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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gripe, Gripe, Gripe

Okay, regarding this post, I admit maybe I...overstated.

The rules can never be fair. Society is just set up to the advantage of some kinds of workers and the disadvantage of others, and artists of all kinds are most often on the "disadvantage" end of that particular stick.

Yes, there are exceptions. But that's all they are. When I was a photographer I had clients stiff me enough times it wasn't even funny (and I can see humor in nearly everything). If you want to get professional photographers talking sometime, start a conversation about unusual and inventive ways a photographer can get stiffed by a client.

Gripe, gripe. But intellectual property is property too, and it's not for nothing that the phrase "starving artist" is a cliché. Van Gogh had to trade finished paintings for new tubes of paint—and the guy selling the paint was the one who was being generous. Don't try to tell me Van Gogh didn't do anything of value for society.

Photographers get ripped off all the time. Already. If you don't believe it, talk to a few. So when Congress wants working photographers to take it on the chin, we need to take it seriously. I understand the reasons for the new law. But I also know that it will be abused, and it will make it harder for "creatives" of all kinds to extract fair compensation for their labor. That's all.


Featured Comment (from the original post): Jake said, "As a student of International relations and Economics as well as an amateur photographer, I sincerely believe that we citizens of 1st world nations must protect intellectual property with every means available. Our Western economies are becoming more and more based upon intellectual property, while we allow other developing economies to provide the required labor.

"The Stanford University Library is mentioned in the proposal as wishing to make many orphaned works available. This is nice for them, however I doubt that the University itself would allow any of its own research to be tossed about on the internet if someone were to find an unaccredited copy of it and post it somewhere or produce a derivative work from it. They would sue and demand compensation. We should all have the same right.

"Our ideas are our own and our work is our own. You wouldn't want the guy in the next cubicle to turn in a report that YOU created with his own name on it. And that is the crux of this. If we chose not to publish it, then that is our choice and it should remain unpublished until after our death or as long as our estate keeps it unpublished. It is ours, and we should be able to defend and protect it as we wish."

Landscapes of Harmony and Dissonance

For more than 40 years, Robert Adams (born 1937) has photographed the landscape of the American West, particularly in California, Oregon, and his home state of Colorado. His work is inspired both by his joy in the inherent beauty of the landscape, and his dismay at its exploitation and degradation for residential and commercial development.

In his images of main streets, tract houses, trees, and waterways, Adams records two kinds of landscapes, one damaged by people and the other somehow beyond their power to harm. He asks us, through his photographs, to consider where we live and how we relate to our environment....


T.O.P. Ten: Number 10*

Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30

The Equivalent

The idea was Alfred Stieglitz’s. Although Steiglitz suffered from logorrhea—compulsive soliloquizing, in his case—he gave the concept he derived from Symbolist art an elegant, simple name: an equivalent. In 1922, he claimed that his photographs were “equivalents” of his philosophy of life, and he famously titled a series of cloud photographs Equivalents, firmly setting the idea into the vocabulary of photography. The term is simply the observation (or the assertion) that a picture of some specific thing can evoke other things altogether, in terms of feeling, meaning, associations, or form.

Stieglitz’s cloud pictures don’t measure up to their rap for yr. hmbl. critic. That is, they never much looked like anything but clouds to me, and many photographers—I think of Ralph Steiner first—have done better cloud pictures. But the idea of equivalence became a linchpin of expressive photography’s struggle against the medium’s insistent literalness and its often frustrating specificity.

On the surface, it might seem ironic that photography’s best-known example of Stieglitz’s idea would come from Edward Weston, since one of Weston’s stated allegiances was to “the thing itself.” Weston was one of the bohemian Californians who first mastered and then rejected art photography’s then-longstanding tradition of brooding, atmospheric vagueness. He used a hard-sharp “rectilinear” lens in place of the lovely soft-focus masterpieces so treasured by the pictorialists (revived today in Cooke’s modernization of the Pinkham and Smith), and turned to the workaday bromide papers that artists of the preceding era had considered suitable mainly to newspaper darkrooms. If I recall my long-ago reading of Weston’s Daybooks (unfortunately I don’t have a set on hand to check), he shot Pepper No. 30 inside the open mouth of a metal funnel, and used a smaller aperture even than his little group’s namesake of ƒ/64—ƒ/128, using an exposure time of six hours. (I might be wrong about the numbers. It was something like that. And Weston might as well have been imprecise about it too: he was surely well into his slow film’s reciprocity failure by then, and five hours, or seven hours, would have served just as well.)

In the past I’ve described Weston in Ezra Pound’s innovator-to-master progression (from The ABC of Reading, I think) as being most important neither for what he made of those who came before him nor how he influenced those who came after, but as a “great monolith” towering apart and unique in the adventure of photography’s early unfolding—important merely, and most impressively, in and of himself. He could see form in void, universality in specificity, arrangement in chaos, abstraction in hard reality, rarity in the common, beauty in decrepitude, and organic form everywhere, before anyone had shown us the way. But whether he’s photographing deserts or kelp or women’s bodies or random debris, I understand him at the most basic level as a still-life photographer. His sensitivity to form and arrangement was supreme, and it resonates for us in a great many of his pictures—even when we’re not so aware of it as we are with this one.

In that sense it’s really not so much of a surprise after all that we so plainly see writhing in his quiet, still pepper, whether it evokes for us a struggle (cf. the Laocoön, right) or the grapple of lovers (cf. Monika Vasquez, The Embrace, bronze, above left). It is form that the still-life photographer brought to life, and that we respond to. It might even evoke things further into the reaches of the unconscious that are just as powerful…and just as far removed from a lone, somewhat deformed vegetable.

Because that’s one thing, at least, that this picture has never been about. Legend has it that after photographing it, Edward and his sons unceremoniously ate this most famous of all green bell peppers, in a salad.


A recent sale price for a vintage print: $130,700.00

A recommended essay by Chet Raymo

Buy a real one (sort of)

More good Weston

* Every Tuesday, Your Humble Critic cranks his way up toward the Indisputable Number One.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Darn D200 Ding

© 2006 John Lehet

My friend John Lehet, who lives in Vermont, is a gifted artist who went from large format to digital in the mid-'90s. I heard from him when he recently returned from an extended photographic expedition, the lucky salt. He does great work when he's seasick. —MJ

I'm back from three weeks of travel and 2300 images with the Nikon D200, and also a lot of infrared work done mostly with my Nikon 7900. Luckily I got my Nikkor VR 18–200mm lens a few weeks before the trip, so I had enough time to figure out that it's very soft at the corners when wide open but pretty sharp if stopped down just a bit. The 3-D softness graph at SLR Gear was very helpful in visualizing how to use the lens—knowing its characteristics really helped. The vibration reduction enabled me to catch the shot shown above from a vibrating, heaving boat, while seasick.

I brought my whole camera bag along on the trip and didn't settle for just the vacation lens. That was a good decision; however, the lens changing meant that I got some crud on my sensor that shows up in over 100 shots. Lucky I'm good with photoshop. Lucky I found a decent camera store in a remote place to get a blower-brush, and lucky the crud blew off. I had a brand new Copperhill sensor cleaning kit sitting at home on my desk at the time too. Lesson: that goes in the suitcase. Mike's tripod head talk a few weeks ago inspired me to go ahead and get a very light traveling tripod, a Velbon. I used that a lot for the infrared and other work, and it was an absolute joy. It fit in my daypack, so I always had it with me.

