7.12.2016

The "Meh" factor. Or why X is a "deal killer for me."

Ben. Photographed with a medium format digital camera and a 180mm Schneider Lens. 

It's become a thing now. As soon as any photo product is introduced the whining and posturing start. I recently looked around the web at comments posted about the Sony/Zeiss 50mm f1.4 FE lens. Even though this lens may be one of the sharpest and highest performing lenses available today at any price the web-o-sphere seethed and bubbled at Sony's audacity for trying to charge real money for their work. "$1,500 for a Nifty-Fifty???" wrote one person. "Never!" As if you should be able to get Zeiss Otus optical quality at a price point around $150 bucks; a la the ultra-plastic Canon 50mm 1.8. Or its Chinese copy...

Are the people writing this stuff really so thick that they believe all lenses of a given focal length are commodities? All are equal performers? That the expensive ones are just a clever defrauding of the rubes?

Companies have good reasons to price product the way they do and it seems that consumers have missed the boat on understanding what it takes to produce top flight gear. If price is really the only consideration for any of these affronted commenters they can choose the new Sony 50mm f1.8 FE instead, and pay only $250. Or adapt a Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens from the film days for less than $100.

But beyond "outrage" at price one of the things that hurts my brain is the constant use of the word "meh." In most instances the user substitutes it for the words, "I am not impressed." Or "I can't understand the value/use." The word "meh" is usually used when giving a reaction to a new feature or new specification. As in: The new Fuji XT-2 gets an increase of resolution!!! followed by, "meh." 

The inclusion of new features or increased performance might not be beneficial to everyone but to describe nearly everything as "meh" is such a lazy response that I think most times it really means, "I think I should find another hobby." The word is also used to describe photography that doesn't appeal to the poster. I don't understand the compulsion to even comment. If some style or technique is not one that appeals to you that's understandable. Having to throw in a condescending "meh" is bordering on conflating boredom and mean-ness efficiently. And for no other reason than to signal both your disdain and your derisive dismissal.  

"Meh" has evolved to become the catchword for all boredom and all apathy. It's sad to see it used so much in response to various parts of the photography world. It's also a lazy way of saying, "I couldn't be bothered to actually explain why I feel that XXXX is unimportant or misses the target." I think people fancy themselves as being hipsterishly world weary when appropriating "meh" and brutally overusing it. I wish they would stop. In the context of the "pricey" Sony lens above it goes something like this: "I know it is supposed to have really great performance but it is, after all, just another 50mm. Meh." This word may be sweeping the web right now but we certainly don't need to play along.

But the one phrase I hold in greatest disdain these days is: "That's a deal killer." 

Usually used to denounce an entire product because of the inclusion or exclusion of one minor feature. As in: "I loved the camera and it took really great images, felt perfect in my hands but..... it has 4K video in it and I'm not paying extra for 4K video. That's a deal killer for me!"

Or: "What??? My perfect camera is perfect except it doesn't include 4 dimensional GPS that works with my Blackberry?  Well, that's a deal killer for me." 

I think what "deal killer" really means is: "I can't afford this thing I so desperately want so I'll fabricate a throw away reason why I wouldn't buy it. Because I can't...." 

Contemporary web commenting photographers, if you add up all their deal killers, must be absolute pussies when it comes to camera operation. They can't make a good photo with any camera unless: It has a touch screen, it has NFC, it has GPS, it has panoramic modes, it has HDR modes, it has scene bracketing, it has cheap lenses, it has great lenses, it comes in colors, the menu contains only three items, the camera can be configured in 10,000 ways, there are enough function buttons, there aren't too many function buttons, it has aspect ratio bracketing, it eschews any form of internal video, it has an OVF, it has an EVF; and....the battery lasts for 10,000 exposures. 

Dear God, these people would have been utterly helpless in the primitive times of film. 

Wouldn't it be more honest if these people just said: "I don't understand. I'm not sure I want it. I know I can't afford it. I can no longer afford cable TV so instead of watching "Orange is the New Black" I am coming here and wasting time pretending I might be able to buy a $10,000 camera system and then poisoning the discussion with rampant negativity."

It's enough to drive one to the video blogs. They never argue about anything, or use the word "meh" there...



7.11.2016

One more Graffiti Collage before Bedtime.

©2016 Kirk Tuck. Mean Fish, Bad Pigs and People in Big Suits.

Graffiti Turns into Collage which becomes Anonymous.


7.10.2016

More squares. Why did I take these? What was I thinking?

Portrait of An Artist As a Young Man.

