I was turning twelve when my uncle presented me with a new camera for my birthday. Taking photographs with my Kodak Instamatic 104 was frustrating: I needed faster shutter speeds and more flexible control over aperture and focusing. So it really was exciting to open my wrapped gift and find a serious-looking camera, full of tiny numbers and clicky rings and dials. Moreover, it sported a big (compared to the Instamatic) viewfinder an had the look of a "real", "adult" camera.
The HALINA PAULETTE was a 35mm viewfinder camera made in Hong Kong by Haking, an almost unknown camera and binocular manufacturer who has survived the switch to digital and still exists. It was introduced around 1965, with a 45mm/f2.8 Halinar Anastigmat fixed lens and a 4-speed (1/30-1/250) + B shutter. Unlike its richer sister, the Halina Paulette Electric (my uncle had bought one himself one year earlier), the Paulette was devoid of exposure meter. So I started dealing with the 16-rule and learned about film sensitivity. Not bad for a twelve year boy, after all. But guessing the right speed/aperture couple, especially in cloudy weather, was a difficult task sometimes, and burned-out or dark photographs were more frequent than I hoped. This moved my father to pity, and I could borrow his exposure meter.
Made by the German manufacturer Gossen, the SIXTOMAT was shaped like an electric shaver but in fact it was one of the best selenium exposure meters ever made. Using the Sixtomat meant going up to the next level for my photography. The joy of 36 properly exposed shots over 36 encouraged me to frame my photographs more accurately, better framing meant more keepers and more photos to be printed meant more money to be spent. Briefly, I made my first attempts in the black&white darkroom, and I enjoyed it a lot. Then the first (second hand) photo magazines started appearing next to the schoolbooks and homeworks on my desk. I was definitely crossing a line. Stay tuned.
My last exhibition, BLACK&BLUE, closed last October 3 and I have been in the process of un-mounting and packing photographs, final-balancing revenues and (mostly) expenses, cleaning-up and filing in the last three weeks. The event have been a success, with more than 4.000 visitors in 39 days, positive reviews and comments, almost no bad criticism (as far as I know), fairly good (not stirring) sales and new interesting acquaintances. Briefly, I'm satisfied.
The very last thing I did yesterday has been removing the board shown above from the wall of my studio. It has been there for the last ten months, as a ceaseless memento of the things already settled and those yet to be done (I don't know why, the latter were prone to increase every day). For the non-Italian PhotoGraphia readers, it has to be explained that only the upper-left column of the board was actually related to photographs (select and print them, and display them according to a pattern). All the rest concerned something else: the catalog (layout, proofing, printing, complimentary copies), the graphics (logo design, posters, postcards, billboards, t-shirts for the staff), communication (trilingual press-release, paper magazines, web magazines and daily papers to be contacted -each type within different deadlines-, emailing, snailmailing), scheduling (trip and stay in Venice for me, my wife -thanks again for your invaluable collaboration, Daniela!- and my collaborators). I even thought about some music to be played in the venue hosting the show, but bureaucracy was far too complicated (music rights to be managed, etc.), so I gave up. This was was the only thing I had to give up, as a matter of fact.
What's the legacy a photographer inherits from an ehxibition? Is there something that keeps on going after the last visitor went trough the exit door? Yes there is, definitely. Making an exhibition is (almost) all about art. Having made an exhibition is all about knowledge.
One thing I know since my first shows is that the process of selecting photographs according to a project is the best way to survey and map my work. Under a technical point of view, of course, but most of all as far as consistency and significancy are concerned. Conceiving the show's layout is as much important. Like a play to be staged, an exhibition must obey to some rules, the artist being actually the director who decides the timing and the visual/emotional path the viewer will walk along. Namely a showbiz knowledge. Then comes the day when the setup conceived at home (I use miniature prints to simulate the mounting) with the help of the mounting technicians must become an actual display. Will it correspond one hundred percent to the original layout? No, it never happens, as unexpected occurrencies, afterthoughts or brilliant ideas coming from collaborators happily mix up things sometimes, improving the result. It's often a matter of technical knowledge, as the mounting process involves materials to be re-shaped or modified far away from the technicians' workshop (in a place like Venice, even buying an handful of nails can be a daring task).
