2.09.2015

Everything about art is a process. In photography---even more so.

Cronut Inventor
Dominique Ansel
At work in  a kitchen in Austin, Texas
©2014 Kirk Tuck.

We spend time finding our subjects. We spend time figuring out what the composition should be, how to deal with the light, how and when to shoot. How to process. How to display or share. It's easy to let the process create its own roadmap for you. The nature of art is to fight against the comfort zone enough to make the images work. 

Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed and sometimes there is middle ground. That's the nature of doing a process that's always open to interpretation. 




2.08.2015

Why I think the EM-5-2 might be an important tool for photographers who also want to be videographers.

After the announcement of the new Olympus EM-5.2 I wrote a piece about the two things I thought were important to photographers and videographers in the new camera. For people who are only concerned about still imaging it was that the new high resolution setting could provide fully accurate color. I didn't really see the enormous files as so much of a benefit as much as the nice work around of the bayer pattern of color interpolation. Pure colors means no aliasing and wonderful tonal separation. That's a distinct plus in the realistic rendering that so many want. But the thing that makes the camera a potential boon to videographers (now that the camera has a more detailed and robust selection of bit rates....) is the potential to do much more hand held work with the camera instead of always trying to tie the camera to a tripod or to some sort of (cumbersome, and largely ineffective) handheld stabilizing rig.

Of course the remarkable stabilization in the camera works beautifully for still images but the potential for moving video and smooth hand holding is huge. If the rolling shutter effects are engineered out this camera should be able to do some pretty amazing stuff. At least that's what I talked about at first blush.

But then I thought about it and realized that I had never really tried using the Olympus EM5s I already have for any kind of video. I just took everyone's word for it and assumed the internet was well informed and that the EM5 was a dud for video. I bought a GH4 to use instead of the EM5 for video and never really looked back. And that was a big mistake.

So yesterday I grabbed an EM-5 and went toe-to-toe with conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom also states that if you want to minimize the appearance of camera movement in handheld video you are always better off with shorter lenses. I put my 60mm Sigma lens on the front of the camera, left all the conventional rig stuff, at home and headed over to the graffiti park to make some video. It's a test. Only a test. But it showed me that even the older EM-5 could actually shoot decent video at 1080p 30.

This test is meant to show one thing. It's meant to show that the image stabilization in the EM series of cameras can provide a very stable platform with which to shoot handheld video. I've been shooting black and white with these cameras lately and decided to keep doing so for this test. There's a long sequence of people going up and down the wall followed by a much closer shot of two women sitting at a picnic table, watching the crowd and smoking. Finally, I added some footage of a movie truck rushing by. What I hope I've shown is the stability of the system for handholding. It's a major benefit for still photo and video shooters.

With the addition of much more sophisticated video files I think it makes the new EM5.2 a very capable second camera in a narrative project. And for not a lot of cash out of pocket. Not every advancement has to be high ISO noise abatement or megapixel increases to work for at least some of us....

Untitled Project from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Handheld in the late afternoon. 60mm Sigma lens. No tripods, monopods or shoulder mounts were harmed or even disturbed in the creation of this short piece. This is not an art piece nor is it for any client. It's just what we used to call a test.


2.05.2015

I'm very encouraged by the new Olympus EM5 Mark 2. It seems to be a well thought out upgrade but it gives a certain comfort to current EM5 owners as well. I'll explain.

Image from the Olympus website. OM-D EM-5 Mark II

I'll get to the last point first. I dug through everything I could find about this new camera on DPReview (where they'll had the camera for a good while...), the Olympus websites around the world and in conversations with people who were familiar with the camera in advance of the launch. The one little nugget that I came away with was this..... for all intents and purposes the image quality from the sensor in the new camera is identical to the image quality in its predecessor. There might be slight tweaks or changes in output but nothing that can't reasonably be matched up in post processing. 

That means no matter how much the reviewers salivate over the new and improved model the people who are only concerned with the quality of the images they get out of their camera system won't have that nagging feeling that they could do better if they just spent a bit more money and jumped onto the newer boat. When it comes to conventional file quality they'll all be docking at the same time. That's a big deal because it really means that the usability of our existing camera purchases is quality equivalent and it assuages the fear that somehow the latest technology has once again left us behind (not that it ever really did). 

So, Olympus upgraded the OMD EM-5 and created a camera to compete in 2015. To their credit they didn't make wholesale changes that would affect the feel, haptics and usability of the camera for current EM-5 users. All the stuff they added (with the exception of wi-fi) makes a good camera even better and also introduces things like a high resolution/sensor shift feature as well as seriously upgraded video capability.

The feature that first caught my attention was the multi-shot/high resolution/sensor shift mode. I think when reading about the 40 megapixel files people will get excited but in reality only a very few will consistently make use of the feature and probably for the wrong reasons. Most people will play with it and then go back to conventional camera settings for the basic reason that it requires the camera to be locked down on a good tripod, aimed at a subject that won't move (at all) for a while, and can only be used at f8 and under. This feature works by taking eight exposures and moving the sensor between each exposure. That takes time. And it generates 100 megabyte raw files. Ouch. 

