Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Walker Evans on the SX-70

This excerpt from a 1974 interview from Yale Alumni Magazine of Walker Evans, the famous FSA photographer that created some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression discusses how Evans first felt about the Polaroid SX-70 camera. This interview is 41 years old and basically the SX-70 was the "digital photography" of that era. Looked down upon by professionals as a camera that any hack could use to take photos with.

I feel the insights he provides about his feelings on the SX-70 still have a profound meaning today if you replace SX-70 with "digital photography".

Yale: What do you think of the modern emphasis on technology?
W.E.: Well, I don’t think much of it and so I’m very confused about that new camera. I took it to England last summer and a friend of mine who is an art critic said, “But it’s a precept that hard work and mastering a difficult technique is a necessary part of artistic achievement, and therefore this thing is immoral.” True, with that little camera your work is done the instant you push that button.
But you must think what goes into that. You have to have a lot of experience and training and discipline behind you, although I now want to put one of those things in the hands of a chimpanzee and a child and see what happens. Well, not the chimpanzee — that’s been done before. But I want to try that camera with children and see what they do with it. It’s the first time, I think, that you can put a machine in an artist’s hands and have him then rely entirely on his vision and his taste and his mind.
Yale: Maybe that’s one of the worst things about the SX-70 — that there is no technical hurdle. Just anyone can take shots.
W.E.: Well, that isn’t the worst thing. That’s always been true with anything, whether there’s any technical need or not. For example, we’re all taught to write, and anybody can sit down and write something. Not everybody can sit down and write something that’s worth writing.

With a digital camera anyone can take a photo, but not everyone can take a photo worth taking.

You can see the full interview on the ASX website: Walker Evans interview with Yale

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Adobe Lightroom 6 standalone and upgrade

If you're a Lightroom user you've no doubt gotten the update notice from your software. Unfortunately in Adobe's effort to continue to push the "Creative Cloud" rent-a-software model when you click to do the "upgrade" you are directed to the "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC" splash page, where it dazzles you with descriptions of the features.

Unfortunately, when you click "Download" or "Buy now" you are taken only to the Lightroom CC option. You are not even made aware that a standalone version is even available and what's worse is that they don't even hint to current users that there is a less expensive ($79 US) upgrade path if you own an existing version of Lightroom.

I searched and searched looking for the the upgrade path and couldn't find it I tried reaching out to Adobe and the Lightroom team via twitter, no response. I also tried their online chat tech support where an open chat box lurked there for over an hour every once in awhile beeping to let me nobody was home.

So I just had to keep digging until I finally found it. I figured I couldn't be the only one with this problem, so I decided to share the link so you can buy or upgrade to the standalone version instead of being shamelessly pushed towards the Creative Cloud "pay in perpetuity" model that Adobe has forced upon it's loyal user base. Well, some of us are loyal simply because their isn't another viable option out there.

In any case the link to the standalone version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6 is on the Adobe Products page. Click the link, scroll down to Photoshop Lightroom 6 and click "Buy" it will show the price of $149. If you don't already own a copy of a previous version click "Add to Cart" and then complete your purchase. If you already own a version of Lightroom 1-5 you can upgrade by clicking on the "I want to buy:" dropdown menu. Select "Upgrade". Another sub-menu appears that reads "I own:", click on that and select the version of Lightroom you own (1.x-5.x) at this point the upgrade price of $79 appears. Now click "Add to Cart". This will take you to your cart where you can now checkout. Look over your order to make sure it's correct and click the checkout button. This brings you to the billing process, and since Lightroom can be purchased in a box in most places, you get to pay taxes on it. Enter your payment info and there you go.

Keep in mind you only get a product key with this type of purchase. If you want a full DVD boxed version buy from Amazon by clicking on the Lightroom graphic below.
At this time the boxed version isn't available, in the meantime you can run a free trial of Lightroom CC, until your box is shipped.

I hope this helps those of you who are as frustrated as I am that Adobe is making it as difficult as possible to buy/upgrade the standalone version.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fundamentals of Photography

I recently was browsing a website where someone asked what the "fundamentals of photography" are. And most of the answers ranged from philosophical to out and out BS. One answer was, "just being near something to photograph" and another was "your imagination", and the ever popular "just having your camera with you".

While having a good imagination and being near something to photograph while having your camera handy are all well and good, a basic understanding of the camera settings and composition elements are what I think the "Fundamentals of Photography" are.

What good is your imagination and a great subject if you don't know how to make the camera do what you want to make the image your brain imagines?

So I made a short down and dirty list of the fundamental things you should know in order to be a competent photographer (without getting all philosophical).

