I laughed my ass off when I saw the camera Zeiss was proposing at Photokina. Don't these manufacturers ever learn from each other?

The Samsung Galaxy NX. How many hundreds sold worldwide?

I laughed and laughed when I saw what Zeiss was proposing the build. It's a camera with a fixed lens, a huge screen on the back and the ability to run apps like mobile Adobe Lightroom right on the back screen of the camera. If I read the promo material correctly it's based on the Android operating system...

Can you say, "Deja Vu?"
I sure can because I was part of the crew that tested and shot with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera. It featured a big and bold screen on the back. It ran Android's Jelly Bean implementation. It could run many apps. It was the most connected camera of all time and included: Bluetooth, Wi-fi, and full on Cellular connectivity. It even did the Zeiss pipe dream one better by providing an interchangeable lens system that could take advantage of some really well made and impressive lenses. But it was one of  the biggest camera failures in recent history and, in my opinion, was a strong component in Samsung's decision to exit the camera making market altogether. Be careful Zeiss. Be very careful.

Why did it fail? I'm sure there were as many reasons as their are photographers with opinions but for me it was all about actual usuability. Since the camera ran a consumer operating system with many installed apps (feature or sabotage?) it took a long time to start up once you hit the power switch. On the first samples we're talking as much as thirty seconds from switch flick to useable. If you had cellular enabled and you didn't change the default which asked the camera to look for software updates upon resuscitation you could doom yourself to longer waiting periods (with little or no recourse) as the camera downloaded and installed the usual patches and crap. Nuts to you if you saw a scene with Lady GaGa and the Pope making out on main stream with UFOs landing in the background ---- you weren't going to have a camera that would take photographs until your Galaxy NX finished downloading and installing the latest rev. of Angry Birds. 

So, if you have a camera in which the controls are apps and they are embedded with communication apps and gaming apps you just got yourself a menu that makes the Olympus OMD menus look like, "See Jane run. Run Jane run." I made notes. They hardly helped. And I guess I should have expected it because every software update meant new application icon positions and permissions. 

And while the IDEA of a really big screen sounds enticing (yes, you could probably watch a movie on Netflix on your flight home from wherever) it's a shitty idea on many levels; or at least in the levels that have anything do to with taking photographs. 

I'll admit that the screen was nice when shooting stuff in the studio but only until you experienced one of the (regular and frequent) OS crashes and had to restart. Again. And Again.

But shooting out in the streets you quickly realize that the screen is for shit in bright sunlight ( and will be equally or nearly as bad on the Zeiss --- no matter what the sales brochure says.... One Million Nits....!!!!!) and all the money spent on the big rear screen meant scrimping and saving on the low res and slow refreshing EVF. You may think you love doing everything on the rear screen because you are young and stupid and don't know any better, having cut your teeth holding a phone out in front of yourself like a dolt, but when you start photographing with intention you discover how important and enabling a good eye level finder can be.... That's why we don't use twin lens reflexes or view cameras anymore. 

I hope Zeiss doesn't scrimp on the EVF, it will kill the camera before it hits the local Hermes shop. Perhaps they'll stock them at Gucci as well....

Thom Hogan and some small handful of tech-y photographers constantly pine for massive interconnectivity but I'm betting that when they get a bad taste of the distraction and cumbersome nature of their phone, laptop and camera having sex and giving birth to a Frankenstein-ish all purpose appliance they'll want to go back and edit out everything they ever wrote about wanting to process images on their cameras and then uploading them to the millions and millions of buyers who are, in their imaginations, just waiting for their photographic produce to come banging over the bandwidth to their (tiny phone) screens. Multi-Tasking is just another conglomeration of words that essentially means, "I like the gimmicks more than the art. I can't concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. And, everyone wants to see my stuff RIGHT NOW. Even surgeons pause their procedures just to take a gander on their phones of someone's latest ferret foto)

I can see it now. Legions of people misled by false technology messiahs spending Frustration Fridays uploading a new version of Lightroom to their camera. Uploading new versions of Android to their...camera. Playing Angry Birds and  Candy Crush on their cameras.  Waiting for their cameras to reboot so they can catch the last few moments of the asteroid that is about to decimate the planet. 

Me? I'll laugh and photograph them slamming their new interactive, interconnected cameras down on the hard concrete in frustration as they come to understand that real creativity requires real, undiluted attention and focus. Yeah. A one tool per job mentality. It's why we don't have Sporks in Michelin star restaurants. Multi-tool camera clutter is why Zeiss's latest grasp for the gold plated ring will result in abject failure. 

I'd go the other way and make a camera with three controls: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Everything else we'd handle in post. It's true. If you don't believe me go find a Samsung Galaxy NX and give it a whirl. Yes, I can write this because I used one for a year. And yes, I'd never buy another camera like that again. Even with YOUR money. 

Most photos above: Berlin 2013. The launch.

Choosing between micro four thirds cameras and full frame, Nikon D800 cameras for tomorrow's portrait assignment.

A self portrait from 2013 with the failed Samsung Galaxy NX APS-C camera.

I have an unusual assignment tomorrow. I'm going to a hotel in the downtown area where I'll set up a temporary studio in a large meeting room. The studio will have a gray background at one end and a black background at the other end and a bunch of lights in between. I need to photograph about 25 people that work for a telecom company because each of them needs a new headshot for LinkedIn and other social media. 

I'll photograph each person against the black background and then move them over a few feet and photograph them against the gray background. I'm not sure why the need for two different backgrounds but that's what came in the bid request. I connected with this client through a telecom client in San Francisco and, in spite of needing two different backgrounds the shoot should be fun and lighthearted. 

I was down scouting the location today so I'd know what to bring tomorrow. I've packed four monolights to use on the shoot (main light and back light on each set) as well as two pop-up reflectors for fill. I'm also packing two speed lights to use as background lights for the gray background set. But the decision that made me pause was about the cameras. 

