Thinking about how much more complicated photography has become.

The actual act of taking images has become easier and more complex. On one hand we've got digital cameras that interpret the scenes in front of them instantly. But getting to that point means making choices about how your camera is set. If you have a camera with a complex menu, like the Olympus OMD EM-1 you may have hundreds of possible settings that you can make ranging from noise reduction to color characteristics, the method of focusing, the method of dealing with tonal slopes and so much more. Will you use art filters? Are you looking ahead to making HDRs? How will you set the camera to bracket? Then you have the standard issues of color profiles, color temperature, contrast, saturation and basic exposure. Will you save the images as Jpegs? If so, at what compression and how large? Will you save them as raw files? If so which program will give you the best conversions? Have you tried all the raw converters that are out there? Are you sure you selected the right one? Just because Capture One worked best for your Nikon D800 doesn't mean it's the right one for, say, your new Canon 5Dmk3....

Oh, but wait! What lens will you use? Or more precisely, what focal length will you use? And will it be with a prime lens or a zoom?  And which aperture clearly expresses what you had in mind vis-a-vis the foreground and background sharpness relations? And, if you select a certain aperture and you are working at your camera's optimum ISO will you need to introduce a tripod to assist you in creating the sharpness your original vision required? If so, how big a tripod will you need in order to carry it around with you for those moments when it seems crucial to the quality of the image? But what if subject motion pushes your exposure predilections outside your comfort zone? What if you have to go to a higher ISO to get a higher shutter speed. Will the smooth, grainless quality you lusted after leave you in the lurch in the pursuit of the crispy sharp subject? If you choose to use a more sensitive ISO will you need to use noise reduction in post processing? Which method works best for your overall system?

Presuming the sheer momentum of choice didn't paralyze you have you taken all the steps you need to in order to post process successfully? Is your monitor of sufficient gamut to even show you what you have wrought in the shooting and editing processes? Has it been methodically and recently calibrated? Have you neutralized any color cast in your post processing area? Are the walls really neutral white? Do they have a subtle coloration that may impinge on the accuracy of your viewing system? Are you wearing a lime green golf shirt while you process your work? Will you switch to a black or neutral gray shirt? Can you really find an actual, neutral gray shirt?

And when you've created your masterpiece of photography where will you go from the computer file? Will you share it on the web? Are all the people you are sharing with sitting in front of color corrected screens? Is the infrastructure of the web and the bandwidth limits of your sharing supplier compressing the image you worked so hard on? Did they shift your colors and tonalities to wedge your image into a tighter and tighter box? Or maybe you'll print the image....

Is your printer profiled to your post processing software? Can your printer's gamut match your original vision? Do the inks have different responses to different lighting spectra? Will the viewing area undo your careful color corrections by introducing color casts and glare? Will you frame the work? If so will the glass be neutral or will it have (as most glass does) a greenish UV filtration meant to keep furniture from fading when used in buildings? Will you place a mark on the floor in front of your print so people can see it from the point of view that you intended? Will they wear a black shirt or smock so their own clothes don't minimize the "enjoyment" of your art by introducing reflections?

And once your work through all the above do you have a plan for archival keeping of the digital image? Will it be placed on some magnetic media or will you use optical media? How often will you migrate the images to new media in order to offset the perils of degradation over time? Will you have multiple racks of hard drives that you rotate? Will you spend months each year re-burning new DVDs? Will you make prints of the frames you like in a series of sizes that you might want to use in the future as a hedge against the ravages of time?

And none of the above presupposes that you've come to grips with finding visually interesting stuff to immortalize...

Oh well. It's all become more complicated. I should have tried for an easier career, like brain surgeon or president. A few quick cuts, a few grand decisions and a ribbon cutting and then I'd be on easy street.

Must be monday again. Sorry. 

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape posts first review of the Panasonic GH4...


I've followed Michael Reichmann's website, the Luminous Landscape, for many years. I've read as he's waxed euphoric over ever more powerful cameras. Starting with Canon's first full framer right on through to his Phase One Phascination--- with enormous numbers of megapixels and all things medium format. But I have to give it to him. The man is mentally flexible and willing to change with the times. And the introduction of new and useful technology.

