Tula Top Photography: Blog http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Tula Top Photography (Tula Top Photography) Sat, 24 Dec 2016 01:51:00 GMT Sat, 24 Dec 2016 01:51:00 GMT http://www.tulatopphotography.com/img/s4/v63/u146517478-o1024596855-50.jpg Tula Top Photography: Blog http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog 120 120 I Know This Much Is True http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2016/5/i-know-this-much-is-true I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know what it is today.

Forty-eight years ago, in a humble yet elaborate traditional Khmer ceremony in Cambodia, Nary Ream took Khen Top's last name in a show of mutual commitment to something greater than themselves. With Cambodia mired at the time in a bloody civil war, they nurtured my brother Siha through his first five years, shielding him from the ever-present unrest and pervasive threat of death by surrounding him with love, discipline, and respect. At some point I came to be, first one cell dividing into two, then two into four, and so on. And in the midst of my incubation, my father, serving on the Cambodian Air Force as a T-28 fighter-bomber pilot, caught wind of the communist regime's plan to invade the capital city of Phnom Penh, and he took desperate measures to try to save his family and closest friends from almost certain death.

He formulated a plan with his closest friend and our respective families to escape across the Thai-Cambodian border on the eve of the invasion--and in the process abandon all they'd ever known, loved, and understood in order to give us all a chance at the life and liberty we'd mistakenly assumed was our birthright. His friend was ground crew, unable to join my father in the air on account of a physical disqualification and thus not with him at the time of the escape, and at some point they lost radio contact with each other altogether. He'd told my father beforehand that if anything ever happened to him, my father was to continue the escape and bring his friend's wife and two young children along with our family to safe haven, and that's exactly what he did. No one ever heard from my father's best friend again, and it's illogical to assume anything other than that he'd perished sometime during the ensuing conflict. More than a few members of my parents' immediate and extended family met with the same unfortunate fate. I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know, sadly, what it is today.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Air_Force#Final_operations_1974-75

Eventually they--my and my dad's best friend's family--made their way to America. My family had planned to stay just their first six months with our lovely and gracious sponsors Mardi and Ted and their two young boys Edward and Dirk, but anticipating the incredible challenge of my impending arrival within that very time frame and all the while still trying to learn the tangled ropes of a new landscape, a new language, and an utterly alien culture, Mardi and Ted generously convinced my parents to stay with them for a full year. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for them--for ALL of them, but especially for my parents--to forge ahead under such challenging circumstances and lay a foundation for a new beginning, all the while never abandoning the core of their cultural heritage and instead choosing to adopt the best that two distinct worldviews had to offer. I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know what it is today.

And that's what formed the underpinning of my childhood...and by natural extension my adult life. From the old country: deference to others, and especially one's elders; primacy of family; and respect and appreciation for the natural world. And from the new: opportunity; education; and personal success in homage to one's heritage. In raising me, my parents (and my brother) applied force only when force was absolutely necessary. Mainly, though, through sheer dedication, persistence, perspiration, patience, guidance, example, and unwavering love and support, they planted seeds in the richest soil they could till and in the sunniest spot they could find, watered them every day without fail, and watched them grow. And somehow, someway, they've ushered me through illness, injuries, and growing pains...aloofness and disobedience and rebelliousness...misjudgments, missteps, and misguided failures...toothaches, tummy aches, and heartaches...all the things inherent in the progression of infant to toddler, of toddler to child, of child to adolescent, of adolescent to young adult, and of young adult to man. I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know what I am today.

Never once did they force or try to influence me to become a doctor--they let me come to that conclusion on my own. Never once did they force or try to influence me with who I chose to date--even when they knew well before I did that it would never work out--and the fruit borne by all that trust, frustration, and patience (40 years, hey!) was Ashley...and by now you should be pretty well-versed on exactly how I feel about her (my parents feel the exact same way about her, as well!). And never once did they force or try to influence me to capture this photo, to write these words, or to share them with all of you today. No, all they've ever striven to do, at every opportunity and every arduous step of the way, is empower and encourage me to follow my heart. And when I look back on where I came from and how I came to be where I am now, I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know who I am today.

And I know, above all, who I have to thank for it.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you and thank you more than words can ever say.

 

I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know what it is today.

Forty-eight years ago, in a humble yet elaborate traditional Khmer ceremony in Cambodia, Nary Ream took Khen Top's last name in a show of mutual commitment to something greater than themselves. With Cambodia mired at the time in a bloody civil war, they nurtured my brother Siha through his first five years, shielding him from the ever-present unrest and pervasive threat of death by surrounding him with love, discipline, and respect. At some point I came to be, first one cell dividing into two, then two into four, and so on. And in the midst of my incubation, my father, serving on the Cambodian Air Force as a T-28 fighter-bomber pilot, caught wind of the communist regime's plan to invade the capital city of Phnom Penh, and he took desperate measures to try to save his family and closest friends from almost certain death.

He formulated a plan with his closest friend and our respective families to escape across the Thai-Cambodian border on the eve of the invasion--and in the process abandon all they'd ever known, loved, and understood in order to give us all a chance at the life and liberty we'd mistakenly assumed was our birthright. His friend was ground crew, unable to join my father in the air on account of a physical disqualification and thus not with him at the time of the escape, and at some point they lost radio contact with each other altogether. He'd told my father beforehand that if anything ever happened to him, my father was to continue the escape and bring his friend's wife and two young children along with our family to safe haven, and that's exactly what he did. No one ever heard from my father's best friend again, and it's illogical to assume anything other than that 
he'd perished sometime during the ensuing conflict. More than a few members of my parents' immediate and extended family met with the same unfortunate fate. I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know, sadly, what it is today.

