10.23.2020

My continuing interest in both micro four thirds cameras and Sigma lenses.

 


I had a tough time practicing self-restraint today. I saw, via their website, that Precision Camera had taken in a used Panasonic GH5S which was bundled with the battery grip and a SmallRig cage made for the GH5S with the grip. The price was $1,499. I went up to inspect it and I have to say that the camera was in perfect condition. Not even tripod mark. I wanted to buy it on general principle because I had one once, before I was smart enough to appreciate it, and it's wonderful camera for making video. The biggest advantage is also the camera's biggest disadvantage: The camera is equipped with a 10 megapixel sensor. 

For video this is a distinct advantage because the sensor is absolutely right sized for 4K video. The bigger pixels on the sensor make it more light sensitive which translates into better high ISO noise performance. The relatively low number of pixels means that the system gets data off the sensor and into the buffer much more quickly that would a higher density sensor, which reduces rolling shutter. It's all wins in the video category. 

And, of course, the disadvantage is that you only get 10 megapixels of resolution for photographs. Enough, I think, for the web but probably not enough to satisfy most picky users.

The camera also lacks in body image stabilization, which some find to be a full-on deal-killer. I would have thought so a few months ago. In a blurry time I call: the Pre-Gimbal-anian period. But the lack of IBIS has one great advantage, the camera will run for a long, long time and never get hot because the sensor is wedded to a big, internal heat sync; something you can't really do with a stabilized sensor. And the smaller sensor with fewer pixels has less to process and generates less heat to begin with. 

At any rate, I stood around at the counter and played with the camera and the cage/rig for a while before deciding that my real interest in acquiring new video cameras all hinges on whether or not they can create ALL-I video files. This one can. But then so can my S1H and my GH5. Oh, and also my Sigma fp. Would I really be gaining anything? Not so much. 

Sure, it might make a really good dedicated gimbal camera but the GH5 is doing a fine job at that since it acquired the latest firmware update. I use it now instead of the G9 mostly because the GH5 offers the ALL-I format and I think I can see a difference in the way motion is rendered between the two file types.

In the end I decided not to spend another $1,500 for a camera I don't really have any pressing need for. Sad. If I knew of an up and coming videographer who needed a great camera to start and grow with I couldn't think of a better one than that GH5S at that price. For me it would be just another excuse to move from a three camera set up to a four camera set up and at that point the editing of hour long video projects would become overwhelming. 

But on the way out of the store I spied a lens I'd read about recently. It's the Sigma Contemporary 56mm f1.4 lens which is available for m4:3 cameras and also for Sonys. I asked to see one on a Lumix G series camera and loved the finder image. I decided it would get much more use than yet another camera body. So I brought one home. Now I'm on the way out the door to go into a gray and inconsistent weather day to see just how much I really like the lens. Or not. 

That's the next report.

Also, we're shooting video for another concert at the theater tomorrow night. It's the same show I shot stills for this past Wednesday (Female Rock Stars from the 1970's). I've changed video tripods and fine-tuned every aspect of the rig for stability and ease of use since last week. We're still going to do three cameras but I'm determined that our follow camera work get much, much better. Wish me luck.

10.22.2020

I love mixing stuff up. I shot the least obvious camera at the new show last night. On the high wire with no net. Also, OT: My run in with the dermatologist this morning...

 

The fp is so unusual that it's cute. 

I love to try new stuff even when I've got technical features figured out just right with the perfect gear. Sometimes I'm looking to see if a quirky camera adds something to the mix. Sometimes I'm just bored and want a challenge. It's a silly ass way to run a business but then again, not everything needs to be completely transactional.

You'll remember that I photographed at an outdoor concert last week and used a perfect combination of cameras and lenses. The unassuming Panasonic 70-200mm f4.0 S-Pro worked really well with the "low light monster" the S1. I also brought along an S1R with a 24-70mm for assorted wide shots and that combination worked beautifully too. By "working beautifully" I mean that the cameras were easy to use, trouble-free, transparent, and above all they generated beautiful files. So the obvious strategy for photographing a new show this week at the exact same location would be just to pack up the same gear, toss it all in the car and sally forth. Right? Well, maybe. But I rarely repeat myself and maybe that's a personality flaw more than a creative gesture.

But first a silly confession. I've been working with a Sigma fp since the holidays last year. I bought the big finder that attaches to the camera with a plate into which the finder is bolted. The plate is then bolted into the tripod socket and the whole assemblage makes for a tight fit and a tidy package. But it also means (at least I thought...) you can't use a cage with that configuration. I bought SmallRig cage for the fp and I fell in love with the wooden handle which supplies a generous grip on the right side of the camera. But I didn't see how to attach the finder accessory. I guess I didn't look closely enough. Then I ran into a fellow Sigma fp user who seemed to have it figured out. He had both the finder and the same cage mounted on his fp at the same time. He showed me where the cage had the same bolt sockets as the Sigma bottom plate. Now I could see clearly that the finder could be bolted straight onto the lower part of the cage structure and work as seamlessly as it did when using the other bottom plate. 

I was overjoyed. Actually, I wasn't overjoyed, I was just momentarily happier than I had been a few minutes before. 

Back to the story... Once I found out how to perfectly configure the fp (for me) I glommed onto it for the rest of the day and by the time I headed out to the assignment I had made up my mind to try to shoot the whole evening's event with it. Which is not a logical thing at all. The camera is slow to focus, the reviews on the fixed LCD are a blurry mess when they first come up on the screen and then take their time resolving into sharp images. If you punch in to manually focus with some magnification the magnified image sticks on the screen until you take the shot. There's no built-in image stabilization, etc., etc.

To make amends for the lack of in-body image stabilization I did everything with a stabilized lens (the 70-200mm) and then, since I was using the lens sometimes with the camera in the APS-C crop mode for longer reach, I hedged my bets by using the camera on top of a small (but good) Sirui tripod. I was rusty at first and nearly gave in to fear and uncertainty. I needed more practice on my manual focusing skills at the long end of a zoom lens.  I almost popped the lid on my Think Tank backpack and hauled out the ultra-trusty Panasonic S1R. But eventually I started to adapt to the camera, and to trust myself.

By the end of the hour and ten minute concert I had photographed the three singers, together and individually, in over 1,000 frames. Like I mentioned, I was hedging my bets. 

I had stuff to do this morning so I was intent on post processing the files last night; before bedtime. The camera continues to fascinate me. Unlike the Panasonic S series cameras you can shoot RAW and in "crop mode" at the same time. With full frame you get a 24 megapixel file and with APS-C mode you get only 9 megapixels. But even at ISO 6400 the images are insanely sharp and noise free. I have a mix of Jpegs and RAWs as well as a mix of 9 and 24 megapixel files. They all worked interchangeably. 

