3.28.2020

Posted just to make my eyes happy.


What do you do when your camera is too small and your lens is too big.

Chihuahua mates with Great Dane.

Yes. I was going to use the Sigma fp camera to shoot some video this evening and I decided to use the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens as the primary lens. But after a few seconds of trying to put the Sigma fp directly onto a video tripod with that giant, honking lens sticking out front I realized that we had a crazy mismatch. The lens must be five or six times heavier than the camera body and even if the lens mount can stand the strain the whole assemblage felt so out of balance it make me laugh.

I grabbed some cage kit "tinker toys" and got to work. I've got a set of 15mm rails mounted directly to the tripod and then the camera is mounted to a plate on top of those rails. The lens is supported by a little device that also fits on the rails (to the front). Its sole task is to prevent the dreaded lens droop.

I have the lens support further back in this example so the front ring on the lens, which is the manual focusing ring, is unencumbered. That's a mandatory thing because I'll be focusing manually.

Once I finish the set-up I'll have a monitor up on the top bar and an SSD drive hanging close to the side of the camera. It's a nutty set-up but I think it's better than letting an unsupported multi-pound lens hang way off the center of gravity. Talk about front heavy...

I have extra time to figure this stuff out in advance now. Moving at a leisurely pace and already dreading the editing on the back end.

Consider this your dose of "Rube Goldberg" engineering for the moment.

A long overlooked, but delightful, small camera got some attention today and got out for some fresh air. Here's what my Panasonic gX85 saw today.



Of all the cameras I've owned over the years I've got to say that some of the smaller (m4:3) models have been among my favorites; at least where digital cameras are concerned. I've been shooting with the full size Lumix S1 cameras for a while now and I feel the weight of the combined body and lenses when I go out for just a casual walk. As an alternative to always having a full size camera along I bought myself a very small and very "on sale" camera just before the holidays last year. 

It's not a brand new model and it "only" has a 16 megapixel sensor but I think it does a fine job making photographs. And it's nicely size-matched to the two lenses that came in the kit. I parted with a bit less than $450 for the camera body, the 12-35mm, collapsible kit lens and also the 45-150mm zoom lens. 

All three of the products are small, light and very good performers for the money. Obviously, the small sensor camera, coupled with smaller aperture lenses, is not going to be the ultimate low light camera but I rarely go out for long walks in low light so maybe it's a better match than you might think. For an "only" camera system it may not have all the bases covered but I am fortunate that it's only one of the tools in the box for me. 

I haven't played with this little system as much as I should have but I'm out to remedy that. The menus are similar enough to the S1 and the (sadly missed) G9 cameras from Panasonic so there isn't that discordant hesitation that comes from crossing over from one brand of camera to another in day to day work. 

When I left the house it was still raining this morning and even though it wasn't coming down hard I took along a rain jacket with a hood for me and a small, plastic bag (as a rain cover) for the camera. 

I parked in the now totally empty parking lot at Zach Theatre since the complex is adjacent to the lake and the trails. I pulled up my hood, retied by old Ahnu walking shoes and headed over to the trail. The rain dusted my camera from time to time but I kept a well worn and washed-a-thousand-times handkerchief and wiped off the drops from time to time. I kept the plastic bag in reserve for more dramatic downpours. 

I brought only the wide to short normal kit lens (12-32mm = 24mm to 64mm on an FF sensor) and was happy with my choice. My brain seems to just adapt to whatever I end up bringing along and I rarely have much remorse about not having X or Z lens along with me. You just start looking for things that fit the lens parameters and start ignoring the stuff that might have required a longer lens...

I've been noticing that on recent walks I've done with a camera I was so intent on replacing the lost exercise of swimming that I was trying to walk as briskly as I could and ended up with one or no photographs as a result. I also noticed that the faster I walk the less I look up and the less frequently I look side to side. I guess I'm so intent on keeping a faster pace that I tunnel in and start ignoring things outside my primary peripheral vision. Today I gave myself conscious permission to take it a bit easier and to pay more attention to the visual rewards along the way. 

There may also have been some teething about how to walk in a time of pandemic that influenced my paucity of images from previous walks. I was being more careful about spacing around people which meant I was paying much more attention to boundaries and anticipating moving around people in a judicious way as I passed them. I was also factoring in people coming from behind on bicycles who would be passing me as well. I can normally hear the wheels as they crunch over the cinder trail but since I was giving more space around people in front of me I needed to plan earlier and take the bike riders into consideration further in advance. 

Today I stayed as far to the right of the trail as possible since I wanted to pull off to the edge of the trail more often to make photographs. 

