"All The Way" The LBJ play at Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas. Photographs by Kirk Tuck.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

Zach Theatre in Austin, Texas continues to raise the bar in their productions on their Topfer Stage. Last night I went to the dress rehearsal of "All the Way" to make public relations and marketing photographs of the show. Belinda came along to see the show and keep me company. I wrote about what I packed yesterday and now I'm going to write about what I used.

I took twenty or thirty wide shots of the stage because it was really cool and well done but it was largely static and when I felt like I had good coverage I put the Nikon D610 down on the top of my bag and didn't pick it up again until the very end of the show. When you are shooting for press use and documentation your goal is typically to get tight shots of your lead actors and then lots of tight "relationship" shots and small group shots. We've learned over the years that the tighter, more graphic shots always have a better chance of being picked up in social media and traditional, non-paid, print media. 

Understanding the ever growing appeal of video on TV and the web the theater also documents the dress rehearsals with the help of a very talented videographer. His name is Eric Graham and he's usually sporting two cameras. One is set for a wide shot of the stage while the second one is equipped with a long zoom and Eric uses it to follow the action of the shows. 

If I am correct then last night he was shooting the wides on a Canon C100 with a Canon 24-105mm lens and doing the action oriented shots with a Sony FS-700 and a long range zoom. He's got the sound figured out too. He's running a cable from the sound mixing board in the theater directly into his FS700. No coughs and rustling of the audience in his audio....

Back to photography. I did the bulk of the 1,000+ images of the show with a Nikon D810 and an older (but very sharp) Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. It's the old "push-pull" design and it has fun stuff on it like distance limiters that you can set so the AF doesn't hunt. I set mine to 30 feet to infinity and never had an issue of the camera/lens combo failing to lock on. I find the lens to be in the "sharpness ballpark" with the newer lenses but I still have my eyes on a 70-200mm f4 because it's lighter and has vibration reduction inside.  That being said there was very little not to like about the lens I was using. 

I had the camera set to shoot medium, fine jpegs and every once in a while I'd use the 1.2X crop mode just to get a little tighter. It worked well and it comes in handy for those times when you don't have the bandwidth to crop after the fact. Some stuff goes straight to the client to be distributed ASAP. 

I used Nikon's auto white balance and was not disappointed. The D810 has an uncanny ability to nail the right WB for flesh tones and I never felt the need to override it or go to a preset. That's a big change from previous generations of cameras!

I assigned a rear button for focus. It was nice to "lock" focus by taking my finger off the button but still being able to re-compose and lock exposure. Separation of stuff. Nice. 

Looking through over a thousand shots there were less than a handful that didn't achieve sharp focus. Most of my "after the fact" corrections were aimed at opening up dark areas with Lightroom's shadow slider and occasionally brightening frames --- the D810 allows a bit of exposure correction with underexposed images and the noise (at 1600 ISO) stays polite. I'd always rather be a bit dark that lose detail in the highlights. It's a real consideration when shooting Jpegs. 

Why Jpegs? Mostly because of the need to turn the files around quickly. Shooting 36 megapixel raw files means hours of conversion after I've made a few adjustments. The 36 megapixel size is just too big. I could try the small raw but I think 9 megs is a bit too small a file if the client wants to do a bigger print size. It sure would be nice if you could shoot Nikon raw in all the sizes that are available while shooting Jpeg. Kodak at that on their full frame DSLR cameras back in 2004. 

There is also the question of storage. As it is we're taking up 22 gigabytes of storage space with our final output files.  So far, in the last 30 days we've filled an entire 4 Gb drive and it's twin brother, the back up drive (but we've done a lot of video and that makes a huge impact on storage resources....) and I'm becoming concerned about my ability to keep up with storage demands over time. But that's fodder for another blog.

The images took post processing in stride and nothing fell apart. I am delighted with the vast majority of the take and, as always, there are some I would love a "do over" on. But the first volley of selects is already on its way to a bunch of community papers, the popular alternate newspaper, the theater's web resource and into social media. 

How's the production? It's funny, sad, fabulous and amazing. Like a history lesson wrapped in drama and compelling stagecraft. Well worth your time and money.  If you are in Austin any time this month be sure to catch it. Thanks!

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.

©2015 Kirk Tuck for Zach Theatre.


Packing up to shoot the dress rehearsal of "All the Way." The play about LBJ's time as President. What to pack?

Tonight is the big night for me on this show. It's when I pack up the cameras, figure out the best seat in the house and spend a couple of hours trying to get the absolute best images I can wrangle of a big, wonderful, complex show. A lot has changed since I first stated shooting marketing images at the dress rehearsals for Zach Theatre nearly 24 years ago. Back then I shot everything in black and white because that's what the daily and the alternate newspapers were willing to run. In those days I shot every show with a couple of Leica M series cameras. One with a 90mm f2.0 Summicron lens and the other with a 35mm f2.0 Summicron lens. I kept a 21mm f3.4 in the bag --- just in case we really needed a wide shot of the stage. 

