6.18.2016

A few strategies for a walk through the heat in downtown Austin. With a camera.

the bar scene on Austin's Sixth Street is widely known to be a class act. 

We had a cool, wet Spring. The first part of June followed along for the ride; but last week we headed back to typical, mid-Summer, Texas weather with heat indexes heading past 107 degrees and an intense sun unfiltered by any clouds. Hot. Sweaty, grimy, oppressively hot.

We're getting the edge of a monster heat wave that's ripping through California and our adjoining states in the Southwest. You've got to have sympathy for the folks in Palm Springs where the temperature is predicted to hit 118 on Sunday and 121 on Monday. Yikes! 

But you can't spend the Summer hiding in your house with the curtains drawn and the air conditioner panting. So even on the zany days I like to grab a camera and go for a walk. I know downtown is a heat sink, what with all the asphalt and heat transferring, reflective buildings but that's where all the stuff is. Like today's 2nd St. Music Festival. And Voodoo Donuts. 

It's Saturday so I hit the pool for swim practice at 8:30. When we finished at 10 the usual crew headed to the local coffee shop to catch up. I made it home in time for lunch. The family consensus was BBQ. Ben's been up in New York all Spring and there's little stuff you can really call good BBQ outside of Texas. Tennessee BBQ? (chuckle) that's just smoked meat with sweet sauce poured over the top... I have no idea what transplanted Austinites do when they find themselves in upstate N.Y. with a serious hankering for perfectly done brisket or ribs.... I guess they just suffer until they can get back and get in line at Franklin's, or Pokejo's. 

At any rate, the afternoon was going by quick so I grabbed a small camera and got ready. Walking sandals? Check. Sunscreen on face and arms? Check. Long sleeve technical fabric shirt with an SPF of 50? Check. Khaki shorts? Check. Decent hat? Check. Non-polarized sunglasses? (All the better to see screens with...) Check. Seemed pretty thorough but on days with UV at 10+ on a scale of 0-10 I was looking for just a little more protection. 

A couple of years ago I bought a UV umbrella from Whole Earth Provision Company. It's a small, collapsible umbrella with a reflective, silvered fabric on the side that faces the sun and black fabric on the side that faces Kirk. It's a perfect piece of portable shade, and since big swaths of my usual route are in direct sun I decided to bring it along. It's really kind of cool (literally and figuratively) to be able to bring your own shade with you...

I stuck a clip on my belt so the umbrella could hang out while I was shooting. And away we go. 

I parked my car in the usual, shaded spot and started walking downtown with my Sony a6300 and its 50mm f1.8 SEL lens (the APS-C version, not the new product disaster version...). I was about 20 minutes into the walk when I pulled the camera up to my eye to shoot yet another boring shot of the skyline with cranes when I noticed the distinctive visual pattern of a dust spot, dead center in the frame. And if it's big enough to see in the finder it's got to be a whopper.

I clicked the shutter and examined the image in review. Yep. A big hunk of dust hanging out right in the middle. I found the shutter cleaning feature in the menu and tried it several times. No luck. No happiness. I sighed. It was too late to turn back. I cruised on with the knowledge of my compromised camera weighing on my mind. 

The halfway point on my walk is the (nicely air conditioned and open to the public) Austin Convention Center. I ducked in, grabbed a drink of cool water from one of the water fountains and found a comfortable chair, and then I put on the reading glasses, popped off the lens and took a look at the sensor. Yep. There it was, a white piece of dust big enough to be seen by the almost naked eye. 

Against all logic and good sense I tried to blow it off with a puff of breath. Fortunately, the heat had dried me out so no spit flew onto my sensor. I came to my senses, put the lens back on and decided that the afternoon's take of photos would create a good opportunity to practice my retouching skills later on....

I left the convention center and wended my way down Sixth St., past the sleazy bars and the homeless panhandlers, past the Oxfam volunteers and Save the Children volunteers with their bright tee shirts and their clipboards with petitions and pledge cards. I stopped from time to time to document some of the better logos and signs on display --- like the one for the Dirty Dog Bar and the one just below, for the Velveeta Room (just love the microphones around the top half of the sign). 

And, of course, I am endlessly fascinated with the mystery of tattoos. I can't buy a shirt I'll like for more than a season or two, how do people think they'll want to keep tattoos all their lives?

Eventually I made it back to the car,  after stopping by Book People to get the latest copy of Photo District News. All in all, a pleasant way to spend a quiet Saturday afternoon. 

When I got back home Studio Dog gave me the look that said, "Where the heck have you been and why didn't I get to go?" She makes me laugh. She hates the heat. We would have gotten about three blocks before she would have plunked down and refuse to go any further. But I guess that's never the point...

The dust spot came off with the first puff of compressed air. All good now.





Hmmmm. No recent Austin music festival seems complete without the appearance of underwear models. I'm not sure of the connection but it's nice to see that not everyone in the city is getting fat....


Every once in a while I make it by Esther's Follies to see if Kerry Awn has painted new murals. 

See Austin! And then please go back home...

I always wonder what they really mean when people tell me their cameras are "obsolete."

A Spread from the Kipp School Annual Report. Designed by Gretchen H. 

We are a culture of obsessive, serial upgraders. We're always looking for the "best" solution to imaging projects; as though the camera was responsible for creative decisions or building rapport with a subject. I get it when people upgrade because a feature like video might open up a new business opportunity. After shooting my first commercial project in 4K video I now get why someone might upgrade to take advantage of new video technology. But, looking around at the visual landscape, I'm not sure that upgrading still cameras is a very effective tactic. 

The longer the "digital revolution" drags on the more I am convinced that "heretics" like Ken Rockwell had it mostly correct when he preached that 6 megapixels was as much resolution as most photographers would ever need.  Or when he wrote a long piece about sharpness being an overrated parameter when judging the success or failure of an image. We've all moved on from 6 megapixels to 16 or 24 or even 50 megapixels but there is hardly any indication that the final quality of most advertising or editorial imaging is even marginally improved, in any sense, over what the previous generations of cameras provided us. 

More and more I hear from people who think their cameras have become "obsolete" because the company who made their camera has come out with an updated model. Many times the update has very little to do with image quality and is introduced as "new and improved" based solely on newer features or the fine-tuning of features none of us asked for in the first place.

While we've eventually found some uses for things like wi-fi, GPS, panoramic modes, super high frame rates, in camera HDR and more, most of these things have absolutely nothing to do with making images of higher overall visual quality and everything to do with slaking the mass market's camera attention/boredom disorder. People would rather master the working methodology of a new "feature," and find some sort of seemingly practical use for their newly mastered feature than actually practice the discipline of concentrating on the visual projects they previously professed to love or enjoy. 

It seems they are more interested, for example, in mastering GPS and being able to show people exactly where, on a map, they took a photograph than in taking the time and effort to actually make the photograph interesting enough that people would enjoy looking at it. Does it matter where in the world an image was taken if the lure of using new technology side-tracked the user to the extent that the example image failed miserably? And I am sorry but nearly everyone I know who is busy geo-tagging their images is profoundly....boring.

