Well, this is a bit sad. Right around the time the news broke in NY about gay marriage rights passing in their state legislature, (I assume) Aaron from Brown Coffee Company tweeted what you see to the right.
There’s no denying what this is. It’s a statement opposing gay and lesbian marriage. I think Aaron is in damage control on his website now, and only makes things worse with the recent statement claiming this tweet was only about ancient philosophy, and not about current political and social situations in the US.
Before I go on, for the record: I don’t really care about gay marriage or lesbian marriage or for that matter, don’t care much if you’re gay, straight, abstaining, androgynous, whatever. I don’t care because it’s absolutely none of my business. What happens between two consenting adults is none of my concern, and because of that, I feel I have absolutely zero say in what goes on between those two consenting adults. As long as no one is being hurt, abused, or mistreated against their will, it is none of my business.
One of my favourite lines ever from a politician is from Pierre Eliot Trudeau who, when decriminalizing homosexual acts from all federal laws in Canada in 1968, said to the press “the State has no place in the bedrooms of the Nation”. Even though I don’t understand the desire for homosexuality, and cannot conceive of that way of thinking, I don’t begrudge anyone who is homosexual. I completely understand that, while it is not a natural way of thinking for me, it is definitely a natural way of thinking for a sizable portion of humans.
Again to reiterate, I don’t think much at all about someone’s choice of sexuality, but the few times I do, I usually equate it with someone who happens to be able to paint masterfully, but cannot write worth a lick; or someone who may know how to work out complex math problems, but is socially awkward - in other words, someone wired a bit differently than others, and that’s just part of normal human chemistry and how our brains work.
Because in truth, we’re all wired a bit differently. Some are wired to believe the writings assembled by a very small group of men back in the 4th century. They read those writings and make interpretations on how their lives should be run. Some read those writings and believe they should also tell others how to run their lives.
I could go on a diatribe about the Bible but its best to stop there.
Aaron made a mistake with his twitter post. There’s absolutely no mistaking that. When your off the cuff tweet about something you disagree with garners a world-famous Chef to respond about how “you suck”, that’s a big mistake.
But perhaps Americans should look at the bigger situation going on here: in just about every poll on the subject, almost half of all Americans don’t support gay marriage and believe it should be against the law. That’s a lot of people. Yes, it is kind of antiquated, kind of smacks of older laws outlawing mixed-race marriages, but how do you win them over? How do you get people to get over bigotry, over stereotypes, over hurtful opinions?
Do you do it by shaming them? By belittling them? Maybe, in some cases, I don’t know. Recently, I was promoting the idea of publicly shaming the participants in Vancouver’s riots because in cases that caused destruction, looting, and physical harm, I feel that a good public shaming is the way to prevent people from participating in “mob mentality” in the future - seeing that there are definitive consequences for their actions.
Some may think that showing Aaron there are consequences for his actions will get him to change. Hence the public shaming steamroll of today.
I don’t think so though. See, there’s a difference between mob-mentality stupidity, and matters of the heart. And for things like gay marriage, or gay rights, or abortion rights for that matter, these are, good or bad, things from the heart for many people. Shame an anti-abortionist for their public outcry, and you only strengthen their resolve in a (dumb - had to say it) idea that they have the right to make decisions about another person’s body.
Shame a person who thinks homosexuality is an affront to mankind, and you only strengthen their resolve. They just go more “underground” with their thoughts and opinions. That’s when things can get dangerous. That’s when people do really hideous things, turning strong opinions into dangerous actions. (nb, I’m not suggesting Aaron will do this - I’m just stating historical precedence, esp. with regards to the US civil rights movement).
I sometimes don’t agree with stuff that Nick Cho writes, but he tweeted something today that I do agree with: “All foolishness and mistakes aside, I feel for our friend Aaron Blanco. It’s easy to judge. Harder to be gracious.”
The best way to win over, to “convert” (heh heh) people with archaic and dated opinions on homosexuality is not with shame or harsh judgments, but with the same methods Martin Luther King Jr used in the civil rights movement. With love, understanding, and peace. Dialog is a good start. Perhaps even an understanding from the gay community (and gay supporter community) that some people just will never “understand” what drives homosexuality. The goal shouldn’t be to convince people that homosexuality is natural or normal (as a suggestion) but instead convince them that your human rights as a homosexual or lesbian aren’t any different than the rights of the heterosexual person. You can try to convince them with shaming and public ridicule, (which IMO, will never work), or you can try other methods. For a group of people who want… nay, demand tolerance and understanding from others, perhaps some love and understanding back against those who oppose your way of living you will win this war.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I was wrapping up a late night of photo editing, some tweets filtered my way saying that Fuji had just released a .1 upgrade (as opposed to a .01) for the Fuji X100. Of course, I had to download it immediately and install.
