9.01.2018

Currently mired down in upload hell. Why oh why do I photograph with reckless abandon? It could be worse, I could be uploading Nikon D850 raw files....

Leslie Anne Leal in "Tortoise and the Hare" at Zach Theatre.

What is Saturday like when there is so much uncertainty in the camera world? Upon the announcement of the new Nikon Z cameras did my older cameras shut down and cease to function? Am I stuck making spreadsheets and comparison graphs of all the new, announced and unannounced but rumored cameras? Am I on the phone with the credit card companies, trying desperately to get my credit limits raised? Getting ready to plunge into frightening debt in order to "keep up"? 

Naw. I got up early this morning so I could go to the 7:30-8:30 a.m. Masters Swim Practice (all caps, just for fun...) and get in a few thousand yards of competitive swim practice done before the day revved up in earnest. A quick stop at the coffee shop for caffeine and a bagel and then into the office to pack for my Saturday morning photography assignment. 

I spent the last part of the morning and the first half hour of the afternoon photographing the dress rehearsal of a play by Allen Robertson, based on the old fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Original story, music, stage set and choreography. It was absolutely delightful. One of the best family oriented theater productions I've seen in years and years. 

But before I could get to the theater and start photographing I had to decide what to shoot with and what all I needed to pack. 

I had two considerations that drove my choices. First, the production was in one of Zach Theatre's smaller spaces and the lighting in the space isn't as ample as that which I am used to in the larger, newer, Topfer Theatre. The lights in the small theater are still mostly tungsten fixtures and not as bright as the newer and brighter LEDs in the bigger theater. My other consideration was a very positive one; we wouldn't have an audience for this dress rehearsal so the noise of the camera shutters was immaterial. I could choose the cameras I wanted to use without any concern for audience experience. 

I'm in the middle of three video projects for which I am using the GH5 cameras pretty much non-stop. I thought I'd give them a rest and use something different today. I considered the Nikon D700s but I decided to be boring and safe and use the Nikon D800 and D800e cameras on the off chance that the theatre's marketing department decides to do huge posters or building wraps with the resulting images. Pretty sure the D700s could handle those kinds of enlargements but I was looking for an effortless experience that I would not have to explain after the fact. 

In the smaller theater the lens that is most useful most of the time is the 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens. It's not super sexy and doesn't boast super fast apertures but I'm always pleased with its performance and detail rendering. It was the first lens in the bag. I also brought along a first generation Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 but it never made it out of the camera bag. The lens I used alongside the 24-120mm f4.0 was the older 85mm f1.8D lens. I wanted it along for the ride so I could shoot some individual actor shots with the lens wide open. It's that depth of field thang. 

In one respect I was a bit brave today, I opted to shoot the D800e with the 24-120mm and to do so in Jpeg instead of Raw. Since experience informs me that I'll likely shoot between 1,000 and 1,400 images during the course of the show the thought of processing somewhere close to 64 gigabytes of rawness made me yawn and grind my molars. Besides, I actually like the way the D800e handles high ISO noise reduction in Jpeg better than the way I end up handling it from raw files. Go figure. 

I never use flash or any other photographic light source when photographing theatrical productions. One reason is that it's annoying to the actors, the audience, the crew and even the rats living in the walls. Secondly, there are people who design beautiful light for stage shows and part of our documentation is to showcase those lighting designs. The lighting designs are as much a part of the show as the music and the costumes...

I use the camera's spot meter to help me stay in the right exposure arena and I use the 3D AF setting in continuous AF, controlling the focus by using the back button AF to grab and lock onto a subject. If  subject is moving I just keep the button depressed and keep an eye on the AF squares to make sure the camera is adjusting focus for the movement. Button un-depressed and we're locked in. I resisted shooting this way for years but I finally capitulated and came around. It is a faster way to track people and it's usually very accurate. I'm lucky with the used 24-120mm f4.0 I picked up on re-entry to the Nikon system; so far I've experienced no back or front focus on any of my four Nikon bodies. Nice. 

True to form I came home with nearly 1,500 exposures which I pared down to about 800 images. I tweaked them in Lightroom and saved them out as high quality Jpeg files with a maximum of 6,000 pixels on the long side. Today I threw caution to the wind and shot at both 3200 and 6400 without a care in the world. I was banking on some software engineer at Nikon six year ago to have produced a nice balance between chroma and luma noise and I was happy with what they spit out. 

I am now uploading the 800 files to Smugmug.com. My client will use the online galleries for quick selections for short deadline publications, and I will also set up download links to deliver the entire full res collection from Smugmug to my client. They get to archive all these images; it's in my contract....

I still have stinky, slow broadband here. I don't do cable TV and AT&T wants way too much money for any service that isn't bundled with all their mostly useless "content" products. Eventually I'll get Google Fiber in my neighborhood and it won't take hours to upload these precious files. My friend, Frank, lives in an area where they have access to Google Fiber and he suggests that it's so fast that his big files are uploaded before he even pushes the "return" button on his keyboard. Time warp fast. 

