9.08.2018

Why do I so often talk about how much I like using the original Pen-FT 60mm f1.5 lens?

This is a shot I did at a night time rehearsal of an "Austin Shakespeare" in the park rehearsal. The lighting on the outside stage was primitive and dim, the hour = late, and the weather hot and humid. I was playing around at the time (2010) with an Olympus EPL-1 body fitted with an EVF finder and, via an adapter, an ancient, manual focusing Olympus 60mm f1.5 lens. These were early days for mirrorless but I really liked the concept and had been having great fun with the EP-2 camera.

I discovered an interesting thing about the VF-2 finder when using manual lenses. When focusing the screen would shimmer at the point of sharp focus! This made accurate focusing with my ancient half frame lens not only possible but, in some cases, faster than autofocus. I was shooting as the rehearsal was in progress and, because of the sparse and aging stage lighting, was trying to hold the camera steady around 1/30th of a second while using an aperture near f2.0. Surprisingly, our hit rate that evening was not embarrassing!

I hadn't used this lens much for nearly a decade before that because, other than my collections of older Pen FT half frame cameras from the 1970's, there were no other cameras on which the lens would work. I'd forgotten, or perhaps never been aware, of just how great a performer this lens was and is.

You need only click on the image to enlarge and then check out the detail of the butterflies in the actor's hair. Oh heck, you could also check out the actor's hair, remembering that this was a 12 megapixel camera with an ample anti-aliasing filter over the sensor....

I use the lens quite frequently now. Most recently I used it for two black and white, 4K video interviews. When my son saw a still frame from one of the interviews he nearly fell off his chair. It looked as though I'd done a perfect still photograph of one interview subject and we might have been looking at that high res image of it on the screen.

The ancient lens is perfect for video. It's sharp when I need sharp and then the background falls off into a luscious banquet of bokeh. Nice, soft, rounded bouquet of bokeh. Would I take a thousand dollars for that old lens? Not on your life! Do you have a recent German car you'd like to trade? Then we'll talk.

New stuff? Not seeing anything out there that's as nice. Sharper? Maybe. As nice? Nope.

Shooting portraits for my LED book, ten years ago. This one with a Canon camera. But not a new Canon camera.


Back in 2010 Amherst Media published the first book about LED lighting for photographers. Ever. It had samples from famous wedding photographer, Neil van Niekirk, and lots of lesser samples from the author; me. It was early days for LED light sources aimed at photographers and most of the affordable fixtures were made in China and didn't have much street credit with people who were obsessed with specification sheets. Oh, I mean photographic numerology... Most people's experiences weren't based on actual, personal use but were conjecture based on glancing and dated reviews of an early generation of tiny, cheap plastic LED panels.

The feedback I got from everyone I mentioned the book project to was that "all" LEDs had really bad color, and a deadly green spike was almost always unavoidable, so the lights could "never" be used for portrait work. Ever.

I plodded on, doing experimental shoots and gathering really wonderful LED lit portraits from friends and professional associates across the country. My memory about that time is that it coincided with my flirtation with Canon digital cameras. I had three different models and liked them for three different reasons. But I used the 7D (APS-C) along with a 70-200mm f4.0 Canon zoom to make the image above. We were in the studio using some inexpensive Chinese fixtures that had 512 small LEDs on a rectangular panel. I don't remember the exact price but I think each panel was about $200.

I came across this image of my friend, Selena, recently while cleaning up old hard drives and preparing them for short term storage ( you know, put them in a vacuum chamber, suck out all the contaminated air, seal into a non-porous, anti-magnetic storage containers filled with pure helium....just the routine archival regimen...) and I remembered all the bluster from the ignorati about the inability of LED lights to render a pleasant skin tone. I think a quick custom white balance got us right into the ball park. Not too hard to do if you read your camera's owner's manual... Ah, nostalgia for the early days of what is now very, very popular tech.

9.07.2018

It's pouring down rain. I'm waiting for the internet service person to come and upgrade my internet service. All hope is swirling down the storm drains.


I don't know why I didn't do something about my slow internet service before this week. I guess my use of big chunks of internet bandwidth to send things to clients was sporadic and unhurried enough that it was less arduous to just maintain the status quo and keep moving along with what I was used to. But the game plan changed when two clients, Dell and Ottobock Healthcare, booked me for photographic and video projects next week. Both events are tied to short deadlines and, after each event, there will be a small window of time in which to edit images, and b-roll video, and upload them (successfully) to a far off public relations company for near immediate distribution to various news media channels. I have no worries about editing down the images or creating the approximately 290 megabyte H.264 video component to send but I did start to worry about how long it would take to actually upload. I uploaded about 800 large files (approx. 20 megabytes apiece) about 16 Gb, on Saturday afternoon and it took the better part of eight hours to complete. I know that I'll be uploading a fraction of that amount next week but we have to make allowances for various technical setbacks and re-starts. And I'm always a bit leery where client deadlines are concerned. We haven't yet installed our back up broadband.......

(I do have a back up plan but it consists of sitting and having too much coffee at the local Starbucks while I steal their meek wi-fi....).

