5.22.2020

A concentrated test of the Panasonic Lumix S1R's capabilities as a black and white "Art" camera. Tested in conjunction with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens. Around Austin, Texas.


 I've been anxious to test the S1R as a black and white camera; you know, for those times when you want to feel like you have been swept back in time to the 1970's when you lived for Tri-X and D-76. I took the camera out for a two hour walk and set it up in a very particular way in order to get the kinds of photographs I thought I'd want. 

It was set to L. Monochrome D, which is a snappy black and white profile (three to choose from). I tweaked the contrast and sharpness parameters to taste. I set the filter effect to either Green or Orange, depending on the subject at hand. To keep things simple I used the 45mm Sigma lens because I've familiar enough at this point to guesstimate how it will render at my three favorite f-stops. 

After I came back to the studio I took all of the files (shot as Jpegs = no turning back) and processed the ones I liked in Luminar 4.2. There are some nice controls and it works pretty quickly. I think I can tweak my shooting settings a little more but I'm very happy with what I got. The next thing I'll try is reducing the noise reduction for the L. Monochrome D profile to introduce a bit more noise and a bit harsher sharpness into the files.

That's about it. Short and sweet. The test is the images, the words are secondary. Probably unnecessary. 



















OT: Swim, Swim, Swim, Walk, Walk, Walk. It must be "Freestyle Friday." (Sorry, no discussions of magic speaker wire or miracle hydroxychlorquine today!)

For those of you unfamiliar with a swimming pool at six in the morning...

It's amazing to me to find that you can program your brain to wake up at a specific time; without an alarm clock! Good brain! Powerful brain! I've been signing up for the 6 a.m. swims (coached workouts) at the pool for the simple reason that these are the least popular times for most people and so I have been able to (selfishly) have a lane all to myself for an hour each morning. On a few mornings this week we've had up to six people in the pool for the 6 a.m. workout but that's okay because we've got seven lanes. 

Last night I set my iPhone to wake me at 5:30 a.m. I was up at 5:20 instead and already grabbing my towel and a multi-grain toaster waffle to munch on as I read the news feed on the dining room laptop. 

I was the first swimmer on the pool deck today, along with the coaches. Just before 6 two other swimmers showed up and we arranged ourselves into lanes with at least one empty lane in between. Our two coaches didn't bother to write the workout on the whiteboard; we were a manageable group and able to follow spoken workout "suggestions." I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to get a swim out of the way before you fully wake up. You get into a meditative rhythm and the whole workout is complete before you even realize you are tired. 

We're getting back into this whole competitive swim thing nice and slow. Today we did about 2,000 yards in a bit less than an hour. We're cutting five minutes off the normal length of time to make a safer transition for the next group at 7 a.m. In years past I would have tried to push the yardage but now I'm content to go slow and make progress-to-fitness a longer journey instead of a mad rush. At 64 years of experience recovery from two months off takes more time than it used to. It's not an aerobic hit but more muscle fatigue right now. But that will pass. 

It's a great time to work on technique. 

The swimming pool at 7 a.m.

When I got home I went into the office to sign up for all of the slots/time reservations for the workouts I wanted for next week. I've opted to continue doing the 6 a.m. routine. Maybe I'm subconsciously punishing myself for having been too lazy to find another swim venue for the last two months. Just not happy swimming in the lake...

After doing the online sign ups I headed into the house to make a large cup of organic Ethiopian Sidamo natural coffee. Love this stuff. Got another pound from Trianon Coffee just yesterday. Sadly, it won't be available again for several months --- seems the hoarders snapped up as much as they could.

With a travel cup in one hand I joined Belinda for an hour long walk through the hills around our neighborhood. Our usual route is about three miles and has four really nice, long hills. By 9 a.m. I felt like I'd had just enough exercise for the morning and came into the studio to start working on a video about two new lights I'm playing with. Don't worry, they're cheap lights. Barely more cost (per) than a one pound bag of great coffee.  And video seems a better tool for talking about these specific lights. 

