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Saturday, September 30, 2006

The T.O.P. Hat

'Kay, I'm just playin' here. (Trying to avoid doing real work....) But check out our nifty new TOP HAT. I couldn't resist the good pun. Hey, and if people are too far away to read the small print, they'll just think you know which end of yourself is up!


It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

The Tamron Adaptall 2 system has been discontinued. Tamron pulled the plug on further development of the interchangeable lens mount concept several years back. Never an overwhelming success in the marketplace, in recent years this product line has served primarily as a means for owners of cameras with orphaned lens mounts and poor support from independent vendors (e.g. Mamiya ZE, Fujica AX, Praktica B200) to get at least some new glass for their cameras.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Modern Canon Classic

Adam Richardson has just posted a nice paean to the Canon T90 on his blog.


Featured Comment by Morven: Like it or hate it, it's definitely the case that every Canon high-end SLR from then on is just a revision of the T90 design, in terms of appearance and interface. And, for that matter, many other companies' designs owe it a lot.

As well as the things mentioned, it also had the top-plate status LCD, now ubiquitous (though this was in simpler form on the earlier T70), the full-size handgrip with shutter button on the grip rather than on the camera top, and a bunch of other things. It also introduced the TTL flash system used on early EOS cameras.

Internally, it was the first camera to use multiple micromotors rather than one big motor to drive everything; its power-conservation is quite amazing. I can't think of many earlier cameras that incorporated an integral high-speed motor drive, for that matter.

The genius of the T90 was that it was the first electronic, power-driven SLR that wasn't interested in pretending to be mechanical or mindlessly repeating the control layout and appearance of the manual SLR.

If one had to pick the breaking point between the classic SLR and the modern, the T90 was the place. That it wasn't autofocus was about the only part of the revolution it did not have. Well, that and matrix metering, although it made up for it by having pretty much everything else; center-weighted, partial area, spot, multi-spot with shadow and highlight spots, and TTL flash.

I largely wrote the Wikipedia article on the T90, which I'm fairly proud of:—an attempt to distil all the sources I could find into a short article on it.

Ken Tanaka: the T70 was a nice camera, very overlooked because it's boxy, plastic and motor-driven. I have one and it's a very serviceable camera indeed, and a steal for about $30 on eBay including lens. Meanwhile, less capable (but equally battery-dependent) AE-1s go for over a hundred.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Black Background

Espen Stranger Seland, Trond Andreassen, Ricochets

Now here's some great performance photography. Check out Espen Stranger Seland's site.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON thanks to E.S.S.

How Do They Make Soap?

Don't forget that tomorrow is Ask a Stupid Question Day, and, to answer the first one, no, you may not start a day early.

(In 10th grade, I won a contest to see who could sidetrack our chemistry teacher the longest with a single question. He talked for 40 minutes about soap, breaking the old record by a factor of about four. One of my proudest accomplishments....)


Annie Annointed

Susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz

It happens rarely, but a photographer has landed on the cover of a major American magazine this week—NEWSWEEK has officially certified Annie Leibovitz as our "best known" photographer. There's a major story about her in this week's issue, based on her new book A Photographer's Life: 1990–2005.

It's an almost backhanded compliment, that "best known"—but it's accurate, forehandedly and backhandedly. And it's certainly not the photographer's fault that she's gotten famous by doing what she does very well. Still....

She has all the right cred, the right moves. As a hard-scrabblin' walk-on at Rolling Stone way back when it had some edge (you have to be past a certain age to remember that), she has great counterculture pedigree. As a lesbian (though pictured on the magazine's cover in her role as mother) showing all the alpha males her dust—and whose longtime lover was one of America's foremost intellectuals before she died—she's got the inside track on outsiderhood.

I know all that. I just wish I liked her work more.

For me, she personifies a particular trend that I first wrote about back in 1995. One I don't like very well. The trend? Just that, sometime during the Gordon Gekko years, the "model" of the successful photographer in the eyes of the wannabees, the hobbyists, and the public shifted, somehow. It used to be the photojournalist. By the end of the '80s, however, the quintessential pro had become the advertising photographer. Photography in the service of truth vs. photography in the service of money is putting it way too glibly, but it was something like that. That shift from the play-it-as-it-lays, rip-it-from-life pj to the slick-celebrity-oriented world of fashion magazines and corporate advertising was profound. Ms. L. didn't lead the way, but she shows the way the wind blew.

I don't know her, and the highest sphere I've ever reached doesn't aspire to what she stoops to when she slums. Her pictures are as gorgeous as their subjects. She is like they are, famous and rich. Annie has a retinue and works ten times as hard. (As who? Anybody.) The clients get what they want, famous name, slick picture, ball of wax. Everybody's happy. Everybody's metahappy.

But the substance of her work is style. Her style is that of a chameleon. At its core it's about surface. I'd rather have one 8x10 of that portrait of her at the top of this post than ten of her own famous portraits of her most famous clients, poster-sized and signed. To me it's more of a portrait, somehow. I hope that's not too unkind a thing to say.


Featured Comment by stevierose: Actually, Annie does a great job of what she does, which is celebrity photography. I am also sick to death of the cult of celebrity in this country and all that goes with it. But, blaming Annie for that is like blaming Robert Capa for war, or blaming Salgado for famine. It's shooting the messenger.

I don't, however, have any objection to MJ or anyone else saying that they just don't like her photographs for whatever reason, aesthetic, philisophical, or otherwise. That is everyone's right. However, I think Leibovitz is the top representative of her photographic niche, I like some of her photographs, and I respect what she does.

Pictures Worth Thousands of Words, Dept.

This week's NEWSWEEK covers in various regions of the world:

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON thanks to Taylor Hain

Comments are now closed for this entry. Thanks for your cooperation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Three Inch Spider Indiana Electric Kill

It's been a while since I caught up with my favorite blog, Monkeysquirrel. Check it out, especially if you happen to be an arachnologist and can help. [Note to the perplexed: "Look at this Cool Spider" was top o' the blog when I wrote this.]

For a taste, here's Mr. Hill on science and math education:

...Narrative is where it's at. We humans can't put it down; it's simply not possible.

Why don't we do this in science and math class in school? I bet if I learned a little bit about the personalities and adventures of the minds behind the theories, I would have been riveted to the hard science of chemistry and whatever other science I took in school. Math, too. Mathemeticians are freaks. Why didn't my math teachers sell me on the freakiness of the people who came up with these ideas? Instead, it was all thrown at us as though math text books were these bibles of numbers that had been around since the beginning of time. If we'd been caught up in the drama of their creation, I bet we would have taken math more seriously, we kids.

Funny (or maybe synchronistic) that he should come up with this just now. I've just been reading a book about the origin of humankind (titled, in fact, The Origin of Humankind) by Richard Leakey, famous son of even more famous parents, and thinking a lot about Mrs. [Beth] Sieckmann, my 7th- and 8th-grade science teacher. I'm not a scientist, never have been, and I wouldn't have named Mrs. Sieckmann as one of my top-three all-time teachers at age 15, or 25. But the older I get, the more I credit her with providing me with the foundations of my worldview, my rationalism, my metaphysics; she gave me a really good deep-core understanding of the scientific enterprise. I liked English and art better, but I needed the science I got.

