Photographs and Memories

We all cherish memories. Many of us have fairly accurate memories, while others struggle to keep dates and people and places organized in their heads.

Abby and I pose on the giant jackrabbit in Joseph City, Arizona in July 2003.
Abby and I pose on the giant jackrabbit in Joseph City, Arizona in July 2003.

I believe the very best way to preserve memories is to write down the events of your life. It can be in a journal or scrapbook, as text files on your computer (preferably then printed onto paper), or in some kind of personal web presence, like an online journal or blog, some of which, hopefully, can be marked “private.”

Abby holds her Nikon Coolpix 885 as she and I have a photo session in the late winter of 2004.
Abby holds her Nikon Coolpix 885 as she and I have a photo session in the late winter of 2004.

I also happen to think that if you let social media curate your memories, you are either dead inside, or are being played by global corporations. Think about it: social media has no idea what stirs you to tears, but it does know what you buy.

I thought about this as I was enjoying a different kind of memory visit: looking through computer folders of image files from some of those great times my friends and family had over the years.

I photograph and write about all our travels, both in my journal, and here on my web site. One I visited recently was a folder of only-lightly-edited images from the first vacation Abby and I took together in 2003, The High Road. (Click it.)

It was a great time for both of us, both as a couple and photographically.

As I searched these images, I found two instances of images I had passed over at the time, two of hers and two of mine,  that both looked like they would be interesting to stitch into panographs.

When Abby made pictures of Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona on U.S. 89a, she didn't realize that two images she made could be stitched into this beautiful panograph.
When Abby made pictures of Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona on U.S. 89a, she didn’t realize that two images she made could be stitched into this beautiful panograph.
Abby and I were driving from Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah to Page, Arizona. Dark had fallen on us as we made our wave through the winding U.S. 160 when we drove into a shaft of red light from the sun setting in Tsegi Canyon. We immediately drove through it into the dark again, but made a u-turn to make this image, a stitch of two frames from my Minolta Dimage 7i.
Abby and I were driving from Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah to Page, Arizona. Dark had fallen on us as we made our wave through the winding U.S. 160 when we drove into a shaft of red light from the sun setting in Tsegi Canyon. We immediately drove through it into the dark again, but made a u-turn to make this image, a stitch of two frames from my Minolta Dimage 7i.
The Nikon Coolpix 885 was just the right size for Abby's slender hands. She made images with it for years until it finally died.
The Nikon Coolpix 885 was just the right size for Abby’s slender hands. She made images with it for years until it finally died.

Abby shot with the Nikon Coolpix 885, a tiny camera I bought two years earlier as a throw-in-a-travel bag camera. When we started dating, she adopted it, and it became hers. I shot with the Minolta Dimage 7i, which I still have to this day.

Both cameras came from the start of the digital photography era, and though they have some significant technological limitations, we made some amazing images, and, most importantly, we made memories.

I love this humble camera, the Minolta DiMage 7i from 2002. I especially like its color rendition, and its gorgeous 14-point sunstars when shooting into the sun.
I love this humble camera, the Minolta DiMage 7i from 2002. I especially like its color rendition, and its gorgeous 14-point sunstars when shooting into the sun.

 

Cameras Outpacing Photographers

My friends in the sports community are always glad to see me, and this pose with the Ada Lady Cougars has become a tradition. In fact, this image was made by Ada Lady Cougars head basketball coach Christie Jennings.
My friends in the sports community are always glad to see me, and this pose with the Ada Lady Cougars has become a tradition. In fact, this image was made by Ada Lady Cougars head basketball coach Christie Jennings.

January 2021 has seen some extraordinary developments in camera technology, including the introduction of the 50 megapixel, 30-frames-per-second Sony A1, and the 102 megapixel medium format Fujifilm GFX100S.

It certainly represents interesting times in photography. Numbers like these are an answer where there wasn’t a question: photographers can rightly say they needed more pixels and higher frame rates 15 years ago, when the best cameras sported 8 to 10 megapixel sensors shooting at 5 frames per second. But today, we are adding layers and layers of overkill that most of us don’t really need.

Also of note is that if you started shooting with these hugely powerful cameras, almost immediately you would find that your computer speeds and storage space are presently inadequate. Be ready to buy a bigger, faster computer and tons of cloud storage. This is big data.

