5.29.2017

Working at 1000 ISO with the Panasonic fz2500 at Tech Rehearsal. Nailing Focus Makes Your Lens Look Sharper.



I love shooting stage productions. Yesterday evening the folks at Zach had a technical rehearsal for an upcoming production of "In the Heights." I wanted to attend and scout the show so I could be more effective when I come back to shoot the dress rehearsal this Tues. evening; and it was a good opportunity to give the Panasonic fz2500 another good test to see if the focusing workaround I learned from my friend, Frank, was working as we both hoped (and expected) it would.

When I bought the camera and made some initial tests I got the same soft results that the people at DP Review got when they tested the camera but one of my colleagues owns the same camera and was able to pull stunning images out of it so, unlike the folks at DPR who chalked up the issue to a less than stellar lens design I was not willing to toss the blame to Leica and move on without a little deeper dive. I kept testing because I had done some images earlier, both with and without AF, and was able in some circumstances, to achieve results from the Panasonic lens that were very much on par with the gold standard lens; the Sony RX10iii/Zeiss zoom. 

I noticed that the AF square on the back screen seemed to shift left every time I shot with the camera. Frank's workaround was to create a custom AF pattern, restricting the pattern only to the very center focusing point. Once I did this the camera seemed to nail focus on everything I pointed it towards. And once I got it focused properly the resulting files were sharp and detailed; and to be honest I prefer the overall tonality of the Panasonic files over that of the Sony RX10 files (which are not bad by any standard...).

The production lighting of the show I was shooting last night was contrasty and lit to a lower level than the last few shows I've shot there. To the eye it was a lighting design that created a wonderful sense of twilight ambiance and drama but to the camera it was --- a challenge. 

I locked in ISO at 1,000 and set the camera to manual exposure. I worked with the lens either wide open or very, very close to it for the entire evening. That's a great test since most lenses are sharper a couple of stops down. I would not have the luxury of being able to work in the sweet spot of the optical design of the lens but that was fine with me because this is a test based on the real way I shoot some projects. If a camera lens can deliver at a wide open aperture it passes at least one of my tests. 

I shot 1300+ files last night and editing them down to about 700 this morning. In order to partially compensate for the contrasty stage lighting I had to make a few adjustments, both in the camera and in post production. In the camera (shooting raw) I set the highlight/shadow control to plus 1 in the shadows and minus 1 in the highlights. When I brought the files into Lightroom I used the shadow slider at +50 to get the background of the set design to read and used -15 on the highlight slider to tone down white shirts and various highlights. I also pulled up the blacks to +8. With any sensor that's a recipe for noise but probably more so with a smaller, one inch type sensor. I hit the noise reduction menu and dialed in +15 on the luminance slider, +61 on the detail slider and kept the contrast at zero. 

If you chimp at 100% you'll still see noise but looking at the images in the sizes we intended to use them they look pretty darn good. 

I am very satisfied with the AF I got last night. There were only a handful of images that didn't make the cut for reasons of unsharpness and I suspect a lot of that was me being less than compulsive about getting the focusing indicator in the correct position. 

I hope Panasonic comes out with a firmware fix that makes AF less horsey for those of us who just want to quickly designate an AF point and keep it there. Otherwise? High marks from me for the camera based on images for last night.









5.28.2017

An interesting possible solution to the overheating problems many find in Sony's A7X series of cameras.


While the Sony A7 series of cameras brings many great features to the table there are two "flaws" to the camera for many people. The first one is almost universally mentioned; the small batteries don't come close to matching the stamina of the much larger batteries in cameras like DSLR Nikons, Canons and the mirror-free battery champ = the Panasonic GH4. The second, more egregious failing of the series is the tendency for them to overheat; especially when shooting 4K video.

In the first instance there is a cheap and relatively efficient workaround; just buy some extra, third party batteries like the Wasabi Power models. Keep a couple extra in your saddlebag and you're good to go for the day. Unless you are shooting video and then you might want to consider increasing the size of that saddlebag... But, if you stock up on batteries you won't be caught short with a non-working camera.

The second fault is much more vexing for a working photographer, or for any photographer that expects reliable camera operation, and that's the tendency for the cameras to overheat. Once that overheat indicator becomes visible

5.27.2017

The agony of video editing is the fact that there's always something somewhere that could be improved.