I'd like a faster connnection but I'd also like world peace, an uncorrupt U.S. government (I can only take care of one country at a time...), a couple of different Porsches from different decades, more I.Q. points -- preloaded,  and a roll of one hundred dollar bills that automatically replenishes itself. I'll just be happy right now with having no health issues, having a nice and fun family, and having a net worth that's in the black territory instead of in the red. The rest of the stuff will need to get prioritized. But right now that's not my job. My job is to swim and to occasionally take nice photographs. Everything else is a waste of time.


A program note: Try not to be snarky and combative in the comments if you can help it. If you can't help it then do me a favor and see a mental health care professional before sharing. I'm not here as a willing  target for your misguided rage....


8.31.2018

I just heard more Full Frame rumors. I'm not buying anything new until I see what Panasonic is really coming out with. Announcement at Photokina?

An added source to my conjecture: https://www.eoshd.com/2018/09/panasonic-full-frame-mirrorless-camera/

The most impressive camera I've shot with this year is not the Sony A7Riii or the Nikon D850. Without a doubt it's been the time I've spent with the Panasonic GH5S that's made me sit up and take notice. It's pretty much perfect for shooting video and I'm happy with the noise performance up to 3200 ISO; maybe a little bit past.

But as I was laying in bed, counting 50mm lenses in my head, trying to get to sleep in defiance of my insomnia, it came to me that what I'd really like to see in a new camera would be all the stuff that's in a GH5S but with a full frame sensor. I could care less about actual resolution. I would not even care if it was a 10 megapixel sensor as long as it featured dual ISO (lower ISO = great dynamic range; higher ISO = low noise and nice files) and shot the incredibly beautiful video that I'm already getting out of my current GHS. These guys get the idea of hybrid camera technology, and use, better than any of their peers right now.

Can you imagine a beautiful GH full frame with glorious and gigantic 10 ┬Ám diameter pixels? With incredible color science, minimal noise and 400 Mbs video files, in camera!!! Sure, the camera would still only have 10 to 12 megapixels but the files would look incredible, and never mushy.

I read the rumors and some people were suggesting that since Panasonic and Leica are partners that the lens mount would be the Leica SL lens mount which would give access to a small but highly respected group of modern lenses. But I'm equally sure adapters would abound.

We've seen the Nikon Z introduction and I think it's pretty darn good for photographers. We're all pretty sure Canon is about to drop their mirrorless miracle on the 5th of September and even Olympus seems to have something up their sleeves.

I'm predicting that what happened to film cameras between 2002-2005 is about to happen to traditional DSLRs remaining in the market. They'll be gone as new stock products the minute mirrorless sales jump the line. Traditional camera users will be as vehement in their resistance as their kind were when facing the onslaught of digital during the waning years of film photography. They will kick and scream and prognosticate about how DSLRs will take decades to recede. But then we'll be reading their blogs three years from now as they tout the amazing capabilities of their XXXXXX brand camera. More telling will be their gushing praise and total allegiance to electronic viewfinders. Brace yourselves DSLR users, you are about to be hit by the wave of EVF. Resistance is largely futile.

Don't like EVFs? Better stock up on (now) retro gear. Those D850s won't last long. That is, if we can actually get them out of backorder status....

Just passing along rumors. Don't want you to go on a Z shopping spree if there's something much better just around the corner.

I read this "review" of the new Phase One and laughed so hard espresso came out of my nose. (Did a damn good job clearing my sinuses.....).

http://photothunk.blogspot.com/2018/08/phase-one-camera-for-photographers-who.html#comment-form

From the brilliant and un-opinionated mind of Andrew Molitor. His blog is now on my list of:

I-went-there-but-he-didn't-post-anything-new-for-the-last-couple-of-days-so-I-kept-going-back-until-there-was-new-content-and-I-read-it-and-went-away-feeling-smarter. 

And sometimes I think he may be even more cynical than 1.

Don't trip over the profanity --- my lawyer sez I'm not responsible. For anything which may happen anywhere.....

Environmental Executive Portraiture. Nikon D810. Nikon 70-200mm f4.0.

This is my portrait of Mr. Mark Agro, until recently Mr. Agro was the 
CEO of Ottobock Healthcare Canada. 
I photographed him on location at the north American headquarters 
of Ottobock Healthcare, north America;
here in Austin, Texas. 

I like the recent practice of making offices in buildings with exterior walls that are all floor-to-ceiling glass. If the interiors are also spare and well designed then my clients and their architects have taken away much of the grunt work of environmental photography for me. I need only to find a background that will look nice and unobtrusive when I toss it out of focus by using an open aperture on my taking lens. Then it's a fairly simple matter to figure out the best angle for my subject to provide short lighting (or "Rembrandt" lighting). 

