A new way of working after all these years. Getting monopodial.

Self portrait with a Rokinon 85mm lens on an EM5.2.

I've been writing a lot lately about using the Berlebach monopod in my work at events. I never took monopods seriously before even though I've dabbled with a baker's half dozen of them over the years. One of the first presents my then girlfriend and now wife of thirty years gave me, early on, was a Leitz Tiltall monopod. Black, lightweight, sleek and good. I still have it now 35 years later.  But it was the Berleback 112 with the little wooden tilting head at the top that finally made me realize the value of this support system. And I happy to have finally solidified the connection.

I used the Berlebach monopod at the Freescale Semiconductor FTF show last week to stabilize my 24-120mm lens as I made images of displays and demo areas in their Tech Lab, shooting with a Nikon D610 in raw mode. I hold the monopod near the top with my left hand and I pull it in close to my body so the connection with my stomach creates a non-moving point of contact. This goes a long way to stabilizing the motion from side to side. Pulling the assemblage tight to my body also gives me something to pull into which stabilizes my left hand. I hold the grip of the camera in my right hand and try to make the shutter tripping as smooth and easy as possible. Finally, I press the camera against my suborbital ridge to establish another solid point of contact. With a bit of practice I am able to get a convincingly sharp, wide angle shot at around 1/8th of a second, and do so reliably.

A major benefit of using the monopod instead of always being handheld is that the monopod does the work of defying gravity which alleviates a large portion of the physical stress caused by holding onto a three to six pound package for hours at a time. Being able to let the monopod fight gravity instead of my arms means that I'll have less shake due to exhaustion than I would normally

Getting copies of annual reports on which you've worked is like Christmas in June. Here's the latest one from the Pedernales Electric Co-op...

I like working on annual report projects because it's a quick, deep dive into a company and it's a concentrated photography experience that really calls on various skills for success. There tends to be a very high shooting to use ratio with the images, but that's to be expected. Art directors like to have a big "catalog" of possibilities to work with when they sit down after the shooting to finalize their designs. And in large companies there are always more people with input who might like to try something a bit different. 

The images for the Pedernales Electrical Co-op project were mostly shot in the last week of April and the first week of May. The art director and I traveled all around the central Texas area photographing people working with clients and at infrastructure facilities. We made about a dozen shots of the CEO in different locations and made hundreds of images of an electrical substation so the AD could get the exact angle and configuration she wanted of the final cover. You can see from the shot above and the shot below that the cover is wraps around to the front and back; it's a highly cropped image that, in person on the printed piece, stands up very well. No noise, no grain and no softness. 

The image was shot using a Nikon D810 camera and the inexpensive but potent Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens. A lens profile was applied in PhotoShop. And yes, I was pretty much shooting directly into the sun...

I got a copy of the AR in the mail last week and it has a few mailing nicks and bungs but I wanted to share it with you since I wrote about the assignment when it was in progress. It's fun to finally be able to show the printed work. While I realize that a lot is lost in translation when the brochure has been photographed (with a few unfortunate glare spots) and radically down sampled for the web but I do consider the double truck spread printed on a traditional printing press to be the litmus test for technical quality and file integrity. Also, at 11x17 inches (print in hand) you'll be able to see every glitch you created or passed by in post processing. Personally, I'm happy to see that there's no trace of banding in the uniform sky areas. 

Below is a partial sampling of the spreads.....

Scouting locations is a wonderful thing. We knew exactly at what angle to put the trucks to get light on them and still get some modeling....we'd been there before.

The key to doing projects like this for me is to know what to expect in advance, to pack a kit that allows you to move quickly but still handle a wide range of lighting challenges, and to always be genuinely collaborative with your creative partners and polite and respectful to all the people you'll need to cajole into cooperating. I depended on the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS flash system for the heavy light lifting in some shots, the Cactus triggers and various shoe mount flashes in most interior locations, and the Nikon D810 with the 14mm, 25-50mm f4.0 ais lens, the Sigma 50mm 1.4 art lens, the Nikon 105 f2.5 and the ancient but sharp as a tack 80-200mm f2.8 Nikon zoom. Nothing fancy but nothing crappy either. 

One of my most important tools on this job was my tripod. Lots of the images in the other spreads, as well as every portrait in the AR were done using a tripod for support. A simple tool but worth so much when you are aiming to print big and deliver consistent quality. 

As I tell Ben, "This is what I do at work."

Math Conference. A wonderful opportunity to try out different cameras, lenses and approaches. A fun and interesting way to spend three days!

Kirk and Stan Y. at the Math Conference. AT&T Conference Center at UT.

Three years ago I got an e-mail from Stan, who reads the VSL blog and also teaches at Cal Poly, in the  Math department. He works with a group that spreads a way of teaching Math called, IBL or, Inquiry Based Learning. Each year there is a gathering of mostly university level, but also some high school level, Math educators and they share new knowledge and techniques with their peers. Speakers present new methods that they've used to make learning deeper and better. Less rote memorization and more actual learning. Stan asked me if I would be interested in photographing the conferences. I immediately said, "Yes."

