Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography


A macro lens can be great for portraits too

Cassandra at Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

In the previous post, I mentioned that a macro lens works great for other things. It’s not just for closeups of flowers and geckos. They are typically very sharp and can be used for general purpose photography. But with a 100mm equivalent f2, portraiture especially comes to mind. It will nicely isolate as well as flatter your subject.

I shot this portrait of Cassandra at Zilker Botanical Gardens with the Olympus 4/3 50mm f2 macro on a 11-year-old E-1 DSLR.

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Small slices of nature, and how I found color and structure

Flower Macro #1, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

Flower Macro #1, Zilker Botanical Gardens – Austin, Texas

Its been a fun and busy 3 days for photography. I went to Drink and Click on Thursday night. I went downtown with the Olympus guys for some street shooting on Friday night and yesterday afternoon, I attended the Olympus and Precision Camera sponsored day at Zilker Botanical Gardens.

For today’s post, you’re going to see something that I rarely do, macros. In fact, I think I played with a Canon 100mm macro lens once maybe 4 years ago. While the Olympus event was there to showcase the OM-D cameras and micro 4/3 lenses, Charles said he had the very special 50mm f2 lens with him. This lens is for the old DSLR 4/3 system, not the new micro 4/3 lens for mirrorless.

Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

From what I’ve read and heard, some people consider this lens legendary. A keeper even though the 4/3 DSLRs are no longer made. I was looking forward to using it. Conveniently, I had that Olympus E-1 that I got about a month ago.

You can also use it on micro 4/3 cameras, but you’ll need an adapter. It will focus really slow on the mirrorless cameras except for the OM-D E-M1, which also supports the more compatible and faster phase detect focusing for these older DSLR lenses.

Gecko Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

As you can guess, I’m far from a macro expert. It’s not what I do. Serious macro shooters bring tripods and extra lights so they can shoot at a large depth of field. I just shot these handheld in available light. Even so, I’m really happy with the results. The lens is extremely sharp and even on this old 5MP camera, the details look wonderful.

Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas
Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

Did I mention that I love the color on the E-1? Yeah, I know, that’s all that I’ve been talking about lately.

Gecko Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

I’m not really a flower kind of guy, at least not yet. I noticed that my dad really likes to take pictures of them. Perhaps that’s what I’ll be shooting when I get older, like father like son? Anyway, I looked at these flowers more for their structure and color. Kind of the way I approach architecture, which is what I like to shoot.

I started off too far and as I got the hang of the macro, I kept on getting closer. Color and shape, that’s what I was looking for.

Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas
Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

After I returned the macro, I noticed that they also had this huge 50 – 200mm f2.8 – 3.5 zoom. It’s also an older 4/3 DSLR lens and part of their Pro Grade weather-resistant lineup. Keep in mind that for 4/3 (and micro 4/3) this lens is a 100mm to 400mm equivalent. I used this lens to isolate and also shoot macros. it’s a chunky lens but worked well on my old E-1.

Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

The two lenses see differently but they both produced some great results. I’m more impressed than ever with my 11-year-old DSLR. I’m tempted to get the 50mm macro. Its compact size and water resistance would make it a good match for the E-1. The only problem is, I’m not sure how often I’ll be doing macros.

However, in my next post, I’ll show you that a 100mm equivalent macro also works great for other things.

Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas
Flower Macro, Zilker Botanical Gardens - Austin, Texas

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I took all photographs with the Olympus E-1 in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3. I used a combination of the Olympus 50mm f2 macro and the Olympus 50-200mm lens.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

I finally got to play with a Leica M the other day

Marie with the Bear, Russian House - Austin, Texas

Marie with the Bear, Russian House – Austin, Texas

I went to another Drink and Click. I’ve often talked about these fun social/photography events and the one last Thursday was even better than usual. Both Olympus and a Paul C Buff, an off-camera strobe company, brought gear to play with.

It was good to meet Charles and Brett from Olympus, again. They’ve been nice enough to loan me cameras that I’ve reviewed on this site. In fact, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 review that I just finished last week was due to a self-imposed deadline. I wanted to complete it before I met Charles. I had the camera for a long time but was just too wrapped up in other things to complete the review.

A chest full of Olympus Gear - Austin, Texas

The Olympus folks came with an impressive array of bodies and lenses. The entire OM-D line, the E-M1, E-M5 and E-M10 were well represented, along with almost every Olympus micro 4/3 lens ever made. The cameras were popular but I didn’t partake. I was busy recording behind the scenes video. If I’m ambitious enough, I might put together another movie in a few weeks.

The main point of this post, however, is to talk about the Leica M. I finally got to play with it for about an hour that night. One of the participants, Mark, very generously let me use his. Luckily I had an extra SD card so I that can scrutinize the results afterwards, on my big screen.

I shot the Leica M Typ 240, the newest M, with the 28mm f2.8 Elmarit lens. It’s not something you see everyday. The body and lens combo runs upward of $9000.

Colorful Critter, Russian House - Austin, Texas

It’s easy to be dismissive or cynical about Leica. At this point, the cameras are well out of reach for most people. They are relegated as rich-man’s toys or for really passionate collectors. Only a few of the working photographers that made them famous in the 60’s and 70’s could afford them today.

I’ve certainly had my fascination with Leica and their legacy. I’ve mentioned before that my Fujifilm X100S is a nod to the retro and affordable Leica. People will correctly point out that the X100S is just an expensive and retro-looking compact camera — It’s not a true range finder. But at $1299, I find it a more palatable choice.

The current M is the newest of a line that extends back to the first M3 in 1954. The first two digital Ms, the M8 and M9 were more like film cameras with digital guts. Indeed, when I used a M Monochrome (sort of like a black and white only version of the M9) once at a Leica Store, the thing made some weird whirling noises which distinctly sounded un-digital.

By contrast, the new M is a modern digital camera, in a distinct Leica sort of way. Using it was still strange and very different from any other digital camera I’ve used. It’s extremely chunky and in many ways, very clunky. Leica fans mention how tactile they are. I found it an ergonomic mess. At least it had easy access to exposure compensation which the M Monochrome buried deep in its menu. Perhaps Leica thinks real photographers shoot only in Manual exposure mode?

Model Shoot at Drink and Click, Russian House - Austin, Texas

To Leica’s credit, the features are really pared down, especially for a digital camera, so it’s easy to figure out. It’s just that I find the physical controls hard to use. The main control dial on the back, for example, is placed in an awkward position. I’m sure with more use, its quirks will become second nature. After all, you know how I complained about the Fuji X100S, when I first got it. After several months, the work arounds for its failings have become automatic. That said, the Leica M is an extremely different beast.

Like the film cameras of yore, the lenses must all be manually focused and the exposure metering is rather primitive. You really have to be deliberate about using this thing. The bar was so dark that I could hardly tell if I was focusing it correctly. It was a rough place to get familiar with a range finder. It’s like jumping into the deep end. I inadvertently changed that aperture dial from f2.8 to f4, I noticed later. That’s a big mistake, especially in such a light starved venue.

Unfortunately, the camera felt kind of interesting. I wished that I totally hated it so that my lingering fascination with Leica can, once and for all, be extinguished. But, I’m on a quirky camera kick. It started with the Fuji X100S then I got the 11-year-old Olympus E-1. I kind of enjoy the challenge of taking good photos with different kinds of digital cameras (I’ve yet to be bitten by the film camera bug) Some people say how they like the M for its small size and low profile, especially for street shooting. Ironically, while that might have been true during the film era, these days, the camera is quite big. Not as big as DSLRs but it’s certainly stout compared to all my mirrorless cameras.

That said, the M does have a full frame sensor. And compared with full frame DSLRs, it is smaller, though harder to hold with a lack of any grip protrusions. It’s a totally unique camera and for people who like to experience something different, it’s fascinating. Leica is truly unique in the camera industry.

Model Shoot at Drink and Click, Russian House - Austin, Texas

Then there’s the image quality.

Judging purely but the high ISO noise metric, it’s not class leading. In fact, in one sense, it’s disappointing. It’s probably about 1 stop less in performance than my Canon 6D.

But then I noticed the color — they’re beautifully and richly saturated. I shot in RAW DNG format and did less post-processing than usual. I wish I had photos from other cameras to make direct comparisons. Perhaps under the same lighting, other cameras would do just as well or even better. But I couldn’t help but notice that I like these colors, at least the ones I shot that night. I’m preoccupied with color these days and the “Leica look” certainly seems intriguingly different. The dynamic range also seems to be good, which is convenient because the metering got tricked and it underexposed on several occasions.

I find the images usable up to ISO 6400, give or take. There’s an extremely fine digital grain which looks different from other cameras. ISO 3200 looked weaker than I expected but 6400 didn’t degrade very much. All photos were shot at ISO 3200 except the first one, which is ISO 6400. What do you think?

Two things really stood out. The first is the hand hold-ability of this camera. There is no image stabilization but I consistently got sharp results at 1/8 to 1/12 of a second. That’s nearly 2 stops under typical shutter speeds. The Leica has an extremely quiet and vibration resistant shutter and I think the heft of the camera also helps.

Alison at the Russian House - Austin, Texas

The second surprise is the extreme sharpness of the photos. Even at ISO 6400, the fine digital noise maintains a level of detail better than my other cameras. I use the Fuji X100S up to ISO 6400 but, with the JPEG processing, the details become soft. Leica has always been famous for extremely good optics which seems to be helping here along with it’s different approach to image processing. So while its absolute high ISO quality is not the best, its color, dynamic range, sharp details and hand-holdability makes up for it.

Even with my recent string of gear purchases (or maybe because of them?), I’m not crazy enough to get a Leica M. Perhaps at 1/3 the price, I would be willing, but its lofty price is something I can’t wrap my head around. But using it, even for this short time, was very revealing. Leica does things in a different way.

I bought the Fuji X100S for my self when I hit 50. Perhaps when I hit 60 or when I retire, I can get myself something even more special. Heck, a used M should be a lot cheaper by then and at this point in my life, I’m more happy buying, yet another camera, instead of getting a fancy car.

But then there’s reality. I just found out that my car insurance premium doubles if my older son starts to drive next year. And of course, there’s always the looming specter of paying for college (for two kids!). That’ll come soon enough.

