Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holga No Longer In The Camera Business

Holga just announced that they have left the camera market. Apparently they have already destroyed the molds. The Holga cameras that have already been distributed are the final ones. No more will be made.

For those who don't know, Holga is a cheap, plastic, medium-format film camera that has been around for almost 35 years, manufactured in China. There have been a handful of different versions made, but they are all similar. The Holga was the unofficial "standard" camera of China.

Eventually the Holga got out of China. Hipsters and "lomographers" loved the camera. It became a good anecdote to digital.

The cheap plastic lens is extraordinarily soft outside of the center and has significant vignetting. The camera isn't sealed well and so light leaks are common. Focus is basically a guess and far from precise. Because of all this you don't know exactly what you are going to get. The images have character.

If you've ever considered buying a Holga camera, now might be the time. I imagine that soon not only will they be harder to find, but they'll also be more expensive.
Horse At Fence - Onyx, California

Friday, November 27, 2015

This Place Looks Abandoned, But It's Not...

Abandoned With Joshua - Mojave, California
Along a quiet road in the harsh Mojave Desert, a little outside of the small, dingy town of Mojave, California, among Joshua Trees and near a silver mine, sits what at first glance appears to be an old abandoned gas station. But this place is not abandoned. This is the Mojave Tropico Filming set.

The website says that this location has a "classic desert ambiance" which, in fact, it does. Boarded up, broken down buildings are common in this area. Forgotten cars, tires and oil drums can be found among the creosote and cactus. And this ambiance can be rented for your movie, television show, commercial or music video.

Even though it looks like a dilapidated mess, it's actually all make-believe. It's all carefully orchestrated. This is Hollywood, only out in the lonely, wind-blown dusty desert.
Toilets - Mojave, California
I couldn't find any information on what exactly has been filmed at the Mojave Tropico Filming set. This area is a popular filming location and has been for many years. But specifics on this particular set didn't come up in a Google search. It seems familiar enough that I'm sure I've seen it before in something, but I just can't put a finger on what.

There's a small fence that surrounds this set and signs warn not to trespass. I didn't see anyone around watching, but I decided not to cross the fence anyway. It's obviously private property and they don't want people poking around. I was able to capture these images from behind the fence.

I used a Sony RX100 II to capture these photographs. I post-processed the RAW files using Phase One Capture One Express, exported as TIFFs, then further edited using Alien Skin Exposure 7.
Tire Pile - Mojave, California
Vintage Truck & Joshua Tree - Mojave, California
Blue 55 Gallon Drum - Mojave, California
Deserted Desert Dreams - Mojave, California
Vintage Truck In The Desert - Mojave, California
ERV - Mojave, California

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Out For An Autumn Walk (...With My Sony RX100 II....)

Reflected Darkly - Stallion Springs, California
Earlier this month I walked around my neighborhood. I brought along with me a Sony RX100 II camera and captured the sights I saw. It was a cool, overcast day. It threatened to rain but didn't.

My neighborhood sits in a rural area in central California's Tehachapi Mountains. It's a quiet place. There are ranches, hills, rocks and trees. It's not uncommon to see deer and elk, but I didn't see either on this walk.

The Sony RX100 II fits comfortably into a pocket, so it was great camera to carry around on this stroll. A DSLR is no fun because it's so bulky and heavy and it has to hang around your neck (which gets old after awhile). The small Sony camera handled everything just fine--no surprise, because it's a good camera.

The trek totaled one mile--half-a-mile down and half-a-mile back. Within that distance of my house I found several things worth photographing. Autumn colors were showing in some of the trees, which provided a subject for a couple images.

I bet within a short distance of your house there are photographic opportunities, as well. Take a walk through your neighborhood with a camera, actively looking for potential pictures. You'll be surprised at what you find. Even if you think that where you live is boring and ordinary, I suspect that you'll find something worth capturing.

