Saturday, April 30, 2011

Megan Graduates, meets Admiral Mullen

The Graduate
Yeah. I'm done.
Number two daughter graduated from Florida State University today Magna Cum Laude with honors from the College of Visual Arts, Theatre, and Dance. Her major was art, and her minor was art history.

Yes, I'm a very proud papa. And she's got a very proud mom too. And a lot of proud family members and close friends.

Our shared graduation adventure started with our typical trip from Orlando up to Tallahassee. Except we didn't stay in Tallahassee this trip.

We've been staying north of Tallahassee in Thomasville, Ga, since Friday. We wound up in Thomasville because Megs, my little sweetheart, decided at the last minute to attend graduation ceremonies.

We didn't push her one way or the other. We figured she'd been working hard enough to graduate on time, and with all her other activities and responsibilities at school she just wanted to earn her degree and then head on. But for whatever reason, she decided that she would attend.

And so, with barely a month before graduation ceremonies, I tried to find something, anything, we could stay at for two nights in Tallahassee. During spring graduation.

If you've got kids at FSU, or if you're an FSU alumnus who tries to go back, say during a major home game (think Gators/Noles), they you know that unless you made a reservation at least a year in advance, there's no way you're going to find anyplace to stay, especially a place that's affordable. So we started looking at towns within 30 miles of Tallahassee, such as Thomasville. That's when we found the Days Inn.

When we checked in Friday night, we went into the central part of Thomasville to dine at Liam's. It was a part of her celebration for graduating. We decided to eat in Thomasville because it was a zoo down in Tallahassee. We spent an interesting evening at Liam's. Megan got to sample six types of cheeses, something she's been wanting to do since she heard of the place.

Liam's in Thomasville

Window Shopping in Thomasville

Thomasville is a city of roughly 20,000 people. It has an historic downtown which has been fixed up and gentrified with some very expensive and eclectic shops and restaurants. Liam's is on E. Jackson street (319) just before you hit the center of the historic part of Thomasville. If 319 sounds familiar, it should if you live in Tallahassee. Jackson heads on out of Thomasville where it turns into 319. It then takes you straight to Tallahassee, where it then becomes Thomasville Road. Keep following Thomasville Road and it ends on Monroe, just a few blocks down from where Monroe crosses Tennessee.

Saturday started at 6:30am for us. We came to Thomasville sans Labs, which was a good thing. There was no way I was going to leave them alone in a hotel room in Thomasville for six or more hours, and there was no way we could have taken them with us and leave them anywhere else. My oldest daughter house sat for us in Orlando and kept the Labs down there. Being Lab-free, it was straightforward for us to rise,dress, and drive south down 319 from Thomasville to meet up with Megan near FSU. We parked our car at a local Publix parking lot and Megs then drove us to her apartment, which was a block away from the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center, where Saturday's graduation ceremonies where held. Dressed in a shirt and tie and armed with both an E-1 and an E-3, mom, dad, and soon-to-be-graduated daughter walked the short distance to the civic center.

Filing in
Filing in
Admiral Mullen Commencement Address
Admiral Mullen giving the commencement address
Megan meets Admiral Mullen
Megan meets Admiral Mullen
Admiral Mullen filing out
The Admiral and his wife behind the university president
and his wife

The commencement speaker was Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I don't know who pulled that particular coup, but it was great, at least from my perspective. Admiral Mullen gave a very interesting and engaging commencement address that touched on a number of themes ranging from supporting out troops and veterans to how different parts of the world are facing the challenges of the future.

The entire ceremony lasted from 9am to noon, yet it was so well coordinated that it flew by. Both Judy and I felt it was the best commencement exercise we'd ever seen. Megan wanted to get away from the crowds, so we drove back up Thomasville Road to one of her favorite spots, the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, where dear old dad took many photos of Megan at various locations around the park that Megan is fond of. (As a side note to Governor [sic] Rick Scott, we were able to quite easily find Lake Hall, right next to Maclay Gardens where it's always been).

We're headed back to Orlando Sunday where Meg's will spend two weeks with us before heading back up to FSU, where she'll work during the summer. She'll be helping with the the SLC Movie Committee where she's been a chairperson for the past three years. She'll also be looking for job and master's program opportunities within Florida and without. This marks another key event in her young life. It will be interesting and exciting to see what comes next.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Now and Then in Orlando

Destructive creation. The replacement of the old with the new. In some quarters, such as technology, that's a Good Thing. Especially in personal computing and smartphones. In real estate and the economy, not so much.

It seems that the worst loans are made in the best of economic times. Companies, and the economy in general, will reach an economic fevered high point that seems to extend forever into the future. Based on rosy forecasts and the-then economic successes, banks forget basic banking rules and make riskier and risker loans until the bottom falls out of the general economy. Then the banks over-react in the opposite direction so fast that all those formerly rosy can't-fail businesses that are heavily leveraged do fail.

And so it was with Donatos Pizza. Donatos had expanded into Orlando with seven stores. Donatos closed them all 23 June 2008. The stores were opened in 2001 while Donatos was part of McDonalds. In late 2003 McDonalds sold the chain back to Donato's founder for a $300 million loss to McDonalds so that McDonalds could return to its core business and "improve service." Donatos continued in Orlando until the Great Recession really began to take hold. That's when the Donatos management team came to the conclusion that to survive in Orlando they needed "to build and operate more than 100 stores, which under the current growth and development plan is not prudent." And so they shut down the stores and left the shells behind.

