Steve Huff on Small Cameras and Running a Community
Steve Huff needs no introduction: As a veteran blogger with a large fanbase, he is also known across the internet as a rangefinder and small-camera aficionado. We recently got to chat with him about the different cameras he's used over the years, about running his site, and about his photographic adventures with famed musician Seal.
BHInsights: In your bio, it says that you’ve used about 40 different cameras over the years. These days the Leica M9 seems to be your go-to camera. Which was your first camera, and which have been some memorable cameras you’ve owned over the years? Have you always been a rangefinder guy?
Steve: Wow. My first camera. Well, my first camera ever was a Polaroid that my father bought for me back in the 70's. I remember the first pack of film well, because I burned through it in less than an hour, not realizing how expensive it was. I was only 9 years old, so I had no real concept of money, or how little of it my parents had. I did love that camera though, and kept it for many years, until I moved up to 35mm film with an Olympus OM-series camera. That was my first serious camera, and I shot everything with it. I did not shoot with a rangefinder until later in life, when the Epson RD-1 was released which, as you may know, was the first digital rangefinder.
Then I bought a Leica M7 and never looked back. The Leica M has been, for the most part, my camera of choice for anything I do, whether shooting professionally or shooting family. These days it is the Leica M9-P with a 35mm or 50mm lens, and this setup has given me some amazing rewards lately. I love my Leica M. Other cameras that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the past 10 to15 years are the Nikon D2H, Olympus PEN-series cameras, and the newer Nikon V1.
BHInsights: With the arrival of small, mirrorless cameras, it seems that documentary and street photographers are finally getting the digital cameras they’ve been waiting for all these years. In what areas do you think these cameras still need to improve? What’s the killer feature that everyone is still waiting for?
Steve: I have been shooting almost every mirrorless system for the last couple of years, and it is true that many of these make for great street-photography cameras. The problem is that there are so many small mirrorless cameras out today, and the choices of which to pick can be frustrating for those who want the "best" system to invest in. The truth is that right now, at the end of 2011, there really is no "best" system, as each and every one of them has their flaws as well as their unique strengths. In 2011, the mirrorless camera selections have drastically improved, though. The Sony NEX-7, with its superb Tri-Navi controls and brilliant EVF, and the little Nikon V1 with its blazing and accurate auto focus, super metering, and EVF, are the two "hottest" of the year in my opinion. We also can't forget about the wildly-popular Fuji X100 with its 'Leica-like' appeal and image quality.
The perfect mirrorless camera for me would be one that is built well, feels good in my hand, has decent lenses available, and has easy-to-adjust controls for aperture, exposure compensation and ISO. Most importantly, for me, it would have to have a built-in EVF. I think this is the key that so many miss out on. I really do not want a detachable EVF, as these add bulk and make the cameras look like they have some sort of wart growing on them. For example, the new Nikon V1, Sony NEX-7 and Fuji X100 have wonderful built-in EVF's, and I have to say that these cameras are a joy to use, much more so than those cameras without the EVF built in. I want a camera that focuses fast, is accurate, feels nice, has great image quality, and provides superb low-light performance.
I get emails daily, asking me when a mirrorless camera is coming out that "has it all," and I usually reply with a "never," because I do not really think that the camera that is perfect for every photographer will ever exist . We all have different ideas of what perfect is, which is why I write about all of these cameras from a photographers perspective. The readers can see my thoughts, my photos, and my tests, and then decide for themselves which camera is best for them. These days, I usually leave the house with a Nikon V1 or my Leica M9-P, and a 35.
BHInsights: You’re a busy blogger. How do you manage your time and keep the creative juices flowing?
Steve: Glad you asked this one, because running a blog that is updated every day is very hard work, and coming up with new ideas daily is sometimes impossible for a one-man operation! But somehow I manage every day to find something to write about or post. I try to inspire myself every day, and always have a positive attitude, as I find that this does indeed keep the creativity flowing. I basically wake up, make my coffee, and sit at my desk to check emails, and as I answer the emails from my readers I end up finding something to write about, because inevitably someone will send me a cool link, or a few really interesting photos, or something that inspires me to write.
