Posts Tagged ‘photography


Fujifilm’s leather case for the x10 camera

My wife gave me this handsome case for my new Fujifilm x10 camera. The case is fitted to hold the camera with the lens retracted and lens cap on. It’s nicely constructed and compliments the retro styling of the camera. My grandfather had a variety of Leica, Exacta and Contax 35mm cameras from the 1940s and 50s with similar cases.

The top half of the case can be unsnapped and folded back, allowing the photographer to use the camera without completely removing anything. Unless you completely remove the top half, though, you’ll have quite a lot of material hanging behind or below the camera, which could get in your way and inhibit handling. You can completely remove the top of the case and shoot with the camera still nestled in the bottom half (but this creates a problem: where to put the top half while you use the camera).

Unlike some similar cases for other cameras, this case does not feature a threaded screw to attach the bottom half of the case to the tripod socket on the bottom of the camera. This makes the camera slightly less secure. (It could fall out if you had it in the bottom of the case only and if you were moving around very actively–running, jumping, etc.) On the other hand, it is nice to be able to simply lift the camera out of the case without having to unscrew anything from the tripod socket. I like to shoot with no strap attached to the camera, because a strap around the neck inhibits movement and a hanging strap can catch on things or get into the frame and spoil a shot. With this case, I can use the strap on the case to carry the camera, then lift the camera out of the case (with no strap) when I want to shoot. The only problem is that the strap attaches to the case through two leather loops that close with simple snap fasteners–these can easily come undone and your camera will drop free of the strap. Yikes. A strap attached to the lugs on the camera itself is much more secure.

Bottom line: this case, like the Fuji x10, is attractive, but not meant for serious professional use.

The handsome fitted leather case for the Fujifilm x10 camera.

The Fujifilm x10 easily lifts out of its case, with no threaded bolt attached to the tripod socket.

With the top half folded back, you can use the camera, albeit somewhat awkwardly.

Here you can see the precarious snaps that attach the strap to the case. Note also that the case slightly obstructs access to some buttons.


First impressions of the Fuji x10 camera

The Fujifilm x10

Despite limited supply, I managed to get my own Fujifilm x10 Camera a few weeks ago and play with it a bit. The x10 falls into the category of “enthusiast compact camera,” meaning that it has several advanced features that will appeal to serious amateur photographers. Most importantly, the Fuji x10 offers manual (and easily accessible) control of exposure. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation can all be adjusted with just a few clicks, turns or button presses — rather than a hunt through several layers of menus. White balance adjustment can also be accomplished with a minimum of fuss.

The sensor in the x10 is physically a bit larger than you’d find in most point and shoot cameras, which should translate to lower noise at higher ISO settings. Combining this larger sensor with a wide aperture will also produce shallower depth of field than would be possible on most point and shoot cameras. The lens of the x10 zooms through a range with angle of view (in terms of a 35mm full-frame camera) equivalent to 28mm-112mm. Impressively, it offers a maximum aperture of f2.0 at the wide end of the zoom range, and maintains a maximum aperture of f2.8 even at the telephoto 112mm. Fuji has a reputation for making excellent optics — high-end Hasselblad H2 lenses are made by Fuji. (Yes, I know that many Hasselblad lenses are made by Carl Zeiss or Schneider Kreuznach–but indeed, many lenses for the H1 and H2 are made by Fujifilm, as were some earlier Hasselblad lenses for film camera systems like the panoramic XPan.)

The retro styling of the x10 is reminiscent of Leica rangefinder cameras, including an optical viewfinder located off-center above the lens. Most compacts forgo an optical viewfinder in order to reduce the size of the camera, expecting the photographer to compose with the LCD instead. Using the LCD has some drawbacks, though — it eats up battery power and can be hard to see in bright light. The optical viewfinder on the x10 is not TTL. Consequently you won’t see an accurate representation of depth of field, and at macro range you’ll have a severe parallax problem if you try to use the optical finder. (The finder does zoom with the lens, though.)

