1.06.2016

Totally off topic: Thank you Alamo Drafthouse, for making movie watching enjoyable again!!!

One of the perks of being self-employed is working one's own schedule. I've been wanting to see the new Star Wars movie but I didn't want to brave the holiday crowds. I also hate going to conventional movie theaters where the crowds over the last decade have embraced such nasty practices as: Talking non-stop. Getting up and walking around during the feature. Bringing along children who are too young for much of the content in adult movies. And the worst!!! Talking or texting on cellphones during the movie. It's been years now since I've been to a mainstream movie theatre. I much prefer to either buy the DVDs six months after everyone else has seen the movies or....

Go to the Alamo Drafthouse chain of theaters. Why? Why indeed.

The Alamo Drafthouse theaters allow you to pick your seats online. They forbid (absolutely forbid!!!) talking during the main features. And they forbid people from talking, or texting, or even looking at the lit screens of their cellphones. When I say, "forbid," I really mean it, and so do they. The staff will warn you one time and if you infract again they remove you from the theater with no refund. They've been doing it for years and they are dead serious about it. I love it. I absolutely love it. Now I won't go and see movies anywhere else.

Here's my movie going strategy: Wait three weeks from the release date of the movie you plan on seeing. Select a day in the middle of the week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem best). Select a show time that starts before noon. Check on the lobby computer to make sure no one is sitting near you in the seating chart. Re-select seats if necessary. Pee before you go in. Sit quietly and enjoy movies they way they were intended to be seen.

Ben, Belinda and I all went to the 11:20 am showing of The Force Awakens. The LucasFilms 4K projection was phenomenal. The other eight people in the theater followed the rules exactly. The movie was perfect and director, J.J. Abrams, should be sainted for his work on this film and his previous successes with the last two Star Trek movies.

The combination of a really well done feature, and the nostalgia of having watched the Star Wars films of the past many times, was a powerful, emotional mix. I had a blast.

Then we headed out for a nice family lunch. I might take a nap after I post this. Being my own boss can be really fun! Especially with a little help from a brilliant theater company.

Well done Alamo Drafthouse! We'll be back again and again. Yes, leaving the cellphone in the car. One less thing to think about.


An example of using a large source very close to a portrait subject. I like the drama that is also provided by the unfilled shadow areas.


Model: Lou
Camera: Leica R6
Lens: 90mm Summicron
Film: Ektachrome 64
Lighting: Profoto flash head in a 40 by 50 inch softbox.

Originally made as a teaching example for a course in cinematic lighting I did in conjunction with Steve Mimm's Austin Filmworks workshops. Circa: the mid 1990s.



1.05.2016

Oh Boy! Nikon announces two new DSLRs and the frothing begins. I got an e-mail from the local dealer this afternoon asking if I'd like to pre-order some for March delivery...

©2000 Kirk Tuck. All rights reserved. Film. Medium format. One frame at a time...

I was putting together my invoices, receipts, bank statements, credit card statements and royalty reports for the laborious process that is small business, federal tax reporting. Drudgery that seems mean and continues after having just sent away most of my available cash in the service of the final quarter estimated taxes for 2015. I just shake my head when people ask about my "tax refund." If you are self-employed you quickly realize there will never be a "tax refund."

It was in the middle of this accounting funk that I got an e-mail from Precision Camera. I had been offline most of the day, trying to get work done and keep online shopping to a minimum and I was unaware of Nikon's big announcements. I clicked through to the pages that the retailer had set up and read the specs for the Nikon D5 and D500 cameras and then I headed over to read the press releases from Nikon that went up on DP Review. So sad that I also wasted a few minutes reading the comments underneath the official announcement. The lamest comment was from someone who was shocked and dismayed that Nikon didn't include a swivel-y screen on the D5. Hmmm.

From there I went to the Nikon micro-site for the two cameras and then I turned everything off and continued to sort papers.

