Havana: Caged Bouquet

(Jump to slideshow)

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Trocadero y Paseo de Marti

The Old Man was dead.

"We should go to Cuba before it changes too much," See See told me that evening.

"Definitely," I agreed with her, "before they finish putting in a Bubba Gump and TGIFriday's on the Malecůn."

So I set aside my winter holidays and started looking at options, logistically and legally. Try to find something we could do together. Maybe an art workshop? Almost immediately, I found: Santa Fe Workshops, Open Door Havana with David Alan Harvey. Holy cow!

"Thatís a great trip for you," See See said when I told her about it and tried to explain who DAH was, his relationship to Cuba, his books and Burn Magazine, and... without missing a beat she simply said "Go, and if you like it weíll go together later." I am constantly in awe of her calm sweetness. Her timely sweetness, because the final day for registration was: tomorrow. So I registered. And I went.

Iíve never gone to a photo workshop before. I learned all my craft aspects of still photography by shooting yearbook and school newspaper photos, by working at cinť and darkroom rental houses, and after that my formal training was all cinematography. Harveyís workshops are (deservedly) legendary for their intensity and his insight into the processes of many different kinds of photographers.

"Who Should Attend: Advanced Amateurs, Professionals." In other words, people with accomplished records and five times my chops when it comes to still photography. But frankly thatís what I enjoy most: being the class dunce gives me the most opportunity to learn something from everyone else. I started studying.

First, bust out all the Harvey books: not just Cuba and Divided Soul but everything else I could find, or that could be tracked down from a statewide library search. I picked through my old Geographics. I started scouring the web for more insight into his work, for tales of his workshops, and youtube for samples of his talks and working methods -- not to attempt at being a junior copy of DAH, but to save time, to guess at where heís coming from via close reading of the pictures. A goal for me was to find some way to move beyond the kinds of work Iíd been making in recent months, without abandoning it.

I read Josť Martiís Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca. Binge-watched The Cuba Libre Story and the spectacular (and infrared) Yo Soy Cuba; scrubbed Google Maps for stories about things I imagined making projects about: internet censorship avoidance via la paquete semenal and how to find bicycle parts in the alleys around Cristina train station. I loaded my backpack with school supplies and bug repellent as gifts to people who might help me find pictures or just to make their lives better.

I started drumming my fingers over gear -- should I bring an audio recorder? Will the new Fuji 50mmWR come out, can I get an X100F in time (answer: they came out during the trip, so it was a moot concern)? In the end I opted for just two lenses, the 23 and 35 (35 & 50 equivalents), mounted on the X-Pro2 and X-T1 respectively so that I neednít swap lenses on the fly. I did bring the little Instax SP-2 printer and lots of film; it was an excellent door-opener in some situations. Some days I just took the X-Pro with the 23. No tripod, no crazy Russian ultra-wide lens or infrared film. The 18-55 kit lens I left in my case as emergency backup, it was never used save for one shot of my American companions during lunch. I brought a tiny strobe that was nearly unused until the last day, and only for one shot.

Since I figured I was likely to be the most-junior, least-published photographer on the trip, I spent an evening just blasting out 8x10 prints, figuring everyone would probably have an image portfolio to use as introduction.

ButÖ Esta complicado.

Complication #1: In the papers sent from the workshop after Iíd registered, this description of what to expect: "people-to-people cultural exchanges that use the photographic experienceÖ these are not photography workshops and there are few formal lectures, group critiques, or assignments during the week." Their bold-facing. Uh, que? Because of legal restrictions on the nature of our visas and tour permits, the workshop would be largely scheduled group visits to specific presentations and locations and walks through picture-rich locations & set-up situations. Which would be terrific, as I was really coming to love Cuba as a result of my research -- but not what Iíd initially expected, and I was concerned that the experience might be a little too "on rails."

Complication #2: Just a day after completing my registration I decided to be a responsible adult and clean the rain gutters at the front of the house. An object lesson about correctly counting ladder rungs ensued, leaving me on crutches with multiple soft-tissue injuries and a fracture (and: fully cleaned rain gutters). The doctors werenít entirely sure I could get around at home, much less overseas, and the workshop-participant papers warned repeatedly that Havanaís streets and sidewalks were full of dangerous holes, and that Iíd be walking for hours each day on hazardous and slippery terrain. But when I worked through the chain of medical specialists up to the surgeon, he was resolute: delay your surgery, we will get you to Havana. Oh, and he knew Antonio Castro personally. I doubled-down on my physical therapy, on my gym visits, and also on babying my leg for six weeks. I bought some better waterproof boots and hid a cane in my luggage, just in case. While I dreaded the possibility of getting hurt at every step (those amazing holes in the streets are real!), I got through (until after the trip - another story). Never used the cane, just stayed slow and prudent.

