Daily Practice is a good thing for swimming, playing the piano and making art with a camera. Familiarity engenders comfortable knowledge.

Post Swim Self-Portrait.

When I look around at the contemporary landscape I am often surprised that no one carries their camera with them anymore, unless they are on some sort of photographic mission. I guess the rationalization is that everyone is carrying their phone and so are equipped for those times when an image presents itself. Then, of course, if the image doesn't turn out well they have a built-in excuse to trot out --- "it was just shot with my phone." 

When I was a student at UT Austin I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of a photographer named, Garry Winogrand. He was a visiting lecturer in the College of Fine Arts, and also a regular habitué of the hi-fi shop where I worked part time. One semester I took his class. It was a revelation to me; that photography could be nearly totally immersive.

It was back in the 1970s and everyone was into photography around campus. Olympus, Nikon and Leica cameras dangled casually over shoulders, and over the corners of chairs at coffee shops and bars. It was common practice to people watch on the patio at Les Amis Cafe with one's camera on the table; exposure set, ready to capture some wry and interesting moment that might unfold in front of us.

We wore our cameras to class and we took them along with us everywhere but into the pool. 

Garry Winogrand was a role model for some of us. He didn't take his camera with him most places. He took one or two or three Leica M cameras with him everywhere and he shot all the time. He could load those cameras and set exposure and focus without ever having to look at the camera. As he walked down the main drag across from campus he was continually adjusting focus and exposure, and constantly shooting whatever caught his eyes.

Garry made a lot of images but he never had to make the excuse that this picture or that picture turned out poorly because it was taken with his phone. 

Thinking about this now I believe that Garry carried his camera at the ready in order to train his mind to be always ready. To train his mind not to be self-conscious about the idea of, or the act of, taking photographs of strangers in the street, or strangers in the hallways. 

As photographers we seem to have become sensitized to society's anxiety about the use of images. We fear that our behavior will be interpreted as intrusive and sinister, or that it may cause discomfort to the people we observe and photograph. We self-restrict because we are part of our culture and feel the unspoken, but quite real, constraints and pressures that events of the last two decades have cumulatively hobbled us with.

And, like most habits, the surrender to the pressure of the group is ever self-reinforcing. The less we carry our cameras around the more uncomfortable we come to feel when we do carry them around. Some of us become more furtive in our efforts and some quit the field altogether to become "landscape" photographers. Only shooting images without people in them in order to remove one more source of friction from the process of making photographs as personal art. (Even though some artists would say that all good creativity involves some amount of friction in order to be manifested into existence...).

In essence this surrender seems to signal that we have become cognizant that we are doing something almost tabu. Something almost perilously outside the mainstream. But in reality our acquiescence to perceived social norms may be, at least partially, our response to merely the general disappearance of cameras in our everyday lives. We don't see as many cameras. We feel segmented from the group by nature of our extra "plumage." The camera over the shoulder comes to signify our implied differentiation from our social groups. We become outsiders. And the cycle of reinforced behavior continues, and continues to constrict. 

The level of highest comfort will be achieved when we achieve homogenous parity. But.... If we fancy ourselves to be artists then the discomfort of exclusion is part and parcel of the artist's experience. We need to be a bit outside to see past the objective self-image of the group in order to make subjective images as commentary on culture. Just as Robert Frank (a Swiss citizen) was able to step outside the collective emotional reticence of 1950's U.S. culture to shoot "forbidden" images of our tender psycho-social underbelly we, as artists, also need to stand outside the group's self-censorship if we are to express our real and authentic voice. Otherwise the cameras exist just as toys for tactile enjoyment. 

What photographers like Garry Winogrand showed me was that we don't wear our cameras through our daily lives to make a fashion statement or to show off our buying prowess but to become personally comfortable with the "idea" of being able to respond to visual and social stimuli wherever and whenever our muses favor us. By keeping the camera close by we are making clear (to ourselves and the public body) our intentions to photograph. And we do so by, if necessary, walking against the current of our contemporary culture instead of being swept downstream by our own emotional trepidation of seeming to exist on the periphery of "the group." We trade a certain amount of social safety net for a larger amount of autonomous thought and action. 

But the constant carrying and use of our cameras isn't really about thumbing our noses at cultural convention, it's about building a fluidity of both practice (eye, hand, brain and subconscious coordination) as well as re-building our own understanding that one of the rights and privileges of living in a free society includes both our free expression, and the covenant to protect our individual rights as a group. 

I carry a camera with me everywhere and, like the "worry beads" of my Turkish friends, I have the camera in my hands when I am in between meetings, on buses, in waiting rooms. My fingers come to know where the controls of the camera are and how to hold the camera to reduce its movement. The familiarity takes hesitation out of practice.

As a swimmer I know all too well that a week out of the pool means I am "out of practice" and "out of shape." In photography the "out of practice" translates to a weakening of intention to be photographically present now. "Out of shape" translates as a loss of muscle memory and habit. 

Like all rights, the more we ignore our privileges, and underestimate their importance and relevance, the quicker they go away. Our hoped for immersion into our art and our craft suffers when we allow the momentum of popular opinion to sway us into abandoning our public pursuit of our arts. 

But we need to make sure we aren't (in)actively complicit. Making good images in public has always been hard but people have always succeeded in making valuable artifacts of their cultures anyway. The first step is to make sure that our intention to create follows through to bolster our courage to publicly embrace the process. To make other people comfortable with the idea of people carrying their cameras we must first make ourselves comfortable with that idea. 