The opening day marks the beginning of a core knowledge. In front of real viewers the exhibition sort of transforms itself. Now it's not only my photographs, or the way they are displayed. It's my displayed photographs seen through the eyes (and the mind, and the heart) of hundreds of perfect strangers coming from all over the world. Most of them don't even know whose works they came to see. Perhaps they only have read a billboard, or tagged along other tourists. Watching the way they walk through the exhibition, how they stop in front of a photograph or go past another one, how they point at a detail or whisper to their partners, I learned a lot. After the visit, somebody asks the attending personnel for more details or leaves an email address: a flattering sign of interest. The days I was there, a few even stayed on talking with me. This is the bigger value of the whole thing, as what came out of those conversations will interact with my approach to the next projects. I know it will, because it always happened after my previous shows.
What buyers buy, that's another important knowledge. Apart from the obvious commercial remarks, this helps me understand which ones of my photographs are considered worth to see (or even commendable)and which ones are considered fit to have at home (and worth the price). There must be somewhere a blurred border dividing works of art which are respectable from those which are enjoyable. If you purchase a Galassi, you are not making a financial investment, you are buying a piece of furniture. Being aware of that makes me a happier man.
Finally, reading the press-cuttings is a source of knowledge as well. Some said that the artist conceives a work, people see a different one and critics write about yet another one. Knowing that most critics found in my photographs what I wanted them to find is indisputably gratifying. But discovering that there could be even more to be found, well, this is the most exciting gift.
The two new NX lenses launched by Samsung at the last Photokina share a new feature, called i-Function, which I hope will be soon copied by other manufacturers. The i-Function allows the use of the focus ring to control various camera functions. In other words the mostly underused focus ring loses its name and sprouts anew as a configurable human interface. I don't know how many Photographia readers can effectively use manual focus with modern focus-by-wire lenses. As for me, I find it bothersome and frustrating. And pointless most of the times, as those lenses lack the depht-of-field marks usually found on the traditional manual-focus lenses barrel.
I'm intensively using a Canon S95 lately (by the way, one of the most clever cameras I have ever used, delivering an outstanding picture quality). The knurled ring surrounding the lens can be function-assigned according to user's needs and habits, exactly like in the two new Samsung glasses: to focus manually, or to zoom in and out, or to set ISO value, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, or to tweak exposure compensation. The latter being my favorite option, as I shoot in jpg and need an accurate to-the-right exposure. It's astonishing how simple it was for designers to implement the only fonction a photographer really needs in a camera: no fixed function.
Fn button? A past thing. Samsung's and Canon's inspiration could be the first step towards an extended meaning of "open source" camera. Not only a device whose software (plug-ins included) could be freely designed by anybody, but a totally configurable unit. Just imagine. Manufacturers are invited to join the party.
Let me make it clear: this is a real-world review, based on my personal opinions (right or wrong) and on visual evaluations of the files. No test charts involved here, no MTF measurements. As for the photographs, they are out-of-camera jpgs (I don't shoot RAW anymore, so I'm not interested) viewed on a calibrated LaCie 321 monitor. This review only refers to the specimen in my possession.
Keep in mind that my approach to the P7000 is deeply biased by my two-years positive experience with the Canon G10. Therefore as soon as I unboxed the Nikon I could't help noticing that it weighs less than it looks. I was expecting a sturdy and rugged unit like the Canon. As a matter of fact most authoritative experts and reviewers have pointed up in the last weeks that the P7000 is almost a clone of its rival Canon G11, since both share the same sensor and size, as well as most features and specifications. Somebody even ironically calls it "Powershot P7000".
