The Sony RX10iii as a photojournalism machine. Impromptu coverage of a political protest.

I was downtown meeting with a client yesterday and I got in my car to leave the parking garage; I turned on the radio and the local station had a quick traffic segment that informed me many streets in the downtown area were closed to accommodate a political demonstration protesting results of the election. I was at ground central and figured I wouldn't be exiting the downtown area any time soon (at least not with my car) so I grabbed my camera and headed out to Congress Ave. The camera I just happened to have along with me was my trusty Sony RX10iii. 

The protest was mostly young people from the University of Texas at Austin. They started their march at the Lady Bird Lake/Congress Ave. bridge and made their way up Congress Ave to the state capitol and then turned onto Guadalupe St. to continue on to campus. There was an enormous but unthreatening police presence all along the route. For the most part everyone was quite civil. The police didn't over react and, even though taunted by some small handfuls of opposition protesters, the main group of marchers was peaceful and did not go for the bait. 

Protests are old hat for me. I've been covering them for decades. Whether you believe in the cause or not the emotions are real and the energy in a good protest march is amazing. Back in the 1970's, at UT, the bulk of the students would protest at the drop of a hat. I remember people chaining themselves to several trees that needed to be cut down to accommodate a new building on campus. It was a protest that drew thousands.... But I wasn't at this one to participate as much as I was to just document it for my own sense of Austin history. 

One thing that made me so proud to live in Austin was police chief, Art Acevedo. He was not in uniform (although his black fleece wind breaker had an embroidered badge and his name on it) and he was strolling along just in front of the crowd, casually chatting with protesters, young media people and even counter-protestors. His presence inside the crowd was a signal to both the protesters and the police that we could still have a peaceful and open dialog with each other. (Go Art!!!). 

Until recently I would have thought that the best way to cover something like this would have been with the digital version of the cameras and lenses I used to cover the democratic conventions in Chicago in 1996 and Los Angeles in 2000. That would have been two cameras (or more) with an 80-200mm f2.8 on one, a 28-70mm f2.8 on the other and a 300mm f4.5 telephoto with a  2x teleconverter in the (heavy) camera bag. That, and about 30 rolls of film per day....

But I quickly came to grips with the reality that the Sony RX10iii was head and shoulders above that kind of kit; both in my ability to carry it with no effort at all, and to effortlessly zoom in to 600mm and handhold perfectly stable shots with accurate focusing. The camera had a 128 GB SD card inside and I had an extra battery in a small Baggie in my pocket. The light rain didn't worry me in the least as the camera seems well weather sealed (same camera used extensively for the video of torrential downpours and flooding at the beginning of the Summer --- still clicking away). 

The ability to go from really wide to super-tight with the twist of a lens ring was amazing. Setting the lens to f8.0 and the equivalent of 24mm meant depth of field forever. Setting the lens at 400-600mm and using it wide open meant lushly out of focus backgrounds. Not having a camera bag swinging around my waist meant I could move through the crowds with all the grace of a ballerina. Not having a bag full of lenses bouncing around meant I could sprint a couple of hundred yards forward to get a different look without breaking a sweat. Having gray hair meant that the cops weren't interested in me and neither were the students. I felt nicely unencumbered and invisible. 

The RX10iii is not perfect. At the longer focusing distances the movement (body shake?) of the camera makes it a bit harder for the camera to find focus. At ISOs above 400 the camera gets just a little noisy --- but the noise isn't bad, color splotchy noisy, just grainy, film-looking noisy. Face detection works until you want to focus on one specific face in a crowd and then you are better off with a spot AF setting. If you are working in raw you can deal with the noise quite easily. 

I only wish I'd brought a nice, handheld, interview microphone and a beautiful assistant; it would have been nice to interview some of the kids and see what they had to say. Each generation gets to protest because that's a healthy part of growing up. What I would have liked to have heard is their particular point of view at this exact moment in time. 

