OT: back to the push-ups for a moment.

Self portrait #12

When I visited my portrait subject, a 93 year old physician, today at his house I noticed that he had an exercise mat and several 10 and 20 pound hand weights in his day room. We talked about exercise a bit and he told me just how important maintaining muscle mass is when aging. I mentioned the push-ups and he countered with the weights. I asked "why?" and he told me he never liked doing push-ups and found weights to be a good alternative. He's a good role model. I noticed he wasn't even out of breath when we climbed up the stairs to the third floor to look at cameras (tangential connection to the blog). 

Thinking about it I decided to share my push-up progress with the brain trust here at VSL; having written about it recently. I am now, after weeks of building up to it, able to execute 50 proper push-ups in one set without falling apart or breaking into a sweat. I am now pushing for my ultimate goal of doing 100 in a continuous set but I am breaking up the training by doing one continuous set of 50 in the morning and then two sets of 25 in the evenings. Once I get used to it I'll increase the number of reps in the first set in the evening until I am do continuous set of 50 in the evening. 

I plan to keep the numbers the same after I hit this intermediary goal but to then start slowing down the push ups to put more pressure on the muscles involved. 

Someone mentioned a concern about blood pressure in one of the comments. I took that seriously and have been monitoring my blood pressure after my set of 50 reps in the morning. I do the set and then rest for 60 seconds and then take my blood pressure with an automatic wrist cuff. 

My blood pressure this morning after the 50 set and the 6o seconds rest was 130/70 with a pulse rate of 68. My average reading, done at random times during the day, seated is usually about 118/60 with a pulse rate of 58-60.  I don't think I am taking too much of a risk at the moment but I guess it's always a good idea to monitor. 

But how are all those push ups paying off? I am stronger in the pool and it's reflected in a new ability to shift down about 5 seconds on intervals (based on sets of 100 yards). I also seem to have more endurance in the middle of a set than I did only a month or two ago. I am also noticing a slight reduction in waist line measurements. Other than that, no radical changes. I think I'll have to stay at it for a longer period of time to see really obvious changes. 

Nothing has changed in my sensitivity to getting up in the dark, driving to the pool in 32 degree temperatures and then flinging myself into the chilly water. I still hate process right up to the point when we get sufficiently warmed up. The hardest part? Getting out of the pool in a brisk wind and running the 200 feet to the locker room. Ouch!

I make house calls. I packed my little black bag and made one this morning. It was good.

This photograph has little or nothing to do with the subject of the blog post other than to show 
the opposite end of the aging spectrum; the playfulness and whimsy.
I'd love to post an image of today's subject but I can't until it goes through "the process."

For the last two decades I've done a lot of photographic and video work for a large company that is owned by 120+ doctors and which provides imaging services all over central Texas. Last week I got a phone call from one of the people in the management department. The phone call turned into a request that I make an "official" portrait of the company's founder. The man is a retired doctor. He founded the company in 1954, here in Austin, Texas. He is now 93 years old. 

The manager and I discussed the logistics of setting up the session. Usually, the doctors from that group come to our little studio in west Austin and I photograph them against a canvas background that their marketing team likes, and has been requesting for nearly 15 years. There's a continuity there. But when I heard that the portrait subject was 93 years old I quickly suggested that we do a "house call." I knew it would be easier to pack up a lighting kit, camera and the "timeless" background and head on over to the doctor's house. And I thought it would be much less hassle for our sitter.

The doctor, my portrait subject, called the next day to set up a time. He lives in a central neighborhood, about ten minutes away from my studio. This morning I loaded three portable flashes, a big umbrella, some light stands and a smaller umbrella as my lighting kit. I grabbed the Nikon D810 and the 24-120mm lens as my basic camera kit (Olympus EM5.2 as the perennial "car" camera for back-up) and I added the 5x7 foot collapsible background to complete the tool selection. 

I had photographed this particular doctor about six years ago when several of his younger friends retired from the group. He met me at the front door of his house wearing a dark suit and a perfectly tied tie. We scouted the downstairs of the house and decided to set up in a living room area that had nice light coming in big windows. We chatted as I set up my lights and my camera and I didn't feel the barrier that a difference of ages and generations used to create in my mind. I guess I'm coming to grips with my own aging. 

The lighting was my typically simple light with a large, soft main light used in close, a light on the background for separation and a passive fill via a white pop-up reflector on the opposite side from the main light. The whole set could be contained in about 15 by 15 feet. 

I wanted to make a standing portrait because people's suits look better that way and have fewer wrinkles and fabric bulges to contend with. I found a high backed, dining room chair to use as a "posing" device and a place for him to anchor his hands and provide a bit of support. I love the backs of chairs and use them this way as often as I can find them. 

