12.06.2017

A quick and anecdotal note about choosing mirrorless cameras or DSLR cameras. What do the people who sell them buy?

Image from this year's Eeyore's Birthday Party in Austin, Texas

I was at our local community college for an advisory board meeting today at which we discussed the state of photographic education as it relates to our school. We looked at short term plans, the architectural drawings for a vast new studio complex that will open to students and faculty in two years, and much more. The photo program is one of the biggest and best in the country for two year associate degrees, it's well funded and well equipped. They've been at the forefront of the technology side in photographic educations for quite a while... but still also teach traditional photographic techniques and even printmaking.

As part of our annual meeting we advisors also pull out our crystal balls and try to predict the future, based on current trends. The overall consensus is that the market for photographers, both commercially and direct to consumers, is improving and that in the future the photographers who will be most successful, financially, will be the ones who are able to incorporate video, motion graphics and graphic design into their business offerings. No miraculous insight there; we've been saying that in the blog since 2010. 

After we covered all the agenda items we moved on to lunch and a less structured and more social give and take. 

The subject of camera technology came up and we looked to our fellow advisory board member, the professional representative from the biggest camera store between Los Angeles and New York City. We were curious what trends he is now seeing in the retail sector vis-a-vis camera sales. More specifically, what's selling now and which market segment is doing better: DSLRs or Mirrorless (or, as I say, "mirror-free")?

He smiled and said, "This should sum it up for you. We have 14 sales associates who work the counters at the store. Of the 14 there are 13 who have gotten rid of other systems in order to move totally to mirrorless camera offerings. There's one person left who still shoots with a DSLR."

So, the take away from this small discussion was pretty straightforward. The people whose full time jobs are to counsel and sell cameras to the general public are themselves strong proponents of the newer technology. Or at least 13 out of 14. 

It's interesting to hear this point of view since what we see on the big sites is a stalwart defense of the traditional camera companies and a minimization of the obvious shift in the markets. 

Discuss?


Pondering the utility of very fast lenses for formal portraits. Hmmm.


Photographed with a Nikon 105mm f2.0 DC lens on a Kodak DCS 760 C camera. 
Early days of digital. 

I'm in love with the idea of using very fast short telephoto lenses to make portraits but I'm a bit conflicted right now about their ultimate utility for more routine, commercial headshots. 

I think it's safe to say that a lot of people love the look of a portrait where the eyes and lips are rendered sharply but the depth of field is so narrow that the background, and indeed, and even parts of the subject just seem to melt way into a fascinating blur.  It's a style that gets a lot of play across the media landscape. 

The easiest way to get the look is to use a longer lens than "normal" and to keep the camera-to-subject distance relatively close. (Not too close or you risk distortion...). The final step is to use the lens as close to its biggest aperture as possible. 

I'll be honest, it's a look I like in a lot of portrait work but I've always had a bit of an issue getting the look just right while using flash. One of the reasons I headed into using so much continuous light over the years, and so often, was to have the ability to dial in just the right f-stop with the easy and nearly endless combination of f-stops and shutter speeds that continuous light sources enable. When I set up studio flash shots I was limited in how wide an aperture I could use by the minimum power setting available in studio flash units,  the intensity of unwanted ambient light, or the limitations of using fast shutter speeds (with focal plane shutters) for flash sync. 

Working at f1.2 or 1.4 with flash just seemed to be a big hassle. Especially when the warm light from my modeling lights polluted the clean, daylight balanced light of the flash. If I turned off the modeling lights then focusing became problematic (yes, even with DSLRs....).

With newer flashes and high FP flash I can work with wider apertures and flash easier now than in the past but I still find it a bit daunting. 

Which brings me to the point of this post: Are fast aperture lenses wasted when doing flash lit portraits? 
I still find that if I use low ISOs and higher shutter speeds I still get alternative light contamination from windows, the modeling lights and the practical lights on the location. The only way around it is to block light sources with black curtains and to dim modeling lights after fine focusing. It's all a pain in the butt compared to shooting with LEDs or even tungsten lights. 

