The Superhero Supply Store at Brooklyn's 826NYC

I’ve recently started volunteering for Dave Eggers’ 826 NYC. 826 NYC is a non-profit that supports kids and teens by teaching writing skills. They provide tutoring, field trips, after school workshops, and help for kids learning the English language. 826 makes their free programs fun and enjoyable, giving students both structure and freedom to exercise creativity, ideas, and ultimately develop their own voice through improving their writing skills.

Before moving to Brooklyn, I thought San Francisco's 826 Valencia Pirate Supply Store was the coolest thing ever. But this is Brooklyn, and no place is cooler than Brooklyn. Our very own 826 NYC is fronted by the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store.

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Earlier this week I was scheduled to photograph a “Zombie Apocalypse Workshop” at 826 NYC. From their website:

“This summer, indulge your interests in science, technology, engineering, math and the undead at our zombie apocalypse workshop! Each session, you'll get the chance to learn about the spread of disease, figure out how to build your way out of trouble, and gain valuable skills for the inevitable apocalypse. Of course, you will also be carefully documenting humanity's attempt to survive for future civilizations to read. Using hands-on activities and computer programs to model scenarios, you will strengthen your prediction skills and potentially pick up some life-saving survival smarts along the way.”

Yeah, that’s right up my alley. I can't really post pictures from the workshop, but here's a peek at one of the student's survival worksheet. They had to figure out what to carry with them in their backpacks during a zombie apocalypse.

Zombie Workshop Workheets, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Zombie Workshop Workheets, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

But before I photographed the Zombie workshop, I stopped and shot a bit in the Superhero Supply Store. The store is what you see from the sidewalk and it’s a fully staffed mercantile where you can buy all of your superhero supplies.

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Supplies at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

All proceeds from sales at the Superhero Supply Store go to 826 NYC and their youth programs. In the back of the store, behind a secret door naturally, is the true 826 NYC headquarters. It’s where we had the Zombie workshop and where they hold most of their after school events.

I shot the workshop and the Superhero Supply Store photographs with my new Sony a7 (yeah, I’m pretty much all in with Sony now, future blog post will explain my switch) and a 1970s era Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 manual focus lens. 

Superhero Phone at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Superhero Phone at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Yup, X-Ray Vision Glasses are for sale at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Yup, X-Ray Vision Glasses are for sale at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

The Superhero Supply store has a supervillian testing cage, where you can enter and take a quiz to see the risk of you being or becoming a supervillian. They also have a capery. The capery is an elevated platform where you don your cape (you have to try on the cape and test it before buying, duh) to evaluate it for wind resistance, drag, and fit. Upon checking out, you have to give your superhero name (mine is "The Incredible Hoke") and recite the superhero pledge. After that you are on your way to fight evil. 

Sidekick Capes at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Sidekick Capes at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Standard Superhero Capes at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Standard Superhero Capes at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Secret Identity Kits at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

Secret Identity Kits at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, Sony a7 and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 Lens

I shot everything in the store at ISO 3200 with the Sony, which is absolutely not a problem on this camera. In fact, I shot some of the workshop at ISO 3200 and some of it at ISO 400 with the aid of a Yongnuo 503ii external flash. The Sony and the Yongnuo make an excellent lowlight combination. I'm using the battery grip on the a7 for a bit more heft. 

Initial Thoughts on the Sony a6000

Last week I posted what led me, a die-hard DSLR user, to purchase the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera.  I ended the post by mentioning that the a6000 was “a game changer. I can’t remember enjoying a camera this much since falling in love with my Hasselblad years ago. “

After almost a month with the camera I still feel the same. There are some issues I have had with the a6000, but it’s easy to develop workarounds. I don't expcet a camera to be perfect. What I do expect and demand is high quality results and an accessible, user-friendly interface.

The results from the Sony a6000 are fantastic. When I look at the files in Lightroom they easily match my Nikon D700, even surpassing the Nikon in resolution. I see very little difference in the APS-C Sony and the full frame Nikon for most photographs and the colors of the a6000 are fantastic.

Sunset from Brooklyn Rooftop, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Sunset from Brooklyn Rooftop, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Chloe on the Stoop, Sony a6000 and Sigma 30mm f2.8 Lens

Chloe on the Stoop, Sony a6000 and Sigma 30mm f2.8 Lens

Lower Manhattan from Hoboken, NY, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Lower Manhattan from Hoboken, NY, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

The Sony controls are highly customizable.  There are two custom buttons and you can assign and switch important functions to several other buttons. It took me a few days to set mine up, but after that initial period controls are where I need them to be and accessing them is quick and easy. There is very little, if any, diving into the menu system for most functions.

