10.07.2018

Framed legs. Austin's Grafitti Wall.


Untitled Image from Austin.


When the world goes crazy it's good to shut everything off and head to one of the state parks to relax. Enjoy 'em now before the privatization and strip mining begins...

Pedernales State Park. 

Shot with an Olympus EM5ii.


Getting ready for the Icelandic Adventure and other photographic topics.


Someone wrote and told me that I might like to have thin gloves to wear under my bigger, heavy duty gloves if I'm out in the cold taking photographs. Their logic made sense to me; the big gloves do most of the work keeping my fingers warm but when I need to make a change that requires pushing a small button or turning a recalcitrant dial I can pull my hands out of the big gloves and still have something between my skin and the metal of the camera body.

I went to REI and found a decent pair of glove liners and bought them. I think that was the last purchase I needed to make for the trip, as far as winter clothing is concerned. Certainly there are still many opportunities to rush out and buy a new camera system before departure ---- if the spirit moves me.... Plenty of time to read the new owner's manuals on the plane.

Cold weather shooting tips are most welcome. Remember, I spend most of my time in Texas where snow is rarer than common sense.

Don't bother warning me not to breathe on the front of a lens in weather below freezing. I did that last year in Toronto and was rewarded with a frosted front element.

10.06.2018

New Camera. Old Lens. Interesting intersections.

Panasonic G9+ PenFT 25mm f2.8.

Too upset by the Senate vote re: the Supreme Court to even think about writing anything.




10.05.2018

First Job on which I used the Panasonic G9, and survived. Well.


A quick blog note: When I discuss practical experiences about some gear I tend to do so in the context of actual jobs I've completed using the gear. Most of the time the jobs are done for corporate clients and we have often entered into understandings about what I can and cannot show publicly without violating either trade information or individuals' privacy. If I show work from a paid engagement and it shows recognizable people then I will have gotten permission to use it. Most of the time I rely on my written experiences to convey the information I want to share. Occasionally I'll use peripheral images from events as small visual accents to the copy. As an example of the kinds of images I often take but rarely show, I set up and shot a group photograph of 50+ people outside yesterday afternoon. While the photos exceeded my expectations I can't show them without going back and obtaining agreement from the company and then getting the permission from all 50+ participants. In this context that's a very, very low priority for my use of time. So, you won't see the group photos. You'll just have to take my work for it that they were SPECTACULAR (wink...). 

Yesterday afternoon was warm and humid. A typical central Texas day in early October. We've had a rash of high humidity days stemming from storm systems in the Gulf of Mexico, and some high pressure domes. Adding in 90+ degree temperatures doesn't help the comfort levels...  I packed a camera bag for an assignment and, after a short nap on the couch, under the watchful eyes of Studio Dog, I ambled to my car and headed east on Hwy. 71, past the airport and on toward Bastrop. I headed to a resort to do a small assignment of the type I have covered for decades: a corporate leadership conference --- the team building segment.

As is par for the course around Austin the company I was photographing for is in the technology industry. They are one of the top companies to work for in the area and they do work all around the planet.

Today I had a pretty straightforward agenda. I would photograph the group of 50+ people outside around 4:30pm and then I would document them as they broke into eight teams of five or six people and did an abbreviated form of "Iron Chef." Each team needed to create a perfect guacamole, a perfect salsa and as good a margarita as humanly possible. A team of the resort food&beverage folks would be the judges.

The event was set up outside in the center of a U-shaped collection of fine resort buildings with some of the contestant tables in the sun and some in open shade. Of course, there were open bars and queso and guacamole other snacks to help the contestants stay focused.

I pulled together group shots of each department of people, just because that's something people usually want. After we photographed the judging and the awarding of much tequila I also photographed a pre-dinner reception, turned down an earnest invitation to join them all for dinner, and then headed back Austin to eat with the home crew (smoked salmon sandwiches = whole wheat croissants, split and toasted, spread with cream cheese, luscious smoked salmon, frissé and a poached egg. Delicious. Serve with chilled vodka?).

