Two more from Immortal Longings, the play by Terence McNally.

I seem to be having a love affair with several of Fuji's lenses. Today it was all about the 56mm f1.2 APD lens. But a week or so ago it was the 50-140mm f2.8 lens. It's a great set of focal lengths with which to shoot live theater productions. It's fast, sharp wide open and the range is perfectly suited for capturing the essence of most plays. The OIS in the lens works well with the IBIS in the X-H1 and the capper, for this kind of work, is the availability of the Eterna color profile to help flatten out the contrast  during capture. If a file is too flat you can always add a bit of pop to it. It's harder to go in the other direction; once the blacks are set, and the highlights are on the verge, trying to bring down the contrast in post is almost a fool's errand. 

Please click on the images to see them larger. 

This morning the star of the photo shoot was the kids. The co-star was the new (to me) 56mm f 1.2, the only lens I brought along.

©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 

I spent the morning photographing some of the Summer programs for kids at Zach Theatre. I left the camera bag at home and brought just one camera and one lens. It was a Fuji X-H1, and the very speedy Fuji 56mm f1.2 APD lens. I did something I've never tried before in all the years I've been photographing; I shot everything with the lens at its widest aperture ---- f1.2. 

I knew that the lens would be sharp because I've seen the MTF curves and read a fair number of reviews. I also knew it would be sharp because I shot test images in the studio before pressing the lens into service. But I was a bit apprehensive about how well it would focus; because of the anodization filter inside the lens it's only able to use contrast detect autofocus, not phase detect autofocus. I'd read stuff all over the web which presented the lens as slow and kludgy to focus. I figured that if the lens was truly dreadful at focusing I could just call it a day and come back sometime in the future to photograph. We weren't under any sort of onerous deadlines and I was willing to take a chance.

I wanted to use the lens wide open because, like almost every client's locations, there's always some clutter and junk in the backgrounds and if I can use shallow depth of field to minimize the visual chaos it's a plus for the art directors who will end up using the images.

So, how did it work out? Well, it exceeded my expectations. In decent light (areas in which I could shoot at full aperture using ISO 1600, or better) the camera and lens were quick to focus and lock in. I could even successfully use face detection in the majority of settings. If I did my part correctly and put the little green AF focusing square on the right spot I found the files to be extremely sharp. I don't care about corner sharpness and didn't look at it because in 99% of cases my main subject is in the center or in the sweet spot of the frame and my corners were part of the out of focus areas which were nicely smooth, and that's why I bought the lens in the first place. 

The kids were sweet and cute, and having fun with all the programs. I spent a couple hours shooting and knocked out about 1200 frame which I edited (selected or deleted) down to about 600 which I then post processed lightly (most just exposure tweaks) before outputting from Lightroom and sending the final files to Smugmug.com.
©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 

©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 
©2019 Kirk Tuck. Please do not republish. 


My first jaunt outside with the low light monster from Fuji. The 56mm f1.2 APD.

I know that this lens is pretty much custom made for the sole purpose of shooting portraits with extremely narrow depth of field in an APS-C camera system. An attempt to match the look of those fast 85mm f1.8s and f1.4s that people grew up with when they shot film, or now, full frame cameras. But I didn't have a handy human model today, and I've been reading about the enormous health benefits of long walks, so I decided not to have any expectations but to take a Fuji X-H1 and the 56mm f1.2 APD along with me on a two hour walk through central Austin. My one nod to curiosity about the camera's "wide open" performance was the application of a variable neutral density filter to the front of the lens. Sadly, mine did not come with the .8 ND that was originally delivered along with the lens (about 3 stops). 

That's okay because I have a drawer full of variable and single neutral density filters to use on video projects. 

I shot most of these images at f1.2, compensating for bright sun with a combination of my lowest ISO (200) and my VND. Getting the right stuff in focus can be a challenge but I must say that the manual focusing ring is wonderful, with just the right tactile feedback and not too extensive a throw. If I had trouble narrowing in with AF I could switch to MF and nail every image every time. 

I love the idea of this lens and had a blast just getting to know it. 