It seems like all the other photo blogs are getting side tracked into discussions of stuff about which I have no interest so I felt like it was okay for me to do one more here about swimming. Arguably no more interesting than speaker wire but at least the exercise is good for people, is inexpensive or free, and makes for a healthier brain and better social bonds (said "Hi" to 14 good swim friends as they came in to do the next workout; said "Hi" to six or seven neighbor couples who were out walking in the neighborhood...) and gave me a chance to once more revel in having a partner who is so calm and sweet. We talked economics, home repair, and future vacation plans. All good. All happy. 

Favorite Netflix show of the week: Kim's Convenience. 

Feels like a pretty wonderful way, overall,  to spend time even as the world seems to be collapsing around us. 

Hope you have all the kinks worked out and have discovered new ways to be happy. Best, Kirk

5.21.2020

A "Reprint" for the past. Looking back to something I wrote for you guys in 2010...

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/08/street-shooting-part-one-why-hell-would.html

Security guard peeing on the corner of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. 1978.

It's Thursday. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of a bunch of still serviceable photo gear without having to ship stuff everywhere. Suggestions?

But first, speaker wire analogies continue....
The image above was photographed with some pretty lux stuff. A Panasonic S1R coupled to a Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 lens. This was shot at Enchanted Rock a couple of weeks back and I'm certain that if we were to blow it up to eight feet by eight feet and print it the file would knock the socks off of anything coming out of my iPhone XR. Really. Cuz....enlargement. More pixels. Super lens. 

But then I photographed this cityscape (below) with my iPhone XR and I think it's a technically good image as well. Not because I'm a decent photographer but because the subject matter interests me and the camera in the $700 phone did a great job. When I look at the images side by side here on the web (arguably the only place I'll ever end up putting them) they seem...equivalent to me. No better and no worse. 

If any of my engagements with casual photographs were transformed into brow beetling and intense "viewing sessions" during which I sat in a perfectly positioned chair, ancient brandy sloshing in a crystal snifter at hand, with both images writ large and perfectly illuminated, would I see a difference at a viewing distance that makes sense? Probably not. And I've been looking at prints for the better part of 40 years (yes, ever since I was a toddler). 

But here's the kicker: There is no takeaway here. I enjoy both images. The one above for its sublime sky and the one below for both the saturated green of the water just beneath the tree line and --- the .... sublime sky. It's the content, almost always, and rarely the technical stuff that draws me, my friends, and a larger audience to enjoy photography. It's the same in music. The actual art is the breath of life. The content, the intention, the selection and style of presentation. The granules of pigment in paint, the film grain, the tiniest third order harmonics in the music, are all incidental to the art itself. Critiquing the quality of substructure is absolute folly. Now moving on to the question of the day.... below: 


Over time some photographers become hoarders of a sort. We try stuff and if it doesn't work out of the box we send it back and try again. But there are so many times that we'll try a product and it will work in the moment. Maybe the product matches the style of photographic work that a client drives over a year or so. Then the styles change or the subject matter that drove the initial purchase goes away, replaced by something else that might benefit from a change of tools. Since we're all relatively affluent and masters of rationalization we rush out and buy new tools that more closely match the parameters of the projects at hand. Kind of human nature for a large part of the population.

When we pull up short, stop the game clock, reset the paradigm... or, whatever, there is engendered a re-evaluation of our needs and wants as they relate to our professional practice. And Covid-19 is presenting a hard stop.

I looked around the office yesterday and was unamused by my own avarice. While I can't toss away good hard drives, filled with "priceless" photographs, I can downsize the stuff that's growing like mold in the walls of a swamp house. Here are examples: I have three identical battery powered monolights that are in perfect shaped and served me pretty well during the time over the past three years when I was dragging them on and off airplanes to shoot portraits in locations not served by wire-borne electrical power. The lights were inexpensive to purchase with an average acquisition price around $200. I have three dedicated wireless triggers, one for each light, and a motley assemblage of reflectors which are of the ubiquitous Bowens type. 

Now the lights sit in a rolling case and I haven't used them in the better part of a year. What to do with them? I could offer them for sale on the web but then I'd have to deal with multiple buyers, endless questions, the fraught-ness of shipping them out in good working order only to have one or more arrive damaged. Would it be better to find a struggling, young artist to bequeath them to? How does one find a truly deserving young photographer who truly needs better tools? 

