Lens Profile Happiness in Lightroom 4.4

This is one of those goofy photos you take when you want to check in on the performance of a new lens or camera. It's not going in the portfolio. Why did I take it? Because I wanted to see how a particular lens worked on a new-ish camera and with new lens profiles supplied with the upgrade to Lightroom 4.4.

I'll back up. I bought a Sigma 10 to 20mm f4.5-5.6 lens last year to use on an assignment photographing a new Whole Foods store. My primary camera at the time was a Sony a77 and while the 16-50mm lens was great for most stuff I wanted something with a bit wider angle of view. I researched the possible options and flipped a coin. The Sigma won. While the 16-50mm 2.8 DT lens was fully corrected for vignetting and geometric distortion by in camera profiles none were available either in the camera or in LR for the lens at that time. On the shots I took with the lens I added time to my post production routine to mess around with the edges and corners in DXO software. The results were fine for the project at hand. Not quite as good a performance as the 16-50mm but certainly very acceptable.

I was working in the latest ish of Lightroom a few days ago when I started looking to see if there were any new profiles for lenses I owned. I found profiles for the two Sigma/Nex lenses I recently bought, the 19mm and the 30mm. I kept looking and also found a profile for the Sigma 10-20mm. 
I like the two primes and I was curious to see if the Sigma 10-20mm, when combined with the amazing sensor in the Nex-7 and supplemented with the correction in LR, would have much improved imaging characteristics over the uncorrected performance last summer on the a77 DSLT, fixed mirror camera.

This building, under construction, provided a nice range of lines and textures. I thought it would be a good test. I used the lens with an LA-EA1 adapter, which has no mirror, only contacts for electronic information and primitive AF. I decided to use manual focus and focus peaking instead.

The Nex-7 has a very  high performance sensor with high sharpness. I'm very, very happy with the performance of the combined camera hardware and Lightroom corrections for this lens.

The image just above is of painted plywood barriers that surround the construction project. I thought it was a nice test of the lens's ability to render texture and a pleasing rendering of the saturated green paint.

As usual, performance parameters of modern cameras and lenses are moving targets which are influenced and changed by the influence of software driven corrections. It pays to check in frequently to see if some part of your imaging system has been improved and may provide increased performance metrics without having to upgrade.

Having done this test I'll be less reticent to use the combination for architectural projects in the future. Have I mentioned just how much I like the Sony Nex 7? 

Mindfulness and photography.

Images from Grapes of Wrath

I was having lunch with two creative directors yesterday. We were eating tacos at one of my favorite new (to me) restaurants, Garrido's. At some point we started talking about lost skill sets and the march of progress. There seems to be a thread of thought these days that goes something like this: "People will always chose a lesser product or service if it's easier to use and cheaper."

It's no big news when people who've been in a business for a generation or two start to bemoan the current state of the industry and then compare it to how things were in the good old days. But one of us postulated that, the process drives the creativity.  It's also true when stated the other way around. Creativity can drive the process. What we mostly agreed upon was the idea that making a process quicker and easier generally lessens the amount of thought and effort, trial and error, and experimentation that goes into it. Being able to separate the creation of photograph from the compulsion to "fix" what has already been created, through the use of filters and post processing also diminishes the authenticity of the process.

I'm not sure it's the new tools or the easy laziness of software dependence that's to blame for all the boring photography I see all over the place as much as I think it's a result of a society that's lost the ability to really concentrate and be in the moment when they are working. Even when we are working on our own creative projects. There are so many distractions. The ubiquity of the cellphone creates an anticipatory existence wherein we are constantly poised and on alert for the next text or phone call. The brain becomes bifurcated and thought diluted.

While everyone under thirty (forty?) will rush to demagogue this statement I really believe that at the point in our collective history when we allowed ourselves to be 100% available to everyone else we lost our ability to be 100% available to our own selves and our own processes. When we acquiesced to the concept of being "on call" we lost our ability to be really "mindful" about anything in our lives.

It's not digital cameras or online sharing that's causing our pleasure in seeing images to evaporate it's just our sudden (one decade) inability to concentrate fully on either the creation or the enjoyment anymore. It's the same mindset as sitting in a theater watching a movie and compulsively texting to find out what everyone else is doing now and what they will be doing in the immediate future. Our collective fear of being left out is draining our resources to opt fully in.

