A group of co-workers and I often go out to lunch on Fridays. This past Friday we had a little larger group than usual, and while we were waiting for the elevator, one of the guys said, “gee, we may need to take a bus.” And I replied, “maybe we need to call an Uber.” The resulting exchange went something like this (paraphrased):
Me: We could call an Uber and have them bring a van.
40-Something Somewhat Tech Aware Guy: Have you used Uber?
50-Something Less Than Open Minded Guy: What the hell’s an Uber?
Me: I’ve used Uber several times, it’s great. Works well. You just pull up the app, it tells you where the nearest car is, tell it where you want to go and they come.
40-Something Privacy Sensitive Guy: How do you pay them? Do they have your credit card information?
60-Something Fox News Addict: Don’t you worry about getting kidnapped or murdered? What kind of background check do they do?
Elevator stops at another floor.
30-Something Hipster Guy gets on, someone we know. He hears the conversation and asks, “you guys talking about Uber? I work for them, good way to earn some extra money.”
We went on and took two cars. 50-Something Less Than Open Minded Guy wanted to drive because he doesn’t like to ride (also a Control Freak?) and 60-Something Fox News Addict drove (needed to get a Rush fix on the way).
That 30-second elevator conversation reminded me of how different our impressions of something can differ depending on our perspective. Our recent conversation about cameras is another example of how where we come from can impact our impression of something, our point of view and our opinion.
Kathy & I recently decided to take a long weekend to Waynesville, North Carolina, and I decided that it would be an excellent opportunity to try out the second of the two cameras that I have been wanting to try. While I wasn’t (and still am not) looking to replace my Canon gear, I have been wanting to try a few of the “state of the art” mirrorless cameras. I decided a while ago that of all the cameras to choose from, I was most likely to choose between the Fuji XT1 and the Olympus OMD EM1.
Back in January I rented a Fuji XT1 from Lensrentals and tried it out over a weekend in Charlotte. I wrote about the experience in a couple of posts, here and here. So for the weekend in Waynesville I decided to rent the other camera, an Olympus OMD EM1. Yes, I know the punctuation isn’t quite correct, but it’s too hard to get that alphabet soup arranged correctly!
Whenever the time comes to replace my current camera system, I know that my two priorities are going to be image quality and handling. The 5D Mark III checks all the boxes for image quality, and after 12+ years of using Canon DSLRs the handling and layout of the menus is second nature to me. My only real reason for giving that up would be to find comparable image quality and good handling in a camera that is smaller and lighter. I can get used to just about any menu system given enough time, so I’m not too concerned about that.
My impression from the Fuji was that I really liked the files. I felt like the image quality was very good, and that it would likely be a suitable replacement for the full sized DSLR. My only real objection was that the camera felt too small for my hands, and I never felt like I had a secure and comfortable grip on it. That could probably be solved with one of the accessory grips sold by Fuji and others, but I didn’t get a chance to include that in my rental. Since January, Fuji has also come out with a larger “pro” level lens that might give me something more substantial to hang on to.
Being a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, I had had a feeling that when I tried the Olympus I would really like how the camera handled but that I wouldn’t like the files as much. But I’ve been a fan of the more square aspect ratio of the 4/3 cameras since my 6×7 medium format days, so I knew that would be a plus. From the moment I opened the box, assembled the camera and lens and held it in my hands, I had the feeling that “this is it.” In fact, the entire weekend I was daydreaming about how I could get the Canon gear boxed up and sent off to trade it all in on the Olympus and a supply of lenses. I really liked the way it handled, and other than the 30 minutes I spent trying to figure out how to get the lens out of Manual Focus mode (little did I realize that the Olympus 12-40 has a “push-pull” clutch mechanism to change between auto and manual focus) and the well-documented frustration with the menu hierarchy, it was a breeze to use.
