31 December, 2015

Happy Holidays

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - City Reach Boardwalk - Brisbane [Click image to enlarge]

Happy New Year
Thank you for joining me in 2015, and
All the best for 2016!

28 December, 2015

Epson Legacy Papers

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Paddlewheeler, Brisbane River [Click to enlarge.]

Epson has a new line of papers coming in 2016. There's a special page on the Epson USA site; but, sadly, I couldn't find a hint of these papers on Epson's Australia site. You can sign up for future information about the Legacy line on the USA page, but it's limited to customers with US or Canadian addresses. 

These new "Legacy Papers" include: "Legacy Platine," "Legacy Fibre," "Legacy Baryta," and "Legacy Etching." 

The Luminous Landscape is beginning a "Getting Back to the Print" project. And, as a part of that project it looks like they'll be testing these papers ahead of (or concurrently with) the January 2016 releases.

From the new names, I'm guessing that Epson's "Platine" and "Baryta" are taking aim at the Canson papers, "Canson Platine Fibre Rag," and "Canson Baryta Photographique." Both of these Canson papers are favourites of mine — both are outstanding. For Epson to jump ahead of these two Cansons will require quite an effort. And, such an effort is made more difficult by Epson having to use other manufacturers, as they don't make their own paper. (Canson, on the other hand, is a dedicated paper maker founded in 1557.) Good luck, Epson.

Epson also mentions a "Legacy Fibre," as an "exceptionally bright, OBA-free, smooth matte" paper. This sounds to me like a whiter version of Epson Hot Press Natural. Epson's HPN is also a favourite of mine. Its warmth can be great for black and white portraits, or other images where a bright white can be distracting. That same warmth, however, can be limiting for other purposes. Epson's Hot Press Bright is more neutral, but I, for one, am not happy with its Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs) as they can affect longevity. A more neutral OBA-free, white matte could fill a gap.

The Gregory Cazillo YouTube interview with Jeff Smith of Epson at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York indicates that the Legacy Fibre will take Photo Black ink instead of the usual Matte Black. It will be interesting to see if the paper will still retain the organic feel of matte papers with the "hold out" necessary for Photo Black ink.

There's also a textured matte coming called "Legacy Etching." I'm usually shy of textured papers, but I'm happy to have a look.

The claimed longevity by Jeff Smith for the new papers is high (200 years for colour and 400 years for black and white), but It's not clear to me if this is just the paper or a combination of the new papers and the new UltraChrome HD and HDX ink sets. 

I was very pleased with Epson's Signature Worthy papers; but disappointed when my favourite, Hot Press Natural, was out of stock in Australia for a time this year.

I watch with envy from afar when Epson in the USA offers attractive discounts on both printers and papers. The only recent offer I recall from Epson Australia was for $10 off my next order — if I referred a new customer.

13 December, 2015

A little format change

Sony 70-200mm - Mt Coot-tha [Click image to enlarge]

It's a quiet Sunday, so I thought I would make some changes to the design of the blog — nothing major. I darkened the background because it helps with the images. White text on a dark background, however, is much harder to read, so I brought up the size of the type.

Also, a different colour scheme and a slightly wider blog to accommodate the larger type.

I have to go back and clean up some earlier posts where the global changes have created problems, and that might take a day or two.

08 December, 2015

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis - Cropping

Sony 70-200mm - Mt Coot-tha [Click image to enlarge]

Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB) is famous for rarely cropping his images. This reticence wasn't sloth; but was a matter of principle. And his wasn't a voice in the wilderness. Jay Maisel, for example, also takes a dim view of post-production cropping.

I really love HCB's and Jay Maisel's work; but in regard to their attitudes to cropping, I don't get it. Cropping in-camera, it seems to me, limits the photographer to the aspect ratio of the camera.

But, dwelling on the negative isn't helpful, particularly when talking about the work of HCB and Maisel. So, let me go another way.

In looking at the greats, I'm more impressed by the cropping choices of Willy Ronis, the French Humanist photographer. When I look at his images, I can't imagine them benefiting from an honouring of the aspect ratios of his cameras.

I'm no Willy Ronis, but I rarely fail to crop my own images. I see no benefit in not trying to balance the elements, emphasise the essential and minimise the irrelevant. Sure, I try to get it right in the camera, but if it still needs work, it still needs work.

