The Sony RX10iii as a photojournalism machine. Impromptu coverage of a political protest.

I was downtown meeting with a client yesterday and I got in my car to leave the parking garage; I turned on the radio and the local station had a quick traffic segment that informed me many streets in the downtown area were closed to accommodate a political demonstration protesting results of the election. I was at ground central and figured I wouldn't be exiting the downtown area any time soon (at least not with my car) so I grabbed my camera and headed out to Congress Ave. The camera I just happened to have along with me was my trusty Sony RX10iii. 

The protest was mostly young people from the University of Texas at Austin. They started their march at the Lady Bird Lake/Congress Ave. bridge and made their way up Congress Ave to the state capitol and then turned onto Guadalupe St. to continue on to campus. There was an enormous but unthreatening police presence all along the route. For the most part everyone was quite civil. The police didn't over react and, even though taunted by some small handfuls of opposition protesters, the main group of marchers was peaceful and did not go for the bait. 

Protests are old hat for me. I've been covering them for decades. Whether you believe in the cause or not the emotions are real and the energy in a good protest march is amazing. Back in the 1970's, at UT, the bulk of the students would protest at the drop of a hat. I remember people chaining themselves to several trees that needed to be cut down to accommodate a new building on campus. It was a protest that drew thousands.... But I wasn't at this one to participate as much as I was to just document it for my own sense of Austin history. 

One thing that made me so proud to live in Austin was police chief, Art Acevedo. He was not in uniform (although his black fleece wind breaker had an embroidered badge and his name on it) and he was strolling along just in front of the crowd, casually chatting with protesters, young media people and even counter-protestors. His presence inside the crowd was a signal to both the protesters and the police that we could still have a peaceful and open dialog with each other. (Go Art!!!). 

Until recently I would have thought that the best way to cover something like this would have been with the digital version of the cameras and lenses I used to cover the democratic conventions in Chicago in 1996 and Los Angeles in 2000. That would have been two cameras (or more) with an 80-200mm f2.8 on one, a 28-70mm f2.8 on the other and a 300mm f4.5 telephoto with a  2x teleconverter in the (heavy) camera bag. That, and about 30 rolls of film per day....

But I quickly came to grips with the reality that the Sony RX10iii was head and shoulders above that kind of kit; both in my ability to carry it with no effort at all, and to effortlessly zoom in to 600mm and handhold perfectly stable shots with accurate focusing. The camera had a 128 GB SD card inside and I had an extra battery in a small Baggie in my pocket. The light rain didn't worry me in the least as the camera seems well weather sealed (same camera used extensively for the video of torrential downpours and flooding at the beginning of the Summer --- still clicking away). 

The ability to go from really wide to super-tight with the twist of a lens ring was amazing. Setting the lens to f8.0 and the equivalent of 24mm meant depth of field forever. Setting the lens at 400-600mm and using it wide open meant lushly out of focus backgrounds. Not having a camera bag swinging around my waist meant I could move through the crowds with all the grace of a ballerina. Not having a bag full of lenses bouncing around meant I could sprint a couple of hundred yards forward to get a different look without breaking a sweat. Having gray hair meant that the cops weren't interested in me and neither were the students. I felt nicely unencumbered and invisible. 

The RX10iii is not perfect. At the longer focusing distances the movement (body shake?) of the camera makes it a bit harder for the camera to find focus. At ISOs above 400 the camera gets just a little noisy --- but the noise isn't bad, color splotchy noisy, just grainy, film-looking noisy. Face detection works until you want to focus on one specific face in a crowd and then you are better off with a spot AF setting. If you are working in raw you can deal with the noise quite easily. 

I only wish I'd brought a nice, handheld, interview microphone and a beautiful assistant; it would have been nice to interview some of the kids and see what they had to say. Each generation gets to protest because that's a healthy part of growing up. What I would have liked to have heard is their particular point of view at this exact moment in time. 