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You can't make a bad picture in a situation like this. But is it the right picture? Maybe.

ComplicationsÖ to heck with them. If anything they just solidified my resolve, and clarified my thinking about what I wanted to experience and learn. I tweaked my sleep schedule to match Havana time. I changed my diet from salads and vegan protein shakes to ropa vieja. The doc cleared me. I got on the airplane. Missed my connection. Made the second one (last-minute standby!), got to the hotel with twenty minutes to spare, met everyone briefly, and it was a go.

As it turned out, I wasnít the least accomplished photographer in the group, just somewhere in the middle. I learned a tremendous amount just from watching the other students in the workshop while they were shooting, especially practiced hands like Maria Daniel Balcazar and Chris Michel, who were both inspiring while very different in their temperaments and approaches. And also learned from students more like myself, just trying to figure it out as someone who loves photography.

Iíll write later posts in more detail, but it was just a day or so into our week when I started to feel more confident about just doing what I normally do and not worrying about the specific requirements of the trip, or the workshopís format, or even the location; and that if I wanted photos that were mine, I needed to have my own plan (just like... CalArts! Amazing instructor, lots of cheap rum, and it's up to you to sink or swim to your own island). There was some revolution in the air, a few people (ahem) talking about going off on unscheduled tangents, but it wasnít that. Someone asked me, after a walk, if Iíd gotten some good pictures that day, and I said that I couldnít know, since I had no opinions about what I was seeing yet. It felt odd to say that, but also felt true.

The next day or two gave me a chance to show DAH some of my previous photos (I had those prints! To my surprise, no one else brought any, heh). Besides sagely telling me which prints to immediately eject from the set, he warmed to some portraits from the Liquidity series and even told other students about it: at a class lecture he reminded me to "get weird, Kevin!" a phrase most everyone in workshop repeated to me during the rest of the week.

By day four I was feeling that something like an opinion was forming: that Havana was like a derelict bouquet, still beautiful but collapsing and very, very fragile. Time passes, and winds from the north are inevitable.

Early that morning, just at dawn, I was ruminating on this when I looked down and at my feet in the rubble-strewn street was a crushed lost rose. I carried it to the hotel, snapping shots along the way (I brought it home too, though itís dust now).

By 4AM the next morning I awoke from having done a dreaming edit of pictures (editing in your head is better than a laptop: the laptop's too slow) and realized that I might be able to use the idea of a caged bouquet as a way to rationalize some of my photos as a group, to make some sort of narrative out of them rather than a travelogue. I scribbled a list of pictures I already thought I had, a list of pictures I wanted, and went back to sleep. From that point forward I had a completely different way of thinking about the pictures yet to be made: I knew I wanted certain colors and feelings, but didnít actually care about the specifics of location. Once I had that set of unifying ideas, the pictures almost took themselves. It also meant that when I sat down at at the light box that I could avoid confusing myself by just grabbing pictures that were "good" or "likeable" -- first, they had a job to do.

The Santa Fe Workshop goal was an eight-picture slideshow of favorites. I gave them that, and also made a twenty-picture slideshow of my own as a personal exercise. After the first draft I showed it to Harvey, and (after he counseled me to discard some of the shots) we chatted about how a similar process of getting at themes can drive a project, as they did for his long-term work on Divided Soul. He pointed out that once thereís a connecting idea, in a sequence a picture can be more than a picture, just as in a poem a word is not just a word. It has a broader function.

The revised version of that slideshow is here, you can play it small or use the fullscreen (button on the lower right when playing). The music is a fragment from an Isaac Albťniz piece, beautifully played by Rosa Antonelli. The titles were in the first draft too. They might feel a bit overwrought but they did me right at 4AM at the end of a very inspiring and satisfying week.

An hour back to Miami, and within another hour I was parked across from the Trump International Resort, having an almond-milk lattť and listening to the chatter around me: a mix of English, Spanish, and Russian. But that's another post entirely.

We will go, See See. Before the Bubba Gump.

