Is the age of "professional photographer" over? A popular re-run from earlier this year.


More people are taking more photos than ever before and it's a wonderful time to be a photographer.  It may even be a wonderful time to sell pictures occasionally and to make a little side money but I think we're seeing the passing of the "Professional Photographer" (in caps) as a profession in the same way typesetters vanished from the face of the earth within ten years of desktop publishing hitting the marketplace.  Same with traditional labs.  In the old days typesetting required skill and taste and equipment.  But it cost money to do it right.  We paid the money (in the ad agency days) because that was the way it was done and that was the cost of doing business.

But when Pagemaker and QuarkExpress hit the market it became possible (mandatory, from a cost point of view...) for art directors and graphic designers to do their own typesetting.  While early versions of the desktop graphic design programs lacked the ultra fine control, and the massive number of fonts traditional typesetters offered, the programs offered something that accountants couldn't resist:  The Idea of Free,  and they offered something a generation becoming fascinated with computers couldn't resist:  The Idea of Personal Control over the whole process.  While there are tiny exceptions the vast majority of professional typesetters and typesetting services are gone.  Not transformed, just gone.  We don't have a group who "upped their game" and made a viable argument for the value proposition of the very best typesetting in the world we just don't have any typesetters.

While more and more photos are being taken, as a percentage, far fewer are being taken by professional photographers than ever before.  And that includes images being used in ad campaigns and in  the general course of commerce.  Wedding photographers have seen a radical decline just in the last two years in total sales and revenue.  And it's not a question of not seeing the future.  Professional photographers don't know how to make money doing what they have done in the past in the future they do see.  Everyone who needs a photo for one use or another is stepping up with their own camera (or phone) and taking their best shot.  PhotoShop and it's lite cousins are the Pagemakers and Quarkexpresses that are driving the total market adaptation.  Time and budget are relentlessly driving the market for images.

Why did I start thinking about this?  It was the news that Kodak might be filing bankruptcy that started me down this tortured thought trail.  If the company that invented digital photography can't figure out how to survive in the age of digital photography what hope can there be for the professional photographers?  Yes, we're more agile and able to change quickly, but we're doing what all the devolving industries have done when confronted with their decline,  we move into other related fields, each of which is probably also in decline.  A great example is video production.  

When the 5D mk2 hit the market, and Vincent Laforet did his video Reverie, it struck a match of hope in the hearts of photographers looking for a secondary income stream.  How simple.  We would all become video artists.  But in the last two years so much programming has moved to YouTube and the numbers in the professional side of that industry are, if anything, worse than those confronting the majority of working photographers.  Some photographers have starting offering web design but that market is flooded as well.  

I've heard the chorus before.  It goes like this:  "Up your game and the world is your oyster."  But the reality is that, for most, even the perfect game isn't going to compete against free, or almost free. And it's not enough to compete against the concept of "good enough."  With tens of billions of images available at the fingertips of people who used to have to assign work, and pay real money for it, the odds are that perfect isn't going to be in the budget again for a long, long time.

Kodak was, for me, the symbol of photography as I knew it.  And the guys at Kodak weren't and aren't dumb.  They are/were some of the best and brightest.  They just didn't plan on the market shifting at the speed of light.  They didn't anticipate that disruption would occur faster than T-Max 3200.  And we, as professional photographers, are now standing where Kodak stood before the Toons dropped the safe or the grand piano on their heads  (Who Killed Rodger Rabbitreference).  Will we be able to do a better job of creating an alternative universe for ourselves?  It remains to be seen. 

I think the markets will continue as they progressively wind their way away from traditional assignment work.  Photographers will transition as designers have.  In order to stay in the middle class they'll need to diversify into video, digital presentation, writing, web publishing and more stuff that we haven't even invented yet. We'll likely become "content providers" working in concert with designers and agencies. Designers work with type, work with graphic elements, shoot their own source materials when necessary, design for the web and print and outdoor and for mobile apps.  Would they prefer to concentrate on pure design?  Sure.  But they also like to eat, pay the rent and buy stuff.  

Our industry will make a similar transition.  We just haven't figured out the whole roadmap yet.  And the people who don't want to learn to swim (all four strokes)  will be left behind, clinging to a fragment of the battered haul from a ship that's sinking quickly into the deep, cold waters of incessant progress.

Ian Summers summed it all up best with his motto:  "Grow or Die."

The only reality check I can offer is that Professional Photography is a much, much bigger and more diverse industry than Typesetting ever was.  And there are, of course, segments that will keep holding on even as most of the formerly profitable market is destroyed.  To make an analogy to video, while people are shooting their own webcasts with small digital cameras, or the cameras in their laptops, they don't want to give up the quality of professional camera and video work they see on broadcast NFL football games.  That level of work still takes a lot of skill and experience.  But a quick training video or "how to" video for in-house use?  Forget it.  Parts of the industry will go on.  But large swaths of what we always considered "the bread and butter" will not.  Not in the same way.  And without foundational work there's no real chance the majority will make it being photographers, exclusively.