The infrared work is slowly getting refined and online. Not-yet-very-refined versions of a bit of it is up now on my flickr page. I'm also finding that Lightroom is absolutely the best, absolutely the best, way to process infrared images. I'm working with it intensively now that I'm home. It's slow, though, even on the big computer.

The D200 is an amazing workhorse. I'm totally thrilled with it. I was really grateful for the metal body when it tumbled out of my bag onto some asphalt and only suffered a tiny ding.

Posted by JOHN LEHET

Leica Flies In Through a Different Window

Awesome, dude! Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14–50mm ƒ/2.8–3.5 ASPH

I'll bet things are hopping over at the Four Thirds Photo and My 4/3rds forums, not to mention the LUG.

No sooner had I written about Two Exciting New Lenses—and wondered aloud where Leica was at PMA—than a third new lens comes along that trumps the other two for excitement, and by a pretty fair margin, too.

Leica AG of Solms, Germany has introduced its first "independent" (cross-platform) lens since ye misty days of LTM (39mm Leica thead mount, also called screwmount). It's a 4/3rds-standard zoom that will fit and work on Olympus digital SLRs and on Leica partner Panasonic's spanking new high-tech DSLR, the Lumix DLC-L1 (which is itself the first 4/3rds camera not made by Olympus).

Called the Leica D Vario-Elmarit 14–50mm ƒ/2.8–3.5 ASPH, it is also Leica's first interchangeable lens designed specifically for digital. (We do have to note, however, that it's not entirely clear how much of a Leica lens this Leica lens is. Is it more closely related to the Asian-made Leica-branded lenses on Panasonic point-and-shoots, or to the R zooms designed by Leica with no holds barred? Oren comments, "I won't be surprised in the least if the lens is excellent" regardless of its actual breeding and locus of manufacture.)

People who are not Oly aficionados should note that the focal-length specification of Leica's new lens doesn't mean it's wider than the 17–50mm and 17–55mm ranges of the Tamron and Canon lenses I wrote about, but longer. The format conversion factor ("crop factor") for the 4/3rds system is 2X, so the D Vario-Elmarit would be equivalent to a 28–100mm in 35mm terms, vs. closer to 28–80mm for the Canon and Tamron. The Leica lens is a tad slower at the tele end, but that can be put down to its longer reach.

Best icing on this cake? The lens incorporates Panasonic's excellent image stabilization technology.

Cool though this one lens is, the implications of this are what are probably rocking a few peoples' worlds right now: looks like Leica's gonna be building 4/3rds lenses in the 21st century. Woo-hoo!


Rumor has it that there will be a version in R-mount as well.

T.O.P. Blog Notes

I'm re-posting this today because today is the 3 month anniversary of The Online Photographer.

T.O.P. set a new "attendance record" last Thursday, registering a whopping 11,861 hits over the course of the day. We were linked from several sites, blogs, and fora, so many thanks for the mentions, and to all of you who visited.

This is the 170th post. Total hits (page views) for the 3-month period are 247,888.

A minor change I've made to the site today is that you will no longer have to register to comment.


See the Cool New Stuff from PMA...on Video has some nice videos of new photographic products from the PMA Show.


I have nothing but respect for you, and not a lot of that.
—Groucho Marx

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Emergency for Professional and Creative Photographers

Folks, we have a very serious situation on our hands. Congress is right now rushing into law a bill to legalize the theft of YOUR original photographic work.

It's called the "Orphan Works" amendment to the copyright act. What it basically says is that if anybody comes across your professional or creative photography, any time, anywhere, and then attempts to locate the creator (you) but can't, then they can just take it. Take it and use it however they want to.

You forfeit your right to control your own work. This would be true even of photographs with registered copyright.

So if you move, go out of business, marry and change your name—if your signature or stamp or copyright notice becomes detached or erased from your work—if you're on sabbattical or an extended vacation—if an image of yours is circulated on the web and appropriators can't attribute it back to you—any of a dozen similar situations—if any image of yours cannot be traced back to you, anyone can claim it as an "orphan work" and use it. That is, steal it. Legally. IF you ever find out, you can get "a reasonable fee" (how is not clear), but the law deprives you of your right to sue the infringer for using your picture without your permission, or for purposes that you don't approve of. You will have NO right to claim damages. You won't even be able to sue for recovery of your legal expenses.

To call this an outrage is an understatement. This is a potential disaster for anyone who makes part or all of their living taking pictures. Many of us have had the experience of discovering years later than someone has ripped off our work and used it without our knowledge or permission, and without paying for it. This law would protect the people who do that. It is a law almost designed for abuse and exploitation of photographers. It hamstrings a copyright act that needs strengthening in the face of proliferating reproduction methods, not weakening.

The ASMP (American Society of Magazine Photographers) is taking the lead on this. Go to its web page, take the time to read it, TAKE ACTION, and SPREAD THE WORD.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Coming on Tuesday

On Tuesday, The Online Photographer's Ten Greatest Photographs Ever Made list will commence with #10. The countdown will continue each Tuesday morning for ten weeks.

"Ten Best" lists are always subjective and never authoritative, which is of course part of their charm. The purpose of our list is to be entertaining, with the added hope that it may be thought-provoking and perhaps even inspiring.

One unavoidable problem of such a list of photographs is that it will necessarily exclude certain genres. Surely a specialist could propose candidates for, say, the greatest racehorse portrait, or the most beautiful photograph of a gemstone, or the best surfing picture. In the T.O.P. list, no attempt will be made to balance or "cover" various genres. (There are, of course, a lot more than ten of them anyway.)

A more serious problem (again specifically in the case of photographs) is nationalism or "culture-centrism." Nations or races of people tend to exalt their own cultural myths, iconographies, heroes, and historical milestones, and, aside from gaining meaning in these ways, many pictures and photographers will simply be more famous and familiar in certain nations than in others—photography is probably more Chauvanistic than most of us realize, whatever our citizenship. Being from the U.S. of A., I have little choice but to see the art of photography through the lens of my own culture; however, as a critic accustomed to writing for an international audience I'll try to be sensitive to the issue.

I hope this will be fun. Please join us on Tuesday morning.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Where's Waldo?

(Illustration original by Achim Heine)

For the last year-plus we have heard nothing from Leica but, “to be announced at PMA, for sale at Photokina” regarding the Digital M. Yet so far there is not a whisper from Leica, and nothing on any site that spews digi-rumors or Leica blather. What gives? Anybody know anything? Post a comment if you've got a hot tip.


Finally, A Wide APS-C Prime

Pentax seems to be displaying only future products this year at PMA, including a new DSLR and a model/mock-up/prototype (don't know which) of next summer's digital 645. But snuggled in amongst the many press releases is one from Pentax about a forthcoming 21mm DA prime (i.e., single-focal-length lens, for those of you weaned directly to zooms). We have one thing to say: Kewl.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

And Now, For Something Completely Serious....

Having written the two satirical pieces below ("Harmellack Confused by Lack of 'D' " and "How Canon Chooses Camera Names"), it's probably worthwhile to give the matter a serious word or two.

I've been impressed by the degree to which names no longer function in our society. For instance, let's say I asked you to go to the grocery store and get me some Oreos. Or some Kleenex. Or you go to a restaurant and say, "I'll have a Coke, please."

