The first good shake out walk with the Panasonic GH3.

If you read the VSL blog regularly you'll know two things. I recently bought a Panasonic GH3 for video projects (yes, I tested it head to head with a Canon 5D3 and prefer the usability of the EVF and the smooth, luscious detail of the files from the GH3) and that I have no allegiance to any one camera system. Whatever works, works.

I bought the GH3 before I headed to NYC and barely shot five frames around the studio. When I got back home I spent an evening reading the manual and going over the menus ( which are straightforward and make sense).  I finished all the work I needed to get done today around 4 pm and decided to take the GH3 out for a walk, just to see how it felt and how it performed.

To date I have three lenses for this camera: the older kit lens, the Leica/Panasonic 25mm 1.4, and the 45-150mm 3.5 to 5.6. I have a new version of the kit lens heading my way and the offer of lens loans for most of the Panasonic premium line from Frank. I also have a nearly complete collection of Olympus (film) Pen lenses from pedestrian to esoteric high speeders. Today I made things simple and I just put the old kit lens on and set it at aperture priority and f5.6.

It's kind of silly and useless to test a camera in perfect daylight and with the lens stopped down to its optimum aperture. But I learned what I needed to about the camera and its operation during the course of my walk. The body is just right. Not too big but not so small that the buttons are smushed together. And speaking of buttons....there's pretty much a dedicated button for whatever you want to control. A far leap from my previous, screen centric week. 

 While I am spoiled by the full frame, huge resolution files from the two Sony cameras (a99 and a850) I find the images from the GH3 snappy, saturated and very sharp. The dynamic range seems ample and the metering is right on the money.

The real litmus test for me will be the rendering of skin tones. The tests I've done in video lead me to believe that things will be great in that department but you never really know until you try it and test it for yourself. I like the camera well enough that I'm buying a second body tomorrow and pressing it into service almost immediately for several video projects for clients. The second body is nothing extraordinary. A professional should always travel with a back-up to his or her main camera and one that uses the same batteries and menus is a distinct plus.  

If the camera serves me well I'll flesh out the lens selection with the two Panasonic 2.8 zooms. In the meantime I'll be using the Olympus Pen legacy lenses, Sony Alpha lenses with an adapter and the handful of Panasonic lenses I've already gotten. The worry is "lens creep." That's like mission creep. It's when you progressively justify and rationalize more and more lens purchases until you are knee deep in a system that you bought just for a specific function.

For those few readers who've come recently from forums and are hard of comprehension: My use of the Panaonic GH3s doesn't mean I'm getting rid of the full frame Sonys, nor is it a blanket endorsement of the Panasonic cameras. It just means that I like them better for video and I'm keeping an open mind about their efficacy for still imaging. If you don't like that; if that's not binary enough then you should read something else instead.

In terms of issues I am seeing two things: The contrast of the files could be a little higher and there is a tendency for the files to go slightly magenta. In the camera's defense, I have profiles down to a science for the Sony cameras. It will take a bit of time to get up to speed with the Panasonics. 
Finally, I will have to learn how to walk around with less weight on my shoulders. I hope it's enough weight to defy the centrifugal energy of earth's spin and keep me from flying off into the ether....

Three little systems. The Sony Alphas. The Pentax K-01 toy cameras. The Panasonic GH3's. Seems about right as we're nearing the end of 2013...

Studio Portrait Lighting

Yes. Here's the loupe I wrote about yesterday...

It works well. Works on any number of cameras and, if I was trying to do video on a DSLR I'd have one in a hot minute. Wait, I already do have one. It's bolted to my Pentax....so I can shoot some video... Found out that the base of the connector plate is compatible with some Arca Swiss quick release plates. Who knew? You can get it at Amazon for about $120.

Here's the link: Great, Cheap Loupe.

Have fun seeing your LCD better.

Studio Portrait Lighting


A light, airy and silly post about an absurd purchase from last week....

Subtitled: Crazy stuff photographers buy at trade shows. Not the camera.....

If you read the blog you already know that I have a soft spot for silly cameras that are secretly great image makers but you might not know that I, like many other technical leaning male picture makers, have a penchant for buttons, knobs and anything else you can add to a device that makes it look cooler or more.....meaningfully complex. It goes back to that whole painful mastery thing we talked about on Sunday...

At any rate Nick Kelsh and I were tooling around the trade show in New York looking at all the cool new video stuff when I can across a small table whose inhabitants specialized in "viewer technology."
They had all kinds of viewfinders and hoods and shades for the LCD screens that hang there on the backs of still and video cameras. I found the biggest, meanest, gnarly-est one I could and measure it with my pocket laser rangefinder/caliper system to make sure it would fit on the backs of my Samsung NX 300 and my remarkably cool Pentax K-01's and then I borrowed a hundred bucks from Nick and bought one.  It actually occupies more cubic space than either my Pentax or my spunky little Samsung. And it's photographic comedy to see it in use....but now I can get my money's worth out of those expensive little flat panels that keep showing up on the backs of otherwise perfectly good cameras. 

The company that sells this is called, Swivi and I think the product is a bargain at $100. It's got an eyepiece blind (for what? I'm not sure...) and a big diopter adjustment ring that's made out of metal. You can see that the rubber eyecup is steroid enhanced. Absolutely hulking.  You'll think you've gone back to the eyecup on your Arriflex 16S. 

The loupe construction is hinged so you can flip up the magnifying element and look at the shaded LCD directly or hold the camera at arm's length in classic, stinky baby diaper--daddy needs glasses" style. Wonderful for new school or old school. 

