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.

Broken Lenses. What to do about them?


Lenses don't fail often; but they do. As of yesterday I have two on the critical list and one on the "too far out of range to AF-Tune correctly" List.

One is an older 55mm f2.8 ais Nikon micro lens. It has an affliction that seems to strike a number of these older lenses; oil or lubricant has seeped from somewhere onto the aperture blades and made them "sticky." As a result the camera doesn't stop down and then over the aperture open back up again. For the most part it's stuck in the wide open position.

I took it in to be repaired but apparently there is a part that breaks 50% of the time and that part is no longer made. The cost of the repair would be about the same as the cost to replace with another used copy. I gave up and decided to buy a nice, older 55mm f3.5. It seems to be a good performer. It was under $100. Less than the projected repair...

The second lens is a Nikon 20mm f2.8 AF that I bought used, hoping it would be all I ever needed for my wide angle stuff on the full frame Nikons. It developed a weird, de-focused, whirligig pattern on the corners and edges; nothing sharp until the center third of the frame. I think I understand the problem. One of the lens elements (or groups) seems to be loose and rattling around. I'm taking it in to see what the repair techs can do but I don't have high hopes.

Finally, there is a Tamron 28-75mm zoom lens for the Nikon that I want to love very much. If I focus it in live view it's sharp, sharp, sharp. If I let my camera take care of business and use the regular auto focus then it back focuses like crazy. I'm on old veteran of AF fine tuning so I set up my target last night and got to work. No dice. Even a minus 20 correction (the max correction on a D800) is nowhere close to budging the focusing plane into compliance. I'm taking that one out to the repair experts to see if there is a way to re-calibrate it into a useful appliance. Again, I'm almost certain that the cost to manually disassemble and fine tune the lens will exceed its used value.

All of which begs the question, "Once the value of a lens has been sucked dry by accident, aging or other decay, what should one do with it?" It seems sacrilege to send it to the landfill and yet who wants to crowd their space with more stuff that doesn't have a function?

This is not a rhetorical musing. I'm very interested. What would you do with non-functional, non-repairable lenses? Thoughts? They are not big enough to turn into interesting lamps.....

Around the web. A micro four thirds revival in full swing? Maybe. Looking to the blog masters for clarification.

My first true love amongst the m4:3 cameras. 
That would be the Olympus EP-2. 
A marvelous photography machine.

Okay. So this is kind of "tongue in cheek" but a quick glance around the web this morning would make the readers of several blogs think that we're in the beginning stages of a backlash against the hyper-perfectionism of full frame cameras and all the attendant hype. I looked at Ming Thein's blog this morning to find that (in a subconscious reaction to all the preciousness of the new H-Blad???) he snapped up an Olympus Pen-F camera body and has been (joyously???) re-learning the unbridled joy of shooting Jpegs straight out of the camera and enjoying the crap out of the process. 


This is an interesting development given all the recent deep dives into medium format and his propensity for ultra-control.... But it's nice to see and the rationale he posits is a good one.

Then, over to Michael Johnston's, TheOnlinePhotographer, to find that after days, weeks, months of torturous research, conjecture, testing and mulling he too has slammed down cash for..... a micro four thirds camera and a matching lens. His choice, based on a large part about camera handling, haptics (and nostalgia for the rangefinders he professes to be disinclined to shoot), is the Panasonic GX8, which I will confess is a camera that looks beautiful to me. Michael paired his camera with the Panasonic 12-35mm, second version, giving as a reason the dual image stabilization. I can't imagine why he declined to try the 12-100mm Olympus lens but it may be he felt he needed the extra stop of speed. I owned the first version of the Panasonic 12-35mm and it's a wonderful lens. Not quite at the level of the Olympus 12/100 but a great lens nonetheless.

