9.15.2017

Playing scales. Swimming drills. Filmmaking practice.



When I see someone play the guitar or piano very well they make the process seem so fluid and easy. It's the same when I see an Olympic swimmer repeat graceful one hundred yard repeats under a minute each. As a culture we have a tendency to ascribe mastery to genetics, luck and natural talent and we ignore or discount the reality of the artist's or athlete's years and years of training and practice. But all one needs to do is to read about swimmer, Michael Phelps's training regimen in the decades leading up to his multiple gold medals to know that even those with in-born talent still have to put in the time and energy to excel.

I thought moving from still imaging to video production would be a cakewalk. After all, I've been working with a camera in front of my face for nearly 4 decades and I've studied the science and craft of how the sensors work with light, optics etc. Hell, I've written books about it, but if all that was required to be good at motion pictures was the rote memorization of hundreds of facts and mechanical steps then most professional photographers would be able to step seamlessly into video production, right?

But I'm finding that making moving pictures is a whole different game. In photography you can compose well and then lock your camera down on a tripod and press the shutter button at the decisive moment. If you've trained yourself to see well you'll most likely get a good still image (especially so if the subject looks great...) but the crazy thing about video, especially video with a handheld camera, is that so much really depends on an integration of physical practice combined with seeing well.

In the beginning of my video journey the cameras we used didn't have stabilizers and handheld gimbals were unheard of. I thought my workaround would be to put the camera on a fluid head tripod and that everything would proceed just like still photography. I thought that until I was called on to do my very first very steady pan. Who knew that just panning a tripod head could be so difficult? My moves were jagged-y and inconsistent and the stopping and starting of my pans was just downright embarrassing.

It seems that panning (and tilting) is an acquired skill. Smoothness comes from physical practice. The practice of panning over and over and over again until you figure out how to pace and how to become more continuous in your moves. I continue to practice and agonize over the quality of my pans and am coming to grips with the need to put in more hours just practicing the moves (which also depend on distance to the subject, focal lengths of lenses used, speed of subject travel and so much more). You can buy the best tripod and head in the universe but if you don't routinely practice your pans will never be as smooth as the "talented" camera operators.

The same goes for every facet of video camera operation that requires movement. Camera movement is so much more than hand skills. The best operators use their whole bodies in the process of smoothly moving their cameras. You can't see their best work because their best work has as its goal making the camera and its move invisible. But you can routinely see okay and mediocre and bad camera pans in many TV shows and movies because not every operator has hit the point where their work can become transparent to the viewers.

I imagined that having the new GH5 camera and a stabilized lens would give me a much more solid and smooth platform with which to shoot handheld, and it's true that the camera/lens combo gives me great stabilization but even with stabilization the camera has to move and once you go from stationary to pan or tilt, or even walking with the camera, the lack of practice becomes glaringly obvious.

If I'm to be successful at handholding a moving a video camera it's pretty darn obvious that I'm going to need a lot of practice. A lot of practice. I may even have to give up drinking coffee. Imagine living the life of a monk just to make smooth, handheld video camera moves. Breathtaking in its cruelty...

My sometimes partner in video crime and I just finished estimating and proposing eight video projects for an ad agency. The bulk of each video will consist of handheld b-roll lifestyle scenes. This means getting sharp focus on the fly, moving through groups of people, quickly moving to catch great expressions, etc. While my partner has years of continuing practice (he's a full time video shooter) I've spent way to much time depending on flash to freeze motion and tripods to anchor my non-moving, still photography cameras. As we get closer to the start of the projects I've taken to daily practice moving with my camera.

I headed out yesterday to walk through Zilker Park, past Barton Springs Pool and around the lake with my camera, lens and neutral density filter in hand. Every time I saw something interesting to shoot I practiced regulating exposure by rotating the variable neutral density filter and evaluating zebras in the finder of the camera. I had the camera switched to manual so I could also practice using focus peaking to hit sharp focus. But after getting the settings correct I spent most of my time working to pan with joggers and bikers, following aquatic birds as they skimmed the water and then took flight, and I spent time panning from one object to the next. The most difficult thing to practice it to walk smoothly with the camera and I did that as well.

I was feeling pretty good about my time in practice until I came back home, stuck the SD card into my computer and started looking, full screen, at the practice shots I'd made. They showed how the camera moved with my breathing and how any operation of camera buttons created motion havoc in the frames.
I cringed when I saw how lumpy my pans were; speeding up and slowing down to try and regulate my moves. I got a few takes that were decent and I tried to think back to what I'd done to achieve them.

