May 222015
 
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San Francisco and the Xpan: how I think my photography

By Dirk Dom

I’m not manic now for a month or so, which is great, but I didn’t start or did anything. Day before yesterday I just stopped scanning at 1AM, yesterday and today I don’t feel in the mood. I ‘m going to start something because like now I waste time. My shots of S.F. are good. I learnt a lot about what’s interesting in photography. Not the usual tourist stuff.

The panorama’s of the Xpan I make straight, they look better that way, they look finished.

From this (original scan)

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To this:Select, process, transform, and stretch away. Anything goes.

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This one I think real special:

The Xpan on “B”, f/22, eight seconds’ exposure, hand held while a train got in the station. It moved, it’s double; the manikin ghost is made of the two overlapping images of that man.

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Peter Lik (one of the two photographers in the world who sell to the general public for lots and lots of money, and who is a commercial genius) sold a shot with a ghost for over 6 million dollars:

Maybe I can, this one, too? I’m happy with 5,999,995 dollars. I’d better keep the negative safe, because I’ll never be able to make this shot again.

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The shot I’m proudest of is this one:

Of course, this is the ultimate tourist shot. Just that I haven’t seen it yet and it’s so spectacular. I was walking near this boat, searching for interesting images, and I just couldn’t believe it when I discovered this one. The tower and this boat, couldn’t be better. I’d take the big Fuji 617 to S.F. just to take this one shot. But with the Linhof and the 47mm I can shoot it in 6×9 black and white and crop. Finding panoramic compositions is different, you have to fill the entire image with interesting stuff in a way that looks natural and not just shoot things that are in the middle; it takes an effort. I discover panoramics before I look through the camera and this one really hit me. Sometimes Photoshop helps: I’m crazy about fire escapes

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Original image:

Now, that wasn’t panoramic enough.

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Stretched (at these extreme perspectives you get away with anything):Nice, eh?

Kodak Ektar 100 is a sublime film which scans incredibly. Burnt out highlights like cloud parts, I don’t even look at them anymore, they’re always good. Shooting film is so much easier than shooting digital!
The 65mm (2.55 inch) negative of the Xpan is very comfortable to work with, with the Epson scanner at 2,400PPI I can enlarge to about two feet at 300DPI.

I really like the colors of this one:

A sidewalk, cement. Such fine color nuances you can get with the digital Leica, I don’t think I could get them with mu Olympus PEN. Look at the fine, etched highlights.

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I crop to this:

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Which reminds me of this:

Not doing anything with it, because the image isn’t good enough, but a new idea: associative photography, showing with an image what the abstract shot reminds you of. No words.

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The most typical S.F. shot I took: Haight Street, of course.

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From this shot, had a bit of work with it:

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Since legal, Marijuana is everywhere, must be a big boost to the economy.

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Finally, to show that I’m just as good as famous Flemish photographer Bert Danckaert: See how I put the shadow out of the middle? I’m an Artist Genius!
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Allez, groetjes,
Dirk.

May 212015
 
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The Olympus Pen F – from Large Format to Half Frame thanks to W. Eugene Smith

By Ibraar Hussain

Steve, Brandon and every viewer of this site!

it’s been a fascinating year so far, and stevehuffphoto.com is as good as ever! Exciting camera news and excellent photography.
I really enjoy the daily inspirations and inspire they do!

After the recent Punjab trip I sold my Panasonic Lumix GX7 and was looking to go up into the world of Large Format, View cameras and 5×4 photography. My winning bid for an MPP Micro Technical camera with quick load Film holders, a Schneider lens and all the accessories had to be cancelled as the seller updated me with some information about the lens having some fungus inside.

I was disappointed as my advancement into the realm of LF had been put on hold, so until I find another one that has to wait. I was browsing the Web and came across a superb vintage Olympus advertisement showcasing their Olympus Pen F camera. It featured one of The Greatest Photographers and War Correspondents of all Time: W. Eugene Smith, composer of possibly, in my opinion,  The Most Beautiful and Magical photograph of all time: A Walk To The Paradise Garden. A photograph whose composition and making of is a story unto itself and worth looking up, and a photograph which does nothing but inspire. It inspired me to clean up my neglected darkroom and dust off everything, to gather my cameras again and shoot, to invest in an Epson SC-600 13”+ Printer and some Epson Exhibition Fiber paper and make some prints.

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Anyway, I digress.

Smith, with his ultra cool look had with him an Olympus Pen FT. I don’t know whether he used it much, and I am not really bothered about that, but I used to have an Olympus Pen F which I regret ever selling, as it’s a wonderful camera. It’s built as well as anything, solid metal housing and beautifully crafted, small and compact with tiny lenses and a wonderful portrait format finder.

I love everything about this camera, and it is a shame Olympus were unable to copy it instead releasing the Digital pen series which are nothing like this work of art, designed by the genius of Yoshihisa Maitinai himself.

The camera is unique, in so many ways. It is not a rangefinder like the Leica M series, but a true SLR. It lacks a Pentaprism and is thus oblong in shape with no un sightly prisms, humps and angles, instead it is sleek, with a low profile and an almost RF look about it – yet so very different as it is an SLR and not anything else. The Pen F was produced from 1963 to 1966 and was in turn followed by the Pen FT and FV models.

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I prefer this over any other model for a few important reasons.
Firstly, it’s the Original design and features the glorious and striking gold gothic F logo which is reason to buy it in itself.
It has a very bright large finder, which isn’t dark and cluttered like that in the FT (which has a meter and readout in the finder making it cramped). It has the double stroke wind lever which I prefer and lacks a light meter which makes it simpler and more spartan- but this is the beauty of it.

The construction is up there with the Germans, it is a solid hunk of crafter metal, a solid and satisfying shutter button, the shutter mechanism is a Ti Rotary Focal Plane Shutter and along with the Half Frame (APS sized) negative is very much like that on a Cine camera.
The Portrait format finder is like this as it is a Half Frame camera, with a 18x24mm negative which when exposed resembles that of negative stock shot with a 35mm motion picture 35 camera.

It has a nice set of compact lenses, with the 38mm f1.8 being the usual standard lens. 38mm on half frame is equal to 55mm in Full Frame Format.

I managed to get an almost Mint example from a seller in Japan with the fast 40mm f1.4 lens (pristine condition) and the Gothic F lens cap!
I also procured a classy leather strap and a 43mm Tiffen Yellow Filter to go with it.

Needless to say I absolutely adore this. It has so much character, it attracts so much attention and is so different and unique. It features nothing but the shutter button, the Shutter speed dial at the front, the wind lever and Film crank and that’s about it! it’s all i need! This is a keeper, especially the mint version I have.

Shooting with this is a different style altogether.

The portrait format with the half frames gives another dimension to the photography, and I am forced to think out side the box, to compose and shoot differently within the constraints of the narrow 60mm focal length of my 40mm f1.4 G Zuiko and the upright view finder I explore different compositions and subjects, with the added creative benefit of having a go at Penography – of shooting three consecutive pictures as a sort of three frame panorama, and using the unique format to create pairs of frames, telling a story or portraying something in chronological order, such as a triptych or montage. The possibilities are endless and with the fine grained sharp Film available Grain or resolution isn’t an issue. And I forgot to mention, one roll of a 36 exposure Film goes on seemingly forever! You get double the amount of frames courtesy of the Half Frame format!

The lens is a beautiful piece of work, solid in construction with an aperture ring and a depth of field preview button, and it has some interesting bokeh and gives delightful shallow depth of field effects. It is sharp at f4 and above and a very nice lens to own and use.

