12.08.2011

The Nikon Series One 10mm-100mm Kirk review...

I had to run over to Precision Camera to buy some "fashion grey" background paper yesterday.  When I got to the store Gregg, the sales manager walked up and handed me the Nikon Series One 10-100mm zoom lens.  "This came from the Nikon rep with a note to give it to you." He said.  I asked him for details and he just shook his head and said, "She told us you could use it as long as you wanted to, but eventually she'd like it back…"  Sounded reasonable to me.  Of course, when presented with a new state-of-the-art toy my first inclination is to drop everything and start playing but life interceded and I remember that I needed to pack, help Ben with some math and post process my Mexican Chef image.  

This morning I was up early getting ready for EMP attacks and heading to the Renaissance Hotel to photograph execs with the regal and competent Amy.  In fact, it was nearly 5 pm when I finally had the time to put the lens on the front of a Nikon V1 camera and direct the ultra-high performance, F1-ready Honda Element and head downtown.  I needed a walk and the lens needed a rational for existence.

First, a bit of information about the lens.  What many people don't understand is that the Nikon Series 1 cameras are designed to be incredible video cameras.  The throughput from the sensors and related processors is faster than just about anything short of a Red Scarlett and the camera's ability to do beautiful video is amazing.  Nikon must have rationally decided that, with a camera that is so outstanding in its video capabilities a fairly large number of people would flock to it to do video production.  And to better serve that market it would be really smart to create a technically advanced optic to serve that market in a way that would be familiar to them.  So they designed a lens that does these things well:  It zooms without shifting focus.  Try that with your still camera zooms.  I bet you'll be surprised at how enormous the focus shifts are.  It has a power zoom setting with three sensitivities.  When you zoom you can create ultra smooth video zooms just by maintaining a consistent pressure on the zoom toggle button to maintain the same zoom speed.  And, finally, it should be pretty darn sharp across the wide range of focal lengths.

It's not a fast lens since it starts just under f5.6 but it remains there over most of its focal length range.  Let me just say, after having shot movie film and video for over twenty years now, this is a production lens.  You could use this lens alone, and a V1 body to shoot a movie, a TV program and ANYTHING that is destined for the web.  The plus is the fast and sure AF in reasonable light.  Down low, all bets are off.

But, what this wide zoom range and tight focus control really means to photographers is that compromises had to be made. In this regard Nikon chose to let distortion take the hit.  And that's probably a wise decision since most filming is of three dimensional subjects and not flat walls.  I found that, even with the corrections profiles in RC Lightroom 3.6 there was still lots of geometric distortions, even in the middle focal ranges.

I'll make my first totally declarative statement on the lens:  If you shoot architecture this lens is not the lens for you.  Look else where.  In fact, the whole system seems to currently be based on this compromise.  The other lenses are sharp and well controlled in every other aspect other than geometric distortion.  

The first two images below show you the range of the lens.  The top is at the lens's full extension of 100mm which relates to the same field of view you would get on a full frame cameras at approximately 280mm.  (The camera sensor is approximately 1/4 the size of a 35mm sized sensor).  I assume that you know you can click on each frame and enlarge it to its full 1600 (long side) uploaded size....

100mm.

The next frame is shot at 10mm and shows off how much is included in the 27mm equivalent frame.


Part of my reason for walking and shooting the same route is to give you, the gentle reader, the chance to go back and compare frames with other cameras and lenses that I've shot with and displayed over the last three years (and nearly 800 posts).  Another reason is that it's a nice two mile loop with good coffee at one end and great food at the other end.  I wish I had stocked my studio with super models this afternoon to show off how that would look but we just didn't have the bandwidth...




10mm

The Nikon V1 generates interesting raw files which can now be read and converted in Adobe Lightroom release candidate 3.6 and in ACR.  The files are a little flatter than I like but that means they handle contrast correction well.  The camera also tends to create, in AWB, files that are a bit warm.  Again, not an issue.

The pluses for the lens are:

1.  Incredibly long focal range.  Analogous to 27-280mm on a traditional 35mm film camera.

2. Very, very, very good image stabilization.  Handholdable at full extension down to 15mm.  And you know I'm a regular coffee drinker.  In fact, I'm working on my black belt in coffee....(insert nervous muscle tremor..)

