Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘David Hobby’:

“My X-Trans-formation”: Switching from Canon DSLR to Fuji X Mirrorless

Each week, it seems that I spend a lot of time talking about the evolution of photography in the digital age with Raj Tavadia, our Technology Director. I’m coming from a long tradition of film-based, pre-Photoshop, photojournalism and corporate assignments — still somewhat romanticizing the way things used to be. At the same time, I’m trying to accept the legitimacy of Instagram and the billions of images taken each day that record all the minutiae as well as the really important moments that document our world.

I’m very lucky (at least I think so most of the time) to have worked for decades when I could own all the rights to my work, be well paid for my assignments, travel without post-9/11 constraints and anxieties, and when the outlets for my work were far more numerous than today.

A good part of our conversations is about the equipment we used and are using now. In the simplest terms, it’s about the iPhone vs. high-end DSLRs, and everything in between. I’ve written about this before, but Raj brings his own perspective, informed both by his fine skills as a photographer, technology enthusiast, and father. Here are his thoughts…  — AG

A few years ago, my life underwent a major change.

Raj, steward to all things electronic

I’ve been Tech Director for Visual Departures for some time now, which has allowed me to work on a wide variety of projects, from web sites to video production to social media and more. I’m lucky to be able to say I can talk shop with a CBS News director, TIME-LIFE Magazine photographer, and successful entrepreneur on a daily basis… and all at the same desk! Allen doesn’t tend to brag about this sort of thing, but, well, this is a guy who’s found himself skiing with President Gerald Ford (apparently, he was the only one in the press pool that day who knew how.) You’re bound get a different perspective from someone like that (like: “what do you mean you can’t ski?!”) Well, what can I say? I grew up in Queens.

Joining the Visual Departures team wasn’t the big change, though.

I’ve owned a Canon 5D Mark II for nearly as long as I’ve worked with Visual Departures. My “walking around” lens was the drop-dead gorgeous Canon 24-70 f/2.8L zoom. I know it’s not the most beastly rig one can imagine, but even so, it’s awfully large and expensive. Overkill? Perhaps. (To my credit, I don’t own a Hummer or a big-screen TV.) My ophthalmologist once noted during an exam that I am a “clarity freak”, so it seems I am biologically unable to ignore sub-par lenses. And I am flattered by Allen’s rating me a “very fine photographer”, as that usually goes beyond the ability to simply make a sharp image and balanced histogram.

At any rate, I’m a fit fellow, and I usually didn’t mind carrying those seven pounds on hikes around New York City, various Hawaiian islands, and anywhere else my wife and I were lucky enough to find ourselves. I loved my “5D2”, and it seemed to love me back. With practice, we reached that point where photographs were made without hesitation. I envisioned a scene 20 years into the future, with me admiring the worn-down spots where I had gripped that same camera for two decades.

Everything changed when we learned that we were going to have a baby.

Forty weeks later (just as my initial shock was starting to wear off) our baby was delivered. During labor, I remembered Allen’s complaint about some people’s failure to experience things with their own eyes; it seems that whatever monumental event they could be witnessing, they feel it more important to document it (essentially watching it through a 4-inch screen) than to live the moment. So, when I got to meet my son, I set my camera to a forgiving aperture, snapped away from chest high, and regarded him with my own eyes, exclusively.

First Touch

The first year was very difficult for us all, but I was constantly grateful for the high speed and quality of the 5D2. I resolved that my son would have beautiful photographs of his early life, which, one day, he would treasure. Tens of thousands of exposures were made in the hopes of capturing just the right expression or pose to sum up that moment in time. I was digging a hole that my sleep-deprived eyes wouldn’t be able to climb out of for years.

The second year was not easy, but manageable. We took the little guy to Oahu for a memorial service, and I hiked up craters and through forests with him on my back. Thanks to hefting the 5D around all those years, he didn’t seem that heavy!