I offer the conference a number of different photographic services. I set up a temporary studio in a meeting room at the conference locations and we make portraits of speakers, board members and others for the IBL people to use with articles on their websites. This year I used a Nikon D610 with a 24-120mm lens to make the portraits, and I used three Cactus V6 transceivers, one Cactus RF60 flash and two Yongnuo flashes to light the portraits. It's a quick and easy lighting set up with enough power to adequately photograph small groups as well. 

I cover the main sessions in the large ballroom and try to get a mix of speaker shots along with shots of the attentive and inquisitive audience. After the large "main tent" sessions the conference has a daylong series of "break out" sessions that run concurrently. Each break out last for half an hour at a time and there are four classes in four different rooms. I try to get by each room during the half hour to photograph the speakers and the engaged participants. The sessions go on until the coffee breaks and then, fully fueled, they begin again. Like most conferences there is a fun banquet on the evening of the first full day and this year's keynote was light-hearted and enlightening. Just as in almost every other profession the rate of change in colleges and in teaching is astounding!

I worked on the IBL conference in this same venue two years ago and knew that two of the presentation rooms would be dark. They were especially dark in the spot where the presenters podiums were situated. The lower illumination levels are actually good for the screens upon which the speakers present notes, graphs, illustrations and PowerPoint stuff but it also means that the photographer is best served (when shooting available light) to shoot with a camera that's very clean at 6400 ISO. Knowing this I decided to use the Nikon D610s for the first two days of the conference. Those were the days on which the rotating classes were most concentrated. 

After the "main tent" session in the morning I am kept moving all day long. I go from classroom to classroom and always under the time constraint imposed by having to cover four instructors over the course of each half hour. I went in with a different methodology that I usually use. I brought along the Berlebach ("crutch") monopod and used one camera and lens. In the smaller classrooms and for almost all the social receptions I used a D610 body and the new (to me) Nikon 24-120mm f4 G lens. The combination of the monopod and the VR in the lens was perfect. No frames were lost to camera shake. None at all. Occasionally I tossed out a few frames because of subject movement but the camera and monopod never failed me. My ISOs ranged from 640 to 6400 and I was surprised, in post production, to see just how clean the higher ISO shots ended up being. A tiny bit of noise reduction at the extremes was all that was required in order to deliver perfectly usable shots under some really chaotic mixed light situations. 

I had some trepidation during the planning phase for the job about the use of my second lens, the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 (push-pull design) because it doesn't feature vibration reduction of any kind. I found that VR was largely unnecessary if I used the monopod for all of my shots. I thought there would be a bigger learning curve on getting the feel of shooting with the monopod and a heavy lens just right but after 20 minutes and the first 100 shoots it seemed like a very natural way to shoot with the long lens. 

I know it will drive purists crazy but I did two things that I think make shooting an event like this manageable and shootable. First, I tried to use the lenses at their wide open apertures. I understand as well as anyone else that the sharpest zone for most lenses is when they are used at least two stops down from wide open but I also understand the trade offs of slower shutter speeds or higher ISO settings. My compromise was to always aim at the widest aperture on the lens. After all, why spend money on fast, premium optics in any system if you are afraid to use the apertures you so dearly paid for? Right? In addition to keeping the ISO and shutter speeds in optimum ranges this sort of project is one that benefits from using narrow depth of field to isolate main subjects with more clarity. 

The second thing I did was to shoot in Large Fine Jpeg format for the Nikons. Modern cameras are worlds better than their predecessors at getting good white balance under most situations and post production software is getting better all the time if bigger corrections are necessary. Shooting in Jpeg as opposed to raw meant being able to shoot more variations which gets me a better range of expressions, etc. It means that I'm able to use the DX crop mode if I want more effective reach than using full frame files. The important thing to consider before hyperventilating about a "pro" using Jpeg files instead of raw is that nearly all of the files are destined to be used on the IBL website and not as double truck spreads in a printed annual report. That last 5% (if that) of quality isn't going to be perceivable once the files are down sampled from 6000 pixels to less than 2000 pixels. 

If I found myself shooting the 80-200mm f2.8 to capture the keynote speaker I would, from time to time, click into the DX mode for a 1.5X crop which gave me the equivalent of a 300mm f2.8 lens. It also gave me a tight head and shoulders shot from a distance that didn't impinge (as much) on the speaker's space.  I did the same thing with the 24-120mm lens. I might be in an unoccupied row in a classroom shooting a demonstration and I might decide to get closer than the maximum focal length of the lens allows. A click into the DX mode buys me an instant "180mm" lens to use at f4.0. I realize that I can crop frames after the fact but editing through 3500 images at a whack always makes me appreciate images that come into the mix "pre-cropped." It's easier to see, after the fact, what my primary intention was in the shooting the image in the first place. If you can remember, after the fact, exactly how you wanted all 3500 images you shot in three days cropped in post production then you have more extreme powers of memory and retention than I have ever had...

