My Weekly Cultural Treasure Hunt Begins After Lunch on Thursday Afternoons at the Blanton Museum. Drop by.

Blanton Museum. Right on the edge of the University of Texas at Austin. A wonderful place to be on a Thursday afternoon. The admission fee is just right; free. It's never too crowded in the middle of the afternoon, and there's always something fun to see. It's nice just to hang out in a place where the whole point of its existence is to... value art. 

The big new show on the first floor is an exhibit that shows arts from the 1960's that reflects the civil rights movement. Lots of painting and photographs, some sculpture. One image I loved was a gorgeous Richard Avedon image, beautifully printed. of Julian Bond surrounded by young people in Mississippi. He's the only one in focus in the entire crowd. It's beautifully seen and the print is sublime. I stood transfixed in front of it for a long time. There's great photographs from Gordon Parks and there's an image I'd never seen before from Danny Lyons of a very young Bob Dylan. The show is powerful and, in the Austin community, a bit topical since the play, "All the Way" at Zach Theatre also revolves around President Johnson and the Civil Rights movement. Good stuff. 

I wandered through that gallery twice because I was pretty sure I'd seen all of the work in the upstairs gallery but I'd already paid for parking so I thought I'd hit the stairs and just make sure I wasn't missing anything. Thank God I'm not terminally lazy otherwise I would have missed a wonderful, quirky and interesting show of Ralph Eugene Meatyard's photographs. Wonderful, whimsical and somewhat surreal black and white prints that were so much fun to browse through. Meatyard's work is so not of this century in that he didn't need to print enormous prints to communicate and translate his vision. Most of the images were no larger than 8x8 inches but the tonalities and the content made for some rich visual consumption. I'll probably head back there to take another look at the show this week as well. If you don't live in Austin take a second to look up Meatyard's work here: http://www.mocp.org/detail.php?t=people&type=related&kv=7440

The rest of the time I just spent looking at old favorites and occasionally turning on the little black EM5.2 I had nestled in my hands along with a very quirky and imperfect lens---which I now really like, mostly because of its imperfections but also because of its conflicting high sharpness and low contrast. It's a lens I barely ever use. It's the 25mm f2.8 Olympus Pen FT lens. One of those enigmatic lenses that was designed and produced in the late 1960's and early 1970's for the company's half frame cameras. It was an age of lens design that combined optical intuition and computer aided design but it was mostly successful because of the rigorous, almost custom production and testing of better lenses at the time...

This lens has its faults. On the m4:3 sensors the outer third of the image gets pretty soft pretty quickly, especially when used wide open. It sharpens up okay at f5.6 to f8.0 but that's probably where the sharpness robbing effects of diffraction start to take their inevitable toll. It also has a fair amount of what appears to be barrel distortion even in the very center. That doesn't really change much as I stop down. 

Why do I like the lens? Maybe because it has a look that reminds me of my earlier days in photography. It combines a high central sharpness with a lower contrast. But it's almost like the modern thought process of video codecs; flatten everything out to capture more steps and more tones and then fix stuff in PhotoShop. You can't fix everything but the files from the EM5.2 sharpen up nicely and you can add back in a lot of saturation and contrast before things start to look --- unreal. 

I like shooting this lens (and many of the other Pen lenses) because the manual focus ring is silky smooth, the lens feels dense and precise and, when combined with focus peaking, it's fast to use and the focus stays "locked" where you leave it. I'm excited to see how this one works with black and white.

I've got to remind you not to take your art museums for granted. If they don't get used they might disappear just like cameras stores did and then we'd have to get all of our art culture on the web and that's not the same as seeing eight foot by ten foot paintings with bouncy impasto up close and in person. The reproductions of Avedon and Lyonn's and Park's photos on the web are never as rich and detailed as they are when you experience the real thing and the there's so much chatter on the web you'll get distracted and start drifting off to look at the celebrity news or the weather reports instead of soaking in the ideas of people who dedicated a lot of time and effort to show us new stuff in new ways. Use them or lose them!