As luck would have it, I came home from a nice relaxing long weekend into a hectic week so my time to evaluate the files immediately was quite limited. I boxed up the camera and sent it back to Lensrentals, and downloaded the files to my computer. I snuck a quick peek at a few of the photos before heading off to bed, and was astonished to find that my initial impression was “yuck!” I even told Kathy – who had been patiently listening to me sing the praises of the Olympus all weekend – that my initial reaction was “leave your credit card in your wallet.” She was as surprised to hear it as I was to say it.
I’ve now had a chance to spend some quality time with the files in Lightroom, and my impression has improved significantly. I’m going to try to tread very carefully here, because (a) I’m only trying to describe my experience and am not trying to write a comprehensive review, (b) I know a lot of people whose photography and opinions I respect who use the Olympus, and I’m not trying to question anyone else’s opinion, and (c ) I am by no means a qualified camera tester.
In general I don’t find the image quality to be bad or anything, but my impression is that the files do not have the contrast, sharpness and color rendition that I get from my Canon cameras and that I saw in the Fuji files. They seem to be a little noisier than the Fuji files and I don’t feel that they have the dynamic range of the Canon or Fuji files. I suspect that this is due to the smaller sensor as much as anything. They seemed to require a little more sharpening and noise reduction than the Canon and Fuji files, and don’t seem to respond as well to large adjustments.
Admittedly I have not spent nearly as much time with either the Fuji or the Olympus files as I have with my Canon files, and I have processed a lot of Canon files over the years. I may have “gotten lucky” with the Fuji files, and given more time I might find the key to the Olympus files. But based on my limited experience with both of them if I had to make a choice I would probably have to choose the Fuji over the Olympus at this point in time. I would just need to find a solution to the lack of a grip, which I think would be pretty easy to accomplish.
I’ll undoubtedly have more to say on the subject over the next week or two, and I will certainly post some additional photos and commentary as I get to them. I might actually bring myself to make a purchase at some point in the near future. But we have a big trip coming up in June and there is no compelling reason to rock the boat. Kathy & I will be taking our first-ever trip to Colorado in June, and I’m planning to go with the tried and true Canon kit. I know it well, am confident that it will give me the results I want, and other than schlepping it through the airports we will be doing most of our travel by car, so the size and weight will not be as big of a factor.
If you were hoping for a little bias confirmation bias, sorry for the disappointment. 😉
I said I was going to post wallpapers less regularly, and I passed on April. But I was getting tired of that scene and wanted something springy. Spring has sprung here in North Carolina, although the usual spring-almost-summer temperatures haven’t decided to stay yet. We’re still in that “heat in the morning, AC in the afternoon” stage that usually ends in April. That’s OK with me!
There isn’t a lot of lavender here in North Carolina. This is a lavender field in Seafoam, Nova Scotia from a few years back. I’ve been reliving 2013 lately and this seemed like a good candidate to occupy my desktop for a while. I hope it goes well on yours, too if you are so inclined.
Ever since I started using Lightroom to process and manage my photos, I have continuously updated and improved my workflow. I’ve used my workflow as the basis for teaching Lightroom classes, individual tutoring and consulting. I carefully devised a workflow that suits my needs, primarily of organizing and identifying my photos, as well as using the various tools such as Pick flags, color labels and star ratings to tell me exactly where in the process a given photo or group of photos was.
As efficient as my workflow has been, one of the big downsides is that I was spending a lot of time in the Develop module for each of my photos, even those that were mostly “snapshots” and would probably never be printed or posted on my website. What eventually happened was that I only had a small percentage of photos that were marked as “finished” and had thousands of photos that had not been processed. These files are ones that I had marked with a Pick flag – meaning that I thought there was some merit to the photo that warranted further processing. And that backlog was getting larger and larger, to the point where I thought I would never get them caught up.
Part of my workflow over the years has been to create a group of Develop presets to apply to these photos when I import them from my card. I have a set of presets that take care of 90-95% (or more) of the work I do on a photo. But as good as these presets are, they won’t address things like dust spots and crooked horizons, so I would still go in and spend countless hours tweaking and fine-tuning all of those photos, regardless of whether or not they will ever see life beyond my hard drive.
