Sony A6500 and the Panasonic GH5 are locked in a struggle for my attention. And my cash.

Portrait of Jennifer. Triathlete.

The Summer months are interesting. Everyone in Austin tries to escape from the heat and business slows to a crawl. We've kept our heads above water at VSL with a series of portraits and some nice corporate day jobs but in all honesty the second half of June and the first half of July gave me plenty of extra time for swimming and thinking (dangerously) about the state of camera offerings and the shifts in my business that might call for the adoption of new gear. I know that this is all a silly rationalization that stems form having too much time on my hands and an avid appetite for change but it feels real to me all the same.

I'll start out by admitting that there's no rational reason for me to buy yet another camera. I think the Panasonic FZ 2500 is an exemplary camera for the style of video I like to do. I think the Sony A7 series cameras and lenses are great for portrait work. I think all the cameras I own (with the exception of the A7ii) do really nice 4K video and I think they all do great still photography when used in situations where their strengths fit the parameters of the photographs. I hope I come to my senses and keep my cash in the bank. It would be the smart thing to do with the kid heading into his last (and most expensive) year of college. But I'm not always the most practical person when it comes to good planning versus instant gratification, and in this regard my fellow photographer friends are no big help. Two of them actively encourage me to buy, buy, buy and there's no paucity of targets of photographic allure at which to aim.

There is the old saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side." I'll add my favorite variation: "The water is always faster and bluer in the next lane." I think it is human nature that no matter how good or well researched is the equipment in your camera bag you will always suspect that there's a different system or camera that may be a better fit for you or for the imaging tasks you currently have in mind. 

When I bought the majority of the nuts and bolts of my Sony system I envisioned that photography would roll along at a merry pace with only a few transient dips in what would be a long and graceful decline from relevance. I knew I needed cameras that would crank out decent video but conjectured that moving pictures might constitute only 20 or 25% of my total income; the rest being derived from my traditional, commercial pursuit of still photography. And yet, here I sit a year and a half later contemplating the reality of my individual market --- that in 2017 over half of our income has been generated by video productions. 

If I really dig down deep and think without emotions clouding the metrics I would have to admit that all the work that generated this income was done with the cameras we already had in hand. The majority being done with an RX10iii and the A7Rii. I should take a deep breath and slide that hot and sticky credit card into the bottom of an ice cube tray and let the water freeze around it. At least that would slow me down on those days when I "decide" to rush out and change everything..... But maybe not. It would probably just entail the additional expenses of a Billingham, gold plated and leather bound ice pick and the heath insurance co-pay for having my hand stitched up after using poor technique in attacking the ice cube tray with the Billingham "Estate" model ice pick. I'd still be rushing off to the store but would be nursing the stitches spawned from the treacheries of gear avarice.

So, after thinking long and hard about how I might want to use cameras in the near future I started with the baseline of my Panasonic FZ2500 and thought about how impressed I have been with the files coming out of that camera and how well set up it is for video. Even in 1080p which seems to be considered already old hat by some, it is capable of generating, in camera, 200 mbs All-I files which edit beautifully. How can I get more of that action? What could my cameras be doing better?

That's when I start looking at the GH5. The brilliant and logical amongst you will just ask, "What is it in the GH5 that the current FZ2500 can't deliver? What feature/file set are you looking for that will improve your work?" If I am realistic I admit that running the current cameras into an Atomos Ninja Flame video recorder and getting lightly compressed, 10 bit 4:2:2 files written to fast memory in ProRes 422 gives me everything I ever wanted out of a video camera ---- and then some. But the GH5 is the current star of the under $5,000 scene and one imagines that those files, from the optimized processor, will be just a bit meatier and yet smooth. Just a bit more noise free and detailed. It's twice the price so it must be better, right?

