I just tracked down one of my favorite portrait lenses from the "golden years" of photography; the 1990's... Yes I bought it.
There were two portrait lenses for 35mm which formed my idea of what a focal length for head and shoulders images of people should be. One was the 90mm Leica Summicron and the other was a 90mm Leica Elmarit. The Summicron was the faster of the two since its maximum aperture was f2.0. It was also a bit more complex of an optical design. But the one I got the most use out of on my R Leica cameras was the Elmarit 90mm f2.8. In the close-up range it wasn't any sharper than the Summicron but that was okay for portraits. Where the lens really came into its own was when I found the magic combination: f4.0 with the focus set at about six feet. The lens became pleasantly crisp but wasn't so analytical that it was mean to people, and the out of focus background rendering at that combination was absolutely gorgeous.
By modern lens standards the optical formulation was nothing to write home about. It's a four element, four group design. But each version of the lens (there were three successive models) was built out of solid metal and the focusing ring was, well, perfect. The final version, which I found in mint shape, was equipped with a built-in, extendible lens shade and a 55mm filter ring.
The lens is small and fairly light (especially when compared to the monstrously huge Sigma 85mm f1.4 lens I use for this range right now.
I like the way Leica's R series lenses render images of people and I can't wait to use it. I pick the lens up tomorrow (one of my friends bought it a while back and never got around to using it or getting an adapter ring for his system) but I have to wait to use it until a Leica R to L-mount adapter arrives on a slow boat from Amazon.com. This is a lens I'd happily pair with my Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens as pretty much a perfect walk-around set for a Panasonic S1R. Plenty sharp enough but with character and without the need for weight lifting classes to transport by foot.
Can't wait to give it a first try. Fun on the cheap.
And, by the way, in all the years of using digital cameras with older, MF lenses there's never been a camera that's easier to manually focus with them than the S1 Lumix series. Must have something to do with the 5+ megapixel EVF. That, and a convenient button to get quick image magnification. But remember to set your S1 to Raw+Jpeg if you want to get the highest finder magnifications when previewing...
Finding fun stuff everywhere. Wait till I tell you about the new swim training stuff I ordered. It's so cool you'll want to swim right now.
It's Tuesday, the 7th of April, and we're learning day-by-day new ways to entertain ourselves. Mostly with old photos.
A previous (to 2019) production of a Janis Joplin musical at Zach Theatre.
This is a quick report from Austin to keep in touch with all my VSL friends. Last night I stayed up late looking through boxes of prints that span decades. Wow. Everyone progressively grew up and got older. Buildings in Austin got newer and taller. Theater productions got bigger and the lighting got much, much better.
Yesterday I played around with the GX8 and the 45-150mm Panasonic lens and it was much better than I remember it being. Or maybe I just shot that lens with older cameras that didn't have the capability to do as sharp and noise free a file as the newer camera. I wish I had some good samples to show you from the combination but I was disappointed with the weather and nothing gelled for me; photo-wise.
A bit of sad news, but it was bound to happen... The State of Texas officially closed the state parks for the time being. Sad because I was looking forward to climbing Enchanted Rock this week, out near Fredericksburg, Texas. It's also a great trip out because the highways are lined with the beautiful colors of the Spring wildflowers... Seems that people were disregarding social distancing but I think a bigger issue was with the need for much more frequent sanitizing of the facilities in the park. Either way, that's some wide open space that's off the table for now.
A bit of good news. The painters arrived this morning to splash some samples of tinted wood preservatives on an exterior, cedar wall. Belinda (being a picky graphic designer/art director) shot down four different tint samples and we ended up choosing a clear, oil based wood preservative. The house is about half rock and half natural cedar. We've been needing to treat the wood for while... The exterior work is allowed by both city and state ordinances during this time and the two workers came in separate vehicles, are focused on social distancing and are wearing faces masks and other protective gear.
People need an income stream and we think it's a good idea to keep hiring local companies to do as much as we need, and can legally and ethically manage, in order to help keep folks paid. We've put off interior work until the pandemic subsides. The cedar is looking so much better already...
