Every once in a while it's nice to take a day off and go to a museum. Surprisingly, I took a camera with me even though I had a phone in my pocket!!!

It's a been a non-stop month of still photography and video production. There's a certain amount of mental wear-and-tear that goes along with juggling a lot of things all at once. So, after a quick assignment downtown this morning, and a quick lunch, I invited Belinda to go over to the Blanton Museum with me to see the newly hung show of Peruvian photography. 

As is typical of the Blanton Museum, the show was set up nicely, the lighting was good and the curators did a nice job with their selection. There was a good sampling of really well done, black and white photojournalism balanced with some exquisite, large format, fine art landscapes and, a bit of experimental work tossed in for good measure. Parts of the permanent collection of modern paintings have changed; one of our favorite Ben Shahn paintings is gone but there's a nice Franz Kline that I hadn't seen before, just down from an Andy Warhol painting of Farah Fawcett. Eclectic, for sure. 

I took along a camera and a short zoom lens (24-70mm) but I had no serious intention of taking photos any more meaningful than snapshots for the proverbial, endless scrapbook. After our visit to the museum I came back into the real world when I checked my messages and saw the latest round of changes to our latest project. Why do CEOs seem to always wait to chime in after all the approval stages are done and the project is in the final phase? I should be used to it, after all, I have been doing this long enough to know the routine.

On a totally different and very happy note: the house next door; the one that took three painful and acrimonious years to complete, finally sold to a very nice family who just happen to be mutual friends of my friend, Ellen. Same politics, same basic philosophy and great taste in friends....

Finally, a happy ending to the endless construction stories....

How I screwed up yesterday without screwing up my whole project.

I got a call a few days ago about a video project. Could I come out and do a very short interview that would be inserted into a larger project? I've come to like shooting real interviews and I don't mind the quasi-interview process that is prefaced to the interview subject like this: "Hi Mr. Smith. We've got a thirty second gap that we're holding for you in our video. Can you touch on this (the "big" subject) and then say, quickly, how our company helped to solve the problem for your people?" I've come to see these little, episodic plug-ins as extremely valuable; especially when requested by the CEO who "owns" the budget for your overall project.

The brief was to shoot video of one person on location in another city and to come away with about thirty seconds of great messaging. We didn't need B-roll so I left Ben behind to tweak our ongoing edit, promising I wouldn't come back with anything that would run over 32 seconds. Something about  retiming all the audio. 

I'd scouted the intended location before and, since it was a sunny day, didn't think I would need lights; but I brought some anyway. While I had been shooting with the RX10 cameras I capriciously decided to mix things up a little bit. Make a few changes 95% of the way into a project....

I packed two cameras: The A7Rii and the most recently acquired A7ii.  My intention was to shoot with the A7Rii and just bring along the other camera for snapshots and back-up. I packed three lenses; the Zeiss 24-70mm, the Sony 18-105mm G lens and the Rokinon 85mm f1.5 cine lens, with an adapter.

The night before I sat at my desk and went through the A7Rii menu several times to make sure all the menu settings were on target and that I'd set up the function menu for video capture. My intention was to test out the 1080p output of the camera since the final output for the project would also be 1080p. We went into the project with the idea of shooting everything in 4K but a certain percentage of the material we ended up using was archival footage (fortunately only from a couple of years back) which was 1080p so we ended up putting everything on a 1080p timeline. Everything looked great and the camera was ready to go. I stuck it in the case along with the rest of the gear and packed the car.

The trip to Wimberley, Texas was really pleasant. Ranch to Market Route 12 is really pretty, with lots of rolling hills and fun, gentle "S" curves to glide through. I'd had the Honda CRV serviced the day before and the car just hummed along. The cherry on the ice cream was the almost total lack of other traffic. Almost like a holiday from the relentless Austin traffic...

I got to Wimberley (hippie, artist, trustfunder, escape destination for exhausted Austinites....) and found our location in the local community center. I found a room with a bank of windows on one side and no real visual or audio distractions and started setting up. I'd use the soft, indirect, window light as my main light and bounce an LED panel off the ceiling for some vague fill light.

At this point the client arrived and started talking to me in detail about the many facets of the overall project. I paid as much attention as I possibly could but in the back of my mind the countdown clock until the arrival of our talent was clicking away with urgency.

