What’s in a Picture?

Here is a great film memory: me in my darkroom at The Ada News in about 1993.

This is the photo of today's discussion. I love how an image like this car preserve so much history. And before you ask me why I am not smiling, I will go with my father's answer, "I AM smiling!"
This is the photo of today’s discussion. I love how an image like this car preserve so much history. And before you ask me why I am not smiling, I will go with my father’s answer, “I AM smiling!”

I got to looking closely at this image and my photos on the walls at the time, and I realized I know a bunch of these people. Carey Johnson, Stephanie West, that Romanian baby, Denise Kreuger, those models we hired in Chicago, Darlene from college, Scott Andersen x3, that clown we photographed at the State Fair, Debbie Mociolek, Trish Jordan, Anne Roberts, Billie Floyd, Starla from Vanoss, David and Brenda Wheelock, Robert Cote, Michael Zeiler.

I remember those enlargers, that blue LowePro camera bag, the trays in the sink, the chemistry on the shelves, that shirt, slacks, belt, shoes. Everything.

In 1990, our newspaper got the equipment needed to make color separations in-house, so we bought me a Fujimoto enlarger, visible to my right. It was compact and very full-featured, with a color head. The baseboard had a timer built in, along with a sensor and three knobs on the baseboard, cyan, magenta, and yellow, to balance color.

On the far right of the image, there are free/complimentary Fujifilm towels with metal clips, on the light switches. Those towels were a gift if you bought a certain number of rolls of Fujifilm 35mm film.

The “Nursery Viewing Hours” sign was a gift from the old Valley View Hospital on Arlington, which I spotted and asked for while I made photos of the place to go with a story about tearing it down.

Just as a quick aside, it actually does say, “Nursery Viewing Hours 2:15 pm to 3:15 pm, and 7:15 pm to 8:15 pm.” How much have the rules changed on hospital visitation in my lifetime?

It’s also worth noting that my stepdaughter Dawna “Chele” Milligan was born in that maternity ward.

At least one frame on the wall was one I made from inside a hot air balloon over Ada, that people thought looked like an architectural drawing except for the oil spots a the parking lot.

There is a frame of the Vanoss Lady Wolves celebrating the 1992 State Championship in basketball.

There is a frame of some power lines at sunset, just north of Ken Lance on old highway 3, a photo that editors hated but readers, and contest, loved.

There are photos from my 1990 hiking trip to Mount Evans Wilderness and the 1985 trip to the east coast.

There is a card on the face of the police scanner to hide the display so it wouldn’t fog film or paper. I had installed yellow bulbs in the built-in safelights in the overhang so they would be “extra” safe and not get as hot. The built-in safelights were not just a luxury, but something I never saw in any other darkroom.

And here is a piece of trivia my readers might not have known, but photographers do: black-and-white darkroom safelights are not usually red, but amber. Kodak called those filters “Safelight filter, OC light amber.”

There are red filters, and even green ones, for various specialty uses, but I never used them, and if you see a darkroom in fiction, like in movies or television, they usually get that wrong.

This is the Science Hall at East Central University in Ada, which was brand new on the day I made this image from a hot air balloon. People thought it looked like an architectural drawing until I pointed out the oil spots in the parking lot.
This is the Science Hall at East Central University in Ada, which was brand new on the day I made this image from a hot air balloon. People thought it looked like an architectural drawing until I pointed out the oil spots in the parking lot.

The Purpose of Travel Photography

As I write this, I am staring at this headline: “Will AI Ruin Travel Photography?”

Abby sits on a stone as she photographs Monument Valley in October 2006.
Abby sits on a stone as she photographs Monument Valley in October 2006.

For a few seconds, I just stared at it, like a cave man with a smart phone, slowly asking myself, “how could AI effect travel photography?”

I didn’t understand that at all, since travel photography is about preserving and sharing memories, and, to a lesser extent, planning our next adventures.

But wait. What is travel photography? If travel photography is about winning clicks and likes, and if it is about outdoing other photographers, and if it is about cheating audiences into thinking you and your photography are something they are not to sell your images, them I’m not a travel photographer.

Abby made this image of Monument Valley on our second anniversary vacation in October 2006.
Abby made this image of Monument Valley on our second anniversary vacation in October 2006.

As it happened, right around this same time, a friend on social posted a 1999 photo of Monument Valley, and since I’ve been through there a few times, I looked in my files to find similar images, and, as looking at my photo files can do, I started thinking about one particular time I was there.

