A Very Good Day

Some advice to myself to mark the day.

Make some time to create today and everyday. Be sure you use whatever means of self expression is at hand, whether words, images or sounds. Don’t be concerned about how many likes it gets on Instagram or even whether you yourself like it.

Trust that you know enough to start, then use that feeling to do something that tells everyone else what’s inside you. The value is in making yourself bigger than the chatter and imagination in your head. You’ll be impressed with what you can do.

Someone’s personal junkyard. Nikon D850 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

How a Hybrid Leica M Camera Would Focus

Ever since mirrorless cameras came on the scene, there’s been hope for a mirrorless Leica M camera. Usually what’s suggested is a hybrid system where the electronic viewfinder (EVF) could be swapped or somehow superimposed on the clear class rangefinder view. Leica has been making mirrorless cameras now for years.1 I’m sure Leica has prototyped the idea, but based on my experience, the essential problem with the hybrid M concept is focus.

My youngest with the M10 Monochrom

Mirrorless means autofocus

The mirrorless L-mount Leicas are all autofocus. The first, the TL, didn’t even have an EVF when introduced. When you mount a manual focus lens on one of these cameras the only way to get decent focus is with “focus peaking”, where the in focus area is signaled in the display as an area of color, usually red. It is never very accurate and becomes almost useless once the lens is stopped down.

Does anyone really want to only focus a manual lens on an M with focus peaking? I can’t imagine capturing a moving person or shifting subjects in a street scene this way. With practice many of us get pretty good at moving focus with the rangefinder, but anyone really capturing sports or wildlife wants a sophisticated, predictive autofocus mechanism. Sure I focus in live view sometimes with my M, but EVF really works best with autofocus.

How could autofocus be added to the M then?

So to add autofocus to the M, Leica would need a new line of M size lenses with autofocus capability. They would then work on both a Rangefinder M and an EVF or hybrid M. That would bifurcate a 100 year history of the M39/M mount, similar to what happened with the Nikon F mount over the years as there was mixed backward and forward compatibility depending on focus mechanism and aperture control.

One way to enable manual focus in an EVF that I can imagine is a dual EVF, one large that’s off the sensor and another small patch that’s digitizing just the rangefinder spot. I think it could be done using the sensors found in every cell phone camera with a tiny lens and tiny sensor. That would truly be a digital rangefinder where the photographer was lining up two digital feeds. You’d gain the ability to see the image through the lens as the the sensor is seeing it. You’d have a rangefinder that was easy to focus in low light. You’d have those lovely small M lenses to work with.

Really, if there is any failing of the Leica SL2 it’s really just the size and weight of a fully outfitted mirrorless camera with a modern large digital optimized mount compared to the M. The SL2 is pretty comparable to the Nikon Z7 in size and the lenses are similarly digital optimized and larger than we were used to in the SLR systems. It’s the Leica Q2 that’s the sweet full frame, small and light camera but you have to get used to a 28mm lens like that of your phone and the need to crop way more often than when you can change lenses to frame better.

The M hybrid approach to exposure

I actually like the current M10 cameras as a hybrid system. I rely on the rear display to optimize exposure, but prefer the direct viewfinder with frame lines to compose and the rangefinder to focus. I’m learning that exposure with mirrorless is a process all its own. I highly recommend Greg William’s course2 to learn a more about how to work mirrorless or with a phone to optimize light and exposure in a casual workflow. It’s all about getting the image right in camera, which of course has always been the goal, but now is even more valuable given our digital post-processing tools. I generally push to get the midtones looking right which gives me maximal ability to recover either highlights or shadows given the huge dynamic range of modern sensors.


  1. The Leica TL, an interchangeable lens APS-C camera was introduced in 2014 and the full frame SL with a compatible mount in 2015 

  2. Skills Faster: Candid Photography Skills 

Instagram Wins

Without meaning to, I seem to have moved my image posting activity over to Instagram, largely abandoning Flickr. I didn’t mean to, but the photographers and websites I want to follow on a daily basis were all there. Flickr remained a nice community, but didn’t have the engagement of prominent names in photography. Once I started my exploration of casual photography, it seemed natural to just start putting up images there.