The GX85 is a small, unthreatening and anonymous-looking camera. It's the quintessential point-and-shoot camera of the digital age; except that it does take interchangeable lenses. Compared to the denser and bigger S1 cameras, and even the small but densely packed Sigma fp, the GX85 seemed almost weightless. Even with the 12-32mm collapsible lens extended for business the whole package is smaller in one profile than my phone! If this thing hurts your shoulder it may be time to find a willing sherpa for your walks. 

I put the camera on P for program and trusted it, for the most part, to suss out a decent exposure. From time to time I'd nudge it into a darker exposure compensation but then again, I was shooting in raw and knew I'd be better off protecting the highlights with a little underexposure and then lifting shadows in post processing. 

I used center focus, S-AF and was never let down by the system. The deeper depth of field is interesting and somewhat happily compelling after flirting for months with the extremely shallow depth of field offered by the bigger format cameras and the faster lenses I have for them. 

Another benefit of the camera is its very good dual image stabilization. It just works. I feel like a walking tripod sometimes. 

The sun started to peek out just as I finished up mile five of the walk so I trudged back to my car and headed home for lunch. 

Belinda and I can never finish a large pizza from our favorite pizza shop; we always eat what we want and toss the rest into the freezer. Now that there's no business or cash flowing in we've found a treasure trove; literally pounds and pounds, of frozen pizza already on hand. Today, in our ongoing attempt at frugality and cash management, we had a nice lunch of oven-revived pizza. We each got to select our own, personal favorite slices. I had two. One was spinach, mushroom and feta cheese while the other was a blend of vegetables like spinach, green peppers, red peppers, mushrooms and diced tomatoes. 

Regardless of the virus or the financial ruin we're enduring I feel duty bound to have a camera by my side. But in an age (hopefully very temporary) of diminishing expectations it's sometimes nice to have that camera be small and light.  My one day review? The GX85 was a good buy and a nice take-anywhere camera. Not quite state of the art but very much capable of making great images with relative ease. If you can find the set for around $450 new, it's pretty compelling --- unless you already have a camera you are happy with....

Here are some images from this morning with lots of experimental post processing. What are you walking around with this week?


Spring has been so wet and mild that the H&B trail feels like a jungle.





Can't make up my mind but I think I like the color version best....



Social distancing and a small group of cross country runners in the distance. 








Got a text from an old friend who is a bit depressed about the state of the world and 
also his isolation from it. He lives about a half an hour west of Austin. 
We're meeting at his place to re-invent social coffee. 

I'll park at the end of his driveway and bring a lawn chair. 

He can bring a lawn chair from his back yard and we'll sit about seven or eight feet 
apart to drink coffee (I'll bring my own so we don't get into the weeds 
about cup logistics and washing....) and try to solve the problems of modern times. 

Be there for people so they can be there for you. 

What works for a mostly suburban, mid-sized city is probably not going to work in a city of ten million people. We still get to go outside. Officially.

South shore of the hike and bike trails that runs around our downtown river.

Staying inside all the time sucks. Kids hate it. People interested in fitness hate it. Maybe the only people that are enjoying this self-isolation are highly addicted, online video gamers... We're all staying out of shops, restaurants and bars because we're nervous about everyone else and, well, because almost everything is closed.  Besides, we're mostly all freaked out about not having enough money to last long enough; better not to spend big chunks of what remains on stuff we don't really need.

But since we small city people mostly don't live in high rises that force us into small elevators and cramped stairwells, and since there are far fewer of us per square feet in small to medium sized, spread-out cities, we do get to go outside and get exercise. Sanctioned by local health authorities and supervised by our friendly police force.  I'm bummed because all the pools are closed but I'm very happy that we're still able to make good use of the hike and bike trails. As long as everyone follows the rules and uses good judgement... 

To make sure we get the message(s) the Trail Foundation of Austin has been putting signs all around the trail and it's hard to miss them. They aren't strident or preachy but they do get the important messages across.

The signs are everywhere and, in case some people are too lazy to read them there is plenty of group "encouragement" to get the message across. Veteran trail runners are quick to ask people to "stay in their lanes." It's important for new walkers to learn to treat the trails as they would a two way street. In the USA we drive on the right, we walk on the right. Not in the middle of the trail. "On your left!" is a nice way of saying, "I'm about to pass you on your left and you've got your big, fat ass hanging way over the middle of the trail." 

People learn pretty quickly, especially when subjected to repeated reinforcement. "Share the road out there." The trail is nice and wide but it was never intended for entire families to walk side by side and cover all the square footage from one side to the other. Hopefully, in a few weeks, people will be able to get back to work and stop tormenting mid-day runners. Or they will learn the etiquette of sharing our open spaces.






Just a note: If you bring your camera (and I think you always should) be sure not to stop in the middle of the trail to leisurely focus and compose. Pull over to the right and stand at the edge of the trail while photographing so people still in motion can get by. When you are done take a look over your shoulder before re-entering the trail --- just as you would when pulling your car back onto the road.  Thanks!

