I know this is just egregiously off topic, and I apologize in advance to those who might be annoyed on that account. There's an on-topic bit at the end...
I've been shopping for a new refrigerator, and I believe I have given up.
I have an incredibly poorly designed kitchen. Well, actually, to be fair, it was probably adequately designed in 1957 for a 5'2" housewife. Back then it probably featured a 24-inch-wide range and one of those semi-miniature 'fridges that come up to about my chin. (Occasionally, in old houses, you can still see bays that were built with that size refrigerator in mind—now usually stuffed, often awkwardly, with something else.) But with modern-sized appliances, the room features both a critical shortage of space and also a lot of wasted space, which is no mean feat. For instance, there is only 10" of counter space anywhere near the refrigerator and the stove. Many of the cabinets are in the wrong places, and the windows and the traffic flow seem particularly suited to disrupting the room's main function. Like most photographers, I have pretty good "spatial visualization," as the mental aptitude for comprehending the volumes and arrangements of objects and spaces is called, but I can't figure out how to re-map my kitchen, short of tearing everything down to the studs and starting over. I have a feeling it would be a good problem to present to a residential architecture class. But it had better be on the final.
To add insult to injury, the adjacent living room is long and skinny, so it also features limited living space alongside more space that is essentially wasted.
But back to the refrigerator. I really like the new designs with the freezer situated as a drawer at the bottom of the unit. You access the freezer less often, and accessing the freezer from the top seems sensible for keeping the cold air where it belongs. Plus, being 6'2" and having a bad back, I dislike stooping down to peer into the refrigerator. I would very much like the business end of the thing to be up on the level of the atmosphere that I inhabit.
For various reasons having to do with my poor layout, however, I am limited to refrigerator units with a total width of no more than 28 inches. Well, little did I suspect, but the refrigerator industry is rigidly locked into various size classes. As far as I can tell, there are no bottom-freezer models that are 28 inches wide. They are are all 29 and 5/8ths inches wide or wider. I can't imagine this is much of an impediment to most buyers, but I do not have an extra inch and 5/8ths. That would entail buying a new custom cabinet unit for more or less $500 (yes, I inquired) and reducing my precious 10 inches of counter space to 8 and 3/8ths inches.
So all right, then, I'll buy a unit with the freezer on top if I have to. Grump.
In appliance stores, all of the 28-inch wide models are down at the back end of the least-traveled aisle. They are usually utilitarian models with flat white or "bisque" slab sides and doors. ("Bisque," if you are not among the initiated—as I was not, previously—is a color, one that is apparently deeply beloved of appliance manufacturers. It is not quite yellow and not quite brown, with a lot of white thrown in—about the color of a latté made with skim milk and bad gas-station coffee—apparently useful because, being roughly the color of dirtiness, it can get dirty without looking dirty. Either that, or it always looks dirty). Refrigerators lacking that socially crucial last inch and 5/8ths of width are clearly for second-class citizens. I only encountered two other shoppers who were looking at them. One was a man looking for a refrigerator for his senile grandmother, who he and his wife were installing in a presumably temporary apartment in their home, and the other was a landlord looking for a unit for a rental apartment.
So I found a suitable if plain model that was not expensive, and very nearly simply plunked down the cash for it. But a tiny voice inside my brain—the small part I use to review cameras, probably—was murmuring something about getting more data. So at the very last second, I decided to hold off until I could read some reviews. So I came home, subscribed to Consumer Reports, and discovered, to my horror, that I had come within a fraction of a millimeter of purchasing the loudest refrigerator ever conceived by Man. My mind flashed on the terrible scenario—buying the unit, having it delivered, transferring all my food to it, and then discovering that it sounded like an industrial blower and realizing that I could not possibly keep it, in light of all the torture that years of excessive noise would entail for me (I hate noise).
Chastened, I looked into every single unit that Consumer Reports rates "excellent" for noise. Not a single one of them is 28 inches wide.
I literally stayed up until 3 a.m. last night making myself bleary-eyed by poring over appliance manufacturers' websites. Conclusion? I cannot buy a refrigerator. The task is too much for me. Looks like the grubby old one is going to have to soldier on.
At least it is bisque, so it doesn't look quite as dirty as it probably is.
Meanwhile, I am going to submit my kitchen to "This Old House." I think it would make a nice challenge for their cadre of ace designers and contractors. Although they'd probably study the problem at great length and come to me and solemnly say, "Well, can redesign your kitchen, but unfortunately, what with one thing and another, the old refrigerator is going to have to stay." There are limits to expertise, after all.
Featured Comment by Marc Rochkind: "Mike, I think you are taking the wrong approach. You need to think of your refrigerator as a classic refrigerator. Then whatever hardship there is in using it becomes instead a time to reflect on whatever you are trying to access. Do you really need another beer? With a modern refrigerator, the beer would be in your hands in seconds (auto focus on beer). With yours, you would have time to think. With a refrigerator that holds 8GB of food, you just fill it up and never discard the old stuff. With yours, you only keep what you really need.
"In fact, I want yours! List it on eBay under Vintage Refrigerators and I'll definitely bid on it."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I would recommend getting the refrigerator of your dreams and putting it in the front room, thereby freeing up space in the kitchen and using wasted space in the front room; if you can fit it in so the refrigerator is facing the side of the couch, you'll be able to get a beer without standing up, when you're watching the Packers. Eventually, you'll become so embarrassed by this arrangement, especially if you start dating again, that you'll go to Home Depot and buy a load of drywall, drywall compound and paint, and remodel the kitchen, and then everything will be perfect.