It's like trying to make love while checking for messages. It's a compulsion. It's also an epidemic.

I wonder if we, as photographers, can come back to a place of real mindfulness when taking images.

Everything we seem to create mitigates against it. I walked with several photographers last month. What a mistake. One kept getting calls from his spouse...which he answered. Another kept showing us "interesting" new apps on his phone. But the whole idea of a group walk with the idea of taking images is about as silly as it gets....if your goal is to make photographs for the sake of your own art. It's like creating the ultimate distraction and then making it portable.

Wouldn't it be an interesting exercise, on many levels, to set aside a day in which you pursue a really focused and mindful day just for taking images for yourself? Wouldn't it be cool to schedule a day that went from sun up to sun down (or later) in which you took only one camera and one lens. A day on which you threw away all the excuses and left your phone at home, in a drawer? A day where photography didn't revolve around the discover of chic new restaurants but actually revolved around your own undiluted looking and critical observation. A day when you thought about every single time you pushed the shutter button and made a photograph?  A day when no one came along for the ride?

I understand that for some people photography is an excuse to socialize and that's fine. But the people who roll that way probably aren't the same ones who read my stuff here. You don't have to be serious all the time. But it might be nice to make a date with yourself to be unencumbered at least some of the time.

Paying attention. Focused on one thing. Reducing distraction. Being totally there for your own life.

(Can you imagine an actor stopping between lines, in the middle of a performance, to check their phone?)


Corporate Portraits. Industrial Strength Imaging for Commerce.

I photographed Ross for his work. We should all have good "work" portraits.
In many cases they are the first impression we make with future clients.

As I cruise the web I look at the avatars on LinkedIn and Facebook. When I'm researching an industry I pay careful attention to the way corporate officers are portrayed on company websites and collateral. In many cases, when the copy screams at me, "We're hip and modern and of the moment!" the portraits are screaming at me, "Oh my God, this company is trapped in the 1970's." Or, at best, the 1980's.

I looked at a site recently and you could tell the eye and hand of a competent designer paid attention to the front page graphics and the trendy, hipster-inflected selling images but you could also tell that he or she was not invited to the corporate officers' portrait sessions. From the look of some of the images you could conjecture that the young designer wasn't born at the time of the shutter click.

Other sites, which are there to attract the attention of other businesses (B to B), are so casual with their photographs that one has to wonder whether or not they just rounded up the current executive leadership team's driver's licenses and had a go at the color Zerox machines.

Corporations spend big bucks  commissioning ad agencies to create a look and feel for their companies. Part of making "look and feel" work is consistency in application. And you can see it in every aspect of most Fortune 500 companies...except when it comes to portraits. At some point perhaps the key staff must have been exhausted from making sure their underlings followed the style books when creating order forms or overseeing advertising. Whatever the excuse you consistently find a hodge podge of images. Some look like classic 1950's portraits with august and sonorous poses and techniques that came from the Eisenhower years. The portrait right next to that might have been taken of its victim at a party with a Polaroid camera. Maybe an SX-70. Then a sprinkling of front lit iPhone attempts followed by a few party candids and a shot that some executive has been dragging from job to job since the Bee Gees were hot.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by corporations to put their best foot forward and to make a good first impression (and that's just the website) meanly sabotaged by the rankest photography. It's enough to make my eyes bleed.

So, here are my rules for companies:

1. Your images should be consistent from person to person. All the executives should look like they are playing on the same team.

2. Colored backgrounds are tough to pull off. Stick with white or some shade of gray. Neutral goes out of style slower than almost everything else.

3. You'll usually only get busy execs to play ball with you once in a full moon. Don't do amazingly tricky and trendy lighting because when it gets like old fish or older cheese you'll wish you'd been a little less......of the moment.

4. We're all done with haloed spots behind people's heads. Yes, I know. I'm as guilty as anyone else but it needs to stop for about a generation.

5. I make it a rule to never mix flora and fauna. A houseplant or fern doesn't say, "In Charge!" any more than it says, "How cool and innovative." An portrait in front of landscaping might work for senior portrait but the disconnection between nature and people who spend all day, every day in offices or going to and from interior location is.....to jarring, unnatural and anachronistic.

