A tale of three lenses. Two Panasonic and One Olympus. In the end it's all about the optics.

 25mm Panasonic Leica.

I thought it might be fun to post some samples of the three lenses I was carrying around yesterday in San Antonio. I'm practicing with the lenses and camera because I have several jobs coming up at the end of the week that will require me to shoot lots of images in all kinds of lighting and I'm planning on taking the two GH3's, some cool modern lenses and a few old chunks of glass and I'd like to proficient operating the cameras and quickly getting in to the groove with the different lenses. There always seems to be a re-adjustment period required for my brain when I switch between sensor sizes and especially between formats.

The image just above and the one just below were taken with the Panasonic/Leica 25mm 1.4 lens. It's crispy and modern looking and it looks good from wide open all the way down to f8. I'll use this one for all the social photography I plan on doing this Saturday. This is one of the lenses I originally bought when I was shooting with all the earlier Olympus gear. It works well on the Panasonic but my one wish is that it had image stabilization....(or that the GH3 had IS built in). I know the Olympus cameras have great IS built into the camera but we'll see how abstaining from coffee and stress work out before I go out and buy yet another solution.

Part of a "Day of the Dead" altar at the St. Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas.

The six images just below were taken with a very inexpensive zoom lens from Panasonic. It's the 45-150mm lens. It's relatively tiny, has image stabilization and seems to perform well enough...especially for the price. It's a bit slow for interior work but for anything exterior it should work well. All of the photographs in this blog were done handheld which should be a caution sign for anyone hell bent on using the images as the final litmus test of quality. We can always do better with a tripod... 

The final six images (below) were all done with the ancient Olympus Pen FT half frame 50-90mm f3.5 zoom lens from the early 1970's. It's not as contrasty as the modern lenses but with a little boost in contrast and just a tiny, tiny smidgeon of sharpening I think it holds up well. The secret with older, single coated lenses is to try never to shoot them into a light source unless flare is the special effect you are looking for. The lens is all metal construction, incredibly well made and in perfect operating condition decades after being first pressed into service. I find its incredibly smooth zoom and focus rings to be as good as anything on the market in the last few decades.

Have I learned anything wildly new shooting the GH3, it lenses and the old legacy lenses?

Yes and no.

The new glass is sharp and good pretty much across the board.

The older fast lenses from the Olympus Half Frame Pen FT series are 

remarkably good. As good (one stop down) as just about anything being cranked out

by the camera makers today.

The 60mm f1.5 is awesome at f2

The 70mm f2 is really sharp and nice at f2.8 

and the 40mm f1.4 maybe the sharpest lens I've used for this camera system.

They are a bit more trouble to use than the AF stuff but the reward is

in a look that's a pleasing combination of 

sharp and mellow.

That's about it.

Studio Portrait Lighting

A continuation on a theme. The iPad as the new Instamatic.

No big fanfare, just two interesting Olympus OMD e-m1 posts from my friend at ATMTX



The views expressed at ATMTX's blog represent his feelings about the cameras being reviewed and don't necessarily exactly reflect my views here at VSL.  Head on over to his site and read what he has to say about his long term, hands on experiences with two of the hot cameras of the day. Oh...yeah, he directly compares the e-m1 with Canon's 6D, which he also owns....

Interesting assessments!


Studio Portrait Lighting

Another chance for an ancient lens.

I went to San Antonio yesterday to visit my parents and to walk around and try a few different lenses with the Panasonic GH3. My parents are doing quite well. And San Antonio is as fun and colorful as ever.

I took along three lenses: the 25mm f1.4 PanaLeica, the el cheap 45-150mm f3.5 to 5.6 zoom and an absolutely ancient Olympus Pen FT (manual half frame ) 50 to 90 mm, constant f3.5 zoom lens. I'm pretty sure that the old Olympus lens isn't even multi-coated but I thought I'd give it a try since I have two copies of the lens and the zoom and focus actions are still incredibly smooth and the aperture ring turns with a wonderfully damped precision.

I spent a lot of the day with the 25mm on the front of the camera because it approximates so well the angle of view I learned to like from shooting successive generations of 50mm lenses on old 35mm film cameras. I switched to the new Panasonic zoom when I got to the market because it was easier to pick out details and faces. Near the end of my time downtown I switched to the old Olympus zoom.

