11.30.2015

Image of Roderick Sanford as Jacob Marley in Zach's "this is not your parents' A Christmas Carol" Christmas Carol.

Harvey Guión as Scrooge (left) and Roderick Sanford as Jacob Marley in 
"A Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre. 

Zachtheatre.org 

As we get into the holiday season I just couldn't resist this image of Rod as Marley. The costume is incredible. This is NOT a "dinner theater" version of the Dickens play but a rock infested, high energy, fun play for everyone.

I shot this from about fifteen rows away from the stage with a Nikon D810 and the ancient (but wonderful) Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 zoom. That lens is nice enough at 3.5 to keep me from wanting to spend +$2,000 on the 70-200mm VR2 lens.


You've got to love the hair...

Shot during dress rehearsal with audience in house. 
The D810 is quiet enough as long as you aren't sitting
right next to someone or right behind someone...

Two Texans Stumbling through the Old World with a Clunky Camera and One, Lone Lens...


When I showed these (in luxurious print form) to a friend a few weeks ago we talked about how I photographed back then. He asked me if I zoomed in to find the right composition and I told him that the camera I was using didn't have a zoom lens, I was using a single, prime lens. "How many prime lenses did you take?" he asked. I told him that it was just the one. Just a 100mm lens which was a slightly long, normal lens for the 6x6 cm camera. Then we talked about metering and he asked me if I used my trusty Sekonic, incident light meter. I had to admit that, in my desire to travel light, I left the meter at home and tried to depend on both my memory of what light looks like at certain levels, and my secret weapon. 

"Secret weapon?" Yes. In those days Kodak included a little slip of paper inside the box in which their black and white film emulsions were packaged. On one side the paper had the most popular developers listed along with their standard dilutions and times/temperatures. This allowed one to get in the ballpark when developing the film. On the other side of the paper was a series of pictograms that showed different daylight fighting situations. Cloudy, Cloudy bright, hazy sun, full sun, sun on sand and snow and, of course, heavy overcast. Along with the pictograms were recommended exposure settings for these light conditions. One would learn to open up a stop and a half when shooting inside the train with light from the window or to start at 1/60th of a second at f4.0 when shooting under typical office fluorescent lights. This was all predicated on using ISO 400 as your  film sensitivity, if you used consumer Tri-X. (Professional Tri-X had a different emulsion and backing and was rated at 320 ISO --- I tended to steer clear of that film). 

I shot hundreds and hundreds of frames of film on that trip and very few were spoiled due to exposure errors. The little sheet of paper, taped to the bottom of the camera, made it seem all so easy. Even to this day I remember the exposure settings. Not always needed in the age of effortless digital but still convenient to know. Not having to make choices between cameras, lenses and different films was such a delicious way of working. So was having what seemed like infinite time. 




Just wanted to share a fun deal on the Nikon D750 + microphone bundle at Amazon today. Lowest USA price I've seen.




This is the lowest price I have seen on a new, USA warrantied, Nikon D750 so far. As a bonus they include a $250 Audio Technica camera mount microphone for no extra charge. I've you've been waiting for a price drop on the D750 this might be what you've been waiting on. 

Do I like the D750? I have one packed in my bag for my upcoming shoot. It's a great, full frame camera that is really good at high ISOs and killer at ISO 100.


Today I am thinking all about lighting on location.

Taken on the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Mamiya 6 camera
150mm f3.5 lens.


I got the cameras squared away for my out of town assignment/adventure. I hate to fly with gear but I don't have the time or patience to drive for three days, shoot for three days and then drive again for three days. The reality of air travel these days means that I need to pack as light as possible and compromise a bit when it comes to the gear I'll use to light with.

I've got the cameras, lenses and small objects packed in a Think Tank Airport Security Roller case. That's also where the lights are packed. And the radio triggers. I have a separate case for the lighting gear I need; it's a longish (48 inches ?) rolling stand case from Tenba which I've used on a bunch of out of town assignments with good results.

While the cameras and lenses are vital the light stands and modifiers are mission critical as well. I'll be lighting executive portraits in my new (almost like available light from floor to ceiling) style and there are several components that go in to giving me more control and making the final portraits look really good.

We'll be shooting in practical locations, that means in hallways or conference rooms, or wherever we find an interior spot that has great backgrounds. In almost every location there are lights in the ceiling that are counterproductive. They provide an unwanted color cast and unattractive shadows (especially the little can lights with the high output, nasty, compact fluorescent bulbs) and all of that needs to be blocked from effecting the light on my portrait subjects.

The first thing I do on each location that suffers from too much bad lighting is to put up a circular  40" round diffuser over the top of my subject; between the offending fixture and my person, to block the light. If the light is too strong I'll use a black cover on the diffuser for a total block out. That requires a stand that can go up to eight or ten feet as well as a reflector holding arm.

The next step for the lighting style I have in mind is to set up a second 40" reflecting panel (circular pop up reflector) to act as a fill for the portrait. This also requires a light stand and a holding arm to support the reflecting disk.

My main light sources here in Austin have varied between electronic flash mono lights and LED open face fixtures. I'll want three lighting units and a back-up and that rules out both the big LEDs and the Profoto or Photogenic monolights == too much weight and too much bulk.  I've chosen to go with four speed lights along with radio triggers. The benefits are size, weight and flexibility. I can get all four speed lights into the Think Tank case with the cameras and carry them all on with me.

I have a motley mix of units. I'm using the new Nissan i7000 flash (Nikon version), it's a mid-priced ($250) option that provides very easy controls, meshes with the Nikon CLS system and offers built-in optical slaving as well. It's a well made flash and the quality of the light is good in my tests.  I have the rock solid Cactus RF60 flash which has its own built in radio trigger. It's manual only but in set ups like these I wouldn't dream of using the automatic function on any of the flashes.

The last two flashes are the Yongnuo YN560ii models. I've used these two on similar jobs and they have been reliable and simple to operate. They also have built in optical slave modes. Each of the flashes will require a light stand but I generally only bring light stands for two of the flash (the main light and background light) preferring to use a Manfrotto Justin clamp (or two) to rig the other flashes onto chairs, tables or doors. The last two flashes are always either accent lights or are lighting up areas in deep backgrounds. That still means I'm toting along four medium sized light stands as the overhead diffuser stand and the main light stand both need to be stout enough to hold things up high in the air (and over the heads of valuable clients!).

The stand case also holds a Gitzo reporter tripod with a nice ball head, and a range of umbrellas that I'll use, selectively, to act as the main light modifiers for the portraits. My go-to umbrella will be the 60 inch, white shoot through. It's stoutly made and I can use it either as a reflecting umbrella or a shoot through, depending on the location and on how close I want the modifier to the subject. The stand case also holds the extra batteries for everything and niceties such as gaffer's tape, black wrap and bungee cords.