While everyone will focus on the perceived advantages of the increased resolution I think the color engineers had a different benefit in mind. Here's why: the first four exposures have the camera sampling each color at each sensor element. That gives you 100% accurate color instead of Bayer interpolated color. That's what the Foveon fans react to in their cameras. It's the accuracy of reading all the colors at all places that makes the color magic. It also eliminates aliasing and weird color shifts. And even within a 16 megapixel output it means more accurate fine detail. While landscapers and studio still-life shooters will credit the higher res of their files in their assessment of quality it's probably really the true color nature of the files that subconsciously makes their brains happier when they see these kinds of files. 

While this technology has been available in brutally expensive, medium format Hasselblad bodies it the first time it's ever been available in a consumer body. And a consumer body at such a comparatively low price point!!! Would I use the feature? Every time I put my camera on a tripod and shoot product for clients. The consideration in this kind of work will also be whether or not the lenses are up to the resolution task. But I would argue that the pure color without artifacts is the more important benefit so if you like what the lenses you have for this system do now you will still enjoy the real benefit of the feature. Good job, Olympus!!!

Moving on there are lots of other features that I don't really care about. I don't think any of us will see a difference between 9 frames per second and 10 frames per second. While the 1/8000th of a second is nice to have the 1/4000th of a second top speed of the previous camera was rarely an issue. Wi-fi? Yawn. If I can't use the camera to get my e-mail and stream Angry Birds then why would I care if it has wi-fi? Just more stuff to suck the juice out of batteries... And I can never get my wi-fi to work in the Sonoran Desert or in Big Bend Park so who cares. Oh, that's right---now wi-fi is critical for firmware upgrades.  Sure.

Here are some features I really do care about on the camera in general (we'll hit video in a second): 
The new camera takes the same battery as the previous model. I just stood up next to my desk and cheered. You see, I have four of the older camera and probably eight of the batteries for it. Now I can consider the new body without the agony of buying a couple more $50 batteries. You will need more batteries though since the camera is now rated for 300 shots instead of 360. That's the wonderful wi-fi's fault, I'm sure. 

I like the flipping and tilting screen. I wouldn't care if I just use the camera for stills because the new EVF is supposed to be at least as good as the one in the OMD EM-1 (which is incredibly good) but I do look at cameras like this for video as well and sometimes that screen mobility is just what the director ordered. 

Both screens (the EVF and the rear screen) have been much improved for resolution and I presume response time. 

So, to recap the photo benefits: Better screens, higher shutter speed, new high res mode, same batteries, same great imaging and color, same camera handling. These are all good. And they are somewhat compelling reasons to upgrade if you use your camera in a day-in, day-out professional capacity. But as I mentioned, if you are shooting for image quality then you may be happy right where you are (presuming you own the original EM-5). 

But to paraphrase Rene Zellweger in the movie, "Jerry MacQuire,"  "You had me at video...."

I know that many here don't give a rat's ass about video but I do and I think a few VSL members do so let's talk about where Olympus really updated this camera. It's mostly in the video capabilities. And I can tell this was top of mind for them when I look at the accessories. But we'll get to that in a second. 

Looking at the specs the number one thing Olympus did to upgrade the EM-5 into an EM-5 type2 was to vastly improve the codecs available to video shooters. Most importantly then increased the bit rate of the files and offered a "All-I" codec that takes up a bit more space in memory but makes editing easier and better.  Instead of shooting a around 20 mbs one can now shoot at 60+ mbs. I'm sure the quality difference will be obvious to all. If you need even more imaging quality in video the camera is set up to output uncompressed and clean video from the HDMI port into a 4:2:2 space. That means you get files that you can do a lot of work to in post processing without having them fall apart on your screen like and Oreo cookie that's spent too much time dipping into the glass of cold milk. 

Another new feature is a dedicated microphone input that doesn't foul the EVF. There was an adapter that fit into the original EM-5 accessory port but the cord management was blah and the connector stuck into your forehead if you tried to use the EVF for anything. In addition to the dedicated microphone input you can also adjust the audio levels manually----even during recording (Hello Nikon!!!! ever shot video with your own cameras???). 

One port that's missing on both the old and new models is a headphone jack. This is the reason I say that Olympus designed the new camera to be a much improved video camera. Not because of the lack of a jack but because the jack for the headphones is now built into the part of the two part battery grip that is closest to the camera. That moves the jack and the cable out of the way for the operator and means that if (when?) you take a hit to the headphone jack and break it the solution is to just buy another grip part; you won't have to send away the body for surgery. The grip system is now available in two configurations: you can buy just the piece closest to the body (with the front handle and control wheel) to gain the headphone jack while using the bottom part (the house of the extra battery) from your existing set-up. This, plus the continuity of the battery type, tells me that Olympus is learning to really value their current customer base. 

The next feature on my list to praise is the focus peaking during video. That's a wonderful thing for people who like to use manual lenses and do focus pulls during video. 

