Low Tech Obsolete Gear of the Day.

For the last few weeks I've been stuck in post production prison. I've shot a lot of assignments and most of them are portrait intensive. That means lots of after the fact work. I usually shoot too much but I'd rather have some selections I love than stop before the good stuff even happens. This all needs to be edited (when I say "edit" I use it as we used to understand the word. I choose the good frames from the bad frames). Once the stuff is edited and key worded in Lightroom I go through and make some global processing adjustments. These might include an overall sharpening if the camera warrants it (especially older cameras with chunky anti-aliasing filters), general exposure adjustments and a bit of "clarity" to pop the files a bit so they read well in our next step, which is the creation and uploading of galleries for our clients.

The real work comes when the clients come back with their selections. I'm never sure where to stop because we participate in a craft that can be endlessly perfected but we work with budgets that are just computed for excellent. This afternoon I edited exterior portraits of seven different executives. I masked the subject so I could blur the trees in the background a bit more. And I ended up adding a graded blurring with ever contracting selection parameters and some feathering thrown in for good measure. I fixed stray hairs. I switched one person's left eye out for a re-worked version of his right eye (remembering to switch the catchlight from one side of the iris to the other) so his eyes would appear to match. The subject had a tendency to always squint one eye.... I gave form to chins, banished stray hairs and even fixed lumpy collars. And all that takes time. But I like to do this kind of post production all in one go because the corporate client will almost always be using these portraits together. I wanted there to be continuity in everything from color temperature to the general feel of the out of focus backgrounds.

By the time I hit the button to upload 500 megabytes of files (various file types two different color profiles) I was ready to get out of the studio, get a camera in my hand and start shooting something. Kind of a knee jerk reaction to an afternoon chained to a chair by work. So I grabbed a couple of lingering cameras and headed out the door. I got in the car, clicked on an old Bob Dylan album (Blood on the Tracks) and pointed the car toward the ever present downtown.

But I didn't get very far because I just wasn't feeling it today. I walked the space yesterday. I turned the car around and parked it at the house. My friend, the Studio Dog, was waiting for me at the front door. I walked through the house and grabbed two tennis balls and Studio Dog lit up with bouncy enthusiasm. We played search and rescue with the balls until the last glow of the sun started fading and then we sat on the back porch and just watched the light change. She stuck her chin on my leg and sighed a contented sigh. At that point I realized I'd spent far too much time with my cameras and not nearly enough time with her.

And I also realized that I didn't have a current photograph of her that I really liked. I grabbed one camera off the dining room table and came back out. We spent the next ten minutes in the quickly fading light horsing around and taking dog portraits together. Studio Dog is a born collaborator. She'll stay still on command and stare up at me through the bushy overhang of her wiry fur with a whole menu of "looks." She is the Zoolander of dogs....

The camera I was using was the old, used Nikon D7000 I picked up recently. I seem to be pushing it into every shooting scenario. I guess I'm just not afraid of messing it up. I don't baby it like I do with other more serious cameras. And I really can see why people have been singing the praises of that sensor for so long. It's smooth and rich and sharp.

We took a break for one of Studio Dog's nightly rituals. The dogs who live behind us are a motley crew of chihuahuas and other lap creatures. Every once in a while (at least three times a day) they are let out of their house and they make a bee line for our shared fence, growling and barking in a menacing fashion. Studio Dog loves nothing more than to run at top speed to the fence and use her most gravelly, growly voice to warn them off.  On each side of the fence they run back and forth and the two camps make a thunderous and primal noise. Then Studio Dog saunters back toward the house taking time to stop and pee. Which further incites the dogs on the other side of the fence.

While she was engaged I grabbed a different camera and when she was satisfied with the match we shot one more portrait. This time I used one of the many Olympus EM-5's that seem to be multiplying around the studio. It was fun to hang out with a too often neglected member of our little nuclear family. It was nice to stay home and watch the light shift and fade and go to black. At that point we headed inside to find water and wine. A nice end to a job heavy Sunday.

Seriously wondering if we haven't overshot on camera technology. I keep thinking that the EM5 and the D7000 look better than anything else I've shot or tested lately. Am I wrong or just contextually nostalgic?

Craftsy.com Photography classes all on sale through Monday December 1st.

    "I'm excited to share some news with you about Craftsy's biggest event of the year! I know that this is the season to shower your loved ones with gifts, but why not invest in yourself, too? Craftsy is making that just a little easier by marking down ALL online Photography classes to $19.99 or less, including mine, through Monday. Give the gift of learning here:"
That's the boilerplate from Craftsy.com but I really do think their photo classes are a screaming bargain at these prices. You can watch them as many times as you want, communicate with the teachers in a dedicated forum and learn new stuff from people who are really good at what they do. It's pretty much a zero risk proposition. My classes are on there too. Even the free one.
http://www.craftsy.com/ext/KirkTuck_holiday   <---- br="" doesn="" hurt="" look.="" nbsp="" t="" to="">

Click here to see the photo classes at Craftsy.

Just a quick, commercial message. Now, back to our usual programming.....


The most boring part of my business. The back up. The back up. The back up.

Just mixing it up. Garrido's Restaurant.

A measured response. Garrido's Restaurant.

I used to back up in two different ways. I would write the files from a job to a DVD or multiple DVDs. When files were smaller I would burn two sets of DVDs as a back up. One from a particular manufacturer's brand of DVDs and one from an alternate brand, just to make sure someone at the factory wasn't having a bad day that might make my life miserable down the road. After burning the DVDs I'd make a back up onto two different external hard drives. It was a miserable use of time but you could always write a blog or a novel while you were waiting to feed the DVD burner....

But then there came a day when, because of the increase in raw file sizes, every job was requiring four or five DVDs and by the time you made a back up set you'd spent some real quality time sitting in the office trying to future proof work for a client. And many times (most times?) the advertising work has a more limited life than the DVDs or the hard drives themselves. The sheer volume of work in a good year means going through some respectable number of terabytes to get all the original and finished files from every video and still photography projects safely tucked away.

When fast 7200 rpm drives became more $$ available I started using them in the video editing cycle and in the image or edit processing cycle of a job and then writing everything out to additional, large but slower hard drives for back up.

