11.30.2017

Sure, you thought you loved the new gear. How much do you love it a year down the road? The "One Year in Service" review of the Aputure Lightstorm LS-1 LED Light.


People get all giddy and euphoric when they buy new gear. Even though they are trading the money that they traded their time for they must feel as though they'll get ahead by purchasing this latest thing and that the promise of leveraging their new gear will offset the short term pain of earning, and then parting, with the hard won cash. I know I generally feel that way...

We typically enter into the process of an eventual (photography) transaction out of boredom. In my case I already owned some good LED lights and they were working pretty well on most of the video and still projects I used them on. But recklessly, I ventured on to the internet and started just, you know, looking around to see what might be new in the world of lighting (which is generally less costly than looking around at new lenses, which is generally less dangerous than looking at new cameras).

So, it was about a year ago; maybe a month or two longer, when my "research" brought me face to face with a new generation of LED lights that boasted higher output and much higher CRI's (color rendering index) than the lights in my existing inventory. One thing led to another and I started to fixate on the (almost unnoticed) short comings of the five or six lights I had in house. How could I possible survive with lights that bared crested the 90 CRI threshold when I could be working with lights that breezed by with CRIs of 95 to 96? How would I be able to look clients in the face

11.29.2017

Sony Savant, Gary Friedman, has launched his new book (the "platinum owner's manual" -my advertising construct) for the Sony RX10iv.

http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/one-amazing-incredible-camera-except.html

I'm supplying the link but am not directly involved nor harvesting affiliate cash. I've always found Gary's books to be well done, logical and easy to read. He's a clear voice in the photo world who seems capable of mastering any camera Sony can throw at him.

If you have an RX10iv and you'd like a very good tutorial this might be the right book for you.

WARNING: He quotes the nefarious Kirk Tuck in the introduction......


Digital Photography Review's Richard Butler names the Sony A9 BATTERY as his pick for "Gear of the Year"....

... and makes the argument that this battery finally helps mirrorless achieve parity with DSLRs; in the power management department.

Apparently no one at DP Review actually tested the Panasonic GH5, GH4 or GH3 cameras and their batteries. Panasonic has been doing batteries correctly for years and years. And years. Even a cursory test would have shown that, when not using the built in flash, many users are able to get well over 1,000 still photo exposures while videographers tell of the GH4 cameras getting up to four hours of HD record time on a single battery!

But wait!!!! Here's what Richard Butler himself wrote about the GH3 battery back in April of 2013:

"One of the great advantages of the GH3's increased size is that it can take an unusually large battery for a mirrorless camera. The 7.2V, 1860mAh battery give 13. 4Wh of power, 50% more than the OM-D's battery, for example. This give the camera an impressive battery life of around 540 images per charge or 270 minutes of recording time."

(The typo, "battery give" is still in the review but should be "battery gives").

If we consider that Butler was quoting CIPA numbers for the battery at that time then the cameras with built-in flashes were always at a disadvantage as the ratings were done with 50% of the shots being done with the on board flash engaged. Something that the "pro" DSLRs did not have to contend with...

I guess we should be magnanimous and welcome the editorial crew of DP Review into the mirrorless world of 2013 (the year the Panasonic GH3 appeared in shops).

Glorious week for them. First Barney Britton's "non-hands on (un)real worldly recommendation of the Nikon D850 as his pick for "Gear of 2017" followed by blanket editorial amnesia of all mirrorless batteries pre-Sony A9.

We wait for the next Italian boot to drop... will it be "Sony camera strap, accessory of the Year!!!"?

In case you are interested here are the CIPA test methodologies from a trusted source = CIPA. http://www.cipa.jp/std/documents/e/DC-002_e.pdf

I spent a year shooting the A7Rii. I never lived in fear or anxiety about its use of batteries.


11.28.2017

Offering the right video services to the right clients....discovering your niche.


The market for video services can be as stratified as the market for photography services. There are people offering wedding videos and there are big, polished teams offering very high end television commercial productions; and there are a lot of producers offering services somewhere in between.  

In one sense the market for successful video production companies still has some barriers to entry while the barriers to an effective photography business have become much less daunting. The difference is not so much defined by one's ability to afford expensive gear but by one having the time to pursue a steeper and more diverse (light, sound, direction, editing, etc.) learning curve; and by having the ability to dedicate large chunks of schedule to projects with finite deadlines. 

While one might pursue a part time career as a portrait or wedding photographer by working just on the weekends, while maintaining a regular, forty hour per week job, it's a different scenario for someone who wants to provide commercial video services to companies, associations and corporate enterprises. To do this kind of work you need to be available during regular work days; not just on weekends. All of your meetings and most of your actual time in production will need to occur during Monday-Friday, during traditional 9-5 work hours.  A project with two shooting days generally requires at least a day of pre-production and two or three days of editing after the video capture. And experience tells us that during every part of the project clients expect timely communications throughout.

Smaller companies with very modest expectations (and budgets) might not expect you to show up with current  top of the line models of cameras, lenses, microphones, etc. but as you climb the ladders of the industries you target you'll be working with many full time, in-house producers who will understand the benefits of different tiers of equipment. My philosophy is that as long as the gear you use isn't a limiting factor in a given production you can use whatever you want but when you know you need better ( or more ) you'll need to bite bullets and rent or acquire. And you'll need to know where those lines are...

I'm sitting down today to get a grip on just what I'm offering clients in the way of video services. I'm doing this exercise to clarify, in my own mind, what works, and to predict, as well as I can, what I'm likely to be offering over the next twelve months. As I do this exercise I am coming to (re)understand that there is a wide range of physical tools with which most of us can successfully work but there are definitely required "soft" tools that are the underpinnings of a successful, small video production business. 

