Author: Ron Dawson

How I Can Know So Little About Photography

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Photography resembles something Carl Jung supposed said about psychology: everyone thinks they understand psychology because they understand their own.

I love to learn, and, to borrow Thomas Jefferson’s famous bon mot about reading, for a long time I had a canine appetite for learning everything I could about the science, history, and culture of photography.

I’m not saying I know, or knew, everything. Far from it. Kodak scientists—I knew the developers of the T-Max films, of which I was an early beta-tester—could tell you I know very little about emulsion science. Professional critics would easily detect that I didn’t have a truly deep grounding in the fundamentals of art criticism. Master photojournalists would say I wasn’t that talented or experienced a shooter. Optical physicists would immediately have reservations about my understanding of lens design. Historians recognize pretty quickly that I’m a dilettante in their field. I’ve only shot two weddings, ever. I took a job in a frame shop to learn how to frame my own photographs. Camera repairpeople knew there were some limitations to my knowledge of the innards of cameras. Museum curators could find fault in my education about conservation. My friend who was one of the world’s foremost experts in densitometry teased me because of my willingness to be subjective about tone and not rely sufficiently on sensitometric data (which he wanted me to gather myself. I did, but only once). I’m not that well read in the philosophy of aesthetics. Enthusiasts of alternative processes have been disappointed that I don’t know firsthand about their favorite process, whether it be cyanotype or tintype or gum bichromate. (Thinking of specific people there.) I don’t know everything there is to know about digital cameras, although I’m met the guy who invented them. I knew one guy who knew more than anyone about paper developers, and sometimes he had to explain things to me like I was a child. Specific friends know much more than I care to about the photography industry and all the companies, major and minor. (Hobbyists on the internet know all there is to know about that, with the caveat that a lot of what they know is wrong.) Any professional worth her salt knows more than I do about running a professional photography business. I can run a critique, though. I can align an enlarger. I can write a syllabus for a photography course. But I can’t get an inkjet printer to work. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours at the Library of Congress and at a local D.C. gallery looking at original prints, and for a long time I would travel up to hundreds of miles to see shows at museums and galleries. I have an unusually good visual memory, and can usually tell if I’ve ever seen a specific picture before—although I figured out how to test that, and found my memory for specifics isn’t quite as good as I imagined it was. I taught students all the way from rising high school sophomores in the summer program at the Corcoran to grandmothers in the continuing education program at a Virginia community college, but I’m not a career teacher—I was all set to be hired for a teaching position at a college in Ithaca, New York, until they found out I didn’t have an MFA. That was the end of that. Q.E.D.: my education is lacking. I don’t really know all that much about Apple Macs, even though the first Apple Mac I ever used was “The Apple Macintosh,” the very first Apple Mac. And I don’t know everything there is to know about Photoshop, even though I’ve been using it since version 2.5 (not CS2, version 2.5—CS2 was version 9) in 1994. Camera collectors think I don’t care enough about the ins and outs of what they’re up to, although I can talk their language. (One thing I could see that they couldn’t: each of them had a different sub-specialty that they each considered the most important sub-specialty. Or at least the most interesting.) Ditto photograph collectors, whether the collection is demotic or esoteric, small or large, public or private, valuable or not, famous or personal (thinking about specific people again here). I have only one item on my photographic “bucket list”: I would dearly love to see Elton John’s photography collection. Fat chance. And all this doesn’t mention the world of photo magazines.

And so on. I could go on. As we all know, I do go on.  🙂

But the proof of my ignorance I remember most fondly came from a parent when I taught photography at a prep school. The students provided their own cameras, and one girl showed up with an ancient 1960s Zenit from behind the Iron Curtain. I suggested she was probably going to have more trouble with it in the class than might be good for her. A few days later she appeared sporting a new Pentax K1000, as was suggested in the syllabus.

It wasn’t the last I was to see of the Zenit, however. (Or Zorki, or Kiev, or whatever it was.) On Parent Night, a man came up to me, and out came the ancient Soviet-era camera.

“My daughter tells me you don’t even know how to work a simple camera.”

“I think I do,” I answered. Taking the camera, I showed him how to operate it.

“And what’s this?” He asked, pointing to a particular button. I told him. “And this button, what does it do?” I took the camera, tried one thing and another, and couldn’t get anything to happen. “I don’t know,” I answered, handing it back to him. Maybe it was broken.

But he had me. His face brightened and grew stern at the same time. Taking the old camera back, he declaimed, in a loud and accusing voice, “And you call yourself a photography teacher!”

And so it goes.

Take my word for this: there are a million ways to know nothing about photography. And I think I know every one of them.   🙂


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

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Precocious (OT)

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

My neighbor’s very cute granddaughter seems to have sprung into the world of the verbal talking in complete sentences. She seemed mute when I saw her last only a few months ago, but now she has turned three and she can tell you so. She speaks clearly and enunciates her words. She has great big eyes and a mass of dark hair framing her face, which, fortunately, is no longer at the level of the dog’s tail, although she agreed with me that dogs are big. She has a round tummy and was dressed in a smorgasbord of bright colors from head to toe, and obviously she has a pretty clear idea of how things should go. Yesterday she looked at us and announced, out of the blue, “Tomorrow I’m going to be a nurse. On Friday I’ll be a doctor.”

…An ambitious career schedule if ever I’ve heard one! But if anyone can do it, I believe she can.


