9.11.2021

Moving on. And that seems to be what a lot of photographers have been doing....

We used to shoot our portraits in the studio. 
We used to use flash. We used to take checks.
Everything changes all the time.

 I wrote a post earlier today and am now sorry I shared it here. I should have just written an executive overview for my friend who asked me about cameras for photographing live theater and sent it to him saving the space here for some gratuitous review of some piece of gear that no one really wants and few seem to want to afford. It didn't seem to make any difference to the commenters on the previous post that I have worked with this friend in the theater for over 25 years and that we've, together, had innumerable successes with our collaborative video and photographic work. I guess the "red meat" was that a friend might ask a friend for second opinion instead of just, or only asking a new hire to his team. The immediate assumption seemed to be that the new hire was being locked out of the decision making process. How cynical and almost petulant. Apparently the commenters have never worked in the arts and in close collaboration with trusted members of a team. We'll just let that go. 

After the dispiriting process of editing out about ten ultra "mansplaining" comments about what we should and shouldn't do for theater gear I'd had enough (and, NO, I won't be suggesting that the photographer just use the latest iPhone. And, NO, I won't take my friend to task for not flying me up on a moment's notice to do the work myself.... etc. etc.) so I closed the comments on that blogpost and went out for coffee, and a very nice blueberry scone, and then drove up to Precision Camera to see if there was anything interesting in the used department. Boy! Was there!

Usually I see six or seven recent Nikon DSLRs in the cases. Today there were six or seven dozen used DSLRs that ranged from older D700s through a range of consumer bodies, and even a bunch of pro bodies. It took me by surprise because most of the stuff isn't represented on their website. I found about the same number of Canon DSLRs and shelves and shelves filled with Canon and Nikon DSLR lenses and accessories. Altogether, including a raft of older Sony A7xx cameras there must have been over 100 working, used cameras to choose from. And I didn't stop to count the Fuji and M4:3 product. Lots in the used cases there too. 

What was missing? Not a single mirrorless Canon or Nikon was represented among the used rubble. There were a half dozen Panasonic S1 variants represented but I'll guess half of them came from one of my trade-in adventures. There were also used MF cameras as well. A big (meaning bigger than the current H1D sensor) sensor pro Hasselblad body and two H system zooms. A Leica S2. Several Pentax 645 digitals as well. 

I remembered the swell of purchasing done back between 2010 and 2014 and how amazed I was at the overwhelming rush to buy gear back then to outfit hobby shooting. Now the trend is reversing and people can't seem to sell or trade in their old gear quick enough. Nor do they seem to take cameras with them in public....anywhere.

I conjecture that the owners of the camera store are wise to stock up on older cameras as they will become retro to a new generation that's just hitting adulthood but more importantly I predict that camera makers will have trouble shipping new product in a timely manner in the present and near future and retailers may be able to profitably steer adventurous folks to used stuff that, to be honest, is still perfectly usable. And would bring higher margins...

And I'm told that the used cameras continue to sell briskly on the internet. As do many of the lenses. In some cases, the older the better. 

I also noticed some Profoto monolights that were popular back in the 1990's and priced skyward of $1,800, even back then,  now on sale used for about $220 each. Less than the price of a cheaply made Chinese flash.  In fact, while the LED inventory at the store was robust there were very, very few studio flashes and most of the ones in stock were Godox units and not the higher end of electronic flash that the store once proudly displayed and sold. Again, I asked and was told that no one wants flashes that "just" plug into the wall. They want battery powered stuff. The studio concept, at least at street level, seems quite dead. Gone. Not a market. If it were a healthy photo niche people would be looking for that kind of product. Clearly flash met LED and LED won. Someone should go back in time and write a book about LED light for photographers....prophetic.

I'd say at this point that all the traditional chunks of commercial photography as they were practiced in years past are mostly gone now, as are the opportunities to make significant money there. Hobbyists will soldier on but the gates are closing on the idea of a big studio filled with big flash units. And mostly, even the idea of shooting in a studio. At least for nice work. The only place just "being" a photographer still seems profitable is as an entertainer on YouTube.

