7.19.2019

Can we talk about medium format? Why am I in no big hurry to grab a new Hasselblad or Fuji MF camera?

On a train to somewhere. 

There is an allure to the idea of medium format photography that a lot of us find pretty captivating. Sometimes we have trouble separating aspirational avarice from actual, technical benefits. I know that a fair number of photographers are thinking that moving to medium format will give their images more resolution and more dynamic range. Others (like myself) remember photos we took with larger surface area film medium format cameras and loved the way the sharpness fell off from our main point of focus to the foregrounds and backgrounds and we think moving to the new cameras will help us recapture that look. Some, raised in the days when most cameras had APS-C sensors, are hoping for a combination of all the above. But somehow, I'm not very excited about the whole idea. 

When we shot with medium format film we were shooting a 6 cm X 6 cm film size which is roughly 2.5 times bigger than the "pixie" medium format Sony sensors everyone is rushing into the cameras the makers are aiming at a new consumer cohort that's flirting with a move up from the 24 by 36 mm "full frame" cameras most are presently using. It's not a particularly big jump. The thing that made 6X6 cameras seem like a huge jump from 35mm film was the fact that the MF film size was 4X bigger instead of just 70% bigger. You could immediately see the affects of "focus ramping" and subject isolation (comparing the same angles of view) between the two formats. Now, with pixie MF, not so much. 

Also, in the film days (and marketers are really using this nostalgia almost dishonestly here), if one was shooting Tri-X across formats there really was a 4X increase in overall potential resolution when moving from a 35mm camera to a 6X6 cm camera. That's quite different than today's situation in which the affordable MF cameras, at 50 megapixels, have no more real, observable, resolution than any number of high resolution 35mm style cameras. Sony, Nikon, Canon and Panasonic all have current cameras in the same resolution ballpark and Sony has just introduced a camera that pushes past the Fuji and Hasselblad 50 megapixel cameras; at least on paper. So it's no where near the same comparison as that of resolution in the film days. No where close. 

If I compare cameras that I might buy with, say, the Fuji GFX 50R, I come up with a box of compromises in both directions. My choice for full frame (35mm style) would probably be the Panasonic S1R fitted out with the 24-104mm zoom lens. With the Fuji I'd be better served picking three unique focal lengths as there is no "universal" zoom for that system yet. 

The difference in resolution would be negligible. The difference in usable dynamic range would be nil. But the difference in handling would be tremendously tilted in favor of the "smaller" camera. From the body ergonomics all the way through to the EVFs. Add in the need for at least one back up camera and the system economics fall firmly into the Panasonic full frame camp. 

The only current lens choice that tempts me in the Fuji MF system is the 110mm f2.0 and that's because of my nostalgia for the fast Zeiss lenses that we used to have for the focal plane Hasselblads. Lenses like the 110 f2.0 Planar and the 150mm f2.8 Sonnar. Couple those with at about double the effective surface area of the film gate and you could get some amazing subject isolation with a glorious "focus ramp" that flowed gracefully from needle sharp to wonderfully soft. And with happy bokeh.

There will be photographers who can justify getting one of the new cameras but they'll be focused on the GFX 100S and not one of the lower res cameras. The use will probably be mostly studio work and big production imaging. I've walked around with a GFX 50S and a big lens and I'm pretty sure my favorite travel photographers (like James Popsys) aren't going to try shoving a full MF system into their travel backpacks and hiking across glaciers with the added weight and size. 

So, if the logical choice for those who do need MF digital is the GFX 100 one then has to come to grips with a radically changed marketplace for providing imaging services. It's good to keep in mind that rates paid for imaging and licensing of images have been flat for years. A new camera; even in a new format, is not going to change the budgets of clients. The move up from ubiquitous APS-C camera to full frame cameras barely budged the needle when that evolution occurred, no reason to think that the evolution to a slightly bigger frame size will do it either. 

For most people in the business; including those shooting with Nikon, Sony, Canon and others, will already have an investment in their system ecosystems and the acquisition of a MF camera system will certainly be an augmentation instead of a replacement. From an economic point of view it's a doubling of cost to service what will likely continue to be a flat market. Since I'm getting great feedback about the images we generate with Fuji APS-C cameras and lenses, and since 90% of our engagements these days are projects that go straight to the internet, you can count me out of the MF feeding frenzy. 

And with sharp, fast lenses from Fuji, like the 56mm f1.2 and the 90mm f2.0, as well as third party choices like the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 (currently being evaluated) you can count me out of the rush toward even full frame mania. 

This is being written from the point of view of a commercial photographer, not a well-heeled amateur. If I was an investment banker, an arbitrager or a trust fund recipient I'd probably already have one of the Fujis. If I also had a nice sense of design and also a modicum of good taste I might select the Hasselblad instead. But since I make money using the cameras to make videos, to shoot headshots, to make images of live stage performances and to shoot on remote locations for large companies I find the "all-arounder" cameras to be a much more efficient and cost effective proposition. 