I start imagining just how good those GH5 files are going to look when they go through the same process and into the Atomos miracle machine and I convince myself that even the vision impaired will instantly recognize and marvel over the difference in image quality (never stopping to remember that my paying clients were more than happy with the video files squirting off the SD cards from various Sony cameras). I also rationalize that the GH5 will write the 4K, 10 bit, 4:2:2 files directly to the cards so I wouldn't need to be encumbered by an external recorder for all those times I want to come off the tripod and handhold my camera rig. 

Then I stop for a while and consider that a wiser person would take some time to see if there are new alternatives to a massive and highly disruptive system change. In re-reading several reviews of the GH5 I noted that everyone was comparing it with the Sony A6500 and the consensus was that their video performance in 4K was very similar. The A6500 was judged to be better in handling high ISO noise and it also has more detailed as a result of the 6K to 4K downsampling from the bigger sensor. 

My brain switched gears and started contemplating adding an A6500. On paper it would make for sense. I can use all of my current lenses and I would be getting wonderfully sharp 4K video files. A plus for that choice would also be more detail and lower noise APS-C generated files. Did anyone notice that A6500s are currently selling for about $1300 which is $200 off the intro pricing? A whopping $700 less than the going price for the Panasonic...

I started going back and forth comparing featuring and examining the pluses and minuses of either choice. With the Sony I get more detailed files but I also gain moire and aliasing, along with more rolling shutter. With the Sony I give up the dream of delivering real 10 bit files even though I would gain 4:2:2 color  ---- but only into an external video recorder.

With the GH5 I get the video files I think I want along with the video niceties that make location production so much easier. Things like waveforms, a vector scope, a large battery with a long run time, unlimited recording time (limited only by internal cards and battery), as well as a handheld shooting package that give me state of the art image stabilization (when used with certain Panasonic lenses).

There are trade-offs all over the place. I'd like to stay in one system. But I've already screwed that up by adopting the FZ2500 (and really liking the handling and the output). If I stay with the Sony cameras I get to continue in the basic methodologies I grew up with: full frame sensor, fast lenses, etc. But I don't get the full video capabilities I really want. If I go with Panasonic I'll have to dump an accumulation of Sony gear which, emotionally, feels like tossing away a life preserver from my traditional career path.

And we have not even begun to think about lenses yet.

If I felt wealthy instead of feeling uncertain I would just buy a GH5 and add it to the mix. I could call it my video system and have some sort of fictive separation between the systems. But I feel a change in the market so profoundly that I'm not sure how relevant any traditional equipment will be going forward.

(Note: everything above was written yesterday. Below is what I finally decided today....):

So, contrary to my typical practice I did not rush out with boxes of my Sony gear and trade it in for a handful of (magic beans) Panasonic gear yesterday. I actually decided to take time worn advice and just sleep on the whole thing. I talked to two of my friends who have both had long careers in video production. In short, I waited for excitement to subside and logic to finally kick in.

Coincidental to my momentary camera lust was a last minute approval for a series of interviews of actors and a director at Zach Theatre for Saturday afternoon. Finally, more fun stuff to do with cameras. With the A6500 versus GH5 stand off fresh in my mind I decided to set up the camera I own that I trust most to shoot high value video; the FZ2500.

I wanted to see exactly what I could expect if I lit the interviews optimally, worked around an low noise ISO (200,400) and ran the signal from the camera into the Atomos Ninja Flame, recording the HDMI signal as a ProRes 422 file at 10 bits with 4:2:2 color. I also wanted to re-familiarize myself with the whole set-up to make sure there would be no confusion during actual production tomorrow afternoon.

The Atomos changes everything. The color and detail out of this $1200 camera is amazing. I pixel peeped the heck out of the files from the recorder on my 27 inch monitor and can't think of what I would change. Sometimes it's reasonable just to hook all the stuff up exactly the way you'll use it and actually test it for yourself before becoming hypnotized by all the stuff you can read on the web.