Using and owning the Olympus Pen F is a pleasure and will open many opportunities in creativity and satisfying and interesting results. It won’t make you into W. Eugene Smith, and you won’t look as cool as him, and nor will you be as great as him, but it sure as hell puts a smile on my face and has kindled the love of photography in my heart again.

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I took it for a trial run to some of my favourite walks in Epping Forest near my home (Strawberry Hill Ponds and Great Monk Wood and Wanstead Park for those interested). I used my trusty Minolta Autometer III and took the reading from the shadow areas this time!
The rest I left to experience and managed to gauge the light levels and loaded with Rollei Retro 400s (fast becoming my favourite 400 speed Film) I played with light and shadow of the sun beams amongst the trees.

I then took it to the woods in and around Burnham Beeches in Berkshire with the Missus, the Film eventually finished and I loaded it up with some Agfa Ultra 100 colour Film for some fun and games with the magic of the Bluebells and ancient Oak and Beech around here – but that is for another story!

The results were vey pleasing, and the double frames an interesting way of portraying photographs. I have used it as a gimmick though and haven’t really used the two frames or any triptych as they should be used here, though I did take a triptych of my Missus which is superb (but she’ll kill me if I upload any of her photos). I’m going to have a go at ‘Street’ photography with this delightful and beautiful camera soon, as I usually shoot Nature, travel portraiture and architecture I am pretty useless at reportage and street – but i think this camera will be ideal!

So in searching for a 5×5” Large Format Micro technical camera I’ve bought a Half Frame instead thanks to W. Eugene Smith and his über cool look. Anyway, for those bored of nature and trees, look away now. These snaps are a first roll trial.

All snaps:

Olympus Pen F
G. Zuiko Auto S 40mm f1.4
Rollei Retro 400s
Developed in R09 Rodinal
Scanned with Plustek 8100
Digital darkroom using Photoshop CS4 and Apple Aperture 3.6

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May 202015
 
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In loving memory of first Leica Mono!

By Massimiliano

Dear Brandon and Steve

Here is Massimiliano from Rome, again!

Now that the second release of the Leica Monochrome is on the shelf I would like to remember the still fantastic first Leica Mono that at its arrival seems to be a strange tools for freaks and rich (more than standard Leica users…) B&W lovers. Many jokes on camera’s price instead of the few dollar to buy a used SLR and many rolls of films, but indeed who has the chance to own or use for a while this tool as me it has remained astonished by the quality of the camera. I was at the time a Leica M9 owner so ready to use a “downgraded” version of my camera , but realistically what I had in my hands for the Rome’ Fashion week of 2013 was an incredible instrument to catch the very real moment of models and workers. In fact at the time I was working on a personal project on the Fashion’s market and in detail on what is hidden in the background (or better in the backstage). So for me was important to have a discrete tool (a large DSLR was too cumbersome) able to manage properly low light. M9 was good enough but Mono was incredible, with 90mm summicron III version I was able to do my job without problem and this is what a photographer want.

I was impressed by this camera that I always regret to share files via web or Facebook because the compressed JPG does not give the right feeling on its file quality. Only print or big monitor can do.

It worth the money? Yes and probably the new Mono also, if its better than the first version as it looks like.

I think today is still a great piece of hardware and probably a good deal for many.

If you like to see more visit my works here : http://blog.massimilianotiberi.com/portfolio/alta-roma/

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May 192015
 
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Camera? Doesn’t matter, shoot what you love!

By Thomas Rhee

I’ve been a visitor of your site for a number of years now and while it’s not the most polished looking site, the content is what speaks to me. It’s honest and down to earth.

Anyways, I’ve been into photography since my high school days starting with film, on and off again thru the years until around 10 years when I started taking it more seriously. Like you (Steve), I’m also very much into high-end audio, currently mostly Naim gear along with a Mac Mini and a Mytek 192 DSD DAC that acts as my music server.

Recently, my GF knowing how much I love photography, gave me a Fuji X100T along with the WCL-X100 wide conversion lens as a gift for my birthday. Also, my birthday gift to myself this year was the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk.II,. My other cameras include the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Fuji X100, Ricoh GR Digital III and a Canon 5D Mk.II. Of course, I’ve been shooting non-stop with my two new cameras so my submissions will be from those two, all of which were taken within the last two weeks.

The first photo is a street photo taken with my E-M5 Mk.II after having dinner at a restaurant located deep inside of a few alleyways here in Seoul, Korea. The image is of a waitress getting hot coals for a table-side Korean BBQ restaurant. The alley was pretty dark but fortunately there was a light in front of her that acted as a spotlight as well as the two open doors (two different restaurants) that brought in some light. Nonetheless, the ISO had to brought up to 3200 to bring up a reasonable shutter speed with the lens wide open.

“Waitress”

OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 Mk.II, 25MM, F1.8, 1/50, ISO 3200

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The second image was taken on Buddha’s Birthday here in Seoul, Korea. Like most other Asian countries, Buddhism is prevalent and Buddha’s Birthday is a big event where thousands come out to celebrate. This image was taken at one of the Buddhist temples here, nearby where the parade was happening. There was a homeless man surrounded by families, children on a field trip as well as devout Buddhists who came out to pray that day. The homeless man kind of stuck out from the crowd and I captured this while he was eating a popsicle although I have no idea where he obtained it from. The tree in the middle signifies to me a the disparity of how others see him as well as how he sees himself.

“Disparity”

OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 MK.II, 45MM, F6.3, 1/60, ISO 3200

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The third and last image was taken this past Sunday where my GF and I decided to go to a botanical garden just to have a leisurely Sunday and get away from the hustle and bustle of living here in Seoul. The place was amazingly beautiful and when I came across this scene, with a Juniper tree, decided to take a snap.

“Juniper & The Garden Of Morning Calm”

FUJIFILM X100T, 19MM (28MM EQUIVALENT), F8, 1/1100, ISO 400 (FUJIFILM WCL-X100 WIDE CONVERSION LENS)

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Anyways, thanks for reading and looking,

Thomas Y. Rhee

https://www.eyeem.com/u/tyrphoto

May 192015
 
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Return to film: Spring flowers in San Francisco

By Dirk Dom

Hi!

The last two years I’ve been serious about black and white on film and I grew to enjoy grain very much. With my Hasselblad Xpan I shot Kodak Ektar and fuji Superia 400 and I immensely liked the results. My Olympus PEN digital camera is extremely good, but I got tired of color noise. Film grain is beautiful, digital color noise is ugly.

So when I went to san Francisco this easter, I had my Xpan, my canon F1 and my Olympus PEN with me. And, not to my surprise, I didn’t shoot a single digital shot.

I wanted a creamy and graphical look for my flowers. The cream comes from shooting with a Canon FD 85mm f/1.2, at f/1.2. The graphical part comes from Fuji Superia 800. I used a 3 stop ND filter all the time. I used extension tubes. I don’t think there is any modern camera system that allows this kind of shots with modern lenses. Digitally, the Sony A7 with Canon FD 85mm f/1.2 and extension tubes and a $30 adapter would do the job perfectly. But I shot at ground level a lot, you’d need to use the screen, then.

Today I got my negatives back and I’ve met my objectives. This was what I had in mind. Sharpness freaks will be disappointed: this is not about sharpness but about beauty and atmosphere.

Film is beautiful.

Enjoy!

California is in its fourth year of draught, so there weren’t many flowers. Still, I got nice shots.
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Pacifica. A lily.

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At the beach.

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Also near the beach.