At the end of the exercise, when I'd looked and looked at the shaky footage on my unrelentingly critical monitor, I dumped the footage in the trash and grabbed the camera up again --- stuck a new battery in it and got ready to practice again. Today, after paper work, dog walking and some swimming I'll be back at it practicing camera moves. It's a race against time. Will I master all the arcane methods of handholding and moving a camera or run out the clock instead? The real answer is that mastery is a classic case of ever diminishing returns but that doesn't mean I should not try for the next twenty to thirty years to become at least good at it.

What I learned this week: When starting a camera move place yourself in the position of least comfort to start and move progressively to the position of comfort by the end.

The real masters of motion picture camera operation have spent as much time with a camera in their hands as most virtuoso musicians have spent with their own instruments in hand. That's what makes both camps great.

Camera, except for its feel in your hand, inconsequential.

9.13.2017

Sony's new RX10 camera just got announced. It's called the Sony RX10IV and it looks like everything I wanted.

This is a photo of the RX10iii, one of the best small sensor cameras I have ever used. 
Actually, one of the best cameras I have ever used....along with its
sibling, the RX10ii. 

I just read the announcement of the launch of the RX10IV on Digital Photography Review. It's the one time I hope DPR just goes insane with their product coverage as this is a product that makes sense and one for which I'll gladly line up to hemorrhage cash. 

There weren't many things I didn't like about the previous generation. The only one I can think of right off the bat would be focusing speed and sure-footed AF lock on to the longer end of the lens. Especially so in video. I haven't checked the specs (extensively) on the new camera but would also love to be able to "punch in" more than the current 5x times magnification in video in order to really nail focus when in manual mode.

The lens is the same 24-600mm equivalent Zeiss lens and the camera continues the full frame read, non-binning 4K video performance. The video is actually down res'd from a 5K capture! I found the handling and post processing performance of both 4K and 1080p video to be class-leading and the combination of all the features and performance metrics of the RX10iii to be superb. If this camera focuses better and locks focus quicker; especially in video, then I'm really to throw down money for my copy. (But I want to try it out at a bricks and mortar store before tossing around that kind of money...).

I saw other features reviewed such as silly fast frame rates for stills but I didn't pay attention to them. The older models shot just as fast as I needed them to... if you really need 24 fps then you need to be shooting video instead...

Why do I like the most recent RX10xx camera models so much? Hmmm. That's easy. The RX10-3 is an amazing still photography camera. The 20 megapixel sensor makes beautiful files when shot at 80, 100, or 200 ISO. Workmanlike files at 1600 and still decent/usable files at 3200. The image stabilization in that camera is rock solid for photography and 1080p video. Not quite in Olympus territory but as good or better than systems costing thousands more... The all encompassing lens is an "as good" or better than decent replacement for a bagful of most interchangeable DSLR lenses and has more useful reach than just about any lens available under $5000 for Nikon or Canon. Or Sony A7 series cameras. And it's foolish to discount the usefulness of a great, built-in lens; not having to change lenses means no dust bunnies, no sensor damage, no fumbling in the dark to effect the change, and much less to carry around.  You know, the difference between two weeks of shoulder battering drudgery or a real vacation.

If that was all there was to the RX10-3 it might seem expensive for a one inch sensor bridge still camera but the camera is capable of so much more. It's one of the best fully capable video cameras/systems you can get under $2,000. It's capable of beautifully detailed 4K files and, unlike other cameras in the Sony line up, I've run the camera for multiple segments of 29 minutes duration, with only seconds of delay between the segments, without any indication of overheating. You might think of bridge cameras as "amateur" but then what other "amateur" video camera comes with a full S-Log codec and a the ability to configure its video files in many more ways (knee, black level, gamma, etc.) than just about any other multi-use camera on the market? So, nearly full frame 4K at 30 fps, complete with S-Log, and the ability to write the 4K files to Pro Res files via a clean output HDMI connection to an external recorder like the Atomos Ninja Flame. Wow. And of course there are still microphone and headphone connectors, and very clean microphone preamplifiers.

I've used the RX10-2 and 3 to make video in downpours, in 100+ plus heat and in the dark of a theater and the camera has never faltered. In 2016 I used the RX10-2 and RX10-3 on enough projects that the jobs I used them on (sometimes exclusively) contributed about 25% of my fee income. So, why would I want to upgrade to the latest model; the RX10-4?