The equipment I brought along for this photograph was pretty simple. I used a Nikon D810 and the cheaper and lighter 70-200mm f4.0 Nikon zoom lens. I could have used a faster lens but I've found that it's considered "normal" to have both the tip of my subject's nose and his ears in acceptable focus and I would end up stopping down any of those fast, sexy lenses to f4.0 or f5.6 as well. And since this is a person and not a product I surely don't need the files to be astringently sharp. 

I did bring along a giant (six foot) white umbrella, a tall light stand and a shoe mount flash with a remote trigger. It's directly behind the camera and positioned up over my head. It adds just the right amount of fill lighting to balance out the light softly gushing in from the windows. My one last nod to the light and lighting design was to float a diffusion frame over Mr. Agro's head in order to block light from an obnoxious "can" fixture in the ceiling above him. 

Conversation was easy since Mark Agro is fun, charming and well informed. Main topic of conversation? Leica cameras and lenses. And an article I wrote about them that ran on Photo.net in 2000 (A.D.).  You may not like the bright lights in the top right of the frame but the art director and I found them charming and insouciant.  We could have retouched them away but that would have been wrong. 

I love doing portraits like this. I started experimenting with this style in the ramp up to writing my first book on photography. Which I am NOT linking to here. 

On a related note. 

Sometimes, when I get too engaged in writing here at the blog, I almost forget that I have another job which entails actually using the various cameras I write about (too often) in order to make money by creating photographs that people and companies actually want to buy/license and use. I know. It's almost counter-intuitive to the usual practice of writing about cameras on the internet to try to make money and then, maybe, grudgingly using the cameras reviewed to create some modest visual proofs that the writer has actually used the camera they have written so vociferously about... 

I can't imagine why most "professional" cameras reviewers would even have opinions about features such as dual card slots since so few of them photograph in fast moving commercial situations with money at risk and clients howling at them to meet deadlines (while adding more shots the brief willy-nilly). Why would the reviewers care if they have to re-shoot a snap of their coffee cup, their Thai food, or their depressed/beleagured looking date? Where's the drama? 

I am often asked why I don't do more to "monetize" this site and I think the best way to answer that is to throw out some stats that I read in a recent article on branding in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  In writing about YouTube personalities (think of Hugh Brownstone's Three Blind Men and an Elephant channel with has 28,000 subscribers, or Tony and Chelsea Northrup with over one million subscribers for their photography channel) Amanda Hess's research unearthed some interesting numbers. I'll just quote her here: 

"The opportunities to market ourselves online are never-ending, but the financial rewards remain elusive. Headlines heralding the multimillion dollar incomes of YouTube stars can make cultivating a brand there seem like a real career option , but a recent study found that even those with channels among the top 3 percent of viewership can bring in as little as $16,800 a year. " NYT Magazine, May 6, 2018

It turns out that most of the YouTube channels that we, as photographers, reference and visit are engaged in what the Cornell professor, Brooke Erin would label as "Aspirational Labor"; which Erin describes  as a "mode of (mostly) uncompensated, independent work that is propelled by the much-venerated ideal of (trying) to get paid to do what you love." (Also from Hess's NYT article).

To be fair, I don't think all online photo personalities are moored on the shores of poverty. I can imagine that Tony Northrup has figured out how to add affiliate, and self-propeled, income streams galore with various products (training programs, books, videos, etc.) which at least leverage his online popularity among amateur photographers, but I also imagine that a life dependent on YouTube is daily hard work for him and most others. There are, on his channel, almost daily well produced video episodes, podcasts, training videos to star in and produce and so much more. While many would look with jealously at the opportunities he and Chelsea have to travel to camera maker events and to write about each of the latest cameras in order to continue to attract viewers, I'm wondering when the couple has time to spend making their own art; as opposed to creating their own examples for consumer programming. 

I think many people flocked to YouTube to become celebrities only to find that, for most, being a mini-celebrity on YouTube, preaching the new equipment theology, and trying to brand themselves, is probably not paying as well as driving around in your dusty Chrysler mini-van driving for Uber. At some point the reality settles in and many find that the $200 to $600 (or less) per month that the vast majority of bloggers or vloggers pull in is barely enough to keep the lights on and the air conditioning rolling. They come to grips with the necessity of working a "real" job to keep pace. Ever hopeful that some day their blogging/vlogging ship will come in and make them rich. But not leaving nearly enough time in a day to step outside the process to make art for oneself. 

So, who is getting rich amongst all the people that YouTube touches? Oh right! That would be the owners of YouTube who sell mountains of paid advertising, inserted in an amongst the free content. Content given freely to YouTube by people desperate to create a brand that may somehow, someday, pay off for them. Any wonder Google stock is sitting at $1,218 today? With a total company valuation north of $ 800,000,000,000? Not bad. I would love to open a retail store in which I only paid rent while all the products were donated to my store with no strings attached. 