This particular one at the corner of West Colonial and Dean near the 417 is back in business as Southern Technical College. Every one of the Donotas that I photographed as closed in 2009 are now open as wildly different businesses. It's good to see some progress back from the darker period of 2008-2009, although there's still quite some way to go in other areas.

I believe that these stores attracted new businesses because of their great locations and the excellent construction quality of the buildings.

Recycled Donatos
Now - Southern Technical College (28 April 2011)

Fifth Donatos' Empty Signage
Then - A closed Donato's Pizza (30 June 2009)

There are still plenty of former stores and buildings that stand empty from the Great Recession, such as gas stations. The former BP on Dean and 50 has had its pumps removed, and is currently being used as a car insurance/payday loan operation. There's a big sign out front on 50 proclaiming it's up for sale. The former Sunoco at W. Kaley and Tallokas Ave at I-4 has been closed since the last spike in gas prices in 2008. At the time the Sunoco station closed gas was $3.63/gallon for regular. Today it hit $3.85.

Gas stations are the canaries in the economic coal mine. They are one of the first to go under when gas prices rise. Gas stations don't make money off of gas; they make it from the stores selling soda and snacks and a small subset of groceries. When gas goes up, there's less money for people to come in and buy from the store. The higher gas goes, the less gets bought in the store, until the owners finally decide they can't make it and shut their doors. Over time you wind up with a growing collection of empty gas stations scattered around town.

Dead BP station

Another time

Don't Fear the ISO

Spend enough times in the forums listening to the crowds and you come away with two conflicting Photographic Truths;
  1. Only Base ISO should be used. Using high ISO is a sin; and
  2. Any camera brand other than Olympus handles high ISO.
There is some truth to both of those statements. First, base ISO gives you the greatest detail, the lowest noise levels, and the greatest dynamic range for recording light. Base ISO for the E-1 and E-3 is 100, and at base ISO I do get the best performance possible out of the two, especially with the E-1.

Second, high ISO, which is usually close to the maximum ISO of the bodies, increases noise dramatically and decreases dynamic range. All digital cameras work this way. Selecting ISO values higher than base increases the light amplification factor of the sensor and internal image processor. You select higher ISOs because the scene is dimly lit, and you want to use a reasonable lens aperture and shutter speed, especially for hand-held photography. Greater amplification means greater noise in the final image.

Again, there is some truth to the claims against Olympus, especially at high ISO values starting at 3200 and higher. ISO 3200 is the maximum ISO for both the E-1 and the E-3, and at those apertures you get a tremendous amount of noise, banding, and other artifacts from the struggle to capture a decent photograph at those very low light levels.

But the truth, as always, is nuanced. For example, not everybody has to shoot at ISO 3200 and higher. If you do, then there's very few choices, and they come from Canon and Nikon and cost thousands of dollars more than any Olympus camera. At high ISOs ranging from 800 to 2000, however, the E-1, and especially the E-3, can produce quite reasonable, of not excellent, results.

Both images below of Ruby and Lulu were taken at high ISO as indicated on each photo. They were taken inside the house, in darker corners of the living room. The larger body of the E-3 provided dampening of shake, and in-body image stabilization was enabled. Thus, the higher ISO combined with IBIS helped to capture these images with minimal motion blurring (if any).

Oblivious
Ruby
Olympus E-3, Zuiko 12-60mm, ISO 800, f/4, 1/25s


Lulu cropped
Lulu
Olympus E-3, Zuiko 12-60mm, ISO 1600, f/4, 1/13s

What I have noticed recently is that the latest versions of Lightroom 3 (these were processed with LR 3.3) do a much better job of converting Olympus RAW into JPEG than do the E-1's and E-3's built-in JPEG engines. And there's nothing wrong with that. The E-1 was released in 2003, and the E-3 in 2007. While the built-in JPEG processing is good, PC-based JPEG engines in top-drawer image applications such as Lightroom will benefit from continuous improvement. So it shouldn't be surprising that at some point post-processing JPEG engines surpass in-camera JPEG engines.

Issues with banding and the peculiar artifacts due to internal camera JPEG processing are minimal or non-existent with Lightroom. Buying up-to-date PC-based post-processing software to take advantage of these advances can make the output of older camera gear look much better than what it seemingly was capable of when it was first released, and is a much cheaper alternative to replacing existing camera gear, if all you're primarily after is better image quality.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mundane Modalities on a Wednesday

It's another hump-day. Another one of my endless, mindless trips up and down the 408. I will have wasted a considerable amount of my limited life commuting by the time I'm finally shoveled into the cold earth. Might as well photograph what I see moving as when I'm not.

The light coming down through the clouds reminds me a little of the really bad science fiction movie "Skyline". Except this isn't Los Angeles.

Lighting the way
The light on the way into work
Olympus E-1, Zuiko 12-60mm, 60mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/640s

My exit from the 408 takes me past the latest construction in Research Park. A new building is going up, just down the street from a number of big old empty buildings in the same park. So the new and shiny goes up because it's just not cool to take over the old and busted and fix it up.

New Construction Challenger Parkway
Flattening and fluffing the good earth
Olympus E-3, Zuiko 50-200mm, 108mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/400s

I forget to bring my lunch in with me, so I walk across the street to Jersey Mike's for a sub. The World of Bear is in the same complex. I crank up the ISO to 3200 in the E-1, press the lens against the glass to block all the sunlight and glare, and press the shutter. This is what a bar looks like during the daylight hours when the rest of humanity works. Come the evening it'll be lit up like a castle.