A mind-blowing comparison is that the first computer I used professionally at The Ada News would hold about eight images from one of these cameras. Eight.

A recent sales point for cameras like these is the rapidly-expanding video specifications. The most recent spec is “8K,” meaning each video frame is 8000 pixels wide. For me, especially when I see so many people consuming media on very small devices like smartphones, 8K is level after level of overkill. And I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: what almost all video needs more than anything else is a good script.

If someone handed one of these cameras, I would certainly give it a day in court, but I would not count on it to improve my photography, which, at this point, can only be improved by building its narrative, not by buying equipment.

All of this circles back neatly to one of the things I write on the board at the start of my Intro to Digital Photography class: “You can’t buy mastery. You have to earn it.”

Another fun tradition in recent years is posing with fellow photographer Courtney Morehead.
Another fun tradition in recent years is posing with fellow photographer Courtney Morehead.

iPhone vs Camera

I was privileged to join some of my professional photography colleagues to cover the Big 12 football championship game last month. Number of us using smartphones to cover the event? Zero.
I was privileged to join some of my professional photography colleagues to cover the Big 12 football championship game last month. Number of us using smartphones to cover the event? Zero.

A fellow photographer recently asked me if I would do a head-to-head comparison between an iPhone or iPad and the cameras I use every day as a photojournalist.

I felt this comparison to be an apples-to-lemons challenge, since, for me anyway, there are many things my iPhone does better, and many things my DSLRs do better.

A smartphone is a capable and useful tool in photography, but it is only one of many.
A smartphone is a capable and useful tool in photography, but it is only one of many.

I prefer to use my phone for video, since the video I get from it is smooth, clear, and has decent audio, while video with my DSLRs tends to require a lot more production – microphones, steadycams – than my phone does. I also love the way I can seamlessly send lightly-edited images from the field to my staff with little effort, and of course there is video streaming.

My DSLRs are better at sports, a big one for me since I cover a great sports scene at our newspaper. They are much, much better in situations in which I want to add light, like with a flash, or when I need to create selective focus by using shallow depth of field.

Finally, there is handling. This may be the veteran in me talking, but holding a big camera and lens up to my eye is infinitely more commanding in almost every photographic situation. I can compose and organize much better with a DSLR than I can holding a phone or tablet at arms length… in some ways, using a DSLR or even a film camera is making pictures, while using a phone or a tablet is like watching television.

Despite all the advances we see all the time in smartphone and tablet technology, a camera remains a better tool for photography.

This image was made with my iPhone 7 at a basketball game I was covering last night. Compare it to the next image...
This image was made with my iPhone 7 at a basketball game I was covering last night. Compare it to the next image…
...made with one of my D300S digital cameras with an older 180mm f/2.8 AF lens, standing in the same spot as in the previous image. As you can see, the comparison is almost unfair.
…made with one of my D300S digital cameras with an older 180mm f/2.8 AF lens, standing in the same spot as in the previous image. As you can see, the comparison is almost unfair.

The Nikon D500

Tulsa World news photographer Ian Maule photographed me in the media area at the Big 12 Championship football game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas Dec. 19.
Tulsa World news photographer Ian Maule photographed me in the media area at the Big 12 Championship football game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas Dec. 19.

Photographer Kyle Phillips at one of our sister newspapers, The Norman Transcript, was out of action recently, so he offered to let me borrow their new Nikon D500 digital SLR since I was slated to shoot the college football Big 12 Championship game in Dallas on December 19, and I accepted.

The Nikon D500 stands tall on its large vertical grip. The grip adds a battery, and, more significantly, a better handling experience for me and my long hands.
The Nikon D500 stands tall on its large vertical grip. The grip adds a battery, and, more significantly, a better handling experience for me and my long hands.

The D500 is a professional-level 20-megapixel camera. It is a neat camera, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a news  or sports photographer in a minute, but it’s not a game-changer.