When I got my bill for my very meager, copper strand, broadband service yesterday I decided to act. Every recent arrival to our neighborhood had gotten hooked up to a fiber optic connection with at least 100 Megabits per second upload speed and most are paying about 33% less than I. It was time to join the crowd. ( I resisted previously mostly because my supplier, and the only other supplier to our neighborhood, used to take advantage of their near monopoly by insisting that we bundle any new internet service with television services and I am morally and constitutionally opposed to paying for something that comes through the air for free. Besides, who in their right mind wastes time watching television programming? Only compulsive sports addicts and news junkies... as far as I can tell....). 

I called the service center and used all my sense of long term customer privilege, and channeled my full sense of (unearned) entitlement, and negotiated for the new service, at the new, lower price, and resisted the push to have paid TV foisted upon me. I was successful in getting the order set up the way I want it. Now we need to get all the wiring and hookup done. 

As my two hour appointment window started to close, around one o'clock, I got a call from the technician. He was running late but would arrive within the half hour. He arrived along with the first wave of a downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. Yes. He must climb the phone pole to effect the installation. The rest of the work can be done in the house.... But there is still the pole. And there's rain. And thunder. And lightning. He's busy wiring everything he can in the interior space and we're waiting out the rain. 

I am an eternal pessimist where new services are concerned and always expect the worst. But the optimist in me hopes to be very pleasantly surprised. I'll let you know when we have rejoined the modern world and have internet service that's at least as fast as the neighbors. Maybe, if we all wish together, we can have terabyte level service like most S. Koreans enjoy. Our dream of being a first world nation....hmm.
view from the studio.


Better video camera handling. Those guys with the big shoulder mounted cameras had it right.

For decades I worked as a still photographer at events right next to my friends from a staging and production company. Many times I'd watch their video guys shooting "happy face" videos at big conventions and corporate road shows, or I'd watch them videotape a CEO on stage, switching live from their high-mag, tripod mounted cameras to various handheld cameras presenting closer views of the stage action. A director in the tech booth would switch on the fly between the various feeds and integrate the content, along with charts and graphs, onto giant screens on their side of the main stage. In this way the audience members (in a crowd of 1200 to 1500) would have a great view of the stage action. In fact, the view, because of the 12 by 30 foot screens, was good anywhere in the house.

As technology advanced I wondered why this company, which was quick to buy into the latest projection and sound equipment, still favored the larger, shoulder mounted ENG video cameras over the latest, small and hand holdable video cameras that weighed just a few pounds. I'd read the specs and pondered the footage from both styles of cameras and found them to be almost identical. And the company could have purchased four or five of the new Sony or Panasonic hand held video cameras for the price of each bigger, more traditional, shoulder mount cameras.

Well, to make a long story shorter, it's one thing to stick a camera on a tripod and just point it at a subject but it's an entirely different undertaking to hold a video camera steady enough over a three or four minute interview when it's just sitting in your shaky hands. Even with the best of image stabilization at your command. Just because your new Sony, Canon, Nikon or Panasonic has "state-of-the-art" image stabilization doesn't mean you become a solid pillar of stability while holding a camera in your two hands. But there are times when a little sway or movement is fine; actually desirable. But there is a difference between subtle and pleasing motion and the kind of footage you get from hand holding a camera in front of your face with no physical support.

What the video pros at the production company knew, even years and years ago, was that a good shoulder mounted camera makes optimal use of your body construction to provide a much more stable base for a video camera and allows for longer clip lengths with much less erratic motion than a strictly handheld camera.

I learn mostly through shattered hubris. I try to figure stuff out on my own and change when a good idea turns into disaster on the ground. Then I do some research and try again. I've successfully handheld short video clips (and by short I mean 10-20 seconds, max) with highly stabilized cameras like the Olympus EM-5ii and the Sony RX10iii but have been far less successful hand holding longer lenses on modestly stabilized "video" cameras such as the Sony A7Rii or a Nikon D810 with stabilized lenses. There's something about the two hand (death) grip and the desire to look through the EVF that, when combined, conspires against long term, overall stability.

Several years ago, in a spasm of experimentation, I bought a cheap shoulder mount and found it to be surprisingly good. It was branded as an Ikan and basically held the camera via a big clamp that cinched on one's upper back and on the front of one's rib cage. Once I learned to breath without moving the camera I was able to get much better footage than I ever had by just holding the camera in my hands (in any pose or configuration).

I used the cheap shoulder mount a lot with the GH5 and, along with that camera's image stabilization, have been very happy with the controlled content I was able to film. It was somewhat less stable (but not jittery) than a tripod or a good monopod set up but so much better than any naked grip I tried.

My friend, the full time, professional videographer/director, kidded me about how cheap I am when it comes to buying good tools for the trade. He looked at my plastic rig and laughed. I countered that I paid only $39 for the device and had used it on many jobs. He laughed and suggested that it would fall apart some day, and at the least appropriate moment. I scoffed but he was right...