I also am not afraid to get personal on my blog, and I have done so since I started it. I inject a bit of myself into every post I write, whether it is about a camera, a lens, my divorce after 15 years of marriage, or my new amazing girlfriend, whom I adore. I think that just being myself—not being afraid to say what I feel or talk about the facts—helps me in so many ways.
For example, I remember waking up one day with nothing to write about. I was uninspired. Then I looked over at a table in my office and saw an old Leica 50mm lens from 1942 just sitting there. I grabbed the lens and my M9, and took a three-hour drive to snap some photos. That day trip inspired me to write an article. I also get inspired by the Daily Inspirations that I post on my site, where the readers send in their images for me to share with everyone. All this helps with the creativity, and as for managing the time, well, this is all I do now, so it is sort of a seven-day-a-week never-ending thing. I live, eat, sleep and dream about photography and gear. But I love it.
BHInsights: You’ve built an active community through your blog. What’s it been like, building those relationships?
Steve: When I started my blog three years ago, I never imagined that it would grow to where it is now. I don't have the most popular photo blog on the web, but it does have a dedicated base of readers who are kind, friendly, knowledgeable, and think the same way I do. I started the blog for a couple of reasons, but one of them was because I was tired of seeing review sites get so overly technical.
I wanted to see reviews with real-world use of a camera, not scientific mumbo jumbo. When I started my blog, no one was really doing that, because all anyone ever wrote about was how sharp this camera lens is or how noisy that sensor is. No one was taking their camera out and using it in real-life situations. I did not want to see 100% crops of newspaper articles. I wanted to see real life. Things that everyday people take photos of.
My thinking was that a camera should be tested in a way that someone who bought it would use it! I feel that getting overly technical kind of takes the passion and fun out of photography, as so many of us get wrapped up in specs and charts until we forget why we even wanted a camera in the first place! So I started the site, and apparently there were many others out there who felt the same way as I did. Over the past three years I have made many new friends, met many of my readers, and organized meetups and workshops where we all gather to share our passion for photography. It has been amazing!
BHInsights: We have to ask you about your friendship with Seal! One of your images landed on the cover of his Soul 2 album. What’s it like, photographing on tour with a superstar?
Steve: I have been friends with Seal for almost three years now. We met through email after he read my review of a Leica camera. We chatted for a year or so until we finally met, and since he is an extremely passionate photographer himself, we get along great. When I was going through my divorce after 15 years of marriage, he invited me down to Italy to join him on tour and take some photos, so that I could clear my mind and get out of my house. It went great, and before I knew it, I was on tour with him in South America, and then Europe. It was an exciting time for me, as it was always a dream of mine to shoot a tour like that, but at the same time, it was also very hectic. One hotel to the next, shooting, editing, updating the website, and all that airline travel with so little sleep...it is NOT glamorous. It is hard work—but very rewarding work.
I would say that those tours were the best experience of my life, because I was able to travel and see things I had never seen before. I met many new friends while on tour, who became like my second family, and I was able to capture so many amazing memories with my camera. In the end, that is what it is all about, the memories that are forever frozen in a photograph. A few of those memories ended up making the cover of his new CD, Soul 2, as well as the inside booklet and backside of the CD. For me that was pretty amazing, because I used to sit and listen to albums as a kid and wonder who shot the covers, and how one would go about getting to do an album cover. Here I am now, 30 years later, and I somehow landed a CD cover.
BHInsights: He’s also a very passionate photographer. Do you guys talk shop? Have you learned any tips from him that you’d like to share with our audience?
Steve: Seal is very passionate about photography, and always has a camera with him. In fact, I do not remember a time on any of the tours when he did not have one with him. We would go out street shooting, many times early in the morning in these little towns and villages, and it was so cool because we were just so into the moment of shooting and seeing what we could capture. Even on the tour bus, we would be snapping photos. It almost felt like I was on tour with not only a recording artist, but also on a worldwide photography tour in general. It was pretty amazing, actually.
He is a busy man, but we still talk about cameras and photography all the time. I have learned quite a bit from him, not only in regards to photography, but about life in general. He has been a great friend, and has oftentimes inspired me to not only go out and shoot, but also to believe in myself, and to help me realize that anything is possible. He is a very positive person, and it has rubbed off on me, which is good. So my tip to your readers would be to stay positive, get out and shoot, look for inspiration in your everyday life, and use that in your photography.