In case you wondered, here’s a short piece on how record albums are made.
A few years back, after attending Photoplus Expo, I wrote about the then new Fujifilm 35mm f/2.0 lens, and that I was definitely putting one on my shopping list. Yesterday, I finally got around to picking one up, used, from my local camera shop. That shop is Service Photo in Baltimore. If you have a local shop, support them instead of the big mail order houses if at all possible. If you don’t have a local shop to support, support mine. Their prices are just as good as B&H or Adorama. The same probably goes for your local store, too.
From there, in a roundabout way, I headed to old Ellicott City to meet a friend for an afternoon of record shopping and lunching, and after that, walked around town and took a few snapshots with the new-to-me lens on my X-T1. None of the shots are award-winners by any stretch of the imagination. But here are some, straight out of camera. Clicking the thumbnail opens the full image. You know the drill.
As I said, none of these are particularly stellar images, but if nothing else, it felt really good to walk around with a camera in my hand again. The last thing I shot with a “real” camera was last October! And, most of those images haven’t even been downloaded from the card yet!
The lens itself works, and works well. Like the one I used in New York, it’s sharp, it’s crisp, it’s contrasty, it’s quick. I love the “normal” angle of view provided by a 35mm lens on an APS-C sensor (or a 50mm on full-frame). It’s nearly as well matched to the X-T1 as it was on the X-T10. It was certainly comfortable to use. I didn’t try any manual focus, other than to see that it works. Manual focus on Fuji cameras can be challenging in any case, so I don’t use it often with lenses that actually can autofocus.
Obviously, there’s been a bit of a slump in my photography. I get that way when things get to be Too Much, and lately there’s been Too Much of too many things. The only Too Much that I have not been bothered by has been band/music related. But the rest of the Too Much has really gotten in the way of my enjoying much of anything else. We’ll cycle back around to the Too Much band and music later (probably in a different post), ‘cause there’s really some fun and enjoyable stuff there. Better yet, head over to my band’s site (www.7soulsband.com) to see about that.
I’ve decided to trim back the big stack o’ photo gear here. It weighs on me. It stifles my enjoyment. And, I don’t need it all. Really.
First up, I wanted a wide-angle prime lens. I’ve talked over the years about a 12mm, and wound up with a Fuji 14mm f/2.8 that I’ve used exactly one time. Honestly, for my shooting, it’s actually too wide. It’s a beautiful lens. It’s in nearly-new condition. But it’s not what I really wanted. Neither, BTW, was a 12mm. I wanted to replicate the three lens kit that I had back in high school. Back then, I had a 24mm wide angle lens for my Canon AT-1 (along with a 50mm f/1.8 and a 135mm f/3.5). I loved that lens, and I actually have one now for M42 thread-mount cameras (lord knows why). Now, Fujifilm has released a 16mm f/2.8 lens in the same “series” as the 35mm f/2. It’s reasonably priced. And, they already have a 90mm f/2 as well (though it’s not so reasonably priced). So, I’m thinking that the 14mm has got to go, and be replaced (maybe) with the 16mm. 2mm doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but in wide-angle lenses, it’s actually considerable.
I’ve also got three Fujifilm bodies — my first X-E1, an X-E2, and the X-T1. When I got into this whole Fujifilm/mirrorless thing. I really wanted a “rangefinder” style camera, and as a consequence of budget, chose the X-E1 over the Xpro-1. I’ve never regretted that choice, BTW. the X-E1 was a darling little camera that I loved using. Since I liked the X-E1 so much, it seemed natural to upgrade to the X-E2 after it had been out a little while. It had improved everything, supposedly, over the X-E1. But frankly, I’ve never been able to come to grips with the X-E2. While it got an improved autofocus system over its predecessor, along with the lovely “Classic Chrome” film emulation, everything else got to be Too Much. There are more controls, arranged badly, and what had been a nice, simple camera got complicated and unwieldy. It wasn’t fun to use!