I'm going to stop writing about the business of photography on the blog because it's evaporating faster than ever. To state otherwise would only make one look like a Kodak executive predicting in 2000 that film still has a solid 20 years to go before digital imaging catches up with it. Also, while I've written about jobs, most people are not interested in the subject matter other than to tell me how I should have put the job together or, without knowing the budgets, quicker still to tell me I bid it all wrong and should have charged more. But that's mostly feeble remembrances of a different age of imaging. 

Me? I'll do my photo work, make some fun videos and get rid of anything that I don't like. I'll continue to peel off old school stuff and just buy the cool cameras and lenses I want. I don't need to make sense of what I buy anymore so I'm not even going to try. 

That's it for today. Looking forward to tomorrow's swim and this evening's dinner. The gear? It will take care of itself. 

An interesting (at least to me) exercise in outfitting an organization with a camera system.


 I have a friend who used to be a local client. He was the marketing director for the theater I've worked with for decades. A few years back he moved to another city, far away, and become the managing director for a much bigger regional theater. His theater is too far away to cost effectively hire me to come up and photograph his venue's shows but we've kept in touch because, well, we're also friends.

He got in touch with me this week to ask for some imaging advice. Their theater is hiring an in-house person to do photography for the shows, and also to do some video. The new hire is a good editor and knowledgeable but the theater needs to provide them with the gear to do the job. Would I take a look at the package of gear they found on Amazon and consult? Sure. But it's a more difficult task than it would be to equip myself. After all, I've spent the last thirty years doing trial and error experiments with photography gear in the theaters and I have developed a way of working that's good for me. I'm not sure if it would be good for someone else...

I also haven't found out yet what their budget is for gear acquisition. So, what they are looking for is a camera, lenses and accessories that will enable them to duplicate what I do when photographing live stage shows here in Austin. And I'm going to assume that there is a level of production quality they'll need to be successful. With that in mind I decided that I'd steer them away from the "package" and aim them toward some selections that will provide much higher quality. It may cost them a little more but over just one season the results should be worth it. 

The package they were looking at included a APS-C, DSLR from Canon along with two very inexpensive Canon kit lens zooms and a weird no brand telephoto zoom that ranged from 420-800mm with an aperture that went from f8.0 to f16. Yes, that's a wide open aperture of f16 at the long end. Also included were some very cheap accessories like a hot shoe microphone, the brand of which I'd never seen. And a couple of after market batteries.

My first bit of counsel will be to avoid big, random packages of stuff. My second advice will be to aim towards getting a full frame sensor camera for all the reasons we here know about; the primary consideration being their much better high ISO performance. That's a real consideration for stage shows which can be quite dark. At least in parts.

After narrowing in on the format size my next advice is to go with a current mirrorless camera since a DSLR will require a Shoot-and-chimp approach to getting exposure and color settings dialed in while the mirrorless camera gives one live, on-the-fly information in the viewfinder which makes keeping files consistently well exposed easier. And it's an easier way to learn as you go. Finally, if you are going to go with a hybrid mirrorless camera for video and photos you need to make sure the video component is up to par for your use. In the theater it's a must that you have at least sensor I.S. (image stabilization) and not just digital I.S. Better yet would be dual I.S. with in-body and also in-lens stabilization that works together. A steady camera leads to better photos and videos.

I narrowed down my choices, based on handling and the look of the files, to just two cameras. One is the Panasonic Lumix S5 and the second is the Nikon Z5. Both are really good photography tools. The S5 is a better choice (for me) when it comes to video because of the rich selection of features but both cameras are good for basic video documentation, interviews and the kinds of work a jack-of-all-trades, in-house content creator needs to do. Both include headphone and microphone jacks, very decent 4K options and very nice color right out of the camera. Both handle well and both are full frame, 24 megapixel cameras.

Neither system has exactly the lenses I'd want to recommend but mostly because of pricing. I know I don't want to add the complexity of adding lens adapters so the Nikon can use some of the better previous system lenses (such as the 70-200mm f4.0) and I can't really recommend getting S-Pro lenses for the Panasonic camera. I think they'll balk at the prices... But I will mention them in my call.

As a nod to Sony fans I will also include the Sony A7iii and the 24-240mm lens in the mix. 