After I had the primary portrait I asked if we could do an alternate because I loved the Robin's egg blue that his walls were painted. He agreed and I quickly did a number of frames against that alternative background. 

When I finished up the doctor told me that he was quite interested in photography and always had been. I followed him upstairs to the third floor of his home where he showed me a display case filled with the cameras he had owned and used over the years. We talked with genuine nostalgia about loading our own 35mm film when we came across his old, bulk film loader. That led to a discussion about doing our own black and white darkroom work.  We talked about his time in the navy in World War Two, and we talked about aging and living well. We agreed to catch up over a cup of coffee in the next week or so; but only if he likes the images we did today. I hope he loves them, I'd enjoy going back.

Photography is fascinating work because you repeatedly get permission to insert yourself into someone else's life and expand your knowledge of what different people are like. It's a never ending story. The camera is my ticket for entry. 

Today the business this man started employs hundreds of people, provides well for over 100 specialized partners/doctors, and helps to diagnosis and treat lots of health issues for people. What an incredible legacy!


Here is a sample from the Nikon 135mm f2.0 ai lens I bought a few weeks ago. I finally got around to using it on a job and it worked.

A still image from "Tomås and the Librarian."

sI was photographing a family play about the early life of Hispanic writer, Tomås Rivera, at Zach Scott Theatre when I decided to give the 135mm a thorough wringing out. The play is called, "Tomås and the Librarian." The artists at Zach presented it on the Wisenhunt Stage which is a very small, intimate auditorium which seats about 150 guests. The seats are on all four walls so all the plays done in this space are performed in the round. This also means that all the lighting is mounted on grids and catwalks overhead. 

I was being capricious when I photographed the rehearsal; I used two cameras and two lenses. One camera was the D750 with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens on it and the other camera was a D810 with the manual focusing 135mm f2.0 lens along for the ride. I felt brave enough to use the 135mm because I had ordered and installed an eyepiece magnifier that adds 1.2X magnification to the finder image on the D810. Just to make things fun the theater has black walls and a black ceiling and the light levels on this play are lower by a couple stops than the light I've become accustomed to over on the Topfer stage. 

I ended up using the 135mm for about 40% of the images I took and I'm pretty pleased to report that only about 10-15% were unusable due to focusing errors. Of those about half were almost intentional in that I knew my subjects were moving out of the band of correct focus but I didn't have time to adjust and sprayed and prayed that some would make the cut. 

Most of the images were shot at ISO 1250, Shutter Speeds between 1/125th and 1/200th of a second. While the aperture stayed pretty much constant at f2.8. I set a custom white balance at 3000 K and didn't need to apply color correction in post processing. 

I have proven to myself that I can still focus a long, fast lens through a digital SLR viewfinder and hit focus enough times to keep a good amount of eyelashes looking crispy. 

The 50mm wasn't being tested. It was just being used. Can't complain for even a second about that lens as wide open it outperforms most of my other lenses even when they have the advantage of being stopped down. It's not a question of sharpness, it's just that the Sigma lens seems more resolute..l

Both of the images here were shot one after the other with the 135mm f2.0. It's a very nice, old lens.
I'll definitely keep it.

Deep down what I really feel photography is all about for nearly everyone...

There are plenty of reasons to document the world around us. We might need some evidence for an insurance claim, we might want a record of what our kids look like, right now. If we make photography our work we probably need to photograph a product that our client would like to advertise and sell; and we might make some portraits so other client can project a certain (benevolent) image to prospective buyers of the subject's expertise or valuable service. But when all the day to day uses of photography are cleared off the table I think most people who take photographs for themselves do it for one overwhelming reason: social connection.

If we profess to "just enjoy taking photographs" then why do we feel the need to post them and share them with other people? And, in most cases, these other people are people like us who are using their cameras and posting their images in order to belong; however tangentially, to a broad social group.

All the bickering over brands or specs or "the correct way" to do photography is just the baggage that humans bring with them as they jockey for what they perceive to be their place in the social hierarchy of this or that collection of like minded photographers.  But the need to share is implied in the immersion into online forae, real world camera clubs and meet ups. 

There's really no way to divorce the need for social connection and interconnection from any hobby or avocation that people enjoy doing. Must of us must go to work in order to survive, buy food and shelter and save up enough $$$ for cameras. But after we meet the basic criteria it's the hobbies and the passions we pursue that provide the glue that binds people with similar interests together.

