4.25.2014

So what did Kirk Tuck do about the GH4 imbroglio? Did he buy the damn camera or not?


It was all very anti-climatic. I spent the day doing routine things. I went to swim practice. I painted the door of my studio with two coats of semi-gloss, fire engine red paint. I ate lunch. I read some Ferlinghetti poems. And some Wallace Stevens poems. I went for a walk with loyal Studio Dog. 

And while I was out walking with Studio Dog I asked her, in a very sincere way, "Should I buy the Panasonic GH4?" She gave me that nonjudgmental dog look and proceeded to look for some deer poop to eat. Then she barked in a kind of affirmative way and I took that as a sign that a GH4 purchase might be sensible. Even wise. 

But it was the e-mail from a recent client letting me know that our video project was successful and that she was lining up people on San Antonio for us to interview for a new video project that made me feel comfortable getting in the car and meandering up Texas Loop One toward the hallowed halls of Precision Camera (where, incidentally, they have three "up for grabs" GH4's as of this evening....)
where I was met by sales associate, Ian, who held in his hot little hands a glorious black box with a GH4 in it. I was going to play hardball and make him work for the sale but we both knew I wanted it and there seemed little point in beating around the bush. I bought the camera. 

But, since Precision Camera is a full service store I did ask him to put the strap on for me, set the date on the camera and otherwise touch the camera to give it good joss.

At first blush, with not video project at hand, it's all a bit disappointing since the GH4 is almost exactly like a GH3 and there is no magic thing that makes me breathe a little quicker or induce a temporary flush of visceral excitement. It is, for all intents and purposes, just another GH3 with a different model name emblazoned on the front. 

Did any of you think for a moment that I wasn't going to rush out, salivating like Pavlov's dog at the very thought of being among the first to acquire a GH4?  I plan on taking it and a yet to be determined lens to Eeyore's Birthday Party tomorrow. On monday the rolling review will begin. 

The battery is charging but I already have a pre-charged battery in the camera for testing and fun. 

For the curious: I kept both of the GH3s. They are so sweet and so competent I couldn't bear to let them go. The more the merrier. Especially when the dials, buttons and menus pretty much match. 



If you could take a workshop (or just have dinner) with any one photographer,

living or deceased, who would you pick and why?

Not a hard decision for me. I believe that Richard Avedon was the second most influential photographer of the entire 20th century and, as far as being an engaging and intellectually stimulating dinner companion I have not doubt he would rank first above all the rest.

But variety is the spice of life (and how we learn to like new things) so I'm interested to hear from the VSL readers about their choices. The rules: Choose one photographer only (but you can include other names as you describe your selection process), no dissing other people's choices (especially mine----) and let's try not to go for the most obscure choices possible---it would be nice to be able to search the web for your choice's work and enjoy it. Links are encouraged.

Thanks to Frank for asking me this question over coffee on Weds. It's been rattling around in my brain ever since.

Let the suggestions begin:


In a break from our endless salivating over new and improved cameras, a reminder...


Tomorrow, April, 26th, is the annual Eeyore's Birthday Party at Pease Park. The last, mass, non-greedy, non-corporate event left in Austin. All beverage and food purchases go directly to Austin non-profits and charities. There's no cost for admission. Everyone is equally welcome. There are no Gold Badges, no Platinum Wrist Bands, no air conditioned V.I.P. tents. No golf carts for people with stiletto heels.  No pecking order other than the originality and magnificence of your costume! If you are in Austin get on your bike and head over to Pease Park for a loud (but not too loud!!!), peaceful, mellow, happy old Austin experience.

And if you are coming to take photographs please consider not wearing the stupid photographer's vest, bringing a huge bag with every camera and lens you own and generally acting like a perv.

John, who has been photographing and participating in the festival for years and years came last year bare-chested, painted, with a hula skirt and one film Leica with one perfect lens. There's your roll model.

Watch out for the hill. There are so many people smoking pot up there that you'll get high just walking through. Wear your sunscreen. Take a hat. Drink your water. The weather report is indicating 90 degrees in the afternoon and were not fully acclimated yet after our admirably cold winter.

My camera? It's either going to be the Sony RX10 or the Sony RX10. The real question might be, "which microphone?"


4.23.2014

I have a dilemma. Will I go out tomorrow and buy a GH4?

photographer wracked by gear addiction and indecision.
don't tell me you've never been there.

I got the call that I love and dread. It always comes from Ian at Precision Camera. It begins like this: "I put an order in on a Panasonic GH4 for you. I knew you would want one. The camera came in today and I'm holding it for you." And like the guy who always thinks that just because someone throws you a ball you have to catch it, I start planning the acquisition. Usually I just off load some other camera gear to make the math come out right but I've whittled down pretty spectacularly lately and I'm almost down to the cameras I don't want to sell. 