3.27.2020

Revisiting a film portrait. The medium format negative was scanned on a Noristu printer.

Old school portrait. 

I finished my time critical work early this afternoon and I spent some time looking around the web for potential camera bargains. I found two at Precision Camera's website; on the used digital section. Both were Mamiya Pro cameras (digital only) that sported the popular 80mm f2.8 lens AND an Aptus II-5 22 megapixel digital back. Both in EX+ condition.  I'd shot with the Aptus-7 back and found it to be really good in its time. The Aptus II-5 back was introduced for around $8000 in 2009 and boasted 12 (real) stops of dynamic range and (real) 16 bit files. Oh, and the sensor size was 36 by 48mm. The finders on these cameras are/were very good and the camera, lens and back combo retailed for around $12,000 new. Precision Camera has two of them listed for $1299 each. Less than the price of a new Fuji X100V. And yes, that includes the lens.

I almost called to reserve one but I took a beat and remembered that I promised myself I would not buy medium format camera until someone put a model on the market with a (native) square sensor and a sensor size of at least 48 by 48mm. My real interest right now is in acquiring a perfect, used Leica SL as cheaply as I can.

There are several Leica dealer sites that I've been following which each have a fair number of used 9+ condition SLs in inventory. I'll explain my interest in the SL in a different post but my goal today was to take a run at seeing how firm listed prices are from a representative dealer. I selected what looked like the highest serial number, like new in box, camera, priced at $2599 and asked, pleasantly, if the prices were absolutely firm or if they were in flux, what with the imminent arrival of the newer/new SL2 bodies. It's also good to know that the SL came to market with a $7500 price tags while the improved SL2 debuts at $5900 (or around there).

I got an e-mail back almost immediately letting me know that I could have that camera for $2295 and it would include free, second day shipping. I think I'll wait a while and see if they drop down under $2,000 in a mid-to-short time frame.

A program note: I lived in Turkey for two years and I really do enjoy bargaining for purchases. It's fun. 

Emboldened by this new information I may make an offer on one of the used, excellent condition Panasonic GX-8's now taking up space at my local retailer. If the stock markets can dive 35% and still find buyers then why not the same with aging digital cameras?

The image above reminded me that I originally purchased the 47 megapixel S1R cameras (X2) to use in the square aspect ratio as a portrait camera. I guess I'd better find some people who need to be photographed from six or more feet away and see if we can't get busy making more portraits. Time is always running short.

virus note: The city of Austin seems to be doing a decent job of social distancing and other measures to slow down Covid-19 spread. We have just recorded 160 positives for the disease along with one death. The local health authorities say that the person who died was over 70 and had "significant" and severe pre-existing conditions. One interesting data point is that a large percentage of people testing positive are under 40 years old.

My local Trader Joe's is playing an "A" game in their ongoing engagement with our community. They have been fully stocked for most of the week, have made special accommodations for people over 60, and have been managing customer controls (distancing, anti-hoarding) nicely and firmly. I'm impressed. I was in and out in under 7 minutes today --- it took me longer to wipe everything down with Chlorox wipes when I got home --- and I was able to get everything I needed, including Trader Joe's hand sanitizer.

I hope everyone is safe and sound. My "thoughts and prayers" are for all the people who suddenly find themselves out of work and feeling precarious. It's a tough position to be in, more so because we all hate uncertainty. Do what you can for the people who need it most. Might be a good year to shift your usual, generous donation to the opera over to the local food bank. Just a thought...

Stay safe and well fed. And don't forget to pick up and use that camera every day. KT

3.26.2020

The hardest part of the "shelter in place" regimen is not being able to make portraits.


I've had enough to keep myself busy this week. Today I fixed a broken gate to the backyard. I also retouched ten really nice portraits I did on location for a law firm, just before the pandemic reared its ugly head in the U.S. I made my own lunch. I said, "yes, yes, yes!" when someone e-mailed and asked me if I'd like to bid on a nice video project we might do in August. I talked my friend, Joe, off the financial ledge for the second time this week ( a bad time, I think, to sell everything and buy an RV).

The house is stocked and the bills are paid but the one thing that's driving me a bit nuts is not being able to call a friend and set up a play date for taking portraits. I have all these great cameras and lenses just burning a hole in my camera bag and I can't really leave the neighborhood to point them at people and get them to smile. Can't have them in the studio either...

I did have fun retouching today and I do have a suggestion that should be in compliance with our current social distancing rules while being a breath of fresh air.