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Poppy, Golden Gate Park.

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Golden Gate Park. Shot through a flower in the foreground, focused on a flower behind. With the Canon F1 speedfinder I can shoot right to ground level.

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Cherry tree.

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The 85mm sometimes gives rainbows.

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Beach near the Golden Gate: great diversity of flowers. Unfortunately, they were mowing the path when I got there. 

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Poppies at f/1.2.

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Grain. Love it!

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Bernal Hill, all the flowers were already gone.

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Bye,
Dirk.

May 182015
 

The Aesthetic of Lostness: Inside Iran with the Fuji X100s

 

By James Conley

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Iran. Although home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, (dating back more than 5,000 years), since 1979 Iran is most commonly known for the Islamic Revolution that toppled Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and took 66 Americans hostage, holding them for 444 days. Iran is daily in the news, with its military activities in Syria and Yemen, its support of Hezbollah, endless negotiations over its nuclear program, and its detention of reporters like the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian. “Death to America” is a chant heard in televised demonstrations in Tehran, setting the outside view of Iran as a hostile one to the West.

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In contrast to this public view, I’ve been fortunate to know many Iranians who live in the United States, as well as abroad. Without exception, they love the United States and the common theme among them is a love of life and all it has to offer. With these contrasting experiences in mind, I determined to make a trip to Iran.

Getting into Iran as an American is no easy task. Reams of paperwork, multiple passport photographs, and multiple visits to the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., are required. Iranians work on a different time scale, and waiting (and waiting, and waiting) are part of the process. The government of Iran is suspicious of one’s prior travel, and does a thorough investigation into who you are. (It’s possible to go with a tour group, but tours are heavily monitored by the government and I wanted freedom of movement.) In the end, it took me over a year to obtain permission to visit Iran.

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Visa in hand, I scheduled a flight. Since 1979, Iran has been subject to a range of economic sanctions, including ones which eliminated direct flights from the United States. Iran is not a close destination. My flight took me through Istanbul, Turkey—with a 7 hour layover. Layover included, total travel time from Dulles to Tehran was 20 hours.

Arriving in Iran was a bit of an emotional let down. Based on my experiences with Iranian officials in the United States, I had expected a high degree of security and curiosity about an American’s arrival. At the airport, I found only a single disinterested official at Passport Control. A glance at my visa, a scan into the computer, and I was on my way without even eye contact or a single question about the purpose of my visit. (I have reason to believe that the arrival experience is highly variable, and your visit may go a very different way!)

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My first experience of the country was an extremely long drive from the airport to my host’s house in northern Tehran. Tehran is one of the biggest cities in the world, with more than 17 million people. It is spread out over more than 200 square miles, and the airport is more than 30 miles south of the city. It was an appropriate introduction to a city and country that are impossible to pigeon-hole, with variety and diversity which are difficult to comprehend.

 

Being inside Iran is much different from hearing about it from the outside. While not an easy country to absorb or function in, the people are warm and welcoming, and there is a vast range of poverty and wealth among a people who have been isolated from much of the West for more than a generation. (Although only the United States and Canada have official sanctions against Iran, the complexity of those sections affects travel, banking, postal services, and foreign businesses who also do business with the United States.) Despite all the international conflict concerning Iran’s political role and its present history, the people within Iran continue to flourish in an environment that’s all their own.

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Working as a photographer in Iran is beset with challenges. I was based in the northern part of Tehran, making day trips to other parts of the country. Each place presented unique difficulties and opportunities.

The primary challenge I try to address in any place is blending in. As a street photographer, my goal is to be an observer. This means being as unobtrusive as possible while maintaining enough involvement to understand and appreciate unfolding events so that I can time decisive moments. In most western countries, these needs are solved by being mindful of one’s dress and manners, and generally taking the “when in Rome” approach is enough that I can fade into the background. Not so in Iran. One can’t blend bone structure and skin color. Although there is a fair bit of ethnic diversity in Iran, it’s all diversity from within the region and, unsurprisingly, I was immediately identifiable as a foreigner no matter where I went, simply because of the color of my skin, hair, and the structure of my facial bones. No matter my efforts to adapt, I was regularly approached by strangers who started every conversation in broken English. Being mistaken for a local wasn’t going to happen. While this interfered with my ability to blend, it also led to some opportunities for interaction which otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.

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Photography inside Iran is not common. I occasionally saw some Iranians at famous places making images with cell phone cameras, but I didn’t see any DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, or film cameras, except a camera carried by a German tourist. Carrying a camera definitely singles you out.

I work as unobtrusively and quickly as possible, and make it habit to have only one camera out at a time. I try to carry only a single camera with lenses in my pockets, or at most carry only a small courier bag. I use Fuji X-Series cameras, which are smaller and quieter than a Leica, and to the uninitiated appear to be amateur pocket cameras. I wouldn’t advise carrying a large DSLR with a zoom lens because you’ll appear to be a journalist (read: spy). That said, most Iranians had little to no reaction if they saw the camera.

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The images here were made with the X100s and its Wide and Tele companions. This set up of 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm (equivalents) allowed me to do 90% of my work while remaining extremely unobtrusive. The Wide converter stays on my camera most of the time, so I was able to carry just one lens, a spare battery, and a spare memory card. In a place where you want to stand out the least amount possible, this was a great kit. It is also relatively fast to change lenses without attracting attention.

 

A few shots required pulling out the X-E1, however. Architecture in Iran is immense, and even the 8mm Rokinon ultra wide angle (12mm equivalent) that I carry struggled to pull in the details. (None of those shots are included in this post—these are all X100s. Additional images can be seen here: http://fjamesconley.com/iran)

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Traveling to places where one doesn’t speak or read the language is not uncommon. Traveling to places where one has little chance of grasping the culture, however, is rare. It’s extremely stressful and overwhelming, taxing one’s creativity as well as one’s emotions. But it’s also liberating to be lost. Removed from even absentminded awareness of so much of what’s going on, the mind has little choice but to double its efforts to observe and make sense of things. Lost, it’s easier to perceive humanistic patterns. Lost, it’s easier to put attention on the gestalt. Lost, it’s easier to let your deeper self emerge.

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The aesthetics of lostness have a quality of their own. The feeling on many levels is one of isolation and disconnectedness. Like any state of mind, these aspects are revealed in the work. My interpretation of the images I made in Iran reflect this: isolated moments; overwhelming scale; and a puzzlement of things. I endeavored to embrace the lostness, however, because the alternative was to find a false narrative which would devolve into stereotype. In the lostness, I sought the commonality of humanity instead of looking for the superficiality of difference.

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Iran is a country, and not a political entity. Whatever its government’s present role on the world stage, Iran’s people and the country itself are magical. I look forward to returning again.

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Additional images can be seen here: http://fjamesconley.com/iran

Here’s my contact info:
website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

May 152015
 

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My First Wedding Photographed with the a7s and a7II

By Marc Weisberg – His website is HERE

Steve and Brandon, I’ve been following your blog daily for a few years now. It’s a great reliable source for photographers with no-nonsense reviews and great feed back from your readers.  A few years back when the Olympus OMD EM-5 was released, it was Steve’s review that put me over the edge.  I purchased two OMD EM-5 bodies, the Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, 75mm f/1.8 and then the 12-40mm 2.8.  I traveled through Paris, NYC and across California with them.  It was my entry into the world of mirrorless cameras.  The Olys were amazing! Lighting fast to focus, faithful in color rendition, even in Auto WB and the glass was tack sharp wide open.  I love the lightweight portability of the Oly system. I could now travel with a simple shoulder bag, with two bodies and three lenses that weighed less than my pro Canon body and two L lenses.