This one amazed me. It's wide open but the building and crane are far enough away to still provide enough depth of field to cover both subject; at least in smaller displays....

Stunned by the sharpness of this machine when shot at 1.2 with the 56mm. 

f2.0 is not shabby either. 

A quick nod to the "Pixie" cameras. I've finally dialed in the right way to shoot with my Canon G15 and I'm making progress with the older G10.

Every camera seems to require its own operating procedures to ensure that you can get the best files from it, and everyone has a different idea of what "best files" look like so it stands to reason that everyone's operating procedures for each camera will come with a lot of variations. I always thought I wanted and needed an optical viewfinder but the small Canon's have such horrible OVFs that I've had to become adept at compositing and (guessing) exposure based on the rear screens. It's not that difficult for most stuff but what a pain in the butt if you are shooting in an area with high ambient light; the reflections off either screen are a major hindrance to seeing the frame correctly. 

Here's my routine for shooting with the G15: I set the camera to Large, Superfine Jpeg. I'm not shooting precious, once-in-a-lifetime stuff with these little gems so I don't want to spend an inordinate amount of time planted on my bottom in front of a big screen trying to duplicate the raw file alchemy that the cameras already do well as they create their own Jpegs from the raw material at the time of capture. So, no raw. Get it right in camera or just delete the offending mistakes before someone realizes that you (momentarily???) didn't have a clue as to what you were supposed to be doing. 

These cameras have small sensors so they aren't really my first choice for shooting in dungeons, in dim night clubs or out on the streets at night. They work best for shooting in bright light. The higher the EV the happier they are! And both cameras come complete with neutral density filters that can be switched on so you don't run out of shutter speed. I set the cameras for the lowest ISO possible and also switch in the ND filter when I'm shooting outside in the sun; that's because I like to use the f-stop that's just one stop down from wide open. With the G15 you'll mostly catch me working around f3.5 or f4.0. Anything smaller starts to deliver increasing doses of diffraction and anything wider doesn't seem as sharp to me. 

The meters in these cameras work pretty well but I'm loathe to depend on them, especially if it's hard in bright sun to check my work via chimping. That being the case I like to figure out the actual exposure based on the "sunny 16 rule," verify that this works by taking test shots and retreating to a shady spot or interior location to take a good look at the represented frames and the histograms and then setting my camera via the manual exposure controls. I find a setting that prevents highlight blow out and use it until the light changes or until I'm pointing the camera at something in totally different light. 

If I were to use the small cameras with a heightened sense of seriousness I would bring along a Hoodman loupe so I could "field check" the output while eliminating light contamination. But that sure messes up the ideal use of the cameras as small, light, highly portable and minimally noticeable tools...

Since manually setting exposures works so well I'm also all in on setting the WB manually. If I'm shooting in full sun, as I was in all the samples shown here it's just logical that all the color setting for the images should be exactly the same. I find that people who think older cameras have a "different look" are really responding to the reality that older automatic white balancing was not as sophisticated as it is in current cameras and they are mistaking inaccurate color metering with some color cast or rendering of images from older generation sensors. In the sample below (set at the "sun" pictogram in the WB menu) I find color that's a close match to my present generation of Fuji cameras when the Fuji cameras are set to the same WB preset. 

I use the flexizone metering which allows me to move the focusing sensor, but I never do. I keep it centered and move the camera to focus and then recompose. It's primitive and I'm sure your method of moving the AF point around until it's right over what you are interested in focusing on is much quicker more accurate but....my method works for me. Especially with a small sensor camera. 

I don't do much post production to the images. As I've written above, if I missed it I blame myself for sloppy technique and toss the shot into the virtual waste basket. Trying to apply mascara to a pig is not a pastime in which I'm interested. 

My initial interest in these G series point and shoot cameras from Canon was piqued when I got a G10 back in 2008 and subsequently read an article on Luminous Landscape in which the late Mr. Reichmann  wrote about shooting almost identically composed frames with a much larger format camera and also with the G10, made reasonably big prints and challenged pros and non-pros alike to figure out which prints camera from which camera....   Just the fact that the question was raised at all made me think that something was afoot there. I pressed my copy into service and used it for the majority of images in an illustrated book I wrote for Amherst Media. The images looked perfect as they were generally printed at less than 8.5 by 11 inches at 300 dpi. Most were half or quarter page sizes and I'd be hard pressed to tell which images came from a Canon 5D mk2 or the G10 in that context.