I'd do it for the phase detection AF capability that was added in the new model. Apparently it uses the same processor for AF as the new a9 camera. It focuses twice as fast as the current model and locks in (according to Sony) focus quicker and at lower EV levels. The PD AF has been well proven in the a6300 and a6500 models as well. No more dicey focus at the long end of the lens.

While I often give in to reckless hyperbole when I'm slamming around on the keyboard I believe that this new camera could provide a single tool that would be able to do most of the professional video and photography assignments most photographers will encounter in day-to-day business. Yes, $1800 is expensive if you consider comparing it directly with a larger sensor camera body. But you should really be comparing it with a whole system of lenses, a stand alone, 4K video camera and a super fast camera body. It's a camera that can replace thousands and thousands of additional dollars invested in arcane photo stuff.

I'm not saying anyone else needs to rush out and buy one immediately or their career will come to a grinding halt. This may be only really cogent to my uses. But I'm certain it will be a most useful tool.

The two biggest complaints I'm reading about the new camera model revolve around price and size/weight. It's almost as if there is a wholly uneducated but vociferous group of photographers who feel as though Sony can bend physics to their will. I've seen suggestions that the lens speed be increased to f2.0 while, in the next breath suggesting that the size of the camera be reduced by half. Many insist that, since this is not a "real" DSLR that the price should be around $599 or lower. I'm sure the same people would love a first class airline ticket to Paris for $25 --- and I'm equally sure they'd complain that their glass of Champagne had too many bubbles. That their seat should be the size of the couch at home. And that the plane did not go 2,000 mph. I'm sure these are the same people who believe their Pontiac Aztecs should be able to fly....

The camera is not as big or as heavy as any DSLR anywhere once equipped with an equivalent lens (if there was one....). The price is not just for a camera body with a small sensor but for an entire system that is capable of doing a combination of applications open to no other camera/lens system on the market. If you just broke the price in half and charged $900 for the body and $900 for the lens then perhaps it would be easier for the cognition-challenged to understand the overall value. And, since it only comes in a kit you save a dollar!!!

The RX10IV might not be perfect. It's too big to fit in the front pocket of your ever-tightening Jourdache jeans. The video specs aren't as good as those on the GH5. The dynamic range of the sensor isn't going to go toe-to-toe with the Nikon D850. But if you need to toss some plastic wrap over the top and video tape a raging flood in the middle of a driving rain storm and then walk away with near perfect 4K video, and then turn back around and make a technically great photograph of an electric transformer  blowing up on top of a utility pole one hundred yards away ---- then I think you may have found your camera.

You might not need one. You might not be able to afford one. But that doesn't mean the camera isn't pretty darn amazing. And very useful to people who need what it offers.

Go see reviews from people who bought the IV's predecessor:



9.12.2017

Kid heads off to NY for his senior year of college.


Last lap. Ben's back at school, hitting the books and having fun. This is a photo of him from his grade school years hacking away at an old Mac laptop. He's having an after school snack of grapefruit and blue cheese. 

Time goes so fast. If you still have young ones at home don't ever put the camera away. Shoot even the most mundane stuff. You'll love it later. Believe me.

Sometimes photographers get way ahead of their clients. More like spinning your tires than making progress... Sometimes clients have the roadmap we need.

I forgot to use the "ultimate" camera on my job....

I got up early, drank coffee and drove north yesterday morning. I left the house way too early for an appointment at 9 a.m. but you'll have to give me a little slack since the never-ending road construction on Loop One/Mopac can be a mercurial bitch. One day you breeze on to your destination and the next you sit motionless in the fast lane, staring at the tail lights and listening to someone droning away, cheerfully, on NPR. Yesterday was a miraculous day for me on Hwy. Loop One. From 7:45 a.m. on the traffic never slowed down between Westlake Hills and Round Rock. I made the trip in 25 minutes. Which left me about an hour to cool my heels at a local Starbucks before walking into the lobby of a long time client. Thank goodness I brought a book!

My assignment was to photograph the CEO of this local/national/global tech company, together with a giant prop. We needed him pictured alone, and surrounded by a group of about 25 happy, enthusiastic employees. The shoot took place in the lobby and while I shot stills the in-house video team (supplemented by a freelance sound person and a second camera operator)  captured video and then, after the CEO exited, went in for some interviews with a few of the employees. I needed to provide a bit of direction for the group photos but after getting the individual CEO shot and the group shots I  chilled out and just grabbed some candid shots of the event.