I often think about why I take photographs and why I go back to an area again and again to take more photographs. My theory is that the longer you live the more socially isolated you become. You tend to have spent a lifetime surrounding yourself with people who are more or less just like you. If you are "lucky" enough to live in a very affluent area, in a very affluent town you'll find that you are even more homogeneously sequestered. You drive your car out of the long driveway to get just about anywhere and once you get there you drive your car into the secure parking garage and then transfer into the adjacent building of your destination.

It's hard to meet people from the interior of your car. But let's look a bit further. Chances are you went to a good college and got a useful degree. If so you were most probably surrounded (in the U.S.A.) by a sub-set of the general population that averages about 5.8% of the total number of people.  If you graduated with a bachelor's degree you now constitute part of a group of adults who are around 22% of the adult population. Should you pursue a master's degree (and attain it) you will join an even smaller sub-set of about 5% of American adults. Each level of achievement puts one further and further away from the median population, and further from a genuine social literacy of popular culture. 

If your work life is mostly spent working with people with the same backgrounds who are managing projects for corporate America you have essentially cut yourself off from any real, empathetic understanding of the other 78% of your fellow country people. You may read articles about the mainstream in your morning copy of the New York Times, or study up on their habits and vernacular by watching television, but chances are you more readily default to websites that echo your group's taste, or to blogs that speak to hobbies and interests that are important to you personally. 

As I've aged and focused on work, financial security, and my own sybaritic comforts I have become increasingly aware that I have few friends or acquaintances that are poor,  or not traditionally educated, and not part of a network of affluent social support that revolved around training our children to manufacture their own privileged isolation. But at some point I came to the epiphany that belonging to a homogenous group that is uniformly hellbent on actively managing all risk is......boring. And that makes me boring. 

As an antidote to my self-induced social firewall I try to get out see the city from a standing point of view; not in a car. The Graffiti Wall is a great example of my attempts to at least understand popular culture. When I go there I see all kinds of people from mostly middle and lower middle class backgrounds. The cars are different. The dress is different. The language and mannerisms are different. The messaging is different. It's less obfuscated, more clear. It comes from a mix that I'm not conversant with and so becomes fascinating to me. 

When I photograph the wall with all of its garish colors and almost stenciled artwork I'm trying to emotionally understand what drove the artists to come here and make such ephemeral art. When I photograph people situated in, and surrounded by, the art I'm looking for archetypes; heroic visual ideas of the artists. The new Jackson Pollocks of the public gallery. 

As one who has spent decades creating archival photographs and archival inkjet prints, as well as spending too many hours backing up information and safeguarding my data, I am captivated by the ability of these many artists to spend time and money to paint only to see their work painted over the next day --- or even just a few hours later. Do they feel the agony that I would feel if I noticed growing fixer stains on my collection of black and white prints? Or does the ability to have a spontaneous "gallery show" (albeit surrounded by hundreds of un-curated and competitive artists) outweigh the fleeting existence of their art?

While I've shied away from examining political themes here in the art I've documented at the Wall over the years, I wonder if the expressions of anger, frustration and even outrage are more satisfying made physical instead of just being "liked" over and over again on Facebook. 

Beyond being a resource for the artists, the outdoor gallery (and it is huge) is also the locus of day-to-day performance art of an individual kind for the people who don't paint. It's a free attraction and the very nature of the content drives away most well meaning parents and a good number of older and more conservative adults. Young adults and teenaged people flock here to see and be seen. To take selfies, and to go beyond the selfie in many instances to create personal art with themes and points of view that work in concert with the surrounding paintings. 

Beyond any appreciation for the art on the walls the area has also become a site for romantic messaging. I saw three different parts of the wall today that conveyed some variation of: "Susan Smith, Will You Marry Me?" It's a hot "stop by" on prom night and on Valentine's Day.

But most of the people I described at the beginning of this post are immune to the charms of the wall. They've compartmentalized graffiti as something that "punks" and gangs do. Evidence of rebellion and lawlessness. Memes of alienation and hate. But if you get out of the car and go experience it you come away understanding the opposite; it's a magnet for community sharing and mixing. And it's quickly becoming a tourist attraction for many people. It's a venue for self-expression in one of its rawest forms.

But why am I attracted to the Wall and the mix of people? I think it has to do with a desire to go beyond art that's certified and approved by convention. I'm genuinely interested in understanding the value of an "outsider art" that's becoming "insider art" to a bigger and bigger slice of the population. It has real energy and is classic, "primitive art" in many ways. Except for the fact that handfuls of the work are obviously from people who have technical training and learned skills --- which makes their involvement even more interesting, and more richly layers the offerings.

The camera in my hand gives me a purpose to go there and to be there. When I see things through the camera I can be more objective and immersed. And, even if my own audience isn't interested in seeing the final work, I feel as though I am assembling, one week at a time, a project that attempts to capture a movement within central Austin. A movement of expression that is legal, public and authentic; and probably just a real estate developer's pen stroke from extinction at this site. Once it's gone the only thing left will be the documentation we've (collectively) created. 

