8.31.2017

Wouldn't it be cool if someone made a really nice super wide angle to near normal zoom lens for the M4:3rd cameras?


Oh, I just remembered that there are three or four to choose from. Seriously though, I started looking around at wide angle lenses to pair with the GH5s as we're pitching an architectural firm on doing some dynamic video. The firm in question does lots of big spaces and there would be many opportunities to really stretch the spaces with the right lens.

When I last used the Olympus and Panasonic systems the primary choice in the super wide to wide niche was the Panasonic 7-14mm f4.0. I didn't own one but the consensus at the time was that it was pretty good but suffered from a magenta artifact in the middle of the frame if the lens didn't like the way light was coming in. The corners could be a bit soft, depending on the type of material you might be shooting...

The other choice was from Olympus and it was the 9-18mm f4-5.6 lens. It's build didn't inspire enough confidence in me to spend money on the lens but I'm told it's not a bad choice for the price. But that was then, in the age of noisy, 12 megapixel sensors and this is now, in the age of 20 megapixel sensors and the kind of ISO invariance that we've come to expect from new generation sensors.

But, voila! There are two recent lenses that seem to be the new contenders for the wide angle crown in the land of smaller sensor, interchangeable lens camera systems:  The Leica/Panasonic 8-18mm f2.8-4.0 and the Olympus Pro Series 7-14mm f2.8.

I'm pretty certain, having read numerous reviews and having played with each at my favorite bricks-and-mortar camera store, that both will provide the level of sharpness and detail that I require (but your mileage will surely vary). So, how to choose?

On paper the Olympus Pro lens is obviously the one to have; if you are wide-wide angle fan. It's got a full millimeter more wide angle capability and a constant aperture, f2.8 with which to suck in maximum   light across the range of focal lengths. Neither lens features (or really needs) built-in image stabilization so you don't lose anything there no matter which direction you take.

Of course one would always choose the Olympus --- after all, it even has "Pro" in the name...

But not so fast. What if you want to use it to shoot mostly video? Does the Olympus product win with its constant aperture lens? Well...maybe. But it does have one fatal flaw where my use parameters are concerned. It has a very bulbous front element; so bulbous that it doesn't allow for the use of screw in filters on the front of the lens. So, no polarizing filter can be used and, more importantly, no variable neutral density filters need (or can) apply.

The Panasonic/Leica loses that one millimeter of wide angle coverage but amply makes up for it with...a front of lens filter ring. A 67mm front filter ring. A quick test shows that my thin profile VND filters work without further darkening any corners. A clear win for the Panasonic/Leica for anyone interested in shooting good video.

In the end it wasn't a tough choice for me. The Panasonic/Leica seems like a perfect accompaniment for the GH5s and the filter ring was the critical consideration. I will confess that as a long time Leica R and M user I also loved the design and graphic elements of the lens. This particular win, for me, goes to the Panasonic/Leica.

How is it in actual use? Preliminary tests are promising but we'll know more after spending a few hours out and around shooting stuff. Coming soon to a blog near you.

8.30.2017

Schooled again by the kid. Want more video jobs? Practice your craft instead of reading about it!


More and more I find that "wisdom" is not necessarily an outcome of the aging process. There is an old saying that always makes me smile. It goes like this: "With age comes wisdom. But sometimes age comes alone...." At times I can be a shining example of that disconnection.

We were in the car yesterday heading home to Austin after a quick trip to San Antonio to check on my nearly nonagenarian parents and, curious to hear Ben's opinion, I asked him in what ways did he think I might get assigned more video projects from clients. His first thought was, "do more marketing." but he stopped and did his usual long consideration before delivering his core advice...

"You know, you've probably read every book out there about video production, directing, lighting and audio, and you've probably watched every video on Lynda.com about video but you still come to get me when you're sitting in the studio editing. And mostly when you ask my opinions it's about aesthetic stuff like where to cut or what clips to  use. My advice is to stop learning from the books and the video and all the other stuff and start making fun, small videos."

"When I first started out Jack and Graham and Cade and I would sit around and come up with these zany little story lines and then we'd grab whatever video camera we could get our hands on and go out and act out our ideas. We'd make crappy props and try obvious special effects. And then we'd come back and edit the stuff together. When we did our edits we'd figure out that we needed a different angle or a whole different clip and we'd rush out the door and shoot some more and then come back and work it in. After a while it just becomes second nature to make sure you've got what you need while you are actually out shooting."

"I probably shot and edited 200 short, fun pieces before I was even out of high school. You learn best when you actually go out and apply all that stuff you think you know. You learn best when you screw up. But you really learn best when you are just having fun." 

