Yeah. I bought another light. I couldn't help it. The light was so cute.

Aputure F7 LED Panel. 

I'm an easy touch when it comes to small and inexpensive LED light panels so when I read about the Aputure F7 light panel I decided to risk $100 and give it a go. What is it? A: A small, lightweight bi-color LED panel that can fit in a hot shoe or be used as an off camera light source. What makes it good? A: Aputure's literature, and the reviews of people I trust, point to a very high TCLI or CRI which is a good measure of how accurate the color temperature of the unit is. They also spoke about the unit's relatively high output. But then again, a lot of small LEDs boast good specs so...what distinguishes the F7? Hmmm. I guess I'll go with this: Most bi-color LED units feature a color range from 3200K to about 5600K. If you are at either extreme you are only using half the bulbs. You get half the power. But the F7 has a range from 3200K to 9500K, if you set the light's color temperature to 5,600K (daylight) you will have both sets of bulbs (tungsten and daylight) illuminated at once so a daylight rendering also gives you the full power of the unit. 

Unlike other small, cheap units I've bought or played with in the past the makers of this one did not scrimp on the mounting hardware. The bullhead that screws into your choice of three sides is stout, easy to adjust and locks firmly in place. The light ships with two strengths of diffusion and the diffusion slots right into slits on either side of the tough, plastic front cover. 

The light uses a rotary dial with a push button feature to toggle between adjusting color temperature (read out on a display) and output levels (also on the display). Unlike most competitive products which generally are only adjustable from 10% power to 100% power the F7 can be dialed all the way down to 1%. 

I found the color quality of the light at 5600K to be very good. Another benefit for serious users is that the unit can be powered in three different ways. You can use Sony video batteries like the NP-9xx series which means I can use any one of about five different Sony video batteries I currently have scattered around the office. You can use a USB charger or USB connected battery pack for looooong shoots. Or, if you are a video pro who uses batteries that have a D-Tap for your pro cameras you can grab power off said batteries with a D-Tap connector. Fun to have options.

Short story? I like it. There is no long story. 

Color Temp (top figure) Power level (bottom figure) battery charge indicators (the green bars). 
I have a battery on the back that weighs more than the light itself. 
You can opt for smaller batteries.....

Side view. Big battery. The unit is well ventilated which means it will 
run longer and last longer. On the downside it means that it's not at all 
water resistant. 

One of two diffusers. Weak and Strong. 
(credit: hand model: Charlie Martini). 


Got my flu shot. This year's version protects against four strains. I think it's a good idea to get one.


Getting sick is tough. Getting the flu is really tough. But getting the flu if you are self-employed just flat out Turbo Sucks. I asked my doctor's staff to call me as soon as this year's flu shots came in so I could rush into the office and get one. They called yesterday and we scheduled an appointment for today. I know I could go to the local pharmacy, walk in and get a flu shot for about $10 but my doctor provides them from free and I also get a quick check on my blood pressure and, if needed/wanted, a quick consult with my doctor. I didn't have any aches or pains to talk about today and my blood pressure was a nifty 115 over 65 so I thought I'd save everyone some time and skip the chit-chat. I was in and out of the doctor's office in ten minutes. No lollipops (I swear I didn't cry) or stickers but I did get a free band-aid.

Nothing is worse than working while sick or trying to recover from the flu. It's also not fair to everyone else. The additional downside of getting the flu is that this business owner doesn't get paid sick days so everyday moaning, slurping up chicken soup and laying on the couch trying to watch movies on TV while blowing my nose is a lost day of revenue, opportunity, camaraderie and play.

From a medical/ethical point of view I visit a memory care facility to see my dad at least once a week. Most of the residents there are in their late eighties or early nineties and something like the flu can be deadly to folks with compromised immune systems. I'd hate to be the guy with the low grade fever or slight cough who decided to visit anyway and somehow contributed to someone's demise.

