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Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Off Topic, but too cool not to share: iConcertCal is currently the featured (free) download at Apple.

After installing & (re-)launching iTunes, you select
View>Visualizer>iConcertCal and then View>Turn on Visualizer.
Put in your City, State (or country for non-US) and a radius in miles from that city, and it will generate an iCal-like calender of concerts by artists that are in your iTunes library in venues within that area!


Zeiss ZF Outperforms Leica R

Following up on the "Careful What You Wish For" post below, this admittedly rather messy graphic is my attempt to superimpose the MTF charts of the new Zeiss ZF 35/2 (black) and that of the Leica R 35/2 (red), which has long been one of my favorite lenses. As usual, dotted lines are tangential, and solid, sagittal. I've erased the top pair of lines from the Leica chart, since it represents 5 cycles/mm and Zeiss tests only 10, 20, and 40. The sets that remain are equivalent.

This is something of a fool's errand, since measurements made in different labs with different equipment can't be taken to be perfectly accurate. Still, what the comparison indicates without too much doubt is that past an image height of about 10mm (the central 20mm of the image circle, that is), the new Zeiss lens handily outperforms its more than 30-year-old Leica rival.

The kicker is that the charts represent the Leica lens at ƒ/5.6 and the Zeiss at ƒ/4! An impressive result for the Zeiss lens. We can expect that the areas of the R lens's advantage will be less with the ZF lens at ƒ/5.6, but that the ZF lens's advantage will increase even further.

In fact, as is also the case with the ZF 85mm ƒ/1.4 and the Leica Summilux-R 80mm ƒ/1.4, a comparison of the MTF charts indicates that this new Zeiss ZF lens outperforms its Leica counterpart. Not bad, considering how good both Leica lenses are. (Note that this is not a lens test; I'm just looking at the published charts.)


Last Chance Romance

Today's the last day to get the registration discount for the big pinhole/alternative fest in Pittsburgh this April. The official title is the f295 Symposium on Lensless, Alternative and Adaptive Photographic Processes. Tomorrow the rate rises to $120, but today you can still register at the "early-bird" discounted rate of $100 (students w/valid ID: $70) by calling:

Carnegie Mellon University
Conferences & Event Services
Phone: 412/268-1125

Registration buys admission to the eight lectures and two round table discussions, held in conjunction with The Center for the Arts in Society at Carnegie Mellon University. They will take place in McConomy Auditorium at the University Center, as part of The Perspectives on the Arts in Society Series, from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. on Friday, April 27th. Oh, you also get a name badge, coffee, tea, water, and snacks during breaks, a program of the day's activities, and access to the sale of books by symposium speakers. And, of course, most importantly, the company of your fellow pinhole and alt-photo enthusiasts.

Speakers and Topics include:
Jo Babcock, Contemporary Pinhole Photography and it's [sic] Place in Photographic History
Craig Barber, Photography and Memory
Barbara Ess, Reality, Representation and Lo-Fi Image-Making
Alan Greene, Steps Leading to 'Primitive' Photography
Patricia Katchur, Back to Basics: The Renaissance in Alternative and Historic Photographic Processes
Terry King, FRPS, Retro-Invention: A Revolution in Gold and Blue
Tom Persinger, Introduction: ‘Simple’ Methods in a Complex World
Mike Robinson, The Daguerreotype: Past, Present & Perfect

Daguerreotype of the Hudson River School painter Asher Durand


UPDATE: The special low price for registration has been extended to Sunday, March 4th.

Careful What You Wish For

I'm just curious as to whether anyone within the sound of my voice is actually shooting with this new lens, or knows of any online info. The only real review I've seen is this one.

This lens (officially, the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 ZF) confirms that you should be careful what you wish for. For years I shot Contax, and for years I dogged Contax to make a 35mm ƒ/2, arguing (sometimes elaborately—wherever he is, Blake Ziegler is rolling his eyes) that the dual offering of the fast (ƒ/1.4) and slow (ƒ/2.8) lenses made less sense in this focal length than one lens in the middle.
So, finally, I've gotten what I always asked for. I think the people in charge of such things are little elves with wicked senses of humor, though, because, of course, now, I'm shooting with reduced-sensor-size cameras, and what I'd really like is the same lens in a 35mm equivalent (there is one, but we're back to ƒ/2.8 again), and which covers 22x16mm instead of 35mm. And, while my argument was always that ƒ/2 makes a good size and weight compromise for this focal length, wouldn't you know that the new ZF version is, er, bloody huge: it's 100g heavier than even the Leica R version (which is built like a tank and was the previous size outlier for the specification) and only 69g lighter than the old Contax 35mm ƒ/1.4, which was an enormous lens. You know what they say: oh well.


Still and all, I'm drawn to this. Fans of 35mm-on-35mm primes for SLRs hardly have a wealth of choices these days, and an all-new, all-out German design is nothing to take for granted. I'll let you know if I ever succumb.


On “The Most Culturally Significant Feature” of Canon’s new 1D MkIII

by Micah Marty

Completely overlooked in the online fuss over Canon’s new flagship SLR was the incorporation of a significant new capability: the embedding of inviolable GPS coordinates into “data-verifiable” RAW files.

(In 2003 Canon introduced the process of “data verification,” an encryption process that reveals even the tiniest post-shutter changes to a photograph or its metadata. Nikon introduced its own comparable system of “image authentication”—with GPS capabilities—with the rollout of the D2Xs last July.)

Why is the ability to embed inviolable GPS coordinates “culturally significant”? Because it means that digital photographs can now be more tamper-proof than film photographs ever were. Offering a way to make digital photographs harder to undetectably manipulate than film photographs are is a big deal in the history of photography: even as millions of digital photographs are being made around the world every hour, film still enjoys a reputation for being “more trustworthy” while “digital” is considered easy to fake.

Some quick background
With film, a manipulated image can be rephotographed far from the original scene, under studio conditions, to produce a new negative that will fool at least some of the people some of the time into thinking they’re viewing an undoctored original. A similar process is possible with digital cameras, creating a new digital file by rephotographing a manipulated image under ideal studio conditions. (How often these scenarios are actually likely to occur isn’t as important from a “trustworthiness” perspective as is the widespread awareness that they can occur even once in a million photographs.)

When a “data-verifiable” RAW file has inviolable Global Positioning System coordinates embedded in it, however, it’s a different story. In order to match the embedded GPS coordinates of the subject depicted, the rephotographing of the manipulated image would have to be done at the original scene, using a plausible lens—because focal length is also embedded in the metadata—in order to not raise suspicion. If the GPS data embedded in the “new” digital photograph is inviolable, then carefully rephotographing a manipulated image without fear of later detection becomes almost impossible with many common subjects.

Could the rephotographing challenge get any tougher? Actually, yes. If not only focal length but also focus distance is incorporated into the inviolable metadata—as it is expected to be at some point soon—then the rephotographing of manipulated images of most wide-to-normal scenes shot at any distance greater than a few feet would be essentially impossible. Embedding focus-distance data means that the manipulated image to be rephotographed couldn’t be downsized and reshot at a macro-copying distance but rather would have to be rephotographed at the actual size and distance as the subject depicted in the photo.