"If you did more hands-on stuff you'd end up with a lot more stuff you'd want to share and the fun stuff is probably what prospective clients really want to see. They want to know that you can have fun with their stuff. And that the edits and stuff are natural and practiced." 

"There is such a thing as knowing too much....and doing too little." 

We were just passing the outlets malls in San Marcos, about a half hour from home when he summed up: "Write and shoot a few hundred projects just for fun and then start the marketing. That should work."

When he finished his mother (the source of all his intelligence genes) smiled her typical Mona Lisa smile and added, "Sweetie....it's like you've always told people, it's all about time in the water."

I drove on in silence. Ben was in the back seat zoning out to his trying to fall asleep in the car playlist on his phone while his mom turned her attention back to the novel she'd been reading. As the giant pickup trucks roared by in the left lane I was busy thinking about some of the fun stories I needed to start telling. It took my mind off the search for my next ultimate lens.

You may not believe me but I've found Ben's quotient of common sense to far exceed whatever meager supply I was given. When I follow his advice I am usually successful. When I rebuff it I generally have no one but myself to blame for the outcomes.

He's heading back to school on Saturday. I'm comforted to know I can always text him when I hit the next roadblock.

8.27.2017

Rainy Day Camera.


High wind. Endless rain. Cabin fever. A combination that might lead one to exit their comfy and dry house and head out for another Sunday walk. As usual, the burning question is, "What camera to take?"
I wanted  today's camera to check several features on my list. I wanted it to have a wide ranging zoom, a weatherproof build, really good 4K video and a total price tag (camera and lens) so that I wouldn't feel dismayed if the driving rain tricked the weather sealing and bricked the whole system. So of course I reached for the Panasonic G85 with its companion lens, the 12-60mm f3.5 to f5.6. The combination cost me around $900 and since the lens and body work the image stabilization in concert the system is rock steady and perfect for handholding a camera for video and stills in 50 mile per hour wind gusts.


An umbrella is of little use in driving rain coupled with high winds. It will wiggle out of one's grasp with the first gusts. I came back to my car an hour later thoroughly soaked but happy to have had the exercise and adventure. 

While Austin has been subjected to nearly continuous wind gusts of 30, 40, and 50 mph the central and west parts of the city have seen less total rain than was expected. The people in Houston and between Houston and Corpus Christi have not been so lucky and are in a world of pain right now that just seems to get worse and worse. The storm is currently predicted to be circling around to hit them once again and drop even more rain. If you have the extra cash you might take a moment to send a donation to the Red Cross. I have a feeling people are going to need help for months or even years to come. 

We are safe and dry here at VSL. Our thoughts are with all those millions of people who are still in harm's way...



8.26.2017

I read with great interest the 12th "thought piece" about the new Nikon D850 camera on DPReview. I started looking through my files to see what I've been missing all these years...


When the Sony A7Rii came out it was a revelation and a (mostly) finished product. Along with the A7R it was the first big jump up in useable, focusable resolution in a mirrorless camera platform. The Nikon D800 and D810 were the first big, dramatically increased resolution cameras in the DSLR space and they were also worthy of praise for the sheer technological leap they pulled off. Bravo to Nikon for elevating cameras from the 24 megapixel range to the 36+ megapixel range; a real plus for all those who needed (or thought they needed) a lot more detail in their files. As a bonus both Sony and Nikon users also benefitted from a huge jump in dynamic range in both sets of cameras. The winning point for the Nikon D810 was the ability to squeeze out the last shreds of insanely good dynamic range at the lowest ISO (64). The winning points for the Sony

8.25.2017

A few quick program notes from the VSL H.Q. Re: Weather Prep.


Just a situational report from Austin about our weather event:

We're being told on the news reports to expect between ten and fifteen inches of rain in the next 72 hours as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which is now a category 4 storm event. The reach of this system is pretty massive. So, what does this mean for Austin, Texas?

Based on past events we'll see flooding in central parts of the city. We'll see a dramatic rise in the level of Lady Bird Lake, which is part of the Colorado River system and we'll see hundreds of roads closed because they have low water crossings at certain points. For people in low lying areas of Austin, such as Dove Springs, there will be wide spread flooding.

The VSL headquarters is located to the west of the city of Austin in a separate, small community called, Westlake Hills. As the name implies these are the western hills bordering Austin. Our semi-secret laboratories are on a property that's about 450 feet above sea level and about 430 feet higher than any flood level in the history of Austin. Our bigger concern in storms such as this is wind damage.