P.S. Today, as she was leaving, she turned around in her stroller and called back to me, “Be sure to use your seatbelt if you go anywhere!” I swear. The kid is barely three and about knee-high to a knee.

Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

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Nikkor 40mms (Nikon Has It Covered)

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

When I came into photography way back when, the then-current Nikkors were the AIS manual-focus lenses which dated from 1982. They were solid little chunks of metal and glass, overbuilt and hard to hurt. The AIS lenses were also only slightly different from the 1977 AI lenses, enabling just a few selected modes on a small number of camera models. There are three markers of an AIS lens: a little metal lip on the back of the lens where it met the mount, a small scoop taken out of the mount at the lower-middle left as you looked at the back of the lens (for illustrations see here), and the smallest aperture on the aperture ring marked in orange. They were preferred mainly because they were the newest type at the time, and, later, on the used market, because they’re the most recent of the classic manual-focus Nikkors. There are some fun books useful to collectors. Eyes of Nikon, from 1985, a Nikon publication, and Nikon System Handbook by B. Moose Petersen, which I believe was first published in 1991, were the ones I had. 

(Generally, books about camera systems from the manufacturers mark the peak of those systems; a manufacturer only puts out a book when they’re proud of their products and selling them successfully. That hasn’t been the case in recent years, though, presumably because lineups of digital products change too rapidly. And because the information is online, more or less. Fujifilm still ought to commemorate its beautiful system with a book for enthusiasts, sez me.)

Sorry, too much of an intro. All I meant to say was that at the time that the AIS lenses were current, Nikon had pretty much every major focal length covered with at least one prime (single-focal-length) lens. With the 35mm focal length, it had no fewer than three: an ƒ/1.4, an ƒ/2, and an ƒ/2.8. Eventually there was also an economy lens as well, the 35mm ƒ/2.5 Series E. When autofocus came along in the late ’80s, Nikon made do for quite a while with just one, the 35mm ƒ/2 AF-Nikkor. Once DSLRs got going, though, Nikon for a considerable time in the early days was committed to APS-C (logically, in my view, although companies must follow the market and markets aren’t rational), yet there was no 35mm-equivalent prime for the APS-C “crop sensor” (as it was derisively called) cameras. We all assumed it would come along. Only natural, right? We waited and waited. And waited. It never arrived.


There still isn’t one, not for the DSLRs. And now, of course, there will never be.

That always seemed odd. It’s true that, by then, the popularity of zooms was overwhelming. And it’s true that some photographers, like Thom Hogan and TOP reader Tom Burke, never cottoned to the 35mm angle of view. That’s natural. But it used to be such a mainstream lens type—most of the later .72X Leica M cameras are virtually tailor-made to the focal length. Did so few people want a simple 35mm-equivalent wide-normal prime that it wasn’t even worth it to Nikon to offer one for APS-C? And even if it was true that the lens wouldn’t be very popular, what about the whole “system” idea, whereby a manufacturer convinces people that having access to its whole system offers flexibility for now and in the future? Canon famously made no fewer than three tilt-shift lenses for that reason, and if even one of them ever covered its development costs I’d be surprised. The payoff came when pros who wanted the greatest choice among T/S lenses switched to Canon. Of course, the only company still committed to APS-C DSLRs, Pentax, still doesn’t have a 35mm-e prime or something close to it. It’s why I switched away from Pentax in the early days of digital. Although, in Pentax’s favor, the delightful little Pentax DA 20–40mm ƒ/2.8, with its short 2X zoom range, can be considered—and might even have been conceived as—an “adjustable 35mm,” harking back to an earlier prototype of just such a concept that was never produced*.

So why is mirrorless so different? One of the early lenses for APS-C Sony mirrorless cameras was the Zeiss 24mm ƒ/1.8 ZA. That’s a 35mm equivalent. Fuji has two wonderful 23mms, the ƒ/1.4 and the ƒ/2 “Fujicron,” both of which I own (there are actually two ƒ/1.4 lenses, the old and the new. I have the older one). Those are all 35mm equivalents too.

And now Nikon has walked back its earlier attitude, and introduced a ~35mm equivalent for the “crop-sensor” mirrorless Z cameras, as we discussed a couple of days ago. Why not, is one question that could be asked—the Z System is proving popular, as Nikon needs it to be. But “why” is also an interesting question too.

Nikon 26mmThe Nikkor Z 26mm ƒ/2.8

It joins, of course, the wonderful 35mm ƒ/1.8S for the full-frame Z cameras, a lens which is almost too good. Not only that, but I belatedly learned yesterday that Nikon also has a ~40mm-e “pancake” for its APS-C cameras in the Z System! The Nikkor-Z 26mm ƒ/2.8. I must have missed that when it came out very early this year. Or did I hear about it and mislay the information in the crowded rummage-box of my brain like a misplaced pair of glasses or car keys? Anyway, now Nikon has both a small bargain-priced prime 40mm ƒ/2 lens for its FX (full-frame) Z cameras, available in a retro version too no less for only a few more bucks, which looks like an old AIS—and a prime 40mm-equivalent pancake lens for its DX (APS-C) Z cameras. Wow, is all I can say to that. For so long, 40mm was so close to 35mm that those of us who liked it were voices crying in the wilderness. Now, 40mm[e] seems almost, dare I say it, popular.

