7.12.2018

Just re-read something I wrote in 2016 for the blog and it was like someone tossed a bucket of cold water on my head. Again. Here, read it:

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2016/02/changing-gears-is-sometimes-about.html

Here's a pretty photo to look at instead. Just in case you've exceeded your reading quota for the day.


A PhotoShoot That Took a Long, Long Time. Two Cameras Systems and Three Rehearsals Later....


Zach Theatre is producing "Beauty and the Beast" and it's been a rugged slog for me this week. Not that it's particularly hard to be a theater photographer but it's hard to know sometimes when to stop.

Let me explain.

This production required some large and complex set pieces; a big castle that would sit on the turntable at the Topfer Theatre meant that it needed to be finished out in 360 degrees. There was a large, live band. There were fog machines and amazingly complex lighting and effects. The costumes were amazing and intricate. And the cast was numerous.

I decided at some point, probably while walking around aimlessly in the heat, that I'd really like to shoot the marketing photographs at the dress rehearsal and tech rehearsal with my two Nikon D800 cameras. On reflection I remembered that we generally had an audience at our invited dress rehearsals and that the Nikons are far from silent. I decided to finally order an accessory I've gone back and forth about for well over a year; a Camera Muzzle. I found the link on Amazon and ordered one. It's a soft-sided semi-blimp that reduces the sound of shutter clicks by enclosing the camera in a very well padded (and roomy) case. There's even

7.10.2018

How small a camera do YOU really want? Is there a smaller size limit that makes a camera unusable for you?

The photographer in this image has average sized hands. 

Love the web. It has an iron clad memory and no memory at all. You can go back and find just about everything ever written in the web but it requires you to actually go back and look. It has no memory at all in that people arrive daily to certain specialty sites and their understanding of say, photography, starts on the day of their arrival. To them, there is no history.

I wrote something over the weekend about Nikon's upcoming mirrorless announcement and was trashed as someone who is "a dinosaur" "permanently welded to ancient DSLR technology" "unable to understand the advantages of EVFs" and so much more. Apparently I have no standing to predict or suggest future camera designs because I (supposedly) have no experience or understanding of the whole magical miracle of mirrorless cameras. Really?

My desire for the new mirrorless Nikon, for whatever new camera hits the market, is that it be large enough to comfortably held and used for long periods of time, and this desire is a result of having owned, nearly eight years ago, a full little Nikon V1 system, complete with pixie sized lenses. It was novel at the time and it was only hampered in image quality by a somewhat noisy one inch, 10 megapixel sensor. 

From a handling point of view the camera was not optimal for heavy use, daylong use, quick use, etc. It was a sweet handbag camera and a perfect travel camera for someone who might take a couple dozen well considered images in a day. For someone shooting hundreds or thousands of images in a day the small size was ironclad insurance that you would have hand cramps by the end of the day. 

I'm hoping Nikon understands the need for a camera to have a certain size in order to work effectively and comfortably.

Please understand that my "request" is not some mean or "bitter" reaction to progress nor a "red flag" of me "aging out" of the industry and being "wedded" to old technology and being unwilling to change. 

A quick look through the 3710 blog entries I've written over the last nine years would inform newcomers that not only have I owned, and extensively used, the Nikon V1 mirrorless system but also the first models of Olympus and Panasonic m4:3rds cameras; including: EP-2, EP-3, EP-5, OMD EM5, OMD EM5ii, G5, G6, GH3, GH4, GH5 (still in current inventory),  and also the Sony Nex-7, Sony 6300, Sony A72, Sony A7R2, and many, many one inch sensor cameras. All purchased with my cash, all used for months and months before moving on. If I say something about the handling of one of these cameras it's not fictional conjecture but the result of lots of time spent with the product. 

Mirrorless rocks. The Panasonic GH5 cameras are my go-to system of the moment. 

The Nikons work for lots of interesting stuff. I hope they survive as a camera company and that their new model is workable and lovable. 

I sense some jealousy from some people who write most virulently about my shortcomings. I'm lucky to be able to afford whatever cameras I want and to trade them whenever I please. That doesn't mean I don't understand the features and benefits of each ---- for me.

Here's my honest question for power users: Do you really want cameras to get smaller and smaller? Is there a bottom limit? Is there a point at which your cameras is too small to easily use? Let me know.



7.09.2018

Image for an ad campaign for dermatologists. In studio. Austin.

©kirk tuck.

Change or die. When people ask me about camera brands I think about the second "Thor" movie from Marvell. The scene in which Odin asks an almost defeated Thor, (who is convinced that not having his magic hammer will lead to his defeat), "Are you the God of Hammers?" 

