Many are asking why Sigma would bring to market a 65mm lens. Why would they not?

shot from the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge with a GH5 and the Sigma Contemporary 56mm f1.4.

If you've looked through the images I generally post here and on Instagram you'll know that my taste skews, emphatically, toward focal lengths that have an angle of view of a 50mm lens on a full frame (24x36mm) camera, or longer. With the exception of images from crazy masters/artists like William Klein I have little to no patience for photographs shot with wider angle lenses that are generally jammed packed with tiny details. Photos that drag your eyes all over the place, desperately trying to decipher what the hell the photographer had in mind when he shot the image. Is there a main subject I should be looking for? Well, where is it? It's almost as if wide angle fans were indoctrinated by whoever created "Where's Waldo?" and have been trying to mystify their audiences ever since. 

I've been cruising around the web today, while trying to take it easy, and I'm a bit distressed at all the blogs and vlogs that are, themselves, mystified that Sigma would have the audacity to introduce a 65mm lens. The implication being that we are in dire need of yet another 35mm or 28 mm instead? Geez, why not end your wide angle suffering (or increase your visual torture of others) by just getting a 12mm lens and cropping from time to time. With something that wide you could give up taking responsibility for rational composition altogether and just pick and chose your frame well after the fact. You could change your mind and re-crop every time you look at whatever collage of subject matters you've thrown together in a photograph. Who would care?

Real photographers are able to make up their minds at the time of exposure as to what needs to be included and what's best left out. They know that images are so much more enjoyable when there's a subject to the work instead of a collection of endless datum. In fact, it's almost a responsibility.

Most of the people talking down Sigma's new 65mm f2.0 lens are busy mentioning how, for them, the universe revolves around the 35mm lens; a focal length I regard with no small amount of disdain. If the world really needed one more iteration of the 35mm lens you wouldn't know it from looking through the nearly endless selection of 35mm lenses at B&H, Amazon and Adorama. The photo world is clogged up with that ubiquitous and boring focal range. That, and the 28mm are among the most over-rated focal length choices in the world. Sure, I get that you might be working in a small space and can't back up. I get that use. But if you are out in the wide world and that's the one you're still choosing to use ---- well, I just don't get it. 

With the announcement of the 65mm from Sigma there are now, I think, just two products in that focal length for full frame cameras. Sure, you can buy a zoom lens and pick the exact focal length you want but that's an argument you could use about any focal length between 24 and 200 these days. What you are really getting, with the 65mm, is a 50mm lens with just a bit more discretion and selective integrity. It's a focal length that says, "Let's look at the main course." instead of a focal length that says, "f8 and be there. Hail Mary! Hold it up high and we'll get the whole park in the frame!!!" 

And according to reviewers Sigma has made a single focal length lens product that should outperform even the best zoom lenses at that particular focal length while adding some speed to the mix.

As I understand it (with no confirmation or exact data) Sigma is following Apple's lead. You know about the Apple phones, right? The most popular enthusiasts' camera in the world. Their big flagship model has a new "telephoto" choice among the three lenses it offers. The "long" one is a 65mm equivalent. I predict that it's just a matter of time, now that phone users can easily compare between Wider, wide and best that the entire market will train themselves to understand better and to appreciate the longer focal length. I'm sure Sigma wanted to be first in line, behind Apple, with a product for the more advanced and motivated iPhone users who will also buy and use dedicated still and video cameras. And who will want to emulate the choices offered by their phones.

Certainly I am writing this partially tongue-in-cheek (or what's left of it...) but the gist of my thinking is this: most people put a 28mm or 35mm lens on their camera and go out looking for pix with the mindset that they have equipped themselves with a Swiss Army Knife of optical options. They convince themselves that they'll not only be able to work in tighter spaces, or show more background, but that they will also be able to shoot images with their super high resolution cameras and then march back into their digital offices and crop the resulting photographs into a wonderfully compelling, and much more aggressively framed composition. One in which a prominent or "main" subject will stand out from the incessant clutter. But the sad reality is that so few take the time and energy to follow through on the crop. Perhaps the marketing by Leica of the Q2 is to blame. 

Leica makes a reasonable (but highly flawed) case for post-shot cropping made possible and available because of the quality of their fixed 28mm lens and the very high resolution their 47.5 megapixel sensor. But have I seen any samples in which the images have actually been cropped? Not so much. It's one step too far for most people. What would HCB think of all this gratuitous cropping?

I like 50mm lenses but I like longer lenses even better. The 65 is a nice spot between too much and too little in a frame. It's a focal length that allows one to back up a bit and make a nice headshot without too much distortion. It's long enough to come close to a subject and make it stand out. And at f2.0 and the close focusing distances it seems perfect for tight still life shots and images of food. 