I mention her because she certainly taught paleontology the way Scott Hill suggests: I and my friends practically lived the story of the Leakeys and Olduvai Gorge, the unfolding of the fossil evidence and the fierce battles between scholars over competing theories, the great drama of the narrative. I remember crawling all over the breakwater by Lake Michigan hacking trilobite fossils out of the rocks, and staying in the classroom till dusk with my nose stuck in a shark corpse that reeked of formaldehyde just to make sure I'd gotten my drawings right. (Maybe that was Oceanography, in 7th grade.) It all came back to me reading Richard Leakey's excellent book.

I had teachers I was more fond of (and some who were more fond of me), but none who affected my life quite the way she did. Looking back (especially now, with the popularity of irrationality positively exploding) I find I'm very grateful to have had her as a teacher. Mrs. Sieckmann was a great—an inspired—teacher. I wish I could thank her, but I think she died some years back.

I'll bet Mr. Hill is leaving some impressions, too. I think I may have posted this once before, but, if so, here he is again (well, part of him, anyway) with his daughter. Here's to teachers that get the narrative.


The Daily Duck

Note that I've added a link to Aaron Johnson's "What the Duck" near the bottom of the left-hand column, so you can check in with the Duck every day.


New Epson Printer

Epson has introduced a new high-end amateur inkjet printer, the $1200 3800 (unfortunately named since Epson already has another product with that number). I'd tell you more about it, but the official website is one of those flash sites set to incredibly annoying synth music—to give it, presumably, all the drama of being on hold with the phone company. Note to webmasters: don't provide music. I'm already listening to music. That means I either have to turn off my own music and sit there in silence to visit their site, or listen to Epson's, which drives me away like one of those supersonic rat repellers. Yes, I know what that says about me. But I'm going to have to read about the 3800 later on on the Luminous Landscape or something. You'll have to read about it on your own.


Featured Comment by Dan: Forcing a user to listen to music is a big design no-no. It's disrespectful.

A site playing music usually lets you hit escape to stop the music if it's built into the html. Flash sites are a bit more irritating as that rarely works.

If you hit the button to skip the intro on Epson's site, then you will be presented with an option to turn off the music at the top-right. An option that should have been available from the start.

Ouch, Dept.

Track and field line judge Lia Mara Lourenco is helped after a javelin hit her in her foot during "Brazil Trophy," a national track and field competition, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006. (AP Photo/Jonne Roriz, Agencia Estado)

I always wondered why this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. It always seems like the judges are out there dodging the javelins...let's hope she'll be okay.

Carry on,


UPDATE by Rodrigo, September 30th, 2006: They said in the newspaper yesterday that she is already at home, resting after a surgery. She expects to be working again within a month.

OT: Music Notes

A brief off-topic item: The Philadelphia Orchestra, one of America's big five symphony orchestras, is offering downloads of soundboard recordings of live performances at its music store in MP3 format—no surprise there—but also, unusually, in Josh Coalson's restriction-free FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) format too. Right now you can get a nice reading of Beethoven's Fifth under Christoph Eschenbach for free in MP3 (free! Free!), or pay $6 for the FLAC version. A FLAC file has the same specs as a Redbook CD. The FLAC software is available for free too.

If you burn yours to a CD, which you'll want to do because there's no DRM (I'm listening to mine right now), you'll want to turn off the interval pause between tracks, because the allegro movements (3 and 4) are contiguous.

Lossless downloads of live performances are the sort of thing that ought to be encouraged. You can't at present get a "SUPPORT HI-REZ DOWNLOADS" bumper sticker from the Philadelphia, but I'm sure that's just a temporary oversight....

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, hat tip to Wes Phillips

HP Z-Series Printers

Hewlett-Packard has announced its new Z-series professional wide-carriage pigment-ink printers. There will be four: 24" and 44" models in both 8-ink (Z2100) and 12-ink (Z3100) configurations (the latter feature spot-gloss and quad-tone gray cartridges). The big news with these printers is that they have built-in spectrophotometers built on GretagMacBeth/X-Rite's Eye-One technologies. This will provide end-to-end color management that, with a free plug-in, is fully integrated with the "Calibrate Printer" button in Adobe Lightroom.

In a formal "strategic alliance," HP has also proactively integrated the entire range of Hahnemühle fine-art and creative printing media.

On select media, the HP Vivera inks were declared by Henry Wilhelm of Wilhelm Imaging Research as the longest-lasting commercially available color prints in the history of photography, surpassing dye transfer, Cibachrome, and all other inkjet prints.

Pricing and availability:




Expected availability


HP Designjet Z2100 24”


October 2006


HP Designjet Z2100, 44”


October 2006


HP Designjet Z3100, 24”


First half of 2007


HP Designjet Z3100, 44”


First half of 2007


Featured Comment by Plabby: Integrated self-profiling seems like pure genius and could certainly help HP differentiate itself from the competition. I imagine self-profiling to be a "magic bullet" that ends the time intensive process of maintaining proper color space throughout a workflow. I hope such technology becomes the buzz for next gen printers as it increases the potential for joe "bag-o-donuts" to get a great fine art print without having to invest thousands of dollars, years of his life, and wasted fine art media (read $) profiling things by hand.

UPDATE: Here's the link to Luminous Landscape's Brief Report, which in turn contains a link to its Videoblog about the printers.

Random Excellence

Brendan Benson and Jack White of the Raconteurs at a concert Monday night at the Roseland Ballroom. Photo by Rahav Segev.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Separados al nacer

by Albano Garcia

(Separados al nacer—the title is a Spanish expression meaning "separated at birth.")

On the right, Paul McCartney with his just-born daughter Mary, photographed by his wife—and the mother of the baby—photographer Linda Eastman, in 1970, for the back cover of Paul's first solo album, McCartney. On the left, the poor, confused Tom Cruise and his wife Katie, with their baby, Suri.

The photographer? No less than Annie Leibovitz, without doubt an addict to hommages. Or maybe she understands better than anyone that we're in the postmodern era and it's impossible to be original? Anyway, she recognizes the link; in an interview she says McCartney's photo is "one of my favorite pictures of a father holding a baby." In the meantime, I can add she spent two weeks with the Cruise family for the Vanity Fair shooting. Poor little baby....


Olympus Promises Future Pro DSLR Development

Evidently Olympus has paid attention to the criticisms seen around the internet with regard to a successor to the E-1 flagship DSLR. A message regarding the future of the E-system has appeared on Olympus Japan's website, along with a picture of a "concept" model of the replacement for the E-1. The message reads in part:

A successor to our current E-1 flagship introduced next year. Work on this new camera, exhibited at Photokina 2006 as a concept model, is ongoing. Our future product plans include everything from a flagship model aimed at working professionals, to entry-level models for users who are new to SLR photography. We will continue to develop Olympus E-System bodies, lenses, and accessories for a wide range of genres, so that even more people are able to take photographs that could never be taken before.