Eventually they--my and my dad's best friend's family--made their way to America. My family had planned to stay just their first six months with our lovely and gracious sponsors Mardi and Ted and their two young boys Edward and Dirk, but anticipating the incredible challenge of my impending arrival within that very time frame and all the while still trying to learn the tangled ropes of a new landscape, a new language, and an utterly alien culture, Mardi and Ted generously convinced my parents to stay with them for a full year. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for them--for ALL of them, but especially for my parents--to forge ahead under such challenging circumstances and lay a foundation for a new beginning, all the while never abandoning the core of their cultural heritage and instead choosing to adopt the best that two distinct worldviews had to offer. I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know what it is today.

And that's what formed the underpinning of my childhood...and by natural extension my adult life. From the old country: deference to others, and especially one's elders; primacy of family; and respect and appreciation for the natural world. And from the new: opportunity; education; and personal success in homage to one's heritage. In raising me, my parents (and my brother) applied force only when force was absolutely necessary. Mainly, though, through sheer dedication, persistence, perspiration, patience, guidance, example, and unwavering love and support, they planted seeds in the richest soil they could till and in the sunniest spot they could find, watered them every day without fail, and watched them grow. And somehow, someway, they've ushered me through illness, injuries, and growing pains...aloofness and disobedience and rebelliousness...misjudgments, missteps, and misguided failures...toothaches, tummy aches, and heartaches...all the things inherent in the progression of infant to toddler, of toddler to child, of child to adolescent, of adolescent to young adult, and of young adult to man. I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know what I am today.

Never once did they force or try to influence me to become a doctor--they let me come to that conclusion on my own. Never once did they force or try to influence me with who I chose to date--even when they knew well before I did that it would never work out--and the fruit borne by all that trust, frustration, and patience (40 years, hey!) was Ashley...and by now you should be pretty well-versed on exactly how I feel about her (my parents feel the exact same way about her, as well!). And never once did they force or try to influence me to capture this photo, to write these words, or to share them with all of you today. No, all they've ever striven to do, at every opportunity and every arduous step of the way, is empower and encourage me to follow my heart. And when I look back on where I came from and how I came to be where I am now, I know not all the details of how it all happened, I just know who I am today.

And I know, above all, who I have to thank for it.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you and thank you more than words can ever say.

]]>
http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2016/5/i-know-this-much-is-true Wed, 11 May 2016 01:20:57 GMT
Travelogue: High Desert Spirit http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2016/4/high-desert-spirit New Mexico · USA

 

After several months back on a ‘new old’ job in which I had to divide my attention between two hospitals and a seemingly unrelenting caseload, I was feeling pretty overdue for some extended time away...from work, from home, from everything familiar to me but fresh air and the love of my life.  A coincidental opening in both of our schedules finally arrived, so Ashley and I took the opportunity to visit some of her extended family in New Mexico and hopefully squeeze in a good hike or two just for some exercise.  Accustomed to the lush greens and richly varied topography of the Pacific Northwest, I knew I was venturing into some unfamiliar territory, literally and figuratively, and I deliberately shelved my photographic ambitions to focus on rest and restoration and a rare stretch of consecutive days in which I could devote my time and attention to my best friend in a way she’s deserved all along.

 

New Mexico proved to be a revelation for me, and the decision to stay in Santa Fe a fortuitous one.  Though stationed there for a mere seven nights, we firmly established ourselves as regulars at one of the finest coffee establishments I've ever had the pleasure of frequenting.  Zestfully bandana’ed Bill was our personable and free-spirited host at Holy Spirit Espresso, a minuscule kiosk cheerfully stuffed to the gills with sundry photos, trinkets, memorabilia, and foreign currency dangling decoratively from the ceiling.  If you're ever in the area, mark it down as an absolute must-stop, unless you're the kind that finds insufferable displeasure in a masterfully crafted Americano brimming with crema so rich you could use it as a flotation device.

 

And Bill was just one of the many friendly souls we feel blessed to have encountered along the way.  People in New Mexico were remarkably warm, friendly, and courteous in a way I think Portlanders generally use to be twenty or even just ten years ago (we’ll table the discussion of why things might have changed for another story, perhaps...). There was our gracious timeshare host Carmen helping us get started on the right foot with a dizzying palette of options for eating, shopping, and hiking…geologic bloodhound Charlie Snell enthusiastically sharing his fascinating collection of rare fossils and minerals and meteorite fragments he's painstakingly accumulated over the last three-plus decades...and there was Mark, an ICU nurse/nurse practitioner-turned-popcorn maestro who gave up clinical practice to establish the aptly-named Popcorn Maven and is looking to open up another storefront soon in Utah (despite my impassioned plea that he prioritize Stumptown over Salt Lake City--a better white cheddar cheese popcorn you will not find, I guarantee you)...the three dapper and delightful ladies--Nodia, Susan, and Joan--behind the counter of the small but charming The Golden Eye just off the historic plaza of Santa Fe, smartly dressed and adorned to the nines and gracious hosts all the while (so much so that I felt compelled to give them our bag of white cheddar cheese popcorn)...the talented native artisans lucky enough to be among the few winners of a lottery that allowed them to peddle their intricately crafted wares on the plaza proper...and the immensely talented R David Marks, whose gallery of black-and-white images showcasing his remarkable eye for striking visual contrasts and poignant juxtapositions was a delight for both the mind and the heart.

 

The food was nothing short of amazing.  Ashley had been working up her appetite for the local hatch chili for the longest time, but spicy food for me is not a dalliance without consequences, and so I couldn't really say I was looking forward to it quite as much she. Oddly, sometime around my mid-20s my GI tract began to betray my taste buds’ love of spicy food, and a meal that would warm my mouth would be followed by hours and hours of a deep and migratory burn. Not fun. But from the first bite of that blasted chili (albeit it a surprisingly mild rendition of it) at Atrisco Cafe and Bar, I was instantly hooked and began to throw caution to the wind. Unfortunately the heat only ratcheted up from there (especially her family’s home-cooked stuff!), and I willfully if begrudgingly paid the price in a recurring cycle of gustatory ecstasy and gastrointestinal regret. Other savory agents of culinary devastation included The Pantry, The Plaza, The Shed, Tomasitas, Tia Sophia’s, Best Lee’s Asian Gourmet (Albuquerque), and Anapurna’s.

