The photographs I didn’t want to see

Even though the team was loosing, the mood on the streets a few blocks away from the screens was very nice

Almost a year has passed since this event which was supposed to be the Stanley Cup Final 2011 in Vancouver  and became widely known as Vancouver Riot 2011. I was there among  the 155,000 people. I am no Canucks fan, I went there to take some photographs for some project and most of all to witness and share the joy of the Vancouverites. I have been in the city for one of the other final series games when 70,000 people were in the streets celebrating. It was an amazing and very positive experience.

Let me go back even more in time and tell you what this city means to me. I came to Vancouver in December 2010 and surprisingly I felt “connected” unlike ever before outside of my home city. I have never felt “at home” anywhere other than Moscow where I was born and lived most of childhood and adolescence. I never felt being “part of it” anywhere outside of Russia. It was something like what you feel when you go traveling on vacation. It has been like this even when I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 8 years.

So back to that day of June 15, 2011. I was taking  photographs at various locations during the game. The crowd was peaceful. By the time 3rd period started I have drifted in the very center of the crowd, at the intersection where you could see both giant screens. The game was not exciting and I have decided to leave (as I have learned later a few minutes before the riot has started). Only late at night have I learned about what happened after I have left. I felt so emotionally devastated I was not able to sleep for several nights and even now watching the footage from the riot I feel so much pain.

The investigation is still ongoing and more people are being charged every month. The public search for suspects also continues.

During the game I was shooting some heavily expired B&W film with my Zenit-19 with a Zenitar M 1.7/50 lens and the Leica M3 with a Jupiter-3 lens. I have left the film unprocessed till last week when I have finally decided to do it. Here are these photographs with my comments.

I was shocked when I have learned the news of a riot. I just couldn’t believe it. I felt sorry for this beautiful city and the good people who call it home. I couldn’t sleep and I was trying to grasp how could it happen in Vancouver.

Police was blaming some anarchists dedicated to causing trouble. Though the video footage does not confirm it. You can see what the mob mentality can do to otherwise “normal” people. I guess most people in the crowd thought it was cool to set a car on fire and show disobedience. I’m sure the next day the vast majority who took part in the riot felt ashamed. Maybe some of them came the next morning for the clean-up. I really hope so. Nevertheless there were a few who did not go along with the mob. A few who faced the mob and tried to stand the ground and protect their city. I admire these people. The most painful images to watch is the ones where the mob attacks them. I guess this is the moment when people in the mob lose all humanity and this is why it is so upsetting.

IMHO Police did a good job dealing with the riot, putting peoples safety first and not opting for heavy action. However police is still responsible for what have happened. This riot is yet another example what can happen to otherwise normal citizens under certain circumstances. Police clearly was not ready and a few crucial mistakes have been made. I really hope Vancouver will make the right conclusions and the city will be able to host a big event like this again and police will be as nice as they were all along the Final series. It is a pity it has happened in Vancouver, though truth is it can happen anywhere, maybe in some places with higher probability than in other ones.

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Pentax K-5 with MC Zenitar-ME1 1.7/50

Pentax K-5 with MC Zenitar-ME1 1.7/50 attached

Today is a good day to mention Pentax. Read on to find out why.

When most people think of dSLRs (digital Single Lens Reflex cameras, the brands that come first to mind will be Canon, Nikon and maybe Sony, though there are other brands that produce dSLRs, like Pentax. Pentax existence was wrongfully neglected in the last few years in my opinion especially in the United States.

It has been almost 2 years Pentax has released a camera (Pentax K-5) which is considered the best in its class by most reviewers. One can roughly define this class as mid-range dSLRs (if one looks at Canon’s line up this would correspond to their 3rd (60D) and 4th (7D) level dSLRs, or 3rd level in the Nikon’s line up (D7000)). This class includes the most advanced APS-C sensor dSLRs, so the next most advanced will be already Full Frame cameras.

Skip that though and look at it in this way: this class corresponds to the price range $900-$2000! That’s a very wide span indeed! So the Pentax K-5 is considered by many to be the best camera in that price range. That is quite impressive! I repeat the Pentax K-5 is considered to be the best dSLR in price range $900-$2000! (“!” is not in this case the sign of the factorial). Not only that, it is also the cheapest camera in that price range! (The price is close to the price of the Canon 60D which is considered to be of a lower league). An on top of that it is also (as of now) the latest released cameras in that class (if we leave out the Sony A77). Should I add it is also the most compact and lightest of the bunch? Oh yeh, it features the quietest shutter and it is the only system to fully support all the SLR lenses previously released by Pentax.

I have just realized I can keep adding to this list, so I’ll stop here.

My point is. Those of you who are on lookout for heir first SLR, do not disregard Pentax – it does deserve your attention.

Of course Pentax doesn’t stop at having the best mid-range dSLR. It is the only brand to offer an affordable medium-format camera, the smallest interchangeable-lens system as well as the only mirrorless which is compatible with all Pentax SLR lenses. It is also the only brand to offer an entry-level weather sealed dSLR (just released).

Having praised Pentax so much I do need to add some criticism.