The only option still missing among Z-system normal lenses as far as I can see is a 50mm-equivalent specifically for Nikon’s APS-C mirrorless, which means—another surprise, to me—that Nikon released a 40mm-e and a 35mm-e for Z-system DX before releasing a 50mm-e. Times change. Although if that’s what you really want, you could adapt the older 35mm ƒ/1.8G DX DSLR lens ($177) using the FTZ II adaptor ($250). 

Other than that, this seems true: whatever your choice for a main/normal lens, prime or zoom, 35mm[e], 40mm[e] or 50mm[e], and for whichever kind of camera, the Nikon Z System has it covered. And that is what a system is supposed to do.

(We have more new equipment to discuss, but I got distracted with this. Forty millimeter equivalent lenses are to me like catnip is to cats. The fact that they see like I do does some weird endorphinny thing to my brain….)


*The Pentax-M FLEXI 35mm ƒ/2.8 was adjustable from ~32mm to ~39mm. The idea was to shoot with it as if it were a 35mm, and then adjust your framing slightly when needed. It was exhibited at Photokina 1979 (which took place in 1978), but, perhaps understandably (the concept being too subtle for most), never put into production. There was a 75mm ƒ/3.5 FLEXI prototype too! These facts from some members on, where there are several illustrations. The 20–40mm Pentax zoom is 30–60mm-equivalent, and there is a history of 2X zooms—in fact, in the early days of varifocal and zoom lenses when most if not all zooms were of inferior quality (the Leitz family forbade Leica to produce them), 2X was considered a good conservative limit if you didn’t want quality to suffer. But buyers wanted more and more zoom range, and manufacturers were of course happy to comply.

Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Danfogel: “I am a mostly film shooter and love 40mm lenses. I mostly shoot a Leica M2 and have both a Rokkor 40mm ƒ/2 (filed down to bring up 35mm framelines by the previous owner) and the delightful LTM [Leica thread mount, a term for M39 screwmount coined by Marc James Small —Ed.] Rollei 40mm ƒ/2.8 that I have on a 35mm LTM-to-M converter (same framelines). In my experience, when using the Leica M2 and wearing glasses, what you can see is about 40mm. I also like to carry around a 1972 Olympus 35EC that belonged to my late father. It has a gem of an Olympus 40mm ƒ/2.8. All good at 40mm over here.”

Albert Smith: “I still take my Eyes Of Nikon off the shelf from time to time. Many a day in the ’80s were spent planning my next purchase comparing specs from the small charts that accompanied each lens. I got my book for free from Nikon after returning warranty paperwork for a camera. Nikon was smart, because that ‘free’ book got the company over a dozen lens purchases from me.

“For what it’s worth, I’m 90% a Fujifilm shooter now, but I bought a Voightlander 40mm ƒ/2 lens for my Nikon DSLR, and that lens has been the only lens mounted for almost two years. The version that I have is a clone of an old Nikkor and if it appeared in the Eyes Of Nikon book from the ’80s, it would have never looked out of place. The optical quality of this lens however smokes every similar AI/AIs lens within a few millimeters of this focal length. It puts my AIS 35mm ƒ/1.4 to shame and is better than any 50mm Nikkor from that era. Every time that I take it out on my D700, I keep wishing that it existed in the old F3 days. It truly is the Goldilocks focal length…just right.”

Kent Phelan: “And let’s not forget the Fuji GF 50mm ƒ/3.5, another 40mm-e lens. Small, simple, superb, it changes the GFX 100S into a different, portable, kind of ‘throw back’ machine.”


Open Mike: A Few More Readings

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Regarding reading recommendations, if you want to know what’s gone wrong with the United States, try “America Is Headed Toward Collapse: History shows how to stave it off,” a short article by Peter Turchin, from The Atlantic. It’s adapted from his new book, End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration. It’s a simple thesis, simply stated, and, in my view, obviously correct.

Simone weilAnother short book I read recently was On The Abolition of All Political Parties by Simone Weil, from NYRB Books. If you don’t know Simone Weil, time to catch up. She worked as a teacher of philosophy (pace Aaron James) at a school for girls, but was important primarily as a highly original thinker and a formidable public intellectual. Talented in physics and mathematics (her brother was the French mathematician André Weil), she also mastered many languages; she “read and reread her beloved Plato” in Greek. Raised without religion and coming to religiously-inflected mysticism on her own, she wrote on political subjects, and, like Eric Blair, a.k.a. George Orwell, put her ideas into action personally, sometimes (also like Orwell) putting her safety at risk. Personally she was peculiar, a “neat freak” who disliked physical contact with either men or women; yet it was said that she was one of a rare few who could hold her own in a face-to-face debate with Leon Trotsky. She died at only 34, leaving behind a scattered corpus of writings on many subjects. None of her books, and only a smattering of her articles, were published in her lifetime.

On The Abolition of All Political Parties, written 80 years ago in the middle of the Second World War, just before her death, is only 28 pages long. Notes by the translator and an essay by Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz plump the book up to an extravagant 48 pages.  It’s remarkable in at least one way: reading it, you see a superior intellect striving to be as lucid, clear, and communicative as possible, rather than trying to impress us with obscurantism, jargon, and signalings of its author’s merit. It’s only the rarest minds that have the assurance to be egoless.

