Photographing a play made just for children ages 3 to 5. We made images during a rehearsal but not on a traditional stage...

Leah and Michael as Brother and Sister Bear.

After a long week of making photographs and video at a corporate event in a downtown hotel it was fun to change gears this afternoon and photograph one of the final rehearsals for a kids' play at Zach Theatre's small, north Austin satellite mini-theater.
The "auditorium" is more like a regular class room and the stage set was spare but the actors are two veteran professionals with credits from Zach's main stage productions and other top companies in Austin. 

I spent a lot of time in the last few days with a Panasonic GH5 or GH5S in my hands. I did a few portrait shoots earlier in the week with the Nikon D800e so it was a nice change of pace for me to grab a Nikon D700 body and shoot a thousand and seventy seven frames in the service of some fun art. 

I'd gotten a "heads-up" from the program director just yesterday that the space didn't have any theatrical lighting; in fact, it had only the mis-matched ceiling fluorescents that seem to come as standard equipment in older shopping centers and well used classrooms. I brought along four of the Aputure LightStorm LS-1 lights and bounced them off the ceiling at strategic points in the room. I wasn't looking for anything fancier than a nice wash of better light than that which I'd get from five or six different varieties of fluorescent tubes mixed together.....

Once I got the space lit up I made a custom white balance using a Lastolite gray/white target and then actually used a handheld incident light meter to get an accurate reading of the light throughout the shooting area. I tried to space the LED panels, bouncing off the ceiling, so that no area was different in exposure than one half stop. If I could keep it in that area it would make post processing a breeze. I think I did a good job of achieving that goal as few of the images I finally selected needed any post processing compensation. 

There was one additional wrinkle to today's shoot and that was a last minute request to also record the whole production (half an hour?) concurrently on a wide, stationary video camera. So after nailing down all the parameters needed for the still photography I got to work rigging up a Panasonic GH5S, the ever present Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens, and several cardioid microphones (placed as close to the "stage" as possible without being in the frame...). My exposure for video clocked in at ISO 1,000, f5.6 (needed the depth of field) at 1/60th of a second. The audio will be a compromise as the air conditioning was noisy and turning it off was non-negotiable. That, and the fact that I was banging away with a photography camera that has a ...... profound shutter acoustic profile (to say the least). But I have a suspicion that the video is intended for b-roll with narration and music supplied. 

The shoot was fun, primitive and low key, by comparison to all other  recent projects. But how nice it was not to have a pressing deadline, nervous clients and a committee to answer to. 

Kind of reminds me that sometimes we do this photography thing because it can be fun. Novel that. A nice capper for the week. 

I'm thinking the images look pretty good for 1,600 ISO on an ancient camera.


Answering some production questions. Shooting corporate events.

From the Samsung Smart Watch Introduction in Berlin, 2013.
The same event at which Samsung's CEO claimed his company 
invented the first tablet with handwriting recognition and a pen. 
Go back in your time machine and introduce yourself
to the Apple Newton. It would have ruled the tech world if only 
the right processors had been available at the time....

I've shot literally hundreds of corporate events and they are all different but the same. The same part is that someone is trying to sell something to their audience. It may be a product, a concept, a new corporate direction or even the need to downsize but they are all aimed at leading attendees to a desired conclusion. In some instances a show might be about teaching better ways to use a software or hardware product but the end desire is to create happier users which should lead to more sales or at least more referrals. What's different at every show is the "look and feel" of each company's culture, the size of their budget --- which determines the production quality and complexity of their show ---- and what exactly they want from their content creators. For our purposes: what do they want from their event photographers and videographers?

Many clients want a small collection of images documenting important moments from their events that can be shared online and used in publications. These might be images of famous keynote speakers, dramatic product demonstrations or flattering images of the CEO and other top company officers speaking on stage while looking smart and honest. 

If the client needs well polished images we shoot raw and convert. But these are generally situations in which the clients are not expecting heroic turnaround times; they'll be happy to get the images a few days to a week after the event. If I'm photographing a concentrated collection of images and the image quality is paramount then I shoot in raw format and generally use the highest resolution camera I have, assuming its image quality will be top tier. In any situation that I can't light (most corporate event presentations) I work really hard to get a good custom white balance. Sometimes a quick custom WB isn't enough and you have to dive into the color setting and also fine tune the hues on the blue/yellow and green/magenta axes. If you have time to take a good, portable monitor (Atomos?) or a properly calibrated laptop you can more accurately review color but it's important if you do that to take the monitor out into known lighting in order to properly evaluate a stage scene with lots of gelled or otherwise colored lights.

I shot an event like this recently and the workflow is arduous, especially if you tend to be a promiscuous  shooter like me. Since the client expected polished images and does not have an in-house creative team that wants to take the raw images and polish the ones they want to use in-house I have to assume that everything I give them is going to be used and needs to be fine-tuned or corrected in some way so I start the process by editing down the number of images much more tightly that I otherwise would. Then I try to group images that are most alike together so I can do as much batching as possible. 

In the past clients asked for Tiffs but now Jpegs are equally acceptable so I tend to deliver Jpegs at the full file size and with the absolute minimum compression. I've never had a client complain about the file type but if they do I'll be happy to convert all raw files to Tiffs provided they show up with an external hard drive to deposit them on. If a designer still requests Tiffs we generally have a discussion about the merits of PhotoShop .PSD files and they generally get the idea that the .PSDs are equally good but more flexible within their Adobe universe.  Tiffs can get mighty big for not enough benefit.

The client I worked for this week (three day engagement+post production) has a good, and large in-house media department who are young, smart and love to get their hands in the mix. It was more important to them to get an almost minute-by-minute documentation of their event, with a wide range of speaker expressions and compositions than it was to get ultimate image quality. We still aim for great images, technically, but we shoot them with the idea that they might be used within the hour and with no quarter given for any sort of enhancement. That's another reason to pay close attention to white balance. Much of my work over the last three days was used, literally, SOOC (straight out of camera).