I pulled out a camera, formatted the 64 gigabyte SDXC card and slapped a microphone mixer/impedance matching device to the bottom. I attache a quick release plate to the bottom of the audio device and put the combination on the tripod. I've been wanting to try the 85mm Rokinon 1.5 (cine) lens on the A7R2 for some time so I put it on the camera.

My client stood in while I roughed in the composition for the shot. She also held a white test target so I could get a nice custom white balance (God, that makes the whole editing/grading process so much easier....). I loved the look of the shot so we marked the position for the subject on the floor with some orange tape. The last task before we got started was to set up the wireless microphone and get the levels set. During this whole process I am carrying on a somewhat technical and detail-laden conversation with my client. Lots of stuff to hammer out...

The subject walks in and we chat for a few minutes. I get the microphone position on his dress shirt and show him how to drop the cord inside his shirt and run the wire out the bottom (out of frame) and around to the radio transmitter I'm attaching to his belt. We discussed what the video project needed and what we needed him to say.

Just before we got rolling I went to change the shutter speed and the camera told me that I couldn't do that function in the current setting. The warning showed me that while we were in the movie mode the camera was set to movie/program exposure. Odd, I thought. I was almost certain I'd set that menu to manual weeks ago when I first got the A7Rii. No matter, I found the setting, changed it and then modified the shutter speed. The finder info told me we were shooting in XAVC at 50 mbs and 24 fps. I was happy and ready.

The comp of the shot and the quick fall off behind the subject was exactly what I was looking for. The interviewee was at ease in front of the camera and had a good, strong voice. I had him say the same thing a number of times and we even stopped and reviewed a couple of takes in the process. By the end of the fifteen or twenty minutes of "hands-on" engagement we all felt good about what we'd shot and I started packing up. The cameras got the lenses pulled off and put into their neoprene pouches. The cameras got their body covers and dropped into their protective cases. Everything went into the big, rolling Husky case and I headed back to the buzzing beehive of Austin. I was feeling professional; very satisfied with the work I'd just done and the ease with which we were able to coach the interviewee into giving us exactly what we needed.

I dragged the case into the studio and then went in to the house to find Ben. Since he is doing the primary editing for our project I thought he'd want to come into the studio and help choose the best take to include.

He came along and we headed to the workstation. I pulled the Sony A7Rii out of the case and pulled the memory card. I stuck it into the card reader and opened Final Cut Pro. On the desktop I popped open the folder in which the video clips should have been. There was nothing! It was blank. I went through every single folder on the card. Nothing. My panic started to well up. I'd have to call the client and re-shoot. Yikes. Ben suggested we put the card back in the camera and see if we could see the images on the review screen. No. Nothing. Another wave of panic.

Then I started entertaining the improbable. Was this the right camera? Had I somehow gotten the cameras mixed up? Me, the perfect technician making a technical mistake? Holy crap! I calmly asked Ben to hand me the other camera body. I pulled the card, stuck it in the card reader and....voila....there were all the precious little files. In my haste to set up in Wimberley I had grabbed the wrong camera. I'd just shot my first video on the A7ii in the middle of a real job. Something I always avoid, just in case.

My initial action was relief, followed by sheer embarrassment. What a huge fuck-up it is to choose the wrong camera. I must be loosing my marbles.

But then we looked at the cameras carefully and noticed that they are almost completely identical and, if I take off my glasses it's hard (almost impossible) for me to differential the little model insignias just to the left of the lens on the front of the camera.

Ben was gracious and acted like this was just something that happened to everyone. But I suspect he was thinking...."Ah, so this is how the inevitable decline begins......"

My two takeaways? The video from the A7ii looked great and it cuts in perfectly. I did my actual job correctly even if I did screw up in grabbing cameras. And? Bring bright orange tape. Put a swatch of it on the shooting camera to differentiate. I got lucky this time; what if I'd still been trying to shoot everything in 4K?


Interesting shifts across the landscape of photography (as opposed to landscape photography...). What's driving the whole industry now?

I probably think about photography too much. It comes from having been around it for so long and for taking such a deep dive into the field as both a hobbyist and a working commercial photographer. I have to say though, for the first time every, I'm feeling as though we've just gone through a monumental shift that more or less makes everything we know about the joy of photography largely irrelevant. Now, before you trot out the ole "bitter old loser" trope I have to quickly say that business is fine, we're making the mortgage, paying our taxing and still scraping together enough to pay for a private college education for our kid. In fact, in the context of this article I have to say that the change is relatively neutral for working photographers who are ready to diversify into tightly related fields; like video. We're still moving the boulder up the hill and the projects are mostly satisfying.