Those soft tools include an understanding of the construction of a successful storytelling video narrative. How do we tell the story from start to finish? That understanding leads to the need to be organized and to get all the pieces (scenes, clips) one needs to construct a project. From good interviews to good b-roll. From good, clean audio to logical, visually pleasant editing. These are skills. Skills come from understanding concepts (how stuff works) and are honed by hours and hours of practice. These are things you can't buy in a box and bring to a shoot in a Pelican case. They either come packed in your brain or not at all. 

As an example: In the past week and a half I noticed that I was hesitant about using my wireless microphones on busy jobs, preferring to either use a wired, boomed hyper-cardioid microphone or a wired cardioid microphone. When it came right down to it I hadn't used the wireless gear in a while and have always been a bit hazy on the exact operation of my Sennheiser EW100 G3 system. I've gotten away with my workarounds but the avoidance of mastering and using a valuable and useful tool really bugged me so I set aside all of yesterday morning to go through every parameter of setting up the system, syncing the transmitter and receiver, setting levels, running the resulting signal into my cameras and also placing the lavaliere microphones just so on clothes to make them sound good and to prevent noise from clothing rustle. 

I watched several videos that focused entirely on setting up and using the system. I unplugged everything and reset both the transmitter and receiver and then went through the whole process of putting it back together, syncing and getting everything ready to record. I mic'd myself and recorded material over and over again at different levels to make sure I understood how to set "sensitivity" in the transmitter and how to set the corresponding controls in the receiver. 

I feel so much more confident with the system today. I'll go through the same self-training at least two more times before I use the wireless system again on a paying job next week.

The same practice of concept+skills applies to moving the camera. To choosing the right file settings for the video files. It's a combination of comprehending the underlying concepts and then practicing the implementation of those concepts at every step. 

I also evaluated the broader skills ( or limitations) that I've always had. I'm uncomfortable with large crews (probably why I became a photographer in the first place) and I'm impatient with the effort it takes to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction. But I'm good with lighting and good at explaining what I'm setting out to do with clients. I'm good at directing interviews and I'm good with client engagement.

All these things shape what I want to offer clients. And I intuit that trying to do the business the way someone else might do the video business is probably not going to work as well for me.

What do I want to offer my clients?

The optimum project would be one that requires lots of beautifully lit, engaging interviews coupled with great alternative scenes and clips (and still images) that create visually compelling b-roll. I love getting onto factory floors and showing process and workflow. I love getting shots of people moving through the spaces as they work. I love getting closeup details and getting footage from a point of view that's different. But most of all I want to translate an interviewee's authentic story into a perfect clip. 

Here's what a perfect laundry list of my discrete services would look like: 


- lighting, shooting and directing interviews.

- lighting, shooting and directing work processes in real world situations.

- creating and blending still images into the video storytelling timeline.

-creating good quality sound at every step.

-Help write scripts that feel comfortable say out loud, and to direct. 

-Lead a small and agile crew that travels light and moves quickly. 

It would be great to offer video services that are accessible, both financially and in terms of time efficiency. This means providing the right set of camera resources with which to do the jobs we work on but not straying too far from the camera handling characteristics I'm used to. Camera handling should be second nature when on the job. 

The clients we want are corporations or organizations that need good, efficient interviews and resulting short videos that explain the client's unique position within their industry. To get across a message that's important to our client's success.

The most enjoyable projects are the ones in which we interview one or two primary subjects who tell their stories. Their interviews provide a narrative backbone on which to build the video. We might use 3 or 4 minutes of a person's video story (their audio tracks) but only see the person on screen for a half or a third of the time. The rest of the visual imagery needs to be "eye candy" ( intentional b-roll) that directly relates to what's being said in the interviews. 

If the subject talks about a love of the outdoors then we'll shoot b-roll of him walking through the woods or fishing in a stream. If the subject talks about the radical advances in his industry wrought by a new device or process then it's imperative that we show the device or the process. And show the final product and how it affects a customer's life...

The best way for me to deliver value to clients is to immerse myself in understanding what the client needs to say with the video in order to move their game forward. 

The best clients involve me in their project early enough so I can help them mould the story in a way that makes it possible to produce within their time frame and their budget. 

At the very end of the process it's wonderful to deliver a video that tells a compelling story which changes opinions, helps to market a worthy product, motivates change and makes our client look brilliant. It's a lot to aim for and that, in itself, might be the biggest barrier to entry in the business. 

What am I not going to pursue next year? 

I'm not looking for big, blockbuster projects that require lots of special effects, tricky compositing or vast legions of crew. Projects are like vacations to me; they should be fun, simple and over in two or three weeks. Nothing numbs creativity like projects that drag on forever. They are like graceless subroutines in one's mind, taking up space and attention from everything else. 

We're not looking for projects that require endless BaseCamp e-mail chains before, after or during production. And that probably means we won't be competing for the big budget work that comes from larger ad agencies.

And we're certainly not signing up to do a low budget copy cat production of something someone's VP saw in a TV commercial. 

The goal of every project is to enhance a client's ability to communicate, with video, in markets that never existed before. It's tough to afford a Super Bowl TV commercial but it's easy to leverage the internet. And that's where opportunity still seems endless. As long as you have some good video to share...




11.27.2017

A Favorite Image from a Photographic Assignment Done Last Week. Khali in "A Christmas Carol" for Zach Theatre.


Every so often I feel like I get one just right. Shot with a Panasonic GH5 and the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8.

11.26.2017

Re-thinking what it means to work as a freelance photographer/videographer.