Milosz says, “her work has found admirers all over the world, yet because of its austerity it attracts only a limited number of readers in every country.” So: not for everybody. I found the ideas in her essay relevant to today. However, one sentence made me nostalgic and sad: “In the Anglo-Saxon world, political parties have an element of game, of sport, which is only conceivable in an institution of aristocratic origin….” If only. No more. Our parties today act like they would rather to see the other destroyed than the country preserved. I first knew we were in deep trouble when, many years ago, I heard that Democrats and Republicans would no longer look each other in the eye in the halls of Congress….



Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Chris Bertram: “Some posts are serendipitous. I’m in Poland at the moment and may also be TOP’s only reader who is also a professional political philosopher. Surprised to read about Simone Weil here, but also was looking yesterday at pictures of Milosz as part of the Gdansk permanent exhibition on the history of Solidarnosc. Not what I come to TOP for, but I’m enjoying the intersection with my own interests.”

Joseph L. Kashi: “In George Washington’s famous but all-too-infrequently read 1796 Farewell to the Nation, Washington urged Americans to resist the impulse to form political parties. Washington observed that it was human nature to confound one’s personal interests and the partisan interests of the party with the best interests of the nation. Washington also urged Americans to avoid making politics a career rather than short-term selfless service and to resist any purely local interests that damaged hard-won national unity.

“His successors Jefferson and John Adams, along with Hamilton, failed to heed this wise advice, derived from Washington’s observations of how the UK lost the Revolutionary War, and started us upon our current path.”

Aaron: “I think of Milosz’s poem ‘Encounter‘ as something of a canticle for photography.”

A Thing I’ve Always Thought Should Be

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Nikon 24mm-1

Hmm, well. I don’t know what’s happening in the camera universe, but there seems to have been a tiny shift in the direction of my desires. First up under that heading: Nikon has issued what for the company seems like an inconsequential little lens, but which to me is anything but: an affordable 24mm ƒ/1.7 for APS-C (“DX” in Nikonspeak). Available for preorder from B&H and from Amazon.

I’ve only been calling for such a thing, oh, since George W. Bush was President. It’s a 35mm-equivalent, of course, and a medium-speed 35mm prime is the basic normal lens in my world. (There are two kinds of people in the world: people who don’t divide the world into two kinds of people, and people who divide the world into 50mm people and 35mm people*.) It was one glaringly obvious omission from the Nikon lineup for the entire lifespan of Nikon APS-C DSLRs. Pretty much the entire lifespan, anyway—Nikon does still sell three aging APS-C DSLRs. But we’re in the era of the Z-system and mirrorless now.

The new lens is a Z-system DX lens. It’s for the Z50, the Z30, and the Zfc, but my buddy Inscrutable Oracular Oren says the one to get is the Z50. It’s a basic walkaround lens for the Z50, the one lens to have before you get any other lens, the first lens to master, the lens that will best teach you to organize the world into pictures, the lens to keep glued to the camera when you’re going through life with a camera around your neck. The two are a perfect match on paper. You can do 85% of anything you’d ever want to do photographically with a Z50, and you can do 85% of anything you’d ever want to do with a Z50 with the 24mm ƒ/1.7 lens. Nikon bliss. Happy day.


Details (with I guess a little editorializing added):

  • Perfect spec: 24mm ƒ/1.7
  • Perfect angle of view: 61° (master it first)
  • Perfect size: 1.6 inches long (no, “pancakes” aren’t better, because you want the focusing ring to be wide enough to find and grab when you’re focusing manually)
  • Perfect minimum focus distance: 4.7 inches
  • Perfect lens hood: one of those nifty compact “innies” instead of the usual oversized “outie.”
  • Perfect light weight: less than five ounces, 135 g
  • Perfect price: $276.95 (B&H price) (enough to pay for good optics but cheap enough not to hurt too large a number of wallets).

(Nikon says it’s drip resistant, too, which I highly doubt given the number of drips out there in the world. Okay, dad joke. Hey, I’m a dad.)

Performance? Obviously I haven’t used it, but I feel comfortable venturing a solid very educated guess, after having tried and tested upward of 100 (and I hope not 200) 35mm and 35mm-equivalent lenses in my long life in photography: it won’t be Nikon’s very very best. Not enough to get Roger in a lather. Given today’s high state of refinement in the design and manufacture of traditional glass lenses, and Nikon’s longtime expertise and accomplishment in lensmaking, it will only be better than 99% of all the lenses ever made in the entire history of photography since 1839, is all. And recall: you can do both incredibly crappy and incandescently outstanding work with almost any lens, if you’re sensitive and creative enough. So, will it be good enough for little ol’ you? Entirely yours to decide. (A plea, though: stop it down once in a while!)


My advice (no one likes advice) to newcomers: get a Z50 and this lens and stop thinking about cameras and lenses and get started learning to see the kind of pictures you want to make. Back in the days when giants bestrode the Earth and photographers were heroes of the visual imagination, the iconic tool coveted by many was a Leica M with a 35mm Summicron welded** to it. A Nikon Z50 and this lens will be better in almost every conceivable way. (Except for the iconic-ness, although Nikon is a burnished and venerated name too. You’ll live.)

The topsy-turvy world is being put right, in this little tiny way. It’s a good day, a good day, and I’m going to enjoy it.


*Well, I guess maybe there are a few more kinds than that.

**Not literally.

Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Dan deakin: “Remarkable that they never made this lens during the entire time they produced so many DX DSLRs. Better late than never I guess.”