The Ada Cougars took on the Shawnee Wolves Dec. 18, and I used the D500 to photograph it. This image was made at ISO 10,000, and the noise is there, but controllable.
The Ada Cougars took on the Shawnee Wolves Dec. 18, and I used the D500 to photograph it. This image was made at ISO 10,000, and the noise is there, but controllable.
The Vanoss Lady Wolves celebrate an overtime victory again Latta earlier this month. Shot with the Nikon D500 at ISO 10,000, it's a good clean image with minimal noise.
The Vanoss Lady Wolves celebrate an overtime victory again Latta earlier this month. Shot with the Nikon D500 at ISO 10,000, it’s a good clean image with minimal noise.
  • The Nikon D500 is an incremental upgrade to the Nikon D300S, two of which I use every day. The main improvement the D500 makes is high ISO noise. Frame rate and pixel count are up, but not enough to really matter.
  • The ISO dial has traded places with the exposure mode dial, which I really don’t like, and not just because I’m used to buttons where they are. The mode dial belongs on the right next to the shutter and aperture dial and the shutter release. I kind of think Nikon engineers move stuff arbitrarily. Real photographers set their file type once, mostly on the day they get the camera, and leave it there forever. Only dilletants and dabblers change file types regularly, so as far as I’m concerned, this button could disappear into the menu.
  • I had to shoot JPEGs instead of RAW files, since my laptop at work has an older version of Adobe Lightroom that won’t read the newest RAW files. The D500 makes very decent JPEGs.
  • The D500 has a swinging/tilting rear display as well as 4K video capability, a feature that makes little difference to me, since I make short videos to go with news and sports, but would make a big difference to videographers.
  • The D500 is equipped with SnapBridge, but I tried several times and got the message, “Pairing unsuccessful. Make sure D500_XXX is turned on, in range, and is ready to pair.” That’s typical in a world of incompetent coding. My Fujifilm X-T10, a camera of the same era as the D500, did it without a hitch.
  • The D500 has two card slots, one for SD, and one for XQD, a high-speed replacement for CompactFlash cards, but I don’t have any of these cards and have never used them, and I find that the photography community regards this format as a dead end.
  • The D500 isn’t a particularly popular camera. I have only seen one other one, in the hands of Coalgate High School yearbook advisor Kathy Ingram.
  • I found that 10 frames per second and a nearly unlimited buffer resulted in shooting a lot more frames than I usually do, with little impact on the quality of my product. So many files of the same thing just tends to choke my workflow.
Engineers love to fix what isn't broken, in this case moving the mode button to the left and the ISO button to the right.
Engineers love to fix what isn’t broken, in this case moving the mode button to the left and the ISO button to the right.

At the Big 12 Championship game, I brought my AF Nikkor 300mm f/2.8, betting on needing the f/2.8, but the lights were very bright and even. If I had to do it again, I might use my AF-S 300mm f/4, a much newer and somewhat sharper lens.

Here is a nice tight crop from Saturday's action at the Big 12 Championship. My 300mm f/2.8 is sharp and capable, but my 300mm f/4 is even sharper, and faster-focusing.
Here is a nice tight crop from Saturday’s action at the Big 12 Championship. My 300mm f/2.8 is sharp and capable, but my 300mm f/4 is even sharper, and faster-focusing.

I pressed the D500 into service, and found that it does what a digital camera should: make photography easier by getting out of the way of the photographer. I was very glad to use it for a while, and really enjoyed it. Thanks again to Kyle for offering to let me use it. I know he will make many great images with it over the years.

The Nikon D500 has a flipping rear LCD display, an excellent option if you are making a lot of video, but almost entirely unused by me while I had this camera.
The Nikon D500 has a flipping rear LCD display, an excellent option if you are making a lot of video, but almost entirely unused by me while I had this camera.

Autumn Walk for Inspiration

Virginia creeper vines turn red in the fall, and have tiny green berries on them.
Virginia creeper vines turn red in the fall, and have tiny green berries on them.

A hard cold front roared through Oklahoma last night, leaving today the kind of day that inspired me to write awkward poetry in my youth. It was grey all day, and it eventually lured me outside several times to walk the dogs and, of course, make pictures.

I grabbed my Fuji mirrorless and my $50 Mamiya Sekor SX 200mm f/3.5. Unlike the cameras and lenses I use professionally, this combination is challenging: the camera is smaller, and the lens is manual focus, super slow to focus, focuses in the opposite direction of my Nikkors, and will only run at one aperture, in this case wide open at f/3.5.

