Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Loosely related things ~ the Death of Photography as we knew it

These must be the End Times of photography.  How else can one explain what's going on these days?

Hasselblad used to make world class 2 1/4inch square format film cameras.  They were good enough that NASA contracted the company to make 70mm film-backed cameras that went to the moon as part of the American Space program (the Apollo missions).

To celebrate their heritage Hasselblad recently introduced a camera call the "Lunar."  The sad thing is the model name is for photographic purposes utterly meaningless.  It can't go into outer space and is nothing more than a very very expensive warm-over of Sony's old model NEX7.

What a joke!

Leica, like Hasselblad, used to make world class cameras.  Leica's image shape was the classic 35mm.  In fact, the company "invented" the 35mm format.  Today's 36mm x 24mm "full frame" sensors are the direct legacy of Leica's early creations.

So it's with more than a little interest that Leica recently announced their latest product offerings.  It's called the M-P "Correspondent."   It's claim to fame?  It comes brand new pre-brassed.  That's right.  You get a brand new camera and lens that have been made to look like they've lived 30 hard years in a press-pool working photographer's kit.

According to my calendar, it is not yet April 1st.  No fool'n!  What a joke!

My wife and I recently visited the Magnum Photo exhibition at the Hotel de Ville.  The show was devoted to images made of Paris from Magnum's inception through to the present.

Indeed many of the photographs from the late-1940's up through the 1960's had been made using Hasselblad and Leica camera systems.  The black and white photos are properly and fabulously printed.  The show was very well curated and shared enough information that a visitor could easily follow the evolution of photography in this city.

I was struck by something.  By the 1970's color prints revealed that a massive upheaval in imaging had taken place.  To explain the shift I need to go back and talk a little about the impact of photography on painting.

For hundreds of years painters depicted reality.  They recorded how people looked and scenes of historical importance.  When photography advanced to the point images could accurately record people's likenesses and capture time slices of significant events painters had to find something else to depict.

It's no coincidence that the "impressionists" advanced painting into the door-steps of the abstract.  Subsequent artists took painting further and further into abstraction to the point most casual observers need an explanation of what they are looking at to understand a work.

In the 1970's television had taken it's place in many first world living rooms.  Just as photography had done to painting in the late 1800's, the impact of television was to push photography into abstraction.

The Magnum show filled the years from the 1970's to the present with images of broad colors, simple large shapes, and into the realm of abstract ideas and concepts.  Without an explanation of what I was looking at, I had no idea what the photographer was attempting to say or share.

This begs the question of what is the present purpose of photography?  From what I can tell, photography has moved from accurately recording to sharing experiences and self-portraits (selfies).

Can the displacement of photography help explain the many forums populated with camera equipment junkies who, rather than attempt to make a fine image, spend their spare hours arguing over which piece of gear is better than another?  Is it, then, any wonder that Hasselblad and Leica, the old vanguards of tradition photography, struggle to remain tools of valid creative expression? 

Carnaval de Paris ~ 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Loosely related things...

Late last year I had six photoshoots with models lined up and, or so I thought, ready to go.  On the day of the shoots four models backed out an hour or two before we were to work together.  These events sent me into something of a tail-spin and I started to revisit the topic of why I do what I do.

While living in the states I enjoyed working with models.  It felt very much like we were working together.  The people I worked with had "as much skin in the game" as I did.  Now that my wife and I live in Europe I've come to see that things are not the same here.

As I try to find a way out of the tail-spin that I find myself in I've come across a few things that help me understand what is taking place around me.

I feel that "photography" is dead.  It is dead in the sense we knew it as recently as just a few years ago. The death of "photography" seems to be related to what an images purpose is and how they are consumed.  I use the word consumed deliberately.  I would rather use the word appreciated, but can't bring myself to do that.

Who is going to make the great images that people used to enjoy looking at in Sports Illustrated?  Who is so talented in their image making that they can replace professional artists with decades of experience under their belt?

It seems to me that photography has moved from recording time to sharing experiences.  Where is the of-the-age defining Hindenberg on fire image from the Fukushima disaster?  Where is the iconic photo that helps us understand what happened in that disaster?  There isn't one.  It was all "live feeds" of images and videos that shared the experience of the place.  That's how much things have changed.