For years Leica has produced a 60mm macro lens. So has Nikon. Sigma produced a very popular 70mm macro as well. Nearly every camera maker has a 24-70mm lens and no one ever questions those makers about their choice of longer focal length lenses. With the macros most careful workers understand why that focal length is a great overall compromise for so many types of photography. 

The zooms are teaching tools. People buy them to have a "full range" of options. Newbies fire away at 24mms until the people they want to photograph, horrified by their distorted faces and awkwardly enlarged bodies run screaming from the room upon the hapless photographer's approach. Eventually, hopefully, the photographer learns to experiment first with the moderation of 35-50mm until, at some point in their visual education they come to the realization that the real magic generally happens once you go longer than 50mm

Since everyone already makes a 35mm and a 28mm (and dozens of variants as well) and they are available in flavors from f1.2 to f2.8 there is no reason for Sigma not to offer a rarer and more desirable option for a focal length. They need only put it on the market and wait for people to come around. Nice to see some initiative in the midst of a cruel and shrinking market. 

Yes, I pre-ordered a Sigma 65mm for the L-mount system from my friends at the local camera store today. 

You can argue for the lesser focal lengths or just ignore all this...it might be the extra strength Tylenol talking.

OT: Back in the saddle. But not galloping yet. Trying to follow doctor's orders.

The post op mug shot. I would smile but I don't want to disturb the stitches...

A confession: I have the most severe medical procedure phobia of anyone I know. At times even getting a flu shot will cause me to feel woozy and faint and needing to be horizontal.Anticipation of a blood test is fuel for a pre-week of anxiety and worst case scenario thinking. So when my dermatologist told me I needed to have a squamous cancer growth removed from my face via surgery I went (metaphorically) looking for a bottle of Xanax. The next big mistake I made was watching a video about the procedure. It was supposed to be preparatory education but instead it was like being alone, in a house hundreds of miles away from civilization, late at night during a thunderstorm and watching the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in a double feature with "Rosemary's Baby." Oh sure, toss in some footage from the original "Alien" movie for good measure. And it would all be happening to me which made it all even more scary.

I packed a small bag of essentials to take with me for the "Mohs" surgery. This is a micro-surgical procedure in which the surgeon begins by carving out a small margin of  Kirk material surrounding and including any cancerous growth. They put the carved out tissue under a microscope, examine the edges/margins to see if there is any evidence of cancer in the outlying areas. If there is none they cauterize the area and then sew you up with two layers of stitches. If there is cancerous growth out to the margins they go back and make a wider cut. This continues until they get to a zone where the margins are all negative for cancer. The goal is to remove as little skin and sub layer as possible while getting all the suspect tissue. 

The procedure starts with Lidocaine injections in and around the area that will be removed. That part scared me the most. I hate injections. Just hate them. 

After a quick, five minute slicing and removal of tissue you have to sit, with a bandage on your wound while someone checks margins of the extracted epithelial tissue with the microscope. This took a half hour but fortunately my kind and brilliant spouse had picked up the latest Ian Rankin novel from the local library and packed it into my "go" bag earlier in the day. I pounded through the first 60 pages and it certainly took my mind off the whole ordeal. Go Literature!

The stitching up process is emotionally uncomfortable because you can feel the tugging and pulling of the sutures. But physically the whole area was deadened so there was no real pain. The pain came minutes later when the surgeon confirmed that swimming, and indeed any exertion that raises the heart rate over say, 90 bpm, was off limits for the next 7 days. Especially swimming hard and fast. Thank God I got 3300 yards in that morning.

So, the results in the margins were negative in the very first go. That was great news. We caught this early. Score one for hypochondria. I thought the doctor was incredibly good but that may be because all three of his kids are swimmers at a highly competitive program here in Austin. Seriously though, I trusted my surgeon because he was highly recommended by my regular dermatologist and I trust my dermatologist because he was the prime recommendation from my general practitioner. And I trust my G.P. because he's proven himself to me over the last 30 years. It all counts. Feeling confident in one's care providers eases much of the psychological burdens when you face any medical situation. I feel sorry for those who cannot have that kind of continuity of care. 

I was ushered into the clinic at 1:15 and I was in my car and heading home by 4:00 pm. I thought of dropping by Precision Camera on my way home and buying a little something to reward myself for my outrageous bravery but I feared the newly reinvigorated rush hour traffic just ahead. There so much new stuff for L mount users about to hit the market that perhaps it's best, in the moment, to keep some powder dry. 

My left cheek will never be the same. But I survived the ordeal and lived to write about it. Thanks for the nice e-mails, texts, etc. All most appreciated.

Now, off to pre-order that Sigma 65mm f2.0 for the L mount and to find a nice couch on which to perch and finish off that Ian Rankin novel. 

