8.13.2018

Interesting video project coming up next week. Time to consider the GH5 variant known as the GH5S? Chime in if you have an opinion...

West Texas WPA Landscape. Picnic Area in the Middle of Nowhere.
Olympus EP-2 camera. Lens not noted.

I spent time on Saturday evening re-watching the Beatles movie: "Hard Day's Night" and was once again blown away. Not by the story-telling or the celebrities but by the wonderful camera work and moving imagery of the work. Director, Richard Lester, brought an amazing visual aesthetic to this 1964 classic with his use of moving, handheld movie cameras and the great (and nearly noiseless) 16mm and 35mm black and white scenes he was able to capture. A lot of the interior scenes and on-the-train scenes were obviously lit and lit quickly but the majority of the film is like watching a beautiful photographic spread in an older Life Magazine spring to life and move. 

So, what was I doing hanging out on the couch watching an old movie when I should be out dancing and schmoozing and making the chauffeur earn his keep on a Saturday night? Good question.

I was actually doing research for a short film I'm starting on next week. There is a comedy theater in town that I work with (Esther's Follies on Sixth Street, in downtown Austin) and I'd been thinking about making a small, black and white film to create an artsy look at the energy and movement that goes on there in front and behind the "curtain." As a fan of Wim Wender's movie, "Wings of Desire" and Gordon Willis's genius work on Woody Allen's movie, "Manhattan", it seems only natural that I would want to work in black and white as well.

Much of the footage I have in mind would be shot behind the stage, in dressing rooms, during rehearsals and other times, mostly in situations that have less than optimal levels of illumination. The working spaces at the theater are small and there's no real room for much supplemental light so I intend to shoot mostly available light to create the video content. And that brought me to the idea of supplementing the GH5 (original) with the newer GH5S which, in video, is said to be about a stop and a half to two stops less noisy, in low light.

The two main differences between the cameras are that the GH5S is optimized for video so the sensor "only" has ten megapixels of resolution. This means the camera can use the direct imaging pixels in 4K video without the need to downsample or pixel bin. It should be a more carefully optimized video image. The second difference is that the "S" does NOT have in-body image stabilization so using it handheld with older, legacy lenses is problematic; unless I acquire and learn how to use a gimbal.

I'm not too concerned about the lack of IBIS because my intention is to use lenses that already have stabilization, use the GH5 (original) in set ups where I want to use ancient lenses and IBIS, and to run out and buy a bunch of Olympus Pro lenses with their own stabilization. (Mostly kidding about rushing out to buy new lenses. The 12-100mm is stabilized and offers pretty killer performance. As does the Panasonic 42.5 f1.7 lens). Part of working with certain cameras is adapting to their limitations and using them as formal boundaries for seeing. If I were heading into the project looking for perfection at any cost I'd already be sourcing the rental of an Arriflex Alexa camera and a suitcase full of Zeiss Speed Primes. Right?

How did the idea of acquiring a video centric version of the GH5 come up in the first place? Well, I have a good friend who is a brilliant video artist and, as a supplement to his Sony A7Rii, A7iii, FS7 and a few other fine cameras, he also bought both a GH5 and a GH5S. He's come to realize that, when using the m4:3 cameras for his video projects the one thing he values most is the IBIS; especially when using his inventory of older, cinema lenses. He wants two identical cameras so his B camera and A camera always can be made to match up exactly. I happen to have two of the GH5 cameras, and a bucket full of full frame Nikons, and my video needs are much less exacting than his. I can play around with two different camera variants and not even notice the differences in noise profiles that would drive him a bit nuts ---- especially when he's cutting together two different camera views of the same scene and can see (to him) a big difference in the characteristics of the noise.

While the GH5S might be better optimized for video he's always got the dedicated FS7 video camera to turn to for a more exacting level of precision and quality. And, bottom line, it's fun for both of us to play with different cameras.