But considering that there are better video cameras out there when it comes to set up options, more varied and powerful codecs and the ability to do 4K (hi! Panasonic GH4) why would someone actually want to buy an Olympus EM5 2 to create video? The best answer comes right down to the awesome image stabilization built into the camera (and across their system of cameras). I've experimented with handheld video shooting using the existing EM5 and while the overall image quality isn't on par with other cameras there are lots of situations where being able to use the camera as a handheld unit with really good stabilization allows it to shoot images that are smoother that other cameras planted on handheld rigs. Sometimes just getting the shot is more important that trying to make the technical parameters of the file perfect. The new unit ups the ante by giving us a reasonably good (much better than before) video file while giving us the enhanced mobility with smoothness. 

It's like having a mini-SteadiCam in your hands but without the ruinous costs, months of training and enormous weight to deal with. I'm predicting that many sliders and jibs will lie fallow while a handheld craze sweeps web video. Mostly based around the handheld advantages of this new camera. 

In the end it all boils down to this: Do you need this camera? If you are happy with the still image quality of your EM5 or EM1 I would say no. They'll continue to provide great still images that are close to what the new camera provides (if not identical). If you plan to shoot exclusively video and use this as your primary video camera I would also say no. The Panasonic is a better moving image file generator in every respect except image stabilization (and most people who do video all the time know that the tripod is still the ultimate image stabilization tool). 

So who's going to end up buying this beside people venturing into the system for the first time (as opposed to upgrading...)???  I can see the owner of a Panasonic GH4 who shoots a lot of video adding this camera as a "B" camera. You could use it concurrently for second angle to the primary camera or you can use it instead of the GH4 when you want to imitate SteadiCam shots and create very smooth handheld moves with footage that matches up better than footage from the last generation. 

If you are primarily a still shooter and use the Olympus cameras as you primary tools this body goes a long way to move your further into the (profitable) video world by keeping you in your system of lenses and accessories while adding more audio solutions and better imaging quality (for video).  If you currently shoot primarily with an EM-5 the new camera becomes your primary camera and the older camera becomes your back-up. 

The beauty of this entire class of cameras is the combination of high image quality with high portability. The ultimate market for this camera is the photographer+videographer who is constantly traveling and documenting, interviewing and intercutting stills and video into programming. You can fit a production studio in a small case. With two really good f2.8 zooms that cover a huge range, along with a couple of microphones, a set of headphones and sack of batteries you can carry everything on to even the smallest commuter planes and be able to hit the ground and work---in both media. And you could do with the effective minimalism of a one person crew. 

Which finally begs the question----Will I buy one? You already know the answer. Whether I buy it the day it's available or wait until the middle of the product cycle I will get one. Why would I want one with all the other stuff I have floating around here? For the same reason I currently have four, nice shiny original EM5's----they punch far above their weight, are fun to carry and use and now I can add adequate video with handheld capability for those times when I want to be mobile, responsive and unencumbered by rigs and fluid head tripods. 

The interesting thing one quickly figures out in video production racket is that the "one camera" mentality of the still photographer is inefficient in the motion realm. Multiple cameras make good business sense. Not just as back-ups for each other but to use concurrently. And not all of them need to be of the ultimate quality. The primary camera should be great but second cameras that are moving can be "just good." I'm hoping that in the real world the video from the EM5-2 will be really good.  Shooting multiple angles during one take means getting a lot more done in a day. In the old days where shooting all revolved around one camera a crew needed to do multiple takes to get reaction shots, wide shots, establishing shots and close up shots. They also need to get cutaway shots. With only one camera it required moving from angle to angle and doing the scene over and over again. It sometimes becomes a continuity nightmare.

The last couple of times I did video interviews I used one camera on a tripod to the front of the interviewee, one camera 90 degrees to one side on a slider and a third from a rear angle. In post production I could go from camera to camera in editing and it worked really well. With a camera like the EM5-2 I would lose the slider and have the second camera operator shooting handheld. The more assets you have when you fire up the editing software the better. That's why we have (and use) more than one camera.

If you don't have a camera and you are a candidate for m4:3 format equipment you need to look long and hard at this one (the EM5-2) and the GH4. They are both incredible tools. They each do something different. It's okay to own both. 

If you want more info there's a good video from The Camera Store TV: Right Here


Added in the afternoon: Think maybe this time around Olympus is interested in video? Check out this commercial they made for the video side of the camera, it rocks. Olympus Action Commercial

Added at four in the afternoon:  A really good review of the camera as a video production tool by an Australian Cinematographer who mostly does feature films. He's a long term Olympus fan and he's got good samples to show. John Brawley's Blog about the EM5-2



A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!

2.04.2015

First Blush Review of the Nikon D810. Like.


The Nikon D810 is currently the best all around digital camera on the market. According to DXO the sensor inside is the highest performing one on the market (excepting the newest Sony medium format sensors, maybe...). The camera is rugged, designed to be weather resistant, uses all Nikon lenses sold since 1977, functions in automatic modes with older manual focus lenses and is available for around $3300.

Why did I want one and what am I doing with it? Hmmm. (warning, long explanation) When we hit the times of the great recession the downturn in the economy hit photography businesses harder than it hit the traditional occupations of the middle and upper middle classes in the U.S. If you had a real job and were not laid off chances are your salary did not drop even though your fear quotient may have spiked. Your direct deposit from your employer hit your bank account each month and maybe you defensively saved a bit more and spent a bit less money. You were cognizant of the pain in the general workforce. You became more practical.