Odin reveals that Thor's hammer is not the source of Thor's power but just a tool to help him channel that power. As photographers we get to use whatever cameras we want to channel our powers, we are not wed to our current cameras for life. Only Loki worships the brands.











Debate at the Vatican.

© kirk tuck.

Actress in Studio.

©kirk tuck.


Making film for the printing press.

©kirk tuck.


Photograph of dancer's feet.

©kirk tuck


Test lenses with your own usages in mind. Not through the eye of a reviewer checking all the boxes...

Ballet practice at Zach Theatre. 

I love reading lens reviews by good writers, and the reviews are usually both accurate and at the same time not always cogent to my photographic needs. Here's a case in point, I wanted a lens for my Nikon cameras that could handle the longer end of the focal length ranges; the 70-300mm area mostly. The Nikons are a second system for me (after the Panasonics) and I didn't want to dig in too deeply as I did the last time I owned a little collection of Nikon stuff. My belief is that many of the less expensive options in lens from Nikon are more than sufficient for most tasks and that the very expensive lenses in each category represent a poor expense, unless you constantly use the high end lenses at their tip of the spear performance range. 

If I were an indoor sport photographer shooting in dimly lit arenas then the faster aperture of the 70-200mm f2.8 lenses would seal the deal for me; but I'm not. I cover different kinds of work and, for the most part, I rarely have to follow fast action in poor light so I am loathe to spend something like $3,000 on a lens unless I know I'll be using it at its peak potential over and over again. 

It's funny how the reputation of lenses can change over time as well. The first generation of the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lenses were heralded by less careful reviewers as a miraculous new optic that changed the paradigm of fast, medium telephoto zooms forever!!! Most people bought that view point  and repeated it. Until it was found that the lens had severe breathing issues. As one focused closer and closer to the minimum focus distance with the lens set at 200mm the actual focal length shifted all the way down to 135mm. Then followed some better testing methodologies and it was found that the Canon equivalent, while at least as sharp, did not change focal lengths with closer focusing. The initial reviewers revised their premature worship for the Nikon lens and Nikon has just now caught up to Canon on their third try...

Consider a lens that I've been playing with for a while. It's the Nikon 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G VR. It was introduced to much fanfare in 2006 or 2007. It was formulated for full frame at a time when many of the Nikon lenses were designed mostly for DX (APS-C) cameras. It had an ED element. At the time the reviews were pretty uniformly positive. Thom Hogan called it, "Highly Recommended."

It was not an inexpensive lens in its time, priced around $750. It was enormously popular because it handled a good range and did so with very good performance over most of the common metrics. it was much lighter than the "pro" lenses. It had capable VR. But, like many longer zooms, part of its design compromise was a slight decline in overall image quality near the long end of focal length range. During the first few years of its existence this was accepted as being a marginal tick against what was an excellent overall performer. 

Lazy writers grabbed ahold of the idea that the performance was less than perfect at the long end and amplified that idea until it became the one flaw for which the lens became known. The lens, once a great choice for a wide range of photographers, is now relegated to used shelves at the princely asking price of between $200 and $250 for a mint condition copy.

Being a gear contrarian I couldn't help but pick one up. I went to Precision Camera to find one and was amazed that they had four used copies, all priced at $249. I picked the cleanest, most sparkly, and happiest looking one in the bunch and bought it. After reading reviews I expected to be punished by a performance at 300mm that would make the bottom of a Coke bottle look like a better optical option. 

Imagine my surprise when I tested the lens on a Nikon D800e and found it to be, actually, quite satisfactory at 280-300mm and excellent at every focal length between 70 and about 240mm. And I generally use lenses wide open these days so that's were I test them.

Satisfied that the lens would embarrass me less than my own technique shortcomings I started to use it on all kinds of commercial jobs. Anything I shot in full sun, mostly at one stop down from wide open, was great. Focus acquisition was fast and accurate and the VR worked nicely. The big test for my use was in the dark and poorly lit rehearsal studio at Zach Theatre. The space is big and the ceilings about thirty feet high. The lighting all comes from older florescent fixtures affixed to the ceiling. I worked with my usual exposure triangle, first setting a handholdable shutter speed (1/125th), aperture wide open at f5.6 which resulted in the need for an ISO setting of between 3200 and 6400. 

