4.10.2014

Shooting your own feet. A choppy day of photographing, driving and reading bad novels.


All of the images above were done during the course of an assignment yesterday in San Antonio. It was a long day. I started it by driving Ben to the Austin airport at 5:30 in the morning. I am not really a morning person. At least not when morning is defined by darkness (and sleep deprivation...). 

My next stop was to an architectural firm where I needed to photograph some people whose schedules precluded them from attended our day long session several weeks ago. It was fun and the very first professional use (by me) of the new Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8 lens on the GH3. It's a magnificent portrait lens and I was very, very happy with the performance of both camera and lens. While the GH3, and Panasonic cameras in general, sometimes get knocks for creating files that are less saturated, snappy and giddy than some competitors I can tell you that, from a portraitist's point of view, they are wonderful files to work with and go a long way toward handling sneaky highlights. 

The shadows were nice and open as well. Maybe it's the lens but subsequent shooting with the Sigma 60mm makes me think there's something most people are overlooking in this camera in their race toward bigger, better and more modern. 

After making portraits of three different architects I packed up, headed back to the studio and post processed and edited the take. Then I hoped back into the car and headed up to Precision Camera where I purchased a brand new Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens. Look, I was blown away with the performance of the Sigma 60mm lens on the Panasonic GH3, how could I not want to try my luck again with the 30mm ? And while I was there I picked up another, smaller Benro tripod that's small enough to fit inside my roller bag (lesson learned from a recent shooting trip in Chicago and Minneapolis).

I came back to the house to change out of my studio cleaning, running around, Austin hippy clothes, take a shower and put on something more presentable for my trip to San Antonio. We needed to photograph in the public areas of a very, very posh downtown, high rise, condominium project and I decided I needed to be more urbanely presentable than is generally required in Austin. For the most part that just means shoes that aren't scuffed or covered with paint and an unstained shirt with a collar, all buttons intact and no wrinkles...

I packed a different collection of lighting gear (which I did not need) and added a Panasonic G6 to my Think Tank Retrospective camera bag. Then I played with the Studio Dog for half an hour, left her some interesting hidden treats around the house to find and headed for the shining metropolis of San Antonio. 

My primary objective, driven by a friendly ad agency, was to get a nice skyline shot of San Antonio at twilight. That's always a hard assignment because we have no control over atmospheric conditions, general haze, etc. But I was ready to give it the old college try. 

My secondary objectives were to make a group shot of the marketing team for the project in one of the majestic "great rooms" at the project. I also needed to do one environmental portrait and also a "two shot" of a successful sales team. 

The room came pre-lit with a wall full of floor to ceiling windows that faced South and picked up all the afternoon light, giving me a diffuse, glowing light source with which to work. The huge pile of lighting I lugged in stayed in the cases. 

The various marketing shots needed to happen quickly to satisfy some scheduling parameters on the client side. With that in mind I set up a main shot which would have a group of four to six. I tested and composed the shot in a general way while everyone was in a meeting. With that location nailed down I left the primary camera, a GH3 with the 12-35mm Panasonic lens, on a tripod and moved over to find a secondary location that would work for one and then two people. 

Once I found a background I liked and a corresponding big window/wall of light I set up a second camera (the Panasonic G6 ) added the 90mm Sigma lens and got that shot zero'd in. About twenty minutes later our group arrived and ten minutes after than I was dragging the cart with all the lighting gear back to the car. Oh well, better to be prepared....

The final shot of the day would be the twilight shot and that wasn't going to happen for several more hours. I knew this from the outset and I prepared by finding the closest good coffee supplier and then I came back and created a perch on the balcony of the 21st story penthouse apartment. Once I had the angles and crops figured out for my camera I curled up with a bad Vince Flynn novel and my coffee and mindlessly read mindless stuff. It was fun. 

At one point the action and adventure in the book got boring so I walked around and shot silly details with the Sigma 30mm and the G6. I like them both. And I like my shoes with laces. 









4.08.2014

This is an art installation. This is a billboard. This is a blog about wall painting and graffiti. And a tale of two lenses.

