An interesting counterpoint to my Saturday SXSW shoot with the Sony a77....

After hours of deep and tranquil meditation on the question of which camera to take downtown today I decided, in a moment of instant satori, to lay aside the bulky Sony a77 and harken back to the two most comfortable street shooting cameras in my current collection, the Panasonic GH2 and the Panasonic G3.  In the instant of satori I became enlightened about many things.  One of the them was the need to use the 14-45mm zoom on the GH2 and to honor the G3 with the 25mm Summilux.  I placed extra batteries for each camera in my pocket and headed downtown with the G3 over my left shoulder and the GH2 in my hands.  I set both cameras for face detection AF and varied the ISOs based on lighting conditions of the moment.  After a few days with the Sony I felt I'd lost weight.  The two cameras and two lenses were less weighty than my one a77 with the fast 2.8 zoom.  I saw this wonderful Buddha statue in a shop on west 6th street.  I took it as a sign that my selection process was correct.

My parking karma was good today.  I found a free space just a few blocks from Whole Foods Market at 6th St. and Lamar Blvd. which I took as a sign that I should have a slice of pizza and a local IPA style beer, fresh from the taps before embarking on my personal journey of SXSW discovery.

Fortified, I set out with the intention to shoot whatever caught my eye.  I will say, at this juncture, that I ignored the G3 and the 25 Summilux entirely.  The 14-45 is a wonderful, small lens and it fits so well on the GH2.  I also upgraded the GH2 firmware to 1.1 which gives me the ability to preview all the settings in all the exposure modes instead of just at M.  Bravo to Panasonic for increasing my usability pleasure with their camera.

The Pedi-cabs are popular this year.  I could have spent the whole day just photographing my favorite combinations of cabs, customers and peddlers.

I fought my germanic and puritanic heritage today and gave myself full license to play with color and even push the magic levers of (over) post processing.  The GH2 is a fast focuser in daylight and the meter is pretty darn good.  

There's a funny dichotomy at SXSW.  Most people are focused on having fun.  They throng to the venues to listen to new music and bounce along with the bass beat.  But a certain group always descend into Austin hell-bent to look as though they are the Brahmans of the entertainment business.  There must be a haberdashery in the L.A. area that convinces certain men that all the producers and rain-makers are wearing dark, monochromatic blazers and open collar shirts.  These are the last people on the planet still wearing their little "Borg-BlueTooth-ear-Weenie" headsets in public.  (That device is the descendant of the portable CB radio.  "Breaker, breaker, we've got a record contract heading in your direction...10 four good buddy."  No one under thirty, in a crowd of 150,000 wore an earpiece.  But about half of the guys in blazers and bad shoes had one hooked on an ear as though it was life support.  

Austin is nothing if not a Mecca for tech geeks of all kinds.  This guy was shooting street music with a Red One camera.  He was one of ten people I ran across today shooting with Red Ones, Scarletts and Scarlett X Hi-Def video cames today.  That is amazing to me.  Never before has a conference with so few physically attractive people in attendance been so well visually documented.  Every where I looked someone had some sort of Canon camera on a fluid head tripod with a Rode microphone with its requisite "dead cat" attached.  I would say the ratio of photographers and videographers to attendees is about 1:2.

I am so hoping that this guy's outfit was a nod to kitsch fashion and not a serious attempt at integrating leisure wear into street life.  I wouldn't begin to know where to find a white, shiny running suit/warm up suit.....  The glasses are a great touch but I think he missed the mark on the shoes.

I walked in about a mile or a mile and a half.  The low weight of the two Panasonics was almost inconsequential.  Nothing really tugged at my shoulder.  The size and profile of the cameras helped keep down barriers of trepidation on my part and, I think, on the part of the subjects and I was able to get in close.  I know we pay a lot of lip service to the idea that single focal length lenses are highly superior but there's a lot to be said for a nice little zoom that allows for quick composition and sizing.  And they certainly seem sharp enough.  And so discreet.  

The optimal way to do transportation for SXSW is to ride in on a bike.  There are bike racks everywhere, the police are keeping a good eye out and you can park right next to the convention center.  You'll be lucky to park a car within a mile and if you find a lot it's going to run you $20.  There were literally thousands of bikes in downtown.