First step? Well, it's lunch time here and Belinda and I are heading out to our favorite burger joint for a couple of burgers and a shared bag of fries. You can count on me having a camera over my shoulder. Who knows what art may transpire if someone drops the ketchup in a particularly interesting way....


Ancient lenses on brand new cameras. How fun!

Found object off Sixth Street in Austin, Texas.
Close up of same.

One of the main reasons I bought a Sony a6300 was to see how well my fairly large collection of Olympus Pen F, film era, lenses would work with the new generation of Sony imaging sensors. I knew from having owned both a Nex 7 and a Nex 6 that the lenses would cover the APS-C format. But on the older Sony cameras some of the wider and faster lenses had issues with odd color casts in the corners and whatnot. Have modern sensors conquered old issues?

Yesterday I shot some images with the 38mm f1.8 and they looked good. No problems with chromatic aberration or weird color cast corners. Today I decided to spend a little time with another old favorite. It's the 40mm f1.4 lens from the old Olympus half frame system. It's attached to the a6300 with a $20 Fotodiox Pen F to Nex adapter. We all went out for a walk...

I found the above image adjacent to the historic Scarborough Building on Congress Ave. and Sixth St. Never saw this unusual and ancient vent system before and the sun was hitting it in a nice way. I stopped to snap a few frames. Now, it's important to keep in mind, when evaluating a lens that's more than 40 years old, against some of the modern "ultra-miracle" lenses made for digital cameras that it's not actually an even playing field, in some cases. Not equal at all.

The new generations of digital lenses don't have to be designed and manufactured with nearly as much care.... A lot of the heavy lifting is done in-camera with software. Lousy resolution in the corners? They can fix that with a bit of interpolation and geometric correction! Not as sharp as we might want? There's a lens profile for that! Ditto for outrageous vignetting. I think most buyers of kit lenses and inexpensive primes, made for manufacturers' own camera systems, would be a bit chagrined if the in-camera magic was turned off and they actually saw how much distortion their lenses produced. And how much vignetting there actually is in the compromised lens designs. And how much sharpening was being applied to yield an impression of high sharpness. But my old Olympus lens doesn't get the in-camera spa treatment.

Nope. The ancient Olympus lens doesn't have any electronic connections. No way to tell the cutting edge cameras of our time how to fix its optical issues. And there are no profiles in post to help them along either. It's pretty much a reality that what you see is what you get with older lenses. If the lens designers didn't do their job correctly in 1969, and the factory floor didn't do their job correctly in 1969, then you got a lens that made images that look like crap. Surprisingly, that's not what I see from many of these little, solid, metal barreled optical systems. 

The image above was shot handheld at 1/125th of a second. There is no internal image stabilization in the a6300 body, and certainly none in the lens. Just the trembling fingers of a middle aged man, wrapped carefully around the camera body while bending over precariously to line up a shot. Fingers trembling with the demon scourge of the hand held shooter = caffeine. And yet. And yet when I pulled the images into Lightroom I saw sharpness and depth in the files. Miraculous given that none of the usual crutches of contemporary photographers were involved in the image's creation. Just an old lens, a new sensor and a mildly faulty stabilization device (me). 

While I understand that eventually computational techniques, coupled with massive data sampling (huge resolution sensors), will one day reduce the compromises involved in software lens correction to a minimum I can not help but wonder just how much better the lenses of today might be if they were produced to the standards that many makers were very capable of meeting forty or fifty years ago.

Could it be that a lens designed to perform optimally, without the need for a mathematical helping hand up, might be turbo-charged into stellar performance if the number crunching and  profiling applications were put to the task of making exemplary designs stellar? I would guess that's the impetus behind the Zeiss Otus lenses and, of course, the real Leica lenses. But I can't help wondering if the same precision and tolerances, applied to average lenses, might make us a whole lot happier.

Just a thought. 

So, how do I find the performance of the ancient 40mm f1.4 Olympus Pen lens on the newest copper wire, BSI, Sony APS-C sensor? It's pretty darn good. Which makes me wonder if the Olympus OM lenses from the 1970's and 1980's might also have merits which I have not yet plumbed. Might be interesting to find out. Hope I haven't already missed the run up in that market...

"Oxfords, not Brogues."

A bit of walking meditation today. I tried to pay attention to what I was walking on. What the surface looked like and felt like. We spend so much time walking with our cameras, looking around at eye level. Interesting to see what we are stepping on and stepping over. 

Yesterday I suggested that the Sony a6300 shares design and handling similarities with the old Leica CL (Compact Leica) from the 1970's. A VSL reader had the same idea...

©2016 Bert Hensen. All rights reserved. Used here with express permission.

Mr. Hensen and I can see the similarities. Can you?

Most camera design comes from earlier DNA...

And Leica Partnered with Minolta to also design a version called the CLE.

Minolta = Sony 

CLE > a6000.



Day to Day News. A Celebration. More thoughts about the Sony a6300. And stuff.

Growing old writing this blog...
Image from the Battle Collection of Sculpture
at the Blanton Museum at the University of Texas
at Austin.