On the retouching: I photographed individual attorneys in an office that had a great view out the window of one of the offices looking out to the central Texas hill country. I lit each attorney as well as I could and tried my best to create lighting that would suggest a connection between interior and exterior. I also worked hard (but somewhat unsuccessfully) to keep a reflection of me and my camera out of the big window. But the new selection tools in P.S. make fixing that a breeze.

I shot the files with a Lumix S1R and the 24-105mm lens, mostly at 105mm. Knowing how well the camera's raw files handle the shadow areas, and how well they respond to the shadow sliders in post, I purposely underexposed the images by about two thirds of a stop which gave me a good degree of safety in terms of preserving highlights and the look outside the window. I used a variety of Godox flashes to light the subjects and the interiors and they all worked perfectly with the little remote controller/trigger in the hot shoe of my camera.

I brought them into PhotoShop via the raw converter and did the big lifting of exposure correction in the raw panel. I also did some rough cropping and a lot of color correction before opening the files into PhotoShop. It's my philosophy to do as much correction as possible in the raw files and then pray for forgiveness in the application.

Today I did a split of the controls between PhotoShop and  Luminar 4.0. I used Luminar as a plug-in so I could take advantage of its sky replacement feature to add a bit of glamor to the view outside the window. I've found Luminar to be pretty good as a sky replacer and general tweaking tool; even more so since I found the control that lets me put the cloudscapes and imported skies controllably out of focus with yet another slider. At some point the haze of boredom crept in and I started using a second Luminar control that allows you to add stuff to sky backgrounds you've put into files. I knew I had gone way too far when I put an eagle in the sky just over the shoulder of a younger lawyer. I laughed at myself but I made a copy of the file to share with him, just for fun.

Some of the controls in Luminar are very useful and I'm happy the program handles raw files.

I delivered an assortment of Jpegs, .PSDs and Tiffs to my clients at the end of the day and finally had the feeling that I'm getting something done while working at home.

On the first sunny day this week I'd had enough of walking through the various wings of the house, and looking out over the "estate." I got in my car and went for a medicinal drive. All the windows were sealed tight and all of the outside air comes in through a HEPA filter. I brought my own coffee so I'd never have to stop. I drove west and headed for Johnson City.

It was a beautiful day to drive through central Texas. The wildflowers are starting to bloom and, because of all the rain we've had, along with the mild temperatures, everything was lush and green. And the sky! With most people just hanging out in their homes the roads are essentially empty and there's no pollution or yellow haze at the horizon. The skies were the kind of luxurious blue that I remember from driving the Devil's Backbone highway in my youth.

I looped through Johnson City and the headed South to Blanco, Texas. Of course absolutely nothing but gas stations was open. But the empty roads, the forty thousand foot sky, and the splashes of roadside color were amazing. It was almost like moving through a living painting.

I never took a camera off the passenger seat to take a photograph. There were no people. But when I got home a couple of hours later I felt lighter, happier and less anxious. It was a good process. No one was hurt in its undertaking.

**************

How far are we taking our family commitment to social distancing? Well, we usually order pizza on Thursdays (a ritual left over from Ben's school years...) and I usually call in my order and then go pick it up. Today I went online to make my order and I pulled up short. There was no longer the option to drive over to the pizza place and pick up our order myself. Our only option was delivery.

I filled out all the order stuff online and paid for it with a credit card. I added a generous tip for the driver. But then Belinda asked me how I was going to deal with the box. Multiple people will have touched the pizza box by the time the pie make its way to me.

We actually had a quick meeting and worked out a plan. I would accept the box from the delivery guy and bring it to the welcome mat at the front door. I would then open the box and spread out the sides of the box. Belinda would bring our big, wooden pizza peel to the door and slide it under the pizza while being very careful not to touch the edges of the box. It worked! Once she had the pizza securely in the house I took the box to our recycling bin and tossed it in. Then I stepped into the open door of the house and drenched my hands with the sanitizer on the ledge near the door. Then I went into the kitchen and washed for 23 seconds with soap and lots of attention to every square centimeter of my hands.

Then we ate good pizza.

Life. It's a process.

How are you handling this day-to-day stuff?

Staying Home and Playing with My Time Machine.

If you are anything like me your rate of photographing far outstrips your rate of printing or post processing the pictures you are making. I have about ten banker's boxes filled with black and white negatives from the 1970s-2000. That's the amount left after fierce rounds of tossing out commercial stuff that no longer had value to me. (Every year I try to wipe out all the rote commercial work from the files that's five years old or older. Better for me to get it into the trash than burden the family with making choices later....).

While there are few to no silver linings to our current pandemic crisis the total pull back of work and projects certainly gives me time to search out and rediscover images I made twenty or thirty or more years ago and to evaluate them through the prism of years of experience.