Deep Eddy Pool. November 25th. 2017

I think the very nature of freelance photography work has changed. The process of making a good, or at least effective, photograph has become much easier and quicker than it was. The projects that used to take weeks now take days. The projects that used to take days now take hours. Since the time required to make images for clients keeps shrinking it long ago made sense to jettison the idea of billing by day rates, or by the hour, because one would keep delivering a finished image which has equal or greater value to a client but at an ever declining rate because of ever increasing efficiency. 

For years now we've looked at projects and bid them based on the value they'll provide to the client. And honestly, we also bid based on how convoluted the client's internal processes are. In many engagements it seems we spend more time on conference calls and in meetings that we do actually shooting the images. And then there's the time we spend ensuring that we get paid......

It makes more sense to bid the creation of images as a compound process which takes into consideration the amount of time spent meeting, figuring out the creative direction, shepherding the idea of collaboration, pre-production, scouting, post production and administrative nonsense into one fixed price instead of trying to break it out into line items for some linear thinker in someone else's accounting department. 

e.g.: Three minute video interview, in town, on a client location, with two cameras and two production people = $3200  Add in editing and it's $4,800. We don't break down the numbers. We say, "It will cost $3200 or $4,800." If there are no line items then there is nothing to squabble about. The client can either afford and approve the project or walk away. 

On another note, there is a tendency for people to bring an employee mindset to the freelance field. They may offer their services at rates that are not particularly profitable but try to make up for under charging by attempting to work as often and for as long as possible. If what you do doesn't require any real problem solving and involves the same basic routine done over and over again than I guess it all boils down to how much boring, repetition you can stand? 

But if your idea of being a photographer means that you are a creative problem solver or a creative collaborator, or a translator of marketing concepts into high quality image content, then I think the idea of trying to cram 50 or 60 hours of work into every week is very counter productive. 

Creative people work best (at least from what I've seen working in the field for a long time) in spurts. It's like being a sprinter in the swimming world, you might be able to crank out a good, sub-minute 100 meters on a good day, at a race, but you can't step up to the blocks hour after hour and crank out the same stellar swim (unless you are Michael Phelps or Jason Lezak), and you certainly can't perform at that high level day after day as you get older and your endurance diminishes (as it will for everyone --- ). 

Good creative work, and the creation and implementation of evolving styles, (like swimming) requires down time, recharge time, unencumbered time to ponder and the time to look around at things that are seemingly outside the myopic world of photography. Recovery and re-imagining. As an example, to be able to take better landscape photographs of 18,000 foot mountain peaks you'll probably need to spend more time learning about mountain climbing and practicing mountain climbing rather than focusing like a blunt laser on which camera to use or which lens might deliver the sweetest bokeh. 

If you want to be a better video interviewer of CEOs it would certainly pay off to spend a bit less time experimenting with V-Log and to spend a lot more time reading up on the world of business in which your target clients are engaged. (To do this you must incorporate your experience and continuing education into your overall pricing!!!).

But most of all, if you find, or are finding, that photography is taking up every minute of every day you may want to consider that you might be in danger of becoming photo-rexic and need to dial down the compulsion to a safer level. You could spend all day, every day, reading about photo stuff on the web. Some from people who probably know far less than you already know. But you'd be isolating yourself from valuable social networks while narrowing down your focus from the things that might have once made you an interesting person into a person who.......can operate a camera.

As I age up from my long, long adolescence into "middle age" I find that dialing back the hysteric need to be "all photography all the time" is healthier. If I can clear my mind of the endless internal chatter about photography I can better see actual (non-viewfinder) life swirling around me and refreshing my ability to look at the world in a happier and more comprehensive way. If I step away from the computer my life is enriched even more.

I've been thinking about the time I spend swimming lately. I swim for a number of reasons; one is to stave off the ravages of aging and the inevitable (but slow-able) decline of physical endurance. I swim to maintain good health. But I also swim because the process of spending time with my fellow swimmers builds or reinforces social community. 

On Friday evening I got several texts from fellow swimmers as we jockeyed to find a time to meet up yesterday so we could swim as a group. We ended up at Deep Eddy Pool at 10 am Saturday morning. We all jumped into empty lanes and, after a decent warm-up, took turns suggesting sets to swim. We interspersed short sprints with long endurance swims. We kicked some sets to build overall speed. We commiserated about the (cold) water. 

But once out of the water the sense of community and connection remain. On most Saturdays we'll head off after a swim for a group coffee. We'll share stories and news. We'll find out what other people do and how their slalom through life/work/family is going. We'll offer sympathy, humor and genuine friendship. 

One of my fellow swimmers is a restauranteur. Sometimes he and I will swim in the middle of the day on a weekday. Sometimes we depend on each other for the discipline we need to get out of the office or restaurant and make it out for a swim. And sometimes, after the swim we'll head out for a ramen lunch or to grab some sushi from some place good. We can eat early or late. We own our schedules. 

But free time is valuable not just for building friendships but conversely for spending time lost in thought. Meditating. Seeing the world from someone else's point of view by taking time to read.
I find that reading novels; anything from Tom Clancy to J.K. Rowling, makes me think differently and gives me a richer visual palette to work with than when I am too busy to read anything at all. 

Would I trade time with my dog for more time with my cameras? Hardly...

So, this afternoon at 1:30 we've arranged for another swim. We all agreed yesterday that today's swim would be a physical recovery swim. No heroics. No long sets. Just a joyous batch of yards in the bright clear, natural spring water of Deep Eddy Pool, under the warm and chromatically brilliant Texas Winter sun. 