Since the Easter holiday is coming up and Belinda is trying to limit her grocery shopping to once every two weeks I head over to Trader Joes twice a week to get produce. There are fewer people in their stores, they have a time just for "seniors" from 8-9 a.m. And both customers and employees are wearing masks at all times. They limit the number of people in the store at one time to facilitate social distancing. On today's adventure there I found everything on my shopping list including: bag salads, fresh cauliflower, broccoli and green beans, gruyere cheese, goat cheese, Kerrigold butter, organic milk, my favorite muesli, organic blackberries (so sweet), greek yogurt, sourdough batard, and hand sanitizer.
What more could you ask for? Oh, and though I didn't need them there were paper towels and toilet paper.
Life goes on here with few rough spots but the lack of socializing is taking its toll in slow motion. I'm so used to seeing friends, colleagues, clients and swimmers, in big doses everyday that our current existence seems like science fiction. At times as though we are pioneers on Mars. But pioneers on Mars with cameras.
I hope you are happy and well. Don't let dread rob you of the joys of the moment. It's wise to consider the future but not at the expense of the present. Looking forward to making a sandwich with toasted sourdough bread, Dijon mustard, ham and swiss cheese. I stick the half with the ham and swiss cheese under the broiler for five minutes and the whole thing is so damn yummy I can hardly stand it. That's today's lunch --- along with a bit of fruit and maybe a slice of raw onion on the sandwich. Gotta look forward to stuff....
A previous (to 2019) production of a Janis Joplin musical at Zach Theatre.
Remembering when Samsung used to make cameras. And send them to me for free...
Demonstrating the "dirty baby diaper" camera hold engendered by EVF-less cameras.
Like my Sigma fp. Dammit.
Renae and her adorable daughter.
I already miss the agony of modern travel...
Remembering my first (and only) trip to Berlin. It's the #2 destination on
my list of immediate, future travel plans. Hope they are doing well.
S. Korean Photographer I met in Berlin. Having lunch together at a Chinese restaurant in
Germany. How multi-national of us...
Berlin. Opera House lunch break. 2013.
How to not practice social distancing. Not to worry, this was a few years ago...
Every night, as I go to sleep, I hope there will be a time again soon when we can make portraits.
I think I've watched every good movie on Netflix and Amazon Prime. All twelve of them. It's no longer a really satisfying thing to do so after dinner I went out to the office to continue with the Herculean task of cleaning up my own Aegean stables...by which I mean, of course, the mess my filing systems have become. Having no rivers to divert I just started opening print boxes to remind myself of what was there. The first clamshell case I got to holds prints up to 13 by 19 inches. Most of the prints in it were 12x18 inches and a few were smaller odd sizes. As I leafed through the prints it reminded me that I used have a lot of my work printed, all the time, because I wanted huge stacks of candidates to put into specific portfolios. A medical portfolio. A portrait portfolio. A black and white portrait portfolio, and so on. At some point, about four years ago I stopped printing stuff. I guess I became convinced that no one wanted to do face to face portfolio showings anymore --- that if an art director wanted to see my work they'd probably just go to an online resource.
There are 18 four inch thick clamshells cases on shelves in the studio. There are a couple of bigger cases from the time when I tried to keep an Epson 4000 from clogging up long enough to make some 17 by 24 inch prints. Each case holds between one hundred and one hundred and fifty prints. Mostly color. The hand printed, fiber based black and white prints are either 16x20 or 11x14 and they have their own cases.
At any rate I was amazed at how much I liked the prints and how much more presence they can have compared to seeing the same images on the screens. I thought I'd just point a camera straight down into the box and show you an assortment. I guess it's time to get back to the printer. At least for a while.
I either need to find a service I like or buy a printer I like. Or both. Prints are a totally different way to experience photography. And I like being able to hold them in my hands and walk into better light....
When you print for yourself it's always a process for trying variation after variation until you get stuff you like in the moment. But the next time you print it's different. You're different.