Best of all this beast bolts onto the bottom with belligerent bravado. The all metal mounting hardware is a salad of metal bolts and rods that allows the unit to be custom fit to just about any camera with a tripod socket. Shifting left and right or up and down is easy and when you've got it where you want it the whole thing locks down tightly. And wearing it with a diminutive camera will make you look like the biggest photo nerd in the area. But I'll still bring it around with me when I actually want, or need, to see what's on the screen at midday in the blazing sun. YMMV.

The wonderful thing bout the construction of the loupe and the mounting hardware is that
nothing occludes the Marc Newsome signature on the bottom of my camera. 
And secondarily, nothing gets in the way of the battery compartment.

The one fly in the ointment? You lose your tripod socket.
C'est la vie. That's what vise grips are for......

Life in the booth.

Gloria. Samsung Galaxy NX. 60mm Len. 

I've never been a "booth babe" before. I've been to a lot of trade shows and photographed tons of corporate events as a show photographer but this was a first for me. There something both magical and mercenary about pretending to be plying your trade (portraiture) in front of a mob that ranges from keenly interested and kind to downright sociopathic and demanding. I've rarely felt as exposed. But once you steel yourself up it kind of grows on you.... Like breaking in new shoes.

In the Samsung booth Nick Kelsh and I were shooting with our cameras electronically tethered to a rather large and impressive television and this meant that, with constantly on live view, everything we pointed our cameras at was shown simultaneously to everyone around the booth. Every snap we reviewed was popped up on the "big" screen ---real time. So, when we flubbed exposures or got the most horrible expression from a model imaginable the results were there for our ever changing panel of "judges."

Every once in a while I'd push the wrong series of buttons on my camera in way too quick and chaotic a manner and the camera would give me an error message. The "fix" was generally a quick jab at the power button and we'd be back in business but I'd always get rattled and hand my camera to Andrew, our technical wizard. He'd push the requisite two buttons and hand the camera back with a smile and I'd go on shooting.

I found out that there is, at some point of the day, going to be a show attendee who hates your brand, loves his chosen brand and is dropping by your booth to be as obnoxious as possible. But until everyone starts throwing punches you really can't call security. But you can try to change the conversation to something else....or pawn him off on a booth "expert" in your camp. Goes with the territory. 

So, what did I learn in my close embrace of the general public for three days? Well, it's much easier to demo a camera if you look at the big screen on the back or the even bigger screen over your head when you are shooting test shots and sample shots. That way you stay with the crowd instead of retreating into your viewfinder.  I learned that on an APS-C sensor camera that my absolute favorite portrait focal length is, without a doubt,  60mm! I had the 85mm 1.4 in my bag and while it's a wonderful lens that focuses quickly and images nicely it seemed just a bit long, which put me just a bit further away from my subject than I'd like to be. I went shorter once or twice but it just never seemed to gel for me.

I now know why I like to use a tripod! I can compose and maintain that basic composition even if I need to, or want to, step away from the camera to answer a question or stare at that Leica S camera just a few booths away. When I come back to the camera it's still all set up the way I left it. The tripod also allows me to keep my hands free to push buttons or gesticulate wildly at the models...

I never liked shooting tethered before. In the early days the Kodak professional cameras and the Photo Desk software made tethering straightforward and relatively easy but ensuing products from other makers were always more tenuous and halting. Mid-decade programs crashed and ran slow (for portrait shooters) and I always hated being on the end of the inevitable leash. But tethering wireless and "at speed" is great. The image was on screen almost simultaneous to my shooting it and the giant TV and the LCD on the back of the camera seemed to be a reasonably good match. Yesterday I found myself shooting a portrait "old school" and realized that I've already spoiled myself in just three days. Now I'm shopping around for a "smart" TV that does wi-fi so I can set it up in the studio and change the way I've been doing portraits....

I found that in the "behind the scenes" areas of a trade show booth there might be Crumbs(tm) cupcakes and many of them might conspire to have my name on them. I also found treasure troves of  Halloween candy which I shamelessly bartered with the gatekeeper at the V.I.P. lounge for fresh coffee. I've come to understand from my booth mates that no matter how much product literature you bring you will run out. The only thing worse than running out of literature is to bring a sparse amount and NOT run out.

I've come to realize that no matter how big your shooting area you would always like just a few more feet on every side. But mostly I've come to realize that a collaboration with a talented and beautiful model will always make you look like a better photographer. Really.

 Photos of Kirk provided by VSL reader, Tom Judd. ©2013 Tom Judd, all rights reserved.

Finally, I will always look ten pounds heavier than I think I am in any photo taken of me....

Thanks Tom!

link to tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/visualsciencekirk


The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don't understand.

Gloria. Cropped image from Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm macro lens.

On the last day of the PhotoPlus Expo I finally got why the camera industry has hit the wall and may never come back again in the same way. The folks who love cameras for the sake of cameras, and all the nostalgic feelings they evoke of Life Magazine, National Geographic, 1980's fashion, and 1990's celebrity portraiture, and other iconic showcases that made us sit up and really look at photography, are graying, getting old, and steadily shrinking in numbers.

I can profile the average camera buyer in the U.S. right now without looking at the numbers. The people driving the market are predominately over 50 years old and at least 90% of them are men. We're the ones who are driving the romantic re-entanglement with faux rangefinder styles. We're the ones at whom the retro design of the OMD series camera are aimed. We're the ones who remember when battleship Nikons and Canons were actually needed to get great shots and we're the ones who believe in the primacy of the still image as a wonderful means of communication and even art. But we're a small part of the consumer economy now and we're walking one path while the generations that are coming behind us are walking another path. And it's one we're willfully trying not to understand because we never want to admit that what we thought of as the "golden age of photography" is coming to an end as surely as the kingdom of Middle Earth fades away in the last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is not to say that photography is dying. Or that the generations coming behind us are doomed to failure and despair; far from it. They are living the golden age of photography from their perspective, and their heroes in the field are names we don't even know. This is a generation that values a personal vision that arrives as quickly as a phone call and has a much shorter half life than the one we experienced for our work, but then again, what doesn't move faster these days?