More to follow...


Thanksgiving Prosecco. Bring your camera to the table.

Panasonic GH5 and the Sigma 56mm f1.4. 
Bokeh-Masters for m4:3.

Heading in for a little facial surgery tomorrow. Part of a witness protection program? Vanity inspired plastic surgery? Naw, just a bit of cancer remediation. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, is anyone out there using the Leica SL2? I'd love to read what you think about it if you are. I've been bouncing back and forth for months about whether or not to "invest" in one. I may be too fickle to make the "one camera forever" thing work. But you never know...

Write me in the comments if you have experience. If you want to write a guest column about your experiences we can certainly entertain that. But you have to be a real, hands on user and not just a Leica hater with an axe to grind. There are other sites for that.

A short review of the Sigma Contemporary 56mm f1.4 lens for m4:3 cameras. And another installment of photos from last evening's walk.

Sigma is currently on a roll and putting out some really great lenses; especially for L-mount and m4:3 mount cameras. I recently bought the 85mm f1.4 DG DN Art lens for full frame L mount and found it just as good, optically, as their original 5 pound 85mm 1.4. You remember that big, hulking lens ---- the one that made Zeiss Otus 85mm owners weep openly at the thought that they could have three copies of a better lens for the price they paid for their manual focusing one... 

The 85mm I replaced the earlier 85mm with is not an outlier when it comes to lens performance from Sigma's art series. I also own the 20mm f1.4, and the 35mm f1.4 and find both of those lenses to be an unusual combination: high optical performance and yet priced low enough to be accessible to most users.

But this year my experiences with their Contemporary 45mm f2.8 led me to look at more lenses than just the Art lens series lenses for full frame. In the early part of the year I picked up the 16mm f1.4 DG DN Contemporary series lens and was quite impressed with its performance, even wide open, when used on various m4:3 cameras. A month ago I was in my favorite camera store when I spied a lens I'd read about but never used. It's the 56mm f1.4 DG DN which is available in either m4:3 mount or e-mount. I only covers up to an APS-C sensor so it's not for full frame camera owners but I guess you could use one on any of the Sony A7 series cameras in the "crop" mode. 

I asked the salesperson if I could see the lens on a camera body and he stuck one on a GH5 and handed it over. After I cleaned the fingerprints off the demo GH5 and set the diopter correctly (for me) I walked around the store focusing on stuff to see how fast the AF is and also shooting frame after frame so I could evaluate the sharpness wide open. 

The view through the finder was impressive. Bright and snappy is a good way to describe the performance. 
The lens is rather small; about the size of a "nifty-fifty" from the days when both Nikon and Canon made reasonably sized normal lenses. That makes sense since the lens is basically the same focal length. It's faster than the economy normals but it doesn't have to cover the full 35mm frame so it doesn't need to be much bigger. 

If you use this lens on an APS-C Sony it will give you a full frame angle of view equal to an 84mm lens. If you use it on a m4:3 camera it will give you a full frame angle of view equal to about 112mm. Unlike the barebones f1.8 normals this lens is an f1.4 and uses both a super low dispersion element and a couple of aspherical elements. The lens design is more complex, with 10 elements in 6 groups. The aperture uses 9 blades for better out of focus rendering and the filter diameter is a nice and calm 55mm. 

Sigma has done a wonderful job with this lens. Many times you'll buy a fast, f1.4 lens and not be able to use it (convincingly) until you stop it down a stop or two. Many fast normal lenses are okay in the center of the image area but fall apart on the edges and in the corners when you use them at f1.4. You kinda wonder why you bothered to pay for the two extra stops if you can't get the shots you want without having to stop down to f2.8. The 56mm repudiates that trend. It's very sharp in the center at the widest aperture and more than sharp enough on the peripheries. And the lens has "bite." 

To evaluate its resistance to flare be sure to look at fourth and sixth images below. Both have direct, hard lights shining directly into the frame and both images were taken with the lens at or near full aperture. You'll see very little flaring and no weird rays or artifacts. In this regard the 56mm performs better than lenses I've owned which cost three or four times as much. 

In terms of size and weight balance (the unit weighs right around one pound) this lens is a perfect match for a camera like the GH5 or G9. It's also a perfect match for those cameras when it comes to focusing. Even in dark areas and weirdly lit scene the S-AF was quick to lock on, didn't hunt and was absolutely accurate. 

If you are mostly in love with wider angle lenses we'll understand if the longer focal length on m4:3 isn't  your cup of tea but if you really like doing portraits and wish you could have more control over depth of field when shooting in m4:3 then this lens is a worthy contender. It's usually priced at $479 but every one in the camera industry has most of their stuff on sale right now so I'm seeing consistent pricing here in the USA of around $429. I wish it was $100 but then I also wish I had a V-12 engine in my Subaru Forester and I also wish that V-12 would get 40-50 miles per gallon driving around town.