For the most part I'll be relying on the Cactus V60 triggers to make everything flash but all of it will be a reduced power settings as I am only trying to outgun the available room lights by a small amount. I want to be able to keep my taking aperture on the 85mm lens right around f2.8 to 3.5. That's my optimum target zone.

We're set here. On camera rolling case, one stand rolling case, one small bag of clothes. All that's left is packing the clothing (easy) and having three meetings with local clients concerning projects we'll be embarking on the week after.

It was a great holiday weekend and I'm sorry to see it end. I got lots of swimming, sleeping and eating done. And the BBQ ribs that Will made for Belinda and me, last night, were the best I've ever had anywhere. Move over Franklin's....

One more nod to the Craftsy Photography class sale...




One more day of classes on Sale.


Sometimes a good class is a great way to get more values from great "glass."

Head over to Craftsy and see if there are any photography classes that catch you eye(s). 

11.29.2015

A Fond Memory of Riding a Train Through Italy With Belinda and an Old Camera.



On the train with a Hasselblad V series camera and an older 100mm Planar lens. That, and bagful of Tri-X 400. An elegant several weeks of slow travel.


Sunday morning rituals. Some photographic, some not.


Sunday morning. Texas has been hit once again with unseasonably cold, wet weather. Yesterday, it never got out of the low 40's and, while my friends in the great north may laugh at that I'll have to defend our delicate response to the cold by stating (unscientifically) that our blood must be thinner and our layers of fat less optimal, which means we have more difficulty hanging onto that body heat. 

I heard random rain drops tap against the roof and the new gutters on the house as I lay in my very warm and comfortable bed this morning, weighing the relative merits of actually getting up. I grabbed my phone and looked at the temperature; it was 41, but that was three degrees warmer than yesterday. I'd slept in a bit and missed the 8:30am swim practice I usually attend. I made coffee and a breakfast taco with eggs, potato and uncured ham, and sat at the dinning room table in the soft light coming through the french doors that lead out to the side yard. I read the New York Times on an iPad. 

A bit later Belinda and Studio Dog stirred and we suited up for a nice walk through the neighborhood. We didn't get far before a very undecided rain started to fall in little wisps. As the rain got braver and more insistent Studio Dog put her foot down. She was up for many activities including: squirrel chasing and maintenance, boundary fence reconnaisssance, barking practice, intruder notification services and kitchen floor spot cleaning; but she was not up for a walk in driving rain and strongly suggested we return to home base. I was hoping the walk would go on allow me to procrastinate about making it to the second swim practice (I was still sore and tired from yesterday's intensive 4,500 yards....) but the shortened walk left the door open for yet another swim practice. I didn't have a good reply thought up when Belinda asked, "Are you going to the ten o'clock???" so I grabbed the striped green and white towel I've been using at the pool every day for the last week and a half, pulled on some lightweight gloves and headed to the car. 

When I got to the pool five minutes later you could see puffy clouds of steam rising up from the surface of the water and mix with the heavy, cold, wet air. I could see from the parking lot the final throes of the first workout. Several people in the fast lanes were doing butterfly springs and tossing up spurts of white water behind them. I grabbed my swim bag from the car, tossed whatever camera had been sitting on the front seat under a hat and headed into the locker room. 

The walk from the locker room to the pool, and the reciprocal walk from the pool to the locker room, were the hardest parts of the workout. The rest was just good swimming and that's fun. Once you are in the water and warmed up everything is fun. And, to my mind, pushing off the end of the pool in a great streamlined form is one of the closest acts we humans get to controlled flying. It's fun. 

Our coach, Kristen, was bundled up as though we were in the middle of a blizzard but I guess she needs it because she's a very competitive triathlete with very little body fat to insulate her from the cold. Her bundled state didn't keep her from pushing us to get a bit of work done. Fun to swim some backstroke as freezing raindrops fall from the sky and smack into your goggles and your bare skin. 

When the clock struck 11 am (it's actually a digital display so the numbers just keep changing...) we were done and scampering off to the warmth of the new locker rooms the pool built last year. Very posh. 

On the way home I remembered that I'd given Studio Dog the very last of her bone shaped, liver treats last night and I decided to go by Tomlinson's pet store on the way home to see if they were open on Sunday. My devious plan went like this: If the store is open I will get the treats and then treat myself to a medium sized latté at the Starbucks in the same little shopping center. If the pet store is not open I'll just head home and make a cup of coffee in the Keurig miracle machine. It was cold enough outside that my concern about filling the landfills with little K-cups was overruled. 

The store was open and the treats acquired. Treats for dog and treats for swimmer. I splurged and also bought donut. Something very rare for me which makes me think that I'm getting soft since turning 60. Studio Dog greeted me (as usual) at the front door and, like a TSA agent, insisted on inspecting the bags in my hands. The donut got a passing nod but the liver flavored treats got a big "two paws up." She insisted on sampling one immediately so we doggedly went through our usual routine: She had to sit, shake hands and recite on Shakespeare sonnet in order to get her treat. She flubbed the sonnet but I relented and gave her the treat anyway. 

The rest of the day I'll putter around, cleaning up the studio, packing and re-packing odds and ends and then heading over to my friend house for dinner. Will is making us his very famous barbecued ribs. Should be just the right antidote for the bitter cold. 

In case you are interested I decided to take the Nikons with me to New Jersey next week. The only rationale I can think of is that they seem like cameras that would be comfortable in New Jersey and, maybe the post production will be easier. It was mostly a mental coin toss.



11.27.2015

Don't forget. The Craftsy.com courses are all on sale. Even mine!

Shooting waste water treatment plants. Always nice when the sky cooperates.

In the early days of digital photography we were using the Fuji S2 for a while. It was a weird but wonderful camera with a sensor that did some sort of parlor trick to make its 6 megapixel sensor speak 12 megapixel. I liked it's color and skin tone rendering very much. I didn't like the combination of proprietary AND double "A" batteries in tandem. It seemed like the batteries were on alternating schedules and something was always being replaced.

One day we went on an annual report shoot with these cameras. I'd been hoping that the new (at that time) Nikon 12-24mm lens would arrive before I left and I got the phone call from my lens merchant just a few hours before the flight. The lens came in quite handy. The images looked great, even as 16x24 inch prints on the walls of the company's HQ. Guess the primitive nature of the tools was not enough to hamper our ability to do the work.






It sure looks like Samsung is winding down their camera sales everywhere in Europe. I suspect we are next. Does it even matter?


