I packed up my bags last night and left them in a small pile next to my cart, just inside the door to my studio/office. This morning I loaded the bags and the cart into the back of my little Subaru Forester and pointed the car toward the downtown business district. I haven't accepted many jobs since the lockdowns began but the one I did today and the other that I did a week ago both felt safe. Both were for high-end law firms and in both cases the only people in the sprawling offices were the partners who were there to be photographed, along with a skeleton crew of staffers who answer phones and keep the engines of jurisprudence turning. I won't go into details but both offices were in buildings with tighter security than I would have ever imagined and the safety measures were Herculean. I can't recall a time in my life when I've had my temperature measured more often. Or, when I've had to attest to health questions with such seriousness.
I'll just say I went into today's shoot double-masked and ready. But what I really wanted to write about today was gear. What gear and why gear.
The portraits I was making this morning were a continuation of a series I started for this company nearly five years ago. The architecture at the firm's office is light and airy, and nestled high up on the 28th floor of a recently constructed high rise. There are walls made of frosted glass, which have color tints to them, and are beautifully lit by morning sun. The long halls with the frosted glass, framed by warm woods, are perfect portrait backgrounds; especially when I drop the hallways mostly out of focus.
In the past I would have chosen a camera with the highest resolution and the easiest operation to work with on such a location but in the five years I've been delivering these portraits they have never been used for much more than website content. A very nicely designed website but still, just web use. I've photographed with a bunch of different cameras and lenses on successive shoots but I've found that longer than normal lenses work best and also, cameras with low noise at high ISOs are preferable. That opens up each engagement, in my mind, as an opportunity to experiment and to work with cameras that I like just because of their special charms (think: eccentricities).
Today I was inspired to work with the Sigma fp (with rear LCD loupe attached) paired with an ancient, wonderful, Contax/ Carl Zeiss 135mm f2.8 lens. The whole set-up looked bizarre since there's no pentaprism hump, the camera is small and the loupe sticks out behind almost as much as the lens stick out in front. It's visually as if the camera, lens and loupe are balanced at the centerpoint of the whole construction.
Of course, if you are going to use the Sigma fp for portrait work it's probably a foregone conclusion that you aren't going to be using flash. I think it would be pretty difficult to get the ambient light balance right with a sync speed of something like 1/30th of a second for the flash. You'd waste a lot of time worrying about subject movement as well.
I've come to grips with the fact that digital cameras have vastly improved as far as high ISO noise is concerned so I have no hesitation at all in using the current 24 megapixel, full frame cameras at ISOs of 800 or 1600 or even 3200 for pristine portraits. At ISO 800, using a couple of Godox SL150 ii LED lights in soft boxes, and matching the ambient light intensity I was able to shoot at f4.0 with shutter speeds around 1/320th of a second; which is just right for me.
I knew that the lights look best when my white balance is set to 5100 K so I just went there and let the background fall where it was going to fall. Most of the translucent walls are lit by exterior sunlight so I knew I wouldn't be too far off.
The 135mm lens was as good as any zoom lens I've used in the past ten years. And being MF, once I really punched in and fine focused I was happy to re-remember that people don't move so much when you are doing a classic portrait. With focus peaking engaged one soon learns to interpret the intensity of the peaking colors to know where you are in the focusing range. It's a good re-check methodology and seems just as good as waiting for cameras and lenses to lock on automatically.
The files were just exactly what I had in mind; beautiful and filled with detail. Different than other cameras but only in tonality, not color.
New Stuff. When I got back to the office, with a cup of coffee in hand, I checked into the camera news sphere while I waited for the files I'd shot to upload to Lightroom. I was amazed to see that Fuji has just now released a 100 megapixel, medium format camera in their GFX series for a bit more than half the price of their previous, $10,000 ultra resolution, 100 Megapixel camera. At $6000 for a 100 megapixel, quasi-medium format camera they seem to have just jumped over and check-mated yesterday's Sony Alpha One camera. At least from the perspective of non-sports, non-video production users. A camera like the GFX 100S makes buckets and buckets more sense for corporate shooters, portrait photographers, landscape photographers, still life specialist, lifestyle experts, advertising photographers etc. than a camera whose basic claim to fame is: "We can autofocus and shoot faster." Or "We deliver more nearly identical, huge files per second than anyone else."
Dollar for dollar I'd always choose the larger format GFX 100S over the hummingbird speed Sony any day. But then, I don't shoot field sports, car racing or full contact bungee jumping so I'm not in the target market.
But that brings me back in a circle to why I picked the camera and lens I did for the portrait shoots today: Because I like the look and quality of the files I can get from that specific camera. If the quality is there I can figure out how to get things in focus by myself.
I mentioned two new cameras and I've already covered the Sony (as much as I think I needed) yesterday. So what other camera did I see today? It's the opposite end of the Fuji interchangeable lens camera line-up. They've "improved" the Fuji Xe-3 and made it into a smaller, lighter Xe-4. The big upgrade is the sensor. It's the same great sensor that sits in the X100V, the XPro-3 and the XT-4. And the new camera comes packed with 16 film simulations to play with. It's small, compact and lightweight. Add a 23mm f2.0 to it and you have, in some ways, an interchangeable lens X100V. It looks cute and minimalist and doesn't cost a fortune. Maybe just right for all those people for whom practicality at any cost is a religion.
It felt nice to get out and shoot today. I find that I still remember how to make portraits. What a relief.
Tomorrow, maybe I'll write about a new lens. Yeah. That sounds good. Something unique and special. Nothing else like it. Even down to the magnetic lens cap.......