I noticed on my last trip to my local Costco that 4 terabyte drives could be had, on sale, for $114. These are Seagate USB 3 drives in nondescript enclosures and they work with Macs and PCs. I bought some. Now I am in the process of making a third point of back up for the work I've done in the last quarter. I am transferring 842.95 gigabytes of job files from one of the previous 3TB drives. The files will also remain on that drive and the original drive on which they were ingested and edited.  Of course the back-up is automatic at this point but it still boggles the mind that it will take three hours to complete the task. I have to admit that it's a heck of a lot faster than the original USB1 ports I started out with. After SCSI that is...

I tend to buy the hard drives in pairs and now that we're under the $150 mark for a 4TB the transactions are not as painful. I would council everyone who uses a method like this for backing up to get a slap of white tape and write the drive "name" and date of beginning and end of service (taken off system because it is full) and put it on the drive. I also recommend making a list of all the files on the drive and putting it in a notebook for quick reference should you need to find a precious file in a moment of desperation.

I liked making DVDs much better. While it took longer it's been exceedingly rare for me to have a CD or a DVD go "stupid" on me. I recently pulled some Kodak Gold CDs from 1999 of work I'd done in Madrid for Tivoli Systems and all the disks worked well. No corrupted files. But I do like the speed and ease of the HD back-ups. I just hope they are making them more and more reliable. But, unlike the film days I find myself not caring that much about older, client work files. We've instituted a policy of telling all clients in writing that when we hand them files the storage and maintenance of the files (including future migrations) is their sole responsibility. I make every effort to keep my hands on the work and the work on a working set of disks but no one can guard entirely from multiple, coincidental failures. And I might drop over dead just when they need their files the most. I will not delay my departure just to do more client tasks. :-) (Not planning on leaving any time soon).

I listened to Vincent Laforet talk to a group of our students a few years ago he dived into incredible detail about his back up strategy which calls for storing all files in RAID arrays in closet sized enclosures as well as making multiple tape back ups of everything. At the time he was estimating that his cost just to cool all the drives and the servers related to the drives was about $800 per month. Added to that one of his office assistants was constantly in the process of migrating terabytes of information from older drives to newer drives. It was stunning to listen to him and calculate the total monthly outlay he blew through just on back ups.

I've outlined my current back-up strategy above. I know some of you have far more technical knowledge about storage than I do. If you have any suggestions that might benefit all of the readers don't hesitate to chime in. If it's cost effective and better we're ready to change.

In the meantime I looked around Amazon to see what kind of deals I could find on external HDs. I limited my search to USB3's and Thunderbolts. Now might be the right time to add another layer to the back-up strategy or at least its redundancy.

This is the model I just picked up. You might be able to get a slightly better price at Costco but if you hate braving the crowds and already have an Amazon Prime membership AND you want to support my work here at the site this is not a bad price.....

And while you are waiting around for your back ups to happen it might be nice to have something exciting and photography oriented in your hands to read. Here's nice novel with a photographer as the protagonist. He's also a Leica aficionado. The Kindle version is on sale from $3.99 for the rest of this year. If you prefer to get your intrigue and adrenaline on paper we've got that too....


Real World Testing an Old Lens Just for Fun. And because it was such a nice day outside.

It was in the seventies here today with bright sun and sparse clouds. 
I've done my AF fine tuning with the AF lenses but I wanted to 
get out, walk around and see how another lens I recently bought 
actually performed. 

I put the old, Ais Nikon 25-50mm f4.0 lens on the Nikon D7000 and went for a walk through
downtown. I used the camera on manual. I set the lens at f8.0 and the shutter speed to 1/250th with the ISO set to 100. Occasionally I strayed a bit. I shot a few wide open. 
I shot a few in "A" mode with auto ISO but for the most part, as above.

The color is different than my newer lenses. So is the contrast rendering. 
But the resolution is very high. 
At f8.0 I suspect nearly every lens is beautiful. 
That's all I cared about in my shooting today.

Sharp versus SHARP. Taking time to fine tune the AF performance on each camera.

I got lots and lots of great feedback on the last blog. The one about diffraction and sensor size. And one of the things that commenters drove home is that a lot of what we were discussing is theoretically interesting but that diffraction effects, as they impact sharpness, are just one part of an assemblage of "moving parts" in the practice of real world photography. Yes, you'll see an erosion of sharpness as you push past the diffraction limited f-stops of your cameras but for many, many users that degradation will be amply masked by many other factors, from lens performance to sloppy user habits. In effect, to worry about diffraction effects while hand holding a camera and shooting a landscape is a bit daft.

I've had a busy, busy year and when we get swamped we always tend to look for magic bullets and quick fixes rather than just taking a deep breath and remembering how to do stuff right. A couple of weeks ago I mulled over the acquisition of a D810 or a D750 in a non-essential search for low hanging, sharp fruit. But a glitch during my photography at the Zach Dress rehearsal of "A Christmas Carol" did wonders to snap my brain back into "optimization" mode.

So, what was the snafu? Well, I had tested the 18-140mm Nikon lens on both my D7100 and my new D7000 bodies and found it to be very sharp wide open. Being a bit lazy and optimistic I assumed that this meant both cameras were focusing correctly and, by extension, would focus all lenses hung off the front of them correctly. Right? My previous experiences with the D7100 using the 85mm and 50mm lenses wide open showed me that that camera was pretty nicely zero'd in. It turns out that not all was merry and bright with the newer/older D7000. I had used it with a 50mm before and found it to perform well wide open but this was not the case with the 85mm 1.8G.

At the start of the performance I had the 85mm on the D7000 and I didn't like what I saw when I spot checked the first few frames at the maximum magnification of the review screen on the back. It just wasn't rendering a sharp image! I exchanged lenses between the two cameras and instantly saw the sharpness I expected with the D7100+85mm combination. Grumble, grumble.

I spent all day Weds. post processing files from four different jobs and then, after dinner, I headed back into the studio to do billing and to read through comments here concerning my thoughts on diffraction. A couple comments about how many different factors effect sharpness really resonated with me and I decided that it was time to check the AF accuracy of all the lenses I have on the D7000.

There are probably many methods that could be superior to my autofocus check process but this is what I do. I printed out resolution charts and taped them to the wall. I worked at getting my camera parallel to the wall and my exposure just right. I tethered the camera to Nikon's capture software and I went into "test mode." I went into the camera menu and found the AF-fine tune controls. I used the conventional AF, watching through the finder to make sure the green confirmation lit came on during focus. I had the camera set for center focusing point, S-AF. Once the focus showed a lock I switched the lens and body to manual to lock in the focus and then hit the live view switch. Then I painstakingly set and checked the lens at ever point, from +20 to -20. I had my monitor set for 100%. At that magnification it was easy to see the differences.

