1.30.2009

1.26.2009

The Nikon D3x has been catching a lot of flack for its price of $8,000. Even the Hitler/downfall/screaming meme has a video about it:


But it's okay, because Hitler only shoots JPG.

The Nikon D1x and D2x, as well as Canon's new 1Ds Mark III and their older 1Ds Mark II and 1Ds have all had an initial list price of approximately $8,000. It is the price point for this kind of camera, and will probably be the price point for this kind of camera in the future. That this price surprised anyone surprises me. Sure, it is expensive, but this is a camera that will distinguish professionals from amateurs. This is a camera that you mention in your marketing material because it can help set you apart from the rest of the pack.

For those of you not following along at home, the D3x is Nikon's 24.5 megapixel flagship camera. It is their absolute top-of-the-line, pro-level, rugged, best camera. Pixel peepers out there know that, along with the -- far inferior -- Sony A900, it is tied for highest megapixel count in a DSLR (highest of anything goes to the 60 MP P65+ back). Two CF card slots, 5 fps, 100% viewfinder coverage, live view with 27x zoom, etc.

Well, I took one home this weekend along with Nikon's new 14-24mm f/2.8 lens for some fiddling around. As always, our cat, Pynchon, was more than happy to pose for me as long as it didn't interrupt his daily routine of napping in front of the window.

Unprocessed 14 bit RAW files come in at 48.5 MB, so roughly 500 images over three days amounted to 20.5 GB of files -- so the first thing you should know about this camera is that you will need a system that can handle and process big files. I'm using a Drobo, and as much as I love my no-worries backups loading previews from these files is tests my patience. Even with absolutely no uprezzing, though, these files will give you a 13" x 20" at 300 dpi. You should be able to print massive images with no loss in quality.

Here's a 100% crop:


As far as image quality goes, though, I think the D3x starts shining compared to the competition when you start discussing "RAW headroom", which is a fancy way of saying how much usable data is there in the file. DP Review's blog has a very excellent discussion of it here. Think of the difference between shooting color negative film vs. slide: latitude. With progressively larger sensor sizes you get more and more latitude, something ignored fairly often in most camera reviews. Michael Reichman has an egregiously naive example where he compares a Canon G10 to a Phase P45+ digital back -- which is like asking a cafeteria chef if they would rather use two forks or a heavy duty food processor to prepare a meal -- both might get the job done but which would you prefer?

Er, ahem. Sorry about that rant. What I meant to do was show you this, the original "unprocessed" image on the left and a cleaned up version on the right:


I don't mean to say the D3x is the exception and the only camera that can pull data out of seemingly blown highlights, but it has an obviously large and incredibly useful tonal range.

All this said, I and most of the people out there can't afford a D3x. I have no doubt that Nikon will eventually release a D700-like body with this sensor for closer to $3,000. The $8,000 price tag of the D3x is partly reflected in the camera's image quality, but I think is just as representative of the camera's performance level -- the body is practically indestructible and with in camera back ups you'll never have to worry about losing data to a corrupt card.

It is, plain and simple, the best out dSLR out there right now.

1.23.2009

Progress

Almost exactly a year ago, in the run up to the election Shepard Fairey made this famous image:

(c) Shepard Fairey, 2008


Well, the famous-er version has "HOPE" instead of "PROGRESS", but you get the picture. While no one claims Fairey's work violates any kind of copyright -- it certainly falls under fair use -- there has been much hub-bub and curiosity about the source image.

Several blogs, including PDN Pulse and The Year In Pictures, raised the question formally and asked people to submit possibilities. For his part, Shepard Fairey said he found the image via a google image search and didn't remember the source.

But lo! The internet hunted and found out that Jim Young, a Reuters photographer, had taken a very similar image. Mystery solved! With just a little bit of fiddling, flip the image, stretch it a little, imagine a tie and...



Well, OK, close enough, right? I mean we got to be happy and get a few good quotes from an excited Jim Young.

More internet sleuthing led to another image, which was an even better match. An exact match, even, with no fiddling required.

But no one knew who took the photograph -- not even tineye. For a few days at least:




(c) Manny Garcia, 2006


Manny Garcia is apparently a freelance photographer out of DC that was working for the AP. Tom Graylish has a quick interview with Garcia, who says, "I've been on the campaign for twenty something months, so I would see the artwork, I would photograph it, and think what is with this image? But it didn't snap. It never occurred to me it was my picture." Everyone has posted about it since then. Here's a really good analysis that pretty much proves this has to be the image. Hopefully this time it is mystery solved...for good!

Most importantly, though, someone has made a script so you can make your own and called it Obamiconme!

1.22.2009

Elated

Oh, and I unfortunately don't have the photo credit for this, but this pretty much sums up how I feel inside every time I see a picture of Obama doing something presidential (sitting in the oval office, signing stuff, etc.):



Ah, that's right. Pure joy.

Inauguration


(c) Chuck Kennedy - Pool/Getty Images, 2009

Out of all the images to come out of the inauguration -- I suggest checking out The Big Picture's selection -- this is probably going to be (if not already) the most famous.

This picture has it all: the moment, the scene, the composition and -- most importantly -- it is incredibly unique. You'll see what I mean if you watch this video about preparing for the inauguration: every other photog had a long lens right next to a bunch of other photogs with long lenses.

Apparently the hardest part about taking the image was getting permission to set up right there. Chuck Kennedy used a 5D Mark II with a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens wrapped in a pelican case (to make it silent). It was triggered and transmitted the image wirelessly via Canon's WFT-E4A, a nice piece of tech that had the images online in minutes. You can read more about how it was done here and here.

In terms of planning and the technology used, it reminds me of Heinz Kleutmeier's amazing image of Michael Phelp's narrow victory at this summer's Olympics (discussed wonderfully at The Year In Pictures).

