Sitting in a La Quinta Hotel in San Antonio thinking about life and cameras.

Leica R series (film) with 180 Elmar f4

I'm 77 miles from home and light years away from when I started in photography. I came down to San Antonio from Austin today to visit my father. He's not doing well and I'm thinking I'll be sticking close to home and close to my phone for the next few weeks. We had a good visit - between naps and him picking at lunch. 

But I'm booked in at a local hotel because I have a full day of scouting to do with an ad agency here tomorrow and it just didn't make sense to drive back and forth between Austin and San Antonio on two consecutive days. Last year I would have stayed in my parent's empty house but I sold it last Summer for my father. It feels strange to be back in the city I lived in during high school, and in which my parents lived for nearly 48 years, and to be in a hotel. I could stay with my brother or my in-laws but it's just easier to be an anonymous traveler sometimes....

Tomorrow we have a scouting adventure that should take a good part of the day. It's for an eight to ten day shooting project on which I'll be photographing while my friend, James, shoots video for b-roll.  Most of the locations are interior workplaces but there's also data centers and even a bit of retail involved. I think scouting is good; we get to identify problems before they become...problems. Is there a quiet place to shoot interviews? Is the interior lighting so wretched that we'll need to bring lots of our own? Do the locations need to be "improved"? Should the ad agency think about additional propping? Do we have enough time scheduled between locations to actually get from point "A" to point "B" in time to set up and do the work?

Sometimes the scouting provides clear insight into how the actual job will proceed. If everyone on every location we scout seem surprised and annoyed to see us that's probably not going to change profoundly on the actual shoot days. If the agency and client are happy and organized then I'll go home and pour a glass of post-scouting Champagne because it presages a smooth assignment in the near future. 

It's late afternoon here and like most Texans I've turned off the heater in my hotel room and set the air conditioner to 68 degrees. Why own a sweatshirt if it's never cold enough to wear one...?

While sitting here  chilling out and preparing for a long day of smiling and nodding tomorrow I've been looking around the web to gauge the response of forum-tographers to the Olympus product launch for the OMD-EM-1X. The mantra among everyone for whom the camera was never intended is pretty much uniformly contained in two questions: One goes like this: This camera doesn't make any sense at all because small sensor cameras only exist to be tiny and pixy-like. Why is it so big? And the other often asked question is: "Who the heck would ever buy this camera? Aren't all good photographers required to shoot with full frame cameras?"

The response is par for the course. Everyone seems to think in terms of absolutes. Either/or. 

At some point I started imagining the maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe we should all agree to do everything in unison. Make everything uniform. Make everything match the mean. Hew to the median. We could agree on one car and we could all buy it. We could all wear the same tacky Adidas warm-up pants with the twin, glow in the dark stripes down the side. We could all wear disgusting athletic jerseys instead of real shirts. And we could all shoot with a Canon 5D. We'd all own three lenses. They'd all be a wide zoom, the 24-105L and the 70-200mm f2.8 L. And we'd all be required to shoot in raw format. Our portfolios would be filled with cute cats and chubby girlfriends/boyfriends.

As if our goal as photographers is total homogeneous assimilation. Right?

This led me, before I left Austin, to the gear box in the studio where I selected the camera most counter to mainstream choice: the Panasonic GH5S. A camera rejected by most for several reasons: "The sensor is too small!" "The megapixel count (10 megapixels) is too low." And, "The camera doesn't have image stabilization." I pulled three lenses out of a different drawer and two of them are also not image stabilized. The trio consists of the 15mm, the 25mm f1.7, and the 42.5mm f1.7. The GH5S and this group of lenses are my choice for this evening's photo walk through downtown and also for my scouting adventure tomorrow. 

So, what is it about the GH5S (not the "stock" GH5) that motivates me to use it so frequently? It's pretty easy to explain. First of all the camera is the perfect size for my hands. It just fits so nicely that I never have to think twice about how to handle it. Then there's the fact that this camera is (as far as I know) the only micro four thirds camera that outputs (not just shoots but also outputs) a 14 bit raw file which makes color grading and photo processing more rewarding. It's also the m4:3 camera of all the two families of m4:3 cameras I've played with that has the best looking color and tonality. The physical control interfaces are really perfect (especially so when it comes to the top right three buttons for ISO, WB and exposure compensation). The only knock against the GH5S I can agree with is that some people might want, or even need, more resolution for certain kinds of work.

The finder is superb, the response of the system is lightning fast and the battery life is DSLR-like.

And all of this is before one even actuates the 4K video and gets to work in motion. 

I'm heading out the door to do some walking in San Antonio. I'm going with the GH5S and the 15mm to start. I'll keep the other two lenses in a small jacket pocket. The whole package is able and unobtrusive. 

I get that people love image stabilization. If I need it I select lenses like the Olympus 12-100mm or the Leica/Panasonic 12-60mm. But really, if you watch your exposure and practice your camera hold image stabilization becomes more of a luxury than a necessity. And I'll go so far as to say that image stabilization may harm some images. I know for sure it has a tendency to make some photographers lazy enough to scrimp on practicing good techniques....and bad habits tend to multiply. 