Last week I used the Ikan shoulder mount to handhold a GH5S + Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens while I followed a CEO around the headquarters of his company. I was doing a completely documentary approach and nothing at all was scripted or set up. He would walk down the hallway, run into an engineer or person from finance and they'd have conversation. I moved in and around the conversation getting good angles along with jitter free close ups and moving shots. It all worked so well.  I could pan left and right smoothly by moving from the waist. I could pan up and down easily as well. When I edited the footage together for a minute and thirty second program I was quite happy with how everything cut together. There is a big difference between slow and mostly controlled "camera drift" and the bouncy, sometimes erratic motion I got by hand holding.

At the end of the week I'd scheduled some shooting time for a personal documentary I am working on for Austin's theatrical troupe/theater: Esther's Follies. I went to the Friday evening performances of their shows. The cast works on a small stage and does wide-ranging political satire, some magic acts that are Vegas quality and some song and dance. It's irreverent, funny and topical. And the small, dark spaces backstage can really test your video handling skills...

The old, Ikan shoulder mount. It finally bit the dust. 
Betrayed. 

I was doing well with a Panasonic GH5S blazing away at ISO 3200, sitting on the aforementioned Ikan shoulder rig but at one point I stopped to adjust the camera position and overtightened the bolt that held the camera to the rig. The plastic construction snapped and the camera began a slow motion plunge to the floor (along with my Olympus 12-100mm lens). Only my cat-like ninja skills prevented total disaster. I lunged with both hands outstretched and managed to grab the camera+lens before it hit the floor, tossing my 62 year old body onto the floor in the process. But, as I am resilient, no damage was done and I brushed myself off, tried to shed my embarrassment and go on with the job. Handheld.

Yes, plastic stuff might not be optimal for continuous and long days of actual work. Lesson learned. The hard way. The gods plucked the strings of my hubris and then kicked the chair of fate out from under my feet. What a wretched metaphorical morass.....

Later, nursing my bent ego with a glass of cheap red wine, I sat in front of my computer and looked at the footage I'd shot over the course of four hours on a Friday night and I could see, defined, the before and after marker detailing the demise of my steadying tool. Not a horrible difference but enough of a difference so that I noticed it and was chagrined.

Now, none of this sent me in search of an ENG camera. I'm not buying into putting 20 pounds on my shoulders every time I'm heading out to shoot video. I value my ability to swim a nice butterfly too much to take the risk. But I knew I wanted to be able to get the GH5S and a good lens onto a shoulder rig that was both reliable and highly adjustable. So I set out to build one from the parts I found online.

Here's what I ended up with:

This is my custom rig made of parts from SmallRig, NiceyRig, and a few nuts and bolts. The shoulder pad is adjustable and has metal cheeseplates, front and rear, on which to hang batteries or something to act as a balancing counterweight; if I find it necessary. The camera is also able to be adjusted closer or further from my face. Even the handgrip assembly allows for backward or forward adjustments. 

For me, the important ingredient was the actual padded shoulder mount. I love that it works with the 15mm rails. The whole rig is rock solid when everything is tightened up. I can add a platform to the camera mount, just above the top of the camera, to hold a microphone and, in theory, a monitor, but I think that works against the whole idea of being able to effectively hand hold the rig. Too much weight in the front would require more weight in the back to balance and at some point it all becomes unwieldy. 

With another documentary-style corporate shoot coming up on Weds. we'll be sure to put this to the test. I'll also be practicing with it today and tomorrow. If you have a rig that I've missed, is fantastic and is under $300 be sure to let me know about it. I'm in the trial and error phase of shoulder mounts right now and leaving now rocks unturned. Who knows what lurks beneath?

(For SEO...): Will work with CANON, NIKON, OLYMPUS, PANASONIC, SONY and other cameras. Ha. Ha.





9.05.2018

Kirk's Workshop in England is sold out. We'll miss you....

9http://www.craftours.com/trips/?page=england_photography_1218


I just got word that my workshop to England (December 1st - 9th) is officially sold out. We're spending time in London, Stratford upon Avon, Bath and the Cotswolds, and picture-rich spots in between. I'll be doing workshops and hanging around on shooting adventures to help out and give photo advice. It should be a heck of a lot of fun. 

The Fall is getting a bit crazy. We've got video and photography projects nearly back-to-back for the immediate future and I start off the travel season on October 27th with our workshop in Iceland. All of a sudden it seems like I've stumbled into another career....

I hope there's a great lap pool at every location. I'm betting I should take along my insulated swim cap as the water probably won't be nearly as warm as that in our Texas pools....

So I'm a month and a bit more than a half out from the first trip and I'm already mired in the "which cameras should I bring" endless loop. I might need one or two more fast lenses for the Nikons. D800s for Iceland and D700s for England? Too bad I won't be able to wait for the arrival of the Panasonic GHX full framer......

Since we're filling up the workshops I think I'll have some pull with the tour company as far as selecting next year's destinations. I'm open for suggestions. I've always wanted to do a workshop in Tokyo and now I'm also interested in Seoul, S. Korea. Then there's always Spain and Portugal....

There are still one or two spaces left for the Iceland trip. Click through the link and navigate around the http://www.craftours.com site if you are interested. 

Fun to think about far off workshops but next week is booked through with several big corporations. After that we've got some projects on the east coast. Lots of work to get done before we head off to colder pastures....

And I thought 62 year old photographers had fallen out of fashion...


Now my serious opinion about the Canon mirrorless full frame cameras and why they will once again dominate the photo-landscape.