In most situations I'm not interested in using available light to make commercial portraits because most of the light I find just hanging around in modern offices comes from the ceiling and is a mix of "can" lights with compact florescent bulbs mixed with traditional "in the ceiling" fluorescent fixtures. The colors rarely match and in most situations there's also an incursion of blue daylight coming in to make things more interesting (and less controllable). 

But the whole reason to light someone is to sculpt the light and bring dimension to their face. It's also a great way to eliminate all other conflicting light sources. 

In a controlled environment I can choose a high enough shutter speed to kill most non-photographer supplied light sources but if I want to shoot at f1.2 I might need shutter speeds at around 1/250th, even at ISO 100. I guess it's time for me to go through this whole learning cycle one more time....especially now that electronic flashes have gotten so much more flexible and controllable. And now that modeling lights (more and more often) are LEDs that are daylight balanced. And especially now when Olympus and Panasonic are offering lenses with fast apertures that are actually very sharp even when used wide open. 

After doing this for so long it's kind of humbling to go back and re-learn again and again, but that's the nature of the game. 

If you have any secret tricks for shooting portraits with super wide open lenses and electronic flash I really wish you would share them with me. I'll try them out. Anything to keep the work from looking stale.



12.05.2017

A VSL reader asked how I adapted a 50mm Carl Zeiss lens to my Panasonic G85. A quick explanation.


The Contax 50mm f1.7 Planar, made for the Contax Y/C manual focus mount is widely regarded as a stellar normal lens for full frame, 35mm format cameras. I bought a copy over a year ago and used it frequently on a Sony A7Rii, a Sony A7ii and a Sony A6300, all with great results. While I recently dumped the Sony cameras I was not foolish enough to get rid of the little collection of Contax Y/C lenses I've acquired.

Shortly after taking delivery of the twin GH5s I ordered a Fotodiox branded Contax Y/C to micro four thirds lens adapter. It cost me about $20 and allows me to use the 50mm f1.7 lens on any micro four thirds camera.  This is a great thing but comes with several caveats. First, I have no real way of knowing just how precise and absolutely planar the mount might be. I am taking a leap of faith that this sort of machining should be child's play in an age of unprecedented precision. I taped up the graph paper on the wall and lined up the camera as well as I could and tried to look for softness in one corner or another. Nothing leapt out at me as horrifyingly out of whack.

The second thing you need to be aware of is that for $20 you are NOT getting a Metabones smart adapter, you are getting a totally dumb adapter. This means that the camera can't record any metadata for the lens you have attached, won't know the focal length, won't know the aperture at which you are using the lens and ----- absolutely won't autofocus the lens for you.

Most of these things don't matter to me but may be very, very important to you.

On some cameras you'll need to dive into

A quick and positive observation about Adobe Lightroom's handling of Panasonic GH5 raw files.

Audio Accessory of the Year. With its attendant camera...

I was photographing for a client yesterday, a law firm in downtown Austin, and we were shooting people images for their website re-design. One of the partners who is taking the lead on the project asked me to shoot all of the portraits (both set up and candid) as squares. I was more than happy to accommodate his request but I was preparing myself for the usual task of re-cropping the images in post production. 

With past camera systems having the ability to crop square in the finder meant that your Jpegs opened up in your post processing program as genuine squares but the raw files opened "full gate" and had little lines to indicate the square crops that you thought you wanted. This meant that each raw file had to be handled and cropped individually. 

Imagine my surprise when I ingested 525 Panasonic raw files into the latest rev of Lightroom and watched as the program wrote previews as squares; just as I'd shot them. The raw files could be changed into "full gate" files but the default was ready to go squares just as

12.03.2017

Winding down the year. Kirk's pick for his favorite lens(es) of the year.


There are two lenses that have been stand out lenses for me this year. Since I am bringing these two lenses to your attention I should point out that my embrace of them, in this calendar year, does not mean they were both introduced this year. One is relatively new while the other has been around, and earning great praise, for several years now.

