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Monday, January 30, 2006

Currently at MoMA: John Szarkowski Photographs

It's rather odd, but John Szarkowski is a photographer.

Odd, because the 30-year Director of the Photography Department at the Museum of Modern Art is one of the most influential curators in photography's history, and one of the best writers ever to turn his hand to the subject.

As an artist, the more-or-less 80-year-old Szarkowski jokes, he's had an early period and a late period, and he intends to get started on his middle period soon.

It should go without saying that he has a good eye. Well, he does. And he's been resolutely shooting film with large cameras in the 15 years since he retired—his late period—and, I would suspect, having the prints made under his direction by the best custom printers. (I doubt he does his own printing.)

It should also go without saying that he knows how to put together a show. Well, he does. So you take a good eye, big negs, expert printing, in beautiful frames, ordered intelligently on gallery walls...I just can't see how any photographer wouldn't enjoy seeing this. Although not in the essential category, it's definitely the kind of show you really have to see firsthand to appreciate. I saw it in Milwaukee when it visited the Calatrava addition, and was even a little surprised by how eye-pleasing it was. John Szarkowski, photographer—who knew?

What: John Szarkowski, Photographs

When: February 1st to May 15th, 2006.

Where: Third floor photography galleries, The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St., New York, NY.


There's even a nice book that shows off the pictures with reasonable fidelity.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hooked and Cooked

This is probably just a coincidence, but I happened to come across three remarkably similar statements from three different photographers in recent days, one of them a highly accomplished professional. Distilled to their essence, what each photographer said was, "Just one more digital camera upgrade, and I'm done."

I don't know how many people out there don't know this, but if you've been having similar thoughts, good luck on that there, bubba. Digital is great and all, but once you're on the merry-go-round, you're on it. There's never gonna be one last upgrade—for cameras any more than computers or operating systems. That ain't the land you live in now. This is the Hotel California. You're hooked, you're cooked.


Saturday, January 28, 2006


Well, it's almost February, and we all know what February means for those of us who care about photography—it's time for THE BIG SHOW! Every year about this time, the year's largest photo show in North America rolls around. Always cause for excitement and anticipation.

And if you think we're talking about the PMA show, well, of course we aren't! Who the heck wants to spend a whole weekend stumbling around looking at mind-numbing piles of cookie-cutter digicams, tripods, photo albums, inkjet printers and on and on, unless you're being paid to do it? I've got one word for gear shows: borrrrrrr-ing! There's almost nothing to look at.

The same cannot be said of THE BIG SHOW: I speak, of course, of the annual AIPAD show in New Yawk Citay, where more than 80 photography dealers from around the world gather to show off loads and loads of their best stuff. Vintage and contemporary photography abounds, you can rub elbows with famous museum curators, and you might even run in to celebrity photography collectors like Michael Stipe of R.E.M. or Graham Nash. There's no better place for getting a quick handle on who's hot and who's not in the world of art photography.

It's in new digs this year, too. Here's the complete skinny:

The Photography Show 2006
February 10th–2th
7th Regiment Armory, Park Avenue & 67th Street, New York City
Celebrating 26 Years as The World's Premiere Exposition Devoted to Fine Art Photography

THE PHOTOGRAPHY SHOW 2006, sponsored by AIPAD (Association of International Photography Art Dealers) features 83 international exhibitors. Now in its 26th year, THE PHOTOGRAPHY SHOW is the world's premiere exposition of vintage and contemporary fine art photography.

Open to the public:
February 10th & 11th: 12 Noon to 7pm
February 12th: 12 Noon to 6pm
Ticket Price: $30 Three days; $20 One day

Skip PMA—take my word for it, there's nothing there but a bunch of equipment.


Steve's Digicams Posts Evolt E-330 First Look

"The Olympus EVOLT E-330 is the world's first interchangeable lens digital SLR to offer a true "Live View" image on the LCD screen, in addition to the optical viewfinder. The design of a normal DSLR camera is such that the mirror remains down, blocking the image sensor, until the moment of exposure. This does not allow for the use of the LCD for framing as it has nothing to display. Olympus took the unique design of their E-300 and went a step farther including a preview CCD imager in its optical viewfinder. In addition, the E-330's LCD is “articulated” it can extend out from the camera body and swivel downward or upward so the camera can be held overhead to shoot over a crowd, or held at the hip or even placed on the ground – something that’s not possible with a traditional SLR. And for critical work the B-mode function of the Live View system locks the mirror up and the LCD image is generated directly from the Live MOS image sensor itself."



Friday, January 27, 2006

Predictions By Thom

One of the things I find most annoying about the internet information democracy is the prevalence of photography business and camera market pontifications and prognostications. The DPReview forums are the worst, but probably only because they're the biggest. Having been in the industry a while and on its fringes for a while longer, it's easy for me to see that most such noise is lame, uninformed, derivative, or just plain idiotic. The percentage of "eye-rollers" is high, and I don't even find the true howlers entertaining. It just fosters rumors and feeds misinformation and presents a confused picture of a complicated and volatile industry to people who don't know better.

One bright, shiny exception comes in the form of Thom Hogan's annual predictions. Not only does this guy brazenly predict the marketplace, but he's correct an impressive percentage of the time. Even when he misses, his analyses are good—and almost always fun to read.

I'm late off the mark bringing these to your attention—they came online in finalized form a week or so ago—but Thom's 2006 Predictions are here. A good read amidst the noise and haste, as usual.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Daylight Darkroom

Speaking of hybrid techniques, as I was in the previous post, I'm starting to think Epson's Perfection 4990 Photo Scanner may well be the #1 photographic accessory for film photographers. (And digital photographers who used to shoot film, too.) According to all the reviews I can find (the best seem to be Vincent Oliver's—you'll have to follow the links yourself—and Ken Rockwell's), it seems to be one of those quiet landmark products that serve a genuine need and really do work better than any of us has a right to expect.