 THE GOOD:

From my time with the Sony a6000, I’ve discovered that it’s a camera you want to use often. If I’m going for a walk or meeting Kate in the city, the camera almost always comes with me – usually just tossed into one of those freebie canvas shoulder bags. I don’t need a camera bag for it. If I’m walking by myself, I just carry it in my hand. The handgrip feels comfortable and reassuring. Even with a lens attached, it feels like nothing in your hand.

The results are every bit as good as my full frame Nikon. In fact, for most shooting I would give an edge to the Sony as it features more dynamic range and color depth. Shadows are even more recoverable in RAW files than on the D700.

Downtown Brooklyn, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Downtown Brooklyn, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

I absolutely love the focus peaking and magnification features for manual lenses. I had barely heard of focus peaking before and honestly didn’t realize what people were talking about when they used the term. Now I know. It’s fantastic for manual lenses. I’ve settled on red and medium settings, which works very well, especially if you stop the aperture down just a bit.

 Magnification is another nice feature for manual focusing. I’ve set up the custom button C1 to handle magnification. Push it once to bring up the box and then push it a second time to magnify. You can select 2 sec. magnification, 5 sec. magnification, or unlimited. I chose the latter. With this set up, manual focus is quick and easy. It really takes no longer than using back button focusing (which is another nice option for this camera – assigned to AEL button).

Focus peaking and magnification brings me to my favorite thing about this camera – using manual lenses. I have a few old Olympus OM-1 lenses (28mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4, and a 80-200mm f4 zoom) and a Minolta Rokkor 58mm f1.4 lens. I purchased two adapters, an Olympus and a Minolta (both under $20 on Amazon).  Each fits tightly on the lenses and the a6000 body. I can even use my Nikon AF-D lenses with a Nikon adapter. It opens up a new world of fantastic old lenses.

Sony a6000 with Small Selection of Non-Native Lenses

Sony a6000 with Small Selection of Non-Native Lenses

And what about the Sony native lenses? Are there not enough lenses? This is probably the number one complaint I see most often online. Fortunately there are enough lenses out there for me. I purchased the excellent and low-priced Sigma 30mm f2.8 with the camera. The lens was tiny and balanced well on the camera, but it was a little slow for me. I traded it for the Sony 35mm f1.8 with OSS. This lens is perfect. It gives me a 50mm view that I’m used to and the OSS helps when filming video. Autofocus is quick and silent and it looks natural on the camera. By my count there are 13 other E lenses available for APS-C E-mount. That’s more than I’ll ever need. And you can use Sony or Sony/Zeiss FE lenses if you prefer.  There are already five of those and likely five more being announced at Photokina in the fall.

Leaves Wide Open on The High Line, Sony a6000 and Minolta Rokkor 58mm f1.4 Lens with Adapter

Leaves Wide Open on The High Line, Sony a6000 and Minolta Rokkor 58mm f1.4 Lens with Adapter

One last thing that I’ll mention is the Memory settings. Since the a6000 is so customizable, I’ve set mine up in a way that works for me. However, if I hand it to someone else they would probably have a hard time figuring out how to use it. To combat this, I’ve created a memory setting that makes it easy to hand the camera over to someone else to use.  The camera will function as they expect.

 THE NOT SO GOOD:

The combination of Auto ISO and Aperture Priority is only usable if you are shooting stationary subjects.  When shooting in auto ISO, the camera tends to favor 1/60th of a second as a shutter speed. This in itself is not a huge issue, as the a6000 does very well at slow shutter speeds handheld, but it does cause motion blur if you are not aware that the camera has selected 1/60.

An example – I was shooting a storefront in Harlem a couple of weeks ago and was testing auto ISO. The storefront itself was not a problem, but as I was framing the shot an interesting group of people came into my viewfinder. I decided to include them in the photo. The storefront in the photo is crisp and clear, but the three figures walking past have motion blur – as you would expect at 1/60 dialed in for your shutter speed.

What I’ve found is that the a6000 is a reassuring camera. It feels trustworthy and has nice automated controls and ability. I found myself letting it make more decisions than I normally would on my DSLR. In this case, the camera let me down by choosing a setting I would never choose in real life (except in very low light). I’ve started taking control back from the camera. Normally choosing manual or aperture priority and not using auto ISO. This is not really a big deal, as I’ve never used auto ISO before on other cameras

I’ve occasionally received error messages on start up (probably 3 messages in the last month). Usually these involve the card storage. The error message guides me to retry, and after a few seconds the problem resolves. This has not been a big issue so far, but I’ve never received any kind of error message on Nikon cameras in years of ownership.