So, why aren't I making every attempt to monetize? Basically, I'm too lazy and probably not the sharpest UV laser in the fab. I like writing here because it provides a low maintenance soapbox while ensuring enough distance between me and most of my audience to prevent real, physical attacks because of something silly I've written. But most of my reticence is about trading a current sense of community for the neediness of a transactional relationship. If I'm not badgering you to buy stuff and I'm not shilling for an advertiser I think it goes a long way toward establishing my credibility as a writer on the subject of photography. I may still be wrong on any given subject but it won't be intentional and it won't be in the service of separating you from your money; just your time. 

Like when we're all trying to evaluate the newest products from Nikon and no one in the bloggosphere has used the product with final firmware....

Ah well, executive portraits. 

I also wonder, as a working photographer for over thirty years, why the incredibly talented and hard-working YouTube Photo Celebrities have not figured out that working in advertising photography, for a high day rate, coupled with usage fees, is a much less iffy way to make more money. 

Ah well. I want to thank them all for the well produced and completely free content they provide me. Perfect for those delays at the airport.....




Fence. Austin, Texas.

Fence. ©kirk tuck.

Nothing to say this morning. 

Well, maybe, "Hello Coffee."


8.30.2018

A brand new camera from Nikon that is destined to save the company's bottom line. And make great photographs.

The Nikon D3500.

I'm pretty sure that the Nikon announcement of the Z6 and Z7 cameras was just a ploy to distract attention from other parts of their product line that were about to be announced. I'm sure they did not want Sony and Canon to gain too much pre-knowledge about the camera that will be the real money maker for Nikon; far outselling any of the models marketed to overly-excited, ardent camera "connoisseurs" that line up to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on luxe camera bodies that are 1 or 2% better than the models (bought a few months ago) that they will replace. Now that Nikon has pulled the decorative cover sheet off the D3500 I'm nearly certain that Canon will be rushing to get out a competitive Rebel model as soon as possible while Sony will gin up another cynical advertising campaign meant to move their ancient a5000 or a6000 stock in response. 

As camera enthusiasts we like to believe (deep down) that good photographs can only be well taken with a "prosumer" or better camera. Afflicted Nikon worshippers draw the line at the D7500 as worst case, and really have come to believe that the only cameras that seriously matter to the true believers are full frame and as new as cheap wine. Likewise, the Canon camp will tolerate 7D cameras, with their tiny cropped frames, but secretly they suspect that "authentic" Canon cameras begin with the 6Dmk2 and hit their stride with the 5D models.

There are no current, newly launched, state-of-the-art cameras from Sony that can compete with a camera like the D3500 for one simple reason: The Nikon D3500 will come ready to shoot, with an 18-55mm version 2, VR kit lens (which is actually not a bad lens at all) for the princely sum of....
$499. Camera, lens, 24 megapixel sensor, no anti-aliasing filter on the sensor, and 1080p video for the paltry sum of $499. (yes, some would have killed for performance like this from a $6,000 camera only a decade ago...).

When the Z cameras were announced I was interested in the way a student of English Literature might be about some newly discovered poems by Andrew Marvell. I'd love to read the poems and understand how they fit in with the existing poems. But I would not be quite ready to bid on the original manuscripts... I think the Z cameras are interesting, capable, new and different but I don't think I "have to have one right away!!!!!!!!!" and I'm pretty certain that even the Z7 won't be that much better an image maker than the little collection of D800's and D800e's that I've been stacking up in the drawer just beneath the mirrorless drawer in my office. I probably won't rush to Precision Camera with my American Express Mocha Edition card with the intention of dragging home a whole new system. But the D3500; now that's a different story. And I'll tell you why....

This is a mature, time tested product line which is limited, really, only by the lenses you choose to put on the mount. The sensor itself should be in the same ballpark as the Fuji and Sony APS-C sensors that photographers love to gush about. But instead of ripping well over a thousand dollars out of your wallet in order to own one you get basically the same level of performance, in the camera, that you could get from a $2,000 trendy body in a delightful and agile DSLR for > $500. Slap a $4,000 Otus super lens on the front of a D3500 and I bet you'd be able to generate pix that would absolutely blow away competitors' cameras, outfitted with "lesser" lenses,  that come with the same basic 24 megapixel, Sony derived sensor. So the limitations for the D3500 should not come from the imaging pipeline, they'll come from the glass you choose to use. 

Of course the little camera will have a number of limitations that pricier cameras will not. But most of those features on the pricier cameras fall into the unnecessary category, equivalent to seat warmers in car seats of automobiles sold and used in Texas. (Believe me, there are maybe three days a year when you might actually want to use seat warmers in Texas....). 

But the limitations will be concrete things like: A smaller buffer. A less impressive eye level finder. A slower frame rate. A less sophisticated autofocus implementation. Less battery life (although the press release states 1200-1500 shots --- so much better than all previous generations of exotic cameras like the 380 shot spec of my old Sony A7Rii...). AND THE MOST SAVAGE DEAL KILLER OF ALL TIME: Only one card slot in the D3500!!!!!