The extinction event. Goodbye D700?

About ten years ago I predicted that we would see the end of DSLR cameras as EVF technology improved and mirrorless concepts matured. The logic was simple; people didn't really understand the basic principles of the photographic process but seeing the image in real time, on a screen, would enable them to make corrections by eye and obviate the need for training. An even more compelling argument (and one I made at the time...) is that the two most expensive things in a traditional DSLR camera, after the imaging sensor, are the semi-silvered pentaprism that makes a DSLR a "reflex" camera and the moving mirror construction which requires many more mechanical parts and must be very well calibrated in order to work. So, more parts, more expensive parts and more delicate parts created the writing on the wall that prophesied the approaching demise of traditional cameras. 

The camera makers have done a magnificent job of convincing most consumers that the much-cheaper-to-make mirrorless cameras are worth large sums of money even though the costs to camera makers have been reduced, overall, by 40-50% (manufacturing being only part of the cost; there is still marketing and distribution to cover).  That Sony A7Riii is most likely 40-50% cheaper to create than the Nikon D850 but, if the end results are the same, so what? Sony pockets more profit per camera and dumps more cash into marketing their product, creating a narrative about it's prowess that is partly true. 

So, now that the conversion from DSLR to mirrorless has reached its tipping point we can pretty much agree that camera makers will now move from cameras with flippy mirrors to cameras with.....less stuff. The ardent fans of mirrorless (in some camps) misinterpret the move to mirrorless as being motivated by a size and weight reduction but they are, of course, wrong. Mostly. Serious photographers and working pros are still more interested in the results from cameras rather than a scramble to own "dainty" cameras. But with stodgy Nikon and glacially slow Canon joining in the evolution to a new camera ethos, and Panasonic reportedly waiting in the wings, I think it's safe to say that mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras will be the primary choice of the demographic ready to spend thousands of dollars on gear, and ready to spend similar thousands, year after year, to upgrade and acquire more. 

And that begs the question: Who's going to win?
And I firmly believe that Canon will trounce everyone else for a few simple reasons. First, the smart engineers at Canon created a lens mount in the EOS series that was fully electronic and amply sized for future work. Even though the R series has a new lens mount the fully electronic nature of the previous mount should mean that all those wonderful Canon lenses, made from the late 1980's through now will work flawlessly, not just partially, with a Canon supplied adapter in conjunction with the new R mount. That's huge. They can make the new R lenses a premium line but still have fast to focus and very sharp lenses from their entire EOS legacy catalog available. Win-win. 

It's a different equation for Nikon whose long line of pre-G lenses will be only partially capable with adapters on their new Z cameras. Nikon will sell a bunch of Z cameras to the faithful but not because of a flawless backwards compatibility; more of the sales will come from a regard for the color science and handling, and, to a certain extent, a very usable video implementation. 

Canon will either kill Sony's momentum or force them to come to grips with their engineering mistakes (see: lens mount dwarfism...) and the shot across the bow, from Canon to Sony, is the initial Canon introduction of the 28-70mm f2.0 lens. That's fast. And no one other than Sigma has done an f2.0 constant aperture zoom for full frame before. This is shorthand for: look what we can do with a wide mount diameter. Match this nex guys.  Nikon can do it too. 

While Sony has been on a tear recently one has to understand that Canon has many times more current users, many of whom have been loyal for decades. They might all want to be mirrorless owners but sales and statistics have shown that they were willing to wait till Canon came out with the product they ultimately wanted. 

But wait! What about Panasonic. It's been rumored that they'll be unleashing their full frame camera in the first quarter of next year. The smart money is betting that it will be a Panasonic branded Leica SL body which as gotten very, very good reviews as both a still photography camera and a video camera. If a meteor took out my entire studio and I was starting from scratch that system (the Panasonic version) would be at the top of my list. Right now I'm making videos that are so vastly superior to that which I was getting from Sony's top cameras just a year ago that I am stunned by how far ahead Panasonic is in video from everyone else in the multi-use camera market. 

But sadly, they will not blunt Canon's momentum. Why? Because most people who buy consumer cameras are still buying them to make still photographs. Yes, they like the ability to push a button and make and Instagram video of their kid blowing out birthday cake candles but they really never do the deep dive into high end, high sweat video that would show off the difference between implementations in Nikon, Canon and Sony. 

The ardent researchers/fans/pro-users/dedicated hobbyists make the mistake of believing what the camera marketers have been trying to sell in this camera space; that every camera hitting the market from now until the end of time must achieve exact parity with all the other companies in all aspect of performance and across the entire list of features. But it's not true. 

Canon may not have state of the art, full frame, 4K video but the cameras will still sell like hotcakes to all the Canon fans and loyalist who want to use their cameras to shoot the things they've always shot. Things like kids playing soccer, family vacations, fun events, recitals, casual portraits. These are all things that Canon cameras can do as well of better than other brands. That's the big market. 