This was my first protest photography since smart phones have completely assimilated all local humans.  (yes, a Star Trek "Borg" reference...). Many protesters, anti-protesters, police and media were busy shooting the event and enormous number of selfies. Phones were everywhere. Some how I got the phrase, "just phoning it in.." stuck in my head and it rattled around there for the rest of my time downtown. 

If I were running a media/news content business I'd forego all the traditional cameras and hand each content producer on my staff an RX10ii or RX10iii and a hand held, dynamic reporter's microphone and teach them the rudiments of operating those cameras as both still and video cameras. They could pretty much cover anything but fast sports and motor car racing. Soon enough the PD-AF tech will even allow that. It's an amazing time to be out taking photographs. 

As the parade progressed the rain got stronger and as the crowd moved on the side street where my car was parked opened up again. I turned around and headed back to the car. I still needed to get a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a half pound of kale and brussel sprout salad at Whole Foods (my turn to cook dinner --- the salad was a good counterpoint to my wayyyy too rich version of Fettucini Alfredo with prosciutto ) and my camera and I were wet enough.  The march reminded me of the rich tradition of free speech we have here in the U.S.A. and how fortunate that yet another generation feels strongly enough about something to exercise that right. 

This post is about my experience in photographing a march with my Sony RX10iii, it's not an invitation to weigh in about politics. We'll leave that to someone else's blog. Enjoy the photographs, I think the camera does a good job with reportage... Click to see bigger. 

Center: Police Chief, Art Acevedo.


Chuck Albertson said...

Oddly enough, last night's FDT march came up from downtown Seattle and passed by my building, so I grabbed my D750 and ran out to take some pictures. The SPD bike patrol was providing an escort and there were no hassles, largely (I suspect) because it was being led by one of our city council members. I think we're going to see more of these.

TMJ said...

Photograph #17: there is a young lady using what appears to be a Nikon F3 with perhaps an earlier Nikon Kogaku lens. One thing I notice, is that generally it is younger people who are now using, (as opposed to collecting/polishing), older film cameras.

Wally said...

VSL News Service. The telling moment for me is #10/26. My daughter says she is waiting for the presidential version of The Apprentice....

Paul said...

I just got my morning espresso, and opened this page to see the person who made it in your lead photo - funny. Couldn't agree more about Acevedo, hope that isn't breaking your no politics guideline. I know you like to photograph buildings with interesting angles, light, reflections. You might want to check out the new construction near the canoes sculpture, although it's best early in the morning which is now really early with the time change.

typingtalker said...

One weakness of photo and video coverage of demonstrations is lack of wide-view images that show the size of the event. This is especially true in local TV news stories that do their best to make stories bigger, more important and more dramatic than they really are.

Long lenses make great images but they don't tell the whole story.

Rewster said...

I hope this isn't considered political, but did you see any American flags? If so, why didn't you photograph them?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

In the body of the article the fifth, sixth and seventh images are all about the American flag. But I am curious why you asked the question. I think I made it very clear that this was NOT an assignment for a client. This was an impromptu shoot because I was stuck downtown and had my camera with me. I'm sure there were American flags sprinkled through the crowd and I'm pretty sure the whole point of the protest was the exercise of their constitutionally protected 1st amendment rights. In the minds of the protesters I am certain that they feel as though they are motivated by their love of country and freedom just as I am certain that their detractors have their own ideas about love of country. Can you more fully explain why you asked the question? Did you mistake this site for a news channel? If you follow my blog you'll know that I'm much more interested in faces and human dynamics than symbology or faux patriotism.

Rewster said...

I'm sorry I didn't phrase my comment properly. I meant among the protestors. And I was just curious whether any of the protestors were carrying American flags since it represents just what you said, that they are free to exercise their constitutional rights. I have my doubts that some of the flags I saw represent countries that are as free as ours. I also should have asked if you photographed them instead of being negative.

My interest is not so much political as it is sociological. Why do people who obviously want to be here not accept the freedom we have and the symbols that represent it?