As freelance photographers came to grips with the sliding economy they started to realize that, to some extent, their services and products were discretionary. A company could go on using their CEO portrait from last year or the year before. If cuts were to be made it would be in the budgets usually dedicated to external suppliers who delivered discretionary items. The heat, light, water and basic salaries of the internal workers needed to be paid for the company to continue to exist. 

Revenues for freelancers plunged as ad agencies, corporations, brides, car dealerships and just about anyone else who could pulled up the drawbridges and opted in to the siege mentality. We were like lepers or people with the black plague soliciting at the gates. In the darkest times of the great recession we had quarters where our income was reduced by half. We even had a quarter with no income. None. Zero. It was a very scary time but it was also a time of fast changes in the camera market and we were desperately concerned about being left behind as products changed and improved. We needed to be able to compete if the market offered a chance.

When I started in the business the income of a good corporate photographer, after successfully launching, was very good and the expectation was that the income would grow, month after month and year after year. Part of the model of success was that we used the very best gear and that cost a lot of money which created a lot of barriers to entry into the field. At the top of the great recession the barriers were gone, the technology was egalitarianized and there was no longer a need to own the very best gear. Especially in a market where nearly all of our output was destined directly for the web at tiny sizes and high compressions. 

While I kept my hand in the game with cameras like the Canon 5D mk2, the various (three different) Sony full frame cameras, etc. I economized where I could and made ample use of elegant, capable and less expensive, smaller format cameras. Most notably the Olympus and the Panasonic lines. But I had grown up with full frame and larger cameras and I've always liked the way various medium telephoto lenses on those bigger formats drew for portraits. 

The economy made a good recovery for me in the last two years. Clients got braver, stock valuations rose dramatically and the purchase orders flowed more smoothly and reliably than they had in the previous five years. Clients were no longer demanding to do everything on the tightest imaginable budgets. They were (are) cycling back in some sectors to the idea of higher quality as a brand signifier, higher production values as marketing differentiators. And as a supplier to them I've learned to read the tea leaves and turn on a dime. Which often makes me the target of brand loyalists who presume that I should just buy a damn camera brand and stick with it through thick and thin---like a marriage. 

But we don't run the business to please one of the brand camps. We run it to make money while doing work we really enjoy. Which brings me back to why this camera and why now.  The bigger clients have come back to roost and they are back into the pre-recession habit of demanding the best. They are also willing to pay for the best because unlike local clients they are comparing prices internationally and with those comparisons come comparisons of every facet of the production business. 

The D810 isn't the "best camera in the world" it's the best, reasonably affordable, high performance camera in the world. My psychological damage from the last downturn precludes me from being comfortable enough to rush out and buy a Phase One or the Leica S2 that I would really like but I've conquered enough of my fear to be able to spend more and get more than I did several years ago.

Several of my current clients are heading back to trade shows and returning to producing high end print collateral, point of purchase posters and the like. They don't care about the religion of the format wars they just want to pull the largest resolution files they can get into InDesign and not have to do extreme interpolations to get where they need to go. To a certain extent all of the 24 megapixel cameras are a move in the right direction but the 36 megapixel camera is in a different class and the files are demonstrably more detailed for those kinds of uses. I sweated bullets delivering multiple files destined to be 24 by 36 inch posters last Summer using the Panasonic GH4 and its 16 megs. In late Fall, when a similar project arose I decided not to use the Nikon D7100 (24 megapixel) camera I had in hand but to rent a medium format, 40 megapixel camera for the project. What we accomplished with a Panasonic GH4, with sweat and technical brinkmanship we accomplished with ease in the final delivery of files that started out nearly three times as big from the MF camera.

Late last Fall I began testing the Nikon D800 to see how close it would come to the medium format cameras and I was pleased to find that it was within striking range for my uses. Tightening up technique on my part would narrow the distance even more. 

I'm a month into owning and using the D810 and here's what I've experienced so far: The camera with good lenses is as big and heavy as I remembered full frame cameras being. The files are enormous and converting a file folder full of raw images takes a lot of time even on a fairly fast computer. From a workflow point of view I'm still inclined to grab a 16 megapixel camera whenever I know we won't be going really large. The workflow is just so much faster. 

But when we need quality I grab for the D610. If we need more image quality I fire up the D810. While the cameras are larger and a bit unwieldy for a guy with small to medium sized hands the quality of the files makes up for the clumsiness of the package.

Recently I used the D610 and the D810 to document the dress rehearsal of "Peter and the Starcatcher." It's a play/musical at Zach Theater. I was delighted with the performance and more than one blog reader wrote to ask if the lighting had been totally different for this play (no) because the images were the best they had ever seen in all the years that I've been posting live theater stage shots. 

The two main differences that I saw had to do with how well the cameras nailed the white balance (really good flesh tones that did not require much correction in post) and how much sheer dynamic range there was in the files. The highlights in scenes were much less prone to blow out and the shadows were more detailed without the attendant encroachment of noise.  That was one test with about 450 images shot on the D810. One thing I did notice is that at 3200 ISO the D610 handles shadow noise better than the D810. 

