May 292012
 

Memorial Day weekend should have been a time to get out and about with my camera, especially as it coincided with the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Alas, Tropical Storm Beryl partly put paid to my plans. Sunday’s events at the festival were cancelled and I had to content myself with one day of shooting on Saturday.

The Jazz Festival is the one weekend in the year when downtown Jacksonville takes on the appearance of a bustling and vibrant city. For a Jacksonville photographer, it allows the opportunity to do some street photography, an impossibility during the rest of the year when the downtown area looks as though it has been hit by a neutron bomb.

This year, the festival also coincided with a friendly soccer/football match between the USA and Scotland at the Everbank Stadium on Saturday night. The presence of the Tartan Army and USA soccer fans added to the mix of people and choice of subjects.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

On Sunday, I spent an hour watching a Nik Software webinar given by photographer Derrick Story and featuring shots from his B&W Vegas project. Derrick described his workflow in Silver Efex Pro 2 and also talked a little bit about cameras. His “stealth” camera for candid street photography is the Olympus EP-2, soon to be replaced by the Olympus EM-5 OM-D.

I have to agree that a smaller camera is less conspicuous out on the streets and also less threatening for those people being photographed. But it doesn’t automatically follow that larger DSLR cameras are not up to the task.

I think it is safe to say that a DSLR will guarantee you a shot every time and that is the reason why DSLRs are the camera choice of mainstream press photographers.

I don’t think it is the bulk of DSLRs that people find intimidating but the lens that is attached to the camera.

On Saturday, I shot exclusively with my 100mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. It is a recent acquisition and after shooting for more than 30 years with manual focus lenses, I am enjoying the benefits of an autofocus lens.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The 100mm f/2.8L lens is not large in comparison to say the 70-200m f/2.8L zoom lens but it is still large in the eyes of the public. Several times I was asked if I was taking photographs for The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s daily newspaper. That question has never been posed while shooting with my Zeiss Planar T* 1,4/50 lens.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

A DSLR camera, preferably full-frame, fitted with a prime lens — 24mm, 28mm or 35mm — is still capable of performing as a street photographer’s camera. With those prime lenses, a DSLR camera is certainly far less intimidating. But the best camera of all is the one you have with you.

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May 172012
 

Last week’s announcement of the Leica M9- Monochrom camera sparked off the Leica bug in me again. Whereas the new camera with its dedicated B&W sensor does not hold all that much appeal, despite my love of B&W photography and the great many images that I convert to B&W, I would still want the colour option in any camera that I might own.

Award winning photographer Edmond Terakopian has had the chance to put the Leica M9-M through its paces and without a doubt the results are mightily impressive.

I have seen some people say that they will now carry two Leicas, the M9 and the M9-M, citing the days of film when they carried two cameras – one loaded with colour film and one with black & white film. In those days, there was little option but to carry two cameras if you wished to shoot both colour and b&w shots but digital photography has freed photographers from that constraint or should I say burden. People are strange.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The Leica M9 prompts the old head versus heart dilemma in me. The head tells me that in terms of value for money far better cameras than the M9 are to be had. Who in their right mind would pay nearly $7,000 for a camera that boasts a 230,000 dot LCD screen, no AF capability, no live view and a top ISO of 2500?

The heart tells me that the Leica M9 offers unsurpassed full-frame image quality and one only has to look at images shot by skilled photographers to see that they have an image quality often referred to as the “Leica look”.

Factor in the weight of the M9, a mere 585g or 20.64oz, and its size — 139 x 80 x 37 mm or 5.47 x 3.15 x 1.46 ins – and suddenly the heart appears to be winning the argument.

The Canon and Nikon fanboys on DPReview take great delight in slagging off the Leica M9 as an overpriced under-featured camera, the plaything of doctors, dentists and lawyers who can afford the Leica price tag.

I would hazard a guess that many of those same fanboys have no direct experience of film SLR photography and are digital through and through. When they rant and rail against the Leica M9, as they often do, they are missing the point and one that came to me in a moment of epiphany after reading Thorsten Overgaard’s treatise on the Leica M9.

Leica is the only camera manufacturer that made a seamless transition from film cameras to digital ones. It kept the size, shape and form of the Leica M film cameras but gave them a digital heart. Thus those shooting film with a Leica M could switch to a Leica M8 and later M9 with a relatively shallow learning curve and without having an extra pound or two added to the weight of the camera.

For more than 25 years I shot with a Minolta XD-7 SLR camera, known as the Minolta XD-11 in the United States, which weighed 560 g or 19.75 oz and measured 136mm x 86 x 51mm or 5.35 x 3.38 x 2.01ins. My Canon 40D weighs in at 822 g or 29.0 oz and measures 146 x 108 x 74mm or 5.75 x 4.25 x 2.91ins and without the luxury of a being full frame. To achieve comparable performance with the Minolta, I would have to look at the Canon 5D Mark III, all 33.51 oz of it, or the 48.85-oz Canon 1Ds Mark III.

It is easy to see why so many photographers of my generation would love their Minolta XD-7, Nikon FE or Canon AE-1 fitted with a digital sensor. Those people who used to shoot with a Lecia M3, M4, M5 or M6 got exactly that with a Leica M9.