Once I knew where the ballpark of sharp focus resided I spent a while refocusing with the AF and reconfirming the sharpest setting. Turns out that the worst culprit in the tool box is the 85mm f1.8 ON THAT BODY. It needs a -19 correction to focus correctly. I suspected some sort of camera issue but the 50mm f1.8 required only a minus 3 to be convincingly sharp.

That led me to suspect that something must be wrong with the lens itself. So I put the lens on the D7100 and tried the same tests and found that the 85mm is right on the money with no calibration on that camera. The mysteries of cameras and lenses.

Cutting to the chase I went ahead and did the same testing with all the AF Nikon lenses on both bodies and fine tuned the crap out of the whole system. While some lenses were pretty accurate at zero most needed + or - tweaks of five points (out of twenty possible on either side of zero) or less to be as sharp as they are ever going to be on either camera.

Doing this convinced me of three things. First, that I'd been too lazy about technical stuff recently and I could see, immediately, the effects of increased sharpness in the photographs I took during my post calibration test drives. Secondly, that if I'm going to worry about things like diffraction and sensor size it behooves me to zero out and optimize as many parts of the equation I have control over. And, third, that the cameras we have in hand are already great performers once we've taken the time to optimize them and use the best technique.

One bright or sad note (depending on your particular camera inventory) is that the majority of my lenses, in combination with the two bodies, could use a bit of tweaking to get my money's worth when it comes to sharpness.  I did spot check a few of my mirror less bodies and found no focusing issues that I could test for. I would jump in and enthusiastically say that there were "no" problems but the cameras don't give me the tools to actually check the point of highest sharpness as driven by the camera's AF systems so, in fact, we really don't know if the mirror less (mirror free!) camera actually are any better in this regard. Maybe a bit more research is needed.

Now, when I shoot my 85mm lens at it's highest non-diffraction limited f-stop I'm actually getting all of the benefits designed into the lens and camera system and I'm hopeful that I'll see globally improved results. A fixed up camera and lens system is a good defense against incipient camera lust and delivers the same benefit of washing and waxing your old car = it makes you happier with it all.

Just a thought if you've already put in a twelve hour day and you need something to do after dinner. A sharper system is a happier photographer?


Trying zany stuff during a photo shoot of "A Christmas Carol" for Zach Theatre.

Wouldn't it be cool, I thought, to have one camera and one lens with which to cover an entire musical dress rehearsal? So, I looked around the studio and cobbled together what I thought would be a workable system. The idea was to have the gear nailed down so that no decisions would need to be made other than timing and zooming. Of course I'd need to mind the exposure settings and check in on the color balance but no more grabbing camera X for the wide stage shots or grabbing for camera Y for those tight head shots. And, of course there's always camera K with the medium to telephoto zoom. It gets old juggling camera bodies.

Choosing from the inventory in the studio at the time I decided on the Nikon D7100 and the 18-140mm zoom lens. The lens is pretty sharp in the vast center section of the frame and since most of the corners and edges in a theater shoot are dark I thought that would be okay. The 18mm end of the lens is fine for full stage shots but even though the 140mm end is about the equivalent of a 210mm on a full frame camera I knew there would be some times when I would really like a bit tighter crop. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to try out Nikon's in camera crop mode.

The camera's sensor is an APS-C, 24 megapixel version. But there is a menu switch that allows for another layer of crop which is a 1.3 crop of the standard DX size (if that makes sense). As near as I can tell it turns my zoom lens's long end into a 280mm lens while, of course, maintaining the same aperture, f5.6 (sorry, no clue about the T-stop...).

The upshot? Well, I shot mostly wide open and I reviewed the stuff today and it was all good. Not pin sharp like we'd use for giant promo posters but we do those in the studio with electronic flash and ISO 100 well before the shows open. This material is destined for publicity and will mostly wind up on websites and in newsprint. Different parameters for different applications.

From time to time I wished for a bit more foreground and background separation but not as often as one would think. It's rare that two or more people are positioned in a straight line, perpendicular to the camera, and so generally we are looking for enough depth of field juice to cover the spread.

One thing I did chaff at last night was having to pretty much shoot from one position.  And by necessity a bit far from the stage. Since we've been doing dress rehearsals with full houses of "family and friends" it's not possible to move around and get close to the stage quickly like it was when we shot in the older theater. That space was much smaller, the house wasn't as expensive to use by the day and we could be relaxed enough not to start our promotions on dress rehearsal night. I was able to roam the edges of that stage and shoot with wider angle lenses, closer. Always closer.

So, when I was using the camera in DX mode I shot in 24 megapixel settings but when I wanted to go tight I switched to the tighter crop and the frame dropped to 16 megapixels. In effect the smaller crop turns the frame into a 3:2 version of an M4:3rds camera.

Even in the darkest scenes the camera was able to nail focus well. I'm old fashioned and tend to stick with center focusing points and S-AF. I'm also happy to report that the VR in the lens should make the Nikon engineers proud. It really does work well. Either than or I am totally resistant now to the effects of caffeine...

But cutting through all of the techno crap I have to say that the production last night blew me away. Even mores when the director, David Steakley, told me that he was still making slight script changes to the play as late as 6:30am that morning. His version of "A Christmas Carol" is not at all traditional. Not the version you see on Masterpeice Theater. The entire production is peppered with modern music and lots of cool dancing. Even the ending, with all the cast on stage and the audience up on their feet, is a powerful blend of theatre and music as one actor does a perfect rendition of Pharrell William's song, "Happy." It's wonderful when theater can reach into your heart and reset that switch that makes you want to be a (much) better person. Belinda and I were humming "Happy" all the way home.

I'll probably shoot the next production differently but it was sure fun to try the "Swiss Army Knife" approach at least this once. If you focus carefully and breathe just right it can work out just fine....

I love the way the lighting designer created depth with the light and dark areas. Nice.
Good photo lighting lesson for me.

"Super Crop Sample"

"Over there....that's where Kirk's Novel is... over there at Amazon....arrrrh."

From now until 2015 the novel (Kindle Version) is on SALE
for only $3.99.  The perfect holiday read for every
photographer on your list.


I'd like to open the floor to a technical discussion that's of interest to me lately: Pixel size, diffraction and apparent sharpness (or acuity).

I think everyone who has upgraded from a camera that has a resolution was just a little higher than the resolution of their desktop monitor to one that is much higher has had a disappointment in finding that the resulting new images just didn't seem much sharper. Or any sharper. Or as sharp. It's interesting to me because I've experienced this situation and I continue to experience it. I wish I understood it better.