After that maybe I'll get around to tossing out a few more trash cans of older photo work I never want to see again. 

If I prioritize my life for fun/engagement/curiosity all the necessary stuff seems to come along for the ride. It's when I prioritize for work/fear/routine that everything falls apart...


I have heard the mermaids singing; each to each.
......................
                                        .......................        
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

-T.S. Eliot

11.25.2017

Lately we've been testing new lenses with the G85. I thought I'd take an afternoon to shoot with an old favorite: The 40mm f1.4 Olympus Pen FT lens.


In the interest of full disclosure I have owned the Panasonic G85 for about six months now and have used it to shoot over 10,000 images ; from stage work to landscapes and portraits, as well as using it to shoot several hours of 4K video. I am conversant with every control and menu setting on this camera. I have owned and used the 40mm lens for over 32 years and have shot many thousand images with it as well. I paired the two together to see what effect the camera's lack of anti-aliasing filter would have when combined with this much older lens. A lens originally designed for a half frame of film. I wanted to see just how sharp a file the combination would yield.

The handling of the lens is superb. It functions well on the G85 and the focus magnification makes fine focusing easy and quick. If you are stopped down to a middle aperture you can use the focus peaking in the camera with confidence. Today I was shooting most of the images in downtown Austin to ascertain whether I felt the wider apertures (f1.4, f2.0 etc.) were usable with a modern camera like the G85. 







Final image focused on the S in "signature" with the lens set to f1.4. 
The image has been sharpened in post.

The fine art of engaging camera reviewing from the internet's most popular review site. Giggle.

"So I don't own one (even though I'd like to), and I've barely used it. I didn't take any of the pictures in this article, or in the gallery linked below. Then why on earth is the D850 one of my two picks for the best gear of 2017? Well, just look at it, for heaven's sake." - Barney, from DPReview



11.24.2017

An actual, daily user review of the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens, used on a Panasonic G85. Too sharp. Too good to share.


I know so many of you are short of time during the holiday season so I'll keep this short and sweet. I'm mostly a portrait photographer and don't use wide angle lenses all that often. When I do it's usually because we're working with a commercial client on something like an annual report project where, in addition to portraits and photos of people working, we need shots of beautiful business interiors, majestic exterior shots and lenses that are wide enough to make a tiny lab look.....acceptable. I learned a long time ago that wide angles work best when there is something in the foreground, more stuff in the mid-ground and even more stuff in the background. We rarely go searching for "bokeh" when going wide. 

I did my research and decided that a micro four thirds system, built around the Panasonic GH5, would best suit my varied needs (video, portraits, general business photography) and I invested in it completely this year. The 40-150mm f2.8 was a "no-brainer" purchase given its incredible performance and nearly perfect focal length range for me. 40mm-60mm is perfect for portraits while the 60-150mm is perfect for documenting live theater at Zach Theatre here in Austin, Texas. 

The 12-100mm was a leap of faith. I'd read so many good and great things about it that I decided to try it out as my "all purpose" working lens. It's a constant aperture f4.0 which is great for most stuff. I'm happy I took the plunge because it very sharp at all focal lengths and all the other characteristics which people worry about are equally well handled.

For a week or so I thought that the short end of the 12-100mm would handle most of my wide angle needs but a job came along that required a bit wider field of view. I started researching the available wide angles in earnest. I wanted a zoom, and, after my experiences with the Olympus Pro series lenses, I knew I wanted to look at the top of the range of what is available. The advantages of premium glass are, if anything, even more obvious with the smaller sensor cameras....

I had previously owned the Pansonic 7-14mm f4.0 and had some niggling criticisms of it. The corners weren't perfect and the bulbous front made any sort of convenient filtering impossible. I've read amazing things about the Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 Pro so I tried that lens on loan. It's fabulous! Maybe even a little bit better than the lens I ended up with but for a photographer who

11.22.2017

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro on the Panasonic GH5 to document a holiday theatrical production. How's that working out?

Scrooge and the Ghost of Jacob Marley get the party started in Zach
Theatre's amazingly modern version of "A Christmas Carol."
(Actors: Harvey Guion and Roderick Sanford)


The holidays are upon us. Run for your lives...
Just kidding, just kidding. I'm recovering from my second "running shoot" of Zach Theatre's amazingly fun version of the old Charles Dickens play, "A Christmas Carol." This not our parent's take on Dickens. No, this version is peppered with comedic moments, hit, contemporary music ("Shut up and dance with Me" Madonna's "Holiday," and plenty more) as well as great choreography and some of the best stage lighting anywhere. I mean, come on, Dickens with disco balls? Perfect.

If you live in Austin and you don't go you'll miss something fun, heartwarming and so thoroughly profession in its production that you'll take note for future photo or video shoots.

I'm photographing the big productions in the Topfer Theatre in two stages. I shoot during the "tech" rehearsals on Sunday nights to get lots of angle from close to the stage. I also go to learn the tempo of the production. To see just where the finales of each number end up and to get a handle on the blocking. It helps, when shooting the dress rehearsal, to know where the actors

11.21.2017

Snapshot from the film days. Beginning of Winter in Texas.


 Belinda and the Boy. Camera: Rollei 6008i.

It's just a couple of days till the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA. In the past it meant endless football games on TV, too much food and lots of family friction for many people. The lucky ones had nice families who never fought and family members who could fix a perfect turkey with all the trimmings. They also sat around and read books or took naps after dinner and never thought of turning on the television. These families are mostly mythological....

Over the years various traditions have been added to the holiday. My least favorite until recently was the "Black Friday/Midnight on Thursday Shopping Hysteria." A prank by retailers who offer a limited number of "deals too good to be true" to lure in hordes of price sensitive shoppers determined to save money on stuff they might be better off without. 