Howard Sandler: “I wonder if 50mm vs. 35mm people correlates to the size of print people normally make. I learned quite late in my photographic journey, from an article by R. Kingslake on lenses in Morgan and Lester’s Graphic Graflex Photography, that perspective seems undistorted when a print is viewed from the same relative position as the camera had. For example, I made this photo of a Citroen with a Nikkor 35mm ƒ/2 lens, one of my favourites. The length of the hood looks quite pronounced when you view it on a monitor from 18 inches or so away. But if you get your eye six inches from it, so that it fills about the same field of view as the camera saw, the proportions look about right. Wide angle shots with close foreground tend to look less distorted when printed big or viewed close up.” Citroen

Albert Smith: “Back in the early DSLR days when everything was a crop sensor (before the D3/D700 Nikons), I was using crop-sensor Nikons culminating in the very professional and capable D300s. Nikon initially offered only zooms, which I hardly ever used with my film Nikons. They then came out with a very nice, inexpensive, and first-rate performing 35mm ƒ/1.8 lens which gave us a decent ‘normal’ 50mm-e.

“And then no more general-use fast primes. They had a couple of macros, but no DX versions of the bread and butter focal lengths that we film shooters relied on. I would have killed for a fast 24mm for my D300s. I used a full-frame 24mm ƒ/2.8 on the crop sensor Nikon, but that extra stop and a half would have been great.

“Fortunately, the D700 came out and I never gave the DX Nikons another thought.”


Related Stories


Philosophical Readings

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Aaron jamesAaron James

I mentioned that I got to meet one TOP reader on my recent trip to the Midwest. I had an extra day between visits to family members, so I made a short drive to Peoria, Illinois, to look into real estate, thinking that one day I’ll move closer to my son and his family. The opportunities are limited right at the moment, but life comes in waves. Aaron James, a philosophy professor from Peoria, was able to meet me for lunch. It made my day, literally. The Indian restaurant we wanted to go to was closed on Mondays, so we ended up at a little hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that looked almost comically tacky and cheap; but when we walked in, all the patrons looked like they might be from that part of the world. That’s usually a good indication of authenticity at an ethnic restaurant of any sort. Sure enough, the food was excellent, so good that it fired up a hankering for Indian food that I’m still feeling. My son took me to a fantastic Indian restaurant in Bloomington, too. There are apparently a lot of choices in that area. You wouldn’t guess that central Illinois, with its endless flat farm fields, would be a hotbed of great Indian food, but it appears that it is so.

Aaron brought photographs. He has an eye for finely considered, gentle compositions, and the color palette he prefers is clean and delicate. He does his work for himself and I could see why he gets enjoyment out of it. I always enjoy seeing work.

We talked for several hours, which managed to seem too short. I always worry that readers will be disappointed when they meet me—Joan Didion once talked about the way people think they’ll get something more and better from writers in person, like there’s something more and better hiding behind the written words, when actually it’s the opposite. I think she said something like “you get the best of me on the printed page.”

I told Aaron that I am to philosophers what George Costanza is to architects. I took enough of it at various colleges to learn that I have only a sidewise aptitude for it—the enthusiasm of the wannabe, the admiration of the hanger-on. We got to talking about what kind of philosophy books I like to read, and I said I had trouble reading original writings but enjoyed general nonfiction on the subject. Guided tours, I think I put it, by someone knowledgeable about the subject but who could explain it to be from a contemporary and more distanced perspective. I need it to be put it into context for me.

Here’s what Aaron sent me along those lines a few days later (passed on to you with his permission):

Here are a couple of philosophy book recommendations if you’re so inclined. They’re both books by professional philosophers aimed at a general audiences. So, they’re deep (if you will) without being technical. They both relate to life and wisdom, or meaning in life, or what a good life is like, or some such. Those were major preoccupations for ancient and medieval philosophy, less so in the modern period. Some contemporary philosophers are returning to those questions now.

Robert Nozick, The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations published originally in 1989. Nozick was a Harvard prof probably best known for his political philosophy, but also influential in epistemology. As the title suggests these are his meditations on topics like dying, parents and children, love, reality, enlightenment, and so forth. Although not jargon-filled it’s best read slowly.

Meghan Sullivan and Paul Blaschko, The Good Life Method: Reasoning Through the Big Questions of Happiness, Faith, and Meaning, Penguin, 2022. Sullivan and Blaschko are Notre Dame profs who based this book on an introductory class they teach. They’re both practicing Roman Catholics so it has a religious slant, but it’s not intrusive. Not sure what your religious sensibilities are (or aren’t) but there’s plenty of engagement with lots of philosophers throughout history and other religious traditions.

It’s always great to meet readers—I wish I could do more of that, too.

Portraits and photo stores

By the way, the portrait above is an example of an unofficial genre you might be familiar with—”the photography friend across the lunch table.” You know how it is—you meet a photo-buddy, one brings a camera to show the other or just has one with him, and one or maybe even both might take a quick snap, one and done (I took two here, but they’re identical). Another genre I used to have a lot of is the “photo-store counterperson being an unwilling model for a test shot,” but I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been in a photo store. I miss ’em, I’ll be honest.

Aaron asked me what I would do to make portraits better, and I said “two hours, a number of different setups, several different shirts, and lots more exposures.” The full portrait file of Aaron has wonderful properties, though—I should do more portraits with the fp-M. I’m already looking at that Sigma Contemporary 65mm ƒ/2. As as aside to this aside, one of the nice things about the fp-M is that the giant viewfinder makes it a pleasure to show people pictures right in the camera. I’ll even make the offer to strangers who ask what I’m doing, and they’re usually favorably impressed.