To be clear, I can financially afford to snap up an MF camera but I refuse to do so because I can't see any clear benefit, currently, to doing so. YMMV. 

As to the new 60+ megapixel Sony, well that's a subject for another blog post. I won't be buying that one either but for totally different reasons.... 

Hope your day is going well and that many of you in the "heat zone" are finding ways to stay cool and undamaged by UV. 

(please forgive any typos. I wrote this one in something like 23 minutes. I'll circle back to read more closely a bit later. I've got stuff to do right now...)

7.18.2019

A busy day working out audio strategies but not too busy to do a quick post processing on an image I made of my friend, Anne, at dusk yesterday.

Anne now.

Anne needed a casual image for a work project, she asked if I would photograph her. One of my favorite portraits I have ever taken was of Anne a number of years ago so of course I said "yes."

She didn't want anything fancy so I set up a flash in a soft box on a C-stand in the front yard, put a 90mm f2.0 lens on an X-H1 and we blazed away, mixing flash with the fading last light of day.

We stopped when the mosquitos (which were bigger than hummingbirds) started swarming around our ankles, intent on inflicting maximum damage. It was great to see Anne again and our quick session has given me the inspiration to go back and photograph the most interesting people I've photographed over the years, to see how much more beautiful they have become...

Now, back to figuring out how I'm going to handle the audio for Sunday's video project....

Anne then.

7.17.2019

I spent some quality time talking to a real, working, audio engineer about my upcoming video shoot. Here's what he told me about microphone technique. Here's how I'll proceed....

Here's the situation: We're scheduled for a video project that requires us to videograph three people interviewing each other in a very large, bright room that has very high ceilings and hard floors. My first impulse was to use lavaliere microphones (either wired or wireless, no difference to me...) and run two of the channels into one "A" camera and the third microphone output into a "B" camera. That would require two of us to monitor audio levels while operating the cameras. That would also create three different sound tracks, two of which would require syncing in post production editing.

My audio expert works on huge stages and with multiple actors all the time; every day. Years and years.  Keeping track of up to 40 actors, all wearing lavaliere microphones and set to independent channels, in many live shows. When he offers advice about audio I listen.

His suggestion was that I get the interviewees grouped fairly close together for my spot and then mic them with two shotgun microphones. He suggested that there is a sweet spot that's just far enough back to allow two mics to overlap their pickup patterns to effectively cover all three actors.

I asked about using lavalieres for this and he educated me about possible phase issues that could arise and be a bear to fix in post. Better, in his opinion, to stick with a two channel only option and perfect that. Another suggestion (for dealing with the live-ness of the room) was to put sound blankets under the chairs, on the floor behind the chairs and on the floor in front of the chairs. While I won't have each interviewee on a discrete channel I would dodge the dreaded affects of phase issues and also issues of people touching their microphones or having clothing rustle ruin a great quote.

I think that he and I  mostly agree that while well placed lavalieres do a great job at giving one super clean audio and good isolation they can sound quite flat. Think "low dynamic" range, but in audio. A really good shotgun microphone gives a more convincing combination of voice and room tone and, if the actors are a set up linearly then you get actual left to right stereo effect wherein the audio has spatial cues.

One of the other reasons to use wired shotgun microphones is their very low latency effect. Especially versus the newer, mid priced "auto frequency scan" wireless systems. These introduce a bit of delay that can become noticeable as frame rates go up. Wired mics are not affected at anywhere near the same degree.

I'm planning on using two Rode NTG4+ microphones grouped at the end of a Gitzo boom pole, just out of frame. I run them into a passive Beachtek mixer/interface so I can have physical knobs to turn if I want to pull down one channel or the other. Now the only other big thing I need to keep in mind for audio is to bring enough XLR cabling.....

Listening to professionals in the field (at the tops of their games) sure beats the hell out of sourcing information on the gear blogs on the web. And, yes, I get the irony of having just written that.....




What a great swim practice this morning!!! Getting back into shape and watching stress recede in the rear view mirror of life...

Backstroke race. From a USMS national meet a few years back.

It won't come as a surprise to anyone in the "sandwich" generation (the people wedged in on one hand paying for their kid's college and on the other, taking care of declining parents) that life can get stressful. In the last couple of years I've handled my mother's decline and passing and then, eighteen months later I am doing the same for my father. During the same few years Belinda and I worked hard to make sure Ben got the college education we all wanted for him; with the attendant costs for private college and a semester abroad. At the same time we tried to be disciplined about saving for retirement. 
Altogether it's a big "ask." 