While there were faster films around at the time my favorite was always Kodak's Tri-X. I shot it as if it was ISO 800 and pushed the development in D-76, diluted one to one. After the show I would head straight over to the darkroom to process the eight to ten rolls of film I'd shot, keeping track of two or three development tanks at a time. Once the film was through the wash I'd dip it into a Photoflo solution to prevent water spots, hang the film up with clothespins and then head home and get some sleep.

The next morning I'd go back into the darkroom and, if we had time, I'd make contact sheets to share with the young, new marketing director. Sometimes we would be on a tight deadline and he and I would have discussed the shots we thought might work best the night before and he'd leave the edit up to me. Either way we'd figure out five or six different "hero" shots and I'd make five eight by ten inch, black and white shots of each on RC paper (resin coated, it processed and dried quicker). 

As soon as the prints dried I would rush them over to the theater so they could distribute them to the various media outlets. Then I'd wait to see if the papers would give me a photo credit. Yes for most of the little one. No for the bigger ones....

But today is now. And I'm packing up to go and shoot a dress rehearsal that starts in a couple of hours. Here's what I'm packing and it seems like nothing to me. A Nikon D810 which will be paired with the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 and a Nikon D610 which will be matched up with a 24-85mm f3.5 to 4.5 G zoom. I've also packed the old 105mm f2.5 (just in case) and the 50mm G f1.8 (again, just in case). Each camera has a 64 Gb card in it and I've got extra batteries in the front pocket of my battered and tattered Domke "little bigger bag." I'm carrying along a small Benro monopod with a small bracket on the top in case I want to stabilize my unstabilized long zoom. Can't use flash so I'm not packing it and don't really want to mix formats. Full circle. All the way back to two shooting cameras and two shooting lenses. I think I can handle that.

These are shots of Martin Burke (superb and justifiably famous Austin actor) horsing around on a theater chair. They were originally shot as a fund raiser for the new (now three year old) Topfer Theatre on the Zach campus. I love working with Martin. Off camera he is quiet and thoughtful while on camera he's a maniac. Just one of the hundreds of great artists I've met through Zach Theatre. 

 If you are in Austin for the month of April you might want to saddle up and get to the theater to see "All the Way." It's going to be amazing. But you know you'll see images from the performance sometime tomorrow. We'll have them up in the afternoon.
Now that I'm packed for the evening I'm making two final changes to a video project that morphing into a three week long assignment. I think I've learned and used every control in Final Cut ProX.
Wrapping up means I now get to bill. One of my favorite parts of every job.

Hope you are having a swell week!

Sorry, no ads today. 


Homemade soft lights for almost every purpose.

If you are tired of spending money on photo gear but you need a good light consider what we did for a project. We bought four fluorescent "under the counter" lights at Home Depot, taped them all together and bungee-corded them to a light stand. Spent $24 bucks + sales tax. Worked perfectly for the project we had in mind. There's more than one way to skin a Scheimpflug Principle....

The dour assistant is extra.....

It's a great way to practice your custom white balancing skills.

OT: I'm curious to hear what all you smart VSL readers think about the Apple Watch. Will it offer something to photographers?

Image done for Austin Lyric Opera. No real connection to our Apple Watch question. 
But would note that the model is wearing a watch, being lit with tungsten light and photographed with a Nikon 105mm f2 DC lens on a Kodak DCS 760C.

I am interested in what the upcoming Apple Watch will eventually offer to photographers and videographers. Since the watch will be linked to the iPhone will it be possible to do some of the stuff we normally do directly with our phones on the watch? 

For instance, if I am running the Olympus Share camera app on the phone could I see the menu on the watch? If I can see the menu on the watch and control the camera from the watch could I trigger the camera's shutter with a deft touch of the watch face? Could I arrange it so the live view is shared on the watch screen? Can I also watch my heart rate increase if I accidentally drop an expensive lens onto the concrete?

I know that my son's demographic currently has little to no interest in wearing watches and I am genuinely curious (as long time Apple stockholder) to see whether Apple's marketing clout will change that. But I am also interested in what you think about this. 

The watch isn't cheap. The least expensive one is reported to cost about $350. Is this something you will buy? Is it something you would use?

I remember when the iPad was announced. It was soundly ridiculed by everyone on the planet and spoofed on the TV show, Saturday Night Live. By October of 2014 Apple had sold 225,000,000 of the units at an average price of over $600. ( or, $135 billion U.S. dollars of product in four years).

Will the watch enjoy similar popularity or will the need for it to be tied to second product, the phone, limit it's success. Which then introduces another question: if the Watch does become popular enough will Apple also release on that works with Android phones. Will we one day be able to buy an Apple watch to use with a Samsung phone?

What am I waiting for in an Apple Watch? The same thing I've been thinking of since I jotted down a note in 1982. That would be to have an incident light meter in my wrist watch; no matter what company it came from. But, of course, if it all comes to pass I'll need a stronger pair of reading glasses to use it to it's fullest extent... Naw, that's too much.

I'm interested to read your opinions. Hit the comments. 

