Friday, 28 March 2014

S. Sebastian's Gate

In terms of Victorian painterly photography, these are both examples of the Sublime and the Picturesque styles, the Sublime being the exaggerate, the ominous, and the Picturesque, the homely side of Nature, that you will find in the adjacent  gardens and cemeteries.

At any rate the Olympus 9-18 was handy in this case

The Pope's walls

Claudius' Acqueduct at S. Giovanni

These were shot with the 4/3 Olympus WA 9-18, a lens that even today with a 16 Mpx sensor is tack sharp from edge to edge, and allows mirrorless cameras the resolution of 35mm machines. 

The severe beauty of Rome

As a Medieval and Ancient town Rome rests on a paradox: it is both a walled town and a garden town, among the greenest in Europe.

By the times of Augustus it had already reached one million people, being the largest of Antiquity.  200 yrs later, in 270 c.e. when Aurelianus began to encircle it with its second and last line of walls, its population was already dwindling.

When the walls were breached by the barbarians, and the empire was finished, in 450 c.e. the countryside set in and the villas of the aristocracy reclaimed the deserted spots. The first Church was built on the farm of the wife of Constantine.

By year 1000 c.e.. the population had been reduced by hunger and the plague, to 40.000 - less than the number of public statues the City had under Augustus. They all but disappeared by the time the Byzantines left town in yr. 1000.

It is only by the birth of Italy in 1861 that the city recovered. Today within its walls, still live 800.000 only a quarter of Rome's population, about the same of Augustus' times.

As a child I was lucky to live by Porta Aureliana, the most impressive post of the Northern Side, which must have fought against the Goths and the Huns. Right behind it are the noble Borghese Gardens whose gallery hosts so many classical statues and paintings.

They were none of my concerns as a kid, since I played indians and cowboys with my cousins in the vast parks of Villa Borghese.

One classical statue in the open however struck my attention, and its inscription I learned to translate as soon as I learned English:

From Childe Harold pilgrimage:

     Oh Rome! my country! city of the soul! 
     The orphans of the heart must turn to thee, 
     Lone mother of dead empires! and control 
     In their shut breasts their petty misery. 
     What are our woes and sufferance? Come and see 
     The cypress, hear the owl, and plod your way 
     O'er steps of broken thrones and temples, Ye! 
     Whose agonies are evils of day -- 
A world is at our feet as fragile as our clay.    (Byron)

City of the soul, indeed. And ' Lone mother of dead empires!' Those sentences were going to mark me for life, in my assessment of such a unique city, and they still haunt me:

Was it also a parallel? Could Byron have forecast the fall of the British Empire - I wondered, as he was running to help the Greek independence against the Turks? 
Is it the unavoidable destiny of all empires to crumble? The British Empire took 500 yrs. to build, and only 50 to disappear utterly. Rome took much longer and transmogrified in a Spiritual  Empire. There is room to ponder, sitting on a broken column like Byron did.

So  in my middle age, I wondered a few years ago what equivalent I could provide visually of the broken might of my mother-city, and found no better than to dedicate one full Summer to the Walls of Rome.

Please consider that the original perimeter, 19 km long,  took all the male population of Rome to build it under Aurelianus' edict in only 4 years, so great was the hurry to stop at its doors the coming Goths and Vandals from the North . It is still a huge monument, particularly by the Southern side, which includes the Cestia pyramid, and other mighty stone edifices.

Next the Pyramid, leaning against the inner side of the walls, are the two English cemeteries, to which I feel connected, because in one of them are buried both Keats and my father, the Acattolici one, and Gramsci, the frail founder of the Italian Communist Party, remebered by Pasolini 

That Summer however it was the mighty Porta S. Sebastiano and adjoining walls who took my photographic attention. With its twin towers it is also a beautiful sample of late Roman military architecture, which is sadly made ugly by street signs, so I had to learn to clone them away, one by one.

Over its terraces was an exhibition of a Chinese artist, made of stone animals - a rabbit to point to an ancient Year of the Rabbit, when Rome was still young. It was there to celebrate the link between the two oldest empires of the planet, The Chinese and the Roman ones, connected by a trade route known as the Silk Road.

Despite all the work I have only a few keepers of these huge walls. You'll need a Wide Angle and a bubble level or equivalent. If you don't have a tilt shift lens your perspectives are going to be distorted. You'll also have dynamic range problems, the exposure difference between lights and shadows being huge, especially in the Summer. So you might have to try HDR or a ND filter.