Should I bring the Nikon D800s or the Panasonic GH5 cameras?

In the end I decided to continue my successful run with the Panasonic cameras, packing the GH5S and the newer G9. But I paid attention to my thought processes and the way I came around to deciding on which system to use. I thought it might help instruct me in future engagements...

The first part of the equation is that we'll have to shoot the equivalent of 50 portraits over the course of the day. That's a lot to shoot but that's a hell of a lot to post process. I bid the job differently than I usually would because I'm trying to streamline the amount of work I need to dedicate to post production. What I told the client was this: I'll shoot between ten and twenty shots of each person against each background. At the least that's 500 images and at the most around 1,000 images. In the past I would have made a global color correction and exposure currection, put the edited (meaning "culled down") images in a gallery on Smugmug.com and had the client go there to pick out the best image of each person. Then I'd retouch that single image for each person. But that makes the process cumbersome and time consuming. A lot of people take their time getting back with selections and there are few things I hate more than projects that come back to me in dribbles and drabs. 

This time around I'll light and shoot them to the best of my abilities, do a very precise global color correction and apply (almost like a LUT in video) a look to the files, and put all of them up on Smugmug.com and make every image downloadable in full resolution by the client. I'll effectively take myself out of the selection and retouching process. Taking it one step further I'm shooting all the files as Jpegs (yes, I'll take a hand held meter, and yes, I'll do a careful custom white balance...) which will save me time and space in the backend of the process. To take it one step further I'll use the GH5S as my primary camera depending on the G9 only as my back up camera. Why? Well, the 10 megapixel files, of course. 

I did mention above that the aim point for delivery was files to use on social media...

I considered using the Nikon D800s because they do very nice files. But they are also bereft of things like eye and face detection autofocus, which I want to use in case my attention drifts away from the task at hand and I truly go into autopilot. 

The D800 is less agile about nailing focus; especially when compared to any of the recent Panasonic cameras that do face/eye AF. I also have to admit that I like the color straight out of the GH5S better than anything else I've played with. Better than any camera since the Kodak D760. 

The ten megapixel files have ample detail for any sort of social media use and the ability to use the 4:3 aspect ratio is also a bonus for this particular project. 3:2 vertical just never really looks good on LinkedIn. Using the GH5S allows me to use one of my favorite portrait lenses of the last two years, the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. And by using it at ISO 200 and f5.6 I'll get ample depth of field while keeping the needed flash power low enough to ensure that the lithium batteries in the Neewer monolights lasts all day long. 

So I end up with files that absorb fewer archiving resources, are faster to upload to the final gallery and have the color and tonality I like. Seems like a win on every level.

The score would be much different if the parameters of the job were different. If the client was using the images for big, scalable banner ads or full screen graphic I might elect to use the G9 as my primary camera in order to get a larger file. If the client also needed images for print advertising and intended to use the images in advertising or in trade show graphics then I might step up once again and go to the raw files in the Nikon. At some point it's all contextual and the days of re-tasking images for all imaginable uses are long gone. Current clients understand that different images have different uses, different values and can be created with various tools. Part of my job is choosing the right job to both satisfy my clients and my need to continually streamline and drive costs out of my process in places where the requested quality won't be affected. 

We have no obligation to provide our clients with more than they pay for or more than they contract for. If clients want to sharpen their accounting pencils and make budgets smaller we're okay with complying as long as we are able to structure our offerings to reduce cost and complexity. 

But what if one of the participants wants to have his photograph retouched? Well, we have an ala carte price in this job for individual retouching. It's extra and it's billable. And that's how I think jobs should be going forward. 

For all you folks still having issues figuring out how to get the best auto focus from your Panasonic GH5, GH5S and G9 cameras.....

Here is Panasonic's in-depth and very well produced answer/guide:


It's a full of great answers, suggestions, settings etc. Some of the features discussed are upcoming in a firmware released tentatively scheduled for October 28th but most of the material is relevant in the here and now.

A tip of my hat and a "thank you" to motion picture superstar, James Webb, for sending this along to me. Should make all of us Panasonic users look that much better....

from the Pecan Street Art Festival.


Black and White Image from Saratoga Springs. A few thoughts about using the monochrome modes in the Panasonic G9.

not taken with a G9...
Might be a Panasonic GH4.

I always like to at least try the monochrome modes on cameras. Sometimes you can get lucky. Fuji users seem luckier. Using "monochrome" on my Nikons is an exercise in futility. I thought, maybe --- just maybe --- the newer Panasonic G9 would be better. I tried the different modes like Monochrome L and D and I tried the different color filter settings but the files just weren't very convincing as black and whites. The one thing I will warn you against, if you are intent of trying to make the G9 your "go to" black and white camera is to shy away from using the "add grain" feature. Even at the lowest setting it adds way too much grain and the grain "edges" are way too soft to be even glancingly close to real film grain. Better to bring your files into PhotoShop and do conversions from color there and add film grain with PS filters.

Maybe it's just a control issue...

Framed legs. Austin's Grafitti Wall.

Untitled Image from Austin.

When the world goes crazy it's good to shut everything off and head to one of the state parks to relax. Enjoy 'em now before the privatization and strip mining begins...

Pedernales State Park. 

Shot with an Olympus EM5ii.

Getting ready for the Icelandic Adventure and other photographic topics.

Someone wrote and told me that I might like to have thin gloves to wear under my bigger, heavy duty gloves if I'm out in the cold taking photographs. Their logic made sense to me; the big gloves do most of the work keeping my fingers warm but when I need to make a change that requires pushing a small button or turning a recalcitrant dial I can pull my hands out of the big gloves and still have something between my skin and the metal of the camera body.