I'm writing more about the public, passionate, highly engaged and fun side of photography. What old timers would call, pure photography. After a decade that saw a massive plunge, by everyday people, into the hobby, the art and exhilaration of making photographs, I think the wave has finally washed up on the beach, seeped into the sand and evaporated. The phone-encumbered cameras have won and, in the process, have sucked the excitement out of the craft, replacing it with a sense of doing social media chores on a subconscious and vaguely peer driven checklist. The camera is no longer separate from the normal run of life but is part of the conversation  enormous numbers of people carry on every minute of every day. Just as once cars were novel, fresh and exciting but now they are just a way to get somewhere while traffic and costs have sucked the remaining joy out of driving --- for the most part.

This seems to be how it goes for most people now:

See a sign with hours of operation on it. Snap sign, send to Bob. Get paper check. Take photograph of paper check, send to bank. Buy lunch. Snap lunch. Eat lunch. See wreck. Snap wreck. Share wreck on Facebook. Go to bar. Stand next to dorky guy with bad hat. Snap selfie. Share on Instagram. Go on vacation. Snap selfie at airport, at hotel, at monument, at powder room, at convenience store, at Target, at Burger King, etc. Dutifully upload into the humble brag section of Facebook so friends can pretend to burst with happiness for your circumstances. Go to work. Snap photo of cubicle. Upload with snarky message to Snapchat. Hope that conversations really do disappear. 

The process of photography has become the same as driving a car, in rush hour, to your company's crowded parking lot and then circling for ten minutes to find a parking space. Photography has become the fast food lunch. We (collectively) no longer engage in the craft of it. We no longer linger over lovely images but quickly mine them for their fleeting social messages. 

In one sense this is all an egalitarian delight. We've effectively brought the potential for self expression and global sharing to billions. If we could shake off the nationalist filters of Google, Facebook, et al and really look into the global stream we'd be able to look into the superficial constructs of other cultures. And, sadly, we might find that they are also just snapping selfies at lunch and documentation of the actuality of their vacations. In fact, the desire to endlessly share may actually be a cognitive virus that years ago went pandemic and curses us to an endless wave of nearly mindless uniformity. 

It may be depressing but it's not like there is a viable alternative. We are subject to and surrendered to the tides of progress and "innovation;" both technical and social. This may be the new and current estimation of what photography is for a new generation of "practitioners." 

I would say that this helps traditional photographers get a new grasp on markets for their wares because they are still the ones with cameras, lights and intention but the cameras on phone get relentlessly better and all of the foundational work that used to constitute "jobs" is gone. Replaced by a serviceable snap from the V.P. of Operation's cell phone. 

The top tier of pros survive because they aren't selling a brew of technical experience; they are bundling skills with a point of view. A different vision. An amalgam of taste and style that can be elusive specifically because it is completely subjective and a product of one's life, existence, experience and understanding. We grow as artists or we die as dinosaurs. 

And that brings into focus the fact that this blog is outliving it's usefulness. The number of people who care about gear is in decline and, frankly, if you need to look up a specification or comparison, this blog is a terrible place at which to do so. 

My experiences in the realm of commercial photography and videography are leaking away relevance to the remaining photo-as-hobby culture members because the process of doing the business is highly removed now from just doing the hands-on work. It's always been true that less than 10% of our time is spent with a camera in hand and 90% of the time is spent marketing, networking, thinking, conjecturing, testing, and the general fodder of trying to keep out of the middle of the road. Out of the spaces where progress for the sake of progress casually runs on over our past,  making it flatter than an armadillo that's met the unrelenting tires of an 18 wheeler. 

I've watched other blog sites move from using affiliate links to make money to trying direct merchandizing to make money. It's all so boring and mercenary to me because so few people do it well and balance great content with the sales side of existence. I wanted to do the blog to build a sense of community and sharing but it's not working out that way as our idea (generationally) of what photography means to culture changes. Over the past few months the engagement seems to have been withdrawn. We can all sense the shift in our collective appreciation and joy in doing photography. We get that our friends and family don't really see a difference between what we do with our cameras and what they do with their phones. We've seen the same photo/meme repeated ad infinitum on Flickr, or Google+, or (bundled as a political message) on Facebook. The whole thing (taking, sharing, enjoying individual vision in photography) has moved on and we're a demographic resistant to embracing the change or abandoning our seminal learning in the craft. 