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I took all the photographs with the Leica M Typ 240 with the 28mm f2.8 Elmarit lens in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

The View from the Boardwalk

Skyline Sunset from the Boardwalk - Austin, Texas

Skyline Sunset from the Boardwalk – Austin, Texas

Austin recently opened a boardwalk of sorts. It floats above the river and forms an extension to the hike and bike trail that graces downtown. What’s good for the runners and bikers are also great for photographers. The architects thoughtfully created several areas that jut out, away from the traffic. Perfect for placing tripods.

My friends, Alex and Rusty invited me downtown to shoot the growing skyline. It’s a new vantage point that I’ve never seen. I thought it might be fun to shoot it with my old and new Olympus cameras, the 11-year-old E-1 DSLR and my HDR mirrorless workhorse, the E-PM2.

Skyline from the Boardwalk - Austin, Texas

I’ve talked a bunch about my new-found fondness for the ancient 5mp Kodak CCD. It has a color that’s different from modern CMOS. I’ve discovered that for longer exposures, even as short as 5 seconds, I would get hot pixels. My guess is that the heat in Texas adversely affects the CCD — I read that heat tends make them noisy.

I shot the first 2 with the E-M1. The next two are HDRs with the E-PM2. Once it got dark, I put away the old DSLR — I knew the images wouldn’t satisfy — the modern mirrorless took over. I zoomed out as night progressed. From a 52mm equivalent to 34mm, to 28mm and finally to 22mm.

Skyline from the Boardwalk - Austin, Texas
Skyline from the Boardwalk (wide) - Austin, Texas

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I took the first two photographs with the Olympus E-1 in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3. I took the next two with the Olympus E-PM2.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

The colorful characters of Eeyore’s Birthday Party

2014 Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

2014 Eeyores Birthday Party – Austin, Texas

Eeyore’s Birthday Party is always a fun place for people photography. I once called it the Last Remnant of Hippie Austin. The event has been going on for some 50+ years but I’ve only visited the last three. I thought I posted something last year, but turns out I didn’t. When I compared this year’s photographs to 2 years ago, I noticed some interesting differences.

2014 Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
2014 Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

I’ve changed my style somewhat and while I’m currently on a saturated color kick, the main difference is due to the lenses’ focal length. Look at the photos from 2 years ago and you’ll notice portraits taken with a 90mm equivalent lens. There’s a formality to them, they’re more posed. The narrower angle of view concentrates attention directly on the single subject.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

This year, you’ll see more candids and even my posed portraits are more laid back, I think. With the 35mm equivalent lens, I need to shoot differently. I’m up closer to my subjects but I still include more of the environment.

Over the last couple years, I’ve come to realize that I like the 28mm to 35mm focal length. I still shoot 40mm and 50mm at times but that’s not my preference. And though on my urban architecture photos, I go wider to 22mm, 35mm is the ideal half way point for me.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

But of course, this means I need to get closer, to get into the action. With a 90mm, I can safely be at the periphery, peering in, without truly committing. This year, I had to get in the midst of the drum circle to get these shots.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

I was particularly mesmerized by this woman in black. She danced like she was possessed by the god of free spirit. She moved rhythmically to the changing percussive beat. I shot first at 1/250 of a second to stop the action. Later, I experimented with 1/30 of a second to create motion blur.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

Eeyores is now popular with photographers and many swarm the area with DSLRs in hand. Some come armed with two cameras with short and long zooms, strapped to elaborate holstering systems. I think that violates the spirit of this place. A single camera with a single lens is more in keeping. Extra points if you use a small camera with a diminutive prime lens.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

Why one lens? This is not a sporting event. It’s more about getting into the spirit of the place and becoming one with the crowd. A small camera up close seems like it just fits. I still have a ways to go. I still go dressed in civilian clothing. I’ve never been a costume person for any event, so it’s going to take a leap for me to truly fit in.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

But I like to think, in my own rigid way, I’m making progress. I feel that this year’s images are more relaxed and better captures the mood. A little slice of hippie Austin from a few months back, when the weather was still cool and the grass was still green. I’m trying to stay cool as the summer heat is finally starting to kick in this year.

Stay cool my friends.

Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas
Eeyores Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

Is this the ultimate small camera for HDR?

Patio at Cru, 2nd Street - Austin, Texas

Patio at Cru, 2nd Street – Austin, Texas

Realize that when I create HDRs, I do so because I like the results. I actually dislike the process.

Why? To do HDRs well, I need to use a tripod, which automatically slows me down. It’s something extra I need to pack and carry around, which usually gets in the way. I also have less freedom to compose and unless I’m careful, all the shots start looking the same since I’m shooting from the same height.

Shooting the 3 or more bracketed images takes time too, especially at night. Understand that the more time it takes, the less time I have to shoot other things. A 3 bracket low-light shot might take a minute or more. Consider that blue hour in Austin only lasts, at most, 15 minutes and the peak color is even shorter. Spend a minute or so per shot and I only get several good blue hour images per night.

Then of course, there is all that post processing on computer that needs to be done after I capture the shots. Fortunately, I’ve streamlined the process quite a bit and the software has gotten a lot better so creating the actual HDR image has become easier.

But today, I want to talk about the image capture side of HDR. How can I make it easier and more fun to take brackets on tripod? Well I’ve been working on the part of the equation too.

Colorful Fado, 4th Street - Austin, Texas

For a number of years, I’ve used Olympus micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras to do my HDRs. They are significantly smaller, lighter and faster than DSLRs. My preferred setup? An inexpensive Olympus E-PM2 with a 14mm f2.5 Panasonic lens and an optional wide-angle adapter. The image quality is pretty darn close to my big Canon 6D but infinitely more fun and faster.

Sullivan's in the warehouse district - Austin, Texas
Sully's on the Corner, Warehouse District - Austin, Texas

Consider too that as the camera and lens become lighter, the tripod can also shrink in size and weight. The total effect is significant. Also because micro 4/3 has deeper depth of field, my aperture can be larger and I still get everything in focus. That means that I can shoot faster because I use a lower f number. I use f5.6 – f10 range on the micro 4/3 rather than the f13 to f16 that I might use on a DSLR.

New Office Construction, Colorado Street - Austin, Texas

A couple of nights ago, on a whim, I played around with what might be the ultimate small camera for HDR. Precision Camera was nice enough to let me use the Pentax Q7 with the standard kit lens. Unlike the Sony A7 Review I did last month, this is not a proper “18 Hours with” review. I literally played with this camera for only a few hours. But what I created in that short time was eye-opening.

The Pentax Q7 on top a small tripod

I used the Pentax Q7 to shoot all of the HDR photos on this post. The Q7 is tiny and even smaller than my already diminutive Olympus E-PM2. Look at this thing, It looks totally ridiculous on my tripod, which is one of the lightest full featured tripods available.

The Q7 also has a smaller sensor, much smaller than the micro 4/3. Its 1/1.7” size is typically used in high-end compacts like the Canon G16. I know, I know you’re thinking “Wouldn’t that small sensor be too noisy in low-light?”. Well, I’m here to tell you that, surprisingly, no. Shot as a ISO 100 JPEG on tripod the images look fantastic.

Willie Nelson Statue, 2nd Street - Austin, Texas

Here’s the thing, because the camera is even smaller than micro 4/3, you lighten the load even more. It might be tough to find a decent tripod significantly under 2 pounds so it might not help with the tripod weight, however, the camera and lenses are tiny. You save space in your camera bag or you might not even need a bag. Extra lenses are so tiny that they easily fit in your pocket.

But here’s the biggest thing. Because the depth of field is so deep, I shot these HDRs at f2.8, which is the widest aperture I had on the kit lens. Instead of taking a minute or longer to capture the HDR brackets, I did so in 4 to 5 seconds, at most. I also didn’t need to precisely focus since, again, basically everything is in focus. I can’t tell you how quick and truly enjoyable this made the entire HDR capture process.

Trace at the W, 2nd Street - Austin, Texas

The standard kit lens has a 35mm equivalent from 23.5mm to 70.5mm. The crop factor is 4.7x, unlike micro 4/3 which is 2x. That means, for me, all I need is the kit lens. At 23.5mm, it’s wide enough for most of my shots, and I also have the flexibility of a 3x zoom range. Want to go wider? Pentax makes a small ultra-wide zoom with a 18mm to 28mm equivalent. Did I tell you that the Q7 is the smallest interchangeable mirrorless camera? Penxtax currently has 8 interchangeable lenses.

Jo's on 2nd Street - Austin, Texas

Is the image quality as good as micro 4/3 for HDRs? Very close but the Olympus is a bit better. First, the current Olympus cameras are 16MP and the Q7 is only 12MP. At 100%, while not noisy, there is almost an imperceptible ultra fine grain to the image. I don’t find it objectionable at all.

The biggest issue I found is probably due to the kit lens, rather than the sensor. If you look at the bright lights, you see a bit of flaring or coma. It’s not ideal but I can live with it — it gives a certain character to the image. Plus, I found that even an expensive Sony/Zeiss lens also exhibited this trait on the Sony A7 that I tested last month (more about his in a future post).

Finally, did I tell you the Pentax Q7 plus the kit lens costs only $350? Yup, you can get it here from Precision Camera or here from Amazon.

So, am I going to buy this camera? I’m very tempted, perhaps later in the year. I already own a boat load of cameras so I need to do some mental justification. I want to borrow this camera again for a proper “18 hour review” in the future. I’ll test other aspects of the camera to give you a full impression.

But here’s the take away. The Pentax Q7 is a heck of a small camera and heck of a lot of fun. And at $350 brand new, it is a lot less expensive than most HDR setups and it’s probably the most convenient.

Berry Austin, 2nd Street - Austin, Texas
ATM on Congress - Austin, Texas
Precision Camera
Thank you to Precision Camera for letting me borrow the Pentax Q7.

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I took the photographs with the Penxtax Q7 and the standard kit lens. You can support me by purchasing the camera through these links. You get the same price and I get a small commission. Get it here from Precision Camera or here from Amazon.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

SoCo and Kitsch: Experimenting and gradually losing the fear of color and contrast

The Stores of SoCo - Austin, Texas

The Stores of SoCo – Austin, Texas

I’m usually down in SoCo (South Congress) after hours, at night. But last Saturday, I went during the day with my sons. The stores were open and I got to explore the eclectic jumble that makes SoCo fun.

The Fuji X100S worked well. And while I’m now comfortable shooting the camera, with some 15,000 exposed frames, I haven’t always been thrilled with the color. The images onscreen look decent but they look somewhat wimpy when printed.