Part of a larger industry trend
Canon and Nikon aren’t the only ones developing methods for checking how much digital photographs have been manipulated. The CEO of the worldwide news agency Reuters announced in December that his organization is working with Adobe and Canon to develop a method of “permanently embedding [in the file] an audit trail of changes made to a digital image,” a process which they hope will become the industry standard. (Reuters, you may recall, got stung last year after they disseminated to news outlets a manipulated image sent from a freelance in Lebanon. Credibility is a news agency’s lifeblood, so Reuters can’t afford another embarrassing incident like that one.)

Of course, “audit trails” and “GPS verification” can’t address problems of staged photos and other circumstance-related deceptions. Those are as old as photography itself and will always be possible with any secondhand representation of any event, in any medium (written, audio, or visual). But the advances described above do squarely address one huge variable in photography’s “trustworthiness” equation—undetectable manipulation of the photograph after it is taken—a variable which, as noted earlier, happens to be the most troubling aspect of “digital” for much of the general public.

Not just for photojournalists
Should photographers who aren’t photojournalists care about all of this talk of “data verification” and “proof of non-manipulation”? The good news is that they don’t have to ever make use of these technologies but they can whenever they wish to.

Only in news photography is something like an inviolable “audit trail” likely to ever be a requirement—and even then, only from one’s publisher, not from any larger entity (unless perhaps the photo is entered in a contest, in which case the contest sponsors may ask for an audit trail).

On the other hand, there are plenty of photographers of almost all subjects who are tired of viewers asking about every impressive photograph, "Was this picture manipulated?" It isn’t hard to see the appeal of a process that would let those photographers easily prove that it wasn't.

Should be interesting times ahead….

Micah Marty, a Chicago-based photographer, is the founder of (“The ‘Nonfiction’ Label for Photographs”). For more on “data verification,” see Those who want to know more about where TrustImage is coming from might start with "Photo Manipulation 101" or with the short essay on "Celebrating the Wonder of a Moment."

Posted by: MICAH MARTY

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Parent Trap

Tattooed Madonnas and feral children: Photographers frame the family

Sally Mann, Jessie Bites, 1985

by Leslie Camhi, The Village Voice

Photography is in a family way again. Recent gallery shows include Gail Albert Halaban's pseudo-photojournalistic stagings of alienated, über-chic moms at Robert Mann and Tierney Gearon's bowel-churning portraits of her schizophrenic mother, at Yossi Milo. Justine Kurland recently traveled cross-country in a van with her infant son, photographing other mothers and their children, naked amid seemingly virginal landscapes; the pictures go on view at Mitchell-Innes Nash this week. And the money shot in Global Feminisms, the hotly anticipated survey opening at the Brooklyn Museum next month, promises to be an up-to-date Madonna—Catherine Opie's Self Portrait/Nursing (2004). It shows the hefty, tattooed photographer (faintly scarred with the word "pervert" carved in cursive script across her chest) cradling a blond baby boy who feeds at her breast, each gazing upon the other with rapt attention....



Monday, February 26, 2007

Lost and Found

The lost archive of Eugene de Salignac. With pictures.

Posted by: OREN GRAD, hat tip to John Flavell, LF board
Photo: New York Municipal City Archives

Who the Heck Is...


Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Baker boy in Urfa, 2004

Short Take: Turkish film director, from Istanbul, who shot an extensive series of panoramic photographs all over Turkey during the past four or five years, mostly while scouting locations for his latest film. The dramatic, beautiful photographs have been exhibited in important venues and have earned extensive and intense praise from both critics and the viewing public. He calls the series "Turkey Cinemascope."

A Taste: "Old City of Ankara, 2004" (below) (and the other two pictures in this post) (click on the pictures to see them bigger).

Critical Voice: "From the first photograph of Nuri Bilge Ceylan that I encountered I thought of Pieter Bruegel. With rising excitement I looked at the next and the next till the spark of recognition became a certainty. I was either faced with a contemporary renaissance master, or Pieter Bruegel was the first traveling photographer of the Northern Renaissance. The eerie landscapes where different scenes are played out simultaneously, forcing the eye to travel ceaselessly around the canvas, the clarity of image and attention to detail, the heart-rending, dramatic skies, the epic scale, the heaving elements of nature. The feverish activity of the people of the earth, the weather-beaten, unshaven figures, muffled in their shapeless, timeless clothes, the ever-present animal kingdom accompanying and complementing man. The biblical spectral cities on the rocks, the snow, the cold, the vast unknown continent suspended in time. The classical ruins overtaken by vegetation and man in a strangely symbiotic (co)existence. The futile and unique position of man in the Universe.

"One of the most outstanding characteristics in both Bruegel's and Ceylan's landscapes is the viewer's perspective. The painter and the photographer choose to describe the scene from above, from the top of a mountain, from a bird's eye view, or the eye of God observing the earth." (Marion Inglessi, Greece, November 2006)

What about his films? We haven't seen one, but his latest—the one he was shooting when he took these pictures—is called Iklimler (in English, Climates) (2006). Also Distant (2002), Clouds of May (1999), The Small Town (1998), and Koza (1995).

Where to see the pictures: A current major showing of the Turkey Cinemascope work, at the National Theatre of London in the South Bank, is about to close, on March 3rd.

Can you buy the pictures? Yes. Varnished 24 x 50" archival inkjet prints are available for €3,000 / US$3,900.

Book: Not yet, but one hopes.

Website. Includes 70 pictures from the series. Highly recommended for a visit.

The Village, 2004


Previous posts in T.O.P.'s "Who the Heck Is...?" series:

Katy Grannan
Cosmin Bumbut
Kim Keever
Camilo José Vergara
Susan Bowen

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Super Canon

You probably haven't heard this, because it's hardly been mentioned on the web at all, but Canon has come out with a successor to its top pro camera. It's called the EOS-1D Mark III. It appears to be a careful and thorough top-to-bottom revising of the Mark II, with no major changes or new design directions but lots of refinements and detail changes. The best summary of what the new camera offers can be found at Rob Galbraith's site, which is also hosting a .PDF download of Canon's excellent 63-page white paper on the camera's design and function.


Featured Comment by pete g: I got to handle the Mark III for a few minutes last weekend at the Canon booth at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

It's a very nice camera with many thoughtful features. You can imagine the crowd behind me, so I didn't get to look at the Mark III as closely as I would have liked.

One amazing feature that hasn't been talked about is the ability, via custom function, to fine-tune and save settings for the back- or front-focus of individual lenses. For example, my 20D doesn't like my EF 20mm ƒ/2.8; it's constantly back focusing. With the Mark III, I can tune the focus and then save it as a preset for that lens.

The viewfinder is big and bright and 100%. The focusing squares have a newer, better layout, and the literature Canon was handing out says there's a processor dedicated solely to AF.

I snapped a few shots of the room at ISO 6400, and from what I could see on the very nice 3" screen, zoomed in, the noise, especially in the shadow areas, was minimal.

Based on my 4-minute evaluation, this is going to be an important camera for certain types of photography.

More Free Tutorials

There are now six new free Lightroom tutorials on the site (numbers 6 through 11), covering everything from the Quick Develop Panel to making prints.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

There's DNG—And Then There's DNG

by Carl Weese

After traveling all last week I've been playing catch-up and it took me until Wednesday to realize that Adobe posted the latest update to Adobe Camera RAW, version 3.7, on Sunday. ACR is the part of PhotoShop that interprets RAW digital capture files. ACR's controls for color and tone are so good that I seldom need to do anything to a digital capture file in Photoshop itself other than specific sharpening for intended use.