The two cameras I used for the show were the Panasonic GH5 variants; the original and the lower resolution "S" model.  In Jpeg I like the standard profile setting in the largest image file size and the lowest compression (finest) for this kind of work.  But I find the preset sharpening to be too much and generally tone it down by three steps from the factory setting. I also drop the saturation by one or two clicks as well. With contrasty stage lighting I drop the contrast down by two clicks and also make a custom curve in the shadow/highlights setting menu. One up for shadows (lighter) and one down for highlights (darker). 

If I'm shooting Jpegs I am almost always going to be shooting them in an sRGB color profile because that's what works the best on the web and on most computer monitors --- and that's where the images are most likely to be seen. If a client decides to use the file for something else they always have the option of converting the file to their preferred setting.

When I shoot stage productions, speeches, demonstrations, etc. I use a manual exposure setting since stage light can create pools of light and dark that fool camera meters. I try to nail a good facial exposure by either eyeballing (with an assist from Mr. Histogram) or I set zebras and have them trigger at the %+5 I like for flesh tones, seasoning according to complexion.

The video I shot at this show was rudimentary b-roll to duplicate, with motion, the kinds of images I was already shooting of the people presenting. Most presenters love to roam around the stage and it's fine when shooting video. In this situation I'm not supplying any audio other than scratch audio coming off the internal microphones. B-roll is really meant to be used under an announcer bed, or music, and if the client wants beautiful audio there's generally a bigger camera (supplied with an operator by the staging/production company) who is recording the show for posterity ---- and that operator is generally taking sound right off a sound board. 

I have been hired from time to time to shoot the stage event in video with sound. Almost every time I get an XLR cable drop to my camera and run it into a mixer via line in/out to camera. With the Panasonics, using the audio adapter, you can set the input to mic or line level and then deliver to the camera exactly which levels it needs. 

Miking multiple speakers for stage presentations requires more staff. Someone needs to run a sound board and ride levels across multiple microphones. I hand those situations off to bigger production companies but occasionally I have to record sound for one event speaker. I use two Sennheiser wireless lavaliere microphones and pray the person doesn't thump on their chest like Tarzan or wear burlap shirts that rub against the mics of the cables.... I like to use two mics with two transmitters just in case one frequency has interference that destroys the sound in one mic.

If I have to play at being a news camera man and get video of a single speaker in an "on the street" video interview I have two methods I like to use. The easiest one and, to my mind, the best sounding, is to use a Rode Reporter microphone hardwired to my audio mixer/interface in the camera hot shoe. An omni or uni-direction microphone used close to the subject (think 12-18 inches, max) does a great job of isolating voice and rejecting sounds further away. If I have an assistant or someone actually conducting an interview and we don't want to deal with seeing a reporter microphone in the video frame we default to using a good shotgun microphone. I use an Aputure Diety or a Rode NTG-4+ and have the person holding the microphone get it in as close as possible without showing in the frame. I also have them point it toward the interviewee's mouth. Most fast moving situations aren't conducive to setting up lavaliere microphones. If we are in a dynamic and uncontrollable situations, accoustic-wise, then I buck tradition and take advantage of auto level control and a limiter.

In most event situations, especially when shooting b-roll, we shy away from 4K footage and other video settings that require massive storage. The GH5S has a nice codec in .Mov that gives you 1080p at 30fps with 10 bit, 4:2:2 color space at a modest 100 mbs. Bigger than the older ACVHD files but much, much nicer detail and color. It's footage you'd actually want to use. 

I leave all the hocus-pocus of V-Log for people who like to spend lots and lots of time color grading and dealing with LUTs and try to shoot everything for corporate events in Rec 709 which gives good color and fits into most applications well.  Even in Rec 709 I think the footage is too sharp and so I'm never squeamish about turning down the sharpening to taste.

If I'm shooting on cameras that take two identical memory cards, and I know I'll be able to get everything in each camera on one card per camera, I do a variation on traditional back-ups. I put in two identical cards (for the last three days each camera has had two 128 V90 SD cards in them) and set them to shoot everything identically on both cards. During the course of the event, since my client is looking for new images on a regular basis, I pull the "A" card, upload the images on it to my computer's hard drive and then upload from there to Smugmug.com and then, when the upload is complete I put the "A" card  back in the camera and re-format it for the next round of images. I do this at nearly every break and even sometimes during a long, long presentation.  Doing it this way and keeping the "A" card fresh makes uploading the next batch simpler and effectively gives me three levels of back-up: the card in the "B" slot, the hard drive in the laptop and the gallery full of full res images in the cloud. 

At the end of a job like this I pull all of the files and put them on a 64GB or larger memory stick and hand them off to the client. Once the client has the files in their hands they have two sources from which to archive; the memory stick or a gallery download from Smugmug.com. Once the client lets me know they are set I erase the files completely from the SSD drive in the laptop and, if it's a client who I know is prone to fumble files I'll make an extra backup on a memory stick to have in the drawer, just in case.

In total I generated about 4,000 photography files in three days and about 60 short (15-30 second) video files. With the lower resolution camera as the main part of the mix, and the use of Jpeg instead of raw files, the entire take fits (just) on a 64GB memory stick. The memory sticks I like to use are Sandisk USB3s and they are currently about $16 each. Not a bad delivery mechanism for bigger jobs. Not bad at all.

Someone asked me about which microphone I use at events and I wanted to reiterate that there are distinct needs and that not one single type is an "all weather" solution. One presenter on stage? Tie into the sound board or use lavaliere microphones. A quick interview in a noisy exhibition space? I'd use a reporter microphone close in to the speaker. A fast moving set of handheld camera interviews in a less noisy space? Maybe a shotgun microphone. But a shotgun is great for outdoor areas where you don't have to worry about sound anomalies caused by bounce wave interference effects. Kinda crazy but no crazier than having the exact lens for every scenario...

Second shooters? Assistants? This show had 400 attendees and was at a very nice hotel. The presentation ballroom was fifty steps from the team room where I did my downloads. Nice waiters in jackets brought coffee to me, sometimes to my shooting location. The pace was never so daunting that, even with so-so time management, I was ever overwhelmed or missed anything. 