A lot of times it's just a matter of getting out with a camera. As you begin to actively look around the creativity begins to flow. Pretty soon you're noticing all sorts of things that you would have otherwise overlooked. It's amazing how inspiration seems to always follow the simple decision to go.
Country Sage - Stallion Springs, California
It's Not Easy Being Green - Stallion Springs, California
Leaves & Stone - Stallion Springs, California
A Tehachapi Mountain Landscape - Stallion Springs, California

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II
Sony has a line of compact pocket cameras that perform more like DSLRs than point-and-shoots. These cameras deliver image quality that exceeds what one would think a camera this small could be capable of. This is the Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 line, and there are four versions available.

The original Sony RX100 was released in the summer of 2012 and it immediately made a splash in the camera pool. Featuring a 20.2-megapixel 1" CMOS sensor, a Carl Zeiss 28mm-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 zoom lens, and controls similar to those found on DSLRs, the camera quickly became a must-have tool for many photographers.

One year later Sony released the RX100 II. In this version the original sensor was replaced with a 20.2-megapixel 1" back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which gave the camera improved high-ISO capabilities. Sony also made the rear LCD screen tiltable, placed a hot shoe on the top, added WiFi capabilities, increased the battery life, and improved the video quality.

In the summer of 2014 Sony released the next version of the camera, the RX100 III. Sony replaced the lens with a Carl Zeiss 24mm-70mm (equivalent) f/1.8-2.8. The hot shoe was removed and a popup electronic viewfinder added. This version of the camera also included an improved tiltable real LCD screen and an updated image processor.
Tire Pile - Mojave, California
ISO 160, f/8, 1/80, 68mm.
This last summer the next version was released, the Sony RX100 IV. The big change is that the sensor was replaced with a 20.2-megapixel 1" stacked back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which makes the camera operate faster and allows for 4K video. Also, the electronic viewfinder was improved.

With each new version the price also increased. The original RX100 currently has an MSRP of $500, the RX100 II has an MSRP of $750, the RX100 III has an MSRP of $800 and the RX100 IV has an MSRP of $950.

In 2013 Hasselblad released a cosmetically altered (but otherwise identical) version of the original RX100 camera called the Stellar. The next year they released a cosmetically altered (but otherwise identical) version of the RX100 II called the Stellar II. These cameras cost about double the price of the Sony models, and some "special editions" versions of the Stellar cameras have an MSRP of over $3,000!

I did a survey of my own photographs and determined that about 75% of my images were captured with a focal length between 60mm and 100mm (equivalent), so I knew the first two versions were the ones that I needed to consider. I chose the RX100 II over the original model because of the improved sensor, and it is this model that I'm reviewing here.

The Sensor
Above The Smog - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 160, f/10, 1/800, 100mm.
When Sony released the Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II in the summer of 2013 it produced image quality (according to DxOMark) that exceeded that of all Micro Four Thirds sensors and matched the image quality of many APS-C sensors. The sensors in those cameras are much larger than the 1" sensor found in the RX100 II, so this was quite an accomplishment! In the two-and-a-half years since, Micro Four Thirds sensors have caught up to the sensor in the RX100 II and many APS-C sensors have surpassed it. Even so, Canon's Rebel T6S DSLR, which has an APS-C sized sensor and was released earlier this year, was found to produce very similar image quality to the RX100 II, despite the big difference in sensor size.

The 20.2-megapixel 1" back-illuminated CMOS sensor has very good dynamic range. In fact, according to DxOMark, it has the exact same dynamic range as the Canon EOS 5DS full-frame DSLR released earlier this year. There are certainly cameras with greater dynamic range than the RX100 II, but the camera holds it's own remarkably well considering that it has a ton of tiny light-sensing "pixels" crammed onto a small sensor.

I found that the dynamic range has more leeway in the shadows than the highlights. There's a sharp cutoff where highlights clip. The shadows, on the other hand, seem to hold details pretty well. For this reason I like to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop (to prevent clipped highlights) and increase the shadows and mid-tones in post-processing.