This update is important because the new version supports the Pentax K10D camera I bought a couple months ago (Nikon's new D40 is also supported). I've been using ACR version 3.6 right from the start for my K10D files, because Pentax offers the option of saving files in the "universal" DNG format instead of their proprietary PEF format. The reason I put universal in quotes is because even though ACR could open and work with the Pentax DNG files it was obvious that the protocols involved were not fully supported. The worst anomaly was in the vital White Balance function.

In ACR, White Balance is adjusted with two sliders. The first, Temperature, reads in degrees Kelvin, so a file captured in ordinary daylight should have a Temperature near 5000. Moving the slider to the right to a higher temperature makes the color warmer, moving to the left for a lower temperature makes it cooler. The second slider, labeled Tint, controls the magenta/green color axis and in normal light should read near zero. Moving to the right, into positive numbers, shifts the color to magenta, left to negative numbers shifts the color to green. (For example, a strong shift of +40 or so will correct for the green cast of fluorescent light.) But when ACR 3.6 read a K10D file, normal daylight files showed WB readings about 1800 degrees too high in Temperature and 60-70 points too high in Tint. These files looked perfectly OK on screen as long as the shooting white balance was correct, and they could be tweaked for color balance either visually or by sampling within the picture with the eyedropper, but the numerical readout was totally out of whack. It was still possible to process files out to printable .psd files and web-postable JPEG files, but the weird WB numbers were disconcerting and made me wonder what else about ACR's interpretation of the files might also be sub-optimal.

So I wasted no time downloading and installing ACR v. 3.7 yesterday. As soon as I turned Bridge loose on a big folder of captures it set to work making a new cache. Bridge is the browser element of Photoshop CS2, and it uses ACR to create thumbnails and previews of RAW files. When it finished the cache for a folder with about 900 captures I made last week on my trip, I highlighted a few files and hit which brings the files directly from Bridge into ACR in slideshow mode. The files looked normal, and daylight shots that had showed WB numbers in 3.6 like 6700/65 now showed proper numbers like 4900/-4. Whatever it was that ACR couldn't understand about the K10D white balance settings in the previous version is clearly fixed. As expected, files whose white balance had been left as shot simply changed their numbers and needed no further attention. Files that I had previously tweaked for white balance however all turned bright orange-red, just as you'd expect of a file with WB numbers like 6700/65. As it happens this isn't too hard to fix. Highlight any group of these files and bring them into ACR. Hit the Select All button, then the Synchronize button, adjust the white balance to where it belongs and the whole set is corrected in unison.

What about other aspects of ACR's processing of the K10D files? I had an immediate sense that the files looked just slightly better in a subtle way. But since 3.7 had replaced 3.6 on my computer there was no way to bring up the two versions side by side on screen. So I tried a little experiment. Since Monday I've been posting pictures from my California trip on my web log. To prepare the files for these posts I had tweaked each picture in ACR, then run them through a Batch Action that opened each file, resized it, mode-changed from 16 to 8 bit, changed color profile to sRGB and then saved a JPEG to my "for the blog" folder. I made a new folder, then selected a handful of these same RAW files and invoked the Batch Action directly from Bridge without touching the files in ACR. This meant that they were processed out of version 3.7 and so, after renaming the files, I could bring them up side by side on screen with identical files processed out by 3.6. There are indeed differences. It's very subtle, but I'm convinced the tonal transitions are smoother and separations in the deep values a bit more distinct. Running the curser over the pairs of files gives slightly different rgb numbers in the Info palette. If I find more differences, I'll report on them.

Meanwhile, apropos of nothing at all, while out in Berkeley on business I had a chance to meet with the author and teacher Huston Smith. I studied with him on a scholarship almost forty years ago, and while we've corresponded, this was our first real reunion. The reason I bring this up is simply because, sometimes you just want to take a snapshot:

Carl Weese, Huston Smith

To end up back on topic, this was made with the K10D and 21mm DA "pancake" lens.

Posted by: CARL WEESE

Canon 40D: Needed At All?

'Kay, I'm being kinda snarky again. (If you haven't noticed, "snarky" has replaced "curmudgeonly" as my favorite self-description. I don't even really know what it means, but it reminds me of a "Muttley snigger." I got that from Cotty.)

I have a suggestion for Canon in re the "big" 20D/30D/40D question. (You know, the one causing untold neverending shuddupshuddupSHUDDUP existential anguish all over every Canon forum on the 'net....)

The suggestion: drop it.

That's right. Drop it altogether. Why does Canon need a camera in between the XTi (400D) and the 5D, anyway? Answer: it doesn't.

(For those of you who don't know it, as opposed to those of you who prefer to ignore it, in proper American English a corporation is an "it," not "them" and "they" and "their.")

As fas as I'm concerned—just looking at Canon v. Nikon here, not considering outside contenders (which have much narrower slices of the pie chart anyway)—Nikon dominates the lower reaches of the DSLR market. The D40/D80/D200 trio provide the consumer with the best range of choices and the best cameras in each of their respective price ranges. True, the Canon XTi is a great little camera, for people down on that end of the market who prefer, for whatever reason, to shoot Canon. It falls between the D40 and the D80. Translation: you want cheaper than the XTi? Nikon's got it (the D40). You want better than the XTi? Nikon's got it (the D80). And the D200 is der Übercamera in its price segment. Why does Canon have to have a model to compete against the D200? So it can continue losing to it?

At the top end of the market, the situation is reversed. Up there, Canon is king. Its 5D/1D Mk.III/1Ds Mk.II lineup is the trio with the mostest*. Whatever you want at the top end, Canon's got it. No, it's not like Nikon doesn't exist up at that end: just as the XTi provides a worthy Canonophile alternative at the bottom of the market, the D2Xs provides a worthy Nikonophile contender to the 1D at the top end. Nothing against either of them: the XTi and the D2Xs are both real nice. But Canon's the one with the great range of choices, and the best cameras, on the high side of the DSLR breakdown. You want just as good a sensor as the D2Xs in a smaller, more easily portable, less expensive camera? Canon's got it. You want a pro workhoss that's just as fast 'n' beefy? Canon's got it. You want a much bigger sensor with significantly more pixels? Canon's got it. Game. Set. Match.

So my question for Canon shooters is, what the heck do you think you want in a "40D"? A better camera than the 30D? You've already got it, folks: it's called the XTi. A luscious, higher-MP, full-frame sensor and a great, big, beautiful finder in a tough, solid box? You've got that too: it's called the 5D. True, a lineup without a 30D creates a "price gap." Who cares? Either save your money, or spend less and stop kvetching about all the dough you didn't spend. If the XTi is too cheap to soil your soft pale fingers with, buy two.

And from Canon's perspective—well, all Canon needs to do is to work toward the middle. Give future iterations of the XTi a better viewfinder and more robust build, and/or work on bringing the price of the 5D down, or on putting the 5D sensor into a somewhat more modest camera.

So, Canon might need a 4D. Or a 3D (now that would be a cool camera name). But maybe it doesn't need a "40D" at all. It was a great series in its time; but maybe it's time now for the x0D series to go the way of the station wagon.


*If you can ignore the asinine naming protocols.
Transparent D80:

Eyes Wide Open, With Stories to Tell

“A View From an Apartment” (2004–5) blends two scenes, those of the domestic
clutter in the foreground and the urban landscape beyond.

