Swimming against the conventional stream with a small backpack filled with mirrorless cameras and their tidy lenses.

the "Jenga" building in Austin nears completion. 

Hmmm. Ten years ago arriving at a photo assignment with a small and nimble camera might have raised eyebrows. Seems that in 2008 everyone of a certain age defined themselves as a photo-enthusiast and had done a deep dive into the jungle of photographic lore and "knowledge" about all things digital photography. Companies were asking their employees who loved photography to step up and shoot corporate events and even portraits for the company (and usually with no additional compensation). Companies were so happy to get free stuff that they used anything a willing employee volunteer might toss over the transom to them... it was all red meat to people who wanted stuff for free.

And then a funny thing happened over the ensuing decade, corporations found out that they were diverting parts of their workforces to tasks that could be acquired from vendors with better production quality and at no real additional cost since by asking valuable and highly trained employees to do these tasks took the employees away from more productive and profitable work that was mission critical for the enterprise. Yes, trained engineers develop more value for their companies working on new products, inventing new stuff and making software salable than they do taking team building photos for Chip down in H.R. 

During the same time frame the same ardent volunteers became collectively bored with photography and moved on to things like piloting drones or diddling with ever better cellphones to binge watching crap presented by the on demand video purveyors. Seems that tiny, incremental improvements in still cameras, or any improvements in the video sections of their still cameras held very little interest for people mostly bent on mastering technical things.

I used to hear, a lot, that clients really, really cared about what kind of camera you showed up with to an assignment. The mantra ten years ago was that showing up with anything less than a full frame, 35mm style, DSLR would cause clients to question your judgement, your abilities and even your fitness to be their photographer. If you didn't show up with a D3 or a Canon 1DSxx some photo-enthusiast clients (the story went) might be tempted to fire you, pick up their own superior camera and just shoot the damn project themselves.

I'll admit that during the lean years of 2008-2009 I felt like hedging my bets by showing up with what people thought of as "a fully professional" camera even though I knew through my experience and testing that we'd reached the point, even back then, at which most cameras on the market were vastly and completely capable of giving clients what they needed for ads, websites, and even posters. And by "most cameras" I mean anything 12 megapixels or over that could be used in a fully manual mode and which came complete with a tripod mount. A way to trigger a flash was also mostly a requirement....

But "group think" makes us do stupid stuff sometimes and can also deprive us of both the potential to have maximum fun and also to stand out from the crowd with images that look different. So, with some clients it was okay to show up with an Olympus EP-2 and a little bag of lenses but there were other clients you thought might be more disposed to seeing you crank up and use "the big guns."

Well. Here I am ten years later. I'm still a photographer and I still have to please clients but the interesting thing is that all those amateurs that used to siddle up me and ask me about camera gear have gone the way of the dodo. The people who do question me are much, much more likely to ask me why I'm still using an iPhone 5S than to ask about a camera or a lens. If the camera you are using can take different lenses then you've pretty much passed the test; the bar, that most clients have set.

This past week I worked for a very large construction and building services client on the eastern part of the U.S. I'd worked with their V.P. of advertising and marketing for years in Austin before she moved away and ended up in this new position. She remembered my work not because of what cameras I used back in our Austin work days together but because she liked the way I handled people and, secondarily, the way I handled lighting. She reached out not knowing (or particularly caring) whether I showed up with a micro four thirds sensor camera, a Sony RX10 series camera or a husky Nikon or Canon full frame camera. She just wanted to make sure I'd show up with the kind of light that would clients look good in just about any environment. Lighting that solves visual problems. And she likes the fact that I get along with all kinds of people. I generally give out a "no prima donna" guarantee to most clients...

I spent a lot of time vacillating between camera and lens choices before I left on this assignment. I weighed (literally and figuratively) the advantages and disadvantage of different formats and different lens choices, and also how much time we'd have on each location to set up and deliver good results. Finally, I also considered the portability of each choice. I would, by the end of the week, be on and off about ten flights and would need (and want) to carry all the cameras and lenses onboard each flight with me. That alone is a lot of portage with gear. But the flights are the tip of the gear moving logistics.

Since many of our locations were remote, at the end of dirt roads, up hills with no roads, and some involved walking half a mile or so to various locations, weight became part of the calculus. Would I be able to arrive ready to shoot or would my pulse be pounding? Would the cameras float along with me or be like an anchor?

I decided to leave the small selection of Nikon full frame cameras and lenses at home and to focus on building the perfect travel kit around micro four thirds cameras. I ended up packing two of the Panasonic G9s. They are light and agile but deliver a good and sharp 20 megapixels of detail and do so with good dynamic range and color. Used in the raw+Jpeg format they delivered both files to send quickly and files to keep safe for processing back here at the ranch.

I have ample batteries for the G9s because my GH5s and my GH5S all take the same battery. I'm familiar now with the menus and that's half the battle in being able to use a camera system for lots and lots of set ups with efficiency. The instant feedback of the finder image also makes the entire process of creating an image quicker and more fluid.

When I came across a landscape or industrial-scape that might make a great, large image I had no hesitation in using the high resolution mode to generate files that measure more than 10,000 pixels on the long side of the frame. If I came upon contrasty light I had no resistance to using the custom shadow/highlight curve control in the camera. Hell, if push comes to shove I don't even flinch at using the in-camera HDR feature (but sparingly, sparingly).

