Over the past weekend, I had a long catching-up phone conversation with my friend of several decades, former assistant, and great photographer Jock Pottle, who now lives in North Carolina. A few years ago, I wrote in this space about Jock and his Digging Man series of illustrations…
I still think the conception and execution of Digging Man are truly unique and the finished works are absolutely phenomenal. I also wish I had a connection to the art director of The New Yorker because that is one publication (among many) where the fit would be perfect. Hope you visit his site and agree.
Anyway, after our phone chat, Jock emailed this photo. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how it was done, although that may just speak to my lack of imagination at the time. Can you figure it out? (If you prefer to believe it’s simply one of the great photobombs of all time, I won’t try to stop you.)
On to another matter… Earlier this year, during our annual trip to the NAB show in Las Vegas, I spent time at the Zeiss optics booth. As always, their lenses for virtually every format in motion picture, television, and still photography continue to be at the pinnacle of optical design and manufacture (just look at this “sliced Zeiss” they had on display). Over the past 50 years, I’ve used Zeiss lenses on almost every camera I’ve owned and many of those I still work with.
But here’s the reason for this bit of unrestrained fan mail: I discovered that Zeiss has designed a series of three accessory lenses for the iPhone. Not one of those cheap 3-in-1 clip-on lens sets you’re probably aware of; think of these as prime optics (they certainly don’t come cheap.) The brand name on the lenses is Exo and you’d do well to check them out at exolens.com. I carry the iPhone 7, and the inherent macro capabilities of the phone’s camera are really impressive. However, mounting the Exo Macro-Zoom lens (with its integral diffuser) takes iPhone macro shooting to a whole new level.
There is a range of options for mounting the lenses to iPhone models going back a few generations. I use the case with a threaded screw mount into which each of these lenses mounts. The wide-angle and portrait (2x) lenses are just as impressive… here are some before-and-after demos of each:
This is as good a time as any to invoke the old adage that any professional photographer has used to answer a question asked hundreds of times — “What’s the best camera?”
And the answer, true now as it has always been — “the one you have with you.” And since I always have my iPhone at hand, it’s what I rely on every single day.
The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal is always full of great articles in the Off Duty and Review sections, but a recent small feature on camera straps got me really riled up.
Last week I offered to photograph an extended family visiting one of the beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. When I was handed their Canon EOS 5D, my willingness to take what became a very nice photo was accompanied by my insistence that they replace the strap as soon as possible. (“It came with the camera,” is—invariably—the response I receive for my earnest pleas.)
I’ve noted before the unfortunate (and dangerous) practice of wearing a ‘steal me’ advertisement around your neck, where the strap included with your camera lets the whole world know exactly which high-dollar camera you’re carrying. All manufacturers seem to be guilty of this; from their perspective, it’s simply Branding 101. For the customer, though, it begs an extra measure of vigilance while out and about.
So back to the WSJ: the photo shows a roundup of so-called “dapper” straps—none of which looks particularly comfortable—priced from 29 to 140 dollars. You’d be far better off with a strap from OP/TECH, superbly designed and made in the USA. I have found their Envy Strap to be perfect for both my mirrorless Fuji X-series bodies and my full-frame Nikon SLRs with long lenses. And the price can’t be beat: under 20 dollars. They’re comfortable, reliable, and they don’t attract the wrong kind of attention.
Raj, our technology director and blog contributor in his own right, goes one further and uses our microGAFFER tape to obscure the logos on his Fuji X-E2. Not only does it make the camera look more generic to thieves (perhaps even a touch dilapidated); since it leaves no residue, there’s no need to worry about ruining the camera’s finish when time comes to peel and resell.
Back in the days when I carried as many as three cameras around my neck and two more on my shoulders (zoom lenses didn’t exist), the strap of choice was known as the “Schwalberg Strap”, likely purchased from Marty Forscher’s Professional Camera Repair in New York. Now, it’s two cameras at most, with zoom lenses that can cover just about any optical range.
