Portrait of Renae. One large softbox. One grid light on the background. An intense conversation. A practical chair.

One of the nice aspects of being a photographer in the age of film and slower processes was the need to have an assistant more or less full time in order to do our work. During the few slow moments a good assistant made for a great stand-in or a good model with which to experiment with everything from the films we used to the chair in this photograph.

This was taken in the pre-production phase of a project that required (art direction) a dozen or so seated portraits for a university. We were actually experimenting with which chair we would use for comfort, consistency and a more or less anonymous profile. It was a burgundy colored, red leather chair that we found at a nice furniture store. We did end up using it for our assignment and then it became the "take a break, sit down and read a book" chair at the studio until we moved and downsized. I've forgotten what happened to the chair but I know it didn't make the transition with us.

Funny that a chair could have been such a critical feature in a photo-shoot when, in fact, it was more or less hidden by nearly every portrait sitter who participated.

Photographers as a group tend to severely underestimate the visual and posing value of their furniture. I love good, old dining room chairs that aren't big and heavy. They are wonderful for those Texas subjects who like to sit backwards on their chairs and lean their arms on the backs...

Chairs. Good props. But they will never generate the debates and enthusiasm of a good, Nikon vs. Canon or DSLR vs Mirrorless discussion.

Using two lights for portraits is practical.

I laugh at myself when I come across older portraits that I did way back in the prehistoric times of photography. I am certain that, just like now, I searched out the sharpest and most wonderful lenses I could find for my Leica R series cameras. I am equally sure that I focused images with great care, and then I went into the dark room and post processed them with vignetting filters, Pictrols, wax paper and fllters partially covered with Vasoline. I spread out the highlights, killed the super fine detail, distorted the edges of the frame and caused light to bounce around erratically. And then I like the image. Now that it's so much easier to make all kinds of post production "enhancements" it seems that the thrill has dissipated somewhat. I'm working harder on finding a mix that I like.

But I guess my real point is that putting all the upfront emphasis on the "magic" lens or even the "perfect" camera seems a bit nonsensical if the latent image is just a starting point...

This morning's swim. I was right on time for once for the Sunday morning swim practice. I think I was even a bit early. There were five or six cars in the parking lots when I pulled in. I opened up the hatchback of my car and pulled out my swim bag and towel. Then other people started getting out of their cars and we walked over to the front gate. It was locked. Never a good sign.

We milled around and told each other that the coach might just be running late. A few minutes later the tennis pro came over and unlocked the gate. By then there were probably 15 or 20 of us but still no coach. We decided to go in anyway and pull the covers off the pool, get our suits on and get ready. One of our Saturday coaches pulled up. She was coming to workout as a participant and not a coach but she bit the bullet and decided to sub in for our missing person. (Thanks Kristen!!!).

By the time we had the covers off there were close to thirty people heading to their preferred lanes and doing their little rituals with their goggles.

We did an interesting variation for part of the work out today. We usually swim sets with defined distances and defined intervals but today we swam sets with the command line to swim as far as we could go in three minute chunks. If you were fast you might cover 250 yards in three minutes and still have ten seconds rest. We were resigned in my lane to aim for 200 or 225 yards per three minutes in my lane. If you really missed the yardage in the allotted time you dropped 25 yards on the next round.

Just as an aside for fellow swimmers on the blog: I am experimenting with two things which seem to help make me just a little faster. First, I am pulling down deeper after my catch so my arm stroke, overall, goes deeper down in the middle of each stroke. Second, I am trying to hold my hand position more rigidly and with less "give" than I have before. Being mindful about hand and wrist strength seems to make the front end catch and the back portion of the arm stroke more efficient and faster.

I know it's working when I look at the time clock and I am reinforced in that belief when I wake up the next morning and am "muscle sore" as opposed to joint sore.

I stayed in for part of the second workout this morning to work on my butterfly. I will be celebrating a birthday this week and wanted to set some new goals for the upcoming year. I thought I'd take stock of my favorite stroke. I also wanted to get to 5,000 yards this morning. It makes up, a bit, for the swim I had to miss last Thurs.

Older Leicas ruled.


Portrait of a woman in a hat.

©1994 Kirk Tuck.

Sometimes a hat is just an attractive accessory. 