Dark by day
Daylight in the bar
Olympus E-1, Zuiko 12-60mm, 12mm, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1/30s

On the way out I pass another construction site, this one on Alafaya. They're building a rather large multi-story garage. On the ground next to it (and not seen) they're laying out the plumbing and slab for the building that's going to be paired with this garage.

New construction Alafaya Trail
Building a parking garage
Olympus E-3, Zuiko 12-60mm, 16mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/1250s

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

5kphoto

5kphoto

Matthew Robertson has created another site showcasing his excellent creativity. He's named it 5kphoto, and it's a very interesting spot on the web indeed. According to Matthew
This is my daily photography project. The rules are:

• Take at least one photo a day with my compact digital camera.
• Upload as many as possible to a dedicated gallery.
• Post one of each days' photos to this blog.
• The project ends when the gallery reaches 5000 photos.

Some of the fine print:

– There will be a built-in delay between taking and publishing each photo.
– If the camera dies, that will also end the project.

My goal is to have this project train me to always have and use a little digital point-and-shoot.
My hope is that the project will form a record of a significant period of time, and give me a reason to be adventurous again.

I've picked the Panasonic TS3, in orange, as a reliable camera that's not too big and gives decent quality. I'm not aiming for art, but hopefully some of it will be interesting.
Go look. It's worth it. And then go back again and again, and watch his project evolve.

Why so Serious?

Happy Birthday to Max
Max
That was the Joker's line. When he said it, it sent chills up your spine. When the Labs say it, they mean it with all their heart, soul, ears, tails, pads... Everything they have.

They are love incarnate.

Max and Ruby are just the latest Labs to live with us. We've had labs continuously since my wife and I were dating, starting back in 1982. And my wife had her first Lab, Rhett (for Rhett Butler), starting in 1979. Rhett, of course, became best Lab at our wedding.

Max was a rescue that came to us when he was five months old. He was living two houses down from us at the time. He'd been bought for the kids when he was eight weeks old. Labs are so cute at eight weeks. But they grow up quickly and are full of a wild energy that needs to be handled with exercise and discipline, both of which Max's family didn't know how to provide. Max kept breaking out of their yard and 'escaping' to the neighbor between the two of us. They were almost ready to take Max to the Humane Society until we found out about Max, and offered to take Max off their hands.

Saucy Little Bitch
Ruby
So Max came to live with us. At that time we also had a chocolate female named Babe. Max and Babe hit it off and were close companions for seven wonderful years until Babe died suddenly at age 13 years. Max was without a companion for eight months, until we found a local Lab breeder. That's where we got Ruby.

Ruby came to us as an eight-week-old puppy, and immediately took to Max. Max, not so much. It took a while for Ruby to grow up a bit before Max would "allow" her to be his equal. Now Max won't go anywhere without Ruby, and Ruby won't go anywhere without her Max.

Max has become so devoted to Ruby that he'll drop a mouthful of his dog chow on the floor next to Ruby when he eats. Ruby will then sit a moment, looking at Max, as if to make sure it's all right. Max will look at Ruby as if to concur, and then Ruby eats Max's gift. But Ruby will not eat any food out of Max's bowl. Not one morsel

Having Labs (and Lucy the cat) is probably the best therapy I know of. No matter how hard I try, I can't stay grumpy around any of the animals. They just won't allow it.

Watching Orlando Slip-Slide

I've been looking at some of the pageview statistics on the blog, looking for what seems to be catching reader's attention. One page that keeps coming up repeatedly is the "Watching Orlando Unravel" series I posted from January to November 2009. One of the building complexes I photographed in the series was the Windermere Business Center, which is nowhere near Windermere, but that didn't stop them from naming what they did.

I first photographed this complex on my side of Orlando in January 2009, and wrote a bit about it as well, noting that it had very, very few tenants.

.

Over two years later, little has changed. Yes, there are a few more tenants, most notably Tiger Martial Arts, but not enough to allow the original owner of the complex to keep the building. Now Caldwell Banker Commercial owns the paper, and the complex.

Looking closer at the complex, cracks have appeared on the outer surface (and patched over) a mere two years after completion of construction. I can only assume Caldwell Banker is paying to fix the place up.

.

Finally, this two-store strip mall located next to a post office at the intersection of Kirkman and Old Winter Garden Road. It was built in early 2009. It stands silent and empty like so many others from that period.

Kirkman Plaza

On the side of town where I work is a large elaborate strip mall at the corner of N. Alafaya and Corporate. This stretch still stands as empty as the day in January 2009 when I first photographed it.

N. Alafaya and Corporate

And this group of buildings is at the back of Research Park on Discovery Drive. It's been nearly two years since the businesses that once filled it packed up and moved on. While some of the other empty buildings in Research Park have picked up new tenants, this section remains as empty as ever, a permanent casualty of the decline in defense spending in Orlando, and a silent warning of what is to come as more of the defense budget is cut.

Discovery Drive

I observe all this as a counterpoint to governor Rick Scott and the republican-dominated Florida state house's ill-informed attempt to loosen or eliminate the many checks and balances passed since the 1980s, checks and balances meant to keep over-development in check and protect Florida for future generations. Checks and balances that barely work in their current form.

Eliminations that are also supposed to magically help create more jobs in Florida. We've got empty buildings and condos all through Orlando because of the real estate bubble that help trigger the Great Recession. If we're not careful, and if we let Scott and his cronies in Tallahassee follow through, we'll wind up with even more empty buildings as monuments to their stupidity. And even more of paradise will be paved over.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Cameras

The Easter bunny didn't leave me any camera gear the way Santa does, but he did leave me a little basket full of interesting camera reviews. Two of them come from Kirk Tuck and Matthew Robertson. In their respective reviews they both noted a key feature seldom considered by reviewers or buyers until the camera is purchased, and that's how the camera handles. More cameras (and gadgets in general) wind up as dust collecting shelfware because of poor handling than for any other reason.