"I charge you nothing for this advice."
Featured Comment by Jim Hart: "Mike, I feel your pain. Our house is 12 years old—relatively new construction. My wife found a 'fridge she had to have after our original unit broke. The new refrigerator—nothing special, side-by-side, indoor ice and water dispensers—it was an inch too wide to fit where the old 'standard' top freezer model went.
"I pulled out my circular saw and (after some education on how difficult it can be for even a circular saw blade to cut through various counter top materials) I created an inch of nothingness into which the extra width new 'fridge would slide.
"I'm an even worse carpenter than I am a photographer—but as my granddaddy would have said, I had my 'Irish' up. I'm only thankful I didn't have a chainsaw handy, or a supply of C4.
"Forget the 'fridge. You need a wrecking bar, a case of beer, and some quality time with your kitchen...."
Featured Comment by fmertz: "This story left me cold!"
One by David Gonzalez, one by Oleg Videnin. Both from the World's Greatest Photography Magazine. Be sure to watch in full screen. Both could go on three times, five times as long as they do, if you ask me.
Perfect for a Saturday.
P.S. Is that top picture a great dog picture, or what?
The Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal (I'm only typing that once, too!) is a truly extraordinary environment for making photographs. I think the building is rather unprepossessing from the outside—a nice but not extraordinary exterior. There is nothing to be seen that would tell you that it's worth the $5 admission fee to go inside. (Note: that's for the tourist: it's free to worshipers.)
As cathedrals go, this is a very modern one, having been constructed in the 1800s, with most of the decoration occurring near the end of the 19th century. But, save for the Chapel in back, which is late 20th century and definitely not to be missed, the style is classic, down to the polychrome woodwork that makes the interior so amazing (top picture).
Polychrome decoration for cathedrals goes back to the Middle Ages. Very little of that has survived to modern times, so one tends to think of cathedrals as being, well, "Gothic" in appearance...much the same way we have this unconscious feeling that medieval and early Renaissance painters did everything in sepia tone or that antique photos always started off brown. Seeing an old-style cathedral in all its polychrome glory is a startling experience.
It's also one hell of a photographic challenge. It's really easy to make a good photograph there; it is so photogenic it would be hard to make a lousy one. Making an exceptional one is another matter. It's not only the difficulty of composing something that goes beyond mere record photography of what's obviously in front of your eyes. It's a technical issue as well, dealing with extreme lighting ranges combined with multiple natural and artificial light sources. A challenge for the equipment and a challenge for the photographer. I've photographed there twice, in 2001 on medium format color film and just two weeks ago in small format digital. I made photographs both times that I'm entirely happy with, but I've yet to make a photograph of the stations with lit votive candles that looks "right" to my eye. There's something artistically off about my results. Perhaps a challenge for a third visit.
The cathedral makes it very easy on photographers. There's no limit on how long you can stay, and they have no restrictions on using flash if that's your preference (definitely not mine). They will even allow you to use a tripod if you sign an agreement that the photographs will only be for your personal use. I couldn't in good conscience make that promise, so I chose to work handheld or with the camera braced on various flat surfaces. I'm very experienced at that, and it didn't much inhibit my work. Still, if you're the tripod-wielding sort, this is one of the few buildings I've visited that welcomes them. That's extraordinarily accommodating and nice of them, considering the traffic this place sees.
And speaking of nice, something I consider a signature hallmark of Canadian culture (and, yes, that includes the Quebecois, no matter how much the Anglophiles like to make jokes about them)...
I was sitting in a pew with my camera braced on the rail in yet another (unsuccessful) attempt to make a satisfactory photograph of a votive candle station. There was a family lighting candles, and I was patiently waiting until they were done. The mother noticed me sitting there and moved to hustle her young son, who was struggling to light a candle, out of the way so I could make my photograph! Fortunately, they spoke English (I cannot speak French) so I was able to make it clear that I understood that first and foremost this was a church, and what they were doing was more important and appropriate to the venue than what I was doing, and I could happily wait until they were done.
Damn, but I like nice (yes, I have been strongly tempted to emigrate North, but it's not going to happen in the foreseeable future).
After Les Paul died on August 13th, a reader asked whether people in Waukesha (pronounced WOK-uh-shaw), where I live, are aware that he was born here. We've heard, all right. When I first learned he had died, I happened to be driving down Les Paul Parkway, which is a beltway that partially encircles the town. The roadsigns feature little guitars on them. (Les was credited with being the inventor of the electric guitar, among other things.)
I've been meaning to get out and take a picture of one of the signs for you ever since, and just got around to it yesterday afternoon. I took the K20 and the Pentax DA 15mm ƒ/4 out for an hour or so to collect a few snaps. It's not that easy taking a picture of a road sign with a 15mm lens, I discovered.
My son Zander had an opportunity to play for Mr. Paul when he returned to Waukesha for his 92nd (or was it 91st?) birthday. A number of local school kids who played electric guitar were invited to serenade Mr. Paul as part of his homecoming visit. Zander begged off, feeling he wasn't ready yet to play in public, but his friend Aaron went, and played, and got his guitar signed by Les Paul. (Too bad it wasn't a Les Paul.)