One of the areas in which I felt I had shorted the Panasonic system and one reason I kept shooting with the big Sonys was my paucity of wide angles for the smaller cameras. I bought an Olympus 12-50mm and while it was good it wasn't great. When I thought about fleshing out the system my real intention was just to get a 35-100mm f2.8 to replace my long, fast Sony zoom and then be done with the whole exercise. But with business being brisk again and with the opportunity to divest more of the bigger system I figured I'd just swing a bit harder and get the double dose, the 12-35mm f2.8 and the 35-100mm f2.8 Panasonic X lenses. Now I don't use wide angles very often. I'm not really an architectural photographer and there's very little I like about my own capability to shoot wide. But at least six or seven times a year I need something that goes to the equivalent of 24mm (as measured on a full frame camera). In fact, I have two assignments coming up near the end of the month that may both, potentially, need some wide angle love so----

I walked around in a cold, breezy rain storm on Sunday just to see how the lens worked. I shot it wide open to make sure I liked the performance but as you can see in the image above and the one just below my brain takes control of the zoom ring and tries to get it as close to the 50mm (eq.) area in which I am obviously most comfortable. I'll say this from my tests: The lens is wide angle proficient and normal angle excellent. Hmmm.

Cake makes all lenses taste better. 

Interesting to me that I could have a new lens in the $1200 price range land in the camera bag but have it take far less priority in my scheme of shooting than a lens that landed only a few days later, the Sigma 60mm f2.8 dn. While I am happy with the work-like countenance of the 12-35mm with its promise of high performance and its swaggering Mega OIS image stabilization I have to admit that I find the $230 Sigma lens a lot more emotionally compelling. Maybe it's the narrow confines of the angle of view and maybe it's the need for more careful handling that makes it a better emotional investment for me. I just don't know. 


But when Studio Dog and I put in our mandatory four hour work day and pushed back from our respective desk and fluffy mat we were ready to grab a camera and go for quality walk. I looked at the two lenses on the desk and, without hesitation, whisked the 12-35mm Panasonic right into the file cabinet drawer marked, "Proficient Gear," grabbed the Sigma 60mm, and a GH3 body, and a leash and got into the car. We ended up downtown at the Graffiti Park, just west of Lamar Blvd. I was eager to see what was new since my last visit and Studio Dog was eager to see if she could disrupt my "professional" camera hold by tugging at the leash in sporadic and unexpected intervals....




 The image above is one of Studio Dog's favorites. She barked at it with a mix of appreciation and apprehension. After all, it is a much bigger dog and has the advantage of wearing goggles...



Ahh....those Panasonic colors. 





Part Two: An Unguided display of someone's art installation. How do I know it's an art installation? Was it my short career teaching at the University of Texas at Austin College of Fine Arts? Was it all of the art history classes I sat through (wide awake)? Was it a 25 year career in the arts? My advisory position for a local college arts program? Naw. Look at the pictures below and you'll understand exactly how I knew that what looks like footwear is really ART.





End of art segment. Begin gratuitous, quasi-street photography. 

I have moved on from the examination of art and am now working to decipher just what is compelling and "sexy" about posing for photographs in front of disconnected graffiti... I am not making much headway. 

To recap: Panasonic zoom lens (12-35mm) = very good. And practical. Sigma 60mm f2.8 (cheap as dirt) lens = very good+fun to shoot with = score.  Park covered with Graffiti = colorful images.
Walks with dog = Existential give and take+treats.

Run Toward the Snarling Dog.


Two philosophical ideas for today. The first is about dealing with fear.  The fear of getting started. The fear of failure. The fear of not knowing enough of whatever it is you want to do. I read a story a long time ago about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. As a small boy he lived outside his own country.  He would often have to walk with his retainers and entourage past an enormous house guarded by huge, fierce dogs. Most days the dogs were contained behind high walls or fences and the Dalai Lama and his people were safe from attack.

One morning the dogs were loose. They saw the Dalai Lama's group and starting snarling and making belligerent moves. Everyone around the young boy was very frightened, turned and started to run away from the dogs (and running from dogs is probably the very best way to get them to chase you...) but the Dalai Lama turned and ran toward the snarling dogs. He charged at them. And they stopped.
And the entourage regrouped and walked on.

Is it a true story? Does it matter? The takeaway thought is to confront your fears directly. To run toward the snarling dogs. Being in control, or even just having the conceit of being in control gives you power. Every photographer I know wrestles with doubt, anxiety and fear. Do I really know how to create a certain look? Do I have a style? Can I sell my style? Why am I afraid to show my work to potential clients? What if everyone rejects me? Where is the market going? How can I change gears? How can I get part of a new market? What if I am revealed to be a fake?

Most of us try to fortify ourselves (our self confidence) by delving as deeply as we can into the technical underpinnings of our crafts. We learn all 5,000 secret actions in Photoshop or we watch 10,000 hours of workshops on the web to see how everyone else in the world might light a simple image. If we are into video we study every web site and pull apart every movie to try and understand the entirety of the undertaking before we even lift a camera and engage the start button.