I'll forgo all the cutesy writer crap and cut to the chase. This is my 3,000th blog post. Here. Now. Today. I have been writing the blog since 2009. I've worn out a keyboard or two. We've gone from bleak economic depression to a financial recovery. We've ushered in an age of mirrorless cameras. We've transitioned from flash to LED to fluorescent and back to flash (more than once).  I've bought cameras seemingly by the 55 gallon barrel and sold them in almost the same quantity. I only tried to escape from blogging once!

But what does it all really amount to anyway? Well, according to Blogger, we are just about to crest 21 million direct page views. By that I mean (we mean?) people who have come here to this site directly to read what I've written (and what you've commented upon). But in a bigger picture, counting the people who read via RSS feeds, and other methods, Google tells me we have had 
76,342,794 total views.  That seems amazingly cool to me. And this doesn't even count the people who have read the work on (unauthorized) aggregating sites. 

The celebration: I think I'll crack open a bottle of Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Au Paradis to have with my pizza tonight. And maybe buy another lens....

I am happy to have had a number of brilliant and witty readers and collaborators along for the ride. It's made a tremendous difference to me. 

And now, on to some more blog writing....

After many years the snack bar at Barton Springs Pool is closed.
I have no idea what will replace it. 

Adventures with the new Sony a6300 camera: The day I bought the a6300 I used it on an assignment to shoot a theatrical rehearsal of actor, Holland Taylor as Gov. Ann Richards, for Zach theatre. During the course of the evening I shot nearly 2,000 (silent) images of Ms. Taylor using the Sony 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. Talk about breaking in a camera quickly...  On Tues. I posted a blog showing the use, in video, of the S-Log2 picture profile (paying attention mostly to the canoes because they represented such a big contrast range....) but now I am on my more typical, leisurely schedule of getting to know the camera. Not familiar with the a6300? You can go to the granddaddy of all review sites and learn as much as you want, or far more than you'll ever need, here: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-a6300  

You can also read comments from readers frothing at the mouth because....."the camera is too big." "Too small.""Too thick" "Too thin" "has the audacity to include unwanted video features" "is worthless because the video isn't 8K" "should have an optical finder" "needs a fully articulating screen" "should come in colors" and much, much more. According to the Sony forum anyone who doesn't rush right out and buy one is an idiot. According the Nikon full frame forum anyone who buys one is a delusional idiot. And so on. 

I'm kind of ignoring all of that because I'm cozying up to the idea that this camera reminds me very clearly of a camera I made good photos with many years ago; the Leica CL, with its little, 40mm f2.0 Summicron lens. They are about the same size and the viewfinder is in pretty much the same spot. That camera was a gem and made sharp photos. It was small and discreet. Not silent but closer to silent than most of the stuff on the market at the time. I am happily using the a6300 (and its predecessor, the a6000) in much the same way. While I've been shooting with the good, 18-105mm lens since I got the camera I looked through the amply stocked Olympus Pen-F (original) drawer and found a nice lens to cobble on to the front of the camera this morning. It's the 38mm f1.8 Pen lens, an all metal, manual focus only, lens from the 1970's. It's pretty much wonderful. 

Postcards from Austin.

I'm happy with the camera for a number of reasons. The 24 megapixel sensor is the current generation of copper tech which means faster processing, less heat and less energy use. It looks just like the results I've seen from the Nikon D7200. The sensor is competitive with the very best of all the APS-C imagers. As we've seen, the video can be very good as well. The camera is very small and its small size will hamper its use as a fully professional camera for some. Not enough space to put all the controls that we'd like to use directly on the outside of the camera, the size dictates the battery capacity, it feels very unbalanced with bigger and heavier lenses, etc. But what the camera does it does very well. 

While I'll be happy to use the camera's 4K video for personal projects I'm not thrilled with the idea of using the camera for most live, in the moment, client work. Why? Because I am certain (living in Texas) that it will overheat pretty quickly on exterior locations from April to mid-December.  There's no headphone jack and the cable ports are teeny-tiny. I'd rather use the RX10ii for video since I'm pretty well convinced that, other than narrow depth of field issues, they are, for all intents and purposes, equal in overall image quality for video (remember, video isn't about which camera has the most overall resolution...). If I get much more serious about video (and yesterday's out of town meeting points in that direction) I'll probably end up getting a dedicated video camera or renting to suit. Seems like every video project I get involved with is heavily oriented toward people speaking on camera and it seems like life would just be easier if I got a camera with XLR jacks for the microphones rather than routing things through a Rube Goldberg collection of boxes and connectors.

But none of this is to say that I won't use it often for video. I'm  working on a series of short, in the street, art pieces that are each two minutes or less. I love the idea of the little cameras but want them with my choice of lenses. And if I'm hot to get great audio I'll pull it into a Tascam or Zoom audio recorder and sync everything together in post. This, and the RX10s, are becoming my personal, snapshot video cameras. 

But, I know 80% of you probably don't give a rat's ass about video so I'll keep working on it but save up my hard won experiences for a different blog post. There are some things about the video features that also effect the camera's use and flexibility as a still camera. One set of features are the Picture Profiles and I'm playing with them right now.

A badly executed dive into Barton Springs. Yesterday. 

Playing around with the video profiles in still photography...
In the menu of the a6300 you'll find both Creative Styles and Picture Profiles. The Creative Styles are the typical settings you find on most digital cameras. Stuff like: Vivid, Standard, Neutral, Portrait, B&W, etc. But the Picture Profiles are a range of settings that adjust the  tone curve and color response of the camera, along with options to tweak every setting from black point to gamma, etc. These are controls that come from the video world.

