The perils of big site reviews and the complexity of new cameras. DO YOUR OWN TESTS!!!

I hesitated about buying a Panasonic fz2500 because of a disparaging review on the website, DPReview. They "reviewed" the camera and decided that the lens was soft. The first camera they had in-house was "too" soft and they requested a second copy that was "less soft." Now, I get that early batches of new and very complex cameras can have some quality issues and variations but I kept hearing echoes of this "soft lens" refrain all over the web along with counter comments that claimed the lens was sharp. This early denouement is probably the reason why there are so few examples and samples of files from this camera model on the web. The bad review scared buyers into buying RX10s instead...

A long time Panasonic user whose opinion I trust very much was an early buyer of the fz2500 so I called him up and asked him about his experiences. "It's sharp." He said. I wanted the features the camera offers for video so I took the plunge and bought one from my local merchant, Precision-Camera.com. They have a 30 day satisfaction guarantee so I had a financial safety net, if the brain trust at DPReview turned out to be correct. 

My cursory experiences with the camera, early on, were good and I felt smug about my buying decision until I went out for a Sunday afternoon stroll with the camera, headed for the Graffiti Wall to shoot and wound up frustrated and feeling foolish. Every frame I shot looked fine on the rear screen of the camera but when I brought them home and looked on a 27 inch iMac none of the images were anywhere near sharp when I blew them up. And I did not need to get to 100% to see the faults. Images on which I knew I'd focused sharply on faces were so blurry you couldn't see eyelashes; hell, you could barely see eyes!

I went over my settings. I was shooting in RAW, using the center AF sensor (albeit in a wide mode, not a tight spot), I was using the image stabilization, and my slowest shutter speed was 1/80th of a second, with most exposures ranging in the 1/320th to 1/1,000th range. It's not that the frames were in focus in a plane in front or behind the intended subject, they were uniformly unsharp throughout. "I guess the boys at DPReview got it right this time." I thought. Maybe Panasonic really did toss out a crappy lens on this go around.  

Then I got into the problem solving mode and started testing in earnest. The first thing I did was to turn off the ability to touch the screen to get the camera to focus. Bang. That was it. All of a sudden every image I took the time to focus was in the same league, for sharpness, as my Sony RX series cameras. With the camera on a tripod and the I.S. turned off I shot a bunch of different subjects and became aware also that, even though the camera has a one inch sensor, shooting fairly close up with a long lens yields a very narrow depth of field. I started using the smallest sensor target in the center sensor mode and it made quite a difference in terms of precisely targeting where I intended to have sharp focus.

I didn't want a crippled camera so I spent this afternoon testing around the house and found that, with the touch screen focus turned off the camera was able to achieve accurate focus and great detail 95% of the time. The culprit, it seems, is not a defective lens but a conflict between rear panel focus and eye level focusing. It might be a conflict in the software...  If you keep your eye away from the eyepiece and use the touch focus alone it also seems to work fine. Put your eye up to the screen and use your finger to guide the rear screen sensor to your desired focusing point and there is a jump or disconnect when you click the shutter. It's almost like the entire frame is jumping out of focus. 

The takeaway is to test and use the controls the way the engineers no doubt intended. Touch screen for those times when you feel compelled to use the camera at arm's length (dirty baby diaper hold) and turn off the touch screen when you are intent on using the EVF (like a photographer). 

Had I depended on my cursory shoot on Sunday and the "findings" of the DPReview team I probably would have ended up returning the camera. As it is I can now take advantage of all the features, get sharp images and avoid cross programming induced foibles.

I've supplied samples here on the blog but they are about 1/3 the size of the images I originally  shot. Believe the written testimony in this case instead of the images (Google/Blogger compresses everything....too much).  The camera provides really nice images (albeit with too much default noise reduction) and it's a pleasure to use for everyday video work. Especially run-and-gun stuff. 

The armchair reviewers are hardly infallible. It takes time and elbow grease to get the best out of any modern, menu driven camera. And when you hit a roadblock a bit of time doing some trial and error testing  can go a long way to get you happily shooting again. Do your own testing!

All samples shot at f5.6, all handheld, most with I.S. Auto ISO

Color mods made to yesterday's video upload. Much better skin tone....I think....

Marty Robinson, Clinician. Discusses the Ottobock C-Leg. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

What do you think?


One More Video Project From Our Assignment in February.