I really overshot the assignment and I ended up editing the take down to about 350 images. The colors and tones were wonderful. I tossed them up in a gallery on Smugmug, sent the link and the password, and headed off to bed. Now I'm over any reticence I've had about day-to-day use of the Sigma fp. It's obviously an eccentric choice and I would not counsel anyone to make it their "only" camera, but it's a nice change of pace from the more operationally competent and more traditional Lumix cameras. 

With the big loupe, and mounted on a tripod, the camera and lens combination was actually more facile and fluid than I thought it would be in the shooting process. I also shot one song in the 4K, All-I, 400 mb/s mode and it was just great. I'll pass it along to the marketing folks for potential use in the social media. 

The one aspect of last night's shoot that surprised me was that the Sigma fp shot lots of frames over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, all on one battery.

OT: Hi Dr. Dermatologist!

As you probably know I've lived in Texas for a long, long time and I've been swimming outside, year round, for decades. Many decades. Most of the swim workouts are in the mornings but I've done many more than my share of (sun drenched) noon and afternoon swims over the years. If you are of English ancestry like me you are probably light complected. Add in blue eyes as a risk factor and you are more or less just continually rolling the dice. Sooner or later a spot on your skin will emerge that makes you a bit nervous. Especially if you are a solid hypochondriac like me.

I see my dermatologist once a year for a full body check up. I see my general practitioner on the opposite six months to get his opinion and to create a prevention bridge so I don't usually go longer than six months between somebody checking me for cancerous skin damage. I'm an amateur; I can't tell and age spot from a full blown tumor...

I got a little spot on my face a couple of months ago and when it didn't go away I visited my G.P. He carefully inspected the small spot and decided to zap it with liquid nitrogen. A month later it came back and it was both a little bigger and now raised. I went back to see my doctor with the idea that perhaps another blast of the bracing liquid nitrogen might do the trick but he demurred and sent me scurrying to the dermatologist to have my new growth biopsied. (Biopsy is such a scary word...). 

We never miss swim practice if it can be avoided so I hit the 8 a.m. workout and then showed up at my dermatologist's office at the stroke of 10. He laughed at me for smelling like pure chlorine and I had to explain that because of the pandemic we couldn't use the showers at the pool for the moment. Although I'd done a quick and very chilly rinse off with a garden hose...

After appropriate small talk he gently jabbed me with a small needle to deliver a local anesthetic and then scrapped off the growth with an insanely sharp scalpel and finished up by cauterizing the wound. Now I have a round Bandaid(tm) on my left cheek. My first question for him was whether I would still be able to swim tomorrow (see? it's all about making fitness a priority!!!). He allowed that it would be okay as long as I used a waterproof Bandaid over the area. 

He's sending the offending tissue off to be analyzed. If it's just a wart or actinic keratosis then we're all done and no more torture of your favorite blogger need be done. If we turn a different corner then I get to go to a specialist and have Mohs surgery performed on the area. You know, it's the "gold standard" for getting all the nasty stuff out to the margins. That might require a bit more recovery time outside the pool so if the dice go that way just prepare yourself for three or four, long, rambling blogs a day while I whine about inaction and soreness. 

Wear your wide brimmed hat in the sun. It's a crap shoot but you might as well cheat the house in your favor, right? 

Now whining to my family about my ordeal; hoping the sympathy will mask the expense of a new phone.

10.21.2020

What I learned from filming an hour long, outdoor concert with three cameras... A few painful lessons.

Bag of cameras. Meaningless without the right techniques. 

I am a veteran of shooting many interviews and other kinds of projects where the subjects don't move very much, lighting is an important component, and audio needs to be clean and recorded at a good level. Beyond that my advertising and filmmaking experience is limited to writing and creative directing projects that other people shot. But I'm learning all the time. Really....I am. 

This past Summer I learned a lot in a very short amount of time about moving the camera during a shoot. I went from tripod to all out gimbal shooting in the space of just a couple of weeks. And some of the footage actually looked good.

So when the theater asked me to shoot a one hour concert with three stationary cameras I thought: "Piece of Cake." And now I get to laugh at myself for my (again) misplaced hubris. 

There was nothing wrong with the footage from either of the two cameras that were unmanned (B cameras). I set them up before the show to shoot wide angle, head-on views of two stage areas using the exposure, focus and color settings I'd extrapolated from a photography shoot earlier in the week. The cameras just sat there and ran, whether actors were in front of them or not. When we pulled the footage it was all rock solid and each camera even delivered a decent scratch audio track. 

No, the real issues came from my inexperience in running a "follow" camera for over an hour. It's something I never trained for, I just assumed that if you knew your way around the technical aspects of file generation in a camera everything else would just fall in place. Ouch. There's so much to learn. 

Let's start with the biggest problem I faced:

The follow camera had to be set in a certain spot so it didn't interfere with the sight lines for any paid audience members. It also had to find a spot that would give an unobstructed view of two different stage areas. The performers were able to move from one stage to the other and back and I would need to follow them with the "A" camera the whole time. The location we arrived at was far enough back from the stage that I needed a long lens to get good looking (relatively) close-up shots of two, or  even one performer at a time. My longest lens is the 70-200mm f4.0 for the Panasonic S1 system so I used that. But I still needed more reach so I decided to switch to APS-C mode which got me into the ballpark with a 300mm equivalent. And therein lies my first stumble. 

While I was set up on a decent tripod and using a very nice tripod head my camera had lots of "gingerbread" or accessories hooked onto it via a "cage." My biggest mistake was attaching a monitor (with a big battery) to a convenient cold shoe on the top of the cage. This made the whole rig top heavy. Any time I touched the focusing ring on the lens, touched the touch screen of the monitor to switch between the waveform meter to the magnified focus setting, or even zoomed the lens, the magnification of the long lens exaggerated every movement and delivered jumpy, unprofessional looking motion artifacts to the visual image. While the client is perfectly happy with the footage I'm a bit embarrassed. 

I should have known that the monitor and all the other attached paraphernalia made the whole rig way too top heavy and could not be optimally balanced no matter how much I moved the camera rig backward or forward in the tripod mount. As soon as I tilted forward or backward I was dealing with the added inertia of the monitor's weight. I picked probably the absolute worst position on which to position a lot of extra mass. 

Especially with it sticking straight up from the top like a momentum sail. 

The crappiest part of the poor monitor mounting was that it sat higher than my camera at eye level so I had to keep craning my neck up to check fine focus. It was a very awkward position. 

After conferring with more experienced camera operators I'm planning on first using a huge, heavy and aggressively stable set of tripod legs. I'm also taking any extra weight off the camera. The only thing the camera will "wear" will be the small audio interface unit with one XLR cable running from it. Then I plan to use a Super Clamp and a Magic Arm to attach the monitor to one of the tripod legs just below the top of the leg. With the Magic Arm I'll be able to position the monitor just about anywhere that it's comfortable for me, and if I touch it there should be no chance of introducing vibration into the shots. 

