6.18.2020

Finally able to wrap my brain around the Panasonic S1R.

Zach rehearsal for "A Christmas Carol" in a past life...

There's something about buying too many cameras in a short time frame that seems to intrude on my getting to know the strengths of a particular new camera quickly. It took yesterday's foray into the streets with an S1R, combined with a Leica 90mm Elmarit lens, to finally get me into the groove with that camera. Now I'm all in. About time since I've owned a couple of the S1Rs since last Fall...

I tend to use the S1R's sibling, the 24 megapixel S1, as my working/commercial cameras. The file sizes are just right, the video is great and the EVF is inspiring. I used it so often when the S1 first came into the studio that it just overshadowed the S1Rs that came in at the same time. When we were photographing rehearsals and dress rehearsals for Zach Theatre the S1 was the "go-to" camera because it provided the most noise free high ISO files I'd ever played with. You could pull up the shadows to a tremendous extent and know that you weren't going to be plagued by the speckled color noise monsters. The smaller files also made for a quicker post processing and turnaround time. After working with the S1 bodies for months I got to the point where I started to question why I bought a couple of the S1R cameras in the first place. 

My rationale at the time was that I might need the higher resolution for various advertising projects; and I may yet. If we ever go back to work again. But after yesterday's walk-n-shoot through downtown I've come to realize that I consider the S1R cameras to be the true art cameras in the Panasonic family. A camera that when used with good technique can provide exemplary files. After all, it's a camera the sensor of which ties the Sony and Nikon high resolution cameras for a 100 score at DXOMark. Add to that the ability to use Leica certified L lenses and it's a potent package for a dedicated art photographer. 
Which is what I aspire to. Someday. 

Today is the day I decided not to buy a Leica SL. I finally spent a couple of hours with an SL, loaned to me by a blog reader, and while I love the "idea" of that camera (what with all the "carved out of a solid block of aluminum" enthusiasm) the actuality of it is a much different thing. I do love the minimized control interface and the industrial design but when comparing them side by side either the S1 or the S1R is a significantly better camera. While I haven't been able to compare an SL2 to a S1R I have to believe that the output is so close (when using raw files) as to be inconsequential. 

The Panasonic cameras are much better to actually hold and carry around and use throughout a long shooting day. The sensors in both the Panasonics are at least a generation ahead of the sensor in the SL and the built-in I.S. in both Lumix cameras is a tremendous advantage. From my point of view, if you want the Leica "look" you can do a few things to replicate it in an S1R. 

First, go into the imaging profile in the S1R and turn the noise reduction control down to make the noise reduction less aggressive. Much of the "bite" of the Leica is down to less noise reduction in the files. More defined noise has the effect of making files look sharper. Then, add in a bit more contrast because the Leica files are contrastier by a significant margin. Then go into the WB settings and tweak the hue controls to match the color you see in the Leica files. A bit more cyan, a bit more green a bit less magenta, etc. You'll have to season to your own taste. 

Finally, if you really want the full Leica "look" treatment then just step up and start buying Leica lenses. You can get your feet wet with some of the "R" series lenses but you'll be buying a couple of generations of optical engineering backward. To really get the full-on effect you might try one of the less expensive primes; something like the 50mm (non-ASPH) f2.0 for around $5,000. If that's too rich for your taste I can recommend the Leica certified Lumix S-Pro lenses. Start with the 24-70mm f2.8 and you may be amazed. What Panasonic and Leica are doing with lenses now is amazing and kind of fitting since their target is clearly professional photographers and very well affluent hobbyists for whom expensive glass is not a particular barrier. 

There are three lenses I've bought from Panasonic that continue to amaze me when used on the S1R with the file adaptations I've suggested. These are the 50mm f1.4, the 24-70mm f2.8 and the 70-200mm f4.0. All S-Pro models. All come with the cool focusing ring that you pull back to get manual focusing control. These lenses are all pricey when compared to various competitors but in my experience they are wildly effective. I did try a Leica 90mm f2.0 APO and it is amazing but for $5695 it should be. The Elmarit R 90mm is not in the same ballpark but it's still an amazing lens. 

I'm determined to keep my lens buying powder dry so I can pick up one of the Lumix 85mm f1.8 lenses (announced on the roadmap for this year) if it comes out and I'm pretty sure it will be a good, less expensive option. I have the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens for the L system but it's so darn heavy. It's a great advertising lens or studio lens but it's sure not a walk-around option. At least not for those of us who aren't into competitive body building. 

Once I tweaked the color settings and profile settings on the S1R I got files that were technically much better than similar files from the Leica SL, with the added benefits of much lower high ISO noise and a much higher resolution file (I guess five years makes a real difference...) and I was also able to get files that worked aesthetically at least as well for me. In fact, I prefer the WB from the S1R much more -- in most settings. 

I've given myself the task of really digging into the whole range of the S1R's abilities. I've taken the batteries out of the S1 cameras and the Sigma fp camera and locked all of the non-S1R cameras up in the equipment cabinet. For now, until someone calls, texts or e-mails with a job I'll be working on becoming so intimately familiar with the S1R that I'll know it as well or better than anyone out there. (raw hyperbole).

I find it to be the best combination of sheer image quality, perfect ergonomics and it also excels at basic operation. I hope that by the time I'm finished getting fully self-indoctrinated that I am able to operate the camera (metaphorically) blind-folded. 

