A "Reprint" for the past. Looking back to something I wrote for you guys in 2010...


Security guard peeing on the corner of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. 1978.

It's Thursday. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of a bunch of still serviceable photo gear without having to ship stuff everywhere. Suggestions?

But first, speaker wire analogies continue....
The image above was photographed with some pretty lux stuff. A Panasonic S1R coupled to a Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 lens. This was shot at Enchanted Rock a couple of weeks back and I'm certain that if we were to blow it up to eight feet by eight feet and print it the file would knock the socks off of anything coming out of my iPhone XR. Really. Cuz....enlargement. More pixels. Super lens. 

But then I photographed this cityscape (below) with my iPhone XR and I think it's a technically good image as well. Not because I'm a decent photographer but because the subject matter interests me and the camera in the $700 phone did a great job. When I look at the images side by side here on the web (arguably the only place I'll ever end up putting them) they seem...equivalent to me. No better and no worse. 

If any of my engagements with casual photographs were transformed into brow beetling and intense "viewing sessions" during which I sat in a perfectly positioned chair, ancient brandy sloshing in a crystal snifter at hand, with both images writ large and perfectly illuminated, would I see a difference at a viewing distance that makes sense? Probably not. And I've been looking at prints for the better part of 40 years (yes, ever since I was a toddler). 

But here's the kicker: There is no takeaway here. I enjoy both images. The one above for its sublime sky and the one below for both the saturated green of the water just beneath the tree line and --- the .... sublime sky. It's the content, almost always, and rarely the technical stuff that draws me, my friends, and a larger audience to enjoy photography. It's the same in music. The actual art is the breath of life. The content, the intention, the selection and style of presentation. The granules of pigment in paint, the film grain, the tiniest third order harmonics in the music, are all incidental to the art itself. Critiquing the quality of substructure is absolute folly. Now moving on to the question of the day.... below: 

Over time some photographers become hoarders of a sort. We try stuff and if it doesn't work out of the box we send it back and try again. But there are so many times that we'll try a product and it will work in the moment. Maybe the product matches the style of photographic work that a client drives over a year or so. Then the styles change or the subject matter that drove the initial purchase goes away, replaced by something else that might benefit from a change of tools. Since we're all relatively affluent and masters of rationalization we rush out and buy new tools that more closely match the parameters of the projects at hand. Kind of human nature for a large part of the population.

When we pull up short, stop the game clock, reset the paradigm... or, whatever, there is engendered a re-evaluation of our needs and wants as they relate to our professional practice. And Covid-19 is presenting a hard stop.

I looked around the office yesterday and was unamused by my own avarice. While I can't toss away good hard drives, filled with "priceless" photographs, I can downsize the stuff that's growing like mold in the walls of a swamp house. Here are examples: I have three identical battery powered monolights that are in perfect shaped and served me pretty well during the time over the past three years when I was dragging them on and off airplanes to shoot portraits in locations not served by wire-borne electrical power. The lights were inexpensive to purchase with an average acquisition price around $200. I have three dedicated wireless triggers, one for each light, and a motley assemblage of reflectors which are of the ubiquitous Bowens type. 

Now the lights sit in a rolling case and I haven't used them in the better part of a year. What to do with them? I could offer them for sale on the web but then I'd have to deal with multiple buyers, endless questions, the fraught-ness of shipping them out in good working order only to have one or more arrive damaged. Would it be better to find a struggling, young artist to bequeath them to? How does one find a truly deserving young photographer who truly needs better tools? 

But then there is all the ephemerata of smaller, less valuable (but more hardy) grip equipment. The multiple super clamps, the Lowell Tota-light I couldn't bear to give up. The weird and variated collection of light stands. The hodge podge of light modifiers. The seven generations of Apple laptops (going all the way back to the "Blueberry" iBook) which I can't let go of because I can't upgrade them and then erase all the hard drives...)? The two Leica slide projectors. The drawer of indistinct, older camera parts and accessories. The filters which seem worthless now but always, when I get ready to move them on, remembering having to re-buy another identical one for now more money when a new need arises. The half-used rolls of seamless background paper. The un-used pop-up background purchased for a marketing shoot with a satellite company that went bankrupt before we could use the background for their portrait sessions. And the seemingly endless binders full of CD's and DVD's of advertising projects that no one wants or needs any more.

If you can't already tell I'm in the mood to purge the endless physical anchors binding me to the way I used to do things in the past. 

What's my vision for the future? A small case of speed lights to take the place of decades of bigger lights. (already purchased). A larger case of LED fixtures for the present (already in house and ready). An ever smaller collection of cameras and lenses. (trying to rein that musthavecamera thing in). Just enough light stands for an individual portrait shoot. One perfect portrait modifier which will sit proudly in the studio and sneer at the lesser ones bought on a lark. 

In impulsive moments I feel like dragging the big garbage "can" over to the door of the office and just shoveling stuff in until I can see the tops of all the horizontal surfaces in the office and can walk, unimpeded, across the studio floor. Tabula Raza. 

And then there's the unkempt nest of wireless microphone systems, weird audio interfaces, viper wraps of balanced cables and so much more. None of it getting much use. All of it falling into obsolesence. 

So, if you know of an easy and cost effective way to rid oneself of endless photographic clutter would you be kind enough to give me your considered advice in the comments? I'll blend the best of the ideas and see if I can move forward and take myself out of the paralysis of owning too many small and cluttery things. Thanks.

