11.26.2020

You've heard about walking meditation? What some of us do is walking/photographing meditation. (I can no longer use ellipses; my son says they have become passé).


I've wondered for a long time what exactly I expect to accomplish as I wander down streets and around the downtown trails in Austin, with a camera in my hand (actually, over one shoulder), and I think I finally figured it out. It's about taking time out just for myself and having an excuse to let my mind and my eyes roam. 

Taking photographs is part of the meditation. The recording of images can be somewhat non-judgmental but in essence I take photographs of things that catch my attention in the moment with no real intention to use the resulting photographs for anything other than as decoration for my writing. It's the act of selecting a scene and taking the photograph that has value for me and it is a value that's greater than what I get from sharing the images in any way not related to my writing, or creating some sort of ongoing collection. In fact, often at the end of a long walk I end up sitting in my car, letting the air conditioner cool me down, while I look through the afternoon's take and then erase them from the memory card. 

I realize that I change cameras when I want to add a new twist to a routine walk. There are cameras that just aren't good walking companions and that becomes obvious to me when I discover that I've had a camera over my shoulder on a traditional strap, I've walked for hours and never felt inclined to slide the camera off my shoulder to take a photograph. It's not about the size or weight; or the complexity or image quality. Some camera just have a specific feel to them that's antithetical to my idea of a good companion. 

Eccentric cameras are as addictive as playful dogs. If I see the Sigma fp, with its 45mm lens, as I'm leaving my house or office I just have to bring it along. I choose it even if I already had a different camera in my hands. The Sigma fp wags its tail and I want to let it jump into the front seat and come along for the ride. I even roll the window down for it sometimes. The same was always true with my Leica M4 and the 50mm Summicron.

The Panasonic GX8 is another eccentric player. That camera, with a small prime lens on the front, is irresistible and once we're in the middle of walking I feel like I have to do my part in the our game of "photo fetch" by using the camera as much as I can. It's almost like wanting to let the camera know that I'm happy it came along with me. 

A camera doesn't have to be eccentric to be a valuable walking partner. Sometimes a good, quiet and competent camera is most welcome. When I need a companion that I can trust with any kind of imaging imaginable I tend to almost always reach for either the Lumix S1R or the GH5. The other cameras are just as good at actual photography but the combination of features and their personalities make it all work with those two. 

A walking camera meditation is, for me, less about taking winning/remarkble photographs than it is about shaking off frustration, ennui or burnout. The process gets me away from my phone, my computer and my usual surroundings and always delivers unexpected results. I love getting caught out when a rain storm blasts through and the winds howl through the wind tunnels created by the downtown buildings and the temperature drops 30 or 40 degrees in the space of an hour. The cameras like it too. I love being out alone in the Summer watching the heat waves wiggling off the pavement and feeling the sweat drip down the back of my neck. 

It's been years since I've taken along a camera bag and an assortment of lenses. That would make a walk too much like a mandatory photo mission. Like a job. Paring everything down to one camera and one lens makes it an exercise in paying attention instead. If a shot doesn't make sense for the lens I've brought along I look for a different shot. Or I hang the camera over my shoulder and move forward. But I'm always aware that this kind of photography, a blend of street shooting and looking for abstract shapes and colors, has nothing to do with my perception of what my own photographic art is all about. If there's not a person in the frame, interacting with the camera, the photo is more like a quick note than a thoughtful expression. 

I know this probably makes no sense to a lot of folks but when I discovered the meditative side of walking with a camera I understood why it's something I like to do solo. Something I can't do in a group; even group of 1+1. The quietness of my own walk is what gives it value to me. 

  


I guess it's all about being in the moment. And I'm a selfish person; I don't want to share those moments with anyone else. It would change everything, and mostly not for the better.

There seems to be a huge appreciation for 35mm focal length lenses. For me the 50mm is much more comfortable as a leisure companion. It focuses my attention is a way that's totally different from the wider lenses. I can't just point and assume, I actually have to decide what gets included in a frame and what gets left out. It's a fun part of the process.

My recommendation for a good walking camera and lens? Today it was the Sigma fp and the 45mm. Tomorrow it's going to rain and that always feels like a GH5 and something fast. 

For me the important thing is to go out with no preconceptions of what I'll come across or what I'll shoot. 
The motto is to embrace the gear you chose in the moment and to feel the energy of the city when you left your feet guide you along. That keeps your eyes and brain free to soak in what's right in front of you. 

This holiday will be one of the weirdest ones on record. It's our first Christmas shopping season where interest in video seems to be outstripping traditional photography.


I'm still a photographer at heart but I can't help noticing that 7 of my last 10 commercial jobs were about video production and not photography. And, if I look on social media sharing channels (TikTok, Instagram, etc.) I'm finding more and more video snippets interspersed among the photos of cute dogs and stereotypical beauty models. I think this will be the first holiday season in which my shopping list for myself (that's my favorite one) is larded with video-oriented toys instead of cutting edge still camera gear.

I recently produced three different video programs for my actor/singer/performer friend, Kenny. On each project I figured out something new that would make my productions either easier or better --- or both. 

Here are my three generic recommendations to make video more productive and fun:

Monopods with video heads. I get so much use out of the big Benro monopod with the S4 "fluid" head I bought a couple of years ago. I use it a lot for fast moving productions because it's so much faster to set up than a big tripod. Mine has the little feet at the bottom which provide a relatively stable base; but it's a set up I have to keep my eye on if my intention is to walk away from the combination of  camera and monopod for even a second... 

I mostly use the monopod for those in between shots where I want the option of quickly repositioning but I'm staying relatively still and stable when shooting. Much different from the gimbal shots where movement is the entire reason to use a gimbal. 

The biggest revelation, vis-a-vis monopods, that I've had this year came while watching videos about video production by Brandon Li, over on YouTube. I love the look of crane shots in movies and I've worked with big cranes and movie cameras before. The cranes were heavy and mostly required lots of set up and rehearsals. They are not what I would consider "portable." So, with that preconception in mind, I was sitting in the office watching a video by Li about gimbals when he put his gimbal on the end of a monopod (taking off the fluid head first) and effectively uses the combination of gimbal and monopod as a highly portable crane. He showed his techniques and results as he started with a very high shot and swooped the camera down into a food market into a level shot of a shop keeper. I played that part back five or six times. 

You'll need to develop some arm strength to do those moves on a regular basis but he did it without all the drama and complexity of setting up a huge stand and a ten foot crane. And he did it without a crew.

No matter how complex you want to get with video, or with many different subjects in photography, a monopod is an ultimately useful starting point for camera stabilization. For the most part, except for locked down video interviews, or technically demanding photography, I prefer a stout, footed monopod to just about any tripod. I'm brand agnostic. I mentioned the biggest Benro monopod but there are dozens of good choices in the market from which to choose. 