Kirk Tuck posted a very short review of the Olympus XZ-1. While I make it a practice not to spoil another man's (or woman's) review before you've had a chance to read it, I'm going to break with practice. The key reason Kirk doesn't like the XZ-1 is it's "too little camera to hold on to." Plain old fashioned ergonomics. Or in XZ-1's case, the lack thereof.

Two weeks before Kirk's post, Matthew Robertson posted his review of the Panasonic TS3, a point-and-shoot on steroids that adds wild colors (see below) and environmental sealing into a big ol' grab-bag of features. In contrast to Kirk, Matthew liked the Panasonic's handling;
One standout feature of the TS3 is simply the feel of the camera. The curve at the top and bottom of the front grip, and the rounded left side of the camera, make it very nice to hold. It has a heft and solidity to it that's very reassuring, and it has an object-quality that goes a long way toward justifying its price even before it's turned on.
High praise for a camera that at times exhibits its own collection of "awkward" and "abysmal" marketing and design choices.

Olympus XZ-1Panasonic TS3

When you look at these photos, keep in mind they are not to exact scale, but they're close enough for the differences to be apparent. From the front, the Olympus looks like a thin slab with an oversized lens bolted to the front. The Olympus has nothing on the front for finger purchase, not even a rubberized non-slip covering. The Panasonic by comparison is molded with a minimal but effective grip on the left front side.

The back of the cameras are are close in their control layout, but the Olympus is actually better in my opinion than the Panasonic. The Olympus has a spot free of buttons and covered with a non-slip rubber pad, while the Panasonic is covered with buttons and finish of the body. I prefer the Olympus layout over the Panasonic.

What ruins the Olympus XZ-1's handling is the lack of corresponding material on the front side to afford a comfortable purchase for the right hand. If the designers of the XZ-1 didn't want to ruin the lines of the body with the bulge of a grip, they could have easily enough moved the Olympus label higher on the left front and the 'F1.8' label from the left to the right. This would have given a large enough area to be covered with the same material used on the back across the front side left side. Olympus could have even sculpted the rubberized material around the lens for a bit of design panache.

Whether this would satisfy Kirk's "too little camera to hold on too" complaint remains to be seen. I certainly doubt Olympus would consider it. The XZ-1 looks to be a camera designed by an art student, not a photographer.

Olympus XZ-1 rearPanasonic TS3 rear

Neither Kirk nor Matthew are dpReview material, and I am so grateful for that fact. These are two photographers who really use a camera or piece of gear and then write about their experiences with a good mix of facts and honesty you seldom find on the commercial review sites. I hope they both continue to review this way. If either stops, we'll all be the poorer for it.

Film Processing: The Thrill is Gone

My last post, "Digital vs. Film: The Process of Taking Pictures", inspired a comment from octo. I'm going to quote several good points he made and then my response. Octo lead off by offering a solution to the film development issue in the second process flow:
One way to deal with the processing delay issue is to just shoot B&W and process it yourself.
Let me begin to answer this by relating a little personal history.

From 1973 to 1979 I was a darkroom rat. During that period I learned how to process and print in black and white, color print, and color transparency. I learned those skills by supporting darkrooms at two colleges I attended as well as several labs I worked at.

My black and white darkroom skills came from using Kodak and Ilford chemicals, films and papers. I learned quite a bit, most of which I've conveniently forgotten over the years. I was so into black and white during that period I would buy Tri-X in bulk and print paper by the gross. I'd run roll after roll of Tri-X through my Minoltas (an SRT-SC and XE-7) and then spend hours in the darkroom printing contact sheets and enlargements through Beselers using my own personal set of Nikkor enlarging lenses. I learned bulk loading, winding my film onto steel reels in mere seconds, pushing and pulling, the differences (subtle and not so subtle) between HC-110 and D-76, and the fine art of dodging and burning. I quickly added 120/220 black and white shooting using a Mamiya c330.

I was Cool. I was selling my work (as it would later turn out, for not nearly enough), and I thought I Had Arrived. Life just couldn't get any better.

Time marched on and I learned color development with my second darkroom job. In that lab color development was pretty well automated and devoted specifically to print. I'd load the reels with film (and later, just feed them into an automated film developer) and let the machines handle the fine details of proper development. It was my responsibility to make sure that the machine's filters were clean and the chemicals at proper purity and temperature. The magic, such as it was, occurred during printing.

Transparency was a little more proscribed. We'd send out the transparency film to a bigger lab for processing (especially Kodachrome *sob*), then print them locally as the customers desired, primarily on Cibachrome paper.

Bottom line: after seven long crazy years of working and sometimes living in darkrooms, when I finally walked out of my last darkroom in 1979 I never had any desire to walk into another. I have never since felt, and never will feel, any desire to build one in my house either.

Familiarity didn't breed contempt but outright rebellion against being tied down to that system and all it implied.

Octo also mentioned using Nikon film scanners (a Coolscan 9000 and Coolscan V) for scanning negatives and slides. I went looking on the web for information on both those scanners. Their prices took my breath away.

My attitude towards film development has evolved over the year until it follows Henri Cartier-Bresson's, who didn't develop his own film and prints but depended on others to produce the final product. Considering his place in photographic history, that probably wasn't a bad decision.