Havana: Caged Bouquet: posted March 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

Meike 50mm É/2 for Fujifilm X: Light, Inexpensive, Slow but Useful

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Macau, November 2016

In November I purchased a Meike 50mm É/2 lens for Fujifilm X mount, as a travel and X-Pro-OVF-friendly alternative to my 56mm É/1.2, which is great but not really pocketable (and it obscures a lot of the X-Pro2 optical finder). I had hoped for an early release of the upcoming Fuji XF 50mm É/2 WR, but it was delayed. And delayed. And even now, in 2017, it is still not officially released. Since the release date of Fujiís lens is reportedly tomorrow, and since Iíve never actually seen a review of the Meike lens, it seems about time to write a few notes:

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David, November 2016. The classic "80mm" wide-open portrait look. DoF is tight and the focused areas are quite sharp, easily showing individual hairs.

The Meike lens is surprisingly inexpensive: about $80 online. This puts it into the same price class as, say, a good secondhand Canon FD 50mm É/1.8 plus a Fuji adapter, while being smaller and less fiddly. When it arrived, Iíd actually expected a lower-quality lens and was happily surprised by the image quality, robustness, and the compact size. It's not perfect, but a worthy addition to a small kit.

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Travel kit, November 2016: X-Pro2 with XF 18É/2, XF 23É/2 WR, XF 35É/2 WR, and on the right, the Meike 50É/2 (and a tiny EF-X8 flash, borrowed from an X-T1). Even with a hood, the Meike 50 is smaller than the WR lenses, a benefit of the simpler optics allowed by lack of fast, silent autofocus.

The lens is definitely sharp in the center, with some loss at the corners. No negative surprises there. Just the opposite, truthfully. This is a very workmanlike sort of lens, and the emphasis seems to be on dependable image making. In appearance, it reminds me of old original Pentax Spotmatic lenses.

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While the lens is multi-coated, there is some flare. Investing in an $8 hood is a good idea, or shielding the lens with your hat in a circumstance like this one.

My impression is that the Meike is a repurposed video-camera lens, from some existing and very well-tested design, with the ďCĒ mount swapped for Fuji-style components (you can get this lens for other mirrorless cameras, like Sony or Micro-4/3). The original purpose of the lens might have been CCTV, where the focus and aperture are rarely changed. I say this because the focus ring, while smooth, is rather stiff and slow. The aperture ring, ranging from É/2 to É/22, has no click stops & bears an unusual progression of É/stop markers.

The focus ring turns in the opposite direction of standard Fuji lenses (but matches the direction of Canon and Leica lenses). These attributes can make it a bit slow to use, and I have lost one or two shots because I couldnít crank the focus around from near to far quickly enough.

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Macau, November 2016

On Fuji cameras, this lens is considered an "adapted" lens, so youíll need to set it up just like any foreign lens: turn on ďShoot Without LensĒ and set the Adaptor to 50mm. There will be no É/stop info in the EXIF data, this lens has no electronics at all. The depth of field scale in the viewfinder wonít work, but since this lens is mechanically focused, the scale on the lens barrel works perfectly.

As a compact and inexpensive addition to a small prime-centric kit bag, itís not bad at all. Even with a 49mm screw-in hood, its size avoids blocking the XPro EVF -- and with EVF, itís quite useable (hint: keep an eye on the histogram).

Summary

Fujiís upcoming native 50mm has attractions: autofocus, electronic connection in EXIF, and of course itís weather resistant. I expect that it will be much more resistant to flare and sharper across the entire field. Itís also expected to be six times the price of the Meike (if I destroyed five Meike lenses in the rain, Iíd still clock-in less expensively that buying the XF). If I used this focal length a lot, especially outdoors, didn't already have Fuji's spectacular 56É/1.2, depended on AF or auto-exposure, then the expense for the superior Fuji is easy to justify. Yet truthfully I like to shoot manually and rarely use a longer lens except for controlled portraits, where the 56mm is a winner -- so it it gets harder to rationalize that extra $420 when this tiny lens is so easy to own and tote around.
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Because no lens "review" should be without a discussion and sample or two of the bokeh characteristics, here are some photos made wide-open at the extremes of focus distance, in the evening rain.

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A similar view, with focus set to the opposite end of the range

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To complete the small set, a similar photo made at É/5.6 or so, showing the slight intrusion of the aperture blades into the (smaller) shape of the out-of-focus discs.

Meike 50mm É/2 for Fujifilm X: Light, Inexpensive, Slow but Useful: posted January 18, 2017 | 0 Comments

Monday Morning Commute, San Francisco

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X-Pro2, 35mm f/2.0 WR, default settings

Today's entry is just a simple shot made from a hill near the Golden Gate Bridge, shot while cycling towards the San Francisco Financial District (distant right). The camera's doing much of the work here.

