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Part III; Updating

Updating – 1996 – 2000

The camera gear did not come out again until in maybe 1996. Wow. A lot had changed in the industry between 1981 and 1996.

Cameras.        Camera bodies had all pretty much gone to electronics. “Auto-focus” was now common in cameras (though not near as good as it is today), as was “auto-exposure.” Almost every camera now had winding motors built in (formerly an add-on accessory). The light metering had become much more sophisticated (Nikon called theirs, “matrix” metering), and relied on an electronic “bank” of memorized lighting conditions to compare to the scene being metered. Fortunately, they all retained the more traditional spot and averaging that the earlier “match-needle” camera systems had. And fortunately, they all retained the option to operate them the old-fashioned way – manually. Shutter speeds had increased, along with the motor-winding capabilities. And viewfinders had become brighter and easier to focus with in many instances. So of course, I wanted to change my gear up. J

I carted my bag of gear, and traded it all in for my first modern body; a Nikon N6006. Of course, when I say “trade,” we all know that means I got a few pennies toward the purchase cost of the new gear. 🙂

Nikon N6006

  • Nikon N6006. First produced in 1991, the N6006 (known outside the U.S., as the F-601) was actually a remarkable body, with some electronic innovations that made it closer to the “pro” side. It was much like the later, very popular digital D70, in the lineup of consumer cameras that really approached the professional models in capability. In 1988, Nikon released the N8008 (F-901), which was its “prosumer” copy, offering an “almost” experience of the flagship F4 professional body. The N6006 was a slightly lesser model, featuring slower maximum shutter speeds, auto-focus, etc. I was new to AF, and my shooting needs did not push me toward fast shutter speeds, and the 8008 was outside my budget.

I have remarked here before, that the development and marketing of consumer level cameras often drives some of the best new technology. The 6006 was no exception and it had electronic flash features that were more advanced that some of the “higher” models; not that I necessarily appreciated that yet.

Nikon N90s

  • Nikon N90s.    As I became more involved in shooting, I also began to experience symptoms of a disease, the Nikon variation of which is known as, NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome) J. Nikon’s “flagship” pro film cameras have always been designated with an F- followed by a single digit numeral. Beginning with the original Nikon “F” SLR in 1959, the flagship models progressed from the F1 through the F6 in 2004; the last of the film-based line (on the succeeding digital bodies, the designation became “D” with a numeral following). These “pro-line” cameras really had the best of everything. They also very often had features that hobbyist shooters like me did not really need, and the price point was unattainable by us mere mortals. They were designed for heavy use, with faster shutter speeds and other amenities, for professionals who relied on them for daily use.

To cater to those of us who wanted “more,” but couldn’t really justify the expenditure, camera manufacturers made a line which was a step below the pro cameras, but still half the price or better (the F4 was about $2,000 at the time and the F5 introduced a couple years later, was $2,300). In 1992, the Nikon viariant was the N90, and in 1994, its “updated” N90s. The N90s was just over $1000 new. I found a very clean, used copy for a pretty good deal. These cameras became known as “pro-sumer” models. At the time, the N90s was the leading Nikon prosumer body and was a very nice piece of equipment.

One very new (to me) phenomena that was coming into its own in camera technology was “auto-focus.” In the early 1980’s “AF” was introduced in the higher end market. Nikon released the F3AF in 1983, but it wasn’t a stellar item. The technology was – at first – built into the camera bodies, which meant changing components of the lens mount for interchangeable lens cameras. It also meant that the mounts on each lens had to be changed or modified. The coupling involved light metering, f-stop selection, AF motor, and also the size and distance to the film plane. And that’s just my oversimplified explanation.

Nikon remained, until just recently when they finally released a “mirrorless interchangeable lens (“MILS”) camera, dedicated to keeping the fundamental design of their lens mount so that all prior lenses would remain compatible with the camera. Others, notably Canon and Minolta, were not so shy about complete changes. This allowed them to advance the AF technology and their AF was simply better than Nikons. And because of that they – especially Canon – eventually became the favorite of pro’s – especially in the wildlife and sports arena, where the AF was becoming more and more popular.

Like many “seasoned” shooters, I wondered what the hubbub about AF was at first. But it was remarkably good and accurate on the N6006 and even better on the N90s, and I grew to rely on it. In the field and at the ballpark, I began to see the “white” lenses (Canon primarily) dominate and it seemed like Nikon forever lagged behind in its AF. I was even seriously contemplated switching to Canon gear during this time period. I had some conversations with a noted professional and Canon shooter, and he discouraged me, pointing out two “truisms.” First, you are most likely going to “take a bath” financially when switching. That alone, held me back from making any rash moves. But his second truism proved to be a pretty good piece of advice.

Nikon F100

  • Nikon F100.    I was in and out of my local camera shop, “kicking tires,” looking at a Canon EOS body the would have been a step backward from my N90s – buildwise – but incorporated Canon’s newest eye-focus technology (which, as far as I can tell, never really caught fire). On day, The guy behind the counter that knew me from my frequent trips, handed the new F100 Nikon body and I played with it for a few minutes. He let me go get a couple of my own lenses and mount them on it and play with it. The AF was lightning fast, accurate and silent. I ended up buying it, and it was probably the best overall Nikon body I ever owned. For the next 2 years, I carried both the F100 and the N90s bodies around. Not too shabby.

    Nikon F2

  • Nikon F2.        I did take one nostalgic turn for a couple years. There was a local camera repair guy in the small community where my commuter office was. I used to stop in there and he had a selection of older lenses, cameras, etc., mostly Nikon. He sold me a nice all black, Nikon F2 camera for around $100. It was the only “flagship” pro camera body I have ever owned. It was built like a bank vault. All manual (the only “technology” was the match-needle light meter), it was just fun to use. I carried it as a backup/second camera for a few years (in the film days, I often would carry two bodies loaded with different films and often with different lenses mounted).

