7.22.2014

Loving older lenses and enjoying the heck out of using them.

55mm Micro Nikkor lens. On two adapters.

I am uncomfortable calling older lenses "legacy lenses." I don't really know what that means but the common usage in photography circles is meant to convey that these are lenses left over from something---usually the film days. They are being re-purposed on cameras for which they were not originally designed. However uncomfortable I am with the nomenclature I am comfortable with the practice of using older lenses on newer cameras. That's one of the (fulfilled) promises of the new wave of mirror less cameras. The lens flange to sensor plane distance is so much shorter than the distance on cameras with mirrors that just about any lens can be easily adapted while maintaining infinity focus. 

As a portrait photographer there are a couple of focal lengths that I find comfortable and "just right." I like the angle of view that matches an 85mm lens on a 24 by 36 mm camera but sometimes I find it too short. That's why I'm hesitating in buying the Nocticron with its 42.5 mm focal length. It's right at the edge of almost too wide for me. I bought the Olympus 45mm 1.8 lens and I think it has very good performance but when I shoot on the 4:3 format I find myself wishing the lens gave me just a slightly narrower angle of view.  But by the time I get to 60 mm's, and especially 75mm, I feel like I'm getting a lens that's just a bit too long. Goldilocks and the Three Bears strikes again. 

So I've been playing around with something in the 50mm to 55mm focal length range. I did a job a while back in which I shot all the portraits with an older, manual 50mm f1.4 Nikkor lens and it was pretty good. A totally different feel that the modern lenses. The colors felt heavier. The images were technically sharp but something was off. 

Last weekend I was out and around and I found a 55mm Micro Nikkor (f2.8) lens, used, at Precision Camera. I remember that lens well because back in the film only days we got a lot of good use out of it. I remembered it as being very sharp. And one of the ideas in choosing lenses for smaller formats is that they need to be both sharp and of high resolution in order to fill the hunger of those little pixels.

I had always remembered the 55mm as being very sharp, even wide open and I was intrigued by the focal length. The price was modest (under $200) and I already had an assortment of adapters back at the studio to test it with. If it passed I might invest in a dedicated Nikon lens to M4:3 adapter just to cut down on the number of parallel surfaces in the mount. 

I am happy to say that the lens does well on the body. I've been using it wide open on a few portraits and by f4 it's pretty amazing (but really, what good, modern lens isn't amazing when it's shot two stops down?). It has a different color rendering and a different tonal character than my more current lenses but I've started thinking that the lens character is something we often confuse with the difference between digital and film---wrongly. It may be that a good part of what makes images from film cameras look different from digital cameras is the way the two different sets of lenses are designed. 

A big problem in early digital imaging is that many of the lenses designed in the film days didn't have the right coatings on the rear element as it faced the sensor. This allowed the light coming through the lens to be bounced off the somewhat reflective sensor and return to the back element as flare or as a hot spot. But there may be other more subtle effects to different lens design that all add up to a different look. Most sensors now are coated with their own anti-reflection coatings and some of the initial problems have vanished. Some lenses have such a weak rear element coating that they still make trouble for sensors when strong light sources are near enough to the lens axis to have light rays touch the front elements. It's still a matter of trial and error. 

Even in digital designs there are differences between manufacturers. It's a known problem to use the Panasonic 7-14mm lens with some Olympus bodies, including the OMDs. The encroachment of any strong light can cause hot spots in the images. This doesn't happen with the Panasonic bodies. I'm sure then coatings tell the story but, of course, all the information is proprietary to each maker so we'll probably never know exactly what the disconnection is. 

So far the Micro Nikkor exceeds my expectations but be warned that I haven't walked around pointing it at the sun (yet). For studio work with soft and gracious lighting it provides exactly the focal length I was looking for along with a little "bite." Next up? Probably my fourth or fifth go around with a 105mm f2.5 Nikkor. They are plentiful and I remember every one I owned as being really nice. Too long for the m4:3 (at least the way I shoot them) but wonderful on a full frame Nikon body---should one catch my eye. 




The Social Marketing Sciences. How a photographic session becomes content beyond its original content.

Fame sits uncomfortably with Studio Dog.

Social Media. We hear about it all the time. People post links to their projects on Facebook and Twitter and write about their adventures on their blogs. Some are interesting. Others less so. I sometimes like to look at images from behind the scenes of other people's photo shoots just to see what we do differently from each other. But there is a new twist for me this year. Today I received my fourth request that I sign a model release so that my image could be used on my client's website and in their social media. 

We were on assignment yesterday at the headquarters of a large medical services client. We (me and the marketing team...) were making images of a group of four practice managers for an upcoming ad for Breast Cancer Awareness month (October). While I fine tuned the lighting a make-up person was putting the final touches on our models. During the set up and pre-production, as well as during the actual photography my client had her Canon Rebel out and was shooting all kinds of available light, behind the scenes images. 