One of the many lessons from my recent experience with dipping my toe into the mirrorless camera pool is the realization that the files from the Fuji X-T1 hardly needed any follow up tweaking. I was so impressed with the files right out of the camera that in many cases I didn’t do a thing to them, and anything I did do was purely aesthetic, or “because I could.” It was playing around with the files from that camera that made me take another look at my regular workflow and realize that the files from my Canon cameras were also really good, but that I had gotten myself in the habit of working with all of them that I had lost sight of the fact that all that extra work wasn’t really doing anything significant toward improving the photographs, but it was taking an enormous amount of time!
I have had a really difficult time letting go of the idea that every photo had to be “completely done” before I marked it as done. Since most of my files never go beyond my own computer, it’s been my own personal hang-up, and I decided that if I wanted to change it I could, so I did. For the last month or so I have been trying really hard to “trust the Force” and let the presets do their work. I still review each individual file for level horizons, dust spots or other things, but have been working really hard to only make those few corrections and to – as much as possible – leave my hands off of those other controls. So far it has worked pretty well. I can get through a lot more photos at one time, and the extra efficiency leaves me the discretion to spend more time with a particular photo or group of photos when I want to. And gradually my backlog is starting to recede, and that is a really good feeling.
In an upcoming post I will talk about some of the benefits of processing old photos with the new software and will show some examples. Sorry, but that will have to wait while I work on some more photos!
Not too far from our home is the town of Belmont, North Carolina. Not surprisingly to many readers of this blog, there is a restaurant there that Kathy & I like to frequent. 😉 One recent Saturday night we took the short drive, and anticipating a short wait for a table I took along my trusty 5D. Just some random walking around town stuff, and just for fun.
When I started going back through my photos from 2006, my first thought was “gee, this isn’t going to be as interesting as 2005.” Not so, I think. We maybe didn’t travel to Alaska, but we still managed to haul ourselves to some pretty interesting places!
It was in 2006 that I sold my Mamiya 7 film camera and bought the 5D. A lot of these photos were taken with the 20D, and a few of them were taken with my Powershot G5! I need to dig that camera out of the closet and play around with it. It was a pretty nice camera and would a bit “retro” to be carrying around now! A 12 year old digital camera is pretty Old School, just like me. 😉
One of the things that I had forgotten about with the 5D was the fact that that big old sensor tended to attract a lot of dust. And since I was typically shooting landscapes on a tripod I tended to use pretty small apertures. I didn’t know what a self-cleaning sensor would be like just a few years later, but these photos have and had a lot of cloning done. Thank goodness for the dust removal tool in Lightroom!
This is another case where the newer process version in Lightroom really brings out the goodness in some of these old photos. I’m working on a before & after post to show some examples, but between the differences in the software and my own changing personal taste (me, taste?) there is quite a difference in some of these.
I’ve recently begun a project to go back and “finish” processing photos from prior years that I never got around to finishing. These are photos that I had marked as “Picks” but for many reasons just never took the time to finish. It’s been an interesting project so far, and there have been a few photos that, now that I have gone back and looked at them again, are ones that I wonder how I overlooked.
I’ll write about the details in a future post, but my Lightroom catalog contained more than 8,000 photos that had Pick flags but had not been processed. That number is miniscule by many people’s standards, but it has been a huge personal monkey on my back for a long time, so I decided to do something about it. I finished 2011, then decided to go back to the Beginning of Time. So far I’ve completed 2005 and the number is now down to 6,700. Woo-Hoo! 😉
2005 was a good year. I purchased my first digital SLR, a Canon 20D along with a few lenses in April that year. We traveled to the Smokies early that year, and I have a few decent photos from there and spots along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
In May we headed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week. We also spent some time in the mountains later in the month.
In July we took the first of our two trips to Alaska, this one to celebrate our 25th anniversary. That was a Really Big Deal, and I brought back a few decent photographs.