If anything went missing over the last two years it was my peace of mind and my swimming fitness. After spending a few days and nights on a chair-bed in intensive care it's hard to summon the energy to get to the pool and work hard at seven in the morning. Repeat this over time and watch your fitness levels drop precipitously. Before 2017 I swam six days a week. Sometimes I'd hit practice early in the morning and then I'd head back to the pool after work to get in another mile or so. With my dad's care I dropped Sundays and headed to San Antonio every week to spend more time with him. 

With Ben in college I turned down fewer jobs and had more early morning calls than I had before and I lost a number of opportunities to swim as a result. 

That's all behind me now and I'm in the pool with a renewed commitment to getting back into competitive swim shape. I just finished my 13th workout in twelve days and I haven't felt this good and this fast in years. In fact, if someone would pay me to swim I'd sell my cameras (except maybe one or two....) do do nothing but swim for as long as the direct deposits remained active. 

We had a great practice this morning. Ian Crocker was the coach on deck. Usually our coaches start practice with a warm-up that's a long, slow distance; like a 400 yard freestyle. They might follow that with a kick set, another 300 yard freestyle, another kick set, and then some warm up sprints before the main sets. Today was totally different. The workout on the board started with a set that looked like this:

5 X 100's on 1:30
Active recovery with a 100 I.M. 
4 X 100's on 1:25
Active recovery with a 100 I.M. 
3 X100's on 1:20 
Active recovery with a 100 I.M.
2 X 100's on 1:15
Active recovery with a 100 I.M.
1 X 100 on a 1:10 pace. 

That was the warmup. 1900 yards. Nice. 

Then we headed into the main set of mixed distance sprints and medium distance pull sets. 

We capped out at about 3,000 yards for our hour of swimming this morning and we hung around in the pool just to see the reaction from the 8 am swimmers as they looked at the white board and came to grips with the enormity of the warm-up. 

Earlier in the week I did a workout with my swimmer friend, Emmett, at Deep Eddy Pool. It's a wonderful, spring fed pool, adjacent to the Colorado River, in the middle of Austin. It's a very "old school" pool as it is 33.3 yards long in the lap swimming section. You definitely get some extra strokes in between the turns. But the lure is the 70 degree water! You can go faster in colder water. There's less heat build up and less fluid loss. But going faster than one's usual pace is a good recipe for being sore and tired by the end of the day. 

My goal right now is 30 great swims in 30 days with no breaks. I'd like to get back into good enough shape to swim some of the events at this year's USMS Short Course Nationals. We'll see how it goes. 
And yes, at this point in my career I am more than happy to turn down photographic assignments if they would interfere with my swim practice. Selfish? Naw, just setting better priorities. 

Speaking of priorities, the people at Viltrox got in touch with me and asked me if I'd like to test out their new lens. It's an 85mm f1.8 autofocus lens that's available in the Fuji and Sony mounts. I opted, of course, for the Fuji version. It arrived the day before yesterday and I'm looking forward to heading out the door to give it an inaugural breaking in. I hope to have more to write about it later this week. I can tell you it feels very nicely made and very solid. Only downside so far? You lose the aperture ring on the lens..... definitely not a "deal killer." 

7.16.2019

Ramping up to shoot more video. Three projects for the Theatre and one potential project for U.T.


Oh Boy! We're going to shoot a video on Sunday and I know how much my VSL readers love to read about video production!!! Ah well, the paucity of comments probably can't get much worse so full speed ahead. 

I like to plan. I met with the producer from the theater to discuss the overall creative strategy last week and we ended the meeting with the following consensus: We'd be videographing (sounds more accurate than videotaping...) an actor and a director together. They would be interviewing each other. We'd use the main stage at the Topfer Theatre because the show decor would already be installed and it would make a great background. So....I'd be lighting for two people, doing a seated interview. Good! I know how to do that pretty much in my sleep; in fact, that's easily the majority of the kinds of video projects I've been doing over the years. 

We were going to get fancy and use three identical cameras. One for a fairly tight shot on each of the two people and a third camera to get a wide shot of both. We'd have an "establishing" shot camera and each interviewee would be covered by their own camera. Since the wide camera would be static I only needed to coerce one person to join my crew. As it turned out Ben had the day free and agreed to help out. I have two Sennheiser wireless lavaliere microphone sets that are getting long in the tooth but I figured I could press them into service on this job. And lights? We've got plenty of lights and I'll be immodest and say I'm pretty qualified to use them. 

And that's how we left it at the meeting but by Monday morning the changes started rolling in.... First off, the stage crew at the main theatre didn't think they could spare the downtime (11-4 pm on a Sunday) and denied our request to use the space for the interviews. It was decided that we'd be moved over to the older rehearsal space which is a huge, poorly lit box with some uncontrolled daylight coming in on one end, a long wall of mirrors on one side and absolutely nothing attractive on the only wall we could use as a background. That engendered the first question from the client: "Do you happen to have a background that's wide enough for two three people in an interview setting that requires a wide shot?" Um, no. "But there is a rental house that will have one." No budget for that. 