First and foremost, this is some really good stuff by Fuji. It should also put to rest the naysayers who have been saying Fuji doesn’t care about doing firmware updates after releasing a camera. Clearly Fuji does care. And apparently more firmware updates are promised.
With this 1.10 firmware update, Fuji has addressed several major complaints with the way the X100 works. Macro mode works a bit more intuitively. The camera now remembers ISO and other settings when you change between PSAM modes. They’ve even found a way to give a better optical viewfinder (OVF) representation of where the real focus zone is with various parallax corrections. There are a few more changes (including at least four not documented) which I’ll get to further on.
WHAT’S NOT FIXED (YET?) This is, however, a 0.1 release, and some major nagging issues with the X100 have still not been resolved. I’ll list four big ones, then a huge, probably monumental one that I have doubts Fuji will fix.
First big non fix: manual focus. In two words, it still sucks. When you try the manual focus on a Panny or Oly m4/3rds camera (fly by wire), and compare it to how the X100 manually focuses (also fly by wire), it’s like comparing a Porsche to a tricycle with one of the rear wheels missing. “Night and Day“‘s dictionary definition shows a Panasonic GF1 focusing (day) and the Fuji X100 focusing (night). It’s bad. I think Fuji’s done a minor (very minor) fix to the manual focusing with this update: instead of the manual focus dial being glacially slow in low light, it’s only half dead snail slow now.
Second big non fix: Auto ISO is still buried 4 pages deep on the “setup” menu. Fuji has done nothing to address all the complaints about auto ISO being buried, and ISO settings being on another menu entirely. The only thing they’ve done to take away a tiny bit of aggravation regarding this is now ISO settings (including auto ISO) stay the same in any PSAM mode (or panorama, or movie mode). Boo!
Third big non fix: Setting up the RAW button as a second function button. Come ON Fuji… make it programmable, and set its default to RAW/JPG… but we can pick other settings instead. It’s not rocket science.
Fourth big non fix: The X100 has a well documented problem with front-focusing when set to between f4 and f5.6. Left and right edges of images are especially blurred. Since this is a fixed lens, it can definitely be fixed in firmware (much like Canon’s built in lens micro focus adjustments for various lenses). However, in testing mine, I can see it is NOT fixed in this firmware update. Boo!
Okay… I am hoping #2, #3 and #4 above are coming in another firmware update (@FujiGuys on twitter have promised more); praying somehow the X100’s entire manual focus system can be overhauled via firmware and be made more Olympus / Panasonic m4/3rds like.
Now the big, huge, monumental thing that I would not expect to be fixed in a .1 firmware update. I still hope and dream firmware 2.0 will address this: the entire UI, design, layout, function of the X100’s software interface needs a complete overhaul. Menus redesigned. Menu item allocations changed. OVF not switching to EVF as much when hitting Drive, or WB to see settings. EVF menu system optimized for the EVF, back LCD menu system optimized for the back LCD’s bigger expansive display.
Just one example: Why oh why are shutter sounds & volumes (two different menu choices) more easily accessible than auto ISO settings? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Toy functions (like electronic shutter sounds) can be buried 15 levels deep for all I care. Auto ISO OTOH needs to be first-page accessible.
The entire user interface on the X100 needs to be more usable, have smarter, more intuitive usability, and desperately needs a friggin elegance that somehow comes close to matching the elegance of the physical camera.
Oh, and Fuji? A menu page with “recently used settings” would be nice too.
WHAT IS FIXED Fuji has listed 22 fixes or modifications to the X100’s firmware. Some are pure fluff (like now you can hear the sampled sound for the stupid toylike artificial shutter sounds (1, 2 or 3) when you cursor up or down on their listing). Some are kind of useless, like now you can press and hold the menu/ok button for 3 seconds to lock the command dial (was that a problem before?). Some are nice changes, like red eye removal now also works in RAW shots (I never use RER, but I’m sure many do); or another new fix - 16:9 bars are now displayed in the OVF if you choose to shoot 16:9 (again, why you would, losing about 10% of your capture image, I dunno why, but for those who shoot 16:9, it’s a nice fix).
There are some really anticipated fixes done in this firmware, and some really cool surprises.
- Fuji found a cool way to deal with the parallax / focus box problem by allowing the user to enable a second, parallax-corrected focus zone indicator that works quite nicely in the OVF. Now if only they could also get focus-confirmation working in MF mode - something even SLRs frome the early 1980s could do with manual focus lenses!