Finally, I'm flying on two different domestic trips and two international trips in the fourth quarter and I'll be damned if I want to catch the flu as my reward for traveling.

Do they make Purell for cameras? Just thought I'd ask...


I'm thinking about replacing my older laptop with a newer one. Would you like to read about what I think I need and then argue about what you think I should get until we're both blue in the face?

coffee painting. Kirk Tuck

So, I have an early 2011 Apple MacBook Pro with a 2.3 Ghz Intel Core i5 processor, a 512 Gb, 5400 rpm hard drive and eight Gb of memory. It's USB connections are both USB 2.0. It does have a nifty SD card reader on one side. It's processed tens of thousands of files, responded to tens of thousands of e-mails and has its own frequent flier accounts with most major airlines. But relatively speaking it's getting slower and slower. Slow to start up and slow to process bigger files.

It's a 13 inch model and I like that because it fits into nearly every camera bag I have and is easier to travel with than the 15 inch model I had previously. I take it out in the field to use for on site back up of files and to process images for some projects that need near immediate image delivery. It fits into an eco system where everything is Apple. From my desktop to my iPhone to my family's computers and communications gear; everything is Apple. In the seven years I've owned this laptop it has never crashed, stopped working, required repair, demanded anything of me other than regular access to electrical power and reasonable upgrades to system software; all of which have been trouble free and easy.

Unless the brain trust here at VSL has some emphatic reasons to choose another course I am planning on buying a refurbished late 2017 version of pretty much the same machine. The processor in the new machine is supposedly much improved, the new machine has four USB 3 ports, a 512 SSD drive, a retina screen, faster memory and will cost me less than the purchase price of the original machine. I plan to buy it from Apple's refurbished stock.

The impetus for yet another hardware purchase is two fold. Recently I did a job that could have been better done by tethering my GH5 to a computer. Sadly, the tethering software in the camera only works with USB 3 connections. Secondly, I'm booked again this year to cover a high tech conference in downtown Austin. The client loves having fast turn around on materials. Their desire is to be able to upload images of speakers to their social media within minutes of finishing the speech and to have movie files delivered almost as quickly.

I was planning to push the big ole transaction button tomorrow around 2 pm so if you have secret (or not so secret) information about why I shouldn't do this or how you could handle this better please let me know via comments and I'll try to learn from your experiences. Don't waste time through convincing me to jump systems because I'm not going to embrace the use of Windows unless someone stands next to me and threatens my life. A seven year equipment use cycle with NO downtime is worth a lot more than saving a tiny amount of cash at the initial purchase....

Chime on in. I'm sure everyone is on the same page......(ha. ha.). KT

Edit: I ordered online and picked up my new 2018 MacBook Pro 13" on Friday. The combination of faster memory, SSD drive and a much faster processor was exactly what I was looking for. The initial set-up took minutes and then I migrated all my settings, etc. from the old computer to the new one, which took a couple hours, via wi-fi. Later that evening I edited and post processed 500+ raw files from a shoot at Zach Theatre and uploaded them, with nary a glitch, to a private gallery on Smugmug.com. Comfortable. Reliable. And pretty to look at (both my files and the new computer).

Someone suggested that I just buy any old PC and that everything would be great. They misunderstand the decades of trust I've gained with my Apple products, my years and years of self-training and my comfort with the Apple approach to software and GUI. I also find that every ad agency and professional client whose offices I walk into today are totally Apple. The client I'm working for this year (and the reason I needed to update) is a case in point; last year at their event I walked into their media and marketing room at the event site and the long conference table was covered with various recent vintages of Apple laptop computers. No PC's anywhere in sight. There's a lot to be said for fitting in with your clients and being able to work fluidly in the same environment. I have one client that doesn't use Apple computers. Only one. (And I have a fair number of good clients...) and that is Dell, Inc. Their resistance to switching is understandable.