I am going to pack a camera bag and go over to Zach Theatre this afternoon to photograph a play. I'll be paid, but really, in the grand scheme of things, the money is incidental, I'm also going because being present to do the marketing photographs means I'll spend time with a group of people I like to be with. Lauren from marketing will be there with a warm smile and stories about her three year old. The actors will be doing what is their passion --- entertaining us. We all support each other's human side and passion side. I exist in this situation as validation that they will reach a wider audience.

I have many friends who've taken pains to learn a great deal about photography in general and cameras in particular. We have found in each other a group of like minded individuals who don't seem to share a bigger demographic's appreciation for televised sports but we enjoy the one-to-one experience of sitting across a table from each other, talking about photography. Or talking about cameras. On one level it doesn't matter if we talk about cameras or we talk about some great show we've seen; we're using our common interest to build social bonds and relationships.

When you go to a workshop your conscious (advertising?) reason to go is to learn more about my craft, but I would say that while improving craft sounds like a very good thing one of your main reasons for paying and attending is to spend time with like minded people, and to build credentials for cementing or improving your social position within your chosen hierarchy. A selected group of photographers.

Your sub group within photography might be landscapes in which case you might share more conversations about good locations and dynamic range enhancements. If you enjoy photographing beautiful people (models) your conversation will, no doubt, center around how to find beautiful people to shoot, and about how to light people in the most dramatic and flattering way. Part of your reasons for talking to each other about these topics is to make sure you aren't missing something obvious that will improve your enjoyment of the art, but for the most part you display your shared knowledge in order to exist, meaningfully, within your group.

It's interesting to see the dynamics at work at a photo walk, a workshop, or even at the counter of the local camera store (sorry if you no longer have one). It's a process that I've reduced down to a coffee analogy. That's how I come to understand most social interactions.

People exist, psychologically, along a long curve of what psychologist might refer to as an "emotional intelligence quotient." How well do you read other people? Do you have an easy or hard time understanding humor? Are you very, very literal or very empathetic?

Here's how I take a quick evaluation of a new person arriving to our group, any group:

At my masters swimming team we swim from 8:30 am till 10:00 am every Saturday. Have for years. About 16 years ago a group of us decided to drop by a coffee shop after the long, sometimes cold, Saturday morning swim to have coffee ---- together. It's a way of catching up as well as prolonging the shared social experience of exercising together. We head over to the coffee shop and pull a couple of tables together and just share stories. They could be about swimming, or someone's latest vacation, or a bitch about there being too much (or too little) distance work in the recent swims. Doesn't matter. We learn more about each other, say supportive things about the benefits of swimming, and then go home. We build and maintain a supportive social structure.

Like any big program we frequently have new people join. The critical measure in parsing a person's group social fitness is the response we get when we invite the new person to the group coffee, following the Saturday workout.

One response tells us that the person isn't a particularly good social candidate (although they may be just fine in the swimming program!). When asked if they want to join us for coffee the response we are never looking for is: "Sorry, I don't drink coffee."  In a big way it means that they just didn't understand the un-literal underlying invitation. That "coffee" is just common code for, "join us and we'll get to know each other and welcome you into the network." 

There are tons of legitimate answers we'd accept including, "I'd love to but I left my wife at home with three kids and she'd kill me if I didn't get back with donuts!" Or, "I've got other plans today but it sounds great. Can I get a rain check?" We get that hanging out with a bunch of swimmers might not be everyone's idea of good times but we also get it that the last two answers might also mean, "Thanks for the invitation. I'll decline and pretend to leave the door open, but we all understand that I won't be attending now or in the future. I do, though, appreciate the offer." But we respect that because it shows us that the person in question understands the underlying meaning of our invitation and values our social ring enough to answer in a graceful way.

The first person, the one "who doesn't drink coffee!", doesn't understand the question but, in a broader sense, doesn't understand the social glue of groups and, by extension, the place of our hobbies within the context of our own chosen cultures.

Deep down I don't feel like most of us care all that much about the images the people around us create. We care more about being part of their hobby/art/craft connected social construct and finding our particular spot within that matrix of people. It's a way of building emotionally helpful structures in a changing world. We just happen to socialize better when mixing with cameras than with beer pong or opera singing. Seems like a valuable part of our collective photography experience to me.

There can be no stars in our group without others to acknowledge them and provide the feedback some people need in order to thrive. In a sense, we are all interconnected within our groups. Much as Taoist explain our connection to all things, living and inanimate, in the Universe. 


Can you imagine the following conversation with a modern photographer?

I was talking to several friends of mine who are film makers. Motion guys. All about the "look" guys.
Somehow we got off the subject of beautiful talent and stumbled into a conversation about the current cameras with which they are working. That lasted about thirty seconds but boy oh boy, these guys have opinions about lenses. And their opinions have nothing to do with how sharp a lens is and everything to do about the character of the lens. 