What do we make of the announcements? Well, I was smiling as I read the specs for the D5 camera. Love the tight reins against runaway megapixels and happy to see Nikon's first foray into 4K video but then, minutes later, depressed that the 4K into the D5 is limited (for in body recording) to a whopping 3 minutes! Really? Really? Then why bother?  Oh, I am sure you can drop another $2K into an outboard digital recorder and shoot for as long as you want but that kind of misses the point of buying a camera of this stature. It should be able to at least match the video performance of the Panasonic GH4 from two years ago (and currently around $1,000) but hey, that would make too much sense. I couldn't find the specs to tell me if the D5 uses a pixel match crop for 4K (which would mean all lenses become much longer) but I did notice that this is the case with 4K video on the DX model, the D500.

Still, if you are into stills instead of video, there's a lot to love about both of the cameras. The D5 will shoot 200 14 bit, uncompressed raw files at 12 frames per second before it hits the buffer and the D500 will give the same basic performance at a slightly slower 10 fps. I'm sure focusing is insanely good with both cameras. I'm equally sure that the new processor is fabulous.

But I think the one hot, cool, neato feature that both cameras share is a new, mostly automated AF-microadjustment process to calibrate lenses for accurate focus at the sensor plane. I want that for every camera I ever buy.

So, for the non-Nikon shooters, what exactly did they announce? The D5 is their new, flagship, sports addict camera. It's the high end. It's $6500. Just a thousand shy of the Leica mirrorless SL. It's a big, brutal camera, built to the highest standards and jam-packed with the latest cool stuff ---- at least where still photography is concerned. It's much like the 1Dx cameras from Canon. Not the highest resolution sensor but best of the breed for high ISO performance and a compromise between resolution (20mp) and overall speed. This is the Nikon camera to buy if you need rugged and reliable more than you need ultimate resolution. For most of the stuff we shoot for clients we'd never know the difference in quality between this and the D810.

The other camera is the D500 and it's touted as being (finally) the replacement for the old, D300s, DX (cropped frame) pro camera that Nikon introduced about eight years ago. DX shooters have been pining for a replacement camera ever since. This camera is also a 20 megapixel camera but the pixels are closer together since they fit on a sensor that's half the size of the sensor in this camera's bigger brother (sister?).

Nikon would love to market both of these cameras as "revolutionary" but, in fact, they are just evolutionary iterations of cameras that already exist. Yes, both are Nikon's first efforts in incorporating video beyond 1080p but both are UHD instead of full 4K resolution. Yes, the ISO settings go up to nose bleed heights but that's no guarantee that the higher ISOs are much more usable than the ones in todays D7200 or D4s. Yes, the cameras are faster to shoot but for most of us that just means more files to wade through in our search for the perfect frame.

My initial thoughts? The D5 looks yummy and cool but it never even enters into my business equation for cameras. It's performance is at some arcane edge of diminishing returns that may make sense for a sports shooter or photojournalist but wouldn't really add anything to my work that the D750 isn't almost as good for. If I needed the speed I'd wait for people to start dumping their D4s cameras and then buy one of those on the used market.

No, it's the D500 that really looks like the camera that Nikon would love to sell boatloads of. But does it even make sense at the price point? What does it bring to the table besides speed and higher ISO when compared to the D7200 (which DXO recently declared to be the highest quality DX system on the market)? I'd like to try the UHD faux 4K but I know the sensor crop (which gets the unit down to m4:3 crops) would drive me nuts and might not be nearly as good as what you can already get with the Panasonic GH4.

All in all, my strategy will be to wait and see what everyone else brings to the table and then, if there's nothing that's really compelling, just continue on with the Nikon stuff I have and the Olympus EM5.2 cameras. If I really want anything else it's just that I want a second Nikon D750 body to round out the camera harem. Some days I just feel like having a body with a 50mm over one shoulder and a second body with a 135mm over the other shoulder. I think having matched duplicates trumps having one of the latest and greatest and another of a previous generation. Better that everything match --- that way I don't get confused when the going gets going.

