Wednesday, March 20, 2024

I Didn't Expect to Use This Camera This Way

Canon T5i DSLR with 100-300mm lens

I've never been an avid DSLR user. For the uninitiated, "DSLR" stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, implying the sensor is digital instead of film, and there's a mirror in front of the sensor that directs the view from the camera lens to a ground glass screen, the image of which is relayed via a prism to the viewfinder eyepiece, just like with a film SLR from ye olden days, implying the user can view through the same lens that takes the picture.

Several years ago my brother gave me a Canon T7 with the kit 14-55mm lens and the longer 100-300mm telephoto. These Canon "Rebel" cameras use an APSC-sized sensor and have pretty decent autofocus. I didn't like the size of the kit zoom for everyday carrying, so instead bought a 24mm fixed focal length lens, that's equivalent in angle of view to about 35mm with a film SLR; a pretty standard setup for walking about with a camera.

More recently, he also gave me his older Canon T5i, with its 14-55mm kit lens. I didn't need two of these cameras and so I packed up the T7 with its kit zoom lens and shipped it off to my friend Ted Munk, who well appreciated the gift. In the meanwhile I hadn't been using the T5i all that much, preferring to wander around my neighborhood with the pocket-sized Ricoh GRiii instead (which has the same sized APSC sensor), especially in the colder months when I could keep the small thing in my pocket. Of course, the Ricoh doesn't have an eye-level viewfinder and its rear screen is easily washed out in bright daylight; and it's autofocus is nothing to write home about. Once the weather started to turn warmer I figured I'd begin taking out the T5i again, with the small 24mm lens.

And then yesterday afternoon happened. Police cars racing down our street, police drones flying overhead, a bullhorn directing residents to stay indoors and lock our doors and windows. So I complied, and was locked inside with my two Frenchie bulldogs, Pablo and Chapo, who were beginning to get nervous with all the excitement outside, that they couldn't go out to investigate.

Standing in my kitchen looking out the front window, I could see over our courtyard wall to the neighbor's house across the street on the corner. I grabbed the Canon T5i and attached the long 100-300mm lens. The sight of the black camera with the big black lens protruding tends to aggitate our doggies, so I had to comfort them with that fake "everything's going to be all right" voice that parents use with their children, and soon they were playing with their dog bones like nothing was going on across the street.

But things were going on across the street. I took a series of pictures of an Albuquerque Police Department tactical team making an entry into the backyard of the house, through their side gate, this was I think the best photo of the batch:

Here you can see three officers, the middle one being the canine handler. There were at least two other officers in the tactical team already in the backyard.

Before I go any further I think it's necessary to discuss the "elephant in the room," that being the question of photographing the police. I had an opportunity to discuss this in depth, after the incident, with members of the local ABQ television news community, who were gathering on the sidewalk outside my house awaiting a press briefing by APD Chief Medina. Their advice was based on how they work, day-to-day, which was: as long as you're on public (or your own private) property there's no issue. They did acknowledge that at times, out of courtesy, they will obstruct the faces of the officers, but they were adamant that this was strictly out of professional courtesy and was in no way a legal mandate. They also told me that I, as a private citizen on public property (or my own private property,) have every right to photograph the police just as they do.

Just for the record, I did get images that included the faces of tactical officers, but declined to publish them mainly because their inclusion in this article wouldn't advance the storyline.

One thing that began to irritate the dogs were the insect-like buzzing sounds from the police drones. I observed at least two drones in the air at once, and they seem to be a very efficient new technology tool for police use. But more on that later.

APD Drone

The event seemed very dynamic, with police cruisers (Ford Explorer Police Interceptors) speeding up and down the street, drones buzzing overhead, tactical teams on the property across the street, bullhorns announcing for the public to stay indoors. A few minutes after the tactical team entered the backyard, I heard two loud bangs, the first very loud and the second less so, separated in time by less than a second. It sounded to me like two separate and different firearms were discharged. When the first shot rang out I could hear a brief but muted scream or cry, which was silenced by the second shot. BOOM-scream-Bang. Then the sound of officers yelling "Put both of your hands up..."

Soon the sound of an ambulance was heard, it stopped adjacent to the house behind that corner house. In a few minutes it sped away down my street.

The Fire Department responded to the shot suspect rather than a civilian ambulance service. It's important to point out that Fire Department personnel are employees of the city, just like the police, and can be compelled to respond to shootings in a manner dictated by official directive; whereas civilian ambulance EMTs and paramedics are only compelled to respond in a manner consistent with their professional training, and also aren't necessarily trained by the police to enter active crime zones. Why is this an important distinction? I don't know if it's necessary for me to point out that the kind of treatment a suspect shot by the police receives at the hands of city-employed personnel might differ from the treatment they'd receive by a civilian ambulance crew.