There is a slight grain-like noise at most ISO settings when you pixel peep. At normal viewing this isn’t noticeable, but the files seem a bit noisier than my D700. This is expected when you compare a cropped APS-C sensor to a full frame sensor. Honestly though, the noise I’m referring to is almost film-like. It’s not that blotchy, colorful noise you normally get, it’s more like grain structure. Maybe that’s why the files look so nice to me.

Before I purchased the camera I knew it only had one command dial (the rear one) on the top of the camera. This was not a deal breaker for me in any way, however I do sometimes miss that front command dial.

The bottom line for me is that the Sony a6000 is a reasonably priced and shockingly small camera that feels natural in your hands. It gives you results that match the top APS-C DSLRs and I’ve found it can even match older generation FF cameras. Using the several custom buttons, the Sony is flexible and with lens adapters you can use virtually any classic 35mm manual focus lens. 

Kara Walker's "A Subtlety" at the Domino Sugar Factory

The last weekend of Kara Walker's "A Subtlety" at Williamsburg's Domino Sugar Factory snuck up on me. Since seeing her amazing exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum a few years ago, her name has always meant a must visit for us. 

You've most likely seen images online of the gigantic female Sphinx made of sugar and the smaller boys/attendants surrounding her throughout the massive Domino Sugar storage shed. These images don't prepare you for the exhibit in the flesh. When you approach the building you notice the sickly sweet smell. Once inside, the odor is everywhere. The floors are sticky with sugar and molasses.

I tried to watch where I stepped, but I couldn't keep my eyes off of the hulking kerchief-topped figure gleaming at the far end of the shed.

Looking from the entrance, Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Looking from the entrance, Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

As I approached her, I  stopped to examine the mute boys holding baskets. Some of them had melted in the heat. Others were still intact - innocent and alarming.

One of the boy attendants, Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

One of the boy attendants, Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

CLICK for LARGER VERSION on FLICKR Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

CLICK for LARGER VERSION on FLICKR Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

CLICK for LARGER VERION on FLICKR Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

CLICK for LARGER VERION on FLICKR Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

Kara Walker "A Subtlelty"

I left my D700 at home and brought my new Sony A6000 with the Sony 35mm f1.8 OSS lens to the exhibit. The small Sony was a joy to use in this type of environment. I continue to be impressed with this little beast and it's really making me question my continued allegiance to Nikon. Low light shots were not an issue and the camera metering accurately captured a difficult subject without me having to manually compensate the exposure. 

The Road to the Sony a6000

For the last two weeks I've been eating my words regarding mirrorless cameras. Until very recently, I was one of those "Nothing less than a full frame DSLR will do," and "An electronic viewfinder will never match the immediacy and clarity of an optical viewfinder," and my favorite "I like the heft of a full frame DSLR with the battery grip" camera guys. 

And in my experience these things were all true. I hadn't felt the need to downsize from my full frame Nikon and I needed the image quality and low light ability that it delivered for shooting performances and events. Mirrorless or smaller sensor cameras always seemed like a compromise. 

Since I needed video capabilty lacking in my Nikon D700, I spent months vacillating between the Nikon D800 or D610. I didn't feel the need to upgrade the D700 outside of its lack of video. The big, fat pixels on the 12 megapixel D700 sensor are a perfect sweet spot for low light event work and flattering for portraits. 

I didn't need the 36MP of the D800 - if I want the megapixels for cityscapes I choose my Hasselblad or 8x10 camera. When testing the D610 it just didn't feel right in my hands - the control layout seemed like a significant step backwards from my D700. After much thought and research, I couldn't convince myself to trade in my D700 for either one. 

Over the last few years I've watched so many new "have to have" cameras released, but after carefully considering my needs, I've always chosen to stay with my lowly D700. Until now. I require video capability, but I don't need the extra megapixels of the Nikon D800 or want the layout of the Nikon D610. And I didn't want to switch to a new system - Canon has great video, but I don't like their button layouts. Honestly, I felt stuck. 