Lots of Skulls, Uncommon Objects - Austin, Texas
Doll in Library, Uncommon Objects - Austin, Texas

I like saturated color. I’m no film expert but from what I see, film seems to be more saturated yet with a subtle dimension. Digital looks flat and dull to me. That’s why I alter every photo on my computer, whether shot with JPEG or RAW. But, there’s a nagging feeling that the now colorful photos still look digital. Perhaps I need more experience in post processing? The X100S, while having excellent image quality, looks anemic, even when compared to my other digital cameras. It doesn’t always have that rich color that I really like.

Shopppers, Uncommon Objects - Austin, Texas

The wonderful color I’m getting from my 11-year-old CCD based Olympus E1, got me thinking. Is a CCD sensor truly better for color than the modern CMOS sensors? Perhaps I need to tweak my post-processing and experiment. I also admit that I’ve only lightly played with the in-camera Fuji film simulations. My initial tests were inconclusive, so I still shoot mostly in the default Provia mode.

Edison's Art, Uncommon Objects - Austin, Texas
Extra Letters, Uncommon Objects - Austin, Texas

All of the photos on this post are the results of my experimentation. I’ve increased mid-level contrast and added more vibrancy. The results seem promising. I haven’t achieved that film look but the X100S seems more in line with my other digitals. No doubt, I’ll tweak more, over time. My style will most certainly evolve as my tastes change and experience increases.

Incidentally, the Breda, Netherlands night photos I posted a couple of days ago also incorporates my latest post-processing settings.

Alter Egos, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds - Austin, Texas
Machine from another era, Goorin Bros. - Austin, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

An estate sale and contemplating my legacy of photographic clutter

Furniture for Sale, Estate Sale - Austin, Texas

Furniture for Sale, Estate Sale – Austin, Texas

I went to my first estate sale a couple of days ago. It was mildly saddening. So many of us in the affluent West spend time buying things and work the many hours required to pay for these items. Inevitably, these precious things become fodder for pop-up junk sales.

A neighbor mentioned that the estate had a lot of photography related items. I was curious so I went. By the time I got there, I saw some old film gear and endless boxes of slide carousels. No doubt the owner was a serious photographer but mostly in the film world. There were a couple of really old digital point and shoots, completely overpriced. I think it’s really risky to buy gear in these situations, especially digital. You have no idea if they work properly. I would prefer to buy from a reputable local store or a place like KEH where they offer money back guarantees.

What did interest me, however, were the books. There was a sizable library of photo books, both portfolios of famous photographers as well as how-to guides. The collection was telling. Books on early versions of Photoshop and how to move from film to digital. Did the owner successfully make the jump to digital? Of course, I’ll never know. Most portfolios focused on landscapes or on the Western U.S. I saw no books on street photography, for example. I guess you can tell a lot from someone’s collection.

Photography Books found at an Estate Sale - Austin, Texas

I found 4 books of interest and at a couple bucks a pop I added them to my personal collection of clutter. There’s “Avedon’s at Work in the American West”. Presidential photographer David Hume Kennerly’s beautiful black and white collection shot on a medium format Mamiya 7. Ansel Adams’, The Making of 40 Photographs. The only color book was from famous landscape photographer, Galen Rowell.

I thought about my legacy of photographic clutter. Instead of stacks of Kodak carousel slide boxes, I’ll have plastic external hard drives, completely useless without power. At the rate I’m going, I’ll have a bewildering array of digital cameras with no discernible connection. Perhaps my heirs will find this blog and try to make sense of it.

Someday in the future, my “junk” might be auctioned off at a fraction of their original prices. My photo stuff will be bought by someone who will then add it to their pile of junk. On the other hand, digital retains very little value so my cameras might be trashed altogether. Perhaps the books that I bought today will be worth more than the digital cameras I often write about.

Photographic Clutter, Estate Sale - Austin, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Olympus E-1 in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

360 Bridge Fireworks, the 2014 edition

Red, White and Blue, Fireworks over Lake Austin - Austin, Texas

Red, White and Blue, Fireworks over Lake Austin – Austin, Texas

A couple of friends and I went to the 360 bridge yesterday. What do you do when it’s the 4th time you’re at the same place taking photos of the same thing? You change things up, photographically, both with the gear and the technique.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a perfectly good way to wrap up the 4th of July and it’s more convenient than the downtown location. This year though, the downtown venue was switched to the Circuit of the Americas F1 racetrack, many miles to the east, because of ongoing construction. When I started receiving hundreds of extra hits on my blog about last year’s 360 Bridge Fireworks, we realized things may be different this year.

We got there 30 minutes earlier than usual, just in case. The weather was remarkably comfortable, especially for being in Central Texas in July. Sure enough, the crowds started earlier and crested to a level I haven’t seen in my past visits.

I brought the same camera, the Canon 6D with the same 24-105mm f4 lens. In the previous years, I took multiple brackets, not unlike HDR, so that I can merge the fireworks and the ground to create a more dynamic image. The ground requires more light to brighten the murky shadows but the fireworks themselves need less of an exposure to capture color and detail. It’s an effective technique to merge two photos but requires an extra effort in post-processing.

With an ample supply of images in my library, I experimented this year. Would I be able to take a single shot and manipulate that to get something desirable? I was going to push my RAW file to discover the limits of dynamic range.

But wait. How would that ancient 5MP CCD sensor on my Olympus E-1 do? From my previous outing, that camera looked like it was no slouch in the dynamic range department.

There I was, a “mirrorless camera guy” with two DSLRs in front of me on tripods. On the left, the 11-year-old 5MP Olympus E-1. On the right, the modern Canon 6D with a 20MP full frame CMOS sensor. The focal lengths differed, a 28mm equivalent on the Olympus and 24mm on the Canon. Let’s see how they did.

Olympus E-1 before

Canon 6D before

I shot both at roughy the same exposure settings and I caught a very similar fireworks burst for comparison. You can see that the RAW exposures are roughly equivalent. Both cameras were set at ISO 100. The Olympus was a f8 for 10 seconds. The Canon at f10 for 13 seconds. I cropped the Canon photo to approximate the Olympus’ composition.

Fireworks over Lake Austin (2014) Olympus E-1 After - Austin, Texas
Olympus E-1. After
Fireworks over Lake Austin (2014) - Austin, Texas
Canon 6D, After

I post processed to match each other as closely as possible. I preferred the out of camera colors of the Olympus so I used that as the benchmark. The results? Surprisingly similar but with one large caveat. This is where the old Kodak CCD sensor in the Olympus showed its limitations. Despite shooting at ISO 100, the 10 second exposure of the dark scene rendered uniform red, green and blue hot pixels. The random and distributed nature makes them look like stars in the night sky. Alas, I also see these “stars” in the water and every place else in the image.

It’s a shame, really. Without these hot pixels, the results would be very desirable. Not surprisingly, the 6D has high-resolution and low noise — it’s technically superior. But I still prefer the colors and feel of the Olympus. Amazingly, the dynamic range is a close match. Consider that’s with a 11-year-old sensor that is nearly a 1/4 of the size of full frame.

I’ve been beating the drum over the years for high ISO performance, like many others. But the CCD performance makes me want a modern, higher resolution version that I can shoot at low ISOs. Something, of course, that is also affordable. I don’t know of a camera that fits the bill.

Boat Trails on Lake Austin - Austin, Texas

The photographic fun doesn’t stop after the fireworks. As the boats drift home, a bulb exposure makes some entertaining motion trails. This one was at 137 seconds.

I still prefer the blended image that I did in years past. The single post processed photograph didn’t match the dynamic range of a blended and manipulated image. But this got my thinking. What’s the dynamic range like on a modern CCD sensor? I’m not crazy enough to plunk down piles of money on a digital medium format system but it would sure be fun to play with one.

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Firework photographs taken with the Canon 6D with the Canon 24-105mm f4 L lens and the Olympus E-1 with 14-42mm kit lens.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

Happy 4th of July: The beautiful reds from a community get together

A pair of dogs, 4th of July Party - Austin, Texas

A pair of dogs, 4th of July Party – Austin, Texas

Happy Independence Day to my American readers. Here are some images from a typical 4th of July party. I noticed a lot of beautiful reds, captured especially well by the Olympus E-1 that I’ve been playing with recently. Unlike yesterday, where I shot dim and moody photos at night with a tripod, today’s daytime shots were all handheld.

A Patriotic Centerpiece, 4th of July Party - Austin, Texas

The E-1 is an ancient 11-year-old camera but its Kodak CCD sensor intrigued me. Some like the old CCD sensors better than the modern CMOS — they claim it has better color and more of a film like quality. I don’t have enough experience with film to really compare but I do notice a difference in color rendition.

Well Grilled, 4th of July Party - Austin, Texas

This E-1 DSLR is ideally suited for daytime use. For maximum quality, I need to stay at or below ISO 200, though in well-lit places, ISO 400 will also work.

Brownies with Color, 4th of July Party - Austin, Texas

I experienced a sense of freedom not having to use a tripod and the good light made the autofocus work a heck of a lot better. I made a mistake though. I forgot to reset my exposure compensation from last night, which I realized half way through. I was one stop over on this image. It recovered well in RAW though.

Watermelon Slices, 4th of July Party - Austin, Texas
Lightning McQueen, 4th of July Party - Austin, Texas

I must say I’m really liking the colors. I have complained about the reds on some other cameras, such as the Fuji X100S. I think these look swell.

Have a great 4th of July weekend.

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I took all the photographs with the Olympus E-1 in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

The new (old) camera goes to Drink and Click at Rainey Street

Textured Fence, Rainey Street - Austin, Texas

Textured Fence, Rainey Street – Austin, Texas

I mentioned in my previous post that I just got a vintage Olympus E-1, a 11-year-old DSLR with a 5 megapixel sensor. As you can guess, since it’s my newest (old) camera, I’ve been shooting it a lot. It can be a bit challenging to use, especially at night, which I’ll explain below.

Javelina Outdoor Seating, Rainey Street - Austin, Texas

Do you notice anything different about the color and the overall feel of the photographs? I see it clearly on my 27” monitor but I’m not sure if it comes through on these smaller web sizes. You can also click the images to get a larger view. The E-1 uses a different sensor technology that’s rarely used anymore, a Kodak CCD. All the new cameras use CMOS sensors.

Some say, CCDs have a different kind of look from the modern sensors. I was curious so It’s one of the reasons I bought the camera. But shooting this antique requires more effort. Anything over ISO 400 is very iffy but really it’s good to stay at or below ISO 200. That means at night, I need to use a tripod. I shot these at ISO 100.