When I examine the image above at its full size (images here are uploaded at 2198 pixels on the long side) from the Nikon D800e I can see perfectly rendered, individual strands of hair on the one young woman who is in sharp (intended) focus. I can see the weave in the fabric of her tank top. In short, the image passes the "use test" for my intended purposes. 

It's also light enough to use all day long. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this twelve year old lens is the end all and be all of 35mm optics, and I'm not saying the extra two stops of aperture wouldn't be critical for sports or other high motion shots. What I'm trying to get to is the idea that fewer shots need the "absolute best" performance one can buy and many, many shooting situations can be well done with lesser than state of the art tools. 

My take is that one should be able to judge a lens (or camera) based on how that person works. What that person's photographic interests are. What level of perfection they are compelled to achieve and how much they can afford to spend on the effort. The 70-300mm did not mutate itself over the its retail life time from a "pristine optic" that was "highly recommended" into a pile of crap that no one in their right mind should consider using. We have more or less just fallen victim to the sales mantra of a new medium = sales guys who leverage the web to convince us that we can not drive unless it's in a Maserati.... Not so, a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry still work fine for daily commuters; and that's who most of us are as photographers.

If you are wiling to test with an open mind you will often find treasures of a slightly earlier time that are more than adequate for the job you have at hand ---- and often for a fraction of the price of the newest and shiniest lens.

I get it. I get it. You are a sports guy shooting in the far north of the U.K. in the dead of winter in a blizzard at dusk and you need every photon you can capture just to see an image at ISO 25,000. I'm a guy in Austin, Texas who has to buy lots of expensive variable ND filters just to be able to shoot at reasonable apertures in the blazing sun. Buy what you need. I won't judge. 

7.08.2018

Sunday morning stream of consciousness. Another D700 joins the team.

Ben and the Leaf A7i Digital Camera.

Thursday, last week, was a lot of fun for me. I had nothing pressing to do. The hoopla of Independence Day was past. I had signed up to photograph the kid's programs at long time client, Zach Theatre, and I was ready for a day spent playing with two cameras, three lenses and no shot list, no minute by minute schedules.

I clipped my official, silver colored Zach name badge onto my shirt pocket, picked up a magnetic key card and spent the day walking between the theater's three stages, two rehearsal halls and two temporary classrooms. I was aiming to get a representative sampling of the program's participants; kids from five years old to high school age, and I was looking for a nice mix of activities; from acting to dancing to playful improvisation. 

The theater will use the images to promote their programs and recruit students from across every neighborhood in Austin. 

I started in the biggest rehearsal hall where the kids were learning the basics of ballet and where the theater had set up about forty feet of portable ballet bars against which to practice the various dance positions. Since the kid weren't moving fast here it was a great place to concentrate on tighter compositions of individual kids concentrating on their poses and showing off a bit of innate physical grace. I started off shooting with an 85mm 1.8 lens but I felt like I had to get too close to get the tight compositions I wanted and my proximity seemed to invasive. I then opted for the 70-300mm VR and it allowed me to comp as tightly as I wanted without being right in the mix.

That lens, the 70-300mm afs ED VR has gotten mixed reviews over time. When it was first introduced reviewers like Thom Hogan called it, "Highly recommended." Other reviews claimed it to be very, very sharp at every f-stop up to and past the 300mm mark, giving up only a bit of sharpness as one neared the maximum 300mm.  Over time, as the fashion of "no holds barred" everything must be the best in the universe took over the photo universe a new mythology started to take hold in which the 70-300mm lens was "okay" but "not in the ballpark" with the $3,000 Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AE-P etc. lens. It seemed as though someone reached in and threw a switch which turned a good lens bad just because much pricier lenses could perform better at the edges of the use envelope.

At first, because of the revisionist reviews, I was reticent to use the lens at its longer settings but as I started shooting I started ignoring all the written metrics and started just enjoying the reach and the scope of the lens in my hands. Ditto with camera noise. Soon I was routinely pegging the lens over to 300mm and shooting it with reckless abandon; handheld. The light in the hall dictated that I abandon fear of image noise and head right into ISO 6400 territory with both my D700 and my D800e cameras. After reading the hysterics on the web I was almost certain that I'd spend hours doctoring files peppered with chroma noise but I was happy this isn't what happened. 

The beauty of a lens you can use at 200, 250 or even 300mm is the ability to compress images in interesting ways and to also pull out individual subjects by rendering them in sharp focus while dropping the objects around them nicely out of focus.

The 85mm was great for closer, tighter spaces. But I never felt the need to go wider than 70mm during my day of photography.

