A Year in Photos

Photography, fiction, and personal essays form my three primary creative outlets. For this blog's first 18 months, I used it primarily for photography. As I've returned to creative writing, I'll use this blog for fiction, too. Sometimes, when reality needs to be discussed more than truth, I write personal essays.

This blog will continue to showcase as many above-average photos as I can muster. Hopefully my written work will be as good or better than the visual. Whichever drew you here -- photographs or fiction, I hope you enjoy both.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Bronica S2A Review and Photos

Many beautiful things have difficult births or origins beset with strife. Ireland’s great artistic blossoming occurred after famine. America’s great technological growth followed on the heels of multiple wars. Throughout the history of mainland Europe, the greatest periods of artistic and scientific advancement followed strife or natural disasters. Because, for humanity, challenge is a necessary catalyst for creation. And, excepting the 1964 Ford Mustang, creations of true beauty take time, revision, hours, and great and prolonged thought.

Form, shape, and feel are classic words used throughout the last half century to describe cameras and their use. A modern, and I argue better word, is interface. Interface grabs all the older concepts and bundles them into a nice, tidy package. For the last half century, camera reviewers have gotten a lot right about describing how to use a camera. What they consistently fail to do, even what the nice little bundle of concepts in the word interface fails to do, is move beyond a description of the way that a photographer uses a camera to discuss the way that a photographer connects with their camera.

Rose | Bronica S2a | Nikon Nikkor 25cm f/4 | Rollei Digibase Color Negative 200

No one word better conveys all the myriad aspects of that concept than connection. A connection is an easy concept to understand. A connection, sure, is plugging a lamp into a wall. But it’s more. We feel a connection when we look across the bar at someone and our eye contact lasts a little longer than might be expected. We make a connection with a firm handshake and a greeting. We build, strengthen, and maintain our connections when we invest our time, thoughts, and emotions. Connections, true and honest and real connections, the kind that last years or decades, have difficult origins beset with happenstance, conflict, and challenges. A true connection is a thing of great beauty and value, whether it is with a person, a wild animal, or a camera.

On January 17, 1952, Zenzaburo Yoshino began the design of a lifelong dream, construction of an amazing and innovative camera. Seven years later, in 1959, the first Bronica met the world. Seven years. Long enough to go through college and graduate school. Almost twice as long as the average time that people today stay at an employer. Entire stock market cycles can occur in seven years. A child can progress from birth to the completion of second grade in seven years. Think about your life over the last seven years, where you were seven years ago, who you were seven years ago, and ask what in your life is recognizable today from then. Through that lens, a seven-year design cycle on a vision, a dream, an unproven product from a company that had previously made nothing more complicated than a cigarette lighter, becomes a rare and beautiful venture, likely beset with challenges, strife, and hardship. Nothing like that could happen in the camera world today.

Creek | Bronica S2a | Nikon Nikkor 25cm f/4 | CineStill 800T

From that seven years of design and engineering, Bronica created one of the most beautifully designed cameras ever put into mass production. From where I sit, I am unaware of a more attractive 6X6 camera. The Bronica, like many of the gorgeous mid-to-late fifties designs from Japan, channeled both the classical elements of traditional Japanese design while embracing the best parts of contemporary Western design.

In one of my favorite personal essays, Junichiro Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows,” Tanizaki writes “There are those who hold that to quibble over matters of taste in the basic necessities of life is an extravagance, that as long as a house keeps out the cold and as long as food keeps off starvation, it matters little what they look like.”

Insects in Light | Bronica S2a | Zenzanon 80mm f/2.4 | Fuji Velvia 50

I say let us be extravagant. Let us quibble over matters of taste in camera design. The Bronica S and C cameras have clean, flowing lines that simultaneously channel and improve on both art deco and mid-century modern aesthetics. Those design aesthetics are filtered through the eye of one of the last generations who could have heard stories from people who lived before Japan opened itself to the West. I would argue that in the same way that nostalgia influences the designs of modern cars, camera, buildings, and clothes, a nostalgia for a simpler time in Japan, for a more traditional Japanese design aesthetic, had to influence the Bronica’s design.

The Bronica arose from mid-century Japan, a time when Japan was coming of its own on the international stage and transitioning from the classic Japan of modern folklore to the Japan that we would recognize today. Against that backdrop, while other Japanese camera makers were busy cloning German cameras, Zenzaburo Yoshino was designing his own.