The bottom line is to spend your money on the things that really help you make better images, rather than just looking the part. More about that shortly, when I address the remarkable supplemental iPhone optics from ExoLens, which feature Zeiss glass.
The exhibits have been taken down at NYC’s Javits Center, and PhotoPlus Expo 2016 is now in the past. It’s always a pleasure to run into friends and dealers while touring the show floor, as we all oooh and ahhh at the shiny new gizmos on display, and start to make mental notes of which ones we’re going to start saving for. Here’s a recap of some of what’s new and what is changing in how we’ll shoot pictures and video this year…
A Death Spiral for DSLRs?
Well, probably more like a steep loss of altitude. As always, Nikon and Canon were out in force, and lots of fans were there to see and play with their new toys. But the real action was to be found at mirrorless vendors like Sony, and Fuji, and Lumix. I’ve never seen a presentation like Sony’s before. Their range of mirrorless cameras and the vast array of optics they showed drew crowds from the moment the doors opened.
The capabilities of these cameras, both in still and 4K video, are astonishing. It’s why my full-frame DSLRs now spend much of their time on the shelf. It’s also why these cameras are being widely used in professional video production and why companies like Zeiss are making feature-worthy optics to fit them.
It’s no surprise that Fotodiox (about whom I’ve written before) is continually expanding their range of adapters to ensure that virtually any lens can be used with any of the new cameras, in most cases transferring their auto-focus technology at the same time. I love being able to use vintage Leica M-series optics on my Fuji X-E2, particularly for portraiture.
And I’ll never be smart enough to figure out how Lumix (and others) can offer a camera with a 24-480mm optical zoom and a host of other phenomenal features that weighs not much more than my 43-86 Zoom-Nikkor from the late ’60s (still languishing in a desk drawer).
Accessories of Note
Even though I had very high regard for the unique products they brought to photographers, I’ve never owned a Lensbaby product. It’s probably because, through decades of photojournalism work, I avoided anything that modified the images I produced. But things change, and I was intrigued to learn about their Trio 28 for mirrorless cameras. It produces three versatile effects on a rotating mount over a 28mm lens (effectively 42mm on my Fuji). I played with it at the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with it soon.
I’ve been using Think Tank memory card wallets for years, but wasn’t aware of their full range of products. Here’s one that everyone needs: Red Whips adjustable elastic cable ties. Managing cords and cables at home or on location is a real pain, and a package of these would be the perfect stocking stuffer (along with a pack of our microGAFFER – a favorite on holiday shopping lists year after year!)
Op/Tech USA is a company with a vast range of accessories, some of which I’ve been using for a long time. At PhotoPlus Expo, I tried a new camera strap they call the “Envy” on my Fuji mirrorless. It’s got a slim profile and is padded with memory foam. Op/Tech makes hundreds of products, and I plan to put the Envy strap on all my camera bodies. You’ve gotta love that—just like us—they’re proud to stamp the “Made in the USA” banner on practically all their products, and even produced a behind-the-scenes look into their workshop.
My best-in-show award for accessories, however, would have to go to Phoxi Friends. Marie Murray, a Canadian children’s photographer, has come up with a range of delightful creatures (with built-in squeakers) that wrap around the barrel of any lens and instantly engage any subject, particularly small children. Any photographer who’s struggled to get and hold the attention of a kid or pet knows how tough that can be. At her modest booth on the fringes of the exhibit floor, I watched dozens of attendees walk away with their new Phoxi Friends.
“Your New York Minute” Photo Contest
Not to forget what all this stuff is for — helping great photographers capture great images — PPE’s first official photo contest was held at the show, with the City of New York as its subject. Some magnificent images were chosen, both in the Amateur and Professional categories. Take a look, and be inspired!
With the 2016 edition of the NAB Show now receding in the rear-view mirror, here are my observations on the path our industry is taking.
As always, we flew to Las Vegas to support our colleagues at Dedolight as they demonstrated the innovative lights they’ve worked to bring to market this year.
