2.03.2016

A photo from a mystery camera comes out of the old Aperture files to confound me.


Does this happen to you? You come across a photo that you like for some group of technical reasons and you immediately cogitate that it must have come from one of your expensive super cameras festooned with some high priced, German lens. You play with the image and sniff around the edges and, after a while you remember that you can click that little "info" button and find the real provenance of the photograph. Then, sometimes, you have to come to grips with the reality that the image was made with a camera that you dismissed. That your own elitism deprived you of.

And it's usually a case of the camera being so inexpensive and unremarkable that you were comfortable bringing it along everywhere and even taking the chance that someone might spill beer on it. You might drop it but you knew a crack in the polycarbonate wouldn't make you cry.

And, all that is probably the same set of reasons you don't take that D810 or A7R2 with you when you pop out for a cold one with friends. And so, that camera; the precious one, is hardly ever present with you when you are out dipping your toes in the rippling streams of daily life. So it's rarely there to capture the fun stuff either.

The image above was taken with a long discontinued Sony A57 or A58 and the $200 35mm f1.8 lens. An APS-C camera with an electronic viewfinder and a careful price tag. When I saw the info box identifying the gear I had almost forgotten owning that little family of cameras. We concentrate on the big stars in the camera families like the A99 or A900. But it's the cameras that follow us around that get pointed more often at the good stuff.

Here's another one from a camera I traded away last year (below). Recently I bought a new copy and when I saw this frame in the mix, and the one of the soup just below it, I remembered why I liked that camera so much in the first place.



They are both from the original version of the Sony RX10. A cold day out walking. A quick lunch at the Royal Blue Grocery, across from Lance Armstrong's bike shop. I can't imagine that any "better" camera and lens would have produced anything "more" than what I ended up with. Effortlessly. 

I love the amateur cameras. Psychologically, they rarely get in the way.

Hot color day. Various cameras.





Sometimes it's fun to shoot color for color's sake. When the skies are clean and blue and the sun is direct the saturation and color purity makes me want to grab a camera and get outside. Science tells us that the act of taking long walks is a booster for our cognitive processes and creates a sense of optimism and well being. Doing these walks with a camera over one shoulder is an amplifier of these effects. I recommend a daily dose. The happiest photographers I know are the ones who are always engaged in some aspect of their process, from the walk to the edit, it's all good. 



2.02.2016

I have received the breathless entreaties from several retailers to: PRE-ORDER THE CANON EOS-1D X 2 NOW! NOW! NOW! But maybe I'll take my chances and wait....

The truth is that I'll probably never buy a new Canon 1DX2. I am leaving the door open to an impulse purchase of the camera for $500 a few years from now as I did when I decided to give the 1Dmk2I a try a few years back. The camera had been out for a while and lost, what? 90% of its value in less than 4 years? And it was a fun $500 camera; really.

But the truth is that there are very few freelance photographers (outside of a handful of sports photographers) who have much need for a camera like this (or the Nikon D5) and almost certainly very few of our readers here at the VSL who would appreciate the extra weight over what they are shooting with right now.

I've been looking through all of the information I can find about this camera because I had one pressing interest in machines like this; how do they perform as 4K video cameras? The Nikon D5 turns out to be a bust for 4K video --- unless you couple it with a $2,000 external video recorder. And if we need to pay that kind of money ($8000 = camera+recorder) to get basic 4K (without the niceties of XLR mic connectors, etc.) we might as well buy a Sony FS7 or an FS5 and be done with it.

From what I can see the Canon might do 4K for the 29.99 minutes if you are shooting to an internal CFast card. If that's the case then they just did another leapfrog over the Nikon offering but for the rest of the performance specifications it is, for the most part, just another case of: If you have Canon lenses you buy the 1DX2, if you have Nikon lenses you buy the D5. If you have mirrorless lenses you just ignore all of this.

I certainly don't mind camera makers making new cameras all the time, after all, that's their job. What I have come to mind is the breathless faux excitement meant to roil up those left with good credit and get them all excited about being the first one on their block to drop another six thousand dollars on a camera that's tremendous overkill for nearly all of us. Steve, Precision-Camera.com, and everyone else: Just calm down!

In the last two weeks I have been advised to pre-order (NOW! NOW!) the Fuji XPro2, the Olympus Pen F, The twin Nikons D5 and D500, and now the 1DX2. Please, just send me the product information.... Oh heck, don't even do that. If the product is interesting enough it's already on our collective radar.

After the introduction and subsequent withdrawal and then re-introduction of the Olympus EM10.2, the various fixes and recalls of the D750, the light leaks in the Canon 5Dmk3, and the oil leaks and sensor spatter of the Nikon D600 (just to mention a few brand's introductory disasters) I think I'll remember the lesson I learned way back when Leica first delivered the original M8 (purple pollution fixed with accessory IR filters) and wait until the first generation of rabidly motivated buyers snaps up whatever camera body I might be interested in. I'll let them suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous design shortcuts and, hopefully, will be able to jump in after the manufacturer has first denied, and then acknowledged and fixed, whatever issues there might be. Once the product is sullied in the press, and in the forums, and once the product is perfected, I'll be happy to pick one up ----- for a discounted price.

