Shooting a commercial video project with the Sony RX10 mk3. Pluses and minuses. Stuff that works and stuff the messes you up...

Configured for handheld shooting with ambient sound. Not for interviews.

I'm always disheartened when I read instantaneous reviews of a camera. Most are regurgitations of what's on the data sheet coupled with whatever negative performance rumor is circulating around the web. Why do I bother to read the fast breaking reviews? Sometimes they'll point to a tragic fault in a camera that makes it an absolute deal killer and that can be helpful. But for the most part it's just a lot of hot air, translated into web crap. 

I like to test cameras the hard way before I go to the keyboard and share my findings. Case in point is the Sony RX10 mk. 3. I bought the camera at the full retail price back on May 4th. From Precision Camera in Austin, Texas. That's about 23 days ago. I was prompted to buy it by my really good experiences using the RX10 mks 1&2. Knowing those previous cameras in the family, forward and backward, I was able to hit the ground with a good amount of familiarity. The second reason for the purchase back then was the imminent start of a video project that's gobbled up lots of days and hours in the interim. I thought that this camera, used in conjunction with a few other Sony cameras, would make a great production camera for a two person video project that mostly takes place during bad weather, and on the run. While the camera could be operationally a bit better I must say at the outset of this post that there are no flies on the 4K files that one can squeeze from this wonderful machine. It's a stellar imager.

Many, many people horribly misunderstand the market for this camera. I hear all the zany reasons why no one in their right mind should own one. The primary objection is the size of the camera and the next most popular mindless rant is about the price. I am stunned that people are completely fixated on size rather than on the important parameters that a tool like this one is created to serve. When did the litmus test of a camera's acceptability become its ability to be shoved in the front pocket of a pair of pants? Amazingly stupid. It makes more sense to say that this camera is not one that will suit your needs but the size of a working, production camera is a silly point on which to judge. Not every camera made is intended to fall into the category of the mindless point and shoot.

As far as price goes I think I can make a very convincing argument that, based on the features and performance in the package, this camera is one of the very best values on the entire camera market. Not cheap, just a very good value. Why? Because in one package you are getting a state of the art lens with a reach out to the equivalent of 600mm. In addition to a lens that, on any video or interchangeable lens camera, would cost more than the total of this camera and lens, you are getting really remarkable 4K video performance from one of the top makers of no bullshit, full on professional, world class, video cameras. The same company that made BetaCam SPs the go-to video production cameras of the 1980s and 1990s. The same company that makes cameras that make Academy Award winning movies (the F65) and many more great, highly professional, industrial video cameras. They've put more movie making capability in this $1495 camera than any of their competitors and it shows. 

But there's more. Even if you never push the red button and take advantage of the killer video potential of this camera you would be using a camera with a wonderful imaging sensor, coupled with a killer lens for still imaging. One with both great range and superb image quality. Put it all together and you've got a camera that film makers and videographers, as well as still photographers, would have given a lot more money for just a few years back, if one had even existed!!!

So, back to reviewing the camera. While some reviewers might take the camera on a hike for weekend and shoot various landscape shots in good lighting, I think you must really immerse yourself in a camera to fairly understand its attributes and its foibles. Using a camera for a couple of hours on a weekend is not the same thing as using a camera for multiple working days; with real clients, real working situations, real deadlines, and a multitude of things you cannot control. Like weather. Light levels. It takes time and interactive investigations to discern the optimum apertures or the prime working ranges of the image stabilization. Even responses to ISO are varied in all cameras when one considers subject matter, light levels and accuracy of exposure. These things are all learned by pushing the envelope and then breaking the envelope to see where the edges of performance meet the boundaries of failure. There just isn't a meaningful shortcut. 

Several reviewers who wrote "reviews" just days after the cameras became available were whining about handling. How could they have possibly come to grips with the haptics of a new hand tool in just 24 to 48 hours? Muscle memory and menu memory take time to integrate into the human mind. 

But enough about the mercenary shortcomings of the hordes of web denizens who are mostly interested in the click thru marketing money of camera review content. Let's talk about the camera in actual use... 

I have now shot over seven hours of video with the camera; most of it in 4K (UHD). I have experimented with every picture profile on the camera menu for video. I have preferences but I am fascinated (as are most neophytes like me) by S-Log 2. Most cameras make you feel your way through shooting with this super-flat profile but the RX10-3 is so nuanced for video users that it even has a setting in the menu called "gamma display assist" which shows a normalized representation of the scene you are shooting so you can at least be in the ballpark as you experiment with Log files. This is something usually only found on $10,000 and up, professional video cameras. It actually works. 