In the Black Friday tradition we photo enthusiasts have recently been subjected to an added circle of hell; we've added the Photobloggers and Review Site Writers Top Ten Lists to the menu. To boost clicks they'll have cunning lists of the: The top cameras of the year! The top photo accessories of the year!! The top flash gear of the year!!! Lenses that will cause you to die if you do NOT own them!!!! and each site will feature their lists in the form of a daily countdown toward the number one item in each category. All with links to Amazon and B&H.

While most sites will choose the most popular photographic items in the hopes that their choices will drive the most click through sales from you, you can bet than Canon, Sony, Nikon and Olympus will be well represented on almost everyone's list. Everyone will, no doubt, toss in an inexpensive medium format camera as well. It's just the season for it.

Now, make no mistake, the writers are in no way representing that they have ever touched, seen or handled a lot of the gear in question. They might add a Leica to their list just to ramp up the perception that the writer is among the elite or cognoscenti of photography, but you can be sure there will be several budget DSLR cameras mixed in that have bigly selling potential as well. 

I plan on participating in my own eccentric way ( I am a photo blogger after all), but I'm going to give the holiday a break and not start into the list making until the first part of December. I'm only going to put stuff on my list that I've actually owned and used. It's going to be a shorter list this year. I might only have three top cameras on it. 

If we were all being honest we'd just write lists with top ten things for our fellow artists/photographers like: 

1. Plane tickets to someplace I've always wanted to photograph.
2. Extra cash for model fees so I can do that conceptual photo shoot I dreamed up.
3. Better coffee so I can enjoy being more awake while I post process files. (Wanna get me coffee for the holidays? Send me a can of Illy medium roast, pre-ground. I'm not much of a snob but this is my coffee of choice, you can get it on Amazon...hint to #1 son).

4. Some faster memory cards so I can make that video about Winter Masters Swimming at the 400 mb/s setting video setting.

5. More free time to walk around aimlessly and click a currently owned camera at random stuff that catches my eye(s). 

6. A season pass to local area art museums for the year so I can see every show without thinking I should just save on admission for the next great lens.

7. A gift of better discipline so I can finally spend the money on framed prints for my show instead of the next great lens.

8. A photo book full of absolutely false (but authoritatively written) reviews that laud pedestrian and affordable gear and trash high speed, state of the art gear, so I have more incentive to stick with gear that I can afford. Such a book would save marriages, budgets and countless hours of internet "research."  Chapter one: "The Panasonic 25mm f1.8 lens is the most under appreciated lens in the lens cosmos. With astringent sharpness even wide open it is peerless at every f-stop and defies completely the physics of diffraction...." 

9. A reverse switch for major internet sites so you could deliver a shock to bloggers who write inane stuff about new gear without having so much as changed a battery in the "reviewed" item. Also a trapdoor for the gaggle of bloggers that want to keep arguing the Jpeg v. Raw war well into the middle of the century...

10. A mute switch for the big sites who profess to have an "on staff" physicist who tries to prove just how many angels can dance naked on the head of a pin while pushing camels through the eye of a needle in order to justify writing 19 articles in one week about a newly introduced wundercamera. All without any rhyme or reason. Let me hear you save Nyqvist just one more time on your way to describing the hermeneutics of aperture equivalence....or whatever your newest religion is...

Ah well. It's part of the new responsibility of being a photographer/consumer in 2017. I'd put a link to some product at the bottom of this but I'm currently engulfed by ennui...

.....take some time off. Read a good book. Take a photograph of something that actually interests you. And if someone who writes a blog tells you that "pros" only shot RAW then metaphorically punch them in the face with a withering comment...and be sure to post it anonymously. Always pisses me off....






11.20.2017

The Weekly "De-Brief" with the Panasonic/Leica/Olympus System. Thumbs Way Up.

I was already booked to photograph the technical rehearsal of Zach Theatre's rock-and-roll version of "A Christmas Carol" when I got a panicky call from one of the technical crew. Several principal actors would be subbing out their roles for several days in the first few weeks of the show. Sudden schedule conflicts!!! There were several actors who could fill the roles but they haven't been in all the rehearsals and might be hazy on choreography. Could I set up a central video camera to record the whole show from beginning to end so the fill-ins could watch the video over and over again to see the blocking they needed to know? 

I added a Panasonic FZ2500 to the kit, along with a stout tripod, and headed to the theater to set up. 
In MP4 at HD the camera can shoot fairly small files. They are about 20 mb/s which means that a 128 GB memory card will give nearly six hours of run time. I set the exposure based on a middle of the road lighting cue, white balanced the camera and then turned the rear screen in to shut off the review and gain me some battery life. We rolled the camera for the entire 2 hours of the technical performance on one battery!!!!!!

With the camera manually focused on the middle of the stage the depth of field was adequate to cover most of the stage from front to back. The camera delivered great files for the intended purpose. Exposure wasn't alway optimum but as a reference for the actors it was exactly what they needed. They can clearly see the blocking and gestures and their relationships to other actors on the stage. Easy to accommodate and a big help to my Zach family. 

At the end of the performance we downloaded the SD card directly to one of the production team's laptops and it ran in Windows Media Player without issue. For $1,000, or thereabouts every pro practicing a hybrid video+photo model should have one of these Swiss Army Knife cameras.

I wanted to bring the discussion of doing a profitable business with a team of small sensor cameras out of the studios of full time YouTubers and breathless DP Reviewers and just tell you my experiences over the last ten days...

