Monday, December 17, 2012

Another exciting weekend

Actually, it wasn't very exciting, but I was hoping the title would trick you into reading anyway.

We kicked things off with an early gift exchange as I'm headed back to Kansas to see my parents next weekend, and I was thrilled that Rachael got me a personalized ring buoy for the Seahorse. Unfortunately, massive amounts of rain kept me from getting a good picture of it sitting on the stern, but here's a shot of it.

Early Christmas present

I spent last week playing with video features on the camera and practiced making animated gif cinemagraphs. I haven't come up with anything too fancy or mind-blowing yet. (I'm nor even sure they'll be animated when I host them on Flickr, but if you click through you'll be able to see the animated versions.)



I used Premiere to make these, but I think I'm going to attempt some in Photoshop and Fireworks next.

Since we were stuck inside during the rain, there was nothing left to do except torture the dog. Rachael's dog Zoe became a dinosaur for the afternoon. The portrait session wasn't too challenging since she refuses to move while wearing the costume.


I'm in the office until Thursday scripting some new video projects. Then it's off to Kansas for Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Catching up

I've slipped on the blogging. Work got crazy, and on the weekends if I can be sailing or shooting photos, I kind of forget about sitting around and writing.

After shooting with the NEX-6 for a week, I sold the Leica M8. It had 29,000 actuations and although I loved the color rendering of the Kodak sensor, it was just a really slow, dated camera with horribly noisy high ISO. Prices were already plummeting, so I figured I better unload it while it was still worth something to somebody.

Although I love the versatility of the NEX-6 (500mm telephoto lenses, macro tubes, video, etc.), the fact that it isn't a full frame sensor still drives me crazy. I would really like my 28mm Ultron to be 28mm instead of cropped down to a 42mm field of view when shooting on a boat. You can't back up on a boat.

Sailing to Redfish Island

I really want to place my pre-order for the new Leica M, but refurbished M9s have dropped to around $4k, and I really wonder if Sony will unleash a full frame NEX this year in the $3k range. The difference in price could mean a nice lens or several sailboat upgrades. I just haven't been able to justify the cost yet.

The first week I had the NEX I visited my parents in Kansas. I was hoping for some wildlife, but trekking through the woods with two dogs was no conducive to sneaking up on any kind of animals ... but I did see evidence of animals having been there prior to our arrival.


The clear skies of Kansas also present a nice opportunity for some star photography. There's so much haze and light pollution in Houston that even attempting to shoot stars is a lost cause.


Saturday we attended the Texas Photographic Collectors Association meeting at Professional Camera Repair for a presentation on "cheap macro." We got lots of tips on macro tubes, macro converters, shooting with lenses backwards, etc.

TPCA December Meeting
 Being the only members under 50 and Rachael being the only girl, they gave her a Polariod Land Camera Automatic 100 that came into the shop. She was quite thrilled and has film on order.

Polaroid Land Camera Automatic 100

I practiced some birding with the 500mm Canon FD f8 reflex lens I procured via eBay. It gives great image compression, separation and detail. I was quite pleased.

Windy Gull

I also did a little bit of macro -- something I couldn't do at all with the M8 -- with my new macro tube kit.

Today's fortune

I know this post was a bit scattered, but that more or less catches us up to the present. I was hoping to take the next two weeks off for the holidays, but I'm going to be in the office until the 21st.

I'll try to stay on a posting schedule now that all my major projects are finished for the year, but if life gets too busy, have a happy holiday.

 Happy Holidays, Flickr

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The ups and downs of EVFs

I got up early to shoot the sunrise and some birds with my new Sony NEX-6. This is the first camera I've had that utilizes an electronic viewfinder.

Focusing has proven to be easy, even in the dark. That's a plus.

However, every time I take a photo, the viewfinder blacks out. There's a noticeable lag before it comes back on. That blackout makes it really hard to follow birds with a long zoom.

Guess you better compose each shot right the first time ...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sony NEX-6 First Impressions

Since aquiring my M8 I've been waiting for a high quality mirrorless camera with a viewfinder that can utilize my Leica lenses and shoot video. (The new Leica M is that camera, but it's still MONTHS away.)

I almost jumped at the Sony NEX-7, but I heard it had issues with the sensor overheating during video. Then I almost jumped at the Fuji X-Pro1, but it still didn't seem like a fully developed camera.

I finally ordered the Sony NEX-6.