But if I already have GH5 cameras and D800 Nikons and D700 Nikons why would I be at all interested in a cheap-ass camera like the D3500? Hmmmm. Because it's small, quiet, almost disposable and able to take most of the lenses I used on my other Nikon cameras (sorry, no "D" series and absolutely no metering or automation with Ai, MF lenses). I can see using a camera like this when I want to travel with almost zero burden. I'm even considering using a camera like the D3500, combined with a lens like the 24-120mm f4.0 VR to shoot dress rehearsals with because the range is perfect in a way that it's not with full frame Nikons. And much quieter.

I also think it would be a nice camera for a challenge I have in mind for all my friends who walk around spouting things like: "It's not the arrow, it's the Indian." "It's not the camera, it's the photographer." "the most important thing is what's two inches behind the camera" etc. All while routinely dropping thousands of dollars a year on over-engineered cameras of which very little of the camera's potential is even tested, much less used. I would like to get all of them to buy one of these cameras (or the equivalent Canon, or entry level mirrorless) and prove to me (and the world) that it really is more about the photographer than the inventory of toys. 

But here's the bottom line: Nikon may sell a bunch of Z cameras but they will sell a bunch x10 of cameras like the D3500. You'll be able to pick up your D3500, along with your 120 roll pack of toilet paper, from Costco. You could get one along with your driveway oil change kit at Walmart. Might even be able to get one at a Sears store, if one still exists... The Z is not the camera line that will make or break Nikon financially ---- it's the small, cheap highly competent cameras at the bigger bottom of the product pyramid that will keep the wheels turning. And each student, struggling to find a job millennial, mom-turned-photographer-on-a-budget, will  start out with a camera like this and keep the pricier cameras at the top alive by establishing a brand loyalty and by upgrading (as many of us have) over the course of their careers and lives. 

I can hardly wait for the reviews to come in. I hope while DPReview and all the other "usual suspects" are thrashing and trashing that single card slot, and that smaller buffer, etc. they take the time to mention that, used correctly and with good glass, the images out of the camera have the potential to be every bit as good as those from a $1500 Sony a6500 or a $2200 Fuji X-Pro-2. 

When I get mine I'm going full beginner chic and using the big black and yellow camera strap that will, no doubt, come boxed with the camera. No pre-order necessary. These will be flying off the shelves like candy at a supermarket checkout line but Nikon will keep these in stock. 



8.28.2018

Just looking back at a video we did for a client in Toronto last year. Simple but to the point. Most projects aren't breathtaking and spectacular. It's okay if they get the work done.

https://youtu.be/yMFzIU3Lp1o

I spent a few days in Toronto making four different video programs for the German healthcare company, Ottobock. The program here was made to celebrate the anniversary of a very successful product that helps amputees be more mobile.

The CEO of Ottobock Canada anchors the video while the b-roll material is from either an afternoon spent shooting in the company's production facility, or from material shot for the two other videos we were tasked with creating in a short amount of time.

I had an assistant for one of the shooting days but the first two days of shooting were done solo. There is a web-based lie/fiction/fairytale that suggests that it is impossible to do acceptable video without several ingredients.

Those are:

1. A crew of helpers and technicians. Sound operators, grips, gaffers, production assistants and assorted entourage. Plus a secondary crew that shoots behind the scenes videos.

2. State of the art, video specific, gear.

3. The ability to shoot and edit entirely in a S-Log or V-Log setting.

4. An enormous budget and acres of time.

5. Multiple, expensive tools with which to move the camera while filming.

Of course, this is all nonsense. The basics are still what matter most to just about any production.

With practice and some previous experience a good single operator can easily set up for a one person interview in fifteen or twenty minutes. You need to light the interview and can do so with two well chosen fixtures and two modifiers. You need to set up to record sound. I favor boom mounted microphones over lavaliere microphones because I think they sound better. Setting up a mic boom on a light stand, and orienting the microphone correctly, takes five minutes. A few more minutes to set levels and you are good to go. It's always nice to have someone around to pack and haul gear for you but it's not anything someone in reasonable health can't quickly and efficiently do on their own.

The advantages of having NO crew? You don't have to listen to their suggestions, you don't have to feed them and you don't have to pay them. I move quicker when I don't need to explain my delegations.

In the four videos we made in Toronto I used two different cameras; a Sony A7Rii and a Sony RX10iii. You might think the A7Rii was the primary camera but I used it sparingly, and only when I needed to drop focus out in the backgrounds to a greater degree than was possible with the RX10iii. I used the RX10 for over 90% of the shots because its great zoom range made effects and composition so much easier, and, counterintuitively for most people, the video files from the all-in-one camera are just better. The RX10iii was a $1500 camera and at that price it's set and ready to use. About the price of a professional compendium lens shade for the $,4500 Zeiss prime on the front of that $20,000 Sony F55 video rig...that pundits insist one must bring.

So, just how much are you getting paid? How do you justify the cost of ultra-high end gear to create an inexpensive (modest budget) video for web distribution? For YouTube? Really? And you need an Arriflex Alexa to get it done? I didn't think so.