We do this because we are afraid to fail. We are convinced that we will get only one chance to enter the field and engage. And because we feel that we have only one chance we want to tip the odds overwhelmingly in our own favor. It's like a man who's been told he will be on Jeopardy (a TV show that tests your ability to memorize facts, names, events, etc.) in five years. For the next five years the man does nothing but study everything he can lay his hands only to find out that he was so over prepared that he had become paralyzed. Unable to answer.  Or that the show had been cancelled...
Or that five years of his life had passed him by and that cost was greater than any reward that winning the show might have gained him...

I watched myself do this with photography. Especially in the transition years between film and digital and I remember how much time I lost and how much useless information I squirreled away. And then the information (not necessarily immutable facts) hit the sell by date and we felt like we needed to start over again with new information. In crafts with a large technical component it's so easy to get stuck in an information acquisition loop and never get out, never actually start producing. It's part of the reason we're always buying something new...

I vowed not to do this with video. I jumped straight in. I'd done my learning curve on the aesthetics and mechanics of telling stories with motion back in the 1980's and 1990's as a creative director and copywriter, and also as a DP on projects for several directors. I was stern with myself this time around. I don't need to know any more than how to tell the story, how to turn on the lights and how to push the "start" button on the camera. All the other stuff is just more stuff. It's not the core of the story telling craft. And none of it is as hard as we believe it is.

My fear was some mythical learning curve. What better way to neutralize this fear than to pick up your camera and your tripod and your microphone and get busy telling your story. You work, you learn. You work, you grow. I started warming up with my own projects. Stuff I do just for me. And I learn good techniques by not being afraid to fail on my own stuff. And everything I learn goes into making client projects as good as they can be. I can sit and "learn" or I can walk out the door with fresh batteries and a fresh mind and look for a fun story to tell. A quick script on a napkin. A montage of visual notes. Something fun to edit together. I get up in the morning and remind myself to run Toward the Snarling Dog!

Part Two: Changing the world.

I always grumble that the world is changing too fast and not for the better. I wish people would put down their cellphones, I wish people would pay attention. There's so much about the world I want to change and all I accomplish by focusing on this angry need to change the world is to become frustrated and upset and push way the good things in the world as well. I think to an extent we all wish some things could be changed. The issue is that everyone feels that different things need to be changed.

I was reading the notes for Stephen Mitchell's wonderfully readable translation of, "Tao the ching" and I came across this passage; this thought:

"Do you want to improve the world?

Wanting to reform the world without discovering one's true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes."

It certainly made me pause and reflect. And if I print out the passage and put it up on my wall perhaps I'll spend more time working on my own stuff and a lot less time grousing about the state of the world. Now I need to walk the (small) snarling dog...

4.07.2014

On a lighter and less contentious note: My review of the Sigma 60mm dn lens for the Micro Fourth Thirds system.

This is the look I generally get from Studio Dog when I step 
out into the back yard to take a few casual snaps with 
new toys. She seems to be saying: "Really? No fetch?
No chase? No treats? Just gonna stand there with 
that damn, black box pressed to your eye?  Bad Dad!
Bad Dad!!!

So, I pontificated the hell out of the Sony A7s and raised the un-nerving specter of death re: printing in the modern world. Well, maybe it's time to take the angst down just a few notches and remember some of the fun stuff about still photography. Like the happiness of buying a new lens. The joy one feels when the lens performs really, really well and the pleasure of doing all this at a bargain price point. Okay. I can speak to that. 

Sigma's been in the photo news a lot lately because they've been routinely shaking up the big players in the business by making really cool lenses that outperform similar lenses from Canon, Nikon and Sony. Lenses that either outperform on pure technical metrics like sharpness across the frame or lenses that outperform the majors by being "just as good" but at a lot lower price point. A case in point is their new, 50mm f1.4 "Art" lens which is tearing up the competition in early reviews. Seems its only real competitor might be the Zeiss Otus 55mm 1.4 (but I'm willing to bet that there are a few 50mm lenses from Leica that are more than up to the challenge....).  Lots of serious photographers have lots of serious stuff to say about Sigma's 35mm 1.4 "Art" lens as well. 

And just to stay on a roll, they've been rolling out some incredible standard zooms too. 

When I shot with the Sony Nex-7 I bought two very inexpensive Sigma lenses that were made for the Nex cameras and the m4:3 cameras. One was a 19mm and the other a 30mm. Both were very good, albeit they did feel a bit flimsy. But for the prices asked the lenses were wonderful and as good as the bigger brands when it came to raw performance on the sensor.