A 6:48 slideshow of Ronis photos:

24 November, 2015

The Luminous Landscape — an absolute bargain

I'm not sure how long I've been a reader of the Luminous Landscape. But over the years it has become, for me, and I'm sure for many others, an invaluable source of information about both the the art and the craft of photography. No other website has my confidence the way that "LuLa" does.

I think that my trust in the site is borne out of their consistently positive attitudes and approaches about products, photographers, and photography. No whining, no assassinations.

And, icing on the cake: The "Guide to Lightroom" and "Camera to Print and Screen" videos, amongst many others, have taught me more than I care to admit.

Good luck to Michael, Kevin and Chris. It's my hope that LuLa has ensured its continued existence with this change to a membership model.

I'm in. (Cheap at twice the price.)

Here's their seven minute video about the change:

22 November, 2015

Pigment Ink Prints

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Old Petrie Town - Whiteside, Queensland [Click image to enlarge.]

I visited an art gallery this morning that was showing a number of photographs, as well as paintings and sculpture. I was struck by the various ways the prints were described: "Pigment," "Pigment Print," "Pigment inkjet," "Digital Print," and a couple of others that I can't recall — should have written them down. I'm just grateful that I didn't see "Giclée" in there.

If a gallery can't standardise, what help is there for the rest of us? It looks like every printer is going to have to decide for him or herself.

Epson describes my 3880 printer as using, "pigment-based ink technology." So, from now on I'm going to try to describe my prints as, "Pigment Ink Prints." 

14 November, 2015

Vive la France !

My deepest sympathies are with the families of those killed and injured, and with all the People of France.

I send this message in the certain knowledge that France will prevail over the forces of murder and terror.

Tenba Reload Battery 2 - Battery Pouch

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Old Petrie Town - Whiteside, Queensland [Click image to enlarge,]

I don't like batteries loose in my pocket or in the bottom of my camera bag. The Tenba Reload Battery 2 - Battery Pouch fixes that. And, for once, it's something useful that isn't expensive.

First, the case is designed for larger, DSLR batteries. Sony's FW50 batteries (for the A7 series, NEX, A6000, and RX10 cameras) are smaller than the case was designed to hold. That means that FW50 batteries in the upright orientation move around a bit inside the Tenba case. This, however, isn't a problem, it's an opportunity.

Because the Sony batteries are smaller, they can also fit firmly in the Tenba case when placed sideways. (The actual battery pouch is formed by stretchy neoprene.) This allows me to keep charged batteries upright and discharged batteries sideways.

This means that I can tell if there's a charged battery in the case either by shaking or poking it. When I give the case a bit of a shake, if there's a charged (upright) battery inside I can feel it moving. Alternatively, if I press on either side of the case I can feel whether there's an upright or sideways battery inside.

Sony's FW50 batteries are big enough that they can't fall out accidentally; and, at the same time, they can't change orientation once I place them sideways. While there's a snug fit for batteries that are placed sideways, they pop out easily with a little push on the neoprene from below.

The Tenba case also has a belt loop (with Velcro so it can wrap around a belt or strap) and rings, that afford a variety of carrying options. I, on the other hand, just put the Tenba case in my bag or in my pocket.

The case has a little piece of advice printed on the inside of the flap: "NEVER COMPROMISE." Nonsense — I compromise all the time.

Tenba has a video showing its memory card wallets and batteries cases HERE.

I'm not trying to change anything that's in front of me.
I'm trying to give it respect and I'm trying to call attention to it.
It's a matter of sharing with people.
—Jay Maisel (b. 1931)

05 November, 2015

Prince of Darkness - the Sony A7RII

Zeiss Batis 85mm - Ibis - South Bank [Click image to enlarge.]

I'm just not using my tripod these days. 

But it's not the tripod's fault. My Benro A-0691 Travel Angel (now discontinued) is a great balance between cost and weight. It's aluminium so it doesn't offer the weight saving of the carbon fibre models. But, aluminium is less expensive
 and makes for a steadier platform in a slight breeze — perfect for mirrorless sized cameras. And, one of the legs will detach to make a monopod. But I digress.

My tripod is a victim of the Prince of Darkness: Sony's mirrorless, E-Mount A7RII. I'm mostly a prime shooter, so the in-body stabilisation has delivered to me three additional stops (but often it will go four). And, everyone seems to agree the sensor adds a further stop. (I think it's closer to two.)