No reason to belabor this; the two lenses are the Olympus Pro series 12-100mm f4.0 and the Olympus Pro series 40-150mm f2.8. Both are big, heavy (for their format) zoom lenses and both share a number of attributes. The primary benefit of both is sheer image quality. It's visible (at least to me...) when compared to every day lenses in either the Panasonic or Olympus systems. Both of these gems are sharp, detailed and nuanced. They represent a high water mark, as far as image quality is concerned, for micro four thirds system zoom lenses. 

Both lenses share a mechanical clutch system that supplies real manual focusing instead of the usual, fly-by-wire system. This means that one can pre-focus with assurance, rack focus in video with repeatable results and even shift from focus point to focus point by hand with repeatable results. That's a wonderful thing and a major reason that I also have the 45mm and 17mm counterparts stuck in my head (and in my shopping cart). 

I have shot at least 10,000 images with each lens and I've found the results to be limited only by my own skill set. When I apply appropriate technique; taking time to focus with diligence and to put the camera and lens systems on tripods, I get results that I would not have imagined. This should not really come as a surprise to me as a careful reading of posts from long ago would indicate that Olympus has been making masterful lenses for smaller sensor cameras for a long time. Back in the era when Olympus made Four Thirds cameras (they had mirrors and a different lens mount than their current cameras) they made a Pro series of lenses that included stuff like a 150mm f2.0, a 35-100mm f2.0 and a 14-35mm f2.0 that were (and still are) all spectacular. Sadly, the sensors of the day were not up to showing off the sheer potential of those lenses. If anything, the current lenses are even better.

I'll start with the first Pro Olympus lens I bought this year. It was the 12-100mm f4.0. I bought it hoping to cover the range of useful optics for my work with one solution. I worried that such a wide ranging zoom might not be up to the task of making technically good images across its vast focal range but my worries were unfounded. I use this lens when doing hand held video with the Panasonic GH5, I use it when shooting product and people against white (because of its range AND it's resistance to obvious flare and veiling flare. I use it for event work combined with on camera flash; and I even use it for general street shooting. In most capacities I use it at its widest (f4.0) aperture because it's proven itself to be sharp even when used wide open and, at its widest f-stop it's the equivalent depth of field that one would get on a full frame 24-200mm lens at f8.0 for each angle of view. Perhaps not the best tool for dropping backgrounds quickly out of focus but certainly great for making sure everything that needs to be sharp in a frame stays within the system's depth of field.

When I shoot stuff that needs to be perfect (or as perfect as any photo can be) I stop down to f5.6 or 6.3 or 7.1 to achieve the absolute best of which the lens is capable. It's a dandy process and has delivered results in all kinds of conditions.

Speaking of conditions, both of the zooms I'm discussing are water/weather resistant. While I don't spend a lot of time shooting in the rain I do end up far from the car, shooting location stuff for clients, and sometimes get caught without a rain cover handy. I've been caught out in the rain with this lens (attached to a GH5) twice now and have found no ill effects from the exposure. 

From lens cap to lens hood and all the way down to the other end of the lens barrel I can testify that this is a remarkably able and handy lens and isn't really big or heavy at all when compared to lenses made for larger formats.

The second lens is the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. It's a lens about which I have nothing at all bad to say. It's sharp at every distance and every focal length at which I've employed it. But it goes beyond sharp into intricately detailed. When I put the lens on a tripod (with its integrated tripod mount) and take portraits using a large soft box and electronic flash, I get a level of detail that rivals that of any camera in and around its resolution (in the range of 18-24 megapixels). While neither lens is cheap both are well built and solid. 

I've used the 40-150mm at its wider end (40-60mm) for a number of portraits and have used the longer end (100-150mm) for much documentation of live theater productions and in each situation I've have gotten better files than I expected. The lens is satisfyingly sharp wide open. Becomes close to perfect by f5.6 and rewards me with better files than I imagine my talent should supply. 

If I could have only one lens to shoot with for all of my assignments it would be the 12-100mm for its wide range and high degree of performance. If I were unconstrained by commerce and wanted only one lens with which to do my own art it might be the 40-150mm. I say might because I also have a long love for the "normal" focal length; the 50mm for full frame or the 25mm for micro four thirds and I have not yet worked with the 25mm f1.2 Pro lens from Olympus.