In retrospect, it's been more fun to cheery-cherry pick the best of the used "instant classics" than it has been to experience the trepidation of being a bleeding edge buyer of the latest cameras.

I am certain the 1DX2 is a fabulous camera. I am equally certain that its target market knows who they are and exactly what the updates and upgrades might provide to them. But knowing what I know about the way I shoot, none of these super cameras are anywhere near my wish list. Just saying'.

Sorry, no affiliate link. Not a product I'm shooting personally. 

2.01.2016

Fun little afternoon project. Photographing an actor for an upcoming, one man play. About Barbara Streisand. With a camera that was definitely not marketed for studio use....

J. Robert Moore. Zach Theatre. 

Here's the description from the Zach Website of the play, "Buyer and Cellar":   Alex, a struggling Hollywood actor, takes an outrageous job working in Streisand’s Malibu Barbra dream house in an underground mall housing her showbiz collections. One surprising day, the FUNNY GIRL herself comes downstairs to “shop” and, for Alex, icons who need people are the luckiest people in the world. But will this desperate actor ever be invited upstairs to Babs’ palatial estate? This giddily hilarious one-man play will have you doubled-over laughing, proclaiming “it’s like butta!"

Hmm. Not sure who wrote the description but, okay. The marketing folks at Zach Theatre needed to have some images taken for promotional postcards (yes, real businesses still print and mail stuff...), social media and various other outlets. They wanted to get Mr. Moore in a studio and get a range of emotions from him that would express the character he'll be playing this Summer.  (more below). 


As you know, I've been ruminating about cameras lately and I decided to choose a camera that would be counter-intuitive from my usual selection. I would be lighting the whole set with powerful mono-lights so I knew I could shoot at the lowest ISO on the camera. And every camera I own is state of the art (within its format). I figured that the controlled lighting and low ISO would save me from any unintentional, stupid choice I might make. 

I packed two big lights and one small flash. I brought along a white seamless paper background (I chop a foot off most of my backgrounds (from side to side) so they fit better in small spaces). And I brought along one Sony RX10 and one Panasonic fz 1000. This time the fz 1000 got the nod. I'd used it once before with flash and knew what to expect. I shot about 400 shots in raw then processed and delivered about 350 for the theatre pros to wade through and select from. We're talking about ranges of expressions here and the marketing people know what they are looking for better than I do. 


The lighting couldn't have been simpler. There was on light just behind Mr. Moore that illuminated the background and one light in a medium softbox just in front and above him. Occasionally, I would toss in a small, dialed down portable flash on the opposite side of the main light; just for a little fill. 

We could have complicated the lighting but since the client will clip out the background I really didn't see the point. 


So, how did the $700 Panasonic super bridge camera perform? Let's see.... there was super fast focusing that nailed every frame without hesitation and, when used with face detection, had AF sensors covering the whole frame. The EVF was spot on as an indicator of correct exposure. The lens and sensor gave me files that were wonderfully sharp; I can see highly defined eyelashes in the image just above. The lens performance never stops amazing me. No flare of other shenanigans from the lens either. If I wanted to I could move way back in the room and zoom in for a different look but, on the other hand, I had a lot of wide angle to play with on the other end if I wanted to step back a bit and offer my VSL readers a look at the set. The buffer was fast and happy as was the shot to shot timing. I think I was able to shoot raw files more quickly than with either of my current model Nikons... Did I mention that I could instantly review the taken images in the finder without moving the camera from my eye?


I used the camera with an infra red trigger in the hot shoe which worked perfectly. At one point I wanted to change the exposure just a bit but was running out of aperture since I was already at f8.0. Instead I raised the shutter speed which had the effect of reducing overall exposure as well. I haven't tried it but since the shutter is a circular, leaf type, it should be able to sync all the way up the shutter speed range --- as long as I stick with the mechanical shutter option. Bodes well for exterior daylight shoots in Texas. Especially if I keep that variable ND filter in the bag. 

I got back home from the shoot at 3 pm and now it's 4:30 pm and the colors and tones have been corrected and the raw files have been converted. The last thing to do is to upload the final Jpegs to the client and then burn a DVD to save a back up copy. No muss, no fuss. 

Those one inch rascals are pretty amazing ... and a lot of fun to shoot in the studio. Who would have guessed?



Why camera buying sucks right now.