Meanwhile the cemeteries kept drawing me. In Keat's one it seemed as if I could hear again the Ode to a Nightingale:

Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 
But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 
Already with thee! tender is the night, 
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays; 
But here there is no light, 
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.   (Keats)

There lies the tomb 'whose name was writ in water'

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 
No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
In ancient days by emperor and clown   (Keats)

Not half a kilometer away it a military cemetery, the Commonwealth's one. Against one of the walls, facing the strict line of white tombs, is a moving inscription by a delegation of Englishmen, reminding that the Roman wall is of the same nature of the one which protected civilization in the Scottish north, the Adrian's Wall.

A strange short circuit of the imagination, but very true. In the Commonwealth Cemetery however are buried the crews of the bombers of Montecassino, some Jews, some Indian, people from Leeds and Birmingham, New Zealand. There might be also some American Crews, but mostly the latter  are buried near Anzio.

So because of the dead, that is one of the most international corners of the old city! A City of the Dead. Byron writes:

     The Niobe of nations! there she stands, 
     Childless and crownless, in her voiceless woe; 
     An empty urn within her wither'd hands, 
     Whose holy dust was scatter'd long ago; 
     The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now; 
     The very sepulchres lie tenantless 
     Of their heroic dwellers: dost thou flow, 
     Old Tiber! through a marble wilderness? 
Rise, with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress.  (Byron)

Those Byron's verses remind me that behind the welcoming smile of its parks and vales, the beauty of Rome is severe.

Some evidence of severity is given even today by the remnants of the House of Vestals, at the Forum. This was the oldest institution of the city.
Those girls were chosen among the noblest families of Rome to keep the Sacred Fire. If ever caught in intercourse they were immediately executed. The period of chastity lasted either 20 years, or for life, as for the Chief Vestal. To all effects, they were nuns.

They were second only to the Pontifex, the highest magistrate in Republican Rome, whose title is still carried today by the Pope. Pontifex means builder of bridges, a title that meant reconciling the savage tribes that camped on the separate river's argins, like the Etruscan and the Sannites, by building a bridge. To unite v. different tribes is still what basically the Pope does today. Religio means binding people together.

The Romans could also be pitiless with those who rebelled to Imperium. I caught recently some pictures of the inner side of the Arch of Titus, where a bas relief narrates the plunder of the Temple of Jerusalem, showing legionnaires carrying in triumph the Menorah, the seven arms sacred chandelier, which was buried under the Coliseum.

The Temple was utterly destroyed at the end of the long and bloody Jewish wars, in 70 and  135 CE, and the inhabitants carried as slaves to Rome. It was the end of Judea for 2000 years. But only 200 years later the barbarians were at the doors of Rome, at the Aurelianus' walls. And the citizens of Rome were to experiment the same cycle of plunder, rape and assassinations the Jews had gone through. It's what the Greeks called Ananke, and Dante the law of Contrappasso, the retribution of destiny.

Now just a bit of photographic advice. If you do want to do your own bit of Architecture and Landscape - and it is almost impossible not to do so in such a photogenic place, and you'd bring only one lens, make it a Wide Angle Zoom. The city Center is mostly  Middle Ages narrow streets whose alleys open up suddenly on huge monuments, like the Pantheon, the Forum, the Coliseum, or St. Peter. 
With a normal lens you'll never have the troom to even catch a significant part of what you shoot. Keep the normal lens for portraits of your loved ones, of for doing a bit of street shooting instead.

You can buy the 4/3 9-18 here at Amazon, or its sibling the m4/3 one.

 Rome has colored walls, most in terracotta red, which make wonderful backgrounds to passers by. Ordinary life happens in the open and people gang up easily in the summer in its convivial squares, so a theater like atmosphere develops naturally. You'll have tons of photo-opportunities, when the heat of the day relents. And tons of extraordinary dishes to try in the open air tables of trattorie. This is what you will have at the Ghetto, deep fried:

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

street in blue

P3263467 by amalric
P3263467, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

It happened to me by accident to leave the Tungsten WB on, and suddenly all daylight pictures took an otherwordly aspect. I then decided to explore deliberately the possibilities.

The RetroFinder

P7131752 by amalric

I devised a folding DIY add on, made out of an old Kiev 60 viewer,  which magnifies the camera's LCD and shades it from ambient  light.