But then there is all the ephemerata of smaller, less valuable (but more hardy) grip equipment. The multiple super clamps, the Lowell Tota-light I couldn't bear to give up. The weird and variated collection of light stands. The hodge podge of light modifiers. The seven generations of Apple laptops (going all the way back to the "Blueberry" iBook) which I can't let go of because I can't upgrade them and then erase all the hard drives...)? The two Leica slide projectors. The drawer of indistinct, older camera parts and accessories. The filters which seem worthless now but always, when I get ready to move them on, remembering having to re-buy another identical one for now more money when a new need arises. The half-used rolls of seamless background paper. The un-used pop-up background purchased for a marketing shoot with a satellite company that went bankrupt before we could use the background for their portrait sessions. And the seemingly endless binders full of CD's and DVD's of advertising projects that no one wants or needs any more.

If you can't already tell I'm in the mood to purge the endless physical anchors binding me to the way I used to do things in the past. 

What's my vision for the future? A small case of speed lights to take the place of decades of bigger lights. (already purchased). A larger case of LED fixtures for the present (already in house and ready). An ever smaller collection of cameras and lenses. (trying to rein that musthavecamera thing in). Just enough light stands for an individual portrait shoot. One perfect portrait modifier which will sit proudly in the studio and sneer at the lesser ones bought on a lark. 

In impulsive moments I feel like dragging the big garbage "can" over to the door of the office and just shoveling stuff in until I can see the tops of all the horizontal surfaces in the office and can walk, unimpeded, across the studio floor. Tabula Raza. 

And then there's the unkempt nest of wireless microphone systems, weird audio interfaces, viper wraps of balanced cables and so much more. None of it getting much use. All of it falling into obsolesence. 

So, if you know of an easy and cost effective way to rid oneself of endless photographic clutter would you be kind enough to give me your considered advice in the comments? I'll blend the best of the ideas and see if I can move forward and take myself out of the paralysis of owning too many small and cluttery things. Thanks.


One more thought... The image of an old copy of the English edition of Zoom Magazine (below) surfaced in my endless machinations to bring order from chaos. It reminded me why the job of thinning out possessions is so hard. You come across a magazine you haven't opened in 25 years and find yourself fascinated by the huge page sizes, the beautiful quadratones of impeccably nude people, see amazing colors and smart work. Mostly done by people who owned one or two cameras, no lights and certainly no ever expanding collection of lighting modifiers, and you remember why you didn't recycle the magazine in the first place...

I guess this is a ramble with a certain amount of circular direction and no beginning or end. Well, until we drop quite dead surrounded by a life time of unstructured collecting.

oops. I forgot to mark this post: NSFW. But I didn't really forget, I just didn't care.

5.20.2020

OT: Finding the right XLR cables for my video microphones. Perhaps identifying the weakness of my entire working system... Yes, XLR connectors! (humor alert!)

https://www.headamp.com/products/kimber-kable-select-1136-analog-xlr-balanced-interconnect-cables-pair?variant=28220635185216&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9p2s8KbD6QIVVP3jBx3P2wI8EAYYCSABEgJ0KfD_BwE

I know these were originally designed to be used with an audiophile headphone system but I started thinking that a set of cables this highly regarded, judging by the price, could make my Rode NTG-4+ microphone sound even better. Sure, I could just buy a much nicer microphone but that might be a false economy if the wiring can make a really fantastic difference. Could it be that the wiring between microphone and pre-amp has been my video system's audio input Achille's Heel?

I'm on the fence about ordering for just one reason; I think that silver connectors are prone to tarnishing and don't have as fast and stable an electron transfer rate as solid gold connectors...

I've sent along a note to see if they can be upgraded to gold but I'm leery that the price may go up too much.

I guess I could pass along the cost of investing in superior audio accessories to my clients, who always seem anxious to pay much more for our services.

Just sayin.


A weird, non-video thing that the Sigma fp camera can do. And does it work?


While most digital cameras have a low ISO floor of 100 (in some cases, 200) those ranges can sometimes be expanded a bit to offer ISO 80 or even ISO 50. But those lower settings are basically software tricks that depend on using the native ISO and changing the arc of the files in camera processing. Those lower ISO settings can be valuable if you are trying to get wider apertures or trying to get slower shutter speeds in strong light but the files usually entail some dynamic range penalties. And they add nothing more that a third of a stop or so of fake "neutral density" of sorts. 

