9.13.2021

Fond remembrance of pre-pandemic travel. And the hope that I'll see Iceland again soon.

 











The review of a product that works. Images from the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0. Observations on work boredom.

This is my battle-scarred, Godox AD200 flash unit. I used to have two of them but 
one "bought the farm" on an adventure for a giant infrastructure company, on a remote
location, back in 2018. I'm just now getting around to replacing it....

I bought several of the Godox AD200 flash units back in 2017 and ended up using them extensively on a project that spanned locations in seven different states, back in 2018. The product idea is great. It's a 200 watt second flash unit in a compact body that features a collection of interchangeable "heads" that all mould the light in different ways. There's even an LED head. The flash is powered by a 2900 milliamp hour, lithium battery, can shoot five hundred flashes at full power, and will, at least for a time, recycle in 2.1 seconds. You can use them with X1Pro triggers --- and a few other Godox triggers as well. 

I was on a dusty location in the middle of nowhere taking portraits of people who build stuff (big stuff), using two of these units in small soft boxes. I was traveling light and didn't bring along sandbags (can you see packing a couple of 30 pound sandbags for a series of plane trips?) but I did some failed guerrilla field anchoring with big piece of steel stuck through the legs of the light stands at the location. Apparently I misjudged the ability of one such rigging to safely hold the light and when breeze came up the light went spilling over from seven feet in the air onto hard-packed, dust covered ground and broke. I had an extra, smaller flash in the bag and I finished the job with the surviving AD200 and the back-up flash. But I have always remembered just how efficient and packable the two AD200s were, as a kit, and kept thinking of replacing the dead one but have always been distracted by some pressing need to buy more camera gear or lenses (insert sad joke here). 

Since the pandemic started I've had more and more use for my surviving AD200 light. It's perfect in a small soft box, for a series of outdoor portraits I've been doing for Texas Appleseed (legal defense group), and on locations around central Texas where a portrait might need a small puff of nicely modified light to really make it work. After my success with the recent wine project there's been an uptick of clients looking for well lit, exterior portraits. I thought it was time to get a second light; after all, a bit of backlighting can come in handy on a lot of work, not just exterior portraits. And what kind of pro leaves home for field work without a suitable back up tool?

I found the light quickly on Amazon. It must be a popular unit. The price was pretty much what I remembered at about $299. But then I discovered that Godox has updated the AD200 and now, in addition to the original, offers an AD200 PRO. They use the same heads and accessories as well as the same batteries but the new light offers tighter color consistency, a slightly faster recycling time at full power, and an improved mounting system for the light stand adapter. It's a whopping $349. Just for grins I checked to see if B&H had a different package with different accessory options. Nope. But at B&H the new unit was on sale for $309. About $10 more than the older product. I clicked the "buy" button and was also pleased to see that they were including free, expedited shipping. Always a plus. 

The unit will be here Thursday and will fit nicely into my travel kit. I have an upcoming project, also out in west Texas, on which I want to do a bunch of two light portraits; mostly outdoors. I'll have the option to do a main light and a back light or to put both flashes into an adapter and double the output for a bigger soft box light. Since I harvested the battery and charger from the dead unit back in 2018 I now also have extra accessories and an extra battery. Looks like I'll be all set for location flash work. This time around, since I'll be traveling by car I'll be sure to stick a couple of sandbags in the cargo area. Hopefully that will prevent future accidents. I also have a smaller, Godox V1 flash (dedicated for Panasonic and Olympus) as a back-up. Nice flash, rarely used. We'll try to change that. 

Continuing saga of the Panasonic lens. 

I gotta tell you that I'm loving the L Mount Alliance. It's great to be able to pick and choose product from across three manufacturers/brands and be able to mix and match to my heart's desire. Through a series of wildly unplanned purchases I seem to have ended up with three "standard" zooms that mostly cover the 24-70mm range (at least) while one reaches out to 90mm and the third reaches out further to 105mm. In addition, for about a year, I also owned a fourth 24-70mm lens (Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8) that competes against these three. But four similar lenses might be considered a bit excessive so now I'm just down to the three. 

The lenses are:  The Sigma 24-70mm DN DG f2.8 Art Series, the Leica 24-90mm f2.8-4.0 Vario Elmarit, and the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 S. Try as I might I can't get rid of any one of the three. They each do things that are just right in certain circumstances. And it seems wild to me that all three come from different camera companies!!!

The Leica is the highest performer of the batch. It just nails contrast and sharpness at every turn. Long, short, fast, slow, everything turns out as well, and usually better, than almost every prime lens I own. It's my first choice for wide ranging professional work but DAMN, it's heavy. I don't mind the weight if someone is paying me but for pleasant walking around stuff it's a hard proposition to make to myself. Maybe my opinion will change if cool weather ever arrives.

The Sigma Art lens is just a hair behind the Leica in overall performance but I'd bet that by the time you put both lenses to work at f5.6 or f8.0 you'd be hard pressed to see much difference. If you do see it then it's probably because you were really working your technical chops, had the lenses on tripods and practiced a light touch on the shutter button. The reason to keep the Sigma is for those (now quickly fading) times when you really, really need that one last f-stop of light. If you are going handheld the Leica might be the better option because it's got image stabilization but then again, the Sigma is already giving you one more full stop to play with. It's also that much lighter. How much lighter? The difference between will I carry it around all day or won't I?

