It's a cliché by now but I'm making a list of all the stuff I want for Christmas. Surprisingly, the list is fairly short. Perhaps I'm not being strategic enough.

 It should come as no surprise to anyone here but I do like my cameras and lenses. When December rolls around, and the consensus is that I've been better not worse, I like to think about acquiring just a few more things to tuck in around the corners of what I already have. 

The first thought is always that it would be an exciting holiday if I just did a full system change. That would keep me busy for a while but it's definitely not going to happen this year. I keep playing with the new "toys" my more advantaged photography peers buy and parade in front of me and, to be frank, with the exception of a Leica SL2 there's not much out in the market that piques my interest. The SL2 itself is only interesting to me because of what I think is a very beautiful implementation of industrial design coupled with a minimalist operating menu. That's the long and short of it. Because underneath I believe that the SL2 is really a re-bodied Panasonic S1R. Sure, the colors and tones are tweaked with Germanic special sauce but after playing with raw files from an SL2 I'm pretty sure, if I spend hard time in PhotoShop, I can make some profiles that will get the differences in looks between the two cameras pretty close.

Then there are the stand alone cameras, like the Sigma fp and the Fuji X-100 V. The X-100 V is tempting. And after reading through a torrent of comments in response to Michael Johnston's article about the monochrome Leicas I went so far as to reserve the last new Fuji X-100 V (in black) at Precision Camera. I thought it might be interesting to work with the monochrome profiles represented in that camera's menu. I stopped myself when I remembered my low level distaste for the 35mm equivalent focal length. I quickly texted my guy and cancelled the hold on that one. Much to his relief as he had someone standing right in front of him ready to buy it. The Fuji camera was the group collated choice for "poor man's Leica Monochrome" in the comments at MJ's blog.

Paul (photographer and friend) texted me this morning to tell me that Precision Camera had just taken in trade a minty Leica S2 (007) and what is reported to be a fantastic Leica S zoom lens; the 30-90mm. I could have the pair for the paltry sum of only $12,000. I knew better than to consider dropping $12K on a camera and lens from a company that is legendary for taking its time to repair their ailing medium format cameras and I also realized that without access to a functional warranty that camera might just break me financially. And, of course, I'd want to supplement that zoom lens with some faster and longer optics; all at breathtakingly high prices. Pass. 

But that put me in the mindset of getting something medium format-ish. Being cheap and frugal I started researching the Fuji MF line and nearly settled on the 50R and a 110mm f2.0 lens to go with it. About half the price of the Leica stuff and with a much more Kirk like lens. I thought about this combination while I took a brief nap on the couch in the living room. And, by the way, the light coming through the doors in the dining room and reflecting off the Saltillo tile floor onto the high ceiling in the living room was just gorgeous today.

When I regained consciousness, surprisingly, the Fuji medium format lust had passed. Too many systems and too many rabbit holes to burrow down. While those pixie format MF cameras might seem "medium format" to most digital camera users I would always know that it could never compare to a "real" 2.25 inch by 2.25 inch negative or sensor. Just not the same thing. Plus, I'd done a few comparisons with files from the 50R and the S1R I own and found very, very little advantage to make grasping for mild sensor size upgrades even a thing.

I looked around the studio and thought about lighting. Hard to argue that one can ever have too much lighting gear. Hard but not impossible. That's why I've given away five or six big flashes and four or five smaller flashes this year. I also keep throwing out tattered light modifiers and crippled light stands. No, I'll have to look elsewhere for a satisfying addition to the pile this season. It's not going to be in the lighting field. Not unless someone invents something so exciting and new that we all have to have one.

And believe me, it won't be a flash.

In short I've looked and thought about the rich assortment of stuff in the market place and I've come up with only two things that I really think I want this year. Happily neither is pricy or prestigious. In fact, they are both kind of anti-prestigious in the current age of photography. 

Both are lenses. Both are from Sigma. And both are infinitely interesting to me. In this moment.

I've already mentioned the Sigma Contemporary 65mm f2.0 lens. I like the focal length very much and would love a lens that's engineered more to be good than to be fast. I don't mind carrying the fat Lumix S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 around with me for work, or hoisting the ample 70-200mm around just to get close to that focal length but for my own jovial and relaxed personal work I think it would be really nice to have a lens that's slightly portrait-ish, smaller and lighter, while also highly corrected and ready to replace any number of 50 and 55mm lenses. So, that's my first choice and it's already on order. I hope I get one from the first delivered batch.