External Monitor/Recorders. I'm currently on my third generation of Atomos external monitor/recorders. I call them monitor/recorders because these are the two different functions the products  I use offer. You can get inexpensive five and seven inch monitors that do not record digital video, and they work great when it comes to offering you a magnified view along with some better focusing options, but I really like the ones that record as well as monitor. My last "upgrade" was from an Atomos Ninja Flame to an Atomos Ninja V. 

If I was looking for strictly a monitor the "Flame to V" wasn't much of an upgrade. In fact, in a couple of ways it was a downgrade. I moved from a clear and bright seven inch screen to a five inch screen. I moved from a unit that could take two "hot swappable" batteries to a unit that takes only one battery. But since I was also looking for a state of the art recorder the V is the better option. 

It's smaller and lighter so you can more easily balance it on a cage or on your camera. The screen is capable of higher brightness and the touch controls are more detailed and mature. I like using it because it allows so much more choice when it comes to the kinds of video files you can create. While files straight out of most cameras are a very compressed file type called Long GOP, which saves space on memory cards but is tougher for computers to edit, the Atomos units can take the uncompressed content over HDMI and make ProRes or DNx files that are in an All-I format. It's a format that takes up more space on a memory card (or an SSD) but which requires much less furious calculation and demystification in the editing process. And, since every frame is self contained it's less prone to showing motion artifacts and compression artifacts when edited. 

But I really like the Ninja V because it opens up nerdy, fun file types from certain cameras. With the Sigma fp you can import ProRes Raw files in 4K. If you use a Panasonic S1H you can import files into the same ProRes Raw format but you can do it in 5.9K file sizes. You can do the same with the S5 and, promised in early 2021, an upgrade to the S1 will allow it to do the same.

A good monitor is a lifesaver for stuff like long lens follow camera work in theater or sports. You can punch in a focus while you are rolling which is something most cameras don't allow on their own. You can also set exposures quickly and accurately via waveforms on the monitor and, if you have a human subject you can use your vector scope feature to get near perfect flesh tones which will save you a lot of time and energy in post production.

I love the fact that my "V" takes fast, relatively cheap (compared to big, fast SD cards) SSDs. I just bought a terabyte SSD for additional storage and it's faster than any of my SD cards (which are mostly V90s) and cost me about $100. I can shoot video to the SSD and then, using a simple SATA to USB-C cable, hook the drive directly to my computer and edit to and from the drive. Of course, I would generally back up the original material somewhere else first. 

Gimbals for everything. Kind of kidding here. If I were getting my feet wet in video I'd start out the way I did and buy a decent $100-$150 gimbal for my iPhone. The Smooth 2 from Zhiyun is the one I bought but I'm sure it's been superseded by something better at the same price by this time. What this "entry" gimbal does is teach you how gimbals really work and let you practice without wearing yourself down trying to grapple with the weight of a bigger gimbal+camera+lens. Gimbals add the ability to move with and around subjects with a lot of freedom. And most phones are good enough video cameras now to make the exercise fun. 

If you aren't shooting video professionally or if your style of video only calls for using a gimbal on relatively few shots you can look in the used market and find some real bargains. Gimbal makers are in that classic super fast improvement stage where more and more features are being added and more controls put at operator's fingertips. The integration with phones and iPad is also accelerating. What this means is that gimbal power users, and twitchy consumers, are dumping recent models of gimbals at a record pace. 

The Ronin-S used to be the "go to" gimbal but that was two years ago. It hit the market at somewhere around $700-800, depending on the accessory package. I bought a complete, clean, used one a couple months ago for a little over $100. A couple of weeks ago a local videographer upgraded from last year's ultra darling gimbal, the Weebill S to the newest DJI RS2. He went from a $500 gimbal to a $900 gimbal and sold me his clean and perfectly function Weebill S for around $250. And that's with a transmitter package included. 

At those kinds of prices I think most of us can afford a good gimbal. And the funny thing is that the two used gimbals I bought this way were both models that operators were raving about and salivating over in the last couple of years. Tons of great work has been made by users of both models. 

Here's a couple of important things to be aware of when using a gimbal: You have to take the maker seriously when it comes to weight limits. The overall weight of the camera package affects the motors of the gimbal and can cause muttering and vibration if you go over the limits. Second, getting the camera balanced correctly makes the gimbal easier to operate and provides the smoothest results. Small cameras work better than bigger, heavier cameras. I'll happily trade off a bit of full frame S1H performance for a more nimble and manageable camera like the G9 or GH5.  Finally, don't think you'll be using big, long zooms with your gimbal. While there are models out there that will handle heavy loads those are not the models that most of us want to toss money out for one man projects or advanced amateur learning adventures. Long tracking shots with f2.8 Zooms are probably still better handled by using dollies or other methods.

These three categories of accessories have provided the most fun and the best looking video for me in 2020 and I think they up the production quality of projects in a cost effective and meaningful way. 

Beyond that the biggest lure for me is still lenses. I'm constantly surprised at what a different the right lens makes. But you can research that just about anywhere. 

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I'm feeling gratitude for just making it through such a chaotic year. I hope we all make it intact into 2021. 

We're sticking to home base this year. No celebrations with relatives other than a call on Zoom with Belinda's family. We'll all bring pie and coffee to the call. Ben, Belinda and I are all fortunate to be able to work almost exclusively from home. I'm probably the person in the family who deals with people outside our "bubble" the most but in my work encounters up until ten days ago I've been extremely careful to always wear a mask and require mask wearing by ANYONE at my location. We're finishing up for the year. All the rest of my work is post production alone in my studio and delivery via FTP. 

I'm hoping all three of the major vaccine makers are up and running with safe vaccines in very early 2021. I'll be first in line to get my two doses, right after they take care of all the essential medical personnel and the first responders. Oh, and the workers who have to deal with the vagaries of face-to-face service with the nut jobs in our culture.

It's bittersweet to see the stock market set new records while pandemic induced poverty is still rampant and may be growing. We're the lucky ones. We have a great roof over our heads, food on the table and gimbals in our bags. Time to think about 2020 contributions to charities. 

If you itemize on your tax returns your advisor should let you know that there was a rule change just for 2020 that will allow you to maximize your deductions to charities. I've got the local food bank on my list. 

If you can it's a good time to make a difference. Everything helps. 

Off to see what I can do to help with dinner. Have a great holiday and I hope you drop by tomorrow to see what my fevered brain has concocted for your reading pleasure.  - Kirk

11.25.2020

A quick set of observations about the Panasonic S1H and the newest Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens.

Autumn leaves in Austin.