At this point I would normally complain about the weight of the Nikon full frame camera bodies (I kept a back up D610 in the bag...) and their attendant lenses but I can't this time. You see, I used the big wooden monopod for just about everything. It was quick to reposition and worked well because the head was easy to tilt up and down. But most importantly, if I kept my bag in a central location (usually a corner of the ballroom) and only walked around with one camera and one lens on a support then anytime I stopped the weight of the camera and lens was balanced on the vertical shaft of the monopod instead of upon my shoulder or neck. It's the first three day conference I've shot that I remember waking up the day after the conference without a sore left forearm from carrying and holding up a heavy camera and lens. The Nikon D610 is a fast focuser (and accurate) and it nails exposures the vast majority of times. It also does a good job nailing down color balance in locations with mixed lighting. In many ways it's a great system for events ---- especially when used with a fairly fast (in context) and wide ranging zoom lens like the 24-120mm f4.0. 

Does this mean I've abandoned the micro four thirds cameras I just re-bought? Interesting questions and one that I discussed with Stan on Friday afternoon. In politics you could (justifiably) call me a "flip-flopper" because after our discussion I felt a bit of a challenge to come back the next day and shoot with the smaller camera system instead of the big Nikons. Friday night I stuck the Nikons back in their drawer and hauled out two Olympus EM5.2 camera bodies (with attached battery grips) and a small selection of lenses, along with a couple of small flashes. That's what I took with me for the last day of the conference. 

As expected, the high ISO performance wasn't quite as good as the Nikon's (about a stop and a half different) but the color (read off the full sensor in real time) was more accurate and required a little less post processing. The exposures were also better nailed down, but I attribute that to the almost unconscious ability to pre-chimp all frames in the EVF. My one point of real concern was in shooting the instructor shots and the speaker shots because the Nikons had been so useful in the days before for that kind of work. I kept thinking to myself that I should have purchased the fast and sharp, Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 in order to get the reach and speed I might need to replicate the quality of what I'd done with the previous cameras. But it was useless worry when a much cheaper (and to my mind more elegant) solution presented itself while I cruised through the lens drawer....

I found the Rokinon 85mm f1.4 lens for the Nikon as well as an inexpensive Fotodiox, Nikon to micro four thirds adapter. After one dials in the focal length the EM-5.2 camera brings to bear its remarkable, five stop image stabilization and you end up with an effective 170mm f1.4 lens. Just to be safe I used it mostly at f2.8 but I did make a few forays into the world of f2.0 and everything seemed to work well. The long focal length, coupled with powerful image stabilization and very useful focus peaking in the EVF combined to give me images that are within a gnat's whisker of the image quality of the Nikon combinations. There were trade-offs in both directions but the median results from both cameras? Very good!

The image just below is of Southwestern University president, Ed Burger. It was shot with the Nikon D610+80-200mm f2.8 at f2.8, ISO 1600. Great Keynote speech.

The image directly below is of Dave Kung. He is a math educator at St. Mary's College and was our plenary speaker at the very end of the conference. (Incidentally, I expected his speech to be aimed at his core audience (other mathematicians) but the subject matter was so compelling and so well presented that I left the speech with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Amazingly good!!!).
It was shot on the same stage with the same lighting (but from a different angle than the image above) with the Olympus EM5.2 and the aforementioned Rokinon 85mm with adapter at f2.8. Also shot at ISO 1600. Both are equally good to my eyes.....

The bulk of any conference is the social interaction between professionals and this conference was well constructed to give many opportunities to meet new colleagues and share good information on a one on one basis. I like making images of people who are engaged in conversation. It's fun to try and show the energy and joy people have when sharing something they feel strongly about, something they love.

Attendee during a break. 

Whether the conference is for profit or for the benefit of society the one thing that 
fuels early morning sessions, long technical discussions and events that start early and 
last into the night is coffee. Good coffee that never runs out. 
The AT&T Conference Center got that exactly right!

A few images from the conference.

While the budgets for conferences are different between big, profitable corporations and the non-profit associations trying (with no other motives) to move the process of good education forward, I can tell you which ones I like to shoot best: I like these educational gatherings. The attendees and speakers are more relaxed. There's no hierarchy of status or stature. No CEOs to be feared. No nervous "chain of command." Just good people getting together to figure out how to teach our kids (and your kids) math in a way that helps them learn better and for the long haul. These are happy, determined, gracious professional people and I hope it shows in the photographs I took for them. Well done IBL crew!