The issue seems not to be so much about the actual number of pixels on the sensor of a camera but in how small the pixels are and how densely they are packed in. The idea is that denser sensors are prone to a quicker onset of a sharpness robbing effect known as diffraction.  As I understand it diffraction, or bending of light around the edges of an opening of a lens (or a pixel array) is what actually causes primary sharpness issues but the overlapping of "Airy disks" is what lowers resolution on the sensor.

Here's an in-depth and well done article  that I found on diffraction and its various effects:  http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm

When I look at the details of the "science" I can understand that diffraction makes images progressively less sharp after a certain point. There is a calculator (actually two) in the linked article that shows the effect of pixel density and sensor size on diffraction limits. It shows, theoretically, what the minimum aperture would be for a given sensor size and pixel density before diffraction rears its mathematical ugly head and starts causing problems vis-a-vis sharpness.

I used the calculator for several different camera sensor sizes and density. What I found was that on an APS-C sized sensor a system becomes "diffraction limited" (where sharpness starts to gradually decline---it's not on or off in a binary sense) based on the density of the pixel packing. A 24 megapixel sensor (like the one in my D7100) hits the wall at f5.9. If I use a D7000 with 16 megapixels instead the diffraction limit sets in at f7.3 and if I use a 12 megapixel camera the diffraction limit steps into the equation at f8.4.

If I use my micro four thirds cameras at 16 megapixels we become diffraction limited at f5.9 (the same as the APS-C at 24 megapixels....) and if we were able to wedge 24 megapixels into the next gen of m4:3rd sensor we'd see diffraction rear it's ever softening head at f4.8.  Best case in the current market in respect to delayed onset of diffraction would be the Sony a7s at 12 megapixels. The calculation shows that lenses on that camera don't become limited until hitting f12.7.

The mind reels but essentially there's a fixed pattern that tells us you can have some stuff but not other stuff. If you are shooting with micro four thirds cameras of 16 megapixels it really behooves you to buy fast lenses that are well corrected wide open and at wider apertures. By the time you hit f5.6 you've almost got a foot in the optical quicksand. Stopping down to improve lens aberrations probably cancels out overall improvements with the advancing onset of diffraction.

So, the mind boggles even more. If I am shooting outside and want max depth of field the numbers tell me that I might be better off shooting with a less densely packed sensor camera. If I needed f11 to get sharp focus on a big bridge for example, I might be better off shooting on a 12 megapixel camera than a 24 megapixel camera. While the depth of field remains the same if the sensors are the same overall geometry the more densely packed sensor will succumb to unsharpness at lower f-stops. Now, theoretically if I resized the 24 megapixel image to the same size as the 12 megapixel file I'd get the same level of sharpness. At least that's what I gather. But there are so many other variables.

The optical detail transferred by our lenses is limited by the lenses ability to deliver sharply defined points. The lenses output quality has to do with something called, Airy Disks, that limit their ability to deliver more resolution beyond a certain point as well. The Airy disk is a 2D mathematical representation of a point of light as delivered by an optical system to film or to a sensor. As the pixels get smaller more of them are covered by the same single Airy disk delivered by the optical system. Additionally, when Airy disks overlap they loose their resolving abilities by a certain amount. Also their are different sub calculations for the different wavelengths of the different color spectra.

If the information represented by each Airy disk is spread over more and more smaller and smaller pixel there can be a reduction of sensor artifacts but it will be offset by the resolution limits of the actual lens. One of the reasons some lenses are brutally expensive is that the designers have opted to make their lenses as sharp as possible (or diffraction limited) wide open so that one doesn't need to stop down to get better lens performance. The old way of designing lenses (especially fast ones) was to do the best design you could and aim for highest sharpness two stops down from maximum aperture. You see that in most of the "nifty-fifty" inexpensive normal focal length lenses. Lots of aberrations along with unsharp corners and edges when used wide open but then shaping up nicely by f5.6. Now, with high density sensors, you'll start to find that f5.6 also might become your new minimum f-stop which, for all intents and purposes means that your mediocre (wide open) lens has only one usable f-stop. The one right before diffraction sets in.

When you overlay the idea of Airy Disks and their effect on resolution based on sensor size with the quicker mathematically implied diffraction effects of denser sensors you can see why an image from a lower density sensor might look better on screen at normal magnifications  than the same lens used on the same scene but shot on a much higher resolution system. The difference is in acuity or perceived sharpness. Because at the diffraction limited point it's the edge effect that gets eroded. The contrast between tones is reduced which reduces our perception of the sharpness of the image.

What a weird conundrum but there it is. I started thinking about this when I started shooting a D7100 next to a D7000 and started finding the 7000 images (16 megapixel sensor) much sharper in appearance. At the pixel level the D7100 was sharper but on the screen the D7000 images were more appealing. And if the target is the screen then all of the theoretical information is just more noise.

There are really so many more things at work here than I understand when I compare images from different cameras. There are generational issues having to do with noise reduction and dynamic range that shift the results and out ideas of what constitutes "a good camera." But Sony has done something that seemed at the time driven by the needs of video but at the same time revelatory of what we can see when we strip away some other muddying factors which have served to make us want the higher megapixel cameras (=more DR and less overall noise). They recently introduced a full frame camera at 12 megapixels that combines the state of the art noise handling and beyond state of the art dynamic range on that sensor. Now the seat of the pants evaluation and the awarding of "best imaging" prizes to the highest megapixel cameras is called into question. It may be that there will be a trend back toward rational pixel density driven by the very need for quality that drove us in the other direction. They've changed the underlying quality of the sensors and that may allow us to go back to being able to stop down for sharpness and to skirt some of the constraints of the laws of physics as they apply to optical systems. And in the end benefit with both great looking files and far more flexibility in shooting and lens choice.

But, as I've said, I don't understand all the nuts and bolts of this and this article is an invitation for my smart readers to step in and flesh out the discussion with more facts and less conjecture. Have at it if you want to....

VSL waves (with sadness) goodbye to the K5600 Lighting HMIs. A wonderful continuous light source for portraits, video interviews and a lot more...


I was sad when I finished boxing up the loaner HMI lights from K5600 and dropping them off at the local Federal Express office. I'd rally fallen for those lights and it will be hard to go back to using my studio flash systems for portraits again. 