Monday Morning Commute, San Francisco: posted April 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Seven C's

Adding the Fujifilm X-Pro2 to my kit has had me reviewing jpg-output custom image settings again. It's a regular topic of conversation on internet forums and reviews and blogs -- how to set up the custom functions in the X100T, on the X-T1, or, now, the X-Pro2?

There are something like a million possible permutations of settings for each of the custom collections: how to pick, and how to keep track of the selections (What did I have on C3 again?)? My choice has been to break things down along just two axes: picture type and color/monochrome. I then to set all cameras to use the same custom-settings layout so I only have to learn one setup.

The table shows the layout and details about the choices follow below the fold.

  Sim WB DR Shad Hi Sharp NR Color ISO Grain Notes
C1 Std AWB A 0 0 0 0 0 800 - RESET EVERYTHING.
C2 By AWB A +2 -1 +1 -1 - A3200 S B&W Street.
C3 Cc AWB A +2 -1 +1 -1 +1 A3200 W Color Street.
C4 Bg Sun 100 -1 -1 -1 -2 - 800 - B&W Studio/Flash Portraits.
C5 NPS Sun 100 -1 -1 -1 -2 0 800 - Color Studio/Flash Portraits.
C6 Bg AWB 100 -1 -1 -1 -2 - 800 - B&W Existing Light Portraits.
C7 NPS AWB 100 -1 -1 -1 -2 0 800 - Color Existing Light Portraits.

These settings don't cover every kind of shooting! But they do, at present, cover most of the situations I normally shoot. There's no such thing as "best" settings, just "best for me." I don't really shoot landscapes, I don't do macro, etc. There are no "C" modes here using Vivid/Velvia color or other mode choices that might have their place in some other shooter's toolkit. The crucial question should be: "What do I actually use my cameras for, and how quickly cen I be set up for those situations?"

Reviewing the pictures I make, I've found that almost all my shooting falls into a few simple categories: contrasty street; lower-contrast portraits of various types, using either flash or existing light, and finally (via C1) a deliberately-vague "general photography" that is usually perfectly served by the cameras with their factory settings. On rare occasions where I want to vary, I can quickly get to a known state from C1 rather than trying to guess what other setting might be good.

Each camera has its own characteristics, and so the settings are not exactly the same on each body:

  • The X100T includes ISO in custom modes, while the X-T1 and X-Pro2 use dials.
  • The X-Pro2 has a Grain control not found on the other bodies. I only apply it for my punchy "Street" settings.
  • The X-Pro2 also has Acros monochrome simulation. On the other bodies I use the standard "Black & White" but for the X-Pro2 it's Acros all the way. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I'm an old advocate of the film stock and used to bring lots of it back with me on any trip to Japan. Try it with stand development — it's a great film!

I'd love to hear other people's thought about custom functions, and how they're most useful to them.

Seven C's: posted March 24, 2016 | 0 Comments

FujiFilm X-Pro2 Film Simulations

X-Pro2 Film Simulations
A picture is worth books full of text. Here are the various film simulation modes available on the X-Pro2, along with Adobe Camera Raw's attempt at "Auto" adjustment. New for this camera are the "Acros" B&W modes.

Here are the same samples, repackaged in rows of four.

The lens here was an old Canon FD 50mm 1.8, mounted on a Fotasy adapter.

X-Pro2 Color Modes, Tall

FujiFilm X-Pro2 Film Simulations: posted March 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

Home-Hacking the Fujifilm X-Pro-2

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Why don't more industrial designers design for fingertips? They seem to understand grip, but sensation... less.

Over the past couple of years I've taken to hacking the mechanical controls of my cameras (and a few other items) with Sugru, a quick-curing material that's a bit like a cross between modeling clay and rubber. The idea is simple: provide tactile landmarks for my fingers, so that I can use the camera's controls without needing to look at them -- either because it's raised to my eye, or even if the camera is out of sight in my bag or jacket pocket, preparing for the next shot.

In this photo, the red blobs are bits of Sugru. In the past I've used black. The color is pretty unimportant, what matters is the material feel against your finger.

Sugru is strong but the nubs usually wear down after a few months of daily use. They're easily replaced in about three minutes.

The Idea:

If you're reading this on a computer, run your fingers along the center row of keys. On most American-style QWERTY keyboards you'll feel tiny "nubs" on the "F" and "J" keys. Even if you don't think about them, your brain does use that extra information to help align and coordinate touch-typing (You may find a bump on the "5" key if you have a numeric keyboard, too). They're nearly ubiquitous now, though the patent on the idea (for keyboards) was only filed by June E Botich in 2002.