When I moved on from the Nex cameras I also moved on from the Sigma 19 and 30mm lenses.

Now I've totally committed to the Panasonic/Olympus micro four-thirds system and after I added the (truly nice) 12-35mm f2.8 and the 35-100mm f2.8 lenses I went looking for some little niche petit bonbons to add to the system. One lens that caught my eye was the new style 60mm Sigma dn lens. All the reviews kinda gush about how great this lens is and then the reviewers seem almost embarrassed to mention the price. At $230 I figured it would hard to go wrong.

The lens is a sleek, modern art design. A paean to the new, cylindrical PowerMac? I bought the black one because I like the lenses to match the cameras but on the first day of use it was Texas-sunny and I wondered if I'd made the wrong choice and should have gotten the silver version instead---considering the heat load that is coming down the road into summer.

The lens is simple. No external controls. One giant slippery focusing ring. It's not a speed demon (which might explain why the optics are so good....), it only opens up to f2.8. There's no image stabilization inside. But so far I'm happy with how sharp the images are and how nicely drawn the out of focus backgrounds are when using the lens wide open.

I know I am guilty of grabbing new lenses and walking around in the bright sunlight in downtown Austin making images that can't help but be sharp and contrasty. Sunlight is sunlight....  But today the Studio Dog and I had a different idea for testing out the lens and we applied it. First, Studio Dog insisted we go to the park and try the lens out with some outdoor scenes; tree branches with fresh leaves, canoes, and that sort of thing. Then I suggested that we go back to the house and shoot weird little interior vignettes using a monopod. That way we could do stuff like use the lens wide open and shoot at non-optimal ISO's like 1600 and 3200. We could work with weird light. And generally play around with reckless abandon.

Here, with captions, is my gallery of test images:

My first test is always leaves and trees and the sky in the background. On the original file I can blow up all pixel-peeper style and see the structure of the individual leaves. Shot at f5.6. Works for me and I like the color and tonality. 

Studio Dog was transfixed by this ritualistic stacking of rocks out in the middle of Barton Springs. She was adamant that we go out and investigate but by the time I had my shoes off and my pants rolled up sheer was already newly fascinated by a log full of turtles sunning themselves. 

Old, weathered and scratched up canoes are a timeless favorite subject of mine. These are delicious. I should have used a Zeiss Otus on this shot instead of the 60mm Sigma but I couldn't figure out how to get one for the same price....

Amazing. Shooting stuff with a 60mm lens and a nearly open aperture means that some stuff in the foreground and the stream in the background go out of focus. Who would have thought this possible in a micro sized format....And yes, I like the colors and the, dare I say it? Bokeh. The bokeh is tricky and avuncular, wiry and complacent. With a hint of smoky oak.

Studio Dog saw the turtles and it was like a kid from a far away country walking into Disney Land for the first time. She paced back and forth alternately growling and whining at them. They ignored her which, I think, hurt her feelings. I was a bit put out that they also ignored my shiny new lens. That's just the way it is with turtles. 

 Tree. Large.  

 After our ambitious ramble we came back to the house for a mixed rice and sardine lunch. Yes, my dog loves sardines. It was over lunch as I looked around the house that I decided to test my new lens in the most domestic of settings. I grabbed a small monopod and worked on bracing techniques and zen-like photo-breathing and mostly used the Sigma 60mm lens at its widest aperture, f2.8. Above, my Tibetan stool on a wood floor next to a wall with two outlet plates. 
One of many bookshelves in the house with a tiny part of my Richard Avedon book collection. 

 Here I must ask, have you ever spent time looking at your old thermostat? Fascinating. And now that I've made a photographic interpretation of it I'm not sure I could bear to change it. Ever. It's so 1950's "Space Age." Yes, the lens focuses closely. 

A bathroom window. Looking for flare. Not finding it. 

 The boy's towel rack. Complete with Pokemon towel. 
 Baskets in the kitchen. Kitchen floor. 
When Studio Dog and I ate lunch today I was looking through one of our books on the history of western art. Were the Etruscans really the "bad boys" of the Med? That's what historians tell us. Really spirited trouble makers. 

You can tell this is the home of an "older generation" photographer because there are more framed photographs in the house than there are plasma screens or LED television sets. But I can't judge whether that is a good thing or a bad thing or if it just "is."

And what lens test would be complete without a diagonal shot of a window screen with the background out of focus?