It was October 2006, and my wife Abby and I were in southern Utah for our second anniversary vacation. On the second full day, we drove to Monument Valley to take a Navajo guided tour. I remember that morning like it was yesterday. It was sunny but very cold. Our first stop was on the north end of the valley, still in Utah, looking at the expanse of the area down the mostly-straight U.S. 163, at a spot that would eventually be “discovered” as Forrest Gump Point, the spot where the main character in the movie decides to stop running.

I remembered all the things we did and saw that day: the sun, the cold, the traditional chant the Navajo tour guide sang to us on the tour, the beef barley soup I bought for Abby at the end of the day. We even saw and photographed people flying overhead in paragliders.

As I looked at all of our photos, hers and mine, from that week, I realized I was grinning from ear to ear, so happy to have these memories.

THAT is travel photography in it purest form, and nothing can ruin it.

Abby photographed me at a formation called Ear of the Wind in Monument Valley.
Abby photographed me at a formation called Ear of the Wind in Monument Valley.

Is This Really Film?

Social media has been up to its old tricks lately; ignoring what it wants, or the truth, and being outraged by minutia. While browsing this lackluster scene this week, a video by a young photographer shuffled past my web crawling called “2024 Will Ruin Film?”

Here are a couple of black-and-white prints I made years ago at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. The process of shooting them on film, then printing them on light-sensitive paper, was a lot of fun.
Here are a couple of black-and-white prints I made years ago at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle. The process of shooting them on film, then printing them on light-sensitive paper, was a lot of fun.

Film is already dead, and here’s why: it is actually digital photography.

Wait, what Richard? Film photography is digital photography? I know it sounds crazy (which I agree 20% of everything I say sounds crazy), but talk to anyone who is into film photography, and included in that conversation will be the words, “I can’t wait to get my scans back.”

Scans? So let me get this straight. You want to make pictures on film using a film camera, then have your images converted into digital images?

I am also amused and a little annoyed when social medianites say stuff like, “Film is making a comeback.” Yeah? By the late 1990s, I was shooting something on the order of 3000 film frames a week, and I wasn’t alone. The public and the profession were shooting millions of rolls of film every day. That was the time to be a film photographer.

The same video that pondered if 2024 would bring the death of film also expressed excitement about some of the camera makers creating new film cameras, and I know that’s foolish, since I presently have a dozen or more working film cameras that I never use. I recently even tried to give one away, but I found no takers.

The video guy even went so far as to say, “I think now more than ever, film photography is at the most popular that it’s been.” When I heard him say that, I realized that many young people have no idea what the world was like just a generation ago.

Also, despite what young photographers might assert about shooting film, the small-production, niche film market produces mediocre emulsions at best, and film will never be as good as it was at it’s peak in, say, 1995.

The only person I know who really does do film photography is Mackenzee Crosby, who has a Fujifilm Instax instant film camera. She shoots and shares, and it stays as film instead of tripping back into digital land.

So instead of pining for film stock and showing everyone how moody your photos can be, here is a much better film-related project: go grab that shoebox full of snapshots from your parents or grandparents hall closet, and set out to scan, share and print some of the literally billions of film photographs that otherwise will simply vanish.

This is my setup for digitizing my negatives at home. I haven't had access to a real film enlarger since about 2005, so this setup is the only way for me to preserve and share many of my older images.
This is my setup for digitizing my negatives at home. I haven’t had access to a real film enlarger since about 2005, so this setup is the only way for me to preserve and share many of my older images.

What the Journal Brings Forth

I was leafing through one of my old journals recently, looking for notes about a friend of mine who died in November. The journal was from February 1992, when I was frequently driving to Oklahoma City to hang out with some fellow photographers, and occasionally pick up a few bucks making pictures for the Associated Press.

David Duke speaks at a press conference in early 1992. I think this image has a very old-fashioned news photo look to it.
David Duke speaks at a press conference in early 1992. I think this image has a very old-fashioned news photo look to it.

On Monday, February 24, 1992, I note in my journal, “David Duke presser, very weird.”

A “presser” is slang for a press conference.

I honestly had no idea I had photographed this guy. But curiosity got me to pull the negatives from that day, and sure enough, I had.