Lenses.            My N6006 “kit” came with a 35-80mm nikkor f4.8 – 5.6 lens. It was just “o.k.” And, I wanted something with more reach. In those days, Ritz Camera was a chain that had stores in every mall. Ritz was really the only camera shop in our town at the time, and I frequented it. They had an inexpensive (+\- $200, 70-300 zoom lens under their own brand – Quantaray. The lenses were actually manufactured by Sigma, who make some pretty good optics. The optical quality of this lens was very good, but the build quality was terrible. I went through two of them, both due to stripped gears in the AF mechanism. I finally moved to a used Tokina (another estimable third party lens manufacturer) push-pull zoom I picked up in a camera shop during my travels. It is a shame, because the Quantaray was small, light and very sharp with good color. That Tokina never really met my expectations. Shortly afterward, I traded for a Tokina ATF 80-400 lens. I used that lens for a couple years, and shot a lot of images for it. I never really thought it reached the critical sharpness threshold that would satisfy me though (largely a function of the substantial range and zoom lens construction of the time). Although it was a much better lens all-around than the prior Tokina, I was really using it more for a “long” lens, and I eventually purchased the Tokina 300mm f2.8. That lens was all metal construction, and very difficult to distinguish from its “big brother,” the Nikkor 300mm f2.8 – except that it was half the price. During my “bird/wildlife” phase I lugged that lens around. It was very heavy, and required a sturdy tripod. In those days, I was also carrying a Bogen aluminum tripod heavy enough to handle this large lens. Lugging them very far got very old, very fast.

Nikkor 60mm “Micro”

In the meantime, I had purchased another very inexpensive Quantaray 50mm macro lens. It turned out to have some significant optical issues and I “traded” it in for a very expensive Nikkor 60mm f2.8 micro. It was my first experience with “pro” Nikkor lenses (except for the 50mm lenses that came with camera kits).

For much of this time period, I shot mostly with the Tokina 80-400, the Nikkor 60mm micro, and a Nikkor 28mm f2.8.

Kodachrome 25

 

Medium.         In this era, the change was huge. The last time I had used the cameras, I had used my K-25 without much thought. In the ensuing years, film technology moved ahead by leaps and bounds. Not only did the color get better, but the ability to preserve fine, grainless (a relative term) detail with higher ISO ratings continued to progress. And to my surprise, the nature photographer’s go-to was no longer Kodachrome. Indeed for many, Kodachrome was an anachronism. The new rage was a film by Fujifilm, called Velvia (sounded like cheese to me). Velvia was unlike any predecessor, with a rich and vibrant color to it is really no wonder that it became the nature photographer’s film of choice. I shot many rolls of it, essentially moving away from my beloved Kodachrome from that point on. Velvia became my – albeit temporary – new Kodachrome. At ISO 50, it offered a stop more, and a very saturated and very contrasty color palate, which seemed dramatic. Indeed, some would say (and at times I agreed); too saturated, too contrasty, and too dramatic. It also tended to really punch up the yellows and greens. Fuji eventually offered some alternatives that were nice (especially Sensia, Sensia II, and Provia, which not only offered a “more natural” color palate, but Provia came in ISO 400 version, which was the fasted slide film available), but by then I had leaned back toward Kodak.

Fuji Velvia

During this period, there were many new offerings each year for a while, particularly from Kodak trying to “catch up” to the Velvia onslaught. Kodak kind of revived its Ektachrome offerings (they actually continually increased their Ektachrome offerings over the years, but they really seemed to cater to a very specialized audience). In 1996, they introduced E100S (“saturated”) and E100SW (“saturated warm”). I shot many rolls of them, and really liked the more “natural,” subdued color rendering they gave for many of my landscape and wildlife shots. I still shot some Velvia, but it became more for “arty” flower images and dramatic light landscapes. The E100 films were great because they offered yet another stop of exposure, and still retained a very fine, grainless look. Fuji followed suit with some new more “neutral” offerings in higher ISO ranges, including Sensia and Sensia II. A perusal of my archives shows a fair amount of Sensia II images. Two years later, E200 came out and was welcomed especially by wildlife shooters who worked in early and late day periods. In 1999, still chasing the legend of Velvia, Kodak released E100VS, and also Elitechrome. They never really caught on – for me at least. I was pretty satisfied – mostly with the E100 films. For about a 15-year period, film developments were a wonderful boon to photographers. And then in 2012 – the digital revolution having taken full hold – Kodak ceased production of its color slide films!

Fuji Sensia II 100

Doodads.  As I mentioned above, Nikon has absolutely lead the market in electronic flash synchronization with its camera bodies. It is “smarter” than I am. I shortly acquired a smallish, Nikon dedicated flash unit and had perhaps the best and easiest lighting experience ever with this. When I later switched to the Sony system, this was (and continues to be) one of my regrets.