You can read the executive summary of Michael's excruciating search for the small sensor Holy Grail here: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2018/06/never-mind-all-that.html

And Sony blogger/workshop leader and brilliant scientist, Gary Friedman, has taken the whole argument about sensor size one step further and written about his infatuation (long term love affair?) with the even smaller one inch sensor cameras here: http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.com/2017/03/full-frame-vs-small-sensor-dont-laugh.html

It's a fun read and has the lure of big, luscious prints and focus grouping to make his points.


As you know, I am still in the micro four thirds camp with several Panasonic GH5s and a small collection of impressive Olympus Pro lenses. Two big zooms in inventory with several of the pro primes causing serious salivation over here. Pavlov's dog has nothing on me when I look at samples from the Olympus 17 and 45mm Pro high speed optics. Seems a great way to burn through even more money in the pursuit of..........?

A hand held stage image done outdoors at night, handheld 
with an Olympus EP-2 and the ancient Olympus (original) Pen FT 60mm f1.5 lens. 
Marvelous enough to massage your eyes....

We'll see if retro-format-fever strikes more blogs and photo sites in the days to come. Feels like a backlash to me. And a welcome one from the steady drum of the full frame orchestra (or is it a punk band?....). 

6.17.2018

The Non-Metaphorical Journey. The nuts and bolts of traveling back and forth from Austin to San Antonio.


In the last twenty years I imagine the population in central Texas, from San Antonio to Waco, with Austin in the middle, has doubled. The main highway (IH-35) between the central United States and Mexico (as well as huge swaths of south Texas agricultural centers) has not doubled in size, not doubled in lanes; mostly not kept pace at all with the endless, relentless flow of traffic. This makes commuting back and forth, or visiting regularly, between Austin and San Antonio, an unpredictable nightmare.

What used to be a one hour and five minute journey is now, typically an hour and forty minutes. Each stalled car on the roadside adds an additional five minutes. Every wreck requiring police or ambulance attention can add 20 or 30 minutes of white knuckle driving to the tally. It's a modern sort of torture that reminds those of us who remember the wide, almost car-less expanse of highway back in the 1970's and 1980's that, where infrastructure is concerned, our country may have been comfortably first world then but we have, through neglect and lack of planning, demoted our public road resources to a decidedly third world standard that is neither safe nor convenient. Sadly, it's still the quickest way to get between the two cities for everyone without access to their own plane or helicopter. 

So, yesterday, we added over an hour to the journey. There were three major wrecks along the route. Mostly caused, I would bet, by inattentive drivers trying to multi-task via text or phone, which is always bad when combined with another subset of drivers who believe it is their manifest destiny to drive their pick-up trucks at 90 MPH, five feet from the bumper of the person in front of them.

After many roundtrips this year, taken at all different times of the day and night, I've resigned myself to this painful process and my intent is not speed but my own personal safety. 

After a nice visit with my father yesterday I headed home but instead of tossing the dice and taking another ride up IH-35 I took the longer and slower route home, heading up HWY 281 north. It's the back way. 

Is it dangerous to take photos out of the windshield of one's car?
Not when the car has been immobile in stopped traffic for at least 
five minutes or more....

HWY 281 is not yet subject to full stop traffic jams. Parts of that highway offer beautiful views of an undeveloped portion of the Texas Hill Country. There are a series of mini-mountains (maxi-hills?) that are referred to as, "The Devil's Backbone." Named because the early Texans with horse drawn wagons found the topology nearly impossible to transit. 

Because I had no pressing engagements I went further off the main grid by turning right at Blanco, Texas and taking the Henley Loop over to HWY 290. I don't know the real name of this two lane blacktop but I call it the Henley Loop because Henley, Texas is on the route to HWY 290. Whatever it's called it was largely deserted at 3:30pm in the afternoon and made for a much different, much happier journey home. From time to time I was so enchanted with the big sky of central Texas that I would pull of the road to click a frame or two of the landscape meshing with a dramatic skyscape. 