The trick seems to be that Epson has made this scanner focus just a wee skosh above the top surface of the scanner glass—not enough to degrade paper scans, but enough to improve critical focus on negatives and transparencies. As a result, the scanner comes very close to the quality of much more expensive dedicated film scanners. From all reports, the thing is good enough to scan even 35mm negatives well enough to make good-looking prints, as long as you don't expect miracles. For proofing film and making very large digital files out of bigger negs and trannies, it seems to be the uber-scanner. Check out the user comments on Amazon (first link, above) for some insight on usability and ease of operation. Prepare to be impressed.

I've always thought the common term "digital darkroom" was maybe a bit addled. Strictly speaking, what would you do with a digital file in a real darkroom? But when you can replace the whole darkroom with a device the size of a baking pan to print big negatives and proof small ones, you've got something that does deserve a name, all right. "Daylight darkroom," maybe? I think I'm going to have to save my pfennigs.


Featured Comment: T.O.P. blog contributor David Emerick says: "I certainly love mine!"

One Very Sophisticated Hybrid Technique

Large format aficionado and all-round raconteur Jim Galli never met a brassie he didn't like. Preparing to sell an ancient B&J Ajax ƒ/5 Petzval portrait lens (right) on eBay, he found he needed some quick samples of what the old lens could do. So, short on time and film, he did what any true photo-dog would do—improvised! Jim loaded an 8x10 camera with some 8x10 paper—yes, paper, Polycontrast RC—and made some quick still lifes. He developed and dried the paper, scanned the pics, reversed the tones digitally, and voilá! A quick pic of some old boots, among other things. Now how's that for a film-digital hybrid technique? If you look closely, you can see the Polycontrast filter Jim stuck into the old lens to lower the picture contrast.

That's Jim up top, in the driver's seat of his friend Glen's black 1940 Ford. That one was taken with a Kodak 2D and a 12 3/4" Cooke Portrellic Series IIb ƒ/4.5 diffusion control lens, wide open. (Click on the pictures to see them larger.)

If you're ever feeling put-upon by pixel-peeping, computer bugaboos, or digi-details, and you just want to be reminded of how photography can be fun, make a visit to Jim Galli's web site. The good-natured enthusiasm that spills off of every page will bring a smile.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bokeh—What It Is

To my post "Fame" the other day, chas3stix wrote, "Okay, so what the heck is bokeh? It's not in the Merriams online dictionary...," and donovanco said, "I first ran across the term 'bokeh' in the Leica-oriented magazine, LFI. I assumed it was some obscure German term. LFI articles on it assume that readers know the meaning of the word."

Since I did have a little to do with it (albeit very little, as you'll see), I thought I'd take a moment to offer a definition. It's a Japanese term, written with two characters in Kanji, previously romanized as "bo-ke" or boke. In written English it should be italicized as a foreign word. In 1997 I commissioned three articles about it for Photo Techniques, one by John Kennerdell about its aesthetic implications, one by Oren Grad about its terminology, and one by Harold Merklinger about its technical underpinnings. The latter is available on the web as a downloadable .PDF.

As the issue with the three articles was about to go to press, more or less on a whim I changed the spelling of the romanized word to "bokeh." It's properly pronounced in two syllables, equally stressed, with "bo" as in bone and "ke" as in Kenneth—quite similiar to "bouquet," actually, except that the last sound is more of a an eh and not so much an ay. I'd been troubled by the widespread punning on the CompuServe Photography Forum, where posters kept assuming that it rhymed with "toke" or "bloke." I figured the H at the end would help our readers pronounce it more accurately.

This had a fascinating and (by me, anyway) unforeseen effect: the H acted as a sort of "tag" on the word, like a naturalist's band on the leg of a bird. Early on, a web search for "bokeh" resulted in 35 hits; by the end of the shelf-life of our May/June 1997 issue, the hits were up to well over 1,200. Along the way, I was able to quietly monitor peoples' reactions and comments to our articles, all over the internet. A quick check on Google just now yielded 173,000 results, including a number of articles by some of the usual web gurus explaining the term, the best one of which is probably the probitous and well-illustrated one by Paul van Walree, here. The term, with its tag, has by now been included in camera brochures and advertisements and even books.

As with so many aspects of photographic technique, I went through a period of obsession with it. I'm over that now—just as I'm over my obsessions with sharpness, resolution, shadow detail, developer formulations, format, etc., etc. ad infinitum....

The Japanese word means, roughly, "blur," and, actually, I often say "blur" now instead of bokeh. The Japanese word is a general one, and has many different but related applications, one of which is "fuzzy in the head," as might be said of forgetful elderly people. As a photographic term it simply refers to the blur of objects out of the depth of field. I've been told that photographic blur would most likely be referred to as "bokeh-aji," which literally means "taste of blur."

As with any photographic effect, there are all sorts of slight differences in the way lenses render out-of-d.o.f. blur. What type one prefers is naturally a matter of taste, but if you're interested, I've rated more than 50 different lenses for bokeh "quality" in a .PDF handout you can download for free at my bookstore. (Click the "My bookstore" button in the left column.)


Monday, January 23, 2006

Funny Thing...

I finally posted my friend's museum quality Leica on eBay yesterday, and it's made me notice something that I think is pretty funny. I've always known that I like pictures better than cameras, but it may also be true that I like pictures of cameras better than cameras, too.

I know, I'm weird.


Alex Mustard Underwater

There's a very good new article at Rob Galbraith's site about using the Nikon D2X digital SLR underwater. Here, clipped from the middle of the article, is a bit about the photographer:

"Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Mustard, now 30, began taking pictures underwater before he was in his teens, hoping to show his family, who were mostly indifferent to the sea, the amazingly cool stuff he was discovering in the water. He even tried to take a camera on his scuba certification dive, which he made when he was fourteen, but this plan was rejected as a bit presumptuous.

"In his early twenties, while still in college studying marine biology, Mustard began publishing images, and his work has now appeared in more than 30 magazines and newspapers around the world. His stock photography is marketed by a U.K. agency called Oceans Image Pictures. He shot much of the wildlife section of a 2004 book on camouflage called DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material. And in February 2006, Ultimate Sports Publications will publish Mustard's first solo photo book, The Art of Diving, a celebration of the activity of diving with text by author Nick Hanna. Mustard also frequently gives lectures and teaches field seminars on digital underwater photography."