Marty Robinson, Clinician. Discusses the Ottobock C-Leg. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

In this video we interview Marty Robinson who is a clinician with expertise in fitting prosthetics. He discussed the evolution from mechanical knee/leg devices to microprocessor controlled ones.

Our primary footage of Marty was shot in 4K with the Sony A7Rii but the video was created in the 1080p space. All of the b-roll footage was shot with the Sony RX10iii camera. The microphone was a Sennheiser MKE600 suspended on a boom pole, attached to a cart.

Processed in Final Cut Pro X. Music from PremiumBeat.com

A Few Thoughts About the Soon to be Released Panasonic GH5. Maybe we should all rush out and get one....

I have some experience with Panasonic GH cameras having, at one time owned two or three of the GH4's and various other G cameras. Two of my favorite lenses from the system were the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm f2.8s. Really nice stuff. I had good success shooting a large video project with the GH4 but at some point I sold them all because, while they were very good video cameras there were better conventional photography cameras on the market and most of my focus at the time was still photography, not video production.

I've been quite happy for the last year with my decision to settle on Sony cameras and now, along comes Panasonic to upset the apple cart and to fire up the somewhat irrational desire to make yet another (probably) ill-considered equipment overhaul. To squander a bunch of cash. To follow the siren call of the spec sheet; down the next rabbit hole.

Since few of us (and NOT me) have shot with the GH5 camera we're still getting all excited about the features and specifications alone. We haven't had an honest and detailed review yet about the actual image quality and performance of the new camera by any except the usual review suspects --- who like pretty much every camera they've ever touched.

My first reaction is that if you are a still photographer


A Minimalist's Approach to Video Production in The Present Moment.

The first moving pictures project in which I played a significant role was a television commercial for BookStop, Inc. (the first "category killer" book store chain) in 1985. I was the advertising agency creative director for the project which used: a television commercial, a multi-page, four color printed mailer (magazine style), radio commercials, and newspaper advertising, to open three, 100,000 square foot, retail stores in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. With my creative team we concepted the commercial and the campaign materials. I wrote the direct mail as well as the TV, radio and newspaper ads. We hired producer/director, Bruce Maness, to handle the television commercial production. 

As creative director for a big advertising campaign you should be involved in all the major steps and creative decisions. You are responsible for maintaining a consistent "look and feel" throughout. The TV commercials were the big chunk of the media buy and, since my print production team in the agency were all consummate professionals, I paid the bulk of my day-to-day attention to the TV commercial production. 

For the spots we created an 18 foot tall replica of the monolith from the Stanley Kubrick movie, "2001, A Space Odyssey." The monolith was created almost entirely of hard cover books. We hired animators to animate a comet flying through a star field which then exploded and coalesced into a our client's logo (with a bit of shimmer added in...).  The bulk of the footage was shot at night in a rock quarry (our "surface of the moon"). It was my first experience with huge, manned, cinema cranes and also with giant generators, and enormous 18K lighting fixtures. 

The entire production was shot on 35mm film stock with an Arriflex camera and then mastered on two inch tape. It was a time consuming process and presented an almost logarithmic learning curve for me. It was my very first TV project and we were out of the gate with a $100,000+ budget. It was highly successful. The campaign generated results that far exceeded our client's sales goals; the TV, radio, and direct mail each won gold ADDY awards that year, and the most exciting thing for me


Photography provides reasons to leave the house, and an invitation to mingle with artists.

Choreography, Christa Oliver-Torres. During a long rehearsal at Zach Theatre.

I love being part of the marketing team at a (non-profit) theater. Like most of the arts people who aren't involved don't always know what goes on the behind the scenes. They don't understand the time and energy it takes to make art at a high level. I love getting involved with a theatrical production in the early stages so I can really understand both the surface drama (or comedy) as well as the underlying ethos. 

Last Fall, I wanted to see a series of rehearsals for the upcoming, Zach Theatre twist on Dicken's, A Christmas Carol.  One of the rehearsals centered around the dance segments for the production. It wasn't just a half hour here or there but a full day of precision drilling, fine-tuning and then more precision drilling. I was exhausted just watching and I was only a witness to one part of the rehearsal; and on just one of the many days that the ensemble rehearsed. 

I was standing in front of the long mirrored wall watching and snapping photographs when I saw the choreography pause to watch a group of dancers practice and intricate move. Her focus was intense. I manually focused the 135mm f2.0 lens on the front of my Sony A7Rii and shot a few frames. This image is one of my favorite images from the day. Just wanted to share it. 