If I press one of the smaller cameras into service for a real job (which I do from time to time) it's probably a quick illustration of: A. Something that can be well light in the studio or is already well lit by the sun. B. Something that does not move so I can place the camera on a tripod, use exactly the right shutter speed and focus very meticulously. And, C. Something that I can shoot at the lowest ISO on the camera (80) for the best image quality. 

Done well these cameras can perform really wonderful feats of imaging. Used in a cavalier way they'll dive down to meet your lowest expectations. But really, that's on you. The more difficult a camera is to use the more you have to pay attention to technique. But you'll be rewarded by surprisingly good shots....except when you aren't. 

Waiting for the right light. A few minutes of idle time, a big difference in the entire frame. Courtesy my Canon G15.

These were shot about 30 seconds apart and they serve to remind me of the value of patience. They look so incredibly different to me that it was amazing. But then, I am easily amazed. 

Happy Father's Day to all you Dads! And Grandfathers! 

The view of Zach Theatre's Topfer Stage from the street. Across Lamar Blvd.

When I first started photographing for Zach Theatre we called it, Zachary Scott Theater (named after a Hollywood actor) and it consisted of two pretty small, brick buildings each of which had smallish theater spaces. One seated about 150 while the other one, in a pinch might seat 180.

Right in the middle of the economic downturn the board of Zach Theatre embarked on a capital campaign aimed at building a first class performance space, complete with a "fly tower" and stage trap doors as well as (my favorite) two spacious bars, one on each level.

The theater design followed one production which was done in a refurbished musical hall. The sound in that rented space was atrocious even though it was supposedly built from the ground up as a performance space. The board learned just how important sound quality in a space is and spared no expense to make the Topfer Stage one of the best sounding auditoriums I have ever worked in or seen a live performance in. It absolutely blows away the main theater at the UT campus, the 2500 seat Bass Concert Hall. 

Lately, the area around the theatre complex has become my beginning and end point for my walks around downtown. Mostly because of the parking and the free bathrooms (yes, I have a name badge....). 

Just thought you'd want to see an exterior shot of a place in which I spend a lot of time and energy working with cameras, lenses and actors.


Finally, a blog post that's just about a lens...

Whether you are an "F 64" fan or a "bokeh-liscious" fan I think most of us would admit to liking the effect of shallow depth of field from time to time, especially if it's not too heavy-handed. As a portrait photographer I vacillate; I'm thrilled with the effect sometimes and rail against it at other times. No consistent world view here when it comes to just how much detail I like to see in the backgrounds (and foregrounds) of photographs. No manifesto in one direction or the other from me. The over application of most styles and techniques ages the effects more quick. A case in point would the ever recycling use of ring lights in fashion and portraiture, another classic case being the overuse of overdone HDR.

But if you are going to do an effect it's a lot of fun to buy just the right tool with which to perform your attempts. I'm a sucker for lenses which are, A. Aimed at portrait photographers. B. Able to be used to make very sharp images when the particular special feature of a lens isn't warranted. and, C. I'm a sucker for highly specialized, niche lenses. I think the lens I just picked up from Precision Camera here in Austin fits the bill across the three parameters...

When I entered the Fujifilm X family of cameras and lenses I vowed not to step into the "tar of desire" too deeply but almost immediately I began to break my vow by first researching, and then acquiring, the lenses that I thought would be most interesting for making portraits. After the primary workhorse lens, the 50-140mm f2.8, I picked up the 60mm f2.4 macro and explored its potential. It's a very, very nice optical system wrapped in an aging focusing mechanism, and it sure could have used a manual focusing clutch for those times when one wants full focusing control. Alas, your hand and wrist will get a workout should you attempt manual focusing with it. You'll need about 720 degrees of turn to go from close focus to infinity. I'm keeping the lens because it's nice and small and delivers very nice looking files.