Tomorrow I'll deliver 2,521 large, Jpeg images on a memory stick. Actually, I'll deliver two sticks; one for the local group that helps to fund the conference, and the mission of the IBL Math initiative, and one stick for them to pass on to the committee that heads up the organization. I hope my images help them expand their "market" and bring in new educators who are interested in learning better techniques of teaching higher math. 


Bucking the Wisdom of the Web. Can cheap lenses be sharp? Yes, of course. Careful Dave, we're talking about those little sixteen megapixel cameras again...

I've been going back and forth about which cameras to use for a math conference. It's largely a silly self argument because I can rationalize equally well in either direction. But the one thing that was holding me back from enthusiastically embracing the Olympus EM5.2s was the fact that I sold the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 that I used with good effect last year and I didn't replace it or get the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8. I looked around at less expensive alternatives but just about everything else has reviews that give me pause. That pull me up short. I wanted the Olympus 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 to be decent because it is affordable, lightweight and downright cute in its silver finish. 

But there were those reviews. "Okay at the lower focal lengths but quickly loses sharpness at the longer focal lengths..." Or, "Too soft at the long end..." Or, mostly, "Meh. What do you expect from a cheap lens?!"

But being a contrarian I bought one of the little zooms for $125 and decided to test it out for myself. I was pretty sure it would be fine at the shorter focal lengths but I wanted to see for myself if it turned to mush as it tromboned out toward its longest length. 

I had time to walk around today so I stuck the 40-150mm f4.0 to 5.6 onto a loitering EM5.2 body and went for a walk through downtown Austin. I stopped and shot whatever caught my eye and, of course, I shot all of it handheld. The camera focused the lens quickly. I used aperture priority to keep the lens wide open all the way through the focal length range. 

These are the images I got. The lens is quick and easy to use and balances well on the EM5 series cameras. The  images are a little flat (low contrast) but there's an easy fix for that in Lightroom. 

I think I'll keep mine. 

Look for a rebate!

Shooting with the new Berlebach wooden monopod. On site at the JW Marriott Hotel.

The uni-directional head on the top of the Berlebach "crutch". 

Right off the bat I'll say that I loved working with new monopod and a Nikon D610 + the Nikon 24-120mm f4 lens. The combination of vibration reduction in the lens and the added stability of the monopod made for a quick shooting day yesterday and no failures due to camera shake. None. The monopod only has two sections so there is only one leg lock, and it's easy to get to and easy to set. There's even a scale on one of the leg sections so you can find your preferred settings and return to them quickly.

The one thing that's always vexed me when using monopods without a head of some sort is trying to take verticals. Of course it's pretty much impossible to do with one's camera screwed directly onto of the monopod but I've always found conventional ballhead to be cumbersome on a stick because I don't really want the all directional capability of the bullhead when I release the lock. Mostly I just need to be able to tilt up and down. If I need to rotate the camera I can just rotate the whole thing. Same with side to side tilts.

The one thing I wasn't sure of with the "pan only" design of the Berlebach was how to handle verticals. It's easy as pie. One loosens the screw enough to turn the camera sideways across the head and then flips the head 90 degrees to one side. Instant vertical orientation. 

I'd forgotten how nice it is to have all the weight of a camera and lens on a support when doing the kind of job that requires moving, waiting, shooting and waiting some more (mostly waiting for show attendees to move along so I could photograph signage and stuff, unpopulated). When standing around waiting you have all the effects of gravity transferred to the "stick" rather than to your shoulder, via a strap; or to your arms and shoulders, via handholding. 

The other nice thing about this particular monopod, in its natural wood finish, was how nicely most of the people I encountered treated me when I carried it or used it. Everyone seemed especially solicitous yesterday. Then, of course, I found out that many people thought the wooden tripod was some sort of crutch! Inference: I had some sort of disability!! Well, other than wanting to be a photographer I am not particularly disabled but I thought the immediate connection of the tripod to a crutch was humorous.

Better for people to think it is some sort of medical device rather than concluding that it is some sort of weapon, as people sometimes do with the black monopod I used to carry around. Collapsed the Leitz monopod did remind law enforcement and security people of a collapsible, tactical baton. Ah well. Symbols, symbols. 

The Freescale FTF show is in full swing. The main session for today just wrapped up. The keynote speaker was Steve Wozniak, one of the two founders of Apple. He was speaking about the future of technology. Very interesting.....  While the show goes on my part is complete and the images I shot Sunday and yesterday have all been retouched and delivered. 

I'm spending most of today packing up for our upcoming math education conference at the AT&T Conference Center at the University of Texas at Austin. I start tomorrow morning and end on Saturday afternoon. It's a quiet, congenial, collegial conference; filled with nice, bright people and lots of discussions about teaching, learning and sharing. The two conferences, one in the commercial/technology world and one in the world of education, are so different in character and feel. Each one is fun. Only one is moderately stressful.

I still haven't decided on which camera system I'll use for the math conference. I used the Nikon on the tech job but I'm leaning toward the smaller cameras for the math people. Charging batteries for both so I guess I'll decide an hour before I head to bed. 