I guess V-Log is great if you shoot on the beach or in super high contrast situations. The rest of the time a non-Log setting is just as good, easier to work with, easier to expose well and ....... just less of a pain in the butt. I spent an afternoon testing the V-Log on the Panasonic GH5S and it works well. Just not any better than shooting in a well modified "natural" camera setting. And the "natural" settings always seem to have much better flesh tones...

When it comes to budgets you may have noticed that most video projects these days have budgets that are sized to match up with their predicted market. Big budgets come hand-in-hand with big distribution and also the intention to do broadcast across multiple markets. The north American market for high tech prosthetics is, at any given time, a tiny fraction of the number of people who will tune in and watch a re-run of "The Big Bang Theory" after work today. You may have noticed that most corporate video projects are intended for one or two small granules of a very granulated media market. It's a small segment... But we probably shoot more often than ever before.

My budget to get to Canada and back, stay in a decent hotel, rent a car, eat nice food, shoot, direct and edit video over the course of four days was less than $20,000. When I look at the numbers I realize that I won't get into the 1% by doing this kind of work but, on the flip side, it's fun, collaborative, refreshing, a constant source of education and learning and, well, it's always been more than enough to pay the bills with. And, with a range of video work added to my photography work, it's easier than ever before to justifying new bits of gear here and there.

If I were to charge what we charged at my former advertising agency for a 30 second TV spot we'd wipe out my client's current video budget for the year with one project. The market has changed. Pricing changes with it. With less money to spend on production of each project you create you need to come up with concepts and shots that are easier to produce. You distill the messages down to make them more direct and accessible. You work with smaller crews. You figure out ways to use the gear you have in-house rather than bleeding off part of your fixed budget to rent the current popular gear.  Makes sense to me.

Finally, there is the idea that the camera needs to be moving all the time. This leads most new filmmakers to rent or buy giant cranes, SteadiCam rigs, and giant, motorized sliders to insure that cameras are constantly buzzing around a set. But too much movement is distracting and takes away attention from the speaker and the content.

Some stuff, like sliders and cranes, are getting replaced by handheld gimbals. Sometimes handheld gimbals can be replaced by dual image stabilization technology combined with digital image stabilization in post. Soon, as the newness of endless movement wears off people will put their cameras back on tripods.

But the bottom line is that all the gear and excessive crew is secondary to:

A really good script.

A really good plan of attack.

Better lighting.

Great Sound.

Wonderful acting.

Good direction.

and.... knowing the limitations and constraints of your project.

Just a thought while reviewing some older work.


8.27.2018

Existential dilemmas related to camera selection and wretched excess.... When is enough too much?


Most of the photographers I know are swimming in cameras. They own many more than they can hold in their hands at one time. All of the cameras they've amassed are very good and highly usable for most work. They just want more. It's like a drug addiction. I guess the root cause of suffering really is desire. The idea of "must have features" is simply the modern way of rationalizing this rampant and largely unchecked feeling of endless desire. I don't know where "deal killer" fits in but I suspect it has to do with rationalizing brand tribalism and also gives a nod to the idea that any new technology must be good even if it was never necessary before. Perhaps we would all be better drivers had automatic transmissions never been invented. Automatic transmissions have largely been an excuse to use one hand to drink giant sodas and fondle phones while driving distractedly around town. What sins might excessive automation and feature creep have visited on the prowess and skills of photographers?

On the other hand I guess most new camera features fall more into the innocuous camp of TV remote controls..... Just laziness. We were all twenty or thirty pounds lighter, and faster on our feet, before the age of TV remote controls. Photographs looked better too....

All photos below are from a "single slot" Nikon D700, shooting with an ancient, manual focus Nikon 55mm f3.5 micro lens at around f5.6. You might get more resolution from a different camera but I'm not sure you'd get a better color file....






8.26.2018

Thinking about the Nikon Z series after reading more from Nikon and trying to figure out what they were aiming to produce versus what reviewers thought Nikon was trying to produce.

It's all in the design mix.

Everybody seems to think that Nikon's design goals with the Z cameras were to match, or somehow better, what consumers like about Sony full frame cameras. This is a mistake. Nikon was trying to figure out how to deliver a totally different set of design parameters. And I maintain that the indicator of this (regardless of how many faux engineers want to argue the point) is the re-invention of the lens mount. Nikon's goals are less about delivering a spec sheet full of matching metrics and, in my opinion, they are interested in nothing less than making a system that delivers the highest potential image quality in a mirrorless package.

The proof will be in the lenses. People have been aghast on the web forae about the cost of the 50mm f1.8 lens ($599) and it's because legions of writers have trained them to think of all 50mm lenses as being "nifty-fifties", designed to be decent performers, and also designed to be dirt cheap. Most 50mm 1.8s are based on really old five and six element designs using standard elements and assembled in cheap, plastic lens bodies. The lenses can generally be forgiven if they are not very sharp wide open because most of them can be bought new for around $125. No wonder everyone is up in arms, they seem to believe that what Nikon is offering is just another garden variety nifty-fifty attached to an "Art" lens price tag. A "kit" lens.