But, for the sake of the argument, let's say it's four stops all up.

If we were still using film, for example, that would mean a new Tri-X delivering ASA 6400 with the same grain and response that it previously delivered at 400. Money for old rope.

So, where I wouldn't have dreamt of hand-holding 42 mp (or 36). I do now.

I'm not selling my tripod. It's comforting to know it's there if I need it.

03 November, 2015

Peak Design Camera Straps

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Old Petrie Town - Whiteside, Queensland [Click image to enlarge.]

A while ago I started using Peak Design's wrist strap, called the Cuff, and their neck/shoulder strap, called the Slide. Peak Design makes a few different products, but it's their camera straps that most interest me.

Here are the benefits for me:

I've dumped the D-rings. I hate D-rings. They're fiddly, they clink, and attaching straps to them is a pain. (I don't know why they call them D-rings anymore, because they're not "D" shaped, they're triangular with an even smaller, tiny plastic clip.)

Happily the Peak Design Anchors attach directly to the lugs of my cameras. So, once attached to the lugs, I never have to fiddle with D-rings again.
Hint: The Sony camera body lugs are small and there is no way that you can PUSH the cord of an Anchor through. You can, however, PULL an Anchor cord through. I use a doubled length of dental floss, with a small bit of soap on the Anchor cord. That allows me to pull them through the hole in the lug.
I don't need a strap for each camera. With Anchors on each camera, any Peak Design strap will attach to any camera.

No metal ends. Many other straps have metal connectors at their ends. I've been worried that heavy, metal connectors at the ends of long straps may not always play nice with exposed, expensive glass. The Peak Design straps have light, rounded plastic on the ends of their connectors and Anchors.

Secure but easily used — one-handed. Switching between the Slide and the Cuff, or switching between cameras is quick and easy.

Non-slip Slide. The Slide has a rubberised strip on one side. If I want to use it over one shoulder, I just flip the Slide to access the shoulder-gripping side. Nice.

I don't want to give the impression that the straps that I was using before were "deficient." They weren't. It's just that the Peak Design straps work better for me given how I'm shooting now.

I read that there had been some failures with the spring mechanisms in the connectors; and it's the connectors that are the heart of the system. So, I wrote and asked, and I received a prompt and informative reply that put my concerns to rest. And then, when I went to B and H, I noticed that there were two versions of both the Slide and the Cuff, at the same prices. So I went with the Mark II versions for each.

Below is one of Peak Design's videos (2:25) that shows how the connectors and anchors work.

23 October, 2015

Cars and Malls - enemies of photography

Zeiss Batis 85mm - Seller at the Southbank Markets [Click image to enlarge.]

Much of my daily travel is by car. And while I often see photo opportunities while I'm driving, those opportunities quickly fade as I zip past. (I've seen some people photographing from their cars while driving. I wouldn't do that if I could.) And then, my destination is often a mall or other venue that prohibits photography.

This is not a tale of woe. In terms of the world, I'm privileged to be able to afford a car and privileged to be able to afford to buy things at a mall when I get there. (I don't, however, shop at Big Box Mart.)

My point (you probably thought I'd never get there) is that these constraints do take some of the spontaneity out of photography. It means that I have to decide to find a place where I can take and use my camera. That makes outdoor markets attractive: Sellers, buyers, browsers, colour and movement. The only problem with markets — I hate to say — is lack of parking.

19 October, 2015

Mobile version of the blog hijacked by ads

For reasons that are presently unclear, some recent connections to this blog from mobile devices were hijacked by intervening ads.

No one was more surprised by this than me, as I have not authorised any ads on this site.

This seem to have been an unintended result of one of Google's templates for mobile devices. (There's nothing in Google's documentation about this.)

The idea was that if a mobile device was detected, the blog posts would be presented in a format that was easier to read on a mobile device.

Until there's a solution, I have switched off the alternative template. Accessing the blog from a mobile device simply returns the regular site.

My apologies for any inconvenience.

Bill Danby

16 October, 2015

Loxia 21mm? (It's not you, it's me)

Sony G 70-200mm - More Mt Coot-tha [Click image to enlarge.]