When I got back from swim practice yesterday morning I got right to work updating the firmware in four of my Panasonic cameras; in all three of my S1x cameras and also a nudge forward for my (wonderful) G9. The updates were quick and easy and I encountered no snags. By mid-afternoon I'd finished all my busy work and realized that while I have used the S1H for five different video projects I had, in fact, only put about 400 frames of photographs through the camera since I purchased it. I thought it might be a good afternoon to evaluate it as a still imaging camera instead of only viewing it through the prism of video.

Another recent piece of gear that hasn't gotten enough of a workout was the new version of the Sigma 85mm DN DG Art lens. This was a good opportunity to split two atoms with one electron so I checked the camera for battery freshness and memory card occupancy and headed out to walk on my usual walk. 

The day started out gray and chilly but by four in the afternoon the sun was dominant and the temperature climbed back up to the low 80's. I left my phone at home, dialed in the camera's diopter, left my glasses in the care and went out as low profile as I possibly could. It was nice to be untethered from the hive. 

When I started taking images with the S1H two things struck me on the first little burst of frames. One was how crisp and color-rich the images were; even with the standard profile engaged. The other was just how solid and well damped the shutter noise and operational noise of the camera was. It is easily the heaviest of my recent cameras and I think that even includes some heftier models like the Nikon D850. I like the density, heft and outrageously good build quality of the S1H but I don't think I'd tip over into the morass of excess and put a battery grip on this one unless I'm shooting video anchored to a tripod and need a long, long run time. 

The finder on the camera is exemplary. I thought this might be one of those instances where the camera maker tweaks the EVF to make images look better than they will in real life but when I brought the photographs into Lightroom they matched the camera looks without lifting a finger to intercede. 

Weight and bulk aside this may be the nicest camera I have ever used. It does make me wonder if the Leica SL2 could possibly be even better.... 

I love the 85mm focal length on full frame. I bought the original L version the 85mm Sigma art lens and the image quality was amazing. Just amazing. But the darn thing weighed about 35 pounds and stuck out from the front of the camera at least a couple of feet (hyperbole alert!!!) and after trying to casually carry it around it had be consigned to "paid job" or "studio only" duty. Not a good thing for such a flexible and muse-like focal length. 

I'm glad I traded the original version in for the latest one because it's Lilliputian by comparison and seems to me to be equally sharp. Of special note is the external/physical aperture ring which I have come to adore on the Panasonic Pro lenses as well. 

I tried to stay in the nonsense apertures all afternoon and early evening yesterday. Most of the images shown here were shot at f2.0 or 2.2. Sometimes I got crazy and went all the way to f4.0 but that was only in photos where I wanted to see more and more instead of less. 

Perfectly round bokeh "balls" in the background. Nice. 

Happy close up performance and mellow background bokeh add to the lens's charm.

I've started to trust my Panasonic S1x cameras more and more and none better than the S1H. In a break with all past history I've actually started using Auto ISO and I don't care where it lands, up to 6400, because I know it will be as saturated and noise free as the cameras I thought were great but only usable at 200 ISO. 

I've also found that I like using many of the L-mount lenses manually. While the Sigma is MF focus by wire it's well damped and doesn't overshoot like crazy. It does a dignified march to your optimum focus point. I have the camera set, when using manual focusing, to show me a magnified section of the frame when I grab the manual focusing ring. Using the "punch in" you really know when you've nailed the perfect focus. 

I also have the camera set up so I can push the AF button on the back of the camera and have it override the set MF to auto focus. When I release the button the focus remains glued into place. I don't use the back button focus when I use the camera's regular AF. It's just not a habit that's been ingrained yet. 

I didn't take a tripod with me but I did continue shooting after dusk. The combo of a great sensor and a fast lens, along with good IBIS meant that not having a tripod along for the ride wasn't important and didn't affect my photos. 

All in all it was a fun afternoon and I'm over the moon with the S1H. I was already in love with the lens. 

Swimming: A little over 3,000 yards in the pool this morning. A decent amount for the 50 minutes I invested. I'll bracket the day with another walk this afternoon and then we're scheduled to have Thanksgiving (Thursday) and Friday off from swimming. TRAGIC! But there it is. 

I'm on schedule to get five more days of swimming in before I go in for the Mohs surgery next Wednesday. I'm trying to put a lot of yards in the bank to tide me over for those seven doctor-mandated days of aquatic deprivation. Working on a work around already. 

Click on the images to see them bigger. 










Meditation Benches thoughtfully added by the Hiking Trail Foundation. 


Walking over Congress Ave. Bridge. Zillions and zillions of bats live underneath and come out at dusk to look for mosquito snacks. People are getting ready to try and capture images of the fast moving aerial experts with their phone cameras. 

OMG. Kirk does a landscape. Kinda.

 

11.24.2020

Taking a break this morning to unwrap my Holiday Gifts from Panasonic. Santa came early with updates!

 


One of the many things I like about buying and using Panasonic cameras is the company's amazing generosity when it comes to firmware updates and the "gifting" to older cameras with the latest features. 

I was pretty impressed a while back when, out of the blue, Panasonic did an upgrade to the G9 that improved focus and, more important to me, added a bunch of higher end video capabilities to the camera even though those new additions would potentially reduce the market for their own GH5 camera when it comes to video use. Impressed again when Panasonic introduced a free firmware update to the GH5 this Summer improving continuous AF in video, along with lots of other tweaks. Not a paltry move when you consider that the G9 is already two years old and the GH5 is a three year old camera. In a couple of free updates Panasonic increased the useful life of two of their most popular cameras by a number of years!

When the newest addition to Panasonic's Lumix S series cameras came out the S5 included the newest and fastest AF software in the line up. Other camera makers might have waited to see how to leverage sales of the new camera but Panasonic announced, almost immediately, that all of their S1x cameras would be getting the same high performance AF algorithms in short order. They even gave us a date; the 24th of November!

Back to the studio. When I got back to the studio and fired up the computing machine I went straight to Panasonic's site to look for firmware updates. There were FOUR camera updates for four of the cameras that I regularly use. Those included the G9 (improved I.S.), the S1, S1H and the S1R. 

All of the S1 cameras got the same AF improvements which should bring them to par with the S5. We'll see it most in continuous AF and then most noticeably in video. I can't wait to see how it affects the S1H as I'm getting more and more video use from that camera. 

I won't go through everything but I will go through some of my favorite updates by model.

The S1R and the S1 both get the red frame line around the edges of the rear monitor when video recording is active. This is a feature that was already on the S1H and also on the Atomos line of external monitors. It's a very quick and obvious way to tell whether you are actively recording or if you didn't push the right button to get things started. It's a great "user" update. 

The S1R now shoots in 5K (4992x3744) video in both 24 and 30 fps. In .Mov you can shoot in 5K internally at 4:2:0 but with 10 bits. You can now shoot 4K in 10 bit, 4:2:2 to an external monitor up to 60 fps. I can't wait to try out the 5K performance and hope that downsampling to 4K makes for a more detailed 4K file, even if I can't shoot in 4:2:2. But speaking of 4K the camera can now be using at up to 60P with 10 bits and 4:2:2  when you output over HDMI to an external monitor/recorder. That's pretty spiffy. 

