Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kickstarter Project to Watch

Sometimes there are interesting photography related projects that are seeking funding on Kickstarter, everything from equipment manufacturing to photo projects to book projects. Kickstarter is a crowd-sourced solution for funding things people want to create. Since a lot of grants and business loans have dried up since the recession and housing bubble burst, artists and innovators have successfully used Kickstarter to get the funds they need.

I'm sure the preceding is old news for a lot of you, but I ran across a new project there and it's about a guy trying to manufacture a follow-focus device for DSLR HD-capable cameras. He's aiming for it to be simple and reliable and cheap. It's called the 50-Dollar Follow Focus, and that says it all. If you know anything about this field, it seems like all the video accessories are really quite expensive. Even simple looking gadgets end up costing thousands. Go figure.

So if you are in the market for a follow focus device for your camera, you might  want to look his project over. For $60.00, you can get one of these devices as soon as they are available. The extra $10 is to cover shipping and all that stuff. Sounds like a good deal. Read about it and watch his video here. His project will end in 18 days from now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Photography: Against the Law!

Ever since the events of 9-11, our world has changed in many ways. In the effort of fighting terrorism, individual freedoms and rights have taken a beating, and so have a fair number of photographers. Security personnel, from both the private and government sectors, have acted against working photojournalists and amateur photographers when they have been caught taking photographs in public settings. Cameras have been confiscated, people have been beaten and intimidated, and some have even been arrested. The idea is that terrorists could be taking photos of potential targets for terrorism, as part of their planning, though it is my understanding that no evidence of this picture-taking behavior has ever been found with any terrorists. In the past few years, police personnel here in the States have even been caught harassing citizens who try to photograph or record public police actions. This is a bad trend for any democracy and it seems to be happening all over the world, particularly in England and here in the USA. JPG Magazine has published an article on this topic and you can learn more about it here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Olympus Resurrects the OM Cameras

Well, rumors are flying fast and furious around the web the past few days that Olympus will be revealing at an upcoming electronics show in London a brand, a new camera called the OM-D. Few facts are known at this time, but a few things are known, maybe. It's all guess work, of course, at this time, but it's probably going to be in form and function, a cross between a DSLR and a Micro 4/3s approach.

The leaked pictures of it show a pentaprism shape on top of the camera, but it won't have an internal mirror, it'll be a internal EVF screen. It will have interchangeable lenses, but who knows what lens mount it will use. No word has been given as to the size/dimensions of its sensor. Will it be Micro 4/3s or something else?

Well, the one photo I saw of it shows the camera with a 45mm f/1.8 lens. Another clue about the camera, from Olympus, is he word: "One." What does this all mean? I don't really know, but I wonder. That lens I saw seems suspiciously like a normal lens, so does that mean it will be a full-frame camera, like Canon's 5D Mark II? Or maybe it will be a new format that is only slightly smaller than full-frame? 

Not completely sure how the "One" fits in here; maybe it refers to a 1:1 sensor or full-frame? Maybe it refers to the old Olympus camera, the OM-1. That was the first serious camera I owned and it revolutionized camera design in the 70s. Pro cameras of that time were large and heavy, much like current cameras today, and the OM series of cameras gave pros a smaller, more portable SLR with first-class lenses. Current pros have been clamoring for a smaller, more portable digital camera for years. That's why the Micro 4/3s have been doing so well among pros and enthusiasts. So maybe Olympus is going to try and repeat that strategy for this generation, and the OM-D (or maybe the OM-1D? maybe that's where the "One" fits in?) will be the digital camera that pros will adopt for photojournalism and documentary work. We'll just have to wait and see. When more is known, I'll let you know about it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Investment in Time

photo by Michael Chrisman

Everyone tends to think of photography in terms of moments caught in the blink of an eye. Philosophically, we get that from Henri Cartier-Bresson and his Decisive Moment approach to photography, but in practical terms, just look at the shutter speeds on our cameras; they are all in fractions of a second. When I began photographing, my Olympus OM-1n had a top shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. Now it’s not uncommon to have 1/8000 of a second in higher-end cameras. 

But the fractions of a second are only part of the story of photography. Working in low light or night settings, or with slow ISO settings and high f-stops, and you will find your shutter settings extending past the fractions of a second and into full seconds and even minutes. In my Japanese Garden series, Visual Haiku, I once had an exposure of 30 minutes for one shot. It was just after sun-up on a cloudy, foggy day and there just wasn’t very much light to work with, though the end results were magical. 

Well, another photographer, Michael Chrisman, has taken the idea of long exposures to its extreme. Using a home-made pinhole camera, Chrisman made an image of the Toronto skyline that took one year to expose. That’s right, a one year exposure. Not a second or an hour or even several hours, but every day for a year the camera was exposing the paper inside the camera and building up an exposure of that city. I’ve never heard of a longer exposure than that. The light, diagonal streaks in the sky of the image are the traces of the sun as it traveled across the sky over the course of a year. The resulting image is more interesting for how it was made than for what it looks like, but it still has a subtle charm of its own. You can read the story about Michael Chrisman and his project here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

More New Cameras!