There are now a number of cameras that record 4K video (some better, some worse) but how many consumer priced cameras also allow you to record two different file sizes simultaneously. You can effectively generate an in-camera proxy file concurrent with your higher mbs 4K file. This is amazing. Since the camera records run rec and free run time code to both files you can do all your roughs in an easy to edit file size and then go back and, using the time coded log you will have created, quickly piece together your final cut program from your high res footage. Not available on any other brand of hybrid camera of this type. Pretty cool, huh?

I hear from many sources that the microphone inputs on this range of cameras are "noisy" and that they are not of the quality level found on "high end" cameras or standalone digital audio recorders. Could it be that there are some mismatches here instead of just presumptively dissing the camera's pre-amps? This became evident to me in an interesting way recently. I was using a Rode NTG-2 microphone directly into the camera and did, indeed, find it to be noisy.  The mic's output is low and I had to apply too much gain. But that mic set up for a balanced input and not the kind of input a stereo mini-jack is looking for. I presumed that the noise was the fault of the camera until I plugged a Rode Reporter mic (a dynamic mic) through a passive mixer that does correct for impedance mismatch and supplies a stronger signal to the camera inputs, and the results were night and day. The camera was relatively noise free. Then I used the Rode NTG-2 with the camera but put a Tascam audio recorder into the signal path. That mic requires some amplification! But when running from the Tascam into the camera I got the same results as with the Rode Reporter mic; it was nearly noise free. The lesson is that people need to experiment with various interfaces between mic and cameras before they pronounce one product good and one bad.

While we're still in the realm of video I have to mention one of my favorite features of the camera which is something I was first introduced to on the ancient Canon XL-1 Hi-8 video camera: slow shutter speeds in video. On the Sony it's called, Auto Slow Shutter. You can set lower shutter speeds than the usual video shutter speeds in order to suck in more light AND get special video motion blur effects. I used it last night to record lightning and it was perfect. You can use it to get motion blur with your video subjects. What we used to call "under-cranking" in the days of film based cinema. 
It can be a wonderful effect. It's the opposite of setting too high a shutter speed with the attendant sharp-but-jerky motion. It's smooth and downright sybaritic. 

Then there is the ability to control whether the audio you hear in your headphones is live or lip sync (matching the delay of the recording). Nice. Very nice. Almost as nice as the luxury of setting zebras over a wide range to cue you to possible overexposure. 

People bitch about the focus and zoom by wire in the camera but you do know that you can customize the settings and ask the camera to zoom fast, medium or slow. You can ask the camera to track focus in fast, medium and slow speeds as well. You can set the aggressiveness of focusing acquisition too. But a wonderful thing for an old Nikon user is that you can change the direction of the focusing and zoom rings; heck, you can even switch the zoom and focus ring duties with each other... The ability to fine tune the operational characteristics of the camera has not be written about much by any of the reviewers who are quick to bitch about AF but slow to realize the sheer amount of customization at their fingertips.....if only they read the very complete, online manual...

As a live theater photographer it should go without saying that I appreciate the ability to use a totally silent shutter with little or no degradation of image quality (depending on shutter speed range). Take that! DSLRs.

With all this stuff at my fingertips I started a video project about two weeks ago. I've used the camera for interviews in four different cities and in rural and mid-city locations. In each engagement I've learned more things that the camera does well and I do poorly --- but that's the way human learning usually works. As long as my mistakes don't impact the totality of the project they are beneficial since they show me the limits of the camera's abilities as well as my own. 

Let's investigate what I mean. First lesson: While face detection AF is a wonderful feature for still photographers it's not an optimal thing for videographers. I can see it work in photography and click the shutter in response. In video you get the same green box telling you that the camera has found a face and is focused upon it. But the conceit in my brain was that once the camera locked on it would stay there, clamped on like a bulldog on a bone. Early on I found that this was not so and that the camera would start looking around to see if there was anything more interesting to shift focus to. That was a disconcerting discovery make when reviewing an interview on my large monitor, back at the studio. The interview started in sharp focus and then, mysteriously (once my subject looked away for a second or two) the camera decided to shift to something in the background and rest there. Fortunately we were filming with two cameras and my second camera operator, a guy named, Ben, was smart enough, and cynical enough, to stick with manual focus on his camera. We opened with my in focus, tight shot and then transitioned to Ben's locked in footage for the rest of the interview. Better interviews came along later and this one got dropped from consideration. And I was okay with that...