He wrote a couple of years ago about the Sony Nex-7 (which he liked very much) and recently he's been writing about his video love affair with the Panasonic GH3. Only a few months ago he got himself an Olympus OMD EM-1 and found lovely things to say about that camera as well. But now it looks like there is some sort of camera harmonic convergence going on and the mantra I keep hearing (from myself and others who taste and expertise I trust) is GH4. GH4. GH4.

Michael has one in his hands and it's got the final firmware so no weasel words or beating around the bush need take place in his first, preliminary assessment. And the word is: Good. "As good as anything out there..."

He goes on to say that if you can work with the limitations of 16 megapixels (and he says he can!) then this camera is as good as it gets. Not just from a video point of view but from a still photography point of view as well.

I'm saving up for my GH4. I'm not often accused of being "strategic" but I started selling off other camera systems and other lenses months ago. Around the time I first heard solid rumors of the GH4 specs. I've pretty much exited the Sony system (both Nex and Alpha) and I'm not overly nostalgic about the transition. I've winnowed down other systems and I've been preemptively buying up lenses I know I'll want for use with the GH4 and, for now, the GH3.

I figured that the reviews would start coming out before the end of April and there would be a mad rush on all the surrounding eco-system for the new camera. Maybe shortages or Amazon's famous ever changing (upward) pricing algorithm for stuff like the 12-35mm X lens and the 35-100mm X lens. A run on the 7-14mm and even a shortage of the two wonderfully cheap and happy Sigma lenses, the 30mm and the 60mm.  When I found out that the GH4 shared the same battery with the current GH3 I was overjoyed. But I cut the celebration short to go and buy an extra pair of batteries before the run on essentials built up steam.

The GH4s are starting to ship. MR has his. Samy's is shipping a quantity and Amazon counsels us that it will ship end of month but I expect waiting list cameras to start out the doors of the warehouses this week.

Why am I so happy about all of this? Well, this is the first camera that is equally good at both disciplines in which I am currently interested (stills and video), as well as being the most affordable professional system I've ever bought into. You can actually buy this company's top of the line camera without busting the bank. Amazing. To add some icing to the cake the GH series is actually quite fun to shoot...

And with the kind of enthusiasm Mr. Reichmann is expressing I expect that this particular offering will go over well without the recent caveats we've heard in conjunction with half-baked Sony products recently. No lens adapter required. Plenty of good lenses in the market. No tiny battery syndrome. No Bang-Bang-Pow shutter noise, Etc.

Ah. A nice, happy, productive camera launch. Just what we all needed after the doldrums of the recent lackluster product unveils.....

While I am saving up for my GH4 I am painfully, keenly, aware that my child just got accepted at his first choice of college. A private university in the Northeastern U.S. Much to the amazement of my European readers we parents will be required to scrape up the equivalent, in cash, of a nice, average American three bedroom house and send it to this fine institution over the course of the next four years. Will this slow down my thirst for new cameras? I guess we're about to find out....


Fun times at the graffiti park. Shooting with the Samsung 30 NX.

I went to the Graffiti Park today to test out the Samsung NX30's video performance. Video takes a while longer to deal with because I want to edit something together that won't make people grind their teeth or reference fingernails on chalkboards. The camera's sensor is great. APS-C is great for depth of field control. Even with a pedestrian sounding 50-200mm f4-5.6. In all the camera does video well.

The image above is a still grab shot. Most of my afternoon was spent shooting handheld video (will I never learn?).

But this particular post has nothing to do with the camera or the lens or the sensor. It has to do with a funny thing that happened to me four times this afternoon. As I was walking through the park I had four different couples come up to me and ask me if I would take their photograph with their camera. Of course I obliged. What else would a civilized person do? But each time the person handing me the camera was very careful to (talk slowly and...) explain which button to push to make the exposure and how they wanted the shot framed. I listened carefully and tried to follow their instructions to the letter. Except for the couple who had their camera mis-set. It would have taken a silhouette. I fixed the exposure mode and took several versions just to make sure we had what they wanted.

One couple thanked me, looked at the images and then told me that they were very well done. I thanked them for saying so.