Base ISO on this camera is 160, but is expandable to ISO 100. Between ISO 100 and ISO 200 the RX100 II will produce similar noise results to any other camera at base ISO. No surprise. It is when one increases the ISO that the differences begin to show.
Brush In The Rocks - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 1000, f/4.9, 1/200, 100mm.
The first increase in noise can be seen at ISO 400. It's not a huge jump, but it is noticeable when closely compared to full-frame sensors. At ISO 800 the difference is more obvious, and it is noticeable when closely compared to APS-C sensors. The maximum practical ISO for this camera is 1600, and it might be comparable to ISO 3200 on many newer APS-C cameras or ISO 6400 on many newer full-frame cameras. In other words, many newer APS-C sensors have a one-stop high-ISO advantage over the RX100 II and many newer full-frame sensors have a two-stop advantage. While the camera has a maximum ISO of 12800, I found that the results above ISO 1600 are not great and (for the most part) it's best not to go above that.

I was getting mixed results at ISO 1600 and I couldn't explain why at first. Then I realized that in bright-highlight situations I was underexposing to prevent clipped highlights, but in order to brighten the shadows and mid-tones I was increasing the noise in the image to an equivalent ISO above 1600 (an range between ISO 2000 and 2800). Besides that, the dynamic range decreases as ISO increases, so there was less to work with in the shadows. I discovered that it is best to correctly expose images at ISO 1600, or (alternatively) use ISO 800 and underexpose by one stop, and increase the shadows and mid-tones in post-processing (the results are similar, but you don't risk clipping the highlights with this method).

Colors are excellent, both in processed RAW files and in the out-of-camera JPEGs. As expected, the files (especially the RAW files) have plenty of latitude for manipulation. The photographs in this review were all significantly edited using post-processing software.

The 20.2-megapixel resolution is more than enough for most photographers. 5-megapixels are enough for 8" x 12" prints and 10-megapixels are enough for 16" x 24" prints. You should be able to produce 32" x 48" prints with this camera, although I have not printed that large.

The Lens
Love - Tehachapi, California
ISO 400, f/4.9, 1/125, 100mm.
The lens is equally as important to image quality as the sensor. One thing that surprised me about the Sony RX100 II is the sharpness of the Carl Zeiss 28mm-100mm (equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 lens. It is easily as sharp as a high-quality fixed-focal-length prime lens, yet it is a zoom. Amazing!

The largest aperture, available only at the widest focal lengths, is f/1.8. Because of the small sensor size, the depth-of-field is limited, and f/1.8 on this camera will give a similar depth-of-field to using f/5 on a full-frame camera. For those who like having a narrow depth-of-field this may be a problem, but those who like having a large depth-of-field will find this to be great. Bokeh, when you can achieve it, is smooth and creamy.

At the telephoto end the largest aperture is f/4.9, which will give you a similar depth-of-field to using f/13 on a full-frame camera. The focal lengths where the largest aperture changes are 35mm (f/2.8), 50mm (f/3.2), 70mm (f/4) and 100mm (f/4.9).

The smallest aperture is f/11 (no matter the focal length), which gives a similar depth-of-field to using f/32 on a full-frame camera. Landscape photographers will love this! Diffraction seems to first become noticeable at f/8 at the wide angle end of the lens and f/9 at the telephoto end, and by f/11 it is somewhat pronounced (although still usable).
Circus Vargas - Palmdale, California
ISO 200, f/8, 1/80, 62mm.
The sweet spot for sharpness seems to be between f/4 and f/5.6 when the focal length is wider than 50mm and between f/5.6 and f/8 when the focal length is 50mm or longer. You'll notice soft corners whenever the aperture is larger than f/4, becoming increasingly pronounced as the aperture enlarges.

There is a lot of barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. It's most severe at the 28mm (equivalent) focal length and decreases as one zooms--it's pretty much gone by 50mm. The camera will automatically correct this if you shoot JPEGs, but (obviously) you have to fix this yourself in RAW format. It's not difficult to fix but it makes batch-editing more difficult, increasing the time you'll spend post-processing your pictures.