I've experimented a bit more with the face detection AF and have found that the control/feature is dependent on high light levels to operate optimally. If you are locked on during a bright daylight situation you are pretty much okay. As the light levels drop; or if your subject is wearing glasses, prepare to intercede to save your own credibility. So, this leads us to manually focusing the camera. Which should be okay since we have peaking and the ability to magnify the frame. But just as in the FS7 professional video camera you can only "punch in" 5.8 X times. Unless you have some highly defined lines to focus upon it's not really enough magnification for my ancient eyes (or your young eyes) to see exacting focus. It's because the camera is resolving less in video and you are at the mercy of the lower resolution being presented to the EVF. If I could fix one thing about this camera it would be to add the ability to get more magnification during manual focusing (in video). You really only need to do it when you've moved, or your subject has moved, or you've changed focal lengths --- which means you need to fine focus a lot. 

I trust the "punch in" and the focus peaking for medium distant scenes but in interviews that are mission critical I will either attach the camera to an external, seven inch monitor to see focus more clearly or switch the camera out of the movie mode into the photo mode which allows me to punch in with a much higher magnification. After acquiring and locking the focus in by switching to MF I am certain I'll get what I want in sharp focus.  Be forewarned, if you are shooting video with any Sony still/video hybrid that you don't have the option of S-AF in video. Only C-AF and MF. Plan accordingly. 

Once you nail focus and once you get use to intelligently using the zebras for accurate exposure the only other parameter you really need to worry about is getting the color right. You want to use a custom white balance or a preset white balance instead of AWB for most things because it's a post production pain in the ass for still photography (you'll end up correcting individual frames as the color temps shift) or downright brutal in video as your scenes change colors before your very eyes in editing. I choose to carry a Lastolite gray target and use it with abandon. It makes post production so much more rewarding. 

Once you've played with the camera for days on end you will come to love the programmable function menu. Mine is peppered with shortcuts for video. Audio Levels. Peaking. Zebras, Picture Profile, Face detection AF, Focus Area, ISO, Steady shot on and off and white balance. With these set as shortcuts I need only hop into the menu to format cards and to reset time code. 

I'm sure a Nikon or Canon shooter, confronted by an EVF-enabled, mirrorless video powerhouse camera for the first time can be a bit baffled by so much stuff that actually works well and makes one's job easier and of a higher quality so I understand when I read a review that complains about handling and the menu interface. Again, spend some damn time with the camera and get to know it before you grab the keyboard and spew ignorance all over the place.

When I create video with the camera I have a checklist I've put together that I actually look at. I'm sure, over time, I'll have it memorized but right now it goes like this: set up camera on tripod and level it. Grab my target and custom white balance. Set the correct shutter speed for the frames per second called for by the project and then figure out exposure. If greater than f8.0 then pull out the variable ND filter. If lower than the widest aperture then figure out how to get the light levels higher or how sensitive my tolerance is for raising the ISO of the camera. For documentary work my tolerance goes up to at least 1600 but for CEO interview is drops down to ISO 100-200. I do want them to look so good that I'll get invited back....

After we've got WB and exposure figured out I make sure the Steady shot is turned off if I'm on a tripod and turned on if I'll be landholding (more rare). I check to make sure I'm set to the picture profile I want. Then I start checking audio levels and make sure I remember how to change them on the fly if I am not using an external mixer (which does make the job easier). I make sure to reset time code at the beginning of the project (rec run for most stuff) and finally, I focus. And focus again just to be sure. Now we're ready to shoot. 

If I've done all those checklist steps I am rewarded with crisp, clean, well balanced video that is easy to edit. Even easier if I've shot in 4K and I'm editing on a 1080p timeline in FCPX. 

Much has been made about the deficiencies of the Sony (ubiquitous) battery and its puny performance. Might be so for some people but I think they do a great job for video. I get about an hour and ten minutes of fun/run time which is not much less than I was getting with the much bigger battery in the Nikon D810. They are small and light, and Wasabi Power will sell you two aftermarket batteries and a charger for about $26 bucks. We keep them everywhere; pockets, camera bags, even in the cameras. 

