Nov 242014
 

Character Style and Mood in Photography

By Peter Maynard

Adelaide, South Australia

Hello Steve. Allow me to open by saying thank you for running this site. It is one that I visit regularly for inspiration and information. I thought it was time I went about trying to inspire by providing some thoughts on the importance of character, style and mood in photography. It is a wee bit lengthy but I hope it’s worth it, so here goes.

In photography, many of us start our journey by studying and learning from the masters of the art. But my belief is that many of us will eventually develop a desire to create their own personal photographic style, rather than just copying others. This requires experimentation, learning, effort and creativity. In my case, I approach photography as an art form, not just a mechanism for documenting and recording events. This more expressive approach influences my work greatly and my ability to use photography to express myself artistically is the thing that constantly challenges, engages, enthuses and energizes me. Oh, and did I say frustrates?

What really counts for me is the creative process itself and ultimately what is important is whether I like the resulting image. I understand that not everyone approaches photography in this way and that is fine but this is my way so it is all I can tell you about. What this article is about really is the need for photographers to develop character and style in their work and in particular I would like to demonstrate the role that mood can play in image making as a part of this.

Although like many photographers, I started “serious” photography by shooting black and white, my preferred style now most often involves using colour because I find it lends itself better to artistic interpretation for my type of work. This is not invariably the case though – I like to let the image “decide” if it wants to be in colour or in monochrome, if that makes sense. It is a simple fact of life that some images work best in monochrome and some in colour. Part of our job in image making is to work out which is which. So I usually shoot in full colour then convert later if needed. Here is one where monochrome seemed to work better to convey the feeling I thought the image was crying out to convey – solitary, thoughtful, a little gloomy. I can’t say it’s a perfect photo – it has too many blown highlights for that, but it has mood in bucket loads and that is what I wanted.

Image 1

I always feel that photographs are at their most interesting when they require some degree of interpretation by the viewer. And as I have already hinted, as much as anything this is about creating mood in images rather than just capturing a scene accurately. It is about what is suggested in the image more than what is recorded. My personal belief is that this kind of photography is at its best, not necessarily when the images are technically perfect, but rather when they either capture or create a mood that “speaks” to the viewer. of course a viewer may interpret my photographs as having a very different mood or message from the one I intended, because of course the viewer will interpret the image through his or her own eyes and own experiences.

Here is a colour example I happen to like very much. Like many images that I like the best, it is not technically perfect. And like many presented here, it was shot through a window and as a result is distorted and softened by flare and reflections. Technically it may be questionable, but artistically I feel it works. This image reminds me very much of early autochrome colour images which have a lovely softness and pastel quality. And it has a lovely intimate mood which sets me thinking: who are they, why are they here, what are they talking about? That is exactly what mood should be able to achieve – set the viewer thinking.

Image 2

I am happiest with my own photos when they are somewhat ambiguous (one reason I often make liberal use of reflections when I can – think Saul Leiter who had a similar approach for, I imagine, similar reasons). I think of a good image as being one which allows room for viewer interpretation as I mentioned earlier. Here is another example. Again, it’s an image of a group of people in a warm café; sitting, passing the time, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company. Once more, critics could be forgiven for saying it’s a bad photo – excessively dark, soft, indistinct and vague. But these are exactly the things I love about it. It has an intimate mood that draws me back to this place and time. Hopefully it does something similar for others who may remember times when they have sat amongst just such an intimate group of friends. Once more this photo is all about its mood.

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Why is it that looking in through a window on a scene so often creates that feeling of intimacy and warmth? I find this again and again – it is like looking in on a secret and private world. Here is a further example, an image that speaks to me once more of comfort, intimacy, congeniality and friendship.

Image 4

Of course the same technique can be applied in other settings. In the following two images, shot through windows in Kowloon, Hong Kong I captured the staff of two of the many small restaurants that line the streets in this part of town, at work in their kitchens. Shadows and light complemented by the blur of steam on what probably has to be admitted were grimy windows transport me back to my time in that place. To me this type of travel photo is more evocative than any number of wide-angle scenes of iconic buildings and skylines, perhaps because the images’ human scale because they capture the feeling of the places depicted. They are photos which make the most of mood and looking at them transports me back to that place and time. This is what mood can do when it works for the viewer.

Image 5

Image 6

But of course, mood does not always rely upon reflections in a window. In the following shot my aim was for the image to be about the triangle made by this mother’s face, her hands and the face of her child to emphasize the relationship between them. So after making the image I applied a vignette to emphasise those elements and not much else – perhaps just enough to give context. I have often felt that in image making a successful image is as much about what you leave out as what you capture. And that is a key creative choice that photographers should keep in mind.

Image 7

The same kind of technique can be successfully applied to other types of photograph to create mood. In this image of a city skyline, the natural shadows have been enhanced to focus the eye where it needs to be – on the juxtaposition between old and new as represented by the buildings in the image.

Image 8

In all of the above images there has been some degree of post processing to draw out final image. Perhaps it is surprising for many people to learn that the processing has involved taking detail out – not maximizing it. As I said at the outset, to me a photograph can often work best when it is a little ambiguous and allows room for personal interpretation by the viewer. This can often only be achieved if the image has lost some detail that might otherwise distract the viewer from the main message or make the main point of interest in the image less obvious. But there are times when little effort is needed to achieve this.

Sometimes, as in this photo all you need to do is to rely on natural light to capture the mood that was present when the image was made. And then maybe tweak it a smidge in post.

Image 9

But I can never quite let go of the idea of using reflections so here is one final photo to illustrate a variation on this theme. In this example it was as simple as photographing the distorted image of a crane against the sky, with both elements reflected in a grimy upper story window of a warehouse. No tricks, little processing, just an image that is both vague and at the same time, somehow evocative. You may have guessed. I love reflections for their ability to create mood.

Image 10

So there you have it, some thoughts on creating mood in photography to illustrate my central message of the importance of photographers creating a personal style for themselves. And of course to illustrate this I have shown you something of my own personal style. Your task is to find a style that works for you – a style which gives you a voice. And what about creating mood? Well, unsurprisingly I find that much of it is about using shadows and light. Speaking personally I just wait till I see an image that looks as if it is interesting then compose and press the shutter. Then when I am processing it and begin to see an image emerging that I like, I may add a bit of shadow here, subtract a bit of light there – or visa versa, till I am happy. No secret, just experience and a certain sensitivity to an image that in some way makes me go “wow, I like that, I think I will stop now!” If there is interest and |Steve agrees I am happy to prepare another article for his site on how to use post processing to enhance mood and style in photographs.
I recently found a photography book containing photos of Australia in the 1950’s and 1960s. A sentence in it caught my attention, part of which referred to “the ability of a lens to give a vision not seen by the eye”. How true that is. If we are doing our job right as photographers we will sometimes manage to capture an image that no eye, including our own has ever seen. We have caught a moment in time and when we first see the photo realise we have really seen it for the first time. I am sure we all have had that experience and am constantly amazed by the ability of photography to do this. But my central idea in this article is that even though a photo can capture something not seen directly by the eye, if done well it can tell an even deeper truth about the image by speaking directly to our emotions. That is the elusive frustrating demon I constantly chase. Maybe we all do.

I hope you have enjoyed this and even more, I hope you have found it useful or at least thought-provoking. More of my photos can be seen on my Flickr page. Nothing fancy, just photos from my everyday life and travels. Some good, perhaps some indifferent, but I hope not many that are bad.

Please visit and if you feel so inclined, leave comments. https://www.flickr.com/photos/life_in_shadows/

Or you can visit some I have placed on Pinterest for a more succinct overview of some of my images. http://www.pinterest.com/peterm1001/

Nov 182014
 

Travelling with the Nikon Df

By D.J. De La Vega

Hi Steve,

It has been nearly two years year since I had the privilege of sharing my photos on your site from my photogenic road trip to Tuscany with my Leica X1. In that time I began to lust after a camera with a better optical viewfinder. The 36mm Brightline viewfinder on the X1 is a lovely piece of glass and a joy to use, but unfortunately as it is completely passive, it is not very practical and requires a lot of patience and compromises (and a lot of missed opportunities). This lead me to have a “Moment Back with my D7000″and since then I have not looked back and upgraded to the Nikon Df and have not regretted the decision for a second.

Meanwhile the time was upon me again for what has become my annual photogenic road trip. This year after many deliberations and alterations it eventually ended up being Tuscany again, only this time with a stop off in Barcelona on the way. No longer would my trusty X1 accompany me on my travels, as the Df is now my go to camera day-to-day. Initially I was concerned the added bulk and weight would impact upon my journey as my camera is strapped around my neck every minute of the waking day. In reality however I found if you are prepared to lug a camera with you all day regardless of the size, it is the practicality of actually carrying it not the physical exertion that is the issue. The Df is actually way better suited to life around my neck (not tucked away in a bag or wrapped in leather armour like my X1) and I can absolutely confirm it is a robust piece of kit for its size and weight. I have banged it around quite a bit and even inadvertently tested the weather sealing by spilling a cup of Coca-Cola all over it!!!

In use, I find the Df to be a magnificent camera. The dials are exactly where I want them to be and like my X1, I can look down at my camera and adjust the settings at a glance without raising it my eye. This comes in really handy when walking the streets in built up areas as the light can change from street to street depending on whether the low winter sun is obstructed or uninhibited. As I turn a corner, I will instinctively change the ISO on the top plate depending on how the street is lit, and found in bright sunlight I often used the L1 ISO to facilitate shallow depths of field in bright sunshine. At all times I am aware and can see what the camera is set to in case an opportunity should present itself.

So that is enough of the technical side of my gear, to my results. As I mentioned, my first stop off was Barcelona. This was serendipity as to get the best deals to flights to Tuscany I got to spend a day and a night in the capital of Catalonia. I admit, this is nowhere near enough time to explore such an expansive City, so I concentrated all of my time around the Gothic Quarter and food markets. These were wonderful locations for taking in the culture and atmosphere of the city and they presented me with countless opportunities for my photography.

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For street photography the Df is as responsive as you would expect any DSLR to be. It is no super fast sports camera, but for spotting an opportunity, lifting the camera to your eye and shooting, it is about as instantaneous as you could possibly hope for. Certainly without hyperbole a hundred million times faster than my X1.

From Barcelona to Pisa and then Siena: This time around I did not want to recapture the same photographs I achieved previously. By focusing on this philosophy I was able to explore a lot deeper than before, ignoring the local landmarks and focusing on the people and the ambiance of these underrated cities.

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For me, the pièce de résistance of Tuscany is the incredible city of Florence. This time around I made sure I had ample time to really soak it all up and immersed myself over three days and nights aimlessly wandering the charismatic streets. I do not posses an adequate number of superlatives to begin to describe the culture, art, architecture and culinary delights of this amazing place.