If the show was bigger, or at a dicier venue (less security/less service), or had break out sessions concurrent with the main tent sessions, then I would definitely consider some help. But the best situation in those circumstances would be to find someone very adept at post processing and file management and to hand off the computer work to them. I know how to do it but it's boring and I'd rather be shooting or meeting with people. If the conference is so big that one needs a real (and talented) second shooter then what one really needs is a team. And then you have to decide if you are an individual artist or an administrator of subcontractors. With all the issues attached to handling people I'd rather keep it simple and turn down the jobs that require more than two of us doing the primary work. Your choices and needs may differ. If I was in poor physical shape I might need more assistance but I'm not slowing down enough to feel any different than I did in my 30's or 40's. 

I must say that, once again, I was surprised and pleased by the performance of the GH5 series cameras. Low (enough) noise and high sharpness, combined with very pleasing color, even under challenging circumstances. A nice camera system. I'm more interested still in adding a G9. We'll see what kinds of jobs are on tap for October....... my birthday is coming up....

Note from watching yesterday's Senate hearings: It's a good idea not to drink until you pass out...
hard to remember stuff clearly when one is minimally conscious/conscience.

I wanted to learn all about the new cameras coming out at Photokina but I was too busy taking photographs...

So much cool stuff has been announced lately that my brain is in acquisition overload. And yet there's a backlog of equipment I heard about last month... and last year that I found tantalizing and wished I could try out and now I'm finding it hard to change gears, abandon my enthusiasm for cameras that seemed so....just right on a few months ago, and switch my full attention to the latest shiny objects.

Here's a case in point: I've been using several Panasonic GH5 variants in my work over the past year. I love that camera line. I think both the GH5 and the GH5S are wonderful working tools, for a number of reasons, some clearly counterintuitive to many people. 

I was hired to photograph at a three day conference this week. The project was a high tech symposium that would take place mostly at one of Austin's cooler, downtown hotels. I have several camera system options available to me and I grappled for a bit between taking a couple of Nikon D800x cameras and their attendant lenses, or the two Panasonic GH5x cameras and three (or more) of the nice lenses I've put together for that system. 

It's an interesting show for an interesting, cutting edge, high technology/software company and one of the things they've always done differently than my other clients is to make immediate use of the images and video we generate, all day long. That means workflow efficiency is paramount and is a higher priority than ultimate image quality. The truth of the matter is that 99% of the imaging content I'm creating for them will be compressed and used (in some cases almost immediately) on the web in social media, or in websites. While the idea of very high resolution coupled with class leading dynamic range might seem like important qualifications and a good rationale for using the 36 megapixel Nikons those features are actually a bit of a negative for the job at hand. 

Let me lay out what we accomplished yesterday as a typical example of this kind of work and why I chose a smaller, lower resolution, not full frame system for what we needed to get done. 

Every corporate conference planner has a laundry list of images and video they'd like to get done, some locked into immutable schedules and some handled as pick up work when there are gaps in the primary agenda. We start by making lifestyle-ish photographs of attendees networking together at a sit down breakfast. Once I have a nice range of images there I move on to documenting interactive displays, signage and people engaged with demonstrations at various booths. 

The producer of the technical side of the show, a contractor for the same corporate media planner I server, approaches me and asks if I could also photograph his stage set and the interactive displays his company produced for the show. Since he is an old friend, and a constant source of (really good) referrals I am happy to try and work in as many documentation shots as I can...

I work on this kind of pre-show documentation until we are about half an hour from the start of the show. The benefit of working with a well funded corporate at a five star hotel is that one never goes hungry, you never have to eat poorly, and the coffee is ample and four or five notches above the swill that passes for coffee at lesser properties... I drink good coffee as I set up and shoot images of booths peppered with interactive screens and implementations of A.I. and machine learning. 

About half an hour before the kick off, all hands presentation in the main ball room, I head to the "team" room where I've laid claim to a tiny bit of real estate that comes complete with an electrical outlet. I pull out the new laptop, get connected to the symposium's super-fast wifi and pull the memory card out of the camera I've been using. I download the files to a sub-folder in a master folder for the event. I take a cursory look at the color and density of the files and then pull them all into their subfolder. The first sub-folder of the day is entitled: company name: day two 1st download.

I've tested downloading via a USB 3 cable from the camera, using a wifi connection or using a fast, Thunderbolt card reader and the card reader seems fastest. I probably shot 150 images on a GH5S in its ten megapixel, highest quality Jpeg mode so each image clocks in at about 5-7 megapixels.These get sucked onto the SSD drive so quickly that the transfer is done before I get a really good sip of coffee. 

I then upload them to Smugmug.com (my "cloud" supplier since 2005 or 2006) and they go into a client folder with the newest images up front and the older images constantly headed down the catalog. In this way my client has immediate access to everything we shoot and, since they are dipping into the collection and using them on all kinds of social media all day long it's most efficient for them to have the material in ascending order. The gallery is password protected but I've enabled full resolution downloading from the gallery for my clients' convenience. With a fast broadband connection I've uploaded 150 images in about as much time as it took me to write this paragraph. And I am a fast writer.

I ping the technical/marketing person who is interacting with the images to let him know there's a new batch to choose from. Then I reformat the SD card and head back out to catch the beginning of the "main tent" session. Note that the files are backed up on the second SD card in the camera (a running tally of images) as well as one the laptop and in the cloud.

I head to the main ballroom with two cameras (a GH5 and a GH5S), two lenses (12-100 and 40-150mm) and also a Benro monopod with a "chicken foot." And here's what I do throughout the day:

Each speaker on stage will present for anywhere from 25 minutes to 40 minutes. During the first part of the presentation I capture tight, medium, wide shots of the speaker engaged in the talk. I shoot a lot of frames because getting the perfect expression with the perfect composition is a gamble. I'm working the odds. And 10 megapixel files are cheap. The stage lighting is awkward because of the size and configuration of the room itself. I tried a custom white balance but even it need to be fine tuned via the cameras' hue controls.

I shoot the tight head and shoulders shots from the back of the room with the longer lens and use the shorter lens for wider shots and audience reaction shots. Once I'm pretty certain I've got nice photographs that represent the speaker well I put the GH5S on the monopod and reconfigure my settings for video. We're shooting 1080p video here because, again, it will be compressed and used on the web, mostly in social media. The GH5S is mainly talked about as a great 4K camera but I think it may be the best 1080p camera I've ever seen. The Olympus Pro 12-100 gives me good image stabilization and my technique using the monopod continues to improve; I can pull off twenty or thirty second clips that seems as though we're locked down on a good tripod. 

