The Sony 50mm FE 1.8 is just right on the A7ii.

Choreographer for Zach's "A Christmas Carol." 

It was Saturday afternoon. I could sit alone in my office and keep refreshing Nate Silver's 538 website to see how the election polls were changing or I could pack a couple of cameras into my little Tenba backpack and head over to the theater to watch a choreography rehearsal for one of the holiday musical plays. I chose the sane option and got packing. 

In days of yore I was far too busy schlepping Ben around to various activities on Saturdays to ever have time to attend early rehearsals of Zach productions. I'd arrive on the evening of the final dress rehearsal and shoot the images for press and marketing cold. No clue what would come next or how each dance number might end. It's not the optimal way to do good photography. One of the things we emphasize to advertising clients is the importance of pre-production and scouting. Now I've got the time to do that with my theater clients too.

I didn't have anything specific in mind, image-wise, but I did want to get the feel of being totally immersed in the rehearsal. The actors were working with the show's choreographer for most of the afternoon so I pulled my two cameras out of my pack and got them set up. A 70-200mm on one body and a nice, pedestrian 50mm f1.8 on the other. I'd watch while, see something I liked and then wait for the next round of that rehearsal. The beautiful thing about shooting a production early on is that, unlike the final shows leading up to the opening, when you see something you think is cool you can be sure you'll see it again and again as the actors work to get the moves and timing right. It's much easier to put yourself into the right position to get a good photograph once you know what to expect.

Shooting with a 50mm is sweet because when you get close to a foreground subject, like the choreographer above, you get this wonderful feeling of depth in the image. Part of it comes (in this instance) from shooting close to wide open (f2.2-2.5) but another factor is the relative size relations as your eye wanders back through the frame. 

Because this was an early rehearsal and none of the images I shot as "notes" were mission critical I played around more with cameras settings. In my advertising work I tend to enjoy tight control of all camera parameters. Manual exposure and usually manual focusing are a given. I rarely get to practice with all the AF modes on my cameras but I'm getting more adventurous. Today I set the A7ii to continuous AF with a wide area. I also took a chance by setting my taking aperture at f2.5. That set a higher bar for the camera's focusing system. I had a custom button set up for focus locking so I wasn't totally without a pair of water wings...

Another thing I did, which I would not do on an ad shoot, was to set the shutter speed to 1/160th to help freeze motion and to set the ISO as above. The only thing I used to vary exposures was the Auto ISO setting and the exposure compensation dial. I was a bit nervous in situations where I saw the ISO ramping up toward the 4,000 to 6,400 range but as I kept reminding myself, these were just visual "notes" to set me up for the final rehearsal in a couple of weeks...

I came away from my afternoon at the rehearsal with a bunch of fun shots. I've edited down from 600+ to about 211. Most just required a little pop via the clarity slider in Lightroom or a nudge on the shadow slider. Everything looked pretty good even though the lighting in the rehearsal space can only be described as DISMAL.  When I peep at shots made with the cheap Sony 50mm ($199?), shooting close to wide open, I am very pleased that I haven't thrown down hard cash on one of the more expensive models in the 50-55mm range from Zeiss.

This inexpensive lens is very nice and very capable. I'll save the difference in price between it and the super star lenses and buy myself a new set of tires. The set of Continentals that came with the car is past its prime and our tread wear indicators are smiling at me. I have my eyes on a set of Michelin tires at Costco but no idea if any one brand of tire is actually better or worse than another. Perhaps someone out in VSL land is a tire aficionado???
Chime in if you disagree on my tire choice...

So, back to the photography. I thought I'd be shooting so much more with the longer zoom but, to be honest, except for single portraits, I am getting a bit tired of compression for the sake of compression. Relaxing the frame and getting physically closer felt just right. Who knows? I may bend as we continue onward and even starting using something ridiculously wide, like a 35mm.  But that strikes me as a bit radical. Anyway, props for a cheap Sony lens. It's about time. Now, perhaps they would consider re-releasing that wonderful Alpha 85mm f2.8 in an FE mount. I might even cry tears of joy....


I like the way 135mm lens, on full frame cameras, cropped to squares, looks. It's a mix.