6. Since you are going for a consistent look it might be a really good idea to ask the subjects to do likewise. You don't want one guy in a nice suit next to the guy in the Hawaiian shirt anymore than you want the woman in the gypsy shawl next to the woman in a black suit.

7. When you are photographing these people remember point #3. They don't do this very often. That means they are self conscious. Give them time to settle in and for Goodness sake, throw everyone else out of the room so they don't say things and make faces and generally goad your subject into grinning like a stupid monkey. Or even a smart monkey.

8. Don't let executives see everything you shot. It's a variant of Murphy's law that most people will pick the worst thing you show them. Edit down to the top ten or five or three. Pretend that nothing else came out. Just don't ever fall for the demand to show them EVERYTHING. Believe me, they'll pick you apart and leave you questioning your competence.

9. If you can't get to everyone who will be in the brochure or on the website it's usually because the unattainable ones live in another city. Convince the company to send you there. Convince them that continuity is gold. Or golden. Or necessary. It's your sell, you figure it out.

(But in these days of micro budgets and small visions don't think they'll always go for it.....)

10.  If there are people in other cities who need to be photographed do this: Make careful diagrams of your lighting set up. Seriously, measure the distances from the subjects and heights of  lights and the distance to the background and the exact color name of the background and help the client come to the conclusion that they should instruct all the other photographers in all the other cities to follow your lead exactly. Then you and your client will have a fighting chance at coming up with something that will return value and stand the test of time.

technical notes: camera: Sony Nex7. Lens: Sony 50mm 1.8 OSS. Light: Elinchrom Electronic Flash in five foot octabank. 


When the tools trump the art we all go home.

Sarah. A photo created for one of my book covers. Rejected.

In the last few days I stepped over my own limit and wrote too much about gear, which made my head hurt. But then I was in the swimming pool and as I swam up and down the lane, keeping the black line on the bottom just over to my left, I started thinking about the nature of the tools we use to do various things. 

Since I was in the pool the first thing that came to mind was swimming. How dependent are we on the tools of swimming? Are there any tools for swimming? We have goggles to keep the chlorine out of our eyes and we have our swim suits. The goggles don't really serve any ancillary function and most people find a pair they like in the $15 to $25 range and use them for a long time. I'm on my third goggle strap with this pair. I think I've logged about two years and maybe 120,000 yards with them so far. Not a bad return.

I've been wearing my Speedo brand endurance jammers for the better part of a year and they still have at least another year of life left in them before they become disgraceful... Then I'll have to bite the bullet and spend another $45.

That's about it in the tool category for swimming. And you know what? No one I know ever discusses goggles or swim suits. We might talk about stroke mechanics or how to train better or swim more efficiently but never about the gear. The deal in swimming, if you do it competitively, is that the clock tells you all you need to know about performance. And no matter how great a pair of $1500 goggles might be you'd still have to do all the training and put in all the effort to go fast.

I write a lot of stuff. And for a lot of it I use notebooks. For a while I bought those cute, Hemmingway-esque, Moleskin notebooks and used a Mont Blanc fountain pen. But those tools didn't make me any smarter or make my writing any better. The pen did, from time to time, make my hands all inky and stained but I didn't see that as a critical performance benefit. I've since switched to generic notebooks and anonymous and less precious ballpoint pens. In a pinch I'll even use a pencil.

I spoke at a writer's group once. We talked about the "arc of the narrative" and the "use of voice" but we didn't compare notebooks or fountain pens. Hell, we didn't even compare word processors. We all seemed to know that there's no literary "magic bullet" that will allow us to dodge the daily drudge of sitting alone translating brainwaves into squiggles. 

I like the image at the top of this blog. I should, I spent the time finding the model and setting it all up. It was supposed to be for the cover of my third photography book. The one about lighting equipment. I used an old film camera for the shot and I used two old monolights and some worn softboxes as modifiers. But to me the important part of the shot wasn't the sharpness or the resolution or the lack of noise (all things that photographers do seem to talk about). The important part of the project to me was to get that insouciant look on Sarah's face. That's what it was all about. And none of the tools provides any sort of mechanism to create, augment or facilitate the look.

