Japan Closer, Kit Angst Stronger.

Every time I go through this. Shaping my photographic options based on speculation, fear or making the wrong choice in opposition to the knowledge that I cannot really make up a bad kit.

There is a lot to be said for having little choice.

In the past I have used several camera and lens combinations, including zooms, small primes or both. I have never come away feeling like my gear, or at least my trip/day specific choices, have held me back. I cannot say for sure whether I adapt instinctively to what I am using or, more likely, just fall back on well worn work habits that allow me to “cut out” what I know I cannot do.

Compositional choices in fast transition environments are directly linked to focal length used, but only if you are in tune with that focal length. I find zoom lenses often confuse my thinking here, but are perfect for controlled shots, like landscapes, especially on the long end.

Compositional choices in fast transition environments are directly linked to focal length used, but only if you are in tune with that focal length. I find zoom lenses often confuse my thinking here, but are perfect for controlled shots, like landscapes, especially on the long end.

I sometimes wonder if a single camera and prime lens could do the job, but more realistically, a pair of primes on matched cameras would be sufficient. Options when packing are ok, limiting these on the day is ideal.

Zooms make life easier and complicate in equal measure. For street shooting, where speed is more reflex and intuition than technical, zooms add a separate thought trail that slows you down way too much. If zooms are used, they must be thought of as a set of single focal length lenses, conveniently grouped into one, pre selected and adhered to.

My wife has a new EM10 mk2 (a super end of model bargain in the 100 hours of madness, 100th anniversary sale from Olympus), which frees up the little Pen Mini that I find so good for street*.

Focal length was not a worry here, but pointing a relatively large EM1 and 12-40 zoom at someone in such intimate circumstances was. The Pen mini makes both ends off the process (shooter and subject) feel more at ease.

Focal length was not a worry here, but pointing a relatively large EM1 and 12-40 zoom at someone in such intimate circumstances was. The Pen mini makes both ends off the process (shooter and subject) feel more at ease.

The reality is, I can function more than well enough with the Pen mini and 17mm at my right hand (on the long strap), with an EM5 (plus a back-up) in my left hand with either the budget 40-150 for good light or 45 f1.8 for lower light.

It seems the more gear I accumulate, the more I use the less exotic bits.

Too Perfect to Matter?

Time for a serious post (long time coming, but moods and priorities change).

This morning I checked out my long time favourite blog, the Online Photographer (https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/blog_index.html) as I used to do much more often*.

I have been following the usual enlightened and knowledgeable series of sharpness related article that have been running over the last few weeks as this is a subject that touches me both technically and philosophically.

Mike touched on the subject of technical trends and fashions and our response to them. He admits to, after the initial emotional penance has been paid, being distracted by the technical elements of the image, effectively being unable to “un-see” them once seen**.

https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2019/10/one-more-thought-about-sharpness.html

I must admit, to my shame, I was drawn to the technical fist.

The first things that I noticed was the blue dress which was “perfect” in focus and clarity, which really jumped out and the balance of the image, in an almost studio manufactured way (true the image was tiny on my ipad mini in portrait orientation). It blurred the line between fine art and documentary. It was too Hollywood perfect.

This image would have moved me deeply in the past, taken on film or early digital with a real “grabbed with respect, not obsessed by image quality” feeling, but with modern cameras and processing, perfection is all too easily achieved.

The (first) question I have to ask myself is;

“If awareness of perfection is starting to invade all areas of life/photography, will we be in-tolerant of anything less, even if that is at the expense of the very subject we are viewing?”

This may seem a trite and shallow view, but as Mike eludes to, trends change, and expectations as well. If perfection is the yard stick used to split two images of equal human value, lets say both are up for a Pulitzer based on their story relevance, then I guess the expectation of quality has transcended content or at least become the dominant factor.

Mobile phones, ironically, are now the spontaneous lesser beings of the photographic world, although much of that is due to the user of the devices as they are really getting there, but that will not last either.