That's the preamble. So what camera did I take? What lens did I use? And how did it all work out?

I took the Panasonic G9 and the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. For a back up I took along a GH5 with an assortment of prime lenses. I took two flashes. One to use for the group shot and the other to use on camera for the event documentation.

Let's start with the group shot: I knew we'd be doing this outside on a warm and sunny afternoon so I knew I should take along a powerful flash. I was lucky to find a small hill that was shaded from direct, late afternoon sun by two tall trees but as with any tree shading there was still a bit of dappled sunlight here and there and I knew I should clean up the whole scene with some strong fill flash. But before I set up the flash I asked the resort to deliver a nice eight foot ladder. A higher perspective is nearly always better with big groups. Amazingly, the ladder arrived in minutes.

I envisioned setting up the group shot with the people in three rows and set up a Godox AD200 flash, with the clear flash tube firing into the pebbled  six inch reflector. I put it on a twelve foot light stand and weighted the base of the stand with my camera bag. The light was trigger by a Godox X1T-O flash trigger which can give me ttl control over the AD-200 as well as HSS. I used the system in manual because I knew I'd need the full power of the flash to do the job correctly.

The hardest part of getting an executive group organized is just getting the group organized. But the heat and humidity were allies of sorts because they motivated people to get through the process a bit quicker. The flash took about two seconds between shots to recycle but it was absolutely perfect for cleaning up the shot and the trigger worked as it should on the Panasonic G9.

When I finished shooting the shot and the group headed off to grab beers and sustenance before starting the competition I encountered my first (non-fatal) disappointment with the G9. I was shooting in Raw and when I reviewed the files everything looked perfect until I magnified the review image to 8X. Then the image seemed blocky and unsharp. Moving to 16X it looked....pixelated. I knew I had locked focus in the right spot and I knew that 1/250 with a wide angle setting on the lens was not remotely problematic re: camera motion, especially given the great image stabilization.

Of course it was a false alarm. The smaller review Jpeg generated by the raw file is just not capable of showing all the detail. I'm presuming that, like most cameras, if you want a really great preview you'd better shoot raw+high quality Jpeg to start with. Once I got the images on the 27 inch screen at the office I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were even more detailed that I would have imagined.

With the group shot out of the way I quickly packed up the AD200 and the trigger and put a Godox TT685-O in the hot shoe of the camera. I only turned it on and used it when I was in situations where a scene I wanted to photograph was half in bright sun and half in open shade. I try to boost the shadow areas without materially affecting the highlights.

The Olympus 12-100mm was, of course, flawless as an event coverage lens, going effortlessly from wide to a tight telephoto, allowing me to get lots of tight, one and two person shots and them zooming out to get a whole group.

I'm still getting used to the "hair" trigger of the G9. It's sensitive. But having only had the camera for two days I think I'm already getting the shutter button dialed in and sorted.

The camera was pretty accurate for color balance in most situations but when the sun finally dipped behind the western building and we were in total open shade I decided to help the camera out by setting the open shade white balance preset. Consistency means a lot when you know you'll be batch processing files.

I shot through 500+ files, with ample pre-chimping, and was still on the same battery at the finish. By the end of my time with the group I still had three bars left on the batter indicator.  The camera, lens and flash altogether weighed less than one of my Nikon D800's alone. It made for a comfortable package while gadding about in the heat and humidity for two and a half hours. No sore biceps today.....

The one thing that sticks out for me in my early evaluation of the G9 is just how sharp and detailed the files are. I hesitated about using the camera for the big group shot, thinking the D800e might be a better choice, but unless my client is planning to take a huge, huge print of the shot I don't think the difference is visible. Interesting that the small format has come so far. It's peachy for group shots as I rarely worry about people in the second or third rows being out of focus....

More to come later. It was a fun and low stress engagement. The camera helped.

Not quite the most fastidious assemblage of chefs I've seen.

many limes were injured in the making of margaritas. Oh the horror. 

And, to the winners in the overall best category, the spoils. 

