Got any questions?
UPDATE 1 p.m.: Okay, I've got to cut this off now! I was literally laughing when I posted this...what a dumb idea for a post. At the same time, I thought it might be fun. And it was. Thanks for all the questions, including the ones I didn't answer.
Oh, and I knew right from the start that I was going to get that question about the velocity of the swallow. [g]
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Questions from:
Michael Roche: "Mike, whatever happened to the printer you took delivery of last year?"
Mike replies: It's still sitting in a large box in the middle of the living room floor, I'm sad (and a little ashamed) to say. The living room remodel has to get done before I'll have room to set it up, and that project is just grinding along with painful slowness.
I've hired an organizer, though, and she's coming every week, and she leaves me with "homework" to do on my own. So progress is being made. Just...slowly.
My biggest business problem (and I guess it's nice that I can say this) is that my home office is just critically undersized. I need three times as much room, and six times as much would be put to good use. I just don't know what to do about it...no room to relocate it, no room on the lot for an addition, no money/energy/time for a move. There is no easy solution, and believe me I've been putting my mind to it.
Will: "Why does a good file, shrunk, (almost always) look better than a file that starts that size?"
Mike replies: That answer's too long for this post, but I've got a splendid visual example of this and have been thinking about writing a post about it. I need Ctein to be less busy so that I can confer with him on it, though. Taken under advisement for the future.
Bob Keefer: "Yeah. What do you think the camera marketplace is going to look like in 10 years?"
Mike replies: I don't know. No crystal ball. But see previous post for pessimistic fatalistic angle on it.
Stephen Scharf: "Mike, Any plans to review the new Fuji X100S? Cheers, Stephen."
Mike replies: Yer makin' me feel bad. A reader just offered to let me use his new one for three weeks, and I turned him down. Just too much to do to do it justice. I really could use an assistant, but to hire an assistant I really would need a bigger office...(see above). Every problem is interrelated with every other problem!
Rob: "Can you (and are you willing to) describe your technique for your digital B&W conversions? I flail around trying different things but am rarely happy. Perhaps it's my choice of lighting more than anything else. The B&W photos you posted from the NEX 6 review are good examples of what I'd like to achieve but never seem to be able to to."
Mike replies: Right now I'm using Silver Efex Pro 2, part of the bundle Google just radically lowered the price on (see this post). I finally realized I just wasn't getting what I wanted easily enough with ACR's controls.
The problem with B&W conversion isn't the tools, though, really...it's judgment. That is, you have to know what to look for and what you're after. How to get there isn't as much of a difficulty.
It seems a rather specialized topic, because I'm not sure how many people do B&W conversions (except in the horrid, debased, lowest-common-denominator "let's try to save this frame that's not working out in color" populist way). But maybe I could concentrate on the aesthetic judgments rather than just the technique and make a post or two that are interesting that way. Again, I'll take this under advisement.
Tony Rowlett: "I want to know how your darkroom is going!"
Mike replies: It's nearly done and I've been using it...now and then. Again, my problem is that I have too much I could be doing and not nearly enough time to do it in. Or energy, in the evenings.
I've been remiss in not posting an update for too long. That's probably because I'd have to clean the darkroom up to take pictures of it, and the organizer and I are currently using it as a staging area for all the stuff I have to put on eBay. Comma, when I have time.
[Another] Mike: "Why is it so difficult for digital camera makers to design models with decent manual focusing?"
Mike replies: Probably because most people don't manually focus. DSLR viewfinders are often small mirror-boxes instead of glass prisms, the coverage area is smaller making the viewfinder image smaller and harder to see, and most viewing screens are of the "brightscreen" type to make up for the brightness shortage of the mirrorbox arrangement, and those don't have good "focus snap" (said of focusing screens on which it's easy to see when the image is in focus).
Two recommendations: find a full-frame DSLR that has interchangable focusing screens and research to see if people are liking one particular screen for manual focusing; or, use a Sony with focus-peaking like the NEX I'm in the process of reviewing. They're actually surprisingly good for manual focusing!
James: "What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
Mike replies: What do you mean, an African or European swallow?