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(I genuinely only took this shot of the chap shooting the street with the M9 for this site to see if he was a reader or to see if any readers knew him?)

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I hope you have enjoyed my results even half as much I had making them!
DJ De La Vega https://www.flickr.com/photos/djdelavega/

@dj_delavega

http://instagram.com/dj_delavega/#
P.S These are the links to the relevant articles mentioned at the start of the post.

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/12/24/photographic-road-trip-ii-tuscany-by-d-j-de-la-vega/ 

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/02/26/a-moment-back-with-my-nikon-d7000-by-d-j-de-la-vega/ 

BUY…

You can Buy a Nikon DF at Amazon or B&H Photo

See Steve’s Review of the Df HERE.

Nov 132014
 

Gigs with the GX7

By Keiron

I decided at the beginning of this year to take the big step from a cellphone camera to a camera that couldn’t make calls and check Facebook (although the Samsung cameras are blurring those lines). After a lot of research (mostly on your site) I settled on the micro four thirds system based on the size of the hardware and the quality of the images and when I saw the Panasonic GX7 I knew it was the camera for me. Size was really important as I do a lot of backpacking and there was no way I could carry a DSLR system with me on my travels.

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Here is my Ninja GX7 next to the classic Olympus Trip 35 and it is crazy to think that both cameras have pretty much the same equivalent focal length. I purposely make my GX7 look this way to make people less aware of me taking pictures and also to reduce the chance of thieves taking a liking to my gear.

I thought I would be a travel/street shooter as that was generally what I used my phone for but as I am a massive music fan I soon realised that I could take some fairly decent pictures of gigs. Due to the fantastic size I started to sneak my GX7 into gigs and take flash free pictures of the smaller concerts that I attended and I must admit I was amazed at the quality. My set up for the GX7 was the Panny 20mm 1.7 on the body and in my coat pocket and this would be great for close to the stage shots, and then I would have the Oly 45mm f1.8 in my pocket for further away scenes.

I found that both lenses compliment each other as the 20mm gives you the “I am in the action” type shots and with the focus assist lamp off the band, and fellow fans, hardly notice you taking pictures.

The Wild Feathers playing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shot with the 20mm: f2.2, 1/60 sec at ISO 2500

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The 45mm on the other hand allows you to be a bit further back gives you quite flattering band moments which I really enjoy. The swivel touch screen on the GX7 really allows you to shoot way above your eye line and still focus and compose the shot properly, it really is such a great camera.

TenTemPies at Melkweg in Amsterdam. Shot with the 45mm: f1.8, 1/125 sec at 3200

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I do not think many photographers would ever recommend Micro Four Thirds as a concert set up and to be honest if I went into photography for concerts I would have aimed for the Sony A7 line or the overly discounted Nikon D600. I find that on the GX7 ISO1600 is very usable and up until ISO3200 you start getting grain and detail loss but with some editing afterwards you can rescue the pictures quite well.

TenTemPies at Melkweg in Amsterdam. This picture was massively over exposed but with some lightroom magic it came out ok. Shot with the 45mm: f1.8, 1/125 sec at 3200

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Lighting at concerts will always prove quite a challenge and I find that it forces you to shoot in full manual and using manual focus (magnification and peaking on the GX7 is big help here). The photos are not perfect and the grain can be annoying if you are used to well-lit street shots but at the end of the day live music should be dirty, raw and in the moment so there is no reason why the photos can’t be as well.

The Wild Feathers playing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shot with the 20mm: f2.5, 1/50 sec at ISO 3200.

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Even though I would not recommend the system for this kind of shooting I have been very impressed with the results and the versatility of the camera has really shone through.

Both bands are great and you should check their music out:

The Wild Feathers

Ricky Young, Joel King, Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly, grew up steeped in music; playing solo gigs, touring with local bands and working at venues. The four guys came together in Austin in 2010 through coincidence, mutual friends, and a shared love of the classics: Petty, Dylan, Cash, The Band, Allman Bros, Neil Young and Willie Nelson. They immediately began playing together and became The Wild Feathers. The young band spent the next year writing and defining their sound and touring around the country, sharing the stage with Delta Spirit, Surfer Blood and The Heavy, even landing an opening spot on Paul Simon’s 2011 fall tour.

http://www.thewildfeathers.com/

TenTemPies

TenTemPiés is an international collective of musicians based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Their music is a powerful and innovative blend of flavours, mixing Latin Rock with Reggae and Ska with an Amsterdam twist: Damsko Mestizo!

http://www.tentempies.com/

Have a great day,

Keiron

Nov 122014
 

Cubans

The Ricoh GR in Havana Cuba

by Lorenzo Moscia – See his website HERE with some beautiful photos

This trip to Cuba was for family reasons. My wife has not see her father since 2008, so it was basically a pretty intense trip. I decided to go very light with photographic equipment because for the first time in the past 8/9 years I was travelling abroad with no photo assignment on my shoulders or any particularly freelance plan on my mind.

But Cuba and la Habana are always a very good place to be with a camera.

Cubans

Cubans

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I bought a Canon 6D with a 50 1.2, and a Ricoh Gr V 28mm fix lens.

Each time I was walking down the street and take out the Canon all sort of people would approach me because I would represent the typical “yankee” with dollars. I would start to talk to them in a sort of cuban slang (I have been married to my cuban wife for the pst 14 years) so they would let me alone. But going around with the Ricoh was a totally new experience for me. I rediscovered the pure pleasure of the “street photo”, just going around with no particularly subject in mind with a little camera in one hand, and none would be pay attention to me.

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Cubans

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I usually use it with A, and find very easy to play with the apertures. But I love as well the TAV function, where I set the aperture (lets say 5.6 or 8) and the speed ( something above 125) and the camera just find the ISO to match the timing. That is very useful when you walk around and you just shoot on the move and you don’t want panning pics.

No one gave me any attention with that camera even in some more extreme “barrio” neighborhoods where the average tourist does not normally go. I really felt like I was invisible.

Cubans

Cubans

Cubans

The bad part about Ricoh is battery life very poor even if I had the “blind screen” option. I will have to buy an extra battery. The problem is here in Rome is very difficult to find.

Second issue is the auto focus in low light condition which is a bit slow,  even if there is a manual and snap options wich are very good by the way. The files look amazing with very balanced color and a very good dynamic range.

Cubans

Cubans

Cubans

Cubans

The Canon stayed in the bag most of the time and I used it basically for the portrait series (See Below). Some days I went around with just the Ricoh inside the pocket of my shorts and I would take it outside holding in one hand like a pocket of cigarettes, spot a scene from a distance get closer and take pictures without looking at the screen. If I would go buying “fuel” at the local market down the road, for the family, the Ricoh would be always in one hand allowed me to take pictures even if I was carrying market bags on bought hands.

Cubans portraits

Cubans portraits

Cubans portraits

Cubans portraits

Cubans portraits

Cubans portraits

I m sort of happy because I can see that in the market there are more and more new options each day of small compact cameras with even better sensors, quicker focus and more general functions. Using this camera in the streets of Havana It was not exactly like my first love, the one and only Contax G2 black with the 28mm, but, I must admit that the feeling it come pretty closer.

Lorenzo Moscia

http://www.lorenzomoscia.com

You can buy the Ricoh GR these days for under $700 at Amazon – HERE.

Nov 122014
 

A Dedication to Chris Brunkhart

By Alex Bacon

Thank you Steve Huff for allowing me the opportunity to write about my friend, Chris Brunkhart. Chris is an amazing and influential lifestyle/snowboard photographer who was just recently diagnosed with Stage 4 colon and liver cancer.

Many of you who visit this website daily may not recognize Chris’s name but you may recognize his iconic photography. Chris’s images have documented the world of snowboarding in Snowboarder, Transworld Snowboarding and Frequency
magazines—to name a few. His editorial work in the 1990’s was often described as having a dark atmospheric quality, that gave as much attention to ethereal, snowy landscapes as it did to the athlete he was photographing.

I can truly say, that it isn’t just shooting the best athletes, over six continents that makes Chris tick. It’s the freedom of self-expression and the process of creating and capturing life’s fleeting moments which fuels his creative fire. His photography evokes emotion on such a deep level. You don’t just “see” what’s happening in the frame, you feel it…you’re in it, experiencing that moment physically, and I can’t think of a more apt compliment for any photographer. Chris’s creative vision and unique photographic style has influenced many young action-sports photographers over the years. Seeing Chris work first hand, applying his gift of capturing that moment in time is what drove me to pick up my first camera and pursue photography as a passion, I thank him for that gift every day!

For the past year, Chris has been living in Brooklyn, NYC where he has been shooting landscape photography and field portraiture, as well as dabbling in mixed media sculpture, woodworking, and continued contributions to underground film and video projects.

Upon his diagnosis in September, Chris returned to his home city of Portland, Oregon so he could be close to his friends and family during his treatment. Chis has recently begun his treatment of Chemotherapy and has started to fight against the cancer which is threatening his life.

There are two benefits being held to help raise funds for his ongoing treatment and everyone reading this is welcome to attend. The first will be on November 14, at NEMO Design in Portland, Oregon, and the second will be on November 20, at The Boathouse Collective, in Costa Mesa, California. A GoFundMe page for financial donations has also been set up at www.gofundme.com/chrisbrunkhart.

Image caption guide:

Meeting the heli, Juneau Ice Field, Alaska

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 Yakutat backcountry, Alaska

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Matt Donahue, Mountain pass near Briancon, Italy

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Craig Kelly, warming hut, Revelstoke, BC

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Devon Walsh, Mt. Hood, OR

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Dan Peterka, Stepping off into the Vltava river, Prague, CZ

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No Tennis. Creston Park, Portland, OR

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A woman waits on a cold winter day, Prague CZ

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Jamie Lynn, about midnight in Seattle, WA

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On his way to work. London, UK

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Silhoetted by the clouds. Craig Kelly, near Pucon, Chile

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Nov 032014
 

Pictures around Egypt

by Mohamed Hakem – his website is HERE

Hello Steve, I am a young egyptian photographer who has passion for the art since I was a kid. Photography is my hobby, interest, love and passion. The most thing I liked about this site is that it has a different vision; everyone is seeking to be a pro, But the Idea here is different. Here we don’t pixel peep, we don’t speak technical terms in the form of charts, we only talk about passion. The term Passionate photographer is exactly what attracted me this website. I don’t want to be a Pro or a commercial photographer, I want to be passionate about what I shoot.

Living in a country like Egypt I had to overcome a lot of difficulties to pursue my passion. Acquiring gear is the first as you have to pay double or triple sometimes quadruple what anybody else pay and wait a lot to get what you want to imagine selling or upgrading its a real pain. I reached a point where I had to start thinking about making money out of it but I totally failed. In Egypt weddings are the only way to make money and that’s not me. I was more of a nature/culture lover.

