Last Call: Your New York Minute 2016

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Photo by  Andrew Hetherington

With the PhotoPlus Expo coming up in a little over a month, expo organizers, PDN, are looking for both professional and amateur submissions for their first PhotoPlus Expo photo contest. PDN and PhotoPlus Expo are looking for slice-of-life images captured in New York City. To sweeten the pot, PDN is giving away over $13k in prizes to the winners including a Nikon D500 with 16-80mm lens (pro division) and Nikon D7200 18-140mm VR lens kit (amateur division).

The contest is straight forward, enter in one of five categories within the pro or amateur divisions; the categories each reflect one of the city’s five boroughs and outlying islands. There are no limits on the number of entries you can submit however there is a fee of $30 (pro) $25 (amateur) per submission. Aside from the chance to win some great gear, Grand Prize and First Place winners will have their work featured at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo where an estimated 25,000 people will see it; best of all, photographers retain all rights to their work.

The contest deadline is today so be sure to hit up the link in the featured image for full contest details and registration info. I hope to see you all at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo.

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LUMIX Loungin’ – a review of the Panasonic LUMIX GX85

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It’s been a couple of month’s since I’ve picked up the Panasonic LUMIX  GX85 and in that time I’ve put some miles on the camera shooting a couple of church events, my typical street photography, portraits, and tried some product photography to boot. In the GX85, Panasonic has created an ultra-compact, 16-megapixel, micro four-thirds camera that can not only handle 4K video but also has a no-compromises 5-axis stabilization system – something that puts its spec sheet in the class of cameras like the slightly larger (definitely more expensive) Panasonic GX8 and Olympus PEN-F. After getting acquainted, here’s what I’ve found.

Ergonomics

The first thing that stands out about using the Panasonic GX85 is just how small it actually is. I don’t have extra large hands but it initially took some time to get readjusted to the smaller camera body (if you’ve been keeping up, I’ve been shooting with the Samsung NX1 and NX500 up to this point) and found myself searching for the rear command dial as my thumb was resting too far to the left. After a few shots things became a lot more familiar.

I can’t stress enough the compact size of the GX85; its small size definitely may be of concern to people with larger hands as things can get cramped but I’m genuinely impressed the shear number of Function buttons that are available to you. Going back to my days shooting with the NX500, I did miss the availablilty of physical buttons for certain actions over soft buttons (software buttons) found in the camera’s menu system. Best of all each of the 5 physical function buttons on the GX85 are customizable to provide you with shortcuts that better fit your workflow. At the time of this review I had changed the third function button to trigger WiFi sharing instead of the default Trash/Delete function – definitely would’ve preferred that WiFi had its own button by default.

Despite its deminutive size, the GX85 has a very comfortable faux leatherette finish that’s grippy without feeling like cheap plastic. It’s a design cue we’re seeing more and more in mid-range price point as it alludes to better materials and differentiates from more budget options. It’s worth mentioning that the leatherette finish has been a hit-or-miss touch depending on who you ask, personally, I’m a fan of it especially when it’s subtly used and enhances the overall look of the camera.
Portraits

DJ Benhameen; Panasonic LUMIX GX85 with LUMIX G VARIO 12-32. 12mm 1/1000 at f/3.5 ISO1000

One of the most basic, bread-and-butter jobs most photographers find themselves on is a portrait shoot. If you’ve got a willing subject, decent lighting, and a big fancy camera – you’ve got a shoot! Well you can nix that last one, the LUMIX GX85 looks like an advanced compact camera like a Sony RX100 from afar but thanks to it’s larger micro four-thirds sensor and lens availability you have everything you need for a quick portrait session like this recent one with DJ Benhameen from the FanBros Show podcast.

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DJ Benhameen; Panasonic LUMIX GX85 with LUMIX G VARIO 12-32. 12mm 1/1000 at f/3.5 ISO1000

We shot in the Ft. Green section of Brooklyn on a relatively bright and hazy day. Ducking into the shade provided by a tree-lined park, we got to work putting the GX85 through its paces. Even with its kit lens, a LUMIX G VARIO 12-32mm we were getting consistently sharp images across the focal length range with little focus hunting. In other words, although the LUMIX GX85 may not have been intended to be marketed or used as professional kit, thanks to its fast AF responsiveness, ability to produce good dynamic range – especially working with RAW files, and a strong lens selection thanks to its Micro Four-Thirds mount you may just find yourself carrying one around as a B camera.

