Friday, December 28, 2012

The Taming of the Shoe

The PC Sync connector
Also in this issue:
  • A99's Wireless Flash Delay
  • A Zeiss Full-Frame Alternative
  • Seminar Update

The Taming of the Shoe

Once upon a time there were cold shoes.  Nobody called them that, but that’s what they were -- small brackets mounted onto the camera body onto which you could mount your flashbulb holder.

The original Flash bracket holder,
retroactively labeled the "cold shoe".
Once mounted, you would connect the flashbulb holder electronically to the camera via a PC Sync cord into a PC Sync socket (whose design hasn't changed much over the last century).  Inside the camera there was a mechanical switch which briefly “shorted together” the 2 wires of the PC Sync cable when the shutter was actuated.  It was a very simple and very effective mechanism, which also worked well when the electronic flash was invented.

Adding the circuitry to trigger the flash
now made it a "hot shoe".
“Hey, let’s get rid of that annoying PC Sync cable!” one engineer must have said to himself in the 1960’s, as he

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The $1800 picture...

Also In This Issue:
Deals!  Deals!  Deals!
Brief Notes (Stuff I’m working on)
Parting Shot - Environmental Portrait of Robin Yukiko

The picture you see above cost $1800.  Actually, for a professional studio shoot that’s pretty cheap.  It was produced by writer and director Greg Bowyer for his new romantic comedy called “With This Ring”.  It’s about a female surgeon who loses her engagement ring inside a notorious malpractice attorney.  I’ve read the script, and it’s brilliant.  (And, being a guy, I’m not usually a fan of romantic comedies!)

I pulled off this shot (plus about 500 others) with only 4 wireless flashes.  More detail about that in a minute.

So what was the budget for what seems to be a very simple picture?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Most Distortion-Ridden Zeiss Lens Ever (and Why You Won’t Notice It)

Also in this issue:
  • London and Malaysia Trip Report
  • Cameracraft Magazine - Early Feedback
  • RX-100 and Spanish NEX-7 ebooks are out!
  • Data Storage that Lasts 1,000 Years

The Most Distortion-Ridden Zeiss Lens Ever (and Why You Won’t Notice It)

Carl Zeiss may be the Rolls Royce of optical brands, but when Sony worked with them to design the Cyber-Shot RX-100 they had to make a LOT of engineering tradeoffs just to make everything fit in such a small package.  (Hey, if designing such an amazing camera were easy, it would have been done before!)  And I have to say they employed some out-of-the-box thinking on this one, which I can appreciate as an engineer but many of you optical purists may have a hard time swallowing.

Case in point: Have a look at this RAW+JPG of a test shot from the RX-100.  Yowza!  Look at all that distortion on the unprocessed RAW file!  Has Uncle Carl thrown their traditional standards for optical perfection out the window??

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How These Hummingbird Shots Were Taken...

Also in this issue:
  • A New and Different Photo Magazine
  • London Seminar Update
  • Least Likely Place to License and Image
A New (and Different!) Photo Magazine

For as long as I can remember, the vast majority of the “Popular” photography magazines served as a vehicle for their advertisers.  And as I got older things seemed to get worse, as content took a back seat to both the latest gear AND the will of the graphic layout artist.

As an example, have a look at some of the sample pages of a photo magazine I actually used to write for.  Its layout is gorgeous.  It has the backing of the camera company whose products they herald.  But its content leads the crusade of mis-information the photo industry loves to impose on the masses: If only you had the latest gear, or if only you understood this obscure feature of the intimidating camera you can’t ever hope to understand, only THEN can you get the great shots you see in their pages.  (In one issue they had a FOUR PAGE spread on how to use the shutter release button!)  They would showcase a guest photographer and only talk about what gear he used, not the light or how he approached the shot in his mind (sending the message that if you bought gear like his, your shots would be as good).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Where the Anti-jpg bias came from - Part 2

Also in this issue:
  • London!! (and maybe Malaysia!!)
  • The A37 / A57 Ebook is out
  • The Friedman Archives is hiring!  (Well, sort of...)
  • Least Likely Place to License an Image

I’m writing this from Durango, Colorado, where I’ve been asked by the local photo club to come and give a seminar and field workshop (which were quite successful, but I'll get to that later. :-) )

A few days before the event, the club’s president, Howard Rachlin, invited me to be guest speaker for the photo club.  “Why don’t you give a talk about your blog post, describing “Where the Anti-JPG bias came from”?  There are a lot of strong opinions about that in the club and I think with the way you explain things you might open a few eyes.”