It can be folded flat, and is kept in place by a flash bracket.

 I called it the RetroFinder  since it makes any camera look like a SteamPunk device. It might come handy for the Panasonic GM1 too. 

A Petite for a Camera

Users of mirrorless format Micro 4/3 will be already familiar with very small cameras, and despite this with their high Image Quality.
It is the main feature of the format that for the first time did away with the use of the mirror in digital, therefore shrinking all that was stuck around it. Never such an extreme in miniaturization was reached however. Compare the differences:

A GM1 compared to a Canon 6d  (Courtesy Joachim)

The Panasonic GM1 is smaller than my palm and fingers, and yet has the same quality of its bigger brethrens, adding a very respectable MPEG-4 video format. It has a 16 Mpx sensor that can go to up to 25600 ISO sensitivity (candlelight!) and a12-32mm F3.5-5.6 pancake zoom, with great resolution, covering from wide - typically a living room, to short portrait.

Panasonic succeeded to make it collapsible to pancake size, so that you can put it easily in your pocket.

Check the Specs here

This petite in fact is probably smaller than your smartphone, and it can  interact with it by Wi-FI.

And here we come to a user's dilemma. Should you buy this beauty, which will set you back by 600 $, or should you do away with it, by simply using a smartphone?

The difference with the latter is of course that the GM1 has interchangeable lenses, which allow better IQ.  Features and performances are like  a full camera of course, not like a phone. You don't use Apps, but the controls are already coded in the camera itself.

In other words do you want to play photographer, or geek? The difference between the two is a nightmare for camera companies. The entry-level cameras, the so called Point & Shoot, were the first to be wiped out by the extreme casualness and portability of the smartphone.

This year it was worse: system cameras, the top of the bunch, lost as much as 20% worldwide - and it is not the end yet.
While the smartphone triumphs, the camera industry goes down in flames with the last contenders at each other's throats.  Can mirrorless be an answer?

Reflex camera owners hate mirrorless  since they have no optical viewfinder.
The GM1 in fact has not even an electronic one, but does it need one? It can connect to your smartphone after all.

In a mirrorless everything is sacrificed to size. Indeed  short distance to flange allows lenses to be designed much smaller.

The crop factor also allows much smaller telephotos, so on the whole, everything gets smaller.
As a result, many leave at home  the camera bag, and instead use simply their pockets, when they need additional lenses.

In a mirrorless  even an LCD back screen allows WYSIWYG, to see what you get, i.e. what the sensor records, so you can  correct the result of the shot in advance.
Similarly one can change colour casts, tones, brightness - do essential photography, *before* getting  back at home, and  lose time with Photoshop.

In fact you can directly beam by WiFi  to your social sites. End of PhotoShop!

Last but not least, Mirrorless has also no lens calibration issues, and some of the fastest AF in the industry.

M4/3 which brings so many advantages, includes a neologism: Scalability, meaning you can choose different camera sizes for the same sensor.

Nobody forces you to have a petite like the GM1 alone,  if you want to use a bigger camera with the  same lenses.  Just get two m4/3 cameras,  say a big one for Studio and Portraits, and E-M1 - and a midget, if you want to steal pictures in the street. You stll be using the same set of lenses. Great savings!

In my case I have a  dSR- like,  the Olympus EM-5, and another Olympus, the E-PM1, a midget. The first I use for dedicated work like Landscape and Architecture - the second  as an 'always with you camera',  for Street Shooting, with a diminutive pancake, a Panny 14/2.5.
By using every day the same 14/2.5,  I can tell the Field of View by heart without even needing a framing device.

Now  let's go back to this little queen of mirrorless, the  GM1.
Because of its small button estate, it has only one Function button, and a few others, including a MF/AF one. 

Its main interface is a touch screen, and that can be a blessing or an affliction. Being so small it's very easy to bring to life the screen with the thumb holding the camera. Then the wheel around the diamond keys can easily move away the focus point from the center:

 Trying to find the GM1 problems.