This (above) was a small print I came across when I was looking around like a studio archeologist this morning. It's a photo I took back in 1984 or 1985 with a Pentax 6X7 camera and the 150mm f2.8  Pentax lens. I scanned the black and white negative sometime in the late 1990s and played around with selective gaussian blur in Photoshop. I was trying to match the feel of darkroom prints I used to make using a selective blurring tool called a "Pictrol."

I think my interest in selective blurring came from reading about how Richard Avedon achieved certain blurring effects in his prints in his earlier days, when he actually spent time in the darkroom. My techniques were different but motivated by the same aesthetic ideas. Pools of blur to put more attention on the sharper part of the images.

I love coming across tiny test prints like this one because it helps me to see a certain trajectory that still influences the work I do now.

I understand we may be socially distancing for quite a while longer and it's disheartening because...well...at heart I am a portrait photographer and that's pretty much off limits to me now. But as a  consolation I have a huge backlog of wonderful images to explore and the gift of time in which to explore them.

Being the eternal optimist I imagine a time in the very near future when we'll be unleashed from our isolation and the positive energy will flow back into every second of work we do going forward. "You don't miss your water till your well runs dry." It's up to you to dig a new well.



3.25.2020

Latest news on the gear front. High speed camera storage is pleasant.

Samsung SSD Drive and SmallRig mounting clamp. 

As some of you know I bought a really interesting camera a while back. It's called a Sigma fp and while it's a bit limited as a still camera (you will NOT be photographing your kid's soccer game with one ---- unless you are a masochist...) it has some interesting features for those interested in playing around at one of the cutting edges of consumer video. The most interesting of those video features is that this is one of the few inexpensive (relative term) cameras that will allow you to capture video in a raw, uncompressed format. 

Shooting video in raw offers the same kind of flexibility that you are used to getting when shooting raw photographs. You can do so much color correction and exposure correction without "breaking" the files and adding nasty stuff like banding and digital noise.  You can pull amazing detail from the shadows and you'll find lots of detail hiding in what would have otherwise been blown highlights. 

But there is one big issue. You'll be working with files that are coming into your camera at up to 2400 Mbps if you make video at the highest quality settings = 4K 12 bit, uncompressed, 23.98, 4:4:4. It's a data rate that's much too fast for any commercially available SD card. It's ponderous amounts of information coming in at high velocity. 

If you want to play around with the fast, high bit depth, raw files you need a different memory solution and HDMI solutions are not going to fill the bill. 

The recommended fast storage is the Samsung T5 one or two terabyte SSD drive (the lower capacity 500 Gb drive is not certified to work by Sigma). It writes continuously at nearly 600 Mbps, sustained, which is fast enough to record the data set from the camera. I'm not sure I get the math since the drive seems to handle a lower amount than the max capable from the camera but video is variable and so is the data rate. With buffering I guess it all works out...

The drive is light and tiny and connects to the camera through its USB 3.1 port. It works pretty flawlessly with the Sigma camera and I haven't had any stalls or hiccups in my testing so far. The one thing you'll also need to figure out is how to mount the SSD drive to a cage or directly to your camera. I've built a universal, tripod mount cage from parts I get from SmallRig and they make a clamp connector specifically for the T5 drive which I can bolt onto my rig. Not completely elegant but very workable. 

Let's talk honestly though. Do I intend to shoot anything at the maximum data rate possible with the Sigma fp? Probably not. It's fun to play around with and it's scary to see how fast a one terabyte drive fills up. I doubt I will see the difference between 12 bit and 10 bit video just as I rarely see much difference between a 16 bit Photoshop file and an 8 bit Jpeg file on my iMac Pro 5K monitor. But, there may come a day when someone somewhere wants a perfect 30 second clip for a very specific purpose. I'll be ready...

For the rest of the time I will be able to use the SSD to get 12 bit, 1080 (FHD) files that I will have a lot of use for. Also, the bit depth will come in handy when Sigma gets around to creating a Log setting.

One important advantage that I don't see many people mentioning is that you can use the SSD for output at any file setting. That means you can go all the way to the 2 hour limit with smaller or less data intensive files without having to stop and change out memory cards. The flip side advantage is that when your long shoot is over you can plug the SSD directly into your computer for super fast downloads. Hell, if you want to play fast and loose you can even plug in and edit directly on the SSD. 

Pros will stridently suggest that a back-up is always necessary but if you are shooting for yourself, doing tests, working out the kinks or just trying something new, a back-up isn't always absolutely required. Just don't cry if you accidentally lose something. 

Sigma has a new firmware update for the fp. It's  1.02 and it's mostly just a bunch of bug fixes. I'll get around to updating mine today. 

Being a "silver lining" kind of guy I sure am relishing the current downtime as an opportunity to really learn the ins and out of my video gear. I never seem to have enough unstructured time to really dive in deep when we're working on a regular schedule...

