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.