Because of the primitive coatings I expected the lens to have more flare and less contrast. Because of the zoom's advanced age I expected that the optics would never be able to match the glorious results of nearly forty five years of advanced optical progress. So I was prepared to open the files in Aperture, review them and then move on to the little gems created by the other two, thoroughly modern, lenses.

This was the first file I opened at full screen and I was partially correct, the image did need a bump in contrast. I chose to make the correction in the mid-range with the controls in the Aperture shadow/highlight menu. But I was partially incorrect because the file needed very little sharpening. No more so than a typical digital file from a camera with an filter over the sensor...

The Olympus zoom is a great series of focal lengths for a portrait photographer and, with the one button ability to zoom in to 8x and gauge correct focus it's a pretty handy combo with the Panasonic GH3. I'm looking forward to shooting some portraits in the studio with more controlled lighting. I already like what the lens optics are doing for the background at f5.6. Let's see what it looks like when paired up with a beautiful face.....

Studio Portrait Lighting


The first good shake out walk with the Panasonic GH3.

If you read the VSL blog regularly you'll know two things. I recently bought a Panasonic GH3 for video projects (yes, I tested it head to head with a Canon 5D3 and prefer the usability of the EVF and the smooth, luscious detail of the files from the GH3) and that I have no allegiance to any one camera system. Whatever works, works.

I bought the GH3 before I headed to NYC and barely shot five frames around the studio. When I got back home I spent an evening reading the manual and going over the menus ( which are straightforward and make sense).  I finished all the work I needed to get done today around 4 pm and decided to take the GH3 out for a walk, just to see how it felt and how it performed.

To date I have three lenses for this camera: the older kit lens, the Leica/Panasonic 25mm 1.4, and the 45-150mm 3.5 to 5.6. I have a new version of the kit lens heading my way and the offer of lens loans for most of the Panasonic premium line from Frank. I also have a nearly complete collection of Olympus (film) Pen lenses from pedestrian to esoteric high speeders. Today I made things simple and I just put the old kit lens on and set it at aperture priority and f5.6.

It's kind of silly and useless to test a camera in perfect daylight and with the lens stopped down to its optimum aperture. But I learned what I needed to about the camera and its operation during the course of my walk. The body is just right. Not too big but not so small that the buttons are smushed together. And speaking of buttons....there's pretty much a dedicated button for whatever you want to control. A far leap from my previous, screen centric week. 

 While I am spoiled by the full frame, huge resolution files from the two Sony cameras (a99 and a850) I find the images from the GH3 snappy, saturated and very sharp. The dynamic range seems ample and the metering is right on the money.

The real litmus test for me will be the rendering of skin tones. The tests I've done in video lead me to believe that things will be great in that department but you never really know until you try it and test it for yourself. I like the camera well enough that I'm buying a second body tomorrow and pressing it into service almost immediately for several video projects for clients. The second body is nothing extraordinary. A professional should always travel with a back-up to his or her main camera and one that uses the same batteries and menus is a distinct plus.  

If the camera serves me well I'll flesh out the lens selection with the two Panasonic 2.8 zooms. In the meantime I'll be using the Olympus Pen legacy lenses, Sony Alpha lenses with an adapter and the handful of Panasonic lenses I've already gotten. The worry is "lens creep." That's like mission creep. It's when you progressively justify and rationalize more and more lens purchases until you are knee deep in a system that you bought just for a specific function.

For those few readers who've come recently from forums and are hard of comprehension: My use of the Panaonic GH3s doesn't mean I'm getting rid of the full frame Sonys, nor is it a blanket endorsement of the Panasonic cameras. It just means that I like them better for video and I'm keeping an open mind about their efficacy for still imaging. If you don't like that; if that's not binary enough then you should read something else instead.

In terms of issues I am seeing two things: The contrast of the files could be a little higher and there is a tendency for the files to go slightly magenta. In the camera's defense, I have profiles down to a science for the Sony cameras. It will take a bit of time to get up to speed with the Panasonics. 
Finally, I will have to learn how to walk around with less weight on my shoulders. I hope it's enough weight to defy the centrifugal energy of earth's spin and keep me from flying off into the ether....

Three little systems. The Sony Alphas. The Pentax K-01 toy cameras. The Panasonic GH3's. Seems about right as we're nearing the end of 2013...

Studio Portrait Lighting

Yes. Here's the loupe I wrote about yesterday...