A kindly intended note for people who blog for the $$$: You've got a bigger audience right now than you will when everyone goes back to work. You need to feed them content they love in very regular doses. You will be doing a community service. We all want stuff to read and stuff to take our minds off the crisis (me included). Now is not the time to decide that you too will take some time off. We need your stuff more than ever before. So, stop puttering around and get me some fresh content! And remember, we can read all about the virus everywhere else, you might consider writing stuff we enjoy instead. Like about cameras and lenses and photography. 

If we love your blog or your V-log then you are doing everyone a community service by stepping up and being consistent. Just a suggestion. 

3.23.2020

Self-assignment is pretty cool. Unless you happen to be too self-critical. Who needs stress with their art? Don't we have clients for that?



I think I'm getting the hang of it. Of living with the new, weird and sometimes frightening normal that is. I mean I don't have any other options than to figure out how to cope and be happy. 

Here's a super quick story of momentary happiness: We haven't been stressing about toilet paper. I bought some back before the crisis really went into full meltdown/panic buying mode and a last look under that bathroom sink turned up six rolls of deluxe, Trader Joe's premium toilet paper. It hasn't been on my shopping list...

Ben was over for dinner last night and I cooked steaks, mashed potatoes and fresh asparagus finished with a nice lemon sauce. While he was here I loaded him up with some groceries. A half gallon of milk from Whole Foods, a bag of TJ's muesli, two containers of 2% Greek yogurt, some left over steak, a box of blueberries, etc. He was appreciative. 

When I looked in the fridge this morning I realized that I'd given away the last of my yogurt so I fired up the car (can I call my Subaru Forster a car?) and headed back over to Trader Joe's to restock. When I got there a little before 10 a.m. they had a special line set up to give priority to "seniors." I got in the regular line (there were eight of us) and someone from the store came over and offered me early entry. I shrugged and rendered myself compliant. 

I bought a few things. Some more yogurt (it makes your shutter finger more temporally accurate) and some more muesli as well as some of their wonderful, frozen, gluten and dairy free pancakes (a guilty pleasure) and I headed to the check out area with my little basket. A Trader Joe's employee approached me and asked me if I needed toilet paper. Thinking I might be able to use individual rolls as gifts for future clients (it must be incredibly valuable, right?) I said, "yes." She ran off to find me a package. Then another TJ's employee came up to me to see if I might need some hand sanitizer. And  he went off to find several bottles for me. I had no idea I looked so needy. I didn't see them proactively handing out TP or HS to anyone else. But, as we were all re-wiping our already wiped hands with Purell laden wipes for the twentieth time I thanked them for their kind attention. I thought I'd be pressing the "poor old senior" thing too far by asking them to carry my new toilet paper treasure to my car for me. 

Jeez. If I would have known how much people fawn over senior citizens I would have dyed my hair white a long time ago.... But I did feel taken care of and, at a glance, I did see that their inventory was up to snuff. I came home feeling more assured that we'll all get through this somehow. 

I have self assigned. I figure that if clients aren't in the mood to play I can certainly find some creative uses for this massive collection of cameras, lenses, lights and microphones that seem to be magnetically attracted to me. 

I'm writing a little ten minute movie I want to make. My audience will be easy to please because it's just me. I've already sold myself a ticket to the V.I.P. screening. The script seems to be about love and coffee in a dystopian time of mandatory social distancing. I'm sure I can find some actors here in Austin that are suddenly less busy than they were a month ago. I'm thinking I'll put aside a small budget to pay them for their time.

The beauty of something like this is that when self assigning, and aiming at an audience of 1, you get to decide how you want stuff to flow and how you want it to look. I'm thinking black and white. Lots of tight shots with long lenses. Maybe some slow motion coffee spills? Lots of b-roll at dusk with city lights in the background. And, of course, a happy ending. It goes without saying that I will cast beautiful people.

To add a formalist framework to the project I'm thinking of shooting it all raw on the Sigma fp which will force me to learn a bunch about the back end (editing) of the project and about color correcting with DaVinci Resolve. 


I am also pursuing another new-ish hobby. I'm taking a deep dive into the world of investing. I figure I've lived through enough recessions and near depressions to understand that the stock market sell off isn't going to be a permanent fixture and that it will recover; given time. I thought I'd take a certain amount of money and try my luck at the solar system's biggest casino = the stock market. 