I went to REI and found a decent pair of glove liners and bought them. I think that was the last purchase I needed to make for the trip, as far as winter clothing is concerned. Certainly there are still many opportunities to rush out and buy a new camera system before departure ---- if the spirit moves me.... Plenty of time to read the new owner's manuals on the plane.

Cold weather shooting tips are most welcome. Remember, I spend most of my time in Texas where snow is rarer than common sense.

Don't bother warning me not to breathe on the front of a lens in weather below freezing. I did that last year in Toronto and was rewarded with a frosted front element.


New Camera. Old Lens. Interesting intersections.

Panasonic G9+ PenFT 25mm f2.8.

Too upset by the Senate vote re: the Supreme Court to even think about writing anything.


First Job on which I used the Panasonic G9, and survived. Well.

A quick blog note: When I discuss practical experiences about some gear I tend to do so in the context of actual jobs I've completed using the gear. Most of the time the jobs are done for corporate clients and we have often entered into understandings about what I can and cannot show publicly without violating either trade information or individuals' privacy. If I show work from a paid engagement and it shows recognizable people then I will have gotten permission to use it. Most of the time I rely on my written experiences to convey the information I want to share. Occasionally I'll use peripheral images from events as small visual accents to the copy. As an example of the kinds of images I often take but rarely show, I set up and shot a group photograph of 50+ people outside yesterday afternoon. While the photos exceeded my expectations I can't show them without going back and obtaining agreement from the company and then getting the permission from all 50+ participants. In this context that's a very, very low priority for my use of time. So, you won't see the group photos. You'll just have to take my work for it that they were SPECTACULAR (wink...). 

Yesterday afternoon was warm and humid. A typical central Texas day in early October. We've had a rash of high humidity days stemming from storm systems in the Gulf of Mexico, and some high pressure domes. Adding in 90+ degree temperatures doesn't help the comfort levels...  I packed a camera bag for an assignment and, after a short nap on the couch, under the watchful eyes of Studio Dog, I ambled to my car and headed east on Hwy. 71, past the airport and on toward Bastrop. I headed to a resort to do a small assignment of the type I have covered for decades: a corporate leadership conference --- the team building segment.

As is par for the course around Austin the company I was photographing for is in the technology industry. They are one of the top companies to work for in the area and they do work all around the planet.

Today I had a pretty straightforward agenda. I would photograph the group of 50+ people outside around 4:30pm and then I would document them as they broke into eight teams of five or six people and did an abbreviated form of "Iron Chef." Each team needed to create a perfect guacamole, a perfect salsa and as good a margarita as humanly possible. A team of the resort food&beverage folks would be the judges.

The event was set up outside in the center of a U-shaped collection of fine resort buildings with some of the contestant tables in the sun and some in open shade. Of course, there were open bars and queso and guacamole other snacks to help the contestants stay focused.

I pulled together group shots of each department of people, just because that's something people usually want. After we photographed the judging and the awarding of much tequila I also photographed a pre-dinner reception, turned down an earnest invitation to join them all for dinner, and then headed back Austin to eat with the home crew (smoked salmon sandwiches = whole wheat croissants, split and toasted, spread with cream cheese, luscious smoked salmon, frissé and a poached egg. Delicious. Serve with chilled vodka?).

That's the preamble. So what camera did I take? What lens did I use? And how did it all work out?

I took the Panasonic G9 and the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. For a back up I took along a GH5 with an assortment of prime lenses. I took two flashes. One to use for the group shot and the other to use on camera for the event documentation.

Let's start with the group shot: I knew we'd be doing this outside on a warm and sunny afternoon so I knew I should take along a powerful flash. I was lucky to find a small hill that was shaded from direct, late afternoon sun by two tall trees but as with any tree shading there was still a bit of dappled sunlight here and there and I knew I should clean up the whole scene with some strong fill flash. But before I set up the flash I asked the resort to deliver a nice eight foot ladder. A higher perspective is nearly always better with big groups. Amazingly, the ladder arrived in minutes.

I envisioned setting up the group shot with the people in three rows and set up a Godox AD200 flash, with the clear flash tube firing into the pebbled  six inch reflector. I put it on a twelve foot light stand and weighted the base of the stand with my camera bag. The light was trigger by a Godox X1T-O flash trigger which can give me ttl control over the AD-200 as well as HSS. I used the system in manual because I knew I'd need the full power of the flash to do the job correctly.

The hardest part of getting an executive group organized is just getting the group organized. But the heat and humidity were allies of sorts because they motivated people to get through the process a bit quicker. The flash took about two seconds between shots to recycle but it was absolutely perfect for cleaning up the shot and the trigger worked as it should on the Panasonic G9.

When I finished shooting the shot and the group headed off to grab beers and sustenance before starting the competition I encountered my first (non-fatal) disappointment with the G9. I was shooting in Raw and when I reviewed the files everything looked perfect until I magnified the review image to 8X. Then the image seemed blocky and unsharp. Moving to 16X it looked....pixelated. I knew I had locked focus in the right spot and I knew that 1/250 with a wide angle setting on the lens was not remotely problematic re: camera motion, especially given the great image stabilization.

Of course it was a false alarm. The smaller review Jpeg generated by the raw file is just not capable of showing all the detail. I'm presuming that, like most cameras, if you want a really great preview you'd better shoot raw+high quality Jpeg to start with. Once I got the images on the 27 inch screen at the office I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were even more detailed that I would have imagined.

With the group shot out of the way I quickly packed up the AD200 and the trigger and put a Godox TT685-O in the hot shoe of the camera. I only turned it on and used it when I was in situations where a scene I wanted to photograph was half in bright sun and half in open shade. I try to boost the shadow areas without materially affecting the highlights.

The Olympus 12-100mm was, of course, flawless as an event coverage lens, going effortlessly from wide to a tight telephoto, allowing me to get lots of tight, one and two person shots and them zooming out to get a whole group.