We may also experience some water on the floor in the main office because the studio sits a bit lower on the property and depends on a French drain to direct water away from our east wall. In previous storms like this we have gotten water on the floor. Our jumbo shopvac is standing by.

We have stocked the pantry with lots of low prep food items that keep well. The wine cellar and liquor cabinets are well and recently stocked. I've been charging batteries for LED panels all day and will stage the panels around the house in the event that we lose electrical power.

We have a library of several thousand books, some of which I have not yet read, so I don't think we'll succumb to boredom even if the event turns out to be protracted. We have had to cancel several weekend events and will sorely miss the income but I am certain my readers will avail themselves of some "must have" purchases from Amazon.com, using my links, and helping to salve the pain of my lost fees.

The gas tanks in the cars are filled and we seem ready. Please wish us luck.

I've heard from VSL friends in Calgary, Paris, Moscow and Saratoga Springs who inquired about our status and that is so nice. If we screw up and were unprepared we'll let you know.

Please remember in your thoughts and prayers all those folks who live in Corpus Christi, Houston and other coastal towns as they will bare the brunt of the storm's impact. And for months afterwards.

The perfect storm camera? That would be the GH5 with the 12-100mm. Both are weather sealed.

Hope everyone rides this one out successfully..... Thank you for the inquiries and good wishes. Kirk

Saturday morning update: Of course, swim practice was cancelled. Sad. The rain didn't start here until about 5 am today and most of it has been brief flurries of rain interspersed with wind gusts. Predications are that the bulk of the rain will start up after noon and go through Sunday. No leaks or incursions to note. I have two different sets of portraits to retouch today so cabin fever probably won't set in until tomorrow. We'll see just how long I can go without swim practice.....

It's the kind of photoshoot that goes to the dogs, quick. Plenty of fur flying on this one...

Sand bags are NOT optional. 

A friend called and asked if I would come over and take some photographs of her kids. I've known the children in this family for at least ten years; they swam with Ben every year at Summer Swim League and I swim with their dad, year round, at our club's Masters Swim Team. Of course I said, "Yes." And once she had me on the hook she dropped the other shoe, "Oh, and I'd like to get the three kids photographed together with ten very young, golden retriever puppies....can you do that?" 

What a crazy afternoon! I got over to the house around 5:30 pm and set up one big flash in the middle of their terraced back yard. We unleashed a puppy stampede through the middle of my friend's house and worked to corral the puppies into the back yard, then we worked on corralling the three teenagers. Once we had the whole crew together my friend worked hard at interchanging fussy puppies and acting as a defacto stylist for the kids. 

We took photos of the three kids each holding handfuls of puppies and also surrounded by puppies. The puppies didn't seem to understand my commands to stay still and smile but we worked around their recalcitrance. Can't go two minutes horsing around with ten puppies and not a have a big grin on my face. Did I mention that photography is fun?

"Quick! There might be treats."
Double checking the sand bag for me.

Photographer under close supervision!

M.C. Ecsher Dogs.

Camera: Sony A7Rii
Lens: 24-70mm f4.0 Sony//Zeiss
Light: Neewer Vision Four battery power flash.

8.24.2017

A Few Thoughts About the Nikon D850. From Someone Who Owned the D810.

A portrait I shot in the Samsung booth at Photo Expo back in 2013.
You remember, that's when Samsung thought they wanted to be
in the camera business...

Camera marketing seems to me, sometimes, to be like a gunshot wound. One minute the person was standing there minding their own business and minutes later they are bleeding profusely. Just like a gunshot the Nikon D850 news seems to erupt like gunfire. I woke up this morning to discover three articles (in one day) from the excitable boys at DP Review, live interview coverage of the camera from The Camera Store TV (love Chris and Jordan) as well as a long and involved overview from Tony Northrup. Did I leave out a quick overview and opinion piece from Thom Hogan? Yeah, it was there too. The headline that seemed to sum up the introduction of the D850 best was, "D850 Saves Nikon." I think I saw that headline somewhere on YouTube. 

So, every thing from every outlet dropped into the photo media simultaneously. Like a gunshot. And hundreds of people who held the camera in their hands for a short, short period of time rushed to tell everyone in earshot (and screen range) just what a terrific new camera this Nikon beauty is. Now that's pretty decent marketing. If your goal is instant recognition...

Now that I've read the specs, seen the previews (thanks Kai!) and read through the comments on the three different articles on DPReview I think I'll wade in and tell you what I think about the latest DSLR from Nikon. Why not? All the people who've touched it are under NDA not to talk about things like high ISO image quality, etc. Most couldn't even put in a memory card.