As a photographer I did not always have an appreciation for the fragile nature of the existence of most things. I grew up in San Antonio and there were wonderful, old buildings with storefronts that spread all down Commerce St. and Houston St. My favorite was a place called Brock's Books. It had been on Commerce St. forever and must have contained over a million books and magazines. It was a treasure trove for me of photography magazines from the 1940's and 1950's. I never thought to document the actual place; its flavor and charm, and labyrinth of passageways through mountains of word jeweled paper. And we never thought books and magazines would go away. And then, one weekend. I went for a walk downtown and headed toward Brock's only to find it all gone. Every last vestige of an 80 or 90 year tradition eliminated and power washed away. 

The same thing happened again and again to my favorite buildings in San Antonio's downtown. I dearly wish I had documented every one of the Art Deco facades and the mix of other zany architectural styles that dotted the sleepy streets of a pre-revitalized downtown. 

I'm also reminded of how much the central core of Austin has changed. When I came to the University of Texas in 1975 the entire area between the UT campus and the Texas State Capitol building was filled with beautiful "turn of the century" houses. Not the turn to this century but the last one. It won't seem historically important to people in the northeast U.S. who can date buildings back to the founding fathers, nor to Europeans who can sit at McDonalds with a coffee and look at the 2,000+ year old Pantheon. But for Austin these were the historic homes and buildings from the childhood of the state. And now every single house is gone. Torn down to accommodate boring and banal buildings of government. Painfully blank edifices in the service of Texas' crazy politicians. 

So I guess one of the things that drives me to make images, on an almost weekly basis, of the wall is the jumble of past experiences of loss. Loss of culture and loss of the artifacts of my culture as it was in my youth. 

As I was walking toward "the Wall" I passed the Goodwill store at 9th and Congress. It's now a building being "warehoused" until the demand for trendy real estate demands that it be torn down and the property re-purposed. Right now it serves the folks at Goodwill. But the building is so much more. It was the very first Whole Foods Store. The very first one. The incubator. The earth mother of Texas organic grocery stores. Which is silly to write because just before it was Whole Foods the building housed Mother Earth, one of the hot, rock music venues in the the early 1970's. The place has history. 

Anyway, each sting of loss is an indicator that a city or culture has moved on and values have changed. Photography, in one sense, is a tool for trying to freeze and document the existence of things that define us to us. The documentation may not rise to the level of art but few things that I create really do. It's the one lucky shot mixed in with the boards and shingles of our craft that keep me moving forward and at least trying to express what we lose and how the loss creates a void in the people who experienced, firsthand, the thing lost. It's probably why I've spent a lifetime photographing the people I have known...

In this way photography is a very bittersweet undertaking. The more so when you can compare now with then. The way an old portrait of a girlfriend, now a wife, is bittersweet because it captured a worry free youth that can't ever be revisited and juxtaposes it with a modern day filled with taxes and work. 

So why the "Wall"? And why downtown? I have lived in Austin for over 40 years now and I've seen it change so much and so often. In some way I imagine that my attempts to capture it with my cameras are twofold. I am hoping that closely examining what we have right now will help me to better understand the changes and embrace them in the holistic vision I carry around of my city. But underneath I would say that I walk out onto the sidewalks looking for a resonance, a whiff, a bit of vibration that reminds me of the power of our youth culture in days past. In some ways it's also a visual eulogy for a time of innocence we can never really revisit. And I feel desperate to catch any visual chimera of it I can. 

But why do I photograph at all? I seem to believe that my personal work is the creation of little visual poems dedicated to the idea of looking at things in the moment. An exercise in being physically and consciously present to the ongoing and weirdly organic growth and maturation of a city. An attempt to understand my small part in it. 

We all live in the Heisenberg Theory. We attempt to observe reality only to realize that the very act of observing it irrevocably changes and distorts the canvas we are attempting to ingest. The present is always our past. And, in some sense, the past is always our present. 

M.C. Escher Vision.

Text Book Objectification.



X-ray Dog.

Art Tourists being ravaged by the Sun. 



All images photographed at 105 degrees with a Sony RX10iii. 


The tripod no one even wanted to steal...

Saw this in passing today. A lonely, spindly tripod sitting on the middle of the open space near the Hope Outdoor Gallery (aka: the Graffiti Wall). It wiggled and throbbed and pulsed in the gentle breezes of the hot afternoon. It seemed as though it was about to fall over with no external provocation. Dozens of people walked by it and ignored it. It must be a sad thing to be an ineffectual tripod. 

The Sony RX10iii will work as my "square format" camera until something better comes along.