Of course this is bad new for both Sony and Panasonic as I have no motivation to rush out and buy either of their new cameras. Well, that's not entirely true. There's a thread of an idea that it might be nice to have a second FZ2500 for those (almost every assignment) times when you need two cameras with which to shoot simultaneously. An A camera and a B camera. It would be nice to having matching profiles and a matching look. Continuity in editing is important.

I've done a very thorough pre-production run through. I've experimented with all the controls on both the camera and the monitor/recorder. I've recharged the lithium battery in the NTG-4+ microphone. I've replaced the battery in the Saramonic SmartRig+ pre-amplifier. And now I'm packing with a check list in hand.

We're shooting five interviews tomorrow in several different locations. I've got Ben Tuck as my assistant and b-camera operator. Hopefully someone will bring snacks.

For the moment we've got the "new camera lust" under control. It's good to see just how great your current stuff can be when you start getting the itch to move on. July is a good month to go slow on new purchases.... Who knows what will be announced in September. Good to keep the fiscal powder dry. 


Another Nikon D750 Recall. Here's a little something we put together for the last batch of Nikon recalls.....


One of the preemptively recalled Nikon D500s.

Note: this was written before the actual shipping of the D5 and D500 and as far as I know there is no recall out for those cameras. The D750, on the other hand, is a veteran of recalls. Hence my satiric piece above...


It's fun to create many portraits over several weeks for one client. They want a consistent look and feel while you get the bonus of.....

...having to straighten up the studio and do the lighting design only once. We've been working on making portraits of new doctors for a medical practice here in Austin. As the new doctors come into town they go through their indoctrination and get up to speed while the marketing staff at the practice get to work putting together their bios, speaker packets, web pages, etc. To do so they want good portraits that can all work well together with the 100+ portraits of practice partners we've already taken over the years. Everyone's schedule is different, and in flux, so there's no chance to do a series of portraits in one long day. We set up individual appointments for the convenience of the physicians.

As luck would have it there was a nice and almost constant stream of new doctors so far this month. Five in the last week. I was able to do a big clean and organize before the first session and I also had time to really fine tune the lighting I've been using. When it's time to do a new session all I need to do is to go around the studio and turn on flashes. I pop a fresh memory card in the camera and format, double check the settings and the meet the subject at the door with a smile and cold bottle of water. 

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was going to work with small flashes for a while and see just how much I could do with them before making a final decision about whether or not to get rid of the final "dinosaur" mono-lights I still have lurking about in big, black cases. I've wound up using a total of four battery powered speed lights to do my latest batch of portraits. It's a comfortable way to work and I never realized what a big relief it can be to get all the power cords up off the floor. Now there's a lot less to trip over and the studio space looks neater. 

I chose the A7ii as my camera for this series because it has the an optimized file size. The raw file is 24 megapixels, I shoot the files as compressed raws and I find there's tons of detail information of which to take advantage. The lens I chose is the Rokinon 100mm macro lens because it's exactly the right focal length for this project. The combo works well together and the focus peaking has helped me to nail sharp focus on every single shot. 

I had this 4x6 foot Lastolite diffusion panel laying around the studio and I could never figure out where to store it. I noticed that this bank of window (usually right behind camera position) gets direct sun in the afternoon so I finally decided to just put the panel up so the bottom is about six feet from the floor. It diffused the sunlight nicely but it also works, in conjunction with a dialed down flash, as a nice fill panel for commercial portraits. I'm leaving it in place permanently...

I've been using the fill panel just above as a fill light for every single portrait. I have the flash dialed down to 1/32 power so the effect is very small but it's enough light to ensure that we don't drop shadows to pure (no detail) black. I leave it set up in the studio for those times when I want to grab it and take it outside and diffuse sunlight for environmental portraits. It's a pain in the ass to set up so I now consider it permanently constructed. 