Secondly In Egypt there is nothing that people know as a landscape or a nature photographer. Here photographer is the kodak guy who tells you smile! To print and sell. So If I ever decided to give my full-time and seek my passion I end up jobless.

I love my country and I want to show the world its beauty, Speaking of culture, Egypt has an unparalleled culture and nature. Egypt should be the touristic capital of the world. Egypt is safe and has the best location, weather, monuments (more than the whole world combined) crystal clear water, magical deserts and safaris, Culture(Ancient Egyptian – Greek – Roman – Islamic – coptic – jewish – pre historic!), best food and everything you’ll ever think of. So I decided to throw away all the money-making thoughts and I stopped nagging about the prices, and I decided seek my passion, travelled around Egypt to to infamous places to try to show the world the beauty that few knows. I built a website to show the photos with nothing in my mind except my passion.

The below photos is the combination of pictures from around Egypt In the White desert, Wadi el Rayan Desert, some Wild life And Cairo

An Angry leopard in africa Safari park – Alexandria Egypt

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A lovely camp under the milky way in the white desert

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A lovely merchant in Kham El Khalili

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This is not the surface of the moon, this the white desert at night! Yes the ground is white and it really is that glowing at night

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A kind man waiting for the prayer

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The king of the desert in Wadi el Rayan

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The Egyptian Owl

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El Max in Alexandria, a simple fishermen’s home

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Moez street in Cairo

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Ibn Qowaloon mosque in old Cairo

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The Fayoum desert – a desert Made for camping!

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Mohamed Hakem Hussein

Oct 312014
 

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From the Leica M9 to the Leica M240…and Back to the M9

By Ashwin Rao – Follow him on Facebook HERE

Hello my friends. It’s Ashwin, back to talk about my recent GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) journey with Leica. I have been a huge fan of both the Leica M9 and Leica M Monochrom over the course of the life cycles of these cameras. I have always enjoyed the rangefinder way of seeing, from the time I first came upon my very first rangefinder, an M6 TTL. I joined the digital rangefinder transition, as did many others, with the Leica M8, and while that camera had many benefits (incredibly clear and crisp sensor), it was not quite ready for prime time due to its IR sensitivity issues and operational foibles, all of which have been well documented. That being said, many Leica M8’s remain in service today, over 8 years after it first came into production in September of 2006. The Leica M9 was released to much fanfare on September 9th 2009, heralded as the first full frame digital rangefinder, featuring a high quality CCD sensor with the same pixel pitch as the M8, and some cosmetic and operational refinements. The infrared sensitivity issue ,which plagued the M8, was mitigated for the M9, and for many, it is considered a modern legend of digital photography. I received my first Leica M9 in December of 2009, and soon thereafter wrote my first article for Steve, reviewing the M9 and a “travel camera extraordinaire.” 5 years later, I believe those same words hold true. The Leica M9 remains a remarkable camera, capable of capturing the decisive moment and motivating the eager photographer.

Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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M240 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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With time comes progress (right?) and in September of 2012, Leica announced the Leica M240, or in short, the Leica “M”, the first full frame sensor to feature a new CMOS sensor, which would permit higher ISO shooting, and importantly, live view. In theory, the Leica M240 boasted many performance and design refinements learned from the limitations of the M9. It also allowed rangefinders to compete with other modern cameras in providing an option to focus lenses with live view and it can shoot video. For many rangefinder enthusiasts, particularly those with aging eyes and a large collection of R lenses, the M240 represented an option by which to focus more accurately and use their R lenses, which have not been supported by a modern digital Leica R.

Like many, I was very curious when the M240 was launched. I kept a close eye on those who were able to use the camera early in its production cycle, such as Steve, Jono Slack, Gary Tyson, and others. As the camera became more widely available, I regularly browsed online photo forums and facebook enthusiast pages to find compelling images and reasons to justify upgrade….this process was a year long journey, and one accompanied by great struggle. I truly loved my M9, the “CCD look” that I perceived to be true, and had truly bonded with the camera over years of use, but new cameras are always compelling and entice the prospective buyer with the promise of new features and improved image quality. I also struggled with the concept of investing another $7000 in a camera, when I had just done this a few years back.

Leica M9 and 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH pre-FLE

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Finally, in the spring of this year (2014), I purchased the M240. It was a harrowing, yet exciting moment. In the year that I had debated whether or not to purchase the M240, I remarked that the color palette, dynamic range and look of files from the M240 was vastly different M9 files. Initially, the M240 seemed to be plagued by inconsistent white balance, but over the year, through firmware upgrades, Leica seemed to improve upon this. Yet, the colors coming from the camera, and skin tones in particular, seemed so different, warmer and more red/orange (a common problem with CMOS digital sensors, by the way), than what I had accommodated to with my M9, which provided a seemingly cooler skin tone profile. As I reviewed images, I came to compare the M9 and M240 images to different image stock. Ultimately, I was compelled to try the M240 to see if I could adjust to this different way of seeing.

M9 and 50 mm Noctilux f/0.95

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M240 and 50 mm APO Summicron-ASPH

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In the process of buying my M240, I quickly sold my M9 to be able to focus on one color rangefinder option. I set into getting to learn my camera, and was able to have the M240 around for a very important part of my life, that is, my wedding and the months around this event. I managed to shoot the camera regularly.

What were my conclusions, you might ask? What was my conclusion from this costly experiment? Well, the title of the article summarizes the basic experience, but let me elaborate. I simply couldn’t get used to the M240 and I could not find a bond with the camera. First, and most challenging for me, was the color reproduction of the camera and its inconsistent white balance reproductions under artificial light, particularly in rendering skin complexion. I often found skin tones to render excessively yellow or orange, and I simply could not find ways in Adobe Lightroom, to get skin tones to look as I enjoyed. I could get close, but adjusting skin tones would often affect the color reproduction of the rest of the image. Apparently, I had accommodated to the look of the M9, and I could not get close enough with the M240. Second, and disappointing to me, was an issue with banding at higher ISO’s. Whenever I took a shot that was underexposed, lifting the shadows resulted in noticeable banding at ISO’s of 3200 and higher (and occasionally at ISO 1600). I was able to remedy the banding issue using software fixes (Nik software’s has a de-banding tool that’s very useful). In practice, shooting in low light was nearly as limited for the M240 as it was for the M9, which has a practical ISO limit of around 640, after which banding behaviors are the norm with image adjustment.

M240 and Summicron 28 ASPH

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Leica M9 and Noctilux 50 mm f/0.95

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For the M240, I also struggled mightily with the “start up time” of the camera. When powering the camera on, it takes about 2-3 seconds before the photographer can actually take a shot. Initially, I thought this was a camera defect, but trying a few friends’ M240’s, I found the behavior to be universal. I tried to remedy this by leaving the camera on all of the time, given that the M240 sports a much-improved battery than the M9. However, after prolonged periods when the camera went back to sleep, I noticed the same lag. There were several instances where I missed an important shot , and this became an increasing turn off as I used the camera more.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Lauren

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As I used the M240 more, I became increasingly aware of the weight of the camera. At first, I felt that the camera felt more confident, more solid, less “airy” in hand, but after some time, I found the added bulk to be unwanted. My shooting arm would get sore. Not a huge deal, but enough of a difference to be annoying. After all, there was an outcry when the M8 and M9 were built with much thicker bodies than previous film M bodies, and here was a camera that provided even more bulk and heft to a shooter (myself) who valued size and discretion in his camera.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Andi

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M9 and Noctilux f/0.95

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Finally, I became increasingly annoyed over time with the menu layout. I wasn’t entirely sure when to press the “Menu”, “set”, and Info buttons. It was not nearly as intuitive an experience as to how best to adjust settings on the fly as it was with the M9. Even the ISO adjustment methodology seemed more cumbersome to me, who had gotten used to the simplicity of the M9’s menu and button implementation. The M240 had new buttons in unexpected places, and on occasion, which thought I was capturing images, I had accidentally triggered video shooting.

M240 and 90 mm f/4 Macro Elmar

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M9 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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As you read this, you may feel that I am unfairly bashing the M240, and that with more time, I would have adjusted to the cameras many quirks. While this may be true, I kept coming back to my struggles with the M240’s image rendering. As I looked on my screen at old M9 shots, and compared them to the M240 images that I had captured, I took note of several things. I find the M9 to have rendered a more “crisp” pixel, while the M240 renders a slightly softer pixel. Further, the M240 renders with much more dynamic range, but for some reason, images taken with this camera seemed to exhibit less 3D pop that I saw with my M9.

In summary, I began to find reasons to return to my Leica M9, and in August, after 4 months, I sold my Leica M240 and returned to the M9. I can say that I am happy with this choice and much more settled with keeping the M9 and its awesome CCD sensor and way of rendering.

Well, I spent a lot of time bashing the M240, no? Let me bash the M9 for some balance. The M9 is a camera full of quirks and deficiencies. First off, it has a completely inadequate and dated 200,000+ pixel LCD. It was an out of date LCD the moment it was released, and 8 years later, it’s ridiculously poor…One cannot count on confirming clear focus with the M9’s LCD. Further, there’s a slight delay between when the image snaps into focus on the LCD, making images seem blurry for a moment.

There are times when the M9 freezes operationally and won’t take a shot. And I don’t just mean when the buffer is full. At times, I have missed important shots because the M9 simply refused to take the shot. Further, battery life is quite poor (300-400 shots), compared to the far improved M240 sensor. The M9 has an ISO limitation that stems from its CCD sensor. It’s only capable of being shot reliably through ISO 640 (or 800 if you are willing to live with lost dynamic range, muddier images). Compared to today’s sensors (think Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic), this ISO limitation seems arcane. Compared to the M240, which offers clean ISO’s through 1600 and inconsistent but occasionally decent performance at ISO 3200, it seems old as well. Yet, at base ISO through ISO 400, the M9 offers something unique. It offers a lovely color palette. Images, particularly of people jump off the screen. Skin tones and rendering can take on a lifelike look, while the M240 occasionally presents skin tones in a waxy (CMOS) manner. You’d never see this on your cell phone or laptop monitor, but on a calibrated larger home monitor or large print, there’s a difference there that’s continued to be noticeable to me.

Ultimately, I came to accept the limitations of the Leica M9 to gain its benefits. The M9 turns on and is ready to shoot instantaneously. It’s silent shooting mode is cleverly implemented and useful when employed. It’s a lighter and airier camera and is less fatiguing to hold in the hand for prolonged shoots. It’s menus offer operational simplicity, which seems to echo the rangefinder way of seeing. It’s CCD rendering (yes, I believe that the CCD “look” is real…sorry to all of the naysayers) is awesome and increasingly unique in a world where CMOS sensors have taken over.

