Saturday, April 21, 2018

... and Flickr has been sold...

Many years ago a good friend pointed me to Flickr.  I've been there for 13 years where I post much of my work.  I was there when Yahoo bought and nearly destroyed the image sharing platform.  I was there when Yahoo sold out to Verizon/Oath.  I was there when I decided to close my (also long running) Facebook account, and all attendant Facebook owned company applications (including Instagram).  Flickr is still where I remain today.

This morning I read that Flickr will be sold to SmugMug.  I wonder if Verizon/Oath had this in mind when they purchased Yahoo?  It seems like Verizon/Oath are doing a bit of asset stripping.  And it makes me wonder what they will do with Tumblr, another interesting application, and one that I can't imagine how it fits in Verizon/Oath's platform "strategy" (ie: data mining and sales ala Facebook).

Coming back to SmugMug a moment, when my friend first pointed me to Flickr I wondered what other image sharing platforms might look like.  Over the years I would look at SmugMug and wonder why people liked it.  It seemed so basic and simple.  Eventually I stopped looking at it.  Until today, that is.

When I went to SmugMug to look at the website I was surprised.  Things have changed and it actually looks pretty good.  Still, I can't feel more than a little worried about what changes SmugMug will make to Flickr.

So many things have changed in the past month and a half for how I engage the online world.  First it was the payment problems with px500 and the subsequent announcement of a sale to a Chinese owned company.  I had hoped I could sell a print or two of some work that I was particularly proud of.

Then it was the Cambridge Analytica revelations of data scraping 87 million user accounts on Facebook.  I had a "public" Facebook page devoted to my photography.  I used it as a contact point for models, stylists, and other creative people.  Risking making a solid retreat from the all of these engagement I made a difficult decision to close my Instagram and Facebook accounts.  And indeed my access to the creative world has shrunk.

And now this, the sale of Flickr to SmugMug.  My Flickr hosted images have received nearly 10 million (yes, you read that correctly - 10 million) views.  I really don't want to give up these kinds of eyeballs and this kind of deep access to creative images and talented artists.  I'll have to carefully review the new Terms and Conditions as well as their Data Privacy Statement as soon as they are updated by the new company.

[UPDATE: Here are the new Terms and Conditions]

Seville ~ details

Thursday, April 05, 2018

... the right questions to ask...

Just a couple days after PetaPixel posted back to back articles on two very dedicated practitioners, I stumble across the work of Markus Brunetti.  What caught my eye was a small photograph printed in a recent The New Yorker magazine.  Out to the 'net I went to do a bit of research.

M.Brunetti creates large highly detailed prints of the facades of buildings.  His work concentrates on western European religious structures such as cathedrals, basilicas, and churches.  At first the images seemed simple, almost simplistic.  Yet there is something quiet and vaguely compelling about what the artist has achieved.

Looking to understand M.Brunetti's work, I found this critique.  The author considers Brunetti's work in the context of photo, architectural, and art histories.  It's a long article and the author has a lot to say about topics that I tend to reduce to "if I can't feel it or if I need to have it explained to me, then you've lost me and I'm ready to move along."  I was ready to drop it and try something else.  But for some reason I recognized I might yet again be headed down that familiar path and wondered why I shouldn't stop and think and read and ponder.  So that's what I've done.

Toward the end of the critique the author talks about Orson Welles 1974 film F is for Fake.  In the film Wells asks questions about art, its nature, and our relationship to it.  The more I thought about the questions, the more I realized their potential importance in helping me grapple with the what/why/where of photography.

In the original text, the Welles questions ran together in a long paragraph and I was quickly lost in a sea of words.  For this blog entry I have broken each question out into their own standalone paragraph.  It helps me see more clearly and helps me concentrate my considerations, musing, thoughts, theories, and answers.

What do we want from art? 

What do we want from artists? 

Can we know the deepest secrets of creativity? 

How far will dedication and technique carry us? 