"Coke" just does not begin to cover it. Diet or regular? Caffeinated or no caffeine? Cherry flavored? Vanilla flavored? Manufacturers like to a) leverage well-known brand names by tacking them on to many products and b) poach on the success of other manufacturers' products by offering their own versions.

The result is often confusion. My son likes little fish-shaped crackers called "Goldfish," and there are times when I am just unable to buy him any—I stand in front of store shelves groaning with proliferating varieties of Goldfish, and I just cannot figure out which ones are the regular, ordinary Goldfish that he likes. I have to leave the store with none. Even though I've learned the telltales of many of the ones he doesn't prefer (he doesn't like the giant ones or the low-fat ones or the rainbow-colored ones, and I've learned it has to say "Cheddar" on the front)—but they also put all manner of transient visual bits on the package, to throw me off.

Recent consumer studies have shown that people prefer choices, but not too many choices. In experiments, when there were three varieties of a type of product on store shelves, people bought many more individual units than they did when they were limited to only one choice. But when there were thirty choices, buying again dropped below the level of when there were only three.

A comical but true story: I once went to the grocery store to attempt to buy "Oscar Meyer Baloney." Well, that is not a product name; it is a category. But I had learned the ropes. I knew to avoid the beef baloney, and to buy the kind made with pork and chicken. But when I got my baloney home, I discovered I'd bought the wrong kind: across the top was a tiny band that said "Thin Deli Slices!" that I hadn't noticed. Otherwise, the package was identical to the regular-thickness ones. Well, we wanted (and when I say "we," I mean a strong-willed six-year-old, and me) the regular old baloney, so I went back to the grocery store and tried again, this time hyper-aware of the tiny band that said "Thin Deli Slices." So I got home again only to find I had purchased...extra-thick slices. Inspecting the package, I finally found the part where it told me that the slices were a different spot altogether than where the wee bit about the slices being thin had been. The packages of all three kinds were nearly identical, visually. Have we gotten to the point where we have to read everything on the package down to the level of the manufacturer's address to be sure we've sorted out what's inside?

It seems to me that only software manufacturers have this truly figured out, although I may be ignorant because I buy very little software. Different versions are given different numbers (there are many numbers available, after all), large revisions are given successive numbers behind a decimal point, and small revisions are given a number behind two decimal points. Thus, version 3.0.2 is the second small revision of the third version of the software. No confusion.

I am probably going to hear it from people who are aware of many exceptions to this rule. Still, the principle is sound.

I almost wish Coca-Cola, Kleenex, and Nabisco would just emblazon each product with a serial number, which would be guaranteed to be identical in every way to any other product ever bought with that same serial number. That way, when I want a regular old Coke, or regular old Kleenex, or regular old Oreos, I could find them.

Anyway, when the Goldfish people recently put a giant army-green blob on the cover of normal, ordinary Goldfish, naturally I was frightened off. I knew I had not mastered the intricacies of Goldfish packaging, but I was certain that the kind my son liked did not have a giant army-green blob on the front. But that turned out to be nothing. It was only an advertisement for a movie or a television show. (Probably called "The Blob!") It had nothing to do with the package contents. After a few more trips to the supermarket I figured this out, and began cautiously to buy the Goldfish again, green blob and all—and was not too badly thrown when the blob went away again.

My point is that, in a sea of identical packaging and nearly identical names, it is not always easy to find what you know you want. It is there, probably, but it is hiding.

These products need names. That's what they need. That would be the solution.

What are the properties of a good name? Two things:

1. It should be distinctive, and specific to the thing it is attached to. Like "Eolake Stobblehouse." There is only one Eolake Stobblehouse. Not like "Mike Johnston." There are actually three of us in the small Midwestern town where I live.

2. It should be memorable. As in, rememberable. Normal people cannot remember "SP AF17-50mm ƒ/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]" (although I can).

For instance, I would be very happy if ordinary regular Goldfish turned up in a brown bag that looked nothing like all the other bags of Goldfish, and had nothing more printed on it than "REGULAR OLD GOLDFISH" in big letters. I would sail by with my cart and grab two, and not have to stand there perplexed.

Well, a good name actually needs three things, nowadays. I wrote a serious letter to both Cosina in Japan and Zeiss in Germany about the forthcoming new "Zeiss Ikon" rangefinder. I suggested that it needed some other designation to make it distinct from all the other Zeiss Ikons in history. I didn't hear from Japan; Germany sent me a little note saying that no one would be confused, because only one has been made recently.

Even if people know that, however, search engines don't. With the advent of the web, we need names that are not only specific, not only memorable, but searchable, too. For instance, there is a new electronics company called Outlaw. This is not a good name, web-wise. The British speaker manufacturer Spendor (a combination of Spencer and Dorothy, the names of the company's founder and his wife) is a great web-name, even though it was invented many years before the web existed, because it is neither a word nor a name. Type "outlaw" into a search engine and you will get all manner of things. Type in "Spendor" and you will get links mainly to Spendor speakers. I live in a good web-town; it's called Waukesha. There is only one Waukesha. Type it into a search engine and you will get my town. Now try "Springfield."

Anyway, maybe the day will come when I can buy Oscar Meyer Baloney 6.4.2—and leave the store serene in the knowledge that for once, I have not screwed up.


B&WP Portfolio

King of the Back Seat, 1996, from the B&WP feature

I'm pleased to announce that a portfolio of my personal work has been published in the February 2006 issue of the U.K. Black & White Photography magazine.

I've been writing about photography since 1988 and have published more than a hundred articles in various magazines, and hundreds more online, but this marks the first time that my photography has been published in a photography magazine simply for its own sake. (Nothing about cameras, developers, or working methods, just this once....)

The article and portfolio briefly tell the story of the highly unusual manner in which I became a single parent.

Black & White Photography, for which I also write a regular monthly column, is usually available in the U.S. in Barnes and Noble bookstores, and might also be on sale at other large bookstores or newsstands. The February '06 issue is already on sale in the U.K. and has been mailed to subscribers, but since it is published in England, U.S. outlets naturally lag behind the publication date in setting it out. However, it ought to be out on most U.S. store shelves sometime in the next few days.

Subscriptions are also available through Amazon.

I'm very pleased with how the piece worked out and hope you'll have a look!


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Leica Lens

And now for something totally whack—totally tomorrow, totally yesterday, not at all today.

Spotted on DC Watch is this new lens from MS Optical Research and Development: the MS-Mode-M, a 50mm ƒ/1.3 lens in interchangeable mounts for use on both Leica screw and Nikon S RF cameras. It's apparently a 4-group, 5-element Sonnar type with a 12-bladed diaphragm. Filter size: 49mm. Weight: 136g with Leica mount attached. Japanese price in Leica screwmount is Y90,000 ($750), in Nikon RF mount Y75,000 ($625).

Can you actually buy it? "Soon," sayeth the website. (Perhaps "you" should be put in quotation marks too, as it will probably take some doing to be one of the few actually able to do the buying.)

Yet another reason to love the Japanese. And remember, you read about it here.


Follow-Up: Holding the Camera Normally

Following up on the post below, here is a shot taken in the same spot, five or ten minutes later, and the same light, but in this case holding the camera normally instead of deliberately moving it. K-M [Tamron] 28-75mm ƒ/2.8 zoomed to 35mm, ISO 800, wide open at ƒ/2.8, AS on, at 1/10th of a second. (Unfortunately, it's a tad overexposed.) You can click on the picture to see a larger version.