Thinking about lighting today. Something about sunny days in Spring.

I have one simple lighting design that I use a lot on sunny days. Today is our first sunny day in a while so I thought I'd share an image I did of Emily a while back. We wanted to shoot an image of her toting her bike, along with some other triathlete imagery so we went to the lake and found some nice foliage in the background.

It was full sun and in most cases like this the full sun combined with electronic flash always seems to give me too much fill. I generally put up a 6x6 foot diffusion scrim like the one you see above. It's anchored to two light stands and the connections that hold the scrim to the stand are also wrapped with gaffer's tape to keep them from coming apart in the breeze. 

The scrim is in a position to block almost all of the sunlight striking Emily. We've positioned it to provide a small amount of backlit on Emily's head. Probably just a bit too much....  But we were having too much fun and no one wanted to walk back a mile or so to the car and get a second, smaller, weaker diffusion scrim to finesse the highlight. 

I like to light this way because I can use a big, soft umbrella modifier for the main light and get the highlights to roll off into the shadow areas exactly how I want them to. The main light was a single Profoto Acute B head running off a battery powered Acute 600B generator. The extra power of the Profoto rig allowed me to place the main light exactly where I wanted it (not too close and not too far away) and get exactly the effect I wanted. 

It's just a fun photo and not a big deal but I thought it would be fun to show an actual set up for a change....


A very useful accessory for people using DSLRs and Mirror-Free cameras to produce video. This is a low cost favorite.

BeachTek DXA-2T. A tough little box.

The three different cameras types I have all allow for shooting decent video. The D810 has the best look to the images while the OMD EM5.2 is a great handheld, ENG camera. The image stabilization is nothing short of amazing. In an ambiguous third place is my inexpensive, Nikon D610 which has decent looking video (not as nice as the D810) but no real image stabilization. The one thing all three of these camera have is the ability to manually adjust sound levels. All three also have microphone inputs on the camera as well as headphone jacks for monitoring audio. 

The other thing all three camera types have is not so good. All of them use menu driven (not physical knob controlled) audio level controls. This makes adjusting sound levels during recording a more complicated undertaking. For the lazy filmmaker it may be just the thing to push us into using auto level controls instead of working a little harder to get the audio just right. 

I cheat. I use the little box you see under the camera (above) to do three different things for me when I make video that has to have good sound.

1. I run any external microphones through this box because it has a hard knob (with detents) for each channel (left and right) so this allows me to set a middle level on the camera, say minus 12 dB, and then have the ability to adjust the levels downward via the knobs on the box. The DXA-2T is passive and won't amplify signals but it's a clean way to manually prevent overload into the camera's audio circuits without resorting to ALC and heavy handed limiters. And it beats trying to open up menus on the screen while shooting... 

2. I can run unbalanced stereo mics in through a 3.5mm plug or I can plug in real, balanced mics to the XLR plugs on the box. The advantage here is that the box has internal transformers that match the input characteristics (resistance, etc.) of professional microphones to what the camera's little, pixie pre-amp circuits are expecting. The best match is to microphones like the Rode NTG-2 which has the option of running its own internal pre-amp via a double A battery instead of requiring phantom power (which this box does NOT provide).  The transformers seems to have the effect of reducing noise and matching output and input more efficiently which translates into a stronger, richer signal delivered to the camera.  Being able to adjust the knobs on the box during recording in order to reduce overall volume is a big plus. The only time you'll need to go into the menus are when you need to boost the signal.

3. Sometimes I want to use a Zoom H4n digital audio recorder to record the audio but I also want to run that audio into the camera at the same time. The only way to do that on an H4n is via the "line out" port into the camera's microphone input. But the line out is about 35 dB stronger than what the camera expects (or is designed for) from a microphone and the sound in camera is quickly and sometimes massively overloaded. Unlike the newer digital audio recorders there's no switch on the H4n to drop the signal to match the camera's inputs. But there is such a switch for each channel on the DXA-2T. That means I have the option to run back-up sound right into the camera where I can also monitor it with headphones. 

I could also use the "line in" setting on the box to accept balanced inputs from a mixer like the big one they use at Zach Theatre. Then I can pull clean sound into the camera sound track if I am recording a musical performance without worrying about overloaded signal circuits.

The DXA-2T is a totally passive device which means no batteries and less chance of device generated noise. It's a sturdy little beast and it fits just about anywhere. I carry it in my microphone case along with duplicate cables for everything. It's wonderful not to have to go menu diving to make quick, small adjustments.  I've forgotten what I paid for it which basically means that it's so practical and useful that it's paid for itself many times over. The only issues I have with this box are the times when I forget to pack it and end up leaving it at the studio. 

I am sure you already know this if you shoot Olympus but----Olympus Share is a good remote controller for the new EM-5.2 in "Hi-Res" mode.

Taken in 2012 with a Sony A77 camera.  On Sixth Street in Austin, Texas.
Not an example of Olympus's High Res Mode.