I can only imagine what we could have done if we'd flown a 12x12 foot silk over the couple, filled them in with 1100 watt seconds of flash from an Elinchrom Ranger flash pack and then used a camera that could sync a bit faster....

Anyway, I was pleased to be asked. When I came home I told my wife about my encounters. She laughed. She thought it was karmic-ly appropriate.

If you are at an Austin landmark look for the older person with the black rimmed glasses and the white, broadcloth, Julian Alexander button down. I'm sure he'll do a good job with your photograph....


A "selfie" from a client request.

One of the agency people involved with Samsung asked me to send along a selfie with one of the Samsung cameras. At one time last year I was the most knowledgable user of the Samsung Galaxy NX camera anywhere. Since I am vain and constantly self-promoting I got on the assignment right away. I pulled out an ancient, non-connectivity Sony a850 and put on the cheesy 24-105mm Sony lens, grabbed the electronic cable release and fired away. I like the black mock turtleneck and the glasses with the black rim over the top.

Pulling out the Samsung Galaxy NX for the photograph got me investigating that camera anew. I think the gap in my thinking last year was my myopic concentration with the camera's still imaging and still photography handling capabilities. I overlooked the video capabilities of the camera entirely. So yesterday I spent a lot of the afternoon playing around with the Galaxy NX as a video camera.

Now I have an all new respect for the camera. I have always liked the sensor and I was always impressed with every Samsung lens I've shot but now I am a fan of the video capabilities as well.

But first one caveat: The camera is not well set up for recording professional quality sound along with the video. There is an all purpose 3.5mm plug on the side into which you can use EITHER a set of headphones to hear playback, or a microphone to record audio, but you obviously can't use them both at the same time. Another constraint is that the audio set up of the camera doesn't allow for control over the sound levels in the recording mode. You get automatic levels no matter what.

But I will say that they do some good software in the audio region that senses gaps between words and clamps down on levels instead of letting them spike up and create hiss and noise. You can still hear some anomalies but it's pretty workable.  I recorded myself with an inexpensive Olympus stereo lavaliere microphone and while it wasn't bad it also wasn't perfect.

But the video at the highest quality settings, and using the 1080p, 30fps is very good indeed. Unlike the big Sony a99 the video written to the memory card is very sharp and detailed. The color balance, even using the AWB setting is great and it's a lot of fun composing and shooting while using the almost 5 inch screen on the back. It's the production equivalent of having an outboard, large monitor.

A bonus is that the camera provides focus peaking in manual focus settings which worked well with the tests I did using the new 85mm 1.4 lens.

Funny that this is a camera I didn't really warm up to when shooting stills and yet I am very pleased and intrigued to use it as a video tool. I'm shooting some personal work with it over the weekend and I'll be using the Zoom H4n and a shotgun mic to do audio. In one of the recent upgrades to Final Cut Pro X Apple has basically incorporated the same kind of sound matching we used to need PluralEyes to get. Now it can all be done in the program by matching up the outboard audio with the camera scratch track. You really have to shoot live view with a 5 inch monitor to get the appeal but believe me, it's fun and highly productive.

The camera is currently selling for around $1200. We're getting into a more realistic price range. I'll have some footage to show next week. I'm not advising any one to run out and buy one right away. But if you have one sitting around fire up the video setting and do some work. I think you WILL be pleasantly surprised.

Yes, it's this camera:

I meant to get some work done today. I really did. So after my second cup of coffee and a quick read of the New York Times I grabbed the dog and headed out to the studio. I sent a bill to someone and then I sent along 18 enormous 100 megabyte Tiff files to a service in India to have them masked and retouched. I'm gonna say that part qualifies as real work, although I had uploaded the files yesterday....

I read the usual forums and websites (theonlinephotographer seemed strangely off-line today...).  I got all riled up by a crazy person over on the digital pro forum at DPReview (there's always someone stirring the pot over there).

And I sent off some correspondence to people I needed to, well, correspond with.