David Duke, for those who might have forgotten, is a “white supremacist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, and former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

At the time I photographed him, he was apparently trying to clean up his image, but by the late 1990s, he had abandoned those efforts, and was again espousing neo-Nazi ideology. More recently, he was permanently suspended from Twitter in 2020 for “for violating its rules regarding hateful conduct.”

Another point I’d like to make about being a journalist is that despite characters like this having objectionable politics and beliefs, we can’t really pick and choose who to photograph and quote. That’s not how journalism works. Good journalists cover events and people starting from a blank page, and, if we’re doing it right, let those events and people reveal themselves.

A lawyer’s maxim is “res ipsa loquitur,” which means “the thing speaks for itself.”

So, yeah, wow. I photographed David Duke, which I had completely forgotten, but thanks to the journal, I preserved it. That’s the most important message I have for you today: consider writing in a journal of some kind. The story of your life is incredibly complicated, and if you don’t write it down, it’s too easy to forget those thousands of little things that add up to it all.

I also think it’s at least as important to record the negative things in your life as well as the positive, since we often learn and grow more from our mistakes.

David Duke looks up in this slightly tighter view. I have no recollection of the location or content of the press conference.
David Duke looks up in this slightly tighter view. I have no recollection of the location or content of the press conference.

Shaking the Tree

Part of my job is to capture and illustrate the action of sports. As I write this, it’s mostly basketball, but we have a very sports-rich community, so there are sports to cover all year long.

Richard R. Barron | The Ada News -- This photo won the Oklahoma Press Association's monthly photo contest for October -- East Central’s Claudia Garcia (16) and Abbie Morris (10) battle with a pair of Oklahoma Baptist defenders for the ball in action earlier this year at Tiger Field.
Richard R. Barron | The Ada News — This photo won the Oklahoma Press Association’s monthly photo contest for October — East Central’s Claudia Garcia (16) and Abbie Morris (10) battle with a pair of Oklahoma Baptist defenders for the ball in action earlier this year at Tiger Field.

“What you’re doing here is you’re giving us the opportunity to shake the tree and create chaos.” ~Sicario

Chaos is definitely at the core of good, engaging sports action photos. In the news biz, we like to say we are striving to capture the moments of conflict, and the moments of maximum exertion.

Pairing these concepts in a community newspaper can be a bit tricky. On more than one occasion, I’ve had parents complain that my photos of their kids aren’t flattering.

But I’m not making fashion photos or Glamour Shots (which is still a thing, by the way). The best journalism is always the boldest, hardest-hitting, and thereby the most compelling storytelling.

So when you see my images, my hope is that the word “wow” might be the first out of your mouth. That’s what shaking the tree and creating chaos can do for photography.

I thought about chaos in front of my camera as I shot basketball action last week. Some of the games got pretty physical, and they all made good pictures. This is an unused image that I thought looked very chaotic.
I thought about chaos in front of my camera as I shot basketball action last week. Some of the games got pretty physical, and they all made good pictures. This is an unused image that I thought looked very chaotic.

The Next Big, Dark Thing: AI

Much of the photography press is on fire this week about the various iterations of AI, Artificial Intelligence, and its effect on photography and culture in general.

Getty Images announced an AI image generator for stock photos, a company that was starting to manufacture a product called “AI Pin,” a tiny lapel camera, is already laying off staff members, and there is even talk of an AI version of Taylor Swift causing problems.

The biggest problem for me, though, came when a photographer friend on social media discovered that his images were being stolen by someone on the dark web somewhere, changed slightly using AI, then  put up for sale. That’s the worst of it, really: that our labor, be it writing, music, photography, painting, sculpture, design, and even just the hard work we all do, can be so easily stolen and sold back to us. It really points out the worst of human nature, that we will do anything for money. Anything.

So what can we do besides complain about it?

Firstly, we can get our work into print, and, by extension, read what’s in print, like real newspapers, magazines, and books, and make an effort to enjoy real things in our lives, like watching our children grow up with our eyes (not on a screen), listening to live music, visiting art galleries and artist’s shows.

Secondly, be honest. This one is less easy to define, and harder to accomplish, since honesty itself is so elusive. And honesty starts and ends in the mirror, not in counting likes on a social media page.

Thirdly, we need to educate ourselves, not by cheering when we hear something online that tells us what we want to hear, but by asking intelligent, sometimes difficult questions.

Physicist Richard Feynman once said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

It will be interesting to see how the AI revolution will develop. In the mean time, and until I am gone, I promise I will be as honest as I can, and keep looking in the mirror.