Had I gone in a different direction I might have chosen to pair a different lens with the 40-150mm. I might have selected the 12-40mm Olympus Pro but it would be hard to give up the range and proven performance of the 12-100mm for the potential benefit of one additional stop of speed and the need to always carry two different lenses instead of being able to pack down to just one camera body and lens and still feel secure in knowing I have most working situations covered. 

Everyone comes to this craft with different need parameters. Many times these parameters are based on one's shooting history. The need for flexibility is ingrained in commercial shooters of a certain level, hence zooms feel like the right answer. 

If I were doing photography specifically for myself and no one else I'd love to take the bold move of packing just two lenses and making due with the 17mm f1.2 Pro and the 45mm f1.2 Pro lenses. Along with two identical bodies, those two would make a wonderful package for an artist. 

I know myself really well though. I would quickly succumb to the siren's song of the 25mm f1.2 Pro as well. Something about that focal length just makes perfect visual sense... But if I was shooting just for me I might want to pair all these optics with the Olympus OMD EM1.2. Logic insists that they are "optimized" for their own flagship camera. That being said, the GH5 is the perfect compromise for someone like me; trying to straddle two different imaging industries....

Camera and lens selection is almost always a moving target. I am thankful I've found two lenses that alleviate so much of my indecision and mental turmoil...

By the way, neither of these two images are from either of the lenses mentioned here. They are both from another lens that's one of my favorites; the 42.5mm f1.7 Panasonic lens. Amazing for its size and price. I often, irrationally, think of picking up an extra one, just because....






12.01.2017

Price Drop+ New Project Inspires the Purchase of a Third Neewer Vision 4, Battery Powered Monolight.


Neewer Vision 4 Mono Light.

Several months ago I decided to get rid of an accumulation of Profoto, Elinchrom and Photogenic electronic flashes. I sold them off or traded them away for interesting but unrelated things and I was happy to see a hodgepodge of reflectors, speedrings and other geegaws exit the limited space of the studio. 

On a lark I bought a Neewer Vision 4 mono light that I saw and read about on Amazon.com. The ad copy said the light was designed and "engineered" in Germany, that it was totally powered by a large, lithium ion battery, and that it was capable of putting out 300 watt seconds of flash power 700 times in a row. On one charge. At $259 it sounded unbelievable. I bought one.

I used it several times to create some ads (with subject motion frozen) for Zach Theatre, using it along with some other, smaller, battery powered lights. I found the Neewer to be reliable and to put out a nice quality of light. I was still amazed that one could get that kind of power and flexibility for the price; especially after having purchased 30 years worth of Elinchrom and Profoto gear....

I got used to using the flash for a number of different projects (mostly on white backgrounds) and when I saw the same unit listed in mid-November, on Amazon, I noticed a price drop to $229 so I bought a second unit, along with a couple of speed rings and a collapsible 47 inch Octobank (Phottix). I've used the two lights as the main and secondary lights for even more projects since. 

Earlier this week I was looking for something I'd bought in my previous orders on Amazon (love the transaction records!) that I had sent to Ben at school (Illy coffee) and stumbled across the information about my purchase of the second light, along with a notice that the price per unit had now dropped to $199.00. I noted this and filed it away in the avaricious/acquisitive area of my brain. Later in the week I had a pre-production phone call about a confirmed photoshoot in which we'd need to freeze action of a person running, a person jumping through a banner and a person jumping and striking poses with the aid of a mini-trampoline. This was followed by a call from a law firm which wants to shoot a series of partner portraits outdoors. 

When I got off the second call I decided that it would be nice to have a third mono light with a high flash capacity and fast recycle times (instead of relying mostly on smaller, double A powered flashes) so I bought it one more time. At $199.00 it's a crazy bargain for me. It comes with a Bowen's mount reflector, a diffuser sock for the reflector, and a wireless remote trigger (which means I will now have two "back-up" remotes --- oh joy!).  It should be here early next week and I've already made a space for it in my Manfrotto flash case (wheeled for my hauling pleasure). 

