5.04.2014

Sony RX10 in the workplace.


I was shooting some table top stuff against white on Friday. Same as I've done for years and years. Only instead of using a "professional" camera I decided to test the set up with a Sony RX10. I was shooting with fluorescent light and also shooting with the camera on a horizontal arm on a Gitzo tripod so I needed a camera that would shoot without vibration. The image will end up being masked so the cables can be removed from the background and dropped into whatever document or web use the final client has in mind.

I set up the camera to shoot raw files and I enabled a two second delay self timer. Having read the reviews of the camera at DP Review and other websites I decided to use f8 as a good compromise between depth of field and diffraction. Interestingly enough the RX10 is one of the few cameras (according to Sony info) that uses a diffraction correction algorithm with helps to correct for diffraction induced aberrations as the lens is stopped down. In fact, I did test the lens all the way out to f16 and it was much better than my grasp of physics would have led me to believe.  All things considered I thought f8 would be just fine.

With the camera directly overhead I auto focused with a wide focusing pattern and metered using the camera's zebra feature. I have it set for 100% so I shifted exposure until I just got the zebra pattern showing and then I had a reasonable expectation of getting white background in the final image without having to monkey around too much in post. The zebra settings must be a tad conservative because I still had detail in the white areas. In reality the 100% is more like 92%. Good to know.

I didn't bother with a custom white balance since I was shooting in raw and against white. The file certainly didn't need much nudging to get exactly right in PhotoShop.

What I wound up with is a file that has lots and lots of detail, very little noise and no weird lens stuff going on. The electronic shutter with self-timer is vibration free.  The fast set up and the great EVF and rear screen make this a fast camera to use for more mundane work.   Especially work that is most likely destined to run small in a brochure or as an illustration on a back page on a website.

One might be able to make the argument that a Nikon D800 or a Sony a77R would be a better tool for this type of work but with every change one leg of the compromise changes as well. Those cameras would have less depth of field and would require smaller apertures to ensure sharp focus. Being a phase detection AF camera, the Nikon D800 can be subject to focus shift. The Sony lacks an electronic shutter and, according to many, suffers from exactly the sort of vibration that this kind of set up would amplify.  I prefer to keep things simpler and happier.

In the new world of advertising and commercial work the RX10 is a competent and very adequate performer. Not all still life is basic and straightforward and a larger sensor camera would be useful if you were dealing with putting parts of the frame out of focus. But for documentation and representation of (non-glamorous) and utilitarian product a simple solution is effective and efficient.



Amazon - Shop. Connect. Enjoy. All from Earth's Biggest Selection.

5.03.2014

GH4 is fun to shoot. Here's a sample at ISO 800. Jpeg.



I was at the Bullock Texas State History Museum when I saw this exhibit and made an image. I used the GH4 along with the 12-35mm f2.8 lens. The image was shot with the lens wide open. The bottom image is crop of the top image. I was looking for noise. I was unsuccessful.

The camera is charming to shoot with both a voluptuous EVF and a no nonsense shutter sound. I like it all. 

5.02.2014

Working. It's always interesting.


Studio Dog and I have been working a lot this week. And we've been doing it all wrong. At least I have. Studio Dog does her part with the same panåche she always has. She barks at the UPS guy and she growls at the Fed Ex guy. She stakes out her turf on her dark brown carpet just a few feet shy of my desk and supervises my efforts at the computer between naps in which she dreams not only of chasing squirrels and birds but also catching them....

No, I'm the one who keeps doing things the wrong way. Case in point: a recent job shooting architectural interiors and antique furniture. I should have used the ancient 4x5 inch view camera (but it's long since gone to its rewards...) and in the absence of a filmic tool solution I know the right way to do everything is to grab a full frame camera and a safety deposit box full of tilt/shift lenses. I should excite enormous amounts of photons with a "professional" electronic flash and I must always aim the flashes through soft boxes or into waiting umbrellas. 

But that would be the same way we did it once before and I like to think we aren't little picture factories, trying to crank out a never ending stream of photographs that look exactly like every other photograph we've ever done. I think that even in the digital age we can introduce the imperfection of our handiwork (mental or physical) into the mix. Even if its genesis is the mad desire to see how things will look when we gaze through a very different kaleidoscope. 

