A work schedule update.

From: A Night With Janis. 
Zach Theatre.

Sony SLT-99 + 70-200mm f2.8 G lens.

As crazy as it may sound I really have decided to take the rest of the year off. I have one small project left to do. It's a one day video with my friend, Kenny, next Monday. After that I've turned down all other client work. The emphasis is on "client." I'll still go out with cameras and play on my own time/dime. 

There are several reasons I've decided to do this. First, my friend Michael Johnston (theonlinephotographer.com) has written so convincingly about the game of pool that I've decided I need to dedicate the rest of my life to learning it. In that way you'll have two dedicated sources of writing about pool and/or snooker for your amusement and education. No. Wait. Strike that! While Michael is an engaging writer I have NOT become enchanted by the game of pool...

But I have become a bit addicted to spending my free time with no scheduled limits. 

The real reason to take a break from commercial work is that it's become....boring. It's starting to feel like the movie, starring Bill Murray: "Groundhog Day." Every job lately has felt too familiar. The glitches too predictable and the client theatrics unchanged over the decades. 

I think, as Ian Fleming did about courage, that patience with clients is a finite store. Each person gets a sum of patience and goodwill to use through their professional life. When the client patience is fully spent one must exit the field of battle and either re-coup, re-direct or surrender. My hope is that a couple of months off will leave me refreshed and ready to re-engage. At best it's a nice trial run for a life of leisure. At worst I'll be chomping at the bit to get back in the race by mid-January. 

But this is not just a temporary "goodbye" to wholly commercial clients. No, non-profits are no less immune to my eccentric idea of temporal personal space. They are on the "no more this year" list as well. 

So, one half of my unemployment resolve is driven by boredom and a sense of endless, grinding deja vu. But the other half is a rational assessment of where the USA is with the Covid-19 Pandemic. The rate of contagion is accelerating. Really accelerating. And while Pfizer announced a successful series of tests for their vaccine it will really be months and months until it becomes initially available. And who knows how long until it's widely available by regular folks like me? Hell. I live in a red state. They may outlaw the vaccines as being witchcraft...

I'm no longer willing to take any chances with the virus that I don't need to. It only takes a brief encounter with one person whose judgement is poor to ruin everything. I think most functioning adults have realized by now that there should not be anything political attached to our collective response. Austin, Texas has a citywide mask mandate now and I think that's a good thing. It will be in place through the end of the year. 

I know that everyone talks a good game when they need to come to work. They wear a mask and, sometimes, even try to distance from each other. But I have no way of knowing if they spent their weekend in a packed choir practice, a mosh pit, or just sitting in a crowded bar somewhere out of town, soaking up the ambiance, and a deadly contagion, and then heading in to work after grabbing their well used face mask out of the ashtray in their car. I can vote with my presence or absence on this one. 

More time to write. More time to swim. More time to have lunch with Ben and Belinda around the dining room table as the leaves fall off the trees and the cold weather makes coffee taste even better.

And, being a contrarian, and just a hint mean, I'm having fun listening to client reactions as I explain to them that I don't think it's prudent to work right now. But thanks anyway. Call me after the vaccine comes out. I'll want to see that note from your doctor...


Heading into retro camera investing with a vengeance. Well, maybe I just bought another used camera...


I always found the GH5S camera very interesting. 
This is the second time I've owned one, maybe this time
it will stick. But "why?"

Sometimes you aren't ready for a camera. Not well enough educated to take advantage of specialty capabilities that come with some niche tools. I'll admit that I knew a lot less about the fine points of video codecs and even basic camera system operation a couple of years ago than I do now. Everyone would like to find a camera that does everything perfectly but I'm pretty sure that camera doesn't exist; and if it did it would only be for a moment and then everyone would just "move the goalposts" and demand something different. 

When I first owned a GH5S, bought slightly used from a videographer who changes systems even more often than I do, it was a time before gimbals were on my radar, and a much larger percentage of my work, paid and unpaid, was regular, traditional photography. While the GH5S was great on a tripod I found myself following the herd who felt they "needed" in-body image stabilization---acutely. 