I could get rid of the little G6 I picked up last Fall but I won't get much for it and, well, it is adorable. I'll keep it around for it's combination of a surprisingly good finder and well done focus peaking. That and the fact that it takes great images and weighs next to nothing. Okay. That one is safe....

Well, that makes the logical next choice one of the two GH3's I bought just at the turn of the year. But again, I like them so much and now am wracked with the realization that for most of the uses I have for these cameras the image quality (in photographs) might not be much better between the GH3 and the GH4. I love having a perfectly matched pair of cameras when I'm shooting in a documentary style. Wide zoom on one and a fast zoom on the other. Magic. Will the GH4 throw my brain out of balance? Will I want two GH4's instead? Or will the cascading method of acquisition actually work for me?

My guess at the moment, to be solidified by tomorrow morning, is that one of the GH3's will get boxed up and sent off as a sacrifice to the financial sanity gods that seem to be inhabiting the studio these days. The other choice is to just not pull the trigger. To get off the "new gear" merry-go-round but I think we all know that's probably a non-starter. How could I bear to be left behind in the great Panasonic 4K revolution?

I've still got the full frame Sony but it's my safety camera for those times when I get overly nostalgic for the full frame look and need to spend a few days separating fact from emotion. Then the Sony will go back in the drawer until I see some older black and white image with no depth of field whatsoever and we'll go through the whole exercise again....

I don't have a pressing use for the new camera. I have some video projects but I'm certainly not ready to step up the ante and hit the "4k club" on actual productions any time soon. Editing is a slow enough process for me as it is. 

I think I know how to handle this. I'll just get up in the morning and swim and have coffee. Then, when everyone is off at school and work I'll just take a casual drive up to the camera store just to look at the camera in the flesh. What could that hurt? I'll have Ian pull it out of the box and we'll look at all the new menu settings and features. I'm sure I'll have an objective appraisal and I'm sure the lure of the new camera won't overwhelm me. Of course I could take the check book along, just in case. 



Random Portrait.


A few years ago Noellia helped me experiment with an Alien Bees ring light.  I ran across this a few days ago and decided to re-post it because, checking me decade calendar we're due for a resurgence of ring lights, followed a year later by a resurgence of beauty dishes, followed by more "small flash" enthusiasm. In the rearview mirror? Massive megapixelage. At least that's what a reading of the entrails tells us...

Kirk Tuck. Texas Landscape Photographer? Maybe not...

Sony RX10 with polarizing filter.
Converted from color in Lightroom 5.x

I'm more interested in faces but occasionally I'll stop my car on a road trip and snap a tree that has personality. The luxurious curve of the bottom branch on the left side makes it all so nice.

4.22.2014

Out of the city with a fun camera in tow.


I had a fun job today. I was working for a shelter magazine. I was assigned to photograph a house in Fredericksburg, Texas that's more like a museum dedicated to early American art and craft. I took along some big flashes (which I didn't use) and a small flash (which I did use) and a selection of small sensor cameras. The house was well done and big windows ushered in ample soft light. I used some judicious in camera HDR (I know, I know...) and fine-tuned the files later in Lightroom.

It was refreshing to do an assignment that was straightforward and simple. No endless hours of post production and no budget so big that it makes everyone's adrenaline zing.

While I took two GH3s along intending to use them and the new X lenses for my primary shooting cameras I just couldn't keep my hands off their case-mate, the Sony RX10.  That little camera continues to impress me with sharp files and nearly straight lines (at 24mm eq. it needs a +1 correction in Lightroom to get lines perfectly straight..).

I'd been feeling beat up lately with complications from complicated jobs so it was nice to get out of town, away from the phone (yes, you can leave your iPhone in the trunk of your car), away from e-mail and away from the Austin traffic. I drove out on highway 290 through Johnson City (hometown of president Lyndon B. Johnson) and I stuck to the right lane with the farm vehicles and pokey drivers so I could go slow and just enjoy the drive.

We wrapped up our house shooting around 1pm and I headed into Whataburger on my way out of town to have a good ole jalapeƱo burger. Yummy. Just splurging today I also added guacamole. I took the same leisurely pace heading back to Austin. Now it's a little after 5pm and I've already got my 100+ tiff images corrected and ready to go.

The art director for the magazine is in Ohio and asked if I could send along a few images of Texas wildflowers. I was just planning to hit the stock file at the studio when I came across a wildflower resource just off the highway about 20 miles out of Fredericksburg. A giant outdoor store that specializes in native flowers.  Acres of beautiful wildflowers in red, yellow, blue and purple. I pulled in and walked around for while with the little RX10, just clicking away.