I'm still getting used to the "hair" trigger of the G9. It's sensitive. But having only had the camera for two days I think I'm already getting the shutter button dialed in and sorted.

The camera was pretty accurate for color balance in most situations but when the sun finally dipped behind the western building and we were in total open shade I decided to help the camera out by setting the open shade white balance preset. Consistency means a lot when you know you'll be batch processing files.

I shot through 500+ files, with ample pre-chimping, and was still on the same battery at the finish. By the end of my time with the group I still had three bars left on the batter indicator.  The camera, lens and flash altogether weighed less than one of my Nikon D800's alone. It made for a comfortable package while gadding about in the heat and humidity for two and a half hours. No sore biceps today.....

The one thing that sticks out for me in my early evaluation of the G9 is just how sharp and detailed the files are. I hesitated about using the camera for the big group shot, thinking the D800e might be a better choice, but unless my client is planning to take a huge, huge print of the shot I don't think the difference is visible. Interesting that the small format has come so far. It's peachy for group shots as I rarely worry about people in the second or third rows being out of focus....

More to come later. It was a fun and low stress engagement. The camera helped.

Not quite the most fastidious assemblage of chefs I've seen.

many limes were injured in the making of margaritas. Oh the horror. 

And, to the winners in the overall best category, the spoils. 


An "in progress" review of the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens after over a year's experience with it.

When I bought my first two GH5's I was starting over in the micro four thirds universe from scratch. Because I intended to use the system to make photographs and videos for business rather than for just my personal use, I needed to put together a rational collection of lenses that would cover my professional needs. I don't need exotic focal lengths but I do need to cover what professionals who shoot any system need; a wide angle zoom that's well corrected for geometric distortions, a telephoto zoom (which I use frequently in theater and in the making of certain kinds of portraits) with a fast f-stop and then, most importantly, an all around, standard zoom that's sharp as a fresh razor blade, well behaved and fully useable at a wide open aperture.

When selecting normal range zooms I dislike those with very limited ranges. I'm not a fan of the big, heavy 24 to 70mm f2.8 zooms (on FF) because they are too cumbersome for what they deliver and they can't get me into a portrait range that I like. When I shot with Canons I nearly always had their venerable 24-105mm f4.0 L lens attached to a camera. Now that I'm shooting frequently with Nikon cameras I lean toward the (surprisingly good) 24-120mm f4.0 and am happy to have the extra 15mm of focal length at the long end. It's a nice lens for a portrait photographer! But when I bought the Panasonics I relied on my recent memory of having purchased and used their twin "pro" lenses, the 12-35mm f2.8 and their 35-100mm f2.8. I remember sometimes being frustrated by the limiting 70mm equivalent at the long end of the 12-35mm and miffed at having to always carry two cameras, each with a lens mounted on it, it cover the range at a fast moving event, conference or even theater dress rehearsal.

Those lenses left my inventory in my purge of the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras a while back and so I came to populating the GH5 system inventory with a clean slate. I had the prejudice that lenses with less extreme ranges would be better optimized than those with extreme ranges and that belief made me leery about looking at the Olympus 12-100mm, even though the focal length range is like something from heaven for the kind of work I routinely do. But my (extremely good) experiences with the breathtaking range of focal lengths provided by the Sony RX10 iii went a long way toward at pushing me to at least be open to a trying the longer range on the Olympus professional zoom.

I read many reviews before I decided to try the lens for myself. I borrowed one from a local camera dealer and spent a weekend shooting all kinds of images in all sorts of places. I tried every aperture and every focal length. When I finally sat down in front of my computer and started editing and then post processing my raw files a smile spread across my face. Here was a lens that was clearly as sharp wide open as it was stopped down to f5.6 or f8. It wasn't just "useable" at f4.0 it was superb at f4.0.

It also worked flawlessly with the Panasonic GH5. The system defaults to using the image stabilization in the lens rather than the in-body stabilization but I haven't found that to be a negative. In fact, when I bought the GH5S, which does not feature image stabilization, a lot of my comfort in buying that particular body came from the knowledge that my favorite Olympus lens would do a great job stabilizing images on that body.

I also put the Olympus 12-100mm ahead of the Panasonic twins and the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 because it is a superior lens for video work. Let me explain why. All the lenses discussed here use "fly-by-wire" to manually focus but only the Olympus (with it's separate setting for MF) allow you to access a marked focus ring which stops at infinity and also allows you to set a repeatable focus point which you can see and return to on the focusing ring. This allows you to easily and accurate preset a distance for focus and come back to it again and again. And, while the focus throw is a bit short you can, with practice, roll focus between two marked points reliably. Not really possible with the other candidates.

I've shot with the 12-100mm for over a year now and last week's big shoot was a good example of why I like using the lens so much. I was covering a conference for three long days, shooting tight shots of speakers on stage, wide shots of branding and stage design, shots with ttl flash and a wide open aperture and even a fair amount of video of the same subjects. I used the lens mostly at f4 and have yet to find a frame (if I didn't screw up on focusing) that wasn't sharp and pretty. I could use the lens on the GH5S and get image stabilization in both video and still photography and there were times when I switched into manual focusing just for the hell of it. After shooting 4,000+ images over the course of the event, everywhere from dimly lit ballrooms, exteriors, tented venues and in crowded team rooms, I found that the vast majority of images were done with this one lens.

A much smaller percentage of shots were executed with the 40-150mm f2.8 (an amazing lens that is sharper than any Canon or Nikon 70-200mm lens I've used) because I used it mostly to get tight headshots of speakers on stage from a discreet position in the back of a hotel ballroom (not a very large ballroom). An even smaller number of images were done with the Sigma 30mm f1.4 contemporary lens and I used it just to see how it handled at its widest aperture. It was great as isolating people in the crowd.