3.  No focus shift over most of the range.  Fairly small aperture shift as well.

4.  Big enough to hold on to.  In fact, you'll quickly decide to hold the lens instead of the camera for maximum stability.

But there are some downsides.  Or cons.  Or forum fodder "fails."

1.  It renders the camera ===== unpocketable.  Sniff.   (tear falls down face).  I tried to shove it into my slim cut, size 30 Levi's but the lens was just too big.  My pocket ripped open and, quite by accident, I spilled several thousand dollars of loose pocket change onto the street.  Now that was embarrassing...  All kidding aside it's just a bit smaller than a Coke can.  Which is funny because some person, in response to my column on "pocketability" stated that he routinely puts his money in his front pants pocket and then shoves in a Coke can to defer thieves when he shoots on the streets in Rome.  He fears the "gypsy kids" the way the Seinfeld character, Kramer, fears clowns....  Seriously, if you are walking around Rome trying to photograph with one third of a Coca-Cola six pack shoved down the front of your pants you are already asking for trouble.  Really.

2.  The lens is approximately $750, street (as they say).  That's a lot of money when you consider that what still photographers want in a lens is quite different that what digital video producers might want in a lens.  

3.  My biggest gripe with the product though is the bad placement ( for my hands, at least ) of the zoom toggle switch.  It is too far forward and I missed it every time I reached for it.

So,  what's my recommendation?  Well, when I read about the lens I was very intrigued.  Lots of juicy words light "aspherical" and "ED Glass"  (Which does NOT stand for erectile dysfunction glass...) and promised of internal focus and all the usual "buy me" optical terminology.  I felt like this one should be special.  And I would buy one in a minute if I ever decide to shoot a commercial video project with the Nikon Series One cameras.  But as a still photographer I think I'm better off with the two standard zooms.  They cover slightly more focal lengths and, even taken together, are smaller and lighter than the PD10-100mm.  In fact, you can also throw in the 10mm and still not upset the scales of optical justice.

You also give up at least a stop of aperture at nearly every focal length.  












3200 ISO.

Near the end of my walk the sun had set, the afterglow had faded and the sky was in the deep blue state it affects just before it turns to black.  What a glorious time to test both the camera's ISO 3200 capablities, its dark scene focus capabilities and it's resistance to flare from hard light sources in the scene.  The photo above and the photo below tell you what you need to know.  Not state of the art. But not bad.

One more point.  If I were marketing the lens I'd sell it to everyone who works near the desert, in blowing sand, in freezing cold and in industrial situations where changes lenses would mean "camera suicide."  It covers most of the focal lengths that right thinking humans actually want and it does so very well.  If you never have to change lenses.....

A quick chef photo for a magazine in Madrid.

chef: Juan José Gomez

I got a call late Tues. afternoon from one of my favorite advertising executives who has a chain of high end Mexican food restaurants as a client.  They needed to have a portrait made for an international gourmet festival coming up in Madrid.  Could I help them out?  Absolutely.  The first question I had was: Location or studio?  The advertising person huddled with the client and decided on a classic studio shot.  The ad guy and I traded several illustrated e-mails and decided on a treatment that would work for everyone and I headed off to Precision Camera to buy "just the right" color of seamless background paper.  

I set up the shot one step at a time, starting with the background.  It's pretty simple.  It's an Elinchrom monolight with a standard reflector, fitted with a 20 degree grid.  Then I added the main light.  It's an Elinchrom monolight with a 28 inch beauty dish firing through a white diffusion cover.  Finally, I added a third light bouncing off the white wall behind the camera for a little fill.  Chef Juan José Gomez showed up with the client and the agency in tow, carrying two different white jackets and a black one.  We tried one of each but it was the consensus that the black jacket made for the most dramatic overall presentation.

Lately, I've been shooting most of my portrait work tethered to a 15 inch Apple MacBook Pro.  Not because I particularly like shooting tethered but because I'm working around a camera shortcoming.  Recently I test all of the cameras with which I like to shoot portraits.  I was trying to decide which one has the best skin tones and the best colors, even when the files are blown up to larger sizes.  The final battle royale came down to the Canon 5Dmk2 versus the "much" older Canon 1DS mk2.  You are entitled to your own opinions and you can do your own tests but I found that, at ISO 100, I much preferred the older camera.  The only thing is that the antiquated screen on the back is miserable.  I'm amazed to think that screen technology has come so far so quick.  I wish I could cobble the Nikon V1 LCD screen onto the old pro camera......