How do the rest of you Nikon shooters feel about the introduction? Will you be rushing to buy one of the two new bodies? I'm always interested to read other people's rationales....maybe I'll steal a good rationale and use it on my CFO... couldn't hurt.

I have a video question for all the digital video users here that have more experience than I. Flat versus "WYSIWG" for scenes where high contrast is not an issue?


When you dip your toe into the web looking for information you get....a lot of information. Most of it is contradictory and many times what you read as "best practices" runs counter to what you experience when you test things out for yourself. Into this category I will place, "expose to the right", "more (or less) pixels are always better", "You must always shoot RAW", and now, "You need a flat profile or a log profile to do professional quality video."

I understand the theory behind S-Log and the need (desire?) to have the longest tonal range you can get, because you think it may give you more dynamic range, but is it really better to shoot everything in a flat or S-Log profile for work where you have lots of control over light? I'm beginning to think it's one of those artificial, "this is the way we do it" barriers to entry in the video world. A hurdle to jump over, both intellectually and technically, in order to get your "pro" badge to sew on your jacket sleeve. But, as often is the case, I could be wrong. 

How I long for the old days when I shot a lot of Super8 film and all you really needed to do was pick the film emulsion you liked best and then meter carefully.......

This all comes up for a couple of reasons. One is that I just upgraded the firmware in my Olympus EM5.2 cameras and one of the improvements is the addition of a "movie" profile that is only intended for video and only accessible when in the dedicated movie setting (movie camera icon set on the mode dial). The other is that I've been working with files from the Panasonic fz 1000 and I find that the files are better looking if I shoot them (lit, interior interviews) exactly the way I want them to appear when I am finished with a project rather than when I use a flat profile and try to do larger curve corrections or color changes in post production. I've developed a method centered around "shoot the way you want it to look" rather than "shoot it super flat for post." I think the super flat S-Log files might be malleable enough to take big corrections if they are coming from enormously expensive super cameras like Arri Alexas and Sony F55, with super high bit rates and 4:4:4:4 Pro-Res files, but I'm pretty sure that most consumer cameras already bake a lot of compression into their video files and making big changes in post production pushes these files past the breaking point. 

Then again, I am not a professional colorist so I could be doing lots of things wrong ---- even though I have been slavishly following every tutorial made for DaVinci Resolve, and Final Cut Pro X. 

If you have experience using the "flat" profiles with consumer cameras (Nikon D750, D810, Olympus EM5.2, a wide swath of Panasonic G and GH cameras, etc. Perhaps you'd be kind enough to correct me (gently) and give me the gift of your experience-based, knowledge largess. 

I think I have the audio pretty well figured out for right now....


1.04.2016

Can we pause our fixation with camera bodies and talk about lighting for just a bit?


I've been re-reading Russ Lowell's incredible book on lighting called, Matters of Light and Depth. It reminded me of a subject we photographers never seem to talk about when we discuss lighting, and that is the role played by the distance from the light source to the subject being lit. We love to talk about stuff that's physical; like which softbox is best, or what kind of flash to buy, or which beauty dish will allow us to talk effectively to beautiful models, but the basic stuff seems to slip around the edges of the conversation.

One of my favorite ways to light portraits is the way I've lit the portrait of Renae, just above. I used a very large light source and I moved it in closer than one might imagine. I wanted to take advantage of the inverse square law. It seems that light falls off in some sort of math-y way that basically means every time you move a light away from the subject the light hitting the subject falls off by a factor of four with every doubling of distance. Double the distance? Cut the light energy by about 75%. Oh hell, you're all very smart, here's the formula:

  

But what it means to me is something less math-y. The idea means that when I put a light closer to my subject the difference in light intensity from one side of her face to the other is much greater than if the light is further away. This engenders light fall off. Light fall off is a tragedy if you are trying to evenly light a copy shot of an illuminated manuscript but a blessing if you are looking for some dramatic modeling of a human face. I want the light to fall off dramatically. It's a nice effect. One I love to use. 