I can't blame readers for the lack of engagement. The decline of interest is woven into the social subconscious at this point. Sharing information about gear, separated from its intended use, is silly. It's meaningless. Of course you can use a better camera for video than an RX10iii but that was never my point in writing about that camera. Of course you can figure out how to crop square after the fact but post processing into squares was not my goal in writing about the availability of different aspect ratios in cameras. 

When I wrote about EVFs six years ago it wasn't to make the point that they were technically superior to other finders it was to mark and recognize a shift toward a technology that is wholesale transforming the camera as tool, right now. But most people just wanted to chime in and say how much they like looking through glass. 

I'm not sure what I'll do going forward with the blog. I like the platform when I can use it to start discussions and poke holes in mindless convention. I like sharing my experiences with gear as a metaphor for embracing technical change. I'll think about it as I drive around Texas this week. 

If you want to move from content guzzler to mindful collaborator you could take a few minutes out of your busy life to tell me what you think. Are we watching the Fall of the Roman Empire as it relates to photography? Will it be followed by the Dark Ages? Where does hope lie? Is the priesthood of photography part of the problem or ....... ? Can we ever learn how to use the Force again?

In the future will all images move? How can we share stuff in a more meaningful way than across the lousy laptop screens of the first world? Should we even give a fuck or just go watch Kai do another video about his bum and today's "exciting" camera?

I sure don't know the answers or I wouldn't be asking you! 


Picking up a Sony A7ii as a companion for the A7r2. Why? And how do I like it?

This is the first time in my career in which every camera in my inventory comes from one company. I've always had "main" systems and "side" systems. For example: Nikon full frame and micro four/thirds cameras. In the film days it was Hasselblad and Leica. But right now I'm three formats deep into the Sony world. And the sad thing about all this is that Sony has offered me no free cameras, no cash payments of any kind for writing about their cameras; heck, I can't even get a promotional mouse pad from them....(added for the delirious forum dwellers who are certain that anyone who is actually happy or satisfied with a product is on that company's dole....).

The "best" or most ultimate camera I have from Sony is their A7R2. It's very, very good. Focuses quickly, meters very well, does great white balance and.....42 megapixels! But one thing that is its strength is also a weakness in the hands of an overly prolific photographer, and that's the huge, 42 megapixel raw file. To be honest, while the huge file is impressively sharp and all dynamic-rangy it's also pain in the ass for shooting portraits. I want all the good stuff but I wish the camera would do the same smart camera trick that the Kodak SLR/n (the first full frame digital body on the market) could do over a decade ago; it was able to shoot three different raw file sizes. You could choose between 14, 6, or 3 megapixel file sizes and still get all the editing benefits of raw, but none of the storage headaches, and none of the processing pipeline clogs of today's all pumped up camera bodies. Firmware? Anybody?

I find myself defaulting to other cameras with smaller raw files, like the a6300 at 24 megapixels, or the RX10iii with 20 megapixels, when I head out to shoot anything but big client jobs (meaning client jobs that must have the potential to be used across media). And many of them would be well served with the full frame "look" but at a more modest 24.

The reason for most of us to use a full frame camera  hasn't got much to do with the pursuit of "ultimate resolution" it's more about getting the faster ramp in focusing ,which drives the background out of focus more quickly than smaller sensors used with lenses that have the same angle of view. Most of the time I'm happy shooting Jpegs with the A7R2 since it gives me nice files at the medium size setting of 18 megapixels. But, of course, we always want it all...

This past weekend I made a journey to the local bricks and mortar camera store to replace a lost lens cap. I forgot the lens cap but came home instead with a slightly used Sony A7ii. Kind of the middle of the road model for the current A7x series. On one hand you have the A7R2 which is the king of dynamic range and resolution and on the other hand you have the see in the dark A7S2 with its 12 megapixels. The A7ii is somewhere in the middle, about halfway between the two when it comes to the number of pixels. Not as high a resolution number as the S and nowhere near the sheer detail of the R. It's the essence of moderation, where the A7 system is involved.

I rationalize my purchase with the hoary excuse from the film days: redundant back-up. You need to carry a similar camera as a back-up on every assignment. My rationalization was a bit of a stretch as the a6300 that I own isn't far behind the middling A7ii, in terms of overall image quality (stills) while the a6300 is a faster focuser and has standout, 4K video files. But there is that out of focus background thing we all think we want and need. Another reason to buy the second full frame body is that, at $3200, I am loathe to drag the A7R2 around in the muck and mire to take fun, personal photos. It's become an important tool for work and I'd be upset if I took it out for a spin at a kid's swim meet and it accidentally got dropped into the deep end. A second (used) camera with 90% of the premiere camera's capabilities, but at 1/3 the price, was music to my ears. 