With everyone panicking it seems to be a good time to have some new diversions. I'm learning all kinds of jargon and having chatty talks with my wealth management person. I have a budget that will work okay to make it fun and, of course, the passion is in the risk. I might chicken out of individual stock picks and sort through the clutter of index funds to see if I can make sense of it all. It can't be that hard, right? Seems like there's a recurring pattern: run up the market then scare the crap out of all the smaller, retailer investors, wait till they bail out of their holdings for fifty cents on the dollar and the ride it all back up again. They've been doing the same thing for more than a century and I thought I'd see if there was anything I could learn this time around. Buy low, sell high? or, as Warren Buffett is fond of saying, "Sell on greed, buy on fear." Might be a good time to invest in some photography studios, right? (kidding. Remember the old saying, "Wanna make a million dollars in photography? Start with ten million...). 

I just learned what an ETF is versus a traditional mutual fund. Filled me with a new sense of power and brilliance. Not looking forward to the blog post that might have to be written after I discover that even stocks can go to zero.  Hmmm. on second thought maybe this is why Belinda handles all the big investing stuff.... Maybe it is complicated after all. 

I'm finishing up the last of the portrait retouching orders here and after that I've got nothing pressing so I thought I'd take some time to make some non-instantly-perishable food and go out west to do some landscapes. Sounds like yet another self-assignment. But if I'm out of range I won't have to think about the fact that the studio and the house need a fresh coat of paint. 

A boomer showing the millennials how to do Social Distancing correctly. 


finally, just because I'm in an odd mood I thought I'd post some photos I love from (above) Rome, (just below) Paris-the Louvre, and one of my favorite Paris restaurants (second down). 


1994.

And a couple images of Belinda... from the early days.



Below. A photo I took in Half Priced Books with a Canonet QL17 when it was brand new..

 I hope everyone is doing well. I wanted to thank those who submitted Netflix selections. I made a list and I'm working through it.

I'm still waiting for those Leica SL prices to drop... just in case anyone from the east or west coast Leica stores happen to read the blog.

the current favorite camera of the day is........still the Sigma fp.

Have fun, keep the Purell handy and keep working the shutter of your camera.

3.22.2020

Thinking about what lens Sigma should create just for me and my Sigma fp camera. And why on earth do I have two of the 45mm lenses?


The dynamic duo. Identical twins. 

I know there are a lot of people out there who don't understand how, in this day and age, a 45mm lens with a "slow" aperture of f2.8 and no built-in image stabilization can possibly cost $549. Who would buy it? and why? You can get a 50mm f1.4 lens from XXXXX and XXXXX for the same amount of money, etc. etc. 

When Sigma designed the 45mm f2.8 lens I'm not sure they had a giant market in mind. I'm pretty sure they were producing something that might appeal to certain photographers but those photographers would be a smaller intersection of the great mass of people who like to take pictures and people who love to buy gear. You need to like gear a bit to appreciate a well made lens but you also need to like making creative photos a lot to appreciate a lens that has a different character than all the other lenses in its focal length class. 

My first two experiences with lenses in the 40-45mm focal length range happened early on in my journey in photography. My first real camera (and one of the few from that era which I still have) was the Canonet QL17 which was a compact, rangefinder camera that came with its own fixed 40mm f1.7 lens. I used the camera heavily for the first few years of my infatuation with photography and it was my primary camera on a months long backpacking trip through Europe. The lens, when shot wide open and close to the subject would mimic the look you'd get with a long fast lens. The depth of field would be shallow and the subject well isolated. When used in combination with a good black and white film like Kodak's Tri-X the lens exemplified for me what it meant to create art with a camera. 
Paris. 1978. Canonet QL17

The combination of a focal length somewhere halfway between normal and 35mm seemed to be the ultimate all purpose chameleon; wide enough for nearly any street scene but still capable of making a nice and relatively non-distorted portrait. The focal length, through two years of constant use, imprinted itself on whatever part of my brain that determines the appreciation of one focal length over another. 

Relatively soon after my photographic initiation with the Canon rangefinder and its mystic lens I found myself in possession of a Leica camera called the CL. At the time it stood for compact Leica. Leica has dug up the name from their film camera graveyard and bestowed it on a newer digital camera but I think silliness like that is confusing and an affront to the older classic. 

The CL I owned came with one of the finest lenses I ever used. It was a 40mm Summicron f2.0. It was made and produced specifically for that camera. It was bright, sharp and utterly transparent (don't make me explain that...). The lens was made for the CL because the CL had a much shorter rangefinder base than the regular M cameras and so it was thought that the focusing inaccuracies made the 40mm, with it little bit extra depth of field, a better choice as a standard for that mini-system. It was also small and light. M users mostly avoided it because there wasn't a dedicated bright frame line in the finder for that focal length.
Canonet. Paris. 1978. 40mm.
B.Y. 1980. Leica CL, 40mm Summicron

I have beautiful photographs from the 40mm Summicron that were exceptionally easy to print. It's because the lens delineated all the tones so well and with such authority (again, don't ask me to explain).  I eventually got rid of the CL body because it was unreliable but held on to the lens until the end of the century. It was lost in the turmoil surrounding photography's journey to the dark side (digital). 