The day proceeded as did the e-mails. "Hey! High excitement over here. The producer of the show (famous actor) will be in town and the powers that be want to incorporate her into the interview set-up with the director and the actor (one person play). Will that be an issue?"

And then I got the next e-mail. "The executive team would like to add an interview just with the producer, after the main interview video session. That won't be a problem will it?"

I don't know what to say because I'm still grappling with the very first issue; what to use as a background. I'm thinking we'll position the three people about 20-25 feet in front of the back wall and spray the back wall with a colored light wash. I make a note to bring there more lighting fixtures, gel filter holders, and barn doors to hold the filter holders. 

Two people and three cameras is good math but three people and three cameras is bad math. Sure, you can give each person a camera framed for their own position but you lose the wide shot which establishes the interviewees' geography in relation to the house, to each other, etc. I'm still working on that as adding a forth camera would also entail bringing in a third operator (one for each camera dedicated to an actor, director or producer....) but I'm pretty sure there's not a budget for that...

But even if we go with three cameras and figure out how to make it work (one camera being an active close up camera, probably) we also have the issue of how to do the audio. And this is the most vexing of all my considerations. I'd like to isolate each speaker to their own audio channel. If I mike each one with a lavaliere microphone I can use a dual channel, wireless receiver and two lavalieres but that's only two people, not three, and my "A" camera (all my cameras...) only has a two channel input. How do I mike and control the audio of the third person? 

I could call "sound guy" but... there's no budget. I worked on this issue for a couple of days and decided that I'll use my (brand new) dual channel receiver/transmitter set for the two original talents and run their audio into the two channels of camera "A". Then I'll use one of the Sennheiser wireless rigs to record audio from the newly added, third person and run that mic into whichever camera we designate for the added person. That means my second camera operator (Ben) will have to have headphones on and deal with any audio levels changes on the third mic; and whoever ends up editing this stuff will have to be informed about where to look for person three's best audio tracks and then incorporate that audio into the final edits.

I toyed with the idea of using two cardioid mics suspended over the set instead but the room is bright and bouncy and it'll be 100 degrees (f) on the shoot day and no one will allow the (noisy, industrial) air conditioning to be silenced. Not even for Art. This is Texas after all. 

Really Old School. Yes, Nikon used to make movie cameras. Really good ones. 

Part of planning is making sure you have all the stuff you need to do the job at hand. The fifth or sixth thing I thought of was: "What are we going to have the interviewees sit on?" I figured we'd use high/tall director's chairs and asked if the theater had any. That's now become a bureaucratic task/question so I imagine that at some point on Sunday someone will show up with three old, metal folding chairs and will ask me, sincerely, "Will these do?" At which point we'll call someone and send them out to find the right chairs and deliver them. Except that there's no budget for that...

Tomorrow (shoot date minus three) we'll have an extended e-mail conversation about "craft service" and after four or five back and forths I'm pretty sure I'll convince them that hot coffee and something edible is the bare minimum. If we can't get that then I'll invoke the "deal killer" clause. 

So, in my usual impractical and spendy fashion I've picked up a few things to make the shoot go more smoothly for me. I bought a  Saramonic UWMIC9 RX9 + TX9 + TX9, 96-Channel Digital UHF Wireless Dual Lavalier Microphone System. It's a system that is comprised of a dual channel receiver and two wireless transmitters plus two lavaliere microphones. This assemblage will go on my "A" camera. I set it up and practiced with it today and I'm happy to report that it sounds good, works well with my Fuji X-H1, and is very easy to handle. That's two people taken care of. The kit cost me $399 at Precision Camera, here in Austin. I looked at Rode and Sennheiser rigs that offer automatic channel switching if there is interference but I was daunted and ultimately rejected them because they have a very long latency. They can up up to a frame off (the sync between visual and audio) depending on the frame rate in use. The higher the frame rate the bigger the discrepancy. 

At this point I'm going to mic the third person with one of our Sennheiser EW100 G3 units and run that feed into the "B" camera. We'll keep the second set of Sennheiser gear handy as a backup. 

Then it dawned on me that on the "A" camera rig, in order to change levels between the two microphones I'd have to go into the wireless receiver menu and change the output level of one channel in relation to the other channel. This is hardly something I can do on the fly and I started to panic a bit since one interviewee could have a loud voice and the other quite soft. The levels need to be matched at the outset and worked with over the duration of the recording. 