This was my first protest photography since smart phones have completely assimilated all local humans.  (yes, a Star Trek "Borg" reference...). Many protesters, anti-protesters, police and media were busy shooting the event and enormous number of selfies. Phones were everywhere. Some how I got the phrase, "just phoning it in.." stuck in my head and it rattled around there for the rest of my time downtown. 

If I were running a media/news content business I'd forego all the traditional cameras and hand each content producer on my staff an RX10ii or RX10iii and a hand held, dynamic reporter's microphone and teach them the rudiments of operating those cameras as both still and video cameras. They could pretty much cover anything but fast sports and motor car racing. Soon enough the PD-AF tech will even allow that. It's an amazing time to be out taking photographs. 

As the parade progressed the rain got stronger and as the crowd moved on the side street where my car was parked opened up again. I turned around and headed back to the car. I still needed to get a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a half pound of kale and brussel sprout salad at Whole Foods (my turn to cook dinner --- the salad was a good counterpoint to my wayyyy too rich version of Fettucini Alfredo with prosciutto ) and my camera and I were wet enough.  The march reminded me of the rich tradition of free speech we have here in the U.S.A. and how fortunate that yet another generation feels strongly enough about something to exercise that right. 

This post is about my experience in photographing a march with my Sony RX10iii, it's not an invitation to weigh in about politics. We'll leave that to someone else's blog. Enjoy the photographs, I think the camera does a good job with reportage... Click to see bigger. 

Center: Police Chief, Art Acevedo.

How Zach Theatre Uses My Images in Advertising. Just A Quick Post to See Actual, Commercial Photography in Action...

Click on the images and they will enlarge.

A strange inflection point for the camera industry. Nikon starts the layoffs.

cup more than half empty?

We've been hearing this week that Nikon will layoff ten percent of their workforce in the next two to three years, through attrition and early retirement. The cause is the collapse of the camera market and their concentration of resources in two shrinking industry sectors. Why is this happening? What did Nikon get so wrong? And who's next?

First some predications: Nikon will not go out of business. Sales are down but they are no where near the point of hemorrhaging money like some dot com start up delivering cupcakes via Fedex. They still earn a profit. No one is rushing to buy Nikon (the company). Samsung put a hard stop on that kind of thinking when they wisely exited the camera market after studying the numbers. Photography is changing faster than most camera companies can imagine but most will catch up in one way or another. Finally, Nikon will likely continue to diversify just as (working) photographers have been doing over the last decade.

All camera sales are dropping even though there are bright spots chocked through the market. Nikon's drop seems the most dramatic, in part because they are one of the "big two" in terms of market share. So, what are they doing more wrong than everyone else? From my point of view (having surfed through most of the major systems on the market since the dawn of digital imaging) their biggest sin is a rigid clutching to their own recent history of making cameras. In the early years of digital just having a camera that worked reliably and also felt familiar (DSLR-like) to consumers was enough to allow a company to ride a heady wave of ever increasing sales, happening in ever shortening product cycles. Nikon strived to make cameras that looked and worked like decades of previous Nikon film cameras with the only change being a transition from film to ever improving image sensors.

This worked so well for so long that they now


I woke up this morning ready to get back to work. But first I want to discuss anxiety.

I am an anxious person by nature and genetics. I tend to be hyper-vigilant and overly reactive. I've come to understand, over the years, that there are three main triggers to anxiety (and also depression). The triggers are: Ambiguity, Loneliness and Indecision. I would have to say that the election cycle of the last full year has caused most of us, regardless of party, to grapple with continuing doses of ambiguity and no little measure of indecision. Not knowing how to proceed or what challenges might lie ahead causes businesses and people to worry, slow down and become more cautious. My year in 2016 has been a textbook example of the results of these psychological barriers. The loneliness comes when we adapt a "bunker" mentality and sit in our offices, behind closed doors, refreshing news sites to try and discern some sort of rational pattern in all the noise. Only to find that there is no rational pattern. 