Can we ever know the full meaning of what we create? 

Why do we value the maker when what they make is intended to outlast them? 

What is a collective artistic endeavour?

I have no answers to any of the above.  Not yet, at least. But something tells me these are indeed some of the best questions we can ask.

Seville ~ details

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

... which has gotten me to thinking...

I don't usually find what PetaPixel posts to be all that interesting.  But just this week two articles came up that I felt are worthy of notice.  The first was about a NY streetphotographer Louis Mendes.

The second is about a photojournalist who is homeless.  There was a time not so long ago when a photographer could be paid a living wage while working in journalism.  But this seems to no longer be the case.  Aside from two areas of photography, I don't think there is money to be made in photography of any kind.

When I stop and think about all the wonderful photographers I know who ply their craft with dedication, insight, and passion, I can't think of a single one of them who make a living off their images.  Some folks give workshops and make a bit of money that way.  Others sell what they can to galleries, private parties, and museums, but live in near outright poverty.  And yet others work full-time non-photography related jobs to make ends meet.

I wonder, though, when I follow some of the comments people make on various websites about not picking up a camera for less than $1200.  Are they serious and are they really making a living at photography?  I guess it might be the case if they are decent wedding photographers.  Some of the fees claimed to be charged for wedding work seem outrageous to me, but if true, certainly a person could live well.  This is one area where I think there is still money to be made.

The second area is, for many of us, unattainable.  Does Conde Nast really pay Annie Leibovitz a million dollars a year?  Celebrity Photographers are extremely rare.  And I'm not talking about photographers who take pictures of celebrities, either.  No, I'm talking about living photographers who are famous, and by extension, are well rewarded for their work.

So why on earth do some of us put so much time and effort into our craft?  Into our art?  Perhaps there's more to this than just money?

Cathedral ~ Seville, Spain

Sunday, April 01, 2018

A Wonderful Story...

Check out this article on PetaPixel about Louis Mendes.  It's wonderful how he connects with people and does it in such an elegant way.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Quite a month!

My wife and I left Dodge for sunnier climes... only to encounter rain, rain, and more rain... followed by flooding, flooding, and more flooding... and snow in the mountains.  Lots of snow.  Could that really have been al Andalus in Spain?  It was like a bad dream.  At least the temperatures in Seville were a good 10 degrees warmer than Paris.

Early into our trip I received an email saying my px500 renewal couldn't be processed.  They couldn't find my px500 account.  I worked through the issues with their support team and realized they really couldn't find my account and were only able to refund my subscription.

Then, not two days later, I read where px500 had been sold to the Chinese.  Some of the comments I read on PetaPixel suggested people were deleting their px500 accounts and going back to Flickr.  Good thing for me as I never left Flickr in the first place.  After returning to France I removed my px500 account.  I know, they still have a bunch of my photos squirreled away somewhere on their servers.

I originally joined px500 in the hope I could sell a few images.  No joy.  Nothing sold.  So, to me, leaving them isn't such a big deal.  I just don't like the thought that the Chinese now have some of my older works.  Short of hiring a lawyer I'm not sure what to do about that.

A few weeks pass.  We experience a boatload of rain.  Not the sunny vacation we were hoping for.

Suddenly the news is awash with revelations regarding Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Russian trolls, and the role they played in the 2016 election in the USA.  It seemed like a good time to re-consider my participation in social media platforms that use individual member data as revenue sources (Facebook sells the personal data you provide, it's the basis of their business model).

I posted a series of quotes on my personal Facebook page and put a few links on my public photography page that are critical of Facebook and their business model.  Here too, I'd hoped I could make contacts with creative people and I hoped to further my photographic explorations that might eventually lead to something, somewhere, anywhere, artistically, or commercially.  But as with my experience with 500px, nothing really ever happened.  Certainly, I met some very nice people, but one of the things I've learned in living in France is that creative contacts are best made and maintained in person, and not over the 'net. 