Does having HDR in a camera create a subconscious desire to stop looking at the subject matter you used to like in preference for new type of subject matter that might better show off the technical proficiency of the HDR feature you are attempting to master?

Is the compulsive use of super high frame rates really producing more "perfect moments" or is it just instrumental in building a library of almost identical images, the bulk of which are boring garbage but are good at showing off the speed at which you can operate the shutter?

I think about these things as I hear from friends, and even readers of the blog and then I open the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet closest to the door of the studio and rummage through the samples from years (and decades) past and try to see if I can actually see a difference in the final products of the cameras I use today when compared to past generations. 

The image above is a good example. It was taken with what most of us would now think of as a primitive camera. The camera was the quirky but lovely Sony R1. It boasted a 10 megapixel sensor, a slightly smaller than APS-C sensor and a two frame raw buffer. The lens was great but the AF was slow and kludgy by today's standards. The EVF was small and of a low resolution, and the camera lacked any video capability. 

But when it came out the R1 was viewed as a fine and very workable picture taking machine. In fact, because of, or in spite of its limitations I worked hard to deliver well lit and well seen image constructs to its sensor. The image in the brochure above is a tight crop of a much wider frame. The overall design project won Addy Awards for the design and photography, and it still shows well today in my portfolio. I can't think of a single "improvement" in my current cameras that would have made the images we created for the brochure any bit better. Even 11 years ago the technology already existed to make photographs whose technical qualities generally exceeded the talent of most practitioners. 

The one thing that makes me believe that this "obsolete-ism" is a false crutch is the fact that every time someone asks an audience to envision their "ultimate" digital camera the vast majority of audiences always come up with the same basic requests:  All I need are XX megapixels (whatever the current average is). I'd love a camera with no extra junk on it that I never use. I'd love a camera without video. I want the controls to be very simple and straightforward. I don't need or want any of the silly filter modes or picture modes; like sport, or lunch or baby mode. The menu should be drop dead simple and not cluttered up with too many choices. 

I think what I hear when people say, "My camera is obsolete, I need to upgrade to...." is really, "I am too lazy to go out and work to get good shots. I am too lazy to perfect my technique. It's a hell of a lot more fun to just play with new cameras. Maybe this year's camera will have an auto-pro mode that will make my photographs more interesting." 

I'm not pointing a finger at anyone else. I'm guilty of exactly the same thing.  

6.17.2016

Why I put on a suit and nice shoes and drove an hour to a rehearsal for a corporate show I was not hired to work at.

Always bring an extra paddle.

I worked on a video project this month. At every step, from script submission, to rough cut, to final cut, the project was thoroughly inspected and approved by a hierarchy of responsible people; including the CEO. The video will play tomorrow at the company's annual meeting. I delivered the video program to the client via an FTP delivery earlier in the week. I sent the same file to the A/V company that would be in charge of technically producing the show. A day later I got in my car and drove over to the A/V company to deliver a memory stick with six different file types of the same program to make sure they had back-ups and options. Thumbs up everywhere.

But even though I had "covered my bases" I asked if I could come out this morning to the rehearsal.
I put two extra memory sticks with the video program on them into the pocket of my khaki suit coat, gave my shoes a cursory re-plolish, had a last sip of Illy coffee and headed out to the little town, thirty miles away, where the show is being held.

When I got to the auditorium I found the person I had worked with on a daily basis for the project and handed her a memory stick. I did the same for the person she reports to. "Just a bit of insurance." I told them as I handed the Lexar memory sticks off.

We chatted and then the A/V company started going through the "run of show" and I watched the video I'd worked on spread across a 24 foot wide screen in the middle of the stage. I paid careful attention to every second. I listened as carefully as I knew how. The projection was perfect. Detailed and crispy. The audio was perfectly EQ'd through the house P.A.

I shook hands with the CEO (the only other person on the premises with a suit and tie) and we said nice things to each other in passing. Then I got in my car and headed back home.

Now I'll be able to get a good night's sleep knowing that the project will be presented correctly and that my clients would indeed get the value they paid for. Call it one more step in a quality control routine....

I got back to Austin and changed into take the day off clothes. Shorts and an old, weathered shirt. Tattered sandals. I warmed up a couple slices of the pizza we had last night for dinner and sat down to work on correcting some auto-correct "artifacts" in yesterday's blog post.

I felt calm knowing I had done everything in my control to make the client's video presentation during their annual meeting as good as I could. And that's a part of the job most people never get around to writing about. But I think it's critical, if you want the next project...

6.16.2016

My review of the Sony RX10iii solely as a video production camera. What works? What doesn't.

Sunday afternoon coffee at grandmother's house.

I know you've probably read a few RX10iii reviews from videographers around the web and they may have been lukewarm about their (short) experiences with the camera as a motion shooting tool but I have a different perspective. I have just used the RX10iii as a primary camera for a video project that we've been working on, in spurts, for over a month. Many days we put miles on the car and hours on the camera; going from one town to another in central Texas; shooting interview footage. 

Ben and I have recorded in driving rain, in ghastly heat and  humidity, under all kinds of lighting conditions, and in plain ole sunlight. We logged about three hours of 4K video and at least another hour of 1080p footage. We've scrolled through said footage for about 60 hours in order to log it, select it, use it, edit it and color correct it. We've given the camera's output a good, hard look. And, for the most part, I like what I've seen. So let me take some time to break it down. 

I've been watching the "one inch" camera space, and video camera space, for several years now having owned and extensively used all three of Sony's one inch RX10x  cameras. It has not escaped my notice that Sony also uses the same basic sensor technology in the PXW line of prosumer video camera like the x-70 and x-150. These video cameras are designed in the traditional video camera shape and structure and have some niceties that would be welcome on anyone's video productions. The two biggest features I wish I could transplant to the RX cameras would be: the ability to plug XLR microphones directly into the camera, without having to use an interface unit or having to buy the Sony pre-amp, connector contraption; and being able to select and use the 10 bit, 4:2:2 codec available in those cameras (in 1080p). 

Given that the RX10iii has the latest and most advanced version of the 20 megapixel BSI sensor it makes sense that the information coming off the sensor is equivalent between this camera and the latest dedicated, one inch, video cameras and so the difference in final output is mostly down to the processing. I waffled a bit before I started the project I alluded to above. I toyed with the idea of buying one of the dedicated video cameras but in the end I tested and tested the cameras I had at hand and did not find them wanting. My main method of shooting involved putting the camera into the 4K mode and shooting with a flat (but not as flat as an S-Log file) video picture profile. I mostly used #4 in the Sony picture profiles provided. 