Don't miss the article.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

One for the Cultural Anthropologists

The major Japanese 35mm camera manufacturers have often assigned different model designations to the low-end and midrange camera models that sell in large numbers in different markets, to help them maintain control over distribution channels. If a Nikon F801 showed up on the shelves of a Brooklyn retailer, you knew at a glance who was dealing in gray-market merchandise.

This little game became more interesting when, in place of the traditional techie-sounding letters and numbers, Canon started to give its cameras real names linked to its marketing themes. In the United States, the low-end EOS SLR became the Rebel: just the sort of macho camera a sweaty, unshaven Andre Agassi would grab to snap some victory pics after demolishing his opponent on the tennis court. But in Japan, the land of cute, and a place where low-end SLRs are often marketed as women's cameras, the very same product became the Rebel's polar opposite: the Kiss. In Europe, alas, Canon stuck with the numbers and letters. Perhaps one of The Online Photographer's European readers can enlighten us as to the cultural implications of that.

Minolta did the same sort of thing, branding its low-end autofocus SLRs as "Sweet" in Japan. Now that Sony is taking over the remnants of Konica Minolta's camera business, perhaps there's a "Sony Sweet" SLR just around the corner....

PS: In one of the more bizarre pieces of cultural fusion I've seen in a while, the current Canon marketing campaign for the Kiss Digital N in Japan has taken the "Kiss" theme to what may be its logical conclusion; at least, it's hard to imagine where else they could go from here. See for yourself. (If the animation doesn't work on your computer, you can still get the idea from the banner here.)

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Featured Comment: Eolake writes, "I've actually often thought that I'd like more imaginative camera names than DS-20045s or LZ-5x. But on the other hand, if the the alternative is 'Kiss' or 'Rebel,' maybe not."

Sony plans digital SLR launch in mid-year

"Sony Corp. is on track to launch its first digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera in the middle of this year, a company executive said Friday.

"The camera will be available in the summer in Japan, and soon after in other markets, said Yutaka Nakagawa, an executive vice president of Sony and president of its digital imaging business group. Sony is hoping to eventually achieve a market share of around 20 percent of the digital SLR market, he said.

"Sony started developing the camera with Konica Minolta Photo Imaging Inc. last year and on Thursday the two companies agreed to transfer digital SLR-related technologies from Konica Minolta to Sony as part of the former’s departure from the photo business."
Martyn Williams, IDG News Service




"I blame Mike Johnston for the bokeh craze. He deserves the credit or blame for popularizing the concept in the U.S. Had I not read his writings about bokeh years ago on the CompuServe photo forum I might never have cared. Now it's like that funny noise your car makes that everyone else claims they can't hear."
—Lex ("perpendicularity consultant") Jenkins, on the Nikon Forum


$27,000 Digital "Almost As Good" as Film

Calf Creek Fall, Escalante, Utah, by Charles Cramer

I have a lot of respect for Charles Cramer, both as a photographer and as a photographic craftsman. In fact, I selected one of his pictures for a magazine cover, back when I was an editor. It was a beautiful dye transfer print of the waterfall picture above, and it became one of my favorite covers.

Charles (I called him Charlie, although I don't know him personally so I'm not certain what he really prefers) has just posted a fascinating comparison at Luminous Landscape, a shootout between the awesome new Phase One P45 39-megapixel back and 4x5" film. He concludes that the P45 is very nearly as good as scanned 4x5" film.

I have a principle I call "the confluence rule." What I've noticed is that the closer two of anything are to each other, the more people tend to work to discriminate between them, and the more passionate their arguments become about which is "best." This is backwards, in my opinion. To me, the closer two of anything are to each other—the more confluent they are—the less it matters which one you choose.

So when Charlie rightly concludes that nobody will know the difference from prints, I agree. Thus he's chosen to go the Phase One route himself, citing the usual advantages: immediate feedback, elimination of the need for processing and scanning, and the ability to shoot more with less cost.

Um, less cost? This is a digital shibboleth, it seems to me. I've made the argument myself, so don't think I'm firmly in the film camp. Ninety per cent of pros now shoot digital, and its advantages are plain. But, counting everything, I've spent more on digital in three years than I spent on film and equipment in any ten-year period. A P45 back may be the bee's knees—I have little doubt—but it costs as much as a nice new car, and it will be obsolete in five or ten years, whereas you can buy a very nice view camera outfit for 1/1oth as much money and it will last for decades (Joel Meyerowitz shoots with an 8x10 Deardorff made in 1938, the year he was born).

All that, and just slightly better image quality, too. Still not a clear choice.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Michael Golembewski's Magic Lantern

"This image captures the essence of a hangover. It was taken at the ATP festival bar on the last morning, and they look like I felt—it had been a crazy three days." Taken by Michael Golembewski with the Magic Lantern Scanner Camera (right).

There are some really wacky pages on the web, and the "95% of everything is crap" rule certainly holds. But the occasional exception can be fascinating, educational, entertaining, even brilliant.

All these words describe Michael Golembewski's Scanner Photography Project. Golembewski, who calls himself an "artist and interaction designer," makes his own digital cameras (he's made ten or so) by combining old film cameras with the guts of cheap flatbed scanners. That's interesting enough, but what's far more fascinating is what happens when he uses the cameras. Moving objects and the motion of the scanner sensor create "distortions are similar to the effect created by moving a sheet on a photocopier mid-copy, except that they extend into three dimensions and only effect objects in motion." People morph into strange globs or acquire extra heads; cars and trucks are abbreviated to narrow posts in the middle of the street. The effects are odd, disturbing, and not infrequently beautiful.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (Thanks to Bob B.)

Konica-Minolta Bows Out

Above: First a Minolta, soon a Sony: The 7D DSLR; Below: Konica Hexar, 1992

As the latest casualty in the ongoing attrition of world photographic suppliers, Konica-Minolta has announced its withdrawal from the camera and photo market. You can read the press release here.