10.04.2018

An "in progress" review of the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens after over a year's experience with it.



When I bought my first two GH5's I was starting over in the micro four thirds universe from scratch. Because I intended to use the system to make photographs and videos for business rather than for just my personal use, I needed to put together a rational collection of lenses that would cover my professional needs. I don't need exotic focal lengths but I do need to cover what professionals who shoot any system need; a wide angle zoom that's well corrected for geometric distortions, a telephoto zoom (which I use frequently in theater and in the making of certain kinds of portraits) with a fast f-stop and then, most importantly, an all around, standard zoom that's sharp as a fresh razor blade, well behaved and fully useable at a wide open aperture.

When selecting normal range zooms I dislike those with very limited ranges. I'm not a fan of the big, heavy 24 to 70mm f2.8 zooms (on FF) because they are too cumbersome for what they deliver and they can't get me into a portrait range that I like. When I shot with Canons I nearly always had their venerable 24-105mm f4.0 L lens attached to a camera. Now that I'm shooting frequently with Nikon cameras I lean toward the (surprisingly good) 24-120mm f4.0 and am happy to have the extra 15mm of focal length at the long end. It's a nice lens for a portrait photographer! But when I bought the Panasonics I relied on my recent memory of having purchased and used their twin "pro" lenses, the 12-35mm f2.8 and their 35-100mm f2.8. I remember sometimes being frustrated by the limiting 70mm equivalent at the long end of the 12-35mm and miffed at having to always carry two cameras, each with a lens mounted on it, it cover the range at a fast moving event, conference or even theater dress rehearsal.

Those lenses left my inventory in my purge of the Olympus EM-5.2 cameras a while back and so I came to populating the GH5 system inventory with a clean slate. I had the prejudice that lenses with less extreme ranges would be better optimized than those with extreme ranges and that belief made me leery about looking at the Olympus 12-100mm, even though the focal length range is like something from heaven for the kind of work I routinely do. But my (extremely good) experiences with the breathtaking range of focal lengths provided by the Sony RX10 iii went a long way toward at pushing me to at least be open to a trying the longer range on the Olympus professional zoom.

I read many reviews before I decided to try the lens for myself. I borrowed one from a local camera dealer and spent a weekend shooting all kinds of images in all sorts of places. I tried every aperture and every focal length. When I finally sat down in front of my computer and started editing and then post processing my raw files a smile spread across my face. Here was a lens that was clearly as sharp wide open as it was stopped down to f5.6 or f8. It wasn't just "useable" at f4.0 it was superb at f4.0.

It also worked flawlessly with the Panasonic GH5. The system defaults to using the image stabilization in the lens rather than the in-body stabilization but I haven't found that to be a negative. In fact, when I bought the GH5S, which does not feature image stabilization, a lot of my comfort in buying that particular body came from the knowledge that my favorite Olympus lens would do a great job stabilizing images on that body.

I also put the Olympus 12-100mm ahead of the Panasonic twins and the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 because it is a superior lens for video work. Let me explain why. All the lenses discussed here use "fly-by-wire" to manually focus but only the Olympus (with it's separate setting for MF) allow you to access a marked focus ring which stops at infinity and also allows you to set a repeatable focus point which you can see and return to on the focusing ring. This allows you to easily and accurate preset a distance for focus and come back to it again and again. And, while the focus throw is a bit short you can, with practice, roll focus between two marked points reliably. Not really possible with the other candidates.

I've shot with the 12-100mm for over a year now and last week's big shoot was a good example of why I like using the lens so much. I was covering a conference for three long days, shooting tight shots of speakers on stage, wide shots of branding and stage design, shots with ttl flash and a wide open aperture and even a fair amount of video of the same subjects. I used the lens mostly at f4 and have yet to find a frame (if I didn't screw up on focusing) that wasn't sharp and pretty. I could use the lens on the GH5S and get image stabilization in both video and still photography and there were times when I switched into manual focusing just for the hell of it. After shooting 4,000+ images over the course of the event, everywhere from dimly lit ballrooms, exteriors, tented venues and in crowded team rooms, I found that the vast majority of images were done with this one lens.