I am sixty hours into shooting of the project at hand. I've shot in pouring rain using a cheap, plastic rain cover I bought at the camera store for $7.50. The camera got wet, drops got inside the plastic covering when I moved around. Water poured off the brim of my baseball hat and the hood of my poncho but the camera suffered no issues and was well enough for another bout of rain shooting today. While it is not a lightweight camera I am of the opinion that mass works for the person who handholds. I'll let the hordes of physicists here tell us why in the comment section..... A certain amount of weight is beneficial in being able to hold an object with any degrees of stillness. Take my word for it. 

I've spent twenty-five hours editing so far which means I've looked at the footage shot under a wide range of conditions, different lighting and different subjects. It's as stable as a rock.

I babied the camera when I first got it. Not anymore. I just use it now. And while we are in early days the camera has never let me down. But consider this: If I drop it, soak it, bang it up, etc. but am able to just get through this project before the camera ultimately dies I will have earned enough to keep the enterprise rolling for several more months as well as having enough surplus to replace my deceased camera. All from its first big foray out of the studio...

But wait! We've haven't even begun to talk about it's still photography performance...

It's right at the outside optimum limits of what you might hope for given the sensor size and the range of the lens. Let me explain: I've shot museum artifacts in the studio as well as long shots of trucks and line workers at twilight and in every situation the camera has excelled as far as image quality is concerned. I am a tripod user and a lowest ISO user so I'm rarely pushing the camera as hard as I might but I also have shot a dress rehearsal at the theater with this one and am impressed by everything except the focus at the long end of the zoom range. The image quality is great once the camera locks on but getting it to lock past the 500mms of equivalent angle of view can be frustrating. Maybe they'll improve that in version 4.0, which, given my early experiences with this camera, I will surely buy. 

It's not the optimal camera for several types of users. It's too complex for stupid people. It's too heavy for the fashion forward who must tuck a camera into a jeweled thong or tight jeans. It's existentially wrong for haters of camera with built-in video. It's not the optimal camera for people who live for tiny slices of in-focus imagery. If you love to wax on about "bokeh" you will not love this camera because what you probably mean is that you like stuff where the background goes totally out of focus. This camera does, in fact, generate wonderful bokeh, in the literal meaning, but doesn't have a fast out of focus ramp. You will not love it if you are one of those guys who is in love with the idea of a prime 28mm or a prime 35mm lens as being the focal length you think you see in. 

You will like the camera if you are using it to make money by shooting very, very good video and then turning around and shooting very, very good still images with the same camera. 

Get some big memory cards. Buy some more batteries. Do some exercise now and then so the camera's whopping 2.5 pounds doesn't pull your shoulder out of its socket or wreck your back (sarcasm alert for the slower readers). Learn the manual focus methods that give you a fighting chance at 600mm. And don't look back. This is a camera for people who love to get out and shoot, not dilettantes. But don't blame the camera, nobody likes dilettantes. Or reviewers who spend a lot of time at the keyboard but not nearly enough time with the camera in their hand shooting. Lots of specsmanship with no nuance. hmmmm.

P.S.  Life is too short for no whimsy.


Two different renditions of the same Third Street store front. Which do I like more?

These two photographs were taken within a couple dozen seconds of each other. Just the amount of time it took to switch the "creative style" from monochrome to standard on a Sony a6300. I always liked this little cake shop. It was called "Delish." They recently closed but I guess that happens to a lot of start up businesses; it's just that they made really nice stuff....

Working the tight crush with some good tools.

It's a been a while since I've done a simple job like documenting a cocktail reception in a private home. There's a non-profit that I like to work with called Texas Appleseed and they were honoring a Texas judge who is involved in fixing the foster care system. There were about 50 people in attendance and I had no real brief other than to get some good photographs. I shot a bunch of images of small groups standing together and smiling for the camera, and I covered the various speakers and the giving of a small award; but I also like just catching various candid shots that show the scope and tenor of the event.

The last time I did a small shoot like this I was using Nikon equipment, like the D750, along with the 24-120mm zoom lens and whatever Nikon flash seemed to work best in the moment. For years Nikon was the leader in flash tech, and as a long as I used the FEL button I could get pretty consistently well exposed images. I had yet to try the same kind of shoot with the EVF-enabled, hybrid focusing, Sony A7R2.

There's one accessory I've yet to buy for the Sony cameras and that's a dedicated flash. Most of my work is done with studio type flash, or large LED lights or even fluorescents. I knew I'd need to grapple with a hot shoe flash eventually because I do end up shooting five or six, multiple day events that require on camera flash. I just hadn't crossed that bridge yet.

