Using a Vintage Konica Hexanon Lens on a Fujifilm X-T2

When I bought my Fujifilm X-E2 about four years ago, I took a big gamble. I didn't just dip my toes in the mirrorless waters; I plunged in head first. I'd never even picked up a mirrorless camera, much less tried out any of the Fujifilm offerings, but I'd heard plenty of good things about them from trusted podcasts and multiple product reviews. After lengthy research, I felt confident that I was buying into a system that fit my style of shooting - so confident, in fact, that I sold all of my Nikon gear beforehand in order to subsidize the switch.

As it turned out, my gamble paid off. While I initially missed some of my old lenses (especially my Tokina 11-16mm super-wide), I quickly fell in love with the whole Fujifilm environment. The physical dials, the look and feel of the gear, the beautiful film simulations, the generous firmware updates that expanded the functionality of my existing camera, and the distinctive Fujifilm photo "look."

One notable area where Fujifilm lagged behind the leading industry giants at the time was in their limited line of "XF" lenses. In 2017, there are now plenty of high quality primes and zooms available. Fujifilm even provides an updated road map of lenses yet to be released. When I was first introduced to Fujifilm, the only lens I had was the 18-55 kit lens. This wasn't a bad thing, to be honest; their kit lens is solidly built from metal and glass, and is faster than most kit lenses from the big names. On the APS-C sensor, that lens gave me an effective zoom range of about 28-80mm, which adequately covers most typical scenarios photographers encounter.

Moonrise from Clingman's Dome. The old Konica telephoto I used for this photo was (and still is) filled with a ridiculous amount of dust. Fortunately, the dust had little impact on the final image quality.

Since I already owned a number of vintage camera lenses, I was able to extend my optical reach by purchasing an inexpensive adapter that lets you attach a Konica Hexanon lens mount to the Fujifilm body. (You can purchase similar adapters for Minolta and other vintage lens mounts.) So when I took a trip to California in January 2014, I brought along the adapter and my trusty old Hexanon 135mm f/3.2 telephoto. With the APS-C sensor, this effectively gave me a reach of 216mm. The lens and adapter worked beautifully, giving me the reach I didn't have with my kit lens. When I wanted to capture a beautiful moonrise the next summer, I grabbed a Konica 200mm telephoto lens, which on my Fujifilm body became a 320mm monster.

There are some drawbacks to using old lenses on digital cameras, particularly for those accustomed to digital gear. For starters, there's no electronic communication between the lens and camera, which means there's no EXIF lens data recorded in the file. On Fujifilm cameras, you have to specifically enable using the camera without a lens attached, since that's exactly what the camera thinks is going on. 

It should go without saying that these vintage manual focus lenses remain manual focus when attached to a modern camera body. The same goes for setting the aperture - you must use the physical ring on the lens. While we've all gotten spoiled with the amazing image stabilization in modern lenses (and some camera bodies), these lenses have no such safety net, so keeping very still when taking the shot is critical to taking sharp photos. For the same reason, you also need to mind your shutter speed.

The upside to all this is that because of the way shooting modes work on Fujifilm cameras, you can let the camera make all of the remaining exposure decisions for you, or you can choose to adjust those manually as well. Even better, if you have an X-T2, when you switch the camera to manual focus, there are some digital tools that will enable you to nail the focus with greater precision than would have been possible when these lenses were new! Even if you have less than perfect eyesight, these tools should help considerably.

Two features that are particularly helpful are focus peaking (also available on the earlier X-E2), and a new "Dual" feature that shows two frames in the viewfinder: a larger one at full-size, and a smaller frame that displays a loupe view of the area around the focus point. Using focus peaking, you simply turn the lens until the edges "sparkle" in the loupe, and you've got tack sharp focus! I only learned about this feature in the past week, and it's going to be a game-changer in my macro work, where manual focus is the norm even for modern lenses that have autofocus.

Four years after making the switch, I'm still a Fujifilm fanboy. I've purchased a number of Fujinon (Fujifilm's lens mount) lenses, as well as a couple of inexpensive Rokinon lenses. I don't have any pressing need to "slum" around (as Ken Rockwell puts it), with lens adapters and vintage glass. Sometimes it's just fun to see what you can create with old gear.

Occasionally I'll pick up an old lens that I primarily intend to use on old cameras (as nature intended), and I'm curious to see how it works on a modern digital sensor. Such was the case when I bought my latest find: a Konica Hexanon 50mm f/1.4 - a fast and sharp prime released around 35-40 years ago.

The following comments and sample photos reflect my totally unscientific methodology: namely, attach lens to camera and go shoot stuff around the neighborhood. There are no control images for comparison, no detailed technical data, and I didn't even record what f-stop I used. All shots were handheld, so any softness in the photos is probably an artifact of my unsteady hand. Please keep in mind that this is more of cursory look at the kinds of results you might get than a proper review.

That being said, I was impressed with the overall performance of the 50mm on my Fujifilm X-T2 (which effectively covers the same field of view as an 80mm lens on a full-frame digital or 35mm camera). The colors looked good, sharpness was excellent. While I'm eager to try this lens for portraits, taking advantage of that wide aperture to make the subject pop, I haven't had a chance to try it with a human subject yet. I have no reason to think it won't work well for that purpose.