I brought the Panasonic cameras for the event. I was a little concerned (but not much) that the client would not be happy to see me shooting with a smaller sensor, lower resolution camera since everything I read on the web about professional photography would have one believe that clients routinely demand particular cameras or camera types; that those cameras reflect the current state of the art, and that clients understand the difference --- and I read way too much on the web.

I have worked with the head of this particular company's video department for well over 20 years. We run into each other at major events and shows and sometimes, just at the office. He asked me what I was shooting with and I told him. "Those are really cool!" he said. "But don't send us big files. This is all going to end up on social media."  So much for any trepidation I may have been fomenting...

We were on location early. The video guys were setting up two different cameras; one getting a wide shot and one with a shoulder-hefted rig with which he would roam around. The sound guy had his "belly bag" full of Sound Devices goodies and a nice shotgun microphone on a pole. After we figured out our angles and our working choreography I decided to add a light to the mix. I put that new Neewer 300 w/s flash on a stand and bounced it off a wall directly behind the camera position to create a nice, broad fill. The light I used is the one with lithium ion battery pack so no extension cords/power cables were needed. I didn't have to spend time taping down the cords. Progress! The flash also has its own dedicated trigger so that's nice too.

Once we got set we had time to kill and, as normally happens, we stood around and talked shop. Since the video department head has nice equipment budgets and works all over the world I assumed that they were producing everything at the very highest technical levels imaginable. I presumed 4K capture for all video and buckets of SSD drives with which to record everything in 12 bit 4:4:4:4. I asked about their equipment expecting to feel like a rank amateur with a toy camera.

In fact, neither of their video cameras were necessarily anything to write home about. One was an inexpensive Black Magic Cine camera and the other an older Sony ENG camera. No Arri Alexa, no Sony F55, no Red camera, etc. A wide cinema prime (Sigma) on one camera and an EOS zoom lens on the other. No external monitors, no gingerbread. And, not a light anywhere.

I asked if they were shooting in 4K and they looked at me funny. Turns out the only time they venture into 4K is when they are working with green screen and need high definition for masking. They shoot mostly in 1080p. Why? Because nearly everything they shoot is destined to go straight to the web via their own website or one of the social media sites. Everything seems to end up over at YouTube which mostly just crunches the hell out of everything via compression.

After the event I went home to post process the photo files and get them sent off quickly. Usually I shoot raw and then work on the files a bit. The client emphasized the need for speedy delivery so I shot raw+big Jpegs. I pulled the Jpegs into Lightroom and they looked really good. I selected about three dozen shots and uploaded them to Smugmug, making enhancements only to the files containing the CEO (I knew they'd get the most use....). I had the files uploaded within 20 minutes of hitting the front door of the studio. The clients gave me thumbs up on everything.

But this all seems antithetical to what we learn on the web. What I read always leads me to believe that everyone else out there is getting demands from their clients to use and deliver files from the biggest and most expensive state of the art cameras around. As though the clients are tapping their feet and thinking, "OMG! Are we still using those ancient Nikon D810s? When is my photographer going to get his hands on the D850?!!!. We might believe that clients are demanding that everything be sent to them as 16 bit Tiff files and that each file be retouched in Byzantine detail before they see them. But this rarely seems to be the case --- in the real world.

In the video markets we photographers/aspiring videographers seem to believe that the way forward is to offer the highest performance codecs we can afford to create. Take the biggest files we can hammer through a GH5 and send them to an external recorder so we can upgrade them to huge Pro Res files before delivering terabytes of programming to clients who may have only wanted a nice little piece to put up on Instagram. The community of new arrivals to video presume that every shot is done with V-Log (S-Log, C-Log) and that every frame will be color graded to the nth degree. (That's the way I've been thinking about it...).

There may be some parts to the overall equation of corporate production to which we are not always privy. The client's need for speed being one of them. Everything we shot yesterday will be edited and presented as a very small part of an "all hands" meeting presentation that will be broadcast to 100,000+ employees via the web. The video will be a minuscule part of the overall presentation. But it will need to be slim and right sized to work on monitors and connections all over the place. Not big and bloated and hypothetically perfect. Some employees will no doubt need to watch the presentation on phones...

At the end of the session yesterday the video operators pulled out their memory cards and quickly transferred the files to a thumb drive which they handed off to the client's video director. No big fuss.

Were all eyes on me? Hardly. Were the clients or the videographers carefully inspecting and passing judgement on my choice of gear? Not for a second. Did we all deliver right sized media for our client's needs? You bet.