The sun was bright, the clouds soft and puffy and the sky washed blue from rain the night before. It was 85 degrees and the warm weather felt good. Soon enough it will be too hot. But I'm enjoying what we've got right now.

Keeping that RX10 in the bag, in the car, in the swim bag, in the bike bags and most especially, right over my left shoulder. That's how to spend a fun and productive day in central Texas. 

4.21.2014

Thinking about how much more complicated photography has become.


The actual act of taking images has become easier and more complex. On one hand we've got digital cameras that interpret the scenes in front of them instantly. But getting to that point means making choices about how your camera is set. If you have a camera with a complex menu, like the Olympus OMD EM-1 you may have hundreds of possible settings that you can make ranging from noise reduction to color characteristics, the method of focusing, the method of dealing with tonal slopes and so much more. Will you use art filters? Are you looking ahead to making HDRs? How will you set the camera to bracket? Then you have the standard issues of color profiles, color temperature, contrast, saturation and basic exposure. Will you save the images as Jpegs? If so, at what compression and how large? Will you save them as raw files? If so which program will give you the best conversions? Have you tried all the raw converters that are out there? Are you sure you selected the right one? Just because Capture One worked best for your Nikon D800 doesn't mean it's the right one for, say, your new Canon 5Dmk3....

Oh, but wait! What lens will you use? Or more precisely, what focal length will you use? And will it be with a prime lens or a zoom?  And which aperture clearly expresses what you had in mind vis-a-vis the foreground and background sharpness relations? And, if you select a certain aperture and you are working at your camera's optimum ISO will you need to introduce a tripod to assist you in creating the sharpness your original vision required? If so, how big a tripod will you need in order to carry it around with you for those moments when it seems crucial to the quality of the image? But what if subject motion pushes your exposure predilections outside your comfort zone? What if you have to go to a higher ISO to get a higher shutter speed. Will the smooth, grainless quality you lusted after leave you in the lurch in the pursuit of the crispy sharp subject? If you choose to use a more sensitive ISO will you need to use noise reduction in post processing? Which method works best for your overall system?

Presuming the sheer momentum of choice didn't paralyze you have you taken all the steps you need to in order to post process successfully? Is your monitor of sufficient gamut to even show you what you have wrought in the shooting and editing processes? Has it been methodically and recently calibrated? Have you neutralized any color cast in your post processing area? Are the walls really neutral white? Do they have a subtle coloration that may impinge on the accuracy of your viewing system? Are you wearing a lime green golf shirt while you process your work? Will you switch to a black or neutral gray shirt? Can you really find an actual, neutral gray shirt?

And when you've created your masterpiece of photography where will you go from the computer file? Will you share it on the web? Are all the people you are sharing with sitting in front of color corrected screens? Is the infrastructure of the web and the bandwidth limits of your sharing supplier compressing the image you worked so hard on? Did they shift your colors and tonalities to wedge your image into a tighter and tighter box? Or maybe you'll print the image....

Is your printer profiled to your post processing software? Can your printer's gamut match your original vision? Do the inks have different responses to different lighting spectra? Will the viewing area undo your careful color corrections by introducing color casts and glare? Will you frame the work? If so will the glass be neutral or will it have (as most glass does) a greenish UV filtration meant to keep furniture from fading when used in buildings? Will you place a mark on the floor in front of your print so people can see it from the point of view that you intended? Will they wear a black shirt or smock so their own clothes don't minimize the "enjoyment" of your art by introducing reflections?

And once your work through all the above do you have a plan for archival keeping of the digital image? Will it be placed on some magnetic media or will you use optical media? How often will you migrate the images to new media in order to offset the perils of degradation over time? Will you have multiple racks of hard drives that you rotate? Will you spend months each year re-burning new DVDs? Will you make prints of the frames you like in a series of sizes that you might want to use in the future as a hedge against the ravages of time?

And none of the above presupposes that you've come to grips with finding visually interesting stuff to immortalize...

Oh well. It's all become more complicated. I should have tried for an easier career, like brain surgeon or president. A few quick cuts, a few grand decisions and a ribbon cutting and then I'd be on easy street.

Must be monday again. Sorry. 

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape posts first review of the Panasonic GH4...

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/panasonic_gh4_report.shtml

I've followed Michael Reichmann's website, the Luminous Landscape, for many years. I've read as he's waxed euphoric over ever more powerful cameras. Starting with Canon's first full framer right on through to his Phase One Phascination--- with enormous numbers of megapixels and all things medium format. But I have to give it to him. The man is mentally flexible and willing to change with the times. And the introduction of new and useful technology.