 

And then there was the privilege of meeting Ash’s extended family and longtime friends.  I usually struggle with new names and faces when they come at me rapid-fire in the workplace, but as personal acquaintances whom I enjoyed meeting tremendously, I venture to say I've been able to etch them all durably into cerebral stone. I'm something of a privileged peddler of human stories both by nature and by occupation, and it was an immense pleasure to be able to reconcile all the names with faces at long last. Of course, having said all that, I'm guessing I’ll totally bomb the name game the next time I'm lucky enough to see them… :/

 

For our first hike of the trip had set off in search of (wait for it…) waterfalls in Bandelier National Monument.  The sunny but never unbearably warm hike took us down the dusty flanks of Frijoles Creek, which tumbles down consecutive escarpments of 80 and 90(?--no two sources seem to agree) feet before merging with the Rio Grande.  Unfortunately only Upper Frijoles Falls would be accessible to us as we learned a landslide five years prior claimed the final portions of the cliffside trail beyond (and increased the lower falls’ height from 30 or so feet to what it is now).  We stopped at the upper falls high above the canyon floor for several minutes to ruminate and replenish, regarding the blue skies and abundant sunshine above our heads. And although the lighting was unmercifully harsh and unforgiving for photography, we still enjoyed studying the epochal history of volcanism written in the rocky layers of red, brown, and white.

 

I did my best on the return leg to stay attuned to more intimate scenes of interest since the lighting was a bit too harsh to lend itself well to the usual wide-angle landscape image--not to say it wasn't breathtakingly beautiful despite the rather unphotogenic conditions...far from it!  I knew Ashley was doing the same, not necessarily for the same photographic opportunities I was looking for but because she gets as geeked up over cool minerals and rock formations as I do about, say, hi-fi audio equipment. Now I'll be the first to admit that I get pretty jazzed myself about wicked cool natural phenomena, but I’m not quite sure the Ash’s enthusiasm mutually extends to my worship of man-made blocks of machined metal and circuitry that can cost as much as a small Caribbean island.  She’s a little weird that way.

 

In any case, about two-thirds of the way back Ashley suddenly stopped dead in her tracks for the second time this hike (the first was on the way out when the largest garter snake either of us had ever seen zipped across the trail in front of her…): “Omigosh...A face!  I saw a face!”

 

“What?”

 

“There’s a face in that wall!  Do you see it??  It looks like a Native American!”

 

Of course at this point I’m thinking maybe the sun’s gotten to her and she hadn’t been drinking enough water.  But then she pointed across the creek to the opposite canyon wall, and my eye followed the line projected by her index finger.  Sure enough, there within the ‘random’ cracks and fissures of the fractured basalt, the unmistakable half-shadowed face of a native chieftain seemed to glare out fiercely from the shadows at us as if to make sure weren’t remiss in respecting the land with each privileged foot strike upon the earth--lest we incur his wrath.  It was like a Bev Doolittle image come to life, and suddenly the clear skies and truncated hike all made sense:  a half hour earlier or a half hour later and the conviction of the illusion would’ve suffered under suboptimal lighting, and overcast skies would have surely snuffed it out altogether.

 

 

After I took a few shots, we returned to the parking lot of the visitor center and allowed momentum to carry us on past to the short loop hike that meandered through an area that’s been subject to human footfall for the past eleven millennia, when nomadic hunter-gatherers first made their way across this land.  Remnants of masonry walls and caves carved out of the relatively soft tuff cliffside echoed the voices of the first permanent settlements by the Ancient Pueblo people almost 900 years ago.  There they maintained residence for the next four centuries before moving on to the flanks of the Rio Grande and finally dispersing to tiny establishments that still exist to this day, such as Cochiti and San Ildefonso Pueblo.

 

The short trail first flanks a broad cliffside peppered with caves and petroglyphs, readily accessible were it not for the numerous signs admonishing you to stay well back in order to preserve the fragile relics for future generations. At a fork in the road, however, the pathway meanders up and through the multi-tiered pueblos, and a somewhat alarmingly ‘bouncy’ ladder fashioned in the traditional manner allows visitors to climb up and into one of the shelters. We both obliged, but fully immersed in the experience I completely neglected to shoot a ‘real’ photograph from the interior. So it goes sometimes.

 

Earlier during the first of two mini family reunions, one of her aunts who’s well-acquainted with our love of the natural world suggested we check out the short trail at Tent Rocks, a notion we sort of secretly (and ashamedly) shrugged off as a local’s pat recommendation for a couple of casual visitors.  Instead we’d already planned a significantly longer second hike for ourselves, ambition trumping open-mindedness and burgeoning with prospects of taking a soak in some natural hot springs.  As it turned out, catching up on sleep ended up trumping everything else on that day, and we found ourselves lazily rousing from our slumbers with noon fast upon us before we could wipe the grogginess from our eyes.  So we nixed the longer hike and resigned ourselves to Tent Rocks--the New Mexican equivalent of Multnomah Falls and a serious hiker’s consolation prize at best, we figured. We couldn’t have been happier to be wrong.

 

After a beautiful drive through the expansive high desert beneath azure skies festooned with cirrostratus and -cumulus clouds, we found ourselves at the threshold of a completely alien landscape:  Beige striated cliffs topped with massive boulders perched on ridiculously narrow cones of pumice and tuff rose up defiantly from an arid landscape pockmarked with shrub oak, yellow-flowered chamisa, and high-desert standbys of banana yucca, cholla, and prickly pear.

