The Tubman Project

My excuse for not updating the blog since mid-May for once actually has something to do with photography.  I've been asked by my friend and Salisbury University colleague Phil Hesser to collaborate with him on a book project.  The project involves Maryland Eastern Shore landscapes that were significant in the life of Harriet Tubman.

Phil, a historian, is gathering texts and archival photos of the landscapes and related artifacts.  My job is to produce contemporary photos of the (much-changed) sites.  This is by far the most rewarding photography experience I've had.  It's also been very time-consuming, as I drive the back roads of Dorchester County and hike through phragmites thickets and poison ivy patches at all hours, finding the sites and chasing the good light.

Equipment consists of a trio of Olympus OM-D camera bodies and an assortment of lenses (also Olympus), plus my tripod and trusty Ford pickup.  For the most part, the 12-100mm PRO lens stays on one E-M1 II body and the 7-14mm PRO on another.  The E-M5 II carries the 300mm PRO with extender--there are a lot of birds here, in and around the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.  Lens swapping is kept to a minimum, because this is a very sandy, buggy, windy place.

Here are a few samples:

 

Cormorant, Little Blackwater River

Cormorant, Little Blackwater River

Wheatfield near Bucktown

Wheatfield near Bucktown

Interior, Bucktown Store

Interior, Bucktown Store

Gallery Notes

"Triptych," "Nanticoke Fog," "Bivalve, Early Morning," and "Calm" have all been accepted at juried shows, either at the Circle Gallery in Annapolis, the Ocean City Center for the Arts, or both.

 

Triptych

Triptych

Nanticoke Fog

Nanticoke Fog

Bivalve, Early Morning

Bivalve, Early Morning

Calm

Calm

Thes prints have now been added to the Delmarva gallery and the "Order Prints" page.

Important--Sales Policy Change

After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided to change the sales policy of this site (and my art photography business in general) to reflect general fine-art practice and to protect the investment of buyers, so that all prints sold are one-of-a kind, or one-of-one if you prefer, just like a painting or drawing or sculpture.  

What this means is that once a print of any image is sold, whether it's an in-stock print or a special-order print where the buyer chooses the size and mounting, that's the end.  The first print sold is also the last. The image is retired: I will no longer sell any prints of that image regardless of size, and the image will be removed from the "Order Prints" page.  Regular visitors will note that the change has already been made for several images, which are now marked "SOLD" on the gallery pages.  

As a result of this policy change, I will be trying to introduce new images more often, but some of the smaller special-order print sizes that used to be available have now been discontinued.  I'm sorry if this removal causes any inconvenience; I think the new policy will be an improvement for everybody concerned.  Thanks much.

Panasonic GM5--The Perfect Travel Camera?

When we packed ourselves up in February to visit Emily and Tomás in Chile, I had to decide which camera(s) to take.  I didn't want anything too big, too complicated, or too expensive, since I knew I'd be carrying it around all day doing touristy things, there would be precious little time to  plan and set up shots, and there was always at least the possibility that the camera would be lost or stolen.

I settled on a used Panasonic GM5, which is tiny, at the time was relatively cheap, can mount any and all of my Micro 4/3 lenses, and despite its size, has a viewfinder in addition to the LCD screen.  See the photo below for a size comparison with an iPhone 5s, and to see why I will never be famous for my product photography.

The camera is fitted with a Panasonic 12-32mm lens and an Olympus automatic lens cap.  The cap supplied with the lens is an itty-bitty thing that I knew I would lose the first time I took it off.  This one stays attached and works perfectly.  The next photo shows the camera from the top to illustrate its not-too-deep depth in this configuration.  It does fit into a jeans pocket if you don't mind a bulge.

This photo also shows the cheap, generic thumb grip I bought on eBay.  As you can see, the camera doesn't have any kind of built-in grip, so the thumb grip helps to hold it steady while keeping my big, fat thumb away from the buttons on the back of the camera.

The 12-32mm lens is nicely versatile, but its longest focal length (64mm equivalent) isn't really very long, and at f/3.5-5.6 it's also not very fast.  No problem:  I also took my trusty Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 for low-light situations and the amazing little Panasonic 35-100mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto for when I needed more reach.  The whole kit--camera body, lenses, charger with adapter for 240v current, extra battery, extra card, and lens cleaning pen--fits into the very small and obviously well-used bag in the photo below.  I'm convinced that this kit gives me much better image quality than I'd get with the phone or any of the current "all-in-one" cameras with their smaller sensors.  For the most part, I kept the bag in the car and switched lenses as needed whenever we arrived at the next picture-taking destination.