The next shoot I did was different. All the variables were removed. I used the D810 on a tripod and I used studio strobes in soft boxes to make a series of images of three actors for an upcoming play. The combination of the hefty tripod and the brief exposure of the flash, along with a custom white balance and calculated exposures at an ISO of 200 was eye opening. From a three quarter shot of three actors I could zoom into a part of one actor's face before I hit 100%. And at that magnification the file was relatively noise free and highly detailed. It was amazingly good. And in the least compressed raw file at 14 bits each individual file was also 72 megabytes. Again, a trade off that is not always practical or necessary. 

In the end I've come to understand the D810 (at least here in the early days) as a substitute for a medium format camera. In this analogy my Olympus EM-5 cameras are like the 35mm film cameras of yesteryear (the film years...). They are the cameras of reportage and journalism because they make high quality files and can be carried (comfortably) everywhere. Not every file will need to go up past 16x20 inches. Not every situation will allow for large, intrusive gear. It's nice to have options. 

Finally, I spent yesterday testing the video on the Nikon D810. There is one thing I already know I dislike and that's the way the audio is set up. You can use external microphones and you can even set manual levels but you can't change the levels while you are recording. That's too bad because sometimes you really need to ride the levels with vitriolic speakers in sessions.

At the highest quality settings the video from the camera looks good. I experimented using the Flat Profile which is engineered to be something like an S-log profile in a professional video camera. Flat produces files with lots of dynamic range but they look flat. You have to interpret them in whatever editing software you use. It takes a little time to get right but the files look very good and very natural when you take the effort. The files straight out of the camera are the usual 24 mbs AVCHD variants but the camera is set up to output uncompressed files via HDMI for people who need higher imaging quality in video. The low budget fix is to buy an Atomos Ninja Star digital recorder and capture the uncompressed signals onto Cfast memory cards (a new video standard memory solution). You can set the Ninja Star to record them in three different variants of ProRes which is the editing file format of choice for Final Cut Pro X. While the uncompressed files take up more space on the CFast card (you'll need more storage) they don't need to be converted to be used in editing so it makes the editing process easier and faster.

The GH4 produces a sharper looking video file and has tons more options to use. It's the better camera from a set up and use point of view as well. The Nikon drags one right back to the age of putting a loupe over the screen to see what you are getting in live view. With the GH4 you have an EVF that tells all. At lower ISO settings the GH4 is the best choice in the lower priced video arena. The only parameters where the D810 wins by a clear margin is that it has less noise in higher ISO settings and the depth of field control gives one more options. While I am not a proponent of having just a narrow slice of stuff in focus with everything else turning to anonymous mush one of my friends to whom I sometimes lend the GH4 had a heck of a time sloughing off enough focus to do an interview and drop the screen of a monitor that showed in the background far enough out of focus to obscure some information on the screen. He was restricted to shooting in a tight space and a bit less DOF would have been aesthetically more appropriate. That might have been a time and place for the larger format camera.

I am not Philip Bloom and I don't work in the rarified atmosphere of feature films or narrative television programming. I'm okay with the idea that most of my video productions will be consumed on the web at a compressed 1280 by 720. With that in mind the D810 is a good production camera for industrial work and the inevitable interviews. That being written I am also looking forward to see what kind of progress the people who create hacks for various "hybrid" cameras will do with the Nikon cameras. There is a site called, Nikon Hacker, that is publishing hacks for various Nikons that vastly increase the video bit rate of the cameras with attendant increases in image quality. I'm looking forward to the day when they have a safe D810 hack that doubles the bit rate. And I'm hoping even more that Nikon will do the hack themselves in the firmware. I'd rather have strong, mature 2K than quick and dirty 4K but I'm sure the next generation of all the cameras will deliver 4K just to keep achieving parity. 

So, here's my list of what I like about the Nikon D810:

1. Flat Profile. Cool and it works well. 
2. 36 megapixels of good imaging, no AA filter. Files that clients love.
3. Nice finder.
4. Quiet shutter (thank God!).
5. Good rear screen. 
6. Amazing auto white balance.
7. Feels very rugged.
8. Fairly priced. I'm happy this sensor and camera performance came in a  "non-pro" body. The last pro body I bought from Nikon was the D2xs at nearly $6,000. The D810 is clearly at least twice the performance for half the cost. 
9. The movie mode is very uncomplicated which means less to set wrong in fast moving situations.
10. Works with a big range of my existing Nikon lenses (nods to the 105 f2.5, the 25-50mm f4 and all the wonderful micro lenses).

Here's what I am less happy with:

1. It's heavy and big. But I knew that going in. 
2. The files are huge and require a lot of processing power and storage to use. But I knew that going in. 
3. I miss the feedback and information of a good EVF.
4. I am reminded every time I use it in the street (not on assignment) that it is obvious, intimidating and big. It screams: "Baby boomer with bigass camera." Instead of: "Cool guy with small camera."
5. I wish there were more codec choices in the video. Would love an "All I" format...
6. Um. What slow witted audio designer decided that we wouldn't need to adjust audio during a take? Fire him. Get that Sony guy who put the rotary control on the front of the a99 to do one of those.
7.  Buying new lenses. 
8.  The battery life sucks compared to the pro Nikons (and even to a well broken in Panasonic GH4 battery. In fact the Nikon SUCKS down battery juice in video to a startling degree in comparison).
9.  Bigger format means bigger and heavier lenses.
10. Ignites desire for Sigma Art lenses or Zeiss Otus lenses. 