The Fujifilm x10 is approximately the same size as an Olympus PEN. Note that the Olympus is wearing a 17mm prime lens (no zoom) , whereas the lens on the Fujifilm zooms from wide to telephoto. The Fujifilm x10 also has an optical viewfinder and a pop-up flash, which are not included on this Olympus. (The micro four thirds sensor in the Olympus is larger than the sensor in the x10, though.)

I don’t like the supplied “slip on” lens cap, which is much bigger than typical snap on lens caps. The lens cap for the x10 is made of painted aluminum, and I immediately dinged mine by dropping the cap (not the camera) on the sidewalk while fumbling to put it in my pocket. Annoyingly, the lens cap must be removed in order to turn the camera on — even if you intend only to navigate menus and change settings on the LCD screen. To turn the camera on, you begin to rotate the rotate the zoom ring on the lens. To turn the camera off, you rotate the lens past the 28mm mark. Another reviewer speculated that users would be forever turning their cameras off accidentally while trying to zoom the lens. I don’t think that’s likely, because there is a positive tactile stop you can feel when you hit 28mm.

The fujifilm x10 offers approximately the same feature set as other compact enthusiast cameras, such as this (discontinued) Canon Powershot G9.

The Fujifilm x10 is not as pocketable as this Canon G9 Powershot, because the Canon's lens retracts completely inside the camera body. The Fuji lens offers significantly wider aperture, though. (f2.8 at maximum telephoto, compared to the Canon's f4.8.)

The x10 is approximately the same size as the Sony NEX 5 (or 5n, which has the same form factor) with wide angle pancake lens. The x10 is a bit taller, to accommodate the flash and viewfinder.

A more accurate size comparison between the Fujifilm x10 and the Sony NEX 5: Here the Sony is equipped with an 18-55mm zoom lens, which has a shorter zoom range and smaller maximum aperture than the Fujifilm x10. Why are interchangeable lenses so much bigger than zoom lenses on compact cameras? Because the larger sensor (like the APS-C sensor in this Sony) require a lens that can project a larger image circle, big enough to extend beyond the corners of the sensor with minimal vignetting.

One of the headline features of the x10 is Fujifilm’s EXR sensor, which promises to allow the photographer either to shoot at maximum resolution, or to sacrifice resolution for greater dynamic range or lower noise. In my limited testing of the x10, the EXR features have so far proved underwhelming. I will shoot some additional test photos and post them here with an update of this review.

Another frustration was the limited support for the x10’s RAW files. When I first received the camera, neither Adobe Camera Raw nor Apple Aperture supported the x10. So while I could shoot RAW photos, I could not open them on a computer. Today I downloaded the recent update to Adobe Camera Raw, and I was able to process a few images. I was disappointed to see that at ISO 400, photos from the x10 exhibited considerable luminance noise. I was also surprised to see that, though I had set the camera to shoot both RAW and JPEG photos, the images I shot in EXR mode were recorded as JPEG files only (no accompanying RAW image was recorded).

This JPEG image was shot on the Fujifilm x10 at ISO 800 using the camera's EXR mode for increase dynamic range. The dynamic range is pretty good, but the noise and JPEG artifacts are a problem for me.

The Fujifilm x10 offers a sweep panorama feature. Depress the shutter and slowly sweep the camera across 120, 180, or 360 degree panoramas. The camera takes several exposures and stitches them together. In order not to exceed the capacity of the buffer, the camera captures a series of standard quality JPEG images to create the composite. When you begin shooting a panorama, the camera's LCD shows a horizon line and uses the internal accelerometer to let you know if you're moving off axis as you sweep. This is a fun feature, but not one I'm likely to use often. If you want panoramic photos with better image quality, shoot a sequence of overlapping RAW photos and use the "Photomerge" feature in CS5 to stitch them together.

Photographed with the Fujifilm x10 at ISO 400. RAW (.RAF) file converted using Adobe Camera Raw 6.6


World Trade Center Photographs

I was working at the Department of Photography and Imaging at NYU when the towers fell. To see them, we had to take turns leaning out the window of the photo studio on the 8th floor. My colleague Karl was leaning out the window when the second tower came down. “They’re gone,” he said, straightening.