- As mentioned above, Fuji fixed the ISO setting - it no longer changes to previous-settings when hoping around on PSAM (program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual). YAY!
- We now have 1/3 stop increment settings in S and A modes (previously, you could only set 1/3 stop increments in manual mode). Again, YAY!
- You no longer have to press and hold the shutter button for 1 second or longer to wake the camera from standby sleep. A quick tap does it now. YAY!
- Histogram is working better now - showing, for eg, effects of exposure compensation, live. YAY! Histogram is also now working in Manual (set aperture and shutter) manually. YAY! However, histogram in manual mode is still not showing what the histogram would be at your specific manual settings (boo).
- The camera remembers your last viewed image when you’re chimping the LCD screen. This is nice (not a YAY though); still no way to move forward or back through images when zoomed in (something almost every other digital camera can do). Come ON Fuji, the command dial and command toggle do NOTHING when zoomed into an image. Please enable these for jumping to next or previous image (at same zoom level).
All in all, these are very welcome updates and fixes. But that’s not all this firmware has! Check it out!
UNDOCUMENTED FIXES Either my imagination is playing with me, or my memory is really bad, or… maybe I’ve found a few undocumented fixes in this firmware.
- Additional sizes for the focus box in EVF mode. I thought there were 3 different focus box sizes before in EVF / LCD viewscreen mode. Now, there’s 5, with two smaller boxes available. Focus box size in OVF can’t be changed. MF focus box is bigger than the biggest EVF autofocus box (that hasn’t changed AFAIK).
- Better low light focusing! Fuji hasn’t said anything about this, but I swear my X100 focuses better in lower light now (fewer misses) than before this update. This was a major source of frustration for me - even with the focus assist lamp blasting a dark scene with garish light, the bloody camera wouldn’t focus. Now it’s doing it almost every time. I’m positive this is an undocumented fix.
- Slightly (ever so slight) better manual focusing in crappy light. Barely improved. It’s basically gone from crapsuckitude to craptastic. I do howerver notice as soon as light is around 2 or 3 EV, focusing manually does move quicker.
- Better manual focusing (still crappy, less so) in normal light. I did notice that spinning the focus ring in normal light now delivers better “jumps” up or down on the focus distance indicator. I also noticed that focusing further away results in a different sound from the gear / motor inside (more muted now). Try this one your self - listen to the lens when you focus closer. Now listen as you focus on further away scenes. It sounds different when focusing on further away elements.
- Lastly, the camera just seems a bit more responsive. Things happen a bit quicker, menus snap a bit faster, it seems ever so slightly more optimized. Again, maybe this is just my imagination.
Lastly, it looks like Fuji introduced a new bug into this camera, and a pretty annoying one. If you have shadow and/or highlight tones set to medium low or low, in many lighting situations, you’ll get horrible, zebra like (definitely not intentional) visual noise in parts of your preview image on the back LCD or worse, in the EVF. It’s almost enough to be headache inducing. They really need to fix this.
Today, I was writing up some mildly snarky comments about Pentax and their new “Q” camera system (boring topic for coffee folk - a one sentence synopsis: Pentax introduced a new camera and lens system that goes against the current “want” of bigger sensors for better IQ, instead rolling out a new replaceable lens system with a tiny fingernail-sized sensor.)
It got me thinking about perspective and posting critical comments about “things” online. Pentax is a big faceless company to most folks, as is Canon, Sony, Leica, Samsung, Coke, Lays’ Chips, you name it. In the realm of coffee, Sanka, Folgers, Starbucks, heck even Green Mountain fall into the same boat - faceless, dehumanized companies. And it is easy to de-humanize companies like this. Many of them make bottom line, “what’s good for the stockholders” decisions without much care about the cause and affect their decisions have on real people. A corporation, at least under Canadian law, is its own entity, and by a legal viewpoint, is the very definition of a non-human yet living, breathing entity.
We find it easy to post negative commentary about these kinds of companies. We poke fun at them, criticize at a whim and don’t think twice about the human aspect. I do it as much as the next person. I will probably continue to do it the rest of my life when a corporation does something that my morals and ethics code doesn’t agree with.
So what about when you get down to the level of a company with few hundred employees or less? How about a Counter Culture, or an Intelligentsia? Again, you can see lots of evidence online of the “de-humanizing” aspects in commentary from dissatisfied customers of these companies. Not everyone who buys Intelligentsia knows about Doug Zell and Geoff Watts. Probably even less of Counter Culture Coffee’s customers know Peter Guiliano and his part ownership of the company.
