It was a long, happy day yesterday. I spent my morning and part of the early afternoon at St. Gabriel's School here in Austin taking photographs for their marketing and "look book." I photographed young students with their older mentors, kids learning, drawing, playing, looking at Texas snakes and even playing under a giant colorful parachute. It was a good job. One that moved fast. One that actually made good use of my ability to direct kids and teachers. As soon as I wrapped that job I headed back to the world headquarters of the VisualScienceLab and headed into the top secret lab to download around 1500 raw files I'd shot. I used three different cameras, including: The Canon 5Dmk2, the Canon 60D and the Canon 1Dmk2N. I used several Canon L zooms but my favorite lens of the morning was the Zeiss 85mm 1.4. The images I shot with it seemed to have a sparkle and a snap that's more elusive to capture with the zooms.
So, after downloading the files and checking for any issues, and after recharging the batteries for all the cameras I got to packing for my next job, my service as the volunteer photographer for the mighty Rollingwood Waves swim team. It was a hot day. The meet started at 5pm. I'd been trying to cover everything at previous meets and had been hauling around two 1D series cameras along with a 24-105mm L lens and a 70-200mm L lens. I wanted to change up everything and in the process change my point of view for the rest of the afternoon. To do that I committed to one lens and one camera body and headed to the pool. I chose to work with the morning's winning combination: The 1Dmk2n + Zeiss 85mm 1.4. I have the 1Dmk2n fitted with a split image rangefinder screen that's optimized for manual focus and it works very, very well. Especially in bright sun.
Instead of shooting the swimming action I spent the day photographing the kids. And, in the process, remembered the things I love about the 85mm Zeiss lens. It's great to work in close and to be able to drop backgrounds out with luscious, soft transitions. When focused correctly on peoples' eyes there is a sparkle that gives images extra dimension. The focal length on the 1D camera equals about a 113mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera so I can fill a frame with a person's head and not be right on top of them. The Zeiss lens isn't necessarily sharper than the 85mm Canon lens I had been using but it seems cleaner and, for want of a better word, more "accurate" to the way the scenes look to my eyes. But the snap and the sparkle is the thing. I uploaded these files in a larger size than I usually do so you could click on them and see a much larger image. Note the detail in the boy's eyes above. I may not be putting what I'm seeing in words very well but maybe the image will show you what I mean....
There's a distinct operational advantage to working with one lens and one body. It's easier to get into a shooting rhythm because you start to anticipate, well before you bring the camera to your eye, what will be in the frame and how the background will most probably look. That's a cool thing because you begin previsualizing how your shots might look instead of bringing a camera and zoom lens up to your eye and then zooming around hoping to find a workable composition. I've always thought that the fewer choices I have to (or can) make the more powerful the photos.
After my experiences last Sunday trying to photograph Suzan-Lori Parks in a dark rehearsal studio I was a bit nervous about my ability to quickly manually focus with autofocus based cameras. I guess the morning's working session helped me get my focusing eye back in shape because there were very few missed in the afternoon's take. I stayed at apertures around f2.8. Sometimes playing with f2 and occasionally messing around with 3.5 but never stopping down past that. If someone goes out of focus in the background then that's how the art was meant to be. I know the Canon 5Dmk2 is supposed to have much better IQ than the three generations older 1Dmk2n but I like the way the older camera shortens the reaction time and fires with much less shutter or system lag. And I am convinced that, for the most part, the inherent quality in both cameras still exceeds my abilities to extract it. The 85mm lens gets me closer to my goal.
I'm happy with the images I got for the might Rollingwood Waves. And I'm glad I was only carrying around one camera and one fixed lens. The part of my brain that usually has to keep track of which zoom is on which body and which one would be best to shoot in a given situation got to take a rest. And I found out just how much system resources that constant set of subroutines demands. Freed of largely unnecessary decision making the rest of my brain could spend time analyzing the scenes in front of me and figuring out how to fit them into a fixed construct. It was like working a with a reduced instruction set computation. More a+b= photo than a convoluted equation with lots of variables and multiple correct answers.
Next weekend, at one of our saturday morning swim meets I'm going to bring along a 300 2.8 and shoot some video. We'll see if that makes it into our end of the year slide show. Big fun. Cool water.