If the wags were diligent enough to do some easy research they'd find that Nikon's new Z, 50mm f1.8 is a totally different animal, and a look at the specs would suggest that it might be a bargain at the price point the lens occupies. Why? Well it's a twelve element design in nine groups. The lens features two ED elements as well as two aspherical elements. The lens surfaces are nano crystal coated and it's also internal focusing. It is definitely not your hipster nephew's Canon or Nikon (F series) nifty-fifty by any means. And if you can believe Nikon there is no need to stop down past full aperture to attain the highest levels of sharpness. It's painfully sharp right at f1.8. If you compare that with older series of 50mm f1.4 and f1.2 lenses from Nikon and Canon you'd understand that even with their lofty price tags the fast 50mm lenses of yesteryear really needed to be stopped down a couple of stops to be critically sharp. If the new Nikon 50mm matches their stopped down performance while used wide open that certainly mitigates against the need to spend more for "faster glass." Seems to be in line with the idea that Nikon's design goals all circle around creating the ultimate in imaging performance throughout the system.

Next let's look at the new 35mm f1.8 lens. It's equally interesting from an optical point of view since it features 11 elements in 9 groups, has three aspherical elements along with two ED elements. It's got the nano crystal coating, weather sealing, the same sharpness aim points as the 50mm and the lens focusing ring can be repurposed as a programmable control ring. So, if the lens proves to be sharper than any of its competitors; from Canon to Sony to Zeiss, would it be worth the asking price of $849?

My point is that most reviewers seem to be sitting down with a list of features that are offered on current Sony A7 models and going down that list just mindlessly dinging the Nikon products for not focusing on matching the Sony list. It's my contention that Nikon had a different model in mind. I think they are going to make demonstrably better lenses as well as demonstrably better color science processing in photographs and video, and make those attributes their prime differentiators. Seems a damn sight more valuable to me than getting into a misguided pissing match about which system can shoot the most frames per second. Or which system has the most automation features.

I guess my questions for all the naysayer are these: If the Nikon Z cameras can leverage the new mount (and have really optimized the color science) such that the images from the cameras are, technically and aesthetically, much better than the images coming out of any of their competitor's cameras, and the cost of this perfection is one QXD card instead of two fragile SD cards, which would you choose? If the Nikons have better image performance across the system as well as better handling and better industrial design but this comes at the cost of no having eye detect AF, which would you choose?

The question at hand is: Are you interested in collaborating with a camera to make great images or do you demand all the gingerbread features that allow you to play tech-savant while being totally happy with images that, going forward, will represent a compromise?

I could be totally wrong. Nikon could be blowing massive smoke into our knowledge pipeline. But if they turn out to match what now seems like advertising hyperbole with real performance it will eventually come down to each of us having to choose whether we prefer one implementation over another.

I've handled the Sony A7 bodies over the three generations but no one I personally know has handled an actual Nikon Z camera. If my experience and my hunches are correct I anticipate that Nikon has produced a camera body that feels just right in most people's hands. They can be brilliant lens makers as well. Especially, I would think, if their existential survival depends on it.

I don't believe much of what I've seen and read on the web so far because the fact that all the reviewers were working with cameras that had unfinished firmware makes all of their shared experience little more than "fake news." The proof will come out the week Nikon starts to deliver cameras. For the person who is an imaging perfectionist the new system may just deliver exactly what mirrorless fans have always wanted: A platform with near medium format performance combined with great haptics. Too bad about lower specification for frames per second. I just can't shoot studio still life images with anything less than 21 frames per second. And GPS.

Oh, and for all the people comparing Sony video to Nikon video..... one video project with a GH5S and you'll never look back. It's the ultimate argument that photographers who shoot video WILL benefit from a two camera system.

HERE'S MY FREAKIN DISCLAIMER: (Let's see the other guys match this!): We not only didn't go to a Nikon unveiling event, we also didn't belly up to the open bar, photograph the silly set ups and otherwise waste time. We didn't preview or review a camera with unfinished firmware. We aren't advertising Nikon, Amazon or B&H on this site. We have no pre-order links, or indeed any links at all to product attached to this article (blog post?). And we have engineered no affiliate links to take advantage of what I've just written here.

Instead I read everything that Nikon said they intend to do, every specification about each of the new products and matched those things against my own camera use profiles and attempted to talk about why I think this is a different product than all the other stuff on the market. In the same way that the Nikon D800 was different than everything that came before it back when it was introduced.

I'd like to buy one of the Z6 cameras as well as a 50mm f1.8 Z lens. I think it would be cool. But probably not that much better than the images I already get out of a Nikon D700 with a Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. But I'm kinda tired of the mercenary writing crews trying to force the Nikon Z story  into a Sony box.

Get over it. It's a different product and probably aimed at a different demographic/user profile.

Don't like Nikon's new stuff? Just don't buy it.