The Sigma fp goes about giving photographers lower ISO settings in an entirely different way; one which has both advantages and foibles. Sigma have designed in a way to get ISOs all the way down to 6. Yes, single digital ISO numbers. You can choose from 6,12, 25 and 50 ISO. These are in addition to the conventional 80-125,000 ISO settings available. The slower ISOs only work in photographs, not video, and they do work in Raw. 

When you set the lower ISOs the camera makes a quick series of short exposures and stacks them together and blends them, in camera (hello hour glass icon!) to make a single frame. The advantage is that random/non linear noise gets factored out and color sampling is increased by the number of exposures taken. What this should mean is that the lower ISO files will have better and more accurate color and much less noise than files shot at higher ISOs. Stacking multiple frames for noise reduction is a long time solution for many different photo uses but it's usually done manually, in PhotoShop. It's much more convenient to let your camera do the heavy lifting. 

This is not the first camera to offer this multi-shot lower ISO feature. It was in the Kodak SLR/n full frame camera I purchased way back in 2004. That camera had a 14 megapixel, CMOS sensor and it got noisy when used above 100 or 200 ISO. I used the lower ISOs in the studio with (at the time) tungsten lighting for still life shots. One project paid the freight for the purchase price of the camera: I did a series of still life shots for a manufacturer who used the files to make four by six foot prints for trade shows. The images were sharp, detailed and most importantly, noise free. When that line of cameras faded from the market we were left with a selection of cameras that all did the same thing but none of them offered the multi-shot, low ISO feature until now. 

There are a couple of trade-offs you'll want to consider if you decide that you want to use the low ISO feature. When I selected ISO 25 for most of these test shots I discovered that the lowest shutter speed I could set was 1/20th of a second. The camera shoots the images with an electronic shutter so you don't hear the multiple "firings" but it does take a bit of time to do and then more time to process. The processing time is a fraction of that which was required by the older Kodak camera but that's all up to the increased processor performance in the newer camera. 

Since the camera will be making multiple exposures you'll need to be aware that moving subjects can be problematic. See the last image at the bottom and look at the truck on the bridge to see an example.
The same goes for camera movement. You'll want to use the camera on a tripod and select scenes that have little or no movement to them. 

Would I use the feature a lot? Not me, personally, since I tend to photograph mostly people. For handheld work I've never required more quality from the Sigma fp than I already get using the camera at ISO 100, 200 and 400. But, if I shot more still life work, architectural work and other more controlled types of imaging I can imagine that it would come in quite handy. At some point a client will ask me to shoot a bunch of interior spaces and I'll have a blast playing with this feature.

The image just below is a 100% crop of the image from above and I think the detail and also the sky color are pretty much perfect. 

100% crop.

See the blur on the pedestrian.

See the multiple images of the van on the bridge... 

To sum up: It's not a life or death "dealkiller" feature 
but the expanded, low ISO range is fun to have and 
offers one more creative tool that's not available on 
many other cameras. Kind of follows along with the 
philosophy of, "don't be like everyone else" that
I love so much with the fp.

5.19.2020

How flat can an 8 bit, .Mov file from a Sigma fp camera get (video)? I thought I'd test it myself just to see. Click through to Vimeo to see it full screen in 4K.

https://vimeo.com/420498736


Sigma flat and otherwise from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

After watching the video shot with the Sigma fp in .Mov at DPR I decided to test my camera to see just how flat a file I could pull out of the camera without jumping into Cinema DNG (raw file).

I took the camera to the bridge over Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas and shot some tests.

I used the camera's "neutral" profile, turned down the sharpening and the contrast in the "color" parameters and then used the manual tone curves to add +4 to the shadows and -4 to the highlights for even flatter files.

All shot at 29.97, 8 bit, All-I, 4K onto a regular V90 SD card.

I used ISO 400 as it is the camera's native video ISO. I used a variable neutral density filter to adjust exposure. We were in full sun on a very bright afternoon. No fill.