The only con I could see with this specific lens is that the lens coatings seem to be deficient from a modern standpoint. As you can see in these samples, the lens experienced some flares and streaks more typical of today's toy cameras. This might well have been mitigated by using a lens hood, however, and being the experimental type I found this technical shortcoming to be rather charming. Before the digital era, and the rise of the lomography movement, these flaws were to be avoided. For many shooters today, they merely add character.

I've applied my standard edits on these photos: camera profile, sharpening, straightening, exposure adjustments, and some cropping. All of the photos were shot in RAW.

Moderate close-up of some lingering foliage. This is about as close as the lens can focus.

A neighbor's pinwheel. 

Pretty pansies outside the library.

A closer crop from the photo above. The sharpness isn't bad for shooting handheld while kneeling on the ground.

Guardians of Bissell Park. I got hissed at, but not chased.

As I shot into the light through this tree, you can see the colored streaks descending through the center area of frame.

Nearby construction site. The flaring was especially prominent here.

Additional, Non-Sequential Notes:

(1) The X-T2 lets you specify a focal length for your "no-lens" lens. I didn't remember to set it, so it defaulted to 21mm. That may or may not have affected the images seen here.

(2) The 50mm lens came with a Skylight (1A) filter, which I chose to leave attached, and I've not tried shooting without it. It's possible the filter may have contributed to the light flare.

(3) While I have no experience using them, there are more sophisticated lens adapters that support autofocus and electronic communication on lenses that have those features. Expect to pay a lot more for that functionality.

(4) I don't mean to create the impression that lens adapters are a better choice, or even equal to, lenses made by your camera manufacturer. Especially with Fujifilm cameras, there's a lot of lens correcting and digital wizardry that happens inside the brains of the camera. Using adapters with old lenses is the sort of thing you do for creative enjoyment, and because it's an easy way to re-purpose old gear, not because you don't want to invest in the right glass for the job.

Recommended Photography Podcasts

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In no particular order, this is a summary of photo-related podcasts I enjoy listening to on a regular basis. (For those using Android devices, and who may be new to this whole podcast thing, I'm a longtime fan of DoggCatcher, currently priced at $2.99. There are, of course, many other choices available in the Google Play store - ranging in cost from free to cheap.)

Film Photography Podcast - all about film, film cameras, and film-related news. The FPP is a fun show with a core of regulars who bring a variety of knowledge and creative backgrounds to the table.

The Kodakery - as the name suggests, it's a podcast focused on Kodak film, featuring interviews from a broad range of creatives who use film in their work.

PPN - Photo Podcast Network - several different monthly shows featuring seasoned photographers, Scott Bourne and Marco Larousse. Weighted towards mirrorless cameras and inspirational shows, along with helpful listener Q&A.

The Candid Frame: A Photography Podcast - Hosted by Ibarionex Perello, features in-depth interviews with a wide range of photographers, with a view towards culture and social issues.

The TWiP Network - What began as a single podcast (This Week in Photography) with Frederick Van Johnson, has exploded into a whole family of photography-related podcasts with a variety of hosts. There's something here for nearly every genre of photography.

LensWork - Photography and the Creative Process - A long-running podcast, featuring photographer Brooks Jensen. Each episode is short (under 10 minutes), but features a salient thought or idea relating to the creative life.

On Taking Pictures - A photography podcast featuring discussions between hosts Bill Wadman and Jeffery Saddoris. Sometimes the discussion wanders off into any number of esoteric and seemingly unrelated topics, but somehow they manage to keep it interesting.

Vision is Better - This isn't technically a podcast, but a YouTube broadcast, featuring humanitarian photographer, David DuChemin. His passion for cultivating photographic vision is contagious. When I need a kick in the rear to jolt my creativity, his videos, articles and books are just the fix.

I'm interested in hearing what other podcasts keep you coming back for more. If you have any shows you'd like to recommend, please leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!

 

 

Lens Tragedy in Vermont

As I prepare to shoot an event tomorrow without the benefit of my trusty Fujinon 18-135mm zoom, I thought this might be a good time to remind everyone to exercise caution when handling your gear in the field. This applies to professionals and amateur shutter bugs alike.

Back in May, my wife and I were vacationing up in New England. We stopped in a small Vermont town so we could walk around and take some photos. As I grabbed my camera bag - a smaller backpack I like to use for trips - and pulled it from the back seat of the car, I realized too late that something was wrong. The main compartment flipped open and my zoom lens tumbled down onto asphalt with the impact of a million suns exploding. (It's a slight exaggeration, but such was the effect on my nerves.)

Photo taken immediately after dropping my lens. The cosmetic damage was minor, but focusing problems began appearing soon after.

No glass elements were damaged, but I noticed immediately that the little plastic aperture switch on this otherwise metal lens was banged up. It would slide between positions, but with a lot of resistance. At first everything else seemed OK. But over the next few months I noticed that the focus point wouldn't move on command at random times. I put up with this quirk for a while, but after my last big event realized this could become a problem at a very inopportune moment. I can't afford to miss critical shots because faulty gear lets me down.

