5.02.2021

Leica SL and Original 35mm Sigma Art Lens.


Making Art at Art on Second St. 

Costume Change for the New Month.

Sundays have been weird over the past year. My father is gone and so is one of my routines. I visited him at his assisted living facility in San Antonio every Sunday. It gave Sunday's a special purpose. I'd get in the car early, grab a coffee and a copy of the New York Times (his favorite day for his favorite newspaper; the thick, Sunday edition...) and head down IH-35 so I could get there early enough to spend the better part of the day with him. Since his passing and then the shuttering of other Sunday activities like rehearsal photo sessions on the stages at Zach Theatre, I have been at loose ends.

I do some family errands. Today I installed a new mailbox. It's a cheap and simple copy of the one that sat on the post at the top of our driveway yesterday. I jazzed things up by choosing a light gray one instead of black. The previous mailbox was here when we bought the house 24 years ago, back when houses in Austin were cheap. The mailbox had a lot of rust and lately the door refused to latch shut. The last time I was working in the front yard and the mailman stopped by to deliver a handful of post he also delivered the stink eye, and then stared hard at the failing mailbox. I took it as a sign.

It's probably good timing as the previous mailbox had started falling off the pole. It was also about to rust through. It only took three trips to the hardware store to get everything squared away...

So, part of the new Sunday regime is the extended walk through downtown with whatever the camera and lens of the week might be. I had a hunch it might be the Fuji X100V today but I was mistaken. The Leica SL muscled its way to the front of the line dragging the ever loquacious Sigma Art lens with it. 

I used all the parts in their most manual modes today and had a great time doing so. It was like stepping back in time to a more pure era of photo making. One in which the active involvement of the photographer's brain was required. 

The original 35mm f1.4 Art lens from Sigma is delightful to use in a fully manual focusing mode. It has a well damped focusing ring with hard stops at both ends of the distance scale. The focus peaking in the SL works well with that particular lens and together they deliver sharp, contrasty, saturated colors; even in the much maligned Jpeg setting. All the images I took today were done in Jpeg and all the images had the white balance set to match the prevailing light conditions. All the parameters in the camera's Jpeg menu were set at null. No increase or decrease in sharpness, contrast or saturation. Just a bunch of neutral settings. And even so the camera delivered files which looked absolutely great to me. 

A couple more as examples.














I've read articles and reviews where people say they don't like the colors from the Leica SL Jpeg "engine." 
I don't get it. But to each their own.

5.01.2021

Mixed Lights and Old Cameras. Nikon D2X in a small theater.

Joe York.

From a purely visual standpoint Zach Theatre's 2004 production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was near the top of all the plays/musicals I've photographed for them. While the production was done in the smaller, Kleberg Theater and not the giant, new Topfer show space, the set designers, set production crew and lighting departments made outstanding use of the resources they had. Added to that was a full court press by the costume shop. 

By 2004 all of our marketing and rehearsal photography had changed over from a digital/film hybrid approach to being completely digital. I was using the best Nikon camera the company had at the time; the D2X. When I look through the files from this show (part of my recent burst of archiving...) I am struck with several thoughts. One is that, at the time, I really, really depended on my 85mm f1.8D lens for about 80% of my show pix. I carried a wider angle lens, or a zoom, on a second camera for those times when there were wider ensemble shots needed but for pulling out characters while preserving a good representation of the background the 85 was near perfect. The second observation is that the ancient and very cheap, screwdriver driven AF lens on the D2X body was very, very quick at autofocusing and locking in on the focus point. Makes me nostalgic for lesser levels of technology and higher levels of actual, in-hand performance.

There is so much written (and spoken on video) about how vital; ABSOLUTELY VITAL it is to have a camera with hundreds of focusing points and whip fast continuous autofocus but after looking at samples from shows up to two decades ago I think camera makers had already done a fine job implementing AF in their higher end cameras. I'm guessing today's demands for convenience and nanny-state automatic focusing are pushed by consumers' unwillingness to read owner's manuals and to practice technique until it becomes second nature. Easier to blame everything on a camera's AF system I guess. 
 
Joe York.

The actor showcased in both images is the late, Joe York. He was a legend in Austin and New York theater circles and one of the kindest and sweetest people I've met in my decades of photography. I consider it one of life's rewards that I was able to photograph him in a number of great performances while he worked in Austin. 

I loved photographing in the Kleberg Theater. It's a smaller space and during rehearsals I could walk right up to the edge of the stage to photograph. It made the images feel so much more intimate than making images in a larger auditorium, with a very separated space between the audience and the stage. Things get better = bigger, nicer space for an audience. Things get worse= in a bigger venue you lose the intimacy. That's just the way compromise works...