I like walking around shooting with a square format camera. I see something I like in front of my and I don't even need to think about which way to turn the camera. Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras have always given us the option to shoot in the square (or Platinum Ratio) but DSLRs just are woefully unprepared to deal with anything outside their narrow 3:2 window. Not that they can't be set to shoot square but because of the ancient technology of optical viewfinders there's no pretty way to see just the square while shooting. And that's half the thrill. It's not about "fixing" something after the fact, it's about seeing the boundaries and composing within them; in the moment. 

I'll admit, I thought I would be over my infatuation with the Sony RX10iii by this point but my affection for the camera and my respect for its capabilities keeps growing like Kudzu in my garden. I used the camera for my big video project last month and only last Thurs. pressed it into service as a portrait camera for a tech company.  When Ben suggested heading downtown to savor a well warmed Austin this afternoon it seemed only natural to grab the RX10iii. And, since I had already set it to shoot square for my day long portrait assignment I certainly didn't see any reason to change. 

Every time I use the camera I am re-impressed by some aspect of it. Today I was impressed with its ability to nail exposures and to deliver a massive amount of detail; even into a frame of pixie (13 megapixels) proportions. I've used the camera so often now that it feels more comfortable to hold than anything else in the shop. I'm now waiting for the ultra-wide companion camera. An RX10-IV that delivers something like 10mm-24mm (35mm equivalent angle of view...).  I'm sure Sony has already thought of it and I'm just repeating a logical thought; but if they haven't they are welcome to steal my idea --- as long as they don't price it any higher than the current model...

Well. Looks like I have everything squared away.




7.09.2016

Testing the Olympus 70mm f2.0 (Pen-FT) lens with the very good Sony a6300. Surprising results...


I have owned the Olympus 70mm f2.0 lens (originally made for the Pen F half frame cameras in the late 1960's and early 1970's...) for a very long time and I always thought it was the least sharp of the vintage Olympus lenses that I owned. Recently, I decided to try it with the Sony a6300 by using an inexpensive, Fotodiox, adapter. My previous experience using the lens on a Sony Nex camera was with the Nex 7 and it was always a bit suspect because the Nex 7 was known not to play nicely with other makers wide angle lenses and even less nice with older, legacy lenses. 

I am happy to report that the a6300 is the model of accommodation. I started shooting a bit this afternoon using just the focus peaking to try and hit sharp focus. I immediately chimped at 100% and was disappointed to find the images looking soft or out of focus. My next tests were done using the focus magnification feature. With magnification enabled I could see that the fault lay not with my lens but with my technique and with the camera's overly optimistic focus peaking indicators. 

The frames on which I used the magnification to do my manual focusing I was happy to see that most of the apertures right up to f16 were able to yield sharp images. Since the coatings are from another era the images do benefit from a bit of added contrast and the judicious use of the dehaze slider in the latest rev of PhotoShop. 

I know that I promised not to shoot architectural bits and pieces as examples for my blog articles but it's the middle of the Summer and all of the Austin super-models have gone to a super model convention in Aspen...

I have tweaked these files. I did it not to fool you into thinking that this 40+ year old lens looks better than it is but because images from modern lenses are routinely tweaked and enhanced by in-camera processing which sharpens, fixes vignetting (which is not required with the 70mm), fixes geometry (which was not required with the 70mm), and fixes chromatic aberrations ---- also not required with the 70mm.  What I did do was bump the overall saturation and contrast a bit because there is an apparent difference of philosophy in lens coating from then to now. In the modern times we are intended to be able to use the files right out of the camera without modification but in the days of yore, when the lens was popular, the images would either be processed and printed in black and white or color; or they would be processed as color slides. In each of these processes it was best to start with a "flatter" negative and add contrast as you went along since you could never go in the other direction. At least not with good, predictable results...

I am extremely happy with the performance of this lens. At f5.6 and f8.0, with appropriate processing, it certainly stands up well to current lenses. In fact, I think starting with a lower contrast original file may actually help photographers to achieve a longer dynamic range and allow for more flexibility in processing. I give this classic "two thumbs up" and an honored place in my camera bag.

















Shot wide open at f2.0

I still don't understand this signage. I would pay an appreciable amount to cut 30% off my best swim times but when I inquired at this clothing store the woman at the counter mumbled something about a price reduction on swimwear. Crazy; right?


7.08.2016

Thoughts about the two, new Fuji Cameras: The XT-2 and the X Pro-2. And some personal history...

©Kirk Tuck. Not a Fuji Photograph.

I'll start this blog out by saying that I was very early adopter of Fuji's digital cameras having purchased the DS-300 all the way back in 1998. That camera was configured like a bigger, consumer point-and-shoot camera and it NO rear screen, just a small, monochrome screen on top for changing settings. 