I have a Tascam 60Dii digital audio recorder that I could run the audio from the two microphones into and then use the recorder as a mixer to ride levels but it's a battery hog and it's got complex and sometimes confusing menus. I decided to buy something different and decided on the Beachtek DXA-MICRO PRO Audio Adapter which is basically a microphone pre-amplifier which provides phantom power to one XLR input and also has a 3.5mm stereo input or can accept two mono 3.5mm channels (L/R). Since it's a powered box it can provide some amplification so I don't need to push the preamplifiers in the camera too hard (less noise that way). And the main reason for the unit's existence in my camera bag will be the added ability to use physical knobs to control the output levels of the wireless microphones going into the camera. 

If this all sounds confusing to you then count me in because it's confusing for me as well. In the best of all possible worlds I'd have a sound guy there with a four or eight channel mixer/pre-amplifier and he or she would mic everyone, ride levels, signal me if we had an audio issue, and then present me with a nice file; with perfect sound. But we don't have the budget for that. 

I may yet default to the two cardioid mics but if I do that then I'll also have to lug in a rolling case full of sound blankets to kill some of the sound reflection around the shooting area. Sound is truly the nemesis for lightweight video professionals. Best left to the real audio pros. But...there's no budget for that. 

Five years ago with a Nikon D810.

I do have three good tripods; two with nice, fluid heads. We'll be using three identically set Fuji XH-1 cameras but since all this effort will end up in social media and nowhere near broadcast TV the producer and I have elected to shoot in 1080p and I'll set the cameras to a very ample 100 mb/s data rate. I want to shoot at 29.97 fps but I'm flexible, I'd be happy to shoot at 24 as well. Since there won't be much big movement it doesn't seem to make sense to shoot at 60 fps; that would just make lighting one stop harder... I'll use a 23mm f1.4 Fuji lens on the wide camera and depend on two zooms (the 18-55mm and the 16-55mm) for the tighter shots. We'll do a "walk through" tomorrow and I'll see if there's enough room to use something longer. If there is I'll use the 90mm f2.8 and a new lens I'm trying out; the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 AF for Fuji as my two tight lenses. V60 cards in all cameras; just for a bit of overkill. 
As far as lighting goes I think I'll light each person with their own Godox SL60W LED light modified with 32 inch by 32 inch soft boxes. I'll add a hair light for each person with a few Aputure Lightstorm LS-1/2's and then pump up the entire set with fill light from Lightstorm LS-1 lights bounced into big flats. Anything to overpower the eerie, ceiling mounted florescent tube lighting, circa 1985...
A good fluid head needs it's own cowboy hat to protect it from the elements. 
This one is a genuine Stetson I've had for nearly 30 years. 

 There is one other thing I just bought in the service of this shoot and that's a new supply of batteries. I ordered 48 double "A's" for the wireless gear and a box of 12 nine volt batteries for the new Beachtek. I'd hate to run out of juice halfway through my project. 

A lot could change between now and Sunday. We could be moved into an even weirder shooting environment. The theater execs could decide to add a few more people to the mix. They will almost certainly come back to me on Friday or Saturday to radically shrink the schedule but we'll handle it. Because we're prepared and also because we're a bit crazy. And yes....that's the royal "we." 

Saratoga Springs. 

We've got two cheap monitors and one really good one. We'll use the good one to set color and levels. We'd buy two more really good ones but there's no budget on this job. We'll pick them up next time.

This is not a bowl of pasta. This is a shotgun microphone and camouflage cabling. 
Notice the little red wind shields.

The outflow area from the Barton Springs Pool. It's a 1/8th mile, spring fed pool that's open year round and absolutely worshipped in the Summer. The water is usually around 70 degrees. 
We'll try to end up here after the shoot.

At Least We're Not Doing This Production Outdoors!!!!

Portrait included solely for fun.

Ditto.

Hey. We might need this guy on Sunday.

Actual. Not a painted background.

Wouldn't it be nice if these Lectrosonics belonged in my gear bag?
Along with some Sanken microphones and a Sound Devices audio mixer....?
However.....they don't.

Wouldn't it be nice if I had this guy off to one side switching between cameras and editing on the fly?
I won't. Not even close.


But I can pretty much guarantee that doing this video project will be a hell of a lot more fun than 99% of routine office work. 


Would it be too OCD to put lavalieres on everyone and then run a second sound system of two 
carioid microphones just overhead running into a recorder?
Just for back up?
Maybe? 

Many good swims this week but I think you've endured enough by having to wade through this article about video. Go Fuji. 

7.15.2019

It's Sunday. It's Ben's turn to cook. And my turn to take photographs.

Ben preparing to put the salmon in the oven.