11.18.2017

"Memory is getting so cheap these days that file size doesn't matter any more." LMAO, ROTFL,

Behind the scenes at a three camera interview.

We decided to shoot a video project with multiple GH5s over the last two days. We also decide to shoot in 4K and to shoot 10 bit and 4:2:2. If you do that you'll quickly find that while the GH5 camera is a robust and stable platform it does demand fast memory cards in order to push through high density video signals. I'd been using UHS-1, class 10 cards with 95mbs write times but found out the hard way that once you go with big files your SD memory card speed has to upgrade with you...

Here's what I learned: You can get away with using slower cards in certain situations. If the camera doesn't move. If the talent doesn't move very much. If you don't shoot stopped way down (which vastly increases the detail in video files, increasing dynamic file size) and if you aren't recording with all the available camera bells and whistles on. If you are running next to a subject who is also running and you are shooting at f16 and you have image stabilization engaged. Your crappy UHS-1 card will sooner or later generate a camera screen message that says "Recording was cancelled due to slow card write..." Or something like that. 

What other things stress the system? Well, how about automatic diffraction compensation? Better to just shy away from apertures smaller than f8 and to keep this control off. Same for corner shading compensation. Just click "no." Some of the bells and whistles slow the whole process because the internal processors have more to do but the biggest culprit is cards that just can't suck up data fast enough. And, since you paid for all those other features you might feel entitled to use them....

In that case it is incumbent on you to supply your previously deprived camera system with a kick-ass fast SD card. If you are planning to take advantage of everything the GH5s have to offer you might use in-camera, 400 mb/s, All-I files as the gold standard to shoot for as a performance target. To play on this playground you are going to need a card with the following attributes: It should be a UHS-II card. That means it will have a second row of gold electrical contacts just below the usual UHS-I contact configuration. The UHS-II cards are speedier at reading and writing (anyone want to explain the technical reasons? We've got room in the comments....). The card should have a V90 rating. This is, as far as I know, the top rating for current SD cards. Oh, and you'll need a write time about 3-4X faster than a really good "Extreme" UHS-I card. Ready, set, let's drop $100 per card for 64 Gigabytes.... Or $278 for a 128 GB card...

The $100 price tag is just about double the price of previous generation of 64 Gb cards which  I purchased. So maybe memory isn't quite as cheap as the pundits proclaim....

But wait! There's more! Each GH5 comes with two card slots and unlike some of their less well spec'd brethren both of the slots are UHS-II ready. This means that if you are using two cards for simultaneous back-ups your camera can only write as fast as the slowest card can accommodate. This means that in practice you'll want/need to have a V90 UHS-II card in both slots. Now you have $200 per camera for basically the same 64 GB. Shooting three cameras deep and begging for simultaneous back-up? That's three cameras X $200 per camera or about $600 for a little over thirty minutes of 400 mb/s All-I shooting. That's $1200 per hour. More or less. Thank goodness the cards are re-usable. 

We opted for a lower intensity codec on this project. One with an average throughput of 150 mb/s. But a faster card makes for a more responsive camera system whether you are shooting big video files or slamming through a bunch of raw photo files. The faster the card the better advantage you can take of a big, fast buffer. After all, you paid for it....

Even if you never shoot a lick of video a good UHS-II card with a fast rating will make your raw+jpeg shooting Texas Jackrabbit fast. Even as it puts your credit card on a hard diet...

I'm using a combination of Delkin 128 GB, V60 cards and two Hoodman 64 GB, V90 cards at the moment. I'm sure it's advertising bravado but Hoodman labels them as 2000X cards. 8K, ultraHD capable. Guess if I want to be a really serious pro I should buy another handful...


I'd buy the 128 GB cards but they're way too pricey...




11.15.2017

The Three Graces. Louvre. 1986.

©1986 Kirk Tuck

People keep asking me where the Sony cameras got off to. And why they seem to have vacated the premises...

Sigmund Freud is credited with saying: "But really, how can you actually know which camera you like best if you have not used all of the available cameras? Now, what would your mother say? What do your dreams tell us?"

I woke up one morning and there was a stack of one hundred dollar bills bunched up under my pillow, along with a note from the Camera Fairy. The note read, "You seem less enthused about that big pile of Sony cameras and lenses than you used to be before you bought that Panasonic GH5 and that Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. Just like my cousin, the Tooth Fairy, does with old teeth I've taken it upon myself to remove the no longer cherished cameras and replace them with cold, hard cash. Good luck!"

We're a month and a half shy from closing out 2017 and it's been a year of interesting changes. I've gone from a business model that was based almost entirely on making photographs for businesses to a totally different sort of undertaking. This year will mark the first year in which the majority (just a bit more than half) of my income has been derived from producing, writing, shooting and editing video. In nearly every instance the companies I created video for approached me directly or I approached them, and this will mark the first year in which the vast majority of my engagements were directly with the final client and not finagled or funneled through a third party, such as an advertising agency or public relations firm. Those are big, huge, changes. I believe that these changes are a reflection of the greater market shifting---
---but that's a subject for a much lengthier and more analytic post.

What changed in regards to cameras? My ownership of the Sony cameras (and the Nikons before them) was based on the idea that I'd continue doing my business with a traditional photography workflow and that I'd be called upon to create high resolution images for print and trade show use. I bought cameras like the A7Rii and the Nikon D810 for the same reason people buy all kinds of stuff. It was the tradition, of a sort, in my industry. Everywhere you look people who purport to make a living with photography are sporting around big Sonys, big Nikons and big Canons. They all seem to love big lenses as well. But unless they have aimed themselves at the retail side of photography (weddings, babies and family portraits) I believe they are gearing themselves up for a business model they've been seeing in the rear view mirror of time. A working model from the past that's diminishing year by year. With the new awareness of a business model that's shifting (for me) into video and rejecting traditional printed photographs, the requirements for the cameras I want to work with have shifted away from the idea of "ultimate image quality at any cost" toward something less gear rigorous and more thought intensive.