After the session, I walked our Irish wolfhound Hawken again, and he found a discarded work glove in the pasture and made it his new toy. He loves this weather.

Hawken keeps an eye on me as I walk around photographing autumn.
Hawken keeps an eye on me as I walk around photographing autumn.
Tiny blue berries cling to the fence near my garden.
Tiny blue berries cling to the fence near my garden.
Thistle sways in the cold wing.
Thistle sways in the cold wing.
A roll of fence catches a leaf or two in the breeze.
A roll of fence catches a leaf or two in the breeze.
Guinea fowl keep watch in the neighbor's chicken pen.
Guinea fowl keep watch in the neighbor’s chicken pen.
A rooster struts his stuff.
A rooster struts his stuff.
I am gradually learning the strengths and weaknesses of this pearl of a lens from the 1970s.
I am gradually learning the strengths and weaknesses of this pearl of a lens from the 1970s.

Photography in the Margins

A poet recites esoteric verse.
A poet recites esoteric verse.

I spent an evening this week with some friends old and new at a poetry/fiction reading event at a home here in Ada. Lit by Christmas lights, candles, and camp fires, it really was photography pushed to the edge of all the margins: ISO 6400, aperture f/1.4, shutter speeds down to 1/8th of a second.

I shot it with my Fuji mirrorless and the magnificent Pentax K-Mount 50mm f/1.4. The results are messy in a great way; the chaos and intimacy of the imagery mirrors the chaos and intimacy of the participants and their words.

The evening was quiet and warm, so we mostly sat on the ground to listen.
The evening was quiet and warm, so we mostly sat on the ground to listen.
A friend listens to verse on this warm evening.
A friend listens to verse on this warm evening.
A single light catches the poet, and elements inside my 50mm f/1.4, to create a sense of the rhyme.
A single light catches the poet, and elements inside my 50mm f/1.4, to create a sense of the rhyme.
Mac recites verse, some of which she had never shared before. The light in the upper left corner is the moon.
Mac recites verse, some of which she had never shared before. The light in the upper left corner is the moon.
A camera and a cup of tea sit on a table.
A camera and a cup of tea sit on a table.
The evening began and ended with excellent conversation.
The evening began and ended with excellent conversation.
The fire in the front yard turns to coals as the evening ages.
The fire in the front yard turns to coals as the evening ages.

Large Format is the Wild West of Photography

My ambitious young photographer friend Mac Crosby came by the office earlier this week, at my invitation, so I could lend her a Minolta X-700 and a couple of lenses, as well as a couple of antique 620 cameras. Readers might recall that Mac wrote a neat piece about my wife Abby and me for class last March (link).

Photographer Mac Crosby looks at some of the thousands of 4x5 negatives on file at my newspaper.
Photographer Mac Crosby looks at some of the thousands of 4×5 negatives on file at my newspaper.

In recent months, Mac has been curating film photography into her body of work as an aspiring photojournalist, and that has included disposable cameras, 35mm film cameras, medium format cameras, and even toy cameras. Photography with toy cameras is sometimes called lomography.

One thing I showed her while she was here at the office is some of the thousands of 4×5-inch black-and-white negatives we have in our files at The Ada News.

4×5 negatives are about 15 times larger than 35mm film frames, so they potentially contain a tremendous amount of detail. In fact, 4×5 negatives are large enough that they can be printed as contact prints, in which the film is laid directly on the printing paper and exposed to light, skipping the step of putting the film in an enlarger.

I lent my friend and fellow photographer Mac Crosby this Minolta X-700, a 35mm film camera from the late 1980s. I hope she dazzles me with the results she gets with it.
I lent my friend and fellow photographer Mac Crosby this Minolta X-700, a 35mm film camera from the late 1980s. I hope she dazzles me with the results she gets with it.

If 35mm film is common and medium format film is exotic, 4×5 film is the Wild West of photography.

I’ve never owned a 4×5 camera. I do have a photographer friend, Robert in Tulsa, who has a Burke and James 4×5 field camera. A field camera differs from a view camera in that it uses a viewfinder instead of a focusing hood or cloth. If you have ever seen the movie Flags of Our Fathers, the character of Joe Rosenthal uses a 4×5 field camera to photograph the raising of the second U.S. flag on Iwo Jima.