To ensure quick, ballpark, "good enough" focusing on the fly I'm marking the manual focus ring with three small, bright dots. One on the focusing scale for the distance to the closest stage, one for the furthest stage and one for the transition area between stages. I hope to be able to switch between the three settings quickly and without a lot of drama. I will also test the AF tonight while I'm over at this evening's shows shooting stills. I'd love to use AF but there's so many issues with the focal length, the low light, etc. that I'm reticent to depend on it. 

I may also use a follow focus attachment so I can mark distances on the wheel and operate even more smoothly. 

The next thing I messed up on was comfort. I figured I could just stand the whole time and operate the camera. Then my left foot hurt. Then my right foot hurt. Then I just wished I'd brought along a bar stool to sit on. Thank goodness the house manager thought to bring insect repellant because the little critters were rapacious that night.

There's a lot to learn and most of it involves building muscle memory and learning the best ways to set everything up. And that takes practice plus a lot of trial and error.

My one victory from last Saturday's video shoot? The sound out of the "A" camera was perfect. 

It's humbling to learn how much I have left to learn. But I do think that constantly challenging oneself keeps your brain and your fun gland young, and keeps you more aware and fit than just sitting back in that easy chair with a "cold one." 

Lessons:

 Smooth moves beat fast moves. Good focus is better than hunting for perfect focus. Keep your hands off the tripod and camera for as much of the show as you can. There's a reason pro event cameras and video cameras for sports have electronic zoom and focus controls located on the tripod arms and not just on the cameras. And, There's always next time. 

10.20.2020

OT: A quick question about a brand of electronic time-keeping devices. If you have knowledge and/or experience, please toss in a comment. Apple Watch.

 


This is a brief, information gathering, request post. I think someone in my family might be getting me an Apple Watch 6 for my birthday next week. I'm wondering what I can expect from the product...

I'd love to hear from people who've researched the Apple Watches and from people who have owned (or still own and use) any generation of Apple Watches. 

What features do you use most?

Are they complicated to set up the first time?

Are there certain apps you think are "must haves"? 

Is there something about "smart watches" in general that disappoints you?

Have you played with any of the biometric measuring tools?

Do the batteries last long enough to make the watches fun?

How do you normally use your watch to get the most value from it?

Please, if you are an Apple hater, smart watch cynic, etc. I'll just remind you that it's a gift and not a political statement or an announcement of social status. It's just a watch that does other stuff than just telling time.

I'm guessing that some of you find them great while others consider them useless. C'est la vie.

If you can make me smarter about the  Apple Watch 6 I'll appreciate it. I hope it will take some of the 

sting out of turning 65....


The best camera in the world sucks if you don't aim it at interesting stuff.


 I've been thinking how grateful I am to continually have fun stuff to shoot. Not everything I photograph turns out to be spectacular but my takeaway is that constantly practicing, and routinely having fun, people-oriented projects to shoot, makes the little differences we go on-and-on about in our latest cameras seem a bit more worthwhile. There's some stuff you don't appreciate until a project pushes you to make use of obscure functions. And there's some stuff we appreciate while we're reading specs and reviews which we subsequently find to have absolutely no benefit for our actual work. It's funny that way. You never know what you'll end up valuing in your equipment...

For a while I was happily stumbling along shooting big, full frame, high resolution photographs with my Lumix S1R and then, one evening, I ran smack into the realization that I needed a longer focal length than the 200mm on the long end of the 70-200mm lens. Some camera models have a setting in the menu that allows you to put your camera into an APS-C mode to get 50% more reach but the Lumix cameras don't have that same setting option. 

I remember researching this about a year ago when I first bought the cameras but I'd forgotten about it. I kept looking and looking for that APS-C option but never found it. I ended up shooting in full frame and thinking the client would have to crop the image to get a tighter frame.... 

During a break in the job I grabbed my phone and did some research. Prompted by the info on my phone I remembered (finally) that the camera has an "ext teleconverter" setting instead. You enable this setting and then head to the file size area of the menu. There you will notice that the medium size and the small size settings now have an "ex" next to them. Full frame is still full frame but if you click to the "medium" size option you get a 1.4X crop (at 24 megapixels) and if you click on the "small" size you get a 2.0X crop with a 12 megapixel file. You can leave the teleconverter setting on and if you are set to "L" in the file size menu that's what the camera is going to give you; the full frame. Sadly, this only works with Jpeg files. Not raw files.

But "why" you might ask wouldn't I just shoot full frame and then crop after the fact? Well, consider the project I was busy shooting. It was an outdoor concert under the stars. I could only get so close to the stage. I wanted at least a 25-35% tighter crop but I would end up shooting about 300 images and none of them would have the exact same composition so if I wanted to crop and then share all of them with my client I'd have to go in a crop each frame individually. That takes way too much time for a fast turnaround, P.R. style shoot. 

Also, and I can't stress this enough, my brain doesn't function in a way where I can pre-visualize what I want to end up with in a frame if I can't "see" the edges. There are just way too many options! In other words I need to see the image out to the edge of the boundary instead of thinking, "Oh, I'll just remember to crop this one at XXX x XXX and it will be perfect." It just doesn't work that way for me. I want a formalist boundary or frame around the image as I'm shooting it. I'd accept frame lines but you can keep the freeform, after-the-fact frame trimming. I don't like to go there and it doesn't match the way I create. 

I want to be able to shoot 300 frames, do a few more or less global color and contrast corrections, apply them to all the frames in Lightroom and then output all the files into a folder to send directly to my client. And, if I can do it like this instead of cropping each frame individually, I can generally do my post processing between the end of the job and bedtime, freeing me up for new work or new play in the morning. Why make a job much, much harder than it has to be?

This is just an example of a feature that no one reviews, no one talks about and no one writes about. But if you need it then you need it. And having used it changed the way I've been using that "high res" camera. 
It's also added some flexibility to my lens usage. Now, when I put the Sigma 45mm lens on the S1R I don't just have a 45mm lens, at the click of a menu item I now also have a 63mm lens as well. And as you probably know the longer normal focal lengths are a favorite of mine. The icing on the cake is that there's no change in maximum aperture. It's fun. And really, do we often need more than the 24 megapixels on offer with that cropped mode? 

In this way the client sees all the images in the composition you intended. You delete from them their power to screw up your images by doing ham-fisted cropping. They get to see your exact visualization. 
You save time. Time is money. Or time spent futzing with files is time robbed from other pursuits. 

In video you have a similar but different menu set up. You can choose to shoot in full frame or APS-C or exact pixel mode. But in every case you are still getting the full, un-interpolated 4K resolution files. The full frame downsamples the entire frame which increases read time and can inflict "rolling shutter" artifacts to your footage. Generally, the APS-C frames write out more quickly and have less rolling shutter. The exact pixel mode reads just exactly as many pixels from the center of the frame to get you to 4K with no downsampling, binning, etc. It may be the sharpest setting but the trade off is increased noise. 

But still, the camera gives you options. And you aren't limited to just the few options reviewers consider the banner news story (more speed, more speed, more speed).