In anticipation of this trip I researched camera cases, bags and backpacks that could ride along with me in any kind of commercial airplane, from small jets to the ubiquitous 737s. What I've come to realize is that it's not enough to plan around a bag that might fit in the overhead compartment of a standard aircraft, like a 737, because if you are running late, made a reservation late, etc. you might not get that option. I've noticed that no one likes to check bags anymore and American Airlines was aggressively proactive about making people gate check bags after they assessed that the overheads were filled to the brim. Gate checking. Spawn process of the Devil.

I never want to gate check my camera bag, case or backpack because I also use said luggage to carry my passport, my phone, my receipts and my lovely laptop. Murphy's Law is always in force and engaged whenever you check, or gate check, the things you absolutely need to have, and in perfect condition, to do your job at the next location.

Your failure proof strategy then becomes finding a carrying solution that ...... "fits under the seat in front of you." That's the only safe recourse when flying on commercial airlines. If you are flying on private jets you probably aren't reading this anyway. It is meaningless to you......

I did my diligent research. I found the Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack. It is well padded but still holds a lot. It will hold a 13 inch laptop but not a 15 inch laptop. It's comfortable to carry for long distances and.....with even the smallest regional jet on which I flew....it always fits under the seat in front of me.

So, what all can I fit into the TT backpack? Two G9 camera bodies. One 12-100mm f4.0 Olympus Pro lens. One 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 Panasonic/Leica lens. One Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN lens. One 40-150mm f2.8 Olympus lens. One Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens. One extra pair of bifocal eyeglasses. Four extra camera batteries. One small USB phone charger. One iPhone 5S. One set of Samsung Level noise cancelling earbuds. Two pens. One reporter's notebook. One 13 inch MacBook Pro laptop computer. One computer power supply. One dongle which provides two USB 3 ports and one SD card reader. Three 256 GB memory sticks. And one pack of gum.

By the end of the trip the backpack also contained receipts for $1200 of hotel charges, $350 of baggage charges and $250 of food and miscellaneous expenses (coffee?).

The bag worked perfectly and not a single flight attendant so much as gave me the "stink eye" for carrying it aboard. I could not have used this backpack in the same way with bigger cameras; something would have to give. Things would be left out. And, again under Murphy's Law, those would be the very things I would find mission critical. 

The Think Tank product is priced high at $200 but it's the best portable solution I have found yet and will relegate my Amazon Large Photo backpack to very secondary status. That's okay, I paid about a third as much for the Amazon product and it has been very useful.

Now, the lighting case is a whole different ball of wax. There's only so much one can do to lighten one's load and still deliver professional results but I'm working hard to shave that down too and, since I leave early Tues. morning for three more days on the road before the trip to Iceland, I have another opportunity to peel off ten more pounds from that case. The lighter the load the further I can go and the better I can deliver.

Camera formats are way low on my list of concerns for these kinds of trips. While a fashion photographer might find it essential to get a tiny sliver of sharp focus in a shot most of my work for corporations is predicated on production value instead of visual gimmicks. If a narrow depth of field is called for I go long and wide open with the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8. Or I pulled the Contax/Zeiss 50mm out and shoot it wide open (I packed that one in the lighting case when I decided I'd reached my personal carry limit).

Other than the mild considerations of small depth of field I find very few quality differences between formats for most intended marketing targets. I do find showing up with enough strength and energy to do the job is a much more vital consideration and is, in many cases, tied directly to the size and weight of the gear I am bringing.

In Iceland I'll continue on with the Think Tank backpack and the twin G9s plan. I know I'll want to bring along the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm and the 12-60mm but I'm hemming and hawing over whether or not to include the 40-150mm f2.8. Any thoughts on that?

You'll still read tons of internet fodder about the need for full frame or the need for insane levels of resolution but the reality is that almost everything goes to the web these days and even an entry level Olympus OMD 10iii  camera is sufficient to provide enough resolution, sharpness and color depth to handle a two page magazine spread. Believe me, people were doing it with 4,6,8,10 and 12 megapixel sensors well over a decade ago and the magazines looked great.

Choose the system that works well for your "real use" parameters not for pie in the sky stuff. If you get hired to shoot a super model for the cover of Vogue you'll have the budget to rent whatever camera you think you might need.  And an assistant to help you operate it. Really. For everything else? Choose what you like.

If you took the advice of certain old pros you'd still be adjusting your carburetor and dialing up stuff on your modem. It's a new tech paradigm. Now you get to have more fun.

I tried the high resolution mode on the G9. It works well.

I was miles outside of Asheville, NC (a beautiful town!) out into a part of the countryside most people won't see because few paved roads go there. We were on the construction site of a big spillway project and I found this view. I set up the Panasonic G9 on a tripod using the 8-18mm Leica lens at 11mm and f6.3. I had the camera set to a two second delay and tripped the shutter. The process was much faster than I expected and the 10,000+ wide pixel file wrote to the card in seconds.

The file needed a bit more sharpening that the regular raw files out of camera but not much more. The detail is ample as well. If I was a landscape photographer for whom portability was critical I'd sure think of ditching the bigger, heavier, traditional cameras and getting a small rig like this. But in the long run the most critical part of the equation is the stalwart Gitzo tripod I've been using for ages.

High resolution in the camera is only theoretical until you put down rock solid support for the platform.

Fabulous lenses can only deliver hypothetical brilliance until you anchor them to unmoving ground.

All in all the G9 and the 8-18mm Leica/Panasonic lens are a good combination. New software is coming next Sunday that should allow the use of hi-res up to f11 instead of just f8. Just the ticket for people who WILL use the hi-res mode for still life .... and even architecture.

Nice that I was able to hike in without feeling burdened by the tools. Next, we'll talk about that wonderful backpack from Think Tank. A revelation. In a good way.