 

The laziness of our slow awakening seemed to carry over into our hike and synergize with a mile-high sense of breathlessness, and I found myself having to expend far more energy than usual just to spur my legs to some semblance of coordinated forward movement.  Noting my apparent weariness and ever ready to state things that are painfully obvious to everyone but me, Ashley reminded me that I hadn’t really eaten anything yet that day, and indeed the vitality seemed to rebuild brick by brick with each delicious bite of my protein bar.  With one basic need addressed, we set our sights on the slot canyon trail in the hopes of slaking another...

 

The slot canyon traverse itself couldn’t have been more than a few tenths of mile, but it seemed to ensnare us in a suspended state utterly devoid of distance and time.  There was only a sense of dissolution into space and just the most primordial perception of form, light, and texture.  Only the whipping winds and flying grains of sand striking our exposed skin at high velocity reminded us of our corporeal existence.  Pastel volcanic rock strata of varying thicknesses undulated this way and that, by turns serendipitous and even chaotic at a strophic level, but unequivocally poetic in its summation.

 

What struck me most, though, was the expansiveness of being that came over me--a completely counterintuitive notion standing there surrounded on all sides by sheer rock walls.  Despite the limited real estate, however, there was never any real sense of feeling pinched or squeezed even as the actual situation would have testified to that physical reality. Where confinement and claustrophobia should have prevailed there was instead liberating freedom and spaciousness, vast in its expanse...a paradox far more amenable to appreciation through experience rather than explanation.  A deep calmness swept over me, and I came to further understand on some elementary level the deep spiritual and organic connectedness the native peoples felt and still feel today with this otherworldly land.  If you ever get the chance to go, go.

 

As it is, we are both now back in our respective homes, back working in our respective hospitals, back doing our jobs to make ends meet and, hopefully, effect some positive difference in the lives of those in need.  But despite all this, I know also that we are still there, back in that slot canyon, marveling at the wonder of its history and geology, thoroughly lost in one sense and fundamentally found in another.  In a very true way, we didn't so much enter the canyon as the canyon took us in, subsuming and deconstructing us before finally, somewhere in the midst of that indefinable space, regenerating us from sinew to soul.

Enter: SolaceEnter: SolaceKasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument · Cochiti · New Mexico · USA

* * * * *

What struck me most, though, was the expansiveness of being that came over me--a completely counterintuitive notion standing there surrounded on all sides by sheer rock walls. Despite the limited real estate, however, there was never any real sense of feeling pinched or squeezed even as the actual situation would have testified to that physical reality. Where confinement and claustrophobia should have prevailed there was instead liberating freedom and spaciousness, vast in its expanse...a paradox far more amenable to appreciation through experience rather than explanation. A deep calmness swept over me, and I came to further understand on some elementary level the deep spiritual and organic connectedness the native peoples felt and still feel today with this otherworldly land...

* * * * *

The above is excerpted from my full blog entry journaling our trip to New Mexico.

And so I’d be terribly remiss not to extend my sincerest apologies to Aunt Veronica:  Please forgive us our completely unintended slight, and let our naïveté neither diminish nor obscure our deep respect and heartfelt gratitude...to you and to your amazing land known as New Mexico.

 

]]>
bandalier canyon creek desert frijoles high kasha katuwe mexico monument national new rocks slot tent top travel tula tulatop http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2016/4/high-desert-spirit Thu, 21 Apr 2016 04:45:40 GMT
The a7R Experience http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2014/11/the-a7r-experience This Recurring DreamThis Recurring DreamFalls Creek Falls · Falls Creek · Gifford Pinchot National Forest · Carson · Washington · USA

Photos of Falls Creek Falls from this lower perspective are becoming increasingly common these days, and while the novelty of it could be expected to wear off, hopefully the visceral impact of it won't. It certainly doesn't feel that way when you're standing there flanked by steep canyon walls rimmed with towering old-growth trees like oversized palisades, skin refreshingly cooled by waves of mist generated by the 91-foot-tall lower tier, eardrums under constant assault by the endless hydraulic reverberations. No, I don't see myself ever becoming numb to this scene, be it under conditions of abundant sunshine, clouds, rain, or, someday hopefully, snow and ice.

The dynamic range rendered above was captured via a single raw file with the Sony a7R.

 

__________________________

 

A lot of people have been asking me lately about my experiences with the Sony a7R mirrorless full-frame camera, so I thought I'd finally share them in a blog post for quick and easy reference.

First let me explain my reason for making the switch from my Canon EOS 5D Mark II (5DII, we'll call it).  The 5DII was a pretty substantial upgrade from my prior Canon 20D (8 MP versus 21 MP, APS-C crop versus full-frame, weather sealing and general build and construction, and so on), but I found myself extremely dissatisfied with the poor dynamic range it exhibited when compared to cameras from Nikon and Sony, including those utilizing the Sony Exmor CMOS sensor (i.e., the Nikon D8x0 series and the Sony a7R).  When I first broadcast that I was exploring the idea of moving on from Canon because I was disappointed with their stagnation in improving their sensors' low-ISO dynamic range and noise performance, there seemed to be a segment of responders who treated my inquiries like I was engaging in a pissing contest, for lack of a more precise term.  Forget about your equipment and just go out and shoot and It's not the camera that makes the photograph, it's the photographer were common refrains.  (The most presumptuous and insulting one was, Quit wasting your time talking about equipment and go work on your composition...not directed at me specifically, but rather offensive nonetheless.)

The thing these folks didn't seem to understand wasn't that I thought better equipment would make me a better photographer, but that I wanted equipment that would help me realize my photographic vision more easily and efficiently.  I wanted to spend more time in the field confident that I'd captured all the imaging data I needed to bring my vision to bear and less time in front of the computer working to overcome the equipment-related limitations faced at the time of capture.

The simplest explanation for why I made the jump to Sony rather than to Nikon was that I wanted to continue to be able to use my legacy Canon lenses via aftermarket adapters while swapping them out for native (non-adapted) lenses as opportunities presented, and monitoring the trends in new product developments and rumor sites for the respective brands led me to place greater faith in Sony continuing to push the boundaries to bring innovative, why-didn't-anybody-else-think-of-that?-type products to consumers.  Stagnation just doesn't seem to be in Sony's lexicon.