You gotta love the street performers.  They try so hard.  They're just looking for a break.

 Unsure about the concept here.  

Pretty certain about the concept here.

There seems to be a tendency amongst photographers to come to these events en masse and operate like a wolf pack.  Or a school of fish.  One pilot fish notices something interesting and the rest of the school comes homing in, blazing away and striping away the excitement of individual discovery like piranhas. Come together in the same car.  That's carpooling and that's nice.  But for goodness sake, scatter and find your own reality once your feet hit the ground.  You can always meet up later for Martinis and polite discussion about the finer points of zone focusing.

When I walked through the five or six square blocks of the music festival I would see people I wanted to photograph.  Most of the time I would just snap a photo of them but occasionally I wanted to stop them and get close and take a number of frames.  There is a secret technique for this.  You walk up and smile and......ask if you can take their photo.  I asked a lot of people today and no one turned me down.  No one even asked why I was taking photographs.  But I would have answered honestly,  "It's my day off from work and I'm just out shooting because that's my hobby."

I made it through around 300 images before the battery in the GH2 decided to take a vacation.  I put the little plastic shield on the spent battery and put it into my shirt pocket.  I pulled a fresh battery out of the pocket of my jeans.  I was using an eight gigabyte SD card so I had the ability to shoot 450 total images in raw.  More if I took the card out of the lazy G3...

The woman above, with the flower in her hair, works at a restaurant that has a sidewalk cafe.  I told her she looked wonderful.  She giggled.  I said that she must have heard that at least one hundred times today.  She shook her head.  I asked if she got photographed a lot.  She said, "Never.  I've never been asked."  I can't imagine why not.  Even the bad perspective of a wider lens used too close in didn't dent the natural beauty in her deep and engaging eyes.  What kinda blind photographers do we have here?

Out on Sixth Street looking for the music.

Every year Austinites ask, "Has the whole SXSW thing 'jumped the shark?'"  I can't say for sure but I think it's becoming just another channel for corporate advertising.  Everything from Monster energy drinks to American Express to Dell Computers to Chevy to Coke and Pepsi was front and center everywhere you looked.  But when every one discovers something that's cool then real cool usually moves somewhere else and what you have left is a shopping mall and a couple hundred thousand "mall rats."  I'm not sure the festival is there yet.  But I'm betting next year the ratio of advertisers and vendors to actual attendees will be even smaller than the ratio of media people to attendees and that's saying something....bizarre.

The GH2 locks on, nails the focus and the exposure. Nice.d

 Music is big business.  But some of the stars are even bigger....

Ah.  A Chevy/GM sponsored hot spot.  Get on line.  Surf the web.  You know you're addicted.  You know you need your fix.  Afterall, you saved your money and flew to Austin.  You checked into an expensive hotel.  You bought an expensive wrist band.  You're surrounded by attractive people of the opposite sex.  There's non-stop music.  What better to do that to park your ass in a chair, plug in your laptop and spend a few quality hours surfing the same old web you could get in your living room in Buffalo, NY or Dayton, OH.  Yeah.  That's a great allocation of your precious temporal resources.

And when I circled back three hours later the same people were in the same chairs....

According to police reports there have been 2315 car and pedestrian accidents in the last two days in downtown Austin.  None fatal.  All caused by attendees wandering aimlessly into the streets while they stare mindlessly at their cellphones.  These two had the good sense to safely situate themselves before going into technology induced "Zombie State."  

Thank God for European visitors.  Who else would we sell American cigarettes to?  Honestly, I was amazed to see that people still smoke.  But they do.  Don't they know how many lenses they could buy if they saved their money and didn't buy cigarettes?  They could even afford Leica glass.  Over time...

I'm kind of embarrassed because I keep thinking just how much better the image above would be if I had used a Nikon D800.  I'm sure you're looking at it thinking, "This would look so much better if Kirk had used a Nikon D800."  But if I had used a D800 I would always be haunted by the eery idea that I could have done so much better with a Phase One 180...

And for the rest of the week the city streets will be dotted with musicians who are playing solo wherever there's a spare seat and a potential audience.  For all my kidding I think it's really fabulous that people are so into their art.  I think it's even greater that they have such a devoted fan base. And I'm most impressed by the thousands who come here to take their shot.
I make fun because I'm probably shallow and mean.  But I salute them one and all for having the drive to get out and create.  To really step outside the paradigmatic box and take a chance.
And create some art.