Mark Sampson: "What's your photo project for spring/summer 2013? By which, of course, I mean 'What subject are you going to photograph with the intent to produce a small, finished project, by the end of the year?'"
Mike replies: I'm not sure if it's grand enough to qualify as a project, but I plan to rent the Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar for the D800 and do some portraits with it and with the Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.8G. I've been mulling over various ways of finding portrait subjects. Hey, at least I have a business card to approach people with now.
Sal Santamaura: "Yes, the question I already asked in a comment to your Day 1 Sony + Zeiss post: '...the test I'm hoping you can write up is of Hartblei's 40mm Superrotator on your Dragoon. LensRentals doesn't have it, but maybe TOP world headquarters can arrange for a loan from the manufacturer. At more than twice the Dragoon's cost, you probably wouldn't buy one even though it is your favorite focal length. Seriously, that combination, if it works well, could be what replaces a 4x5 for me as age diminishes my carrying capacity. Please consider trying it out.' So, have you considered it? ;-) "
Mike replies: Not really. What's wrong with the Lens Corrections > Manual controls in Adobe Camera Raw?
James Hildreth (partial comment) [Ed. Note: See the Comments section for the rest of James's comment. As well as for the questions I'm not going to answer mainly because I don't know the answers or have nothing to say]: "If prize-winning photographs can be taken with DX cameras and lenses (and beat out the FX shots), why does FX continue to be the holy grail? Seems like its just a case of 'bigger is better' and a lot of hype." [Ed Note #2: For anyone who doesn't know, DX is Nikon's term for the reduced APS-C sensor size, and FX is its term for full-frame, 24x36mm sensors.]
Mike replies: Well, I can't answer why other people consider them so, and I don't consider anything to be the "holy grail" myself, but I think there are three reasons to consider full-frame (FX) cameras: 1. Because the camera viewfinders are restored to traditional 35mm-camera sizes and are bigger and easier to see; 2. Because legacy focal lengths and actual legacy lenses (especially on the wide end) are restored to their traditional angles of view and (again, especially on the wide end) their coverage isn't wasted; and 3. Because it's easier to achieve the "shallow depth of field" look that is fashionable in many quarters right now, especially with fast lenses.
I guess a fourth reason is that some people do consider that they have, or potentially have, somewhat higher image quality. My opinion about that is that you generally need to skip a sensor size to see an appreciable difference that matters: that is, APS-C is better than 1", full-frame is an improvement on 4/3, medium format is a real improvement on APS-C; moving up or down just one sensor size really isn't enough of a difference to fire anybody up that much.
I personally think 4/3 or APS-C sensors are the best all-around compromise, all things considered. APS-C is certainly best if you do a lot of long tele work.
LJ Slater: "Hi Mike! Can I send you every photo I've ever taken and ask you to pick out the keepers for me? This is the worst part of photography. Every couple of months, I 'give up photography forever and this time I mean it.' Also, what's your favorite vintage Nikkor and what should I do with all my slides and should I switch from E6 to C41? Thanks!"
Mike replies: No; why would you do that?; the 45P, the old 55mm ƒ/3.5 Micro-Nikkor, or the 28mm ƒ/2.8 or 85mm ƒ/2 AIS's; put them in archival boxes at least; and, not enough information, but probably.
Kenneth Wajda: "Do you think we are too gear-oriented these days? Seems like gear is in our way, as we incrementally get better cameras, but there's nothing wrong with the ones we have. Does digital feed our gadget-lust, at the expense of making pictures? I feel like it does for me at times. Like this is all just a bunch of noise, the image quality is already great. But wait, there's a new announcement coming...."
Mike replies: Do you need me here? Seems like you answered your own question.
I'm too gear-oriented, but that's because writing about gear is an essential part of how I make my living. I do sometimes pine for life with one camera and a lot of time for shooting, but it's not in the cards for me personally.
Michel: "Hey Mike, when is the next installment of the TOP photo 'contest'? Unless I missed it there was only one round of the three that had been announced."
Mike replies: And we're back to answer #1...with me feeling sad and a little ashamed again. This is something I periodically revisit, and keep meaning to pick up again...it was so much fun and I would just love to do more with it.