I'm not saying that everyone needs to rush out and buy a non-stabilized, 10 megapixel, small sensor camera but if you think it's the camera holding you back from achieving your true stature and prominence as a photographer you may want to reconsider. Some of my best work has come from the oddest and least capable cameras. Maybe the cameras' perceived weaknesses were a foil that forced me to pay more attention and to up my game. The real game: imagining images and capturing them.

The images below are from a wide range of cameras; from full frame to one inch sensor cams. I like the all. Cameras need to fit in your hands and follow your (sentient) commands. That's all. 

One Inch.

6cm by 6cm film.

Canon 5D.

Panasonic GH5S

Sony something.

Samsung APS-C


4K video still from GH5S.

Minox 35mm.

Leica M4, 50mm Summicron

Fuji something.

Sony 1 inch.



Fuji XE3

Sony 1 inch.

Fuji XE2

Pentax 645. Film

6cm X 6cm Film.


MikeR said...

First photo: Demi Moore?

Anonymous said...


I know several videographers. Some of them use GH5 and gh5s cameras. One says that relative to the gh5, the gh5s subtly clips highlights at the same exposure. Have you seen any evidence of this?


Anonymous said...

Don't know why you are surprised at the attitude of so many when almost every site on Photography is about the gear rather than the result. Might be because discussing gear is much easier then discussing prints, chromes, or final image output of any type?

Michael Matthews said...

Ah, film. The people were so much younger then.

Robert Roaldi said...

Beautiful women and croissants. Add a good cup of coffee to the mix and you don't need anything else.

Rick Baumhauer said...

Since Kirk is probably out scouting, I'll come in. I don't believe he's ever mentioned shooting Demi Moore, so probably not, but the second-to-last shot (Pentax 645. Film) is Renée Zellweger.

pixtorial said...

Kirk, as always an interesting read, I enjoy following your train of thought, even if it is just switching boxcars in the yard :) The set of photos that accompany your post are interesting for a few different reasons. One, which I'm sure is intentional on your part, is that they show that the differences between digital formats (sensor size primarily, but of course the associated changes in optics that go with that) are in smaller degrees than the typical site or measurebator would have you believe. It also shows that tonality have a lot to do with glass and proper processing. But wow, the film shots in contrast (pun intended) are just stunning in comparison. Technically my mind knows that current digital can "outshoot" film in terms of resolution, DR, etc. But my mind says screw it, the film images just pop off the screen. And this is just viewing at small size on a monitor with limited gamut and dynamic range. I can only imagine a table full of prints to compare.

Jack said...

The more diverse the ecosystem is, the more resilient it is. Monocultures lead to mass extinction.

More to the point, it seems to be human nature to be divisive. If we all had to wear beige, there would be violent arguments about which shade of beige was the "best

The new Oly is not for me, but then neither is the new Nikon, Canon, etc. If I don't like or need something, then I don't buy it. And I don't denigrate it either. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it)


Eric Rose said...

Sorry to hear about your dad. We just buried my wife's father. It was an agonizing month leading up to his death.

Many photographers are gear heads. The specs, reviews and all that is their real interest, not the output or the creation of "art". They spend 10 times more time and energy forming "opinions" based on countless youtubes, forum posts and reviews than actually making photographs. Then many of them spend inordinate amounts of time defending their newly formed "expert opinion" on the very same outlets. When you get right down to it the "defending" part is what really gets them going.

The professional youtubers and those who have monetized their blogs have this figured out and rely on it for page view numbers. Higher page views equals higher advertising revenue. Reviewers with the best reputations such as Chris and Jordan actually drive camera sales. So they benefit doubly. As do their masters.

I frequent a forum (photrio.com) which was totally analog up until about a year ago. In the past discussions were mainly about technique, developers, enlarging and film. I tried, very unsuccessfully I might add, to introduce discussions about the "art" of photography. Another forum member tried the same thing and got so exasperated he finally told everyone they could all "eat shite and die" before riding off into the sunset.

Forty or so years ago the pros in my town use to have a contest. You could only use a simple camera with a fixed lens that had no adjustments. Think Instamatic or Brownie. Colour or black and white film was the choice but you could only shoot one roll. You had one month to submit a print. The results were amazing! True working professionals setting aside their Hasselblads, Nikons, Leicas, Linhofs etc and producing stunningly creative and beautiful images. These were people who understood the gear/image equation and could produce stunning imagery with just about anything they were given to work with.

There are those whose life and choices are based on the "opinions" of others and then there are those whose life is based on rational decision making methods backed up with trial/proof analysis to insure the course of action is goal satisfying. I refer the latter.

crsantin said...

My best work the last two years came from the Sony RX100, the first version, that I picked up used and very cheap. I shot the hell out of it until it finally died on me. I think I'll get another. Made great prints and canvases from it. I feel comfortable seeing with it and shooting with it...stinky diaper hold and all, which actually I've adapted to rather easily by pulling the camera closer into my body, not at arm's length.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Jay, I haven't seen this but I will say that it helps to be vigilant with the zebras. I set them at 100% nudge up to the line and then back off by a third or half stop with the GH5S. The resulting files work. Some cameras have finders or EVFs that are set too dark which leads to overexposure. It's almost a camera by camera thing and it makes testing each camera pretty important. That's all I can figure.