When we brought the footage into Final Cut Pro X we transcoded the XAVCs 4K files to ProRes 422 and edited on a 1080p timeline. The downsampling of the 4K to 1080p yielded very, very good results. Noise was low and detail was head and shoulders above almost any 1080p camera files I have seen so far. I was also a little nervous about how well the RX10iii would handle higher ISO settings in video but I was able to go to 800 ISO without noticeable noise, and at those settings there was no diminishing of detail, contrast or saturation when viewing the files after conversion to the editing file type. With those considerations behind me I moved forward with confidence in the technical aspects of the cameras; what remained to be seen was the handling and operational complexity of working with a camera that attempts to straddle two worlds --- video and still imaging. 

I used the camera in two basic ways. I either put it on a big, Manfrotto video tripod with a stout fluid head, or I used it with a shoulder mount that went a long way toward physically stabilizing the camera. With the shoulder mount there was little-to-no low level, hand-induced jitter to mess up the shots. While I'm not stable enough to keep the camera rigidly in one spot for thirty seconds or a minute I was certainly able to hold the camera steady enough for 10 to 15 second insert shots, and general B-roll. When we shot B-roll with people, in interview situations, we were generally using the RX10ii, also on a good tripod system.

When I used the shoulder rig I also took advantage of the camera's very, very good image stabilization. In 1080p mode the camera can take advantage of the five axis technology that they've obviously bought from Olympus. When combined with the shoulder mount the camera, across the focal lengths, was smooth as baby oil on glass. All motion was well damped. In fact, I shot a number of sequences of flood waters from an observation point that required me to use the long, 600mm, end of the lens quite a bit. Even at 600mm the footage is sharp and steady. It gets even better if I exhale while shooting....

Holding the camera in one's hands and using it without a tripod or a shoulder mount the camera becomes no better or worse (stability) than what I experienced last year shooting a restaurant video with a brace of Olympus EM5-2 cameras.  At any rate it is profoundly better at stabilizing images in video then anything I've used from Nikon. I think part of the performance of the camera's stabilization has to do with advantages conferred by the size of the sensor. A smaller sensor requires less movement to stabilize and has appreciably less mass to continually stop, start and control. While the O.S.S is good on the A7r2 body it doesn't hold a candle to the full, active O.S.S. on the RX10 series. (Full active only on 1080p. 3 Axis on 4K).

When I use the shoulder mount I am pulling the rig into my shoulder while shooting, holding the grip in my right hand and using my left hand under the camera and rig as a further point of stabilization. Just holding a naked camera up to my eye seems to be less effective --- by a long shot.

Much has been written about how poor the menu structure in the camera is, that's why I have nearly every video control I typically use set up on the function menu which comes up with the touch of one button. On mine I generally have: The microphone level control. The steady shot menu. The focus area.  The ISO. Face detection on/off. The White Balance menu. Focus Peaking controls. Zebras Control. Picture Profile menu. And, Exposure compensation. There's one intentionally left for still imaging; its's the drive mode...for those times when I want to switch to a self-timer.

Given that the menu structure is the same as that in the other five Sony cameras I use I've gotten used to the locations in the menu for stuff I use all the time but can't set on the function menu. Things like formatting, file types, file sizes, aspect ratio, and creative styles. (creative styles and aspect ratio can be selected but only by sacrificing one of the other six functions I've already chosen...).

So, how do I shoot with the camera when making video? I always start with a cleanly formatted card. Even though I find the camera's automatic white balance to be accurate 95% of the time I either set a preset WB (like "daylight" if I am shooting outdoors in the sun, or "cloudy" if I am shooting in overcast) or a custom white balance. I do this so the white balance or color balance of the frame will not shift or change if I pan across a scene or move the camera so that it sees a large field of one color or another. Lately, when using mixed lighting I am always making a quick custom white balance from a Lastolite White Balance target just before I start shooting.

Before you shoot you'll have to select your "file type" and also the size/data rate. If I set my camera to XAVCs 4K I'll need to go to the menu just below that and choose from 4 different settings: 30p at 100 M, 30p at 60M, 24p at 100M or 24p at 60M. The M refers to mbs. I generally shoot fun stuff for me at 24p @100M and client stuff at 30p@100M. Interestingly, while the XAVCs codec was problematic to edit in the past it can be used directly in the Final Cut Pro X now, without transcoding. Even in 4K.

In most situations where I shoot for clients I start with 4K and then downsample in editing to the more standard, and almost universal, 1080p size. This gives me great image quality and, if I want to do severe cropping or "Ken Burns pan and scan" stuff I can have the editing program refer to the full sized content to use so there is no quality loss.

There is one other size and file type setting that I'm getting good use from when shooting fast motion and I want to have the option to slow down the speed in post; that's the 120p @100M setting. If I am working on a 30 fps timeline I can slow the 120p footage down by up to a factor of 4 to create a very impactful (and smooth) slow motion effect. Unlike the higher frame rates available this one works in 1080p and can run for a full (almost) thirty minutes. If you place 120p footage on a 30p timeline but do not slow it down what you really get is incredibly smooth image quality. Also, since you are shooting at a higher shutter speed (1/250th), pulling 2 megapixel still frames that are convincingly sharp is less hit-and-miss.

Once we've got the settings taken care of we can start setting up to shoot. If I am working under bright sunlight I generally don't want to stop down past f8.0, and there is no built in neutral density filter, so I use a variable neutral density filter over the lens. I work with the lowest ISO available in the video mode (100), set the aperture I want, as well as the shutter speed that matches my fps setting 1/50th or 1/60th --- in most cases) and then dial in the amount of ND that matches everything up.

While I can use the live histogram to help me zero in on the correct exposure I find the use of the zebras to be quicker and more efficient. If I am shooting outside I set my zebras to come on when the highlights hit 100%. I look for the lightest tone in my shot (usually puffy white clouds in blue sky) and I rotate the VND until the zebras just start to appear in the bright spots of the clouds.

If we're not including sky I'm happy if someone in the scene is wearing white because I can use that for zebras. If wardrobe isn't cooperating I pull out the Lastolite WB target, flip it to the white side and then use that in the scene to find the 100% (255) mark. I can always err on the side of being just a little dark but once you crest the 100% mark with your white tones they are lost to you. Using the zebras a nice safety feature.

After I've gotten the scene comped, balanced and well exposed the last thing I need to do before I start shooting is to focus the camera. Now, in bright light (above about EV6) the camera does a great job of autofocusing, but there are a few things you should know. First of all, the options for AF are narrowed down to just two: Continuous AF and Manual. There is no locked in S-AF. Many people who are used to locking in their focus in S-AF with the halfway hold of the shutter button will be disappointed when they get bit by this because in video it's going to be C-AF  regardless of where the focus control knob is set or you can use manual focus. By that I mean you can have the camera set at "S" on the front control but the camera will ignore that command and default to C-AF. You have been warned. If you set it to "manual" then you get manual focus.

Sometimes I'll let the camera focus a wide scene in C-af but the bane of that is you never know, especially with a moving subject or a moving camera, when the C-af will decide to hunt. I might start the focusing process by letting the camera find the subject in AF then lock the focus and switch to MF for the actual shooting. That works quickly and well for the most part but many scenes will require you to manual focus. Many, many scenes.

