Testing out the Sony A7RIII

Portrait of James Donovan working late on a friday night.

I swung by James’ new apartment yesterday evening to talk about design and play around with his new camera. He’s got some sweet gear–the Sony A7RIII with a Canon 24-70mm f2.8. The images were essentially straight out of the body, and they’re ridiculously sharp. The camera is amazing, and the low light capabilities are just astonishing.

If I were to shoot this again, I think I would use a small hairline light to help accent the backside of his head.

The original image out of the camera, with no retouching.

If you were wondering how I got this photo, I used my iPhone to create a little accent lighting behind the monitor… and I swapped out the desktop image to something darker to create a more dramatic effect. I also did a little retouching to the image curves to create a more cross-processed film feel.

Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.

VW GTI

After 4 years in San Francisco and being car-less, I finally caved in and got one this weekend. I appreciate everyone supporting me. I play it off like it’s not a big deal, but it kinda actually is.

I’ve been trying to save money and live minimally for a while now. But, it’s time to make the most of the west coast. I still love my e-bike, however, I needed something that could extend my radius and transform California into a true playground. If you’re in the Bay Area, let’s find some twisties and do a weekend run.

I wanted to take a moment to honor one of my closest friends, Mark Smith, who passed away in 2014. He and I used to talk about everything, but most of all, cars. I’m going to do something a little different this time—I’m going to share something more personal. There are plenty of car reviews on the GTI, and I don’t want this to be another one just echoing the same things. If Mark were still alive, I’d write him an email like this (picking up where we left off):

Hey Mark,

As you know, I’ve been test driving some cars. I finally landed on something–the new VW GTI. I know it’s not a Porsche, but it’s still German and has a ton of character.

I’ll get the GT4 one day. Until then, this will have to do. Hah!

I needed something practical—so it’s got 4 doors, a 6 year bumper-to-bumper warranty, and has a dual clutch auto transmission. As respectable as it is, the DCT isn’t as good as PDK. I was reeeeeeeeeally leaning towards a manual, but all my friends in SF recommended me to get the auto since there are so many hills… and traffic can be brutal, even on weekends. So this seemed to be the most logical choice.

I’ll be honest, I still miss my 911. I probably should have never sold it, but I’m happy (and lucky) that I was able to own one for a while. It would have been a thrill to have it here in Cali. Some of the roads here are pure driving nirvana. And, it seems like there are less cops hiding around each corner! Hah!

Anyway, the GTI packs a respectable amount of performance for the price, and it’s better suited for the city. I got mine for under $6k MSRP—it required a lot of haggling, but I managed to walk away with a deal that felt like a tremendous bargain. I got the base model, and it’s honestly just as good as fully loaded version. I just needed something for the weekends.

I went for a short run this weekend, but there was a little too much traffic (b/c of labor day) to really open it up. However, I fumbled with some of the settings and experimented a little. I think the key is to keep the car at higher RPMs (above 4k), sport mode, with the turbos spooled. When the turbos kick in, the GTI pulls. It’s a car that you can really applaud because it does so many things well. It even has heritage, and fan base loves each new iteration. The GTI isn’t a flashy car, but I actually kind of like that it flies under the radar. It’s really growing on me, and I’m also really digging the color.

By the way, Annie got a new car too. She got a new Accord–the safety features are amazing. She was driving a used Accord that had over 180k miles on it, and we were worried about it breaking down at some point. I’ll have to send you some pics soon.

Hope your GTS is running smooth! Don’t make the same mistake I did—don’t ever sell it!! I’ll be back on the east coast new a few weeks. Perhaps I can make it down to Richmond to say hello to you and Julie. We have a lot to catch up on. Let me know if you’re free!

Cheers!
Jeff

Ps. I started BJJ again… it’s like riding a bike!

Pss. Noel is in SF as well. I was able to quickly catch up with her over the phone. We wanted to collab on a project together, but the timing didn’t work out. Anyway, you should ping her sometime too. She was asking about you.