Perfect focus, perfect Bokeh (as understood by the actioner), perfect exposure, colour and contrast are not luck or skill based, but assumed more often than not.

Perfection is a noble goal to chase. Reaching it too easily makes it less precious, eventually to the point of mundanity.

In my own photographic world, the EM1, which I do not like using for street images because it is too big and the flip out screen annoys, does provide a more consistent experience than my trusty old Em5’s. This has created a tug of war between quality and reality. Do I chase more shots, technically better taken or less shots with better “taking”?

*I must admit to being AWOL from blog chasing (and writing) for a few months and really not keeping up with the current avalanche of the new except where it directly pertains to my work. This is possibly because of exactly the same reason as this article. Camera gear is all getting too perfect. I am bored and dis-interested by an industry that regularly spits out yet another monster super lens, more, near flawless cameras and processing answers for everything. The skill required for taking a good image is still relevant, but even more so is the ability to handle ever more complicated cameras to their full potential.

It all seems like a violin concerto rising to a frantic peak, with nowhere to go afterwards.

**This touches on a couple of other articles he has published on a book of Ansel Adam’s colour work and a beautiful tome of Kodachrome images taken by Nathan Benn, which were both over processed by “disrespectful modernisers”, one in a review and the other as a re-print. The whole point of these works being published is their place in time, not a direct same-way-processing comparison to current trends.

Gear, The Eternal Struggle.

Another trip to japan if looming and again the gear issue comes up.

Last trip ended up being very clean. I took an EM5, which promptly became un-trust worthy, reducing me to one camera, the EM1 mk2. This also forced another change in shooting style, making me use a more versatile zoom (12-40).

Adjustments were made and advantages discovered, but it still left me un settled. I felt the bigger camera and lens combo was more obvious, which came at a time of style introspection.

The Japanese are capable of seeming obliviousness to touristy invasions, but the longer I spend there the more averse I am becoming too pushing.

The bigger camera and lens felt too tension filled. Too aggressive in a place lacking aggression.

The combination offered almost instant AF lock, even in poor light conditions.

The combination offered almost instant AF lock, even in poor light conditions.

Sometimes the size was irrelevant and then it’s speed became a bonus.

Sometimes the size was irrelevant and then it’s speed became a bonus.

untitled-4181177-2.jpg
The image quality, although not much better in base terms, has a more mature or delicate look. The solid reliability of the EM5’s files was replaced by images that had the ability to look bigger than M43.

The image quality, although not much better in base terms, has a more mature or delicate look. The solid reliability of the EM5’s files was replaced by images that had the ability to look bigger than M43.

And some scenes were devoid of people, but required as much quality as I could scrape out.

And some scenes were devoid of people, but required as much quality as I could scrape out.

All of my instincts are leaning towards the kit I have never had the guts to take;

4 EM5’s (use 2 and have 2 as back up, due to their age)

4 prime lenses used in sets of 2 (17/45 and 25/75), depending on working distance.

One EM5 would be “on the hip” with a long strap with a wider lens and the other in my left hand with a long lens or in the bag when things are less photogenic.

This lacks any zooms, any real reach, much width and relies on very solid, but not as reliable AF, but it adds a feeling of familiarity, some work method challenge and offers payback to the gear for the years of service it has given*.

The four lenses are so well proven, that their lack of range, replaced by more versatile extra speed, combined with my preference for primes over zooms, may be filling a creative void I have fallen into lately. A bit of “getting back to where it started” and forcing me to hone technique over convenience.

Many of my favourite images have been taken using the primes. This is not a coincidence. My “eye” changes when composing with a fixed focal length, I think for the better. It frees up a more reactive and reliable compositional eye. I think I compose with a higher and more open minded thinking. I make the most of what is on offer, but also, being limited, think out side the box more. Many of my favourite images have a quality forced on them by a tension of what is versus what could have been.

Shot in the fly with a 45mm lens wide open. The limited view was a choice, the speed of the lens a benefit, the composition was luck (or not depending on your point of view).