So, you have a long lens that's not particularly fast, given the sensor footprint. That makes it really hard to just look at the screen and fine focus. Objects don't just pop in and out of focus as they do on large format cameras when using very fast lenses wide open.  Even the focus peaking is too optimistic for critical use. The only way to go is to use focus magnification. But in video you are limited to a limited resolution when in the video setting. In video the biggest magnification available is 5.8X. Might be enough for young and agile eyes, or wide angle work, but for perfect focusing with longer focal lengths, wide open, you might want more. Sometimes I'll head back to the still photography mode settings, hit the magnifier in that mode, selecting 11X or more, get the focus nicely grooved in using the manual setting and then switch back to video mode. The frame size may change slightly but the focus doesn't seem to change as long as I don't re-zoom or hit the focusing ring. It takes a bit longer but at least you'll know you've got the sucker as sharply rendered as it's going to get.


Now we're ready to shoot. One thought about fine tuning image quality... a big VND on the front of the lens means you probably aren't going to be able to use the supplied shade while shooting but all that exposed glass just seems to attract flare the way first graders attract colds. There are two things you need to do. If you are shooting wide angles you've got to keep the front surface of the filter stringently clean. At wide angles there is actually enough depth of field at certain apertures to show dirt on the lens! I carry liquid lens cleaner and a cleaning cloth with me in the bag. I end up using it a  lot. But also you'll find that a dirty filter, or a filter prone to flare, needs to have the right kind of shade or flag to subdue the nastiness that is non-image forming light. In 2013 I bought a lens flag that uses a velcro strap to attach it to a lens. The rectangular flag can be positioned anywhere around the lens to block flare inducing light. The panel can also be bent (armature wire inside) to hold a shape or position.  I never used the device until I started shooting video with the RX10iii and now I use the blocker all the time. Kills flare. Makes pictures crisp, contrasty and more saturated --- especially in conjunction with the variable neutral density filter.
An inexpensive Zomei VND. I bought a 77mm that I use with a 72-77mm step up ring.

The lens is wonderfully sharp from wide open until diffraction becomes noticeable (which is also dependent on the focal length setting). You can get away with smaller apertures at longer focal lengths. At the wide end I shoot between wide open and f4.0.   Some people have bitched and moaned about the fact that this incredibly sharp and well corrected lens gets slower as it gets longer. While many of us set a focal length for a shot and resist "tromboning" the zoom control for some it's a necessity to be able to change the framing while shooting and there is a simple solution to maintain the exposure equally across a zoom from 24-600mm. Just set the aperture to the maximum minimum aperture. If it is f4.0 at 600mm start by setting the aperture at f4.0. It will not change as the lens zooms. That seems pretty logical but I guess some people want it all; the ability to go from 24mm to 600mm at f2.4 with no change. Sorry, they don't make that lens yet.

While some of the other Sony cameras I use (a6300) have noticeable rolling shutter with fast moving subjects or fast pans the RX10iii seems pretty immune to the effect. I do not fear following moving cars or moving the camera. (rolling shutter shows up as distortions of the image; or "jello" cam).

If you get all the ducks in a row, and you are using the picture profile or creative setting that gives you the tones you want, then you've got the visual end of the camera down. If you've done it right you'll get footage/content that's as good as any 4K camera on the market under $2,000, and maybe a lot better than a few that are well over $2,000...

And you'll be able to do this for thirty minute "bursts" without having to stop. So far, the hottest day we shot on this month, outdoors, was about 95 with 85% humidity. It was uncomfortable for humans but, as long as I kept the camera flagged from direct sun exposure (a practice consistent all the way up the moving making food chain) the camera never experienced an alarm or a shutdown for heat. In fact, even when used in full sun I never saw a heat warning. Sony has certainly done some good engineering here compared to 4K use in the a6300 camera.

The Achille's heel for some shooters is battery life. I see where the are coming from. I understand their pain. But it's not something that bothers me much, if at all. I've never had a battery last for less time than a full 30 minute take. I carry a box of generic batteries (Wasabi Power, etc.) with me on every paying shoot. I check the battery level before we start shooting. If the interview will be a long one I'll change the battery before we get going. If we're in the studio with the camera connected to a monitor via HDMI and the camera's "energy saver" duration set to infinity (never shuts off) I can connect one of those USB Lithium battery packs to the USB connector on the camera and have ten times the reserve I would have in a fresh camera battery. One big, 10,000 maH battery will last for days and days. I sometimes wish for bigger batteries, mostly when I am walking around and don't want to carry anything more in my pockets than a $10 bill for coffee, but then I find myself being perfectly happy with the overall size of the camera and not anxious for it to grow bigger. You just can't have it both ways.

Someone will take me to task for not mentioning the fact that the aperture ring can be "unclicked" so that it becomes a noiseless operation to change f-stops but frankly, I've never had the use for it yet. We're pretty locked down when we're lit, on a tripod and shooting an interview. If we needed to change the aperture to compensate for changing light outdoors I think it would be easier and probably just as effective to set the camera of Auto-ISO instead. That way we could have automatic compensation for light level changes but keep the f-stop set for the depth of field we wanted in the first place.

Most of the time I don't want to change aperture but might want to fine tune the exposure and I'll set the camera to Auto-ISO and just use the exposure compensation for fine tuning. Not the clickity manual EV control on the top of the camera (I am convinced that is for stills...) but the menu driven exposure compensation (which you will notice is one of my presets on the function menu) because it changes the compensation noiselessly so I can effect the change while shooting. Nicely flexible camera, yes?

Let's move on to audio, shall we? The major benefit of a conventional, professional or prosumer video camera is having balanced XLR connectors for two microphones built into the camera body (or handle). Grab the XLR cables, pop them into the connectors with microphones on the other end and you are ready to set your levels and get after it. But the RX10iii, with it's need to stay relatively small and to do double duty as both a still and a video camera compromises by leaving off the professional audio connectors. This, however, doesn't mean it's a crippled audio tool like older generations of DSLRs with their bad audio circuits and auto level controls. No, it turns out that the RX10iii has very good preamplifiers but they sit just inboard of a small and more fragile 3.5mm stereo connector.

While there are a growing number of decent stereo microphones that can be used directly into the camera there are far more really, really good microphones that don't match the unbalanced, higher impedance connection, and you might want to use one of those microphones. There are a number of relatively inexpensive "boxes" that can take a balanced XLR input, transform the impedance to match a typical consumer camera input and output the signal to a 3.5mm connector. Voila, pro microphone into (new style) production camera with 3.5mm inputs. The Beachtek D2A that I use also has knobs to separately control the volume of two microphones, a switch to choose between line levels and mic levels and the ability to have stereo input or to have one microphone send the same mono signal to both channels in the camera. Very cool. About $180 bucks. No active circuitry to add any noise.