For a while now I've been talking about shooting portraits in a square format. Many have commented that they routinely shoot stuff in a 3:2 aspect ratio with the intention of later cropping to square. I had trouble getting my brain around post partum cropping because I was concerned about not composing correctly or, not having enough resolution with the outer (vestigial) wings cut off. I recently put a cheap, plastic protective cover over the rear monitor screen of my A7Rii and marked off the cropped square with a black Sharpie. Now I have permanent square frame lines. Oh joy! I'm also happy to know that I still have nearly 24 megapixels of image resolution left after the crop. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief and start making portraits the way I like them again. 

The final piece of the puzzle for me was to find the right focal length to complement the square and the way I like portraits to look. Historically, the images I liked best all came from about 135mm of focal length. To that end I've been using the Rokinon 135mm t2.2 cine lens as my primary, square lens.  It gives me the compression that I like and, when used near the close focusing limits and the aperture range of f2.2-f4.0 it gives me the kind of quick focusing ramp that helps to isolate faces in a charming way.  

I always know when my brain agrees with my heart because I start begging my friends and colleagues to come over to the studio for a little portrait sitting. I've been on a roll lately. 

The image above is the color file that corresponds to the black and white image I showed about a week ago. We aren't in my studio but in a airy space at the Topfer Theatre on the Zach Theatre campus. I used the lens to make this image of Rebecca and, previously, images of Jack Donahue. Now that I finally have some free time to post process I am very happy with the choices I made. 

It's nice to find that sweet spot you have been missing...

Vital news of the day....the Pricing of the Olympus EM-1 mark2. Cavernous Yawn....

I have to laugh. So many of the photo blogs are twisting themselves up in knots. They love the Olympus EM1-2 but can't seem to get over the price. Some commenters are sure that one month's rent is the inflection point that will cause enough pain to camera buyers to make them consider the EM1-2 unattainable. Others remind the flock that only a few years ago a decent digital camera (Nikon's 12 megapixel, cropped frame APS-C, D2Xs) weighed in a $5995. Three times what the much more capable EM1-2 will set them back. One blog savant asked the readers if $2,000 was a fair and reasonable price for the camera and instantly generated a couple dozen responses. It's obviously an issue for some.

I don't know what all the hysteria is about. My favorite camera right now is a bridge camera with a fixed lens and a much smaller sensor and it's been priced around $1600 on Amazon and B&H for the last few weeks. It's not like high end camera aficianados are the same demographic that subsists on food stamps and the kindness of strangers...

To put it into context the Olympus EP-2, with a finder, debuted at $1380 back in 2010. Every aspect of the EM-1-2 has been vastly improved on the new model.

I got all caught up in the excitement and controversy of this new "outrageously" priced, Olympus flagship camera and was ready to call my contact at Olympus to request a review copy when I came across this ancient image (above) in my files. It's a photograph of Belinda sitting in the Clarksville Cafe at least thirty years ago. It was photographed using an ancient Tamron 28-70mm f3.3 to 3.4 Adaptall zoom (very much manual focus) on an equally ancient Canon F1 (not the new style...) body. The image was burned onto Ektachrome 100 slide film.  It's handheld. The light levels were low. There was no matrix metering. No focus confirmation. The only "image stabilization" was alcohol.

But the photograph is as good as I would expect from any current camera; maybe better. As Jimmy Hendrix once told an aspiring musician. "You don't need any more pedals you just need more practice." 

I'm never opposed to buying new cameras but I am mystified by the idea that the value of a camera can be correlated to its sensor size, or even the size of the camera itself. For decades the smaller Leicas were always more expensive than the bigger Canon and Nikon cameras. And, of course, it's hard enough to get one's mind around the $1,000 price tag of the tiny, new Sony RX100-V...

If you can't afford to spend $2,000 on a camera then you probably should not buy the Olympus EM-1-2. If you can afford it but you don't need to replace your existing camera (or system) you might want to pay down your mortgage or pay off some other debt. If you know you need what that camera can offer AND you can afford to buy it then off you go. You are the only one who can ferret out the right decision for your situation and your usage. I will say this though, if all my images came out as well as the one above I'd be happy with whatever camera I happened to be shooting at the time.

Maybe the real sound investment is to buy more shooting opportunities....

Can you believe it? It's been over six months since I bought a new camera. Or a used camera. Amazing...  Almost as if I was in camera rehab.