To be honest, the original idea of making a print sale of reader pictures, which is essentially a good idea I think and one that appeals to me, ran into a significant snag. And that is this: with every sale I run, the #1 most important thing to me is whether the photographer is reliable and dependable. Just imagine the hassle and ill-will if we ran a sale, collected all the money, and the photographer failed to follow through with making and shipping the prints. It would be a disaster. And, since it would be a huge time-sink for me, it would also probably be a disaster for TOP, possibly even threatening its existence. I've been accused of only running sales of pictures by my friends, but that's because I'm picking people to work with who I am reasonably well assured are professional and dependable, and will come through for me.
So let's say we pick three great pictures from three different photographers and arrange a sale of all three. In all three cases the photographers would essentially be strangers to me. I wouldn't have as much assurance that they would come through with their end of the bargain. Mass producing and shipping large numbers of prints is a significantly difficult task; it takes a lot of time and effort over a short span of time (because the prints have to be delivered in a timely fashion). I'd be chancing it, hoping that each of the photographers are going to come through with their end of the bargain. But it's a significant risk, and a significant worry. And, with three prints by three different photographers in the sale, I'd be multiplying my risk by three! At least in the past when we offer two or three or four or six prints, they're all from the same photographer.
See the problem? It stopped me up, at the time.
Now I think I have a solution to the problem. What we'd do is just hire Ctein to make the prints and then do the fulfillment from here (I'd hire people to do it, I wouldn't do it myself). Ctein is a superb professional—he may be a hippie to the bone and be into alternative lifestyles et cet., but don't succumb to stereotyping—he is supremely organized and utterly dependable, as professional as any pro I've ever known. He's written 280 columns for this site (well, 281 if you count next week's), and I'm hard pressed to think if he's ever missed his deadline even once. If it was once it was only once. His columns have been late to go up a handful of times, but in each case it's been my fault, or the fault of circumstances beyond our control.
And there are two more problems with having Ctein make the prints and doing the fulfillment ourselves. First, what if the photographer is actually a fine printmaker? I've contacted a few people and sounded them out about the prospect of a print sale, and they've answered, "Cool, where should I get the prints made?" Mighty Ctein to the rescue there. But, for real printmakers, the printmaking is part of the art, and buyers would understandably want to purchase a print made by the artist.
And the second problem is that when you start talking about having Ctein make the prints and me do the bookkeeping, money collection, and fulfillment, what you're really talking about is me running an entire small business from here. Because that's what it would be. I'd have to get a shopping cart built, do all the customer service, purchase the packaging, keep the books, hire the people to pack and ship the prints Ctein makes...on and on.
Understand, I could spend an entire 40-hour work week just writing posts. Literally...just doing the writing for TOP could be a full-time job. (Of course, then the writing [and the research that goes into it] would be a lot better.) Never mind keeping up with emails, moderating all the comments, doing ad sales and administration, keeping the books, doing my own IT, et cetera ad infinitum. You see the problem. All of which works fine for very high-energy individuals like, say, David Pogue and Thom Hogan. But I am decidedly a low-energy individual!
However, I think I may have hit on a solution that's workable all around. Stay tuned for more at some point in the future. But don't hold me to a timeline...and you probably shouldn't hold your breath.
William Flowers: "Would love to hear you comment on photographs and photographers that have influenced you in some way. It would certainly be a great column or series of columns."
Mike replies: I've actually been thinking of this too. Will take it under advisement. Thanks.
Michael Farrell: "I'm fairly sure you use traditional Photoshop rather than Lightroom. Any reason? I found Lightroom, when I made the switch, to be more 'photographer-friendly' overall. Have you ever considered using it?"
Mike replies: Not really. I'm not good with computers, and distinctly poor at learning new software (I pick it up easily enough, I just don't retain it). I've been using Photoshop since about 1996 and I've achieved a reasonable degree of facility with it, and I just don't want to change. (Although in a sense I have changed, since I would say my main image editing program now is ACR.)
I do think the majority of photography enthusiasts are now using Lightroom.
mark: "Shooting any film these days?"
Mike replies: The last time was October or November, with the Rollei. I've been strenuously resisting splurging on the new Canon 35mm ƒ/2 IS, which I could use with a film Canon for shooting XP2. Must...not...succumb...must...not...succumb....