I did the job with my Sony RX10 and I was delighted. No muss, no fuss. Lots of live view. Lots of electronic levels. Lots of megapixels. Lots of depth of field. And, I know I should have shot every single thing raw but I sure liked the way the camera unbent previously straight lines and added some detail to the shadows via a slight introduction of DRO. That, and a good tripod and I'm ready to rock the architecture. Although I must admit that I had a little help from Mr. Reflector Panel and Mr. Shoe Mount Flash (bouncy, bouncy!). I've been shooting stuff like this for a long time and I must say that I was a little surprised at just how good the new technology is. The Sony RX10 is an amazing camera. I am even more amazed that so many otherwise knowledgeable people are immune to its (obvious to me ) charms.

Bolstered by that success I started using the RX10 for a number of studio still life jobs where I found the combination of a very sharp and flexible lens, an enormous depth of field at f5.6/8 and a dense sensor with a one hundred ISO setting to be......little short of miraculous. I've been shooting servers at angles. An angle across the front and probably a 30-40 degree down angle. The camera is able to hold focus and still give me amazing sharpness and low noise/no noise. I'll admit that though I've produced still life of product and technical stuff for decades mastery of the view camera made things relatively easy (where keeping things sharp front-to-back was concerned) but the full frame digital cameras always seemed to vex me with a combination of niggling issues.The first niggle is that most of the well corrected lenses are generally the macros in the 50-120mm range and at the distances we want to shoot the apertures required for satisfactory depth of field seem to range in the f16-22 range. And that brings up the second niggle: that densely packed, high resolution sensors tend to add their own diffraction to the diffraction provided by stopped down lenses. I'm going to guess it's a pretty circular conundrum regardless of format but the "one inch" sensor cameras seem to hang on to sharpness and depth of field at around f8. 


At any rate, the servers we've been shooting seem to like the combination of smaller sensor, perfectly matched lens and they reward us with good visual behavior. 



So, in the middle of all this, after having found a workable still life solution, I continue my adventure in taking a successful methodology and then changing it up to see what happens next. Today I shot servers in racks on location in a factory. I opted to do it with the Panasonic GH3 and the 12-35mm X series lens. Why? Who can know? 

Panasonic GH cameras seem to me to really be fine-tuned toward working professionals. They are kludgier than other cameras but they do some things very well and almost invisibly. Take the simple "framing mode." All the EVF/Live View cameras have an small issue in working with flash. If you have your camera set up to give you accurate exposure indications in manual changing the shutter speed or aperture makes the view in the finder brighter or darker. Just like an OVF camera. But when you go to use a flash and set an exposure that is intended to over power the ambient light the finder image goes darker as you set higher shutter speeds. For instance, on the factory floor (lit with a combination of artificial light sources) I wanted to use the fastest sync speed on the GH4 (1/160th) combined with an aperture of f8 in order to get rid of any contamination from ambient light sources. I wanted my three studio flashes to totally dominate the lighting.

But as I headed toward that exposure combination everything in the finder was very dark. Now, on my Sony cameras with EVFs I would go into the menu and finder the "setting effect" menu item and turn it on or off to get a bright, amplified finder image with which to use flash. 

I had learned that the GH3 would automatically switch to "bright finder" mode when I attached a Panasonic or Olympus flash to the hot shoe and turned it on. Wow. Cool. But today I found out that if I put an adapter in the hot shoe and plug in a sync cord the camera senses that as well and automatically switches to "bright finder" mode. In a sense this feature also transforms into an alert because if you lose the flash connection the viewfinder will warn you by reverting to "darker reality mode." In fact, this automation also include my radio slaves. 

I shot for a couple of hours and came back to the studio to look at the raw files. (Why am I not shooting this stuff with the new GH4? I am waiting for the introduction of Adobe Camera Raw conversion software for the new camera). I'm in a raw file mood this week. Go figure. 


The GH series is soooo set up to use quickly and efficiently. All the controls in the right place and raw image quality that's exemplary. (I would say that it punches above its weight class but about 65,000 web sites and blogs about photography have used that phrase in the last week making it a de facto cliché).  The final invitation to the system for me was the introduction of the two X lenses, the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm 2.8 lenses. It took me a while to circle back to the system but it sure does feel solid for real work...

From "A Christmas Story" at Zach Theatre.