The bag is a Tamrac 5696 that I've had forever.  Unlike the GM5 body (which. alas, has become discontinued, but is still available on the used market) it's still being produced as the "Digital 6" and is available for about 30 bucks.  

This kit served me well throughout the trip.  Image quality was perfectly satisfactory--enough so that I have had no qualms submitting some of the resulting images to juried gallery shows.  Two samples are shown below.  And by the way, although Theo took some really nice pictures on the trip using her iPhone, when we got back and looked at our results, she decided to buy a GM5 for herself.  I'm not sure it's the perfect travel camera, but it's most certainly a very, very, good one.

Drink Coca-Cola

Drink Coca-Cola

Andes Road

Andes Road

Depth of Field with the Olympus 60mm Macro

It seems as though whenever you read a review of a Micro 4/3 camera, there's a statement like, "Of course you can't get good out-of-focus blur with a sensor this small, " or "The bokeh isn't very good because, after all, this is Micro 4/3."  For the most part I've never paid much attention to these disclaimers because I'm usually trying for more depth of field rather than less, wanting to get as much in focus as possible.

But occasionally I do want my viewer to focus more on one part of the picture than another, and here I've always been happy as long as the part I want to feature is more in focus than the rest.  I absolutely don't care about beautiful "bokeh balls," as long as I have enough selective focus to help tell the story I want to tell.  Such was the case recently when I was putting together a Christmas present for my sister, the real artist.

Kate has been working with Japanese kokeshi dolls, making and photographing marvelous little scenes in which the dolls are the characters.  (See Kate's work HERE)  The other thing you need to know about Kate is that she has had a lifetime love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with slugs in her garden and elsewhere.  I thought it would be fun to combine these interests, so for her present I made her a little story triptych featuring both kokeshi and slugs, formatted vertically, one picture on top of another,  to resemble (with apologies) the hanging scrolls the Japanese call kakemono or kakajiku.  I used my E-M1 with the Olympus 60mm Macro lens wide open at f/2.8 for all three shots.  The first (top) picture is here:

I wanted to introduce the little kokeshi man here and show that he was on a path that led under a natural bridge.  The man is clearly in focus because he's the most important thing in the picture.

In the second photo, I needed to show what awaits the little man when he gets to the bridge:

Here the sinister slugs are the most important part of the story, so they and the bridge they're hiding behind are in focus, while the little man, who doesn't yet know his gruesome fate, is not.  The third picture shows the aftermath of the slug attack, and the focus is appropriately on the slaughter.  You can almost feel the slime and the tiny, rasping teeth:

My point here is not that this triptych is an example of great art, but rather that if the purpose of selective focus is to help the photographer tell a story, razor-thin depth of field just isn't necessary, and even a relatively slow piece of glass like the Olympus 60mm Macro at f/2.8 on a relatively small Micro 4/3 sensor can do the trick.

December Notes

Pardon the hiatus in these entries.  November has been a busy month, what with the sale of our house in Western MD (Hooray!) and our daughter's wedding (Congrats, Emily and Tomás!) in Chicago.  But now we've settled back into our routine in beautiful metropolitan Bivalve, which means I'm able to think about photography again and try out my new (to me) Olympus E-M1.

This is the old model E-M1, available now used for a bargain price now that the new model has come out.  I was on the pre-order waiting list for the new one until some bills came up (see wedding above) and I needed a camera that was relatively inexpensive anyway, to use when I'm photographing from my kayak, so the previous-generation E-M1 fills the bill nicely--cheapish, weather sealed, good grip so it stays in my hand instead of falling into the river.  The only issue I've found so far with it is that the shutter is much more of a hair-trigger affair than on my E-M5 II.  I set it up for back-button autofocus, because I found that half-press shutter button focusing was nearly impossible with my big, clumsy hands.

In gallery notes, a print of my image "Not A Duck" is currently in the Small Wonders show at the Circle Gallery in Annapolis.  Pemberton Park here in Wicomico County has a large number of nest boxes set out to attract wood ducks.  As the image shows, however, the boxes sometimes house other residents.