I think that’s it about my trip. I felt fine for the whole trip, with adequate energy and good focus, but it’s taking me a long time to recover. It’s also surprising how much work it’s been to get back into my daily routine. But I’ll get there, I’ll get there.


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

David Aiken: “I did two-thirds of my BA in the Philosophy department of my local state university in Australia and I’d add another book to Aaron’s list, a book that my favourite philosophy lecturer borrowed from me for several months when he discovered I owned a copy. It’s Peter Heath’s The Philosopher’s Alice which is still available on Amazon but at a prohibitive price.

“It contains the text of Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books with philosophical annotations by Heath. In real life Carroll was Charles Dodgson, an English Anglican priest and lecturer in logic amongst several other things, and he packed the Alice books with every form of paradox and logical fallacy that he knew. The Alice books have long been a favourite hunting ground for philosophers and logicians looking for examples to use in their lectures and writings. You don’t need to be a philosopher to appreciate the footnotes, but they’ll bring many smiles to your face as you see what Carroll was playing with as he wrote the Alice books. It will totally change the way you view the Alice books and it may well change the way you read a lot of ‘normal,’ i.e., non-philosophical, writing. It’s definitely on a par with Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice for those who like the Alice books and are bemused by many of the goings on in them.

“Philosophers do know how to have fun.”

Aaron: “I had a great time at lunch, too. I’m very glad you let us know you’d be stopping by Peoria. I think your readers won’t be surprised by this, but you’re as interesting and amiable in person as you seem online. I get what Joan Didion is saying, but the pleasure of meeting you in person is exactly that—meeting the person, not merely the words. If you get back this way, let us know.”

Mike replies: I definitely will.

kirk: “As a counterpoint to someone’s comment recommending ‘one camera, one lens’ (OCOL), the 65mm Sigma is one of my all-time favorite lenses with high performance wide open. A wonderful portrait focal length. It’s a totally different look from the 45mm. Not all lenses are the ‘same.’ You can keep things too KISS. Imagine dinner every day with only one thing on the menu….”

The Ultra-Wide Fuji

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

Fuji has introduced the kind of lens that most of us don’t actually need but might buy just to have, because it’s so cool.

Fuji 8mmThe new Fuji 8mm

Generally, the more extreme the focal length of a lens, the more narrow its range of usefulness. However, the classic marketing model for ILCs, as you know, has long been to attract customers with the promise of a complete system, because it means that whatever you might need will be available. So photographers-as-customers tend to like it when lens lines are filled out with many options, even though most of us won’t ever avail ourselves of the less mainstream offerings.

Fuji 8mm cross sectionDrawing of the 8mm from the patent, which

differs from the production lens

Enter the new ultra-wide Fujifilm XF 8mm ƒ/3.5 R WR, the shortest/widest lens in Fuji’s XF lineup. It’s a rectilinear lens. The Japanese site Asobinet found the patent, which was for lenses of 7mm, 8mm, and 9mm focal length—ƒ/4, ƒ/3.5, and ƒ/2.8 respectively—so evidently Fuji considered several designs before settling on the 8mm. The new lens has 12 elements in 9 groups, with two ED elements and three aspherical surfaces; it has a fluorine coating on the objective for protection, is dust- and water-resistant, and is very compact—it weighs only 7.6 oz. (215 g), despite taking 62mm filters. Of course it’s pitched at videographers as well, with internal focusing and low focus-breathing. Price is $800.

Totally as an aside, I’ll just point out that when I was a kid this lens would have been total science fiction. It would have cost $10k if not more and would have been the talk of photo-gearheads for years, and today would have “legendary” status. Old lenses can still make great-looking images, but lensmaking really has come a long way from a purely technical standpoint. Of course, I was a kid a long time ago.

If you’re a Fuji shooter you probably won’t have a need for one of these (21mm-e is “ultrawide” to me, and I love the unjustly overlooked Fuji 14mm), but you’re glad it’s there all the same.


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Paulo Bizarro: “Last week I watched the Fuji BKK Summit, where this lens was introduced. One of the reasons mentioned was that mobile phones now sport a 12mm-equivalent lens, so Fuji wanted to have a similar offer. I am considering this lens for night sky landscapes, there are some good examples in the Fuji website gallery for the lens.”

Mike replies: Typical Fuji thoughtfulness. That makes all kinds of sense.

Kodachromeguy: “Wow, fascinating lens. I have the 14mm and really like it. Why is it overlooked? Recall, Zeiss still offers a Touit 12mm for Fuji-X. I may try renting one.”

Mike replies: I think the popularity of the older 14mm ƒ/2.8 fell off when the 16mm ƒ/1.4 (faster), 16mm ƒ/2.8 (cheaper), and the 8–16mm and 10–24mm zooms came along. Now, with this 8mm, the field at the very wide end is getting crowded. There’s something very pleasant about our 14mm’s images, though, and I continue to be loyal to it. It’s a lens I trust. I also have the 12mm Zeiss.

Roger Bradbury: “It seems they chose a different design from the one in the patent, which has eleven elements, not twelve (yes, I counted; couldn’t help myself). Fujifilm’s website shows the twelve element design.”

Mike replies: Thanks for pointing that out, and for providing the link. I hadn’t realized that. I changed the second caption….

