6.21.2018

A Nikon Alternative to the Usual 70-200mm f2.8 Lens. A very workable choice.


This lens is a Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G VR. It got launched into the market around 2006, covers the FX frame and has second generation VR. I guess the question is, "is it good enough to use in place of the much more expensive Nikon 70-200mm models?" Of course everyone's lens use will vary and some readers will have very high standards for imaging output while others will be more than satisfied at the performance. That's just the way the granulated market falls out.

Will it be sufficient for nearly every use we would normally have for this lens's faster and pricier brethren?

I've used a number of f2.8 telephoto zoom lenses that fall into the range of 70-210mm. I owned the Sony Alpha series version as well as the Sony Alpha f4.0 version. I've owned a number of Nikon 80-200mm f2.8's (both push pull and dual ring) and I've owned versions of each from Canon). In every case, if you desperately need that full f2.8 aperture

You NEED to Change (Picture This! Podcast) === I love this video from Tony Northrup. For working photographers.

6.20.2018

A bit of promotion about my 9 day photography expedition to Iceland in October. Lots photo potential here.

So, here's the bio part:

Why would you want to go to Iceland and spend 9 days hanging out photographing in Iceland with me?

Hmmm. Well, I've been working as a professional photographer for a long time and I've learned a lot of good stuff that works and might help you up your photography game, which could make photography even more enjoyable for you. I know my way around multiple systems and formats. I can help you hone your camera handling skills so when photographic opportunity comes your way you are ready to grab it. I've worked in challenging environments and can help you do the same.

As a former university instructor I'm pretty well practiced in teaching people so I won't waste your time with ponderous pedagogy; we'll get straight to the important stuff and I'll explain it in a way that nails down concept and practice for you. We'll also focus like a collimated light source on getting to good locations and getting great shots.

Think of my role on this expedition as that of a facilitator for your vision. Someone to get you to the right places and make sure we're all working at the top of our game, to help you bring home images of which you will be proud. Think of me also as a good fellow traveler who knows when to turn off work and turn on good conversation; someone to debate with over dinner and celebrate with at the end of a long day of image making.

What are we talking about?

The photography expedition to Iceland is being produced by Craftours and is aimed at photographers who can take the time to dive deeper into this incredible country and have a great time shooting, learning, experiencing, and creating treasures for their portfolios. It's a nine day adventure that runs from October 27 - November 4, 2018.

Let's get the cost out of the way first.... 

The entire cost of this tour is $3798.00 (per person based on double occupancy).

Here's what the package includes: 

Round trip international airfare from the U.S. to Iceland.

All taxes and round-trip transfers to and from hotel.

Private deluxe motor coach with experienced driver.

First class hotel accommodations.

Breakfast daily, as well as some lunches and dinners.

Photographic opportunities in the interesting town of HAFNARJORDUR.

A full day exploring (with me in tow) the natural wonders of the Golden Circle. You'll be surrounded by artistic inspiration as we visit the famous Strokkur Geyser, hot springs, and the amazing Gullfoss Waterfall. Horse stables and a greenhouse.

A journey to the Reykjavik Botanic Gardens. Lots of shooting time at every location.

The option to add on a tour to the Reyjanes and Blue Lagoon.

We'll do a photographic tour to participate in an Aurora Borealis Hunt.

I'm not doing this alone. We'll have a professional tour guide for the entire trip.

We'll head out for a photo trip to make images at an Icelandic horse farm.

You'll have professional Craftours escort and staff to assist you before and during the expedition.

This adventure is "camera brand neutral." There will be no sales pitches for any "just released" products. Pack whatever you want....

At every opportunity I'll put together workshops and mini-seminars about techniques you'll be able to use right away. And I'll be photographing with you, available to share tips, opinions, critiques and hard won shooting secrets all day, every day.

If you like what I write on the blog I bet we'll like hanging out together and seeing, photographing and soaking in experiences in one of the most interesting locations in the world. 

Why am I writing this right now? On June 20th? 

Craftours has a minimum tour size and we haven't hit our target yet. We're close. We only need a few more intrepid photographers to make the trip work. I'd love to get to Iceland on my birthday. I'd love to get some great shots of the land and of the people. If you are interested please get in touch with the folks at Craftours and help me make this happen. We're looking for a few more people to sign up by the end of this month!