Digital SLR systems play a key role in our business plans. We are currently strengthening our development resources in this area, and are working to bring even more products to market. We assure you there will be successors to the E-1 constantly, and the Olympus E-System and the Four Thirds System will continue to grow.

Masaharu Okubo
President, Olympus Imaging Corporation

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Oren

New Leica Digital Prime

Panasonic has announced a Leica Summilux 25mm (50mm equivalent) ƒ/1.4 prime lens for the 4/3rds system.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, thanks to Oren

UPDATE: More pictures here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Brief Policy Note

Many forums tolerate what are called "thread Nazis" (this is what they're called—it's not my term), whose self-appointed task is to keep all the discussions strictly on topic, never suffering anyone to stray. Although "The Online Photographer" is mostly about photography, occasionally there are going to be posts about painting, holidays, hairstyles, stereo equipment, historical figures, conspiracy theories, old friends, movies and television, current events, what I had for breakfast, cars—anything, in fact, that I might feel like posting (especially, I admit, if I think it's funny). If this oppresses your inner thread Nazi, do not despair: these are blog posts, not threads, so though we are guaranteed to go off topic occasionally, we will never stay there, but will, rather, in short order, and inevitably, return to the labelled subject. C'est la.

, and also pax.


LightZone 2.0 Open Beta (and More)

News from Photokina
It's Press Day in Cologne. The rilly rilly big shew starts tomorrow. For those of you expecting torrents of announcements beginning very early in the morning U.S. time, don't—most of the major announcements will already have been made at this point. Although there may be a few more filtering through, from here on, Photokina is mainly cool if you're there. Recent news:

• Leica buys 51% of Swiss view camera manufacturer Sinar. Who knows how or why, perhaps because it wants to be the one to build the lenses.

• Fujifilm announced a new DSLR, but one that's not coming until next year, the Fuji S5—basically a Nikon D200 with a Fuji S3 SR (high-dynamic-range, two sensor areas per photosite) sensor in it. The latter is evidently a very good and useful sensor that does indeed embody Fuji's philosophy of improving image quality rather than image size—it's still 6 MP—but as far as I know it's been hampered by software.

Lightroom Beta 4 has been released for both Mac and Windows.


Pentax K10 on YouTube.

• Lightcrafts releases LightZone 2.0 as an open beta, to be announced formally at Photokina on Sept. 27. LightZone is an image-manipulation program that supports all major camera RAW formats with native custom processing. Its imaging engine uses small files to store its image edits, as well as exporting edited images to standard image formats. It is easy to use as its masking tools offer the photographer precise control and focus with a simplicity and ease of use without par. LightZone's small edit files increase the photographers' productivity and minimize the photographer's storage space. LightZone 2.0 is available now as an open beta for download from the company's website.


• Sigma's German website is showing the DP1, a compact camera with a 2652×1768×3 Foveon sensor—that's either 4.7 MP or 14MP, depending upon how you count, or something in between (each photosite in a Foveon sensor captures all three colors). It has a fixed 28mm-equivalent ƒ/4 lens, and you can do the math regarding the sensor size; the actual focal length of the lens is 16.6mm. This looks nifty and I'm going to be watching for more about it. I'll let you know.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON and a whole gang of tipsters

Featured Comment
by Ctein: Not wanting to be too much of a pedant about this (just enough of one) but...

...The Sigma's a 4.7 megapixel camera, no matter what Foveon or Sigma may want to call it. Pixels are geometric units—how many little boxes the image is divided up into. Nothing more or less than that.

A pixel can be 1 bit deep or 100 bits deep. It can contain monochrome data, 3 color data, hyperspectral or even (in the case of some scientific sensors) full spectral data. It's still just a pixel.

All pixels are not created equal, and it's right to point out the ways in which a Foveon pixel is different from a Bayer filter array pixel. But trying to redefine "pixel" to level the playing field, as Foveon is doing, is a recipe for confusion.

Multi-Touch Sensing

The light table of the future....

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Y.N.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Television Notes

WHOOO-WEEE: Next week, on the national game: undefeated Chicagger vs. undefeated Seattle. Immoveable object meets irresistable force. Humding.

BUT WHERE'S JEEVES? I don't know how this happened, but suddenly, Hugh Laurie is everywhere. If Steven Fry hasn't guested yet on House, someone should picket somewhere.

GET THE PADDLES! CLEAR!: This season on ER, the doctors drop scrubs in favor of camo. A lunatic plants an atomic bomb in the corpse of a homeless angel. Everyone is armed with semiautomatic weapons and hunts each other down in a series of firefights in the hallways. The few remaining cast members we know and love are guaranteed to be bloodied, to make us care anew about the operating room scenes. And yet: yawn.

SOAP-OPERA PACE KNOWN TO LOWER SPERM COUNT IN MALES: On Desperate Housewives, another three episodes' worth of activity is crammed into sixteen episodes. Writers exhausted. Hot milf cast keeps show trucking.

ALONG WITH THE LAME NAME. Justice is guaranteed to be gone by Thanksgiving. All flash and no [insert John Lovett voice:] ACTING!

DESPITE THE LAME NAME. Used to be, the movies were high-tone and TV was low-rent (you've never seen Jack Nicholson on "The Tonight Show," have you?). That's probably why the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster is based on a second-rate '70s TV show and the first episode of Oscar nominee James Woods's new TV show Shark was directed by Spike Lee. But, best new Fall show IMO, at least of the legal-beagle breed. (But are people really paid good money to come up with these series names? Shark? Really? Please.)


'How It Went'

I've just posted an "Update" to the entry about my little gallery show and talk on Saturday.

One side effect of the show was that it looks like I'll be having a bigger show at a bigger gallery sometime soon, which should be fun.


All the World's a Stage

by Ctein

Many years ago, there was an interesting photography vs. privacy lawsuit. A man was photographed in costume at one of those "erotic" Halloween balls in San Francisco by a photographer from one of the skin mags. When his photograph appeared in the magazine the man sued for invasion of privacy. Strictly speaking this wasn't a public venue—anyone could attend, but you had to buy an admission ticket. So, the argument went, participants could reasonably expect a minimal amount of privacy regarding their activities there.

Not so, ruled the courts, after considerable litigation. It was well known that the ball attracted photographers, both private and professional; in fact many people went there to be seen and photographed. Hence, the hapless subject could not insist upon any real expectation of privacy. He knew the score; he just didn't expect be one of the players.

Fast forward 20 years. Any reasonably interesting semi-public event produces a plethora of amateur videos that wind up on the Web. It's a great way for you to see things you may have missed, or to see them from a vantage point different (and frequently better) than yours. But there's no longer a bright shining line between the stage and the audience; which side of that invisible wall you appear on will depend upon the circumstances.

When I got back from the recent World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, I could go on line and find all sorts of little videos and photographs by friends and of friends. On the whole, this enhanced everyone's enjoyment; it let me be, vicariously, in several places at once.