Rainey Street Sunset - Austin, Texas

I haven’t done any scientific tests but I swear the dynamic range on this sensor is better. I exposed for the sunset enhanced clouds and the foreground cars and building were mostly black. The RAW post-processing was able to pull out all this detail from the shadows. It’s a little rough but surprisingly acceptable.

Textured Fence at Night, Rainey Street - Austin, Texas

As it gets darker, focusing slows down and quickly becomes unusable. The viewfinder is not large enough to manually focus. Also, the image preview on the 1.8” LCD screen is so fuzzy, I can’t check focus on that either. I’m basically flying blind. It’s still easier than film though, at least I can get an estimate of exposure from the rear screen.

Javelina Entrance, Rainey Street - Austin, Texas
Mixed Facades - Breda, Netherlands

I shot these last night at Drink and Click on Rainey Street. The late evening rain added some extra character to an already neat part of town. Rainey Street is filled with bars converted from once residential houses — each one is unique. We started at Javelina and moved next doors to Craft Pride a couple of hours later.

As usual, I really like the casual and social aspects of Drink and Click — it’s not your typical photography meet up. Everybody is laid back and it was the perfect place for me to catch up with friends and methodically shoot the Olympus E-1. I suggested that we should have a vintage camera night.

And although vintage film shooters may scoff at a relatively new 11-year-old camera, digital doesn’t have the years of fine tuning that film went through. I would argue that a digital camera from 2003 is more primitive than a film camera from 2003. Regardless, I’m enjoying the color and feel of these E-1 photographs. I believe they have a more mellow appearance.

The Glow at Craft Pride, Rainey Street - Austin, Texas
Interior, Craft Pride on Rainey Street - Austin, Texas

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I took all the photographs with the Olympus E-1 in RAW and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

Diving into digital camera history

Paramount Theater Marquee - Austin, Texas

Paramount Theater Marquee – Austin, Texas

I mentioned last week that I was moving into a fun but dangerous territory for gear acquisition. I recently purchased two cameras, one about a month ago from Precision Camera, the other got delivered this week from KEH, a place specializing in used gear. I’m having so much fun shooting the camera from KEH that I’m starting with that first.

I shot the photograph above with an Olympus E-1. A 11-year-old DSLR with a 5 megapixel sensor. It’s ancient (by digital standards), primitive and slow — and I love it. You didn’t expect a mirrorless camera guy like me to get a DSLR, right? Well this camera is kind of special, for many reasons. I’m not going into the specifics just yet — you’ll have to wait for a future post. Olympus historians, however, will know why this camera is so ground breaking.

The July 4th, Independence Day holiday is upon us and I’ll be shooting the E-1, among others, to see how it does. How can this ancient compete with the young whippersnapper digitals? I think you’ll be surprised. I have great hopes, at least. We’ll see how it measures up.

I told you I’m getting into some wacky cameras.

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6th Street Blues: A creative experiment in video

I’ve been thinking of making a video for a while. But it’s been an uphill battle — my resistance has been strong. Unlike still photography, where enthusiasts can create professional quality, video is so hard to do well. My perfectionist self made excuses to not even try.

So I’m releasing this video knowing full well it’s far from professional. But I’m happy with the results, for the most part. I think it’s a notch or two above a typical home movie. I guess the important thing is that I’m taking creative risks.

I filmed it using the Nikon J1 that I brought at the beginning of this year. It’s a really fun camera and I’ve taken some great shots with it. Part of the reason I wanted the J1 though was for the video. I noticed that the autofocusing video was very smooth and the saturated colors gave it more of a cinematic feel. But there was a problem. I wanted to shoot at night but the standard kit lens was not bright enough. Sure it did decent low light stills with a slow shutter speed but the video wants a 1/60 second shutter.

So I got myself a new lens. The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f1.8, which gives a 50mm equivalent view. I was hoping the bigger aperture would capture enough light to film at night. You know that’s my preferred venue, the dark urban streets. The only downside? The 18.5mm doesn’t have image stabilization — I certainly lost the smooth flowing feel of the kit lens. But at least I could shoot at night.

I used Apple’s iMovie, a consumer video editing tool. I’m not ready to tackle the more serious Final Cut Pro application just yet. iMovie had a video stabilization feature that works surprisingly well and happily it took the jitters out of my non-image stabilized footage. The video was shot and posted in Full HD but it looks soft to me. No doubt the Nikon J1 is far behind the class leading Panasonic GH4. But for now, it a small inexpensive camera that fills my video needs.

So here is a video view of East 6th Street that I shot last Saturday. It was a typical night. I’m sure you’ve seem many of my photos from there but the video certainly adds a different dimension. I hope you like it.

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The 2014 ROT Biker Rally with the Fuji X100S

2014 ROT Rally - Austin, Texas

2014 ROT Rally – Austin, Texas

I’ve been going to the ROT (Republic of Texas) Biker Rally for several years now. Each year I bring a different set of cameras as my equipment and tastes evolve. This year the Fujifilm X100S was my main camera, no surprise there. I’ve been shooting the X100S quite a bit recently and blogging about it with regularity. After using it extensively in the Netherlands and logging close to 14,00 photos, I feel like I’m getting the hang of the camera.

You may recall that when I started shooting with it back in March, I was still getting my bearings, preferring the familiarity and comfort of the Olympus micro 4/3 cameras.

2014 ROT Rally #2 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #3 - Austin, Texas

Like in past years, I got down there early before the main parade — 6th street is where many of the bikers congregate. Often, it’s the place where people proudly showoff their bikes. This person probably had the most unique motorcycle there and it garnered a lot of attention.

2014 ROT Rally #4 - Austin, Texas

With increased familiarity with the Fuji X100S, I’m experimenting. This one with some extra flare. JJ Abrams would be proud.

2014 ROT Rally #5 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #6 - Austin, Texas

I headed over to Congress Avenue for the pre parade activities. These bikini clad women handed out ROT Rally flags. You can see the flags proudly on display by the couple at the top of the post.

2014 ROT Rally #7 - Austin, Texas

These three are part of the Texas Roller Derby. They did street acrobatics as well as handed out discount coupons.

2014 ROT Rally #8 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #9 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #10 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #11 - Austin, Texas

After many years of the same format, they changed the ROT Rally Parade this year. This created a kink in my photography plans since I was expecting, out of habit, the same parade route. In past years, the motorcycles would do a slow pass up and down the street and then park. This year, they greatly extended the parade and did a single, higher speed pass down Congress Avenue. That made it heck of a lot harder to capture the motorcycles. I was forced to improvise by manually pre focusing, and upping the shutter speed to 1/500s and 1/1000s. It took a bit of futzing but it turned out decently. As a big plus, the new route allowed me to get the Texas State Capitol building as the backdrop.

With such a fast shutter speed and with the evening light, the last two photos jumped to ISO 6400. The Fuji did a good job with the detail. I generally keep 6400 as my upper limit for the camera. I also think my familiarity with the X100S helped me to successfully improvise. I’m actually amazed how many scenes I captured with a single 35mm equivalent lens.

2014 ROT Rally #12 - Austin, Texas

New for this year, Austin setup a second ROT gathering site south of the river at the Austin American-Statesman newspaper building. The parking lot was transformed into a vendor, food and concert space. I walked down there with my photographer friend Dave, who I met during the parade. If you know Austin, you know they always setup live music stages for these kinds of events. After all, the city brags that it’s the “Live Music Capital of the World”. Friday night was no exception.

2014 ROT Rally #13 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #14 - Austin, Texas

It took the opportunity to do some street shooting in and around the food booths. I always like the glow of lights at night and the X100S does a good job with them.

2014 ROT Rally #15 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #16 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #17 - Austin, Texas

I also started experimenting with the flash blending. Fuji has something called Super Intelligent Flash on many of its cameras where it does a really good job of blending the right amount of fill flash with the ambient light. It’s actually one of the reasons I bought the X100S but something which I haven’t tested much until now.

The portrait of the Mexican Motorcycle Acrobats came out great at ISO 2500 and at 1/30s. The next two were at ISO 5000. The first one is fair but a bit soft — it also has a slight depth of field issue shot at f2. The second one came out better. Overall though, given how dark it was, it did a fantastic job of lighting the subject and maintaining detail in the background.

2014 ROT Rally #18 - Austin, Texas

I headed back north to 6th street, that’s were I figured most of the action will be. The ROT participants where thinking the same too. Groups of them rumbled up Congress Avenue towards the bars and night life.

2014 ROT Rally #19 - Austin, Texas

6th Street is always, shall we say, festive on the weekends. But during ROT Rally it gets amped up. This year though, because the venues were split into multiple locations, 6th was not as packed. It think it lost some of it’s craziness which might have been part of the city’s plans. I have to admit that I like the previous years better.

2014 ROT Rally #20 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #21 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #22 - Austin, Texas
2014 ROT Rally #23 - Austin, Texas

That’s not to say that the 6th Street bars don’t have of plenty of attractions to entice customers. I find this place to be one of the most intense for sheer capitalism. The bars complete vigorously to pull in customers.

2014 ROT Rally #24 - Austin, Texas

In years past, I came down with my HDR setup, complete with tripod, to photograph the glowing bikes. HDR works particularly well in these cases. I’ve done enough of these shots that I decided to forgo the HDR, it also saved me from carrying a tripod. I did, however, try get an extra pop by using the Fuji Intelligent flash. It works great for objects too, not just people. While perhaps not as striking as the HDR, I think it came out pretty darn good for a single exposure in JPEG. More than anything, it’s the shallow depth of field that gives this shot a different look. After all, I was hand holding it in the dark at ISO 5000 at f2. Not bad.

2014 ROT Rally #25 - Austin, Texas

Here is another example of flash blending. I wanted to light the dark bikes in foreground and balance it with the background neon.

All told I was there about 4 hours last Friday night and walked about 7 1/2 miles according to my Pedometer++ iPhone app. That’s good because these photo walks are one of my main sources of exercise, sad but true. Stay tuned, I have a lot more ROT Rally coverage this year. I did some extra special camera testing the next day, comparing the performance of 3 cameras. Look for that soon.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

An Impromptu Photowalk, Drink and Click and more Fuji X100S thoughts

Empty Pool, Radisson Hotel - Austin, Texas

Empty Pool, Radisson Hotel – Austin, Texas

As a short break from the Netherlands, here are some photos from Austin that I took several of days ago. I wasn’t planning to do a photo walk last Thursday but the weather was perfect and the opportunity presented itself.