So then we have Stumptown, and where I think Stumptown is quite unique is Duane Sorenson and how he so readily identifies with Stumptown. There’s more to Stumptown than Mr. Sorenson (like Aleco Chigounis, the company’s main coffee buyer and world traveller), but unlike other top specialty coffee companies, what really sets Stumptown apart (in my eye at least) is how closely tied Stumptown Coffee Roasters is to Mr. Sorenson. As I wrote previously, Stumptown Coffee Roasters *is* Duane Sorenson.
So, from an observatory, anthropological standpoint, I can certainly understand segments of the whistleblower backlash and rush to defence that some quarters have taken with all the developments at Stumptown lately. For many of the company’s most ardent fans, Stumptown Coffee Roasters isn’t a de-humanized company - it is Duane Sorenson & Co., and any critical talk about Stumptown is seen as a direct and very personal attack against Mr. Sorenson.
To be honest, I’ve never had a problem with anyone rushing to Stumptown’s defence. To do so demonstrates a respect, admiration, even love for what that company has done. If part of that “rush to defence” is also trying to prevent the de-humanizing of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, that’s even better.
BUT (you could probably sense that coming), I’ve always had problems with people who, on one hand, defend and back up one company, while insulting, belittling, and de-humanizing others in the process. Ditto for individuals who will selectively de-humanize some companies with their online commentary, but get all personal and righteous about other companies of the same size and scope, simply because they know (or are friends with) some people at the latter company.
I still firmly believe that, if this wasn’t Stumptown selling 90% of the company to an investment firm, but say a Metropolis or a Blue Bottle, there’d be a quick and snarky rush to de-humanize those companies and label them as “sell outs” by perhaps some of the same people currently having Stumptown’s “back”.
I’ve always admired people who could debate and argue an opinion without resorting to name calling or belittling remarks. I even admire more those who can do it both publicly and in private conversation (not many can). I also know quite well that I’ve failed at these goals myself, many, many times. And the Stumptown whistleblower, Todd Carmichael, could have done a much better job (certainly with more tact) with perhaps a bit more journalistic integrity when he exposed the Stumptown sale news.
In everything I’ve written online about the sale of Stumptown, I’ve tried to *not* de-humanize the company, but I’ve probably failed at that. I only take some solace in knowing if it were one of my own favourite companies in coffee and espresso (for eg, Baratza), I’d probably write in a similar style.
Looking back over this, I think it’s a good thing that some are, either consciously or sub consciously, defending Stumptown against any attempt to de-humanize the company. Stumptown is (hopefully not was) Duane Sorenson, and commentary against anything the company does can cut to the bone, not only for Mr. Sorenson, but for his many friends, colleagues and admirers.
Perhaps people will also remember this de-humanizing aspect when writing about other companies and individuals in specialty coffee who do controversial things. I’m not saying that every person in specialty coffee should be hands off from any kind of written or verbal attack: if someone’s character is despicable enough or fraudulent enough that their actions harm this industry or people directly, they should be exposed and “discussed” online (one person out of several in the realm of specialty coffee that come to mind is Scott Welker, the SCAA embezzler).
What I am saying is this - if you have a moral and ethical code about how to talk about and debate controversial issues (especially in the world of specialty coffee), try to keep that moral code and ethics on an even keel and give everyone in this true specialty coffee biz the same fair shake. Playing favourites can be very hypocritical when taken to extremes.
Are you old? At least born before the 1990s? Maybe even the 1980s?
Do you remember the first time you experienced auto focus on a camera?
We take auto focus in cameras for granted today - so much so that we get pissed off when an iPhone (before the 3G) couldn’t auto focus. Almost every camera bought today can focus automatically, and it has been that way for decades. But back in the 1980s, auto focus was bleeding, cutting edge technology, and much like Nikon and Canon’s leap into digital SLRs in the early and mid 2000s, both companies (along with a few other notables) had similar leaps in the 1980s… into autofocus systems.
But they weren’t the first to have a successful, “professional” SLR that had autofocus built in (along with motorized film advance - another kick ass innovation). The company that was first at these things was Minolta, with their Maxxum 7000 camera system.
I’d been shooting with two cameras by the time the Maxxum debuted in 1986: a Canon AE-1 with a 35-70 zoom, and a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm. I was actually blissfully unawares of the Maxxum and autofocus in general for a few years after. But in 1989, just before heading to Europe for a (long, not planned to be long) trip, I met a girl who was into photography and owned a Maxxum 7000.
