5.05.2017

Art-tropology. Documenting public art as a personal project.


I see more and more of what I call "public art." It's mostly in the form of murals and "invited" graffiti. 
There is some really good stuff being done in the oddest places. The building on which this mural is painted is an older property near the central campus of Austin's community college. The front of the building is on 12th street and this artwork is on the side of the building, facing into their parking lot.

When I document public art I try to find a way to record the entire piece as well as the signature of the artist, then I go tighter and try to create a photographic composition that makes sense to me as a photograph instead of stopping at making a literal documentation. 

I started doing this many years ago, both in Austin and San Antonio, and recently I've found mural treasures in Denver, CO. as well. One of the reasons I walk around the downtown space here so often is that even commissioned public art tends to have a short half life. People "tag" over the original art or general wear and tear eventually degrades the work. If I walk through the areas where I know there is good art on a frequent basis I have a better chance of photographing it while it's fresh. 

Sometimes going to a place on a Sunday, or earlier in the morning yields the advantage of not having to compete with cars and trucks for a good view. For example, this morning I was able to shoot a giant mural of "jeweled" frogs on the side of a downtown building at a time when there were no cars at the parking meters in front of the mural. It was the same with the mural above. Before 8 a.m. you have a fighting chance of getting a clean area in front of the art that allows you to photograph straight in, without having to wiggle your camera to one side or the other in a frustrating attempt to dodge parked cars. 

The commissioned work I see is usually very well produced. It shows the hands and minds of true craftspeople. I love the "circus" images on the back of the building that houses Esther's Follies comedy club. The "Op Art" on plywood fronting a property on Congress Ave., just a couple of blocks from the Capitol is also very nice. It's all worth documenting because, inevitably, it will go away. 

One of the earliest pieces was an ad on the side of an old building in downtown. A building got torn down in order to make way for a newer, plainer building and the demolition revealed a chewing gum ad on the building next door. 

Now, of course, if you are doing this professionally you really will need the absolute latest camera. It must have two card slots because one never knows when the wrecking ball will beat you to the re-shoot should your single card slot fail. You'll probably need a Sony a9 (I'm sure redacted website would consider it mandatory) so you can capture the work at high rates of speed. Buildings move fast. And no building will stand still if you aren't using one of those white lenses (or at least light grey...). As you might imagine, a fast, professional optic is required. In bright sunlight f2.0 might be dicey; better make it an f1.2 instead. This presumes, of course, that you'll have a raw converter built into your professional camera so you can get your "work" up on Instagram while you are still facing the subject of your study. Anything less would be temporally unprofessional. I can only use Canon and Nikon for this sort of work since they now have service trucks (like our food trucks) parked close to the art just in case one of the cameras, operating at speed, drops a cog or runs out of sensor oil. Occasionally I find that I need to borrow a 1200mm f2.8 from one of the "big boys" so I can shoot a mural from across the street. Good to know they are there. 

In all seriousness, this kind of work can be done with just about anything that has a battery that will still hold a charge. My first documentations were done with film cameras but I started photographing Austin murals in earnest with my original Olympus E-1 camera. It worked well. 

It's fun to have a mission in mind when you head outside with your camera. An ongoing mission like the documentation of public art gives me a reason to walk and a reason to bring along a camera. Over time you develop a deeper and deeper inventory of images and, in some ways, you create an archive of the change in your city.

Today I was using the Panasonic G85. That's just because it's my newest toy. My all time favorite camera for this kind of "work" has been the Sony RX10iii. Being able to use so many vastly different focal lengths gives me ultimate flexibility and the really good stabilization never hurts. 































































Lazy Friday. Time to Walk with Cameras. Hello G85.


I woke up this morning fifteen minutes before the alarm on my phone was set to go off. I went into the kitchen and saw this shaft of light hitting the coffee cup that holds our pens and pencils at the ready and I reached for my camera. I also took as the intention of this single ray of sunshine to act as a sign, guiding me in search of coffee. I had two things that I needed to get done today. One was to have lunch with an interesting advertising peer and the other was to go to the theater later in the afternoon and take photographs of dancers and actors for the new production just heading into rehearsal, "In the Heights."