Also, no extra batteries required. But there is one downside....

Some microphones depend on the device they are plugged into to supply the electrical power they need to work. In the parlance of the industry, they require "phantom power." Their needs range from 24V to 48V DC. Most professional, full time video cameras offer phantom power as an built in feature. Neither the RX10iii nor the D2A have that feature set and it's something that both my nice Sennheiser MK-600 shotgun microphone and my Audio Technica large diaphragm, narrator microphone require. While you can  buy dedicated power supply that delivers phantom power to microphones both my Zoom H4N and my Tascam DR-60ii digital audio recorders offer the feature across all channels. Even if I want the convenience of having the audio on the same memory card and in the same file as the video I can still use the digital audio recorders as pre-amps+mixers+phantom power supplies and then run a connector from the output of the digital audio recorder into my camera to record both audio and video to its internal SD card.

If I take the time to calibrate my camera to my digital audio recorder with a 1K test tone, at a known signal strength, I can set the camera to a value of -12 Db and then use the controls on the digital audio recorder to control the strength of the signal being output to the camera. That gives me the ability to amplify the signal (in the case of a microphone with a very low output level) which I can't do with the Beachtek, or to use the same control to turn down the level and prevent clipping the signal. Just like white levels in the visual portion of our program, once the digital audio signal goes over 0 dB it's just a mess.

It doesn't matter if I'm bringing the signal straight into the camera from the microphone or D2A or amplifying it and bringing it in through a digital audio mixer: I'm going to be listening to the audio I'm getting by plugging in a set of high quality, closed ear, headphones plugged into the camera's headphone jack. It's pretty mandatory. You want to make sure that the final signal is good, not just some intermediary signal. I could listen to a signal coming off the audio recorder but if the cable to the camera is bad, or the camera is set incorrectly, I will never know until it's too late and I'm trying to edit the footage in the studio, late at night. That would be so sad....

Here's the deal with audio into the RX10iii. If you get the levels right, if you match the impedance of the microphone to the camera's input, if you put your microphone in the right place, if you condition your shooting environment to get rid of audio problems (bounce, echo, noise), the microphone pre-amplifiers in the RX10iii are very good and mostly noise free. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that they use the same monolithic audio processing chip that the bigger and more expensive cameras in the line up do. After all, the audio is linear PCM and that's mature technology. The difference between a great audio processor chip and a run of the mill one is probably a buck or two at the most and it just doesn't seem like this is a place where Sony cut corners.

People have all kinds of opinions on audio and only some of them are based on facts, or even good exercises in eliminating mismatches and variables. I've done my research and tried to do a good job of matching electrical interfaces in the audio pathway. If another reviewer says the audio is "crap" or "noisy" put the review down and do your own tests. Use the right mics. Use the right cables. Use the right matching boxes. Use the right levels. And then listen for yourself on a really nice set of headphones, not the earbuds from your Samsung Galaxy phone. See for yourself. You might find that Sony knows what they are doing in the audio world. A lot.

Well, after a lot of hands-on shooting I can say I really respect this camera as a video capture tool. The video pathway is good in 10080p and great in 4K. The range of controls for picture profiles, time code, exposure controls and parameter fine tuning is great as well. The lens does what it was designed to do and does it very well. The audio recording section of the camera is quite good (to my ears much better than the audio in the Panasonic GH4 on which I shot a long project in 2014.. ) and the camera is capable of making great content.

It's a pretty camera and it's well designed. After 40 or 50 hours of time spent in your hands doing work the camera maps to your brain pretty well and the controls become comfortably familiar. There were no hiccups in our editing. Nothing from the camera created problems. Any production problems were human judgement induced. If there was a noisy track it was from my hubris in shooting during a driving rainstorm, in a warehouse with a metal roof. If there was a focus problem with face detection AF it was my fault for trying to make it work under lighting conditions that also made manual focusing difficult. I should have added more light, not blamed the camera.

The camera has lived on the floor of my car for weeks at a time. It shot in the rain with basically a plastic bag draped over it. It's been banged into stuff. I continues on without any symptoms of abuse being visible, or emerging in use.

There are a few things the camera doesn't do but, in fact, they are very minor omissions in the grand scheme of cameras. Generally the camera won't give you narrow depth of field. I miss that sometimes when making portraits in that last century style that we've all come to love so much. It's not a rocket fast focuser like the Panasonic fz 1000 surely is. It would be nice of Sony could put the same PD focusing tech they used on the a6300 sensor onto the next generation one inch sensors. And, instead of bigger batteries it would be nice if Sony could invent more efficient batteries. Maybe a little plutonium core for a power source that only needs recharged once every fifty years. Oh yeah, another complaint is the lack of a built in ND filter. Easily remedied in the aftermarket....

Had this camera been launched about eight years ago, into the video market of the time, it would have easily sold for ten or twenty thousand dollars. Don't believe me? Go back and look at what was there at the time and what the costs were.

After using this camera on a long project and several one day projects, and having edited hours of 4K and 1080p footage I can honestly say that the only thing you'll likely miss are physical controls to control sound levels, and the ability to get very narrow depth of field. For the money it's a great video camera and I'm happy to use it for a wide range of shooting situations, including typical run and gun stuff. You know, jump out of a pick-up truck in the rain with the camera on one shoulder, line up your shot and record linemen working to replace blown transformers, brush the rain off, get in the truck and head to the next site. Nice.

But what is the underlying story? For me it's the fact that this generation of one inch sensor cameras (including the Panasonic fz 1000 and all previous RX10 models) is good enough to compete in projects at every level except when exacting parameters like narrow d-o-f and super high ISO are required. That the age of mandatory interchangeable lens cameras as professional tools is so last decade. That tech is slowly homogenizing the very top and the middle markets with cameras that enjoy very similar final output products. With good processing, and post processing skills, the images from the one inch sensor cameras can rival the full frame super cameras that used to be the signature of the working professional. There are "outlier" applications where ultimate image quality is still important but those are few and far between and are not really relevant to the way most professionals conduct their day to day work. Be it video or still imaging. Feels like another sea change coming on.






6.14.2016

Show the work. Always be ready to show the work.





You can talk a good game but at some point in the creative process the people with the checkbooks are going to want to see your work. Sure, you can send them to your website and they can look at your work on their phone. If you're lucky they'll have their laptop handy and then they can see your work on a 13 inch, coffee-spotted screen with lots of glare and reflection layered over the top. Just what you need in order to show off the nuances of your incredibly detailed technique, right?

Or....you could actually make prints as you go merrily along your career path, and with enough prints you could put them into a book, or an album. You could make a book of images with similar styles and your work would look really cool when you showed it to clients in the right now, on the spur of the moment, in a quiet time between rounds at happy hour. 

The benefit of the book I made above is that the 10 inch by 10 inch prints which grace every spread are more than big enough to show detail and craft and yet, closed, the 10 x10 book is wonderfully portable. It fits in your camera bag, or your computer bag, or whatever you carry around with you. 