We do this kind of coverage for each speaker until we get to a coffee break. I hustle back to the team room and do the same download, transfer, upload to gallery routine that I outline above. I'll do this throughout the day. I check camera batteries, reformat the #1 SD card in each camera and then grab a coffee and get ready for the next volley of sessions. 

The GH5 cameras make it very easy to switch between video and stills and the EVF is helpful in isolating my eye to prevailing light so I have a fighting chance of evaluating the actual color balance I'm getting in the files. I also like the live histogram I'm getting in the bottom right hand corner. 

At the end of a long day we move on to a nightclub that the company has bought out for the evening. They're serving up delicious BBQ and there are open bars everywhere. A local band is blazing away on the first floor but there's a rooftop terrace for people who are looking for a quieter social gathering. I'm shooting basic event shots here until I feel like I'm becoming a nuisance instead of a benefit and then I pack it in and head home. Once there I'm putting batteries on the chargers, downloading the files from the last events of the evening and uploading them to the master collection on Smugmug. By the time I walk into the venue later this morning (7?) many of the images will already be circulating with their friends, the hashtags, coming along for a ride. 

So, in the midst of a month long work jag we've got Photokina spilling out new camera tech at a dizzying rate and all I can really think about is how I suddenly want to try the Panasonic G9 alongside the GH5s. I think about calling Precision Camera and having one delivered to the hotel and then I get ahold of myself and realize how beautiful the files are looking from the cameras I have in the bag with me today and I change my mind. 

I will have shot maybe 10,000 frames this month and had a camera in my hands for dozens of hours. It's actually a good remedy for gear acquisition syndrome because you really come to understand the camera you've got and you come to trust it; and by extension you come to trust that you know what you are doing when you use that cameras. I think the camera lust is at its worst when you are idle, have nothing fun to shoot and start imagining that somehow a new camera will kick start the whole process over again. It won't. You'll just have to pay for another camera. 

So, I was up at 4 am this morning to drive Ben to the airport. A business trip for my young public relations professional, to San Francisco. I'm packing up and headed back downtown. I'll get in early so I can photograph some of the exhibit displays without people in front of them. Then I'll get a great breakfast from the W Hotel and start the process I've described above all over again. 

Tomorrow is a totally different job. A different kind of project. I've already decided to use the Nikons for that for all the reasons I didn't use them today. 

Hope you had a good week. I'm heading out.


"DSLRs aren't going away anytime soon..." And other fantasies. And now it's time to discuss the Panasonic announcement.

This camera, with a "normal" 50mm lens and a flash weighed in at over 6 pounds...
It was once "state-of-the-art." 

I remember my first cellphone. It was made by Motorola and it was one big brick. I can't even remember if it had a screen on it but I can remember that my monthly cellphone bill was breathtaking and that the phone was big and ungainly. It didn't send texts or allow me to read e-mail or ask Google how to chew gum but it was, at the time, "state-of-the-art." The "non" smart phone died quickly. Very quickly. And now --- we grapple with the slow fade into obscurity of the DSLR camera. Photokina was the death knell; a note heard around the world. 

Which company introduced a new, flagship, state of the art DSLR at Photokina this year? Was it Canon? Nope. Nikon? Not this time. Oh. Maybe Pentax blew everyone's doors off with the newest super mirror cam? Naw. Not even close. The one company that showed a traditional DSLR design is the one company whose medium format camera is NOT going to fly off the shelves. The sole DSLR style camera that I could find coming out of this year's Photokina (Giant German Photo Show) was the newest Leica S3 with a new 64 megapixel sensor. Not sure the photo-rabble will line up to grab the S3 as the purchase price will rival a new car. And that's before you start adding lenses....

The overwhelming focus of this year's show is mirrorless. It includes the latest Fuji APS-C, XT3 with its 26 megapixel sensor. The Nikon twins were there as was the fat and happy bourgeois mirrorless camera from Canon. And promises for many new lenses. And many pathways for using older lenses. 
But what we don't see are promises of updates to traditional mirrored models. I think it's fair to say that all the R&D emphasis for the next five years is going to be in the mirrorless space and, if you see your mirrored cameras as "investments" I'd be shorting the market right now. I don't think they've got anywhere to go but down from here. 

The amusing thing will be the disconnection in time frame between what consumers expect and what manufacturers will deliver. I said above that all the R&D will fall to the mirrorless space in the next five years but I didn't mean that DSLRs would happily motor along for the next five years and then have sales fall off a cliff. No, they are falling off a cliff now and have done so since at least 2013. That's five years ago. 

I think the fall of in popularity and sales will be a much brisker rate of decline as mirrorless cameras lean on technology to correct every single user objection to their current state. We've already seen EVFs get remarkably good. The frame rates in the new mirrorless cameras (using electronic shutters) have eclipsed the mechanical shutters in DSLRs by a factor of two. And it seems that more and more features will actively depend on raw processing power instead of mechanical components. We can comfort each other and tell each other that DSLRs have mystical powers but it's not true. 

Photographers of a certain age will continue to have soft spots in their nostalgic constructs of photography for older technology but they'll be displaced in the blink of an eye as the main market for all cameras in the near future. In a decade the only DSLRs still in use will be the ones used as props, signifying a point in time, in movies and TV shows. That doesn't mean we need to immediately give up and toss the older cameras out in the trash but you need to be prepared for a tidal shift that will make DSLRs "legacy" products, churned out in ever smaller numbers just to service the large number of lenses already in the hands of ever aging consumers. 

I wouldn't be so defiantly definite if I'd seen Nikon or Canon roll out a new full frame DSLR at the same time as their mirrorless offerings but clearly, that's not going to happen. 

So, don't I feel stupid for stocking up on Nikon stuff when I could have waited and gotten a mirrorless, full frame Panasonic instead. No, not so much. I'm playing the nostalgia game with myself while hedging my bets with the GH5 series cameras and a nice selection of lenses. I use the Nikon D800s and D700s fully aware that I'm playing with what is already starting to be considered "retro" equipment. But I still know how to use them and how to make nice portraits and art projects with them. I'm not in a rush but I'm also happy I've just been flicking small change at them instead of rushing whole hog and buying the latest lenses and a couple D850 bodies ( remind me to cancel my order for the D850....).