As Mac and I talked about film photography, she said she’d like to see what I could do with film, and I pointed out that in the very office in which she sat were literally hundreds of thousands of film frames I made during my career, from when I started at The Ada News in October 1988 until about the middle of 2005, when I had enough digital cameras to get the job done, and when the film scanner of 1998 vintage finally died.

I also told Mac that if she gets a chance to use a darkroom in her travels or education, I’d be glad to tag along and throw in my expertise. I’d also extend that invitation to anyone who wants to learn about how a darkroom works. It’s pretty amazing that I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but I can tell you exactly how to process a roll of film.

Three children use a water pump in this image made on 4x5 inch sheet film. The film is from an envelope marked, “Oakman Homecoming, Published Oct. 21, 1954, in weekly.” That means that the children in this image are in their 70s now.
Three children use a water pump in this image made on 4×5 inch sheet film. The film is from an envelope marked, “Oakman Homecoming, Published Oct. 21, 1954, in weekly.” That means that the children in this image are in their 70s now.

Most Popular Camera Ever?

The beautifully-made Canon AE-1 Program camera sits in my home studio recently.
The beautifully-made Canon AE-1 Program camera sits in my home studio recently.

A friend of mine recently asked me to look over an older film camera of his. He told me he had grown up making pictures with it. I I told him I would be happy to look it over, and to drop it by my office. I wasn’t surprised when the that camera showed up the next day was a Canon AE-1 Program, one of the most popular cameras ever made.

The battery for the Canon AE-1 Program sits inside a door on the front of the camera.
The battery for the Canon AE-1 Program sits inside a door on the front of the camera.

Before I go on, let me say that I’m not usually a “they don’t build them like they used to” guy, since technology has swept us away with all kinds of advancement, from the smartphone to the self-diagnosing car engine, but on this occasion, well… they just don’t build them like they used to.

The Canon AE-1 Program came from an era of rapid advancement in camera design, and includes some very advanced technology in it, but it also inherited the build quality, fit, and finish of the handmade and hand-assembled era of camera development.

The shutter speed dial can be set to program which, in combination with setting the aperture ring on the lens to "A" will allow the camera to set both shutter speed and aperture.
The shutter speed dial can be set to program which, in combination with setting the aperture ring on the lens to “A” will allow the camera to set both shutter speed and aperture.

The AE-1 Program followed the AE-1, which was probably the most popular camera ever sold in the film era. The “Program” was a piece of tech that allowed the camera to pick both the shutter speed and the aperture, and was the first of that feature to be introduced.

In-hand, this camera has a big-camera feel. In contrast to almost any digital camera today, it is heavy. The corners and grips of the camera are fairly conventional, and the controls are laid out nicely. I can pick up a camera like this and immediately start using it.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but most 50mm lenses are. They are easy and cheap to make, and are capable of making great images.
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but most 50mm lenses are. They are easy and cheap to make, and are capable of making great images.

I cleaned it up with a soft toothbrush and some canned air. It had a fair amount of back-of-the-closet dust on it. This particular one seemed to run just fine. The shutter and aperture cycled like they should. Focus on the 50mm f/1.8 lens, a fine piece of glass that every Canon owner had during that era, was smooth and accurate. The only thing I could find wrong with it was the light seals – the foam rubber in the slots on the film door – was dry and cracked, which could cause light leaks, especially in bright sunlight.

If my friend is willing to buy film then have it processed and scanned or printed, his Canon AE-1 Program is ready for the job.

The Canon AE-1 Program is shown with its lens removed.
The Canon AE-1 Program is shown with its lens removed.

Reflecting on Mirrorless

My new/used Fujifilm X-T10 sits in my home studio this week.
My new/used Fujifilm X-T10 sits in my home studio this week.
The Fujifilm has an articulating screen on the back for low and high angle shooting. Most of my shooting will be using the electronic viewfinder, which was a must-have when I was shopping for mirrorless.
The Fujifilm has an articulating screen on the back for low and high angle shooting. Most of my shooting will be using the electronic viewfinder, which was a must-have when I was shopping for mirrorless.