A couple of weeks ago, while I was at Adorama waiting for Simon to finish with a customer, I started playing with the mirrorless cameras on display in front of me. The Panasonics were like mini DSLRs with impressive video capabilites, but I wasn't interested in the m4/3 sized sensor. The Olympus cameras (also m4/3 sensor) just looked fake and plastic to me - full disclosure, I own and still use an original Olympus OM-1. The Fuji cameras were stylish and felt okay in my hands, but they have mediocre to horrible video AND I live in Brooklyn where Fuji retro-styled cameras are worn like jewelry. None of these options would work, let alone replace my D700. 

Enter the Sony mirrorless cameras. The only two things I knew about Sony was that they make excellent sensors for other camera manufacturers (including Nikon) and they have a very solid reputation for video. The full frame Sony A7 felt fantastic and the stats seemed impressive, but I couldn't imagine replacing my DSLR with a new system, especially a mirrorless one. 

Sony had a few other models, but the one that I kept going back to was the Sony a6000. It had a 24MP APS-C sensor that topped the Fujis and the m4/3 sensors of the Panasonic and Olympus cameras. In fact, it had twice the megapixels of my Nikon and it was only $600. I went back and forth between a few mirrorless options while waiting, but the a6000 always felt the best in my hands. Its specs were perfect and I could theoretically keep the D700 that I love and have a totally different camera for my occasional video work. The two cameras could work in tandem. 

I didn't make a decision that day. I went home and spent the next week researching online. Purchasing the a6000 seemed like a no brainer. If I didn't like this new-to-me mirrorless thing after using for a week or so I could return it, sell it, or trade it in. 

Sony A6000 and Nikon D700 Size Comparison

Sony A6000 and Nikon D700 Size Comparison

So two weeks ago, I purchased the a6000 to augment my D700. The Sony has been a game changer. I can't remember enjoying a camera this much since falling in love with my Hasselblad years ago. 

Here are a handful of pics from my first week with the camera. I'll update next week with my thoughts and experience using the a6000.

Corner, West Village, Manhattan

Corner, West Village, Manhattan

Harlem Hill, Manhattan

Harlem Hill, Manhattan

Greenpoint Bear, Brooklyn

Greenpoint Bear, Brooklyn

Manhattan from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Manhattan from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Yellow Chair, The High Line, Manhattan

Yellow Chair, The High Line, Manhattan

Esposito Pork Shop, Manhattan

Esposito Pork Shop, Manhattan

Kate in our Hood, Brooklyn

Kate in our Hood, Brooklyn

Watertower, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Watertower, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Jeff Koons' "Split Rocker" in Rockefeller Center, Manhattan

Jeff Koons' "Split Rocker" in Rockefeller Center, Manhattan

Couple, The High Line, Manhattan

Couple, The High Line, Manhattan

Don't Care Bear, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Don't Care Bear, Greenpoint, Brooklyn


More 8x10 Fuji HR-T X-Ray Film

I've been toying with this lighting set up for still life. One bare bulb on the flowers and *hopefully* everything else goes black. You have to put the subject away from the wall and use less light than you normally would. My first attempt was okay - the background and surface were black, but you could still see the vase. 

This time I moved the light directly over the subject and a bit higher than I normally would. I'm satisfied with this image and I think it's time to give the peonies a rest until next year. 

8x10 Fuji HR-T X-Ray Film - Finally got the image just right with the lighting. I wanted to make sure that the vase, background, and table were not visible. 

8x10 Fuji HR-T X-Ray Film - Finally got the image just right with the lighting. I wanted to make sure that the vase, background, and table were not visible. 

Final note - it's satisfying doing this kind of work with the 8x10. The process is engaging and there is a tantalizing time period between shooting and seeing the final image. Yesterday, I spent about 2 hours setting up and shooting four images. Then I spent another hour and 15 minutes individually tray developing each negative. These two processes are why I love large format. 

And then the scanning... Man, my computer (a well spec'd iMac) struggles with these 8x10 scans.  The scanning itself isn't bad; it takes about 12 minutes to scan each image. But the file sizes are so huge that they crash Preview everytime I try to reduce the file size. Photoshop Elements does okay with a smaller file, but getting there is a chore. 

Screenshot from Epson scan at 2400dpi Yes, that's a 19,200x24,000px image at 878MB

Screenshot from Epson scan at 2400dpi Yes, that's a 19,200x24,000px image at 878MB

I scan my 8x10 negatives at 2400dpi, which results in a whopping 24,000x19,200px wide image. I save the original file and then work on a duplicate that's reduced to like 10,000px on the long side. Once I get to that point things move along a little better. 

I think I will have much more fun contact printing these negatives than scanning and photoshopping. 

For more X-Ray film posts click on the X-Ray Film tag or use the search button on my website.