By Roberta Smith, The New York Times

Jeff Wall’s large color transparencies mounted on electric light boxes fill 10 galleries at the Museum of Modern Art with a pulsating and purposeful, if slightly sedate, optimism. Alluring to the point of transfixion, the 41 works measure as much as 10 feet high or 16 feet across. These are outright gorgeous, fully equipped all-terrain visual vehicles, intent on being intensely pleasurable while making a point or two about society, art, history, visual perception, the human animal or all of the above.

Dating from 1979, when Mr. Wall was 33, to the present, the photographs draw on a rich tangle of traditions—from landscape and street photography, to still life and genre painting, to Japanese woodblock prints and medical illustration, to Impressionist and Baroque painting....



Featured Comment by Bob Meier: The lengths he goes to create a picture are astounding—hiring dozens of people for $83 a day for week after week until he gets the grouping of the people right for the picture; spending a year recreating a street scene in his studio so he can get the camera placement he wants. These are not documentaries, or historical records—they are complete creations of his own, that he then manipulates in Photoshop, apparently, pixel by pixel! He is able to do all this because the prints sell for as much as a million dollars each. He is a true artist.

A Printing Mystery

The print on the left is a good print for my Epson R 800 printer.
The print on the right is what I was getting last month. You'll never guess why!

by Ctein

This post is 24-karat geeking.

My PC fried its motherboard. My service people, who built the system, are fabulous (Polywell, 1-800-676-6618). They dug into their stockroom and found a motherboard just one generation later than my 5+ year-old one. I didn't even have to update Windows 2000 or reactivate Adobe Photoshop, the configurations were so similar. All I needed were a couple of new drivers for support chips that had changed.

Then life got hinky. I tried printing print out a high-quality photo on my Epson R 800 printer. It should look like the left side of the illustration above. It looked like the right side! Long diagonal streaks of minus density that varied in a position from print to print.

Sure looked like a printer problem, but cleaning heads and replacing ink cartridges didn't make any difference. So I tried printing on an Epson R2400 and the same thing happened! OK, not a printer problem. Same thing printing from Picture Window; not a Photoshop problem. Disabled all the profiles associated with the printer and still got crap.

That left the printer drivers. I uninstalled every single Epson driver on my system, including the hidden ones that you can only get to in the device manager. Reinstalled the R800 driver. Still bad!

At wit's end, I send plaintive emails to the PC experts I know. Gradually they come to agree it has to be a hardware problem, because there's nothing else left. Scott Raun, after some head-scratching, says it feels to him like RAM that's stressed out and misbehaving.

Memtest32 says all the RAM is good, but I trust Scott. Any one of my three RAM modules is sufficient to run the system, so I pull all the RAM except Module 1. Reboot, launch Photoshop, and print. Finally, it prints fine!

I install just Module 2. The machine won't even boot! It hangs up before I even get a BIOS screen. Doesn't matter what memtest says; that RAM ain't normal. (Don't ask me why it "worked" when installed with other RAM but not by itself.) I bought new RAM, installed it with the other two good modules, and I haven't had a printing problem since.

What looked just like inking problems or a faulty driver wasn't. It took me a week to track this down. Here's hoping it will save someone else from wasting their time.

Posted by: CTEIN

Friday, February 23, 2007

New Olympus DSLRs?

According to the teaser on's Digital SLR page (above), two new DSLRs will be announced on 5 March 2007.

Posted by: OREN GRAD, tip o' the hat to Colin Jago

The Charlie Rose Cartier-Bresson Interview

The Charlie Rose interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson has made its way online.

Cartier-Bresson interviews were always flawed, because no interviewer (that I've ever heard, anyway) was half savvy enough for Henri. Rose was particularly ham-handed, asking dumb and obvious questions that have a lot to do with what people believe about photography when they don't understand photography but think they do. He even speaks slowly to the old man, as if he were a child who can't understand. He brings up Cartier's obituary, which can't be a very tactful thing to do with a 90-plus year old man, and he makes dopey little errors throughout, as when he clarifies for the viewer that when Cartier refers to "Chim" he means "David Chim." (Chim's name was David Seymour). Cartier doesn't correct him. Sometimes Rose answers his own questions, for instance when he says, "You like portraits because...?" and then, before Cartier can answer, Rose says, "Every face is different." (Shut up.) Rose never puts his subject at ease, and Cartier-Bresson never warms to him (although he is visibly relieved as the interview nears its end). It's more than a little excruciating at times, almost embarrassing.

Still, the master is the master, and if you listen to M. Cartier-Bresson very carefully, all sorts of little gems flit by like sparrows past an open window. For instance, when he says "You mustn't want. You must be receptive." Throughout the interview I got the sense that Cartier-Bresson would have liked to raise bigger and deeper issues, but he just wasn't being led to them; he tried to wedge some of them in anyway.

This interview does contain one of my favorite "delicious ironies"—at one point (about 35:45 in this video) Cartier-Bresson says "I never crop"...and just beyond his right ear for the entire interview is the famous "Behind the Gare St. Lazare," which is one of two of his pictures that are always cropped (the negative contains a large bar of black all the way down the left side, and more foreground. The whole negative can be seen on p. 87 of Cartier-Bresson's new Thames & Hudson title, Scrapbook).

All in all, not great, but valuable nonetheless.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Ken Tanaka


A note from this morning:

I removed the Fuji banding post so as not to cause spurious rumors. As Aric confirmed for me, it was an OS/browser interaction issue—he saw what I was seeing, using the same OS (10.4.8) and browser (well, he uses Camino, I use Firefox—"same difference," as the expression has it). But when either of us downloaded the high res version all trace of the artefacts we were seeing went away. So I wasn't imagining things, but my post (even just suggesting a problem sometimes starts rumors of a problem) was a needless slander against the S5 and I thought the best thing would be simply to remove it.


Three Predictions

1. Britney Spears is gay. You heard it here first.

2. The new Canon 1Ds Mk. III is a very interesting camera. Although it has a considerably slower frame-rate and a considerably smaller (effective) buffer than the new 1D Mk. III, its full-frame, 22-MP CMOS sensor is state of the art for image quality in a DSLR-type camera, making its $5,800 pricetag seem like a runaway bargain. It is only 30% heavier and not much larger than the 5D—far smaller than the 1D Mk. III. The sensor has better high-ISO performance than any previous DSLR, using a completely new and unique technical strategy, and very good dynamic range. Finally, the new camera has outstanding low-light AF capability.

3. LaKisha Jones will come in second on "American Idol."


Thursday, February 22, 2007

The DAM Book Workflow Video Training CDs

by Joe Reifer

Peter Krogh is the author of The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers. Recently I've had a chance to watch The DAM Book Workflow Videos, and picked up some great tips and techniques.

Librarian by day, photographer by night
I have a degree in Library and Information Science, and have worked as a Librarian for the last 10 years. I was once introduced with the tag line, "Librarian by day, photographer by night." I spent the first half of 2006 refining my rather meticulous workflow based on The DAM Book, which I found to be well grounded in sound information management principles. After a lot of testing and experimentation, a slightly modified version of the Adobe Bridge and iView workflow in the book works quite well for me.