There is pronounced chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) found at the edges of highlights. The camera will automatically correct this if you shoot JPEGs, but (obviously) you have to fix this yourself in RAW format (it's simple to do and not a big deal).

I've noticed some minor vignetting in the corners when using a large aperture and also at the far telephoto end of the lens no matter the aperture. It's barely noticeable and can be corrected in post-processing.
Tasty Quality - Palmdale, California
ISO 1600, f/4.9, 1/320, 100mm.
The minimum focus distance is two inches at the widest focal length and 22 inches at the longest focal length. The camera is capable of macro photography at the 28mm focal length, but wide angle macro photography isn't all that practical. As you zoom the minimum focus distance quickly decreases to a point where macro photography is not possible.

The lens has seven elements in six groups and there are seven rounded blades. Sunstars look great and have 14 points. There's some lens flare and ghosting when you point the camera directly at the sun, but overall it isn't bad, especially when using a large aperture (it's more prominent when using a small aperture for some reason).

I've notices some banding in blue, cloudless skies when photographing towards or within a 90° angle of the sun. This is a common problem in digital cameras and I wasn't surprised to find it. I think the extraordinarily subtle changes in tone and luminosity are tough for digital cameras to handle. It isn't terrible and careful post-processing can reduce the effect.

The lens on the RX100 II is extraordinarily sharp but not without flaws. It's not surprising that there are some issues because, after all, this is a zoom lens and not a prime lens. The lens not only has to zoom but also retract into the camera body, so there are lots of moving parts. That they were able to get it as good as they did is actually quite an accomplishment.

Vintage Truck & Joshua Tree - Mojave, Caifornia
ISO 250, f/8, 1/80, 67mm.
One thing that really attracted me to the Sony RX100 II--and I imagine that it's the same for pretty much everyone who has purchased it--is the camera's size and weight. It's 4" x 2.3" x 1.5" and weighs just over half a pound. It easily and comfortably fits into your pocket. It's extraordinarily small and lightweight, perfect for travelling or hiking or pretty much anytime you don't want a bulky and heavy DSLR around your neck.

The camera is fairly quick. It takes almost three seconds from startup to first exposure, which is a little on the slow side, but considering that the lens has to extend from the body, that's not terrible, either. The camera is pretty responsive, auto-focus is snappy and you can shoot up to 10 frames-per-second (in Continuous Mode).

The camera's controls are via buttons, knobs, switches and wheels. Anyone who has ever used a DSLR will quickly understand how to operate this camera because the controls are similar. Many of the buttons can be customized to your liking. You can program three different "memory recall" settings that can be easily recalled for different situations.

One complaint is that the "control ring" (the ring on the front of the camera around the lens that's used to manually focus and can be customized for a couple of other things, as well) is not very responsive--it seems like you have to turn the thing forever. Another complaint is that the zoom switch is a little too responsive and it's sometimes hard to get the focal length just right. That's too bad because those two shortcomings sour what is otherwise a good design.
Shoots & Ladder - Pasadena, California
ISO 160, f/8, 1/200, 80mm.
Auto-focus, which uses contrast detection, is quick and accurate. The camera has face recognition and will automatically focus on the eyes. There are several different focus options: Single-Shot Auto, Continuous Auto, Dynamic Manual (auto-focus that can be manually refined with the shutter release button half-pressed), and Manual. There are three options for auto-focus areas: Multi (there are 25 points across the middle 2/3 of the frame), Center and Flexible Shot (there are 187 different points to manually choose from across the entire frame).

For manual focus you can focus peak which allows you to see a little better what's in focus and what's not. The way it works is a bit unconventional (at least it's not like anything I've seen before) and it takes a little bit to get used to. But now that I've used it several times I actually like it a lot.