 

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Taking to the Streets


What I love doing the most is shooting life in New York City; I’m a bit biased but there’s no better place if you’re a street photographer and I love capturing the small moments of a large city. My personal style of shooting leans towards candid shots of daily life so you’ll probably never see me walking around with a Canon 1DX and 85mm lens (though they have their place); I prefer keeping my gear bag light opting for a small body with one lens. The GX85 gives me the chance to keep things light and minimal without having to sacrifice image quality or being constricted to one focal length like with many advanced point-and-shoot cameras.

These days a lot of my street shooting is done with the GX85 and Olympus 25mm f/1.4 giving me a 50mm full-frame equivalent focal length and what many consider the human eye’s natural field of view. There’s a reason this combination is consider an all-around allowing me to get up close or disappear into the scene as needed. Anecdotally, New Yorkers don’t mind seeing photographers all around them but no one likes the barrel of lens in their face; going smaller has allowed me to keep a very chill appearance and in return my subjects have been a little more at ease around me and the camera. Again, for my slice of life style of shooting street images, the GX85 fits neatly into my every day commuter bag, adds no bulk or much additional weight – put simply it’s a pleasure walking around with it.

WiFi Transfer and Remote Control (and other features)

As any modern enthusiast level camera should, the Panasonic LUMIX GX85 has the ability to transfer images (JPEG only) and the ability to be used remotely via an ad-hoc WiFi connection and the Pansonic Image App (iOS and Android). These days I consider this less of a feature and more of a standard item – we’re not printing photos as often these days (we should though) and sharing a whole lot more. The camera allows you either transfer to your phone or if connected to a WiFi hotspot, directly share using Panasonic’s software.

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DJ Benhameen; 8 megapixel still from 4k Video processed in-camera.

On the video side, the GX85 allows you to capture 4K Ultra-HD footage in standard MP4 files. Granted you’ll definitely want to get a large capacity Class 10 SD card and you will be longing for a dedicated 3.5mm mic jack, but for the intended user the GX85 offers the Ultra-HD standard at a camera priced well below $1k USD. Easily one of my favorite features is the ability to shoot 4K photos – a 24 frame-per-second video clip that allows you to select the best image from the 24 frame burst. If you’re looking to capture a candid moment or ensure you nail the focus on some quick action, the 24 8-megapixel JPEGs offer you the ability to ensure you get your once-in-a-lifetime shot.

Conclusions

The Panasonic LUMIX GX85 was my return to the Micro Four-Thirds format system, one who’s primary appeal is the lightweight and small footprint of the cameras and lenses while still being able to deliver great results. In picking the LUMIX GX85 I was mostly looking for a blogging camera that can go to press events and record some high quality video. I mostly got what I was looking for but the truth is if you’re looking for something that can handle video primarily, you’re better off spending a little more cash for the GH4 or similar as they include a dedicated mic jack That said the GX85 performs fantastically as a stills camera and is ready for wherever your travels may take. If travel or personal photography is what you’re into, the GX85 will tick off many of the same boxes that the Olympus PEN-F does without having to spend over $1,000 USD.

Quick take: The Fujifilm X-Pro

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As I mentioned in last night’s post, I’m currently in the midst of trying out a new every day camera system. The truth is that a lot of my paid photography work will continue to be done on the Samsung NX cameras, I am starting to try out some new cameras in hopes that I find one that fits my style of shooting and personal style as well. Enter the FujiFilm X-Pro (the original).