There were other things I need to get done but none as pressing, I thought,  as those two appointments; they were the only ones with hard deadlines. It was early when I pulled out a pair of hiking shoes and pulled on an old, gray sweatshirt to keep me warm against the 52 degree breeze. It's Springtime in Austin and, even though it was a bit on the chilly side, a pair of khaki shorts is de rigeuor. I left the house at 7:30 ready to break in the new camera in the stable; the G85. I was also interested to see just how good (or bad) the 12-60mm kit lens really is.

I pulled the battery I had been using out of the camera and stuck it on the charger. I grabbed two freshly charged batteries, stuck one in the camera and the other in my pants pocket. I made sure there was a clean, fresh SD card inserted in the camera, and I headed downtown. 

I walked around and shot anything that caught my eye for the next hour and a half because I wanted to see what stuff looked like once I processed it and pulled it up on my computer screen. I shot in RAW format so I could mess with the images if I felt I needed to. I was looking for things like: How well does the camera handle basic exposure? (I had it set to Aperture Priority and multi-segment metering). How well does the camera handle auto white balance? What does the camera's rendering of blue sky look like?  How does the camera handle, overall? What's the grip like? How's the EVF?

Here's what I found today: Raw looks good but since I had the noise reduction turned all the way down on the Panasonic G85 I needed to do a little bit of post processing noise reduction even with the slowest ISOs if I did my usual post processing and raised the shadows a bit. I can only see the noise at 100% but....

The camera is very good with exposure. I needed to use the exposure compensation control only occasionally and it was always with darker scenes which could benefit from minus 2/3rds of a stop, or one stop, of compensation. I was very pleased with the auto white balance and find that this is one of the few cameras I've used that even handles tungsten lighting very well. The resulting tungsten lit files were not tinged with orange the way the files from some of the competing cameras sometimes are.

The blue sky is nicely rendered and matches, color and saturation-wise, what I was seeing as I was shooting.  The camera is solid but with the light weight kit lens becomes a very reasonable package to carry around all day long. It's light enough not to be a burden but stout enough to have some mass. And, compared to most DSLRs it's quite small. The EVF has good magnification, significant range in the diopter, and a bright, almost "high eye point" image. 

But here is my one piece of unalloyed praise for this under $1,000 camera today = It has the best shutter sound and shutter feel of any camera I have ever used; including Leica's best film cameras,  Alpas, anything. I would buy the G85 again in a rush just for the tactile and aural superiority of this shutter system. The camera has a silent mode but it seems redundant. The shutter is quiet but beyond that, I can't imagine any human hearing it and not smiling with a sense of satisfaction. It's that good. 

I got back to the house and checked my messages. Oh no! There was one from the theater. Our photo project was well vetted by the marketing people but ran aground with someone in production. They decided, at the last minute, to scrap the shoot we were trying to produce. It's too bad as I was really looking forward to setting up some large (and small) flashes and having fun shooting wonderful actors and dancers with my new camera and lens. I'm sure the shoot will be revived sometime soon. It sometimes happens that way. At least I don't have to pull equipment out of various cases in order to custom pack for the lighting vision I had in my head for later this afternoon.

That leaves a nice hole in my schedule for a nap. I wonder if Studio Dog will share a piece of that couch? It's worth a shot.








Shooting my reflection in a very dirty window.

5.04.2017

I took Caleb Pike's online course about the Panasonic G85 today. Then I shot some video.


I've always had a soft spot for the micro four thirds cameras. 
Above is an EP-2 with a favorite, old Nikon lens on the front.

Caleb Pike has a course about shooting video with the Panasonic G85 on the at DSLRVideoShooter.com and my friend, Frank suggested that it would be a quick way to come to grips with the operation of my new G85 so I paid my $19, pulled up comfortable chairs for me and Studio Dog and we spent a good portion of the afternoon watching a nicely produced and informative presentation that makes me comfortable with the operation of the device. It's not a lot different than the fz2500 and that's a nice thing because there's a lot of comfort in familiarity.