The camera freaked me out. First I was amazed at the top panel LCD (which has since become a mainstay of professional and advanced amateur SLRs and dSLRs). I’d never seen that before. But it was the autofocus ability that blew my mind. For the lens to spin and lock focus, always faster than I could do by hand, was revolutionary.
I was so taken with this technology that I spent a large chunk of my travel money and bought a Minolta Maxxum 7000i (2nd generation) camera along with two lenses - a zoom (probably 28-80) and a nifty 50 f1.8. That camera came to Europe with me. That camera also got pawned off twice when I was running very low on funds (I bought it back from the pawn shops twice). It was amazing technology. On top of the auto focus system, it also took these little cheezy “cards” that tweaked the auto exposure system - like the Sports Action card or the Sunset card.
(looking back now, those little add on cards, which cost I think $25 each, were a complete scam - and basically a hard-plastic insert version of modern day dSLR dummy modes).
The Maxxum 7000 and 7000i - my first introduction to autofocus systems on cameras.
I find it ironic, and funny in a sad kind of way to see some people get their backs up against the wall and come to the defence of Stumptown, a company recently sold to an investment firm. Specifically, they’re upset at the whistleblower (calling him a dick, among other things) and continuing to publicly write things criticizing anyone else who thinks there’s more to this story than what a company’s PR wants you to believe.
It’s ironic for me because some of these same individuals are all too quick to jump on the juvenile bandwagon and trash, belittle, or make fun of other events and situations in coffee that perhaps aren’t as close to their hearts. Take for instance the dude who’s travelling the USA for Illy coffee - Georgio Milos. Milos is definitely the front line PR guy for Illy in the US recently, and because Milos’ ideas on coffee don’t jive with the PDX ways, many have taken pot shots at him. Many have belittled him. Many have made a mockery of him. Including some of those quick to rush to Stumptown’s defence.
I know, comparing Milos and Illy to Stumptown may seem a stretch to many. But a lot of the things we know about espresso today wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for Illy’s approach to espresso science in the 1980s and 1990s - a fact often missed by the “what have you done for me lately” crowd. Milos has a different stance on how espresso should exist. He’s also quite publicly shown exasperation for some of the trends in espresso in North America (like massively updosed ristretto shot pulls - something I agree with Milos on). But because he’s not part of the cool crowd, he’s an easy target, and many, including some of those rushing to Stumptown’s defence, have taken pot shots at him.
All this got me thinking… if Carmichael had exposed the news about the sale of another company to an investment firm… would the indignation, the mockery, the name calling towards him be the same? Would it be the same if it was Intelligentsia? How about Counter Culture? How about Ritual Coffee? Blue Bottle? How about a great American roaster / retailer like Metropolis Coffee in Chicago?
Somehow I don’t think so… well, maybe with Intelligentsia, yes. But with most other companies, I don’t think so.
I think if (hypothetically) Metropolis Coffee sold 90% of their ownership to TSG and once exposed, went on a damage control PR run, the some of the same people defending Stumptown today would be taking “you sold out” potshots at Metropolis.
And it’s not because Stumptown does coffee better than anyone else (I don’t happen to think they do - I think they do fantastic coffee and great espresso, think they are innovative in many ways, but I also think a dozen other roaster/retailers or more do just as well). I think we had examples of “pro this, former that, see my credentials” types reaching for straws to show how, this time, TSG won’t be following their previous modus operandi because they perhaps can’t believe any other circumstance. I think because there’s a certain cadre of people who naturally gravitate towards Stumptown’s cult like aura, they’ll get up in arms about this story, but the very same folks would mock and belittle if some other quality driven specialty roaster entered into this deal with TSG.
I still think several out there owe Carmichael an apology - a sincere one. Because at the end of the day, he was right with his Esquire article. And I guess we’ll see in a few years what happens to Stumptown Coffee Roasters.
ADDENDUM. I started thinking, after I wrote this post, if I’d react the same way others have if a company I loved dearly sold out to a big corporation or investment group. A company that comes to my mind is Baratza: I happen to think they’re one of the best companies in coffee right now, run by two extraordinary people. I firmly believe we’re lucky - blessed even - that Baratza exists to advance home grinder tech.
However, what if Baratza sold 90% of their interest to, say, Delonghi? And kept this secret till someone whistleblew the news? Then Baratza’s (now former) owners went public saying “nothing’s changed, we’re still running the show, we’re still focused on the same quality we always were focused on”. How would I react?
I think I can honestly say I’d react the same way I have been reacting to this Stumptown news. I wouldn’t rush to Baratza’s defence. I’d raise some questions and concerns about what would happen to this great company down the road now that someone else is the owner. And I certainly wouldn’t call the whistleblower a dick. And lastly, I’d be very, very upset.