I think this is a win-win for me and the client company. We were shooting "real people" and it shows how much work goes into lighting and cajoling great expressions out of four people simultaneously. The images show how much "gear" the make up person brings and how diligently they work on their clients. For the client it creates a sense of transparency between them and their customers and referrers. It also builds some buzz for their upcoming marketing efforts. 

Of course, I am hoping that I'll be discovered by one of Austin's wonderful film directors (Hello Robert Rodriguez, Hello Richard Linklater) and cast as an ongoing and endearing character actor in some of their upcoming movies. It could happen....

Another example of the constantly changing tides lapping at the flip-flop wearing toes of a working photographer and his long term clients. 



7.21.2014

If you're going to use an umbrella you might want to go big...


I like big umbrellas. 
I used two of them today. 
The one above is a Fotodiox 72 inch white/black model. 

The one below is an ancient Balcar
Zebra umbrella. It's 60 inches in diameter
and has alternating white and silver panels. 

Both are wonderful modifiers for flattering portraits. 
You know, the kind that sell.

On location this morning at Austin Radiological.



If you are going to go big you may as well put some power
behind those lights. 1100 watt second Elinchrom 
light producing machine. Lovely.



7.19.2014

Book Notes. Getting a fresh copy of The Lisbon Portfolio.


Just a few notes about the novel. It's selling well despite the fact that our first version had too many typos and some inconsistencies. The vast majority of the glaring faults have been corrected with help from VSL reader, Michael Matthews (good eye!) and design elbow grease from Belinda. If you buy the Kindle book from Amazon.com today you will be getting the latest version. But if you bought and downloaded the book a week ago you probably got the first version. But don't worry, it's a pretty easy fix.

The neat thing about Kindle books (app available free for all kinds of tablets, laptops, regular computers and even phones....) is that a book becomes upgradable. Like firmware its content can be updated by the author and re-downloaded by users. In order to get a fresh version here's what you need to do:

Go to your account on Amazon.com and click on: Manage Your Content & Devices. Once that page comes up you'll see three different headers. One says, "Your Content", one says, "Your Devices" and the tab on the right hand side says, "Settings." You want to go to "Settings."

Once you are in settings scroll down to a selection that says, Automatic Book Update. By default this is off. You should turn it on. It lets you upload the latest version of a title that you've bought but may have subsequently deleted from your device. The default to "off" is for people who have done detailed annotations of books and who do not want to lose those changes by getting a new version...

Once you've made those changes go back to your device and delete the current book. (DO NOT DELETE THE BOOK IN THE "YOUR CONTENT" SECTION OF YOUR ACCOUNT PAGE ON AMAZON OR YOU WILL LOSE THE BOOK UNTIL YOU PAY FOR IT AGAIN!!!!!). Then head back to the cloud on your device and download the book again. This will be the new version. 

Thank you to all the hundreds of people who've purchased the Lisbon Porfolio and a special, extra thanks to the people who've gone to Amazon here in the states and in the U.K. to leave reviews. While most of the reviews are currently five stars even the three star reviews (generally nicking the typos) usually end with, "But all that aside the story is really fun and I'm already waiting for the next book."

For everyone who doesn't like reading on an electronic device we will have the paperback version up on Amazon shortly and it will have all the corrections of the current e-copy. The book comes in at around 480 pages. It should be fun. I am ordering a case. You know what I'll be giving out over the holidays.....

Thank you, Kirk

A Follow Up on an Earlier Post for People Who Like Buildings. The Olympus OMD EM5 and the ancient, but still alive, Olympus 150mm f4 Pen FT Lens designed for half frame film cameras.


This is a follow up to the article on the 150mm f4 from earlier in the day. I wanted to shoot some images of objects that weren't moving. I like these buildings so I thought I'd use them as a good test of the sharpness of the old Olympus Pen FT lens on the EM5 sensor. When it comes to architectural photography I'm a pretty easy sell. I think the image is a lovely example of a long lens going for details. 

The city bird of Austin is the crane. I'm showing this because the skies in the images done with the 150mm are different in color and saturation than what I get from more modern lenses. Interesting (to me) that the rendering seems more natural in the older lens. It's almost as though we've developed a taste for saturation that is at odds with our endless declarations that we are just looking for the highest accuracy in our photos.

When I stopped down to f 8 the detail from this ancient lens was astounding. 

Bridge Compression. 

The State Capitol from nearly a mile away. The detail on the dome is still sharp. Might have been sharper but for the heat waves and atmospheric clutter....

This late afternoon shot was done from the pedestrian bridge under the Mopac Hwy. Nearly a mile and a half from the buildings in the image. An interesting test.