I bought the first Panasonic GH5 on the strength of investigatory work I'd done with its less expensive sibling, the G85. Once I started using the GH5 with really good lenses, like the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro, I was hooked. The video quality; especially flesh tone rendering, was a clear step above what I had been able to squeeze out of the Sony cameras. All models of the Sony line create video that's amazingly sharp and detailed but I wasn't feeling the love for the color palette the cameras delivered. Where color grading or correction was a struggle when making video with the Sony cameras, it has been very simple and straightforward when using GH5 files. 

I also knew that I wanted to be able to offer my clients technically sophisticated video files that would conform to broadcast quality standards, where needed. I wanted to offer things like the ability to do 4:2:2 color for work with green screens; more tonal separation via 10 bits of information, and All-I files that would tame subject motion artifacts or camera motion artifacts. Finally, for very demanding clients I wanted to be able to offer files with lots of information, like the 400 mb/s, All-I files now available in the GH5. When I combined these features with a wonderful EVF and batteries with stamina I was more or less sold. 

I kept both camera systems until I was able to test out the "goodies" that got delivered in firmware 2.0 of the Panasonic camera and then, when completely satisfied, I dumped the Sony stuff into the used market to help pay for the fun stuff I wanted for the new system. 

I'm not particularly dense so I do understand that the bigger sensor in the Sony cameras will provide some extra quality at high ISOs, but having done several illumination-challenged jobs with the Panasonic FZ2500, with a much smaller sensor that the m4:3 cameras, I'm pretty confident that this won't be an issue for the way I shoot. We also keep a healthy inventory of lighting gear around here which means that most of the stuff we produce that can be lit can be controlled and shot at lower ISOs --- where all cameras look great. 

The other parameter where full frame cameras such as the Sony A7ii and A7Rii have had traditional advantages has been in depth of field control. Or, more precisely, being able to easily put the backgrounds of photographs out of focus by using wider apertures. I'm clearly concerned about being able to continue to do this as it's a look I use in my environmental portraits a lot. 

In this regard I am confident that I'll find equivalent control with the new generation of Pro lenses that are coming on line from Olympus. I have the 45mm f1.2 Pro on order; I am considering picking up one of the 25mm Pros (though my experiences with the Panasonic 25mm f1.7 and the 7 Artisans 25mm f1.7 are both quite satisfactory), and I have had much satisfaction using the very, very good Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens at it's wide open aperture. 

In short I'm finding that the fewer different menus (and families of menus) I must recall on the spot the happier and more secure I am in executing my assignments. I have now (for the first time ever!!!!!) winnowed down my collection of photographic toys to the point where two of the cameras (the GH5s) are identical and the other two are from the same basic generation  and have very similar menus to navigate through. Whether I am picking up the one inch sensor FZ2500 or the m4:3 GH5 all the basic menu items are pretty much the same and all the nomenclature now makes sense to me. 

Add to this the smaller footprint and lighter weight of the holistic system and I feel lean and ready to engage in the actual work.

None of this is intended to paint the Sony cameras as a "bad choice" or an ineffective imaging solution. On the contrary, I think that for people who are engaged solely in traditional still photography the Sony family is a great choice. Especially with the new A9, and A7Riii and the RX10iv. I was just looking for a different set of parameters and I believe I've found a system that's closer to my multiple uses than anything else on the market. I mean really, who else gives you waveform monitors and vector scopes in a camera at this price point? Nobody. 

At some point I'm sure I'll hear the siren call of bigger formats and less detail in my backgrounds. I can hardly wait to start shopping for a Fuji or Hasselblad medium format (pixie medium format) camera system but it will be a while before I circle back around to the more conventional choices. 

None of the images here were made with either the Sony or the Panasonic cameras. You can do decent work with just about anything. Make you job easier if you can. Or if you want to....

If it doesn't have an EVF I don't want to shoot with it...












Don't be too literal about guidelines. There are exceptions to everything.

It's hard to stop two young women on a scooter speeding through Rome to ask permission to photograph them as they speed by at XX kilometers per hour... Sometimes you need to shoot first if you are to get a shot at all.

I ran eight miles to catch them and ask permission but lost them on the Apian Way. (sarcasm).

Photos from Downtown San Antonio. With Renae.



11.14.2017

One step closer to "perfection." The DMW-XLR1 for the Panasonic GH5.


We're shooting a project on Friday and Saturday that calls for a bunch of interview footage and we've decided to use a couple of GH5s and one G85 for our production cameras. While my partner and I both have standalone digital audio recorders, and we both have pre-amplifier interfaces of various types, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the audio interface that Panasonic made exactly for their flagship m4:3 video camera. It arrived last week and I put it through its paces in anticipation of the upcoming project.

What the hell is this thing? It's an audio interface and pre-amplifier which adds the capability of using all kinds of professional microphones, which require connection via balanced XLR plugs, with your GH5.

This means that it works with pretty much every professional microphone you'd want to use; with one small caveat.  It works with my Aputure Diety shotgun microphone, all manner of Rode shotgun microphones, my hyper-cardioids, the Sennheiser radio mics and many more. Where it falls down, in terms of universal compatibility, is with less sensitive dynamic microphones. It's fine with my Rode Reporter microphone (a handheld dynamic) but my large diaphragm, side address microphone, the Audio Technica AT2035, requires lots and lots of gain and that pushes up the noise. It's fine for me but some clients are really sensitive to audio noise so --- approach with caution if you are dead set on pairing up the Panasonic DMW-XLR1 with inefficient/dynamic microphones.