The 25mm f2.8 Pen lens is looking pretty good in the shot of the colored pencils.
It's pretty much on par with my more modern lenses. And the quality of the 
out-of-focus-area-rendering is smooth and organic.

Ditto for the black pencils. 

you can really see the wonky distortion in the frame above but....

this image ^ shows the most egregious distortion but I like the sharpness and the 
way the camera is handling the noise at ISO 1600.

My feeling is that lenses like this one (and many of the early Leica lenses) were never made for flat targets or for accurate geometric rendering but to capture people in photographs where it was fine for the edges to go A.W.O.L.

There's more to photography than "sharp and straight."

Support your local museum and go to the local galleries. You'll nearly always find
something fun or surprising. And it's better than TV. 
Even "Breaking Bad" or "House of Cards."

Are there limits to the amount of sausage one should eat in one sitting? If so, are those limits clearly defined? Image from my last, large format, editorial assignment. Not that long ago...

Set up image at a BBQ restaurant in Elgin, Texas.

About ten years ago I got the assignment to do a profile on the city of Elgin, Texas by Texas Highways Magazine. I was fascinated at the time with 4x5 inch, large format photography and asked the art director if it would be okay (and within the budget) to shoot the project on 4x5" inch transparency film. He thought it would be a great idea. 

I headed to Elgin three or four times to get everything I wanted for the article. I was carrying a Linhof TechniKarden folding technical view camera with Zeiss and Schneider lenses. Because of color considerations and the slow, slow speed of the film we mostly worked with then I did a lot of lighting in interior locations. This image was lit with strobe, modified with a big softball, from the right of the camera. 

Shooting with the view camera was a much, much slower way to work. I averaged six or seven different scenes or set-ups per day. Most set-ups got eight to twelve shots, four to six were variations while the other four to six were in camera duplicates for safety. You know, in case the lab ruined one...

I look back fondly at that assignment. The images were fun and they were always a challenge to make. Nothing really beats making a photographer feel the work like diving under a black dark cloth to check focus and composition when one is standing in direct sun and the temperature is hovering around 105 degrees. 

Two coolers in the car: one for my drinking water and the other for the film. Good times. 

And yes, it is true. You really don't want to know how they make that sausage...

That's right. 4x5 inch reportage. Upside down and backwards.

Random news. Industry stuff. One little review.

We're celebrating our 30th Wedding Anniversary today. 
Of course, I give Belinda all the credit for our success.

I have some quick and easy advice for any of our younger readers who may be contemplating matrimony. This is advice that has worked very well for me...   Always marry someone who is smarter than you. You'll never regret it!  Now, on to photography and video. 

A real world hybrid story: This past Saturday I was shooting with two cameras that would easily fall into the hybrid category; the Nikon D810 and the Olympus EM5.2. I used them both, simultaneously, to record an interview with the very famous, original "DreamGirl", Jennifer Holliday. 
We set up a wonderful lighting design for the video interview and once the interviews were complete used the same lighting and cameras to make a series of photographs. (currently embargoed but coming soon...).  The ability to either grab the Olympus from its tripod, go to photo mode and enable I.S. then shoot, or to stand behind the big tripod and switch the Nikon into its photo mode and shoot, without making any changes to the lighting, pose or comp was very powerful. 

With custom white balances in place on both cameras the footage and the photographs are able to be used in one project; intercut in video or side by side in print and on the web, without calling attention to the different cameras or formats. In the space of five minutes we had 75 very good, still "keeper" to send to the client. And because of the difference in the cameras and the way they were handled there are different looks to the frames. One set more formal and the other set looser and more candid.

When you consider that in times past we would have done the still work and then packed up and walked away to allow the video crew their time with the talent you just have to be enthused about being able to switch back and forth in seconds. 

Even after the talent was through being interviewed and through posing for me I still kept the smaller camera in my hand with a microphone in the hot shoe for more shooting opportunities. The camera didn't go back in the bag until the talent left the building.