One of my favorite photographers, Jim Marshall, is renowned not for his darkroom skills (and I'm pretty sure he sent his work out to be developed like Bresson) or even the brand of camera he used (which was Leica, by the way), but for the powerful body of work he created. Carter and Marshall and so many others created their photography in their minds and then in the viewfinder of their cameras. Not in the darkroom. Either the image is there, or its not. No amount of darkroom magic will make a purse out of a sow's ear.

One of Jim Marshall's M4 Leicas

I think it's time for me to rethink my "processes" a bit, to streamline them and just live with what a lab delivers. I can man-up and live with the delay and save a hell of a lot of money. It's not like the world will come to some horrible end because I can't get my results right now. The idea of buying an expensive Nikon scanner (or even a cheaper brand) is another anchor I refuse to tie around myself. For some irrational reason, a reminder of a darkroom past I refuse to relive.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Digital vs. Film: The Process of Taking Pictures

Yesterday's musings about moving on from Olympus, and whether to buy Nikon digital or film, prompted me to sit down and think about something more fundamental than brand, and that's the medium to use for photography, especially in this day and age. So I sat down and drew up some simple process charts, little things with bubbles and arrows, that broke down the process of photography into discrete steps that are still high enough to convey the overall idea.

Why would I do this? To better understand what I want to do, and to get a rough idea of whether film is still an affordable proposition, both in money and in time.

The first flow is for full-on digital photography. I've broken down the steps into two broad categories, those steps that will essentially occur just once (purchase of camera equipment and post processing software) and everything else.

These processes are drawn with some assumptions. They are:
  • For digital, we're talking any camera sophisticated enough to produce sophisticated output. That can be RAW or very high quality JPEG. No cellphone cameras, thank-you-very-much.
  • For film, any camera that accepts 35mm or 6cm color slide film.
  • Only slide film is considered, and it will be scanned to digital.
  • You already own a computer capable of running the post-processing software. So don't write to me about the cost of the PC.
  • I ignore yearly updates to software. Some people will update, some never beyond the initial purchase, and some will only update when it makes sense (meaning they will skip one or more update cycles).
  • Insurance and maintenance for camera equipment are ignored for this discussion.
  • I'm going to post process my photographs whether they are taken with a digital camera or if they're scanned from slide film.
And now, without further delay...


I have learned (rightly or wrongly) the essential steps as illustrated above. I will comment on what I mean, thusly:

  • Purchase Camera Equipment and post-processing software. The steps are in parallel, but separate, for a reason. When you purchase a 'serious' digital camera, most brands will include limited capability post-processing software. You either accept that and buy something better later, or you can listen to the sale clerk's siren song where you buy your camera and buy something beefier. Either way, you wind up with something. Depending on what camera and software you purchase, you spend anywhere from lots to lots and lots of money.
  • Determine photography tasking. An engineer's way of draining all the mystery and romance out of deciding what photos to take. Bottom line is you have a goal. That goal includes sub goals that boil down to who, what, when, where, and how, and any necessary planning. Like writing a story. If you don't have a goal, then why bother? That includes the noisy ones who say they photograph spontaneously. Like spontaneous combustion. Spontaneity is your goal.
  • Execute photography tasking. Again, draining all that is holy and wonderful out of the act of photography. It's the collective acts, at a minimum, of identifying the subject, composing, and then taking the photo. It also serves as a connective node in the process.
  • Examine photographs in camera. A.k.a. chimping. One key feature contemporary digital cameras provide is the ability to check the shot right after it's taken. You can examine it as a photo or you can check its overall exposure through the photo's histogram. It's a key feature that film cameras don't provide. Why is it important to chimp? Because its insurance to make sure you got what you really wanted. If it's not, you have a chance to try again before moving on.
  • Post process. It's the digital equivalent to developing negatives and making prints in a darkroom. Post processing can be as simple as moving the photos off the camera to the computer to as complicated as the software will allow. This is where that computer and expensive post-processing software come into play. Depending on if your digital photos are RAW or JPEG, there's a tremendous amount you can do with the image out of the camera. I've processed both (and continue to process both).
  • Finished. This is where you can stop and enjoy the fruits of your labors. At this point you can upload to fora across the Internets, send them off to be converted into prints, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc, or just examine them on your computer monitor.
Now let's see how film photography (might) fit in.


The differing steps between digital and film are outlined in light red. For digital, the biggest difference is the ability to check the results immediately after taking the photo via the camera itself. You can't see the final results of a film photograph until you've developed the film. And to prepare it for post processing you then have to have the film (in this case, the slide) scanned into a digital format (either DNG or JPEG) for digital post processing. Chimping on digital cameras reduces the risk of failure, the failure of not getting the shot. Because of my background as well as my advancing years, I have become very risk-averse. Digital photography strongly appeals to that.

The other major step is purchasing the film. You're going to purchase film depending on what you decided to do in the tasking step, and  you're going to do it every time you go out. You may buy enough to cover this step multiple times, which reduces the purchase to a selection from existing stocks. But it doesn't hide the fact that film is a consumable resource, unlike a digital storage card, which is renewable (via simple erasure).

And finally, you're going to wind up with physical media after the develop step, either negatives or slides. Slides you can easily view via transmitted light (projector or lightbox). I choose to scan to a digital format because I don't want to have to make prints (contact or otherwise) from negative film. Physical media collects rapidly and demands proper storage it you intend to keep it for some period of time. Photographs, slides and negatives can be so ephemeral if you're not careful. So proper (i.e. archival) storage can be another unexpected and burdensome step.