It also had interesting ramifications. The nadir of the convention was when bad-boy author Harlan Ellison, showing misbehavior that was a low even for him, groped the Author Guest of Honor, Connie Willis, in front of the audience at the Hugo ceremonies. You don't need to hear my opinion of that; read Patrick Nielsen Hayden, item #3. He said it better than I ever could.

This behavior was so unexpected and inappropriate than half the audience couldn't really believe they had seen what they had. After Ellison issued an equivocal apology, he backtracked by claiming, "There was no grab; no grope; no fondle; there was the slightest touch."

Ok, so maybe a big misunderstanding? It was up on the stage distant from most viewers and it was all over in seconds. Easy to misinterpret.

Enter Larry Sanderson who was video recording large parts of the convention, and had a 50-yard-line seat for the Hugos. And enter Google Video.


So, smile, we're all on (not so) Candid Camera!

Posted by CTEIN

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Leeroy Gribbon, Dimitrios Pananakis, Emma Townsend

by Chantal Stone

One of the amazing attributes of the Internet is its ability to bring together people from all over the world. Never before have we been able to so easily chat with a friend on the opposite side of the planet, or see how life is lead in a strange land we likely will never visit. The Internet allows us to go from New York to London, from Cairo to Beijing, to see the sites, to glimpse the culture, all with a click of the mouse.

Photobloggers from around the world are sharing their lives, and interacting with each other, shrinking our planet. One day, we may all be homogenized, but until then, a brief trip around the world through photography can open our eyes to new lands.

1. Lee Gribbon

Photographer Leeroy Gribbon is an English teacher living in Japan, in a small, rural town not far from Takamatsu on the northern coast of the island Shikoku. A native New Zealander, Lee is spending three years teaching in Japan, absorbing its rich culture and documenting along the way with his camera.

Leeroy's interest in photography began at age 18, when he borrowed his dad's Olympus OM-10. He was instantly hooked, and despite many unsuccessful endeavors, Leeroy continued to shoot. He finally saw a vast improvement in his work and felt much motivation after purchasing a digital SLR. Now, six years later, each image created by Leeroy is a masterpiece of diligence.

Lee Gribbon, So Far Away

Being far from home, a photoblog is a fantastic way of sharing new adventures with friends and family left behind, and after a suggestion from his brother, Leeroy decided to take his curiosity in web design a step further by designing and coding his own site. Decoys Like Curves is a voyage through a land unknown to many, and a journey through the mind of man who enjoys the solitary life he is now leading in Japan.

Leeroy's photos reflect his feelings of being on the fringe of a society that prefers he stay there. A stranger in a strange land, Lee explains: "Japan is a fascinating country to live in, due to its relatively closed nature to foreigners…I have never, ever once felt like I was anything but an outsider, although, I'm happy with that arrangement." Despite depicting Japan with such integrity and grace, his images often feel like they are from the perspective of an observer, rather than a participant.

Leeroy's images can also evoke feelings of nostalgia of an ancient culture in a modernized land. "I would love to show exclusively photos with a Japanese flavor, but time and creativity are unfortunate restraints. So, occasionally there's stuff I post that looks like it could have been taken anywhere."

Lee Gribbon, Tori

Shooting mostly black and white, Leeroy's subject matter is indicative of his environment. People in their natural settings, often unaware and uninhibited; natural structures or abandoned industrialization; magnificent landscapes and seascapes all grace the pages of Leeroy's photoblog.

Exploration is Leeroy's passion, and photography is the vehicle. "Having a camera allows me to see [the] world in new and interesting perspectives." And having that camera allows us to see Leeroy's world too. When he returns to New Zealand after his three years teaching in Japan, Leeroy hopes to exhibit his images from Japan. Until then, we get a glimpse of his life through his photoblog.

2. Dimitrios Pananakis

Every now and then you may come across an artist who, through his work, can evoke emotion, mystery, or even abstraction. There are few that can do this, that can transport the viewer to another time and space, almost to another state of existence, almost like a dream. Near the town of Eindhoven, in The Netherlands, lives photographer, musician, and poet, Dimitrios Pananakis. A casual shooter perhaps, but certainly no novice, Dimitrios attempts to recreate dreams with his ethereal photography on his blog: Imagechoes.

Dimitrios began shooting in the mid-90s, as an alternative to his highly technical and specialized job in the field of medical technology. Born in Greece, he later relocated to The Netherlands for work. A passion for art has been with Dimitrios his entire life, but photography was the medium that was able recreate the visions in his head best. "Everything I shoot is part of some dream", explains Dimitrios.

Dimitrios Pananakis, Flap Your Wings

His photoblog began in March of 2006 as a means to display and share his reflections and dreams. Dimitrios' images can be best described as ethereal, almost unearthly, and many times sensitive and sentimental. He shoots mostly color images, often of landscapes, but mostly anything that is able to aptly illustrate the inner-workings of a beautiful mind.

Poetry most often accompanies each image that Dimitrios posts to his blog. "The poetry tries to reflect the reason I shot the photograph, although some times it becomes an extension of my thoughts, not only about the subject of the [image] but of the world in general." In addition, the viewer is also invited to listen to the ambient music composed by Dimitrios himself. Provocative, emotive, and sublime, a tour through Dimitrios' photoblog is sure to inspire.

3. Emma Townsend

Simplicity and grace are words that can be used to describe the lovely photoblog by Emma Townsend: Photoblogster. Emma is an amateur photographer living in Reading , England, a city outside of London. She works in marketing for a software company, and uses photography as a creative outlet.

Emma always had an interest in photography and the printed image, but it wasn't until she received her first SLR that her passion was unleashed. She enrolled in a photography course where she studied the fundamentals of photography, including darkroom technique. About midway through her course, Emma discovered photoblogging, and conceived Photoblogster. Since then, she's enjoyed the community involved with photoblogging, and has even encouraged her father and sister to start their own photoblogs.

"Photoblogging and the community has been way more [fun] than I ever imagined it would be. Looking at others' work is really inspiring and makes you want to try new things and new techniques."

Emma Townsend, Nikki

Emma's pictures are clean, crisp, and free from all the frills and over-processing that has become so common. Her subject matter consists of scenes from the everyday. "Typical everyday observations," she says to describe her work. "I like to make normal things look interesting." And so she does. From moody landscapes to delicate flowers, Emma has the ability to bring beauty out of the mundane. But her real strength lies in her portraits, where she effectively can bring out the soul of a person with a simple click of the shutter.

Although she's happy with photography as a hobby, Emma may pursue more serious photographic endeavors in the future, including possible gallery representation. Until then, she will continue to shoot, learn, and grow as a photographer.