Just before the weekend I was speculating on the new interchangeable lens digital rangefinder camera from Fuji, that was supposed to be a extension of the ideas behind their recent cameras, the X100 and the X10. Well, it's out and I was not completely right, but close enough. The new Fuji X-Pro1 is a digital interchangeable lens rangefinder camera, but it will have its own lens mount (the X mount, which is AF) and doesn't use the Leica mount, like I suggested last week. But Fuji will have a Leica lens mount adapter for it, so I wasn't too far off on that. The X-Pro1 will have a 16 MP APS-C sized sensor. The sensor itself is a new design that uses randomly arranged red, green, and blue pixels in 6x6 blocks. The random arrangement eliminates the need of an anti-aliasing filter, normally used in digital cameras to get rid of moire patterns, because the new sensor won't create moire patterns in fabrics or other materials. The random pixels are also supposed to replicate the look of film images better than most other sensors do. Three lenses are being introduced with the X-Pro1: a 18mm f/2, a 35mm f/1.4, and a 60mm f/2.4 Macro. These lenses are the equivalent of 27mm, 52mm, and 90mm lenses. They have a total of nine lenses planned so far for it, including a 14mm and a couple of zooms. This looks to be a great camera system.

The other new camera of note is Canon's G1 X. The new Powershot camera will have the largest sensor that has ever been used in a Powershot camera. It is just a bit smaller than an APS-C sensor, which makes it slightly bigger than the Micro 4/3 sensors. Its lens is the equivalent of a 28 - 112mm zoom and has maximum apertures of f/2.8-5.8. Looks like a good retro design, but their choice for a lens feels like a miss to me. It's not nearly bright enough and won't offer the range of depth of field effects that a wider aperture lens would give the user. And the people who will buy this camera are looking for that level of control. Well, folks have been speculating about Canon's response to the Micro 4/3 trend and maybe the G1 X is it. If it is, maybe Canon should go back to the drawing board and think about it some more.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Nikon Announces the D4!

Nikon announced today their newest pro camera, the D4. It has many of the same features and specs of the previously announced Canon camera, the EOS 1D X. The D4 will have a full-frame 16.2 MP sensor, ISO settings up to 204.800, full HD (1080P) video, and be able to shoot at 11 frames per second. Plus, it can do a whole lot more. Yada, yada, yada. Personally, I like the slightly melted look of the grip side of the camera. Seems more "swoopy" than most Nikons usually are.

It's interesting to see both Nikon and Canon introduce pro-level cameras with modest increases in megapixels compared to their previous iterations. Of course, both of these cameras are aimed at the photojournalist and sports photographer, where operating speed and low light capability are most important. My assumption is that they are concentrating on real image quality, higher dynamic range, and less noise than just resolution numbers, and if so, this is a good direction. My older 10 MP DSLR still makes great images, so there's no reason they can't do better with the latest sensor technology. The D4, like the 1D X, probably won't be seen in the metal till late this year or early next year. So don't hold your breath.

The Fall of Kodak

I heard yesterday about Kodak’s impending bankruptcy and I stopped to consider the differences between Kodak and Fuji, which were one time rivals in the film business. This rivalry, at least in the US, got started in the 1970s, though of course both companies had been around for many previous decades. Since I learned photography in the 70s, Kodak was always a big part of my personal history in photography. Tri-X and Kodachrome were the films to use, if you were a photographer. The familiar yellow boxes have been a comforting sight for a long time. But times do change and the transformation of the photo industry from silver-based photography to digital imaging has not been an easy one for all the companies involved in this paradigm shift.

Agfa, Minolta, Konica, Yashica, and Contax have all gone extinct. Ilford nearly went under, but managed at the last minute to pull off a switch to inkjet papers. Before it’s all said and done, I’m sure others will fall as well. So now it’s Kodak’s turn. Film and processing, which used to be the majority of Kodak’s business, have all but disappeared. Kodak used their R & D prowess to develop digital sensors for other digital cameras, like Leica and most of the professional medium format digital backs, but despite a few attempts in the beginning to develop professional DSLRs, they stayed out of the serious digicam business. Of course, I know they have made and continue to make several economically priced digicams, but nothing that could compete with the major players like Nikon, Canon, and Panasonic. So they slipped out of the consciousness of serious photographers.

Meanwhile, Fuji has fared much better than their American cousin. Until recently, they played on the outskirts of the digicam trade, but they always had a few models that attracted the attention of a few vocal fans. Now, they have some of the most exciting cameras that have been introduced in the past few years, the X100 and the X10. Both of these cameras are targeted to the interests and predilections of professionals and enthusiasts, especially those who long for cameras with traditional styling and simpler, manual controls. There is even talk of Fuji introducing an interchangeable lens version of the X100. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a full-frame model with the Leica M-mount, in a direct counter to Leica’s high priced M9. Though they lost the film business, just like Kodak, they have managed to weather the switch quite nicely.

Still, I hope Kodak survives. The latest rumor has them declaring Chapter 11, which releases them from past debt, unfortunately including all the retirement pensions they’re paying to past employees, but allowing them to continue in business. There is no doubt that these are tough times, and businesses will do whatever it takes to survive, if they can, but I hope they can live to make better business decisions and make the changes needed to thrive in this new digital environment. It would be sad to see those yellow boxes disappear forever.