As I photographed in the booth for Samsung I looked out at the waves of people who were exploring the various products on the showroom floor and I became aware that most of them were well over 50 years old and the elders were carrying their big Nikons and Canons as badges of honor and with a smug attitude that their equipment choice was the one that would persevere through the ages.

But the very thing that makes a ruling party or a ruling generation is the same thing that will kill its paradigm. Our version of the market is almost a completely closed loop. At this Expo we worshipped at the altar of the same basic roster of speakers and presenters who've been speaking and presenting for the last ten years. We've closed the loop and the choice offered to younger photographers is to sit and listen to people old enough to be their grandmothers or grandfathers wax on about how we used to do it in the old days or to not come at all.

Sony swings for the fences and ends up a little short. The hands on mini-evaluation of the new A7's.

Gloria. One light. Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm Macro.

Man, those product shots that show up on the web from Sony always look so great. When I saw the first salvo of PR photos of the A7 and the A7r my drool response was nearly simultaneous. And if they'd been in stock at the time I would probably be $2200 poorer right now. But it didn't turn out that way and chances are it probably won't turn out that way although Sony will still make a sale if the RX 10 is as good in person as the specs lead me to believe it might be.

On my way to the PhotoPlus Expo I found myself musing about heading straight to the big Sony display and getting my hands on one of the cameras. I thought for sure I'd be fondling my future path in the Sony system. But instead of walking away in love I walked away wondering about the idea of manufacturing en charrett. En charrett is a phrase made up by 19th century French architecture students who would work on projects while being pushed on a cart to the place where the designs would be judged. They would work on their projects right up to the deadline (and one imagines that there was always a lot left undone before the bell rang.....).

The Sony booth had a square table in the middle and A7 variants tethered to the top on all four sides. Here you could fondle both of the models to your heart's desire. So, I pick up the A7r, set the diopter for my eyesight and click the shutter. And in that moment it was like finding out that your beautiful date is also convinced she's been abducted by aliens and that the entire world is less than five thousand years old. The loud, high pitched click of the shutter was stunning. Absolutely stunning. At least I was stunned.

Here you have a camera with no flapping mirror and it generates more disagreeable decibels than a moving mirrored Pentax K5-2 and at a more hysterical pitch. Ahhh. I thought to myself. I just need to enable the electronic first shutter and all will be well. Then the second of many shoes dropped. The denser sensor of the A7r (the high res version) doesn't support quiet.  I mean electronic first curtain shutter. Oh well. I thought, and I moved on to the regular A7 and looked for the EFC in the menu. Even after I enabled that setting the shutter was still irresponsibly loud. And that's when I  started making a more critical survey of the entire package.

The camera is just about the right size for my hands but it is less well finished than the a99's I'm used to using. The design of the exterior just feels more primitive as though it came from a more primitive facility, from an earlier time. The squared off prism is an acquired taste I suppose, but it's one I'm having trouble acquiring... Then I moved on to the AF speed which will be of more interest to other than to me. It's not as fast as the a99. While the really good contrast detection AF systems are pretty darn good they aren't up to fast action. While the a99 is not stellar in this regard it is quite a bit better than the A7r I handled and modestly but obviously better than the AF in the A7 (which is supposed to incorporate PD-AF elements on its sensor.

Finally, even though the body is sized to fit into one's hands in a nice way (and especially with a small prime lens mounted on the front) the new, smaller size means the camera is a considerable handling mis-match for lenses made for the original Sony FF cameras. The large Zeiss zooms and the big 70-200mm G lens are totally out of step with the more compact body size. In fact, if you are using legacy glass from Sony along with one of the adapters your shooting profile (where the lenses are concerned) is bulkier than with the larger a99 body. And that just doesn't make sense.

While the body is smaller than the a99 once the lenses and adapters are mounted the difference between body sizes is trivial in the overall profile. So, in fact, nothing is gained except for the ability to use a wide range of older lenses with appropriate adapters.

The A7 with the 35mm f2.8 prime is a nice sized package.  But the camera itself just doesn't shake the feeling that it's still a work in progress. At some point they will have 8 or 10 good, dedicated lenses and the system will probably come together. I get what the guys at Sony are trying to do but I'm not sure they tossed it into the market in the exactly the right way. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it will sell and sell well. After all, it's a full frame camera with a great sensor at a very reasonable price. If most of my use for the camera were in the studio I'd commit to the 36 meg version and get an adapter right now. The noise wouldn't keep me up nights. But......

There's one more thing that irks me on this camera and on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera (which is in the same price range) and that's the fact that the menus include an "Airplane Mode" to turn off the connectivity features. That connotes to me that otherwise the camera is on and trying to connect all the time. I think cameras should only connect then I ask them to. But I am part of the graying of photography and my disconnection always hits right around the spot where someone tries to tell me how advantageous it is to stay connected all the time. Screw that. Sometimes I want to be in charge.

If only Sony had gotten the shutter right.....I could live with just about everything else. 

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....

Which cameras have caught my interest right now.

This is Naomi. I photographed her while surrounded by lots and lots of people holding Nikon promotional bags. I used one little Photogenic strobe ensconced is a small strip light, aimed at a big, white diffuser. It was done with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera and the 60mm macro lens. 

As you know if you read the blog I spent three days in NYC at the PhotoPlus Expo. Part of the time I was working; showing off the new Samsung camera and playing around with light. The rest of the time I was walking around the exhibit space trying out new stuff and exploring the what's new aspect of the show. I saw lots of the same old things but I also saw some fun new inventions and got to handle some recently launched cameras....some of which made me smile in a good way.