But the way I do portraits is pretty controllable so I started tethering.  Then I decided I liked to shoot that way.  It slows me down and makes me pay much greater attention to small details before  I click the shutter instead of the usual pound of cure after the fact.

The photo shoot was fun and lighthearted.  Chef Juan can be hilarious.  The art direction was good, coherent and smart and the client had the grace to collaborate in the process instead of trying to dominate it.  When we finished I asked about schedule and was told that we had ample time.  Two hours later I got a phone call telling me that we were trying to make a "next morning" deadline for inclusion into a Spanish magazine out of Madrid.  Selections were made, the file was retouched and the blessed miracle of FTP pressed into service once more.  I like the image.  It's different than my usual style...but not by much.

Today, Amy and I left the headquarters of the Visual Science Lab early in the morning.  I'd been up most of the night implementing our new lab safeguards against EMP damage but duty called.  We headed off to the Renaissance Hotel and spent the morning doing individual portraits of fifteen different executives for an insurance company.  We used the same tethering technique but with a more subdued, gray background and a bigger, softer main light.   Now we're back in the studio doing all the back end processing and unpacking.  Just another couple days in the life of a photographer working a cool but small metro market.  Hope you're having fun.

12.06.2011

Morning Jog.

 I made sure Ben bundled up against the wet cold this morning and dropped him off at cross country practice at 6:45 this morning.  Then I picked up a small, almost pocketable, slr system camera and went off for my own run around the lake.  I stopped when I saw stuff I wanted to photograph.
Nothing special.  Just a few scenes from a chilly morning.


If you click on the images they will get bigger.

12.05.2011

Why is this one of my favorite portraits?


Program Note:  for more information about shooting portraits: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/01/thinking-about-art-while-swimming-how-i.html


What is it in a portrait that makes me stop and take a long second look and decide that I like it better than most of the others I have seen or taken?  It's an interesting question because it has so many layers.  This portrait has one attribute that's widely considered to be a flaw.  The subject is nearly precisely centered in the frame.  I could fix that by cropping but, contrary to common strictures, I think it works just fine the way it is.

I like a portrait that makes me want to know more about the person being portrayed.  I want the image to spark my curiosity in a way that pronounces the person's uniqueness.  I want the portrait to have a visual appeal that supersedes the subject herself, and by that I mean that I want the tones of the print and the contrasts between various elements in the print to have a life and vibrancy all their own.  I like portraits better when I don't have to decipher intentionality in the background elements.  In fact, I am so linear I don't really like background elements, which is why I try to consistently make them go away by putting them as far out of focus as I can.

Male or female I want each portrait subject to have a direct engagement with the camera.  There are very few portraits I like where the subject is looking out of the frame.  And in those few, if I am critical with myself, I know I only like or admire them because the subject is famous or so visually compelling (beautiful/sexy/powerful/grotesque) that I am influenced by the energy of the emotionally charged aspect of the subject's image.  I want the eyes locked on me as in a conversation.  I want to feel the engagement that the subject had directly with the photographer.  I want to be able to imagine myself in the place of the artist.  If I was the one who took the portrait then the direct engagement always seems to have more spontaneous and visceral impact  when I view it than a more indirect and more passive subject countenance.  

I am drawn to portraits where the subject is not locked in a grinning smile but in a responsive attitude that signifies a conversation was being conducted.  That he or she was sharing collaboratively in the process.  But most of all I want to feel that the subject had a genuine interest in the process.  And a genuine interest in the artist.


A pleasant afternoon spent in the studio with black and white film. And an actor.