So I did, but since I would be presenting in front of a live audience, I wanted to do something that would blow the audience away.  So I went into the studio and took a shot that would be the acid test of .jpg image quality: A high-frequency subject (lots of strong whites and blacks in close proximity) with a macro lens (which tend to be the sharpest lenses) with good side light (which makes everything look sharper).  The best of conditions.  My idea was to shoot RAW + JPG, have both made into poster-sized enlargements, and have people scrutinize them.  Could they tell which one was the .jpg?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Classic B&W Portraits without Photoshop

Also in this issue:
  • Guess who's on the cover?
  • Colorado and London, here we come!
  • MyPublisher Books
  • Least likely place to license an image

Classic B&W without Photoshop

Once upon a time, back in the 1940’s, there was a “classic” way to shoot black-and-white portraits.  The Caucasian face was almost a pure white, like these pictures of Gretta Garbo and Shirley MacLaine above.  To get this effect, the photographer would shoot B&W film and place a red filter over the lens, light the subject well, and overexpose a tad.  (And of course makeup helped complete the look.)

You can’t get that look just by shooting in color and “desaturating” the image in Photoshop – the face will come out grey and look much less impressive.  Instead you have to use a Photoshop function called the “channel mixer”, where you can choose which original colors get highlighted in the conversion to B&W.  Below are some examples of color portraits converted to B&W by desaturation, and then by the Channel Mixer method.  Which conversion do you like better?  (Click on any photo to make it bigger.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A busy month...

It's a busy month; not even enough time to write a proper blog.  Will have to use sentence fragments and bullet points instead. 

* Meet Kenni Palmer, the #2 CrossFit athlete in all of England.  Took shots using 2 flashes with 2 Lumodi beauty dishes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Top Worst Minoltas Ever Made

This is the follow-up to the Top 10 Minoltas video I made last month, where I showed off the Top 10 Best Minoltas ever made (my opinion, of course).   This is the rebuttal to that video, the Top Worst Minotlas Ever (again, my opinion).  I couldn’t come up with a list of 10, but here’s the list of the cameras I think the world could have done without.  And because I don’t actually have any of these in my collection, it makes no sense to make a video about them. :-)

1. Maxxum 70
This film-based camera came out shortly after the digital 7D, and while the camera itself wasn’t so bad, it’s naming was just abysmal, especially if you call your favorite store to ask if it’s in stock:

     “Hello, do you have the Minolta 7D in stock?”
     “Yes, we have the Minolta 70 in stock! It’s $350.”
     “Wow, $350 for a 7D?”
     “Yup! $350 for a 70!”
Could have started an Abbott and Costello comedy routine with that one.

2. Dimage 7/7i/7hi

These cameras were the predecessor to the A1 and A2 bridge cameras mentioned in last month’s video. With the 7 / 7i / 7hi Minolta was still figuring out unimportant things like ergonomics and responsiveness using contrast-detect autofocus. I had the 7i with me for my first 3 months in China and I hated it so much (“Take the picture Now! NOW!! NOW, DAMN YOU!”) that as soon as the A1 was announced I ordered it from New York and had it shipped to my apartment in Beijing.  The 5 megapixel sensor was wonderful in low ISO, and it ran on 4 AA batteries which didn't last nearly long enough.

3. Dimage RD-3000

If the RD-175 got an honorable mention last month for its innovativeness, this 2nd-generation refinement should have been a better camera. My biggest complaint was that the system was based on Minolta’s APS-C camera system (the “Vectis”) instead of the Maxxum / Alpha DSLR mount. Why? Because they wanted to minimize the insanely large crop factor that the Maxxum-based RD-175 had. “Well”, said the Japanese engineers, “we can either make the sensor bigger or use lenses that create a smaller image circle”. And so they did the latter.

I will give this camera credit, though… it’s the ONLY digital camera I know of (maybe the RD-175 did this too) which calculated the flash exposure the same way the film cameras did – by looking at the sensor and telling the flash “STOP!” in real time. (Maybe that’s why this camera’s flash exposure accuracy was all over the map.)

4. Maxxum 9xi
I owned this camera. I hated it. This in spite of the fact that there was a LOT going for it:
  • It was practically indestructible. Between the UV-cured plastic exterior or the fact it could withstand a drop onto concrete (even on the pentaprism) from a distance and survive.
  • A 1/12,000th of a second shutter speed
  • Reasonably intelligent focus tracking
 What didn’t I like?
  • They had a transparent LCD superimposed over the focusing screen which darkened the entire viewfinder.
  • No flash exposure compensation
  • No way to set the camera to AF-C or AF-S. It was AF-A 24/7, and you were at the mercy of the camera’s (poor) decision-making abilities.
  • Let's face it; it was ugly. :-)

5. The entire xi product line

Okay, maybe I'm being harsh, but when Minolta wanted to shake up the world by creating these cameras with "xpert intelligence" they really didn't have their existing demographic of photo enthusiasts in mind.  These cameras were aimed at people who knew very little about photography, offering an “intelligent” auto-zoom (which somehow would help you compose the image), little cards you could insert to tell the camera what kind of a picture you wanted to take, and lenses with zoom motors inside.  Thankfully Minolta abandoned that approach starting with the si series which followed.