The kit in question was a two light, compact kit with an open face 200 watt Joker HMI and a fresnel 200 watt Alpha HMI and their attendant ballasts. The Alpha is a focusable, lensed light source that gives one nice, soft edges when used as a background light. It's got a good beam range and it's quick and easy to use as an accent light. The open face light can accept a wide range of lenses on the front and do everything from mimicking the effect of a fresnel to doing a wide spread, a tight spread, and everything in between.  The ballasts for the lights were convincingly heavy duty with massive heat syncs and positive locks on the cable connections. 

But the really cool attribute of the lights was the solid quality of light they put out. And, for the electrical draw, the quantity of light you could bring to bear as well. 

I like soft lights for portraits. Nearly everything I do when lighting people has the light blasting through something or bouncing off something. I like the way the edges work when a big diffuser is used in close to a subject. I love controlling the contrast of the light by moving black flags closer or further away from the opposite side of the sitter's face. But most of all I like shooting at the narrow apertures and still being able to get good, non-stuttering focus. It's just more fun. 

While I can get 90% of the way to the look of the HMIs (the way I use them with diffusion) with fluorescent it's really the color purity and overall spectrum that's is the icing on the cake. The light from the HMIs seems as though you had the quality of electronic flash (when it comes to tone and color accuracy) but you were able to slow down light time and have the clean blast of light last---a long time. 

I love shooting with continuous lights because they eliminate the annoying and intrusive flash pop. Subjects get comfortable with continuous light quickly and the output of the small HMIs is not overwhelming. It's enough to get me a good shutter speed, aperture and ISO combo but way under the  "squint" threshold. Must be why they use them extensively on movie sets...

The portrait above is very conservative. It's a timeless style.  It's for an attorney and it's meant to be used for a number of different marketing constructs. During the course of our session we did three wardrobe changes and experimented with alternate poses. After I put up a web gallery of the images that made it through my selection process Luke narrowed down the assortment to four or five he really liked and I retouched and delivered them. The portrait was done with a 6x6 foot diffusion scrim to one side with the open face HMI coming through and the background is lit by the fresnel fixture, fired through some netting to match the main light exposure. It was done with a Nikon D7100 camera and the 85mm f1.8 lens.

It's been a week of "good-byes" here in the studio. First I severed my relationship with Samsung's shooting program and then I got the e-mail letting me know my mini-romance with the K5600 HMIs had come to an end. Funny how letting go of stuff can make one feel very unencumbered and free. I like it. Now I feel like diving into a whole new range of photographic subjects I've been interested in, like my favorite photographic books. 

In fact, I'm planning to do a series of smaller articles dedicated to one book per blog post. I need to get started on that. How about right now?

In the meantime I would love it if you would head over to Amazon.com and buy yourself a copy of my novel, The Lisbon Portfolio. I put a lot of hard work into it. It's not perfect but then few books are. By snagging a copy you'll be providing VSL some emotional support. It can be hard for creative people to let go of projects and put them out in public. Seeing them sell well is a happy thing. 

As an incentive to make giving yourself the book just a bit easier I'm dropping the price by $6.00 to a new price of $3.99. This new price will be good only through the holidays. The price will go up right after the New Year!  Get yours soon! Before they run out of the Kindle edition!!! 


Making color digital images work in black and white.

Noellia. ©2011 Kirk Tuck

I used a canned DXO Film Pack 3.0 Agfapan 25 profile for this one. 

Shot with a Mamiya MF 29 megapixel digital camera.

Alien Bees Ring Light. 

L bracket.?

The novel is now on sale. New lower price.
Good until the end of the year. 
One "latté" for hours of reading pleasure.

Fun with post processing and giant soft lights.

Emily. Austin. 2014.

I love to play around with lights and lenses. This image was shot with the K5600 HMI lights that I had as loaners for the last few months. Working with continuous lights (that had great color and tonality) was wonderful. You could see exactly what you would get and the ability to control highlights, shadows and depth of field was intoxicating. Need deeper shadows? Move the flag on the right side in a few more feet (or inches). Want to see what a larger aperture will give you? Click up one stop on your aperture and click up one stop on your shutter speed, snap and review. 

There's something about shooting an exposure of a person who is not frozen by flash that feels and looks (to me) different than what I see from studio flash stuff. Maybe it's the mix of vague ambient light and the main lights commingling and maybe it's just the quiet magic of not having a bright flash pop off every few seconds that makes the difference, but in these kinds of shoots things progress more quietly and organically. In the end I always seem to come out of the shoots with something more.

I used a big diffuser on the left and a net on a frame to the right as the main lighting set up. The net subtracted exposure from the shadows, neutralizing the white wall over to the right. I used a fresnel fixture on the background. The fresnel can give you a fairly controllable spot but a spot with soft edges. Just right for my kind of portraits. Toss in a little post processing (Thanks: DXO Film Pack 3) and you've got something different than my typical images. The HMIs are like shooting with liquid flash. I love them. I was sad to see them go today....

Here's one more: 


The book is on sale for the rest of the year. Buy the Kindle version now, before we run out!!!

When hubris and lazy technique come back to bite you on the butt...

Many who read the Visual Science Lab blog don't do photography for a living but some of you do. If you are making photographs as a hobby or passion mistakes can be tossed with little consequence but if you do imaging work for living getting into a lazy habit or believing too deeply in your own bulletproof powers of technical mastery can be dangerous to your reputation and your wallet.

There's a running joke in the business: If the client complains about a technical fault in an image you respond by telling them, "That's what makes it Art! I intended it to be blurry." I'm here to tell you that response rarely works...

I've been letting myself get lazy with nuts and bolts technical stuff in photography and I got a wake-up call last week. I was taking a few last shots of a building for a client after having spent the bulk of the day making portraits for them. They wanted an exterior shot to use on the website and didn't think it would be a big deal to "just snap something on the way out the door." I took the bait. I loaded the car in the fading light, brought my camera up to my eye, composed adequately and then banged off a half dozen shots. I noticed that the light was falling and the shutter speed on the camera was hovering around 1/30th at f5.6 ISO 400. I didn't take it seriously, after all either the camera or the lens was sure to have state of the art image stabilization and I knew from experience that feature would probably save me from having to haul out the tripod and do the whole thing right. Besides, I'm a people photographer, not a damn building jockey.

I post processed all of the portraits and I was happy to see that I covered myself very well. There was a range to chose from and since the portraits were the focus of the shoot and I'd spent time and energy to light them, I'd carried good technique all the way through. But the outside images were a whole other story.