I know most of you would rush to get the matching 35mm f2.0 Sigma lens but I can hold off on that. It's so close to the 45mm and in a contest for my admiration the 45mm would always win. No, the other lens I want from the newly announced Sigma i line would be that delightful 24mm f3.5. It seems just right. No heroic measures taken to make it super fast! I'm happily surprised to see a wide lens like this enter the market with such a slow aperture became I interpret that to mean that Sigma compromised on f-stop and not on image quality. It's reasonably small and three or four copies of this would tilt the scales about as much as the one copy of my Sigma Art series 20mm lens (which I always find to be just a touch too wide for me...).

There are two configurations I imagine for the new batch of lenses. For work, where appropriate, I could arrive with an S1R body along with the 24mm, the 45mm, and the 85mm f1.4 (a recent purchase) and be ready for the kind of projects I really enjoy. The second configuration would be my "artistic" travel system which would include a solitary Sigma fp camera, the 24mm f3.5 and the 65mm f2.0. Those and a little plastic bag filled with additional camera batteries. 

All small enough to fit in a very small shoulder bag and all competent enough to make me look like a better photographer than I may be. 

I thought about buying a sports car instead and I drove two of the ones that interested me from Subaru. One was the WRX and the other a BRZ. But as I was test driving each in turn I kept imagining how frustrating it would be to actually own an exciting performance car in a city with one of the worst cases of traffic congestion in the country. A heavy clutch and a responsive six speed manual transmission might be a joy on winding country roads but in stop and go traffic, with the required cup of coffee in one hand, it's a recipe for nightmarish scenarios and disappointment. And, sadly, as a very practical person every time I exited the sports car/driving experience and re-entered my pedestrian Subaru Forester I found my comfort and joy level rise. I think I found the appropriately sorted vehicle for me already.

Truth be told I feel unsettled buying anything for myself this year. We've been fortunate in this economic down period and pandemic but I watch the (real) news and see so many suffering and I can only imagine how desperate things will get for people when the rent moratorium ends and the last of the money runs out. 

Something tells me it would be karmically a bit wiser to save some dry powder and be ready to help out. At least locally. There are bound to be people I know in the arts who will need a helping hand. Not sure how I'll feel trotting out new gear knowing a friend or acquaintance is grappling with profound need. 

Maybe I'll just get that set of replacement inks for the printer and call it a day. Hmmm. Somehow that seems better than yet another lens. 

I know almost all of you would love to donate to me this year. That's why I've established here on the blog a Patreon account, created numerous affiliate links to online retailers, started to accept PayPal and Venmo donations and am begging for you to send me hard cash so I can pay for and write about more photography gear. 

Oh....wait....none of that is true. I don't need any donations. But if you feel overwhelmed by your own good luck and wonderful personal situation perhaps I could suggest a donation to your local food bank instead. The people who benefit will likely never know you did it but I don't think that's really the point. 

Me, I'll suffer along with the meager gear I've managed to accrue so far. Hope you have a happy holiday season and I hope you take a moment in these rough times to make the holidays a little happier for someone less well off. 

End of soapbox.

Sorry, that's it for the "must have holiday gear listings."

Interesting results with black and white files from the Sigma fp; along with some dynamic range enhancement by the Sigma's "fill light" setting in the shooting menu.

We're heading into the holidays. Is it any wonder people's thoughts are rushing to black and white photography? 

A bowl in the sink. A weird little camera.

The Sigma fp is a weird, little camera. Like a chameleon it sometimes presents itself to me as a formidable video camera, festooned with all the regalia of motion picture production. Sometimes it wears a "cage" and has an SSD and an external monitor mounted on it. At times it also sports a shotgun microphone to capture scratch audio. When in its guise as a production video camera it also hauls around an LCD finder that's as big as the camera.

But there are those days, especially after I've had a hard and introspective look at old work resting patiently in the form of flat, black and white prints, I feel compelled to strip the little bugger down to its very minimal essentials and take it out for a regular guy shoot. 