Around the time When Sony came out with the a7s and a7II I was intrigued.  It was time for me to upgrade my Canon system.  I’m a professional photographer making 100% of my income from my craft. For the last 15 years I’ve been a Canon shooter.  My last set up was a Canon EOS 1D Mark III and a D60 as a back up. Along with that I owned a lot of L glass:  85mm L f/1.2, 135mm L f/2.0, 24-70mm L f/2.8, 16-35mm L f/2.8, 70-200 L IS f/2.8 and the 50mm L f/1.2  However it was time to upgrade my entire system.  Lenses were getting older, and Canon was starting to phase out service on them.  Camera bodies needed to be upgraded.  But after shooting for two years with the Oly’s I just felt there had to be something better out there other than Canon.  I felt that Canon gear especially their Mark II lenses were getting profitably expensive.  Something with faster focus and sharper lenses.  Something mirrorless and null frame.

After a a few lunches with my friend and pro photographer Paul Gero, a Sony Artisan, and him showing me his new Sony gear I was past the intrigued stage and knew that the move was right for me. The Sony a6000 that he was using and the a7 were packed with technology that Canon didn’t have. I’d also grown used to the EVF and the WYSYWYG exposure view of my Oly’s.  My lunches with Paul and being able to see what the Sony mirrorless bodies were capable of for myself set a plan in motion for me. I sold all my Canon gear, every last bit of it and switched to Sony. It was an easy move for me. As a business person as well as a photographer, it was a logical sound technical and financial move.  I could make the move to Sony for about $10k and replace all my Canon bodies and the majority of glass. If I would have upgraded all my Canon gear it would have cost me anywhere from $15k to $20k out-of-pocket.
My initial purchase was the Sony a7s, VGC1EM vertical grip,a7II and FE 16-35 f/4 Z OSS, FE 24-70mm f/5 Z OSS, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA.  All financed with proceeds from selling my Canon gear.  Notes to all you shooters.  Keep your gear in top condition and put  quality UV filters on your glass as soon as you purchase it.  This way you’ll be able to get top dollar when selling you lenses.

My Move to Sony

Moving from one camera system to the other, especially when you’ve been with another system for 15 years does not come without a learning curve.  I shoot my a professional gig with the a7II only a few days after receiving it. You can read about that here: http://luxuryrealestateimages.com/sony-a7ii-real-world-review/  It took me about 2-3 weeks to become comfortable with the menu system for both bodies. You can see my Sony a7s unboxing video here and a few more reasons for my move to Sony:  http://marcweisberg.com/2015/01/sony-a7s-unboxing

Transparency

I spent my own money on purchasing all my Sony gear. After my A7II real world review and my a7s unboxing video I was put in contact with Sony and am proud to be aligned with them as a Sony Artisan of Imagery.  I am not paid by Sony to pimp their gear.  I could never personally endorse something or suggest to my friends or readers that a camera system, bodies or lenses are worthy of purchasing if they weren’t.  Its the quickest way to loose integrity and I just couldn’t sleep at night by hawking snake oil.  That being said:  I make my living using this gear and it works for me in ways that no camera system ever has.

The Proof is in the Images

Like Steve’s Real World Reviews, the proof is in the images….not necessarily in the tech data.  While I appreciate the tech data, it will never show you how the image looks, how the lenses and camera bodies work in unison, how naturally the skin tones are rendered, what are the real world results as far as chromatic aberration is concerned, is there moiré, how do high ISO images look, can you really shoot at ISO 51,200 and get usable images, is having an f/4.0 lens an issue, what is white balance like, how is the menu system, how does the camera feel in your hands and many more subtleties.

Photographing Weddings Exclusively with the Sony Alpha α7s and α7II

Just to be clear this wasn’t my first wedding I’ve ever photographed.  I’m numbering more in the 600 range  (weddings) photographed in the past 15 years.  That being said, 2 weeks ago I had an opportunity to photograph a wedding solely with the #SonyAlpha a7s and a7II.  I was faced with a myriad of lighting conditions that all wedding photographers come up against:  open shade, direct harsh sunlight, twilight, night time available light photography and off camera flash photography with the Profoto AcuteB600R and Pocket Wizard Plus III’s and the Neewer TT850 manual speedlights.  What follows is My First Wedding Photographed with the α7s and α7II.

How Did the α7s and α7II Preform?  

In a word….Brilliantly.  I was super impressed with how my a7s anda7II handled all the scenarios. Dynamic range is impressive as I was able to capture the entire range of shadow and highlights in glaring sun with ocean views. Color renditions are amazing.  I saw no CA {chromatic aberrations} in any images, even with extreme back lighting.  Focusing during the day was never an issue, with one caveat. Night time, available light only in near darkness was an issue. As the camera would hunt and seek.  But in my 15 years experience photographing weddings this is true of any DSLR without a flash attached to bounce of some kind of IR signal/pattern from the subject. That being said, when focus locked on, the images are dramatic, powerful and sharply focused. In hindsight what I should have done was use DMF {Dynamic Manual Focus}. Which would get me close to focus and then dial in the focus the rest of the way by manually fine tuning the image and using focus peaking and magnification.

Tech Notes 

What follows are singular images  processed in Adobe LR5 with adjustments to exposure, color, sharpness, clarity, tone curve, shadow and any other adjustment that is available in the LR5 modules. No Adobe Photoshop is used on any images unless specified. I’m amazed and impressed by how sharp the images are straight out of camera when shooting wide open and when stoping down. I used all the Sony glass that I own:  FE 16-35 f/4 Z OSS, FE 24-70mm f/5 Z OSS, , FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS,Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, plus the, E 30mm F3.5 Macro E-mount Macro Lens {on loan from Sony}, for the ring shots.  For pixel peepers, you should know that I’ve output all images at 20″x20″ @300 dpi.  Even the 30mm Macro images. There is no degradation, or pixelization noticeable on any images.

A few other technical notes

Skin tones are rendered faithfully, black and white conversion within Adobe LR5 from the RAW files is easily accomplished with a broad tonality range from deep blacks to gray tones and clean whites, I’m partial to punchy colors, easily bumped up with a +10 on the Vibrancy slider and +6  on the Saturation slider in LR5.

1. Left: Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA Right: E 30mm F3.5 Macro E-mount Macro Lens on my α7s.

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2. Sony lenses can handle harsh light with no noticeable CA.

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3.Great natural skin tones.

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4. Left: Notice how the dynamic range holds well showing the subtle high lights to the dark grey shadows in the bridal gown and window shutters. Right: Low light photography is never a problem for the Sony a7s, and beautiful bokeh with the FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS.

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5. Great color, dynamic range and sharpness from the a7s, FE 24-70mm f/5 Z OSS, f/10, ISO 100.

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6. Great color, dynamic range and sharpness from the a7s, FE 24-70mm f/4 Z OSS, f/13, ISO 200. Hand held.

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7. No tech data

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8. Left: a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 640. Right: FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, ISO 125.

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9. a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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10. a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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11. a7s, FE 24-70mm f/4 Z OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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12. a7s, FE 24-70 f/4 Z OSS, f/5.6, ISO 100. Holding onto the dynamic range beautifully. This daylight lighting scenario is typical of what wedding photographers face at most out door weddings.

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13. Left and Right: a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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14. a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 2500.

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15.Left and Right: a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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16 .a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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17. a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 400.