6. Honorable mention: Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

Imagine pairing great optics with a ridiculously small yet popular film format, and you have this little bastard of a camera.  It was actually well-designed mechanically; you could control your f/stop and shutter speed, the mirror actually doubled as a shutter, and it was sort of impossible to actually put it into your pocket (which you could do with other 110-format cameras of its day).  I've always said that there was little correlation between good products and products that sell, and this camera certainly reinforces that notion.  It was so popular that a sequel was produced a few years later.

7. Neutral: X700, 600si
The insanely popular X-700
The rear of the 600si (showing off the buttons and dials - the front was actually pretty unremarkable)

I got a LOT of emails from fans of these cameras, concerned that they might be on my 10 worst list since they weren't on my list from last month.  While the 600si was indeed noteworthy for being the first to experiment with going back to knobs instead of the then-ubiquitious "push this button and rotate this wheel at the same time" user interface, I felt the Maxxum 7 and 9 which took this experiment to the next level were better cameras.  Similarly, while I have nothing against the immensely popular X-700, I felt that the XD-11 had a higher-integrity design.  (So there!)

The Next Seminars

No sooner do we return from Sedona that we're packing for Copenhagen!  (The seminar we did there in 2010 proved to be so popular that we have been asked to return.)  That will be followed by Santa Monica (California) in June, Durango (Colorado) in July, and finally Brighton (England) in September.  Yes, folks, this is supposed to be a 'light' year for travel. :-)

The events in Copenhagen have been expanded - After the weekend seminar on April 21 and 22, Sony will actually be participating in a newly-scheduled promotional event to take place the evening of April 23rd.  (They'll be bringing their latest products for people to try out, and they've asked me to give a short talk on the SLT design tradeoffs.)  The next evening I'll be giving a lecture entitled, "My Life as a Geek" which talks about my days at NASA and the kinds of electronic and computer inventions I designed and built in my youth that got me admitted in the first place.  (That should be fun!)  Finally, there's an evening "refresher" course for those who attended my seminar back in 2010 followed by a field workshop on Saturday, April 28th.

Here's the same information in table format for those of you who are visual thinkers, along with links to get more information (and hopefully to sign up :-) )

Copenhagen Events

The Santa Monica, California seminar will be held on June 9-10, and a 1-day field workshop near the world-famous Santa Monica pier on June 16th.  Learn more and sign up here.

The Durango, Colorado event is being hosted by the Durango Photo Club, and there will be three events: A technical lecture, a 2-day seminar, and a 2-day Field Workshop all happening between July 12 and July 22nd.  Learn More and Sign Up here 


1) It cost me $70 in batteries (S76 and CR123 lithium batteries) just to get all the cameras to work properly for last month's video. :-)

2) I sent in my A77 to Sony to see if they could do anything about the flash exposure accuracy.  It should arrive back in just a few days.  When I return from Copenhagen I'll be testing it against the A65 which exhibited the identical behavior to see if things have improved.  Then I'll be selling the A65 because I just have too much stuff.  Any takers?  (I'll even throw in a free copy of my e-book for the camera! :-) )

Until next time,
Yours Truly, Gary Friedman

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Are Kit Lenses Worthless?

 Also in this issue:
  • The Next Seminars
  • Other Tidbits

My New Favorite Travel Camera

When it comes to travel photography, there was always a soft spot in my heart for the Konica Minolta A1 and A2 bridge cameras.  These came out before the legendary KM 7D, and I used the A1 for half of my China blog.  By today's standards the image quality falls short for all but the lowest ISOs, but as far as form factor and function goes, these cameras had a certain gem quality to them.  The user interface was clearly designed by a photographer (as opposed to a marketing team); they had a real wide angle lens (most bridge cameras of the time didn't) and thankfully they had a manual zoom ring (as opposed to the motorized kind that only drained the batteries and offered no real benefit).  It shot movies, it had a built-in intervolometer, and it was my first exposure (no pun intended) to the promise of the electronic viewfinder.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago, when my NEX-7 and kit lens FINALLY arrived.  Imagine - all the quality of the A77 without the weight or volume! 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Top 10 Best (and Worst) Minolta Cameras Ever

Also in this issue:
  • How I shot the video
  • Copenhagen, Colorado, and California Seminars are happening!
  • A65 / A77 book is out, and timeline for the new NEX 7 book
The Top 10 Best (and Worst) Minolta Cameras Ever

I'm starting to expand into video.  This show-and-tell piece turned out to be so large that it's being split into two parts.  Watch Part I below:

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Family Portrait with Uncooperative Children

Also in this issue:
  • Flash Exposure Accuracy with the A77 and A65
  • A Pitch for a Cable Show
  • Seminars for 2012 
  • Other Stuff
A Family Portrait with Uncooperative Children

The above shot was probably the most difficult family portrait I've ever had to shoot.  Part of the problem is I'm in the shot, but the significantly bigger problem is that there are three grandchildren in the picture, two of whom don't know anything about sitting still or posing, and the third absolutely, positively refuses to pose or even smile for the camera.  And there was no photographer on hand to provide a distraction and shoot at the decisive moment when everyone's looking.  What to do?