It was refreshing to walk around downtown at dusk and into the "dark blue" hour. I let the camera roam around the ISO settings by putting it in Auto ISO and setting the ceiling at 3200. This was a nice opportunity to use the lens at its widest apertures without having to resort to neutral density filters or super high, electronic shutter speeds. 

Why have this lens for the GH5 when I also have the 85mm Art lens and a 90mm Leica lens for the full frame, S1 system? Well, the way I see it, the big stuff is for work and the small stuff is for play and personal work. It's okay to have both. Multiple systems come in handy for lots of stuff. But I have to say that the 110mm focal length is quickly becoming one of my favorites for quick, tight shots and art in available darkness.

Note the lack of flare from the oncoming headlights.

Focuses down to about a foot and a half. Not bad considering the angle of view.

Note the lack of flare from the spotlight over the mannequin's right shoulder.

The Seaholm development, built around the bones of a retired power plant, lights up the evaporator stacks for the holidays. It's a fun look.

Is the GH5 only suitable for photography in bright light? Let's take one for a walk and find out.

Micro Four Thirds cameras get a bad rap. Everyone acts like the minute the sun goes down the camera's ability to handle low light turns to mush. "Noise the size of golf balls!" I know that's not true but every once in a while I have to see (again) for myself. 

I was tired of re-ordering my studio yesterday. The sun was about to set. The temperatures started dropping towards the 40s. I picked up the Panasonic GH5 from the top of my desk and checked to make sure it had: a charged battery, a useful lens ( the Sigma Contemporary 56mm f1.4) and a memory card. Then I hopped in the car and headed over to the theater to park, walk across the pedestrian bridge, and visit downtown as night fell. There was an hour and a half available before dinner time. 

While it's the same basic route I usually follow it's amazing how different everything looks when the light outside drops and the lights inside come up. 

The GH5 has very good image stabilization and I was able to handhold all my shots in a low range of shutter speeds. Mostly between 1/8th second and 1/60th of a second. Of course if stuff was moving during the exposures all bets were off. I set the camera to Auto ISO and set the top of the range to 3200. I shot raw and Jpeg. All of these are from the raw files. 

 I think the GH5 is trouble free right up past ISO 800 and very useable for photography right up to ISO 3200 as long as you are willing to get the exposures just right. If you like to underexpose and bring up your shadows in post (which I admit I do like to do) then you might want to cap the range at 1250 or 1600. 

I shot most of the images with the lens set either wide open or one stop down at f2.0. 

It was nice to be in cold air. It feels so different from my baked in impression of the city as being in a perpetual heat wave... 


Come on Tuck. That light's not going to light itself. Well, actually it did. Buying more lights is NOT crazy.

 It's funny to me when I look around the studio and notice how few electronic flashes of any type still live here, and at the same time how plentiful LED lights have become. Flash used to be the "work horse" of any photographic studio and, after cameras and lenses, it's where most commercial photographers tossed their money. But then 2010 came along and changed everything. 2010 was the year mirrorless cameras really started showing up on people's radar but it was also the year when the market started to deliver an accelerating deluge of LED products of all stripes, sizes and prices. 

One photographer even was commissioned to write a book about LED photography for photographers, a little more than ten years ago. It was published in early 2012. You can learn more about that book here: 


I'm not suggesting that you run out and buy a copy because everything has changed in the markets and the information space in the ensuing almost nine years. Three or four lifetimes in LED world. Yes, everything has evolved.

At any rate LEDs have become pervasive in the imaging world. On movie sets. For TV production. In the equipment lists of every videographer. And in the studios and equipment cases of an ever growing number of photographers. Even the ones who don't make videos.

Early on there was a demarcation between lights with great color and lights that were cheap. That boundary has pretty much vanished and now we're concentrating more on power output and features. Almost every light being pressed into professional service has a CRI (color rendering index) or 95 or better and does a great job of hitting their color temperature targets. Earlier lights depended on a panel implementation because the lights were made powerful enough for work by using hundreds or thousands of smallish bulbs spread across the panels. 

Panels work fine and I have four Lightstorm panels that do a nice job ---- except a panel has a big spread and it's difficult to get hard edge effects. Also, if you want to use good modifiers you'll probably need a two light stand set up. One stand for the light and a second one for the modifier. 

COB, or chip on a board, LED lights started to become affordable about five years ago and were made insanely popular by the Aputure 120D light which used a 1.5 by 1.5 inch COB LED and featured a Bowen's mount. Even at over $650 it sold briskly and there's now an "improved" model.  The LED/COB tech basically took the spot where flash tubes used to sit on lights and allowed for the use of the same modifiers and reflectors that most people were already using on their various flashes. 