It works in almost any light. Your client can hold it in their hands or they can put it down on a table and it will lay flat. They get to leaf through your art at their leisure, their pace. They can stop from time to time to tell you once again that you are a genius.

Multiple people can see it from multiple angles. If the power goes out you can step into the fresh air and still show your work. It's like magic. And taking the time to print your images, sequence your images, produce a book and carry it with you shows the possible source of work and income in front of you that you are serious. You've thought about your work, its presentation, and it's overall consistency. It shows you've got skin in the game. Commitment. 

Wow. That's a lot of marketing packed into a small, square space. Get serious. Make a book of your work. Just a small one with 30 photographs. How hard can it be? You are serious about all this, right?

Lydia in quality control. Why it's good to leave the "entourage" at home sometimes...


I constantly come across photographers who can't seem to work on their own. They need assistants at their sides even for the most rudimentary of jobs. In some quarters it feels like a fashionable thing to have plenty of people around to get the photographer coffee or a juice box. I can imagine that some would never consider carrying their own gear or opening their own doors. And, of course, they would be lost without someone to keep constant tabs on their smartphone to alert the photographer instantly if the need arose for an emergency Instagram posting...

Beyond their own entourages many photographers absolutely need the minute by minute supervision of art directors and clients to help guide them through the process of.....taking photographs.  How do I know this? I talk to other members of these photographer's teams, like the digital techs.  The prevailing trend is to shoot everything tethered to the biggest screen one can find. With a tethered monitor the group centric photographer can crowdsource things like: taste, vision, style, color preferences and even simultaneous post production looks. Imagine being in a creative business without ever having to make a creative decision on your own. How marvelous (dripping sarcasm...). 

I can just imagine the scene when a client whimsically decides to proffer the idea of shooting outside, on a city street. "Can you imagine it?" she might exclaim, "We could have the models walking briskly down the sidewalk--- and get this--- they would be holding our products!!!!" The entourage squeals with delight as the second first assistant calls a rental house to source a digital tech cart with bigger wheels....maybe even a servo motor for self propulsion.  Another second second assistant calls to make sure the digital tech's chair can be attached as well. 

Now we have ten or twelve or more people moving down the side walk with two models. The photographer is shooting and then craning his neck to see what he got on the monitor as it rolls by on the cart with big wheels. His girlfriend and a series of first, second and third assistants chime in to either critique or to make "oooooohing" and "ahhhhhing" sounds of mystified approval while the digital tech struggles to both add a post production "look" to the material while correcting the exposure ("no real artist understands how to use a meter!") and simultaneously uploading selected images to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. One layer of the entourage has their cellphones at the ready, doing behind the scenes photos of the "team" working while a second layer of second assistants snaps them snapping selfies as well. 

Doesn't really matter how good or bad the photographs are as everything is destined to go along to a retoucher who will pay for his new boat by fixing the mess the entourage created. Always sad though when no one in the entourage pays attention to the cross walks and the digital imaging cart gets creamed by a bus. Thank God the fourth assistant called the rental house to specify an ejector chair for the the digital tech. Oh, photography has become so much more difficult and unpredictable since the invention of digital imaging. 

Written after realizing that the photos above came from a project I did in New York city with no entourage. Just a bag of film, a couple of cameras, a light meter and a few lights. The ad agency didn't send along an art director. The client didn't demand a stylist or a make-up person. Was it really so easy to do good, fun work back then? Yes. I generally find that having an entourage of any size doubles the amount of time anything takes, homogenizes all creativity, quadruples the budgets and puts the photographer into a situation where he has to listen to inane chatter all day long. 

If I had to work this way I'd sign up for a different occupation. Preferably one that could be done far from the madness of group think. #teamworkSucks

Just for fun. From the Zach Theatre production of "Alice in Wonderland."

©2016 Kirk Tuck

A favorite, quirky image from the Zach production of "One Man, Two Guvners."


Ahhh. Settling in with a great stage shooting combination. The Sony A7Rii and the 70-200mm f4.0 OSS lens. The camera is quiet silent and the files that emerge from it as 18 megapixel Jpegs are noise free at nearly every ISO. The images are sharp, detailed and nicely colored.  The lens is equally silent and convincingly sharp at its fastest aperture. Add to this the five axis image stabilizations that combines the stabilization of the lens with the stabilization in the body and you've got a rock solid platform to shoot with in any theatre environment. Need more reach? Put the camera in the 42 megapixel mode and then selection "APS-C" as your working crop. Now you've got an extra 100mm of reach with the same resolution you had in the first place (more or less).

I supplement this with the a6300 for the wide end and I'm totally happy. And it all fits nicely into my smallest, Husky tool bag ---- you know, the one I bought for $19. A warm sense of satisfaction just settled over me......of course, it could just be the jalapeƱos from my breakfast taco....

6.13.2016

One 50mm lens scratched off the list.

Just a quick note for any fellow Sony A7x users who may also be looking into getting a new 50mm lens for their camera system. I took a trip to the somewhat hallowed halls of Precision Camera this morning, credit card in hand, to investigate the inexpensive lens option from Sony; the 50mm f1.8 FE.

The lens is small and light and looks visually well matched for the smaller body. I had done some research online and understood that one must load the latest firmware in their A7ii or A7Rii in order for the lens to function optimally. I did that a few days ago.

My sales associate handed me the lens and I took the Olympus lens and adapter off my A7ii body replacing it with the inexpensive ($250) Sony. It clicked nicely into place. I turned my camera on and started attempting to focus on various things around the well lit store. The lens never goes directly to the point of sharp focus, instead it does a little jig to the point, then past the point on one side and back, past the point on the other side; only then does it finally lock into place. The jigs are small but noticeable and they take their toll on the time to sharp focus. I tried again and again with the same results. It's not as though I was trying to focus on a white wall or some smooth, beige carpeting. No, I was intentionally giving the lens an easy way in.

I was trying to focus on the hard edges of shelves or the bold lettering on posters. I also tried a human face but the lens was less than competent. I can't see anyone being happy with that level of AF performance regardless of how good or bad the lens is optically. I am flabbergasted that one popular reviewer declared the lens to be a great value and a good performer.

I looked around at some of the new stuff coming into the store, then shoved my credit card back into my cast iron wallet, snapped the wallet shut and headed for the door.

The search for the most satisfying 50mm for the A7 series continues.... I guess I won't be able to get away with the cheap options...

Deconstructing large projects in order to learn how to structure them better next time. Tune out now if you don't want to hear about video projects....