One more thought... The image of an old copy of the English edition of Zoom Magazine (below) surfaced in my endless machinations to bring order from chaos. It reminded me why the job of thinning out possessions is so hard. You come across a magazine you haven't opened in 25 years and find yourself fascinated by the huge page sizes, the beautiful quadratones of impeccably nude people, see amazing colors and smart work. Mostly done by people who owned one or two cameras, no lights and certainly no ever expanding collection of lighting modifiers, and you remember why you didn't recycle the magazine in the first place...

I guess this is a ramble with a certain amount of circular direction and no beginning or end. Well, until we drop quite dead surrounded by a life time of unstructured collecting.

oops. I forgot to mark this post: NSFW. But I didn't really forget, I just didn't care.


OT: Finding the right XLR cables for my video microphones. Perhaps identifying the weakness of my entire working system... Yes, XLR connectors! (humor alert!)


I know these were originally designed to be used with an audiophile headphone system but I started thinking that a set of cables this highly regarded, judging by the price, could make my Rode NTG-4+ microphone sound even better. Sure, I could just buy a much nicer microphone but that might be a false economy if the wiring can make a really fantastic difference. Could it be that the wiring between microphone and pre-amp has been my video system's audio input Achille's Heel?

I'm on the fence about ordering for just one reason; I think that silver connectors are prone to tarnishing and don't have as fast and stable an electron transfer rate as solid gold connectors...

I've sent along a note to see if they can be upgraded to gold but I'm leery that the price may go up too much.

I guess I could pass along the cost of investing in superior audio accessories to my clients, who always seem anxious to pay much more for our services.

Just sayin.

A weird, non-video thing that the Sigma fp camera can do. And does it work?

While most digital cameras have a low ISO floor of 100 (in some cases, 200) those ranges can sometimes be expanded a bit to offer ISO 80 or even ISO 50. But those lower settings are basically software tricks that depend on using the native ISO and changing the arc of the files in camera processing. Those lower ISO settings can be valuable if you are trying to get wider apertures or trying to get slower shutter speeds in strong light but the files usually entail some dynamic range penalties. And they add nothing more that a third of a stop or so of fake "neutral density" of sorts. 

The Sigma fp goes about giving photographers lower ISO settings in an entirely different way; one which has both advantages and foibles. Sigma have designed in a way to get ISOs all the way down to 6. Yes, single digital ISO numbers. You can choose from 6,12, 25 and 50 ISO. These are in addition to the conventional 80-125,000 ISO settings available. The slower ISOs only work in photographs, not video, and they do work in Raw. 

When you set the lower ISOs the camera makes a quick series of short exposures and stacks them together and blends them, in camera (hello hour glass icon!) to make a single frame. The advantage is that random/non linear noise gets factored out and color sampling is increased by the number of exposures taken. What this should mean is that the lower ISO files will have better and more accurate color and much less noise than files shot at higher ISOs. Stacking multiple frames for noise reduction is a long time solution for many different photo uses but it's usually done manually, in PhotoShop. It's much more convenient to let your camera do the heavy lifting. 

This is not the first camera to offer this multi-shot lower ISO feature. It was in the Kodak SLR/n full frame camera I purchased way back in 2004. That camera had a 14 megapixel, CMOS sensor and it got noisy when used above 100 or 200 ISO. I used the lower ISOs in the studio with (at the time) tungsten lighting for still life shots. One project paid the freight for the purchase price of the camera: I did a series of still life shots for a manufacturer who used the files to make four by six foot prints for trade shows. The images were sharp, detailed and most importantly, noise free. When that line of cameras faded from the market we were left with a selection of cameras that all did the same thing but none of them offered the multi-shot, low ISO feature until now. 

There are a couple of trade-offs you'll want to consider if you decide that you want to use the low ISO feature. When I selected ISO 25 for most of these test shots I discovered that the lowest shutter speed I could set was 1/20th of a second. The camera shoots the images with an electronic shutter so you don't hear the multiple "firings" but it does take a bit of time to do and then more time to process. The processing time is a fraction of that which was required by the older Kodak camera but that's all up to the increased processor performance in the newer camera. 

Since the camera will be making multiple exposures you'll need to be aware that moving subjects can be problematic. See the last image at the bottom and look at the truck on the bridge to see an example.
The same goes for camera movement. You'll want to use the camera on a tripod and select scenes that have little or no movement to them. 

Would I use the feature a lot? Not me, personally, since I tend to photograph mostly people. For handheld work I've never required more quality from the Sigma fp than I already get using the camera at ISO 100, 200 and 400. But, if I shot more still life work, architectural work and other more controlled types of imaging I can imagine that it would come in quite handy. At some point a client will ask me to shoot a bunch of interior spaces and I'll have a blast playing with this feature.

The image just below is a 100% crop of the image from above and I think the detail and also the sky color are pretty much perfect. 

100% crop.

See the blur on the pedestrian.

See the multiple images of the van on the bridge... 

To sum up: It's not a life or death "dealkiller" feature 
but the expanded, low ISO range is fun to have and 
offers one more creative tool that's not available on 
many other cameras. Kind of follows along with the 
philosophy of, "don't be like everyone else" that
I love so much with the fp.