If I use an enormous light from far away I get soft light that doesn't fall off very quickly. If I take that same light source and move it in very close I get the benefits of very, very soft light wrapped around the benefit of the faster fall off which adds back the impression of contrast. 


The parameter of distance in lighting is really, really helpful. If you need to light a group of five people, lined up parallel to the imaging plane of your camera sensor, and you want the light to be relatively even from the person on the left to the person on the right you could use one light and place it back as far as you can from the group. The light might be at a 45 degree angle from the group. If the distance is far enough the light from the lighting instrument will not experience dramatic fall off (think 25 or 50 feet away) and you may be able to use the image, illuminated with just one light source, with just a little burning or dodging (or both) in PhotoShop.

The "general rule of thumb" for positioning a modifier (which is the de facto light source in your equation; not the light instrument itself) for a portrait of a single person is to position it 1.5 times the distance that is equal to the diameter of the source (or modifier). So a four foot diameter umbrella would satisfy the formula by being placed six feet from the subject. 

I'm pretty bad at following the rules and generally find that I like my modifiers (light sources) to be much closer. How much closer? How about just out of the frame? When I shoot with my 6x6 foot scrim I rarely have the light radiating surface more than about 4 feet from my portrait subject. 

The point really isn't that there is a right or wrong way to distance your light source but the acknowledgement that the aesthetic/physics driven change can be used as an artistic tool to get a look that you want. 

I also use the opposite effect but mostly when I light interiors with sunlight. I love taking big, shiny boards (think almost mirror-like surfaces) on big fat light stands and bouncing sunlight from the surface of the boards (set up outside windows 25 or 50 feet from the house) and ricocheting the light coming from 93 million miles away into the windows. The fall off from one side of a room to the other is almost negligible. It's a much different feel and effect than you'll get from even the best implemented electronic flash units, used in the room. And it works. 

Next time you light it might be fun and effective to stop for a few moments and consider the optimum distance for your lights, commensurate with the effect you are working toward. 

Not as sexy as a discussion of the new Otus 150mm f1.1.2 lens but then, what is?

Such a fun thing to think about in the new year. 

1.03.2016

A glorious day for a walk and a spell of photographing with one of the "lost boys" of the lens world, the 135mm.

(click on the images to see them larger).

after having written about the benefits of physical exercise and its positive effect on the process of photography, I was inspired to pull out one of my heavier combinations of camera and lens and amble aimlessly through the ever more homogenous environs of downtown Austin. I didn't have an agenda, and I had ample free time, since I've more or less put my life on autopilot for the holidays and whatever algorithms are being used to run said life are much more effective and efficient than my usual, "hands-on" approach. 

The camera I decided to "open carry" was the Nikon D810 and the lens was the new/old 135mm f2.0, manual focus behemoth. I considered bolting on a few pounds of lead to the tripod socket but thought I'd save that addition for the time in the future when I am able to do a thousand push-ups without breathing hard...

All suited up in cap and jacket I stepped out of my car and took a moment to set up the camera. I chose the slowest ISO I could find in the menu (64) and decided that I'd shoot the lens at apertures between f2.0 and f4.0. Once or twice I veered into f8.0 but it was only as a test. 

The cup, saucer and plate above is a shot taken wide open after having an impromptu coffee with friend, Frank, at one of our favorite caffeinating spots, Caffe Medici, on Congress Ave. (Frank! Good to see you out walking with a camera on such a beautiful day!!!) The photograph is just me playing around with two "worst case" scenarios involving the 135mm, high speed lens: a wide open aperture at the very minimum focusing distance of the system. Oh, and add to that a handheld camera...

I hope a certain workshop teacher/blogger doesn't look too closely at the image because I fear there is no sharpness in the corners --- or much of anywhere else but in the focus plane. Not sure how to judge the nano-acuity(tm) in a dark corner that's out of focus but perhaps someone will direct me to an appropriate white paper so I can find out...Perhaps a paper from the Chambers of Measurement Secrets.


the image just above is taken from about thirty feet away and is in a zone that might be considered more "comfortable" for the lens. It's at a good distance and the aperture is two stops down from wide open, or, f4.0. Chain link fence against blue sky. My favorite idiom for mixed development. 