On the surface it appears there aren't that many significant differences between using a digital camera vs a film camera. And if we were to stop at the diagrams, you'd be right. However...

The dirty little secret I harbor is I already have a good film camera, an OM-4T, with a nice collection of lenses. I have used all those lenses at one time or another on the E-1, E-3, and E-P2 bodies with suitable adapters. The problem is shooting film.

Since January of this year I've purchased exactly two rolls of 36 exposure Velvia. I've loaded one roll into the OM-4T. The film counter has been siting at '1' ever since. The other roll is still sealed, pristine, in its box. Why won't I shoot film? Is it because the OM-4T is horrible?

The reason I won't shoot film and will shoot digital is the immediacy of digital. With digital I can take the results from the camera at any time, day or night, and begin to work with my photographs. Film is not that way.

I can't process Velvia (or any film type) so I have to drop it off and wait for the finished results. That means I have to go somewhere during business hours, drop it off, wait for it to be processed, then go back at a later time during business hours and pick it up, then go home and finish up. I've reached a point in my life where I hate that. Call me feckless and lazy, but I don't think I'm alone in this attitude. Before I drop a dime on any "serious" film camera gear, I'm going to have to overcome this mental block.

As I wrote yesterday I've got a set of goals I'm working towards, goals I hope to accomplish by December. One extra goal I will add to the list is to learn to embrace and enjoy film photography again. While the process diagrams don't convey this, going back to film is going to require a fundamental shift in my attitude towards photography. I'm going to have to learn to trust my pre-visualization skills again as well as re-learn discipline, skills I once had but have lost in this age of digital photography.

Will it make me a Better Photographer? Who knows? All I do know at this point is I better find out before I sink any more money into film gear, or it's going to wind up sitting in the back of my drawer next to the OM gear I currently own. And that's truly unaffordable.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Change of Direction

Nikon D700 with Nikkor 24-120mm 1:3.5-5.6 VR AF-S

I don't own a D700 - yet. But I'm budgeting for one that I hope to purchase by December of this year. Why the shift away from Olympus, and why specifically towards Nikon?

The shift away from Olympus isn't because the Olympus gear I own has suddenly stopped working. Far from it. My Olympus gear, especially my regular FourThirds gear (E-1, E-3, and all the native lenses) continues to work just fine, thank you very much. If anything, I intend to keep them and use them along with the D700. The problem isn't with FourThirds.

The problem is with µFourThirds. Combined with Olympus' so-called road maps for both regular and µFourThirds.

I know I've written glowingly of the E-P2, the µFourThirds body I purchased December 2009. I still think highly of the E-P2 body. But the lenses that Olympus sells specifically for this camera are not living up to the same standards that the FourThirds lenses have set for years. If anything, I feel let down by what I now see are quality issues with the µFourThirds lenses, the glass that defines any camera system.

It's the FourThirds glass that attracted me to FourThirds in the first place, and keeps me loyal. But my loyalty to Olympus hasn't been matched by Olympus' loyalty to me. Olympus runs a business, and as such make business decisions. The decisions they've made, specifically to deemphasize FourThirds and develop µFourThirds, is not turning out quite the way they attempted to explain over the last two years.

The µFourThird lenses that Olympus (and Panasonic) have released are smaller yet more expensive than FourThird equivalents, and based on my ongoing use, turning out to be inferior in build quality. In short, I'm spending more and getting less. And I'm getting tired waiting for the mythical E-Px professional body with lenses to arrive. A pro body that will more than likely have me purchase all-new pro lenses to get the best performance out of the body.

I certainly can't see how they would provide a new body that would take advantage of my standard FourThird lens collection and still remain as small as the E-P2. If they do release a pro Pen, I can pretty much guarantee it will cost well north of a grand. History shows us that Olympus prices its semi-pro bodies (E-1, E-3, and E-5) at $1,700 when released. Fortunately for me, I purchased my E-3 on sale in December 2008 at a good discount, and the E-1 I purchased used but in mint condition on eBay with grip for $200.

If I have to buy new glass to 'keep up', and if I have to pay top dollar, then I will certainly consider what's also available at those lofty prices.

I want something that will hold its value over time. I broke my basic rule about purchasing newly-released gear when I purchased the E-P2 with the 14-42mm kit lens and the VP-2 electronic viewfinder for $1,100. A year later the price for the same basic kit (without viewfinder) was half that. By contrast, Nikon (and Canon top-end gear) sell at a premium and essentially stay there. Right now, due to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the D700 new is selling for $100 more than its release MSRP. Since the D700's release the price has stayed pretty near its release price. Used D700s also retain their value, when you can find them.

I like the fact I can walk into at least four stores in the Orlando area and hold the D700, along with a wide assortment of Nikon equipment. If I want an E-5, the only way to get one is mail order. I got lucky with my E-3 and later my E-1 (at $200 it was an no-brainer). But a D700 is Serious Cash, and I want somebody local I can go back to for support.

Nikon digital isn't the only alternative. As has been pointed out to me by Matthew Robertson, I should seriously consider a Nikon film camera. I've seen the beautiful results that can be had with Velvia and scanned slides.


The F6, new, body only, is a good $400 less than the D700 new (at least right now). An alternative to the F6 is a used F5, which is what Matthew is recommending. A used F5 from KEH, in like-new condition, is $800. Which is about a $2,000 difference between the D700 and a used F5. As Matthew points out, you can buy an awful lot of film and processing for $2,000. An awful lot.