The camera was aimed at the professional market and it delivered 1.3 million pixels (1280X1000) from its 2/3rd inch, CCD sensor. The fixed lens was a zoom with a 35-105mm range (equivalent) and the camera wrote its files to a huge, 16 megabyte PC card. You could use an RCA plug to attach a television if you want to quickly review your shots. That would be an SD television....

The camera came complete with an RX-232C interface but if you really wanted to speed up file transfers, etc. you could buy a "grip" attachment that would give you a full sized SCSI connector. All viewing was done through a smallish optical viewfinder. There was no way to preview your shots, something we take for granted now some 18 years later...

Were we able to do "professional" work with this camera? Well, as I write this I recall a job we did for Motorola a week or two after getting the camera. We took our lighting gear and the new camera and a small television set (with which to review our images) and we headed to the Renaissance Hotel in north Austin. We set up an impromptu studio in the grand and glorious lobby (so fresh back then) and took portraits of arriving attendees for one of Motorola's big, Horizon customer events. Out of the 1200 or so attendees we probably made portraits of 300 of them during the day. Some people declined and some got tired of waiting in line. It didn't matter.

The goal of the giant portrait shoot was to provide content for another part of the show. The event company was constructing towers of rotating 12x12 inch boxes that would constitute a bordering line along each side of the walk-in path to the main event of the show. Each "tower" consisted of a pole about ten feet tall with cubes (like pieces of meat on a shish kabob skewer) from about four feet high up to the top. The cubes could rotate freely and people could spin them around to see all four sides as they walked along the red carpet and into the grand ballroom for the start of the first session.

Every side of each cube (but not the tops or bottoms) was covered with a photo that was borderless and sized to fit the cube face exactly. The display consisted of about 250 cube faces and the production company estimated that we'd need to print 125 edited images X 2 (on set for each side of the aisle. We would need to edit down, process and print 250 images on 13 by 19 inch paper, trim them to size, and deliver them by 5 am (overnight) to make the deadline of having the prints installed and ready to go at 9am the next morning for the opening of the show. 

At the time that was a lot of prints to push through an ink jet print workflow. 

We shot images until 4pm and then fought the traffic back to the studio where we had set up two workstations with an Epson wide carriage printer attached to each. We had also stocked in 300 sheets of heavy, matte surface, 13 by 19 inkjet paper and hundreds and hundreds of dollars of ink cartridges. 

My assistant and I got straight to work color correcting and enhancing the files and then pushing them through a program called "Genuine Fractals" to enlarge them to 12 inches on the short side. The color correction step was critical as the camera DID NOT have raw files and the color science of the early cameras was not as advanced as it is today. The files enlarged pretty well and we made our deadline. The images were rotating on their sticks in the morning. We filled a large trash can with reject prints and the edges of the keepers that had been cropped off. The clients were ecstatic and we were well paid.

My next experience with Fuji digital cameras was with the S2 camera which used the first in a long line of non-standard, Fuji sensors. It was basically a six megapixel camera (based on a Nikon N80 film camera) that had an interpolation scheme that yielded a (faux) 12 megapixel file and more dynamic range. The files worked well and looked good but the body was a bit of a melange and used two different battery types that were famous for alternating their untimely expirations. The most elegant of the Fuji clan of "professional" camera were the S5 cameras which finally used a single battery, did not corrupt CF cards with anywhere near the frequency of previous bodies, and which had the same, basic, good looking files. These cameras were the mainstream,  preferred portrait cameras for many. 

For the most part my experiences with the later Fuji cameras were very positive. I have fond memories of shooting golf courses and trash dumps while leaning out of helicopters with my Fujis. They were good imaging tools for the early days of digital imaging. You could have a career with several of them and a box of Nikon lenses. 

Which brings us up to about three years ago and the launch of the X Pro-1. As a long, long time Leica shooter I loved the idea of the X-Pro-1. It seemed that people in Fuji marketing and Fuji product design had conspired to create a camera that spoke to the hearts of M Leica users. I was enthralled and, when the call came, I rushed to my local dealer to try out the new camera and a few of the cool new lenses that were just surfacing. 

The first disappointment was when I pulled the camera to my eye, saw the blurry viewfinder and starting looking around to find a diopter adjustment. Which did not exist. Oh, you could (theoretically) order a screw on diopter and wait for it to arrive but that's never a good option. I tried to overlook this set back and pushed on to try to find things to love about the camera. But the focusing was as mushy as the uncorrected viewfinder. And the camera shut down a couple of times while I played with it. I handed it back to the clerk and resolved to press on with the (many) cameras I already had in inventory.