Now, with Ben sitting in the video editing chair today, I finally had some time to go for a stroll this afternoon and to take the new (used) camera for a spin. Here's what I think: Feels great to hold onto. All the buttons are where I expect them to be. I've set up the function menu to match all my other cameras so the learning curve with the new body is minimal. The image stabilization works well. I used it today with an ancient, 50mm f1.4 (pre-ai) Nikon lens, on a cheap adapter, and it was great. Makes me re-think my irrational desire to go out and buy the 50mm f2.0 Zeiss Loxia lens.

The only thing I'm bummed about (but knew it going in...) is that the A7ii doesn't have a silent shutter mode like the A7R2 and the a6300. If it did I would replace the a6300 in tonight's equipment line up for the dress rehearsal of Buyer and Cellar at Zach Theatre. I could put the 24-70mm on one body and the 70-200mm on the other body and be so happy. But for the ten or twelve shows a year that we shoot rehearsals with audiences in attendance I think I'll continue to manage with the mixed format. 

For regular commercial photography assignments the noisy shutter (not as bad as the original A7) isn't really an issue. My clients are keenly aware that they are being photographed. There are really no differences in the finders or the overall feel of the cameras when comparing the two A7x models. And there's really no difference in battery life either. 

The other area that is different is their video capability. The R is a beautiful 4K shooting camera but the 7-2 caps out at 1080p. But it's a nice 1080p and the menu features the range of picture profiles while the body also features a microphone input and headphone output. Those are great things. 

I am happy (though probably irrationally so) to have two nearly identical, full frame cameras to take out on assignments with me. I know that today's cameras are very reliable but being somewhat old school I always feel a bit naked when I go out with a mix of formats or, even creepier, no back-up at all. 

I think my purchase came at an advantageous time. The earthquake in Japan seems to have stabilized the market for camera gear and halted the downward slide of prices. With sensors in short supply for the near future I think the prices of used A7x cameras will bump up a bit while discounts for new product will be aggressively curtailed. 

All the cameras have their strengths and targeted uses. I'm happy that they share a universal menu interface and a universal function menu. It makes life easier when we switch gears to a different format. 

If I lived in a perfect world I'd buy a second A7R2. It really is a magnificent camera. But living in the real world means paying for college and stocking some cash away for the inevitable post election economic slide. And that means a great companion camera at 1/3 the price makes good sense. But that's just me. 


Studio Dog was clearly miffed at not being invited along to record narration on our latest video...

Caninus Emeritus. 

You could see the look of disappointment on her face as Ben and I left the Visual Science Lab compound, cleared outgoing security, and headed out on our assignment for the day. Sometimes we need to travel light. And Studio Dog needed to stay behind with the rest of the staff to sniff out shirking and possible mutiny...

The travel crew thought we'd just be recording audio but we packed to be prepared. Three cameras and a couple of light units, as well as light stands and other accoutrement. 

We hit our location an hour later and pulled our two cases filled with audio gear, into the front door of the company that had engaged us. After a quick scouting we found the quietest area in the entire building, ran out all the usual inhabitants and set up camp. 

Our primary recording rig for this voice-over narration was a Tascam DR-60ii, powered by an external, lithium battery pack and fed by an AKG, large diaphragm, model 2035 microphone; with spit screen. Our secondary (back-up?) rig was a Zoom H4n, fed by a Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun microphone anchored to a Gitzo boom pole.

My bright assistant and I brought along a number of big, fluffy backgrounds to muffle bright surfaces that might effect our audio quality. We also brought along five or six 4 foot by 4 foot foam tiles to break up any room resonances that might wreak havoc on our lower frequencies...

Ben prepped the room while I set up the gear. We were aiming to keep levels between minus 12 db and minus 3 db on our two recording units. The Tascam has a very useful feature: You can set one channel to record at whatever db level you set and set the second channel to record the same signal at 6 db lower. I think you can program in different values as well, but -6 db was perfect for me. In this way, if you have a spike past zero db in your primary channel you may be able to use the lower input channel instead. It's a bit like bracketing in regular photography. 

With the room and the gear prepped all that remained was to actually direct the reading of the script. Sometimes our narrator hit the exact read in the first take while at other times we did up to 17 takes to get exactly what we wanted from the script. 