Shot in the fly with a 45mm lens wide open. The limited view was a choice, the speed of the lens a benefit, the composition was luck (or not depending on your point of view).

No time to zoom, just frame and shoot.

No time to zoom, just frame and shoot.

I found the bigger camera and lens less bag friendly than the smaller EM5’s. The excellent Turnstyle 10 held it and two zooms well enough, but filled it firmly. Two EM5’s and 4 primes would fit with less pressure, especially if one was on a long strap-at the ready.

I am even very tempted to take the Filson bag, which houses this kit ideally, but has not made a trip to Japan so far.

*When I shot Canon, no camera had the chance to wear out. Swapping constantly to better/bigger/newer avoided choices forced by old work horses reaching the end of their lives. Even my 5D mk2, which I had the longest was sold in worn in, not worn out condition (I did find out, that both my ageing 450D’s died recently, but they did a lot of work with their new owners).

Looking Forward to The Normality

Something my wife and I both feel strongly about is the settled normality of Japan. We do not speak the language, fully understand the culture, nor do we agree with all things Japanese, but we can say, without doubt, that we feel very comfortable there.

The gentleness and the respectfulness, towards all, has a profound effect on regular visitors.

We often find returning home a hard landing of reality.

Above is a set of images, all found in one sequence, taken on a regular day in Kyoto (with many others), showing the normality of life in Japan’s cities. I often find little gems of life hidden in these files.

Of Dogs, Change and the Demise of the OCOLOY

Since committing to the OCOLOY (one camera, one lens, one year), a lot has happened in our lives. Daisy suddenly lost her big sister to an aggressive and painful bone cancer.

Daisy standing watch over Pepper on her last day with us, enjoying a short moment of winter sunshine on an all together bleak day. The nasty bone cancer in her hip/pelvis stole her away from us years before her time and left us with a lonely pup.

Daisy standing watch over Pepper on her last day with us, enjoying a short moment of winter sunshine on an all together bleak day. The nasty bone cancer in her hip/pelvis stole her away from us years before her time and left us with a lonely pup.

We have since all adjusted to a new house member, Lucy the (9-12 month old) German Wire Haired Pointer-cross.

Lucy, an impulse adoption from the shelter  has been a handful (or rather the two of them have), but has a heart of gold, is infinitely tolerant of Daisy’s attention and after a slightly rocky start is now one of the family.

Lucy, an impulse adoption from the shelter has been a handful (or rather the two of them have), but has a heart of gold, is infinitely tolerant of Daisy’s attention and after a slightly rocky start is now one of the family.

The first casualty was the OCOLOY, which became a pain and distraction. So much for discipline, but priorities change.

The theory is sound, but the application a little indulgent in our current circumstances. I found that the tension between the images I wanted to take, the images a took that did not get used and dealing with the days that got missed was too close to ruining my enjoyment of photography. In effect it became an anti stimulus. Maybe I will miss an opportunity for growth, or not.

Maybe I will give it a go some other time.


Bower Bird

Like the Bower Bird, I cannot resist chrome and class.

All images taken at the Woolmers estate classic car festival last week end. Em1 mk2, 12-40 and 75-300. These two are my first choice for this type of work. They both offer high sharpness and brilliance, without being overly micro contrasty (bad for cleaning marks and rust specks), excellent colour and generally well behaved Bokeh.

What is in a name?

Daisy she is and Daisy she will be…..or maybe not.

We named her Daisy because we liked the name and felt it suited her, but then this happened.

During a conversation about her “puppy period” swathe of destruction, we used the term Gremlin.

Maybe we named her too soon?

Random Thought

Maybe I (you) should do a OCOLOY Haiku project?

Three related or story telling images each day. Too much and at odds with the intent?

Not sure.

Maybe next year.

More Rules For My OCOLOY

As this project gets rushed into existence, I am making the rules up as I go.

No or little cropping. I will crop to fit the intent of the image when taken (why be artificially limited to 4:3 only), but will limit cropping to 2 edges staying untouched, so squares and rectangles are ok, but not whole sale cropping.