Soft Focus Grasses after Fire | Bronica S2a | Zenzanon 80mm f/2.4 | Ilford Delta 3200

Tanizaki later in the same paragraph I’ve already read from, goes on to ask of the Japanese people, “Suppose for instance that we had developed our own physics and chemistry: would not the techniques and industries based on them have taken a different form…” I say, suppose, for instance, that a camera aficionado took it upon himself to design a camera from scratch using design and engineering principles clearly Japanese in origin. Would not that camera take a different form, with sensibilities that tastefully and thoughtfully incorporate components in places and with clean lines that facilitate use and hide the vulgarity of obviousness that thoughtless design embraces? Would not that much more Japanese design have looked outwardly elegant and simple, yet be and operated in a manner second nature to the photographer?

The S2A’s user interface is refined to simplify and streamline every operation. The lens mount and mirror are engineered to make the camera as small as possible for the film format. The engineering goes to great lengths to keep the camera body thin and to allow the camera to nest well in almost anyone’s hands.

Three Reeds | Bronica S2a | Nikkor 105mm f/3.5 Leaf Shutter | Ilford Delta 3200

Beautiful design divides people. Beautiful design creates camps of those who love and those who hate, often with little middle ground. There are large swathes of people who hate the S2A, write it off as derivative of Hasselblad and with a dimmer focusing screen. And there are those photographers who have picked up an S2A, felt a connection, and realized that a camera is more than a light-proof box with some round glass slapped on the front. I’ll paraphrase one of my friends, a devout Hasselblad man, from a few months ago. “If I had come across the Bronica at the same time as the Hasselblad instead of just now, I would be a Bronica user.” And the reason for that is simple: with Bronica, the camera’s connection with the photographer is primary and dictates the camera’s construction. With other similar systems, the camera’s engineering and placement of gears and cams dictates the camera’s construction.

The S2A was designed to allow as many potential uses for as many people as possible, to gift the photographer with the ability to create beyond the typical bounds of camera design. Truly, the Bronica S2A is not the sum of thoughtfulness, features, and design that defined its origin. No, the S2A is made more substantial, more complete, by the creativity and ingenuity which a connection with this camera inspires and encourages in the photographer.

House on Hill | Bronica S2a | Nikon Nikkor 25cm f/4 | Fuji Velvia 50

Monday, July 16, 2018

Pentax K-1 Review and Photos

Purple Flower | Pentax K-1 | Pentax D-FA 100mmf/2.8 Macro

Pentax fans waited 15 years to finally see a full-frame Pentax DSLR. With every new flagship announcement starting with the K-7, Pentaxian got their hopes up that maybe this would finally be their full-frame camera. And each time the new flagship specs leaked, it turned out to be another, albeit impressive, APS-C body. Hoya provided scant and coy details about any full frame plans.  Ricoh, when they bought the Pentax brand, assured Pentaxians that full frame had a future, but that it had to be the right future. And then Pentaxians would see another APS-C body, wring their hands, spit out swears at Hoya or Ricoh, and rush to Pentax Forums to write diatribes about leaving the Pentax brand for Nikon. When the K-1 arrived, Pentaxians, like cave dwellers exiting into the sun for the first time, saw it, blinked, and realized their full frame camera had found the right future.

In the year that I’ve had the K-1, it has become my digital workhorse. I’ve used it for indoor sports shoots, beach trips, a LOT of tabletop studio work, pet photos, astrophotography, portraits, and other work. In the last year, I’ve put only 20,000 photos on the camera, far less than expected, and that’s largely due to the substantial amount of film I’m shooting for the All About Film series on this channel. However, every time I use the K-1 it’s a joy and any time I take a film camera with me I look at the K-1’s case and ask if I really want to shoot film that day.

Martini Money Shot | Pentax K-1 | Pentax D-FA 100mmf/2.8 Macro

I have not used a better digital camera than the K-1. I will not go so far as to say that I have never used a better camera than the K-1, though. Even with a year of using the K-1, the jury is still out on whether I think this is the best camera I’ve ever used. It’s great, but the greatness is offset by some limitations.