Of course the long tonal range and high sharpness of the images above and just below could only have been made with the latest, high resolution, low noise cameras on the market. Right? How else to explain the smooth transitions and convincing level of detail? The image of the child with the basketball is one of my favorite work shots. When I made the image our original target was a full page in a  printed annual report. Later, the agency called to see if they could blow up some of the original raw files into "larger prints" to use at a fund raiser for the client. I gave my permission and looked forward to see how the images from this state of the art camera might look when blown up a bit bigger. Little did I know how big they would go...  When I walked into the fundraiser there were many of the images that had been used in the annual report distributed around the room on easels. Large easels. The files had been enlarged to five by six foot prints. You could walk right up to the prints and put your nose on them. A good use of the new, super high resolution cameras like the D810, the Sony A7R2 and the Canon 5DSR, right?  Right?

Except that this all happened a decade ago and the files came from a 6 megapixel, cropped frame (APS-H) camera that capped out, performance wise, at ISO 125. It was, in fact, a Kodak DCS 760; and inspite of its "limitations" it was actually a very FUN camera to work with. Nice finder. Good focusing acquisition, etc. The shots worked because we understood whatever limitations the cameras might have had and compensated by working on the lighting. We didn't use window light, we emulated window light, but we did it with more lumens on the sensor and a bit more contrast. Could we do this with "modern" cameras? I believe so but it might be tricky to work around the unmitigated hype....


But, of course, this imager from the musical, Aida, had to be done one of the cameras with one of the newest, Sony super sensors because there is no noise in the black background and no burn out in the specular highlights. Wow, pure blacks and wonderfully delineated highlights. But with flesh tones this nice it surely must be something special like the new Fuji. Ah..... no. This is from the same, old Kodak DCS 760. Just lit and processed with care. Also used in print and as a life-sized duratrans on the side of the theater. 

But I won't try to fool you again. The image just below was really done with a Fuji camera. And it was shot nearly wide open and mostly lit with the soft glow of the X-ray reading monitors in a small, windowless room. There was a small flash from the back corner of the room but it's just there to provide a little separation for the hair. Since it's shot wide open and the eyes, lips and microphone are tack sharp I bet you can't guess whether it was done with a Zeiss Otus lens or maybe the Batis, or one of the new Fuji primes....right? Oops. Nope. It was shot on a Fuji S3 or S5 camera using a very crusty and well used, used Sigma 24-70mm f2.8. No, not the latest ART series lens but one from the period that made Sigma's previous reputation as a producer of opt-mechanical junk. So, another six megapixel, cropped frame digital camera and a nothing special lens. Pattern here? Maybe. 


This is a tough audience to fool so I'll cut straight to the chase. The image below was also done with one of these older, CCD chipped cameras. It's snapshot for sure but I like the overall look and feel. I blew it up on the screen to look at (the original) when I was thinking about new cameras last week but I do believe it hangs well with the three images above. Since it was an older camera it was slow and kludgy to use and the buffer was extremely poor, as was the auto focusing of this ancient thing. 
But I like the image quality and I think it's in the ball park with the 6 megapixel files shown above. It came from the 40 megapixel Leaf AFi7 camera along with a 180mm f2.8 Schneider prime lens (made for 6x6 cm medium format cameras).  Once reduced to web viewing size it's in line with all the other stuff we've shot with over the last twenty years....And now you can probably pick one of these up cheap, maybe 90% off the original asking price of $40,000 (no lens). 



The final print I was considering as I browsed through the new camera offerings (hurry, hurry!!! Pre-order NOW. If you wait you MIGHT NOT get to own the latest $1,000 miracle camera with NEW knobs and EXCITING wireless features SURE to Enhance your creative vision. You know, Candy Crush! Words with Friends!). I picked it out because it's a photo of Ben as a much younger person but also because several professional photographer who have seen the image liked it so much that they subsequently asked me to do their own headshot in the same style and with the same camera and lens... I shot this with a great camera that no one liked except for the people who actually owned one and used one. But I could never use it today because it was ONLY!!!! a 12 megapixel camera and, of course, no pro today would be caught dead shooting for money with a camera having only 12 megapixels. In fact, a lack of initiative in rushing to adapt to the largest megapixel count camera may be the thing that precipitates your business's ultimate demise. What client would want to shoot with less than ALL the megapixels? 

Won't keep you hanging, it was shot with the Kodak SLR/n 12 megapixel camera and an ancient, Nikon 135mm f2.8 lens. Still my favorite portrait of Ben. 


So, what's the point of this blog post today? Well, I was wondering why, with the launch of the Nikon D500 and D5, the new Fuji XPro2 and the Olympus Pen F, I was not interested in any of the new camera introductions. I'm wondering why I've been resistant to the Sony offerings and defaulting to using point and shoot cameras instead of my enormously expense and surely talented Nikon D810 camera. The truth is painful. I've finally stumbled onto the realization that, for me, none of these camera will change anything in my work as a portrait photographer. 

The cameras, with all their bells and whistles, are being designed for someone who does things I don't care about. I've never used "Art" filters on any of my Olympus cameras so the idea of dedicating a large front dial to them seems silly. The sensor isn't much better than the one we had in the original EM-5 and I think I would feel ashamed to be manipulated into buying yet another camera just for the styling. How many pairs of black oxford shoes does one need in the closet? And, of course, I still don't give a fuck about having wi-fi on my camera. No matter what you tell me about GPS or clicking the shutter from my easy chair...