Instagram feels more casual. Flickr creates a gallery and I felt compelled to maintain a certain quality of finished work when I posted. I’ve mostly posted iPhone images to Instagram in the past, so it feels easy enough to post a modestly post-processed image out of Photos.app to the site.

In the garden Leica M10 Monochrom APO 50mm ASPH

Continue reading “Instagram Wins”

Travels with the Nikon Z7

Last month I did some travel for work and decided to bring along the new Nikon Z7 instead of my Leica M10.  The M10 usually comes along on any kind of trip where the focus is work and not photography, If I get an afternoon free to walk the city I’m in, the M10 with the 50mm lens comes out of the bottom of my travel backpack and I wander. These excursions provide most of the travel images I’ve published over the years. My standing joke is that no matter where I travel in the world, I come back with the same images of cracked walls, asphalt and alleys. I actually have conventional travel shots which I’ve posted from time to time, but most of them are iPhone images and more likely to end up quickly sent to Instagram where I am of course @jjvornov.

I bought the Z-7 to replace my D850. The D850 was my photographic expedition camera as it was much more flexible using wide to telephoto lense, for example shooting landscapes from a tripod. I could get shots with  the 14mm zoom of the Nikon that are impossible with the 50mm lens and a hand held Leica. The z7 with the 24-70mm f4 zoom is about the same weight as the M10, so I thought it might work as a more flexible travel camera with wider angle, a bit longer reach and optical stabilization in a lightweight package, certainly better than the D850 with the 24-120 f4 zoom that I’ve used over the last two years.

In a few hours walking around San Francisco, I captured a few nice images and got to know the camera better. These cameras are complicated and I use a very small fraction of their capabilities. In truth, the buttons and menus get in the way, even as I learn what settings need to be changed when. And of course there’s the risk that a setting is changed at one point, forgetting to change it back, and having unexpected responses from the camera.

The 24-70 lens is good as a travel zoom but it’s not as impressive as the 50mm f1.8 that I used with earlier outings with the camera. Renderings are a little flat compared to the 24-120 f4 F mount lens used on the D850 as a midrange zoom. That whole kit was way bigger and way heavier. I’m hoping the wide angle zoom that’s coming soon will prove to be an outstanding lens that I can use in combination with the really nice 50mm. I’ll note that I find the RAW conversions by Nikon’s own Capture NX-D to be better in detail and contrast that those by Capture One, which serves as my cataloging software these days.

So for my city walks, I’ll be sticking to the Leica M10.

The Charm of Tri-X

At the Bar

Last week I was in Boston for the Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s Disease (CTAD) conference. The Boston Leica store and Gallery were located right there in the conference hotel, so I got to drop in on the Gallery a few times and take in Jim Marshall’s Jazz Festival exhibit. Marshall is justly famous for his photographs of musicians, having captured many iconic images of jazz and rock figures. The images taken at the festivals are like glimpses into the hearts of these artists, taken by a photographer who is looking in, unnoticed.

I actually was more interested in Marshall’s environmental photographs of peace signs found as graffiti, buttons, and stickers during the 1960’s. It reminds me that all of the images that we take today, seeming so banal because it’s just our everyday environment, will read as historical records in 50 years.

All of the images were scanned Tri-X negatives printed digitally on 20″ x 24″ paper. The grain in these large images was often very apparent, with velvety blacks and nice tonality. I couldn’t help but wonder whether their impact would be different had they been printed as traditional silver prints, but it appears that this hybrid process is now accepted as a way to show negatives captured 50 years ago. Perhaps we’ll need to accept more fully that the negative is the score and the print is the performance, to be interpreted on period instruments or modern instruments, changing tone but creating the music nevertheless.

Art and Personal Identity

Leaves Dried Grate

We call it “self-expression”. These images are in some way a pure expression of self because I cannot explain them. I see light falling on a scene. Some particular combination of texture and contrast appeals to me. So I frame and capture an image. Through the viewfinder, it looks like one of my photographs.

Rachel, at I Still Shoot Film, says it well: My digital black and white photographs don’t look like “me.”