I moved on from the 60mm to the 90mm f2.0 and lately I've been using the longer lens in any capacity I can. It's extremely sharp, has very nice out of focus rendering in backgrounds, when used at the first three apertures, and it focuses fast, like a rocket. But.... the focal length is a bit too long for comfortable portraits in my small studio space. I have a clean 24 feet to work with in each direction if I have my back against one wall and my background against the opposite wall. The angle of view on the 90 doesn't give me much room to have a "loose" frame and still have sufficient distance from the subject to the back wall. "Missed it by that much..."

The 50-140mm f2.8 has been giving me nice service in the studio. The zoom makes for good framing flexibility and, for the most part, the maximum aperture provides enough sharpness, and just enough ability to toss the background out of focus enough, to make the whole proposition workable. But if you know anything about crazy artists you know they keep tinkering till they find the "ultimate" tools for their favorite tasks (and yes, painters do discuss their favorite brushes with one another just as audio experts can spend an entire coffee break talking about various microphones...).

Several VSL readers have pushed me to try Fuji's 56mm f1.2 R and I've resisted out of a sense that, with all my prior buying choices, I've already overdone my burgeoning inventory of Fuji lenses. I've put that lens into my "cart" and taken it out of the cart many times since becoming "Fuji Aware." But each time either my budget has stopped me or my desire to be a good fiduciary of my own enterprise has pulled me up short. That, and the idea that the lens is just a bit too short.

That was the situation right up until I had lunch at Maudie's Tex-Mex with my photographer friend, Andy. He's seen the light lately and has started to acquire more and more Fuji X stuff. To be fair, he's keeping his hands on his micro four thirds stuff as well. So we were catching up and the conversation turned to Fuji. He's a regular visitor to Precision Camera, our home grown camera candy store, and he mentioned several great finds he's picked up in the past month or so. I asked him to let me know if he saw anything cool the next time he was by the store. He sent me an e-mail a couple hours later from the showroom at camera ground zero and let me know about a few new deals that had arrived in the store, used.

One of the items was a 56mm f1.2 APD lens. For those of you unfamiliar with the ways of Fuji this is one of their rare specialty lenses. The APD designation is short for "Apodization" which I find to be a strange word but which means, essentially, that they've taken a regular 56mm f1.2 and placed a specialized filter just in front of the diaphragm that smooths out the bokeh (or out of focus qualities) without touching the native sharpness of the lens. In fact, MTF curve comparisons between the two lenses show that the APD version is oh so slightly sharper than the vanilla version. The APD lens delivers its effect most obviously when used wide open and then matches the vanilla version almost exactly for both light transmission and optical performance by f5.6. The APD filter reduces overall illumination at the wider apertures; when set to f1.2 the relative T value (transmission) is more like f1.7. There is an additional scale on the lens to remind you to compensate at the wider apertures for this exposure differential.

The effects of the APD filter seem subtle, judging by samples at the better websites. But since I was able to purchase a mint, used APD version for $625 while the current retail price is $1499 I was ready to take a chance and check it out. So far, I am not disappointed in the least. It's a lovely lens.

The one knock against the lens is that the APD filter has some property which makes phase detect autofocus unavailable. Everything is contrast detection. But it's still faster, on the X-H1 and X-T3 bodies than the 60mm macro..... and that's with the macro making full use of PD-AF.

The lens includes 11 elements (not including the APD filter), two of which are ED elements and one of which is an aspherical element. The APD filter is said to be a breakthrough attributed to Fuji's nano technology R&D. Sounds cool to me.

I have two jobs coming up this week that are perfect matches for the potential of this lens. I'm breaking it in on a long walk tomorrow. I've shot some stuff around the house and studio and have been impressed with the basic performance of the lens. Even without the APD functionality it would be a stellar performer. We'll see what the whole package delivers on Tuesday and then again on Friday. I'm  back to being busy in the studio. Much stuff booked. Much to deliver.

Interesting how quickly Fuji converted me to their system. I think a lot has to do with my comfort level gaining all the exterior controls. It reminds me of the photographic gear I grew up with. Nice. Now, did someone mention medium format???