Previous posts in Chantal Stone's Photobloggers Exposed series:

I: Daniel Seguin, David Desjardins, Dean Sherwood
II: Christian Wagner

'A Brilliant Social Engineering Hack'

Want to know how to carry camera equipment on airplanes with no-cost extra security, for the cost of a few starter pistols? 'Security Guru' Bruce Schneier tells you how it's done.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON hat tip to bong

Friday, September 22, 2006

Olympus E-1 Successor

Kudos to Rob Galbraith, who spotted this cryptic little sentence in a press release on the Olympus Japan website: "In addition, we will be exhibiting [at Photokina] a concept model of the successor to our current Olympus E-System flagship, the Olympus E-1 digital SLR."

As a friend of mine used to quip, "more non-news as it develops."


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mike Johnston: 1:30 Saturday

The Guerrilla Gallery, Milwaukee

In conjunction with the WestSide Art Walk in Milwaukee, I'll be standing guard over a modest exhibition of my own photographs at the Guerrilla Gallery at 57th and Vliet Streets in the Washington Heights section of Milwaukee (the address is 5700 W. Vliet) from 5–9 p.m. Friday (tomorrow) and from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturday.

I will also be giving an informal talk at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. I haven't decided what to talk about, since it depends on whether anyone shows up to listen (I do talk to myself, sometimes, but in that case I extemporize). The natural subject may be to talk about the transition from traditional black-and-white to digital color, since that's what's in the exhibit.

If you're in the neighborhood, please come by to say hello. I'll be around from 5 to 9 Friday and 10 to 4 Saturday.

—Mike J.


Photos courtesy Terence Morrissey

We had a nice time at the gallery on Friday and Saturday. There were lots of people in and out on Friday evening, mostly Milwaukeeans and folks from the Washington Heights neighborhood. On Saturday the rain kept the walkers away (art walks, like corn farming, are weather-dependent), but enough T.O.P. readers showed up for my talk to fill up the little gallery and yet not overflow it, which was perfect. Thanks to those who came, most especially Terence Morrissey., who flew in from Canada just to hear the talk! I took that as a mighty high compliment. (These are his pictures of the event.)

Thanks especially to Dan Schley, whose neighborhood spirit is the Guerrilla Gallery's reason for being—it's the front end of his office, which he's sunk a lot of money into so he can offer the space to artist friends for free. It's really a nifty little gallery that does a lot to brighten up the street and the neighborhood, a great gift from Dan and his wife Barb to their community.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Moral Confusion

To begin with, check out the first response to the posting "Daguerreotype of 9/11" below.

The commenter's reaction certainly surprised me. On further reflection, however, I think his (or her) reaction was an example of a type of confusion on the part of viewers that has regularly bedeviled photographers throughout the history of the medium. The reaction seems to be that the act of photography implies a moral stance or implication, and is thus an immoral or moral action in and of itself.

Sometimes, of course, it does—to some degree or another. Again, I think the only true examples of "immoral photography" I'm personally familiar with are certain types of pornography, specifically when a crime is committed in order to create a picture of it. (Even there, ambiguity exists—is it immoral because it's being photographed, or is it immoral because it's a crime to begin with? There must be different shadings in different situations.) News photographers of various kinds and in a number of eras have drawn fire for showing something shocking or regrettable. The standard complaint seems to run more or less like this: "How could you just stand there and take a picture of that? You should have done something to help." Three photographs that come to mind that have drawn this kind of criticism are a news photograph of a mother and baby falling to their deaths from a burning building, a picture of a man with a shotgun to his neck moments before he committed suicide, and the picture of the burning Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest the Viet Nam war.

The source of the reaction seems simple: ordinary viewers know that to take a photograph you have to be proximate to your subject. Thus, they know that the photographers were "there." And if they were there, the logic seems to go, they should have acted to change the situation, somehow. (It's partially a wishful "I" statement on the part of the viewer, to wit: "If I had been there, I would have taken action.")

I should add here that I have a finely honed, or at least well-developed, moral sense, and in the early days of my involvement with photography I reacted strongly to a variety of photographs from a moral perspective. I recall walking out of a Mary Ellen Mark lecture once, because I felt the pictures were exploitative. And I still abhor the work of certain photographers on moral grounds. In certain limited cases, I think that an appeal to base motives or criminal tendencies in viewers is sufficient to damn a picture or pictures. For example, the appeal to necrophilia in Joel Peter Witkin's work. In other cases, I get a sense of something ugly in the photographer; an example of that would be another photographer whose work I can't stand, Jock Sturges, whose pictures seem to express a clammy, fawning pedophilia.

Jerry Spagnoli, Untitled, September 11, 2001: Is the "morality"
of this picture indivisible from the technique used to make it?

So I'm not immune to a moral response to photographs. But is it really true that Jerry Spagnoli's picture of the burning towers in the New York cityscape is "shameful" just because it's a Daguerreotype? What's the underlying assumption here: that every time someone uses an archaic or alternative technique, there's something precious or self-conscious about it that means the photographer expects approval based solely on the nicety of the technique? Would this same picture be more "moral" to the commenter if it had been made by the same view camera but with ordinary film—or is the very act of setting up and using an obsolescent view camera enough to make it immoral? Is it somehow not immoral to take a picture like this with a modern snapshot camera like everyone owns?

The fact is, somewhat unfortunately perhaps, that photography is almost never implicitly moral or immoral, intrinsically. I believe it can be used for immoral purposes, but I also have learned to be suspicious of people who think that those "immoral purposes" can be contained just in the picture, and are discoverable just from the picture, and that they are therefore justified in condemning the photographer based solely on the evidence of the picture.

For the most part, I think that when this tendency is analyzed, what we discover is that the viewers are approaching the picture with certain assumptions, and that those assumptions cannot be proved by just the picture. For example, when a photojournalist takes a picture like the burning monks, most often there is nothing that he or she can possibly do to help. For instance, the photographer may be behind a police line, or physically restrained, or be close to whatever is happening but not close enough. A photographer taking a picture of a baby falling from a building, for instance, has to have good reactions just to shift the camera and take the shot in time—he would never have time to sprint over to a location underneath the falling baby in time to make an attempt to catch it. The viewer of the picture who assumes he "should have tried" is simply expressing a generic sense of pity and regret, the equivalent of saying "Aww, it's too bad something couldn't have been done to help." But they're expressing it in terms of hostility to the photographer.

Likewise, there is nothing intrinsic to Jerry Spagnoli's picture that indicates that he thinks the smoke is pretty and picturesque. That's just the viewer's assumption, based perhaps on how that viewer approaches other, similar pictures. I think that at most, the photographer here might be accused of a certain insensitivity, for not realizing that his obsolete technique might be interpreted as this commenter has interpreted it. But that's all. There is nothing more moral or immoral about the picture than that. More sophisticated viewers should be on guard against confusing the picture of something or the act of taking it with a definite stance on the part of the photographer toward what the picture shows.


Featured Comment by Jason Greenberg Motamedi: Historically Daguerreotypy may be an ideal technique for the represention of death.

I realize this sounds quite odd, but in the 19th century post-mortem photography was common, and photographers were often called to make house visits to "secure the shadow" of a family member, particularly children.

Susan Sontag has pointed out that photography, particularly in its early years, served as a "memento mori", a reminder of mortality. In this sense I think a Daguerreotype an ideal reminder of not only indvidual mortality, but a memento mori of a nation...