Do I write this because I am angry or cranky?  No, I write this as an honest opinion.  It's as inevitable as the waves on the beach.  How can we battle  it?  We can't.  We can sort through our options and figure out our futures but we have to recognize that things changed quicker than anyone thought and, that old models are breaking down.  My business used to be completely devoted to assignment photography.  Last year a large percentage of our income was from publishing royalties.  Another segment came from several video projects.   Another part of the pie came from web marketing.  And some money even flew into the coffers as a result of teaching at workshops and seminars.  I may be a curmudgeon but I'm embracing change as quickly as I can.  Wanna buy a Visual Science Lab T-shirt?  

I hope Kodak makes it. Not because I believe they must for nostalgic reasons but because it would validate my thoughts that we can, as an industry,  retool and we can re-engage our markets (and new markets) in different ways.  

This essay is aimed solely at the people in the audience who make a living from taking photographs.  If you don't fall in this category you are either luckier or less lucky than we are.  If you get beyond the idea that the people at Kodak are not intelligent and you can understand that they were at the mercy of the data they had at hand you'll likely do a better job with your re-invention.  It starts now.  

Could there be a better time to buy used digital cameras and lenses?

Martin Burke in "Fully Committed" at Zachary Scott Theatre.

I shot the image above with a Panasonic GH2 and an old Olympus Pen lens, the 60mm 1.5. Last year the GH2 was a stand out camera. It had arguably the best video/movie mode and video controls of any camera on the market and it's resolution is still top of the class for m4:3rd cameras but now prices of used ones are dropping like rocks.    Along with the recently obsoleted models from Canon, Olympus, Sony and Nikon. (That's because of the rapidly solidifying rumors of an imminent, new model, the GH3). It's part of the natural process of the market, there will always be people who want or need the very latest stuff and are willing to take a loss on recently purchased equipment in order to have what they would consider to be the best available in the moment.

I just came back from my favorite camera store, Precision Camera.  They take trade-ins on popular cameras and, for special customers, they will accept consignments. They are literally awash in recent model used cameras.  The very cameras we salivated over last year and a few years ago.  In some cases just a few months ago.

I found a shelf filled with Canon 5D mk2 cameras. They've been rendered useless by the Mark 3. ( sarcasm alert for the differently configured: Kirk is being facetious. The cameras are still very, very good performers ).  Likewise, the arrival of the Nikon D800 has led to a deluge of D300s, D700, D3 and even D3x cameras.  And if you are willing to go down market or down years the range of cameras on offer is incredible.  All at bargain prices.  Many used only by amateurs and sitting there in mint condition with fewer actuations on the shutters than you might believe.

The "on again/off again" rumors of the Olympus 4:3 E system's demise means that there are ample recent e cameras and lenses at fire sale prices as well.

Everywhere I look the Olympus OMD EM5 camera has radically displaced the EP2.  You can buy new EP2's for around $275 and only 18 months ago they were scratching $1,000.  Will it take long for the EP3's to follow?

What does this really mean to you? Say you are a young photographer who is just starting out in this business.  You have the opportunity, during this almost unprecedented surge cycle to put together a really decent system for less cash. If you can do without 36 megapixels and you want to shoot Nikon it's time to snap up something like a used D700 or a D7000 and some of the lenses that have been cast out by the newer G series versions.  The new lenses might have some small advantages over the previous models but remember that the old models were capable of making images for professionals that sold and sold well just a few months ago.  We may crave the new but  your clients won't see the difference.  And you probably won't either.

If you shoot Canon you can walk into bigger stores and look through a sea of bodies and lenses. The 1DX is pushing used prices of the 1Dmk4 down and the prices on 1DS2's has never been lower.

Can you imagine if the car market was like the camera market?  We'd be changing cars every eighteen months!  The average length of ownership, in the United States, of new cars is now 71 months.  Just a month shy of six years. Thing is that the cars last that long and deliver good service, for the most part, during that time frame.  But then so do cameras. 

I would venture to say that you could go out for most jobs equipped with the original Canon 5D or the Nikon D2X and a few older generation lenses and do most of the jobs that fall to photojournalists (are there any left?) and most local commercial photographers. Especially if the images are heading to the world wide web.

If you separate the business side of photography from the pleasure side of photography there's not a lot more we can do with the latest raft of cameras and lenses that we could not have done with the previous generation of same for most of our work.  Especially if the new stuff is seeing most of its action handheld and bumpy.