Now let's have a look at the customization. DPReview says: "The GM1 has one physical customizable button (Fn1, encircled by the focus mode dial on the top panel) and five more touch controls that can be assigned custom functions. These are accessed through a 'Fn' tab on the screen. Any of those buttons may be assigned the following controls:

• Wi-Fi
• One-push AE
• Touch AE
• DOF preview
• Level gauge
• Zoom Control
• Photo Style
• Aspect Ratio
• Picture size
• Quality
• Sensitivity
• Metering mode
• i.Dynamic
• i.Resolution
• Shutter type • Flash mode
• Flash adjust
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Digital zoom
• Stabilizer
• Motion Pic. settings
• Picture mode
• Silent mode
• AFS/AFF mode
• Peaking
• Histogram
• Guide line
• Rec area
• Step zoom
• Zoom speed
• Restore to default

That is an enormous choice.  Probably half of the functions are wasted on you, and so on me. But how to agree about what should be kept? Do they help us make better pictures? I doubt. We play, get distracted, and forget to take pictures.
But you can also see it in another way. Once those functions are set, you forget about them, and you have a camera set to your very specific needs.

OTH it's clear that such a small camera will never have the real estate needed for all the buttons its deserves, so it has to rely on the touch screen, just like a smartphone.

That is the first reason why I hesitate to  let myself seduced by the petite. Would I ever become a touch screen addict?
The second limit is that  it has no IBIS (in body stabilization) and that the battery life is only 230 shots.

On the bright side this camera has HDR, and an i-dynamic setting which can smooth the tone curve - the difference between shadows and highlights -  in heavy contrast days.

On the fun side the GM1 has Stop Motion / Time Lapse, which allows you Koyanystquatsy effects.
DPR says: "It will capture a series of images and automatically generate a movie file of a Nightmare Before Christmas-type style. With the camera on a tripod, the GM1 will take as many pictures as you'd like, and the camera will put them together into a video for you. The original stills are saved, as well. The camera can 'auto shoot' at set intervals (you'd better be quick) or you can take them at your own pace. An overlay of the previous shot helps you see exactly what's moved." This is great fun!

If there must be a conclusion for me, is that petite cameras are  becoming more important than their dSLR alternatives, because we use them more, as everyday devices. 

I have an additional reason to be involved in dwarf camera. For short range work I use  a 28mm eq., and therefore  I must  get v. close to my subject. Such a small camera as the GM1 makes me the invisible man, like Tichy:

One last thing that puzzles me considerably. The GM1 has an electronic shutter, which is true Space Age: 1/16,000 of a second. What will it be for? Electronic shutters allow a Lartigue Effect , and that is certainly a draw for me, although it might be a con for others.

On the flip side  it has only a 1/50 synchro speed for flash, which is next to useless. At the most  you can use it to trigger faster, more powerful slave speedlights.

In any case this petite, and its successors are on my radar. They simply offer too much for the size.

You can buy it at Amazon.

Friday, 14 March 2014

In the metro

SUNP0057 by amalric
SUNP0057, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

(No Rule of Thirds here)

To a new user asking about composition

There are no set rules for composition anymore, unless you make some assumptions. For instance Landscape is different in the Western and the Chinese tradition.
Therefore one can assume you will choose the first, and therefore you must know what Western painters did in the past.

But is your choice Landscape as a genre, or Portrait, or Still Life? Those are painterly genres, but Photography was not confined to that.

The Avant Garde in 1920-30 completely changed the painterly Rule of Thirds, which had been in charge before. It also started Street Shooting, where composition is rather in depth than on a flat    plane.
 According to D. Bate, American Street Shooting has evolved towards more Balance and Neutrality.

So this begs the question: are you opting for The New Objectivity of the American kind? It is only one option, but it is what most here assume, ignoring other choices, as we saw with Rodchenko

Photography, even of the amateur kind, is now globalised, and is branching in many new ways. Knowing about the past of Painting, and the reach of Photography, will open you many avenues of thought, and ways of shooting.

Composition is important but it shouldn't really limit your creativity, nor throw you towards the conventions of commercial genres, like Still Life for Advertising or Portrait for Marriage, the kind which go after money, and heavily use bokeh and Photoshop.

Instead please remember that the main gestalts, the psychological cores, were established at the Bauhaus, and that Andreas Feininger, (son of founder Lyonel Feininger)  used them to teach in his American books about Photography. They are the beginning of Modernity, so one might start from there.

Anyway shoot as much as you can, practice makes perfect.

