right here you'll come away highly conflicted; I know I did.
On one hand you have what might be the ultimate 100-105mm focal length prime lens. The MTF curves sure suggest it. It seems to be one of the ultimate "bokeh" optics of our time. Super sharp wide open and with a creamy out of focus character that borders on sinfully sensual. Of course you want one. But remember, this may the only 105mm prime in photo history that comes with its own tripod mount. It's got 105mm front filter ring and it's dense and heavy with important sounding glass elements.
At $1500+ it's pricy. At 1.4 it's fast. At "ART" lens it's bound to be sharp and well corrected. If you can avoid the inherent hernia potential almost promised by this product then this might be the ultimate portrait lens. My finger hovers over the "one click pre-order button" as I type this..... Maybe yes, maybe no....
Finally! A lens that will test your strength and endurance, giving you a workout as you shoot. The Sigma 105mm f1.4 ART. Taking things to uniquely ridiculous, but highly coveted, extremes.
Industrial Strength Imaging with an old, used Nikon D800 and a small selection of lenses. Mexico
A few weeks ago I found myself in a factory in Matamoros, Mexico that does all kinds of parts manufacturing for various industries. My goal was to spend a day photographing and come away with a couple hundred usable photographs that would range from showing high tech circuit board and wire harness assembly to showing workers bending large sheets of metal that are used to make rack mount shelving for servers. The facility was well over 100,000 square feet and, like most heavy production facilities, required eye protection, ear protection and safety shoes.
My main camera and lens combination was the Nikon D800 and the 24-120mm f4.0 VR zoom lens. The camera does low light well and I was able to handhold shots that didn't have subject movement at shutter speeds down to 1/30th of a second with confidence.
Working across the border is interesting. We had to check in with the Mexican immigration folks to get a work visa for me. A lot of people might skip this and rely on the "idea" that they can get away with being tourists but there are spot checks at the factories near the border and not having a valid work visa could cost serious time and money.
I don't speak much Spanish beyond what's on the menu at my local Mexican food restaurant even though I've been married to someone who is fluently bi-lingual for the last 30+ years. I'm used to working here in Austin and it was interesting to work with folks who didn't speak my language and vice versa. We did fine with equal amounts of limited Spanish and limited English and a bit of pantomime.
My working methodology in the factory was to have all the gear I needed in the rolling case and to leave the rolling case in one of the front conference rooms, and just putting the camera and lens on a Gitzo tripod with a bullhead to walk around with. If I knew I might need a faster lens I stuck it in a tiny camera bag that lived on my shoulder. I kept an extra battery in my pocket and, with a 256 GB, UHS-II card in the SD slot, I rarely needed to revisit my gear depository.
Most of the work I did was on the tripod. Some of the shots, like the person using a grinder (above) were shot handheld. The tripod allowed me to get depth of field when I wanted it and to plumb the depths of vibration reduction when needed.
I also carried around a small, pop-up Lastolite gray/white color balancing target. I kept it clipped, with a carabiner, to one of my belt loops, and I would grab it and take a new reading as I moved from location to location. I was trying to get close with the dominant light source in any area knowing that, in RAW file mode, I'd be able to nail white balance exactly in post. If you start too far away it can be difficult to correct across the full spectrum.
While I spent most of my time with the 24-120mm f4.0 VR on the camera I did get a fair amount of use out of the 85mm f1.8 and the manual focusing 28mm f2.8 lenses I brought along. There are times when the fast aperture of the 85mm makes more artsy looking images. Clients still like it when the background goes out of focus.... The 28mm was useful because it's so well corrected for distortion. Stuff just looked better in some instances when I shot with that lens.
On several occasions I switched over to Jpeg from RAW so I could use the in-camera HDR feature. A three stop range (the most you can get in-camera with a D800) was sometimes very useful in wide shots when I could not control all the light.
I love assignments like this because it's fun to spend a day playing with photo toys and doing continual technical problem solving. Tossing in some light from an LED panel for one shot, a little bit of flash, bounced off a wall, for another series of shots.
What would I do differently if I could re-do this assignment? 1. I'd listen to a Berlitz CD that teaches Spanish for the entire six hours I spent on the way down in the rental car. 2. I'd bid it as two shooting days instead of one because I kept seeing in my mind, after the fact, all the shots I missed or could have done better. A second day would allow for new thinking and a certain amount of "do overs" that might yield a bunch more keepers. But, 3, I'd stop being dumb and stop driving half way across Texas when I could have flown to Brownsville (the American side of the border) in 45 minutes on Southwest Airlines. But I guess I'd never get the opportunity to listen to the language CD, right?
I chose to use the Nikon D800 rather than the Panasonic GH5 because most of my shooting was done in marginal lighting and I really needed good looking files at ISO's like 3200-6400. I did, in fact, take the GH5 and the 12-100mm lens and used it for two different video interviews. The Panasonic system was perfect for that!
The real star, as far as I am concerned, was the 24-120mm lens. You could shoot just about anything with that and have it look good. Go get one. (Or the equivalent in the system you prefer). I already have an equivalent lens for the GH5; it's the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0, a remarkably sharp and stable lens for the smaller format camera. Primes? Sure, when you have an agency tagging along as a client and don't want to spoil them by moving too fast......
The tripod comes in handy when you need to have a person in the frame and
there's no one else around.
From the light of an acetylene torch.....
I recently wrote that I resisted temptation at the camera store because a potential purchase didn't match my game plan. Readers were stunned to know I might have a game plan for camera and lens purchases.
