Reprint time again. This time around we're looking at a Phase One MF digital camera from 2008. Here's the article I wrote about it. This was "pre-blog." I thought you might enjoy reading and seeing how far the industry has progressed since then.

A re-publication of an article from 2008.

A Medium Format Digital Camera With Enhanced Handling.  Phase One Delivers The Goods.

by Kirk Tuck

In the past few years medium format digital cameras have captured a smaller and smaller share of camera sales worldwide for two reasons:  1.  They seem to come equipped with extravagant price tags... and, 2.  They handled, for the most part, like the Frankenstein inventions they were.  The communication between the removable backs and the traditional camera bodies was kludgy and slow.  Autofocus implementation seemed like an afterthought and the “mix and match” batteries had the endurance of a chain smoker trying to run a marathon.  It’s little wonder that many photographers chose to go with high megapixel DSLR style cameras like the Canon 1DS mk3.

But in 2008 the landscape is beginning to shift. Prices seems to be dropping even while pixel counts are rising while at the same time the engineering that matters is getting better and better. The Hasselblad 3D camera system seems focused on providing the tightest integration on the market.  Its totally closed system of backs, body and lenses is a contrast to the less integrated but far more open system that was introduced in the form of the Hy6 body being used by Sinar, Leaf, and Rollei.  The problem with the Hasselblad system is that it is closed to outside vendors which prohibits you from being able to select the digital back you might really want.  An issue with the Hy6 systems is that, in order to provide the most “open” system, the integration of lenses, bodies and backs is less elegant.

The bottom line is that the camera bodies, lenses and support accessories are actually the foundation or platform for an efficient and effective medium format system.  These parts should be a long term investment that stands the test of time while  allowing for backs to be upgraded as technology improves.  Nikon and Canon understand that your real, long term investment will be in their lenses, not in their camera bodies.  Now the medium format digital camera makers are starting to come around.  And the competition will start to heat up.

Mamiya and Phase One have teamed up to take advantage of a truly open platform that promises to run over the competition by dint of having a wide and growing vertical integration of options for medium format shooters.   Phase One makes incredible, high density digital camera backs.  Mamiya makes one of the most comfortable high performance medium format camera bodies on the market today.  Bundled together the combination is formidable competition for everyone in this small market.  And it’s not an entirely exclusive relationship.  If technology moves on and the Phase One back becomes obsolete the open nature of the camera system leaves ample space for you to choose replacement backs from a range of suppliers, including Leaf and even Mamiya.  Kudos to Phase One and Mamiya for establishing a clean upgrade path. 

A fun part of camera reviewing is unwrapping the packages after the FedEx truck trundles away.  I recently reviewed a passel of Leica stuff, including an M8 and four lenses.  They arrived rattling around in a box in a sea of styrofoam peanuts and nothing else.  No manuals, no  original boxes.  No additional protection.  By contrast, the Phase One camera system arrived in a really bulletproof manner:  A solid cardboard box, filled with the requisite peanuts, held a solid hard case.  Inside the highly protective (and water/weatherproof ) case was a system obviously packed by a truly obsessive person.  Every piece had its own compartment and the overall package included manuals, cables, and even a memory stick with an extensive user’s guide.

Here are the basic details of the Phase One camera I tested:  The camera itself is a rebadged Mamiya AFD3 camera body.  The back is Phase One’s latest 39 megapixel back, the 45+.  The back and the body looked like a matched set and featured the same matte surface finish.  The AFD3 is the fourth generation of the Mamiya 645 AF format camera body.  As a camera system that’s been on the market for well over a decade just about any flaw or shortcoming has been eliminated during its long evolution.  What is left is a camera that handles just about as easily as a Nikon D3 or a Canon 1DS xx camera.  The traditional camera functions were absolutely flawless and as easy to understand as just about any camera in the market today. I’ll be frank, I loved the body and the lenses more than any other medium format camera I have ever handled.  And that’s saying a lot since I’ve owned a slew of Rollei 6000 variants, many Hasselblads, as well as Pentax 645’s.  The Mamiya body represents the very best that medium format manufacturers have been able to design.  Your mileage may vary but not by much.

The only caveat I would have about buying the Mamiya camera body would be for users who need to be able to remove the pentaprism finder and replace it with a waistlevel finder or other accessory.  That doesn’t seem like a pressing priority for most photographers as even stalwarts like Nikon and Canon have done away with the removable finders that, in the past,  were always part of their professional camera bodies.

So,  thumbs up to the camera body, let’s move on to the lenses.  All the senuous body ergonomics in the world are meaningless if the glass doesn’t measure up.  I’ve compared it with the Zeiss glass I own for my Rollei system as well as the Schneider glass used in the Leaf camera system (Hy6) and at 100% on my monitor the Mamiya glass definitely makes the grade.  I worked with three lenses while testing the Phase One camera system,  a really incredible 28mm lens, a 75mm to 150mm f 4.5 zoom lens and the 80mm f2.8 “normal” lens.