Disclaimer: I was part of the Samsung Imagelogger program until the Fall of 2014 when I decided to concentrate only on shooting cameras that I liked enough to spend my own money on. As part of the program Samsung sent me cameras and lenses to shoot with. I worked with the NX300, the NX30 and the Galaxy NX before resigning. I have had no connection with, or affiliation with, Samsung or their P.R. agency since that time. We parted ways on good terms and I have good feelings about the U.S. Public Relations company that represents the Samsung camera division in the U.S. 

It's strange to see a company start to fold up its tent in a product category and begin to decamp. Especially a company that is relatively new to a market, as Samsung was to the middle and upper end of the camera market. Their products were not on my radar prior to the introduction of the NX300 camera. I was contacted by their agency and offered that camera and the kit zoom lens they offered with it. In exchange, they asked me to shoot with it and post a couple of photographs to their social media site once a week, if possible. 

When they came out with the Galaxy NX camera, the mirrorless interchangeable lens model sporting an EVF and a bunch of connectivity options, they sent me that camera and also offered to send me to Berlin to shoot it and to attend the IFA show and the launch of the Samsung smart watches and tablets. Along with the kit zoom lens I also was loaned the 85mm f1.4 (killer lens) and the 60mm macro lens (the one I liked the most in their entire collection). I always considered the Galaxy camera a work in progress and I was probably not the right candidate to embrace a highly connected camera. It was one of the first cameras to run a full on Android operating system and that came with its own issues. Initially, the start up times for the camera were very long (nearly 30 seconds) and the camera did shut down sometimes in the middle of shooting.  The flip side is that the camera had bluetooth, wi-fi capability and cell network capability, along with being able to use most Android apps. Even Candy Crush. 

The major selling point of the camera was the ability to stay connected anywhere. It may have been a journalist's dream in that regard as an editorial shooter could deliver images, while shooting, anywhere in the world that there was a cellphone connection. But the miscalculation by Samsung was that this interconnection capability was enough to balance out the less than stellar AF and operating issues of the camera as a camera. Another fault, and one I mentioned in articles I wrote here, was the mediocre quality of the EVF. I must say though, if you were a shooter who liked to shoot tethered to a large TV screen, or if you are part of the new contingent of photographers who actually likes to compose and shoot using a rear screen instead of a viewfinder, this was a camera that did those things like very few others. I mean really; it had a five inch screen on the back and the quality of that screen was pretty darn good. 

But for a traditionalist who just wanted to turn on the camera and shoot it just didn't make the grade. The huge rear screen and always on Android system running in the background sucked hard on the battery, and even though it was a huge battery my shooting style meant having two to shoot with minimum. 

I'd heard of the NX1 long before I left the program but it kept being delayed and I was too busy to learn yet another menu system and start building yet another lens system so that is when I left the program. I will admit that I was a bit jealous as some of my former fellow Imagelogger members started getting their NX1's and little collections of very good zoom lenses to accompany them. 

It seemed as though the company learned a great deal from cameras like their Galaxy NX and were determined to make their mark in the camera world. But like the previous camera (the Galaxy) it seemed that the delivered camera was a work in progress and would become only a good, reliable shooter after a series of big and complex firmware upgrades. I considered it a number of times when considering new video solutions but always, in the end, the new h.265 codec stopped me from investing. 

Now we've seen a cascade of announcements over the last month telling first Germans, then the Dutch and now the Brits that all the Samsung cameras are being discontinued in their respective countries. The latest post from DP Review seems to me to imply that all of Europe will soon be eliminated as a market for that company's cameras. A far cry from their commitment to become one of the "big three" camera companies in the world. 

How did everything come apart for them? I can sum it up quickly. The previous products and their shortcomings sunk the NX1 before it was even launched. The heavy handed "Ditch the DSLR" campaign sent a condescending and easily refutable message to knowledgeable current camera owners and their focus on distribution through big box stores instead of supporting specialty dealers too were also causes. But I'll be honest and say that I never expected a wholesale surrender. 

I presumed that Samsung was closing in on understanding a successful mix of features and operational "must haves" and would iterate a less expensive, streamlined and highly functional NX2, push some more lens options into play and begin to get some real, broad market traction. Their biggest marketing error was to emphasis non-photographic features like connectivity before they had convincingly hammered home their quality imaging proposition. If, instead of selling a camera style (mirrorless), they had focused on creating a brand image of a highly capable photographic creation tool, they would have (in my estimation) had much more success. 

If they had put the NX1 and the 85mm 1.8 lens into the hands a gifted fashion photographer and used his or her images in ads that extolled the quality of the artistic tools and how well they worked to realize a vision they would have moved the conversation from the novelty of sending your picture to grandma to making photographs you could eventually send to paying clients and publications. 

The "Ditch the DSLR" campaign that ran here felt more like condescension and scolding to me and less like suggesting some rational course in camera buying. If you already had selected a DSLR such as a Canon 5D3 or a Nikon D750 it's pretty likely you did not do so in a vacuum of information. You likely weighed all of the options and were also happy with the style of camera you selected. You would need to be unsatisfied with your initial purchase to even consider "ditching" it and starting over again, with all the attendant costs and learning curve. 

Had the NX1 launched with a codec similar to the one used in the Panasonic GH4 many videographers who chose to sit on the sidelines and watch would have been gleeful about the video qualities of the NX1 and rushed to buy it. The choice of the new, unwieldy codec was in large part the mortal wound on this camera amongst movie makers. And the sad thing is how easily this could have been avoided if the company had listened to end users instead of engineers. But this is ever the issue with technology companies that are not marketing companies. How else to explain that they can make great sensors, some of the industry's fastest processors and their own line of screens but can't make a dent in Apple's dominance in the cellphone market where Apple continues to earn the vast majority of all profits (irrespective of market share) in that industry? The simple truth is that Samsung's marketing, and their reading of affluent markets, continues to suck hard. 

In my estimation, the writing on the wall for their camera division is pretty clear. They are selling through inventory, country by country and then shuttering their camera operations. In the U.S., if inventory is there, they'll wait until after the holidays to make their announcement. Once the north American market shutters they'll dump the remaining stocks in east Asia and, I guess, call it a day. 

I'm sad about this because they finally got a bunch of stuff right on the NX1 and what they mis-read they could easily remedy in the next one or two generations. On the other hand, if I were running a division for a worldwide company and I could see that we'd been selling into a bubble that was now bursting I'd be running for cover as well. There is such a thing as opportunity cost everywhere. The more cash they poured into a declining camera market the less cash (and bandwidth) they have available to drop into other markets. 