Thursdays get busy at times for photography events. Once a month, I go to the Austin Photographic Society meeting where guest speakers talk about a range of photo related topics — this time it was about creating time-lapse movies. Unfortunately, the Drink and Click meetings usually overlap. I was all set to go home when Jerry, friend and owner of Precision Camera asked if I was going to Drink and Click that night.

What the heck. It was still early enough and it was almost the long weekend. Rick, who comes up all the way from San Antonio, also wanted to go. We parked near the Texas State Capitol and got some well needed exercise as we walked to South Congress, about a 1.7 miles each way. It turned into an impromptu photo walk as we both snapped away along Congress Avenue, which is Austin’s main north-south street downtown.

Texas State Capitol at Blue Hour #1 - Austin, Texas
Texas State Capitol at Blue Hour #2 - Austin, Texas

We passed through the capitol grounds coincidentally at blue hour so we couldn’t resist. Blue hour in Austin lasts, at most, 15 minutes. Do you know in the Netherlands, blue hour actually lasts an hour? Even longer at times, I’m told. I don’t know if our state capitol compares to the ornate beauties in Amsterdam, but it’s the best we got in terms of old world charm.

State and Paramount Theaters - Austin, Texas
Glowing Orbs, Congress Avenue Store - Austin, Texas
Steak and Lobster, Bar on Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas

As usual, I’m attracted by color and the glow of lights. Some obvious, some required more observation.

I think the Fujifilm X100S is having the desired effect. I’m shooting slower now, trying to observe more and frame even more precisely. That was one of things I was hoping for when I got the camera less than 3 months ago. With a non-changeable, non-zooming lens, I have the advantage of developing a preset frame in my head, one geared to seeing the world with a 35mm focal length. The fixed lens, rather than being a limitation, strengthens one’s composition. That along with shooting a lot of course. The X100S shutter count setting says I’m up to 12,900 shots already.

Into Darkness, Lady Bird Lake - Austin, Texas

Rick and I met Jerry and his wife, Rosemary, on the Congress Avenue bridge. We headed together towards South Congress Avenue. I shot this from the bridge on a lark, I didn’t think it would come out. I need to push this camera to shoot things I normally wouldn’t — sometimes it surprises me. At ISO 6400 at 1/30 second at f2, it was very dark. As a black and white, and with grain, I think it works on a certain level.

Freebirds Glow, South Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas
A Garage with Neon, South Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas
Chicken Neon, South Congress Avenue - Austin, Texas

Cross over into South Congress and you are rewarded with more neon. The serious central business district gives way to more kitschy, Austin kind of places.

Doc's Patio and Neon, South Congress - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click at Docs - Austin, Texas

We finally make it to Docs, where Drink and Click was already passed clicking and more in the drinking phase. Here you can see a mix of cameras, drink and food interspersed on the table.

Colorful Interior, Docs on South Congress - Austin, Texas
Blue Glow at Docs, South Congress - Austin, Texas
A mix of Neon, Docs on South Congress - Austin, Texas

Docs has some great neon and that glow at night that I like so much. I’m experimenting with shooting the Fuji a lot darker than I’ve ever done before. I started to move towards darker exposures in Amsterdam but took it to a new level in this series. If you hover over the photos with your mouse, you can see the EXIF information. Notice that most images were shot with -2/3ev to -1 2/3ev of exposure compensation dialed in. The X100S does tend to expose brighter than my other cameras and I wanted to preserve the color in the lights. Also, it was my attempt to embrace more shadows, especially at night where it can add some mystery.

Doc's Patio at Night, South Congress - Austin, Texas

This is one of favorites from the series. I think it caught the mood well. I don’t know why but I’ve always like these type of hanging lights. On the Fuji, I noticed that I hardly ever get any purple fringing. Perhaps in JPEG it’s cleaned up automatically. As usual, I shoot the X100S in just JPEG and I’m really happy with the results.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

It was past 11:30 when I decided to go home. I remembered that I needed to get up early for a school performance by my younger son. Only a handful of people remained from Drink and Click and they consolidated to a single table. I noticed the subtle reflection off the empty table, which was a fitting end to the day. Though actually, the first image, at the top of my post, was the last one I took that night.

As I rushed back to my car, which was parked about 30 minutes away, I was drawn to the empty pool at the Radisson Hotel located on 1st street. I was at the halfway point. Unlike my walk down, which was punctuated my many photography stops, this was the only shot on the way home. If I rushed, I would be back home by 12:30, prep my gear for the school event and get to sleep by 1am. I was shooting the Canon 6D the next morning, something that I rarely shoot anymore since my mirrorless cameras dominate my usage over DSLRs.

It’s fun to shoot with many cameras but remembering the different interfaces can be a pain.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

Rodeo Austin: Yet another test of the Fuji X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

2014 Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

Back in March, only two days after my SXSW photo walk, I went to the Rodeo with my friend Mike. We spend most of the time at the carnival — got there an hour before sunset and stayed into the night. It’s sort of a tradition for us. Over the years, I’ve taken different cameras and shot in different styles. I’ve captured enough long exposure motion blurs of amusement park rides that I stuck with street photography this time. The Fujifilm X100S was brand new for me back then — I bought it only three days before this rodeo visit — so I was determined to use it.

I took two cameras, the Fuji X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10. Like the SXSW outing, I shot mostly with the X100S, not because I didn’t like the Olympus, but because I wasn’t good at shooting the Fuji. A new challenge. I was determined to tame my latest acquisition. The OM-D E-M10 was new to me too, temporarily on loan from Olympus, but I’m already familiar with Olympus micro 4/3 cameras. I’ve used them for years.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

I’m going to do a dedicated review on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 soon. But it’s really easy to sum up the camera. After years of building mirrorless cameras, Olympus has all but perfected them. They are fast in most everything they do. The E-M10 model has basically all the features that a novice or enthusiast will want. In all but the fastest sports, I would recommend the E-M10 for daily shooting and daily action. Want to do some home video too, no problem, stills or video, the camera does a solid job.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

The Fuji X100S is an entirely different kind of camera, one that I won’t recommend for novices. To really appreciate the camera, you need to get back to the days when spinning physical dials was the only way to adjust your settings. Sure the X100S is a modern digital device, but it really has the feel of a camera of yore. And while some Fuji diehards might disagree, the camera is still quirky (and not in a good way) compared to the solid and dare I say boring Olympus. With this newer S version of the X100, focus is a lot faster, however it’s still noticeably pedestrian compared to the Olympus. As strange as it sounds, near perfection may be the problem with the E-M10. Since it does everything so well, it’s almost too good — it’s sort of unexciting. Perhaps conquering the idiosyncrasies of the X100S is part of the fun.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Matching Outfits

There are things that really bug me about the X100S. While I originally thought the focusing speed was the biggest issue, it’s not, I discovered. I don’t know if my particular camera is worse than others but the damned electronic view finder (EVF) is too dark in bright light. In the evening, night-time or indoors, the EVF works great. But try to use the thing in bright daylight and the EVF darkens tremendously. I’ve read about this behavior online, so I know I’m not the only one. I can brighten the viewfinder manually but then in darker places the overly bright viewfinder sears my eyes. Nope there definitely something wrong with the design. I checked the EVF on the OM-D E-M10 and it’s consistent no matter the lighting, just as it should be.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

On the Fuji, with the EVF impaired, I need to use the optical view finder instead. Luckily the X100S has a dual optical / electronic view finder, one of its unique features. The optical works great in good light, though less accurate for framing. The problem is, after I frame and shoot with the optical, it switches to an EVF review of the photo I just took. Except again, I can’t check accuracy with the dim photo through the EVF. Ironically, I can review photos better with my rear LCD in bright sunlight. Kind of crazy and this behavior partially defeats the purpose of an EVF.

So all is not perfect in Fuji land. But I adjust and work through the challenges. So beyond my love for the X100S retro design and it’s solid build, why do I put up with it? When everything falls into place, I’m rewarded with fantastic image quality. The Fujifilm JPEGs are probably the best in the business. In fact, unlike my other cameras, I only shoot in JPEG with the Fuji. Conversely, the RAW processors out there for Fuji’s X Trans sensor aren’t particularly great. They’ve steadily improved but I think the in-camera JPEGs are better and a lot easier.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Fuji also has this auto dynamic range mode for JPEGs that subdues bright areas and pulls out shadow detail. Combined with it’s uncanny auto white balance, you generally get very pleasant out of camera photos. Of course I still tweak my images in post, but only minor adjustments are usually required. The built-in 35mm equivalent lens is sharp even at f2. Taken together, especially at night, I get photos that pop. As much as I like the Olympus image quality, most of the time I like the Fuji’s better. Look at photograph at the top of this post, that food stand glows and the colors look lively. It has a look different from my other cameras.

Olympus before

Olympus after

Fujifilm before

Fujifilm after

Let’s do some comparisons. I shot the Olympus E-M10 in JPEG + RAW. Since I don’t have a RAW processor for the camera, we get to compare the Olympus JPEG vs the Fujifim JPEG. On the left, we have the unprocessed JPEGs. On the right, the results after post processing in Aperture 3. I tried to make the colors match as closely as possible. You can see that Fuji’s auto white balance did a better job here — my post processed image only slightly sharper and more colorful. The Olympus required more work. But all is not perfect with the Fuji either. I mentioned before that reds on the X100S JPEGs are weak — they look more orangish. You can see it when you compare the red candy apples. Click on the photos to see a larger view.

Olympus after at 100%

Fujifilm after at 100%

I don’t usually do this, pixel-peeping I mean, but I wanted to show you both photos up close. I get to see my photos full size on a 27” monitor but with typical web sizes don’t always get to appreciate the details. Here are similar sections of my post-processed photos at 100%. Yes, they are not framed identically but I think you can see a difference. Not only do I prefer the X100S colors but the sharpness is also superior. On the Olympus, I used the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4, my best lens. Keep in mind that when I use the Olympus RAW (the E-M10 is a new cameras and I don’t have the RAW converter), some of these differences go away. More than anything we are comparing the JPEG processing engines here. However, it goes to show how nice of a job Fujifilm does on their JPEGs. And the Olympus is no slouch either. I prefer the Olympus JPEGs to Canon’s for example.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Despite my complaints about the X100S focusing, I’m happy with the number of keepers I got. It goes to show that concentrating, properly framing and finding a good moment counts for a lot. Effort can overcome slightly sluggish focusing. However, by applying my mental energy on the Fuji, I noticed that my Olympus photographs suffered. By all measures the Olympus is faster and easier to shoot but without that proper concentration, none of my E-M10 images deserved to be posted. The just weren’t good enough.