Six hours later, when the L train was again running, I returned to my apartment in Brooklyn, got my camera, and took this photo on the banks of the East River

I remembered that I had taken this photo, in February of 2001, in which the World Trade Center was visible in the background.

I returned to the same site and took this photograph in September of 2001. The smoke from Ground Zero is illuminated by rescue lights, and silhouettes the Woolworth's building.

Weeks after the attacks, I walked with my neighbor Susan along the banks of the East River, and we found the still-burning candles at this impromptu shrine. Susan sat down among the candles and I took this photo, which was later included in the book Here is New York and the related exhibitions.


Congratulations to Philip Levine, the 18th United States Poet Laureate

I met and photographed Philip Levine in 2001, when he was teaching poetry at New York University, where I was a grad student. Levine is one of my favorite poets. His books What Work Is and The Simple Truth are terse, readable monographs that use plain language strikingly.

In the classroom, Levine had a reputation as an honest — simetimes harshly honest — critic. When a friend of mine submitted a poem to his workshop for critique, several of her peers took turns praising one particularly beautiful line. Levine listened patiently to all the congeatulationd, then offered his own blunt assessment: “It’s a fine line,” he said. “Why don’t you put it in a poem?”

I asked Levine if I could photograph him, and he agreed, on the condition that it wouldn’t take long and wouldn’t be overly complicated. I followed him around the Village while he ran errands. We talked while I shot one roll (16 frames) of medium-format black-and-white film with my Contax 645. Here are a few of the resulting photographs of Philip Levine:

This image is available for license:

Levine succeeds W.S. Merwin as US Poet Laureate. The two men are both outstanding writers, each with a totally unique style. I had the opportunity to photograph Merwin in 2005:


Long Day of Headshot Photography

Last Sunday, I rented a meeting room in the Holiday Inn Midtown (which used to be a Hilton, and used to be managed by my dad), for a full day photographing actors and models with Acclaim Talent.

I enlisted the help of Lindy Michelle Willis, a good photographer in her own right who has assisted me in the past with weddings and bridal portraits. We photographed one actor per hour, for eleven hours. Lots of work!

This was a good opportunity for me to use a few of my newest pieces of studio equipment, including a large boom from Calumet, which is excellently counterbalanced for a “zero gravity” effect — without adjusting any knobs, you can move the position of the light, and it will just stay wherever you leave it. I have the Calumet boom mounted on a sturdy Avenger wind-up cine stand on casters.

I also made good use of Profoto’s Air Synch and Air Remote. I used three Profoto D1 monolights (which have built-in Air receivers), and a Calumet Genesis 300B monolight (which I synched into the Profoto Air system by attaching an Air synch in “receive” mode.) With a Profoto Air remote mounted on the hotshoe of my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, I was able to trigger all four lights simultaneously, and to selectively turn off any of them, or even adjust the individual output of the three D1 units. This setup offered excellent control and reliability.

My lighting setup for headshots, featuring Profoto D1 lights and Calumet's excellent boom.


Thursday Night Ice; Friday Night Lights

My portrait of Pulitzer Prize winner Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights

I got calls all day Thursday from people wondering whether Bissinger’s public lecture would be cancelled.

“Why would it be?” I asked.

This is Texas, where the threat of an inch of snow in February is enough to shut down the Interstate and cancel school.

“What if it snows?”

“It’s not going to snow.”

“What if it does? What if the conference center closes?”

“It’s a hotel,” I said. “Hotels never close.”

This much I knew. My father had managed the Austin North Hilton and Towers while I was in high school. I worked there as a banquet waiter and a room service attendant. When three tornadoes had touched down nearby, killing the power, I had answered phone calls in the pitch dark kitchen, explaining to hotel guests that I’d be happy to complete their room service order as soon as the power was back.

What about beer? You don’t need electricity to bring me a beer, do you?

The elevators are out. You’re on the ninth floor.

What if I meet you half way?

Another time there was an ice storm and many hotel employees had called in, saying they were afraid to drive to work. “I’ll pick you up,” Dad had said. I rode with him as he made the rounds early that morning, rolling slowly but confidently through the suburbs, shuttling bellboys and concierges and waiters and housemen and security guards, all of them downhearted that their snow day had been denied.