Portrait in studio. Another one from the archives.

Portrait. In the Westlake Hills Studio.

I'm spending a fun day photographing kids of all ages at the Zach Theatre Summer Camp today. I came home at noon to spend some time with Studio Dog (she dislikes isolation from her "pack" for more than a few hours at a time. Who can blame her?). I'm the one in the immediate family with ultimate schedule flexibility and any time I can choose between client meetings or a nap on the couch with Studio Dog on the carpet in front of me the choice is pretty much always easy to make.

So, what are we doing at Zach today? Well, we're making photographs that will try to capture the energy and enthusiasm of a diverse group of kids who come together for a week or two to learn how to sing, dance, act and perform. I try to do mostly vertical, telephoto photographs of individual kids because that seems to be what the art director who handles promotion for the camps seems disposed most often to use. Two or three kids working together on a routine or performance are also valuable to the art department.... Occasionally, the whole group of kids, kindergarten age to high school, will come together to work on a big project. This afternoon we're working on a cool scene from the musical, "Matilda" set to the song, "We Are Revolting Children" and we'll have all ages on stage doing parts for this fun and high energy scene. It's so much fun!!!

Of course, it's not all perfect for photography. We don't really have time to pose anyone, I have no idea where everyone will end up so I'll have to move quick to get my shots and... with the poor lighting in the giant rehearsal space I'll be shooting wide open at f2.8 and making use of ISO 6400 just to get a shutter speed that might freeze some of the action. This is how I practice for more critical work projects; I shoot and shoot whenever I can and try everything possible to overcome the built-in limitations of a scene.

I worked with several lenses this morning but the one that works best in the space is the 50-140mm f2.8 XF. It's very, very sharp, even when used wide open, and the combination image stabilization with I.S. in the lens and IBIS with the Fuji X-H1 works wonderfully. The camera is quick to focus and, with the right SD cards, very fast in writing files and clearing buffers.

I came home to have one of my favorite lunches: Greek Yogurt (2% fat) mixed half and half with muesli and covered with fresh, honey crisp, cantaloupe. I also made a cup of coffee using the ground Illy coffee from the can in the fridge. Yummy deluxe. It makes coffee house coffee seem like weak, used motor oil by comparison.

Swim notes. Summer is here and the swim schedule has changed to accommodate the rank and file (non-competitive swimmers) at our private swim club. In any other season but Summer we swim in the mornings at two workouts. One is from 7:00 to 8:15 and the second option (which we call "the Executive Workout -- you have to be able to show up to work late....) is from 8:15 to 9:30, but in the Summer, when there is (ostensibly) more demand for pool time, we switch to 7:00 - 8:00 and then 8:00 to 9:00. Each is shortened by 15 minutes. But the coaches don't care about the math, they think we should still be able to complete the same distances we normally do in the compressed time frame. Their workaround? They just shorten the time intervals and any rest between sets. Nice.....

I swam at the 8:00 a.m. workout this morning and it was delicious. I swam with two of my favorite lane mates and we hit it hard. There was a pattern to the sets and it was almost like poetry, except that now I'm tired and my muscles are a bit sore. Oh well, I have 24 hours to recover before the next one.

Thinking about getting a GoPro or similar camera to clamp to the front of my kick board just for grins. I'll let you know how it all works out.

Family notes: Oh boy. It's all insurance companies and a probate circus around here since my dad passed away. I've been sending out death certificates and legal notifications like it was direct mail/self promotion. Temporary, I keep telling myself. Just temporary.

Hope you are having a great Summer. Send some good energy to theonlinephotographer's, Michael Johnston. He needs our good thoughts and best wishes to speed up his recovery. And if you have a little extra folding money you might think of heading to his Patreon site and making a little donation. It's tough enough being self-employed but self-employed and unable to fully function is a whole other thing. See this: https://www.patreon.com/theonlinephotographer Only mentioning this for VSL readers who also read Mike's blog. It's the gold standard in photography. Let's help him over this hurdle and get him back to work; I need something good to read over coffee every morning...