My photographer friend Robert made this image of me January 1. I hope it makes me look honest.
My photographer friend Robert made this image of me January 1. I hope it makes me look honest.

A Day on the Trail

This is me trying to look epic as I photograph the top of Mount Scott.
This is me trying to look epic as I photograph the top of Mount Scott.

For New Year’s Day this year, I met up with a photographer buddy named Robert. He and I met in college 40 years ago.

Wow. Let me say that again: 40 years ago.

That’s right, my photographer buddy Robert, and our mutual photographer friend Scott, met at OU in the spring of 1984, where we shared a crowded Journalism School darkroom.

Robert and I decided a month ago that New Year’s Day would be a great opportunity to hit the trail, make tons of pictures, and maybe grab a nice meal on the road.

We met at the entrance to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma at 9 a.m. It was cloudy and cold for our first trail, Elk Mountain, but we were undaunted.

As we hiked, we talked about photography, philosophy, jobs, family, and much, much more.

I’ve got a ton of images to edit and post on my travel blog, but for now, here are a few fun ones.

Among some of the great things we saw and photographed on New Year's Day was water flowing briskly over the Buford Lake Dam. According to refuge authorities, the lake was "built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps but was never added to the official maps of the refuge. Over time it was lost to history ... and was rediscovered after the wildfires of 2011."
Among some of the great things we saw and photographed on New Year’s Day was water flowing briskly over the Buford Lake Dam. According to refuge authorities, the lake was “built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps but was never added to the official maps of the refuge. Over time it was lost to history … and was rediscovered after the wildfires of 2011.”

My kit and my workflow when I am hiking and exploring are very different than when I am shooting news and sports. Since I make pictures for a living, wilderness photography is actually time off from photography, and as such I follow a couple of rules: carry less, keep it simple, and stop worrying about competing with other photographers.

And sure, my job is fun, but hiking, climbing, and exploring are fun in a very different way. The photography I do in the wild is meant to be zero-pressure, relaxing, something I don’t have to worry about.

By the end of the day, we’d watched the sun set from Mount Scott, and grabbed dinner at the Healthy Hippie (at Courtney Morehead’s recommendation) in Medicine Park. It was another great adventure.

I feel at home in the midst of the ancient granite of the Wichita Mountains, which I have been visiting since I was seven.
I feel at home in the midst of the ancient granite of the Wichita Mountains, which I have been visiting since I was seven.

Monochrome Cameras: Epic Quality, or Expensive Indulgence?

There are a few digital cameras on the market today that have monochrome sensors. These sensors work the same way that color sensors work, in that each pixel, or picture element, senses the amount of light that strikes it. The key difference is that color sensors have one of three, red, green, or blue, filters above it, called a Bayer pattern array.

My wolfhound looks up at me in a recent monochrome image. I thought the tonal qualities in this image worked out pretty well.
My wolfhound looks up at me in a recent monochrome image. I thought the tonal qualities in this image worked out pretty well.

The real question is: what makes a monochrome sensor superior to a color sensor that has a decently high pixel count, basically any new camera sold today?

Sometimes  the idea of a monochrome camera isn’t even clear to consumers. While reading around the web for this piece, I came across an article on monochrome cameras from Adorama that listed two non-monochrome cameras , the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV, and the Fujifilm GFX50S II. The article says the cameras “allow you to switch between monochrome and color shooting modes,” but in case you just woke up yesterday, that is every digital camera made in the last 15 years.

I don't know where I got this glass dolphin; it might have belonged to Dorothy Milligan at one point. Anyway, I photographed it with some Christmas lights to illustrate an image that was mostly made of color.
I don’t know where I got this glass dolphin; it might have belonged to Dorothy Milligan at one point. Anyway, I photographed it with some Christmas lights to illustrate an image that was mostly made of color.
You can see how profoundly different an image of color can appear in monochrome.
You can see how profoundly different an image of color can appear in monochrome.

The article added that, “…you’ll be able to capture low light images far better than you could with a color sensor.” But who, in 2023, has a problem capturing images in low light? I routinely roll past ISO 12,800 with little in the way of noise.

I asked a photographer friend who had a monochrome Leica what he liked about it, and he said it made, “…nice files, with really crisp, dark blacks,” but then said, “the color Leica images converted are fine.”

He later sold the camera, saying he didn’t shoot with it enough to justify owning it.