While I was out, I thought I'd show you just how deep Packer fever reaches around here, since we were talking about Brett Favre (now known as "what's his name") yesterday. For those of you in foreign countries, the Green Bay Packers are an American football team, and Favre (pronounced "farv") was the quarterback (team leader) for many years, who set numerous League and team records. Since being "encouraged" into retirement a few years ago, before he was quite ready, he has been a nomad, and just recently signed with our rivals in the next state over. The Packer's team colors, as you can probably guess, are green and "gold" (actually yellow).
The 15 was too wide for this assignment, too.
One thing I didn't take a picture of: a kiosk I saw today at the local grocery store featuring Packers merchandise and clothing but nothing with Favre's name or number on it. Now that's something new.
Football isn't huge in this area, but I doubt there's any place in America where it isn't a feature of everyday life. Here's a summer football practice taking place at Catholic Memorial High School, around the corner from my house.
The skies actually look like this out here in the Midwest, sometimes. I swear I did not touch the "Saturation" or "Vibrance" sliders on this shot. Then again, people take it for granted...later, when I was walking the dog, I said to several people I ran into, "Did you see those skies earlier?" And they all said, "What skies?"
Finally, I found at least one thing that the 15mm is not wide enough for. Are rainbows always the same size from the ground? If so, you'd need something wider than 15mm on APS-C to get the whole thing in one shot. I'm glad I encountered this; after shooting with it for several weeks, I didn't think the 15mm was "not wide enough" for anything.
This is Usain Bolt of Jamaica, Planet Earth, blowing another old world record to smithereens (his own, set in Beijing) in the 200 meters at the World Championships in Berlin yesterday. If you're not following this guy, you might want to pay a little bit of attention—he is a genuine monster, and really is making history. Check out that margin of victory. Worthy of a word I almost never use: awesome.
But that's not why I've put this up. I was amused by the 'togs along the rail and that scrum on the track staying out in front of him after the race is over. Collectively they seem to have a bit of Keystone Cops DNA, don't they? Kinda funny. They're doing their jobs well, though, no doubt.
In the world of the future, there are no technical complications. Everything can be done with the utmost ease. You know you are going to give in eventually—why not now? Don't resist. Sooner or later you will change to the way we all do things now.
Here's the part I really liked about this ad...on the second page, which I haven't reproduced here, it says, "A turn of the focusing wheel brings the picture into exact focus—full size, full colour, the right way up, during and after exposure." The right way up...that was a feature worthy of the ad copy. Blink detectors and pixel binning, begone!
We're still arguing about viewfinders and focusing, of course. Some things never change.
Old Champions Brought Out of Retirement...
It's on, baby. The battle is joined. Shots have been fired. Professing innocently that he isn't after revenge, Brett Favre signed with the team that true (yes, true) Packer fans hate above all others, saying "true Packers fans will understand." In case you might be wondering, they emphatically don't—Packerland is fuming from Lake Mich to the Mississippi. Bring it on, old man.
In related news, four years after the S80 was introduced, Canon introduces the S90—a mouth-watering little compact which Canon actually designed for photographers, of all the outlandish things. (Talk about a strange world, where a camera designed for photographers has to be decidedly different from all the rest.) With Micro 4/3 having gained a firm toehold and Panasonic seemingly permanently unable to keep the LX3 pipeline flowing, Canon is resuscitating an old champ to do battle on two fronts.
Can better marketing and adequate production capacity banish the darling LX3 from photographers' hearts? Can Canon do enough with 10 MP on a 7.6 x 5.7mm sensor to quell the rising desire for the much bigger 18 x 13.5mm 4/3 sensors in compact cameras? S90, left jab. G11, right cross. Bring it on, world.
The S90 brings the goods on paper, sah. How about a 28–105mm-e lens that's ƒ/2 at the wide end? In-lens Image Stabilization? Raw capable? How about actual manual control of most functions without jumping through hoops by mail? Add to that a new control ring around the lens (I admit, it appeals) and a no-nonsense, svelte and tiny shirt-pocketable body in basic black, with no funky bumps and rumples in the sheet metal (no hot shoe, either. Viewfinder? We don't need no steenking viewfinder), and you've sussed the stats. Tiny sensors aren't giving up the fight just yet.
Extra! Packers consider signing Fran Tarkenton
October 5th: Showdown. Favre might have a few touchdowns left in the old arm. Question is, how many for them, how many for us? I call three interceptions, one for a Packer touchdown. You heard it here.
As for the latest curtain call of Canon's small sensor photographer's compact—shipping in October, we're told, although that showdown will take longer to play out—well, that one's harder to call. It's always easy to claim Canon's coasting, much harder to count it out.
Hey, at least true Canon fans don't have to suffer the ignominy of seeing their old champion in a jersey that says "Nikon" on it.
Now that would just be sad.
Featured Comment by Yanchik: "Awesome. I'm a mountaineer / winter climber. I've been waiting for a practical replacement for the S70 (bought my first one in 2004, my second in Spring this year).
"This is the camera you need when it's one hand for safety and one for photography. On a lanyard around your neck, stuffed down your front to keep it warm, no great big protrusions to catch and stick in you if you fall onto it, big sliding front cover to cover the optics. 28mm for the climbing en-route shots. Raw to give you a fighting chance of post-processing to a printable image...
"When I get my hands on one, I'll do my best not to trap it under the rope when starting awkward abseils. But still, the S70 handled it...."