I guess I write about gear when I'm bored. I write about it when I've forgotten to schedule beautiful people to come by the studio and play with me and sit for fun portraits. I write about gear when I'm afraid. I might be afraid that my competitors have newer gear and will provide something I can't to a client (not likely). I might be afraid that my clients are well versed in the technical aspects of photography and that they are judging my choice of lesser gear (as rare an occurrence as unicorn sightings). I might be afraid that I'm not inspired enough and that clients will sense my lack of depth or substance. I might be afraid that I'll never work again if I don't have the shiniest bling. 

But mostly I buy the gear to use as a child uses a comforting blanket. It's a security blanket for my (yours?) raging insecurity. Why raging insecurity? Because we're in a business and an art where everything is subjective. There is no objective measure. Our compulsion to move the technical game forward is an admission that we constantly seek a metric. A means of gauging value. 

But in the end all the insecurity does is to drain our resolve to see more clearly and to be more transparent. And in being more transparent transcend the gear. 

New goggles never made me faster. New laptops never made me smarter. And I can pretty much guarantee that new cameras never made me a better photographer.

The short circuit to all this soul searching? The idea that the NEXT camera might be the one we've all been looking for. You know... the one with all the magic.


Forty+ year old lenses can be quite sharp.

My favorite camera store moved. Precision Camera had been in the same place for decades and they'd really outgrown the space. They found a great retail space in the geographical center of the Austin population, hired my architect friend, John (genius) Beckham, and threw together the camera store of all camera stores. By the look of things they tripled in size.  Even though it's twice as far from my studio now I know I'll make the trek out there when I need stuff because they've always gone out of their way to make my professional life easier. And also, I said "I'd follow them anywhere" in their upcoming television spots...

I dropped by for the first time yesterday and I have to say, if you think all the bricks and mortar camera stores are heading toward extinction just grab a plane ticket, head to Austin, and see what a successful photography store looks like. At least 10,000 square feet of showroom space, a classroom/workshop area that seats nearly 80 comfortably, a full production lab and a camera repair facility with a great reputation. When I walked in, on the second day of business in the new location, it was packed with customers.

When I left I noticed I had bought another Sony Nex 7. A used one with the kit lens for a whopping $700. Whenever I buy a new camera I generally spend the NEXt free day walking around and shooting with it. This purchase was no different.  As I contemplated the growing NEX system here at the VSL studios I pondered the "problem" of limited lens choice. This always makes me pull out older lenses from other systems, which are easily mounted on mirrorless cameras, which inevitably convinces me that we've got more than enough choices.

Today I found myself playing with two great lenses from the older, film based, Pen F system, the 70mm f2 and the 150mm f4. The cups above were shot at Caffe Medici with the 70mm.  So was the image of glasses and spoons below. The older coatings cut the contrast of the lenses a bit compared to modern single focal length lenses. It's a difference that's easily corrected in post processing...

After a killer cup of cappuccino I switched lenses and went strolling along with the 150mm lens. For a 150mm lens it's pretty small and skinny...

The 150mm seems super long to me on an APS-C camera. The major disadvantage of this non-system lens is the lack of image stabilization but a bright day and opening up to f5.6 makes up for that lost ground.  I think this lens is very sharp. It's also a little low in contrast but that's just a one slider fix in SnapSeed or PS.

Austin's official bird, the Crane. 70mm f2

A current theme in my walks lately has been the "Official Bird of Austin." Sometimes known by its Latin name, Constructionis Cranius. Downtown Austin seems to have become the winter nesting ground for hundreds and hundreds of these towering cranes as dozens of skyscrapers are under construction within a half mile of the state capital, with many more dotting the peripheral areas of the city. At some point the metropolis will grow so large and unwieldy that the natives will be forced to sell their premium properties and relocate....

The new Nex 7 passed all my tests with flying colors and won the drawing to be the camera I'm taking with me on an upcoming vacation/college tour marathon starting on the 11th of March.  

I'm curious to know if any of my readers are current residents of Boston and if they might know where a guy can get a decent cup of coffee in that town? Chime in if you know....

Chair and light at the Convention Center.

The kit lens is sharp. The ISO 1600 isn't noisy. The shutter isn't loud. The detail from the Nex 7 is impressive. Just passing through the Convention Center to use their rest rooms. From my walk this afternoon.

Dog in a guitar case. Sixth St. on Sunday.