I'm using Godox flashes as my main light sources so it just makes sense to use their nifty (and cheap) little remote trigger in the hot shoe of the A7ii to make the lights go "pop." The remote can do so much; sad that I only use it as a trigger... But our mantra is to keep things as simple as we can.
This is a side view of my shooting table in the foreground and the 50 inch diffusion disk I am currently using as a nice, soft, passive fill opposite the main light. The diffusion disk was about $30 and gets used almost daily. That's a good value in my book.

This flash is my current hair light / back light. It's bouncing into a Rogue flash reflector and it's sitting on the grip arm of a black C-Stand. I check before each portrait session to make sure it's not flaring into the lens. I use it at something like 1/16th power. 

This old, battered Chimera 12x16 inch softbox has been around the block. I think we picked this up in 1993 and have used it, on and off,  as a light for the backgrounds since then. Yep. Another Godox but this one is set to 1/2 power because we use a diffusion dome over the front of the unit and the softbox itself soaks up some lumens. 

This is the view from the back of the set. You can see the big, 47 inch softbox I'm using for my main light source. It's also from Godox. (No. I have never met or talked to anyone at Godox. Nor do they pay me, say nice things about me, or send me personal notes of thanks for testing and writing about their products. I don't really need their sponsorship since this nicely built lighting modifier set me back only about $40. And that included free shipping...). 

You can see that my shooting space is not very large. It's 24x24 feet and the ceiling peaks at 12 feet.  It may be the best investment I've made in the field of photography. We've produced thousands of portraits in this space along with hundreds and hundreds of product shots. It's also been the lab for the creation of five books about photography as well as one very self-indulgent novel. Also tangentially about photography. The studio space also has a 24 by 4 foot closet across the south wall. An efficient window unit AC keeps the space nice and cool in the Summer while our little radiator heater keeps it warm enough in the winter. 

The studio is located on about a third of an acre of prime, west Austin real estate which it shares with our house. Most of our clients live nearby and the wide, safe streets provide abundant free parking. 
Nice to be able to finish up with a client and then walk the twelve feet into the house for coffee or a fresh croissant. 

Platinum VSL member, Frank, brought these Godox umbrella style softboxes to my attention.  They are great. Quick to set up and with very nice light quality. They work especially well with bare bulb flashes. I have made one minor addition to the product. I added a small LED panel inside the diffusion cloth to serve as reasonable modeling light. There's a detail just below...

I mentioned that I have a shooting table in the room. It works great to "anchor" portrait subjects to a small envelope of space. It also gives them something to put their hands on for support and stability. Just below the shooting table is an orange X on the floor, made of orange gaffer's tape. It's a mark that makes set up quick and easy to restore should stuff get moved around during a shoot. 

Once our session is over and we've sent our subjects on their way I import the raw images into Lightroom and edit them. Editing means I choose which images stay and which ones go. It's good not to confuse the act of "editing" with the idea of post processing, color correction or retouching as these are different actions. After I have edited the take down to a reasonable number I then proceed to post processing by making global color corrections and then fine tuning exposure on the images that fall outside the optimum levels.

At that point I upload full size, low compression Jpeg files to Smugmug.com. Two reasons for this: Unlimited storage! the large file is big enough to use if all my other back-ups fail. I currently have 320,000 stored in galleries on Smugmug. The idea of this additional offsite storage is anxiety reducing. The second reason is more prosaic; I present the images in their galleries to the marketing team at the medical practice. In conjunction with the doctors, they select the frame they want to use. I retouch the finals and send them back as a collection of Jpegs and Tiffs in different sizes as well as one large Jpeg profiled for their color printing house. They make a large portrait of each doctor to use in the clinic where the doctor practices. 

I love being able to leave the studio set up and ready to go. The big, blocky, lithium batteries in the flashes seem to last forever and it's nice not to have to reset over and over again. 

As I was writing this one of my friends from swim practice called. He needs a photo for his board of director's role at a banking company. Since the studio is set up and ready I invited him to come over after swim practice tomorrow morning. I'll set up a different background but everything else is ready to go. Nice when it works this way. 