Auto-white-balance is accurate in normal light. It seems a little too cool in the shade sometimes. Artificial light (especially florescent lights) seems to throw the white balance off and it often will be too warm. If you are shooting RAW don't worry about it. If you're shooting JPEGs simply make a test exposure to make sure that the white balance is correct.

The built-in light meter is usually spot-on accurate. You have three options to choose from: Multi, Center and Spot. The camera has three stops exposure compensation.
Abandoned With Joshua - Mojave, California
ISO 320, f/8, 1/80, 73mm.
The RX100 II can be set to fully auto (Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto or Scene), semi-auto (Program, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority) or fully manual. There's also an option for panorama mode and movie mode. One suggestion: go into the settings and set the red record button to only work when the camera is in movie mode. I accidentally recorded a number of short videos before I figured out to do this.

Panoramas are easy to create with the RX100 II. In panorama mode simply press the shutter button and sweep the direction the camera instructs. The camera does a pretty good job of stitching the exposures together. There are two options for size: Standard and Wide. You can also choose which way you sweep (right, left, up and down).

The in-camera JPEGs are good once you've figured out how they should be customized. I didn't like the factory settings, so I played around until I got them to look right. Thankfully the JPEGs can be heavily customized.

Most of my images are captured using RAW format. Sony doesn't include any software with the camera to post-process RAW files. What they don't tell you is that they've got a deal with Phase One that allows you to download and use their Capture One Express software for free (or you can download the full Capture One software for a steeply discounted price). Capture One Express is similar to Adobe Lightroom, and some will tell you that it's superior to Lightroom. The free software only works with Sony cameras.
Wind & Power Co. - Tehachapi, California
ISO 160, f/9, 1/640, 44mm.
You can choose JPEG, RAW or RAW+JPEG. The camera writes onto the card quickly and it takes some effort to fill the buffer. If you shoot in Continuous Mode and save in RAW format you'll max out the buffer after 10 exposures. I've yet to encounter another scenario where I reached the ceiling on the buffer.

The RX100 II has a popup flash on the top-left of the camera body. It works pretty well as a fill-flash and the camera does a good job of balancing it with the exposure. It seems to take a long time to cycle between shots. For occasional casual use it's great, but if you frequently use a flash you might consider investing in an external flash to attach to the hot shoe.

You can capture full 1080p 30 frames-per-second HD video with this camera. Sony gives you quite a few options and controls in video mode. The camera has stereo microphones built-in and you can attach an external microphone to the hot shoe. Also, you have the ability capture 17-megapixel still images while recording video.

I was surprised and pleased with the image stabilization included in the camera. Using good technique, I was able to fairly consistently get sharp images handheld with the shutter as slow as 1/4 with a wide angle focal length and 1/20 with a telephoto focal length. Amazingly, I was able to get one sharp image handheld with a 3/5 second exposure!
Reversing Rain - Tehachapi, California
ISO 400, f/4.9, 1/200, 100mm.
The camera can capture HDR images, and you can adjust how heavily it works. I'm not a big fan of HDR photography, but I did give it a try and it works. There are a couple of other camera features that take multiple exposures and combines them into one JPEG image (such as Handheld Twilight and Anti Motion Blur modes), but I haven't tried them.

The rear screen is a 3" LCD with 1228k dots. It can tilt 90° up and 45° down. The screen's display can be customized. The RX100 II does not have a touch screen, but it is a quality screen nonetheless.

Sony claims that the battery can capture 350 exposures on one charge, which is good but not great. I've not exhausted the battery to know how accurate that number is. I have captured over 250 exposures on a fully-charged battery and the camera claimed there was still some life left. Even so, it's probably a good idea to get a second battery. The battery charges in the camera using a USB cord.

The camera has WiFi included. You can wirelessly upload photographs to your computer or even control the camera with your cell phone using an app that you have to download. I've not set this up so I can't comment on how well it works.
Hill & Low Clouds - Tehachapi, California
ISO 160, f/7.1, 1/125, 100mm.
There are no threads on the lens to attach filters. Sony does make a glue-on attachment that you can buy that will allow you to use filters with this camera.