The 12-100mm is not a cheap lens to buy but it is cost effective once you realize that it's usable on nearly every project you'll end up doing with micro four thirds systems. The lens is water and dust resistant, built almost entirely of metal, has very effective image stabilization and, for the range, is not heavy or cumbersome.  An added bonus, if you shoot with Olympus EM1.2 and EM5.2 cameras, is that the lens I.S. and camera I.S. will work together to give you pretty spectacular stabilization.

In the course of the last year I've used this lens extensively in video projects and even more extensively in photography assignments and it is one of the gear investments that paid for itself many, many times over.

The Olympus Pro series lenses are in a class by themselves. They are remarkably sharp and well corrected. I'm not sure how much of the correction is being done by processing in the cameras but I can see that I'm not experiencing image degradation in the corners, even with the 10 megapixel camera, and that kind of image damage is usually a clue of too much processing and not enough file information. I'm not seeing those effects with the 12-100mm.

So, bottom line, how good is the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 lens? Literally, it's my "desert island" choice. I'm using it for a project this afternoon and for a video on Saturday. It's also the first lens to hop in my camera bag and head for Iceland at the end of October. If I dropped, lost or otherwise didn't have one I'd rush to my local dealer and replace it immediately. There are few other lenses whose absence wouldn't at least trigger a "what a good chance to see what else is available...." but the 12-100mm is a non-negotiable part of my system. The other "must have" is the 40-150mm f2.8 but we'll save that for another day.

Black and White Adds Fiction to Photographs.

I've tried for years to figure out why I prefer to look at black and white photographs of many subjects. It finally dawned on me after watching the movie, "La Dolce Vita" for the millionth time.
Removing color removes a layer of implied reality from the art. When that layer is removed we get to look at the image or movie as more of a fiction or story and less as a documentation of reality.

The lack of color, and the beguiling interplay of tones, allows us to put aside our presumption of objectivity and dive into whatever visual narrative the artist wanted to present.

And if you are just buying photographic art as an investment you can buy black and white prints without the worry that some of the colors in a color print might clash with your couch or your decorator's choice of wall paint.....

Having realized all of this I now want all camera makers to concentrate on giving us better and more customizable black and white modes. Regardless of sensor size or quantity of megapixels.

Why would they not want to give us the opportunity to make better black and white photos?
I wouldn't cost much to add better profiles to most cameras on the market.


My first subdued romp through the naked city with a Panasonic G9 in my hands. Like a photographic Godzilla through Tokyo.

Next week I'll spend a day at this hotel making portraits for a high technology company.

I've shot with Panasonic cameras since the days of the GH2. I've owned and used the GH3, GH4 and now two versions of the GH5 and most recently I've added a G9 to the mix. Largely on the strength of my almost visceral reaction to the splendid files I've been getting from the GH5S. Not huge files by any means, but extremely well built files with great color and tonality. I figured the newest color science might actually run in the family and so, here we are with a G9. And just in time as our dance card is filled with assignments as far as the eye can see.

I hate diving straight into shooting paid work with a new camera. There could be new settings or buttons that stump me while I'm right in the middle of a project or the camera could (rarely) be defective in some way and it's better to find that out and get it swapped out for a new one ASAP.  My routine is to put a known lens on the front and head out the door to shoot the camera for a couple hours or a couple hundred frames and see if there are any surprises. Certainly I would hate to pack an untested camera and take it on a trip out of town. That would be my idea of a nightmare scenario.

I put a new battery in the camera and a Hoodman Steel 128 GB V60 UHS II SD card in the "A" slot on the camera, formatted the card, and then added a 25mm f1.7 Panasonic lens to the package. I put the camera into the "A" mode, set the aperture to f 4.0 and headed into downtown. It was a warm and sweaty day with temperatures in the 90's, and the humidity was just a tad lower than a a wall of steam. Good weather for a photographic Godzilla to terrorize small villages, or the whole of downtown Austin by waving a little camera around in my hands and trying to breathe fire. Which did not work. 

Thankfully, the camera did. 

I had previously tried out the camera at the bricks and mortar showroom, but only in the most cursory way. I noted that the finder had a bit of pincushion distortion and that the shutter release was very, very sensitive (too sensitive, I thought at the time...).  The finder was large and bright and that stuck with me. But standing at the counter at a camera store and aiming it at the staff and clicking off frames under wildly mixed light is hardly the best way to assess the potential of a camera. Right?

Since I was shooting with an inexpensive 25mm lens which does not have image stabilization the first thing I noticed was how good the in body image stabilization is with the G9. While pressing the shutter button just before shutter actuation you can see the image become rock solid. I quickly learned to accommodate the sensitive shutter and now have no issues with it at all. The combination of the slight pressure needed to trigger the camera, coupled with top tier image stabilization means that I can handhold the little 25mm lens down to at least 1/4th of a second and at that setting expect good and convincing sharpness. 

As to the perceived pincushion distortion....I have a theory that the EVF is showing us the pre-corrected file as a preview and only applies the geometric lens correction post exposure; during the writing out of the file to the memory card. Once the image is committed to the card and called up for review it doesn't seem to have the same pincushion distortion. This could all be conjecture on my part but that's my stumbling around in the street observation. At any rate, my facile and interesting brain sorted out the issue of the pincushion-ism rather quickly and cancelled it out of my conscious thoughts while I was shooting. 

Of all the cameras I've shot with from Panasonic this one has the most pleasing shutter sound and is perhaps the quietest when used with the mechanical shutter. Of course, all the recent models have a silent, electronic shutter setting so I guess the underlying point is moot. If you need quiet you can dial it up. But it's nice to have the aural feedback of the mechanical shutter, it makes the practice of photography seem more real. 

One thing I am very happy with, even though I've barely spent time with the new camera, is the color and tonality of the files when shooting Jpeg. I assume I can get even better results with raw files but there are many instances when the Jpegs will work well. More emphatically so when one already likes the color one is getting from the camera. 