They have a toll free number: 877-887-1188. Or head to their website: Craftours.com

And now for the disclaimer: I am not an employee of Craftours. Craftours will be responsible for the production and execution of the expedition. I am getting paid to participate on this expedition as the workshop teacher, photography instructor, imaging facilitator and all around, genial host. I'll be eating meals with you, celebrating with you at happy hours and marveling at how great
Iceland can be; just like everyone else on the tour.  I'll be there to teach, help, coach, illuminate (literally and figuratively), and generally assist you in making the most of your photography on this adventure.

Now, to sweeten the pot. Bring your swim gear and goggles. I'm sure we'll find some great places to swim. I'll help with your stroke technique if you'll also critique mine. OMG. Swimming and photography! All the good stuff at once.

I hope to see you there.

Panasonic adds new "Night Mode" to their GH5 camera. Here's why I like this new feature: It has actual benefits.


Every once in a while a camera maker comes out with something in a firmware upgrade that goes beyond just C.Y.A. and fixing stuff they promised to have working at the time of launch. I'm appreciative to Panasonic for including a new feature called, Night Mode, in the set of improvements in the latest firmware update for the GH5. It adds real functionality to the camera for me.

Most camera screens are made to work under a bunch of different lighting conditions but work best in average room light, shooting average subjects. Most rear camera screens just flat out suck if you are trying to compose outdoors in full sun (thank goodness for the miracle of EVFs...) and most rear screens are too bright and too blue for low light work. The light output, and the color range (too much stuff in the blue spectrum) of that light output, messes with your night vision and is generally bright enough, in low light situations, to act as an annoying and distracting beacon to everyone around you. 

Most of the times I am shooting in the theater I am experiencing a combination of issues with conventional screens. A lot of dramatic stage work is done with lower levels of stage lighting and the house itself is quite dark. If I need to check settings and actuate the rear screen the light from the screen is overwhelming. Nearly as obnoxious as the bright screen of a big cellphone. If I go ahead and take a look, or use the rear screen to change a setting, I have my vision temporarily compromised by the blast of light. I could always chimp camera settings through the EVF finder of my mirrorless cameras but they too have the same brightness issues when it comes to the preservation of my night vision.

With the GH5, you have the option of switching either the EVF, or the rear screen, or both, to Night Mode; depending on how you use your camera. I used Night Mode for the first time last night. I was shooting some additional promotional shots of the Zach Theatre production of "Heisenberg" from a stationary position just to the right of the center section of audience seating. There was no one on either side of me but there were people in the row just behind me. 

Normally, when shooting with an audience, I would disable the rear screen and make all my settings, and do all my reviewing, on the EVF. Many times it's an advantage to be able to pull the camera away from my eye and into my lap to check settings or make a quick assessment of sharpness or composition. I miss having that option with a conventional rear screen set-up while shooting in a dark theater. 

Last night I set the rear screen to Night Mode and left the EVF in its normal implementation. It was great to be able to keep one eye on the action while I looked down at a menu item. It helped keep me from missing important shots. The deep orange on a darker screen was much, much less intrusive than the same screen when not used in Night Mode. I also tried using Night Mode with the EVF and it's very workable if you already know you are in the ballpark for color temperature settings. It might take a while to get used to judging exact exposure with the new set up because without colors the visual cues for correct exposure are different. You might depend more, at first, on histograms.

When using Night Mode in the EVF I was surprised at how much better I could see into shadows and how much more accessible faces in the audience were when taking the camera away from my face. I did the last quarter of the play with Night Mode enabled on the EVF and found that, not being seduced by color, my compositions where a bit tighter and better balanced and I didn't have the same level of eye fatigue I sometimes get when I spend the whole day shooting (we had a marketing shoot all afternoon followed by a break and then plunged into a full dress rehearsal shoot). 

I give Panasonic double two thumbs up. The first two elevated thumbs are for coming up with the idea in the first place (although aircraft instrumentation and some car instrumentation has featured the lower output, red/orange spectrum illumination options for decades) and including it in cameras I like to use. The second set of odd thumb signals is for making the implementation so flexible. I like being able to chose how I want each screen to work instead of one setting being universally applied. 

The new Night Mode feature should be a boon for everyone who works in low light and for many who suffer more acutely from eyestrain caused by spectrum sensitivity and excessive screen brightness. 

I predict that every single camera maker will copy this and put it into their pro series cameras just as quickly as they can. I can't believe this feature hasn't created more buzz on the web. It actually helps make shooting conditions better for many artists. 

The monochrome rendition distills images down to their essentials. 
Color doesn't get in the way...


Every time I use the GH5 I am a bit more impressed. 