Ed Hawco: "Mike, does your Olympus OM-D seem to have a mind of its own? I just got back from a 10-day trip, much of which was spent with my OM-D around my neck (a departure; I generally use a wrist strap). Over the 10 days, the OM-D unilaterally decided to change focus points at least a dozen times. I prefer one focus point in the middle (old school; focus and recompose), but it was randomly assigning focus points in random places, and once or twice simply chose a different focus scheme entirely. One time it randomly threw itself into 'cloudy' white balance mode (I generally keep it on 'auto'). I also had two or three lock-ups (turn off, turn on to fix). Are you (or anyone else reading) experiencing this?"
Mike replies: YES, it does have a mind of its own, and it's a devious little bugger and not to be trusted. Just when you think you've got it doing one thing, you find out it's doing another.
I'm only half kidding....
Adrian: "What happened to your Mamiya 7?"
Mike replies: The lens died. Leaky oil from the aperture blades, which has vaporized and deposited itself on the inner elements of the lens. So, a question back to you: would you a) get a new lens; b) try to get the lens fixed; c) sell the camera body without the lens; or d) throw the camera in the back of the cabinet and worry about it some other day?
I chose "d."
Rob Atkins: "Mike, would you like to comment on the following quote of yours, made on TOP some time ago? 'I'm seriously considering a photo project on all the weird places you can buy unhealthy crap to stuff your face with in America—there is a candy aisle at the office supply store, fer chrissakes.'"
Mike replies: Sure. I mean this in the gentlest possible way: I think the food industry is trying to kill us.
They don't have anything against any of us personally, mind you. If a bunch of juvenile delinquents throw an old tire off a freeway overpass, and it happens to kill a driver passing down below, it doesn't necessarily mean they had any antipathy towards that particular person...specifically.
But they've learned—following good sound economic principles to maximize their business, as outlined in Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson—that they can induce continual cravings in otherwise normal people by continually force-feeding us massive overdoses of salt, sugar, and fat, preferably all at once. Sugar in particular is the absolutely perfect industrial foodstuff: it's plentiful, it has a high perceived value so it can be priced high, it produces mild dependency and cravings in people who eat too much of it, and it doesn't spoil. Ideal!
Slight downside: laboratory rats, when given a choice of healthy food or sugar water, will consume sugar water until they die of malnutirition. This is apparently also true of human beings, although the ways in which we shorten our lives by this method are somewhat more complex.
This is a hot button topic for me, so I'd better stop before I get too far into it. But I recommend Michael Moss's Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us if you want to know more (I haven't read it yet, though).
Oh, and I haven't gotten yelled at for taking a picture in a retail establishment yet, although the NEX-6 is much better for this than the D800.
psu (partial comment): "Hmmm. A question. How about this: Why prints? Why go through all the trouble when in a couple of years you'll be able to look at your picture at 300 dpi on a 27-inch LCD screen that has a wider brightness and color range than that printer can do anyway? What is it about the human psyche that makes us emotionally attach ourselves to processes versus results? How's that?"
Mike replies: Depends if you like prints better and appreciate them more. I tend to.
Also, a print is potentially a better or more stable record of what the artist/creator intended the picture to look like. I can't really insure that when you look at some screen somewhere, you're really seeing what I intend. But if I make a reasonably stable print, I don't need to be there to monitor it throughout its life: I've "published" it (in effect) as I want it to be, and future viewers can look at it and get a good idea of what I intended for it.
Further: you can trade in objects. You can't trade in electrons. There would be no art market for photographs if there were no objects.
Then try this: go to a good art museum and look carefully and closely at a number of oil paintings. Then go home and look up the same paintings in Google image search. Pay close attention to your feelings between the different experiences. That difference is usually there to some degree when looking at original artifacts or some remote representation of them. Whether this makes a difference to you is for you to decide.
Your choice, your call. But to me, the print is the thing. Of course, it's better that most photographs aren't prints (very few of mine are).
• • •
[That's all I have time for today. Gotta get back to the NEX-6 summary. Thanks for the questions! I've left the comments open but I don't think I'll be answering any more questions. Should we do this again sometime? Maybe I should get Ctein to do one some day. —Mike]