The Fuji cameras bore me because they are boring. I'm sure the lenses are good and the Jpeg files are pretty but every Fuji I've played with since the original X100 faux rangefinder has had flaws that make me want to fling the camera against the wall as I'm trying to shoot with it. I am sure the new body appeals to everyone over 50 years old who ever wanted a Leica M but feared the retribution of their spouse and didn't buy themselves one. Now you can have "almost" one for about a quarter the price. But did we really need it? Does it make sense if no one (including the Fuji SpokesToGrathers even uses the optical viewfinder in everyday practice (see the review on TheCameraStoreTV). 

And why buy a camera that still doesn't play well with the world's largest, most ubiquitous and powerful professional imaging software? Eventually you'll want to shoot raw, don't you want the images you get to look at least as good as those you could have gotten out of a boring Canon DLSR from six years ago? I do. I just don't want to have to work that hard. 

You know what the biggest improvement was on the new Fuji XPro2? It was the inclusion of an adjustable diopter for the EVF. Think about that for a minute. They added a diopter. Just like the ones everyone else has had on every entry level camera since the dawn of digital. Enhancement complete. 
But let me tell you right now; if you have ever shot with a Leica M series rangefinder camera you wouldn't put up with any of these fake rangefinder cameras anyway....Fuji. Humph. 

So, why no love for the Nikon stuff? Oh, I'm sure the D500 is a great camera. Great sensor, big buffer, great focusing. But then so was the D7200 and the D7100 and the D7000 and the D5500 and the D610 and the D750. Will a couple frames a second faster make your image of a sleeping cat look better? Will the "tweaked" autofocus really matter if your existing camera already locks focus where it is supposed to be? Do you think high ISO REPLACES creative lighting? The folks at Nikon just trotted out another iteration of the same cameras they've been churning out for a decade and they are hoping they've increased the horse power specs just enough that, in conjunction with the new seat warmers, you'll be anxious to immediately dump your perfectly good photographic machine for the latest style.

And same to you, Canon. We changed the color of the shoe laces to see if we could get you to spill some cash on a whole new pair of shoes. 

I guess that what I'm really thinking is that if you are a new photographer and you are buying your first good camera then "congratulations" you've got lots of good options to choose from. Yay! Go cameras. But if you are a salty old dog with a shelf full of last year's miracle cameras and you feel the tug of the newest model it might be time to sit back and really examine the tug.

Could it be that all this camera buying is a manifestation of your subconscious resistance to doing ANYTHING you find meaningful with ANY camera? Maybe it's time to LAUNCH that long planned project instead of using the IDEA of that project as just another excuse to buy yet another camera. 

In many ways I pine for the simplicity of the old Nikon D100 with it's 4 shot raw buffer. Six giant megapixels and a look that changed the look. Or the Kodaks which were all mostly as good as what we've been working with since. 

It's something to think about. There is a post cognitive dissonance that sets in after you realize that you have what you need to shoot whatever you need to shoot but when the buying is done and the credit cards are cooling off in the refrigerator, you finally hit the wall and feel ashamed that you spent so much time in the selection and rotation of ever newer cameras that you actually never got around to going out the front door and shooting anything more than "just a test of how sharp the new camera and lens is." It's something to ponder. Unless you are in the camera making or camera selling business and then it behooves you to just tell me to shut up. 


1.31.2016

Portrait of Sarah. On a lovely film from Agfa. XPS 160. Designed especially for portraits.


This is one of my favorite portraits because I like the lighting and the expression on Sarah's face. The quality of light is meaningful to me but the actual gear used to accomplish it is not. I love the dance, I'm not really interested right now in deconstructing the dancing shoes...

In other news, it was 85 degrees here in Austin today, setting a new record high for the 31st of January. I spent the day in shorts and flip flops. The trees are starting to bud. The grass is green and lush. I love taking portraits I just don't love the cameras right now.


1.30.2016

Saturated Saturday. A downtown Austin walk with a Sony RX10 and nothing special to think about.


Well, I had some extra lights I never used and I traded them to a guy for a Sony RX10. Lightly used on both sides of the transaction... Now, I had owned this model before, loved it and then found what I thought would be a greater love for some Nikon gear and so traded it away. But the lure of the one inch cameras is strong, and when the chance came to reacquire this classic I felt as though I had to jump on it. And it's been sitting on the corner of my desk for a while; daring me to pick it up and use it some more...

This has been the busiest January I've worked in since ---- well ---- years. We usually end up taking long walks with the dog during this month or lingering over late lunches and hanging out at coffee shops, sheltering from the cold and the ennui of the slow times. But somewhere around the 4th of the month I started getting phone calls and e-mails from a diverse group of clients and we started ramping things up. A TV commercial led to publicity shots which slid into event work and veered back again into some advertising content. Toss in a weekend in Denver learning to be smarter and you've got a full schedule. Or at least I do. It got so busy over the last two weeks that I actually had to skip a number of swim practices! God forbid!!!