Several weeks ago, I packed my sick lens carefully and shipped it to a repair shop in New York. After a delay due to parts availability, I finally got a call this Monday that the lens was ready to ship. The total cost of repairs: $238, not including my initial shipping and insurance. As it's a $900 lens, getting it repaired was a no-brainer. I use this lens a great deal for travel and event photography. The repair shop is an authorized Fujifilm repair center, so I'm optimistic that it will return to me in good working order.

The point of this cautionary tale is simply this: Never leave an unzipped (or unlatched) camera bag closed. If you're at all like me, you'll forget that the bag is not secured in a moment of excitement, and the end result could make for a very costly accident. It may also mean that you find yourself without the lens you want at the worst possible time.

My Reluctant Upgrade to Windows 10

Back in April, I published a detailed post about why I intended to fully migrate to Linux and other open source software for editing photos before Windows 7 supports ends in 2020. The grounds for my stance are still valid, in my opinion, but I want to explain why my experiment was less than successful. I have since upgraded my two main systems to Windows 10, with one of them dual-booting Linux Mint.

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I still strongly prefer Linux (and the Linux Mint distribution, in particular) to Windows. My reasons all boil down to aesthetics, performance, privacy, security and freedom of choice. That's not to say that Windows 10 doesn't have some strong selling points. Overall it is a significant improvement, performance-wise, over earlier Microsoft operating systems. Linux, on the other hand, is at least equal to Windows 10 (or Apple's Mac OS) in terms of performance, and has the added advantage of letting you remain in control of your computer and everything it does. That freedom of choice may not matter to you, but it is important to me.

So why backtrack on my Linux migration plan? In short: stark pragmatism. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now that I am in business for myself, workflow efficiency has become a critical concern. I can no longer afford to dabble when I have work that needs to be processed and delivered to clients in a timely fashion. While it is possible to do almost everything in Linux with open source image editing software that one can do with Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop, there is no competing open source software that lets me work as quickly and easily. There are a growing number of exciting paid alternatives, such as Luminar and ON1 Photo RAW, for Windows or Mac OS. But there's little or nothing of the same caliber for Linux currently being sold.

I had earnestly hoped that Darktable (which is finally available for Windows for those who would like to try it), would be a suitable Lightroom alternative for me. I commend the developers who have worked so hard to create such a powerful program. They have done a terrific job at adding new camera RAW profiles, so that even very new models have support. The software allows adjustments that even exceed the capabilities of Lightroom in certain respects. Aside from the lack of Fujifilm film simulations (which are important to me as a Fujifilm mirrorless shooter), there's not much I can't do in Darktable with some fiddling around. But that's the problem.

Open source software like Darktable or the equally powerful RawTherapee are designed for highly technical people who want granular control over settings that ordinary photographers don't necessarily want to muck around with. It's not that the software lacks sophistication; in fact, it's arguably too sophisticated for the average photographer who wants to make basic adjustments quickly and easily. There are really only a handful of adjustments that I make on images from a typical photo shoot. In Lightroom, I can apply automatic settings or stored presets that often get me most of the way to a final image, and then I tweak specific shots as needed.

The other major issue is that, with a few exceptions, there's a notable lack of quality training and support available for open source software tools. They do offer some helpful documentation in free manuals, which is a good start. However, if you want to see some real-life usage scenarios demonstrated, there's just not much of that out there. For users of Adobe products, there's no end to books, workshops and online training. There are a ton of online forums where users can interact and ask questions. Need to know how to resize a background in Photoshop without resizing the entire image? Just hop on Google (as I recently did), and have your answer in a matter of seconds. If you run into an obscure problem using a feature of Darktable, you may spend a lot more time looking for answers with little success.

Back in July, I attended a KelbyOne all-day Lightroom training event in Nashville. While the class did cover a few things I already knew, I was truly overwhelmed by a wealth of techniques and tips that have already saved me considerable time and frustration in my own editing. The training also touched on Photoshop for specific techniques, which is made possible by the fact that the two applications are designed to work seamlessly together. There are no similar training events for photographers using open source software. Having a large community of users, along with expert teachers, is an invaluable resource. After years of learning how to use Adobe products, I've concluded it would be foolish to jettison that hard-earned knowledge only to start all over again.

None of this is to say that I'm abandoning all use of Linux or open source software. I will continue to keep a watchful eye over new developments and test them out. I certainly don't mean to knock the dedicated people who work on these complex programs that have more capability than I'll probably ever understand. But for right now, as someone making a living via photography, the lack of mainstream support makes it tough to embrace other options. I really want to get away from the clutches of Microsoft, but it's an uphill battle at every step.

As for my concerns about Windows 10, I have done all I can to wrest control of my computer back into my own hands. In response to mounting pressure, Microsoft has given back a modicum of control by making it easier to select how much information is sent back to them about your computer and your data. While you can't disable it completely, you can set it to collect a minimal amount of data.

There are additional steps you can take to minimize how much information is gathered. After you've turned off all the nosiest features that you can live without, you may want to install the third party Spybot Anti-Beacon to further clamp down on Windows phoning home. How foolproof are these and other tools at guarding your privacy? Only Microsoft knows how much data gets sent back. But at least you'll have done all you can to maintain control of your personal information.