They were a bit dark. I'm sure the camera meter saw some sky over the top of the buildings and stopped down to "compensate." But the big issue was the fact that the images just weren't sharp. Not sharp enough for the "new" web and certainly not sharp enough for anyone to use in print. Dreadful. Embarrassing. Hell hath no fury greater than that reserved for people who knowingly cut corners?
Of course, the exterior shots weren't part of the original brief and they weren't part of the bid so I guess I could have just shrugged and told the client (nice client) that they didn't turn out and let it go at that.

But there's something too embarrassing about flubbing 101 stuff. I wouldn't be able to look that client in the eye again if I blew off the bad exterior shots. As a basic tradesperson you have to have pride in the quality of your work. On boring jobs sometimes that's all there is...

I should have taken the few extra minutes to pull the big tripod out of the car, set the camera on it, fine tuned the camera settings and even used the self timer to prevent any vibration. But I didn't. I held the camera in my aging hands after a ten hour day of set ups and shoots and car loading. I proved to myself in that moment how fallible I could be.

So, what was my punishment? It was a beautiful day here in Austin yesterday after a week of rain, cold weather and gray skies. Just the right kind of day for swimming and walking around the lake or taking a camera out for downtown excursion. But before I could do that I had to make good. I selected the right camera and a back up, the right lens and a back up and the stout Gitzo Studex tripod from the studio and I drove the eighteen miles to the client's location, carefully lined up the shot, used the electronic level in the camera, even stood on the top of my little two step ladder. And I re-made the shot. And I bracketed it. And I grabbed a graded neutral density filter and brought down the rich blue sky a bit. I shot at the lowest regular ISO of the camera. I used f8 because I knew it to be the sharpest aperture on the lens. Then I got back in the car and headed to the studio where I processed the raw file diligently and put it into the folder for client delivery.  Then I enjoyed the rest of my Sunday.

The client got the work this morning. He called me a little while ago. He was curious. What happened to the gray, evening shot he'd seen me take? "I didn't like what I'd shot so I came back yesterday when the sun was out and re-shot." I said. He paused a second and then said, "That's why we use you." And he hung up. He didn't know I muffed the shot the first time around. I am sure he thinks I did the best job I could on that. But I left him with a totally different marketing message. I hope I left him with the idea that I'd go the extra mile. And when it's clearly your fault when something goes wrong that extra mile isn't only good client service it's also penance. And a bit of penance is a good way to remind a working photographer not to get sloppy.

I've gotten used to shooting handheld even when I know an image would be better generated on a tripod. I've gotten used to amping up the ISO even when I know full well that the image would be better shot at the lowest ISO, even if that means sticking it on a cumbersome tripod. But mostly I know that a combination of many good technical disciplines is what it takes to differentiate our commercial work from many other people's.

But this isn't just a personal mea culpa and/or advice for other people who license the rights to use their images to clients, it's also a reminder to everyone who photographs with intention to remember that good technique is never out of style. And while it might take a few minutes more to drag out the tripod (or the lights or a meter or the right lens....) good skills will almost certainly make more of a difference in the final image than switching from a Canon Rebel to a Canon 5Dmk3 (or the equivalent analogy in another brand). Now chastened I have placed the big tripod in the trunk of my car both as a ready tool and a reminder. Good technique can sometimes be the thing that separates photographicus nobilus from the lesser species.


Cameras from the early dawn of digital. How could we have ever shot with such primitive tools?

I've been reading stuff across the web lately about the "eminent downfall of Canon" because the sensor in the 7D2 isn't exactly what DXO specializes in testing. I had to laugh. I owned the original 7D for a spell and found it to be one of the best all around cameras I've worked with. The tipping point that pushed me into the Sony system at the time was my idea that I needed to be doing video and, as it happened, the new Sony a77 looked really good (on paper) and seemed to have all the video gadgets for which I could ask. Looking in my very accurate past tense crystal ball it was very much a lateral move. For straight ahead still work the 7D was just as good as the Sony in most regards, had a much better infrastructure of lenses available and probably nailed focus better. But, as with all victims of ever gnawing equipment lust, it's only in retrospect that I understand how vaguely lateral the move between systems was.

I've played with the new Canon 7Dmk2 and while it's a great camera with an aging sensor it's one I won't be buying. At least not right now. But it's not because of the sensor. It's because I'm knee deep in two systems that I'm really enjoying and I don't really have the bandwidth or desire to spread by camera attention any thinner.

If I were a Canon user I might pick on up. I don't seem to fear the "cropped" sensor cameras the way others do and I think you can put together a killer APS-C system around this body. But you can do the same thing with the Nikon D7100 and, at this juncture, for about half the price (body comparison). The Nikon has a better sensor (by a little) and the same compromises on DX prime lens availability but once you've made your choice you tend to just nestle in and go with the inventory flow.

I'm into Nikon stuff lately. Which is just the third or fourth rotation of a series of circles dating back to my initial awe at the Nikon F2. The thing that keeps me coming back is the damn lens mount and a nostalgic memory about lenses.

There are some classics that Nikon made and which I love that are available these days for laughably low prices. And with some of even the latest Nikon digital bodies you can mount the lenses and even have them key in the focal length and max aperture. Which means you can meter in "A" and manual without having to stop down.

In the last few months I've bought a wonderful 55mm f2.8 Micro Nikkor, a 50mm 1.4 aid, and a pristine aid 105mm f2.5 ( which is my absolute favorite portrait lens around. Especially on a full frame camera... but even on a cropper).  Today I added to my little antiquated collection. I found a 25-50mm f4 zoom that's universally considered to be one of those lenses that makes images look 3D and which keeps on yielding better and better performance as digital sensors get better. In other words, up to 24 megapixels the lens is not running out of resolution gas. The price? a miserly $160. I put it on the front of a D800 and gushed a little bit about the perfection of the range and the correction of the geometry. I also picked up a more recent lens, the 60mm Micro f2.8D lens, again for well under $200. In perfect shape.

It's also a stunning performer. I bought it as a paean to the focal length I used to love when shooting portraits on full frame Leicas. Back then my favorite lens was always the 90mm. Sometimes a Summicron with its sloppy but glamorous f2 and sometimes on an Elmarit with its needle sharp f2.8. The 60mm on the cropped Nikons should get me into the ballpark.