I think I mentioned using the Hi Res mode in the new Olympus EM-5.2 last Thursday during a commercial shoot in central Texas. The client and I were setting up small still life set composed of small industrial parts and then photographing them. I decided to try out the High Res (40 megapixel JPG) mode that is part of the new camera excitement. 

For those of you who've ignored the feature in this new camera it's an ingenuous variation on Hasselblad's method of mechanically moving the imaging sensor and resampling X number of times during a long exposure or a series of exposures. The Olympus method uses 8 separate scans which are then blended together. Because Olympus scans in half pixel segments it gets around the color artifacts of the Bayer pattern on the sensor and should deliver color that's more pure and also devoid of interference artifacts such as moire. The scans or exposures take place over time, require at least a full second and are ruined by any camera or subject movement. But if you get everything right you can get files that are at parity (or at least that's the internet's opinion) with files from a Nikon D810. 

Of course, much will depend on the quality of the lenses on the front of the camera and even more, your technique. Which I found out. To my temporary frustration. 

We were on the second floor of an older commercial building with the tripod set firmly on the linoleum covered floor, the substructure of which was probably 2x6 inch or 2x8 inch joists set on wide centers. As people walked across the floor of the room in which we were photographing the floor would flex just a bit. Enough to ruin a shot. 

We waited for everyone to settle down and then attempted our high res hijinks again but this time sharpness and file integrity were compromised by the initial movement caused by my finger on the shutter, starting the process. I couldn't figure out how to set a delay for the start of the high res process and I was about to give up when I remembered some VSL readers writing to tell me that one could use the Olympus Share software to remotely control the camera. 

I downloaded the free app from the Apple App Store and in a few minutes I was ready to initialize the wi-fi connections between my iPhone 4S (ancient tech) and the camera. The system does this by having the camera display a QR code which is read by the phone's camera. Once up and running I selected remote control from the menu on the phone app and then triggered the camera. I worked. It worked just the way everyone said it would. Okay. I'm coming around. I guess it's okay to put wi-fi on a camera just so long as you are only using it to trigger a high resolution mode on location. :-)

We tried a few more shots with high res and then moved on to making images with people in them. The phone went back into my pocket and the camera went back into human touch controlled camera mode and we got on with the shoot. 

When I got back to the studio I reviewed the shots and found them to be as described by the Olympus web hive. Very detailed and very big. This is a useful feature for people like me who mostly shoot the human/machine interface but are sometimes called upon to make big interior shots, exterior building shots and highly detailed images of still life images. 

Next on my list of things to try is the camera's automatic keystone correction tool but that will have to wait for a clear, bright, saturated day in order to get me excited about the tests. 

Yes. The High Res mode works well. It demands good technique and a stable platform. Stuff commercial shooters preach about all the time. It makes the camera a more universal and flexible tool. Not bad on an $1100 body. 


A photo for the arrival of Spring.

Shot in Fredericksburg, Texas in 1992.

Leica R series camera with 135mm f2.8 Leica lens. Fujichrome 100 transparency film. Daylight.

I watched a remastered version of the movie, Casablanca, last night and was amazed at how much better the black and white imaging was versus anything I see today....

Belinda, Circa 1980.

I get it but I don't get it. We were home. We had a copy of the movie, Casablanca, on DVD. We tossed it into the player and sat back to watch. We've both seen the movie maybe a dozen times. Together at a theater, on VHS, on broadcast TV---in the cathode ray tube days, and also recently on a DVD and a 50 inch flat screen. But last night I was paying attention and really watching not only the pacing and editing but also the amazing quality of the lighting and the wonderfully translated range of tones rendered by the black and white film of 1942. If you've never seen the movie you might want to stop reading right here and get a copy to watch. It's one of the best movies to come out of the Hollywood studio system---ever. 

There's a scene in Casablana, in a marketplace (I'm sure it was filmed on a set), in which Ingrid Bergman is wearing a wide brimmed hat and there is wonderful detail in her eyes even though they are in shadow. At the same time nothing burns out in the areas lit by full, direct light. The tonality of the movie in general is really amazing. 

So I'm sitting here doing the math and best as I can calculate that movie was made, in a rush, over 73 years ago. So why is it that with all our technological advances nothing I see in magazines, on websites or up on the modern movie screens comes anywhere close to the image quality of this movie? They didn't have the ability to post process in the ways that we do. They didn't have miraculous computer designed optics with Nano Crystal coatings. No Arriflex Alexa or Red Dragon cameras. No video assist. No on set monitors. No digital techs. Just light, film and a measuring tape with which to check focus. And that film? Research says it was probably panchromatic Kodak ASA (ISO) 50 or slower. 

Makes me wonder if technology as it relates to real visual craft has been going through a de-evolution over the past 70 years with people willing to trade for explosions and special effects instead of flat out quality and professional attention to detail and workmanship.  Besides the time and cost savings have we gained anything of real value (visually) in our madcap rush to digital imaging and digital movie making? A quick comparison between Casablanca  and just about anything out there on prints or on the screen today says, "No. You've been had. Suckers." 