The world of our work is changing quickly and the days of producing work for giant print graphics are fading away. If we keep focusing on the wrong targets we'll probably miss the right ones by a long distance. Much as we'd mostly like to concentrate on getting our work printed on double-truck spreads in magazines or seeing our video work on huge movie screens the reality is that the work we do for clients is very much headed in different directions. They're aiming at UHD monitors or projectors as being the high end use of video currently but, honestly, the vast majority of uses are still 1080p and smaller. The work we're mostly doing is much more transient than ever before so storage is less anxiety provoking. The "sell by" dates are quicker and few of the projects will be re-visited a year from now. And, across the board, the production time frames we're being handed are continually shrinking. (edit:) I had a phone conference with an ad agency creative director this afternoon about a series of videos for one of their clients. Their research showed that in their client's audience  80% of video views were on mobile phones. 80% !!!!!

If we look in the rear view mirror we can be made to feel that we MUST have the biggest and the best gear available for all engagements. In fact, the biggest and the best might be an impediment to delivery speed, flexibility and fluid action. If we look at where media and content are headed we can see that everything is changing and most of it is moving in a direction that's vastly different than the print orientation currently shared by many established photographers. Clients may be way ahead of us here.

The final thing I was thinking about as I sat in front of the monitor watching the progress of my images uploading was about how we business people allocate our assets and how it affects our bottom line. I have friends who firmly believe that they must have the world's best gear in order to compete. They routinely seek out the "best" cameras and the "ultimate" lenses to shoot with. This made sense when everyone's aim point was the lushly printed page and the state of "best" wasn't all that great (think about the first two or three generations of digital camera bodies...) but does it still make sense when the limitations of the targets (screens of various sizes) for most of our work will blind and obfuscate any differences in image quality between any of the modern cameras, across formats?

In a time when fees and budgets are under constant attack and are, in fact, lower when adjusted for inflation than any time in our careers, can we continue to justify the brutal expenses of "the best" when good, solid gear will get the job done just as well or better?

My client's video producer could probably requisition just about any cool video gear he feels he needs. He might be able to outfit his crews with $50,000 Arri Alexas. He might be able to pony up for sets of Leica cinema lenses (@$125,000 per set). But he doesn't. Why not? Perhaps he knows that good enough works great and that saving the corporation cash means more value added to his 401K. Maybe we freelancers would be smart to follow those instincts. After all, isn't it really our talent we're selling?

9.10.2017

The Age of the Image. By Stephen Apkon

I was rummaging through the shelves of books about cinematography at our local, independent bookstore, BOOKPEOPLE, when I came across this book. It was published in 2013 so it's not exactly cutting edge topical but it's an important book to read for all the people who say, "I have no interest whatsoever in video..." 

The book is a well researched romp through the changing history of language, communication, symbology and understanding. It traces the paths from the embrace of the written word as a primary method of communication and shows how quickly, thoroughly and globally we are moving from the written word to the language of motion pictures. The author makes a convincing point that, in the near future, to be truly literate will mean understanding the grammar and language of video; both how to decode it and how to create it. 

Toward the end of the book are examples of current educational theory about communication and the embrace of moving images on all manner of screen. In the chapters leading up to that are some general explanations about how to make better video programming. Also, how and why a good video can trump the printing word for global dissemitnation of ideas, memes and, of course, brand messaging. 

After reading the book I grabbed my inexpensive G85 with the kit zoom, put an ND filter on the front of the lens and headed out to practice shooting interesting scenes. The book inspires one to look beyond conventional wisdom, to stop looking in the rear view mirror of technology, and to think more inclusively about communication and not just one's favorite or most comfortable media. 

I recommend that everyone give it a read. Ask your library to get a copy, drop by your local independent bookstore for a copy, or buy one from the link below....

(This book was purchased with my own funds and was not sent to me by the borrower or the author. No one asked me to write this short review).

9.09.2017

A Perennial Conference Photographed with a Different Model and Brand of Camera Every Year for Nine Years.



Every year (except one) in the last nine years I have been hired to photographically document a very unique corporate conference that takes place here in Austin. It's unique because attendance is by invitation only, it's closed to the press and the public, and it's pure sophisticated social+economic content. The invited attendees come from banking, investment, demographic research and governmental agencies. The speakers include billionaires, thought leaders and best selling authors. The subject matter involves finance,  new investment paradigms, demographic trends, global financial trends and new industry creation. The actual content is protected by NDA.

But none of that is really important here. What I want to talk about is how I photographed the show this year, or, more to the point, what cameras I used this year. 

