It is crisp Sunday morning and our heating system woke up from Summer hibernation with a short, cheap sounding “Plop”. It gave up before it had even started. So I am hanging out in our study, the only warm, electrically heated room in the house. While drinking tea and chewing on a honey covered slice of bread I discovered two articles in the New York Times magazine, one about the training of Afghans to protect their homes and valuables from the Taliban, the other one is a photo essay about life in war zones. The first article is written by Luke Mogelson. Both articles show beautifully photographs by Benjamin Lowy. What strikes me most is that Lowy has used his iPhone to cover the stories from Afghanistan. It looks like that he used the Hipstamatic app to give the images that unique feel of vintage film. It is an interesting thought that a professional photographer would leave behind his rugged, weather sealed, fully reliable, high resolution equipment to capture life with a smart phone and to have the photos published in the New York Times magazine. The result is a body of work that feels intimate and beautiful. Years ago it would have been impossible to think about someone doing this in a war zone. Professionals would have dismissed him as a tourist in war. Publishers may have questioned the quality and resolution of the files, not to mention the post-processing that the software applies. But like Robert Capa using a smaller Leica during the Spanish War and the Second World War, it may allowed Lowy to be more flexibility in the field and to better blend in with the people that he is photographing.
His work made me curious and I wanted to see more of his visuals. Check out his website. His photography is absolutely world-class. www.benlowy.com
Last week the new Lytro camera was introduced. For those not familiar with the concept I will explain how it works. Actually I don’t really know how it works, still I will explain it. A traditional camera captures light rays that get focused on one single spot. As a photographer you have to make the decision on where to focus before you press the shutter button. The Lytro camera can capture not only the light rays for that individual point of focus, it captures all light rays for basically all points of focus. To collect that information the sensor has to be partitioned, which leads to a smaller file size. Lytro doesn’t really explain how big the files are. They use new terms like ’11 Megarays’, which is basically useless information since nobody knows what that means. What is intriguing about this camera is the ability to focus a file in post-processing. No more mis-focused shots, no more waiting for auto-focus, no more manual focus adjustment, no back- or front focusing of a lens, no focus-shift by changing an aperture. That alone is ground breaking. Imagine a sports photographer who doesn’t need to care about the focus anymore. Lighter lenses and the post-adjustment of the focus would make work a breeze. A lower resolution would be tolerable, since today’s 20+ megapixel file sizes are overkill for most newspaper applications and for web display. On a contrary side it could move more of the creative decision making to editors. Will the ability to shoot constant images without any worry about lighting, focus, composition provide more freedom to the craft, or will it remove photographers from the ability to pre-visualize an image and leave it up to post=processing? I read an article about a study on plane crashes. It highlights that most disasters could have been prevented but pilots have lost the ability to actually fly planes because of the heavy use of computers. Once they end up in a situations, where they have to manually control the aircraft in critical situations, they fail. While I love these new technologies I don’t always see them as a solution. I rather see them as something to creatively experiment with. Imagine the cool video clips you could create by animating the focus transitions. So far the Lytro technology has not approached the pro market yet. The current camera comes in a refreshingly rectangular design. It doesn’t look like any other camera out there. It rather reminds me of a kaleidoscope or telescope. What seems to make its first steps in the sun-and-fun market segment of consumer products may one day become a standard on most cameras. Once manufacturers will finish today’s megapixel race they will have time to investigate what else they could do with lens/sensor combinations. www.lytro.com
On Friday I received my 50mm Summilux lens back from Leica repair in New Jersey. Early September the lens mount started to get loose, making the lens a wobbly piece of glass and metal in front of my camera body. After some investigation into Leica Europe’s rush service on camera repairs I learned that I had to use the US service. Four weeks! That was the quick answer over the phone. Four weeks at least to tighten up the lens. In pure panic of missing out amazing shots during the fall season I tried every small screwdriver that I could find in our pantry. No success. I talked to Leica again over the phone and told them that I had an important assignment in two weeks and if there would be anything they could do to rush that repair. “Not really, we are sorry. Four weeks at least but we will do what we can”. I sent in the lens. Two weeks later I started thinking about a possible reconnection with my lens. Instead I received a letter with an estimate asking for a signature to repair the lens. Estimated time; 6-8 weeks. Real panic. At that point I gave up. I signed the letter, which felt more like signing the divorce paper for my lens. Other lenses became my newest, best friends. Two weeks later a box arrived and a superbly fixed, sealed-in-a-plastic-pouch lens arrived at my doorstep. Peace. It is back gain and it feels like new. Am I am satisfied? Humans have a tendency to forget about bad experiences. Not always. There is something that the service model indicated to me. Leica is consumer, not pro. At least in the US. Once I had a problem with my Mamiya 7, a pro medium-format film, rangefinder camera. I went to the dealer and they told me that a repair would take four to six weeks. They told me that this would be a standard. I called Mamiya and they informed me that they have a rush service for their demanding pro-photographers. Since I had warranty on that camera I didn’t even need to pay for it. The fully fixed gear came back within three days. Other companies like PhaseOne would ship a replacement back anywhere in the world for the duration of the repair. They know that a photographer without a lens or camera is like a race driver without wheels. You just look stupid while other drivers are passing by. It is less about getting your stuff fixed. It is more about how to keep you doing what you want to do. Leica is a premium company. People are used to pay more and to wait for a product. The difference I see is between getting a product and servicing a product. Once you buy your way into the club you want premium service. Long repair times may have been indicators of premium craft in the past. In today’s world speed is premium when it comes to service. Four weeks may be standard but Leica is not selling ‘standard’.
A last word on that note. I took some imags of Occupy Boston last week and placed them in the Leica forum of DPreview.
While getting lots of great comments I received one statement saying, quote: ” The irony of shooting people who rage against capitalism with a $10K camera/lens combination is marvelous.” Somehow I feel he is right and it made me think about the value of products. Defining premium or luxury is not about how much money someone spends, it is about how someone spends it. A 10k car would not count as a luxury item while a 10k camera would. Every product has a range from being cheap, acceptable, pricey, to extremely expensive and luxurious. Even if the car could just be for leisure while the camera could be a professional tool, it would not change the paradigm. Is it ironic to use such a camera at an ‘Occupy’ event? Yes it is. It is inappropriate? No. As long as I feel that I belong to the 99% I think it is ok.
Now lets hope that the heater repair service knows what premiums means. It is getting cold. D!RK