's a wonderful little lens. It's got very low distortion but acres of vignetting which are discreetly handled by the in-camera software correction. And the combo of body and lens make a nice, small, unobtrusive package to carry around on a two hour walk. Plus, the files out of the X-T3 are hardly lacking...

The look of the shoreline after storms have blown out all the micro-trash from the sky. 
Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.


A millennial/hipster urbanist dentist office. Way to cling to the highlights!





I think they've finally put the finishing touches on the "Jenga" building.

Yes. Fake grass. So fake that everyone knows it's Astro Turf but the dogs. 
Odd to me that people bring their dogs here and the dogs do their "business" 
on the turf. But other people bring their kids here and play on the same turf. 
Modern life in downtown. Hope someone is power washing the landscape every night.



endless dynamic range. 

Uh oh. Is everyone sharing the sidewalk?
Bike rentals should include helmets and etiquette instructions....


I seem to be recovering my work equilibrium and am actually getting excited again about various projects coming into the company. I've also been casting around for some young people to work with. Met one today who asked to shadow me on some projects. We'll see, potentially, how this mentoring thing might work out. 

Much work coming up in the next few weeks. Marketing photos and possible video projects for three theater productions, a gala this Thursday at the Four Seasons Hotel and a fair number of private portrait commissions (seems like I acquired that 85mm f1.4 lens just in time). 

Hope your pre-holidays are going well. Keep up the high quality blog reading. Knowing you are out there reading always serves to give me the desire to write.

Keep swimming or running or whatever active thing you do all the way through the holidays. Don't let anyone disturb your schedule for work or ancillary family stuff. There's always time to help out after workout!!!


11.09.2019

Angel-Man. Photographing for the upcoming Holiday Season.

Jaston. ©2019 Kirk Tuck.

Jaston Williams first hit my radar when he co-created and co-starred in Tuna Texas, the long running, two person play about Tuna, Texas. It was hilarious, irreverent, spirited, and it was inspired enough to play nationally (coast to coast) even though it emerged from little ole Austin, Texas. 

But Jaston never stands still. He's written, produced and starred in theater productions everywhere. 

I was thrilled to get to photograph him once again for his new holiday play this year called, Broken Wing. I don't know a lot about the play yet, other than that Jaston will produce and star in it but I'm already planning to attend performances here in Austin and in San Antonio. It's a privilege to get to see a master at work!

We shot this in my studio a few weeks ago. There were 400+ shots to choose from and while I am certain Jaston and his crew picked something a bit different for their general marketing use this is one I love because it's a bit over the top. The original is shot on smooth gray seamless paper but I added a white vignette just for the hell of it. 

Shot with the Panasonic Lumix S1 and the 24-105mm f4.0 at f6.3. It's way sharp and I love the tonality. But most of that was the lighting. Happy Holidays, Part One. 

Here's the original frame after cropping to the square: 


11.08.2019

"I'm sorry. I missed your last post with all the fancy bokeh from that 85mm Sigma ART lens (wide open). Can you post another one?"

This is Illiana (left). She's also in the Zach production of Christmas Carol. She'll steal the show because she's so incredibly talented. I photographed her at a rehearsal last weekend. Here's the file. It started life as a Jpeg in the Lumix S1. Do I love the camera? Yeah, it's pretty neato. 

"Hey! Dude! What does the bokeh look like with that 85mm f1.4 Sigma ART lens? Can you show us something?"

Sure. This is Taylor. She's in the Zach Theatre "Christmas Carol" production.
She sings like an angel. She's also the main focus of the image above, shot at f1.4 with the 
Sigma 85mm f1.4 on the Lumix S1 camera. It was taken at one of the 
early rehearsals....

That there image below is a magnified portion of the same frame just to show you that
where the focus lands there is much good/happy sharpness. 

Go buy one. It's fun.

Forgot to mention it's ISO 1600....

A quick glimpse at part of an early rehearsal for "Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre's rehearsal space.


Rehearsals are fun. And necessary. And photographers and videographers should do more rehearsals in their own work rather than just winging it and hoping everything will fall into place. But having written that I realize that I was just hanging out and waiting for everything to fall into place with the actors and dancers....

Photographed with a Fuji X-T3 and the 56mm f1.2 APD. 

Why the X-T3? Why not an X-H1? Hmmm. Honestly, I was re-evaluating the X-T3 to see if I.S. was really that important to me. If it was critical to the work then my intention was to sell the X-T3 and concentrate on just using the three X-H1's I have for all the shoots that call for the special charm of Fuji cameras and lenses. I was also curious to see if the X-T3 really focused faster/better than the X-H1 when the latter camera is in "boost" mode.

My take? I won't be selling the X-T3. Image stabilization in situations like these takes a back, back seat to freezing subject motion with fast shutter speeds. Once you've closed in to around 1/250th of a second with a medium telephoto like the 56mm you're already in a sweet spot for being able to handhold a camera and lens safely. The times when I.S. helps me are when I'm shooting towards the long end of the 50-140mm Fuji lens at dress rehearsals (because I'm in a fixed position and not able to get closer to the stage = hence the longer focal length). The stabilization helps with camera movement but also with stabilizing the image in the EVF which makes composition more accurate.

As far as focusing goes, I'm generally a one point focus guy using S-AF and to be honest I didn't notice a difference vis-a-vis the X-H1's focusing abilities when in "boost" mode.

So why keep the X-T3? It's smaller and lighter for times when that helps. But the real reason is that it's a delightful video camera with a great range of video features. That, and the fact that the higher resolution EVF is more pleasant to work with for long and involved shoots. Plus, the trade in values mean taking an unnecessary bath.