I believe that the Leica M9 continues to represent the pinnacle of Leica’s imaging achievement. Like many countless others who’d hope for a camera that offers the best of all worlds, I strongly suspect that such a camera will never materialize. I doubt that there will ever be another CCD-sensor Leica. And thus, I am “stuck” with the M9, and of course, my beloved Leica M Monchrom. For those times when I desire revelatory ISO performance, I have moved to the Sony A7s, which I have used extensively (nearly exclusively) with Leica M lenses, and I find that its limitations (primarily the 12 megapixel sensor and tunnel view SLR way of seeing) don’t bother me all that much. The Sony is not built anywhere as confidently as the Leica (in terms of feel), but it’s a great camera worth checking out for a modern CMOS option. IT’s colors are not Leica colors, but I have found that I can get skin tones that I like with this camera.

Leica M9 and 35 Summuilux FLE

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

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Thus, for me, the Leica M240 is now part of my photographic past. The Leica M9 has returned to my kit. It represents my photographic present. I certainly hope and expect that Leica will continue to re-invent itself with new innovative products and improved rangefinders. The Leica M240 was not the right camera for me, but I hope that the next iteration will be a better fit. At that time, the M9 will remain with me. It’s a lifetime camera, unless Leica finds the guts to go back to CCD or a sensor the renders similarly. It offers a unique rendering that blends so well with M lenses. It’s a great option for photography, even today.

M240 and 50 mm APO-Summicron ASPH

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I imagine that many of you will take exception to my thoughts and comments. I welcome your thoughts, your debate, and your criticisms to this argument. It simply represents my opinion and current thinking on the matter.

Here’s a summary of what I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the 2 cameras discussed:

Pros of the Leica M9
• CCD sensor – per pixel microontrast and dynamic range at low ISO
• Menu and operational simplicigty
• Weight
• Heft
• Instant On
• Silent shooting mode

Cons of the Leica M9
• ISO limitation
• Rear LCD is terrible
• Poor battery life
• Indoor and outdoor white balance inconsistency
• Reduced dynamic range compared to modern sensors
• Occasionally the shutter doesn’t fire
• IR sensitivity is still there, though less so?

Pros of the M240
• ISO improvements (though banding limits realistic ISO to < 3200, and in some cases, 1600
• Moderate Dynamic range improvement
• Solid battery life
• Build Quality
• EVF capacity, for those who want it
• Much improved shutter sound and less shutter shake
• Fantastic Black and White Conversions

Cons of the M240
• Heavier
• Meno complexity and dials
• Adds complication to a simple RF concept (i.e. video, EVF, etc)
• Unnatural Color reproduction of skin tones
• Indoor white balance inconsistency
• Shooting lag, when camera is first activated
• More IR sensitivity?

Feasible areas of improvement for the next Leica M:
• Improved color stability for white balance
• Improved color rendering of skin tones
• Reduced banding artifacts for high ISO, particularly when adjusting images
• Baseplate access to the battery and SD card
• Make the camera thinner, rather than thicker
In fairness to bias, my time with the M240 was self-limited to 4 months. My time with the M9 has extended to nearly 5 years. There may be much in that difference in experience that may explain some of my experiences with these cameras. All the best to you, and most importantly, keep your hand on the shutter and keep making images, regardless of camera.

M240 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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M240 and 35 mm Summilux ASPH FLE

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Oct 262014
 

Quick Comparison EOS M, Nikon Coolpix A and Nikon 1 V3

By Noel Beharis

Dear Steve

I am a Nikon fan. I have a respectable Nikon collection starting from the Nikon F Photomic through to a Nikon D3. I also love Leicas and Hasseblads. I have collected a few of each camera brands over the years.

Recently I returned from Europe. I carried with me my Hasselblad H3d-31 II, a Panasonic GH4 for videos and the Canon EOS M which seems to be the most unloved Compact System Camera out there. Travelling to several cities over a short period of time made me realised that carrying around a Hasselblad H3d-31 was painful Carrying the Panasonic GH4 was necessary as my daughter sang at Notre Dame and the EOS M was the camera I reached for first because it was the fastest lightest camera of the group.

It’s image quality was decent with it’s APS-C sensor. The touch screen was great. Just touch the part of the screen you want the camera to focus on and presto, the meters on that spot and takes the image. Very quick. I used it almost exclusively with the Canon 11-18 lens (18-28 equivalent). When you want the whole scene, it took it all in with a minimum of fuss.

As for image quality, I will let the images speak for themselves.

Canon EOS M Images

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It’s no medium format camera but for a travel compact with interchangeable lenses, it can take the odd award-winning shot if you try hard enough. I found using menus to navigate between P, A, S & M annoying but that is the price you pay for compact size. It could handle any situation without a sweat. Great thing about it aside from it’s image quality, there are many Gypsies that occupy the streets of major cities in Europe, no one cared about the EOS M or thought twice that I had a digital camera. If I lost it, it wasn’t that expensive. These Gypsies have expensive tastes and they will follow you if they see you with a Leica. The practical side to owning a Leica is that you need to think as Noah did. If you don’t travel in pairs, you just don’t travel. You need that other person to have your back while you are shooting.

They are frightened though of the H3D because it would cause significant damage if I used it in the same way one uses a Baseball bat or a Cricket bat (I do live in Australia. We play Circket. Losing a Leica because you came out second best to the Gypsy lunging for your camera while you are taking a photo of St Charles Bridge in Prague or Montmarte in Paris is definitely not Cricket. Thankfully, it didn’t happen to me. In case you were trying to guess, I went to Paris, Stuttgart, Berlin. Prague, Chania, Thessalonika and Helsinki. From 2400 photos, there are a few images to go through.

Given the number of cities I visited, I came home with a back ache carrying cameras. I nearly had heart failure when there was no overhead luggage space on the aircraft and my camera bag, Hasselblad and all when in the cargo hold. I thought it was lost forever. It wasn’t. I was shocked. I was ropeable and none of my family wanted to be with me until my camera bag with all the cameras returned to me intact. At least I had travel insurance but still, Hasselblads are not the easiest things to replace. Neither are aching backs!

Where do my Nikons come into this? I needed something that could do the work of bigger cameras and fit in my pocket. I also needed to cut down on what I carried with me. I needed to be light and nimble. The camera had to be fast and pack a punch quickly. Much that I like the Leica M, manually focussing a moving target is not one of those things often done quickly. You need to anticipate the moment. Sometimes, you can be tone deaf to the moment. Further, your average relative that wants a happy snap gets impatient waiting for you to set the camera up. Traffic and bystanders often get in your way. That fleeting moment you want, the kiss on the footpath or the growling cat at the zoo just won’t wait for you. The EOS M has its limitations. Although it’s small, it has this large lens protruding from it which makes it difficult to put into a jacket pocket or place in a small compartment in your back pack It’s autofocus system is OK but it’s not what I would call lightening quick. I would still take it with me wherever I went but I needed something really small and fits into my pocket that was quicker.

Enter the Nikon Coolpix A and Nikon 1 V3.

The Nikon Cooplix A should really be named the Nikons 28TiD. It is its digital successor. It’s a fixed 18.5mm f2.8 (28mm equivalent) APS C pocket camera that is small enough to fit in your trouser pocket. I packs a wallop when it comes to image quality. After playing with it for a week there was nothing this camera could do wrong in my eyes. I wish I discovered this camera before I went to Europe. That said, it’s autofocus system is quicker than the EOS M but as I discovered, it is no match for the Nikon 1. I missed the odd photo opportunity. Nevertheless, I could take it with me on my lunch break anywhere and discretely shoot any subject I wished without attracting the attention the Hasselblad did. By the way, I love that H3D.

Although the 28mm equivalent is not a 18mm equivalent lens the EOS M carried, I find 28mm is my preferred focal length for walking around. I know 35mm is a classic focal length is well “classic”. I found the 28mm focal length more flexible for most walk around subjects including capturing that decisive moment. I can more easily take one or two steps closer when compared to taking 2 steps back into the Seine river.

I attach some of the iconic subjects of my home town Melbourne Australia.

Nikon Coolpix A Images

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I haven’t pitted the EOS M against the Coolpix A because I think they are different cameras. The EOS M is a more flexible package but it is bigger than my Coolpix A. Since acquiring the Coolpix A, I would consider leaving the EOS M at home. It will capture the images the EOS M could miss (but not necessary would miss). I think it is capable of some spectacularly sharp images with a film like rendering of colour and image quality.

I am happy to dive into the details of the camera but suffice to say it’s a DSLR APS-C equivalent camera that has a fixed 28mm equivalent lens that fits in your pocket that is not much bigger than an iPhone 4 and smaller than an iPhone 6plus. It will do everything the DSLR does at the same speed. It just primarily menu driven.

Why then, after purchasing the Coolpix A did I want the Nikon 1 V3? I just wanted one. Aside from that, I would call this the Ferrari of the pocket camera world. I have a D3. It’s about as quick but not quicker than the Nikon 1. The Nikon 1 is about getting the photo. It will shoot so fast that if it existed on that fateful day the naked little girl in vietnam that ran from the Napalm attack was captured by that famous photographer photojournalist, it would have captured 100 + frames before the little girl ran out of the frame. You would have seen every moment from her clothes catching fire, the explosion forming behind her and every half step she took towards the photographer as she tried to escape the cataclysm. Maybe that’s why that one image is special. Because the rest is left to the imagination.

Seriously, this camera may only have a one inch sensor but if you are not cropping the image, I can’t say I would notice the difference. Yes it has noise in the shadows. Yes doesn’t allow a crop of the image to be as clean as a larger sensor camera. Yes it may be overshadowed by other compact systems but none of the other are as discrete, fast, and have an image that is quite like the Nikon 1. Viva la Difference. It may not produce the best possible image you could get but it will get the photo every other camera would miss. It never misses. If I were a photojournalist, this is the one I would take with me into the field. I can shoot silently and still get up to 60 frames without autofocus and 20 frames with it. It’s not a point and shoot. It’s the gatling gun of the compact camera world with near APS-C image quality. I would carry two bodies, one with the 32 f1.2 permanently mounted to it. The other with the 10 f2.8. Basically a 28mm and 85mm equivalent set up.

No Doubt the Coolpix A has more punch in it’s colour and it’s noise is well controlled. It has a better lens and sensor combination . It’s no where near the fun to use that the Nikon 1 is. It is also a fixed lens camera. Hence, the designers can sort out the lens and sensor combination better than an interchangeable lens camera the Nikon 1 is. I would pick the Coolpix A over the Nikon 1 if I had time to take the photo. The Nikon 1 is the one I would pull off the shelf because I know I will have time to take the image and the 19 other ones it takes before the Coolpix A has taken the first one.