The lovely home in which the reception took place is close by in my neighborhood. I tossed my RX10mk2 in the car as a back-up, grabbed the A7R2, an extra battery (always an extra battery), the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens and a fully manual Cactus RF-60 flash that's been in the studio for a while. I carried in the one camera and the flash and left the back up camera in the car. No camera bag, no other toys.

It took maybe three test shots, with the flash bouncing off the ceiling, to determine the right manual exposure settings. I was shooting at f5.6, 1/80th of a second at ISO 1,600. I set the flash output to 1/16th power and looked at a handy histogram. Everything was right on the money.

While I used to use center point AF in jobs like this I decided to use zone AF and selected the center zone. I also turned on the face detection AF. The camera nailed every single shot. Every one. Right where I would have put the focus if I had faster reflexes and a perfect finder....

The ceiling height never changed and my camera-to-subject distance was relatively the same throughout so the overall exposure settings on the camera and flash never really varied. This meant that all 188 frames that I am sending over to the client this morning have a uniform density and color and required little intervention in Lightroom. I did use the "soften skin" brush on a few of the tighter photographs of a few people, just to flatter....

I used the camera with the AF-illuminator turned off and trusted that it would work out the best focus. I trusted the initial tests I did with the flash and camera in tandem. This all left me free to circulate and quickly capture any image I wanted, with the relative assurance that I'd have usable frames.

In all I shot about 360 frames and ended up with 26% left on the battery life indicator. The camera warms up the longer you have it on. I never got a temperature warning but the left hand side of the camera was warmer than I have experienced with any other camera in memory. The flash, set to 1/16th power, handled everything with aplomb and could probably have gone on flashing for hours and hours longer. And, at that power level the recycling time really is instantaneous.

It was fun to work with such a small assemblage of gear but the files from this small package were pretty amazing. I shot raw, converted to high quality Jpegs in Lightroom, backed up these Jpegs in the cloud and then.....actually.....erased.....ALL of the raw files from the hard drive I'd been working on. No going back. Felt kind of nice to free up all that space at the end.

Just thought I'd discuss something I don't read about fairly often; a simple, non-dramatic but typical, use of the A7R2. Oh, and the dates, with a toasted almond in the center, wrapped in bacon, were delicious.


Great to be back in the pool this morning. Swimming works as a reset for other tasks.

I missed all my swim workouts last week. Every day was booked with early start times for video productions far from home. I did get back in the water on Sat. and Sunday but I was really looking forward to getting back to my routine today. I woke up five minutes before my alarm this morning; it was 5:55. I made some Irish breakfast tea with a little milk in it, read the news feed on my laptop and then grabbed a clean towel and headed to the pool.

The pool is a five minute drive from the house. On the way over I was being self-analytic and trying to come to grips with some anxiety. I have two big video projects in house and they both have the same, fast approaching deadline. I was having trouble getting started on the editing for the biggest one. It's hardest, I think, to decide on how a video will open; that sets the stage for everything else.

Somewhere in the middle of a hard set in the pool my brain unclenched from its bulldog tenacious grip on the editing and I started just mulling over the possibilities. Over the course of the next mile's worth of interval training I came up with a plan to construct the video story in small, manageable chunks. By the time I got out of the pool I'd ditched my anxious feelings and my need for rigid control of the project and I felt much calmer. I also felt good at getting in a couple miles of hard work before breakfast.

Now I'm back in the studio, the subtle perfume of chlorine wafting over from my bag of swim gear, and I'm carefully reviewing and cataloging snippets of the 2.5 hours of "footage" we've got in the can. If I find a few holes I still have time to shoot a bit more but I think we're pretty well covered.

For those who are interested in video.... I've been using Final Cut  Pro X as my non-linear editor. It's not that I'm somehow against using Adobe's Premiere but this is what I learned on and have used for the last two years. In the back of my mind I think about the possibility that Apple might pull the plug on further FCPX development as they did with Aperture and I think about switching to the Adobe product. I'd be interested to here what other people's experiences have been like using Premiere.

All of the footage we're editing for this video was shot in 4K with three different cameras. The primary camera was the RX10mk3 and most of the "B" roll content came from the RX10mk2. I've pulled out the a6300 to use on some action shots that required stable and accurate focus tracking.
All the material matches up well and since I worked hard at keeping the ISOs under 640 we're not having issues with noise.