By Ken Tanaka
Maybe chickens really can grow lips, after all.
I’ve been a fan of Canon’s G series of PowerShot cameras since the fall of 2006 when Canon introduced the G7. In my opinion the 10 megapixel G7 produced some of the finest images I’ve seen from a compact camera. But on the battlefields of the pixel count marketing wars the G7’s 10 MP sensor resolution specification began looking anemic against competitors. Canon, under pressure to compete, put the PowerShot G’s tiny 1/1.7 sensor on an aggressive electronic steroid regimen until, by the fall of 2008, the PowerShot G10 boasted a brawny 14.7 MP resolution. Nobody was going to kick sand in the G10’s lens on the beach!
As I wrote here last fall, the G10 is unquestionably a fine compact camera, perhaps the best of its genre. But on the path from the G7 to the G10, there's no question that image quality declined. The smooth, nicely saturated tones of the G7 were noticeably a bit noisier and flatter in the G10. This was clearly the result of Canon’s megapixel increase. Yet it seemed that Canon would sacrifice sensor brawn for image quality when chickens grew lips.
Well, folks, it looks like there’ll be some barnyard puckerin’ going on this fall. It seems that Canon has listened to its customers* and responded by introducing the new PowerShot G11 with a 10 MP sensor! I know I’m not alone in my elation. If the G11 produces images as smooth as the G7’s, we’re probably looking at the finest enthusiast compact ever made.
The G11 also (finally) introduces an articulating 461K LCD screen, although 0.2" smaller than the 3" screen now on the G10. That’s fine with me. The rest of the camera’s design and features seem very similar to the current G10. That’s fine with me, too, as I very much like the G10’s handling.
*While Canon certainly listens to customers, I suspect that this sensor down-res was also encouraged by the wild success of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 / Leica D-Lux 4 cameras which held their sensors to 10 MP while Canon was pumping up the G’s resolution. Those cameras produce, in my opinion, the finest compact camera images available today. The marketplace seems to have recognized this, too. Since the Panasonic LX3 was introduced (at about the same time as Canon’s G10) it’s been hard to find it in stock anywhere. The success of these cameras, despite their lower sensor resolution, must certainly have encouraged Canon to return the PowerShot G’s sensor to a more reasonable pixel density in favor of image quality.
Regular readers will recall that I very much liked the Sony A900—best thought of as a medium-format digital back in an SLR-style body—which I got to test for a week last Fall courtesy of Alpha Lens Rental. (I've tried to get one for more extensive testing, but Sony is a redoubt into which there is no access from the ground.) Now, according to Sony DSLR maven par excellence David Kilpatrick back on August 1st, it looks like Sony is readying for release a "lite" or simplified version of the A900, to be called the A850, which will presumably sell for significantly less. As David puts it, apart from a single instead of double Bionz processor and slight changes to the viewfinder requiring less stringent calibration, "it is exactly the same as an Alpha 900. It weigh the same 850g body only, takes the same battery, shoots the same 880 images per charge, has the same dimensions and is made of the same materials." Based on careful divinations from scanty indicators, he concludes the A850 will either be cheaper than the A900, or it will cost the same as the A900 and the price of the A900 will go up.
The source of the leak was the placement of the GB (British) instruction manual PDF on the Sony South-East Asia official website as an accessible download. If you're among the truly interested, you can now get the download from David's article, at the above link, by clicking on the image of the front cover.
(A personal aside that is neither here nor there: if Sony would just give me a damn 35mm ƒ/2 to put on the thing, I'd buy one. I'm a broken record, yes, and evince the calcified bitterness of permanent frustration, yes, it's true.)
Kathy Li tells us that if you're curious to see the fruits of Kyle Cassidy's Worldcon labors, he's put quite a few of them up on his Flickr stream, including this shot of Ctein—and two of Jon Singer.
Update #2 (Polychrome)
Re the illustrations in "Polychrome," Ctein says, "Mozilla just released Firefox 3.5.2, and the release notes mention that this releases fixes some problems with rendering profiled images. Indeed; I just installed it, and now the full-size photos (viewed by clicking on the in-line illustrations in the column) shown in the browser are reasonably close to correct in terms of color and saturation. Not perfect, but good enough for 'magazine work.' Readers who are curious abut whether their pet browser is doing a good job of rendering profiled images should run the comparison I described in the P.S. to the post."
Featured Comment by Bahi: "That really is a cracking shot of Ctein; I did wonder, before seeing it, whether post-Worldcon elation led Ctein to exaggerate the strengths of Kyle's results. Nope."
Featured Comment by Mikko Moilanen: "Lol u look like 2000 century Gandalf."
Featured Comment by Jared: "You mean Ctein is a math genius and a hippie? I think I've found my new role model."
Andrew Goldman has written a wonderful article about Annie Leibovitz's recent financial travails for New York magazine that you can read online. "How Could This Happen to Annie Leibovitz? The $24 million question" is a long read, but very good. The article is dramatic and harrowing, a tale of obsession and excess, with a tinge of Greek tragedy, even. Makes you rethink the meaning of her life and work all over again. Great writing, gripping reading.
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "Ms. Leibovitz's financial predicament is sad. But...
"This is largely a self-inflicted situation. At 59 with a good-sized fortune of earnings history Leibovitz knows very well that she's a child with money. She also seems to be poor at engaging help with her shortcoming and, making matter worse, apparently tantrums like a child, too. That's a suicidal formula found throughout the entertainment biz, especially pro sports.