How flat can an 8 bit, .Mov file from a Sigma fp camera get (video)? I thought I'd test it myself just to see. Click through to Vimeo to see it full screen in 4K.


Sigma flat and otherwise from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

After watching the video shot with the Sigma fp in .Mov at DPR I decided to test my camera to see just how flat a file I could pull out of the camera without jumping into Cinema DNG (raw file).

I took the camera to the bridge over Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas and shot some tests.

I used the camera's "neutral" profile, turned down the sharpening and the contrast in the "color" parameters and then used the manual tone curves to add +4 to the shadows and -4 to the highlights for even flatter files.

All shot at 29.97, 8 bit, All-I, 4K onto a regular V90 SD card.

I used ISO 400 as it is the camera's native video ISO. I used a variable neutral density filter to adjust exposure. We were in full sun on a very bright afternoon. No fill.

I shot with the camera for about an hour in 97 degree heat, mostly in direct sun, with no heat issues from the camera.

That's all. Thanks. KT

A jumbled mess of thoughts for a super hot Tuesday in May. Copy stand magic. Crazy optics. Weird equipment longings and one off topic section just because: 2.5 months of deprivation.

This is a photograph of Belinda printed on a sheet of 
8x10 Ilfobrom double-weight paper. 
It's in a box with 250 other double weight 8x10s. 
I'm having fun looking at them again...

I'll get the totally off topic stuff out of the way first. Then we'll swing back to the "important" stuff. 

5:24 a.m. I don't know why but whenever I set an alarm on my phone I always seem to wake up five or ten minutes before the alarm goes off. I turn it off and get out of bed before I can change my mind and postpone whatever it was that prompted me to set an alarm. Then I get started. 

Today is the first day the Western Hills Athletic Club Masters Swimmers are allowed back in the (wondrous, mystical and transplendent) swimming pool to work out with a coach and fellow swimmers. It's been a long, long hiatus. The message that came last week announcing our careful and well choreographed re-entry was like stone tablets from heaven. 

I've been walking, running, lifting weights, working out with stretch cords and hiking, in some form or another every single day since the pool closure. I have to have an outlet for all the reckless energy so it's either exercise or spend time searching for new photo gear to buy. A couple pairs of running and hiking shoes is a much cheaper alternative.

The masters program has a short amount of time allotted to use the pool since there needs to also be time for kids competitive swim programs and adult/member lap swimming as well. We get three slots on weekdays. 6-7, 7-8 and noon - 1 pm, we get two slots in the mornings on Saturday and Sunday. In conjunction with advice from the city attorneys and heath experts, we've devised a safety protocol which mandates only two people per lane across the seven lanes. Each person in the lane starts and ends at opposite ends of the pool. The workouts are now only 55 minutes to allow for transitions between time slots. Everyone has to sign up online to reserve their space. It's first come first served. 

I swam in high school and college and have vast, vast experience doing early morning workouts. We used to hit the water six days a week in high school at 5:30 a.m. And back then we had school, dating, homework, etc. to schedule in. It should be a piece of cake for me to do the 6 a.m. workouts now that my biggest responsibilities in the present are dabbling the stock market and getting in that crucial nap during the heat of the day (of which there is much). 

There were three of us in the pool at six this morning, with two coaches on the deck. There are entry and exit protocols and even a tub with water and bleach for sterilizing the club kick boards after use. 
When I first thought of all the steps I worried that we'd have parts of each lap where we'd be closer than six feet and I thought about the aerosol effect of breathing. But as soon as I started swimming I realized that we are all trained to exhale all of our air with our faces down in the water and only bring our faces to the side to inhale. So we are basically blowing out our air, and any aerosol component, directly into highly chlorinated water. I can't imagine a safer "filtering" scenario. 

As there were only three of us this morning at the earliest workout we were easily able to maintain a safe distance as well...

Since none of us have been in the water and swimming hard for the last two months our coach, Chris, (former UT All American) took it easy on us. We got in a little over 2,000 yards today and a good portion of that was kicking with a board. The only "tough" part was the eight X 25 yard butterfly sprints. 

I was home having coffee by 7:15 and out walking the hills with Belinda by 8 a.m. Already a productive and happy day. And I'm especially glad we got our exercise early because today will be our first day of the year to probably crest 100 degrees. It's nothing but blue skies and intense sun from dawn to dusk. If that amount of UV doesn't kill the virus in the chlorinated water then I give up all hope...

Photo Stuff: I've made a copy stand from a big Benro tripod, with a smoothly moving center column, and a Gitzo side arm. After leveling the camera carefully and making it parallel to the light box I'm using it's easy to move the center column  up and down to change the magnification for copy work. I appreciate all the feedback I got from everyone last week and I'm making good progress getting very sharp images to play with in PhotoShop. I'm currently using an adapted Leica R 60mm macro lens but I might order the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Art macro; just for grins. I'm using film holders from several older flat bed scanners (which I no longer own) and that works well to keep negatives flat and to also provide a black surround for the film to keep flare to a minimum. More to come shortly, along with examples.

I've been having a satisfying time using one of the S1R cameras, along with the Sigma 85mm Art lens, as a black and white portrait set up for the studio and controlled exterior stuff. So far I have only been able to experiment on myself, Belinda and Ben but I'm hoping that I'll have the opportunity in the second half of the year to recruit and safely photograph a wider group of subjects.