An interesting morning in the studio. Photographing a new(-ish) lens with an ancient lens on the "new to me" Panasonic GX8.
It's Monday morning and we're still social distancing and isolating in place. Early this morning a crew of two came by to power wash the stone work and the cedar siding of our house in preparation for tomorrow's house painting adventure. No. I will not be doing physical work. We've hired a company we've used with good success in the past. I only climb ladders now for real money. We're trying to keep the economy rolling; especially for small companies...
Feeling more or less useless at the moment I retreated into the office and cleaned the sensor on the camera I bought Saturday. Then I thought I should test said camera and looked around the vicinity for a gorgeous person to photograph. No dice. Everyone is sheltering in place. I asked my spouse but she gave me one of those wry looks and went back to her current project of designing and producing the perfect face masks for herself, me and Ben.
Since I couldn't find a human ready to risk possible death to be photographed I looked for the most glamorous object in my studio and decided to make a portrait of that. We used to call this kind of work "still life" but now, in my mind, everything is a portrait...
Today's "model" is the Panasonic Lumix 50mm S Pro f1.4 lens.
Following along on my contrarian path I opted to use an extremely counterintuitive lens to make all of the photographs; an Olympus Pen half frame lens that was designed in the late 1960's and manufactured through the very early 1970's. Today's taking lens was the 25mm f2.8. It's designated as a G. Zuiko. That was Olympus's branding for their lenses at the time. It's a small and solid lens and I use it on the micro four thirds cameras with an inexpensive Pen F to m4:3 adapter ring. Of course, the lens has no mechanical or electric connections with the camera to allow for frippery like exposure control or focusing. You have to adjust these things manually. But that's what the big screen on the back of the camera is for, right?
I rarely used the older Olympus G. Zuiko Pen lenses in the studio and have never done exhaustive quality testing of the samples I have but I was interested to see what I'd get with the camera on a tripod and the lens used at what I thought might be the apertures that would delivery the best performance.
(short break for my book suggestion of the day: In these times of insanity amongst our "leaders" it would be interesting to read: Candide, or The Optimist by Voltaire. I would suggest reading it in the original French, just to be snotty and pedantic. But it's still a good read. But I'm not sure you came to my blog site to help me relive my college reading list...).
For the top two images I carefully focused the lens at the smallest aperture that I thought would provide the depth of field I wanted with acceptable image quality --- always fearing possible diffraction! --- and that was f11. I am amazed and delighted with the results. Seems that Olympus already, in the 1960s, knew how to design good, solid lenses for small format cameras... The image just below was shot at f5.6 and it looks pretty great as well. Maybe better in close up than the samples I've seen from the latest Fuji X100F and its redesigned lens....
The Lumix 50mm S Pro lens is an interesting entry in the "normal" lens arena. Where the 25mm f2.8 on the GX8 is small, almost dwarfish, and easy to handle, and features the same angle of view, the Lumix 50mm S Pro is the exemplar of a totally different design philosophy. The lens weighs in at over two pounds and features 13 elements in 11 groups, including 2 aspherical and 3 extra low dispersion elements. It's got an 11 bladed aperture, a double focus system that combines a linear motor and stepping motor to achieve sensor drive at a maximum speed of 480 fps for fast, high-precision autofocus, it's dust, splash and freeze resistant and built to survive a nuclear blast. (that last bit is hyperbole == just a disclaimer for the painfully literal...).
Some have referred to it's output disparagingly, as being "clinical" or "characterless" but I prefer to call it neutral and transparent. It's sharp enough to occasionally elicit aliasing even when used wide open on an S1R camera body (47 megapixels) so I know that its optical performance is pretty exemplary, and for all those people who secretly (or not so secretly) wish they were shooting with Leica lenses this one comes very close, and has some small print on the barrel stating that it's been "Leica Certified."
I don't know what that means but my status interpreter tells me that it's supposed to be pretty cool.