Albert Smith: “Well, Fujifilm is nothing if not consistent. This new lens joins the ranks of pretty much every Fujifilm product…short supply due to unexpected demand.”

Marc: “The Nikkor ƒ/5.6mm 13mm from 1976 was the old equivalent (not for $800 though!), but only 368 were ever made.”

Mike replies: I worked for a publishing company that had a photo department that owned that lens. They bought it and used it for one magazine cover, and then never again found another use for it…except to bring it out and reverently show it off to various interested parties. I worked for another photographer who did the same thing with a different superwide camera—used it to good effect once and then never found another use for it.

Stan B.: “I love, love, love WA’s, but this extreme a view is of extremely limited use—and mostly in the great wide open where the distortion would be less obvious (and distracting). I used the 16mm (FF fisheye) Nikkor on rare occasions, when I didn’t have a Widelux.

“Today, when one can readily stitch things together digitally, you really need a specific project that will take advantage of this extreme a view to make this purchase anywhere near necessary.”

Daniel: “Looks as if it will be very good for northern lights photos. When the night sky is horizon-to-horizon with a massive light show, ultrawide is most welcome.”


Back to the Bag

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

I didn’t mean to take the whole weekend off, but on Saturday my big trip to the Midwest caught up to me. Although I got a lot of work done in the morning, including getting back on the yard and cutting a section of it, later I was so weary I took not one but two catnaps and then slept the whole night through. Then, yesterday morning, over my white tea with lemon juice, I spent the morning happily writing away at a meandering post that went everywhere and nowhere. I had great fun writing it, hopping from one half-formed thought to another. Before I posted it, fortunately, I realized that it had some problems and needed to be edited. So I decided what the main theme should be and cut out everything else. After which there were only a couple of little stubby paragraphs left! That didn’t work. So I put the banished parts back in and resolved to shape it up. I worked on it for a while, then went away, then came back and worked on it some more. Late in the day the truth began to glimmer at the edges of my brain, and I realized that I had created possibly the worst post I have ever written. By the time darkness fell I had decided not to inflict it on you. I put the poor thing out of our misery.

When my son was a very little baby—I raised him myself, without experience or knowledge—his daycare provider, Pam Goebbels, a mother of many kids herself, realized I didn’t have a lot of baby clothes, and took up a collection at her church. She presented me with a great big plastic leaf-bag full of old baby clothes donated by all the kindly Seventh-Day Adventists. Dressing the baby every day, I would fish around in the bag to find whatever we needed—pants, a shirt, socks, what have you. And mostly I did pretty well making one thing match with another; not as well as an experienced mother might do, but something passable. And of course he was too little to care about style or appearance. But occasionally, just occasionally, I would look down at my adorable baby looking back up at me in a ridiculous ill-fitting outfit that made him look like a miniature demented clown and think, naw, I can’t do that to the kid. Back to the bag. Try again, Dad.

It’s pool day here at TOP World Headquarters, but I’ll get back to the bag later today. Happy Memorial Day, to those of you who celebrate it. The lakeshore is crawling with people, and fortunately for all of them the weather is idyllic, cool and sunny. All’s well here, except perhaps for my pride, which might be a touch sore.


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Grant: “You would make a great politician. You manage to cover up your mistake, make a weak apology and then distract us with a cute baby story. Foolishly we fall for it. Are you running for Congress, or the Senate?”

Mike replies: We will constantly strive to research worldwide eTraining portals for today’s Fortune 500 eBusinesses. Unlike my opponent, I have faith in our delicious apple pies, our love for the Bible and our hard-working neighborhoods. (This response courtesy of the Corporate Slogan Generator and the Political Rhetoric Generator.)

My First Trip Post-COVID

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

I had a wonderful trip. It was tough to prepare for and tough to carry out, and absolutely worth it. It’s quite emotional to meet a grandchild. One thing I didn’t expect is how much of a sense of personality you can get from a three-and-a-half-month old. Photographically speaking, I took only a few pictures with the Sigma fp-BW, and many with the iPhone—family snaps, which the parents request not be put online. I got to meet Kate’s family, which was great. Although I only got to spend two and a half days with Xander and Kate and Cirrus, it was more than worth it. One bad thing? After spending time with my son again I miss him a lot. More than usual I mean. But I’m very proud of him for the life he’s made. He has a lovely family, and just started a great new job. Of course it keeps him away from them too much, but isn’t that life? At least he has weekends off.

I spent a full 24 hours with my brother and his wife in Chicago. We had a lot of catching up to do. They’re in new digs, a large and luxurious townhouse. Sometime I should tell you the unusual fate of their former house, which they moved into when the kids were little—it’s an entertaining story. But not right now. I should say also that I meant to post more from the road. But, you know how that goes. All the things you think you’re going to have time for while you’re traveling, you don’t.

I had only one incident on the road, an encounter with a psychotic tow-truck driver on the easternmost portion of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway, where everyone drives like a madman. I haven’t driven city highways in a number of years, and I was struck by the general increase in lawlessness. And aggressiveness, oh my. On one of the more open stretches of the madhouse Chicago highways I tried my little trick of shadowing another driver to see how fast he was going. (I only did this twice, so please don’t think I was speeding all the time just to gather data!) A kid in an Alfa Romeo Stelvio came up on me so fast I couldn’t help but be curious. I started speeding up well before he got to me, meaning to try to shadow him for a few seconds to gauge his speed accurately, but the experiment didn’t last long—when I was all the way up to 90, he zoomed past me and was pulling away so rapidly that I immediately gave up. I probably have never driven any vehicle in my life as fast as he was going. I can only estimate, but it must have been 115 or 120. 