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18. a7II, FE 24-70 f/4 Z OSS, f/4, ISO 400. The bride’s face was dodged in CS5.

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19. Recessional: a7II, FE 24-70 f/4 Z OSS, f/4, ISO 100.

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20. Family portraits. I always use some type of lighting. Profoto AcuteB600R with a 40″ silver bounce umbrella, Pocket Wizard Plus III. Induro CT314 tripod, RRS BH-55 ball head, and for the higher resolution I use my a7II, FE 24-70 f/4 Z OSS, f/7.1, ISO 640.

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21. This is where things start getting interesting for me. When I was a Canon shooter I could never get the color right at sunset. Skin tones were ALWAYS too orange. Shot with the a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4, ISO 800. Skin tones are natural with a slight orange glow from the sunset. Bokeh rendition separates the bride and groom form the background. At at f4.0 They are tack sharp.

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22. Black and whites render beautifully from the RAW files in Adobe LR5.

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23. I’ve included the same file here twice to show a B&W and color file processed by LR5. Keep in mind that NO RETOUCHING has been applied to these images. If you shoot in the right light and expose properly you won’t need to use Photoshop and if you do it will be minimal.

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24. No tech data

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25. Available light image. Illuminated by the glow of the tungsten lanterns with Dana Point Harbor in the background. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 2000, wide open on the 55 @ f1/8

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26. Hand held. a7s, 24-70mm f/4.0 Z OSS, ISO 40,000.

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27. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 2000, wide open on the 55 @ f1/8

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28 .Left: a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 2000, wide open on the 55 @ f1/8, Right: Available light, a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, f/4.0, ISO 20,000,

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29. Available light. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 8000, wide open on the 55 @ f1/8, 1/1000th sec.

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30. Available light. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 32,000, wide open on the 55 @ f1/8, 1/1000th sec.

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31. Available light. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 8000, wide open on the 55 @ f1/8, 1/1000th sec.

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32. For this series of images I set up a 40″ umbrella with the Profoto AcuteB600R. Metered the strobe with a Sekonic L358. a7s, FE 24-70mm f/4 Z OSS, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/200th sec.

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33. For this series of images I set up a 40″ umbrella with the Profoto AcuteB600R. Metered the strobe with a Sekonic L358. a7s, FE 24-70mm f/4 Z OSS, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/200th sec.

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34. I’m loving the movement here of the bride and her friend dancing. A happy accident. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 500, f11.8, 1/60th sec.

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35.Using back lighting for the DJ. a7s, Sonnar T* FE 55 f/1.8 ZA, ISO 500, 1/60th sec.

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36. a7s, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS f/4, , ISO 51,200, 1/80th sec.

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37. To capture this image I set up a single Neewer TT850 speedlight in a 40″ silver bounce umbrella. The first step is to establish a base exposure for the sunset. I usually underexpose the ambient by about a stop. Then add the off camera lighting to taste. Make sure the camera is in Manual mode. You’ll want to lock in the exposure. Using the Neewer® TT850 speedlight, a manual flash, I dialed in 1/2 power and then added a bit more light while chimping to make sure the exposure was dead on. a7s, FE 24-70mm f/4 Z OSS, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1/200th sec. It is coincidental the exposure it similar to the image above. Photoshop was used for skin smoothing.

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In Conclusion

For me {<— as Steve often says} the Sony a7 mirrorless system is the perfect versatile full frame mirrorless camera system for a working progressional photographer that offers amazing consistent results.  In a given week I will photograph a natural light portrait session, a wedding, luxury real estate photography, and studio lit executive portraits on location all with my a7s and a7II. Are there shortcomings?  Yes. Longer battery life would be one. Because I do allot of on location shooting I have 10 batteries. A simpler menu system is another.  The menu system is deep.  And at fist complicated.  And some of the functions are not easily discernible. Like turning off the camera beep sound when attaining focus.  Its labeled as Audio Signal…not intuitive.  

I’ve had to take some extra time figuring out things with help from other Sony Artisans and scouring the internet for answers. Focus tracking could be allot better on both the a7s and a7II.  The a6000 bests both cameras in the focus tracking department, and is dead on for its focus tracking ability and is a stupendous mirrorless camera for under $600!  Some skeptics have been quick to point out that there is a dearth of fast primes for the Sony a7 system.  Not any more with the addition of the Loxia and now the Batis full frame auto focus Zeiss lenses, the FE 28 F2.0FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, FE 35 F1.4 ZA and the FE 90 F2.8 Macro G OSS have rounded out the fast glass department quickly.  For me the game changer is the a7s and the ability to put the camera in auto ISO and not have to ever worry about the lack of light.  The ability to get usable images at ISO 51,200 is something just a couple years ago would have been thought impossible. Thank you for taking the time to read this post and view the images.  

p.s. Oh yeah…I almost forgot: I left out one of the most amazing feature about the a7s. The a7s has a SILENT MODE. Essentially you are turning on the electronic shutter when invoking the menu command. And this renders that camera COMPLETELY SILENT when taking images.  As the photographer you are stunned that it makes NO NOISE at all when you are pressing the shutter. This is a boon for movie set photographers and wedding photographers who are told not to take photographs in certain settings because of the shutter noise, or simply to just be a fly on the wall…no one will even know you are creating images from just feet away.

Marc WeisbergSee his website HERE

See Steve Huff’s review of the Sony A7II HERE and the Sony A7s HERE.

May 132015
 

Oregon Landscapes with the Leica M9 in B&W

by Kirk Williamson

Almost a year ago my wife and I made a trip out to Oregon to visit our twin sons who have moved out there to find work in their field (3d animation). Knowing that the landscapes out there are really something compared to the East Coast I was really in a conundrum as to what to bring for gear. I am a newspaper photojournalist and carry Canon pro stuff all day every day and there was no way I was going to travel with all that heavy gear. I kept looking at my M9 wondering if it were really possible to travel with just that and my Canon G15. I know people travel light with the Leica gear all the time but they usually use it for street shooting and the usual tourist stuff. So I finally decided to go for broke and break away from my comfort zone and went with the M9 and the 35 f2 Summicron, 50 f 1.4 Summilux and the old bear 90 f2.8 Tele-Elmarit from the late sixties.

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I had no idea what I was in for when we got off the plane in Portland. It being June made me think that the weather was going to be ok but it is Oregon and rain is part of the equation, but really, all the time! So on the first day out we drove to the usual places involving beautiful waterfalls and tricky driving along the old road above the Columbia River Gorge mostly in the rain. The sun would peak out of the rain clouds from time to time giving me fantastic opportunities for images involving landscapes and clouds.

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I found myself using the 35mm and 50mm all the time for these scenics with clouds. I just put the lens at infinity, no focusing involved (old school auto focus). These two lenses did the bulk of the work and they were a joy to use. The 90mm was almost as much and the images were spectacular. I only wanted my 21mm a few times but all in all the travelling light thing was great, the Leica excelled at landscape shooting. Now I do have to say that I was not very well prepared for shooting waterfalls as I did not bring a tripod and cable release. I was able to get around it using the Canon G15 or shooting at around 1/30s some even at 1/90s to slow down the larger water falls.

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The Canon G15 made it out a few times but mostly on a hike of Silver Falls State Park which has ten waterfalls along a hiking route. What a great camera to hike with! Two of the shots I have included were taken with that camera – two of my favorites. The waterfall shot made with this camera was done holding it down on a post at 1/6s so it is a bit soft which adds to it’s other worldly look. The macro leaf shot was made with the G15 as well.

