The Phoblographer updates Fuji X-T1 review for firmware 4.0 →

June 30, 2015 |

Chris Gampat:

The new firmware brings with it a large number of autofocus upgrades like new tracking, zone focus, and improved speed to single AF focusing.

Indeed, the camera is significantly faster to focus, and we almost want to say that it’s about on par with the fastest of Sony’s APS-C mirrorless cameras and Samsung’s NX series. However, it still isn’t at Micro Four Thirds speed.

One of the best things about Fuji cameras is the continued support they get for years after their initial release. Fuji’s firmware updates are usually excellent not only in terms of bug-fixing, but also in terms of improving performance and adding actual new features that improve usability and keep their cameras competitive and relevant for longer. They actually remind me a lot of Apple and iOS in that regard.

Clearly, other manufacturers could learn a thing or two from Fuji here.

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The Sun never sets on Roger Federer →

June 29, 2015 |

Fantastic piece by Brian Phillips for Grantland:

Four years ago, I wrote that there was “an aura of weird sadness” around Federer’s arrested decline. Federer seemed invincible for so long — not just better than everyone else, invincible — that it was unnerving at first when he didn’t. He’d do all the same Federer things — blast that big, courtly cannon of a serve, skip-float to the net, catch the ball short with an acute one-handed backhand, wheel back to the center of the court for a blistering forehand putaway — the same things he’d always done, only now they didn’t always work. Now, against Rafa Nadal or Novak Djokovic or whomever, they would sometimes fail. Four or five years ago, this could put you in a strange place. He’d been so effortless once that then, when the ball missed by three inches, it felt like watching beauty succumb to death.

There’s a strong case to be made that Roger Federer’s dominance in his prime set a new benchmark for greatness not only in tennis, but across all sports. I really enjoyed Phillips’s take on Federer’s twilight years — which, as he points out, have already lasted longer than his prime.

Normally I would’ve saved this piece for the next issue of Morning Coffee, but I liked it so much I’m sharing it right now. Enjoy.1

  1. It would be a shame if Federer lost in the first week of Wimbledon and was already out of the tournament by the time you read this.

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June 27, 2015

Another week went by, and it was a big one. Millions of people all over the US are celebrating not one, but two major rulings by the Supreme Court, which upheld the rights to affordable healthcare and equality in marriage for everyone. These were two historic events with the potential to transform the entire nation, and the fact that they both occurred within mere days of each other is remarkable. Just after being hit by tragedy, the American people once again have reasons to dream of a better future.

It’s still early to fully appreciate the repercussions of these rulings, but the effect is already being felt with force all over the Internet, and it’s been fascinating to watch.

Unfortunately the rest of the world wasn’t so lucky during the week, as tragedy has once again struck in the form of terrorist attacks. This time the attacks were carried out in three different continents simultaneously and left behind over 60 dead. I keep trying to express my disgust at this nonsensical horror, but words fail me.

Now let’s turn to brighter topics. The good news is, there were plenty of interesting things going on throughout the week to keep us busy.

One such thing happening in the creative sphere was Shawn Blanc officially launching The Focus Course. This project has been over a year in the making, and Shawn has poured everything he has into it. The Focus Course is clearly his most ambitious project yet, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Of course, the week in Apple was marked by the controversy raised by Taylor Swift on account of Apple Music’s payouts — or lack thereof — to artists during the free 3-month trial every customer gets upon signing up for the service. Apple quickly ceded and said they would pay labels and artists during the free trial, which was enough to convince Swift to change her mind about releasing her latest album, 1989, on the service. Still, this whole affair has prompted many people to discuss the balance of power in today’s music industry, and whether the current situation is healthy. Those are very legitimate concerns, and I look forward to seeing how the industry evolves now that the switch to streaming-first services is all but complete.

Besides the Apple Music controversy, we also got some great reviews of the new MacBook. I had been looking forward to two of them in particular, and they didn’t disappoint. Both Matt Gemmell and Ben Brooks shared their thoughts on the latest Apple computer and, though they have markedly different approaches, both made some excellent points about the device and its intended audience.

Now, as usual, let’s dive into some of this week’s most interesting pieces of writing.