It's instructive to look at what brilliant visual artists were able to construct in the past. And we do need to look at it and become more aware of these treasures before each successive generation sweeps the real magic under the rug in an attempt to make audiences believe that what we're getting right now is the best that can be done. Tragic.

Renting Versus Buying. A New Point of View in Photography but not in Video.

American photographers---commercial and hobbyists, by and large, have always had a tradition of owning the gear that they shoot with and with which they use to make a living. In the old days this made sense. A Hasselblad and a couple of lenses could comprise the primary (or only) shooting tools in the inventory of business portrait photographers and, once purchased, had a useful life measured in decades.

While we are slow learners it is becoming more and more apparent that during the age of digital it would have been smarter in many instances to rent the gear we use sporadically instead of splashing out for the full purchase price.

While still cameras are pretty mature at this point and a Nikon D810 or a Canon 5D.3 can conceivably be kept around for daily use for three or four years the same in NOT true in the current video equipment space. Even if that video gear is resident in your still camera.

I bought a Panasonic GH4 over a year ago and used it in dozens and dozens of profitable projects. At the time the purchase may have made sense because the camera was not appreciably bettered by anything even near its price in the ensuing year. But locking into one camera for its video capabilities while shooting with other cameras for stills doesn't make sense to me now.

Every project we bid on these days is different. The look I want is usually different. I learned that when testing the Nikon D810 next to the GH4. The Panasonic is demonstrably sharper than the D810 and it features 4K video while the Nikon does not. The Nikon, on the other hand, has less noise in the darker areas of the frames, a bit better color (especially with flesh tones) and the ability to control depth of field to a much greater degree (at least in one direction....).

But there are times when image stabilization trumps everything else and then I want to use an EM5.2 (even if the video files are technically inferior to the other cameras) and on the next assignment I need to use a video camera with a huge zoom range with a lens that doesn't shift apertures as it's zoomed. I have another project coming up (all exterior) and for that one I'd love to use a camera with built in neutral density filters.

When I bought my GH4 they were in very limited supply and buying one meant having access to it when I needed it. But now they are more readily available and I have multiple local sources for the body when needed. I chose to sell mine in order not to see the entire video world through one piece of gear. If you own the gear there is always the tendency to use it exclusively in order to get the value of your investment----even when it's not the best choice. The tired old saying is somewhat true: "When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail."

My recent rationalizations of gear inventory don't necessarily reflect my opinions about the value of gear but instead about the best way to acquire and use gear. We only really used the GH4 on video intensive projects and those were/are more sporadic than regular photography assignments. Some video is perfectly well done with our daily beater camera, the D810. In fact, on people shoots I prefer the overall rendition. Other jobs are just right for the GH4 but it doesn't make good sense to keep one in a drawer for what might be a monthly or even bi-monthly creative exercise. We can rent or borrow one as needed, paying a rental fee that's ultimately charged to the client and then returning the camera after the final day of shooting.

If you don't think this is smart just think how the current owners of Canon's $13,995 C300 camera feel. A new flurry of much improved Canon dedicated video cameras is about to hit the market at NAB's show and in anticipation Canon has dropped the new price of the existing C300's to $6,500.
I'm sure the current owners believed that they'd be able to sell their existing rigs into the used market to defray the cost of new gear but a $6500 new, new price brings their possible value down to around $4,000 in the used markets. That's a big overnight hit to take if a good trade-in value is part of your procurement strategy.

The Samsung NX1 is a pretty darn good 4K camera (with a few operating glitches and a weird and scary codec) and it's been actively on the market for less than four months but it's price just dropped by 20% almost overnight. Is it because a new model is coming along behind it or does Samsung have advanced information about more competitive products coming from more established camera makers at more competitive price points?

With a market that's moving quickly and is in a fluid pricing environment renting is the strategy du jour. Marry the lenses, date the cameras.

I think the GH4 is the best value proposition of all the 4K video cameras currently on the market. But that particular market is an active, moving target. It was time to move some inventory while the camera was still selling for its introductory pricing. Once things gel in 4K we'll see who is standing and what new technology came galloping onto the scene. Then maybe we'll buy again----unless 8K is starting to warm up. Then all bets are off.

Our friends who shoot commercial video do things in a totally different way than traditional photographers. They rent everything and they customize the rental according to what they need for the concept and the anticipated production. They don't buy many lights. Instead they rent trucks full of lights for the day. They don't buy jibs or automated sliders. They rent them as needed. Most camera operators own a really, really nice video tripod and fluid head, and maybe a little case of specialty lenses with PL mounts. They might have an inexpensive video camera for quicky jobs and personal work but when push comes to shove it's all rental and all billed to the client. Their inventory is very temporary and cost neutral. That sounds like a good model to me.

They laughed when I said I was downsizing the inventory of cameras, until I sat down to play the piano...

Contax RTS III. 50mm f1.4.

I have a well deserved reputation as a person who changes cameras as often as most people change the filters in their coffee machines. I've owned a lot of different systems, cameras and lenses and at one point could probably count twenty four different digital camera bodies in the studio environs at one time. But I seem to have turned over a new leaf. Right now (not counting old film cameras that are not worth selling) I have the fewest number of cameras (and systems) that I've owned in at least two decades.