With the recent spate of new, super-wide angle lenses (the Zeiss Loxia 21mm, Batis 25mm, Zeiss Otus 28mm, Zeiss Milvus 21mm, and the Sigma 21mm), I've been thinking.

When I've had wide zooms, I've found myself working at the widest focal lengths; avoiding that 21-28mm zone. 

I have to admit it: I'm not on top of the super-wide focal lengths. I do okay with the ultra wides. But, that's easy — the distortion there isn't a bug; it's a feature. And, the 35mm, at the moderate end, is easy enough to use. It's just a wider "normal" lens.

All this raises interesting questions. Should I push myself into doing something I clearly don't do well, in order to do it better? Or, should I capitalise on what isn't too bad, in order to do that even better?

Given that I can't afford a Loxia 21mm at the moment (yes, it would be the Loxia), these are moot questions — "moot questions," in either meaning of that phrase.

11 October, 2015

Photographer's Rights

Sony G 70-200mm - Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane [Click image to enlarge.]

Photographer's rights in Australia are essentially the same as those in the United States. I'm free to take any photo I want in a public place or from a public place. But this post is not legal advice. The law is the context, but not the subject of this discussion.

Public places: I've never had a person in authority question my right to photograph in a public place. (Once, when I had a 70-200mm out, however, I was asked if something was happening.)

Would I stand my ground if challenged? Probably.

Less public places: When I'm in a less public place, such as a gallery or museum, if it's not already posted, I ask. Usually the prohibitions set by galleries and museums are to protect the art — while I'm more interested in photographing the viewers of the art. Oh, well.

Other people's art: In public markets I occasionally see vendor's signs prohibiting the taking of photos of their wares. The rationale seems to be that the mere photographing of their product or design, even incidentally, is a breach of their copyright. Nonsense. I have no desire to photograph someone else's art; but if it happens to be in my shot, then it's in my shot.

Inside a shop: Their shop, their rules. (But it's not copyright.) The largest shopping mall near to where I live is "posted," so there's no "street" photography there. It's a pretty sterile environment in any case.

Deleting images: I've never had a person demand that I delete a photo from my camera. That, however, isn't too surprising because if I'm waved off or if it's clear to me the subject sees my photography as an intrusion, then I don't persist.

If I were asked to delete a photo, there would have to be a compelling reason for me to do so. If it was reasonable to believe that a photo of mine would ridicule or embarrass the person, or intrude on their grief, for example, I'd probably delete it to put their concerns to rest — and I would make it clear that was my reason. (Such a shot would have to have been inadvertent, as I don't take those kinds of pictures.) In most other cases I would simply tell the person that I won't use it.

Previewing: Even when I'm doing street portraits where I've asked permission for the shot, I'm rarely asked for a look at the LCD preview. I think there are a few reasons for this. When I approach someone I emphasise that I'll only take a minute. When I've taken my shots I thank them and offer to tell them where they can find my site, signalling that I'm keeping my promise not to intrude unduly on their time. And, there's one other reason: I rarely chimp my own work. If following a shot I were to begin appraising the display on the back of the camera, it would obviously invite the interest of the subject.

As to chimping more generally, I think it was Jay Maisel who mentioned that when you're chimping you're not seeing the next picture.

04 October, 2015

Mt Coot-tha: Sunrise / Moonrise

Following the "Blood Moon," I found I had a few images of Brisbane's Mt Coot-tha. So, I compiled them into a slideshow (of only about a minute and a half) — my first YouTube effort.

03 October, 2015

Blood Moon Watchers

The Blood Moon watchers were much more interesting than the Blood Moon. On that evening, the lookout on Mt Coot-tha in Brisbane was a popular place to be.

All taken with the Sony G 70-200mm

[Click any image to enlarge]

29 September, 2015

Epson HD and HDX inks are coming

Sony G 70-200mm - Mt Coot-tha, Toowong Queensland [Click image to enlarge.]

Epson has announced new printers and new UltraChrome HD and HDX ink sets. These 24 and 44 inch printers come with either an 8 or a 10 ink configuration (8 is the HD and 10 is the HDX). And, within the 10-ink sets there's a further choice between "light, light black" or a new violet.

I am NOT in the market for a printer to replace my Epson 3880. My 3880 seems to have plenty of life left in it; so, until that changes, the UltraChrome K3 inks will do nicely.