Customers

I apologize for all my posts being Debbie-downers thus far, but it isn't a terribly cheerful time to be working retail. I promised myself that I would post a picture with every post, but I can't think of a good one so here's a random one:

(c) Zane Davis, 2008


There are roughly four kinds of customers that walk into a photography store:
1. Professionals
2. Students
3. Hobbyists
4. "Consumers"

Consumers is just an easy way to say people that use cameras to take snapshots -- which is fine and a good chunk of business -- these are just people that have no grand ambitions towards drawing any income from their photography.

Hobbyists probably don't plan on ever doing just photography, but selling a few images at a café sure would be a nice way to justify getting that new lens, wouldn't it? I would bet the majority of flickr users and people on the places like the dpreview forums are hobbyists. User-friendly cameras like the Nikon D40 and Canon Rebels have made this market explode.

We are all students, all the time, when it comes to photography. But when I say students here I am talking about kids taking classes, coming in with a syllabus from their professor or teacher. What I love about students, especially here in Chicago, is how wildly varying their goals are. They all want to end up professionals, but most disagree about what that means.

Professionals, to me and in this blog, are the people that make a living as a photographer. Assistants at a catalog house, artists exhibiting in Pilsen, an architectural photographer that owns his own company, or even the darkroom coordinator of a local college are all photo professionals.

I truly think that in the current economy you have to draw business from each of these four categories. And you have have have have to deliver consistent service to all of them. Each consumer may spend just 5% of what the typical pro spends, but I promise you that you will probably be helping twenty consumers for every one pro that walks in your door.

Furthermore, with a diverse customer base it is less likely for demand to drop from every group all at once. Right now retailers are seeing a drop in consumer sales across the board -- who wants a new camera when you are worried about your job? -- but for our store students, working professionals, and enthusiasts are keeping us busy. Pros still have to buy the everyday items for studios. Students (and colleges) still have to buy film, paper, and ink. And enthusiasts have been busy drooling over the new 5D Mark II.

You just have to keep them all happy and treat them all equally.

1.20.2009

...and an end.

As always, the Economist says it better than I:

"There is a growing belief, even among luminaries in the retailing industry, that the orgy of consumption fuelled by cheap credit, which has driven the retailing boom of the past decade or two, is at an end, and that a new age of frugality is dawning. This is not just because credit is no longer so readily available (and may never be so again). Consumers may actually be reappraising their lives, and realising that “shopping ‘til you drop” is imprudent, and perhaps even vulgar."


(c) Brian Ulrich, 2009

Brian Ulrich, also a fine Chicago photographer and teacher, says of his image here, "The picture is part of a new series called Dark Stores, Ghost Boxes and Dead Malls." He has long been looking at how America spends its moneys and the places we've created for doing just that.

As retailers get more and more desperate and as stores have fewer and fewer people in them, I imagine Brian will find many worthy subjects in the coming months.

Circuit City represents a very large and very visible failure for the free falling electronics industry. And, for better or for worse, they represent the overconsumption that is helping to kill our economy.

I am torn about this, because I really do think that it is materialism that contributes to a large chunk of growth in the economy. But how many things did Circuit City sell that anyone really needed? The computers and TVs and ipods and dinky cameras?

About five years in a row now the average American has spent $1.20 for every $1.00 that they have earned. We have duped ourselves into what our new president today called our "collective failure to make hard choices."

But it has been over a century since America has thrived on a primarily agrarian economy. Necessities like food, health care, and constructing houses are integral to us, but a fairly small corner of the overall economy. It is all the stupid, material goods that we buy at places like Circuit City that have allowed our economy to expand and continue to grow and thrive well beyond the point where we were managing to feed ourselves and live under roofs.

Our economy has swung way too far in the direction of easy credit and lax spending and we are crashing towards no credit and no spending. Too many people will lose jobs and too many business will go bankrupt, but eventually we'll have to swing back the other direction. Hopefully sooner than later.

1.19.2009

A beginning...

Jason Lazarus, a fine Chicago photographer and teacher, posted this image two days ago:


(c) Jason Lazarus, 2009

And it is as near a perfect summation of my feelings as I can imagine. This image is so spot on -- just think of the obvious symbols, much less the hidden ones -- Obama, hope, new arrivals, white gloves and a slow appraisal of a delicate situation. Please pardon the cliché, but I truly do believe that many of us are hanging our dreams on our hope and belief that Obama will be able to reverse the fears that are destroying the economy.

Which might be true. While the collapse of the economy can be blamed on dozens of factors: the mortgage crisis, the bankruptcy of Lehman brothers, greed, easy credit, the government's ad hoc response; how much of what is happening today is because of fear? How much money have you not spent recently because you were afraid you would need that money for some necessity, like rent or food?

On September 18th Ben Bernanke told congress that if they did not pass the bailout bill "we may not have an economy on Monday." It is incredibly simple-minded to blame this recession on emotions and feelings and fear, but it is mostly emotions and feelings and fear that will prolong it.

There is a quick and simple downward spiral that makes recessions worse than they need be:
1. We, as consumers, put money aside because we are uneasy about the economy
2. We spend less money, and in turn businesses have less revenue
3. Businesses are able to pay fewer of their employees (who are all consumers)
4. We, consumers, now in fact do have less money, businesses even less revenue, etc.

It is an incredibly hard cycle to break out of. What can restore our confidence? When will we feel secure enough to start spending money again? When will businesses look at their balance sheets and decide it is time to hire?

And that is why I look forward to tomorrow and Obama's inauguration. He has literally become our best hope for allaying our fears and curing our ills. His confidence can become our confidence.

And that is why I love this image, because right now I feel like we are stuck right in between yesterday and tomorrow, waiting for something to happen.