The same idea works great for cameras or other devices with multiple hard-to-distinguish buttons. On my Fuji-X cameras, I put a dot of rubber on the AF and AE lock buttons, and one near the "zero" of the exposure-compensation dial.

Not only does it help me navigate individual cameras, but it also helps me when I switch cameras, say from the X-Pro2 to X-T1 or X100T. The button layouts might be different, but my thumb and fingers know the feel of matching controls.

For other cameras with fewer mechanical controls, like the little Lumixes, I just add a dot on the main dial to indicate the "P" setting. Always, the goal is to let my hand do as much of the navigation as possible, rather than burden my eye, which should be watching for The Picture.

Home-Hacking the Fujifilm X-Pro-2: posted March 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

Mission at Anthony

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Sadly my X100s was stolen last week, but the X100T has quickly consoled me. More on the details soon.

Mission at Anthony: posted January 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

Mono

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I've received two handsome books of current black and white photography, just before the holidays.

The first was MONO Volume One, edited by Luca Desienna (of Gomma magazine) and released in 2012 as the first part of a proposed trilogy (A Kickstarter project for Volume Two also shows a video that includes paging through the first volume).

The second, smaller book was BLACK FOREST, edited by Russell Joslin (of SHOTS magazine) and just now available. BLACK FOREST is not entirely in black and white, though the color fraction is desaturated and small.

MONO is organized as short portfolios by an individual photographer -- BLACK FOREST is organized into four ďvisible poemsĒ of Joslinís devising, with contributions by many photographers. Thus the smaller book includes the works of more artists. At least one (Roger Ballen) can be found in both books.

For each portfolio or visual poem, there is a brief and self-consciously cryptic poem-sized intro text. I am generally mistrustful of such props. They can be safely ignored here.

Both books exhibit a considerable love of blackness. This might be a by-product of modern book-printing practice, but both contain not only photos with tones that sink down below the page but the images are often presented against black, and many pages that bear no photos are also inked over.

The blackness suits both volumesí interest in nostalgic, dreamlike states: dreams, like photographs, can seem vividly real, yet in nearly all these photos, as in dreaming, the realistic depiction is thwarted by defiances of physics, surrealist-like dissonant combinations of scale, of objects, animals, masks, realigned gravity, uncharted woods, skulls, paint-spattered walls, naked flesh and drapery. Thereís a baroque quality to the extremity of detail.

Nearly all the work is made in the studio, or in controlled locations, really with only a single exception, Trent Parkeís portfolio in MONO. The notion of the camera as a window onto the world, or of the world as a supplier of image elements, is absent here.


The internet is first and foremost for shopping. So which of these books is most worthy of your cash? While I like MONOís affordance of a deeper look at one artistís imagery at a time, BLACK FOREST (which is also actually available!) suits me better. That said, Iíll still pony-up the speculative 29 quid for a copy of the upcoming MONO Volume Two.

Mono: posted December 31, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Thing

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"In photography, you always have both the medium and the depicted subject at the same time." -- Thomas Ruff

In Ruff's work, the image is a very particular thing. I especially like his over-enlarged internet Jpegs. His more recent work has wandered into CG and crypto-photograms, a process that creates an image of imagery, where the "true" object, placed on photo paper, is itself replaced by an ephemeral concept, a mental image of an optical image. So meta.

The crisis of "thingness" in photography is at once at the root of many of its greatest strengths and weaknesses, as pointed out by painter Gerhard Richter:

Photography has almost no reality; it is almost a hundred percent picture. And painting always has reality...

...by which he appears to mean that a painting is an object to itself while a photo is an image separate from any specific object -- a mechanical recording of the real image, the collections of things and light that passed for some time in front of the lens. A painting is not like that. It is what it is.

Now, you can argue about representation. Stephen Pinker has opined that even the most abstract painting (say, applied in alternating squeegee strokes) is still a representation: of the artist's process, their thought process, or the artist themselves.

Which makes for a long page of quotes and speculations but very little specific opinion. I'm in a period of great activity right now -- both with the camera and without it. Maybe one requires the other. And a lot of thought about what it means, without a clear verbal answer but with enough internalized understanding to keep working obsessively every day.

Someone else can decide if it's any good but no one else is going to do it, so I set my alarm every morning and just get on.

The Thing: posted October 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

Seventh at Mission

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XF 35mm É/1.4 (50mm equivalent)

The 50mm perspective always both troubles and seduces me. It has a distortion-ree feel -- neither too flat nor stretched out at the corners. And yet so constrained, as if the eye is snugly wedged into a box.