We'll swap bodies and I'll toss in money to cover the difference in price, to make the deal fair. Then I plan to spend the better part of this week testing, testing, testing. Not just video features and performance but also how the GH5S handles regular photography. I'm especially anxious to see how it handles portrait work since it is the first m4:3 camera to come with the ability to generate 14 bit raw files!!!

I think it's a great idea and it's certainly not one that will "break the bank." I'd love to hear feedback from other people who own the GH5S, or both cameras, to see what the gotcha's and pitfalls might be and how to avoid them. Let's share info in the comments.


A most wonderful choice for anyone who needs to make a movie without a crew.


If you are in Austin it would be fun for you, or you and the family, to go see "B and the B" at Zach Theatre.


While you are enjoying the play pay attention to the lighting. It's very, very good. 
And it's mostly LED. 

Above: The post card. I made the photograph and Rona Ebert did the design and production.

Nikon D800
Nikon 24-120mm
Neewer Vision 4 Flashes

8.12.2018

Why do I still have warm, fuzzy feelings about the old Nikon D700? I guess it's because the photos I shot with it eight years ago still stand up today. Can't say that about some other cameras I've bought....

New Pix at Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kirktuck/

One of the most fun photo assignments I've done for Zach Theatre was a season subscription brochure shot back in 2008 or 2009. We photographed the actors who were going to be cast in different productions and the marketing team let me decide how to light them and how to design their looks. I wrote about it in a very early blog post here: Hot Lights. Fun Lights. I used a Profoto Tungsten light in a beauty dish pounding photons through a 72 by 72 inch scrim to light my subjects. As an afterthought I wrote about the camera I used to make the shots. Just so happens that it was a Nikon D700. Lost to the sands of time and memory is what lens I used. Looks like a 105 f1.8 to me... 

I remember that we shot on a Saturday and that my art director/friend/theater marketing mentor, Jim Reynolds, loved it when I shot more frames. We photographed six or seven actors that day and probably went through 500 shots per actor to get just exactly the right photograph for Jim. The camera never missed a beat and probably made it through that shoot with a battery and a half (not that Nikon was ever in the business of making half batteries). I guess I was so confident in what I would get from the D700 that it was barely a footnote in the original article. The files were like butter to edit. The skin tones fell right into place and the tonality was perfect. I've shown these photos over and over again and I love the look and the general file characteristics. 

But what about MORE MEGAPIXELS????? It never came up. The files worked flawlessly and transparently as printed pieces on glossy paper at 10 by 13 inches (CMYK Offset Press) as well as on life size lobby posters. No glitches, no issues with the super big enlargements. I grabbed one of the files from an archived DVD yesterday and played around with it in the current revs of PhotoShop and Adobe Raw and I'm able to make even better files today. The software got better and can do more complex processes with the files (Something I am certain camera makers DO NOT want you to ponder.... as in: "Was my 2008 camera's primary limitation just the processing software of the time???? What would happen if I used the most current version? OH MY GOD, IT'S BEAUTIFUL!!!! IF I'D ONLY KNOWN").

I moved on from the camera (big mistake) because I thought I needed a more sophisticated (and quieter) shutter and more resolution. I could not have been more wrong. I just needed ten years of software improvements.




The final image I'm showing here was done in the laundry room of a wonderful and beautiful five million dollar, west Austin home. We needed a nice laundry room in which to make this photo of a spirited kid grabbing his teddy bear from a gas dryer. It was part of an ad campaign for a Texas utility company. This one photograph could have paid for a bag full of Nikon D700s. And it was done with a D700 camera and a small European flash system. I loved what I could get out of those cameras then and love the files even more now. We have other cameras. They are each good, in their own way. But there's something very cool about the D700. Ah well. 


OT: Sunday's with Kirk in the Kar.

My Dad. A couple years ago. At Cappy's Restaurant in San Antonio.