If you shoot video you'll find that the lens hardly "breathes" at all when focusing and you'll like the clutch mechanism that gives you easy to operate manual focusing. I wouldn't be surprised to see this lens, along with the S1H, become a popular, low cost (everything in the cinema world is relative) filmmaking combination. Pairing it with the 24-70mm Pro would add some range and be a good match for color too. The 50mm S Pro sells for around $2300 USD. A bargain, right?
It's sad to own this lens right now because it's just begging me to go out to dingy nightclubs and worn-out coffee shops to make intimate photographs for interesting people. But we are denied. For the greater good. I can't wait for the day when we are unfettered and our fast 50mm lenses are once again unleashed on the visual world.
Yeah. So. Bored and sitting here making portraits of my favorite toys. I guess you guys are right, I should get to work on that next Henry White novel post haste....
Just a little distraction to enjoy over coffee. And pretty good "camera porn" if I don't say so myself.
Yes. It's Sunday. And there's a new (used) camera in the house. It's an ancient (but well preserved) Panasonic Lumix GX8.
GX8 camera with Olympus Pen FT 40mm f1.4 lens + metal hood.
The pandemic is making me too cautious. Usually, when I've decided I want to buy a camera I just get in my vehicle and go buy it. But yesterday I found myself trying to explain to my spouse why I was going to go buy this little, used camera. She looked at my in a perplexed, almost bewildered way and said, "You can buy anything you want. You don't have to check with me." It was an odd moment because even in the worst of economic times I've never felt the need to check in. Especially on a purchase that was under $400.
I can give you a dozen reasons why I wanted to buy the camera but it all boils down to this: I wanted to buy the camera.
So, why a Lumix GX8 and how do I like it so far?
You'll recall, if you've been a reader of the blog for the past few years, that I've owned a bunch of different Panasonic cameras including these: G3, GH2, GH3, GH4, GH5, G9, FZ1000, FZ2500, G85, GX85, S1 and S1R. Many I owned in duplicate sets. Over time the color from the cameras got better and better and, in the case of the G9 and the S1 series I find that I like the color better than just about any other digital camera I've tried. I got tons of great use out of the GH3 - GH5 cameras and made good money using them for video productions.
The S1 series cameras, especially with the V-Log upgrades, are the best video cameras I've ever shot with and the S1 Pro lenses are superb but they represent a pretty meaty package for those times when I want to walk around in the street and photograph random chaos and beauty. I'd always prefer the images from an S1 or S1R but when I don't have a photographic mission in mind, and where walking is the priority, I find an m4:3 camera much more comfortable. That's why I bought a little GX85 kit before the first of this year.
But much as I like the size and speed of the GX85 I've gotten use to better controls and better feature sets of my other cameras and I was looking for a bit of a step up. Something with a better EVF and a newer sensor. I considered getting another G9 to replace the ones I sold but I don't want to hop back into two systems and the G9 can be powerfully addictive. I noticed that my friend, Frank, has been using a GX8 for the last two years and he seems quite happy with his. He also takes great photos and knows his way around cameras. We talked about it for a while over coffee (B.C. = before COVID) and I logged my new knowledge away for future use. When Precision Camera offered three different GX8s for sale, used, on their website I thought a bit more about getting one.
The GX8 ticks a lot of boxes as a flexible daily user camera. It's got the 20 megapixel sensor, dual I.S.
(sensor and lens), good 4K video, a surprisingly nice and detailed LED EVF and it's splash and dust resistant. I like the way the dials are set up and I'm very used to the Panasonic menus. I can use this camera with older, manual, Olympus Pen FT half frame lenses and, icing on the cake, the batteries are interchangeable with the batteries for the Sigma fp. Pretty cool.
I charged up the battery and stuck a Hoodman Steel 64 GB USH-II SD card in the camera and formatted it, and then added an ancient lens that I haven't used in years to the package. The lens is the 20mm f3.5 for the old half frame Pen film cameras. I'd never been too impressed with it but I thought I'd give it one more chance...and it would present a worst case user scenario to challenge the new camera.