Have you heard about this new supposed breakthrough technology that really hit the airwaves today big time? Even the NY Times is writing about Lytro, the new dynamic depth of field, “select your focus after you shoot” imaging technology.
I dunno. I could be wrong, but something smells really fishy about all of this. Really fishy. I’m calling shenanigans. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong though.
Why am I so skeptical? Part of the reason is how the company and its venture capital investors are “promoting” this. First, they slag Nikon and Canon, saying those companies aren’t innovators, but that they just “refine” technology. Next, they keep talking about how great their new “groundbreaking technology” will be for taking pictures of your dog or kid running around.
I dunno… if this technology really did have to eliminate focus and could revolutionize everything we know about photography (or hell, everything we know about how the human eye works) through some never-thought-of-before magic sauce, I’d think you’d be pushing more than doggie pictures as the benefit.
I was thinking about Lytro’s description (veiled as it was) vs. how you might actually pull off this trick in demos today. Lytro does have demos out there and a kind of used car salesman (2011 style) promos vids about this technology - the demos let you see an image on screen and select any point in the image to have focus nailed to.
And I’m thinking… yeah, there’s a way to do this today, but all it needs is a healthy amount of computing power, beefed up existing sensor technology, and a good phase-detect AF system paired to an entire sensor (and not just various points, like a typical SLR camera today). Or just fast contrast detect AF systems.
Here’s how you could do this Lytro trick with existing technology.
First, take a very high f-stop photograph (like f22 or f32); uses some trick to massively backlight the sensor to allow for a very small aperture shot in most normal lighting situations. Depth of field would be enormous in the RAW photo.
Second, when picture is taken, some kind of AF sensor (phase detect probably) records various depth of field for the image captured. Stores that data with the image.
Third, you’d have software, relying on the data recorded for DoF of the entire frame, that would allow you to dynamically change the depth of field, blurring in selective stages wherever you choose, digitally.
Wallah. Selective, post-shooting focus adjustment. Nothing really special about it, except for a way to let each photocell on the sensor capture as much light as possible from a very tiny aperture. Probably a lot of software tricks to deal with the massive amount of digital noise in each image capture.
Also, if this is how Lytro’s system works, no wonder they didn’t go to Canon or Nikon; my guess is this tech can’t scale up to APS-C or full frame sensors. I’m also betting the images are going to be low megapixels - perhaps even 1mp or less.
Anyway. Maybe I’m wrong. But sure seems fishy. Here’s a link to see the promo video and some sample low res images to play with the focus on.
ADDENDUM - folks on twitter got me more informed. It’s just a Plenoptic camera. Doesn’t work the way I described above (though above would work really well, I’m thinking); Not new technology. Adobe’s been working on this too. Results in 1 to 2 megapixel max images at great cost. Basically creates 1000s of captures of segments in an image, and software does the rest. Here’s a youtube video showing the magic sauce.
The first time I saw a Leica camera in person was back in 2003 when I was interviewed for a nationally syndicated Canwest newspaper article. The reporter doing the story had a photographer with him but he also had his own camera - a Leica M3 with a 35mm summicron attached.
I remember both quite well because I’d never seen or used a rangefinder before, and of course, Leica’s been legendary for decades. As an aspiring photographer, I recognized it for what it was right away.
This also reminds me of the first time I saw a Kees van der Westen Speedster espresso machine. It was a year before down at the old ESI / La Marzocco factory. And just like the admiration, desire and respect I had for the Speedster after first seeing it, so too did admiration, respect, and yes, desire rise in me once I saw and held that Leica for the first time.
Through the first decade of the 2000s, my involvement in photography continued to grow, but it was nearly 100% focused on digital photography. I had a few film bodies left over from my transition to digital (Nikon F4, Nikon F100, Nikon FM3a) but sold the F100, contemplated selling the F4, but the FM3a, arguably the finest mechanical (hybrid, actually) film SLR ever made, went into storage after being babied for the 2.5 years I actually used it. I don’t think I’ll ever sell it, but I am doing something I consider “bad” in photographers: hoarding equipment.
And while I transitioned through a bunch of Canon dSLRs (from the Digital Rebel through the 20D, 40D, 5D, and currently 5D Mk II), I always had a yearning for two things in photography that I was either missing or never had: I missed using film and getting some of that great texture I used to love from my Tri-X, X-Pan, X2 and other black and white film; And I never had the experience of a rangefinder for all its manual-shooting glory.