Then Studio Dog poked me on the leg with her paw and gave me that look that said, "Really? Sitting on your butt for two hours banging on the keyboard? We've got squirrels to corral and important communications with other dogs to perform.  And your butt isn't going to get any skinnier wiggling your paws on the keyboard." She is so right. She always is. So I grabbed a leash and a bag of treats and we set off to look at the neighborhood. We both growled at the lawn guys with the leaf blowers. We had a few moments of silence for the scrape-off houses that have been recently scrapped off to make space for much bigger houses that will dominate once gracious lots.

We practiced walking "steady" and we practiced giving and receiving treats. I gave many lamb treats and got only joyous hand licks in return. After passing an hour ambling through and checking the smell of every letter box and light pole we returned home.

I answered another e-mail. This one from a client who recently asked for a bid on a huge job. The  response and tentative "yes!" by the client was too quick and then, reading further I saw that I would have to sell myself with a dog and pony show to the final client of the ad agency and I would have to finance about $20,000 worth of hard cost for 30 to 60 days if I wanted the job. I like jobs but I don't like them that much. I sent back a note suggesting that if a dog and pony show and financing for agency and client were part of the mix I might not be signing on. We'll see what happens there but I don't really care how slow or hot the market is, 25 years in the business gives one a tingling spider sense for eminent train wrecks and career stoppers. Some business I can live without.

Well, that took us right up to 11:30 am and frankly not much got done. I took the Studio Dog back to the house, grabbed a towel and headed over to the pool for a crowded, kinetic, fast paced master's swim practice. I rarely remember workouts but this one was devious for it's 300 set that went: 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke, 50 butterfly, 50 breaststroke, 50 butterfly, 50 freestyle. Rinse and repeat a number of times. That's a lot of butterfly to repeat. I guess I'll sleep well tonight.

The reward for any hard, noon workout is a good lunch so I headed to Chipotle Grill for a bowl with beans, rice, carnitas, two different salsas and some cheese. Yummy. Now I'm back at the studio with Studio Dog and she's pretty insistent that it's nap time. Dog bed in place. Yoga mat in place.

Commence napping. It's all part of the rich life of the freelance photographer....


Life gets all settled down and mellow and then the UPS guys shows up to roil it back up with new gear...

Beautiful Sunny Afternoon at the Graffiti Park. 
Punchy, Swirly colors.

Sitting at my desk in my quiet west Austin neighborhood just working away on some silly post processing and minding my own business. I'd just hit the Keurig machine to blast the drooping eyelids back open when I hear the dog barking over in the house. About three minutes later the big, brown truck rolls up and my regular delivery guy drops a package outside the front door. He's here so often he doesn't even bother to knock anymore. 

I wasn't expecting anything but that's how this stuff usually goes. A package arrives out of nowhere and all of a sudden I'm playing with new stuff and changing direction a little bit at a time. I had no idea what was in the box and I left my reading glasses on the desk so the label didn't clear things up. 
I grabbed my Trident folding knife out of my left cowboy boot and sliced into the cardboard box with  a flick of my wrist. The prize was another box wrapped in some New York newspaper. 

Once I got through the newsprint I hoisted out a dense silver box and deftly sliced the lid off that one with a quick twist. Yep. Another fun toy from the Samsung people. Last time a box from them came it was filled with their new NX30 mirror less camera. The kit lens was a side bonus. This time they upped the ante a bit and sent along a lens that a portrait photographer can really use. It was a brand spanking new 85mm 1.4. Complete with their little iFunction button on the side. 

I pushed a few scorpions aside, made a quick look under my desk for lost rattlesnakes and then I settled back into my chair to take a good look at the lens. Damn, it's heavy. Dense heavy. Like plutonium. It's short and squat and it's got the biggest hood, relative to its size, that I've ever seen. 

I'm always side-tracked by my own curiosity so I put the lens on the NX30 and shuffled over to the door. I took my coffee cup into the house and quick ate a couple of jalapeƱos just so I'd have something to wash down with the last few sips. And this was Texas coffee...we grind up a few smaller habeƱeros along with the coffee beans just to give the brew a bit more zing...

I headed over to hipsterland central, the edges of the Clarksville neighborhood. And I cruised around to the big painted wall where I could do some thoughtful "art" with my newly conjoined rig. 