A follow up to last night's post about the one inch professional cameras from Sony and Panasonic.

I spent an hour at midday walking the four mile loop on the high and bike trail and finished up with a detour over to the downtown area. My goal was to get some weight bearing exercise (cross training from swimming) but to also put my money where my keyboard is as relates to my recent, lavish praise of three different one inch sensor cameras. Today I chose the most basic of the three cameras to get covered with sweat and to share the near 100 degree (farenheit) temperatures with me. It's the Sony RX10ii. At this point I consider it to be one of the most under-rated cameras on the market today. Why? Because I know that it punches so far above it's price and sensor size but most people disregard it believing it's been replaced by the RX10iii. Not true. It's still in stock at most dealers and has not been removed (in any public way) from Sony's inventory. 

Yesterday I wrote a post extolling this kind of super-zoom, bridge camera and, after my use of it today I am even more certain that many people would be much better off with a device like this one than the myriad of boring, homogenous mid-level DSLRs that plague the market. I may be wrong. I may be blinded by my own circumstances and experiences with this camera and the one inch sensor brotherhood, but I'll be darned if I can see many shortcomings in the files. You can, of course, vociferously disagree but we're all entitled to our opinions. Since yesterday's blog post just used existing one inch images I'd previously shot I thought I use today's bandwidth to show shots taken with the intention to use the camera as I think it was designed; as a ready tool for quick and quirky shots. Video to follow? Click on the images and go into "big gallery" mode. See them at 2198 pixels on your bigger screens. Believe me when I tell you that the 5472x3648 pixel files are filled with luscious detail....


I think photographers have been looking at one inch sensor "super" cameras all wrong.

I think so many ardent amateurs and unimaginative professional photographers have been looking at the Sony and Panasonic one inch sensor cameras all wrong. From my conversations with so many photographers I find that most feel that the "bridge" cameras, like the Sony RX10 series and the Panasonic FZ series are "step down" cameras or "convenience" cameras designed to be dragged along during assignments or travel opportunities where a big, fat, awkward bag of lenses and traditional interchangeable lens cameras would be too big a burden. They see the bridge cameras as a compromise, thinking that everything in "real" imaging should revolve around traditional cameras. But I think they are misguided. 

I went out and used my Sony RX10ii today. I had almost forgotten what a solid and proficient tool it is for all kinds of photography. But more importantly I became reacquainted with the many ways in which these cameras really are the best suited options for nearly all the image making people do these days. There are exceptions to the general rule but for the most part these cameras run circles around traditional DSLRs in handling, feature sets, and yes----even a certain set of quality parameters.

The biggest hit the cameras get from naysayers is that the sensor is too small and this won't allow for images where the backgrounds go quickly out of focus behind the main subject. This is true and it's the one limitation I'll grant to DSLR users. There is little out there that can match the look of an 85mm or 135mm f1.4 or f1.8, focused at six to eight feet from a main subject, with the background another 10 to infinity feet away. That's it. That's the one advantage of the bigger sensor from an artistic point of view. 

But the one inch sensor brigade does so many things so well. I spent time walking around shooting in full sun today with the ISO of my RX10ii set at 64. The detail I was able to get in the images I took easy rivals the image quality (sharpness, color saturation, detail, even dynamic range) that I get when I shoot the same things with my Sony A7ii and my little collection of modern Zeiss

A quick video about a useful flash adapting product. Go Godox.

Godox All Purpose Flash Bracket from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

This device is great for mounting small and medium softboxes and all but the biggest and heaviest umbrellas. I love using it to mount speed lights to umbrellas because the flash reflector is positioned almost in the middle of the umbrella. It's about $20. How can you go wrong?


Shooting a series of portraits in the studio with Speed Lights.

"Those whom the gods would destroy they first make bored."