  • Shutter speed - this is how long the shutter is open for. The longer it's open the more light gets in, but also more chance for motion blur. Shorter shutter speeds can freeze action, but let in less light. Fast and slow speeds both have their uses. Common speeds are 1', 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15. 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500... Each full stop doubles or halves the light. Most current cameras also adjust shutter speeds in 1/3 stops
  • Aperture - this is how wide the diaphragm of the lens is. The wider it is the more light reaches the sensor. Wider apertures also produce a shallower depth of field (this depends on focus and background distance as well). The aperture numbers are ratios of the size of the actual opening in relation to the focal length. They are known as f/stops.  The smaller the f/stop number the wider the opening. for example, f/2 is wider than f/16 because mathematically f/2 is 1/2 and f/16 is 1/16. So a 50mm lens at f/2 has a 25mm opening and at f/16 it's just over 3mm. The common aperture numbers in full stops are 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, and 22. If you look close you will see every other one is doubled. Also if you multiply the one before it by 1.4 you get the next number. 1.4 is the square root of 2. Each stop doubles or halves the light. Again, most cameras also adjust f/stops by thirds.
  • ISO - this used to be called "film speed", but it's just the sensitivity of the medium, typically the the sensor. The common speeds are 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400. These are full stops and also double of half the sensitivity to light. Once gain most digital cameras adjust these in thirds as well.
This is the essence of exposure. Without knowing this you don't know photography. You can put your camera on auto and make great photos, but you still won't know the fundamentals. Another thing that's important to know is that to maintain an equivalent exposure if you change one of these settings you must change another with the equal value. 

Next on the fundamentals list is composition. These are generally guidelines to go by rather than rules, but it's best to learn them so you know when to use them and when you can break them. I won't go into detail, but some of the most common elements of composition include:

  • The Rule of Thirds
  • The Golden Ratio
  • Leading Lines
  • Patterns
  • Negative Space
  • Balance
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Use of complementary and analogous color
  • Framing
You can use google images to see examples of these. That's the down and dirty, yet thorough, answer on fundamentals. 

When you set out to learn these things, don't look at them like a stumbling block. They become intuitive very quickly. Make sure you have fun experimenting with the different settings, that's the best way to learn and make everything stick.

*the picture has nothing to do with the subject, I just don't like to post things without eye-candy.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Lens Flipper part 2

A few months ago I found a little device I thought was ingenious. It allowed you to carry and swap out lenses without the fear of dropping a lens because the lens was always locked into a device (either the camera or Lens Flipper itself).

During my initial review (see here) I mentioned that I was nervous about putting a heavy lens on it because I didn't feel it would stand up to the weight. I received an email stating that the Lens Flipper was tested to hold about 132 pounds. Taking their word for it, I set off to photograph the Austin City Limits Festival and I used the Lens Flipper to carry the new $Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 | S lens that was on loan from Sigma. The lens weighs about 7.5-8 pounds. A far cry from 132 pounds.

Well the unthinkable happened. The Lens Flipper failed and the Sigma lens dropped to the asphalt and smashed many of the internal elements. This is what the $3599 lens looks like after falling straight to the asphalt.

After a bit of back and forth with the Lens Flipper company (which initially expressed some doubt that they were at fault) I was informed during the manufacturing process in the plant in Korea the screws were not tightened down to the correct specifications and therefore were prone to loosening. The loose screws caused the lens mount to flex and warp enough that the locking pin that holds the lens securely in place was rendered useless resulting in a catastrophic failure. 
Here you can see the loose screw.

This shows how the metal lens mounting flange warped under the pressure of the weight of the lens.

This also shows warpage of the metal flange.

In this image you can see that the loosening of the screws cause the locking pin to remain recessed therefore leaving the lens dangling with no way to stop it from twisting it's way loose from the lens mount.

The Lens Flipper company has released a statement saying that only the Nikon F and Sony E mount Lens Flippers were affected. They claim that simply taking a small precision screwdriver and tightening the screws will alleviate this problem. I no longer have a Lens Flipper so I cannot personally attest this will fix the problem or not. 

In my opinion I would be very cautious using this product, especially with large telephoto lenses. To be fair, Lens Flipper is working with Sigma to repair or replace the damaged lens. 

Personally, I cannot in good conscious recommend the Lens Flipper to any of the readers of my blog, my magazine articles, or my Nikon Digital Field Guides. Even after you tighten the screws down there is no guarantee that they won't work themselves loose again with repeated use. To be on the safe side I would return any Lens Flipper for a factory replacement at the very least.

