Fully Committed. Shooting a play with an old, manual focus lens.

Martin Burke in Fully Committed.
Camera: Olympus Pen EP3.  Lens: 45mm 1.8  ISO 1250.

One of my favorite actors of all time, Martin Burke, will be starring in the one man play, Fully Committed, at the Zachary Scott Theatre, opening this evening.  Last night was the dress rehearsal.  The play is about the person in the basement office of an ultra-trendy, Manhattan restaurant whose job comprises sitting at a desk taking telephone reservations from a group of the most entitled, eccentric and sometimes sociopathic group of patrons imaginable.  Martin plays both sides of every conversation, including conversations with the slimy head chef and the head waiter.  At the same time he also fields calls from "friends" who are anxious to let him know they've landed acting jobs in parts that he also auditioned for. 

Martin is amazing and the play is so much fun.  So fun, in fact, that I was able to convince my 16 year old son to come with me.  I was going to shoot images during the dress rehearsal that we'll be sending to the press today.  

First, let's talk about the photography part.  I would be covering one actor on a small stage. I wanted to try something a bit different and I'd been champing at bit to pit two of my favorite lenses against each other to see which would emerge triumphant.  It wouldn't exactly be a fair fight as one lens would be on my Panasonic GH2 and the other on my Olympus EP3.  What the Olympus has in design panache and build quality it gives back in resolution...Yes, that has been remedied in the OMD but I'm still holding out...

I wanted to shoot my Olympus 45mm 1.8 and my Olympus (old school Pen) 60mm 1.5.  How would the ancient legacy lens do against the young favorite of the m4:3 crowd?  How would I do pitting my skills in manually focusing against the fast sample rate and quick AF of the EP-3?  Who would emerge as the top contender in the America's Top Small Camera Contest (A trademark of the Shooting with the Stars Corporation, ltd.)?????

Martin Burke. Fully Committed.
Camera: Panasonic GH2. Lens: Olympus 60mm 1.5  ISO 1250

I brought along the two bodies I mentioned, the two lenses I mentioned and also the Pan/Leica 25mm 1.4 and the Panasonic 14-45mm zoom, as well as two extra batteries per camera.  Everything packed into one small Domke camera bag with room to spare.  Lots of room to spare. Ben and I left the house a bit early and headed to the theatre. Little did we know that the city of Austin was hosting one of those "everyone-with-nothing-better-to-do-come-to-the-park-sit-on-the-grass-and-listen-to-jazz" things where hordes of people looking for free entertainment drive in from the suburban hinterlands, and fill all the roads between me and the theatre with hapless, confused and generally incompetent drivers who are afraid to make left hand turns.

Through a combination of patience and profanity in equal doses we were finally able to arrive at the theatre with five minutes to spare.  Ben settled in to a comfy seat behind me and I got to work setting up my cameras.  They were both set identically.  ISO = 1250, manual shutter speeds, manual apertures.  White balance set to tungsten. Noise reduction on stun (low) and each camera set to large, fine or extra fine jpegs. (The Panasonic has only "fine" as a choice...).

My routine with the Panasonic was to push in the little wheel on the back, top right of the camera which magnifies the finder image.  I would fine focus the 60mm lens and then touch the shutter button which got me right back to the 100% finder image.  Then I'd be able to shoot for a while without worrying about focus until Martin moved.  The method was quick and pretty accurate.  When I hit sharp focus the lens worked well.  Most of the time I was shooting with the lens set to between f2 and f2.8. 

My routine for using the Olympus was to evaluate exposure on the VF2 screen and then rely on the camera's autofocus for the heavy lifting.  I even used the face detection AF for a number of the shots.  

I think both cameras did well.  The GH2 files seem a bit more solid and I find that I actually prefer to manually focus my lenses.  Probably a holdover from the past.  I was happy to see that neither camera seemed to struggle with noise at the 1250 ISO setting.  I found the controls on the Panasonic, especially the push wheel for toggling between, and setting, aperture and shutter speed to be more usable than the two different dials on the EP3.  I also found the files on the GH2 to be a bit cleaner and more robust.  There is a color difference between the cameras but nothing that can't be duplicated or remedied in Lightroom or some other piece of software.

The big difference to me was in the lenses. I much prefer the look of the longer, 60mm lens. I think it has a sharpness and contrast that the other lens doesn't quite share. They are very, very close and by f2.8 and beyond you'd have to have your nose stuck to the front screen of your monitor to see the difference, but, at f2 the winner for contrast and center sharpness (to my eye) is the ancient metal beast of a lens.  The 60mm f1.4.

The big caveat is the fact that it was used on a body with 24% more pixels.  

Why use the smaller cameras when I have bigger, faster stuff?  Because I wanted to and because the action in the play was constrained to a smaller space which meant fewer changes in  focal length ranges were needed.  The prime lenses are nicely sharp and gave me the opportunity to work at higher shutter speeds.  That's always nice.  Next time out I'm going to match up my old 70mm f2 against the 60mm 1.5 and see which one really is best.  Nice to see Olympus re-introducing so many high speed primes.  It's always a nice option in the age of relentless zooms.

The biggest issue I had, technically, last night was all the laughing.  Most of the play is so funny that I found myself laughing out loud with the rest of the small (family and friends) audience. Hard to keep your equipment steady during a full out belly laugh. Ben thought the play we great as well.  Score one for fighting against video games....

Both cameras made it through the show with their original batteries.  Paranoia proved once again to be unnecessary.

I've already made reservations to go back and see the play again.  All fun all the time.

Hope you've got your Summer in a good trajectory.  It's not nearly as hot in Austin as it was this time last year.  The lawns are green, the pools are cool and it's even possible to go (comfortably) for long walks.  With a camera.

Thanks for reading.


Steve said...

A really interesting take on shooting this event, and the cameras (I own both, also the E-M5, and the 45mm, AND my original c1963 Pen). I may go to a local outdoor theatre event tomorrow evening, but I suspect it will be over-the-head shots for me, and anyway it isn't the equipment that matters, just my lack of skill, but that is more than made up for by enjoying the event and trying to do better photographically.

Bill Beebe said...

The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way.
- Mark Twain, Private and Public Morals speech, 1906

Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

kirk tuck said...

verily. Thank you.

Craig Yuill said...

Kirk, I fully understand your enthusiasm for "Fully Committed". Several years ago, in our pre-children era, my wife and I saw this play performed by Mark McKinney, a member of the "Kids in the Hall" comedy troupe and former "Saturday Night Live" cast member. It was a really-fun and well-performed play. I'd love to be able to see Martin Burke perform in it. I urge everyone here to get tickets to see it if it comes to your area. It will be well worth your time and money.