After purchasing the Nikon 1, I had to see what it was like compared to the Coolpix A. I attach photos of the same subjects with the Nikon 1 of Melbourne on a warm spring day (see below). I used the standard 10-30 zoom. The Coolpix A was set to vivid colour. the Nikon 1 was set to standard. Although I used vivid colour in the second last Nikon 1 photo of the building (the Rialto tower). I do not think it adds much in the same way it pushed the colour in the Coolpix A. I think the lens and sensor combination in the Coolpix A overshadows the zoom on the Nikon 1. Message to Nikon, build a better standard Nikon 1 10mm lens that is faster than 2.8.

thank you again Steve for being patient with me. I love your website.

I hope my email interests you enough to write about these cameras for me.

Best wishes

Nikon V3 Images

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Oct 222014
 

Why do we take pictures?

By Arend-Jan Westerhuis – See the website HERE

It’s a vexed question for sure, especially in the psychological sense. But I’m not going to do the full research here.

In the article, which my brother wrote a while back, he introduced us as wedding photographers. And in that proession we have seen a lot of other people take pictures. Some of them really go out on a limb to get their content and by doing so they are sometimes interfering with us or the proceedings of the day. My brothers and I tend not to mind these other photographers as much as some of our colleagues do. Sometimes we call their bluff by jumping in front of them, after they did it to us. Which on occasion is the start of a cold war of ‘who gets the closest.’

So why do they do it? Taking that pictures I mean. For instance; what is driving that uncle to bring his fancy DSLR and that monstrosity of a flashgun to the wedding? Whatever it is he may be doing, he isn’t going to create something beautiful, or document any precious moment in a subtle manner. He is at most having the idea of adding value to the day whilst maybe entertaining the concept of honing a skill. Another archetype we seem to encounter is the girlfriend-of-the-bride unholstering her iphone during her jump in front of us forcing me to recompose the shot . I like to think it is part of their coping process; to stretch out the emotions of the moment by being able to summon them again at will until they are without substance. Possibly hoping to care more on a later moment.

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I did not intend for this article to be a vent, although it certainly seems to start off that way. On the one hand I can congratulate them with their enthusiasm for photography. But on the other I just keep wondering; Why do they even invest the effort? Why don’t they just enjoy that moment where your friends are in the spotlight. I am there as a photographer which is a role I hope to fullfill to their satisfaction. So what is the urge to take pictures without being asked to? Who are they taking those pictures for? And in realising that question I ask myself: Why does anyone take pictures without being paid to do so? I hope that by reflecting on ourselves and others everyone reading this article may find out for themselves what their drive to take pictures is.

Since the dawn of the digital camera it seems everybody deems themselves an artist. Or at least the access to means to be taking pictures has skyrocketed. I see a lot of people with entry-level DSLR’s paired with power zooms who are trying to be creative. On a wedding day they might be thinking they see some things which I might not. Which will probably turn out to be true. The urge to be creative is good in and of itself! I’d say that it is import to try to develop some new skills every once in a while. Possibly a sport or dancing or whatever. But in this case I’d say you pay to high a price. You miss more than you gain. As it seems that at all important life events are witnessed through the lens of a camera. Maybe it would be better to practise on something else?

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In the past there has been a discussion about whether photography could even be art. Some said that is because in essence the camera copies. It doesn’t create because it transcribes. And its product is a resemblance of something that was. Some people reading will probably feel the strong urge to oppose these statements and while I do not wish to deny photography its artistic possibilities I do think a good study of what these people are stating actually helps to think about what makes photography unique to other media. For instance I think that in this copying power lies the true greatness of photography. It enables the photographer to point out something small or big that really happened. Which makes it different from for instance painting where everything is an interpretation. The camera is a witness to things; the things we point it at. Which may be a tear, an emotion, a murder or a kiss. It can be a play of lines, repetition. A photo can be suggestive or revealing. It is the skill of a photographer to see, expect, put together by framing and capture those things. And everyone notices different things!

But is that power of photography still a cherished quality today? Everyone has a camera, so when every picture you see is of something extraordinary, no picture is anymore. Sure, if images of special moments become common it create the urge for something extra. It seems people turn away from wanting to capture extraordinary and move towards the forcing emotions in viewing and the estrangement of the visible world. Some would call it art or a move towards art, but I’m worried photography is blurring with painting, where the first emotion of a photo is no longer: ‘wow, that really happened!’

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Not all is lost yet though. But where we now stand and depending on what group of photographers you are tuned into it seems everything is about filters, lenses and photoshop. VSCO and instagram are solutions available for the amateurs and upwards. The ability to create atmosphere where there was none. Nostalgia has been turned into a forced emotion which can applied to pictures taken just minutes ago. Even Lightroom in the right(wrong) hands can turn a rainy day into a Spanish sunset. On the other end is the use of ultra-high speed lenses which are the solution for the connoisseur. Isolation power seems to be the new standard for those with exquisite taste in glass. The recipe only involves the following ingredients: a subject, a background and high-speed glass. The first step is to place your object anywhere but in the middle, leaving the rest of your frame to be turned into sweet swirly bokeh! Even some good photographers resort to this type of image making once they acquire those expensive high speed lenses. But consider this: if a pictures wouldn’t be a good one at F5.6, it’s also crap at F0.95. Most of us (me too, I admit) drool over the bokeh because everything hard to obtain is something to lust after. It does not, or in any case I think it should not, make the picture substantially better.

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One famous photographer at old age was pointed to the fact that his hands were not as steady anymore. He replied that “sharpness is a bourgeois concept”. I’d say that depth of field has joined sharpness as something to brag with. Sometimes F0.95 might be needed to create sufficient isolation to force attention towards a subject, but most of the time there are other option available as well. In these pictures the isolation is abundant and therefore redundant. This still entails however that I have a timeline on Flickr and Facebook full of pictures which seems to be stuff found on casual Sunday strolls like leaves, flowers and other nonsense. In these types of pictures it’s clearly used to show off lenses, bokeh, filters and such. More important than the actual flower is the size of the bokehballs behind. If you cannot invest the time to find some interesting subjects, maybe you couldn’t afford the gear after all?

One of the better reasons for taking pictures which I frequently hear is that photographs serve well as memories. It is the department me and my brothers are in. ‘The business of memory making’ or maybe just giving people the means that help savour their special moments. And yes, if my house was burning down I too would try to save my hard-drive for the pictures. Pictures as documents of history can be very valuable. But if you yourself and the family are the targeted audience, isn’t it better to make memories before trying to savour them? And by only recognising social highlights as picture worthy, aren’t we cutting short on life itself? The mundane and the average? If the ‘extraordinary’ of what you are taking pictures of is usually a social highlight within your group of friends you might want to consider leaving your camera home more often.

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But what is picture worthy then? Is it up to you? Or maybe up to the viewer? Some people have good eyes for landscapes or architecture and others more for people. Some recognise moments that should be shared, which is the journalistic approach and sometimes, it is the beauty of something or someone. For me personally a good photo is a well-timed and well executed picture of something that occurred. The type of occurrence that make that you cannot go back and redo the image, because whatever it was is gone by then. As long as I have that moment, a lack of sharpness or bokeh is not necessarily problematic, because the moment and what is happening is the central piece. In photography, I would argue, you should put your own needs aside. A photographer should not be bragging through his pictures with his gear, his friends, money or anything else. In editing it should not be about forcing an atmosphere where there was none, let alone faking or manipulating authenticity. I like to think that photography is about letting others see whatever it is you have seen and want them to see. Something real and something that you think might be of value to them. This forces you to become an entertainer and therefore the other has become the audience. Everybody sees a lot of stuff every day and chooses to ignore most of it. So seeing a picture is the author telling you it shows something worth watching. There is a great vulnerability in showing the things you think are special. And in that sense photography is a very serving and humble profession.

So maybe think about it; why are you taking pictures? What message are you conveying through your images?

Kind regards,

Arend-Jan Westerhuis

Links: http://www.westerhuisenwesterhuis.nl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WesterhuisWesterhuis

Oct 032014
 

Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7r

(some quick shots from Photokina)

by Dirk De Paepe

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Recapitulation of a Problem

Perhaps you look upon the Sony A7x series as the first full frame alternative to the Leica M: a compact, high quality full frame camera, that’s about perfect for manual shooting – although not without issues, but then, I’ve yet to see the first perfect camera. :-)

Today the A7s gets a lot of applause, not only for its high ISO capability, but also because it “fixed” some of the issues of the A7r: the shutter sound is one, but IMO the questionable compatibility with quite some M-mount wide-angle lenses is an even more important item.

For many photographers, the possibility of using the compact M-mount lenses on the A7x, via adapter, is one of the attractive features of those cameras. But particularly the corner problems that primarily the A7r poses, when used with (quite some) wide-angle M-mount lenses, are mentioned frequently as a set back, reducing the A7r owner’s choice regarding compact wide-angle glass. Not all M-mount wide angles pose this problem though: some of the Voigtländers work flawlessly. But most Leica M en Zeiss ZM wide angles render this purple/magenta color shift and smearing in the corners, which we really don’t want.

I own the Zeiss Biogon 28 ZM and have experienced it too. Although with certain apertures it’s possible to avoid almost all of the smearing and the color shift can most of the time easily be neutralized in Photoshop, still it limits the possibilities and ease of work. So I mainly use the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.4 (very compact M-mount) and some wider Canon FDs as WAs for now. For now, indeed, because I was pretty confident that a “solution” would be in the make. As a matter of fact, I hoped for some time that Sony would somehow fix this problem. But is it really Sony’s problem to fix? Well, recently I changed my mind about it…

The solution has a name: Loxia.

When Zeiss announced its new Loxia series for Sony’s FE mount and when I saw that those were based on the compact ZM series, I immediately wondered: what about the corners when shooting a Biogon wide-angle on the A7r? The so far published images (that I’ve seen) didn’t mention which A7-type was used (there was no Exif data available), or they were taken with the A7s, on which the WA M-mount glass poses no problems. So I was stuck with the question: how will the new Loxia Biogon 2/35 perform on my A7r?

The Loxia Biogon 2/35 on the A7r

Living at less than 2 hours from Cologne, I decided to make the trip to Photokina, to get the answer. I was there on Saturday, when the fairground was pretty crowded, with lots of people thronging at the Zeiss technicians counter, wanting to get answers to their questions and trying all kinds of Zeiss lenses on all kinds of cameras.

So I had to take my shots pretty fast and I had to take them all from the same spot: my position at the technicians counter. Sorry for that. But my goal was not to shoot nice pictures, my goal was to get answers. Does the Biogon perform well on the A7r?

Short answer: YES it does! Absolutely!

I first checked if there was any color shift at the corners, putting the aperture wide open – the most sensible setting. With a booth made from white/greyish panels, it was easy to check. It’s very clear: the Biogon produces no color shift what so ever! It was immediately absolutely clear, from the first shot, but I can add to that: in none of my shots, at whatever aperture, there was even the faintest glimpse of color shift to be noticed.