During the process of getting takes and directing Ben was logging takes, noting issues and also starring the good takes with one star and the great takes with two stars. Every once in a while we had to stop taping to accommodate a chirping bird outside or a helicopter gliding noisily by but we figured that no recording environment, outside of a full blown studio, would be perfect. We got close with this one. 

I have reviewed the audio and haven't found any hiss, noise or distortions from overload or electronic failure. Since we were using external power for our Tascam unit I was able to use phantom power for the microphone and also keep the meter lights lit without worrying about low batteries. 

We got what we needed and a lot more. We got different intonations and different inflections. We even got a series of possible taglines to slide into the ending graphic treatment. We might not use them but we do have them. 

It's fun when everything goes according to plan. 

Why the cameras? Well, in a post recording meeting we decided to drop a still frame from the project but add video of a certain process. We were able to pull a camera out of the bag right then and go video record a wide, medium and close series of shots and load them into our program back in the studio. More stuff got done. It was fun. 

I'm both learning more each day and also making use of the knowledge gained from creative directing hundreds of radio commercials back in my advertising days. Remind me to polish some of those Addy awards.... But seriously, there's a lot of knowledge that both sticks and transcends technical advancement, and a lot of it is knowing how to help a narrator get his performance where you need it to be.  Not a technical skill. More importantly; a human skills. 

Sounds good? That's more than half the goal for a video project....


In your search for great full frame lenses just how weird and counter-intuitive can you get?

This is a full frame image with no post production or cropping. 

I picked up a used Sony A7ii today because it was too cheap to pass up. That's another story. I brought it home and gave it a good once over, was satisfied that everything worked as expected, and then proceeded to update the firmware from 1.20 to 3.30. That took a while... but it worked.

I may be the laziest photographer alive because after I upgraded the firmware I decided to shoot some quick shots and needed a lens for the camera. I could have stood up, walked across the room and grabbed one of the Sony/Zeiss beauties out of the cabinet drawer but instead I looked around on the top of the desk and found a totally inappropriate lens to try out. It was providence, since the lens already had a Sony E adapter on it. 

It was a lens made many, many years ago for a much different kind of system. In fact, it was made for system with a film size that was slightly less than half the area of a full frame sensor. Not even as big as an APS-C sensor. I was certain that the lens would have a very small circle of coverage and that anything I shot with the lens would have a center circle of image on the frame surrounded by a terrible and quite obvious vignette. But, of course, I was too lazy to get out of my chair and go off in search of something more optically appropriate. 

I clicked on the camera, adjusted the various settings and then pointed the camera and the misfit lens at general stuff in my studio and then clicked the shutter. Then I sat up a bit straighter in my chair as I reviewed what I had just shot. The image was sharp and as far as I could tell it covered the vast majority of the full 35mm frame with very little vignetting. Oh yes, the very corners of the frame showed vignetting but just the tiniest bit. I was stunned. Here was a forty something year old lens, designed for a manually focusing, half frame camera, and it was basically doing double duty as a full frame lens. 

This is a full frame image with no post production or cropping. 

The other thing that surprised me was how filmic and sharp the images created by the lens were. It was rendering banal images beautifully and, even close to wide open, whatever was in focus was sharp. Sharp in a (better?) different way than the Zeiss lenses I have been using. You know, the ones computed to cover full frame?

This is a full frame image with no post production or cropping. 

Since I saw so little vignetting in my interior shots I started wracking my brain to figure out what was going on here. Both of my initial shots were done near wide open which should have accentuated the vignetting. But, both of the initial shots were taken at distances of less than ten feet, and the closer you focus most lenses the more of a frame they tend to cover.  I decided to test the opposite extremes. How would the lens stand up to a shot at a small aperture like f11 while set at infinity? That should show me some clear vignetting. And yes, you can see it in the bottom left corner of the shot just above. 

But it's nothing dramatic. While not convincingly eradicable in the lens correction panel of PhotoShop it's also nearly invisible in the zone in which I typically work: portrait distance and nearly wide open.  A bonus is that shooting in an aspect ratio 16:9 or 1:1 shows no vignetting at all !!!  
In fact, hours later, it's the lens that's on the front of the new camera right now. 

Which one is it? One I have written about many times. It's the Olympus Pen F (half frame film camera) 60mm f1.5 lens. Smooth as silk in the focusing ring and some of the loveliest out of focus rendering I've seen in a normal focal length. 