In all there are nine preset profiles but every single one of them represents a starting point and can be modified. Most of these seem intended to be used in video. Some will generate good video that can be used straight out of camera but two three of the settings are intended for people who want to shoot very, very flat files and then spend time, effort and expertise to "color grade" them after the shoot. Kind of like shooting raw in terms of having files that want fine tuning but without the actual non-destructive nature of a true raw file. The dangerous three profiles are S-Log2, and two variants of the ultra flat S-Log3. I fear S-Log3 and haven't drummed up the courage to even give it a try...

But as a curious photographer I wanted to see how a couple of the less intensive profile settings might work in still imaging. After all, most are just flattening out the gamma curve a bit and placing the blacks at 16 or so, instead of zero.  All of the images below were shot in PP2 which is listed as the still gamma setting. After shooting the files in this PP, which also works in raw, I opened the files in Lightroom and adjusted the overall contrast using the tone curve tool. I also bumped up the mid-scale contrast with the clarity slider.

I am planning to try shooting some landscape work in S-Log2 to see if I can massage the files back into a pleasing tonal curve and preserve the advantage of working in S-Log2 but in stills. The benefits might be a much longer tonal range, akin to HDR but perhaps more subtle. Another benefit might be getting a longer tonal range but not needing to do the kinds of multiple exposures necessitated by a typical HDR workflow. Interesting, right?

After my first foray with video and the a6300 I did spend time earlier this morning trying PP1 in still photography (see all files from the museum). It's a much more subtle approach to subduing high contrast range than a Log files. It's akin to the Flat profile in the latest Nikon cameras. Some of these profiles seem like a perfect match for portrait work but, as I said above, more experimenting and experience will tell the tale....

Blanton Museum Windows.

Do you need to run out immediately and get one of these cameras?
In the grand scheme of things there's really no reason to own an a6300 over an Olympus OM-5ii or a Panasonic GX8 unless you really think the difference in the size of the sensor will buy you that much more depth of field control. Several people have written asking me to compare the overall subjective differences between the a6300 and the Olympus EM5ii and I am happy to do so now that I've spent some time with both cameras (much more extensive time with the Olympus...). 

The first difference between the two cameras is in handling. I have always used the Olympus EM5 cameras with battery grips attached and that's the configuration I will compare to the bare-naked Sony. 

The Olympus feels like a much better made camera and one really intuitively designed to feel nice in one's hands and to have a logical flow to physical operation. While the views through the EVFs are largely the same the Olympus EVF, is positioned to be much more comfortable. I find myself pressing the offset viewfinder of the Sony tightly against my eye socket to make it work well for me. Not so with the Olympus. Also, the knobs and switches on the Olympus feel better made and more robust. So much more attention seems to have been paid to tactile cues. 

For video shooters the rear screens are a wash but for the still shooter the different configuration of the screens is an advantage in Olympus's favor. There is more real estate for 4:3 ratio images and even 3:2 images. 

When it comes to image quality it's pretty much a given that the Sony will out resolve the Olympus but in this day and age of 16+ megapixel sensors it would only matter if you were in a hypothetical pissing match and each camera was fitted with the "ultimate" lens for its family. Both are well behaved where noise is concerned and, even though the science would indicate the bigger sensor should be the clear winner in the noise race, at least in Jpeg I find them to be close together for different reasons. While the Olympus has slightly more noise overall the noise is monochromatic and not intrusive. The Sony engineers, on the other hand, have made the choice to slam in excessive noise reduction in their standard Jpeg mix. At ISOs where the Olympus is still showing real detail the Sony is busy plasticizing large swaths of low contrast area. In my tests most of the Sony blurring is being done on thing like skin tone, which makes this heavy handed image butchering more obvious. 

Of course, in one quick spin through the Sony menu you can neutralize the Olympus advantage by setting Hi ISO NR to low; or even better, OFF, and then dealing with noise is Nik or Adobe or, even better, DXO. Once you neutralize the difference made by camera settings you might see a tiny advantage to the Sony but certainly not enough to be a deal breaker for the Olympus. It really mostly depends on how much heavy lifting you want to do in your post production. I just want stuff to be consistent, frame to frame, so I can batch my corrections.

When it comes to image stabilization the Olympus kicks Sony's butt all over the place. Nothing on the market currently beats the latest Olympus cameras with five axis stabilization. It's like having an invisible tripod at your constant beck and call. With most of my lenses (largely adapted MF versions) there's no I.S. at all on the Sony but I can dial it in for any ancient lens on the Olympus. If you are a savagely addicted coffee drinker, or just have trembly hands, run --- don't walk--- to get yourself an Olympus EM5ii. Your hit rate will climb. 

The Sony advantage comes in the video section. While the Olympus people made strides in the EM5ii video it's not in the same class as the Sony a6300. But take that with a grain of salt. Yes, the Sony wins in a head to head test at 1080p but ONLY if you shoot the Sony in 4K and downsample the files to 1080p. In a direct competition, shooting both cameras natively in 1080p I just don't see much of a difference. From my brief few hours of playing around with the Sony video I've decided that this is a camera I'll always shoot in 4K (UHD) and pretty much always downsample as I ingest it and convert is to ProRes in FCPX. It looks sharp and detailed there. 