In the S1R the tracking and recognition of AF have been improved by way of a head recognition feature. My hope for this is that when using face detect AF I won't lose contact with the subject when they turn their face away from camera. We'll be testing that right away.

The S1R can now do high resolution audio recording using the XLR microphone adapter. You gotta use .Mov to get this.

We can now set shutter angle in the video menu. This is great for productions when we want to match cameras and we're working quickly. It's more control and gives more accurate video settings. 

The S1 had a major update earlier in the year which improved the range of video options in the cameras by a great deal. It's also slated to get a big update in the first quarter of 2021 which will add 6K ProRes Raw to the mix. But for right now the big improvements, in addition to the AF improvements which all of the S1x cameras share, are more about usability and minor functions.

The camera adds shutter angle to the video menu and it's AF performance has also been improved in V-Log mode. You can also now using the {AF+MF} when recording video. A few of the improvements are less important to me such as the ability to play back vertical videos vertically or being able to transfer 4K video files to a smartphone via wi-fi. But as soon as I talk down a feature I end up having a use for it so I'm glad they are there. 

The S1H got a huge update in July with Raw video being able to be output over HDMI to the Atomos Ninja V monitor/recorder. That's actual 12 bit Raw video data. That's really cool. So, on this firmware update we got the basic improvements in AF and the lesser upgrades like being able to transfer 4K to smartphones. They also mention some operational improvements in the way of bug fixes. 

All the improvements are most welcome and they go a long way towards solidifying Panasonic's video forward reputation in the hybrid camera market. With the S1H as the flagship video model the rest of the line closes the gap by a quite a bit which means better file matching across "B" and "C" cameras. For users who only occasionally dip into video it means that the S1R and base S1 become more than "good enough" to do 95% of the video work most of us will ever need. While having traditional photography cameras that are among the highest rated for overall image quality at sites like DXOMark. 

It's like an early Christmas present but without having to go out shopping or even spend more money. 

It's one of the less advertised features that makes me appreciate the Panasonic camera line. 

If you are shooting with Lumix/Panasonic cameras go here to see what kinds of updates they've got for your cameras: https://av.jpn.support.panasonic.com/support/global/cs/dsc/download/index4.html

A break for swimming. Swim practice left me with mixed feelings today. We've done so well as a group at practicing pandemic safety at the masters swim workouts. We're supposed to be masked any time we're not in the pool swimming. But it seems like "pandemic fatigue" has set in with a number of our swimmers who are starting to act like the rules don't apply to them. That attitude really put me off today since we're in the midst of rising case numbers and hospital beds filling up. 

I talked to our coach and let him know we needed to honor the contract we make each week as we sign up for our choice of swims during the upcoming week. I hope he follows through and gets people back on track. I would hate to have to escalate to the club's B.O.D. (I served as V.P. of the board for 10 years and I'm sure they'd hate to have to deal with this...) and get everyone twisted up. 

Otherwise it was a good swim. Lots of medium distance repeats for a change. I'm still working hard at extending my reach in my freestyle stroke. You always need a target for improvement. 

Keep masking up till we get those vaccines out to the public. It might save someone you know from a world of pain.

11.23.2020

Zeiss XZYZX1 camera. Oh Boy! Here we go again. Ghost/Zombie of the Samsung Galaxy NX....


Back in 2012 Samsung announced a camera that they assumed would take the photography world by storm and revolutionize the (then) burgeoning market for mirrorless cameras. Working with an existing (and very, very decent --- sometimes inspired) line up of interchangeable lenses they unveiled the Samsung Galaxy NX. Like the new(?) Zeiss zx1 the Samsung camera ran on a version of the Android operating system which allowed for lots of great(?) third party apps to be included. While the Zeiss camera is running Adobe's Lightroom the Galaxy NX was much more promiscuous with its selection of apps; it actually came with Candy Crush preloaded and ready to go. The Samsung also featured a huge, five inch screen on the back of the camera so you could take advantage of the camera's ability to send images via wi-fi, cell data or Bluetooth, and also to aid you in making some changes (although rudimentary on the Samsung) to the images you captured. 

I was asked by Samsung to take possession of one of the first few Galaxy NX cameras in North America, to put it through its paces, and to share the results/information I discovered about the camera with both Samsung and photographers in our vast market. As the camera's firmware progressed and the camera improved I was asked to go to the 2013 Photo Expo in New York City and demo the camera in Samsung's trade show booth. I spent two days there shooting two gorgeous models and watching my images float up to a pair of big flat screens in near real time. In this way visitors to the booth could see what could be done with the camera and its ability to stream at full resolution. 

After the Photo Expo I was also invited along with a half dozen other photographers from around the world to go to Berlin, shoot around Germany for a while with the camera (with upgraded software!) and to write honestly and without any pressure from Samsung about my experiences with the camera. I have several nice things to say about the Galaxy NX. The 85mm f1.4 lens and the 105mm macro lenses were both superb and made beautiful images. The sensor rendered beautiful flesh tones which converted nicely and easily to great black and white photographs. 

The rest of my experience with the Galaxy NX was fraught with frustration. The battery, though huge, ran down quickly because of the full operating system which was always muddling away in the background, and the huge screen that must have been as inefficient, electrically, as having a cathode ray TV set glued to the back of the camera. The Android OS took nearly 30 seconds to boot up (a similar complaint with the Zeiss cam...) which meant that a fast response to a beautiful scene/event was well nigh impossible. And the camera, with even firmware 1.0 loaded tended to shut down and re-boot often. Again, because of the Android OS. But when it worked the camera could make very, very good images. 

I'm guessing that Samsung sold about 1200 of these cameras world-wide and I'd further conjecture that the mass market rejection of the product was at least partially responsible for Samsung's decision, about a year and a half later, to completely exit the consumer camera market. A stunning move since the NX1 camera that followed the Galaxy NX was a great product about which ardent fans still rave.... But a wise decision when one looked at their small market share and the rapid and radical decline of the entire camera market.

All of which brings me to the Zeiss product. The ZX1 (or is it the XZ1? Can't keep that straight...). I simply don't get it at all. According to early reports the Zeiss development team went back in time to 1988 and acquired a focusing module from an early AF camera. It's reported to be dodgy, at best, and is set up to measure focus only at one center point. There are no recent decade goodies like face detect AF or even reasonable focus tracking. Just one dead center AF sensor with the response of a sedated box turtle. And, again from early reports, the "hit" rate in single AF is embarrassingly low. Painfully low.  Especially for a $6000 camera, released in 2020.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What is the Zeiss ZX1? Like the Samsung Galaxy NX it's a camera that's running Android OS. It's built into the Zeiss cam in order for Zeiss offer a truncated version of Adobe's Lightroom photo editing software in the camera. As I understand it you can run the camera without paying a monthly fee to Adobe to use the embedded software but you'll only be able to generate Jpegs. Yes, if you want to shoot raw and export the resulting files you'll need to subscribe to a third party software vendor. Even I'm shocked at the thought. And I subscribe to all kinds of Adobe work-ware.  