Tiny, sparse data points. Or, why even the most technically adroit sounding camera reviewers can be full of crap.

So, there's this lens I've been interested in but it gets a range of "expert" reviews. It's the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f1.7. Most people will write some drivel about how it's blah, blah wide open but upon stopping down a stop and a half it becomes legit and usable by the professional class of photography bloggers.

I'm calling their bluff on this kind of generic lens test writing. The reviewers are writing based on what is generically traditional knowledge about the way lenses have always worked. Almost every lens on the planet is probably sharper one and half or two stops down from the maximum aperture so pretty much the reviewer isn't telling you squat that's useful about a particular lens.

I think most reviewers get a lens for a few days, take a few images of their cat and their interesting lunch, and maybe a few coffee cups, and then make a pronouncement about the quality. It might all hinge on whether or not their cat/model is having a good hairball day or not. Or if the lunch in question had hard edges or was nicely rounded and lacked a certain actinic certainty (is that related to micro or nano contrast?).

The fact is that I have to use a lens (at least one that doesn't arrive out of the box defective) for months before I really, really become conversant enough with it to know it as well as I should. And you might pity the poor lens company whose lenses routinely get tested on someone's back focusing or front focusing camera....

As the folks at LensRental.com will tell you, there are plenty of variations between different samples of the exact same lens model. That's why they run tests of ten or so units and then average the results to really understand just how well a theoretically average version of a lens will perform. But I rarely read that XXXX reviewer has scrubbed through five or six, or eight or ten, different units before making some sort of declaration of quality.

I recently read a review by Lloyd Chambers in which he described the lens I'm discussing, in so many words, as 'underwhelming'. He was evaluating it in the context of the Panasonic Leica 42.5 f1.2 experiences he'd had. But in the next paragraph he let us know that (like most Leica lenses) there is field curvature to consider (not a fault or a feature) and that if one could focus where one wanted to focus then the lens could delivery very sharp and convincing results. He more or less ended his assessment by declaring his inability to correctly focus said lens. Now we must all avoid the lens. The Oracle has spoken...

I'm hard headed so I decide to ignore Mr. Chamber's assessment and make my own. I had some extra change rattling around in the center console of the car so I tossed it all in a Baggie and headed to Precision Camera to play with the lens and see if it was worth trading money for.

I brought the lens home and opened the box. The first thing I'll say is that the lens is a little jewel and so beautifully made, designed and finished that anyone sporting the m4:3 systems around town should buy one just because it looks so good mounted on a camera. The second thing is the really cool external aperture ring, calibrated in 1/3 stops, which in use feels like one is back to using a real and authentic camera.

There is a regular lens cap and then there is a rubber "plug" cap that fits into the front end of the lens's hood. I think it's a nice touch while others think all lens hoods "must" be reversible.


So, given that people don't care about anything but mathematical performance metrics and the price what can I say about the 15mm Panasonic lens? It makes very pretty photographs. They are sharp. Even wide open they are sharp. Not "Otus" sharp but very much Nikon-Canon-Fuji-Olympus sharp.
a 3:2 crop from the full frame. 15mm f1.7 Summilux. ISO 200
G9 Raw file. 

An unchanged detail from the bottom right of the top photograph.
How sharp is the word, "left"?

I'm happy I bought it and I ended up using it on several environmental portraits last week, shooting at f2.0 (which is almost wide open) and being very satisfied with the results. Even when viewed on the 27 inch iMac. I think it's pretty much the case that all of these lenses and many, many others are very, very good. Much better than most people's command and practice of techniques lead them to believe.

I'm sure Mr. Chambers is knowledgeable and his ability to harness technique is prodigious. I can only guess two things concerning his dismissive review of this lens. Either he got a bad copy (the problem with limited data samples) or he got the idea in his mind from a glancing usage that he was unsatisfied with the lens on a day when his cat was having a bad hairball day and the idea turned into a existential reality for him that he was not able to objectively overcome.

Bottom line? My singular sample point is a very good lens with very good imaging potential and easy to use. Go test your own. Or ignore this altogether and just continuing enjoying whatever exemplary lenses you bought to go with your brand of camera.

But when you read a reviewer's description of a lens always keep in mind that they are busy trying to sell you stuff and get your fingers to click through to a merchant, or whatever, and they are generally only working with one sample, and for a very short amount of time. You can generally do better by taking your camera to a reputable dealer, putting the lens you are interested in on the front of your camera and then shooting and shooting and shooting. Camera stores sell tripods. Put your camera and the test lens on one of their tripods and shoot, shoot, shoot. Bring a model with you. Bring your kid. Bring a test chart. And then you'll really know whether or not you like the lens, want to buy the lens, and if you have  any future interest in reading lens reviews that are "subjective", and "real world." as opposed to smart guy testing such as is done on Lenstip.com and a few other sites.

Me? I read the blogs by purported experts and then, if I'm interested enough, I go and try the stuff myself. My way. In my style. And if it works for me I buy it.

WTF happened with Panasonic's pricing on the "flagship" G9?

I don't use the "WTF" very often but maybe in this instance it's called for. I bought a second G9 last week so I'd have an identical back-up camera for my first G9. I paid right around $1499 for each of those two. Catching up on my must read blogs today I came across Michael Johnston's blog only to discover that the price of the G9 (brand spanking new, USA) had dropped on Amazon.com to only $1199. That's an amazing three hundred dollar drop in price from last week. Kind of pisses me off but I have to remember than there would have been an opportunity cost associated with waiting for it to go on sale. I wouldn't have had the camera to work with for the last week and the job associated with last week could cover the cost of a number of G9s. But still....