He wrote a couple of years ago about the Sony Nex-7 (which he liked very much) and recently he's been writing about his video love affair with the Panasonic GH3. Only a few months ago he got himself an Olympus OMD EM-1 and found lovely things to say about that camera as well. But now it looks like there is some sort of camera harmonic convergence going on and the mantra I keep hearing (from myself and others who taste and expertise I trust) is GH4. GH4. GH4.

Michael has one in his hands and it's got the final firmware so no weasel words or beating around the bush need take place in his first, preliminary assessment. And the word is: Good. "As good as anything out there..."

He goes on to say that if you can work with the limitations of 16 megapixels (and he says he can!) then this camera is as good as it gets. Not just from a video point of view but from a still photography point of view as well.

I'm saving up for my GH4. I'm not often accused of being "strategic" but I started selling off other camera systems and other lenses months ago. Around the time I first heard solid rumors of the GH4 specs. I've pretty much exited the Sony system (both Nex and Alpha) and I'm not overly nostalgic about the transition. I've winnowed down other systems and I've been preemptively buying up lenses I know I'll want for use with the GH4 and, for now, the GH3.

I figured that the reviews would start coming out before the end of April and there would be a mad rush on all the surrounding eco-system for the new camera. Maybe shortages or Amazon's famous ever changing (upward) pricing algorithm for stuff like the 12-35mm X lens and the 35-100mm X lens. A run on the 7-14mm and even a shortage of the two wonderfully cheap and happy Sigma lenses, the 30mm and the 60mm.  When I found out that the GH4 shared the same battery with the current GH3 I was overjoyed. But I cut the celebration short to go and buy an extra pair of batteries before the run on essentials built up steam.

The GH4s are starting to ship. MR has his. Samy's is shipping a quantity and Amazon counsels us that it will ship end of month but I expect waiting list cameras to start out the doors of the warehouses this week.

Why am I so happy about all of this? Well, this is the first camera that is equally good at both disciplines in which I am currently interested (stills and video), as well as being the most affordable professional system I've ever bought into. You can actually buy this company's top of the line camera without busting the bank. Amazing. To add some icing to the cake the GH series is actually quite fun to shoot...

And with the kind of enthusiasm Mr. Reichmann is expressing I expect that this particular offering will go over well without the recent caveats we've heard in conjunction with half-baked Sony products recently. No lens adapter required. Plenty of good lenses in the market. No tiny battery syndrome. No Bang-Bang-Pow shutter noise, Etc.

Ah. A nice, happy, productive camera launch. Just what we all needed after the doldrums of the recent lackluster product unveils.....

While I am saving up for my GH4 I am painfully, keenly, aware that my child just got accepted at his first choice of college. A private university in the Northeastern U.S. Much to the amazement of my European readers we parents will be required to scrape up the equivalent, in cash, of a nice, average American three bedroom house and send it to this fine institution over the course of the next four years. Will this slow down my thirst for new cameras? I guess we're about to find out....

4.19.2014

Fun times at the graffiti park. Shooting with the Samsung 30 NX.


I went to the Graffiti Park today to test out the Samsung NX30's video performance. Video takes a while longer to deal with because I want to edit something together that won't make people grind their teeth or reference fingernails on chalkboards. The camera's sensor is great. APS-C is great for depth of field control. Even with a pedestrian sounding 50-200mm f4-5.6. In all the camera does video well.

The image above is a still grab shot. Most of my afternoon was spent shooting handheld video (will I never learn?).

But this particular post has nothing to do with the camera or the lens or the sensor. It has to do with a funny thing that happened to me four times this afternoon. As I was walking through the park I had four different couples come up to me and ask me if I would take their photograph with their camera. Of course I obliged. What else would a civilized person do? But each time the person handing me the camera was very careful to (talk slowly and...) explain which button to push to make the exposure and how they wanted the shot framed. I listened carefully and tried to follow their instructions to the letter. Except for the couple who had their camera mis-set. It would have taken a silhouette. I fixed the exposure mode and took several versions just to make sure we had what they wanted.

One couple thanked me, looked at the images and then told me that they were very well done. I thanked them for saying so.

I can only imagine what we could have done if we'd flown a 12x12 foot silk over the couple, filled them in with 1100 watt seconds of flash from an Elinchrom Ranger flash pack and then used a camera that could sync a bit faster....

Anyway, I was pleased to be asked. When I came home I told my wife about my encounters. She laughed. She thought it was karmic-ly appropriate.

If you are at an Austin landmark look for the older person with the black rimmed glasses and the white, broadcloth, Julian Alexander button down. I'm sure he'll do a good job with your photograph....