Sony NEX-6 with kit zoom

Initial setup was a little slow and not completely intuitive. It took me about an hour to get the wifi working with my iPhone and an iPad I borrowed. This required installing the Sony Play Memories Mobile app on the phone or tablet and then plugging the camera into my computer and installing the Remote Trigger and Photo Upload apps. There are several other apps on the Sony site I haven't loaded yet.

Pairing the devices is not fast. Sometimes it takes over a minute, and it still seems buggy, but once it is finally paired, it works well.

Sony NEX-6 wireless smart phone remote

However, if you use the remote device to trigger the camera, there is a noticeable delay.

The kit lens is sharp and autofocus is very fast. If you're shooting in manual mode, there is virtually no shutter lag.

I tested the camera with both my Leica 50mm Summilux and my Canon FD 200mm f4. Manually focusing them with the viewfinder was easy, especially with focus peaking turned on.

The high ISO quality is amazing. Even ISO 3200 is very usable with low noise. Here's a shot of Dixie Belle in a dim bedroom with the Summilux at f1.4, 1/60s, ISO 3200.


Things I love:

  • Clean high ISO capability
  • Fast autofocus
  • Macro capability
  • Great video
  • Uses my Leica and Canon lenses

Things I like:

  • The wifi apps are cool to play with but need work

Things I hate:
  • No mic plug or headphone out
  • No battery charger
  • No RAW file support from Adobe yet 

There is a crappy Sony mic available that plugs in via the Smart Shoe. I'm hoping there are Smart Shoe to mic plug adapters on the horizon. For interviews I need a way to connect lapel mics or I'm back to recording audio with a separate device and having to re-sync it. Waste of time.

I was really hesitant to sell the M8 because I was worried this camera wouldn't be easy to use with Leica lenses, but it just absolutely blows the M8 away. However, I am still craving the new M. We'll see if I still want it after a month with the NEX or if this little camera will keep me satisfied.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Fast Lens Shootout: Vintage Summilux vs New Nokton

For the past year or so my go-to lens has been a Cosina Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.1. It's a very fast but very large lens in the world of Leica M-mount glass.

It's been a great lens, but I just couldn't quell that desire for an authentic Leica lens. I wanted to know if I was missing something.

I had a 50mm Summicron DR f2 on my M3, but it wasn't getting much use and because of its design, the DR can't be used on digital Ms. That's a shame because the DR is really one of the most solid and beautifully engineered lenses I've ever handled. With a tear in my eye I traded it in on a vintage Leica 50mm Summilux f1.4. It was not only faster glass, but I could also use it on my M8.

You're probably thinking, shouldn't the Nokton be compared against Leica's Noctilux? Yes and no. Yes, it's more similar in design to the Noctilux. However, it's much closer to the price range of the Summilux, which is the biggest determining factor for poor photographers like myself. I spent $800 on the used Nokton, but then another $150 having the backfocus problem fixed by DAG. The used Summilux came in at $1500. (I previously owned the Nokton 40mm f1.4, which is a much cheaper lens but found the 50mm f1.1 to be a much better lens and sold the 40mm.)

So how does what could be considered an antique lens stack up against a modern apsherical lens like the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f1.1?

First, there's size.

Summilux vs Nokton size comparison

Although they weigh about the same, the Summilux is a good deal smaller than the Nokton and doesn't block the viewfinder. The Summilux also has a longer throw on the focus ring.

During back lit situations the Nokton has a tendency to put a purple fringe and a green fringe around the edges of the back lit objects, so my first shot before I decided to drop any money on the Summilux was to test it with some back light.

50 Summilux purple fringe

There was still some purple fringing around the door frame and window sticker, but there was no green fringing. Score one for the Summilux.

Once I decided I would trade in on the Summilux, I began some highly rigorous scientific tests. These included shooting a pirahna and a Diet Coke can with both lenses set to f1.4.

Summilux 100% Crop
50 Summilux fish crop

Nokton 100% Crop
50 Nokton fish crop

While the color rendering is almost the same, the Summilux proved to be noticeably sharper with better contrast.

Summilux 100% Crop
50 Summilux can crop

Nokton 100% Crop
50 Nokton can crop

With the backlit Diet Coke can the Summilux again came out on top when pixel peeping for a look at sharpness and contrast.

So the last question remained, what about the areas in a photo that are out of focus? I turned to a string of Christmas lights to answer that question.