I shot with the camera for about an hour in 97 degree heat, mostly in direct sun, with no heat issues from the camera.

That's all. Thanks. KT

A jumbled mess of thoughts for a super hot Tuesday in May. Copy stand magic. Crazy optics. Weird equipment longings and one off topic section just because: 2.5 months of deprivation.

This is a photograph of Belinda printed on a sheet of 
8x10 Ilfobrom double-weight paper. 
It's in a box with 250 other double weight 8x10s. 
I'm having fun looking at them again...

I'll get the totally off topic stuff out of the way first. Then we'll swing back to the "important" stuff. 

5:24 a.m. I don't know why but whenever I set an alarm on my phone I always seem to wake up five or ten minutes before the alarm goes off. I turn it off and get out of bed before I can change my mind and postpone whatever it was that prompted me to set an alarm. Then I get started. 

Today is the first day the Western Hills Athletic Club Masters Swimmers are allowed back in the (wondrous, mystical and transplendent) swimming pool to work out with a coach and fellow swimmers. It's been a long, long hiatus. The message that came last week announcing our careful and well choreographed re-entry was like stone tablets from heaven. 

I've been walking, running, lifting weights, working out with stretch cords and hiking, in some form or another every single day since the pool closure. I have to have an outlet for all the reckless energy so it's either exercise or spend time searching for new photo gear to buy. A couple pairs of running and hiking shoes is a much cheaper alternative.

The masters program has a short amount of time allotted to use the pool since there needs to also be time for kids competitive swim programs and adult/member lap swimming as well. We get three slots on weekdays. 6-7, 7-8 and noon - 1 pm, we get two slots in the mornings on Saturday and Sunday. In conjunction with advice from the city attorneys and heath experts, we've devised a safety protocol which mandates only two people per lane across the seven lanes. Each person in the lane starts and ends at opposite ends of the pool. The workouts are now only 55 minutes to allow for transitions between time slots. Everyone has to sign up online to reserve their space. It's first come first served. 

I swam in high school and college and have vast, vast experience doing early morning workouts. We used to hit the water six days a week in high school at 5:30 a.m. And back then we had school, dating, homework, etc. to schedule in. It should be a piece of cake for me to do the 6 a.m. workouts now that my biggest responsibilities in the present are dabbling the stock market and getting in that crucial nap during the heat of the day (of which there is much). 

There were three of us in the pool at six this morning, with two coaches on the deck. There are entry and exit protocols and even a tub with water and bleach for sterilizing the club kick boards after use. 
When I first thought of all the steps I worried that we'd have parts of each lap where we'd be closer than six feet and I thought about the aerosol effect of breathing. But as soon as I started swimming I realized that we are all trained to exhale all of our air with our faces down in the water and only bring our faces to the side to inhale. So we are basically blowing out our air, and any aerosol component, directly into highly chlorinated water. I can't imagine a safer "filtering" scenario. 

As there were only three of us this morning at the earliest workout we were easily able to maintain a safe distance as well...

Since none of us have been in the water and swimming hard for the last two months our coach, Chris, (former UT All American) took it easy on us. We got in a little over 2,000 yards today and a good portion of that was kicking with a board. The only "tough" part was the eight X 25 yard butterfly sprints. 

I was home having coffee by 7:15 and out walking the hills with Belinda by 8 a.m. Already a productive and happy day. And I'm especially glad we got our exercise early because today will be our first day of the year to probably crest 100 degrees. It's nothing but blue skies and intense sun from dawn to dusk. If that amount of UV doesn't kill the virus in the chlorinated water then I give up all hope...

Photo Stuff: I've made a copy stand from a big Benro tripod, with a smoothly moving center column, and a Gitzo side arm. After leveling the camera carefully and making it parallel to the light box I'm using it's easy to move the center column  up and down to change the magnification for copy work. I appreciate all the feedback I got from everyone last week and I'm making good progress getting very sharp images to play with in PhotoShop. I'm currently using an adapted Leica R 60mm macro lens but I might order the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Art macro; just for grins. I'm using film holders from several older flat bed scanners (which I no longer own) and that works well to keep negatives flat and to also provide a black surround for the film to keep flare to a minimum. More to come shortly, along with examples.