That said, allow me to sum up my feelings about the a7R as simply as possible:  I love it.  Is it a perfect camera?  Certainly not, and you can read the itemized nitpicks below for more details.  I suspect the next iteration of a7x cameras will address many of the issues discussed, but as it is it's a fun camera to use that simply helps me get the job done much more easily than did the 5DII.  As I'd hoped, I now spend far less time laboring on the computer at multi-exposure blending.  In fact, I can't think of a single composition I've made with the a7R that's required blending more than two exposures for dynamic range--and the large majority of them have needed only one.

So without further ado, on to the details...

CONS:

Loud shutter. Not an issue for me since I don't do street or wedding photography that requires me to be more discreet.

Dual shutter curtains--mechanical and electrical. The downside to this is that if you're shooting with a long lens, you could get motion blur from the mechanical shutter slap, necessitating a higher-(or slower-)than-usual shutter speed. Not too often is this an issue for the type of photography I do, but I do encounter situations where it could often enough that I'd still like to see a firmware update that allows for a time delay after the mechanical curtain. I suspect that the reason I haven't seen this by now, however, is that it's not possible to fix via a firmware change. See http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/52584736 and http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/the-shutter-vibration-issue-explained-by-joseph-holmes/ for more nitty-gritty details on this issue.

My Metabones adapter has a tiny bit of axial wobble on it, which I eventually learned is a feature of the E mount ring rather than the adapter itself. Fotodiox supposedly has an aftermarket fix for this, but I don't feel comfortable monkeying around with the camera that close to the sensor. Ultimately, it just means that I need to take care when I'm taking multiple exposures I'm intending on blending so that I don't wobble the camera and tilt the horizons--but even if I do, that's easily addressed in Photoshop via freely rotating the out-of-alignment layer.

With filter adapters and holders on the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II, you get a little bit of vignetting and thus lose a bit of your wide-angle range. The useful range on the f/2.8L II thus becomes 18- or 19-36mm with a Lee Foundation Kit and adapter attached, with brackets for three filters. I recently upgraded the f/2.8L II to the new f/4 IS version (with a 77mm-diameter filter thread instead of the f/2.8L II's 82mm), and I'm pleased to announce there is ZERO vignetting with filters attached even at f/22. Awesome!

Internal glare/reflection issue from the Metabones adapter. I have the Mark III, but the Mark IV has fixed this issue. I've only seen the glare thing come up in a tiny handful of shots, so this hasn't been a big issue for me at all.

The rear wheel dial, which controls ISO, white balance, and some others, is a bit too easy to turn accidentally. Just have to maintain awareness when using the camera to avoid inadvertently changing up a setting.

Overly-sensitive electronic viewfinder--temporarily shuts off the LCD screen if your hand gets too near the EVF (such as when you're trying to shield the LCD screen from glare on a sunny day). Another very minor issue.

Shorter battery life than the 5DII. I'd estimate about 20-30% fewer shots per charge, I suspect due to the EVF and LCD screen and also the smaller battery size. I carry two spare packs on day trips and have never needed to reach for the last pack so far (and I tend to do a lot of long exposure work).

Lightness of the body means the center of gravity is shifted forward when using heavier lenses. I use a Hejnar L bracket on the adapter itself (rather than one that attaches to the camera body) to offset this forward shift a bit. Ultimately a good ballhead takes care of most of this problem anyways, though.

Slow autofocus through the Mark III adapter. My understanding is there's no major issue when using native lenses (without an intervening adapter). Again, not an issue for me since I use manual focus exclusively.

PROS:

Considerably lighter than my Canon 5DII, even with the Metabones adapter. When you're doing steep or long hikes, every ounce shaved off matters.

LCD screen swivels up and down. Wished it could swivel left and right, too, but it's already a HUGE bonus as-is compared to the 5DII. I shoot a lot from a near ground- or water-level perspective, and the greater ease of composition and leveling this feature affords is tremendous.

Great OLED LCD performance. I can still zoom in and focus even with 6 stops of filtration on the lens. It may not be ideal not having an optical viewfinder when working in the dark, but I just do a super-high-ISO test shot to help me visualize my composition and overcome this limitation.

Live histogram.

Incredible dynamic range. No more hours and hours doing exposure blending...at most I'll need to blend two exposures, but usually I can get away with recovering highlights and shadows or just double-processing a single raw file, making the blending much, much easier. The cleanliness of the recoverable shadow detail is remarkable--Canon's utterly asleep at the wheel when it comes to sensor technology, and the words from their camp over the past few months doesn't instill any confidence that they're keen to address this any time soon.

With aftermarket adapters, I get to keep my Canon glass (and sunstars)!!

I get to anticipate good Sony/Zeiss glass!! (Though I did opt to go with the Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS rather than the new Zeiss 16-35mm f/4, specifically because of the cleaner sunstars made by the former.)

Resolution is incredible. Same as the D800e/810. You can do a lot with 36 clean megapixels! Just make sure your glass can stand up to the heightened scrutiny such resolution affords.

Less expensive than the Nikon 800e/810 or the Canon 5DIII and I suspect the rumored 5DIV (or whatever the next 5 series upgrade will be designated).

Never thought I'd evolve TOWARD a Sony system, but Sony's proven themselves to be relentlessly innovative while Canon seems content to rest on its name and laurels.

So there it is. I hope you found this helpful, and if so, feel free to refer others who might be curious about the a7R to this blog entry. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a message here or find me on Facebook.

Happy shooting, and be kind to one another!