It works well. Works on any number of cameras and, if I was trying to do video on a DSLR I'd have one in a hot minute. Wait, I already do have one. It's bolted to my Pentax....so I can shoot some video... Found out that the base of the connector plate is compatible with some Arca Swiss quick release plates. Who knew? You can get it at Amazon for about $120.

Here's the link: Great, Cheap Loupe.

Have fun seeing your LCD better.

Studio Portrait Lighting


A light, airy and silly post about an absurd purchase from last week....

Subtitled: Crazy stuff photographers buy at trade shows. Not the camera.....

If you read the blog you already know that I have a soft spot for silly cameras that are secretly great image makers but you might not know that I, like many other technical leaning male picture makers, have a penchant for buttons, knobs and anything else you can add to a device that makes it look cooler or more.....meaningfully complex. It goes back to that whole painful mastery thing we talked about on Sunday...

At any rate Nick Kelsh and I were tooling around the trade show in New York looking at all the cool new video stuff when I can across a small table whose inhabitants specialized in "viewer technology."
They had all kinds of viewfinders and hoods and shades for the LCD screens that hang there on the backs of still and video cameras. I found the biggest, meanest, gnarly-est one I could and measure it with my pocket laser rangefinder/caliper system to make sure it would fit on the backs of my Samsung NX 300 and my remarkably cool Pentax K-01's and then I borrowed a hundred bucks from Nick and bought one.  It actually occupies more cubic space than either my Pentax or my spunky little Samsung. And it's photographic comedy to see it in use....but now I can get my money's worth out of those expensive little flat panels that keep showing up on the backs of otherwise perfectly good cameras. 

The company that sells this is called, Swivi and I think the product is a bargain at $100. It's got an eyepiece blind (for what? I'm not sure...) and a big diopter adjustment ring that's made out of metal. You can see that the rubber eyecup is steroid enhanced. Absolutely hulking.  You'll think you've gone back to the eyecup on your Arriflex 16S. 

The loupe construction is hinged so you can flip up the magnifying element and look at the shaded LCD directly or hold the camera at arm's length in classic, stinky baby diaper--daddy needs glasses" style. Wonderful for new school or old school. 

Best of all this beast bolts onto the bottom with belligerent bravado. The all metal mounting hardware is a salad of metal bolts and rods that allows the unit to be custom fit to just about any camera with a tripod socket. Shifting left and right or up and down is easy and when you've got it where you want it the whole thing locks down tightly. And wearing it with a diminutive camera will make you look like the biggest photo nerd in the area. But I'll still bring it around with me when I actually want, or need, to see what's on the screen at midday in the blazing sun. YMMV.

The wonderful thing bout the construction of the loupe and the mounting hardware is that
nothing occludes the Marc Newsome signature on the bottom of my camera. 
And secondarily, nothing gets in the way of the battery compartment.

The one fly in the ointment? You lose your tripod socket.
C'est la vie. That's what vise grips are for......

Life in the booth.

Gloria. Samsung Galaxy NX. 60mm Len. 

I've never been a "booth babe" before. I've been to a lot of trade shows and photographed tons of corporate events as a show photographer but this was a first for me. There something both magical and mercenary about pretending to be plying your trade (portraiture) in front of a mob that ranges from keenly interested and kind to downright sociopathic and demanding. I've rarely felt as exposed. But once you steel yourself up it kind of grows on you.... Like breaking in new shoes.

In the Samsung booth Nick Kelsh and I were shooting with our cameras electronically tethered to a rather large and impressive television and this meant that, with constantly on live view, everything we pointed our cameras at was shown simultaneously to everyone around the booth. Every snap we reviewed was popped up on the "big" screen ---real time. So, when we flubbed exposures or got the most horrible expression from a model imaginable the results were there for our ever changing panel of "judges."

Every once in a while I'd push the wrong series of buttons on my camera in way too quick and chaotic a manner and the camera would give me an error message. The "fix" was generally a quick jab at the power button and we'd be back in business but I'd always get rattled and hand my camera to Andrew, our technical wizard. He'd push the requisite two buttons and hand the camera back with a smile and I'd go on shooting.

I found out that there is, at some point of the day, going to be a show attendee who hates your brand, loves his chosen brand and is dropping by your booth to be as obnoxious as possible. But until everyone starts throwing punches you really can't call security. But you can try to change the conversation to something else....or pawn him off on a booth "expert" in your camp. Goes with the territory. 