So, after shooting with a 1.4X crop on a photo job and also in APS-C for a video project I have a new appreciation for under-rated features cameras can offer. I spent some time last Sunday just walking around shooting the 45mm like a 63mm and I have to confess I now like the lens even more! Here's some samples: 

Sigma at 63mm.

Sigma at 45mm

Sigma at 45mm.

Sigma at 60mm.

63.

63.

63.

63.






10.18.2020

A post job analysis of our live concert documentation. Video, video, video. (We'll circle back to photography shortly...).


I'm always hopeful that we'll get an evening where the temperatures drop into the high 50's and we feel as though a nice, light jacket would be welcome. Instead it was a typical Austin October evening with temps touching 80 and lots of humidity in the air. Better though than our recent theater videography sessions in 105 degrees.

I had a really good idea of what the shooting conditions (lighting, sight lines) at the plaza would be like since we photographed the same show there just this past Wednesday. The concert, with two singers and a three person band, started at 7:30 pm so the sun had fully set. The production folks built a stage just outside the front doors of the main theater but after a few rehearsals they decided to have the performers spend parts of the show out on an elevated walkway in front of the audience; just to add some motion and change to the hour long show. It was a good call for the audience but it meant we would need three video cameras to do an acceptable documentation of the show. We needed at least two views on each stage for editing purposes.

I arrived at 6 pm so I could set up the three cameras while it was still light enough to see. My main camera looked like some sort of "Rube Goldberg" science experiment. We had the DMW audio interface in the hot shoe with a big XLR cable running into socket #1 from the sound board that our engineer was overseeing, about 50 feet from my camera location. Just to the right of the audio interface my Atomos Ninja V was attached to the SmallRig cage. On the other side of the camera I had a headphone cable out, a full size HDMI cable from the Ninja running in, and a USB-C cable for quickly attaching a power bank (just in case) plugged in and ready. The power bank hung just below the camera in case our camera battery ran unexpectedly dry.

All of this sat on top of the new Sirui fluid tripod head. It's a nice head and very smooth but I think my rig was too heavy and totally out of balance. Next week I think I'll rig the Atomos to a tripod leg to take the weight off the top of the camera. I'll also do a better job balancing the weight forward and backward. The 70-200mm f4.0 weighs a lot. I can't imagine trying to balance the whole collection with the f2.8 version mounted on the camera.....

I had the camera set up to shoot 4K in the APS-C crop configuration. It's nice and crisp and turns the long end of the lens into a 300mm with no hit to the aperture. But a long lens, used wide open on moving subjects is very dependent on having that Atomos monitor fired up and working. It's impossible to really tell, by looking at the rear screen of the camera, when you have achieved really sharp focus. Maybe it's my old eyes but that last bit of tweak that provides the real "bite" in a well focused image is beyond my abilities without the aid of some screen tech. 

The Atomos screen is bigger and brighter to begin with. That helps. But while you can't use image magnification while recording on the camera you have no such limitation with the external monitor. I could punch in to 1:1 or even 2:1 to see very clearly exactly where the plane of sharp focus should be. And I could fix focusing errors while watching the enlarged screen while the whole time keeping the full frame on the camera's rear screen for composition/framing. The long lens, follow camera footage would be a mess if not for the Ninja V monitor. Truly a lifesaver. I've even started using the monitor routinely in the studio. It's a pleasant way to work with manually focused lenses. 

At this point I should mention that I tested out the autofocus with video at the long end of the lens and it's just too hit-and-miss. At least with manual focus once you are well focused and the actors are in a certain spot for a whole song there's none of the hunting that even the best systems are plagued with from time to time.

I monitored the audio coming off the sound board with headphones. We nailed the levels during rehearsal and the audio is flawless on the main camera.There's just scratch audio on the two stationary wide cameras. 


My biggest issue last night was just the fatigue of having to pay attention for an hour and fifteen minutes to every movement and every nuance of tripod management. How far to lock down the tilt. How much resistance was just right in the pan control. How to smoothly disengage the tilt lock to start a new move. And I made the mistake of wearing a pair of dress shoes I found in my closet. They looked so good but they obviously weren't engineered to be comfortable for hours of standing in one place...

There's not much to say about the second two cameras. I had an S1 set up to cover the front stage from side to side and then a GH5 to cover the secondary "stage." Someone asked earlier about the run time of the S1 camera in 4K thinking that it was 29.9 minutes but with the V-Log upgrade package from Panasonic for that camera you now get unlimited record times. Well, at least until the memory card runs out. You can attach a battery bank and charge while shooting so the battery isn't an issue. 

And these cameras are actually "Pro" cameras. Unlike the Canons and Sonys none of the four models of cameras we've used from Panasonic over the last two months has ever overheated. Never shown an overheat warning. Barely gotten warm to the touch. And we're not out shooting these in a Canadian snow storm, they work well right up to the 105 degree zone, and beyond. I'll gladly trade off small advantages in continuous AF for robust and bulletproof operational performance. Any Day. 

The third camera was the GH5 I purchased a few weeks ago. I put a Meike 25mm cine lens on it and set it up on a small tripod covering the "live" space on the secondary stage. This camera was also shooting 4K and ran for an hour and fifteen minutes, ending up with at least 50% battery power left over. No drama, no acting out. Just a good, solid working camera. Why oh why did I ever sell off the first batch?

All the of the cameras were loaded for bear when it came to memory. I had twin/matched 128 GB, V90 UHS-II cards in the GH5 and the S1H (both have two slots, both of which accept SD cards) while in the S1 I had a 128GB Sony CFexpress card backed up by a 128 GB V90 SD card. All the cameras were set for relay recording to the cards, just in case the show went long. I should not have worried, the show timed out with enough space left over on the cards for another 30 or 40 minutes of run time.

A while back I donated a Panasonic FZ2500 to the theater for day-to-day captures and quick interviews for the web. One of staff (Joshua; who has the task of editing all of this footage together...) used that camera to sweep up a bunch of b-roll while I was shooting the main stages. He got crowd shots, reaction shots, gear shots and wild side angles. Yes. I know. There can never be too much b-roll. 

We have three more weeks of shows. Each week features a new set of performers singing totally different shows. We'll be there to document each one of the shows. So, at least I know what I'll be doing (and how I'll do it) for the next three Saturdays. And unlike recent donations they theatre is actually paying me for these. 

It's fun to problem solve so many different kinds of projects. From small and intimate to big and boisterous. It's also nice to have cameras in my hands for so long and so often. It gives you a feeling of being totally conversant and comfortable with your equipment. That makes every move and every decision a bit more fluid. It's a great way to learn the ins and outs of a camera system. Everyone should try it. Before they review their first camera....

Hope your weekend was fun and comfy. More to come. 



10.17.2020

Why I will be ordering an Apple iPhone 12Pro immediately.