Read the book, then watch the videos
If you're an experienced Adobe Bridge and iView user, The DAM Book Workflow videos might be helpful on their own. Regardless of your DAM skills, reading the book first will be helpful, and also serve as a handy reference tool when watching the videos. The videos come in a DVD box and consist of two CDs in QuickTime format. Both CDs go through an entire workflow starting with setting up your Bridge and iView preferences. Peter then walks you through his workflow—from downloading the images all the way to the preparing for client delivery, web upload, and printing.

The first workflow is for images shot under variable light, and the second workflow offers tips for studio images shot under controlled light. Each major workflow component is a separate video, which makes the videos load quickly and provides a nice pace for learning.

Both sets of workflow videos are a little over 2 hours long. There is some duplication between the topics covered on the two discs—I found it best to watch the entire first disc, and then skip around in the second one. Workflow one includes an excellent 20 minute long video devoted to Adobe Camera RAW, and a 15 minute video on DNG conversion. The first workflow concentrates on reviewing and rating images in Bridge, and the second workflow covers multiple ways to review and rate images in iView.

DAM Tips and Tricks
The pace of the videos is relaxed and the tone is casual. During the first viewing, I found myself pausing the videos quite often to take notes or tweak a setting here or there. Over the next few weeks I made some adjustments to smooth out my workflow. A few weeks later I picked up a few new techniques by watching the videos again. Here's a good example of a time-saving technique I now use all the time: before watching the videos I would use the Find command in iView to create groups of images according to their star ratings. I learned in the video that I could simply make the star ratings visible in iView's Catalog Fields panel, and now accomplish this task with one or two clicks.

Another great tip I picked up is how Peter sets up folders and program file aliases in the Finder Favorites panel on the Mac. This little adjustment has allowed me to stay more organized when moving files through the workflow, and I can open files in Bridge or iView much more quickly by just dragging and dropping. These nuanced workflow improvements offer everyday time savings that really add up.

If you are using or considering a Bridge to iView workflow, these videos offer an excellent system for managing your images, and time saving tips and shortcuts that make it well worth the $100 price tag. You can see sample videos on

If you're not using iView as your cataloging program, I still highly recommend reading The DAM Book. Before making any important decisions about cataloging software, visit the forums over at for a balanced, long term view of how iView stacks up against some of the new contenders in workflow software like Aperture and Lightroom.

Posted by: JOE REIFER

Random Excellence

Bill Sullivan, More Turns

This is just the coolest. What a great idea, and very nicely done. Bill Sullivan. Never heard of him before. Well, have now.

To really see it, you'll have to go to the website, where you can magnify each row and scroll down it.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Eolake

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Super-Premium Pentax Lens Series

Speaking of lenses for DSLRs, Pentax has just announced a new series of top-of-the-line, premium digital-only lenses called DA* (say "dee-ay-star"). The first two DA* lenses are constant-aperture ƒ/2.8 zooms with focal lengths of 16–50mm (above) (roughly 25–75mm equivalent) and 50–135mm (left) (roughly 75–210 equivalent). They bring together aspherical elements, special optical-glass elements, and original lens coatings, and are designed to cover just the area of a digital sensor. Both lenses have 9-blade apertures and impressively short close-focus distances (.3 and 1 meters respectively). Pentax promises the new DA* lenses will be "superior to any existing lens series in terms of contrast, clarity and edge-to-edge sharpness."

The lenses boast an impressive array of special features. On the K10D they have near-silent "Supersonic" SDM focusing (similar to Canon's USM), but can also be used on older bodies that have focusing motors built into the bodies; full-time manual focus override that works on both body types; and they are heavily sealed and water- and dust-resistant, to match the weather-sealed K10 body—and this includes a special, super-hard fluorine vapor-deposited coating on the outermost element that repels dust, moisture, grease, and dirt.

List prices are $900 and $1k respectively; no word on street prices. Typically for pro-quality, fast, constant-aperture zooms, they're fairly big 'n' heavy honkers. These two lenses will ship this Spring.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why Film Camera Lenses Aren't Great for DSLRs

How many people out there have bought a film-era SLR lens for their DSLR only to be vaguely disappointed in its performance—even if it's a prime (single-focal-length) lens?

Here's why:

1. Coatings are relatively more important to lens performance than most photographers realize.


2. Digital SLRs require different lens coatings than film SLRs.

What a lot of people don't realize is that when a lens says it's "multicoated," it doesn't mean that every air-to-glass surface in the entire lens is coated as well as it can possibly be. As with every other aspect of lens design, a lot of engineering expertise is invested in most lenses to try to figure out how to make the lens cheaper to manufacture, while still performing at a level that will be acceptable to the market. And applying separate layers of coatings to lens elements is expensive—especially if the lens is a zoom with 10 or 12 or 15 elements. Accordingly, lens designers specify which surfaces have to be multicoated, which can be single coated, and which can be left uncoated. And how many coatings are there in a "multi-"? Two? Six? Sixteen? (Do you know how many coatings the elements of Earth-surveillance satellite lenses get? I'll give you one clue: those lenses can cost half a million dollars and more.) The options available to the designer are more or less infinite. The chief limitation is cost.

The trouble comes from the fact that film lenses need to be protected from stray light in different ways than digital lenses. Not much light bounces back to the exit pupil of a lens from a piece of film. It turns out, however, that rather a lot of light bounces back from a digital sensor, and hits the lens where most lenses are least protected from flare—in the arse end. (That's a technical term.) How to cut corners in a lens intended for digital is a different engineering problem than how to cut corners in a lens designed for a film camera. Not a problem—except with DSLRs, which can accept both kinds of lenses.

This is the reason why you may be naggingly underwhelmed by the optical performance of, say, that older AF 28mm ƒ/2.8 you bought to use as a "normal" lens for your DSLR.

It's also the reason why you probably aren't dissatisfied with the performance of your newfangled, fancy-schmancy made-for-the-digital-age zoom (even the ones that also cover 35mm): it's coated to perform well on a DLSR.

Liz and Ray, Wigilia, 2006—My current main digital lens is a Konica-Minolta 28–75mm ƒ/2.8 made for Konica-Minolta by Tamron. Despite being uncool [see below], it's a great performer, in part because it's been coated specifically to work well on digital SLRs. 30mm, ƒ/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/50th sec.

It's also the reason that film-camera lenses work better for digital if they were made to a higher standard in the first place. Sometimes, a maker's fastest, most expensive lenses work pretty well on DSLRs because they were aimed at pros when they were new. Because they were aimed at a more demanding market and intended for tougher conditions—and sold for more money—they were coated better than consumer lenses. A slower, cheaper lens—despite having fewer elements that would theoretically result in less flare—might not be so good. You don't hear people complaining about the performance of film-era Leica M lenses when they use them on their M8s, because one way to make a premium lens premium is to just not cut any corners. Film-era Leica lenses are already "coated for digital" just because they were well-coated, period.

I keep waiting for the lensmakers to start making new primes optimized for digital sensors—or at least to start making "Mark II" modified versions of their film lenses that are coated for digital. (Maybe they are. They don't tell me. Or you.) Unfortunately, the fact that they're not doing so does limit your lens choices a little more than might be immediately apparent from the catalog. For my DSLR, I'd rather have a lens that I know was coated specifically for digital.


Great 50mm lenses

Apropos of yesterday, I hate to say this, y'all, but whether you shoot with this lens for $2,795 or with this one for $25 [the link is broken now, but it was an old screwmount Super-Takumar —MJ] really doesn't matter. In this game it's pictures that count, and what you do with those pictures, and how you publicize and market them. You get very little extra credit for which lens you happen to choose.