I resisted the siren song of the mirrorless Fuji cameras even though a number of my friends raved about the quality of the lenses and people like Zack Arias gushed endlessly about the Xt-1. A representative from Fuji's cinema division came into town and arranged a meeting with me when the XT-1 was just hitting the market. We had coffee and he put the camera in my hands to play with for a while but I was unconvinced. While the camera felt great in my hands the interface was a bit strange and the lower resolution, compared to the cameras I was currently shooting, felt like a step backwards for me, even though I knew it was purely and emotional response.

More great lenses came on to the market and from time to time I would look at the primes wistfully, all the while trying to grapple with the AF mysteries of my Nikon D810 as well as the recalls of my Nikon D750s.

When the Fuji X-Pro-2 came out I had just sold off the Nikons and moved to Sony full frame and APS-C cameras (along with the quite virtuous RX10 cameras) and I was resistant to even touching the new Fuji for fear that it would induce post cognitive dissonance, and that my faithful readers would finally draw the line at what could only appear as a blatantly promiscuous un-faithfulness in my camera  buying adventures. And I get tired of being labeled a fanboy of more than one camera system in any one fiscal year.

But I did go to Precision Camera in Austin, Texas and hold one in my very own hands. Fuji got so much right and so little wrong with the X-pro-2. I was shocked at how improved this camera was over its predecessor. The 35mm f2.0 and the 35mm f1.4 are both purported to be amazingly good 50mm equivalent lenses and the lens range overall is continuing to expand. While I am happy with the Sony A7x cameras in my current inventory I'm not sure I would have made the same call if the Fuji had been on the market at the same time ---- my upgrade may have gone in a different direction.

Now, for the past 36 hours, the photo press has been hemorrhaging information and photographs of the new XT-2 and I must admit that it's a gorgeous camera body. It has just enough nostalgic reference to remind me of the cameras that were on the market when I first got interested in the sublime art of photography. I've been reading the specs on site after site and I see so much that I might really like and take advantage of. Things like the film looks and the physical control interfaces. I was miffed when I first learned that the new camera had 4K video but no headphone jack until I learned that, like the Olympus OMD EM-5.2, the headphone jack is incorporated in a battery grip. That worked well when I shot the Olympus cameras in video so I can't argue with the logic of doing the same in the Fuji. After all, if you shoot video professionally the addition of an extra power source is a zero brain decision.

To say it straight out, if I had nary a camera in the house and I had about $10,000 cash banging around in my pocket, and I had a Texas sized hankering for a new camera system instead of a used car or a bottle of good wine, like a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France, I'm of the mindset today that I would probably piece together an all prime lens system that revolves around the X-pro-2. It's an irrational choice because I am involved in video projects and the XT-2 has more advanced video features and the potential to have really good color in the files. But it's the body style of the X-pro-2 that interests me the most. The camera's style is a charming nod to the old rangefinder cameras while harboring really solid imaging capabilities. 

Alas, for the near term I don't think Fuji will be able to wrest the money from my hands and seal any sort of deal. While the lure of sexy product design is tempting I've had too many occasions to actually use the massive imaging power of the Sony A7R2 and it would take a lot of convincing from some camp to make me give that up. I've also shot commercially successful video with the A7x bodies, the a6300 body and the two RX10 cameras and while the Fuji might take really great images I have to remind myself that my business doesn't really exist in that fantasy universe of perfect prime lenses. I might imagine myself marching into a job with a single, faux rangefinder body and three exquisite single focal length lenses but a quick think back to my last 50 jobs quickly shows me how important my various Sony zooms are and how little use I get from most of my prime lenses, in the real world where I work.  I do get good use from my 85-135 range but more and more I reach for the 70-200mm f4.0 Sony zoom just because it's so easy to get exact framing, get everything wicked sharp, have enhanced I.S. and be able to fall back on eye detect AF. 

The Fuji cameras would be my throw back fantasy cameras while my Sonys are everyday working cameras. At least that's my point of view today. But you know that around here camera choices can turn on a dime. If only the A7R2 wasn't so damn good!!!

I will say that the Fuji cameras are going to be mean competition for Nikon and Canon when a whole new generation of buyers goes camera shopping and they arrive without all the baggage and preconceptions of what my generation thinks "pro" cameras should be... Almost makes me think that in five years the real competition will be Fuji versus Sony with Canon hanging on in third place. Weirder things have happened, just ask Kodak.


7.07.2016

Shooting square today and using a counter-intuitive portrait camera.

A photograph from a traditional, square format, film camera.

Both yesterday and today I pressed two cameras into service that don't get much respect or interest from advanced hobbyists or my fellow professional photographers. And that's fine with me. I'll let them spend the money and get big ass cameras and ponder the wonders of the Hasselblad instead. Me? I'll take the left over cash (and time) and have more postcards printed. Or hire a designer to re-do the website. But I sure won't be dissuaded from using the new tools. It just takes some people longer to come around. 