A few notes about the D2X. I was frightened to ever use the camera above ISO 800 and felt, at the time, that even 640 was a stretch. Now I don't care about noise in an image as much, as long as it's some monochromatic luminance noise and not the sparkly color sprinkles of chromatic noise. 

The camera body itself was very luxe, with a nice, clean finder image, lots of well thought out physical controls and absolutely great battery life. At some point in 2017 I got nostalgic for that camera and bought one again for less than $400. When I bought the first one brand new it was a bit over $5000. From the point of view of an investor in actual machinery I'd say it was a disastrous investment. As a maker of images for licensing and sale I would say that it was a shrewd investment that returned many, many times its purchase price over the course of two or three years. Two very different ways to look at buying and using cameras....


4.30.2021

I read, with amusement, nearly a dozen breathless reviews yesterday.....of a single focal length lens. Mercy, the bloggers and v-loggers have run out of stuff to talk about.


 There were four "articles" and one long video review of the "new" Sigma 35mm Art lens on DP Review alone. An unexciting new version of a classic.  Can't imagine they couldn't have compressed all the sloppy information into one cogent article but I guess they need the "gray space" to fill the void. Gerald Undone, usually a favorite tech-leaning, video reviewer with great info spent about 12 minutes of YouTube "airtime" picking microscopic nits off the lens with analytical tweezers, and then the usual slow-witted crew on the rest of YouTube did their usual five minutes of b-roll video; fast cuts picking up their laundry, complaining about their lives, and gushing about how cool it is to be "an online edjukator" all set to the unguent melodies of over-used, quasi rock, stock music, before finally getting around to their own distinctly unscientific and highly subjective ramblings about the lens. All of this presented in a "Might this be the lens to change the WORLD???" gush-fest delivered in mostly center-framed, lifeless, video narrative. 

It's almost as if Sigma had courier services all around the camera buying world ready to deliver hundreds and hundreds of copies of the new lens to "influencers", all those "creators" who seemed to be in a content production lull until this particular product arrived. None of them, as far as I can see, have had more than a day or two to work with the lens, or much chance to take in-depth test photographs before rushing to their keyboards and selfie-cams in order to post mostly drivel. And stuff regurgitated from the sites they aspire to compete with.

At least Gerald did his research, found something to dislike about the lens and then polished up his dissonance into many minutes of grousing that the lens wasn't quite razor sharp when used at f1.4 combined with the closest focusing distance. The legions of lesser V-loggers rushed to adapt his reference and research about this shortcoming into full-on spasms of dismay. But as far as I can tell few or none of the "reviewers" actually used the lens to make photographs in their own inimitable styles. Such a tragedy. So much lost potential.

From the vomitting rush of "reviews", all arriving simultaneously on the first day after the embargo lifted, like ever-falling dominos, one would conjecture that the world at large has been waiting breathlessly for someone, anyone! to deliver a usable 35mm lens. Almost as if we've been wandering in a lensless desert for too long and this was our first oasis of wide angle joy to come along in quite a while. It's....embarrassing. 

I can forgive Gerald Undone. At least he provided samples, tests and comparisons. The rest provided... self indulgent video footage. And affiliate links galore. Gerald's usual fare is great. But the rest? Ah well.

Not to be left out of the scrum I'll add my mini-review

I've never used the lens. It's slightly smaller than the last version. It has two more controls, which I will probably never use, on the barrel. It's slightly though not appreciably lighter that the last version. It's cheaper than the same kind of lens with the same specs from other manufacturers of note. It comes in a white box which has type on it. For now it's only available in L mount and E mount. It's $895. 

My take: If you have a 35mm lens you like (and who doesn't?) then you probably won't get any additional utility out of the this one. If you want this style of lens you might be able to find the optically better, older version for a bit more than half the price out on the used market (more arriving quickly!). You will find both to be too big and too heavy for many uses. Neither are optimal "travel" lenses.

You probably have this focal length well covered with various zoom lenses you own and likely won't see a shred of difference at f5.6. You will shoot once or twice at f1.4 before realizing that it's an odd focal length to shoot at f1.4 and that getting interesting images with that f-stop and focal length is....always challenging and only sometimes vaguely rewarding. 

"Okay. I think we're done here....."

added note: Do you think it will eventually dawn on reviewers and product manufacturers that they are putting all their marketing eggs in a "one day" or "one week" basket and that spreading out access to test products might help spread out the media coverage over time? And that might give their products a longer shelf life? A longer tail? And do reviewers understand how transparent their reliance on advertiser links becomes when everyone rushes to review the same product in the same way at the same time? Maybe that the group  onslaught, the mosh pit of reviews, degrades their credibility? Ah well. Maybe there's site for marketing that everyone overlooked.