I've been working on a project since the beginning of May. Not everyday but the timeline of this video project wound itself through every week and sometimes we were shooting for days at a time. Some of the time spent was involved in chasing weather; which is almost as unpredictable as photographing toddlers with pets... Some of the time was spent scheduling interviews and more time was spent actively re-imagining the project as we worked through it. Here are things that I learned:

First off, I spent way too much time worrying about camera selection and technical stuff. When you shoot a corporate video there is always the need to use existing, archival footage and there is generally the need to grab stock photography of things that can't be conveniently shot in the moment. You won't be shooting an ice storm in Texas in early June.... This basically means that you are cutting together all kinds of visual content and some of it won't be state of the art. At first I felt compelled to either rent a high end, dedicated video camera or to use the Sony A7Rii because it's 4K video (when shot in the "super 35" mode) is really wonderful. Transcoding the 4K video into a 1080p timeline gets you close to what you might get shooting with a 1080p camera that does 10 bit 4:2:2.

I quickly abandoned those options because a lot of the anticipated production was outdoors, in the rain and in heavy duty weather. I knew I wanted a camera with a fixed lens and at least the promise of weather sealing. If I was going to lose a camera to water damage I sure didn't want it to be a pricey rental or my main photography camera and, shooting in the driving rain hardly shows off either the dynamic range of a sensor or the overall detail and resolution of the system.

I ended up using the two Sony RX10 cameras I already owned; the RX10ii and the RX10iii, with the "3" being my "go to" camera. I love the heft and feel of that body. One thing I discovered as I got more and more experienced and comfortable shooting with the "3" was that the 4K footage emerging from the camera was even better than I expected it to be. It is so detailed that I would think twice before using it in a studio situation while interviewing people who expect to be visually flattered. I turned the sharpening down in the profiles I used to create the 4K content.

Speaking of rain, I used some inexpensive Goja rain covers for the cameras and the covers got a real workout. In several instances we were able to shoot in rain coming down at a rate of several inches per hour. With clear filters sealed onto the front ring of the lens with electrical tape, and everything covered, the cameras emerged dry after hours of use. I carried microfiber cleaning cloth under my own poncho to dry the front surfaces of the filters. It all worked well.

The next thing I learned is that the noise from "small" sensors that people seem to worry about is largely non-existent at normal ISOs and, even with higher ISOs, is largely mitigated when you are reducing all of the information from a 4k file into a smaller, 1080p file. It's a four times reduction and the noise, as you can imagine, gets reduced in kind. In fact, we wound up using the RX10iii for almost all of the primary "footage."

When we sat down and compared our content with samples from the Sony A7R2, the FS-5 and the RX10's we found the work done in daylight, and in well lit interview situations, to be so close as to be, in some cases, indistinguishable. Since almost all of our video work was done in lit situations, or in gloomy and inclement weather, the additional dynamic range that may have been a feature of the most expensive and complex cameras was not required. That meant we spent less time trying to become  experts in the ways of S-Log and more time was spent actually working on the project.

Then I re-learned that the director of a project, which contains a number of interviews, must craft questions for people who are not used to being interviewed; questions that lead them efficiently into getting what is needed for the program. We weren't doing any muckraking, investigative journalism, and we were really trying to get the authentic story for our project, but many times questions delivered from the client were far too wide ranging and open. There is the fantasy amongst the general public that film makers will set up the cameras and microphones, get everyone settled and then just let things roll. Many people love the attention of being interviewed and would talk for hours, if we let them. It's important to step in, redirect, and let the "talent" know exactly what you are looking for. They might say something great on their own but chances are it will be buried under a lot of other words, and most of the words will arrive without the pauses that would allow editing cuts. If I had my way every single person in front of the camera would be scripted. I know, I know; that's not the way it works.... but being able to craft the messages, and the time spent delivering them, is crucial to the pace and length of a video.

My two moments of either hubris, or misplaced confidence came at the same location. I was shooting interviews in warehouse with so-so lighting. I brought my own light, via a couple of LED fixtures, but I still found myself working at ISO 800. No, the problem was not electronic noise, it was an issue with focus. I had the camera on a stable tripod, I composed the scene carefully, I lit the faces to match the ambient light but with about 3/4 of a stop more pop. I set the camera to use the face detection AF and watched it engage; the box turned green. Then I stepped to the side of the camera to conduct the interview. Big mistake. The camera was interested in the subject for about a minute and then started to lose interest and focus on stuff in the background. By the time I noticed there was an issue we were almost done with the interview. We got sharp "footage" at the front and the back of the interview but the stuff in between was dicey. The camera requires a fairly high light level to work its face detection magic with any reliability.

The only thing that saved the footage was the content from the RX10ii that Ben was using as a "B" camera, from a different angle. We were able to use the front end and back end footage from the "A" camera, and the audio from the "A" camera, but depended on Ben's footage for everything in the middle. That, and lots of cutaways to still shots that reinforced that particular interview. For the rest of the project I switched to manual focusing. But if you really need to see exact, fine focus with the RX10iii you'll need to exit the video mode and magnify in the still mode. The magnification in the video mode is only to 5.8X while the still mode allows more than double that. Once you get the lens in focus it's brilliant. Getting there can be another story...

The second bit of bad luck was nothing but hubris on my part. We were trying to do our interview with one person during a driving rain storm. Real pounding, torrential rain, and it was banging into the  uninsulated metal roof like a full percussion section of an orchestra that only does punk. I pinned a lavaliere microphone to the subject and decided to go for it anyway. After hours and hours and hours in all sorts of audio restoration programs I finally had to throw in the towel. You can't separate bad, loud noise from a voice once they are all mixed together into an audio stew. I should have moved the whole production to a different location; even though time and logistics were not on our side.

We talked in an earlier post about making a packing list so you don't pull a dumb stunt like I did. Came out during another rain storm expecting dismal lighting and as soon as I got on location the sun peaked out from behind a cloud just to remind me that I'd left the variable neutral density filter at home.

So, lots of travel miles were logged. We saw a lot of rain. We shot a lot of video. What did we do right?

We worked to a strong initial script. There was some back and forth to refine it but a good script provides a backbone for a project. You might not follow everything in your script verbatim; plans change when you see the location (and the talent), but it gets you thinking in terms of the overall message, and of the continuity required to pull it off.

When you get to a location to shoot video don't let your "video blinders" allow you to ignore the still photography potential of a place. If you have a subject being interviewed on video you might find that you can shoot a ton of different angles as photographs, and you might have more control over the image than you would in video. We inserted a couple of images that were taken with a 14mm lens on full frame and they work very, very well. Having lots of stills means you have a library of possibilities, in addition to the primary footage, when you head indoors to edit. They can add a lot more spice to your project.

Work hard to select your music bed before you start editing. A good music track will inform the timing and rhythm of your edit and make it all work more fluidly. In my recent experience, if you've taken care to consider your (approval) audience and have worked hard to find music that works you might never even hear from the committee about musical choices. There is an ocean of stock music out in the web. Make sure you buy it and use it legally.

Keep track of hours and expenses as you go along. We tend to bill by the project and almost never by the line item, but we keep track of details for those rare moments when we have to justify something. Good accounting also informs you about ways to do projects more profitably in the future. If you grossly under estimated your mileage on the current job (for example) knowing where you went wrong means you probably won't make the same mistake when you estimate the next one...