A much smaller percentage of shots were executed with the 40-150mm f2.8 (an amazing lens that is sharper than any Canon or Nikon 70-200mm lens I've used) because I used it mostly to get tight headshots of speakers on stage from a discreet position in the back of a hotel ballroom (not a very large ballroom). An even smaller number of images were done with the Sigma 30mm f1.4 contemporary lens and I used it just to see how it handled at its widest aperture. It was great as isolating people in the crowd.

The 12-100mm is not a cheap lens to buy but it is cost effective once you realize that it's usable on nearly every project you'll end up doing with micro four thirds systems. The lens is water and dust resistant, built almost entirely of metal, has very effective image stabilization and, for the range, is not heavy or cumbersome.  An added bonus, if you shoot with Olympus EM1.2 and EM5.2 cameras, is that the lens I.S. and camera I.S. will work together to give you pretty spectacular stabilization.

In the course of the last year I've used this lens extensively in video projects and even more extensively in photography assignments and it is one of the gear investments that paid for itself many, many times over.

The Olympus Pro series lenses are in a class by themselves. They are remarkably sharp and well corrected. I'm not sure how much of the correction is being done by processing in the cameras but I can see that I'm not experiencing image degradation in the corners, even with the 10 megapixel camera, and that kind of image damage is usually a clue of too much processing and not enough file information. I'm not seeing those effects with the 12-100mm.

So, bottom line, how good is the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 lens? Literally, it's my "desert island" choice. I'm using it for a project this afternoon and for a video on Saturday. It's also the first lens to hop in my camera bag and head for Iceland at the end of October. If I dropped, lost or otherwise didn't have one I'd rush to my local dealer and replace it immediately. There are few other lenses whose absence wouldn't at least trigger a "what a good chance to see what else is available...." but the 12-100mm is a non-negotiable part of my system. The other "must have" is the 40-150mm f2.8 but we'll save that for another day.


Black and White Adds Fiction to Photographs.


I've tried for years to figure out why I prefer to look at black and white photographs of many subjects. It finally dawned on me after watching the movie, "La Dolce Vita" for the millionth time.
Removing color removes a layer of implied reality from the art. When that layer is removed we get to look at the image or movie as more of a fiction or story and less as a documentation of reality.

The lack of color, and the beguiling interplay of tones, allows us to put aside our presumption of objectivity and dive into whatever visual narrative the artist wanted to present.

And if you are just buying photographic art as an investment you can buy black and white prints without the worry that some of the colors in a color print might clash with your couch or your decorator's choice of wall paint.....

Having realized all of this I now want all camera makers to concentrate on giving us better and more customizable black and white modes. Regardless of sensor size or quantity of megapixels.

Why would they not want to give us the opportunity to make better black and white photos?
I wouldn't cost much to add better profiles to most cameras on the market.

10.03.2018

My first subdued romp through the naked city with a Panasonic G9 in my hands. Like a photographic Godzilla through Tokyo.


Next week I'll spend a day at this hotel making portraits for a high technology company.

I've shot with Panasonic cameras since the days of the GH2. I've owned and used the GH3, GH4 and now two versions of the GH5 and most recently I've added a G9 to the mix. Largely on the strength of my almost visceral reaction to the splendid files I've been getting from the GH5S. Not huge files by any means, but extremely well built files with great color and tonality. I figured the newest color science might actually run in the family and so, here we are with a G9. And just in time as our dance card is filled with assignments as far as the eye can see.

I hate diving straight into shooting paid work with a new camera. There could be new settings or buttons that stump me while I'm right in the middle of a project or the camera could (rarely) be defective in some way and it's better to find that out and get it swapped out for a new one ASAP.  My routine is to put a known lens on the front and head out the door to shoot the camera for a couple hours or a couple hundred frames and see if there are any surprises. Certainly I would hate to pack an untested camera and take it on a trip out of town. That would be my idea of a nightmare scenario.