Last July, it was announced that Konica-Minolta and Sony Corp. would "co-operate" on the development of digital SLRs. Evidently, what has happened since then is a negotiation to determine how K-M's DSLR products will be transferred to Sony, which apparently intends to carry on using the Maxxum lensmount. To my reading of the press materials, it seems K-M will continue producing the 7D and 5D DSLRs for Sony at least for the immediate future. Sony will take over servicing of existing K-M cameras and related equipment on April 1.

The proximate cause is that K-M's camera business fell from 117,000 million yen to 75,000 million yen in fiscal 2005-6, with a loss of 7,300 million yen; the strategic thinking seems to be that K-M feels it cannot compete without making its own sensors.

Konica-Minolta was formed in August 2003 with Konica's purchase of Minolta.

Kazuo Tajima established Nichi-Doku Shashinki Shoten ("Japan-Germany Photo Company," the precursor of Minolta), in 1928. Long known as a maker of popular consumer cameras, Minolta's biggest accomplishment was arguably its early championing of, and achievements in, the use of autofocus, in the 1980s. Minolta forged a relationship with Leica beginning in 1972, which cooled markedly several years later (the joke at the time was that "Alpa produces in a year what Leica produces in a day, and Leica produces in a year what Minolta produces in a day.") Minolta was dealt a severe blow in the 1990s when it lost a series of patent lawsuits to Honeywell, with burdensome financial consequences.

The oldest camera manufacturer in Japan, Konica traced its history all the way back to 1873 when pharmacist Rokusaburo Sugiura began selling photographic materials at his store. It produced the first photographic paper and also the first color film in Japan, and in the years following 1960 was a major SLR maker. Faltering in the transition to "Wunderplastik" cameras (i.e. electronic, polycarbonate-bodied cameras with integral motors), it ceased SLR production in 1989, but introduced the famous and popular Hexar—essentially a modernized, fixed lens point-and-shoot very similar in size and operation to a Leica M—three years later. In the 1970s, Konica lenses were thought of within Japan as the best optically of all Japanese lenses; its last lenses, M-Hexanons in Leica bayonet mount for its ill-fated Hexar RF, honorably upheld that tradition.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pure Art

I guess it's camera and lens day at T.O.P., but isn't this pretty? I'm going to be listing this on eBay later today, if I can get all the rest of my work done. I'm selling it for a friend. There is simply no description for this combo other than "Museum Quality"—both camera and lens are perfect, flawless, absolutely mint, inside and out. It's a pleasure just having these on my desk this morning. I hate calling things "mint" if they're not coins, but, as the owner says, "The only M4s and collapsible 50 'Crons in as good condition as these are in bank vaults in Japan."

The camera just had a CLA, too, to take care of any stiffness in its joints.

Just as many photographs aren't art, a few cameras are. This particular M4 really belongs in the design collection at MoMA.

Click on the image to see it larger. A sight to warm the heart of any camera geek, and beyond.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Zeiss ZF Lenses: It's Official

After tedious weeks of teasers, the word is finally official: Carl Zeiss will provide some of its 35mm lenses in Nikon F-mount. It will also commence distributing them itself.

'Kay. Good.

I'm a bit underwhelmed by the big rollout, though. We've been promised a mere two lenses, the 50mm ƒ/1.4 and the 85mm ƒ/1.4 Planars, due by summer. These are the same lenses that were long available for the Contax/Yashica system, and the same two were among those that Zeiss ported to Contax's short-lived AF line. The 85mm is a great lens, and justly famous, but on a Nikon DSLR the angle of view will be closest to that of a 135mm lens. Do Nikon photographers really need a very fast manual-focusing 135mm for their DSLRs? The 50mm has very high resolution at infinity, but is let down for general shooting by uneven out-of-focus behavior at closer distances and wider apertures. Leica, Canon, and Pentax make better 50mm ƒ/1.4s.

Anyway, unless I'm mistaken, these lenses date from the days of the Zeiss Contarex (you're dating yourself if you've ever heard of that)...or at least from the announcement of the Zeiss-Yashica cooperation in 1972. Cosina will be building the lenses in Japan; unlike some xenophobic photographers, I have no problem with that part—there's no magic to lenses built in Oberkochen by German speakers. A good lens is a good lens. It does seem to me, however, that if Zeiss is going to make such a big wanking deal about its design and QC expertise, maybe it ought to buckle down and design a few new lenses for the APS-C sensor size Nikon is committed to. I'd suggest set of a 14mm, 16mm, 20mm, and 26mm ƒ/2's. Now those would be useful, and provide an extra dimension of advantage to getting into the F-mount in the digital era.

More ZF lenses are promised for Photokina in September—a "handful," quote-unquote. Is that good, as in "a whole handful," or bad, as in "no more than a handful"? Let's hope they're not all re-warmed Contax primes—it's a new age, after all. Put those lens designers to work, CZ.


Austin Powers Meets Monte Zucker

Wedding photography can be a grim business, which is why the world needs derekpyephotography, online home of the “multi-award-winning” Derek Pye. “It is generally accepted that I am the best wedding photographer working in the U.K. today,” says Mr. Pye—to hell with false modesty—and indeed even the briefest look at his portfolios, diary, and tips makes it clear that this is no ordinary artist of the lens.

In one of many fascinating glimpses into Derek’s dashing lifestyle, we see that even top pros occasionally drop the ball: “If anyone at the wedding of Yetunde and Danjuma last Saturday at Peckham registry office has found a small black pouch containing several 512MB compact flash cards please return to me ASAP. Please do not erase the cards!”

Visitor comments seem evenly split between fawning praise and, well, otherwise: “You are a moron . . . abysmal standards . . . deserve horsewhipping” etc. Genius or charlatan? You be the judge.


Monday, January 16, 2006

The Bright Daybreak of Peace

"Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."