I was remarking to Belinda about how the change over to digital had presaged my addiction to the wild merry-go-round of camera buying and how it was well nigh impossible to choose "just the right camera" to use in making the images I really want to make when she laughed, derisively, and said,  "The camera indecision has been going on since the day I met you.  You can hardly blame digital."  And I was prepared to defend myself because that's what guys do when they get called on their bullshit.  But I took a few moments to reflect.....
These studio images of Rene Zellweger reminded me of my dalliance in the small field of medium format cameras.  Convenient memory wants me to believe that I only dabbled in prestigious German and Swedish brands but actual filmic proof demands that I recognize that I also sampled most of the Japanese fare as well.  These images were done back in the early 1990's with the first Pentax 645 camera and whatever lens I was enthralled with at the time.  I remember liking the very hip sound of the motor and shooting at least twice as much film as I normally would have.  The lighting camera from a studio, electronic flash with a 60 inch Balcar Zebra Umbrella, covered with their unique (and thick) diffusion attachment.  These were the days when I eschewed fill light altogether so the one light is it.

I came to the Pentax 645 from the Pentax 67.  That camera was a beast and the film had a wonderful look BUT unless you were shooting in the studio that gigantic mirror took its toll interms of vibration and very slow flash sync.  It sync'd at 1/30th of a second and the mirror slap was agressive enough to create secondary image blurs even when mounted on a hernia inducing tripod.  The practice of the day was to only buy the model with the mirror lock-up and to use it on every shot.  Even when doing flash. You got your ten images and then you loaded again.  You can see why I was lured into the 645 system with its preloadable inserts and 15 images on a roll.  You could shot forever.  At one point I even own a second 645 with a fiber optic enabled Polaroid back to shoot tests with.  But the 1/60th of a second sync speed stunted my affections for that system as well.....

It was always fun to shoot with Rene.  She would show up and we'd shoot whatever one of us had in mind.  One day we'd go out and shoot cross processed negative film down by the train tracks and other days she'd float down the steep hill on Tenth St. towards Congress Ave. in a giant platform heels, a tiny black dress, a leopard print scarf and Bridgette Bardot sunglasses while balancing a coffee cup and saucer in her hands...(we were making an ART video about coffee entitled, "Coffee.  Is it a gift from God or a tool of Satan?" And we were using the very first Canon L1 high eight system in Austin.  Very bleeding edge.)  But the amazing thing to me, when I look back on our shoots is that fact that we rarely used the same camera twice.  There are negatives from both of the Pentax systems and from Leica M's, Nikons, Contaxes and Leica R's but we never did nail in a "favorite" camera.  

Which brings me back to Belinda's observation.  I've always enjoyed mixing it up.  In fact, I'm toying with the idea of opening a store for people like me.  We'd have a couple of all the coolest cameras and we'd charge a subscription rate.  Every day you could come in and trade out and use a different camera.  I haven't done my market research and it could very well be that I'm more or less unique in my indifference to routine.  Especially inventory induced routine.  But I don't think so.

None of my subjects have particularly cared which camera or lens or film I used.  They just wanted to enjoy the process and like the end results.  My only regret in my shoots with Rene and others at that time in my career is that I wasn't shooting with the square yet.  That would have made things a little more perfect.  As it is the work is still fun.  

It's cold and windy and wet today.  A nice day to stay inside and scan.  A nice day to blog.  I hope everyone is having a nice start to the week.

12.03.2011

Gone out shooting. Check back later.


Becoming a photographer is a lifelong project.  It's important to pace yourself and enjoy the process.

12.02.2011

Pocketability? It's a bad word and a worse concept.

Must find more pockets.......  Must find bigger pockets......

What in the world is with the latest metrosexual camera obsession called pocketability?  I was reading some well reasoned discussions about Olympus Pen and Nikon series 1 cameras and when I started to scroll down through the comments I found entry after entry downgrading the cameras because they can't fit into someone's tight, slim fit, rocker jeans back pocket.  Since when was that a concern for real photographers?  Pathetic.

So, now a camera has to have fully interchangeable lenses, a complete selection of super fast prime lenses, a fully programmable wireless flash system, a battery that will last for 10,000 actuations+ chimping,  amazingly noise free and noise-reduction-artifact-free files up to 12,000 ISO and it must fit into a space smaller than a round can of smoke-less (Skoal?)  tobacco in someone's pants pocket in order to be considered anything less than a "fail"?  (And while we're at it let's stop with the achingly cliched: "total fail.")

Let's step back and set some ground rules for the family here at the Visual Science Lab.

