11.30.2012

A repeat: One of my favorite "technical" blogs of 2012...

Celebrity Baby Photo.

Mamiya 6 camera. 75mm lens.

An interesting lens. Not sexy, just useful and apparently very sharp.


For quite a while the web-o-sphere has been shaping our desires when it comes to the gear we lust after. The Shelby Cobras of the lens world are the fast glass crowd. If you are looking for an 85mm portrait lens chances are you're lusting for an f1.4 or even an f1.2, even though you know that the f1.8 or the f2.8 will all function very well at the aperture of f4 you'll need to keep someone's face in sharp focus....  In the 50mm's we've been locked in a love hate relationship with the ultra fast fifties since, well....the 50's.

Even in micro four thirds and the Nex family the underlying rythme of the drums is a hope for more and more fast glass to come to market. So in the midst of all this Sigma goes all counterintuitive? What the heck are they thinking?

They've introduced two optics that are very interesting by dint of not being obviously interesting at all. They are a 19mm and a 30mm set of prime focal lengths with the plebeian maximum aperture of.....2.8.  But before you dismiss them out of hand I have two cogent things to say that may push you to consider adding one or both to your selection/collection of optics for your mirrorless camera. 1.  According to all accounts and every review site I've stumbled across in my Quixotic research, these lenses are both very sharp wide open and maintain that sharpness as they are stopped down.  And, 2. They are tiny and dirt cheap. (That's actually three points altogether).

Each lens is available for around $199. They are plain matte black (think very discrete) and don't come with image stabilization. No big deal for Olympus shooters who have world class IS built in to their cameras but a possible non-starter for our shakier brethren shooting Sony Nex.  What they do have is new configurations complete with aspheric elements and small, sharp elements.

Here's what Erwin Puts, the world's leading expert on Leica optics (with the exception of Leica engineers, of course) about slower lenses: (to paraphrase) Every time you increase the diameter of a lens element (essential in the design of fast glass) you increase the complexity of grinding and finishing that glass by a factor of 8X. It is far, far easier to design a high performance (meaning great image quality) lens with a slower (smaller) aperture than to make one with a large aperture.

And this is why most fast 50mm lenses, for example, are soft and of low contrast when used wide open, with atrocious corner performance, and only get better when stopped down a couple of stops. It is also why fast lenses that can  be used at their maximum f-stops cost thousands of dollars.  

I am putting down my keyboard in about 60 seconds to walk out the door, get in my car and drive over to Precision Camera to pick up a 30mm Sigma for the Nex that they have on hold for me. I haven't decided if I will also pick up the 19 mm but I sure am considering it. I'll have my first report on your desk in the morning.  Bye.



Making Movies. What's more important than the gear?


As a commercial photographer I see people rush to embrace video all the time. They figure that all their cameras come equipped with HD video and stereo sound so how hard can it be. If you trawl the web for information you'll find lots and lots and lots of technical information about the gear, how to use the gear, where to buy the gear and how to measure the gear but you'll find very, very little about how to make a visually compelling video that tells a story without losing the audience.

If you need to read about which camera to choose or how to make a slider work you can go to Phillip Bloom's site or peek in at Vincent Laforet's blog. They'll tell you about bit depth and codexes and focus following rings made out of titanium and unicorn horn. And don't get them started on fluid head tripods or you'll be there all day.

But, just as in still photography, the technical stuff is just the top layer. The congealed fat on the top of the p├ąte in the mould. You need to dig down under the top layer to really make a useful and watchable project because so much of film making is about how to shoot scenes for continuity of action, so that the time line makes sense, so that they are believable.

I'm always looking for books that teach me how to see rather than how to capture and it's no different in making movies and videos. I ordered this book, Cinematography: Theory and Practice, by Blain Brown, about six months ago and I've just recently had time to sit down and start thoroughly digesting the information.

Brown discusses lighting but only in as much as how it affects mood and action. His real job in this book is to teach you why a film makes sense to viewers and how you can maximize good story telling practice to make better projects. At nearly 400 pages and an accompanying DVD it dives into good detail.

Chapters include: Writing with motion.  Shooting methods. Visual language. Language of the lens.  Visual storytelling.  Cinematic Continuity, Lighting basics. HD Cinematography. Camera Movement. Image Control and much, much more. It is complete with good illustrations and has zero body fat = no fluff.

If you've plowed through workshops and DVD's and endless blogs and you now know which camera has the lowest signal to noise ratio at ISO650 and which slider has the lowest coefficient of friction and how a jib arm works but you understanding of visual storytelling hasn't improved one lick then this is a great book for you (and for me).  It's dense, informative, well written and a tier above all the meaningless crap that the technogeeks love to spew.

You will learn more than you thought possible if you read this thing cover to cover. And it will improve your videos and your still photography. I can almost guarantee it.

It's a different way to come at learning more about imaging. And it may just resonate with your brain in a different and better way than the prototypical stuff from yet another stills only photographer.  I'm re-reading it as soon as I finish it. It's really that good.