The camera that fell directly into my sites today was the 24 megapixel mirrorless camera from Panasonic. It's called an S1. It's a full frame camera that uses the existing Leica SL mount and  promises to deliver the perfect balance of features and performance, dancing around the shortcomings of cameras from the majors. 

I'm sure the BSI sensor will be wonderful. But that's not a hard assumption as all the 24 megapixel full frame sensors are good and have been for at least four years. But it's the little things that will make the Panasonic S1 a camera I'll covet. It's specs call for impressive video performance that's still a step ahead of everyone else's. They've spanked Canon (hard) by having image stabilization in the body and a dual I.S. system that also leverages I.S. in lenses to make a hard-to-compete-with performance metric that other products, even those just announced, will not come close to matching. The only close competitor to overall I.S. performance will be their own m4:3 cameras and the latest cameras from Olympus. Win, win, win. 

Then Panasonic turned around and just embarrassed the crap out of Nikon by delivering (or promising to deliver) two card slots. One slot uses the robust and super fast QXD cards while the other slot uses UHS2 SD cards (which include V90 cards that are already capable of 400 mbs recording IN CAMERA!!!). All the nervous Nancies can use the second slot for back ups while I use one slot for stills and one slot for video. (Finally decided on a justifiable reason for the dual card existence --- but I would have also accepted one card for Raws and one card for Jpegs). 

If you are a perfectionist the agreement between Leica and Panasonic means you can spend as much money as you want seeking that perfection in the Leica lens line. If you just want to make great photographs it seems that the Panasonic lens line will be affordable (a relative measure). And then Sigma is signed on to develop for the lens mount as well which adds another high quality option for great lenses. 

In my estimation, if Panasonic really does deliver on all the stuff they've introduced at Photokina then they will be a powerful contender in the new mirrorless zone. They are strutting into the coliseum with deep pockets of cash, some great technology, a sterling reputation for delivering great video performance and an equally great reputation for reliability. It's actually early times for full frame mirrorless and there's a distinct possibility that the video+still hybridism might really be the next innovative and desired camera space. If so, Panasonic and Sony have a head start and there's no reason to believe that Panasonic can't be number three in this fairly new space. 

I'm holding on to the old Nikon stuff for the moment. I can't just sell it off and replace it with suggested delivery dates from Panasonic. But I don't have that much invested in the system and I'll be happy just to dig into my pocket and put some seed money into my new Panasonic FF system while keeping the GH5s around as a smaller, lighter choice. 

I can't imagine we'll see much more from Nikon in the traditional full frame space; with one exception. They will deliver a full frame super sport camera (a D6) in time for the 2020 Olympics. But it be astronomically priced and will represent the final bow, bringing down the curtain on 60 years of DSLR development from them. 

It will be interesting to see it all fall out. Canon will hang in at the top of the mix in the short term by sheer power of overwhelming market share; at least for a while. Right now it's Sony's game to lose. They need to up their body design game to confront more mature and more usable designs from their competitors. Panasonic may become the new workhorse brand for professionals and may even ditch most of their amateur/consumer camera products to concentrate solely on making professional tools. It could be an interesting market niche and, with a growing world market (with growing income), the potential is there for a bigger pie. I think they've got their eyes on that. 

Of course, I could be totally wrong. But I've called a number of trends pretty well since my 2009 embrace of EVFs, mirrorless, and my prediction of the market decline in an article I wrote in Fall of 2013. I know this, the pros coming into the field now and next year will be shooting with decidedly different blends of cameras than we are using right now. 

OT: Today's swim. Trying to keep up with Bruce.

On the street in Paris.
Leica M3. 50mm Summicron

Okay, so right now I'm sitting in the comfy waiting area at First Texas Honda getting my car's oil changed, tires rotated and brakes re-done. I can't wait to write the check for $598. I'm kind of kidding but the car has been like a great horse for me; never throws me, never sick and always reliable. I figure routine maintenance is the hedge against standing alongside the highway waiting for a tow truck...

As I sit here I'm getting work done. I just wrote a piece describing what I'll be (casually and informally) teaching during my nine days in Iceland (we're about a month out). I wrote an equipment recommendation list as well. Too bad the full frame Panasonic cameras won't be ready by then; I'm sure they'll take the world by storm. 

But what I really want to write about today is this morning's swim practice. I got up early this morning, brushed my teeth, kissed Studio Dog on the top of her head, and headed out the door at 6:45 to make the early swim practice at 7:00. It was still dark when we filtered out of the locker room and made our way to the pool deck. And since it's been raining a lot lately the water was cooler than it has been. 

We call the early Tuesday and Thursday workouts the "varsity" workouts because it's when a lot of the hardcore swimmers on our masters team come to really plow through fast and competitive yardage under the watchful eyes of the somewhat scary coach, Chris. 

The attendance started out a bit light and for a while I actually had my own lane. The warmup was a Chris classic: 400 freestyle. That's it. When the 400 yards are over you know the hard stuff is just around the corner. We started with a set of "sprint-y" 300 yard swims. 3 x 300 on an interval that, if you swim them fast enough, gives you about a ten second rest in between sets. I've been working on my head position lately, trying to keep my head more in line with my body. It's starting to feel more natural and it is improving my freestyle pace. 

I was about to start the next set when I looked over and saw all the fast lanes had filled up with fast swimmers who'd straggled in during the warm-up. Bruce D. joined me and in a flash I no longer had a lane to myself, I'd just inherited one of the fastest masters swimmers in my age cohort, anywhere. Bruce was an All American at prestige swimming school (especially in the early 1970's), Indiana University, where he swam for the legendary coach, "Doc" Councilman (author of "The Science of Swimming.").  Bruce missed making the 1972 Olympic team in distance events by something like a tenth of a second. He's never slowed down but decided, today, to come down to my lane and "hold me accountable." His quote, not mine.