Sundays have followed a very familiar pattern this year. I get up and pack a small camera bag. I put into it cameras I might use if I have time to stop and do some street photography. I never do. The bag also gets a phone, some eyeglasses and a checkbook. We all walk the dog together in the early morning and then I get into my car and head for IH-35; the most direct route to San Antonio, Texas.

The drive can be quick and efficient. Today I covered the 78 miles, from door-to-door, in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Sometimes the drive can be excruciating. One day, because of a series of accidents and one construction detour, it took over three hours to cover the distance. Music helps after the Sunday morning radio shows on NPR start to merge together in my consciousness.

When I get to San Antonio I head to the big H.E.B. grocery store near my dad's place. If you are from Texas you more than likely shop in a neighborhood H.E.B. or grew up shopping with your parents at one. I drop by the store ( A huge Texas chain) to pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times and a small bag of Hershey's Kisses (milk chocolate: traditional) because my dad has been reading the NYT for nearly 60 years and has probably been eating Hershey's chocolates for even longer. I also stop at the H.E.B. to use their toilet; a vital step given that I leave Austin with a large coffee in the car's cup holder and by the time I get to San Antonio it's all gone...

Some days, I also pick up a package of Depends (adult diapers) and some antiseptic wipes, just, you know, in case we're running low at my dad's place. I show up at the front door of his deluxe (and brutally expensive) memory care facility most Sundays (traffic permitting) by 11:00 am. I get buzzed in then sign into the guest book. I glance through the pages of the register to see who else has been by to visit my dad in the last few days. I'm always hopeful I'll see my older brother's scrawl on one of the pages. Sometimes it works out.

I head down the hall and knock on dad's door. He's generally in his favorite, big upholstered chair. Sometimes he's listening to classical music on his Henry Kloss radio. Sometimes he's napping. I check in with him to see how he's doing. He still remembers me without hesitation but his memory is fading fast. My sister called to tell me that when she visited recently it took him a while to understand who she was.... Memory loss and dementia is a long goodbye...

We get down to business and I tell him how he's doing financially. He likes to hear the current investment strategy and how it's working. He's always happy with the results. While we talk I check his closet and his dresser drawers to make sure the facility is up to date with dad's laundry. He likes to look professional even at 90 years old. Even after being retired for decades. Although we'll probably never use them I keep several of his business suits and even some formal wear in his closet. You never know. And I think knowing the suits and pressed dress shirts and ties are there makes him feel better. Somehow still attached to his previous life and work.

On good days we go for short walks around the (very nice) facility. He introduces me to the staff members whose names he can remember, sometimes explaining, as he has for the last 30 Sundays that I am his son and I've come by for a free lunch. Around noon one of the staff drops by my dad's room to let us know that they are serving lunch. The food is really, really good. The soup in the first course is always exemplary. There are always fresh flowers on the table and linen napkins for our laps.

Everyone who lives in the facility is about dad's age. Some are a few years younger than 90 and a few are even older. All are living with various conditions that rob one of memory and cognition. About half the folks come to our dining room (higher functioning residents) with the aid of walkers while the other half come in wheel chairs. There is one gentleman who still walks without mechanical assistance and my father takes pride in getting around with just his wooden cane. The same one I got for him when he had a knee injury twenty some years ago.

Dad and I sit at the same table, with two other people, on each visit. One of my favorite tablemates is a woman who is always smiling and positive. She sometimes asks me a number of times during the meal who I am. I always smile and answer the same way. The staff brings each person the soup of the day to start. Then they bring two "show" plates by the table so the residents (and their guests) can see what their choice of entrees will be. Today we had a choice of chicken breast or pork loin, each paired with two fresh vegetables. We all swear that my dad is eating in a healthier fashion than he has for years. Dessert today was a small fudge brownie with walnuts; finished with a swirl of whipped cream. Delicious.