Some will argue that Canon failed miserably because they did not put image stabilization into the newly introduced R body. But there is always the argument to be made that image stabilization in a lens can be better because it's customized exactly for that lens and the focal lengths involved whereas in body image stabilization is, from an engineering point of view, a compromise. If I were a consumer looking at the new Canon the one lens I'd be buying first (and for most families, the onliest) would be the 24-105mm lens which I believe is stabilized and is a focal length range that has a long and excellent history in the Canon lens family. I bet they got this one just right. And in today's photo circles it's pretty much the all around lens that ticks all the crucial boxes. 

Panasonic will make a better camera (especially for video) but they will market it as a niche product for people who need killer video as well as great a great photo tool. Canon will always sell millions more bodies. 

Nikon will have more desirable features (in the short run) and pull ahead of Canon on their video implementation but Canon will out market Nikon and actually point out things like their lens prowess and ease of use. They will continue to gain on Nikon. I love the idea of the Nikon products but if starting from scratch I'd still feel some pull from Canon. 

Sony will be the net loser on this one. They had a good run with the A7 series and they've done some innovative things but the lens mount will eventually strangle them and they will launch a secondary system down the road. That'll piss off the faithful.  I'm betting that Sony sees things more as consumer products (individual products) rather than being long term systems which need to be backwardly compatible and cross functional. Their A7 series video codecs are already starting to look dated. They are better video cameras than the current Canon but Canon can change that whole paradigm in one product cycle. And, as I've stated above, I'm not sure small differences in video performance matters to the vast majority of buyers.  In fact, I'm almost certain of it.

If you are a current Canon professional user who shoots mostly stills but has the routine requirement of shooting some video for clients in 1080p the R camera will be a no-brainer for you because, with one adapter you'll be able to use, without limitations, that 70-200mm f2.8 that is best in class, the 24-70mm f2.8 that is so well established and any number of other lenses that you already have in your bag. 

How will both Canon and Nikon prevail over Sony? It's very simple, you just have to try each camera in person, in your own hand. The handling differences are tremendous skewed in favor of the established players. The small, incremental differences in handling and feature sets will pale next to the realities of good, livable industrial design. Count on it. 

Canon > Nikon > Sony > Fuji > Panasonic > Olympus. Everyone else can go home now and we'll get ready for the next round of musical chairs.

Me? After I take a call with a client on the east coast I'm tossing a fresh battery into the D700, sliding on the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art and heading out to take a nice walk with a beautiful, historic camera. I feel kinda like a guy with a 1964 Corvette Stingray in the garage. You know it's an ancient car but it's still incredibly fun to drive and gets you to the same destination as quickly as your new, aerodynamic jellybean lookalike car. Yeah.

Fact for today: Cameras can be too small and too light to be optimally effective. The way a hand tool feels is as important as the way it works.

9.04.2018

I can't seem to get this image out of my head. It's the offices of a major, online, camera review site on the day of the Canon mirrorless announcement.

It's a nice office on the west coast. Another cool, rainy day but the people in the office don't care; they've got important work to do. As each person heads into the office they bring along backpacks, cameras bags and shopping bags filled with the accessories they'll need for a tough day in the trenches. They'll be writing copy about a new line of cameras and they aren't planning to slow down the process for anything.

We look into a typical "content producer's" backpack and find a large bottle of water and a thermos filled with espresso. They've got granola bars and trail mix (with genuine soy nuggets). They have Ace Bandages to wrap around their wrists to combat carpal tunnel syndrome. And they have empty plastic bottles in case there are calls of nature that must be answered before they've completed their hands-on review, eyes only preview, "10 things you NEED to know" article, comparison with the Sony A7iii and Sony A7riii, and their "My boss took this camera to the micro brewery just to try the video video".

There's also the "Five new ways to use technology you don't care about" and "Why you shouldn't fall behind in the camera buying revolution guide." One of the staffers took a math course in high school; he's the one they've assigned to write about anything NYQUIST-Y. He's spent weeks looking through old camera reviews so he can re-hash sly mentions of "the physics of the BSI sensor". They've also trained him to write words like: Delta, diffraction limited, edge effect, acutance, quantum transfer and so much more.

The big push today will be about the latest mirrorless full frame camera from Japan, and this particular review site took all the writers on staff (and some of the freelancers) to a team building exercise last week to set some goals and quotas. This time? Hundreds of articles, thousands of words. Seems the 800 pound gorilla of cameras will be announcing their very, very late arrival to the mirrorless party and the writers and marketers at the review site are hellbent on making up for all those lost years in the space of a week ---- with an endless cascade of mindless articles about whatever the big camera company announces. And some counterpoint (to keep moving that Sony product...).

Beholden to current camera maker superstar, Sony, the writers will be instructed to write "balanced" articles which have Sony cameras, and the new cameras being introduced by their competition, seeming to be fairly evenly matched; at first glance. Then the sly marketing hammer comes down. OOMMMGGG!!! The new emperor is wearing no clothes. Unbelievable! The new camera being introduced doesn't have two memory card slots. How can this be???? (Everyone with a camera needs a back up slot for the same reason that every passenger on a Boeing 787 is issued a personal parachute as they board. Once in a while planes crash. And that's sad. But once in a great while (cough, cough, user error, cough) memory cards fail and that's downright tragic).

