4.07.2021

The kind of photography I'm missing these days.


 Over the years assignment photography has gotten more and more controlled and to the point. We get a brief about the project, maybe some samples or comprehensive layouts, and then we work to deliver something that exists only in a very narrow envelope. I understand that this is an "efficient" use of time and resources and that people are in a rush but there are other ways of working and those are the ways I miss. 

I like this off hand photograph of actor, MATT McGRATH as Sergei Pavlovich Diaghliev in the late Terrence McNally's last play. McNally came to Austin to produce his final piece, Immortal Longings back in 2019. 

I made it a habit, back when the theatre was open and running, to drop by the early rehearsals and try to get some interesting shots that we might use for human interest stories and stuff like that. Maybe short teasers for the news outlets...

In these visits I didn't have a brief, there were no expectations of any particular sort. I'd stay for an hour if the rehearsal was slow and draggy or multiple hours if there was constantly changing visual stimuli. It was totally up to me. And since I was hanging out at the early part of previously unproduced plays I had no idea of how the action would flow or even what to expect.

Occasionally I would read the script in advance but not usually. 

It was early Fall of 2019 when this play was being produced. It changed a lot throughout the process. Even after the first week's "soft" opening the script was being cut or edited or added to between shows. A wild process when compared to commercial work. On the evening I dropped by I was still working with Fuji cameras and I was particularly interested in the 56mm f1.2 lens and how it rendered images. 

I tried to project a low energy, anonymous persona and I tried not to engage anyone while I was shooting. More of a "fly on the wall" sort of perspective. I'd see something I liked and I would shoot a few frames. Then I'd put my camera down at the end of its strap and wait, passively, for something to change or build or even fall apart. It's the only way I know of to get really authentic working photographs. Stuff that doesn't look set up because it's not. 

We used to do something like this process with conventional clients as well. We'd come into their location and treat the project like anthropology. I'd walk around and just look for images that told small stories. Expressions, details, gestures, etc. 

It seems that now we have shot lists, tight schedules, and we have to hurry through them. And when we finish the clients head for the doors and scatter. It's not just a reaction to the pandemic because the "adventure" of advertising photography had been heading in this direction of "cut and dry" non-engagement for while. 

A fantasy I used to have earlier in my career would be getting hired to do a historic documentation of a major company like Dell or IBM (in its earliest days) where one would work in the same way that the White House photographers worked (pre-Trump). Which was with day-to-day and hour-by-hour access in an attempt to create a visual history of an administration. Or the early history of an important company.

We used to do more of this but I guess in today's efficiency obsessed arenas, and with clients who demand total control, the casual, photojournalistic style of documentary photography is failing quickly. 

Too bad. I really liked it. It was the magic ingredient for visual story telling. "It" being time spent exploring and photographing whatever catches your eyes...

From earlier or later on the same evening. 


We're updated! We're updated! Thanks Panasonic!

Leica SL + Sigma 65mm f2.0. 

I've been a big fan of Panasonic's full frame, S1x series of cameras from the moment they hit the market. There is a place in the inventory for each of the three models if you are the kind of commercial photographer who routinely handles wildly different projects. If you asked me to name a favorite I'd be hard pressed to pick. The S1 is a basic, 24 megapixel camera which was, up till today (for me) a really good stills camera and a decent, basic video camera. That all changed today with the arrival of a firmware update to 2.0. If you upgraded your S1 with the SFU video package in the past your camera will now provide 5.8K video, cinema style video (17:9 aspect ratio) and much more. It already writes 4K as 10 bit, 4:2:2 to an internal card but now you can take advantage of much higher resolution files as well. 

Couple that with the ability to use the microphone interface and the ability to write files to external recorders and the S1 becomes are very, very good video camera as well. Almost as good for most video projects as the S1H. If you have an S1 sitting around the newest update is available at the Panasonic Lumix support site right now. And, bottom line, the body is nearly bulletproof while the high ISO performance is at, or close to, the top of the 24 megapixel camera heap right now. 

The newest firmware is most valuable for users who've done the video SFU-xx upgrade which costs $200. But in my experience it's well worth it. The reasons now to splash out for an S1H are for the unlimited recording times with even the biggest and most processor intensive files as a result of it active fan cooling. The ability to shoot video in All-I configurations is great as is the inclusion of an AA filter to cut down on moiré in many instances. Some people are also partial to the swiveling rear screen but most video producers are making use of external monitors in their video set ups. The S1H also got a big firmware upgrade a few days ago with added Black Magic Raw capability (you'll need an external recorder for this) which joins the Pro Res Raw capability, already in progress. With the new firmware (2.4) for the S1H you can shoot 6K raw files in two different formats. Nice for the people working at the highest levels of production....like making movies for Netflix. 

Even the S1R got some upgrades but since it also got 5K+ video in an earlier update the new changes were either small or hidden fixes, under the hood. 

I downloaded the newest firmware for all three of the cameras and had all three of them updated and ready to go in about 15 minutes. No glitches. I am thankful that Panasonic is doing such a great job extending the  utility and relevance of cameras that are, in some cases, nearing the two year mark since introduction. The great thing is that most of the upgrades are actually real features instead of the usual practice from other makers of fixing stuff that was broken or iffy on the initial launches. With Panasonic's S1 series (and the S5) it's like getting more stuff for free. And who doesn't like that?

I guess it's time to write myself a video project and get busy shooting with the newly enhanced tools. But then, there's always the SL2. I guess I've got to do some trials and see which of the cameras makes the files I like to look at the most instead of just spec-believing. At any rate I welcome all new firmware upgrades, be they in lenses or camera bodies. Keep em coming. 

I've always been a fan of deck plate. It seem so....functional. 
And I like the patterns it makes in photographs. 


All images above created with the Leica SL and the Sigma 65mm lens. 

Go look for your camera's latest update. Not only do most updates add or improve features, most also fix small glitches in performance and don't get formal mentions....

 

Enjoying the color rendition of an older sensor and the Sigma 65mm f2.0 lens.


There's something about the color rendering of the sensor in the Leica SL that's different from the images I used to get from Sony sensors. Maybe it's just a different way of interpreting color. I'm not really sure. But I like it. A lot. And the 65mm focal length is such a joy to work with. It's a nice pair. 

Nice light. ISO 50. 



 

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


4.06.2021

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.

4.05.2021

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!!!). 


4.04.2021

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. 

4.03.2021

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.