I'd been buying more expensive lights from Aputure until I found the Godox SL60W which is a no frills COB light, rated at 60 watts, is daylight balanced and uses Bowens accessories. It's also really cheap at around $130. I wrote about these lights a while back and I like them so much I bought three. I use them all the time. Literally, every day. If not for work then for lighting up stuff around the compound.

The three SL60W lights and the four Aputure Lightstorm panels were working for me until I did a job back in August for a bio-tech company, at their headquarters. I needed to light up a 5,000 square foot laboratory and I did it, just barely, and by the skin of my teeth. At that point, and anticipating more work from the company (which arrived last month), I decided I needed to bolster my LED collection with some more powerful lights. I came across some good reviews of some new Godox products by Vlogger, Gerald Undone. Here's one review that's on topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbBN_b7OGec 

I watched his take on a new generation of Godox COB models and assessed how his results applied to my needs. I don't need battery power or fully silent lights but I can be parsimonious so I decided to purchase the SL150Wii. It's an update from a previous model and provides a mode whereby you can work at a reduced power output but are able to turn off the cooling fan entirely. The light is sturdy, fan cooled and plugs into wall sockets and runs off AC. The light belts out a good deal of clean illumination and seems to fit in well, color-wise, with the rest of my LED inventory. 

The light comes with a faceted reflector that makes it very efficient at delivering a lot of lumens. There's a dial on the right side of the rear panel for power output and also a switch to go into a lower power/fan-less mode. On the left side there's a switch to enable special effects and a dial with which to choose them. Think: Lightning strikes and emergency flashers (albeit with only white light). The light also comes with a remote control which allows you to raise and lower the power levels of the light without having to access the rear panel. 

The light is rated at 5600K and does not have a sister model to provides multiple color temperature settings. 

A week after I received the light (which I ordered from and paid for at Amazon = no freebies! No sponsor!) I had my second multi-day engagement with the big bio-tech company. I used the new, big Godox mostly by bouncing it off the high, white ceilings to provide overall illumination in big rooms while filling in and accenting my subjects with the less powerful LED lights. It worked very well and we breezed through two days of shooting "What you light is what you see." stuff. Adjustments to the lights, made by an assistant in real time while I observe on a hand held monitor, was a great way to work, giving large amounts of control.

But, if one big light is good then two big lights is better. When I bought the first light it cost $349. This weekend I decided I might really want that second light so I headed back over to check on pricing and availability. They were on sale for $279. Having had nothing but great experiences with the first one I was happy to click "yes" to a second one. Especially at 25% off. 

The SL150W/ii is not a powerful enough light to offset the sun outside but it's a good balance of size, weight, price and power for indoor photography shoots, and just about any sort of video production. With two of them bouncing off high, white ceilings I feel like I've got more options to play with in large spaces. If I push them both through a couple layers of white diffusion, stretched across a six foot by six foot panel frame, then I've got some really beautiful lighting. 

While I wait for the second light to arrive I wanted to photograph my first SL150wii for this post and it was already set up on a C-stand with a white umbrella in front of it. I pulled a 4x4 foot piece of foamcore and held it at the back of the product and just out of frame and took a few shots with a tripod mounted Sigma fp. In effect, the light actually did light itself. All of the light on the product camera from the product. Pretty cool. Very easy. 

I'm not suggesting you rush out and buy an SL150Wii. I just wanted to share why I like the light and why I wanted a second one. Forward, into a mostly flash-less future.

New murals spring up on Lamar Blvd. Just north of the lake. Really wonderful stuff.

Artists taking a break from an amazing job of painting huge paintings.

The city of Austin funds "Art in Public Places." A certain percentage of the fees and taxes paid by big developers is used to enhance the city in many, many ways. The new (not too new now) international gates at Austin's airport got some awesome and enormous murals five or six years ago and fun stuff keeps cropping up everywhere I look. While some projects have been in the works for a while I hope they keep the program going during the pandemic so young and upcoming artists get some $$$ support to show and grow their art. 

It's also much more visually exciting to see huge murals instead of old concrete walls next to our well travelled roads. More like this, please. 

From today's walk through downtown with the big honking camera and a big zooming lens. 

Nice to have some cooler weather to walk through. Trying to be careful what I ask for though, the temperature is supposed to drop into the twenties (f) tomorrow night which means we're in for a chilly jaunt from the locker room to the (outdoor) pool on Tuesday morning. And again on Wednesday.

