Canon: It's Been a Good Run

I pre-ordered my Canon EOS 5D Mark II in late 2008. I didn't know it then, but a few weeks later, I would lose my full-time job with O'Reilly Media.

Once I found out about the department-wide layoff, I wondered out loud on social media, "Should I go through with the purchase of the 5D Mark II?" After all, that $2,500 would come in real handy for other things, like paying the mortgage.

My friends were unanimous in their response: "Keep the camera. You're going to need it." And they were right.

For the next 8+ years, I depended on the Canon and my arsenal of lenses to deliver the goods to  commercial clients. In the beginning, I thought 21 megapixels was overkill. Near the end, it wasn't quite enough.

That's right. The end.

I sold the Canon 5D Mark II on Amazon yesterday. I've also let go of the 24-105mm L zoom, and my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L is listed online right now. It's the end of an era for me that began in 1995 when I started shooting weddings. So what happened?

Over the last few years, the 5D Mark II has started to feel like old technology, especially compared to my Olympus Micro Four Thirds gear that I use for travel and event photography. I really liked my Canon, and kept using it regardless. But I just can't anymore. It's too weird going from the OM-D E-M5 Mark II to the 5D.

I waited to see what Canon had to offer in terms of new models. After the recent wave of announcements, I decided that I just wasn't excited by their stuff. I knew I had to replace the 5D Mark II, but with what?

The answer came when Pentax announced the 24MP KP. It was love at first sight. It featured an upgrade in resolution, great low light performance, sensor-based image stabilization (which I came to appreciate through Olympus), and a set of super compact HD limited edition lenses that are a fraction of the size of my Canon glass.

In fact, I have been wanting the Pentax DA 20-40mm f/2.8-4 ED Limited since the day it was announced. Now, I finally have it. (Man, that was a long wait...)

What I like about this transition is that my DSLR gear is better aligned with my Micro Four Thirds kit. I enjoy shooting with an optical viewfinder at times, and will probably always have a DSLR to complement my mirrorless. But these days, I want efficient, compact gear. And that's what I get with Pentax and the limited edition lenses.

I will always be fond of Canon. I shot the Beijing Olympics with Canon. My first trip to Iceland was with this gear. I have billboards thanks to the 5D Mark II. But we just ran out of road.

It's been a good run, Canon. Thanks for the great images. 

Maybe our paths will cross again someday.


The Last Frame

I find it impossible to stop experimenting. Not only does my business depend on it, but my creative sanity as well. Boredom is not my friend.

At the same, my passion for photography is paradoxical. On one hand, I'm constantly striving to put together the perfect kit, discover the ideal adventure, capture the ultimate image. I've said to myself many times, "Now that I have this camera, I'm set. I don't need anything else."

And for the moment that's true.

Then, I read about this, someone tells me about that, and the whole plan is tossed in the air,  fluttering to the floor like scattered papers.

To be honest, I own many cameras. And I like them all. It feels a bit like a harem. One day I'm in love with the OM-D E-M5 II, then the next the Fuji X-20. Oh, that beautiful Pentax Super Program is calling to me now.

When I pack my Nimble Shoulder Bag for a daily bike ride, I'm never quite sure what's going inside. My only constant is the iPhone in my pocket. After that, it could be anyone's guess.

Many times of late, I've reached for a 35mm film camera. Those SLRs are comrades in my creative quest. My current favorites are the Pentax Program Plus, Pentax ZX-5n, Minolta X700, Contax G1, and Yashica FX-3 Super 2000. Film has added an element of excitement to this adventure. It's like kissing in an elevator and not knowing exactly when the doors will open.

In addition to all the things you already know about analog, such as not having an LCD to review the image right after you've captured it, there's one more aspect that I find intoxicating: the last frame.

Each roll of film has 36 exposures. I don't carry spare rolls for my adventures. If I see something interesting, I use a few frames to record it. If it's very interesting, a few more. 

Sometimes I'm less than half way through my ride, yet have just a few frames left. How do I meter them? How many do I save just in case something spectacular happens?

Yesterday, I saved just one frame. "I'm fine. Nothing's going on. I'm nearly finished with the ride," I said to myself.

Then, on cue, a woman approached up the path with four dogs. Two were tall, and two were short. They moved in unison like a gliding pyramid. She was in the center with a tall dog on each side, and the two shorties were flanking them.

They was coming right toward me.

One frame left.

I steadied the camera and waited for the perfect moment. She was staring at me too. When they were about 20 yards away, I squeezed the shutter button and recorded the last frame.

The film was still rewinding in the camera when she reached me.

"That's a shot I could not pass up," I said to her.

She smiled. "Oh really?"

"Are those your dogs, or are you a walker?"

"They're mine. We walk everyday. We keep each other healthy."

I smiled, thinking the same thing about my bike rides.

"Thanks for the great photograph," I said, holding up the camera.

"How did it turn out?" she asked.

"I have no idea. Won't know for a week or so. I only had one frame left."

She smiled curiously. "Film? Are you an artist?"

I pursed my lips. "I don't know."

"I just keep trying new things, hoping something good will happen."

She nodded in an understanding way, then continued down the path. I pulled out my iPhone to document the time and place, still thinking about frame #36.

The last frame.


Rediscovering an Old Friend

I've been a fan of Fujifilm digital cameras since they showed me the first X100 at Photokina years ago. And just last week, they released the latest version, the X100F along with the X-T20. Both cameras look beautiful.