Here are some of their quotes from the conversation:

"I love the way that lens flares. It does these beautiful streaking flares that are just gorgeous." 

"We were shooting tight head shots for a beauty company and the modern lenses showed off every pore and wrinkle. Finally, we found an old lens that had the multicoating stripped off the front and rear elements. It was soft and gentle and perfect...We used that lens for everything."

"The thing I like about anamorphics (anamorphic lenses) is the way they flare and the way they smooth out colors and tones across the frame. It seems more natural. More cinematic."

"Oh sure, I have a set of Zeiss primes that are great when everything has to be crisp and saturated but I've also got an older, Angenieux 10x zoom that's so sweet. It came to me with an old 16mm Bolex. It makes people look human instead of making them look, well, cut out."

"I love a lens that just falls apart on the edges. It needs to have strong character in the center but by the time I get to the edges I want the image to go to hell. It's a nice contrast."

"I shot last week with a Cooke prime. The focal length was perfect but the what the lens rendered was too brutal; it would be mean to use that lens bare on a face. We ended up stretching a black silk stocking over the front to kill some of the sharpness. There is a point at which high sharpness is distracting. It's like someone constantly trying to prove they can jump higher than everyone else."

"I love a lens that's sharp and contrasty but knows how to flare like a mad bastard when I throw some light across the front." 

Today I was filming a project with Ben, over at Zach Theatre. Ben started out using an very well corrected, modern, 85mm and the coverage/framing was just what we needed. Everyone looked at the frame and said, "That's just right." Then we moved and shot another take at a different angle. We used the older, D series, cheap 28mm f2.8 on his camera with the lens nearly wide open --- with at least three light sources inside the frame of the shot. The light sources had "glowy" flare around them and parts of the frame were washed with a bit of veiling flare as well. When people checked that shot on the monitor what they said was, "That looks beautiful." The interplay of light and non-perfect optics brought more depth to the shot.

Perhaps we need to be less interested in how sharp and contrasty our lenses are and instead concentrate on how much character and reality they can deliver.

Thinking about stripping the coatings off one of my duplicate 85's. Just to see how it looks. 


Packing up for the first three jobs of the years tomorrow. Back to back and a wild mix.

Dog waiting in Berlin. 2013

You gotta love it. 2016 starts out with a bang. Tomorrow I'm photographing, and filming my first three jobs of the year. All three are for the same client, Zach Theatre. 

The first job is a dress rehearsal shoot for a family play that will take place at the Wisenhunt Stage, which is a theater-in-the-round situation. The stage is in the middle and there are seats on all four sides. Since the theater is fairly small I'll be shooting with shorter lenses than I usually do at the main, enormous, Topfer Stage. The flip side is that since the actors play to audiences on all four sides I'll be moving non-stop in order to be in the right spot for the right shot. I'm packing the D750 camera and 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses for this one. We shoot from 10:30 till noon and then I have a few minutes to catch my breath.

At noon I'll meet up with crackerjack assistant, (and second director) Ben, on loan from Skidmore College, to unload the Honda and begin making the Kleberg Stage (right next door to the Wisenhunt) our sound stage for the following few hours. Our mission is to set up a dramatic, black set with lots of great side and back lighting, and make a compelling sixty second YouTube video program and a thirty second, broadcast TV commercial for Zach's next big stage play, Tribes. 

We're taking along a 9 foot, black muslin background but I think everyone is okay if we play with the edges and show some space behind the third wall. The main, front of stage, lights for the project will be three of the RPS CoolED 100W LED lights. They belt out a good amount of light and the color, once custom WB'd, is great; nice and rich. Since I don't have an infinite number of the big LEDs to bring to the project, and there's no budget for other rentals, we'll be pressing three of the Fotodiox Day Flo Max DFM-1500s into service as back lights. These big, fluorescent  lights have a little bit of color imbalance (compared to the LEDs)  but ..... bonus!!!! we're converting the footage to black and white in post processing, and the primary footage we're shooting will be presented as black and white imagery.  Even though that is the case I must add that the difference in colors aren't that big, and we're working with gel filters to get the lights a bit closer together. The color balance issue is why I'm using one set in front and one set in the back. We'll custom white balance with the front lights and then let the fluorescents in the background go however they want to go. It's theater...

Since we're mostly on one character for the majority of the content we're well aware of the need for a bunch of different angles and magnifications for cutaways, to be used in the edit. I'll be operating the main, front camera while Ben wrangles a second camera. I'm using a Nikon D750 with a zoom while Ben will be over to the side at 45 degrees, with a D810 and a 50mm for some shots, a 135mm for others. If we can get the actors to work the pace right we'll also shoot one take with both cameras moving. 