Issue #4: On climbing El Capitan, setting expectations, the lead up to Wimbledon, fighting Uber, and comparing portrait lenses

This week I stray a bit from the usual topics on Analog Senses, but hopefully the content will remain just as compelling. Enjoy.

Climbing El Capitan’s Nose | Matt and Joanne Stamplis →

The Nose is perhaps the most iconic rock climbing route in the entire world. It’s 1,000 feet high and usually takes multiple days to ascend. Matt and Joanne Stamplis attempted the climb back in 2009, and they took some pretty incredible pictures along the way. I was getting goosebumps just by looking at the images, but the actual narration is just as great. It took them four days and seven gallons of water to climb The Nose, but climb it they did. What an awesome story.

Climb Yosemite’s El Capitan Like a Rock Star—From Your Computer | Andrew Bisharat →

Speaking of El Capitan, it is now possible to experience the adventure from the comfort and safety of your home. Google has digitally mapped the entire route using the same technology they use in Street View, and the result is incredibly cool. This is a great way to complement Matt and Joanne’s story.

The tragedy of small expectations (and the trap of false dreams) | Seth Godin →

Seth Godin makes an astute point, as usual:

Expectations that don’t match what’s possible are merely false dreams. And expectations that are too small are a waste. We need teachers and leaders and peers who will help us dig in deeper and discover what’s possible, so we can push to make it likely.

Transforming the possible into the likely is a pretty substantial leap. Successfully making that leap depends on the culture around us, which is why doing everything we can to dispel myths about what can’t be done is so important.

How Math’s most famous proof nearly broke | Peter Brown →

I love tales of scientific discovery, and this one’s as good as it gets. Via Tools & Toys.

Essentials | Matt Gemmell →

I really enjoyed Matt’s answer to the old question: “What would you take with you to a desert island?”. Or, to put it another way, what is really essential to you? There’s nothing like packing for an upcoming trip to ponder these questions. I have my list, and no doubt you have yours. In my own case, much like in Matt’s, I’ve found that as I go through life, the list not only keeps changing, it also keeps getting shorter.

How Arthur Ashe became the only black man to win the Wimbledon title | Aimee Lewis →

Wimbledon, the most prestigious tournament in the tennis world, in finally upon us and as usual, the BBC will be providing extensive coverage of the event. This piece is one in a series of in-depth looks at the history of the tournament that the BBC is publishing in the lead up to the tournament, which is due to begin on Monday.

The 1975 Wimbledon men’s final pitted two American players against each other: Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. Ostensibly, these two characters didn’t get along at all, which is why on the day of the match, tension was running high. In the end, the match not only lived up to the expectations, but instantly became one of the all-time classics on the green lawns of the All England Club.

35 facts that prove Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player ever | Chris Chase →

Continuing with the Wimbledon theme, there’s no other player whose game is better attuned to the grass than Roger Federer. In fact, 7 of his record 17 Grand Slam titles came at Wimbledon, and 12 years after lifting his first Wimbledon trophy, he’s still trying to add to the list. Federer may well be the greatest male player of all time, although that question is likely to forever remain unanswered. After all, it’s very difficult to compare players across different eras, because the sport has changed so much since then.

Still, Federer has made a hell of a case for himself, and this piece by Chris Chase shows you why. Some of the numbers in Federer’s career are absolutely staggering, like the fact that he contested 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals, or 18 out 19 straight finals. These numbers are unreal, but perhaps the greatest thing about him is the fact that he’s not done yet.

The original hope | A Demon’s Voice →

My favorite Internet demon reviews one of the greatest films of all time, Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. Warning: strong language is frequently used throughout this review.

The long history of the fight against Uber | Om Malik →

Fantastic piece by Om Malik for The New Yorker. Technology enables change to occur swiftly, and sometimes people and entire industries are left behind in the process. Such is the relentless wheel of progress. In a world where instant gratification reigns supreme, traditional businesses are left unable to compete.