I've been having a satisfying time using one of the S1R cameras, along with the Sigma 85mm Art lens, as a black and white portrait set up for the studio and controlled exterior stuff. So far I have only been able to experiment on myself, Belinda and Ben but I'm hoping that I'll have the opportunity in the second half of the year to recruit and safely photograph a wider group of subjects.

I've got the camera set to shoot squares and use the L. Monochrome setting in the camera with a few tweaks (sharpness down a few clicks, noise reduction reduced a lot, and contrast dropped by two notches). The results are promising. The 85mm Art is a gorgeous lens. Heavy but such a nice imaging tool.

An interaction with a writer from DP Review was refreshing and positive. Richard Butler has been with DP Review as an editor and writer for a long while. He did a video project with a Sigma fp that was posted on the the DPR site over the weekend. On a cursory reading of his attached article I felt that he wasn't giving the camera enough credit for being a great video camera and wrote him a personal note to say so. I mostly took him to task because he was asking for a flatter file and I overlooked the fact that he  was talking about having a flat file (like "flat" in the big Panasnonics or "Eterna" in the Fujis) to use with the 8 bit, .Mov files he wanted to shoot. I though he had overlooked the wide range of controls available with "tone" and "color" settings.

Even though my poorly thought through e-mail could be interpreted as  a bit 'snarky' he quickly and graciously answered me and gently suggested I may have missed something in the article. I went back and re-read the last few paragraphs closely. He was right. I was wrong. I still disagree that the controls won't get one a flat enough file but he was very clear in what he was trying to get across. Occasionally I get moving too fast and miss stuff. But my takeaway was just how gracious and positive Richard's responses were. Now I'm calling my own truce with DP Review. I'll be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt in the future.

The Brand New Lens I Deeply Desire but have no apparent use for or rationale for owning. Well, I could easily rationalize owning it but it's the exchange of money for the lens that makes me hesitant. The lens in question is the L-mount version of the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art lens. It may be the greatest normal lens every made at f1.4 but my hesitation is that I rarely ever shoot at f1.4 with normal focal length lenses and I already have that range so well covered with the Panasonic 24-105mm lens, the Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 lens, two of the 45mm f2.8 Sigma lenses and the Panasonic S-Pro 50mm f1.4. Seems like pretty radical overkill to also covet the 40mm f1.4 Sigma L but there it is.

I've resisted it so far. I guess I'm waiting to see a clearer path to business recovery but the 40mm is a brilliant idea. I just don't have a slot in which to put that idea to work with any sort of logic.

I'm going to see if I can borrow one to test it and perhaps see if there is some reason that it all makes sense for....something.

Sigma fp. I continue to think that this is a delightful camera and I'm currently building a shoulder mount rig for it. The components are mostly from a company called, SmallRig, and it will have padded shoulder mount, 15mm rails to provide for lens support and a top mount arm for a monitor. I'll also have space to mount the SSD required for Cinema Raw as well as a space on which to mount an audio interface. Interestingly, with an Atomos digital monitor/recorder I could pull an audio signal directly into the recorder, bypassing the camera pre-amps altogether. Seems like a lot of complexity but the weight of the rig plus the three points of contact with me should help to calm down camera movements and make shooting off the tripod better.

Sales for Camera Companies are all down dramatically but at this point it doesn't really affect me since there is ample new inventory out in the market and the used market is just bursting with product. Sure, this slowdown will probably put a hold on a lot of new product introductions but generally, unless there's something you really need, those introductions are more of a burden than a blessing. I'm trying to become stupider about new stuff and smarter about using the stuff I already have. Experience with gear is a good thing; a plus. New and Improved don't necessarily go hand in hand....

That's it for this morning. I've got stuff to do and Belinda is telling me that I've got to get the recycling can up to the curb --- stat. Drink good coffee, sell your big stereo and get better ear buds. No one can hear the difference between two speaker wires of the same gauge and length, and people, in general, need to spend a hell of a lot more time outdoors getting some use out of their bodies. We tend to live too much in our minds.

Thank you for letting me share with you. Can't wait to get up at 5:30 tomorrow morning for another life affirming swim. Namasté.