For audio I intend to put a wireless Sennheiser lavaliere microphone on our main actor (the only one who has lines...) and then also drop a Rode shotgun microphone in on a pole from over the top of the set. Both microphones will go into the Tascam DR-60.2 mixer/audio recorder and either Ben or I will ride levels on the mixer, sending audio both to the recorder and also back to the camera. Redundancy and, if necessary, a camera scratch track to match up with external audio. Fingers crossed that we'll be able to edit directly from the camera audio. 

Once we nail down the video content we'll reset the lights a bit (to accommodate for the difference between video and still imaging) and then move on to our third job which is to shoot marketing photographs of the same production. We'll use the same black background but we'll shoot with the idea that we'll be using individual shots of each actor for the marketing, stripped together to make the advertising graphics. 

Once we've done that we'll wrap up all of this crazy lighting and camera gear and head back to the studio for the worst part of every shoot: Unloading the car and putting away all the gear. The batteries will get pulled from the mixer, the microphones, the video monitor and the cameras and all put on chargers. I don't like to store partially charged batteries. We'll clean and re-wrap cables and put away the cameras and lenses in their storage spots. Then I'll sit down and hit the actual files in a most linear way. Ingesting images from the first shoot to two drives, making a Lightroom catalog and then proceeding to post processing, and outputting for delivery. I'll work through the same process with each of the next two sets. I try not to multi-task because I don't believe in it. I think that when people strive to become too efficient then everything eventually goes to hell as chaos and entropy intrude. 

Should be a fun way to spend a Saturday with the kid before he starts getting ready to go back to school. I showed him some reference material today to get his input. He's a much better film maker than I and I trust his judgement. His take? Understated, as usual. He just remarked, "hmmm, that many takes seems like a day long project, not a two hour shoot. You sure?" No. I'm never sure. 
And that's just the way I like it. 

Well. Revving up for the new year is fun but you have to slip back into practice and routine. Too much time off makes me fat and lazy. And who's got time for that?


Which Nikon am I interested in right now? Here's a clue, I'm not putting in any pre-orders....

The Nikon which has my complete attention right now is the D7200. Let's get this out of the way up front: There is nothing exceptional about this camera. It's not full frame. It's not mirrorless. There's no 4K video. The buffer isn't as nearly-infinite as the newly announced D500 and D5. It's not particularly sexy. So why would I want to waste my time considering it?

Because it represents really great value for the price and it would come in very handy when photographing shows on the very deep stage at Zach Theatre, and the extra reach of the cropped sensor would also be great for tight swimmer shots. This camera represents the third generation of this particular body style, the second generation (improved) with the 24 megapixel chip and for about $1,000 it could be the perfect all around shooting camera for someone heavily invested in Nikon lenses. 

Recently, DXO declared that the sensor in this camera was the highest quality imager in all of the DX kingdom. That means if you don't need to put backgrounds completely and relentlessly out of focus you can do just about anything you could do with more expensive Nikon cameras with this one. If you don't need full frame you could buy this camera instead of the D750 and use the difference in pricing to buy a really nice lens. The camera is also something I like on an emotional basis: It's a mature product. All the bugs appear to have been worked out in the previous evolutions.

It has most of the cool stuff that I want. It's got two SD card slots. It works in automatic modes with older, manual focus (but auto indexing) lenses. It has AF micro adjust (but not the new, automatic version). It has a pretty healthy raw buffer for someone who likes to shoot portraits. I owned and used the D7000 and the D7100 cameras and loved the form factor, weight, etc. The cameras all felt rugged to me and, if you treat them with care, should last right up until you crest the 150,000 shutter actuations. And maybe beyond. 

I mention it because I am actually considering buying one as a back up for the D750; mostly for those times when I want to leave the memory hog/D810 at home. One camera for the wide to moderate focal lengths and the D7200 for medium focal lengths to more extreme telephoto. I considered a second D750 but I just didn't see what having a second D750 added to the mix. The D7200 gives me 50% more reach and puts as many pixels in play in that zone as the D750 does on wider (uncropped) shots. When used as a "B" camera for video I get the same "flat" profile that seems to work well for me, under some circumstances, and I pick up more depth of field --- which is great for a camera that might be run autonomously.

While everyone seems to be in a race to acquire full frame cameras there is a simplicity to the DX format that appeals. I shot with one the other day and it reminded me that a shutter and mirror that only have to cover one half the sensor size of full frame can also have less vibration (less mass to stop and start) and lower audible noise. 

I may get one. I may not. But there is a strong argument for a well made camera with these specifications and performance parameters nestled in at that price range. 