So, what did I learn in my close embrace of the general public for three days? Well, it's much easier to demo a camera if you look at the big screen on the back or the even bigger screen over your head when you are shooting test shots and sample shots. That way you stay with the crowd instead of retreating into your viewfinder.  I learned that on an APS-C sensor camera that my absolute favorite portrait focal length is, without a doubt,  60mm! I had the 85mm 1.4 in my bag and while it's a wonderful lens that focuses quickly and images nicely it seemed just a bit long, which put me just a bit further away from my subject than I'd like to be. I went shorter once or twice but it just never seemed to gel for me.

I now know why I like to use a tripod! I can compose and maintain that basic composition even if I need to, or want to, step away from the camera to answer a question or stare at that Leica S camera just a few booths away. When I come back to the camera it's still all set up the way I left it. The tripod also allows me to keep my hands free to push buttons or gesticulate wildly at the models...

I never liked shooting tethered before. In the early days the Kodak professional cameras and the Photo Desk software made tethering straightforward and relatively easy but ensuing products from other makers were always more tenuous and halting. Mid-decade programs crashed and ran slow (for portrait shooters) and I always hated being on the end of the inevitable leash. But tethering wireless and "at speed" is great. The image was on screen almost simultaneous to my shooting it and the giant TV and the LCD on the back of the camera seemed to be a reasonably good match. Yesterday I found myself shooting a portrait "old school" and realized that I've already spoiled myself in just three days. Now I'm shopping around for a "smart" TV that does wi-fi so I can set it up in the studio and change the way I've been doing portraits....

I found that in the "behind the scenes" areas of a trade show booth there might be Crumbs(tm) cupcakes and many of them might conspire to have my name on them. I also found treasure troves of  Halloween candy which I shamelessly bartered with the gatekeeper at the V.I.P. lounge for fresh coffee. I've come to understand from my booth mates that no matter how much product literature you bring you will run out. The only thing worse than running out of literature is to bring a sparse amount and NOT run out.

I've come to realize that no matter how big your shooting area you would always like just a few more feet on every side. But mostly I've come to realize that a collaboration with a talented and beautiful model will always make you look like a better photographer. Really.

 Photos of Kirk provided by VSL reader, Tom Judd. ©2013 Tom Judd, all rights reserved.

Finally, I will always look ten pounds heavier than I think I am in any photo taken of me....

Thanks Tom!

link to tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/visualsciencekirk


The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don't understand.

Gloria. Cropped image from Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm macro lens.

On the last day of the PhotoPlus Expo I finally got why the camera industry has hit the wall and may never come back again in the same way. The folks who love cameras for the sake of cameras, and all the nostalgic feelings they evoke of Life Magazine, National Geographic, 1980's fashion, and 1990's celebrity portraiture, and other iconic showcases that made us sit up and really look at photography, are graying, getting old, and steadily shrinking in numbers.

I can profile the average camera buyer in the U.S. right now without looking at the numbers. The people driving the market are predominately over 50 years old and at least 90% of them are men. We're the ones who are driving the romantic re-entanglement with faux rangefinder styles. We're the ones at whom the retro design of the OMD series camera are aimed. We're the ones who remember when battleship Nikons and Canons were actually needed to get great shots and we're the ones who believe in the primacy of the still image as a wonderful means of communication and even art. But we're a small part of the consumer economy now and we're walking one path while the generations that are coming behind us are walking another path. And it's one we're willfully trying not to understand because we never want to admit that what we thought of as the "golden age of photography" is coming to an end as surely as the kingdom of Middle Earth fades away in the last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is not to say that photography is dying. Or that the generations coming behind us are doomed to failure and despair; far from it. They are living the golden age of photography from their perspective, and their heroes in the field are names we don't even know. This is a generation that values a personal vision that arrives as quickly as a phone call and has a much shorter half life than the one we experienced for our work, but then again, what doesn't move faster these days?

As I photographed in the booth for Samsung I looked out at the waves of people who were exploring the various products on the showroom floor and I became aware that most of them were well over 50 years old and the elders were carrying their big Nikons and Canons as badges of honor and with a smug attitude that their equipment choice was the one that would persevere through the ages.

But the very thing that makes a ruling party or a ruling generation is the same thing that will kill its paradigm. Our version of the market is almost a completely closed loop. At this Expo we worshipped at the altar of the same basic roster of speakers and presenters who've been speaking and presenting for the last ten years. We've closed the loop and the choice offered to younger photographers is to sit and listen to people old enough to be their grandmothers or grandfathers wax on about how we used to do it in the old days or to not come at all.