Martin Luther King Jr., 1964

The picture is by Miami-based photographer Flip Schulke, best known for his chronicles of the Civil Rights movement, who accompanied Dr. King for ten years until his assassination.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Favorite Photo Books: The Donegal Pictures

In photography as in so many other things, sometimes you have to stray off the beaten path to find the really good stuff. Meander through the catalog of the Wake Forest University Press, a small publisher that specializes in Irish poetry, and you will come across a well-hidden jewel: The Donegal Pictures by Rachel Brown (formerly Rachel Giese). These are quiet, beautifully-seen black-and-white photographs that have grown on me over the years, to the point where I can't imagine being without them.

Rachel Brown has a website now as well. You can preview some of The Donegal Pictures here.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Winter's Morning

"Three Trees, South Strafford, Vermont, 1981," by John Lehet.

Just in case there is no snow where you find yourself this morning.


Apprentice—er, Assistant—Newsletter

There's still only one best way to become a commercial photographer. It's a system that has been around for longer than photography has—since the Middle Ages, at least. You become an apprentice.

In photography, of course, it's called "assisting." Although I've heard there are full-time, permanent, top-level assistants in New York, Toronto, and Milan, most assistants are serving their time learning the business prior to striking out on their own.'s photo assistant newsletter has just cleared its database of non-functioning e-mail addresses. So if you're an assistant (or just interested in becoming one someday) and haven't gotten yours recently, or would like to sign up to receive it, head over there and update your info. It's free.


Macbook Pro First Look: Rob Galbraith

Rob Galbraith has published a first look at the Macbook Pro on his Digital Photography Insights website.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Chip Story: The Intel Mac FAQ, 2006 edition

What you need to know about the transition to Intel chips
By Jason Snell, Macworld

In June 2005, Steve Jobs announced that the Mac would be leaving the PowerPC chip behind for a new generation of Mac systems based on processors made by Intel. For longtime Mac users, that announcement was a psychological shock—half of the former Wintel “evil empire” was now playing on our team. And for Mac developers, the announcement was like the shot from a starting gun: it was time to begin the race to make their programs compatible with Intel processors.

Back then, there were lots of questions about the Intel transition—and precious few answers. Fortunately, now that it’s 2006, the details of the move to Intel are beginning to come into focus. We’ve got our first two Intel Mac systems, the first official Intel-native release of Mac OS X, and even a new Intel chip technology—Core Duo—powering things behind the scenes. As a result, we know much more about the Intel transition—and so should you.

Here, in handy question-and-answer form, is what you need to know about the current state of the Intel-Mac marriage....



Bargain Baseball Book

I like old photographs, and I like looking for them outside of the narrow pantheon of museum-approved art photography names. If you share either of these predilictions, you might want to pick up a current bargain book, Neal McCabe's Baseball's Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon, for a mere $8.50, marked down from $20. That is, if you like baseball.

Conlon's most famous photograph is also one of baseball's most famous, "Ty Cobb Stealing Third," seen above in a cropped state. To see some of the Conlon pictures without buying the book, Sporting News has a Conlon Gallery page online—but the scans are pretty poor.

Conlon, called "the greatest baseball photographer of his era," wasn't a professional photographer. He was a proofreader, for the New York World-Telegraph. That was his day job. Photography was his hobby (!). A quote of Charley Conlon's I just love is his description of how he got into his line of work: "[John B. Foster, Sports Editor of the World-Telegraph] said to me one day, 'Charley, they need pictures of ball players for the Guide and there is no reason why you can't take picures of players, as well as pictures of landscapes. It will be a good pickup for you, and it will be something for a day off.' "

Thus were legends born, in olden days.


Sic Transit Nikon FM3A

Nikon's retreat from the film camera market will have no direct impact on me—I sold my Nikon 35mm gear years ago, when it became clear that Nikkor glass and I did not get along. Still, I can't help noting the passing of one Nikon product in particular, the FM3A. A seemingly unremarkable camera on its face—a manual-focus SLR with exposure modes limited to aperture-priority AE along with full manual metering—the FM3A is distinguished by one truly unique feature: a remarkable switch-hitting shutter that provides a full range of speeds from 1 second to 1/4000 even if the batteries die.

Thirty-odd years ago, when I was getting started in photography, AE SLRs were a relatively new development. Those cameras that offered aperture-priority AE, in particular, did so at the price of dependency on electronically-governed shutters, in contrast to the purely mechanical devices that were still prevalent at the time. The battery-dependence of these shutters was widely considered a weakness, especially in cameras intended for professional use: what would happen if the batteries failed in the field, in the middle of a shooting session? "Change the batteries" was a reasonable response, just as "change the film" would be to reaching the end of the roll. But still, fumbling with those little button batteries and screw caps on the fly was at the very least a nuisance, especially if things were hopping.

Pentax was the first to address this problem directly in its LX professional system camera of 1980—still my favorite SLR of all time. Although it included an aperture-priority AE mode, the LX delivered it through a hybrid electro-mechanical shutter in which the manual speeds B and 1/75 through 1/2000 were governed mechanically, while manual speeds from 4s through 1/60 were governed electronically. Thus, if the batteries died, under most conditions the photographer could just keep on working without missing a beat, until conditions were congenial to start fiddling with the batteries. The Canon New F-1, which reached the market shortly after the LX, offered a hybrid shutter as well, this time with a mechanical range of B and 1/90 through 1/2000. Unlike with the LX, to activate the mechanical speeds on the New F-1 you had to open the battery compartment and pry out the battery, defeating at least part of the advantage. Nevertheless, it was still a backstop worth having.

And there the matter rested. Evidently the market did not find these partial hybrids compelling, because nobody else followed suit. It wasn't until twenty-odd years later, after the entire Canon FD line had been discontinued in favor of the EOS AF line, and as the Pentax LX was nearing the end of its long run, that Nikon introduced the FM3A.

In terms of its feature set and general body design, the FM3A is essentially a cross between the earlier FM and FE series cameras, offering the mechanical shutter of the FM cameras along with the electronically-governed aperture-priority AE feature of the FE cameras. The trick to combining these was the introduction of a new, fully-hybrid shutter, which for the first time offered a complete range of mechanical speeds from 1s through 1/4000 in addition to the electronically-controlled AE speed range.