 

Not A Duck

Not A Duck

In Ocean City, "Rudder 2" is on display at the Chamber of Commerce.  At the Art League's 94th Street gallery,  "1959," my shot of a '59 Ford--incidentally the make and model I learned to drive on--is in the Members Juried Show, and "Morning Moon" is in the Best of 2016 show.

1959

1959

GX85 vs. E-M5 II: Bye, Bye, GX85!

Way back in July, I bought a Panasonic GX85 along with an Olympus E-M5 II with the intention of trying them both out and keeping the one I liked more.  As you have read here, that trial was put on hold for a long while, because my initial copy of the GX85 had a bad sensor, and Panasonic, to put it mildly, took its own sweet time to send a replacement.

But now I've had a chance to play with both cameras in different lighting conditions and using the same lenses, and I've made my decision.  As of two days ago, the GX85 has been sold, NOT at all because it's a bad camera--in fact it's a sweet little camera--but because I enjoy shooting with the E-M5 a lot more.

There's precious little to choose from here if you're just evaluating image quality.  The two cameras, after all, have similar if not identical 16mp sensors, and they both feature effective IBIS.  The Panasonic might be just a tad sharper at telephoto distances with a Panasonic lens, because of the new "dual IS" feature.  The Olympus renders better (to my taste) JPEG output, but not by a  large margin.  I almost decided to keep both cameras, the GX85 for use with the Panasonic 100-400mm and 35-100mm (the little, cheap one) lenses, and the E-M5 for everything else.  I didn't do that because the whole reason I've switched from Nikon to Micro 4/3 was to cut down on weight and volume of equipment I carry, and also because I already have the wonderfully tiny Panasonic GM5, which makes up in miniaturization for what it lacks in state-of-the-art GX85 features--in good light with fast shutter speeds, I can't really tell the output of the two cameras apart, and the GM5 with the 12-32mm zoom or 20mm prime really does fit in my pocket.

Both the GX85 and E-M5 are somewhat problematic for a photographer with big hands like me, and they both have, for my shooting style, too damned many buttons that are easy to push by mistake.  Addition of a grip helps.  The thumb grip I installed in the hot shoe of the Panasonic not only provided a solid handhold, it also kept my thumb away from the little buttons on the back of the camera.  The Fotodiox grip I put on the E-M5 is a wonder--an absolutely perfect fit that should have come with the camera to begin with, that doesn't lose the tripod mount (which I use mostly for my Black Rapid strap) like the more expensive grip from Olympus.  I still needed to change the function of the HDR button on the top of the camera because it's way too easy to hit that one in error than it should be.  Luckily, the ponderous Olympus menus (score one for Panasonic's simple, intuitive menus here) do allow you to reassign button functions.  I chose focus peaking, but there are lots of better options than Hideous Disney Rendering.

What it really boiled down to was the shooting experience.  Between the much better viewfinder, overall precision feel of camera and controls, and always-accessible Super Control Panel, the E-M5 is just more fun to shoot with.  And that's how I made my decision.

Surprise! Panasonic Finally Honors Their Warranty

As of Wednesday, I finally have a new replacement camera for the defective GX85 I sent to Panasonic's service center in Texas in the middle of July.  I'm convinced that the only reason it actually happened is because I got Adorama involved--not their offshore customer service reps who often seem to be reading their responses from a card, but a supervisor (Thank you, Joana!) who may or may not be offshore but who definitely showed the persistence that one needs to deal with Panasonic service.  It's interesting, though, based on emails that I was copied on, that apparently even Adorama got action only when they went up the Panasonic corporate ladder to deal with an official ((East Coast Account Manager in Massachusetts) that ordinary consumers don't have access to.  

Needless to say, this whole experience has left a sour taste in my mouth regarding the US branch of a manufacturer from whom I have purchased at least nine cameras and multiple other electronic devices over the years.  And the sad part is that Panasonic still makes great, innovative cameras--I'm currently lusting after a G85 because its design fixes nearly all of the issues (aside from the bad sensor which could very well have been a rare occurrence) that I had with the GX85.

One solution to this conundrum might be, as I've mentioned before, to buy from a reputable US dealer and if you have a problem, insist that they honor their return policy rather than having you send the camera to Texas.  Another solution might be to circumvent the US service problem entirely by buying the camera from a Canadian dealer in the first place.  I've noted from responses on several forums that Canadian Panasonic service actually seems to be pretty good.  One north-of-the border dealer I contacted said that if a US customer has a warranty claim, he/she would have to return the camera to the dealer and they would deal with Panasonic service.  That seems reasonable.