Sony swings for the fences and ends up a little short. The hands on mini-evaluation of the new A7's.

Gloria. One light. Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm Macro.

Man, those product shots that show up on the web from Sony always look so great. When I saw the first salvo of PR photos of the A7 and the A7r my drool response was nearly simultaneous. And if they'd been in stock at the time I would probably be $2200 poorer right now. But it didn't turn out that way and chances are it probably won't turn out that way although Sony will still make a sale if the RX 10 is as good in person as the specs lead me to believe it might be.

On my way to the PhotoPlus Expo I found myself musing about heading straight to the big Sony display and getting my hands on one of the cameras. I thought for sure I'd be fondling my future path in the Sony system. But instead of walking away in love I walked away wondering about the idea of manufacturing en charrett. En charrett is a phrase made up by 19th century French architecture students who would work on projects while being pushed on a cart to the place where the designs would be judged. They would work on their projects right up to the deadline (and one imagines that there was always a lot left undone before the bell rang.....).

The Sony booth had a square table in the middle and A7 variants tethered to the top on all four sides. Here you could fondle both of the models to your heart's desire. So, I pick up the A7r, set the diopter for my eyesight and click the shutter. And in that moment it was like finding out that your beautiful date is also convinced she's been abducted by aliens and that the entire world is less than five thousand years old. The loud, high pitched click of the shutter was stunning. Absolutely stunning. At least I was stunned.

Here you have a camera with no flapping mirror and it generates more disagreeable decibels than a moving mirrored Pentax K5-2 and at a more hysterical pitch. Ahhh. I thought to myself. I just need to enable the electronic first shutter and all will be well. Then the second of many shoes dropped. The denser sensor of the A7r (the high res version) doesn't support quiet.  I mean electronic first curtain shutter. Oh well. I thought, and I moved on to the regular A7 and looked for the EFC in the menu. Even after I enabled that setting the shutter was still irresponsibly loud. And that's when I  started making a more critical survey of the entire package.

The camera is just about the right size for my hands but it is less well finished than the a99's I'm used to using. The design of the exterior just feels more primitive as though it came from a more primitive facility, from an earlier time. The squared off prism is an acquired taste I suppose, but it's one I'm having trouble acquiring... Then I moved on to the AF speed which will be of more interest to other than to me. It's not as fast as the a99. While the really good contrast detection AF systems are pretty darn good they aren't up to fast action. While the a99 is not stellar in this regard it is quite a bit better than the A7r I handled and modestly but obviously better than the AF in the A7 (which is supposed to incorporate PD-AF elements on its sensor.

Finally, even though the body is sized to fit into one's hands in a nice way (and especially with a small prime lens mounted on the front) the new, smaller size means the camera is a considerable handling mis-match for lenses made for the original Sony FF cameras. The large Zeiss zooms and the big 70-200mm G lens are totally out of step with the more compact body size. In fact, if you are using legacy glass from Sony along with one of the adapters your shooting profile (where the lenses are concerned) is bulkier than with the larger a99 body. And that just doesn't make sense.

While the body is smaller than the a99 once the lenses and adapters are mounted the difference between body sizes is trivial in the overall profile. So, in fact, nothing is gained except for the ability to use a wide range of older lenses with appropriate adapters.

The A7 with the 35mm f2.8 prime is a nice sized package.  But the camera itself just doesn't shake the feeling that it's still a work in progress. At some point they will have 8 or 10 good, dedicated lenses and the system will probably come together. I get what the guys at Sony are trying to do but I'm not sure they tossed it into the market in the exactly the right way. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it will sell and sell well. After all, it's a full frame camera with a great sensor at a very reasonable price. If most of my use for the camera were in the studio I'd commit to the 36 meg version and get an adapter right now. The noise wouldn't keep me up nights. But......

There's one more thing that irks me on this camera and on the Samsung Galaxy NX camera (which is in the same price range) and that's the fact that the menus include an "Airplane Mode" to turn off the connectivity features. That connotes to me that otherwise the camera is on and trying to connect all the time. I think cameras should only connect then I ask them to. But I am part of the graying of photography and my disconnection always hits right around the spot where someone tries to tell me how advantageous it is to stay connected all the time. Screw that. Sometimes I want to be in charge.

If only Sony had gotten the shutter right.....I could live with just about everything else. 

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....