The 28mm Phase One lens is, along with the digital 28 from Hasselblad, the widest production lens available for medium format digital SLR systems.  With a field of view that matches a 17mm lens on a 35mm camera this 14 element wide angle is a powerful optic.  This, along with the 45mm tilt shift lens offered by Phase One, should really appeal to architectural photographers who miss the highly corrected wide angles they used on their 4x5 view cameras.  The image quality of the 75 to 150mm Mamiya zoom blew away the output of my 75 to 150mm Schneider zoom for the Rollei while the 80 was sharp, well behaved, and a welcome relief from all the big, fat glass of the other optics.  While not silent focusing lenses with integral motors, the lenses were quick to autofocus and bitingly sharp at all medium apertures.  

There’s an additional advantage to the Mamiya system.  They’ve been making a wide range of autofocus and specialty lenses for their 645AF camera system for the better part of 15 years.  The landscape is literally littered with great used lenses at ridiculously good prices.  And all of these AF lenses, as well as many of the manual lenses from previous Mamiya systems, are usable on the Phase One body.  If you are so inclined you can also pick up a real, live film back and shoot your choice of slide, color print or black and white film!

For my money, the Mamiya AFD3 camera and lens implementation is close to perfect.  That leaves the digital back.  Here’s what I want from a digital back:  I want it to be so boring in actual operation that I don’t have to waste any mindshare worrying about it.  It should start up quickly, the menu and control options should be straighforward and easy to set,  it should be easy to shoot tethered, its raw files should be intelligently compressed and write quickly to disk, and the LCD screen should give me a good idea of what I’m capturing under all lighting conditions.  The back should be parsimonious with batteries and should not have any “nervous tics” or idiosyncrasies.  It should give me enormous, high bit depth files that brutally trump the resolution, color accuracy and other rendering characteristic of all smaller format cameras.

So, how does it stack up?  

Set up:  One click of its power button and the back springs to life.  It takes three seconds from button touch to open the menu.  All the back navigation is done with four silver buttons on the back and all the menus are straightforward and easy to understand.  I felt right at home with the back in the first half hour of operation.  Unlike other systems which offer a range of profiles and adjustments in nested menus the Phase One 45+ back sticks to the basics, “format, white balance, etc.”  The benefit?  You’re up and shooting quickly.  

Shooting tethered:  Here Phase One cheats.  They offer a big, fat fireware port (not one of those mini, four connector fireware pinholes) with which to tether the camera and then they provide you with one of the best software systems for tethering and raw conversion found on planet Earth right now: Capture One.  To say that tethering the camera and shooting to a Mac laptop is smooth and easy is an understatement.  Do it twice and it becomes as easy and fun as eating chocolate.  In six weeks I never lost connection with the back and never had a crash.

Writing with RAW:  Okay.  Each of these files opens up as a tiff that is over 120 megabytes but... sitting on the card, waiting to be hatched, they are a slim 33 megabytes.  Using Sandisk 4gb Extreme cards gave me a system that shot at approximately 1.5 fps and rarely left me waiting with a full buffer.  One thing I would love would be the option to shoot at a reduced file size as I don’t always need the full bucket of pixels for the kind of portrait work I do.  It’s a feature I always loved on the Kodak DSLR/n cameras.  They were capable of shooting raw files at 14 megs 6 megs and 3 megs.  It was a very underrated camera.…….

Chimping:  The LCD screen is fine in the studio and just okay out in the Texas sunlight.  I bring along my Hoodman viewing chimney along when I head outdoors and with that accessory in hand I was able to see the histograms and check relative light balances.  It’s no match for the three inch screen on the back of a Nikon D90 which costs a mere $999 but then the D90’s not really up to making a 17 by 22 inch print at 300 dpi with little or no interpolation either!  If you shoot tethered the LCD becomes a convenient “menu” screen while all serious evaluation gets done on your laptop.

Batteries:  Like the Leaf camera I tested several months ago the Phase One camera/back system uses two sets of batteries. One set of “off the shelf” double “A’s” powers the camera body and the autofocus functions while the back is powered by one of the ubiquitous and “not interchangeable with any other appliance” lithium batteries that manufacturers have become so fond of.  In six weeks of shooting I never had to change out the Kirkland brand, Costco double “A” alkaline batteries I in shoved into the camera handgrip.  The back was another story.  Depending on how often I checked the image on the LCD the battery for the digital back lasted for between 120 and 240 exposures.  As the back can also draw power from the firewire connection the short battery life isn’t problematic in the studio.  Location shooters will want to take at least three of the batteries with them on the road.  Another bright spot for the camera back was the included battery charger which can charge two batteries at a time and has a nice little info window for each battery indicating where the battery is in its charge cycle.  Cheers for an efficient and well made charger system.

If I were to use the Phase One 45+ back in its un-tethered mode often I would want to have a repair person whip me a up a cable and connector to use with a Quantum Turbo battery or Digital Camera battery for day long shooting.

Cutting To The Chase:  The image quality from the back was very, very good.  Having worked my way through the early generations of digital cameras my proclivity is to always use digital cameras at their lowest rated sensitivity.  I started using the Phase One 45+ at its calibrated ISO 50 setting but after reviewing my first test files I got braver and started playing with the sensitivity settings.  The back is flawless up to 200 ISO and even ISO 400 is amazingly clean.  I didn’t get to do too many long exposures with the camera but I did deliberately try it at 4 and 8 seconds and got back files that were essentially noiseless using ISO 100.