Mirrorless digital cameras have matured nicely alongside the rest of digital imaging, and are, today, at the top of the game. There are plenty of great mirrorless camera systems in the photography world today. Sony was one of the first leaders in the field, but the industry has caught up in recent years, and Fujifilm, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and others all have competitive models.

So what exactly is “mirrorless?” For decades the most popular cameras in the industry, both film and digital, were single lens reflex cameras, or SLRs. These cameras use a mirror to reflect light entering the lens into a viewfinder on top of the camera. Mirrorless cameras do away with the mechanically complex system of mirrors and pentaprisms by shining light from the lens directly on the imaging sensor, then showing it to the photographer using a display on the back of the camera or in an electronic viewfinder.

A digital single lens reflex camera and a single lens reflex film camera with their lenses removed how the mirror used to reflect light into the viewfinder.
A digital single lens reflex camera and a single lens reflex film camera with their lenses removed how the mirror used to reflect light into the viewfinder.

Mirrorless matured hand-in-hand with smartphone technology. The same way a phone gives you a live view on-screen, the mirrorless camera does as well. 10 or 15 years ago, this process was too slow for action photography, as the camera took time to process and display the image, causing a lag between the action on front of the camera and what the photographer saw.

The biggest advantage of mirrorless is size and weight. Mirrorless cameras are small and light.

I hesitated to buy mirrorless because I already have a lot of really great cameras, but for my birthday recently, my wife encouraged me to find something I would like in the field. I hunted for a bargain, since I love bargains, and I mostly looked at finding a kindly-used Fuji. One of my first cameras was a Fuji, and my wife and I have matching Fuji travel/all-in-one cameras, and I love their style.

The 2015 Fujifilm X-T10 sits next to the 1978 Fujica ST-605n.
The 2015 Fujifilm X-T10 sits next to the 1978 Fujica ST-605n.
The X-T10 has a pop-up flash, but with the exception of fill flash in broad daylight, this feature produces very poor light.
The X-T10 has a pop-up flash, but with the exception of fill flash in broad daylight, this feature produces very poor light.

I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: buying cameras used is the way to go, at least for me. You get powerful, expensive technology for a fraction of the original price because someone decided to “upgrade,” which is industry code language for trying to buy better photography by spending money on hardware.

The camera I found and bought is the Fujifilm X-T10 of 2015 vintage. In 2015, it was at the top of photographic technology, and the introduction of newer cameras since then has no effect on what this camera can do.

The controls on many Fuji mirrorless cameras are throwbacks to the manual-everything days, and are immaculately made and fitted.
The controls on many Fuji mirrorless cameras are throwbacks to the manual-everything days, and are immaculately made and fitted.
Simple converters with no mechanical or electronic connections in them are very cheap, and let me use all manner of lenses on this Fuji mirrorless.
Simple converters with no mechanical or electronic connections in them are very cheap, and let me use all manner of lenses on this Fuji mirrorless.

I didn’t buy any lenses with this camera, because part of the allure of mirrorless is, for me anyway, the fact that with an adaptor, you can put just about any lens on your mirrorless camera. This is possible because the imaging sensor in mirrorless cameras is right behind the lens, not buried behind the mirror box and mechanical shutter of older cameras.

This is my very first image with the Fujifilm X-T10, of a pillbox shaped like a camera my wife gave me years ago. I shot it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens wide open, and it is surprisingly sharp.
This is my very first image with the Fujifilm X-T10, of a pillbox shaped like a camera my wife gave me years ago. I shot it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens wide open, and it is surprisingly sharp.

The only thing I actively dislike about mirrorless cameras are the name. “Mirrorless” is a lazy, techno-pop-culture fallback name. Saying that a class of cameras is “mirrorless” is like saying most cars are “diesel-less,” which is true, but a lame way of naming them.

I have already made some impressive images with this amazing machine, and hope to keep making more as I explore its potential.

Putting my very first SLR lens, a Fujinon 55mm screw-mount, on my new/used X-T10 is a very satisfying tribute to my photographic history.
Putting my very first SLR lens, a Fujinon 55mm screw-mount, on my new/used X-T10 is a very satisfying tribute to my photographic history.

