In Focus - JaredQGerlach

31 December 2017

Going completely gray in 2018?

Contemplating the year ahead, my thoughts are seemingly wrapped up in shades of gray. No, not Fifty Shades of Grey.

On this very gray and stormy NYE, I ruminate about the year ahead. Could I spend an entire year on black and white photography and nothing more?

Maybe it’s just the weather?

Some gray on gray action; Connemara National Park, Co. Galway, Ireland

I should probably add that I have been reading a lot lately about photographers who spent their entire careers capturing monochromatic images nearly exclusively (obviously, some of this was by necessity as color film wasn’t yet available). These enormously-gifted photographers - the most famous of the lot would be the likes of Elliott Erwitt and David Hurn - have been so absolutely attuned to their subjects that a medium without color simply drove them to get immediately to the very essence of their vision without any added complication.

Can I do that, too? For a year solid? Could I do that and concentrate on one focal length as well (a la Cartier-Bresson)? Could I just ditch digital altogether and do black and white film and a single focal length and just run with it?

No. Probably not.

The harsh light of reality shines brightly (and, it's in color).

Happy New Year Everybody!

10 December 2017

Saving Pentax from Pentax (and Merry Christmas!)

(Note: This article is copyrighted - it may not be reproduced elsewhere without express permission!)

Few names stir as many fond memories of photographic history and innovation as does Pentax. A sizeable contribution to the dawn of truly modern SLR design, and the historic adoption of the 35mm SLR by amateurs and professionals, can certainly be credited to Asahi Pentax and the widespread use of both the M42 and Pentax K bayonet mounts on a variety of their own bodies and knockoffs from once-big names (Chinon, Porst, Vivitar, Miranda) and once-big retailers (like Sears).

Pentax entered the digital photography world (just prior to the era of Hoya’s Pentax ownership) with some very interesting and useful designs, but nothing that the “pro” could really use. Under Hoya (and then Ricoh), and with the launch of the K-7, K-5 (I, II, and IIs), and K-3 (I and II) APS-C bodies and finally – finally! – the full-frame (FF) K-1, it appeared that Pentax’s image would climb to become a more pro-oriented one. In hindsight, perhaps it was all a bit too late and certainly has not been helped by the seemingly unclear aspirations of Pentax’s newest owner, Ricoh.

Ricoh has failed to gain any significant market traction among professional photographers with the K-1 despite good reviews. Pros aren’t buying the K-1 and the reasons why are plentiful. Perhaps number one is a general distrust of the future of Ricoh-Pentax. Second is the range of what’s not available to the Pentax user. Nikon and Canon users are awash in pure momentum and the vast array of available bodies, lenses, accessories and support that they have to choose from is staggering (if a bit dull). Legacy full-frame lenses are available for the K-1, but with the downturn in interest from third-party lens makers (Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina, primarily) in offering any new AF glass for Pentax, it’s looking more and more like Pentax for Pentax is going to be the only choice in the not-so-distant future. Accessories (flash systems, especially) are much the same.

I came to realize that we are entering a post-DSLR era about a year ago when I auditioned a mirrorless camera (MC) solely out of curiosity. I ended up buying an E-mount, APS-C MC body and from the first day I had it I was hooked. Primarily, my interest in MCs has been promoted by the E-mount’s ability to accommodate nearly every lens I own on the body with extremely good results even with cheap adapters. It’s simply great and I didn’t expect to like it quite so much.

Having been a Pentax user for about a decade, I now have an internal battle raging between my desire to support what I regard as a great brand with truly interesting products and the desire to move to something decidedly more “modern”. Eventually, I want to buy into the full-frame world for two main reasons; light gathering (especially for low-light landscape and interior photography) and depth of field (or lack thereof). And, I’d like that FF camera to be 1) small-ish and 2) capable of using both current and obsolete glass. That means I probably won’t be buying a FF camera with a mirror box and that also means I won’t be buying a Pentax (or, at this point, a Canon or a Nikon, either).

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the world of pro photography cannot deny the gravity of the Sony A7 and A9 cameras and their FE-mount. With these cameras came excitement that truly raised the bar. How much excitement? Enough to drive Sony into the #2 camera-selling position to beat out even Nikon, that’s how much. Sony’s cameras still have menu quirks, funky ergonomics and some algorithm issues (notably “star-eating” and detail noise in some of the RAW files), but pros are still picking up the Sony A7/A9 and saying, “yeah, this is good.” That has, in my opinion, also created the drive for the likes of Hasselblad and Fuji to build their latest mirrorless medium format cameras, too.