I've been working sporadically for well over a week on editing down a 4 minutes and 8 second video project for a corporate client. I haven't spent every hour of every day on it but I've put in way, way more time than I estimated. It's not because there is so much work to do that makes it an amazing black hole process, rather it's the reality that no matter how clean the original material and no matter how meticulous you were at recording sound and getting good video there are always details that can be further finessed.

I've spent the last two hours trying to eradicate a rustle noise from the moment at which our interviewee crossed his arms and created a quick rustling noise with his shirt. I didn't notice it on the first ten passes but on a final review, with the volume turned way up I could hear it plain as day.

After skimming the audio with the timeline stretched all the way out I found the audible culprit and also found that it stretched across two clips. I detached both audio tracks from their video tracks and started blading around the area in order to get just enough of the noise but not so much as to grab part of the dialog. There was a lot of trial and error involved. I watched the waveforms to see just how tightly I could make the cuts. I tried version after version until I got

5.26.2017

If only Sony had taken one more step.... (A7ii).


I've been shooting the A7ii a lot. I've had mine for less than a year and have already put about 25,000 exposures on it. I love the form factor. I love the EVF. I'm very happy with the uncompressed raw files it generates. I'm even neutral about the small batteries.

But there is just one thing I hope they fix when they come out with the A7iii.....I want a quiet shutter like the one in the A7rii. I don't need "silent." I'll take quiet.

The camera they may want to purchase and learn from is the Panasonic G85. It has the nicest sounding shutter of any camera with which I've played. It's sublime.

Please, Sony! I don't need a million frames a second. I don't need ten thousand PD-AF points. Not looking for a buffer deep enough to bury Jimmy Hoffa in. I just want a camera that makes a pleasant sound when the shutter goes off. With 24 megapixels on a full frame sensor. Oh, and 4K video would be nice but I'd settle for 1080p if you could make it 10 bit 4:2:2.

That's all.

Oh, I forgot to mention, my birthday is in late October so if you can get the upgrade in stores by the end of September that would be super.

Thanks, Kirk

P.S. Not kidding around here. KT

Self-Awareness is a constant battle. My own sense of enlightenment is mostly elusive. But I look for it from time to time.

Today.

Today I took out a camera that reminded me of the small but potent cameras we shot in the film days. If you are of a certain age you'll fondly remember the wonderful feel and the great images that we all created with Olympus OM-1's, Pentax LX-1's and MX's. Most of us had something like them, or a Nikon FM or a Canon AT-1, that we kept in our hands whenever we didn't need some weird feature on our bigger "professional" cameras. In a way, my trashed copy of the Sony A7ii, when used with the Zeiss 45mm f2.8, reminds me very much of the Leica CL and the 40mm Summicron I carried around for years. Shooting in a monochrome setting takes me right back to the feel of my favorite Trip-X film.

When I go out shooting with this camera I feel like I did when I was a young instructor at UT walking down the drag at lunch time, channeling one of my previous instructors, Garry Winogrand. I was never in a rush, was endlessly fascinated by whatever I saw in front of my camera, and anxious to capture everything that seemed transient and beautiful in the world directly around me. Deep down, the feel of today's current small, cheap camera in my hands is a direct link to the insouciance and vigor of unfettered youth. And the joy of just existing.

So it's always a moment of jarring self-awareness when I happen upon a mirrored window on the side of a tall building in the middle of downtown and I stop to take a self portrait. The person looking back at me isn't the kid with the long hair and a scraggly beard, or the middle aged man with curly brown hair. It's an older guy. And it reminds me of how long I've been on this road. This process of looking for images and sharing them. The process of spending time with myself; in the darkroom, in the studio, on the street, in a different city.  There is a strand, a string of continuity between all the past selves but each one is a little different and the perspectives divergent. 

At some point I hope to discover and distill what all this photographing means to me. And when I do I hope it brings along some clarity to my images. I still wonder why I do this photography thing and what I ultimately hope to accomplish. Even if it's just the understanding that the only important thing is to enjoy the process. At least the process provides a framework on which to build one part of my existence. 

I know one sure thing. The camera I shoot with has nothing really to do with my expectations for the image I'm shooting and everything to do with my affinity for the way it feels and operates. One thing that having owned and used hundreds of cameras can provide is the enlightenment to know that the camera is just a foil for the process. A reason to enjoy looking. Nothing more. We all grow old. Everything will become "old school." And then, it will get re-invented just the same, a little while later. 

Before.