It's funny to go back and read some of my earlier posts about Olympus and digital. I thought I was finished with film. But now that I've spent five years wrestling with digital and its own set of strengths and weaknesses, I'm beginning to appreciate once again the features and especially the quality of film. I'm approaching this not as a professional but as an artist.

I wish Olympus would go back and make a solid commitment to FourThirds. The E-5, image-wise, can take some remarkable images. But Olympus' shift in direction is no longer where I want to go. I've had more than a year now to work with and get use to the E-P2. I have to admit that the image quality from the E-P2 is top-notch. And maybe even the best. But there are other issues, especially with regards to lens build quality.

Right now, when I reach for a camera, more often than not I reach for the E-1, followed closely by the E-3. I only use the E-P2 when I have to travel. But the E-P2's raison d'être was called into question when I discovered on my trip to El Paso that I could do a lot with the E-1 and a few FourThird lenses in the same amount of space.

I carry both the E-1 and E-3 with me now in the car. They're faster to set up and use, more rugged, and weather resistant. And I've learned to appreciate the qualities of the Kodak sensor in the E-1. And even though the E-3 has more features and twice the resolution, the E-1 body is just a joy to hold and use.

If Olympus would make a solid commitment to FourThirds I'd stay. But Olympus won't and so I'll move on. I'll keep the best Olympus bodies and lenses and use them until they break, as backups to the Nikon, when the Nikon finally arrives.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Groovy Tuesday

Outhouse Acres

No, this isn't an ad for Waste Management. On L.B. McLeod just south of John Young Parkway is a fenced-in piece of property where hundreds of fiberglass outhouses stand shoulder-to-shoulder, ready for service. I stopped to take this because it caught my nose before it caught my eye.

The smell is not what you'd think, so get your mind out of the gutter. The smell coming from the area is cloyingly sweet from the treatment they're all given in order to mask the regular odor such structures would emit. A smell that's especially strong on a hot day with the temperatures reaching into the upper 80s and beyond.

The reason you see this top view is because the fencing around the property is cloaked with a mesh covering to make it a little less obvious to passers by. Except when the wind is blowing the right way on a hot day.

Haunted

Almost right next door to Outhouse Acres sits what's left of a small business. I don't know if it was a store or a small restaurant, but somebody was busy pulling it apart. The fireplace remains confuse me a bit, and makes me wonder if this started life as an old private residence long before L. B. McLeod developed into a business section in west Orlando. I don't know what it's like in other cities, but in Orlando there's lots of small businesses that have crept into former private residences as business sections slowly sprawl further outward.

Twisted

The back of the building gives strong indication that it was a business before it closed and became the center of major deconstruction.

Technical

E-3 on the top photo, E-1 everywhere else. Base ISO all over.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm just a cut price person in a low budget land

Especially on American Tax Day. I never seem to pay enough to satisfy Uncle Sam. And so I look out for budgets like a used E-1 for $200. Fortunately I got the lenses that I use with it when they were on sale years past. I've noticed that everything Olympus sells is now back up to full price (and sometimes higher) since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Leaf Toad

My wife and I were out back when she spotted this little fellow in some leaves she'd raked up earlier in the day. Popped the 50mm on the E-1 and went out to bother the little guy. He (she?) tried to scoot deeper into the leaves, but I pulled a few away and then started to take some photos. He stayed put the entire time.

The hardest part in post was trying to pick out enough detail in the eye (the iris) so that it shows when blown up to 8x10 size, and then you stand in front of it to enjoy the details. I'm not talking pixel peeping, just enjoying some of the details.

Waiting Our Turn

It was a typical Monday, except more so due to taxes. Fortunately the office and other environs were mostly empty (nearly everybody was out at a test event). Being alone on days like this is a good thing.

Sometimes when I get really depressed, I like to imagine I'd learned to ride a motorcycle so I could live an imaginary life without any responsibilities. Except I realize you need a job to pay for a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat (and beer money) and gas, oil, tires and spare parts for the bike. As well as pay for the bike. So much for no responsibilities.

I haven't been able to ride a motorcycle since I put one down with my dad when I was 11. We were both riding together around our neighborhood in Gresham Park (Atlanta, Ga) on a small red European-made motorcycle my mom's brother had given us. It was late afternoon. We were taking a slow turn on the way back home and hit a sandy spot in an intersection. We both put the bike down. I got skinned up on my left, but my dad got it worse. We didn't ride that bike any more after that, and I never got on another one again. My loss, I guess.

Walking around during lunch, I decided to document some of the bits and pieces of "infrastructure" poking up out of the ground or bolted onto the sides of buildings. All the vital little gizmos that lie out in the open, unprotected.

Urban Gizmo #1

Urban Gizmo #2

Urban Gizmo #3


"Low Budget" - The Kinks

Cats and Moons - The Day Before Tax Day

Lazybones

Playing around with the E-1 and Lulu. Needed the break. Lulu seems to be on a constant break. What's funny is that my wife saw this opportunity before I did. I just walked up with the camera and pressed the shutter a few times. My wife has a strong art background, and would have become an artist if her father hadn't passed away when she was 19. But life changed and she turned to English and teaching. Because my wife is my biggest photography fan, I "pay her back" as it were by listening to her suggestions about what to take. She's usually right.

Full Moon 17 April 2011

This is probably the last moon image I'll make with this lens. I'm breaking down and ordering an EC-14 for my 50-200mm. I'll use the OM300mm for a while longer, then maybe give it to my youngest daughter.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Carmen

Sunday Activity

From one extreme to another; after that bad exposure to the Beach Boys last night, my wife and I went to today's performance of Carmen at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in downtown Orlando.