We jaded photographers take companies like Nikon and Canon to task for what we perceive as flaws in their marketing strategies but it's clear to see that the bedrock of their marketing is not aimed at showing the features of a product but showing their products as solutions to make better images. And to do this they put their cameras in the hands of the very best people out there and use the images wisely. And everywhere. You can't market a camera in the same way you market a large screen TV our a washer and dryer and expect to reach the hearts, and then the wallets, of passionate hobbyists. And in this regard "passionate hobbyists" also includes nearly every working pro. We buy the promise, not so much the cogs under the hood.

Will Samsung's exit make a difference one way or another in the camera market? I can only speak to the north American market and I'll say that at most it will be a tiny ripple. They aimed most of their efforts not at the most engaged in our hobby but those who most likely price shopped and were impressed by lists of features and performance metrics which really had little to do with the emotional process of making photographs. I will miss the two lenses I spoke about. They were very, very good. Just as Nikon had a good run of letting an Italian company design their most successful camera bodies Samsung should have left all the branding decisions and creative decisions about feature lists to an objective and talented partner. I can feel it in my bones. This will be a division that was killed by its engineering department and product managers, not by lethal lapses in the products themselves. 

The two images here are among my favorites from the entire year of shooting in 2013. I did them with a camera that fought back and the two wonderful optics supplied with it. Because of that I will always remember the system as one with great promise. 

Finally, given the complexities of the camera market and the sheer amount of capital investment it takes to start a camera company from scratch I think the real tragedy here is that this may be the last attempt by anyone to start a single use camera company from scratch. We may have niche product makers like Go-Pro and DXO come in and out of the markets but we may never see a new contender for the higher end of the conventional camera market again--- and that's a bit sad to me.


A final note. It will be one of the ironies that surfaces every once in a while if the NX1, after it's discontinuation, becomes a cult video production tool. Coveted for video features that were good and a codec that may just have been too far ahead of its time......

The micro four thirds dilemma. Do we have to pack for every contingency?



I'm heading up to New Jersey next to make photographs at a large industrial concern that manufactures technical products for worldwide sale. When I talked to the advertising agency about the project they indicated that our primary mission would be to take portraits of the company's executive leadership team for use on the website and, since we would already be there, we would also spend a day taking photographs of the nuts and bolts and spaces of the business. The idea, as I understood it, was that all of the images would be used on the newly re-designed website but might also be re-purposed for other media. And it's those last four words that tend to paralyze me when it comes to choosing which cameras and lenses I'll want to pack. 

When I listened to the production manager from the agency describe the project my focus went immediately to the Olympus m4:3 cameras and lenses; after all, we'd be packing to fly, and then travel to the actual location and the size and weight savings of the smaller system would be noticeable. We carry on our camera gear and that means we have to spend hours shepherding it through airports, on and off rental car shuttles, and in and our of hotels. Not to mention porting the gear around large factories. The lights and assorted lighting support gear goes into wheeled cases and is checked luggage. It's only at transition points that the burden of the lighting stuff really comes into play. 

I envisioned stuffing the two EM5.2 cameras into a smaller Domke camera bag, along with a spread of lenses that would give me the equivalent of 24-130mm in focal lengths. If we decided to do big still lives or interiors I would feel pretty confident putting those cameras on a tripod and revving up the high res mode. I've tested it and it really works. Add to that the beautiful Olympus files and it's really hard to consider leaving them behind. 

But.....there's always the specter that we'll get to the location and the client will lead with a request that we shoot some of their people or working processes (things that move cancel out the hi-res advantage of the OMD)  for use on trade show graphics or large posters. It's happened to me before....and with the very same agency. You can armchair quarterback and say that we should lock all uses down before we step out of the studio, but that's not realistic.That's not the current market.

That fear of failing to deliver the enormous, high res file, leads me to alternately consider choosing to go with the big Nikon cameras instead. They aren't as quick to work with and they weigh (comparatively) a ton but they do provide a 36 megapixel image that's hard to argue against when you need sheer resolution along with subject motion. 

I'm "test packing" today in anticipation of a week out of the studio. I'm packing two alternate variations and I must say that, from the outset, the Olympus is winning the "comfort" contest. Later this evening the Nikons will win the "bulwark against fear of failure" contest. And by Sunday afternoon I'll be so confused that we'll be back to a coin toss. 

This is my cautionary tale against having so many competing systems sitting around your studio. It's nice to tell yourself that you are prepared for any undertaking but the mentally tyrannical nature of choice is a real anxiety provoker and time waster. I actually have nostalgia for the days when I had no money and no real choices other than the single camera I had in my bag. I had so much more free time when I didn't have to decide. 

Is it really a question of technical performance or is it the illusion of  what might still constitute industrial standards, and playing to client expectations? Will we ever figure it out? Probably not. 

Some cherish one format over the other. I see the formats as style neutral.

Camera choices, yes. But the tripod is a non-negotiable necessity.


You can always pack a bigger and better camera and more expensive lenses but does it really
make any difference to many of the projects we do that rely more completely on 
our vision for the lighting and our rapport with the people we meet? Is the higher res process cost effective? Is it time efficient?

How small can you pack? How much can you carry?
More importantly, how much will you use?

Will the format and image size really effect the final result once everything is shrunken down and compressed for website use? Is medium format film capable of eliciting more of a feeling of
flakiness? Will the differences show up?


Can we get there from here with the stuff we need for a good shoot?

It's all just part of the agony of traveling to do photography for a living in modern times...

In the end it's the subject that drives the photograph, not the camera.

Does that mean I should take the Olympus cameras?  Hmmm....


Literally literal. Ho Hum.

A  photo blogger known for deep dives into the pool of technical virtuosity recently opined that we pros used to know how to pull stuff off with crappy film equipment but now we've gotten so lazy that even using state of the art stuff we've been barely able to advance along the evolutionary scale leading to the pursuit of sharper and sharper images. The writer imagines himself immune to these shortcomings. Of course I think this is rank bullshit to cover for the fact that the blogger seems to feel (and show) that painfully flawless technical execution trumps ideas. I, on the other hand don't care if an image is needle sharp and technically perfect as long as there is something created to tickle the brains of the audience, or make me smile in recognition of some universal, visual symbol of beauty, or a shared emotional experience. Like recognizing a wonderful face (and expression) in a portrait. Or seeing love in a picture.

I did the image above many years ago for a very good art director. It was the middle of the 1990's and the trend of the moment then was the same droll, pursuit of imaging perfection that seems to come in waves. The client came to me to talk about shooting ideas, and shooting them in a way that took the "preciousness of perfection" out of them.

