Pancake Lenses

A compact body is important, but it's only half the equation. The lens you mount on that nimble picture-taker makes or breaks the entire package. And for some time now, I've been hooked on pancake lenses.

Granted, the name isn't very attractive. But their slim designs more than make up for it. By only protruding from the front of the camera by an inch or less, these diminutive optics create a sharp picture-taking machine that fits practically in any pouch or jacket pocket.

My favorite pancakes include:

In addition to their compact size, these optics provide sharp results and relatively fast apertures. They've literally changed my approach to photography. By working with just a single focal length, I've become more resourceful in finding the right distance and angle for a shot, and I've missed fewer opportunities because I always have one of these cameras with me.

Every Nimble Photographer deserves a pancake lens. And once you've tried one, I'm certain you'll never let it go.


Two Lenses and a Body

On Sunday afternoon, we all gathered in a conference room at the Cartwright Hotel to share our pictures. 

I had the projector and viewing screen set up. We were tired, but in good spirits. Everyone had been working hard for two and a half days to build a small collection of images to show to the group.

Each photographer choose eight that they wanted to talk about. This could include their favorites, or simply experiments that didn't turn out as expected. It didn't make any difference to us. We were there, in that darkened room, to enjoy the efforts of our fellow artists.

I've seen many of these shows over the years. It's the conclusion to practically every workshop I lead. By the time we get to the final day, the level of comfort and trust within the group makes these presentations fun and not threatening.

The quality of imagery is always high. That happens when people have the time and support to work on their passion and immerse in their craft. And the show on Sunday was not different. The photographs were outstanding.

What was different, however, was how they were made. Since we were working on the streets of San Francisco, sometimes logging as many as 10 miles a day, bulky backpacks were left at home. Most of our shooters opted for a light shoulder bag, a body, and just a couple lenses.

You'd think, at least at first, that leaving your arsenal of glass behind would adversely affect the variety and quality of imagery. But contrary to that thought, I think the pictures actually got better. Everyone was surprisingly fresh and energetic, even as the days wore on. And that energy translated into creativity.

I guess you could consider this a field test of sorts. Do photographers fare better with less gear for urban and travel shooting? Based on the images projected in that darkened conference room on Sunday afternoon...

I would say yes.


Do I Look Like a Tourist?

I'm heading down to San Francisco to lead a street photography workshop this week. I love exploring the city and discovering new things to capture in my lens. This week, I'll have eight of my best friends with me.

I know some photographers don't like to travel in groups, no matter how small. Yes, it attracts attention, but there are some benefits compared to the alternative. 

When I work by myself (which I also enjoy), I seem to create more anxiety in the environment than when I have a group with me. I can almost hear...

"What is he doing?"

"I'm not sure, but I think he's taking pictures."

"Of what?"

"Could be anything. He seems to like that staircase."

"Do you think he's a terrorist?"

"Well, I don't know. Why do you wonder?"

"I think he's really scoping out that building for an attack."

"Really? You think he's going to bomb that staircase?"

"Maybe. He looks suspicious to me."

When I start to feel those stares, I move on. The joy of the shot has most likely passed, and I'm better off finding another subject.

But with a group, the dynamic is completely different. Clearly we're just a bunch of tourists. Because, after all, terrorists never travel in Bermuda-clad packs.

That's why I'm OK with being a tourist, even when I'm not. We might be seen as mildly annoying, but nothing more than that.

Which allows us to go about our business of taking pictures,

and not blowing up staircases.


One-Eyed Jack

I wasn't nearly as nervous as I thought I would be. 

The surroundings were quiet and comfortable. I was reclined and still wearing street clothes, although they had to remove my shoes because the blue fabric booties would not fit over them.

The conversations with passer-bys were brief. Topics focused on comfort, timing, and the magical Villanova win over North Carolina in the NCAA men's basketball final.

And then it was time.

Eyesight is important to everyone. And doing what I do, my job is more difficult when it's compromised. It's not just the inconvenience of diffused lights while trying to drive at night. It's actually harder to write, and to photograph, when my God-given optics aren't at full capacity.

I drifted off for a moment. Then came back to a dazzling light show playing in my left eye. I heard voices. Some were human, and one was robotic calling out various tasks. The colors twisted and turned. Some discussion. The colors changed again. They were clearer this time, better defined.

I was neither comfortable, nor uncomfortable. My body was non-existent. There was only consciousness and the colored lights.

I don't remember much about the ride back. There was movement, yes. But the path was only defined by a progression of rectangular fluorescent lights above me. Then we parked, and I was raised up to an angle more suitable for conversation.

"How do you feel?"

"I feel good."

"Would you like something to drink? Maybe some juice? You haven't eaten for a long time."

"Some juice would be nice. Cranberry if you have it."

"We do."

We all know about interchangeable lens cameras. But this was my first experience as an interchangeable lens human. My new optic is UV coated. Now that I've had a chance to test it, my review is positive. 

Its color temperature is a bit cooler than the previous lens it replaced. I entertain myself by closing one eye, then the other, to see how they render scenes differently. My left eye is about 5800K, while my right is a warmer 5000K. These are only approximations, of course.

I marvel at a lot of things in life. But replacing a damaged lens and having me back to work within 24 hours just topped my list for the week. Incredible.

I'm no longer a one-eyed Jack. Thanks Doc. You're one helluva a repairman.



Choosing to Go It Alone

A while back, it was a Monday morning I believe, I was on a conference call with four people on the other end of the line. They were sitting at a conference table far away in a room with bad acoustics.

This meeting took place after the decision to close c't Digital Photography Magazine in North America. I had an idea for us to move forward. My thinking was this: we had put a lot of work into building, and maybe we could redirect it instead of closing it all together.

I wanted to make it a site that focused on film photography. My preliminary research showed that there was a small, but dedicated audience who might be interested in such a resource. And for a lot less money than printing a magazine, we could continue to build the Heise brand in the U.S.

The meeting went horribly, at least from my point of view. They listened quietly while I presented my ideas. Then there was silence. After that, one of the participants  started talking. The bottom line this: they didn't believe in the idea, but if I was willing to provide enough detailed research and business plan that would guarantee profit, they would consider it.

At first I though I might do it. Then I changed my mind. "Thanks guys for you time. I think I'm going to go it alone."

There were no hard feelings. We parted ways. And I haven't had contact with them since.

A few days later I was making coffee in the kitchen at the studio. While staring out the window as the water bubbled and dripped, I had a thought. "I wonder if is available?" It would be the perfect companion to (I was impressed with such a clever idea so early in the morning.)

I went to my laptop and searched. The domain was available. I bought it immediately. And so began the journey.

I'm going to launch TheAnalogStory on April 11, 2016. It's going to feature a Camera Shop with really wonderful and affordable film cameras and lenses, personal stories (with images) from photographers who love film, digitized spec sheets and brochures from the 80s and 90s, tips and techniques, and of course lots of pictures and how they were made.

(If you want to contribute, write me at:

I'm telling you this story now, before I know if the project will be a success or not. Why? Because I think there are a lot of great ideas out there that never see the light of day. You might have one of them. And I honestly believe that it's the doing it that really counts.

And a table of stone faces is no way to judge its validity. If you have faith in it, and if it makes sense to you, then why not? Really... Why Not?!

The Nimble Photographer logo is a lanky guy walking alone. It always seems to start that way. But the interesting thing is, as he goes forward, he finds others who want to travel the same direction.

And those who want to block his path... are left behind.