Unfortunately, a tripod is one photographic accessory which photographers often skimp on, or skip altogether

A quality tripod is the other area in which I became “educated.” Unfortunately, a tripod is one photographic accessory which photographers often skimp on, or skip altogether. I get it. Photography is an expensive hobby and with a limited budget, there are priorities. Cameras and lenses are usually the highest priority. But with longer lenses, shooting in more challenging conditions, a sturdy, reliable camera support is an absolutely fundamental essential. I learned this, particularly as my telephoto images suffered as a result of flimsy support. I had carried an aluminum Velbon tripod from Ritz Camera around for years – and rarely used it. Once I began to, though, its shortcomings became readily apparent. I moved up to a used Bogen tripod. Ironically, I just sold the Bogen tripod about a month ago, though I had not used it for many years. It seems like used tripods were always plentiful. These days, the older aluminum models – mostly from Manfrotto-Bogen – are not only plentiful, but reasonably affordable. I sold mine, with a 3-way head, for about $50.00. I might have paid $35.00 for the Velbon tripod all those years ago. Again, a pocketful for a poor college student. And that’s about what it was worth. A decent Bogen with a 3-way head was probably in the $200 range. Tripods are not very sexy. It did not seem like a bargain. But there are so many reasons to have a good tripod. If you browse the blog, you will see numerous references to, and blogs about tripods and their merits. Like so many photographers, I have overspent on the numerous tripods I have owned over the years. Probably a 20-20 hindsight thing, but should have just bought the higher cost, higher end setup in the beginning 🙂

Bogen Tripod and QR System

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Part II; The Nikon Years

Almost every time I write about Nikon, I get the Simon and Garfunkel tune: “Kodachrome” earwig going. Can you hear it? 🙂

The “Nikon Years” – 1979 – 1983

Cameras.        I shot mainly with the Canon TX and a 50mm f2.8 lens for the next couple years. In 1979, I joined the photography staff at our College newspaper, and the photo editor and I became good friends. We lived in the same dorm, and at some point he and I worked out a deal in which I acquired my first Nikon, and became a near-lifelong Nikon guy. Again, at the time, the brand selection was nothing more than chance. But there was a perception, and a cachet, about a Nikon. You know, the “Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colors … I’ve got my Nikon Camera … makes you think the world’s a sunny day,” kind of cachet. So I was excited about becoming a Nikon owner.

Nikon “Nikkormat” SLR Camera

The real motivation was that he traded the camera body and 3 lenses, and I wanted more selection. The deal we made was much more affordable for that same broke college kid, than purchasing another lens or two for the Canon. Ultimately, that Canon went to my sister. I don’t think she has it any longer, as we both moved on to digital years back.

Some of us tend to overvalue and undervalue certain camera components

My first Nikon was a Nikkormat FT, which was a “consumer” model made by Nikon for those of us who couldn’t afford (and perhaps didn’t need) their flagship Nikon F (and progeny) models. Some years later, after we had moved on to “electronic” cameras, I picked up a nice, used F2 and had a lot of fun shooting with it. But I probably owned that Nikkormat the longest of any camera (except the Asahiflex). It saw very regular use for two years as a Newspaper shooter and also the college yearbook staff. Then I went to law school in 1981. I think I got the camera out one time in the spring of 1982. After that, it stayed stored in the bag for many years. After law school, I got married, and got a job and bought a house.

Lenses.            It has been my experience that most new photographers (at least the “enthusiast” type – perhaps those with professional training got the benefit of wiser advice) go through a similar evolution. Some of us tend to overvalue and undervalue certain components. An experienced photographer knows it is not the sexy camera that is what matters. It is all about the glass. It usually takes us a while to learn that. The great irony is that we probably spend close to the cost of pro-quality glass, buy buying cheap glass high and selling it low, eventually going to the better glass anyway. But sometimes, it is just about the budget (and of course the manufacturers of less expensive glass appreciate and serve that market – nothing wrong with that).

An experienced photographer knows it is not the sexy camera that is what matters. It is all about the glass

In my case, the primary motivator for my “deal” was the 3 lenses. Ironically, I don’t even really remember what they were. None of them were Nikon. One was Tamron and one was Albinar, and maybe a Vivitar? One was a variable zoom, which I probably left on the camera most of the time (the other two, I rarely used). I did not have a 50mm lens, but picked one up shortly after, and used it more for my personal photography than any other. All but the 50mm were all cheap copies, and in 20/20 hindsight, the “trade” to obtain variety maybe did not really put me in the position I imagined. Or, maybe it did, because it allowed me to be able to shoot sports, speeches, and other events where I could not get close enough to make the “portrait” images called upon by the newspaper.

Medium.         Most of my personal work continued to be with Kodachrome. Kodachrome requires a unique, proprietary development process (which is part of what makes it “special” in my view – not that it does, but the results of the process). Kodachrome is actually a specialized black and white film base. Color dyes are introduced during the development process, rather than being imbedded in the film itself. Obviously, this is a much more complex technical process. And, unless you were in a major metropolitan market, the local processors could not afford the equipment, and development had to be by mail order. So I would shoot a roll or two and put them in my mailer with stamps, and then wait up to 2 weeks to get my results – a far cry from today, where we look at a representation of our results on the camera back, an instant after shooting.

Kodachrome 25

I did experiment a bit with Kodak’s other slide offering; Ektachrome. It used a less complex and more traditional development process (known as E-3), which meant it could often be developed locally, or in your own darkroom. It was also offered (eventually) in 64/160/200 (and in 1979, 400) ASA/ISO, which should have made it work well for more versatile lighting situations. But it didn’t have the richness of Kodachrome, and I always thought it looked too blue. I may have tried one of the other offerings out there but it did not seem like they were “ready for prime time.”

From that time, on, I always knew that I would have a color darkroom one day

Working for the Newspaper, however, put me with a different medium; one I had not used since the Kodak Brownie days. We shot exclusively black and white (B&W) film. We mostly used Kodak Tri-X film. It was rated at 400 and we often “push processed” it as high as 800 (ASA/ISO). It had a signature, grainy look that was pretty common for newsprint in those days and pretty good exposure latitude. This made it very versatile. I probably shot it 99% of the time. I did experiment with some lithographic film for making very high contrast black and white images (mostly for gravitars on signature lines).

One thing this experience did was gave me access to the darkroom. Because it was only equipped for B&W processing, it also drove me to experiment just a little with B&W in my personal work. I never really got good at it and never really got excited about it. But I learned things in the darkroom that would round out my photographic knowledge later. From that time, on, I always knew that I would have a color darkroom one day.