The new cameras will have a better mount, and that will be discussed in a largely dismissive way, but soon the Sony will rise into the highest level of the camera pantheon when it's revealed (like a reality show reveal) that the newly introduced camera lacks (oh dear God!) built-in image stabilization. Sony to the rescue. The writers will imply that the unlucky camera maker is trying to drag us back to the (shudder) 1980's. Who would ever buy a camera with no built-in image stabilization? As if.

Meanwhile a solo blogger on a totally different site will write a few thousand words about the poems of William Carlos Williams and then discuss how the new camera release taught him once again about the subterfuge of iambic pentameter.

But back to the big site. Not a hundred monkeys typing for a million years. Just a handful of highly motivated content producers cranking out a flood of slightly differentiated articles meant to convey the idea that everyone needs to change cameras as often as they change their underwear.

By the end of the first day after the well hoarded camera information is released the writers are exhausted. Tens of thousands of words have been expended in the combined praise and trashing of the newly launched camera. Now they sit back and wait as the hordes of readers create the real ground swell of SEO, and freely produced content, by claiming that they will either rush to buy the camera, rush even faster to pillory the camera, or whine incessantly about the perceived shortcomings of the new camera. ("The neck strap isn't soft enough --- deal killer!!!, I hate the placement of the fifth function button ---- deal killer!!!, The micro texture of the lens release button chaffs my fingers --- deal killer!!! All contained in the contents appended to each of the (surely cynical) articles written by the staff.

The head technical guy is so busy responding to endless questions and taunts that he's locked into the computer in his quasi-cube. He's using that empty plastic bottle well so he can argue with the fervant about how many quantum particles can traverse the copper connectors on the sensors. And why that makes a difference for, well, everyone who will ever use the camera to photograph their child's first bassoon recital. But that's okay, he's young and his historic reference point about the mists of the past is the dark days of 12 megapixel sensors...

Oh, by the way, I think Canon is introducing their new mirrorless camera today. Do you think DP Review might have a few articles about it? Let's go see. 

A quick segue to a different site finds the inhabitants there arguing about the new Phase One camera and whether it will outperform the last Phase One camera when it comes to shooting fields of Andalusian grass in dimly lit meadows. And how large those images could be printed (if anyone cared to print them....).

But steady up and drink hardy my friends because tomorrow is also the day that launched a thousand YouTube sites with sassy young photographers busy conjecturing about a camera they've only seen in its prototype form. Watch as our heroes pull up the online equivalent of PowerPoint presentations re-presenting to you the same specifications you could easily read yourself on the camera maker's site.

With this oppressive avalanche of mindless pseudo camera reviewing is it any wonder that camera sales are dropping again like rocks in a competition sized swimming pool? Most consumers are so over the excitement of a new product announcement. They just want to go home and play with the toys they already bought.

I wouldn't feel right though if I didn't drop by and see what the tech-y guy who also has much to write about Apple computers says about the new camera. Oh. I see. He's predicting the future will be all 16K and  he vows he won't buy any new camera with fewer than 120 megapixels. He's out of the market for a while. But that's okay he's got to figure out how to get his Cray Supercomputer wedged into his photo-RV.

When Canon finally gets some of these new cameras into a store I guess I'll go by and look through the finder and see how the shutters sound. Then I'll go some place and have lunch. I'm also thinking of taking up smoking cigarettes. Anything to assuage the boredom of yet another niche camera or lens review. But, of course, it's blandly ironic that I'm writing about it, too. Yes, life is boring like that.

Sure hope those reviewers don't get their once empty plastic bottles mixed up with their  regular water bottles in the twilight of their journeys back home. Could be a nasty surprise. Almost as unsavory as discovering that the camera which held such promise is sadly shipping with ....... only one card slot.

Two major camera makers forget the dedicated parachutes. whatever will we do?

What I love about photography and what I hate about video. At least where client projects are concerned.



From "Tortoise and the Hare" at Zach Theatre.

Photography: You go out and do the very best image you can and after you've shot it the photo is more or less carved in stone. Sure, you can fix some stuff but it's pretty much done the second you deliver it. You get to move on to the next job. If you really, really screwed up you have to do a re-shoot. But if the client is just being indecisive you'll probably never have to do that re-shoot because they'll have to go through the whole process again. If it's a portrait of the CEO and the marketing people decide he should have worn a blue shirt on instead of a pink shirt anything they want to do to change the photograph after the fact will require them to have skin in the game. Wanna try making that pink shirt blue in PhotoShop? There will be a charge associated with that.  Wanna reshoot in order to change out a shirt or tie? Well, you'll have to get the CEO on board, schedule him, schedule me and, since we didn't dress the guy, we'll be charging for the re-shoot.

So. Usually a benefit of taking photographs is that once delivered the project is more or less locked. You get to move on.

Video Production: You start with a concept and a script and you get approvals at every step of the way while filming. You deliver the first edit and sometimes the path from there is right into the middle of a committee. "Can we take out the shot (incredibly shot and beautifully lit) of the CEO sitting in a meeting and replace it with a blurry snapshot we found of the same CEO standing at an shopping mall in some god forsaken city shaking hands with the mayor?" "We know it's kinda blurry and the color is really bad....can you fix that too?" Left to most committees the good content in a video will eventually all be sucked out of the project and replaced with crap that is just included to check boxes on a list. In some cases moving from a nicely paced motion project to a slideshow of snapshots.