When one is playing around with the world's sharpest camera and the world's bokeh-y-ist lens it's impossible to resist shooting the sharp end of a plant leaf. The needle, as it were. I'm not really concerned whether or not the plant needle is infinitely sharp but I sure am pleased with the smooth as whole milk out of focus areas in the background. You could make some nice art with the right subject matter. 


I'm always a bit perplexed by modern landscapists who feel the need to stop their rigs down to f16 or f22 to get "everything" in focus. I'm happy that the foreground wall at the W Hotel is out of focus and that the Colorado building in the background appears to be all sharply in focus. It's all part of the fun of shooting longer lenses near their max apertures, outside, on sunny days. In this instance, f4.0.


In this instance, at our state Capitol building, I'm more pleased with the tonal range and the color palette than I am concerned with issues of sharpness, resolution or nano-acuity. I like the look of the image, holistically, and wouldn't hesitate to make one of my Platinum HyperPrints from this file. Sadly, if I had the foresight to bring along a tripod I'm sure we could have seen the grain on the window shutters. How that would have warmed my heart...and validated the quality of my gear!


The 135mm focal length is not for the lazy. You will often find that you are too close to objects, with this longer focal length, to photograph them the way you want to, and may have to walk a bit further from the car to get a "looser" cropping. But honestly, it's a good way to walk off a bit of that sticky bun from breakfast since actually moving oneself, instead of zooming, does use up more calories...


On the other hand the 135mm equivalent focal length is a great tool for shooting details and some larger close-ups. 


I did need to go up from the usual ISO 64 to photograph this coffee house customer standing at the bar near the back of the shop. I was happy to guess that I would need a minus one stop exposure compensation without having to chimp. (yay!) I was also happy that, with the new eyepiece magnifier on the D810, I was able to focus accurately enough to shoot this manual lens at f2.0 and mostly hit sharp focus. 

From my casual walk about town (my first longer adventure with the 135mm f2.0 ai lens from Nikon) I am ready to declare the lens, "fit for service at VSL." In fact, I think the lens is pretty remarkable. Bright, sharp and snappy, even wide open. By f5.6 it's a wonderful lens. 

I think (and have read on the Nikon site) that this lens was designed specifically to be a perfect lens for portraits and that part of its design was predicated on delivering great bokeh (or nice looking out of focus areas).  I know the prevalent judging metrics for lenses in the U.S. is all about sharpness, resolution and flatness of field, but none of these interests me nearly as much as how pleasant the lens might be in rendering skin in portraits and capturing comfortably smooth backgrounds, also in portraits. I think this older lens is great in these regards and still sharp enough to impress a generation trained to salivate only when exposed to high accutance, and impressive levels of detail at 100% inspection. 

In addition to being a very nice focal length for portraits it matches well with the optical characteristics of another lens I have written about many times. That would be the Nikon 105mm f2.5 ais or ai lens. If you need a slightly shorter focal length for this or that application they would make a good pair. 

Why do I call this focal length one of the "Lost Boys" of the lens world? It's a playful rejoinder to Michael Johnston's tongue-in-cheek disparaging of the 135mm equivalent focal length as a FL that people might use only once or twice in a career. He wrote about it in conjunction with the Fujifilm 90mm lens here: Michael's unfair poke at 135's... 

What a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon; camera and lens in hand, ample coffee, and clear skies with temperatures in the 60's. Still waiting for winter to arrive here (although my sweet olive bushes just went into bloom...).  Hope your New Year is progressing well. 

A good exercise for swimmers and photographers. 50 push ups per day. In two sets of 25.

World class butterfly swimmer at the 2008 USMS Short Course Nationals.

I've been reading about aging. It's not a very pretty subject. Left to its own devices the body loses muscle mass every year --- unless you do something about it. Less muscle mass means vital stuff to most of us because it presages slower swim times, and less endurance in holding up heavy camera and lens combinations for long periods of time. Both situations that we want to (actively) avoid!