I’ve include some livestock on this post, a nod to the agricultural roots of the rodeo, but I go to these things to shoot the people and the glow of rides and booths at night. I love capturing people having fun at the carnival. I tend to shoot architecture and street photos, here I kind of get to do both. The glowing tents represent makeshift architecture and the carnival color, almost as good as urban neon.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

I didn’t shoot many street portraits this time. This lovely couple asked me to take an iPhone shot. I obliged and asked them if I could also take a portrait with my Fuji. The ambient light cast a warm glow and even a 35mm equivalent at f2 nicely defocuses the background. Just the perfect amount, the background no longer distracting but clearly maintaining the ties to the carnival.

I then saw these ladies with giant matching tigers, marching towards me. I had to ask for a portrait — you just can’t make these shots up. You need to take them when you have the chance.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

By the end of the night, I was getting the exposure dialed in on the X100S. The Fuji is one of the few cameras where it exposes more brightly than I expect. For these evening shots with colorful lights, I found that underexposing by 1/3 stop was just about right. It maintains the color and details in the lights.

For people, I needed to go back to 0 on the exposure compensation dial. I used to shoot Aperture Priority almost exclusively but I’m shifting more to Shutter Priority these days. This works especially well on the Fuji. I have the ISO set to Auto with a max of 6400. Aperture is set to A (Auto) but the Fuji is smart enough to use f2 in these dark scenes. I quickly change my shutter speed from 1/30 of a second for stationary objects, 1/60 for portraits and 1/125 for more action. All it takes is a quick twist of the dial. The Fuji almost always does the right thing settings wise. When I drop the shutter speed, Auto ISO drops the ISO setting which also improved quality.

The Olympus also does the right thing and the Shutter Priority setting with Auto ISO works well. I think changing settings with a typical digital interface is quicker but the traditional dials of the Fuji are more intuitive. The old dial method is also more in your face so I see the settings better, reducing the likelihood that I have the wrong values set.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

It was interesting to compare framing with a 35mm vs 50mm equivalent lens. The 50mm equivalent on the Olympus was easier for candid street photographs. I can get in on the action without being as close. As a result the photos were more intimate. Through the view finder the 35mm felt too distant, like I was too far from the subject. And I felt uncomfortable getting any closer. When viewed large on-screen, however, 35mm looks great. I actually prefer it to 50mm since I get more of a context to the environment.

Sometimes I wish I have a 28mm, especially for architecture, but overall the 35mm equivalent on the X100S works. For these kind of places, I don’t feel any desire to change lens or use a zoom. That’s great since I’m stuck with one lens on the X100S, I can’t change it (though there are now Fuji adapters to get a 28mm or 50mm view). Ultimately, beyond all the quirks, having only one focal length may be the reason a novice will find the X100S too limiting and frustrating. The Olympus, of course, supports interchangeable lenses so you can pick your favorite focal length or use a zoom.

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

After shooting both cameras at SXSW and at the carnival, I have a good feel for their differences. Two very different cameras but both great in their own way. The Fujifim X100S has the image quality edge as well as more character, though you have to deal with it’s idiosyncrasies. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 is flexible, dependable and has all the features you’ll need. The E-M10 is the kind of camera I can recommend for any photographer for most any need. But what if you want an inflexible and limiting camera that will push you creatively? Imposing limits taxes the brain and forces it to adapt. That may be one of the best arguments for a camera like the X100S. It’s all up to you.

So tell me, which camera interests you more?

2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas
2014 Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

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I took the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG post processed in Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

Technology has automated the craft of photography, how about drawing?

With the advent of advanced picture-taking computers, aka digital cameras, part of the craft of photography was automated. Photography has always been a combination of craft and creativity. In the old days, the act of making and printing a well exposed photograph was more challenging. Digital has simplified this tremendously to the chagrin of old-time photographers. But how about other creative pursuits, like drawing? What if the craft of drawing can also be mostly automated?

I have little skill in drawing beyond what I did in the 3rd grade. But I recently found this fun little app that runs on the iPhone. It takes a photograph and magically transforms it into a watercolor, one of many styles, that you get to choose with a push of a finger. My apologies to true artists but for a hack like me, this tool is fantastic and amazing. In a sense, it takes the craft of drawing and automates it with a set of canned computer algorithms. Certainly rudimentary for anyone with true ability, but for me, it looks pretty damned good. I’ll be happy if I can draw like this.

So what if we automate the craft of drawing or photography with modern tools. We, as human beings, still own the creativity. Perhaps this is just the Instagraming of drawing but technology will inevitably improve. The competitive angst that photographers feel will move to other creative professions. Do you know that there are computer programs that write technical documents that are now indistinguishable from the human created documents?

As you may know, I’ve always had an interest in architecture. That interest has naturally bubbled up in my photography, something I didn’t even realize until a couple of people pointed it out. The thing is, I don’t have the ability to draw those neat looking illustrations like an architect. Perhaps I like this $1 application so much because it sort of creates instantaneous architectural renderings.

Take a look at these. I shot the originals on my iPhone at the Singapore and Dallas-Fort Worth Airports. I captured the images, post-processed them (originally for Instagram) and then used the Waterlogue app to transform them into these illustrations, all on my phone. I picked these styles because they look like architectural renderings.

Drink and Click Watercolor #1 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #2 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #3 - Austin, Texas

Waterlogue in not limited to photos shot on the iPhone. I took these with my Fujifilm X100S at the Drink and Click event and transferred them to the iPhone. I used the app to transform these too, using a more impressionistic setting, one of a dozen available styles.

Drink and Click Watercolor #4 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #6 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #6 - Austin, Texas

Even in my widest dreams, I know this isn’t real art. Art requires creativity and originality, not just executing an algorithm. But I find it compelling nevertheless. The illustration at the top, a watercolor conversion of a snapshot I took with my iPhone is a little memento from one my recent business trips. The comforting glow of warm light makes even a business hotel look inviting.

I can imagine, not too long ago, an artist hired for a Hilton Hotels ad by some Mad Men. The copy would read “All the comforts of home, away from home” and would feature this image. Now the entire art department fits in a pocket, technology trying to supplant craft. Until the singularity is achieved however, I feel comfortable that the real creativity and art still remains with us. If predictions hold, we can maintain human creative edge for at least 25 more years.

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I applied the watercolor effect to photographs using the Waterlogue app.

A visit to the graffiti wall with the Fujifilm X100S

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

Observations at the graffiti wall – Austin, Texas

Several of my friends, including Kirk Tuck have posted pictures from the Graffiti wall in downtown Austin. I’ve said in the past that I’m not a fan of graffiti. I call it public defacement. Part of the negative conditioning I got growing up in New York City back in the 80’s, when the subways were filled will this “artistic” form of self-expression. But things are a bit different in Austin.

There’s sort of a sanctioned place for graffiti called the Hope Outdoor Gallery. An old, defunct condo foundation became a huge three-tiered concrete canvas. It’s actually in a nice part of town near 11th and Baylor streets.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

With my new Pedometer app (Pedometer++ for the iPhone 5S, highly recommended) encouraging me to step away from the computer and start moving, I finally decided to visit the wall yesterday. I figured a photo walk through downtown was a lot more interesting and creative than circling the block in my suburban neighborhood.

I took one camera, the Fujifilm X100S, as my light weight companion. With slowish focusing but excellent color, I figured the X100S would be perfect for a non-moving wall of graffiti. I was thrilled.

I shot mostly at f8, which is rare for me. As you know, I typically shoot at night, wide-open. And while even f2 on the Fuji is quite sharp, at f8 and ISO 200, the detail and color is fantastic. The overcast day was perfect and the even light made everything pop.

The Hope Gallery is ever-changing. Layers of paint and creativity follow a cycle of destruction and renewal. Look at the video Kirk made of the place back in February. In two months, everything is different. Even the graffiti artists have succumb to the speed of this modern, technology-driven, change oriented society. Like the online world which demands a steady stream of new content, this physical wall also obliges.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

The place is popular with many taking or posing for photos.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

It’s hard to judge the scale of the artwork. These 3 photos are closeups. Look at the leaves for reference.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

But these 3 cover an entire wall.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas
Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

I saw several artists adding their mark. Christina and a friend created a multi-colored Diana Ross courtesy of a home made stencil. Another created stylized words more reminiscent of what I remember from those NYC subway trains.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

People are friendly in a typically Austin fashion.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

Here you can see the scale of this place. The angles and the foundation fed my predisposition for buildings and architecture. The ruin surely taps into my urban roots. These colors are something you don’t see in the U.S. It’s like looking at a Japanese game show with its unbelievable juxtaposition of color.

Observations at the graffiti wall - Austin, Texas

Make it up to the third level and you are rewarded with a commanding view of downtown Austin. The Texas State Capitol on the left along with the older high-rises makes the city look quaint. Hidden out of view to the right are the new, taller condos that appear to spout up with increasing regularity.

More views of the changing city in a future post.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

Drink and Click: Using the Fuji X100S for party snaps at the Nikon Demo night

The Shootout, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

The Shootout, Drink and Click – Austin, Texas

Ever go to a party and you’re the only one there with a serious camera? It’s happened to me on more than one occasion and I inevitably find it a bit uncomfortable. When I leave my self-imposed bubble of photo enthusiasts, I realize that the rest of the world isn’t as interested in photography as I am. That’s not the case when I go to Drink and Click, a socially oriented photography meet up that I attend from time to time.

I’ve talked about Drink and Click before. Every two weeks or so in Austin and in many other cities around the world, photo enthusiasts get together for some social meeting, drinking and clicking. I went to one yesterday. I met so many friends. It was a blast.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Back in February, I helped arrange Olympus to have loaner OM-D E-M1s at Drink and Click. I ended up missing that one because of a last-minute business trip to Singapore. I wasn’t going to miss the Nikon demo last night, even though I wasn’t involved in the planning.

My camera choices for yesterday, the Fujifilm X100S and the Nikon 1 J1. I was tempted to play with the nice selection of Nikon DSLRs and point and shoots but ultimately decided to get some practice time with my newest camera, the X100S. I want to use it in a variety of conditions to get the feel of how it performs. Interestingly, at least 3 others also brought Fuji X100Ss so this niche camera has certainly found a home in this enthusiast crowd.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas
2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Along with the Nikon representative, Sharlie, several people from Precision Camera were on hand to help out. Nothing earth shattering, photography wise, on this post. I used the X100S to take snaps shots, and with it’s good low light performance, I was able to eek out acceptable photos in challenging light.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Rosemary and Jerry Sullivan, the owners of Precision Camera, were there to enjoy the night. I was gratified that Jerry reads my blog and he especially likes my Haiku reviews.