We'll try this comparison again with a Leica SL2. It's the current version of their mirrorless pro camera and it matches the S1R for resolution. The issue right now is that everywhere one looks the SL2 is in "pre-order" or "back-order" and it's almost impossible to get one's hands on one. I promise I won't buy one without giving it a rigorous, side-by-side evaluation with the Panasonic. It's my hope that the Panasonic goes toe to toe with the SL2. I'd rather toss the $6K earmarked for the SL2 into some sort of emerging market index fund. Not as my exciting as high end camera gear but probably more sensible...


So that's what I did and thought about today.

In happy, personal news: The swimming pool is once again safe and we'll re-start masters swimming on Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. I'm still getting up early since the first practice of the day is limited to two persons per lane. Seems safer to me; especially now that Texas is breaking its own records for Covid-19 infections....

Still trying to figure out how to swim with a face mask on....

Putting together a new rig for shooting hand-held video for a project. Hello S1 with the V-Log update.

I've recently started off on a few video projects which, because of the current state of the world, require me to be a one person video acquisition team. That's okay because I like everyone on my team, so far.  At any rate I needed to put together a shooting solution for video that would give me the quality I want in 4K but still be handhold-able and manageable when shooting on my own.

The final piece of my simple "puzzle" arrived yesterday and I was able to put everything together and test it this afternoon. Right after I photograph a physician in the studio (it went very well. Thank you).

While I'm still smitten with the Sigma fp as an all-around, hybrid camera I have to admit that I really need the multiple image stabilization capabilities offered by the S1 when used in tandem with the Lumix 24-105mm lens for good hand held work. That puts the Sigma fp out of the running for work that happens with me posing as the tripod but it stays in the fold for all the times I can use a tripod or monopod.

My hand held video intensive rig includes:

The Lumix S1 camera augmented by the V-Log upgrade which gives me 10 bit 4:2:2 4K recording in camera at 150 mb/s..

The Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 lens which upgrades the overall performance of the system by adding dual-I.S. to the mix. It makes holding the camera still much easier. It's more than sharp enough for video, even when used wide open. I wish it had the sliding manual focus ring which has hard stops but I can live without it for most run and gun work. It's a great range of focal lengths for video!

I'm using the Panasonic DXW-XLR1 audio interface in the hot shoe of the camera. This allows me to take advantage of any microphone that uses a balanced output into an XLR cable while putting all the necessary controls within easy reach. It's also a great pre-amp and provides phantom power to microphones that need it.

I go back and forth on types of microphones but if I don't have an assistant and I need to move quickly I'm currently sticking with shotgun style microphones. Pre-Covid19 I'd usually put a lav microphone on my subjects but...social distancing and contamination control makes that risky. I have two different shotgun style microphones I like, for various reasons. One is the original Aputure Deity which has a clean and analytic sound quality. I really like it when the situation is just right. It does require phantom power.

The other microphone is the Rode NTG4+ which is a convenient microphone since it has a built-in power source, low cut filters, and a minus 10 Db attenuator. The sound is a bit smoother and has less "personality" than the Aputure Diety.

I choose the one I'll be taking into the field on any particular day by: A. Seeing if the Rode Mic's battery is charged, and B. By flipping a coin.

Not shown but used anytime we go outside to shoot video is the Zomei variable ND filter. The company makes inexpensive products but they seem to hold up well and are optically very good for video. The lens in this scenario takes a 77mm filter...

Finally, the accessory that holds everything together is the SmallRig cage made for the S1 camera. It provides a stable platform for everything and gives me more connection points for mounting the microphones and, if desired, mounting an external monitor to the assemblage. I like cages because they provide quick solutions for mounting problems.

I'm working on several video projects that have long time lines. A mix of interviews and b-roll. Subject matters as diverse as "Love in the time of Pandemic" and "The LifeLong pursuit of Swimming."

Good to get the tools sorted so you can forget about them and focus on shooting. Hope everyone is having a great day. Drop a note. Say, "hello." Checking for a collective pulse...

What I learned yesterday on my first portrait session since lockdown: 

1. Have your client call from their car when they arrive so you can open the door for them into the space. Doorknobs are a much used touch point.

2. Designate a flat, smooth surface near the door as a place for your client to put car keys, cell phone, pocket junk, etc. So you can "inventory" which spaces were used and possibly contaminated. Then you'll know exactly where to wipe down afterwards.

3. A 90mm lens is sometimes too short to effectively fill the frame and provide the tight cropping you might want while maintaining an appropriate photographer-to-subject distance.. Better to use a 70-200mm lens around its 135mm focal length to keep the social distancing safe.

4. Have a designated C-Stand for hanging additional wardrobe that the client might bring. Again, only one point of possible contamination to wipe down.

5. In your restroom facility be sure to have disinfectant wipes on the counter in case the client wants to wipe down a surface before use. Instead of cloth towels provide a stack of paper towels for hand drying.
Put your trash can adjacent to the door so the client can use the paper towel to operate the door knob for exiting and then toss the towel into the trash. Use a trash can with a foot activated opening mechanism so the lid automatically closes.

6. Wipe down with Chlorox wipes any contact surface used by the client. That would include, in my studio, the posing stool. Re-sanitize restroom if used by client.

7. Invite client to apply readily available hand sanitizer on entry and on exit. You do the same.

8. Try to limit sessions to 20 minutes or less.

9. Before the client arrives and after the client leaves open available windows to allow in fresh air and to dilute any airborne pathogens.

10. Use an air conditioner that can pull in fresh air instead of continually recycling interior air.

11. Wipe down camera, lens and tripod with alcohol after the session.

12. Remember to smile under your mask and also to have fun.

Finally, consider raising your usual rates by a good margin to compensate yourself fairly for all the additional work that's required.

Our session went smoothly yesterday. The doctor was a good source of detailed information. Oh, and everyone liked the photos.