I can make some definitive remarks about the G9 now that I've used them over the past three weeks for something like 5,000+ exposures.

It's a delightful camera. Well worth the prices I originally paid and a real bargain at around $1200.  The stabilization is pretty remarkable, and I must admit that since I spent the week making environmental portraits (all exterior) of individual subjects (no groups...) I have the camera nearly permanently set to focus in face/eye detection priority. Of the 2,700+ photographs I made with one of the bodies over the last five days the only ones I didn't use face/eye detection were landscapes and non-human detail shots (of which there were few).

There are one or two little glitches but what camera isn't afflicted with at least one annoying affectation?  In the case of the Panasonic it has to be the much to sensitive shutter release. Touch it with a feather and you are off and running, and wasting frames. Right now I'm having problems  trying to figure out what the other glitch might be... Maybe the function and control buttons are a bit too mushy. Oh, and the camera does take a few seconds to come alive in a full start up from turning on the power switch. Other than those things I have nothing grumpy to say about the cameras.

I worked a bit differently on this job that I usually do. I guess I've been internalizing everyone's feedback about two card slots, the idea of redundant original back-up and such. I decided that rather than use the card slots in the "relay" mode (shoots to the first card and when it fills up switches to the second card...) I would shoot with the camera writing raws to the #1 card and Jpegs to the #2 card. In this way I would have a set of raw files to archive and work on when I got back to the office but I would also have a set of Jpeg files that I could upload at the end of every day to create a sharable gallery of images my clients could review from multiple, remote locations.

While an end-of-day gallery isn't anything like immediate feedback for the clients it gave us a chance to review and discuss the days work so we could figure out if anything needed to be changed on the next day's shoot. Many of you will tell me that I could have been sending files to the client all day long by uploading them from the camera to my phone and then sending them to my client's e-mail but you obviously have much slower paced projects that provide lots of times between shots for casual techno-grunt-work. There were also many places from which we were working that were far enough into rural areas that we didn't have cellphone service...

I hit the airport in Tampa, FLA and got myself to a charging station in the E terminal. I pulled the Jpeg card from the one camera I used all week and found the folder with that day's files on it. I pulled the 900+ jpegs (yes, I overshoot but yes, portraits are a building process and every click can give you a slightly different relationship between subject and background; not to mention the small changes to subject expression that can make a nuanced difference between frames. A small slice of existence between the "perfect" shot and an almost perfect shot....

I opened up Lightroom on my new MacBook Pro and proceeded to use the "import" menu as an editing tool. I uncheck all the files in the folder and then sort through and check all the good ones. This usually drops the total number by as much as half. Once I've edited out the goo and identified the keepers I import them and make a series of batch corrections for color and (usually) shadow lifting. Once I've got the files in a good ballpark area of correction (remember, batches not fine tuned individual masterpieces) I export them as full size "96" quality Jpegs and put them in a separate folder on the desk top. The folders in that export folder then get uploaded to a gallery in the client folder I've created on Smugmug.com. This is a great step because it creates a great and long-lasting (as long as I can keep paying for it) back up for the images we've worked hard to create.

I'm used to pokey wi-fi at most airports and mid-tier hotels. On this trip, given the option, I always paid extra to get premium wi-fi. You don't need to do that at the airport in Tampa, Florida. They have smoking fast wi-fi. My 550 fairly big (about 10 megabytes each) files uploaded to Smugmug in less than ten minutes. Less than the eleven minutes it took me to drink my Illy Coffee and eat my pear danish. (An indulgent reward for the end of a week in which I spent a lot of time dragging around two fifty pound lighting gear and luggage cases while wearing a 20 pound backpack.

Since the wi-fi upload when so quickly I also took the time to transfer that days raw files to the 256 GB, USB3 memory stick I brought along as a back up resource. With these steps I created two levels of back up for each kind of file.

Now I'm uploading all the raw files into Lightroom where I spend more time editing (which means adding or subtracting them from the catalog) and processing them ( which means making color corrections, contrast corrections and general enhancements). Once I get all the files into a good place I'll export them and create galleries differentiated by which days we shot each set of images on.

As I looked through the files from the G9 and the three main lenses I used during the week I was very pleased with the color and tonality of the images. Most of my shooting was done either in fair light (many days had cloud cover or high clouds) or with added flash. When using good light in conjunction with the dual I.S. or even single I.S. of the camera I was able to punch into 100% and see, even in totally unadulterated or "improved" files a very high level of detail. In fact, in many cases the files seemed more detailed than those from my Nikon D800e. I'm sure most of the difference is down to the additional shutter vibration of the Nikon but it certainly doesn't hurt when your camera locks focus in precisely the right place for your intended field of focus.....every time.

Several people have asked me to describe my feelings vis-a-vis the two standard zoom lenses I packed. One is the 12-60mm Panasonic/Leica and the other is the Olympus Pro 12-100mm. The Oly is about twice as heavy as the Panasonic/Leica but many times the extra weight is worth it when working quickly with the subject matter I was covering last week. We wanted a nice, tight head and shoulders portrait of each person as well as a waist up shot (all done in landscape mode) as well as a few full length poses. The extra 40mm of the Oly gave me more opportunities to step back, zoom in and compress the scene better when shooting very tight. It's more about compositional control than anything else. On the other hand, the Panasonic/Leica handles better in that it maintains the trim package and lighting weight that many feel is the overarching raison d' ├ętre of the m4:3 systems.

I will admit that then 12-60mm balances better on the camera and doesn't feel front heavy. The Olympus lens is definitely front heavy on the G9 with no battery grip.