Now, I know I probably should have sent the camera back as soon as I realized that I didn’t like it (and if I’m honest, I’d figured that out within just a few short days). But, I soldiered on, determined that it must be my problem, and not the camera’s. I bought the X-E2 new in March of 2016, a couple of years after Fuji released the X-T1, which I rented to use for some high-profile event work and really enjoyed — despite it being an SLR-styled body). I reasoned that once I applied the latest firmware, I’d have the functionality of an X-T1 in the rangefinder-style body. They talk about the best laid plans, and we know how that ends.
Shortly after renting the X-T1 for the first time, I started muttering that if I found one in decent shape at a good price, I’d buy one, and in March of last year, I did. This one did have a few rough spots cosmetically, but the seller was someone I’d done business with in the past and I considered reputable. When he told me that from the standpoint of functionality, it was 100%, I took him at his word and ordered it up. Just over a year ago, my new-to-me X-T1 arrived. Externally, it has … character. Some of the edges are a little scuffed and worn, and one piece of the rubber skin was falling off (and has since been removed). Another major chunk of rubber is starting to come loose. It’s the camera I’ve been shooting with ever since (at least when I’ve been shooting), and it’s been flawless. The exception has been concerts, for which I have been using my aging Fujifilm X10.
To try to cut a long story short, I’ve decided that three camera bodies is Too Much. Since I never liked the X-E2, it’s obviously going to go, but I struggle when thinking about the X-E1. It really doesn’t have a lot of value, despite being nearly pristine (there’s some slight brassing here an there) and functionally perfect. But, it being the first of my Fuji ILCs, and it having been the object of my lust for several months, I do have some sentimental (or is that semimental) attachment to the camera.
But as I said, Too Much. So, two bodies, a lens and some accessories are going to go and make way for some newer items. I’ve already mentioned the new Fujifilm 16mm lens. And, the quite pricey 90mm. A 16mm, 35mm, and 90-ish-mm would allow me to approximate that 3-lens kit I had all those years ago, which has been a goal for some time.
Those of you who have followed my site for any particular length of time know that I like to find ways to save money. I buy used gear, discontinued items, B-stock, or non-OEM to save money when I can. Sometimes, that works out well. Other times, not so much. Which is to say that I’m interested in a way to not have to pay the chunk of change represented by Fuji’s 90mm lens. Sure, it’s a thing of beauty. But is it worth $950? Especially when there are finally 3rd party companies making less expensive alternatives, now even with autofocus.
Specifically, a company called Viltrox made a splash last year with adapters that allow the use of Canon EF and EF-S lenses with full autofocus and auto aperture on Fuji X-series cameras. One is even a “speed booster” with 0.71X magnfication (so a full-frame 50mm f/1.8 looks and acts like a 50mm f/1.8 lens on the APS-C-sensor Fujis) The things actually work! Now, they’ve come out with an autofocus 85mm f/1.8 for Fujifilm. As you can see from the photo, it’s not a small lens, due it part to it being originally built as a full-frame lens. But then, Fuji’s own 90mm f/2 is longer, but only slightly thinner. The Viltrox lens also does not have an aperture ring. This common on lenses for other cameras, but uncommon on all but a very few of Fuji’s own lenses. I’ve become somewhat used to this with my X10 camera and the 50-230mm Fuji zoom. For me, while less than ideal, it’s not a show stopper. For others, it may be.
Firmware is easily updated, which will allow Viltrox to improve lens characteristics and compatible with future Fujifilm cameras. Unlike Fuji’s own lenses, the Viltrox has a mini-USB port built into the mount, so updates are as simple as plugging the lens into your computer and dragging the update file onto the lens. Fuji’s lens firmware is updated by mounting the lens on a camera, putting the new firmware on an SD card, and booting the camera into update mode.
Reviews so far with pre-shipment lenses are mixed, leaning towards very good. Is the lens as good as the Fuji? No, but it’s also 1/3 the price. It’s seems that it could be a very viable option in completing my prime lens trilogy. That is, unless I can find a real bargain on a used Fuji lens.