Now, if we could only persuade Adobe to port their flagship products over to one of the popular Linux distributions, all of my concerns would be addressed once and for all. Until a better option comes along, I'm stuck in bed with the Beast of Redmond.

Unusual Eclipse Photo

UPDATE: Due to popular demand, I'm now making this photo available as an 8x10" print. The cost is $35, plus shipping. Get yours today!

Candidly, I'd not planned to take any photos of today's big solar eclipse. Everyone and their brother with a long lens was gearing up, and I knew NASA would wow us all with photos taken from a jet. As things turned out, I was able to snag a pair of eclipse safety glasses from my friends at The Knoxville Community Darkroom last night. One thing led to another, and I found myself standing in our driveway as the moon (almost) totally eclipsed the sun.

In Oak Ridge, we had less than a minute before the moon continued on its merry way and daylight was restored. I had to work quickly, and adjusted my camera manually to get the best exposure I could. I did fire off several decent eclipse photos that look pretty much like everyone else's eclipse photos. As the moon began to edge away, something flew by out of the corner of my eye. I quickly snagged a couple more shots before it became dangerous to continue doing so without any sort of filter on my lens.

When I loaded the photos on my computer, I was surprised and delighted to find this photo among them. Aside from a few Lightroom adjustments (including cropping), this is the once-in-a-lifetime photo exactly as captured by my camera! I'd like to tell you I planned this out carefully, but the truth is I was just in the right place, at the right time, with a camera ready to take a photograph.

Knoxville Aerial Arts Performance Group

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of once again photographing the talented members of the Knoxville Aerial Arts Performance Group, along with the independent performers who joined them for the evening. The venue was the Zoo Knoxville, during their annual "Feast with the Beasts" event. Visitors were able to sample the best Knoxville has to offer in food, drink and, of course, live entertainment.

If you are a member of a local arts group that holds performances, and you need a photographer to ensure that those memorable moments are captured for posterity, use the Contacts link above to inquire about my services. Day or night, indoors or out, I am ready to help you to capture vivid, photographic memories! As a fellow artist, I am sensitive to financial constraints, and I will work with you to offer high quality service at a reasonable and accessible rate.
 

Independent Fire Performer, Meghan Stiles, delighting an audience with her prowess.

Independent performer, Angel Noble (far left), towered above the other performers on her stilts.

A moment of levity after a long night of performing at the Zoo.

Schedule Your Creative Senior Photoshoot

There's absolutely nothing wrong with "typical" high school senior photos that are brightly lit and incorporate popular poses. I've shot a number of photos like that, myself, and I'm happy to create any look a client wants. If a client prefers traditional photos in a scenic location, I'm ready to deliver exactly what they're looking for.

But if you or your high school senior want something a little different - something that really connects with his or her personality - I'm equally happy to work with you in coming up with memorable images that you'll cherish for years to come. Whether it's on a hiking trail deep in the woods, sitting atop a tractor on the farm, inside a charming, lavish home or dusk by a campfire at the lake, I'm committed to going the extra mile to get the photos you and your family deserve.

The photos you see here are from a recent shoot with Phoebe. We discussed the look she wanted ahead of time, and settled on an urban setting with plenty of lines and a theatrical feel. So we headed to downtown Knoxville in the early evening. Although showers threatened to postpone the event, the rain stopped for just the right length of time for us to carry on.

Schedule your senior photo shoot for the remainder of August 2017, and pay only $150 for a one hour session. Use the Contact link above to start planning today!

The Mobile Darkroom

Panoramic photos shot on my Clipper 6x18 pinhole camera at yesterday's inaugural run of the mobile darkroom. It was parked in front of The Emporium for visitors to enjoy during Knoxville's First Friday event. This specially modified trailer functions in part as a giant pinhole / camera obscura, so it seemed fitting to photograph a giant pinhole camera with a smaller one! 

Visitors to the mobile darkroom exhibit were able to peek inside the trailer to see a live, upside-down projection of the crowd mingling behind them. If you've never looked inside a camera obscura, it's fascinating to observe how this ancient technique uses nothing but natural light to project an image on the opposite wall. Also on exhibit were examples of large images previously captured on photo paper, along with samples of other creative work done at the Knoxville Community Darkroom.

You can learn more about the mobile darkroom and other creative events by visiting the Knoxville Community Darkroom website.

 

Exposures for each of these photos ran from about 90-120 seconds. Most people appear as faint, ghostly figures as they moved about the scene. The longer a person stayed in place, the more "solid" their appearance. (Click to see larger versions of each photo.)

The Knoxville Community Darkroom

View from outside the Knoxville Community Darkroom during their open house.

No matter your age, shooting old school film has a distinctly romantic, vintage appeal - at least until you start contemplating how you're going to turn those rolls of negatives into physical prints and share them. The good news is that if you live in the Knoxville metro area, there's a new option in town!