Happens every year. We get used to it. The coldest day I remember swimming was one January day when the temperature was down near 20° and we had a brisk north wind. The pool deck was too icy to walk on so the coaches sanded a path from the side of the pool closest to the locker rooms and we all entered and exited the pool at that one narrow point. 

It was a bit unnerving to see big icicles hanging from the starting blocks. But the pool is always heated to 80° so our biggest issue during the workout was the thick cloud of steam hanging over the top of the water.

Ah, good times.


A "landscape" photograph of downtown Austin today. Chilly but beautiful. Tech note at the bottom of this post for Panasonic S1x users!!!

 I'm going to have to walk more over the next two weeks otherwise I'm going to get fat. I just re-read the instructions from my surgeon. Surely his handout/pre-op written materials are aimed at worst case scenarios but it threw me for a loop when I read "no strenuous exercise for two weeks." That's criminal. We'll negotiate, but I have a feeling walking will be the recommended recourse. We'll beg for swimming dispensation after the first few days. They do make waterproof bandages you know.

Since I have to be out walking anyway I thought I should work on my landscape photography skills. I took that old, rusty Lumix S1R out today, along with the dusty and dented 24-105 lens. I do appreciate it when the weather cooperates. That's the actual sky; not a retouch. 

Austin can be beautiful in the Fall. I was going to break all the rules and get on a plane to go watch the Aspens turn but someone told me that already happened this year and look! Our trees are turning color too!

I'll probably be grumpy and in pain, and addled by my experience at the clinic on Wednesday so don't expect a flurry of early December posts --- BUT that doesn't mean I'm pulling the plug and wandering off into the desert. By Thursday I should be so bored and restless I'll be banging on the keyboard for hours. 

Tech Note. People with S1 and S1R cameras are reporting issues with the new camera firmware (1.6). Some weird pulsing and stuff during AF; especially under fluorescent and other non-continuous lighting. The current "fix/workaround" is to set the EVF screen refresh to 60 Hz instead of the typical 120 Hz refresh and that seems to help temporarily resolve nearly everybody's issue. 

I'm sure Panasonic is getting an earful this week and that they'll have a fix rushed out in no time. But I think the update really did make the C-AF faster in video. Too bad it messed up something else. Unless you really need the new video features you might want to wait on that firmware upgrade until we all have more info.


And today we get our first taste of winter. What have I been playing with lately? Can a camera be too eccentric? Sure.

It wasn't raining when I went to swim practice today. The temperature hovered around 60° and if there was a breeze I didn't feel it. I swam in a lane with Sheila and Ed and we did our best to socially distance and still keep a uniform pace and workout strategy. I liked two things about today's workout: the ominous skies overhead and the "swim ladder" that we did in the middle of the workout. You basically start with a 200 yard swim, then a 150 then a 100, then a 50 and you work your way back up the "ladder" to the 200. Do the set two or three times in a row and it really helps you with your pacing. You want to get faster on the 50s but you want to keep a pace you can handle on the 200s. 

By the time I got home a gentle rain started coming down and the temperature started to nudge down too. The rain has gotten stronger over the course of the day and the temp is slowly heading toward the 40's. 

After reading so many blog posts about veganism at my favorite photography blog, and after running in to Austin's most famous vegan-tarian at the pool this morning, I had a strong urge to un-comform and go counter to the cult trends today. To that end I got out a big, heavy cast iron frying pan and set it on the stove top. I foraged in the fridge for that package of hormone free, dry rubbed, thick-sliced bacon I bought this past week at Whole Foods (of course they have bacon --- how else can you cure people of vegetarianism?) and put six big slices into the pan. 

I turned them over and over again to get the bacon strips crispy but still chewy. While I was engineering the perfect rasher of bacon I brewed up 16 ounces of Columbian Supremo coffee and stuck some fresh, sourdough bread in the toaster. I splurged with the coffee and tossed in some half-and-half that someone stocked in for the holidays. Then I pulled two brown-shelled eggs out of the fridge and fried them over easy. 

I do respect some limits; all six slices of bacon were not for me. I knew Belinda would enjoy one slice before detouring back to healthier fare and I knew Ben would eat two slices, if he decided to wake up. 

The eggs wound up on top of the perfectly browned toast and made for a delightful post-swim breakfast. 
While this is not a routine breakfast for me it was a nice change from the bowl of fresh berries, mixed with muesli and low fat Greek yogurt. Yesterday I subbed the blackberries and blueberries for cranberries. It was festive. But also not an every day thing. Ben appreciated the rare treat of bacon ready made for him.