Occasionally a camera will float in from a manufacturer for review but we can't really count these because they are temporary and have to be returned at the end of a specified trial time.

Since the beginning of this year I've been on a camera purge of sorts. I decided to only keep the camera around that I want to use, like to use and enjoy the images from. I stopped letting nostalgia push me to keep older, more unusual and large numbers of duplicate camera bodies around.

In just the past two weeks I've sold two Nikon D7000s, one Nikon D7100, all the Nikon APS-C lenses and four Olympus EM-5 bodies. Lots of accessories left along with the bigger ticket items. All the small, compact, fixed lens cameras that I imagined I'd love to carry everywhere and shoot with are gone. That includes some that I love in theory and in the quality of the files but just felt awkward with.

Some I got rid of stuff out of superstition. Once a camera develops a fault, no matter how minor, I seem to no longer trust it and it either gets sidelined or I get rid of it. The Sony RX10 is a case in point. I loved that camera until the little switch that enables clickless aperture setting broke. The camera would only stay in the "click" mode if I taped the switch in place. Within a few weeks the camera was gone (yes, the switch was fully disclosed...).

So what's left? What am I shooting my jobs with? Which cameras have made the latest cut? And why?

Starting at the top is the Nikon D810. It's hard to argue with this choice for a working professional photographer on two levels. First, it is arguably the best image producing (affordable) camera in the world. I can't image there are many situations in which 36 very, very good megapixels are not enough. And the camera handles very, very well for day in and day out photography. Couple that with  sheer number of great manual focus and recent model used AF lenses that are available at very economical prices and it's easy to wrap a very workable system around this body.

On a different level the Nikon D810 is rapidly distinguishing itself at a very, very good 2K video camera with really good color science and a nicely detailed image on the screen. As I get more serious about video it's nice to know that the camera will output clean, uncompressed video files to digital video recorders. The first two jobs I did with the camera paid for it and it works with no "gotchas" that I've encountered. Can't ask for more than that in a professional tool.

Since no good photographer goes on assignment without a same system back up camera I have to say that I am very happy with the Nikon D610 that I picked up last December. The video isn't in the same ballpark but the image files are just as good (though a bit smaller) and the camera comes closer to remind my (with pleasure) of the film SLRs from my early days in the business. It's a no nonsense tool without too many bells and whistles that was cheap to buy, easy to use and nicely robust.

The one area where it actually bests the D810 is in high ISO/Low illumination environments. It's got a sensor that's nice and clean up to at least 6400 ISO and at ISO 100 the dynamic range just goes on and on.

I've got a drawer full of Nikon lenses that covers focal lengths from 14mm to 300mm and I rarely have ever wanted anything outside this range. If I get the hankering to use a long, fast telephoto lens with either of the two bodies I'll be happy to rent.

My Nikon working system all fits nicely into a Think Tank Airport Security roller case (original model) and with it I feel as though I can shoot just about anything.

Those two cameras are the only digital Nikons I own right now. Eventually I will replace the D610 with a D750 but only because the D750 is a much more capable video production camera and works almost identically in video modes as the D810. The faster I move through jobs the more I appreciate cameras that have similar or almost identical methods of operation and menus.

I have one lens of the system on my wish list but I really don't need it. It's the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens. But every time I shoot with the new 50mm f1.8 G lens I stick my credit card back in my wallet because I end up being so happy with the $229 alternative...

Two cameras. That's hardly overkill for a business that revolves around the almost daily use of cameras.

The second system is the Olympus OMD family. Until last week I had four of the original EM5 cameras. I like using the for personal work because they are small and light and capable. The image quality is really good for the size and price of the camera bodies and they worked well with the manual focus Pen F len collection (1970's vintage) I've amassed over the years. They also work very well with the Sigma Art Lens trio, the 19mm, the 30mm and the (amazing) 60mm (all f2.8).  I have the same Micro Four Thirds lenses as most people which include the 17mm f1.8, the 25mm Summilux, the 45mm f1.8 and the Panasonic 12-35mm X lens.

Last week all four EM5 bodies were liquidated. I had to make room for a couple of the newer EM-5.2 cameras. And why not? The EM-5.2s have much nicer EVFs, better image stabilization and improved (but hardly perfect) video features. The addition of a headphone jack on the accessory grip which allows me to monitor audio during video shooting alone makes the upgrade worthwhile.

I started with a black body but I loved the look of the knurled knobs on the silver version so I chose one in that color as a back up. I've been walking around shooting the black version with a wonderful, sharp, dense, solid Pen F 40mm f1.4 and I couldn't be happier with the results. The focus peaking works well and is a most welcome addition when shooting with the older Pen lenses and their "manual only" focusing systems.

My wish list of the Olympus system (besides a firmware upgrade for the video files) is to get my hands on the new 40-150mm f2.8 zoom lens. But we'll see how tax season treats me first...