The outdoor patio had pockets of light but with some really dark areas. I tested the flash on the X100S for the first time. The Fuji sports what it calls the Super Intelligent Flash System where it blends a touch of flash and the ambient light. I shot the portraits of Sharlie and the Sullivans at ISO 6400 at f2. Notice that you don’t get that “blown out look with black background” that is typical of flash photography. The camera did all this, on the fly, with no special adjustments. I did tweak the color balance in post and at ISO 6400 it did an acceptable job, I think.

Fado Interior #1 - Austin, Texas
Fado Interior #2 - Austin, Texas

We met at Fado, an Irish Pub in the warehouse district in downtown Austin. I stepped inside to see what I can capture in a typically dark pub. I’m not the steadiest shooter and that’s why I like image stabilization so much. Unfortunately on the Fujifilm X100S, I have no such technology. Surprisingly though perhaps because of the lack of mirror and the smooth leaf shutter, I’m able to shoot at 1/15th of a second.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas
2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Back outside, I shot more portraits, this time without flash. I really like the natural light portrait of Juan, the founder of Drink and Click, talking to Tamra who works at Precision. As good as the Fuji’s flash blending is, off axis lighting gives a more three-dimensional look. Britney, who works at Fado, was also nice enough to pose for a portrait. And though there appears to be a lot of light, I still shot this at ISO 4000 at f2. The camera did a nice job with the available light without creating terribly harsh shadows.

2014 Nikon Event, Drink and Click - Austin, Texas

Finally, here is what the patio looked like — crowded even at 9PM. There was a good turnout with lots of photographers drinking and clicking. In a scene like this, the X100S focuses at a decent speed — there is enough contrast and light even at night. The portraits in low light were a different story. To the camera’s credit, it was able to lock focus, but it was frustratingly slow. In reality focusing probably took 1 to 2 seconds, it just seemed like an eternity. In the end though, the Fuji came through and I got the shots.

Talking to another X100S owner, he really likes his camera but agreed that it takes a certain amount of patience and practice to master it.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

SXSW Interactive: Testing the Fuji X100S and the Olympus OM-D E-M10

Street Portrait, 2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Street Portrait, 2014 SXSW Interactive – Austin, Texas

SXSW (South by Southwest), the large multi-week Austin extravaganza, took place a couple of weeks ago and I’m just catching up. I’m back from my California trip and I primed to talk about two new cameras that I’m testing. I recently bought Fujifilm X100S for my birthday and the OM-D E-M10 is on loan from Olympus. These two cameras don’t typically compete directly against each other in the mirrorless space, their features and target audiences are different. But it’s still fun to see how they stack up in the mirrorless pecking order.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I shot these on Sunday, the day after the heavy rainstorm that dampened the Interactive portion (web and social media) of SXSW. It was also the day after I bought the X100S — I was anxious to give it a spin. The X100S has a fixed 35mm equivalent f2 lens. The Olympus OM-D E-M10 had the new 14-42mm pancake lens attached with motorized zoom. Both cameras are roughly about the same size.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I find the Olympus extremely easy to use on many levels. You may know that I’ve used Olympus cameras for many years and the interface on the OM-D E-M10 is similar, especially compared to the their higher end cameras. The E-M10 is a tad smaller than the E-M5 but I prefer the newer camera. The subtle change in grip and the placement of the play and function 1 buttons are welcome pluses for the E-M10. This smallest OM-D also closely resembles the Pen E-P5, interface wise. For a mirrorless Olympus user, the E-M10 is quickly usable without much retraining of the muscle memory. And the camera is really fast. Focusing, shooting and reviewing photos, everything snaps into place.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

Ironically, it’s this familiarity with Olympus which made me hesitant to jump into the unknown that was Fujifilm. Sure. I tested X100S for several days and I certainly captured very satisfying images but still, understandably, the camera wasn’t an extension of my brain. I had to fumble with the controls. The focusing is slow and unsure compared to the Olympus.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I found that unconsciously, I gravitated toward the Olympus. It’s like taking the path of least resistance. The only mismatch I found was my choice of lens. 14-42mm (28-84mm equivalent) focal length worked great but I found the motorized zoom of the pancake lens to be slow for my fast-moving street photography style. The lens would make for a fantastic compact travel zoom and would also work great for leisurely usage. The smooth motorized zoom will also work well for video. Of course, I could have pre-set the zoom to a focal length and use it like a prime, which would speed up operations. This is where the budget kit lens has the advantage with its fast, manually adjustable zoom.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

I forced myself to use the X100S. Heck I just paid $1300 for this thing, I better get good at it and get my money’s worth.

Most of the photos on this post are from the Fuji. You can hover over the photos to find out which camera I used. Despite my apprehension, once I concentrated with the X100S, I got some satisfying photos. I shoot differently with this camera. I’m more deliberate and I have to be. The focusing is adequate but not quick. I just can’t fire off shots like I do with the Olympus. But I knew this going in — I needed to be more patient with this camera. I kept the E-M10 safely tucked in my bag, zipper closed, so that I wouldn’t be tempted by the faster camera. The reality is, despite the more leisurely pace, or perhaps because of it, I got my share of keepers. The frenetic style may have advantages but you can end up with a lot of so so images. The X100S was going to counter my natural tendency and force me to slow down.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

The photos on this post are about the people — the locals and visitors that I met that Sunday. I can go on about how SXSW has become too corporate with big sponsors — dominating. But I chose to ignore that in my tour through downtown. It’s easy to get jaded at these events and I do admit that SXSW is starting to resemble the Formula One Fan Fest. Just substitute tech companies for car companies. But I shot more people than buildings and logos this year. Use a smaller mirrorless camera with a fixed lens and focus on the people. That’s the benefit of these cameras, instead of using a big DSLR with a telephoto. You become part of the scene rather than spying on it.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

The Olympus E-M10 is a wonderful camera, more flexible, quick and better suited for most people. So why use the Fuji? It’s a purposeful, specialized camera for serious photographers. While its deliberate pace is not quite as slow as a film Leica with manual focus, it’s closer to that in feel, I suppose — certainly more than the typical digital camera. It requires more effort but you are rewarded with higher quality images, when you get it right.

At lower ISOs, the image quality improvement is subtle and might be missed by the uninitiated. As the light levels drop and the ISOs climb, however, the Fuji does produce a different kind of image than the Olympus. I don’t always prefer the Fuji images but I found enough cases where the frustrating quirkiness of the X100S is certainly offset by the superior photos it produces.

Stay tuned. I’ll talk more about the Fujifilm image quality and how it compares to Olympus in an upcoming post.

2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas
2014 SXSW Interactive - Austin, Texas

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I took the photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus 14-42 pancake lens and with the Fujifilm X100S.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.

The camera I got for myself for my 50th birthday

French Fries at the Rodeo - Austin, Texas

French Fries at the Rodeo – Austin, Texas

I think us amateurs all dream of being that certain kind of photographer in some far away fantasy world. Some might think of themselves as sports photographers shooting the Olympics or Superbowl with giant white lenses. Others might see themselves being glamorous fashion photographers with gorgeous Victoria Secret models prancing in front of their cameras. For me, I most see myself being that traveler and street photographer capturing exotic destinations at the decisive moment like Henri Cartier-Bresson and more recently like Peter Turnley.

Cartier-Bresson’s camera of choice was a Leica rangefinder. A style of camera that has fallen out of fashion in a SLR dominated world. But with the change in technology DSLRs are starting to lose their grip. New compact and mirrorless cameras are now bringing small capable devices back into serious photography.

I’ve talked about the Fujifilm X100 and X100S over the years. I’ve always had a secret desire for them because they trigger that Cartier-Bresson fantasy that I have of traveling the world with that one perfect camera and lens. But for me the X100 was too frustrating. As my mirrorless Olympuses continue to speed up, I found the Fuji X100 to be a distinct step backwards in usability. The newer X100S addressed most of these concerns. It’s still not as fast as my Olympus cameras but I think, I hope, they have reached my magic threshold.

I reported in my post, The Fujifilm X100S from an Olympus micro 4/3 user perspective, small, elegant and beautiful are beginning to hold more attraction these days. That test proved that I could use the camera and get great results. I decided to buy one for my 50th birthday. A present to myself, for reaching the 1/2 century mark, which I exercised over the weekend at Precision Camera.

I have to admit that some doubt did creep in a few weeks ago. Would the X100S frustrate me with its speed? I really liked the Nikon J1 precisely because it was so fast, even faster than my Olympus. Should I look at the interchangeable Fuji’s instead? How about that new Fuji X-T1? Olympus, of course, has that wonderful and very speedy OM-D E-M1 that I reviewed last year. That would also be a fine choice.

But my fantasy of being that world traveler continued to pop into my head. I’m not going to buy a Leica. And I know the Fuji X100S is not a true rangefinder. But it was close enough for my inner dream. My justifications say that I’m going to use the heck out of this thing. And when inevitably some future technology obsoletes this camera, this beautiful faux-range finder with the two toned silver and black will take its place in the display cabinet. It will be a visual reminder of my 50th birthday.

Most everything that surrounds us these days conspires to speed up life. Perhaps this slower camera will get me to slow down and shoot more deliberately, even live more deliberately. Only time will tell but all of these thoughts are wrapped up in my elaborate fantasy narrative. Wish me luck. Follow along in the blog to see how it actually turns out.

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I took the photograph with the Fujifilm X100S with the built in 35mm equivalent lens.

Make sure to click on the photograph to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.

Testing the new Olympus OM-D E-M10 at my last school Olympics

Elementary School Olympic Flag

I have two new cameras in the atmtx photography lair to report about this week. One camera is on loan and the other I bought yesterday at Precision Camera here in Austin.

My younger son is in 5th grade which means he is graduating elementary school this year. This year’s school Olympics is the last one I’ll go to. It was perfect timing for testing the new OM-D E-M10 that I have on loan from Olympus. Last year, I still had the Canon 7D for my sport/action camera. I traded that for the Canon 6D which is less ideal for action. The OM-D with it’s 8 fps burst was going to work out great.