As a postscript I found a picture of the celebrated Nature photographer Andreas Gurtsky, an example of the contradictions of even the simplest landscape:

Engadin, A. Gurtsky

Critic David Bate remarks that the composition is made in thirds, snow - mountain - sky, but then it is wrecked by the line of people in the foreground:
"It shows the awful consequence of mass tourism: humans as the blight on an other wise picturesque nature...the picture nevertheless depends on their opposing characteristics by combining them."

Has the objectivity of the Landscape being ruined by the subjectivity of the photographer, or is the environment showing us a different kind of objectivity that the photographer has chosen to report, with a social intent? 
Composition here signifies a lot, and the way you are willing to break it. Such a pure environment polluted by a colony of human ants!

Since Barthes wrote his essays on photography, no picture is innocent to me, it is always a sign of something else. 
For instance, the picture above for us signifies a negative, but are we sure it would do so to an Asian? From the beginning of Buddhist times mountains have been associated to public pilgrimages, like here:

So perhaps to an Asian eye the Engadin picture would automatically signify a positive. This is called a connotation, and is clearly culturally based. Globalisation has introduced another twist in the way we interpret the simplest images.

Additionally Westerners use perspective to convey distance, while Orientals use Atmospheric colour. The camera, which is a perspective device, therefore tends to impose the Western Order.
The Oriental tradition however is far from lost. You can see an example of composition by atmospheric haze in Chinese photogs. here and here. I find them among the most inspiring.

Monday, 10 March 2014

the gasometer

P2162363 by amalric
P2162363, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

from the bridge

P9181978 by amalric
P9181978, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

Aleksandr Rodchenko, the Revolutionary

“The modern city with its multi-storey buildings, plants, factories [...], all this [...] has changed the psychology of the traditional perception to a great extent. It seems as if only a camera is able to illustrate modern life.” (Alexander Rodchenko).
We are all dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.

When Rodchenko began his career as a graphic artist under the Russian revolution he was already well known as a cubist painter, but his career skyrocketed with the use of the camera, one of the first Leicas, that he bought in Paris. Happy times when Leicas were still accessible to poor artists! The Leica could then be had for 133 roubles.

(Alexander_Rodchenko Wikipedia)

At a time when photographers were still stuck in the painterly debate between the Picturesque and the Sublime in the depiction of Nature, he famously declared that no picture should even be taken 'from the belly button level' and pointed his lens from plunging angles exclusively to cityscapes and the big demonstrations of the Revolution.

You might object to the ideology, and the rhetoric, but not to his impeccable visuals. It was the first time that proletarians got to see each other - bourgeois and the countryside having being the main subject of Victorianism - and so the tradition of social Reportage began with the march of Russian masses. 

Rodchenko graphical imagination was after the geometry of serial lines, in plunging perspectives, in stark black and whites,  in what came to be known as Constructivism: the city itself appeared as a giant factory. He was not far from F. Lang's 'Metropolis',  but in Germany  too a revolution had taken place, with the Spartacist days of Rosa Luxemburg.

In Russia Aleksandr gravitated in the highly progressive entourage of the poets Majakovsky, Osip and Lilya Brik - LEF, Left for Art,  their review was called - and it helped him keep the revolutionary momentum. He reduced his cubist paintings to monochromes, and then declared that painting was dead, in favor of the camera. There were rumors that Lilya offered her favors to Rodchenko while posing for advertising posters, but free love was usual then between comrades, so nothing shocking.

Rodchenko was a personal friend of Dziga Vertov, the outstanding film maker and inventor of Cinéma Vérité, photography never being far away of the documentary. How many talents fed each other in those early days of the Revolution!

Steel horses
steal the first cubes
jumping from the windows
of fleeting houses.
Swan-necked belfries
bend in electric-wire nooses!
The giraffe-hide sky unlooses
motley carrot-top bangs.
The son
of patternless fields
is dappled like trout.
Concealed by clocktower faces,
a magician
rails from the muzzle of a tram.

(From street to street - V.V. Majakovky)

A small Leica indeed allowed Rodcenko to record the city and its masses from a birds-eye POV which had never been attempted before.

Painting was to undergo a similar destiny in France and the US, but only 20 years later, with Informal Art and Klein's monochromes. So often revolutions speed up changes in art too.

 Rodchenko was also in touch  with Moholy-Nagy of the Bauhaus. Together they started  industrial art and design. Later however he was accused of having copied the Germans. Small minds!