While Adobe ACR works well on Phase One 45+ files, yielding neutral colors and high sharpness, Capture One (the RAW conversion software created by Phase One for a wide range of camera raw files) renders files that are breathtaking.  Fine detail is more translucent while color is rendered with a more lifelike differentiation in tonality and subtlety.  But whatever your software choice for massaging your files you need to be ready for a totally different computing experience than you’ll likely have with something like a Nikon D3 file.  The Phase One files are huge once they are opened and operations that appeared seamless on my Intel processor Mac machine move a good bit slower with the Phase One files whether in ACR or Capture One.

Bottom Line:  There were no stumbles with the holistic Phase One system.  The camera is quite fluid and its operation becomes second nature within minutes of use.  The lenses are as good and as varied as any available for any of the other systems.  There is the added benefit of a decade and a half of lens development which means more choices at more price points.  The back is well behaved and plays quite well with the body.  And the Capture One software is the component that brings all the other pieces together and raises them to the next level.  In fact, Capture One is so good I now find myself using it with my Nikon files instead of the visually splendid but very interfaced challenged, Nikon Capture NX.

Would I buy the system?  If I were in the market for a medium format system I would consider the Mamiya/Phase One option for several reasons.  First, the open nature of the system is wonderful.  An entry level professional could opt for a lower priced system from Mamiya with the intention of moving up to one of Phase One’s better backs as his or her business grows.  Second, the feeling of integration makes the camera and back a joy to shoot.  It actually harkens back to the golden days of film when one could shoot more and think less about technology.  

Who Needs A Medium Format Digital System?  Many argue that today’s 21 and 24 megapixel cameras are “good enough” but nothing in the 35mm style comes close to equaling the look you get with the increased real estate of the Phase One sensor and the way larger format lenses “draw”.  This camera and back combination is the perfect match for any photography that requires very high production value or loads of detail.  In closing, this system (and its direct competitors) is the antidote for “good enough”.  It renews and supports our commitment as artists to aim for perfection.  Even if the only audience that really cares is ourselves!

Kirk Tuck is a corporate photographer in Austin, Texas who also writes books about photography.  His first book, Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography, has been a best seller since its publication.  His second book on Studio Photography Techniques is due out in the Spring of 2009, and he is currently hard at work on a third book about which he is very secretive.……..

Website:  www.kirktuck.com


Street corner mannequin #132. A different look.

 Leica SL + Sigma 65mm f2.0. Late afternoon. 

Ah. The darling raccoons. The arduous Tuesday swim. Devolving the Leica allure and so much more...

 The portrait above is not really related to anything in the written content of the blog. It's here as a visual anchor for the post... just wanted you to know. (Not a raccoon). 

So, it's Tuesday morning and I thought I should give a quick report on Operation Raccoons in the Chimney. Yesterday I did some research and melded it together with the stories and suggestions shared here. One person with some raccoon experience suggested that I take the cap back off the chimney to allow the mom raccoon to get in and relocate her loved ones. It sounded like a good idea. It was seconded by a person from the critter removal service we have used in the past. But, even though hope springs eternal I did make an appointment to meet here at the house with the same animal removal service in case our "voluntary relocation opportunity" failed. We meet in the next hour or so...

I dutifully took the cap off yesterday but it was already partially dislodged so I know at least one of the parents is still around. I also devised a bizarre ladder with the idea that transporting baby raccoons up a sheer face might be too daunting. I need to go take a picture of my ladder creation but I didn't have any thick rope around so I took two 50 foot extension cords and used the stoutest one as a straight "rope" and then used the second one to make load bearing loops at 12 inch intervals --- something for a raccoon to grab onto or use as a foot hold. I know, it's silly... but I'm trying to encourage an undramatic exit for them. 

Since I had replaced the cap at the start of the weekend I was now worried the babies would die of starvation or dehydration. To ward off that avenue of guilt I went to Trader Joes and bought a couple organic, honey crisp apples, sliced them, bundled them loosely in a paper towel and dropped them down the chimney. I hope they enjoyed them. 

As night fell we turned off most of the outside lights in order to make the adult raccoon potentially more comfortable during its incursion. I didn't hear any noises coming from the roof but I guess I could have slept through them. 

When I got up this morning to get ready for swim practice I tiptoed into the living room and paused to listen at the fireplace. There was no movement and everything was quiet. I made a cup of hot tea and read the various news feeds and was just about ready to pat myself on the back when the racket of young raccoons restarted. Crestfallen, I headed off to swim practice. More to follow a brief run down of swim practice. 

Swimming for fun and good health. Any bleak and sallow day is made much better with a morning swim workout at the Rollingwood Swimming Pool. 

I've incorporated my Apple Watch into my swimming because I was miffed when I swam long workouts with a dive watch and later in the day my Apple device would subtly chide me for not being active enough. It's pretty cool to have your watch count actual laps for you and also use its GPS to calculate distance swum. There is some attempt calculate how many calories one burns but I think it's a bit suspect. My watch is telling me that I burned 530 calories during the swim. It's a bit amazing but it also breaks down the percentage of each stroke swum. Since we had a demanding freestyle set most of the yardage was freestyle but there is also a running tally of backstroke and breast stroke and I'm presuming its classification of "mixed stroke" means butterfly. 