Modern camera meets ancient lens. It's all good. The Sony a6300+Olympus PenF 25mm f2.8 (Half frame).

I gotta say, I think there is much more of a visual difference between various lenses than there is between camera sensor looks. I see it when I interchange older lenses and newer lenses on the same camera body. A recent, Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 on the Sony a6300 renders very clean colors with open shadows and, since the camera corrects for lens faults automatically everything seems geometrically rectilinear and sharp. When I put a film era lens on the same camera the shadows tend to block up, the saturation can be much higher and while the resolution isn''t the same the sense of smoother, richer color transitions comes through. There is a heaviness to the older film era lenses that isn't a fault or design flaw but a consciously designed look. Maybe it's a look that is no longer in style but in an age where lens design can sometimes seem in lockstep (output wise) from maker to maker it's delightful to have more choices.

These images come from one afternoon when I got curious about what the a6300 would do with the 25mm f2.8 Pen F Half frame lens from 45+ years ago on the front of it. I expected less. I got more. 
The top image shows what I've come to think of as a classic older lens design look. It's really sharp but not in a high resolution way (there is a difference between apparent sharpness and total resolution. It has to do with the intersection of tones. Think in terms of big radius vs. small radius in sharpening...). The older lens gives a high impression of sharpness but digging in to 100% shows less superfine detail than I might get from a new formulation. 

I think one reason that the lens performs as well as it does in the above image is that I'm using it with the light behind me (no chance of flare or veiling glares) and I'm using the lens at f8.0, an f-stops that's almost guaranteed to make any lens look good. I love shooting this old, manual focusing gem with the new a6300 body because I can punch in to magnify, and even set a hyperfocal distance, and then walk around shooting without having to worry about refocusing as long as I stay in the same camera-to-subject distance parameters (as dictated by depth of field). 

The lens has plenty of barrel distortion which is NOT corrected by the camera but, since it's not a modern lens design (with attendant physically uncorrected compromises) it's a very simple barrel distortion with no "mustache" wavy lines and so it's a quick and easy correction in Lightroom or Photoshop. (See below). 

The lens itself is much smaller than modern lenses and is attached to the a6300 via a very small and inexpensive adapter ring. The lens is 100 % metal body construction and the glass on my copy is clean and sparkly. Remember that the lens DOES NOT cover a full frame sensor and, on an APS-C sensor provides the equivalent field of view as a 37.5mm on a full frame camera. A bit short for me but just right for those folks who swear that they love a 35mm lens on their full frame rig. 

Looking back to 1985 when I bought this lens I am happy to report that I spent a whopping $48 at KEH.com and it came in pristine condition. I still have my collection of Pen lenses and often think of buying one of the new Pen F digital cameras just to use with the collection. It's a novel approach to creating a system. 

But I will say that I do think the ancient lens works very, very well in the new world of high res and well behaved sensors. I think I'll continue to keep it...


Orphaned systems.

It's odd to make an investment in a system and then have that system go away. The earliest I knew of this was back in the film days when Canon changed their lens mount from the FD mount to the EOS mount. They bit the bullet and made the change because the Canon engineers were convinced that the narrow diameter of their camera's FD mount would restrict their ability to design fast and long lenses. Rather than compromise on optical performance they instead pissed off the legions of photographers who had made vast investments in bodies and lenses. And they gave Nikon (same basic mount for the last 10,000 years) a goldmine filled with marketing ammunition.

In the long run it proved to be a prescient move as it allowed them a free hand in lens design and allowed for a flexible electronic interface that made their transition from film to digital that much easier.

More recently Olympus orphaned their Four Thirds cameras (the ones with traditional moving mirrors) in favor of a Micro Four Thirds mount, a move necessitated by the change in the way the cameras auto focused and the amount of space between the back of the lenses and the actual sensor. I can't imagine you were a happy camper if you had just migrated to the older system right before the switch and had just sunk significant money into a couple of E-5 bodies and some lenses like the 7-14mm f2.8, the 14-35mm f2.0 and the 35-100mm f2.0. All incredibly good lenses that never worked as well (focusing) with adapters and the newer EM cameras.