Colour or black and white are fine as best suits. It will be interesting to see how that evolves.

No accessories will be used including a tripod.

Processing will be done at the end of the day or early the next as I can (the next trip to japan will be problematic, but the images will be taken).

Manipulations will be limited to Lightroom, using loading pre-sets and basic “photographic fixes only, no fakery or merging/layers, only direct tools like the brush or gradient filter. Remember, this is an exercise in image taking, but processing.

Excess images may be used for other projects. The point of the OCOLOY is to take at least one presentable image a day, not ditch the rest. More is better.

A day 1 contender.

A day 1 contender.



Fighting the Mid Winter Funk.

The (cold dark days of winter are getting to me this year. The year is colder than average and when it’s not, the weather switches to mild but dull and wet. Neither situation is sitting well with me at the moment and my lack of photographic productivity is evidence of my lethargy. I know for a fact that getting out into the world rewards me with images, but the desire to go and do it is lacking.

Beauty is consistently all around us, so why do we leave it to our phones to be the camera we have with us.

Beauty is consistently all around us, so why do we leave it to our phones to be the camera we have with us.

What to do?

There are a number of ways to cure the creative “doldrums”. One of these is to embark on a project.

One of my favourite projects is called the “One camera, one lens, one year” challenge that Mike Johnson postulated on his blog “The Online Photographer”.

The basic premise (modifications allowed as needed), is to choose one camera (a Leica is recommended for it’s hands on, grass roots practicality, and I dare say, it’s nostalgia quotient), then attach one lens, usually something between 35-50mm on a full frame (modification allowed), then set yourself the task of taking 1 shot per day (any subject) and processing/posting it as regularly as possible (film is recommended, but is not mandatory).

There is no unrealistic expectation that you will not touch other gear, or stop working if photography is your trade, but the OCOLOY discipline must be adhered to, even if it requires you “put on another photographic hat” for a while each day. If you cannot post, or even shoot every day for what ever reason, the challenge does not end, but determined adherence is part of the reward process. You may add self inflicted limitations like jpeg, or mono only, but that is up to you.

More than one image can be taken, but only the best for the day should be used. This adds the life lesson that some days are golden, full of image making potential, others are dust, giving little, but they all count.

Zoom lenses are not technically out of bounds, but they add to the bulk of the go anywhere kit and soften the lesson of getting your eye trained, rather than just throwing more focal length options at the composition.

The point?

1) To learn how consistent work keeps you “on point” and show the benefits of working through different moods, subjects and seasons with the forced requirement of making an effort daily, while at the same time limiting the distraction of too many tools.

2) Getting to know photography on a deeper level through the “eye” of a single camera and lens, then pushing your technique within that very restrictive (at first) envelope, which is widely thought to be the best way of elevating your skills.

3) Become fully immersed in the process, rather than the superficial top layer of gear and photographic desire without solid work to support it.

It is a strongly held belief by many old heads, that you will be a better and/or revitalised photographer at the end of the process.

My tools for this will be an old OMD EM5, as they make the ideal “go everywhere” camera (well known to me and of low “preciousness”) and the 25mm lens which is ironically my least liked, but most trusted and versatile non-zoom lens (the 25mm f1.8 is actually closer to a 45mm FF equivalent, which makes it the ideal standard lens). The Pen F is tempting, mainly due to it’s Leica like ascetic, but the ageing EM5’s need a project as much as I, so one of them will be pressed into service and the Pen has other duties.

My first OMD, battle scars and all.

My first OMD, battle scars and all.

I missed my start date (1st July), due to said malaise and a freezing cold computer room, but the actual date does not matter, only the on-going commitment.

My promise;

To take the daily image as required unless it is somehow not physically possible to do so. I may not post on a daily basis, but I will take all 365 images over the year and wont sneak yesterdays second option into todays etc.

Other images not associated with the OCOLOY will be taken, especially on the next Japan trip, but the Em5 will also go on that trip and an effort to take a relevant image will be made. I may even only take it if the process dictates.