We’ve been slowly working on redecorating the living room here at the Mortensen Mansion West, and one of the things I wanted to feature was a high-quality, streamlined audio-visual experience. Today’s adventures included a visit to Just Audio to take a look at speakers. When I walked out the door, my idea was to take a listen/look at a pair of Polk TS15s or TS20s. They had the TS15s, along with a gaggle of other wonderful new speakers, including the mind-blowing KEF LS50s and MarkAudio-SOTAs. Needless to say, the latter were not in my budget (the LS50s are around $1,300 a pair and the SOTAs were even more!). Helpfully, they asked if I had to have new speakers, or if I’d consider some used KEFs that would be more in line with my budget. Sure, why not?
I was introduced to a pair of nearly vintage Q10s in reasonably nice cosmetic condition, which we connected to the same receiver we’d been using to audition the Polks (a whopping McIntosh was used for the new KEFs and the MarkAudio speakers) and other lower-priced speakers. The Q10s, which KEF produced between 1993 and 1996, were the second generation of their Uni-Q coincidentally mounted two-way speakers (this is a fancy way of saying coaxial, sort of), which has been further refined over the years, making its way into the current LS50s.
Most of what impressed me about the LS50 was present in the Q10 — a well defined bass that wasn’t threatening or overwhelming, smooth mid-range, and crystal-clear high frequencies. Being an older, more traditional design meant that they are also reasonably attractive, even without grills. I’m sorry KEF people. The LS50 is not a particularly attractive speaker.
The kicker was that they were extremely well-priced. Marked at $299 for the pair, Just Audio were running a sale of 50% off used speakers. Sign me up.
I’d also decided that I wanted a new, or at least new-to-me, amplifier for the living room stereo as opposed to bringing my Pioneer SX-450 up from the basement. FM tuning was not a priority, as the plan was to play only records, CDs, or streaming music using an Amazon Alexa Echo Input. Initially, my mind went straight to the idea of a Pioneer SA-series integrated amp (the SA-7500 was always a favorite of mine), or some other similar vintage model, but I quickly came to the realization that what I really wanted in the living room was something more modern, and easier to use. Streamlined, I reminded myself.
That brought me back around, after much consideration and consternation, to the new Emotiva TA-100 we’d used to audition the speakers. It’s made by a US company based in Franklin, Tennessee. Through the Q10s, it sounded great, with plenty of power. There were ample inputs available (far more than I have use for) including a built-in DAC allowing a USB-connected computer to see the receiver (yes, there is a tuner) as a “sound card” for playback of digital files directly. There’s also a MC/MM-switchable phono preamp and line level inputs and outputs. Those outputs include a mono-subwoofer output, a stereo output pair, and a full-range mono output. Well, that’s nifty.
To say that the TA-100 front panel is minimal is an understatement. As you can see above, there’s a display, a headphone jack, a couple of tiny buttons for source selection, a power switch, and a knob to control the volume. At the risk of being chauvinistic, This is a very “wife-friendly” receiver. The remote control does allow access to a few more controls — bass, treble, and balance, and the ability to dim the display. You can set some FM presets, too, if you want.
So, that’s been the start of our new stereo system in the living room.
A huge plus is that Donna has really been enjoying the new gear. She generally doesn’t care a lot about this kind of thing, and generally doesn’t really notice the sound of a stereo system. In this case, she’s made more than a few comments this evening about how really nice it sounds. We’ve been listening to a mixture of music streaming over from Amazon (Alison Kraus, Thelonius Monk, and Blood Sweat and Tears) and CDs (Dire Straits and Empty Pockets) since she arrived home late in the afternoon.
I still need to choose a proper CD player and turntable for the living room. For now, I’ve got the analog outputs from our Samsung Blu-ray player connected, but it makes a really lousy CD player. For one thing, the controls when playing CDs are really funky. A CD plays through fine the first time it’s inserted, but repeats the last track over and over once it gets to the end of the disc. Or, it just stops playing. Or something. Subsequent insertions start at the last song and repeat that ad-infinitum. And, the thing is so light-weight that even a light tap on the controls sends is sliding across the shelf. Samsung’s decisions as to what audio should come out the analog jacks and the digital connections is also more than a bit confusing.