Being a conscious consumer goes a long way towards finding a balance, because the truth is, protecting and supporting our local businesses is incredibly important, perhaps now more than ever. I may have a bit of a Luddite in me, but I can’t help but prefer buying my meat in the small shop around the corner, where Luis the butcher greets me by my first name every day. He also keeps a watchful eye on my bike, which is parked right by his shop’s door. Those little things are important to me, even if buying my meat at a supermarket would probably be a bit cheaper.

iOS 9 and Safari View Controller: The future of Web views | Federico Viticci →

Another great in-depth look at a new technology in iOS 9 by Federico Viticci. The new Safari View Controller technology has the potential to vastly improve the experience of using in-app browsers, which are some of the most annoying things left in iOS.

Panasonic Lumix 42.5mm f/1.7 review and comparison with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 vs Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 | Mathieu Gasquet →

Just two days after my review of the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens for Tools & Toys, Mathieu from MirrorLessons put its main competitor to the test. His results all but confirmed my initial impressions: that despite being four years newer, the Panasonic lens doesn’t provide any meaningful optical improvements over the Olympus. Still, it’s an excellent lens in its own right, and perhaps the better choice for owners of Panasonic bodies due to the built-in optical image stabilization, so go check it out.


This week has been pretty interesting to me, personally. Early in the week Tools & Toys published my review of the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens, which I believe is some of my best work yet. This one took quite a bit of effort to put together because I’d never done a lens review before, and there were lots of small details to get right. It was also incredibly fun to do, and I hope you find it interesting.

I also dedicated quite a bit of time to explore some of the incredible photography exhibits that are being shown in many galleries across Madrid this month. It’s the 2015 edition of the PHotoEspaña International Festival of photography and visual arts, and there are some really incredible galleries to visit. I’ve barely even scratched the surface of the festival and I’ve already discovered a few artists whose work I wasn’t familiar with, but who have blown my mind.

Take Martín Chambi, for example. This Peruvian photographer documented Peru and its society during the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s, and his pictures are breathtaking. The gallery I visited held a few of his most famous images, but the best of all was that these were not scanned and then digitally printed copies, but actual optical prints made from the original glass plate negatives by none other than Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, one of the most renowned darkroom artists in Spain. The results are positively mesmerizing.

Or take the amazing exhibit “Las Reglas del Juego” (the rules of the game) by Chema Madoz, whose surreal images have a unique way of teasing viewers and forcing them to fill in the gaps by themselves. The following video is in Spanish, but provides a great look at some of Madoz’s iconic images:

These are just two examples, but there are many others all across town, and I can’t wait to check out as many of them as possible.

Other than that, yesterday was Apple Watch launch day in Spain. I’m not sure this deserves a finally, but it sure as hell feels like it. This was probably the most delayed Apple product to arrive to Spain since the original iPhone — which never actually arrived to Spain, by the way. I’ll be going to my local Apple Store in a couple days to check it out and try on a few different models, and then I’ll decide whether or not to buy one. Right now I’m definitely leaning towards yes, but I don’t want to make a final decision until I see it in person. I’ll keep you posted.

I believe that about does it for the week. It’s exactly 14:30 in the afternoon and I’m yet to have lunch, so my stomach is getting impatient. Writing these issues keeps taking longer than I initially anticipated, so perhaps I should try and change the name to something more appropriate, like “Mid-day Appetizer”. Or perhaps I should just have coffee for lunch.

As always, thanks very much for reading, and have a great weekend.

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Ben Brooks on technology and art →

June 26, 2015 |

Ben Brooks makes an interesting counterpoint to my piece on technology as a substitute for discipline:

(…) Knowledge of the tools is not, in any way, a prerequisite for art. Art, photography, or any other creative pursuit is in no way lessened or enhanced because of the tools used to make it.

If someone takes a gorgeous photo, it remains gorgeous no matter if the camera was set to manual or set on auto. Art is art. It’s the vision to create the art that matters, not the knowledge of it.

He makes a perfectly valid case, and though I was initially inclined to concede the point, ultimately I disagree. To me, the vision is a direct consequence of the knowledge. Perhaps art should be self-sufficient, it should stand on its own merit, but that is hardly ever the case.