But work is work. I've been heading to the Bullock State History museum each afternoon doing a project there and I've been coming home to do raw file conversion and put web galleries up for my client. I've been switching between cameras there as well, just to see which cameras excel at which things. As I work in the near darkness of the museum my thoughts don't wander toward full frame sensors as much as they wander toward the idea of fast glass. Is it any wonder then that I just got off the phone with sales impresario, Ian, who was calling to check on my GH4 experiences and subtly, slyly let me know that they currently have three of the 42.5mm Nocticron lenses in stock. Just in time for some more museum shooting next week.....


The images below are just a random assortment of things I've shot recently with non-conforming/non-professional camera equipment. And I had fun breaking the rules at every step. ..

There are images from the RX10, the Samsung Cameras, a Sony R1, A fuji S3,  A Sony a77 and even a decrepit, old Sony a850. Not a single "pro vetted" picture machine in the bunch. Wacky stuff. But then it is Friday!




Hello Fuji!

R1

Galaxy NX

a77

a850

 Galaxy NX

G6?

RX10




4.30.2014

April 30th. A walk in the morning with the Sony RX10 and a cheapo polarizer. Vanishing prints.


I've got to do some work for a client this afternoon so I decided to take a walk this morning. It was breezy and bright and surprisingly cool today. Interesting that all the shadows come from the other side when you walk in the morning instead of the afternoon. Things look different. 

I took along the camera that doesn't require me to make additional inventory decisions. Just the RX10 with its fixed lens. I added a cheap polarizer to the mix and polarized the hell out of everything I saw. Mostly just for fun. I could tell that the polarizer very subtly eroded the sharpness of the lens. 

When I got back to the studio I played around with some video files I shot riding up the escalators at the Hilton Hotel. Then I erased them. I looked at the bucket of images I shot and kept ten or so.



4.29.2014

Go West. Toying around with the idea of doing an informal workshop in the middle of nowhere.






Four years ago I got in my car and traveled west to Marfa, Texas (where I did not make the cliché shot of the Prada storefront) and also to Marathon, Texas. It was a reinvigorating adventure for one. I took two cameras. The Olympus EP-2 and the EPL. I took the kit lens and a motley, though effective, selection of Olympus manual focus Pen FT lenses on adapters.

I slept rough. Sometimes in my Honda Element and sometimes under a park picnic table in my sleeping bag. My friend Bridget was living in in Marfa at the time and I got to stay are her house, take a nice shower and feel civilized for a day.

Marfa is a town in the middle of nowhere. Its claim to fame is a bizarre but well attended film festival held once a year. People fly in from L.A. and NYC and Aspen.  The population of the town doubles and people pay lots of money for the dubious honor of sleeping in restored faux Airstream trailers or teepees, or they stay in the Hotel Paisano which became famous during the filming of the movie, Giant, with James Dean.

Thought I'd wait until the first part of June when it gets good and hot and head back out to west Texas for another dose of wide open spaces,  deep blue skies and roads that seem to go on forever. And then it dawned on me that I could probably go all "Super power, once in a life time, better than Dubai, learn everything you need to know to be a rock star photographer, write public love poems to your wife, outrageously informative super teacher---expert, social network gumbo, learn to use ALL THREE BUTTONS ON YOUR iPHONE teacher, and hoodwink people into thinking this would be some sort of great workshop opportunity wherein I could send them around town shooting all the decaying and empty buildings, the old railway pilings and whatever models we can convince to go with us out there and wear cowboy boots and bikinis and I could hang around at the outside bar at the Paisano and when everyone comes back in all tired and sunburned I could pontificate and wax on about how we worked magic in the good ole days. And how we know secrets that are unconveyable.

By the time I got to the end of my logic train I saw the irrationality of my concept. I really don't have anything to teach that you couldn't get almost for free at Craftsy.com. I'm not shooting with a hot new system that will make the gearheads salivate and I really don't want to spend a lot of time sitting around drinking bad wine on a windy patio. To complicate matters I prefer to pick my own friends and acquaintances.

In the end I guess I'll head out there on my own. Although the models in bikinis and cowboy boots and the evenings at the outdoor bar do sound promising. I guess that's the closest I'm going to get to a workshop this year....


Spending some time over processing images from the backyard.

Noellia On The Bench. ©2013 Kirk Tuck

I used as many controls as I could find in SnapSeed when I retouched this image of Noellia hanging out on the bench. Studio Dog growled at me a bit when I clicked on the "Dramatic" menu item, but I tried to explain to her that I was intentionally pushing stuff to see where the edges were and at what points everything falls apart. And when it falls apart, will I still like it?