I headed back out to a different part of the trail yesterday which would deliver me to the far side of downtown. I'd walk back from there and do my first documentation of a high tech, busy town now shut almost completely down.
It was raining all day long so I took a plastic bag along with me to cover the camera between shots. The rest of the time I didn't worry about the camera I just tried my best to keep rain drops off the front element of the lens. All the images I shot yesterday (See my April 4th 2020 blog post) were shot with this combo.
The camera was light enough for me to forgo the usual strap and to just carry it around in my right hand for a couple of hours. The punch in for magnified manual focusing was quick and easy to use and I'm happy with the results. I shot at ISOs ranging from 320 to 1250 and found the files to have nice color and to be nearly noise free (I'm relatively insensitive to a bit of noise in files). I was using the electronic shutter with all sounds muted and I can't imagine a more discrete shooting package. It was absolutely lovely.
From an ergonomic point of view much of my initial thoughts about the GX8 handling are influenced by my time with the much bigger and heavier S1. I think the grip on the GX8 could be a bit deeper and I think the four way selector dial on the back is too responsive. I'd like a bit more resistance from it. I love the instant waist level EVF and I like the dial that surrounds the shutter release.
One thing that bothers me on an existential level is that there are 14 different actual and virtual function buttons, most of which can be reprogrammed to do dozens of different things. I can't think that anyone can memorize everything that they've set; especially when shooting quickly, under pressure. If I like the camera enough I guess I'll take a six week course in why and how to reprogram everything and then, once I get all the settings where I like them, I'll have a chart of all the permutations tattoo'd on my calf so I can roll up my pant leg and refresh my memory while out shooting. Thank God it doesn't "feature" GPS.
The camera is well suited for walking around and I might even put that 45-150mm lens on the front and tryout the AF. Maybe it's great.
After running the trail with a Sigma fp and a big, full frame 24-105mm lens under my jacket in a rain storm I think I'll make it a rule of thumb to reach for either the GX85 or the GX8 next time I put on the running shoes and sally forth into the elements. Much less stress on the human system over a certain distance.
Am I crazy for buying a cheap, used camera during such a frightening financial crisis? Naw. Look at it this way, the store is trying to stay afloat in a horrible time for non-essential retailers. Buying another camera or lens now and then disrupts my inclination to focus on disaster too much, gives me a sense of control over....something, and supports the store and the folks who work there. I'd love for them to survive so I can buy cameras at will A.C. (After COVID-19). If we come out of this okay then I'll worry about my future spending because it's going to be outrageous.
Final early thoughts about the GX8. It's a beautiful little camera with lots of potential. I have it set to monochrome today. Let's see if I can unlock some of its potential. Even if it's just around the house.
the 20mm f3.5 Pen lens is not bad for a 50 year old lens. Not back at all.
Just cleaned out our shed so I could move it. The house painters are coming this week to do the exterior and needed access to that wall. Laundering my face covers for the upcoming week as I type this. We walked through the neighborhood today (big, wide streets, every house, person and dog well distanced from each other) but we've been hanging around at home the rest of the day. No big plans other than staying positive and happy. Ours is a big house, bought for a time when it was filled with Ben and his friends. At least Belinda and I aren't crowding each other. We both have separate offices. There's an ample living room and even a separate reading room. If I'm too noisy or antsy Belinda can always send me out here to my studio for a while... is that "adult time out?"
Can't think of a better place to be for the next month. Wish I had a twenty five yard lap pool though...
Perhaps there is a project we can all do, wherever we are in the world. The idea came to me from the Austin History Center.
This is rush hour on Saturday afternoon in Austin, Texas April 4th, 2020.
Few of us have lived through anything like this pandemic in our lives. Even us ancient ones who've been around (and through) a lot of weird and scary stuff. Many of the changes to our way of life are sudden, profound and bereft of precedent. We are truly living through a transformative and perilous period and it would be good to have a record of what it was like to be in the middle of this. I shy away from concentrating on the health care (immediate life and death) aspect of the crisis because it would be selfish to intrude when every medical professional needs space and full attention to work. And, selfishly, I don't want to put myself or my family and friends in great peril just to get photographs.
