DXO ONE. Greatest thing since deep fat fried Snickers candy bars or dumb stunt camera that makes your iPhone an unwieldily mess? Caution: Rant.

Brains are tricky things. They are built for and operate around the concept of doing one thing at a time with concentration and doing it well. The more micro stops and starts a brain has to deal with the less efficient and enjoyable the process being performed becomes. At a certain point it's only possible to do repetitious tasks and not creative tasks when the brain becomes overloaded with attempts at multi-tasking. 

With this in mind I am almost always opposed to complicating tools that we use for day to day tasks. Hell, I am against complicating tools even if we only use them sporadically.

So I am always at odds with otherwise smart people like Thom Hogan when he goes on his rant about  the ways to improve cameras to make them sell better. His consistent suggestion to Nikon is to make the camera more connected. He likes connectivity. He love the concept of connectivity. If Nikon were to take him seriously about connectivity (and I always hope they do not!) I can just imagine him in a blind somewhere, camera at the ready, waiting for some interesting predator to wander into range, taking a breather to play a few interactive rounds of Candy Crush with some kid who's online in Plano, Texas. You know, just to take the edge off.  As the camera's connected sonar app senses movement in the brush Thom mutes the game and begin lining up his shot of the massive timber wolf that's lumbered into the clearing. He's using the electronic shutter for silence and so far the big wolf doesn't sense his presence but the camera is thumping against Thom's hands to signal an incoming text from a high value sender and he directs his attention to the rear screen of his camera to read the message. The wolf lopes off into the pines of the permafrost as Thom successfully orders another shipment of razor blades from his online source.

Then, after checking his stock portfolio at Bloomberg.com he quickly looks through the shots of the edgy timber wolf and then watermarks them and sends them off to who knows where in order that they get somewhere quick. I don't know about Thom but I find that most of the work I do benefits from editing and post processing. Nothing is absolutely perfect out of the camera...  So I can only imagine that he's sending the images to his own cloud site where he'll be able to download them back to his working computer and, well, work on them with concentration and diligence. So here he is in the wild and the camera is willfully sucking down his battery charge by grinding out files to send and then sending them over some sort of network, the maintenance and use of also sucking down battery juice like a parched vampire.

I don't get it. I really don't get the advantage of all this race for interconnection. If you are a teenager and you are using social media to connect to your group and you do this by uploading every minute of your day via photos from your phone to your crowd then I guess the interconnectedness makes a certain amount of sense.  But we're mostly grown ups trying to concentrate on finding and capturing images. The editing and post production is all much better done on big, calibrated screens in environments designed to enhance color and tonal accuracy.

I think that industry and industry pundits alike are confusing why people like to send quick snap shots of themselves made with phones and the need for the same speed and connectedness on production work cameras. The number one benefit of the phones is simplicity. On the iPhone you are one button push away from shooting and one button push away from sending. And you already have the phone in your pocket. A stand alone camera features changeable controls in order to give you control and artistic mastery when shooting a subject.  I assume that an iPhone with the right software can give you the same but while I might want my iPhone camera to have more capabilities within its standard size I can't imagine that a camera which doesn't fit in ones pocket (especially when combined with a fast, long lens) would become the same sort of epicenter even if you put the clearest, cleanest cellphone imaginable right into the battery grip. Rather I think it plays into the stereotype of 50+ year old mens' love of add-on gadgetry.

Someone always trots out the argument that the need for connectivity revolves around the need for speed. That getting the images in front of the mythic client right away is of paramount importance. Well....first I'll go back to the need to do good post production and editing----which means at worst you've already downloaded the images to a big tablet or laptop in order to clean them up, add metadata and copyright information etc. I would propose that once you have the images on an external device it's silly to put them back on the camera to send them and most of the devices mentioned already have robust connectivity.

But unless you are a news journalist the argument for speed carries no real weight when it comes to clients. They (advertising clients) are not generally waiting breathlessly next to their workstations just hovering, anxious to press send and speed a file off the the printer the minute your (unedited and unprocessed) image comes whipping over from your camera's connectivity device. Most clients want retouched files. At least mine do. And so do the clients of everyone else I know in the industry, with the exception of newspaper photographers...all three of them.

Where Thom and Nikon and Canon all miss the magic equation is in understanding that a big driver of newer and smaller cameras is not connectivity but electronic viewfinders and better rear camera screens. Now people who didn't understand the nuances of camera settings can see exactly (more or less) what they'll be getting on their memory cards when they push the buttons. This is so because they can see it right in front of their faces! The ability to send the images is an add on. It's this year's 3-D.