I am pleased, however, that there are advances in the art. I'm a big fan of some of the newer matte papers (Epson's Hot Press Natural, for example) and it looks like the new inks will deliver an improved Dmax for these. Seemingly, more of the pigment stays at or near the surface of the print. As you would expect, the new ink sets also promise greater gamut and longevity.

It's also being claimed that the new printheads will have much longer lives, not being subjected to in-head heating.

As to hardware, the 3880 is succeeded by the already released, HD inkset, 17 inch, P800. That printer benefits from roll paper, but it has no built-in cutter. Who knows, perhaps one day I'll be ready to move to 24 inch paper.

26 September, 2015

Camera bags and Velcro

Sony G 70-200mm - Mt Coot-tha, Queensland [Click image to enlarge.]

I keep reading opinions and reviews about camera bags that seem to be negative about the use of Velcro. This negativity seems to arise for one reason: When you separate the hooks from the loops it makes a loud, tearing sound.

I want to say a few words in support of Velcro and its use in camera bags, and even about the loud tearing sound.

When the flap on my bag drops back down, the Velcro catches — automatically. That provides three benefits:
  1. My bag isn't open to the world; and
  2. anyone trying to open my bag will make a noise and have to tug at it (alerting me); and
  3. if I'm seriously jostled or if I fall down, the contents of my bag will not spill out.
If the price for this is a bit of noise now and again, I'm okay with that.

(Interestingly, it appears that "Velcro" isn't the name of the product, it's the name of the company that makes the hook and loop product. I call it Velcro anyway.)

22 September, 2015

Happy Birthday, Blog

9th and Boundary - just a very quiet corner in Toowong, Queensland [Click image to enlarge.]

In reading The Online Photographer (TOP) blog (as I regularly 
do), I learned it's coming up to its 10th birthday — many happy returns.

This caused me to notice that this blog just passed its 5th.

Thank you to all of you who have visited.

I still find it fun to write the blog. As I've mentioned before, writing about almost anything is, first, a huge lesson for me.

I began the blog on 20 September 2010. It turns out that the blog shares its birthday with Sophia Loren. (Happy 81st, Sophia.)

18 September, 2015

Domke canvas camera bags

Voigtlander 15mm - "Church" - Samford, Queensland [Click image to enlarge.]

Just over a year ago, I said that I wouldn't tell you what camera bag to buy — and I won't. But I will tell you why I like canvas bags. (It just so happens that, for me, that means Domke.)

Camera bags mostly serve three (for me quite separate) purposes: For checked baggage, storage, or carrying. For me it's all about carrying. There's no chance that a camera or lens of mine will go into checked baggage. Reduced kit size is one of the blessings of the mirrorless revolution, so I don't need to. And, I don't have enough gear to store.

A bag for carrying, needs to be comfortable. To be comfortable, it should be soft. For a bag to be soft, it's likely to be either canvas or leather.

I'm not dismissing the benefits of leather. It's weatherproof, beautiful and it can be soft. But gear changes, needs change, and circumstances change. Given the price of quality leather, buying a good leather bag to meet the needs of the moment seems to me to be a triumph of optimism over practicality. I can see, however, that photographers with kits that will serve for extended periods (think, Leica), might find leather a practical alternative. (If I could afford Leica, I could afford leather bags.)

The elephant in the room is ballistic nylon. (I never would have thought that I would get "elephant" and "ballistic nylon" into the same sentence.) If you're worried about shrapnel or if you ride a motorcycle (or both, I suppose), then the "ballistic" level of protection makes good sense.

For me, that leaves canvas. Canvas is "warm" to the touch. It's relatively inexpensive. It molds to circumstances. Canvas is reasonably abrasion and weather resistant. So, canvas is my first choice of material in a bag.

There are a number of canvas bag makers: Domke, Bellingham, ThinkTank, Courser, and National Geographic. I'll also mention Crumpler, named for Stuart Crumpler, rather than an ability to be crumpled. Crumplers are mostly Polyester, but Crumpler is Australian; so, what the hell.

I've carried Domke bags for years. They're canvas and Domke has whatever size and style of bag I might need.

And finally, good bags must have good shoulder straps. Domke bags have shoulder straps with rubber sewn into one side of the weave that keeps the strap from slipping off my shoulder. In my experience, only one brand of strap does a better job of shoulder-holding and that's the UPstrap-Pro series of camera straps. (But, these days I'm a wrist-strap guy.)