I do aerobic exercise almost every day, rain or shine, but until recently I didn't pay as much attention to muscle mass and weight training. I never want to join a gym and hang out with people sweating and messing around with machines but, on the other hand, I want to preserve, or even build, muscle mass as I hit middle age.

I talked about this to one of my coaches at the pool. I asked him what I could be doing to swim faster. He answered that the only way to swim faster, once your stroke is as perfect as you can make it, is to get stronger. Which means building or re-building muscle. He recommended one thing specific to swimming (Finis swim cords --- surgical tubing that allows you to practice the arm movements of swimming, on dry ground, with plenty of resistance) and one thing all of us can do to build power and endurance = good, old fashion, push-ups; and plenty of them.

Why do I believe coach, Tommy Hannan? Well, there is that gold medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and those three NCAA national championships that his college team, UT Austin, won while he swam there....

But mostly I believe him now because, since I've incorporated his suggestions into my daily routine, my swim times and swim endurance have incrementally improved, and my ability to hold silly-heavy camera and lens combinations steady has also improved.

The basic push-up is pretty wondrous. If you keep your body perfectly flat while you do them you are also getting good "planking" exercise which tightens your core abdominal muscles. The push ups put the most pressure on your chest muscles and your triceps (swimming muscles) but also puts pressure on your shoulders as well. The benefit of good shoulder muscles is the ability to carry camera bags without as much risk of injury. Good shoulder muscles also reduce the risk of injury in highly repetitive swimming motions.

Building and maintaining muscle also burns fat quicker and helps one maintain optimum body mass.

I worked up to my 50 per day gradually. I started by doing sets of ten. At first I broke them up and did ten in the morning, then ten in the afternoon. Then I added a set before bed time. After a week I changed to two sets of ten in the morning and two sets of ten in the afternoon. After another week I added in the final ten before bedtime again to get a total of 50. Now I just get it done quicker and do 25 in the morning, after swim practice; and then 25 in the late afternoon, in the studio, before I call it quits on the workday.

I am intent on getting to 100 per day, and also varying the angle of inclination at which I do the sets. I use an "apple box" from my stash of movie gear, to get my toes up about a foot off the floor, which changes the angle of my body to the floor and changes the range of muscles that get used.

When I look through various blogs I note that an alarming number of photographers are....tubby, soft, pudgy, or some permutation of fat. Being out of shape isn't something aspirational. The mind, body and eye all work together, like three legs of a stool. Fat photographer = slow, tired and ponderous photographer. We can do better. We should do better. To really enjoy our craft we need to be in good shape. Hell, to enjoy life we need to be in good shape. A few push-ups won't hurt.

Next up? Either sit-ups or an article on video codecs; I can't decide.

If you are overweight but bitching about the weight of camera systems I remember what my cyclist friends say about wealthy (out of shape) newcomers to cycling: Before you invest a fortune in a super light bike frame take some time to lose that extra 25 pounds. It's much cheaper than a great, new frame and it's the most cost effective thing you can do to go faster....guaranteed.



1.02.2016

Mixing it up. A Tascam Digital Audio Recorder enters service at the VSL studio. And beyond.


Of the 60+ projects we undertook in 2015 about eight of them were video assignments. Just video with no still photography component. I shot them either on a Nikon D750 or D810 in the earlier part of the year and then tossed the Olympus EM5.2 cameras into the mix in the second half of the year. All of the video projects worked out pretty well so I have a reasonable expectation that we'll continue to see growth in this area in 2016. While the ratio between still and video jobs seems large it's good to remember that video has more "moving parts" takes longer to complete and comes, almost automatically, with more billable hours. Bonus if you can also write scripts!

