Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘iPhone’:

Old Friends, New Perspectives (or: From Exoskeletons to ExoLenses)

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…

Jock Pottle: Free Me

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.)

Jock Pottle: grasshopper

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.

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.

Meet the Granddaddy of the Hipstamatic iPhone App: The Polaroid Land Camera

I was really pleased recently to see a small article by Kevin Sintumuang in The Wall Street Journal that began this way – “Pre-Facebook, pre-Flickr, pre-You’ve Got Mail!, there was a simpler way of sharing photos: instant film.”

Polaroid Land Camera

He was writing about Polaroid, whose products we had believed disappeared by 2008. But thanks to the Netherlands-based Impossible Project, old Polaroid cameras are being refurbished and, on an experimental basis, Polaroid film is being re-created. At the same time, FujiFilm is producing instant cameras and film.

Polaroid Land Camera closeup

That sent me to my shelves of obsolete gear, where I retrieved the original Polaroid camera that my father had bought in the early 1950s. It’s the Model 80 Highlander. Taking it out of the original box brought back a lot of memories about just how revolutionary the Polaroid experience was. The original manual was still with the camera, and I’ve scanned some of the pages so you can get a feel for learning a new piece of technology in the years before a point-and-shoot camera came with 100+ pages of instructions. There’s a lot of information about old Polaroid models on the internet, and it’s interesting that with iPhone apps like Hipstamatic, there’s so much interest in taking the quality out of your pictures. Still, for two dollars or so, there’s no great harm done. I’ll probably do it myself.

Polaroid Highlander Land Camera Manual

High Praise for Low Fidelity

The New York Times' front page for November 22nd, 2010

The New York Times is at our doorstep before the sun rises, particularly at this time of year, and a quick look at the front page told me that something very interesting is unfolding in the area of major newspaper photojournalism. Four photos from Afghanistan (there are six more on the inside ‘jump’), credited to staffer Damon Winter, looked nothing like images from the Nikon/Canon realm of equipment.

There is no mention in the captions, or in the long piece they accompany (about a unit of U.S. forces in that country)  that provide a clue. But a quick trip to the paper’s photo blog gave the answer: Following the lead of the troops who routinely use their cell phone cameras to record life in a war zone, Damon Winter has taken his iPhone and, with the Hipstamatic app, produced a series of vignettes (with more to be seen on the web). At the same time, he’s using his Canon EOS 5D Mk II to shoot video for the paper (as well as, presumably, still photos). In any case, his coverage on the web is very impressive.

That got me in a back-to-the-future mode. Just this past weekend, the Wall Street Journal did a piece on the latest generation of cameras (think Sony/Samsung/Panasonic/Olympus) that provide a nearly professional bridge between point-and-shoot and SLR equipment. The essence of the WSJ article is that the SLRs are too bulky and too complicated for the average user to truly master. I know this is true – even my Canon G11 and Nikon D300 have features and capabilities that I can’t begin to remember. That’s why I keep a Nikon F (from 1967) and a Kodak Hawkeye (from the early ’50s) on my desk, just as reminders of how simple things used to be.

1967 Nikon F

I’ve got nothing at all against technology; after all, I’ve built a company that provides equipment (some of it quite sophisticated) to photographers and filmmakers. But not so many years ago, I never had to carry a 200-page manual to take advantage of the features of any of my cameras. I know lots of very smart people who are buying some very expensive digital cameras and never (never!) taking them off the ‘auto’ setting. So it’s easy to understand the appeal of keeping it as simple as using my first Brownie was 60 years ago.

An early-1950s-vintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye

By the way, in a nod to recursion, the photo of today’s NY Times front page was taken with my iPhone 4.