I shot till the sun went down and the Bob Wills album I was singing to myself in my head wound down. I saddled up the Honda and headed back home just hoping my spouse would get right with her Texas roots and rustle up something beefy and barbecued instead of that healthy stuff we've been gagging down----- Vegatables? Grains? Fresh Fruit?  That's damn tree-hugger fare. 

Well, we had a branding fire raging in the backyard so my hopes were high but further investigation revealed the cruel reality; grilled vegetables. Lots of zucchini. More kale than anyone might need in a lifetime. 

I finally got settled and downloaded the images I'd shot for a little "look-see." 

I liked them pretty darn good. So today, just out of curiosity I dragged out my much maligned Samsung Galaxy NX camera and started playing with that as well. But that camera has me more interested in doing a bit of video. It's the lure of the giant screen on the back.

I don't really have much of a Samsung system going on here. Yes, I've got a couple of bodies with 20 meg, APS-C sensors. I've got the can anyone please choose some different focal lengths for the damn kit lenses 18-55mm kit lens. Somewhere around Christmas I seem to have acquired a really sharp and nice 50-200mm f4 to 5.6 zoom lens. Over in one of the saddle bags I've still got that pretty little 30mm pancake someone sent along last fall and now I've got a super fast, super sharp 85mm. Now, if they'd just send along a really cool wide angle I could alternate camera systems on alternate shooting days. A little work with the Samsung, a little work with the Panasonic. A day off with a Sony a850. 

Just when I think I have it all figured out the UPS guy comes along and stirs it all up again. 
But frankly, having all these choices makes me as happy as a pig in mud. 

And so that's what I played with today as well. Time to take the boots off, unstrap the six shooters and the chaps, take the spurs off at the front door and wrap up a day of Texas photography. Ah, the mystique. 


Today was my first Theater Shoot with my "full" Panasonic GH3 system. What did I like? Was there anything I didn't like?

Pinocchio. This image done with the 12-35mm f2.8 X Panasonic zoom
handheld wide open at 3200 ISO, 1/125th.

Theater. Live Theater. Now that's got to be scary for actors and the people who make every show happen. Unlike most photography the actors can't just "chimp" their ongoing performance and go back to do many, many "re-dos".  Whatever happens in the moment happens in that moment and you can't take it back in the present performance. Those are brave artists.
Pinocchio. Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8. At or near wide open and handheld 
at 1/125th of second, ISO 3200.

The people who work at Zach Theatre do a lot of live theater that's made for kids and families. It's part of their commitment to the community. Every years thousands and thousands of school kids from across the city are exposed to fun, meaningful, captivating live performances. Some for the first time ever. The theatre is also committed to producing plays that entire families can enjoy like the play for which I photographed the dress rehearsal this afternoon; Pinocchio.

I thought I would just show up, snap some technically legit images and then head back to the studio but I have to admit that the play brought many smiles to my usually cynical face and left me with tears in my eyes at the end. Those writers really know how to lean on the emotions...and those actors know how to deliver the words straight to your heart...

Today was the first day that I had all the toys assembled that I thought I would want to have to shoot live theater performances. I had two identical Panasonic GH3 camera bodies and two primo (not prime) lenses. I used the 12-35mm f2.8 and longer sibling, the 35-100mm f2.8 zoom. These are the "X" lenses, Panasonic's attempt at premium branding a la Canon's "L" lenses. That's it. No other gear. A 16 gigabyte card in each camera and everything set the same. This production was done on the smaller theater at the Zach campus; it's a theater in the round and it means more photographer moving around to get the shots we wanted to use for marketing.

The play was pretty darkly lit. Perfect for people's eyes, lots of deep shadows mixed with bright, contaminated colors, even deeper shadows and little pools of highlights. It was an interesting exercise for the cameras. The average exposure was 1/125th of a second at f2.8, ISO 3200 which was right on the threshold of stopping subject motion---which meant I had to time the action to hit peaks. The time in the actor's expression of lines when they pause for a second just at the top of their delivery.

The two lenses are naturals for this kind of work. The image stabilization gave me a high percentage of very sharp images. The lenses look great at or near wide open and they are small enough and light enough to hold for an hour without any fatigue. The GH3 cameras were more of less flawless. They aren't low light champs but neither are they at all bad. All in all, a good hour's work shooting a good play with some fun gear. Nice to test this stuff in the real world. No kitten's souls were stolen here. And no birds in flight had their privacy breached...