Let's start with the interesting stuff. I think Nikon finally launched a product that's hard not to like. It's their new little underwater system camera, the AW1. It's waterproof, freeze proof (down to 14f) and shock proof. It's part of the Nikon 1 system so you've got a very good 14+ megapixel, one inch chip and the system includes two waterproof lenses. It's about time someone created a replacement for the Nikonos! The camera will use all the Nikon 1 series lenses (but is only waterproof with the two specialty lenses. It generally comes bundled with the all purpose zoom lens. I'll buy one for the times I want to get in the pool and photograph or videotape (1080p) from underwater. I handled the camera and found it to be nice and solid. I kinda like the silver finish because it will be easier to find at the bottom of a camera bag.  Good for Nikon for a well thought out specialty product. One that many of us need and at a price most will be able to afford. To find out more or order yours click this link.

 I just want to give Nikon another thumbs up for their fun 
display of the AW1 camera. They basically built a terrarium 
and partially submerged the camera and lens in water. Nice. 
And the display was well crafted.

The next camera that caught my attention was one that's been out since last Spring and it's one that I had overlooked entirely. It's the Panasonic G6. It's a smaller. lighter, cheaper version of the Panasonic GH3. I recently had occasion to see some really wonderful video from the GH3 and immediately rushed over to Precision Camera and bought one, along with the standard zoom and a perennial fave of mine, the Leica 25mm f1.4.  My intention is to make the Panasonic system my primary video system. While the Sony a99 has much to commend it for video the Panasonic files just flat out look better. They are more detailed, sharper and have a less "compressed" feel about them. 

I walked over to the Panasonic booth just to see what they had in lenses when I came across the G6. It's beautifully designed and breaks with the new enthusiasm for making everything look like a rangefinder camera from the 1950's. I understand that the image quality of the G6 is no better than its predecessor, the G5 but I like the implementation of focus peaking which comes in very handy for use with legacy lenses and I love the body style. The final tipper for me was the beautifully done EVF. A really well done one for a camera that's currently selling for about $638 with the (well regarded, new version) kit lens. I'll take one. If the color in video is a good match with the GH3 I'll use it as a "B-roll" camera on smaller, guerrilla style video projects. But of course this now puts me right back into the lens buying situation that I've largely avoided by sticking with the Sony SLT system for such a long (relative to my previous buying patterns) time.

By the way, while everyone in the film world keeps getting elated and then burned by Black Magic 4K video camera announcements and then endless delays, there's a solid rumor that Panasonic will be introducing a 4k version of the GH3. People are tentatively calling it a GH4. If the rumors pan out then it may be a camera that will drive sales for Panasonic in both the video and the still markets to a much greater degree. Especially if they keep the pricing relatively the same.

I was also impressed with the direction Panasonic took in doing their booth at this year's show. They set up an interview setting and did multiple camera interviews with GH3's on big, fluid head tripods. There was a console set up with multiple monitors and an editor/switcher. They were making the point (well) that they really get the whole hybrid: video+still market that's quickly growing into the next hot thing in imaging. Well done. Now if only the representative who came over to answer my questions had been up on his product knowledge....the first thing I asked about the G6 was about the ability to use a external microphone. He claimed that the G6 didn't have that capability. Further exploration revealed the port on the front, under a flap. Even further inspection revealed complete manual control of audio levels and level meters on screen. Send that sales guy back to market presentation school....

So yes, I am currently buying up some additional Panasonic stuff but I know that when I talk about video it bores the bejeezus out of a lot of people here so I'll just leave it at that....

Moving on to the next pretty, shiny object I played with.....The Fuji Xe-2. It looks killer in black. The EVF is great and it's still being bundled (as was the Xe-1) with the really terrific 18-55mm f2.8 to f4.0 zoom lens instead of the cheaper 3.5-5.6. The camera felt really nice and made me wonder for the hundredth time why anyone would buy a x100s when they could have a camera with equally good sensor performance that also allow the use of different lenses. Sure, I would have fun with a x100s but I'd spend nearly every day bemoaning the fact that the focal length bolted permanently on the front of the camera is not at least a 50mm equivalent... The smaller cameras without EVFs from Fuji make no sense to me but then I'm not in the demographic for them so I've given up trying to figure out the rationalization. All the Fuji stuff looked really nice but that Xe-2 is the one that hits the sweet spot for me. Will I get one? Naw. I'm fooling around with some of the m4:3 stuff again and having fun.

While I was attending the show I also had occasion to have a nice dinner with the new president of Imaging for Olympus USA, Mr. Harry Matsushita. We were joined by five other photographers and a handful of public relations folks. During dinner we were passing around a couple of the new OMD eM1 cameras fitted with 12-40mm f2.8 lenses. It was the first time I had handled the new camera and I can see what all the excitement is about. The camera feels remarkably solid in my hands and the focusing, even in our dark dining room, was snappy. Actually impressively snappy. 

Most of the photographers at the dinner were Olympus faithful and it was fun to share stories about launching digital imaging careers with Olympus products like the classic E-10 and then the legendary E-1.  My involvement with Olympus digital cameras goes all the way back to the Camera DL-500 (I think that's the model...it actually had an EVF and it was a whopping 1.5 megapixels. Circa 1998).
If Olympus keeps knocking it out of the ballpark with solid cameras and genuinely wonderful single focal length lenses I predict they will eventually steal profound industry market share from Canon and Nikon. You can already see the approaching tipping point if you look carefully.

What was I looking for that I didn't see? I would have loved for Samsung to come out with an EVF equipped version of their very good NX300 or a step up model from the NX20 with a better EVF.  I was also looking for Nikon or Canon to break out something new and splendid that's different than the same old DSLR construct. Didn't see it.