On a cheery note the only day I will miss swimming with my master's team this week will be on Thursday. Maybe I'll do a double on Friday. It's sure better than missing an entire week!

Now, into the rabbit hole they call editing.....

For the curious fellow swimmers:

Today's workout was tough. 

We started with a 400 yard freestyle warm-up and then went right into a set of 16 X 50 yards on a :50 second interval, mixing strokes with freestyle (800 yards). The main set was: 

8 X (100 Individual medley + 125 freestyle, both on the same intervals) = 1,800 yards

The final set was 3 X (2 x 50 yards kick + 2 x 75 yards sprint, both on an interval of 1:05) = 750 yards.

It's a pretty optimistic workout for an hour and fifteen minutes, but it sure clears out the cobwebs...


Too much rain. Makes working outside a dilemma for Austin photographers.

Shooting the windshield of my car. 

It feels like it's been raining for weeks on end here in Austin. That's because it has been raining almost every day for the last three weeks! Hey, if I had wanted to enjoy Seattle weather I would have moved there. I guess I shouldn't complain too much, it certainly is better than the drought we'd been having for the past few years. I guess the primary things that have changed for me have to do with protecting cameras from water damage. I have rain covers for the cameras I use for video but I just grab a one gallon, ZipLoc bag on my way out of the house when there are glowering clouds outside and Accuweather.com tells me, in their hourly forecast, that I'm due to get soaked at 2 pm if I'm out for a walk. At least it's seventy five to eighty degrees outside so I won't become a quick victim of hypothermia...

It's a whole different situation for my friends who make their living photographing architecture; those folks are screaming for a few of those days with bright blue, Texas skies. I think they've shot every interior they can possibly find and are just counting down the minutes till the sun peeks through again and makes so much commercial and residential real estate look like something more than a soggy pile of construction material. 

I've been appreciative of the gloomy weather, personally. I'm trying to make a video about our historic floods last year and I need a lot of "B" roll of thunder and lightning, drenched streets, overflowing drainage ditches and mighty damns with their flood gates open. On a good morning I've been putting on my waterproof boots and my heavy duty poncho, wrapping my cameras in their rain covers and heading out to see what I can find in low water crossings, and at the places in Austin and surrounding towns where I know from experience that flooding happens. Like anything else shooting in the rain takes practice. It's kind of important to keep the water drops off the front element of your lens but at the same time it's important to get those angles that seem to be conducive to rain drop splatter. 

One of my big conundrums, when the rain is really slamming down is this: Do I take off the poncho before I jump into the car in order to keep water off the seats, but get my clothes wet in the process, or, do I keep the poncho on as I go from location to location and pray that someday it will be sunny enough to dry out the seat's upholstery before I start a commercial mushroom farm in my car? 

So far I've voted to keep the poncho on. It just saves time. And when I stop for lunch at decent restaurants I don't end up looking like a half-drowned river rat. 

The only things I really fear are drivers whose vehicles are out of control, skidding and aiming straight for me; and lightning. I don't think the poncho will stop a million volt lightning bolt and I'm pretty sure even a kevlar poncho won't stop a car hydroplaning its way into my personal space. I rarely worry about the cameras. The Sony advertising infers that the units I have been buying are "weather resistant" but I'm almost positive that they'll find a warranty workaround for just about any camera I might send them with wet stuff inside. I look at under $2,000 cameras as expendable if you are using them to make real money. If we lose one on the job I'm pretty sure that we'll have covered the cost somewhere in our bid or estimate. 

Last week my RX10mkiii got pretty wet on multiple occasions but seems to be working fine. I tried to always wipe off the water drops on the extended lens barrel before turning off the camera and I did put tape over the various doors. I even kept the flash shoe protector on. Those precautions, and a plastic cover that does a decent job covering the entire camera, exposing only the EVF window and the front of the lens, seemed pretty effective. The times I got water on the camera were when I got too anxious to shoot and ripped the cover off to get to the controls. 

Funny, I am used to shooting in vicious heat but have much less experience doing my work in the middle of rain storms. The last time I really worked for days in the snow was in February of 1995, in Pushkin, Russia; and I remember that as being very challenging as well. I guess you acclimate to your local environment. Interesting that mine is changing so quickly......

After seven days of shooting video interviews and weather related action it's interesting to stroll with one camera and lens and re-set your vision. And your pace.

