Hearing an opinion on the quality of a lens is easy, but finding a GOOD opinion is hard. You have to consider the source and their experience. I’ll admit, I’m very picky about whose opinion I’ll listen to when it’s time to part with my money. I tend to give the most weight to the working pros who I actually know because I’ve seen their work for myself, which validates their opinions.
Even with good sources and top-quality lenses, few pros have exhaustively tested all of the leading lenses in a given focal length. That’s when Lloyd Chambers’ diglloyd.com website becomes extremely useful.
Lloyd is relentless in testing every high-end lens and camera system he can get his hands on, and while it requires payment to access his in depth reviews, it’s a minimal investment compared to the thousands of dollars most photographers spend on glass.
Anyone can tell you that the Sigma Art lenses and Zeiss lenses produce phenomenal resolution. But at diglloyd.com, I can actually see carefully crafted high-resolution files from different camera and lens setups, along with Lloyd’s observations. How a lens performs in the real world is far more valuable to a photographer than benchmark testing or MTF charts.
This is what makes Lloyd’s reviews so valuable. He actually shows you what is right and wrong about a lens so you can form your own opinion.
My trust for Lloyd’s pursuit of quality was cemented after getting to know him on one of my workshops. He was using 8x10 film at that time (8x10 being a benchmark in quality equivalent to about 400mp) and was frustrated that it wasn’t sharper. I looked at his chromes and told them they were as tight as the best chromes I had seen from photographers Jack Dykinga and Christopher Burkett, and that he should be very happy with them because not only were they technically perfect, but they were beautiful as well. Lloyd told me that they should be able to be sharper, and then rattled off some deep technical details that they should be achieving. While many people can talk the talk, Lloyd actually knows how to walk the walk .
It’s one of the blogs I read almost every day, and it doesn’t hurt that his “test” images are beautiful real-world photographs taken in my beloved Eastern Sierra. Short of buying thousands of dollars in lenses and testing them myself, it’s the best evaluation of lens quality I’ve ever found.
On January 7th of this year, Yosemite National Park was evacuated due to the risk of flooding from an atmospheric river with only emergency personnel allowed to stay. The same thing happened twenty years ago (almost to the day) after one of Yosemite's largest floods in modern history. I was one of the few allowed to stay during that flood in 1997 because I was hired by the National Park Service to photograph the damage for their archives. The tale of the 1997 flood and my experiences were documented in Calumet’s Newsletter for Photographic Artists by Richard Newman.
For twenty years I’ve been fortunate enough to work with William Neill. He was one of my very first clients when I launched my printmaking business in Yosemite, and has been a client, mentor, friend, neighbor, and inspiration for all those years. Check out his book, and see more of his work at williamneill.com.
A root-bound plant is an interesting thing. The roots have grown so much that they take up every bit of available soil, binding it, and taking on the shape of its container. When gardening, I still feel a sense of wonder as I observe how the roots have taken on the popsicle-like shape of the nursery tray. It’s such a visual expression of how the plant, no matter how beautiful, has grown as much as it can in the space provided. The nursery tray has a job to do, but it only lets the plant grow so far. So there is an excitement in planting, knowing that that the roots can finally spread, the plant can grow, and the once small, beautiful plant, can start growing more blossoms and more fruit.
Life has a way of making us root-bound too, filling up our containers and not leaving us enough room for all the directions we want to grow. It’s a good thing to be repotted from time to time.
For the last twenty-two years I have lived and photographed in and around Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada. For three of those years I lived right in Yosemite Valley, at a little house that Ansel Adams lived in. That was just one of the perks of working at The Ansel Adams Gallery, where I was able to meet some of the most talented landscape photographers in the world (sometimes by accident, like the time I tried to kick Galen Rowell out of our staff parking lot). It also afforded me the chance to carefully study the most carefully crafted and expressive photographic prints from masters like Ansel Adams, Christopher Burkett, Charlie Cramer, and a host of others.
My passion is and will always be for finely crafted (fine art) photographic prints, which led me to leave Yosemite in 1998 to start a printmaking studio dedicated to making the finest quality digital prints, at a time when digital printing was in its infancy. The early years were a very exciting time for this because I was able to print the first digital show for Galen Rowell (100 pieces!), museum shows for grand masters like Jack Dykinga, gallery prints for Robert Glenn Ketchum, a book for Frans Lanting, build the first website for William Neill, and the first digital prints for more artists than I can recount. As the studio grew and added other talented staff, we completed thousands of amazing projects. As I write this, prints made by my studio are hanging in the Smithsonian, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Parks.
As great as owning a printmaking studio was, time, and life, made me root-bound. My role changed from printmaker to business owner and all the responsibilities that entails. Kids, cancer, and the great recession all changed the formula, and the time to do the photography I loved disappeared. It was time for repotting but I didn’t know how to do it…so life did it for me.
I started 2016 with our print studio at its peak, making the best prints in our history, six years of consistent growth under our belt, and expectations for continued growth. But the fine art segment took a hit in 2016, and talking to several other lab owners, it was industry wide. I was positioned for growth, not for pulling back. A year of fighting the sales drop left my pockets empty. I couldn’t go forward any more, so I sold the business to another highly respected lab who could continue to serve my customers.
It was a painful process, but being uprooted is turning into a blessing in disguise. Yanked out of my pot I decided to transplant to the Nashville area. It’s as different from Yosemite as you can imagine, but the concentration of talent and creativity created by the Nashville music industry has fostered one of the richest artistic communities in the country. Couple that with a beautiful countryside, and it’s a great place replant.
Now it’s time for these bound-up roots to grow, and to thrive again as a photographer. It’s time to continue to make new photographs, show my prints, and share with others all I’ve been able to learn by working with the best of the best photographers for the last twenty-two years. It’s a journey I look forward to sharing with you on this blog.
Rich Seiling is a pioneer of Fine Art Printmaking, having worked on thousands of prints for leading photographers.