This mermaid is the last thing I photographed on my way back to my car. On the way back to my house.  It reminded me that I shouldn't stay up too late working on this because I have swim practice in the morning and this is, after all, just my hobby.  Today.

Notes on using the GH2 as a street camera.  If anything the camera is too small.  I can't always find the exposure lock button when I want it. I guess that's why I like shooting in manual.  But I love seeing the live view in the EVF.  It's a fast and sure way to operate.  Noise:  I can just see it starting to come in at ISO 640 at 100%.  It's more pronounced at ISO 1250.  But it's not anything that can't be handled well with post process noise reduction.  And who spends their time looking at life at 100% ????  The focus is quick and accurate.  I've even started feeling comfortable shooting quickly with face detection AF.  But I like to do that in manual so I have absolute control over exposure even if the face detection ends up selecting a face with a bald, white sky behind.

All in all I'm happy with every aspect of the m4:3 cameras.  I really like the Panasonic G's because the processors are very good in a very small overall package.  I'm looking forward to playing with the Olympus ME-5 as well.  I'm still predicting that this is the future of the mass photography market.  Maybe not for the biggest pro jobs but for 95% of photography.

When I got home and walked to the front door of the studio I thought about how different the Sony felt to me at the end of my shooting on Saturday. It has real weight and mass.  It is faster to shoot and the files are bigger and more detailed, but in the end both sets of files got converted to 1800 pixel on the long side jpegs for uploading to blogger.  Is there a a discernable difference in this aspect of "real life"?  Aside from differences in lens focal lengths and actual size differences of sensors the answer is..."No difference.  Not really."


  1. Cool article. But of course we know that the photos would have been so much better with a D800 ;-)

  2. The funniest thing about that picture with the kids with their SLRs--they ALL have their lens caps on.

  3. it jumped the shark last year, imho

  4. Interesting thoughts about shooting with what works for you rather than what everyone else says we should have. I find myself enjoying the GH2 after two years of dallying back and forth with my Nikons and the M43's. The last of my Nikon gear is headed to Ebay this week.

  5. Oh man, parking karma, wished I had some of that.

  6. Very enjoyable photos and writing - a nice overview of the SXSW scene. Altho I know the GH2 is a good choice for me, it feels good to have it validated. One teen teeny critique (also a note to self) - I think some of the close-up portraits, and the shot of the street musician, might have been improved if taken from the subjects eye level. The GH2 helps with that with its fully articulating LCD - one of my required check boxes that led me to choose it. But heck, I'm usually too shy to even take such photos - so thanks for that encouragement also.

    1. I respectfully disagree. I like my angles. But respect your different perspective. Regardless, the GH2 rocks as a street camera. You chose well.

  7. Isn't everything in life better with a Phase One 180? I personally wouldn't know. Just askin'.

  8. Your blog is my favorite. Your posts make me curious or thoughtful or just happy that there is so much to see. Following this page from picture to text to the next picture is like finding one little gem after another. I really like the mix of pictures and text, of laughs and thoughts and surprises. I think you could make a wonderful book about Austin in this style. I am currently reading the "Commercial Photography Handbook" and though I have no intention on being a photographer, I enjoy it and find it very interesting.

  9. Thank you so much. Always read you with pleasure.

  10. Nice article, as usual.
    I asked this in the comments of another blog entry, but way out of date, so I don't expect an answer from then. Maybe this time:
    I still use my trusted G1, but think about upgrading to a 16MP body.
    Thank you for a bigger writeup on the GH2 as street photography camera. I am torn between a G3 (VF is a must, so no GX1) and a GH2... I like the size and grip of the GH2 (same as my G1, actually that's as small as I'm comfortable with), but apparently the G3 handles high ISO noise better (hardly ever go above ISO 800)... While the GH2 has better SNR and DR (and detail) at base ISO (99% of my shots) ... or is there no noticeable difference at base ISO between the 12MP and the 16MP sensors?

    Any recommendation from your side? Thanks a lot and keep up the good entries, enjoy them very much!


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