Archive for the 'scholasticism' Category

confessions of a speed freak and glass addict – part one : my problems

‍‍ד׳ שבט ה׳ תשע״א - Saturday, January 8th, 2011

I didn’t start out this way – ok, I cut my teeth on a Contax IIa with a prewar collapsible Sonnar.  But despite the name, f/2 is not fast.  But I soon found myself using a Nikon F (FTn) as a teenager.  I liked it.  I liked it far better than my Nikon 6006 – my first AF body and the only body I’ve lost and never looked for – eventually using a Sonnar type 105/2.5 Non-AI because I could MF a long thread portrait lens faster than the 6006 could screw drive an 85/1.8.  And it was good.  I, like many, started on Tri-X, and aside from an odd dalliance with an Ilford here and there,  I embraced the whole T-Max family.  But TMZ was my baby.  And I would push and pull it… almost to the point that i have to admit that the 400-3200 range and usual 1600 settings on my 5DII seem oddly familiar.

I was a speed addict, but I didn’t know any better with no one to teach me. While I would use the 50/1.4 Nikkor-S from time to time, I figured that the 55/3.5 – my third lens option until the until my AF era – was pretty much the same… plus MACRO.  It made no sense to use the 50/1.4.  And I didn’t.

To be fair, I wasn’t alone : Bjorn Rorslett laments the change in optical formula on the non compensating 55/3.5 (K type, single coated, if you must know).  So (the) hoi polloi had been doing what I thought was a brilliant idea since the late 60s; I have some pity on my 16 year old self.  Furthermore, the deep recessed element was easier to protect sans filter… and looked cooler.  But f/3.5 is f/3.5, and even at EI3200, it was not good.

As I fell in and out of photography, my minimum fast aperture dropped… when I stopped shooting in my early 20s, it was 2.8.  When I picked it up again in 2004-5, it had widened to f/2.  In the last year – and with good cause, I (obviously) think, an f/stop that doesn’t begin with a “1.” is a luxury, a shamefully deep DOF to cover hip shooting, and the beginning of marginally useful when encountering situations where f/1.2 at 3200 nets me exposures 1/10-1/40th long, even with my usual -1 exposure compensation.  Which is a nice segue to the point of all this:  after years and years of lust, I have succumbed: in September, direct from Hong Kong, a Noct – a Noct Nikkor – with all its hype and handpolishedness entered my life.  

Now mind you, I have a number – and that number would be significant – of 1.2/1.4 lenses in full 35mm format and some example of every Nikon normal focal/aperture combination (I returned my Nikkor AI-P copy – for being too slow):

5.8cm/1.4S (Several)
50/1.4 S (Several)
55/1.2 S 
55/1.2 SC (AI converted, but the flange tabs were damaged so it went back)
58/1.2 Noct (Chosen over two tested AIS copies for the better build and long throw)
50/2 AI
50/1.2 AIS 
50/1.8 AF-D (China)

Technically, I also own Nikon’s other 1.2; the Nikkor-O 55/1.2 CRT/Oscilloscope lens.  Being in an extended M39 mount with a rangefinder type flange focal distance, it is reserved for use on my GH1 and not relevant to this use.  Additionally, and far more relevant, I own a 58/1.4 Cosina Voigtlaender Nokton in Nikon AIS mount, the CV 40/2 Ultron in both Nikon and Canon mount (it is that useful), a recently acquired Sigma 50/1.4, plus the C/Y Zeiss 50/1.4 Planar and several Pentax M42 offerings, along with some others.

If the point of this post were to list my lenses, I would just point you to the Google docs list.  The point is that not only do I have some very considered and clear opinions on the *use* of the above lenses (there are no good lenses, just overpriced ones) of which several are in common rotation in the middle position of my typical three lens kit (and the Ultron can also play wide angle if I take a 58mm lens) but I am in a unique position to offer some feedback on the Noct, especially relative to the other 1.2 Nikon offerings.  The other 1.4 options must be considered, and I own many of them; notably absent is a 50/1.4 AIS and any AF version of the same.  In any case, my feelings are a little different than conventional wisdom on these lenses – but there is nothing wrong with the conventional wisdom for conventional (read: most) shooters.  

