Oh Those Embarrassing Moments

It was bad enough that I was the only guy with a film camera in Austin.

Here we were, a group of professional photojournalists testing a state-of-the-art digital device, with me discretely pulling out a Contax G1 every now and then.

"No wonder he's an independent," someone must have thought.

Yet I persisted, although as quietly as possible.

One moment that I couldn't resist, however, was at the Mean-Eyed Cat Bar. We had been there for a bit taking a break, and I parted from the group to explore with the G1. I loved the interior of this place.

When no one was looking, I pulled the camera from my bag, propped it up on a table, turned on the self-timer, and pressed the shutter button. There was no actual need to work that quickly. I was just nervous about making a scene.

 The exposure, however, seemed to be taking painfully long.

About 10 seconds in to it, Steve Huff walked by. He's a nice guy, but we hadn't really interacted much on this trip.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I thought I'd capture of few frames of this great interior," I replied.

"Oh, really" he asked. "With the lens cap on?"

The front of the camera had been hidden from my view. But sure enough, as I looked over it to inspect the glass, the lens cap was securely in place.

"I guess that would explain the very long exposure, wouldn't it?"

"I'm sure it would, " he said, then continued on his way.

I most likely would be getting any freelance offers from Steve Huff Photo. Too bad. It looks like a terrific web site.

But after I removed the lens cap, I did get a beautiful shot.


What is the Fascination with Retro?

When Scott brought over his vintage Rolleiflex, I could tell how much he truly liked that camera. He's a very modern guy in many ways, except when it comes to his photography.

"I had a Nikon D80, and it was fine," he said. "But I really got tired of trying to figure out all of the complicated menus." This is from a man who has a degree in chemistry and runs a medical lab. "So I gave the Nikon to my daughter and have been shooting Tri-X in the Rollei ever since. I'm much happier now."

How could that be? Film cameras, record players, old cars... they're all a pain in the ass, aren't they?

Apparently not for everyone.

If you hang out on Etsy or any number of similar sites, you'll see that there are many who don't want their free-time activities to be too electronic. There's something about gears and belts that are more comforting than silicon chips.

"If you open up this camera," Scott said pointing to the Rolleiflex sitting on the table at my studio, "you'd see a mechanism that's like the inside of a watch. It's amazing at how these were crafted."

Yes indeed. Yet, I couldn't fix a broken Rollei any better than a malfunctioning iPhone. But I would at least recognize the components. "Maybe it's that gear there," I would say cautiously as I pointed to it. 

When I was browsing Etsy last night, I looked at the original PEN-Fs. These half-frame beauties are what Olympus drew inspiration from for their latest release. Both versions are handsome. And in some ways, the newer model is even more so. It's a refined work that honors its lineage. 

(My great uncle gave me my first serious camera. I'll always remember him for that.)

For me, the retro aesthetic is the best of both worlds. It's an homage to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of decades past, combined with the agility of modern technology.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not ready to go back to shooting all film. But I do like to partake every now and then. I want to remember my roots.

My career was nurtured by the talents of many before me. And I want my work to build upon that great tradition. Retro is part of that.


Film Cans

There are no digital equivalents for film cans. 

Memory card protectors are great for their intended purpose, and that's about it. In fact, we hardly get those anymore, right? I'm still repurposing my snap-plastic cases from cards I bought years ago. Everything else is either boxed, bubbled, or worse yet, shrink-wrapped.

Fortunately, I still have a stash of both Kodak and Fujifilm containers. My favorite is a brick and mustard colored metal Kodak can from before my time. I scored it at a garage sale years ago, and it stays safe and sound with my collectables.

(You can see some of my favorites right here...)

Even though I like the way the Kodak cans look, even the later black and gray versions, the most useful of the bunch are made by Fujifilm. Those translucent canisters are perfect diffusers for small lights, such as the intense Lume Cube.