Added later: Apparently the lack of a second card slot and eye AF isn't discouraging tens of thousands of pre-orders for the Nikon Z7. Check this out: https://petapixel.com/2018/08/28/nikon-is-sorry-that-the-z7-is-selling-so-quickly/


Intimate camera handling versus menu driven convenience-appliance use.

Venice. 

When I mention how strange I find it that some people pick out a feature, or lack of feature, on a camera and call it a "deal killer" I think I'm just reflecting how differently people approach their creative tools. I find myself wondering why other people make the trade-offs they do with equipment and am sometimes puzzled by which compromises are most important to them.

To use an example: If two cameras were equally capable of making very, very high quality images but one camera was designed to feel much better in the hand, and have a better overall interface, while the other camera was less comfortable in use but had features such as two card slots (presuming the competitor has only one card slot) or included GPS, which one would I choose? Well, of course I would choose the one that I'd enjoy having in my hands for hours at a time, possibly over the course of years.

But equally experienced photographers of a different mindset might choose to ignore ergonomic shortcomings in order to have the piece of mind that a dual card slot might bring, or to leverage the (very questionable) advantages provided by GPS (which I find a worthless concept for any but hardcore travel photographers).

People are free to choose whatever combination of handling, build and feature sets they want but choices that diverge from mine always cause me to stop and try to decipher why they value the very things that seem to fly under my radar while being willing to put up with various operational discomforts instead.

I think I finally figured it out. The answer lies in the way the two different contingents think about cameras in general.

I started thinking about the difference in the way people use their cameras and feel about their cameras in the context of how groups of people use their smart phones. At first I thought it was a generational thing but many people older me by a long shot are virtuosos with their phones. They know all the cool apps and controls, they whisk around town creating personal hot spots, doing their banking and using their phones to control their daiquiri blenders, the temperature of their bathwater and to automate the bird feeder in the back yard. I bought my iPhone to make and receive phone calls and only recently mastered texting. I think of products as singular tools despite adoring the "idea" of Swiss Army knives.

If I had to chose between a phone which makes it easy to make calls on and to get texts with versus a phone that could do a million more things I know I would gravitate to the simpler phone just because the onus of having to master a thousand apps and a dozen pages of menus makes me tired and makes me feel as though all of our time is leached away learning a million useless control steps but the tool is never really pressed into actually doing the art. Or the call. Or the whatever.

My preference in a camera will generally be how it feels to use it. How much it becomes a trusted ally in helping me do the things I want to do and create the images I want to create. I spend long days with my cameras and generally have one by my side most waking hours.

If you shoot the same way and in the same style most of the time you either get used to the feel of the camera or you grow to dislike it. Whether you persist with a camera that makes your brain/hand combination unsettled for the sake of either specification satisfaction or some feature you can't find anywhere else depends on your individual disposition.

I see cameras as very, very specific tools. More so since I started shooting video in earnest with the GH5S. I tested that camera for stills and it's fine but it is so much a dedicated video camera that this is all I find myself using it for. If I want to shoot video I pick up the GH5S. I like the video files from the camera more than anything else I've shot since the days in which we shot 35mm movie film. I may, in fact, try to trade my original GH5 for another S variant just for that reason. But I don't see the GH5S as an "all arounder" and won't take it along in situations where I my intention is to just shoot photographs.

At the other end of the spectrum I find the Nikon D700 to be a very, very comfortable physical camera with a very well thought out and uncomplicated physical interface design. It is designed for one this only and that is to take photographs. It is unencumbered by video, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-fi and all the countless modes that more modern cameras fester with and so it has a clear intentionality of purpose and seems to convey that sensibility of intention to a daily user. To put it clearly it is a camera that becomes more and more transparent to the process the longer one uses it and gets comfortable with it. And, at the bottom of all camera design and use isn't the real idea to make a camera which doesn't distract from the process with poor handling and unnecessary operational complexity? It is for me.

A quick way to tell whether you prefer a "pure" experience or "need" the complexity of a feature rich camera is this: Do you know what all the function buttons on your camera are programmed to do and do you use all of the function buttons on your cameras in the process of making your photographs? Do you routinely use Bluetooth or wi-fi in the daily routine of making your own, personal, not-for-publication photographs?

If you answered yes then you are probably the same type of person who understands all the myriad possibilities of your smart phone and how to access them. We are opposites. Our camera choices may never converge. And that's the starting point to understanding how I'm going to approach my approach to the new Nikon Z cameras. I'll be evaluating how well they work as shooting cameras; not how many check boxes they tick. I'm ordering the Z6 as it makes the most sense.

When I get back from San Antonio this evening let's look at what Nikon's real intention for the new cameras is, as expressed by the insanely well designed lenses as represented by the 35mm f1.8. See Michael Johnston's most recent discussion of this lens at theonlinephotographer.com

I'm headed down to San Antonio to visit my dad and have lunch with him. I'm taking along a Nikon D700 and the 85mm f1.8. Should be a nice day for a visit. Happy Sunday!