"So although I am a compassionate person it's hard to for me to give a care about someone who has been so careless and arrogant with so many extraordinary gifts and opportunities.
"I reserve my sympathies for people whose hard-won resources are being wiped out, despite prudent and mature stewardship and planning, due to circumstances completely beyond their control."
Featured Comment by Hugh Crawford: "Anybody who says Annie's career is not a tragedy doesn't know what the word 'tragedy' means, so here is the definition:
"The character traits that were behind the work she made were exactly what doomed her financially. The real bad guys in this story are the people who took advantage of her being a somewhat insecure perfectionist because they liked the results.
"It's like that line in Woody Allen's Annie Hall...
"I have known a lot of artists, actors and musicians, and most, not all but most of them are either ADD, OCD or bipolar. Some are more than one and many are perfectionists on top of it all.
"It's easy to say that a reasonable and sensible person wouldn't get into her mess but a reasonable and sensible person wouldn't get hired to do what she does."
While I was away, the Times' Lens blog posted Edgar Martin's comments in defense of himself. The Times editors' introduction betrays the sharpness of the burned:
And some of the commenters aren't having much of his explanations, either (this is part of a comment by "Ben"):
It's all in the context, isn't it? If it had been presented as "art photography," there's absolutely not a thing wrong with anything Edgar Martins has done. Presented as documentary and then lied about, it's flat unacceptable.
Here's Edgar's apologia (I didn't read it).
Kudos again to Adam Gurno, "Unixrat" on Metafilter, who was the one who first got wise to the chicanery.
Featured Comment by Mike C.: "A misrepresentation is a misrepresentation, sure enough, but some arguments over 'representation' have been going on for some while:
Just then my eye was caught by an unframed canvas standing on a shelf above Jacqueline's head and to the right. It was a portrait of a girl—Jacqueline, I would have said—in tones of green and black and white. She was shown in profile, looking off to the left, and Picasso had given the face a mildly geometrical stylization built up of triangular forms which emphasized the linear treatment but at the same time preserved the likeness. I pointed to the painting. 'How would you explain to a person whose training made him look on that as deformation, rather than formation, why you had done it that way?' I asked him.
'Let me tell you a story,' Picasso said. 'Right after the Liberation, lots of GIs came to my studio in Paris. I would show them my work, and some of them understood and admired more than others. Almost all of them, though, before they left, would show me pictures of their wives or girl friends. One day one of them who had made some kind of remark, as I showed him one of my paintings, about how 'It doesn't really look like that, though,' got to talking about his wife and he pulled out a tiny passport-size picture of her to show me. I said to him, "But she's so tiny, your wife. I didn't realize from what you said that she was so small." He looked at me very seriously. "Oh, she's not really so small," he said. "It's just that this is a very small photograph." '
—Picasso, interviewed in The Atlantic, July 1957
Featured Comment by Puplet: "[Martins' apologia is] almost a success: if he'd written a few hundred words more, I'd have lost the will to live entirely and would have agreed with anything he wanted to say, just to make him stop...."
Featured Comment by Robert Noble: "I thought one of the more astute comments in the zillion-word metafilter thread that started all this was by 'yoink,' in response to those who are flogging the New York Times for sleeping in the job.
"In light of the multiple earlier books and gallery shows in which Martins also lied about not digitally manipulating his photographs, Yoink wrote (emphasis added):
As, in dpreview's words, "a basic 'kit' (S2 and one lens) will set you back around $30,000," this is not a camera or system we will be covering on this site. However, I want to make it clear that I think this is a very well-thought-out move for Leica, an intelligently and thoughtfully conceived idea. It is a prime example of the sort of "newthink" [note the date on the linked article] of which I heartily approve. The only problem that I can see is that the timing relative to the worldwide recession is not propitious—and that is not Leica's fault.
The camera and its system will have two native or natural markets, which is important for a new product this ambitious. First, there's any sort of high-dollar pro who photographs handheld—mainly, but not exclusively, fashion and runway photographers. These are also the type of photographers who work in very style- and status-conscious, people-oriented worlds where using the best and most prestigious equipment is an important statement; a perfect match. Second, there are photography enthusiasts who are simply not price conscious—some of whom might already be Leica enthusiasts. There are people out there who prefer, and can pay for, $240,000 automobiles and $80,000 stereo speakers, and the S System will be in a perfect position to appeal to them too.
I really have no idea if the gamble will work for Leica, but it is a noble, clear-headed gamble, one that, if successful, is likely to be good for the camera market as a whole.
Featured Comment by James McDermott: "Just been pumping up the biceps and having my conspicuous embarrassment gland removed, ready for my one year-one camera-one lens experience with the Leica S2 and 75mm lens. Now, which bank vault to blow...?"
Mike replies: Re those biceps, you might not have to pump them up as much as you think—actually, the S2 is rather smallish, according to people who have seen it—smaller than a full sized Nikon or Canon.
Featured Comment by Marc Rochkind: "I've been acquiring old cameras lately, and recently bought a 1958 Zeiss Ikon Contarex (a.k.a. Bullseys or Cyclops). In many ways, and in the opinion of some, it was the best camera ever made. It was also the beginning of the end for Zeiss Ikon. (Its current rangefinder is Japanese.)
"All the other major German makers, except for Leica, are gone now. They've been gone for over 25 years. I predict that the S2 and the M9 will be the Leica's Contarexes, and Leica, too, will be gone in a few years.