1.  If you honestly feel that the ability to cram a camera into your Levi's pocket along with your car keys is a most vital stat, please don't tell me that or write that in your comments.  I will not be able to resist critiquing your education, your taste and your tenuous grasp on sanity and logic.

2.  You can have pocketability but you are relegated to cameras where that's the only design imperative.  The Canon s95 and s100 and a few of the candy colored Nikon Coolpix cameras come to mind.  But we don't really like to talk about cameras here on VSL that don't have, or can't be retrofitted with, a grown-up viewfinder.  " Stinky Diaper Hold" is a camera handling technique that's generally thought of derisively around here....

3.  Don't expect any serious camera manufacturer to make a workable, interchangeable lens camera that fits in something the size of your pack of cigarettes.  Besides, where will you relocate your pack of cigarettes?

4.  Let's stop insisting on mutually exclusive design parameters.  Are there "serious" pink camera and lens sets?  Can you have a camera you can stuff into your wallet WITH an 800mm f2.8 lens on it?  I didn't think so.  Neither would Einstein have thought so.

5.  Speaking of price/performance/size compromises,  please, immediately stop slagging the smaller cameras because they won't do noise free performance on par with a Nikon D3.  One is $250 the other is $5,000.    Don't expect your Fiat 500 to match top speeds with an Aston Martin Rapide either.  (almost hit a brand new Rapide today heading toward the coffee shop because I was trying to yank my Hasselblad 500 CM with the 150mm out of the pocket of my Kenneth Cole Slim Fit slacks so I could photograph it!!!!  (sounds stupid, doesn't it?)

6.  I don't want to hear stories of how you were cheated in the warranty repair process after you realized the crunch you heard as you were sitting down was the camera in your back pocket.

7.  If you need a special tool or aftermarket attachment to hold the camera properly then it is too small.  If it slips through your Metro shelving and falls onto the floor of your studio then it's too small.  If you confuse your iPhone with your camera then the camera is too small.  If it slips through the seat cushions of your sofa.....it is too small.  Like saving money by buying a Canon 5D mk2 for video and then adding $10,000 worth of Red Rock Micro stuff to it to make it all work....

8.  Every time you whine about a camera not fitting into your English rocker pants pockets   mystic wood spirits kill another puppy.

9.  It's a sickness if your weight hasn't changed but you've switched from buying pants with a waist size of 32 to pants with a waist size of 44 inches just to better carry your "arsenal" of "pocketable" mini-cams.

10.  If you insist on panta-looney photography people will make jokes that start with......"Is that a toy camera in your pocket or are you just glad to...........?"

This photo is the minimum assemblage of gear recommended for daily carrying 
by the American Association for More Profitable Chiropractors. (AAMPC).

Seriously.  I understand that it's great to not carry around a ton of gear in your day to day life but just let a little more testosterone flow into the system and use one of the unobtrusive camera straps that comes free in the camera box.  Your camera will be ready when you need it (and where you need it), you won't have to hear lectures from your bespoke tailor about the "bump that's ruining the sinuous line of your trousers."  No jokes about dressing "left" or dressing "right."  And then, since you saved a bundle getting a tiny camera instead of a reasonable camera, you'll have acres of pocket space left for that dramatic roll of banknotes.  If pocket dimensions are an overriding concern then skip the mini-cam and get an iPhone 4-something.  Join Jack Hollingsworth in his pursuit to redefine photograph.....one quarter inch sensor at a time.

Hard to believe that some of the same folks who pine for "pocketability" are the same people who rush to the other side of absurdity and put giant, militaristic, nihilist, Goth, Black Rapid Straps on their sane sized cameras......but that's a whole different discussion.

Apple Boxes. A very mundane accessory. Priceless when needed.

This is Martin Burke as the mouse in a new kids play, 
based on the children's book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

I love working with talented actors and I had a romping good time with Martin in my little studio today.  We were shooting marketing photos for post cards, posters and the endlessly starving web.  Unlike "civilian" subjects actors of Martin's caliber make a photographer's job really easy.  In the course of 30 minutes we had 225 keepers in twenty or thirty different poses.  We were shooting under the watchful eye of Zach's collateral designer, Rona.  