Olympus Has Fallen

This is also my “Picture This” column for June 27, 2020

A thunderstorm looms over our Nissan Frontier at a turnout on Interstate 40 in New Mexico in 2016. I shot this with my Olympus FE-5020 because it was in my shirt pocket.
A thunderstorm looms over our Nissan Frontier at a turnout on Interstate 40 in New Mexico in 2016. I shot this with my Olympus FE-5020 because it was in my shirt pocket.

Nobody likes cameras better than I do. I like old ones and new ones. I like film cameras and digital cameras. I like cameras of all sorts and brand names.

I wanted a picture of myself in Zebra Slot Canyon at Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument in April 2015, so I handed my Olympus FE-5020 to a fellow hiker.
I wanted a picture of myself in Zebra Slot Canyon at Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument in April 2015, so I handed my Olympus FE-5020 to a fellow hiker.

So no one was sorrier than I was when I learned this week that Olympus is getting out of the camera business.

Olympus, a Japanese camera maker founded in 1939, made a huge name for themselves by making cameras that were very compact. For years, because of this, my wife Abby and I owned and used several Olympus point-and-shoot cameras, and made some great images with them.

Sadly, for the last three years Olympus hasn’t been able to make their camera division profitable. This is despite their impressive Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras and excellent Zuiko lenses. One Olympus camera I have coveted since the day it was introduced is the TG-Tracker, a super-compact point-of-view/action cam that was not only tiny, it was incredibly great-looking. I never needed one, but I recommended it to several people who hoped to buy an action cam.

Photographer Jim Beckel and I photographed a sunrise at Canyonland National Park, Utah, in the spring of 2013. This image was made with my tiny Olympus FE-5020.
Photographer Jim Beckel and I photographed a sunrise at Canyonland National Park, Utah, in the spring of 2013. This image was made with my tiny Olympus FE-5020.
I still have this point-and-shoot camera, the excellent Olympus FE-5020.
I still have this point-and-shoot camera, the excellent Olympus FE-5020.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to sell cameras in a camera-in-smartphone world. My wife and I are examples of why: our current smartphones rival the images we got from our Olympus point-and-shoot cameras from years ago, so we are seldom motivated to bring a point-and-shoot along.

The photography press says that Olympus is selling their camera division to Japan Industrial Partners, but time will tell if their firm will continue to make cameras, or simply liquidate all the assets. It may be true: Olympus has fallen.

Abby and I handed my Olympus FE-5020 to a fellow hiker to make this picture of us at Canyonlands National Park in October 2010.
Abby and I handed my Olympus FE-5020 to a fellow hiker to make this picture of us at Canyonlands National Park in October 2010.

Always Be Ready to Make the Picture

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a wide angle lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a wide angle lens.

Anticipating an early voter turnout Tuesday, I drove directly from our home in Byng to Konawa to cover the school bond issue election. It was just after seven in the morning, and the sun was still below the horizon. I immediately noticed that farm ponds had fog above them and anticipated that the Canadian River, which I would shortly cross, would as well.

I drove across the U.S. 377 bridge, parked in a safe spot, put on my highway safety vest, grabbed three cameras and walked to the center of the bridge over the river. For the record, I don’t recommend this, and I did it as a journalist. I know, I know — do as I say, not as I do, but drivers can get distracted in a moment, and it’s not always easy to see in early morning light.

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 70mm lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 70mm lens.

Sunlight caught the rising fog exactly as I had anticipated, and the scene did not disappoint. I shot it with all three cameras — one with a 300mm lens, one with an 80-200mm lens,and one with a wide angle. All three scenes expressed something slightly different about the scene, and I was glad I lugged all the hardware with me.

How many times has someone come up to me with their phone in hand and started telling me, “I didn’t have my camera with me, but…” They then show me an image they made with their phone that tells only part of the story. Despite constantly improving technology in smartphones, they lack something. Maybe they lack the attitude of a camera.

The lesson is: Always have your camera with you. I know this is easy to say if you’re like me and have had cameras within arm’s reach since I was in high school, but it can really pay off.

The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 300mm lens.
The sun rises over the Canadian River north of Byng. This image was made with a 300mm lens.