We can also cope with manual focus lenses and centre-weighted metering because that is how we learned our craft. AF is a convenient option but not an essential one if a camera has focusing aids in the viewfinder, which the Leica M9 has unlike the Canon models mentioned above. That being said, I still manage to focus manual Zeiss ZE lenses on my Canon 40D. Admittedly , it is a lot harder than focusing with the Minolta but it is still achievable.

Back in my film days, I kind of negated the weight benefits of the Minolta XD-7 by shooting with a 70-210 mm zoom lense. With age has come wisdom and the decision to only shoot with prime lenses. My days of lugging heavy camera equipment are long gone. If I miss a photo opportunity because of the focal length of the lens on the camera, so be it. I am no longer answerable to the demands of a picture editor. I shoot what I want to shoot.

Leafing through Thorsten Overgaard’s guide to the Leica M9 and reading how he shoots with it – set aperture priority, ISO at 200, manually focus on the subject and fire the shutter – reminded me of shooting with the Minolta XD-7, even down to the centre-weighted metering. And in a Road-to-Damascus moment, I could see the obvious appeal of the Leica M9 and why so many photographers value it so highly.

I think with a Leica M9, two or three Zeiss ZM lenses and possibly the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 lens, I would be set up for life. With my Minolta XD-7, I never experienced a moment of camera lust because I had what I considered to be the best camera for my photographic needs. I think the same would hold true for the Leica M9.

The only problem with using Zeiss ZM lenses is that they are not 6-bit coded. I am not sure how much of a disadvantage that would be, especially since I would shoot RAW rather than JPEG. And by not using Leica lenses, I probably wouldn’t achieve that 100 per cent Leica look but I think I would get close enough for my tastes.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

All that remains is to find the several thousand dollars it will take to make a photographic dream come true. I have already checked out a couple of secondhand Leica M9s to reduce the potential outlay, one of them being the M9-P, which appeals because of its understated appearance – it doesn’t carry the red dot or M9 motif – but, more importantly, because of the virtually unbreakable sapphire crystal covering on the LCD screen. This camera would be the last one that I would ever buy, so I would want it to last in good condition for as long as possible.

With that all settled, I am off to buy a lottery ticket or two. Wish me luck!

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May 042012
 

Adobe has announced an update to its Camera Raw and DNG Converter plug-ins.

ACR 6.7 will be the last update of Camera Raw for Photoshop CS5. Fortunately, most of the cameras that have appeared on my radar in recent months as possible purchases are supported, namely Canon 1DX, Canon 5D Mark III and Olympus E-M5 OM-D. The one notable exception is Fujifilm’s X-Pro1.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The absence of RAW support effectively brings the curtain down on my interest. Sure, the X-Pro1  comes with Silky Pix to handle RAW images. I would love to meet the marketing executive who came up with the name Silky Pix. It would be better named Silky Pants because its performance is regarded by many photographers as being just that — pants!

What version of ACR will eventually support the X-Pro1 is anyone’s guess. It does mean, however, that for someone like myself, if I were to buy the X-Pro1, I would also have to factor in an extra $199 to upgrade my version of Photoshop.

As much as I genuinely admire the image quality the X-Pro1 produces, I still cannot get past this cameras quirks and foibles.

The absence of the X-Pro1 from ACR 6.7 also coincided with an assessment by British photographer David Taylor-Hughes as to its usefulness as a camera for street photography.

Now if you idea of street photography is a photograph of random strangers doing nothing particular out of the ordinary or the photograph of a homeless person asleep in a doorway then the X-Pro1 will do just fine. But if street photography means capturing a decisive moment or a fleeting expression then, according to Taylor-Hughes, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 isn’t up to the task.

On his blog SoundImagePlus, he concludes:

So, I can’t say that I recommend the Fuji X-Pro 1 for fast reaction photography in a crowded constantly changing environment. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted, and I tried virtually everything to see if I could get it quicker, but failed.

He commends the image quality of the X-Pro1, as most photographers do, but what use is fabulous image quality if the camera cannot deliver the shot the photographer had in mind?

No doubt photographers will be quick to point out that my assertion is wrong or that Taylor-Hughes needs to hone his skills and it is not the camera’s fault. Whatever!

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful to a photographer like Taylor-Hughes for giving an honest assessment and one based on personal experience.

Don’t get me wrong you will see street photography shots taken with the X-Pro1 and they really do come alive because of the image quality, particularly at a high ISO. But look at them a little more closely and many of them are capturing a static subject. And for those who do manage to capture a shot with motion, the photographer will rarely disclose how many attempts he had to make before getting the shot.

As Taylor-Hughes states, he did get some successes but also missed out on a lot of shots that other cameras would have taken in their stride and delivered the goods. And it is the inconsistency of the X-Pro1 that may lead to frustration and missed photo opportunities.

Talking of missed opportunites leads me to the M-mount adapter for the Fujifilm X-Pro1. It was the announcement that the X-Pro1 would be compatible with M-mount lenses that really fired my interest in the camera.

But where is it?

Third party manufacturers have got M-mount adapters in the marketplace. Now unless the Fujifilm adaptor offers something above and beyond what the third-party manufactures can offer, they may well have missed the boat. If Fujifilm’s M-mount adapter is only comparable to those of third-party adapters, people are unlikely to ditch the third party-adapters for the Fujifilm version, are they? Although a great many people who buy cameras seem to have more money than sense, so maybe Fujifilm does know what it is doing.

Time will tell.