Since I bought the camera, in large part, to do video work I decided, after watching Caleb's video, that I should practice with the camera so I loaded a new battery, set the camera up (nearly) as suggested and started shooting trash video around the studio; mostly on a tripod but also some handheld. 

Here's what I have learned so far: The color straight out of the camera is more pleasing than that of my Sony cameras, but with Andrew Reid's recommended settings (EosHD.com) and the Sony's remarkable setting flexibility I can pretty much match the look of the cameras to each other. But, really, chalk on up to the Panasonic for nailing color at the most basic level. I also learned that, for video I may as well use the touch screen (even though I dislike them philosophically) because it makes life easier. It's also fun to touch the screen and shift focus without touching the lens---a lazy man's focus pull. 

I first tested the image stabilization (in video) with the kit lens (12-60mm) and all of the camera's I.S. prowess engaged. This includes sensor stabilization, lens stabilization and even electronic stabilization in camera software. Altogether they add up to a poor man's instant gimbal. One can handhold the camera for video clips with reckless abandon. It's in the same ballpark formerly occupied by my brace of Olympus EM5.2 cameras. The camera also has a fun, new trick up its sleeve when it comes to stabilizing older, manual focus lenses. When I put one of the older (non-communicative) lenses on the camera and turn it on a menu appears asking me if the lens is the same focal lengths as the camera's last adventure with MF lenses or if a new focal length setting is going to be called for. If you've changed to a new focal length, manual focus lens you have the option of inputing the F.L. right there. Nice. And "nice" is a good way to describe the performance of the system I.S. with ancient lenses. The feature works nearly as well as lens-based stabilization in other systems. 

Manual focusing is  easy with this camera. I'm using the monochrome view for composition and manual focusing and the bigger viewfinder magnification, focus peaking and punch in magnification all work together to ensure that I nail focus with any manual focus lens I happen to put on the camera. I also like the AF, at least I do now that I have the custom range set to work just in the center of the frame. DFD focusing seems fast and sure with the kit lens.

Moving on to audio. I tested the camera's audio capability by attaching a Saramonic SmartRig+ to the camera's microphone jack, setting the audio levels to minus 12 and then using the gain controls on the SmartRig+ to accurately place levels for my tests. In this configuration the pre-amplifiers in the Saramonic are doing most of the heavy lifting and the combination sounds good, and nearly noise free. I used the SmartRig+ because I remembered that it has a headphone jack (no volume control) and it would allow me to at least monitor what the microphone was picking up and what kind of signal it was sending to the camera. I think that if I used the G85 as an "A" camera and was doing an interview I'd go for dual audio instead of flying deaf when it comes to monitoring what the camera is actually laying down in the audio tracks.

It's pretty simple to use the Tascam DR60ii as a combination back-up recorder and pass through device to the camera. And the combination, as tested today, worked well and was also very low noise. I get that the lack of a headphone jack is supposed to propel us upward and into the purchase of a GH5 but I remembered that my Bolex Rex 5, 16mm movie camera lacked any sort of headphone jack either and we seemed to have made that work (in conjunction with a Stellavox quarter inch, portable tape recorder and a clapper...). I'm pretty sure I can make a useable system with the camera and something like the newly announced Sound Devices MixPre 3 mixer/recorder.

The right hand grip of the camera is deep and voluptuous. I like holding on to it.

To sum up: I liked the G85 well enough as a video camera to go ahead and order a nice cage for it and to carve out a little space in my camera backpack so I can take it along with me for a corporate video project in Oklahoma City next week. 

If you've had experience with sound input directly into this camera and you want to share please be sure to comment. I would love to hear your experiences. 

It was good to put the 40mm Pen FT f1.4 back on the front of a camera again. Nostalgic but actually very, very capable.

m4:3 is still sweet. 