As much as I would love to purchase each of them, it's not feasible, especially considering the excellent Micro Four Thirds kit that I currently use (and love).

But I do have a way to combat these cravings, and it's been a blast doing so.

I've had a Fujifilm X20 since it was first introduced in January 2013. There was a time when a 4-year-old digital camera was no longer practical. But we've reached a point where that isn't true anymore. My 2008 Canon 5D Mark II still takes outstanding pictures.

So, I packed the X20 for my recent trip to Monterey. More often than not, it was the camera I reached for. At one point, I remember noticing it on the nightstand at the hotel. It was so handsome!

Later, as I explored the shoreline, I shot monochrome, soft background, and some good old-fashioned Velvia film emulation with it. The images are beautiful. Processing wasn't an issue either. Photos for macOS has no problem handling those X-Trans RAW files.

And it just made me so happy to have this camera in my hands again.

I doubt that I'll be able to finagle the X100F any time soon. But I'm OK for now. Because thanks to the announcement of that new camera, I've rediscovered an old friend. And it feels so good to be together again.


The Best Thing About CES was Las Vegas

We like to make fun of Las Vegas for its indulgence and over-the-top nightlife. But the fact of the matter is, Sin City seemed more real to me this year than the very reason I was there in the first place: to cover the Consumer Electronics Show.

Sounds like I had one too many watered-down gin and tonics, right? Well, let me explain.

I'll start with CES. Was the show well organized? Yes. Did it have its entertaining moments? It did. Was I treated well as Press? Absolutely.

But after attending numerous media events and exploring North, Central, and South Halls, CES reminded me of cable television - all those channels with nothing to watch. If I were in the market for a new car, or in the mood to cobble together a smart home, I might feel differently. And in the past, I have. There were years when I loved CES.

But this wasn't one of them.

I feel like we've reach a plateau where it's technology for technology's sake. Look at any of the best product lists for CES 2017. Is there anything there you need to have? And that's the good stuff. There were miles of items that paled in comparison. 

I did see some well-engineered upgrades and refinements to existing products. The Blue Ella Headphones, Panasonic GH5, Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate GT, and the Nikon D5600 DSLR all appear to be excellent improvements over the models they replace. Plus, Kodak promised to bring back Ektachrome and Technics announced the Grand Class SL-1200GR audio turntable. Very nice.

But it wasn't until I left those halls that life became truly interesting. I had great meetings with old friends. I talked to Lyft drivers about their life aspirations. And I photographed residents and visitors alike as they immersed themselves in the Las Vegas vibe. These encounters are what made the journey worth my time.

For the moment, I have enough electronics to get my work done. I'd rather spend the rest of my time with humans... even the crazy ones wandering up and down Las Vegas Boulevard on a brisk winter night.


How I Survived SSS

We like to tease Millennials about their smartphone addiction. But the fact of the matter is, most of us have mobile devices within arms' reach. And nothing makes us happier than four bars and a full battery.

I received my own personal reminder recently when my iPhone 6S began to behave erratically. It had fallen victim to the "Sudden Shutdown Syndrome" (SSS), which was plaguing a batch of early production models.

I remember the day clearly. I was happily snapping photos for Instagram when the screen went black without warning.

"What the hell! I have 42% left on my battery. This is an outrage."

The truly evil aspect of this disease is that the phone would not return to life until it was connected to a power adapter. Then it would come to life like nothing ever happened.

"Well, something did happen, my friend. You left me. I didn't even get to post that shot."

I would sulk for a bit, then make up, and finally go on knowing that all relationships have their ups and downs. That is, until it happened again a few days later.

"I think we need to talk. This behavior is becoming a pattern. And I don't think you realize how it makes me feel."

The phone was silent. 

"Oh sure, now you're holding back notifications too. What next? No Snapchat?"

It was time for outside help. I went to the Apple Support page and learned that it wasn't my phone's fault. SSS was a disease, not a behavior. I started to feel guilty about my selfish thoughts.

"We have to get you help," I said with quiet determination.

I logged on to Apple Support Chat and told my counselor what had happened.

"We can't get you an appointment at the Genius Bar right now. Our next opening isn't until next week."

"Oh..." I typed deflatedly.

"But wait. There is an Apple Service Provider downtown that can see you today. Should I book an appointment?"

"Yes, Yes Please!" I typed and hit the Return key.

(Now I was feeling like I had used too many caps in my hurried response. "Too needy," I thought, "Way too needy...")

The good news was that my phone did qualify for a new battery at no charge. (There's a pun in there somewhere.) The bad news was that SSS was a full-blown outbreak, and that the new fuel cells were backordered.

"We'll call you when the battery comes in," the tech said coldly.

I have to admit, the next two weeks were difficult. It's funny how people are sympathetic about those who are sick. ("Oh, your poor iPhone!") But what about those who have to care for them? No matter. We managed to get through it. One day at a time, right?

Then the call came. My battery had arrived. I headed downtown for outpatient surgery.

"This will only take about an hour," the tech said. "Why don't you go get a cup of coffee."

Now, my iPhone 6S is better than ever. Now we're taking pictures together, sending witty emojis, and keeping up on the news. I've never been happier.

My advice to others is simple. Don't be afraid to seek help if your battery begins to fail. I know that you think you can tough it out. But don't put yourself though it.

Nobody likes a martyr.