As I stated previously (sorry you can't look up that review....), the only thing that vexes me about this product is the 30 to 45 second on time for the (LED) modeling light... But for the price it's still a screaming bargain in my estimation. 

Sometimes you use LED panels and sometimes you use electronic flash. All depends on your need to freeze motion in a photography for a particular collection of projects. Funny thing, looking back at the time in which I was shooting mostly with Profoto, I have spent more money on a single reflector from that Swedish company than the cost of this complete and ready-to-use flash unit. That certainly puts the cost into perspective for me...Bargain!

If you want one the $199 price sure beats the $259 price. Here's a link:




flash with included remote. The stand adapter doubles as a hand grip so you can 
have your tall assistant act as a human light stand; if necessary....



Chair Stacking on Second St.


This must be the work of that chair stacking cult I've recently read about.
They come into cities and just stack things. Mostly chairs but
sometimes also bar stools and even recliners!

Panasonic GH5 + Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 lens.

The Ongoing Battle Between "Need" and "Want."


I was intrigued when Olympus announced the 45mm f1.2 Pro lens a little while back. I asked my local dealer to put one on "hold" for me when they came in. He called me last Friday to let me know that a small number of the lenses had arrived and that one had been set aside for me. And all at once I was grappling with the same old conundrum: Is this something my business desperately needs? Or, is this something I think sounds really cool that I would really like to play with?

I did the logical thing. I put the 42.5mm Panasonic lens on my favorite GH5 and went out for a long walk through downtown this morning. I pointed my camera and lens at lots of stuff and made lots and lots of photographs. Now I have just spent some quality time looking at the images in Lightroom. Between this much cheaper lens and the older, manual focusing 50mm f1.7 Zeiss Yashica/Contax lens collection (we have three) in the equipment case I think I'll be okay. If a windfall comes in I'll capitulate and indulge in the new 45mm but for now I'm happy with the coverage I'm getting from these two (in house) focal lengths and the added comfort of also having this important focal length range covered by both of my existing Olympus Pro zoom lenses. 

Cleaning out the accrued mess of 20 years in my current office space. Man, we hold on to stuff for way too long....


11.30.2017

Sure, you thought you loved the new gear. How much do you love it a year down the road? The "One Year in Service" review of the Aputure Lightstorm LS-1 LED Light.


People get all giddy and euphoric when they buy new gear. Even though they are trading the money that they traded their time for they must feel as though they'll get ahead by purchasing this latest thing and that the promise of leveraging their new gear will offset the short term pain of earning, and then parting, with the hard won cash. I know I generally feel that way...

We typically enter into the process of an eventual (photography) transaction out of boredom. In my case I already owned some good LED lights and they were working pretty well on most of the video and still projects I used them on. But recklessly, I ventured on to the internet and started just, you know, looking around to see what might be new in the world of lighting (which is generally less costly than looking around at new lenses, which is generally less dangerous than looking at new cameras).

So, it was about a year ago; maybe a month or two longer, when my "research" brought me face to face with a new generation of LED lights that boasted higher output and much higher CRI's (color rendering index) than the lights in my existing inventory. One thing led to another and I started to fixate on the (almost unnoticed) short comings of the five or six lights I had in house. How could I possible survive with lights that bared crested the 90 CRI threshold when I could be working with lights that breezed by with CRIs of 95 to 96? How would I be able to look clients in the face

11.29.2017

Sony Savant, Gary Friedman, has launched his new book (the "platinum owner's manual" -my advertising construct) for the Sony RX10iv.

http://friedmanarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/one-amazing-incredible-camera-except.html

I'm supplying the link but am not directly involved nor harvesting affiliate cash. I've always found Gary's books to be well done, logical and easy to read. He's a clear voice in the photo world who seems capable of mastering any camera Sony can throw at him.

If you have an RX10iv and you'd like a very good tutorial this might be the right book for you.

WARNING: He quotes the nefarious Kirk Tuck in the introduction......