You can chalk all this up to me being a cellphone hating Luddite but please remember that I danced on the cutting edge of this connectivity trend at least two years ago when I had the mixed pleasure of shooting with Samsung's highly connected camera, the Galaxy NX.  That camera had a full Android operating system on it, could upload images to Dropbox automatically, could send e-mail via wi-fi connections, and could even be connected via cell networks. And yes, you could play Angry Birds on the huge rear screen. If connectivity had been a prevailing consumer demand you had to believe that the camera would have excited the average millennial user to no end. In fact, this seems to be everything that Thom asks Nikon for. But in reality the mixing together of capabilities was like a man with five legs, all pointing in different directions trying to run a foot race. Turn off all the ancillary stuff and the camera could actually turn out amazingly good images for its class. But the combination of stuff went a long way toward crippling the camera instead. The rush and demand? I can't imagine that more than a thousand were sold, worldwide.

I'm also not sure I'd take a Swiss Army Knife to a knife fight if everyone else was sporting tactical combat knives with wicked eight and ten inch blades. Doesn't matter much in the heat of things if your weapon also has a eyeglass screwdriver....and a nail file.

Nikon will win back market share when they implement a really great EVF in a really great camera. Nikon will win back market share when they implement really, really good and flexible 4K video into a really great camera. Nikon will win back market share when they implement a mirrorless strategy that is backward compatible with 50 years of lens making. People want to see what they are getting without a lot of hassle. Nikon has great sensors. Some high end Nikons feature wi-fi (D750) but they are still seeing declining sales. Looking to phone capabilities to keep them from drowning in losses is amazingly dense. As we discovered with the Galaxy NX, few people will come out of pocket to buy a data plan for their cameras when they are already paying on a data plan for their phones. And the phones aren't leaving any time soon.

And this long preamble brings me to the DXO One. What is it? It's an almost tiny camera that comes with almost no buttons and absolutely no viewing screens and it gets hooked onto your iPhone (and only your iPhone!) through the connection port and turns your sleek phone (which already has a very good camera, all things considered) into a two piece, non-ergonomic photo assemblage which might give your better images if you care to work around a boring and fixed focal length. What does it do that the iPhone can't do? Oh, yes. It has a bigger sensor. And a silly price tag.

My prediction on all this connectivity crap, whether it is resident in the camera or as part of an assemblage of pieces that include a separate camera and phone, is that it is all meaningless. The phone will be the epicenter of sending and receiving for years to come. People will not pay more for a camera-to-phone accessory just because it might be marginally sharper, especially if it has to be wedded to their phone. I am sure DXO will have nice software inside that makes images juicier looking than phone photos but I doubt the photos will be so exemplary as to move the millions (billions) who are habituated to using the their phones to take images to change. If you argue that it's aimed at a more sophisticated market of photo enthusiasts I'll say that they missed the mark here as surely as Thom and Nikon have.

Photographers buy cameras for many reasons but most of them do so for a level of flexibility combined with image quality, not exclusively for the image quality. They want longer and shorter focal lengths. They want control over the exposures and frame rates. But mostly they want the flexibility to shoot a tight shot of a dancer on a stage or a wide shot of the Grand Canyon with the turn of a zoom ring or a quick change of lenses. I watch the general public at trade shows, in the streets, at events and if they want to send an image to a friend they do so with their phones.

I think DXO has also misjudged the marketplace for cameras. The idea of spending $600 for a fixed lens add-on device for a phone that already has an integral camera (the best selling camera in the world?) doesn't make economic sense for the vast majority of enthusiasts and it certainly doesn't make any sense for professionals. That leaves only the great "unwashed" as a marketplace and they have already spoken with their wallets and killed off the traditional compact cameras. Those cameras were trampled under foot in the rush to embrace cameras embedded in phones and I know those people will never look back.

Just as real Leicas are the cult cameras of the well to do Nikon should position their cameras as the cult cameras of the middle class. Accessible and almost affordable by most people working professionally but still pricey and exclusive enough to sell well. Put in an EVF. Kill the cheaper models. Raise the prices on all the remaining models and became a niche maker. DXO? They should stick with software.

If DXO really wanted to make money and help photographers create they could come up with a usable and super high quality raw file that could be universally adopted by camera makers, and their customers. After all, their core competency is in imaging software, non?

Of course, after all this I could be wrong about everything. Tom could understand the race to connectivity much better than I ever will. He's got his ear to the ground on this whole topic. Nikon could be right and maybe they're just waiting out a fad (but I don't think so.....). And DXO could be right on the money. People may want to spend more money to take photos which they will continue to upload via their phones which also have cameras. People might also want to stick more and more stuff into their pockets when they head out the door. And they may want to play "put the puzzle pieces together" when they stop using their phone as a phone and rush to use it as a camera dock. But I don't think so. And I'm going to guess that a couple dozen Samsung Galaxy NX owners could tell them, "I don't think so."