One of the first rolls of film I ever shot, back in about 1981, yielded and image I called, “Broken Sidewalk”. I printed it in the Emory School of Medicine Department of Anatomy’s darkroom and entered it in a show. My images are still echoes of “Broken Sidewalk”. Is it surprising that my images still look like “me”?

Practicing in Public

Ivy Aside


Joel Meyerowitz, now 75, is becoming the voice of photography, the voice of the artist for me. Here’s a remarkable sit down video of him describing the lifelong journey of an artist. At about 7 minutes in he talks about moving from phase to phase as an artist. I’m taken by the idea that at some point one reaches a competency and understanding of an artistic problem followed by a choice of whether to pursue the next artistic question at hand. Meyerowitz likens it very aptly to the process of a scientist, experimenting and exploring questions- sometimes with great results and sometimes for long periods down blind alleys.

I thought about the companints I’ve heard from fine artists about how the internet has changed expectations of the speed of output. Traditionally, an artist might spend years on a project, exploring out of the public eye, generating a new body of work. The work would then be revealed as complete just like a script or musical composition would be performed when done. Now we post a photo a day to Flickr, write about process and technique in our artists blogs and otherwise experiment in public.

The truth is that artists have rarely been successful working in isolation. We have circles of friends, families, gallery owners, mentors and trusted critics who get to see the work being done and provide some outside, independent opinion on the work as it forms. While being able to edit one’s own work is a necessary skill for success, being coachable is an equally valuable skill.

oel Meyerowitz spent months on the streets shooting with Garry Winogrand and Tod Papageorge. He’d show proofs to John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art for feedback

When I’m actively working, I have Flickr and this weblog to serve a similar purpose with a virtual circle of artists who appreciate what I’ve been trying to do over the years. When things work well, we don’t just give each other animated GIF awards, but we point out what works in some photos and ignore the ones that don’t connect. I seek inspiration from mentors who directly teach on the web or like Meyerowitz and David Allen Harvey act as mentors to broader audiences. I’ve developed as a photographer in these online communities lacking a local photo salon and access to museum curators.

Ivy Again

Ivy Again

Funny how things fall apart.

I took a few minutes on Thanksgiving day to try the 105mm Nikon Micro lens on the D800. The camera was still in Monochrome display mode, shooting raw, so I saw Black and White images on the LCD as I reviewed the shots. Immediately, I reacted against the loss of color from the fall palate around the yard, so switched it back to Standard color mode.

Reviewing images in Aperture this morning for the first time, I liked the image that I took just before this one- a pretty similar framing of the ivy on the tree bark. But it was horribly out of focus and blurred. This one was better, but if you look at the EXIF of the image, it was shot handheld at 1/10 of a second. Even with the stabilization build into the 105mm, it’s technically a poor capture.

As I started processing the color image, I was fighting the lack of subject in the photo, what Vincent Versace calls in his books a primary isolate from CJ Elfont’s Isolate Theory. I find myself in this situation way too often and it comes from the lack of mindfulness that I have all too often behind the camera. It starts with an emotional connection to something seen but requires technical expertise to capture the most usable image file to express what was seen. Creating it afterward is nice practice, but in my experience never as successful.

At some point, I bail out. Back in black and white, the image works as a texture study. Having deliberately to work in color, I’ve taken it back to monochrome. There’s a little bit of light and a little bit of structure in it, but not worth much more than a glance for me in this final state. In my darkroom days, this would have gone into the reject box. Now I write about it and show it to dozens on Flickr and here on the blog.

My D7000 Choice

Thom Hogan is out with his D7000 review. I think that he’s right that most pro D300 users probably would not be buying a D7000.

Nikon D7000 Review by Thom Hogan:

“So, no, unless they need a DX backup body I don’t think the average D300 user is going to be interested in the D7000. Really. I mean that.”

However much I liked the D300 ergonomics and image quality, I always found it too big and heavy. The D7000 is smaller and lighter, especially with a small prime on it. I just had my old 20mm f/2.8 repaired by KEH, so I’ve got a really nice light and small kit. Even with the bigger Tamron 17-105mm f/2.8, it’s much more my style than the D300.

The D300 will actually go up for sale on eBay since it still has some value.