Tula

__________________

 

UPDATE, 2/13/2015

Wanted to provide a brief update on the mechanical first curtain issue (the impetus thankfully given by respected photographer Sarah Marino, who inquired about this very blog entry), which can introduce noticeable shutter-shock blur in images shot at longer focal lengths and shutter speeds of longer than, say 1/100s.  I've not empirically tested the limits to where I can say it occurs exactly at X focal length or Y shutter speed or some X(Y) factor thereof, but it has caused me to 'miss' a shot two I would've wanted otherwise.  Think distant ridgelines cloaked in fog, distant trees in isolation, and so on.  In some instances I'm able to overcome the shutter shock by using a neutral density filter(s) to slow down the shutter speed and render any shutter-shock blur unregisterable (that may not be a real word, but whatever...).  However, this also means that the object being photographed itself can become subject to motion blur if the shutter speed is slowed down too much, e.g., distant trees with branches or leaves moving slightly in the wind.  Likewise, it may also mean introducing long-exposure effects that I may not want, e.g., discrete puffs of fog smeared to a featureless haze.

The scuttlebutt is that Sony has a full-frame mirrorless 50MP camera in the offing, ostensibly to be dubbed the a7RII or perhaps the a9.  In my estimation, particularly as it relates to the a7R, the bump in resolution is a virtual afterthought (and I hope it doesn't mean poorer low-ISO shadow noise/detail performance due to a smaller pixel pitch).  Instead, the mechanical first curtain issue absolutely needs to be addressed in the next iteration of this otherwise superb camera.  If you're contemplating the move to the a7R but can afford to wait for the major kinks to be worked out (particularly if you anticipate shooting long on any regular basis), I'd highly recommend doing so.

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5D a7R canon comparison ii iso low mark noise sensor shadow sony http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2014/11/the-a7r-experience Mon, 03 Nov 2014 06:22:01 GMT
One Soul's Sojourn http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2014/11/one-souls-sojourn SojournSojournMt. Hood from Trillium Lake · Mt. Hood National Forest · Government Camp · Oregon · USA

Day breaks upon the calm reflective waters of Trillium Lake, where I rendezvoused with Paul Dekort and encountered a group of kind camera clubbers from Vancouver, BC, including Carol Ailles. We were largely deprived of what could have been one spectacular light show thanks to some gauzy high clouds to the east that blotted out the sun at the most inopportune times, but standing before such a soul-soothing vista it seems a bit petty of me to be complaining about it. I'm actually not...I appreciate every moment I get to spend in the great outdoors, particularly if I can share the reprieve from the daily grind amongst some friendly company.

The above is a much-abbreviated and literal version of the caption I'd originally intended for this image. Ultimately, what started off as a caption grew into a blog entry and in its final manifestation perhaps qualifies as a short story. If you care to read it, I'd be most thankful for your time and deeply appreciative of your effort. It's rare that I feel this compelled to put such a story to words.

And if you don't have the time or interest to read the story, I fully understand, and I'll just leave you with this: We are all just travelers sharing time and/or space for a moment, and we all carry the weight of our struggles with us. Why not be kind and good to one another?

 

I'm a physician.  A professional.  I’m not suppose to make mistakes, and I'm not suppose to play favorites...not when it comes to patients.

 

But I'm also unabashedly human.

 

A couple of months ago I met a gentleman...let's call him Bill...in my outpatient palliative care clinic. To ease the burden on patients and families, we often piggyback our visits onto their already-scheduled appointments with their oncologists, and such was the case the first time I met Bill. My colleague who also covered my clinic site had been caring for him longitudinally for months to that point, but she was moving on to greener pastures, and I would thus begin overseeing the majority of his comfort- and quality of life-focused care from that point on.

 

My nurse and social worker, who both had known him from the time he’d first started under the care of my colleague, advised me to get ready: I was about to meet one helluva guy. And I thought, well, of course...by and large, they’re all ‘helluva’ guys...or gals for that matter. The folks we see have learned, to varying degrees of success, how to live life gracefully in the face of serious and often very debilitating illnesses, and you can’t really do that without cultivating some healthy perspectives on life, death, and everything in between--and perhaps even beyond.

 

Despite this, Bill still managed to stand out from the crowd. Clinically speaking he was facing some pretty insurmountable odds, undergoing aggressive chemotherapy for a cancer that had riddled his liver and spleen with hormonally active tumors in the hopes of living as long as possible with an ultimately incurable condition.  And in the back of his mind, he knew this.  But the treatment was also doing quite a number on his sensory nerves, stirring them to an unrelenting fever pitch that caused a searing electrical sensation in his hands and feet, and his energy levels had fallen next to nil. Even his sense of taste wasn’t spared, with his appetite and enjoyment of food declining in sharp correspondence. But his most recent CT scan had shown that the tumors were shrinking or at least being held at bay, and as long as that was the case--’fighter’ that he was--we assumed he would opt to soldier on.

 

All the while, he bore the most earnest and luminous smile you ever saw across his countenance, and his eyes twinkled brightly with warmth and invitation.  His grace and gratitude for every single member of his healthcare team, whether inpatient or outpatient, from housekeeper to food service worker to physical therapist to physician, never once betrayed his daily struggles.  He and his wife Ella regarded me on that first meeting as if we’d known each other half a lifetime:  their trust and faith in me was instantaneous despite being entirely unearned.  If that’s not privilege, I don’t know what is.

 

Our introductory meeting was pretty brief and informal, and we agreed to meet again after his next follow-up appointment with his oncologist to reassess how he was doing. In the intervening weeks, though, we fielded multiple calls from Ella, who was distressed to see Bill struggling so much with the cancer or perhaps with the treatment--she couldn’t quite discern which seemed to be the greater devil. But we all on the care team side of things shared a strong if unspoken hunch: In the back of our minds, we were thinking this wasn’t an either/or proposition--both were likely to blame. Ella spoke, too, of his ever-increasing anxiety as the dawning reality of his mortality began to nip mercilessly at his heels.