There is value in putting yourself in the right place and then....just standing around until you see something you want to photograph. 


An inexpensive light that seems to work pretty well. And which matches my other lights...

Aputure Amaran HR672W. A medium size LED panel that can run on battery power. 

Late last year I decided to upgrade all of my LED lights. I did my research and decided that the price and performance compromise that made the most sense to me was the one offered by Aputure with their LightStorm series of panels. They have turned out to be great lights even though I find their A/C to power brick to panel connections a bit cumbersome. The light quality I am getting from them is quite good, and they seem to be living up to their press as 96+ CRI units. Flesh tones, especially, have been easy to nail in post processing. That's always a good sign. 

When I upgraded I spent a bit over $2,000 to get four units. Two of the LS-1S units (a high output, narrower beam fixture, with barn doors) and two of the LS-1/2 units (a broad beam, high output light that's half the size of the LS-1S). After using them on twenty+ projects I feel comfortable with the workflow involved and I'm pretty darn happy to have them. 

But recently I did a very detailed product shoot against a white background and I stumbled into the truism that every studio photographer knows well: "You always need just one more light for this project...."  With two LS-1/2s lighting up the background that left me only two lights to do the heavy lifting of contouring the product while ensuring I had controllable fill light to the opposite side. A couple of times I wanted a bit of front fill as well and had to resort to a much smaller panel ---the kind you would use mostly mounted on a camera--- in order to get just a bit more fill to the front of a decidedly three dimensional product. One more panel, with more power and surface area, would have been just right. 

At the same time I was also looking for a smaller, less cumbersome panel solution for really quick, one man video interviews. Something I could put batteries on, toss some diffusion in front of and bring up the illumination on a subject who is being mostly lit by ambient light. One concern I had was that I didn't want to spend a lot of money on "one more light." 

Once I did my research I was fairly certain I found the right candidate. It's a light that's also marketed by Aputure and it's the one I'm showing above and below. It's the HR672W. As you can probably discern from the product name it has 672 very color accurate LEDs. The "W" indicates that it has a wide beam spread. And I have no idea what the "HR" means...

I tried to buy one from my local Aputure dealer but it's not a stock item for them. I defaulted to Amazon.com and waited two long days to get my package. When I finally got the box open I was delighted to find a nicely thought out soft case holding the system together. I'm always delighted to get several more Sony NP batteries because there are so many products in the inventory I can use them on.....including my portable monitor. This package comes with two of the husky NP970 batteries. These will run the unit at full power for about one hour and thirty minutes, and at lower power settings for longer periods of time. They charge while connected to the panel via the power brick, which also supplies A/C power to the lights if you opt not to use the batteries. 

The light comes with a neutral diffuser that's good for taking the "edge" off the highly collimated LEDs, as well as a filter that converts the light temperature to match tungsten. A step-less dial on the back can set the output power from 10% to 100%, and your settings are easily repeatable because there is a big panel adjacent to the control that provides a numerical power indication. The panel also provides charging indicators for the batteries. 

The final cool thing that this light can do is that it can be remote controlled with a supplied, wireless remote. It's the same remote that comes with their bigger, more expensive lights. In fact, I can now control all five of the bigger panels with one remote control. I mostly leave the remote in the case and just set the control with my fingers. It gives me time to think about what I really want the light to do. But hey! if you are a tech junkie and love remotes,  then there you go. 

The bottom line on any light purchase is the quality of light that the product delivers. Aputure has done a good job getting the message out that their line of lights provides 95+ CRI; from the smallest model to the top model. In comparing the output of the Amaran HR672W to that of the more expensive lights I previously purchased, I would have to say that they nailed the consistency feature. The lights are all daylight balanced and they all match each other. That makes my job easier and more fun. 

The only downside of this light is the build quality. While the more expensive lights are all metal and have gloriously big heat sinks on them, this model is made mostly of plastic and might not stand up to a lot of wear and tear. If you are a precise and thoughtful person the robustness, or lack of,  is probably not going to be an issue. If you are the kind of person who runs around with cameras slamming together across their chest, and who literally tosses his stuff into cases without a thought for the effects of gravity or inertia, then you'll probably be bitching about stuff breaking in no time. 

The bottom line. Would I buy this product again? Yes. It's a perfectly good compromise between build quality, performance and cost. The price? Around $275. I give it four out of five happy camper awards. The one "camper" deduction is the build quality. I'm good with it.

the business end.