If you are familiar with my blog and books then you know I have never posted a bad review on any other product. While this device is a great concept, in my personal opinion the quality control was seriously lacking and that the product could make use of better material such as thicker metal mounts and longer locking pins to minimize warpage that can cause the locking pin to become flush with the mount causing the lens to release and drop to the ground. 

Note: This review is my personal opinion relating my own experiences to using the Lens Flipper. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

DIY Weather Proofing for your Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A

It's no secret that the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A is one of my favorite lenses. It's just a good lens. It's well built, beautifully designed, and most importantly the image quality from the lens is second to none. Click the link for my review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A.

Anyway... This isn't an updated review on the lens, but whenever I see discussions about this lens on camera forums all over the web invariably argument, "well the Nikon/Canon 35mm f/1.4 versions are weather sealed" comes up. I've got a quick and easy solution for that.

With fall and winter coming, the weather tends to get cooler and wetter. So what I have here is a simple do-it-yourself way to weather seal your Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A. The best part is that it's probably better than Nikon or Canon's factory weather sealing. It also protects against minor impact damage keeping your lens in perfect shape. You can't say that about Nikon or Canon's weather seals.

Let's get down to it. First you need a beer koozie. Or can-cooly, beer sleeve, or can-cooler if you prefer (if you're an Aussie you might know these things as a "stubby holder"). Secondly you need a pair of scissors. That's it.

The great thing about beer koozies is that you can get them for free at just about any event. So weather proofing your $900 Sigma lens won't cost you one red cent! Can't beat that.

  1. Take the beer koozie in your hand. It should be folded flat naturally. 
  2. Notice the bottom part. Take the scissors and cut that bottom part off. 
  3. Slide the koozie over the lens like it was a can of beer. 
That's it! It's really that simple. The neoprene koozie is water resistant and takes the impact of the occasional bump that can often happen to a lens. Just to clarify, this does not make your lens waterproof, but it will protect your lens from splashes and light rain and snow. Of course this works best if you also have a weather sealed camera body. 

So, let's take a look. 

First of all here's the naked Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A

Here's your beer koozie. I like the Sailor Jerry brand because it has that old school tattoo look. You can choose one that fits your own personality, like a sports team, a company logo, your favorite beer brand, or whatever free koozie that you have on hand!

A typical beer koozie is the perfect length to fit the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A lens leaving enough room to attach the lens hood. Coincidence or design?!?

Once your beer koozie is on the lens and the lens is attached to the camera, slide it down to help seal the lens mount. 

There you have it. Not only is your lens weather proofed it's also stylish! I had pinstripes added to the lens hood for extra old school hot-rod appeal (guaranteed to add at least 10hp to your camera!)

A few things you should know before putting one of these on your lens. 
  1. You will not be able to access the M/AF button on the lens. Don't worry, just about every camera has one on the body. 
  2. You won't be able to see the distance scale on the lens. How many people use these on AF lenses? I don't. 
  3. Due to the awesome HSM motor the focus ring does not turn when autofocusing so don't worry about the koozie impeding autofocus functions. I've had mine on for two years with no problems!
  4. The focus ring is on the front part of the lens. You can still manually focus by firmly gripping the front of the lens and turning the focus ring. At first the koozie will be tight and you will have some resistance, but in time it will loosen up and turn freely. 
*This DIY weather proofing may or may not work with your zoom lenses. I haven't tried it on any of my zooms, but I'm guessing it will be a pain in the butt. This may work well with other prime lenses of similar size. Again, I haven't tried it on any of my other primes because most of them are too small or too big. If your lens doesn't have an HSM, AF-S, USD, PZD, EF-S or some other type of lens motor that doesn't require the focus ring to turn I would not use this.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Nikon D750 preview

Well, I was really hoping that Nikon was going to surprise me with a D4 sensor in a D810 compact pro body, but as I mentioned before in my Nikon Df review Nikon would never do that again. Basically Nikon got everyone all psyched up for the D750, which sounded like the D700 replacement and let us down with what is basically a D620.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of really good upgrades such as a tilt-screen, better video, the amazing D4s 51-point AF system, highlight-weighted metering, Expeed 4, power aperture in Live View and more, but they jammed it into a consumer body with a non-pro build and an awkward layout (if you're used to the pro bodies). If you're advancing up through the D7000-D600 series cameras you're going to be right at home, so for many folks this body will be great as an upgrade camera or as a complementary camera to a D600/610.