Which brings up my next observation. People who shoot Nikon full frame cameras are crazy! Why do I say this? Because last year the Nikon D800 was largely considered the ultimate 35mm style digital SLR camera on the market. When I hit the doors at my local merchant, Precision Camera I counted fully eight good condition D800's on the used shelf. Nearly all of them are marked at $1899. But my sales person directed my attention to a sign in the middle of the used Nikon area which offered an additional 10% the purchase price of any used Nikon in the store. And that included used Nikon lenses! That put the price of a low mileage, technician checked, Nikon D800 at right around $1700. Or nearly $600 under the price of a new D750. Insane. But then again there are eight of them right there for the grabbing.

Now, I know the D810 is supposed to be a bit better but is the new model really, really worth twice the price? Especially when one can quickly toss a 24-50mm or an old but reliable 105mm 2.5 on the camera and have a primo shooting package for a nudge over $2,000? I love it. The camera market is weirdly falling apart and we are the beneficiaries.

If you are interested in one of the D800's call Ian at Precision Camera. 512-467-7676 and he'll take care of you. Mention the blog and nothing special will happen. Sorry.

And, in the full spirit of disclosure, I am not in any way affiliated with Precision Camera and will receive no kickbacks, payments, extra courtesies or even more free ballpoint pens for sending you in their direction. I'm just trying to match up people who want half priced, used Nikon D800s at what I think is a great value from a known, good supplier. Hope you're staying warm and having fun. I'm heading out to shoot in the rain with the 25-50mm on a D7100. Let's see which one fails first.....

Just to circle back to the original subject matter, the Canon 7D was a great camera and one I would still use today if I were in the system. I do think we've reached the point where all the cameras that yield 16 megapixels and up (DSLRs and mirror less) are equally competitive for nearly every use. Now the real issue is learning how to appreciate their capabilities through the work.


Just to clarify a bit about the "camera reviewer" post.

I will most certainly review the Samsung NX1 camera but as an unconnected (from Samsung) blogger/journalist. I didn't feel like I could maintain the appearance of credibility and the inner objectivity to do a fair review if I was part of their program testing, playing with and shooting their new cameras.

Many of you have suggested that I negotiate this or that but the reality is that any quid pro quo connection kind of sours the milk as far as objective reviews go. How would anyone ever trust me to talk about an Olympus camera again if they had me clearly marked out as a Samsung fanboy? :-)

I'm excited to review the NX1 (and have been told that a test unit will be forthcoming) because the camera represents some big technical leaps forward. The sensor is way cool. The processor is supposed to be amazing, all the way down to the copper technology that replaces aluminum for lower heat and higher transfer efficiency inside the sensor (a technical advance I remember hearing about years ago during my assignments with IBM and Motorola). I'm already a big fan of their 85mm 1.4 lens and I'm impressed by their inexpensive (not the f2.0 to f2.8 version) 16-50mm power OIS lens.

By not being part of their shooting program and by not accepting gear I know I'll be able to talk about the things that work and the things I don't like without having to read the cries of "fan boy", "corporate shill", "Canon hater," etc.

One reader asked if perhaps I was flattered to be asked to participate in the first place. I can answer that easily, "Yes." You are never to old or too rich to be pleased when someone seeks you out for your expertise or your opinion. But there's also a time to cut cords and move on.

I am a big proponent of changing careers frequently. I am also a big proponent of changing camera systems regularly. In this case the cycle was complete and I was ready to do something new.

I think the NX1 is going to scare the crap out of Canon and Nikon (and Sony and etc.)  even if it's not a stellar market success. There's just too much good stuff going on under the hood for them not to be a bit shaken. And it's happened very quickly.

Whether Samsung got is all correct is a whole different issue and that's something we'll discuss when we get a sample.

My whole point in the previous post I've referred to is that I work better and think better when I do so without any real, implied or imagined constraint. But most of my VSL readers already know that.....


A genuinely fun, thirty minute photo shoot. Roundtrip.

I do some work for a really nice group of attorneys. They are located about two miles from the studio and we've more or less set the visual look for their practice a few years ago and update it regularly in portraits. We started out with some studio portraits but one day I did a shot of a partner in front of a bookcase full of (out of focus) law books. They loved it. We re-shoot all the partners and associates in front of different book shelves scattered around the practice.

At a certain point we were set. Everyone had been re-photographed and the website was humming along as the advertising gods intended. Joy. Happiness. Completion.

But nothing is ever finished. I got a call earlier this week asking me to do one more portrait in the same fashion. The firm had a new associate and they wanted to get her portrait up in a timely fashion. Today worked for both of us. We settled on two in the afternoon.

Rather than re-invent every step of the shoot I went back to one of my little leather, pocket-sized notebooks and looked up exactly how we shot the last one. I had two battery powered, self-slaving Yongnuo electronic flashes, a wein infra-red trigger, a Nikon D7000 (having fun with it!!!) cameras, the 50mm and 85mm lenses, two collapsible umbrellas, two light stands and a tripod in or on my Airport Security rolling case in about five minutes. I knew where I was going and I knew what I'd be doing when I got there.

The secret to shooting a portrait with a wall of books in the background is to make sure that your main light is both flattering and also at such an angle as to not create reflections on the background. It's just like playing pool.

The second light, also with an umbrella was position to the opposite side of the main light and aimed mostly at the books, but still feathered just a bit toward my subject. When I looked at the overall location I knew that I'd be able to back up enough to use the 85mm which gave me some nice separation and made dropping the background out, even at f3.5, a piece of cake.

I preset the levels on the lights and asked my subject to step into the scene on the spot that gave me the perfect balance between nice light, suitably vague background and a good feeling of compression. The young attorney was very professional. She walked in, hit her mark and turned toward camera with a perfect smile. Not too big and cheesy. Not to grudging. Really, just right.  I took one test frame and all the parameters were right on the money.

I walked her through some different expressions; it's always good to have some neutral and serious looks in the image folder for each associate so the marketing people can select the gravitas required for each PR opportunity.

When I started repeating poses I realized we were done and thanked her for her time. I repacked, shook hands with a couple partners and exited the building. When I pulled into the driveway at the studio a few minutes later I realized that the entire transaction had taken right at thirty minutes. Easily my new record for a location portrait assignment.  It helped that all the travel was around 2pm and traffic was (un-Austinly) light.

Just before I started writing this I tossed the memory card into the computing machine, cribbed in my metadata and ingested the selected images into Lightroom. Yes, I also made a copy into a second location simultaneously. I warmed the images up about 200 degrees and opened up the shadows about 10%, then batch processed them and uploaded them into a private gallery. I'm in a race to see if I can get everything uploaded and have the link sent over to my clients before I head out the door with a different camera bag full of stuff.  I'm providing photography this evening for an event downtown at the Four Seasons Hotel (best banquet food ever).