Doodads.        Really not much changed here for me. Mostly a polarizer and a rarely used cheap Velbon tripod. Most of the reportage shooting was handheld, of necessity. My personal work had not advanced to the level of appreciating a good support system yet. I did acquire a fairly powerful Vivitar Electronic Flash unit during this time. I used it when allowed. Flash has always been a bit of a mystery to me and it showed in most of my results.

Next . . . . “Updating”

My Photographic Gear Evolution – Part I

Recently, talking here about my original motivation, and my admission to being a “gearhead,” got me thinking about my personal “evolution” of photographic tools. I started to write “a” blog about it. Readers here know that I am not known for brevity, and nearly always break a sort of rule of blogging, which is to regularly and continuously post short, punchy material. Mine has always been more like a journal. Which means its long, among other things (and maybe boring and hard to hold the readers’ attention 🙂 ). Anyway, it became apparent that I could not do 40+ years in a single blog. So I broke this up into a 5-part (still very long) series. I hope you find it at least mildly interesting. Some of my older friends might have some parallel experiences.

The early years – 1977 – 1980

I won’t count the Kodak Baby Brownie, and various “Instamatic” cameras I used as a kid. The real attention to “gear” came in 1977, when I was about 20. It did start with a desire to make better images. My earliest inspiration was a college math teacher, who used a Nikon SLR (single lens reflex) camera. I was a broke college student with no budget for cameras – but I did remember that my dad had a couple boxes of gear in the big closet back home. So when I went home for Christmas, I went rummaging around, and ended up taking his “Asahiflex” SLR camera (which he hadn’t used for many years) back to college with me.

Asahiflex SLR Camera

Cameras.        The Asahiflex was my first camera capable of adjusting settings to achieve a desired result, rather than just pointing and shooting. As I have noted in my About Me section here, this was a camera that had absolutely zero “automatic” features. It had no built-in light metering capability, so I carried a handheld light meter. The lenses did not automatically stop down to the aperture selected. Rather, you focused and composed with them wide open, and then when ready to shoot, turned a lens ring down against the selected f-stop (if you forgot, you wasted a frame). And perhaps ultimately importantly to me, the viewfinder was a waist-level finder. This meant the use of the camera was more painstaking, and less convenient (there was an optical viewfinder, but in practice, I did not find it particularly useful)

None of this was a bad thing. In fact, if I ever taught a beginner class, I would like to have one of them for demonstration purposes. Manufactured by Asahi Optical Company, it was, I believe, the predecessor to the relatively famous and innovative Pentax Spotmatic SLR Cameras. Badged as “Asahiflex” in Asia, it was also sold through Sears and Robucks under the “Tower” brand name. My dad bought his in Okinawa. Lacking a lot of the built-ins, it was small, portable and a very well-built camera.

As I talked with and worked with other photographers, and spent times in camera shops (yes, they had those in most decent sized cities in the U.S. back in those days), I developed some envy for a more “automatic” experience. Of course, the meaning of that word would change by light years in just a very few, short, normal years. I liked the idea of having the light meter built into the camera, and the automatic “stop down” of the aperture. And, more than anything, I was drawn to the “through the lens” viewfinder.

Canon TX

Within months of my shooting with the Asahi, I purchased an entry-level Canon TX. Ironically, it was the only Canon SLR I would ever own, and likewise, the Asahi, the only “Pentax” I would ever own. There was really no strong motivation for my brand selection. There seemed to be 4 “players” out there (GM, Ford, Chrysler, and American Motors J ). Kidding – but similar: Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Minolta. The biggest influence in my purchase was my local shop. They were a Canon dealer and that is what they pushed. I was pretty new at the gear thing, and we didn’t really have the access to the entire world market we do today. I kept the Asahi for many years, until sometime in the 2000’s my dad gave me permission to sell it to a collector (of course, to “finance” another gear purchase).

58mm Asahi Lens

135mm Asahi Lens

Lenses.            I had two “Takumar” lenses (a 58mm and a 135mm) with the Asahiflex. They were very high quality optics. Screw mount and and beautiful solid stainless steel construction, they were very small, but quite heavy. The 135 still brings in the $200 – 250 range on eBay. I am not certain why dad chose the 58mm as his “normal” lens. They did produce a 50mm, but strangely, it had a maximum aperture of f3.5, as opposed to f2.4 on the 58mm.

The Canon TX “kit” I bought came with a “normal” (50mm) f2.8 lens. Canon and Nikon have always been known for their optics, and the 50mm lens is perhaps one of the easiest to make and the most consistent quality optic. I worked mostly with that 50mm lens. But I immediately missed the 135mm lens. So, I found myself often shooting with both cameras in the early days. When I look at my archives, I am not certain I have a single image made with the Asahi, and a have perhaps a handful made with the Canon. That is a shame, but somehow, over life, they were lost (I didn’t have a very good archiving system in the early years).

Medium.         For anyone who just began photography in the 2000’s, “film” may seem like a whimsical, historical artifact. It was, perhaps cumbersome, having to buy it, load it into the camera, have it developed (which could be perceived as a messy, non-environmentally friendly process), and then sort through it and store. But in 1979, film is what we had. And an added plus, they came in these cool and useful little canisters. In the earliest years, they were aluminum, with a screw top. I wish I had a couple today.

Kodachrome 25 ASA Film

The “personal computer” (“PC”), was still a novelty that few could afford. My experience was with a mainframe computer that had “dumb” terminals (a keyboard and black and white tube monitor), in a different room than the computer (which was the size of a small station-wagon). We “coded” in computer language like “BASIC,” and FORTRAN, and saved our work on cassette tapes. The internet had not yet become available to the general public. There was really no “digital” photography.