But last night I stayed late in the office, a glass of red wine just to the left of my keyboard, and I billed and billed and billed. While invoicing for services and licenses already rendered is fun and entertaining, the photos tacked to my bulletin board were a reminder that it had been at least two weeks since I'd had the free time to wander around with a camera and no real agenda. And, for me, the time spent walking is great time spent thinking and consciously dreaming. I'd missed the ramble around downtown. 

So after a wonderful and jaunty swim practice, coffee with my masters swim team buddies, and lunch with my wife, I carved out the rest of the afternoon to tool around with one camera and some decent hiking boots. The camera I chose was the RX10 and there's a simple reason for that: It was this camera's turn in the rotation. The Nikons saw a lot of serious use in the early part of the month and last week was the week of hard labor for the Olympus and Panasonic cameras. The odd man out had been the Sony. 

I had the best of the rationalizations when I acquired the RX10 for a second time. You see, the firmware has been updated and the video went from merely "really good" to "superb." I rationalized that I'd be using this camera to create wonderful, snapshot style videos that people would adore. Of course, after I bought the camera I abandoned that line of reasoning (for now) and started using the camera as I use all cameras; pressed into the service of whatever visual whim I was serving in the moment. 

This camera has a curious effect on otherwise logical photographers. In actual use it totally convinces one of its abilities; its credentials. While Malaysian photographer and camera blogger, Ming Thein is now heading down the path way of ultimaticity with his high res, full frame cameras and Otus lenses, even he was swayed by the RX10's charms and stated, quite clearly, just a two years ago on his blog, that he could easily use the RX10 for nearly 95% of all of his client work, if needed. That's saying a lot, coming from a person who now brooks "no compromise" in his efforts to bend the physics of photography to his will. 

I have no such lofty goals for the RX10. I have only my usual assumptions. That the camera will be fun to use. That the files will be sharp and colorful. That I won't have to waste a lot of time rescuing said files in post production. That I will be enchanted by the zoom lens. That I will bounce back and forth between my Panasonic cameras (the fz 1000) and the Sony and never be totally certain which one is "the best." 

But today I was happy just to walk around with the little camera over one shoulder and to really look at stuff. I stopped by REI and bought a couple of cool, gray shirts. I stopped by Medici Caffe for a cappuccino. I bought a copy of American Cinematographer Magazine at Book People. And I snapped images of down town to look at later (now). In my mind this equates to living the good life and, in that scenario the make or model of camera hung over my shoulder is about as consequential as the brand of gasoline I put in my car. The Sony is extravagantly competent. Nothing earth shattering but nothing shabby either. Now, where did I put my fz 1000?









1.28.2016

Infatuation with a camera. It's that damn OMD that's gotten under my skin. Once you've snuggled up with an EM5.2 it's hard to get it out of your mind. Once you've had Olympus you'll ........

I've been under the spell of the big Nikons lately. It's the old story; you'll never get fired for recommending IBM. Which meant, in the early days of computing, that IBM was the way everyone always did things and so buying IBM was so logical you felt as though you didn't have to explain your choice. But guess what? KayPro, Apple, Dell, Compaq and others stepped in and changed the computer market forever.

In a certain way the analogy is true, lately, when applied to photography. Used to be that the "big irons" from Nikon and Canon were universally acknowledged to be the pro solution and showing up with something different might get you a sidelong look that signified trouble.

I worked all last week with the Nikons and boy are those files lovely. And nobody questioned my choice of cameras. But even the most addicted Nikon (or Canon) power user would have to admit, after working with a good, EVF endowed camera for a few weeks, that their choice of tools is growing kludgy and long in the tooth. It's not a question of lenses and sensors but

Photographing "Tribes," A new play at Zach Theatre. A surprising camera choice.

Mitch Peleggi (former X-Files cast member) in "Tribes."

I'm pretty sure a huge percentage of the photographic community thinks I'm nuts for changing cameras from time to time and constantly experimenting with new ways of photographing things but I think they are equally crazy for doing things over and over again in the same style and with the same cameras. Just look up Albert Einstein's definition of insanity somewhere on the web....

But I have to tell you that sometimes you try something new and it works. Against common legend lots of stuff works really well. And here's the important context: You only need stuff to work a bit better than your best targeted end use...  That web profile photo? Doesn't need to be shot with the new 100 mp Phase One camera. Honest. 

A case in point: My photographic coverage of the dress rehearsal for Zach Theatre's: Tribes. 