Another chink in the armor for Sony versus Olympus is that the Sony has horrendous rolling shutter. Stuff just looks wobbly as hell if you move the camera too quickly. Much worse than the Olympus. (Every camera that doesn't feature a global shutter will have some rolling shutter, also in-affectionately known as "jello-cam."

It's a miracle! I can handhold a camera and lens with no I.S. and still 
get a recognizable image. Hurray. Same on all below.

To sum up the Oly/Sony comparison: The Sony is a faster focusing camera and will be a better selection for fast moving sports and stuff like that. The files from both are beautiful and, if you disagree with one maker's aesthetic perspective there is enough malleability in the controls to effectively match the cameras to one another. If your decision comes down to handling you'll have to decide for yourself because everyone's experiences over the years vary so much. The one thing I must say is that each camera has menus designed for different types of brains. I've shot with Olympus micro four thirds cameras since 2009 --- every generation --- and the menus, when accessed under work pressure, still piss me off and mystify me. Grrrrr. 

While the Sony menus offer an amazing array of choices they are laid out in a logical progression. Linear by big subjects from left to right; linear with choices from top to bottom. No menu items fall under the edge of the screen which might require you to first, know that there's more there, and second, require you to keep scrolling down. For the artist brain you might look at the Sony menus (such a big improvement from the days of the Nex-7...) and if you are an engineer, mathematician or accountant, then give the Olympus menus a gander. 

My suggestion? Pretend that camera buying is a buffet and get one of each. 

Since we took the time to compare this $1,000 Sony to the Olympus let's change tactics and compare it to my other popular camera, the Nikon D750. Unless you are a dainty child or weakened by disease or accident let's put aside all the nonsense about weight. It's the one argument I just don't care about. Slap a 70-200mm f2.8 on the a6300 and it's just as huge as the Nikon D750+similar lens. Lots of people buy smaller cameras thinking that they'll love em for the light weight only to buy big lenses in an attempt to get fast apertures, etc. and then realize that small and large are not that big of a deal. A bigger deal is the way the cameras operate. 

I'll tell you right off the top that I'm much more comfortable with an EVF even though I've shot with OVF cameras continuously since I started wielding cameras back in 1978. Live view through an eye level finder, with full setting effects on, is a much smarter, more effective and efficient way to shoot almost everything. So the first big nod goes to Sony's a6000. 

The sensors are from the same family but the one in the Nikon is twice as big. That means the pixels are bigger which might mean more dynamic range and less noise. Certainly the bigger sensor AND Nikon's software/firmware means that the D750 is a much better low light/high ISO camera. It's probably the second best in the consumer world right now, right after the Sony A7Sii. Points to the Nikon. 

But even at lower ISOs the Nikon has more dynamic range so they get a point for that too. 

Now we move to video and here you might be in for a surprise. If you go head to head between the Nikon D750 and the Sony a6300 using each camera's native 1080p settings (no magic downsampling) I like the lower bit rate ACVHD video files of the D750 better than the files from the Sony. What????? Sorry, but the D750 is very detailed, has nice colors and doesn't have much in the way of awkward moire or artifacting. But just as important, the D750's size and bulk make it much easier to handle in production. We get to use a much larger HDMI connector for our monitor or a digital recorder and the camera comes complete with .......  a headphone jack. The range of dedicated video features is not as extensive but that also makes the camera less complex and faster to use. 

And here's the added advantage: If you use a digital recorder, like a AtoMos Ninja 2, you can get the camera to output, uncompressed 8 bit 4:2:2 color files instead of the 4:2:0 files both cameras write to internal cards. That make the Nikon files beefier and easier to color correct without messing them up too badly. If Nikon had possessed the brains to include focus peaking in their camera I would never have investigated or bought anything else but would have just been happy to buy more D750s. Even though it lacks an EVF. It's head to head with a Panasonic GH4. I like the detail of the GH4 files but the handling (exclusive of focus) of the Nikon just a bit better. 

They each focus faster and better than my eyes and brain can follow. No real advantage to the D750 even though it is a current generation DSLR. 

The Nikon is a much better event camera if you must use flash. I can't even think, with a straight face, about using a big ole flash on the that dinky little Sony camera. I can't not think about how easy the Nikon is to use with flash, and how well a flash rides on the D750 hotshoe. 

These two cameras are from different tool boxes. The a6300 is like my Leica CL. It's a camera to wear over your shoulder all day and all night long as you walk down the streets of a visually alluring city and pause, from time to time, to make beautiful photographs --- just off the cuff. It's a decisive moment, part of your attire artist's camera. The Nikon is the camera you toss into the rolling case along with a big assortment of heavy lenses, sync cords and lights. When you get to your location you set up your shot, light it, shoot it, fine tune the whole scene a bit more and then shoot it again and again. It's the "work all day on the top of your tripod camera." It's the, "this interview may a while do you think the batteries will last?" camera. You'll get nearly three hours of intensive video shooting if you are using a digital recorder along with a Nikon battery grip. The same amount of time with some stops every 29 minutes without the recorder. 

And here's the kicker for 1080p video.....even without an external recorder.....I've never had the D750 overheat on a video shoot. Not once. Not even in August. In Texas. So, a different kind of use. Different as a pick-up truck and a Porsche Boxer. They both go the same speed at rush hour. One is more fun to drive out in the rural open spaces but the other can haul along function. 

My usual "test dummy" over at the Blanton Museum. Nice window light.

