Saturday, February 18, 2012

... back in the dim and distant past...

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and well before I got a "real" job, I worked in Hollywood as a B&W print maker. The shop was on Sunset Blvd and was an extension of Samy's Cameras, which was just down the street.

It was an interesting place to work. One of the guys who worked in the building (for an unrelated business) had a Lamborgini Mura S that he'd drive into work every now and then. I could hear it start up in the afternoon, even as I was deep in the dark cave of the darkroom. What a great sound it was!

We used to print lots of rush jobs for all kinds of folks. Photographers and "gallery" owners and just plain 'ol mom and pop kinds of people coming in, literally, off Sunset Blvd's sidewalk.

One rush-rush job we got was from a guy who had a stack of negatives that he wanted "proof sheet" like quality prints from. Just throw them into the enlarger and "let 'er rip!", he said.

Of course he wanted to "approve" the images before he paid for them and could walk away with his proofs.

I was handed one stack of negs and my colleague was handed another. In my stack was a rather poorly exposed very difficult to print 4x5inch negative of Clark Gable.

My first resin coated print was junk. I quickly fine tuned the exposure and tried a very fast burn effort along one edge that was particularly "blown out". Out of the Kodak quick printer came the second RC print and off to the front desk for approval.

While it was out being looked at I grabbed an 11x14 sheet of Kodak G double weight paper and set to work. The first print was also junk. Even though I had an excellent sense of exposure, the image needed to be torn up. It just didn't "work".

Putting a second sheet of Kodak G double weight into the easel I made my second exposure and burned the hell out of one corner. Just as I dropped the paper into the developer, the front desk lady came in a retrieved the negative.

I finished off the print and took it home.

I was SHOCKED when, three months later, I visited a local shopping mall and walked by a poster shop. In there was the print I'd made on RC that I'd considered junk. It was a poster made from the "proof" image of Clark Gable!

I couldn't stand it. All the guy had to do was wait another 10 minutes and I could have given him a real print. Something worth hanging. Rather, what the world ended up with was just absolute garbage, as far as I was concerned.

It made me sad.

But, I still have the 11x14 inch Kodak G double weight original. It still pleases me, even after all these years.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Resolution and Wishful Thinking...

I've been on conversations with fellow engineering colleagues where, over the years, we tend to note just how disconnected from reality some people are who make claims about resolution and it's effect on photographic image making. Typically, arguments arise in on-line forums where someone will claim that Zeiss lenses are "the best" and someone else says Leica "can't be beaten", and all parties claiming they can tell the difference in images made with different lenses. DP Review is pretty typical of this effect.

The claim that really takes the cake is the one Zeiss and other manufacturers use when they say a lens "writes" well. What the hell is that? Optics are optics and physics is still physics. It's all bunk. There's no truth to those kinds of claims, no matter what some folk would like to believe.

In optics, lens design, when well-executed in manufacturing, tends to not be the limiting factor in resolution. It's either the film or the sensor (depending on which technology you use).

The following is a chart of theoretic limits of resolution of a perfect lens at various apertures.

Resolving Power

This presents the theoretic resolving power of an ideal lens where the light's
wavelength is 589.3mu (green).

Tangential lines/mm
f-number Angular distance from axis (in degrees)
0 10 25
1 1391 1329 1035
2 695 665 518
4 348 332 259
5.6 246 235 183
8 174 166 130
11 123 117 92 <--- approx. limits of film/sensor resolution
16 87 83 65
22 61 59 46
32 43 41 32
45 31 29 23
64 22 21 16

Radial lines/mm
f-number Angular distance from axis (in degrees)
0 10 25
1 1391 1370 1260
2 695 685 630
4 348 343 315
5.6 246 243 223
8 174 171 158
11 123 121 111 <--- approx. limits of film/sensor resolution

16 87 86 79
22 61 61 56
32 43 43 39
45 31 30 28
64 22 21 20

Which means that diffraction limits really can't come into play in any meaningful manner until a lens is stopped way down to at least f/11. Even then, most modern digital sensors are resolution limited to around 70 lp/mm. So with those systems (such as with either Canon's, Nikon's, or Sony's full frame sensor'd wonder boxes), diffraction in the pure optical physical sense will not come into play until you're well beyond the limits of what a lens offers. ie: f/16

As sensor resolution rises, diffraction will still not come into play as many photographer shoot at apertures brighter than f/11.

Said another way, I've never met a lens I didn't like. Some, yes, I liked more than others. But seldom, if ever, were the issues of "liking" a lens related to it's ability to be sharp.

I've shot them all. Leica. Zeiss (small, medium, and large formats). Canon. Nikon. Pentax. Mamiya (medium format), Schneider (medium format, large format). Sigma (I know people claim to hate these lenses, but I can't find fault with them, they're wonderful optics, regardless of money). Dagor (large format). Kodak (small, medium, large formats - brilliant optics from WWII until the mid-1960's).

It's not a matter of the lens. It's the nut behind the eyepiece.

So there. Now go out and make some fine images. Forget about the blather on those forums. OK?

Friday, February 10, 2012

A funny thing happened...

My wife and I have been going to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge up in Ridgefield Washington for three or four years. I wanted to go because two of my then colleagues, Rick Cameron and Rob Sanford, would come back with wonderful images of a bird I've never seen before. They told me it was a Bittern.

Their images were to fun and interesting that we'd trek up there from time to time to see if we too could find that funny shaped bird.

We never found him.

I accused Rob of taking a stuffed Bittern and placing him by the road at RNWR just so he could take a "realistic" image. Rob and Rick both laughed and told me how easy it was to find them.

They didn't tell me how illusive the Bittern could be. No. They just continued to laugh at my predicament.

RNWR - Bittern

Once. Just once, we found a Bittern. I took his photo and was thrilled. But that was three years ago.

On recent a Sunday when our house was being shown (it was on the market for sale) and there was some silly National Holiday Sporting Event on TV, my wife suggested we go to RNWR to say goodbye to all our feathered friends. One last time.

All our bird friends were there. The Tundra Swans, the Shoveler Ducks, the small song birds, and the big Northern Harriers were all out giving us a winged farewell. Everyone but the Bittern.


We were cursing the Bittern for his illusive ways.

We came around the south edge of the loop, muttering all the way. "Where is that Bittern?" "Where, oh where is that Bittern?"

Coming around a corner, my wife asked again "Where is that Bittern?" I said "There he is!!!"

Not 20 feet from the car was our funny Bittern friend. He was so close that if I used all 400mm's of my Canon 7D/100-400L combo, I only caught the Bittern's head.


He'd come out to say goodbye too.

I'll miss them all up at RNWR. Such a beautiful place. Such a peaceful area.

It's time to go. April 11th is our pending departure date. The house is sold. Our things are packed. Paris awaits.