"Back in the 1960s what the world wanted was an M3-sized SLR. They eventually got it, but it was from Olympus (OM-1). Leica produced the big, fat, overpriced Leicaflex, obsolete from the day it was introduced. Same with a full-frame M9. That's what the M8 should have been. (Yes, the S2 isn't a me-too camera, but at its price it can't possibly save Leica.)
"The plan to follow the market by two years at twice the price just won't work."
We all know that Netflix and Amazon use ratings to make recommendations.
Recommendations tap into the force that public relations counsels have been writing about—from Edward Bernays in the 1920s in his book Propaganda, through to Chris Anderson in his 2006 book, The Long Tail.
That is, we look to others whom we respect to guide us to what we want. And what we want is often a product of the groups with which we want to identify.
Opinion leaders, peer recommendation, group identification, tribes, niche markets, the wisdom of crowds—recommendations and ratings are the life blood of all of them.
Google depends on it; Amazon thrives on it.
An interesting point that Chris Anderson makes in The Long Tail is that eBay has a problem. It wants to recommend products to us, but the users define their own products when they write their ads. So eBay simply does not know what it is selling and so it cannot recommend the products for which it acts as middleman.
That insight into what eBay doesn’t have helps us get a clearer view of the power of recommendations and ratings.
Edward Bernays set himself up as a propaganda consultant or public relations counsel as he described himself in Propaganda, the book he wrote in 1928.
He was Freud’s nephew and because he was well connected he had access to the industrialists of the 1920s—with whom he found common ground. What is interesting is his view of the human condition.
Having seen the slaughter of the First World War, he believed that the majority of human beings had to be controlled and that without something to divert them they would, if given the excuse, tear each other limb from limb.
Bernays believed that the men follow leaders in different fields and that their sense of identity and identification with the leaders and the groups was generally more important than the underlying truth or falsity of what they believed as individuals.
Sometimes, without the group mind, the individual was lost.
Bernays believed that as a consequence, men would often rather sacrifice the truth than lose the fellowship of the group.
Therein lies the power of ratings and recommendations. The individual is not looking for the best book, film, or whatever. He or she is looking for the group.
Whoa! But not me. (Say we all.)
Originally published on David's blog no more pencils. Republished here with kind permission of the author.
This morning in my inbox I got an email from eMusic asking me to "rate" Hank Crawford's album "Tight." Ratings seem to have become a ubiquitous feature of the internet. When I read audio equipment reviews on audioreview.com, I have to be told how many stars the piece got from how many reviewers (i.e., readers). When I look at pictures on PhotoSig, I have to learn how many people gave it however many "thumbs up" symbols. (The maximum being three. What?) I have to say, the rating culture of the internet is not for me.
As a sometime critic you might not suppose I'd say that. Isn't "rating" things what criticism is all about? The Sony A900 gets five stars. The Sigma DP2 gets two. Done and out.
That's not it, of course. "Rating" anything—especially, taking averages of many peoples' ratings—misses all the subtlety. First of all, whether an album of music gets five stars or two stars doesn't concern me at all. I would hope that I can have great experiences with music that leaves the mass audience cold. Certainly, what turns on the mass audience—broadest spectrum, lowest common denominator—leaves me cold. Mass ratings systems are just looking for common agreement. They're setting community standards, if you will. That might work for refrigerators. Maybe. It doesn't work for art.
I'm looking for an experience with art. An immediate connection between it and me, now. However many of my fellow humans think crasher squirrel is cute or approve of a Celine Dion song, that does not necessarily predict a good experience for me. My taste isn't mass taste. Mass taste isn't for me. (In fact I have a bias the other way—against mass taste—because historically that's been a better-than-neutral indicator for me.) I love discovering music, books, pictures, and so forth that I love, but I have no condition attached that other people must agree with me.
Plus, how can I know when something will hit me? I recently had a fantastic experience with the first three cuts of Duke Ellington's Piano in the Foreground, an album I've owned forever. (The fourth cut, not so much—it tries to make up in length what it lacks in interest.) Thirteen beautiful and brilliant minutes of music that a 15-year-old Kanye West fan would give one star. Me? Last week, three stars. This week, five. No, that does not average to four.
Even when I "rate" cameras, I assume people will disagree with me, and I completely endorse their right to. I go into writing about a camera knowing that somebody out there will love (and, more importantly, do good work with) what I think is the worst piece of glack in the world, and that somebody else will dismiss out of hand a camera that I think is well nigh on the Holy Grail. That fact does not confront me.
It also matters to me who's doing the rating. It gratifies me that when I recommend a photography book as being outstanding (my current ga-ga favorite is this one, which I totally freakin' love and which you might as well bury me with), lots of my readers go buy it. But when I recommend a random non-fiction book on a random topic, like this one, which I found immersively fascinating and a great read, well, pretty much nobody goes and buys it. Why? Because you know my taste and opinions about photography. You give me credit for expertise, and you probably have a sense whether you are going to enjoy my recommendations or not. But you have no such faith and confidence in my general taste about items outside of my expertise, in which case I am just another guy on the internet.
That's fine. You're allowed to be wrong about my general recommendations, which are spectacularly insightful and rock-solid reliable. Just kidding. How'd you like this post? How many stars would you give it on a scale of five? How many thumbs-ups? The maximum is two, if you're a humanoid, one if you lost an arm in battle. You may additionally give it up to two big-toes-up, if you're barefoot.