I just want to clarify something, because I do feel it was poorly expressed in my original piece: I didn’t mean to refer to knowledge of the tools, but the discipline. You can absolutely create a work of art with a point-and-shoot camera, or with an iPhone, for that matter. It’s not about knowing how to operate a particular camera, but about knowing what makes for a great photograph, which is something entirely different.

The photographic discipline tells us how bodies should relate to each other in a scene, or what makes for a powerful composition. It tells us what to look for in an image, and what to avoid. These rules — this knowledge — are what artists leverage to form their vision. They’re not strict by any means, but they do offer guidance. Some people just intuitively get them — art can be incredibly visceral — which is why they can create amazing photos without being fully aware of how they’re doing it. But they’re doing it just the same.

My point on the long exposures was that they’re often considered special mostly because they’re difficult images to create, which makes them unusual and rare. If technology ends up making them as commonplace as selfies are today, will we still consider them special in the future? I may well be wrong about that, but I think it’s worth considering.

In any case, photography is a difficult medium to use as an example, because it’s fundamentally literal. It’s an objective medium that’s used as a form of visual storytelling. When we say a photo is great, we’re often referring to the scene that’s being captured rather than the photo itself. And in order to create a compelling scene, most of the work usually happens before the artist even touches the camera.

If we look at a more figurative form of art, it’s perhaps easier to see that knowledge and discipline do matter. Discipline is why the Blue Nudes cut-outs by Henri Matisse have been shown at the MoMa, whereas if I were to glue a few blue pieces of paper on a white canvas nobody in their right mind would give me a penny for it. Not all works are created equal. The tools don’t matter, but the knowledge does.

When we say those works have incredible artistic value, we’re mostly saying so because we know it was Matisse who created them. We say so because through his entire body of work, Matisse has proven his skill. We’re implicitly trusting his judgement and recognizing greatness in his work because we already know him to be great. His vision is a direct consequence of his knowledge and experience, as is the case for every artist.

In any case, this is only my opinion, and I’m no more right than Ben is. Perhaps what makes art so unique, and so great, is precisely the fact that there’s no formal definition of what it is, or should be. We all find value and greatness in different places, and that’s fine. To me, art is in the choices an artist makes, it is something deliberate. An accidentally great photo may be art — I suppose a product of chance can have artistic value in its own right — but in my opinion that doesn’t necessarily make its author an artist, if that makes sense. To me, art is all about the conscious and deliberate act of creating something that is uniquely yours and in that regard, discipline is essential.

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Technology is no substitute for discipline

June 25, 2015

There’s a trope I keep coming across more and more often in reviews lately, particularly photography-related reviews. I’m sure you’ve seen it plenty of times, too:

“This [camera/lens or whatever] is special because it inspires me to go out more and take better pictures.”

I mean, where to begin?

Let’s start with the obvious: whatever it is you’re reading about, it has nothing to do with your inspiration. It really, really doesn’t.

Inspiration and gear are so unrelated it really pains me to write this. Every time we read something like that and nod in enthusiastic agreement, we become willing victims of the greatest marketing hoax in the history of technology — and there have been quite a few.

To be clear, I’m as guilty of this as anyone, which is particularly disheartening because even knowing I’m being tricked, I still fall for it hook, line and sinker sometimes. Not always — let me at least preserve some dignity — but sometimes. That’s how powerful and alluring the marketing machine can be.

Take the latest example in the photography world: the introduction of the new and supposedly revolutionary Sony A7R Mark II camera.1

I say supposedly because the truth is, nothing is truly revolutionary in the photography industry anymore. Nothing can really be revolutionary in a discipline we mastered quite a few decades ago, unless we recently discovered some new laws of Physics I’m not aware of.

At the end of the day, the primary purpose of a camera is taking pictures — with the exception of videographers, but that’s a different story altogether. Anything that isn’t essential to the mission of taking pictures falls squarely within the “bells and whistles” category as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, bells and whistles are still important and if you’re going to buy a camera, they’re things you definitely need to consider.

Higher resolution? Great. Sharper lenses? Sure. Better dynamic range? Have at it. Longer battery life? Of course. Built-in WiFi? Awesome. Those are all pretty substantial improvements that are definitely nice to have in a modern camera. As for revolutionary? Not so much.