The Fujifilm X-Pro was originally released in 2012 and has since been updated by the X-Pro 2 but with a $1700 body-only price tag, I decided on spending far less for the older version before making such a large commitment. So here’s what I bought (specs):

Fujifilm X-Pro 1

  • 16-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 3-inch fixed LCD display
  • Native ISO range from 200-6400
  • EXR Pro Image Processor
  • 1/4000 second maximum shutter speed
  • hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder
  • rangefinder style mirrorless body
  • Fujifilm film simulation mode for JPEGs

The gallery above is a small compilation of images taken over the past couple of days with the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. I’ve mostly spent the couple of days getting a feel for the camera, learning where everything is and where all the menu commands/settings can be found. Although I don’t recommend anyone rely too heavily on filters (Instagram or VSCO) they definitely have a place and Fujifilm’s film simulation mode allows you to create processed-in-camera JPEGs that look very close to some of Fujifilm’s iconic 35mm films.

So far my favorite aspect of the X-Pro 1 is the overall construction of the camera and its rangefinder style. In my heart of hearts I want a Leica M but the way my bank account is set up, the Fujifilm X-Pro makes for more than a capable alternative. The camera is solidly built without being too heavy or bulky despite it’s dimensions. Though it’s not fully pocketable, it’s nowhere near as obtrusive as a full-sized DSLR making it a great performer out in real-world use.

I haven’t gotten around to working with the RAW files yet though I do intend on working on those this week. I’m confident that a modern 16-megapixel camera can handle a little bit of pushing in Lightroom; look for my full break down in a future post.

Growing Happens Outside Your Comfort Zone

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SAMSUNG CSC 

When I first started getting serious about photography, I shot everything. It was all new and there was just so many new concepts I wanted to try out. Shortly after, I had a very expensive DSLR sitting in a closet collecting dust. The camera was originally bought because I was trying to build my first blog (an Apple-related blog if you’re curious) and I convinced myself that if it was to be successful it would need original photos. Never mind I didn’t really know anything about photography beyond making sure it wasn’t blurry. My original failure in the world of photography didn’t come from lack of interest of passion or even time – I never respected the fact that simply trying a technique isn’t the same as learning a technique. 
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Shortly after my first blog fizzled out I found myself writing for another tech blog – The Noisecast. I ended up there with a fib, I said I had a camera and took great pictures. See where I’m going with this? Unlike the first time I tried to learn photography, this time I focused on a couple of key styles of photography. These became the building blocks for truly picking up the camera for the first time. I was covering live events and press conferences; it’s fast shooting in variable conditions. It’s a lot harder than you convince yourself it to be but it is a true trial by fire. I became competent shooting events for journalistic purposes but I couldn’t practice event photography without events to shoot – and so I learned about Street Photography. 

  
Learning a very specific style of photography pushed my creative limits. It forced me to relearn everything I had already become comfortable with. I had to go through the ups and downs of starting fresh. Mistakes were made, shortcuts taken; in the end I saw it through and became better at the craft. Learning about new compositional techniques, learning how to capture the emotion of a scene or the energy of a place. 
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I’m not going to say I’ve mastered any of this – fooling ourselves into mastery of this craft leads to stagnation and conforming. I’m however ready for my next challenge. I want to be better at what I do so I decided that I’ll be taking on not just film photography but learning to shoot medium format 120 film. It’s going to be an on-going challenge in conjunction to my daily digital photography. I’m looking forward to this next step and I encourage you dear reader to step outside of your comfort zone. Portrait photographers go out and shoot some landscapes; nature photographers head into the city where the wild things are. You get the idea.

Everyone is making great cameras… What now?

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The Whole Family is here


At this very moment if you walked into the nearest camera specialty store and walked around the latest gear for you to try, chances are you couldn’t walk a few feet without running into a really good camera. Whether it’s a Samsung NX3000, Olympus’s E-PL7, Canon’s T3i, or various other interchangeable lens camera systems, chances are that you’ll be able to produce quality images at a relatively inexpensive price-points.

So where does this leave us? Well, the old arguments about which camera system makes the best photographs are now by and large just a matter of personal preference and/or justification of spending lots, and lots, and lots of money in the gear you’ve chosen to buy into. Make no mistake, photography remains an expensive profession and even more expensive hobby once you get to a certain point but when you’re starting out there’s almost no wrong choice.