I guess I should count myself lucky that my problems involved a little, easily shipped item like a camera.  I shudder to think about what might happen if the big-screen Panasonic TV on the wall behind me needed warranty service.

 

Panasonic Service--The Saga Continues

In the last posting I told you that the snafu regarding my defective GX85 had been resolved when the Panasonic service rep ("Maria") promised to send me a refund for the camera, rather than making me wait for the unknown date when the Texas service center got inventory from Japan to make a replacement camera available.  She also promised to keep me updated as to when the refund was coming.

Two weeks passed and I heard nothing, so I called them yesterday, whereupon the rep I talked to informed me that the Engineer (their capital "E"--see email below) had decided after six weeks that yes, indeed, there was dirt on the sensor, but that they were going to to repair the camera by installing a new sensor instead of sending a refund.  Of course this would have been a sensible solution had it occurred to them a bit earlier in the process, and of course, given the way they apparently do business, nobody thought it might be a good idea to inform me of this new development.  

The other problem is that since they had promised me a refund, I had already ordered a replacement camera (this time from Best Buy via eBay, because unlike Adorama, eBay doesn't make you get permission from the manufacturer to return a defective item).  I asked to speak to the rep's supervisor, and guess what?  It turns out that the supervisor is "Maria."  But Maria was "on another line" so she would have to call me back "as soon as she gets off."  No surprise--she didn't call.  At 2 PM I got an email from "Panacare" which I quote here verbatim:

I want to apologize for the delay in this matter. Your unit has been review by the Engineer, his recommendation was to replace image senor unit, the unit is currently been made available to the technician I am going to have this unit repair expedited so we can ship the unit out this afternoon.

I am ware at the time you were being offered an exchange/or refund, but there was miss communication; I have instructed the technician to expedite the unit so that it can be ship out either today or tomorrow.

Regards,  Maria

Warehouse/Customer Service Represenative Supervisor

I tried to call again, but this time the Panacare phone just rang and rang--they didn't answer at all.  I sent an email informing them that since I had already purchased a replacement camera, repair instead of the promised refund was unacceptable.  I immediately received a reply:

Thank you for contacting the Panasonic Factory Service Center. 

Your email has been assigned to one of our team members and will be replied to within 24 to 48 business hours. 

'Nuff said, for now.

 

 

 

Panasonic Customer Service

Readers may recall that although I really liked some of the images and features of my new Panasonic GX85 camera, there was a spot on the sensor that showed up on some photos, like the one below (in the middle, about a third of the way down).

Spot

Spot

When I called Adorama to see about returning the camera, they said to call Panasonic, which I did.  Following the instructions of the Panasonic phone rep, I sent the camera to their service center in Texas, and according to USPS tracking, it arrived on a Monday.  Late on Tuesday I had a call acknowledging that it had arrived, and the rep told me it would take a week to ten days for it to go through their procedure.

When that time had passed and I had no response, I called the service center and was told that there was "debris between the glass and the sensor," and their engineers were still trying to figure out what to do about it.

After Panasonic had the camera for a month (during which time my window of opportunity to return it to Adorama had expired) I called Adorama to see what my next move should be.  They said they'd contact Panasonic.  When I hadn't heard anything in 24 hours, I called Adorama again, and they said they'd "escalate" the inquiry to Panasonic.  The next day I had a long phone message from a Panasonic rep explaining that they had decided to send me a replacement camera, but that since it was a new model, they had not yet received "inventory" from Japan, and were not sure when that would arrive.   I called and asked why the decision had taken a month (they have their "procedures" that they must follow) and how I would be reimbursed for sending the defective camera back to them (they don't reimburse shipping, even when there is clearly a problem with the camera).  At that point, the rep mentioned that they could also just send me a refund, and since they still didn't know when their "inventory" would arrive, I opted for the refund.  The crowning touch came when the rep told me that even the refund would be delayed ("We only cut checks twice a month").

I went to the Micro Four Thirds Forum on DP Review and discovered that I am by no means the only photographer who has experienced issues with Panasonic "service."  I think the moral of the story is that if you have a problem with a new Panasonic product purchased from an authorized dealer, you should insist on returning the defective product to the dealer while you're still in the allowed return period, rather than shipping it off to Panasonic's black hole in Texas.