I would venture to say that there is no reason at all why I couldn't have taken this picture on 800 print film using, say, a Leica with a 50mm Summicron, except that normally I just can't hand-hold a tenth. (Even if I haven't had any coffee.) So that's what I mean about AS being an important innovation to me.



Eolake asked: "How effective would you say the K-M stabilization is? Two stops?"

MJ replies: I don't think there's really any hard-and-fast way to judge exactly how many stops any sort of AS/IS/VR will give you. It depends upon a lot of things: the focal length of the lens (longer lenses exaggerate camera motion), the actual type of movement you're asking it to compensate for (i.e., vertical, horizontal, moving the whole camera or just wiggling one part of it, yaw, twist, whatever), and how steady you are with the camera anyway. For me, how much coffee I've had that day makes a noticeable difference too.

It's certainly good as a parlor trick. For instance, in the above two shots, the camera was set exactly the same way, and I was purposely bobbing the end of the lens up and down (people always grin when I do this, as my friend Barb H. is doing in the first of these shots). She leaned forward and over a bit before I took the second shot, so the background is slightly different, but the only other thing that differs between the two shots is that in the first one AS is switched off, and in the second one AS is switched on.

This was not a controlled test—I was simply showing her the feature—but I've made these JPEGs pretty large so you can inspect the difference more closely. Just click on either picture to see the larger versions. You'll notice that the "AS on" shot, the bottom one, is not perfectly sharp; but then again, as I say, I was deliberately moving the camera pretty violently when I took both shots, and the light was pretty low—it was indoors on a midwinter day.

In any event, AS/IS/VR, or whatever they want to call it, is something I'm personally totally sold on. It has proven more useful to me in my own photography than almost any camera innovation I can think of in my entire lifetime; that includes autofocus, built-in motor drives, "Matrix" or multi-segment evaluative metering...even digital capture itself! All those things (and a dozen other innovations I've watched go by) are useful and meaningful advances in varying degrees too. But day in, day out, image stabilization is more useful to me than any other single technological advancement. Bravo to the Canon scientists who (I believe) were the ones who first came up with it.


Harmellack Confused by lack of "D"

Photo Industry Observer, Feb. 22, 2006 — Englishman Mr. Myron Harmellack of Tweedle, Boggs, Hampingtonshire, Nutts, UK refused last Wednesday to purchase a Sony R-1 from his local Oddsgood the Chemist Camera Annex, citing the lack of a "D" in the product name. It seems he was excessively skeptical about whether or not it was actually a digital camera.

"All digital cameras have a 'D' in their name. This one didn't," said Mr. Harmellack, when asked to comment.

"I pointed out that it had an LCD. I showed him the port for the card. I even hooked the blarsted thing to a Dell," said an exasperated Wally Tranespotter, 22, part-time Oddsgood salesperson. "I took a picture of him lecturing me! Who am I? What does he think I can do, develop the film with a snap a' me fingers like blardy 'Arry Potter?"

"There's the 1D, the D1, the D100, the D200, two 5D's, two D2's," Mr. Harmellack stated adamantly. "The 1Ds, the D70, D50, 7D, 300D, 350D, star-ist-D, star-ist-DS. On and on."

"There's really no rule," we pointed out, gently.

"What's this R-1 anyway, a 'rigital' camera?" scoffed Harmellack huffily, guffawing. "Bollyjokes! Codlets! Pimplefaced lad thought he's pulling the woolies over these peepers. There's no such thing as a 'rigital' camera. I warn't born last Tuesday week. "

"Sure, I told the old toker to go woof," said an angry Tranespotter, who got reprimanded in the wake of the imbroglio by Mr. H. Doslington, 58, his immediate supervisor. "What was I to do? It's not my fault if the barmly old woogedeloo is appled in the old gray matter. Bokeh-brain!"

"And all proper film cameras have an 'F,' " continued Harmellack, wandering off. "There's the F100. The New F-1. The old F-1. The F. The F2. The F3, F4, F5, FM2...."

Photo Industry Observer cites this incident as a renewed caution to camera manufacturers to continue to ignore the other 25 letters of the alphabet where DSLRs are concerned, if at all possible. They only confuse people. That important "D" continues to be much needed.


* Satire Alert. This alert is provided as a courtesy for verbally tone-deaf and non-native English speaking readers. We might also observe in this case, for those of you who have never been to England, that the writer has no actual knowledge of British slang and is merely attempting to reproduce what it sort of sounds like sometimes.**

** The bit about "bokeh-brain" is however authentic British slang.

Two Exciting New Lenses

Two really exciting new lenses for reduced-sensor-size cameras have been introduced within the past couple of weeks. Canon's EF-S 17-55mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM (right) is just exactly the lens a number of XT/350 and 20D shooters have been waiting for, at least since Nikon introduced its extremely popular 17-55mm ƒ/2.8 two and a half years ago. For guys like me who shoot portraits and some product shots but otherwise don't have a lot of need for telephotos, the range of these lenses is ideal, and the speed and constant aperture strike a great compromise with the lenses' size and weight. That Canon's offering includes its extremely useful (and, for me, must-have) Image Stabilization (IS) capability is a plus that vaults it ahead of the established Nikon offering.

Tamron's new SP AF17-50mm ƒ/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF] (top) is a poor(er) man's version of the Nikon lens. I've been shooting with Tamron's 28-75mm lens for some time now (actually the K-M branded version), and even as a zoomaphobic lens snob I have to say I've been very impressed with it. It's a truly good lens, even a great one. I can home in on the optical flaws of lenses like a truffle-snuffling pig in the woods, but even I have a hard time making that Tamron look bad.

Nikon and Canon shooters won't get IS with the Tamron lens. But therein lies a tale. Ideal though the Canon lens may be, its anticipated sale price of $1150 is a possible Achilles' heel. Now, I've always hated it when camera reviewers and product news blips tell us how to feel about prices. Let's face it: how any of us see prices is up to us as individuals. For some people, $1150 for a camera lens is out of the question; for others, it's no more of a concern than paying for a meal; and a lot of others fall somewhere in between. But for those DSLR buyers looking for a bargain and willing to take a flier on what is admittedly a second-tier brand with some (albeit slight) uncertainties attached to its future, the Konica-Minolta 5D body at $570 and 7D body at $935 are hundreds of dollars less than their Canon XT/350 and 20D counterparts—yet both have Anti-Shake (AS, K-M's version of IS) built into the bodies. The price of the new Tamron lens has not been announced or listed yet as far as I know, but it is highly likely to be somewhere between 1/3rd and 1/2 of the price of the Canon EF-S—for virtually the same functionality if you use it on one of the K-Ms. Might be something to think about.

In any event, assuming the performance of Canon's 17-55mm can match its Nikon competition, and Tamron's 17-50mm is in the same league with its own 28-75mm, then both these lenses will usefully expand consumers' options for this highly useful lens specification.


How Canon Chooses Camera Names

When I was a freelancer in D.C. and had to drive all over everywhere for various jobs, I used to do a comic schtick about the roads in Virginia. There are basically three statutes on the books in that State concerning the naming of roads. One is that each road must be given both a name and a number, and if the name appears on maps, the number must be placed on road signs; if the number is on the maps, then the name has to be on all the road signs. Rule number two is that major continuous roads must be given several names, so that what "road" you are "on" depends on where you are along it. And the third is that roads can only be built without following rules 1. and 2. if they are laid out along colonial cow paths.