Finally, comparing specs with the newly announced D500 I'm kind of at a loss to see what I lose by choosing the cheaper option. I'll presume the quality of the sensors is close and the handling is pretty equal. If I shot sports I'd want the buffer, but that's about it. The promise of 4K is a little dubious. Here we are in 2016 and the camera's 4K is really UHD. The top fps at UHD is 30 fps and the output via HDMI on the  D500 is a meager 8 bits at 4:2:0, so even if you do spool out the content to a digital audio recorder it ends up wrapping a thin codec in an upscale wrapper. 

In the end, I feel like the D7200 is really a statement. It says, "Are you sure it's the camera that needs improving? Really, are you sure?"


The Crazy People Left at Kodak Are Launching a Crazy Camera. Super8 all over again?

This is NOT the camera that Kodak is introducing. This is a Nikon R10. It is Super 8 as well.

In the early 1990's I was commissioned to make a video for a company called, TechWorks. They made computer memory products and they wanted a big, dynamic video to show at MacWorld. We used my favorite model of the moment, a bright script and a transition from grainy, black and white film to saturated BetaCam color video to tell the client's story. We had a lot of fun doing it and the video project was very well received. Even the tagline was fun: "Byte Me!" The ad agency made "Byte Me!" candy bars to give away. It was good, old school marketing. 

We wanted the first half of the project to be edgy and contrasty, moving images of a beautiful girl having to work on slow computers because of the lack of affordable memory. Clocks ticked by, screens froze up and our dejected and frustrated actor slumped around and dispassionately drank a lot of coffee. Things were more upbeat in the second half; after the discovery of fast, cheap memory modules!

As the creative director I borrowed from what my film friends were doing at the time and shot the first half in black and white, Super 8 film. We shot a lot of footage with wide and tight shots of everything. We went through probably 20 x 50 foot rolls of film. We had the film developed and transferred onto video tape. We edited from the tape. 

The character of the grain and tonality of the film showed through even though this project preceded HD TV by years. I'm still thrilled we shot it this way. 

My memory of the R10 (which I still have) was that it worked flawlessly and, as long as you knew your way around an incident light meter you could come away with some really nice material. 

We went on to other things and forgot all about trying to shoot on motion picture film after Nikon introduced video-in-our-DSLR cameras with the D90, which was quickly copied by Canon in the 5Dmk2. Well, it seems like nostalgia, hipsterism and sentiment have conspired with Kodak to try and bring back the past. 

Just yesterday Kodak announced, at the CES (Consumer Electronics Show), their newest imaging device .... a Super 8 film camera. The genre has been updated a bit to include some digital video help in the finder department, along with some direct sound support, but the camera seems to be pretty bare bones otherwise and the single focal length lens on the front isn't awe inspiring.

The big issue (as always) is price. The price to buy the camera (estimated around $750) and the price to shoot (about $75 per roll for 90 seconds of shooting time --- included development and scan to digital service at Kodak) seem steep for most applications. If you are a working pro looking for an effect, on a paying project I guess that twenty rolls of film with processing will only run you about $1400 but if you are a hobbyist just plain around then it's going to cost you $$$ FOURTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!

I'm looking forward to seeing one of the cameras in the flesh. It may be interesting enough to be worthwhile. But I'm going to guess that sticking six fresh alkaline batteries in the old R10 is going to be at least as interesting and perhaps a bit more effective. I can't blame Kodak for trying and I wish them all the best in this endeavor. Maybe eventually they will get back to re-inventing digital still cameras. Here's a link to Kodak's microsite for this: THE FUTURE OF OLD SCHOOL FILM

Totally off topic: Thank you Alamo Drafthouse, for making movie watching enjoyable again!!!

One of the perks of being self-employed is working one's own schedule. I've been wanting to see the new Star Wars movie but I didn't want to brave the holiday crowds. I also hate going to conventional movie theaters where the crowds over the last decade have embraced such nasty practices as: Talking non-stop. Getting up and walking around during the feature. Bringing along children who are too young for much of the content in adult movies. And the worst!!! Talking or texting on cellphones during the movie. It's been years now since I've been to a mainstream movie theatre. I much prefer to either buy the DVDs six months after everyone else has seen the movies or....

Go to the Alamo Drafthouse chain of theaters. Why? Why indeed.

The Alamo Drafthouse theaters allow you to pick your seats online. They forbid (absolutely forbid!!!) talking during the main features. And they forbid people from talking, or texting, or even looking at the lit screens of their cellphones. When I say, "forbid," I really mean it, and so do they. The staff will warn you one time and if you infract again they remove you from the theater with no refund. They've been doing it for years and they are dead serious about it. I love it. I absolutely love it. Now I won't go and see movies anywhere else.

