Martin and I did too good a job on our Zach Theatre " This Wonderful Life" Holiday photo shoot last year....

Mr. Martin Burke, Master Thespian...

Here's a look at the play as marketed on Zach Theatre's site: http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/wonderful-life

They used the image above, with type and design elements, on posters, duratrans and direct mail last year. The response to the advertising images was so good that they didn't want to mess with success this year and re-used what we'd created previously. Feels good to create images that stand the test of time....until you realize that you just cost yourself an assignment.  :-) What the heck, I love the image too. And I loved working with Martin Burke, one of Austin's amazing dramatic talents.

The play is an amazing blend of the old Frank Capra classic, It's a Wonderful Life, and a madcap recap with Martin playing all 39 main characters+narrator. It's warm, funny and joyful. Just right for the holiday season. I'm hoping to get tickets for one of next week's shows. See you there?

sony a99 and 45mm lens.

Saying goodbye to a system. Wishing its creators the best of luck.

I was pleased when Charles asked me if I'd like to participate in Samsung's Imagelogger program. The program aimed to put new Samsung cameras in the hands of bloggers and photographers of every stripe and to provide them with a venue to show off images (and videos) made with the cameras. I worked in the program from Spring of 2013 right up until October of this year. I was given the opportunity to shoot a very quirky but very brave and innovative product, the Samsung Galaxy NX, in Berlin for nearly 10 days and I was asked to present work and shoot with the product at the 2013 Photo Expo East show in the Samsung area along with brilliant photographer, Nick Kelsh. 

While I didn't always agree with some of the Samsung camera designers when it came to feature sets I was always very happy with two aspects of every system they gave me to work with: 1. The sensors had great color and tonality and made beautiful portraits. And, 2. A number of their lenses are absolutely competitive with the best from their competitors. In fact, I fell in love with the 60mm Macro and the 85mm 1.4 lenses. They are both lenses designed for photographers. 

But with every camera I had a bit of (non)-buyer's remorse. While the NX 300 was very well designed and, in combination with its kit lens, a reliable and accurate camera I could never understand why they didn't include an EVF. Even if the EVF had to be an accessory in a port like those on the Olympus Pen cameras. Having to shoot solely by composing with the LCD on the back of the camera moved me to almost permanently graft a loupe on the back to I could see the image and not look like a hipster doing the "dirty baby diaper" hold. When the NX300's tenure in the program came to an end it went promptly to a nephew who needed a good camera and still has the eagle eyes of youth. 

The very next camera I got was the Samsung Galaxy NX. It was (is) an interesting product and one aimed at just about anyone but a professional photographer. It is based around a big rear screen and hosts a full on Android operating system and the operating system was, without a doubt, its Achille's Tendon. Its John Edward's Haircut

Every full on operating system, like Android, is powerful and capable of running many different kinds of apps in addition to the camera control app that a pro would consider to be the mission critical app. But the very nature of having a big system like that means it requires lots of time to start up and load. Like 25 or 30 seconds. The implied benefit of the camera was its connectedness which for me was also its main flaw. All the wireless nets and additional apps were memory hogs and a drain on the dynamic system. This led to freezes and periods of enforced non-engagement. Over time Samsung made great strides in fixing many of the issues and that's great for new buyers but for cranky pros once a camera lets you down in a shooting situation you never really trust it again. 

I wish that camera had come with perfect firmware and a headphone jack. It could have been a remarkable video camera. The big screen on the back would easily have made a fine monitor and the almost vestigial (because of color issues and low resolution) EVF would have helped in high ambient light situations.  I think a photographer who grew up with a cellphone in his crib would have loved the camera as the interface was all touchable and swipe-able. Everything about the user interface was screen centric and therein lies the curse for a person who has used a wide range of cameras for many years = a prejudice for the immediacy and binary nature of physical buttons. 

What else did I like besides the giant screen? You have to go right back to the stuff they got right, the sensor and the lenses. Mighty fine features. And to be fair other photographers love this camera for workshops and demos because they can upload big, delicious files in real time to enabled HD monitors and have an interactive workshop situation that's fast and seamless. Linking via wi-fi or cellular data or blue tooth. Amazing for something like the shooting demos we did in NYC. (And you'd better have your shooting chops together when you are shooting live in front of dozens or hundreds of picky spectators....).

I've never been a shrinking violet so I talked to the company about what I liked and what I didn't and that led them to send along the next camera in the timeline, the NX30.  That camera had a lot of promise but for me it failed to deliver in the early months. The firmware that shipped in 1.0 was a bit buggy and, most perplexing, slow. Once the final version of the firmware got delivered the camera was a good shooting tool. The eye sensor that switches between EVF and LCD was still too sensitive and flaky but the general operation of the camera was competent and actually quite fun to use. 