Just a suggestion, if there was a camera or lens that you really liked but which has been discontinued you might find that it's still a really good shooting camera and it's probably available on the used market at a great savings. Check out the good, local camera stores and see what you can find.  And if the price seems to be a bit high don't be afraid to offer less.  Most of the cameras that come in on trade have a pretty healthy margin and a shelf life like milk.  Shoot a little bolder and older and keep some money in your pockets for the adventure.

Silly me.  I'm still buying up $125 Nikon F2's and $500 Hasselblads.  Do you know what these cost new???

By way of review.

Why don't you try a MF digital camera?

A reader of the VSL blog recently wrote to suggest, after reading my post about photographing Lou with my film Hasselblad, that I try out a medium format digital camera before making the assessment about which path will ultimately yield better results. I thought I would remind my readers that I've been down that road before, for months at a time, and with three different systems. In 2009 and 2010 Studio Photographer Magazine commissioned me to test and write about three of the MF digital cameras that were just coming on to the market.  My two most memorable tests were of the Leaf AFi7 with a 39 megapixel back and the Phase One 45+ because, at the time, they were the state of the art.

I also reviewed the less expensive Mamiya entry camera.

Once you got over the fact that you'd just signed for a $45,000 system (when the two delivered lenses are factored in) the Leaf camera was nice.  It made beautiful files.  The 180mm f2.8 Schneider lens was superb.  It gave really nice out of focus performance and even better in focus performance.  But it's autofocus was slow like paint drying and the tandem batteries in the camera and grip did their best to die often, and always out of sync.  Would I still be shooting with the camera if someone bestowed it upon me for free?  Yes.  Was the calculus there for me to buy it and make more money with it? No.

The Phase One was as close to being the perfect medium format digital system I've shot with so far. The camera is much lighter and better set up than the Leaf and the lenses+body were small enough and light enough to be used handheld and to be carried around town.

The Mamiya was heading in the right direction price wise and I thought the files were just fine.

But with each of these cameras I kept coming back to the idea that I could dump the $25,000 or more into film and processing with cameras I already owned and get files that were just as good.  And I could side step the handling and battery problems. The bottom line is that my clients didn't need the bigger files and I didn't need the additional expense.  Not in the middle of the great recession...

If you want to read what I wrote about the cameras for the magazine (now discontinued) you can read them at these links.

So, how are those LED lights working out?

I read stuff on the web and die hard strobers are always telling people that LED's are too dim or that the color can't be used for professional jobs. Those people are limiting their own work by thinking in such a linear and bracketed way.  While LED's aren't the perfect solution for everything they are great to have in your tool kit. I did a job with Ben on Tues.  We shot video for a television commercial and stills for print.  We used four LED panels to light a greenscreen background and another three on work main subjects.  When we finished shooting video we clicked the camera over to the manual mode and banged off some raw files.  All of them were beautiful. You'll see the commercial as soon as it's edited and approved.  I don't use LEDs for everything but when I do I know it's a good choice. A recent job for a healthcare company was also done with all LED's.  The difference it that those LED panels were all battery powered.  We were able to move through location after locations almost as fast as if we had been shooting available light and the images were just right.  The check cleared the bank. 

This image has nothing to do with LEDs.  I just like the graphic and the message.

The best use for LED's is in product and food shooting.  I wrote about this in my book and I've blogged about shooting food this way here on the blog: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/02/kirk-tuck-photographs-food-at-jeffreys.html

The set doesn't get hot, you can work closer in to your subject and the color is easy to white balance.  The use of continuous light gives you a level of control you'll never really have when using flash.

And when we rev up the cameras for a video shoot there's nothing I'd rather light with right now.

Photos of me by Amy Smith.

Finally.  Could there be a better time to buy used stuff?


Method, Mechanics, Art and Madness.

I spent some time shooting downtown in the middle of the day recently. When the sun is out and the sky is clear the light just doesn't change its intensity from minute to minute.  I find it very freeing to guess at the exposure, set it on the camera and then use it without changing as long as I'm working in the same direct light. My guesses aren't really guesses, they are suggestions from Kodak that I memorized long ago when working with Kodak transparency films.

I am sure I've mentioned more than once that, because of the nature of a camera's built-in, reflective metering a camera can be easily fooled into setting the wrong exposure if the metering elements are pointed at a scene dominated by bright colors or dark colors.  By setting a known exposure for the prevailing conditions (or by using an incident light meter) you eliminate the variations in exposure caused by difference levels of reflectance in a scene.  The old examples are still pertinent.  If you point a reflected meter at a white wall it will return a grey file.  If you point a reflected meter at a black wall it will return a grey file. The meter wanted to put every scene into a blender and render it some shade of neutral grey.  An incident meter measure the light falling on the subject and in this was it could be said to be objective.  A known light source, like the Summer sun is constant (from two hours after sunrise to two hours before sunset).  If your subject is illuminated by direct sunlight a standard setting can be set with no real fear of failure.

