Mirrorless Hits its Mark: Still Photography with the Sony a7RII

Photography, Reviews

This review was originally published on B&H Photo’s Explora blog where I am a regular contributor.

It seems that, this time, Sony has made a camera that will make even the most steadfast DSLR shooters pause and consider mirrorless cameras, if only for a second. That, in itself, makes the a7RII a huge accomplishment and makes me extremely lucky for the opportunity to take it out for a test drive.


A Weekend with the Olympus Air

Photography, Reviews

The usual cameras that come through the B&H offices are what you would expect: DSLRs, long zoom point-and-shoots, mirrorless, etc… But every once in a while a company will come by with something completely different. The Olympus Air A01 is one of these cameras and, luckily, after spending a weekend with it I found there was a lot to enjoy about its unique lens-style design, once you get past the initial setup and controls, that is.

Oscar eats some Sacoglottis fruit.

‘Chimpanzee’: Chimp exploited in Disney documentary

Journalism, Reviews

Oscar is a cute, orphaned chimpanzee, but the story of his life is overwhelmed by an unnecessary dichotomy manufactured by the filmmakers.

Directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield successfully continued the theme of past Disneynature films with the recent “Chimpanzee.” The crew spent four years in Taï National Park in West Africa with troops of chimpanzees to capture the intimate footage viewers rarely see. However, the documentary is set up more like a Hollywood chimp action movie than a realistic, scientific look into the lives of animals.

The film’s main attraction is the storyline in which Freddy, the leader of a troop of chimpanzees, adopts Oscar. This is the first time that an act of altruism by chimpanzees had been captured on film. Unfortunately, the anthropomorphization of the chimpanzees is too extreme. The filmmakers even go so far as to name the leader of the rival chimp group Scar, an obvious reference to the classic “Lion King” villain of the same name.

The rivalry between the two clans of chimps revolves around their search for food, especially in the nut grove Freddy’s clan frequents. Freddy and his troop occasionally make their way to the border of the territories for berries and other food — the necessities for their survival. However, when Scar and his fellow chimps try to cross the line, the viewer will see it as a potential takeover and raid of Oscar’s lands.

While chimpanzees like Freddy show their own personalities, the filmmakers take it too far. Isha is set up as the sole caretaker for Oscar and thus her eventual death and Oscar’s loneliness are overdramatized.

Tim Allen’s narration helps explain the nature of chimpanzees and their familial system. When talking about tools, he makes a clear nod to his time on television. The film is designed for the younger audience, so the narration adds to the footage in a way that is entertaining to children and yet still has substance for those willing to look a little bit deeper into the astounding abilities of chimpanzees.

Oscar is an adorable young chimpanzee, and the clan is fun to watch, but if you aren’t a child, the blatant overstatement of characterization will not pass unnoticed, distracting you from the real beauty of the captured moments.

“Chimpanzee” was directed Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield.

#2 - Marines_HELL AND BACK AGAIN_Courtesy of Danfung Dennis

‘Hell and Back Again’: Stirring portrait captures PTSD

Journalism, Reviews

Stunning visuals and powerful storytelling draw the viewer into the life of Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris, a man who is forever changed — both physically and emotionally — by war in “Hell and Back Again.” Director Danfung Dennis is able to capture Harris’ mentality in this moving documentary.

Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris sits and thinks during his time in Iraq.
Photo courtesy of Danfung Dennis

The film portrays Harris’ life  in a delicate manner, resulting in an extremely observational and poetic documentary. Dennis presents a man who believes in his mission, a soldier completely drawn by a sense of purpose and honor. His bravery allows him to lead his men through battle — and then back home.

But while the soldiers leave the atrocities of war, viewers find out that the painful memories never completely leave them. Dennis skillfully weaves scenes of war in with Harris’ time at home. However, even while at home, his desire to fight is apparent in his words and actions.

Sound plays a crucial role throughout the film, leading viewers through war scenes and then back into Harris’ reflection at home. Overlapping transitional audio allows the viewer to feel how the war always follows veterans home.

Dennis creates a sentimental portrait of Harris both before and after the war. Harris is portrayed as brave and composed, able to command troops with ease and gather information with expertise. It is an enjoyable experience to watch him in action, but quickly becomes upsetting. The construction of the film is carefully planned so that the viewer has a better understanding of Harris’ emotions.

Dennis’ experience as a photojournalist comes through in the film’s cinematography. Using a camera with a small form factor allowed Dennis to get close to the action. During the war scenes, he is on the ground with the troops, crawling in the ditches as guns fire around him. This perspective allows for the cinematic look and shallow depth of field — a common feature of fiction films.

At the end of the film, the viewer can see the argument the documentary presents: war is something that will always be with those who experience it. The final scene of the film has Harris speaking about the realization that he is finished and that his mind will always have to deal with the haunting memories of war.

“Hell and Back Again” was written and directed by Danfung Dennis.