One tool that I kept missing for video production was a good set of preamplifiers to use with various microphones. Some microphones, when used directly into the cameras, have some electrical and level mismatches that cause problems with noise. We have a passive Beachtek unit that allows me to moderate levels and to use microphones that require XLR connectors but I didn't have an elegant way to really match the microphones to the cameras when I needed to boost lower signals. I have a Zoom HN4 that works well but the levels are not controlled by discreet, physical knobs and it's a barebones solution for getting decent audio. 

I did a little research at the end of the year and found this low cost option. It's the Tascam DR-60 version 2. It can work in a multitude of capacities, including:  a digital audio recorder, microphone preamplifier and field mixer. It's small enough to bolt under a camera but big enough to handle lots of wiring interfaces without feeling cramped. The product has one major flaw that everyone knows about --- it sucks down battery power like crazy. It'll go through four double A batteries in less than three hours of use. Quicker if you are using phantom power for your microphones. But the reckless power consumption seems to be the device's only major flaw. At least the only one I know about right now...

My work around is to find a USB auxiliary batter unit with an internal, rechargeable battery to plug into the USB slot. Either that or find an endless supply of batteries. A small price to pay for microphone preamplifiers with less noise that those in my older Zoom HN4. 

I like this unit for the way I work, which, as you may have guessed, is a bit eccentric. I am partial to a set of inexpensive, Audio-Technica, hardwired lavaliere microphones. Specifically, the Pro 70 model which is a cardioid condenser model that handles voice very well. Yes, I do have a set of Sennheiser wireless microphones but for some strange reason I like the security and visual presence of dedicated wires. Go figure. 

The only issue I've had with the Pro 70's is that they do not put out a very big signal. If they are plugged into the Beachtek D2A or directly into the camera they require a lot of gain and, with camera pre-amps, that means a lot of noise and hiss. The Tascam DR-60 version 2 has four master levels of gain as well as the front mounted knobs that allow one to "ride the signal" as necessary. At the second highest gain setting in the master menu the microphones just come alive and the DR-60 keeps the noise to a much, much lower level than my cameras. 

The other advantage is that with all my cameras gain control of external (and internal) microphones calls for "menu diving" and menu control, as opposed to external, physical controls. There are some other nice features like being able to bring a signal back out of the camera in order to monitor what is being written (sound-wise) to the internal memory cards of the camera. I also like the "slate" button that allows me to generate a tone with which to set the initial camera levels in manual. Once set I don't have to use the camera controls to ride audio; I can use the physical knobs on the Tascam digital audio recorder to do so, and have a certain level of assurance that I won't overload the camera. 

The unit also has a feature which will record one set of tracks at regular levels and one set of tracks at a level about 20 db down. This means that if someone starts shouting into their microphones and overloads the normal audio tracks we have a quieter second track to fall back on. That's nice. 

I'm certain that there are better built units all over the market. This one has a plastic battery compartment door, for example. But I'm equally sure that this unit is an amazing bargain for people who are careful not to use their gear to hammer nails into walls or use their audio units gaffer taped to skateboards, etc. 

Why am I writing about this unit here? Because, like it or not, we're going to be doing more and more video along with our still photography and I think people are interested in how we make our video productions work for the mid-tier projects we keep taking on. 

Last words, Nagra and Sound Devices are the two most professional producers of this kind of product and have equivalent products (at much higher build standards and with much cleaner audio) that sell for between two and three thousand dollars each. If you want a nice, eight channel Nagra you can spend between nine and eleven thousand dollars. I paid less than $200 for the Tascam and it already sounds (to my ears) at least twice as good as anything I was getting directly into the cameras. Seems like a good choice for me. YMMV, depending upon your needs. And your budgets.




Marking the beginning of a New Year with a collection of self-portraits with camera.

Or are they really just portraits of my camera?
Welcome to my year of Narcissism. 





Starting out the New Year right. A nice walk with a good camera.


The images just above and just below are window displays at one of Austin's rare book stores; this one over on 12th St. I had never seen a wreath made from manuscripts before and I found the effect intriguing and attractive. They made for very topical holiday displays. 