After lunch we'll walk out into the enclosed and landscaped courtyard and dad will tell me disconnected and oddly conflated stories that mix memories from his childhood with random conjecture and repetition. I listen with rapt attention and agree with everything he tells me. I have learned to distract him from subjects that upset him and deflect his attention to other topics. After a while we go back to his room and he settles in with his music and the fresh NYTimes and there's a moment when I can tell he's ready to slow down, take a nap and push the company out the door. He's always been happiest spending time reading, alone.

We make small talk and I remind him to have one of the staff call me if he needs anything. Anything at all. This week he let me know he wants a haircut. There is a barbershop on the campus; over in the assisted living wings. One of the staff will take him over in a wheel chair and wait with him while he gets his hair cut. There will be a charge on the monthly statement from the memory care facility for the barbershop. I've stopped even looking at the bills. At 90 you should be able to do exactly what you want. I don't worry about the money. It's there. He and I can afford it.

When I leave his room I'm exhausted from the energy it takes to always be positive; always smile and to be present in a way we never really were when my mom was alive and ran the show. Before I leave the facility I stop by the nurse's station to ask how his week was and how his vital signs look. I also want to make sure he's not giving them too many problems about taking his medications. I say "goodbye" to the staff whom I've come to admire for their infinite patience and care, and sign out, heading for the car.

If it's been a long day and I haven't been sleeping well I'll stop by a Starbucks in the neighborhood and grab another cup of coffee. Then it's back to Austin. I'd stay and shoot some images but it's hard to change mental gears so quickly and then I never really know how the traffic will be on the way back. I'm also trying to take care of myself. Part of that is making it back home in time to get ready for my own job tomorrow, to take Studio Dog out for another walk, and to have a nice, quiet dinner with my own small family.

I can say with authority that the traffic coming back into Austin will be brutally slow and stupid. I used to link up my phone to the bluetooth in my car because one or the other of my siblings would always call and want to get "a report" about dad from me. They know my schedule too well.

Since I own my own business the siblings equate what I do with "being somewhat retired" and they imagine I have loads and loads of time to spend managing my dad's finances, legal stuff and healthcare through the week, with ample time left over for the Sunday visits. I started to get the feeling that I was reporting to my "bosses" (and I've never really had a boss before) and this left me feeling a bit unsettled so I've just turned my phone off and tossed it back into my camera bag for the journey home. I generally send a group text when I get home with a synopsis of the day and week. I try for transparency without judgement. Sometimes they just get transparency.

When I get home it takes me some time alone to get back into my own rhythm. I carry a certain amount of worry about my father throughout my waking hours. There is an inevitability about his eventual demise but knowing that doesn't assuage my persistent feelings of responsibility, and a bit of dread. Ah well. I hope I'm setting a good example for my own son.

Speaking of the boy!!! As you may know he's graduated from college and has been searching for, and interviewing, for jobs. I'm pleased to announce that he got, and accepted, an offer on Friday. It's a great job in public relations for a large San Francisco firm with an office here in Austin. The job has stuff we freelancers have never experienced!!!! Such as paid health insurance, dental insurance, a 401K with a match, a parking place in the garage, and an office in a downtown high rise. After accepting the offer the firm asked if he'd like to fly out to S.F. on Monday to meet the H.Q. team. Youbetcha. I'll be dropping him off at the airport tomorrow morning at 5. We're very excited for the boy but he seems to be taking it all in the same calm stride with which he navigates most things in life. Yes, millennials do work!

Well, that's how I spend Sundays. Me, the car, and my dad. Sometimes it seems like a duty but mostly it seems like a nice opportunity to spend time together. I don't leave him until I see a smile...

Hope your Sunday is equally interesting and well spent.

So, you've decided to go retro with a Nikon D700 but you don't like my suggested 2nd lens choice. Well, maybe this one is more your style.

shot with a Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN at f7.1 on a GH5 body. 
Nice set up for products. 