While the lenses would likely last for decades and give the same ultra high quality performance you would be stuck with whatever the final and most advanced camera in the system might be. In the case of Olympus it was the E-5 with a 12 megapixel sensor and a few glitches, like a penchant for back and front focusing. If you were hellbent on staying with your system I guess your short term workaround would be to go out and buy as many remaindered cameras bodies as you could so you would always have a workable candidate to put behind the lenses. But you would never be able to take advantage of the advances in sensor design that have occurred since that camera's tenure in the market. Still, if you are willing to deal with manually focusing the lens you could upgrade to the EM-1 family and still use the optics in which you've invested. So, not really a totally orphaned system.

I was an enthusiastic Contax user in the film days and when they finally closed out the Contax RTS iii and it was apparent that no further development of that mount would occur I was stuck with the choice of trying to soldier onward or take my losses and change systems (again). It would be nearly a decade and a half later when those gem like Contax, Zeiss lenses could be used once again on a camera. In this case a Sony A7rii. But even before the end of film snuffed out the Contax line they also changed mounts in mid-stream, from the Y/C mount (Yashica/Contax) to the Contax N mount. Another engineering move to a wider diameter mount.

The latest (and I think most egregious) brand abandonment came last year from Samsung. As recently as 2012 they talked about becoming the number one or two best selling camera company in the world. About two years ago they introduced their flagship camera, the NX-1, along with an assortment of lenses aimed squarely at professionals and hard core hobbyists. They induced thousands of people to trade in their existing (working) cameras as partial trade up to the new system. They spoke in terms of fleshing out the line and going after the "big guys." There were a few stumbles with the NX-1. It used a new video codec that was a real computer basher. Had they stuck with a conventional codec it's entirely possible that they could have given Panasonic's GH4 a real run for the money with video people. In the purely still photography realm the camera, by most accounts, was a stellar performer. The sensor was detailed and relatively low noise. It also boasted dynamic range that was close (but not equal ) to the Sony sensors, and delivered higher resolution.

I worked with a previous generation of Samsung cameras and found their best lenses to be rivals to the very best optics from Canon and Nikon. The two lenses that they delivered with the NX1 camera initially were very well reviewed. So, right up until the day they decided to pull the plug on the whole camera system they were pushing hard to get people to convert. Their campaign "Ditch the DSLR" was a call to move to mirrorless.  And then, country by country, they pulled the plug. No more shipments of cameras but at the same time no official announcements. No one outside of Samsung (and perhaps their advertising affiliates) had any idea whether this was just a pause, a retrenchment or what. It turns out that they just made a decision to walk away from the serious camera market and did it in a most disingenuous way. Like a girlfriend of boyfriend who never breaks up with you but never returns your phone calls. Were they kidnapped? Did they perish in a plane crash? Or were they just never that into you?

So, thousands of people bought into the system and invested only to be left at the altar. Now they have a camera which is only useful with proprietary lenses and a group of lenses that is only useful with a proprietary lens mount. I doubt there will be another firmware upgrade for either body or lenses. And all the interchangeable lens bodies below the flagship are also vanishing.

Samsung obviously didn't go out of business. They still sell cellphones and refrigerators and lots of other stuff all over the world. I'm fairly certain that they looked at the trending numbers for the interchangeable lens camera market worldwide and realized that they had just, with much bluster, entered a declining, perhaps dying, market and they made an executive decision to bail early rather than late.

The sad thing is that with the introduction of the NX1 they just seemed to finally get how to make a usable camera. Something ultimately fun to shoot. Of all the events in the last two years that point most vigorously to the death of the camera market overall Samsung's decision to cut and run is probably the most visible.

I understand Samsung's exit. If I could look at all the future marketing numbers and see that in two years the total pie for all interchangeable lens cameras would shrink by over half I think I would also bail, if I weren't one of the two or three front runners. But I think I could have made a much more graceful and less painful exit. And perhaps I would have figured out a way to make the exit less painful for the consumers who had decided to believe in my company and my sales talk.

I was part of an earlier group of Samsung product testers and users in a program called, Imageloggers. I resigned from the program about six months before the NX1 hit the market. I had lost confidence that Samsung understood cameras from a photographer's point of view. Their focus was about interconnectivity ( which should have made one or two other pundits ecstatic....) and less about the traditional attention to haptics and responsiveness that real camera users demand.

Now, they are just another story line about orphaned camera systems. A sad one too. Perhaps the exploding Note 7 phones are just a bit of Karmic revenge...