Pic 1. Loxia 3/35, f/2, &/500s, ISO200. No color shift whatsoever. I focused in the left upper corner, to check the corner detail at f/2. IMO a bit ridiculous to absolutely want perfect corners when shooting wide open, but since some people come up with this issue, I wanted to check it. Next picture gives a 100% view of that corner

01. Loxia2-35 f2 corner focus

And what about the smearing? Well, again when shooting wide open the image remained pretty clear and detailed in the corners, with only some loss of detail in the farthest reaches and (IMO) no smearing. Considering how deep in the corners I’m talking about, I’d say only a slight loss of detail in the corners. But let’s be honest, when you really want every spot of your picture to be clear, you don’t shoot wide open, do you… In general I was absolutely astonished with the level of detail this Biogon renders at f/2. Without ever getting razor-sharp, the amount of detail is pretty amazing, even when looking at 100% and shooting with a 36MP sensor. And also the vignetting is at a very low-level, IMO negligible.

Pic 2. 100% crop. In the farthest reaches of the corners, there is some loss of detail. Not too much, I’d say, because I can even read numbers there. I certainly wouldn’t talk of smearing. There is some difference in detail to be noticed, due to some items being positioned slightly out of focus, like in the text on the left box. Don’t be mistaken there. Anyway, I find the detail that this Biogon renders wide open to be really astonishing. 

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Pic 3. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. Also the vignetting is negligible, even wide open. Focusing in the center.

03. Loxia2-35_f2 center focus

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Pic 4. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Without being razor-sharp, all the detail is there. No added sharpness.

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Pic 5. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. No 2/35mm renders a spectacular bokeh. Still this one is pretty smooth and for sure renders a nice 3D separation.

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Pic 6. Loxia 2/35, f/4, 1/60s, ISO400. DOF is a bit larger, still with beautiful bokeh, also in front.

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Pic 7. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Even at f/4 focusing needs to be done with care on the A7r. I missed the focus on the watch here and placed it on the guy’s shirt, revealing all the shirt’s detail…

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At the more narrow apertures, those that are used when pursuing a wide dof, the detail is excellent all over. Is it absolutely perfect? Well, no. This is no Otus, but a three times less expensive Loxia. Still, IMO, the IQ is excellent, with clear detail all over, although still slightly soft when looking at 100%, but not at all to the extend that one can call this a weakness.

Pic 8. Loxia 2/35, f/11, 1/40s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.

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Pic 9. Loxia 2/35, f/14, 1/10s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.

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Pic 10. 100% crop (click to see full size)..

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This is absolutely not a lens test, so I won’t go into all lens characteristics. I couldn’t take enough different pictures, nor perform tests to do that. I’m sure there will be enough articles in the near future from professional photography journalist that will come up with all the details.

Still, what I also noticed is some fringing (diminishing with narrower apertures of course), which I always could correct with great ease in Photoshop. I didn’t check the distortion, but personally I don’t mind that too much, since this is also easily correctable. BTW, I understand that Zeiss also gave extra care in that department, so again, I have no worries here. Overall, I liked very much what I saw, also regarding the OOC color balance, dynamic range etc. – so I’m very confident that I won’t be disappointed in this Biogon and that it’ll render a typical Zeiss IQ – I expect it to be even slightly better than my ZMs.

Improved optics

When I told the technician that I was pleasantly surprised, after being worried when I noticed the great similarity between the Loxia and ZM Biogons, and that I wondered how Zeiss has solved the corner problems without considerably lengthening the distance between back lens and sensor, he told me that the two Loxia lenses are admittedly built after classic Zeiss concepts, but that the whole calculation has been redone, resulting in differences in the thickness of the glasses and the space between them, whereby the light approaches the sensor in different angles, thus avoiding the known problems of the older ZM lenses (lenses that were conceived for film cameras and Leica digital cameras, not for mirrorless sensors). Even the Planar, that in ZM version doesn’t pose any problem at all on the A7r (and is BTW my personal favorite lens) has been reworked and optimized with enhanced performance. Regarding the Biogon, even after a few shots, I can without a doubt state, that they did a great job. I leave it to the professional reviewers to determine exactly how great. But I’m impressed. And excited. There simply is not a shred of color shift in the corners and wide open there’s only a slight decrease of detail in the farthest corners, which I wouldn’t call smearing at (far from what we know from the ZM Biogons, when used on the A7r). What I also noticed was that this lens renders about the same detail wide open as it does stopped down (with the exception of the farthest corners, as I said), which was a véry pleasant surprise. There is some vignetting wide open (but really not much) and some fringing as well (always very easily removable in Photoshop). What did you expect. This is no Otus, it’s not perfect. It’s three to four times cheaper than Otus and still is an excellent lens. I’m sure future tests will confirm this.

General Loxia advantages for Sony’s A7x

So the Biogon is absolutely “good to go” on the A7r IMO, or in other words, it’s a great option to buy, if you’re into manual prime glass. You won’t be surprised that I placed my order for both Loxias. Also the Planar, which maybe will surprise you, since I own the ZM Planar that really is without issues on the A7r. But Loxia offers a lot more than ZM. First there is the better optical performance (reworked for E-mount), then there is the shorter minimal focal distance (30cm for the Biogon and 45cm for the Planar versus 70cm for both ZMs), further there is the transmission of full Exif info, which I applaud because after a series of shots with different lenses I tend to forget what lens I used for which shot, let alone what aperture. Often I can “see the lens in the shot”, but really not always with absolute certainty. And I find it very interesting to know the exact aperture afterwards. And finally, the last big advantage of Loxia over ZM is the activation (which is to be programmed on your A7x) of the automatic enlargement in the VF, by the slightest movement of the focus ring, which completes all means for performing “modern manual focusing” on the A7x. IMHO, all the focusing functionalities of the A7x/Loxia strongly outperform any optical viewfinder. OK, a range finder is something special, but personally, I don’t wanna do without the modern EVF functionality anymore. No way. They abundantly outweigh the range finder’s advantages (all IMO of course).

Pic 11. Left half: Loxia Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Right half: ZM Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Both picture were shot at minimal focal distance – Loxia at 45cm, ZM at 70cm and they were only horizontally cropped. Impressive difference. A big advantage of the Loxia. (The ZM picture was shot back home.)

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Personally, I’m really thrilled about Zeiss developing the Loxia line. There has been lots of reactions on it, with many complaining about the first two lenses being 50 and 35mm again. Why not chosing other focal lenghts that people miss right now? The answer is really simple. Loxia is for a totally different type of photographer, namely the typical manual shooter, like I am. As much as I admire the image quality of the AF Zeiss lenses, I’ll never buy them because I don’t feel good when the camera decides for me. The only “automation” that I use is aperture priority and still, I’ll determine the exposure with the compensation dial or by holding the release button halfway while reframing.

The core of any optical system is, no doubt, the lens. I think we can say that Zeiss plays in the same league as Leica. Both have passionate proponents. I guess it’s probably the kind of photography one practices, that make one belong to either camp. Personally, I’d mix both brands, if the Leica prices were at Zeiss level. But they aren’t. So I don’t buy Leica… a personal matter.
The core of the body is, without any doubt, the sensor. Sony, a leader amongst sensor manufacturers has an excellent position in this department. The rest of the body is functionality, in other words advanced electronic applications, and build quality. It needs no saying that Sony is an electronics giant and in many branches, and in general the Sony quality is legendary. I’m not saying there are never issues with Sony products, everybody makes “mistakes”, but this a giant and I believe that this giant is determined to succeed in photography. So the Sony/Zeiss combination has for sure a lot of things in its favor. Now, with Loxia, the glass is perfectly maching the body, adapter free, with transmitted Exif data, automated magnification in the EVF and a design and feel that perfectly matches the body.

I told you that I already placed my order, even for the Planar, while I’m owning an Otus 55 ànd ZM Planar 2/50. But the Planar is my all time favorite lens. Its compact size, ease of use and always reliable IQ grants it this status. This is the lens that I always carry on my camera, making it possible to carry a high-res/high-IQ camera with me whenever I want, wherever I go to, without ever being bothered by it. Now, with the Loxia Planar, my carry-all-time lens will match my body for 100% and add some functionality that I welcome very much.

Loxia is made for sensors of mirrorless cameras, Zeiss ZM (and Leica M) is made for film. In its digital M bodies, Leica corrects its lenses with software. The Zeiss Loxia doesn’t need to be corrected, because it’s optically designed for sensor. BTW, I wonder if Zeiss doesn’t think of making Loxias in M-mount, or at least come up with a new generation ZMs, that would have the Loxia optics. Makes sense IMO.

The Otus 85 on the A7r

With so many Otus lenses on their Photokina booth, ready to try out, of course I asked for the new 1.4/85. You probably already knew from a former article that I own the Otus 55 and believe that Otus is a great combination with the A7r. This top-level Zeiss line is developed for the latest (and future) generations of hi-res sensors, and Sony plays a leading role in this, with the A7r still leading the pack. So I pulled out my Novoflex adapter and mounted the Otus 85 on the body. The bystanders payed extra attention, when I then pulled a vertical grip out of my bag and mounted it with some swift moves on the A7r body.
My goal was in no way to test the lens on itself. Knowing the 55 and reading from all thrustful sources that the 85 is even a todd better (is it really possible?), I have not the slightest doubt that this lens will perform to its expectations. What I was curious about was how it felt in the hand, when mounted on the A7r, and I also wanted to get the “focus experience” at f/1.4, because already with the 55, focusing at 1.4 needs to be done with great care.
I immediately felt that the 85 is an even heavier and thicker beast than the 55. It’s a muscle trainer for sure. I don’t know how long I would be able to shoot continuously with it, I can only say that I felt it considerably more than when holding the 55. But I can’t tell if it’s only because the physical geometry is different and that it’s gonna be a matter of getting used to it, or if it really would tire me out faster. But what I can tell you for sure is, that, with the same way of holding it as I described in my Otus 55 article, this lens/body combination lies incredibly stable and well-balanced in the hand. I already said that the shots were to be made fast at the Zeiss technicians booth, so I took a fast picture of the gentle technician that was helping me. He was standing pretty close, at the other side of the counter. I focused on his eyelashes and took the shot at 1/25sec, which is in fact insanely slow for an OOH shot with a 85mm lens. But the total absence of motion blur proves the perfect balance of this lens/body combination, again indicating that the A7r is a body worth considering for use with the Otus 85, as it is with the Otus 55. That’s exactly what I wanted to know with my trial shots.

Pic 12. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/25s, ISO100. Shooting at this shutter speed with an 85mm lens is only possible when the lens/body combination is in perfect balanse, which IMO is the case with the A7r + vertical grip. At the crowded Zeiss booth, this shot of a (very busy) Zeiss technician needed to be taken in seconds.