Now, he’s closing in on his third birthday and is bigger, faster, and more independent than before. And I started to wonder: between his gear and my own, how realistic would it be to keep hauling it all around the Bronx Zoo, the National Mall in Washington DC, Diamond Head crater, or wherever else we might be spending our day? Might there be another option? As a technologist, I had to ask: where had the leading edge moved in the five years since the 5D2 was released (and had changed everything)?

Serendipitously, I had started to notice a lot of people talking excitedly about the new Fuji X Series cameras. Fuji’s engineers claimed to have solved the moire problem of traditional Bayer-type digital sensors by using a new pixel layout, which they called “X-Trans“. Eliminating the moire issues meant that they could now drop the low-pass filter, which has been a standard part of nearly all high-quality digital sensors. Naturally, the fewer filters you use, the better clarity of the image hitting the sensor. Both well- and lesser-known photographers were talking excitedly about these new compact, mirrorless cameras with great ergonomics and image quality… some even went so far as to say “Fuji is the new Leica”.

Fuji X-E1 beside the Leica M3

It actually looked like there was a scene forming around these cameras. David Hobby took to YouTube for a 40-minute demo of the Fuji X100S, and, of course, posted great tips for how to take advantage of the X100 series’ special features. Zack Arias openly mocked Canon and Nikon, characterizing them as out-of-touch geezers. He ran several blog posts on the topic, including one showing off his new, compact gig bag packed with four X-series cameras plus assorted gear. The kicker: it still fits under an airplane seat. Chris Cookley said he’d shot more often and more happily with his young X-E1 than his years-old top-line Nikon rig. Many more had similar sentiments. Fuji’s marketing team could see what was happening, and started to adopt the “switcher” theme on their social media streams. As a 20+ year PC user who changed over to Mac last year, I was about to do about the same thing this year on the camera side.

In future posts, I’ll talk about what was better, worse, or just different. I’d also really enjoy hearing about your experiences (or questions), whether you’re a Fuji switcher, on the fence, or a DSLR die-hard. Please feel free to tweet @visdep, or drop us a line on Facebook or Google+.

Connect the Dots (And, While You’re At It, Stop the Insanity)

Events across the photography spectrum in the past few weeks are sort of like the connect the dots puzzles I used to figure out in the pre-television era of home entertainment — all of a sudden the answer is revealed, even though the skill level to solve is merely that of an eight-year-old…

Pentax Q7 display showing 120 color combinations

So: in early June the Chicago Sun-Times fires all its photographers, and equips its reporters with iPhones. More of that to come at other newspapers, for sure.

And Pentax, in its corporate wisdom, feels that in a world of rapidly declining sales of basic amateur cameras, the best way to counter that trend is to release its three latest models in 120 different colors (good luck there).

And Nikon’s president goes public with sales projections for his company’s products, hoping that revenues for the big toys and optics will counteract the precipitous fall in point-and-shoot models (good luck there).

And Nokia shows a 41MP camera/phone that seems to take great pictures.

'B' with his father's Canon 5D mark II + 24-70 f/2.8L

And urban parents with incredibly cute kids and great photographic skills realize that the diaper bag, toys and stroller simply cannot peacefully co-exist with a bulky camera bag filled with hefty Canon L-series glass. (No matter how badly they want it to seem to their Facebook friends that everywhere Junior went, he projected an aura of luscious, buttery bokeh.)

While I love and appreciate my Nikon D800 for some of the things it can do (many more of its capabilities being lost in the 446-page manual), I carry my Sony RX100 pretty much everywhere. A bunch of very well-written posts recently reveal the latent (or not-so) hostility to DSLRs and the DSLR mindset. There are yearnings for the period when serious photographers, particularly photojournalists, made their reputations with an equipment kit that weighed just a few pounds and filled the wonderful Brady fisherman’s bag (I think the Ariel Trout was the standard), canvas and leather, still made in the U.K., with room left over for film/notebooks/reading material.

One of the best posts of this ilk has come from Chris Cookley, not a full-time pro but nonetheless a serious shooter who has a fine handle on the mess we’re in. Good reading! I’m also finding myself (finally) getting past the “full-frame is best” mentality, in part because of the sheer quality of my RX100 (phenomenal in low-light situations).