I've got the camera set to shoot squares and use the L. Monochrome setting in the camera with a few tweaks (sharpness down a few clicks, noise reduction reduced a lot, and contrast dropped by two notches). The results are promising. The 85mm Art is a gorgeous lens. Heavy but such a nice imaging tool.

An interaction with a writer from DP Review was refreshing and positive. Richard Butler has been with DP Review as an editor and writer for a long while. He did a video project with a Sigma fp that was posted on the the DPR site over the weekend. On a cursory reading of his attached article I felt that he wasn't giving the camera enough credit for being a great video camera and wrote him a personal note to say so. I mostly took him to task because he was asking for a flatter file and I overlooked the fact that he  was talking about having a flat file (like "flat" in the big Panasnonics or "Eterna" in the Fujis) to use with the 8 bit, .Mov files he wanted to shoot. I though he had overlooked the wide range of controls available with "tone" and "color" settings.

Even though my poorly thought through e-mail could be interpreted as  a bit 'snarky' he quickly and graciously answered me and gently suggested I may have missed something in the article. I went back and re-read the last few paragraphs closely. He was right. I was wrong. I still disagree that the controls won't get one a flat enough file but he was very clear in what he was trying to get across. Occasionally I get moving too fast and miss stuff. But my takeaway was just how gracious and positive Richard's responses were. Now I'm calling my own truce with DP Review. I'll be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt in the future.

The Brand New Lens I Deeply Desire but have no apparent use for or rationale for owning. Well, I could easily rationalize owning it but it's the exchange of money for the lens that makes me hesitant. The lens in question is the L-mount version of the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art lens. It may be the greatest normal lens every made at f1.4 but my hesitation is that I rarely ever shoot at f1.4 with normal focal length lenses and I already have that range so well covered with the Panasonic 24-105mm lens, the Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 lens, two of the 45mm f2.8 Sigma lenses and the Panasonic S-Pro 50mm f1.4. Seems like pretty radical overkill to also covet the 40mm f1.4 Sigma L but there it is.

I've resisted it so far. I guess I'm waiting to see a clearer path to business recovery but the 40mm is a brilliant idea. I just don't have a slot in which to put that idea to work with any sort of logic.

I'm going to see if I can borrow one to test it and perhaps see if there is some reason that it all makes sense for....something.

Sigma fp. I continue to think that this is a delightful camera and I'm currently building a shoulder mount rig for it. The components are mostly from a company called, SmallRig, and it will have padded shoulder mount, 15mm rails to provide for lens support and a top mount arm for a monitor. I'll also have space to mount the SSD required for Cinema Raw as well as a space on which to mount an audio interface. Interestingly, with an Atomos digital monitor/recorder I could pull an audio signal directly into the recorder, bypassing the camera pre-amps altogether. Seems like a lot of complexity but the weight of the rig plus the three points of contact with me should help to calm down camera movements and make shooting off the tripod better.

Sales for Camera Companies are all down dramatically but at this point it doesn't really affect me since there is ample new inventory out in the market and the used market is just bursting with product. Sure, this slowdown will probably put a hold on a lot of new product introductions but generally, unless there's something you really need, those introductions are more of a burden than a blessing. I'm trying to become stupider about new stuff and smarter about using the stuff I already have. Experience with gear is a good thing; a plus. New and Improved don't necessarily go hand in hand....

That's it for this morning. I've got stuff to do and Belinda is telling me that I've got to get the recycling can up to the curb --- stat. Drink good coffee, sell your big stereo and get better ear buds. No one can hear the difference between two speaker wires of the same gauge and length, and people, in general, need to spend a hell of a lot more time outdoors getting some use out of their bodies. We tend to live too much in our minds.

Thank you for letting me share with you. Can't wait to get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning for another life affirming swim. Namasté. 


Staying on message is important. For readers and for writers. Here we write about photography. Let me know if you need me to start a swim blog...

Sigma fp in video snapshot mode.
Equally proficient at taking photographs.

Confession. I was going to go a bit off topic today and write about grandmother Tuck's incredible method for making ham salad. I was going to reminisce about visiting my grandparents in the small town in central Pennsylvania where they lived, and go into detail about their house; even sharing details of their big television set in the living room, with the ceramic sculpture of a black panther sitting on top. The panther had a dial midway down its torso and one used that to change the orientation of the rooftop antenna mounted three stories up on the roof of the house. Using the panther belly mounted control you could fine tune broadcast reception! That one feature made such an impression on me...

Before getting into the secrets of grandmother's ham sandwich I was going to regale readers with fragmented stories about my father and his father sitting in the living room of the house, listening to the radio for the live broadcasts of the Pittsburgh Pirate's baseball games. And then maybe segue into a delightful and nuanced story about my sister sitting at the oh so expansive dining room table making toothpick sculptures, which would lead, of course, into a story about my older brother sitting in a nicely upholstered chair in his bedroom (while visiting) on the third floor of the house, reading the earliest issues of the Marvel Spiderman comic books... 

But instead I'll hew to my new resolve and try to stay, at least obliquely, on the subject of photography ---and by extension --- a bit of video production thrown in for good measure. 