When it comes to actual optical performance I'm a bit underwhelmed by the difference. Both have ample detail and sharpness. If anything I think the long end of the Olympus is exemplary at maintaining detail and very tight contrast. If I could only have one of the two lenses I'd probably pick the Olympus if the only determiner was quality but that's not the case. There's more to a lens than brute resolution.

The Leica might be a better portrait lens as it doesn't seem as acutely clinical in its sharpness. It's sharp but the transitions between tones seem a bit more graceful and film like. The Olympus can be like using a straight razor to cut paper.... Both lenses far exceed what I need in terms of optical quality for almost everything I do.

I was analyzing the files and looking for issues on the 13 inch Retina screen of the MacBook but the real assessments came today on the 27 inch Retina screen. I was expecting to see the m4:3 files run out of gas when enlarged but that wasn't the case; the files had a robustness and integrity that came through even on the bigger screen.

My one wish for both the GH5 and the G9 would be for an upgrade that would provide 14 bit raw files like those from the GH5S which has the most beautiful raw files of any camera I've shot.

So, am I angry that the Panasonic G9 is on sale and I could have saved $600 if only I had a time machine and could back and wait for the sale? Naw. I'm pretty sure that a safe and fully functional time machine would cost far more than I'd save on those two transactions. It's such a good price though that I'm having a hard time restraining myself from clicking the Amazon buttons and getting ... just one more ... Yes, I have done crazier things.

But in this case I have a rationale for restraint. I'm saving my coupons, coins, couch change, Christmas funds, birthday money, tips (do we get those as professional photographers?) and pennies for the Panasonic full frame camera that should be coming in the new year. If there is a choice of models I'll always, always go for the lower resolution model. I'd rather have a few good, fat pixels that a bunch of scrawny ones no matter what the techno-boys try to sell us as a rationalization.

It is actually nice to see the market rationalize and adjust pricing to more realistic levels. No shame in owning a couple of incredibly good $1200 cameras. And they are very good cameras.

Jut my two cents worth.


Absolute Amateur Error at the Pro Photographer's Fifth Day of Shooting on this Job.

Yeah. You guessed it. That professional photographer had the air conditioning set on "Antarctic" in the hotel last night, drove to the shoot in a big SUV with the air conditioning set cold enough to chill beer, pulled into this rural gas station to get gas and decided to pull out a camera to capture the facility's rustic charm. I pulled an ice cold camera and lens out into the hot, humid air outside of Tampa, Florida and it immediately condensed and the whole front element of the new Panasonic/Leica zoom when into massive "fog filter" hysteria. It quickly dissipated and I looked hard to make sure I hadn't done any lasting damage. 

Lesson relearned. I left the camera bag outside for the rest of the day. It just makes sense since we were shooting outside all day....

What a dumbass move. Grrrrrr. 

Minutes later....  


Lots and lots of travel today in order to shoot one set of photos...

When you live in a big, bustling city you don't always remember that it's a lot harder to get in and out of smaller towns in rural and semi-rural areas. Just getting to New Bern, North Carolina to take a photograph today was an undertaking. There is a small airport there but there are only two airlines that fly to and from it. I started my day in Knoxville, TN. and flew to Charlotte, NC. At the Charlotte airport they called for boarding and we walked down stairs and across the tarmac to a small 50 passenger jet parked on the runway. When we landed about 45 minutes later in New Bern we exited the airplane and walked across their tarmac and into the airport. There are two gates at the New Bern airport. The same people who work at the front desk to check you in and check your baggage close the front dest about a half hour before the flight is scheduled to depart and hustle out to the gates to also act as gate agents and baggage handlers.

I got to New Bern around 12:15 in the afternoon and my portrait subject came by in his pickup truck and we headed off to a job site to make his environmental portrait. We were working in direct sun, at midday so I put together a 4x4 foot Chimera scrim panel and "flew" it over my subject's head to block the harsh, direct sunlight. A bit of wind picked up so I grabbed the backpack I've been carrying and tied it to the light stand to anchor it. Then I set up one of the Neewer Vision 4, lithium battery powered mono-lights, and a 2 foot by 3 foot soft box and used it as a main light, coming in at a nice angle under the scrim.

I had my subject in the foreground and the background was filled with heavy machinery; earth movers, bulldozers, and some stuff I was even sure what it was supposed to do. I was rushing myself a bit because my guy had a meeting after my session and it was something he really couldn't miss. I made a few mistakes but nothing I can't "fix in post." I caught one of my mistakes about half way through the session and fixed it. I'd set a high kelvin value yesterday for an interior shoot lit mostly by diffuse cloud light and I'd forgotten to do a color balance reset before I started today. And it's embarrassing because I teach people all the time and stress the need to "zero out" one's cameras before every new shoot.... I felt too rushed to follow my own advice but I caught myself and actually started repeating to myself "slow down. Do this right."

Of course, I ended up overshooting and we walked away from the demolition site with about three hundred variations on a theme. My subject (an employee of the company I'm working for on this trip) was patient and never rushed and when we were finished he dropped me back by the tiny airport on his way to the meeting.

Someone at the home office must have imagined that we'd spend all day photographing our person because they booked me on the last flight out of town (7:30pm) heading back to Charlotte and connecting with a flight to Tampa, FLA that arrives just after midnight. I got to the New Bern airport at around 2pm and walked in with my two 50 pound cases and my small backpack, confident that I could sweet talk my way onto an earlier flight instead of cooling my heels for the next five hours....
And it would have been nice to get into Tampa early enough to actually enjoy my hotel room rather than using it as a napping way station... But when I walked up to the front desk at this international airline outlet.......there was no one there. As in: no person anywhere behind the counter.