Secure the Shadow
'Ere the Substance Fade
let nature imitate what nature has made

—Advertisement from a 19th Century Daguerreotypist

GALLERY: All the New Zeisses

Zeiss ZM Distagon T* 18mm ƒ/4

Zeiss ZM C Biogon T* 21mm ƒ/4.5

These two Zeiss ZM lenses fit Leica M-mount. Made for the Zeiss Ikon, they cover the full 24x36mm 35mm frame and will also potentially fit most if not all Leicas, including the new M8; the M-mount Cosina Voigtlander cameras; the Hexar RF; the Epson RD-1; and other M-mount cameras. (Possible camera-lens matching restrictions due to issues such as protruding elements are unknown at this time.)
Zeiss ZF Distagon T* 35mm ƒ/2

Zeiss ZF Makro-Planar 50mm ƒ/2

Zeiss ZF Makro-Planar 100mm ƒ/2

Zeiss ZF Distagon T* 25mm ƒ/2.8

These Zeiss ZF lenses are full-frame lenses for Nikon F-mount cameras, including both film and digital SLRs. I believe the 25mm is the only carry-over from the old Contax line. The 35mm ƒ/2 is all-new, and marks the first time in decades that a Zeiss lens of this specification has been available for SLR cameras. The 100mm ƒ/2 Makro-Planar is especially significant, in that it marks the first time that one of Zeiss's famous Arri lenses, made for the Arriflex industrial movie cameras, has migrated to a 35mm/DSLR mount. The Arri/Zeisses are both renowned and prized in the film industry. Finally, the only other 50mm ƒ/2 macro I'm aware of was the Olympus OM Zuiko, a true sleeper of a lens that had spectacularly high performance.

Finally, there are three Zeiss ZV "Classic" chrome lenses in Hasselblad CF mount:

Zeiss ZV Makro-Planar T* 120mm ƒ/4

Zeiss ZV Distagon T* 50mm ƒ/4

Zeiss ZV Sonnar T* 180mm ƒ/4

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, hat tip to Oren

And Now for a Little Humor...

(Click on the strip if it's too small to read.)

From the website:
Aaron Johnson is to blame for What the Duck. WTD originated as a ‘blog filler’ for the vacationing Carol Kroll and has since continued at the demand of tens of people. If you would like to contact Aaron, he can be emailed here. FAQ’s can be directed here. And complaints can be sent here.


WHOA! The Seitz 6x17 Panoramic Digital Camera

From the website:

Key features Seitz 6x17 panorama camera

Create a high resolution 6x17 digital image (160 million pixels) in one second!

Ideal for use with world-class Schneider or Rodenstock large format lenses (on Seitz lens board) or Linhof Technorama, Fuji and other large format lenses (on adaptor plate)

User-friendly camera system and software with 640x480 pixel colour touch screen for perfect preview, editing, zooming and image control

State-of-the art computer technology with gigabit Ethernet file transfer, powerful portable mini-computer (storage device) and handheld control device (PDA) with IP network WLAN connection

Fully mobile and open system:
•full mobility for outdoors assignments (with camera, portable
mini-computer, handheld control device)
•possibility to use in studio and run software on
computer with free choice of operating system (Mac OS,
Windows, Linux)

Uncompromising precision of camera body and accessories

And it only costs around $30,000 without lens!


Daguerreotype of 9/11

I'd never seen this before—hat tip to Paul Raphaelson on the LF board for the link.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Not-So-Random Excellence

Kirk Tuck, Ann Richards

"I started getting requests for my favorite shot of Ann Richards shot on Friday of last week and not a single editor or art buyer asked me if it was shot on a Canon 1DS mk 2 or a D2x or a medium format digital back. All they wanted was the image. Shot in 1985 on the steps of the Texas State Capital during a Mondale rally.

"Nikon FM with a 105mm ƒ/2.5 on Kodachrome 64.

"It sure makes sense to take care of your archives."

You can see more of Kirk Tuck's work here.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Night Photography With a Legend, in an Amazing Location

by Joe Reifer

Joe Reifer, Mojave #189

The San Francisco Bay Area is a major hotspot for night photography, with a strong community of talented photographers affiliated with a night photography group called The Nocturnes. During the September full moon I had the opportunity to go on a road trip with one of the legends of abandoned places night photography, Troy Paiva.

Troy has been shooting abandoned places at night since 1989. His book Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West recently entered a second printing, and is required reading for anyone interested in night photography. Troy's imaginative and colorful light painting work has been an inspiration to countless night photographers.

Troy and I headed off to California's Mojave desert for two nights of shooting at an airplane salvage yard. Needless to say it was a jaw-dropping location—giant plane parts juxtaposed with Joshua trees in the desert landscape. My photos from the trip are on flickr. Troy has a great set of images from the August full moon on flickr and will be posting photos from September soon. I hope you enjoy the photos!

Posted by JOE REIFER

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Best View Camera Brochure Ever?

by Oren Grad

My most prized example of this was a view camera brochure dating from the '80s which to my great chagrin I appear to have lost. The English was so bad its badness was almost poetic. I wish I could quote it for you. It was delightful.
—Mike J.
'Twas surely a brochure for the Wista wooden field cameras. My copy is undated, but recalling when I obtained it, it has to be at least ten years old. Just a taste:



Origin, India: Beautiful fine grained, harder as furnitures Iron Wood with valuable-thing forever and Ebony is good for furnitures and admiration articles.

WISTA FIELD 45 DX ROSE (Red Sandal-wood)
Origin, India: Hard materials, famous for the musical instruments and fine furnitures and addition to fine finishment especially overall view of grain.

Vermillion Cherry: Vermillion colour's varnishment makes so elegance body along with modernize design, high precision, addition to ease of use.

Hardware: Smoked Gold colour with modernize sense.
The fresnel lens with both focusing can be double brightness and clearness of the entire surface.

And so on. Not to dump on Wista, though: taking price into account, their cameras are every bit as good as their promotional copy was bad. And they're finally getting at least a bit better at that, too.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

From Mike J.: That's the one! I love it. "Beautiful fine grained, harder as furnitures Iron Wood with valuable-thing forever and Ebony is good for furnitures and admiration articles." So daft you couldn't make it up. I love that phrase "with valuable-thing forever." That to which we all aspire.

Many thanks, Oren.

...But not on iPods

I like iPods, and I love Apple. But...movies on iPods? I don't even like movies on TVs. I don't even like movies on large-screen TVs. In fact, I don't even like movies on those pitiful, dinky multiplex theater screens. Give me a big, full-sized movie screen like the old Uptown in Washington, D.C. (Is it still there? It's been a while.) That's the way to watch movies. (I remember sitting at a sidewalk café near the Uptown one time when who should come shambling out of the theatre into the afternoon sunlight but Michael Moore. He stopped to talk to us for a while. We asked him what he was doing there but it turned out there was no special reason. "I just like movies," he said.)


