Fuji’s 56mm: The Perfect Portrait Lens

Sharp – check.
Gorgeous bokeh – check.
Accurate and pleasing color rendering – check.
Fujifilm’s 56mm f/1.2 just might be the perfect portrait lens.

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Crossing the street and forgiving

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“Little Miss Sunshine”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Way”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Into the Wild”, “Rain Man”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Tracks”, heck, even… “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”…

I love a great road trip story.  A character or characters hit the open road, experience new places, encounter challenges, make important discoveries about the life… about themselves… and change in the process – often for the better, sometimes for the worse.  The road is a metaphor for life.

Today’s gospel is not about the Good Samaritan but I mention it because it is, in a way, a road trip story.  But unlike the ones I mentioned… in which you see the plot develop across a landscape, between a beginning and end point, the story of the Good Samaritan takes place on one small strip of road, on a known treacherous tract between Jerusalem and Jericho.  Because it’s a dangerous road, the people who pass on it tend to keep to themselves… to avoid danger.

The characters in Jesus’ parable pass by this one spot.  A man is beaten nearly to death and two walk by him who surely would have known the law – a priest and a Levite.  But they don’t cross to the other side to help him.  They keep their distance.  They are separated.  Finally, a lowly Samaritan, someone who would not likely know or probably care much about the Jewish law, stopped to help.  He reached across.  He closed the divide.

Today’s gospel is about forgiveness.  It is about mercy.  Peter is told to forgive not seven times, but seventy seven times.

Our heavenly father forgives our wrongs, he heals our wounds, he shows us boundless mercy.  And though it can be difficult, maybe even incredibly difficult, he calls us to do the same to others.

I’d like to suggest that the spot on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is also a metaphor for life.  Despite the dangers, we all pass though it.  Some of us without incident, some of us with great hardship.  Many of us keep to ourselves.  There are separations between us on this road.  Gulfs that divide us.

We are reminded too often of all these gulfs that divide us.  Especially lately it seems.  And we are reminded that these divisions can often bubble up into hatred.  This includes when protestors at rallies seek violence against each other, when bombs are thrown into concert halls, when trucks are driven into crowds along the side of a street, when those in authority abuse their power, when people are mistreated because of the color of their skin.  This past week, we marked the 16th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and awful demonstrations of division and hatred in our country’s history.

But history shows us that meeting violence with more violence does not soften hearts.  That confronting hatred with more hatred never creates peace.

Only forgiveness does that.  Only healing.  Only mercy.

Jesus calls us to cross the street, to close the divide, to reach across and to connect, to forgive others, to seek forgiveness from others.  And yes, sometimes this can be incredibly difficult.

But sometimes the best way to start a road trip is with baby steps.  What do you say we take a baby step?

Is there someone you need to forgive?  Is there someone from whom you need to seek forgiveness?

Let’s open that door and head out…

Who’s up for a little road trip?

And in a Moment, the Smile Returned

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She remembers being just two miles from the beach, a well worn 40 minute walk away with friends.  These were the days of her youth.

Decades and decisions removed her from the salt and sand, from oceanside memories with now departed brothers and sisters and friends.  She had many… but they are gone.  All now are gone.

I was with her on this day, before others joined us.  When they arrived, she was herself, smiling, joking.  But for a few minutes before, when it was just the two of us, I could see her look at the sand, survey the surf, and recall.  She stared out and said simply but in a broken tone, a tear-filled one: “I’m at the beach”.  I asked her to repeat and she said: “oh… nothing… it’s beautiful here.”  And in a moment, the smile returned.

This image is of that very moment.

Technical perfection is fool’s gold

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Most photographers love gear.  Love extracting the highest levels of quality from it.  Love getting more and more and more of it.  This all goes with the territory and so is to be expected.

Knowing this, all those engaged in earning a living and generating profits in any and all endeavors associated with this craft will throw ample quantities of gasoline on this fire.  As a result, we are constantly introduced to:

Infomercials masquerading as content.

Upgraded bodies and lenses that squeeze more megapixels, better low light performance, greater contrast and clarity or any number of other essentially meaningless features into the latest and greatest rendition.

‘Become-a-better-photographer’ training programs (and while you’re at it, regrow hair on your head and get rich quick too).

Post-processing shortcuts (e.g., “presets”) that promise nonsensical one click pathways to artistry.  Ugh.

We photographers are the horses being led to this water.  We are the target market.  We are the fish in this barrel.

Marketers offer these and other measures to show the value of their wares.  More megapixels.  More social media likes.  More usable pixels at insanely high ISOs.  More convenience because of smaller and lighter kits.  More, more, more, more…

more technical perfection.

What’s near impossible to measure?  How about an eye for creating compelling composition?  Or an ability to tell a story by freezing one single instant in time?  Or what about evoking emotion from the viewer?  Or seeing and expressing the movement of light across the ordinary… rendering it extraordinary?  Or how about artistry?

Can’t sell stuff related to those things.

So… what would you rather be?

A consumer?

Or an artist?

Lensbaby Velvet: Gimmick or Godsend?

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According to their marketing materials:

“Reminiscent of classic 20th century lenses, the Fujifilm X mount Velvet 56mm f/1.6 Lens from Lensbaby produces a uniquely soft, glowing image quality that is well-suited to making expressive and ethereal portraits. The overall softness can be controlled by stopping down the lens while still retaining the smooth tonality of a soft focus lens.”

Expressive, check.  Ethereal, check.  Soft focus, check.  Just based on the marketing materials, I was intrigued.  But I wondered: was this akin to the selective color effect?  Cool at first but ultimately a gimmick.  Or was this something I could just as easily do in post, i.e., via software afterwards?

I recently had a chance to test the Lensbaby Velvet 56 (roughly 85mm, i.e., the classic portrait focal length, in 35mm terms) to determine whether this might have a place in my kit.  First off, it’s well constructed and nicely machined.  Unlike prior Lensbaby offerings, this is a traditional lens in both form and function.

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