This unit allows XLR cables from two different microphones to be plugged in, supplied with phantom power, if your microphone requires it, provides precisely controllable gain, even high pass filters, and sends the resulting signals to the GH5 directly through the hot shoe connections. It's small, sturdy and light.

The unit is not self-powered but depends on power from the camera, supplied through the same hot shoe contacts. There is a green light on the rear of the unit (where you'll have a hard time not seeing it...) that lets you know your unit is powered up. I haven't measured the run time of the unit + camera shooting at 4K and also providing phantom power to two microphones, but Curtiss Judd has and he found it to be about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Coming from the tiny Sony camera batteries this performance seems miraculous.

Why are we shooting with GH5s instead of an (available) Sony FS7 video camera? Pretty straightforward answer, I think.  We want the files coming out of camera to be "final look" in case we need to hand them off to the client's people for editing (over which we might have no control) so we'd like to get them as close to what we want to end up with as possible, right in camera. Experience tells us that we'll have an easier time getting the flesh tone and general look we're shooting for with the Panasonic cameras. We're sporting light meters as well as in camera scopes so we're pretty sure we're going to nail exposure. We're lighting our important interior scenes so were almost certain to manufacture lighting that matches the dynamic range of the (non-Log) camera files and, we're both going to carry Lastolite white/gray targets so we're hoping to keep white balance between our three cameras close.

Also, we don't have access to two more Sony FS7s, dedicated batteries, etc. and want to make sure that all our sources have the same basic family color science --- in case we wind up doing the edit.  Just to make it easier on ourselves...

This is also why we're using a DMW-XLR1 audio unit to capture main audio from Sennheiser or Rode wireless microphones. Recording primary sound to an external recorder would add a step of potential failure for some other editor. If we deliver good, clean audio right on the SD cards, bundled with the video, it's one less thing someone needs to sync up in post production.

That's the reason for the DMW-XLR1's use on this week's job.

We have another project coming up in early December that will require me to video document a stage presentation  by a celebrity in the medical field. I've been asked to capture the presentation. I'll be able to use the DMW-XLR1 via its "line in" setting to record the audio for the event directly from the sound board at the venue while also running a wireless microphone, attached to the speaker, as a safety. All in one unit that won't require extensive cabling or extra batteries. Since the GH5 will run as long as the internal battery and memory card allow I should be able to record the hour long presentation with no sweat.

Fun when a product pays for itself in one or two days of shooting....


Be sure to order fun camera equipment for yourself and your loved ones for Thanksgiving. 
Use the link above to get to Amazon.com and then search for the perfect self gift. 
I'll be as happy as you that you did...




11.12.2017

As money burns a hole in my pocket I re-think the portrait lens scenario with an old, adapted Zeiss 50.


Everything starts over coffee. I spent some time one morning reading about three lenses from Olympus while drinking a cup of Illy brand coffee I'd made and suddenly it seemed like the most brilliant and obvious idea would be to run out and drop $3,600 on three Olympus Pro primes. Primes that are  already well covered in my camera bag by state-of-the-art zooms from the titans of the micro-four thirds camp. I thought I wanted the new 17mm, 25mm and, of course, the 45mm. They are all f1.2 lenses so I had visions of super shallow depth of field and high sharpness. The coffee was very, very good too. I may still pursue this course of action because I am, admittedly, a bit eccentric...

But, in the course of ruminating over the consequences of spending even more money that I really didn't need to spend, I thought I'd convince myself of just how badly needed the new lenses were by putting on the front of my little Panasonic G85 body one of the Contax C/Y Zeiss lenses I have rolling around on the edge of my desktop, here in the palatial world headquarters of the VSL...

It's a 50mm f1.7. At the time of its peak popularity it was merely the "kit" lens that came, de facto, on the front of Contax film cameras. I bought it a few years back as an afterthought. Perhaps a momentary salve for the stinging, grand price of the Sony 55mm f1.8... I used it a few times and remembered it to be a fine performer on a full frame Sony camera but now I wondered just how well it would acquit itself on the diminutive m4:3 format cameras. Would it have the contrast and resolution needed to compensate for the Lilliputian geometry of the image sensor?

I put the Contax Zeiss C/Y 50mm f1.7 on a no-name adapter and we sped downtown at dusk. A torture test for sensor and lens. The test started with a cup of coffee and a vegan, lemon and hazelnut scone from Whole Foods. Just a little something to tide me over during the rigorous testing procedures I anticipated. 

The light dropped quick as I walked toward the new city library and the new arched bridge over Second St. I used the camera with the lens mostly set at f2.0 and shutter speeds around 1/125th of a second. Pretty soon I found myself down in the 3200 ISO territory we small sensor masochists fear so much...

I found that the Zeiss lens seems very sharp at f2.0. Even sharper at the several shots I took at f5.6. This 100mm equivalent lens is a good choice for portraits. Maybe as good as the Olympus 45mm Pro would be. But if I am to be truthful the fabulous marketing of the new 45mm will carry the day and I'll end up with a little less in my retirement account this year than I could have had....

Ah well.

After looking through the images taken with the 30 year old, bargain lens I just have to say once again that there's no magic bullet. No miracle optic that will make one a better photographer; a better artist. The 50mm is one of the perfectly sorted lenses that will find its way into my video equipment package every single time...










I'm still looking for the flare when shooting wide open. 
But this is like "Where's Waldo?" I just can't seem to find it...