Nice to have expanded my schedule and been able to see the work before I moved on to the next job. I wasn't intentionally in a hurry but everything fell into place without any pushing, and when I finished packing everyone was engaged in their own work; no time spent socializing. It's fun when you've worked on stuff so often you can guess the exposures before you even turn on the lights...

I was mulling over something today. To wit: Do I want to be a camera reviewer or do I want to take photographs?

(written yesterday): Camera reviewer or photographer? I'm not sure you can reasonably do both. Just as I am not sure you can be a successful and dedicated commercial or fine arts photographer and also be a successful workshop instructor. I think each disparate layer impinges on the layer of expertise on either side.

I was mulling something over today. I need to either commit or walk away from a camera maker's promotional campaign. If I stay with the program the camera maker sends me a pro level APS-C camera and some lenses that seem really cool on paper. I get the camera and the lenses for free. But of course there are strings attached. I need to use the camera on a regular basis and share five images a week for the next few months. I would also need to do a little bit of social media sharing which I never seem to be able to pull off sincerely.  Somehow it just doesn't seem worth it to me. I feel like I'm accepting some mink lined handcuffs.

I might love the new camera in the short term but with the gear attention span of a gnat I'm sure the love letter will last longer than the love (as we say in Texas).

I called a friend who has been a successful and well paid photographer for decades. His business didn't even slow down during the depths of the most recent ultra-recession. He's a great source of "no nonsense" advice. I laid out my dilemma for him and he said, "Well, I guess you need to decide if you want to be an online camera reviewer or if you want to take photographs. I don't think you can do both----well." You have to love friends who are totally frank with you.

I went through the same process when I decided not to do more photo workshops. I realized that the time commitment to do a workshop correctly is huge and the payback is disproportionately small. I'd rather hunt for cool assignments or do my own work than divert my attention and give up my scheduling freedom to teach. I've already done my stint teaching and I learned that teaching is the ultimate in procrastination for an artist. At least for me.

My friend also pointed out that while I am no superstar, no big name, famous photographer I do have roster of clients who are international companies and concerns. They pay big dollars for the work I produce. In fact, one good day of corporate shooting would pay for the camera the camera company is dangling in front of me right now. My friend queried, "why would I want to give them a stream of high value creative content, week after week, for what amounts to a small one time payment?"

Deep down I know he's right. On one side of the ledger is----a free camera and a lens or two. Another addition to the cabinets full of stuff I have already. That's pretty much it. On the other side of the ledger is the hassle of learning yet another menu, shepherding yet another type of battery and changer. More time spent choosing stuff for each shoot.  Spending time looking for shooting material to fulfill my obligations and the possible opportunity loss of working with other camera manufacturers and sampling gear that may be a better fit for my shooting style (and personality). It's also a lot of unpaid, extra work.

Of course, all of this made me look back at the work I've done on this blog. I enjoyed it more when I wrote about the direction of the industry or the methods of shooting well. My two favorite blog posts are still "Lonely Hunter, Better Hunt" and the one with the Joseph Conrad quote, "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." Not ramblings about EM-5s, various Canons and Nikons or endless variants of kit lenses and other crap.

The other problem with accepting a bargain to get free stuff is that you lose your objectivity/credibility, to some extent, with your blog audience and even with yourself.  No matter how hard you try to remain neutral. You start to question your own motivations when you select a camera or a subject to put in front of the camera. Subconsciously, you start to pander to the strengths of the tool instead of objectively using it in the service of your vision.

I'm knee deep in cameras and lenses and light on time. One more system might just bury the last ounce of resolve that I have to actually go out and shoot something that's meaningful to me. I guess I've made up my mind on this one. Now I just have to write the e-mail.


Zeroing in a new (to me) camera. You have to get your hands around it.

One of the sentinels of Barton Springs.

In a previous blog I wrote about buying a used Nikon D7000 and returning it because the back focus was sooooo bad it couldn't be fixed with the in camera focus correction tools. plus or minus twenty were both equally ineffective. But I really did want a back up camera for the D7100 for those time when I want to use that body commercially. You see, I am incapable of leaving the studio for a paying job without a backup camera that will take the same set of lenses and generate images of the same basic image quality. The best case scenario is two identical bodies (or, if prices fall low enough, four---as in my collection of EM-5s) but the next best scenario is the previous model having most of the same control interface and (importantly) the same batteries.

I'd read a lot since 2010 about the Sony sensor that found its way into the Nikon D7000, the Pentax K5s and various other cameras that shifted the way we thought about high ISO performance and dynamic range. I'd made a mental note to try another used one if it became available for and advantageous price. I found my next one for under $500 in very, very nice condition with about 14,000 cycles on the shutter.

The first thing I did was test the focus accuracy by shooting various Nikon lenses nearly wide open (which, coincidentally) is the way I like to shoot most of the time. I'm not really an "f8" kind of guy.
The camera absolutely nailed focus with everything and I was happy. But I wanted to see what kind of operational differences there were between the 7000 and the 7100 so I took the older body out for a walk around the lake.

Most of the buttons are in the same place and the finder is very, very similar. As Ken Rockwell would say (paraphrasing) "One shows information in green the other in white. That and the different density sensors are the only real differences."  I think I have to agree with him except for one thing. At the sizes I use the files the older camera has a greater impression of sharpness in the files.

But none of this has anything to do with the core message of this post and that is that cameras need to get, for want of a better phrase, zero'd in. I find nearly every body I shoot with has tiny differences to identical models. Little things like the way the shutters sound or the way the shutter button feels. When you accept a new camera you need to "wear it" for a while and shoot it until it becomes second nature. Only then are you ready to take it out and shoot commercially with it. If you don't shoot for money then the goal is to feel comfortable enough to use it for a "once in a lifetime" experience.

It may sound funny but the previous (defective) D7000 felt off. That's one of the reasons I checked it right away. The new one felt almost immediately comfortable. Again. It's just a hand, brain, feel kind of thing and not a series of magic metrics that I can measure on an instrument here in the studio. But it seems as obvious to me as f11.

Into the Nikon bag this one goes. Ready to leap out and soldier on should the D7100 falter or fall.

Interestingly, of the four EM-5s I have from three different sources, all with lower shutter counts, each one feels a bit different in action from the others...shutters sounds, hand feel and even the finders. I guess even in this age of ultimate automation there's still enough variance to notice.