Monday, March 29, 2010

Missing two photographers

When I edited Kodak's now-defunct online magazine, I wanted to do an occasional story on great photographers of the Life magazine era who worked mainly in black and white. The two I focused on were Loomis Dean and Fred McDarrah.

Mr. Dean captured the famous photo of the Andrea Doria cruise ship as it sank. Much of his career was spent with Life and, before that, the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, as a PR photographer. He had his own small elephant for publicity photo purposes. I interviewed him in the early 2000s, at his home in Venice, Florida, using then state-of-the-art digital audio tape. The tape survives. But we couldn't come to terms over use of his images, for which he owned the rights. So the story never appeared online. Loomis died in 2005.

You can see some of Loomis' photos on the www.life.com website, or go here.

Fred W. McDarrah captured the Beat poet movement and Greenwich Village life in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of the earliest gay pride parade images in NYC came from Fred's camera. Later, he wrote a Photography Encyclopedia of Brooklyn Yellow Pages dimensions. Fred's imagery is online here. You can buy the encyclopedia used for a few bucks here. Fred died in 2007, a day after his 81st birthday.

I ran across Fred later in life, in an online feature story published by the East Hampton Star, on Long Island. They've since taken down the web page where you could view the story.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Slice a little off the top

KODAK SLICE Touchscreen Camera

I really wanted to try this one out. Sort of an iPod Touch for photography. Great concept.

Then the specs were published. The lens -- the most important part of the camera, period -- is a 5X zoom. Starts at 35mm, racks out the 175mm. Not bad.

Then I glanced at the lens specs. At the widest angle, 35mm, the lens starts at f4.8. (Translation: S-L-O-W.) On some cameras, f4.8 is the spec for the lens at its farthest zoom, not its nearest. The last camera I had with a lens that slow was a 35mm point-and-shoot Nikon.

Compare this with my 3-year-old Canon G6, which has a similar lens length. The lens starts at f2.0. It lets in three times as much light as the Slice's lens.

PR people tend to tut-tut people like me for dwelling needlessly on "speeds and feeds." But, in reality, a camera with an f2.0 or f2.8 lens needs less light than a lens that's hamstrung at f4.8 at the start. That means you either need to be closer to your subject, use flash all the time, or only take photos in bright daylight. Which few of us actually do. Unless we live in Tucson or Miami.

I really hope the Slice finds its audience, and is a huge hit. But my expectations were for a camera that can actually capture photos in mixed lighting conditions. On paper, this camera (with the same focal-length zoom and a faster lens) is more likely to get you the photo you want -- at roughly half the price.