Ben is a good cook. He's had a couple of good teachers. When he was very young Patricia Bauer-Slate, a restaurant and bakery legend for decades in Austin, gave him a series of cooking classes and showed him how to use a chef's knife and paring knives to prep ingredients. I think he was about eight years old at the time. From that point on he liked to make his own lunches to take to school. His favorite sandwich being Sweetish Hill Bakery whole wheat bread, spicy mustard, slices of bleu cheese, calamata olives and a bit of pickle relish. 

In the Summer before his first year of college our friend, Emmett Fox, owner of several fine dining restaurants here in Austin, announced that Ben needed to learn five or six great pasta recipes that he could make if he ended up cooking for himself in college. Emmett gave me a grocery list of ingredients and then showed up one Saturday morning with a bag of additional stuff. He handed Ben a chef's apron and an eight inch chef's knife and they spent hours in our kitchen with Emmett teaching and Ben learning how to make all the basic Italian pasta sauces. I think Ben now makes one of the best carbonara sauces I've ever enjoyed. 

Ben and several friends shared an apartment at Skidmore College in his senior year and they all took turns prepping and cooking dinners. Ben got a lot of practice planning, shopping and cooking over the course of the year. Having spent a long semester in S. Korea the year before many of his recipes began to feature an Asian inflection. Now we have Kimchi here in the refrigerator.....

Sunday evenings are his turn to cook dinner for the family. Tonight he made one of my favorite meals; one he's become quick and proficient at. He broiled salmon fillets, made mashed potatoes and roasted Brussel sprouts. He's a great fish cook. His salmon is simple and elegant. Brushed with good olive oil an dusted with a light sprinkling of black pepper and sea salt, but it's really the timing that makes the difference. His fish is always perfectly cooked. Moist and juicy. 

His mashed potatoes are well executed and his Brussel sprouts put the same kind of side dish from most restaurants to shame. 

While he was prepping I grabbed one of my X-Pro2 cameras, set it the Acros film simulation and used the manual focusing capabilities of the camera to capture his cooking spirit. He was quick and efficient and I tried to bring the same ethos to my photography. 

A note: It's my turn to cook on Wednesdays. Sometimes I actually cook but sometimes I cheat and get take out from our favorite Chinese restaurant. Or I'll get BBQ from our favorite joint (I won't name it because it could start a civil war amongst my Austin native friends). One of the hard and fast rules in our house is that whoever's turn it is to cook dinner must also do all the clean up afterwards. The idea came to Belinda and me long before Ben was in the picture. We were both working long hours at ad agencies and we'd take turns cooking dinner. We knew so many couples who divided the work. One would cook and the other would clean up. As a result neither partner in those relationships would ever get an evening off. We figured that if one person did both halves of the equation on their night the person not cooking (and cleaning) would have the evening off to relax. Each person would get alternate nights off for pure relaxation. It's worked beautifully for decades. Belinda and I had a great meal this evening with Ben and, when we finished, rinsed off our plates and put them in the dishwasher, we went into our living room to watch a movie while Ben did the pots, pans and assorted dishes. 

Studio Dog is the only member of the family not obligated to take a turn cooking for the family. By consensus we've decided that she is far too busy keeping an eye on everything to even take a stab at doing a shift in the kitchen. She does, of course, insist on tasting some of the entrees just to make sure quality is up to snuff. It's vital work and probably why she needs those afternoon naps...





7.14.2019

Gone all square and wacky with the X-Pro2, some time on my hands and a nice lens.

Scooter mania in the fashion of a Friedlander photo. 





The Frost Bank Tower looks better to me in a square format. 
The 35mm f1.4, used at f5.6 is juicy sharp.

Beer colored photograph. On the "coffee" table in the living room. 
Don't show this to Belinda---I couldn't find a coaster.

Ever fascinated by that gray-haired guy in the mirror. 
But equally fascinated these days by dress shoes. 

Walking Around with an X-Pro2 and the 35mm f1.4 watching all the zaniness of downtown.

I'm finding the X-Pro2 to be a perfect match for the way I like to work. In a fully manual focusing mode it's super quick to work with out on the street and in the EVF mode it's a great studio camera. I'm also enjoying using it in a 1:1 crop mode with the 35mm f1.4 lens. The sharpness in the most of the frame is wonderful. Finally, a camera I can use in the B&W mode (Acros) and feel just like I'm back shooting Agfapan APX 100 film again. From this morning on Second St. 




7.12.2019

Someone just had to ask...."Why a brace of Fuji X-H1s and a pair of Fuji X-Pro2s? Aren't they all just exactly the same sensor???

X-Pro2 on the left, X-H1 on the right. 

It's odd. People have closets full of shirts and most try not to wear the same things everyday. Many people have closets full of shoes; some for dress up and some for hiking on mountain trails. Even some that are uncomfortable, ugly and poorly made ---- but fashionable in the moment. Golfers have bags full of different types of golf clubs. Some people have generic cars they drive to work, Range Rovers for time with the family, and Ferraris or Porsches for when they head out the driveway to take stabs at trying to retain their vanishing youth. Don't get me started on collectors.....