The purpose of these rules is very simple: CONFUSE THE YANKEES. If you weren't born in Virginia, the Virginians don't want you to be able to find your way around.

Canon Camera Corporation of Japan is following a naming protocol for its digital cameras that is somewhat similar. First, a committee of five illiterate immigrant day-laborers are given an alphabet of about nine letters and six digits from which to build a number of proposed names for new products. The most sensible ones are then immediately discarded. The aim seems to be (although I am not certain of this; it just appears this way) that if you are not a loyal Canon customer who spends several hours every week lovingly poring over Canon product literature or online information, Canon doesn't want you to be able to distinguish between different Canon products. This is believed to foster brand loyalty by making lack of confusion an "insider" privilege.

As a final test, a metal band is placed around the head of a Rhesus monkey. The band is tightened until the monkey is in severe pain; he is then shown the proposed new product name on a flash card and has to pick it out from among several flash cards of nearly identical names posted on a wall; not until he picks the right one is the band loosened and his pain relieved. Only if it takes him three or more tries does the name pass the test—if he is able to do it on either the first or second try, it's back to the drawing board for the five day-laborer guys.

So far this method of product naming has resulted in such wonderfully senseless names as the 1Ds Mk. II N; a designation actually identical to one in use by a competing company at the time, the 5D; and now the 30D, which is close enough to the old "D30" designation that it nearly killed the monkey.

Somewhere down the line, we are sure to get the 3D0, the D03, and the 03D; the 60D, D10, and New 1Ds Mk. II N, at which point the name of the old 1Ds Mk. II N will be retroactively changed to 1Ds Mk. II O ("O" for old). I, for one, can't wait.


* Satire Alert. This alert is provided as a courtesy for verbally tone-deaf and non-native English speaking readers.

Featured Comment: skpatton writes, "Actually, I think 5 illiterate immigrants would have done much better; it took several highly degreed, highly paid managers to do this."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Crane Museo

by Pete Myers at the Luminous Landscape

Suggesting a new fine art photography paper to photographers is likely akin to discussing religion—every one has an opinion—and what works for one, likely does not work for others.

Nevertheless, a new fine art paper, Crane Co. Museo Silver Rag, is entering the market, with a release date of late February 2006, coinciding with this year’s Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show. As a beta tester of this paper, and in chorus with many of my fellow beta testers, we have come to regard Museo Silver Rag with true endearment. Why the enthusiasm for a new paper, in a market choked with paper choices...?



A Must-Have

A recent item at Vincent Oliver's photo-i website reminded me that the second edition of Harald Johnson's superb Mastering Digital Printing has been out for a while now.

In Vincent's review he says, "The book shelves are buckling with books on Photoshop and digital photography, you name it and you can find at least half a dozen books covering the topic. I concluded they all have the same content, the words are just printed in a different order. So something has to be very special to grab my attention, and extra special for me to get my credit card out."

So true. (And I would add, "same as it ever was," since many how-to books about traditional film photography are the same way.) However, this book is one of the exceptions. It's undoubedly one of the top-ten must have books for serious digital photographers; and it's one of the books I've learned the most from personally. It's not the most fun book to read—very nuts-and-boltsy—but the slighter higher level of attention you have to put into it will pay off big time.


Featured Comment: davenew said, "I'll just add that many 'must have' digital photography books, including Harald Johnson's Digital Printing Start-Up Guide although not the above title, can all be read online by getting a Safari subscription at O'reilly. I've had one for a couple of years now, and I'm slowly eliminating a larger collection of print books I had accumulated (rather expensively), as they go obsolete.

"I guarantee it's more fun to go from a bookshelf of PSCS-related books to the latest PSCS2 versions, without having to spend hundreds of dollars. For $30 a month, you can have 20 books on your virtual bookshelf (rotate titles once monthly, if you wish), and 'chits' to download various useful chapters in PDF format.

"Aside from this title, I have ones like
Real World Color Management, Real World Camera Raw, and a couple of Scott Kelby's excellent PS books, as well as the DAM (Digital Asset Management) book.

"All gems, and accessible from anywhere I can get Internet access."

Thanks for the great tip, Dave —MJ

Eddie Adams Workshop Launches New Photojournalism Website with PhotoShelter


NEW YORK, Feb. 21, 2006—BitShelter LLC and the Eddie Adams Workshop today announced the launch of the Workshop's website (, which includes an alumni directory, message board, and portfolio pages using technology developed by PhotoShelter (, the industry standard for online image archiving and distribution.

Starting in April 2006, the Eddie Adams Workshop will use PhotoShelter's online image management and secure e-commerce systems to bring the annual Workshop's registration process online. The Workshop, now entering its nineteenth year, formerly required applicants to mail their applications and portfolio images.

The Eddie Adams Workshop ("Barnstorm") is an intense four-day gathering of the top professionals in photojournalism, along with 100 carefully selected students. The directory and profiles, which include both faculty and alumni, will serve as tool for editors to find photojournalistic excellence.

Participating faculty has included Eddie Adams (Pulitzer Prize Winner), James Colton (Sports Illustrated), Bill Eppridge, Bill Frakes (Sports Ilustrated), David Kennerly (Pulitzer Prize Winner), Douglas Kirkland, Mary Ellen Mark, Gordon Parks, Eugene Richards, Joe Rosenthal (Pulitzer Prize Winner), Howard Schatz, and Nick Ut (Associated Press).

Notable Alumni Include: Nancy Andrews, Kristen Ashburn, Jack Gruber, Fritz Hoffman, Chris Hondros, Vincent Laforet, Rick Loomis, Melissa Lyttle, Brian Plonka, Stephanie Sinclair, Ami Vitale, and Annie Wells.

"One of the best parts of Barnstorm," says Workshop producer Jessica Stuart, "is that every year, for the last eighteen years, it has brought together 100 new members (students) to that community with over 100 faculty members who are already established and actively working."

"Three of the five PhotoShelter founders are Barnstorm alumni," says Grover Sanschagrin, VP of Marketing & Sales for PhotoShelter, who attended Barnstorm II in 1989. "The Eddie Adams Workshop is a photojournalism career milestone. Those who have been through it know that they're part of a very special community."

The new website was designed with this community in mind.

"I think the simple fact that, barely 48 hours after the new site launched, almost 200 alumni have registered says very clearly that there is a desire for this kind of connection," says Stuart. "Barnstorm has been important to a lot of people, and that being a part of this community is something people feel good about, and are excited to show their support for."

The founders of PhotoShelter saw an opportunity to give back to the Barnstorm community by making PhotoShelter's industrial-strength image workflow technology available for use within the Workshop's website.

"I think that's part of the magic of Barnstorm," says Stuart. "That people feel an attachment to something, years after they attended, and want to stay involved."

About The Eddie Adams Workshop
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Eddie Adams started the Eddie Adams Workshop in 1988 as a tuition-free, intensive experience for students and young professionals focusing on photojournalism. The Workshop's purpose is to create a forum in which an exchange of ideas, techniques, and philosophies can be shared between both established members and newcomers of the profession of picture journalism. Barnstorm XIX will be held October 6-9, 2006, in Jeffersonville, NY.