Many websites and authors of authoritative articles about metering make the exposure process much more daunting than it really is or needs to be. I think this is a result of the societal/cultural shift from art to measure. We've become a culture that is more adept at measuring stuff and comparing it than anything else.  I think being able to measure what we've decided to call processes gives the ready illusion that with measurement comes control.  I used to hear the heads of corporations talk in hushed tones about "metrics."  Many had more faith in metrics than in listening to actual customers and more than a few of their companies have exited the market.

Not all art is directed by process and the success of art rarely has much to do with metrics. If repeatability and quality were primary concerns of art we'd still be listening to Strauss waltzes and Souza marches exclusively instead of the rich diversity of the music-o-sphere.

Where does the madness come in? I must be mad, or at least intellectually deficient. I post things about the feel of a camera or my perceived differences concerning a file that began life in a digital camera compared to a file that started life in a medium format camera and a certain percentage of my readers (no doubt very advanced and so in control of their emotions and perceptions of reality that they rival the Vulcans...) chime in suggesting that equalizing all the parameters in similar cameras will net me a set of equivalent files.  Images with nearly identical values.  The idea being that my need to touch and handle certain cameras in order to make certain photographs is an emotional attachment on par with a child's security blanket. The implication being that if I only took the time to equalize the technical parameters the seeing between cameras would be identical. The judgement is that cameras are interchangeable as long as the specifications match.

And it must be madness on my part but for me every camera has a certain feel and a certain energy of inclusion or exclusion in relation to me.  I could probably figure it out and explain it in detail, given enough time. But in real life sometimes I'll pick up a camera and it will immediately perform some sort of Vulcan Mind Meld that makes me comfortable with its handling and operation, or not.  The haptics remove some sort of resistance to use that I feel with other cameras.

For instance, I like the overall idea of the Nikon D3200 camera.  It's files are good.  But it seems a bit lifeless in my hands.  It's not that the camera isn't intuitive, it just doesn't push a little button in my brain that starts up the subconscious engine that says, "Go Shoot, Go Shoot, Go Shoot." Rather, it says, "I can take a technically correct image at your direction."  And that doesn't sound nearly as good to the part of my brain that craves the adventure and romance of shooting. I held a friend's D800 over lunch recently and it was the opposite experience.  I was smitten by the feel and balance of the camera at first touch.

When we date we aren't just looking for partners who are proficient in the practice of sex we also desire the company of someone attractive and fun to be with. Features are fun but the overall user experience is more than the sum of the parts. And I find it the same with cameras.

When I take one of my medium format film cameras out to shoot I feel an affinity towards the camera that makes me want to be a  better shooter. I've owned four other brands of MF camera but my basic Hasselblad seems to ring that little mental bell better than any of the others.  I rented a Mamiya RZ67 for a while and hated it.  Although it was capable of taking great images.  I was not capable of taking great images with it.  Over time the thought of using the camera was a great incentive to sleep in. But I know other photographers who loved that crazy box.

I should love the Olympus OMD EM5 but every time I pick it up I find the only thing I like about it is its density.  When I give the camera back to its owner I'm relieved.  There's something in the mix that keeps us from meshing.  On the other hand I've loved the feel of the Sony a77 from the minute I picked it up.

I liked the files from the Canon 5Dmk2 but there was no resistance to giving it up.  The bigger 1DSmk2 was the opposite.  The files were okay but the feel was so nice. More direct and more real.

I'll make a controversial statement here, if you haven't fallen in love with the way your camera fits in your hand, works and sounds, then you haven't found your camera(s) yet.

The shot above was done with a Hasselblad 501 CM camera and the standard 80mm Zeiss Planar. I scanned the file at 7000 by 7000 pixels and I'm sad not be able to print it out and mail a copy at full res to everyone of you to look at.  It's really pretty.  I imagine that one of the 60 or 80 megapixel digital backs from a company like Phase One would out resolve it.  But I'm equally sure (having handled them) that I wouldn't have nearly as much fun wandering the streets and shooting with one.  Of course, your mileage will vary.  Which is what makes all this interesting.

Of course, this could all just be a result of a big Camera Placebo Effect in which I have an emotional attachment that subconsciously informs and improves my ability to work.

When I made the image above I'd spent the better part of an afternoon walking around and shooting.  I never moved the exposure controls. Every frame on the two rolls was perfectly exposed and I had a smile on my face the whole time.

I'm not trying to denigrate the people who think differently than me.  There's the very real possibility that they may be right...

I find progress, at times, to be amazing. Just amazing.

I was looking around this morning to find a bigger memory card. I want to go back out to west Texas and shoot some video interviews and I hate stopping to change memory cards while I'm shooting video. I may be showing both my naieveté as well as my tenure in digital photography but I am astounded at being able to buy a 32 gigibyte, class 10 (for HD video) SD memory card for only $25.