For those of us who are really used to the D700/D800 style bodies this was a pretty big miss from Nikon. Things we're missing on a real D700 replacement are dedicated ISO/QUAL/WB/BKT top mounted buttons, a full magnesium alloy body, a body that's a little larger for a nice solid grip that doesn't cramp your hands when shooting for extended periods. A mode button that only has PSAM and none of the scene and effects modes that most pros and advanced shooters find unnecessary. And very importantly a camera that was killer in low light with a fast frame rate of 8fps or better.

Looking at the D750 as a whole it's a really great camera, but the D750 is what the D600 should have been in the first place. And after all of the D600 issues and the quick "upgrade" to D610 I think Nikon is simply trying to bury the stigma of the D600 moniker by laying it to rest and trying to associate it with one of their best cameras, the D700.

It looks like there will be no lightweight alternative to the D4s, but I knew that all along, but didn't want to believe it.

We're still an hour away from the official release, but photos and an official Nikon video have been leaked already. Check 'em out below.

Edit: Official specs have leaked as well:
  • Tilt the screen, including a change in the diaphragm in the live view mode, Wi-Fi, and D610
  • Size: 5.5 "x 4.4" x 3.1 "(139.7 x 111.76 x 78.74mm)
  • Weight: 1 lb 10.5 oz (751.26g)
  • 24.3 megapixel FX CMOS sensor specifications
  • EXPEED 4 Image Processor
  • 1080p 24/25/30/50 / 60p
  • Recording ISO, shutter speed, and aperture manually control
  • Uncompressed HDMI (8-bit 4: 2: 2)
  • Flat profile picture
  • ISO 100-12,800 (Lo 1 is ISO 50 plus (?), Hi 1 and 2 up to ISO 51,200)
  • 91K RGB metering, center-weighted metering / Spot metering / highlights weighted metering
  • Advanced Scene Recognition System
  • Group area AF
  • 6.5 fps at full resolution
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Eye-Fi card support
  • Image transmission over wired communication unit transmits the UT-1 through 5 WT-radio transmitters Wireless Image / Ethernet
  • Body separately $ 2300 / $ 3596 basic lens kit

The Nikon D750 from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the DSLR and Love Photography Again. Or, My Journey Into the World of Rangefinders

I bought an M8 about almost 2 years ago and not too long after that an M9-P, then a Leica IIIf, then a Zeiss Ikon. Obviously I've become hooked on rangefinder photography.

I used to be a diehard DSLR user. I loved my big fast pro full-frame cameras with the big-ass f/2.8 pro zooms. I walked around looking like a pro and feeling like a pro even when I wasn't shooting as a pro. Eventually carrying around big ol' pro cameras got tiresome and I started leaving my camera at home. When the D3 and the D700 were announced I made the comparisons, and like many others and decided to go for the D700 because it was 90% of the D3 and I could use a grip or not, thus reducing camera size if I wanted to. This worked for awhile, but I still had those big pro lenses to lug around. Even the primes were relatively big, and after awhile, once again I quit bringing my cameras out unless I was working.

Of course while writing the Nikon Digital Field Guides I often carried around small DSLRs and they were great for a lot of things, but with those I found find menu diving to change key settings could be quite tedious. Although I really liked many of those cameras I ended up being more annoyed when I brought my camera everywhere so I just stopped.

I realized I needed something even smaller and much simpler to bring with me all the time so that I could still take photos for enjoyment, because that's why I became a photographer. It was my passion. But I have never liked the way compact cameras worked, looking at the LCD, slow focus, etc, so it was never really an option. (I did, however, end up with a Nikon P5000 that had a little rangefinder-esque window that I still use once in awhile)

I'd always been lured by the mystique of the Leica and I knew there was no way in hell I could justifiably afford one, so the idea of getting a small camera with great quality was pretty much out of mind. Until Fuji came out with the X100. Now there was a camera I could get into. It had the classic look, it had a magical hybrid viewfinder that was unique, the IQ was great. I thought I found my camera. The perfect marriage of the digital and film camera world. Until I used it. The IQ was great, but it wasn't as responsive as I needed it to be or had become used to. Also being stuck at a 35mm equivalent wasn't entirely awesome either. The X-Pro1 camera out. Again, I thought here's what I've been looking for. You can change lenses it's bigger so it handles nice, but not too big. I can use LEICA lenses on it! It'll be a poor man's Leica! Nope. Had many of the same issues as the X100. So I sold it. Then came a firmware update and I was wooed by all the Fuji sites claiming how much better it was. I bought another. Still wasn't great. And I did buy a Leica lens to use with it. A 50mm Summilux. But, the thing I liked about the X-Pro1 was the OVF and that was gone with the use of a MF lens. The hybrid viewfinder was cluttered and distracting. I found myself getting irritated with the camera and I knew that this was not the zen camera I was looking for.  In the end the Fuji X cameras didn't work for me. This isn't an anti-Fuji rant. Fuji makes great cameras. They are innovative, they are concerned with their customer satisfaction, they have great image quality. They just didn't fit with what I needed.