I love the new "wraps" people are using to temporarily brand show venues.
And I love this year's designs for FTF.

Getting ready for technical break out sessions at the JW.

Lobby branding for the technical showcase at Freescale's FTF show.


A Rookie Mistake. I Make It Every Year. Beware the Air Conditioning...

Was the Nikon 24-120 a bit soft....?

Naw. I just made a rookie mistake. I spent the morning is the JW Marriott Hotel documenting various parts of the Freescale Semiconductor FTF show and I (like most Texans) luxuriated in the arctic quality air conditioning. It's been rainy for, like, 5,000 days straight and now that Summer is heating up it's humidity soup outside. I walked around in the 60 degree (f) air conditioning enjoying the minus 15% humidity in the lushly carpeted hallways of this new hotel and then, when I stepped out of the hotel with my camera on a monopod, slung over my shoulder, the front element of my camera's lens condensed over like a cold can of Lone Star beer on a blazing hot day. For a few minutes the condensation was as thick and opaque as a lens cap but left alone for ten minutes it began to clear. 

I took the image above, of the Computer Science Corporation building, to remind me of what happens to the gear with sudden changes in temperatures and atmospheric wetness. I did resist the temptation to swab at it with a shirt tail or old piece of burlap.....

I'm sure people want to know how I liked the Nikon 24-120mm lens so here goes: Don't try to use this lens for anything with straight lines while shooting raw unless you are certain that you'll be using the latest revision of Lightroom or Photoshop with the included lens profile for this item. The uncorrected distortion is almost psychedelic. One click makes the lens as straight and true as a German macro lens. The combination of the software and the high inherent sharpness of the lens is a good team and I was well served. The nano crystal lens coating seems miraculous and resisted any flare; even when pointed directly into spot lights.

Have you noticed that there is a panel within the basic lens correction menu in Lightroom that gives you auto corrections for vertical perspective and other kinds of geometric user errors? It's called "Upright" and it is suggested that you first enable profile corrections and then choose from: auto, level (yes, it levels things in your image), vertical (one dimension) and full. 

So maybe you tilted your camera backwards to get in the top of a sign you are photographing. Now the sign keystones. One click on the "auto" correction gets you back to normal straight lines. I used this control set 226 times today to make small but noticeable corrections to files of signage, decor and room shots. It was fun, quick, efficient and charming. Much, much faster than trying to do the same thing manually with "transform."

You probably already knew it was there. I am a slow learner...

OT: Arugula and Avocado Salad. With Vinegar and Oil.

We just whipped this up on Sunday and I loved the mix of flavors. Served alongside a nice New York Strip. 


Curious to know whose photography or video blogs you read after you make your very first stop of the day at VSL....???

I'm always curious about new blogs or blogs I have missed that either showcase good photography or have some unique viewpoint about cameras, lenses, lighting and technique. I try to balance topics here but I'm an avid reader of other blogs as well. I suspect you are as well. Please consider sharing fun to read blog resources that you read on a regular basis.

As I am asking the question I guess I'll get the ball rolling.

My favorites, in no particular order, are:

The Luminous Landscape 

The Online Photographer 

Bythom (Thom Hogan's site)

Dedpxl (Zack Arias)

Petapixel is a good aggregator

Robin Wong

Ming Thein



The Camera Store TV (video programming about cameras)

Help me find more and share them.

edit: definitely list your own blog if you have one!

Reasonable and appropriate lens buying. Part two. A do-everything zoom?

The Nikon 24-120mm f4.0G lens is not big news.
But it may be a good problem solver for event shooters.

I know it's the opinion of many of my friends and colleagues that I should just calm down, buy into one system for the long run, and use the same cameras and lenses, day in and day out, until technology makes big leaps or the market drops dead. But they all know that this is probably not going to happen at the VSL H.Q. I get bored doing the same thing over and over again and I get even more bored doing the same things over and over again with the same cameras and lenses. Lately, I am trying to be a bit more rational and so I've really tried thinking through the cameras and lenses that might be the best fit for two different assignments this week. 

Tomorrow I need to go to a technology conference and shoot all of the signage, decor, staging and convention style showcases and demo areas for the production company that's producing the show. No talking heads, not fast moving action, just good documentation of a lot of fun graphics stuff. There are two advantages to this job: one advantage is that the graphics and signage materials are beautifully designed and extremely well implemented, and the second advantage is that the show is mostly contained on three floors of a new, big, shiny convention hotel right in the middle of downtown just across the street from Medici Coffee House. I think I may even be able to ride the bus to this job. How novel!

This kind of shooting mostly involves walking around looking for good shooting angles, staying out the client's way and making exposure choices based on how well lit everything is. In this instance I think flexibility with the gear is important. That and image quality. 