Featured Comment by stevierose: I totally agree with you about the best places to view movies, and I spend most of my movie viewing bucks at the fully restored Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor—complete with huge screen and a guy who plays the pipe organ before movies.

However, methinks you miss the point. The video ipods are just a transitional smoke screen that will allow Apple to concentrate on developing and getting the licensing deals for the real killer app which is internet delivery of videos into your home. Apple (and a slew of others) hopes to put Blockbuster and its ilk out of business. The main message in Steve Jobs' announcement was not the newly tweaked ipods; it is iTV, which is a little box that they say will allow you to download high defintition movies and then display them on your own home TV, just as iTunes now allows you to download music (without the visit to the music store) and play it on your home stereo via the Airport Express (Airtunes). Apple knows that the sales of iPods cannot keep its stock price afloat forever. It is trying to leverage its success with music into success with video, which is a really big kahuna. You and I may like to watch movies on those big old screens, but most people are fine chilling out at home with a DVD. Attendance at real movie theaters continues to trend downwards and they are all really nervous. And who can blame the moviegoers? In my area an adult ticket to a movie is close to 10 bucks! The old teenage movie date thing is out the window. Do the math—2 tickets, gas, popcorn/candy, and a few burgers will cost some kid at least $50. Who has that kind of money? Better to rent a disk for 2 bucks (or get a Netflix subscription which is clearly a transitional business), pop your own corn, watch it at home on the LCD and hear the sound effects shake the floor from your surroundsound subwoofer! Sooooo...the next step would be? You got it, dial into iTV and download the flick. Why bother going to the video store?

The people who have so far really blown it on this one are Comcast and Tivo, both of whom should be able to pull this off with little trouble. But Apple knows how to make things "that work" and if this thing works I think that their stock price will do just fine thank you.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Suckiness Blindness

I read an article a number of years ago that fascinated me. The research behind the article* evaluated how people evaluate themselves. The research found that people forced to evaluate their own abilities in a particular, measurable area tend to "grade themselves down" the higher their measured abilities are. So if their actual skill level is 95th percentile, they'll tend to score themselves 85 or 90.

The worse peoples' abilities are, on the other hand, the greater their tendency to "grade themselves up" slightly. So if their measured skill level is 60th percentile, they're a little more likely to place themselves at, say, the 65th percentile.

For the most part, however, the researchers found that most people evaluated their own skills reasonably accurately, with a rough error of maybe 10%.

Where this general rule breaks down is among people whose skills are just egregiously, amazingly bad. These people will vastly overestimate their own abilities, placing themselves in an acceptable percentile even though they are objectively nowhere close. So let's say there's a test subject whose grammar skills, say, are objectively in the 10th or 15th percentile. That individual might still grade him- or herself low, but not nearly as low as they actually are—asked to evaluate their own abilities, they'll place themselves in the 50th or 55th percentile, or even higher.

So it seems that if you kinda suck at something, you're probably aware of it. (Me with algebra, for example.) But if you really outrageously royally SUCK, you probably don't have a clue. You're statistically likely to be traipsing along through life thinking you're doing, if not just fine, then well enough. You know, kinda like a dead-drunk driver drives.

I had a colleague once who was like that. Her grammar and writing skills were just awesomely poor, to such an extent that you really had to wonder how she ever graduated from high school, much less from the graduate school which had given her a degree. And yet she just couldn't see it. She'd turn in copy for editorial vetting that had bonafide "howlers" in it**, and then complain because we "just changed her words." When I'd point out that her words were, well, awful, she'd say, "what's the difference? People understand."

The reason for such "suckiness blindness" is fascinating. It's that the very same discriminatory abilities which allow you to do something well and to improve are the same abilities that are needed to carry out a realistic self-appraisal. So if you can grasp grammar or algebra decently, even if you have no real aptitude for either, you are still able to grasp your own shortcomings fairly accurately. But if you just can't grasp a subject at all—you have no sense of it, no discrimination between good and bad at all—it's easier to think you're okay at it when, in fact, you suck.

I presume this would be limited to subjects in which there are no hard-and-fast reality tests readily available. For instance, I doubt that the slowest kid in the 5th-grade class would vastly overestimate his abilities if the class were running footraces in gym class every day, and he was losing every time. "Suckiness Blindness" would have to be more common in "soft" and social sciences and among more complicated or subtle disciplines. Wordsmithy would certainly be one. (Appreciating art, surely, is another.)

But the area where we most often see it in the realm of photographic products, at least in America, is in translations, specifically the translations of marketing material or manuals. Obviously, what happens is that an employee of a corporation from a non-English-speaking country, schooled in English but not a native speaker, is assigned to translate materials for the company. With a commpletely deaf ear for native idiom, everyone in the company approves and passes along material so bad that it would make virtually any native speaker wince. Hard.

My most prized example of this was a view camera brochure dating from the '80s which to my great chagrin I appear to have lost. The English was so bad its badness was almost poetic. I wish I could quote it for you. It was delightful.

Although we English-speakers might make fun of poor translations from Japanese as "Japlish" and poor translations from German "Deutschlish," I'm sure this happens in other countries and languages too, and I'm sure Americans are sometimes the culprits—I'm not trying to blame the speakers of any one language or from any particular culture here.

I was reminded of all this because a .PDF document wended its snakey way to me from a "mole" in the business by way of a friend. It consisted of the confidential dealer materials for a certain high-profile recent digital camera introduction. Some of it was classic, perfectly wretched "Deutschlish." (One example: what is included in the box is referred to as "scope of delivery." Kind of reminds you of a title of an Asian translation of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath: "Angry Raisins.") The friend who sent the .PDF to me commented, "It is so sorry it is comical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more poorly written document from a major corporation." He is the President of a corporation himself, so he should know, I suppose.

Ironically, I have another good friend who is a technical translator. Wisely, despite a high degree of fluency in German and French, he only translates from German and French and into English, his native language.

More ironically, this translator friend is an excellent photographer and a longtime user of the camera in question—and his father was a well-known photojournalist and a past President of Magnum, the famous cooperative photo agency founded by Chim and Capa.

So why doesn't the camera company in question hire someone like my friend to translate their dealer materials into English? Simple: Suckiness Blindness. They are plain blind to how bad the language in their materials really is. It sucks, but they think it's fine.

I'm sure if I was to ask, whoever's in charge would say, "What's the difference? People understand."


*"Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments," by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, Vol. 77, No. 6 (thanks to Ben Marzeion for the citation).

**A "howler" is an error so bad it either howls at you from the page, or makes you howl.

Smart and Dumb: Prime Lenses 103

A reader usernamed dMatic wrote: I have Nikon D2h for my job (photojournalist) and Olympus E-1 as my private camera. I want prime lenses for Olympus, they promised them 3 years ago but still nothing. So I set my mind on Pentax K10 and those beautiful primes.

Primes, a.k.a. single focal length or fixed focal length lenses, are not popular, and they aren't good sellers. Generally, they're only widely used these days on cameras that take little else, chiefly view cameras and the Leica and Voigtlander/Cosina rangefinders.