I'm not much of a wide angle lens fan but two recently purchased lenses have gotten me further and further into the tar pit of shorter focal length image-making. Both are zooms and neither would be my primary recommendations for a third, bargain lens appropriate to match up with a "minty" used, decade old, Nikon D700. But both encompass a range that covers approximately 16-28 (or more) and when I use them I find myself gravitating more toward the longer end of their range. When I check the lens information I find that my super wide angle zoom lens usage falls into an equivalent of 28mm at least half the time. (One of the zooms is the Tokina 16-28mm f2.8, which has its flaws but can be a sharp, fun lens when used with care. The other is a much better behaved lens; it's the Panasonic-Leica 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 zoom. It's quickly becoming a favorite for establishing shots for videos when using the GH5!).

But I guess my point is that when I do use wide angles, unless I am constrained by my ability to back up, I end up in the 24-28mm range much more often than not. With that in mind, and wanting a compact and fairly light single focal length lens for those times when two pounds of zoom seem like overkill, I starting researching and testing the various 28 and 35mm lenses in the Nikon mount. Remembering back to the film days my first thought went to the 28mm f1.4 D lens (ultimately fast and sharp) but a quick check revealed that the current used price for that lens (with a glass aspheric element) is currently hovering around $2100. That one immediately fell off the list.

I narrowed my choices down quickly. I owned both of the 28mm f2.8 AF lenses and they were both ho-hum performers. Nikon figured out how to make their AF lenses a bit rattier and probably much cheaper; at least in this focal length and speed. The manual lens pictured here is the 7 element Ai version. The two AF-D lenses were: five elements in the first iteration (which was widely disparaged) and six elements in the second version (which was a bit better). The manual focus lens in this range that is widely believed to be one of the best is the Ais version of the above, (manual focus) lens which trades the 7 element construction for an 8 element design. It's the best of the 2.8 bunch.  I couldn't find one in good shape for a good price and so I compromised and went with the original Ai, 7 element version. Wide open the newer lens is supposed to be marginally better, in terms of overall sharpness and contrast, but by the time you hit f4.0 the differences shrink down to the point where only the most compulsively ardent lens analysts think they can see a difference. And then it's mostly at 300% magnification.

The model I bought (7 element Ai)  is in great shape and features a silky smooth, long throw focusing ring which makes it a great candidate for video as well as regular photography. I paid a whopping $125 for my copy and have used it often for location/industrial work. It doesn't flare, is scary sharp by f5.6 and better than just "usable" when used wide open.

The 28mm focal length makes a nice half of a two lens kit when paired with an 85mm. If I were specifically looking for a second lens to pair with the 105mm f2.5 Nikon lens I guess I'd be looking more for a 35mm focal length (so the gap between lenses isn't overwhelming) but so many of the zooms I already own cover that focal length nicely so I'm sticking with the 28mm.

Small, light, sharp, wide enough and dirt cheap. That makes it choice number three in my budget, full frame, retro kit. You could do a hell of a lot worse.


Find a used one at Amazon (or elsewhere).

8.11.2018

Once you've gone Nikon-Retro what is your second lens choice? What would you pair with your D700?


A Fairly Modern Copy of the Timeless Nikon 105mm f2.5 ai Lens.

Here is where I'll lose a huge swath of photographers whose focus is on landscapes and street photographer versus portraiture and detail work. If you are one of the lucky VSL reader who just got your hands on a new/old Nikon D700 (or D3, D3x or D800 of any flavor....) you might be wondering about which lenses to pair with your new and wonderful camera. Especially if the Nikon world is new to you...

Yesterday I made the argument that the first lens most people should consider would be the 24-120mm f4.0 VR zoom lens. It's wide focal length range, high sharpness over most of the frame, and its very good image stabilization make it a really good all around choice for such a wide variety of situations that I think it doesn't require much deep thought to appreciate its value. But what comes next?

Well, a prudent business person could probably stop at the 24-120mm zoom and get most of his or her work done without having to invest another cent in lenses but I know most of us aren't wired specifically for practicality; and that the lure of the lenses is

8.10.2018

You went retro and bought a Nikon D700. What's my recommendation for a great first lens?