There is usually an audience ("friends and family") in the theater for the final dress rehearsal and for reasons of budget (and the fact that all the costumes and light cues are done) we've started shooting the "live" marketing images of the big plays on that day. What it really means is that I'm often relegated to a position in the cross over row in the center of the house.  It's a reach to the stage. And on a show with a small cast and a tight set my full frame cameras, coupled with the 80-200mm f2.8 lens is getting close to the edge of practicality. I end up wanting to get closer and have tighter compositions on my subjects. I want to feel the action in the photographs. 

While the image files of the Nikon D750 and D810 are great and the dynamic range ample, the handling and quickness of the system, for theater, isn't optimal. The light changes quickly and, by extension, so does exposure and even color balance.  Theater photography cries out for the instantaneous feedback of a good EVF camera. I have tried using the Olympus OMD cameras with longer lenses but the focus in low light just isn't fast enough to keep up with the action, sometimes. I've been looking for a different solution. I want a long lens, great image stabilization and fast, sure focusing. I took a deep breath and plunged into shooting Tribes with one of my favorite cameras for most stuff: The Panasonic fz 1000. 

This camera has what I was looking for in all the parameters I just outlined but the perceived weakness of that camera for this kind of work has always been questions about the low light performance of the 1" sensor. Is it too crowded with pixels to keep the noise down to a minimum? Or at least at a level commensurate with the final, targeted use of the images?

On Tuesday evening I headed to the theater with the lightest camera bag I think I have ever taken there. It had just two cameras and two extra batteries. That's it. Two Panasonic fz 1000 cameras (pro's cameras travel in pairs, set up identically. If one fails it's brother is ready to jump into the fray with no hesitation and no set up delays. After all, a lot is riding on getting good marketing images---they help put paying patrons in the seats!

My basic setting for the camera (I used only one) was manual exposure, ISO 1250, raw, and f4.0-5.6. 
I tested the dominate face lighting in an early tech session and found the color on faces to be equal to 3700K with 2 clicks of green. 

Here's my assessment: The magic, dfd focusing of the fz 1000 (same as the GH4) is great. Really great! When used with "pinpoint AF" the camera absolutely nailed every single frame I shot. 100%. If I did not get sharp focus on a face it had to be because I forgot to aim the AF sensor at the face. Better than my Nikons? Well, if the comparison includes the 80-200mm f2.8 then the answer is a resounding yes.

Here's where this seven hundred dollar camera beats the crap out of all the other combinations you might bring to bear in the theater: You get a long, long, very sharp zoom lens that caps out at f4.0. I worked the long end of the lens for a lot of the images and it was wonderful. I doubled my range and did so with a camera that could be handheld down to about 1/60th of second because of the I.S. 

Anything slower than 1/60th is a was at 400mm because you also have subject motion to contend with and their is no magic cure for subject motion as the shutter speeds drop. 

But here's where the Panasonic beats my Olympus OMD EM5-2 cameras resoundingly: The EVF (set to manual, not automatic) when thoughtfully calibrated (which means shooting and comparing the results in the EVF to the results on your post production monitor) is a perfect exposure setting tool. If it looks good in the EVF of my fz 1000 I have a 95% assurance that it will be correctly exposed when I get to the post production stage. That's huge. Try as I might to do the same with the Nikon D810 the rear screen of that camera is good for little more than composition compared to the radically cheaper (but more capable) Panasonic. Again, for a busy shooter doing post processing on say, 1200 files late at night, this is impressive and appreciated. EVF as color meter and finely tuned exposure meter. Sold. Dammit Nikon! Get me a D500 WITH an EVF. Stat.

When I got back to the studio at a late hour I put the images in Lightroom and started playing. Most needed a 1/3 to 1/2 stop nudge up in exposure to be perfect but, in defense of the camera, I tend to shoot to protect the highlights and am willing to put the "sensor invariance" to a little test. The files sharpen up well and there was no objectionable noise in the darker background areas --- certainly no problems with color speckling or grain clumping. The details could use more detail at 100% but in actual use they are right on the money. 

Would I do it again! How about next week. I am shooting another play the Sunday following this one and I'm also bringing along the Sony RX10 (original, not the model 2) to see if the f2.8 aperture really buys me anything. My primary camera will be one of the fz 1000s. I am putting them in their own rotation to try to keep from wearing out one or the other prematurely. I have no idea how well made the shutters are in a "consumer" camera but I do put a lot of internal wear on cameras. I tend to shoot a lot. My final word is that the smaller file size is a post processing blessing and a relief to my client who was getting tired of sorting through 36 megapixel images. "Sufficiency?" Naw, just matching the highest use target to the right camera. 

Experiment successful. And yes, on a paid job. It's not like I haven't put 25,000 exposures on the camera already....





Where's Waldo? Find the grain and lack of sharpness in 
this ISO 1250 image, shot wide open near the long end of the 
lens, handheld. You might see it by I sure don't. 
Not in any meaningful way. 



1.27.2016

Camera Confusion Continues. Why use an Olympus OMD EM-5.2 to do still life when you've got a Nikon D810 sitting on the corner of your desk...

