#952. Hindsight is 2020

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jan 13

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.

The leap

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.

Thorny path

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.

The exquisite Nile
Luxor from above
United colours of relaxation
Back from Philae

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.

Fresh tulips
Nice by the sea
Window view #6554
Aix fountain and youth

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 …

Squarely Audrey
Recession, Audrey
Cedar, Audrey

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.

Is this man alive?
Aix fountain and shops
Just browsing
Hot hot hot
Flower shop

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.

Window view #6555

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.

Undead parrot
Wisteria pane
Green leaves
Full moon
Blossoms up
Heading West

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.

Mugel pano

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.

The Sainte Baume hills
Misty Sainte Baume
Misty vines
Bout du monde
In Cassis #1
In Cassis #2, obedient planes
Cloud render #234
Old Marseilles, while it’s still there
Old Marseille, gentrified
The old docks
Light from above and behind

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Le Boudoir Vivienne
2nd amendment, 2nd arrondissement
Viola study
Pantheon and on and on
French flag, scrambled
Batman was here
Cutie pie

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.

Low tide
Advent calendar
Salt marsh
Church in Guรฉrande
Mont Saint Michel and gulls
Real menhir do it standing

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)

Magnum Otus
Lacoste winery

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.

Spot the difference #1
Spot the difference #2

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Demogorgon #1
Shy troll
Demogorgon 2
Hungry hungry

Other series: home abstracts. Mostly plays with light reflections and shadows.

Caustic #1
Caustic 2
Drape 1
Jewel tree
Selfie in the shadows
Wheat shadow

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.

Cutty Sark #1
Camden #1
Tower bridge #1
Gormley was here
Ely #1
Ely #2
Ely #3
Darth and trooper
Colourful bikes
St Albans cathedral

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).

La Ciotat shipyards #1
La Ciotat shipyards #2
La Ciotat old port #1
La Ciotat old port #2
Red net
Yacht and crane
Jousting in the moonlight
La Ciotat jetty #1
La CIotat jetty #2

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.

Dunkin’ doughnuts
Knife juggler
The footie dance
Expectant crowd
Oh My Goal
Catch me if you can

Second meetup of the year: Paul, Steve and I met up for 3 days in London. Fun and booze flowed in equal measure.

Near Victoria
Enoteca de Luca
Bentley vs Tesla
Leaf camo
Christmas choir
English pub
You shall not pass
The DS bike

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.

The room of my fist lesson, in a restaurant in Aix.
My very first work. Compared to the original, it looks like a 3 year-old tried to paint the Mona Lisa. But I’m excited. A brush, some ink and some paper. That’s as far as the pesky technology goes.

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

(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.

My bookbinding instructor, bless her cotton socks

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

How about youse ?


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  • Philberphoto says:

    Wow, what a post!!! Just looking at the huge numbers of pics I love hugely…. I am just not going to be the next guy to post after this one…:-( My faves: Trinity, Recession, Audrey, Is this man alive? Wisteria pane, heading west, the Sainte Baume hills, Cloud Rendering #234, Viola Study, Real menhir so it standing, Camden #1, Gormley was here, La Ciotat shipyards nยฐ2, Propeller. Just the sheer number of รผberfavorites speaks volumes. I need a drink…

  • Christopher says:

    Great post.

  • Chris Stump says:

    Wow, what a post indeed!

    Just Browsing, Obedient Planes and Wisteria Pane do it for me. And Mugel pano…really, really nice.

    Just goes to show how different photographer’s tastes can be…to hear that the 21 has to go. Found myself thinking of contacting you to buy it, but .025 of a second later realizing I’ll never own the compatible body. Ha!

    Interesting to hear also what I took to be perhaps a waning interest in shooting? Not to put words in your mouth, but that mirrors my feelings lately. I, too, have changed systems entirely. I feel very confident in my current gear. And haven’t shot a meaningful frame in months. Could be the cold, wet winter here. But I don’t think so.

    2019 was a year of printing [successfully], entering contests [and winning], and putting myself out there. To what end? The minute I stop forcing work out the world moves on. And at this point very few photographs surprise and delight…the ones above are a rarity. Usually, with any image, I can think back to when I tried the same thing.

    So 2020 for me will be a year of re-definition. What do I shoot and why? Do I care if my work is never seen? Is it still fulfilling as a solitary endevour, or must I find a more social creative outlet? Dunno. Can’t wait to find out!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Chris, thank you for the kind words ๐Ÿ™‚

      I love the 21. It’s an incredible performer. This really is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s just that my brain doesn’t see as wide as this, so the lens doesn’t get used.

      It’s not so much a waning interest in shooting as much as a waning interest in the photo corner of the world. It has been invaded by tech-minded people that only think about gear and that doesn’t do it for me. I won’t stop shooting but am thinking more in terms of cross media and would also love to start printing with dirty old chemicals again ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Sorry to hear you’ve reached a temporary low. At least you have entered and won competitions, that’s really cool! And more than I can say. After great achievements, it’s probably normal to pause and reflect a bit. I know it happens to athletes a lot, so why not creatives such as you ?