03 September, 2015

Capture One Pro and Lightroom

Near Port Vila in Vanuatu [Click image to enlarge.]

Capture One Pro 8 has been out for almost a year now, and the reports are that it's an outstanding raw converter. This has caused the forums to light up with comparisons between the various converters; but, principally, between Lightroom and Capture One. (DXO is often in there, but usually the focus is on LR and Capture One.)

First a little background. I'm a Lightroom user. I've used it for a long time and I'd like to think that I'm reasonably proficient. I don't really know Capture One (although I watched a few of the Luminous Landscape videos), but it seems clear that it's a front runner with outstanding features.

I'm not in a position, then, to tell anyone whether Lightroom or Capture One is the better program.

If I find something works well for me, I'm happy to mention it; but I don't proselytise. I do, however, subscribe to the view that over time, most often, competing purveyors leapfrog one another in quality and features. For this reason and because my time is valuable to me, I don't switch lightly. 

Shootraw.co.uk is a two-person, one-on-one training organisation in South London. They teach Lightroom, Capture One and Photoshop. I like what they have to say about switching:
Don't make the decision to switch between applications based purely on reviews – that should go without saying. If you are an expert user of either Lightroom or Capture One Pro, you'll likely get better results than most users of the competing application – expertise will almost always be more important than your choice of raw conversion software.
There's a steep learning curve in raw conversion software, particularly if large format printing is part of the workflow. So, I'm just going to let the debate rage and watch the next few incarnations with interest.

NB: It worries me that some of the "reviewers" of raw conversion programs don't distinguish between the inherent conversion qualities of the programs and the fact that some programs make more default adjustments following conversion.

24 August, 2015

Sony A7rII - People don't know what they want....

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Rain at the Camberwell Markets in Victoria [Click image to enlarge.]

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups.
A lot of times, people don't know what they want
until you show it to them.
— Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek, May 25 1998

With the NEX-7, I thought Sony had done all they could for me. An outstanding 24mp sensor, a bright and beautiful EVF, and an incredibly small form factor — t0 name just few of its many virtues. With an APS-C camera like that, who needed full frame?

Enter the A7. An absolutely tiny full frame, with an outstanding 24mp full-frame sensor. Once again, what more could anyone want?

Stabilisation? More than half again as many pixels? The A7rII has arrived with a vengeance.

Kai from Digital Rev seems convinced (video is 9:32):

Michael Reichmann and Kevin Raber (of the Luminous Landscape) also published a more than glowing review with some samples HERE, and this (21 minute) video.

21 August, 2015

Low-Key Portraits

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - The Great Court, Uni of Queensland

If I'm planning for a low-key environmental portrait, and there's an opportunity to provide pre-shooting preparation, here's what I suggest:

Nothing should distract from the face. So, in service to that principle:

Clothing colours generally
Dark, solid-colours. No patterns, stripes, checks, polka dots, graphics, logos or text. Textures (like cable knit) are okay. Wide (distracting) lace should be avoided.

Dark (but not black), long-sleeved shirts or blouses. The (non-distracting) texture in a shirt or top that adds to the "reality" of the portrait can be lost in black clothing.

Long, dark pants or long skirts. Jeans or denim is fine. Leggings are fine if they're opaque, dark and without distracting patterns. Black leggings/tights are okay because the further away from the face, the less relevant and useful any texture or detail is.

Shoes and socks
If feet are going to be showing, dark shoes without distracting details. Avoid the reflecting or patterned trainers that seem ubiquitous these days. Preferably not sandals. Avoid distracting socks or patterned tights.

As little jewelry as possible. Avoid wide or distracting belts, belt buckles or anything that's shiny. Avoid wrist watches.

Hair and Makeup
The simpler the better. Only the makeup that's necessary for daylight. Avoid distracting nail polish.

Reality bites
Do subjects take all this advice? Often not.

16 August, 2015

Shutter speeds

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Crane Reflection [Click to enlarge]

With all the other advances, little attention seems to be paid to the current state of shutter speeds.

In the olden days, my Olympus OM2-S's fastest shutter was 1/1000th of a second. That was pretty standard at the time. But now, we don't think twice about 1/8000th of a second.