But people tend to look at you strangely if they find out that you have multiple cameras. They become irrationally perplexed when they discover that you have multiple cameras of the same model and they become absolutely agitated when they discover that you might have as many as six cameras that use the exact same sensor, which should yield identical photographs.

Ah well, this is life in the modern age. The guts of many models are exactly the same. A Porsche SUV and a VW SUV may share the same chassis. Many cars of similar size (but wildly different price points) may also share the same chassis and even the same engines, and the only real differentiators are aspects of the trim and some "enhanced" handling features. The small Cadillacs and the Chevy Cruze are likely sharing a large proportion of the same hardware underneath the sheet metal (or should I write, "sheet plastic...). 

As far as cameras go I'm pretty sure that, other than the sensors, just about every contemporary Sony full frame camera uses the same body shells, the same shutter mechanisms and the same control knobs. The same processors and the same circuit boards. The same wiring harnesses. 

I think the three top iPhones all use the same A12 "Bionic" processor. Only the screens and casings are really different.

But, critically, everyone who moves beyond "casual user" to passionate hobbyist, or hard core professional knows that even small feature set differences can add up to much different user experiences in daily use. True with cameras, cars, golf clubs, running shoes, backpacks and so much more. 

I bought the X-H1 body because I already liked the output from the camera's sensor and processing chain. I could see that while using my second Fuji camera; the X-E3. I knew I'd like to have at least one Fuji camera that featured image stabilization. I was equally sure that I'd like my workhorse, every-day-engaged-in-commerce, camera to have good video specs and good video features and I knew that most daylong jobs would benefit from having a battery grip that gave my money-making camera access to three batteries. 

I was not disappointed at all with the camera and, when the price dropped on the package of camera+battery grip+three batteries, to a price that was a couple hundred dollars less than the X-T3 I'd purchased in the Fall, I bought two more. On Sunday the 21st of this month I'll use the three X-H1s in the same fashion as I have twice before. I'll be setting up and shooting a three person video interview and I'll want one camera on the moderator (who is also a well known director), one camera to cover the two interviewees (who are well known actors), and one camera with a wider, center view in order to have an establishing shot  that shows all three participants; something I can cut back to from time to time in editing. 

Having three identical cameras for a set up like this eliminates mistakes. We can sit at a table in the studio before the shoot and set all three cameras to identical settings, from color balance to video profile to file type. Once we get on set all three work harmoniously. Once we get into the edit (and the quick turn around) we'll have all three sets of files matching one another. All three take the same lenses. All three take the same batteries. It's one way to eliminate unnecessary variables. 

All the LCDs match. All the necessary cabling is the same between all three cameras. And, since this is a three camera shoot, and I believe in back-ups, I'll also have the X-T3 in the camera bag; just in case. 

That's what I need for this particular assignment and I would hate to try and do it with just two cameras. It would be plain boring with just one camera. And at $1299 per station the X-H1 is a potent video making tool, shooting in high data rate 4K, that costs a fraction of what I'd pay for one Sony FS7 or equivalent. Sink $3800 in three wonderful cameras that can shoot stills and video or pony up $36,000 to get three of the video dedicated Sony FS7s? Easy math for me. I've seen both in the final forms we're aiming for (social media) and there's not a cat whisker of difference in quality, if you are working on a controlled set. 

That's one reason of many that I own X-H1 cameras for work; price versus pure utility. I could add to this that the EVF is superior and that the selection of fast Fuji lenses (while not optimum for lots of moving subjects in video) are great for mostly static interviews. It's a pretty convincing camera
for me

I took two with me yesterday to shoot a location portrait at a hedge fund office. One to shoot with and one as a back-up. 

So, if I am absolutely enamored with the X-H1 as a work camera/system then why am I "fooling around" with an older, weirder, more eccentric camera in the form of an X-Pro2?

When I've got the cameras off the tripod and I'm not working with long lenses in low light, with clients over my shoulders, I don't need all the size, weight and bulk that comes with the ready to shoot X-H1. If I'm heading out to shoot something for myself, for art, for show, for grins, for love, I want a camera that's got a form factor and an overall package that feels fine riding on my shoulder and swinging by my side. But for me, the reason to own an X-Pro2 is pretty much all about the viewfinder window in the top left of the camera (as I hold it up to my face). 

During two and a half decades of film photography I used many different cameras but there was always at least one Leica rangefinder camera in the inventory. Sometimes as many as three or four. Mostly M series but also some dalliances with the older screw mount bodies. One of the main things I liked about shooting those cameras; M3 through M6, was using the bright line finder with 35mm and 50mm lenses. 
Being able to see outside the frame is great. Using an OVF when you're in bright light is great. Especially great if your subject is in shadow and the area behind them is bright. It's a compelling way to shoot and especially in tandem with manual focusing and zone or hyperlocal methods. But being able to immediately switch to EVF with all the benefits of pre-chimping makes the X-Pro2 an ultimately flexible art shooting machine. 