Did I mention that the play was very, very good? It was. 


Medium Format Digital, Here We Come. Hello Pentax.

Now we've got something to talk about.

In recent years I despaired of the chance that we'd ever have an inexpensive but powerful medium format digital camera that would bring back to we portrait photographers the thing we always crave: the long lens on the big sensor. I don't really care about total resolution but I do crave the equivalent of that big piece of medium format film. Now, after stumbling through the endless permutations of 35mm sensor sized cameras we finally have an entrant into the field that seems to check all the boxes I wanted and a lot more. Introducing the Pentax D645Z. My one complaint? I'd gladly trade ten or twenty million of those Sony pixels for a bigger, fatter sensor. One with more real estate for optical effect.

I won't go through all of the technical specs. Those are all over the web. But I do want to hit on the cool ones, from my point of view: The camera has a big sensor. Nearly 50% bigger than the sensors in the Nikon D800 or the Sony A7r. Yummy. Let's put a 110mm f2.0 lens on the front of this and see just how nice a portrait we can make. And now, all the lesser specs: The camera is advertised as weatherproofed. Yawn. It shoots pretty quicky. Okay. It uses a 51 megapixel CMOS sensor from Sony. Wonderful for those rare times when 16 megapixels are not enough (reminder: buy more hard drives....). ISO goes to a trillion. But rationally, it'll be great to have a medium format camera that produces relatively clean files at 1600-6400 ISO. It takes current and legacy Pentax 645 lenses. Cheap ones as well as expensive ones.

Will we all rush out to buy one?

I'm pretty sure a lot of people will. Especially professionals who are desperate to introduce some sort of differentiating value proposition for using them (with said camera) instead of uncle Bob who just happens to be a really good photographer, owns a D800 and dabbles in Profoto strobes. This will be the last ditch attempt to make gear the barrier to entry. I know I'll buy one once the dentists and cardiologists and hedge fund managers get tired of theirs and push them onto the used market in the under $5,000 range. May take a year or two but something else is sure to come along and dislodge the newest and freshest miracles of the present from the first wave's attention....

What's the lure? Again, for me it's not about the high ISO or the massive files it's all about being able to use longer lenses on a bigger sensor to get a kind of portrait that we used to get back in the film days. Does this mean my love affair with m4:3rds is already over? Not hardly. It'll take a while for the Pentax D645z to become Kirk-Affordable in the used market and not everything I shoot is a limited depth of field portrait. In fact, more and more of what I shoot seems to dovetail with the look and feel of the smaller cameras. 

But I do think that Pentax/Ricoh is doing something remarkable and disruptive. They join the two majors in the medium format digital racket in using the same Sony 51 megapixel chip. And I'm going to bet it's only a matter of time before Leica jumps on board as well. But the disruptive aspect is the selling price of the Pentax camera. It's less than $9,000 U.S.  It's about a quarter of the asking price of the Phase One product and probably some similar gap with the Hasselblad product. 

Is there some massive difference in the quality of the lenses? Having shot the Pentax in its film incarnation as well as the Hasselblad and the Phase One in their digital permutations I doubt that there's much difference at all between them. Certainly it will take a microscope and some patience to see the difference. For most working pros who actually need the big megapixel count and all the other bells and whistles the Pentax may actually be the most compelling choice because of their vast experience in digital with 35mm style cameras.  They have at the ready autofocusing modules, matrix metering modules and a twenty year history of making great autofocus in small and larger cameras. 

The original film 645 cameras had a reputation for being more reliable than Swiss trains and the handling was always superb.  The only differentiator between the four brands of medium format current still standing and staggering around might be from Leica who really can make lenses that are visibly more drool worthy. But whether that advantage is worth three times the price of the Pentax remains to be seen. 

I will predict one more thing: The Pentax will have the best flash performance of the group. They always have. 

My next camera? I'm tossing a coin to choose between grabbing for that GH4 or picking up another miraculous Sony RX-10. I'll take the path of least painful resistance.