Here's my advice: If you are a working professional with clients who like traditional imaging then you might want to have one of these around for demanding projects. Or stuff where you and the client really want to drop backgrounds out of focus. Get one if you are a Nikon user and you want to upgrade from a DX camera to a full frame camera. Get one if you are a medium format shooter and need to downsize because your clients are no longer willing to pay for the benefits derived from the larger format and you still need to make money. 

Don't buy it if you are happy with the camera you are shooting right now. If you are a portrait photographer only you'll do just as well with a 24 megapixel camera like the D610 or the D750. If you are a Canon shooter you should seriously wait to see if the Canon rumors are correct and their new 50+ megapixel camera is coming soon. It's supposed to be a direct competitor to the D810 and you probably already have lots and lots of their very good lenses. Don't buy one if you are shooting Fuji or Olympus or Panasonic because you like the smaller sizes and the amazing range of lenses. It's the opposite. 

Finally, if you are mostly a video shooter don't buy this camera unless you've already got your GH4 for day to day production work. Once you've mastered that camera then consider the big Nikon for DoF control and some high ISO work (although the D750 would be a better choice for lower noise...).

I bought the camera because I'm 59 years old, the recession is over and I wanted to shoot with a camera right now that no client can object to. That's a whole different metric than shooting with a camera for one's personal enjoyment exclusively. It's a business decision and every business decision has a psychological component. I can't be more honest than that.


2.02.2015

A New Lunch Item in the VSL Cafeteria. The only imaging services cafeteria to earn four Michelin Stars.


Our chef recommends....Petrossian caviar as a nice starter. Yes, it is included on the meal plan!

Seriously though, I was researching the best raw processing software for Nikon files and I came across a program called Capture NX-D. It's pretty barebones. A downgrade (in terms of features and bling) from their previous program, NX-2. But it has one over riding feature that is sure to please most photographers, it is offered free of charge.

I loaded it onto the processing apparatus in my studio and opened up the application. For a person who is just interested in grinding the absolute best image out of a file it seems pretty good. There's very little to distract one from the basics of color correction, tonal control, exposure fine tuning and profile tweaking. No adjustment brushes. No layers. No automated web gallery generators.

You get the ability to fine tune pretty much any setting you might be able to make on the camera. There's even a very finely graded control over clarity.

I grabbed the first folder on my hard drive that had Nikon raw files on it and opened one up. This is an image I shot handheld with some bounce flash with the 18-140mm "kit" lens at around 90mm, wide open at f 5.3. The file was underexposed by 3/4 of a stop and you can see that the depth of field is really too narrow to work well aesthetically. The camera was a Nikon D7100.

I spent a little time playing with the sharpening and D-Lighitng controls. I also made a quick custom white balance by clicking on the white part of the tin lid.

My quick assessment is that this will be a good option for me to use when I'm fine tuning one or two files at a time and, after making these preliminary adjustments, taking the file into PhotoShop to finish it off. If you shoot with Nikons you may want to download and play with this program and see how it works on your files. I like the overall look of my test file and like the sharpening very well.

As a bit of background for those who want to jump in and "inform" me about "better" options please be aware that I have current versions of DXO, Capture One, and PhotoShop CC and I use them pretty much interchangeably, depending on the results or efficiency I am looking for in the moment. All are good but this might be an especially good option to use for those three or four weeks between the launch of a brand new camera and the updated raw support in third party image processing programs. 


Wow. For once a positive and upbeat article for real photographers. And some push back on the crowd-sourcing mania.

Fun to start the week with a very nice review. Thank you Patti Jane!


5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent--A++++January 31, 2015
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This review is from: The Lisbon Portfolio (The Henry White Portfolios Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
This was a fascinating story and a great read. The hero is an average guy with an ability to overcome 
incredible obstacles. He manages to recall the obscure methods that his storybook heroes used to slither 
out of impossible situations. What a delight!! I'd give it 6 stars if I could.
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2.01.2015

A few more shots from "Peter and the Starcatcher." Now playing at Zach Theater here in Austin. All photos ©2015 Kirk Tuck


This was a deep immersion week for me as far as theater photography was concerned. It started last Sunday when I scouted the technical rehearsal for Zach Theatre's newest play, Peter and the Starcatcher. I came to an earlier performance so I could watch the play and figure out where the memorable/marketable moments were. That way I'd be prepared to catch them when I came back on Tues. to shoot the dress rehearsal. The photography at the dress rehearsal went off without a hitch. It was my first time to use either the Nikon D610 or D810 for live theater photos and I think they worked well. 

These shots of the mermaids (mermen? credit to Ben Stiller in the movie, Zoolander) were embargoed until today because they constitute a surprise scene and we didn't want to give it away until we were well into the run. The mermaids are shot with the D810 and the 80-200mm f2.8 Nikon zoom (ancient push/pull design). I knew what was coming and I still laughed out loud when I saw the scene in all of its glory.....