5.02.2017

The Panasonic G85. My choice for an all around fun camera under $1,000.

Austin, Texas. I'm always interested in new gear that solves problems in different ways. The latest cameras from Olympus, Panasonic and Sony all have fun stuff in common; stuff that wasn't all readily available in a single camera body until recently. Those features include the combination of really good, 4K video capability, five axis image stabilization and good performance. I was narrowing in on the Sony a6500 as a good addition to the cameras I already own; it would provide a higher level of image stabilization and state of the art 4K video, but I wanted to shop around and see what else was available.

Two things about the Sony a6500 gave me reason to drag my feet: that camera has a reputation for being prone to overheating when operating in 4K video, and a large part of my desire to own the camera was to take advantage of the high quality video. The second thing that dampened my desire was the nearly universal assessment that the while the 4K video is nearly perfect the 1080p (HD) video is soft and lacks detail; even compared to a similar camera (the a6000) that is two generations older. Not every project needs 4K video, many documentary exercises are better solved with HD.

I looked at the Olympus EM-1.2 but I wasn't ready to spend $2,000 on a secondary camera that didn't fit into my collection in a rational way (not saying that rationality holds much purchase in my office...).

The first two cameras led me, in comparative reviews, to a camera that I must say might be the Goldilocks camera of the category, the Panasonic G85.

While the G85 lacks the resolution of the Olympus and Sony candidates (it is only 16 megapixels) it does get high marks for both its 4K performance and the prowess of its five axis image stabilization. With several current lenses the Panasonic is also able to provide even more enhanced I.S. performance by making use of the lens I.S. in conjunction (and in addition to) the I.S. in the body. Additionally, the G85 also scores well for its basic, 1080p, HD video performance.

While the Sony a6500 is about $1400 without a lens and the Olympus is nearly $2000 without a lens, the Panasonic G85 can be purchased new with a fairly nice kit lens; the 12-60mm f3.5 to f5.6. A nice 24-120 equivalent zoom. In the kit format the bundle of camera and lens is right at $1,000. With a current rebate in place the total price drops to $899.

Considering that the lens currently sells for about $500 on Amazon the price of the kit, with rebate, essentially means that one is getting a really good camera body for about $400. Not a bad deal. Of course, it remains to be seen just how good the lens is. Various reviews range from "great for the range and price" to "slightly soft." But, as usual, the only way to really know what a piece of gear can do it so use it in your own processes and weigh your own results.

I bought this camera and lens for two fairly specific reasons. First, I wanted a camera and lens system that I could use to shoot very high quality, hand-held, stabilized 4K video. I'll test extensively but I think this is a good combination. It would also be the small system that I'll attach to a cart for dolly work, or use on a small, portable slider as a supplement to my primary camera.

My second reason for giving the camera a fair trial is that after selling off the GH4s, well over a year ago, I've missed having a good platform for my collection of ancient Pen FT lenses. The 40mm f1.4 and the 60mm f1.5 in particular have been calling out to me from the confines of the equipment cart.

A year ago I would have passed on this camera simply because it lacks a headphone jack. That would have disqualified it in my mind. But once I figured out that I could hook an HDMI monitor to a camera and have a great monitoring source for audio via the monitor I took that argument off the table.

The combination of the fz2500 and the G85 should make a good, low profile team of features and performance for those times when I want to travel light and still come home with great stuff. It's an alternative to both the full frame A7 systems and the one inch RX10 systems. A different choice for different uses. One wonderful note is that the G85 uses the same batteries as the fz2500. No new batteries needed at this juncture.

As far as still images go I've read DPReview's conclusion and am expecting good overall imaging performance; it's perhaps more of a RAW shooter than a Jpeg savant. But with a little manipulation of the profile parameters I'll bet we can get pretty close to what I usually like to see in a file. That's been the case with its sibling....

You can buy one at Amazon with the link below or you can get in touch with Precision-Camera.com and you can order one with a rebate (yes, USA warranty) for about $100 less.