Photographing the dress rehearsal of a new play at Austin's premier regional theater. Using the GH5 and GH5S interchangeably. Some with Image Stabilization and some without.

I shot the tech rehearsal of the show, "Once," with a Nikon D800e and a very versatile Nikon 24-120 f4.0 VR lens. But I went back again to do a shoot in a completely different style, two days later  at the dress rehearsal (with an audience in attendance). At the dress rehearsal I shot with a GH5 and a GH5S along with the two really cool Olympus Pro lenses I've been writing about. One is the 40-150mm f2.8 and the other is the 12-100mm f4.0.  I shot the GH5S (with its whopping ten megapixels...) in raw format and the GH5 in Jpeg (large fine). I also went back and forth with the lenses because I was testing my premise about image stabilization being an interesting side issue in the fervor surrounding cameras in actual use. 

I used the Panasonics for fun. I also used them for their silent operation (although you can see some banding from LEDs in some continuous tone areas in some photos....) their night mode and to be try comparing the files from the two cameras side-by-side. No big winners or losers here. Both do a great job. It was interesting to see how the images looked to me when viewing them next to similar images (under the same lighting, etc.) as the Nikon images from two days earlier. Again, they each have their aesthetic merits. 

The new fiber internet service is working well. A gallery that would have taken multiple hours two and a half weeks ago now uploads in about 15 minutes. Remarkable. A much bigger improvement to my workflow than any lens or camera I've purchased in years. Now I need to replace my current laptop...

Enjoy the show....


One feature I am looking forward to in the Nikon Z7 camera.

One feature that hasn't been widely mentioned in the writings I've seen about the Nikon Z7 camera is that Nikon has decided to give photographers a range of aspect ratios, including 1:1 at 5500 by 5500 pixels, which gets me a square format image of a little over 30 megapixels. Oh joy!!! This might be the new camera for the legion of portrait photographers who crave being able to see their format (as it should be) in the high resolution EVF finder of the camera. We'll be able to compose as we did in the halcyon days of image making. No longer enslaved to a paltry couple of lame aspect ratios, or nearly worthless red frame lines overlaid on an optical finder. We'll see the square (I hope) surrounded by a rich field of black and will walk away with files big enough to satisfy most people who want to make large prints. 

I haven't check to see if the Canon full frame mirrorless camera offers the same wonderful compositional freedom, but I hope for the sake of Canon shooters that it does. 

The lack of a 1:1 format in my Sony A7Rii (when it would have been so incredibly easy to include) is one of the reasons I soured on using the system. True, the D800s don't have a square format or even an EVF but I see the D800s as a stop gap respite in the mad rush to the future. And in my world the future will be square.

The intersecting realities of image stabilization and subject movement. Why image stabilization doesn't make me giddy.

I'll be among the first to admit that image stabilization is pretty cool when it comes to objects that aren't moving. I love using my image stabilized lenses or cameras, or lenses and cameras when I'm photographing subjects that are at rest. Stationary. Not moving. Moving slowly. I.S. is a feature that helps me handhold my camera and lens system at lower shutter speeds than I usually would be able to without it. How much better is I.S. than photography without I.S. ? That really varies from system to system and even from format to format. 

I think most would agree that Olympus is the master of this feature. I used two Olympus EM-5.2 cameras a few years ago to create a video for a restaurant and my accomplice and I were able to do the whole project handheld. All the takes were as smooth as you could want and in the ensuing years I've been asked by friends in the video production business which gimbal we used to do the project. Some cameras were far less convincing with their image stabilization; the Sony a850 featured Steadyshot Inside but I'll be darned if I ever got more than one and half stops of assistance from that 2009 vintage camera. More recently I was using various Sony cameras and I found that the least effective implementation of image stabilization came in the A7Rii. The I.S. in the APS-C a6500 camera I used over the course of a week was much better at stabilizing images than my full frame sensor cameras at every focal length I tested, but the real winner in the Sony systems (in my experience) was the RX10 iii. The RX10 was nearly as good as the Olympus cameras and was very useful in the video and photography. 