Despite the weather this week, the AT&T Executive Hotel and Conference Center at UT remained open, and about 75 people clustered in the center of the 300-seat amphitheater to hear Buzz give his talk on “Friday Night Lights and Beyond: The Critical State of Sports Today.”

His 1990 book Friday Night Lights had been called a cautionary tale by some reviewers. Maybe some people had been stirred by that warning, Buzz said, but it’s been forgotten. Things are worse today.

Using the new $60 million high school stadium in Allen as a timely example, he railed against a culture dominated by sports. He thumped the podium metronomically as he opined on the exploitation of student athletes, the astronomical salaries of college coaches, and the budget deficit in Texas which will cause cuts in education and social services even while funding for athletics expands.

“Don’t for a minute believe that it pays for itself,” he said. “It does not.”

It’s true. Taxpayers have volunteered millions for new stadiums in cities and towns throughout the country, with promises of new jobs and increased revenue. Those promises almost always fall short.

On stage, Bissinger assumed the mantle of provocateur, speaking courageously to what he presumed, I think, would be a hostile audience. He challenged the culture of Longhorn boosterism. Delivered elsewhere on campus, this speech might have been controversial, but the audience Thursday night consisted mainly of Plan II Honors students and Liberal Arts faculty, who were seemingly in agreement that sports had too much emphasis at UT.

After the talk, I attended a small dinner party for Buzz where I was one of the only people in the room without a Pulitzer Prize. Glenn Frankel, David Oshinsky, Michael Stoff and their spouses traded stories with Bissinger about autism, plagiarism, polio, Glenn Beck, the Ku Klux Klan, TV dramas, segregated university housing, e-publishing, academia and the future of journalism. But the conversation reliably circled back to sports—football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, tennis, golf, squash.

I tried, a bit nervously, to insert myself into the conversation. “Well—” I would say. “I—”

I wasn’t the youngest person in the room. Tim Taliaferro was there, too, about my age. Tim knows a lot about sports, though, and he had plenty to contribute to the conversation.

I only have three stories about sports. I had previously related my experience of getting pepper-sprayed at a soccer match to some of the same dinner guests (at a different dinner, a year before). There was also the story about my dad, who had been mentioned once in Sports Illustrated for losing a wrestling match that ended his high school’s unprecedented winning streak. I didn’t feel like sharing that episode, so this night I told my only other sports story, about how I had worked with Jason Cohn for Reuters in Pittsburgh for exactly one night, photographing the Pirates.

With the exception of Jason, who is kind and encouraging, the Pittsburgh sports photographers were the worst people I had ever encountered. They were nasty, intentionally elbowing and bumping each other to spoil shots. They hated the players, the fans and the officials. They hated each other and they hated themselves. One of them threw a temper tantrum when he couldn’t find the batteries he thought he’d packed. I offered him some of my own double-As, but he refused to accept them. I left the batteries on an empty seat. A few minutes later I saw the same photographer (from the Post Gazette or the Tribune or AP — I can’t remember which) popping my Duracells into his Pocket Wizard without even acknowledging me. The photographers criticized my camera (a $2500 Fuji DSLR), my age (24), my inexperience (two years working full time for the Department of Photography at NYU). They criticized my lens for being too small (200 mm) and my CF cards for being too big (1GB). I confided in Jason that I had no desire to come back.

“And your photos?” Betsyellen asked. “How were they?”

“The photos were fine,” I said. “The photos were good.”

“You weren’t tough enough,” Glenn said, teasing me in a friendly way.

“You know what?” I said. “That’s fine.”

The faculty club politely shooed us out at nearly one in the morning.

Indeed, there was a light dusting of frost on the sidewalks and the grass outside. “Slippery,” Michael said. “I hope we have a snow day tomorrow. Otherwise I’ve got to teach first thing in the morning.”