About PhotoShelter
PhotoShelter provides secure storage that is both locally and geographically redundant, with 24-hour online accessibility and simultaneously serves as a sales platform, allowing photographers to create galleries, sell images, add seamlessly-integrated search and publishing capabilities to their own sites, and create RSS syndication feeds.


New Ilford B&W Website

HARMAN technology Ltd has launched a new website for Ilford black and white photo products. Having stabilized and resumed distribution of the existing product line, the company has begun to introduce new products as well. First out of the box are two new paper developers, Harman Warmtone and Harman Cooltone. Word is out that there is a new line of toners in the works as well, with a selenium toner to be first to reach the market, later this year.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Master Course in Photography

For self-starters, Britt Salvesen's new book on Harry Callahan is a virtual home course in how to be a creative photographer. Harry Callahan was in many ways the quintessential modernist photographer, at least in terms of how he worked; his visual and intellectual processes were the authentic blueprint for the way photography was taught in art schools for at least a quarter of a century. Callahan worked patiently with ideas, which he had in seemingly endless supply, exploring the ramifications of the medium and the possibilities of his surroundings with a visual intelligence that has rarely been matched. Yet he seldom felt the need to verbalize; the whole of his creativity was expressed in his pictures. This new book explores Callahan's working methods the way they ought to be explored: visually. For thoughtful photographers there is a great deal here to learn from.


dagor77 Watch

dagor77 invokes a Deity....

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blog Notes

Last Sunday set an all-time "attendance record" for The Online Photographer of 6,024 hits in the 24-hour period.

Also, don't miss jeffn's interesting followup to "A Small Announcement," below, which I've just posted. (Thanks, Jeff.)


Graham Nash Eye to Eye

Nash's favorite image in the San Diego show is not of a celebrity but of a girl, about 5 years old, sitting on the counter of a hamburger stand in North Hollywood, "all sweet and innocent, and right next to her is an Uzi. Don't ask me what a machine gun was doing next to this girl."

By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

In a bid to step beyond the shadow of Graham Nash, the singer-songwriter, Graham Nash, the photography collector, and Graham Nash, the photo-technology innovator, an emerging photographer has unveiled his first major museum show at San Diego's Museum of Photographic Arts. His name is Graham Nash.

Or as the artist/musician/collector/entrepreneur puts it, "It's just me, trying to shoot off my mouth."


What: "Eye to Eye," Graham Nash's first major museum photo exhibit.

Where: Museum of Photographic Arts, Balboa Park, 1649 El Prado, San Diego, California

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Thursdays, when hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Ends: April 30

Price: $6; $4, students, seniors and military; free, children younger than 12. Free, second Tuesday of the month.

Info: 619/238-7559,


Long-Term Test: Epson R-D1

Product photo:

I've just published my long-term review of the Epson R-D1, the only DRF (Digital Rangefinder) camera available for sale anywhere in the world. This extensive article looks at the camera's performance and reliability over the past 15 months based on my own experience (with three bodies) and the experiences of 48 photographers who responded in detail to a custom-designed survey about the camera. It should prove to be of interest for anyone who is curious about DRFs, whether they are R-D1 owners or not. For those who are considering buying the camera, this is essential reading.

[Ed. Note: Reid Reviews is a subscription website, but worth the modest cost if you're interested in very thorough camera reviews with detailed comparisons. —MJ]

Posted by: SEAN REID

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


There was a surprise in my mail today: a copy of the first issue of a new periodical letter from David Vestal, titled "finity". David terminated his GRUMP letter last year, after 100 issues. We former GRUMP subscribers missed it, and now we learn that the proprietor began to miss it too. But GRUMP is over, he tells us. This will be different—shorter, and with pictures. "It's meant to be an antidote or atonement for publications like Aperture, which promote an institutional, respectable view of photography-as-art and seem to presume to own the medium."

Cost is $3 per issue, ten for $30, from David Vestal, PO Box 309, Bethlehem, CT 06751-0309.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

Posted by: KIRK TUCK

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Small Announcement

Commencing two weeks from tomorrow, The Online Photographer will be embarking on a once-a-week countdown proposing and defending the Ten Greatest Photographs Ever Made, beginning, naturally, with #10.

I have no occasion for this, and no authority to say; nothing is binding, agreement with T.O.P.'s choices is not only not mandatory but not expected, and yes, it's true, few will remember the whats, whys, or wherefores after the dust has cleared. Just to get that out of the way. But as I've looked into this project casually over the past few years, I've been fascinated to note just how far and wide my research into possible choices has taken me. I thought sharing some of it might well be interesting to others, perhaps thought-provoking, possibly even inspiring. So let's try it, and we'll see.


Featured Comment:
jeffn said, "I'm sure Mike has purely aesthetic criteria in mind here. (And will relish the battle to defend them against all....)

"But the open wallets of genteel materialism have spoken—and I'm not sure this is a bad thing. At yesterdays Sotheby's Auction, Edward Steichen's 'The Pond—Moonlight' set a new #1 sale price for a photograph of $2,928,000.

"#2 at $1,472,000 was Alfred Steiglitz's 'Georgia O'Keeffe's Hands.'

"#3 at $1,360,000 was Alfred Steiglitz's 'Nude Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe.'

"#4 at $1,248,000 remains 'Untitled (Cowboy)' by Richard Prince.

"I'm impressed. Does any knowledgeable reader know #5–10 on this bestseller list? Could someone post some decent links to copies of any of these photographs?

"And finally, does anyone want to give me the odds on any one photo showing up in both the above list and Mike's upcoming list?"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Delights of ULF

Consider, if you will, the manifold delights of using an ULF camera.

  • It's endless fun;
  • It's naturally, natively exclusive;
  • You'll have no extra money to dissipate on wine, women, and song or other sundry vices;
  • No need for a hair shirt—you've already got one!
  • Your equipment absolutely cannot become obsolete
  • Based on the format you choose, you're in a niche within a niche withing a niche within a niche*
  • Surefire conversation starter!
  • Instant membership in the grandest of photographic traditions.

As far as I can see, the only downside is that the word "coverage" becomes part of your worries forever.


*Your format, within ULF, within LF, within film photography.
Illustration: George Lawrence's Mammoth Camera

Pentax Holds a Product Massacre Too

It turns out that while everyone was fussing over the announcement that Nikon was cutting way back on its film camera business, Pentax was busy behind the scenes holding a massacre of its own. The Pentax Japan website has posted new lists of discontinued 35mm film SLRs and lenses. Only on the Japanese language site, though—nothing yet on the English language side.

The camera list is here and the lens list here. For those who don't want to wade through screens full of Japanese, the discontinued cameras are the MZ-S, MZ-3, MZ-L and MZ-30, leaving only the *ist, MZ-60 and MZ-M as current models. On the lens front, gone are the FA 24-90/3.5-4.5, FA* 28-70/2.8, FA 28-90/3.5-5.6, FA 28-105/4-5.6, FA* 80-200/2.8, FA 80-320/4.5-5.6, K Reflex 400-600/8-12, A 15/3.5, FA 20/2.8, A 20/2.8, FA* 24/2, FA* 85/1.4, FA 135/2.8, A* 200/2.8, FA* 300/4, FA* 400/5.6, K 500/4.5, A* 600/5.6, K Reflex 1000/11, A* 1200/8, M Reflex 2000/13.5, FA Macro 50/2.8, FA Macro 100/2.8, FA Macro 100/3.5, FA* Macro 200/4, K Bellows 100/4. FA Soft 85/2.8, K Shift 28/3.5, A Fisheye 16/2.8, and F Fisheye 17-28/3.5-4.5.