Final thing: Any device you have to attach to your phone, boot up, call up an app, etc. is a way of slowing down photography and making the combined devices less useful not more useful. DXO One? A prediction of how many they might sell...

Note: I haven't met Thom Hogan but I've read his website (bythom.com) for years and I trust his reviews of Nikon products more than anyone else. I also like when he writes about the economics of the industry. I am disagreeing with his assessment of how to improve Nikon sales, not making an ad hominem attack here. I also read his Sansmirror.com site and find it well done. We agree about most aspects of cameras and shooting, with the exception of connectivity in cameras. He thinks it is a wonderful thing while I think it's the tool of Satan. That's all.

Kirov Ballet at the Mariinsky Theater. St. Petersburg, Russia. February 1995.

©1995 Kirk Tuck.

"Firebird" from the Czar's box.

Paris Fashion Show. Carrousel du Louvre. 1994.

©1994. Kirk Tuck.

A couple of images from Lisbon Portugal. By Henry White.

©1998 Henry White. 

©1998 Henry White.

Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 lens. An exciting product announcement for full frame users.

If you shoot with a full frame camera from any company I thought you'd like to know about this particular lens. I think it's both amazing and exactly what I wanted to fill a hole in my collection of lenses. I wouldn't have taken Sigma so seriously if I had not been shooting with their 50mm Art lens on the D810 for the last month or so. It's wickedly good and its performance sets me up to want to rush out and buy one of these.

I see myself as mostly a portrait photographer and I have a lot of good lenses that cover the 50mm to 200mm focal length range. I have a lot of good choices when it comes to do a nice, tight portrait but I fumble a bit at the wide end. I have the Nikon 25-50mm f4.0 and it's fun and can be really good but using it for finicky commercial stuff is slow and I always feel that I should be in live view to make sure the focus is on the money. I've also got the 24-85mm f3.5 to 4.5 Nikon Zoom and while it's a very, very good step up from a kit lens it's not "ultimate" in image quality at any one focal length. Nor is it particularly fast (as in wide aperture).

I've recently toyed with the idea of getting the new crop of Nikon f1.8 wide angles; the 35mm, 28mm and 24mm but the thought of paying for all three (nearly $2,000) and carrying all three around and changing between them in a dusty environment gives me pause. Then this comes along and it replaces all three of the Nikon options in one swoop.

The Sigma 24-35mm is an f2.0 optic. Amazing. Wonderful; especially if it's sharp and geometrically well-behaved. This is one of Sigma's Art series lenses and the vast majority of user reviews and reviewer reviews say that pretty much every lens in the Art line is superb. Sigma states that, in the focal lengths covered, this lens is the equal to their own individual, prime lenses when it comes to imaging performance.

The lens is also usable with their USB dock which will help micro adjust any focusing discrepancies for users.

I haven't seen a price on it yet but if it's under $1,500 I'll take it. If it's around $899, like the rest of the lenses in the line up I'll take it and be thrilled. I'll wait to see how the smart people review it before I actually spend the money but I'm impressed with Sigma for the recent spate of fun innovation.

How fun!

Off Topic: How bad neighbors degrade quality of life. Or---the project that never ends.

We are fortunate enough to live in one of the nicest and most sought after areas in Austin, Texas, itself one of the most alluring cities in the U.S. just now. We bought our house nearly 20 years ago when property and houses were much less costly --- by a long shot. When we first moved into the neighborhood it was a sleepy, quiet place and the big excitement of the week was when the garbage trucks would roll in to pick up the trash. It stayed that way for a long time.

It was heaven for a writer/photographer working from a studio on the same property as the house. The professional people who lived around us took off for work in downtown Austin in the morning and rolled back in the evening. I could look out into a wall of trees and write quietly for hours.

Then we became a city on the fast track to something else and our neighborhood became the "must live" area because our schools were rated (academically) #1 in Texas and #7 in the country. About seven years ago people started buying perfectly good houses and tearing them down to the dirt in order to build much bigger and more expensive houses. Huge houses. Most of this was happening a block or two away from our street so it only impacted me when I walked Studio Dog.

But the frenzy continued and the prices continued to skyrocket so that now, whether or not there is a house on the lot, the price is nearly $1 million per. Crazy money.  House after house has gone down only to be replaced by someone's wet dream of a perfect house. Most with all the good taste of an Atlantic City casino.

About 18 months ago the long time neighbors in the six bedroom, rambling house next door sold their place to a couple whose business seems to be flipping properties. And they've left a trail of neighbors in various parts of the area who seem to uniformly dislike them because of the way they work.