Here's my movie going strategy: Wait three weeks from the release date of the movie you plan on seeing. Select a day in the middle of the week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem best). Select a show time that starts before noon. Check on the lobby computer to make sure no one is sitting near you in the seating chart. Re-select seats if necessary. Pee before you go in. Sit quietly and enjoy movies they way they were intended to be seen.

Ben, Belinda and I all went to the 11:20 am showing of The Force Awakens. The LucasFilms 4K projection was phenomenal. The other eight people in the theater followed the rules exactly. The movie was perfect and director, J.J. Abrams, should be sainted for his work on this film and his previous successes with the last two Star Trek movies.

The combination of a really well done feature, and the nostalgia of having watched the Star Wars films of the past many times, was a powerful, emotional mix. I had a blast.

Then we headed out for a nice family lunch. I might take a nap after I post this. Being my own boss can be really fun! Especially with a little help from a brilliant theater company.

Well done Alamo Drafthouse! We'll be back again and again. Yes, leaving the cellphone in the car. One less thing to think about.

An example of using a large source very close to a portrait subject. I like the drama that is also provided by the unfilled shadow areas.

Model: Lou
Camera: Leica R6
Lens: 90mm Summicron
Film: Ektachrome 64
Lighting: Profoto flash head in a 40 by 50 inch softbox.

Originally made as a teaching example for a course in cinematic lighting I did in conjunction with Steve Mimm's Austin Filmworks workshops. Circa: the mid 1990s.


Oh Boy! Nikon announces two new DSLRs and the frothing begins. I got an e-mail from the local dealer this afternoon asking if I'd like to pre-order some for March delivery...

©2000 Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved. Film. Medium format. One frame at a time...

I was putting together my invoices, receipts, bank statements, credit card statements and royalty reports for the laborious process that is small business, federal tax reporting. Drudgery that seems mean and continues after having just sent away most of my available cash in the service of the final quarter estimated taxes for 2015. I just shake my head when people ask about my "tax refund." If you are self-employed you quickly realize there will never be a "tax refund."

It was in the middle of this accounting funk that I got an e-mail from Precision Camera. I had been offline most of the day, trying to get work done and keep online shopping to a minimum and I was unaware of Nikon's big announcements. I clicked through to the pages that the retailer had set up and read the specs for the Nikon D5 and D500 cameras and then I headed over to read the press releases from Nikon that went up on DP Review. So sad that I also wasted a few minutes reading the comments underneath the official announcement. The lamest comment was from someone who was shocked and dismayed that Nikon didn't include a swivel-y screen on the D5. Hmmm.

From there I went to the Nikon micro-site for the two cameras and then I turned everything off and continued to sort papers.

What do we make of the announcements? Well, I was smiling as I read the specs for the D5 camera. Love the tight reins against runaway megapixels and happy to see Nikon's first foray into 4K video but then, minutes later, depressed that the 4K into the D5 is limited (for in body recording) to a whopping 3 minutes! Really? Really? Then why bother?  Oh, I am sure you can drop another $2K into an outboard digital recorder and shoot for as long as you want but that kind of misses the point of buying a camera of this stature. It should be able to at least match the video performance of the Panasonic GH4 from two years ago (and currently around $1,000) but hey, that would make too much sense. I couldn't find the specs to tell me if the D5 uses a pixel match crop for 4K (which would mean all lenses become much longer) but I did notice that this is the case with 4K video on the DX model, the D500.

Still, if you are into stills instead of video, there's a lot to love about both of the cameras. The D5 will shoot 200 14 bit, uncompressed raw files at 12 frames per second before it hits the buffer and the D500 will give the same basic performance at a slightly slower 10 fps. I'm sure focusing is insanely good with both cameras. I'm equally sure that the new processor is fabulous.

But I think the one hot, cool, neato feature that both cameras share is a new, mostly automated AF-microadjustment process to calibrate lenses for accurate focus at the sensor plane. I want that for every camera I ever buy.

So, for the non-Nikon shooters, what exactly did they announce? The D5 is their new, flagship, sports addict camera. It's the high end. It's $6500. Just a thousand shy of the Leica mirrorless SL. It's a big, brutal camera, built to the highest standards and jam-packed with the latest cool stuff ---- at least where still photography is concerned. It's much like the 1Dx cameras from Canon. Not the highest resolution sensor but best of the breed for high ISO performance and a compromise between resolution (20mp) and overall speed. This is the Nikon camera to buy if you need rugged and reliable more than you need ultimate resolution. For most of the stuff we shoot for clients we'd never know the difference in quality between this and the D810.