I grew up with cameras like the D850. Big, robust, effective. I'll cut right to the chase, if you want a camera that delivers near ultimate image resolution, very high dynamic range and a traditional interface/operational process, then the D850 might be the camera for you. If you want nearly the same image quality but need/want an EVF then the Sony A7Rii is still a good choice.

Choosing a Nikon DSLR like the D850 is a good, conservative choice for traditional image makers. If it's any bit as good as the D810 it will deliver wonderful raw files with amazing resolution and dynamic range that just can't be beat. While I'm not sure a single Canon or Sony user will be swayed to switch systems I do think the D850 is a sure Fuji GFX or Hasselblad X1D killer. After all, the difference in sensor size is really marginal while the Nikon just trounces the two medium format cameras when it comes to lens choice, focusing speed, frame rate and, of course, price.

I can't imagine a rational photographer choosing one of the "medium" format system cameras over the Nikon D850 while maintaining a straight face. Or a convincing business rationale.

Let's assume that the Nikon D850 is at least as good as the D810 when it comes to dynamic range. Let's also assume that the sensor in the new camera really does deliver the stated 45+ megapixels of resolution and let's take for granted that the camera hits all the other specs in actual operation. 

Who wouldn't want one?

Well, I've got to say that I would still rather shoot with a Fuji or a Sony for the kind of work I do. Why? Because I love the workflow process engendered by a really good EVF. I also like the idea that the Sony and Fuji cameras will focus with great accuracy on the exact thing on which you are aiming. And, as far as resolution is concerned, I'm already overwhelmed by the 42 megapixels of the Sony A7Rii and more than happy with the 24 megapixels of the A7ii. I'm part of the possible market for the D850 that would probably take advantage of the reduced raw files size option in the new camera almost all the time. 

I am certain that, barring recalls, dirty sensors, focus shifts, and design issues, the D850 is a camera that all of us would be standing in line to buy ..... if someone had not invented mirrorless cameras and EVF viewfinders. Even more so if Panasonic and Sony had not enabled everyday cameras with amazing 4K video, smaller profiles and reduced size and weight. The D850 checks off so many boxes for people who are mostly focused on ultimate performance, file quality and resolution. 

Being able to shoot 20+ 45+ megapixel images in 14 bit raw at 7 fps is a far cry from the Nikon D100 I owned at the dawn of digital (4 raw frames to hit the wall of the buffer). The addition on the D850 of decent (though not class leading), full frame 4K video is a huge step forward (though not anywhere near the same class as Sony and Panasonic). And no one can really argue with the battery capacity, the body integrity or the potential results...

So why is it that the Nikon D850 reminds me so much of the Chevrolet Impala that my parents owned in the early 1970's? Is it because it's so big and unwieldy? Is it because the full frame lenses of a certain quality weigh a ton? Is it because it seems so much like a tiny collection of iterations and the moving forward of a hoary design aesthetic? Or am I some sort of outlier who overly values fewer moving parts, smaller footprints and the instant feedback loop of magnificent EVFs? Maybe all of the above. 

The Chevrolet was a fun car to borrow when I was a high school kid and wanted to make a run up to Austin, Texas to see Janis Joplin or Clifton Chenier. The Impala had a big and powerful 350 cubic inch V-8 and "keep your beer cold" air conditioning but in reality it was a pig of a car. Lots of useless metal and huge bench seats that only derived value when the car was at a full stop. It sucked down gas with reckless abandon and took fast corners like a bowl of Jello. But it was the standard at the time. 

I'm sorry but there's nothing the D850 can do that a camera like the A7Rii can't do better, for me. If you prefer an OVF the D850 is probably the best camera option for a traditional high-res DSLR on the market for the foreseeable future. But if those parameters don't match your use profile then the point is moot. 

My latest project is to keep a running tally of just how many "preview", "hands-on preview", "first impressions preview", "pre-review preview", and full reviews of the camera Digital Photo Review will complete and publish in the next few weeks. How many brief "introductory videos" and real "field reviews" will grace the pages of their news column. Based on the Sony A9 introduction I'm going to say that we're probably in for a real treat and should expect between 15 and 20 articles and videos in the next 30 days. None of which will be as illuminating or valuable as heading to a retailer to handle the camera and take some test files. 

Ah, the poetry of overkill. 









8.23.2017

The process of making portraits is the most fun part. Getting to talk to someone talented, interesting and engaging is such a wonderful job perquisite.