Well, that's all I have to say about the Sony a6300 right now. I've got it over my shoulder during the day and I take it with me in the car. It's fun to shoot, like a small rangefinder camera is fun to shoot. It's a powerful photographic tool and a fun, snapshooting video tool as well. It can be pressed into service for just about everything and, if you have the skill you can make files that are as good as any out there, but it's not a the end all, be all of cameras. 

Why did I buy one? I can rationalize it in any direction but the truth of it is that I wanted to see how my collection of older, manual Pen F lenses looked on a state of the art APS-C sensor camera. The result? They look pretty keen. I'm not selling Sony cameras so if you want to buy one you'll need to go somewhere else. I'm also not paid to be your personal camera shopper so you'll have to make up your own mind about whether you want one or not. If you already have a camera you like you might just count your blessings and put some more cash into that 401K. God knows you're probably going to need it down the line. But I'm not returning my a6300. It's pretty cool. With the right lens? Leica CL-esque. 

 Help me celebrate our 3,000th post. Write something in the comments. 


Some online classes that may be of interest to you:

One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and 
still one of the best! 

I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable 
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as 
cool places around the U.S.

How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.


Why I shelled out good cash for yet another new camera. Or, make the cameras fit the job...

Cameras are always in flux here. We find something we like and exploit it. A few months later a different kind of project comes up and we change gears. This is not the domain of a hobbyist photographer who is hellbent on mastering one camera and one small set of lenses and then pressing it into service for everything. We tackle a wide range of projects and if a new or different camera makes the job easier, better (or more fun) we more often than not opt for the new camera.

Near the end of the fourth quarter of last year I joined an art director from Austin on one of those delightful nonstop Southwest Airlines flights to Newark, N.J.  We were going to a small town in central N.J. where we would set up lights and make environmental portraits with shallow depth of field. I packed a couple of full frame Nikon cameras and a good selection of lenses; short, fast telephotos and some all purpose zooms. You never know when a different visual opportunity might present itself...

At the last minute I also packed in a Panasonic fz 1000 camera and a few extra batteries. All of the cameras, lenses and batteries got wedged into a Think Tank Airport Security roller case while the five light stands three umbrellas, four battery powered flashes and my tripod got snugged into a padded, Tenba rolling stand case. It was heavy. But when you need stands and a tripod you've got to have them.

One the first day and a half we got all of our narrow depth of field portraits done and we were a half day ahead of schedule. A perfect time to go into the factory/facility and shoot production shots and images of workers and their machines. This wasn't on our original purview but it sure was a lot of fun. I decided to press the Panasonic into service and got many great shots that would have taken more time and been more difficult to take with the full frame Nikons. The extra depth of field worked in this photojournalistic style undertaking, as did the wildly far ranging zoom lens, wedded to a very effective image stabilization system. But the star of the show were the handful of 4K video snippets (b-roll?) that we shot on a lark.

At that point the client was hooked. The small, fast camera did such a good job generating video files that the art director called again a few weeks back and outlined a different project for the same client. This time we would go up to shoot more manufacturing images and a lot more video. Could I bring along a wireless microphone and perhaps we'd get some interviews??? Of course.

By this time I'd gotten a Sony RX10ii and, with the headphone jack and richer selection of video tools in the camera, it seemed the logical choice for this new project. I also planned on packing the RX10 classic body as a back-up. You know, just in case. We couldn't really do much lighting on the shop floors so I was pretty excited by the prospect of not having to haul around the Tenba case full of stands and flashes and I was happy that ditching the Nikon stuff was going to save me ten pounds or so in my carry on.

But then, as in all things advertising, the other shoe dropped. The art director called. There had been a rash of new hires at the corporation we'd be shooting at. Could we add a day and also get some more of those keen, narrow depth of field environmental portrait shots. When a really good clients asks the gestalt reaction is: "Yes, of course."

But here's the deal... I had my head wrapped around those Sony RX10s and I wanted to go that way. I'm just smart enough to know though that the look of the files would be different enough to be a deal killer as far as the narrow depth of field portraits went. Just too big a difference between the smaller sensor and the full frame ones. The Nikon 135mm f2.0 is just a different animal.

But then I saw the announcement and the hoopla for the a6300. If I put the right selection of lenses in front of that camera I could match the look of bigger cameras, or at least get into the reasonable ballpark. How about the Nikon 105mm 2.5? Or the 85mm 1.8? Or (fill in the blank). With the a6300 I would have a small and light body with a killer sensor and, with a small selection of Nikon ais lenses, or even an older Leica 90mm f2.0 Summicron, I'd have a combination that would give me the same look.

The added benefit would be the fact that all three cameras used the same batteries. That meant bringing along just one system of batteries and chargers. Even better, all the menus matched up well and would help me to streamline my thought processes. Seemed eminently logical to me.

The cost of the camera is just about half of my day rate so I figured with three days on site and a couple of (less expensive) travel days, I would hardly notice the impact on my wallet. We haven't finalized dates for the job yet but in the short time I've had the camera (since Friday) I've already shot a profitable job with it.

The camera packs a lot of good imaging potential into a small space but really, it had me when I looked at the new EVF. The EVF is one of the most effective ways to streamline image production that's been introduced since we started shooting digital. You don't have to believe it. But innovation sure works for me.