But I don't want to leave you hanging so I'll give you the TL:DR for the ham salad. The secret was peanuts. She added peanuts to her ham salad and that savory addition made for the best ham salad sandwiches I've ever had during my full and happy life. End of story. Oh, and the toothpick sculpture turned out well, the Pirates lost (as usual, which generated salty language) and my brother lost his copy of Spiderman #1 long before they started trading for upwards of $100,000 (in mint condition). 

Which brings us to the Sigma fp, once again. I was happy to find a weird review of the Sigma fp as a cinema camera in an interview with an award-winning cinematographer and underwater camera engineering expert with deep experience in media such as IMAX. The guy is a member of the Australian Cinematographers Society and an inveterate camera and lens tester. The actual interviewer is goofy but Pawel is pretty rock solid and has some amazing things to say about the video capabilities of the tiny camera. See it here. And here is the take-away quote from the cinematographer:  "When I say I like this camera, it's as if it cost $60k, I would have still bought it."

Added: Here's a review by a very smart and talented photographer who I've known since our college days in Austin: Ellis reviews the FP.

I think those of us who took a chance on the Sigma fp have ripped through a lot of words to try and explain what it is about the camera that endears it to us. It's obviously got less gingerbread and comfort features than cameras like the Sony A7iii and the Panasonic Lumix S1, and as far as photography goes there are some drawbacks to use, but across both video and still imaging there are several consistent features that make the camera well worth the "paltry" $1800 price tag for those who appreciate those features in spite of not having the  cupholders, automatic transmissions and heated seats of most current higher end cameras. 

The first is something that can be measured objectively. The Sigma fp has some of the very highest color accuracy of any production camera on the market. In Pawel Achtel's tests the Sigma fp seems to slightly outperform the Sony Venice cine camera ($42,000, body only) in this regard, as well as the Red Ranger Monstro 8K  ($59,950 body only). 

The second point that Mr. Achtel makes in the camera's favor (and here he is making the statement about video output) is that the camera's high ISO is amazingly noise free. He suggests that it is nearly noise free to 10,000 ISO and usable at 25,000, with a bit of noise reduction tossed in.

I'm maybe a bit more conservative when it comes to noise but I'd use the camera at ISO 6400 without much worry for stills; as long as I was careful to get the exposure just right. As for color accuracy, I don't have a way to accurately measure it but I have to say that the files that come out of the camera, both as photographs and also cinema DNG video, are some of the best I've ever seen. 

So, No. It's not a good, all around snapshot camera. It's a horrible, just horrible sports camera. It's not a good camera for shooting active dress rehearsals in the theater (I tried once with lots of sweat and gritted teeth). But when it comes to shooting as one would with a movie camera or with an old Hasselblad it delivers amazing files and a similar workflow. 

Yesterday I put on a wireless mike set-up and gave the camera a video spin as a "snapshot video camera" using 8 bit .Mov files with the camera set to 4K UHD All-I at 29.97 fps. It was great. The audio is fine as long as I pay attention to the meters and never let them clip. (It's one of the few cameras I think I'd prefer to use in a dual sound video set up just because the meters are small and the control interface a bit buried...).  It's a small package and since it doesn't have mechanical image stabilization built in I cheated by using the fluid head on a monopod. 

While there are a lot of great photography and video camera out on the market this Sigma fp really speaks to people who love to tinker with their files and are willing to sacrifice ease of use for more visual perfection. More cowbell...

This morning I saw a video posted on DP Review that showed some footage shot in .Mov with the Sigma fp camera. The "cinematographer" listed as a shortcoming of the fp that there was no flat profile. But that's because it features uncompressed raw files which are much, much, much more color gradable and contrast adjustable than Log profiles (which can be added downstream from a raw file import, in post). The camera just needed to be set up to use the raw DNG files and to write them to an external SSD. (added:) In fairness the writer did say that he missed having the Log profile in the .Mov mode.  I contend that you would know whether or not the camera has a Log profile when you do your research before buying.   He also suggested that the color settings (might be called profiles...) such as 'cinema' 'orange and teal' etc. were too intense or overdone. And I would agree with him if each profile was not widely adjustable. You can decrease the effect of the color settings all the way from a plus 5 to minus 5 with the use of a menu item, for each color setting. You can also adjust the contrast, sharpness and saturation of each look in +/- five steps as well. That makes it perfectly adjustable for just about anything you'd want to do. You can even make .Mov files as flat as a pancake, if you want to by also using the "Tone" control in conjunction with the "Color" control.  The article seemed to short change the fp when much of the problem was a lack of experience with the camera...

So, we're still staying at home but that doesn't mean we can't test, shoot, evaluate and vet our results. 

Sorry, no chat about swimming. It just didn't come up.  

Added note: Richard Butler got in touch with me and we e-mailed back and forth. He directed my attention to the line where he (correctly) went into the color profile sub-menu to change the strength of the profile but was still not able to set a low enough contrast for his uses. I missed that. I apologize. 

I do agree with him to his point that a nice, flat profile like Fuji's Eterna would be a welcome addition for shooting in .Mov.

Signed, The Imperfect Blogger.  KT


Stuff. Like putting your leg in a bear trap....

Thought I should tackle the idea of stuff, just enough stuff, and too much stuff. I suppose I started thinking about this when I ventured over to Mike Johnston's blog this morning and read the 45 comments from mostly middle-aged men gushing and reminiscing about various esoteric audio components; mostly sourced during the golden age of audio-philia.