My first foray with "naked fp" was on Sunday evening when I dropped by Zach Theatre to see how the outside concert series was coming along. The cast of five, on a very narrow stage (front to back = 10 feet),  was doing a dress rehearsal and I wanted to see how they would handle the new stage, holiday program and new space. I also thought it would a good, low stress, low expectation moment in which to try out the Sigma fp on a newly acquired, Zhiyun Weebill S gimbal. Maybe it would give me a chance to check out a little moving video footage.

The Sigma fp with the 45mm f2.8 lens is the lightest combination I've tried on a full sized gimbal yet. It's far smaller and lighter than the GH5 or G9 which are my "go to" cameras for gimbal work. And the fp has a secret weapon for night time gimbal work; it's outrageously noise free at most ISOs. Certainly noiseless when shooting video at 3200 or even 6400 ISO.

While it was obvious from my experiences that evening that I need more practice with the new gimbal it was also obvious that the Sigma, by dint of its compact form and lower weight, gave the gimbal (and my left arm) a running start. All imperfections of production were on me. The lighter weight of the camera package made that gimbal sing. I was just a less perfect accomplice. 

When I filmed that evening I worked in a different way than I had with video in the past. I set the camera to ISO 4000, used the 180° shutter angle (1/60 @ 30 fps), set the camera to the All-I, 4K mode and then resisted the usual compulsion to shoot with the lens near wide open and instead tried shooting at f11. WTF?

Why? Well, the Sigma fp might as well not have included C-AF on its menu because in low light, on a moving gimbal, with moving subjects, the C-AF is worse than worthless. It's counterproductive. I figured my best shot at video greatness, in the moment, was to work with the idea of hyperfocal lengths. With the focus set around 15 feet and the aperture at f11 I calculated that I probably had enough depth of field to render subjects between 10 and 25 felt with acceptable-to-great sharpness. And, damned if it didn't work perfectly. The combination of hyperfocal distance focusing and Promethean ISO performance was awesome. All I needed to worry about from that point on was piloting the still alien in my hands gimbal.

When I looked at the footage the next morning I was amused to see that it was at least as good (and maybe better) at 8 bit, 4:2:0 than some footage I've recently shot in other cameras at 10 bit, 4:2:2. Which, considering its competitors, speaks highly about the sensor and color science in the fp.

And all that pre-loaded thinking pushed me to want to further explore this camera again as a photography tool. 

I took the little brick beast out for a walk yesterday, all through the city. The only accessory being a neck strap. No rear loupe, no cage, no stuff. Rather than my usual f2.8-f4.0 fixation I played around with f8 and f11 as my preferred apertures and felt freed from the constraints of having to produce images with limited depth of field. And in the process discovered that the lens, at f8 and f11 was magnificent; though probably no better than many, many other lenses when stopped down so far.

The sun was bright so the rear panel was difficult to see in certain situations. In any use where the screen was not in direct sun it was fine but it did remind me how habituated I have become to eye level finders. Maybe the phones will somewhat cure me of that over time.

One control on the camera that I played with a lot was "fill light." It's got five steps up and five steps down of adjustment rationed in thirds of a step. When you set it the camera takes two exposures and processes them together to give you a fixed amount of increased or decreased "fill" light. Since there is processing involved it's a feature only available in single frame shooting; no bursts. And it takes a few seconds to finish processing before you can see the result. But it really does work. This tames wildly dynamic scenes as surely as the shadow slider in Lightroom. 

I included the scooter shots above so you could see the results of a 1.66 x increase in fill light when shooting against the sun. It almost looks as though I shot with fill flash but it is just the "fill light" control. I'll be experimenting with that a lot.

An interesting point, at least about my reaction to shooting with the camera, is that I don't feel compelled to shoot multiple frames of the same subject with it. I seem to take a bit more time in composing but once I really look at my proposed composition and exposure on the finder I feel comfortable taking one frame and moving on. 

The camera has some faults. The C-AF is slow and ponderous. The rear screen is overwhelmed by direct sunlight (but what isn't?). The battery lasts about as long as warm mayonnaise at a picnic in the Texas Summer. And I wish the non-raw video files could offer more bit depth and more color information. But it's a camera that is sincere and honest. It's a wonderful way to drive out the demons of over-featurization and get back to fundamentals of still shooting. With L-mount lenses it's a breeze to shoot in manual since one touch of the focusing ring brings up a central window with a magnified view of the frame. 