The K-1 has some amazing capabilities. The pictures in this slide show should tell you something about the camera. The sensor is stunningly sharp. The colors are vivid, luminous, rich, and bright. And at 36 megapixels, the images carry a sublime level of detail and, at their native, in-camera 300 dpi resolution, print poster-sized images from an uncropped original with no quality loss. The K-1, at 300 dpi, can make prints that rival, or often best, the 645 medium-format film cameras that were the staple of professional photographers for decades.

Milky Way over the Bunk House | Pentax K-1 | Pentax FA Limited 31mm f/1.8

What these photos won’t tell you is that the raw files have more exposure compensation correction latitude than Photoshop CS6 can provide. These photos won’t tell you that the images from the K-1 habitually need less work in post than comparable images from every camera I’ve used before this one, and a lot of that has to do with how well the sensor works and how well the software in the camera pairs with the light meter. For almost all imagery needs, this camera is a magnificent creation and will far outpace the needs of almost anyone who picks it up.

The flip-out screen is interface and engineering genius. The photographer should be behind the camera and the screen can be seen from behind it very well, at any angle the photographer could possibly need to use. No it doesn’t flip forward. But if a flip-out screen that allows you to take selfies with your DSLR is a requirement, it might be worth asking if maybe a smartphone is a better option. Spoiler alert: It is. Photographers stand behind their cameras.

Western Fence Lizard and Fly | Pentax K-1 | Pentax D-FA 100mmf/2.8 Macro

For photographers looking at the K-1, I’ve found that it is very well suited for studio, tabletop, product, food, macro, portrait, architecture, astrophotography, and landscape work. It would also work well for reproducing or creating archival digital files of artwork and important documents, especially in pixel-shift mode. And if you want to use a pixel-shift image for forensic analyses of documents, artwork, or even injuries, the K-1’s 150-megabyte pixel-shifted raw files contain so much data that the output will be surprising when backed with good image analysis skills.

The build quality is amazing and the K-1 can take some decent bangs and bumps without issue. But for the build strength, it’s light enough that it won’t break your back hiking with it, but I say this as someone who routinely hikes with all-mechanical medium- and large-format cameras, so my perspective on what’s heavy for hiking may be skewed.

Tobie | Pentax K-1 | Pentax FA Limited 77mm f/1.8

The K-1 is not a perfect camera and I have some frustrations. The camera’s frame rates are way too slow for sports and action work. The video output is HD, not the 4K it should be, and the HD is a bit lackluster in the highlight detail. The AF is the best Pentax has ever released, but that’s like winning a third-tier baking contest at the county fair – sure, it’s the best one there, but no one cares.

But chief among my frustrations, and this frustration is very challenging for me because rectifying it would mean sacrificing one of my favorite aspects of the camera, is the 36-megapixel sensor. I love the photos from this sensor, but my computer is seven years old and editing photos from the K-1 taxes it. If you buy a K-1 and plan to edit pixel-shifted, or even normal, raw files, anticipate a computer upgrade if you haven’t done so recently. That doesn’t mean buy a new computer, but you may need to help your existing computer out a bit. To help my computer keep up with the K-1, I maxed out my RAM, upgraded my photo editing hard drive to a faster model with a larger cache so that I could store the K-1’s images and allow Photoshop the space is needs for scratch disk space, and put an additional cooling fan in the case specifically for the RAM. The files have so much data that until I added the new fan, my RAM and processor were overheating and crashing the computer if I edited too many K-1 photos. And all of that means, too, that the computer needs more air and now traps a lot more dust, so it needs more frequent cleaning. These are some of the real-world consequences to getting a camera with a ludicrous number of megapixels.

Dancer in Smoke | Pentax K-1 | Pentax D-FA 100mmf/2.8 Macro

So if you have an old computer, plan to budget for some replacement or upgrade parts in addition to this camera when you set your money aside. If you shoot photos in any meaningful quantity, or do any high-end editing, your old computer will run out of storage space and the performance will suffer quickly under the weight of the K-1’s files.