I remember when memory cards were something you budgeted for and saved up for.  Now big ones like these are no more expensive than two movie tickets for some trashy summer thriller. About the price of two rolls of film with processing and contact sheets...

I have a mixed collection of 4,8 and 16 gb SD cards from Transcend and so far, no failures. I got into the habit of formatting my cards before every use. Seems to work for me.


The latest chapter in my ongoing Nikon D3200 review.

ISO 100

After a week of shooting portraits with black and white film in a medium format camera and shooting a television commercial with a Sony a77 I decided to take a break this afternoon and go for a stroll around downtown Austin in the warm glow of the late afternoon.  As a counterpoint to the lit, on tripod work I've been doing I chose to take along just the little Nikon D3200, the kit lens (18-55mm) and, well....nothing else.  My first observation:  The whole package is small and light and easy to walk with. I do think it will balance better with a single focal length lens so I'm trying to decide between the 35mm 1.8 Nikon lens or its longer brother, the 50mm 1.8 lens.  I'm not into expensive glass for what I consider to be my new point and shoot system so I'll leave my choice right there.

Let's get the stuff that's most important to the web dwellers from hell first. An ISO test.  The above image was shot (handheld) at ISO 100.  It's about as noise free as I can imagine and the large file is creamy smooth and detailed.  All the files from the D3200 seem to want some sharpening if you look at them at 100% but if you don't have you nose pressed to the screen the unsharpened images look natural and.....photographic. 

ISO 3200

The image directly above is the other half of my ISO test. It was shot at 3200 ISO (also handheld). If you blow it up you can see a pepper grain pattern noise that has no color flecking or transmorgification of duplicitous color.  That means there's a pattern that looks like Tri-X film grain but is not bothersome to me and is invisible at normal magnifications and viewing distances.  The nice thing about the Nikon files is how they maintain color saturation at the higher ISO's.  The high ISO's are a little better than the Sony a77 files.  Maybe by one half to three quarters of a stop.  

ISO 3200

Here's one more at 3200 ISO.  The beer in the image is Alaskan IPA ale.  It was delicious. The perfect counterpart to a 100 degree stroll through the asphalt heaven we call home.  I got and drank the ale at Caffe Medici on Congress Ave.  Giving up caffeine doesn't mean that all is lost...
I do wonder what the staff think when we photographers descend upon their workplace and spend time photographing our beverages...

ISO 800

Sometimes, when I am between projects and Belinda is working at the ad agency I cook dinner for the three of us.  I made a dish last night that was kind of fun. I got a handful of red potatoes, the small ones.  I rinsed them, quartered them and steamed them for five minutes and then set them aside.  I did the same with several handfuls of fresh green beans.  I got a big skillet and sauteed sweet onions in olive oil, a touch of butter, fresh oregano from our herb garden and some comino pepper.  Then I pulled the onions out and tossed in the potatoes, cooking them until they started to get brown and crusty.  Then I tossed in the blanched green beans and finally added back the onions and some carrot chips for color.  But I like to photograph while I cook so I set the camera at ISO 800 and kept it next to my chef's knife while I partied on the prep.

ISO 800

The camera and lens combo is good at close distances. The lens focuses down to about a foot.

ISO 800.

Here's my finished dish. I call it "carrot, green bean and potatoe sauté.  The family thought it was yummy.  I served a smoked brisket (lean) along with it and I made a peach pie for dessert. A mix of healthy and fun.  I was shooting in manual and underexposed the two images directly above.  I pulled them up over a stop in Lightroom but the noise didn't come up to badly.  Nice to know there's some safety room there when you're cooking and not paying attention to the numbers in the bottom of the finder.  I served dinner with a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.  Ben had mint tea.

ISO 100.

So, what do you give up in what is ostensibly a $600 dollar, 24 megapixel DSLR?  Let's go through them by the numbers:  1. No depth of field button. You're on your own.  I know what f8 will do but it's nice to be able to see it.  2. The finder is small.  It's bright but it's small. I wish they'd just bite the bullet, conquer their fear and put a great EVF in this camera.  (The bottom line is I've enjoyed using cameras with much worse finders and, like anything else in life, if you use it enough you'll get used to it.  It's just hard to use after having used cameras with much better finders.  Kinda like driving an M series BMW and then saddling up in a Toyota Corola...). 3. The HDR (techno V... ) crowd will cry, moan and whine about the lack of autobracketing.  4.  I'd rather piss and moan about the loss of a PC socket. Or, 5. A separate set of control wheels for the aperture and shutter speed settings.