That's three full stops that don't need to gained with a neutral density filter. There are, of course, times when you want motion blur or narrower depth of field, and need the filter. But it's just another bit of latitude that seems to work for us these days.

I just wanted to register my gratitude, even before electronic shutters start delivering substantially faster speeds.

11 August, 2015

Batis 85mm and the Tyranny of Physics

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Cut Sunflowers [Click image to enlarge.]

I've mentioned before that I didn't move down (in camera size) to Sony mirrorless from DSLRs. Instead, I moved up from Micro Four-Thirds (and smaller); first to APS-C, and then to full frame.

Mirrorless is attractive to me because of the small body sizes. But until Sony and Fujifilm got into the miniaturisation act, both APS-C and full-frame seemed unattainable in small camera bodies. Sure, Leica had always demonstrated that full-frame could be done with relatively small bodies and lenses; but I couldn't afford Leica. There were some attractive fixed-lens cameras, but I wanted interchangeable.

First came the NEX-7 and then the A7 series. Eureka. But while camera bodies were smaller, lenses were still problematic. Sony and Zeiss tactically addressed the problem of lens size with slightly slower offerings. Where f/1.4 was common, they offered f/1.8 or f/2.0. And, f/2.8 became f/4.0.

The Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 is brilliant and small because it's f/2.8 and unstabilized. The Zeiss 50mm Loxia is brilliant and small because it's f/2.0, manual aperture, manual focus and unstabilized. Voigtlander's 15mm (even version III) is brilliant and small because it's f/4.0, manual focus, manual aperture and unstabilised. Sony's 70-200mm f/4 is relatively small for this range because it's f/4.0.

But 85mm is another matter. 

85mm is a classic portrait focal length. A reasonably fast portrait lens is not just a convenience, it's the point. You have to be able to control the background. Yes, Zeiss makes it work at f/1.8, but it couldn't be slower than that. So the Batis 85 is pretty big. Not huge, but it's the husky sibling in the family. But I don't mind. If portraits are the order of the day, where my Batis 85mm goes, so goes the 70-200mm.

So I have my (mostly) small kit. It all fits nicely in a Domke F-3X "Super Compact" bag. But physics is still out there, lurking — I can hear it breathing.

29 July, 2015

Over the edge

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - ANZAC Square, Brisbane [click to enlarge]

I always try to have a look over an edge – a wall, a rail or a balcony. I'm not a big fan of heights, as it makes my tummy feel a bit funny. But I've had good luck in having quick peeks.

It's hard to convert the familiar into something interesting or beautiful. But, looking down provides an almost immediate shift. I suppose that's a reason why drones are so getting so popular.

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Bribie Island, Queensland [click image to enlarge]

26 July, 2015

I walk around

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - "Rain" - Camberwell Markets, Melbourne [click image to enlarge]

I walk around and I take photographs.

I try to keep a low profile. I have a small bag, a reasonably small camera with a small lens, and I usually have my camera at my side until it's time to use it.

If I'm noticed, I ask if I can take the picture. I smile (although I'm not a particularly good smiler), and I say why I want the shot: "I love the hat," or "Great mustache," or whatever.

I know the privacy laws and my rights as a photographer in public spaces. But if someone says, no, or waves me off, then I don't take the shot.

My mother didn't raise me to be a nuisance.

21 July, 2015

The Sigma E-Mount trio

Zeiss 50mm Loxia - Fortitude Valley, Brisbane [click image to enlarge]

A recent post in SonyAlpha Rumors pointed out how well the less expensive E-Mount lenses were selling on Amazon. This reminded me of the strength of the Sigma trio.

Sigma came to the E-Mount party with three lenses that form the classic primes kit: A wide 19mm f/2.8 (28mm equiv), a "standard" 30mm f/2.8 (45mm equiv) and a moderate telephoto 60mm f/2.8 (90mm equiv). These are all autofocus, but they're not stabilised and they're not super-fast. That's how Sigma kept the lid on the prices. (And they all share the same filter size - 46mm.)

I'm a prime guy, and a trio like this reminds me why. The kit zooms that we're used to seeing are slower and less sharp. They do, however, have stabilization. But think about this. The 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom for the A6000 is f/5.6 at it longest (75mm equiv). The Sigma (at 90mm equiv) is f/2.8 and is one of the sharpest lenses you can get for a NEX camera. Talk about bang for your buck....