I had a similar experience in the 1970s when I rediscovered Futurism. By using abstract décors like Balla had done, and by doing away with actors, we introduced installations and performance into theater. A Tabula Rasa took place in 1977-1979, with Teatro di Postavanguardia in Rome. A renaissance that was to last only a few years, before our funds were cut.

Rodchenko had showed that Landscape was just a bourgeois convention. We abolished the scene, and so the spectators became the actors. In Rodchenko pictures the actors were everyday people and thus he also launched Street Shooting, in a far more radical way of what had been  attempted  by Eugène Atget in his documentation of Paris.

Certainly the Leica, replacing the view camera, helped to catch the decisive instant, without the need for Atget's poses. The dynamic lines showed History in Action.

(Girl with a Leica)

Rodchenko also identified diagonal lines as the internal contradiction in respect to the square lines of the frame, thus a metaphor of movement. By destroying static lines he suggested the the breaking down of the image in lesser elements, doing away with the illusion that a picture is an innocent holistic reproduction of Nature. Realism, as an ideology, went out of the the window too. Bodies appeared  estranged from the conventions of the Portrait.

Rodcenko had a heavy price to pay for these innovations: during the purges he was put under trial and accused of 'Formalism': thus to have betrayed the Party and the masses.  It was a terrible accusation, therefore he was threatened to give up all his official jobs.

 So  after shooting for a while the Regime's celebrations he stopped, and began instead to work as a curator of other photographers, who celebrated the achievements of  Socialist Realism and the Five-years Plans of the Regime. 

The same Return to Order was taking place  with the celebratory 'Olympia' in Berlin under Hitler, and in the Fascist regimes, with their notion of a National art opposed to Degenerate Art, cultural hypocrisy being well spread on the surface of the planet.

BTW the plunging, slanted lines of Rodchenko have resurfaced, almost as a trademark, in the Freestyle type of shooting skateboarding in the Social Medias. It is even apparent  in the selfies of Smartphones, all gravity being lost in the Space Age.  

And yet even now  I still have to remind myself not to fall in the old convention, so strongly the tradition of a straight horizon  is entrenched in Landscape. Instead  one must use geometry to advantage, but not necessarily in a Naturalist way.

If you want to understand and learn to deconstruct the main genres of photography, beginning from Portrait and Landscape, those two genres laden with commonplaces, you'd do nothing better than read "Photography, the key concepts" by David Bate, of Westminster University.

To him Landscape is almost invariably an artificial construct built with an aim to order. No picture is an innocent search for beauty. He considers the 1930 as a key period, mentioning a parallel with the American f/64 group. here

On the other hand Old Europe, which is never really so old, did a beautiful Rodchenko retrospective in Summer 2013 in Vienna, at the Westlicht Gallery.

They had some of the best Rodchenko's quotes:

“Photography – the new, fast and real reflection of the world – should make it possible to map the world from all points of view [...]. In order to educate man to a new vision, everyday familiar objects must be shown to him with totally unexpected perspectives and in unexpected situations. New objects should be depicted from different sides in order to provide a complete impression of the object.”
“We must revolutionize our optical perception. We must remove the veil from our eyes.”
“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting. Foreshortenings with a strong distortion of the objects, with a crude handling of matter. Moments altogether new, never seen before… compositions whose boldness outstrips the imagination of painters… Then the creation of those instants which do not exist, contrived by means of photomontage. The negative transmits altogether new stimuli to the sentient mind and eye.”
Alexander Rodchenko

Friday, 7 March 2014

how not to be seen 1

SUNP0063BW by amalric
SUNP0063BW, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

how not to be seen 2

PB180552 by amalric
PB180552, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

Is to shoot between attention lapses - v. tricky.

Rétro: the way we shoot, or the way we shot?

A couple of years ago, beginning with the Olympus E-M5, a new kind of cameras appeared out of nothing,  looking like the old reflex cameras of the film era, with a central hump and a wheel, as if camera makers had a nostalgia of when cameras made of metal, and everything was done by hand.

With the exception of the Nikon Df  35mm  however the new cameras are all mirrorless. They don't even have a pentaprism inside the hump, but an  Electronic ViewFinder. So why go back to the controls of a bygone era?

Now I will briefly introduce one of the latest models, the Fuji X-T1, allegedly one of the most desirable of the season. 