Fujifilm X-E1

To make things much more interesting, here is Fuji coming to the fore with its X100s (and other fine cameras, too). David Hobby’s long appreciation of this fixed-lens camera makes excellent reading for those of us who understand the real need for a digital equivalent of a Leica M-series camera (without paying the idiotic, collectors-only, keep-it-in-the-box-and-watch-it-appreciate price). It doesn’t hurt that Fuji is clearly putting many resources to address the “growing pains” of their X-Series gear via frequent firmware updates and a furious pace of lens development. At any rate, if you haven’t watched Hobby’s video walkthrough and read Zack Arias’ swooning pair of articles on the X100s, please make time to do so. Perhaps your shoulders will thank you.

Finally, back to what the Sun-Times did, and its long-term effects ….. If you need proof of why photojournalists matter so much, look no further than the New York Times story on Jeff Bauman, grievously wounded in the Boston Marathon bombing, and his path to recovery. Josh Haner’s photographs, coupled with Tim Rohan’s writing, work together and resulted in a memorable piece of journalism. Real journalism demands real photojournalists; as my first assignment editor at the AP said (in 1968), “We don’t take pictures, we make them.”

Last-Minute Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Photographers

As we wind down 2010, everyone seems to be searching for unique gifts and stocking stuffers for the holidays. As the distributors of quite a few unusual photographic products, we can offer a few suggestions. If you’ve got a friend who’s into photography (or just want to get something nice for yourself) read on for some ideas…

The Strobist Collection

David Hobby & Rosco present The Strobist CollectionOne of the most popular blogs for photographers, www.Strobist.com is a great place to learn to use off-camera flash techniques. Using gels on multiple strobe units can create some really striking lighting effects. David Hobby, the founder of Strobist.com, spoke with our friends at Rosco labs about packaging some of their most useful gels for “strobists” pre-cut to fit precisely over a standard strobe unit. These 55 pieces of filter come in a convenient clamshell case that fits into any pocket or camera bag; all you need is a piece of tape to hold them in place…

(Contact us to find your local dealer, or shop for the Strobist Collection online.)

microGAFFER Compact Gaffer Tape

microGAFFER tape compared to standard 1" and 2" rolls of gaffer tape

Gaffer tape is a wonderful thing. It may be the most useful thing on a set, next to the camera itself (and the photographer.) The problem is, it’s HUGE! A roll of gaffer tape can easily weigh more than your camera. A while back, we noticed how ridiculous that was and invented microGAFFER. It’s identical to professional gaffer tape, but fits in your pocket (or camera bag; or glove compartment.)

(Contact us to find your local dealer, or shop for microGAFFER tape online.)

3″ Circular LitePad and AA Battery Pack

3 inch circular LitePad

We love, love, love LitePad. The 3″ circular LitePad is thin, lightweight, and can be powered by your choice of a wall outlet, your car’s cigarette lighter adapter, or (best of all) AA batteries. Being able to take a daylight-balanced light source anywhere (along with your imaging tool of choice, be it camera or iPhone) makes it possible to capture all kinds of wonderful photos from daily life.

(Contact us to find your local dealer, or shop for the 3″ circular LitePad or LitePad AA battery pack online.)

Steadybag Junior

Steadybag Junior supporting a Leica point-and-shoot cameraWhile the standard three-pound Steadybag is a bit too big to fit in a standard stocking, the half-pound, 7″x5.25″ Steadybag Junior is perfect. And it’s perfect for supporting any point-and-shoot camera, allowing you to use longer exposure times and lower ISO settings — which means less noise in your shots. It lasts for years (unlike a beanbag), comes in three great colors (again: unlike a beanbag), doesn’t attract insects or mice (absolutely not like a beanbag), and sets up in about one second.

(Contact us to find your local dealer, or shop for the Steadybag Junior online.)

Need More Ideas?

If you’re still stuck on just what to get for that special someone, give us a call! We can make recommendations for just about any type of photographer or filmmaker, young or old, amateur or professional.