How much resolution and sharpness is nice to have? All we can get, clearly. How much is actually needed in the kind of photography that you do? Probably about 30-40% of your current camera’s specs.

I’m making it sound terrible, but this is actually great news. It means your equipment isn’t holding you back, creatively speaking. It never was, and it probably never will, so stop pretending you can’t take good pictures unless you spend $3,000 on a high-end “pro” camera.

Next time you get gear anxiety, think of it like this: people have been complaining about their photography gear for ages, and will remain doing so forever. And yet, people have also been taking breathtaking pictures for ages, and will remain doing so forever.

A vast majority of the greatest, most iconic images in history were captured by cameras with laughable specs by today’s standards, and you know what? Nobody cares. I’m yet to meet a person that looks at Ernesto Che Guevara’s iconic portrait and complains because it isn’t sharp enough.

“Guerrillero Heroico”. Ernesto Che Guevara at the funeral for the victims of the La Coubre explosion. Photo by Alberto Korda, 1960. Image is in the Public Domain.

Again, nobody cares about sharpness or specs. All people care about is whether the images themselves are compelling and in this case, I don’t think there’s any doubt. This goes to show there are many, many ways to create compelling images that don’t require owning the latest gear.

Style vs substance

Whenever I discover new artists whose work I love, I feel a natural impulse to peek behind the curtain. I want to learn everything about their creative process and the tools they use to create the work I so love. At that point, one of two things will happen: either I’ll find out that they use the latest and greatest technology, or I’ll find out that they’ve managed to excel at their craft using merely average tools. In some cases, really average tools.

I don’t know about you but more often than not, I tend to prefer the work of those who use average tools. In most cases, those artists somehow manage to create even more soulful, more authentic work. Check out this 16-year-old kid who’s capturing incredible macro shots in his backyard with the cheapest lens there is. Or some of the most respected and renowned artists in history, who got by using centuries-old technology, simply because it’s all that was available to them.

It goes beyond photography, of course. Do you really believe Michelangelo’s David would be any better if he’d used today’s technology to create it?

“David” by Michelangelo, 1501-1504. Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna, 2011. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

I didn’t think so.

Relying on technology to inspire us is missing the point entirely. Better tools are conducive to better output only up to a certain point and in many cases, that point was met a long, long time ago. But that’s only part of the issue.

The real problem is when people try to use technology as a shortcut to avoid learning a new craft.

Skill without discipline

The uncomfortable truth is, most creative disciplines require work. There’s always a learning curve and, until you’ve put in the hours, you won’t be able to grow as a creative person in a meaningful way.

Technology can help, but it’ll only take you so far. Indeed, and going back to the photography example, many popular features in modern cameras are entirely predicated on the notion of removing the need for knowledge and experience in photography. Features like Olympus’s Live Composite Mode completely eliminate the need for the user to know anything about creating long exposures in-camera.

That’s great if you only ever plan to shoot with Olympus cameras and it’ll definitely allow you to capture some gorgeous images but at the end of the day, you haven’t learned anything, and it hasn’t made you a better photographer because it didn’t take any effort or knowledge on your part.

Worst of all, technology can cheapen the end result. If all it takes to capture a scintillating long exposure is pressing a button, where’s the artistic merit? How is that image compelling in any way?

When you let the machine do the work for you, you’re giving up before the struggle’s even begun.

That’s not to say that you should never use technology in your creative work, of course. Many photographers would kill to have Live Composite Mode in their cameras, but the difference is they already know how to work without it. They have the discipline to know when to use it, and more importantly, when not to.

In the words of everyone’s favorite mathematician and chaos theorist, Dr. Ian Malcolm:

Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it’s your power. It can’t be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.

Now what is interesting about this process is that, by the time someone has acquired the ability to kill with his bare hands, he has also matured to the point where he won’t use it unwisely. So that kind of power has a built-in control. The discipline of getting the power changes you so that you won’t abuse it.

That is exactly my point. Technology can be a powerful enabler, as it allows people to attain knowledge without discipline. Sometimes that’s great, but sometimes it’s unfortunate. You should definitely use technology as an aid, but not as a substitute for experience.