One great thing is that once you turn off all of the artificial sounds that the RX100 II makes--all the different beeps and so forth--the camera is extraordinarily quiet. There's a faint click when the shutter opens and closes, and that's it! It's perfect for street photography or anytime that you want to remain inconspicuous.

The RX100 II is solidly built. For the most part it feels tough. If you were to drop the camera the three spots that seem most likely to break are the flash (if it's open), the mechanism that tilts the rear screen (if the screen is tilted) and the lens (if it's extended).

Abandoned In California - California City, California
ISO 160, f/7.1, 1/800, 43mm.
It's amazing that such a small camera is capable of producing high-quality images. In photography, smaller and lighter are often better, especially for street, travel and adventure photography. It makes the experience much more enjoyable than lugging around bulky, heavy gear.

One question that I wanted to answer was whether or not you could replace your DSLR and assorted lenses with this one camera. And the answer is... maybe.

No camera is perfect and the RX100 II is certainly not perfect. It has several limitations, including a permanently attached lens and limited high-ISO capabilities. If you can happily live with the limitations, than, yes, you could buy this camera and get rid of your DSLR. But if you cannot happily live with the limitations, then this camera can't replace your DSLR. However, it might still be a good tool to use when a bigger camera is less than practical.
Monochrome Cacti - Pasadena, California
ISO 160, f/9, 1/500, 100mm.
For someone who doesn't own a DSLR but is considering purchasing one, this might be a good alternative. You'd certainly spend more money on a DSLR and a good quality zoom lens that covers a similar focal range than you'd spend on this camera. Yet the RX100 II has all of the controls you'd expect to find on a DSLR.

My Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-RX100 II was purchase from Costco. It came with a screen protector (which, once in place, looks like it was always a part of the camera), a 32 GB SD card and a leather case. I found it on sale for $500 (which, after taxes and shipping, came to about $550).

If you are in the market for a digital camera that is small enough to fit into your pocket yet delivers DSLR-like image quality, the Sony RX100 II (or one of it's siblings) is the camera to get. With an MSRP of $750, it's a little on the expensive side for a compact camera, but, then again, it is so much better than a typical compact camera. If you can find it discounted (around $500-$550) it's a very good deal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Give Someone The Gift of Photography!

We're a couple of days away from Thanksgiving. Black Friday follows that (although many stores begin Black Friday on Thursday evening). This is the time when many people begin their Christmas shopping.

I don't like Christmas shopping because I hate crowded stores. Black Friday, especially, is nothing short of nuts. A couple of years ago I discovered that retailers offer the same deals online as they do in the stores, only you don't have to leave the house. Oh, and the sales begins at Eastern Standard Time and, since I'm on the west coast, I have access to the savings before those who are out waiting in the cold for the place to even open. They're out there trying to keep warm, waiting in a ridiculously long line, while I'm in bed sleeping with my shopping complete.

Another problem that I frequently encounter is finding gifts that people actually like. A lot of the junk sold in stores are things that the recipients will return the day after Christmas. It's hard to find a quality, thoughtful and unique gifts that people actually want.

One gift idea that meets all of this criteria--quality, thoughtful and unique that people actually want and you don't have to leave your house--is photography. Give someone art that they'll proudly hang on their walls. Give them a photograph! An aluminum print or canvas print especially will be an eye-catching piece.

On my website ( I have a webstore where high-quality prints can be purchased. I use Bay Photo Labs (one of the best photo labs in the world) to do the printing work.

My webstore is divided into galleries: Landscapes & Nature, Abandonment, Railroad, Still Life, Impressions and Urban. Within each gallery are many different photographs available to be purchased, and they can be printed in a number of different ways. No matter what someone's decor style is, there is surely an image that will fit perfectly in their home.

Do yourself a favor and do your Christmas shopping from home. Do your friends and family a favor and give them the gift of photography. Do me a favor and shop from website. It's a win-win-win!