Summilux Bokeh f1.4
50mm Summilux Bokeh

Nokton Bokeh f1.4
50mm Nokton Bokeh at f1point4

Nokton Bokeh f1.1
50mm Nokton Bokeh at f1

At f1.4 the Summilux bokeh tended to be oval shaped with an outline. It wasn't terrible, but it's not the prettiest I've ever seen. However, at f1.4 the Nokton's bokeh was octagonal, not good at all. Once again the pre-ASPH Summilux, despite having been designed in 1969, came out on top. BUT the Nokton had that extra stop, so I couldn't just act like it didn't exist. At f1.1 the Nokton had very pleasing bokeh, which I liked better than the Summilux.

I was pleased with the test results because I had already spent the money on the Summilux, but I was really expecting the ashperical design of the Nokton to be sharper. It turns out, I have been missing something. Those Leica engineers knew what they were doing even way back in the 1960s. I can't imagine how great the modern 50mm Summilux ASPH with a floating lens element must be, but it's still well out of my price range at $4,000.

So now the question remains, does that little edge in sharpness and constrast matter at all if you're not making large prints? Is it worth paying more for an old lens versus a new lens with a warranty?

To me, it's worth spending a little more to buy the Summilux, but I have a really nice Nokton for sale if you're interested.

Ninety Nine Years 99 Pages: Leica Jubilee Book

I came home from work to find a large box on my doorstep. I couldn't remember ordering anything, so I took a look at the label and realized it said JAS Forwarding GmbH c/o Leica Camera AG.

It was a rather large box, so my heart skipped for a moment as I thought, what if some wealthy benefactor sent me an M9!

No such luck, BUT it was my Leica Jubilee Book

My Leica Jubilee Book arrived

Ninety Nine Years 99 Pages.

It's a cool book with lots of photos and diagrams documenting the history of Leica cameras and Leica in pop culture.

I entered the Leica Jubilee Self Portrait contest back in the spring, and I was one of the lucky photographers selected for inclusion.

I'm on page 52.

Leica Jubilee Book

Yes, it's just a small photo, and yes, there's an S on my face, but hey, I'm in a book with Henri Cartier-Bresson. Never thought that would happen.

Guess it's a little late to sell all my M gear and switch over to Canon now.

Thanks, Leica.

If you want to order your own copy and virtually flip through the pages, they can be found here:

Unfortunately, they do cost 99 Euros.

Monday, November 05, 2012


No, it's not just about the mustache rides.


It's Movember, so I'm bringing back the classy stache as part of the Technip Stache Team, raising awareness and funds for prostate and testicular cancer research.

Frankly, the whole thing drives me a little crazy. I hate the name. It's a horrible, poorly contrived contraction, but some Australians made it up in 1999, and it just stuck. I also don't like the fact that most participants use it as an excuse not to shave at all and look super scruffy at work. However, it is for a good cause as it benefits the Prostate Cancer and the LiveStrong Foundations, so I am participating this year.

I also realized after darkening my normally blond lip hair for the above photo that I have a huge stache gap. It just doesn't grow in the middle. I don't know what that's about.

Please donate if you want, but if donating isn't your thing I am also donating all money made from print sales at during the month of November. 

Thank you from all the mo bros and mo sisters out there.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Film may finally be dead

I've been trying to keep it on life support, but it after today's experience, it may just be too expensive.

I threw a roll of Kodak 800 in the M3 last night to take some fun photos at the Halloween party. The surprise came when I attempted to drop it off at CVS this afternoon. The guy in the photo lab said, "Sorry, we don't develop film anymore." I drove down the road to Walgreens. Thankfully they do still develop film, but since CVS and Wal-Mart have scrapped their film business, Walgreens has doubled the price. It was almost $15 for one set of prints and a photo CD. When you add the cost of the film itself, it's almost $20 to shoot 24 exposures of color film.

Of course, then you post the photos you've taken, and everyone thinks you were just using Instagram on your phone.


But there's still something warm and magical in the texture and grain of film. I spent the afternoon finishing the roll, and I was shooting digital at the same time. I just couldn't duplicate shots like this with the digital camera.



The digital camera has its own advantages. It's sharper. It's more clinical. The color balance is more realistic. You can easily tell the difference.


Thankfully I can still develop black and white film at home, but I don't think it's worth investing in a C41 lab kit. I think I'll finish shooting the color film I've got and then kiss it goodbye.

So when was the last time you used film?