Ah, there’s another point: the Leica M11 Monochrom (that’s the way they spell it) lists for $9195. No, that’s not a typo.

I got out a few cameras and played around with both their built-in black-and-white options, and options in Adobe Lightroom for converting color images into black-and-white, an activity I try to do several times a year. I had fun, and made some images I liked.

Then, along comes the elephant in the room: sharing, displaying, or exhibiting your images, color or monochrome, somewhere that matters. I see a very pointless chase unfolding before me: faster, bigger, better images, shared and diluted by cluttered, heavily monetized social media sites on which potentially brilliant 46-megapixel, super-clear, high-ISO gems get posted to Facebook or Instagram, compressed by their servers and never shared at resolutions higher than 2000 x 1400 pixels, which is equivalent to 2.8 megapixels.

I have a buddy (who lives in another state) who seems intent on chasing the photographic dragon, and it seems that all that camera power and photographic prowess is squandered on the ever-increasing views on smartphones.

The other side of that, though, is harder to see and appreciate, and that is the experience of making pictures is fun and exciting even if the images aren’t fully exploited on the other end.

My bottom line: monochrome cameras probably have a place in a few photographer’s lives, but for most of us, including me, shooting in a color camera’s monochrome mode is more than enough for the occasional creative excursion.

And if you do enjoy pushing the limits of camera technology, find a way to really take advantage of it by printing, publishing and displaying those amazing images.

Wheatgrass waves in the breeze on a recent photowalk.
Wheatgrass waves in the breeze on a recent photowalk.

Comparing Myself to Other Photojournalists

Four photographers make four different images.
Four photographers make four different images.

A wise person once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Periodically photojournalists around the country post their content to social media. I see their work in their timelines and inevitably compare my work to theirs.

It’s unfair to both them and me.

First, it’s completely futile to look at the work of others as a threat to my ego.

Secondly, they are in different communities with different newspapers.

Thirdly, all I have to do is browse some of my own images to realize I am producing my own great work.

The real trick in the current photography ecosystem is to let go, completely, of the idea that you want to make the same pictures as other photographers. Sometimes I hear people say of my own work, “Wow, I want to make that picture. Where was that?”

Don’t even go there. If you do, you aren’t an artist or a photographer, but a stenographer, dutifully copying another’s work.

Instead, try to look at the images you like as inspiration. Sure, you might want to photograph the Grand Canyon the way that I did, but I already did that. So did, for that matter, about 10,000 photographers that day.

It’s okay to get inspired by the photography of others, but copying it is boring. I won’t expound on ideas about how to get inspired by photographs, other than to say that the central idea is to understand how you feel about a photograph.

It is absolutely true that I have taken a ton of pictures at Utah’s Delicate Arch, and that there are always dozens or even hundreds of photographers there every day, but I have a special claim to it: I got married there. This image is of Abby and me at Delicate Arch on our sixth anniversary in 2010.
It is absolutely true that I have taken a ton of pictures at Utah’s Delicate Arch, and that there are always dozens or even hundreds of photographers there every day, but I have a special claim to it: I got married there. This image is of Abby and me at Delicate Arch on our sixth anniversary in 2010.

More Thoughts about the Fujifilm GW670III

I was tapping away at this and that on my laptop recently. I listen to my Apple Music on shuffle most of the time. As I worked, I came across the song Silo Lullaby by Toad the Wet Sprocket, originally offered as a “hidden bonus track” on the CD Coil in 1997.

When I first got Coil, I used my made-from-scraps Windows 3.1 386-processor desktop computer to unhide the track, and played it many times. Later, in 1999, I went on a photo trip to New Mexico, called Villanueva, the tiny hamlet where I borrow a friend’s cabin, and still listened to Toad all the time. So, as can happen with music and the way it leads places in our imaginations, Silo Lullaby became something of an anthem, at least between my own ears, for that week in the desert.

That week in New Mexico was inspired by the beginnings of the move from printing film to scanning film at my newspaper, which meant I was suddenly in possession of rather a lot of orphaned black-and-white film and paper. What to do with it? Head west!

The Villanueva trip was a great opportunity to use my Fujifilm 6×7 GW670III, a rangefinder camera with a fixed 90mm f/3.5 lens, which was very sharp. The 6×7 negatives that came out of that camera were full of an amazing amount of detail.