Driving home, the roads were mostly empty. Every few miles there was a car inexplicably wrecked in a ditch where no hazard but panicked braking had caused a forty-foot skid off the road. Distant sirens throbbed and intensified, until suddenly the blue and red urgency of an ambulance flashed past me on the highway. The few other drivers were creeping along at twenty miles an hour with blinkers telegraphing their cautious uncertainty.

I was confident in my 4×4—amused and annoyed by the snow-timid Texans. I was born in Alaska. I had lived in Utah and New York and Pennsylvania. I had driven through blizzards. I had driven through the Razorback Mountains in the dead of winter, through frozen Raton Pass, over the Rockies. My father was from blustery Buffalo and had taught me how to pump the brakes and how to turn into a skid. My father had taught me not to be daunted by nasty weather. Tough it out. Life goes on despite the weather.

Rehearsing the eulogy for Dad’s funeral in Denver, I had read aloud for my uncle Alan, asking for advice. I wanted to practice, because it was hard to speak those significant words — those few lines that were expected to sum up a life — without getting choked up. It was hard even to look Alan in the face, because if he saw how difficult it was for me to say anything at all, pity would well up in his eyes and I’d be overcome. Instead of looking at him I looked out the window at the snow-covered roads and the barren trees.

“Take as much time as you need,” Alan said. “They’ll wait for you. It’s important for them to hear you say something. Some kind of context. They’ll wait to hear it.”

“This line, I said. I’m not sure about it: ‘He taught me how to tie a necktie, how to take pictures, how to grow vegetables and how to drive.'”

“It’s a good line,” Alan said. “It’s intimate. It lets them see your dad in a way that nobody else knew him.”

“I just don’t want it to be a laugh line,” I said. “I don’t want it to strike anybody as something funny,” I said.

“Why would it?”

“About him teaching me how to drive,” I said. “Because, you know—that’s how he died. In a wreck.”

Alan did laugh then, just a chuckle. “I think it’s okay,” he said. “They’re not going to make that connection.”


New Lens reviewed: Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM

Fortuitously, the first time I took my new lens out for a walk, I saw a plane passing near the daytime moon. The image on the left is a crop at 100%, on the right, the uncropped photo as recorded at 200mm on my EOS 7D.

The Canon 7D with the updated “II” version of the 70-200mm f2.8 L lens

As a portraitist and product photographer, I often use short telephoto prime lenses. I prefer the 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM for tabletop product photography, and the 135mm f2L USM (sometimes with a 1.4x extender) if I need a long reach outdoors or in a convention hall. My favorite short telephoto lens for portraits is the Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM, which (on a “full frame” 35mm camera) offers perfect compression and magnification for head-and-shoulders composition for a single subject. This lens is also capable of extraordinarily shallow depth of field effects, which can be hard to master — at f1.4, I occasionally find that my subject’s eye lashes are sharply focused, but the eyeballs are soft.

Many of my colleagues forgo this set of several prime lenses and instead purchase a telephoto zoom, which is less expensive (compared to the cumulative cost of three or four prime lenses) and more versatile, especially for event photography, when frequent lens changes could cause interruptions and missed shots.

I’ve owned several telephoto zoom workhorse lenses over the years — two versions of the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8, as well as the Canon 70-200mm f4L IS USM. I found that the f2.8 lenses produced acceptable resolution and contrast, suitable for event photography and journalism (but noticeably less sharp than a good prime). The Canon 70-200mm f4 was impressively sharp for a zoom lens, but wasn’t quite as fast at acquiring focus in low light (because the f4 aperture doesn’t allow as much light to land on the autofocus sensors). None of these lenses performed as well as the best primes, and they also had the disadvantage of being large and heavy.

I used a telephoto zoom lens for several hours at a wedding in 2008, and afterwards had a tingling sensation in the tips of my left ring finger and pinkie. This tingling persisted for several days, so I asked my doctor about it. He said it might go away, but that it could be nerve damage.

A few moths later, with my fingers still tingling, I visited a specialist who performed a nerve conductivity test. He put electrodes on my arm and hand at various points and shocked me, measuring the time it took the electrical pulse to travel across my ulnar nerve. Then he stabbed the needle-sharp end of an electrical wire into the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger. This wire translated the electrical activity in my nerve endings into an audible signal. We listened together to the scratches and pops that issued from a small speaker next to the examination table.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said, “You’ve got nerve damage. And significant muscle loss in your hand. I’m going to send my report to your doctor, and he’ll most likely refer you to an orthopedic surgeon. You’ll want an upper extremity guy — an arm guy.”