We started by identifying the parameters of the project. We needed to shoot facing pages for essays about finance. We looked at different things I'd shot over the years, in different styles.  I showed the AD some images shot on 4x5 sheet film and she liked the format but thought a conventional treatment would be too clinical. Too artificial.

Then we looked at some work we'd done using Polaroid Type 55 instant film. The Type 55 film was shot in our 4x5 inch Linhof TechniKarden camera and we generally tossed the resulting print away but coveted the resulting negatives instead. The tonality, the grain and the general rendering we got from those negatives was so different from the conventional black and white films of the day. You would shoot the Polaroid film at $5 a throw, and when you found an image you liked it was important to do one version with about a 2/3 stop overexposure in order to create a negative thick enough to print well, with detail in the shadows.

We'd take the negatives and print 16x20 inch prints that showed all the handling and emulsion flaws of the negative because they gave such unique results. The client and I wanted to go further so I took the images from these negatives that had been printed on Kodak's double weight, Ektalure G surface paper, and I used Marshalls Transparent Oil Paints to color tone the images by hand. The resulting prints were rich with grain, detail and subtle color. It's hard to present that in 2100 pixels on the web but I can't help you there.

After we figured out how we'd shoot the project we started assembling props and putting together constructions in the studio. We spent a day shooting, a day making contact sheets for final selection and a day printing our black and white prints. The painting on the prints took another two days. Of course, if we'd have been happy just pursuing technical perfection we might have been able to wrap the whole project up in only one day by shooting color transparency film and having it scanned.

But both the client and I understood that we'd just be part of the ongoing homogenization of commercial vision if we only reached for sharp, in focus, and color correct imaging. We wanted to create artwork that pushed a little harder and transmitted a different feeling out to the viewers. We need to work the ideas into pictures the way potters work clay. And we wanted the little flaws, and odd grain structure, and suggestions of color, to help create a completely different creative palette.

There is some zany, adolescent idea that somehow each previous generation of cameras and lenses somehow hampered our "artistic" and "creative" visions and kept us from doing the work we really wanted to do. That the state of the art in photography gear two years, or five years, or ten years ago, worked as a tragic impediment to some amazing potential vision that could only be realized by the most current "breakthroughs" in the most recent equipment catalogs.

Of course, that's nonsense. The tools have nearly always been available if someone really had a vision to fulfill. But the pursuit of perfection in most art is a red herring, a detour down a rabbit hole by people who are insecure about the quality of their creativity. They look for material talismans of power as a substitute for real vision. And they'll always be looking for the next iteration of magic bullets with the rationale that only, finally, when the perfect camera and lens come along will they be able to translate their creative vision from the ephemeral reaches of their brilliant minds into a physical manifestation that finally has value.

If quality was really the foremost consideration, instead of convenience and the sybaritic pleasure of researching and purchasing new, expensive gear, then many of the reformed I.T. gearheads who have reconstituted themselves as photographic experts would gird their loins and be out shooting with the 4x5 and 8x10 inch technical cameras we grew up with. They may choose to be shooting with big film or they may be shooting with digital backs but, of course, from a technical point of view, anything less than an 8x10 on a solid tripod is a self-deluding compromise in itself.

Here's an idea: Next time you convince yourself that only X miracle lens will do the job, and only when grafted onto whatever the 24 by 36 mm format camera du jour might be, stop in your tracks and go buy an 8x10 view camera and a box of ISO 50 transparency film. Learn to load the film holder and learn to figure out bellows factor and overall exposure and then shoot with real technical perfection instead of convincing yourself that your Nikon, Canon or Sony actually represents the actual state of art in imaging.

If technical perfection is at the heart of your pursuit and most of your images are of things that don't move, you're just cheating yourself by not going all the way in. That Nikon D810 or Sony A7r2 is real nice but it sure ain't the real state of the art. There's so much more to it than just a high resolution sensor in a miniature camera...

What am I thankful for today? Understanding that creative thought matters. 

Just found this and I like it: http://photothunk.blogspot.ch/2015/01/on-taste.html

11.26.2015

Craftsy.com classes on Sale for Black Friday. Many of the most Popular Photography classes offered for less than $20..


I am an instructor for the online learning site, Craftsy.com. My classes are about casual family photography and studio portraits. They are basic courses and I loved teaching them, but there are many other great classes about photography, lighting, post production and more that you may be interested. Go to this link: Special Holiday Sale to see a list of great classes by well known instructors!

Craftsy.com is a great way for people to learn more about stuff they love. The classes are online video programs. Once you buy a program you have access to it pretty much forever. The classes last between two and three hours and you can go back over information again and again. If you have questions there is a private forum for each class in which you can ask the instructor directly for clarification or more information. If you sign up for a class and you aren't happy with it you'll be happy to know that there's a money back guarantee. In short, it's a fun, risk free way to learn by watching instead of just reading. 

If you use this link: Kirk's Holiday Link you'll have access to hundreds of classes under $20. In the interest of full disclosure you should know that I will also get a small payment from Craftsy.com if you sign up for any class. It will make me smile. 

The weather is turning colder. I've already watched just about everything I'm interested in on Netflix. At least if I'm watching a video on better lighting or more efficient post production I'm getting educated while being entertained. And if you are a professional making $$$ from this business you can probably write off the cost of the course from your taxes (check with your tax professional to see if this applies to your situation...). That's the end of my sales pitch. Now we'll get back to our usual programming....

Jana having fun on second street. Austin, Texas. Canon 5d2, 100mm f2.0.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

11.25.2015

Photographing "A Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre, circa 2015

a quick collection of my favorite shots from "A Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre.

















Let's discuss actual photography. One of my jobs as a freelance photographer is to take photographs during the dress rehearsal of the plays at Zach Theatre. Technically, these are called running shoots because we do the photography while the cast is running the play. In the very early days of my theater photography we did our running shoots in black and white because, in Austin at the time, all of the outlets for public relations photos related to entertainment, ran in black and white; and mostly in tabloids that were web printed on newsprint. If we wanted to do color shots we found it very difficult to work at the highest quality under the hot lights and with the slow films available in tungsten color balance.

When we attempted to shoot color during the actual dress rehearsal I would load up Leica M series cameras with Kodak's ProTungsten 320 film and push the ISO one stop to 640. At 640 I had a fighting chance at getting a high enough shutter speed (if I watched for the peak of action) to freeze movement while getting a workable f-stop. I was generally walking the line between 1/60th and 1/125th of second...

To get really great color stuff we would do set up shoots. Sometimes on stage and sometimes in my studio, depending on how far along a show as in the rehearsal. Sometimes the crew is working on creating a set right up to the week of the play and back in the film days the lead time for publications was appreciably longer that today.