My lane mates and I knocked down 3200 yards in 55 minutes so I think we did pretty well. I can also look at the chart of heart rate measurements and see that my resting heart rate before workout was around 51 bpm but during workout it peaked at around 154 bpm. I'm surprised that my heart rate peaks so high but I'm sure the 100 yards of butterfly was a contributing factor in that. So, I'm guessing I'm working right near the upper edge of safe cardiovascular performance. It's also interesting to see how quickly a high bpm drops back down in the 70s and 80s. 

Lately our coach has been enamored of a laddered set of 100 yard freestyle repeats with an ever descending interval. We started out with five 100s on a 1:35 minute interval, dropped to four 100s on a 1:30 interval, then dropped to three 100s on a 1:25 interval, two 100s on 1:20 and then one 100 at a full sprint. We did other stuff but that was the main set. The swims on 1:20 were right at the ragged edge of my capabilities so I either need to train more or get younger. Or, I could accept aging and give myself a bigger interval. 

We ended the workout with one of my lane mate's favorites. A series of 25 yard swims, all underwater. I'm convinced that everyone can hold their breath for the 20 or 25 seconds it takes to swim underwater from one end of the pool to the other but there is a psychological impediment for most people after the second or third lap (with short breaks in between) that comes into play. Conquer the fear and underwater laps aren't nearly as daunting. Or....keep the fear and pop up to grab nervous breaths long before you need them, physically. 

We were out of the water by 9 am and on to coffee and breakfast. My watch tells me I've completed my required exercise and activity for the day but I scoff at its presumption and am still planning a nice, long walk this afternoon. Just after I hear about how we're going to handle the raccoons.

New to swimming? Grab a pull buoy. It's a floatable foam construction you put between your thighs to raise your overall horizontal body position in the water which makes swimming easier. It also reduces your need to kick as quickly or as hard (in fact, you probably don't need to kick at all with a pull buoy in place). You'll develop a better feel for your arm strokes and a the better position in the water will help you streamline more. It's a less painful way to get started swimming longer distances. Eventually, you'll want to give up the pull buoy so you don't become dependent because the officials are not going to let you use one for a race; either in the pool or in open water...

Back to the raccoons. Our person from Critter Control arrived and I took him up onto the roof so we could look down the chimney with a flash light and get oriented. Yep. We've got a mom raccoon and some baby raccoons down there. They are on a platform which includes the flue. They seem nice a comfy but that's not a good thing. Right now the estimator is out in his truck conferring with his regional boss to try to devise a plan of (humane) attack. More to follow....

Leica-Allure. It's easy to dismiss the whole Leica brand as nothing but highly successful marketing and product positioning, and, for the most part in  2021 I'd agree. But with some caveats. First of all I think you need to see the M Leica's (the interchangeable lens, true rangefinder cameras) as a whole separate category. They are unlike all the other interchangable lens cameras in the market and there are benefits to working with a rangefinder camera. Especially if your focal length wheel house is from 28-75mm. 

Coincident rangefinder focusing can be quick and highly accurate in that range. The ability to see "outside" the frame, in the finder, is a big plus because it allows one to anticipate when something is coming into the composition. Some people also find being able to see outside the bright frame lines as an advantage in composition. These things are different from all the other cameras and if you want them you are stuck with Leica. Or you'll happily embrace the Leica. 

So many of the Leica rangefinder users are driven to the brand by nostalgia since Leica was a predominant choice of so many famous magazine journalists in the 1950s and 1960s and the camera type seemed to be a badge or a talisman for most of those famous Magnum photographers all the way up to today. Plus, many in my generation had fathers who were photo hobbyists and we "learned" from a young age that the Leica M was the top of the heap for camera in their generation. I think many of us harbored the aspiration to own one from a young age; regardless of whether it was the "right" camera for our use...

The Leica mirrorless cameras are a different beast. If one understands that new plastics and compounds are as good and capable of precision as metal, and that sensors are pretty uniformly homogeneous across systems then the SL line is, I think, a different market altogether. You essentially have to choose to pay a lot more for two thing beyond "build quality" ( which few of us are really able to gauge... ). One is access to the family of Leica L mount lenses and the second is the totally different presentation of the control interface. 

As far the lenses go you could save about half the cost of an SL2 body by getting a Panasonic S1R body and you'd be able to use the same L-mount lenses. There might be additional firmware resident in the SL2 body that tweaks each lens to a greater degree than the more generic firmware in the lens itself but I can't think this would make a world of difference using either of the cameras. 

At some point, if you want to work with Leica SL lenses you might as well have one of the SL bodies on the presumption that power consumption, firmware tweaks and AF performance would be optimized as a system. 

This all presumes that you buy into the idea that Leica SL lenses noticeably outperform lenses available in other systems. Some will believe this and some won't...

Finally there is the topic of the interface. The back of each SL and SL2 camera is quintessentially minimalist. The number of buttons and dials is reduced to next to nothing. On the SL nothing is labeled while the SL2 uses the same three buttons system found on current M cameras. Each simplifies as much as possible and the whole machine-ness of the camera body recedes from conscious notice and becomes more transparent to the operator. I love the interfaces on both the SL and SL2 cameras, even though they are different. The important point is that they are alike in philosophy and general logic. 

Taken altogether a purchase of a Leica as system camera is probably not very wise for most people. While the lenses seem to hold their value well the resale value of digital Leica bodies doesn't seem to outperform that of Canon, Nikon and Sony's better cameras. Losing half the value of a Canon 5Dmkiii is less painful than losing half the value of a $6500 camera. Even if the percentage of loss is the same. 