Friday, November 20, 2015

How Many Cameras Do You Need?

Love - Tehachapi, California
I was having a conversation yesterday with my six-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter about cameras. My son told me that he was sad that I no longer had my DSLR (or, as he called it, "the big black camera"). I'm not sure exactly why he was upset about it, but I explained that I still have other cameras and I just didn't need that one anymore.

My daughter asked, "How many other cameras do you have?"

I had to think about that for a moment and count them in my mind.

- Sony RX100 II, which is my latest digital camera and what I replaced my DSLR with.
- Nokia Lumia 1020. Yes, it's a cell phone, but it's also a high-resolution digital camera.
- Minolta XG-1 35mm SLR (and a bunch of lenses). I haven't used this camera since 2013.
- FED 5c 35mm rangefinder (with a 50mm lens). I use this camera once or twice a year.
- Holga 120N medium-format camera. It creates interesting images, but I haven't used it since 2013.
- Yashica Minister-D 35mm rangefinder that I picked up at a flea market a couple of weeks ago.
- Canon PowerShot N digital point-and-shoot. This is my wife's camera, but I've occasionally used it.

That's a lot of cameras! Too many, in fact. I don't need that many cameras. Two of them have been collecting dust for over two years. What's the point in owning them?
Brush In The Rocks - Stallion Springs, California
I remember reading several years ago in a book about photography that one should have at least two cameras: a "primary" camera that you use all of the time, and a "backup" camera should something happen to the primary camera or if you should find yourself needing two cameras at once for some reason. You should also have a "speciality" camera (maybe an infrared or a fixed-focal-length camera for street or something else that your primary and secondary cameras just aren't good for or capable of), and a "fun" camera that doesn't really serve any real purpose but you have it because you like using it.

Back when I first started out in photography I had one camera and one lens: a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm prime attached to it. Later it was a Promaster 2500PK (a Pentax SLR made by Cosina) with a 50mm lens. It wasn't until I started with digital photography that I began to accumulate gear.

I think one reason I began to accumulate cameras is because digital technology changes quickly, and camera manufacturers and camera retailers (and those who are paid by camera manufacturers and retailers) do a great job of making you think you need new gear, and that your old gear is somehow inferior. Even though your camera is only a year or two old, it's not as good as the latest-and-greatest.
Shoots & Ladder - Pasadena, California
Another reason is that I like to have things--I've become a collector. I think that's a common problem. I think some vintage camera is cool so I want to own it, even though I might not ever use it (and if I do use the camera it will be only a couple times per year). While there's nothing wrong with collecting, something that I've learned is that my collection is good at two things: collecting dust and taking up space. And so the money I've spent on this gear is wasted.

Yet another reason that I began to accumulate cameras is the imagined need for the "right" gear. In order to be a photographer you need a camera, but many people will tell you that your gear isn't the correct gear to be successful. If you want to be successful you need the Nikon D810. Or medium-format. Or whatever camera they think is best. A Sony RX100? No way! A cell phone? Are you nuts! But this is all a lie. Viewers don't care what gear was used to capture an image. They only care about the image, and if it speaks to them or moves them in some way.

A final reason is that people will tell you that one camera (and maybe even two or three) are not enough. You need different cameras because each does something different well. Maybe you need one for the dynamic range. Perhaps another for the high-ISO capabilities. You might make large prints, so you should have a mega-megapixel camera. Perhaps you need a camera that's super fast.
Reversing Rain - Tehachapi, California
Two cameras are all that anyone needs, and most don't even need that many. The fact is that you only need one camera. After all, you can't use two cameras simultaneously.

Having lots of gear will make you lazy. Why move in closer when you can just attach a telephoto zoom? Why attach a telephoto zoom when you can just crop? Instead of really becoming intimate with your subject you take the easy way out. Laziness is an enemy of creativity. Being limitless in your options is another enemy of creativity.

There are things that are important in photography. Gear isn't one of them. What is in the heart and mind of the photographer is what matters. What nonverbal communications you speak through your photography is what matters. The way in which it was reached does not matter.