Seventh at Mission: posted October 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

X100s: Usage & Non-Review

Fujiís X100s is about to bow out as the X100T is introduced. Time for my non-review of the S, then! Just as well, since most online reviews (of most equipment -- not just cameras) tend to get written by someone with general skill but a few hours or at most a couple of weeks actually using the thing. They might be ďputting it through its pacesĒ in a tinkertoy sort of way, but not chasing pictures with it in a sustained way, in all weather, different circumstances, lighting, time, and weight constraints. There are a few exceptions, of which Iíd probably single out Kevin Mullinsís The Owl (and his book, which taught me not to use the Fuji like a Canon or Panaleica) for usability tips, and Zack Ariasís excited gush over the original X100 after using it for a good while.

There are plenty of people who will tell you all the things they enjoy about this camera. This leaves me more room to kvetch! Don't worry, it's kvetching that comes from love...

Itís good to have a camera in hand that feels like a rangefinder again. The LX's are excellent but just a bit too small to have that feel. Iíd ditched my film SLRs some time ago to shoot only RF's -- Leica M and screwmount, Contax G, Bronica RF645, and as a knockaround camera a Canonet GIII, which is probably the closest in spirit to the X100 series. The advent of digital had pushed me back to using SLRs; the LXís and now Fuji are letting me be free of them again. And better still, the EVF's gives you SLR-like capabilities when theyíre really needed.

My original plan was to experiment with an X-Pro1 as a replacement for my Canon SLR kit, but I realized the X100s was better suited to me, and I love the quietness of leaf shutters. It didnít disappoint (Iíve also skipped the X-Pro1 for the X-T1Ö more on that later).

Silence

The silent mode quiet is a huge win. I have used the X100s on commercial video-shoot sets, during takes. In acoustic concerts. No one hears it but me, and then just barely. Not even close-up microphones hear it.

The Viewfinder(s)

Iíve been split on my enjoyment of the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) -- excited at first by it, then realizing I was shooting almost exclusively with the Electronic Eye-Level Viewfinder (EVF) (almost never with the LCD on the back of the camera!), but recently Iím back to mostly OVF again.

Itís a learning process: you learn what's good for what. The OVF is terrific for contexts where you can zone-focus, or use the Autofocus, or you just want to save on battery life. Most of my shooting is manually focused, using the EVF for slower, deliberate work and the OVF for fast outdoor shooting. I had to learn this bit by bit.

Manual Focusing

In manual focusing mode, a very large area of the EVF is covered by the distance scale, which is rendered on a large opaque box (the X-T1ís scale is mercifully transparent). Really annoying for framing! After a while I accidentally discovered that you can turn off the EVFís distance scale, while leaving the less-objectionable (doesnít cover the frame area) scale of the OVF active. Now my method is to use focus-peaking in the EVF with no scale, and the scale in the OVF. Itís easy to switch back and forth without removing your eye from the finder. Much better than the default.

Disabling the EVF Distance Scale

The method for disabling the EVF distance scale is in the manual, but just barely! See page 75 of the English-language version. There's just one short paragraph that covers about a half-dozen topics, and no explanation of why. Oops, Fuji.

It's Menu - Red 3 - Disp. Custom Setting - EVF/LCD and then un-check MF Distance Indicator

I miss having a Leica-style focus lever. The X100s focus is twist-by-wire so you have to either use the EVF or look at the scale. You canít just slide the lever to infinity and then focus by feel: "this much turn is 2 meters, this much is 1 meter"Ö when my X100s was new, the focus ring used to have a sort of jittery friction, which has gradually subsided with use.

Autofocus and the Back Wheel

Sometimes the AF just hunts. Frustrated that if I'm in Manual Focus and press the AF button to do a "quick" adjust (a common use pattern for me), it sometimes starts the slow drive down to minimum-focus distance and there's nothing to do but wait. People tell me itís better than it used to be. I guess I can believe them but at times Iíve just thought that my camera is faulty (sometimes I still do). One possible reason could be that itís really easy to accidentally get the camera into macro mode (or out of macro mode) without realizing it, just in the moment-to-moment jostling around of shooting.

Itís odd to have a dedicated AE-pattern button but no dedicated ISO button. Really. I press that AE pattern button very rarely, and the Fn function button is too busy to use for ISO.

Power

Batteries. I've burned three in an afternoon. Now I have five.

A big culprit in the battery consumption issue can be the WiFi SD card (see below), which if you're not careful can keep eating power even if the camera is powered down.

Beware accidentally turning the camera off. This happens to me a lot. If I pan quickly while pressing the shutter, the power switch rotates and while my shot will complete, the next shotÖ oops! No camera! For this reason I almost never shoot in silent mode outdoors. I need that assurance that the shutter really fired. Too many lost shots without it.