For a while I was very enamored with I.S., whether it was lens or body based. But one day it dawned on me that the idea of constant stabilization was sidetracking me from using my cameras in the most effective ways. I was becoming dependent upon the camera to stabilize everything and, by extension, to make everything sharp, but I was so impressed with some cameras' abilities to work miracles at shutter speeds as low as 1/8th of second that it was becoming of game of seeing just how low we could put the limbo stick of exposure before camera movement started to manifest itself. 

Of course none of this took into consideration the more important effects of subject motion. If you are photographing a person who is talking with some degree of animation; moving their hands, nodding their head and bouncing from one foot to the other then all the image stabilization your camera can muster won't fix the problem of blurry hands, blurry heads and blurry bodies that come from trying to capture life at too slow a shutter speed. An animated speaker needs, at a minimum, about 1/125th of a second exposure in order to give the camera a fighting chance of pulling off a perceptively sharp image. You're much better off is you head up to 1/250th of a second as your minimum shutter speed. Subject motion is generally a much more realistic determiner of quality with any animated subject. I'm sure of this because I've spent the last 32 years trying to figure out how to shoot theatrical dress rehearsals where one is dealing with a triangle of evils in the image making. You need a fast enough shutter to freeze, or at least minimize, motion but you'll need a higher ISO to get you that shutter speed because the lighting is fixed. If you add clicks to the ISO dial you'll get more noise. Sometimes it's possible to use a faster lens but the longer your focal length the less and less likely that you'll find as fast an aperture as you do on shorter lenses. 

The third side of the triangle is light levels. In a shot that your are setting up and lighting you have the option of cranking up the power on your lights, but in the theater or in reportage you don't have the option to modify the light; you shoot with what you get. 

I used to think that image stabilization was mandatory even in the 1/160th and 1/250th range of shutter speeds, I mean, why not have all the potential image quality magnifiers you can get? Right? But one evening, after a long and crushing week, I shot a show at my local theater under challenging lighting with the fairly fast Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens. I had been shooting with a GH5 and the (best in the universe all in one lens) Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. The difference is that the shorter lens features really good I.S. while the longer lens doesn't have I.S. at all; it depends on the bodies to supply the support.

I forgot that in the moment and didn't have the I.S. engaged in the body. I blithely shot the whole evening without the glory and majesty of technology enhanced stabilization. When I got into the office the next day I started my usual routine of importing files and editing them. I was halfway through the edit and things were going well. I took a break at the behest of Studio Dog (you gotta play fetch at some point during the day or you might be a piss poor dog companion....) and when she did something super cute I grabbed the camera and blasted off a few frames. Then I look for the I.S. switch on the lens and BAM! in a moment of cold sweat awareness realized that it didn't exist. I flipped into the camera menu sure that I must have had the in-body stabilization engaged but HORRORS! no. 

For the rest of the morning I kept reflexively grabbing frames from the edit and enlarging them to 1:1 on my 27 inch screen. I was certain my folly would become obvious. Equally certain that my client would gasp in disgust and toss the whole shoot back in my face...

Only it didn't work out that way. I'd hewed to good practices and kept the shutter speeds as high as I could without cresting the 1600 ISO mark. I mostly shot the evening before between 1/160th of a second and 1/320th of a second. The images were very, very sharp. Comparing them with production photos from a month earlier made me realize that, at the shutter speeds I'd chosen to freeze subject motion the presence or absence of image stabilization was largely inconsequential. 

I logged that information away in my brain and let it ferment. And then I started taking more "chances" because after all, we'd been able to make perfectly good photographs all the time before the invention of this amazing technology. So, this last weekend I found myself shooting a bunch of stuff at an Amputee Coalition event with a Nikon D700 and a Nikon 24-120mm f4.0 VR lens (VR is Nikon's brand of stabilization. The VR stands for "vibration reduction"). 