In the early years, there was a limited variety. Film could be shot on a “reversal” type medium, designed to expose the “negative” of what would eventually be displayed (ironically, by a second “exposure” process), in print, and could be black and white or color. My earliest memories of color film was pretty drab. And there was one primary vendor – Kodak. Fujifilm, Agfa, and a couple others produced film, but Kodak was the clear market leader.

I learned from my first mentor, that color “positive,” or transparency film, was the preferred medium of outdoor and nature shooters, which was where my interests seemed to lean. Early on, I established an affinity for one of Kodak’s two most popular offerings, (Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64). I shot K-25 almost exclusively in the early years. Kodachrome 25 had an ISO (actually more popularly, ASA – at least stateside) of 25, which meant there was not a huge degree of versatility in shooting and light conditions. There were other transparency films, but Kodachrome seemed to me to have the most pleasing and natural look. So it is what I shot.

Doodads.        When I write, I usually have the online thesaurus open, because I try to find some other words, to keep from being overly repetitive. I found “doodads,” a word I haven’t heard in eons. I like it, so I’ll use it here. The first point, though, is that they really aren’t “doodads” at all. In most cases the accessories we often acquire as a second (or later) thought, are useful necessities – or close. My most common accessory was a polarizing filter – which is something I still value today. I had a kind of rickety old tripod, too. I was too learn, much later, however, that this was perhaps the most important tool, other than the camera, lens and medium, in a photographer’s bag.

Next . . . . . “The Nikon Years”

Big News in Mirrorless

During the past 30 days or so, both of the big camera companies, Nikon and Canon have announced their entry into the full frame, mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MIL) market.  I wondered it this was ever going to happen!  Without getting into the “white hat vs. black hat,” “Ford vs. Chevy” discussion, suffice it to say that there are a number of other players in the market, all of whom make some very estimable camera gear.  But it is difficult to argue that, over the past 30-40 years, Canon and Nikon have been the market leaders.  Consequently, when they do something, it usually get noticed.

I intuitively knew that the industry would eventually move away from the popular and ubiquitous DSLR, to the smaller MIL

I got “married” to Nikon in 1980, and we had a happy relationship until sometime in 2013.  I think by then, that I intuitively knew that the industry would eventually move away from the popular and ubiquitous Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), to the smaller MIL.  In 2013, after hanging around and watching Nikon, it became apparent that they had no intention of making a serious entry into the MIL marketplace.  Their eventual contestant, the Nikon 1,  offered no compatibility with the existing Nikkor lens line, and a sensor significantly smaller than the competitors and only slighly larger than the typical “point & shoot” (P&S) equipped sensor.  Disappointing for Nikon loyalists.

The NEX series by Sony, first introduced in 2010, signaled a commitment on their part to the MIL camera market.  The earliest DSLR consumer and “prosumer” cameras were equipped with a sensor smaller than the 35mm film cross-section which was the benchmark of Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras that were the most popular film cameras in use at the time, popularly known as “APS” sensors (eventually, technology allowed for affordable and useable sensors equivalent to the 35mm film cross-section.  These became know as “full frame.”  Cost and technology were factors.  The NEX line was one of only a couple mirrorless cameras that offered the APS sensor.  It was still a bit of an unknown at the time and what attracted me to Sony was the sensor that was the same as the one in my Nikon APS backup camera, along with Sony’s partnership with Zeiss lenses.

The “mirrorless” camera, of course, is not a new phenomena.  Rangefinder cameras were widely used by film shooters, even in the light of the popularity the SLR (single lens reflex) camera gained when it later hit the scene.  I was an SLR user.  Like the many other users, I liked the “what you see is what you get” view through the viewfinder (even though in most cases, it wasn’t 100 percent of what the lens actually captured).  But what really made/makes the new digital “rangefinder” cameras stand out, is the new electronic viewfinder (EVF).  Early copies were just not very good.  Today, I actually prefer the EVF.  One of the things I like is its ability to mimic the look through the lens as you stop down or open up, making your view brighter or dimmer (my Sony can override that if you find it disconcerting, but I have grown to really like it).

I know there are a lot of challenges to adding a new technology to very successful existing lines.  Lens mounts, lenses, and focusing technology are among them.  But given the inexorable growth of this camera platform, I have been surprised at the apparently sluggish progress both of the big guys have taken to this.  The recently announced entries by both of them come nearly 10 years later than the first popularly used MIL cameras!  I have thoroughly enjoyed the past 8 years of carrying much smaller, lighter gear in the meantime.

For those who waited patiently for Nikon or Canon, there may be a reward

For those who waited patiently for Nikon or Canon, there may be a reward.  Both of these bodies spec out pretty impressively.  For Nikon, this is only the second physically “new” mount they have designed for any of their interchangeable lenses (the only other one being the Nikon 1 mount).  By that, I mean that even though there have been changes over the years, every Nikkor lens is capable of being physically mounted on every Nikon interchangeable lens body (except for the Nikon 1).  Nikon has already also announce several new lenses (three of which, I believe, will be available yet in 2019) for its Entry, the Nikon Z series (currently, 6 and 7).

I am not sure what offerings Canon has – or will have for their new EOS R.  But both companies have adapters for their “legacy” SLR/DSLR lenses.  Again, in the case of Nikon, that should mean virtually any Nikon mount lens should mount on the Z series with this adaptor.  Of course, there is certain to be limits on functionality, depending on the age of the lens.  Not being familiar with Canon, I am not certain, but I am guessing there will be more limitations on which lenses will mount and which won’t.  But you should be able to use your professional glass on either of these models.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a workable thing.  I could see having one or more of the new lenses for a “travel” outfit, but still being able to use the pro glass for situations where you would be carrying the bigger equipment anyway.  For me, its too late.  I am perfectly happy in my new relationship with Sony.  For now.  🙂

Preferred Post – Processing Software?