If you buy into the Leica stuff to use professionally you'll find big blank spots in the equipment catalog. There are few "inexpensive" Leica lens options for those focal lengths you don't use as often. Right now camera batteries are backordered. There's no current SL macro lens. Etc. Oh, and if you want a vertical grip for your SL2 be prepared to spend north of $1,000 to acquire one. It's a bleak scenario for less affluent photographers who get called upon to do a wide range of projects. 

I guess the reason I wanted a couple of the Leica SL system camera bodies was a blend of all the positive things. I love the heritage of the brand. Most of my favorite photographers used the Leica cameras as their life long tools. One hopes some of their luck with the cameras confers through my own Leica's (irrational at best). The handling is wonderful and the menus grow on me by the day. But most of all the system represents the idea of products that sit at the pinnacle of photographic practice for most knowledgeable photographers and when you shoot with one you have, at least, the impression that you aren't leaving possibilities on the table because you scrimped on investing. 

Now, back to the raccoons. After an hour of exploration and researching around the chimney, coupled with our assertion that we were looking for a humane resolution, our "wildlife consultant" sat down with me in the studio to go over a plan. We're going to ask the mom raccoon to take her babies and relocate. 

We'll leave the cap off the chimney. We'll drop down a bigger and better rope. One with knots in it for resting spots and stability while climbing. The service will drop down a cotton ball dipped in some amazingly expensive witch's brew of male raccoon hormones, coyote sweat, something else equally bad, like that aftershave your friend thinks is a real chick magnet, and hope that they smell convinces Rita Raccoon to de-camp. We'll be ready to put up with additional occupancy for several days as she makes up her mind, looks for better accommodations and goes through the process of moving the brood. Then, once we're certain that they've vacated, the service will return to create a better barrier to accessing the chimney. They'll also go around the entire house and studio to make sure they are no other fun entry points for other pests and they'll seal those.  

In a week or ten days we hope to have total resolution. And we'll move on to the next project which, I think, entails the replacement of 25 year old skylights on the back porch. Followed by the installation of a new hardwood floor for the living room followed by...........(fill in the blank). 

But for now I'll be happy just to say "goodbye" to the raccoons.


Economy springing back to life. Now I get to use some of those new cameras and lenses! Hooray.

 All of a sudden we're getting booked for assignments. It started out slowly; a big project in March followed by a growing number of corporate portrait bookings. Some here in the studio but more out on locations. The early wave is mostly comprised of bankers and lawyers and we're even starting to hear rumblings of corporate events being scheduled in late Summer and Fall. 

I'm ready to get back to work. We'll keep wearing our masks and taking all the precautions we've learned throughout the pandemic but with everyone I work with having been vaccinated it's starting to feel less risky. 

Even though I've always been an extrovert I'm finding that it takes some practice and effort to get back into a more authentic give and take with photography clients. I guess I've "talked" more here on the blog over the last year than I have in the real world. I have to re-learn how to talk "out loud" again and also how to patiently listen.

I did five portraits last week and the most fun were two that were shot in the studio but composited into out of focus backgrounds I'd shot earlier in the week. With the backgrounds already shot it was easier to make portraits that "fit" the look and feel of the whole assemblage. Getting a good selection with good feathering at the edges helps a lot. I use the "select and refine" menus and tools in PhotoShop to separate the subjects from the studio background and to create a file with an image layer that is, except for the actual subject, transparent. That makes it a simple matter to open a background image file in the same window and just pull the person over into the scene. 

You'll have to a do a few adjustments and maybe blur the edges of your person a bit to match better with the background. I also find it helps, once the compositing and adjusting is complete, to add "noise" or grain to the overall image as it reinforces the appearance of the photo being homogenous instead of leaving tell tale signs that it's a fake collage. Keep it subtle but pay attention to some of the subliminal cues that happen when joining different images together. 

And now for the exciting news. It seems a mother raccoon has made my home's chimney into a nursery. She has somehow dislodged the cap on the chimney and, while she was not in the chimney yesterday the young raccoons were down at the bottom; just above the flue. Isn't that special?

We have experts coming tomorrow but I realized that the mom might not have been able to get in for the last few days since I reattached the cap. I'm torn but my reverence for all life and my ignorance of what might be best for the little raccoons. The expert and I talked and I think I'll head back up to the roof and take the cap off the chimney for tonight and also dangle down a thick, thick rope to help with an exit. If we play talk radio in the fireplace and occasionally bang on the bottom of the flue there is the thought that the mom raccoon will evacuate her brood and move on. But for now maybe I should drop in some apple slices for the young ones so they get some moisture and sustenance. 

Anybody here a raccoon specialist? And, yes, I know they are primary disease vectors and can be vicious to boot. But I'm willing to take both animal behavior advice and ethical treatment advice. Please- no gun talk. I'd like them to exit alive.

On a happier note. Elon Musk is coming to save Austin! (sarcasm alert!!!). 


90mm R-Elmarit Leica lens + Leica SL camera. Small lessons.