I will write a full comparison, but there is no reason to keep you waiting: if you’ve ever been squeamish about stopping down from f/1.2 to f/1.4, or if f/2 has begun to feel like f/8 – and espeically if you have forgotten that f/8 exists, if your lighting situation is often one where no method – CDAF, PAF, manual by prism, or manual by live view is a crap shoot, do not pass go, do not buy the Canon 50/1.2L (not owned, but I did try several), get a Noct.  Practice your focusing skills.  I shoot my Noct wide open from the hip. I shoot it in venues where hip focusing might be more accurate than using a visual method. There is no reason that reliable focus cannot be had for all but the darkest situations or fastest subjects – and no, people are not that fast.  Stop making excuses and look at the viewfinder – watch how things come into focus.  I’ll save that for another post… or a book.

Now, if you want to shoot at f/1.4 get a 50-58/1.4 of whatever rendition style meets your fancy. Neither 1.2 is particularly “better” than its contemporary or subsequent offerings at 1.4, with even the “modern” 50/1.2 AIS suffering notable SA in daylight situations until f/2.  The 50/1.2 AIS is just a disappointing lens – for me.  It has better “technical” characteristics than a 55/1.2, but is pictorially inferior at any aperture that matters with these lenses. I do not think the more controlled SA and higher contrast were worth the cost in bokeh quality.  The 55/1.2 is charming and very bright.  If you are shooting f/4 and smaller the 50/1.2 is the better option.   If you are doing that, you probably want to look at the sturdier and cheaper 50/2 or again, a 1.4 for an extra stop if needed.  

The later, multicoated 55/1.2s are better than the earlier models – and I never say any lens is “better,” but in this case, its just a matter of it being brighter (I would prefer to test t/stop values but this is my rough experience in having reviewed my 55mm samples today) while being otherwise identical in character.  I have read others’ preferences for the earlier S version, preferring lower contrast.  I may feel that way about the 50/1.4 S against later lenses, but I’m not seeing a material difference – especially if you shoot for the dark/Lightroom as I always have – that would merti forgoing the benefits of MC elements.

The 5.8cm 1.4 is wonderful, just wonderful – if you know how to use single coated lenses – and is second only to the Noct in terms of frequency of use, not just in this class of lenses, but my shooting overall.  I own several copies and will probably collect more samples as stock of 48 year old lenses can only decrease.  I really have found the 58mm FL to be perfect for my eye.  It’s sad that there is only one readily available option here: the CV Nokton 58/1.4.

More to come.

Also, I plan on actually shooting off comparisons of these lenses (I’ve done this before, but never with a plan, just a tripod and a lamp (as a subject)) to confirm my opinions, and I have no problem in correcting myself.  But the broad strokes are on –  you probably dont need a 1.2 lens and for you the Noct is just so much hype – unless it isn’t.  The 50/1.2 is boring and functionally dubious when choosing what to carry.  The 55/1.2 is undervalued and has a distinct charm, with later versions offering the most flexibility.  The 50/1.4 Non AI have charm as well, albeit different, and the 5.8/14 perhaps the most charm of all – and entirely different in its optical formula when compared to all the offering (excluding the very modern designs).  The 50/2 is the best technical option.   I’ll cover the non-Nikkors another time – and the Sigma and Zeiss (C/Y Planar, I do not know anything about the modern ZF/ZE version other than some poor feedback, displeasure at the Cosina reality, and my general skepticism of the branding, fueled by owning and comparing both a C/Y and ZF 25/2.8 Distagon) are of particular note.


Up all night – or – Revamping.

‍‍י״ג תמוז ה׳ תש״ע - Thursday, June 24th, 2010

June’s about done and the chaff accumulated through the spring is about gone.

More and more I find myself in the company of people who do photography for money; more and more I’m asked for my card. I’m a little sick of having to apologize for the pictures in the gallery – nearly all of the shots are from May and June 2005, many of which came from various lens tests (I think I got the 80-200/2.8, 105/2DC, and 300/4 in the prior month). Well, that’s nothing compared to my accumulation of hardware – and more importantly – photographs since purchasing a GF1 in February.

To wit, I’m going through about 10,000 images (I have been very sporadic in shooting over the past few years. Over 6,000 of those shots are from this past spring, and those are better and more varied than the first 4.000) selecting retouching candidates for portfolios of varying purposes. [Edit - finished the first cut!] While some of the shots that I put here years ago are in that set, I really believe that as a result of time away from photography, a revival of some of my technical skills from my teenage years (by working nearly exclusively in manual lenses), and new technology (the price point of the 5DII brought me somewhat to the Canon side and back to Barnack, but it is the GH1 that has given me more flexibility in shooting style and an excitement I haven’t felt since my first days with a roll of film, a Contax IIA, and the Sunny 16 rule). Quite simply, I get more hits than misses, because like back in the day, I care and have to take care of exposure and focus.