What about Sony?  I'll save my take on Sony's A7 and A7r for the next blog. It's a subject that WILL step on toes so I don't want to muddy up the positive stuff I talked about here. 

Did I have fun at the show? You bet. 


Naomi collecting cameras.

Yes. Today is both my birthday and the day we celebrate the 1700th blog post.

I mini-celebrated my birthday last night at midnight+1 by having a Jack Daniels over ice on a JetBlue flight flying through a wild lightning storm somewhere over Arkansas. And I celebrated the hunting and pecking that created the 1700th blog post of the Visual Science Lab by making a nice cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. And by typing in a more leisurely fashion.

This is an in front of the scenes shot of my model in NYC. Nick and I both got to choose one model. I chose Gloria from a stack of head shots and Nick chose Naomi. I'll show you here image in a later post. Didn't really matter who picked whom as we switched around and took turns photographing each other for all three days.

I am one year older today. No wiser. No richer and no less happy. It was a great trip to frenetic, exciting New York but it was even greater to get back to the laid back quiet and lush and ample personal space that Austin affords.

Please stayed tuned to VSL for loads of opinions on new gear, big changes and a week long analysis of the world of photography. Spoiler? It's changing all the time. And so is the market.

In the next few posts well talk about my hands on evaluation of the new Sony A7 and A7r cameras, the Panasonic G6 camera and the Olympus em1 camera. I'll also talk about an interesting monolight I played with and some direct cheap soft boxes. All fun stuff. 

Gloria. A happy, one light set up. In the midst of chaos.

I will readily admit to being a spoiled photographer. I like working in a studio with lots of space and lots of quiet. I like being able to work uninterrupted and at a leisurely pace. And I love having everything set up just the way I want it. When I imagined going to the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC I imagined that all the exhibition spaces would be enormous and we'd have lots of space to spread out, create majestic lighting designs and work at a tempered pace far from the retail excitement of the show.

When I got to the Samsung area the first day I was pleased by the general design of the booth until I saw the tiny area in which Nick Kelsh and I, along with our models, Gloria and Naomi, would be working. The actual lit space couldn't have been more than ten by ten feet and the lights were attached to a truss frame and could only be moved by union electricians. The glamorous Swiss flashes I'd imagined turned out to be very inexpensive Photogenics and the 4x6 foot softbox that I imagined would be the Nexus of my lighting demos had been shrunk down to about 24 by 36 inches. We had a background light with a scoop and two small strip lights on the sides, each with their own Photogenic monolight.

I was a bit dismayed (because I am so spoiled...) but it never seemed to slow Nick down and so I took my cues from him, bucked up and worked with what we had. It was part of a re-learning experience. By working with smaller, less expensive lighting (and a lot less control over the atmosphere) I had to push myself to work in a different style and with a much different cadence. It turned out to be quite refreshing and even.....fun.

The image above is one of my favorites from the show. I'm wedged against a counter and the counter is covered with sample cameras. On the other side of the counter are clumps of photographers who are alternately watching what I'm doing, shooting their own images of Gloria with any and every camera brand under the sun, and asking questions of the booth staff and of me. One gentleman had parked himself to my right and was demanding that I immediately stop what I was doing and shoot sample video for him to evaluate on the spot. The noise level was amazing as every booth doing a demo was using their own portable PA system to amplify their presenters (as were we). The idea of working under these conditions had never really occurred to me before.

The way we had the Samsung Galaxy NX camera configured was to enable it's wi-fi capabilities and send the images, as they were being taken, to a 60 inch, 4K television screen above the booth. That way everyone in the crowd could watch my every fumble and misstep. But they'd also see, honestly, how the process of taking portraits might work. The camera would do three things simultaneously: It would write the files to the internal microSD card, write the files to a group Dropbox account for easy access by the client and also send a full res, clean screen file to the television monitor.

All my photographic life I've looked through a viewfinder and composed and shot. With this camera I spent the three days doing portraits by looking at the big screen and using the on screen touch controls to focus and take the actual exposure. It's a different way of looking but it works really well when your preview screen is a 60 inch, super high def TV instead of a three inch LCD on the back of the camera. I don't need my reading glasses to see the menu on the 60 inch screen....

It's also a great way to review images you've shot with clients, or, in this case 50 or so of your new friends who you are demo-ing for. I'd shoot for a few minutes, review the images, make my selections of ten or so and then configure a slide show on  the camera which would wirelessly play the images on the big monitor. If someone had a question about sharpness or wanted to look at the shadow detail of Gloria's jet black hair I could touch one image, bring it up full screen and using my fingers in the cellphone squeeze or separate method, enlarge the image to see parts of it. What a quick way to dispel a preconception about sharpness of noise in the shadows....

In any case I am proud of the image above, done in the chaos I've tried to describe. While I am sure Samsung would like for me to make the case that the camera was the linchpin for the image it also showed me that the tools are secondary to the intention. Our intention was to make the best portraits we could with the tools at hand. I don't need to hedge about this one. I really like it without equivocation. More so because it was created in such a wild (for a quiet portrait photographer) venue.

In the end good portraits are much more about a collaboration between photographer and sitter than anything else...

More to come.

My Most Amazing "Find" in the entire PhotoPlus Expo in New York this week was.....

Photographer, Nick Kelsh.

photographed at the Samsung booth with the Samsung Galaxy NX Android camera and the (incredibly good and drool-worthy) 60mm f2.8 macro Samsung lens.

I didn't know what to expect. Nick and I were thrown together by the public relations agency. But I quickly came to understand that I had been given a really nice gift. 