Crystal Beach Twilight
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Recently, I have been trying to branch out and explore some new, or at least rarely visited, territory.  For me, this usually involves reading:  both on the internet and books on particular topics.  In the past months, I have read about B&W, painting images and converting photographic images, flash photography, and more recently, night photography.

Almost everything I read has at least a short section on post-processing.  Because our world has become digital, it is, at the very least a “necessary evil.”  But some of us find it to be a huge positive to our photography, and even enjoy playing around with it.

I would appreciate if readers would respond here and let me know what their “go-to” software for image editing is, and why?

What I see in virtually every text and article though, is the inevitable reference to either Adobe Light Room, Photoshop (which has become a generic reference in many cases to all things digitally manipulated), or both.  It is understandable that Photoshop was the original image editing program, but over the many years since it was first introduced, there have certainly been a number of other programs designed with photographic image-editing in mind.  I have recently experimented with some of these offerings, including, most notably, On1‘s all-in-one, stand-alone, photo-editing software competitor to Photoshop (though I have not used any of them enough to have any judgment about them, there is an impressive lineup, including Capture One, Corel, DxO, ACDsee, and numerous others (interestingly, they all compare themselves against the Adobe “benchmarks” – Photoshop and Light Room – and often mention that you can work in and out of the Adobe programs, “seemlessly.” I gave On1 a pretty thorough test drive over a couple weeks.  Ultimately, I could not get the software to play well with my HP Desktop or my Microsoft Surface 3 and they graciously refunded my purchase.  It was an impressive program at what appears to be a lower price point than Photoshop.  I am currently subscribed to the Adobe Cloud solution; Photoshop CC and Lightroom Classic CC and whether the price point is actually significantly lower may well depend on how often these stand-alone programs need to be updated and at what cost.

In a recent post, I spoke about keeping up with the newest iteration of Photoshop, and concluded that it would remain my “go-to” software for all phases of image editing, for the time being.  The books all seem to suggest that most photographers are either using Light Room, Photoshop, or both.  The then go on and say that the image-editing process is pretty much the same.

Having come from earlier versions of Photoshop that predate Light Room, I never embraced its image-editing capabilities.  Early on, I felt that it still had too much missing from my workflow, and the Photoshop Adobe Raw Converter (ACR), now essentially the same conversion “engine” in both Light Room and ACR, seemed more capable in its early days.  By the time Light Room “caught up” to Photoshop, I was thoroughly entrenched.  I appreciate that Light Room was really developed specifically for photographers, and many who came to digital image-editing later than I did, probably started with Light Room.  There is little doubt in my mind that it is an easier learning curve, and its design is perhaps more logical to photographers.  But that is a little like saying that the metric system is a little more logical than the “English” system to a 62-year-old who has used the latter system all his life.  🙂  I am sure it is more logical.  But that doesn’t make changing my thinking to it a breeze.  So I pretty much stay with Photoshop (and use Light Room as an expensive cataloging tool).  That may change.  But for now, it still does a few things that Light Room doesn’t.  And Lightroom integrates well with it.

The point of this rambling blog is really to try to satisfy my own curiosity.  I would appreciate if readers would respond and let me know what their “go-to” software for image editing is, and why?

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t lost all interest in the “doing” phase of photography.  Not much shooting lately, but a little:  mostly experimentation.  The image here was taken a couple nights ago near my Florida home.  We often have spectacular sunsets here on the gulf.  But this night it was more subdued.  I made this image after sunset during twilight, and used my newest toy, a remote flash trigger, to walk over near the vegetation in the foreground and light it up with the flash.  I am a long way down on the learning curve for using lighting with my Sony system.  Nikon made it so easy.

Now, Fall rapidly approaches, and I suspect the excitement to get out will build.

Book Review: “Outdoor Flash Photography,” by John Gerlach and Barbara Eddy

Suggested

What this book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective, editing

Catching Up …..

Wow.  My last post was at the beginning of May, 2 full months ago. I guess I have fallen into one of those “lulls.” Nothing new and notable on the shooting front, and nothing much unique to say.

Over the winter, I played around with B&W and “painting.” I read several books on those subjects, and reviewed a couple of them. More recently, something got me realizing that I needed to renew my acquaintance with supplemental and artificial light; and particularly, flash – the stroboscopic variety.

New Gear and Flash …..

Several years ago, I made a monumental (for me, anyway) change in my “gear.” Having been “married” to Nikon for nearly 40 years, I made a complete changeover to Sony mirrorless cameras. The primary reason for my changeover was not creative or technical. It was convenience; and in particular, size and weight. Along the way, I discovered some creative and technical advantages. These are not really attributable to brand, but to “new” and to features. Every manufacturer seems to have certain areas they do better than anyone else. If only I could build my own ala carte camera.

One thing Nikon did better than anyone else (in my view) and Sony seems to do worse than anyone else (again, in my view) is flash. I got spoiled with Nikon’s creative flash system. You see, flash involves math, and there is very little about math that is either appealing or comes naturally to me :-). Nikon took the math out of it and let me not have to “think” about it. Maybe that wasn’t such a good thing.

A detractor for many of us is cost. Brand-dedicated flash units are ungodly expensive. As much as a good lens. And sometimes you want to use multiple units – as much, or more than the camera!  And, flash units are complex, and befuddling: right?

I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”

During my 40+ years of shooting, I have shot 98% natural light. I have, for sure, used flash (I even remember those big, blue, “lightbulbs” that bayoneted into a reflector on my Asahiflex, popped once and ejected – hot!). But I think it is time for me to start expanding my shooting, to include supplemental lighting.