The flaws of the Fuji in my workflow in New Mexico, however, remained as obvious as they had all those times I tried to use it in the newsroom: too slow to focus, plasticky controls, and because it was a rangefinder and used a mechanical parallax compensation system in the viewfinder, it was never really possible to take full advantage of the much larger area of the 6×7 cm frame size because something always ended up getting cropped in or out.

I was, and still am, pretty good with a rangefinder, since my first camera, a Yashica Electro 35 GSN I got for Christmas when I was 13, used a rangefinder. I had more time and less film in those days, so I spent a lot of time practicing with the rangefinder.

I don’t want to say my Fuji 6×7 was a failed purchase, but it certainly didn’t revolutionize my fine art photography.

In the end, I have built a career on discovering what does and doesn’t work for my photography styles; news, sports, illustration, fine art, travel, and on and on; and though I wish it had, the Fuji 6×7 just never worked for me.

Your humble host poses for a snapshot at White Sands National Monument on a sunny morning in September 2000. Hanging from my neck is the camera in question, the Fuji GW670III Professional 6x7, wearing a B+W deep orange filter.
Your humble host poses for a snapshot at White Sands National Monument on a sunny morning in September 2000. Hanging from my neck is the camera in question, the Fuji GW670III Professional 6×7, wearing a B+W deep orange filter.

I Love a Parade!

It’s one of my worst kept secrets: I love a parade. It’s also no secret that my favorite parade of all time is the Pat Taylor Memorial Parade of Lights every December here in Ada.

The Parade of Lights has gotten easier to photograph as technology has improved, both in terms of cameras, and the lights on display.
The Parade of Lights has gotten easier to photograph as technology has improved, both in terms of cameras, and the lights on display.

My strategy for photographing nighttime parades is pretty straightforward: sky-high ISO settings and large aperture lenses. I usually use my 180mm f/2.8 and my 20mm f/2.8, both older designs, but very capable.

Digital imaging has made a difference, but incrementally. In the early 2000s, for example, my digital cameras were the Nikon D1H and the Kodak DCS720x, at the top of the low-light game in their day, but definitely left behind by one generation after another of better and better digital cameras.

In the film days, there was Kodak T-Max P3200, a high-ISO black-and-white film I used for sports. But a Christmas parade is often very colorful, and that left shooting films like Fujicolor 1600, which was okay.

This is a scan of one of my Parade of Lights images from 1995. Made with Kodak T-Max P3200 film, you can see it is pretty grainy. Still, I got an image, and sometimes that's what counts the most in photojournalism.
This is a scan of one of my Parade of Lights images from 1995. Made with Kodak T-Max P3200 film, you can see it is pretty grainy. Still, I got an image, and sometimes that’s what counts the most in photojournalism.

It is an understatement that I no longer have to rely on such limitations.

Additionally, the lights themselves have transitioned to Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, and are brighter and less yellow-red.

So, fast forward to this year’s Parade of Lights: I shot it all at ISO 12,800, knowing that I could fall back on photography’s newest secret weapon: Lightroom’s AI-based noise reduction feature.

I know it sounds like cheating, or even skirting the edge of ethics, because AI has the potential to damage photojournalistic credibility, but I am always up front about how I use it: never alter content.

Even with the stratospheric ISO and f/2.8 lenses, I was still down to 1/30th of a second shutter speeds sometimes, so I just had to accept that many of my images would be throw-aways.

So if you made it to the Parade this year, and I’m guessing from the hundreds and hundreds of people there that you did, you would have seen me prowling around, having the time of my life, making tons of pictures. I love a parade!

Kids wave at passing floats in this year's Parade of Lights.
Kids wave at passing floats in this year’s Parade of Lights.

Who Wants Pancakes?

There are so many lenses for sale these days, from the $16,296.95 Nikon AF-S 800mm f/5.6 FL ED VR superlens, all the way down to a lens one of my students showed off recently, a camera body cap which holds the lens taken from a disposable film camera, on sale for $19.99.

The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 "pancake lens" is shown on my well-used Lumix GH2.
The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 “pancake lens” is shown on my well-used Lumix GH2.

One lens I’ve kept my eye on for nearly a year since I got ahold of a second-hand Lumix GH2 is a so-called “pancake lens,” so named due to its flatness, a Lumix 14mm f/2.5.

I have several lenses in this class, all small and lightweight, so I watched, but didn’t buy, this lens until a Black Friday sale offered it for less than $100, so I finally relented.