Emotiva make what appears to be a very nice, if slightly pricey CD player (model CD-100) that I’ll consider. It shares the same design and control aesthetic as the receiver. And, I like the idea of supporting a US company. Incidentally, that’s why I went into the shop specifically to listen to the Polk speakers. Not only are they a US company, but they were founded in Baltimore. Anyway….
For the turntable, I’m pretty well set, at this point, on a Denon DP-300F, and I’ll swap in my Ortofon 2M Red cartridge/stylus. The Denon is an automatic belt-drive turntable with a servo-controlled DC motor, making it simple to setup and use. It will end up being drawer-mounted below the receiver. I see that the DP-300F is currently available for $100 off the regular selling price, so I may be ordering that sooner than later, and ahead of the CD player.
Finally, for those interested, the furniture chosen for this part of the room includes Ikea’s Billy bookcases, and a Besta “tv unit” with Uppleva tv bracket. The TV is a Samsung 43” 4K model, and it’s connected to a Samsung soundbar/subwoofer providing a fairly nice movie viewing experience (although, we may abandon these in favor of the simple stereo system).
Manufacturer product photos for this article were picked up from the Emotiva web site or from the Turntable Lab web site. Original photos from the Mortensen Mansion were made with a Google Pixel 2 smartphone and edited in Snapseed on an Acer Chromebook R11.
Yeah, I know. I said I was retiring. But, 7Souls is being pretty successful, and I’ve been doing some “walk-in” mixing jobs of late, so I figured, “What the hell!” And, truth be told, I wanted something for the that would be easier to set up and improve on a few of the shortcomings of the current PA.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE OLD GEAR?
(asked my wife)
Those of you who have heard my PA are probably wondering what the shortcomings were. It sounds pretty darned good (if I do say so myself) in small and medium rooms, and I can usually go from walking in the door to having a band on stage playing in two hours or less. Well, here’s a list things that could have been better, in no particular order:
Power - I really could use more!
Inputs - I really could use more! We’re mumbing about adding more instruments to 7Souls (though no more people), and I’m already using all my channels.
Outputs - I really could use more! The XR18 mixer is limited to a maximum of 8 outputs, 2 “main” and 6 “auxes”.
Monitors - The little wedges I have aren’t bad, but since they’re passive, and I only have a two-channel amp for monitors, I can’t give everyone their own mix.
Inconsistent user interfaces - The software for operating the mixer varies depending on the device being used. The two computer-based “consoles” use a different program from the app on an iPad, and Android devices need yet a third app.
Digital Recording - in order to do multitrack recording, an external computer is required.
NEW MIXER: SOUNDCRAFT UI24R
The first part of the system redesign addresses the issues with the mixer — increased inputs and outputs and a consistent user interface across platforms. After looking at everything, and having an opportunity to use almost everything, there was basically one choice that “ticked all the boxes”: Soundcraft’s Ui24R. So, I found a good deal, and ordered one.
The Ui24R has 20 “real” inputs, as well as two RCA line-level inputs and a stereo USB playback port, which is how Soundcraft comes up with this being a 24-channel mixer. So, I consider it as a 20-channel board, and I’m happy. I do like that I can stick in a USB “thumb drive” loaded with MP3s for break tunes or backing/effect tracks and not waste a pair of inputs. And, I can also do a quick “board mix” recording to the same USB port (as long as I’m not playing back from that port). In addition, there’s a second USB port dedicated for use as a 24-track recorder/player by simply connecting and appropriate USB 3 thumb drive or SSD.
There are dual stereo main outputs (XLR and TRS), and eight AUX outputs. Internally, there are four effects busses and a couple of additional virtual AUX busses.