A lot of people who read it aren't going to like this, but in many cases, nobody can tell the difference. I wish I had the funding to do a double-blind experimental study along these lines (well, okay, not really), but I've tested the proposition pretty rigorously, and I can tell you that even many photographers can't reliably distinguish good expensive lenses from good inexpensive lenses just from looking at pictures (although a lot of them think they can). And when it comes down to the general public, fuggedaboutit—people just don't see.

When it comes to an enthusiasm for lenses, it is something we do for ourselves, for fun, for status, for personal satisfaction...not because it matters to the work.

That said, what follows is a list of some of the best 50mm lenses I know of. I'm leaving off the Zeiss ZM 50/2 Planar that I wrote about yesterday, as I really don't know where it belongs relative to this list yet. (Probably somewhere in the middle.) Note that this list is not consistent with regard to specific properties, and leaves off some fine lenses that might have a few nagging weaknesses that interfere with their overall excellence (I can coax some pretty alarming bokeh out of modern Summicrons, for instance—I've owned four of those at various times). I've also left off some nice 58mms such as the Topcon ƒ/1.4 and a couple of great classic lenses such as the Summarit and the Zeiss 50mm ƒ/2 for the Contarex. I've owned all these lenses except for #1 and the "F" versions of numbers 6 and 7.

1. Leica 50mm ƒ/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH (provisional)

2. Olympus Zuiko 50mm ƒ/2 Macro

3. Pentax 50mm ƒ/1.4 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar (M42 screwmount)

4. Konica M-Hexanon 50mm ƒ/2

5. Leica 50mm ƒ/1.4 Summilux-R (55mm filter thread—I don't like the newer one as well, although it measures better in several respects)

6. Canon EF 50mm ƒ/1.4

7. Pentax A/M/F/FA 50mm ƒ/1.7

8. Pentax A/F/FA 50mm ƒ/1.4

9. Nikkor 50mm ƒ/1.2 AIS

10. Leica 7-element Dual-Range Summicron-M

You can find more about lenses here, or here, or here.

As for #1, I'm picking it based on faith, MTF charts, and scanty evidence. A perilous thing for a critic to do, for sure—but then again, I'm going to be helped along by the fact that those who've chosen to make that particular investment are unlikely to quarrel with the choice.

Cheers, and a bit of parting advice—if any of this makes you feel hot under the collar, get out your favorite camera and go out and shoot a bit. You'll feel better. I promise.


P.S. Not all these pictures were taken with 50mms. From top to bottom: AF-Nikkor 80-200mm ƒ/2.8, Kodak Tri-X; Carl Zeiss Contax 85mm ƒ/2.8, Tri-X; 1979 (tabbed) Leica 50mm Summicron, Ilford XP-1; Olympus Zuiko Macro 50mm ƒ/2, Tri-X; Olympus Zuiko Macro 50mm ƒ/2, Agfapan APX 100; and Carl Zeiss Contax 35mm ƒ/2.8, Kodak Plus-X.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mike's World


How to Be Cool in Nine Easy Lessons:

1. The fewer lenses you use, the cooler you are.**

2. Committing to one camera is very cool, even if you own two or three of them.

3. The longer you've been using the same film, the cooler you are.

4. The closer your camera is to "mint," the less cool you are.***

5. Using a camera that's as old or older than you are is very cool.

6. The shorter your longest lens is, the cooler you are.

7. The more often you carry your camera with you, or keep it within easy reach, the cooler.

8. Cool people do not use zooms. Really cool people use cameras that can't be fitted with zooms.

9. The more you will shoot for every frame you'll show, the cooler you are.

*Satire Alert.****

** Four is fairly cool. Three is definitely cool. Two is very, very cool. One, and you are a God, and I kowtow to you.

*** And a corollary: the more you care what brand of camera you shoot, and especially the more you let other people know what brand you shoot, the less you even have a clue what cool is.

**** I think. On the other hand, I think I kinda believe all these things, deep down.


ADDENDUM: Mike Prevette's Leica M8. Black tape is cool.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why I Seldom Write About Lenses These Days...

Lens connoisseurship has been a significant hobby of mine for more than ten years now. I call it a "hobby" because it really doesn't have very much to do with photography; what careful testing of lenses mainly shows is that the performance differences between good modern lenses are (for practical purposes) small, sometimes vanishingly small—in fact often requiring that selfsame careful testing even to distinguish! As for the differences that can be more easily detected, such as bokeh rendering and flare characteristics, these are largely a matter of taste in most circumstances.

I can't remember exactly when it was—three years ago? Five?—but I also essentially "retired" from writing about lens connoisseurship in public (I still do it with certain friends in private). There are a number of reasons for this. Chiefly, I think, it has to do with what I just mentioned—that testing lens performance doesn't have a whole lot to do with photography—and the fact that this is so widely misunderstood amongst a certain kind of hobbyist, who are eager to argue the opposite. (In truth, lens connoisseurship can sometimes actively interfere with photography...I've become so good at detecting the visual cues of aberrations that I zero in on them all too quickly when looking at pictures, and I personally find it very difficult to find lenses I'm wholly satisfied with.) Secondly, I have come to deplore "drinking wine by the label," and the eternal necessity of fighting against snobbism, prejudice (the word in its literal sense, of "judging in advance"), and a phenomenon I don't have a name for, the hardened tendency of so many consumers to believe that more expensive things must be better (and their assumption that I—rather than they—must have some ulterior motive if I don't automatically accept that view). Third, I have come to realize that a lot of my own preferences, although often strongly held, are really just a result of the fact that I have refined my own personal tastes and values through extended, one might say excessive, investigation. That is, I know what I like. And while I know what I like, I concede that what I like is mainly a matter of taste (albeit educated taste) and I get tired of arguing about it. I no longer find disputation and contention interesting, amusing, fun, or productive; I'm sort of over it, you might say. I know what I know and I don't really care all that much if others agree with me or not.

Another aspect of all this is that digital de-emphasizes some of the importance of the optical characteristics of the camera lens. Bayer array sensors just don't resolve microdetail very well, and they don't seem to "interact" with the lens image like film does to create a unique "fingerprint." Of course, images are more malleable in digital—you can correct even compound distortion with DxO, for instance, and of course there is a huge range of corrections for "grain" and "sharpness" and so forth. And yet, digital just doesn't render highlights as well as film does, and the subtle and distinct ways lenses render highlights is one good reason to care about optics.

Finally, many of the lenses I care about are lenses for film cameras. While it is not true that "no one cares about film any more," it is true that fewer people do. For this reason, writing lens reviews would seem to have less general appeal now than it used to. (Despite this, I keep mulling over the notion of writing a book about lenses.)

This is the first of three related posts, in descending order this time (anti-blog style)—continuing below.


The Elusive "Normal" and the Myth of the Fifty

The "normal" lens these days is a cheap consumer zoom, ordinarily bundled with a DSLR. Modern computer design, manufacturing techniques, and quality-control strategies have made many of these lenses into minor triumphs of human enterprise, akin to an economy car that doesn't need an oil change for a hundred thousand miles. The fact that they can be "good enough" optically while being so cheap to manufacture and also versatile enough to market easily is a "hat trick" that is, within its small sphere, mighty impressive.