Dr. Ian Malcolm as portrayed by actor Jeff Goldblum in the film Jurassic Park, 1993.

Now, it’s not all bad, of course. Sometimes technology enables us to achieve things that were previously impossible and in those cases, by all means, go ahead and use it. Go nuts. But even then, I suspect it’ll be the people with previously attained knowledge and discipline who will be the most apt at exploiting it to its full potential.

Simply put, there’s no substitute for doing the work.

Taking the long road

Despite what many will tell you, technology can’t make you better at anything if you refuse to do the work. You can buy Roger Federer’s racquet, but that won’t make you any more of a tennis player. You can buy the Sony A7R II, but that won’t make you a better photographer.

Chances are, the tools you currently own are far more capable than you are to produce great work. By refusing to earn the discipline it takes to explore them to their full potential, you’re only keeping yourself from growing as a creative person.

Stop making excuses. Stop acting as though the lackluster quality of your work is the world’s fault. “If only I had a better camera” only fools yourself.

Experience needs to be earned, and technology is no substitute for it. It’ll take discipline, hard work and yes, time, but if you’re determined to do it, half the battle is already won.

The other half is up to you.

  1. I won’t be using product links in this piece, affiliate or otherwise, because it would run contrary to the point I’m trying to make.

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Josh Ginter introduces The Wednesday Edition →

June 24, 2015 |

I love his reasoning behind this:

I’ve watched others create their own weekly roundup lists and I admire some of the aspects they’ve introduced. Be it pull-quotes, short blurbs, photos, or personal anecdotes, each weekly roundup is unique in its own way. The Sunday Edition, I’d argue, is unique in its simplicity and straightforwardness. I don’t want to entirely change that.

I just want to add a bit more me to the mix.

Without fail, the Sunday Edition is always one of the highlights of my week. It comes as no surprise then, that the first issue of The Wednesday Edition is similarly excellent.

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GORUCK launches new 34-liter GR2 →

June 24, 2015 |

Today GORUCK launched a second version of my favorite travel backpack, the GR2. This new version is slightly smaller, having a 34-liter volume as opposed to 40 liters in the old one, and it’s designed to be more comfortable for shorter people to wear. I love my GR2 to death but I have to admit if I were buying mine today, I’d probably go with the smaller one.

The original GR2 can be a bit too much for some people. My girlfriend, for example, can’t pick it up when it’s full, and I find it a bit tiring after a few hours on my back. I don’t know how much of a difference 6 liters will make in practical use, but if you were slightly put off by the gargantuan size of the original GR2, now you have another choice.

That said, I don’t think this is about reducing weight, but increasing comfort due to the way the ruck sits on your back instead. It’s all about the shape of the ruck, rather than the size itself: the original GR2 is a pretty tall backpack, and sometimes it bumps against my butt when I’m wearing it. Personally I never found this to be uncomfortable enough to be a problem in real world usage, but of course your mileage may vary.

Here’s a couple of pictures from my review of the original GR2 over at Tools & Toys, showing the ruck on me and my girlfriend for reference:

Top: original 40-liter GR2 on my back (5’7”). Bottom: original 40-liter GR2 on my girlfriend’s back (5’5”).

The recommended sizing guide goes: if you’re under 6 feet tall, go for the 34-liter version. 6 feet or taller, go with the 40-liter version. That seems a bit extreme to me. I’m 5’7” and I’d say I’m at the limit where the backpack is still reasonably comfortable to wear. Again, your mileage may vary, so please take these comments with a grain of salt.

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I’ve been working on this lens review for a while, and I’m super happy with how it turned out. The Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens is one of my favorite pieces of gear and, in my opinion, one of the best values available for any camera system.

This was also my third time working with a professional model, and the first time with a couple. Sara and Álvaro were amazing to work with and I can’t say enough nice things about them. And as usual, this was also a very formative experience. There were plenty of lessons learned along the way and we had lots of fun doing the shoot. Hopefully the end result reflects that, but also hopefully it’s good work that will stand on its own.

Head on over to Tools & Toys to check it out.

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