Our next set was 3 x 150 yards on a tight interval followed by 3 x 50 kicking. We cycled through this set four times for a total of 1800 yards. I put on hand paddles and went as hard as I could and even then it was an exercise in watching Bruce just continue to pull away and leave me in the proverbial dust (we really don't have dust in the pool).  After that set we did a final set of 8 x 50's, swimming down freestyle and back in our choice of alternate strokes. Bruce let me/insisted I go first on this set but he (benevolently) spotted me  :20 seconds lead so he wouldn't end up catching me at the end of each 50. 

It was hard work and I was out of breath by the end of the workout. We went for an hour and fifteen minutes, straight through, and nailed down something like nearly 3,500 yards. It's an interesting way to start a day... And it sure makes you hungry for breakfast. Swimming a workout with someone much faster is a good way to improve; at some point you just get tired of being left behind...

I sometimes wonder why I swim as often as I can but then the pants I wore in college still fit, my resting pulse rate is usually around 50, and my blood pressure is generally in the range of 115/65. I attribute this to consistent and challenging aerobic exercise. It's all helpful when you need to hold a camera for hours on end and still have the energy left to take a few flights of stairs two at a time.

Wouldn't you know it. The Honda people sent me a text (hey! dude! I'm sitting right here!) and let me know my car is ready. Ah well, it's an end to the free coffee and power bars. I was just getting settled in. 


Blog news.

I got annoyed having to click the boxes with ostriches in them in order to leave even my own comments on the blog. I finally had enough and turned that off. I hope I don't get spammed but I'm weary of being subjected to too many barriers to the comments. Have fun. I'll still moderate.

Please, no Asian brides or low cost clipping path ads!

Added on Saturday the 29th:

And just as soon as I turned off the word verification for the blog it got inundated with spam and crap. So, all bets are off. We're back to word verification because the one thing I don't have time for is to wade through spam.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Blame all the assholes on the web...

Another look at photographs from the GH5S. Just looking at color and tone today. Also, a nod to the Sigma 30mm f1.4 Contemporary lens.

Very pleased with the new laptop. Ready for the fast pace of our corporate job this week.

Statuary in Dresden, Germany.
Samsung Galaxy NX camera.

It was a zoo at the Apple store on Friday when I went to pick up the new MacBook Pro I ordered online. I chose, inadvertantly, to pick up my computer from the neighborhood Apple store on the very day that Apple's new phones were released to all the people who pre-ordered them. I don't know what Apple's initial sales numbers on the phones are but the traffic was enough to crash their fulfillment servers across North America.

Laptop computers fulfill three functions for me. I don't use them to do heavy post process "lifting" for either photographs or video, instead I use them: In my favorite chair in order to read stuff on the NYT, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal websites, as well as my favorite blog sites. I use laptops when I am on location for clients who require tethered shooting or super fast (on site) turnaround of files. Finally, I seem to buy a new laptop every time I start on a book project. The gap between my previous machine and this one was almost seven years; years in which I did not start any new book projects.

My main impetus for buying a new machine right at this moment was the project I'll be working on this Weds., Thurs., and Friday. I have a need to shoot photos and videos throughout the three days while quickly uploading selections for concurrent display across a range of social media sites for my client. I did the same thing for the same client last year and the narrow point of the funnel was, inevitably, the speed of my laptop. I decided, this year, that life is too short to wait around for older processors and tired hard drives to do their work....

Dresden, Germany

The new machine uses an 8th generation processor, an SSD drive and the memory is twice as big and also much faster. The one downside of the model I chose is that there are only two USB-3/Thunderbolt ports. I bought a dongle which gives me back three USB3 ports as well as an SD card reader and that's just about all I need for the machine. At some point in the future I'll buy an adapter that will allow me to connect an HDMI cable for those times when I need to connect to a large screen TV for a presentation. I may actually have a USB3 to HDMI adapter sitting around anyway.....

The machine delights me most when I go to start it up and it only takes seconds instead of minutes. Seems like magic to me. I am now dragging out some of the SSDs I bought for the Atomos Ninja Flame to use as externals. Solid State is fun.

To those who conjecture that I could have saved a fortune if I'd only been willing to abandon Apple I have to look at the numbers. Seems to me I might have saved money on hardware but spent it back replacing software. Even so I might have been able to save $150 by buying a much uglier machine but since I seem to keep them for up to seven years we'd really only be talking about $10.20 per year in savings and you have to take into consideration that I'd have to look at it everyday during those seven years. Aesthetics does count for something or I've terribly misjudged the potential of what photographers do for a living. 

Next up we'll work on replacing the desktop but that's not going to happen until 2019. Can't shove all the fun into one year....


It's been an interesting year for me as a working photographer and blogger...

Is photography still cool?

 I guess I'm finally experiencing what normal people live with all the time. That there are limits to our time and attention spans. That we run out of enthusiasm for writing exactly what readers want to read all the time (mostly about gear while protesting that no one writes about actual photographs -- you are welcome to comment on any image I post here, honest). I read other blogs just like the rest of my photographer friends and lately I'm struck with just how much (un)nuanced duplication there is on all the photography sites and how little of it is relevant to anything other than the sale of new cameras. 

It's getting to the point where I'm even excited if MJ at TheOnlinePhotographer.com writes about playing pool or trimming his trees. Anything but another article about how much better Fuji's AF has gotten or how people almost are ready to like the color coming out of Sony cameras. Then there is the pervasive "Oh My God, Only One Slot" drama. And the "Is Every Format But Full Frame Doomed?" threads....

I'm guessing some of my current ennui for writing about photography is a result of life burnout. My mom passed away in late December last and I've been taking care of her estate, and my father, ever since. Couple that with the lingering expenses of my kid's last semester of college and I have to be honest, the first half of this year just sucked. It sucked a lot. If you are a reader of VSL I would ask that you cut me some slack and skip over some of the stuff you don't like. 

I'm not bitter but might become so if people keep telling me that something I write sounds bitter (it's probably just a bit of truthfulness that no one wants to hear). I've never yelled at kids to get off my lawn. I don't pine for the "golden days" of photography. I am not a Canon, Sony, Pentax, etc. hater. I am not a (fill in the brand blank) fan boy. I'm just a photographer trying to make a living in an ever changing market while using my off time to play around with photos and written material, and to share my observations on a blog. 