Every day the Studio Dog and I are in battle over who will get the sacred chair. The rules in the family are that if someone is already there you can't move them. The dog seems to have radar to sense the times that I want to sit in the reading chair. I tried sitting on the floor trying to make her feel guilty. She doesn't understand guilt and sees my capitulation as an invitation to nap. Not even a stalemate....

Central Texas Book Case. Mid-first decade. 21st century.

 The grown-ups light switch. 

It was my turn to make the bed. I forgot. 

Playing with focus and the edge of my towel. The 60mm focal length is captivating. I already have the Olympus high speed version but I talked myself into this one because there are times when I want autofocus and program. But I can't recall when...

This old white chair, in this corner, is my favorite reading spot in the whole world. I can read by the light coming through sheer curtains from two, big French doors and I can see all the way down the long hallway to the front door. 

Light switch installed for the boy about twelve years ago. 

The one plant Belinda and I have been unable to kill for more than 28 years.

My assessment of the lens? Small, fast, sharp, cheap and able to do nice tonalities. Get one now for your small camera. If you are still using a monster camera you are out of luck on this front...




4.06.2014

The Sony A7s. Writing about this because it's interesting. Not because I want one. Yet...

Sony announced a new A7 model at the NationalAssociation of Broadcaster's show today in Las Vegas. The camera is called the Sony A7S and it will be a very interesting product for people who: a. Shoot with the Sony Nex FE system. b. Think they might want to shoot nice video. and, c. People who think they might like to shoot under very, very, very low light conditions. After a very thorough inspection of the specs it seems obvious that Sony has still (like the A7r) found very interesting ways to take out their corporate handgun and shoot again and again at their own feet.

What is interesting about this camera? Well, for starters it contains a brand new, full frame sensor that  allegedly does what many have been calling for years---it promises bigger, lustier pixel wells for much better (lower noise) high ISO performance. Instead of 24 or 36 megapixels you can step up to 12 megapixels spread across a 24 by 36 mm sensor. The advertised high end of the ISO range is in line with the newly announced Nikon D4s at over 400,000. Yikes!

If you keep up with video production you probably have heard that a big issue with using traditional DSLRs like the Canon 5D3 and the Nikon D4s or D800 is having to get all of the information off the huge sensors and condense it down quickly into the much, much smaller video files. The cameras do this by binning and by using a line skipping scheme. The issue has always been the image processing pipeline which is optimized for the creation of huge image files with HD video as an afterthought. The problem with the current downsampling schemes is that the files generated don't have the detail they could and are no match for camera with smaller output sensors which are also optimized to be able to dump their entire frame of information without the processing to downsample.

In Canon's professional video line cameras like the C100, C300 and C500 use sensors that have limited the megapixel count to nearly the exact count of 4K HD. These cameras can write frames to memory without too much processing and with no downsampling which allows them to have faster frame rates and to do away with the image degradation of line skipping. Sony is following in their footsteps but for the first time introducing this strategy in a consumer camera. A camera that is affordable to many who want to stick a toe into 4K video with a relatively good assurance of high quality.

One of the benefits of the bigger pixel wells is something more important than high ISO performance, it's a much wider dynamic range. Rumor has it that this sensor will compete with some of Sony's professional cameras when it comes to dynamic range meaning that the camera will have up to 13.5 stops of usable range. The gap between consumer Sony and consumer Canon just got wider....

I was amazed to find that the camera will also come with film maker profiles and the ability to use S-Log curves that also protect highlight detail. In essence, aside from the lower resolution, this will be a noon time, bright sun, desert, swim pool in summer champion. Sounds good so far, right? So why would I say that Sony has their good ole Colt .45 loaded and aimed once again at their own big toe?
And what does this new competitor mean to all of us who've been waiting with bated breath for the Panasonic 4K camera? Will we now drop those Panny plans and rush back to the Sony camp?

Well, let's get logical and read into the specs with reckless abandon.

First off, the big one: Technically you can't use the stock camera to shoot 4K to the memory card in the Sony A7s camera. Wait, I don't get it. This is being touted as Sony's consumer foray into DSLR 4K video but the camera won't record 4K video? Nope. Yep. The camera will record 2K video in a 4:2:2 configuration which means wonderful 1080p files but to actually record 4K you'll need an outboard digital video recorder to make that work. You can pretty much plan on adding at least a thousand dollars and a lot more complexity (and weak, flex points) in production to get 4K from the camera. Hey, be careful because you'll have some wires sticking out and you'll need to attach that new digital recorder somewhere.... So, technically, yes the camera will record 4K video, just not to the internal card or any other inexpensive modality. Yikes! That's big news. The Panasonic has 4K directly to the memory card figured out and ready to go in its GH4.