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Very quickly I noticed that this was going to be a mostly B&W conversion right from the start. The colors were muted with the gray skies and rain so I converted some right way after loading them into my iPad. The result was wow! The clouds just popped. So I knew when I got home that post processing in Silver Efex Pro would be warranted. Boy was I right the results were fabulous.

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Needless to say my small kit was a big success. I have upgraded my M9 to the M-P 240 and plan on bringing that along for this years trip. We will be going to the coast so I will be including my 21mm Super Elmar as I know I’ll need it. This time the G15 will be staying home as my Sony Nex-7 will be tagging along to use with my Leica glass.

My website is www.krwphoto.com and my blog is www.krwphoto.com/blog

Thanks,

Kirk

May 132015
 

Leica M6 TTL & Eeyore’s Birthday Party 2015

By Khunya Lamat Pan

M6

Hello all! Some might recognize my name and you may attribute it to my extreme loyalty to the Pentax K1000 and the Super-Takumar line of lenses. While I still LOVE the hell out of those, I finally made a big purchase on my dream camera and bought a nearly mint Leica M6 TTL body with a Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 lens. I chose the M6 due to its pure mechanical nature, with the exception of the light meter. Much like the K1000 actually! I like having the option of using a light meter, but if it fails or the battery dies, I can at least keep on shooting without any hiccups.

Bark

Drum Men

Not long after I bought the new setup, the annual festival in Austin, TX known as Eeyore’s Birthday Party took place. For anyone not familiar, the festival is a celebration of the character Eeyore created by A.A. Milne. Most everyone probably knows him from Winnie-the-Pooh. The festival has live music, egg toss, yoga, drum circles, food/beer, a real donkey, etc. It’s an all day event held in a beautiful park, and while it can get quite intense, the best thing to do is to find a nice shady patch on the hill within the trees and set up camp to watch all the interesting people walk by.

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Hammock

Legs

The M6 performed flawlessly. Like any Leica, it didn’t attract attention to itself in a horde of people. And while nearly everyone at the festival had a DSLR with them, I still felt relatively discreet. For the intensity of the festival, I felt the M6 was the perfect tool. I never felt like I had to worry about it, it just always works and feels smooth and precise. Even changing film on it in a crowd of people was easy, and I was expecting the worst since many people seem to hate the M6’s loading system. It was a very hot and sunny day, so I chose Ilford Pan F+ 50 and Efke KB 25 film. Efke is not longer in production, but I have stockpiled a lot of it in my freezer for special occasions like this. My style has always been to shoot more wide-open, so these two films are perfect for me, especially since I reside in sunny Texas. I developed them using Rodinal and Ilford Stop/Fix baths, and scanned myself using the Plustek Opticfilm 8200i 35mm film scanner.

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On to the pictures! You can follow me on Flickr here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/khunya

You can also check out my website here: http://www.khunyalamatpan.com/

Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoy!

-Khunya

May 082015
 

Spring time with the NEW Petzval Art lens

By Dierk Topp

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Hi Steve & Brandon,

on October 8, 2014 I read about the NEW Petzval Art lens in your blog – http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/10/08/the-lomography-petzval-art-lens-review-surreal-beauty/

…and wrote this comment:

Hi Steve, you got me! I saw and read this and needed less that 30 min. to order it for my A7R. Two days later I got the lens and enjoyed very much shooting with it. After the gray winter I took it last week and started shooting in our spring wood. You wrote everything about the lens and I don’t have anything to add. Just a few quotes from your conclusion:

“…I was hooked. After shooting off 10 frames or so I was sold.”

“…this lens has some craziness to the rendering, but I am a crazy guy so I love it. But…I would tire of it if I used it daily, really quick. Depending on the background of your subject you could end up with a nasty busy mess or a beautiful ethereal image that looks like a painting. But it does take practice to determine the best distance from subject to lens and subject to background. Get these just right and the images deliver the look you want. It’s a hell of a lens!”

Here are my Spring Time pictures with this special lens, all with f/2.2 on the Sony A7R. These images and more here in my flickr album.

#1

Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

#2

Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

#3

if you look at this on a large screen, you get dizzy:-))

Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

#4

Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

#5

Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

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Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

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Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

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the new Petzval lens 2.2/85mm on Sony A7R

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Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

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Sony A7R with New Petzval 2.2/85mm@f/2.2

#11

and one from last October with this extreme bokeh again

The new Petzval 85/2.2 on Sony A7R@f/2.2

#12

I like it for stills as well

the new Petzval lens 2.2/85mm on Sony A7R @ f/2.2

#13

and of course for portraits, this one with f/5.6 for the shot you have to keep the eyes in the center and crop later in PP for the desired image

the new Petzval lens 2.2/85mm on Sony A7R

#14

here is the beauty on the Sony A7R

the new Petzval lens 2.2/85mm on Sony A7R

#15

and next to an other beauty, the Zeiss OTUS 1.4/85mm

shot with Sony A7R with Micro Nikkor PC 85mm/2.8, tilted

shot with Sony A7R with Micro Nikkor PC 85mm/2.8, tilted

regards
dierk

May 072015
 

A carefree trip to Siem Reap with Leica D-Lux

by Paul Chan

Leica DLUX

Although I am a proud owner of a Leica M240, I opted for a small and easy camera for my recent trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  It was a vacation and I did not want to bother with the whole “thinking process” involved when shooting with a rangefinder.  Above all, the thought of lugging multiple lenses and a metal camera body in the heat of above 90°F just terrified me.

Knowing that the Leica D-Lux is virtually the same camera as the Panasonic LX100, I still bit the bullet and spent more dough on the “red dot” so that I could travel in style.  To my pleasant surprise, the handling of the camera was foolproof, with all commonly used features within easy access.  Since I prefer to shoot in the aperture priority mode, the exterior aperture ring is particular invaluable.  On that note, the add bonuses are the built-in EVF viewfinder and the quasi-four-third sensor.

The D-Lux is by no means the best deal of cameras in that price range, but it accommodates all my needs as a photography hobbyist who seeks the equilibrium of functionality and sleek design in a camera.

Here are some of the pictures I took of the wondrous ancient city.  Most pictures were taken with spot focus; some were intentionally underexposed by 1 stop in order to increase their color saturation.

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May 062015
 

JPDoublemoon

The Power of Symmetry

By José Pazó 

In this article, the third one I am sending you, I am going to talk about an unexpected camera: The Nikon S32.

It is a very simple, waterproof, Coolpix series, yellow piece of plastic. Probably, for many out there, one of the worst cameras anyone can buy. The specifications are incredibly basic: diminutive sensor, lots of noise and tones of glare. All types of chromatic aberrations and quirks of use. At least, very cheap. I bought it for my 2 years old daughter, but cameras are always nice temptations. At the end, like Homer Simpson does with his bowling ball for Marge, this camera was partially for me. Do not tell my daughter.

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My prior two articles have been about film, b&w film. I like mechanical cameras (Leica M3, Hassy 503), old glass and expected and unexpected results. I still keep some reservations about digital cameras. I have a semi-old Ricoh GRD and a Pentax K01 that I like because nobody likes it. Call me old-fashioned, but pixels are like gremlins in my deep reptilian mind. Preys for ghostbusters. So I bought the Nikon S32, and when into my hands this yellow piece of soap came (probably the most non-ergonomic camera I have tried –slippery as hell), and while playing with it, the miracle showed up in the ancient form of symmetry. ¡Symmetry!

