Friday, May 25, 2012

Odds and Ends

 photo by Herb Ritts

I just spent ten days in and around LA, my daughter was graduating from CalArts, and I had the chance to check out the Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition at the Getty Museum. Ritts was mostly known as a fashion and celebrity photographer that worked in LA from the 1970s until his death in 2002 from complications of AIDS. The Getty exhibit focuses on the three main areas of his photography, fashion, celebrities, and nudes. It's a fascinating overview of his career and features most of his well-known images. Seeing Ritts's work in person gave me a greater appreciation for his photography. These are wonderful black-and-white prints. His nudes covered much of the same ground as Robert Mapplethorpe did, but avoids the more extreme aspects of Mapplethorpe. But Ritts's photographs of women are truly beautiful and even transcendent. If you find yourself in LA, be sure to check it out. It's well worth it, especially if you haven't been to the Getty, which is one of the most beautiful museums in the country. It goes until August 26.

photo by Herb Ritts

Scarab Labs has introduced Scarab Darkrooms, a RAW converter for Windows-based computers. For now, this converter is free to download and you can do that here. If you are on a budget, this is a great deal. Many new cameras are included like the Canon 5D Mark III and the Sony NEX-7, but the Olympus OM-D EM-5 isn't supported for now. I'm sure this will be covered sooner or later. I downloaded the converter and messed around on it and it seems to work well. The fill function works well without adding halos, but it doesn't allow for black-and-white conversions, which I use a lot in Lightroom. Maybe this will change. I hope so.

A new website has been announced: The Most Talented People in the World. It features interviews with photographers, cinematographers, and writers, and actually interviews with a wide range of professionals. This website and blog looks at what it takes to succeed in life, school, art, and business, and acknowledges that knowing the history and tradition in any given field of study is just as important as knowing the latest tech involved in that area. The people featured on the site have interesting stories to tell. Check them out.

In the next week or two, I will post some of the photos I took down in LA. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Leica Camera

Well, actually there are a few new cameras that have been announced from Leica. There is the V-Lux40, a 20x compact digicam. The X2 with a 16 MP sensor and a 36mm equivalent f/2.8 lens that will sell for around $2000. The limited edition, deluxe M9-P Hermes, which is the regular M9-P, but with silver chrome finish and ocre-colored calfskin trim. It will come with matching 50mm lens and a matching calfskin strap for $25,000. There's also a three lens kit with a Hermes camera bag for $50,000, if you want to go all the way.

The "big" news is the M-Monochrom, a variant of the M9-P. As its name implies, the M-Monochrom will be a black-and-white only digital camera. Its 18 MP sensor will not capture any color info and because of that, it will have extended ISO settings up to 10,000 ISO, the regular M9-P only goes up to 2,500, and it will be capable of capturing substantially higher resolution. The M-Monochrom body will sell for a bit less than $8000.

So is this the ultimate black-and-white shooting machine? Maybe. Purists will likely applaud this move as it allows photographers to shoot as if they were using B&W film and use color filters like they used to do. But it's definitely a niche camera with limited appeal among most photographers. But then you could say that about most Leica cameras. And the price will keep it out of the hands of most photographers, as it is for most Leica products. As a long time B&W photographer, I've come to appreciate the flexibility of digital when it comes to creating B&W images, like being able to individually adjust the tonal response of colors within a scene, similar to how colored filters change tonal relationships in B&W film, but being able to manipulate several different colors at once. You could never do that with film and I like that ability. Anyway, kudos to Leica for going their own way and not being afraid to try something different, even if it is a bit old fashioned.

Odds and Ends

There are a few things of note are happening in photography today, so here they are.

Keith Richards by Albert Watson

First, the latest issue of PhotoMedia is out with my profile/article on NYC photographer Albert Watson. He's a powerhouse of a photographer that has few peers at this point in time. The photographers that came closest were Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, who are both deceased. He was a fun and intense interview subject and was vastly more cooperative with the interview process than most busy photographers can allow themselves to be. Extremely accomplished and gracious, too. Just like you want your heroes to be. Watson is not your average high-end photographer. His interests are too varied to settle into one kind of specialty and he insists on having a hand in every image that leaves his studio. He does the final image manipulations in Photoshop and he personally makes every black & white print in his darkroom. His integrity and commitment is inspiring. So, pick up a copy of PhotoMedia today.

Pastry Cooks by Irving Penn

Speaking of Irving Penn, The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) has announced the creation of the Irving Penn Archives. Penn was one of the greatest 20th Century photographers and one of my personal favorites. When he passed away, he willed his archives to the AIC and now it is online and ready for visitors. If you don't know his work, allow yourself the opportunity and the time to experience it. He is worth it. You can find the archive here.

Marvel's The Avengers

If you were one of the millions who saw Marvel's The Avengers this past weekend, you were also seeing film footage shot with Canon DSLRs.In addition to film and digital movie cameras, the cinematographer used 5D Mark II and 7D cameras for POV action shots and for unusual angles that would be difficult to get with regular movie cameras. The footage shot with these cameras blended seamlessly with the regular movie cameras. Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What Do We Call Micro 4/3 Cameras?

Yesterday, a friend of mine, Kim, pointed out an infuriating and bone-headed mistake he caught in a recent B&H catalog. I think this mistake is a good illustration of why the problem of creating a new class and format of camera, and then not having a good name for it, is a real challenge. Lots of mistakes and misinformation can result. In a short essay explaining the differences between DSLRs, like the Nikon D800, and the newer Micro 4/3s cameras like the Olympus E-P3 or the Panasonic GX1, they labelled the new cameras as "Mirrorless DSLRs." It's almost like they don't know what "SLR" stands for, which is a profound bit of nonsense that can only confuse people. It is about the same as calling digital cameras, "filmless film cameras." It just really doesn't make sense.

In the 20th Century, several camera formats came into being. View cameras meant that you view straight through the camera, seeing the direct image projected by the camera lens. TLR, or Twin Lens Reflex, meant that there were 2 lenses on the camera, one for taking pictures and one for viewing. The "Reflex" part of the name referred to the mirror that reflected the image from the viewing lens upwards into a ground glass screen so that the photographer looked straight down into the camera as they used it. Rangefinder cameras referred to the rangefinder mechanism linked to the lens focusing which superimposed two images, so that when an object's two images lined up, that meant the focus for that object and distance was achieved. And finally, there were SLRs, which stood for Single Lens Reflex. These cameras were the mainstay of most photographers and combined the aspects of the other focusing methods into one usable and flexible style. In an SLR, the photographer looked through the taking lens, the image from that lens was reflected by a mirror into a ground glass screen and then channeled through a glass pentaprism and other glass elements to the photographer's eye. The term "Reflex" referred to the mirror used to reflect the image into a ground glass screen. In cameras, "Reflex" always refers to a mirror, and that is why calling a camera a Mirrorless DSLR is so ridiculous.

Since the advent of digital cameras, the "D" was added in front of SLR to mean a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera and that is fine. But we don't have an easy and simple designation for the new format of cameras, even though many companies are making them. Sometimes they are called "mirrorless cameras," which is okay but kind of vague. None of the digital point-and-shoots have mirrors, either, but they aren't really the same kind or level of camera, so that could be confusing. Some people have even suggested calling this new format, EVIL, which stands for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens. While clever, it seems like a marketing nightmare guaranteed to alienate certain folks. Who wants an EVIL camera? I guess I'd suggest a variation of SLR, which would be SLM, or Single Lens Mirrorless. It's simple and fits the nature of the cameras in question. From now on, that's what I'll be calling them. And B&H? Come on, you can do better than that!