They allegedly cut corners. They try to get away with bending the rules. And they use the most sinister looking subs they can find. The biggest problem though is that they seem to do stuff in fits and starts so the construction of new work goes in stops and and starts. It's unpredictable.

It all started when the enormous, industrial dumpster arrived at 6:30am in their driveway. The unloading of this Moby Dick sized dumpster could have been mistaken for a small earthquake. Over the course of the next three months we enjoyed the dulcet tones of jackhammers, air chisels and sledgehammers as they dismantled the existing house. In true Texas "entrepreneurial" fashion they left enough of the foundation and one wall. For permitting purposes, presumably.

In addition to the symphony of power tools and front end loaders we were privileged to hear the portable radios of all the sub contractors belting out  whatever droll country and western crap was currently on the airwaves. No open windows at our house in what would have been a very pleasant Spring...  Nearly every day I would walk up my driveway to the street and try to explain to contractors in giant pick-up trucks why they could not park directly across my private driveway. Sometimes I got to do this many times a day. For months at a time.

Occasionally the jackhammering would stop to make way for the cement trucks which came accompanied by the cement pumping trucks and they would pound away slurping cement via hoses to almost inaccessible parts of the new construction.

At each point of completion we'd relax a bit, thinking the endless ordeal was over, only to be woken up a week later by some new early, loud ritual of construction. When I complained to the new owner about the city noise ordinances he made all the right gestures and nods which led me to believe he understood what I was saying only to be treated to 6 am Sunday morning recitals of Jackhammer suites. Sometimes solo and sometimes accompanied by rock saws.

Finally the house was complete and the new neighbors/owners moved into the house. This was less than six months ago, more than a year after the start of the project. We thought we were done with the endless  sonic and logistic abuse. But no. The next thing up on the agenda was the demolition of an old swimming pool and the construction of a new, three level, much more ornate pool. Cue the jackhammers. Cue the rock cutters. Cue the cement trucks.

Two weeks ago a sub-contractor's crew showed up to do the rock work and within a day our cars and the side of our house were covered by white rock dust. The creation of which comes with it's own piercing soundtrack. Seems that there are OSHA rules that mandate dust control when cutting materials containing silica but the pool contractor didn't think the safety rules applied to his crew. And especially not in Texas. I spoke with an OSHA agent who sent me the right written materials about the federal rules and we quickly shared them with the contractor.  That seemed to have worked for a while.

But just before the pool work started the new neighbors moved out, which required three moving trucks and two days of frenetic activity. Now the house is empty and I've been told that it had been sold. See tax statutes about inhabiting a residence for 18 months to prevent the payment of capital gains taxes....

This new wrinkle has accelerated pool construction and seems to have engendered a whole new jackhammering project on the driveway, which is adjacent to ours. The first pick up trucks arrive around 7 am and the jackhammering commences shortly afterwards. The noise is such that even with Led Zeppelin playing through my Stax headphones I can't quit shut it out.

My wife advises that I "let it go" when I complain but she gets to leave the neighborhood in the morning, work in a cushy office, in a downtown high rise, and then return just as the last of a never ending rotation of anonymous and highly scruffy workers drives off.

I don't know how much longer I will be able to take the noise before I crack and become completely  irrational and unable to work. Whether intentionally or just as a by product of their avarice the buyers (now sellers) are quickly making the enjoyment of my own property nearly impossible during daylight hours. My only hope is that the new buyers will like everything about their new purchase just the way it is and are not buying this multi-million dollar property as another in an escalating series of "premium tear downs" where they drop major cash and then spend another 18 months re-doing everything all over again,  in their own "unique vision."

Do I write this just to complain? No, I write it by way of explanation and as excuse for any shortcomings in my writing performance you may be perceiving here on the blog. I blame all typos, all grammatical imperfections and all poorly thought out blog posts on the intellect reducing effects of construction noise. The lack of continuity of thought I blame on having to walk up the driveway in sporadic intervals to move errant vehicles from our right of way.

I have learned some valuable lessons (again): Things change. Economic booms have unwanted consequences. Many people have no empathy for their neighbors. It's hard to be creative when you can't hear yourself think. Construction is a shitty business. Tax laws need to be changed. Police do a poor job enforcing noise ordinances. Perth Australia looks like a fun place to live.

We've talked about all this at home, at length. If the house on the other side of us goes up for sale we're renting out our property for the duration of the inevitable sacking and re-building, and living somewhere quiet and interesting. Somewhere without the traffic. Somewhere without the rampant sense of entitlement that leads people to build 2,000 square feet of house per family member. Someplace where early morning jackhammers and rock saws with no silica dust abatement are illegal.

And to keep this rant remotely tangential to photography, after listening to the jackhammers everyday for a week I sympathize with the users of that first generation of Sony A7 and A7R cameras. #shutternoise?