So, I started reading. Always my go-to. And I learned that there are less expensive, after-market units out there (some good/some not so good).  Sure, they have compromises. My friend, Kerry Leibowitz, once said to me in an e-mail exchange, “everything about photography is a compromise. .. Everything.” So I am good with that. For 1/4 the cost (or less), I was able to find a Sony-compatible flash to play with.  Maybe I will review it at some point (after I understand more about it 🙂 ).

There is a lot out there to read. I am a book person. Hence, the review. But before I do, let me recommend the website, strobist. There is a huge amount of information, free for the reader, here. I have just begun to dig into it, but some would say it is all you need.  Me? I am still a book guy. I like to read and highlight and flag, and go back from time to time. I already had Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Flash Photography,” so I started there (I highly recommend two other Peterson books: “Understanding Exposure” and “Learning to See Creatively“).

There is some really good material.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version

So, The Book …..

Wanting to dig deeper, I started researching on Amazon. I have long known of John Gerlach, and his workshops, and the bulk of the reviews liked his book “Outdoor Flash Photography.” I had read some of his other books over the years, and was familiar with him, as he originally lived in my “backyard;” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As many readers know, I have spent some time up there and my “Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” is a guide to many of the wonderful shooting opportunities there. So I bought the book.

“Suggested” …..

This book is in my “suggested” category (meaning, I don’t necessarily believe every shooter should have or read this, but I have it, or have owned it, and found some useful material there). But what makes this a “suggested” book rather than a “recommended” book is largely editorial style, unfortunately. There is some really good material in there.  But you you really have to work for it.  And to me, that is off-putting, particularly in an “instructional book.” With some work, this book could be made into a pithy, useful, field guide that someone like me just might carry around with him. But not in its current version.

As I looked at the different offerings, and the editorial reviews, I was struck at how often the description said something like, “demystifies” flash, or “contains unique material, not found anywhere else.” This book suggests that there is something unique about “outdoor flash photography,” and that there is no other resource out there that covers these topics.  But my research and experience demonstrates otherwise. To be sure, many, if not most of the resources out there have a heavy concentration on portraiture and even sometimes studio lighting techniques. But my conclusion is that there are some basic lighting principles that really apply to photography in general, and they are not that unique from genre to genre.

I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops

Need For Objective Professional Editing

Readers here know I am good at digression.  But I want to say something here, to put my “critical” (“Critical: expressing or involving an analysis of the merits and faults of a work ….“) comments in context.  I have absolutely no doubt that the authors of this book are consummate, professional photographers and workshop leaders, and that they really, really know their craft – in particular – the ins and outs of everything “flash.”  And you only need to go to their website to see that their imagery is first class, and their workshops well-attended and widely praised.  I had the fortune of bumping into one of their workshops a couple years ago, while shooting fall colors and researching locations for my own Photographing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and introduced myself to John.  He is a very nice man, with an undoubted bank of technical and locational knowledge.  One thing that really impressed me:  neither he nor Barbara had cameras in-hand.  It was their workshop and they were there to be a resource to the attendees.  I would have no hesitancy to sign up for, and attend one of their workshops!  I also studied nearly everything their own “mentors” (the late, Larry West, and John Shaw – both former Michigan residents themselves ) wrote and know the authors’ pedigree is estimable. Knowing this, I was mildly disappointed in this product.

What I was looking for was more of a hands-on, practical, experience-based text. How is “outdoor flash photography” different from “flash photography?” This book partially hits that mark, but it is a difficult path to get there! What the book is in great need of, in my opinion, is experienced, professional, objective editing. The term I would use to describe the current text is: “rambling.”

I would describe the author’s (while both John and Barbara are listed as authors, it is clearly primarily written in John’s voice) style as conversational.  Too conversational. It feels like maybe a day in the field, or in the lecture facility with John speaking. This style probably works well in person (he is said to be engaging and entertaining).  It doesn’t work in written form. As anyone reading here knows, I am all for an informal written presentation. But in written communication (especially instruction), there needs to be a certain level of formality, structure and organization. This book lacks that structure – in a way that makes it difficult to stay with it. Here are some specifics:

Style – The “conversational” style, as noted above, is off-putting. Sentences throughout the book are replete with misplaced modifiers, which I suspect is a matter of conversational usage, but is jarring when repeatedly read. This doesn’t affect the technical presentation of information, but it certainly makes it less effective. The frequent attempts at humor fall flat. Again, they probably work well as one-liners in an oral presentation, but they come across as borderline lame in a more formal, written text.

And words and phrases……..  I have always been a firm believer that good, strong writing and clear communication means simple, direct writing. It is good to vary word choice from time to time to make the writing less repetitive and more interesting (I use a Thesaurus frequently, when I feel that I have been repeating a single word too much). But the use of “big” words, or flowery phrases does not automatically make writing better or more interesting. Sometimes it is just best to say the word that applies in common usage – direct and simple. I have to believe that an objective, professional editor would eliminate the majority of these issues, and create a more straightforward, informative and readable text.