I'm in no man's land. I've shot all the principal video footage for my client's project. I've ingested it into Final Cut Pro X and I've just come to a complete standstill. I've been waiting for an actual script for a couple of weeks. They finally kicked the ball back to me. I wrote a script this weekend but, of course, now we wait for approval. I hesitate to start editing and cutting without a game plan. Seems like a waste of time. There are "housekeeping" things I can take care of, sure. I'm sitting for hours at a time scrubbing through the interviews looking for great, short utterances and moments of verbal clarity. But at some point you have to stand up and take a break; do something different and softer. 

I've been revisiting some of the old classic photography books I have around the house in my moments of free time. There's little that beats curling up on the couch with my dog, a perfect cup of coffee and a book like Robert Frank's, "The Americans." I've also been browsing around and around in the huge, "Autobiography: Richard Avedon" volume. Some of his early black and white photography, done in the street, is equally captivating. Those books inspired me to put together a discrete and small street shooting camera and, after hauling around a big, fluid head tripod and boxes of lights and stands and microphones I was quite ready for a minimally oppressive camera experience today. 

My choice, and I think a good one for me, was to put an older, manual focus Olympus PenFT 38mm f1.8 lens on the Sony a6300 camera. The lens is small, light and, by all indications, very good. The pair is much less weighty than a Leica M6+50mm f2.0 and much more capable. I set the ISO to 400 to emulate the speed of the Tri-X I'd shot for years and years. I set the camera to shoot black and white and, after a few tests done around the house, I added two steps of contrast and one of sharpness in the profile sub-menu. 

The beauty of using a 38mm lens on a cropped frame, APS-C camera is that you get the angle of view every serious photographer should crave ( a little bit tighter than a traditional 50mm, but not by much) coupled with the increased depth of field the shorter focal length provides, in conjunction with the smaller sensor. The 50mm range is the chameleon range of focal lengths. Used wide open, and with the right subjects, and the lens emulates the look and feel of a short telephoto. Used at f8.0 or f11 and used to depict wider scenes, or scenes with depth, and this angle of view lens emulates the look and feel of a wider lens; but without all the gratuitous information on the sides of the frame most people live with. Few people are really good at composing with wide angles but many people absolutely believe that they are the exception.....

So, I drove downtown and took a walk. Weird thing, downtown felt almost deserted. Even though it was around lunch time street traffic was light and most of the restaurants were half full, or less. There were sprinklings of hipster tourists who looked as though they live in Des Moines but bought some interesting hats, square sunglasses and extra iPhones and headed down here for vacation. You can always tell them apart from the quasi-natives (I think we've run out most of the genuine natives: no stomach for the homogenizing change) because they think having lunch on the patio of the JW Marriott Hotel is kinda cool. They also stare too long at any young woman with visible tattoos. 

But back to my  point; no foot traffic, low attendance and a general downtown malaise. I presumed that everyone had left town on some secret, unannounced, mass vacation until I later headed back to my neighborhood in west Austin and waited in line for a table at my favorite restaurant.....perhaps the relentless hipster invasion has pushed the locals out of downtown and into the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Every time I write something about shooting with the camera set to black and white the compulsive among us wring their hands and chasten me for not "being safe" and putting the camera into the mode of shooting RAW+Jpeg. They reason that I could then "visualize" in black and white since the camera would show me the results of the Jpeg settings but, BUT I could subsequently take advantage of the RAW files to painstakingly and laboriously create perfect monochrome files in post processing
captivity. I guess it makes sense but with each shot my own brain would know that the hidden potential of the RAW files would be lurking around like an unwanted lifeguard, hellbent on making sure I never get to experience failure. I'm not sure that our readers; those disposed to wear the water wings of redundant files, truly understand the thrill of letting go of the pool wall in the deep end to see if all those swimming lessons have finally paid off. 

Everyone's brain is a bit different but mine always seems to know if I've cribbed the notes of success on the palm of my hand in an attempt to grab for more than my fair share of technically good photographs.... And my brain resents my cowardice in those situations. Covering your ass for a client is different. It's part of the deal. But wearing that life jacket while doing leisurely laps sure makes it hard to practice anything but floating in place...

So, I set the camera to shoot black and white, but the real throwback to earlier photographic practice was using the idea of hyperfocal distances and depth of field to essentially make the camera and lens system a true point and shoot. To wit, when the lens is set to f8.0 and focused to 3 meters you have a wide range of stuff in front and behind the point at which you have the focus set which is still in acceptably sharp focus. Looking at files with huge magnification changes our aim point for circles of confusion but it doesn't really need to. We could just stop punching in to obsessively check for detail at 100% because it has very little relationship to how we consume most photography. We look at it in its entirety, not in its molecular state. 