And speaking of slow computers, the K-1’s on-board computer is underpowered, like the camera needs a tugboat but it got a strong dude in a canoe. The camera’s drive mode speeds, relative ease with which the K-1 underruns its buffer, especially when shooting in raw, and the time needed to clear the buffer when it fills all reflect this underpowered processing capacity.
Flyball Dog | Pentax K-1 | Pentax FA Limited 77mm f/1.8

And Ricoh could have solved both of these problems – the significant computing power needed to edit K-1 photos and the lackluster on-board computer performance – with one simple move: fewer megapixels. Even a 12- or 16-megapixel full frame sensor is more than most people need. A smaller sensor would have alleviated the processing strain for owners’ computers. A smaller sensor would have allowed the camera’s buffer to last far longer. It would have been like keeping the strong dude in the canoe but asking him to pull a small sailboat instead of an ore ship.

But I said most people. And for the K-1, the target market, high-end landscape, architecture, product, and portrait photographers, all those megapixels are needed. So for the primary audience for which this camera was designed, it does exactly what they need, and the both the image data size, supporting computing power, and relatively low-power on-board computer are non-issues.
Rollei Vario Chrome | Pentax K-1 | Pentax D-FA 100mmf/2.8 Macro

All photography has compromise. All photography has trade-offs. This is the nature of our hobby or profession. The K-1 asks that photographers make some compromises. For most photographers, they are inconsequential or insignificant and the K-1 will be far more camera than most anyone could ever fully use. For some professionals, such as sports photographers, the compromises mean that this camera is not well suited to their demands. If you’re a photographer looking at a K-1, you are far enough along in your hobby or profession to understand your shooting style, and to know from what I’ve said here if the K-1 is a good fit for you. If you don’t know your shooting style well, the K-1 will be unforgiving. But if you do, and if your subjects and style mesh well with the K-1, you will find that this is an amazing tool and a ready companion for advancing your creative vision.
Milky Way over the Old Chevrolet | Pentax K-1 | Pentax FA Limited 31mm f/1.8

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Minolta Maxxum 5 (Dynax 5, Alpha Sweet II) Review and Photos

Minolta Maxxum 5 (Dynax 5, Alpha Sweet II) Review and Photos

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 28mm f/2.8 | Fuji Velvia 50

Painter Robert Henri said “Human faces are incentive to great adventure. The picture is the trace of the adventure.” Trace, in this sense, means “a mark, object, or other indication of the existence or passing of something.” The picture, I argue, is the trace of any adventure. The Maxxum 5 is a great companion for that adventure.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 50mm f/1.4 | Rollei Vario Chrome

Is the Five the best thing to come out of the 1990s at all? Well, not quite, but whether you call it the Five or the Alpha Sweet II; this is the best 90’s entry-to-mid-level camera. Period. End of story. The Five so far out paces the comparable cameras, and some of the better cameras, from the other makers of the time that it’s staggering to me these aren’t widely seen as one of the modern classics. There are some basic features in this camera that other makers’ lacked, like a metal mounting flange, automatic switching to high-speed flash sync with shutter speeds faster than 1/125th (with three specific Minolta flashes), amazing compactness, lightness beyond belief (it weighs only 335 grams), and structural strength that makes the user ask if it can possibly be a plastic 90’s camera. Oh, and I forgot to mention the easy one-handed operation. I’ve never used a camera with the same level of features that this has that can be operated, almost all of the time, with just the right hand.

The Five does have some weaknesses, like the semi-frequent failure in the penta mirror’s silver that causes the reflective system to turn yellow and blue, greatly diminishing the viewfinder quality. But find one with good mirrors, which is most of them, and there’s no noticeable brightness difference in the viewfinder between the Five and cameras with a pentaprism. I’ll let that sink in a moment. Most penta mirror systems are around one stop, some more, dimmer than a pentaprism system. Not the Five.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 50mm f/1.4 | Fuji Superia 200

The other big weakness is how long the batteries last. Depending on whether you use autofocus and flash, the batteries will last between nine and 45 rolls. The lower end of that assumes autofocus with power-zoom lenses and heavy on-camera flash use. The latter end of that assumes an autofocus prime lens with zero on-camera flash uses. Switch to a manual-focus lens and you can expect more than 45 rolls. Regardless, those are not good numbers. Imagine a modern DSLR maker releasing a camera that could take between 214 and 1,600 photos on a single charge. No one would buy that camera. With my Five, on three occasions, including one hike I was really excited about in Colorado Springs, the batteries died unexpectedly. In the Colorado Springs instance, I had put fresh batteries in the day before. Even when off, these cameras drain batteries because they have an onboard quartz clock, most of them do anyway, and that drains the batteries 24/7. So this camera is as power hungry as a third-world despot.