All made in metal (Magnesium body, Aluminum wheels) with a 16 Mpx sensor of the Xtrans CMOS kind with primary color filter, it has a different array of photosites than other APS-C sensors, supposedly giving  a better tonal control and sensitivity.

Typical of the Fuji X cameras is to have traditional controls, with a Film simulation processor that gives you the old Velvia and Provia Film kind of signature. The images look very film like, with deep shadows and sumptuous colours.

The X-T1 the camera goes to even greater lengths to simulate a reflex camera, with a surfeit of *three* controls wheels on top of the camera. 

 Olympus, Panasonic and Sony  instead have one P-A-S-M wheel and two unlabeled wheels to control Aperture and EV correction.  Instead the Fuji has a dedicated wheel for shutter speed, another wheel for  EV correction one with +/-  marks and a third ISO wheel, with a scale for sensitivity. The Fuji lenses also have an Aperture scale.

Exactly like the manual cameras of 50 yrs. ago, where you set the Triangle of Exposure  by hand, and could tell how the camera was set just by looking at the controls.The Triangle of Exposure however has changed:

Now the question: is it better to shoot the retro way, or  the Auto way? With a Fuji  you can prepare the camera *before* the shot  and remember how it is set, even when shut down.

In my Olympus I have no way to remember how it is set. Instead I must  put it on and watch inside the EVF the exposure values; or leave Auto-everything do its thing.

The final result is the same, but clearly there is a 'haptic' pleasure in using the Fuji wheels with all the old marks of a long time ago. One feels a bit like a goldsmith.

Here is a Hands On review:

There are counters too, though. The ISO wheel has a lock button, which is is quite hard to budge.The EV correction wheel is rigid, so you lose precious time to set it, with a loss of precious instants. 

My main objection is that when I don't shoot in A, like Aperture priority, I use P like Program and Auto ISO.

This way I have maximum shooting speed for my street scenes that require 'the decisive instant'. To me manual controls  are wasted. I prefer to leave the camera 'gain'  by itself according to its own  tone curve, with minimal corrections of the EV wheel, in case the shadows are to deep.
This way I have maximum operational speed, and usually a good interpretation of the scene.

 Setting the camera rigidly for a set scene won't do. It might even prevent a timely shot.

50 years ago when the Fuji type of controls saw the light all the cameras were Manual. By the beginning of the Vietnam war, Nikon  launched the first lightmeter coupled to Aperture,  and war reporters readily adopted it.

It  was cumbersome: in the VF you had to collimate a needle on a mark, the needle position varying according to the shutter speed chosen on a wheel, or the aperture mark on the lens. 

Additionally there was no AutoFocus, you had to manually set the focus, and choose the right  Depth Of Field, according to scales on the lens.

In fact if one thinks of what cameras can do today automatically, you'd think that one had to be a magician in those days to operate a camera quick enough to get a keeper.

There was a price to pay. When a few years ago I decided to scan and digitize my old slides, some of which I had sold to newspapers, what a shame it was to notice that most of them were slightly out of focus. My sight and handshake had limits that the electronic pixel-peeping  had revealed.

This would never do today. With my Olympus I have one of the fastest AF of the industry, and the best electronic stabilizer, a 5 axis one, which ensures perfect crispness.

The lightmeter works almost by magic, I have tons of sensitivity for low light, and even the most tricky of measures, White Balance, works remarkably well in artificial light, giving pleasing skin tones.

I take therefore full advantage of the operational speed of the camera, and often shoot from the hip unnoticed, trusting all the auto controls and especially the blazing AF. People simply don't have the time to notice me. 

In fact, I wonder, would I ever  benefit from the scales of the Fuji when shooting from the hip? Usually I have no time at all to check the controls. Everything happens so fast with chance meetings, that I must rely on intuition and automation.

Here is an interesting comparison between a Sony A7, a GH3, and a Fuji X-T1:

As you see they are basically even. I am not really losing anything.

To me Rétro is just a figure of speech nowadays, mere designer rhetoric to bait the noobs.

I don't doubt that Fuji will meet the  shooting way of a lot of trendy customers, but for me I prefer the faster approach of m4/3 cameras. 

m4/3 are not Art or Landscape Cameras like the Fuji , they are Reportage tools, allowing blazing reactions and basically that's how I work. When catching the decisive moment, one cannot think twice. Machine speed is a godsend.

You can see some of my Street work here:

People and Street

You can buy the X-T1 at Amazon