Yes. I think the 90mm Elmarit is pretty sharp. I mostly shoot with it at f4.0 or f5.6 but even wide open it's more than prickly enough to make nice portraits. Between f5.6 and f8.0 it's as sharp as I would want in a lens. The adapter that fits it onto the camera is "dumb" but the camera has a bunch of lens profiles for the M and the R series lenses. When you stick a lens on the camera and select a lens profile the act of programming in the exact model of lens tells the camera a lot. There's also an external exposure sensor  on the camera that adds information to the mix and "guesses" the aperture at which the lens is being used.  Nice. The 90mm Elmarit is dense and a simpler lens formulation than current lenses but that also keeps it relatively small; even with the adapter attached. 

After a year of relatively severe isolation, and many lone walks on empty streets, I'm finding that it takes some practice to feel comfortable photographing strangers again. As more and more people come out and walk around it feels increasingly natural to carry and use a camera on the street. Earlier in the year there were so few people in the downtown area that a "camera person" stood out like a sore thumb. The sweet spot will come when enough people are vaccinated and we don't have to wear masks out on the street. Then we can smile at other people more convincingly and invite them to be photographed in a more carefree way.

I'm trying to work fast with manual focusing lenses and with something like the 90mm that means taking advantage of the really good focus peaking in the two Leica cameras.

Lost to the smaller size on Blogger is the fine detail of the weave of the fabric in the blue blouse. And the rough edges of the bokeh "balls" in the background, to the right of the frame...

My favorite 2nd Street mannequin has abandoned her furry hat and her sweatshirt and embraced a more Spring oriented outfit. I like the way the 90mm "describes" the plastic of the arms and hand. 

I don't need a new suit. I have a closet full and most never get worn. But I've walked by a shop called, "League of Rebels" hundreds of times and watched their master tailor, through the shop window, as he crafts custom suits for their customers. I think I'd like to drag Ben over and have a suit made for him. He'll resist but I think everyone in any business needs at least one well tailored suit and a handful of good accessories. Custom shirts, handmade belts, and, of course, really good shoes. But alas, this might just be a generational prejudice. 

Again, the actual image of the tailoring in progress, in its full glory, is just stuffed with sharp, rich details that are lost here. The 90mm Elmarit is a very capable, longer focal length, street lens. Equally at home on both the Panasonic and the Leica camera bodies. 

On Saturday I drove to Dripping Springs to catch up with my restauranteur friend, Emmett. Whenever you hang out with a chef I'm pretty sure you're going to end up someplace new, eating something interesting; and sometimes tasting stuff that's great. We met at his house and then hopped in his car and slipped across HWY 290 onto a winding, rural road and traveled deep into ranch country until we came to a dirt entryway into an new, industrial looking complex that is home to a distillery, a bake shop (bakery) and a flour milling operation. 

Our destination was Abby Jane Bakeshop. It's a decidedly high end bakery, owned and run by a former pastry chef who trained at some very well respected restaurants and, judging by the large number of customers who navigated the long and secretive route to get there, a pastry chef with a following...

Since I was with an avowed, professional foodie I stood by and watched as he ordered one of everything. I ate a $5 chocolate croissant that was pretty amazing. Monkey bread with a delicate white cheese and sautéed onion component that was instantly addictive. A plain croissant that was about as good as my favorite version from Fauchon. We ordered good coffee and then ordered two pizzas to go. 

We ordered the wood fired, Greens and Parmesan Cream pizza and the Carrot Curry pizza and both were delicious. We took these home to share with Emmett's wife, Lisa. We also grabbed a few loafs of bread that were equalled good. All made with organic, fresh milled flours. 

After lunch Emmett boxed up the left over pizza and sent it home with me. There were several pieces of the "greens" pizza left so Ben and I heated them up in the oven this morning, topped each slice with an over-easy egg and had them for breakfast. Ahhhhhh. 

I wish we had a satellite version of Abby Jane Bakeshop here in the west Austin neighborhood but I fear it's one of those businesses that works under the eagle eye of an impassioned owner but isn't infinitely scalable or portable...

I didn't sample their cakes but..... cake! scroll down in the link to see some great cakes...

When I sat down to play with files this afternoon in noticed this "throw away" shot taken in the studio. I shot it because in the moment I loved the isolation of the black stool top reflecting to white as it caught the light from outside. I just wanted to see what it would look like. 

But once I saw it I started wondering how "recoverable" the shadows might be from the SL. So I opened the file in Lightroom and started playing with the sliders. It was shot at ISO400 and I think it's pretty good with the shadows recovered. Just a little experiment. (see below). 

And then there is the routine reflection shot. 
Nice haircut. 


That eerie feeling when your recently purchased camera starts messing up, freezing and shutting down. But deep down it's really ALL YOUR FAULT.

Breathing a sigh of relief because the sign doesn't say, 
"See Good....." 

I was looking forward to a nice walk all morning. When the opportunity presented itself I grabbed the Leica SL (the older model, not the new one...), put the Sigma Contemporary 45mm f2.8 lens on it and headed out. The camera and the lens are both products of the L mount alliance so I never thought twice about compatibility I just assumed they'd work together flawlessly.

I was twenty minutes and maybe 15 frames into the walk when the camera started acting up. I'd bring the camera up to my eye to shoot only to find nothing in the finder and a frozen image of something random; like the sidewalk, in a state of infinite review on my rear LCD. I figured it was a one time glitch and pulled the battery, waited ten seconds, re-inserted the battery and kept on walking. I'd take five or six frames and everything would be okay but if I went to turn off the camera that would cause it to take another random frame and then freeze. Very frustrating. 