Fund raising and crisis management

It was a busy week in Houston. I was privileged to spend Tuesday evening at the KUHF 88.7 FM Houston Public Radio station located on the University of Houston campus helping with their fall fund drive. I spent two hours in the booth with Jack Williams, Laurie Johnson, Paul Pendergrast, Debra Fraser and Eric Ladau. It's always a pleasure chatting with all of them, and they were quite intrigued with my tales from Cryptopalooza.

Between 5 - 7 p.m. with Technip's match, callers donated a total of $51,552. Thank you for everyone who called in or logged on to support public radio.

KUHF Fall Fund Drive

As soon as I was finished at the radio it was off to a two-day leadership seminar on Lake Conroe. The guest speaker was retired Commander Kirk Lippold, who was the commanding officer of the USS Cole when it was attacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists during a refueling stop in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors, Oct. 12, 2000.

Lippold was a very inspiring speaker, and I honestly would not be surprised if the writers of NCIS had created Gibb's character somewhat based on this man.

Commander Kirk Lippold

Lippold's recipe for leadership contains integrity, vision, personal responsibility and accountability, trust, and investment in professional competence.

He suggests that crisis management is the ability to act in the now while still thinking ahead -- not only thinking what is next, but what is next after that.

For some further reading, Lippold suggested "Letter to Garcia," and for you convenience, I've already googled it and linked it here:

It was a good week, but I'm looking forward to being home until Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cryptopalooza 2012

People say I look like a celebrity ...

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

A few months ago, my "online" friend Craig Woolheater sent me an invite to something called Cryptopalooza in Jefferson, Texas. Craig is the founder of, and we'd been Myspace friends and then Facebook friends for several years, but I'd never met him in real life.

At the time, I didn't have much planned, so I jumped aboard this bigfoot festival with both feet, bought an all-access pass, and booked my hotel room at the Fairfield Inn. Little did I realize I would be traveling almost non-stop between then and the festival. I also did not realize the tiny town of Jefferson, Texas was almost five hours away from Houston. Nonetheless, I would not have missed the experience.

I arrived late Friday night just in time to get a little bit of barbecue and catch the last couple of songs of the Ghoultown concert at the Jefferson Visitors Center.

Cryptopalooza: Day 1

Both Lyle Blackburn, author of The Beast of Boggy Creek, and Ken Gerhard of Monster Quest were playing in the band. However, I would have no idea who they were until Saturday.

I picked up my VIP kit with my reserve seating sign, my badge, the schedule and my plush cryptid.

Cryptopalooza: Day 1

After the concert I walked down the cobblestone streets of historic Jefferson, Texas and ducked into Auntie Skinner's Riverboat Club and had a few beers with Team Tazer, a Bigfoot hunting club from the Houston area. There was a great band playing in there, but I would guess half of the adult population of Jefferson was in Auntie Skinner's, and they were all smoking. My sinuses were not having it, so I called it a night and drove back to Marshall, Texas to crash.

Breakfast was when things got exciting. Serena Altschul was attending the event for CBS Sunday Morning. I'd had a bit of a crush on her since she was doing MTV News back in the 90s, so I got to chat with her at breakfast. Of course, I couldn't resist snagging a photo with her later in the day. Yes, the speakers were great, but that was the highlight of my weekend. (Serena, if you're reading this, I'm totally into older women. Give me a call!)

Cryptomundo: Day 2

Ken Gerhard kicked off the day talking about Monsters of Texas. He claims that the Chupacabra is currently the "sexiest" cryptid in the media.

Cryptopalooza: Day 2

Meanwhile, the CBS crew was filming everything. Unless there's a terrorist attack, the spot should air this coming Sunday morning.

Cryptopalooza: Day 2

Saturday's schedule included Ken Gerhard, big cat expert Chester Moore, author and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, screenwriter and author of The Bigfoot Filmography Dave Coleman,  Jerry Hestand of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conversancy, and Lyle Blackburn, author of The Beast of Boggy Creek. All of the speakers did a great job, although Hestand got some people in the crowd a bit riled up when he debated the need to "take a specimen," or shoot bigfoot, to prove the species exists.

Having left his regular glasses at home, nobody saw Dave Coleman's eyes the entire weekend as he was sporting his prescription sunglasses. However, even without being able to get his computer to work with the projector, he was STILL able to keep the crowd enthralled while discussing the history of bigfoot in movies, television and advertising.