I had to go to the downtown police station this afternoon to deliver some prints. On the way back toward west Austin I headed down Sixth St. to take in the sights/sites. I came across a young man leaning against the front wall of a bar not yet opened, playing his guitar. At his side was his guitar case and his young dog. She had curled up and fit exactly into the space made to hold the body of the guitar. At her head is a little metal cup filled to the brim with kibble. Just in front of the case is a collapsible water bowl filled with water.

I asked the guitarist if I could snap a few images of his friend with my little camera. He was delighted. He kept on strumming and humming while the shutter in my camera snicked away. The dog opened her eyes to make sure I wasn't a threat and then promptly went back to her nap. Her owner and I made some small conversation then I dropped a dollar into his guitar case and moved on.

Sony Nex 7. Kit lens. Jpeg. Black and White setting.

A different sort of anniversary. One that led to a camera discovery.

In the Darwinian theory of evolution the survivors are not the strongest but the most adaptable.
In the photo above are three lens adapters. The one on the left with the orange ring is a Sony LAEA-1 adapter. Next to it is a Fotodiox Sony Alpha to Sony Nex adapter and to the right
of that is an Olympus Pen F 60mm 1.5 lens with an inexpensive Olympus PenF to Nex adapter.

It's been well over a year since I walked into Precison Camera and Video here in Austin, Texas with a big cardboard box filled with Canon photographic equipment.  I put the box on the counter and asked the people behind the counter if I could trade it all in, or consign it. In a little less than an hour I walked out with enough Sony Alpha equipment to run the studio and the rest of my photography business. The lure, for me, had nothing to do with most of the features like, multi-frame noise reduction or twelve frames per second. What drove me to make the switch was how much I liked using electronic viewfinders when taking photographs; and especially when making videos.

Once you've really gotten your head around how well the EVFs work in helping you see what it is  you want to shoot you'll have a hard time every turning back. Just ask the legions of good photographers who picked up Olympus OMD's and never let go. The EVF drove everything in my switch from Canon to Sony. The image quality of the Canon 5D mk2 was great. The video was great. But after using the VF-2 EVFinder on the Olympus EP-3 cameras I found the whole, antiquated way of working with an optical viewfinder....primitive.  (let me here make one exception statement: If you shoot fast moving sports you'll be happier, right now, with an OVF camera. Fast frame rates and quickly moving objects are the current Achille's heel of most EVF systems. That will change....is changing...as I write).

I work pretty methodically. I set stuff up. I use tripods. I use auxiliary lighting. I shoot in single frame. I've never shot a bird in flight. You might live in a different reality. One of fast moving soccer stars and fidgeting finches. You'll have to judge your own situation.

I ended up with the classic professional's camera set up. Two bodies (a77s), a smaller and lighter back up body for those times when.....(a57) and a mess of lenses. The 16-50mm 2.8 and the 70-200mm 2.8 Sony's were the serious purchase but were quickly supplemented with all manner of specialty zooms and every day single focal length optics that are easier to carry and maybe more fun to use.

The big cameras are for work. These cameras are for fun and art and fun.

In all ways except the non-moving mirror and the viewfinder the Sony DSLT system emulates the Canon DSLR system. Big, bulky, competent and heavy. I learned the weak points and strong points of the new system and we were off to the races. Shooting the same kinds of corporate assignments in pretty much the same way. But once I saw what you could resolve with a really good sensor and once you took a look "through" (at?) a really good EVF and saw how sharp and detailed it can be, I started looking around for a similar replacement for my collection of 12 megapixel Olympus Pen cameras.  A collection that was beginning to show its age....( this was before the introduction of the OMD. Things might have been different if that camera had been on the market when I went shopping...).

I played with a Sony Nex 7 and on the first three trials I was baffled and stumped by the menu on that camera. But I went back and read everything I could about the camera. Afterall, it used the same EVF I liked so much in the a77 and the same incredibly detailed, wide, wide, wide dynamic range sensor as well. And one of the most attractive aspects of the Nex7 is the ability to use scores of third party lenses from across the decades. Once I understood the menu (does anyone really understand Nex menus????) I bit on the little system.

I don't have too many Nex system lenses for the cameras. I'm happier than most people with the performance of the 18-55mm kit lens because it really is sharp in the center all the time. It's only the edges that get goofy and I don't really care about the edges when I'm trying to make art. I now have two of the kit zooms. Not because I think it's that good but because I just found a (barely)  used Nex 7 kit w/lens for a whopping $700.  I always wanted a second body, the lens just came along for the ride.

