fun time at the theatre. A quick discussion of tools.

We spent part of Thurs. evening making photographs for Zach Scott Theatre.  The images will be used to promote four upcoming shows.  I like shooting stuff for Zach because they really know how to do their part of a photo shoot just right.  They're a dream client.  For me, at least.

We set a date for the shoot weeks in advance. In the course of the two weeks I received:  1. Confirmation on times and schedules.  2. A flow sheet detailing set up times, make up schedules and each actor's appearance in the make shift studio we created in their rehearsal studio. 3.  A detailed list of props that needed to be pulled together along with a list of who would be pulling props.  4.  A very pleasant e-mail asking me what wine I might like to have during the shoot.  5.  A "day before" reminder.

When I got to the theatre people were there to help me load in.  I set up a white background with two Profoto monolights, fitted with standard zoom reflectors, on the  background.  I used the absolutely great Fotodiox 27 inch beauty dish with diffuser as a main light and passed on fill light altogether.  The main light was powered by what has become my absolutely favorite flash system, the Profoto Acute 600b.  It's a battery powered pack and head system and I drag is around with three extra batteries.  When used at 1/4 to 1/2 power the batteries last and last.

For the shots of Ian, above, we used a small trampoline to keep him airborne.

All of the images were shot as raw files on a Canon 1d mk2N camera fitted with a 24-105mm L lens.  The shutter speed stayed at 1/125th and we settled in at f7.1 as our optimum aperture.  All of the smaller Profoto stuff does a good job (at lower power settings) of freezing action.  The secret is to make sure you don't have too much ambient light which will show off any blur inherent in the shot.

By relying on the blinking highlights and a few checks with a Sekonic light meter I ended up with digital files that needed no post processing at all.  I ran the file thru the raw converter in Lightroom 3.4 so I could apply a lens correction profile to each file.  I converted everything to .PSD files because the Zach designer is a very advanced Photoshop user and I knew she'd want to have the best quality to work with.

Over the course of the evening we shot:  1.  A woman illuminated entirely by the candles on a birthday cake.  2.  Very close up eyes.  3.  Ian jumping and posturing with his microphone. 4.  A woman in a cute, pink ballet/roller derby costume on roller skates and, 5. A woman in the role of a Houston socialite with a martini in her hand and high "Texas" hair.  When we wrapped we had 700 usable images.

Why did I use the 1dmk2n instead of the 5d2 or the 7D or 60D?  They all have more resolution and that's usually a good thing but the shutter release on the 1D2 is super fast and I like being able to anticipate the arc of a jump and get it at the exact point I want.  Not a little later. I also like the faster sync speed on the shutter (as compared to the 5 and the 60).  I like the heft in my hand and I like the split screen in the finder.  Finally, when we were shooting the portrait by cake candlelight, I was amazed at how quickly and precisely the AF of that camera locked in on the eyes of my subject.

Wouldn't the files have been much better with the higher res cameras?  At high res usage they might be but when the camera is set to 160 ISO and the files are used at a size equal to or smaller than the non-interpolated maximum I find that the quality is equivalent.  In fact, I find the 1dmk2 files to have higher apparent sharpness and snap.  Maybe bigger pixel wells have a look that's different from the smaller pixel wells of their younger brothers. And it may not even be a matter of better or worse but a matter of taste.  In the same way that photographers of the past shot either Kodachrome 64 or Ektachrome 100 but not both.  A slightly different look and feel.  Part of a style.  Whatever it is I find myself drawn to shooting the older cameras much more often.

What would I like to see in a brand new camera from Canon?  I'd love to see them come out with a more stripped down brother of the 5Dmk2.  I really want to see what Canon could do with a full frame chip that has only 16 megapixels spread out across the sensor.  Much bigger pixel wells coupled with the current processing capabilities.  Might that not give most users the best of both world's?  A fast camera, not plagued by as much diffraction,  not hampered by such huge files, with a higher color purity and lower noise.  It's a camera I'd buy and I'm tempted to believe that the larger sensor wells are part of the Nikon strategy and why they've kept the D3 and D700 resolutions at 12 megapixels.

The camera that intrigues me right now is the 1dmkIV.  I'll confess to liking the frame size as it relates to lenses and I like the speed and the files sizes.  I've heard that the image quality actually nudges out the 5d2 but this is probably more related to newer processors and tightened processing algorithms than any superiority of the physical parts.  And I like the feel and heft of the body.

The very next day I photographed the kids at the Rollingwood Waves first swim meet of the season.  I used two Canon 1d2 bodies.  On one I had at 70-200mm L lens and on the other a 20mm EF lens.  I experimented with the AI autofocus, using all sensors.  When I finish up this blog I'll start downloading the files from the meet.  Should be fun to compare them to the files done over the last ten years.  Almost like a living history of the development of digital cameras.  Whatever will I do when I find out, that for all practical purposes, there is not much of a difference between the Olympus e10 and the Canon 5dmk2?  Hmmmm.


Frank Grygier said...

I am thinking we have been sold this idea that more pixels and higher ISO's with the image massaged by microprocessors allows us to create better pictures. Since you have been using the 1D's I have begun to think differently about what equipment will serve my purposes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Frank. Maybe the last five or six years has meant better software development or better firmware but the physics of the sensors has remained pretty much the same. I liked it when you posted images done recently with the older Kodak DCS 760. They were good and that's now considered a primitive camera. Maybe as the raw processing gets better so do all the older cameras. Interesting secret of the industry?

mbka said...

Apparently industry insiders say the last couple years' progress in sensor output was in processing (possible, before the writing of the RAW) and no more, and that even here the curve flattens.

I compared low light ISO between a G1 (u4/3) and a D700 last year. The G1 noise really does get bad above ISO800. But, using LR3 standard NR processing the D700 is just about 2 stops ahead of the G1 in noise, which again is what you'd expect from the 4x larger FF sensor area as compared to 4/3.

But you're touching a nerve with the trigger speed, Kirk. I've always wanted a camera with instant response. The first in my mind to claim that was the Contax RTS in the 70s. But to this day I never owned a camera that really fired fast. You only really get that in a pro spec model today (AF limitations) and I always wanted to avoid the cost and weight of those.

kirk tuck said...

I shot for years with Leica M film cameras which, at the time had some of the quickest response rates from the press of the shutter to the moment of exposure. The 1 series cameras seem fast as well. The 5d2 decidedly less so.

I'll accept the hit on weight in exchange for better performance.

Jeff G. Rottman said...

Hoping to see those swim shots from your 1D's. I also have a 1D Mk2 and both the 20mm EF , and 70-200mm F4 L lens. I too like the fast response and the great viewfinder. I also just ordered an original 1D! Those larger Pixel wells, I think, have a great look to them.

mbka said...

Thanks for letting me know Kirk. I was debating with myself over getting a 1DsMk2 but I'm selling photography only occasionally, at best, so that money won't really come back! If FF I figured a 5D might be lighter and do the same in image quality. What you said here about speed means the 1D/Ds series might actually have a real point over the 5D series.

Weight - the cruel irony is, I got my G1 for low weight over a conventional DSLR (and because I love the swivel screen and EVF, yes I do). But after 2 years of much useage I still can't hold it without cramps. It's too small to hold properly, regardless of weight. But it's still too large for a shirt pocket!

Dave Jenkins said...

Hmmmm! The body of a 1DMk2N and a 16-megapixel full frame sensor...Sounds like you're ready for a 1DsMk2!