Vincent Hooper. Actor. Austin, Texas

I'd seen Vincent Hooper in several good productions at Zach Theatre over the last year; most recently in "In the Heights." He's a talented actor and he's got that special stage presence that seems to be something you either have or you never get. It's become a habit for me to reach out to people I find interesting and ask them if they'll collaborate with me and make some portraits. 

When I reached out to Vincent he was enthusiastic and ready. We met here at the studio yesterday afternoon and got busy shooting. I was using the shoot to test out a lighting design that revolved around the new Neewer Vision Four monolight flash, firing into a big, umbrella and the Godox AD200 doing service as a background light into the Steel Gray seamless paper background. Most of the images were augmented by fill light from a 50 inch, round, pop-up reflector.

We shot tight head shots, looser portraits and even some full length images. I worked mostly with what has become my favorite studio portrait combination, the Sony A7ii coupled with the 70-200mm f4.0.

At the end of an almost two hour session I turned off the strobes and used only the window light coming in directly behind me, filtered by a 4x6 foot Lastolite diffuser spread across their solid, aluminum frame. I switched out the lens I'd been using for the 85mm f1.8 FE lens so I could shoot at a wider aperture; f2.5.  

This is an untouched image from the camera, converted from a raw. I'm not sure if it will be a favorite of mine from this project yet but I put it here as a reminder that experimenting during a session can give you a different look or change your mind about how to light or how to photograph entirely.

Impressed by Vincent's ease in front of the camera, and remembering his solid, sometimes inspired performances on the stage, I asked him his age. I was stunned when he told me, "22." 

I can only imagine how far he'll go...

progress report on the lights. They work well together. They triggered flawlessly with the Newer trigger. I ran the Neewer Vision Four at 1/4 to 1/8th power, shot over 600 images and still have a full battery indicator on the flash's info panel. Using the bare bulb head on the AD200 with the standard reflector and the diffusion disk over the end of the reflector I was able to get the power I needed at 1/16 -2/3 setting. Again, the battery indication on the AD200 also shows as full. A nice performance. 

I have come to rely on manual focusing with the 70-200mm. No worries about the camera selecting a different focusing point than the one I intended. With the EVF and the automatic punch in when turning the focusing ring, it couldn't be easier --- or more accurate.

I'll post more when Vincent and I narrow down our choices and I get to retouch a few images. 

8.22.2017

No good assignments coming in the door? It's time to self-assign and build up a collection of new work.

"Texas Rancher". From a production at Live Oak Theater.

For a number of years the portrait above was an example of my preferred style of photographing people. I loved working in my big darkroom, shifting between my 35mm Leica Focomat enlarger and my Omega D5 enlarger. The D5 was the one that saw the most use because I kept feeding it medium format film. I experimented with condenser heads, cold light heads and diffused (but not cold light) heads. I loved black and white film and I really liked the look of lighting that could cast deep shadows to one side while keeping skin tone and texture perfect on the other side. When I made prints I used a device called a Pictrol under my enlarging lens to disrupt parts of the frame with semi-controllable pools of soft focus. I felt, at the time, that burned in corners made a print. I may have been right; in the context of this style.

But lately I've felt the need to make a portfolio of new work that reflects all the shifts I've made in both lighting and visualization over the last ten years. My target for final display is no longer the fine print but the immense audience on the web. My lighting has changed and my approach to subjects has changed as well. 

So, how do you create a whole new portfolio?  A collection of work that clients have never seen from you before? I think it would be very difficult to depend on the outcome of commercial engagements to ever distill down the work you might want to show while keeping clients happy (mostly because you get hired for work you already showed....).

I try to do it by reaching out to people that I specifically want to photograph and then inviting them into my studio or out into the world to collaborate with me and help me realize a visual concept I have rattling around in my brain. If we work from the idea that beautiful portraits have value then our collaborations are win-win situations because I'm happy to make meticulously retouched files for my sitters in exchange for their time and shared energy.

Last week I reached out to an actor whose current work on stage I really admire. I've worked with  him in the creation of marketing materials for productions at the theater but I wanted to bring him into the quiet refuge of the studio and spend an hour or two making images that would make me happy and might be helpful to him in his public career. 

We're shooting this afternoon. And when I realized that this would be a good shared experience for both of us I started getting in touch with other people on my list of "wanna photograph" people to see who else might be interested in playing along with my explorations of portraiture. Surprisingly, no one has yet to turn me down. 

There's no cost to either of us, just an investment of time. But a new collection of images moves me forward just as it shows a different side of the actor's range. This is how we used to do it when we wanted to explore new work. It's a good thing.