There were several other cameras that also featured really nice 40mm lenses; one that immediately comes to mind was the tiny Rollei 35S (which, now that I think of it might be considered as the predecessor of cameras like the Sigma fp = a small box with a decent f2.8 40mm Zeiss Sonar lens and one of the smallest 35mm film cameras of the day. Strictly zone focusing!). 

When Sigma came out with their new version of the slightly wider than 50mm "normal" lens I was initially hesitant and bought the L-mount 50mm f1.4 from Panasonic instead. While it's a magnificent, fast lens it's very, very clinical and very large and heavy. I more or less slid into the 45mm f2.8 because I'm lazy and the lens works so well as a walk around. But the more I've used it the more I've both appreciated it's "look" but also appreciated how well it is made and how convenient it is to use when you don't feel as though photography should make you sore, like a day at the gym.

I was on the fence about buying one until I read an interview with my favorite cinematic director of photography, Gordon Willis. He loved using the 40mm focal length as often as possible in his movie productions. One need only re-watch Manhattan to understand the power of that focal length. 

I was struck that he had a formula he used to make many scenes, it was his 40 / 40 rule. A 40mm lens used 40 inches up from the floor. The next day I went to my local camera store and bought my first copy of the lens. But this was well before I bought the Sigma fp camera. 

Initially I used the lens on the Lumix S1 and immediately liked the way it rendered faces. Not unsharp. Lots of detail and resolution but without the actinic sharpness that seems to go with current, high end optics. The lens is a little bit soft when used wide open and at the closest distances. One stop down at f4.0 and it's nicely sharp. By 5.6 it's got heaps and heaps of resolution but without too much of the acutance that makes images seem either sharper or too sharp. 

Once I got my Sigma fp camera two things happened: First, I've never wanted to take the 45mm Sigma off the front of that camera. It's as though some designer worked hard to make a combination which, when used together, creates wonderful images that are different than what I get from all other cameras. Second, it made me fall in love with the combination: the smallest full frame digital camera body available along with a lens that melds with the body to provide the perfect package -- from a handling point of view (with the accessory handgrip attached...). 

If we never get out from under the Novel Coronavirus we'll never again get to photograph commercially the way we were doing it in the pre-virus days. If we can't go back I'll quickly sell off all the stuff I've accumulated with the exception of the fp and the 45mm. And maybe I'll pick up a second fp just for luck. Two identical Sigma fp cameras and  matching 45mm lenses. Identical twins. 

But why two? Because, realistically, we'll get through this pandemic. At least most of us will. If Belinda and I are part of the lucky survivors there's so much pent up travel desire I can't think I'll ever want to go back to working for clients. And if we're traveling all over the place I don't want to stand in front of a beautiful subject and have a camera stop working. That happened to me before on a vacation in the 1980's and it wasn't fun. I want to have the assurance that I'll be able to go back to my hotel room and pull an identical camera out of the luggage, toss the same memory cards in it and be back out taking photographs immediately. It's like taking a long road trip. You probably wouldn't venture across the desert unless you had some extra drinking water in your car and a spare tire. Think of the second camera and lens as your spare tire. 

But, if I were to distill down all the gear, based on everything I've learned about photography since 1978, I would want one or two more lenses to include in the luggage as we wend our way around the world. 

The first would be a 75mm f2.8 that's about the size and design of the current 45mm lens. I don't need super speed but I'd love the same kind of design parameters when it comes to imaging. With a 24 megapixel sensor the 75mm would be long enough for most stuff since I could crop up to half the frame and still have good results. 

The second lens would be a similarly sized 21mm for those rare times when my back is up against the wall and there's still a little more I'd like in the frame. Plus, I like the eccentricity of the 21 versus the ubiquitous 20mm or even more cloying 24mm. And, you could make my 21mm an f4.0 or even f4.5 if you wanted to....as long as you kept it small and sharp. 

Ah. Canon. Why can't you make one of these as a digital camera?
It was absolutely perfect in its time. I'd buy two and never look back. 
Custom gaffer tape added by a younger Kirk....

So, why two lenses right now? Hmmm. Because it's a special lens with a limited market. Not that many people look beyond specs to character, and even fewer value the way a lens creates a look over impressions of high sharpness. If it's taken off the market because it doesn't sell I want to make sure I have an extra to use for years to come. Also, if the one lens never comes off the front of the Sigma fp then I certainly need the second one for all those times I'd like to use the lens on a Panasonic Lumix S1R....
Ian Fleming once wrote that worry is a price we pay for something which we may never receive. 

He also wrote, about James Bond's life: "It reads better than it lives." 

Perhaps a non sequitur but perhaps not.