What I like most about the Sigma fp is the feeling of solidity and quality. The camera feels indestructible and  darn near bulletproof. It's a disaster of a camera for people that need to operate quickly. It's an unexpected pleasure for people who work, as I do, slowly and methodically. It's a bad "sneaky" street camera. But it's got loads of nice, non-threatening character for those of us who are comfortable approaching and engaging with our subjects. 

Blogger note: I go in tomorrow at 11:00 am to have the sutures (stitches?) removed from my left cheek. I have followed every step of the surgeon's orders. I've not exercised (almost killed me with pent up energy and ensuing boredom). I've cleaned, treated and bandaged the site on the proscribed schedules. I've done a course of oral antibiotics. I've even customized my own bandages for this ordeal.

The incision was about one and 1/8th inch long, running vertically. It's hard to tell with the stitches still there but I think the skin is recovering nicely and there's no redness or discomfort. 

In fact, the lack of pain or bleeding/gore has been a high point in this little medical adventure. I anticipated becoming good friends with Mr. Extra Strength Tylenol (much to the anticipated chagrin of my liver....) but the lack of pain made it superfluous. 

I've already put a Saturday and Sunday swim back on the schedule, predicated on the anticipated approval of my "medical team." I hope this comes to fruition. 

One more note about cameras in general: There seems to be much discussion about needing a dedicated monochrome camera on MJ's site: TheOnlinePhotographer. I'm always curious about stuff like this and I get Michael's point that it's nicer on the brain if the camera works in a way that's in thrall to our desired outcome. I, for one, can't stand having to pre-determine cropping when working with a camera that doesn't feature the ability to change aspect ratios. 

While I'd like to have a monochrome camera I'm not sure how the maker would handle so many different understandings of what the curves and feel of a black and white file should look like. How is my soft, Ektalure G rendering of Belinda going to be interpreted versus the chalk and soot of a Ralph Gibson vision? And will the makers provide the tools to affect a specific vision of what monochrome is to me?

Interesting questions. I'm certainly not the least bit interested in dropping kilo dollars on a Leica Monochrome of any variety. But I might be interested in the black and white profiles in a Fuji camera or I might just need to fine tune my understanding of the Sigma fp's mono setting.

What is the general consensus of black and white fans here? Drop me a comment if you have time between napping and secret missions.


I dropped by Zach Theatre last evening to take a look at a rehearsal for their outdoor Christmas Concert. I ran into my friend, Austin Brown.

 Austin Brown is one of the stage lighting designers at Zach and he's been given the unenviable task of designing a lighting scheme for the outdoor concert series this winter. The budget is tiny and one consideration is that the lighting instruments and cabling have to be brought in if rain hits and also during the days no shows are scheduled. It's either that or round-the-clock security on the plaza. Cheaper, I think to reduce the complexity of the light inventory. 

I've been using Austin as an assistant on shoots lately. He's incredibly good at it since running cables and working with lights is his real, 40 hours+ a week job, when the theater is not closed down for a public health emergency.

When I ran into him yesterday he was making sure the lighting was set but he was also playing around with an iPhone 12 Pro Max on a cool, little gimbal, shooting a bunch of video and giving the stabilizer a good workout. He noticed I had a camera with me (when do I not?) and asked me to make a quick portrait of him up on stage. 

I went totally counter-intuitive with this one. I got so much feedback from readers and fellow, local photographers chagrined about my disdain for the 35mm focal length that I thought I'd give the messy little focal length another try. This shot was done with the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens for the L-mount cameras. I had it attached to an S1R and I was shooting at some zany f-stop, like f2.2.

I could see the flare when I took the photograph and I really liked the effect. Pretty amazed though at how well the lens does delivering contrast into the main subject, even with a couple of 2K spots shining directly into the front element. 

I also shot a little bit of video on my new gimbal --- since I was there and we had actors on the stage. More about the video in a bit...


I don't show as many portraits of men. I'll try harder. This is from the very early years. Back when I was in my "Richard Avedon-white background" phase.

 Back in 1978, when I was just getting started in photography, I lived and did portraits in an ancient building on East Seventh St. in Austin, Texas that used to be "The California Hotel." It was a flop house back in the 1960s and was shut down sometime near the end of that decade after there was a double homicide on the second floor. Peter, who was a museum curator, and Lou, who was an impresario/entrepreneur/eccentric, found the shuttered building and got a long lease. With a lot of work they made it into a downtown live/work commune for artists and musicians. 