 

I hate to inform those of you who may hold false beliefs and comforts otherwise, but I think I do you a disservice to tell you anything other than the unvarnished truth: While medical textbooks are largely written in black and white, the human body and spirit and the practice of medicine are all delirious shades of gray. Practice medicine long enough, and you learn to welcome the good graces of humility lest you get burned by the flames of pride. We learn to think in terms of odds, to speak in the language of likelihoods and probabilities, to make treatment decisions and prognostications on best educated guesses rather than hard and fast facts. Because in physiological terms, 1 plus 1 does not always equal 2, and the human spirit--that intangible substance that somehow binds our synaptic biochemical transmissions into a soulful and creative whole--injects an influence that simply defies measure. As such, you’d think then that the holy grail of every clinician is to endeavor to get it right as often as possible--I mean, how could this not be the standard by which we measure our success? Imagine, then, the cognitive dissonance that results when you hope and pray that you couldn’t be more wrong...if you could be dead, 100% wrong about things, just this one time.

 

And imagine, then, the inner tumult that results when you find out that you were, in fact, right.  Goddamn it, you were right...

 

Bill faithfully kept his appointment with his oncologist Dr. Caspin, who caught me whilst en route back to his office after concluding their visit, while I was heading the opposite way to begin ours. “His cancer’s worse,” he said to me. “And the chemo’s been hard on him.” I kept silent. Or perhaps I allowed an expletive to quietly breach my lips, I can’t quite remember. “I told him there was one more cancer treatment we could try, but the odds of it helping are long, and he’s thinking about not going through with it.”

 

“They’re looking forward to talking with you,” he finished.

 

I felt my spirit give a little, ever so imperceptibly at first before the collapse quickened with each passing footfall that brought me and my nurse closer to the clinic room door, behind which Bill, Ella, and their college-aged daughter were awaiting our arrival.

 

I took a few deep breaths to steel myself, gave a gentle courtesy knock on the door, and pushed it open.

 

“Hi, Bill and Ella! So good to see you again!” I said in admittedly feigned cheeriness as my nurse reached out her hand to him in greeting.

 

“Forget that,” Bill said. “I want a hug!” And after warmly embracing my nurse, he turned his attention towards me, that effervescent smile and those glints in his eyes as radiant as ever: “And one from you, too!” he said. Instantly my spirits rose, and that simple act of forsaking handshake for hug seemed to reconstitute and fortify what just moments before had lain in seemingly irreparable shambles deep inside me. Ella greeted us likewise with equal warmth and affection, and after introducing us to their daughter, we all sat down, Bill on the exam table, my nurse on the stool, and me in an available guest chair.

 

“Dr. Caspin updated me on the news,” I said. “Gosh darn it.”

 

Bill shrugged in resignation: “Yeah, what are you gonna do?” And from that point on we just let them talk, keen to the task of listening to what they were saying and how they were saying it, rather than thinking about how we were going to respond. No, on this particular occasion, sending in the brain to perform the heart’s labor would have been wholly inappropriate.

 

They spoke of the profundity of his fatigue and avolition with his most recent round of chemo. Indeed, a few days prior to this appointment, my social worker had conferred with Dr. Caspin to relay Ella’s concerns about Bill’s poor tolerance of the chemo. He discussed Bill’s desire to be able to fly to Pennsylvania to see his parents and brother the following month and whether the cancer treatment could be put on hold without jeopardizing his health so that he could marshal the stamina to see his wish through. Dr. Caspin graciously understood the importance of this endeavor--or perhaps he knew that clinically none of it would ultimately come to matter in the grand scheme of things--and said he would present him with the option of delaying chemo until after he returned from the trip if that was indeed what Bill wanted.

 

“Dr. Caspin tells me there’s a 10% chance of this other drug working, but I don’t know...the last regimen was just so hard on me,” Bill continued.  “And I really want to make it back to Philadelphia to see my family at the end of the month.”  Bill spoke lovingly of his close relationship with his brother.  They were kindred spirits, and understanding that his time might be short, he wanted to be able to see him again, perhaps--or probably--for the last time in this earthly realm.  He spoke, too, of a simple but treasured pleasure that chemo had long deprived him of:  “And I really want to taste a good cheesesteak again!” (noting, naturally, that they’re not called “Philly cheesesteaks” in Philadelphia--they’re just simply cheesesteaks).  “The chemo’s just wreaked havoc on my taste buds, man...I’m hoping with the treatment break my sense of taste will come back in time for the trip.  Right now, all I can do is remember how a good cheesesteak tastes...”  He closed his eyes and pantomimed holding a sandwich to his mouth, looking for all the world like he was auditioning for a Carl’s Jr. commercial--and the leading candidate to land the role to boot.  “Oh, man...I can’t wait!” he said as his huge smile somehow manage to grow even bigger, earning hearty laughs all around.

 

The conversation continued:  “You know, I’m just so thankful for everyone who’s helped take care of me since this cancer thing all began.  Everyone’s been so kind and patient and understanding with me.  And you guys, especially...At first I was a little hesitant about being referred to you, but you guys really showed me that palliative care wasn’t just about end of life, and I can’t tell you how much we’ve appreciated that.”  Contrary to Ella’s reports of evolving angst and anxiety, an air of calm and contentedness seemed to permeate his being as the seconds ticked on, and rather abruptly, yet casually and completely without prompting, he shook his head softly but assuredly and said, “Nah, I don’t think I’m going to do any more chemo.”  And by then I was never more convinced that that smile was a permanent fixture upon his face.

 

Some dialog naturally ensued from there, just to be sure he felt he’d had all the information he needed to be at peace--or at least as at peace as you possibly could be--with such a critical decision.  He assured us he did.  Another round of warm hugs, and I left the room to finish typing up an after-visit summary for him.  My nurse caught up with me and shared her sudden epiphany:  “Why don’t we refer him to hospice now?  They can get to know him early and they might be able to facilitate transferring hospice services so that he’s covered when he travels.”  