6.19.2018

But the shoot seemed to go really well.

©Kirk Tuck. Brianna as "Belle" in the upcoming
Zach Theatre production of, "Beauty and the Beast." 


Stupid and mindless destruction of gear.

I decided to bring a TV monitor with me on today's shoot so the marketing team of my client could see the big images across a 24 inch screen. It was going to be so civilized. I was busy loading the car in the driving rain and I stuck the monitor, carefully wrapped in plastic to prevent water damage, onto the back seat. I left it standing up and then instantly forgot about it.

I was zooming along to our appointment when a traffic light turned yellow then red. I put on the brakes and a second or two later heard a "smack" from the back seat. The monitor came down with gusto, banging into the hard back of a case. I didn't think much of it until we set the monitor up on the stage and plugged in the HDMI camera from the camera.

I turned the monitor on and, yikes, it was chaos across the screen and there were cracks across the top third of the screen.

My art director offered to recycle it for me. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the LCD on the back of the D800. I guess this is why we generally transport the Atomos Ninja monitor in its own hard case.

I console myself with the thought that I'd bought the monitor on sale for somewhere under $200. I cursed myself when I realized that it was handy to have around and I'd eventually have to dig into my pocket to replace it.

Ah well.

Other than that the shoot went great!

Fixing the pesky back focus in a Tamron 28-75mm lens.


My old, used Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens was giving me grief. Even with minus 20 steps of back focus correction I could not bring the lens into a range where back focus was not obvious. I took it to Precision Camera and they let me know that a mechanical focus adjustment would entail sending it back to Tamron for calibration. They estimated the cost to be around $250-$275.

Since I bought the lens for appreciably less than that I was not particularly motivated to toss more cash at fixing it. Especially since I have another lens, the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0, that covers the range, and then some. But when I used the lens on a past project which called for live view I came to realize that it's a very, very good performer at nearly every aperture and focal length. Sure, the corners of a wide open frame, at the widest focal length are a bit dicey but that's never been much of a concern for most of the stuff that I shoot. In addition, I also own the world's greatest standard zoom lens, the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro so I was in no rush to do a costly "replace or repair" for a third string choice. But, like every descendant of depression-era parents I am loathe to throw away anything I might have a use for and, when confronted with obstacles (like back focusing) I tend to grind away at the problem until I hit on a workable solution.

Eventually I'll take one of my reader's advice and try doing my own shimming of the lens mount. I have a suspicion that's what my $275 would buy at Tamron....

But for now I've decided that the lens is actually a manual focus lens and, in such form, works well....If I can get it accurately focused.

Enter live view. Today I'll be shooting a glamorous series of photographs of a beautiful, young actress who will be playing "Belle" in Zach Theatre's upcoming production of "Beauty and the Beast." I like to get buy in from the marketing team as we shoot, changing lighting and shoot some more, so I planned on bringing along an external monitor so we don't need to all gather behind the camera to see what we're collectively getting. I check every piece of gear before every shoot so I had the Atomos Ninja Flame 4K monitor out and set up (tech checking is also good for reminding me about where all the menu features are located) and connected to a Nikon D800. Works great and it's cool to see wave form meters on screen that are so helpful in setting correct exposures....

After I tested the shooting rig I remembered the old Tamron. I attached it to the camera and fired everything up again to take a look. I tried one more AF test and, yes, sitting overnight did nothing to tame the back focusing. I switched to manual focus, switched on live view and popped in some frame magnification. On the glorious Atomos monitor I was able to see exactly when perfect focus was achieved. I could also turn on focus peaking which, again, is very, very accurate o the seven inch monitor screen. When I reviewed my test frames I remember why I had not abandoned the Tamron 28-75mm after getting the diagnosis from the camera doctors; it's a very bite-y lens with its own look.

I'm taking it along with me to the shoot today. We'll have the camera on a tripod and the monitor riding alongside for quality control. I'll interchange that lens with the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 and the Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G VR lens and we'll see which one emerges victorious. I have a sneaking suspicion that at f5.6-f8.0 they will all exceed our marketing needs. But it's fun to mix stuff up...

Other notes. If you are around and want a change of pace, change of venue, I'll be speaking to the Dripping Springs, Texas "Photographers of Dripping Springs" group on Thursday evening, the 28th. I'm sure they would love a few extra bodies to fill out the mix. I got to choose the subject so I've decided to give a talk (about an hour) on the nuts and bolts of ...... live theater photography. I'll talk through my techniques and also show a few examples. The details: http://photographersofds.us/2018/06/19/pods-june-meeting-june-28-2018-630pm/
The "where" in on this contact page: http://photographersofds.us/about/

This is a very rare, public appearance. The first in about a year. Come by and say hello. I think we're all going out for Mexican food right after....