Starting in the late 80s, and stretching well into the early 2000s, one hour film labs were found in virtually every drugstore, alongside discount chains like Costco and Walmart. Several years ago, these labs began rapidly vanishing. As digital photography overtook film in the 2010s, demand for high volume, rapid processing predictably evaporated.

Happily, there remain a number of pro labs where you can mail in rolls of film. Two labs I personally recommend to readers are the Old School Photo Lab in New Hampshire, and The Darkroom in California. Both labs offer digital scans that you can download before your negatives (and any prints you've ordered) even make it back to your mailbox.

Avid film shooters must now choose between sending film out for processing to one of these professional labs, or learn how to process film at home. As detailed in previous blog articles, processing black and white (and even color) film at home is surprisingly easy and inexpensive with photographic supplies readily available online. Many of us who "soup" our own film end up digitally scanning it for editing and to share online. You don't even need a darkroom to develop film - just a light tight bathroom or inexpensive film changing bag will do the trick. That's one option.

What if you want to print those negatives directly yourself, without needing a computer to scan them? While it's possible to set up a home darkroom in even the tiniest of spaces (such as a closet or bathroom), it's not necessarily practical for everyone to do so. My own "darkroom" is in an attached storage shed that lacks AC and running water. It's workable in cooler weather, but entirely impractical during the hot summer months!

Fortunately, film aficionados in cities around the country have banded together to form non-profit, community darkrooms, where you can develop your film, print using conventional enlargers on silver gelatin paper, and enjoy interacting with fellow artists who appreciate the traditional (and not-so-traditional), "analog" methods of making photographs. These community darkrooms are a great way to keep traditional processes alive and relevant in the consciousness of today's photographers.

A few of the enlargers set up for use at the Knoxville Community Darkroom.

Last October, I took part in funding a Kickstarter initiative to launch the Knoxville Community Darkroom. They met their fundraising goal, and kicked things off with an open house in March. While I wasn't able to join at the time, about a month ago I signed up for an annual membership. For a flat, yearly fee, I have 24-hour access to all the equipment and space I need to print. The only items I have to supply are my negatives and any paper I need for printing. (Paper isn't cheap. I recommend starting with inexpensive 5x7 photo paper to avoid costly mistakes as you learn.) On top of the availability of space, chemistry and enlargers, I've enjoyed the added benefit of getting helpful pointers from a number of seasoned darkroom users.

Work is underway on the new KCD mobile darkroom. When finished, this trailer will also function as a giant camera obscura, allowing large images to be viewed and exposed directly on paper via a small opening on the opposite wall.

While I have had to do a lot of experimentation to get decent results printing (and I'm still not "there" yet), I'm gradually getting back up to speed on the basics. If you've been pining for the old darkroom days, or you're a younger person who is curious as to what this film thing is all about, I would strongly encourage you to visit their website. You can also check them out on Facebook and follow them on Instagram.

Community support for an initiative this ambitious is vital. So if you think you'd like to get involved and join in the film photography revival, now is the time to get behind this wonderful project!

 

When Did You Last Get a Family Photo Made?

When did you last get the family together for a proper, planned portrait? Selfies and quick snaps on a smartphone are fun and easy (I take them, too), but they don't compare to the full experience that a family photo session by an experienced photographer can provide. Little things - like controlling the lighting, getting everyone into the frame, and post-processing images for a pleasing look - can be difficult to manage.

You owe it to yourself to schedule a family photo session. Let me worry about handling the camera and making sure everyone looks their best for those memorable photos. We adults don't typically change a great deal in the span of a year or even longer, but infants and children grow rapidly and change before you know it. Your family will never look quite the same tomorrow as it does today. Chances are that you have many snaps of your children on your mobile device. It's time to put yourself into the frame with them, and get photos made that you'll want to print and revisit for decades to come!

Schedule your family photo session today. If you schedule your shoot for anytime between now and the end of August, you can enjoy our current rate of $150 for a one hour session. (Rates will increase to $200 as of September 1st.) You'll get about 15-20 edited, high-resolution images that you can print and share however you wish. Use the Contact link above to learn more and get your family into a frame!

Portrait Price Increase September 1st - Book Now and Save!

Effective September 1, 2017, we will be raising our hourly portrait session rate from the current $150 to $200. This change is necessary in order to absorb business costs relating to upgraded gear and overhead expenses. Please note that our new price schedule remains highly competitive for this type of work.

From now until August 31st, you can take advantage of the existing rate of $150 for any portrait session: seniors, engagement, family or individual head shots. As always, you will receive high-resolution, edited photos with no restrictions on usage, delivered digitally for your convenience.

Don't delay - book your portrait session today using the Contact link at the top of the page!

What is a "Professional" Camera?

Manufacturers of digital cameras sell multiple product lines, each targeting a particular corner of the market. These can be divided into consumer, prosumer or professional categories. The most obvious initial difference lies in cost.

A point-and-shoot camera with its built-in lens can be significantly less expensive than a camera system that allows you to swap lenses and use accessories such as a removable flash unit. Most people (including many photographers) would argue that a professional system costing several thousands of dollars is unquestionably "better" than a  $300 camera. But what does "better" really mean?