The FM3A represents the fulfillment of the hybrid shutter concept. It should have been a landmark camera, but it probably reached the market ten years past its time, and its introduction made only a modest splash. By 2000, professionals had long since made their peace with electronic shutters, in part due to the success of Nikon's own F3 camera in the 1980s and in part due to the acceptance of autofocus in the 1990s—and the market as a whole was on the brink of the digital revolution, which would render the whole notion of a battery-independent professional camera nonsensical.

But if I were a dedicated Nikon film camera user, I'd own one for sure. And if I hadn't gotten around to buying one yet, I'd do it now, before it's too late. With its lean, all-the-essentials-but-none-of-the-frills feature set packed into a compact, lightweight metal body, and a relatively attractive price in today's market, the FM3A is a robust, effective and cost-effective tool for the serious amateur or professional photographer. And we'll never see the likes of its fabulous but underappreciated hybrid shutter again.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nikon Cuts Back its Film Camera Business

Nikon has posted today on its Japanese website a statement announcing that due to market conditions, it will be cutting back substantially on the range of products it offers for film photography. Large-format lenses and enlarging lenses are to be discontinued, with further sales limited to remaining stocks. The 35mm film SLR line is to be cut back to only the F6 on the high end and the FM10 as an entry-level model. The only manual-focus 35mm-format lenses to remain in production are the 20/2.8 AIS, 24/2.8 AIS, 28/2.8 AIS, 35/1.4 AIS, 50/1.2 AIS, 50/1.4 AIS, 55/2.8 Micro AIS, 105/2.8 Micro AIS, and 85/2.8 PC-Micro D. Of course, because of the shared lens mount, the still-current AF Nikkors continue to provide an extensive line of compatible lenses for Nikon film camera bodies.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Black-and-White Watch

Since I'm a regular columnist for Black & White Photography magazine and a long-time black-and-white shooter, I'm always interested when mainstream media uses black-and-white for magazine covers, news stories, advertisements, or movies. This week's TIME magazine cover was shot by David Burnett.


Featured Comment: Robert says, "Interesting that on the same week Newsweek also used a B&W image on its cover."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

National Wildlife Winners

Photo by Hira Punjabi, Maharashtra, India: "On a frigid winter morning at India’s Tal Chappar animal sanctuary, Punjabi came upon two male blackbucks battling for dominance against a glowing backdrop of dust and light. The graceful animals, once overhunted, can now be seen in herds throughout India. Punjabi made the photograph with a 500mm telephoto lens."

The National Wildlife Federation's National Wildlife magazine announced the 2005 winners of its 35th annual photo contest in December; congratulations to the amateur photographer winners, chosen from 4,000 entrants. The website also has information for this year's contest.

You've got to see that crazy owl that won the Grand Prize....

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to Barb H.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Initial Requirements for Lightroom

Recommended system requirements for Lightroom are Macintosh OSX 10.4.3, 1GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 768 MB RAM and a 1024x768 resolution screen. (Mac Central)


And Who Needs a Stinkin' Tri-?

One reason you may not need no stinkin' ballhead is if you don't actually need a tripod. If you shoot only with small cameras (digital or 35mm), all you may need for occasional camera-support service is The Pod. For US$20 you get something I had been thinking for some time of cobbling together, namely a beanbag with a 1/4"-20 stud on it. A beanbag is the perfect travel tripod: strap the camera to the beanbag with a rubber band and hold the bag on or against a conveniently solid support—a wall, car door, your long-suffering wife's shoulder—and you get surprisingly good results at surprisingly long exposure times. The Pod now provides a secure connection between camera and bag, and should be just as portable as stud-less versions.


...But Read It!

My friend Michael Reichmann has posted an extensive "First Look" at Adobe Lightroom at his website The Luminous Landscape. It's an excellent article, both accessible and thorough (at least given the state of information about the new application right now).

It's also as close to a must-read as anything gets these days for photographers and enthusiasts. Between Lightroom and Aperture, the handwriting is on the wall once again—these programs (and full-featured RAW converter / file organization programs in general) are the wave of our future.

See also the short but valuable list of links at the bottom of the article.

Read it now, or read it later....


Adobe Unveils Lightroom Public Beta (Updated)

By Wayne J. Cosshall
SummaryProfessional photographers instrumental in developing new modular software to import, manage, develop, and showcase images

In the long-expected response to Apple's Aperture, Adobe has put out the public beta of Lightroom. Initially it is only for Mac but Windows will be supported, certainly by the time it ships.

Note that at the time of posting nothing is up on the Adobe site in the US about this.

In initial testing the software seems stable and a most interesting development. More as I do more testing.



Sunday, January 08, 2006

Why You Need to Study Japanese

...So you can read Japanese camera magazines, of course. If your idea of a popular photography magazine is Popular Photography, you have no idea what you're missing. The big Japanese camera monthlies, Nippon Camera and Asahi Camera, are telephone book-sized treasuries of photographic goodies, typically 250-350 glossy pages, most of which is actual content—the ad section in the back is relatively small. Whatever you like in a camera magazine—portfolios, exhibit news and reviews, industry news, equipment news and reviews, lab tests, classic-camera nostalgia, how-tos, reader photo contests—the Japanese monthlies have lots more and better of it than you'll find in anything stateside.

The best way to get hold of a copy of one of these in the US is through a Japanese bookstore here. I get my subscription to Nippon Camera through Sasuga Japanese Bookstore.

The January 2006 issue is chock full of the usual good stuff. On the toy end of things, the most fun is a feature displaying a funky collection of prototype and limited edition cameras, some of which I'd seen before but many of which were surprises. Methinks the highlight is a fabulous Olympus OM-system prototype. No, not the well-known OM-1 labeled "M-1" before Leica beat them up; this one's a Hasselblad-style modular mirror-box-plus-interchangeable-everything.