Pentax fans will recognize in that list some very long-running and distinctive items as well as the cream of the high-end autofocus lenses (other than the 31/43/77 Limited lenses, which remain in the line). Perhaps, per the BJP report, they're clearing the deck for some serious new glass oriented toward digital users.

A few of the discontinued lenses are still offered for sale at list price in the "Shop Online" section of the Pentax USA website. Most have already vanished from US dealer stocks.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mystery Man

The mystery man in the Daguerreotype below, owned by Albert Kaplan, is indeed Abraham Lincoln, one of the most-photographed men of his time and certainly the possessor of one of history's most interesting faces. Mr. Kaplan's photograph has no provenance, unlike Meserve #1, which was owned by Lincoln's son. There's a fascinating forensic analysis online if you're interested in that sort of thing. Interestingly, Alphonse Bertillon, a French anthropologist who was a pioneer of fingerprint analysis for purposes of identification, spent a large portion of his life attempting to establish identity by body measurements and did a lot of foundational work in the forensic identification of photographs. We're now back to a version of the same thing once again with recent advances in facial identification software (which I personally don't believe will ever be absolutely practical, but that's a post for another day).


Friday, February 10, 2006

Pentax According to the BJP

Pentax has confirmed to The British Journal of Photography that it is going ahead with the development of a medium format digital camera (first reported in BJP, 29 June 2005). In addition, it revealed that it would introduce a number of digital SLRs, including a top-of-the-range model, along with a new range of digital lenses over the next 18 months.

Pentax intends the new camera to be based on the 645 and have a 22-MP sensor that may or may not be 6x4.5 cm, but will be larger than 35mm size. Rollout is planned for next Photokina (September 2006) with delivery by PMA (February) 2007.


Who Is This Man?

Any idea who this is? I'll give you a little while to think about it before revealing the answer.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

New Kodak Software

New Kodak software if you miss film.


Back to the future

I’m not sure why The Economist would cover a small photographic show in Austin, Texas, but “The Image Wrought: Historical Photographic Approaches in the Digital Age” sounds well worth a detour if you’re anywhere near there between now and August 6th. It offers further proof that “alternative” processes like tintype, daguerreotype, collodion, and gum bichromate are not only alive and well, but are mating with digital technology to create a new generation of hybrids. So how long till scanned Tri-X begins to feel like cutting-edge retro?


Heeeeere's Mikey

I'm finally back on Blogger after a week+ of frustrating computer/DSL problems. Just the usual. T.O.P would have died without Oren and Carl, to whom kudos, grateful thanks, props, applause, etc.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Fun Things to Photograph: Diamond Signs

Donald Knuth is one of the smartest people on the planet, a veritable deity in the world of computer science. He and his wife Jill amuse themselves on their travels by creating the world's most fabulous collection of snapshots of diamond road signs.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Dealing with Digital Dry-Down

At the end of the first half of this two-part post, Carl Weese promised to reveal a couple of tricks, one cheap and the other absolutely free, that will help you understand the digital dry-down of your system and improve the number of successful first prints you get.

So here is the totally free trick. When you’ve made a successful print from one of your digital files, after archiving it on multiple media, do one more thing. Size the file to eight inches or so at 72 ppi and then save it as a high quality JPEG right to your desktop. If you print monochrome as well as full color files, save one of each this way. These are now your Master Files. Or, “files that worked.”

Now the next time you need to deal with your latest scan or digital capture, play with the new file until you’re happy, but then reach over and double click that little desktop icon of the appropriate Master File. Mess with the windows until you have a nice side by side comparison, and really look at the pair. How similar are they? If they diverge, is it because the pictures are different, or because the new one isn’t handled well? Last time, I mentioned keeping a histogram palette open in your PhotoShop workspace. With the two files onscreen, not only can you look at them side by side on your calibrated monitor, but simply by clicking on one or the other, you will activate the histogram for each on the palette. If the pictures ought to be similar, but the histograms are clearly in conflict, you need to rethink what you’re doing with the new picture.

Now for the trick that’s only cheap, not free. Photoshop CS (disclaimer: not only do they not pay me, but I haven’t upgraded to CS2 yet) has a stupidly named Automation Function called “Contact Sheet II.” It should more properly be called “proof sheet” since that’s what it is, and nothing about it has anything to do with a true contact print. But it’s really useful. Here are two ways I used it in the past two days. Yesterday, I selected twenty pictures from an interesting couple of hours I spent walking around a wonderfully dreary urban park in strange overcast lighting conditions. I suspect I’ll want to make real prints from some of these pictures. I called up the automation process, and simply ordered it to make a sheet of twenty thumbnails from them, on letter-size paper. I applied output sharpening to the file, and ordered a print with my usual color management running. If I decide to print any of these, the thumbnail and the file from which it was made give me a direct readout of the difference between the screen and the ink-on-paper. When I make the printing files from these captures, I’ll keep referring to the screen and the little proofs.

Today, I was interested in looking at three of my 7x17 inch negatives originally planned for Pt/Pd printing to see if they would make interesting 16x40 inch enlargements, printed with the 4800. When I thought the files were in pretty good shape, once again I asked PSCS to create a “Contact Sheet II.” But this time, the files were huge. A 16x40 image file at 360 ppi with a curves adjustment layer weighs in at 1.2 gigabytes. No problem. I just ordered the automated task and drove off to the post office, dump, bank, and grocery store. When I returned from my errands the file was waiting for me. I applied the monochrome coloration treatment I thought might be right, added the output sharpening, and ordered the print. The proof of these three pictures on enhanced matte cost about a dollar, and told me a lot about how well I’d handled the files. One of the pictures is a cranky thing that I keep thinking has merit, but can’t get a handle on. The other two are slam-dunks. Seeing the cranky thing in company with the secure images, I probably won’t print it. But, I probably will do this again a couple of times, with tweaks, before I output one of these pictures at 16x40 on fancy paper. So this is, while not actually free, a really cheap trick that greatly improves the odds of getting a successful first print.

Posted by: CARL WEESE

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Why I Don't Like Zeiss Lenses (Reasons #457, 458, 459 and 460)

The February '06 Nippon Camera showed up the other day. I'll probably post more about it a bit later, but a couple of things really caught my attention in this issue.

For starters, there's a first look at the "new" 50/1.4 and 85/1.4 Zeiss Planars in Nikon and M42 mount. I say "new", because what's clear from the report is that Mike Johnston was right—these really are just warmed-over versions of the lenses previously available in Contax/Yashica mount.

This is not a good thing. The NC article includes a nice comparison showing image character for both of the new ZF lenses along with the corresponding C/Y MM lenses, using a test snap made at open aperture with a nearby subject and a distant out-of-focus backround. In this test the 50 in particular—new and old versions alike—produces spectacularly awful bokeh, an eye-popping cacophony of frizz. It's as though the photographer had inserted a huge piece of oddly-textured glass between the subject and the background. The 85 has the same flavor, though because of focal-length effects it's not quite so intense in this instance. Ugh.

But wait, there's more. The in-depth camera test in this issue covers the new Zeiss-Ikon rangefinder camera, along with the genuinely new 35 and 25 Biogon ZM lenses. The good news is that Zeiss did get off their collective rear and develop a new design for the 35 to replace the nasty 35/2 Planar offered for the Contax G cameras. The bad news is that the redesign just substituted one set of vices for another. In NC's standard open-aperture bokeh test snaps, both the 35 and the 25 show blatant ni-sen (double-line) effects in the background.