Speaking of billing. Be sure to be clear about what is included in each step. Adding days requires additional fees. Adding new sections adds fees. After the approval of the rough cut changes of images, music and content requires additional fees. Any major edits after the approval of the "final" review edit require additional editing fees and administration fees. These are routine in order to compensate us for our time. The agreement on additional fees also focuses clients on getting to internal consensus in the first place, rather than on the other side of the editing process.

Back to what we did right... We stayed flexible for the client's benefit. If we needed a good shot of hydro-electric power generation and we couldn't find the right one in a stock house we drove out and found just the right one and grabbed good content with our cameras. If we missed a great shot because of weather we sucked it up and re-scheduled for the next opportunity. Larger production houses, with staffers and freelancers (large crews in general), don't have the luxury of going into overtime without killing the budget. We'll do it if we can get a better shot and a better outcome.

One place where we ended up practicing overkill was in our audio (after the disaster with the rain noise). While I felt that the cameras could be counted on to provide clean audio straight in I had also read lots and lots of articles on the web leading any reasonable reader to believe that the audio pre-amplifiers in any but the most expensive production cameras ($20,00+) are absolute crap.

With that in mind we ran everything into a digital audio recorder with very clean pre-amplifiers, XLR connectors, phantom power and all the right tools. But, on the last day of shooting, I decided to take the signal from my Sennheiser wireless lav mics into a little, passive Beachtek D2A (to make sure the balanced and unbalanced connections were compatible) and directly into the camera. Surprise, there was no readily discernible difference in sound quality between that method and the more complex, dual sound set up we'd been using. Seems that Sony is actually pretty good at making audio circuits in most of their cameras. Who could have known?

Here is some random stuff that I jotted down in my notebook during our shoots:

The sandwiches at the Redbud Cafe in Blanco, Texas are very good. So is the poblano potato soup.

When shooting in storms add to your kit --- extra pants, an extra pair of socks, waterproof shoes, a second set of shoes to drive home in if you are too tired to scrap mud off the first shoes. Bring a couple of towels. You'll want to dry off once you get into your car. Bring a plastic seat cover, your leather seats will adore you.

Always bring a good flashlight. You will drop something vital in the dark.

Video always looks sharpest when the color balance is right on the money. Make a custom white balance whenever you can.

My cheap, Ikan shoulder rig worked very, very well in conjunction with the camera system's image stabilization. Using a shoulder rig can serve as a tripod substitute (for a short period of time).

Log your footage at the end of every shooting day. Don't make it harder to find or take the risk of overwriting a memory card.

Always bring two tripods. You never know when you'll want to shoot simultaneous "B" roll on a day with no scheduled assistant.

If you shoot with Sony cameras you can never have too many batteries in your case.

If you shoot with multiple Sony cameras be thankful that all the ones you probably want to shoot with share the same batteries.

Bring water with you.

Fill up the tank whenever you hit the halfway point on the gas gauge. When things happen quickly one hundred miles away you may not have time to stop and fill up en route. When the power is out the pumps don't work.

The Sugar Shack Bakery in Wimberly, Texas makes great pastries.

Thyme and Dough, a cafe and bakery in Dripping Springs, Texas, has great coffee. Really great coffee.

Ask interviewees to take a little pause after each few sentences. You'll need somewhere you can cut.

Always put your stuff back in the same place. Batteries always go in one pouch. That pouch always goes in the right side pocket of the camera bag, etc. It means you can find stuff quickly, even in the dark.

If you are recording audio (dialog, interviews, narration) always wear a good pair of "over the ear" headphones. Buds won't hack it. Better than nothing but never as good as the big, goofy ones.

Build your edits carefully because about half the time you'll get a change request that blows them right apart. Make sure changing an edit doesn't take out most of your timeline.

Be sure to work with an editor who is smarter and better than you. (Not hard in my case...).

Figure out how to make all of this fun.

Realize that video is much harder and more time consuming than photography. Rush back to embrace your happy career as a photographer!!!!


Added note (June 14th): Final cut now officially approved at all levels, including, but not limited to, the CEO. Celebration at the VSL headquarters begins immediately....









6.12.2016

Sunday rambles and notes. The wrapping up of a project. Eating Voodoo Donuts. Shooting with old glass. Dutifully wearing sunscreen at swim practice. Going for a walk.

The ongoing adventures of "Modern Camera Meets Archeological Lens Find." 

With the long, involved video project coming to an end (soon?) I've been able to get back into a regular rhythm with my swim practices. Four tough days in a row. This morning we had one time world recorder holder in the 200 freestyle, Ricky Berens, on deck as our masters coach. We warmed up with a 700 mixed yards, segued into 15 x100's in sets that went: 100 yards kick, 100 yards individual medley, and one hundred yards freestyle; repeat five times. Each 100 of freestyle was supposed to be a descend; which means each one gets faster as you go through the rounds. These were followed by two sets 1200 yard in each. That set pattern was: 300 yards, 3 x100 yards, 200 yards, 4x50 yards, 100 yards, 4 x 25 sprints. 

It was a tough 4,600 yards piled on top of yesterday's 5,000+ under the disciplined gaze of coach, Chris Kemp. And Thursday and Friday were so long ago I can remember the details, only the sore muscles over most of my body.... And that's what we do for fun around here.

After workout and breakfast today I grabbed the newish (to me) Sony A7ii along with the 60mm f1.5 Olympus FT lens, and headed downtown for a walk. This is practically our first really uncomfortably warm day of 2016. It's a bit amazing since it is already the middle of June. It's the combination of heat and the humidity from weeks of torrential rains that makes it some unpleasant. The hike and bike trails around the downtown lake are still flooded and the dam is still releasing flood waters through three gates. Thank goodness the camera and lens are so small and light (comparatively speaking); they were comfortable to tote around during my walk. My Sunday route is about four miles and takes a bit more than an hour to complete. It's a good cross train to the swimming and I can feel the swim muscles relax as I go along.

On my walk I decided to go in and give the world famous, Portland Oregon founded donut shop, Voodoo Donuts, a try. I ordered three donuts to go but after eating the "Voodoo Doll" which is a yeast donut with chocolate covering, filled with raspberry jam and decorated in a voodoo style I couldn't even think of eating the other two so when a person on the street asked if I could help out with some food I handed him the bag.... The donut I had was really great but from now on, I'm only ordering one per visit.

I'm spending a lot of time shooting this particular lens and camera combination set to black and white. Don't know why, exactly, but it feels right to me...

I saw this logo on the back of a truck and thought it would make a nice insignia for 
the Kirk Tuck Photography jumpsuits we should be wearing to all our location assignments. 
A bit of branding never hurt...I guess. 


Sorry about the architectural shot. Old habits die hard. But while we are here....
Check out the very small amount of vignetting in the corners of this lens 
that was designed for the half frame format. 

I don't know anything about their pizza but I like the name. A lot. 

Now getting ready for the week ahead. Final approvals on the video, here we go.