Baking Purpose into Culture

Over the years, the brands that I adore the most have been built by the most determined people in the world with a vision—but something deeper drives them.

Purpose.

It is the gravity that pulls people from around the world to be a part of their story. Purpose is the north star that guides them. It reminds every employee and advocate to protect something much more precious. When they get up in the morning, they have a clear idea of what they’re fighting for.

As I work on early stage companies, I realize that product market fit and growth are critical, but those metrics represent a small fraction of the company genome. Companies go through ups and downs searching for product market fit—hell, after finding product market fit, they have to find product economic fit. It’s easy to lose footing when everything’s constantly changing. Hopefully a purpose can be the constant fire that reinvigorates a team and enriches their lives.

I’ve seen how teams can fall apart quickly—motivation can literally evaporate before your eyes–people start showing up later, and daily interactions become mercurial. I’m embarrassed to admit that one of my teams fractured from misalignment in one point in my career. I focused too much energy on building vision. In hindsight, I should have spend more time with my co-founders to un-package the most fundamental question, “why?”

Why are we building this product and why the does it matter?

Our purpose wasn’t baked into our DNA from the get-go, and the effects were clear when the chips were down. All is not to say that we wouldn’t have failed. Even if we had a crystal clear purpose, we could have inevitably perished… but at least if we were going to fall on the sword, everyone would know why it was worth it.

Aram shared this advice with me recently, “99% of the projects out there are not worth doing, but 1% is worth dying for.” As we get older, we have less time to start new things, and we have to be more deliberate about how we spend each day of our life. I think purpose can help us decide what that 1% is.

There’s an opportunity to bake purpose early into a company culture. When people feel something from the most vulnerable and empathetic place in their heart, they will move mountains for you. That source of inspiration must be authentic and ultimately human. It has to be a feeling that touches their soul and reconnects everyone with the world they’re fighting for.

Hat tip to Sina and Expa for opening my eyes to this.

Pre-ordered Nikon Z6

Okay, I did it–I finally pulled the triggered and pre-ordered the Nikon Z6 (with the FTZ mount adapter). Based on the price, specs and my needs, the Z6 made the most sense.

Let me explain why.

Price
So why the Z6 over the Z7? For starters, the Z7 is $1,400 more. That’s a substantial delta for an amateur like me. The Z7 packs a bunch of additional features, but the biggest difference is the megapixel count (45.7mp vs 24.5mp). It’s hard to justify the price difference because I rarely crop my photos, nor do I print anything the size of a wall mural. For professional photographers, paying a little more is logical because they’ll make it back–more megapixels makes cents (tee-hee). For me, the only thing that makes the Z7 more attractive is that it will be available a little sooner than the Z6.

What will I do with all that saved money? I’ll probably get a backup battery and potentially an off-board video recorder like the Atomos (so I can shoot at 4k, 10 bit, at 4:2:2). And maybe… just maybe… I’ll add another lens to the stable.

Cost of change
The reason why I chose the Z6 was because I already own Nikon glass, a strobe, and a couple of other accessories. Selling off all my gear in exchange for another brand like Sony would come at a loss. By purchasing the Z6, my D600 will substitute as a secondary camera for shooting B-roll or quickly snapping additional photos with a different prime lens. That my friend, adds another dimension to my set up.

If I wasn’t so invested into Nikon, I would have gotten a Sony mirrorless camera a long time ago. In particular, the Sony A7III is a much better value and offers some features that are a couple generations ahead of Nikon like eye tracking auto-focus.

I also know my way around the Nikon interface, so I know how to operate all the nitty gritty stuff. I’ve heard that the Z6 works exactly like all the other Nikon interfaces. Changing platforms means learning a new system–I won’t have to fumble around Sony’s infamous UI. Instead, I can just pick up the camera and start shooting.

It’s my hobby
For me, shooting photos on my phone is fun, but it’s not the same experience as shooting on a full frame camera. Call me old-school, but I’m going to miss the feeling of a mirror slapping on my D600. Perhaps it’s the same reason why I like things like driving manual sports cars and wearing automatic watches–you’re forced to slow down because of the process and limitations. That experience enables you to feel and appreciate things from a different perspective. When I post-process photos, I’m always evaluating why the photo matters. Should it be in black and white? Does it need more contrast? What is the star of this picture photo, and how do I present it in such a way that it provides a better narrative?