This 14mm fits on a Micro 4/3 camera, and is a standard wide angle.

It weighs less than two ounces. According to random Internet sources, that is the weight of a tennis ball, two slices of bread, two AA batteries, 50 jelly beans, and so on.

The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 stands in front of my other pancake lens, the Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0. Because of different sensor sizes between Fuji's APS-C and Lumix' Micro 4/3 means the lenses provide a very similar angle of view.
The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 stands in front of my other pancake lens, the Fujifilm 18mm f/2.0. Because of different sensor sizes between Fuji’s APS-C and Lumix’ Micro 4/3 means the lenses provide a very similar angle of view.

The lens is so small on the camera, I can’t really get my usual (and correct) left-hand-under grip, which is okay, since there is only one control, a focus ring, on the lens anyway. I tried it out, and found it was very awkward to try to manually focus it.

I threw it over my shoulder for a couple of dog walks, and the photos I made with it look pretty good. They are sharp, especially at the largest aperture, f/2.5. (For what it’s worth, almost all lenses are “sharp” at f/11, so being sharp “wide open” matters.)

Maple leaves in the front yard show off the 14mm's angle of view, sharpness, and subject separation.
Maple leaves in the front yard show off the 14mm’s angle of view, sharpness, and subject separation.

I am not a collector. In fact, I honestly believe that if you don’t use something, you should think about getting rid of it. At least one friend of mine gives his older cameras and lenses to his kids and grandkids when he is done with them.

So what will be my prime focus (so to speak) while using this lens? I’d like to throw it in as a wild card, something I might carry as casually as we carry our phones, going to it when I want to be more spontaneous. I certainly have cameras and lenses that accomplish that, but all at a cost, my achy-breaky shoulders. Any time I can add capability while lightening my load, my body and my photography both win.

The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 is shown with some pennies for scale.
The Lumix 14mm f/2.5 is shown with some pennies for scale.

A Solution without a Problem

For a long time, Sony was mostly known for their consumer electronics, like the Walkman, the Discman, DVD and MiniDisc players, televisions and more. In fact, my first television was a 13-inch Sony Trinitron.
For a long time, Sony was mostly known for their consumer electronics, like the Walkman, the Discman, DVD and MiniDisc players, televisions and more. In fact, my first television was a 13-inch Sony Trinitron.

The biggest news in photography in recent weeks has been Sony’s announcement of their release of the Sony A9 III, a $6000 mirrorless camera that is equipped with the first-ever global shutter.

Do a web search for “why is global shutter a big deal?” and you will find no shortage of articles and videos explaining why. At the top of all these lists are “rolling shutter” and “flash sync speed.”

As I read and watched these items this week, I kept coming back to this: I know what these problems are, but when do I experience them? The answer kept coming back again and again: never.

So what are the possibilities? Am I somehow divorced from the technology because of my age and experience? Am I cynical about endless technological developments as needless, pointless corporate money grabs? Am I somehow missing the point?

It’s not easy to write off my answers, since I make pictures for a living, sometimes thousands in a week, and I really don’t run into these problems.

Last week another photographer, a Sony shooter, echoed my sentiment: what does global shutter do for us? Are these actual problems that need to be solved, or is this just another technology to buy to “keep up with the Joneses?”

Let me also say that I don’t want to be that old guy shouting, “Back in my day, all our film was ASA 25. You kids and your damn contraptions! Get off my lawn!”

Here is a strange gift from Sony: as the sensor on my well-used Cybershot F828 started to malfunction and generated this this pattern for me, which reminds me of the tesseract from Intergalactic.
Here is a strange gift from Sony: as the sensor on my well-used Cybershot F828 started to malfunction and generated this this pattern for me, which reminds me of the tesseract from Intergalactic.

Okay, the final elephant in the room: video. This might be the obvious answer to the question of why global shutter is so significant. I don’t shoot a lot of video, and aside from a few people in my area who work in media relations, I don’t see a lot of “produced” video, just start-and-stop video from smartphones posted to social media.

Video in the last few years has become so self-referential, it’s hard to remain interested. There are so many videos on how good camera are at making video, but very little actual content produced from those cameras. “See what the new (brand) can do! Isn’t it amazing?”

So, is global shutter a solution in making videos? If it is, I’m not really seeing it. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. Do you have a video that you have produced that benefits from global shutter?