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Pic 13. 100% crop (click to see full size). What stroke me is the extremely shallow dof. I don’t know how this can be possible (maybe somebody can explain), but I have the impression that the Otus 85 produces an even more shallow dof than the Canon FD85 at f/1.2, that I also own. And if not, it must be véry close. But for sure, I’d swear it’s the Otus that wins this trophy. While the eyelashes are in focus, the eyeball is already out of focus. The eyebrow is only partly in focus. At this distance, I normally wouldn’t take this shot at f/1.4, because I’d surely want a somewhat larger dof. Still it’s nice to have the potential at hand and for greater distances it will surely do a great job.

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Focusing at f/1.4, for use at full size images with a 36MP sensor (or more in the near future), must be done with the greatest care. This was no surprise to me, with my experience with the Otus 55, it was just a confirmation. It’s odd that I have the impression that focusing the Otus 85 at f/1.4 requires even more precision than with my Canon FD85 at F/1.2. I even think to notice an even shallower dof with the Otus. It’s just an impression, a feeling. But a strong one. Maybe it’s because of the incredible detail Otus renders, combined with 36 megapixels. Again, I didn’t perform test procedures with this in mind, it’s just a feeling. BTW, I love the FD85/1.4.
Last thing about the Otus 85: I absolutely love the super creamy bokeh!

Pic 14. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/20s, ISO100. Only horizontally cropped. Is this a creamy bokeh or what?…

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The ZM Distagon 1.4/35

By then, after shooting the Otus 85, the guys behind me were increasingly insisting to get a place at the counter. But still I managed to get the new ZM Distagon 1.4/35 for a few super fast shots. I simply wondered whether Zeiss, knowing of the problems that some of the ZMs have with modern hi-res sensors, would take this into account when developing new wide-angle ZMs. I quickly took two shots with the new ZM Distagon. In the first I just shot the grey-ish white wall, to check for color shift. The picture is absolutely dull, of course, but it was conclusive: no color shift.

In the second (and last) super fast taken shot, I focused on a guy in the upper left corner, to check for smearing. No smearing (although the picture isn’t perfect, with a tiny bit of motion blur, but no smearing). What I did notice in those shots was that, wide open, the vignetting and fringing was more prominent than with the Loxia Biogon. But then, this is a f/1.4 vs. the f/2 Loxia. So this is normal. And nothing that I couldn’t correct in Photoshop.

So I guess that future Zeiss ZM lenses will work perfectly on film bodies, Leica M bodies ànd fullframe mirrorless bodies – from Sony and other brands to follow.
And I’m very much looking forward for future new products in their new lines, Otus and surely Loxia. I’ve been having a soft spot for Zeiss for about 50 years now. I think this spot is only going to further grow in the years to come… :-)

Pic 15. ZM 1.4/35, f/1.4, 1/25, ISO100. A clearly more explicit bokeh than with the Loxia 2/35, but also more fringing (as well as vignetting, which this pic doesn’t show clearly) – though nothing that can’t be corrected, I guess.

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Pic 16. Defringed crop. I thought, since the shot was not really OK, it wouldn’t be fair to show the fringing. So I corrected it in Photoshop for this crop.

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Epilogue

IMO, the Loxia line, once it’s to be completed as yet, will definitely turn the A7x series into today’s superior compact system for manual shooting, offering a more modern concept than Leica. I can truly say that I don’t dream of Leica anymore. This Sony/Zeiss FE-system really is more desirable to me than the Leica M-system – outperforming it (again IMO) and… reasonably priced! My personal dream of today: owning both the A7r (for resolution) and A7s (for ISO) with a complete set of Loxias. But what I expect (of course I can’t be absolutely sure about it) is a future Sony sensor that will combine resolution and high ISO. I’m sure it will happen, maybe in some years time, but probably earlier than I expect. And it will be mounted in an FE-mount Alpha body! Thàt will be my next camera…

Dirk De Paepe

B&H Photo sells the Loxia lenses HERE, the OTUS is HERE and the new Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM is HERE

Oct 012014
 

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Supermoon Photoshoot at 1620mm with Nikon V3

By Joe Marquez – see his website at http://www.thesmokingcamera.com

(from Steve: This is one of the coolest posts I have placed here in a long time…love it! Thank you Joe for the beautiful work and showing what the Nikon 1 system is capable of)

A couple of months ago, while out shooting with the mirrorless Nikon V3 and 70-300cx lens (189-810mm equivalent field of view – FOV), I noticed a hiker on a nearby ridge top – and a beautiful, bright moon above. I took a few shots and was quite pleased with the results. The V3 and it’s tiny sensor does surprisingly well in good light. Now I wondered how it would look if I attached a super telephoto lens and photographed the hiker directly in front of the moon. What about a ballerina silhouette? I decided to find out.

As you may know, the Nikon V3’s one-inch sensor results in the equivalent of a 2.7 increase in FOV. In essence when a Nikon FX lens is attached via the Ft-1 adapter, the V3 becomes a 2.7 teleconverter with no loss of light. Thus a 600mm lens becomes 1620mm.

Initially my plan was to photograph a single ballerina in front of the super moon. However, I began considering everything that could go wrong: weather, inability to focus at night, DOF issues, instability, inaccessibility and of course all the unforeseen inevitable mistakes I normally make. So I decided to increase the number of shoots to insure I would get a decent image or two.

Now I had to get my hands on a $10,000 Nikon 600mm f4 lens. So, I went to the only camera store in Hawaii with uber cool rental equipment, told them about my project and they agreed to sponsor my efforts. Here’s a formal thank you to Hawaii Camera (www.hawaiicamera.com) for supporting this little moon project of mine.

Using a number of online programs I determined optimum times and locations to photograph the moon as it crossed the ridge. And because the ridge runs north south I was able to shoot as the moon rose in the east and several hours later as it set in the west. Thus, everyday I had two opportunities at the moon. So over the course of a week I planned fourteen separate photo shoots. Only later I realized, I didn’t factor in time for sleep. Oh well, can’t think of everything.

I then called upon many friends – models, performers, cosplayers, ballerinas and dancers as well as fellow photographers to assist. Altogether 43 people were involved in this moon project. Call times ranged from late afternoon to early morning before sunrise. Most participants had to hike the steep ridge at night with headlamps. We required a spotter or assistant for safety and we communicated via two-way radios or cell phone. One cosplayer’s outfit weighs 133 pounds and required ten trips to get the costume into position. A super thank you to everyone who participated.

While the models and spotters were climbing the ridge, I and an assistant down below had to deal with traffic, trees, wires, poles, houses, basketball players, dogs, golfers and sprinklers.

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In the end everyone had a fun and unique experience and a good number of wonderful photos. In addition, I learned a tremendous amount about shooting the moon. Foremost is the moon moves so quickly when viewed at 1620mm there is often only a moment or two to get the shot. Secondly, the moon has quite a variety of looks due to clouds, time of day or night and so on and I had to constantly and quickly change my exposure settings. Finally, the Nikon V3 did an excellent job on this project and I wouldn’t hesitate using this little camera for other super telephoto projects.

In fact next month at full moon, I plan to again use the Nikon V3 and experiment with lighting, fashion, a bride in her wedding dress, video and a surprise or two. Amazing what is possible when you utilize a camera’s strength to its fullest.

Sep 172014
 

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The Fuji Monochrom

By James Conley

A major impediment most new photographers face is that color is the default mode of expression. Not only are we inundated by color images in every possible medium, but digital cameras presume color as the chosen palette. The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions. The result is a great deal of frustration when the captured image doesn’t match the experience of color.

Few cameras are available that address this problem. The Leica Monochrom is one of few. The Monochrom only records in black and white, and only displays its menus and previews in black and white. It’s the gold standard for capturing black and white—after film. However, the Monochrom body alone costs about $8k. That’s a lot of money to get rid of color. There are cheaper ways.

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The cheapest way to shoot black and white, of course, is to switch to film. Using a film rangefinder is one of the fastest routes to improving the composition and content of images, and you don’t even need a darkroom if you shoot Ilford’s excellent XP2 C-41 process film.

But I’m unable to buy into a Leica Monochrom. The next best thing is the Fuji X100s. The X100s contains all the elements needed to work strictly in black and white. To wit:

• A rangefinder, with an electronic viewfinder which can be set to display only in black and white.
• A fixed lens with a 35mm field of view.
• Small and light.
• Silent. (More silent than my Leica M6.)
• Monochrome JPEG modes with yellow and red filters.

All the images in this post are JPEGs shot on the X100s.

Learning to see in black and white is the process of evaluating the luminance of an object instead of its color. Simplistically, luminance is how much light is reflected from an object. People are often surprised when converting a color image to black and white because a bright color often has more or less luminance than expected and doesn’t appear as one would expect. Through the practice of reviewing the monochrome images you make, you’ll develop your luminance sense and start to better anticipate how a tone will translate into black and white.

A way to speed up that process is by using a monochrome viewfinder. When set to capture monochrome JPEGs, the Fuji X100s will switch its LCD back and EVF displays to black and white. This makes evaluating the scene much easier, and will helps to quickly adapt and recognize luminance values.

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Photographers are blessed with a nearly infinite variety of camera bodies and lenses, which can be shuffled into various combinations to address very specific needs. Photographers are likewise cursed with all those options. Options are choices, and choices are decisions. Having to make decisions is an active process in the consciousness, and it leads to a lot of distraction from the subject. In discussing the thought process behind a “decisive moment,” Henri Cartier-Bresson said:

It’s a question of concentration. Concentrate, think, watch, look and, ah, like this, you are ready. But you never know the culminative point of something. So you’re shooting. You say, “Yes. Yes. Maybe. Yes.” But you shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much.

Making choices about lenses is just as distracting as making choices about color. One lens is enough, and your body can be the zoom. Having to move within space and time to frame your subject makes for far better pictures than standing in one place and letting a variety of lenses do the work of seeing for you.

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The X100s’s f/2 Fujinon lens would be fantastic on any camera. Fuji has a storied history in making high-end lenses for a variety of camera makers, and Fuji glass is world-class. The X100s can use autofocus, or a very smooth manual focus. It also has an excellent macro mode.

Having a small camera means you’ll have it with you, which is the most important ingredient in making any photograph. The smaller and lighter a camera is, the more likely it will be with you. The X100s is smaller and lighter than my Leica M6.

Other than opera or a royal wedding, the best way to do things in life tend to be subtle. That’s especially true for photographers, who are dependent upon other people living their lives so that an image may be made. Unless you’re shooting in a studio, pay respect to your subject by being unobtrusive. Being silent is part of that respect, and an X100s shutter is quieter than my M6.