This was shot as a test of the Samsung Galaxy NX camera and their spritely 85mm f1.4 (probably the only 85mm around designed to exactly cover only APS-C...). 

The Samsung stuff has its own look and feel to it and I do believe I am starting to come to grips with it and tame it in the newer camera, the NX30. In fact, I'm feeling confident enough to use the system as my "it has to be a bigger sensor than that m4:3rds stuff" kind of camera for those knowledgable? clients, sometimes replacing my full frame a850. 

I used the NX30 and the 85mm lens to do a portrait late last week and I was very happy with the outcome. Like so many other cameras it needs to have its saturation and sharpness reduced for use in making flattering portraits of human faces. Once I got that wired everything started to fall into place. 

I have two lenses that I really like using with the Samsung NX. The 85mm and the 50-200mm f4-5.6. I've read on the web about people getting decentered copies of the zoom which cause them to lose sharpness at longer focal lengths but I must say mine stays sharp.

I always have fun photographing Noellia. I'm sad I can't do it as often as we used to but she moved to New York City a few years ago and has been doing live theater in the city and also traveling a lot for folks like Disney.  Makes me appreciate it even more when she makes time to see me during her visits home. 

Keep shooting and keep playing. That's the fun stuff.

This morning's portrait find.

©kirk tuck.

4.28.2014

Another portrait that I like.

Lou.

Sony a77 with a Hasselblad 80mm Planar lens.

A hot day to walk around and think about photography.

GH3 with a 12-35mm lens. 

It got hot yesterday here in central Texas. About 96 degrees by the time we wrapped up the day. I'd spent the previous afternoon at Eeyore's Birthday Party with my new GH4 and I decided to take one of the GH3s out to see how the older model compared. The feeling of the new camera was still fresh on my hands.

With the exception of the better EVF on the GH4 they both feel and handle the same to me. I went out to do a preliminary scouting for a project this morning and I took the two GH3 cameras along with their respective, fast zooms. They  felt and performed just right. Nice to have three nearly identical shooting cameras for a change. Feels like the film days.


4.27.2014

A couple of weeks ago I went to San Antonio to shoot a sky line. At dusk.


I'm making a transition. No big news for regular readers---I tend to be moving from one thing to the next more often than I'm standing still. This year the studio has seen a couple of big jobs come through. One was very traditional: lots of products and people, shot on white. Traditional advertising client, which means: Do it the way we've always done it. I showed up with the full frame stuff and cases of flash equipment and tubes full of light stands. We worked hard and long and then spent days in post processing. The end result was dozens and dozens of well lit, well composed images that will never find their way into my portfolio or onto my website. 

The other job was strictly video. Lots of planning, production, writing, directing, some travel, some really fun interviews, some time in post production picking music for the music bed, and working with a designer to produce custom animated screen graphics. Then into the editing process to pull everything together into a nice, tidy package. Guess which job was the most fun! No contest. It was the video. 

When I sat back at the end and really meditated on the two jobs I decided that I want all future jobs to be made up of stuff we couldn't even do five years ago. I wanted to break with the past and be free of the intellectual restraints that come from ossified beliefs. I want to use tools that can provide layers of flexibility and not just brute strength megapixels. I want to mix it up with shots that move and shots that don't.

I shot the traditional job with a traditional camera. And I shot it in a traditional way. The camera was a full framer and I actually spent a couple hours the night before the shoot calibrating it with the lenses I would be using because traditional OVF cameras have a tendency to front and back focus with alarming regularity. I didn't have the time or patience to deal with a job fouled by a fundamental gear issue. When I finished the job and I finished processing the huge files (big because the client "may" use them larger in the future even though current use is web res.....) I felt as though I was finished. Finished carrying around a backward looking set of tools and preconceptions. I know smaller camera formats can deliver the images I want to make. And I know that any camera I pick up now needs to be able to effortlessly glide from solid still imaging to full motion mojo. 

This was the time frame in which the GH4 was announced and the specs leaked far and wide. I was optimistic about the camera because I have had nothing but good experiences with its ancestor, the  GH3. I determined to get ready for the next transition and began selling off my remaining Sony cameras and lenses and buying up the few premium Panasonic lenses that I felt would be indispensable if I was to use the Panasonic cameras as my primary professional tool set. Those lenses would be the 12-35mm 2.8X and the 35-100mm 2.8X.  I also picked up the 30mm  and 60mm Sigma dn lenses which have proven to be exquisitely sharp.