ISO 100

So, you give up some stuff.  What do you get in return?  How about a camera that feels solid but is small, lightweight and comfortable? I like the size and the grip. I think the files are very, very good and very, very detailed. The 4 fps is fast enough for me and, even though the buffer isn't very big it clears very quickly if you are using fast SDHC cards.  The battery life is much better than I thought it would be.  I think you can expect 750 shots with no chimping and about 500 shots, well chimped. You also get to have a really bitching file generator for far less than a grand.

Two other complaints, one that's easily remedied. First, you can try hard but you'll have difficulty seeing she screen on the back if you're out shooting in the daylight.  Especially in Austin in the Summer where we enjoy about 12 hours of harsh, brutal sunlight.  I'm sure that if you live in one of the dark countries you won't even think about it but I had to step into deep shade to be sure I was setting things correctly.  And I just gave up on chimping as it was doing more harm than good.  You could carry a Hoodman loupe around with you but that would just be goofy. No solution for this.  Set your camera before you get out of your car and pray you don't need to change settings in full sun.

The other complaint is that the active D-Lighting has no range of adjustment, it's either on or off.  I'm used to the Sony cameras which have both an automatic setting and five levels of manual setting for shadow recovery.  Easy fix. Turn it off and do your shadow savings in post.  One way or another you'll need to hit the shadows with a little noise reduction if you are making heroic detail saves.

When I first started shooting with the camera I thought I'd be happy just plugging away with large, fine Jpegs. I am not.  It's not that the Jpegs aren't good.  They are as good as they need to be, it's just that you have so much more control over the files in raw.  On most cameras these days I feel the need to boost contrast and crunch down hard on the blacks.  (That means I think the blacks are too weak as the camera companies try to give you the dynamic range you thought you wanted). I think the blacks in most digital cameras are totally un-filmlike and boring. Next time you find some noise in the shadows jump on that black slider and your files will look a hell of a lot better. I swear.

I'm presuming the lens adds about $100 to the overall kit price.  It's worth it.  It's a nice focal range, it's sharp in the center and the corners and edges come in well with a combination of stopping down and lens correction software in Lightroom. What you end up with is an image that is sharp and has good resolution but which needs a bit of a contrast boost and some black bump. I also like to add a bit of clarity slider for most files except for the high ISO files where the clarity slider accentuates the noise.

Should you run out and buy this camera?  Do you already have: A Nikon D800 or Canon 5Dmk3 or Olympus OMD EM-5 or a Pentax K-5 or .......?????? If so you don't really need this one, do you? But if you have a kid who's a budding photographer or videographer, or a spouse who wants a lighter, easier to use camera it's killer.  It is my current, "this is the camera you need for your sports, family photo, vacations" recommendation camera. The files are nice and clean and the VR in the lens works great.  The only thing missing, and something that would make this the ultimate tyro camera, is auto-ISO. Edit:  I found the auto-ISO. Instead of being part of the accessible ISO setting via the rear panel you have to go into the menu to turn it on and off. Painful but okay.  Most people doing auto-ISO leave it on all the time.  The rest of it can turn it off until we overdo happy hour and still want to shoot....

What about competitors? Well, the Canon t4i looks good on paper. I haven't played with one yet but it adds some sophistication to the movie mode with a phase detection/ contrast detection hybrid that seems like it's what we need to focus quicker in the video mode. It shoots at 5 fps instead of 4. The lower pixel count of the sensor, couple with Canon's sprinkling of high ISO pixie dust will probably get you a stop more cleanliness at high ISO's and that's about it.  If you have a bag full of Canon lenses it's kind of a "no brainer." But you will be paying $300 more.  

My final take on the camera and lens as a package is this:  Nice shooting package and very well done by Nikon. Would I like more stuff on the camera? Always.  Do I want to pay more? Naw.  You could do decent, professional work with this combo and, if your client never made eye contact with your camera package he or she would never know whether you shot your jobs with the top of the line or the bottom of the line camera in 90% of all jobs.  All bets are off if you are shooting professional sports for money or you need very high ISO's for paying specialized work.
This one really proves that it's not the camera the operator.  Operate well and the D3200 will reward you.

Good basic field kit?  This body, the 12-24mm (which I owned and was happy with...), the 35mm 1.8, the 50mm 1.8 and the Nikon 55-300 mm DX VR zoom.  Now you're ready for just about anything.  Add specialty lenses to taste.

The telephoto end of the kit zoom is pretty nice. I'd still through in a little more contrast and black.

Nikon will do well with this one.  But I'm not switching systems yet.

Hello Sony.  Still waiting for a couple of things.  I'd like to know for sure that the full frame camera is coming soon.  And, I'd like you to produce a 60mm f1.8 lens for the cropped frame cameras. That would be the perfect portrait length.  Please make it small and light and send it to me now.  The check's in the mail...

I promised to show a recent set-up shot on film.