The camera features a big rear screen, a la the Samsung Galaxy NX, as well. Perhaps Zeiss will offer a Bluetooth keyboard for an additional $1200 and you will actually be able to write e-mails with it and send them via your AOL account. Or post images to MySpace.

The camera has a new design aesthetic which I call: "Weird camera design for the sake of just wanting your camera to look different and modern in a 1960's jet age style." Given the spare exterior interface and lack of settable buttons I believe that Zeiss was following the playbook from Leica in trying to make menus and settings as minimalistic as possible but I think they stumbled over their own feet by trying to include ponderous and ungainly operating system software which adds many layers of near useless complexity to the system. 

The camera is small enough and it does look pretty. To like this camera you have to be a fan of 35mm focal length lenses because this one is built onto the camera body and non-removable. While I know many are fans of the 35mm focal length I'm not one of them and the fixed lens on this camera, like the fixed 28mm on the Leica Q2, puts both cameras into the dreaded "deal-killer" category for me, right off the bat. 

But let's move on and explore a few more "features" of the Zeiss camera. You might be pleased to find that you don't need to buy memory cards for this camera. It's got a built in 500 GB hard drive to fill up. And, I suppose, at the time the camera lingered at the design stages that seemed like a lot of memory, and much cheaper to acquire than standalone SD cards or, God forbid, CF Express cards. But what it really means is that you'll need to drag your computer around with you to offload images as you fill up the card. You also end up with "all your eggs in one basket." If you go on a "once in a lifetime" trip with this camera and fill up that drive and then you have a massive drive failure your trip will probably remain forever undocumented. There's certainly no mechanism for in-camera back up with this one.... But hey, instead of being out, seeing the sites and sampling the night life at your vacation destinations you can ignore your spouse and remain hunched over your camera, editing the day's images and then exporting them to some imagined audience as you watch sports on TV. Sad. 

The camera ticks a few popular boxes but it never rises to "best of class" in any regard. The sensor is big and  full frame but a bunch of camera companies offer bigger, newer, better full frame sensors. I'm sure the lens is technically great but good luck taking that tight, non-distorting portrait photograph of your favorite super model with the system. Or, coming at it from the other direction, maybe you'll have to spend the rest of your free time stitching together frames to make one decent super-wide shot.

In short, I think Zeiss learned very little through observation of the Samsung Galaxy NX fiasco. The one thing they seem to have learned is that they might need to sell far fewer of these to make the same amount of money since the Zeiss camera is priced at least three times higher than the Samsung product was (and that one came down in price at an exhilarating pace...). 

Do you want a good, handy camera with a fixed 35mm equivalent focal length to carry around? Have you heard about the Fuji X-100-V? It's pretty great if you're looking for nice usability and built in formalist boundaries. And HEY! you can buy four of them for the price of one Zeiss. Yeah, you'll have to supply your own memory cards but.....

Am I being overly harsh about this one? Maybe. I guess you could make an argument that the Zeiss camera would make good male jewelry. If you didn't have to depend on it exclusively for photography it might make a nice symbol of financial success to wear around one's neck. And it may take really nice snapshots (as long as it can nail focus on a non-moving object) if you work at it. 

If I'm going to do some post processing to a photograph I really prefer doing it on a 27 inch, 5K Retina screen. If I'm going out to take some photographic "art" I really prefer and assortment of focal lengths that can be better matched to various subjects I might come across. If I want to play the Android version of Candy Crush I'm betting I still have an NX Galaxy laying around somewhere. In short I am considering this camera to be a cruel joke, and a poke in the eye to other camera designers who are more serious about providing useful solutions to people who are passionate about picture taking. 

If you are sitting at Zeiss H.Q. and reading this you are welcome to send along a copy and try to prove me wrong but if I were you I wouldn't risk it. Not given my track record of new camera involvement. You might end up deciding to exit the entire market altogether. And that would be kinda sad. You guys do make good lenses! 

This particular idea of camera "design" must be some Zombie virus that infects otherwise rational camera engineers on some cyclical time frame....


 The End.

11.22.2020

A few thoughts on loss and learning to live with changes one doesn't like... Oh, and cameras.

Kenny Williams at Zach. The Ghost of Christmas Past.

I have been photographing Christmas plays at Zach Theatre for nearly 30 years. I loved taking pictures of the last three or four years of Zach's amazing and modern interpretation of "Christmas Carol." Many of the cast members have been friends for a long time. The music in the show has always been incredible and mostly sourced from current and recent popular music. It changes year to year.

I would leave the dress rehearsals of the holiday shows with easily more than 1,000 images per show and I'd love 90% of them. I have  photographed the productions with everything from Hasselblad film cameras to the current Lumix cameras, and every size and variety of camera in between. I've seen the images plastered all over newspapers, magazines and community circulars, I've smiled big, toothy grins when I pulled season brochures out of the mail box, and I've hung on to every holiday postcard Zach's marketing crew has produced with my images. 

By this part of the season, in normal times, I would have already photographed a few early rehearsals, some dance rehearsals, and now we'd be getting ready for this Tuesday's big dress rehearsal on the Topfer Stagefor a last non-stop run through before playing to a full house on the day after Thanksgiving. 

But not this year. No, with the increasing spread of Covid-19 everywhere, the Zach board made the decision not to have any indoor shows for the rest of the year, and well into 2021. I didn't think I would take it so hard but I seem to be having trouble accepting that one of my favorite productions of the season, the year, and maybe all time, will not be happening this time season. I won't get to sit in my special, reserved row with a bucket of cameras and boxes of lenses at my side, capturing the magic of it all. I won't get to see the triumph on the faces of the new, young actors as they get over their stage jitters, pull out all the stops and sing a song that makes the audiences jump to their feet to applaud. I won't get to laugh and be amazed by Serrett's incredible make-up art or the costume shop's imaginative costuming. I won't get to cry and get a lump in my throat when some wonderful, young singer stuns us with a particularly poignant version of the song, "Halo" while Bob Cratchit's family visits Tiny Tim's grave....

And I won't get to watch Scrooge have his Christmas Eve night spiritual conversion from selfish and bitter to joyous and generous. A transformation that in some ways never fails to touch our audiences where and when it's most needed. 