Many such lenses are surprisingly good under a certain percentage of shooting conditions, too. Of course, however good they might be at ƒ/8, on a tripod or on a day with plenty of light, focused sufficiently close to infinity to be optimal, still, few exceed what might be termed a "B" grade overall. Spend more money, and you can do better. Most people never do. The mere act of purchasing a better lens as a better lens immediately puts a camera owner into a minority.

Pursuing the absolute best puts any photographer into a very small minority. Most people—let's not be too delicate here—don't give a rat's ass.

Thirty years ago, a slow 50mm lens ("slow" meaning within shouting distance of ƒ/2) was "normal," in that it was included with many SLR purchases and was considered the most basic lens. Photographers could upgrade to a faster 50mm and/or one with close-focusing capabilities (the so-called macro, which often wasn't; a macro-focusing lens is one which can reach and exceed 1:1 in magnification). Buyers often had fun building up lens "arsenals," "covering" a variety of focal lengths. Emblematic of the centrality of the 50mm in those days, and oft cited, was the fact that Henri Cartier-Bresson used nothing but. (Not strictly true, but close enough.) Now, of course, there are legions of enthusiastic photographers who have never used a 50mm at all. It's more fashionable now to denigrate than the praise the 50mm. It's a bit of a throwback.

Still, it remains an interesting focal length. It's just a bit too long on 35mm. The standard is that a "normal" angle of view for any format is the measure of its diagonal, which for 35mm is approximately 42mm. This would be more normal than normal. (It is often stated that 50mm became the standard because Oskar Barnack chose it arbitrarily for the first Leica. Not true; the "Ur-Leica" had a lens much closer to true normal for the format, at least according to an Englishman who got to take it apart once).

The slightly long 50mm has two salient visual properties in my opinion (to give credit where credit is due, I think I heard both ideas articulated first by John Kennerdell, a writer/photographer of travel guides for Asia). First, it has a certain "chameleon" property. That is, it can be made to mimic a slightly telephoto "look" and also a slightly wide-angle look, depending on how the photographer "sees" in any certain situation. Assuming you've learned how to mentally organize pictures as wide-angle compositions and as short-tele compositions, this chameleon property can be endlessly intriguing. Second—and this is impossible to prove—it may be true that, with a 50mm, you get a lower percentage of "acceptable" compositions but a higher percentage of true "hits"—pictures that are really outstanding—than you do when you're using "easier" focal lengths. This is John Kennerdell's thought, anyway, and I've come to agree with the notion, although of course I am—and, I would imagine, John is, too—short of the kind of data that would overcome skepticism.

From a lens-connoisseurship standpoint, there is one truism about 50mm lenses that I think is, in a very subtle way, a myth: and that is that they're almost all of very high quality optically. "Even cheap 50's are great," you'll read on the 'net. Or words to that effect.

Well—acknowledging that I'm looking at this from a fiercely uncompromising, true-believer optical nitpicker standpoint—I don't agree. It may be that there are a lot more examples of A-minus lenses among 50s than other types, and it may also be that the average is very high, and that the worst ones don't fall below a high C. But overall, I am more likely to be happy with a 35mm or an 85mm design than I am to be truly happy with a 50. A-minus and B-plus 50s are common, but A-plus 50s are rare indeed. There are just not all that many lenses of this focal length that meet my standards. The list of the very best is a very short list.

I've recently found another one that makes the grade, which is the occasion for these posts. Read on.

This is the second of three related posts, in descending order this time (anti-blog style)—continuing below.


Fifty 50s and The Zeiss Planar T* 2/50 ZM

I had the opportunity recently to use four of the new Leica M mount "ZM" lenses from Carl Zeiss, Oberkochen. The guy who made the oppportunity possible had his Zeiss dealership yanked out from under him and is no longer associated with the brand, even after he'd gone to considerable trouble to skilfully promote that brand and its products, so I'm going to have to figure out some other way to repay him. (By the bye, this was neither a kind nor a smart move on Zeiss's part, given my friend's expertise and influence. I might even go so far as to assume it was a bit of a nasty business, or at least had a bit of that feel to it; but then, we all know that hidebound, centuries-old companies—would it be hideously xenophobic to say "especially German ones"? My experience is limited—can be as cantankerous to deal with as superannuated battle-axe maiden aunts. Watch yer topknot, fellow travelers.)

Of the four lenses, the 50mm ƒ/2—its official title is "Zeiss Planar T* 2/50 ZM"—was not the glamor lens, so I used it the least and it's taken me a while to catch up to it. It is indeed somewhat un-flashy in nature. I do think it's permissable—or at least not wholly self-indulgent—to write about it, because it is a digital lens now too: it fits on the Epson RD-1 with the same angle of view as a 75mm on 35mm, and also on the hot new Leica M8, where it assumes the angle of view of a 65mm on 35mm—short teles in both cases. It can also be used on a variety of film cameras, including all M-mount Leicas; several Voigtländers, including the R3A and R3M, which are the ones that have 1:1 finders; and also on its own companion "Zeiss Ikon" [sic], the ill-named new super-RF that is the result of a collaboration between Zeiss and Cosina. (This lens is also fabricated by Cosina, for Zeiss, under license.)

It sometimes happens in the world of high-end audio—another locus of unremitting and even counter-productive connoisseurship—that stereo systems most valued by "deep" connoisseurs aren't immediately terribly impressive to neophytes. The reason is that they aren't designed to go for cheap thrills and superficial appeal. To satisfy the high-strung "golden ears" of the expert, they need to achieve hyper-competence within a framework of carefully adjudged balance, with no particular property spotlit or disguised. That description also applies to what I've come to like in lenses.

I mentioned earlier that I have distinct tastes and preferences. To name just a few of these: I tend to like lenses that are optimized for sharpness across the entire frame, as opposed to concentrating their best sharpness in the center of the field; that are optimized for a taking distance of less than infinity (the traditional value is 50•ƒ, which is fine); that do not distort more than, say, 1%; that tend to equalize their performance up and down the aperture range, as opposed to having a more distinct optimum aperture at the expense of the extremes; that have a marginal amount of low-level veiling glare (why? It can serve to, in effect, "pre-expose" the lowest shadow values with black-and-white film) but as little ghosting as possible; that "masks" micro-resolution with robust large-structure contrast, which I think looks a little more natural than lenses with the ultimate in resolution (anyway, it goes better with my favorite films, none of which are high-resolution). Those are a few of the major ones.

And then there's bokeh. The term is a general Japanese word that roughly translates to "fuzzy," and that has a number of different connotations in Japanese. Applied to lenses it merely means optical blur, or the blur of imaged objects away from the plane of best focus (as opposed, of course, to blur caused by either the subject or the camera moving). Technically, there is no "good" or "bad" bokeh. Subjectively, there is, but it's a matter of taste as to which is what. Some people don't care about bokeh; I do. Some people don't take pictures with appreciable amounts of bokeh in them; I do. Some people just don't look at it; I do. Some people have catholic tastes and are accepting of various types of blur rendering; I'm not one of them.

You also can't really generalize about the bokeh of any one lens. Well, you can, but only in the way that one or two MTF charts describe a lens's behavior—pretty well as far as it goes, but in no way is it a complete description. Bokeh changes with aperture, focus distance, which side of the plane of focus the imaged object is on, and how far the imaged object is from the plane of best focus, and what the imaged object looks like (mainly, but not exclusively, in terms of tonal values and contrast). This describes an effectively infinite range of possible conditions, meaning that all tests are representative and all descriptions are shorthand approximations.