After I got to the halfway point the camera didn't seem to be getting any better so I went for the full Monty and did a full reset. But after ten minutes or so it became obvious that the reset was NOT going to fix the issue. I finished the walk and headed home to do some troubleshooting but I had the feeling that I'd be sending this perfectly beautiful camera back to the dealer and take advantage of their 30 day warranty. Sadly....

When I got back to the studio I did a quick Google search for: "Is the Sigma 45mm f2.8 incompatible with the Leica SL?" I instantly got links that all said the same thing. And that was that the original firmware in the lens caused an erroneous reading of battery levels in both the SL and the SL2. You could mount the lenses and they would work in a fashion but here was a known fault. A rent in the L-mount armor. 

I checked the firmware in both of my copies of the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens. One was parked at 1.0 and the other was mildly updated to 1.1. The current software for the lens is 1.3. I downloaded the latest software and updated both lenses. Now they work flawlessly with both Leicas. 

But it illuminated my blind spots for me. I'm pretty quick to update the firmware in cameras because it usually fixes an obvious fault or, on the other hand, adds some new feature I'd really like. But I never have kept up with firmware evolution for my lenses. It just didn't seem vital.

I am now a new convert to lens firmware enhancement as often as I can get it. Both lenses work charmingly well and I no longer have to harbor doubts and insecurities about what is quickly becoming my favorite camera. At least my favorite camera of the week. 

The moral of the story is to make sure all your firmware is up to date before you start pointing troubleshooting fingers at your gear. It may be that you are the limiting factor in your system's overall performance. And it's crazy not to stay up to date since the cost is zero and the time commitment is minutes, not hours or days. 

Do I like the Sigma 45 on the SL? You betcha.

Yeah. So the 45mm is pretty awesome when you shoot it at f5.6 in the 
middle distances. Not at all "soft." 

My mannequin girlfriend changed outfits and I know she wanted 
me to document the new look. I even found and angle that 
allows me to selfie the whole thing at the same time. 

That's all folks.



A "Good Friday" Post From Our Time in Montreal...

We're taking the day off on Sunday. 
It's Easter.


A second review from the "reprint file." This one from 2009 of the Mamiya DL28. The camera actually worked well. I think the top photo is a good proof of performance.... This is a reprint just to look at what we wrote back in the "old days" of digital.

 Another Camera Paradigm Shift.  Mamiya Gets Sensible.   And a few end of the year thoughts.

By Kirk Tuck

Noellia gives the Alien Bees Ringlight a test flash.  Camera:  The Mamiya DL28.  Degree of difficulty:  Not much.

If you’ve read my stuff here this year you probably know that I’ve had the opportunity to test a couple other medium format digital camera systems.  And every one of them had a unique selling proposition.  But the one thing they all seemed to have in common was price tag on par with the sticker price of a nice BMW automobile.  If you’ve read my reasons for wanting a MFDC you know why I want one.  If this is your first visit then let me bring you up to speed.

I’ve always liked the way the longer focal lengths we used on film medium format cameras created portrait images.  The sharp areas were really sharp and then the images rolled out of focus very gracefully until the backgrounds were just a gorgeous amalgam of softness and mystery.  Somehow I’ve never been able to get precisely the same effect with shorter optics (giving the same angles of view.…) on 35mm style digital cameras.  

We also loved the sweeping image area of the larger format in film and by extension in digital precisely because it rendered images with a much greater subtlety than the smaller formats when all other parameters were equal.  In digital capture the sheer quantity of pixels goes a long way to making images look smoother and cleaner.  The larger pixel wells (when compared to high res 35mm DSLR’s) also contribute to very wide dynamic ranges.  In the Mamiya DL 28 system the Leaf back is rated at 12 full stops of d-range which is almost two stops more than the best DSLR’s (excepting the exceptional six megapixel Fuji S5 pro).

Finally, it is only in the MFDC realm that you are able to shoot with a true 16 bit imaging file.  This means lots and lots more gradations between tones and colors.  The big drawback to MFDC’s has always been the price of entry.  But that’s the paradigm that Mamiya shifted.  The entry price has plummeted.  The new camera package is just shy of $15,000.  That includes the latest Mamiya AFD3 body (usable with both film and a range of digital backs.…), a newly computed 80mm lens that’s been optimized for digital capture, and a newly released Leaf 28 megapixel back with an enormous touch screen.

Still a bit more money than a Canon 1DS mk3 or a Nikon D3x but maybe a much better investment in the long run.  How could that be?  Well, for starters the sensor industry isn’t standing still but none of the 35mm style bodies are currently upgradable.  That means a big breakthrough in sensor technology demands the purchase of yet another body.  With the Mamiya system it means trading in the back and keeping the camera you know.  It means being able to buy a back up body at a much lower price.  And while DSLR’s keep improving so do the MFDC’s.

The latest from Mamiya goes a long way toward separating a portrait specialist from the pack.  With state of the art autofocus,  digitally optimized lenses and an open standard interface for a wide range of backs, it may be the most scalable, practical and sensible professional system on the market today.