Some tenants had real jobs. My neighbor across the hall was an art director for Texas Monthly Magazine. Peter was a curator at a wonderful art museum. Mr. Sexton was a musician. Those people rented their spaces as studio; they had houses or apartments to go home to.  I made photographs during the day and worked at a short order/fry cook in the late night hours and on weekends. The hotel was my base camp.

My space had amazingly high ceilings but it was just one big room. The two things it lacked were a telephone and air conditioning or heating. But man, it was cheap. We had a shared phone down the hall.  We had a commercial kitchen downstairs, and also a huge gallery space. I had my first show of sixty 16x20 inch black and white prints there. All portraits. That show effectively launched my journey as a picture maker/taker. 

We were all mostly artists/hippies back then. I rode a moped to work. It had a sturdy milk crate bungee'd to the back rack and I used to haul my camera gear around on it. We all wore sandals. We bathed in an outdoor shower in the courtyard. It felt like we were living in a movie and it was one of those fun, "Coming of Age" light-hearted comedies; for the most part. 

Any way, back then I would ask anyone I thought was at least somewhat interesting to come by and have their portrait made. They'd let me shoot exactly the way I wanted to and in exchange I'd make them a nice, fiber based print.

While trying to get my fledgling career off the ground I was working as a cook, in odd shifts, at a mid-city diner called, Kerbey Lane Café. If you guessed that the owners named it that because it was on Kerbey Lane you'd be right. It was one of Austin's first all night, comfort food + beer and wine, restaurants in what was then a sleepy, little college town. Gingerbread pancakes or migas anyone?

The guy with the cat, above, was Craig. He was one of the owners of Kerbey Lane Café and a really great guy. He'd hop into the kitchen and help us cook during rushes. He taught me how to flip over easy eggs in a pan without the use of a spatula. I asked him to come by the studio for a portrait and he brought his cat. 

I was pretty much broke at the time but I'd managed to buy my first "real" camera. It was an ancient, highly used, Mamiya C220; a twin lens camera with interchangeable lenses. I had two lenses for the camera. One was a 135mm which I used all the time for portraits. The other was the stock 80mm which I used for group shots. My "arsenal" of lights back then consisted of a Vivitar 283 which was a powerful but barebones shoe mount, electronic flash. If I could afford double "A" batteries then we had light. When the batteries died the shoot was over. No lithiums or NiMh rechargeable batteries back then. We did have NiCads but they were so much crap. 

What I did have access to though was the Ark Cooperative Darkroom. That's where I made most of my prints. I got pretty good at souping film in D76 as well. I always hated the drudgery of making contact sheets.

It was very much a hand-to-mouth existence back then but I wouldn't have traded it for the world. And we thought it was grand. Yuppies had not been invented yet and eccentricities were seen as a major plus. How else would I have gotten my start?

I guess it was an Austin thing...

Vegetable seller in Venice. Empty streets. Cloudy skies.

 My iPhone XR is an unusual copy stand camera. One side or the other of the image I'm shooting is always "toned" or darker in the corners. It's because I'm lazy about stuff like this and not willing to do much more than lay a print down and shoot with the light coming through my windows. 

I see images on the blog as illustrations of something also written down, like notes, not as "Art" in a standalone gallery. 

This image was taken 30 or so years ago and what I wanted to draw attention to is the wonderful texturing of the vegetables. The image started life as a black and white snapshot, on Tri-X, in an old Leica CL with the little 40mm Summicron on it. I printed it on a matte surface paper (probably Kodak's Ektalure G) in my studio's darkroom; back when I had the studio on San Marcos St. in east Austin. 

I liked photography life better when shots could be taken that were casual and informative but didn't suffer under the expectations of perfection. Just notes between friends, not a hoary manifesto used to beat each other over the head. Sometimes I didn't even care if a photo was totally in focus as long as the content evoked memories for me that I enjoyed. 