A Nod to My Old School

I spotted our friend, aspiring journalist Ashlynd, at the scrimmage and made this image. Kodak digital cameras had a unique, and appealing, color pallet.
I spotted our friend, aspiring journalist Ashlynd, at the scrimmage and made this image. Kodak digital cameras had a unique, and appealing, color pallet.

Sometimes I like to get out old gear and shoot with it, with the goal of making certain I don’t rely too heavily on technology to get my job done well. Yesterday I was inspired to dig my Kodak DCS 720x out of its box at the bottom of the gear cabinet to shoot a football scrimmage at the local college, and although that technology is from 2001, I made some great images with it. Look for them in my newspaper next week!

I read recently that Kodak only made about 1600 720x cameras. I’m not surprised, as the company was already deep into its inexorable slide toward bankruptcy.

The Kodak DCS 720x sits next to one of my Nikon D2Hs, making it look tiny by comparison. Despite its age, the Kodak can still make great images in the right hands.
The Kodak DCS 720x sits next to one of my Nikon D2Hs, making it look tiny by comparison. Despite its age, the Kodak can still make great images in the right hands.

The Lens That Never Fails

My AF-S 85mm F/1.8 Nikkor sits in my studio. It's a nice image of a great lens, but it feels weird not having a filter and a hood on it.
My AF-S 85mm F/1.8 Nikkor sits in my studio. It’s a nice image of a great lens, but it feels weird not having a filter and a hood on it.

It’s no secret that I am a lens guy. Old and new, cheap and expensive, I think photographic lenses are fascinating. I have quite a few lenses, from the tiny, dusty, fixed-focus, brassed-up lenses on my Kodak Retina, to the heavy, complex f/2.8 sports and news zooms I use every day. But if you ask me to name an all-time favorite… wow. All those lenses. But, my all-time favorite lens has to be the 85mm.

Abby and I pose for a portrait in beautiful autumn sunshine recently. I handed our photographer friend Robert my Nikon D7100 with the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 on it, knowing that his expertise and that lens would give us a great result.
Abby and I pose for a portrait in beautiful autumn sunshine recently. I handed our photographer friend Robert my Nikon D7100 with the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 on it, knowing that his expertise and that lens would give us a great result.

I have owned three, the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 of 1990s vintage, the Nikkor 85mm f/2.0 of early-80s heritage, and my current 85mm, the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G.

Over the years I read that the oldest of the three, the f/2.0, wasn’t great, but my experience differed. It was an amazing lens. The least of the three was the AF from the 90s, optically similar to the others, but built with a lot of plastic, including a plastic bushing in the focus chain that wore out and made the lens stiff. Eventually Nikon stopped supporting it so I could no longer get it repaired, and I stopped using it. I eventually gave it away.

My current 85mm is a real gem. I wrote about it a couple of times right after I got it, but I thought it would be helpful to mention that after three years with this lens in my bag, I use it as often as I can, from weddings to portraits to commercial work, with lots of occasions when I grab it to photograph my wife Abby or our dogs.

Our photographer friend Robert used it to photograph Abby and me in November, and those images are among my favorite all-time images of us.

In class in October, I handed this 85mm to a photography student, Daniel O’Danielle, who used it for about 30 minutes. The next week, she had a new one on her camera. I also recently talked about this lens with another photographer who has one, Dan Marsh, who also sang praises about it.

I thought of all this last night at sunset. I grabbed the 85mm once again and walked out to photograph the peach blossoms in my orchard. It didn’t disappoint me.

My peach blossoms take on a subtle beauty as the sun sets last night. This image took the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 to its limits: shot at f/2, this image was made right at the len's closest focus point. It is sharp, the colors are dazzling, and the background moves away as gracefully as Audrey Hepburn.
My peach blossoms take on a subtle beauty as the sun sets last night. This image took the AF-S 85mm f/1.8 to its limits: shot at f/2, this image was made right at the len’s closest focus point. It is sharp, the colors are dazzling, and the background moves away as gracefully as Audrey Hepburn.

The Sweet Morning Fog

I shot this on my way to work this morning, fortuitous that my first assignment required a different route to work than I usually take. I jumped out of my car and half-ran across a mostly-empty four-lane highway to get into position.

Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.
Steam billows over a farm pond between Byng and Ada, Oklahoma Saturday morning, March 16; shot with the Nikon D300S and the AF-S Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.