Getting started – Why there’s nothing wrong with the “kit lens”

You’ve done your homework and now you’re ready to make a big purchase – your first interchangeable lens camera. Whether you go DSLR (I’ll be explaining in another post why you shouldn’t) or one of the mirror-less cameras, if you base your purchasing decision solely on the opinions of Internet forums and your “almost pro” friends you’ll often hear that you shouldn’t buy the camera bundled with a cheap lens. They’ll often point you to a camera body and make a suggestion as to which “prime” lens to buy, but the truth is that even the kit lenses that many manufacturers have greatly improved the quality of their kit offerings.

Carnival in Brooklyn

and Q Standard Zoom 02 Lens (kit lens for Q system cameras)

Make no mistake, a prime lens will give you better image quality than you’re typical kit lens, but if you’re just getting started the average kit lens on the market will be able to handle most situations. The kit will provide you with the flexibility of a zoom and the added benefit of knowing that you didn’t spend the additional money on a “good lens” in the event you have second thoughts.

Breaking the bank: buying the best body or splurging on a lens

Online debates often revolve around the latest and greatest camera bodies manufacturers can offer. Whether it’s the flagship Canon 5D Mark II, Samsung NX30, or Olympus OM-D E-M1, a flagship camera is almost certain to cost you a pretty penny. Often times a flagship camera body is usually sold as a body-only meaning you’ll be dropping even more coin on  picking up a necessary lens. It’s a costly endeavor for sure but does it have to be? Not really. 

Circle of Fire

If you’re gonna splurge; I definitely recommend you do so on a great lens.

Unless you’re a high-level enthusiasts or working professional, chances are that you will not be using all the features of a flagship camera. If you’re just getting started in the world of photography, consider picking up an entry-to-mid-level camera body and use the balance of your flagship budget on picking up an additional lens or two. If you choose to go this route you can easily pick up a great, fast prime lens that will serve you for a variety of uses. Best of all, learning to shoot with a prime lens will help you make the most out of an included kit lens or other zoom lens should you choose to pick one up at a later time. So before you’re swayed by all the bells and whistles of a flagship camera, find capable middle of the road camera body and consider getting the best lens your budget affords. 

Finding your a camera that fits your style

  
Now that the secret is out and there’s no such thing as a bad camera these days, where does that leave you? Well if this generation of gear is indicative of what the future of photography may bring, then we’re all in for a great time. For seasoned pros or experienced hobbyists, great cameras will make it easier for them to create the images that they see in their mind’s eye. They’ll be able to capture the decisive moment with even more accuracy, capture landscapes with an even higher level of sharpness and clarity. For those who have recently caught the bug or may be just starting out, the improved processes in camera manufacturing and wide availability means that it’s even easier to get started. Though the learning curve may still be there, there’s never been a better time to find a camera that offers plenty of control to the photographer while still being technologically advanced enough to guide them as needed. 

It’s a truly great time for photographers of all stripes; who knows maybe some day soon we’ll no longer be as concerned with what we’re shooting with and what we shoot. 

What Camera Should I Buy? 

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NX3000, NX30, NXmini

Pick a camera that suits your style of shooting.

“What camera do you use?” Or, “which camera should I buy?” Are easily the two most often asked questions from friends and family. It’s a harmless enough question and one that doesn’t have a one-size fits all answer.  Before I answer the second one, I’ll briefly talk about the first.If you’re asking, which camera I am currently using in hopes of snapping a shot like one I may have shared on Instagram or other social media platform; I’m flattered. The truth is that the camera I use is not as important as the amount of time I’ve spent shooting with it. 

At its most basic, photography is all about getting light to hit a sensor to produce an image. Whether that sensor is inside your smartphone or a $50k medium format camera you’re going to get some poor results if you don’t take the time to learn how to use your camera. Learn some basic photography language and how it applies to what you want to shoot. You’ll need to learn the difference between “primes” and “zooms.” How does your aperture setting affect your image; how about shutter speed? Don’t be afraid to RTFM but if you’re lazy like I can be, don’t be afraid to Google it before you start asking questions on your favorite blog or forum. Get the information you needed and then get out there and shoot. 