I know it's strange now to contemplate Venice, Italy (sans Covid) without pressing crowds, noise, litter and high prices but back when I first visited the city it was so inexpensive that we opted to stay for ten days and roam around. We were traveling in late October and the weather was cool, the skies gray. Our president at the time had just bombed Libya which scared USA tourists from traveling outside the borders at all. Which, of course, meant for us lower hotel rates, easier access to good restaurants and streets no more crowded than the ones at home. 

What a wonderful time to travel.

No Cheat Street Photography. Tell me again why it's crucial to have dual pixel, phase detection, auto focus in order to get close candid images of people...

I get that PD-AF means a surer chance at getting stuff in focus. Just as evaluative metering and a plethora of automatic exposure modes ensures (maybe) better exposed images. But I find people tend to use their lack of access to the absolutely latest tools as a dodge to explain away their fumbled photographic results. 

I thought about this today as I opened up a few boxes of prints done years ago and rifled through them. All of the images here were taken with a medium format camera. The cameras I used (mostly a Hasselblad 500 C/M) were absolutely manual in every regard. Lenses were focused by turning a big ring. By hand!

Exposures were set by adjusting both the shutter speeds and apertures individually. And by hand. And the logic behind getting the right exposure setting came either from experience or referencing a handheld meter. Which was/is also totally manual. But somehow I was able to walk into strangers' worlds and make photographs that I found interesting. And most of them printed up well. 

I conjecture that we've made photography so easy that we don't take it very seriously even when we say we do. The manual methods required a modicum of thought, planning and an allocation of resources; you could only comfortably bring along a limited amount of film. No pray and spray with a 12 exposure roll....

I guess we'll relegate all this to the idea that it was another time and everything has changed. But after looking through a fat box with hundreds of prints I feel compelled to set my cameras to manual exposure, turn off the AF and take a bit more time before maniacally pushing the shutter button over and over again. 

Who knows, I might actually get good enough to compete with myself from 25 years ago... (ellipses mandated by subject matter!). 


Remembering early inkjet printers. Another trip in the time machine.

Ben was a well documented kid. We have lots and lots of images to choose from. Literally yards and yards of albums and file drawers full of negatives. Opening up a flat file is like opening up a treasure chest. 

When inkjet printers first hit the market in full force we were still doing a lot of printing. And by "we" I mean the collective we. I think photographers huddled together and spoke about printer technology in the mid-1990s far more often and intensely than they did about cameras or lenses. 

Like many photo nerds I had several printers including one Epson 1280 that I had converted to using only gray and black inks. For every print I got that I liked I got five or ten that were horribly flawed. When I moved to the Epson 4000 the prints looked better but clogging arrived with a vengeance. 

I don't print much anymore because there's really no place to show and nobody asking for them. I keep a big printer near the desk and bang off the random print for myself but really, the printer mostly gets used for very mundane things like printing out invoices. But even there it's a rare event as nearly every client is happier to get PDFs. 

I loved the photo of Ben above and made prints on various paper stocks. The one I like best came from a dye sub printer. Probably a Fuji. I found a copy today and put it on my "new" copy stand/communications device and fired off a frame. 

Funny to stumble across images from 20+ years ago and to remember how simple things were back then: family, work, love, sleep and food. Nothing else to really worry about. How charming!


Portrait of a painter. Circa 1979. In the painting studios at the Fine Arts College. University of Texas at Austin.

I came across a box of prints today and it was like firing up a time machine. I find that I have deluded myself all these years with the mistaken belief that better and better cameras and lenses were somehow vital to realizing a vision of some sort. How woefully misguided I have been. 

This image was shot with an ancient SLR camera; the Canon TX. It was a totally manual camera in every regard. The film is, no doubt, Kodak's Tri-X. I'm sure because I was so underfunded in those days that I could only afford film that I bought in bulk rolls and spooled into 35mm cartridges myself. 

The lens was a well used 85mm f1.8 Canon FD. I bought it from a photographer friend who needed to sell it in order to pay his tuition.

I made the original print in the Ark Co-op Darkroom on some sort of wonderful double weight paper and here we are 40+ years later and the processing is still holding up well; no yellowing beyond the original tone of the paper.

The camera doesn't matter nearly as much as being completely infatuated with the subject. Which continues to this minute. 

If you can't make good images it's probably not about the quality of your gear but perhaps you are just aiming the equipment at the wrong subject.

Looking through boxes of old prints is a nice way to spend a cold, short, rainy day. Ah, we were so young and thin in those days.