Noellia helped me test medium format digital cameras a few years ago.
What!? Kirk has a "game plan" for camera purchases? We would never have guessed...
So, what is it?
Some people like consistency and routine; others don't. I have photographer colleagues who bring the same lights, the same cameras and the same lenses to the same kinds of jobs for years on end. They upgrade cameras only when there is a significant leap forward in the performance of new camera that comes from the same brand they've invested in. And for many of them it's tough to change even this one small part of their working routine. It's disruptive for them and means having to figure out where the maker moved the switch they used all the time on their previous camera from the same company. They decry having to learn slightly different adaptations to their working metholodogies in PhotoShop or Lightroom (and they absolutely hate it when things change around in the software...).
These same photographers only replace lenses when they've succeeded in scraping every last photon's worth of value in the lens. You've probably seen these lenses sitting forlornly on used shelves looking as though someone had alternately, and repeatedly, pounded on the barrels with jagged hammers and then dragged them along through harsh mud. These users would laugh at you if you told them you were trading a lens you bought two years ago because a new one came out that was sharper in the corners and didn't focus breathe (as much).
In the same way that they look at their gear (consistency, consistency, consistency) the also look to their work. The same softbox goes on the same stand which goes exactly this far from the subject. The camera is set at the tested parameters they decided they liked when they first used the camera. Color, looks and style are consistent and the same. Overlaying the same structure to every kind of job.
Yeah. I get it. It's efficient. It's cost effective. It's logical. And if I had to work this way I think I'd check out and never touch a camera again.
Last year's game plan was to go all in on the Panasonic GH cameras. They are pretty remarkable and the available lenses (and the lenses I've bought for the system) are very, very good. As the guy behind ODL Designs often writes, there is very little you can't do with this format. I mostly agree.
But there is something about the lure of bigger formats that drives me back each time into a full frame camera system. In the past I made the mistake of believing that one set of cameras (the holy grail) would be able to handle everything I could throw at them and I've searched high and low for that ultimate system. But, for me, I've come to a realization that it doesn't work like that. One company doesn't have the overarching magic sauce or brilliant feature mix that works for everything.
While the Panasonic GH5s are the best video cameras I can imagine (for the price) I have to say that compared to my older Nikon D810, and to the Sony A7Rii I also used for months and months, the smaller format can't compete with the lower noise of the recent full frame cameras. There is something addicting about the noise profile difference that gets me when I compare the cameras for certain uses.
In the past I would struggle with whether or not to just sell the Panasonic cameras and go "all in" with a full frame system from Nikon, Sony or Canon. But now I'm just giving up taking responsibility entirely. I'm keeping my collection of Panasonic and Olympus m4:3 gear for all those times when I want more depth of field in a still life shot, want incredible video performance, want/need a smaller, lighter solution for day long shooting situations and fast breaking, hybrid jobs.
But I do want a couple of full frame cameras with high megapixel counts for those times when I'm trying to deliver an "ultimate" file to a client or when I'll need to do a lot of post production and want to start with really big, 14 bit uncompressed raw files.
I've lately been using the Nikon D800 series cameras and, over time, I'm learning the differences between what might be fun to own and what might be the most advantageous gear for the business. And where to draw the lines.
With my kid out of college and my expenses much less "expense-y" than they have been for the last four years I am also interested in buying a quality level in the full frame system that I didn't need exactly for the business but want just for the hell of it.
So, I'm sitting here with the Panasonic system and I'm making a stand against trading it for anything else. I'm also sitting here with three interesting Nikon cameras (D800, D800e and D700) as well as a hodgepodge of lenses; including two that recently died....
What's the plan? By the end of the year I want to winnow down cameras bodies and end up with two D850s. They seem to be on back order everywhere so I'm not in a hurry. The D800e and D800 vanilla are doing their jobs just fine. Mostly I am looking at moving up to get a much quieter shutter (even in the regular drive modes) better autofocusing and enough improvement in video to make each of them a viable "B" camera in situations where we need lots of coverage.
The lens I use for so much fast moving work is one I'm pretty happy with. It's a 24-120mm f4.0 VR that is sharp, contrasty and wide ranging enough to be used for lots of applications. Most of the other lenses I have are less convenient or offer less performance.
I'd like to end up with four lenses, in addition to the 24-120mm. These would include: The Sigma ART 24-35mm f2.0. I owned one three years ago when I was shooting with the D810 and I've regretted selling it ever since. If I need to go wider than 24mm I'll borrow or rent. But this lens is amazing within its limited focal length range. I currently have the Sigma ART 50mm f1.4 and it's perfect. No changes there.
Next up would be the Sigma 85mm f1.4 ART lens for those times when I want skimpy, skimpy depth of field but want it coupled to high sharpness. I'll keep the Nikon 85mm f1.8D lens around for those times when I want more mobility....
Finally, I want to get a new copy of the Nikon 70-200mm f4.0 for all those times when I can't get closer to the stage in the theater but want to crop tightly. I found it to be a better lens than the previous generations of f2.8 Nikon zoom, as long as you don't need the extra stop (most of us don't...).
This is not a lightweight package by any means. It's not cheap either but it represents the focal lengths and speeds I want to shoot with coupled with a high definition camera. Most times when I work on annual reports and in industrial sites everything is in a Think Tank roller case and we're also dragging around a lot of grip and lighting gear. Seems like we'll be able to pull this off and change gears again.
Anyway I look at it the two systems give me more options, more choices, more chances to screw up and learn more. At any rate, that's the plan (today). Always subject to change.
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