They had all assumed their various roles in expediting a departure. And guess what? Since there is no food service at either of the two gates the TSA shuts down the gate area between flights. You can't even check in and cool your heels at the gate. The gate and the security check area open about an hour before the flights. Then, when the last flight arrives from Charlotte (all flights go through either Charlotte or Atlanta, depending on whether you are flying American or Delta) the airport stays open for about a half hour longer before turning off the lights and locking the doors. If you miss your flight you will not be spending the night at the airport...

When the staff finally returned they let me know that the next flight, the one before my flight, was full. They actually can't fill the whole plane, they told me, because the runway is not long enough to handle a fully loaded jet. Kind of fills one with confidence, right?

Thank goodness for one thing though. Even though the New Bern airport has only one food service establishment (outside  TSA security and the gates, right next to the tiny baggage claim area) it's actually pretty darn good and never ever crowded. It's called The Triple Play Oasis and the young woman who works there (my one data point) makes a good cheeseburger, crispy good, fresh French fries and on Thursdays you can get a beer for $3.50.

I'll get into my Airport Hampton Suites in Tampa well after midnight and my client's Florida representative is scheduled to collect me there at 7 am tomorrow to begin our last day of shooting this week. It's been a long one but it's fun. It feels like the way we used to work back in the 1980's and 1990's but with cameras that are more fun and easier to use. But the secret to doing good, quick work like this is to have an almost intimate relationship with your flash equipment. You should have a good idea exactly how the final image is going to look and what the flashes will deliver before you even pull a case out of the rental car trunk.

I guess I should wrap this post up as my flight leaves in about two hours and I wouldn't want to be late. The gate is about 150 feet from the restaurant.

I have no idea what we'll be photographing tomorrow but I know it will be mostly people and all the images will be on exterior locations.

Since we were moving fast and were on a dusty demolition job site I put my camera and lens together in the pickup truck to avoid getting dust on the back of the lens or the sensor. I chose a G9 with the Olympus 12-100mm, thinking I might want or need the longer reach to compress the background for some of the closer, more classic portrait compositions. I took a chance and tried syncing at 1/320th of a second and it actually worked. But then, after the realization of my white balance imbroglio I switched down to 1/250th just to be conservative. Looking through the images just a few minutes ago I couldn't see any downside from my little sync experiment, but be forewarned, every flash system is different. Test, test, test.

One more thing. Mr. Katz asked about the variable aperture characteristics of the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0. I thought I'd answer. Just consider it a 12mm f2.8 prime and the consider the lens for the rest of the time to be an f4.0. It crosses the line pretty quickly. By 25mm you are well past the f3.5 zone and heading toward f3.8. When I use a variable aperture zoom I just assume I'll set it at the max aperture of the slowest setting and shoot like that. So, in my mind, since I shot between 25mm and 60mm mostly I instantly presume that the lens is a constant aperture f4.0. And it still seems nice and sharp to me.

I get Saturday, Monday and Tuesday off but I'm heading back out of town again for Wednesday and Thursday, packing and bill paying on Friday next week, and then off to Iceland. Maybe I'll sleep on the plane......  Did professional photography just get popular again? Seems like I'm working all the time. 

Morning edit. 10-19. 

Got to Tampa a little late and checked into the hotel around 12:45 am. Quick shower and then right into bed. Got a solid five hours and then up for breakfast. Client arranged to meet me in the lobby at 7 sharp. It's now 7:15 am. We'll see just how much sleep I gave up in order to be punctual....

Looking over the photos from yesterday I was very happy with the performance of the G9 and the 12-100mm. It's a nice combo.

Today is the end of this week's march through the Southeast. I've been in four different hotels and by the end of the day today I will have flown on ten different flights through eight airports. I guess it's good practice for my baggage handling skills in anticipation of my trip to Reykjavik and points beyond. I have re-remembered one critical point: The more you carry the less you photograph. I look forward to the Iceland trip because there are really no expectations that I will (or have to) come back with great photographs nor do I have to cover every photographic opportunity that presents itself. 

If I do a good job teaching a bit of technical and aesthetic stuff to my fellow workshoppers and help people translate motivation to fun and engaging photographs I will have done my job. While I want to photograph the adventure as well I have the distinct and delicious privilege of taking just one camera and lens, or even no camera and lens and just enjoying the process. Of course, I won't go camera naked because the minute I step off the plane I know my decades of photo-lust would kick in and drive me nuts.

Field Notes: When shooting in direct sun it's good to bring along a dark, cotton baseball cap with a bill. Works well to additionally block light on the EVF and the rear screen giving one a fighting chance to see meaningful information. 

Getting ready to work one more day and then get home to the center of the Universe. That's Austin, Texas (your location may vary.....). 

And to end this blog post, just got a text from the client this morning. Remember that 7 am rendezvous? The text read: "on the way." 

My text: "ETA?"

Response: "About an hour." Oh, the lost sleep....sad.


Sitting in another hotel room racing backward in time through a folder of images.

When I've finished shooting for the day, the client has dropped me off at my airport hotel, I've stumbled into yet another Hilton restaurant and looked for something remotely healthy to eat, I retreat to my room to re-pack for a trip to New Bern, NC in the early morning and then a flight through Charlotte, NC. to Tampa, FLA. I've been practicing the packing since Sunday; actually for years and years and it really doesn't take long once you've established a daily pattern...