 I collaborated in a portrait session last Saturday. I photographed with three different cameras and I've shown work from two of the cameras, the Nikon D3200 and the Sony a77. The third camera was my Hasselblad film camera with a 150mm lens.  I shot four rolls of color transparency and four rolls of Fuji Acros 100 speed black and white film.  I didn't change the lighting during the course of the shoot. The above photograph is of my friend, Lou, from one of the medium format, black and white film frames, developed by Holland Photo Imaging and scanned in my lowly Epson Perfection V500 Photo, flatbed scanner.

I scanned it at 7000 by 7000 pixels. While I don't see much increased detail vis a vis a scan at 3500 by 3500 I do see a much richer tonal distribution that makes the extra file size and time spent worthwhile.

My attention is immediately drawn to Lou's eyes.  And that's where I want it to be. The next thing I notice (and like) is that her right arm (left side of the frame as you face it) and her dress on the opposite side of the frame are already out of focus in a very gentle yet obvious way.

I love the diagonals created by the crossed arms, the incline of her body and the tilt of her head. Purists will want to crop out her watch but I don't really want to.  For some reason, maybe a need to have imperfections in the art, I think it adds a contrasting distraction that keeps your eye moving around the frame, looking for more clues.

I like the strong shadows on the sides of her arms and her face that are opposite the main light.  Those occurred deliberately.  My studio is painted all white. Without intervention the shadows get filled by the reflection from the white walls.  I added black panels to kill the reflections and help enrich the shadows.

I like the contrasting effect of her lit face pushing into the darker area in the top left of the frame and the balance created by the lighter area of the background against the shadow side of her face.

I am most happy with the expression.

When I analyze the file from the scan I find a smoother tonal transition from dark to light than I did in the files from the two digital cameras.  I also find that the hair seems more real and more detailed than it does in either of the other two files.  None of them are technical "fails" and, to some extent, whether you like the files from one camera over the files from either of the other two files, none of them are bad or unusable. Like the swimming at the Olympic Trials some things are measure in 10th's or 100th's of a second...

The biggest difference in the files is in the rendering of out of focus areas and in the manner of the focus "fall-off."  The Hasselblad  is my favorite but then I also like anchovies.

If you want to see the differences you might open up two new windows on your browser and see them side by side.  The Hasselblad 150mm (Zeiss Planar) is the oldest lens in my collection.  It's a mid 1960's version.  It still stands up well.

On an unrelated topic, send a little prayer out to the people in Colorado.  They're living through the kind of heat wave and wildfire situation that we experienced last year.  I can tell you that it's not fun.  I hope they have relief soon.

We're having fun here this Summer.  So far I've done more swimming than working. I'd like to be a little busier in the studio but I'm happy to have the time to work on my endurance.

The First Book:


Pretty Pictures.

When you can no longer call yourself "a photographer."

For the last twenty-five years I've wanted to be called "a photographer."  My self image was that of a professional photographer who spent his time solving visual problems and taking my client's creative concepts and translating them into photographs. I've made a good living doing it. My idea of a great job was being asked to shoot a conference in Monte Carlo and then hopping a flight to Rome to shoot some portraits for a large corporation and then  dropping by London for some additional imaging on my way home.  And for a good long while I got to do just that.  Of course it was all mixed in with countless head shots in various studios and makeshift studio spaces, annual reports in wastewater treatment plants in the middle of nowhere and lots and lots of shots of products against white sweeps.  In the off hours I shot "art" for myself.

But when I woke up this morning the label just didn't fit anymore. This morning I'm packing and doing pre-production on a television commercial I'll be shooting this afternoon/evening.  I spend more time blogging than actually shooting with a camera in my hands and I've spent at least as much time writing books in the past three or four years as I have on location. I've earned as much money writing presentations as I have doing head shots.

Our profession is going through profound changes and it's never, ever going back to the way we used to do things. It can't. The simple bread and butter stuff we used to do to "fill in" financially around the edges is gone.  More and more agencies are pulling photographers in-house to do the day to day stuff and that leaves only the bright, brilliant creative work for the freelance people. And not all of us can be brilliant all the time. But in the agency world long term counts for nothing.  It's all about a great execution of the flavor of the day.  In a real way, the best and the brightest can only stay in place with constant re-invention and constant marketing.

I have friends who've been waiting for the market to "cycle back through..." but there's no cycle to the creative product, only destruction and re-creation.  And the re-creation has to be genuine to work.

I'm checking on the crew.  Calling the make-up and hair people for last minute confirmations.  We're shooting "green screen" so I've revisited what's worked and not worked in the past.  I'm a little, tiny bit nervous because we've never done a green screen project with the new LED lights. I worry that we won't get enough coverage or that we won't be able to control the spread but I know we can deal with it.