 I'll admit that I've acted like one of those recalcitrant photographers from the early years of this century who claimed that digital would never supplant film, that analog photographs would always be superior to electronic files, and so on. But my Luddite tendencies have never been aimed at film versus digital (we started shooting commercially with digital cameras back in 1998) rather I've been a reluctant convert to the relevance, convenience and quality of smart phones. 

A number of years ago some wag created a category of image making he called, "iPhoneography" and the whole idea back then left me cold. The phones didn't have the resolution I thought they would need and the video wasn't nothing to write home about, not to mention that storage was small and expensive. But that's all changed. And the ascendancy of photography and video production with phones is being hammered in conclusively with the launch of the iPhone 12 Pro (but was evident with the iPhone 10 and 11 models too!). 

One of my video producer friends sent me a link last week that showed an interview with famous cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, and about 3 and a half minutes of wonderful video that Lubeski shot with the new iPhone 12 Pro. It also has him doing a voiceover and explaining why he feels that the new phone will change filmmaking forever. Before undertaking any knee-jerk reactions just watch and listen to what he says: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m07zMRXXP0

Yes, the video is sponsored by Apple but "Chivo" (Lubezki) is a much sought after cinematographer with a tremendous record of achievement and it's not likely at all that his opinion was "bought." And, yes, it's true that part of the reason the video looks so great is the combination of: great locations, great models, potentially hundreds of thousand of dollars of support equipment (professional level drones, cranes, specialty lighting, etc.) but the fact remains that the files coming out of the new camera are impressive in their own right. Lubezki's great work should be seen as something aspirational, after all, he's using the exact same camera and lens that you can pick up in the next few weeks from your favorite cellphone service provider for around $1K. 

To say that it's cheating to show work that was created out of a support-rich environment is like saying that having 30 years of daily, hands-on experience is unfair. The tool is neutral. It creates quality based on what the operator brings to the project. The phone itself isn't a magic wand.... And is actually a democratizing addition to the whole world of filmmaking. 

But back to that "magic wand" thing. What attracts me to the new phone are things that I would loved to have used on projects over the last few months. The first one being 4K, 60fps HDR footage. The images coming off the 12 Pro are in some ways more beautiful in their dynamic range than any of the best, under $5,000 traditional hybrid cameras which, in order to match the 12 Pro have to be used in V-Log and then meticulously color graded in long and grueling post production sessions. The difference is that the iPhone 12 Pro is doing all the work with in-camera processing and showing you the finished product on screen, as you shoot. It's the first phone to offer video in 10 bit, 4:2:2 and it's a wonderful to carry around and use on small, lightweight (but very effective) gimbals. 

While I might still need traditional video cameras for commercial work it's mostly because, for now, I need to be able to plug in and use professional XLR connected microphones to record traditional interviews. I need long, fast lenses for situations like this evening when I'll need to shoot from a static position but cover a waist up or mid-torso up close-up of a stage performer from 50 feet away. Maybe, just maybe, my full frame cameras will have less noise at the higher ISOs I'll need to use this evening. But, maybe Apple's incredibly fast A14 processor will be able to stack multiple frames in real time and make the noise a non-issue. We'll know when we get hold of one. 

The new camera comes with three lenses as well as LIDAR for low light and no light focusing. The lenses have some optical zoom range but I haven't dived into those numbers yet.

The model I have in mind is the 12 Pro. There is a bigger one called the 12 Pro Max but it's too big for me to comfortably use as a day-to-day phone, and it's more expensive but doesn't really have any additional production-oriented features. The price for the one I want is $999. I'll select the graphic finish for mine. I'm not really a big fan of bright colored phones and if I wanted to momentarily become aesthetically flamboyant I can always toss on a cute protective case covered with something topically current. 

Of course the new phone won't replace every camera on every shoot but I can't imagine that I'll want to use anything else again on a gimbal. I can't imagine that anything else will be as convenient and comfortable to use. 

To the caveat about audio and the need to use external microphones, does anyone imagine that a bluetooth or wi-fi app won't soon be available that will allow the wireless connection of mixers and microphones that will provide the same level of control we currently enjoy with our big, double-use (photos and video) cameras right now?

The technology that Apple is delivering in the new products is just stunning. And it's not just "potential" or advertising stunning; you see amazing results from current iPhones in real life all the time. 

If filmmaking gets technically easier and easier then great ideas get more and more valuable. The barriers to entry continue to fall; which is neither good nor bad. You can reject the change or embrace it. It doesn't matter. I'm on board because I've already seen what a two generations older iPhone can do on a gimbal. 

A filmmaking powerhouse that really fits in a pocket and creates stuff in a way we would have thought was magic just a few (very short) years ago amazes me. Please deliver mine now. 

Funniest comment I've read about the phones so far. Of course from a DP Review commenter:

"If it doesn't have dual card slots I'm out." 

I have to assume that was meant to be tongue-in-cheek.

10.16.2020

Photographing a "Pandemic Safe" outdoor concert. Our theater figures out a way for "the show to go on."

 


Zach Theatre has a big, beautiful stage with seating for 400. Too bad we can't use it this year for live performances. But creative people tend to be.....creative and so the theater's team got together with health experts and figured out how to use the expansive plaza on the theater's campus to produce a series of live concerts. We had the first one last night and it was a raging success. We did a tech rehearsal the night before and I showed up to shoot promotional photos to kick off the series. 

Between now and November 8th the Zach Theatre is producing a series of live concerts that will run one hour in length and will (weather permitting) be held outdoors in the plaza. Seating is set up in pods. You can get tickets as a socially distanced couple all the way up to a "cabana" with seating for six. All pods are distanced about 10 feet from each other. Even though the concerts are held outside the theater is insisting on staggered arrivals and seating to reduce crowding into and out of the venue. Masks are mandatory. And, sadly, there will be no rushing to the edge of the stage to dance to the. You mostly have to stay in the confines of your pod space. 

But after watching both ticket sales and the reactions of our small, "family and friends" audience two nights ago I think there is so much pent up demand just to see good, live performances that people are happy to put up with any of the small inconveniences foisted upon them by a need (and desire) for group safety.

Each week has a different theme with different performers. This week Matt and Jill sing Broadway Show tunes, backed by a small band. Next week it will be Songs from the 70's. The following week will be Motown and the final week will feature Chanel who will show off the "Tina Turner" performance that won her the starring role of "Tina" in a famous, West End, London production. Shows run Weds. through Sunday. While we aren't going to have anywhere near the 400 person capacity of Zach's interior seating the theater will play host to about 120 people per evening, the production costs are much, much lower than those of a conventional stage show and the theater is able to keep functioning and paying staff and performers. It's a really nice solution. And since the weather people suggest that it will be in the low 70's for the rest of this week it's a perfect time to spend an evening on the plaza with a glass of wine and some great music. 

A "day before opening" rehearsal. Matt and Jill have been doing a "creative pod"
to ensure each other's safety at performances. 

Matt and Jill in performance at tech rehearsal.