The kind of blur rendering I like in a lens can be vaguely described as the soft "bright-core" type, but soft in the sense of cloudlike rather than fuzzy, resembling lenses from before, say, the 1960s or early '70s, or whenever it was that overcorrected spherical aberration became the norm.

I haven't used every 50mm that exists, but I've tried about 50 of them now and have owned more than 15...and that's more than most people have tried, you've got to admit. What follows is only a provisional decision, and I don't want to be held to it absolutely. Neither, for reasons enummerated earlier, do I want to have to defend my thesis in a court of opinion or hold verbal prizefights with other self-appointed experts. However, I think that (for me, personally, subjectively, given my tastes and values in terms of've got all that already, right?), the Zeiss ZM 50mm ƒ/2 is the new winner. It takes pride of place as the best 50mm I know of. I'd have to use it more to be sure, but it looks that way.

I was suprised by this. In construction, it is simple, and resembles (but is not identical to) another of my very favorite 50s, the Konica Hexanon-M 50/2. But its design also resembles some lenses I don't like very much. Also, I must say I'm surprised to like a Zeiss 50 quite as much as I like this one...I don't normally care for Zeisses (in fact, a couple of the weak points of the Contax Planars were too glaring for me to live with, and were what drove me to Pentax, years ago).

I can tell you that if I shot with the Epson RD-1 or the Leica M8, this would be my short tele (in my world, the shorter your short tele, the cooler you are). And if you care about a) great lenses in general and 50s in particular, b) film cameras, and c) rangefinders, you are three, three, three times a minority amongst photographers. But in case you care, this Zeiss is a very pleasant surprise—a bit of a hidden treasure, I think.

If you own this lens and have pictures taken with it posted online, please leave links in the comments—I'd be interested to see some of what you're doing with it.

This is the third of three related posts, in descending order (anti-blog style)—continuing from the two posted directly above.


Saturday, February 17, 2007


Andrew Smith: Quiet Reflections On Photography

by Chantal Stone

Photographer Andrew Smith has a style that is quiet, reflective, even philosophical. He's a musician by trade, a middle school music teacher, from a family of musicians. His photographs echo the quiet contemplation and focus required of his profession. His photoblog, Visual Realia, is a journey through the mind and world of this thoughtful artist. Recently I had the pleasure to talk with Andy about his life and his work:

Chantal Stone: What are some of the things you like to photograph?
Andrew Smith: I probably have too wide of a range of topic choices for the good of my site. I tend to like color, black and white, duo-tones and infrared. I think that variety of ways of expressing the image is part of what interests me...Part of it for me is not only the photo itself, but also the process. I like thinking about the shot, shooting it, and working with it afterward.

CS: Why and when did you start your photoblog?
AS: Started in spring, entirely for my needs…having a full time job, kids, etc., there is every excuse in the world not to go out and shoot. Having a blog where one hopes to post most days forces me to go out and photograph. No excuses...self motivation.

CS: What styles of photography are you attracted to?
AS: This probably explains why my own photography is so scattered. I find each style brings interest in its own way. I guess photos that "express" something beyond the literal are my favorite.

CS: Is that what you try to something beyond the literal?
AS: Sometimes, but certainly not always. I'm currently working with macros of music themes, and I don't know that I'm reaching for anything beyond in those...although you may have noticed the quotes [on my photoblog]. I do enjoy trying to find something that is somehow related.

CS: I was going to mention that…what made you start adding the quotes with the images?
AS: That goes back to the process. Selfish! I like looking for relevant quotes, almost in a puzzle-like fashion. I can't say I thought about it; it just seemed like that was obvious for me. Photos evoke words and thoughts, and sometimes quotations add to those thoughts.

CS: How would you describe your body of work?
AS: Body of attempt to see life close up, far away, and just attempt to appreciate it. It's too easy to ignore the "little" things around us, and my photography is an attempt to force myself to see what's around me. If I'm lucky, maybe some of the shots will do the same for a viewer or two.

CS: What do you think your photography says about you as a person?
AS: Since I tend to have a wide variety (ok, scattered) of interests and styles, that probably reflects on me. I like "exploration." I've always enjoyed the exploratory aspects of science, for example…maybe a curiosity.

CS: Your landscape it a cohesive, continuous project, or just something you add to here and there, shooting sporadically?
AS: I believe that my landscape photography is cohesive only in retrospect; by that, I mean that I don't consciously select only subjects that meet specific "guidelines." Looking at the photos as a group, I assume one can find similarities that run through many. It's always difficult to assess one's own work, but I think I'm drawn to photographs and scenes with a sense of line.

CS: Do you actively seek these particular scenes, or do you just come across them while walking, wandering?
AS: The nature/landscape photograph series continues to develop through both intention and happy accidents! When time permits for jaunts to photograph, I'll certainly have scenes in mind that I hope to add to the collection. As my work and family life tend to minimize time for those pursuits, my camera almost always travels with me.

Even on my hour-plus commute to and from work, on a route I've traveled for years, I am constantly trying to be aware of the beautiful elements along the path, and I'm still surprised at what new things pop to my attention. If I notice such a new item, or the light seems to be striking something in a fresh way, I'll pull off to a side road and take advantage of the opportunity.

CS: Do the areas that you photograph have any significant meaning to you, your life?
AS: There are local areas that I'll be pulled to, often because of past experiences. My first job as a teen was at a local state park, and I'm very appreciative of the area, much more so than the typical area residents who seem to forget they have this amazing place in their back yard. Positive memories from childhood trips will motivate returns…While some areas hold special meaning, I find myself much more readily finding interesting subjects in the ordinary places. I'm quite happy to be driving along after a busy day and stumble across great light and shadows from a perfect sky.

CS: Explain the role of music in your life.
AS: Music was always a part of both my immediate and extended family's life. It was always there and always seemed obvious to participate in it; there never seemed to be a question about whether to be a part of it. As a music teacher now, I see students that seem very comfortable with music in their lives, and sometimes comforted by it. Working with 10 to 14 year olds, I see their young adult personalities forming, and for some, music plays a very important part.

Music and photography (as well as the other arts) fit together incredibly neatly. Certainly, throughout history, the various art forms changed together and changed each other. At times it seems as if there is only one "Art" form, and there are just various ways of reaching for it.

I can remember a trip to the Smithsonian and seeing a full-size Kandinsky painting for the first time. The work clearly drew me in, as did his other pieces. It wasn't until some time later that I read about him and looked at some of his writings. Kandinsky's beliefs about the interconnectedness of music and his visual art were quite strong, and he spoke of his visual pieces in musical terms.

CS: Your 'music' images seem to have a sensual feel to that something intentional on your part?
AS: Sensuality in the works is an interesting thought. I didn't set out to purposely do so, but it could be a byproduct of the role of art. If art is expression, and a piece is successful in some way, there could be many feelings involved. Sensuality seems to be heavily influenced by line and movement in life, music, dance and visual arts, so the expressive lines of the musical instruments bring along a great sense of beauty.

CS: What do you hope to achieve through your photography…Where do you hope it leads?
AS: Certainly, part of it is a selfish use for me. A sanity keeper. Having said that, I'm as egotistical as the next person, and if someone expresses interest in a photo, I'm certainly glad to hear it...Leading... well, hopefully more folks to view it, and offer feedback. Beyond that, who knows?