I shot the images yesterday, on the first day of 2016. There is something really wonderful about walking on your own, with a camera over your shoulder, and no real agenda. The camera represents the potential to capture and share images but, if you are relaxed about it, the presence of the camera doesn't have to mandate that you shoot a little, a lot, or anything at all. On its own the process of walking is healthy and allows you the mental space to think and turn over concepts, conflicts or ideas with ease. 

When I go out for walks with friends there are just two goals; one is the sharing of good conversation and ideas, and the other is to get some exercise. I never bring along a camera when walking with a friend. It would create a disconnection for one or the other of us. If I saw something I wanted to photograph I'd have to break the continuity of the conversation; the flow of the exchange, and switch gears into my design/photography mental space. Then, once the photograph was taken, I would have to switch gears back into the social relationship. This doesn't mean I don't value the walks with other people but I treat them differently than I do when I'm walking alone. By the same token I would never bring along an active cellphone when having a meal at a nice restaurant, with friends. I can't think of much ruder behavior than stopping a conversation over dinner to look at a text message or answer a call. 

Since I was walking by myself I was able to plot a new course without having to build a consensus, or check in with a walking partner. I parked in my usual place, by the Treaty Oak, about a block from the downtown Whole Foods store, and walked north instead of my usual east/west route. I cut up to 12th St. (where I saw these paper wreaths) and headed to the state capital where I witnessed a small band very armed people demonstrating in favor of the new open carry law in Texas. I headed all the way south on Congress Ave., over the river to Barton Springs Rd. before heading west and back to my car. 


It was cold and blustery yesterday. My warm jacket felt great and my mid-weight gloves were a good match for the smaller buttons on my camera of choice. I was "open carrying" an Olympus OMD EM5-2 with the newly updated firmware. I chose to use a Panasonic 42.5mm 1.7 lens for the whole walk. No gear choices to make. 

The one extra decision I did make was to shoot entirely in black and white for the whole day. It reminded me of my early adventures in photography when I would carefully husband a 36 exposure roll of Kodak's Tri-X film for days at a time. 

I mentioned the updated firmware and I wanted to share my experiences with you about the update. I did one camera first and then put the newly upgraded camera next to the one that had not yet been upgraded to I could easily match my old settings. The upgrading process throws away your settings! Having a "reference" camera was a quick way to resolve any selection decisions that might have been unclear. 

Both upgrades went without a hitch. There was one bit of user knuckle-headedness though. One camera had the new, flat video profile greyed out in the menu. I was unable to set it. I was getting very frustrated and I again put both cameras (now both upgraded) side by side to see what might be different between the one which allowed the setting of the flat profile and the one that did not. I found the difference pretty quickly, I had one camera set up to shoot monochrome while the other one was set up in the "natural" profile setting. The one with the color setting had no issues selecting the new profile in the "i" menu. As soon as I shifted out of monochrome the second camera was also able to use the new profile. I guess that's the kind of detail that slips between the cracks when Olympus goes to write about the new changes in camera operation caused by firmware updates. 


I have been shooting more and more work in black and white with the Olympus cameras. They make it fun and easy to do, and it's very cool to see monochrome in the EVF. I've also enjoyed looking at the finished work --- black and white is different. It harkens back to a different age of photography but at the same time it's so graphic and represents a more distilled design sensibility. I'll work on shooting more and more of it this year. The combination of the black and white feedback; via the EVF, the great image stabilization, and the perfect focal length made my first fun and friendly shoot of the year a happy occasion. More like this.


When I got home I was confronted by Studio Dog who told me, in her own delightful way, that the weather was not fit for man nor beast and questioned my sanity in the leaving the safety of the pack, and the warm house, for some adventure; the likes of which didn't not even pay off in tasty meat or other treats. Chastened, I slunk into the studio to process my take. 

I ran both cameras through their paces this morning and haven't found any "deal killing" hidden, scary secrets with the firmware upgrades. I like the flat profile for video very much for video and actually wish I could use it for stills. It's very nicely done.

I have one resolution for 2016: Have more fun taking photographs. That's it. Happy New Year!