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The Samsung NX1 means business

Over the last year I really started getting into HDR photography. I liked the way photographer Trey Ratcliffe approached his landscapes but I personally didn’t think it fit my style of shooting. I took in some of his tutorials on HDR processing and then experimented on my own photos. Some looked like clown vomit (as HDR processing can get ridiculous quickly) but some were good. Some were even great. I learned how to make the most out of bracketed shot functions on my NX300 and refined the process and the bracket depth on every subsequent camera I used after. 

Experimentation wasn’t just limited to HDR photography either. After reading Ibarionex Pererllo’s “The Candid Frame on Street Photography” I took some of the notes he shared on Street Photography and applied them as practical setting changes on my cameras. From “..on Street Photography,” Perello states:

“With a high ISO setting and the lens aperture set to F/5.6, you can expect that you’ll have a fast enough shutter speed to counter camera shake as well as freeze the movement of your subject.”

The Olympus E-PL7 is definitely selfie friendly

If selfies are your thing, don’t shy away from cameras with you in mind.


After reading the book, I immediately made the necessary adjustments to my NX500’s custom setting (along with some personal preferences) and hit the streets ready to try to make some great photographs. 

In case I haven’t beat this into your head enough, don’t spend too much time hand-wringing on camera manufacturers or camera settings with some random people online. That takes away from what will make you a better photographer – that’s the time you’ll spend out in the streets or in your home studio making photographs. 

So which camera should I buy?

I said I would answer this question in the beginning so here’s the answer – go to a camera store, in the NYC-metro area I recommend you check out Adorama, B & H, or Unique Photo, and try out a couple of different models and form factors. Ask yourself what do I plan on shooting with this camera: will I just take a couple of snapshots during my vacation or do you have ambitions to take a photography class? Do I need full manual controls or will the camera sit on its auto function? The first thing you have to remember is that a camera is simply a tool; think of it as the paintbrush to your painting. It’s not the painting, just what you will use to create it. 

So if you’re looking to up your photography game in 2016 or looking into purchasing a camera without a phone or text function, congrats! Dedicate some time into the craft and you’ll find that photography can truly be an eye-opening hobby that you will enjoy for a lifetime. 

Reflections on 2015

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  As 2015 draws to a close I’m sitting in a hospital room reflecting on where this year started and where it has ended. As I sit here I’m reminded of opportunities missed; mostly out of pride and opportunities that I have not put enough time or effort into. This isn’t a post about all the things wrong with the year, in the midst of this storm, I choose instead to be grateful for being able to share this story.This story isn’t about photography per se, photography was a big part of my life in 2015. I don’t think I officially stated that I was doing a 365 project at the start of the year, I definitely approached the year with shooting and sharing every day in mind. This year I’m very grateful to Allison + Partners and Samsung for continuing to believe in me and my photography and for continuing to keep me on as an Imagelogger in 2015; being an Imagelogger is the single event that has pushed me to my creative limits not just as a photographer but as a writer/journalist as well. Becoming a better photographer forced me to become a better storyteller. Understanding how the emotional weight of an image can tell a story has made me rethink the way I tell stories with words – make them more visual. 

  
This past year has also made more keenly aware of the impermanence of life. Where you are today is not necessarily where you’ll be tomorrow; the last four months of the year have shown me that this isn’t an omen but a hopeful promise. I truly pray that no one has to live through a time like that but knowing that it is temporary has kept me and my family pushing forward. Don’t allow the impermanence of your current successes lead you to becoming prideful, boastful, or cocky. Don’t allow the fleeting trials or bad hands color your judgement going forward and keep you from living a joy filled life. There’s beauty to be found all around you; capture it in your memories and learn to look back but not live in them for too long. 

  
I’m not sure what 2016 will have in store for me or any of you. I encourage all of you to learn something new. Get out of your comfort zones, don’t be afraid to fail. If you’re scared of making that next move; it’s probably worth it. I’ve been blessed with a network of support that extends from close friends and family to an extended family that I’ve never met in person. To my colleagues on the verge of launching new endeavors and businesses I wish you much success; may we continue to be collaborators, competitors, but above all, continue to push one another to greatness.