I loved doing the set up shoots because the quality of the images wasn't constrained by the stage lighting, and we could stop the action and pose our actors exactly the way we wanted to. If we had some feature in the background we really liked we could change camera angles or an actor's position to accommodate the feature. The most compelling reason for my appreciation of the "set up" shoots was that they represented an opportunity to light the shots extensively and also to bring to bear our medium format cameras and lenses, along with slow, delicious, rich color transparency films.

My good friend, Jim Reynolds, who was the marketing director at the theatre during most of my career, would come to the studio or the stage with five or six different shots in mind and we'd carefully set them up and light them, always trying to make them look as though they'd been lit with theatrical lights, only with much better results. My tools back then were a mix of big, 4x6 foot soft boxes along with small fresnel fixtures made for Norman and Profoto flash heads. We worked around the contrast limitations of the film with smart lighting. The images could be amazing. They were the backbone of the theatre's marketing in the days before online social media and we spread them around everywhere as post cards, subscription mailer content and posters.

Now we tend to rely on the running shoots (dress rehearsals) for everything and in some ways it limits us from evolving the absolute best images from a play. The chance to re-stage and to shoot iterations of the same gesture or look are very powerful tools and I think we tend to ignore them in the rush to maximize efficiency and the time commitment of cast and crew. I long for the days when it was the standard to at least aim for perfection in our work. I think it imbued the photographs with more energy and that came across to the viewers.

The one other thing that has changed for me is the change of the actual theater space. Three or four years ago we moved from a very small, intimate theater space to a beautiful new theatre that can seat 350 people. With it came all the attendant costs of owning and using a very large space: more crew, more electricity, more expensive lighting instruments with which to throw longer and longer beams of light, and a much bigger stage. Once we did this the theatre decided that we'd bring in audiences to the house for the dress rehearsal. These audiences are "family and friends" and there's no denying that it's a good experience for the actors to play to a nearly full house before the first performance in front of an audience paying the full ticket price. But with a full house I no longer really have the option of stalking the actors from directly in front of the stairs.

We've changed the methodology and now I am constricted into a small space that's much further from the stage. This means that we're using more and more telephoto lenses which, in turn means we're seeing less and less depth in the shots and more compression. What's lost in the translation is a sense of visual intimacy that the immersive nature of a wide angle lens, used close, provides.

Instead of shooting from ten feet away with a fast, wide zoom I am shooting from thirty or forty feet away (or more) with a longer lens like an 80-200mm f2.8.

While I understand the restrictions we're working under as regards the space, the budgets and the availability of the actors, no small part of me wishes we could go back to the previous methodologies because they helped me to create more interesting and, I think, harder marketing images.

For the play I shot yesterday, A Christmas Carol, I worked in the new methodology with both a longer zoom on the Nikon D810 and a shorter zoom on a D750. I'm now shooting down on the stage instead of at eye level to the actors. Since most of the stage is dark and the actors are in pools of every changing light I use manual exposure and try to anticipate and rides the shutter speed as needed. The goal is to watch scenes form, choose a composition that's tight and graphic and then make sure I have sharp focus on the important subjects, as well as the right exposure. I cheat a bit lately by shooting in raw with the Nikons and having the option to pull up or push down exposure in either direction by one stop.

There is always a battle of sorts, in my mind, between lighting that works well and is exciting for an audience versus lighting that works well for photography. We're constantly trying to tame wild contrast ranges and at the same time work to figure out what the dominate light color is. It's a fast chess game for the brain; especially when you know that you won't get "do overs" of any particular scene.

With all the constrictions aside, the challenge of the shoots and the potential to get really exciting visual content certainly makes shooting live theater worthwhile to me. If you can shoot a fast moving show with a huge range of contrasts and constantly changing colors I think you are ready to shoot just about anything. I always go back to see the shows later, without a camera in front of my face. It's amazing how different a show is when you are working and then when you are a part of the audience.

This version of A Christmas Carol was amazing. I can hardly wait to see it again.

I have to be in New Jersey for a shoot all next week but I'm already making plans to see it again the following week. I know I'll love it even more!

I love to go to a dress rehearsal of a play that brings (happy) tears to my eyes and "A Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre does it to me every time.


I may be more emotional and nostalgic than most manly photographers who seem drawn to our business, but I have to admit that there are times when I am photographing a great play and there's a special, heart warming moment that brings tears of joy or tears of recognition to my eyes. The point in the holiday play, A Christmas Carol, (Charles Dickens) when Scrooge discovers his humanity and undergoes his spiritual catharsis is one such occasion upon which I must pretend that I've been beset by allergies and that must be the reason my eyes are watering and my nose is running, a bit. Not to mention the lump in my throat...

I had a Nikon D810 in front of my face when Tiny Tim, hoisted up in Scrooge's arms, says, "God Bless us, everyone." and I must confess that I kept the camera and lens there for a few moments longer so as to regain my composure.

Seriously though, Dave Steakley, the artistic director at Zach has infused what was a hoary classic with so much modern music, incredible choreography and joyous singing that he has transformed the play into a wonderful new....instant classic. When actor, Kenny Williams, belts out Pharell William's song, Happy, at the end, surrounded by the entire cast .... well, just like Suess's Grinch, my heart felt like it grew two sizes that day.

From beginning to end I was transfixed. I have to go back as soon as I can to experience the magic that this cast delivers without the distraction of my camera and lenses. I guess I just kicked off my own holiday season ---- and it feels so good!

If you live within 100 miles of Austin you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get over and see the show. It's opening TODAY.

http://zachtheatre.org/show/christmas-carol-2015

I have a new camera bag. It cost $20. It's comfortable to carry and holds a lot of lenses. It's also bright red.



So, I was sitting around one day reading some book on critical theory or the unconscious when I heard a tiny noise that sounded suspiciously like a leaky toilet. I put my book down and wandered around the house looking for the culprit. Yep. Time to replace a flapper in the toilet tank. Should be a $5-$7 repair but it never really works out for me that way...

I headed to the hardware store to buy a flap and then I made my typical mistake; I looked around at all the cool stuff on display. Well, of course I might need a new adjustable wrench because I wasn't really sure where the old one might be. I can always use a couple more "A" clamps. And, of course, I needed to see what's new in economical, new LED light bulbs.

But as I turned down one aisle to walk to the check out I notice mountains of these red bags and I reached out and touched one. I'm not sure what construction workers use these for but you can readily see that there are three pockets on the side facing the camera as well as two big pockets on the ends and (while you can't see them in this photo) there are three more pockets on the other side. The bag is big and roomy and, on the interior, there are pockets all around the edges.  The handle are stout and well padded and you can see that they are anchored all the way around the bag.