To stay in the game, Pentax (Ricoh) has to make some tough choices and has to make them fast. Does Ricoh want Pentax to become another truly-niche product (like the absurd status icon Leica has become), or does it want Pentax to grow through honest innovation? In my eyes, the only way forward for Pentax is to build a mirrorless design from the ground up that doesn’t suck like the K-01 did. To be fair, the K-01 was a fine camera in many respects, but the Fisher Price-inspired exterior design and the lack of a viewfinder were just too much compromise for anyone who could see the underlying usefulness of the rest of the camera’s features.

My proposition to Pentax is this (are you listening Ricoh?): make a full-frame MC with a design ethos like that of the Sigma SD bodies (but without, the inclusion of a permanent, deep-registration mount and the PIA Foveon sensor) and the design ethos of the Sony A7/A9 series and Pentax will once again prosper. I can hear the complaints about this idea from the Pentax purists already, but I will finish this by adding a couple of additional items that would help push the camera forward and that could tame the traditionalists’ fears.

First, I will point out that the union between Olympus and Panasonic at the M4/3 mount has only been good for both parties. Pentax can learn from that. And, before I go on, I will admit that it is true that there are a host of engineering reasons why, on paper, the Sony FE-mount is flawed (including the ultra-short flange-to-sensor space and the small throat diameter operating in combination), but it hasn’t stopped Sony from working around these limitations.

Perhaps Pentax should partner with Sony, who makes all of the current Pentax bodies’ sensors, to use the FE-mount in their mirrorless, full-frame design? Yes, Sony will gain a competitor for A7/A9 sales, but it will also instantly gain a new market in which to sell Sony and Zeiss FE lenses with the sale of the first Pentax FE-mount body. On top of that, Pentax would only need to initially spend for R&D on basic lens offerings for the launch (a pair of high performance wide and tele zooms with the Pentax name on them) and the rest could follow later. (Added on 30 Dec 2017: maybe Pentax needs to wait and see what Nikon is going to offer in the mirrorless real during 2018...?)

Next, to make this all happen, Pentax would need to make sure that there is a solid (as in physically solid and with very good to excellent performance) adapter by which their new mirrorless offering will enable the use of nearly all K-mount glass, AF and manual alike.

A properly-engineered Pentax mirrorless camera is the way forward. Do this one thing right, Pentax, and you will keep me and many others as loyal customers and you will also gain significant interest from non-Pentax photographers. Fail to do this one thing, and I’m afraid you will cease to exist.

Merry Christmas!

1 November 2017

Bargain Fifties - definitely worthy of a place in any photographer's bag

Enough has been said elsewhere about why everyone should have at least one fast 50 mm in their collection of lenses, so I won’t labor that point here. Even modern nifty fifties can be had for about $100 brand new. Take, for instance, the Pentax DA 50 f/1.8 – a lens that performs far, far better than its plastic build would suggest.

Pink Fury, Pentax DA 50, f/1.8

Just Locals, Pentax DA 50, f/2.8

But what about truly cheap options? We’re talking about lenses dating as far back as the 1950s that cost as little as $10 in very good, gently-used condition. Consider the Cosinon-S 50 mm, f/2.0 lens for a moment. My copy is a pawn shop find in K-mount. No, it’s not a piece of highly-refined, cutting-edge-of-the-day glass, but it is completely functional.

Irish Graveyard #300, Cosinon-S, f/2

For the price, it’s a difficult lens to fault too much. Bokeh is decent for a simple lens with the design elements it has.  At f/2, it’s a useable lens.

At f/2.8, it’s even better.

Exposed Ribs, Cosinon-S, f/2.8

Another excellent bargain is the M42 version of the Soviet Industar 50-2 f/3.5.

Color Busk, Industar 50-2, f/5.6

While not a fast lens, its diminutive size and decent sharpness even wide open makes it a worthwhile lens to experiment with. NOS examples of the Industar 50-2 can still be purchased from eastern Europe and the Russian Federation. Gently used copies can be had for about $20. Throw in an inexpensive M42 to (insert your favorite camera fitting here) adapter, and you’ve got a great little bit of glass for the price of two margaritas.

7 October 2017

Manual Lenses on Mirrorless

Being a long-time Pentax user, I’ve had the luxury of being able to tack just about any M42 or K-mount lens on any Pentax camera body. That’s been grand, but using some of my old manual-focus glass with the OVF and without a focusing screen optimized for manual focus has been tough.

Last year, I took the plunge and decided to try out a Sony E-mount camera. I’m really glad I did, but mostly because it’s such a joy to use with manual focus lenses. Most recent DSLRs have focus peaking in live view, but mirrorless cameras have focus peaking on demand without having to switch to live view. It’s not perfect (mostly with the widest apertures), but for me it’s vastly more accurate to focus with focus peaking via an EVF than it is with an un-assisted OVF.