I put a new battery in the camera and a Hoodman Steel 128 GB V60 UHS II SD card in the "A" slot on the camera, formatted the card, and then added a 25mm f1.7 Panasonic lens to the package. I put the camera into the "A" mode, set the aperture to f 4.0 and headed into downtown. It was a warm and sweaty day with temperatures in the 90's, and the humidity was just a tad lower than a a wall of steam. Good weather for a photographic Godzilla to terrorize small villages, or the whole of downtown Austin by waving a little camera around in my hands and trying to breathe fire. Which did not work. 

Thankfully, the camera did. 

I had previously tried out the camera at the bricks and mortar showroom, but only in the most cursory way. I noted that the finder had a bit of pincushion distortion and that the shutter release was very, very sensitive (too sensitive, I thought at the time...).  The finder was large and bright and that stuck with me. But standing at the counter at a camera store and aiming it at the staff and clicking off frames under wildly mixed light is hardly the best way to assess the potential of a camera. Right?

Since I was shooting with an inexpensive 25mm lens which does not have image stabilization the first thing I noticed was how good the in body image stabilization is with the G9. While pressing the shutter button just before shutter actuation you can see the image become rock solid. I quickly learned to accommodate the sensitive shutter and now have no issues with it at all. The combination of the slight pressure needed to trigger the camera, coupled with top tier image stabilization means that I can handhold the little 25mm lens down to at least 1/4th of a second and at that setting expect good and convincing sharpness. 

As to the perceived pincushion distortion....I have a theory that the EVF is showing us the pre-corrected file as a preview and only applies the geometric lens correction post exposure; during the writing out of the file to the memory card. Once the image is committed to the card and called up for review it doesn't seem to have the same pincushion distortion. This could all be conjecture on my part but that's my stumbling around in the street observation. At any rate, my facile and interesting brain sorted out the issue of the pincushion-ism rather quickly and cancelled it out of my conscious thoughts while I was shooting. 

Of all the cameras I've shot with from Panasonic this one has the most pleasing shutter sound and is perhaps the quietest when used with the mechanical shutter. Of course, all the recent models have a silent, electronic shutter setting so I guess the underlying point is moot. If you need quiet you can dial it up. But it's nice to have the aural feedback of the mechanical shutter, it makes the practice of photography seem more real. 

One thing I am very happy with, even though I've barely spent time with the new camera, is the color and tonality of the files when shooting Jpeg. I assume I can get even better results with raw files but there are many instances when the Jpegs will work well. More emphatically so when one already likes the color one is getting from the camera. 

The camera is not too small and not too big so I guess this makes it less of a Godzilla camera and more of a Goldilocks camera, but that's a good thing. The buttons have a much different feel than the buttons on the GH5 but, again, within a few blocks I had already compensated and changed my neural subroutines to match my desired perception: = nice buttons. 

All of the images here started as standard, non-inflected Jpegs. I dragged them through an app called SnapSeed and applied a light dose of "structure" or slight exposure "course correction" but no heroics were performed to save or overly enhance the files above or below.

What's my first day's response to the camera? This is the 2018 equivalent of the 1955 introduction of the Leica M3. A nicely sized and weighted camera with a beautiful finder (yes, I am referring to both) that balances nicely with a 'normal' focal length lens and does beautiful work without calling too much attention to itself. I was not loud, didn't suck down the battery at a rapid clip and turned out files that were exactly what I wanted. I don't know what more a sane person would ask from a camera. 

The web tells me what insane people might want from a camera and I think it has some of that stuff built in but things like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are not intrusive. I'm pretty sure there's no built in GPS so I guess we should count our blessings. The package works well.

But let's also take a second to talk about the lens. The 25mm f1.7 Panasonic is kind of a sleeper, always overshadowed by either the Leica 25mm Summilux or the Olympus 25mm f1.2, but it's actually a very competent performer, especially at f2.8, f4.0 and f5.6. It's quite usable wide open but it really shines at the smaller apertures. It's not the simple design you might be accustomed to if you've shot with so called "nifty-fifty" lenses from Canon and Nikon. It's actually a more complex design with an ultra high refractive element in the front, two aspheric elements somewhere in the mix and eight elements in seven groups; which is more complex than most of the "kit" lenses on the market. It seems reasonably priced at $249 but frequently is offered, on sale, for around $149, at which price I consider it to be a bargain. Nay, a steal. 