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Photography is about capturing a moment and then capturing the next . . . and the next . . . and the next. Spending time tweaking and playing with images is decidedly not photography—modifying an image is working with software. The goal of any tool should be to do work so you don’t have to. As my dad always advises about using a saw, “Don’t push so hard. Let the saw do the cutting.” If your camera is making you spend more time post-processing than you do taking pictures, it’s either not a good tool, or you’re pushing too hard. Since we can’t get Adobe to make decent software, however, we can use the tool better by putting the work back into the camera and let it produce quality JPEGs that we merely need to review. This not only speeds up the process of selecting good images, but it also lets you learn the capabilities of the camera just the way you would learn about the qualities of a particular film. This is vital knowledge that helps you see better when you’re out taking pictures, meaning you get better results, which sets up a lovely, positive feedback loop.

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With Fuji already announcing new X-Series cameras, ifyou don’t already have an X100s, you should be able to pick one up for a good price.

Once you get it, go to Shooting Menu 1 and select Film Simulation B with a yellow filter. (Red is another option, and will result in more contrast. Start with yellow.) Scroll down to Shooting Menu 2, and change Highlight Tone to +1, and Shadow Tone to +1. This will give you a decent starting place for your JPEG’s. They should require minimal development work after you import them into a computer. (**You can set the camera to shoot both RAW and JPEG files. This is a good crutch to get you comfortable with the idea of shooting only in monochrome. However, you’ll quickly discover that the Fuji’s JPEGS are very high quality and the RAW files are just a crutch.)

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Use the EVF. It will display in black and white and get you started on seeing the world that way. (Later, you’ll be able to take advantage of the X100s’s rangefinder.)

As you’re taking pictures, keep your thumb on the Exposure Compensation dial and ride it like you stole it. You’re shooting JPEGs, so work at getting the final product the way you want while you’re shooting.

With a few camera setting tweaks, you’re off to a better world in black and white! You’ll now:

• See luminance instead of color
• See shapes, forms, and shadows
• Cut down on development
• Spend more time working on your ideas and making stories

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The purpose of taking a photograph is to capture an image which conveys your impression of an event and tells the story. The purpose is decidedly not about tweaking, playing, collaging, and otherwise twisting the image into something unnatural. So, if you want to become a better photographer, you have to practice seeing what matters. Seeing what matters happens easiest with a rangefinder shooting monochrome images. Long live the X100s. (At least until those Leica Monochrom prices come down!)

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

Sep 142014
 

Concentration Camps with the Leica Monochrom

by Dan Bar

Hello Steve and Brandon,

It has been some time since my last photos. Anyway I spent a week in Poland intending to visit the two concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau. I decided to take the Leica Monochrom + 35 Lux 1.4 only. I first started with Birkanau ( first 5 pics) which was not easy to watch and certainly not easy to photo , yet still bearable. The long line of concrete with the holes in it is actually a latrine where they were forced to do their needs in front of the others. I then went to Auschwitz where I had to stop soon after starting my visit, simply could not face the horror . So I decided to put on only some of the sights I saw there. I hope these deeds will never ever happen again anywhere on the planet.

Thank you

Danny

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Sep 102014
 

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Shooting Ephemerisle 2014 with the Sony A7S and a Voigtlander 35mm f1.2

By Judd Weiss – Visit his site HERE

Most places I go lately, I am the best photographer around. But I come to Steve Huff’s site and community specifically because here I am definitely not the best photographer. I’m learning fast, but I’m relatively new to photography, upgrading from a point and shoot to the original Sony NEX 3 only about 4 years ago. Discovering Steve’s site almost 3 years ago was a major turning point in my photography. I started taking it more seriously when I saw what you guys were up to. I’ve been inspired. The daily inspirations that so many of you have contributed has made me rethink what I’m doing with the camera I’m holding. I’ve never taken any photography classes, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t received an education. This community around Steve Huff’s blog is one of the greatest influences on my development as a photographer. So thank you to all who have contributed their vision and creations here. I am very grateful. (Thank you Judd!! Steve)

I’d like to also make a contribution, from my favorite work yet. I shot this entire set of photos with the new amazing Sony Alpha A7S full frame mirrorless camera, with a manual Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 lens. That combo allowed me to achieve low light shots never before possible in the history of photography. Ephemerisle was the perfect event to test out what the Sony A7S can handle in extreme low light. And the Sony A7S was the perfect camera to capture the experience of the dark glowy night that made Ephemerisle shine.

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These shots are unapologetically processed, and I admit I went a bit intense with the colors, but I wanted to, to accurately reflect the surreal nature of Ephemerisle. Some of these photos are a little abstract, but believe me when I tell you those are very true to the experience. What a visual experience! Ephemerisle was incredible. I did the best I could to run around and convey what it was like to be there, over stimulated by this new beautiful foreign universe everywhere you looked.

It’s fair to think of Ephemerisle like Burning Man on the water. Imagine a bunch of RVs at Burning Man connected together, but floating. With dance stage platforms between them.

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I think Ephemerisle was the most exciting and fun time I have had, that didn’t involve a girl, since maybe my college days. I loved running around in that crazy dream world meeting the cast of characters you’ll see in the photos below.

I’m not saying Ephemerisle is better than Burning Man. There’s no way an event of a couple hundred people can in any way rival the scope and all the amazingness of the 50,000+ strong Burning Man festival. But I will say that I enjoyed Ephemerisle more. I loved Burning Man, but the desert is a harsh place. No doubt the sea can be unforgiving as well, but I was very happy to trade an over abundance of dust for an over abundance of water.

No way I would bring my beloved new Sony A7S and Voigtlander lens to get ruined by the intense barrage of fine dust on the Burning Man playa.

 Shot at 12,800 ISO

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Burning Man is incredible as it lights up the middle of the desert nowhere into an epic glorious city; being out in the middle of the water nowhere, lit up only by the most amazing glowy party you’ve ever seen, Ephemerisle too is a bright beacon of a testament to our evolutionary progress, while floating over the type of early ocean microbes of life that began it all. How far we’ve come, to create such a stunning atmosphere. A cool blend of excitement and serenity. Like Burning Man, being at Ephemerisle confronts you to face both our fragility and our promise that can only be truly seen in an intentional community that has left many of the comfortable constraints of modern society.

Stylistically people often compare Ephemerisle with Water World, and you can see where that’s coming from, only this wasn’t dystopian. Whatever was rough around the edges wasn’t post-apocalyptic, it was prototype. This is from the future, clearly. These are experiences our grandchildren will inherit when they are our age. But it’s a beautiful future. When the sun goes down, we light up even brighter. Humans evolved from a state of continual starvation in a struggle to survive among brutal nature, and now we master the harshest environments to throw parties of abundance like this for recreation. Humans have no shortage of serious problems, but it’s things like Ephemerisle that compel me to acknowledge our bright future of possibilities ahead.

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You might think I’m hyperbolizing a little much. And if I hadn’t been there, that’s totally what I would think while reading this. But there’s a reason for these reflections of anthropological grandeur. Ephemerisle is comprised of exactly the group of intellectuals, business leaders, and artists who are focused daily on the topic of our evolutionary potential as a species. These ARE the people consciously working to design a more beautiful future for all of us. What a treat it is to see one of their early prototypes. And I have to say, I’m in love with this particular prototype they call Ephemerisle.

I’ve got to thank everyone involved for coming together to create Ephemerisle. They made these photos. I just captured what I saw as well as I could. Their vision created this reality. Congratulations to all of their beautiful minds. These photos are my humble tribute.

Ok guys, get ready to watch the colors move…………

The full album and original post can be found on my blog here: http://hustlebear.com/2014/09/04/photos-ephemerisle-july-2014/

You can follow me on Instagram at http://instagram.com/juddweiss

I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/juddweiss

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Note: The widely acclaimed Canon 5D MIII could not have achieved many of these shots. For example: The below shot, while not the cleanest photo in history, was shot at 51,200 ISO (!!) at 1/125 second, handheld from a bobbing moving boat in the dark. It was challenging to stand, and hard to see clearly, let alone to take a clean photo. Try to get anything remotely usable in those conditions with another camera setup.

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Again, the below shot is not perfectly clean and crisp, but it was shot at 32,000 ISO from a moving bobbing boat.

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I love how the camera rendered the daytime shots as well.

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Sep 082014
 

For Beauty Alone

By John Muehlhausen

Who is this boy? What will he become? Will he be the pride of his sports team? Will he excel at his studies? Will he teach others the mysteries of his profession? Will he change the world with the next technological marvel? Will he fall in love? Will he help care for a family? Will he lead the nation someday?

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Will he, at least, be a productive member of society? Will he be of any USE?

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This is my son. I have big dreams for him, but he is facing a mountain. He has Phelan-McDermid Syndrome. His mind doesn’t seem to hold onto things. He cannot speak, and chances are he never will. His understanding seems extremely limited and inconsistent. His development is considered “scattered” — he retains behavioral aspects of a six-month old.

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He is a beautiful child though… at least, I have tried to show us his beauty in these photos taken over the past year. I do not focus on the occasional biting, or the hair-pulling and pinching, or the potty messes, or the nasty things that find their way to the mouth. I do not focus on the manic, sleepless nights, or the complaints of discomfort that he cannot explain or identify to us. I have passed over the seizures from poor body temperature regulation or from sleeplessness, which thankfully have subsided with management. I give little time to whether he will be “productive” someday. I do not focus on these things because there is a person, Jesse Roland, who is beautiful, and that is what we should see, and that is what we should believe when sight fails us. Jesse… “from the stump a shoot will spring up.”

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Jesse is a very physical and tactile person. He loves to climb, feel and explore. He has very little sense of danger, and he is fast! He will be faster than me soon, and I will mourn this for reason of his safety, but even more I will rejoice with him as I see him running and smiling.

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It is somewhat rare to make a solid connection, and I mean among people in general. Jesse is so real — he has no masks. He has nothing to hide, and this is beautiful. Beautiful people give their lives to work with people like him. These people are “best friends”… other children often do not have the patience for mental disability. This patience is rewarded with genuine connection: the art of loving.

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We live in a culture that values utility. We cringe when we see disability and we want to distance ourselves from it, and I believe this is because we have lost our sense of beauty. Perhaps Jesse can help ease us back to our senses. I am grateful to have begun my photographic journey with him and with his siblings, they are in a sense “easy subjects.” I am painfully aware that there are many disabled people who seem less photogenic at first, but who are no less beautiful for those who have trained the eye to see. Yes, the trained eye (of the soul?) can find beauty even within human suffering. During this past year I have wrestled with myself for believing that, but what other choice do we have but to learn this wisdom? At the end of our years, we will all be disabled and dependent, and still so beautiful. What is the meaning of life? To be beautiful, to be art and lovers of art, to be valued as ends, never as means to some other end. To be useless.

Let all of our uses of things (never people) work to showcase this art!

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Thanks to Steve for being willing to host this photo essay. Blessings to all. From Jesse through me, with love and for beauty.

Please consider making a generous contribution to the Phelan-McDermid Syndrome Foundation if you feel so moved. Let us help people like Jesse for their own sake! Please include a note that your contribution is “for beauty.” Thank you very much, I would be so grateful.

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