I've uploaded the Jpeg files I shot, in tandem with the raw files, today. They're in a gallery on Smugmug.com ready for my client to review. I've charged batteries, checked the front elements of lenses to see which might need to be cleaned and generally gotten all of my housekeeping out of the way. That's when I feel a bit empty and a bit like I'm in a holding pattern. And when that feeling hits I like to just look back over random but favorite images I've shot in the past. 

Some seem as though I shot them only yesterday and when I check the data I find a favorite image might be two or ten or even twenty years old. I've been uploading images to use on Blogger since 2009 and there is quite a huge collection at my Google pictures folder. I don't use everything I upload because sometimes, when I see an image in conjunction with a blogpost's content, it just doesn't seem to match up at all. 

But I like to look at them and remember what I was shooting with, and thinking, and eating and walking in at the time of the shot. Random bits of memory. Picture framed on the screen of my laptop.

I was riding back to the hotel today when I realized how few moments each of us has. It's enough to make me abandon work altogether and just spend my days roaming around with a camera. But, who am I kidding? Even the perfect pursuit would get old when pushed to excess. Instead, I'll just rummage through the online collection and see if any of the older work pushes me to do better current work. Maybe it's all a building process and one of us will be lucky enough to finish before we finish....

A Preliminary Review of the Leica/Panasonic 12-60 mm Lens.

An early morning shot outside of Asheville, NC.

I recently bought a brand new Leica Panasonic 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 zoom lens as a back up for the Olympus 12-100mm Pro zoom lens I purchased last year. There are a number of reasons to have two different versions of your most used lenses, not the least of which is the security of having a back up in case a lens is damaged in transit or accidentally dropped. Also, from time to time, even the best lenses can have a defect that renders them unusable and in need of repair. 

I bought the Panasonic/Leica as a second lens because I'm been using the Olympus lens non-stop and rely on it for most of my video and photography projects (both personal and professional). Since the Panasonic/Leica covers most of the range it was a good choice. An added bonus is that it works with the dual image stabilization feature on the G9 cameras. With the two camera bodies and two lenses I feel prepared to handle just about anything a typical job tosses my way...

I had read a few reviews on the web that suggested the P/L lens was less sharp than the Oly, and just as many reviews that praised the P/L for its sharpness, so I decided to find out for myself. I would never use a camera body or lens which I have not tested myself on a job so I did a general test last weekend. I found the new lens to be sharp and have good imaging characteristics. It also feels a bit better balanced on a G9 than my Oly 12/100.  But the real proof is in day-to-day use.

I have now used it for the last two days and find it to be a very good lens. Interchangeable, for the most part, within the focal length range, with the Olympus lens. It does a great job rendering flesh tones and, like the Olympus, can be too sharp for portraits of people unless their skin is perfect and the light is gentle. Using with correct profiles settings gets you a lens with good fine detail and nice micro-contrast. 

I'll keep using it and shooting with it and report what I find. 

Floods and Endless Rain in Central Texas.

I'm sitting in a hotel in Knoxville having breakfast and watching the television over the fireplace in the dining room. The news right now is all about the horrible flooding all over central Texas. It's mostly to the west of Austin (and, not to worry, our house and studio are at a high elevation - 400+ feet above the surrounding lake levels) but the flooding seems at least as severe in the towns out along the Hwy 290 and Hwy 281 corridors. An important bridge collapsed in one town and flood gates are being opened all along the Colorado River, including the one at the Tom Miller Dam which holds back the water that flows through downtown Austin. There is no doubt that, as the flood waters rise, parts of Austin's Downtown will experience some flooding, especially around the intersection of Lamar and 12th streets. Shoal Creek always comes up fast and vexes that area.

I feel a bit powerless being out of town. I know that Ben and Belinda are always on top of things at home but I still worry. At least Studio Dog is there to guide them.....

Work here is easy and fun. The G9 cameras are performing well and I'm developing an appreciation for the Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm lens. It's very nice and quite sharp. Occasionally I need to go longer so I reach for the Olympus 12-100mm instead but I'm loving life lived mostly without my tripod because the 12-60mm is so rock solid when used in the dual-I.S. mode with the G9.

I did get some use out of the 8-18mm but it was a scene which could have been handled with the wide end of either standard zoom. More and more I'm thinking Iceland will be a two cameras, two lens affair with the G9s and the two mid-range zooms. At least I'll have redundant back ups for each component...

I wish I had known more about the scope of this week's fast changing assignment. I would have packed less gear by about 25%. But I guess we always say that. It's easy when at home to want to pack for every contingency --- then the reality of having to carry what you've packed sinks in an spoils the fun. Ah well, at least I'm working out of cars for the most part.

Moving quickly and having fun but a little part of my brain is on constant worry about that pesky, cold, wet weather in Austin. What an insanely wet and unpredictable month it's been.

Curious to hear from Austin based readers: How is everything going vis-a-vis the rain?


I'm just off the first flight and the job is already evolving. Interesting. The gap between ending this project and heading to Iceland just narrowed by another day.

Ben and Studio Dog at home.

The weather, the vagaries of scheduling. The whims of fate. Whatever. When I got off the first leg of my flight to Asheville, NC. I had a message on my phone asking me to call my client. We have some smaller changes to schedules this week but we're dropping next Monday and.......adding next Thursday, in Alabama. I may yet get to see all 50 states before I hang up the cameras. 

I'll be home this coming weekend and also on Monday but hopping on a very early flight on Tuesday morning and returning to Austin late, late, late on Thursday. This gives me just enough time to do some laundry, re-loading the camera packing and having a (single) nice dinner with the family.