I used the camera with the 85mm 1.4 lens for a number of professional, paid assignments and everyone from the client right down to me was very happy with the results. I'm not sure the camera ever got traction in the market and part of that was probably down to the early firmware (when will manufacturers learn that the first opinions of early adopters make or break products?) and the fact that the value proposition versus price point was a little out of whack. The camera should have been introduced at a lower price point to take into consideration their newcomer status. Trust and value is earned. So is market share.

My interest in shooting with the products waned a bit as other cameras from other makers offered a combination of performance and features that were a better fit for my needs. But take that with a grain of subjective filtering salt; I'm a luddite when it comes to accepting and using some of the new sharing technologies and to be fair the interconnectivity of the Samsung cameras is one of their strongest suits. 

By this time I'd amassed a little collection of lenses and the bodies were piling up. Along with Olympus, Panasonic and Nikon gear. As each Samsung camera neared the end of its promotional tenure I sent them off to various friends and family. The NX30 went to a hard working and generous brother in law, along with a couple lenses I thought he'd get good use from. He's already using the camera to produce video and from what I've seen the old saw of,  "It's not the camera it's the videographer" is quite true. The camera is capable of great imaging in more capable hands than mine...

Then I was sent a couple of cameras that really make no sense to me at all while being perfect for lots of other people in other market segments. The NX Mini shown above is a one inch sensor, interchangeable lens system that fits into the proverbial jean's pocket and certainly into all but the most microscopic purses, and it does a really good job of making photographs, especially selfies. It came with the ultimate selfie lens, the 9mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera) and a screen that flips up over the top of the camera so you can compose yourself. Wink at the camera and it will shoot a burst. Who doesn't need that? Well, me for one. Especially in white. I took the camera out and shot with it and it's a great performer, on par with the image quality from the Nikon 1 series cameras, and I've kept it around. Why? because it's a great loaner camera for friends who need something small and light for a trip somewhere. Go selfies! And of course it comes complete with ample interconnectivity options. 

The mini was followed by another white camera which came complete with a white strap and a white flash. I am amazed that Samsung didn't follow through and finish the system off with a white lens cap. Inside this camera body is an improved version of the sensor that was in the NX 300. It's a great sensor and the camera came packaged with a white lens (which I initially disparaged) that is one of the best kit lenses I've ever shot with.  The camera, while capable of shooting great images was once again a handling catastrophe for me simply because it once again depended entirely on rear screen viewing and composition. The screen did flip up into selfie mode but once again, I am hardly the target market for selfie creations. 

After playing around with it and testing it the camera went to a swimmer friend of mine who just retired from work, survived a couple serious bouts of cancer and needed a new camera to do art with. I still feel guilty because I kept the white lens (high performance!) and switched out an 18-55mm lens (very good) onto the white camera.

I have found good homes for all of these cameras for one profound reason; I couldn't commit to the time the program would have required if I had accepted the new, NX1 camera and the premier zoom lenses. Also, while I wanted to believe that Samsung has gotten everything just right in this camera I didn't relish having to bring along two camera systems to every shooting experience until I got to the point where I totally trusted the new product. It would have been too much information and too many concurrent menus to handle for my admittedly limited bandwidth. Something had to give. 

Will I have regrets when the NX1 turns out to be the best APS-C camera system on the planet? Or the best mirror less system on the planet? (could happen).  Probably not. I'm happy being unfettered and unobligated at this point. If the NX1 is the promised camera (the Neo of photography gear) I can always sell off other gear and inflict more damage on some poor unsuspecting credit card. But for now I am happy to mess around with multiple systems unencumbered by the guilt of any obligation to shoot with one over the other.

The folks at Samsung are incredibly nice to work with and I can sense them zeroing in, camera model by camera model, to the sweet spot of the whole market. The processors in the NX1 are at least a generation and maybe two generations ahead of their competitors. The video, once the software support is in place, should be amazing. I'm just a bit tired of being too close to the cutting edge. 

I know some of you think that my office must just be a warehouse for gear but I wanted to write this to let you know that inventory moves along. Some things are given away to good homes and to people who care a lot less about state of the art than in just getting stuff done. Most go to good homes that are brand agnostic. Some gear gets sold back into the used markets (goodbye everything I ever bought from Canon) and some stuff gets stored for continuing and future use (hello Sony R1s).

I know one VSL reader in France will be happy to read this. She never approved of my camera promiscuity.

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...

Support VSL at no cost to you by buying the stuff you need from the link below.
Doesn't need to be cameras, it could be anything from long underwear to sunglasses. If you start at the link below I'll get a little referral fee which
I'll use to spruce up the site....

A nice walk around the city on Monday, dragging around a comfortable camera and a pre-historic lens.

My always hungry consumer brain would love it if I tossed caution to the wind and rushed out to buy a Nikon D810, or, better yet, a brand new Pentax 645Z MF digital camera in the kit with the sweet 150mm f2.8 lens. In the pre-let's pay for college years I think we'd already be reviewing and trading in one of those two cameras by now----or maybe both. But right now I'm actually into a dirt cheap retro mode that started when I opened up a drawer in the equipment cabinet that had been welded shut by dust and indifference and I saw just how many older Nikon lenses I had collected and kept over the years. 