I opted to use two Panasonic GH5s and two Olympus lenses; the 12-100mm f4.0 Pro and the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. This year I was able to forego bringing along a wider assortment of lenses because the two Olympus lenses covered every thing I needed, from wide stage shots to tight shots of speakers on stage. The robust image stabilization supplied by the 12-100mm (in lens) and the GH5 for the 40-150mm (in camera) meant that this was the first year I could drop any tripod or monopod from the gear inventory and not miss it in some situation or another. 

The system checked all the right boxes for the way I photograph these kinds of conferences. The conference doesn't want me to use flash in during panels or speeches. The system needs to be good enough to operate at ISO 800 or higher without issues so that flash is always unnecessary during "main tent" sessions. Since the show is fairly intimate, with only 250 attendees, and since I work fairly close to the stage, the camera needs to be very quiet or altogether silent. Since I move around a bit during presentations the cameras have to be light and mobile. Distilling down to 2 mirrorless bodies and two lenses is a major plus. 

So far I've done previous shows for this client with: 4/3 Olympus cameras, Nikon APS-C cameras, Nikon FF cameras, Canon FF cameras, Olympus m4/3 cameras, Panasonic GH4 cameras, Sony FE cameras, Sony RX10 cameras and now the Panasonic GH5s. With each system (except the RX10s) I tried to source the smallest number of lenses to cover wide shots of the main ballroom in which the conference was held all the way down to tight head shots of the speakers on stage. In terms of convenience the RX10iii was without peer. But it took tight control to stay right in the small zone of best compromise where subject motion didn't become an issue but neither did noise in the image files. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not. Underexposed high ISO one inch sensor files can get a bit ugly in post. 

Overall the Sony A7Rii had the best image quality to date but was not my favorite for handling and daylong comfortable operation. The lowest image quality came from the earliest cameras; the 12 megapixel e-3 and e-5 Olympus 4/3 cameras. The worst fit for conferences came from cameras like the Canon 5Dii the Nikon D750 and D700. These were far too loud for any situation which called for a discreet, quiet approach, even when wrapped with neoprene. The shutters and mirrors, even in quiet modes, were just too loud to allow me to sit in the audience and work. This routinely limited the number and kind of shots I could take.

Last year I split the show between the A7rii and the RX10iii. My primary lens on the A7Rii was the 70-200mm f4.0 G series lens. I also used a battery grip on the bottom of the A7Rii to provide longer battery life. The combination became uncomfortable to hold and use during a full eight hours of on again, off again handheld photography. In addition, the A7Rii and A7ii electronic viewfinders didn't track as closely, in terms of color and exposure, as I hoped they would with my studio computer. Finally, it was burdensome to use them in their raw modes because of the enormous size of the resulting files; even with the 24 megapixel A7ii. The 42 megapixel file sizes of the A7Rii pushed me to use that camera as a Jpeg-centric tool since we ended up with nearly 3,400 files by the end of last year's show. 

The RX10iii was very convenient and easy to work with over the course of a long day but the files sat right on the edge of the pass/fail edge of image quality in dim situations at ISO 800+. 

 I decided to test the GH5 in the conference arena by using two of them at this show. I'd done a series of tests leading up to the show so I was pretty confident that they would be adequate to the task. I also knew from testing that the two lenses I chose would be very sharp. They would not be the weak link in the imaging chain. (That would be me....). 

The GH5 checked all the right boxes for me. The EVF finder is the best I've owned so far. The camera's shutter is quiet enough to use in its mechanical setting with EFC but has a full-on silent setting if needed. The battery life, with review turned off, was excellent. I shot all day yesterday with one battery in each camera and no need to change. Yes, all day on location with the original two batteries. 

The image in the EVF tracked the reality of my calibrated computer screen much better than any previous camera I've used and the 12 bit raw files are small enough to allow me to shoot (for the first time) the entire show in a raw file format which allowed for much tighter color correction in post. I was able to use zebras to consistently get bright exposures without blowing out caucasian skin which also helped keep noise to a minimum. This year the stage set consisted of white leather couches and a center white desk so I had ample targets, in changing light, from which to set custom white balances. I maintained three custom white balances in three saved banks and was able to move through those presets quickly as the light on the stage cycled.

Having the right color balance and the right exposure means minimal noise in these cameras at ISO 800. Getting it right in camera meant I had less need to boost shadows in post, which is what usually makes noise rears its ugly head. 