The shots that will make it into a portfolio will be heavily checked, and to whatever degree I feel it necessary, retouched (just like when I used a loupe and spotting inks, I go pixel by pixel when I’m serious), but most of these candidates are fine as is. It is from this larger pool that I will be populating the site by theme; I probably will have a best of best which will reflect what my imagery looks like, for better or worse, when I apply all my efforts in the critical skills – compostion, exposure, and post processing. I expect a bit of a reorganization to the photographs that are here (and I can add significantly to the UV/IR section thanks to the GH1) but nothing too drastic.

So, clearly, I may start taking jobs, and I’ve been asked to tutor a bit. Furthermore, I’ve turned down offers to show in the past, not out of fear of the public eye – I don’t give much of a damn about my general reception – but simply because photography is intensely personal to me, too easy an activity to be proud of, and I really don’t get any particular satisfaction over sharing it, just the process – occasionally the final image pleases. That last reluctance will have to change – only in the practical ramification – because that will open up some options that interest me. More interestingly, in the coming weeks, I’m working out a pedagogical method for teaching from scratch and have a very bright and willing test subject (whose outlying intelligence ironically may make him a poor test subject). Perhaps there is a basis for a book here.

I shudder at the prospect of being considered a “pro photographer” – professional and amateur are pecuniary matters, and most pros I’ve met are not photographers. Photographers are the ones for whom the image reigns supreme, that know one can only aspire to artistry after a mastery of artisanry. Photographers are never happy with the skills they have, for skills – like lenses – are brushes. Rather than seeking than the lens that draws that scene as best reflects an overall vision guided by an aesthetic sense, many photographers are enamoured by the “sharpest” or “fastest” lens. That last class is typically populated by amateurs; the professional’s equivalent sin is worrying about such matters only when their images are getting rejected by photo or art editors for softness.

Parallel to those two sins of gear, are sins of skill. Many buy equipment or enjoy hacking their own equivalents (which I love and believe is great part of old school photography often lacking today, but not) in place of skill development, and often to the exclusion of actually photographing. Others only develop new skills and looks – typically a poor emulation of others – to keep pace with the market. The basis of creating art – as distinct and elevated from a mere recording of events – is choice: the poet’s license, the editorial history which finds itself changed to fiction by the forces of whim and fancy, the willful act of imparting opinion on reality.

It may be that authorship is dead and intent irrelevant in the final product. That has nothing to do with the process of creation. That is a matter of the artist’s choice, at first, the choice to create, then all the other wonderful mundanities that posses during the process – a color here, a line there, whether it needs something or if sardines are too much, and life. Lack of skill is a lack of choice. It is a valid choice to constrain oneself in creation. However, you can’t choose to work in black and white if that’s all you can do. You can’t shoot IR if you don’t take the time to understand and continue to study your medium. The Luddite literally sees less than the Photographer – a problem when drawing with light. For those mired in gnosticism, understand it thus: the intuitive only plays on the table that the understanding sets. Worse are those who think in terms of a (false) an exclusive dichotomy – that a wealth of technical skill and understanding is proportionally related to a lack of aesthetics – are in every sense of the word, half-wits.

“Pros” satisfied with sales are lazy and may never even think of the half-wit’s objection, but function similarly: smug in his “professional” technique (though not understanding it) and sales, he comes to the store to buy a Sto-Fen to soften his wedding shots (turns out he owns a Lumiquest box that he never used). Don’t get me started on the K1000 type (now Nikon D40-D70, sigh) tabula rasa girls who avoid influences and formal training. I guess they made their own cameras and independently invented the English language too, being the pure instantiation of the Platonic ideal of the uninfluenced and free actor. It took me a while to get the “artists borrow, masters steal,” but I only had that particular immaturity very briefly, still too long.

So, I’ll never be a “pro.” It’s not a matter of money. It’s a matter of an adjective becoming an noun in a very telling fashion.

“Artist” is a bit much to hope for and a fair bit of pretentiousness given the ease of photography.

I don’t chafe at photographer though. Maybe I’ll get to be one of those someday.

15 minutos de fama : the odd consequences and burdens of educated speech.

‍‍י״ב תמוז ה׳ תשס״ט - Saturday, July 4th, 2009

It is a curious effect of copy and paste, of quote and translation.  Today, one can easily find fifteen minutes of fame, in the most literal of senses.  This is not news.

The oddity is that you can find that you were famous months after the fact.