Zach Theatre has plans to do an outdoor concert instead. I'm sure they'll do a great job decorating the front of the theater and parts of the plaza. They're planning to have five of the subscriber base's favorite singers. Maybe they'll get lavish and have some dancers as well. But it won't be the cast of 50 or 60 we're used to. We won't have the magnificent stage lights and lighting designs or the perfect audio environment. And we'll be at the mercy of the weather. But if I go into this with just the right attitude (and the right gratitude...) I'm sure I'll leave feeling a little lighter, a good bit happier, and better mentally equipped to make the best of an odd and mostly depressing season/year. 

At least the artists at Zach Theatre are fully embracing the old, live theater motto: The show must go on. 

On the subject of living with loss I've been unable to shake the feeling, completely that my recent medical diagnosis, and the need for a bit of surgery on my beautiful mug is some kind of marker, tossed in by the universe, to prepare me for the realization that it's all down hill from here. I know that it's both true and emphatically not true but at the same time I'm just a bit anxious about....growing older. Of course aging is much preferable to the alternative of dropping dead; but I'm still uneasy about every new spot, wrinkle, stiff muscle and oddly forgotten reason I went back into the house to get something... I watched my father become fragmented and frail, and pass away in a process that came step by step. Nothing sudden and dramatic. Just little blows inflicted one after the other until the math of existence became unworkable. I understand much more clearly now that this will happen to us all. So, now is the time to make the most of whatever sum of time and health we have in our banks. 

Stuff I'm doing to make the other stuff more fun. 

I'm going to be out of commission with stitches on my face and a stern advisory from my future surgeon that I WILL NOT be able to swim for AT LEAST SEVEN DAYS following the procedure. I figure that gives me just enough down time to watch all of Brandon Li's "Unscripted Studio" online workshop. It will be the first time I've paid full price to take an online workshop! Check out Brandon's YouTube channel and I think you'll see why I want access to what's in his brain when it comes to video production, video editing, gimbal work, and production planning. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3stPIuUoCDHG7COfwr0tEA I've been following his channel for a few months now and I'm always impressed by his teaching, his delivery and his attitude. I figure $500 is a decent investment if I can learn bunch of new film making techniques and also keep my mind off the swimming pool for a week or ten days. I'm not writing this because I'm getting anything for free from Mr. Li, I just wanted to let you know where my head is in the moment.... (that's a disclaimer...). 

Since I'll have time to work on technique I took advantage of my good friend, James's gear ADHD to pick up yet another gimbal. He's matriculated upward to the new DJI Ronin RS2 gimbal and he was ready to move his "older" Zhiyun Weebill S gimbal along for pocket change. I could not resist. The Weebill S was last year's "hot" gimbal. 

The Weebill S is lighter, much smaller and at least as capable as the Ronin S I've been playing with, and actually handles a heavier load than the older Ronin or the Zhiyun Crane V2 gimbal I started out with. I've charged the batteries but I'm  putting off working with it until I have time to really figure out all the features. That time should present itself this week as I no longer have parents I need to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for and no place we can think of to go that will be safe both "us" and "them." We're staying safe at home.

I'm renaming "Black Friday" "Weebill S Intro Day." Gimbals are wonderful tools for video production. I shot another video for my friend, Kenny at the beginning of last week and I just spent the weekend editing it. The gimbal made the shooting fun and quick. We did use a tripod....but only for about five minutes.

A few of my art friends have asked me why I've been sliding back into the GH system from Panasonic. The blame falls directly on gimbals. The camera and lens combinations of the GH system make it possible, because of their small size and low weight, coupled with high end video specs, to wring the most out of a good gimbal. I also like them. They are nicely familiar. 

The week ahead. 

We're staying close to home. I'm hitting Barton Springs Pool tomorrow morning, solo, to work on my kick and a few drills to lengthen and slow down my freestyle stroke. Tuesday and Wednesday we've got regular practices at the WHAC pool (my club pool) and then Thursday and Friday we'll celebrate the holiday and maybe Ben and I will do some running together. He's so much faster though that it's more like we're running in the same loose, geographic area at the same time. When Saturday rolls around I'll be back in the pool with the regular crew for our annual "Fat Burner" morning-after feasting marathon swim. However long it takes to burn off a big piece of homemade pecan pie is how long I'll be swimming that morning...

I'll save Sunday's swim as the antidote for all the mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Final note: After having lived in Austin (epicenter of laid back counter culture since forever) for the last fifty years I've finally broken down and bought my first pair of Birkenstock sandals. I went with the classics. The "Arizona." I will proudly wear them with socks as I break them in, and also on any days cooler than 50 degrees. I will be mercilessly teased for being "an old hippie" by my disrespectful, younger and cooler friends but I don't care. I want to discover why every millionaire and billionaire I've met --- who has dropped off the grid and checked out of corporate culture--- ends up swearing by their Birkenstocks (and the ubiquitous wool socks). Probably not recommended as winter foot wear for my friends in Calgary or Toronto...

But they sure feel comfy just hanging out on my feet, under my desk. 

Final, final note.  I am not given to depression or angst in long bouts. Those emotions hit me every once in a while, out of the blue, and today was just one of those times. Putting this down in words and sharing it helped me shift into a better mental space. We'll be alright. All of us. The holidays should be time for gratitude, and sharing our joy and privilege, not wallowing in our own erroneous pathos. Funny how exciting it was to buy and, at least for now, embrace the Birkenstock shoe culture. I blame photographer, Dan Milnor, for the Birks. He talked about them on his VLog over at YouTube and I've been thinking about those zany, German sandals ever since. Don't know Dan? Go here: https://www.youtube.com/user/SMOGRANCH

Jaston Williams as Scrooge. 

CHANEL. As the Ghost of Christmas present and also a soloist.

Roddrick Sandford as Fezziwig, Marley and the Minister.

curious....What does everyone want (camera and lens-wise) for the holidays this year? What't the cool toy?

I'm not doing any top ten lists since we all read the same reviews. Your take is always different from mine though.... Maybe MJ will regale us with some unexpected choices....
 

11.19.2020

The residue of yesterday's stroll through the urban Southwest. GH5S - Style.


The GH5S is such an eccentric camera but maybe that's the way cameras should be. I think it's misguided, both on the part of the makers and the users, to claim that every new camera is potentially a multi-capable, ultra-hybrid that is capable of super high resolution, incredibly low noise, gifted with a minute profile and yet also capable of tossing off the intense heat internally generated by enormous video files while also focusing with radar-quickness --- and all at an affordable price point. 

My little(?) GH5S makes no claims for all around-ness, instead it just does a few things very well. It does those things excellently, if you consider the price. But it's not going to be your uncles do everything toolkit. Especially if your uncle acquires cameras by comparing everything on a specification spreadsheet.  