I don’t use the Olympus 40-150mm telephoto zoom too often. I’m really not a telephoto guy — but for events like this, it’s fantastic. Mated with the small E-M10, the combo made for a surprisingly compact and very effective setup. Its power and capability hidden from view, especially to the few remaining DSLR toting parents. I admit that I had smug thoughts, which I wisely did not verbalize, about the power of my small camera system.

Consider the E-M10 and telephoto lens has a 80mm to 300mm focal length, focuses faster than an mid-range DSLR and shoots at 8 frames per second. It also has a very nice EVF (electronic view finder) that shows me real-time exposure changes. It’s a testament to how much technology has evolved, especially in the mirrorless camera space. You really don’t need to carry that heavy DSLR around these days, in most cases.

I also brought my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for the indoor shots, particularly for the gymnasium, where the kids do the high jump. After 8 years or so that I shot the jump, I’m happy to report that I finally nailed that perfect shot. I started with the Rebel XT DSLR with kit lens and evolved to the Canon 7D with fast glass but it was the mirrorless OM-D that did the best. Certainly my photography skills have progressed but it’s really the camera advances that helped out the most. You see the Panny Leica 25mm is a much sharper lens than the equivalent 50mm f1.4 Canon and here the increased depth of field of the micro 4/3 format was an advantage.

I manually focused on the rope that the kids were jumping over. With the 4/3 sensor, I still had enough depth of field that I could catch one or two frames of sharp focus at the key moment. Add the fast frame rate and you have a half decent chance of getting something good. I shot at ISO 500, f1.4 and at 1/1600 of a second. I retrospect, I probably could have lowered the shutter speed slightly and decreased the aperture to further increase the depth of field.

Elementary School Olympic Day

I’m generally not an EVF shooter but it certainly helped in the midday sun — usually my photography is exercised in darker conditions. For sports where tracking running kids are important, I think the EVF lag is still a disadvantage compared to optical view finders. They’ve come a long way and I suspect in a couple of more years it’ll be a non issue. Consider the iPhone 5S, which shoots at 10 frames per second. I detect no LCD lag when panning the camera phone. Apple uses a really powerful processor, the A7, to do this. Camera companies will add this kind of processing power in the future too. But for now, I find that stutter in the EVF refresh makes it less desirable for tacking running athletes, even the 11-year-old kind. I still got the shots I needed through the EVF, it’s just that optical still has the edge. For most other situations, EVFs now work just as well and with some added advantages.

I will do a full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 but will do some mini-reports first, as it undergoes testing. Oh and the other new camera, that I bought? I’ll talk about that too, in an upcoming post. For followers of the blog, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by my choice.

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I took the photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 with the Olympus 40-150mm lens.

Make sure to click on the photograph to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details.

2014 Chinese New Year Celebration in Austin

Waiting for it to start, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Waiting for it to start, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration – Austin, Texas

I went to the Chinese New Year celebration at Chinatown Center today. It’s my 3rd year. Every year, most of the events seem similar — there’s dancing and music as the opening acts and the Dragon and Lion dances, as the highlight. But there are differences. It seems to getting bigger. We had the Austin Police Department show off their neat tank like SWAT Gear and Capitol Metro showed off their fancy MetroRapid extra long accordion buses. The event has become a community outreach opportunity I guess and a way to showcase the growing multi-cultural experience in Austin.

Hair Preparation, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Including Other Cultures, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Practicing, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Photographically, I change things up too. Every year I bring a different permutation of cameras and lenses. I grabbed the Nikon J1 with kit lens and the Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 this year. I thought the J1 would especially be fun because of its high performance shooting. I just checked and last year, I bought three cameras, all Olympus.

Beauty Queens Prepare, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Adjusting my Crown, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

The gear you bring, of course, affects what and how you shoot. I didn’t have a long telephoto with me this year so I wasn’t going to stand in the audience with everyone else. I decided to do more “back stage” candids this year. The change in perspective was worth it and I got some nice stuff behind the scenes. The Nikon J1 was working so well, I used it almost exclusively. The 27mm to 81mm equivalent kit zoom was adequate for the most part. Though in retrospect, I should have brought the 40-150 Olympus lens again, like last year. That would have perfectly complimented the J1.

Check out the child in the lower right. I love how he seems to be interested in “Miss Pacific Islands-TX”.

Color Contrast, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Waves of Color, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Synchronizing Dance, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

No need to be stealthy. Almost everyone had a camera, mostly camera phones, of course. But the photography enthusiasts were there in full force and they had their big DSLRs with long lenses. I felt extra nimble, shooting with the J1, which is not much bigger than a point and shoot but faster than a DSLR. It worked brilliantly for action and given that it was daylight, the image quality looked great.

On Stage #1, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Waves of Color, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
On Stage #2, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

The downside perhaps, is that the J1 has a small sensor so the depth of field (DOF) is pretty deep. You’re not going to blur out the background. But I’m trying to make stronger compositions so that I don’t rely on shallow depth of field. Have a strong enough subject and hopefully your eye will be drawn to it and not swayed by the background. I don’t aways achieve this but that’s what I’m going for.

A Giant on Stage, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance Team, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Accept the DOF limitations and this camera can be a dream. It works so fast and tracks subjects accurately that my hit rate was really high. I also tend to shoot in bursts so that I can pick the best expression. I shot 900 frames in less than 3 hours — almost all were dead on for focus. I narrowed down my “keepers” to about 170. This also includes video snippets too which, if I’m ambitious enough, I’ll edit into a short movie. The J1 does really solid home movie style videos too. Unfortunately, I need to change a dial to go from stills to video but it works decently enough, most of the time.

Lions Meet the Crowd, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
The Lion and Little Buddha, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Dragon Dance #1, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Dragon Dance #2, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

I came for the Lion dance and those shots came out great. But I’m most happy with the behind the scenes photos. The dance performances were also fun. Shooting in bursts allowed me to choose my favorite poses. This is actually my second Chinese New Year celebration this year. Last week, I went to a Buddhist Temple which had its own multi-cultural extravaganza. I was going to blog about that too but my trip to California changed my plans.

Lion Dance #1, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #2, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #3, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

Let’s see what I end up doing next year. The events may be similar but knowing me, I’ll probably have a new camera again, which I’ll want to test.

May you find peace and happiness in the year of the horse.

Lion Dance #4, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #5, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas
Lion Dance #6, 2014 Chinese New Year Celebration - Austin, Texas

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I took all photos with the Nikon J1 and the Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details. Multiply the Nikon focal length by 2.7 to get the 35mm equivalent.

Drink and Click: Impromptu portraits and neon landscapes

Beth Watches - Austin, Texas

Beth Watches – Austin, Texas

I went to Drink and Click again, last Thursday. I go to their events once in a while — its always a good time. For those of you who don’t remember, Drink and Click is a combination of a social get together, yes with some drinking, and photography. I’ve noticed that often the drinking and socializing tends to win out over the photography. And that’s okay with me. I shoot enough by myself, it’s always fun to get out with interesting photographers.

I had a good long talk with Kirsten, who is relatively new to photography but already has a good eye. We talked about cameras and techniques but discovered we both had an interest for design. I love talking about photography but appreciating the merits of Danish and mid-century modern furniture can be fun too.

Room Service Vintage - Austin, Texas
Forbidden Fruit - Austin, Texas

Do you think Valentine’s Day is big for these guys?

North Loop Food Store - Austin, Texas

I got here early with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 and the Nikon J1 with kit lens. It’s been years since I’ve been to this North Loop neighborhood with its cluster of modest stores except, like many parts of Austin, it’s transforming. Like often the case, new stores have opened with vibrant neon surrounded by trendy bars. I tested the J1 again. It’s not 6th street, but there’s always interesting compositions to be found at night, especially when there’s neon.

The back patio at the Workhorse Bar was really dark. It’s a modest place with not much visual interest, good thing. I couldn’t get anything with my cameras, not without flash anyway. Perhaps a f1.4 and ISO 12,800 on my Canon 6D would have worked but not with my Olympus and Nikon.

Beth Lit by Smartphone - Austin, Texas
Robin by Flashlight - Austin, Texas

Some models stopped by and the clicking started. I strategically stole some light from a smart phone screen and a flash light to snap these photos of Beth and Robin. ISO 3200 at f1.4 at 1/15 of a second and with luck and I got some shots.

A few of us and the models headed a couple of stores down and did an impromptu shoot at a video rental store — I was amazed that these places still exist. Shooting in an unlikely setting made it all the more compelling.

Beth Candid - Austin, Texas
Robin Candid - Austin, Texas
Caitlin Sinister - Austin, Texas

I mainly shot candids. I generally enjoy catching natural gestures. Also, I admit that I’m really not any good at directing models. But unlike a studio, this was pure fun. Just interesting women surrounded by stacks of DVDs in a really relaxed social setting.

Caitlin in the Stacks - Austin, Texas

Caitlin also stopped by, she’s been to these events before. She was flamboyant and didn’t mind posing with a “Sinister” movie.

Robin Leaning #1 - Austin, Texas
Robin Leaning #2 - Austin, Texas

Robin was leaning against the stacks and I like the effect of the leading lines. Even on a micro 4/3 camera, a 50mm f1.4 equivalent has decently shallow DOF. I certainly preferred it over the Nikon J1 for its superior image quality and the ability to defocus the background. I called her name, catching Robin with an unguarded expression.

Beth Portrait - Austin, Texas

Finally, I took a few posed portraits of Beth. I found out she wasn’t a model but just decided to stop by with Robin. Beth is a Civil Engineering Student at the University of Texas. Go figure.

Caitlin, Model Shoot - Austin, Texas

Juan, the head of Drink and Click was going strong at around 10:30pm. He was using is portable wireless soft box to do some portraits outside with Caitlin. I parted company about that time. Another fun night at Drink and Click.

By the way, Drink and Click Austin is going to have a special Olympus Night on February 20th. I helped coordinate the event and Charles from Olympus is bringing 10 OM-D E-M1s so that you can test them out. You’ll get to play with the latest and ultra popular E-M1 in a real environment, not some silly contrived setup. Come on down if you’re in the area. It should be a fun time. The venue hasn’t been finalized by it will most likely be on Rainy Street. Stop by my blog for updated details.

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I took the urban landscapes with the Nikon J1 and the Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens. I took the portraits with the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4.

Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photo to see the picture details. Multiply the Nikon focal length by 2.7 to get the 35mm equivalent and multiply the Olympus focal length by 2.