My new favorite combination for just walking around? That would be the a6000 coupled with a Pen F manual focus 38mm f1.8. Just right. The focus peaking in camera makes it almost perfect...


So. I bought a new video camera. It also does stills. It's the Sony a6300. I shot some casual test video today in full sun. Go see it.

Sony a6300 shooting 4K in Super 35 mode 100 mbs. S-Log 2. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
I just got the a6300 on Friday and wanted to see what the 4K video was all about. I shot some sample footage in direct, full sun. I graded it quickly in FCPX and uploaded as 1080.

If you want to see a high res version of this go to vimeo and see it there. You are limited here to 800 px wide but there you can see it in 1920 px.

This is my first time to play with S-Log 2 and 4K together. I'm still in the early part of the learning curve but the ability to hold both highlights and shadows on the canoes is pretty impressive to me.

The a6300 is too small but the EVF is great and it shoots really good stills and video. Short wish list? Headphone jack. Long wish list? Taller body and a better manual.

I've shot 2,000 frames with the camera so far and twenty or thirty short segments of video. So far, so good. More to come.

Disclosure: bought with Kirk's cash. No Sony sponsorship whatsoever. Early days with the camera. More to come as I get used to holding it. The camera it most reminds me of? The Leica/Minolta CL. 


Optimizing the shooting performance of your one inch camera (or any camera).

A reader has asked me several times to talk about how to get good results out of the one inch cameras we been talking about for the last few years. Let's get one thing out of the way upfront: If you need to have noiseless, ultra detailed shots at ISOs above 800 you'll likely be happier with the latest generation of full frame or, at least, APS-C sensor cameras.  Physics is physics. I guess. There are compromises in every choice we make and as much as I wish my $1,000 cameras could do ultra clean files at 6400 I am reminded that even my $3200 Nikon with a $1,000 lens isn't noise free at those settings.... You are always trading sheer quality for flexibility, handling and purchase price. 

But with that said the secret to loving the results from any camera come from using it to its fullest potential. To do that you need to practice good photography. It's that simple. Let's start with camera movement. While I.S. is magical, and both the fz 1000 and the Sony rx10 have very good built in I.S. it's not really a panacea for good camera handling and immobilization. I don't trust I.S. nearly as much as I trust a good tripod or a well implemented monopod. Step one to getting landscape photographs that rival photographs from much bigger cameras is to stop screwing around with hand holding and get your gear on some sticks. Tripods are the gold standard and I guess that's why I have a half dozen scattered around the studio and in the car. Get good ones. Get a very expensive carbon fiber model if you have to carry it a long way. Get a heavy, heavy, sturdy one for the studio. 

Use your tripod correctly. Don't depend on extending the center column to get more reach. Use the tripod legs instead. And buy a tripod that goes as high as you need it to without extending the center column. Sturdy as it may be it's less sturdy than depending on the intersection of the top plate and the legs. Once you have your camera mounted on a tripod it's kind of stupid to trigger the shutter with your finger, because that also causes camera motion which is immediately translated into less sharp images. Use a remote trigger or download the maker's app and trigger the camera with your phone. If you don't have those options then for goodness sake, take advantage of the camera's self timer to trigger a hands-free exposure. 

If you need the mobility and are still willing to give up the pure goodness of your tripod consider using a monopod. See the image above? I was about to shoot a dance rehearsal and I needed to be able to move around quickly --- but I wanted to get really sharp images --- so I put my camera on a monopod and that actually gets me into a pretty solid space. In addition, you can use I.S. on a monopod (but generally not recommended for use on a tripod) and that gets you even better results --- as long as you consider your technique. Your feet should be spread shoulder width apart and your legs and the monopod should form a tripod of sorts. Don't drink a lot of coffee or contemplate your audit while shooting and try to use a light touch with the shutter button. 

The next thing to consider is shutter speed. Most people think that stopping down to just the right f-stop is the magic way to get sharpness but that's only true if you have already conquered camera motion. You might think that, because you have miracle I.S. you can shoot at 1/15th, 1/30th or even 1/125th with the longer focal lengths of the zooms on the one inch cameras but I'm here to tell you that you probably should revert to the old rule of thumb and still shoot at a shutter speed that is at least the reciprocal of the lens length. If the lens is extended to the equivalent of a 400mm you should make 1/400th your minimum shutter speed. Even on a tripod it can make a difference if the camera itself causes some of its own movement (shutter shock, mirror slap). So, optimum shutter speed counts for a lot. Really. Always faster if you can. Always. 

So, if you've done all that stuff above you get to the idea of the optimum aperture. Smaller sensor cameras are at their best nearer wide open and further from all the way stopped down. The fz 1000 and the RX10 both love being shot at f5.6 and f8.0. They hate smaller apertures. I think of these cameras as having only three apertures: wide open, only for when I can't do anything else, f5.6 when I don't need endless depth of field but want high sharpness on a singular object, and f8.0 when I want high sharpness coupled with deeper depth of field. Wide open is only for low light when it can be used to avoid subject motion. 

So, now you are on a stout, Gitzo five series tripod. You have your aperture set at f8.0 and you are triggering with a remote or using the self timer. You found a great shutter speed.  Good for you. You are about half way there to sharpness. 

Since you are shooting landscapes the only subject motion you need to care about is trees swaying in the wind and grass blowing in the breeze. Go back up and experiment to find the shutter speed that effectively freezes this movement as well. It's trial and error but you can see the effect. And when you look for the effect on that back panel LCD be sure to zoom all the way in so you have a fighting chance of seeing the actual effect. Everything looks sharp on a tiny screen. 

