Taken with the Sony RX100.
I went down to Chicago yesterday to imbibe some art. Ctein was in town for a convention and tacked a few extra days on to the end of his trip, and Ken Tanaka gave Ctein and his friend Bayla Fine a tour of the Art Institute of Chicago. I tagged along.
First of all let me just say that every time Ken takes me around that Museum I see something new. This time it was the Japanese galleries, which are stunning.
At the start of the day Ken handed me his Sony RX100 and told me he'd give me the card at the end of the afternoon. So I have for you a definitive, one-word, three-letter verdict on this camera: F-U-N. On his, Ken had a wonderful little aftermarket grip made by Richard Franiec, which I must say is much more beautifully made than many aftermarket bits tend to be—hard to believe it wasn't engineered with the camera from the start. Makes the tiny camera very nice to hold.
I spent quite a bit of time staring at a lovely old 19th-century picture in the permanent galleries, only to learn later that it's one of the Photography Department's latest prized acquisitions, and that what they had to pay for it would buy you a very nice house in most parts of the country. Worth it, I say, as long as it's not my money. A bewitchingly beautiful print. (I didn't take a snap of it—sorry. Maybe Ken can provide a link*.)
This is something I don't think I've ever seen before. It's a paper negative, by one Gustave de Beaucorps, c. 1859—but the display is beautifully back-illuminated using cool, non-destructive LED light. Really lets you see the subtle quality of the negative. Ken told me the display was a huge headache for the conservators to create, which I can believe. But their efforts were certainly successful. (That's Ken in the reflection.)
Sensors are getting better all the time, I know, but from what little I can tell after a few hours of happy snapping with it, it seems like the sensor in the RX100 is a particularly talented one. The results (see top pic) are sort of lush, luscious, and rich. Digital is starting to look less digital, it seems, which is a good thing.
*Ken adds: Hey, I enjoyed the day too, Mike! How can we not enjoy a day at a place like the AIC?!
Re: the 19th century piece you enjoyed so much (and you're not alone!), it's an albumen titled "The Day's Orders" by Camille Léon Louis Silvy. Even though it's a very staged image it is considered the first true work of photojournalism. It's a richly storied image of a type and condition that almost never become available for purchase. Matthew Witkovsky, the photography department's curator and chair, managed to track this down and strike a good deal to get it accessioned in 2011.
The Gustave de Beaucorps image is also a real wonder and something you'll not see every day (or probably in a typical life). It's a wax paper negative. Unfortunately it's not yet viewable online but SFMoMA has one online of a very similar size to ours. You can also see (and buy) a print from one of de Beaucorps's wax paper negatives at iPhoto Central.
For those planning a visit to Art Institute of Chicago both of these gems from the permanent collection are currently on display in Gallery 10 just outside the main photography galleries.
A further addendum: Ctein, for his part, managed to put himself into one of the world-famous Thorne miniatures:
Did you spot the Lilliputian photographer?
Taken with an OM-D, 14–42mm, ISO 3200.
(For those who've never heard of the Thorne miniatures, they are a whole series of exquisitely rendered three-dimensional miniature "dollhouse" rooms behind glass, showing period-accurate interior spaces in 1/12 scale—mostly (but not entirely) European, mostly (but not entirely) upper-class. The room Ctein photographed is not more that a couple of feet wide, high, and deep.
Narcissa Niblack Thorne was a socialite who essentially ran her own atelier in the 1930s to create the 68 model rooms, employing workers ranging from a real architect to design the spaces to a specialist trained to needlepoint tiny rugs and fabrics. The level of detail—and of attention to detail, not quite the same thing—is astonishing, and has been delighting museumgoers in Chicago for decades.)
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Will: "I feel that this isn't the first time you've written of a trip to The Art Institute of Chicago, and every time you do mention going, I'm flooded with longing to return. As a former Chicagoan now living in New York, I should want for very little in the way of museums. Still, there's something magical about that place and its collections, and I'd trade it for any two NYC museums in a heartbeat."
Featured Comment by John King: "Wonderful to spend a day at such a fine museum and with a knowledgeable friend as guide. You probably know that DxOMark just published its Sony RX100 sensor test, giving it an overall rating of 66. This rating puts the little Sony sensor in the company of many DSLR scores. Of course there's more to a camera than a sensor rating but it's nice to finally have a second camera that can perform this well."