I won't have the opportunity to light anything (other than what I might be able to do with on camera flash) and there is a lot to do in a proscribed amount of time, and that led me to start considering a lens that would cover everything from a wide angle point of view to a very tight headshot crop. I used to own a Canon 24-105mm L series lens and found it to be incredibly useful so I started looking for its counterpart in the Nikon lens catalog and came across the 24-120mm f4 (the newest version of three). 

The reviews on this lens are decidedly mixed (from the pundits) but the overwhelming number of ordinary consumer reviews on Amazon and B&H Photo are four or five stars. The biggest two gripes are that the lens has a lot of geometric distortion (it does) and that it isn't as sharp at 120mm at it is at the rest of the focal lengths. 

I decided to buy a copy and test it, knowing that I could take it back if I wasn't satisfied with the performance. I bought the lens on Saturday at Precision Camera and spent Sunday afternoon shooting with it on a


Reasonable and appropriate lens buying that I was easily able to rationalize. At least to myself. One from Nikon and one from Olympus. Why play favorites? First up: Olympus.

If memory serves correctly this lens is the fourth one in the short history of micro-four-thirds lenses with the focal length of 40-150mm and a maximum aperture of f4.0-5.6. The "R" designates that it is the version with an aspherical element and an "HR" element. It's one of Olympus's "high grade" series of lenses (according the the fact sheet on B&H Photo) so I think you can expect that it's not a bad lens. Time will tell but my early shots, wide open, seem sharp, detailed and nice. 

So, why did I buy a cheap, kit class 40-150mm instead of the new, super premium f2.8 "Pro" model from Olympus? I'm booked to shoot two different conference/events in the upcoming week and I'm torn between shooting with the (much) heavier Nikons or the much more convenient Olympus cameras. 

If I chose the Nikons (two D610s) I would want to use an all purpose, all terrain lens that covers a wide range effectively and then bring a longer zoom for just in case. If I choose the Olympus cameras (two EM5.2s) I needed something longer than the 60mm Sigma or 60mm Olympus Pen FT f1.5 lens to get images of speakers on stage in a giant ballroom. Since I rarely need longer lenses for the Olympus cameras and because I see myself doing more and more commercial work with the Nikons I wasn't ready to pony up a small fortune for the premium Olympus optic if I thought I could use something less pricey and

Renae with Seagull camera. Camera subsequently donated to a photo student whose own camera was stolen.

My camera: Leica R8
Lens: 50mm Summilux
Film: Agfapan APX 100

Twin lens cameras are great to learn with. 
If you are into film. 

Printing apparatus. Lithoprint. Austin, Texas. Person press checking a job in the background.

Alternative metering?

Press Proof and Printer. Packaging printing for Chanel perfume boxes. Primary Packing. New York City.

Camera: Hasselblad 201F
Lens: (top): 50mm f2.8 Zeiss
Film: Kodak Tri-X
Printing paper: Seagull DW

Side Street in Rome. 1995. All square, all the time.

Mamiya 6 camera.
75mm lens. 
Kodak 400 CN chromogenic B&W film. 

Looking Straight Up at the Ceiling in the Alexander Palace. St. Petersburg, Russia 1995.

Cold, wet snow outside. Interiors warmed by too hot radiators. A Texan in Polartec taking portraits of the ceiling, toes thawing out. In the times before digital we shot one or two frames and then moved on. One or two frames were just enough if you knew how to read your handheld meter.

Portrait for the Austin Lyric Opera. An ad campaign some years back...

Kodak DCS 760C. Nikon 105mm f2.0 DC lens. 
Tungsten lighting. 

Happy Father's Day (where applicable) to all the VSL readers.

Wine. Shot with iPhone 4s. 

Ben got me some good wine and my wife (as a joke) got me a table top tripod made for cellphones (yes, she reads the blog...). I put the second gift to good use immediately. This is a shot of my Father's Day bounty from my vantage point at the kitchen table.  I can hardly wait to start uploading all sorts of images from my now stable cellphone to Instagram. Soon you'll be able to see all the mundane facets of my daily life...... Ah, interconnectivity.

Seriously though, Happy Father's day to all. If you didn't get something you wanted from your family you can always head on over to the camera store and snag some little jewel you've been pondering.


DXO ONE. Greatest thing since deep fat fried Snickers candy bars or dumb stunt camera that makes your iPhone an unwieldily mess? Caution: Rant.

Brains are tricky things. They are built for and operate around the concept of doing one thing at a time with concentration and doing it well. The more micro stops and starts a brain has to deal with the less efficient and enjoyable the process being performed becomes. At a certain point it's only possible to do repetitious tasks and not creative tasks when the brain becomes overloaded with attempts at multi-tasking. 

With this in mind I am almost always opposed to complicating tools that we use for day to day tasks. Hell, I am against complicating tools even if we only use them sporadically.