You don't need to own a bunch of cameras. You simply need to use the gear you have to the best of your ability. That's when you will create great photographs.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Downtown Palmdale, California

Circus Vargas - Palmdale, California
I was in Palmdale, California two weeks ago with a little time to kill, so I decided to photograph the downtown area. Palmdale is a dumpy city across the mountains from the L.A. basin. Many people live here because it's cheaper than living "down below" in the big city. It's found in the dry Mojave Desert, and the wind blows relentlessly.

Downtown Palmdale is small. You might pass through it without noticing. It's an area known for crime, and I was aware of this as I strolled around with my Sony RX100 II in hand. I wouldn't want to be here after dark.

There weren't many people walking around. Lots of cars drove past, but I was just about the only one on foot. Many of the buildings had empty spaces with "for rent" signs on the windows. It seemed appropriate.

I came away with three images. I wanted them to have a vintage feel, so I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 7 and chose some vintage-looking color presets. Getting the film-look that I want is easy using this software--it saves me so much time over the "traditional" method of adjusting curves and manually manipulating things.
Palmdale, Reflected - Palmdale, California
No Waiting - Palmdale, California

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Commuting - Part 3: Antelope Valley

Antelope Valley In Color
Joshua Tree Morning - Rosamond, California
From Backus Road, I drive south on the California Highway 14 freeway and in five minutes I'm passing through Rosamond, which proclaims itself as "the gateway to progress." I find that humorous because there really isn't much there and the town seems just like many of the other rundown desert towns in the area. The only "progress" that I see Rosamond as "the gateway to" is perhaps Edwards Air Force Base which sits just east of the town. Otherwise it might just be the gateway to regress.

From Rosamond I have 25 to 30 minutes further to drive, depending on how much traffic there is and how many red lights I encounter, to make it to work in Palmdale. This area, from Rosamond to Palmdale, is called the Antelope Valley. 

There are no antelope in Antelope Valley, but many years ago there were. Early settlers hunted them extinct. There are plenty of Creosote and Joshua Trees and various cacti in the area. This is a hot, dry and windy desert. The wind blows so much out of the west, in fact, that all of the trees seem to lean east.

I've encountered many abandoned structures along this stretch of my commute, including houses and ranches and even an old hotel. One thing about the desert is that it's a harsh and unforgiving place. Sometimes that means that people's dreams die, and perhaps the people themselves die, too.

I have found many roadside memorials along this route. There have been many car accidents, and, sadly, not everyone has survived. I think that abandoned buildings and roadside memorials have a lot in common, at least on a metaphoric level.

And sometimes I feel that the metaphor is about my commute. I travel through some forsaken places, and I wonder if it is even "worth" making this drive. But then I will see some unexpected beauty, and I will remember that I'm not doing this for me. It is worth it.

Or, at least it was worth it.

Pretty soon I will no longer be making this commute. This 70 miles journey through California's forgotten expanse will soon be nothing more than a fading memory to me--much like the abandoned structures and the roadside memorials are to those who built them. Soon I will be off to new adventures, and I will have a whole new commute to experience.

All of the photographs in this post were captured while traveling to or from work along this section of my commute. For many of them I had to pull off of the freeway and onto some other roads. They were all found near the commute route, and a couple directly on the route itself.
Joshua Tree - Rosamond, California
Forgotten Road Markers - Rosamond, California
Deserted Chair - Mojave, California
Deserted Bear - Rosamond, California
Room 7 - Rosamond, California
Sunrise Through Old Window Shade - Rosamond, California
Abandoned Window Morning - Rosamond, California
Soundcraft - Rosamond, California
To The Reader - Rosamond, California
Forgotten Mess - Rosamond, California
Yellow Curtains - Rosamond, California
Water Storage - Rosamond, California
Last Car On The Last Train - Rosamond, California
Chance - Rosamond, California
Danny Panduro - Palmdale, California