The Zeiss hype gets pretty old. They sure do have cracker-jack optical engineers who know their exotic glasses and can make a ray-tracing program sing. But they consistently make what I consider to be really bad design choices, going for bench-test bragging rights at the expense of pictorial character. Caveat emptor.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Public Service Announcement

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the byline of T.O.P. Blogger-in-Chief Mike Johnston has been missing for the past few days. Fear not: there is a benign explanation. An IT systems meltdown at T.O.P. Global Headquarters has temporarily reduced Mike to a primitive cyber-existence, furtively checking his email through public terminals. Fortunately, the T.O.P. Department of Homeblog Security Cyber Contingency Plan swung smoothly into action, activating the fault-tolerant, distributed network of T.O.P. correspondents to continue our regular programming. And as I write these words, an army of highly-skilled network engineers is working round-the-clock under Mike's supervision to reconnect T.O.P.G.H.Q. to the blogosphere. Success is anticipated within no more than a few days.

P.S.: Latest word from Mike is that his email inbox is overflowing with reader comments on his "DMD" article. Stay tuned for a follow-up.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Photograph: Sacred Object no Longer?

A post earlier this week by Virginia Postrel on her Dynamist blog, about the scrapbooking fad among suburban moms, elicited an interesting response from reader Eric Akawie:

I think another, somewhat unconscious motive behind Scrapbooking is the deprecation of the physical status of photographs. I remember as a child, photographs were absolutely sacred – we never threw away or cut up a photo, no matter how bad it was. But now, with photos printed at home, and so cheap individually, throwing photographs away is not a big deal (although I always feel a pang and sense my mother's disapproving glare).

Scrapbooking returns that sense of specialness to the photos included, and with the amount of work (and money!) that goes into an individual page, acts as a bulwark against the photos being discarded during some cleaning/purging/simplifying binge.

Are photographs sacred objects for you in this way? If not, were they ever? And if they were in the past but aren't now, why do you think your feelings changed?

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Digital Dry-Down

Ever notice that even with the best equipment, it’s not all that easy to get exactly the digital print you want on the first try? If you have noticed this, or maybe find that it’s driving you crazy, relax. The important part of any photographic printing process happens up in your head, not in the equipment, either analog or digital.

Anyone familiar with traditional darkroom printing knows the term “dry-down.” It means the difference between the way a wet print looks when you turn on the lights and examine it in the fix tray, and the way it will look after it’s dry. David Vestal once told me “photography would be so much easier if we always looked at prints under two inches of water.” The wet print appears more luminous, more brilliant, and often at the same time more subtle, than its eventual dry self. Well, digital inkjet printing has its own version of dry-down. No matter how much you spend on a monitor, no matter how good a hardware/software calibration system you use, the glowing CRT or LCD screen cannot look exactly like an ink-on-paper print viewed by reflected light. They are just two completely different objects. To print well you need to allow for the difference.

In the traditional darkroom, each paper has its own dry-down characteristics that must be learned by trial and error. Highlights of silver prints darken as they dry, and glossy paper behaves quite differently from matte. Platinum/palladium prints “dry to the middle” with highlights getting darker and shadows getting lighter. You need to judge a wet Pt/Pd very differently, and allow for a different dry-down, than a silver print.

My experience with several properly calibrated and color-managed systems is that digital dry-down is something you always have to take into consideration, and, surprisingly, you should expect different changes with color and monochrome files. With my system (Mac running Photoshop with calibrated 20 inch flatscreen and Epson 4800 printer), full color pictures print middle tones, highlights, and deepest dark values just as you’d expect from the monitor. But the lower-middle values “plunge”—print darker than they seem onscreen. I need to get those low values a bit high and weak onscreen to avoid finding them dark and muddy once the ink is on the paper. The histogram is helpful here. I set up my Photoshop desktop so a histogram palette is always visible. When I think a file looks about right, but the histogram shows a lot of values in the left quarter, it’s a good indication that a curve should be used to move those values closer to the center. But with monochrome files, there’s quite a different gotcha. Here, upper values that seem fine onscreen tend to print weak and insubstantial. I find there’s almost never a subject value for monochrome that I want to print any whiter than what the printer delivers from value 230 or 235, even though a high value like a very pale blue sky in a color picture may print beautifully with rgb values like 248/249/252. At the other end of the scale, those dark values in the left quarter of the histogram, the ones that plunge into mud in a color picture, turn out to be just fine for monochrome. So the ideal histogram for monochrome is weighted quite a bit to the left compared to the ideal histogram for a color file.

The exact digital dry-down you can expect will depend on your monitor, your calibration, your color management system and your printer. Just don’t expect a magic translation from that glowing screen to the finished print without using some Kentucky windage. Next time, we’ll look at a couple of tricks, one cheap and the other absolutely free, that will help you understand the digital dry-down of your system and improve the number of successful first prints you get.

Posted by: CARL WEESE

E is for Enigmas

Happened to be browsing the DSLR section of the B&H website last night, and I noticed that the price of the Olympus E-1 camera body had dropped to $679.95, with the body plus standard 14-54 zoom correspondingly discounted to $1079.95.

That Olympus has managed to grab a foothold at all in the technologically demanding and brutally competitive DSLR market is pretty remarkable, especially considering that, having missed the autofocus revolution, they essentially sat out the last 15 years of the film SLR market. The E-1 has earned a reputation as a camera best appreciated by the sort of hard-core photographer who can see beyond the megapixel "arms race" and appreciate more subtle virtues—in camera handling and construction quality, and above all in image character—while being willing to work within some obvious and occasionally annoying limitations. It's not clear whether Olympus has what it takes to defend that niche, though; so far they've been unable to muster the resources to bring out a pro-grade body with an updated sensor, or even to fill in just a few critical missing pieces to the E-system, notably a fast prime lens or two in the wide-to-normal range.

At this point, even those buyers who appreciate what's special about the E-1 worry about buying into a system that may not be viable. But at current pricing for the E-1, there's a different way to look at it. Forget that it's a system. Assume that the E-1 will retain zero resale value; that's true of everything else in this market, and it hasn't stopped chintzy, disposable, plastic low-end DSLRs from other vendors from flying off the shelves at the same price. Just think of the E-1 with 14-54 as the most refined, most usable, best built all-in-one camera there is for the serious photographer who wants a lean, capable machine for high quality, general purpose, out-and-about digital snapshooting but who doesn't feel compelled to make poster-sized prints.

Are there any more of you out there, beyond those who've already bought their E-1's? The answer may determine whether Olympus is long for the DSLR world.

Also in the E department today: a new book is on the way from William Eggleston. I didn't know that thirty years ago he'd spent some time making slice-of-life snaps with a 5x7 camera, rather than the more familiar 35mm or 2 1/4. Will they share the slightly-out-of-kilter, discombobulating charm that's characteristic of his work in the smaller formats? Stay tuned...

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Places to Visit on the Web:

If you would like to spend some time in a website where you can meander along many different paths and be surprised now and then by what you find, and if you like reading pleasantly understated but quirky and perceptive observations about photography and other things too, you would do well to visit here. (Among the other things there's cookery, in case you get hungry.)

Posted by: OREN GRAD