Cryptopalooza: Day 2

Throughout the day I had chatted with Eduardo Sanchez, director of The Blair Witch Project, and Mark Ordesky, executive producer for Lord of the Rings. However, when chatting with them, I had no idea who they were. I thought they were just other attendees until they took the stage to unveil their new film, Exists.

Cryptopalooza: Day 2

That was the cool part of Cryptopalooza, there was no wall between the presenters and those in attendance. All of them were very approachable and more than happy to talk to you -- especially about the movie The Legend of Boggy Creek.

I'd never even seen The Legend of Boggy Creek until the screening Saturday night, but it apparently has influenced an entire generation of people, and Sanchez said he wanted to return respect and fear to bigfoot by making his version more like the Fouke Monster and less like Harry and the Hendersons. Exists, a found-footage flick in the style of The Blair Witch Project, does indeed look scary.

Lyle Blackburn ended the night with a Q&A session about the historical accuracy of The Legend of Boggy Creek. He would also be the tour guide through Fouke, Arkansas on Sunday.

Late Saturday night we boarded the Bigfoot Train, which was actually the haunted train, which was actually just the Jefferson tour train covered in fake spiderwebs with inflatable ghosts strewn through the forest. That might have been the only letdown of the weekend -- not too exciting.

I kept planning to blog the weekend as I went, but each day ended late and each morning started early. Sunday I had breakfast with Loren Coleman, Craig Woolheater, and Sharon Lee. Then it was off to Jefferson to meet up with the group for the drive to Fouke.

For the record, I did sight a bigfoot along the road in Louisiana on our way to Arkansas.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

I think it was for sale if anybody wants to go back and attempt to capture it.

The Monster Mart in Fouke was quite entertaining.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

Everyone got a chance to pose with their head through the Fouke Monster cutout, and we all took turns posing in front of the mural on the building. I think Loren Coleman and Lyle Blackburn might have been enjoying it a little too much.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

The owner of the Monster Mart came out to greet everyone and showed off his track cast and scrap book full of Fouke Monster sightings.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

Now there's one thing to know about the Monster Mart. There's a sales clerk there with the sweetest voice you've ever heard mixed with the thickest Arkansas accent I've ever come across. Everything she said was music. I asked her if I could call her every night and just have her read the news to me, but she politely declined.

From the Monster Mart Lyle Blackburn began the guided tour, and it was off to the Sulphur River bottoms.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

Next stop was the alleged location of a sighting that had happened just a week previous.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

Then there was a stop at the infamous Boggy Creek itself.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

Then a stop at the site of the Ford home where a Fouke Monster attack allegedly occurred. The neighbor stopped to ask what the hell a line of 15 cars were doing staring at that pasture.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

I think most of the locals were wondering what the hell we were doing, but not Smokey Crabtree. He was expecting us.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

I bought Smokey's book called, "Smokey and Fouke Monster" and a jar of his wife's plum preserves. (He actually has three books now although his "museum" only touts two.) He is not a man who is shy about self promotion. He proclaimed that his books were worth at least $100 in skills they would teach you. That included the recipe for how to catch a prize-winning gar, and how to noodle for catfish. I have not yet started reading this book, but it may deserve a blog post in itself.

Now I can't show you the most fascinating part of the visit to Smokey's Two-Books Bookstore because cameras weren't allowed in the garage where he keeps the mystery skeleton. The mystery skeleton is over 8 feet long and is missing a head, but it has a very long torso and what seem to be kind of short arms and legs with very large feet and hands. It also smells terrible. One of the visitors had to make a dash out of the hot garage after getting a nose full of it, and he didn't come back.

I've heard it proposed that the skeleton is actually that of a tiger, but nobody knows why a headless tiger skeleton would be lying in the woods in Fouke, Arkansas. Even if it's not a bigfoot, it's still a mystery.

Since I can't show you the skeleton, here is Smokey's taxidermied beaver instead.

Cryptopalooza: Day 3

And that was it. We all drove back to Jefferson with more questions than answers. It was like every episode of the X-files rolled into one. Why did the Fouke Monster tracks found in the 1960s have only three toes when all other bigfoot castings in the area had five toes. What really attacked that guy at the Ford home? Why have no bigfoot bones or bodies been found?

I'm not a bigfoot believer, but if there was a thick enough forest for a large ape population to live without detection, it could definitely be in Fouke, Arkansas. It's enough of a mystery to make me want to canoe the river next spring.

The event will be on CBS Sunday Morning, Sunday, Oct. 28. Tune in.