So where does that leave the Panasonic 24-105mm f4.0 lens? Actually it's a great lens to have and if I could only have one of the three I'd probably chose it as my primary, standard zoom. Why? Because while it might cede a little bit of optical performance to the other two it's very sharp and contrasty in its own right. It's also quite a bit lighter and less bulky. It features built-in I.S. which pairs with camera I.S. (at least on the Panasonics) and it reaches out the furthest which often makes it my preference for handheld portrait work. I like longer focal lengths for portraits....

One Australian review site rates it, overall, as highly as the Leica zoom but that's only because the German product routinely gets dinged for its awesome weight and girth. 

When I first bought the 24-105mm lens I thought of it as a stop gap until I could add the Panasonic 24-70mm f2.8 to the inventory. I later added that lens but never warmed up to it so the 24-104 is the standard L zoom with the longest tenure in my studio. The reason I've never been tempted to sell the Panasonic 24-105 is that it captured my imagination and endeared itself to me on its maiden voyage of street shooting. It was at the 2019 Day of the Dead Parade in Austin. Here are some of the frames I shot with the lens wide open at f4.0. You might have seen them before but that doesn't take away from my appreciation for the lens's performance. 




A perennial favorite of mine...

The images just above were done with the 24/105 mounted on a (new at that time) Panasonic S1. It was pretty amazing. Now I've used the lens with the two different Leica SL models as well as on the Sigma fp, with its newest firmware, and I'm disappointed with myself for consistently underestimating just how good it is. 

The shots below were done yesterday with the Sigma fp and the Panasonic lens. I did them along side the black and whites that I showed off yesterday. The combination of the camera and lens is pretty cool. I like the colors very much and I like that the Sigma camera has the effect of offsetting the size and weight of the lens. The 24/105 is very much the universal choice where I'm concerned. Of the three L mount standard zooms I happen to own this would be the first one repurchased if a meteorite hit the studio and the insurance people actually paid out.

Your mileage will, of course, vary. A lot. 







playing with Sigma's new "Powder Blue" color profile.








 

OT: My love/hate relationship with a standing tradition. The yearly exam.

for the incredibly linear reader: This photo was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek,
visual joke about shots and blood draws. The apparatus is really used
in nuclear medicine to inject radioactive dyes in patients who
will be scanned. It is NOT routine. 

 I don't know about you but this is the exciting part of the year for all my healthcare practitioners. They all get to take a stab at trying to find something physically wrong with me so they can start a long and profitable regimen to fix whatever it is they find. They all get to make payments on their boats (I don't really believe this but it's almost an universally anticipated joke).

Two weeks ago it was my yearly cardiology exam. Dr. T. listened, prodded and had his staff do an EKG. He didn't unearth any changes from his last adventure in Kardio Kirk but after a few moments of rumination he tossed out the idea that I might want to get a CT Calcium Scoring exam to see if I have any calcium-centric build up in my arteries. I scheduled one through my client's practice; Austin Radiological. We'll have fun with gowns that snap up the back in about a week. I hope his findings don't suggest more aerobic exercise because I might run out of free time to do more... 

Last week it was both a dental check-up, complete with periodontal probing to see if I have worrisome pockets at the gum line. Nope. I do not. All good there. And also a visit to the dermatologist who burned six different things off my carcass and then admonished me to keep using sunscreen and gently reminded his sun-washed patient to wear hats. Big hats. Really big hats.

But this week is the main event. We started it this morning. I showed up fully fasted at my G.P.'s office for the ordeal known as "the yearly physical exam." Today's part of the adventure was done by the G.P.'s nurse. I stepped on some metal sensors, hooked up to a monitor, which measured my body "consistency." It uses galvanic measurements to measure things like visceral fat percentage, BMI, total fat-to-body weight percentages and a few other things that seemed less interesting to learn about. All my numbers were "in the green zone" which means no one will lecture me about the benefits of weight loss. Or muscle loss. According to the machine my metabolism matches the profiles for typical 49 year olds. Sounds good to me; I'll take it. 

We did another EKG and I peed into a cup for some other voodoo analysis. We did echocardiograms of my carotid arteries and also my ankles and arms. And there was the usual writing of my current medical history. Which is largely blank for the year. 

But then came the final event which I had been living in fear of for nearly a week. It was.....the blood draw. Usually it's done in a lab down the hall but today the lab was crowded with eager testing participants and, after a brief discussion of my almost pathological fear of needles, the nurse asked if I'd like her to do the blood draw in our comfortable exam room. Oh, heck yeah. It went without incident but she did have to remind me several times during the procedure to breathe. Oh God I hate being stuck. Shots are not that bad but stuff than last longer than a few seconds fills me with much irrational fear. 

This time around we did a fun experiment. When I arrived at the office, newly out of again treacherous Austin traffic, the nurse took my blood pressure and commented that it was pretty high! 138/80. We took it again a half hour latter and it had dropped down to 124/75. She seemed reasonably pleased but I suggested she do it one more time, right after the blood draw. Yep....it was back down to my normal 115/60. Fear is powerful. And irrational. And to quote Ian Fleming: Worry is a price we pay for something we may never receive. 

On Friday we finish up with the exam. I'll visit with my doctor. He'll do a quick physical prodding and inspection and then we'll go over the numbers in some sort of detail. Things I look for? Blood sugar is an important marker. The lipid panel is interesting. And then any markers for excess inflammation and any markers that may indicate cancers of any kind. I'll get a lecture about something. That's what I pay him for...

Why do an annual physical? Because finding stuff early leads to mostly better outcomes and less trauma. I'd much rather catch something early than figure out some pain or symptom on a visit to the E.R. Especially in the time of Pandemic. I have a deep trust in modern medicine but if it fails me there's always that good ole horse dewormer to fall back on. Just sayin'