I guess I am a very asymmetrical type of guy. Although I like and practice yoga, one of my legs is shorter than the other, and size and shape of my nostrils are very unequal. Maybe that is the reason why I love Japanese art so much, because of its tendency towards asymmetry. While asymmetry is humble, subtle, suggestive and dynamic, symmetry is solid, pompous, affirmative and static. Symmetry is in general very much related with power. Japanese art tends towards asymmetry, but Chinese art (and power) leans towards symmetry. Japan hides power; China shows it. So I guess that, with the Nikon S32, a Japanese camera, I discovered ancient China and its marks in the Western world and in my reptilian brain.

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Symmetry creates admiration, or at least aw (The White House, the Taj Mahal). It also produces endless decoration (the Cordoba’s Mosque, the vegetal decorative motives of the Alhambra). Symmetry is also present in almost any altar or oratory in the world. Our bodies also tend towards symmetry (at least some bodies), our faces too. Studies have shown that babies prefer symmetrical faces, and religious iconography indulges in it. Greece was almost symmetrical, Rome was over symmetrical, gothic cathedrals and Viking homes were too, the Empire State Building is symmetrical. Butts are. Busts too. Eyes, fruits, shells… (When they forget Fibonacci, another aurean way of symmetry). Monsters and extraterrestrial beings are usually symmetrical. Hearts not so much. That is probably why they keep us unbalanced. But they produce rhythm, and rhythm is symmetrical. Trees are rotationally symmetrical and so are kaleidoscopes, one of my childhood loves.

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Nikon S32 can produce symmetrical images. If I were a fashion photographer, I would be using it to play with models to create enticing, almost religious, visions. Since I am a mere dilettante, I am sending you a batch of everyday pictures. They are technically terrible, but visually addictive. Interiors, monsters, altars, flying trees and perfect landscapes. Etscheresque, for those who enjoy Etscher, the painter. At least for my obsessive brain. This first batch includes photos related with the vegetal world. I do not know if you are going to find enough merit in them to be published, not to even mention other batches. If so, thank you in advance.
As always, regards from Madrid to the whole Steve Huff’s clan. Keep your vision and very personal approach, I find lots of value in it. And the same for all of you who write or visit here. Tons of talent around. I do not have a webpage or similar. Thinking of making one but, for the moment, I enjoy just sending pics to others. So, hasta la symmetrical vista.

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May 042015
 

Voigtlander 40 1.4 Review on the Sony A7r

By David Farina

Hi everyone, I am David.

I am checking out this site since some time and thought that I would finally write something up myself. First of all, I want to thank Steve for this great site. For enthusiasts and professionals it is really the best way to evaluate new cameras, lenses or even bags and accessories, as everything here is real world testing!

Little Introduction: I am 22 years old and live in Zürich, Switzerland. My INTEREST in photography was always there, but it came over me when I went to Hong Kong, Thailand and China in 2012. I simply was not satisfied with what I got with my old Nikon (mostly because I had no clue). I got myself a Canon 650D, then a 6D, and with the Full Frame my LOVE for photography was born. Gear lust was always a big factor in my development of learning and making pictures as I really enjoy trying out new things and new lenses etc. As I was a bit tired of taking the 6D with 5 lenses with me around the globe, I got myself an A7R and fell in love again. Converting more and more from the Canon lineup to a Mirrorless lineup has a lot of advantages, but that is something I will not cover here. Since moving to Sony I built my setup containing of an A7R, A7S with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 and the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC. This makes a great travel kit, as well as a very light weight option without too much compromises.

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What I’m going to do here is giving you an idea of how well an adapted M-Mount lens can do on a Sony A7 body. So let’s take a look at the physics of the Voigtländer 40mm 1.4:

This lens is extremely small and light. It weights only 6.2 oz (175 g) and is built nicely with an all metal barrel. Unbelievable for an f/1.4 lens! I find it to be the perfect size for a walkaround lens on my A7’s, and that’s why it is!

But what’s it all about with the unusual 40mm focal length? In my Canon days I was a die hard 50mm fan and the Canon 50L was glued to my 6D when I was traveling. But when I got the Fuji x100s I found 35mm (which is the equivalent of its 23mm lens on full frame) quite handy, as you don’t have to back up that much when space is limited. The 40mm fits in between those two more conventional focal lengths, making it really versatile.

The lens itself features a grippy aperture ring on the front of it, and a focus ring which has a tab to place the finger on it for focusing. The operation of those rings is very smooth and feels well made. The focus turns from close focus to infinity in a bit more than 90 degrees, which is nice because you can focus fast as the travel is short. The aperture ring clicks in half stops.

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Many people asked me how I manage to use a manual lens as my everyday shooting and walkaround lens. The answer is, I don’t! Really, with the Sony A7’s focus peaking help and magnifier feature it feels very easy to nail the shots, even on moving subjects. And this is not coming from someone who’s been shooting manual glass 20 years ago, this is my first manual lens, and I really have fun with that. Off course I missed the one or the other shot, but for each I missed, I gained 3 others because if I still would use my 6D + 50L, I would not have taken it anywhere with me as I do with the A7R/S and this tiny lens. And manual focussing is somehow like when I first used a prime lens – it makes you think what you do! You can’t just snap away a few pics like some do with smartphones, and this influences the quality of the photographs taken. When I would have to measure the amount of images I’ve taken until I felt really confident with manual focusing this lens, I’d say I’ve shot maybe 100 shots until I fully got the hang of it. It really takes not a lot of patience and fiddling, so if you’re having problems deciding whether you need AF or want to benefit from a small and light wide-aperture lens, just take the plunge. I’ve had the same doubt and am now glad I did.

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But I guess what you are all wondering is if this lens is capable to deliver sharp results, right? I was sceptical at first, because of the size and the wide aperture. Since looking out for lenses I learned that quality glass is never cheap, and only very seldom it is small and light. Man, were I wrong! This lens is top notch. It is very sharp in the center, maybe even outresolves the A7R in the center of the frame at wide open aperture. The edges don’t look smeared, but are not very crisp at all. But hey, does it really matter on a lens like this? Obviously you’re not going to shoot landscapes with it, and for uses as a street photography, dreamy portrait or candid lens the center is the most important part of the frame, I’d say. However, stopping down improves the sides greatly. At f/8 we are able to get an overall crisp look. I don’t pixel peep (anymore, lol) and of course the sides and edges won’t be as sharp as the center, but overall the sharpness is highly convincing. Now we have a lens which is small, light, has an all metal body built to high standards, has no operational flaws on the aperture and focus rings and is amazingly sharp! The only trade off is autofocus, but I can live with that!

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So far so well, the lens is great built and sharpness is satisfying. But what about the colors? What about rendering of out-of-focus areas? What about the dimensionality?

Okey, lets start with the colors. On the A7R the lens has very natural, almost uber-natural colors. It renders colors appealing and has a bit of a warm touch. On the A7S I feel like it is not as saturated or clean like on the A7R, but still has a wonderful tone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about minor differences. But where this lens shines on the A7S is when you raise the ISO beyond 6400. This makes it a perfect companion for the A7S in lowlight, and the colors are kept great all up to ISO 51200. Beyond that, it gets really noisy, but what do you expect at that high ISOs.

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When I did research prior to getting this lens, a lot of reviews claimed that this lens had a tad of a nervous bokeh. I see what they meant, but to me this is in no way bad. The background melts away nicely while keeping sharp details on your subject. This lens is able to open up the aperture to f/1.4, which makes the 40mm lens also suitable for portraits. I expected this lens to have a lot less bokeh (quantity) due to the fact that it is actually a wide angle lens. But I find the amount of background softness not that different to my 50L at f/1.2. Highlights in the background can end up a bit nervous, showing some onion-ring bokeh, but only in certain occasions. After using this lens extensively the last 3 months I must admit that I had occasions where the bokeh was not as smooth as with the 50L, but 99% of the time it renders nice, big and round out-of-focus balls.