When the results of voting started to be broadcast last night I have to admit that I was crestfallen because, as a very liberal democrat, my party was losing; badly. But miracle of miracles... I woke up this morning without a psychic hangover. I didn't get my electoral wish but I did get the twin bastards of indecision and ambiguity out of the way and off my back. There's nothing I can do to change the results and so I am now ready to get back to my own work and recapture the pleasure of living without the dread of "what might be."

Instead of feeling depressed or angry I felt a sense of resolve and direction. The things I can control (to some extent) are my own actions and my own art. I'd put so much on sub-conscious pause to await the outcome and with the issue decided I feel freed up to engage again. I was up before my alarm and in the pool by 7 this morning. Most of my pool mates were glum but we didn't rehash the election we put our heads down and swam well, and fast. We exercised our control over something we enjoy.

I have made it a policy here not to discuss politics. We all have different points of view and there are ample places to argue out the issues of governance and social order but there are fewer and fewer places to read and comment about many different aspects of photography without having to wade through an endless stream of advertisements. While I have admitted my own affiliations (above) I make no judgements here about the U.S. elections other than to say I was disappointed. I'll be moderating comments as usual. I have deleted several this morning of a political nature but, happily, none were virulent or combative. In fact, I agreed with the sentiments expressed but felt the need to hold to a line of neutrality that, I hope, makes this space a fun and stress free resource for people who want to mostly read about my adventures in photography and the ecosystem that surrounds those adventures. 

So, what is the calming thing for me that allows me to move forward with enthusiasm and a sense of meaning? It's just doing the work. The everyday work of photography. Looking, seeing, understanding, recording and sharing. Taking care of the business I can take care of...

On the blog today we are featuring a set of images from a shoot I did many years ago in New York for a company called, Primary Packaging. The images are of skilled craftspeople who come in everyday and do their work. They do it diligently and well. The work provides structure, continuity and belonging. It's not much different than editing images or making clipping paths.

I would imagine that most of the people in these images have retired by now. But it's a reminder to me that while the world swirls around outside our walls the work is the thing that sets our routines and mastery of the work gives us pleasure and a sense of continuity. With the elections behind us I am hoping we can all turn our attention back to things we truly love and enjoy. The pursuit of photography is near the very top of my list. 

A side note: If you are experiencing anxiety over which you feel you have no control I strongly suggest seeking help from a trusted health care professional. It is possible to learn strategies to cope with or even remediate anxiety. I'm also a proponent of some short term pharmaceutical assistance to reduce the horrible feelings attendant with anxiety so you can get a handle on fixing it. See your doctor! See a counselor or mental health expert.  Talk about it. Getting help is far preferable to sitting alone too nervous and distraught to participate in the richness of life. I know. I've been there. And I never want to go back.  end of public service message. Just say "NO" to panic attacks.


OT: It's election day. I hope all my smart, compassionate and well educated readers rush to the polls to make their considered decisions count!

Ben assisting with critical white balance in an off white room...

I rattled out of bed early this morning, drank a big glass of water and headed to the pool for the 7 a.m. Master's workout. A lot of extra energy out there today. Everyone seemed to be about five minutes ahead of schedule and most of us were in the water right at 7 a.m. 

We have a pretty ironclad rule for our group: No political discussions during workout or in the locker room before or after. We've learned from elections past that few people are happy to listen to "common sense" from the "other side" and switch choices because of some brilliant argument made during a long kick set. The strife imperils too many long friendships to be worthwhile. 

Even though this particular election has been a strange one I'm happy, and proud of our swimmers, that we were able to make it all the way through --- including today --- without any blood on the deck. 

I cast my vote at the earliest date possible via early voting. I think most of my friends did as well. I think we were all looking for a bit of closure. A break from the "Nikon versus Canon" or "Apple versus Microsoft" nature of having to make political choices. 