But look for yourself. The images here were all done with the Panasonic 25mm and I'm not finding much to complain about. Even the one with the huge specular highlight on the top corner of the office building is actually well controlled for flare, etc. 

All-in-all I'm finding a lot to like about the look and feel of the G9 files as well as the basic handling of the camera. Someday I'll program all the function buttons and make a "cheat sheet" so I can remember what is where. Until then I think I'll just use the controls I know and leave the rest to fate.

The camera is now on the short list for the trip to Iceland. So is the lens. 

If you have a G9 can you tell me what sort of logic you used when programming the function buttons? There's so many options to choose from.....
Packed up for a quick shoot nearby.











Environmental art on the Lamar Blvd. underpass. Nice. 

Getting in and out of the country quicker and better. And getting around inside better as well.....

B. at the Met.

The last time I flew back into the U.S.A. from outside the country was in 2017. I drove back in from Mexico earlier this year but the border crossing in a car wasn't anywhere near the ordeal that coming back home on a plane was.

In the airport in Toronto there were long lines to clear customs and many delays. It seemed unusual to me since I was definitely not traveling during a peak travel season.

I've also noticed many more delays and clogs when going through security for domestic flights as well. I usually get the TSA PreCheck on my tickets though I've never signed up for the program and that's a great help but often my kid will barely make a plane because of the regular lines for airport security and that's even if he arrives an hour or two before his flight. It may be that Austin-Bergstrom airport is just getting relentlessly busier and this is part of the overall growth pains of living in a bursting city.

At any rate, I seem to be racking up travel commitments left and right. I have the workshop in Iceland coming up in late October thru early November, followed by another workshop in the U.K. the first week and a half of December. Before I go off on those fun trips though I have four or five travel days to the east coast in the last two weeks of October. That's a lot of climbing on an off planes but it's also potentially a lot of standing in TSA security lines and taking shoes off and putting them back on again.

I can't complain because the work is great and the workshops have the promise of being incredibly fun. But I've decided that I need to make the airport/Kirk interface more efficient so, after much research I decided to apply for a program called Global Entry that's run by the Customs and Boarder Security Agency. Once you sign up, have a background check and a face to face interview, turn over your fingerprints, Oh, and pre-pay a non-refundable $100 application fee you might get approved. The agency is very clear that there's no guarantee and if you don't get approved  you aren't getting your $100 back. Tough love.

But...if you do pass the background check and all the screening you become a member of this program called Global Entry which makes you a "trusted traveler" and allows you to skirt customs and get into the country in an express lane at immigration. The bonus is that the same program and fee also provides the TSA PreCheck benefit. You get to go through the short line and forgo the privilege of taking off your belt and your shoes!

So, I started the process online and filled in all the blanks. I've had the same job for 32 years with the same employer (that would be me...) and I've lived in the same house for 22 years. I have never been arrested or investigated or implicated. I'm like a darn Boy Scout. I thought the whole thing would be a slam dunk but there's always a catch. The catch here is the backlog. It's either a very popular program or one supplied with meager resources.

I'm told by the website that I should have a conditional answer within 3-4 weeks and then I'll need to schedule the face to face interview, for which there are no more open slots anywhere in the Southwest U.S. for the rest of the year. Interesting conundrum, yes? As a person with an overwhelming sense of entitlement I immediately queried whether or not I could expedite the process by paying more but that doesn't seem to be an option.

I guess I'll just have to wait out the process and use the new privileges when, and if, they become available.

I'm writing this to ask if you have applied or used the program and to hear/read your responses about it. Can you please share your actual experiences with me? It would be much appreciated. In the interim I'll head over to the DMV to practice my waiting skills.........