2.05.2016

Flip-Flopping on gear? Or making smart selections based on the final image targets? That's part of the job...


I'll start with an analogy: I have several friends who are chefs. They own their restaurants but they still get in their kitchens several times a week and "work the line" because, beyond their restaurants being businesses, they also enjoy the art/craft of cooking. Of making stuff with their own hands. A couple of these guys are in their mid-fixities and have a good thirty years of food service experiences under their belts. They've learned some valuable information about successful cooking that makes them fast, efficient and, by extension, profitable. 

To help them in their work they've learned to choose the right tools for each process. And few tools are as important to a chef as their collection of knives. They have paring knives for fine work, they have big cleavers for heavy duty chopping, and they have assorted serrated and non-serrated utility knives for chopping and filleting and slicing. But, here's the important thing! They don't do every task with one magic, perfect knife. 

It just doesn't work that way. They select the knife that will work best for each kind of work they do. The could do okay with a few well chosen knives but it would not be as much fun and it would just make their work take more time. Some dishes might suffer from the relative mismatch of tools and ingredients... Fingers might get nicked. So, selecting the right tool = good. 

What does this aside have to do with us photographers? Well, there seems to be a pervasive mythology in photography at large that somewhere, in some mythical camera store out there, exists a perfectly sorted camera for every user. One all purpose machine that is a perfect fit for everything the photographer might ever want to do. One need only find their own mythical

2.03.2016

Red Head in front of Gallleries Lafayette in Berlin.

 click on the image to see it bigger. The reflections are really pretty...

When I visit a new city the first thing I do, after checking into my hotel, is to get a good street map and memorize (in a very general way) where everything is. I won't know exact street names and such but I will understand just where the cool stuff is located. Once I've spent an hour or so with a real map I grab one camera, and the lens I think will make me happiest, shove an extra battery in my pocket and head for the front door.

I think the best way to see almost any city is to invest some shoe leather and walk the streets. The city will reveal itself to you, if you are open to it.

The image above was shot with a Samsung Galaxy NX camera. It was an infuriating camera and yet, an endearing camera. Infuriating in that it operated like an overgrown phone and was prone to, well, freezing up or shutting itself off at the least advantageous times. Endearing because when it did work the files could be quite beautiful in a way that was visually different from the usual Canon and Nikon files.

I was always a little surprised that the folks at Samsung dropped that camera so quickly. What it needed was a number of fixes and tweaks along with a judicious price adjustment. The essential selling points of a huge freaking screen on the back and total connectivity might have done very well with a broader cross section of consumers if the powers that were in the Samsung camera division didn't have the hubris-laced impulse to position it as an expensive, professional tool. At a $1699 price point there were so many proven enthusiast's darling cameras (and their deeply embedded eco-systems) to compete with. At $1099, with a surprisingly good kit lens, and all the foibles fixed, it would have (my opinion) sold well to all the folks who wanted a techie/selfie/share-y/connected camera that played really well in the smartphone-information-transfer-sharing space. Even the video was essentially decent (though somewhat crippled for power users by the absence of a headphone jack...) enough for anything web.

The camera got on my nerves because I was the wrong person to be testing it. I basically look at most hyper-sharing apparatus with contempt. Especially when it's in my camera. I love simplicity and hate most menus. I'd love to be wealthy enough to shoot with the new Leicas, not because I think they are great cameras (they might be) or because they have great, great lenses (I know they do) but because they have the most simplified menus in all of camera land.

If the brains at Samsung had wanted to sell their cameras based on their connectivity features then their big public relations mistake was to give out samples mostly to photographers over 50 years old. If they had given this camera to someone in my son's generation (20), and given him an incentive to blog about it, the results might have been in line with what was needed. As long as the price got fixed.

At any rate, during my Aperture application house cleaning I came across a lot of files from the Galaxy NX. I was really enjoying using Aperture until Apple apple'd it into oblivion. In retrospect some of the images from the camera were really very good. Nothing challenging was shot and lots of the images were low ISO stuff with ample light everywhere. But it goes along with my theme of today which seems to be that the camera in your hand is probably not your best, most expensive unit. It's the ones you don't particularly care about that are most likely with you when opportunity tends to strike.

I rarely walk around town with a D810 and the big Sigma by my side. On paper I guess I should since then I could make images that were as close to technically perfect as one can currently expect from hand holdable systems. But, you know, you also have to enjoy yourself and have fun. The system we end up carrying is nearly always one that is least obtrusive. One that doesn't come with its own set of concerns. And once we use an insouciant and neutral little package and realize it takes quite good images it launches a virtuous cycle of willful disregard for perfection.

Seriously guys, sometimes it's just all about having fun and having the camera along for the ride. Not the other way around....

A photo from a mystery camera comes out of the old Aperture files to confound me.


Does this happen to you? You come across a photo that you like for some group of technical reasons and you immediately cogitate that it must have come from one of your expensive super cameras festooned with some high priced, German lens. You play with the image and sniff around the edges and, after a while you remember that you can click that little "info" button and find the real provenance of the photograph. Then, sometimes, you have to come to grips with the reality that the image was made with a camera that you dismissed. That your own elitism deprived you of.

And it's usually a case of the camera being so inexpensive and unremarkable that you were comfortable bringing it along everywhere and even taking the chance that someone might spill beer on it. You might drop it but you knew a crack in the polycarbonate wouldn't make you cry.

And, all that is probably the same set of reasons you don't take that D810 or A7R2 with you when you pop out for a cold one with friends. And so, that camera; the precious one, is hardly ever present with you when you are out dipping your toes in the rippling streams of daily life. So it's rarely there to capture the fun stuff either.

The image above was taken with a long discontinued Sony A57 or A58 and the $200 35mm f1.8 lens. An APS-C camera with an electronic viewfinder and a careful price tag. When I saw the info box identifying the gear I had almost forgotten owning that little family of cameras. We concentrate on the big stars in the camera families like the A99 or A900. But it's the cameras that follow us around that get pointed more often at the good stuff.

Here's another one from a camera I traded away last year (below). Recently I bought a new copy and when I saw this frame in the mix, and the one of the soup just below it, I remembered why I liked that camera so much in the first place.



They are both from the original version of the Sony RX10. A cold day out walking. A quick lunch at the Royal Blue Grocery, across from Lance Armstrong's bike shop. I can't imagine that any "better" camera and lens would have produced anything "more" than what I ended up with. Effortlessly. 

I love the amateur cameras. Psychologically, they rarely get in the way.

Hot color day. Various cameras.





Sometimes it's fun to shoot color for color's sake. When the skies are clean and blue and the sun is direct the saturation and color purity makes me want to grab a camera and get outside. Science tells us that the act of taking long walks is a booster for our cognitive processes and creates a sense of optimism and well being. Doing these walks with a camera over one shoulder is an amplifier of these effects. I recommend a daily dose. The happiest photographers I know are the ones who are always engaged in some aspect of their process, from the walk to the edit, it's all good.