Another angle: digital camera sales have been way down as they compete with the cameras built into smartphones, even to the point that a lot of my photography students are pulling camera out of their bags that they neglected, telling me that want to learn to use it, “but I’ve mostly been shooting with my phone.”

How can they compete? The only way is to produce cameras with more features, with faster this and that, sharper this and that, cooler this and that. Global shutter is one of those things. And you can’t make cameras slower and heavier, even if you are trying to make it more affordable, because no one says, “You saved money? Cool!”

What do you think? Is this a solution to a problem, or a solution looking for a problem?

I dug through my photo junk, and this, the Cybershot F828, is the only Sony camera I own.
I dug through my photo junk, and this, the Cybershot F828, is the only Sony camera I own.

The Lenses I Miss the Most

My Chihuahua Summer strikes a pose for my newest old lens, the Nikkor 35mm f/2.0, shot at f/2.8. As you can see, this lens has something to add to my game.
My Chihuahua Summer strikes a pose for my newest old lens, the Nikkor 35mm f/2.0, shot at f/2.8. As you can see, this lens has something to add to my game.

Like a majority of photographers, I have had various pieces of equipment pass through my hands. Many of them were great, while many of them, like the Nikon D1 or the Nikkor 43-86mm, were absolute duds.

I especially love lenses.

I had a pretty standard kit coming up on the newspaper scene in the 1980s. In fact, most of us had this setup:

Two or three cameras, for me, usually the Nikon FM2 with a motor drive, along with the following lenses:  the Nikkor 24mm f/2.0 AI-S, the Nikkor 35mm f/2.0 AI-S, the Nikkor 105mm f/1.8 AI-S, the Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED-IF, and the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF.

I'm always surprised at how similar Nikon's lenses of this generation look, like this 35mm f/2.0 next to the 85mm f/2.0. One reason for this is they shared a filter size, 52mm, which Nikon touted as an advantage, so you wouldn't have to buy more than one set of filters.
I’m always surprised at how similar Nikon’s lenses of this generation look, like this 35mm f/2.0 next to the 85mm f/2.0. One reason for this is they shared a filter size, 52mm, which Nikon touted as an advantage, so you wouldn’t have to buy more than one set of filters.

As the years went by, I found bargains on other lenses, like the Nikkor 400mm f/3.5 ED-IF, the Nikkor 85mm f/2.0 AI-S, the Nikkor 25-50mm f/4 AI, several 28mm and 135mm lenses, and three different 20mm lenses.

Earlier in my career, I bought a Sigma Zoom 28-80mm f/3.5-4.5, back in the day when Sigma was a very cheap (in all respects) lens. I sold it within about three months, since I never made a sharp image with it.

The most disappointing lens of this era was the Nikkor 25-50mm f/4. I had such high hopes for this rare, well-made Nikkor lens, but it was hard to focus because the focus throw (how far you need to twist the focus ring) was so long. It was okay at 25mm, but nobody loves a heavy, huge 50mm f/4 lens.

The front elements of the 35mm and the 85mm have similar multi-coating that gives the purple-green appearance.
The front elements of the 35mm and the 85mm have similar multi-coating that gives the purple-green appearance.

I gradually traded or all my 1980s-era Nikkor lenses for more modern lenses, mostly zooms, but I still missed some of my favorites, and recently picked another one up from a seller on Ebay, a 35mm f/2.0 of 1980’s vintage. I missed this lens after I sold it because I saw it’s potential, but didn’t take advantage of it when I had it.

The 35mm lens is sometimes regarded as a “normal” lens on 35mm-sized imaging sensors, slightly wider than the ever-present 50mm, letting photographers build a pleasing narrative without the distraction of the foreshortening that wider lenses can create.

I am also finding fewer and fewer mentions or reviews of lenses like these, and the photographic historian in me wants to remember and preserve the amazing images made by thousands of photojournalists across the globe made with lenses like these.

So, as a short review, the Nikkor 35mm f/2.0 lens is beautifully made, a pleasure to use, gives sharp, detailed images, and has pleasant selective focus with good bokeh.

So there is another lens in my bag of tricks, which goes well with my rare skill in that same bag of tricks: that I can still focus a manual-focus lens.

The Nikkor 35mm f/2.0 lens sits mounted on my Nikon D3. It's a great combination.
The Nikkor 35mm f/2.0 lens sits mounted on my Nikon D3. It’s a great combination.