I tried to solve this problem by using a ďsoft releaseĒ button, so that my finger wouldn't be in contact with the power-switch ring -- in practice, the soft release unscrewed itself, fell off the camera and rolled down a sewer drain in the first fifteen minutes of use. Instead Iíve had to develop a two-finger shutter button technique: a grip where I stabilize the power lever with my middle finger while stabbing down at the shutter button with an index fingernail, rather than pressing with the whole fingertip, so that the power switch won't get dragged as the camera moves in my hand ("all in the wrist," feh).

Q Menu and "C" Shortcuts

Unlike the X-T1 etc the X100s includes the ISO in Custom Shortcuts which tend to be faster than just using the Q Menu for explicit ISO tweaks. My settings:

C1 ISO 100, Film Sim "V"
C2 ISO 1600, Film Sim "NH"
C3 ISO Auto (3200), Film Sim "Std"

...with other sharpness and shadow settings etc left at defaults. C3 is my "everyday usage" shortcut.

I used to have C2 set to a hard-shadow sharpened black and white mode, but in the last month or so have switched to using NH instead, since I do almost all of my B&W conversion in Nik Silver Efx 2 anyway. NH converts well and gives me a little more leeway when shooting JPG.

JPEGs

Like many people, I shoot JPEG a lot, though given some extreme lighting situations I've started using RAW more often again. This means increasing time between shots and dealing with longer transfers. Time to toss another 3TB on the hard drive stack...

Exposure & the ND Filter

I love the 3-stop ND filter, for the same reason I love it on the LX7 -- instant sunny-vs-shady control when using manual exposure. The ND wins over ISO for its place on the top-deck Fn button.

The shutter speed dial only goes down to 1/4 second. Likewise the Aperture-priority AE. Lower speeds are possible via the T setting, but since they're tied to the rear dial they're easily jostled around and changed. Annoying.

Likewise I wish I had f/22.

The fake shutter sound adjusts to the actual shutter speed. Nice. At 1/4 second, you hear two clicks a quarter-second apart.

There is a dedicated flash available for Fuji X, but it's not even close to the sophistication of the systems from Canon and Nikon. More on this topic in some other posts.

WiFi

I opted to use a Transcend wi-fi card. The built-in Eye-fi control is completely ignored, in that case. I set the Transcend to time-out on wi-fi after the minimum one minute -- otherwise it can very easily turn into a battery killer, since it will continue broadcasting even after the camera is turned off if you don't tell the card to time out (and don't let anything connect to it! Say, the tablet computer in your bag). If you need to re-start the wi-fi, remove the card or the battery. It works, but it's fiddly. And you don't get the nice "resize for phone" option found in Fuji's software for the X-T1.

TL;DR

Owners love to proclaim that the X100s is not a hipster camera. If this was so, why am I so often stopped by hipsters in San Francisco, asking what kind of camera it is and telling me that it's cool?

Because it is.

The high ISO means it's possible to get really low-light shots, like the Milky Way seen here from rural Sonoma county. A trick to getting a shot at this super-low light level is to frame it on your tripod with the camera turned off so that you won't be blinded by the frame lines in the OVF.

Sometimes you just need the lowest speed you can get.

X100s: Usage & Non-Review: posted September 23, 2014 | 1 Comments

LX7 (with a little LX5)

As has been a habit, Iím coming to write up a usage report for a camera only by the time its replacement has been announced: the LX7 is about to make way for LX100 (or for the Leica marque, D-Lux Typ 109), which Iím sure will be a fine camera too. Iíll stick to my 7 until circumstances warrant a switch -- which is how I felt about the LX5 for nearly a year after the LX7 first appeared. What finally changed my mind?

The aperture ring. As much as possible I want a camera that I can use without needing to check menus and displays. If I can roll over to the far end of the apertures and then count clicks to know my f/stop, without ever taking my eye off the scene in front of the camera, Iím happy.

Little Things Make a Difference

Looking over the other improvements listed in the brochures: 1080p video, faster aperture, etc, none of them stand out as crucial differentiators for me except this: the LX7 uses the same batteries as the LX5, meaning that I could have two cameras with me using the same battery type. So leapfrogging my LX3 (different battery) with the LX7 meant I could set aside all those old batteries and chargers. This not-very-visible difference can be a huge deal when out running around shooting! One set of batteries to juice them all.

The photos on this post are from a springtime trip where we shared an LX5, LX7, and also brought along a Fuji X100s as the "big" camera (more on that later). One set of Lumix batteries made for more relaxed days.