I started thinking about a kind of job I do often. I'll arrive at a big, sprawling business office with the assignment of walking around looking for interesting photographs of interiors, intermixed with casual and set up portraits of different kinds. I walk through a space, find the image I want, and then reach into my bag to get the lens that might work best. I also reach into the bag from time to time to grab a new battery or switch out camera bodies. In location assignments like this I don't need the padding or the secure lid closure or the velcro flaps that are part and parcel of the typical camera bag.

There is a reason for bags to be designed the way they are. Most often they are used outside, in non-secure environments. But most of my recent assignments aren't like that. They are more about being in a secure and controlled environment where I have the luxury of putting my bag on the floor and walking away for a while. I may be naive but in my 30+ years of doing work like this I have yet to have any piece of gear go missing...

At any rate I saw this Husky brand bag and I looked for a price. It was about $20. I'd purchased a similar (but not as well made) bag from my local cinema supply store and it was probably three or four times the price. I decided to buy the Husky bag and try it out for the kind of project I've outlined above.

The fabric of the bag is very thick and resilient and the bag stands up well on its own. I had a job on the six floor of a new office building, located in on of the dozens of new developments of office towers and mixed use buildings that are popping up all over Austin. The brief was to shoot everything from the CEO greeting employees to the  brand new office, to lots of interior architectural details, to many shots of people working at their open plan desks. We spent a couple hours making modern environmental portraits of the executive leadership team, and ended the day with an "all hands" champagne toast to the company's new offices.

I put all the camera gear into the Husky bag. It contained two Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras, a bevy of lenses, placed around the periphery of the bag, in the external pockets, and also a Nikon D750 with a 24-120mm lens. The bag also held the usual photo shoot "pocket" trash: the cellphone, a shot list,  extra batteries for everything, a small flash and off camera cord, and a small notebook and a pen.

I could see all the available lenses at a glance and the handles made the bag easy to carry from place to place. The bag never ended up on my shoulder --- there is no shoulder strap.

On almost every job like this I bring a cart to move all the gear from the car to the shooting location. The cart has the heavy stuff like light stands and cases of lights. This bag rides in on the cart and then, for most of the day (unless its contents are needed) the cart sits in a corner waiting, with it's load of gear, to be pressed into service.  The rest of the day I work out of the bag.

How did it work?  I loved not having to fasten the fasteners on a camera bag before hoisting it up on my shoulder; closing up the bag is a habit developed to make sure the traditional camera bag doesn't dump its precious cargo onto a hard floor. I didn't miss the ritual of opening each velcro'd pocket to search for that one needed, but hidden from sight, lens.

As I pushed my cart back to the car at the end of the day I had two thoughts. The first was of all the money I'd spent chasing the "ultimate" camera bag when, most times a cheap bag like this would actually be more efficient for many of the jobs that take most of my time. Second, I remember looking around as I headed to the parking garage and seeing dozens of construction workers who were carrying the same or similar bags filled with tools and materials for their jobs. I felt like I'd crossed over from some photo-snob attitude into the mainstream demographic of "worker."

Yeah. I used the same bag again for a dress rehearsal shoot at Zach Theatre. The bag sat at my feet and I could reach down and grab a lens directly from a pocket. I could drop a body and lens right into the center of the bag without messing with lids and straps. It worked well and seems to also be making my left shoulder a happier shoulder. Here's to thinking "outside the bag."

11.24.2015

Luminous-Landscape.com heads behind the paywall and I salute them. It's content that's (generally) worth paying for.



For those of you who are unfamiliar with Luminous-Landscape.com let me take a go at describing the website. Imagine an ardent photographer who also made some money in various other careers. Imagine he and a partner start a website in the early days of digital imaging and write a series of articles, over more than a decade, which intelligently trace the evolution of photography through this period. They offered us reviews of cameras that fascinated us and became parts of our own stories, as well as aspirational cameras we knew we personally would never buy but wanted to know all about (medium format digital). They also offered articles on technique and videos that helped us understand better, how to make the most of video features and "darkroom" techniques.

That all sounds good but add to that a real objectivity, decent writing and logical thinking and you come up with a compelling website for serious photographers.

I've read the primary content for years and I've also found the input on the forum, from a large number of very well informed pros, to be very valuable to me in my journey of video and digital photography. Since the inception of the site it has be available for free and was subsidized/monetized by advertising and affiliate links. The owners of the site have discovered what most bloggers and special interest websites have found in the past year or so: ad engagement, revenue, participation and every other measure having to do with making money online has gone into a controlled crash and burn trajectory. They have decided to try their luck in making the site on that requires a paid subscription from readers. They are charging a mere $12 A YEAR to make all the content (including videos that were usually sold as products on the site) available to subscribers.

Using the Kirk Tuck Latte Value measurement tool we can see that the price of a year's worth of knowledge and reading pleasure barely budges the needle, equalling three grande lattes from Starbucks. Not a high price to pay.

Their site goes to the paid model on November 30th and I plan to show my support by being a member from day one. If you want to support smart content on the web please think about supporting their site. I'm sure most of you read it already.

No big changes at VSL. We're just trying to stay relevant.

disclosure: I have no connection with Luminous Landscape and no person relationship with any of the writers or owners of the site. I wrote this blog (above) as a public service as I feel the site I am discussing has both contemporary and historic value. 

11.22.2015

innovation in cameras is highly overrated.


Innovation certainly drives commerce. Photographers who were once happy to change cameras every five to ten years have been trained, like monkeys hitting a treat bar and getting a piece of fruit, to upgrade to a new and different camera every time their favorite manufacturer rings the bell (or, advertises a new and improved camera model). 

But it's important to know that not all innovation is net positive for the consumer. I went to buy a phone recently and looked at the various iPhone models. The newest ones seem huge compared to the previous models. The 6S is bigger than the 5S and "features" the rounded corners and gently beveled case that every other current phone from every cellphone maker "features." You could suggest that a bigger phone is an "innovation" but I think we all know it's just a choice. Bigger screen or smaller screen. Bigger phone or smaller phone. Nothing innovative there. It's just the new "plus" sizing for people who need a bit of room....

The innovation that the previous iPhones brought to the table (in addition to their highly capable software features) was a beautiful design that allowed the phone to do just about everything normal people wanted to do with a phone but also allowed the phone to fit in the pocket of one's jeans. Even one's tight jeans. The iPhones before the iPhone 5S did that trick even more gracefully. Their innovation was to use design to decomplicate a product and at the same time make it more transparent to the user in daily life.... 