By my count that's a total of four cameras. All of which have now been used on successful, paying projects. Narrowing down to two systems helps me cope with the different menus and gives me the ability to alternate between the two different styles of camera and attendant differences in shooting styles which keeps me from getting bored.

I'm actively decluttering the rest of the studio as well.  In the last two weeks we filtered out four tripods and five tripod heads. I tossed out all the "broken but still usable" light modifers (umbrellas and soft boxes) including two enormous beauty dishes that had been gathering dust. I guess I'm just not a beauty dish kind of guy.

Let's see if I can hold the line. The only things on my acceptable list at this point are new lenses. But that's not a bad thing. The lenses are the gateway to the vision. Everything else changes too often to be considered collectible.

And that's how the downsizing is going. Thanks for asking. Oh, you didn't ask? Well then, thank you for letting me share.

Contax RTS III, 85mm f1.4.


News flash for people interested in mirror-free SLR cameras that happen to be 4K video cameras!

..... the Samsung NX1, introduced in limited supply just before the Christmas Holiday in 2014 is already price-diving and now available on Amazon.com for only $1299.00. Just last week the camera was priced at its entry price of $1499. 

We have the camera in hand and are reviewing it mostly as a video camera because it shoots (according to all reviews) a very nice, 4K video file, albeit in a codec that can be troublesome for computers that are less than state of the art. For $1299 and the price of an inexpensive adapter for Nikon, Canon or other legacy-type lenses, it's cheap enough to try out and see for yourself if it does what your inner cinematographer needs. If it doesn't then you can probably send it back to whomever you purchased if from (within certain time limits) and get your money back.

I've shot stills with it. It's good. Is it for you? Can't say. Yet. But I thought you'd be interested (on several levels) about the quick price drop.

That's all I've got.

Working with the #Olympus EM-5-2 on a commercial job today. How did it all work?

This photograph of the Bob Bullock Museum was taken with a 
Sony RX10, not the Olympus OMD EM-5 covered in this
blog post.

Today's assignment was to go to a nearby city, to a business that refurbishes equipment associated with the production of semiconductors, and to make images of people working with computer controlled lathes, CNC mills, custom parts design and manufacture and a bit of old fashion machining. As I expected the working area was large, loud, productive and well illuminated by fluorescent light banks located up in the high ceiling but comprised of many different kinds and brands of fluorescent tubes. 

The people were wonderful and to a tech geek like me the processes and resulting products were interesting and visually compelling. I tried my best to translate them to the intended audience by making sure my shots were well composed, interesting and technically proficient. 

I arrived on site at 7 am in the morning, after a 42 minute drive through the pre-rush hour rush hour traffic and got right to work. The advertising agency involved had given me a shot list and I used it as a starting point. Once I covered their "must have" images I started to look for fun and interesting people, machines and details to make the project even more fun for me. I mean, I'm a guy who can get excited about a well implemented wiring harness so a building full of drill bits and grinders is like Disney Land. 

For the first part of the day I used a Nikon D610. I had the D810 in the case but today I considered it nothing but back-up. There was no reason to shoot the larger raw files and, in any case, the D610 is a better available light file generator. I leaned heavily on the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 lens ( amazingly sharp!!) along with the 85mm f1.8 G, the 60mm f2.8 macro, and the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 G lens. I shot building exteriors with the 25-50mm f4 ais lens and I shot super wide shots of the manufacturing floor with the Rokinon 14mm f2.8. (I may not even correct for the curvature since the images look so cool...). 

But after my first lunch ever at an In and Out Burger I came back and changed direction entirely. I'd done the list. Now I was out to over deliver and get creative. I stuck the Nikon stuff back into the Think Tank Airport Security case (original version) and grabbed the brand new, bright silver, Olympus EM-5.2 off the front seat of my car. I never intended to shoot with the power pixie camera, it wasn't part of the pre-production list but it looked so damn cute and competent at 6am this morning that it practically begged to come along for the ride today. You know, in case I saw something really cool on the way to the shoot or on the way back.

I didn't pack any paraphernalia to go along with the the second EM-5.2 body I've bought and paid for this week. I had the battery grip attached but no extra, extra batteries in my pocket and the only lens I had for the camera was the wonderful, Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 I've been using on the black EM-5.2 body this past week. Only that equipment and a 16 gigabyte SD card. 

After having used the Nikon camera all morning I was immediately reminded of just how much more fun it is to use an EVF enabled photographic tool. I love the constant, instant, beautifully rendered feedback that EVF gives me. Before I even click the shutter button I am confident about the color and the exposure of the image I'm about to take. I was bolstered today with the knowledge that I can process the raw files in PhotoShop CC.

I used the camera on the side arm set-up of my Gitzo G2220 tripod so I could take photographs of clumps and piles and pyramids of tiny, fabricated parts from directly overhead. 

When I write these columns there's generally one thing that jumps out at me during the course of a shooting session that I want to share. Today's take-away is the multi-shot, high res image feature of the camera. I figured that the parts weren't moving around (or at least they shouldn't be), the camera was on a secure tripod and my interest level was pretty high so I went for it instead of breaking out the heavy Nikon iron. 