Cameras. Can a camera be too eccentric? I guess it depends on how you use cameras and what kinds of options you have in choosing cameras on a day-by-day or job-by-job basis. I will say that if one started photography in the midst of the digital camera age then the Sigma fp might be right out there on the edge of happy usability. On the other hand, if you started your imaging journey learning on 8 x10 inch view cameras that were fitted with 5 x7 inch reducing backs then I'd say a modern camera would have to be pretty far out on the weirdness spectrum to be too eccentric. And I guess that's the relationship I have with the mysterious fp. And part of the affection I had for Pentax's K-01.

I can't quite ever get the fp configured exactly right but I think I'm closing in on it for one variety of my still photography. Video with the camera I've got figured out. It all came together for me in that medium when I paired it with an external monitor. But I'm certainly not entertaining making it a practice of walking around with an external monitor clamped to the top of the camera when taking photographs. 

Every once in a while I get frustrated with the little camera. There are times when I feel like I just have to have an eyelevel viewfinder and so I bolt the big loupe to the back. But then the camera becomes so ungainly that it takes all the fun out of walking around with it. At that point I go back to the office and rummage through the Lumix inventory for something more convenient and fun to carry. When the friction of use settles in and aggravates me like a blister on your heel when you are breaking in new hiking boots, I think about selling it to some unsuspecting but well-heeled photographer who might have a masochistic bent. 

But then I take an image that is so uniquely fp and so profoundly beautiful (to me) that I fall in love with the small machine all over again. In the first week of this month I was asked to make a few portraits for two friends who own an ad agency. We've know each other for quite a while and they are given to saying things like: "We love the way you shoot. Make the portraits any way you like them. I'm sure we'll love them."

Given full license to play I pulled out the Sigma fp and put the 90mm f2.8 Leica R Elmarit lens on the front. I also changed the aspect ratio to 1:1 and set the file selector to 14 bit DNG+Jpeg. A couple days before the scheduled sessions I put the camera through every color profile set-up available, and tried dozens and dozens of tweaks. But I knew I'd end up using the Jpegs only as guides while leaning on the DNG files and a good dose of Photoshop to get me where I wanted to go. 

As a side note, have any of you played with the LUTs that are now available under the "Image > Adjustments > Color Lookup" setting? I presume that these cinema-oriented LUTs are there for those times when foolhardy people try to edit their entire video project in PhotoShop instead of retreating to Final Cut Pro X or Premiere. But the LUTs work just fine as wonderfully weird visual adventure starting points with photographs as well. I've been trying out all of the LUTs and then using the "fade" control under the "edit" menu in PS to change the strengths of their visual effects. 

On that particular portrait project I stuck with the Sigma fp all the way through. I think I got images that I might not have been able to get if I had used a different camera. Those recipes for color, contrast, noise and what not are really quite different from camera to camera and from brand to brand. 

I love some of the stuff I've been able to get with that little gray brick. And I really enjoy using all the crazy lenses I've bought, and also adapted for use on the L system cameras. But something about the fp is just addictive. I guess it's like all those people who are reviving single speed bicycles. Or shooting film in nasty old hand cranked cameras. Maybe the friction of the camera's operational quirks, and the lack of features some photographers feel like they can't live without, drives those of us using fp's to work harder at trying to make them work. But the thrill of victory is always sweeter when the pathway to glory is tougher. The Passion is in the Risk.

Anyway, I recently started musing about using the fp more and more in the manner I used to work with my old, square format film cameras. I never worried about how cumbersome they were to drag around and I never hesitated to screw them onto tripods, and take my time making portraits with them. Today I spent time putting together the fp for its debut as a mini-Hasselblad. The taking lens for my latest foray is something like the 110 f2.0 Planar lens I had for the 205TCC version of the camera. I originally got that lens in a deal with a 2003f camera. It was a charming, fast "long normal" focal length for the two and a quarter format. The 50mm f1.4 S-Pro lens from Panasonic for the L system is much like that old Planar when it comes to analogous focal length and aperture, and I like manually focusing it (although it's more fun to focus when it's on the S1R with the lens menu set to provide a long, long manual focus throw). 

After I got the camera set up and dialed in for studio work I cajoled my captive housemates to take turns sitting for a bare minimum amount of time so I could see how the whole melange works. It works well. Very well. I guess I'm stumbling down a new/retro pathway back to how I shot with some film cameras. But we'll see. 

Like any craftsperson with an outsized appreciation for his tools I felt compelled to photograph the bizarre combination of camera and lens. And I swear the lens weighs three times what the body does. 

I have been playing with a new app on my iPhone XR called FirstLight and I wanted to see just what I could do with that. See if I could coax something sparkly out of the fp+S-Pro combo. I set the phone app to shoot in Tiff format. I could have used .DNG but you don't get access to the "look" filters if you do that. I shot images of the beautiful couple and I present them here. I am amazed at the amount of detail and the wonderful tonal gradation the phone is capable of when its native camera app is overridden by a dedicated, full control app. Anyway, pix below. Sit in front of your 27 inch, 5K Retina monitor and click on them. The pix get big. See if you get what I mean. 