Unlike photography clients seem to think that a video project comes complete with an infinite set of revisions and tweaks. It's our job, when providing an estimate, to let them know how many major and minor revisions are included in the your bid and, how much more revisions after a "final approval" will cost them. After our client sends us directions to "just make these XX changes" we consider (after making the changes) that they video they paid for is complete and any additional revisions or tweaks are to be billed in addition to our original bid. If they know the clock is ticking it helps most clients become more decisive and rational.

My (least) favorite is a request we once had was to change out a product shot for a newer, much less beautiful product shot. Why? Well, the product had "changed" and the product manager wanted to make sure we were using the absolute latest product in our video. Made sense until we asked, "What was it about the product that changed?" (we couldn't see a difference in the product at all...) And the product manager responded, "Oh, it's absolutely identical except for the type...on the back." That would be the back of the product, which didn't show to the camera. As in.....IT MADE ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE except that we replaced a really nice shot with a lesser shot.

I very much dislike the whole idea of "teamwork" when it comes to project approvals and think it may be the single most costly distraction in all areas of advertising commerce; even worse than focus groups. Can't imagine Picasso calling in his "team" and asking if the dove in his painting should have a more leafy branch in his beak. A singular vision is a benefit. Teamwork approval is a tragic flaw.

With some video projects you never know when you are truly finished.

9.02.2018

Which camera maker will be the first one to incorporate graphene super capacitors instead of traditional batteries? And other random, industry-centric thoughts.

With all the bubbling, frenetic attention we've been paying to camera introductions I think we missed, almost entirely, the latest news about graphene super capacitors. Researchers have found new ways to work with graphene distribution and to incorporate it into super capacitor manufacturing. What would this mean for cameras? Much faster charging cycles (by a factor of 10X?), much higher current handling and thousands more charge and discharge cycles than we currently get from lithium batteries. The downside? The graphene super capacitors are still mostly lab proof of concept examples right now. But in five years......? They might just be the next portable power source...

I predict that in five and one half years every high end, mirrorless camera will feature this new technology and then battery life will largely cease to be an issue.....

My 2010 prediction that we would abandon optical viewfinders in favor of EVFs is coming true in front of our eyes. Gosh! Was that series of predictions really eight years ago?

We are at an inflection point with expensive cameras. Hasselblad and Fuji medium format cameras made the leap to the EVF future and now Canon and Nikon are following along after Sony. If Nikon's foray into the Z universe is successful (and pre-sales indicate that it will be...) I can't imagine that higher spec pro units aren't just ahead, from everyone.

This will be, on a smaller scale, reminiscent of the switch from film cameras to digital cameras. Pundits predicted the film-to-digital switch would take twenty years for the transition but the majority of adopters had new digital cameras in their hands in the space of two years. The transition to mass market mirrorless will be equally quick and decisive. In the short run Nikon, Canon and other new arrivals will benefit from sales resulting from full system replacements and pent up demands from Canon and Nikon users for mirrorless tech.

CF cards are almost completely dead and I can't think of a single camera maker who is introducing a new product with a CF card as part of the design/feature set. If you plan to keep your D700's and other CF hungry cameras around for decades to come you may want to start salting away lots of current, state of the art CF cards to fill the void that WILL be created by the mass exodus from the market by card makers.

But don't get too comfy with SD cards, even the UHS-II cards might be nearing a tragic end-of-life, being displaced by QXD cards that offer a more robust package and better performance. Oh gosh! All this change is so.....disquieting.

Electronic flash that plugs into the wall is on the way out. Oh, people will still want powerful flashes that can slam light through soft boxes, and go toe-to-toe with the sun, but they're quickly becoming comfortable with battery-powered units and the convenience of not having to carry extension cords or find electrical outlets will carry the day and all the money we've sunk into A/C powered Profoto units, Elinchrom units and other pricy brands will haunt us as we source supremely cost effective new units with lightweight battery packs that go on forever and ever. Until those, in turn, are replaced by graphene  super capacitor energy source packing lights.

It's all so quick and zany. Sometimes the rush of progress makes me want to rush to the camera store, buy bricks and bricks of medium format Tri-X film for the old Hasselblad and re-purchase another enlarger. I hear they are going cheap these days...at least on the used market.

Just a few thoughts for a cloudy, humid and scowling Sunday afternoon.

And, yes, my visit to San Antonio was fun and happy. Dad is doing very well.

Sometimes the old stuff lasts and lasts....

From the set of "Tortoise and the Hare" at Zach Theatre. Post rehearsal.




9.01.2018

Currently mired down in upload hell. Why oh why do I photograph with reckless abandon? It could be worse, I could be uploading Nikon D850 raw files....

Leslie Anne Leal in "Tortoise and the Hare" at Zach Theatre.

What is Saturday like when there is so much uncertainty in the camera world? Upon the announcement of the new Nikon Z cameras did my older cameras shut down and cease to function? Am I stuck making spreadsheets and comparison graphs of all the new, announced and unannounced but rumored cameras? Am I on the phone with the credit card companies, trying desperately to get my credit limits raised? Getting ready to plunge into frightening debt in order to "keep up"? 