I was initially excited by the LX7's new 3D shooting feature -- we already have a 3D TV around, and Iíve shot a lot of stereo over the years. But in practice itís been used only once or twice.

That said, there are three other features of the LX7 that Iíve come to love: the Outboard clip-on EVF, the ND filter, and (to my surprise) Dynamic Color Mode.

EVF: (External) Electronic View Finder

The similar EVF on the LX5 was already surprisingly great. The LX7ís, while oddly chunky-looking, is even better. This became especially useful as Iíve also become keen on the ďdynamic colorĒ mode in both cameras. Yes, itís one of those gawky Instagram-ish filter modes. It has a beautiful ability to get detail out of shadows. Itís tremendous on sculpture, on woodwork, it even has an occasional place in portraiture. Seeing it as you shoot: terrific.

Built-In Neutral-Density (ND) Filter

The 3-stop ND filter is usually hyped as a means to use strobe outdoors. And yes, it does this too. But Iíve found it useful for another purpose: a three-stop drop is just about perfect as the difference between sunny exposures and sky-lit shady ones. Since I shoot a lot in changeable sun, among the skyscrapers of the San Francisco Financial District or in forest, the ND button is a great manual-exposure tool -- I set my manual exposure for shade, then with one press of the ND button, Iím good for sunshine. And vice versa. A very big deal for someone like me who likes to manage the camera by finger without taking my eye off the shot.

Using the LX7 in tandem with the Fuji X100S ended up being a very enjoyable (silent and lightweight) travel/street combo: the LX7 provided wide and short telephoto ability, excellent macro, color fun (Fuji has similar modes, but I'm used to the LX!), and the occasional variance from the 3::2 format, while the Fuji provided amazing low-light performance and faster operation.

Dynamic Color Mode

Compare the "dynamic color" shot above to the standard one taken a few seconds later. It may not be "natural" but the detailed information in the shot, especially around the buildings in the background, is to my mind superior

This isn't to say that the standard color rendition is bad -- here are a couple of samples to show that it's the opposite! You can see the LX5 in this shot -- can you find the other snap of it in this post? And the (blurry) LX7?

Again, the dynamic color made really brings out fine scultural detail, as in this Rodin figure -- without having to resort to using a RAW file and manipulation in Photoshop later on.

Another quick comparison of color modes: Retro, Soft, and the surprisingly snappy Dynamic Monochrome.

LX7 (with a little LX5): posted September 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Upgrades

Third Almost to Minna

Third St Almost to Minna

Itís been a while since Iíve written about the web tech of botzilla or random photo gear issues. No time like the present.

First off Iíve been slowly updating all of botzilla to use more modern web frameworks, which happily work well with the ratchety old Moveable Type backend. The blog portions were easy to complete, the older Powershot & Streetphoto archive bits will come soon enough. Iím also rearranging some of the tag bins, mostly to reflect the changes in botzilla intent since the original charter.

Given the general growth of the blogosphere since botzillaís early day, I doubt that anyone other than myself will really notices these changes.

On the camera front, my Canons are being retired, along with my TLRs and Bronica rangefinder (one TLR, the Bronica, a 5D body and a couple of lenses are still for sale!). I initially intended to replace them with the latest Leicasonic LX (LX-7) and later a Fuji X100sÖ to my surprise the littler of these little cameras was dominant for a while, though over time and practice Iíve come to use the X100s more and more, eventually supplanting it with an X-T1 which is terrific and provdes a second career for my Contax lenses, but the X100s is still doing the bulk of my shooting as of September 2014.

Like everyone, Iím also shooting a lot with my phone, occasionally with a tablet, and intermittently with Google Glass. More entries to come on all of these technologies as I stumbled along ahead.

Upgrades: posted September 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Zoom

Saturday is the Santa Clara Photo Fair — I haven't been to a collector-centric swapmeety show for years, so I'll be checking it out. Not that I really want to buy anything, and I've already made one swell photo purchase this week — a secondhand copy of Gibson's Light Years.

Hey, you never know. Maybe somebody'll sell me a nice Fuji GW 670 for $250... it could happen!

Wednesday night was the last Squirt-League roller hockey game for the regular season. As usual I was there shooting, as were several other parents. Sport still manages to bring out the parents with their film SLRs and impressively-heavy tele zoom lenses — nary a digicam in sight, save for mini-DV's. Ever the contrarian, I brought the 28mm and my own skates for mobility.

Zoom: posted August 08, 2003 | 0 Comments

 

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