Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lomography Brings Back the Petzval!

It's kind of funny that as digital photography achieves ever higher resolution and lower noise (grain), photographers feel compelled to resist the inherent sharpness that digital offers. Lensbaby has done well for themselves by making lenses that offers generally poor optical quality. Now don't get me wrong, I own and use Lensbaby products myself and dearly love them, but they are not the pinnacle of lens sharpness and aberration-free designs. But maybe that's why we love them. It's their optical quirkiness that attracts us.

Anyway, in a similar vein, Lomography is introducing a "new" lens that is actually the resurrection of a quite ancient lens, the Petzval portrait lens, which was designed by Joseph Petzval in 1840 while he lived in Vienna, Austria. His lens was quite revolutionary for its time with a fast f/3.6 aperture (the only other rival lens had an aperture of f/15!) and more than adequate sharpness, especially in the center. One of the optical qualities that set it apart from modern lenses is that while modern lenses try to maximize sharpness from corner to corner and make the center of the image as sharp as the edges, Petzval's lens only achieved critical sharpness in the center. This is referred to as flatness of field, which the Petzval didn't have, but it did have a way of separating the center subject from the background that was not matched by any other lens.

So Lomography is working with the Russian optical company Zenit to make a new version of the Petzval  lens, while keeping the brass aesthetics of the original and offering them in current Nikon and Canon mounts. It will be an 85mm f/2.2 manual focus, of course, lens that uses fixed, slide-in Waterhouse stops for its apertures from f/2.2 to f/16, and they are saying that the results it will give are nearly impossible to duplicate by digital means. They are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacture of these lenses and you can read about their project here. Sounds kind of cool and the image examples they have are really beautiful. I'll follow this project with a great deal of interest.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

LightZone is Now Free!

LightZone, a non-destructive photo-editing program somewhat based on Ansel Adams's Zone System, debuted in 2005 and was created by Light Crafts, Inc. It offered a more visual-based approach to image and tone manipulation and was remarkably intuitive with a relatively easy learning curve, especially when compared to Photoshop. It remains unique in that you can remove, reverse or change any step of your processing at any time in any order even in different sessions. Try doing that in any other program! And it worked in 16-bit.

I tried out LightZone shortly after it came out in 2005 and I remember liking it a lot. It took a visual approach to image manipulation, rather than a numbers- or values-based interface. And I was able to get good looking results almost immediately that were surprisingly hard to match in Photoshop. Photoshop is easier to use in cut-and-paste operations, where you area changing the image a great deal, but for just optimizing an image to look its best, LightZone was really good and fast. It was particularly good for black-and-white. It was almost like photographers designed it for other photographers to use. Imagine that!

Well, Light Crafts, Inc. went out of business in 2011 and LightZone went away, except it didn't. Fans and former employees kept the interest going and in December 2012, Light Crafts released LightZone to open source. And now a group calling itself the LightZone Project has come out with a new and free downloadable version (V4.0) for Windows and Linux, with a Mac version on its way. Actually, if you want the Windows version, hold off a bit and keep checking back since the initial release has some bugs in it that they are in the process of fixing. When they fixed things with it, they expect it to include 64-bit compatibility.

LightZone was a great program that offered features and flexibility that no other program had and now that it's free, there's no reason not to give it a try. You can download it and learn more about it here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Remembering Brett Weston

John Sexton, one of the greatest traditional landscape photographers working today, has posted the first part of a series of videos about Brett Weston on his website. The video features John with photographers Randy Efros and Kim Weston (grandson of Edward Weston, son of Cole Weston, and nephew of Brett Weston) sitting around reminiscing about Brett. You can view the video here and while you are there, you might as well look around and take a look at John's work. He's a very fine photographer.

Brett Weston was a monumentally influential photographer for me. His images were pure photography in a way that not many people have ever achieved. And by that, I mean that his images only really existed to be those black-and-white images. That was their only context for him. His photographs were examples of how he saw the world and what he responded to as he existed and worked in the world. For example, a picture of a leaf was not really a picture of a leaf to him, it was an image of lights and darks, shapes and textures. It was a pure abstraction of the world, breaking it down into its parts and then arranging those parts into an image that resonated for him. Even his nudes were treated in the same way; they were about tones and shapes and composition, not about sexuality or even sensuality, thought he was personally very interested in women. Photographically to him, a mountain was no more significant or beautiful than a piece of melted plastic lying in the street. They were both raw ingredients for his visual imagination.

Brett was also a dedicated photographer who lived to photograph. He printed nearly every day of his life, early in the morning before sunrise, and after breakfast, he would go out and photograph. Photography was his life and nothing ever got in the way of that, and he continued this way nearly up until he died. His dad, Edward, was one of the seminal photographers of the 20th Century and in some respects Brett always worked in his dad's shadow. But for many late 20th Century West Coast landscape photographers, his work was probably the greater influence. His beautifully clear and coolly analytical images guided many photographers' work. And with his penchant for Porsche sport cars and dark sunglasses, he was cool, too. If you are not familiar with Brett Weston's images, take the time and look them up. He's worth it.