I had only my "car" camera. It's a Nikon D700 bought expressly to keep handy in the car and it generally rides along with a battered and crusty Nikon 35-70mm f3.5 manual focus lens that I've come to trust for sharpness and an almost Technicolor rendering of reality. I kept it close by, on the passenger's seat, set at ISO 200, with the aperture at f8, and left it to the camera to calculate a good exposure. With the distance scale set between 30 feet and infinity I didn't bother with focusing. 

At the time I wished I'd brought along a polarizing filter but when I went to post process the raw files today I realized that adding polarization to the mix would have been over the top. Too much.

I would never suggest anyone shoot from a moving car.....if they are the active driver. But I break the rules when I am at a stop sign and there's no other car for miles around. It's wonderful to see that there are still parts of Texas not completely ruined by the pervasive car culture. I'm pulling out the maps to try and discover new routes to San Antonio --- trading speed for calmness and appreciation of our remaining wide open spaces.





Happy Father's Day. A long journey of unconditional love and support.

C.W. Tuck

I've spent a lot of time with my dad in the last six months. When my mom passed away he lost his best friend and his #1 care provider. He was diagnosed with vascular dementia a few years back but he continued to function adequately with my mother's constant help. At the beginning of the year the responsibility fell to me. Yesterday I marked my 38th round trip this year to San Antonio. I went down to see how he was doing with his re-entry into his memory care facility after our stay in the hospital the week before. 

My sister was down for the entire week in between and helped him get back into the swing of things. The two of them had always played Scrabble together and they had many matches this past week. My sister (who, among other talents, has a degree in English from UT Austin) was soundly beaten by dad in several of the games. While my father has lost some of his memory, and had other parts of it scrambled, he is still verbally eloquent and an avid reader and writer.

At 90 years old my father scorns things like walkers and wheel chairs and insists on getting places under his own steam, with the use of a cane I bought him many years ago. When I visit him these days I bring him the Sunday New York Times and a small bag of his favorite candy; Hershey's Milk Chocolate Kisses. When I pick up and recycle the previous week's NYT I'm always impressed to see that he has worked diligently and well to finish the Sunday crossword puzzle.

We have lunch together at his favorite table, along with several of his regular friends. They are all 90 or older. Sometimes, in private, my father will remark, "I don't know how I ended up here...some of these people are really quite old."  After lunch I brief him on the activities of the week and of his current financial condition. He craves the news. His father was a banker and he can't help his need to keep track of his money and comment on the performance of his "staff" (meaning me of course).  

My dad has always been there for me and my brother and sister. My parents were more or less model parents. They never could rationalize the cost of buying a color television or getting cable but were more than happy to put three kids through college and graduate schools without thinking twice. My dad never missed an early morning of getting up and driving me to swim practice before school, and at every family crisis my parents showed up, check book in hand, ready and able to beat back hysteria and desperation (which thankfully for all involved were very rare occurrences). 

I went down to San Antonio yesterday not out of a sense of duty but because I wanted to stay our course and maintain a recent routine which seems to have made him satisfied with his new home and mostly happy. His face lights up when I walk in his door. My heart swells a bit when we hug. We are so frank and honest with each other now. There's so much less in the way.

My dad made a good recovery from his recent cardiac scare. His private apartment is beautifully appointed and filled with portraits of family and friends. The staff has given up trying to introduce my father to some of the mindless activities of the facility and we've agreed to let him do the things he has always done; sit in a comfortable chair in his room, listen to classical music on his sound system and read books about world history. Even with the handicap of dementia he probably knows more about American history than 99.9 percent of this country's population. He's always been a person who cherishes his privacy and solitude. He's always been an academic. It's fun to see him continue on his own terms. He's a great role model for me and my siblings. 

Happy Fathers Day to all of you fathers out there who have done your work, raised great kids and dealt, for better or worse, with all the curve balls that come along with the joy and responsibility of moving people from potential to success. 

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