I'm shooting with the Sony a77's. I like the feature of the EVF.  Maybe not all still photographers have warmed up to the EVF's yet but for video it's pretty great. You can check your focus via focus peaking and get a good read on exposure and clipping. No need for Zacuto or Hoodman loupes.  For playback we'll run the HDMI out into a separate (and much larger) monitor.  We're splitting the audio signal at the mic mixer.  One feed will go into the camera and the other feed will go into a Tascam digital audio recorder. Ben will be monitoring and riding levels on the Tascam.  The camera will go AGC.

I think we'll be able to use the sound from the camera, even though it will go through the camera's auto gain control, because each take is three seconds or so.  Just long enough for a brief line from an actor.  Not enough time or space between words to make the AGC circuit "pump."  But if it does we'll have clean, sync-able back-up with the Tascam.

We need to be prepared to move quickly this afternoon.  We get the location from 3:30pm and we need to be out by 6:30pm.  We've got two actors and a list of shots to get. We're still waiting to hear from the editor about whether he's decided on 60fps or 24fps.  I like 24 but he'll be editing down for TV so it'll all end up at 30fps.

In the recent (pre-2008) past I'd probably be sending out some new mailers and cruising through the Summer. This time around I've got a novel that's begging to be put to bed, a new book about portraits that needs to get started and several other television projects.  Not sure I could even make a living doing what I used to do....solely as a still photographer and I'm not sure I want to experiment and see.  I'm sure there are still lots of profitable niches left but every time I talk to an art director they tell me about shooting an ad in pieces with Canon Rebels and iPhones and putting it together and massaging it for a week in PhotoShop.  These aren't little "mom and pop" shops, these are ad agencies with multinational clients.  They all have production departments. The usually have two or three employees who are avid photographers. The companies have budgets for whatever gear they want.  Let's face it, it's not that hard to get a usable photograph these days.

Something special? That might be harder but the reality is that ad agencies make their money by speaking the visual language of the masses. They shy aways from stuff that's too forward and too modern. They really do a lot of bread and butter.

I don't do kid's sports (other than a few shots for the swim club) but that's another area that was once quite profitable and it now going through a similar process. Photography is the world's biggest and fastest growing hobby and the last time I was at a soccer game in West Austin there were dozens of moms and dads sporting Nikon D3s cameras and big white or gray lenses. They'd rather photograph their own kids... And every dad or mom with a camera loves to share. Do I blame them? No, at Ben's cross country meets I'm one of the dads, front and center, white lens at the ready.  Would I buy a picture from a vendor?  If it was one I couldn't get. Maybe.

My take on all of this is grimly optimistic. Just as desktop publishing put professional typesetters out of business by turning all the rest of us into semi-professional typesetters photography, as a profession, is losing the really profitable ground quicker and quicker.  In a sense, we are the Kodak of industries.

I think there will be markets that throw off some money for the next five or so years but the smart guys have already left the industry to set themselves up as publishers, workshop leaders, DVD producers, workshop leaders, Creative Live presenters, workshop leaders, photo expedition leaders and workshop leaders.  What does this mean for you if you are a hobbyist? Not really a damn thing. More people to chat about photography with over coffee or beer.  More really fun gear to buy.  More teachers available to help you make better photographs.  More opportunities to do stuff for free that used to be valuable.

In my business we still advertise and pitch photography.  We've moved from black portfolio cases and glassine pages stuffed with prints to iPads with Retina screens.  We show stills but we also show motion.  We talk about whatever aspect of content creation our clients need.  I am just as ready to help a company with writing spec sheets or a conference presentation as I am photographing their widget or their new building.

Going forward we are entering the era of the creative content provider as opposed to the discrete, dedicated still photographer. It's an interesting way to make a living.  Now you have to be good at more things. A challenge is always good, especially if you can figure out how to rise to it....

So,what are we packing for the video adventure today? Five big LED panels. Two medium, battery powered panels, five small panels as accent lights. A muslin green screen.  10 light stands. Background stands, a whole assortment of Westcott FastFlags, stingers (extension cables), an assortment of shotgun microphones, a microphone boom, a fluid head tripod and a slider, two Sony a77 cameras with an assortment of lenses, a bunch of fast SD cards, a slate, "A" clamps, Two apple boxes, the digital audio recorder and a bunch of water.

Thankfully, all the shooting will be inside, in air conditioning. Only the load in and the load out will be done in the heat.  Once we get this wrapped up it's back to the laptop to finish the final edits on my first novel.  The one about the nervous but intrepid photographer caught up in a web of intrique on a shoot in another country.  It's good. Well, at least I think it is...

Off to pack.  Not bitter, not pessimistic.  Just reading the landscape.

edit: June 27th:  Looks like I am not alone: http://www.bythom.com/gettingbetter.htm