So I am always at odds with otherwise smart people like Thom Hogan when he goes on his rant about  the ways to improve cameras to make them sell better. His consistent suggestion to Nikon is to make the camera more connected. He likes connectivity. He love the concept of connectivity. If Nikon were to take him seriously about connectivity (and I always hope they do not!) I can just imagine him in a blind somewhere, camera at the ready, waiting for some interesting predator to wander into range, taking a breather to play a few interactive rounds of Candy Crush with some kid who's online in Plano, Texas. You know, just to take the edge off.  As the camera's connected sonar app senses movement in the brush Thom mutes the game and begin lining up his shot of the massive timber wolf that's lumbered into the clearing. He's using the electronic shutter for silence and so far the big wolf doesn't sense his presence but the camera is thumping against Thom's hands to signal an incoming text from a high value sender and he directs his attention to the rear screen of his camera to read the message. The wolf lopes off into the pines of the permafrost as Thom successfully orders another shipment of razor blades from his online source.

Then, after checking his stock portfolio at Bloomberg.com he quickly looks through the shots of the edgy timber wolf and then watermarks them and sends them off to who knows where in order that they get somewhere quick. I don't know about Thom but I find that most of the work I do benefits from editing and post processing. Nothing is absolutely perfect out of the camera...  So I can only imagine that he's sending the images to his own cloud site where he'll be able to download them back to his working computer and, well, work on them with concentration and diligence. So here he is in the wild and the camera is willfully sucking down his battery charge by grinding out files to send and then sending them over some sort of network, the maintenance and use of also sucking down battery juice like a parched vampire.

I don't get it. I really don't get the advantage of all this race for interconnection. If you are a teenager and you are using social media to connect to your group and you do this by uploading every minute of your day via photos from your phone to your crowd then I guess the interconnectedness makes a certain amount of sense.  But we're mostly grown ups trying to concentrate on finding and capturing images. The editing and post production is all much better done on big, calibrated screens in environments designed to enhance color and tonal accuracy.

I think that industry and industry pundits alike are confusing why people like to send quick snap shots of themselves made with phones and the need for the same speed and connectedness on production work cameras. The number one benefit of the phones is simplicity. On the iPhone you are one button push away from shooting and one button push away from sending. And you already have the phone in your pocket. A stand alone camera features changeable controls in order to give you control and artistic mastery when shooting a subject.  I assume that an iPhone with the right software can give you the same but while I might want my iPhone camera to have more capabilities within its standard size I can't imagine that a camera which doesn't fit in ones pocket (especially when combined with a fast, long lens) would become the same sort of epicenter even if you put the clearest, cleanest cellphone imaginable right into the battery grip. Rather I think it plays into the stereotype of 50+ year old mens' love of add-on gadgetry.

Someone always trots out the argument that the need for connectivity revolves around the need for speed. That getting the images in front of the mythic client right away is of paramount importance. Well....first I'll go back to the need to do good post production and editing----which means at worst you've already downloaded the images to a big tablet or laptop in order to clean them up, add metadata and copyright information etc. I would propose that once you have the images on an external device it's silly to put them back on the camera to send them and most of the devices mentioned already have robust connectivity.

But unless you are a news journalist the argument for speed carries no real weight when it comes to clients. They (advertising clients) are not generally waiting breathlessly next to their workstations just hovering, anxious to press send and speed a file off the the printer the minute your (unedited and unprocessed) image comes whipping over from your camera's connectivity device. Most clients want retouched files. At least mine do. And so do the clients of everyone else I know in the industry, with the exception of newspaper photographers...all three of them.

Where Thom and Nikon and Canon all miss the magic equation is in understanding that a big driver of newer and smaller cameras is not connectivity but electronic viewfinders and better rear camera screens. Now people who didn't understand the nuances of camera settings can see exactly (more or less) what they'll be getting on their memory cards when they push the buttons. This is so because they can see it right in front of their faces! The ability to send the images is an add on. It's this year's 3-D.

You can chalk all this up to me being a cellphone hating Luddite but please remember that I danced on the cutting edge of this connectivity trend at least two years ago when I had the mixed pleasure of shooting with Samsung's highly connected camera, the Galaxy NX.  That camera had a full Android operating system on it, could upload images to Dropbox automatically, could send e-mail via wi-fi connections, and could even be connected via cell networks. And yes, you could play Angry Birds on the huge rear screen. If connectivity had been a prevailing consumer demand you had to believe that the camera would have excited the average millennial user to no end. In fact, this seems to be everything that Thom asks Nikon for. But in reality the mixing together of capabilities was like a man with five legs, all pointing in different directions trying to run a foot race. Turn off all the ancillary stuff and the camera could actually turn out amazingly good images for its class. But the combination of stuff went a long way toward crippling the camera instead. The rush and demand? I can't imagine that more than a thousand were sold, worldwide.

I'm also not sure I'd take a Swiss Army Knife to a knife fight if everyone else was sporting tactical combat knives with wicked eight and ten inch blades. Doesn't matter much in the heat of things if your weapon also has a eyeglass screwdriver....and a nail file.