But once you get that digital video recorder you're pretty much ready to go and put the GH4 to shame, right?  Bigger sensor and all that. Right?

Well, no. Sony has chosen to further cripple their camera with their new consumer codec XAVC S which is actually a smaller frame (consumer 4K) versus the Panasonic's more professional and full frame codecs. The max camera to card output for the Sony is about 50 mps which is less than half the information being lovingly placed onto the internal memory card in the Panasonic.

Yes, the Sony will offer less depth of field than the GH4 but on most other technical video standards the equally priced Panasonic walks all over the Sony.  Both cameras require outboard units for stuff like XLR microphone inputs but where the Panasonic unit also offers SDI output the Sony unit, at this junction is microphones only.

Then we get into issues of handling...both still and video. Sony is using the same NP-50 battery that we first met in the Nex-7. It's a decent trade off of size, weight and endurance for a small, mostly still-intended camera but it's a whole different compromise for a camera that's being aggressively pushed as a nearly "pro grade" video production tool. According to Sony specs the battery will give one a blustery 90 minutes of total run time. Now, I don't know if you've been on many shoots lately but that about enough power for set up, test and few dress rehearsals and maybe one or two takes. Better take along six of the batteries for a full shooting day.

The GH4 gives up about 3.5 hours of run time for a big, fat battery. I feel compfy with two batteries and a little charger (as a safety precaution) for a day of shooting.

The interesting thing to me will be the focusing. The A7 was one of the slowest to focus mirror-less system cameras I ever used (but in full disclosure I haven't retested since they did the big firmware update) while the Panasonic GH3 is one of the fastest mirror-free systems I have ever used.

I guess in the end the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. If you need full frame DOF you might be swayed in the direction of the Sony, and for the price you'll probably get better video performance than any of the other DSLR style cameras out there in the price range (or above it). You will get a nice EVF, a good LCD, and lots of software tools that might make the camera a wonderful imaging tool.  Be advised that there's you'll loose fast frame rates on the Sony when you go to 4K....

On the other hand I think the GH4 product is much better thought out and a real "user" for people who like to work with small, efficient crews. And people who want fast fps. And more battery life.

Good points for the Sony (based on a close read of their specs): 

1. A system approach to still and video imaging in the same form factor as their high res cameras.

2. A better codec then their previously pervasive ACVHD offerings (still on the camera and still 28 mps...).

3. A great viewfinder.

4. Nice body style and low weight, good handling.

5. Lots of video software tools like S-Log curves and cinematic profiles.

6. I presume they will include the really good focus peaking they've had in previous cameras.

7. The ability to use a wide range of lenses from many lens makers

8. *****The big one will be the quality of the sensor (I think it will be fantastic) and all the accompanying benefits: Dynamic Range, Color Accuracy, High ISO/Low Noise Performance.

We've already discussed the drawbacks above. To condense, be sure to get your out board digital video recorder and a pocket full of batteries.

All in all it's good to see Sony come into the market.

FYI, for all of you who think it will take a long time for 4K to flow into the consumer market please be aware that Sony is shoving something like 24 new consumer 4K TVs into the markets this Fall and Samsung, Panasonic and Toshiba are right there with them. When prices fall after the holiday season, and they will, I think you'll see affluent consumers all over the place upgrading at not much higher a price than they paid for a 2K LED screen only a year or so ago. The adaptation will be much more rapid than the original move to flat panel HDs. And the computer market, led by Dell's $600 24 inch 4K monitor is already heating up. It's a brave new world. Thanks a lot, Aldous Huxley.


edit note 4/7/2014: While I may not be an expert in video I believe that Michael Reichmann over at Luminous Landscape would qualify. Here's a very informative discussion thread on one of his forums about the intro of the A7S and a casual comparison to the Panasonic product. Please read it before pronouncing me "dumb as a stump." : http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?topic=88774.0

edit note 4/7/2014 evening in Austin: Here is a very even handed comparison between the Sony and the Panasonic by Andrew Reid at EOSHD. Well worth reading: http://www.eoshd.com/content/12562/panasonic-gh4-vs-sony-a7s-compared-wins-4k-battle-paper

4.05.2014

Interesting idea about the death of print.

"Show me the picture NOW."

In the original Ghostbusters movie, released in 1984, Harold Ramis's character, Egon Spengler, declares: "Print is dead."

