Lately I've been blathering on about how much I love black-and-white—and I do, I do—and I know I said just a couple of days ago that I'd probably shoot only black-and-white with the Ricoh GXR I'm trying.
But, to misquote auld Rabbie Burns, The best-laid plans o' Mikes and men / Oft go awry*. Reality has a way of wagging its finger at you when you try to get all doctrinaire and purist with your photo technique. Yesterday we had our annual neighborhood block party, thanks to the yeoman efforts of our neighbors and most excellent hosts Bill and Peggy Macgregor (whose house, as it happens, was behind the streetlight in my picture "Wisconsin #7," TOP's very first print sale offer from way back in '06). They put on a relaxed and enjoyable party, not a trivial matter with 40 or 50 people attending.
As they do every year (thanks guys), the Waukesha Fire Department showed up to let the kids douse each other with the hose from a pump truck.
And some pictures just don't cut it in black-and-white...
...Even I know enough to shoot this in color. I don't actually know whose child this is, so I don't know her name. It sure looks like she's found the proverbial end of the rainbow though, doesn't it? Two of them, in fact. By rights, there should be pots of gold about even with her feet to her right and her left.
A few user details, for those expecting a review: The GXR handled focus pretty well (only a few frames lost) although, like most compacts, it's pretty deliberate in terms of speed. It focuses "carefully," is how I might put it—not fast, not too slow—and there's a short but distinct lag as it writes the RAW file to the card. So you're not going to be rattling off any quick bursts in RAW mode.
It's funny, but I absolutely love compacts...up until the time I need to shoot in earnest. As soon as I saw the firehose get going I knew I had on my hands what is known as "a photo opportunity," and when the old instincts kick in and you go into coverage mode, concentrating 100% on shooting, that's when you wish the GXR would magically transform itself into a D3s or something. (No helpful leprechaun in that rainbow in that regard.)
On the good side of the ledger, the annual block party is a killer for scene contrast—lesser digicams do not cut the midday sun and shade, something I can attest to from experience. And the GXR does unusually well in that regard for a compact. It seems to like to keep the histogram "exposed to the right," which is quite helpful, and shadow recovery is good if you want it. And I haven't done a thing with different RAW converters yet—haven't even loaded the Ricoh software, whatever it might be, on to the computer yet.
Our dashing local teachers
Then, earlier today, I got a chance to use the GXR to do a quick portrait of my wonderful neighbors Rose and Pete Lange, dressed to kill and off to a wedding. (We arranged this yesterday at the block party.)
Rose and Pete, who live in the house down by the corner and have three sons, are both local teachers—art and music, respectively. The vintage Miata (a 1990 NA) isn't actually theirs. They have a sweet arrangement with a friend who goes away on vacation around this time every year—they water his flowers for him while he's gone, and he lets them borrow his Miata. Pete provided the stepladder, and I made a dozen or so quick shots before they hit the road. Elapsed travel delay, less than five minutes.
This shot works equally well in either color or black-and-white, and I might have to try it both ways before deciding which way to print it. I suspect it might make a prettier print in black-and-white.
But I have to admit, one more time, that there's something fundamentally unsatisfactory to me about shooting a digital camera in black-and-white mode. It doesn't matter what you can do with the file, it matters what's in your head—and I've always found (this is just me, now) that I see how a camera sees. When I'm shooting black-and-white film and have no option available to me, I visualize in black-and-white. And I find that very satisfying. (I would have shot the rainbow girl differently with B&W film, concentrating more on her and her gestures and ignoring the rainbow.) And when I'm shooting with a digital camera that sees color, I see in color. I'm not saying that's good or bad, and I'm certainly not saying it's something anyone else should or shouldn't do. It's just the way reality happens to be for me.
The GXR did just fine for this portrait. Exposure comp was easy to access and the file will make a dandy print, I'm sure. This, naturally, is another shot that needs to be bigger than you see it here, because of course what the viewer of the print will want to see are Rose and Pete's smilin' mugs.
Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright, and all beneath the sky!**
*Yes, I know, the old Scots is "gang aft agley," but "agley" means "awry," and you have to be Scottish know what "agley" means nowadays. If they even do, I dunno—would someone from Scotland chime in on that, please?
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by John Roberts: "Although the Ricoh GXR doesn't interest me in the least as a prospective purchase, I have really enjoyed this series of reviews. I appreciate that you've been taking the kinds of photos most people would take when trying out a new camera instead of the usual brick walls, studio set-ups, and 'artsy' subjects. To me, the kinds of photos you've included in this review tell me more of what I want to know than the usual fare included with many camera reviews."
Mike replies: Glad you're enjoying it, John. I figured only a minority would be actually considering this camera, so I'd better try to make the posts at least pleasant to read for those who aren't.
P.S. I don't do artsy, I do lifesy.
Featured Comment by Dave Stewart: "One thing that makes me see differently when shooting B&W film is the yellow filter!
Mike replies: Yes, I always shot with SLRs and K2 filters in my day, too. For those who haven't: imagine looking at the world through yellow sunglasses. It does tend to help you ignore colors.
...And I suppose I should add, for those who wonder why in the heck someone would do that: colored filters can change the spectral response of black-and-white film; they tend to lighten their own color and darken their opposite. With older films especially, which didn't have very natural spectral response (they tended to be less sensitive at the red end of the spectrum), yellow filters were considered to be normalizing, making a rendition that was closer to how the mind perceives values. I always liked the medium yellow filter (Wratten #8, Kodak K2) because it tended to make caucasian skin tones smoother and de-emphasize (reddish) blemishes, and it darkened blue skies and brought more tonal gradation out of "white" clouds. Orange and red filters did the same only more so—red filters are how Ansel got his tradmark "black" blue skies, visible for instance in his picture "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome." The only thing you had to look out for was large areas of open shade (the shade of a big tree on a bright sunny day, for instance) because open shade infills with blue light from the sky without the balancing white light from the sun, and the yellow filter makes blue go darker. So sometimes open shade areas could be too dark. I think Ansel talks about forgetting about this when he was photographing a craggy cliffside with an orange filter—he'd chosen the filter for the sky and forgot that it would make the shadowed areas on the rock face too empty. That's a long-ago memory, so I could be wrong. I would imagine it's in the book Examples.