I have two jobs for each show. I'll be there for the first show of each week's run to make marketing photos (and photos for the theater's archives) from a position that we just finalized in a strategy session yesterday. We tried a location on Wednesday evening but switched to a new spot yesterday afternoon. I'm using two cameras, shooting with a 70-200mm on one camera and a 24-70mm f2.8 with the second camera. The lighting is not as bright as our usual stage shows so we're working at 1/250th of a second, f4.0 at 4,000 ISO. We could not have used this kind of ISO ten years ago but it's now practically a new, low light normal with the Panasonic S1 cameras. Whatever noise you see in examining the files here was exacerbated by my half stop underexposure and then the lifting of shadows in post production. Sorry, it happens. I haven't hit the files with any noise reduction but I'm sure I can clean up a little noise in the shadows without breaking a sweat. 

The big challenges will come each Saturday as we do a three camera video set up. 

I'll be in one set position with an S1H camera shooting 4K video. I'm not depending on the continuous AF of the camera so I'll have an Atomos Ninja V monitor on top of the camera cage so I can see the bigger image and also so I can punch in 2X while recording to fine tune focus. It's a really nice feature of the Ninja. I'll have that camera on a tripod with a fluid head so I can pan with the two actors as they move from the stage in front of the theater to the long concrete wall and walk way about 50 feet to the right. 

Since my longest lens in the 70-200mm I'll take advantage of the ability of the S1 series cameras to shoot in full frame, APS-C or pixel-to-pixel mode and set it to shooting in APS-C which will give me something approximating 300mm on the long end. Using the lens like that will give me a great range for shots of two people together or waist up tight shots of the individual actors. Works well. No light lost either.

I'll use the Panasonic audio interface to pull in sound from the sound engineer's board since the interface has settings for "line in." 

The second camera will be an unmanned camera right in front of the front door stage. Normally we don't do "un-manned" cameras for theater work because the lighting intensity changes all the time and you'd end up with tons of under and over exposed footage. But since the lighting team is small the stage lights are static for this set of performances. That means I can set up a camera, set the exposure and color balance and start it running five minutes before curtain and then not think about it again until the end.

We'll make that camera an S1 and outfit it with the 24-70mm f2.8 S-Pro lens. 

The third camera will also be un-manned and will sit in front of what's quickly being called "the second stage." It's a long wall with a walkway on top. The artistic director originally created the concerts with just the one front stage but an hour with very little movement, no props and no stage settings gets pretty visually boring and that gave birth to the idea of using the second, contiguous space. 

We'll set up a wide shot for that space using the GH5 coupled with a 12mm wide angle lens and let that one just roll as well. To access that camera for changes we'd have to walk right in front of the audience and that's just not a good look. Fortunately the GH5 will run for over two hours on one battery and get me something like an hour and forty five minutes on a 128 GB SD card. We only need about an hour and ten minutes.


I'm so happy that I get to shoot all this but that I don't have to edit any of it. The files go straight to the theater's in-house editor and he can decide how to cut the whole thing together. 

A quick explanation of why I am happy to pay $1800 and more for some of the Panasonic S-Pro lenses. Since we're working in low light on projects like this one I seem to end up shooting a lot of stuff with my lenses at their longer settings; and also set to their maximum apertures. In the case of the 70-200mm f4.0 I find myself shooting at f4.0 for most shows. If these were like lenses from the past I'd be hesitant to work at such a wide aperture but it seems that Panasonic are taking their lens design cues from Leica. The prevailing philosophy seems to center around making lenses that are so high performing at their maximum apertures that there is little to be gained from stopping down other than to increase depth of field. 

I surfed through 300+ handheld images, shot at the long end of the 70-200mm, with the f-stop at its widest and the lens is sharp and contrasty at those settings. 

Same with the 24-70mm which I use a lot at the 24mm focal length, also wide open. They work well and deliver very sharp files. Sharper than the images I got from nearly all previous systems. Nice.




10.14.2020

Some thoughts on managing entropy.


Jeez, I'm feeling ancient these days. My hair has just about finished turning light grey, I'm slowing down a bit in the pool, and huffing and puffing more when running the hills. I don't hear quite as well in my left ear as I used to. I always feel like taking a nap around 3 in the afternoon. I have less tolerance for people who waste my time and even less patience for unnecessary meetings and phone calls. One glass of wine at dinner and I'm sleepy. I can accurately guess the plot and the ending of any movie after the first ten minutes; which takes all the fun out of watching movies. 

I had a client tentatively book a couple of portraits for today but they never got back to me with times, etc. They called in a panic yesterday afternoon to see if I could still accommodate them today but I assumed, when everything went radio silence that they'd made other plans. So I made other plans. 

They were stunned when we e-mailed today to tell them that our next open day would be November 9th. I don't know what happened to this year. We started out in the Spring with everything cancelled. Nothing stirring. No jobs or projects. And now we're booking a month ahead. 

But the real issue for me is how to gracefully reduce the amount and types of work I've done in the past so I have more time to play before entropy catches up with me and puts caps on the quotient of fun we're allowed. The quantum of joy.

It's a delicate balance between boredom and that feeling of obligation. I think everyone who works at something they are passionate about has mixed feelings about paring down their time commitment. I've started eliminating jobs that I just don't want to do anymore. I'm burned out on studio headshots so I've been declining that kind of work left and right. There are a few clients who I like a lot, personally, and I'll continue with them but I no longer have the emotional bandwidth to sound excited about: "sharpening my pencil" to make a competitive bid for strangers at companies with which I have no history. Especially clients who want boring, safe, normal photos.

I've also been ruthless about turning down the sort of bread and butter commercial work that's stupid, exhausting and which has a half-life of about 3 months. To wit, we no longer accept catalog-type jobs shooting products against white backgrounds. Those icky products would be things like desktop computers, electronics and assorted tech gadgets. 

We just declined to bid on a project to shoot tons and tons of food images in one 8 hour day for a national restaurant chain. It was an unrealistic "ask" and I didn't even want to go through the usual routine of either bidding it high enough to make them go away or default to telling them "we're already booked." I finally, honestly just said that we weren't interested and suggested that there are many hungrier photographers out there who could really use the work. 

This new resistance to work extends to big studio projects for national manufacturers. Someone got in touch to see if they could book two days in December to have me photograph very large metal cabinets filled with servers and electronic stuff, in my studio. The enclosures measure eight feet by nine feet. They would not even fit in the studio door. And we know how those "two day" jobs expand. First there's an endless flurry of phone meetings. That's followed by a few reschedulings. Followed by a request that we be on-hand to receive a couple of multi-ton products a couple days in advance. Followed by two days of unrealistic expectations and those endless: "this was a demo/prototype/loaner/damaged in shipping item. Can you extensively Photoshop it to get rid of all the scratches, uneven paint, broken parts, etc.?" Followed by, "The soonest the freight company can come by and pick up these things taking up all your space is....next week," Ah....two days. We'd like to book a two day shoot that will take over your life like a virus...