We were in NYC to promote the new camera which we've both been using for a while. I got to the Javits Center quite early the first day but Nick was there before me. He was fine tuning lights and getting stuff ready. He's tall, thin, wiry, happy and intense all at once. And smart. I liked him from the moment we shook hands.

At 60 Nick has been living photography nonstop since his early teen age years. He is masterful with people. He's the kind of guy who does a quick demo for an eager crowd, makes amazing work look easy, and then he literally wades into the crowd asking, offering and inviting people to come up and shoot the camera for themselves. He helps them get oriented. He guides them gently.  He makes them feel comfortable, smarter and more courageous and by the time they hand the camera back to Nick they feel like they've made a friend and learned from a wise mentor. And for a short spurt, they have.

Nick went on first of the first day of the show and I stood by and watched and I learned more about lighting and posing portraits in a short, concentrated burst than I have in years. I like tripods, Nick tossed his away. I like to be in control. Nick likes to collaborate. But he never relinquishes the artist's final say.

By the end of the three day show I felt as though I'd made a friend for life. We're already planning future projects and I came home encouraged, inspired and buoyed up by his example. Wow. 

Go see his work: http://www.nickkelsh.com

And look at his teaching website: http://howtophotographyourlife.com

I thought I would be enthralled by the new cameras or the new lights at the show. I had no idea the best feature of the show was the guy I shared the Samsung demo stage with...


Golden Oldie about EVFs....


This one came up in a bunch of searches today.  It's something I wrote for  Michael Johnston's blog a while back. In light of recent announcements I thought it might be fun reading. Again.

Smooth sailing into NYC. The fun starts tomorrow. Best, Kirk


Old School is good school.

Back in the film days we made lots of portraits. Now it seems like everyone is only interested in documenting their lunch. Do we really have that close a relationship with our lunch?

Belinda in the 1970's with an OM-1.

Over the last seventeen years and 364 days Ben has been photographed with an enormous variety of cameras and lenses...

....and I've loved every minute of it.

Tomorrow Ben turns 18. He'll be a full fledged adult (at least in the eyes of the government...) and I am amazed at how quickly the time has gone by. When he was tiny most of my documentation of his every move, burp and giggle was done with Leica and Hasselblad film cameras. He inaugurated the first Kodak professional digital cameras to hit the studio, patiently posed for Nikon 100's, Fuji S2s, 3s and 5s, and a whole litany of Olympus digital cameras starting with a DL 2500 and progressing through the e10, the e1 and the e3. He sat patiently while I fiddled with Canon D70s, d60s, 5dmk2s, and even a 1DSmk2. I can't begin to count the m4:3 versions he grimaced at and lately he's tolerated (barely) the Sonys and the Samsungs.

This was taken at Asti Trattoria, his favorite restaurant for at least the last 14 years, with one of my all time favorite camera and film combos. It was a Leica M6 (.85ttl) using a 50mm Summicron and ISO 400 black and white film.

I've made prints. Lots of prints. So even if GoldenEye goes off in the upper atmosphere and the EMF blast wipes out all the digital information I'll still have the actual artifacts, the black and white and color prints.

On a sad note tomorrow will be the first birthday for him at which I will not be present. I will be traveling to New York for the Photo Plus Expo. We'll celebrate when I get back on Sunday.  Maybe I'll have a bag of free samples to share. One can only hope.

Have kids? Whip that camera out and make some beautiful images. At the core that's what this is really all about. Then, take that next step and have a bunch of prints made. It's the only current future proof guarantee. And they're fun to have around.

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If you are in New York at the PhotoExpo consider dropping by the Samsung area to say, "hello." I'd appreciate it.


New Look for VSL blog factory. Logo Mania.

A week ago I sat in the offices at Clutch Creative and looked at 13 really cool logo designs that my friends had created for this site. I instantly loved the one above. I think it sums up the "feel" of what I want the Visual Science Lab to be about. There was only one problem, the dynamic template I was using from Blogger isn't really customizable without a great deal of skill and patience. I wanted to use the new logo but the site conspired against me. I decided I liked the logo more than the template so I switched to one of Bloggers simpler and more customizable templates and now we're right here....

Positive feedback always welcome!


The new life of professional photographers: Endless, shameless self-promotion.

Self portrait for PhotoPlus intro.

Little known facts about me: I like to wear suits or jacket and ties. I like vintage ties best but I've bought four ties in the last few months and I found a nice source of knitted silk ties that are understated and look great. The tie in the image above is not one of them. It's what Ben calls my "candy cane" tie. 

Another little tidbit about me is that I loathe self promotion on any scale larger than that needed to keep basic projects coming in the door. I always feel weird about it. But I think that for the working professional with the need to generate income from multiple sources the grim reality of self-promotion will be the wave of the future for everyone who has something (however remotely valuable) to sell. 

Five or six years ago most of my time was spent meeting with clients who bought or licensed photography and then doing the pre-production, actual production and post production for those projects. I spent a good deal of my time with my nose in PhotoShop followed by a witless romp through QuickBooks Pro and then on to the next job. When things slowed down I sent out post cards to clients and people that I wished were my clients and then when things slowed down more I would get out the contact list and make those dreaded cold, lukewarm and also comfort calls. Comfort calls are those you make to clients who you already work for, who consider you a friend and are always happy to go out to lunch with you and look at new work for a few minutes followed by a long, enjoyable and mostly social meal.

Now it feels like it's all changed. Part of the new reality of being a photographer trying to make a good living is that we feel the need to diversify. The need to branch out. I was thrilled when I started writing books and I was happy when the royalties would roll in because it helped keep the enterprise afloat and gave me a new reason to buy and experiment with fun toys. It's been two years since I started writing the book on LEDs (my most recent book) and I'm almost ready to get started on the next book. 