Nikon will win back market share when they implement a really great EVF in a really great camera. Nikon will win back market share when they implement really, really good and flexible 4K video into a really great camera. Nikon will win back market share when they implement a mirrorless strategy that is backward compatible with 50 years of lens making. People want to see what they are getting without a lot of hassle. Nikon has great sensors. Some high end Nikons feature wi-fi (D750) but they are still seeing declining sales. Looking to phone capabilities to keep them from drowning in losses is amazingly dense. As we discovered with the Galaxy NX, few people will come out of pocket to buy a data plan for their cameras when they are already paying on a data plan for their phones. And the phones aren't leaving any time soon.

And this long preamble brings me to the DXO One. What is it? It's an almost tiny camera that comes with almost no buttons and absolutely no viewing screens and it gets hooked onto your iPhone (and only your iPhone!) through the connection port and turns your sleek phone (which already has a very good camera, all things considered) into a two piece, non-ergonomic photo assemblage which might give your better images if you care to work around a boring and fixed focal length. What does it do that the iPhone can't do? Oh, yes. It has a bigger sensor. And a silly price tag.

My prediction on all this connectivity crap, whether it is resident in the camera or as part of an assemblage of pieces that include a separate camera and phone, is that it is all meaningless. The phone will be the epicenter of sending and receiving for years to come. People will not pay more for a camera-to-phone accessory just because it might be marginally sharper, especially if it has to be wedded to their phone. I am sure DXO will have nice software inside that makes images juicier looking than phone photos but I doubt the photos will be so exemplary as to move the millions (billions) who are habituated to using the their phones to take images to change. If you argue that it's aimed at a more sophisticated market of photo enthusiasts I'll say that they missed the mark here as surely as Thom and Nikon have.

Photographers buy cameras for many reasons but most of them do so for a level of flexibility combined with image quality, not exclusively for the image quality. They want longer and shorter focal lengths. They want control over the exposures and frame rates. But mostly they want the flexibility to shoot a tight shot of a dancer on a stage or a wide shot of the Grand Canyon with the turn of a zoom ring or a quick change of lenses. I watch the general public at trade shows, in the streets, at events and if they want to send an image to a friend they do so with their phones.

I think DXO has also misjudged the marketplace for cameras. The idea of spending $600 for a fixed lens add-on device for a phone that already has an integral camera (the best selling camera in the world?) doesn't make economic sense for the vast majority of enthusiasts and it certainly doesn't make any sense for professionals. That leaves only the great "unwashed" as a marketplace and they have already spoken with their wallets and killed off the traditional compact cameras. Those cameras were trampled under foot in the rush to embrace cameras embedded in phones and I know those people will never look back.

Just as real Leicas are the cult cameras of the well to do Nikon should position their cameras as the cult cameras of the middle class. Accessible and almost affordable by most people working professionally but still pricey and exclusive enough to sell well. Put in an EVF. Kill the cheaper models. Raise the prices on all the remaining models and became a niche maker. DXO? They should stick with software.

If DXO really wanted to make money and help photographers create they could come up with a usable and super high quality raw file that could be universally adopted by camera makers, and their customers. After all, their core competency is in imaging software, non?

Of course, after all this I could be wrong about everything. Tom could understand the race to connectivity much better than I ever will. He's got his ear to the ground on this whole topic. Nikon could be right and maybe they're just waiting out a fad (but I don't think so.....). And DXO could be right on the money. People may want to spend more money to take photos which they will continue to upload via their phones which also have cameras. People might also want to stick more and more stuff into their pockets when they head out the door. And they may want to play "put the puzzle pieces together" when they stop using their phone as a phone and rush to use it as a camera dock. But I don't think so. And I'm going to guess that a couple dozen Samsung Galaxy NX owners could tell them, "I don't think so."

Final thing: Any device you have to attach to your phone, boot up, call up an app, etc. is a way of slowing down photography and making the combined devices less useful not more useful. DXO One? A prediction of how many they might sell...

Note: I haven't met Thom Hogan but I've read his website (bythom.com) for years and I trust his reviews of Nikon products more than anyone else. I also like when he writes about the economics of the industry. I am disagreeing with his assessment of how to improve Nikon sales, not making an ad hominem attack here. I also read his Sansmirror.com site and find it well done. We agree about most aspects of cameras and shooting, with the exception of connectivity in cameras. He thinks it is a wonderful thing while I think it's the tool of Satan. That's all.

Kirov Ballet at the Mariinsky Theater. St. Petersburg, Russia. February 1995.

©1995 Kirk Tuck.

"Firebird" from the Czar's box.

Paris Fashion Show. Carrousel du Louvre. 1994.

©1994. Kirk Tuck.

A couple of images from Lisbon Portugal. By Henry White.

©1998 Henry White. 

©1998 Henry White.