So, those jobs are gone. Rejected. Trashed. But I guess it's about time to prune the deadwood of jobs. 

I love taking portraits. Haven't slowed down in the least. But I just want to pick the people I photograph, not the people who get sent over by companies anxious to populate a boring website with their "team." 

Really, I'd love to just keep working on getting better and better at making little movies, and personally interesting photographs of people. Of course, if we weren't in the middle of a raging pandemic I'd want to spend lots and lots of time traveling. And hanging out in cool places with Belinda. 

Things are good within the confines of our little half acre. We've always got personal projects on which yo work. We have our morning walks after my earlier morning swims. We cook meals together and enjoy each other's company. But I've never been so aware of the passage of time. Or the oppressive nature of being bound into one geographical area so tightly. 

I'm assuming so much of what I'm feeling today is a result of dealing with the shock and horror of turning 65 years old this month. I guess this new reticence to do any boring commercial work started around the time I had to figure out Medicare. That was last month. It required me to admit that even though I have the maturity of an 18 year old I really am transitioning to, um, middle age. With only forty or fifty years left in front of me I'm thinking it's past time to concentrate on the stuff I really want to do as opposed to all those projects I used to feel that I had to do. 

I'm guessing the majority of my readers have already figured this out. I used to think it was different for everyone but more stuff is the same than it is different. We get gray. We slow down. We want to stay relevant as long as we can. Ah well, enough complaining. I need to pack. I'm photographing an outdoor concert at Zach Theatre this evening and I want to bring fun toys to experiment with. First concert shoot using the Lumix S1H. The other camera is the S1. It will be interesting to see if they are interchangeable or if they each have their own quirks. But that's a blog for another day.


 

10.13.2020

Exhausting, frustrating but fun workday.


 This image has nothing to do with the post below. I just liked it and wanted something to put at the top of the post. And...dog. 

There is something exhilarating about working in a medium where you are still very much a "student." While I've been feeling that photo assignments have been growing stale for me lately the challenge of working at the very edge of what I know in the video editing world is both daunting and very satisfying. 

My friend, Kenny, is a wonderful singer and he was asked to "cover" a couple of songs from an upcoming, virtual, online holiday party. The client wanted him to have us create two videos of him singing; one for each song, with a bit of comedy at the end of the second video. Kind of a "sign-off" for the evening. 

Kenny and I worked on a bunch of video stuff for Zach Theatre (you saw him in the opening video of the virtual fundraiser last month - the guy sitting on the bench, on the bridge, at the very beginning of the video. He gets up and leads the first group of people towards the camera) so he called me and asked me to produce the video. The budget was minuscule and the resources scant, but it was a chance to try out a few more video techniques in the service of a friend. I jumped at the "opportunity." 

We shot all the footage on Saturday and I started editing last night. The actual files look amazing to me. My edit? Less so. The files have some of the best color I've seen. It actually appears richer and has more apparent depth than the stuff I've shot on much more expensive cameras. I think the secret was shooting 1080p in a high data rate, All-I file. That, and getting a nice white balance at the very beginning of the shoot. 

But yesterday and today reminded me of how much I still need to learn in both planning projects and in editing them. Let me tell you what I learned and re-learned.

I shot Kenny in wide, medium and tight shots with a gimbal mounted camera and got great footage. What I didn't get and what came back to bite me on the butt was b-roll. Or the abject absence of enough b-roll. Even though Kenny has a nice enough face and a warm and engaging personality it gets boring to watch the same person sing a song for three minutes and twenty seven seconds. 

I should have shot more: hands on the keyboard, playing the piano, more fun martini shots, some "grand piano hammers hitting strings" shots, and even some shots of just his hands in close ups. I flubbed the b-roll and paid for it with some painful editing sessions today. Part of the fault lies with my lack of pre-planning and part with rushing through the shoot.

Here's another super-genius thing I learned when I started editing on a big screen: Stuff that looks great and sharp on a tiny, tiny rear LCD on a camera doesn't necessarily always look sharp on my monitor. I updated my camera firmware and the big benefit was supposed to be much better C-AF. And it sure did look good on the pixie screen but sometimes the camera hunted and I'd be in the middle of a nice clip only to have it fall out of focus in the middle. Wouldn't having more b-roll be a nice thing?

I had to scramble to find better shots and figure out how to edit to cover up my camera's grievous errors.  Lesson? If I insist on shooting with those Panasonic cameras I need to make sure I'm using manual focusing instead of relying on the cameras. Sure, go ahead and let me know in the comments just how great those Sony A7Siii focusing features are. I'll read it. 

But the thing that saved me in the edit was the fact that these songs and the overall presentation could be a bit campy and a bit retro so I used some transitions that good taste had previously prevented. Aesthetics go out the window when you need to deflect. And entertain.

I did learn a bunch of new editing techniques that work well for making music videos. Since all the clips of Kenny performing were done with the same sound track playing on them I was able to select all four clips (different angles, different focal lengths) and the soundtrack and have them all synchronized automatically instead of trying to sync up each clip individually. I could lay the four visual tracks on the same timeline as the audio track and then cut back and forth between the takes to make the edit. It was a much faster way of working. Very similar to multi-cam editing.

I also learned that when stuff looks good in Final Cut Pro X but parts don't play back correctly after you export everything the safe fallback is to go back to the timeline you edited, copy the whole assemblage, open a new "project" and then paste everything into the new project. I dodged two bullets that way.

Okay. That's enough about video editing for now. I guess it's time to look forward on the schedule and get ready for tomorrow's live theater photography and then another video project on Saturday. Seems like I'm back in the busy mode. But I really am turning a lot of stuff down. I'm only interested in the fun stuff right now.

New motto: Never Enough B Roll.

10.12.2020

A lens update. A very satisfactory outcome. And a walk through America's most sought after city with the new lens glued at f2.0. Time to amble.


When I first entered the Panasonic S1 system I was replacing, wholesale, an entire previous system and I made some knee-jerk purchases based on all the systems I'd used in the past. Every time I've gotten into a new camera system I've made sure to buy certain lenses that I always thought of as "mandatory." 

In my mind the mandatory inventory of lenses looks something like: 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and something over 100mms. It's now the age of zooms so I cut myself some slack on the long end and bought the S-Pro 70-200mm f4.0. I also initially picked up the 24-105mm f4.0 to have as an all-around, grab-and-go lens for all those times I want a wide range of focal lengths but I don't feel like carrying more than one lens and one camera body. 

But at the time of the S1 camera launch the selection of nice, single focal length lenses was....sparse. In the 50mm space I had the option of the $2300 S-Pro, 50mm f1.4 lens, the big Sigma 50mm (which didn't focus as quickly or surely, but only cost $1199) or the Leica Apo-Summicron L lens at something well over $5,000. I chose the middle ground and have been quite happy with the Panasonic 50mm. 