A professional camera, at the most basic level, is a camera used by a photographer to earn a living. Major camera makers would have you believe that you need this year's camera model and painfully expensive, pro-grade lenses to produce quality work. So it might surprise you to learn that there are skilled photographers today using entry-level, "obsolete" cameras to create salable works of art.

Cultivating an eye for composition, paying attention to how light interacts with the subject, and skillful post-processing all matter more than the camera. For proof of that, see this article about a woman who creates fantastic images using an old point-and-shoot Canon! There are many stories about people using older gear to make amazing photos, including many who still shoot, or have returned to using, film cameras. See here and here, for proof.

Professional photographers know how to work within limitations, and will even use those shortcomings to their creative advantage. Unconventional and beautiful portraits have been created using 50mm or shorter lenses that are not typically regarded as suitable for the purpose. In my own experience, some of my most compelling work has been made using inexpensive, "toy" film cameras. Cheap, plastic cameras like the humble Holga or the mysterious but marvelous Debonair may look like mere toys. In my hands, they are professional cameras.

Some cameras are admittedly less suited for specific uses than more technically advanced cameras. I love shooting with my Debonair, but I'm not going to grab it to shoot a soccer game. Its fixed shutter speed and wide lens wouldn't work well to capture action on the field. It's simply not the right tool for the job. Sometimes you really do need a long lens, increased low light sensitivity, super fast shutters and other features found on more expensive cameras.

Professional DSLRs generally feature more physical dials and buttons for adjusting exposure than cheaper consumer models that require diving into menus to access the same settings. This ease of making rapid changes is important to professionals who need to make many adjustments over the course of shooting a wedding, for example, adjusting to changing lighting and the desired effect for each photo. While they could make do with an entry-level DSLR in a pinch, it would be less convenient than using a "pro" camera. It's important to note here that image quality isn't at issue.

The end product, the photograph, is vastly more important than the tools used to create it. Print an 8x10 from a pro and consumer camera, place them side by side, and almost nobody will be able to tell which camera made which photo. Megapixels don't play as big a role as people suppose: an 8x10 print of a photo made from my old Nikon D40 (6 MP) will produce the same pleasing results as the same size print from a modern 24 MP camera. The advantages of having many more megapixels are normally not apparent until you print at sizes that most people never use.

Now that mirrorless cameras have been adopted by many photographers, I don't run into much criticism of my Fujifilm digital cameras. On occasion, however, I've had people turn up their noses because they don't think my gear looks as professional as a Nikon or Canon DSLR. (Sometimes the brand name "Fujifilm" leads people to mistakenly confuse them for a vintage film camera.) In short, it's not what many people visualize when they think about professional gear.

My first mirrorless digital camera still serves me well in professional use, despite not being marketed as pro gear.

I chose my current system for a variety of reasons, after months of careful research, and I know from regular practice exactly how these cameras will perform in my hands. I can achieve the same photographic results with my cameras that I would using a much bulkier camera.

Mirrorless cameras come with the normal ratio of benefits to drawbacks, just like every camera system ever made. If there were a universally agreed-upon perfect camera system, the other makes and models would quickly be out of business as photographers flocked en masse to buy into it. As much as photographers tend to be fanboys or fangirls of our chosen system, in the final analysis all cameras are just boxes with holes in them that gather light. It's up to the operator to make something memorable with them.

People sometimes ask me what kind of camera they should buy. The answer is that it really depends. It depends on how much money you have to spend, how much complexity you can adjust to using, what features are most critical to you, personal aesthetics, your physical tolerance for gear of varying weights, and the kinds of stuff you plan to photograph. I can tell you that my camera suits my style and feels like an extension of my arm and my eyes. Not everyone has the exact same needs.

In the end, every camera I own - from $20 thrift store buys to my latest Fujifilm X-T2 - is, or at least has the potential to be, a professional camera. If a client is looking to hire me, it's because they like the work I've done. The camera I bring to their special event is only a small part of the equation.

 

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Moving Toward an Open Source Image Editing Workflow

This article is reflective of a work in progress, and it's a journey I am really just beginning to undertake. If you have concerns about where Microsoft is heading, or just want to expand your knowledge of alternatives for editing your photos, please read on! (Get yourself a snack - this is kind of a long post.)

Some Background Information

Aside from my photographic pursuits, I've been a longtime computer geek. This includes dabbling in the various open source Linux operating systems over the past couple of decades. For those unfamiliar with Linux, you almost certainly have interacted with it at some level if you use the Internet (much of which runs on Linux servers), or if you have used any Android devices (which is derived from Linux).

The whole topic of Linux and open source software is huge - much bigger than I have time to detail here. For more background on the many flavors of Linux, as well as the philosophy behind it, you can start by searching Google. In a nutshell, open source software (or OSS, of which Linux is a part) is freely available to anyone to use or modify for any purpose. While there are legitimate commercial uses of OSS, the license under which it is released prevents any business from seizing control of it as their exclusive property.

The practical outworking of this philosophy is that a huge amount of software of varying quality and usefulness is freely available to anyone inclined to download it: from operating systems to games to office suites to web browsers, just about any program you might buy commercially has an OSS counterpart that is often as useful, or occasionally even better than commercial software.