By: KirkTuck.com Austin, Texas. 2018

If you read the blog you'll know that I've reached back in time to cherry pick few really good cameras that Nikon made and to use them for much of my still photography work. I've written a bunch about one of my favorite cameras, launched in 2008, the D700, because it seems to me to be a wonderful blend of compromises that led to a camera of high reliability, great mechanical performance and speed, and it has a sensor that delivers 12 really good megabytes of resolution along with some of the best color performance and tonality I've come across in cameras; at least since the days of the Kodak professional cameras...

In the last few weeks there has been a run on good, clean, used D700 camera bodies as people snap them up and discover which part of the compromise equation they may have missed out on due to their allegiance to a certain camera conception or mythology. For example, one friend never shot full frame before. When they came to digital photography they embraced the basket of compromises and features (light weight?, small size?, good video?, good stabilization) that micro-four thirds cameras offered and rejected other options. Now they've decided to experiment with a different format and a different basket of compromises and, most would agree, that older full frame cameras flooding the markets right now can be a bargain. Certainly, the expense of $500 for a good, used imaging tool isn't going to break the bank; and if the new adopters decide the added weight, the moving mirror --- with its attendant noise and vibration--- and the lack of in body image stabilization isn't the balance they most enjoy they can easily sell the camera back into the market without much, if any, loss. They will have only really lost

8.08.2018

Getting ready to teach a workshop. Practicing on a few private workshops first.


Kirk and Josh at Red Rock in Colorado, taping one of the Craftsy.com classes. 
This one was about Family Photography.

When I worked with Denver based Craftsy.com to create three different online classes about photography I learned a lot more about the best methods to teach technique and photographic concepts. The need to perform for video cameras and to work to a loose script added a bunch of new skills to my teaching knowledge base. I'd taught workshops before but having the cameras there, auditing my every word, made me work harder to hone the expression of the concepts into easily learnable chunks of good information. 

I wasn't a total newbie at teaching since I'd taught photography classes in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Austin a number of years ago and have kept my hand in the teaching part of photography with a number of daylong classes that teach very specific lighting and camera skills. But being on the "other side" of the cameras makes you really tighten up the way you convey ideas and information, and reinforces the need to keep your audience engaged. 

I'm teaching a workshop in Iceland this Fall and I'm already going back and practicing my teaching skills so I can give our students a great experience by delivering a lot of good information, and demonstrations, in the most efficient (and fun) ways. To do this I'm setting up a video camera and microphone and taping myself presenting various teaching segments. Using the video I can see where I become bogged down in an explanation and I can go back and work through it until I can make the concept sticky and learnable. 

I'm also teaching private, half day workshops for more advanced photographers who want to concentrate on specific parts of their photography that they'd like to improve. I put together  four hour modules with theory, demonstrations and then hands-on practice. At the end we look at the results and do a critique. The private, half day workshops are $650 and we fit them around my commercial photography schedule. We're already booked up for all available slots in August so we've stopped taking new students for now; we'll see what September looks like.

I'll be doing a "warm-up" event in Marfa, Texas near the end of September and I'll be taking along a couple of models to work with while I'm there. The goal is to get more and more fluid with my teaching. I've long stressed that fluid camera handling comes only with daily practice and, to a certain degree, it's the same with teaching photography. It's nearly impossible to drop in cold and do a great job. Teaching well means planning and testing your methods. I'll have more details to share later but the Marfa event will be a workshop for a very limited number of people.

All of this is to get ready for the Iceland workshop on the 27th through the 4th of November. If you are going to photograph with me in Iceland you deserve my best work as an instructor. I'm excited about the trip and have dived into some deep research about all the places we'll visit so I can help everyone get the best possible photos. If you are interested there are still a few slots available. You'll need to get in touch with Craftours to join in the experience. I'm sure we're going to have a blast. Bring some warm clothes, and your favorite cameras and lenses, and lets make incredible photos!

Thanks, Kirk