The camera is not too small and not too big so I guess this makes it less of a Godzilla camera and more of a Goldilocks camera, but that's a good thing. The buttons have a much different feel than the buttons on the GH5 but, again, within a few blocks I had already compensated and changed my neural subroutines to match my desired perception: = nice buttons. 

All of the images here started as standard, non-inflected Jpegs. I dragged them through an app called SnapSeed and applied a light dose of "structure" or slight exposure "course correction" but no heroics were performed to save or overly enhance the files above or below.

What's my first day's response to the camera? This is the 2018 equivalent of the 1955 introduction of the Leica M3. A nicely sized and weighted camera with a beautiful finder (yes, I am referring to both) that balances nicely with a 'normal' focal length lens and does beautiful work without calling too much attention to itself. I was not loud, didn't suck down the battery at a rapid clip and turned out files that were exactly what I wanted. I don't know what more a sane person would ask from a camera. 

The web tells me what insane people might want from a camera and I think it has some of that stuff built in but things like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are not intrusive. I'm pretty sure there's no built in GPS so I guess we should count our blessings. The package works well.

But let's also take a second to talk about the lens. The 25mm f1.7 Panasonic is kind of a sleeper, always overshadowed by either the Leica 25mm Summilux or the Olympus 25mm f1.2, but it's actually a very competent performer, especially at f2.8, f4.0 and f5.6. It's quite usable wide open but it really shines at the smaller apertures. It's not the simple design you might be accustomed to if you've shot with so called "nifty-fifty" lenses from Canon and Nikon. It's actually a more complex design with an ultra high refractive element in the front, two aspheric elements somewhere in the mix and eight elements in seven groups; which is more complex than most of the "kit" lenses on the market. It seems reasonably priced at $249 but frequently is offered, on sale, for around $149, at which price I consider it to be a bargain. Nay, a steal. 

But look for yourself. The images here were all done with the Panasonic 25mm and I'm not finding much to complain about. Even the one with the huge specular highlight on the top corner of the office building is actually well controlled for flare, etc. 

All-in-all I'm finding a lot to like about the look and feel of the G9 files as well as the basic handling of the camera. Someday I'll program all the function buttons and make a "cheat sheet" so I can remember what is where. Until then I think I'll just use the controls I know and leave the rest to fate.

The camera is now on the short list for the trip to Iceland. So is the lens. 

If you have a G9 can you tell me what sort of logic you used when programming the function buttons? There's so many options to choose from.....
Packed up for a quick shoot nearby.

Environmental art on the Lamar Blvd. underpass. Nice. 

Getting in and out of the country quicker and better. And getting around inside better as well.....

B. at the Met.

The last time I flew back into the U.S.A. from outside the country was in 2017. I drove back in from Mexico earlier this year but the border crossing in a car wasn't anywhere near the ordeal that coming back home on a plane was.

In the airport in Toronto there were long lines to clear customs and many delays. It seemed unusual to me since I was definitely not traveling during a peak travel season.

I've also noticed many more delays and clogs when going through security for domestic flights as well. I usually get the TSA PreCheck on my tickets though I've never signed up for the program and that's a great help but often my kid will barely make a plane because of the regular lines for airport security and that's even if he arrives an hour or two before his flight. It may be that Austin-Bergstrom airport is just getting relentlessly busier and this is part of the overall growth pains of living in a bursting city.

At any rate, I seem to be racking up travel commitments left and right. I have the workshop in Iceland coming up in late October thru early November, followed by another workshop in the U.K. the first week and a half of December. Before I go off on those fun trips though I have four or five travel days to the east coast in the last two weeks of October. That's a lot of climbing on an off planes but it's also potentially a lot of standing in TSA security lines and taking shoes off and putting them back on again.

I can't complain because the work is great and the workshops have the promise of being incredibly fun. But I've decided that I need to make the airport/Kirk interface more efficient so, after much research I decided to apply for a program called Global Entry that's run by the Customs and Boarder Security Agency. Once you sign up, have a background check and a face to face interview, turn over your fingerprints, Oh, and pre-pay a non-refundable $100 application fee you might get approved. The agency is very clear that there's no guarantee and if you don't get approved  you aren't getting your $100 back. Tough love.

But...if you do pass the background check and all the screening you become a member of this program called Global Entry which makes you a "trusted traveler" and allows you to skirt customs and get into the country in an express lane at immigration. The bonus is that the same program and fee also provides the TSA PreCheck benefit. You get to go through the short line and forgo the privilege of taking off your belt and your shoes!

So, I started the process online and filled in all the blanks. I've had the same job for 32 years with the same employer (that would be me...) and I've lived in the same house for 22 years. I have never been arrested or investigated or implicated. I'm like a darn Boy Scout. I thought the whole thing would be a slam dunk but there's always a catch. The catch here is the backlog. It's either a very popular program or one supplied with meager resources.

I'm told by the website that I should have a conditional answer within 3-4 weeks and then I'll need to schedule the face to face interview, for which there are no more open slots anywhere in the Southwest U.S. for the rest of the year. Interesting conundrum, yes? As a person with an overwhelming sense of entitlement I immediately queried whether or not I could expedite the process by paying more but that doesn't seem to be an option.

I guess I'll just have to wait out the process and use the new privileges when, and if, they become available.

I'm writing this to ask if you have applied or used the program and to hear/read your responses about it. Can you please share your actual experiences with me? It would be much appreciated. In the interim I'll head over to the DMV to practice my waiting skills.........


With the whole world drooling over full frame, mirrorless cameras I just had to pick this moment to buy a Panasonic G9. What was I thinking?

