It seems to me a great way of moving forward is to reflect on the past and learn from it. As I try to define the lines of what I’d like my photographic 2020 to be, some of the most significant photographs of my 2019 come back to me. So I might as well share them and why they are meaningful to me. These are not always the best, but they are significant. Here’s a list, why they were selected, and how I hope they can shape my near future.
2019’s main photographic event for me was the switch from Sony / Zeiss to Hasselblad. My close friend Gilles, above, shows what this represented from me: a leap of faith. I left behind a system that felt comfortable and easy, particularly with the marvelous Distagon 1.4/35 ZM – possibly the best lens Zeiss ever made – to hop into the unknown in search of a more permanent workshorse, better ergonomics and a look I couldn’t precisely define but knew I desired above all.
As Queen wrote “It’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise”. The first results made me question my sanity and felt harsh, wooden and belaboured. And that lasted way too long for my liking. To be perfectly honest, my mastery of the Hassy ecosystem still isn’t as good as my previous grasp on Sony / Zeiss / CaptureOne. Getting there, though.
The second was a lovely trip to Egypt. This was the X1D’s maiden voyage (in my hands, at least) and an opportunity for me to get to know it better in the stress-free environment of a lazy vacation. What I learned during that trip was precious. Even though the finer details of post processing and exposure still eluded me, I was home. This was IT. Finally.
My first weeks with the camera involved a lot of experimenting with legacy and system lenses. Pure exploration that led to successes and – many, hidden – failures. Anxiously questioning my choice again, after initially feeling this was the end of the search, was at times quite disheartening.
Lesson for 2020? Forget about gear. Unless an affordable 54x40mm sensor Hassy camera is released (neeeeeever gonna happen), I’m not interested. Period.
A further milestone was my test of the beloved Audrey (Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM) on the X1D and the realisation that this absolute summit of optical design is essentially a homeless migrant thanks to the craziness of the current photo industry.
With Leica M sales dwindeling, the Distagon no longer really has a firm footing in the market and can only serve on Sonys with a sensor stack thicker than Antarctica’s ice cap, as a 50mm on Fuji cameras and other “adapted” bodies. You, out there, with Nikon Z7 cameras, you owe it to Zeiss and to yourself to try one on your thinner-stack sensor. You will be stunned.
But stunned I was not, not on the X1D. While the qualities of the lens are absolutely present on this super neutral Hassy, the extreme degree of vignetting makes it unusable in my book. So I very reluctanctly took it to its new owner Philippe. Strangely – and sadly – it doesn’t seem the lens agrees with the Sony A7r4’s sensor, either.
So here we are with what is arguably the best quality/cost lens ever designed and no camera that can use it to its fullest. Crazy tech-obsessed industry … and they wonder why it is collapsing …
Lesson for 2020? I’m sticking to Hassy glass. With one exception, for now …
The fate of the Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50ZM (aka “Cesar”) is happier. This lens is an unlikely survivor of the digital age. Updated from an older design, it wins through character more than subtlety (an opposite approach to that of the Distagon). And where the subtlety of Audrey is lost in translation with proprietary (the absolute saddest word in our industrial world and semantic proof that most humans are still large apes) stacks, the charm and character of Cesar seems to survive largely unscathed.
As for coverage on the Hassy, it is staggeringly good, considering how minute the lens is. So, this lens stays. Its only drawback on the X1D is the need to use silent shutter mode, which leads to banding in artificial lighting, as below.
Insight for 2020? I’m not sure. I want to use this lens but find it hard to justify considering how gorgeous the native XCD45 is. So my plan is to think of a series in which the C-Sonnar’s drawing will be instrumental. Then make a final decision.
After this started a period of trying out various looks for the various XCD lenses. Below is the sharp but mellow 90, arguably the sexiest of the bunch. An absolute no brainer. It stays and will get used a lot in 2020.
The 120 Macro, below, stands out as the sharpest lens I have ever used. But it remains a gentle giant with a very soft hand. While it doesn’t produce the same 3D tricks as an Otus, its more consistent look (with the rest of the range) and greater transparency make it more desirable to me. It stays on for 2020.
The XCD 21 is another stunning lens, sharp beyond words and endowed with qualities hard to find in such a wide angle lens. But the reality is that I’ve not used it since the review. It has to go in 2020.
After that, a baseline of aesthetics having been established, I started experimenting with PP, mostly in Lightroom because Phocus doesn’t allow much room for exotic renderings. And experimenting with some of the lenses’ few defects. In particular, flare on the 45.
Lesson for 2020? I’ve found a few renderings that really appeal to me, so the plan is now to use those in series. The first of which is done and await publication 🙂
A fun 2019 event was our Paris Meetup with Philippe, Steve and Paul. This was cool and we plan to do more in 2020. Possibly 4 to 6 a year. And we hope others will join us and that you can organise your own in your own neck of the woods if you live too far away to join us.
Lesson for 2020? Not sure .. I’ll set up a page for meetups so that anyone in the community can organise their own and invite others. Beyond that, we shall see. The future of formal workshops here at DS is still open for debate. We might try a couple more but it doesn’t look like there’s enough interest to provide real value here.