They're also great for keeping track of small losable items such as washers, bushings, adapters, hot shoe covers, PC socket plugs, and all the other stuff that ends up lost in the same place where half of my sock collection resides.

When I turn in my rolls of 35mm at Jeremiah's photocorner, they always ask me if I want to keep the canisters. Yes I do.

They know what's going on. They're film people.


The PEN-F Back Story

I thought you might like a look behind the scenes at what happened in Austin.

If you haven't been following the story, I went there last week to test the new Olympus PEN-F Micro Four Thirds camera. There was a group of us there, representing publications such as DP Review, Imaging Resource, Steve's Digicams, Steve Huff Photo, Shutterbug, and more. Olympus covered our expenses, but no one was paid or came home with hardware.

When we first arrived, we were introduced to the camera by an Olympus technical specialist. We learned about the PEN's heritage, including the half frame years, and how even decades ago Olympus was engineering to create smaller, lighter cameras that produced excellent images.

Then we got into the technical aspects of the current PEN-F and were shown how to take advantage of its unique feature set to create images that, in all honesty, have a film look to them (if you want that). We had some time at the hotel to familiarize ourselves with the settings, then we headed out for a series of shoots to put what we learned in to practice.

The embargo on the camera was to be lifted on Wednesday at 12:01 am. That means we had all day Monday and Tuesday to shoot, learn, write our articles, and prepare our images. The expectation was that everyone would publish their impressions of the camera as soon as the embargo expired. And we did.

The wasn't any pressure to provide a positive review. And it wouldn't have made a difference if there was. This group is going to do what they do. But I think Olympus felt in its heart that it had a winner with the PEN-F, and that the odds were in their favor that the reviews would be good.

As it turned out, they were right. Aside from a few nits here and there, the journalists liked this camera. The images that came out of our shoots were wonderful. I felt like I was at a photography workshop marveling at the pictures that my comrades were creating.

We all stayed up to around 3 AM Wednesday morning, finishing our publishing and eating the cold pizza we had stashed in our hotel room refrigerators. But there was still one more day of shooting.

Wednesday was a blast. We had all met our deadlines, but still had another day with the camera in Austin Texas. We shot, ate, and had a chance to enjoy each other's company.

That night, we had to return our kits to the technical specialist. Nobody really wanted to, but that's the way it works. We had a final dinner together, then prepared for our early departure Thursday morning,

You could argue against the financial wisdom for independents like me to participate in these types of assignments. If you work for DP Review, you're getting paid. But the independents like me were there because we love photography and working with those who are also passionate about it.

Maybe someday I'll have a PEN-F of my own. But I'm glad I had the opportunity to test it, and to be one of the first to write about this exceptional camera. Wise or not, this is why I do what I do.


We're Not the Only Ones

Having just spent 4 days in Austin with a group of photographers from publications all over the world, I'm beginning to realize that those of us who like to travel light are losing our minority status.

As you may have read, we were there to test the new Olympus PEN-F in a variety of locations. We shot through bar windows on 6th Street, inside the marbled halls of the State Capitol, and in various corners of a very interesting city.

While I was working shoulder to shoulder with these pros, who were under deadline and had to deliver the goods, I thought I would be one of the lightest packing shooters in the group.

I was wrong.

Most of these journalists covered Austin with a prime on their camera, and an extra lens or two in their shoulder bags. Some brought flashes too, such as Chris from the Phoblographer, but that was about it.

My general kit included 4 optics:  9mm body cap fisheye, 17 mm f/1.8, 75mm f/1.8, and the nimble 14-42mm EZ zoom. And I had everything I needed over the course of the day, and well into the night.

Some of my comrades asked about the sling bag I was using. I'll be talking more about it in a few days once that embargo expires. And their interest demonstrated to me that many, if not most on-the-go photographers have embraced the nimble lifestyle. Something that you've known about for a while.

You probably never thought of yourself as a trend setter. Well, you are.

And a light-footed one at that.