While some of this free software isn't worth talking about, there are a number of mature and respected programs out there. For example, I use the free LibreOffice suite, which reads and writes a variety of file formats. For my purposes, I have no need of Microsoft Office. I can easily open and edit Word and Excel files, as well as files from other popular suites.

Why I'm Preparing to Leave Microsoft Behind

I've used almost every version of Windows since 3.1 (and at least two releases of MS-DOS before that). Microsoft has had their share of duds (Windows Me and Vista being two radiant examples of failure), but for the most part each new version has improved performance and added useful features. While I've taken exception to certain design changes, there are number of third party programs and published tweaks that have allowed users to restore the look or functionality they prefer. Most of these changes were cosmetic in nature. I strongly disliked the "Fisher-Price" interface that was the default in Windows XP, for example, but with a few clicks I could roll XP back to the more austere, "classic" look I prefer.

Windows 10 is something altogether different. It's a game changer. Yes, there are cosmetic details that I dislike, but those annoyances are easily addressed by third-party add-ons, such as the popular Classic Shell. The biggest changes in Windows 10, however, aren't cosmetic. For the first time, Microsoft has migrated to a new business model of Windows as a service. Windows has arguably become an ad-delivery platform and data-gathering tool masquerading as an operating system.

That might sound like an alarmist claim, but those "free" upgrades Microsoft pushed on their user base were not so much for your benefit as theirs. As with "free" social media accounts, the computer user is now the product. Beginning with Windows 10, rolling updates are now mandatory (at least for standalone and home users). You have no control over which updates are applied, whether security or feature updates. While Microsoft has tried to assuage their critics by letting you delay updates for a period of time, there is no option to refuse an update indefinitely. This new policy is a bigger deal than might be evident.

Practically speaking, forced updates mean that if you come to rely on a particular feature in the current iteration of Windows 10 for doing your work, there's no guarantee that Microsoft may not remove and replace it with a different feature in an update. Even more critically for many users, if an update breaks some important piece of software on your PC (as has happened innumerable times in the past), you have no way to roll back that update once it's applied. In short, you have lost control of your computer as a user.

The other major issue I have with Windows 10 is the fact that Microsoft reserves the right to gather telemetry data on what software your computer is running, what kinds of data you have on your drives, and a host of other details about how or when you use your PC. Under pressure, they have given back a small measure of control, so that you can select a minimal amount of phoning home (Basic), but there is no built-in option to completely disable the telemetry feature. There are third-party options which attempt to block this traffic, so if you're absolutely stuck with Windows 10 you may have some remedy against data slurping. However, it's possible that such tools may create new problems for you, so in the end you're only applying a band-aid. It's possible future, mandatory Windows 10 updates will target those band-aids for removal (without your approval or notification).

To be clear, I'm not saying that Windows 10 per se is a bad operating system. To the contrary, it's polished and powerful. I have installed and played around with it; I keep a copy installed as a virtual machine in VirtualBox. It is certainly fast, it has some potentially useful features, and Microsoft claims (as always) that it is their most secure version of Windows to date. My issue is how Microsoft is administering the other stuff mentioned above.

I own several computers, and for now they will remain on Windows 7 and Linux Mint. When I bought my new Acer Aspire laptop last year, it didn't take long for me to dump Windows 10, and "upgrade" to a Windows 7 / Linux Mint dual-boot installation. Microsoft's extended support for Windows 7 ends on January 14, 2020, which means users have nearly 3 years from now to decide about which way to go. This timetable is where this blog post comes into play. 

There are basically three choices for photographers who need a conventional computer to edit photos: Windows, Mac, or other. By far, the most popular other option is Linux, although there's also FreeBSD and other lesser known alternatives. For those who don't need a full-fledged computer, there are perfectly capable mobile apps like Snapseed. For seriously detailed editing, though, most people still use a desktop or laptop computer.

Once Windows 7 is finally taken off life support, it will only be a matter of time before Adobe ceases developing software for a dead OS. Furthermore, since Photoshop is now only available via an online subscription model, your computer must go online at least periodically to verify your Adobe subscription is active. On top of all that, now Adobe is in bed with Microsoft to "share" customer data, so there are compelling reasons to leave both companies behind.

Without ongoing security updates, you'd be taking a huge security risk merely by connecting your PC to the Internet. As for Apple, I won't go into that here, but suffice it to say I'm not a big fan. So that leaves me with one viable operating system choice as 2020 approaches: Linux.

Taking the Penguin Plunge

I am an avid fan of Linux. In particular, I am especially fond of Linux Mint. It's a polished, snappy and secure operating system that is a joy to use. There are a number of key advantages to Linux that distinguish it from the big, commercial software companies: It's highly customizable, tends to be more secure than Windows, you are in control of which updates get installed and when (if ever), you aren't subject to shady license agreements that are designed to limit your use of the software, and there are vast repositories of available software available at the click of a button.