  1. Of course (as any brand) Pentax does have its quirks. For me it’s a minor issue though. I believe that reasonably skilled photographers rarely encounter the situation when their camera starts to be quirky (at the edge of its limits). And know to avoid these situation. A good photographer will not attempt to shoot empty white walls or using AF on transparent fences etc or take portraits in pitch-dark rooms. Though it may happen that your particular photography falls within that range where the camera malfunctions.
  2. Pentax has not been doing well as a company in the last few years. It has been bought twice by other companies, just recently by Ricoh (which in fact gives hope). This has had its consequences. You decide if that matters to you. It didn’t matter to me, though I’m sure it would matter to a Pro expecting an expensive pro-support from the company. (Now Pentax is working on getting that back on track).
  3. User base. The biggest concern for me was a much thinner user base for Pentax. It may mean you have no other Pentax users around you. It may also mean third-party manufactures limited interest in providing accessories for Pentax.

So why does this post appear today: today Pentax lowered prices on its amazing lenses (more or less back to the level where they were before the recent price increase). Which reinforces the image Pentax has: a brand that is offering an affordable, top-quality, user-friendly and feature-rich system. Did I mention Pentax has a unique line of top-quality compact lenses?

So how did I come to own and love my Pentax K-5. I have been “spoiled” by film (i.e. Full Frame format), so I started by looking at Full Frame options. Back then the only “affordable” option was Canon 5D Mark II, though even that was way too expensive for me. So I had to look at the APS-C sensor options. I’m almost completely not brand loyal. Nevertheless I definitely do listen to what most people use and think. There is a consensus that Nikon is the best SLR brand and in particularly in November 2011 when I was choosing my first dSLR Nikon did rule in the price range from $1000 to $2000. Canon’s plastic 60D just didn’t make the cut, while their 7D did seem overpriced, big and too heavy (slightly outdated too). I quite liked the line 20D-30D-40D-50D though the split to “cheaper” 60D and more expensive 7D just didn’t seem right. On the other hand Nikon had the D7000 which not only was the most popular dSLR at that time, it also had great reviews and cost noticeably less than the 7D and just a bit more than 60D. The Nikon D7000 did look like a clear winner! The while reading Nikon D7000 reviews I have learned about the Pentax K-5 which was consistently rated higher (it features the same sensor as the Nikon) and was being offered at about the same price. I was still leaning towards the Nikon, though an extra $230 discount on the Pentax K-5 did tip the balance for me. And I have never regretted this!

One extremely important Pentax advantage (that I was not aware of at the time of buying) is great compatibility with various non-Pentax non-K-mount lenses. For instance it works very well with my Soviet M42 and M39 lenses. Unlike Canon or Nikon, just with a simple adapter you can use the lenses and enjoy things like focus confirmation and metering.

Even though Pentax user base is not as wide as Canon or Nikon ones, Pentaxian community is a very nice and tight group. There is a dedicated and very active Pentax website which provides loads of information and a great user-forum.

Go Pentax!

P.S.: You can read my review of Pentax K-5 on Amazon.

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Left or right?

One interesting topic somewhat relevant to photography is lateral dominance. Basically it is the spatial asymmetry of brain functions leading to certain handedness for instance.

It is well know most people (up to 90%) are right-handed and this is linked to the fact that left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for language.

Arising from this common knowledge are several misconceptions. One rather famous example being the abundance of “righty” shooters in American hockey compared to Canadian or even more so to Soviet hockey. Based on this article by New York Times 60% Canadian players shoot left while 60% of American players shoot right, while some of the best Soviet teams had not a single right-shooting player. My explanation is that it is all about ignorance. When parents buy the very first hockey stick for their kid they often assume being right-handed means you need a right-handed stick, while in fact, it is the other way round (your hand which can perform fine tasks such as writing should be the hand on top of the stick for better stick control implying a right-handed person should shoot “left”). In Canada where hockey is a bigger deal many kids go through organized hockey where the coaches will tell them that more often and the decision will not be left to ignorant parents. In USSR it was even more pronounced, where the sport school tradition was more rigorous and enforcing especially in a sport like hockey and where the idea that the right-handedness is indeed the “right” way was quite popular.

Now back to what is relevant to photography. Naturally handedness plays a role. On almost all cameras you will find most controls on the right side making all cameras suitable for right-handed people. Left handed  people are not that lucky. There have been “left-handed” cameras; however this is so rare, one can safely assume they do not exist. It has been reported that manufacturers say it is not cost efficient to build “left-handed” cameras. There are discussions on internet on this topic, like this one for instance.

However this is not what prompted me to write this post. The topic of most interest to me is ocular dominance or in other words eye dominance. Most people assume the eye dominance is directly linked to handedness, while it is not so simple. Note: wikipedia articles on handedness and eye dominance I link to are rather poorly written and do not seem very reliable. Furthermore, I’ve checked some scientific articles on the topic and they do not look very good either (at least the older ones where methodology is usually just wrong)

Apparently about 2/3 of the population is right-eye dominant while the rest is left-eye dominant, so the split is not as big as with handedness. The important thing however is that eye dominance is not directly linked to handedness. I wish I had more data on this. A study checking the correlation between handedness and eye dominance should have been performed, though I’m not aware of it. If you are, please post a reference.