Here are the things the GH5S does well: It makes very good 4K and 2K video files and does so with a wide range of file types and frame rates. It makes lovely, small raw files. About 10 Megapixels. But it's also the first Panasonic m4:3 camera to make those files with 14 bit raw files -- which is also lovely. The size of the camera, even with a battery grip mounted, is just perfect for my hands. The camera is solid but also not too heavy. It's rarely a burden. I guess if I put an enormously long lens on it I'd start to gripe a bit but then that's true with every system. 

So, if you don't want or need to print really large and you like to make your own cinema it's a practical and very well constructed camera that won't break the bank and which will go a long way on a single battery charge. 

Of course it has it's flaws. Or maybe limitations is a better way to speak about them... The camera doesn't have image stabilization. There are technical reasons for this but it is what it is. You can use stabilized lenses on it but if I use non-AF, non-stabilized lenses on it I'm either looking to shoot in good light (for photographs) or to use a tripod or a gimbal for video. No way around it. This is not a camera for photographers who want to brag about being able to handhold an exposure down to half a second. I only wish the people I want to make candid photos of would also hold still for half seconds at a time.

Some will also find the 10 megapixel size limit to be too far a reach for their style and I get that. It's why I never think of this particular camera as my "everything" "workhorse" camera. It's just not. But if you surrender to the idea that you are happy sharing your work electronically; on websites, sharing sites and blogs, you'll come to love the haptics of the camera and the pristine nature of its mature sensor tech.

If you are ready to vie with David Fincher for the title of "next great cinema master" you'll find that (excuse the hoary phrase...) this camera punches way above its cost and weight. The video files out of the GH5S are pretty sublime. If you get your exposures and color balance correct you'll be amazed at how rich and satisfying the files are. Add the DMW-XLR audio attachment and some thousand dollar microphones and you'll be equally amazed at how good the recorded sound can be. Even the V-Log is better than it should be. 

I use the GH5S, currently, as a walkable notebook. I like the way the files look when I prep them for sharing on the blog and on Instagram. I like the way the video looks when I use the camera on a gimbal, a video monopod or a tripod. One thing that makes it all work for me is the way the menu echoes those found in all my other Panasonic cameras. And, one of my favorite Panasonic Lumix hardware consistencies is the position of the three buttons right next to the shutter button. The same on all six camera models I use most. The left button is for setting white balance, the middle button is for ISO and the right hand button is for setting exposure compensation. With those three buttons and the two setting dials I can do 95% of my shooting (in photography) without ever having to hit a menu. 

While the GH5S is nobody's idea of a perfect solution to shooting everything in the universe it is a calm, happy and transparent camera that is a friendly companion with a well defined feature set. Add the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm lens and you've got something really special. Just don't imagine that it will rival the resolution of a Sony A7RIV, the tracking AF performance of a Canon R5, or the low noise capabilities of the Lumix S1. You'll be disappointed if you do. 

If you just want a friendly camera for nearly everything you'll want to share electronically then this one is very well sorted. At least for me. 

The perfect m4:3 combo? A three pack. A GH5S for great video. A G9 for great photographs, and a GH5 for the perfect blend. Add very well designed Panasonic/Leica lenses for the win. 

It was a beautiful day for walking yesterday, here in Austin. The sun was bright, the sky was clear and the temperature never crested 80°. I grabbed a taco from Torchy's on 2nd and a coffee from Starbuck's on 3rd street. The rest of the time I spent just looking at buildings and people and working with the 25mm Panasonic/Leica lens on my GH5S. Here's some of what I saw:














I am always baffled by this place on 5th St. Is it a front for some supervillain's 
underground lair. I could be wrong, there could still be dozens and dozens of 
people in desperate need of having their floppy disks repaired. 



 

11.18.2020

I'm on vacation from work. Not on vacation from photography or blogging. There's a distinction to be made.


It was a great day to swim, eat a fajita taco at Torchy's on 2nd St. and to walk around with a funny hat and a earnest camera. 

I'm not working on any more projects for clients this year. It's a bit of burnout and a bit of precaution.

If you are a crazy person, and you truly believe that mainstream news is lying to you all the time, and that the wearing of masks will lead to the emasculation of the USA male population, and the onset of insanity in everyone  around you then all I can do is wish you well and keep my distance. A lot of distance.

But, if are still intellectually functional, and you look at the pandemic numbers and the case increases, you might understand my reticence at going to work with a bunch of people who are essentially strangers. I don't know how many rogue, teenage children they might have living at home who talk a good game but are still enjoying an active, covert nightlife with risky and possibly asymptomatic friends. If you are the marketing director who will be standing near me all day when I shoot "the big job" I'd rather take a pass and wait a while. What's the good of making more money if you aren't going to be around to enjoy it? Or, even worse, what if you live long, long time but with debilitating side effects of a nasty, nasty virus ?

I dropped by Trader Joe's in my neighborhood on the way home. They are still limiting the number of shoppers allowed in the store at any one time. Masks are absolutely mandatory there and have been since March. Everyone was doing a great job at social distancing. It's pleasant to see that a lot of people understand how they can help stop the spread of Covid. And also the flu. 

I needed to stock up on bean dip, chips, Candy Cane Jo-Jo's Cookies and sundries. I can never get out of the store without spending $60. It's worse than Whole Foods. But a lot more fun. But my real reason for turning off the phone and leaving the office was to avoid offers I might not have the fortitude to turn down...

I just wanted to walk. 

My Apple Watch asked me if I wanted to record my walk. I indicated, "yes." 

I walked for three and a half miles and shot about 100 frames with my current camera crush; the Panasonic GH5S. I went for nostalgia where the lens was concerned and popped a 25mm Summilux lens on the front. 

The combo was light, dimensionally agile and comfortable. Almost like achieving neutral buoyancy. 

I've been wearing the hat for a while and I try to remember my sunscreen but got some bad news from my dermatologist anyway. 

I had a biopsy done on a small spot on my face and it turned out to be squamous cell cancer. I have to go in for Mohs surgery the first week of December. That sucks. It's sure to trigger all my medical phobia, plus I'm afraid that any scar will ruin my chances at becoming a late arrival but wildly successful star in Hollywood. Or Bollywood. I'd go either direction depending on my share of the distribution rights....

But seriously, I'm told I'll be out of the pool for a week or two. That's never good. I'm already starting to book up days at the nearby Enchanted Rock Wilderness area. Most likely I'll try to wear out a couple pairs of hiking boots. Guest passes galore. 

I'll let you guys know how it goes. Maybe the beautiful girls will assume any scarring on my face is from my Schläger matches at the University of Heidelberg. Those Korbschläger are keen weapons... But maybe my surgeon will be so good and I'll leave without bragging rights. One can hope. 


Unsung heroes of the battle for better photography. No, it's not more dynamic range or faster AF...