That Danny Lyon book has totally reordered my opinion of him as an artist. It gets eight stars on a scale of five. And I don't care if 41 raters on netnet.com agree with me, it does.
So, while Mike returns from vacation, I'm off on one, in Montreal. Just wrapped up the World Science Fiction Convention, a.k.a Worldcon. Mondo fun. Great parties. And, unexpectedly, photo stuff to write about.
The interior of the Palais des Congres de Montreal (I am not typing that more than once) is inherently neutral—whites, greys, blacks, charcoal granite, silver aluminum and steel. The south-facing wall, though, is all colored glass panels. I'm coming down the escalator early Thursday afternoon, and the sun comes out. And I freak out. OMG, he says eloquently. Run back to my hotel room. Get my Fuji S100, spend the next hour and a half making photographs. I am in heaven. Found my traveling companion, Bayla, and told her, "okay, I'm done. I've had a good con. We can go home now."
Ended up spending about five hours of photography over three days there, working with the changing light. Made over 100 photos. Amazing photos, very rough versions of three being shown here. No finishing touches on these; all I've got to work on is my crappy laptop screen. Think of these as enlarged proof sheets. Just samples, probably not even the best of the bunch. Can't wait to see what they look like after I get to adjust and print them well.
Understand that all the color you're seeing is from the sun filtering through the glass. All natural, all light, all amazing. And, yes, it is just what I saw.
A friend wandered up while I was working and opined that the weird and wonderful light must be screwing up the white balance. I looked at him incredulously and exclaimed, "White balance?! Where we're going, we don't need white balance!"
Yes, I was working raw, what else? But, in these roughs I haven't fiddled with the white balance from the camera settings; it's not worth even trying on this laptop screen. So, JPEGs would've balanced well enough, too, just not had anywhere near the exposure range nor color gamut. This subject really utilized that 11-stop range.
Wow. Wow. And furthermore, wow.
But enough about me. Made a new friend, Kyle Cassidy (right). DD-B showed me Kyle's project "Where I Write" about two months back when I was visiting in Minneapolis. I was incredulous. This guy's work is fabulous. Not only are they inherently interesting and deep photographs, regardless of the subject matter, but I know most of the subjects and, trust me, these are effin' good portraits of them! How could I not know of someone this talented operating in my own 'universe'?!
Did a panel with him at the con. Turned out that while he's a well-experienced professional photographer, he's new to my world. This project is months old. Okay, I feel less ignorant. Had dinner with him and Trillian and their friend (and now mine) Colin. Lovely time was had by all. Check out his other projects, too, on his regular website. And his blog. I dunno if it's worth reading. Honestly, I just go to look at the pictures (yes, that is a compliment). But I went to his "slide show," and he gives great talk.
By the way, don't look for me in his con photos. Yet, anyways. He spent Saturday making portraits of as many fans as he could (some of the photos are in his blog). He spent a whole minute on me. (I am flattered. I mean that.) He made four photos that are better than any I've ever seen of me before. The man is not only good, he's fast.
P.S. Folks, I'm on the road. The illustrations, as posted, look desaturated on the browser on my laptop. I can't tell if this is a real display problem or an artifact of my situation, so I've uploaded the source JPEGs to http://ctein.com/TOP/
Download them and open them in MacOSX's "Preview" or in Photoshop and they'll look just fine. Don't double-click them to open them in your browser; if there's a real display problem, they'll look just like versions in the column.
Featured Comment by Dan Gorman: "Thanks for your post. By coincidence, I was in Montreal this week on a family vacation, and saw the same building. I, too, was struck by the building's design:
"I live in Chicago, which gets well-deserved props in the media for the quality and variety of its architecture, but I have to say, I was very impressed with the architecture I saw in Montreal. The Palais de Congres is an excellent example, but far from the only one. I saw numerous buildings that struck me as fresh, creative, well-integrated with their surroundings, and infused with a joie de vivre that is very characteristic of the city as a whole. I think Montreal may be overdue for some recognition in this area."
Stuart Franklin [see featured comment below] took this elegant picture of a familiar figure practicing for the PGA Championship tournament, which begins today at Hazeltine. It's possible to consider it an example of a tiny but honorable niche—"portraits" in which the subject is not facing the camera, like Karsh's picture of Pablo Casals.
Featured Comment by Bahi: "The golf shot might be from a different Stuart Franklin; there's a Getty sports photographer by that name who gets lots of interesting pictures of Tiger Woods and who is unrelated to the Magnum shooter (and recent Magnum President) in the post you're currently linking to on the old TOP site.
By the way, according to a comment at the site below, the President of Magnum got a lot of e-mail about a purported Photoshop disaster that wasn't really a Photoshop disaster at all and which definitely involved the other Stuart Franklin.
Mike replies: My mistake. Thanks Bahi. I removed the link. I should have remembered there was a "second" Stuart Franklin from our own discussion of the fascinating "error mimicking" of the Mickelson/Woods shot—which was, as you say, actually not a Photoshop disaster.