The most fun and virtuous lens I have for the little system is the 50mm 1.8 Sony. It's bright and sharp and its IS is very, very good. I like that I can see the effects of the IS in the viewfinder...
I bought both of the little Sigma lenses as well. I used both the 19mm and the 30mm on my recent assignment at the cardiology practice and, with the profiles included in Lightroom 4.4, I found there performance very, very good. Sharp, crisp and without any personality flaws.

Ahhh. The Pen F 60mm 1.5 lens with adapter. Like Swiss Chocolate.

But one of the real lures of the mirrorless systems isn't necessarily the branded lenses but the fact that the cameras have a shorter mount to sensor distance which allows the adaptation of just about any lens with a longer focus throw. The Nex cameras (and the Olympus and Panasonics) can be used with Nikon, Canon, Leica M and Leica R, Olympus Pen F and many other "legacy" lenses. Couple the outstanding performance and low price of some of these orphaned lenses with what DP Review called the best APS-C sensor in the business (Nex 7) and you've got a hell of an imaging system.

I'm partial to the Pen F lenses for two reasons: First, they were designed to be used with smaller (half frame) areas of film so they were optimized to be much sharper and of higher resolution that lenses made to cover full frame. This means that, even now, forty years later, the lenses are very good performers. While the coatings are not state of the art the only real effect is on contrast and that's easy to compensate for in post processing. The second reason I'm partial is that I have a drawer full of them. I've been collecting them for no real reason since the beginning of the 1980's when most were available for double digit dollars. Not the prices they command now.

I have an inventory of PenF lenses that covers 20mm to 150mm, but most significantly the ones in the middle focal length ranges are fast. Even by today's standards. My favorites are the 38mm 1:1.8, the 40mm 1:1.4, the 42mm 1:1.2, the 60mm 1:1.5 and the 70mm f1:2.  All are good performers wide open and great performers when stopped down two stops.

I'm not focused on having every focal length covered on the Nex cameras as I would be on my "professional work system." I find myself most comfortable with the classic focal lengths. I'm happy from 18-80 or so. But the nice thing about an ultimately flexible system is that when I want to press the Nex into wide angle service I need only grab one of the Alpha to Nex adapters and my 10mm to 20mm zoom and I'm there. If I need fast and long I can slide the Rokinon 85mm 1.5 Cine lens on the front and go to town. With the LAEA1 adapter all of the Sony lenses will work in all of the exposure and metering modes. 

But the thing that makes this lens flexibility ultimately usable is the inclusion, in the cameras, of focus peaking. It's a technology that comes from professional video. With manual focus lenses the camera can be set to show colored outlines at the points of accurate focus. It's far, far faster and more accurate than trying to focus with the discrimination of your eye. An added advantage that EVF cameras have over even the most expensive DSLRs is the ability to look through the finder and push a magnification button twice to focus at 10X. Without having to stop, put the camera into live view mode and use a rear screen....which could be vexing in full sun or other non-optimal conditions. 

Focus peaking makes all manual lenses easy. And it works. It works best wide open but it does work even when stopped down. And as you turn the focusing ring of your manual focus lens you see the focus peaking indications "roll" through your scene. It's wonderfully symbolic and a great way to learn about focus zones.

Here's the camera that started me down the Nex path.

No camera can "do it all." But the Nex 7 comes close. If I were more of a risk taker I'd probably have jettisoned the Alpha gear a few months ago and relied exclusively on the Nex 7 and a good assortment of lenses to do my work. But there are still a few attributes of the DSLT cameras that make work easier, and then there's that whole client expectation factor to think about. Just as they like to see doctors with stethoscopes around their necks they want to see big black, jelly bean cameras with large lenses on their "pro" photographers. Who can blame them? We inadvertently trained them to precondition their selections that way.

With adapters the Nex 7 does almost everything well. The few weak points keep me in a larger system. One is the contrast detection AF. Yes, the bigger cameras with full time phase detection are much faster to lock in. I'll confess that I do like the look of the full frame cameras (a99) for times when I want to effortlessly drop out backgrounds. I like that my big camera has a headphone jack and manual audio controls for monitoring and adjusting video sound. It also goes longer on a battery.
But for my aspirational photo job, walking around Paris and Tokyo and Buenos Aires and Rome, casually making art, ala Henri Cartier Bresson and Elliot Erwitt....could there be a better system?