This probably precipitated my tripping and falling, in a small way, back into the sway of the Nikon system. While it is interesting that I don't quite trust it enough to even consider getting rid of the other camera systems the Nikon system is beguiling because its long history means that there are so many fun toys out there to play with that just don't come close to breaking the bank. I've jumped in to the part of the pool that is shallow and fun. It all really started when I bought a Nikon D7000 as a back up for the D7100 I acquired earlier. I won't go on assignments outside the studio without a second, back up camera that takes the same lenses, batteries and memory cards because I believe too strongly that the fates are just waiting to swiftly punish the unprepared. I bought a second D7000 after I saw evidence of great happiness in the 16 megapixel sensor the cameras sport. That, and the fact that Amazon recently had the camera new in a box for about $484---less than the price of a crappy point and shoot camera. 

The real fun has been using that camera with older Nikon lenses. The kinds of lenses that still seem to be coming out of dusty closets and into camera stores as arcane and undervalued trade-ins. Of course I have loaded up recently on perennial favorites like the 105mm f2.5 and various 55 and 60mm macros but I came across a zoom that I remembered fondly from the film days and decided I'd give it a try as well. Why not? It was far less that $200. About the price of a good polarizing or neutral density filter. 

The lens is the 25-50mm f4. It's a very heavy, very indestructibly built cylinder of metal and glass and its weight is addictive in that my primitive brain seems to conflate the mass and density with optical quality. The lens is special but nothing special. I like the way it renders detail. Lots and lots of resolution but at a lower contrast level than current lens designs seem to have. That means I can carefully add contrast (in discrete areas of the tonal scale) in post to get exactly the balance of high definition and snap I want. 

The colors are also less saturated and, to my eye, a bit more accurate than what I see from the newer zoom/camera combinations which seem designed to deliver more saturation than I really want. The higher saturation effects the interplay of colors. Sometimes for the better but mostly for the worst. Again, I get to add just as much saturation as I'd like. It's interesting because for the last year or so I've been pulling saturation out of my portrait work pretty consistently. Even from images that were spawned using the "neutral" settings on my cameras. While the lens is nicely shape through the very, very limited zoom range (which I'm sure helps the performance) the lens is not without it's faults. It does have different geometric distortion profiles at the different focal length settings. The most obvious being pretty pronounced barrel distortion at the widest setting of 25mm. It's not the wacky mustache distortion that's present in an overwhelming number of modern zooms (which makes them harder to correct in post) but a classic barrel distortion that responds well to a quick control slider slide in PhotoShop.

One of the coolest things about the older lenses and something that became all to apparent when I was trying to fine focus an auto focus 60mm f2.8 micro lens via live view at 100% a few days ago is that the older, manual focus lenses have conveniently long focus throw that promotes careful and accurate fine focusing, especially with the live view image magnified. A long focus throw slows down the focusing process so if you always need to focus quick like a bunny you'll hate it but if you do tripod work with cooperative subjects or you do video with controlled focus pulls you'll absolutely love a long focus throw. 

For me it's the reason to have several of the Nikon macro (micro) lenses on hand. The 60's with AF are both fairly quick to auto focus and are both finicky about fine manual focusing because the band of the focus ring from about one foot to infinity is very, very compressed. Not so in the MF 55's. The band is wide and gracious and encourages one to find that exact focus point. 

On my walk through downtown I either focused by setting the actual estimated distance on the focusing ring and trusted to depth of field or I used a combination of eyeballing it and using the focusing indicators. The direct setting method was the best. 

Having a limited zoom range was fun. Fewer choices and fewer exotic but showy spectacle shots. The images above and below certainly aren't great art but they are a good example of the potential that lies dormant in so many of the masterfully built lenses from a different age. Amply available and cheap as dirt. If you have a vision that fits the focal length I believe you wouldn't see a difference in quality between one of the old lenses and the latest Aspheric, UD, ED, IF, AS, DX wonder lenses. Well, you might see a lower price tag.  

It's good to do some stuff for yourself. Like focusing. And these lenses just beg you to play along.

A note from the manager: We are cleaning the house, shopping and getting the banners and marching bands ready for the arrival today of the boy. Ben should be heading out to the airport in an hour or two and beginning his long journey home. We're all very excited. Studio Dog senses the excitement but doesn't understand the event. I expect her to be overwhelmed when the boy steps across the threshold. I hope to have a camera at the ready.

In the meantime I am still selling the books. Gotta pay for that plane fare, etc, somehow. :-)

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...

Support VSL at no cost to you by buying the stuff you need from the link below.
Doesn't need to be cameras, it could be anything from long underwear to sunglasses. If you start at the link below I'll get a little referral fee which
I'll use to spruce up the site....