It's not supposed to work this way, though. I'm supposed to have to spend big bucks on top glass for the full frame cameras. I don't want the more talented tier of photographers to look down on me for not have bespoke magic glass. It's bad enough that I don't personally own any Zeiss Otus products already....

But you know what? There seems to be a perverse charm in finding ways to use totally inappropriate, ancient lenses to do fun things on full frame, very modernistic cameras. Casual environmental portraits, here we come....

Narration is the name of my game on Monday. It's all about..."the Voice."

If you look at the typical videographer's set up on the web one of the first things you seem to always see is a microphone in a "zeppelin" at the end of a microphone boom arm; being held up by a guy with headphones on. Big headphones.

Judging from my friends who've been in the video production business for years and years, shooting for clients like Time Warner, Dell, Motorola, HBO, Purina, and many other big clients, the reality is that most production dialog is mic'd with neatly hidden, wireless, lavaliere microphones. And, these days a good amount of the programming and commercials you watch are probably being over-dubbed in post production.

But there is a widely encountered situation in film and video in which you will need the strong, clear voice of the Narrator to slide into your program and move it along. There's no law that says you can't record your narrator with a lav mic or a shotgun mic (in or out of a zeppelin...) but there might be a better way to go about it. You might consider a side address, large diaphragm, studio microphone like the one in the image above.

These generally feature very clean and clear voice reproduction with a very, very low noise base. Which means more dynamic range and less hiss.

The microphone I'll be using Monday is the AKG 2035 which it not a very expensive microphone but is very good at its narrow specialty. The larger diaphragm gives a very pleasing sound to voice with just a hint of more bass, probably induced by being able to use the device closer to the speaker and getting a proximity effect.  The round object to the right is a spit screen which actually subdues sibilants and puffs and other audible artifacts created when normal people talk.

Most of these microphones are condenser units that require phantom power to work. I'll be doing my recording with a Tascam DR-60ii recorder which is also not too expensive but has proven to have very quiet microphone pre-amplifiers and provide 24V or 48V phantom power to XLR microphones that need it.

Ben and I will probably be working with our talent in a small conference room at a client location. We'll prep the room by adding padded furniture, putting sound blankets on hard surfaces and putting up a three sided wall of noise abatement foam to help kill reflections bouncing back to the microphone from bare walls.

The talent already has our script and we'll all work together to make sure we read it in chunks. Several sentences at a time, in a way that makes sense for a script that is divided between a narrator and on location interview audio. If there is space between the narrator paragraphs well be able to work them into the final video edit more easily.

Ben will be taking note of the timing for each take and matching those times to reference times we used to create a "scratch narration" back in our own rough cut editing. We're going to be trying to match the real V.O. with our scratch version so words fall right on the images for effect.

I'm crazy for redundancy so we'll be recording simultaneously with a Sennheiser MK600 shotgun microphone running into a Zoom H4n. We'll sort out which system we like best when we really sit down and focus on comparing the two. One way or the other we'll have nice back-up because....you know.... Murphy's Law.

So many moving parts in video. It was actually much easier to be a carefree studio photographer in the film days. Back then we'd just pull ourselves a good Polaroid, bracket the crap out of some film and then hand over all responsibility to the lab. Now we're paying attention every step of the way.

Great for control freaks but a little intimidating for inveterate slackers....

Just a preview of our battle plan for Monday.  And another version of: Right tools for the job.

By Request: A very short description of how I use off camera flash with my mirrorless cameras. In particular, my "bridge" cameras.

Sony RX10iii with Cactus RF 60 flash and V6 trigger.

Maybe it's because I can be a control freak when it comes to lighting but I never really warmed up to TTL automatic flash exposure with flash. I like to set exact power settings because once I lock into a "look" or exposure I like I want the flash to put out exactly the same power, over and over again, until I move on to the next subject. Please don't assume that I don't understand the benefits of automation when it comes to flash, and even off camera flash, after all, I wrote a best selling book on the subject back in 2008 for Amherst Media. 

No, I want my light to be consistent from flash to flash and that's something you give up when you allow the camera to control the flash, based on TTL readings. Moving the camera so it sees a different part of the subject, or moving into the path of a reflection, will change the exposure. At best it means you won't be able to easily batch photos; you'll have to fine tune exposures that change. At worst it can mean that your ratio between existing light and flash light is all screwed up, as is the color balance, etc. 