The performance was excellent.

We haven't seen any decent ballet in years; the last performance we attended in Orlando was over 24 years ago on Christmas of 1987, when Ballet Orlando (BO) attempted to perform "The Nutcracker." There wasn't anything good about that performance. The strongest memory I have of that performance was seeing the rope that was underneath the bed, pulling the bed from behind one of the stage curtains onto the stage. And it wasn't a smooth transition; you could see every pull on the rope as the bed slowly jerked its way onto the stage.

That performance left such a bad taste in our mouths that we never went back.

Which is probably our loss. We saw Carmen because my wife picked up two tickets through Groupon at half their regular price. In other words, "buy one, get one free." I was very ambivalent about attending this performance. My wife told me that if Carmen turned out as bad as Nutcracker, we could leave at the intermission. As it turned out, that wasn't necessary.

The performance was excellent. Even though we were sitting up and to the left, we had a clear view of the performance. The pacing, energy and flowing athleticism of the performers on stage was superb. There were none of the miscues and bad timing of 24 years before. Even the youngest performers who played the gypsy children performed at a level far beyond what I would have expected.

This wasn't classical ballet. During certain scenes the dancers stamped their feet (and in one scene, clapped their hands on the stage) in unison and following the beat of the music. It was reminiscent of River Dance. I found it a welcome touch; it added energy and interest to the performance.

The stage and costumes were a welcome change to the ascetic whites of classical ballet. The colors were a lusty mix of strong reds, oranges, and deep purples, almost a harvest color scheme.

Carmen lasted nearly two hours including intermission. I never felt it was too long or too short. When Carmen finally ended, as we were walking back to the car, my wife and I were discussing those aspects we liked about the performance. My wife is now talking about what performances to see next. There's the Vampire's Ball in October, just in time for her birthday. And then, in December, there's The Nutcracker.

Yes, I guess I'm going to attend Orlando Ballet's version of The Nutcracker. Hopefully after 24 years they've found a better way to move the bed on-stage. I actually think I'm looking forward to it.

Your Future Has Been Adjusted

Your Future Has Been Adjusted

It was adjusted decades ago by foreign policies that gave us today's world. Those past adjustments influence today's adjustments, robbing future generations of their choices as well. Choices such as living in an environment that doesn't require owning an automobile. Choices that don't center around oil. Choices that don't center around consumerism in order to have enjoy life, that don't center around affordable and reasonable health care.

Yes, I'm in a sour mood.

I just got back from Universal Studios where the Beach Boys played. It was not enjoyable. The place was overly packed such that I couldn't get my wife into the handicap section. We had to sit outside the main area. At least the music was loud enough (lord, was it loud).

Beach Boys Universal Studios Orlando 2011

I went to Universal this evening packing an E-1 with the Sigma 30mm and an E-3 with the Zuiko 50-200mm. I knew from prior experience out at Universal I was going to be well back from the stage, but I didn't think we'd be completely outside the outdoor concert area.

I found an odd spot well outside the official concert area with some small altitude above most of the crowd that allowed me to use the E-3 and the 50-200mm to snag some shots. I used a spray-and-pray approach to photography this evening, composing and focusing and then just firing off a sequence in the vain hope that something good might get captured. No such luck. Two photos were worth keeping. Or at least posting. One of the two is above, the other below. And I deliberately made sure to include the warning about recording the show. According to my wife they've been doing the same shtick for 44 years. The same shtick.

Beach Boys Universal Studios Orlando 2011
Note the "use" sign lower right. What utter crap.

I don't know what was worse, the fact I could see some of the Beach Boys wearing hearing aides or listening to all the oldsters sing along off-key. Or dance with each other around the area. Did I tell you how much I dislike crowds? We stayed for an hour until they played Good Vibrations, then we headed home. I went because my wife wanted to go, and I'll do it again if she wants to go again. But I absolutely refuse to go just for me. They're not good at all anymore.

And while I'm at it, let me say (again) how poor security is out there. Poor as in rude. Not all, mind you, but a sizable number. Some of them were quite flaming in their lack of professional courtesy.

Musical Instruments

Phonograph

Victrolas

Psychic Reader

I spent more time away from the concert, roaming about looking for interesting night angles, than I did listening to the Beach Boys. Working with the E-1 and the E-3, I discovered that the E-3 under certain low-light circumstances (such as the Beach Boy shots) simply blew the E-1 away as far as image quality is concerned. Yet, when I was careful about exposure and composition, I found that the E-1 could match (but not exceed) the E-3. Why use the E-1 then? Because of the E-1's wonderful ergonomics and sweet sounding shutter that stand head-and-shoulders above the E-3.

The photos in this posting are from both cameras. I'll let you dig out which ones are which and which ones you think are superior. Funny thing is that the E-3 is now back in my good graces along with the E-1, and the E-P2 is currently sitting in the bag. Maybe it's my reaction to what happened to my copy of the µ4/3rds M.Zuiko 17mm. Maybe it's just the way I cycle through my gear. Who knows. All I know is I've re-developed an appreciate for the E-3. And for the last few weeks I've been constantly carrying both E-1 and E-3 in my car with lenses mounted, ready for action.

An embarrassment of riches, as it were, and a dearth of time an opportunity to use it all. That's why I came loaded like I did this evening. Fortunately the dark combined with the black bodies to help disguise what a dork I was.

It's been enjoyable not posting every night. Yes, I broke my 365/2011 personal project by skipping the last two evenings. And it was wonderful.