The entire exercise of falling in love with gear is not necessarily foreign to me. Let me explain (As I listen to Bare Naked Ladies on the earbuds that came standard with my iPhone XR):

It all started when my frugal parents bought my brother and I a joint Christmas gift of a stereo record player and....the Beatles White Album. They also had the foresight to buy us a set of (cheap but serviceable) headphones. Once bitten by the idea of being able to endlessly listen to my favorites songs on demand I started diving deeper and deeper into "audio." I bought and tried to fix old reel-to-reel tape recorders and built a Heathkit stereo receiver which actually worked. By the time I graduated from high school I'd decided to go off to the university and study electrical engineering with the idea of designing and building various audio components.

Once ensconced in my cheap, un-air conditioned dorm room I embarked on building all sorts of stuff. I put together a Dynaco Stereo 70 amplifier, scrounged up a pair of AR3a speakers and finally bought a decent turntable. The flaw in all of this was that my parents were putting all three kids through the university at the same time and were NOT disposed to financially support what they very clearly saw as nothing more than an expensive and distracting hobby. I needed to find a part time job to support my hobby...

Of course, the logical thing to do was to find a great "hi-fi" store within walking distance (no car) of campus and present myself as a knowledgable stereophile who would be capable of actually explaining and thereby selling equipment to customers. Just at the edge of campus was a tall residence tower with two stories of retail at the bottom. One of the shops was called, Audio Concepts. The store was filled to the brim with many esoteric brands I'd never heard of before as well as the rank and file stuff from companies like, Kenwood, Yamaha and Pioneer.

The stars must have lined up just right on that day back in the middle of the 1970s because the manager, a really cool guy just a couple of years older than me, hired me for 20 hours a week at a bit more than minimum wage. There was also a small commission they'd be willing to pay me for system sales. I was in heaven. Swim practice in the early morning, followed by classes at UT, followed by a late afternoon/early evening demo-ing audio gear for eager audiophiles. Sleep was just an incidental concern...

Working in an audio shop was fun. We carried Crown, Audio Research, Thiel, Dahlquist, Phase Linear, Lux, Denon, Magnaplanar, Klipsch, ADS, Stax, and so much more. I was a dutiful study. I memorized every spec sheet and paid rapt attention to every sales training session I could attend (also, the reps brought pizza for us and I was in perilous straights half the time having routinely spent my food allowance on a really cool tonearm or moving coil cartridge. We spent hours in our "listening room" at the store training ourselves to hear the tiny differences between the products. The sales staff was really good. We loved the gear but we also were well motivated to sell. In fact, at one point I was whisked off to Minnesota to do a two day interview with Magnaplanar; they were looking for a marketing person with some technical knowledge.  (I declined their offer because it was 17 degrees when I stepped off the airplane at the beginning of September. It was 90 in Texas the day I left...).

So, when I was at work, and in my dorm room, I spent a lot of time listening to the gear. I'd choose music based on how well it was recorded and how well it showed off the best parts of my system. It was almost exactly like photographers who shoot images only to test their lenses but who never get around to finding a style or subject matter than really compels them to go out and photograph for the sake of photography.

But I was smart enough to understand that there was a "gold list" of composers and artists that all "sophisticated" audio enthusiasts were supposed to appreciate and enjoy. Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane for Jazz. Joni Mitchell and Pete Seeger for folk. Anything Mozart, Beethoven, Berlios, Rachmaninoff, Debussy or Ravel. Everyone had a copy of "The Planets" composed by Gustav Holst, and a copy of "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi. And no audiophile's collection was complete without a good copy of "Carmina Burana." Yeah. I bought all the vinyl I could find and listened to the coolest parts. Because they made my speakers sound great. Even better through a set of Stax electrostatic headphones.

But then something odd happened. I started dating a concert cellist. An avowed music lover. Someone who didn't give a crap about the "quality of the recording" or the "amazing low bass" of a music system. Her favorite set of records was the "Bach Suites for Solo Cello" which was scratchy and recorded with a lot of noise/hiss, and even grunting and moaning from Pablo Casals as he played. To her the audio quality was totally immaterial. Didn't count. Not on the radar. But every once in a while she'd hear a note so sweet a tear would fall down her face.

If you date a cellist you ARE going to go out a lot to hear live music. Not just classical music but all kinds of music. The same girlfriend who played hauntingly beautiful cello was also the bass player for a punk band that performed in clubs around Austin. For her the appreciation of music was saved for composition and execution and not at all for the mechanical reproduction. We sat through all of her friends' recitals and every concert that students could get discounted tickets for. At some point in time something in my own brain clicked in and I realized that no matter how great the gear might have been it was much more thrilling and much BETTER to hear the music live; in performance, contemporaneously. Three different music history classes at UT convinced me of this as well. I was lucky that two of my classes were taught by a famous concert pianist who would discuss a piece of music and then sit down at a Bosendorfer grand piano and proceed to play the composition we were studying. What a great way to learn music!

At that point in time it was as if someone reached into my mental process and turned off the switch to the circuit that made the idea of buying more and more gear seem fun. Now the gear was a weak and very secondary substitute for the REAL thing; which was the live, performed music. And, of course, at that time in Austin we probably had as many live music venues as all of New York City and we had the Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin's spiritual center for live music.  From country to hard rock. From Willie Nelson to the Talking Heads and Devo. And UT did their part with performances by Paul Olefsky and Janos Starker (cellists).

