Monday, April 20, 2009

Marilyn Monroe Breaks the Color Barrier

This 1952 photo of Marilyn Monroe and her favorite costumer, William Travilla, you've probably never seen before. That's because the studio she worked for at the time tried everything it could to suppress it. They even went so far as to crop the photo to suit their backwards idea of propriety.

What the studio objected to, apparently, is that their rising star was photographed with a -- gasp! -- black man. How dare she be seen in public with one of them? And to make matters worse, she was photographed in the 5-4 Club in South Central Los Angeles, an all-black club.

If you've ever seen this photo printed anywhere, you saw this cropped version -- with the unidentified black man cropped out. I bet you were wondering why William Travilla was looking off into the distance, as if he was looking at some unknown person out of camera range.

According to the Travilla Tour web site, the story of the photo goes like this:

The story of this photo, as Travilla and Bill Sarris tell it, is that he and Marilyn spent the evening at an almost exclusively black club in Los Angeles - something that just wasn't done in 1952. The studio was outraged, especially after her nude photograph scandal in March of that year, and the fact that she had just been on the April cover of Life magazine and hailed as 'The Talk of Hollywood.' As a result of being 'caught on camera,' they fired Travilla from the film they were working on. But Marilyn - one of Travilla's closest friends - stood up and said 'If he goes, I go.' And of course, they let him stay, but they were successful in keeping this picture out of the press."
"Travilla: The Man Who Dressed Marilyn Monroe" is a show of William Travilla memorabilia touring the country. In addition to Marilyn Monroe, Travilla fitted costumes to a number of stars, including Jean Harlow, Donna Reed, Morgan Fairchild and Judy Garland.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Luminous-Landscape Nikon D3x Review Off the Mark?

To answer the headline question, yes, it is.

Let me explain.

I hardly ever agree with the guys over at Luminous Landscape. Their heavy Canon and Phase One bias makes me nuts. Not that there's anything wrong with the products being made by Canon and Phase One. There isn't. But when you go out of your way to tout them over other brands -- particularly Nikon -- that's not a review. They like to characterize us Nikon-users over at LL as "fanboys."

I freely admit I am a loyal Nikon user. I've been using Nikon cameras since 1973. I've owned other brands and even considered switching to Canon at one point a few years ago. But I never did. Nikon has always come through for me and I see no reason to change. I have nothing against people who use other brands. If they get the results they want and are happy with their equipment, more power to them. I certainly wouldn't put them down for using a particular brand.

Which is more than I can say for the guys over at LL.

Anyway, back to my point.

In a review of the new Nikon D3x, the guys over at LL just couldn't overcome their bias, falling short of calling the camera what most people agree it is -- the best damn camera in the world, period. They came close however.

You can tell from the headline, "The World's Best DSLR...But."

I tend to agree. The Nikon D3x is great, but at $8,000 its way overpriced. Still, Nikon has to make its money back and I'm sure they realize pricing it so high is not an ideal situation. There must be a good reason for pricing the camera so high.

The LL review is generally favorable. Performance and output are great. The body is a bit too large. Little things here and there are not perfect. It's the same old story. Read any forum and you'll get the same criticisms. Nothing new here.

Yet they couldn't resist putting in a dig at Nikon and calling out the "fanboys."

Now, compound this with the appearance of the Sony A900 at about the same time as the Nikon D3x. It's also a full frame 25 Megapixel camera at nearly a third of the cost of the D3x; $3,000 vs $8,000. And, as is widely known, and admitted by Nikon, the sensor used by both cameras is essentially the same fundamental device. (Yes, I know that there's a lot of proprietary Nikon goodness in their version of this chip, but it does use the same die).

So, here's the bottom line to this conundrum. Nikon is charging a $4,000 premium for the sensor in the D3x, yet Sony is selling their top-of-the-line A900 camera, which contains a very competitive sensor, for just $3,000. What's wrong with this picture (no pun intended)?

Before the Nikon fanboys burst a blood vessel I will stipulate here and now that the sensor in the D3x is better than the one in the A900. This is so in one area at least, and that's high ISO. Beginning at ISO 800 one definitely has to give the advantage to Nikon, as seen in my Dec, 2008 three-way noise comparison. Other aspects of image performance are not as clear cut, but it's not my purpose here to do such a comparison or nit pick the differences between the sensors.

This is fundamentally wrong and I think the problem with all their reviews. Obviously, the product can't be perfect because it's not made by Canon. That's the first problem.

The second and more obvious problem with this review and this passage in particular is right out there in plain sight. LL admits the chip in the Nikon D3x is the Sony chip (there's no dispute there, Nikon has noted this too). But, as they say in the review, Nikon has added some proprietary stuff to the chip (software, whatever). So while both the Nikon and the Sony cameras start out with the same chip, Nikon adds stuff to it that Sony doesn't. It may use the same die, but after Nikon gets through with it, it's not the same chip anymore. It's capable of doing things differently and/or better than the original chip.

That's like saying because the Audi Q7 , Porsche Cayenne and the VW Touareg are built on the same chassis, they are identical cars. This is obviously not the case. Each company adds their little touches and improvements to make their models uniquely theirs.

The problem with LL is that they are constantly comparing apples with oranges. Their reviews are not unbiased and not even fairly set up. Sure, they offer some good hands-on experience with the products. And to their credit they don't just run out with the camera for a few hours in the fields near their house. They actually take the products out on expeditions for months at a time and give it a good workout.

But they are starting from a preconceived notion that Nikon is still trying to catch up to Canon (which I don't think is true anymore). And that everything Nikon does is to go Canon one better.

While they admit the Nikon D3x is a great camera, they stop short of anointing it the best because it costs so much. And also, even if it is the best, it won't be for long because Canon is coming out with new features soon that will have Nikon scrambling to catch up again.

There's no use in doing a review of a camera if you start out with a bias. If the camera could never be as good as Canon in the first place, why bother? The Nikon D3x would be great if it weren't so big, so heavy and so expensive, according to LL. Now the Canon 1Ds MKIII (the D3x's direct competitor) is as close to perfect as you can get -- despite it being just as big, just as heavy and nearly as expensive at $6,000.