Yes, there are better primes, and some of them are stabilised; but they are usually twice the price or more.

But something else is happening. Many Sony users are moving to full-frame with the A7s. And soon there will be a new A7000 (or whatever it might be called). This is going to mean a buyer's market in both new and used NEX-7s, NEX-6s and A6000s. Any of these outstanding ASP-C cameras linked to the Sigma trio will be a powerhouse kit for almost no money. (Well, okay, some money.)

For anyone who wants to do photography (but lacks an inheritance), I think this is a super opportunity.

20 July, 2015

Lens hoods

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - "The Chase" the City Botanic Gardens, Brisbane Queensland [click image to enlarge]

I always use lens hoods.

Some photographers feel that lens hoods are too intimidating for street photography. That hasn't been my experience. On the other hand, I don't use large zooms, so I start from a fairly unintimidating profile. When I'm walking around, the camera is down at my side, either on a wrist strap or on a BlackRapid strap. And, of course, when my camera is pointed at the subject, the subject doesn't see the hood.

I used to use protective filters with all my lenses. I stopped a couple of years ago. I did that because using the hoods all the time gives those front elements enough protection. I live in the semi-tropics, so this works for me. If I went back to a more harsh environment I might work differently.

And the hoods do what they're supposed to do by keeping out some of the stray (or even direct) light. This reduces that little bit of "haze" that stray light can introduce.

Leaving off an unnecessary filter also eliminates two glass-to-air surfaces — yet another optical benefit.

My walking around lens is a 50mm. I keep it in the bag with the hood on and the lens cap off. You don't want to be fiddling with either a lens cap or lens hood when the time comes.

Because I'm usually a prime shooter, lens hoods are more effective for me than they are for zoom shooters. A lens hood on a zoom needs to accommodate the widest focal length of the lens, making the hood less effective for all the longer focal lengths. On a prime, the hood is tuned to the focal length of that lens.

One good habit is worth a hundred resolutions.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948–)

09 July, 2015

Lightroom CC and Perpetual

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), in Brisbane [click photo to enlarge]

I've got a couple of drawers full of DVDs — movies to which I'm attached, movies that I think of as mine. But when the family sits down to decide on a movie, we don't search my "memory-lane" drawers any more, we go to Apple TV and Netflix.

I used to use Thunderbird for my emails, but now I use Gmail.

Still amongst my programs are Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS6. But when I have photos that I want to see and work with, I fire up Lightroom CC. And when I have things to do in Photoshop, I go to Photoshop CC.

Change often seems hard. (I won't call it progress, because I don't want to have that debate.) Sometimes somebody ends the debate; and after that, things just are what they are.

And that's what Adobe did: For all practical purposes they ended the debate. They were able to do that because Lightroom and Photoshop are so capable that many of us think of them as essential. We weren't going to switch to something else because of downloading and license arrangements.

And, let's be fair: Adobe worked hard to make the transition to CC painless; and they offered photographers an outstanding monthly package deal for Lightroom, Photoshop and Bēhance.

Sometimes things just are what they are.

23 June, 2015

Lightroom's New Local White and Black Sliders

Zeiss Loxia 50mm - "Glimpse" [click to enlarge]

In Lightroom CC (2015) there are two new sliders on the brush, gradient and radial filters: White and Black.

As global tools the White and Black sliders let me set the white and black points easily. It's a bonus to be able to visualise where and when the clipping begins (at either end) using the Alt key (or Option key on the Mac). And, of course I can monitor the shifts on the histogram.

The inclusion of the sliders on these local tools, means that I can adjust the clipping when the additional local adjustments needs some, well, adjustment of their own. But this local fine tuning is a bit more difficult. The Alt key (or Option), for example, doesn't lead me to a visualisation, and the histogram is only about whole images, so any local changes can be very subtle there.

So if, for example, I've set the black point for an image globally and then I add a gradient that brings the exposure down in a part of the image (clipping to black in areas where I want to keep some detail), I can fix it. I can fix it without either revisiting my global black point or seriously compromising my gradient. Cool.

I went back to see if some images would jump out at me as likely candidates for repair — none did. So, I'll wait for the next situation rather than spend more time looking.