 90% of success is just showing up. Over and over again. 

When I first started working as a commercial photographer, after stints as a university lecturer and an advertising agency denizen, there weren't a lot of options when it came to packing and transporting gear. We ALL used small armies of assistants to carry, drag and otherwise move our needed gear from location to location. When I left the warm nest of advertising to venture into the dangerous wild lands of photography we usually (desperately) needed to add light to whatever scene we were trying to shoot because we were locked into using slow, color transparency films with (now almost) fantastical ISOs like: 80. Or 100. And we did so with medium format and large format cameras. 

Getting good, color correct shots without buckshot sized grain made the use of big, electronic flashes more or less a requirement. It was also a time of many soft boxes so it was a rare day that we might have a reason to use direct flash. More power was always welcome.

My main lighting kit consisted of two Norman PD 2000 flash boxes and about six of the heavy metal heads. The weight of each flash generator was about 32 pounds. The heads weighed about eight pounds each and then there was all that heavy duty cabling and even heavier duty extension cords. We moved with all the grace and speed of sedated water buffalos. The idea of moving between, say, three locations in a day was considered either an Olympian endeavor or a fantasy. 

Sure, there were guys strutting around with 35mm cameras and goatees who claimed to be able to do everything with a tripod and some Kodachrome 25 (yes, as in ISO 25) but the advertising agency and corporate clientele I dealt with demanded quite a bit more from their images than the editors of magazines that tolerated and abetted the "small format" shooters. And, of course, the "gold standard" of the day was still the 4x5 inch view camera. 

The missing components in that era were strong and lightweight cases in which to transport all the heavy gear. We were so delighted when companies like Pelican hit the market with their resin cases because they were less than half the weight of the wood and metal Anvil cases that were in wide use. But the Pelican cases weighed multiples more than similar cases available today. We kept our assistants busy back then. And they stayed in good physical shape out of necessity. Loading in to a remote location took hours. Getting stuff set up was a process. And taking it all down and packing it out felt more like punishment than the coda of a successful shoot day.

I thought long and hard about this as I was pulling a Think Tank original "Airport Security" rolling case out of the hatchback of the Subaru a few days ago. Back before we ended our commercial engagements for 2020...

How far we'd come. I still light stuff and it still requires moving gear, but nothing like what we did back in the 1980s, 1990s and even into the new century. The ingredients of the present rolling case, if well packed, can rival  or exceed what our last century gear was capable of delivering when augmented by 400 pounds of heavy support equipment. 

I bought my Airport Security rolling case around the time I was writing my first book about lighting. I'd made a switch from big boxes that plug into the wall to make bright flashes to using Nikon's little hot shoe capable Speedlights. I was amazed enough about how far we'd come with digital gear and efficient lighting to write a book about it. And almost every location we shot on for the book was handled, logistically, by the stuff packed in that one piece of luggage. 

Cameras, multiple flashes and triggers, extra batteries, big lenses; the works. Three compact light stands rode in the front, stretchy pocket and a small Gitzo tripod got strapped to the side. No carts, no assistants, no back strain. It was a shift that changed the face of commercial photography on location. But as much as it was made possible by better and better camera sensors and more controllable and powerful small flashes it was ultimately facilitated by the noble rolling case. 

"Wheels for everything!" became a mantra. 

I have two different Think Tank rolling cases. The biggest is the original (and now travel-battered) Airport Security to which I've added a slightly smaller "Airport Essentials XT" that's also a bit lighter. And I like the fabric better (it's charcoal gray instead of ballistic black) because it looks more au courant. 

I bought the second case for those clients who think they might like to add some video to their mix on what starts out as a predominately "still photography" shoot. The second case carries Atomos monitors, audio recorders and interfaces, microphones, batteries, more batteries and mounting hardware for all the video oriented stuff. 

The advent of good, sturdy rolling cases was pivotal for me. As was the introduction of flashes that could be individually controlled by their cameras. It meant several kinds of freedom for my ways of working. I could do away with assistants for all but the bigger projects. I could pack everything into the back compartment of my vehicles and still have an available backseat. In some cases (domestic, large airplanes) I could wheel all my gear aboard planes and tuck it into luggage compartments instead of having to check cases. I no longer need to find parking close to wheel chair ramps to get my gear into client buildings. And the list goes on. 

I worked with an assistant that I really liked all the way up till 2001. She was great. We carried gear all over the place and depended on a collapsible cart for the heavy stuff. When I was out of the country doing work she freelanced for other photographers. When I came back from an extended trip we met for lunch to catch up and talk about future work. 

She'd spent part of the previous week working with a semi-famous (at least in commercial circles) photographer who flew in from NYC. He arrived at the Austin airport with at least a dozen Anvil cases of lighting and support gear. My assistant found herself in a crew with five others. Their job was, essentially, moving the gear. There was no heavy cart to ease the burden. Apparently the photographer's M.O. was to just hire enough strong help to carry all the cases wherever they needed to go. Through airports to waiting taxis. From the taxis to the client locations and all the way down the long halls of corporate America.

The next time we worked together the assistant arrived and we started loading the much smaller (and better packed) cases from my studio into the car. The cart goes in last. When I brought it out to the car she looked at the cart with an unusual expression. And then I saw a tear roll down her face and she smiled at the cart as if it was an old friend she hadn't seen in years. Our day was nimble and efficient. And I worked with her until she headed to Los Angeles to work in movies. 

I decided, at that juncture that I'd never find another assistant of her caliber again and that's when I started eyeing the rolling cases and the smaller and lighter inventory of photo luggage. 

There are still times when I load out heavy. If we're shooting video on a big set with lots of daylight gushing into our space and the need for lots of light I'll still bring the cart and as much gear as I and an assistant can handle. But over the last decade, out of hundreds and hundreds of location assignments. It's usually just me and a rolling case or two. I like it that way. It helps me maintain the self-delusion that I am, at heart, an introvert who just wants to be left alone. 

I've talked about Think Tank stuff but I'm brand agnostic. If a case packs well, is solidly made and has good wheels and an extendible  handle that's sturdy I'm good with it. If I find stuff that works better under a different label I'm good with that too. 

Now that I'm doing more work with video I have a dream/plan to investigate not bringing my own lighting gear at all but finding a good key grip with a grip truck full of stuff and just having that company show up at our shooting locations to carry in grip gear and lighting and to set it up under my direction. 

I have this fantasy of showing up with just my camera and a few of my favorite lenses, walking into the shooting location and setting up my camera on a tripod that's already been set up and made ready. At the end of the shooting day I would disengage the camera, thank all the crew, and walk out the door --- completely unencumbered. Almost seems like a full circle back to the old days. 

But for now the rolling cases make life easier and much more mobile. They sure beat the crap out of shoulder bags for moving between two disconnected points.