The choice in the 85mm focal length was a bit tougher; I could go with the big, fat, heavy and slow to focus, but infinitely sharp!!! Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens or um, go back to that Leica catalog and try to find something in the ballpark.  Again, for somewhere north of $5700 the Leica 90mm Apo Summicron was looking good. I hovered over the link for that Leica lens for a few minutes before the blood came rushing back to my brain and I stepped back from the keyboard a bit chastened. I sprung for the chubby Sigma by default and for no small part, financial self-preservation. 

I've used the Sigma 85mm f1.4 DG Art lens (let's just call it "v.1") for nearly a year and every time I used it I came away with mixed feelings. The images were the best I'd ever seen out of an 85mm across all the brands of lenses I've used. Even wide open the darn thing was just flawless. But the world's most cumbersome 85mm was enormous and dense and weighed in at a little less than 3 pounds. You expect that kind of mass from an f2.8, 70-200mm zoom with a tripod mount attached but it's a bit radical for an 85mm and it basically ruined that lens for me as an option for casual shooting in the streets, and also as a "take anywhere" lens. 

I'd pull it out for controlled situations like portraits in the studio or casual rehearsal shoots over at Zach Theatre, but the idea of putting it on an S1R and walking for a full day through the streets of Austin or San Antonio was a daunting thought. Something I might do on a challenge, if there was money involved, but not for sheer pleasure. I figured I'd keep the Sigma 85mm v.1 around and hope that Panasonic or Sigma would eventually come out with a lesser spec'd and slower 85mm that would be a much friendlier companion for a man who lacked Sherpas. It was a sad compromise since every time I used the big Sigma I was blown away by the sharpness and contrast that jumped out of every frame; if it nailed the focus. And if we had time to wait for it...

On the plus side I will say that my left bicep is now twice the size of my right. Partially from holding hefty gimbals but also due from hefting the 85mm v.1 lens on shoot days for clients. Ouch. How lopsided. 

As you probably know, Sigma recently came out with an all new version of the giant 85mm. It is supposed to be an even higher performing (optically) lens (if you don't look at the pincushion distortion!!!) but in addition to being potentially game changing in its performance the new lens, the 85mm f1.4 DG DN Art lens is about a full pound + lighter and about half the overall volume of its predecessor. The filter diameter has slimmed down from a harder to find and more expensive to buy 82mm to a much more available 77mm. The new lens got a physical aperture ring and, as a bonus, you can flip a switch and "de-click" the ring to make it silent and step-less for video. There is even a function button on the side (but I haven't messed with it yet). 

I wanted to get one of the new lenses to test but as soon as they were launched the markets snapped up all the available copies and the retailers started putting people on waiting lists. At the time I decided to just ignore the new lens. I rationalized that the old lens was fine for my commercial work and, at some time in the past year, I bought a Leica 90mm Elmarit  R f2.8 lens and an adapter and figured I could use that as a street shooting lens. In the meantime every encounter with the Big Bertha of 85mm lenses pushed me right back into the confusing parfait of emotions: Love the look, hate the portage. Love the wide aperture, hate that it doesn't compensate for it's tremendous weight with at least a tripod mount. Etc. Etc. 

I just finished up a job last Thursday and I was looking forward at the next week's schedule. I needed to replace a gray cloth background that basically fell apart from overuse so I was shopping online at my local camera store. I was just checking out the website to see what kind of backgrounds they might have in stock when I decided to take a shopping detour through the L-mount lens inventory. And there it was. They were showing an 85mm Sigma V.2 DG DN lens in L-moount, in stock. But sometimes websites are inaccurate. I called to confirm. My sales guy, the infinitely wise Ian, let me know they did indeed have one in stock and would be glad to hold it for me. I called the person at the store who takes trade-ins and we negotiated a value for my existing, portly, 85mm v.1 and I headed in their direction. Deal done. 

Today was the first time since I bought the new lens that I've had time to put it on a camera and take it for a spin. It was a beautiful day so I took the new 85mm and an S1R out for a pre-lunch walk. First observation: It's a good compromise between the speed and the size. The lens balances well on a good sized body and is comfortable at the end of a well made shoulder strap. 

Since we always like to say that no one buys a fast lens to shoot all day at f8.0 I decided to shoot every single image at f2.0, which is one stop down from wide open. I could have shot everything at f1.4 but that's such a shallow depth of field that I'm not sure how much I would have learned today; other than whether the camera focused accurately there. 

So, all the images here were shot at f2.0 and minimally processed from raw files. I am very happy with the performance of the lens and can't wait to use it for a night shoot coming up on Wednesday. 

If you look through the images you'll find several building shots where I've included a direct reflection of bright sunlight off highly reflective window glass. While I can see a slight flaring on small parts of the image there is no veiling flare at all and everything remains "crispy" even though the super bright highlight is included in the frame. 

It seems that Adobe has included an 85mm DN DG lens profile now in Lightroom because there is none of the pincushion distortion in the frames which I had seen in early reviews, which were pre-software update. 

This is a situation in which trading up to a newer design pays off well. The lens is infinitely more manageable and easy to carry. It's easy to use and has more features. But more to the point, Sigma was able to deliver all this at the same price point as the older model. We even got extra goodies such as the external aperture ring. That's a plus even if you never shoot a second of video. It's all about having operating options. 





That is one bright running shoe. Damn, that's ugly.






I shot a number of images like this one where the foliage is in focus and the buildings in the 
background are out. It's interesting to see the effect. More depth?









I mentioned in the title that Austin is now, once again, the most sought after re-location destination in the entire United States, according to a recent article (today) from Forbes. You can read it for yourself: 

People are moving in droves from last century cities looking for warmer weather, the ability to be outside for more of each year, the presence of smart jobs and the presence of an embarrassing oversupply of high tech employers. The wildfires are chasing people out of California and Oregon, last century hate politics  and lower educational achievement are making Southeastern states unbearable for nice people and smart people, and the rust belt has run out of jobs. Everyone else is trying to escape the cold. 

But if you have visions of re-locating to Austin you should know that it's currently the most expensive city in all of Texas in which to live. Property taxes are high and housing prices in the city proper are much higher than national averages. You'll need one of those high tech jobs to make it all work. So dust off those post graduate degrees before you fire up the mini-van and load up the roof rack. 

Current prices for "tear downs" in the most desirable neighborhoods of West Austin have, on average, breached the one million dollar mark and even at those prices the market is red hot. I never imagined we'd see single family house lots hit that dollar amount but here we are. And if Forbes is right this is only the beginning. 

Funny that "bluest" city in Texas, replete with a liberal, democrat mayor, boasts first place as the desired destination for employers and families in a comparison with the rest of the country. 

On my walk today I saw and cataloged at least ten new 20 story or higher buildings in various states of construction in the core of downtown. That's just in one small area. The giant cranes are a fixture in every corner of the city and in many of the quickly growing small towns that surround our city. It's a region poised for quick and continued growth. Just remember, markets ebb and flow...