With the mirrorless camera, “lens rolling” has been a blast and there’s definitely been some unexpected surprises along the way. One of my favorite lenses to use on the E-mount camera is a lens that’s typically hated by Pentax users; the Pentax F 35-80 f/4-5.6. Even though it’s capable of only full-manual operation via an adapter, the results are surprising good and the lens is an easy-to-carry 50-120 mm equivalent with great general portrait and macro results. Here's a selection of the results using the NEX-6 with a few different lenses designed for other systems.

Sing Along, NEX-6 with Pentax F 35-80 @ 80 mm

Parked at the Bridge, NEX-6 with Pentax A 50 f/1.7 @ f/1.7

Foxglove Tip, NEX-6 with Pentax A 50 and 32 mm extension tube

Boat Tail, NEX-6 with MD-mount Sigma UC 28-70 f/3.5-5.6

1 August 2017

Runaway Train

Just back from a lightning-quick trip to Norwich, England, for work. The out and back was short, but there was some good quality train time on the lines between Stansted to Norwich. I also managed to get a little bit of time to roam around the core of Norwich as well.

I rarely use my mobile phone for photography (largely because it’s not a great phone, anyway), but I was lured into taking a couple of pics with it on this trip. Since I knew the time would be short, the only dedicated camera that went along was my little Lumix LF1.

Here are a few images from the two “traveling companions”.

Convergence Event, Sony Xperia, 400 ISO

Railing Against Me, Lumix LF1, 320 ISO, f/5.8, 1/125 sec

Looking out the window at a parallel bit of rail while moving at about 60 mph.

Inside Outside, Sony Xperia, 400 ISO

Captured on a train, edited on a plane.

Cloister, Lumix LF1, 80 ISO, f/2, 1/80 sec

On the grounds of Norwich Cathedral. This image was made through an old piece of leaded window on the outside of the structure.

July 15, 2017

Pinhole cameras have long intrigued me, but I have never had a strong desire to learn how to use one. For the first time, I've tried some "digital pinhole" photography.

Welcome to the first installment of In Focus, what I hope will become a regularly-rotating feature on a specific photographic subject. My wife, my friends and some acquaintances have suggested that I start a blog, but I just haven't "gotten around to it" before now. I have seen some interesting "mini-blogs" attached to photographer's websites. The blog pages of many were inspirations for this one.

So where to start?


Summer's Peak, 4 seconds, 1600 ISO

The image above is one of my most recent attempts at using a COMA 0.5 mm pinhole (details can be found at on an APS-C format digital camera (a Pentax K-5, in this case). This particular image was made along the edge of the River Corrib, in Co. Galway, Ireland, at the point where Lough Corrib connects to it. The image was made at sundown on the longest day of the year in June, 2017.

I've never taken any sort of a structured photography course, so I've never had anybody recommend that I use a pinhole camera. This is a total first for me. What I envisioned I would be able to record with a pinhole is not what I have actually gone on to capture. First, I now realize that I have been impressed mostly by images made with pinholes on large- or medium-format cameras which give a wide-angle field of view and some interesting forms of inherent distortion. With the 0.5 mm on an APS-C camera, the field of view is about the same as a 50 mm lens (about the same as a 75 mm lens on a 135-format camera) which is pretty narrow.

Maiden's Hairs, a fern viewed up close with the pinhole (30 seconds, 100 ISO)

Sky's Blessing, polarizer, 30 seconds, 100 ISO

Cell, 30 seconds, 100 ISO

One of the things that I didn't really think about before using a pinhole on my digital cameras is how the tiny, tiny aperture amplifies the anomalies of dirt or scratches on lenses and sensors. In the image above, I have used post-processing to reduce the number of spots created by what was most likely dust on the filter or on the sensor itself (I use a clear glass filter across the pinhole to keep dust out of the camera). In the image below, if one looks close, an artifact that looks a bit like a scar can be seen. That is the result of a very fine scratch in the filter's glass surface.

River Ghosts, 30 seconds, 100 ISO

I plan on continuing with this experimentation to see if I can improve my pinhole technique and the outputs from it. Tone mapping of images created with the pinhole has produced some more interesting images (Both Sky's Blessing and River Ghosts have been tone mapped in Serif Affinity Photo using aggressive compression).

One of the things I want to try next is using the pinhole on 35 mm film. Hopefully, I can get my gray matter to calculate exposure times correctly with respect to reciprocity failure of the film. I used to do that for the long exposures required for night photography on a regular basis back in the days of using exclusively film, but that's been a while!

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