But here's the deal when it comes to lenses; when I shoot theater stuff I almost always work with two identical or nearly identical camera bodies. In the case of live performances it's not so much about redundancy as it is about getting a wide range of focal lengths into play without having to change lenses back and forth between one body. Since I feel my friend wants to start with one body I'm trying to figure out the best way to handle getting the widest range of angle of view selections with the fewest lens changes. There is always a trade-off between flexibility and light gathering ability. Two separate lenses can both feature faster maximum apertures which means you can select higher shutter speeds. And that's good since theater is all about movement...

Nikon wins and loses here. There is a 24-200mm Nikon Z zoom lens that would be really great from a single lens usability point of view. You could easily do any sort of stage show and get wide shots to show full sets as well as zooming in to get close crops on two actors, or even a single actor. With either camera selection the 24 megapixel sensor also gives you enough cropping potential to "give" you the ability to reach out to about 300mm and that's more than enough. The loss is that at the long end the zoom becomes an f6.3 which means you'll need to dig into the higher ISOs to make it work. A few years ago this would have been a complete deal killer but the newer generations of full frame, 24 megapixel sensors has improved so much in high ISO performance that 6400 and even 12,000 are adequate to good, in a pinch. 

Given the simplicity of the Nikon combination of one camera and one lens I'm leaning in that direction. But if I were choosing for myself I'd be more inclined to go in the Panasonic direction for the better video and my personal affection for the S5 camera body, but again, it's really all about the lenses. There is no wide reaching, all encompassing zoom lens yet for the Lumix L mount system. If they go with the Lumix S5 they'll have to go with a two lens set-up and that means (with only one camera) lens changes throughout a show. The obvious play is to buy the S5 in a kit with the 20-60mm lens which is a surprisingly good very wide to standard zoom. The second leg of that equation would be to add the 70-300mm Panasonic lens for all the long work. If I shot with that selection I'd probably stay away from shooting longer than 200mm since most of the less expensive, longer than 200mm lenses tend to fall apart a bit, optically, at the longer end, and the aperture is darker there. 

If they can step up, budget-wise, by one notch, I'd recommend the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 as the all around good standard lens for most stuff (and a great lens for video production) supplemented with the Panasonic S-Pro 70-200mm f4.0 ( a phenomenal lens) which you could shoot all day long at f4.0 and never want for a better file. 

If I was putting together the ultimate system for me to shoot theater with it would be two of the Leica SL2S cameras, which are high ISO monsters! along with the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit lens and the Panasonic 70-200mm lens. A perfect combination. And one I'll strongly consider if I am able to get back on the horse and start photographing live theater again. I own both of those lenses and am routinely blown away by their performances. 

In any of the above systems adding a second body and spending more on individual lenses is a quick way to upgrade the quality of the images and makes for a more efficient shooting package that will allow a higher success/hit rate. 

I have one final recommendation I'll discuss with them. It's to ignore all the interchangeable lens cameras and to concentrate on one "do everything" camera that could cover most of their needs as well or better than the complexity of multiple cameras and lenses. That would be to default to the (almost) miraculous Sony RX10 IV. That camera has the best reach of any camera you could want in the theater. It's fairly fast with an f2.8 to f4.0 aperture range. It features really good phase detection AF so fast lock on. The lens is super sharp and the files are gorgeous. The only place it loses by comparison is in high ISO performance. 

I have used the predecessor, the RX103 for lots of theater photography and I have used its direct competitor, the Panasonic FZ2500 for complete show documentation as well. Both are great. Both are wonderfully stabilized for photography and both are very competent video cameras. The Sony would be the most cost effective of all the choices I would make and the only added costs would be a bagful of the small Sony camera batteries and a good microphone system. In truth, if I were in charge of outfitting a theater with the least impact to the bottom line but also a high bar for image quality this would be my first choice.

What am I missing, if anything? Is there something in the Sony A7xxx line that competes? Any other systems you might recommend?

I'll be on a call later and it might be nice to have some second opinions before hand. 

Much harder to choose stuff not knowing exact budgets and the experience of the photographer. Were it me buying for me I would end up with exactly what I have now. If I went over to shoot a show at the studio this evening it would be with two Leica SL cameras. The 24-90mm Leica zoom and Panasonic 70-200mm. Those pieces and a couple extra batteries and I'll be a happy camper. But everyone is different. I'm certain some folks would find the combination of the big Leica zoom and the SL camera body way too heavy for two and a half solid hours of hand holding. But there it is.