Before long I could hear a news helicopter from the local ABC affiliate circling the neighborhood. This was my best shot of the whirlibird:

Sky 7

The incident lasted for hours. It was getting close to dusk when the news crews arrived and parked on the street in front of my house. Here are camera crews from the local NBC & CBS television affiliates setting up for the press conference:

These guys were super professional, and permitted me the luxury of standing around talking with them for over an hour. They all know each other and often respond together at various incidents, so instead of acting like rivals, they help each other out. They were the ones who educated me on the rights of citizens to photograph whatever they observe from their own or public property. We talked about their jobs, what it was like responding to these crime scenes and the kinds of gear they use. I observed a mix of Panasonic, Sony and Canon professional camcorders being used. It surprised me that a good civilian mirrorless camera setup would probably rival or exceed what these cameras can do, but they use them because they're rugged and have professional audio connections. Though most of these camcorders are 4K capable, most of them shoot in 1080P because it's quicker to edit the footage later.

I also noticed a stills photographer from the local newspaper on scene; she was much more bold in walking up to the very edge of the crime tape and, leaning forward over the tape, taking long-lens photos of the police crew processing the scene. This is a good example of knowing your rights as a citizen, and as a member of the press corp, and knowing how far those rights can be pushed.

Later, as the press were assembling for the conference, she was kind enough to give me room to photograph the Police Chief as he made his presentation; I quickly took some photos, then let her get back to work.

APD Chief Medina delivers a statement to the press

It was nearly 8pm before the Police Chief delivered his statement to the gathered press, and took a few questions. By this time it was getting dark and one of the independant news organizations set up a battery-powered video light.

The statement delivered by Chief Medina indicated that a stolen car was reported in the parking lot of a Post Office near the neighborhood. Police responded and two females were in the car. One female stayed put and was arrested, while the other female fled on foot into the neighborhood behind the post office. She ended up in the back yard behind the house across the street, in a storage shed. The Chief said the drone could see through the open door into the shed, and could see the suspect with a cell phone in her hand. But the tactical squad on the ground couldn't see into the shed because of their angle of view. The Chief said the suspect was observed, via drone, placing the phone in her hand in such a way as to simulate a weapon. Then she lunged out of the shed and aimed her hands at the officers on the ground who, feeling under threat, fired their weapons at her.

What I couldn't get a clear sense of at the time of the press conference was whether APD has the capability for tactical officers on the ground to receive a live video feed from the drone (or the drone pilot's receiving setup) via a headmounted video display; I didn't see any officers wearing such a display. I also didn't understand at the time whether their view of the suspect in the shed was via a "live" drone video feed, or only noticed later upon reviewing the footage after the incident. I also got a sense that what Chief Medina was doing at the conference was offering a reason why APD officers shot and killed an unarmed suspect; this isn't the first time an event like this has happened here, and the police community are very sensitive to its potential ramifications, since APD remains under Federal Justice Department overview for a similar shooting of an unarmed suspect some years ago. Whichever the case may be, the Chief was clear that the tactical officers on the ground in the back yard did not benefit from the view visible from the drone.

I can certainly imagine scenarios in the future where having live drone video, fed to helmet-mounted displays on tactical responders, might well save the very lives of these officers, if they could modify their response in real-time, based on this real-time data.

I must address another controversial issue, that of justications for police shootings. While in this case a person might be tempted to think "Good riddance, one less dirt bag in the world," I can sympathize with the dangerous nature of the job police have in protecting the public at large. My city of Albuquerque has one of the highest car theft rates in the country, due to the proximity of the Mexican border to the south, and I have much respect for APD's efforts at fighting this scourge. It's also a good idea, when presented with police officers directing deadly weapons your way, to comply with their orders. In this incident, it appears the suspect, in her early 30s, may have been purposefully urging the officers to shoot her, in the manner in which she was grasping her phone like a gun and lunging it at them.

So that was my day yesterday. I didn't expect to be using this DSLR and long telephoto lens, certainly not in this manner, but it did its job well. The autofocus was pretty much spot on, and it was relatively easy to pinpoint my autofocus to exactly where I wanted it. No, I won't be carrying this long lens around the neighborhood any time soon; but it'll be called upon when it's needed in the future.

(Edit to correct spelling and grammar.)

Friday, March 15, 2024

The Flying Dorito Brothers

Vivitar 110 Film Camera, early 1970s in Albuquerque

The physical model of the vehicle placed against a blue background

The image of the model composited with contrails as it appeared to my brother

Typecast via Remington Ten Forty.