But what that really means is that I'm trading time and freedom for the feeling of security and in reality I"m feeling more and more pulled apart and separated from the thing I love about photography which is just the pure act of taking photographs. Or more clearly, making portraits. So far this year I've spent a lot of time outlining photography courses for Craftsy.com and then flying to Denver to do the production for days and days at a time. I've also traveled for Samsung in order to help them get the word out about their new camera. I'll be a paid speaker next week in NYC for them as well. But it's not just the presenting days that stretch me, there's also the time spent getting to know the new cameras and the fourth new menu structure I've memorized so far this year. When you add a book project on top of those things it starts to feel like I'm something other than a working photographer. And that's scary for me since I've spent the years since 1988 doing mostly nothing but photography. I'm not sure I'm good at career multi-tasking and I guess I need to figure out where all my boundaries are as I move forward. 

I put on a coat and tie today and went out to meet with a prospective client. I got there early and walked into the business with my little notebook and my favorite pen in hand. I listened intently, offered suggestions where appropriate and went over the possible financial arrangements. I jotted little facts in my notebook.  It felt so streamlined and elegant. It's only one day of shooting and one day of post production. The project has a clearly defined start and end. The expectations are well laid out. It's a job that's perfect for me and I hope I get it. I know it's right because I felt that old anticipation and nervous energy that I always used to feel when meeting straightforward clients. It's just straightforward  photography business. I didn't even bring up the possibility of video because I wanted to savor the purity of the job in its most direct form.

In a sense I think I've been fooling myself in the execution of my multi-threaded career for a number of years. I'm not good with long term projects. They are like bad shoes that blister your ankles or the back of your heel. They go on and on long after the thrill has dissipated like a vodka martini in your blood stream. But if you do good work on them, if you exercise your Calvinist tendencies and work till you drop  you always get invited back. And that's a blessing and a curse. A blessing because money comes in, but a curse of sorts because you believe that you've traded your freedom and poverty for some security only to find that it's bound with Sisyphean routine. You now have resources but no joyful quarter in which to spend them.

And, if you are an artist the thing you originally chased after the money for was to buy the freedom to do your own work on your own terms. But that always gets short circuited as  your lifestyle grows and mutates to take advantage of whatever level of income you become used to. And you find yourself limited by the time obligations of the projects that incessantly bookend your photography...

How does one handle multiple projects across diverse disciplines? You have to change gears a lot and that's tough on the clutch. I've completed three projects for Craftsy.com. I'll be inviting you all to sign up for the free hour long course I did on photographing family. Next week is the culmination of my Samsung project and I'm looking forward to working with the final permutation of the Galaxy NX camera. But the truth is that I'll welcome the break from doing both projects for a little while. And I may decide to hold off the next book for a little while longer, too. 

I really think I'd like to see if I can re-invent my business as a portrait business for a whole new cultural era. I'd like to see if I can make the nut with only my cameras and lights as my tools. And I've been thinking back to the early 1980's when I was teaching. A student and I were talking and he said to me, "If you were really as good as you think you are you wouldn't be stuck here teaching the same shit over and over again....you'd be out doing it." And it was that conversation more than anything else that led me to abandon teaching and embark on a wild adventure in freelancing. 

I can hear echoes of that same challenge today. Can I step back from all the things I've been embracing to assuage my anxiety about the economy and the changes to the industry and practice the pure craft again? I'm willing to try. My current mantra is "to re-invent the portrait."  And even if it's not entirely possible to do it would make for a great book project on the other side. 

It's easy to sell a product or even a service but selling one's self is difficult. It requires many periods of reflection and recharging. And in the end it's probably inefficient to have a "product" that is self aware.

The image below was added by request. A more traditional rendition.

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Love the sky after a good rain. Love a crazy billboard.

Thinking about New York and planning for next week.

from the Blanton Museum, Battle cast collection. 

I'm totally amped up about heading to New York City next week and being an active participant in the Photo Plus Expo. My goals are to do a great job for Samsung in showing off their new flagship camera, the Samsung Galaxy NX (and their best lenses!!), I'm also looking forward to meeting a giant crew of Visual Science Lab readers, fellow blog writers and world renowned photographers. If I get out and have some really great meals I'll consider that a big plus. I've been using several variants of the Galaxy NX camera as the company continues to improve software and firmware and the cameras just get better and better. My kid is really helping me wrap my brain around the connectivity features and he's starting to get across the benefits of having a  highly connected camera to me. He would have been somewhat proud of me if he knew that as I was walking around shooting this morning I was also listening to some of my favorite music.....on the camera. 

I left my cellphone in my car and when I got to Caffe Medici I logged onto to their wi-fi network to check my e-mail and then download a free copy of Snapseed for Android so I'd have it on the camera for quick edits on the fly in NYC. I did pause, push the shutter button to get back to the camera app so I could snap a quick shot of an incredibly beautiful woman as she shimmied out the door with a small assemblage of paper coffee cups. The downtown "my turn to get the coffee" shuffle. I could get used to have everything in one device. At least the pockets of my jeans weren't crammed with extra stuff and that made me look a bit thinner....which is always nice. 

So, I'm hitting NYC on Weds. and I'm heading to the Javits Center way early on Thurs. the 23rd. I hope to have my "vendor" badge in hand so I don't have to help be the line and wait to check in with some guy who has a clip board and can't spell or read names. Been there too many times.