The next thing to consider is your ISO. If you are shooting stuff that doesn't move you are crazy not to be shooting at the lowest, non-gimmick, ISO on offer. For the two cameras we're talking about ISO 100 is a safe bet. Only go up if it's impossible to use that optimum aperture ---- but before you bitch and moan about the need to use high ISOs just remember the generations of photographers who were able to make incredible images on ISO 64 and ISO 100 slide film. If they could do it with primitive materials you should be able to do better (technically) with the latest tech. The tripod is a wonderful camera equalizer....if you use it. 

All this preparation is for nothing if you don't get two things right: focus and exposure. As you under expose digital images get noisier and noisier. The noise obscures detail. It's like sprinkling sand over the top of a painting. You need to nail exposure. Not to, much, and not even a half stop too little. Oh sure, you can recover a lot from underexposed images but that's not the point. You asked about optimizing sharpness not compromising sharpness. Learn to read a meter and learn to effectively read your histograms and, if the subject is important to you then by all means, bracket the exposures in one third stop increments. Oh hell, do that anyway so you can bring your files back and look at them big on the screen and better see the differences I'm talking about between frames. 

Once you've absolutely nailed exposure turn your focus to focus. Most people get it wrong. Or sloppy. Or they depend on depth of field to save them. In all images only one thin plane can truly be in totally sharp focus. Everything else is a regression from the perfect focus point. It only makes sense then to nail focus precisely on what you are most interested in seeing clearly. All the new cameras have a million focusing points and ten different ways to set up focus but if you are shooting landscapes you don't need to worry about any of that crap. Set the center point as your focusing element. Set the camera to AF-S, point your camera at the thing you most want to be in focus and initiate focus by pushing the shutter button half way down. When the camera finishes its job and the point is in focus lock it there. AF-L is the setting you are looking for. Can't find it? Then once you have the point nailed switch the camera from AF to MF, effectively locking in your focus point. Recompose and shoot your photograph. Then check (review) at 100% to make sure you got focus exactly where you intended and not in front of behind or side to side. If you want to take it up a notch then go into MF and enable your focus peaking. Set it at the lowest level possible ---- it may be harder to see the little yellow lines creep in effectively but that setting has the most discrimination. Now bracket your focusing in tiny increments around the point that your camera originally suggested. 

When using the center AF sensor make sure you use the camera setting to reduce the effective sensor size to a minimum, this will ensure that you are focusing on precisely what is covered by the green indicator in the finder and not on a bunch of stuff in the periphery. 

Now we're closing in on good technique. Be sure to shoot raw and, if you have the option, choose uncompressed raw and choose the highest bit rate your camera is capable of. Usually 14 instead of 12, though you can't really do that with the two cameras we are talking about --- just set them for raw. 

That's the first half. Now you need to process correctly. Not every raw converter handles every raw file well. Sony files are pretty good in Adobe Camera Raw but the Panasonic files are better in Capture One. If you are using the fz 1000 and want perfection in your files you should be using the latest rev of Capture One. Or DXO. Correct color balance first and then exposure, if you do these steps backwards you'll find that changing color balance will change exposure. And you want optimum exposure for high sharpness. If you have the option to select a profile for the lens you use then do it because some smart people spent a lot of time learning which settings make each lens look good. 

When you have finished doing all the stuff you want to do for your file then do the sharpening last. Sharpening is an art and most people do it wrong. Small radius with big effect works better that the other way around. But be aware that the sharpness you require is not universal to everything but is dependent on your intended output. Every sensor and every lens and every scene requires its own sharpening settings. You can also sharpen in DXO, which is very good. Most people overdo which makes images look crisp until they are enlarged past a certain point --- then the look falls apart. 

This is a matter of personal taste and must be learned by first reading every tutorial the software makers offer and none that you came across on DP Review. The makers of the software have a vested interest in helping to make your work look good so you'll buy the next rev of their product. The people on DP Review are generally just engaged in a pissing contest. 

Now, there are plenty of other things to think about. Highly collimated light sources make subjects look sharper. Softer, more diffuse lighting has the opposite effect. Flash helps to freeze both subject and camera movement and so is valuable in making images that present a high appearance of sharpness and detail. 

One last thing to mention is noise reduction. Anything that reduces noise also reduces sharpness. No free lunch. Turn off sharpening in camera and apply sharpening in post production where you have a lot more control over every frame. Add just barely enough to do the job but don't be afraid to leave in some residual noise because many times it conveys a greater impression of sharpness than the noise filter does in making things ultimately seem less noisy. But the secret to taming most noise goes right back to the top of the article = shoot at the lowest ISO. Get your exposure right in camera. 

This is just some of the stuff we think about when we shoot with any camera but I pay closer attention to all of the parameters if I am looking for optimum results from small sensor cameras like the one inch or the m4:3 cameras. Practice good technical and you'll get the absolute best out of your camera.

A well done small file can beat a sloppy D810, handheld file pretty much every day of the week. As long as you aren't pushing everything toward the ragged edge of Ming's envelope. 

Does that help?
carefully handheld fz 1000

Same applies to both cameras. 

Flash freezes motion. fz 1000. 

Sitting on a tripod for a reason. sharpness.