Before they got to the studio I set up the lighting using two Elinchrom D-Lite 400 monolights.  I wanted a harder light than I usually use to sharpen up the edges of the images so I used a 28 inch, silver beauty dish, with no diffusion, for my main light source.  I filled in with a smaller, 18 inch silver beauty dish that was wearing it's white diffusion "sock."
That's all the light we needed.  I set the light levels for f5.6 at 1/60th of second, ISO 100.  Two test shots and we were ready to go.

I'd been waiting for a simple studio shot like the one above to test out the Nikon V1 combined with studio lighting.  I used the SBn5 I have on loan from Nikon to trigger the studio flashes by setting the flash in the manual control mode and dialing the power down to 1/16th.  I pointed the  on camera flash over to one side so it would have no effect on the subject illumination.  The images were all easy to work with and one click of the lens profile button in Lightroom release candidate 3.6 does nice stuff for the 10-30mm lens.  The files were shot in RAW.

Most of photographs were standing shots but we also wanted to do a few seated images so out came several of the cheapest and most useful studio accessories I have ever acquired:  The Apple Crates.  These are boxes, made of wood, that were born in the movie industry.  What you see in the image above is what is referred to as a full Apple.  They measure 20 x 12 x 8 inches and they are plenty sturdy enough for anyone to stand on.  The people who make Apple Crates also make "half apples" and " quarter apples" which are shorter in the smallest dimension.

We use them to do so many things.  I used one (inappropriately) to stand on and clamp off my white background paper this morning.  They are valuable as posing blocks and they are especially valuable for photographers who, like me, are five feet, eight inches tall... or shorter.  You can stand on a sturdy Apple Crate when you need to do eye level portraits of desperately tall people.....

Quick Note on the Nikon V1:  Now that I've done three or four charge cycles on the batteries I am getting a lot more frames per charge (fpc).  When I shot a dress rehearsal on Tues. I shot over six hundred images and the battery meter indicated that I had 72% battery charge remaining.  After shooting an additional 225 frames today, with puny flash in every frame, the counter is only down to 60%.  I think the eye level viewfinder might be much more energy efficient than the rear LCD screen.  At any right I am now, officially, happy with the battery capacity of the camera.

12.01.2011

Playing around with actors. White background musings.

Outtake during our set up.  No post processing.
 I packed up some lights and went to shoot some photos for "The God of Carnage," at Zach Scott Theater last week.  A quick assignment to shoot two couples against white.  The images will be used online, in a post card and in print ads.  I lit the actors with one big beauty dish from 45 degrees to one side (main light) and a second beauty dish on access with the actors as a fill.  The main beauty dish was 28 inches in diameter and the fill dish was 18 inches in diameter.  Both had white, cloth diffusers  over the front.  All the lights were my new, el cheapo, Elinchrom D-lite 400's.

We were shooting in the rehearsal studio so I had plenty of room to stretch out and to get the white muslin background as far back as I wanted.  I used two lights, one on either side, about ten feet back from the background to light it.  No modifiers on the background lights.  I've become lazy about white backgrounds.  In the old days we had to get them right.  Now, with content aware fill and refine edge in PhotoShop CS5, I think  the images are better off being clipped in post processing.  But that's meat to chew in another post.

I switched back and forth between the Olympus EP3 with the kit lens (and, for my Jedi Knight friend, ATMTX.....I put a trigger in the shoe of the EP3 and used the force by looking on the LCD screen on the back.....the vertigo was almost unbearable...  :-) ), and a Canon 1DSmk2 with an 85mm 1.4 Zeiss ZE.  Both at f8 and both at ISO 200.  That's the sweet spot (ISO-wise) for both cameras.  Looking at the images on the screen the difference isn't that much.  Either set of files would work just fine.  Yes, the Canon is a bit sharper and more detailed if I look at 100% but......  The images have the same overall "look and feel."

I saw the dress rehearsal of the play on Tues. and laughed out loud while I was shooting it.  Fun to have a whole theater as a camera test lab.  If you are in Austin you should see this play.  It's well done.  And if you have not seen The Santaland Diaries  you might want to stop reading in about twenty words and head to the phone to order tickets for you and your closest friends.  It's that good.

Live theater is fun in the way that live music is fun.  You love being in the moment.  You're aware there could be a "train wreck" and you're relieved when it doesn't happen.  Good night.