Okay, let's set the stage for all the people who will read the blog for the first time and start screaming, "fanboy. I bet he's never even tried out a full frame brand X!!!!!" I have one job and it's to create visual content for commercial clients. To that end I have two full frame, Nikon D800x cameras, a couple of older full frame D700 cameras, and, at one time or another I've owned or borrowed and shot with just about every full frame digital camera on the market, including Canon 1 series cameras and 5 series cameras, including both Sony's mirrorless A7xx series cameras, and SLT a99, as well as Sony's more conventional a850 and a900 cameras. In fact, the only camera maker whose full frame (meaning: just about equal in size and shape to 35mm film) camera I haven't played with is the Pentax. I've also shot with the medium format digital cameras from three different companies. But, in the end, the cameras I have the most fun and, sometimes, the most success with seem to be the one's from the two micro four thirds vendors; Olympus and Panasonic. And lately Panasonic seems to be bringing to market more and more of the cameras that seem just right for me.

After shooting nearly 5,000 frames in the service of three different clients, last week, I looked back on what worked and then what worked better and after a dispassionate review; and after having looked at nearly all 5,000 of the images, I drove up to Precision Camera at rush hour, on the jam-packed Mopac Expressway (cruelly mis-classified as there is nothing remotely "express" about it) walked inside and asked one of my favorite sales associates to grab me a brand new Panasonic G9 and take my money.

But why? There's not one particular thing that moved me to make the purchase, instead there were dozens of small things that I think about as I'm shooting that cause me to either appreciate or regret having brought along a particular camera (or lens).  In the case of the Panasonic top tier of camera models it's all about a combination of features and performance.

I thought it would be tough to beat the video imaging performance of the GH5 until I bought and started using the GH5S. The camera is dismissed all the time for being "only ten megapixels" and for having no built in image stabilization. But if the people who dismiss the camera for not having their favorite features would actually test the camera and shoot the camera I think most would be amazed at just how beautiful and different the GH5S files can look. 

I had to make some decisions last week about which camera system to bring to a three day corporate event that required me to be fast, mobile, discreet and efficient. I needed to be able to shoot a lot of stuff, make it look good for multiple uses and also make files that were efficient (small) enough to be easily upload able --- in bulk. Part of the job was to provide instant access to the files for the client via a shared web folder. This kind of job is no place for finnicky, fussy practitioners who can only pull off a decent photograph if they shoot it at 45 megapixels in raw and then spend half a day massaging it and working with the file in PhotoShop. I needed to be able to send Jpegs that came straight out of the camera and I like the challenge of doing that. 

I was torn between using the Nikon D700s because they are "full frame" and the files are the right size. But man, are they ever loud. Then I considered the D800e and D800 but it's the same thing. The advantage of those cameras is in the raw file potential, once you start working in a file size that makes sense for the kind of project I was doing it doesn't make much sense to drag a big camera and big lenses around --- and I couldn't figure out how to make the cameras quiet enough and discreet enough to make them comfortable working tools for a highly focused conference. I ended up shooting the show with the GH5 and GH5S cameras, both set to 10 megapixels, because they checked all the right boxes. They are small, quiet (even when using mechanical shutters they are 1/3 as loud as the D800s) an easy to carry around all day long. The capper was that my client wanted some short video of each speaker doing their presentations up on the stage and I couldn't think of a better camera and lens combination for that than the GH5S and the Olympus 12-100mm f 4.0 Pro lens. You might be able to pull something video-like off with the Nikons but I guarantee you'll be working a lot harder for your money. 

By the third day I knew I'd made the right choice and chance hammered the point home for me at the start of the main tent session that Friday. I'd gotten to the venue ( a very nice hotel in downtown) early in the morning, had a nice coffee on a terrace overlooking the city, and I got to savor a sunrise and the first cool air of Fall. Just before the start of the morning's program the first speaker came into the main ballroom followed by a woman with a big camera bag, a light stand and several big Nikon DSLRs around here neck. She started to set up a light but the head event planner for the company holding the conference quickly let the newly arrived photographer know that flash during the presentations was NOT allowed. 

The woman looked around and identified me as the show photographer and came over to explain to me why she was there. She'd been hired by the speaker to get some "action" shots of him speaking. I smiled and welcomed her to the venue. Then I made a bee line to my contact to let her know that if she heard loud shutter noise during the presentation that it was NOT from me. My cameras are quiet but also have a fully silent mode that I use when I think silence is called for. 

The show kicked off, the speaker bounded up on stage (and he was very good!) and then all hell broke loose with the clacking of a mirror and shutter. It was amazing, I'd been photographing the previous two days from near the back of the room and most people in the audience had no idea I was in the room. Once the speaker's photographer let loose with the Nikons half the room turned around to look. She soldiered on and the audience eventually lost interest but the message was not lost on me = there is a better way.

But I didn't make up my mind to buy another camera until later. On Sunday evening, freshly back from my visit to my father, in San Antonio, I sat in front of my big screen and started evaluating files from a range of assignments I'd done over the past six days. There were studio portraits of several doctors that I'd shot with controlled lighting and the full 14 bit raw files of the Nikon D800e. There were 500+ shots I'd done for a Zach Theatre rehearsal I'd made shooting raw files with the Nikon D700 and there were several thousand shots and a bunch of video I'd done with the GH5 (vanilla version). All were good but I've got to burst some bubbles here; there aren't huge and glaring differences in quality between the formats or the cameras. In some instances I see the color from the D700 as superior to the D800e and I don't really see a lot of difference in noise profiles between all of the different cameras I shot. But then I started looking at some still photographs I'd shot with the GH5S.

The images from the GH5S are really nice. Even though I was photographing with Jpeg settings the files were rich and the color was superb. But the biggest thing for me was how nice the basic contrast of the files was and how much detail they showed without being oversharpened. I'd go so far as to say that the files from the GH5S are some of the nicest I've ever seen coming out of a modern, digital camera. 