I’ll admit this quite readily - I got too used to digital. Got too used to Live View. Got too used to matrix metering. Got too used to automated functions. Heck, for about 5 years, I barely touched the manual focus rings on my various lenses. Along the way, I was getting better photos because the technology in cameras made them better. I was concentrating more on composition, lighting, setting, and all of that was good. But I was forgetting some core basics of photography. The Sunny 16 rule, for example, slipped out of my consciousness. Being able to do rough 1-stop calculations in my head for right exposure and aperture because a distant, forgotten skill.
This became all too apparent last year when I managed to acquire my first Leica - not a fabled M series Leica, but a Leica IIIf, a screw-mount, all mechanical beast of a camera from 1952 with overly complex controls (like two different dials to use when setting shutter speed). As mechanical as they come, no light meter, no automations of any sort. I was excited because I owned my first LEICA and it didn’t cost me much - about a 1/3 of a day’s wages. So I loaded up my first rolls of film bought in 8 years, and shot like a madman.
And had two rolls of film horribly under and over exposed. And knowing it was pretty much all my fault.
So I put another roll in, and cheated. I carried around my t2i with a 35mm f2 lens on it, set the aperture to 5.6 and metered with the Canon. Once I saw what the Canon was selecting for shutter speed at a given ISO, I started setting the Leica to that. And the next roll showed great exposures.
Now I wasn’t entirely cheating. I was trying to retrain myself back to some old skills I’d lost. I learned about exposure settings based around the Sunny 16 rule and the Cloudy F8 rule. I used to work every exposure off that. If it was cloudy outside, I’d shoot a 1/250th or 1/500th a second depending on lighter or darker clouds with ISO 400 film at f8. If I wanted less depth of field, I’d go to f4 and halve the exposure time. If shooting at sunset, I knew the f4 rule for that - f4 at shutter speed equalling my ISO film speed. Adjust where necessary based on your experience with light. Add a full stop via aperture or shutter speed if backlighting exists.
It’s amazing how much you can forget about photography.
Once I had three or four rolls through the Leica IIIf, I knew I wanted to get back into film photography. Not as a replacement for digital: digital photography is my meat and potatoes, the stuff that helps pay the mortgage and put food on the table. I’ll never, ever go back to film for my work photography.
I wanted to get back into film photography for another reason: photography has become kind of mundane for me. The thrill of photography has faded as my hobby became a profession. Shooting with that ancient Leica IIIf brought back a real thrill in what photography used to be for me. So I did a few things.
First, I thought it was film, per se, and I had one of the most advanced film cameras ever made - the Nikon F4s. I dusted it off, bought new batteries, and started shooting with it. But it wasn’t the same as the Leica. The Nikon F4 was super state of the art in 1990: matrix metering, autofocus, PSAM modes, compatible with every Nikon lens ever made, yada yada. It’s kind of a dSLR without the CMOS sensor inside. I love the F4 for what it was (and is) to photography, but it wasn’t manual per se. About the only thing manual about the camera is putting film in, but even then, the camera advances it automatically. Sure, you could shot manually, focus manually, but I could do that on my Canon dSLRs too.
Then I remembered it was about the rangefinder experience. Rangefinders are about as manual as you can get in photography. You also need some imagination, since what you see through the viewfinder isn’t what the film sees. I never stopped wanting a Leica M camera, but my level of desire raised significantly last fall. I had a goal in mind - $1500 maximum for a mint Leica M6 TTL. Budget another $1,000 for two lenses - a 50 and a 35. That budget wouldn’t get Leica lenses (the 35mm Summilux can cost $5,000!), but Voigtlanders and Contax lenses could substitute.
(sidenote - the Fuji X100 happened during this time - and I do have to say, it has brought much joy and hobby-like wonder back into my photography. But as close as the X100’s output is to film I remember of yore, it still isn’t film, and it doesn’t produce Tri-X (or X2) output straight from the camera like a good film camera can).
Along the way, another iconic rangefinder camera came available - a new, old stock Konica Hexar RF, still sealed in its box, complete with a Hexanon 50mm f2 lens and a flash. The lens is M-Mount compatible. I couldn’t pass it up (and documented it here).
I thought maybe the Leica dream, the Leica lust might have to be put on hold, especially after the Hexar purchase. I’ve been having a blast with the Hexar and getting some fantastic images (many scanned and put up at my Flickr account, just search for Hexar). My search for a gem-mint-ten Leica M6 TTL for $1500 wasn’t happening - and besides, I didn’t have the $1500 any longer thanks to the Hexar kit purchase.