My other driving discovery, the one I mentioned last night? That it’s not actually easy to drive the speed limit. My intention was to obey the speed limit the entire way. But that created problems occasionally. There are times when you just need to get out of the way, or pass, or avoid getting trapped. It’s easier—and, if I’m honest, more sensible—to drive the traffic and accept the speed limits as a guideline. I’m sure I pissed some people off by following the law to the letter through construction zones! But I did. And if you drove as slow as the speed limit on the Ronald Reagan, you’d cause accidents.

Discovery in the photographic realm: treat the iPhone like it’s a serious camera—concentrate—and you can do good work with it. I made that mistake when digital came along. I just didn’t conceive of it as being serious at first. Before that, I had to the same problem with RC paper—my mind went into different modes when printing on RC, which I felt was casual and for proofs, or fiber-base, which was “real” and for finished fine prints. This was entirely a mental, and entirely a Mike, thing. For a long time in the beginning—years—I didn’t treat digital like it was worth taking seriously. Some of my efforts at family pics with the iPhone are excellent. Probably because I was giving it my full photographic attention. (Kate is also a talented iPhonographer with a keen eye.) I should probably dilate on some of these issues further in a future post.

I got to meet one TOP reader in Illinois, and that was a great experience. (Are all of you uncommonly interesting people? I think so.) David Vernon lives in Peoria, but he was scheduled to do headshots for Caterpillar while I was there and couldn’t join us. So I had lunch with reader Aaron James in Peoria, and I’ll tell you about that next.


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Dan Gorman: “I’m glad to hear you had a good visit with Xander and family, and congrats on meeting your grandson.  :-)  One quick note on the local culture: I’ve lived in and around Chicago all my life, and I’ve never heard anyone from around here refer to ‘the Ronald Reagan Tollway’ or any variant thereof. In my experience, that highway is universally known around here as ‘I-88′ or just ’88.’ No disrespect to the former President, but I’d guess not one person in five who live in the area is even aware that it’s been officially renamed.

“On the other hand, you are 100% correct about the driving habits of people on I-88—this road is notorious locally for excessive speed, and for the propensity of impatient speeders to pass on the right. I’m a pretty spirited driver myself most of the time, but when I’m on 88, I keep a watchful eye on my mirrors! Glad you had a fun and safe trip, and glad to see TOP back up and running  :-)  .”

Mike replies: Thanks for clarifying that. I only used that name because, as I understand it, only the tollway part of I-88, the section between Rock River and Chicago, is the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway, and I drove part of that section. But local knowledge wins.

In fairness I should point out that most of my drive was bucolic and peaceful, with not a lot of traffic except around the cities. Driving I-86 through Western New York is pleasant enough that it’s almost like meditation!

robert e: “Mike, I think you do some of your finest writing when you report from your ‘private’ life. Thanks for sharing! And if I haven’t said it before: Congratulations, Gramps!

“I don’t think ‘didn’t conceive of it as being serious at first’ is at all ‘entirely a Mike thing,’ especially regarding RC paper! In fact this seems to be characteristic of the history of ‘serious’ photography from the beginning, whether it’s adoption of sharpness and depth of field, enlargements, film, roll film, ‘miniature’ film, and cameras, color, ____ printing process, digital process, phone cameras, etc. In hindsight it seems like commerce and industry (including news), or the masses, often lead, artists adopt, and ‘serious’ amateurs come around last. Or does it only seem this way in hindsight? Maybe we’re actually collectively trying new things all the time and the good stuff catches on and lasts?


“Anyway, I hope you do ‘dilate’ on this issue, whether from a personal or historical perspective, and hopefully something of both. (Perhaps you’ve talked about this phenomenon as well, but I’m dismayed to see in myself a kind of backlash attitude where I have a hard time taking the retro-analog efforts of the digital generation seriously, though maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places, or confused as to what the right places are these days. Do I sound like an old man?)”

Mike replies: Kinda. But I do too.  🙂


Blog Note

This post is by Ron Dawson from The Online Photographer

I’m back! 1,725 miles in the car, five States, 34 MPG, three hotels and one guest room. Old pet peeve: one semi trying to pass another while going the exact same speed. New pet peeve: I’ll tell you tomorrow.


Original contents copyright 2023 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. (To see all the comments, click on the “Comments” link below or on the title of this post.)

Featured Comments from:

Sebastian Broll: “Question from a non-native speaker. What is a ‘semi’? ‘Hemi’ I would have understood, but those I’d not expect to perform endless overtaking moves.  ;-)  Cheers, Sebastian (waiting for an X-Pro3 to be delivered).”

Mike replies: Sorry. What I meant is a tractor-trailer. A semi-trailer is a trailer that bears its own weight only on the back end; the front end is supported by the rear wheels of the tractor, which is the part with the engine and the cabin where the driver sits. A tractor can drive without a trailer, but a trailer can’t roll without a tractor. You can see a diagram with the parts labeled here. And congratulations on the b*tchin’ new Fuji!

Sean: “Re ‘New pet peeve: I’ll tell you tomorrow.’ Is it cliffhangers?”