I despair the lack of appreciation for how lighting can be used to define, describe, and illustrate a scene.  Amongst photographers certain people are, yes, still appreciated.  I'm thinking of Bill Gekas as I write this. Certainly there remains a (shrinking?) place for workers who know how to gather people together and pose them for weddings. Beyond this what "need" is there for someone to record an event or to make a lasting picture of someone?

This sea of images to consider and review is so vast that finding works which contain the qualities I have come to appreciate is very difficult.  Hashtags and sorting engines bring torrents of mediocre work which have little or no value (to me).  Flickr's "Explore" engine shares hundreds of photos and I'm many times left wondering what the hell is this?  The human curated sites like and seem to share the same collection of images day in and day out.

The sharing of talents between photographer/model/stylist/couture is no longer "needed" as anyone with an image maker or cell-phone can perform the tasks required to get a picture out of a box and onto a website or into print.  It takes no technical knowledge nor talent to make a wonderful image.  Imaging systems have, by and large, sorted all that out for the button pusher.  Anyone can "look good" as an "artist."

Now more than ever before I need to find, to fully appreciate. and to completely embrace the reasons I make images.  My work will likely be from this day forward for my own and only my own pleasure, contentment, and intellectual-emotional pursuits.

I cannot expect to work as I used to.  Things have dramatically changed.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for me to change as well.  The question is which path, if any, may I best forge?

Retromobile ~ 2015

Monday, February 02, 2015

Sony A6000 - a seven lens comparison

It seems that I'm still on a roll.

Since I already had the test setup in place, why not compare some more of my manual focus lenses against the modern Sigma EX DN E autofocus using the Sony A6000?  Why not look at the center of the scene as well as an extreme edge?  I'm retired and have nothing better to do, right?

Scene setup ~ Sigma f/2.8 30mm at f/4

The comparison setup didn't change.
  • Sony A6000 camera, ISO100, "A" mode, "standard" image style settings, shot in RAW format
  • Big sturdy Manfrotto tripod
  • RAW images converted to jpg at 100percent quality using Sony's software - no image adjustments were made at the time of conversion
  • 600x600pixel segments were taken out of each file - no adjustments to the image were made during the cut/paste process
The following two comparison files are quite large.  So click on them and they'll take you to Flickr where you can download and view the full-rez images.

Sony6000-  Seven Lens scene center Comparison

Sony6000-  Big Lens scene edge Comparison

My comments on these comparisons should be obvious.  The new Sigma 19mm, 30mm, and 60mm (not shown here) f/2.8 EX DN E/Art lenses are incredible from wide open all the way across the field to the very edges of the frame.  These are "keepers".

I think I can see where the old Nikkors have a few challenges, even on the smaller than full frame APS-C sized sensors.  I'm not sure why the edges fall off as badly as they do when the lenses are shot wide open, but they're pretty obviously bad.  My conjecture is that either the lenses were designed for speed and resolution at the center (which is common for designs of that period), and/or there is a fair amount of field curvature that is throwing the edges of the frame out of focus in these 2D scene comparisons.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sony A6000 - Sony 16mm f/2.8 E, Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E comparison

I'm on a roll.

Since I had a comparison setup in place, I thought I'd take a look at the recently acquried Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E and see how it compared against a Sony 16mm f/2.8 E-mount lens.  The two lenses share a somewhat fast aperture, are nearly the same focal length, and sell for similar prices.  Could the performance be similar too?

Scene setup ~ Sigma f/2.8 19mm ED DN E at f8

The comparison setup didn't change.
  • Sony A6000 camera, ISO100, "A" mode, "standard" image style settings, shot in RAW format
  • Big sturdy Manfrotto tripod
  • Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E shot at f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, and f/8
  • Sony 16mm f/2.8 E-mount shot at f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, and f/8
  • RAW images converted to jpg at 100percent quality using Sony's software - no image adjustments were made at the time of conversion
  • 600x600pixel segments were taken out of each file - no adjustments to the image were made during the cut/paste process 
The image is linked to my Flickr page.  View the image a full resolution to more clearly see the differences between the two lenses.

Sony A6000 - Sony 16mm - Sigma 19mm EX DN E comparision study

My observations include the obvious.  Either the 16mm Sony  is really awful or the Sigma 19mm is absolutely brilliant.  Differences between the two lenses should be clear.  To me, the Sigma is the superior optic from wide open and across the entire field.