After that it was back to North Carolina, mostly the mountains in the fall, a cruise and that was about it. It was a fairly “light” year as far as photos are concerned, and my Lightroom catalog for 2005 now contains only 755 photos. I was still shooting film then, and there are about 90 scanned slides in a different folder. Chances are if I ever decide to use any of those they will need to be rescanned, since I don’t think they are up to today’s standards. Plus, the more I work with digital files the less I want to work with the old film scans.
My conclusion after looking at all these files is that I was still a very “subject oriented” photographer back then. I made a lot of documentary shots, with a few of them showing signs of what I feel I am looking at today. Considering that I was just learning digital photography and really just getting started in photography in general, it shows that I still had a lot to learn but had a pretty decent start.
One of the things that I often accuse myself of, and for the most part it’s true, is not taking enough time with a subject to fully explore it. I am one of the most patient people I know, and when I get behind the camera I usually do a pretty good job of focusing myself so that I take as much time as I need. But sometimes I get to a point where I start to lose interest, or I see something else that I want to work with “next” and I move on before I should. That’s one of the reasons why I seldom bother with macro work. It’s just too fussy for me, although on the occasions where I have taken the time the results have been pretty good. But it’s a good example of what I mean. When I am taking very close-up photos of something like a flower, I see a flaw or something that I know will detract from it being a good photograph, then I just give up and move on to something else.
One of the advantages of working with a subject that is already “flawed” is that it then becomes an exercise of simply representing it from an interesting angle, or emphasizing a certain quality or exploring how the light shapes the subject or brings out form and character. That is one of the reasons why I love shooting what I refer to as “peeling paint and rust.” I tend to give up if a beetle has been chewing on a flower petal, but if I come across an old boat or a rusted car, that is something I can work with!
We live in what I call a “hurry up society.” This is an age that encourages moving along. We now have text messages that go away in 24 hours whether we read them or not, museums who give us a time limit for how long we can view a piece or prevent us from re-entering a room we have already visited. And heck knows we have no shortage of distractions. This all affects our photography in many ways, most of them negative, I think.
It’s far too easy in our always-connected age to take a photo and upload it instantly, so you can share, brag, complain or whatever. Then sit there and wait for all the Likes, Plusses, OMGs and LOLs to come pouring back on you. But that’s not what I’m about. For the most part my connectedness tends to be one-way. And only when it suits me. I’m just not an “always on” kind of guy! So this idea of taking all the time I need really appeals to me and is something I need to push myself to do more.
This group of photos comes from 2011 at a place called Stumpy Point, North Carolina. It’s an “unincorporated community” which means that it isn’t actual town, but it does have a fire department, and there is a boat ramp at the end of the road where several old boats have been hauled up on shore and abandoned, just like the hopes and dreams of the owners, I suppose.
I’ve been there a number times, but this particular visit was during my Road Ends project that I did for that year’s SoFoBoMo (so glad to hear that it’s been resurrected!). Look it up on a map – it’s a place where all the locals wave because they know that for one reason or another you are there on purpose. It’s not really on the way to anywhere and it is a long way from everywhere. I like it because it is quiet – we were there on July 3 and there wasn’t another soul around. I think during my handful of visits there I’ve only seen three people there, and that was the first time.
That’s one of the things I like about going there. It’s quiet, I don’t need to worry about “rent-a-cops” and their imaginary paranoia telling me it’s illegal to shoot there. I’ve never seen anyone to ask, but I suppose if I did they would say something like “ain’t nothin’ else to do out here, have at it.” I probably give them something different to look at for a while.
According to my metadata I probably spent about 30 minutes shooting on that day. I don’t remember but it was probably hot and humid, and if there was any kind of breeze it would have helped keep the mosquitos away, but in July it’s not a cooling breeze. But I got what I went there for and came across a nice little series of photos. And I have some nice photos of the same boat that I made on previous visits. She’s not going anywhere. I suppose at some point a storm will come along and wash her to her final resting place, or someone will finally accept her fate and haul the remains off to a trash heap somewhere. But for a few visits she was a great subject for photography. I wish I knew her name, but there hasn’t been anyone around to ask!