Wednesday I was at the Kevin Rollins Theater in the Long Center scouting and shooting the David Bowie Project 2. I turned those images around ( you may have seen the black and white images in a previous blog post) the next day and then went back the next evening (Thursday) to shoot it once again because this time they were using hazers to fog up the stage for a different look. 

Today, while the rest of the country was watching the SuperBowl I was back over at Zach Theatre setting up two enormous soft boxes and a white, muslin backdrop in order to make marketing images for a future play. As I write this I'm also bringing the images from today's shoot into Lightroom so I can tweak them for delivery tomorrow. All in all I've spent five evenings this week shooting or working in some capacity at theaters. But I have to say, it's all been a lot of fun. 









I heard an interesting factoid about the SuperBowl today on NPR. I'm not sure if you fans know this or not but those "athletes" at the Superbowl will spend less than 18 minutes actually playing and being active on the field out of a four hour game. 

I'd rather be shooting at a theater.

What's the best (reasonably priced, not priced like a car) camera for 2015? Looks like it will be another slugfest between Nikon and Canon.


Don't worry, if you shoot with Fuji, Olympus or Panasonic you can stand on the sidelines and watch the spectacle without giving in to the urge to grab a fistful of credit cards out of your pocket and go berserk. But if you are a Canon power user you are no doubt on pins and needles because of the news we've heard in the last week (strong rumors) of not one but two Canon full frame camera bodies coming into the market which will seek to better the specifications of the Nikon D810. Or at least match that camera's imaging quality in a body Canon lens collectors can be proud of. 

The rumors (somewhat confirmed for me by contacts in retail) point to two very high resolution bodies based around an improved Canon 5D mk3 body. By very high resolution we are told that the bodies will boast 50+ megapixel, full frame sensors. In a move similar to Nikon's just previous D8XX adventures one camera will have an anti-aliasing filter (a nod to the needs of videographers?) and the other will not. It will be unencumbered by a detail degrading filter in order to achieve  maximum sharpness.

I'm hoping Canon goes for the Full Monty and adds real 4K video capability to the new machines. It's already available as a Magic Lantern hack for the 5D3 but hacking your primary shooting camera tends to scare the crap out of a lot of careful people so having it as a native feature is always a marketing plus. 

It's overall an interesting strategy on the part of Canon at a time when the bottom part of their camera market is succumbing to the same entropy that everyone else's bottom markets are falling prey to. As camera sales decline around the world camera makers seem to be focusing more and more on the tops of their product mixes where (no doubt) the profit margins are thicker and the bang per sale is much greater for the bottom line. It's also no coincidence that the upper end of the enthusiast market is where the people with the greatest concentration of money are greatly concentrated. Especially those with an interest in buying some sort of cutting edge camera. It all seems to me to be like the big pirate ship that is sinking and all the officers (top cameras) are climbing the mast in the hopes that the ship will settle on the shallows before they themselves are totally underwater. 

The clear winners in the race for maximum sensor resolution and image quality? That would be Sigma and Zeiss. Each is rushing to establish and brand segments of their product mix as the only lenses really capable of actually doing justice to all those tightly packed pixels. The mantra I hear on every forum and at every camera counter goes something along the lines that all the camera makers' lenses before a certain time period were designed in a time period when there was no need to design in critical performance at the levels that are now purportedly required to show even a mild difference between a 20+ something sensor resolution and those at 36 and now 50+ megapixels. 

Sigma's "Art" branded lenses and Zeiss's "Otus" branded lenses are positioned as some of the few optical systems that are capable of delivering the resolution required to match the potential of the new generation of sensors. That older zoom lens? Not gonna do the job. So there's both an inertia to ignore the "ultimate upgrades" based on the idea that the lenses won't support them (or that you'll need to totally re-invest in better glass) or to pauper yourself buying new lenses that are a critical match for the new camera bodies you also have to have. No one wants to look like the jerk that buys a Canon 1DX and then puts a cheap, off brand, super zoom on the front. 

Of course, this process is rarely binary and the first blush response after getting one of the new bodies and convincing one's self that the lenses are sufficient unto the task, will be to get "just my favorite focal length in the newest formulation." Which only breaches the dyke and starts the process of good judgement erosion that eventually leads to a spirited defense of the benefits of the new system upgrade. 

I can hardly wait for the articles. "Battle of the Titans!" "Winners and Losers." "Who will wear the crown of Imaging when the smoke clears?" Perhaps by that point people will have played around with the Sony A7S some more and decided that 12 really fun megapixels is a better holistic value.  Naw, people love a good school yard dust up and that's what we have to look forward to if the rumors pan out. 

Ah, this way lies madness.

The Freakiest, scariest, nail biting-ist time of the year for Freelance anybodies: December 15th through to the Super Bowl. Ouch.

From a  Zach Theatre Performance of "Peter and the Starcatcher."

Hey! It's a brand new year. Are you young and enthusiastic? Always wanted to be a professional advertising or corporate photographer? Ready to jump into a big, crazy market with both feet? Got your gear ready to go? Been to the workshops and got yourself all fired up at an industry tradeshow? Already picked out the Porsche you plan to buy with the amazing profits you'll surely earn snapping images of half-naked super models on pristine beaches? All optimism and no business plan?