So why doesn't everyone move to Linux? For starters, most people have never even heard of it. Unlike commercial companies that heavily promote their products, Linux is driven by the IT community, and doesn't enjoy a lot of advertising. Among those who have heard of Linux, it has a somewhat deserved reputation for being difficult to use. I say "somewhat" because Linux has evolved from very geeky beginnings to being just as easy to use as Windows or Mac. Is it tricky to install? No more so than Windows or Mac OS X, but the average user doesn't know how to install those operating systems, either. You can buy computers with Linux pre-installed, from multiple vendors, so difficulty of installation is really a moot point.

In 2017, we are well past the technical hurdles that made Linux too complicated for the average user 20 years ago. The main obstacle preventing widespread adoption today is the availability of specialized software to run on it. Popular Linux distributions like Ubuntu and Mint come with a boatload of useful programs for performing typical computer tasks. All the popular web browsers are available on Linux, as are games, and LibreOffice. There's even a version of Dropbox available for the Linux desktop, so you can easily share files just as you would in Windows. You can give Grandma a PC with Linux installed, and she can fire up Chrome to watch cat videos and see photos of her grandchildren on Friendface as easily as she would on any other computer.

There's even a useful program called WINE which allows you to run limited Windows programs under Linux, and a commercial version called Crossover is specifically designed to let you run Microsoft Office, Quicken and a number of commercial games under Linux.  For more specialized applications such as Adobe's photo editing software, you may be able to get older versions running somewhat, but you're still likely to run into glitches. Programs in the Adobe CC stable are just too complex and resource-hungry to get working reliably under WINE.

And that's the biggest issue for photographers who want to move to Linux. Of course, you can always install Windows in a virtual machine and try to run Photoshop and Lightroom from inside that sandboxed environment. But that's a clumsy workaround, and you're likely to find that your software doesn't run optimally inside a virtual environment with limited system resources (nor will Adobe support it if you do).

Photo Editing in Linux

So what are your options? As it turns out, there are many options available - many of them quite powerful and capable. That's the good news. The bad news is that none of them are an exact replacement for Adobe's flagship products. If Adobe would port their software to Linux, I would gladly pay a premium for it. I'm not looking for ways to be a cheapskate. My objective is to maintain control over my data and my privacy, which are worth more to me than "free" Windows 10.

Open source software is largely developed by individuals or small teams, with limited resources. For many developers, these programs are a labor of love done in their spare time while they hold down "real" jobs elsewhere. There's also the fact that OSS has traditionally been developed with a view towards performing a particular function rather than trying to be a Swiss army knife that does it all.

Perhaps the best known open source image editing program out there is Gimp. It's been around for many years, and has even been ported to Windows and Mac. A lot of photographers will sneer at the idea of using Gimp for serious work. but it's still a solid program that can do most things one would do in Photoshop. It lacks certain features that I really like in Photoshop, such as content-aware fill. On the positive side, it has some features that may work better than their equivalent in Photoshop. One area that I've consistently seen Gimp outshine the competition is where is comes to Auto Levels and Auto White Balance. In my experience, 9 times out of 10, the auto settings come closer to the right values than Photoshop or Lightroom deliver.

I'd be lying if I claimed that Gimp is a drop-in, feature-for-feature Photoshop replacement. It doesn't claim to be. But even though certain processes may require a bit more work on your part, you can nearly always achieve the same or similar results seen using Adobe products. Menus and keyboard shortcuts will initially be unfamiliar, but you can usually figure out the steps required to replicate a Photoshop tutorial without much difficulty. There are also plenty of books, online tutorials and videos to guide you in achieving pretty much any desired result.

A major shortcoming (not, I'm sure, in the view of its developers) of Gimp is that it doesn't natively handle RAW files. If you shoot only JPG, then you'll have nothing to worry about. Otherwise, you'll need a RAW editor as well as a photo editor such as Gimp. Fortunately, there are some powerful tools available. One popular program that's available for Windows, Mac and Linux is RawTherapee. I've only poked around the program a little bit, so I can't tell you much about it at this point. But it is worth looking into as an option.

Another program that will feel somewhat familiar to Lightroom users is Darktable. I've been working my way through features of the program, and have been impressed at its depth and functionality. Like Lightroom, Darktable is a non-destructive editor. Nothing you do inside the program will alter your original files, so you can experiment to your heart's content without fear of ruining an image via post-processing. Once you're happy with your edits, you can export the image as a new file (several formats, including JPG, are provided), and then bring that exported file into the image editor of your choice.

I'm still learning the ins and outs of Darktable, but I'm pretty sure this is the RAW editor I'll be using in the future. There are, of course, many other worthy programs you can use for processing your images under Linux. I was recently directed to this helpful website, which lists quite a few of them, including some I've never tried. There are a few commercial Linux image editing programs (not open source) that you may want to look into, as well. One of the best known of these is Aftershot Pro, sold by Corel. I've looked at the trial version, and it seems to have some nice features. The last time I checked, the list of supported camera models seemed rather short, but it will handle RAW files from quite a few different makes.

So this is where I'm headed, and plan to commit my photographic future within the next 2-3 years. For the time being, I'll continue to use PS & LR in parallel with Darktable and Gimp. If you're considering a move to Darktable, now would be a good time to configure Lightroom to use sidecar files. That way at least some of your past edits will be retained when you import those images into Darktable.

Feel free to add any comments or questions about open source image editing!