All the phones can display e-mail and texts and all of them can field telephone calls. An innovation would be an invisible phone, or one that you could buy once and use forever with no additional fees. An innovation would be changing to a power supply that never needed charging. Or was bulletproof.
Having a slightly bigger screen or being able to play Candy Crush a bit faster could be counted as an "improvement" but not an innovation. 

In the world of cameras I don't see size differentials as profound innovations. Cameras can be larger or smaller and still take great photographs. The size difference might signify convenience to one part of the market (small enough to fit in a woman's purse of a "man bag", larger to supply good ergonomics for handholding with bigger, heavier lenses).  We can put a big chip in a small body, a la the Sony RX1 and we can put a small chip in a big body a la the Panasonic FZ 1000 or the Panasonic GX8. Other attributes will define whether or not the camera is an innovation. In the case of the Sony RX1, for example, it might be the tight integration of the sensor and the permanently mounted lens---but that really just strikes me as a performance enhancement....

I started thinking about this because I've been reading articles and blogs which continually denigrate Canon for not "innovating" over the past five years, in the field of digital cameras. (Keep in mind that Canon sells more single use, digital cameras than any of their competitors). The writers, and their respondents, continually blame Canon's sales decline of cameras to their lack of innovation. 

When I dig a little deeper I see that what they mean by innovation can be shortlisted down to three main concerns. First, for whatever reason, they want Canon to take the mirrors out of their cameras. There is a pervasive idea that mirrorless cameras are something for makers of cameras to aspire to. I have long been an adherent of electronic viewfinders in cameras but I've never cared whether it is a result of removing the mirrors or not. Sony did a decent job of incorporating EVFs into all the late models of their Alpha cameras with no major problems. It is not required, technically, for Nikon and Canon to remove mirrors from their cameras in order to implement EVFs, although I presume it would make the process both easier and less expensive.  At any rate, the pundits want those mirrors gone. 

Next, they want everyone to use the same metrics for measuring the value of the sensors in the cameras. The litmus test is the Sony A7R2 or the Nikon D810. Match them for the performance metrics those sensor excel in or meet with withering criticism and derision. It may be that the advanced Canon products have metrics at which they excel but the crowd consensus is ready to discount those attributes pretty quickly. It may be that Canon's color rendering is better. It may be that Canon sensors outperform the Sony sensors for dynamic range at higher ISOs (where it might even be more meaningful for image quality improvements) but none of that matter as long as "innovation" is uniform and lockstep. 

Finally, the third category is size&weight. The idea being that all smaller cameras are better than bigger cameras, all things being otherwise equal. Given that I have friends who are almost seven feet all and who can palm two basketballs in one hand, and I have friends who are tiny and whose faces are mostly hidden behind an Olympus OMD with a battery grip attached, I think I would have to say that there is no overwhelming advantage to any particular sized cameras in the aggregated market. 

Then there are those of us who are effectively size neutral and who can be comfortable with a super-dinky EM5 but also be right at home with a Nikon D810 or D4s. 

While it is true that Canon and Nikon have spent the last five years iterating their cameras lines instead of making ground shaking innovations I see the subtle but real improvements from camera to camera as being just as valuable as silly things like camera body shrinkage (less for your money?) and a fixation with odd stuff like ultra high electronic shutter speeds, ultra high frame rates, etc. 

As consumers I think we should rejoice and applaud a lack of useless innovations by good camera makers because in some small way it helps to trim down our voracious appetite for a constant flow of new and improved stuff. 

I would much rather have Nikon, for example, fix the focusing issues of the D7000 in the later models (the D7100 and D7200) than add stuff like twenty stop bracketing to the new cameras, instead. I would much rather have Canon improve the sensor in their line of Rebel cameras than improve the ability of the cameras to do more things like internal HDR, improved GPS (surely you can remember where you went on vacation last month without having to research it in your cameras.....right?). 

I applaud Nikon and Canon for continuing to make workable tools that actually fit into adult hands. I'm not sure I want them to innovate themselves into a limited product offering of mini-cameras with nothing but cheesy and annoying rear screens for composition. 

There are some camera attributes that don't need re-thinking: size, handling and ergonomics are some of them. I would much rather have the same body style year after year with nothing more to look forward to than better sensors and better movie codecs.

Have you noticed that the steering wheels in cars haven't changed much in the last twenty years. If you measure them across different models you'd find an amazing relative consistency in circumference. And position. And design (circular). No joystick versions from movies about the future. And there is a reason for this..... They found a design that works across a huge demographic. People have been acculturated to understand how to use them. The design of the steering wheel is always expected by drivers. Just so with cameras. Body sizes and styles are a reflection of 60+ years of designing and researching handheld cameras. 

If you want to demand real innovation then let's start thinking of really cool stuff we'd actually want or need on a camera. How about an atmospherically neutrally buoyant cameras and lens that floats along in the air with you instead of weighing down your shoulder. How about a sensor that tracks where your eye is looking and focuses on that point for you? Oh, wait, Canon designed and introduced that in the 1980's....

How about unifying the raw file format among all camera makers so you don't have to wait for Adobe to reverse engineer hundreds of different cameras codes every year? Just imagine, you buy a brand new camera and go right out and shoot raw files without having to default to some camera maker's 1970's version of a raw converter for post production.  Innovation? How about a sensor module that could be easily traded out for a yearly, or every other year, quality enhancement of the camera you already know and enjoy using? A $400 update to a better sensor while running the same camera control firmware you know and love. And the same lenses, and flashes, and batteries...

And an innovation for Olympus users? How about a menu that makes sense to the rest of the world?

Was it an innovation a year and a half ago when Pentax put a row of LED lights down the front of their consumer level DSLR? Disco lights on a camera? No one else had done it. No, not innovation --just senseless bling and quicker battery drain. 

We'd love to place blame for the decline of the overall, single use camera market at the feet of Nikon and Canon and accuse them of killing off the craft by not innovating appropriately and quickly enough but the reality is that the market shrunk because photography got (apparently) easier and no longer very challenging. Everyone's ability became special, all at the same time. 

The call for innovation in cameras is silly. How often does the hammer get redesigned? Or the screwdriver blade? Or the basic elements of a refrigerator? Or the driving controls of a car? Why should cameras have to answer to a higher standard? Isn't it enough to continue improving them year after year.? Isn't it a benefit to be able to spend time getting up to speed on the device?

The one major product sector that changes with every season is fashion clothing. Surely we aren't ready to admit that we only buy new cameras because of the addiction to ever changing product styles... 

What do you really want in a single use camera? The ability to continue using the lenses you like. A straightforward interface. Good performance. Good handling. And like the porridge that Goldilocks was shamelessly stealing, they should be not too big. Not too small. But just right. 

There. I think we covered it.