Last night I had some nice wine and some very tasty cheese with a photographer friend who is a much better photographer than I'll ever be. We got together so I could quiz him about a recent trip to Azerbaijan that he did for a travel magazine. He told me that the trip was very long in both directions and that he slept the first day he got there, shot for two days and then it snowed. He left on the fourth day. Basically he had two full shooting days. And yet, I sat in front of his computer screen and clicked through several hundred beautiful images. Not just beautiful in the sense that they were perfectly good travel images but beautiful because nearly every image had some subtext, some wry point of nearly disguised humor and an almost encapsulated narrative.

Now this photographer has been engaged in taking images for over 40 years, has done campaigns for Canon, McDonald's, Quaker, CNN, and a thousand other big name clients. He's worked for the best magazines and he's been profiled in Communication Arts magazine. And he currently holds a full time position as a staff photographer at a magazine.

As I was getting ready to head home I asked him his opinion about the state of magazines and print photography in general. That's when he dropped the line from Ghostbusters. I asked him for details and he just shrugged and said, more or less, that the writing is on the wall. We're the last generation for whom magazines and big circulation picture books were a primary medium. We're the last generation to value printed newspapers and we're the last generation who really cares about making prints and putting them on our walls. (And I think his optimistic assessment of "our generation" is anyone over say, 45).

If you are over 50 you are probably in some state of denial and you are waiting for all these media to make their comebacks. Sorry, I just don't think it's going to happen. Going forward I think still image display will become more and more like the trading cards in the first Harry Potter movie. The image will be on the screen until it's replaced by another one. The images of your family and your dog that used to have a place in your real world wallet have been replaced by the same images on your phone, living amongst the electrons that also make up your virtual wallet.

I thought about all of this while I drove home and turning on the radio in the car I heard an NPR story about the retirement of David Letterman. At one point he was the king of late night TV. At one point there was huge market share for late night TV. Over the past six years his audience has dropped by two thirds. And it's not like he is being battered by younger, funnier, brighter new stars. He's still more or less at the top of that game.  It's just that very few younger people are routinely sitting down and watching late night TV. There are so many other options and none of them are really time and schedule constrained. Jon Stewart may take Letterman's place or it may be some other rising star but it won't materially change the trajectory of late night TV watching. TV is now a medium for watching live sports events for a big swath of the TV watching public, and a habit for an older generation with insomnia. There is no replacement audience for what is effectively a continuation of the programming that Johnny Carson invented so many decades ago.

But saying that late night talk shows are dead or that print is dead is not the same thing as saying that photography is dead. I give still photography a few more years....

There is a certain power to stopping time and presenting it in two dimensions. But the point that I think we need to come to grips with is that the actual representation on a flat media has changed from permanent print to ephemeral projection or emanation. We're at a generational inflection point where the momentum favors audiences (eyeballs)  enjoying images on big screens rather than sitting, Buddha-like, reverentially sorting through much smaller boxes of prints.

I am, of course, conflicted. I am 58. I grew up with magazines and in the early decades of practicing commercial photography right alongside my hobbyist passion for photography my immersion in the printed piece (both from the darkroom and the CMYK printers) was complete and seemingly unshakeable. I love the print but at the same time acknowledge that to other less weathered audiences the print is almost at the point of being, "quaint." An affectation of an older age.

We've slid in this direction much more slowly and more comfortably than we did when we transitioned from taking images on film cameras to making images on digital cameras. The ink jet printer craze was a comfortable decade of buffer from the rigor of the darkroom to the immediacy of the screen. Those printers have been a way of easing ourselves into the future without a wholesale abandonment of the trappings of print. And I expect prints from the ink jet machines to have a decades long death slope mostly because many of my generation will continue to use them and my generation seems to be on track to live a long time.

But I don't expect that Ben's cohort will have anything like the same regard for print. I think the younger the audience the more comfortable they are with digital screen viewing of images. And, if you consider still images as the raison d'ĂȘtre of print you'll quickly see why, while Egon Spengler's prediction was decades premature, print will actually die off. The images don't move and the generations entering the markets (and their immediate predecessors) were entirely acculturated in a time when television was the primary, in many cases sole, and ubiquitous medium of their maturing experience.

There will be no nostalgia for a "lost art" by a generation that never really experienced the immersion into that art or the commercial trappings of the still photography construct. All currently powerful art seems to be either retrospective printed work or of the moment moving art and most of it takes place on a screen. We may not like that but we need to remind ourselves, as commercial artists, that the delivery system is the message. Making stills is fun. There will be markets for stills as long as older generations have disposable income and the will to use it on consumer goods. There will be niche marketing as there are now many targeted niche magazines for mature audiences.