I started parting out and selling off the audio gear. When would I have had time to sit in an easy chair and listen to....an unchanging and always the same...album? And why would I spend time listening to a copy of the experience when it was so easy and enjoyable to go out and see the real thing in real time?
Should I put on my slippers and smoke my meerschaum pipe or get out to a club and see Clifton Chenier? Easy answer there....

My collection of LPs sits in a closet in one of the unused bedrooms now. I no longer have a turntable and we don't have any audio components in the house. Just a Tivoli Stereo Radio in the studio and an all-in-one, rosewood cabineted, CD playing, FM stereo on a bookshelf in the living room. Total expenditure about $300.

There are two places where I routinely listen to recorded music. One is in the car when driving for more than twenty or thirty minutes. The other is when I'm writing fiction. And in the case of writing I can only listen to music without vocals. When I do sit and write I like to do so in coffee shops (temporarily on hold) and I use music through my phone's earbuds more to cut out the ambient noise and distraction than anything else.

I still live in Austin. There's still live music everywhere (but temporarily on hold lately). When we have shows in the main theater at Zach Theatre there is always someone performing beautiful music in the lobby before the shows. It's always top notch; always live. And most of the shows which are musicals are almost always done with a live band or orchestra. The Theatre never uses canned music. We're lucky in one regard; we can hear good live music all the time in Austin. Even during the pandemic people are hiring UT music students to come and perform at backyard (socially distanced) happy hours for small groups or families. No one would think about piping in recorded stuff. Not when we can hear the real thing...

I subscribed to Amazon Prime and I sometimes pipe in streamed music when I'm sweeping the floor or doing planks or filling out tax forms. But, as a rule, Belinda and I seem to be immune to the charms of dedicating time to listening to pre-recorded music, other than a brief splash of something from our past during an anniversary celebration or something of that nature.

My lifestyle tends to be one of constant movement and so the value to me of thousands and thousands of dollars of audio gear, locked into one place in one room, only to be enjoyed in repose, is incomprehensible. I think I realized early on that one could (and some did) spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on audio gear to chase what will be an always imperfect replica of the real thing = live music. And every hour spent sitting motionless in front of big wood boxes, listening to the same collection over and over again, was an hour lost to the pursuit of enjoying the REAL THING.

Mike posted images of his basement, littered with obsolete and aging gear from his past audio pursuits. It was a reminded to me to keep moving stuff out the door as soon as I decide to move on to the next iteration.

But what does all this have to do with photography? Well.... It's all disturbingly similar. For many of us the gear seems to be the thing of great interest while the photographs seem like nothing more than a proving mechanism of just how good the gear is. Almost as color accurate as real life. Almost as sharp as seeing something amazing with your own eyes. Almost as much fun as the act itself. As a group with most photographers there is an inclination to pursue photo gear for the sake of owning and testing said photo gear. The minute something comes out that promises a more accurate rendering we rush to buy it. And I'd wager that I'm not the only one with too many cameras and not enough finished work of my own.

If I follow the same progression I did with audio I'd end up with one small point-and-shoot camera and a hundred more stamps on my passport. One thousand more portraits. A multitude of human engagements. Because, while it is so true that the camera captures memories, you have to create or witness the memories in order to capture them. You have to have interesting things happen in front of the camera to imbue it with relevance. You have to meet interesting people and get to know them in order to get interesting portraits. You have to fall in love over and over again to get great portraits.

The stuff itself is like an anchor which ties you to it. Like a sad elephant chained at the ankle to a post. You want to go out and create a great image but first you need to acquire more stuff and then optimize it. In the meantime more stuff comes out and now you are convinced that you need to take a break to learn which new stuff to buy and how to use it so you can  REALLY create great photographs. In the end, if you follow this path you'll have memorized every owner's manual, masterfully mapped functions to every button and figured out exactly what focused distance works best for each lens in your system but you won't have invested the time in actually photographing much of anything more than a glorified test chart.

If you follow the same path but with audio gear you will have surrounded yourself with expensive, glorified record players and components but you will have anchored yourself to a room, cut off human contact, and taken up precious time and money that could have been spent actually HEARING AND EXPERIENCING real, live music. The kind where every performance is different, nuanced and irreplaceable.

There were a couple huge benefits for me in reading all the comments about audio gear that were appended to Mike's original post. First, it reflected back to me my own weaknesses in photography, where I (sadly, routinely) let my desire for new gear overshadow my desire for new images and new experiences. It also showed me that it's the desire itself that is the issue; the thing that kills our happiness within our chosen hobbies and passions.

I remember back to the late 1960's when my friends and I camped out in little pup tents in our backyard. We each had our own little transistor radios. They ran on those rectangular 9V batteries. I lay down on my Boy Scout sleeping bag and looked up at the Summer stars and then a song by Donovan which had hit the "Top 40" came on the radio station. It was "Sunshine Superman." Nothing has ever sounded as good as that did in that moment.

I remember when I took my first real black and white photograph. It was of my high school girlfriend who was as patient with me as she was beautiful. I used an old, zone focusing 126mm camera (Argus) and I barely understood even the basics. But when those deckled edge prints came back from the drug store processor I was irrevocably hooked. Mike's column, and the responses, reminded me of where the real magic lays and how much the "stuff" insulates us from the joy of the moment. 