The other camera is the D500 and it's touted as being (finally) the replacement for the old, D300s, DX (cropped frame) pro camera that Nikon introduced about eight years ago. DX shooters have been pining for a replacement camera ever since. This camera is also a 20 megapixel camera but the pixels are closer together since they fit on a sensor that's half the size of the sensor in this camera's bigger brother (sister?).

Nikon would love to market both of these cameras as "revolutionary" but, in fact, they are just evolutionary iterations of cameras that already exist. Yes, both are Nikon's first efforts in incorporating video beyond 1080p but both are UHD instead of full 4K resolution. Yes, the ISO settings go up to nose bleed heights but that's no guarantee that the higher ISOs are much more usable than the ones in todays D7200 or D4s. Yes, the cameras are faster to shoot but for most of us that just means more files to wade through in our search for the perfect frame.

My initial thoughts? The D5 looks yummy and cool but it never even enters into my business equation for cameras. It's performance is at some arcane edge of diminishing returns that may make sense for a sports shooter or photojournalist but wouldn't really add anything to my work that the D750 isn't almost as good for. If I needed the speed I'd wait for people to start dumping their D4s cameras and then buy one of those on the used market.

No, it's the D500 that really looks like the camera that Nikon would love to sell boatloads of. But does it even make sense at the price point? What does it bring to the table besides speed and higher ISO when compared to the D7200 (which DXO recently declared to be the highest quality DX system on the market)? I'd like to try the UHD faux 4K but I know the sensor crop (which gets the unit down to m4:3 crops) would drive me nuts and might not be nearly as good as what you can already get with the Panasonic GH4.

All in all, my strategy will be to wait and see what everyone else brings to the table and then, if there's nothing that's really compelling, just continue on with the Nikon stuff I have and the Olympus EM5.2 cameras. If I really want anything else it's just that I want a second Nikon D750 body to round out the camera harem. Some days I just feel like having a body with a 50mm over one shoulder and a second body with a 135mm over the other shoulder. I think having matched duplicates trumps having one of the latest and greatest and another of a previous generation. Better that everything match --- that way I don't get confused when the going gets going.

How do the rest of you Nikon shooters feel about the introduction? Will you be rushing to buy one of the two new bodies? I'm always interested to read other people's rationales....maybe I'll steal a good rationale and use it on my CFO... couldn't hurt.

I have a video question for all the digital video users here that have more experience than I. Flat versus "WYSIWG" for scenes where high contrast is not an issue?

When you dip your toe into the web looking for information you get....a lot of information. Most of it is contradictory and many times what you read as "best practices" runs counter to what you experience when you test things out for yourself. Into this category I will place, "expose to the right", "more (or less) pixels are always better", "You must always shoot RAW", and now, "You need a flat profile or a log profile to do professional quality video."

I understand the theory behind S-Log and the need (desire?) to have the longest tonal range you can get, because you think it may give you more dynamic range, but is it really better to shoot everything in a flat or S-Log profile for work where you have lots of control over light? I'm beginning to think it's one of those artificial, "this is the way we do it" barriers to entry in the video world. A hurdle to jump over, both intellectually and technically, in order to get your "pro" badge to sew on your jacket sleeve. But, as often is the case, I could be wrong. 

How I long for the old days when I shot a lot of Super8 film and all you really needed to do was pick the film emulsion you liked best and then meter carefully.......

This all comes up for a couple of reasons. One is that I just upgraded the firmware in my Olympus EM5.2 cameras and one of the improvements is the addition of a "movie" profile that is only intended for video and only accessible when in the dedicated movie setting (movie camera icon set on the mode dial). The other is that I've been working with files from the Panasonic fz 1000 and I find that the files are better looking if I shoot them (lit, interior interviews) exactly the way I want them to appear when I am finished with a project rather than when I use a flat profile and try to do larger curve corrections or color changes in post production. I've developed a method centered around "shoot the way you want it to look" rather than "shoot it super flat for post." I think the super flat S-Log files might be malleable enough to take big corrections if they are coming from enormously expensive super cameras like Arri Alexas and Sony F55, with super high bit rates and 4:4:4:4 Pro-Res files, but I'm pretty sure that most consumer cameras already bake a lot of compression into their video files and making big changes in post production pushes these files past the breaking point. 

Then again, I am not a professional colorist so I could be doing lots of things wrong ---- even though I have been slavishly following every tutorial made for DaVinci Resolve, and Final Cut Pro X. 

If you have experience using the "flat" profiles with consumer cameras (Nikon D750, D810, Olympus EM5.2, a wide swath of Panasonic G and GH cameras, etc. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to correct me (gently) and give me the gift of your experience-based, knowledge largess. 

I think I have the audio pretty well figured out for right now....