I find the Nex cameras to be ultra competent photographic tools in tiny, wonderfully ergonomic packages. Much more powerful picture takers than any of us had even a few years ago at any price. The size, weight and price of the cameras and my most used lenses means I can carry two bodies at a time with my two favorite focal lengths (the 30mm since it's close to my beloved "normal" and the 50mm 1.8 because it's just about the right lens and speed for portraits) and move back and forth between the focal lengths without having to change lenses or to even carry a bag.

If I practice good technique I can blow up the files to enormous sizes and see maximum detail.
How about three really capable bodies and three really good lenses for about the price most people are paying for one full frame DSLR and a much slower zoom? Seems like a deal to me.

One more generation of improvements in battery life and lens selection and Sony will have effectively eradicated the need for a traditional mirrored camera system, and all the attendant bulk and weight. One more generation of improvements in on chip phase detection AF technology and our little cameras will focus as quickly as anything out there.

No one ever said that good images could only be done on full frame cameras, or with expensive tools. When I'm really interested in exploring the world and people around me I want to go in with unobtrusive cameras and blend in. The age of the voyeur photographer who stands outside the group, looking in with a long, sinister lens, is over. The power is transitioning to tools that become both second nature and also wonderfully flexible.

I credit the Sony Alpha cameras for bringing the Sonys, in general, to my attention. But I thank the Sony Nex's for making my photography easier, more fun and less stressful. 


Yet another celebration...

Just sending the hard working staff and the visionary executive leadership team (ELT), as well as the august and mighty board of directors of the VISUAL SCIENCE LAB, an assortment of flowers to celebrate the 12,000,000th pageview of the Visual Science Lab Blog.

Thank you for joining us!

Sony A99 Production Camera. A working tool.

Photo of Sony a77 and Rode microphone, not particularly relevant to the article below. Just kinda there to let you know I'm also thinking of my camera as a video production tool. 
Don't be literal.

I just wanted to praise my camera today. Sometimes we forget that, in addition to being fun neck bling and a rich source of web discussion, they are also working tools for professional photographers. In that regard the usability and ultimate flexibility of the camera is most of the times much more important than the ability to squeeze out the last little percentage of objective image quality.

I'm in the middle of a two day project. The project has three components and they are not artfully schedule for my convenience but rather for the convenience and efficiency of my client, a cardiology practice here in Austin.

The three parts of the project go like this:  Set up a small room as a makeshift studio. Have each doctor come to the room to photographed in a suit and tie for credentialing and public relations photos. Then the doctor changes into scrubs and we do a second series of more casual portraits.

After the scrub portraits we take a moment to reconfigure the camera to become a video camera. I add an Audio Technica lavalier microphone, change the shutter speed setting and fine tune both ISO and f-stop to match the 1/50th speed. Then I "mic" the doctor and we do a quick audio level check. I wear headphones to check for hum, hiss, clicks and background noise. When everything is set the ad agency producer asks a series of interview questions while I monitor audio and the visual frame. Once we've got what we need we move on...

Because of their schedules the doctors can't be scheduled sequentially. In the gaps between the interface with the doctors we take the camera off the tripod and use it for a reportage style of available light photography to get images of the hustle and bustle of the clinic and the support teams. We also stage exams and treatment images with models, staff and doctors.

The a99 goes from studio portrait camera to video production machine to handheld reportage camera with ease. I have mine set up to record still images to one SD card and video to the second SD card.  I'm using fast, sharp lenses so I can go from medium apertures when on the tripod and under controlled lighting to fast f-stops when I am going handheld. The Steady Shot IS works well and combined with the a99's clean high ISO gives me a lot of latitude when working in a mostly florescent lit environment. The raw files allow me to largely ignore WB in most casual shooting although I do try to include a white target when I shoot the first few frames in each location. That gives me a starting point to work form as I move through the process.

In our makeshift studio I am lighting with my big 1,000 bulb LED lights through diffusion panels. It works for both the stills and the video. Since the light in that room doesn't change I've been working with the same custom WB since yesterday morning.

The camera is a chameleon that feels right for each situation. I'll update when I finish the project.
Have a great Friday!