Setting the control is really easy. You go into the same menu area as the drive speed setting and the self-timer settings. At the very end of the list is a box with a bunch of small squares in it. That's the high-res mode. There are further sub-menus that allow one to set delays to the process if using electronic flash but today we were all LED and we didn't need no stinkin' delays. I looked at the perfect pre-chimped image and fired away. 

At first I didn't get sharp results. I got a bit of double image but I know instantly it was because I was triggering the camera with my huge, shaky fingers and there is no provision to set a delay between the button push and the initiation of the eight shot process. I wish there was. But I quickly decided that it was a mechanical issue and that the only good resolution might be to download the dreaded wi-fi software. Which I did. And it worked. I could trigger the camera with my phone instead of physically touching it. From that point on every shot was perfectly rendered. But I will say that I hedged in one regard; I used the Jpeg setting instead of the raw setting because I knew for a fact that I could do conversions in the Adobe Raw Converter or in PhotoShop CC but I wasn't sure that extended to special features and I wanted to be able to deliver these images along with the normal images to my client. 

Does the multi-shot function work? Yes. Very much so. The image are exceptionally sharp and the color is perfect. It's a really 40 megapixel file. And the Panasonic lens seems to be ready to bring it. 
I didn't test it on the same targets with the Nikon D810 but I've shot enough with that camera to know that the Olympus files, in this shooting situation, were at least equal to the bigger camera, if not just a bit better. 

The Panasonic lens did not prove to be a weak point in the equation. It focuses down to 25 cm ( which is about, what, ten inches?) and I was able to fill the frame with little piles of small, random parts. The images, with the lens stopped down to between f7.1 and f11 are detailed and sharp from edge to edge. 

I was remembering shooting raw with the Sony R1 today. The buffer was TWO raw files. Once you hit the buffer (depending on which CF card you were using) the wait time to the next frame was about seven to ten seconds. Today the EM-5.2 would shoot all the eight impressions in about a second and then compile and blend them in another two seconds. The camera was ready to shoot again before I even started to review the files. 

I am so happy with the two new Olympi. The black one is so Ninja-esque while the silver version is wonderfully machine-y. But the thing that delights (at least for me) is the blend of pre-chimp EVF capability with really nice through the finder images and the ability to carry a couple of these cameras along with my favorite lenses in one small back along with the assurance that, with the exception of the high-res mode, the tripod is not longer needed because the new image stabilization is magic. 

Should you buy an Olympus EM5.2 ??? Only you can say but I will tell you that the camera feels great, the IS is astounding and the high-res mode actually works. Could anything be improved? Well, the movie mode could be less soft but on a high def (non 4K TV) television in the living room it looks just about as good as anything else. The pixel peeping part of video is that one is constantly seeing it on screens (computers) that outstrip our home TVs. Nothing ever really looks sharp when you judge it at over 100%. 

I'm looking at the files right now on a 27 inch, hardware corrected monitor and the still images I took today in both the 40 meg and the 16 meg modes are both really nice. Both the color, the detail and the overall tonality. The Nikon stuff looks great too. It's just not as much fun to shoot. 

I drove home happy with what I saw and what I learned. It's okay to have different cameras. Some are brute force and some are poetry. 

on Another Note: I wrote earlier in the week that I had received the Samsung NX-1 camera for testing. I've been swamped on a corporate video project that's now going into its third week, along with random photographic jobs like the one I wrote about above. I was uncertain that I'd have time to do the exhaustive tests on the NX-1 I wanted to do. But in my mind the still cameras are all good and the real reason to own an NX-1 would be for its reputedly great, 4K video capabilities. 

With that in mind I've lent the cameras to a good friend of mine who's spent the last twenty years shooting video for companies like Ralston-Purina, Motorola, Dell and AMD. He's a consummate pro and really wants to put the camera though its paces. Once he tortures the hell out of it I'll have some preliminary reports. I can already tell you that the still jpegs from the camera are good and the overall feel, the quality of the EVF, and the menus are really good. We'll stop there until we have more hands on experience. 

on Another, another Note.  After years of hearing my California friends gush about In and Out Burgers I have tried them and they come up wanting. If you are an Austinite and have had burgers at Hopdoddy's, Huts, P. Terry's, or even Sullivan's you've already had vastly superior hamburgers and in most cases better French fries. Try to explain to me what I obviously missed about their charms (other than price) and if you make a compelling argument I'll try to give them another shot but for right now they are not much more than a McDonald's with fresh lettuce, decent tomatoes and a better special sauce. If this is your high water mark for a burger you need to make it to Austin and go just about anywhere except a big chain for a burger. Really. 

I haven't plugged it in a while but think about buying my Novel from the Kindle Books section of Amazon.com. The story is fun, the book is fun and it makes me feel good when people go from the VSL blog and plop down a whopping $5.99 for the experience. It may not be for everyone but it is aimed squarely at our brilliant demographic... Just read it.