 

I blinked a couple of times as my cerebral hamster remounted its wheel.  “Now why the hell didn’t I think of that??” I asked in genuine perplexion.  After returning from the room to discuss this option with Bill and Ella, my nurse conveyed to me their hearty endorsement of the plan.

 

It wasn’t clear to me then at all why such an obviously helpful and logical next step had eluded my own thought process.  It was only weeks later, sitting in my office and reviewing his chart to see how he was doing, that it crystallized for me.  There were actually two reasons, I believe.  The first was that some part of me didn’t want to admit that Bill was truly nearing the end of his life.  And that naturally segued into the second reason:  I just didn’t want to say goodbye to him.  

 

Not this soon.

 

You see, once my palliative care patients go onto hospice, whether from clinic or from an inpatient referral, I rarely ever see them again unless they are somehow discharged from the service, perhaps because their goals of care have changed and they decide to revoke hospice, or because their condition stabilizes or improves such that they’re no longer appropriate for hospice--what we like to call “graduating” from hospice.  But for Bill, we all knew there would be no commencement ceremony, and I’m sure he knew that, too.

 

I looked again at his chart notes.  I glanced over at the calendar.  The date for his trip back east was nigh, but by the looks of things, so was death.  My social worker suspected the same, walking into the office I shared with my nurse one day and saying, “I don’t think he’s going to make it back east, unfortunately.”  We both nodded in accord.  “Heartbreaking,” said one of us.  I can’t remember who.

 

Just a few days later, on my birthday, no less, I ended a late day at the hospital in my office with his chart open again.  Ella had called the hospice team that morning wanting to be sure that the family was doing everything right in their care of him as his life appeared to be coming to a close.  He sounded comfortable, though, even as he was becoming less and less responsive, but he was developing some gurgling respirations that concerned them.  Fortunately, all they needed was a little advisement on repositioning as well as reassurances that such gurgling was a natural and generally undistressing part of the dying process.

 

That was the eve of his passing, I learned a couple days later.

 

During a quiet moment later that same day, I found myself musing on the profound imprint he left upon me and my team.  Indeed, an earlier revelation was learning that both I and my nurse had needed every fiber of our respective being to fight back tears during the entirety of that last visit.  I don’t think either of us were all that successful in doing so, though.  And I’m not even sure that the sum total of time I spent face to face with him amounted to 30 degrees of movement across the clockface.  But as is often the case in this line of work--indeed, in life--some things simply are beyond quantification.  And as is my habit, I reflected upon whether I or my team could have done anything differently in the name of better service.  Was there any way we might have helped actually get him on that flight to Pennsylvania?

 

I often get asked by people how I continue to do what I do, how I regather my energies and offer them up again so willingly, particularly when they see a patient’s case evolve in a direction they would never wish upon themselves--getting coded (i.e., having potentially painful resuscitation be attempted) in the face of an irrecoverable condition, for example.  The truth is, as I alluded to earlier, I’m human, and there are times when I falter.  There always will be.  But I tell them, as long as I cleave to the adage that I’ve cultivated over the years, I’ll never find myself feeling like I’ve misstepped or failed a patient or family along the way, and I’m always self-rejuvenated knowing that my efforts made a terrible situation as un-terrible as possible for all.  And that adage is this:  Trust and invest in going about the ‘process’ of care in the best way you know how, and the best possible outcome for that patient and family will result.  In other words, don’t project a particular outcome coming to pass as your measuring stick for a job well done.  It may seem like the best ending from your perspective as shaped by your knowledge and values, but that perspective and those values may not be shared by all much less the patient or family you’re serving, and ‘forcing’ things to effect such an outcome will ultimately be less helpful and potentially more damaging to them than you’d ever intended.

 

Upon further reflection, then, Bill’s trip back east was never going to happen--we just couldn’t possibly have determined that to be the case at the time.  But the efforts to engage Dr. Caspin about the possibility of delaying further cancer treatment, the willingness to present that option to Bill and his family, the process of informing them of how likely or unlikely further cancer treatment was likely to be in helping him achieve his goals--be they to live longer, live better, or do both--all helped Bill regain as much command over his life as possible when his cancer theretofore had wrested so much of it away.

 

No, Bill didn’t make it to Pennsylvania...he didn’t get to see his parents or his brother one last time...and he didn’t get to savor the aroma and flavors of one last cheesesteak before leaving this corporeal world...all that indeed is heartbreaking.  But in no way did anyone ever fail him, and he in turn never failed to remain true to his enlightened spirit while imparting his grace and uplift upon all those fortunate enough to have known him.

 

In retrospect, then, perhaps the only place I might have erred was in not upholding my other adage, one that’s more to do with my general take on life than with my practice of palliative medicine per se, and one that might have allowed me to think of offering the hospice referral to Bill before leaving the exam room that day:  I should never have been so averse to the notion of saying goodbye to him in the first place...because in my world, there are no Goodbyes, only See you laters.

 

So what’s Bill’s fate from here?  I know a lot of people espouse some pretty firm beliefs about what, if anything, lies beyond life’s threshold.  I, for one, do not profess to know, as I’ve yet to commune with anyone (or anything) with firsthand knowledge.  You may call that ignorance or humility or something else altogether...but please don’t call it a lack of faith or enlightenment.  I couldn’t do what I do nor find meaning and purpose in life if I didn’t harbor faith in a power beyond my perception and understanding.  I’m cursed with insatiable curiosity and perhaps a touch of insecurity about the unknown as well, but the power of imagination is perhaps an offsetting blessing.

 

I’ll imagine, then, that which I find most comforting...that Bill, emancipated finally from the constraints of flesh and affliction, is en route to somewhere of his own free will.

 

I’ll imagine, Next stop:  Philly.

 
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http://www.tulatopphotography.com/blog/2014/11/one-souls-sojourn Sun, 02 Nov 2014 04:49:20 GMT