The DL28 is state of the art in a number of ways that give it leverage against competitors.  The Leaf back uses a new generation LCD screen on the rear that presents a lot of real estate for checking composition, histograms and relative color.  The back is also a touch screen and it makes setting capture parameters very straight forward.  Your clients will love the way this camera tethers to laptops and workstations because they’ll be able to see your work writ large.

The well protected touch screen keeps the camera design sleek and pared down.  I think it’s the nicest designed of all the MFDC’s on the market.  Note the battery for the back at the bottom of the camera.  The camera itself takes six conventional double “A’s”.  The back is good for 250 exposures per charge while I shot over 1200 exposures without budging the battery indicator for the body.

So why would you want to spend the money on one of these?  Well, if you are in the business of providing carefully composed and styled images to art directors or big portraits to families, this system will give you a better image than you’ll get with the latest generations of DSLR’s.  If you aim for the top of the markets you serve the difference in price will certainly be offset by the sheer quality improvement.  In some ways it’s an intangible but to the really picky customers you can rest assured it’s noticeable!

The second reason is pure marketing.  If you are truly the best (and most expensive) of the suppliers in your market your customer may want to know why you shoot with the same kind of camera as uncle Bob.  You may think the gear doesn’t matter but if you are in competition with someone who is equally proficient and just as personable as you (I know, that’s hardly possible.….) the choice of shooting gear may just tip the scales in someone’s favor.

If you were a Mamiya shooter back in the film days and you still have your gear you’ll be pleased to know that all the AF lenses work flawlessly while all of the manual 645 lenses can be mounted and used with manual aperture stop down.

Given my recent article about surviving the recession how can I justify singing the praises of a $14,000 camera system?  Simple, if it can give me the edge over several of my close competitors it could pay for itself in a week’s worth of shooting.  Besides, I’m not saying you need to rush out and purchase one of these without regard to the overall market.  I’m sure there will be plenty in rental and I think you’ll be wise to try one on the next large scale production you book.

Caveat!!!!!  If you are a fast paced wedding photographer who routinely slams out 4,000 available light shots per wedding then no medium format camera system is currently for you.  The frame to frame time is too slow (less than one per second), the autofocus isn’t as speedy as that on a Nikon D3, and the luscious, elegant files are Raw only and far too big to make speedy, templated processing fun.

If you are a methodical worker, a portrait photographer, still life shooter or architectural shooter one of these will certainly raise your game to a higher level.

Other News.  Making Book.

My second book is wending its way through the production process and will become available at Amazon.com and at quality bookstores around the country on April 1st, 2009.  It’s all about studio lighting and it’s aimed at advanced amateurs and working pros.  We all know a lot about photography but I might know different stuff than you.  It’s already up for presale on Amazon.


One of the early photos done with the Panasonic S1 and the original L mount 85mm Sigma Art Lens.

Mary Bridget Davies as "Janis." 

A little over a year ago I was pacing through the Zach Theatre auditorium at the technical rehearsal seeing "A Night with Janis Joplin" on stage for the first time and trying to predict where I needed to be, minute by minute, to get good photographs for marketing and promotion. 

I'd purchased two Panasonic S1s and some great lenses and I had already shot the big Christmas play just before the tumble into 2020. One of the cameras I had over a shoulder was equipped with the 24-105mm f4.0 Lumix lens while the other was outfitted with the big, heavy 85mm f1.4 Sigma Art lens. The image above was done with the Sigma. 

The Panasonic S1 cameras were (are) a good choice for theatrical photography because their sensors are among of the best performing when it comes to high ISOs. I was shooting the camera with the 85mm at ISO 1600 but mostly because I was interested in setting a fast shutter speed (this was at 1/400th) and I wanted to stop down just a little bit. But as I become more and more experienced with the cameras I found I have no trepidation about using them at ISO 6400 and, sometimes, even up to 12,800 ISO. The files clean up nicely. The sharpness and saturations remain good. 

I really wish the theatre was back in full scale production, inside the main theater building, because I'm very interested in shooting a show with a Leica SL2 or SL on one shoulder and a Lumix S1 on the other. It would make for a great comparison between not just the image quality differences (if any) but also the overall usability of each camera. 

It's one thing to walk around and point a camera at stuff that's not moving or changing much and trying to catch a live show on a stage with ever shifting lights. That, for me, is the litmus test. 

The 85mm was great. Thankfully, so is the new version. And it's smaller and lighter. 

Pix from rehearsal below:

definitely the week of the 85mm 1.4 Sigma. Art.

As more and more Austinites get vaccinated we're starting to slowly creak the studio door open again and starting to play around with more portraits. Here's a blast from the good old days.


Back in the pre-pandemic days we felt a lot less constrained about inviting people into the studio to make portraits just for fun. Now we're starting to hear from friends (and even adult children of friends) who want to come over and collaborate in some portraiture. 

Tomorrow I'm putting some time aside to make some portraits and headshots for one of my video collaborator's daughters. It's a pretty open-ended brief as long as we get some great stuff. 

Austin seems to be doing a decent job at getting large swaths of the community vaccinated and it seems most natives are still abiding by the mask mandates even though the "personal grievance" political party is doing everything they can to sabotage the recovery. If we can cut down on tourists from the bright red, surrounding cities we might just have a chance to thrive again.

And that means more and more beautiful faces tromping through the hallowed halls of the studio. For fun and sometimes, for profit.