To me, photos are critical to the human experience. Photos act as an extensions of our memory, triggering us to recall the smells, sounds and feelings. In that brief moment, time is frozen. I used to shoot photos with my dad’s Nikon F2, but I think I really got into it when I purchased the D200–I had gotten my first big bonus working for a design agency and I sprung for it. While that particular camera body is out of date, the photos I shot have brought back so many memories. That’s the part that’s priceless.

I don’t think the Z6 will automatically make me a better photographer, but it’ll act as a tool to continue exploring the world, the people, and savoring each moment a little more… one picture at a time.

New Nikon Mirrorless Z6 and Z7

Nikon just announced the Z6 and Z7 mirrorless cameras today. The specs look pretty interesting. I’ve been waiting for this camera for a while, since I have a couple of Nikon lenses I want to keep using. While the new camera offers a new mount, they have an adapter that should work with my lenses. I’ll probably end up getting a couple of the new S lenses to take advantage of the 5 axis stabilization at some point.

Anyway, I’ve held out for several years now and it’s probably time to upgrade. The main feature I wanted was video, and I think the new Nikon bodies offer it. The problem with the old cameras is the focusing and video dynamic range. The ability to shoot 10bit 4:2:2 on an external drive is really interesting. I wanted to get into doing some vlogging, and this might be my opportunity.

The question now is, which one to get? I’m leaning towards the Z6 because of the price point. It doesn’t have as many features, but it saves a little money, which I can put towards either more glass or accessories (like extra batteries, memory cards, external monitor/drives, etc). I’m probably going to put in my pre-order within the next week. Stay tuned!

PS. I don’t really care that it only has one card slot. I’m not a pro photographer, so I don’t need the redundancy. My d600 has dual slots and I’ve rarely found it useful. I think if photographers need dual memory slots, go for the d850, or wait for the Z8 (which will probably be a sport model).

Expa Fireside Chat with Vishal Vasishth (Obvious Ventures, and former Exec at Patagonia)

Expa hosted a fireside chat with Vishal Vasishth, who was once part of Patagonia’s team. If you know Patagonia as a company, they were founded on the core belief of doing the right thing for the world, the people, the environment and their employees. Their purpose goes beyond making money–but rather, to preserve our planet, our resources, and empower fellow human beings.

Vishal echoed some of the culture from Patagonia–you can tell that the company deeply enriched him during his tenure there. If you want the dive deeper into the source code, check out “Let My People Go Surfing”. Yvon Chouinard (the co-founder of Patagonia) was the original activist and war poet that fought for corporate social responsibility and ethics.

I left all my notes at the office, but I wanted to share some thoughts while they were still fresh in my head. One quote that really stood out was, “A company can be a gift to the world”. This struck me because most companies are perceived as extracting value out of their customers and employees. How can a company be a catalyst to give back to the world more than it’s taken?

Vishal said he was moved by companies that he believed could be here in a hundred years, serving a global purpose. He gravitated towards founders and companies that focused on themes around sustainability of resources, health, or empowering people to do things.

As we build our own culture, I reflect on our own opportunities–to find purpose beyond financial opportunity. Vishal asked, “Is there a way to inspire your 1,000th employee with the same passion of the team when it was only 10?” There’s a saying, “99% of work isn’t worth doing, but 1% is worth dying for”. I don’t think anyone has to fall on the sword for our vision, but we should always have a north start that pulls us together to achieve something bigger, together.

The vision of empowering everyone in a company to have a voice and involving everyone in the decision making process is what moves me, personally. I’m hoping Input can help teams do their best work soon.

Anyway, it was fun hanging out with everyone at the event. If you’re in town, you should definitely attend one of these. In the mean time, here are some more photos:

Oh yeh, there was some yummy food and wine there! ^_^