What the manufacturers once understood, and need to understand again, is that the concept of a camera system is to provide everything everybody needs, or as close to it as it can reasonably come. This gives rise to a strange business model: the deliberate bringing to market of a product that will, in and of itself itself, lose money—a fate understood and predictable even in advance. (I'm sure our economist readers will tell me what that's called.) Why would any manufacturer do such a thing? Simply because the lack of that single product might keep a photographer out of the whole system who otherwise might be a customer.

I am modest proof of this fact. I can tell you that if Olympus had made a 20mm ƒ/2 lens for the 4/3rds system anytime between its introduction and the time I finally bought a competing DSLR in 2005, it is 100% certain that I would be shooting Olympus today. Not a big deal, specifically—I don't matter to Oly's bottom line, and I'm not claiming I do. I mention it only because I'm an example of the broader principle.

John Robison writes: "If they can sell a complex multi-element zoom lens for $100, then why do [the Pentax primes] have to be five times the price?"

Simple, really. Imagine that it costs $250,000 to develop a lens—design it, engineer the parts, contstruct and test a prototype, etc. Cost of manufacture, above and beyond the development cost, is then $100 per unit. If you know you're going to sell 250,000 units, then the cost of each lens is $101. But if you know you're only going to sell 5,000 units, the cost of the same lens is $150. Now imagine that you don't know how many units you're going to sell—you might sell 5,000, or you might sell 1,000 or even fewer. Your break even cost could be as high as $350 per unit. So what do you do? Try for a lower price in hopes that will help sales? Or CYA and try to make sure that core demand at least pays you back for what you've got in it?

Olympus's decision to make a couple of small, compact zoom lenses for the E-400 is both smart and dumb. Smart, because zooms are what the public will buy, so the company has a better chance of making back its costs. Dumb, because a "kit"-quality lens is not going to do justice to the picture quality a 10-MP sensor is capable of, and that minority of photographers who would be attracted to the E-400 for actually doing serious work would rather have the aforementioned 20mm ƒ/2 or something like it. And it would make a much more sensible match for the diminutive E-400.

So should Olympus make a 20mm ƒ/2? Hard to call—because that, too, would be both smart and dumb. In some cases I feel I can go through a manufacturer's catalog and tell you what products haven't made back their investments, but that might still be good bets for the company because they might attract buyers into the system as a whole who might otherwise have taken their business elsewhere.

Another curious wrinkle to the "system" concept is psychological—it's that sometimes people buy into a system in order to have access to components they're not actually going to buy. This might sound silly, but I don't think it is, really. I know pros who chose Canon because of the tilt-shift lenses. They might not actually buy the T/S lenses after buying into Canon; but they know they might need them one day, and they want to know they can get them if that happens.

But back to primes. Canikon has plenty of legacy primes from the days before zooms were really viable, and from the early days of AF. They're often not ideal for digital sensors—they're bigger and/or more complex to provide for coverage they no longer need, and they're not properly coated for the light bouncing back to the rear of the lens from the sensor (digital sensors are much more reflective than film). But they exist. With regard to primes in their lineups, Canikon is "coasting" on the existence of these earlier lenses. Prime are available in their lines—technically. But Olympus has no such luck. With an all-new system, and limited capability to introduce new lenses, the better selling zooms come first and primes, guaranteed to sell slowly, go by the wayside. Is this smart product planning, or dumb short-sightedness? Probably a bit of both.

Meanwhile, I keep hearing from photographers who are mulling over the idea of switching to Pentax because they like the idea of designed-for-digital primes...even if just for the comfort of knowing they're there.


Featured Comment by Anonymous: I think that a fast normal prime should have been the very first lens they ever made for the system, even before their first zoom. I'm sure there were some at Oly who felt this way—the system as it stands bears witness to much enthusiasm for and commitment to real photography. For me, this makes the lack of primes in the line—after three years of product development—all the more inexplicable, but there it is.

Featured Comment by Janne: Manufacturers can, as you say, design primes for a niche audience, then price them accordingly—or even eat a small loss—in order to present a complete system.

But there's another thing they can do: educate the public (yes, "educate" as in advertising and PR material, of course). They can tell a public infatuated with zooms that for the same price a prime is smaller, faster, more reliable and will give you at least as good, and probably better, image quality.

Companies do this kind of "education" all the time (and as one ad agency guy I talked to once remarked: you can sell anything for a little while with enough advertising, but if there's no truth at all in the message it will fail in the long run no matter what your advertising budget). And it is true—a given prime is a simpler design both optically and mechanically, with fewer elements and fewer moving parts. Given the same design and manufacturing budget a prime will become a better lens than a zoom.

And for many people a prime really is a better alternative. I come from an "all zoom all the time" background, but the last year I've used a prime (the Sigma 30mm ƒ/1.4) almost exclusively, and I'm preparing to get the Pentax this winter, because of the prime lineup. It's precisely because I'm an amateur of little actual skill that primes are good for me. It makes me think about my composition and removes one variable (zoom length) altogether, allowing me to concentrate on the ones that are left.

I really think selling primes to people with an argument of "lighter, better, easier to use!" really would work, rather than position them as exclusive or special.

Don't Eatchyer Spinach

SATURDAY MORNING – Popeye, born in 1929 as a walk-on character in a long-forgotten comic strip called Thimble Theatre, has died, a victim of the e. coli outbreak.

"It's inconceivable that his famous love of spinach has come to this," said longtime friend E. Wellington Wimpy. "So, what, does that mean all the seven-year-olds who wouldn't eat their spinach were right all along?"

The former Sailor Man spent the last years of his life bitter about getting stiffed out of his share of the profits from the 1980 movie about his life, which he always maintained was both exaggerated and inaccurate, and saddened by the decline of the U.S. Merchant Marine fleet. Always known as a brawler—although with a soft heart—he had become increasingly truculent in old age.

He was predeceased by his companion Ms. Oyl, whom he never married. Despite her high-profile work with Anorexia Nervosa sufferers, she had never entirely escaped the ravages of the disease herself, and she died of complications from it in 1991. Their "adopted" child Swee' Pea, now known as S. Pea, is a real estate developer in Encino. "I never understood him," said Pea. "No, seriously, with that pipe and the way he talked, you never knew what the hell Dad was saying." Popeye's iconic early sayings, including "I yam what I yam" and "That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!" remain his best known.

He was charged and tried in the beating death of Bluto in 1985, but was exonerated.

Popeye had been living in retirement in Iowa City, far from the sea he once loved, and had been in good health for his age. He was 77.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

The World's One and Only?!?

Along with the K10 yesterday, Pentax also introduced its third prime DA, making Pentax the only manufacturer in the world that allows its customers to purchase a basic 3-lens set of prime lenses (wide, normal, and moderate tele) made for digital sensors. (I put that phrase in italics not because I think it's so great, but because it amazes me that no other manufacturers bother to provide something so basic.)

The new lens is a 70mm ƒ/2.4 and, like the previous DA's before it (the 40mm and the 21mm), is a pancake.