I knew deep down all along what I needed was a real rangefinder. Something that stripped photography back to the basics. But I still wanted the instantaneousness of digital. I knew I needed a Leica. It wasn't necessarily because I needed the Leica name, but because Leica was, and still is, the only manufacturer of REAL digital rangefinders. With the return of the X-Pro1 I had almost $2000 and that was all I could spend and I was pretty hesitant about forking over a lot of cash for a 7 year old camera that was actually lower performing than other cameras in the same age bracket. I also didn't have the money for an M ($7000), or M-E ($5450), or even a well-used M9 ($4000). So the only real option was an M8. I bought a used M8 with a Voigtländer 28mm Ultron f/2 for about $2500 and the adventure was on. My main concern was that I was going to get bored with the camera because it had no autofocus. I'll admit, I had become pretty lazy since switching to digital. I relied on all of the bells and whistles and was worried if all that stuff was gone that maybe I wouldn't be able to capture every image that I was after and I was going to be frustrated. 

But a funny thing happened, after I started shooting with the M8 I stopped caring as much about capturing each and every image I saw from every different angle and I became more involved with the process of taking the photo. The end result is that because the process is a little more difficult when I nail a shot it's much more satisfying. Knowing that I did all the work, from the exposure settings to the focus and the composition makes me happier than when I get a shot from a DSLR because the DSLR did most of the work.

There are a number of different reasons why I find rangefinders are great for photography. 

Split image patch. Like the old SLRs the rangerfinder has a split-image that comes together when the focus is on. Even if your eyesight is a little blurry you can tell that it's in focus. Coincidentally this rangefinder technique is very similar to how a DSLR focuses using Phase-detect focusing. A beam splitter behind the mirror splits the images and when the AF detects they are in phase (in-line like the rangefinder) it's in focus. 

No light loss in the viewfinder. In a rangefinder you have a couple of pieces of optical glass separating your eye from the real world. It's always as bright as the scene. D/SLRs light goes through all lens elements bounces off a semi-translucent mirror then is reflected 5 times by the pentaprism or pentamirror before going to your eye. There's light lost in that process. Plus the brightness of the viewfinder depends on the speed of the lens. Unfortunately with DSLR's a fast lens like the 50mm f/1.2 makes the finder bright, but also makes it harder to focus unless you have eagle eyes. 

More than 100% viewfinder coverage. The D/SLR camera viewfinder shows you what the lens sees. Pro cameras have 100% viewfinders but less expensive cameras like the D5200 only show about 95%. You can't see what's going on outside the frame. With a rangefinder the viewfinder is separate from the lens. It's a constant size and no matter what focal length you're using you can see outside the framelines. Wider lenses give you less leeway, but there is always some space around it. 

No mirror. No mirror has a few benefits. When the shutter is released on a DSLR the mirror flips up and out of the way before the shutter curtain opens. This causes a blackout in the viewfinder so you never actually seethe moment you captured until you review it. With a rangefinder you can see exactly what happens as you hear that shutter click. Having no mirror also means less vibration and the rangefinder camera also being smaller means you can handhold slower than the usual 1/focal length rule. I can easily hand hold about a stop slower and with support (like leaning against a pole) I can sometimes get two stops maybe more. It also makes the camera quieter. The newer digital rangefinders aren't as quiet as the old film cameras, but they don't make a big clack with the mirror. 

For DSLRs autofocus is the way of life. That's one of the reasons why the DSLRs don't use special focus screens. People don't manual focus much. Some pro cameras can have the focus screens swapped out, but the problem is that there are few companies that offer these screens and the most respected one is going out of business. There's a Chinese company that has some screens to order, but who knows if they're good or accurate? In any case the D5200 doesn't have the option to swap screens. 

Rangefinder aren't the perfect camera for everything, but they are good for the reasons I stated above plus more. It's definitely not a type of camera that everyone falls in love with. Many people just don't like them. Kinda like I don't care for mirrorless EVF cameras. They aren't bad, but they don't work for me. But, despite some of the limitations of rangefinder camera I have managed to photograph just about every different type of subject: portraits, products, landscapes, architecture, live music and even sports!

If you ever get a chance to try one out, I encourage you to do so. You may not like it, or you may fall in love with it. 

To be 100% honest, if I didn't make a living doing photography I'd probably sell all of my DSLR gear and shoot only with a rangefinder camera.