After a breakfast of Cheerios with walnuts and fresh blueberries, and a walk with the dog, I'll try to ignore the whole media spectacle today and get some work done. On the agenda is some photo editing, lunch at a Thai restaurant with an art director friend and then some retouching. This evening we'll keep the TV off and maybe catch up on some novel reading. I also need to send the boy some cash for an upcoming trip to NYC.

Tomorrow I think people will get back to work and, with a little luck, life will return to normal over the next few weeks. I hate the freelancer role of financial "canary in the coal mine." No matter what ultimately happens we're the ones who are in the first wave when it comes to project delays and cancellations caused by the ambiguity and indecision of the electoral process. The paralysis on the part of our business partners is almost tactile at times. 

I'm grabbing a small camera and a smaller lens and heading out to run errands but I hope all of you have good strategies for combatting the anxiety that psychologists are saying is currently affecting 55+% of the American adult population right now. Good luck out there. 


OT: Blown Election Strategy. New Plans Under Construction.

I thought I had it all figured out. Get through the entire year without single post on politics. I voted early just to get it behind me and then I looked back over previous elections to try and identify the worst times near the end of the race so I could have a plan in place to combat the rising anxiety I always feel as these things come down to the wire. My plan was to turn off the TV on Tues. work all day on portrait retouching and then take Belinda out with me to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the new Dr. Strange movie in 3-D.  We'd catch a 7 pm-ish show and also have dinner while watching the movie. Date night instead of the horrible self torture of watching the election results seesaw.

I even stocked in some Trader Joe's cinnamon rolls to cook up on Weds. morning. Something to take the sting out of our new political reality if my candidate was unsuccessful....

But today I woke up with an uncomfortable level of anxiety and I realized that I could go two ways. I could drive out to Precision Camera and buy a whole new camera system. This would keep me occupied and engaged through the worst of the media meandering of Election Tues. but it would also leave me with an economically costly hangover. Were dousing the pre-election jitters really worth ten or fifteen thousand dollars?

The second choice was to move up my schedule on the movie. Since that would only cost me ten bucks I decided to give it a go. I hit the 11:00am show at the theater on S. Lamar Blvd. I settled for the 2-D version, realizing that the enhanced excitement of the 3-D version might be enough to push my frail psyche over the edge...

So, how was the movie? It was actually pretty darn good. The other five people in the theater seemed to enjoy it as well.

Now I need a new plan for tomorrow. I think something along the lines of a good swim and maybe the longest dog walking episode I can imagine. Or maybe I'll just ride around and enjoy my new tires.

Either way I hope we don't have to go through anything like this again in the near future. It's hell on my ability to stay on task. And I wouldn't want to short change photography.


An anecdotal story about "build quality." An often uttered "feature of cult-y cameras.

In response to recent debates about the relative value of the new Olympus EM-1.2 camera many commenters were quick to trot out "build quality" as one of that camera's winning features. I get the whole idea. Here's what build quality seems to mean to most of us: The seams where external parts of the camera come together are almost seamless. The fit of the interconnecting parts is so precise that the hobbyist carpenter or machinist can hardly believe it. The camera has a certain heft that people associate with the use of stronger or "better" materials. The knobs and dials seem to be made of metal and have a "dampened" response that makes them feel more "assured" and sturdy. The cameras have a reputation for some combination of waterproof-ness or sturdiness.

It's very important to understand that all of these "features" are subjective and the quality quotient cannot be objectively measured. We don't have ready access to rates of repair or MTBF. We are allowing our sensory input to prejudice our "feelings" about a camera, inferring absolute qualities that might not exist or, if they do exist, might not exceed the same list of qualities in similar products.

Here I will tell a story and hope that the camera buyers can make a connection.

Many, many years ago, when I was an electrical engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin I supplemented the money my parents contributed to my education and upkeep with a part time job at a hi-fi store. For people too young to remember hi-fil stores were specialty shops that sold home audio equipment. Stereo receivers, turntables, cassette decks, reel to reel recording machines, loudspeakers, component amplifiers, pre-amplifiers and tuners.

At the beginning of my part time sales career almost every

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.