If you’re a righty, the Five is pretty close to perfect. You can operate all the major functions with just your right hand, including the film back release. And holding it with one hand is easy. I can’t think of a lighter 35mm camera, possibly the Five’s lower-spec siblings the 3 and 4, but the difference is negligible. And for the light weight and penta mirror system does the five feel like a flimsy, chintzy, plastic-body camera? No. That’s left for comparable Pentax, Nikon, and Canon bodies. The Five feels every bit as solid as the Seven. And, if I’m honest, to me, the Five feels better made than the Seven because the camera’s weight is more easily managed by the materials that comprise it. I can find exactly no faults with the Five’s ergonomics and, in fact, I like holding the five more than my beloved Nine in some ways because it’s light enough not to make my hands tired.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 28mm f/2.8 | ConeStill 800T

The Five is an interesting camera in that, far more than other 90s cameras, the Five came in three trim levels. Oh yes. That’s not a widely known fact. And, to be fair, all were marketed as the Five and insofar as I can tell, the trim level variations had to do solely with manufacture date and destination market.

Let’s take my Five for instance. It’s actually an Alpha Sweet II and it’s black. These were only available in black under the Japanese Alpha badge, and only in Japan. And the Japanese-market bodies, black or silver, were the best. Depending on when your Five was made, it may or may not have had a built-in date function. All the Alphas had the date function. But that’s not why the Alphas are better. They also have a switch to select panorama or standard framing. The panorama mode is a 16X7 ratio – that’s a wider ratio than the standard 16X9 for widescreen televisions, and would letterbox on your computer monitor. But that’s not what makes the Alpha better and, again if I’m honest, I think that panorama mode on 35mm cameras was a huge gimmick and silly.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 50mm f/1.4 | Eastman Kodak 5222 Double-X

But check this out: Here is why the Alpha is better than the Maxxum and Dynax versions. The Alpha Sweet II has a flip-up plastic light leak cover for the mirror where the Maxxum and Dynax Five bodies have nothing, not even a foam strip. That flip-up bit provides better light sealing around the focusing screen but it is added mechanical complexity. And the baffle does make a difference during long exposures and exposures in full sun. So if you’re a serious Minolta fan looking for a Five, go for the Alpha Sweet II instead. It’s worth the added time to find one and the added shipping cost to import it from Japan just to have this light baffle.

Enough specs. How is this thing to use? It’s a joy. It’s a bit clinical, which is to say it’s more like a Nissan than an Alfa Romeo. It lacks the “heart and soul” that photographers will sometimes say a camera needs. But here’s a secret, “heart and soul” is code for tetchy or poorly designed. The Five is like a close friend who is socially awkward, you know you can rely on them but they probably won’t interact well with strange circumstances. In this case, strange circumstances is my code for batteries that aren’t right off the damn production line.

Minolta ALpha Sweet II | Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 | Fuji Velvia 50

The Five is fun and light and it’s easy to forget it’s around your neck if you have a small lens, like the 50mm f/1.7, on it. With a fast 50 prime, the Five is fantastic shooting experience. It’s just an all-around enjoyable camera that, as long as you have good batteries, won’t let you down. And also, the Five is a great way to get access to Sony Alpha lenses. In addition to a large array of great Minolta lenses, these will take the modern Sony Alpha lenses. It’s very hard to beat that.

What it boils down to is that if you want an enjoyable camera that’s reliable, really well laid out, and easy to use, you can do a lot worse than the Five. For the prices these sell for, it would be very hard to do any better.

Minolta ALpha Sweet II | Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 | Rollei Vario Chrome

Nikon FE2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FE2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FE2 | Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | CineStill 800T

The FE2 is a legend. How does one even talk about a legend? In stories around fires? With songs? Talking about a legend, about a camera like the FE2, presents no easy task, even for someone who has written reviews for dozens of cameras. The FE2 transcends words and is an experiential thing. A proper FE2 review would tell you that it is something special, like a 70s charger with a 6.1 liter hemi, that it feels good in the hands like a leather steering wheel under driving gloves, that the interface strikes a near-perfect balance between the control selection and placement like a precision-milled gated shifter plate. The FE2 is a precision machine made for the most demanding users.