I was shooting everything at f4.5 because the lens is sharp there and I like to drop backgrounds out of focus. I thought of it as a benefit that the lens also brought me really good image stabilization as well. But the combination of the f4.5 (for sharpness), the light levels, and the desire to keep ISO around 800 for the best looking available light files meant that I was shooting down in the 1/60th to 1/125th zone. I was getting blur from head movement and arm & hand motion. More than I wanted. I pulled a (non-stabilized) 50mm lens out of the bag and set it to f2.5 which gave me the ability to use nearly two more stops of shutter speed without changing my ISO. That meant shots at 1/250th or 1/320th of a second. I started getting more shots without subject blur and I got the added bonus of less in focus in the background. 

Had I needed more depth of field at the higher shutter speeds (keeping the ISO the same) I guess I could have switched to a smaller format. Too bad I didn't pack a smaller format system...

When we are given new features we tend to let them become mandatory settings for everything and then, since we are only human, we get over confident that I.S. will save our bacon in a pinch. That a newer system will let us go lower and lower with shutter speeds. But too often we misjudge what the important parameters of a shot might be. If the camera makers put a new and improved "hammer" feature in our cameras then every shooting situation seems like a new and improved "nail" situation. 

There really are no technical reasons I know of not to just leave I.S. on (unless you are putting your camera on a stable tripod) except for one that might affect users of "mini-battery" cameras like the first two generations of Sony A7 cameras or Fuji cameras. Image stabilization does consume battery power. As long as it's in use it's sucking down power like crazy. 

On the flip side there is a benefit which doesn't get as much mention as the primary function of I.S. (reducing blur) and that is the presentation of a stabilized viewfinder. And when you get a stabilized view through the finder your autofocusing module is also getting a stabilized feed which, theoretically should make focusing easier for your camera. 

The important thing I wanted to get across here is that image stabilization is not a magic bullet for everything. You still have to pay a lot of attention to subject motion. More so when light levels fall. Image stabilization is great to have but you still have to pay attention to the rest of the photographic equation. At least if you want sharp photos of moving objects....

I'm not particularly religious about which way I "must" have my I.S. I get that having it in-body means I get to apply the benefit of the feature to older lenses or lenses that may not have I.S. built in. But on a theoretical level I can make a convincing argument that having the I.S. custom designed and calibrated for individual lens designs (especially longer focal lengths) should be more effective. Think for a second about how far a sensor would have to be able to move to correct for camera motion with something like a 300mm lens. Eventually the sensor will run out of space in the camera to travel further. A long lens with built in stabilization can offer a greater range of correction when you get near the boundaries of what's possible --- at least in theory. 

Ah, what the hell. Just remember to match shutter speed to subject movement and I bet everything will turn out well.


One secret of effective direct mail. A novel delivery method.

I spent a rainy Saturday indoors in San Antonio at an Amputee Coalition event. There were lots of people there sharing stories and discoveries, learning new methodologies and generally having a good time. As usual there were representatives from various companies showing off their new technologies; their latest products. I found one exhibitor who had her service dog with her. I think the dog was bored because it decided to hand out pamphlets instead of just curling up at her feet. I've been wondering all morning today if I could also train my dog to pass out marketing pieces. Maybe the key is to start out small, with business cards, and eventually working our way up to larger direct mail pieces.... It's a thought. Probably not a good one. 

I have to say, especially after last week, one of the things I love about my career is the diversity of the projects I photograph. From the Amputee Coalition to Dell, Inc., to Ottobock, to the Seminary of the Southwest, to Zach Theatre, it's been a series of very different engagements. I guess the one common thread is that every project involved photographing people. Each industry and association is specialized but the need to engage real people, face to face, is universal. That seems to me to be the important part of the business. 

Happy Monday. Now processing hundreds and hundreds of files from an ancient Nikon D700.... (The Tri-X of digital cameras?).