Studio Dog and I have been working a lot this week. And we've been doing it all wrong. At least I have. Studio Dog does her part with the same panåche she always has. She barks at the UPS guy and she growls at the Fed Ex guy. She stakes out her turf on her dark brown carpet just a few feet shy of my desk and supervises my efforts at the computer between naps in which she dreams not only of chasing squirrels and birds but also catching them....
No, I'm the one who keeps doing things the wrong way. Case in point: a recent job shooting architectural interiors and antique furniture. I should have used the ancient 4x5 inch view camera (but it's long since gone to its rewards...) and in the absence of a filmic tool solution I know the right way to do everything is to grab a full frame camera and a safety deposit box full of tilt/shift lenses. I should excite enormous amounts of photons with a "professional" electronic flash and I must always aim the flashes through soft boxes or into waiting umbrellas.
But that would be the same way we did it once before and I like to think we aren't little picture factories, trying to crank out a never ending stream of photographs that look exactly like every other photograph we've ever done. I think that even in the digital age we can introduce the imperfection of our handiwork (mental or physical) into the mix. Even if its genesis is the mad desire to see how things will look when we gaze through a very different kaleidoscope.
I did the job with my Sony RX10 and I was delighted. No muss, no fuss. Lots of live view. Lots of electronic levels. Lots of megapixels. Lots of depth of field. And, I know I should have shot every single thing raw but I sure liked the way the camera unbent previously straight lines and added some detail to the shadows via a slight introduction of DRO. That, and a good tripod and I'm ready to rock the architecture. Although I must admit that I had a little help from Mr. Reflector Panel and Mr. Shoe Mount Flash (bouncy, bouncy!). I've been shooting stuff like this for a long time and I must say that I was a little surprised at just how good the new technology is. The Sony RX10 is an amazing camera. I am even more amazed that so many otherwise knowledgeable people are immune to its (obvious to me ) charms.
Bolstered by that success I started using the RX10 for a number of studio still life jobs where I found the combination of a very sharp and flexible lens, an enormous depth of field at f5.6/8 and a dense sensor with a one hundred ISO setting to be......little short of miraculous. I've been shooting servers at angles. An angle across the front and probably a 30-40 degree down angle. The camera is able to hold focus and still give me amazing sharpness and low noise/no noise. I'll admit that though I've produced still life of product and technical stuff for decades mastery of the view camera made things relatively easy (where keeping things sharp front-to-back was concerned) but the full frame digital cameras always seemed to vex me with a combination of niggling issues.The first niggle is that most of the well corrected lenses are generally the macros in the 50-120mm range and at the distances we want to shoot the apertures required for satisfactory depth of field seem to range in the f16-22 range. And that brings up the second niggle: that densely packed, high resolution sensors tend to add their own diffraction to the diffraction provided by stopped down lenses. I'm going to guess it's a pretty circular conundrum regardless of format but the "one inch" sensor cameras seem to hang on to sharpness and depth of field at around f8.
At any rate, the servers we've been shooting seem to like the combination of smaller sensor, perfectly matched lens and they reward us with good visual behavior.
So, in the middle of all this, after having found a workable still life solution, I continue my adventure in taking a successful methodology and then changing it up to see what happens next. Today I shot servers in racks on location in a factory. I opted to do it with the Panasonic GH3 and the 12-35mm X series lens. Why? Who can know?
Panasonic GH cameras seem to me to really be fine-tuned toward working professionals. They are kludgier than other cameras but they do some things very well and almost invisibly. Take the simple "framing mode." All the EVF/Live View cameras have an small issue in working with flash. If you have your camera set up to give you accurate exposure indications in manual changing the shutter speed or aperture makes the view in the finder brighter or darker. Just like an OVF camera. But when you go to use a flash and set an exposure that is intended to over power the ambient light the finder image goes darker as you set higher shutter speeds. For instance, on the factory floor (lit with a combination of artificial light sources) I wanted to use the fastest sync speed on the GH4 (1/160th) combined with an aperture of f8 in order to get rid of any contamination from ambient light sources. I wanted my three studio flashes to totally dominate the lighting.
But as I headed toward that exposure combination everything in the finder was very dark. Now, on my Sony cameras with EVFs I would go into the menu and finder the "setting effect" menu item and turn it on or off to get a bright, amplified finder image with which to use flash.
I had learned that the GH3 would automatically switch to "bright finder" mode when I attached a Panasonic or Olympus flash to the hot shoe and turned it on. Wow. Cool. But today I found out that if I put an adapter in the hot shoe and plug in a sync cord the camera senses that as well and automatically switches to "bright finder" mode. In a sense this feature also transforms into an alert because if you lose the flash connection the viewfinder will warn you by reverting to "darker reality mode." In fact, this automation also include my radio slaves.
I shot for a couple of hours and came back to the studio to look at the raw files. (Why am I not shooting this stuff with the new GH4? I am waiting for the introduction of Adobe Camera Raw conversion software for the new camera). I'm in a raw file mood this week. Go figure.
The GH series is soooo set up to use quickly and efficiently. All the controls in the right place and raw image quality that's exemplary. (I would say that it punches above its weight class but about 65,000 web sites and blogs about photography have used that phrase in the last week making it a de facto cliché). The final invitation to the system for me was the introduction of the two X lenses, the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm 2.8 lenses. It took me a while to circle back to the system but it sure does feel solid for real work...
From "A Christmas Story" at Zach Theatre.
But work is work. I've been heading to the Bullock State History museum each afternoon doing a project there and I've been coming home to do raw file conversion and put web galleries up for my client. I've been switching between cameras there as well, just to see which cameras excel at which things. As I work in the near darkness of the museum my thoughts don't wander toward full frame sensors as much as they wander toward the idea of fast glass. Is it any wonder then that I just got off the phone with sales impresario, Ian, who was calling to check on my GH4 experiences and subtly, slyly let me know that they currently have three of the 42.5mm Nocticron lenses in stock. Just in time for some more museum shooting next week.....
The images below are just a random assortment of things I've shot recently with non-conforming/non-professional camera equipment. And I had fun breaking the rules at every step. ..
There are images from the RX10, the Samsung Cameras, a Sony R1, A fuji S3, A Sony a77 and even a decrepit, old Sony a850. Not a single "pro vetted" picture machine in the bunch. Wacky stuff. But then it is Friday!