NAB Show announcements I'm waiting for: There are rumors that Panasonic has something big up their sleeves that will be announced at the NAB show (National Association of Broadcasters) that's happening this week. Here's what I'm waiting for:  Rumors suggest that Panasonic will be rolling out a disruptive new camera. I'm thinking it's a new model of the GH4 that will feature raw output to an external digital recorder but some people are thinking it's a new, interchangeable 4K video camera that will better the video performance of the GH4 and provide more usable interfaces for video work (XLR inputs, true S-Log, etc.) and still be under $5,000. A shot across the bow of the Sony FS-7.

I'm really hoping that Sony will show a revised RX10 that keeps all the good stuff (the lens, focus peaking, etc.) while adding in camera 4K video. If it does come out and it does hit the same initial price point as the original RX10 I'd stand in line like an Apple Fanboy to get my hands on one. 

It probably won't happen at this show but I would love to see Nikon wade in and rock the video boat by challenging Canon in the C100 space with a dedicated video camera that takes the Nikon lenses and incorporates their color science. But I think we'll really have to wait until they bring out a conventional DSLR with 4K before they move on toward a dedicated video version.

Taking the pulse of my friends who shoot with Canon: I have a close friend who is pragmatic and smarter than me by a long shot, especially when it comes to high end architectural photography. We've talked many times about his wish that he could easily put his four Canon tilt shift lenses on a Nikon D810 but he remains a Canon 5D mk3 shooter. For him the glass is more important than the sensor. When he really wants to pull out all the stops and needs more dynamic range he opens up the Pelican case and drags out the Leica S2 medium format kit and some incredible Leica glass. 

So I asked him, "what's next?" He gave me a sideways look and said, "The new Canon 50 megapixel camera, of course." His response to the dynamic range question is that so much control of dynamic range is in the lighting and careful placement of tones. In addition, since most of his subject's don't move it's easy for him to shoot bracketed frames and blend them in post production. His take on Nikon versus Canon for architectural shooters is that the performance of the 17mm and 24mm Canon T/S lenses is so superior that they trump just about any advantage of the higher res Nikon body. 

He also pointed out that the Canon 5D mk3 has been a rock solid performer for him for over three years. No focus issues, no "left side, right side issues, no weird shadow issues and no oily sensors." His final point was that early on the clients everywhere were blown away by the performance of the original 5D and the newer cameras basically doubled the performance of that camera. In the end the new cameras from Canon, unless they shoot themselves in their own feet, will keep the serious users of some specialty lenses loyal to the mark. And really, just about anything over 36 megapixels should be in the territory of highly diminishing advantages.  A switcher? I think not. 

A realization that, at least in video, the DX format cameras are the Goldilocks tools. While the color and sharpness of the video files from the Nikon D810 are satisfying the real reason that people are interested in shooting motion with full frame cameras is to get the narrow depth of field that's the visual hallmark of the bigger sensors. But many people (myself included?) are finding that the narrow depth of field is a double edged sword and it's easy to get burned by the narrow depth of field when a subject is moving around, close to camera and when shooting with longer lenses. 

The DX format offers a bit more depth of field and in many cases a more usable tool for "on the go" shooting. It's nice when stuff stays in the zone of good focus. It's bad when stuff goes soft. That's especially true on cameras that don't provide focusing tools that are usable when actually shooting. 

As the APS-C format cameras like the Nikon D7200 and the Canon 7D.2 get better and better video tools and codecs we'll probably see more and more cinematographers and videographers pick them up and start using them as everyday shooting tools more often than they choose the full frame cameras. Most already understand that the difference in imaging potential is less meaningful than delivering a watchable product. And being in focus is a large part of watchability. 

That's all I've got for right now. I've downloaded the 25+ gigabytes of video from this weekend onto a little HP hard drive and I'm off to deliver it to the editors. 

then I've got some down time in which to go out and shoot for myself. Now where did I put my Olympus EM5.2?