The lesser weight is easily explained: whereas the top and the front plates are metal made, the bottom and the back are pure plastic. I know, it should be called "polycarbonate", but I'm totally allergic to all those press-release-style euphemisms, like "globalization" instead of exploitation, "new economy" instead of piecework, "creative finance" instead of fraud or "outsourcing" instead of subcontract. Fact is that despite its semipro-compact ambitions, the P7000 feels slightly plasticky. The three knobs on the top don't click firmly enough and tend to get inadvertently rotated, the wheelpad on the back is flimsier than in a $ 200 point&shoot and the battery/card compartment cover is simply shameful. Briefly a very good design, both ergonomically and aesthetically (the camera is indeed goodlooking), spoilt by inadequate materials and manufacturing. Paradoxically, the P7000 lacks the gorgeous ruggedness of the Nikon pro and semipro DSLRs, and inherits the poor and unreassuring tactile experience of the Canon semipro and entry-level ones.
As soon as the "on" button is pressed, the unit is ready to shoot. And the 921.000 dots lcd monitor is a real treat: big, clear and crisp enough to venture a picture evaluation. Menus are well organized and easily understood, as usual at Nikon's. Nothing to do with the insane and obscure literature found in Canon's G series. The viewfinder is definitely more accurate than the one of my G10, but the latter is bigger and slightly clearer. The three control knobs are clever and very well positioned. Especially the exposure compensation dial: your forefinger and thumb naturally "fall" on it, making the expose-to-the-right job an easy task. By the way, whereas the istogram remains visible after focusing, the (very welcome) electronic spirit level inexplicably disappears. I don't know about you, but I definitely don't have a steady hand, so I'd find a permanent level really helpful. I hope this issue will be addressed in an upcoming firmware update.
Speaking of focus, the P7000 has big troubles in focusing on bright sunny surfaces, even when they are well textured. In my one-day test, I experienced at least one focus failure over eight attempts. Three times the LCD screen got gray and a warning appeared to advice me that the lens was getting re-initialized. I have never seen anything like that before. It's a fault that Nikon MUST take care of. All the more so because, this shortcoming apart, the P7000 would be a fast and reactive camera, very suitable for street photography.
What about picture quality? A camera is all about taking photographs, after all. Well, the Nikon P7000 delivers too contrasty images with a low noise level. In my opinion (I'm not an engineer) the overcontrast is due to an inherent lack of dynamic range. I noticed that the exposure meter has serious troubles in keeping the highlights within the clipping threshold. In other words, to avoid highlights burning, I had to underexpose (up to 1 IL and more) most of the shots I took during the test, whereas the G10 easily managed the same shots with no tweaking. Of course the underexposure caused a severe darkening of the lowlights. As I said, noise is low enough, and has that pleasant Nikon "feeling": it's more luminance than chroma, and looks like film grain. The (optional) geometric distortion in-camera correction is nothing less than effective, and the lateral chromatic aberration is superbly controlled (G10's LCA is inexcusable). The corners too obviously lack crispness.
My conclusion: at its pre-Photokina introduction the P7000 looked very promising to me. Does it match those expectations? Frankly, no. Despite its being two years behind the competition, it's an unaccomplished product. And an overpriced one, too. If a Canon G11 is sold for $ 460, the P7000 is worth no more than $ 350. Too bad for Nikon and, most of all, too bad for buyers.
Venice is definitely a recurring presence in my life lately. Besides my exhibition BLACK&BLUE -by the way, there are three days left for a visit-, I have been ask for three photographs of Venice to be shown in Rome at the 3rd Festival of Travel Literature, "Verso Oriente, il Levante" (more or less, "Eastwards, the Orient"), which has opened tonight. My images are part of an exhibition called "Grande Venezia" ("Greater Venice"): with the help of a selection of ancient maps and rare documents and atlases belonging to the Italian Geographic Society, 61 shots by 23 photographers try to illustrate the relationship between the historical Republic of Venice and its Middle-Eastern commercial empire. The venue is the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, an important public museum located in the center of Rome.
What I tried to do is to catch the strong graphic values of the venetian urban and suburban landscape. This is my vision of reality and this is what the Festival was expecting from me. Obviously I'm not a reporter. Moreover, these are the first non-square photographs I made in the last three years. But Antonio Politano, the director of the Festival, had a setup designed for the exhibition which only the classic 3/2 "full-frame" or "Leica format" ratio, sized 40x60 cm, was compatible to. A challenging task, that I faced with excitement. The result can be seen above.
For a wide selection of the exhibition, see also the Italian National Geographic site.