When I left the studio yesterday I had written a post that was all future tense: we're going to do this; I'm going to do that... So first thing, I thought I'd report back about yesterday's shoot. 

If you'll remember I was talking about how hellishly hot it was. I packed up the car and headed down to San Marcos and found the last available parking spot in the park. The river was flowing well and the rapids through the park were a popular attraction to lots of central Texans. I parked the car, cracked the windows, put the reflective shade across the inside of the windshield and then texted my client to let him know exactly where I was. Then I quick-scouted the park and found a perfect position that would put my client in some precious shade while, visually, the layered waterfalls flowed directly behind him. It would be a 400 meter hike from the car but that's why we acclimate and stay in good shape, right?

I was twenty minutes early while the client was twenty minutes late so I killed time waiting in the shade. When he showed up I told him about the location, offered him water, and we marched over with the minimum of gear. He chilled in the shade while I set of the small octabox and the diffuser. I decided to use the camera handheld (a departure for me but...we were shooting at 1/1250th of a second... so I felt pretty confident I could hold the camera steady. Especially with Sony's ridiculously good image stabilization.

I'd tested everything previously and the camera, flash and radio triggers worked as expected. In fact, the first shot; my test shot, was right on the money for color balance and exposure. Which is a good thing because when the heat index climbs up to about 110 you really, really don't want to keep a good client standing around --- even if you do have some shade. 

We shot 45 shots in about three minutes. I shot medium, wide and some fairly tight. The brief was to do an environmental portrait so the surroundings were important. The EVF kept me from having to chimp on the rear screen with all the ambient light bouncing around. We called it quits after the 45th frame because we were both starting to sweat. It wouldn't mess up the image if I was sweating but as soon as some sweat spots soaked through the client's shirt we knew we might as well be done. Working in extreme weather can suck because it's easy to miss stuff or get lazy and cut corners. 

We shook hands and I grabbed the stands, camera and sandbag and headed back to the car where I drank a liter of water. And then headed on to San Antonio for another engagement. 

This morning I opened the files and processed them in Lightroom. The images were well balanced and the flash lighting worked well. I did my usual retouching and later tossed in some retouching via PhotoShop's new Facial Liquify. I wanted to open up or enlarge the subject's eyes a little bit to compensate for a very slight squint that was inevitable in the bright environment.  I made a gallery with 20 photo selections and sent it to my client's marketing team. Someone had forgotten to let me know that we were on a short deadline until they remembered and left a text in the middle of the night, last night, asking for a quick turn. They are a good (excellent) client so we obliged. 

I got the final selection from their designer right after lunch today and went to work on the real retouching. Since we were shooting in a public park I started by removing recognizable people from the frame. I took out a plump woman in the background who was wearing far too ambitious a swim suit, as well as stacks of yellow floats, a red cooler and some trash. I worked on my subject's face and eyes and made sure to eliminated any glare on his skin. In the end the image turned out quite well and is already on its way to becoming an integral part of an advertising piece. I felt that the RX10ii was a solid plus in getting this job done in our time frame and with the results everyone expected. It was also nimble to use in a physically uncomfortable situation.

That led me to do a last minute re-pack for today's shoot. 

Having just spent some quality time at 100% with a raw file from the RX10ii I decided to dump out the full frame cameras I had packed for an interior portrait shoot this morning and re-pack with the Sony RX10iii. We were scheduled with a tech company to shoot ten portraits before lunch in a conference room with west facing windows (no direct sun in the morning). 

In keeping with making everything light and mobile I packed portable, battery powered flashes again. A Cactus RF60 into a 60 inch, white umbrella for fill lighting and a Cactus RF60 into the small (32")  Westcott Octabox; both triggered by a VF6 in the hot shoe of  the camera. 

Tired of the tyranny of limited aspect ratio choices in most cameras, I chose one of the RX10s specifically so I could shoot a big, high res file in 1:1. Affectionately known as "square."   You've heard of the "golden ratio", right? Well the visual scientists at the Visual Science Lab are renaming the square, "The Platinum Ratio." The RX10ii and iii get you there with a full 13 megapixels to work with. More than enough for anything I can think of publishing on the web. 

I composed my frames with enough leeway to crop a nice rectangle in either axis and it made shooting so much more convenient. Go Platinum Ratio!!! Go Square! 

I made 665 photographs over the course of the morning, all on the initial battery. There was 15% power left when I finished. Of the 665 photographs shot I edited out 0% because of focusing errors. The raw files were easy to work with in Lightroom, mostly because we nailed the color with a custom white balance at the outset. While I would welcome more control in putting the backgrounds out of focus that is absolutely my only hesitation in using that camera for everything. It's just that good. 