But wait, there’s more! A USB-B port does allow connection of a computer, so the mixer can be used as an interface for a DAW like Cubase, Sonar, or Logic Pro in a studio environment. There’s a built-in HDMI port and an additional pair of USB ports so a monitor (or touchscreen), keyboard and mouse can be directly connected. And, there is a pair of ethernet ports for network connections and “future expansion” (we’ll touch on that later), and an assignable footswitch jack. Close inspection of the side view also reveals a removable panel.
The mixer has excellent Lexicon and dbx internal effects processors. Each channel sports parametric EQ with RTA, a gate, and compression. Each output also has compression, graphic EQ, as well as dbx feedback suppression.
No special software, past a modern web browser, is required to control the mixer. Here, it’s running on an Acer Chromebook R11, and while the screen is small, the UI is quite usable. In fact, when we debuted the mixer at a show a couple of weeks back, I handled monitor mixing for myself and the drummer with this little machine in “presentation” mode, while the FOH engineer used one of my 19.5” touchscreen “consoles” for the main mix and front-line monitor chores.
I’m working in what is referred to as “Big D” mode (for “big display”). Soundcraft says that this requires a 1920x1080 display to work correctly, but I’ve found that the Chrome browser can be scaled so that the presentation fits on lower resolution displays. It’s definitely a “your mileage may vary” kind of thing, but it works quite well for me.
I did find that the Raspberry Pi does not play well with the Ui’s web interface. Firefox crashed repeatedly, and Chromium just plain failed to load, so I’ve upgraded the computers behind the larger consoles to Asus Chromebox 3s. They fully support the Asus VT207n monitors, which the Pis did not, so there’s now full multitouch control — helpful when setting up the parametric EQ or trying to move more than one fader at once.
All of the screens are pretty well thought out and easy to use. I felt comfortable with the layout in minutes. At the debut gig with 7Souls, although the FOH engineer was familiar with the Ui mixers, he’d never used on “in the wild”. He took to it very quickly, and was almost an expert by the end of the first set.
As you can see, there’s a lot of depth to this mixer. I’ve only shown some of the functionality here.
I mentioned that there is a second ethernet port for “future expansion”. Apparently, the future is now, and there’s a new version of firmware to load to the mixer that will allow these ports to be used to link a pair of Ui24R mixers together, making a single 48-channel mixer. Beyond being told by some of the beta testers that it works, and works well, I don’t yet know any details.
In my ideal world, this linking would also extend to the smaller Ui mixers, but I doubt this works as they only have a single ethernet port. It would be pretty neat, though, to be able to link a Ui12 to the Ui24R. The Ui24R would be placed on stage, and be the primary I/O device, while the Ui12 would be placed at the FOH position, and allow for better placement of wireless mic receivers, IEM transmitters, and give the FOH engineer a facility for talkback and headphones.
Hey, a guy can hope!
NEW SPEAKERS: TURBOSOUND IQ
I probably should have bought these a long time ago, because they would have overcome one of the shortcomings of the Behringer mixer — the lack of sufficient AUX outputs. I opted for a pair of iQ15b subwoofers, a pair of iQ12 powered speakers for “mains”, and four iQ10 powered speakers to replace my existing passive wedge monitors. Two of the EV ZLX12ps will be retained for stage monitors as well.
One of my reps has been trying to get me to switch to Turbosound for a couple of years now, and a quick audition was all it took for me to commit. They sound amazing. The tops are plenty loud, and the subs provide plenty of thump, and it all sounds incredibly musical. The Turbosound speakers and inbuilt amps are coupled to a bunch of Klark Teknik DSP technology so that everything just works together pretty much seamlessly.
With a Behringer X or XR mixer (or Midas M or MR), you can feed all of the speakers via Cat5e daisy-chained network cables (they call this Ultranet), if you want, or simply run XLRs out, as your see fit. Soundcraft can do something similar with JBL speakers, but from what I’ve seen, the integration isn’t as tight. Part of me wants to keep the Behringer XR18 to use as an interface to bring the Ui24R outputs out to Ultranet, though Behringer does have a purpose-built device for this that would take up less rack space.