I loved the feel of the body but (un) intellectually I worried about those sparse ten megapixels of the m4:3 sensor. In some misguided  rush to another camera system I sold it off and forgot about the GH5S until this year. And this year was one of those times when I learned a bunch of new stuff in a narrow category. Compression learning? Pandemic cramming?

What exactly is a GH5S?  The GH5S is very similar to the Panasonic GH5. It's a professional level, micro four thirds format camera with all the right plugs/connections and menu items that many will want/need in order to make really good video content. While the bodies are pretty much the same the "S" variant is totally optimized for video while the traditional GH5 is an all-around performer. In fact, I'd say that the GH5 is so well stocked with features for both photography and video now that it's close to being one of the best universal cameras; a camera that works as well for most video as it does for very high quality still photography. Sure, there are a number of cameras with much bigger sensors and we could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of sensor size for a long while but, if you are inclined to look for treasure in unexpected places the GH series cameras provide it in spades. 

The major differences between the two cameras are: The GH5 has built-in image stabilization. Its built-in image stabilization is very good and can be combined with the I.S. in Panasonic lenses to provide a highly effective "dual I.S." The GH5"S" does not have in-body image stabilization. It is still capable of working with stabilized lenses but the performance of that type of I.S. is less effective than the in-body type --- a direct observation by someone who has both. 

The lack of I.S. had the effect at the time of launch of immediately cutting the interested pool of buyers down to tiny numbers. At least where photographers are concerned. The argument against the inclusion of I.S. in a camera clearly targeted to video users was simple, the suspended sensor (required by I.S.) introduced motion artifacts when many enabled cameras are moved during filming. The thinking on the part of Panasonic was that serious film makers would be working either on a tripod or with a stabilizing device like a gimbal and in-body image stabilization would be both unnecessary and might even degrade the overall optical performance of the system.

When I first bought the camera I had never used a gimbal and saw the GH5S strictly as a tripod mounted video camera; which limits its usefulness.

A fair number of videographers and film makers who were more experienced understood that a camera producing great looking files in a small package was a real boon for filming and they also understood the advantages of using devices like gimbals and Easy-Rigs. (whatever happened to sliders?)

The second big argument against the GH5S for people who shoot mainly photographs is the lower resolution of the imaging sensor. While a 10 megapixel sensor is perfect for shooting 4K video most photographers are of the opinion that more pixels is best. And for many, many things I agree. That's why I have cameras like the Panasonic S1R with it's full frame sensor jam-packed with 47+ megapixels of resolution. It's by far my most used camera, currently. 

But the flip side of the coin is that fewer pixels on a sensor means every pixel is bigger, can soak up more light, and has a different "look" than files from the "dense pack" cameras. You could make a case that the GH5S is an effective photography camera but that's a waste of time when the real argument is how much better the austere sensor makes the camera --- for video. 

When the GH5S came out the GH5 had been on the market for about a year. The newer camera came packed with video-centric items. It came stock with V-Log, it had a waveform monitor and a vector scope, it could do variable frame rates, it had a much wider selection of codecs, and lots of arcane video stuff that I'm still learning to appreciate more. Over time Panasonic has added, through firmware updates, many of the critical features that originated on the GH5S over to the GH5. It makes the GH5 an even more potent video camera. 
But the less dense sensor and the ability to shoot a wider 4K format, along with some of the extra tools preserves the GH5S's advantage as a video camera for people who need that power and flexibility. 

In the interim we've had bestowed upon us various cameras like the S1H which out specs the GH5S, but at a huge price difference. And the advantage of the bigger sensor in the S1H, when used for stills, diminishes somewhat when both cameras are tasked with video production instead. That makes the GH5S still a very relevant camera to those whose jobs match up with the camera's capabilities. 

I had been re-reading a few reviews of the GH5S recently, prodded by some good experiences with the GH5. I like that both cameras can shoot All-I files at 400 mb/s and that the colors match up well. The V-Log addition (a paid upgrade $100) to the GH5 matches the V-Log in the GH5S and so much of the operation between the two cameras is the same which means that when you need two cameras for a video shoot you have a good chance matching performance and the look between these two. And your hands remember how to operate both equally well.