It's all good here.

At the Blanton Museum with a Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0.


I'm not sure what to think of the Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 lens. It's big, that's for sure, but it's not that heavy. I like the look of the lens but at the same time it seems a bit...anonymous. I'd like to think my purchase got me a superb lens but there is a tiny bit of post cognitive dissonance in realizing that it is not a "Pro" series lens; the only one in their small line up of lenses not to have that certification. 

But in the end the only way to judge a lens is to see if it measures up to the kind of photographs you aspire to take. That it doesn't drop the ball somewhere along its range of focal lengths and apertures. 
I've used the lens sparingly in the last few weeks, preferring to take the small and light 45mm out with me on walks (or the adapted Zeiss 50mm f1.7) and pressing the massive Sigma 85mm or the equally big-boned 70-200mm f4.0 into service when shooting for clients. 

I took the day off yesterday (which is becoming habitual) and went to the Blanton Museum instead of toiling in the fields of commercial photography. It was raining and I wanted to make sure my camera and lens combination was weatherproofed enough to take a bit of moisture on the long walk to and from the car so I put the 24-105mm on the S1 camera and brought along my rain jacket. I needn't have worried so much about water intrusion as I discovered (my compulsive nature of trouble shooting in advance) that my rain jacket had, in its pockets, both a large bandana (for wiping off cameras and lenses) as well as an extra large ZipLoc bag, suitable as an emergency camera cover in a downpour. 

While I understand that most lenses are at their best when stopped down a couple of stops from wide open that doesn't seem to be the way I generally use lenses for personal imaging. I spent the entire morning photographing in the museum with the lens set to f4.0, the shutter set to 1/30th and the camera set to auto ISO. I'm decent at handholding cameras and lenses but my abilities are amplified by about 600% by the dual image stabilization provided by the Lumix S1 + the 24/105 lens. 

As you can see if you click on the sample photos (and you could see this with even greater clarity on the original images taken in raw at 24 megapixels) the lens is capable of high detail rendering in spite of being used at its widest aperture. If I stood steady in front of a work of art and worked carefully I could see, in the final images, every tiny crack in a painted surface along with the underlying detail of the canvases themselves. The gold paint on the image just below seems almost three dimensional to me. All with a lens used handheld, wide open. It's very nice performance. 

I didn't dunk the camera and lens under a downspout or spray them with beer so I can't really speak to their impervious nature. I can say that I found the camera and lens to actually disappear or become agile during my process of image making. A compliment to the balance of the system and the competence of the engineering. Finally, I like the 24 megapixel sensor in the S1 and can't see, with the types of projects I like to do, getting the bigger brother (S1R) and losing some of the video capabilities I like in the S1. I just don't find the increased resolution that big of a draw. Now, the minute a paying client starts talking about a project the final output of which is monolithic, gigantic, enormous prints I'll head up to the camera store so fast it will make my own head spin. But for now? S1 and the range of zooms I already have bring a smile to my face every time I shoot with them. 

The 24-105mm range is so nice. I could do with an additional 5 or 10mm on the long end but I'm not complaining; not when everything is working so well. 

Hmmm. I wonder how all these lenses would work on a Leica SL2?????






11.07.2019

Banging around with a Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens on a Lumix S1.

The bokeh always seems more incredible and delicious if you just don't focus...

I tend to shoot often with fast lenses and then use them near their fastest apertures. I like some separation between subjects and backgrounds and shooting this way is the more effective way to create the effect. But every once in a while I want to see what normal scenes look like with more front to back detail. I also know that many lenses, and many lens types, are at their peak performance when we stop them down to f4.0, f5.6 or f8.0. Many times I think I'm disappointed with a lens only to remember that I've been shooting it wide open and that not all lenses are designed to excel there. 

When I left the house yesterday with the intention of getting a spirit-lifting walk done in the warm, mid-afternoon, I put together the Sigma 45mm lens (the mechanical design and construction of which I am very impressed with) with one of the S1 bodies (yes, that's right, I bought a second one) to talk along with me. The small lens goes a long way toward reducing the burden of that system's size. 

But, having read in some detail about Sigma's design philosophy for this lens I decided not to shoot it at its maximum aperture of 2.8 but to try out the lens performance while vacillating between f5.6 and f8.0. Why? Well, I used this combination of camera and lens to photograph the image of the Nikon F and the ancient Nikkor 50mm f1.4 which I posted earlier this week. I thought the image was wonderfully detailed and perhaps it was because I ended up shooting it with the 45mm lens set to f16. I thought I'd be let down by the dreaded scourge of diffraction but it never reared its ugly head. What I did get was sharp focus where I wanted it and lots of nice detail. I considered, in passing, that perhaps I'd been a bit single-minded by always choosing "fast" for my lens settings...

I spent a couple of hours walking around making photographs at random with the 45mm f2.8. Here are the things I like about that lens: 1. It's a beautiful piece of physical design. 2. It's small and light. 3. It has a really cool, metal hood. Mine already has a small dent (which saved the rest of the lens) but it's bandaged up with a small piece of concealing gaffer's tape. 3. The front element is anti-intimidating. 4. It's the cheapest lens I could buy for the L-mount system. 5. It's a focal length that feels almost just right for me. And, finally, it has a wonderful, external aperture setting ring. 

Here are the things I find I don't like after using the lens in its sweet spots yesterday: 1. __________

Below I've included an image of some leaves over to the right side of the frame and an out of focus city scape in the background and on the left hand side of the frame. I've also included a magnified section of that same image just below it. I love, love, love the way the leaves are rendered. 

Today I went to the museum and brought along the same camera but with a different lens. I'll write something about that next.