But what I like the most on that lens, is not how it melts away the background. It’s about how this lens has a certain pop! It is hard to describe, and for that purpose I have selectively chosen a lot of images which demonstrate that pop. What I’m talking about is how the separation from subject and background makes the subject stand out. It has a 3D look to the pictures if you want so. I think this comes down to the fact that this is a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture, but is still resolving incredible sharpness and details on subjects. This is, in my opinion, the most valuable feature of this lens. How often do I look at a nice picture I’ve shot, but think that something’s missing or that it looks rather flat. This lens is the opposite, as it is able to make even uninteresting subjects pop out of the picture, giving you a nice overall look and feel of the image.

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I will not dive down deeper on topics like flare and abberations. But I can tell you that this lens is not bad in both aspects. I have the multicoated version, but flaring occurs from time to time. But it is really not that “ahh that flare looks ugly and lowers the contrast tremendously”. More of a “hey theres a flare, maybe I can use it for artistic purpose?” :)
I did not notice any abberations, but like I already said, I’m not anymore a pixel-peeper (excuse the 200% crop on the trumpeter, but I couldn’t resist as this really shows how amazing sharp this lens can be!).

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All in all, this lens is my perfect walkaround lens. Due to its rather unusual focal length it is pretty versatile, has a nice 3D look and melts backgrounds away nicely wide open, but still resolves great when stopping down, all in a very light, very small package. Paired with a Sony A7 body this is in my opinion one of the best combinations for travel, street and everyday photography.

I hope you enjoyed my review and pictures of the A7R/S with the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm 1.4, and wish you good shooting!

You can buy the 40 1.4 at Cameraquest or B&H Photo. 

Apr 292015
 

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A User Review of the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM on a Leica M 240

By Howard Shooter

I must confess to being a bit of a Leica fan. I love Leica and the purity of the rangefinders’ back to basics approach to photography. Up until three days ago I have veered towards only Leica glass and my thoughts have been mostly positive. I was niggled and irritated by the slight softness of the 50mm Summilux on the M240mm compared to the M9 and the ever so slight lack of contrast, which means I sometimes have to give the files a bit of the proverbial kick in Lightroom. The shift from M9 to M240 was another learning curve in appreciating subtlety and nuance for me and took longer than I expected to really love the new signature of the much debated cmos sensor.

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I always loved the 35mm focal length, as it’s such a versatile lens for so many situations from landscape to portrait. I wanted the Leica 35mm summilux but the price is too steep for me to justify the outlay.

Zeiss have always had their avid and similarly loyal followers and the Leica fit Zeiss lenses have generally reviewed well and been passionately spoken for.

I ordered the Zeiss 35mm Distagon f1.4 ZM a week before they came in and the initial online reviews were scarce and very favorable. At approximately one-third of the price of the Leica equivalent I was looking forward to testing out the lens and deciding if my long and loyal following to owning only Leica glass was now dwindling.

Physically the lens is a little heavy for my liking; bulky and substantial, not balanced perfectly with the body. This isn’t a deal breaker for me as the optics far outweighs the extra size but it is a consideration and a minor irritation. The focus ring is a little tighter than I’m used to but the aperture is wonderfully smooth in third stop increments. The lens blocks the viewfinder a little but not enough for me to care. For all of it’s differences it is a beautifully well made lens in the true tradition of Zeiss and feels and looks better than in the Zeiss promotional shots.

Incidentally I am not going to post shots of my camera with the lens as you can see other reviewers do this. I am not a “professional” reviewer so I’d rather share my hopefully interesting opinions and see if this helps you decide on whether this lens might be of interest to you.

I’m in my favorite photographic haunt again of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, a fishing town with a wonderful English appeal and atmosphere.

The following shots were all taken with the Leica M240 with the Zeiss 35mm lens at various apertures. All were processed minimally in Lightroom with a little post processing but the essence of the lens’s signature is preserved. After you’ve looked at the shots I’ll let you know my personal opinion.

Shot 2 Oyster Fisherman

Shot 3 Lobster cages

Shot 4 Boats Windows

Shot 5 Gone Fishing

Shot 6 Boat Silhouette

Shot 7 Fisherman Sorting Catch

Shot 8 Woman On Beach

Shot 9 Boats at Dawn

Shot 10 Man by house

 

I hope you like these shots because in some ways they really surprised me. Now this may seem strange but the lens seems to give more pop and contrast than most Leica lenses I have used on my M240. The signature almost reminds me of the look I used to get with my M9. In other words if you are missing the M9 pop from your M240 and are looking for a 35mm lens I think you can do no better then with the Zeiss.

Just to re-iterate, when used with the M240 this lens gives you the subtlety of the M240 cmos sensor with the pop of the M9… a perfect combination.

This leads me to wonder if the colour and contrast of this lens on an M9 might be a little too saturated and contrasty but I am merely speculating. I love this lens and think that it actually feels very old school Leica rather than modern day Zeiss. It isn’t overly clinical in my opinion but is very sharp, handles flare extremely well, is very adaptable with various subjects and in the right light gives plenty of pop but at a third of the price. The bokeh isn’t distracting but also isn’t class leading either as subjective as this always is. I think reds do come out a little too red and saturated on the M240 which means they need toning down a little but the black and white conversions are wonderfully filmic. The M240 has always been very good for black and white and I think with this lens you get a real sense of depth and dynamic range.

I can strongly recommend this lens. Have you got this lens and do you share my opinions….?

Shot 11 Staircase

Shot 12 Lobster cages2

Shot 13 Aldeburgh Town

As always many thanks for reading,

Warm wishes

Howard Shooter
www.HowardShooter.com

(From Steve: POPFLASH has one Zeiss 35 1.4 in stock in black!)

Apr 272015
 

The View from the Rearview

by Mark Steiglman

As I was recently interviewed on the Leica Blog, I thought I would submit here as well.

Spending hours a day commuting in my car has made me acutely aware of my surroundings. One day while looking in my rear view mirror I became very interested in the comings and goings of the cars behind me. The scenes unfolded like little vignettes of humanity, people laughing, arguing, crying but mostly just looking bored and trapped within their heads as well as the glass and metal box they confine themselves to in their daily commutes. I wanted to capture what I was witnessing.

Vanity

After working out the technical aspects, my first attempts lacked the direct, unreserved look I was after as people were recognizing the camera. There is a long history of documenting people without them noticing. Walker Evans shielded his camera within his coat while making his subway series. Ben Shahn, while documenting for the WPA used a right angle mirror attachment on his lens pretending to take pictures of his wife while actually shooting what was off to the side. I solved this problem by buying a small stuffed bird, ripping out the stuffing and cutting a hole for the lens. The bird cam has made it virtually impossible to know that I am photographing and my pictures suddenly became what I had seen on that day I conceived of the idea.

Yarn

The imaginary line of public verses private space that the windshield seems to represent became my “monitor” for both real and imagined tableaus that raise so many interpersonal and social questions during the moment of exposure. Coming from the whole “social landscape photography” genre, these are the kinds of pictures I have always taken except now I am within the confines of my car taking photographs of my subjects within the confines of theirs.

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Mark Steigelman

marksteigelman.com

marksteigelman.wordpress.com

https://instagram.com/msteigelmanThe

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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