With the Nikon D800e I felt comfortable using the auto WB even though I was shooting medium sized fine Jpegs with that body. I could tell from spot checking the rear panel with a Hoodman loupe that they color was quite usable. The D700 isn't quite as good at nailing auto WB in hard mixed light situations so in those venues, when using the D700, I made custom white balance settings by doing a preset from a Lastolite white balance target. 

I think the secret of working with kids of all ages is to always have a sincere smile on your face, to be calm and relaxed at all times and to not care too much about making every shot work. It's truly a situation in which the mode and affect you convey are more important than worrying the technical stuff too much. A vibe of being overly concerned with nuts and bolts is contagious and it makes the kids feel like like being photographed isn't as much fun as they otherwise thought. Being mellow and ready to move on if something isn't working perfectly is the preferred method. Things fall apart and re-group all day long. If you didn't nail that perfect expression at 10:15 am so other kiddo will give you and even better expression to try and capture five minutes later.

I used to work with a small camera bag but I used my small, Amazon Basics, photo backpack instead. I'm using some heavier, traditional cameras these days and along with the full frame sensor size comes bigger, heavier lenses. The backpack makes for balanced portage as, as the day went on and I used the 70-300mm more and more I found myself dipping into the backpack for stuff less and less often. 

At the end of the day I had captured about 1200 images. I narrowed the take down to 600 and sent them along to the theater. The marketing director was very happy and had an immediate use for three of the photos. The catalog will serve the theater for at least a year or so and give the marketing team a nice folder of images for fast breaking project. 

The business adopts a second D700. 

It's embarrassing but I have to admit that I've loved using the first D700 I bought, on a lark, a few months ago. I owned one years ago when they first hit the market but I guess I wasn't ready for it back then. Now, after having been through so many systems, the old school nature of the D700 has much more appeal to me know. It's so much more a match to the old film based systems I worked on in the early days of my photography. The D700 is heavy but so solid. And while I own two cameras that are 36+ megapixels each I've come to understand that a great looking 12 megapixel file can also be a very good thing.

On Friday I took a walk and made some images with the D700. When I examined them in detail I liked what I saw very much. The huge pixel pitch and the enormous size of the pixels gives a different look than files from cameras with much higher pixel density and smaller pixels. I can't explain it technically but the difference seems apparent to me. The files feel tighter and the edges sharper. 

The interesting thing for me was comparing similar files taken in crappy light on Thurs. While it's obvious on a 27 inch screen that the D800e files have more resolution it's not the astounding difference most would expect when they hear that one camera has THREE TIMES the number of pixel more than another camera. While it's true you can blow up the files from a 36 megapixel camera to larger sizes you really have to look at linear pixels to understand that you're getting slightly less than twice as big a file if you just compute the number of pixels on the long side of the rectangles.

The reality is that a 12 megapixel files makes a perfect 10 by 15 inch print at about 300 dpi. Can you go bigger on a print? Oh heck yes. Even on my older Kodak DCS 760 (Six megapixels) I was able to have prints made as large as 30 by 40 inches that looked great at appropriate viewing distances. But cameras are so much more than just the sum of their resolution. For anything we're looking at on a Retina screen that's 27 inches across, our 6 megapixel cameras were the tipping point of sufficiency and 12 megapixels is generous. Bigger than that and we're constantly in the weeds of interpolated screen images.

However I want to rationalize my choices I really wanted a second D700 body. The one I bought previously has a bit over 100,000 shutter actuation and I wanted something closer to "new." A week or so ago I was in Precision Camera looking over the used inventory when I came across a mint looking D700. We checked the shutter actuation count and found it to be just a hair over 10,000 clicks. Barely used. I was grappling with too many other things at the time, all financial, and just didn't have the bandwidth to do the amount of self-inflicted justification to buy the camera at the time. But yesterday was different. And the camera was still there. A brief hiatus in the ongoing popularity of this particular model...

The price was $600. The camera was put aside on the hold shelf for me and I headed out to pick it up. When I got to the store (God Bless Bricks and Mortar Camera Stores) to pay for and collect the camera the sales associate informed me that it was "Used Equipment Day" at the store and that ALL used equipment was 10% off. I walked out of the store having spent $540 on a nearly new D700 and with a smile plastered across my face. I only wish I had more time to work this year (I've spent about 45 days this year in San Antonio working on legal and estate issues for my parents...) because the store also had a used Hasselblad 205 TCC with prism and a 110mm f2.0 FE series Zeiss Planar lens, all for about $3300. I could have saved some cash if I had picked it up yesterday. 

But....film?... probably not. There are more D700's out there that could use a good home....