There was a joyous freedom in setting the camera this way and then just reacting to the things I saw as I walked. Sometimes there's nothing to photograph for blocks at a time and it's during these spells that I think about walking and seeing; and how interrelated they are for me. If I see something fun I switch on the camera, bring it to my eye  --- just to frame --- and then press the shutter button. Since the camera doesn't have to think about, or actuate, focusing the response of the shutter is nearly instantaneous. And really, it hardly matters if the finder is good or bad, because it's just a composing device in this method and not a fine focusing instrument. Once you start working with hyperfocal distance shooting, and using a fixed focal length, you could actually just find a Leitz 50mm bright line finder, put it into the hot shoe and ignore the camera's finder altogether...

In some ways I felt as though I had pulled a Leica out of the drawer. The camera is small enough not to be taken seriously by either the objects of my observation or even myself. Since we had pervasive and consistent cloud cover I could set a manual exposure that worked for pretty much everything except indoor shots. With everything locked down in this old school fashion very few brain electrons or neural impulses had to do with camera operation; I could spend my mental energy enjoying the walk and looking for the odd disparities that make a life in visual arts interesting. 

I have done very little post processing to the images here because I wanted to carry through the film conceit and only do what I would have done in the darkroom; a little burning, a little dodging and maybe a trial run with a different contrast of graded photographic paper. To my mind these images fell neatly into my memory of Ilfobrom grade three paper. 

One of the things that surprised me in a very pleasant way was the amazing resolution of this particular lens when used with the Sony 24 megapixel sensor. I'll admit that I did "pixel peep" on the leaves falling over the side of the old railroad bridge to the right in the photograph just below. Every leaf was crispy outlined in an almost crystalline fashion. Yet, taken as a whole, the photograph is not over sharpened or harsh. If you are looking for one great MF lens with which to take advantage of the  a6300's small profile and low weight you could do a lot worse than one of these. Sadly, its family has not be made for well over 40 years so it may take a bit of searching to find one that has not been abused or degraded by neglectful storage. I am always a bit amazed when I put one of these ancient lenses on a most modern and high resolution camera. They never seem to be a limiting factor for overall quality. Not by a long shot. 

This may be due to the different way I tend to use these lenses nowadays. I'm generally stopped down to between f4.0 and f8.0 to take advantage of the depth of field. Most modern (and by modern I mean from the 1960's onward) should be able to deliver good quality in these middle settings. I'm less certain that the 38mm Pen would win in a contest with the Sony 55mm 1.8 FE lens wide open but then the Pen lens has surprised me before. It will be an interesting test when I get around to performing it. Maybe all the pundits are wrong and we are in the age of optical product decline; our modern optics put to shame by their ancestors... Did I mention the svelte feel of the solid, metal focusing ring? The silky slide and click of the aperture ring? I didn't think so, but it's all there. 

The bridge on the left side of the frame (above) connects the west side of downtown to the central area of downtown, just off third street. The lack of through car traffic makes walking in this area very pleasant even though on every side twenty, thirty and forty story condominium towers are springing up. This combination of two bridges (the right hand one was once a railroad bridge but it is no longer used) and the pipeline have been here since I first moved to Austin to go to UT's Electrical Engineering school in 1974. I've never understood why they are still standing but I'm glad for some aspect of Austin's landscape that is, for now, unchanging. And it provides some good cover for the homeless who seem to live underneath.

The image just above is one of my favorites today. I love a few things about it. I enjoy the diagonal of the curtain on the rod at an angle to the metal frame that runs across the lower third. I like the almost luxurious folds in the cloth and the way them seem to trap the shadows and hold them in stasis. I enjoy looking at the gathers all along the  curtain rod because they remind me of all the curtains in all the houses of my friends while we were growing up. I'm amused that the storefront in which the curtains grace the lower part of the window is otherwise empty. I even like the horizontal, parallel lines that make run across the window and make the image seem like a copy shot from something already existing as flat art in some book about the 1950's. 

Now, having had lunch and a walk with a faux rangefinder camera and lens assemblage I am back to the multiple tasks of both transcoding video and wading through the time/linear contents to find little gems I can extract and string together to make a media necklace for my client's special day...

A re-posting of something I thought was important to say six years ago. Photography....