Still life set ups get tight. See the Westcott Fastflag behind the camera?
It's the diffusion rimmed in yellow. 

I guess there was big excitement here in Austin this week. Apparently the folks from Olympus chose our fair city in which to launch their new Pen F camera. One reader asked if I was invited to participate and preview the camera ahead of time but, sadly, I was not. I can only imagine the other camera makers remembered my ill-fated decision to work with a progression of Samsung cameras and have never forgiven me. Likely never will. And that's okay because the lessons I learned from those two years was the vital importance, as a person who reviews cameras from time to time, never to have an ongoing relationship with the camera makers. I don't want to have to defend my credibility every time I write something nice about a a camera and conversely I don't want to spend time fending off the accusation that I'm a "shill" if I write something honest, but critical, about a camera from a maker I haven't previously used. For instance, if Nikon sent me cameras to test on a regular basis and then I wrote a blog wondering just what people see in the Fuji system I would get endless Fuji acolyte hate mail that would more or less start with..."I expected no less from a Luddite Nikon user! Don't you understand that the future is mirrorless????!!"

My friend, Andy, was one of the testers and he wrote along and involved initial review of the camera that he posted last night here.  His review is much more in depth and nuanced than are many of the reviews on the web. If you want to read the opinion of someone who owns and uses many Olympus models, as well as cameras from other brands, he's the one to go to today for the Pen F.

I wish I could have played with the new Olympus camera today since I am considering buying one when they come out but.... I've been hard at work the last three days on......work. 

I got back from my Craftsy.com conference very late on Sunday night and was a bit mopey because Ben had headed back to school earlier that day. I hit the ground on Monday with a full schedule of post production. Tues. was meetings all day and an interesting dress rehearsal all evening followed by post processing of 1200 theater images until the wee hours of the morning. But today was wall to wall still life photography. I sequestered myself away in the studio and only came out to drive the mile and a half to Thundercloud Subs to get their famous, Texas Tuna sandwich. It's basically tuna salad, guacamole, sliced jalapeƱos, Thunder Sauce(tm), and (for me) provolone cheese. We top it off with lettuce, tomato and onion. If you get the big one, on fresh, whole wheat bread, it should last you till a late dinner...

At any rate, today was my day to shoot a prototype from a high technology start up. A real product, not software, not vaporware. It was a black, metal box and the front was covered with some of the most heavy duty heat sinks I've seen in a long time. The advertising agency and the client had one brief brief: Shoot as many interesting angles and details as you can on white. 

As most of you are aware I spend most of my time making images of people and it takes some concentration to change gears and get all detail oriented with products. (more below).

A view from the back of the set.

That's not to say that I don't know my way around still life photography. I've shot hundreds of computer products for Dell and IBM, food for magazines and cookbooks, and for two years back in the 1980's I shot an ad a day with books and products for BookStop Bookstores, mostly with 4x5 cameras and sheet film. And buckets of Polaroid. In fact, at this point I think it's safe to say I've logged 10,000 hours just in those pursuits. It's just that I really like the people part.

The RPS CooLED 50. This light can also take a battery pack which takes 
12 double A batteries. Too zany for me right now.

The first thing I have to do when people want still life work is to figure out which camera system I want to use and how I'm planning on lighting stuff. We don't need to get the background perfectly white or shadow free since we'll be making clipping paths so I concentrate on using controllable lights that will help me deal with reflections on reflective surfaces. On the last few still life jobs I've done I've used the EM5.2 cameras because I like the combination of extensive depth of field coupled with the hi-res (40 megapixel) files. The still life stays still and the camera is on a tripod anyway. 

At first glance the Nikon D810 looks like the logical choice because of the full frame sensor and the high resolution but I'm leery of stopping that camera down too far and having to deal with diffraction effects. At some point the files start to get muddier and muddier as you head toward f22....

The Olympus EM5-2 is limited to f8 if you intend to use the hi-res mode. If you need more depth of field beyond what that combo (f8.0 and smaller sensor) gets you it's pretty easy to do some remedial focus stacking. I ended up choosing the Olympus because I think the high-res mode is pretty cool and it gives me a chance to use the Sigma DN 30mm and 60mm lenses. I am rewarded, at f8.0, with amazing sharpness out of a set of $200 a piece lenses. Pretty damn amazing.

Light covers, diffusion sock and a Manfrotto Magic Arm lounge on the floor, waiting their turn in some sort of rotation.

And that brings me to lighting gear. I like to use continuous lighting on product shots because I can see, on the rear screen on in the EVF, exactly what my final shot is going to look like before I trip the shutter and I can tweak it until what I've got is a perfect as I am able to get.  The big fluorescent panels are too diffuse for work like this. Not that I don't want most of the light sources to be diffuse but, I also want to skim some hard light through the shots to gain a greater impression of sharp edges. That's where my cheap RPS CooLED lights come in. I now have two of the bigger models, the 100. They put out a good amount of light and they are the first LEDs I've owned that I can stick into a softbox and not feel like the light loss is is too much. In fact, I used one of these big lights through a small soft box today, over the top of my shooting table for a main light. 