A quick note about iPhone software for the GH5 camera. One of the speakers pulled me aside before he went on stage and requested that I get some great shots of him on stage and also asked if I could send them to his company's marketing team by end of day for use on social media. I assured him we could do that and then downloaded the Lumix phone app. It took me about ten minutes to set up a wi-fi network between the camera and phone (while continuing to photograph) and after that I started grabbing selected frames of the guy speaking and transferring them to the phone. When I knew I had a dozen good shots (all Jpegs) I sent them via e-mail to the exec's e-mail address and the e-mail address he'd given me for his social media team. The social media people had the images ready for upload before the speaker left the stage. They were just waiting for final approval as the behind-the-curtain production crew retrieved his lav microphone and body pack. 

Okay, so there are some phone apps that might be useful....

But let's get down to the stars of this particular documentation exercise: The Olympus Pro lenses. I'll go out on a limb here and say that I think the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens is the sharpest lens I've ever shot with from any maker, including Leica. I shot with it only at its wide open aperture setting and was amazed at the sharpness, contrast and detail in the final files. It may be that full frame cameras have advantages with their sensors but these lenses go a long way toward equalizing the playing field. The 40-150 is easy to handhold, the manual focus system (with hard stops at close focus and infinity) is elegant, and the performance in the final files is stunning. I'm in love. 

The second lens is one I've already gushed over. It's the 12-100mm f4.0 Pro. While I'll always wish every lens was one stop faster the lens is so nice to use that I know I'll get over that mental block. I was able to shoot about 80 % of the material over the last three days with this lens since it covers such a wide range and does so very well. 

This system is the best compromise across all the systems I've used for this kind of event and stage work. I can hardly wait to use it at the next theater dress rehearsal shoot. The lenses are just right in terms of range and (especially with the 40-150mm) speed. The camera is very surefooted when it comes to the S-AF focusing that I normally use and the handling of the body and body+lens is perfect. 

We get our first big video trial for a client on Tues. but the tests I've already done in studio have been so exemplary where video is involved that I have not doubts about the technical tour de force kit we'll have on hand for our CEO interview. The only thing I worry about now are my own skills at interviewing and operating all the moving parts correctly. 

Photo below: During the last panel discussion on the first full day of the program the show producers send out a selection of beers to all the attendees and all the panelists. We drink a toast before the last panel begins. Sometimes they change up the tradition and waiters come out with Champagne. It's a very civilized show indeed. 

This show, done at an Omni Hotel resort property here in Austin, Texas also gets high marks for routinely providing the very best food. I gained at least a pound this week. Thankfully we've had some killer workouts at the pool. I think I lost most of the extra weight at this mornings 1.5 hour sprint fest...



9.06.2017

Last week I talked about photographing two actors on white for the upcoming production of "Singing in the Rain." Here's the first use. A printed post card...

I love to show finished projects. I worked with Rona Ebert who is the in-house design director at Zach Theatre on this assignment. We met before the shoot to brainstorm and plan and it paid off with dozens of photographs of this talented couple that the theater will be using leading up to, and throughout the run of the show.

I really like the way this ended up. In any professional photography job the client pretty much takes things like able camera operation and lighting competence as unspoken, required basics. You wouldn't be in their facility working with paid talent if they didn't assume you had those things managed. The things that keep you on their team are your ability to collaborate with the talent (and the creative team)  to get good expressions, gesture and presence.

Just as a technical reminder, I shot this job with a Panasonic GH5 and the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. I used a couple of cheap speed lights on the white muslin background, a monolight to the right of the frame in a huge white umbrella as my main light, and a second mini-monolight, at half the relative power, over to the left of the frame, in an even bigger umbrella. I used one tiny speed light to light the talent from the back. That light was used directly and was dialed down to about 1/16th power. It's just the barest twinkle of backlight....

9.05.2017

I just had to go out and do a quick test of a lens I'll probably use less than most of my other lenses. It's the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm.



As most loyal readers probably know I think of wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses as an afterthought. But when shooting commercial work there are often requests to, "get the whole lab, from side to side, in the shot." Or, "Can you get this entire group in the shot from about 10 feet away?" Or, "Let's shoot this scene from inside the car/truck/plane/boat." And in those situations client retention does call for some focal length flexibility. In my full frame Canon days my widest lens was the 20mm f2.8 and I used it whenever I needed to do architecture. With the full frame Sonys I try to make everything fit into the 24mm wide end of the 24-70mm zoom but use the Rokinon 14mm when I know I'll have time to spend correcting its massive distortion...(a lens profile in Lightroom is a big help). 