Lights Out

Seconds later, with no warning, the lights were turned off. Just goes to show, hesitate and you loose.

Pen F 12-100

Pen F 12-100

Mystery

Mystery, or the feeling of it, adds an element to some photographs, taking them from so-so to a different level.

Pen F 12-100

Pen F 12-100

In a night work-shop we ran last week, this image became my favourite, but processing it is difficult. There is plenty of reasonable information in the file, but how much to use. With more included, a window frame distracts slightly and clarifies the image possibly too much. With less exposure, it becomes too abstract.

Strange Eyes

Our new pup, it turns out, has unusual eyes.

Like a deep space phenomenon.

Like a deep space phenomenon.

Haiku #84

My image making lately has degenerated into simple garden abstracts.

Haiku #83 New Life

We will not soon forget our old friend Jack, but it is pleasing how a new pup distracts your thoughts.

She has been accused of eating plants, but she insists there is no proof.

Soon It Will Be Time To Make The Call

I really will miss the images making capabilities of the Em5 mk1 cameras when they are all used up. This may be soon (of the 4 I have, two are showing intermittent faults, one has a missing a strap lug and all have “done enough” to be retired), but even with two new cameras in the kit, they offer something I cannot define, and will lament when it is gone.

The front one is missing a strap lug which resulted in a 3 foot fall, the back one has a “twitchy” sensor that bands when I know not what, conditions are met and the 4th, not pictured jumps in and out of mode in the (unused) “Art” setting, but they all still do the job (usually) and I still love the results.

The front one is missing a strap lug which resulted in a 3 foot fall, the back one has a “twitchy” sensor that bands when I know not what, conditions are met and the 4th, not pictured jumps in and out of mode in the (unused) “Art” setting, but they all still do the job (usually) and I still love the results.

I also really like the surety and gentleness of the shutter.

I know the stabilisers in the newer cameras are better, but with practice, I have been able to pull off some surprising results with the EM5’s due to smooth operation and a solid feel.

With a few Lightroom tweaks, the files can look like any other cameras or even film. The Canon colour I grew to like is basically a +20 blue channel saturation fix in calibration, some added whites/reduced highlights and boosted shadows/darkened blacks. The images are however more “real”, sharper more immediate, and crunchier than the files I got from Canon, and often with ridiculously small, mid range primes, not monster “L” glass.

With a few Lightroom tweaks, the files can look like any other cameras or even film. The Canon colour I grew to like is basically a +20 blue channel saturation fix in calibration, some added whites/reduced highlights and boosted shadows/darkened blacks. The images are however more “real”, sharper more immediate, and crunchier than the files I got from Canon, and often with ridiculously small, mid range primes, not monster “L” glass.

For a while Fuji also gave me something to ponder, but the simple, no gimmick Olympus files won again and at the time, the Olympus cameras and their RAW files were considerably nicer to use.

I did buy a well used EM5 from a work colleague (the one with the odd mode dial flicker), but at a reasonable price, so if it gives me a few thousand good files, it will make the pack go longer overall.

This is the first time since owning a Canon Fin years ago, that I am dreading the demise of a picture taking friend. Most other digital SLR’s or mirrorless cameras have been moved on well before this point.

From a job mostly shot at ISO 3200 with 40-150 f2.8.

From a job mostly shot at ISO 3200 with 40-150 f2.8.

An odd phenomenon I have noticed when processing the EM5 files is their ability to effectively clean up noise. The EM1 and Pen F (less so) have “regular” noise, like other cameras. This noise tends to smear, reducing sharpness a little. The EM5’s have black speck noise that cleans up with very little resolution loss.

They have their limits, but when used within their reality envelope, they produce beautiful, honest files.

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No call to be made yet, but soon I guess.

Hard Line

I am tough on, even dismissive of my 25mm f1.8. It is funny how often it gets grabbed and the results are always great in spite of my regular lack-lustre comments.

EM5 mk1 also which is the topic of a future post.

EM5 mk1 also which is the topic of a future post.