I'm not sure that's what he intended.....

right now I'm listening to "Sunshine Superman" with some earbuds connected by white wires to my phone. I can tell you the music is as powerful as anything coming out of $$$$$$ stuff.

Nice. Thanks Mike for the Instant Satori that came packaged in that blog.

Now, where did I put that magic Argus?


For Better or Worse Austin, Texas Prepares for Re-Opening. But first, coffee.

My coffee. The way I've come to like it. = perfect.

Austin, Texas has been in a "stay at home" posture since the first day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. By my reckoning that would have been on Friday the 13th of March. Which means that Belinda and I have been staying close to the house most of the time, walking in the neighborhood, respecting social distancing, wearing face masks in public for a bit over two months. We're okay with that. If it means giving health experts time to perfect treatment protocols that save people from dying and gives us some breathing space to find a cure then we'll gladly take the hits that come with that choice. But we don't speak for everyone...

Whether it's right or wrong it seems that the USA population, in general, is being pushed to get back to work and school in spite of whatever consequences might result. I get that we have a choice and that not everyone can afford the same choices. But I also get that some of the "back to work" posturing is purely political and might set us back a good bit. We might not be around to see the "right" answer finally presented but history will tell the tale to future generations.

I'm not here to make a political statement one way or another. I'm a liberal democrat but I have friends who are conservative republicans. Trying to make everything black and white is a fruitless exercise at best. Especially when there is so much that's truly unknown. People are wired differently and it would be great if we could all see past the political stuff and appreciate each person for their individual selves.

But one way or another we can all go out and document how it's affecting our communities. Rather than sit at home today and continue to work on a bit of marketing I chose to take a camera and go downtown to see what the pulse of the entertainment district looked like today. You'll remember that I was down a few weeks ago and everything was boarded up. Artists, as usual, were painting art over the plywood and particle board that covered the doors and windows of our historic bars and music halls. What would have changed from then to now?

The first tentative start up of the bar district has started. The panels are coming off the doors and windows. The less welcome graffiti is being scrubbed off. The sidewalks are being power washed. It feels like everyone's target is to open (soft or hard) around June 1st. I'm glad I got down there today because I wanted to take some higher res versions of my favorite temporary art. 

I used one of my Panasonic S1 cameras and one of the two Sigma 45mm f2.8 lenses I'm currently hoarding (hey, some people hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer; I like lenses....which is crazier?) and set the camera for documentation mode. I like to use the camera in the flat profile and then add back contrast and saturation in post. Seems to work really well and does a good job of preserving highlights. 

It's already getting hot here in Texas and by the time I got back to my car it was already in the mid nineties. I got in the car and flicked on the air conditioning before checking my phone.

But you've already read about resumed swimming, right?  


OT: The universe finally throws a poor, humble photographer a bone... Splash, splash.

Yesterday felt like a step backwards. I noticed a flaw with a new camera and spent time boxing it up and returning it. This morning felt like I was just running in place trying to come up with things to do and reasons to unlock the studio door. By noon I was ready to get out of my house and my office and just walk to relieve the boredom and encroaching ennui. I went downtown, parked my car, ditched my phone in the center console, masked-up and went for a walk. 

When I got back to the car a while later I checked messages. There was a text from my swimmer friend, Patty, which read: "Masters swimming is back! Check yr e-mail."

Hallelujah. Hallelujah! It seems like years since I've been in the pool. Apparently the USMS (United States Masters Swimming) folks have been working with medical experts to devise protocols for allowing us to get back to swim workouts. We'll be swimming with no more than two people to a lane. One person will start at one end of the pool and one person at the other end. We'll start and finish our repeats and sets at opposite ends of the pool from each other at all times. We'll circle swim. Up the right side of the lane and back on the right. We won't be able to use the showers, suit spinning dryers or the water fountains, and we'll have to come suited up; ready to hop in and swim. 

To make this all work we're having to do reservations for each workout. Of course there is a website and an app for making reservations. With space for only 14 people per workout the sign-up system is the only way to make it all work. 

Since I was out walking and not sitting at my desk, or nursing my phone, I missed the original message by hours. When I got back to my computer to log-in, re-engage my credit card (to pay dues) and head to the reservation site all of the 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. workout slots for next week were already filled up. But there was still more than enough space for an anxious-to-get-back to the water swimmer in the SIX a.m. to SEVEN a.m. slots. I can handle that. I did it all through high school and college...

The biggest advantage for us is that we're a private, members only swim club so we don't have to worry about accommodating walk-ins or drop-bys. 

We're scheduled to start next Tuesday but I'm already cleaning my goggles and checking my gear. This will take so much of the sting out of the shutdown for me. I can hardly wait. I would have traded a camera system just for the chance to swim through the Summer. Now all is not lost! Some sanity has returned to my universe. Pure, soaking, hyper-gratitude over here. 

I've got four days booked for workouts through the next week and I couldn't be happier. It's like getting a free Leica M10 in the mail. 

Now I can back off of all that stupid running. Whoever thought that running was a real exercise? (again, sarcasm alert!!! I do understand and appreciate that running is good exercise). 

Tuesday. May 19th. 6 a.m. Target.