This client is usually well organized but they are involved in multiple states with emergency operations pursuant to hurricanes Florence and Michael. Those activities take precedent over the photographer's schedule (and that's as it should be). By the end of the day tomorrow I will have been in four cites and in three different hotels. It puts packing logistics in a spotlight. I've got enough gear to do just about anything I can think of (in terms of lighting and cameras) but with the new backpack and wheeled cases I can still handle getting the load wherever I need it by myself. 

Today we shot images outside of Ashville, NC. and a couple hours later I was shooting portraits in Knoxville, TN. Tomorrow I'll spend the day shooting portraits and projects in Knoxville again and then I'm heading to New Bern, NC. and from there on to Tampa, FLA.

The Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack, in concert with the G9 twins, is just about perfect for a job like this one. I can actually get all the camera gear and accessories (plus laptop) into the case and it really does fit under the seats on even the dinkiest regional jet. I'd give it three thumbs up if I didn't think that any backpack which costs $200 is overpriced. I was willing to pay the toll for peace of mind. I'm glad I did, so...two thumbs up.

I'm also quite happy with my decision to choose the Panasonic G9 and my best lenses for m4:3 instead of bringing my full frame Nikons. The colors are wonderful and the lenses are superb. But the most delightful thing is having everything I need in such a small package. Smaller sensor cameras are  hardly obsolete just because there's been a recent rash of FF mirrorless cameras. Far from it. I think more and more people are discovering that marketing and reality don't always converge where choosing the best imaging solution is concerned.  Too often rampant ego gets in the way.

No complaints so far on this trip. 

Finally, I love that hotel chains are finally delivering really fast wi-fi. I'm uploading six hundred high res Jpeg files as I type this. Thank you, Hilton.


I packed a lens that I've come to appreciate for portraits in the age of small sensor cameras.

I think we're always comparing the work we do now with the work we did in the days of big sensors and longer lenses. The image above was done on a Pentax 645 camera with a 150mm lens. Today I'm traveling with a small Think Tank backpack filled with today's favorite cameras, the Panasonic G9s. I've been playing with lenses that give me a look similar to the portraits I've taken with older gear and I've come across a few winners.

While I love the old Olympus Pen FT lenses, like the 60mm f1.5, they aren't as sharp at their wide open apertures as some of the newer lenses. I've tried using some of the older Nikon 50mm lenses on the m4:3 cameras but they don't seem to match as well as I'd like. I've come to believe that most of the older, manual focus lenses were computed for film and not for sensors with a very high pixel density. The results look fine viewed small but when I enlarge the resulting photos there's not as much detail as I'd like.

A while back I bought a couple of lenses that were designed for the Contax Y/C cameras. They are Zeiss branded and most reviews done over the years have given them high marks. The one I like best is the Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7.  I originally bought it to use with the Sony A7 series cameras, and it was okay but it really comes into its own as a portrait lens for my Panasonic cameras.

The focus peaking works well and the ability to punch in to high magnifications to assure good focus is great. I'm fine using the lens wide open for portraits but the really great performance starts at f2.8. You could look at my collection of dedicated, modern m4:3 lenses and realize that three of the high end zooms cover that focal length and the 40-150mm Olympus Pro also provides a starting f-stop of 2.8. So why would I both to schlepp the Contax lens around and also put up with using an adapter?

Hmmm. Could it be that different lenses and different lens formulations have different looks? Different visual characteristics? (Of course....). But it's also the need to carefully focus the older lens that is part of its allure. There is a tactile pleasure in the eye and hand working in tandem to get bring a photo to life in the finder that has the look and feel you wanted but maybe didn't know you wanted it in exactly that way.

I packed the Contax 50mm just in case I have the opportunity this week to use it for individual portraits under controlled lighting. It doesn't take up much space in the bag so it's no big deal if the lens never sees the light of day this week. But if it does come out of the case I fully expect to be wowed....but in a very subtle way.

Travel news: I expected the worst this morning heading to the airport. I was out here in the middle of last week and it was crowded and chaotic. The Austin City Limits music festival wrapped up last night and I expected to see massive crowds at the airport with overwhelmed SkyCaps and long delays. I asked Belinda to drop me at the airport early and we left the house in a steady rain ( a cold front blew in early this morning and dropped the temperatures from the 90's yesterday to the low 50's today) and made our way through the morning rush hour traffic to Austin-Bergstrom Airport.

We were both surprised at the light traffic we experienced heading into the terminal drop-off area. I pulled the big case of lighting gear out of the back seat of Belinda's small Toyota (proud of myself for keeping it under 40 pounds!!!) and pulled the rolling suitcase out of the trunk. I tossed the new Think Tank backpack over one shoulder and pulled everything over to the American Airline's curbside check in.

There was no line. None. I had immediate and direct access to two Sky Caps. They checked me in immediately, charged me for my checked bags and wished me a pleasant trip.

I walked into the terminal expecting to see endless lines at the TSA security areas. I looked at my boarding pass to make sure I got the TSA PreChek label and headed to that line. Only there was no line. I walked in and placed the backpack on the conveyor and headed through the metal detector with my shoes and belt still on. Ten seconds later I was in the terminal and bewildered. What would I do with the extra time on my hands? Ah, I know, I'll write a blog post.

All kidding aside I was pretty stunned by how easy and quick the whole process was. The antithesis of my last journey during which I arrived two hours ahead of time and barely made the flight because of the overwhelming crowds.

I hope the whole trip goes this way. I'll be delighted.

Also, happy to report that I Vini, a restaurant in the Austin main terminal, has really, really great coffee. And exemplary service. At a reasonable cost.

Hope your day is off to a good start. I'm happy with the first fraction of mine.