The new speakers will be arriving sometime this week, and they’ll probably debut at 7Souls’ gig in late February.
BACK IN BUSINESS?
Yes, this “investment” does mean that I’ll be accepting gigs again, but the terms of the deal are going to be a lot different. In the past, my rates were extremely low for full PA jobs. Going forward, my pricing will reflect the “going rate” charged by most of my friends/competition.
I finally got to do some serious low-light picture taking with the little Sony RX100 mk III at the National Museum of the US Air Force. I’m pretty tickled with the results, and I also look forward to getting back out and strolling around this amazing museum some more.
We only had a short time to spend, so we wanted to see some particular things. Even so, we didn’t get anywhere near seeing everything. The place is enormous! If your interest in US (and some other) military aircraft is casual, plan on at least a couple of days. If you’re like us, plan on at least four!
I spent a fun day in NYC yesterday at PhotoPlus Expo. As usual the crowds were heavy, and there were interesting things to see and play with. Included here is the requisite bad selfie, just to prove I was there. The difference was that I took this selfie with my new Sony RX100 Mk III. So, it’s still a bad selfie, but the image quality is much better. All of the photos in this post, except for the obvious one below, were taken with the Sony, with minor post processing on either my Pixel 2 phone, or my iPad Air 2. There will be more on the RX100 Mk III later.
Probably the two most interesting items at the show were the new Canon and Nikon entries into the full-frame mirrorless photography fray. I’ve commented elsewhere that I believe that both companies failed to deliver on what the market wanted, and I still believe that to be the case. With that said, at least one of them is a brilliant camera, and does do a good job of capitalizing on the advantages of abandoning the legacy mount in favor of something new.
Panasonic showed a non-functional example of their new full-frame camera, too. While I was disappointed that they did not have working examples of the camera on display, I do realize that they’re very early in the development process. The intriguing aspect of the Panasonic is their choice to use the existing Leica R-mount, as opposed to inventing a new series of lenses. This allows them to hit the ground running with a large catalog of extremely high-quality native lenses, unlike Canon and Nikon, who are relying on adapters to round out their lens catalog while developing new glass.
Fujifilm have announced/released a 33mm f/1.0 prime lens. That’s equivalent to roughly a 50mm f/1.4 lens for a “full frame” DLSR. Needless to say, the thing is huge! I’d even go so far as to say ridiculously huge! Especially since a 50mm f/1.4 is a much smaller lens!
Seeing things like this, and the ever increasing size of the “better” Fujifilm cameras, I’m beginning to wonder if Fujifilm have lost their focus. On of the advantages of a mirrorless camera built around a small (APS-C or MFT) sensor was supposed to be a smaller, lighter, nimbler camera. Instead, we’ve now got camera bodies as big as Sony’s A7/A9 series, and lenses that rival or exceed the size of Canon’s EF-L series.
When Fuji started coming out with the f/2 lenses (35mm, 23mm, and 50mm), which are sharp, punchy, and extremely compact, I thought they were really on the right track. Coupled with an X-T20, the package is pretty close in size and weight to the Olympus MFT offerings, with the advantage of Fuji’s larger APS-C X-Trans sensor and superb in-camera processing engine.
While, so far, I’ve managed to keep my own bag more-or-less reasonable — so long as you don’t count the three camera bodies and two flashes — with just the XF18-55, the XC50-230, and the XF14mm, I feel like even that’s getting a bit out of hand. I left Canon and Sony to downsize, as I was so ably reminded this past weekend by the little X10 I started my Fuji journey with.
Frankly, while I realize that the 2/3” sensor is supposedly no longer made, I think Fuji need to look backward, and capitalize on the concept of a camera like the X10/X20/X30, but with a 20MP 1-inch sensor. If Sony’s RX100 series is any indication, the resulting camera wouldn’t necessarily need to be larger that the X30 was. Heck, it might even be able to be made smaller!