More Other Notes. I think we're still on schedule for the Craftours Iceland Photo Adventure starting on the 27th of October. If you are interested you might want to head to the Craftour's site to sign up so we can make the minimum class size and actually get to do this thing. http://www.craftours.com/crafts/photography.php

Chilly fun. Great food. Lots of photography. I'll be on my best behavior....

6.18.2018

A quick, in progress review of the second best m4:3 lens I have ever shot with. The Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro.

Jill Blackwood at "Dot" in "Sundays in the Park with George."
Zach Theatre.

I've been photographing the dress rehearsals for plays at Zach Theatre for about 30 years now. In that span of time I've gone from shooting set up shots in black and white, done with medium format cameras, with prints processed in my own darkroom to shooting current plays with a mix of digital cameras. While good cameras are nice to have good lenses are even better.

A few weeks ago I shot the dress rehearsal for "Sundays in the Park with George." It's a good production with one technical caveat; the stage is bare and the background is largely light absorbing black. It's an inherently high contrast collection of scenes.

Recently I've asked the folks at Zach Theatre to let me photograph both the Sunday evening technical rehearsal as well as the Tuesday night dress rehearsals. I only charge them for one but I enjoy theatre and more importantly I like to see the blocking and action at a run through before I shoot the final practice. This let's me know where people stand when and what they are about to do. I like being prepared so I think of the first night as a scouting trip in anticipation of the actual assignment.

It works out well. I no longer get nervous about "getting the shot" and on Sundays, with no audience underfoot, I can use louder cameras and move around a lot more. Actors like Jill (above) are so used to seeing me at their rehearsals that they can ignore me entirely.

I always dress in "show black" and even wear a black cap to hide the bright beacon of platinum (not white or gray) hair that I am sure would be a visual distraction. On Sundays I've started shooting with the Nikon D800e cameras and the Nikon lenses because the shutter noise isn't an issue. On Tues. I shoot with the Panasonic GH5s because noise becomes an issue. We almost always have an invited audience; it helps the actors fine tune... I need to use the mechanical shutters sometimes in order to handle flicker from some of the lights and in those situations I'll wrap a neoprene case around a GH5 which does a good job of quieting an already quiet shutter.

On Tuesdays I'm relegated to center of the house. I don't complain because I have a whole row of seats to myself. But we are half way up the house from the stage so I depend on lenses with reach for most of the best marketing worthy photos. I'm filling out the Nikon lens inventory slowly but in the m4:3 inventory I already have the PERFECT LENS with which to shoot from mid-house. It's the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro.

As far as I am concerned (for theater work) that lens has only one aperture: f2.8. I use it all evening long, all wide open. It returns photographs with lots of great detail, never back or front focuses and never flares. The lens has a tripod mount but I shoot the theater work handheld. I'll go wider than 150mm (300mm FF equiv.) if I want to capture more atmosphere but I think the images that sell plays are mostly shots of two characters together in a dynamic scene or small ensembles of actors. Wide stage shots rarely make it onto promotional websites or into magazine print unless the scenery is just spectacular.

When I compare the files from Sundays and Tuesdays (Nikon vs. Panasonic/Olympus) the advantage of narrow depth of field obviously goes to the Nikon but the other technical qualities are a wash. The files aren't much different in the noise department (f2.8 versus f4.0 or f5.6) and the cameras focus equally fast.

If I had to choose between the two systems the two Olympus Pro lenses I use would tip the balance in favor of the Panasonic GH5. Where I prefer the Nikon is in controlled marketing photographs that we take outside of rehearsals. These are situations where I am able to control the light, use flash and take advantage of the Nikon's superior quality, when used at ISO 100 and with lenses stopped down to optimum apertures. Nice to have both. Even nicer to know why.

I can imagine that if most people bought into the m4:3 system cold and only used the 12/100 and the 40/150 Pro lenses they would never, ever have format envy again. Amazing lenses. Wish Olympus would make one Pro lens for the Nikon. It would be a 24-200mm f4.0 with the quality of the 12-100mm f4.0. I know it would be large and heavy but if the optics were as good it would shift the whole market around. At least that's what I'm conjecturing right now.