Then, not 3 weeks after the Hexar arrived, an opportunity came up for me to trade a lot of unused, no longer wanted gear to finance a recently available M6 TTL 0.85x viewfinder Leica. It is easily the most complex “horse trading” deal I’ve ever done, but it happened. I know own a Leica M6 camera. I also have a nice Voigtlander Nockton 35mm f1.4 MC lens to go with it (bought that 6 months ago).
I’ve had the camera for less than 24 hours. In that time, I’ve already put 3 rolls of film through it. Some street photography; some cool espresso photos. Some shots of my dog. My excitement meter for photography is at 11 right now.
I’d love to say it is not the Leica per se that’s doing it. I’d love to say that I could easily get this thrilled with a Bessa R3M or a Contax G2 or Ikon rangefinder. I’d love to say, heck, the Hexar RF was enough. But the truth of the matter is a bit more shallow, and a bit more deep. There’s just something about a Leica: the construction, the quality, the heritage, the quietness, the longevity, the brand. That’s the shallow part. The more deep elements? Manual film advance. Running a camera without any batteries just seems to make you more in tune with the process. Manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter. Taking the batteries out, not relying on the meter, but instead relying on your skills. I couldn’t do that with the Hexar RF, which won’t run without its battery. I can with the Leica M6. (sidenote, I can too, with my in-storage Nikon FM3a but that’s another story).
I think there’s two Leica owner types in this world: the rich boy collectors who want to “own a Leica” and have collectibles sitting on the shelf (I know a rich doctor who has 12 of them, including the uber rare Leica M6J and the Leica M6 Titanium Titan 3 lens package - he never uses any of them). The second type is the group I’m in: people who lust Leica, but lust it for what it can do for them in photography - make them want to take better pictures, be a better photographer, using a precise-machined tool that can do it better than just about anything out there, if your skills are up to the task.
This Leica I acquired won’t be sitting on the shelf. I’ve gone from wanting to shoot 6-10 rolls a year for artistic, fun reasons, to wanting to shoot 2-4 rolls a month for artistic, skill, and perhaps even professional reasons, in that order.
Well, I did call my Dad yesterday for Father’s Day, but I spent a big part of the evening finding this old photo of him, taken when he was a troublemaker 17 year old. He still kicks like this. Happy Fathers’ Day, Pops!
I shot a photo with my X100 of the great CliveCoffee pourover stand. Here it is
I was happy with the image overall, but not so much my main focus point, or the focus, front to back of the pourover stand. So later on, I grabbed my 5D MkII Canon, slapped the 35mm f1.4 L lens on it, and took this photo.
Similar depth of field, but I’m happier with my focus point, and I like this angle better. But there is a problem in comparison. This shot has slightly more blur in the background, but is shot at f3.2 (not f2.0 like the Fuji X100 shot above was done at).
I’ve long known that the image capture size, be it film or a CCD or CMOS sensor, has a lot to do with depth of field representation in a photograph. For instance, most magazine shots of food, beverages and such are usually done with medium-format cameras using 120 film, which is many times larger than 35mm. The bokeh, the background blur, is luscious with these cameras.
You can see the difference yourself between a typical point and shoot camera with a fingernail sized sensor, and a APS-C sensor camera, like most cheaper dSLRs or the Fuji X100, which has a sensor the size of a large postage stamp. Background blur is
very hard impossible to achieve on a P&S camera compared to a dSLR.
Same is true then, when going from APS-C sensors to a full frame (35mm film) sensor. Here’s a shot of this same Clive Coffee brewer at f2.2 with a 35mm lens on my 5D MkII full frame camera.
I’m posting the f2.2 shot because I blew out the highlights too much on my f2 sample. But you get the picture here. The background is much more blurred than the Fuji 35mm (equiv) f2 shot above.
Several things are at play here. The Fuji shot is actually a 23mm lens photograph, when you take into account background blur. The “35mm equivalent” is only relative to the scene capture because of the lens crop. It is not applicable to the background blur. To do this test right, I’d have to shoot a 24mm lens at f2 on the Canon 5D MkII. But I don’t have a lens capable of going to 24mm and f2 (my 24-105L lens is a f4 minimum aperture lens). Still, I’m betting the 24mm f2 will have more blur in the background on a full frame camera than it will on a smaller sensor, cropped frame camera.
Anyway, when people talk about f2 on a point and shoot, or on a APS-C camera, the amount of bokeh, background blur always increases the larger the sensor (or film medium) is. F1.8 on the little Olympus P&S doesn’t even come close to looking like the f2 results on the Fuji; and Fuji’s f2 performance, while really good, can’t touch what a full frame lens shooting at the same aperture can do.