I'm leaving Facebook after a decade of participation.

Once I started down this path, I wanted to make certain that Facebook didn't get to benefit any longer from my giving them personal data they could sell.  What this means is that any company owned by Facebook was subject to consideration.  With this in mind, I deleted my Instagram accounts.

I'm done with Facebook.  Forever.  I'm done with Instagram.  Forever.

Where does this leave me?

I still have my Flickr account -

I still have this blog account (the one you are reading right now).

I still run a couple Tumblrs, which are subject to review and reconsideration.  I'm not quite sure what I'm getting from Tumblr that I can't get elsewhere.  It's difficult to measure just how much positive exposure I get from it.  We'll see.  Maybe I'll keep them.  Maybe I won't.

In any event, I am reducing the number of platforms I have to manage and maintain.  Perhaps this will free me up to spend more time doing what I really enjoy - making photos.

Nikon Nikkor + Lens TurboII + Sony A5000

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Comparison ~ 135mm lenses, Schneider, Nikon, Sony

... once more into the abyss, shall we?

Today I would like to take a look at several 135mm lenses that I happen to have on hand just now.  Two lenses are new to the Toy Box.  One arrived as part of a stack of things I purchased.  I'd inspected it in the field but failed to notice "cleaning marks" (scratches) on the front element.  The second lens arrived as part of the Super Deal that I scored off eBay point fr and it set me back all of 7 Euro.

  • Sony A6000, 100ISO, AWR converted in Sony's software 
  •  Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod 
  • Lenses - 
    • Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS 
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai with mint condition glass
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 non-Ai with scratched front element ("cleaning marks")
    • Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai 4 element airspaced
    • Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 135mm f/3.5 Exakta mount
The adapted lenses were shot using "straight through" adapters. None of them were mounted on a focal reducer. So what we will observe here is full frame lens performance on APS-C sized/cropped sensors. This means the very outer limits of the field of view will not be compared at all. If something already performs poorly at the outer edges of the APS-C frame, it will very likely be pretty horrible at the far edges of the full frame 35mm format.


Here is the overall scene.

Scene Setup ~ 135mm lens comparison

Here are the results.

[If you click on the image it'll take you to the Flickr hosting site. Once there, look at the file at full resolution. In many cases the differences between lenses is small and likely can't be seen until you take a squint at the comparison at 100 percent.]

Schneider Nikkor Sony 135mm ~ Comparison


Starting with the Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS, what I see is that it's sharp in the center at 135mm from wide open (which in this case is only f/5.6).  The edges of the scene are a little soft and distorted.  This may be due to field curvature, or it might be due to the inexpensive zoom design.  Photographing 2D subjects is always trying for non-flat field lenses (most optics are non-flat field).  For the price ($100 used) this is a usable lens.

Next up is the Schneider-Kreuznach Tele-Xenar 135mm f/3.5.  This is a lens I picked up for 7 Euros.  I needed to clean the front two lens groups.  One was fogged and the other looked like fungus was starting to grow around the edges.  Once cleaned up and after the Exakta adapter arrived I wanted to see how it behaved (hence this post).

In the center the Schneider is very sharp.  At the edges, it takes time for things to clean up (f/8).  Thinking back to the Sony comments, I wonder if field curvature might be coming into play.  What's surprising is how sharp it is in the center given the age of the optic (manufactured in the mid-1960's in this case).  I've always prefered Schneider to Zeiss lenses and this only confirms my already strong bias.

Another thing that I like about the Schneider 135mm is its size and weight.  This is what I like about the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai, too.  When compared side by side the f/2.8 Nikkors feel large, bloated, and heavy.  The difference is remarkable.   The depth of field effect moving from the f/3.5 to the f/2.8 optics (it's only half a stop, mind you) is indistinguishable.

The Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai was given to me by a good friend.  The glass is in mint condition.  I thought it interesting to see how the scratched pre-Ai version I recently picked up performed by comparison.  Minimally, if scratches impact performance I would expect to see a drop in contrast and perhaps a drop in resolution as well.  Yet, what I see here is that both lenses are equally sharp and behave exactly the same way at all apertures.  Looking at the results I can not honestly tell which lens is scratched and which isn't.  Certainly the "cleaning marks" are light (they're not deep gouges), but to see absolutely no difference in performance?  This is a very interesting "learning" for me.

Lastly, I think the Nikon Nikkor 135mm f/3.5 Ai should become my 135mm "control" lens.  It is the standard by which I could measure all other 135mm lenses.  It is brilliant from wide open straight across the field and at all apertures.  All this "goodness" in a 45 Euro optic is impressive.  There is nothing finer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Comparison ~ 50mm lens out of focus rendition

The Angry Photographer has a lot to say about out of focus rendition (aka: bokeh).  He has a bit to say about the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar.  And he has a bit to say about the Meyer-Optik Gorlitz Domiplan.

As it turns out, I now have one each super cheap (weighing in at all of 7 Euro each) Tessar and Domiplan.  So... why not take a look at how these lenses compare against my much loved Nikon Nikkors?  Not from a resolution point of view.  I've done that already.  Rather, how about if I took my own look at out of focus rendition?

  • Shoot the same scene (through double pane glass, since it's so freak'n cold here)
  • Attempt to match the size of the out of focus rendition
  • Convert RAW to JPG using Sony's converter software

If you click on the image below it will take you to Flickr where you can look at this in a larger size.  I included the entire scene and a section from that scene.

Out Of Focus Comparisons


What is surprising to me is how similar most of the lenses are to each other.  What differences there are tend to be rather subtle.

To begin with, I very rarely see a 35mm full frame 50mm lens with out of focus area rendition as smooth as longer focal lengths.  There seems to be a lot if "jittery-ness" or "harshness" in 50mm lenses.  Perhaps this is why some people have gone the opposite direction and are celebrating "bubble bokeh" where the out of focus areas are overcorrected.

Here is what I observe about the lenses I compared, starting from the smoothest, most "buttery" out of focus rendition to the harshest, most "bubble bokeh-y" (gawds! try saying that three times fast).
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5
  • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
  • Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/2 Ai and H
  • Meyer-Optic Gorlitz 50mm f/2.8 Domiplan
  • Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar f/2.8
The Micro-Nikkor is really smooth in it's transition from sharp to out of focus.  The out of focus disks are flat and properly corrected.  It stands pretty much in a league of it's own in this regard.  It's the only 50mm (OK, this one is really 55mm) I've ever seen that can compete with longer focal length lenses in terms of out of focus rendition.  The lens is also sharp from wide open.  A drawback is that the maximum aperture is rather small (f/3.5), which means that the current rage razor thing depth of field is difficult to achieve.

Next comes the 50mm f/1.8 Ai "pancake" Nikkor.  With this lens a photographer can create the kind of razor thing depth of field images that are currently popular.  However, I see some "harshness" starting to creep into the out of focus areas.  I can clearly see a difference between this and the Micro-Nikkor, but I feel it still stands apart from the next two Nikkors, the f/2 Ai and H lenses. 

Beginning with the Nikkor f/2 lenses I feel we've fully entered into the zone of "bubble bokeh." This will make some photographers happy and will drive others nuts.  These two lenses come rather close to matching the Domiplan for their level of harsh "bubble bokeh" rendition.  Though I must say the f/2 Nikkors are ever so slightly less "harsh" than the old German lens.

Finally, the winner in the area of "bubble bokeh" generation is indeed the Zeiss Jena DDR Tessar 50mm f/2.8.  The Angry Photographer seems to have nailed the call on this one.  It gives the harshest and most "bubble-y" rendition of the small stack of lenses I considered here.  Too bad it's rather soft at the focus point.  But that's another matter for another time.