When I was just re-entering video production with digital hybrids a few years ago (my first film making  experiences, decades ago, were all in either 35mm or 16mm film as well as with big and heavy Sony Beta SP cameras) I was firmly in the "single camera" camp. We would shoot projects, using one camera, in the same scene by scene method used since the dawn of time. But as I learned more and cameras became both cheaper and more powerful I started to realize how much more could be done with multiple cameras, shot at different points of view and with different focal lengths. 

For the last five weeks I've been doing a weekly job that entails shooting live, outdoor concerts in a pretty well controlled environment. In the past, when people did video documentation of shows in our theater they generally only used two cameras and both were stationed in the same position (about half way back in the house and centered to the stage). The points of view were the same and only the magnification was different. The wide camera was always stationary and captured the full stage while the telephoto camera (follow cam) was anchored on a tripod and panned and tilted to maintain attention on a selected performer or small group. 

When we went outside and I was asked to do the filming I immediately saw that we really needed three cameras (and we could use two more....) so we could cover two connected areas that the performers moved in and out of. Essentially there are two discrete stage positions separated by 100 feet. After much trial and error I landed on the GH5 and the 50-200mm system as a great follow camera set-up. That meant choosing two other cameras to set up much closer to the other stages on tripods. And that worked pretty well. 

Last week I had to buy some seamless backdrop paper for a project and headed to Precision Camera. They had just taken in a couple of GH5S cameras, both with cages, and one with both a cage and a battery grip. Both were in mint condition. I bargained hard and walked away with the gripped body. Last night I made the GH5 one of the stationary stage cameras and pressed the GH5S into service as the follow camera. The advantage being mostly peace of mind. The second battery in the grip meant I could stop being fixated by the idea that the single battery in the GH5 would run out before the last bow of the show.

I have a mix now of cameras to use that all do nice 4K video. And I do use at least two cameras for every project. I can see the direction that live performance theaters will probably go, at least for the next couple of years here in the USA. They'll be rehearsing and then performing for small, socially distanced audiences but their new sideline will be to make video programming of the same production that they can sell behind a paywall. The better the production values the more sellable the creative product. Since we (videographers/photographers) have a limited amount of time to get as much nice video as we can it really does mean we'll be pressing more and more secondary cameras in the mix each time. 

When we're producing on stage I can see a need for follow cameras on either side of dead center to the stage along with cameras at the edges of the stage, shooting at different angles, and even some cameras at the rear of the stage shooting a back view of the actors and the action. Pretty much just like filming an action movie. 

We aren't going to shoot theater with one camera and multiple takes--were not making movies, per se. It just doesn't work that way. Actor time is limited and the gap between rehearsal and performance, driven by costs, is one or two days. Not nearly enough time to go take-by-take with a solitary  camera. 

As a single producer it makes sense for me to have as many cameras as possible that are in the same color family, take the same lenses, and the same batteries. I like the look of the files I got from last night's shoot with the GH5S so I'll keep looking for more, clean used ones. 

For shooting stills? I think it's smart to keep the Panasonic S1 family cameras around for that. There are more advantages in photography for high resolution, full frame cameras. But you'd be surprised how little advantage there is in video. No matter what the pundits say on YouTube. We've got both. There are advantages to each. But it's not a race between a 1965 Volkswagen Bug and a Tesla Model S PD 100. It's just not.

So, why a GH5S? My "out the door" cost for the camera (mint)+battery grip+two Panasonic batteries+ a SmallRig cage with 15mm carbon fiber rails was $1349. Works with all my m4/3 lenses and the batteries I use in the G9 and GH5. In good light it matches the video output of my bigger and more expensive cameras and it's charmingly easy to use with a gimbal. Sounds like a bargain to me!

At this junction I have to (painfully) admit that I wasn't smart enough two years ago to appreciate what the GH5S was capable of bringing to the table. I didn't understand the value of All-I codecs. I didn't think I needed waveforms or vector scopes. I was wrapped in garden variety hubris. I've learned a lot since then. I have so much more to learn. Makes life fun.