PS LUT applied.



My newly unleashed super-cam finally became a high performance competitor after I, painstakingly pulled $7.95 out of my plastic squeeze purse...

New art on the underpass walls where Lamar Blvd. runs under 2nd St.
This is the west wall.

do you know someone who spends money like a drunken sailor on hardware but is as cheap as Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to buying inexpensive software and apps? I do. The guy I'm thinking of makes impulse buying seem like long planned strategic acquisitions. He can go from, "How much is that plastic nifty-fifty?" to "Oh hell! just give me the one that says 'Leica' on the front." In seconds.  I've literally experienced him going out for a quart of milk and coming back home, hours later, driving a new car. But ask him to drop five or ten bucks on an app for his phone and he clams up and goes comatose. It's astonishing to watch. It's like spending pocket change on productive apps causes him physical pain (ellipses desired but resisted).

Sadly, I'm basically describing myself. I can rationalize a $2300 50mm lens but I actually agonized for days last Summer about whether or not to spend $7.95 to acquire what all my cinema-intensive friends assured me was the best software package to give me complete and easy-to-use manual control of all the video settings on my iPhone XR. Once I decided to make the purchase, and spent a few hours getting up to speed, I couldn't see how I had managed to live so long without it. That app is called, Filmic Pro. It turns any recent iPhone into an even better video camera than it was to begin with. I use it all the time. 

In fact, I found myself wishing, a few days ago, that I could get as good an app to do still photographs with my iPhone. Silly me. I should have known that Filmic would have that covered with an app called, Firstlight. 

Before I continue, a disclaimer: I don't have any links or advertising of any kind on the on the current blog. There may still be some dead Amazon Affiliate links from 2019 or early on some of the blog posts that are still up and readable but those links don't work and I an not an affiliate agent for any company. Nor do I get stuff for free. I learned my lesson on that back in the Samsung camera days. It's hard maintain a posture of strict neutrality when readers see you getting free stuff and then read your posts talking about how great the free stuff is. I just am not interested in that whole program right now. Go scream "paid shill!!!" somewhere else. End Disclaimer.

So, I think iPhones are really great everyday cameras for a lot of people but my biggest aversion to joining the cult was not being able to wrest complete control away from the phone's native app and bending it to my will. Of course, my friends at Apple would laugh and tell me I was just feeling threatened because the phone's apps know how to make great photos better than I do. (ellipses sorely desired).

Filmic's Firstlight (for stills) gives me a ton of control. I can change focus deliberately and in conjunction with a focus peaking feature that works great. So, highly controllable manual focusing. I can change shutter speed and ISO as well as WB. I can lock focus and lock exposure. And I can shoot in four different still photo file formats: DNG (raw), Tiff, Jpeg and Heic. There are filters for artsy interpretations as well as several different, and highly usable B&W settings. It's actually both amazing and makes the phone much more useful. Click on any image to see it bigger.

I loaded the software on my phone, took a quick, online tutorial, and went out in the rain to see what I could do with the new combo. The app and camera/phone worked perfectly together. The only things that hampered my shooting were my glasses continually fogging up and the lack of exciting, half-naked super models roaming the streets, demanding auditions and test shoots with graying art photographers. 

My watch tells me that I spent an hour and a half walking around on the downtown streets and that I walked a little over three and a half miles today. That was to be expected since our pool is closed today, as it was yesterday, out of some misguided concerns about the holiday. Surely the coaches could have abandoned their families and friends just for a couple of hours each day so we could get some swims in. (ellipses so strongly desired it's become painful--- must fight the urge). 

Austin style toy store on Second St.

This is the last photo I can take of my ancient and long serving, favorite umbrella. 
It's recent tenure in the back of my little SUV caused structural damage that 
I can't repair. I bought if from Starbucks nearly 20 years ago. 
It's been a noble and wonderful umbrella. 

It's black on the outside but on the inside the lining has a nice, iconic 
coffee cup drawing and the repeated saying: 
"Into every life a little coffee must fall." 

It's still partially functional so I left it on the pedestrian bridge in case 
someone needs it. Perhaps someone more practical than I can 
fix the bent strut. 

A screen shot magically appeared. I have no idea how it got there.

I'm now changing my tune and will embrace new apps when they very first seem useful to me. I just downloaded the same company's "remote" software. It allows any iOS device to monitor and control another iOS device. I'm going to use it to trigger the video on my B (iPhone) camera next time I shoot some video. I have a collection of old phones that might just work.

It was a whopping $2.95. Gonna break me if I don't watch out. (damn ellipses ban).