The job in San Antonio was my first "no safety net" job. I needed to shoot some portraits in one venue and a dusk skyline in another venue and I only brought along the GH3s and the four above mentioned lenses. They worked perfectly. The cameras delivered good, solid, highly detailed files and the lenses were as good as their reputations made them out to be. The 60mm Sigma made a perfect portrait lens and the 35-100mm gave me plenty of options when shooting the city skyline several miles south and 21 stories below my little perch at the penthouse of the Broadway Residences tower. 

With that still job, a big video project and lots of other, smaller photography projects "in the can" I decided to go ahead and commit on a GH4 and to rid myself of a bunch of other stuff that hung around the studio, vying for my attention. My mental bandwidth.

The markets have all changed. The tools are all different. I want to be shooting motion as often as I can and I get better at it with every encounter. (Back to the old idea of spending time in the water.)
In the end I couldn't bear to get rid of the GH3 cameras. They are too new and too good to let go of. Their still imaging performance is within a gnat's whisker of the GH4's still performance and I love the idea of shooting a lifestyle job for my museum client with three lightweight but powerful cameras hanging off my neck and shoulders. The zooms on the two GH3s and something like the 25mm Summilux or the 42.5 mm Nocticron hanging off the front of the GH4. Thirty-two gigabyte cards in all three and no slowing down to make equipment changes.

I also like the idea of shooting video interviews and narrative scenes with three time-code sync'd video cameras, each at a different angle, each with the different focal length and each getting me a different look. It's wonderful in editing to have so many cutaways from one interview of long scene. And to have all the colors and tonalities match between them.

I'm down to the lowest number of cameras I've owned since my days at the advertising agency back in the 1980's. Three Panasonics. One old Sony a850 (to appease my friend, Will, who insists that every pro have at least one full frame camera somewhere to default to). One perfect Sony RX10 and one old and cherished Sony R1. That's it for the stuff I own. I do have a couple of Samsung cameras, the Galaxy NX and the NX30, as well as four of their lenses but those are subject to return at any time...

I took the batteries out of the big Sony and the Sony R1 so I could store them safely. They are out of rotation. Out of the mix. It's really down to the Panasonics and the RX10. A conflict between the workman's perfectly sorted kit and the (inner) dilettante's favorite one perfect camera. 

When I put the Panasonics (I hate calling them "pannys") in a camera bag and go out I am warmed by the feeling of certainty that comes along with having all the cameras share one rational and straightforward menu. I am equally happy knowing that every lens I put on the front will focus well and with certainty. But mostly I have happy to know that I can continue to carry enough stuff to do the jobs without torquing my shoulders and my neck.

There are a few odds and ends still trickling in. I just got a new copy of the Olympus 45mm 1.8 and I need to order an electronic remote release for the cameras. I'll probably spring for the accessory component for the GH4 just to get the XLR mic inputs and pre-amps. But for the most part the shopping is done and the customer is happy.

I tried to do this before with the first few generations of Olympus m4:3 cameras but the micro four thirds cameras, when stuck at 12 megapixels, weren't quite there yet. Now the cameras seem mature and capable. Ready to do good things.

The problem with technology in general, at least where humans are concerned, is that we tend to get stuck at the spot where we got comfortable with a sustainable set of beliefs. The belief that we needed huge sensors is one aspect. The belief that portrait and still life photographers needed the same rugged camera bodies as photojournalists and people traveling down the Amazon river in canoes is another. The thoroughly misguided belief that studio shooters and corporate image makers needed cameras that could focus incredibly fast (if only somewhat accurately...) is one of the most egregious.

We get stuck believing these things because it gives us the implied safety of the pack. And in the middle of the pack is a weird and counterproductive place for artists to be. In the end I wanted cameras that would do my jobs which are also comfortable and flexible enough for someone as "career ADHD" as I am. And that's what I think I got.

And if I run across something I can't do well with the Panasonic cameras? Well there is always the incredible Sony RX10 in ready reserve.

This transition is really about giving clear power to my intention to pursue motion imaging with true passion. The intention has to be clear. That's what the change of tools is all about. I could shoot stills with anything. But video combined with stills is a whole different swim meet.....