The superstar portfolio for the month is a set of color snaps of the seedier side of Tokyo's Shinjuku district, taken with the new Ricoh GR Digital by grit-meister Daido Moriyama. There's an accompanying article in which Moriyama and photographer/pundit Chotoku Tanaka ruminate together over the deeper meaning of the GR Digital.

Alas, outside of the titles on the portfolios and the usual sprinkling of romaji labels here and there, there is very little English to be found. But although you do need to have some command of written Japanese, you can get quite a bit out of these publications—especially the equipment news and reviews—with a relatively modest, if carefully-selected, vocabulary. Besides, kanji are fun. Gambatte, ne!

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Boyle and Short: The Niepce and Herschel of Digital Photography

Photo: Bell Labs

The early 1970s were the crucible years for digital photography technology. Drs. Willard Boyle and George Short built the world's first video camera in 1975, applying the charge-coupled device, or CCD, they had invented in 1969. CCDs have since been applied to a range of innovative modern technologies, including bar-code scanners, copy machines, and doubtless many defense applications. They're also the basis for video and most digital camera sensors.

On this coming February 21st, at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., during National Engineers Week, Boyle and Short will receive the $500,000 Draper Prize, Engineering's highest honor, for their invention of the CCD.

In the nice 35mm Tri-X portrait above, Boyle is on the left, Short, the right.


Ballheads? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ballheads!

Ballheads are not the universal answer. The entire point of a ballhead is to let you use a tripod-mounted camera (or camera-long-lens combination) with something like the body language you would use while hand-holding the same rig.

For work with a fully adjustable view camera, the ballhead is a disaster. To use a view camera efficiently, first you need to set up the sticks with the yoke perfectly leveled. Good tripods like Ries and Gitzo have a bubble level on the yoke for just this purpose. Next you level the camera platform side-to-side and front-to-back. Having two distinct axes instead of general flopping around is a feature, not a bug. Nothing is more frustrating than getting a big heavy camera perfectly level on a ballhead (except for then finding you need to make a minor framing adjustment). Nothing is easier than achieving this with a double-axis head. My nomination for best tripod head for view cameras is the classic and funky Ries double axis. The absence of handles and control arms makes you position the camera directly (I suspect this is why ballheads appeal to small camera users). I find this preferable to positioning the camera by moving little sticks protruding from the tripod head. On the rare occasions when I want to put a small camera on a tripod, my venerable Leitz Tiltall does the job admirably.

Posted by CARL WEESE

Last But Not Least, There's Kirk

Having taken this ballhead thing this far, it would simply be perverse to exclude Kirk, whose BH-3 looks suspiciously like the model for the quite similar (save for the lack of the Kirk's separate tensioning knob) Markins. Which came first, Markins or Kirk? I know I heard of Kirk way before I ever heard of Markins, but that's not proof. Whichever, the Kirk BH-3, which is a smaller, lighter copy of its flagship BH-1 used by several renowned nature photographers (the knobs are the exact same size), looks even better built (all of these products—with the exception of the next one, which is only adequate—seem very well built) and is made in Indiana, my native State. A Hoosier that's gotta count for something.

And as to the several emails asking which head I use myself, almost eerily I received at the same time this email from Andy Frazer:

I'm a big proponent of pistol-grip ballheads, so I have to throw in my vote. I've been using the Slik AF2100 pistol grip ballhead for 17 years! Never had a problem with it, and I can't imagine ever using anything else. The pistol grip lets you control the head with your entire hand. It's not a delicate finger adjustment thingy. And best of all, it's under $100! [$80, actually —MJ] I would take the AF2100 over any of those multi-hundred dollar devices any day.

So why eerie? Because I've been using my own Slik AF2100 for nearly as long, and I'd say about it exactly what Andy said. I'm sure it's not the full-time ballhead for a long-lens nature photographer, but it's easy to use and effective for my occasional use with smaller lenses. Taking into account the price, it may be the most recommendable device of all of 'em (but see Carl's posting above, too).


Friday, January 06, 2006

Ballheads! Ballheads!

Photo: Nikonians/J. Ramón Palacios

Okey-dokey, I got myself into this, and have no one but myself to blame. Now I'm just trying to escape with my life—people are passionate about their ballheads, I'm finding. (Hey, keep yer jokes to yerself!)

Another lightweight but strong ballhead with fanatical adherents is the European-designed, Korean-made $340 Markins M10 sold by Nikonians. It's the heaviest of the four I've discussed here (I include the RRS BH-40), but is roughly comparable weight-wise to all but the much lighter RRS BH-25.

Again, this is one I haven't used or seen, which begins to beg the question, why am I writing about ballheads? My question exactly. Here's how the race is shaping up so far: RRS BH-25 for the ultimate in light weight, small cameras, backpacking; Acratech for work at the beach or other messy environments (it can be dismantled and cleaned) and as an all-purpose lightweight head for heavier gear, albeit with different movement limitations than Arca-style ballheads; and the RRS BH-40 or Markins M10 for decently lightweight versions of the Arca type.

Issues in choosing: lockdown strength; lugging weight; cost; "captive" knobs/levers (i.e., that don't completely unscrew and come off, and thus can't be lost); position of controls; control pressure required; panning base, yes or no; damping and "flopping"; service and warrantee issues (this seems to be a strength across the board).

Hope these entries are providing leads for you. Sorry I'm not more of an expert. Tomorrow: your humble writer takes it on the schnozz from fans of other ballheads.


Why Not Acratech?

I received several emails yesterday asking, why not Acratech for a lightweight ballhead? The Acratech Ultimate Ballhead (that's its product name) is one that Steve Kossack has written about on Luminous Landscape and praised. It does look fascinating. My reason for not choosing it aren't significant; it's just that 1) I've never used one; 2) actually, I've never even seen one; 3) it's heavier than the Really Right Stuff BH-25; 4) It's more expensive than the RRS BH-25.

It might also be better than the RRS BH-25, more comparable functionally to the larger RRS BH-40, with which its weight is roughly equal and price actually favorable ($280 for the Acratech vs. $345 for the BH-40).