So now that I've dived into the Panasonic cameras and am putting together what I think will be a video centric imaging system I've decided not to dance around the need for some wide angle coverage and to buy a lens that simplifies that kind of photography. There were really two choices: the Olympus 7-14mm Pro series lens and the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm. I chose the Panasonic/Leica for three reasons (of which only two are cogent and only one is a deal maker....). First off I liked the industrial design of the lens. It looks cool. Don't discount cool looks entirely. Design is, by nature, somewhat sneaky in that it makes a certain statement. The Panasonic/Leica says, "Well integrated with the camera." 

My second reason for buying it is my theory that while Olympus and Panasonic cameras will read each other's lens firmware maybe Panasonic camera has some special sauce sprinkled in that allows it to optimize the wide performance of the lens just a little bit more. And finally, most importantly, I can stick a 67mm variable neutral density filter right on the front of the lens while the Olympus requires a whole new, fumbly apparatus with which to use filters at all. 

I didn't want to wait until the 30 day return privilege at Precision Camera passed me by to check out the lens performance so after a meeting about a video project with my favorite producer/director I headed downtown to shoot random wide shots of random stuff. I also stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a couple of Lemon Hazelnut Scones (LHS) for afternoon tea with my favorite art director/designer and to have some sushi for lunch. 

I came home and put four dozen files into Lightroom and looked as them dispassionately. The lens is sharp, the software correction works well. There's no discernible loss of sharpness in the corners at f5.6 (which is a good f-stop at which to shoot wide images) and the lens resolves nice detail even at the widest setting. In short, the lens is perfect for the limited use it will probably see on my cameras. But it's good to have it in the bag for those "just in case" moments. Not what I would consider a sexy lens but one which will round out the image capabilities of the Panasonic package. 





Conjoining a GH5 camera body with a Contax/Yashica Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens and then throwing caution to the wind and shooting mostly at f2.0 and f2.8.


It's fun to mix and match. I've been playing around with the Panasonic GH5 cameras for a week or so and have found the Olympus Pro series lenses I bought to be amazingly sharp. Same with the Panasonic 8-18mm lens, but I felt the need to fill in with some speed in the portrait/short tele area of my lens kit for these cameras. Having already dropped kilo dollars on the basics for the system I was reticent to drop more cash on something stop gap (saving up for the Nocticron...) so I rummaged around in one of the equipment drawers and found my Zeiss 50. I just happened to have an adapter to mount it onto m4:3rds cameras and in moments we were all hooked up and on our way. 

Early on I decided that I'd like to try shooting the lens close to its maximum aperture because that's where I thought I'd get the most use out of it on real shoots --- as the lens to grab when I need an extra stop of light, or a little less depth of field, when shooting available light. I pretty much stuck to f2.0 and f2.8 and enabled the GH5's automatic shutter selection. This would allow the camera to switch to the high speed, electronic shutter when the light levels maxed out the mechanical shutter's 1/8,000th. 

Most of the sunlit shots sent the camera into electronic shutter territory. The one just below, shot at f2.0 required 1/32,000th of a second exposure. I hardly worried about subject movement with this shot.... But what I was interested to see was the lens performance on a sensor much smaller than the original 35mm frame for which this lens was originally designed. 

I was pleased....













The camera and lens handled each other beautifully. 



9.04.2017

Lighting Mr. Hooper.


It's always all about the big, spot main light. For this portrait of a very accomplished theatrical talent I used a large softbox over to the right side of the frame. I realized though that getting the light in as close as I wanted it (approximately the same distance to subject as the diagonal measure of the light itself...) I would risk burning out his left shoulder. I used a Westcott FastFrame with a two stop net between the bottom, rear quarter of the softbox and his shoulder, feathering it so it would not cause an obvious drop in overall exposure. This allowed me to get the soft transition across his face and not worry about over lighting my subject on the main light side. I used a 50 inch, round, pop-up diffuser on the shadow side as passive fill and one light, dialed way down, on the background to bring it up just a hair.

The frame is cropped down from a 3:2 aspect ratio. I used a Sony A7Rii and an FE 85mm f1.8 to make the image. The camera was set to uncompressed Raw.

The main light is the Neewer Vision 4 battery powered monolight and the background light is the Godox AD200 using the standard reflector with its front diffuser.

If you don't like the expression on this image (I do...) then I have 519 others to choose from. Across four wardrobe changes.