I bought a used one on a whim months ago and played with it over the first weekend. I was using a 35mm f2.0 on it and I had a modicum of fun but I wasn't really bowled over. Then I bought the 35mm f1.4 and the 23mm f1.4 and started using them. I've never really been fond of the 35mm angle of view (the 23mm on the cropped frame) but for some reason the optical finder in the X-Pro2, along with focus peaking and the punch in when turning the focusing ring, made the clutch between AF and MF a revelation. I love shooting this way. It's great. So much so that I took the camera with me everywhere from the outset, and still do. Even when I'm at work shooting with the X-H1s. 

When I started seeing the results of the Pro2 with three of my lenses: the 23mm 1.4, the 35mm 1.4 and the 56mm f1.2 I was so happy with the files I was seeing, even of mundane subjects, that I tossed down more money and got a second body. Now I'm thinking I'll get one more. 

Why? Will I use them in conjunction with the X-H1s? Not at all. Here's my logic. I love to shoot with the X-Pro2s for the kind of personal work I post here all the time. If I go out and shoot in earnest I will use primes and I'll most likely have something like the 23mm on one camera and the 56mm on a second camera. That's it, just two cameras. 

But, I think the hybrid viewfinder is complex to build and expensive for Fuji to keep making when they can rationalize at this point that a good 5+ megapixel EVF is more or less perfect and "all that anyone really needs." I fear that any future X-Pro body might keep the basic format of the body but reduce their cost by eliminating the bright line OVF and replacing with with a "wonderful" and detail rich EVF. Something like the finder in the GFX100 or the Panasonic S1R. And, yes, for most people it would be a nice overall solution but for me it would kill one of the two things that makes the X-Pros special to me. 

I might get a third body as just a hedge against the relentless homogenization of manufacturing. I know that if I were the product manager for the X-Pro line and I could source a strictly EVF finder that was very, very good and that my company would only lose a small percentage of potential buyers I'd be weighing the options with a calculator and coming to the same conclusion. And, I'm sure if they took away the OVF, added a spectacular EVF-only, and then gave potential buyers the bonus of image stabilization in the new body, they'd gain more new users than they'd lose. But it wouldn't be the same. 

I've got my eye on a used Graphite X-Pro2 body but it's on hold for someone else right now. I'm kinda hoping it sells to the first buyer because I've been spending money on Fuji gear like a drunken sailor in port for the weekend after months at sea. But ...... you only live once so you may as well use the stuff you like the best. 

Of course this rationalization could be all for naught. It could be that the EVF in the (not yet announced but hopefully coming soon) next model of X-Pro will be sublime. It may be that the camera features IBIS. It may be that the magicians at Fuji reduce EVF black out to zero. It is my fervant hope that the body configuration stays largely the same. It's nice to have choices. 

Some days I wear black trousers and I like to match them with black, cap toe oxford shoes from Allen Edmonds. Other days I might be wearing khaki pants and I might like to match them with brown oxfords from Magnanni, but sometimes I'm just wearing some old, worn shorts and I want to wear some floppy sandals. You get to use stuff in the moment that works in the moment. Same with cameras. 
Same with cars. Same with vacation destinations. Same with ..........


The photographic time machine.

Painting Studio at UT College of Fine Arts. 
Working on that second degree.
circa 1980.

If you want to have a steady flow of self-made art that you really like you have to constantly remind yourself to keep shooting. We become, I think, more perfunctory about life, and recording the wonderful daily magic of our lives,  as we get older and we become a bit jaded about taking time to click the shutter. It's largely a function of having seen so many variations of life before. Why both to record one more?

It's good to remind myself that every moment is, in some way shape or form, different from all the other moments we live through, and that we'll live through in the future. 

The image above is a copy shot from a print. I have no idea where the negative is right now. It could be in one of those boxes full of negatives from the 1970's and 1980's that I have shoved into a closet with the realization that I'll never have time (make time?) to sort through tens of thousands of old negatives (and slides) in order to make any rational, accessible archive of my oldest photographs. 

I'm too selective now in what I make with my camera for my personal use and I need to remind myself to be more promiscuous with my photography. Shoot more and push aside the agonizing realization that most of the work will never see the light of day or a rapt audience. 

But for me images of Belinda painting on canvas so long ago are like wonderful small treasures that surface sometimes by surprise and fill me with a quiet kind of delight. 

That, and the realization that,  maybe blinded by love, she appears more and more beautiful to me with every passing year.