Then you'll want to skip this particular post. Because today we discuss a reality of the business that often gets glossed over as every practitioner who's still standing tries to put a brave face on the monetary/schedule reality of the business. 

I'm sure everyone whose photo job revolves around snapping photos of children on Santa's lap in the mall, or taking images of wonderful, suburban families in their homes, gardens and local parks had a pretty decent month in December and they've stayed pretty busy in January making sure everyone got their prints and their files. They probably even got to send out invoices and collect checks and credit card information. But you know all those guys and girls who mostly dress in black, hang out around ad agencies and stay in touch with the corporate mar com people? The ones who always have a large cup of Starbuck's coffee in one hand.  Well, the end of the fleeting year and beginning of new years generally sucks for them. And here's why.

If you aren't working for retail clients every other type of B2B client tends to have all their budgets spent and their projects done by the second week of December. They have to. They can't depend on enough people showing up for work at the same time to even create half a committee, much less a full committee with enough people to approve, disapprove or change advertising projects. Everyone goes on vacation. They go to see daughter, Tiffany, dance in her dance school's rendition of The Nutcracker. All of a sudden parents have to deal with the fact that schools are closing up for the holidays and community standards frown on leaving pre-teens and younger to fend for themselves all day long. Someone has to be home to make sure they aren't getting into trouble. Or the liquor cabinet.

Right after the week of realizing the burden of raising children during times of no school comes everyone's favorite thing to do: Holiday Travel. That will take days out of your typical work schedule and possibly years off your life (Really? You really want to head up to Des Moines to visit your spouse's family? Even the ones in prison? Are you really going to eat that?).

Then there's the dreaded period between Christmas and New Years Eve when anyone with budget or approval authority is gone. Out of the office. Out of the state. Maybe out of their minds. Long story short, no one can sign a P.O., much less approve an invoice that might get the ball rolling and  authorize the taking of yet another image of that family of servers that may or may not make the inventory cut when the inevitable start of the year downsizing starts.

After the holidays our clients still have a week left to stabilize their families and get the kids ready for re-entry into school. The process is generally made more difficult since that's the week the flu and other winter illnesses kick in and start ravaging the populace. By this point corporate workers and their ad agency counterparts have already burned through the first full week January. The next week allows them to slide back into their comfortable workflow like an old man easing himself into a bathtub full of hot water. This is the week of budget meetings. Staff rearrangements. The wholesale firing of ad agencies from some accounts the the equally wholesale hiring of the newer, shinier, better ad agencies for other accounts. Which then starts a new round of creative proposals. Which then goes through the approval processes and meetings. Then there are the meetings about the meetings and finally the committee consensus that we'd better get busy on SOMETHING or we'll lose whatever budget we don't take advantage of in the first quarter. Chop. Chop. 

So, somewhere in or around the third or fourth week of January the phones ring ( or chime or play dreadful ringtones ), the e-mails start flowing and the projects start being presented to the creative class of content makers so that bids, estimates, quotes, pricing, budgets and procedures can start being discussed. If you are lucky you'll start nailing down bids and project assignments by the end of January or the first week of February which will be shot some time in February and then billed, and hopefully the first round will end up being paid for in the late March time frame. That's a long time to go with no cash flow! 

My advice to the people who are ready to get started in advertising photography or corporate imaging work is this: Start saving up now so you can make the jump at the end of this year and into next year. You'll need a big stack of money. Remember, the end of the year, when you stop working is also the single most expensive part of the year: Gifts to buy, dinner parties to host, travel to pay for, entertainment, and it seems to be the time of the year when CPAs come alive and share with you the idea (threat?) that you'll need to add a few more (tens of) thousands of dollars to your meager IRS contributions for the past year. And you also need to cough up a bunch of cash to toss into a tax deferred retirement account (you do want to retire someday, right?). 

Well, after paying all the regular stuff ( income tax, property tax, business tax, self employment tax, mortgage, retirement fund, donations to the governor's defense fund) and the swim club dues for the year, plus the annual premiums for a couple of life insurance policies and a disability insurance policy and the above mentioned, CPA recommended, wallet clearing exercises, and another round of college expenses (and air fare to and from) I'm just about tapped out. Like clockwork, clients have roused from their slumber and begun the requesting rituals. With a little luck we'll just about make the spread. But I have been researching places in town that will pay for plasma...

It's the same story I hear from everyone I know in the business; be they freelance writers, photographers, videographers or designers. I'm thinking we could create an entire lobbying campaign around asking for the whole holiday break to be shortened. Whatever happened to productivity as a buzzword?

One more thing that always strikes me as a bit ironic. I'll have a great 4th quarter and, anticipating more of the same to come (freelance is Latin for optimistic) I'll decide to buy some new gear. Fun stuff. Like the D610, the D810 and a raft of lenses. And as surely as I do that the equipment karma teams up with corporate holiday lag and leaves me sitting here in the studio surrounded by really cool gear and nothing to stick in front of it. Next year I'm going on vacation somewhere really cool for half of December and the whole month of January. I'll figure out how to pay for it in March.....