“Were you in any kind of an accident?” The surgeon (the arm guy) asked me. “Did you hit your elbow very hard?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Any repetitive tasks?”

“I’m a photographer,” I said. “I raise and lower my camera, and I support the lens with my left hand — like this,” I said, pantomiming.

“How much does your camera weigh?” he asked.

“Depends on the lens. With a big lens, a battery pack, and a flash — maybe ten pounds.”

He shrugged.

The surgery I had in November of 2009 — an ulnar nerve transposition — stopped the tingling in my fingertips and left me with an five-inch scar on my elbow. A year later, my left hand is still weaker than my right, and I have persistent numbness in those fingertips. The surgeon did say that he found an extra muscle in my elbow that only about 1% of people have, and that it was possible the muscle might have been crushing the nerve. He removed the muscle and moved the nerve to a new location on the other side of my arm.

The scar on my elbow from an ulnar nerve transposition, possibly the consequence of a repetitive stress injury from using heavy telephoto lenses.

So it remains a mystery wether my nerve damage was caused by a mutant muscle or was the consequence of supporting a too-heavy lens for too many hours. I swore off heavy zoom lenses…temporarily.

This Fall though, I attempted to photograph a wedding using only prime lenses. This involved a lot of running around and a lot of quick lens changes. Even with two camera bodies, I never seemed to have the appropriate focal length ready at the moment I needed it. At about the same time, I began reading breathless reviews of the newly updated Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM. It was as good, the critics claimed, as any prime.

With future weddings and conference shoots scheduled for the near future, and with Canon offering a $200 rebate on the lens, I decided to give a big zoom another try. What I discovered:

In studio conditions and at identical apertures, the new Canon telephoto zoom is just as sharp as the 85mm f1.2L II USM, the gold standard for short telephoto resolution. The 85 is of course capable of significantly shallower depth of field, and offers a noticeably brighter viewfinder image, helpful for manual focus. (Despite the smaller maximum aperture, the 70-200 will typically autofocus faster than the 85 due to a more sophisticated USM.) And the 85 is shorter, less conspicuous, and fully a pound lighter than the new 70-200.

Here are two portraits I made recently of my friend and mentor Paul Woodruff, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Both photos were lit by Profoto D1 monolights, but with different lighting setups and slightly different apertures (f9 for the first and f14 for the second) so this is not an ideal test, but an imperfect “real world” comparison of the 85mm prime versus the 70-200 zoom set at 85mm, with the same subject and the same camera.

Photographed with the 85mm f1.2L II USM

Photographed with the 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM at 85mm

Both of these photos of Dr. Woodruff were shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II in RAW, and converted with ACR in CS5 with minimal adjustment and no further retouching. The zoom lens seems to have a bit higher contrast (attributable, perhaps, to differences in lighting.) I don’t see an appreciable difference in sharpness.

So, in terms of image quality, I am quite pleased with the new zoom lens. But it’s no great joy to use. Here are some helpful size comparisons:

My new zoom lens in a side-by-side comparison with my 135mm and 85mm primes

And here let's compare the 70-200 and the two Canon short telephoto primes, all without their lens hoods. For another point of reference, I've included my Carl Zeiss 140mm f2.8 lens for the Contax 645. Even measured against a medium format telephoto lens, the 70-200 is a monster.

The 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM mounted with a 1.4x extender to a Canon EOS 5D Mark II

My conclusion: Canon’s new 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM will produce outstanding results comparable to even the best prime lenses in the same focal range. It is, however, brutally heavy to hand hold and carry. If you need a general purpose lens for tasks including event photography as well as portraiture, get the new telephoto zoom and a monopod to help support it for longer sessions. If you are interested exclusively in a portrait lens, get the 85, which remains superb and will be easier on your arms and on your back.

July 2018
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