I had the idea that a fair amount of what I'm seeing comes from new color science in the most recent Panasonics which is likely a result of a generation of faster processors that are capable of doing a much more nuanced job of file construction during shooting. What I've read in reviews led me to believe that this same color science I was seeing in the GH5S is embedded in the G9 as well. 

If I was an amateur and I was photographing only for my own pleasure I am almost certain I'd be happy with the GH5S, but as I said in the first paragraph, I do this photography thing for a living. While a hobbyist will be fine with one great camera my event job this week was a perfect example of a situation in which two (identical) camera is better, more efficient and more effective. When shooting a speaker on a stage, or a group of people at a happy hour, or any other event in which you constantly need to shift from wide, establishing shots to medium shots and also to tight shots that are almost headshots, all from one position, you learn that you need at least two zoom lenses on two cameras. You don't want to take time to change lenses on a single body, you want to be able to pull one camera up to your eye and shoot with the long lens and then, when you know you have that shot, you let that camera and lens combination hang over your shoulder on its strap while you bring your camera with the short lens up to your eye and shoot, with no delay. It's a much more fluid way of shooting than digging into your bag to grab a different lens and then trying to get the lens mount squared up in the dark. 

After seeing the color and tonality (and the perception of sharpness) from the GH5S I knew I wanted that but in a camera that matches the GH5 more closely. I want to use in body image stabilization when I need to and while the I.S. in the Olympus lens works well with the "S" body the image stabilization in the G9 lets me use any lens and still get the benefits of I.S. 

I also wanted a second still camera that matches the GH5's high resolution of 20 megapixels; not because I need it all the time but because there are projects and genres of photography that do benefit from having the right number of pixels. Since all three of the camera bodies take the same batteries I can take all the cameras on location and intermix batteries at will. 

I'm just now testing out the G9 but it's so familiar, having spent a year with two GH5's and their very rational menu structure. There's not a big learning curve. I'm shooting a quick job with the G9 on Thursday this week and again two days next week, and if it makes photographs that are as beautiful as those from the GH5S then the G9 will be the primary camera I take with me to Iceland on the 27th of October. With the GH5 coming along as a great back up.

There are many things I like about the G9. At least in theory. I like the bigger EVF. I like the idea of the high resolution mode. I like the huge USB 3 port on the camera almost as much as I appreciate the full sized HDMI port. For the faint of heart the G9 comes with two card slots and both of them are fast UHS II slots. While QXD cards may be faster SD V90 cards that can handle up to 400 Mbs are no slouches. 

But most of what I like about the Panasonics are that the differences between the bodies are not big; certainly not insurmountable. If you could find your way through a GH4 menu then a GH5 menu was hardly a challenge. It's the same with the G9 menus. The learning curve is slight and comfortable, not something that will force you into therapy like some other menus I won't mention...

The bottom line in my decision to flesh out the M4:3 cameras is the desire to balance ease of use, tight and useful imaging feedback via the finder, very good raw files, just the right file size for most stuff and when needed the ability to make video that is so good it will make a cinematographer smile with surprise. 

Here's my packing list for my nine day trip to Iceland: One fG9. One GH5. One Olympus 12-100mm lens. One Panasonic 8-18mm lens. One Sigma 30mm f1.4 contemporary lens. One sigma 16mm f1.4 contemporary lens. Some batteries. Some fast SD cards. Total weight? Negligible. Total imaging power? Significant. We'll see how everything fits into my carry on backpack but there may yet be room to sneak in the GH5S. Might need it for all the low light stuff....

Does this mean I'm rushing to sell off the Nikons I've been lauding for the last six months? Gosh no. They still have their place in the inventory. The D800s do wonderful work in the studio, and for those odd times when noise doesn't matter. And those D700s are too endearing to get rid of. Not to mention that they are so cheap I wouldn't get much on a trade or straight out sales and I like to use them because for some reason I can't really explain they seem to bring out the best in 50mm and 85mm lenses. That's reason enough to use them.

I decided to buy the G9 at this juncture because they are currently on sale everywhere in the USA for around $1,500. It's a $200 savings from their recent retail price. You can argue that you can get a full frame Canon 6D2 or a recent Sony A7ii for that price or less but you'd miss the point that, to me, the full frame sensor is not that big a deal. It's more like the idea of having a car with a big, big eight cylinder engine. Your opportunities to see any performance differences between that and a more efficient car with a smaller motor shrink daily. As we all move from print and from making prints we see the space in which cameras really have room to show off their potential (the potential you pay for) is extremely limited by your final uses. All the potential in the world is meaningless if you don't have a consistent venue in which to show it off. There are few (very few) times when there is so little traffic on Austin streets that you would be able to drive over 60 mph without immediately rear-ending the car in front of you. By the same token, with most of our work heading to the web, and being showcased on screens, the potential of larger format camera (if the glass on all contestants is equally good) is wasted. 

Part of the reason I switched in and out of the earlier m4:3 systems was down to my own bad lens buying strategy. I scrimped on lenses and blamed the cameras. People do this all the time. The two lenses that have effectively cured me of this are the 12-100 and the 40-150 Olympus lenses for the systems. They cut down the overall difference in quality between the smaller format and full frame by a huge amount and more or less evened the playing field; at least where optimum ISO settings are concerned. 

I'm not saying you need to choose one format over the other. I think, if you are a commercial photographer with wide ranging interests or a large number of sub-disciplines you should have multiple cameras and lenses at your disposal because all formats (and brands) have their strengths and weaknesses. Panasonics just seem to have fewer of the weaknesses right now. 

Next time around let's talk about why I prefer the Olympus lenses. That's another piece of the puzzle. In the meantime be sure to go out and buy several different camera systems so we can all discuss the differences between them with the (radical) benefit of experience and hands-on working comparisons. Shoot 5,000+ good frames in a week. You might just amaze yourself.