I'm not making money here and have nothing to sell besides the (very) occasional workshop or a (rare) link to a product I think is really cool, even if I didn't invent it. 

I like Chelsea and Tony Northrup's content even if I think their well done YouTube site is more like a shopping mall than a photo school. I like TheOnlinePhotography blog even when Michael Johnston goes way off subject and shares too much. I like Tom Hogan's byThom.com and Sansmirror.com sites because ---- well, he's smart, writes well and writes about things that interest me. I think most of DPReview is a messy waste of time driven largely by ill-informed poseurs and a greedy parent company. I am probably a lot (a lot!!!) more liberal than most of you thought, even though we don't discuss politics here. 

But the bottom line is that we're probably going to disagree about things like the usefulness of GPS from time to time, and I might be snarky about it but.....but you have to take into consideration that the snark that tweaks you is likely only in three or four blog posts out of 3,807 other posts. So, dial back the vituperative sense of umbrage and try to take my few and mostly minor rants in stride. Or just shove off and read something else. I'm sure there's someone out there who will write exactly what you want to hear all the time. But what fun would that be?

A side issue of shooting "street photos" in populous, downtown areas.

The inevitable interaction with the homeless. 

I walk around downtown in Austin frequently; mostly for visual exercise and to keep tabs on the constant changes a growing city endures. I've never felt the need to make images of homeless people because unlike people with homes and offices they have little choice about their privacy, and I feel like the only fair targets for my cynical brand of "street photography" are those people who always have the implicit choice not to come out onto the public streets looking like circus clowns or psycho killers but who waive the choice and come along anyway. 

But inevitably, in cities like Austin, San Francisco and NYC, which are more tolerant of homeless people, one is frequently accosted and asked for (or demanded of) money, spare change, etc. How do you handle this? If you gave a dollar to everyone who asked you on a given day's walk you'd soon be too poor to leave your house...

A lot of street people have a well rehearsed banter or scam. They're trying to get $xx dollars together to get a bus to XXXXX. Or some variation of that. Some are just plainly aggressive and will curse you and rant if you don't donate to their cause. But there are always some people who I feel are in serious physical or existential need. They are the ones who elicit feelings of .... for want of a better phrase ....  social responsibility in me. Occasionally I'll walk by someone who looks and acts like they are really trying to keep it all together and they'll ask for a dollar or two to get something to eat. 

I rarely (almost never) have cash with me just because everything I need to buy is easier to acquire with a credit card. Earlier this year I walked by the JW Marriott Hotel and on the corner of the building there was a guy in his mid forties who was neatly dressed, hovering over a worn and tattered backpack and looking.... defeated. He asked in a meek voice if I could spare some change. I said, "Sorry, I don't have any cash" and walked on. But there was something about his contenence that struck me. I paused in the next block and tried to put myself in his shoes. Vulnerable, hungry, exposed. I turned around and walked back.

The truth was that I didn't have a dime in my pocket. But my wallet was full of credit cards. I asked him what he needed the money for and he told me he hadn't eaten that day. I invited him to go with me to the burger concession on the street level of the hotel and order whatever he'd like. He ordered a chocolate milkshake, a burger and fries. I paid for it, walked with him to a table and made some empty small talk hedging toward the hope that things would get better. Then I walked away and let him enjoy his meal. But for the rest of the day his situation stuck with me. No privilege, no 401K, no local family, no network. How would I survive?

That was months ago but yesterday I walked through downtown and photographed at the Pecan Street Festival. On the way home I headed south down Congress Ave. and at some point, while walking in front of the CVS Pharmacy store, I was asked by a homeless person in a wheelchair for some cash. I gave him my knee jerk reply about not carrying cash. He responded, passionately, that he didn't need the money what he needed was some over the counter pain relievers. He was very specific. He wanted Alleve. He was in pain. 

I'm no medical professional but I can sure tell, after 62 years of observing people, when someone is in real pain and distress. He was almost frantic. I told him I'd be happy to get him some Alleve and went into the store to find it. Then I bought him a bottle of water because... who takes Alleve without having something to wash it down with? Then it occurred to me that he might need something in his stomach because all those pain pills can mess with your gastrointestinal system, so I bought him a couple of protein bars. 

I don't know and I don't care if it was some sort of scam because I saw a look of real appreciation and visceral relief on the young man's face. Partly because he would get physical relief but almost as importantly, because someone acknowledged and believed him.  I told him that I was sorry things sucked for him right now and that I hoped they'd get better. I don't know if I believed circumstances would improve for him or not. But $11.95 is a cheap and temporary fix, and a long term reminder that most of us have no idea how precarious day to day existence can be. I walked a bit faster to get home to see my family. 

We don't photograph street people, except when they ask for it, but going out into the streets, out of our cars, out of our safe neighborhoods, and secure zip codes reminds us that there's more to existence than how many channels we get on cable and how quickly we can get that desired lens to our house by using Amazon Prime. 

Maybe, after all, breaking down our privileged isolation is yet another benefit of making photographs out in the street. 

The idea I put in my brain when I head out to photograph: not everyone is running a scam. Some people are in need. Even if you feel you can't help financially a kind word, even a smile, might make the difference to someone. It must be painful to feel invisible.

If you are in a city with lots of homeless and you like taking photographs in the city center how do you handle these kinds of interactions? I'd be interested to hear what others have figured out...

I was supposed to buy the Panasonic GH5S as a video camera but several assignments.and some personal work say otherwise.

The Pecan Street Festival. Austin, Texas.

My intention in buying a Panasonic GH5S was to take advantage of its video capabilities to make my work in motion art easier and of greater quality. I have to be quick to acknowledge that it is a great little video camera. It make video files that are transcendent when compared to all the hybrid constructions of  photography cameras that also offer video features. Equal parts of its magic are its relatively unique sensor and the camera's color science (a phrase that gets bandied about a lot these days but to me means that the makers got the tonal rendition and the way the camera handles color just right). When I make video with the camera I am consistently amazed at how lifelike; or photographic, the video looks when  I edit it on a nice monitor. 