Several weeks ago Kathy & I finally made our journey to Key West. We had talked about going a couple of years ago, but instead decided to upend our lives for a year while we sold a house and bought another one. Last winter we had just moved in, were recovering from the move and our vacation budget was severely depleted. Things are pretty much back to normal for the time being, so when it came time to make our plans for 2015, we decided that this might be a good time to go.
Our original idea was to take a week or two and drive to Key West and back from North Carolina, stopping at a few places in Florida along the way. While we like Florida, the idea of using up a couple of weeks’ vacation time on a drive through Florida just to get to Key West might not be the best use of our time. Especially that early in the year when we have to make our meager allocation of vacation days last for a whole year! So we decided to take the money that it would take to drive there and just fly. We’ll get to see the rest of Florida another time, and as fun as I’m sure it would be to drive out through the Keys along Highway 1, that wasn’t high on my priority list. I’ll gladly wait for another time, and if the opportunity doesn’t arrive that will be OK.
We’d always heard that Key West can be quite expensive, especially in the winter. But we learned a long time ago that the best time to visit a place was when it was best there, and not necessarily the best time to be away from home. Not being fans of heat and humidity, Kathy & I agreed that regardless of the higher rates in the winter season, that was when we wanted to go. So we did our research and went prepared.
As luck would have it, we picked a really good time to leave Charlotte, but it also corresponded with a pretty chilly time to be in Key West. The temperature on the day we left Charlotte was in the low 20’s, and the forecast for Key West called for temperatures in the upper 60’s and low 70’s. Not bad. We missed some very cold weather and some snow with lows in the single digits in Charlotte. Awww! The same front that brought the cold to Charlotte also came through southern Florida, and Key West experienced some unusually cold temperatures by their standards. It still felt pretty good to us, and we had one evening where the temperatures were in the low 50s and one day the high was in the low 60’s. We had hoped for it to be a little warmer but were glad we weren’t sweating!
My impression of Key West is that it is pretty much like any other tourist town once you get out of sight of the water. Walking down Duval Street you pass the usual bars, restaurants, junky trinket galleries and T-shirt shops. There are a few really nice shops and galleries, but you have to look for them. Key West even has it’s own Diamonds International, in case you missed something during the last 20 cruise ship ports. During the day, and especially when the cruise ships are in port, it pretty much looks and feels like any other downtown shopping area. After dark is another story, but I usually didn’t carry my camera to dinner so I didn’t come home with any photographic evidence. Suffice it to say that there were sights we don’t usually see in our regular destinations!
We managed to do a lot of the usual touristy things while we were in Key West. My friends on Facebook will see that I have proof that Kathy & I visited the Southernmost Point, and we’ve decided that we need to work on getting to the other three points on the compass as well. We toured the Ernest Hemingway House, the Key West Lighthouse, the cemetery, took the Conch Train tour and a bunch of other stuff. The weather turned out to be too nasty for a trip to Dry Tortugas, so if that turns out to be the last National Park on my list of parks to visit I’ll just have to go back and get there. We also didn’t go to Mallory Square for what is supposed to be a nightly sunset celebration. We were pretty much pooped out by that time of the day and still needed energy to walk to dinner, plus the weather was nasty on a couple of the evenings so other than the people watching I don’t think there was much sunset to see.
We stayed at the Lighthouse Court Hotel, one of six properties owned by a group called Historic Key West Inns. It was an excellent place to stay and we would stay there again. I wrote a review of the place in an attempt to win a free return trip, and will publish that as a separate post.
I need to wrap this up so I can get it posted, but suffice it to say that we had a great time, and it was nice to take a vacation that didn’t involve a cruise ship. We have a few more plans in store for the year, but this was a good way to kick things off. A lot of people have told me that Key West is on their “bucket list” and I am glad to say that I have been there.