But the economic ramifications may end up being equally severe and we need a record of this time as well. The Austin History Center put out a request for images that document how Austin and its citizens are dealing with the pandemic. They have photos that go all the way back to Austin during the Spanish Flu in 1918 and good documentation of just about every major upheaval (or positive thing) that's occurred in our city. Now they want to make sure people know that they would welcome good images that tell the story of our responses and our sacrifices during this trying time.
I can't think that Austin is alone in this desire for documentation and a memory archive. I would think that the responses and the real life changes will be different for small towns and giant cities; for once thriving economies as well as communities already dealing with painful financial adversity. And it's obvious that this is not an "American" problem but a world crisis.
I put on my rain jacket and my face mask and went out for a walk this afternoon. I walked up one side of the lake trail which put me on the east side of downtown. I then walked through the center of town with the idea of documenting all the closed and boarded up businesses as well as the empty parking lots, empty hotels and empty streets. If I could go back in time about three months and show these images to people who live here they would never believe that downtown could be so bare. And I've not begun to document the lines outside of grocery stores and legions of normal people behind medical (and home made masks).
It's something to think about if you are home and bored and itching for a project that has real bones and real value. It's not just another Zone VI exercise with a running brook made smooth with a long exposure... We can only bear witness if we photograph the world around us. As HCB once said,
“The intensive use of photographs by mass media lays ever fresh responsibilities upon the photographer. We have to acknowledge the existence of a chasm between the economic needs of our consumer society and the requirements of those who bear witness to this epoch. This affects us all, particularly the younger generations of photographers. We must take greater care than ever not to allow ourselves to be separated from the real world and from humanity.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Photography and video will form the cultural memory of this time. It's only by having lots of points of view that we'll aggregate a history that will tell the story.
It is obvious that there will be hard times ahead not just for people directly touched by the health effects and deadly fallout of the pandemic but by the severe and rapid closure of the economy. Young people's potential will be put on hold. Many businesses will fail and not re-emerge. There will be many sad stories to be told and the capturing and telling may help to inform future policies and decisions that will prevent the same kind of wholesale destruction in the next pandemic.
It's an idea and I'd love to get some feedback. I'm sure I'm missing a lot and haven't figured out entirely how to proceed, but I know photographers love projects and they love to tell stories. Please let me know your thoughts. Ethical considerations, etc. Here are the images I took today.
All the cafe tables gone. All the people scattered.
Menu monitors at Juiceland.
An un-manned Bank of America office.
Cafe Politique shutter behind a construction walkway.
No businesses open for blocks at a time. But it was nice that Loft left their lights lit.
2nd Street is usually packed with people heading to happy hours and early dinners.
Today everything is closed.
No cars and no guests at the W Hotel.
There are still some food businesses trying to make it with mobile ordering and
curbside pickup but one by one I'm watching them throw in the towel as it becomes
apparent that the cash flow out is unsustainable without a critical mass of customer.
I have never seen this parking lot vacant. Never.
Yeah. That's the GX8. I'll write about my experience with it tomorrow.
2nd Restaurant and Medici Coffee shop are closed up tight on Congress Ave.
And this is Congress Ave. at Rush Hour. No one is downtown.
Valet parking at the JW Marriott is boarded up and closed.
The hotel is not boarded up (yet) but it is closed down.
All the furniture and fixtures have already been removed from this corporate hotel restaurant.
The Royal Blue Grocery is now ---- particle board.
this is the location on Second St. Several others in the chain are still open
in downtown. The sell groceries. This one is near the convention center and further away from the residence towers....
Michaleda's tried takeout and then breakfast tacos and coffee and now they too
have boarded up the shop and gone dormant. They are right across the street from
the convention center.
Drop me a line and let me know what you think of the idea.
I'm going to flesh out my intentions for this and figure out how I will use and share the images in a way that's beneficial. If I figure that out I'll post about it.
Incredibly interested to hear how very small towns are dealing with this.