It's finally happened. I am officially bored by cameras. By cameras and all the lore and ritual surrounding their selection, their use and their supposed intrinsic power. I wanted to so love the Fuji X-Pro-2 but even though Fuji's website said all the right stuff the magic was nowhere in sight. I wanted to want to rush out and impoverish myself with their GFX 50S but when I held it in my hands there was no spark; no instant rationalization about how this camera was going to the one that would finally unleash my photographic super powers. I can't even glance at the Nikon website without thinking, "been there, done that so many times before..." And don't get me started on Canon. Not even the prospect of something new from Sony was enough to spark some neurons of anticipation. 

It's an odd realization and, like intestinal gas, this boredom with cameras may be a passing thing. But whether it's transient or permanent it doesn't mean that I've lost my enthusiasm for the actual process of photography. Far from it. What this new boredom has done is focus my attention on a different aspect of picture taking; away from the cameras and lenses and back to


The photo gear downsizing continues. The video gear upsizing is temporarily paused.

Two Photogenic Powerlight 1250 DR's with one umbrella reflector and two speed rings.

I bought my first real studio strobe (electronic flash unit) back in 1979. It was a Novatron 120, pack and head system with one flash head and a box that generated about as much power as a brawny battery powered light that you'd put on top of your camera today. The box, with two connectors for flash heads, was gray metal and the flash head, with its 20 foot cord had a black plastic case and a polished reflector. Of course there was a flash tube and a 60 watt light bulb that served as a modeling light. 

For the first twenty years of my photographic career in the studio I used only power pack and head systems. After the Novatron I bought an 800 watt second Norman flash and two nice, metal heads that had built-in fans. I liked those so when I started to get busy I added more stuff from the Norman system. I eventually ended up with two of their PD2000, two thousand watt second packs and a collection of eight heavy metal flash heads. The PD800 also stuck around. At that point in my career we were shooting advertising projects nearly every day and sometimes for ten or twelve hours at a whack. Flashes had to be robust because when we were shooting still life with 8x10 cameras at f64 we might need to pop the flashes (in a dark room) a couple dozen times at full power to get enough cumulative light on the film. There was this thing called


Kinda O.T. All the cool camera features in the world don't mean much if you arrive ten minutes too late...

Rip Esselstyn. The Austin Swim Club Pool. 

A couple of weeks ago a very nice radiologist e-mailed me and asked me to make a portrait of him. He was joining a large, Austin practice and they needed to have a headshot of him to use in the offices and on the company website. I was delighted and, after discussing our schedules, we decided the weekend would work well and that Saturday at 2pm would be perfect. I put the appointment on my calendar and went about my business.

A week and a few days later I started hearing rumblings about a masters swim meet coming up. I went to the website and looked at the info. The meet was scheduled of the same Saturday as my portrait shoot. I thought about entering the meet because it's at a new outdoor facility that features a 50 meter, long course pool. It's been years since I raced long course but I thought it might be



A shot on stage with LED stage lights at Zach Theatre. Sony A7Rii. 70-200mm f4.0. 1/400th shutter. While banding was not apparent to human eyes watching the play it was horrifically obvious to the electronic shutter in my Sony A7Rii.

You really don't have to go far to find banding in just about any camera that uses an electronic shutter. The camera shutters scan from top to bottom. If the light source creating the image is not a constant source there is a probability that you'll see some banding at one point or another. It's part of every alternating current light source. The only light sources that are truly constant are direct current powered light sources. In days of yore even entry level photographers knew that shooting under (badly ballasted) fluorescent lights would cause banding unless you used a shutter speed long enough to allow the band to travel all the way down each frame before the shutter closed. 1/60th was possible but 1/30th was safe. Going into shutter speeds above 1/125th of second could almost guarantee banding and I have countless examples of this fluorescent light banding in conjunction with Nikon D700's, Nikon D750's and any number of Canons. All cameras without electronic shutters. 

For the last two days the folks at DPReview have been running a "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" faux scientific article trying to explain why Sony's new a9 camera showed banding when shooting LED driven screens at a sports event. It is in response to