I also have two of the model 50s, which are one stop less powerful. But they are still brighter than most of the panels I've used. The beauty of all of these fixtures is that I can use them just as we used to use traditional tungsten lights. I can put diffusion scrims in front of them, put them into soft boxes or umbrellas and, with the standard 10 inch reflectors, I can even feather them nicely. Two of the reflectors have barn doors so I can created tighter, hard edged beams of light. 

Ah. The Manfrotto Grip Head. We use them for everything. 
In this instance I'm using one to hold the Westcott Fastflag
with a diffuser. Kind of like a highly customizable softbox. 
You control the intensity and diameter of the light flow based on distance. 

Shooting a new product is kind of like being on a first date. You have to make small talk and get to know the geography. Today's featured product would not stand up on its own. The giant heat sink on it made if very front heavy. I finally got it to stand up straight by attaching a nylon string to a bracket on the back of the unit and anchoring the string to a sandbagged C-stand. The product also had beveled edges which meant that it wouldn't sit on its side without some sort of support. The secret is to use enough support but make it concealable....or easy to PhotoShop out. 

The finish on the product was just shiny enough to make my morning and part of my afternoon challenging as I tried to "play pool" with the lights and bounce them into quadrants that would not return unhelpful reflections. Word to the would-be-wise, check your lighting at camera position, the effect is radically different when you move away from the camera but what the camera sees is the only thing that matters. 

Invariably, the client who is sitting ten feet over to one side will mention that he or she seems a big glare from where he or she is and wonders how you intend to fix it. I am always gentle as I guide them to the camera position and beckon them to look once again......

One of my "secret weapons" is a horizontal arm on my Gitzo tripod. 
With that tripod and arm I can arrange the camera to shoot straight down 
on a subject. Here I have the camera tilted back to get a specific angle. 

It's old news, of course, but one of the benefits of the LED lights is the cool working environment. Funny though--- today it was chilly outside and I found myself thinking how nice it would be to work with 3 or 4 thousand watts of tungsten lighting. We would have kept nice and toasty warm without having to turn on the studio heater.

Yes. I will finally admit that the tilt-fllippy screen on the back of the camera does 
have its uses. I was often putting the camera in positions that would have required 
better balance than I think I can muster to get the shots. 

As soon as I came to grips with the idea that I'd shot every conceivable angle and detail of this new, prototype (meaning not totally polished and cosmetically perfect) product I jumped right into post processing the individual files. Since I wasn't looking through a series of different expressions (people) I was able to select the best frame from each set up and just work on those. 

No matter how much I cleaned the product I have surrendered to the realization that some very fine (and very white) dust will end of statically sticking to areas of the product. It's dust that's so fine I can't see it with my naked eyes but it becomes very visible the you blow up 40 megapixel files to 100%. So, after I color correct, exposure correct and use the lens corrections to make things line up I spend about five to ten minutes per file spotting dust with the healing tool in PhotoShop. Once I like what I see I save a full res LZW Tiff file and go on to the next image. Today we did a bunch. At the end of the day I use the script in Photoshop to automate making Jpegs. It's called "Image Processor." 
I generate full size Jpegs with #10 compression and then smaller, web rez Jpegs that are easier for some clients to handle and review. 

I uploaded all of the files to WeTransfer.com and send them to all the involved parties. My hope is that everyone will write back to me and let me know how much they love the files but, being the anxious type, I generally wait on pins and needles, expecting the sky to fall and my career to end at any moment. Tragic. I know. 

So, here's my beauty shot of my favorite Olympus camera of the moment. 
Will I buy the new Pen F? Not after being snubbed!
Just kidding. I'll line up like an Apple iPhone buyer to get 
my hands on the first black one in Austin. Count on it. 

I don't usually do my photography and my processing on the same day. I like to take a walk or a swim after the shoots to let what I've done sink in. But this week is somehow different. We seem to have projects stacking up like serial romances and I'm trying to make sure the "back office" work doesn't stack up and end up biting me on the butt at some inconvenient moment. Tomorrow I photograph the president of one of (maybe "the") biggest real estate company in the country. I'd like to have all the other stuff cleared off my plate because, invariably, the photo session of busy executives if followed by a tense conversation with the administrative assistant in which the words, "We need to have all of these by tomorrow morning!!!!!" get repeated over and over again. It's like a tourist trying to bridge a language barrier by repetition and volume.

The schedule says I get a break next Thurs. I can hardly wait. But what camera will I want on that day to take on a long walk through my home town?

Some panels are here to block window light. 

Bag it. Or knock something over and pay for it....

I'm sure next year I'll be asked along on an Olympus junket. But isn't it nice to know that I wrote this because I found a good use for the camera, not because of a nice dinner and the open bar?