But I have found that the same image painting qualities that make it a superb (even subversively good) video camera also extend to its ability to make photographs that have their own unique look and feel. This in spite of the camera's general dismissal by the hordes, throngs and mobs of literal minded photographers who can't seem to get beyond the fact that the sensor captures a mere 10 megapixels of information and also bucks the crutchy trend of having image stabilization at the ready in all situations.

I spent my afternoon yesterday getting more acquainted with the camera as a street shooting device after having shot two different assignments at the theater, in which it's low resolution and conversely good high ISO noise performance made the output a near perfect blend. I've bent the rules of compulsory photographic reliance on in camera image stabilization by pairing the camera during low light photography with a fine lens that features its own image stabilization. This allows me to disregard the obsession with one feature among many in order to concentrate on the actual visual performance of the camera. In a word, it's wonderful. 

Many are quick to disregard the GH5S as a still imaging device because, in light of today's plethora of ever higher resolution models that compete with it, the GH5S is seen as being hampered by a "low" pixel count. I find this funny in an age where so much photographic work is only seen on the screens of telephones; and then only for the briefest moment. As a demographic photographers are hobbled by only seeming to appreciate specifications that have numbers and scales attached. The subjectivity of color and the lack of language effectively describing the ideas of tonality mean that useful things such as the holistic look and feel of an image are lost in the compulsion to measure and compare things that really do have much less of an effect on the success or failure of a photograph. 

I remember so vividly, growing up, when the sole measure of a car's worth was its horsepower specification; no matter that one car might have a few thousand pounds less weight to drag around or that some cars with less horsepower were engineered to be a much better and more exhilarating driving experience. I'm finding more and more often that cameras suffer the same myopic fixation with single measurement glorification. The thing that makes a camera like the Nikon D 850 a very good image maker has much less to do with its overall resolution than the perspective about color and tone that Nikon's engineers bring to the mix. But the making of digital cameras is really still in its toddler-hood so I guess we can't expect a more mature assessment just yet. When we look back in a decade I assume I'll experience a sense of deja vu similar to that which I experience now when I look back at the files I used to routinely get from a Kodak D760; that the quality of the images belied its meager specifications and instead depended upon the interconnection and the judicious blend of all its specifications. 

Just ask any Fuji or Olympus camera owner and they'll tell you the same truth...

So, here's what I like about the GH5S as a video camera: The image, especially when shot in 4K and edited as 1080p, is extremely good. Even wildly good. Its ability to nail white balance is easily as good as any camera I've seen, and the controls are straightforward and well laid out in the menus. Add to this a great battery life and a well thought out audio accessory and you've got a perfect video camera for a one person crew.

So, here's what I like about the GH5S as a photography camera: The color palette is canned automatic fin art. I don't mean that in a perjorative way it's just that most files that I pull out of the camera are beautiful as visual simulated objects. Just sweet and nicely natural. The camera can be slow to respond when I use it in the raw format and I suspect it's because the files are 14 bit and much larger than I expected them to be. But, on the other hand, the autofocus is faster and surer than I thought it would be, even more so since I'm not using it (typically) with DFD lenses. I also like to use it with manual focus, legacy lenses because the focus peaking feature has proven to be so accurate. 

I find myself using it more and more if I know the client's target is screen oriented. But even as I type that I have done several larger (12 by 18 inch) prints that have turned out well. 

I bought the camera to use as a video camera but am now pressing it into service for my personal work and many assignments. It's smaller Jpeg files are a boon to a super-fast workflow in events and newsy assignments. Finally, the camera is beautifully sized and constructed, making it feel just right in my hands. 

I must give credit to the Nikon D700 for showing me the light. The "light" being the realization that there is so much more to good images than the race for higher resolution. That, and the fact that lower resolution cameras with bigger pixels have a look all their own. A look that usually resonates well with my style of photographing. 

Yeah. I bought another light. I couldn't help it. The light was so cute.

Aputure F7 LED Panel. 

I'm an easy touch when it comes to small and inexpensive LED light panels so when I read about the Aputure F7 light panel I decided to risk $100 and give it a go. What is it? A: A small, lightweight bi-color LED panel that can fit in a hot shoe or be used as an off camera light source. What makes it good? A: Aputure's literature, and the reviews of people I trust, point to a very high TCLI or CRI which is a good measure of how accurate the color temperature of the unit is. They also spoke about the unit's relatively high output. But then again, a lot of small LEDs boast good specs so...what distinguishes the F7? Hmmm. I guess I'll go with this: Most bi-color LED units feature a color range from 3200K to about 5600K. If you are at either extreme you are only using half the bulbs. You get half the power. But the F7 has a range from 3200K to 9500K, if you set the light's color temperature to 5,600K (daylight) you will have both sets of bulbs (tungsten and daylight) illuminated at once so a daylight rendering also gives you the full power of the unit. 

Unlike other small, cheap units I've bought or played with in the past the makers of this one did not scrimp on the mounting hardware. The bullhead that screws into your choice of three sides is stout, easy to adjust and locks firmly in place. The light ships with two strengths of diffusion and the diffusion slots right into slits on either side of the tough, plastic front cover. 

The light uses a rotary dial with a push button feature to toggle between adjusting color temperature (read out on a display) and output levels (also on the display). Unlike most competitive products which generally are only adjustable from 10% power to 100% power the F7 can be dialed all the way down to 1%. 

I found the color quality of the light at 5600K to be very good. Another benefit for serious users is that the unit can be powered in three different ways. You can use Sony video batteries like the NP-9xx series which means I can use any one of about five different Sony video batteries I currently have scattered around the office. You can use a USB charger or USB connected battery pack for looooong shoots. Or, if you are a video pro who uses batteries that have a D-Tap for your pro cameras you can grab power off said batteries with a D-Tap connector. Fun to have options.

Short story? I like it. There is no long story. 

Color Temp (top figure) Power level (bottom figure) battery charge indicators (the green bars). 
I have a battery on the back that weighs more than the light itself. 
You can opt for smaller batteries.....

Side view. Big battery. The unit is well ventilated which means it will 
run longer and last longer. On the downside it means that it's not at all 
water resistant. 

One of two diffusers. Weak and Strong. 
(credit: hand model: Charlie Martini).