As a curmudgeonly aside, when there's an established figure in the field with the same name, it's customary for the later-comer to use a middle initial to distinguish himself. Maybe we should unilaterally name the second Stuart Franklin "Stuart X. Franklin." I suppose it's possible that Getty Stuart Franklin is older than Magnum Stuart Franklin, though—just because I heard of the latter first doesn't necessarily mean he has primacy. —Mike, who has always disliked having a too-common name
I hope I'm not one of those new-media types that belabors readers too regularly with personal trivia, like the best meals I've eaten recently (a chicken Marbella my sister-in-law made at the Lake) or what's happening outside my window this morning (it sounded like someone was killing the neighbors' children—at least two of them must have been having a total wailing, screaming go-to-pieces at once), or quotidian meanders like doctor's visits. But I thought perhaps a doctor's appointment I had yesterday might actually be apropos to our subject.
About eight or ten years ago, an optometrist who was fitting me for glasses I don't often use (I was slightly nearsighted and mildly astigmatic) looked long and hard into my right eye and first asked me if I had health insurance (I didn't, and still don't) and then suggested, enigmatically, that I might want to get checked out by an ophthalmologist. I asked him why, but he wouldn't say, suggesting without saying so directly that if he told me anything it would make whatever it was into a pre-existing condition.
I remembered that incident only in the last year, as my right eye has progressively started to go bad. At the same time, I started getting mysterious headaches on the right side of my head, which sometimes, but not always, seemed to respond to treatments for muscle tension.
In camera-lens terms, my right eye has developed excessive flare in bright light and lost some contrast and a lot of resolution. And I fancy I feel some discomfort in it, sometimes, like there were something in it, or like the beginnings of pain.
I have to admit I've been preoccupied with this for some time now, and it's one reason why I took such a lengthy vacation—I'd made an appointment at an eye clinic for Monday, and, though I may be guilty of hypochondria, I feared bad news.
To my great relief and somewhat to my surprise, the news was not bad. My left eye is still 20-25 (as both eyes were ten years ago), but my right eye is now 20-40, and my astigmatism has worsened. I have the beginnings of cataracts (which I was told I will probably have to deal with "in twenty years or so"), but my pressure is perfect and the ophthalmologist couldn't find anything worrisome in the eye or on the retina. He suggested that the headaches might be due to eyestrain.
So I've ordered two pairs of glasses—one a lined bifocal for computer use and reading (corrected for 24" and 15" respectively) and one pair for driving and distance. I presume I'm about to become a regular glasses-wearer for the first time in my life. Doubtless this will make me even more cranky about camera viewfinders, a subject I am already plenty cranky about. But I will try to remember that it could have been worse. We all go blind in the end, but, as long as we are blessed with sound enough eyes and, more importantly, a living mind with which to see, sight remains the soul's perfect delight.
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "It's really ironic that many of us start reaching our peak of photographic skill...just about the time our eyes start going to pot.
"Under the best of circumstances our eyes lose about 50% of their light transmission capacity by the age of 40, and it's downhill faster after that. The accelerating inability to focus close up (presbyopia) puts most of us into reading glasses or bifocals by age 50, and this can be maddening with some viewfinders.
"Then there's the steady accumulation of floaters. I used to visit a well-known hawk watch site every spring to see and photograph migrating birds of prey. I gave up a few years ago because a retinal tear in my left eye produced so many floaters I saw a dozen 'birds' with every turn of my head. Sigh.
"Might as well make lemonade. The decline in absolute acuity and light transmission as we age can actually facilitate clean composition. It's easier to appreciate dominant visual elements when the smaller details get murkier.
"Or at least I tell myself this as I squint through that danged dark viewfinder."
Featured Comment by R. Edelman: "Mike, if you are developing cataracts, corneal refractive procedures such as LASIK are relatively contraindicated. You don't want to have a procedure on your corneas, and then have cataract surgery just a few years later. Procedures such as LASIK also make the predictability of determining the intraocular lens implant power more difficult than if the cornea had not been reshaped. (For you folks who have had LASIK or similar procedures, get a copy of your pre- and post-procedure eye measurements and lock them in a vault. They may prove helpful if you eventually need cataract surgery.) LASIK also doesn't truly correct presbyopia.
"On the subject of intraocular lens implants, the 'holy grail' of cataract surgery is the correction of presbyopia. There are some intraocular lens implants that address this problem, but hopefully better ones will be available in the future. You might be interested to know that two of the lens implants that are approved by the US FDA, the ReStor and the Tecnis Multifocal, use diffractive optics (think Canon DO lenses) to allow simultaneous distance and near, and some intermediate range vision. The trade off is some glare when looking at point sources of light.
"One should never trivialize eye surgery, no matter what the procedure. But if you had to pick an operation, cataract surgery beats the hell out of open heart surgery."
Marcey Jacobson, an expat New Yorker whose creative life was spent documenting the indiginous peoples of Mexico, has died of heart failure at the age of 97 in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Mostly ignored, she left a major body of work created over many years, finally recognized in 2001 with the publication by Stanford University Press of a generous retrospective, The Burden of Time: Photographs from the Highlands of Chiapas.
Also sad to report, two days ago the Brazilian photographer Mario Cravo Neto lost his life to skin cancer. Formerly a street photographer, Cravo Neto turned his attention to studio photography during an extended illness and thereby found his muse, which he never again abandoned. "Neto" means grandson; his father was Mario Cravo Junior, famous in Brazil as a sculptor. Peter Weiermair's book, Mario Cravo Neto: Photographs, is unfortunately out of print.
Featured Comment by Jack Nelson: "The New York Times now has a selection of Marcey's photographs on its "Lens" blog.