7.06.2016

Testing a lightweight alternative to big flash for shooting outdoors in the heat wave. It takes a certain camera.


Now is when it gets too hot to live and work in Texas. I would guess the heat has already effected my brain because I haven't retreated to a more temperate clime yet. So jealous of Michael Johnston just kicking back in the cool woods of upstate New York. He probably can keep his ice tea cold just by setting it on the back porch.... But we have heat advisories from the National Weather Service for the next few days, in the Austin, Texas area. We're looking forward to heat indexes of around 110 degrees (f) during the afternoons and today those will be compounded with wind gusts of 20-25 mph. Just imagine a nice, humid, convection oven...

And, of course, we have an outdoor advertising portrait scheduled for 1 pm.

Now, normally, I'd grab the big Elinchrom Ranger RX AS with the two heads (30 pounds+/-), four C-stands (two for lights and two for diffusion scrims/sun blockers) four sand bags and various other goodies. I'd head over to the location and set up a big softbox and we'd shoot like that. We would need the big rig if were shooting with one of the full frame Sonys, and that's the way I used to shoot exterior with the big Nikon D810 but, I'm just not feeling it today. I'm out to reduce the load in deference to the heat. 

I mulled the shoot over and suddenly remembered something really cool about the Sony RX10 series of cameras; they have mechanical leaf shutters (or switchable electronic shutters) and can sync with flash all the way up to 1/1250th of a second. This is a great thing because it means I can use a smaller, battery powered flash, sync'd at a higher shutter speed and get the fill flash I want for the image outdoors. However, we never take any information on face value when $$$ is involved so I grabbed the RX10ii (it has the built in ND if I need it...) and started testing. 

Using a Nikon AS10 hot shoe to PC cord adapter I could trigger just about anything that has a reciprocal PC plug but I wanted to see if I could use the Cactus V6 radio trigger along with the Cactus RF60 flash instead. I didn't know exactly what the performance parameters of the triggering mechanisms were in terms of max sync speed but the easiest way to find out is to test. I switched the camera to mechanical shutter speeds and ISO 100 and then started firing away starting at 1/1600th. 

No love at 1/1600th so I dropped down to 1/1250th and there it was: full flash sync. Bright across the frame. Not wanting to leave anything to chance I tried an entire range of shutter speeds down to 1/60th and all worked well. Just to be thorough I pulled the RX10iii out of the drawer, tested it in the same way and it too passed with flying colors. I dropped it into the bag next to the model 2 to serve as a back up. I'll be shooting as long a focal length as I can, commensurate with getting the background scene I want but I know I won't need to go longer than the equivalent of 200mm in this job.

The ability to sync flash at a wide range of shutter speeds is a good thing if you are shooting in contrasty daylight and need to fill in shadows. We'll take this feature and combine it with the way I usually deal with sunlit portraits. We'll find the background I want first and then figure out the relationship between subject and background that is most pleasing. I'll set a base exposure for the general scene. I'm aiming for f4.0 as my base aperture at ISO 100 so I'll be nudging right up to the shutter speed 1/1250th and might need to accommodate the sun by switching to f4.5 to get perfect exposure. Alternately, I could engage the ND and drop down nearly three shutter speeds to play around 1/250th. 

I'll put a diffusion panel or light blocking panel about two feet above my subject's head and sand bag it well. This takes hard light off my subject but it also drops his exposure at least two stops under daylight and that's where the flash comes in. I'll use it to bring the exposure back up on his face but without the squinting that the constant sun would cause. 

But I have no intention of using raw flash; that would just be replacing one hard light source with another. I'll use the flash in a modifier. Today I'm going to go with a smaller, 32 inch, collapsible Westcott octabank. It's quick to assemble and is a nice, soft source that lends itself to being used in close to the subject.  

Other gear includes: Wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, cooler with water, tripod, etc. 

I look forward to spending an hour in the heat and then getting back into the air conditioning. 

Image from a hot Summer day at Barton Springs Pool. Taken with the predecessor of the RX10; the Sony R1. A wonderful camera with a smaller than APS-C sensor and a permanently attached, Zeiss zoom lens. The tradition continues.

Last week our yard was emerald green. Who knows how close to this west Texas desert scene we'll end up in a week or so..... (Olympus EP-2 and Pen F 60mm f1.5). 

7.05.2016

A Portrait of a Graphic Designer. In the studio on Westwood Terrace.

©Kirk Tuck

When I lose confidence in my abilities as a photographer
I run back to the very basics and start my 
education all over again. 

One light. One subject. 

Then I regain my footing. 

It would be so sad if we couldn't light people....