But it's a sunset medium now being replaced by electronic stuff that moves and talks. We can emotionally reject the new market or we can adapted, play in it and remain happily relevant. It really is our choice.

4.04.2014

Family portrait of Kirk's Zany Panasonic Collection.

From left to right: GH3 with an Olympus Pen FT 40mm f1.4 (speedy, sharp and competent. My most used video interview lens, so far...). Olympus Pen FT 50-90mm f3.5 zoom (for those times when you need a softer, more, ahem, ethereal look to your photos...reading between the lines...). A G6 with an Olympus Pen FT 25mm f2.8 (perfect for manual focus pulls in video). The Olympus flash (same as the Panasonic flash...). Behind the flash is the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4 ( a darling lens with happy performance). To the front again, the Olympus Pen FT 60mm 1.5 which is wickedly sharp from f2.5 on down and at 2.5 gives one just the right amount of focus control for wonderful portraits...). Behind it is the new, Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 and right next to it is its companion lens, the 35-100mm f2.8.  Hanging out in front of the 35-100mm f2.8 is yet another Olympus Pen FT lens, the 38mm 1.8. Moving over on to the right is another GH3 sporting the ultra light 45-150mm 4.0 to 5.6 lens and on the far right of the frame are two of the new style kit 14-42mm lenses, one in black and one in silver. 

A fun day. I finally rounded out the m4:3 system in preparation of the arrival of the GH4. I was up early walking the dog and thinking about my typical all or nothing and take no prisoners approach to changing camera systems and re-thinking my whole knee jerk impulse to banish my Sony full frame gear. Once the dog and I got back to the house I went out to the studio and looked at the pile of stuff on the floor and remembered Chad's comment on the site yesterday. I decided to keep a few bits and pieces of the Sony collection aside. It was an easy decision when it came to a99 versus a850. The a99 went right into the going away box. Not because it isn't a superb imaging camera but because it's a mediocre video camera and that was one of the reasons I first bought it. The a850 on the other hand does what it is supposed to do very well....

I also kept back the Sigma 70mm macro lens because I honestly feel that it's one of the sharpest lenses I have ever owned and I used it, in conjunction with the a850, to do a recent job for a museum that turned out very, very well. They are a good team. I didn't want to break up the team. And I intend to use the 70mm with an adapter on the m4:3 stuff.

Another survivor is the tiny Sony 24-105mm f3.5-4.5 which is a rather good performer for the size and price. I kept it as an all around lens and a slow substitute for a 50mm lens. Finally, I couldn't bear to give up the Sony 85mm f2.8. It's a cheap lens to begin with and I didn't think I'd get much in resale so I kept it around for those moments of weakness when I've temporarily decided that nothing will do but a full frame, 85mm portrait. Four great batteries and done.

I bought my two new lenses at Precision-Camera.com and was delighted to find that their prices were as good (or better) than the prices from Amazon and B&H and Precision-Camera.com threw in free shipping from the front counter to my car. In all seriousness it is nice to inspect each lens before accepting it. I've gotten repacked lenses and lenses that came in damaged packing from other sources so it's nice to be certain before you close the transaction.

I'm shooting tests this weekend. I'll let you know how it all pans out.... Now, what to do with those two Pentax K-01's???? That's next. 

Riddle me this, Batman....Will my Canon 9000 printer ever work with Apple Mavericks?


Motorola Guys Making the Wafers. Circa late 1990's.

Or will I need some science people to deconstruct my printing paradigm and reimagine it?

Serious, the ole Canon Pixma 9000 was working all fine and dandy and then I upgraded and .... kapowy!!! Zapp! Slam#, Pow!!! it's no longer recognized. Do I give up and send the printer on it's way or do I persevere in the hopeless delusion that it's something simple that I just haven't figured out yet?

Guide me, oh brilliant readers! Shazammm!!!!

The problem was solved: Here is the solution offered by reader, Phil Lewis:

MAC Print Drivers

You have to remove the new apple drivers and use the older Canon drivers.

1.) Download the  Snow Leopard 10.6 Canon drivers (newest on the Canon website).


2.) Reset the printer system.   This removes most of the files in the /Library/Printers folder; however, there are still hidden files in the folder that had stuff that think contribute to the driver "confusion".

3.) Set Finder to see hidden files.  Opened Terminal and entered:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
killall Finder

4.) Removed the (now unhidden) canon folder from /Library/Printers

5.) Install the new driver obtained in step 1.   This installs the printer in the Printers & Scanner System Preferences, and the printer will run with the 10.6 driver.

6.) Reset Finder to hide hidden files from Terminal

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles FALSE
                killall Finder