In a way, this will be a proper FE2 review. The FE2 is something special, enjoyable, and fantastic. But I also simply am indifferent to it. There are cameras that I look at or think about and I say “I really enjoy using that camera. I cannot wait to use it again.” I’ve had an FE2 for almost three years and used it a couple of dozen times. There’s nothing wrong with it, yet after that first time, I never really got excited about going back to it.

Nikon FE2 | Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | Fuji Superia 200

For those of you who love this camera, I can’t find any fault in it. It’s either the best or the second-best Nikon manual focus camera. It lacks a few of the professional bells and whistles found in the F3, but it has a faster shutter speed and simpler interface. It lacks the purely mechanical shutter of the FM2, but it has a match-needle meter readout that’s immune to the dead LEDs that the FM2 sometimes experiences. In everything photographic, there exist tradeoffs. A given shutter speed may require an aperture that’s too narrow or too deep, a film may have suitable speed but lack sufficiently fine grain. Photography is a hobby or profession of compromises, and the FE2 makes very few and the compromises it makes are largely unimportant. What that means is that the FE2 is a fantastic mix of elegant interface design and capabilities that will leave few, or no, users wanting for more.

And I don’t want more from this camera. I have no good reason why this camera doesn’t excite me, except that maybe, just maybe, this camera is too perfect, too well designed. It has exactly everything I want and expect in a camera and nothing that I don’t need. And the setup, interface, and use of the FE2 check all the boxes on what I want in an ideal camera. The FE2 is my ideal camera; no other camera ever made is a more perfect match for how I would describe the perfect camera. And when I look at it I feel absolutely nothing.

Nikon FE2 | Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | Kodak Ektar 100

The FE2 evolved from the earlier FE, one of Nikon’s best-known advanced-user cameras. In its progression from the FE, the FE2 shed the unreliable electronics and metering issues that have become increasingly common in FE bodies. The FE2 is largely devoid of electronic issues. The FE2 has very few of its own issues, bar one, and it’s big. FE2 bodies tend to destroy shutter leaves with enough use. No FE2 that I’ve seen has ever had a problem except with the shutter. And on that point, 75% of the FE2 bodies I’ve handled have needed to have their shutters replaced. With time and use, the leaves jump their guides, jam, and damage the shutter mechanism or get creased or have their edged dented in the process. But look, who among us could do better to design a shutter that moves tissue-thin titanium leafs about one inch in 3.3 milliseconds. What I say next won’t sound that impressive, but that travel speed means that to cover a full inch in in 3.3 milliseconds the leafs have to travel at least 17.2 miles per hour, assuming a steady speed for the whole frame travel. While that speed sounds slow, getting a thin sheet of metal to move that fast tens of thousands of times without buckling or creasing is pretty darn impressive from an engineering perspective.

There’s nothing at all wrong with the FE2. There’s enough right about it to fill a book. I don’t know a single Nikon fan who doesn’t truly love their FE2. It’s a fabulous first camera. It’s a fabulous last camera. It’s a fabulous only camera. It’s a fabulous camera.

Nikon FE2 | Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 | Ultrafine Red Dragon

Detailed How-to videos:

Link to Video 1:

Link to Video 2:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Nikon FM2 Review

Nikon FM2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Vario Chrome

Imagine with me. Mountain wind, moving up through pine forests in a valley thousands of feet below, channeled by a rocky “V”, smelling strongly of that clean smell that only pine trees make. The wind carries the cold of coming winter, the bite of tonight’s coming flurries, and the sting of dried pine needles carried up from the valley by the millions. A dog shakes his head and his chain collar sounds like tap shoes dancing to frantic and uncoordinated music. And there are friends, brothers, there, too, the wind too loud for you to speak.
Images are stories. Photographs tell us about a scene, a place, a thing or an emotion, and most of all they tell us about the photographer and what the photographer values most.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, CineStill 800T

I picked up a road warrior FM2, beat and brassed from tables, drops, and doors. And without hesitation, without issue, it worked for dozens of rolls of film over two years in exceptional cold, heat, humidity, snow, morning dew or frost, dust, at two miles elevation and below sea level, sometimes much of that in the same day. Without question, comment, or hesitation it worked reliably and every time it needed to. It sat in luggage and camera bags, was slid under my car seat, bombed with dog drool, knocked against solid granite, and suffered all manner of insults and neglect that would leave most cameras in pieces.
The FM2 is one of those cameras that people go to when they know their gear will take abuse, but still need to work on demand. And yeah, that’s one of the things this camera does – take hits like a masochistic MMA fighter and keep going in for more.