I'll be in the Samsung booth which is supposed to be fairly huge and I'm setting up big softboxes and my favorite shade of gray seamless and I'm going to show off what this system can do..... live. No big fixes in PhotoShop and no army of postproduction engineers standing by with live preservers to save me from making mistakes. As I shoot the images will feed wirelessly into a network and be presented on huge, 4K screens all around the booth. I got to select the model I'll be working with and I have that nervous feeling of anticipation that generally precedes the projects which you know will be challenging but incredibly fun. I'll be doing some variation of this (probably better and better with more and more practice) every day for about half a day and then I tag team out and Nick Kelsh takes over and lights stuff his way and does his shooting. I'll probably stick around and see what I can learn from a portrait master. We're both out to be the best shooters in the show. I know, I know, the competition at this one will be rough. And my wife has already calmly and sweetly told me that making beautiful portraits is NOT a competitive sport....we'll see what my swim coach has to say about that....

So, the rest of the time I'll be hanging out in New York and while I am incredibly shy and retiring I would love to meet some new people, hang out and drink coffee or good red wine.

If you are planning to be in the city for this thing then by all means, get in touch! We'll make time. At the show or somewhere else.

I also heard that they have a few good museums I might try to go look at.

And finally, when I get back home on Sunday I'll be celebrating my birthday. Huge and overwhelming gifts are always welcome. You know the systems I shoot with and you probably have a good idea of which lenses I might need......I'll drop some hints if you need me to...

See you there.


A small child in Colorado. Sometimes (usually) my favorite shots are the unplanned ones.

We were filming a video course in a beautiful house somewhere outside of Boulder, Co. The course is on how to take better family photographs. The young girl (above) was one of our models and she was in one of the work rooms watching the make-up person apply the finishing touches to one of the adults. When I'm not in front of the camera on projects like this I like to roam around and shoot production shots in a more or less random fashion.

I walked into the room and found my small model standing next to a window so I got down on my knees and smiled and took a few shots. It was already a cold, wet, dark and rainy day so the light levels were low. I was using my Sony a99 and letting it run free on auto ISO. When I came across this file later I had a look at the exif info. The ISO was 5,000 to give me a very hand holdable 1/160th at f3.5 with my favorite, lightweight 85mm 2.8 lens.

We have plenty of images of the child smiling sweetly into the camera but I like this one best.

Minutes later our model was joined with a horde of other small models and they proceeded to illustrate exactly how futile the best plans of grown up photographers can be when confronted with 2, 3 and 4 year olds.... I had fun anyway.

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The latest descendant from the Sony R1. The best bridge camera ever?

Sony's new RX10. The Ultimate Bridge Camera?

Let's see. First you take the sensor from the new Sony RX100ii (which is widely acclaimed as being.... a great sensor), couple it with a zoom lens designed specifically for the characteristics of that sensor by the people at Carl Zeiss, add in full bore, high def video capabilities and then package the whole thing with a very good EVF and a great LCD. Give it 10fps at full Jpeg with an unlimited shooting buffer and you're starting to put together a damn good camera. Not just good for the category or a good value for the price/performance matrix but a damn good camera overall. 

Of course we'll have to wait for it to ship and then we'll have to shoot it for a while to make a final determination but it seems to me that Sony has a pretty exciting camera on their hands. In one quick release they've redefined the current bridge camera market. People will bitch about the price but I remember reading the review of this camera's predecessor on DPReview when it came out in 2005. 
The editor hemmed and hawed and finally proclaimed that he was giving the camera two thumbs up because the quality of the lens alone justified the full price of the camera. This is the spiritual descendant of the R1. Sure you can get a Canon Rebel for less cash but does it come with a Carl Zeiss 24-200mm stabilized f2.8 lens? Not on this planet...

Who will this camera appeal to besides me? Well, with mic and headphone inputs+1080p HD video,  new higher quality video sampling, focus peaking even during video operation, and image stabilization as well this camera is an obvious contender with the Panasonic GH3 (or with the larger new Sony cameras) as a solid production video camera. They've even seen fit to supply a clean, uncompressed video output via the HDMI port! I'll try one just for the video.  But I know, I know.... you hate video and you wish it was never shoved into your camera.

So lets look at other applications. An all purpose, high quality travel camera with a Zeiss 24-200mm f2.8 lens on the front. After several recent trips with lots of gear I'd sure love to toss this into my carry on backpack and gleefully march through several major capital cities snapping great images to my heart's desire. It's not the lightest of the bridge cameras but it certainly will be one of the highest performing where overall I.Q. is concerned. Of course, if you're in it for superior/ultimate I.Q. you'll probably also be looking at the Leica Vario X. Hmmmm. The Leica might be a bit sharper but I'm betting the Sony will focus quicker, it obviously has a lot more lens range and the lens range it offers is so much faster than the Leica's. I'll trade that last one or two percent of potential quality for a image making monster like the RX10 any day.

Now, if they tell me it's also weather resistant we've almost certainly got a deal. Why? Because I've found these Quixotic Sony bridge cameras to be great values. Huh? Yes, I still have and still shoot with the original Sony R1 bridge camera from 2005. Why? Because a 10 megapixel APS-C size sensor (based on the sensor construction of that used in the Nikon D2x) coupled with an insanely good Zeiss lens means the camera is still a formidable picture taker. I bought the camera (actually I bought several of them) for around $899 back in 2005. I've shot it now for eight years. I've done high end commercial real estate brochures with it and have a glorious annual report for a large financial services company shot solely with R1s. Wonderful images and it was fun using the camera to take them. Those cameras have paid for themselves many, many times over and they're still rolling along making great images.

If I got that kind of use out of the R1 I can only imagine how useful the new RX10 will be when it comes to the new hybrid video/still approach we're taking with my business. The market is changing. If one camera at $1300 can do double duty and do it as well as the multiple cameras it replaces it seems logical to swim with the  tide instead of fighting against it. Maybe it won't work out this way when we have product in our hands but can you imagine running an entire imaging business with just two of these?  Nice.

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