This was definitely the year of LED lighting overload. There must have been at least 20 times as many companies showing broad source fixtures as last year, most of them no-name Chinese manufacturers just jumping on the LED bandwagon with no understanding of, or regard to, the quality of their products’ output. In fact, they do have appeal for the “fix it in post” crowd of shooters.
It’s a mindset that’s frustrating to those of us who care deeply about lighting for television and motion pictures, and who devote so much of our efforts to perfecting lighting as an art form. Teams from Dedolight, Arri, Mole-Richardson, and Rosco work very hard to develop the lights that advance the state of the art. It’s slow, difficult work, but it translates into money well spent when you see the results.
So it was rewarding to see the Dedolight booth filled with visitors day after day, everyone eager to discover all that’s new and to have a chance to talk with Dedo Weigert himself (when he’s not being interviewed).
Once again, the use of DSLRs in production continues to rise, now being challenged by micro four thirds cameras. I’d even say most of the video production taking place at the show was based on the latter format. And here’s where another of my favorite companies comes into play — Fotodiox continues to expand its range of lens adapters so that just about any lens can be mounted to almost any camera body.
Beyond being beautifully conceived and finished, these reasonably-priced products mean that favorite optics can have a whole new life. I have an ancient Leica 90mm f/4 Elmar which the legendary Marty Forscher custom-adapted to my Nikons 30 years ago. Used wide-open, it is a remarkable portrait lens, and now is equally superb (although with an effective focal length of 120mm) on my Fuji X-E2.
And it’s just as amazing to see the range of lenses that Zeiss is producing with DSLR platforms in mind. True, the prices are sky-high, but again, it’s unfair to complain too much; in a production environment where Nikon and Canon cameras are being used for everything from commercials to feature films, the economics, speed and output quality for most shoots is a match for massive, far more costly production cameras.
As for drones, which only a few years ago were out of reach for most individuals, they too keep getting better and cheaper. Watching coverage of the violent floods and storms happening across the U.S., they have unquestionably changed news-gathering. Can’t quite bring myself to buy one, but the thought of being able to have a drone in hover mode over the tennis court and watch a sobering post-match replay is tempting.
Finally, a shout-out for Nanuk equipment cases from Canada, particularly their Nano series. I first saw this company’s products at the PhotoPlus show in New York last year and was really happy to see them at NAB.
The latching system is innovative and very secure. The Nano cases, in a range of colors and sizes, can’t be beat for storing accessories and location must-haves. I own and have used Pelican products for many years and think they are fine, but in my opinion, the Nanuk cases reach another level.
Can’t leave without some dining recommendations, for whenever you may be in Las Vegas —
I have no interest whatsoever in big name restaurants on The Strip, regardless of who the chef behind them is, but after a long day of work here are two that you might not find on your own:
Chef Marc’s Trattoria on West Sahara is as good a Tuscan-style Italian restaurant as I’ve ever eaten at… period. Feast your eyes on some of the dishes on their website, and then find a way to get yourself in front of the real thing.
For ramen and other traditional Japanese noodle dishes, Monta has been a favorite of mine for several years. Again, visit their website, make the drive to Spring Mountain Road, and enjoy some of the best ramen you’ll find outside Japan.
Lastly, just in case you’re driving to Los Angeles from Vegas (just under 300 miles), here’s a handy tip, based on the laws of supply and demand: fuel up before you leave. Gas was about $2.25 in Las Vegas, but 100 miles west, in the desert… well, let’s just say mountain lions weren’t the only predators out there.
As in many years previous, we’re in sunny Las Vegas at the NAB Show helping make people aware of new gear from Dedolight. We’d love to meet you if you’re in town! Come to booth C9835 and ask for Russ or Allen. And we’re in good company, as there’s lots of lovely gear also on display by our neighbors: Atomos, Red Rock Micro, Zacuto, and Zeiss. Looking forward to seeing you!