But beyond this camera’ ruggedness, it has a simple, classic interface, the kind that makes it easy to hold it up to your eye, look at a scene, find in it a story and the things you value, and record it to share with others. This camera put the photographer and the subject as close as laces and shoes because it does not interfere, does not get in the middle. The simple, efficient design results in a user experience where the camera itself melts away, becomes nothing more than a red plus, zero, or minus and a quick blackout in the creative process.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Color Negative 200

So let me give you five words to describe the FM2. Obsequious. Simple. Unobtrusive. Intuitive. Reliable. That’s a strong list. Nowhere in a description on the FM2 would words like intimidating, difficult, fragile, obnoxious, or complex reside. The FM2 is a photographer’s camera. And what I mean by that is everything I’ve said already – it’s reliable and does not interfere.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Color Negative 200

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Genius, in part, saying that it is “great and rare natural ability or skill.” And I would argue that’s a part of it. I like to think of genius as the ability to successfully and with good outcomes connect disparate concepts or thoughts in a creative manner, especially in a previously unconsidered way that is natural and logical once the connection exists. Can a camera be a genius? No, of course not. They’re metal and plastic, batteries and glass. There’s no brain and no thought. Can a camera’s design be genius? Can a camera’s design have a great and rare natural ability to connect a photographer and subject in a way that had previously been unconsidered but that becomes natural and logical once experienced? Yes. Decidedly yes. So does that mean that the FM2’s design is genius?

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Vario Chrome

Imagine with me. A family gathering, warmly lit in the glow of old, tungsten-filament bulbs. Roast turkey hot from the oven, warm and dark brown under tin foil. A kitchen full of sideline cooks, nodding at the steamy, herbed smell of the turkey, chopped bread and celery inside it, giblet gravy slowly bubbling on a back burner, a champagne cork popping in another room. And there, camera, film, a moment, light and color, smell and steam, champagne, reflex and action. So you tell me. Is the FM2’s design genius? I think we would answer that question the same way.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, CineStill 800T

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, Kodak Ektar 100

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Negatives in a Trash Can

In December I found a stack of negatives in a trash can. There was a half roll that was the exact-same-boring-shot of a wall. Then a half roll that was mostly ruined by poor developing. And then some other shots. Maybe they belonged in the trash, but here they are.

There was a half roll of this shot. A. Half. Roll.

This is about five stops overexposed.

These two are indicative of the ruined roll -- the negative wasn't loaded in the spiral correctly.

Sign is in focus. They must not have been speeding.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ocean Wildlife

Two days ago I shared a number of cemetery photos. Well, I also had the opportunity to take a number of nature photos the same day. Here are some of them. Tomorrow we'll finish off the Point Arena blog entries with some foggy hike photos I took the day before these.

The night of the 4th my girlfriend saw this heron hanging out by the lighthouse. The morning of the 5th it was still there, so I grabbed my 400mm lens. 

It's a simply stunning bird and, unfortunately, I missed all the shots of it grabbing fish.

There were also harbor seals. And they noticed me and many looked up at me the first time I pointed the camera at them.

I was stunned and thrilled. Seals, in the wild. This was fantastic and amazing and such a rare thing, right?

Nope. Totally the most common seal around. And they hang out on these rocks all the time. People go there to photograph seals.

That afternoon my girlfriend and I hiked down to bowling ball beach. The bowling ball concretions were all underwater, but the tide had delivered a dead seal to the beach. Three turkey vultures feasted on it when I approached, but two had flown off before I was close enough to take good photos. The third hung around and didn't fly off until I was about thirty feet away.

When he did, he flew low and I managed a few shots in flight. I had an old manual focus Vivitar 135mm lens on my K3 so I didn't expect much of my tracking. But the bird flew in a fairly straight and predictable trajectory, so I managed a few good shots.

Having a camera that takes more than eight shots per second helped a lot.

Eventually it landed on a cliff overhead with three other turkey vultures. The seal had no head, which one of the local shop owners told me was very bad news for surfers.

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