My job rarely but occasionally involves photographic creation for clients. This, below is one such occasion for a client in the rail industry.
Lesson for 2020? Do more. It’s actually a lot of fun and there’s very little pressure on me as the photo component is not a priority.
Family hollidays rarely produce ideal conditions for serious photography, but my summer trip to Brittany did yield a few good images. Often with the fun C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM.
Lesson for 2020? Not sure. The yield from these is quite good, but I’m not the best companion with a camera around my neck. The camera will probably stay more at home during vacations as I’ll try to be more active in personal projects.
Then came the Otus 100. Maybe I’m getting old and grumpy. Maybe Zeiss are playing it safe. But this lens didn’t seduce me as much as the Oti 28 and 85 did. To me, it was closer to the 55, which is the least desirable in my book (and is Philippe’s favourite, so this is definitely very subjective). To me, it lacked the charm of the 85 and felt more neutral and high performance. It doesn’t make it to my 2020 wishlist. Definitely an excellent lens, just not desirable to me (although, looking at this first one … ghasp)
Spot of bother. Spots, rather. Dust on the sensor has been the single largest pain in the … of the X1D. Blowing on the sensor – my usual, and misguided, way of removing dust – proved both inefficient and made things worse. So far no system I have tried has proven very satisfactory. My main gear wish for 2020 is a simple and efficient sensor cleaning kit.
Side note: I did what all sensible people do. Went to a pro shop (Shop Photo in Aix), explained my predicament, and that I own swabs but they are dry and ineffective. They sold me a lot of 12 for … 60 euros !!! And they are dry and ineffective. Of course, there’s no way to return those. I eventually got my temper back. Eventually. But my next purchase is from Amazon. Sorry shops. You wanna survive? You’ve got to be a lot better than that.
Series. 2019 was a year of series for me. I started several, which are still ongoing. Below is some of my “Stranger Things” woodland exploration 🙂 🙂
Other series: home abstracts. Mostly plays with light reflections and shadows.
My wish for 2020 is to continue more series like those and to publish some of them in my Phr Gallery. Not for the publishing itself but because the idea of publishing will drive me to push quality. My real wish for 2020 is to start working on predefined series. Series hinging around specific ideas that matter to me rather than merely opportunistic series such as these. That’s what gives me the most pleasure.
About Phr. My aim for 2020 is to host the galleries of 10 talented photographers and to have started selling effectively to a broader public than strict DS readership.
Other family trip, different destination. England. I’ve always found London to be the most incredible playground for photography, but trips further North added some variety to the collection.
Can a destination become a series ? That’s a question I’ve started exploring in nearby seaside resort La Ciotat. So far, the jury is out, and my photographs of La Ciotat fail to convey a sense of consistency (the PP is one easy thing to fix, meaning is what’s really lacking). So another wish for 2020 is to find a unifying theme for my photographs of La Ciotat. Something that goes beyond the travel guide and is closer to what Dave Jenkins recently showed us in Georgia. The port and shipyards are one obvious alley to explore. Maybe I can muster the courage to ask permission to enter the private shipyards? More soon (I hope).
A fun initiative was to try and photograph fast moving stuff with the X1D. Not as an attempt to prove it is what is isn’t : quick. But to prove timing is both efficient and tremendous fun, whatever the camera. Nailing one shot, precisely when you mean to, with prefedined focus … now that’s a lot of fun.
That’s not my natural type of photography so, in 2020, I won’t pursue it further than for the occasional opporutinistic gig. Still, I hope it helps inspire others to do the same rather than rely on speed machines to do the work. The photograph doesn’t matter. The process does. That’s where the excitement and fulfillment are!!! Not in machines, not in playing it safe, but in trying, failing often and getting it right sometimes.
Second meetup of the year: Paul, Steve and I met up for 3 days in London. Fun and booze flowed in equal measure.
I’ve started learning calligraphy. It’s been a long standing dream of mine. And I must say the photo universe is getting less and less interesting, 20 times every second (although this recent video by Tony Northrup did bring hope to my heart and a huge smile to my face). How the two (photography and calligraphy) will merge in 2020 is still very unclear, but I have multiple leads to explore.
Finally, printing … ugh. My hopes were high for 2019. And some OK prints did come out of my office, on occasion. But it would be a stretch to call my Canon Pro-1000 initiative a success. The printer is good, but the process is as pleasing as watching the cheesy remake of an old movie you really loved. And inkjet prints just don’t have the appeal of those made using other processes.
New plans for 2020, then 🙂
(1) My daughter was taught coptic binding and passed on this knowledge to her grey-haired progenitor. So I’m printing photographs 2 a side on double sided A3 to create my own A4 photobook with nice paper. Let’s see what that ends up looking like.
(2) 2020 is definitely a Back to the Future of printing hinge for me. I’m determined to explore “alternative” printing and find something much more pleasing and organic.
And let’s see how much of this comes to fruition. At any rate, the thought process has been pleasant and has given me personal goals. And that’s always a good place to start 🙂 🙂 🙂
How about youse ?
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