Bear in mind also that I'm not a big tripod user. Landscape'n'critter photogs use tripods constantly, and the use of long lenses, which I never use (and don't even own), complicates the choice of a tripod head considerably (many long-lens photographers have two tripod heads, one for big lenses and one for smaller ones).

But I like the looks of the Acratech. Now, tell me again, how did I get into writing about tripod heads?


Featured Comment: Paul Watson says, "You said something negative about the 'Borg cube,' had to back it up to be constructive and now you can never go back. Next you'll have to validate your choice of bolt locking fluid." Amen, Paul.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

So What Is the Best Tripod Head?

After having [implicitly] criticized the $1,500 Arca "Cube" the other day ("Taking Technology Too Far," Dec. 31, '05), I felt it might be incumbent upon me to nominate a candidate for "Best Ball Head."

For my money (specifically, $145, less that 1/10th what the Cube costs), it's the Really Right Stuff BH-25 Pro, a small but powerful ballhead that will adjust quickly and hold up to 9 lbs. (and if you're using a camera that weighs more than 9 lbs., or need more deluxe features, they make bigger ones). As shown here, it's equipped with a locking knob to clamp a camera plate; you can also get it with a locking lever, or customize it by buying it with a tripod screw and attaching one of RRS's other mounting apparati.

Like most of Really Right Stuff's stuff, it's intelligently designed, well made, and fairly priced.


One Step Closer to a Brain in a Jar

Exhibited at CES this year will be "Nethrone," a device that might appear to be an exercise machine...but is actually its opposite. It's an ergonomic play/workstation meant as the ultimate positioner for your computer, monitor, keyboard, and, er, butt in ideal relation to one another for comfortable gaming, surfing, Photoshopping, e-mailing, and other such sedentary activities.

In keeping with the theme is "Netcam," an accessory camera held aloft by tiny helicopter blades so that photographers can take pictures remotely while ensconced on "Nethrone."

Okay, no. I made up the camera.

America's burning question: Will it support 350 lbs.? (And, can we get any lazier?)


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Steve's Logs Half Billion Hits

Congratulations to Steve Sanders of Steve's Digicams, which logged hit number 500,000,000 on Monday. Quite an accomplishment, although you shouldn't look over your shoulder, Steve—The Online Photographer is a mere four zeros behind you. Check in at Steve's for coverage of the Vegas CES which starts tomorrow and runs through the 8th.


Europe's Giant Caravaggio Catalogue Raisonné Comes to U.S.

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio

More than 300,000 people have seen it in Europe—an "Impossible Exhibition" made possible by digital photography.

Chicago's Loyola University will be the first to show it here, at its new Loyola University Museum of Art.

What is it? Created by Radiotelevisione Italiana, the Italian government's broadcasting agency, it's a "virtual collection" of every painting known by the Italian late Renaissance painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, famed for his use of chiaroscuro, or light-and-dark sidelighting. Unlikely ever to be organized for real—the original works are scattered in dozens of museums and churches in many countries, and are so valuable they'd be difficult to insure—the exhibit uses exactly-sized, carefully made digital reproductions lit from above and behind. Color faithfulness was certified by a panel of art experts. "This is a catalogue. It's a very big, full-sized scale catalogue," said Pamela Ambrose, Loyola's director of cultural affairs.

Although painted on religious themes, Caravaggio's work was groundbreakingly naturalistic for its time, especially compared to the clean, bright, idealized frescoes of his predecessors Michelangelo and Raphael. The artist, who was homosexual, died at 39 after a dissolute and violent life marked by drinking, brawling, associating with prostitutes and trouble with the law, leaving a body of work that was limited in scope but distinctive and powerful.

The show is on view through February 11th.


Current Bait-and-Hook Printer Marketing Penalizes Power Users

The current business model for inkjet printers is classic bait-and-hook: Companies sell the printer units at a loss and then gouge their customers when selling them supplies. It's the same as, say, McDonald's restaurants, which sell everything at cost except french fries and soda, both of which have very high profit margins.

Fortunately, there are no people who go to McDonalds three times a day to subsist solely on french fries and Coke. If they did, they would more closely resemble "power users" of inkjet printers. Proprietary printer ink is more expensive than gold by weight, more expensive than exotic French perfume by volume. This hardly hurts most users—the same folks who in past years used the average 5 rolls annually of color negative film, three of them shot at a Disney theme park (long the average film consumption in America. One other roll, on average, was shot at a child's birthday party.)

No—it's power users who must pay. The more ink you use, the more disproportionately you're overpaying for the privilege of printing your own pictures. Photographers who save a few hundred dollars on a "subsidized" printer don't come out ahead when they're forced to overpay by thousands of dollars for large quanities of egregiously overpriced ink.

It can't be helped now. Nothing's going to change. But it's still a rip-off, and it's regrettable.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Thought for the New Year

"It's what you say, not how you say it."


Is Canon Buying Leica?

Upon consideration, I think this should be accorded official status as an urban legend. It seems to be a recurrent fantasy of Leicaphiles that resurfaces regularly; I think I first heard it in about 1992, and flurries of rumor have cropped up at regular intervals since then.

The only faintly reputable connection I've ever heard about is that Canon subcontracts the press-moulded aspherical elements for Leica's ASPH lenses—or rather, for Raytheon's Elcan NA facility, which makes Leica's ASPH lenses. But I'm not even sure of that; Canon would not confirm when I checked with "my sources" (i.e., a guy I know who works there) seven years or so ago.

The teasers in LPI about the upcoming digital M (see below) reference a 1.3X sensor, and as far as I know Canon is the only company that makes a sensor that size. That could either be an indication of increased cooperation, or merely the source of the most recent spate of rumors about a corporate purchase.

Now, nothing's impossible. None of this proves that Canon will not buy Leica next week, or that the Federal government is not bugging the teeth of homeless people, or that the sun will not explode day after tomorrow. The former is indeed more likely than either of the latter.

But, as the saying goes, I wouldn't hold my breath (and before you believe such a thing has actually happened, make sure you see the press releases from both companies).