      At the end of the day, I think it’s important to do it for ourselves. As you rightly point out, the world just moves on. There is no lasting attention span, with so much content being produced. But it’s also important to have a group of friends, real life or virtual, that share common views and interests. Your posts here have disappeared from the front page but I remember your photographs as, I’m sure do many others. In a smaller group there is more interaction. I was a bit down when the number of comments dropped at some point last year. Then a lot of readers wrote to say “I don’t comment, but I read and I enjoy it”. I think that’s typical of a community. And even if you feel that the world doesn’t notice what you do, I’m sure it does in pockets such as DS and other places / forums / competitions / clubs / … you bring life to with your work. Keep it up ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Boris says:

    Beautiful photos and very interesting and useful post.
    Thank you.

  • Pascal O. says:

    The quality, the variety, the number, everything is just unbelievably impressive. Do you genuinely need to set new goals when you master the art so impeccably?? I am just overawed. This is one daunting post ;-). Thank you for raising the bar yet again, Pascal.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ha ha, you flatter me, good sir. Thank you. Yes, I need goals. Some people have more drive than me. But personal goals are what keep me going. It’s somewhat difficult as those goals are often qualitative and subjective, not quantitative. So it’s all about feeling total satisfaction with the results, which often eludes me. Back to the drawing board ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Sean says:

    Bloody hell, buster Jappy you’ve really shown your capacities and abilities as a photographer in this terrific article. Given that a camera and its lenses can be taken to be an extension of the eye, I sense that the Hassy and a crop of lenses has freed you – liberated your eye – from a former yoke of various frustrations and limitations. The ‘House of Hassy’ has provided you a vector to drive and secure future personal development and endeavour in your photography. I’m sure your strategy, location maps and sextants are primed and ready to progress already thought-out projects, which when completed will communicate the spirit of what was photographed. Admittedly, at times, some endeavours will not be controlled by the photographer; it will be the fruit of a coincidence of circumstances, say, between a location, or event, and the observer’s mind’s eye: regardless of how well planned – objectively, subjectively or somewhere in-between. Onward and upward, from here, isn’t it, Pascal? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks a lot, Sean. It’s particularly interesting that you should say the system has liberated me. In many ways, it felt the opposite for a long time, as I was very unfamiliar with the look. But, ultimately, I think you are completely correct about this. There’s no bokeh, the system is neutral, all lenses render very similarly. So, ultimately, it’s a lot simpler. And the camera has no buttons, no menus. Except for formatting cards, I never touch anything else than the release shutter. And that is very freeing. I’m glad it shows ๐Ÿ™‚

      Trying anything new is bound to bring about failures, you’re right. 2019 was new gear. Now I’ve starting exploring new ideas, which will probably prove every bit as stressful. Hopefully, it can lead to more liberation this time next year ๐Ÿ™‚ We shall see. Cheers, thanks again.

      • Sean says:

        Indeed, Pascal.

        I agree that when trying anything ‘new’ through “… exploring new ideas…” it is bound to “… bring about failures…” as you state above. As, part of that process one may see a return to familiar a ‘river’ of knowledge and experience to act as a reviewing sounding board, so as to compare two positions: ‘from where’ against ‘the now’. In doing so, things will be different, not only in ‘the now’ and in the ‘from where’, but also in the person. One can’t step back into the same river twice, as both the river and the person will not the same [Heraclitus]. Both have moved on as circumstances unfold resulting from actions planned, taken, pursued and pushed through those newly evolving portals in ones photography.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I’m not sure what to say. I feel swamped by all of that. To avoid swamping everyone else, I am thinking I should keep your post open and draft two responses – a briefer one for sharing here, and a separate one sent your email inbox.

    A preliminary comment — you have certainly found your sea legs with the Hassy!

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    There are a sense of insistent passion, fine moments/details and an keen explorative mind
    that oozes out of your photos.
    Colours & B/W tonality a treat.
    (Just about recovering from a nasty King Kong-Flu, so keeping it short).

    Looking at this selection is simply an adventure to me…!


  • Nancee Rostad says:

    2019 was a stunning photo success for you, Pascal! I see that youโ€™re not content to rest on your laurels, so itโ€™ll be interesting to see how your 2020 plans pan out. I gave up choosing my favorite images when I got to 15 – letโ€™s just say that theyโ€™re all winners.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Nancee. Those in this post were turning points, more that “the best”. As you say, it’s hard to pick favourites. Our photographs are like children, in a way. We don’t want to chose ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    As usual, a vast tour of the human side of photography, Pascal ๐Ÿ™‚
    One things just popped in my mind: hidden under all the directions and explorations: I found something resonating in me these days; that we can push a lens to it’s pre-defined “design goal” (sharpness, or bokeh, or whatever), as in many of your pictures here; the feeling of a certain “perfection” (with all the implied limitations) gives these images a certain “peacefulness”, like when I pull a great expresso… kinda “aah, did it” ๐Ÿ˜€
    But another phenomenon appeals a lot to me: when the best sides of a lens produce a strangely “contradictory” result… “Fresh tulipe”, and a bit “Wisteria pane” too, have haunted me since you first published them… or, when the “little bit cold” neutrality and spotless perfection of the hassy created such a dreamy, super romantic mood (well, to me at least :D)!
    One of my (too many, erratic and likely not followed) resolutions for 2020 became to explore that feeling if I can with my funky present gear ๐Ÿ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks, Pascal. Very interesting topic. When lenses are neutral, they can take on multiple roles. And the 120 Macro is definitely one of those. With soft PP, it looks very dreamy and romantic, which is what appeals to me so much. So many macro lenses are just brutal. Philippe’s Laowa is another macro with a very gentle personality that can create romantic moods like this. Cheers

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