Now the question arises which eye do you use for framing and focusing. The answer is – use your dominant eye. It is quite easy to determine which eye is the dominant one, for instance by pointing a finger towards an object with a hand stretched so that the finger is far from your eyes and then closing one eye then the other – when you close your dominant eye, the finger is not pointing at the object any more – you see the object moved to the side in respect to the finger. (more ways are described in the wikipedia article).

Now there is a very common belief one should use their right eye for focusing while using their left eye for observing the surroundings and looking “beyond the frame”. Take a look at how every camera viewfinder is positioned and imagine using your right eye or your left eye to frame. It is easy to get the idea. It makes sense too. Maybe Oskar Barnack – the father of Leica – was right eyed?

Now obviously if you are left-eyed (like me) you can not do that. When you use your dominant eye, your whole face will be behind the camera and your nose sticking into the LCD monitor, leaving prints on it. (Don’t worry though, there are some advantages too when using your left eye for framing and focusing).

Now remember, I have mentioned eye dominance is not fully correlated with handedness, which means being right-handed does not mean you are also right-eyed. For instance I’m clearly right-handed and left-eyed. I’ve been always using my left eye to focus and frame.

The implications of various combinations (right-handed/right-eyed, right-handed/left-eyed, left-handed/right-eyed or left-handed/left-eyed) maybe not so pronounced in photography as they are in the army🙂 Left handed shooters have a huge problem using normal guns – if they use the gun on their left side the fired cartridges cases will be ejected into their body or even their face. The eye dominance will further complicate things. For instance for a right-handed/left-eyed person like me it will be convenient to handle the normal gun, while aiming with it will be an inconvenience.

So tell me, are you right-handed or left-handed, right-eyed or left-eyed? Did you indeed use your dominant eye for shooting before you knew which eye is your dominant one or not?

Posted in photography, technique | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Genius or Fool?

Have you ever tried to run a google search for “genius or fool”. Do it! You might be surprised with the result (or not).

The first result links to a 300+ posts discussion about Ken Rockwell. Every “serious” photography website has a few threads on the subject and some resources even have official statements from the owners on Ken’s writing (like this one for instance).

Now there is also a 100+ posts thread on Pentaxforums I frequent nowadays. I was not able to resist posting there😛

I have already explained my point of view on Ken Rockwell in one of my first posts as well as on the “Links” page.

Enjoy the show!

P.S.: I should add a “Donate” button on this blog with an invitation “help me help you help Ken Rockwell help you”.

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When browsing photography forums quite often one can encounter thorough posts discussing advantages of one (expensive) system over another. One example of such posts is people ditching a certain camera in favor of another “better” one. Quite often people who make such posts own a lot of “advanced” equipment and great selection of lenses. Then you go to their profile and check their pictures …

Most of the time the “picture” you observe in those galleries is so hopeless it makes you cry.

Please please please you proponents of out-of-focus-poorly-exposed-poorly-composed-squirrel-bird-snapshots tell me why do you need all those >$1000 (each) lenses and bodies?

The problem is not that they own expensive equipment. I myself stand in awe when I see some of the fine tools a man has created.

The problem isn’t either that they love to take snapshots of squirrels. I see no point in this personally and imho it has nothing to do with photography, but that’s ok – most of my pictures are snapshots too.

The problem is many of these people believe their squirrel-snapshots are an example of fine photography.

The other problem is them thinking that they need fine equipment to produce those pity snapshots.

And the third problem is they blame all the problems on their equipment and think some other equipment will produce even better snapshots.

This is because they have not read this post: “Your Camera Doesn’t Matter”

One of the recent examples I saw was someone who has been shooting pictures for 50 years proudly showcasing 2 almost identical poor snapshots of a dog, named wittily “dog” and “dog 2”, shot at a yearly shooting event. For that picture he has used a mid-level dSLR and one of the best prime lenses by that manufacturer (~$1000 lens). The other photographs in his galleries were equally inspiring.

Now really in those 50 years he could have spent a few hours on learning something about photography, couldn’t he?

Unfortunately this example is more of a rule than an exceptional case. Most people posting on the forums just do have the totally wrong set of mind IMHO. And will aggressively defend it if someone points it out to them.

A typical picture thread on a website like dpreview starts with an uninteresting snapshot and is followed by a few praising and empty comments. What can anybody learn in such an environment?

Invest in learning, not in the tools!

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“Bearly used” Nikon D4

Anyone who enjoys hiking in the wild and the National Parks and photography should read this post. Photographer Andrew Kane was following a coyote in the woods of Yellowstone and bumped into a “Canon-fanboy” (by the judgement of many of those who have read the story). Enjoy the reading!

Posted in articles, gear, National Parks, Nature, photography | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A look at the Russia’s space program through the lens

The Atlantic has published a photographic essay on Russia’s space program including a few spectacular long exposure images from space.

I hope you will enjoy the viewing as much as I did.

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