Naw. I got up early this morning so I could go to the 7:30-8:30 a.m. Masters Swim Practice (all caps, just for fun...) and get in a few thousand yards of competitive swim practice done before the day revved up in earnest. A quick stop at the coffee shop for caffeine and a bagel and then into the office to pack for my Saturday morning photography assignment. 

I spent the last part of the morning and the first half hour of the afternoon photographing the dress rehearsal of a play by Allen Robertson, based on the old fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Original story, music, stage set and choreography. It was absolutely delightful. One of the best family oriented theater productions I've seen in years and years. 

But before I could get to the theater and start photographing I had to decide what to shoot with and what all I needed to pack. 

I had two considerations that drove my choices. First, the production was in one of Zach Theatre's smaller spaces and the lighting in the space isn't as ample as that which I am used to in the larger, newer, Topfer Theatre. The lights in the small theater are still mostly tungsten fixtures and not as bright as the newer and brighter LEDs in the bigger theater. My other consideration was a very positive one; we wouldn't have an audience for this dress rehearsal so the noise of the camera shutters was immaterial. I could choose the cameras I wanted to use without any concern for audience experience. 

I'm in the middle of three video projects for which I am using the GH5 cameras pretty much non-stop. I thought I'd give them a rest and use something different today. I considered the Nikon D700s but I decided to be boring and safe and use the Nikon D800 and D800e cameras on the off chance that the theatre's marketing department decides to do huge posters or building wraps with the resulting images. Pretty sure the D700s could handle those kinds of enlargements but I was looking for an effortless experience that I would not have to explain after the fact. 

In the smaller theater the lens that is most useful most of the time is the 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens. It's not super sexy and doesn't boast super fast apertures but I'm always pleased with its performance and detail rendering. It was the first lens in the bag. I also brought along a first generation Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 but it never made it out of the camera bag. The lens I used alongside the 24-120mm f4.0 was the older 85mm f1.8D lens. I wanted it along for the ride so I could shoot some individual actor shots with the lens wide open. It's that depth of field thang. 

In one respect I was a bit brave today, I opted to shoot the D800e with the 24-120mm and to do so in Jpeg instead of Raw. Since experience informs me that I'll likely shoot between 1,000 and 1,400 images during the course of the show the thought of processing somewhere close to 64 gigabytes of rawness made me yawn and grind my molars. Besides, I actually like the way the D800e handles high ISO noise reduction in Jpeg better than the way I end up handling it from raw files. Go figure. 

I never use flash or any other photographic light source when photographing theatrical productions. One reason is that it's annoying to the actors, the audience, the crew and even the rats living in the walls. Secondly, there are people who design beautiful light for stage shows and part of our documentation is to showcase those lighting designs. The lighting designs are as much a part of the show as the music and the costumes...

I use the camera's spot meter to help me stay in the right exposure arena and I use the 3D AF setting in continuous AF, controlling the focus by using the back button AF to grab and lock onto a subject. If  subject is moving I just keep the button depressed and keep an eye on the AF squares to make sure the camera is adjusting focus for the movement. Button un-depressed and we're locked in. I resisted shooting this way for years but I finally capitulated and came around. It is a faster way to track people and it's usually very accurate. I'm lucky with the used 24-120mm f4.0 I picked up on re-entry to the Nikon system; so far I've experienced no back or front focus on any of my four Nikon bodies. Nice. 

True to form I came home with nearly 1,500 exposures which I pared down to about 800 images. I tweaked them in Lightroom and saved them out as high quality Jpeg files with a maximum of 6,000 pixels on the long side. Today I threw caution to the wind and shot at both 3200 and 6400 without a care in the world. I was banking on some software engineer at Nikon six year ago to have produced a nice balance between chroma and luma noise and I was happy with what they spit out. 

I am now uploading the 800 files to Smugmug.com. My client will use the online galleries for quick selections for short deadline publications, and I will also set up download links to deliver the entire full res collection from Smugmug to my client. They get to archive all these images; it's in my contract....

I still have stinky, slow broadband here. I don't do cable TV and AT&T wants way too much money for any service that isn't bundled with all their mostly useless "content" products. Eventually I'll get Google Fiber in my neighborhood and it won't take hours to upload these precious files. My friend, Frank, lives in an area where they have access to Google Fiber and he suggests that it's so fast that his big files are uploaded before he even pushes the "return" button on his keyboard. Time warp fast. 

I'd like a faster connnection but I'd also like world peace, an uncorrupt U.S. government (I can only take care of one country at a time...), a couple of different Porsches from different decades, more I.Q. points -- preloaded,  and a roll of one hundred dollar bills that automatically replenishes itself. I'll just be happy right now with having no health issues, having a nice and fun family, and having a net worth that's in the black territory instead of in the red. The rest of the stuff will need to get prioritized. But right now that's not my job. My job is to swim and to occasionally take nice photographs. Everything else is a waste of time.


A program note: Try not to be snarky and combative in the comments if you can help it. If you can't help it then do me a favor and see a mental health care professional before sharing. I'm not here as a willing  target for your misguided rage....