So, in this very short blog post I am going to tell you how I typically work with off camera flash and mirrorless cameras like the RX10 series. 

First things first. There are no disadvantages to using a mirrorless camera set up with flash. In fact, there is one big advantage. Mirrorless cameras have two settings that allow you to view images before shooting in two different ways. You can see exactly what the camera will eventually give you based on your exposure settings. If the setting make the image too dark you will see a dark frame. If the settings make the image too bright you will see and overexposed frame. You get this effect when you have "setting effects on" in a Sony. That means the camera is overlaying all of your settings when it shows you the frame you are considering snapping. It's a wonderful way to work when not using flash because you have a much better chance of estimating exactly what you future image will look like once you've shot it. 

But traditionally an optical finder shows you the same basic scene through the finder no matter what you have set. You could have your shutter speed set for 30 seconds but you won't see overexposure when you look through the finder; just a pleasant image which your eye compensates for, making it look to you like real life. There's really no way, other than experience (or blind trust in the metering) to understand what the image will eventually look like.

Sounds stupid to pass up a good, accurate preview for a pretty image that lies but that's what all the defenders of last century's technology (the optical viewfinder) are doing when they rush to defend the non-preview of OVFs. There is one place where this system works as well as the EVF on a mirrorless camera and that is when using flash. Whether your ambient exposure settings are dark or light the OVF shows you a bright image most of the time. At least bright enough to focus on...

If you leave the mirrorless camera of your choice in the "setting effects on" setting you might get a really dark finder or a really bright finder depending on the conditions created by your exposure settings. The camera shows you what you WILL get and not an image disconnected from the holistic process. It's not an optimal way to shoot flash because you'll need enough brightness on the EVF to compose the subject. 

Easy-peasy. If you turn off the "setting effects on" feature you'll get the electronic mimic of the old optical viewfinder. The camera will create a balanced, automatic exposure level that makes your viewing less accurate but more practical for flash. 

Just for example. If you are in a dimly lit room,  shooting at ISO 100 and want f5.6 as a starting point for your flash exposure and you would like to set a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second to freeze any subject movement, those settings (with "setting effects on") will give you a very, very dark finder... nearly black. Hard to work and hard to compose upon. If you switch the "setting effects off" you get a bright, even and automatically compensating (for overall exposure) view. 

Onward. I like to use manual settings with my flashes. So I get a meter reading for the ambient light I'd like to have as part of my exposure mix and set the camera there. Then I experiment with various flash levels (in manual) until I get the balance between ambient and flash that seems correct to me. 
If nothing changes I can move the camera all around without changing anything about my principal exposure.

On the Sony RX series cameras (and on my other cameras as well) I use a flash trigger in the hot shoe and a radio trigger controlled flash on a light stand to get the light I want. Right now I am using Cactus V6 radio triggers with Cactus RF60 flashes. They are totally manual and totally reliable. They trigger whether I am in close proximity or across a big space. They also trigger without failure in soft boxes and other modifiers. The Cactus combination allows me to use up to four groups of lights and also allows me to control the flashes, in thirds of a stop, from minimum to maximum power, from the camera position, using two buttons on the shoe mounted flash trigger. 

Usually, when I am using off camera flashes I'll be using more than one flash and it's typically when I am doing a location portrait or a small group of people. 

With decades of experience I am usually able to guess the approximate exposure but, like everyone else, I take test shots to narrow down the slop and get to exposures that are just right. I could do the same thing with a meter but it's quicker and easier just to chimp it until I hit it.

The advantage in using the RX10 series cameras with flash lies in their ability to sync all the way up beyond 1/1000th of a second with no major trickery or machinery involved. Just set the power and the shutter speed where you want it and, voila, trouble free exterior fill flash at your fingertips.

A lot of the time though I am working with mono lights in the studio or on location. In these situations I use a generic flash trigger from Wein that, when triggered, sends out a pulse of infra-red light which triggers the internal slave eyes on all my flashes. It's a small trigger that also fits in the hot shoe and requires little, if any, technical skill. No channels to set, no groups to corral. Just a pulse of intra-red and the musical sound of big lights quickly recycling. 

By doing everything in manual I never get burned by not paying attention to something the cameras are doing without my permission. 

Wanna do flash just like we did in 1999? Or 2010? Or 2015? Put a flash or a trigger in the hot shoe of your mirrorless camera, set the manual power level where you think it should be and then test to taste. Just remember to turn your controls to: "setting effect off" for flash.  

That's it.