New Prints, GX85 Update

I've just added two new images to the Delmarva gallery-- "Tracks" and "Wheel," my entries in the "Week in the Life of Ocean City" show that I wrote about in the last two posts.  I'm happy to say that plak-mounted prints of both images were juried into the month-long show, and that "Rudder 2," which won Best-In-Show at last month's Beverly Bassford Memorial show, has been selected for the Art League's display collection at the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce. 

 

Tracks

Tracks

Wheel

Wheel

On the bad news side, it's now going on three weeks, and the Panasonic Service Center in Texas still hasn't returned my defective GX85 camera.  The last time I called them, the rep told me that it had "debris" between the glass and the sensor, which I kind of knew when I sent it in, but they still hadn't decided how, or even if, they could fix it.  Meanwhile, the 30-day window of opportunity I had to return the camera to Adorama for replacement has come and gone.  I've been in touch with Adorama, and apparently their inquiries to Panasonic have so far remained unanswered.  I'll keep you posted.

Almost Good

Prints from the Ocean City trip are due for submission at the gallery this weekend, so I had to sort through all the photos I took to decide which two to have printed.  As usual, there were some that were almost good enough, but had flaws that made them less desirable than they appeared at first glance, and I thought I’d share a couple of those today.  The first I call “Fun for All” for obvious reasons.

Here the colors are beautiful and the gulls add interest, but a closer look reveals that interest is not all the gulls have added to the picture.  I suppose that I could have used the editing tools in Lightroom (I don’t use Photoshop at all, for reasons both philosophical and practical) and set myself the task of meticulously removing all signs of bird poop.  But I decided the image is indeed more fun as-is; if it takes viewers a moment or two to see the punch line, so much the better.

The second image I originally titled just “Bikes.”  

Again I thought the colors were nice, especially the contrast between the green bike and purple wood, but again a closer look revealed a problem—this little back porch is also an ashtray and trashcan for smokers.  Any hope I had for a nostalgic image about old-fashioned family fun at the beach went right out the window.  I renamed the image “Bikes and Butts,” and I won’t be submitting it for the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The GX85 Goes to Ocean City

For its August show, the Art League of Ocean City is sponsoring a photography competition called “A Week in the Life of Ocean City.”  Competition rules specify that only “photos taken the week of July 10 thru 16, and within the town limits of Ocean City, Maryland” are eligible for the show.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to try out my new Panasonic GX85 camera, which I bought along with an Olympus E-M5 II to see if I could get along without my big Nikon DSLR’s—actually, to see how life would be without having my spouse telling me to “suck it up” whenever I complained about the weight of the D810.  I had already tested the GX85 in the backyard with the Panasonic 100-400mm telephoto and was very impressed with the effectiveness of the dual image stabilization using that pairing.  Now I wanted to try the camera with the tiny little 35-100mm f/4-5.6.

I arrived in the old southern part of Ocean City before 7 AM, hoping to use the morning light and (relative) lack of crowds to my advantage.  I took a lot of pictures and came away from the experience with some opinions regarding the GX85:

1.  There is/was an issue with quality control at the Panasonic factory.  It wasn’t evident on most of my pictures, but on the ones with big expanses of light background, like a blue sky, I later noticed that there was a spot that turned out to be unattributable to any of my lenses or to visible external dust on the sensor.  The camera has been sent back to Panasonic for repairs.

2.  The EVF is going to be disappointing for anybody coming over from a good DSLR.  It works, but it would be a real stretch to call it a joy to use.

3.  The camera could use a bigger grip and overall, better ergonomics for somebody like me with big hands.  I kept hitting the playback button with my thumb by mistake, and the itty-bitty AF/AE Lock button that I had assigned for back-button autofocus is just too itty bitty.  But I’m going to put up with that stuff and try a thumbs-up type grip and go back to shutter-button autofocus, because…

4.  This thing makes really, really good images, and it doesn’t feel like you’re carrying a concrete block around your neck.  In particular, the GX85 and the little 35-100mm are a marriage made in heaven.  I left that lens on for the whole shoot even though I had a 20mm and a 12-32mm in the bag.  Loved the focal length range.  Loved the way it balances on the camera.  I look forward to getting the GX85 back from Panasonic so I can take it on more adventures.

Morning Boardwalk

Morning Boardwalk