Relevance – Too often, the author wanders “off the reservation,” getting into totally irrelevant commentary which, while perhaps anecdotally interesting, takes us away from the subject matter of the book – flash photography. While some of it may have nominal relevance, a quick reference to it and “move on,” would be, in my view, much more effective. There is too much “Cannon vs. Nikon” philosophy, for example (I appreciate that these authors each use one of these systems, as do perhaps the majority of their audience, and surely there is some relevance to how these makers handle flash issues – but again, “just the facts ma’am” and then move on would be a good thing here). 🙂

Organization – The book is divided into 14 chapters. Respectfully, I do not believe there are 14 separate chapters of material here. I am not sure about publishing requirements and standards, never having personally done more than my own eBooks (which may not be models of clarity either). I have written enough to know that organization is not always an easy path, and there are always choices about how, where and when to present materials. But I truly believe this book could be condensed down to no more than 5 chapters. What we instead find here is a lot of needless (and I think, confusing) repetition.  In an effort to distinguish terminology and techniques, the author ends up repeating the same materials under different topics. The implication is that there is something different, and yet, there really isn’t (a great example is the segue from “fill flash,” “main flash” and “balanced flash.” After 3 long, repetitive chapters, it really boils down (and is implied, in my reading, by the book) that they are not really different categories. They are just applications of the flash fundamental that every flash exposure is composed of two exposures, one being the ambient light exposure and the other being the flash exposure. The rest is just understanding the relationships of the light sources, and how the technology in the units and cameras handle it.

There are many Positives …..

Having been critical, I have to say there are many positives to take away from this book. It is why I “suggest” it. I believe it is worth the work to slog through it and try to distill the very good information that is in there. I will go back and re-read, and take personal notes on this information and hopefully add it to my own kind of “field guide.” Here are some items I think are worthwhile information/tips from my first reading of the book:

  • The author gives one of the better explanations of how the strobe flash works, including flash duration, that I have read.
  • There are a couple comments regarding the use of flash when shooting waterfalls that I had not previously considered – particularly the ability to “freeze” water droplets while maintaining the “silky” look of the main waterfall in the image.  You can be sure I am going to experiment with that.
  • While most experienced users are aware of this, his explanation of how TTL in the flash unit relates to automatic and manual control of the camera was helpful.  He re-inforces why those of us who rely on “automatic” modes, because we don’t know better (or in my case, because we have become lazy), don’t get the results we expect.
  • There are some helpful tips on the placement of flash (particularly in close subjects) to maximize color and texture.

I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list

The Takeaway …..

The paperback cost just under $27.00.  Today, that is a rather modest cost for a full, published, hard copy book. So I certainly didn’t feel put off or cheated by the purchase. And there was enough in it for me to keep it rather then send it back. But it would not go on my list of “must own under any circumstances” books.

What I think might be a dynamite re-work of this book would be to have some heavy editing, drilling down to the relevant, useful information in the book, perhaps adding some more practical and experiential information, into a shorter and perhaps smaller format (think “field guide”). I could see it being transformed from an “eh” book, to one I would put on my “must own” list.

Suggested

What’s In The Bag (Today)

Tokyo Dawn Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Tokyo Dawn
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

There should be little doubt to the reader here that I have hit a bit of a dry spell when it comes to both topics and photography.  🙂  We have had a very mild winter here (so far) and the part of Michigan I live in is pretty flat, and pretty brown this time of year.  It is also cold.   That creates an atmosphere in which it is difficult to get motivated to go out and shoot.

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Usually when this happens, I start going through old images, and come up with something.  I think I have kind of beaten that to death, so I started going through old blog topics, from the early day forward.  A couple of patterns come up.  I have addressed the IP issues of photography a fair amount.  I have talked about digital processing.  I have talked about my travels, and I have talked about “gear.” 🙂

New York, New York Casino at night Copyright Andy Richards 2016

New York, New York Casino at night
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Gear is a funny thing.  It is a part of every photographer’s evolution from a beginning shooter forward.  At some point we fall in love with gear and begin to think it is going to make us a better photographer.  Eventually we learn that it doesn’t really do that at all.  We buy cheap gear because we cannot afford the real high quality stuff in many instances.  Then we look back and realize that we spent at least as much on the different iterations of cheap gear as we would have spent on the quality gear in the first place (this is especially true of lenses and tripods).

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

And then there is the evolution of gear.  My starting point was a 35mm SLR film camera with a turn-hand winder, and without a built in light meter.  Today I carry the physical equivalent of a P&S for 90% of my shooting.  But in between ……. 🙂 wow.  Reviewing a couple old posts, I had to laugh.  In 2011, I waxed philosophical about “less is more” [“In the Bag” (getting ready for Spring)].  At the end of that blog, I listed the gear in my “bag” in 2011.  LOL.  All in, that was about 15 lbs of gear (not to mention the bulk of schlepping that stuff around).

Flag Detail The Acropolis Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Flag Detail
The Acropolis
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Today I travel mostly with my Sony RX100iv weighing about 1/2 lb and pocketable.  When I do need a tripod, my Sirui T-025X carbon fiber tripod weighs about 1/5 lbs, and its (just under) 12 inch folded length fits in my carry on bag.  It is plenty rigid enough for a light P&S camera.  But I have used it with my bigger cameras, too.  You may need to brace it, but it will still be better than no tripod in those instances when you are simply unable to pack one.  I would say “less is more” fits my today’s mode better than it did in 2011. 🙂

Temple Rokuon-Ji Kyoto Japan Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

My point, though, is that photograpers and technology both evolve.  The RX100iv was not in existence in 2011 and there was simply no equivalent (the RX100 debutted in June 2012, but it was not even close to the camera the later iterations — especially the III, IV and V — were).  At the same time, the more I traveled the less pleasure I found in lugging all that gear around.  It is a lot of trouble in most cases.  I have to confess that I still keep my Sony a7 DSLR-like body, a couple of lenses, and a larger carbon fiber tripod, which I use for “dedicated” photography outings.  I am still able to fit the body and lenses in a carryon bag, and the Sirui 3204x tripod, with a folded length of 20 inches, fits rather easily in a checked bag (I have also carried it on in a carry-on size suiter suitcase).  Even that gear weighs about 1/2 of the 2011 bag.

Clontarf, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Every image except the last one (a7) here was taken with the small cam.  For purposes of my photography and vision, I do not think it has suffered by shedding weight and numbers of equipment 🙂