Back in February, when Facebook was considering some controversial TOS changes, I was (apparently) early in joining one of the the Facebook protest groups.  Now admittedly, I did care about the TOS issue: I posted items and used my status message to try and raise awareness.  I made one or two wall posts in said protest group.  Mostly, I wanted to clarify that the TOS wasn’t seizing copyright ownership, but the distribution license had onerous consequences.  I then said that in response, I deleted my uploaded photographs, save a profile picture or two.

Now, mind you, I have no precise idea what I said : after Facebook abandoned the proposed terms, I quit the group.  With many such Facebook groups having been formed, and hundreds of thousands of users joining them, and in turn, generating thousands of posts and threads, my original is sufficiently misplaced.

None of this would be of any interest to me – or to any right thinking individual – but for the curious addendum.  A couple of weeks ago, I googled variants of my name to see where this site was showing up.  Lo and behold, by page three, nearly all the links were in Spanish.  This was of particular curiosity to me, as my Spanish aptitude never progressed beyond some Fs and Ds in high school classes.  (Immersion methods do not work well with me, unfortunately, it took me years to figure this out and learn what does.  Another story for another time.)  Apparently, some tech writer for the EFE news service needed a quote for his piece on the TOS changes – and the user response – and quoted me.  In turn, this article was reposted and quoted by aggregators and blogs across the Latinternet.  This happens, nothing special.  However, since the original quoting was translated into a language I don’t speak or read, I had no idea until May, despite the EFE being the fourth largest news agency in the world.

Now, I cannot be certain why the original author quoted me (and I should point out, that while I don’t recall the precise wording, the translation entirely correlates with  my recollection of what I wrote) but I suspect it is because:

  • I wrote with a reserved, educated tone.
  • I separated my understanding of the situation from my response.
  • I sounded like I knew what I was talking about.
  • I am from New York.

To invoke a bit of Cialdini, the first two strike me as social liking through identification.  The first point results in a tone similar to modern journalism, and not only garners the sympathy of a writer accustomed to the style, but in using a similar style, it fits smoothly into a newspaper piece.  Similarly, the second is akin to an editorial response or, more liberally, the conclusions of a reporter.

Coupled with the a writing style, (I’m glad the reporter kept the “permissive and perpetual” bit in Spanish – I liked it enough to remember) simply sounding like I had read the new TOS and was capable of calmly correcting others probably secured me a air of authority.  Finally simply being from New York (my primary Facebook network), which the reporter did specify in the quote attribution, is both identifiable and desirable from a global perspective.  This is certainly liking and authority at play – a well spoken, informed, urbane “expert” from an international city says… – but also maintains a smooth flow for the reader who already has some idea where New York is, as opposed to stopping to wonder what or where Buffalo is.

Still, this story is just a an anecdote, a curiosity of a google search, and the subsequent analysis somewhat facile and obvious.  The lesson is not:  if you choose to write with a certain style, you will “speak” louder than others in a written medium.  Make sure that you want those words repeated: if you write well-formed drivel or masterful and erroneous prose, you may find the echo much louder than expected and the ringing criticism deafening.

This is the burden of educated speech, whether educated in fact or in tone: if you write with care, have a care with what you write.

The dumbing of ‘merica.

‍‍י״ד טבת ה׳ תשס״ט - Friday, January 9th, 2009

For fuck’s sake, it’s bad enough you wreck the KJV, but seriously?
I mean, Jews go through the bother of making these wonderful texts, some nice goyim translate them reasonably well, and then the evil goyishe masses have to ruin them.

Well maybe Prussian Blue can put it in song form. Oh, wait…

Can’t be fooled.

‍‍ו׳ טבת ה׳ תשס״ט - Thursday, January 1st, 2009

The children are right.  It is not an indictment; it is reconciliation.

The academics are right, albeit inadvertently so:  German is beautiful; the fault lies in those to whom its legacy is bestowed.

(D)er schreibt wenn es dunkelt nach Deustschland.

A shameful statement.

‍‍כ׳ אב ה׳ תשס״ז - Saturday, August 4th, 2007

While letting a friend use my computer to log in to NYU home, I saw this (publically accesible) document, asserting NYU’s stance in assisting RIAA with going after NYU students and network users. You can find it here. In it, NYU pretty much stipulates its complete compliance with RIAA and not the law (judging by the actions asserted, not the apologia presented). Worse yet, this Provost bandies about the fallacious “you wouldn’t steal a CD” argument, all the while wrapping herself and her argument in the American flag, invoking Abraham Lincoln, and academic responsibility, misrepresenting intellectual history.

There is an apparent divide here – better schools (Harvard in particular) have voiced opposition to these abuses and lesser schools toe the DMCA line. It’s sad to see my alma mater fall in the latter class, especially in such a poorly argued fashion.