10.08.2018

I laughed my ass off when I saw the camera Zeiss was proposing at Photokina. Don't these manufacturers ever learn from each other?



The Samsung Galaxy NX. How many hundreds sold worldwide?

I laughed and laughed when I saw what Zeiss was proposing the build. It's a camera with a fixed lens, a huge screen on the back and the ability to run apps like mobile Adobe Lightroom right on the back screen of the camera. If I read the promo material correctly it's based on the Android operating system...

Can you say, "Deja Vu?"
I sure can because I was part of the crew that tested and shot with the Samsung Galaxy NX camera. It featured a big and bold screen on the back. It ran Android's Jelly Bean implementation. It could run many apps. It was the most connected camera of all time and included: Bluetooth, Wi-fi, and full on Cellular connectivity. It even did the Zeiss pipe dream one better by providing an interchangeable lens system that could take advantage of some really well made and impressive lenses. But it was one of  the biggest camera failures in recent history and, in my opinion, was a strong component in Samsung's decision to exit the camera making market altogether. Be careful Zeiss. Be very careful.

Why did it fail? I'm sure there were as many reasons as their are photographers with opinions but for me it was all about actual usuability. Since the camera ran a consumer operating system with many installed apps (feature or sabotage?) it took a long time to start up once you hit the power switch. On the first samples we're talking as much as thirty seconds from switch flick to useable. If you had cellular enabled and you didn't change the default which asked the camera to look for software updates upon resuscitation you could doom yourself to longer waiting periods (with little or no recourse) as the camera downloaded and installed the usual patches and crap. Nuts to you if you saw a scene with Lady GaGa and the Pope making out on main stream with UFOs landing in the background ---- you weren't going to have a camera that would take photographs until your Galaxy NX finished downloading and installing the latest rev. of Angry Birds. 

So, if you have a camera in which the controls are apps and they are embedded with communication apps and gaming apps you just got yourself a menu that makes the Olympus OMD menus look like, "See Jane run. Run Jane run." I made notes. They hardly helped. And I guess I should have expected it because every software update meant new application icon positions and permissions. 

And while the IDEA of a really big screen sounds enticing (yes, you could probably watch a movie on Netflix on your flight home from wherever) it's a shitty idea on many levels; or at least in the levels that have anything do to with taking photographs. 

I'll admit that the screen was nice when shooting stuff in the studio but only until you experienced one of the (regular and frequent) OS crashes and had to restart. Again. And Again.

But shooting out in the streets you quickly realize that the screen is for shit in bright sunlight ( and will be equally or nearly as bad on the Zeiss --- no matter what the sales brochure says.... One Million Nits....!!!!!) and all the money spent on the big rear screen meant scrimping and saving on the low res and slow refreshing EVF. You may think you love doing everything on the rear screen because you are young and stupid and don't know any better, having cut your teeth holding a phone out in front of yourself like a dolt, but when you start photographing with intention you discover how important and enabling a good eye level finder can be.... That's why we don't use twin lens reflexes or view cameras anymore. 

I hope Zeiss doesn't scrimp on the EVF, it will kill the camera before it hits the local Hermes shop. Perhaps they'll stock them at Gucci as well....

Thom Hogan and some small handful of tech-y photographers constantly pine for massive interconnectivity but I'm betting that when they get a bad taste of the distraction and cumbersome nature of their phone, laptop and camera having sex and giving birth to a Frankenstein-ish all purpose appliance they'll want to go back and edit out everything they ever wrote about wanting to process images on their cameras and then uploading them to the millions and millions of buyers who are, in their imaginations, just waiting for their photographic produce to come banging over the bandwidth to their (tiny phone) screens. Multi-Tasking is just another conglomeration of words that essentially means, "I like the gimmicks more than the art. I can't concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. And, everyone wants to see my stuff RIGHT NOW. Even surgeons pause their procedures just to take a gander on their phones of someone's latest ferret foto)

I can see it now. Legions of people misled by false technology messiahs spending Frustration Fridays uploading a new version of Lightroom to their camera. Uploading new versions of Android to their...camera. Playing Angry Birds and  Candy Crush on their cameras.  Waiting for their cameras to reboot so they can catch the last few moments of the asteroid that is about to decimate the planet. 

Me? I'll laugh and photograph them slamming their new interactive, interconnected cameras down on the hard concrete in frustration as they come to understand that real creativity requires real, undiluted attention and focus. Yeah. A one tool per job mentality. It's why we don't have Sporks in Michelin star restaurants. Multi-tool camera clutter is why Zeiss's latest grasp for the gold plated ring will result in abject failure. 

I'd go the other way and make a camera with three controls: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Everything else we'd handle in post. It's true. If you don't believe me go find a Samsung Galaxy NX and give it a whirl. Yes, I can write this because I used one for a year. And yes, I'd never buy another camera like that again. Even with YOUR money. 













Most photos above: Berlin 2013. The launch.


Choosing between micro four thirds cameras and full frame, Nikon D800 cameras for tomorrow's portrait assignment.

A self portrait from 2013 with the failed Samsung Galaxy NX APS-C camera.

I have an unusual assignment tomorrow. I'm going to a hotel in the downtown area where I'll set up a temporary studio in a large meeting room. The studio will have a gray background at one end and a black background at the other end and a bunch of lights in between. I need to photograph about 25 people that work for a telecom company because each of them needs a new headshot for LinkedIn and other social media. 

I'll photograph each person against the black background and then move them over a few feet and photograph them against the gray background. I'm not sure why the need for two different backgrounds but that's what came in the bid request. I connected with this client through a telecom client in San Francisco and, in spite of needing two different backgrounds the shoot should be fun and lighthearted. 

I was down scouting the location today so I'd know what to bring tomorrow. I've packed four monolights to use on the shoot (main light and back light on each set) as well as two pop-up reflectors for fill. I'm also packing two speed lights to use as background lights for the gray background set. But the decision that made me pause was about the cameras. 

Should I bring the Nikon D800s or the Panasonic GH5 cameras?

In the end I decided to continue my successful run with the Panasonic cameras, packing the GH5S and the newer G9. But I paid attention to my thought processes and the way I came around to deciding on which system to use. I thought it might help instruct me in future engagements...

The first part of the equation is that we'll have to shoot the equivalent of 50 portraits over the course of the day. That's a lot to shoot but that's a hell of a lot to post process. I bid the job differently than I usually would because I'm trying to streamline the amount of work I need to dedicate to post production. What I told the client was this: I'll shoot between ten and twenty shots of each person against each background. At the least that's 500 images and at the most around 1,000 images. In the past I would have made a global color correction and exposure currection, put the edited (meaning "culled down") images in a gallery on Smugmug.com and had the client go there to pick out the best image of each person. Then I'd retouch that single image for each person. But that makes the process cumbersome and time consuming. A lot of people take their time getting back with selections and there are few things I hate more than projects that come back to me in dribbles and drabs. 

This time around I'll light and shoot them to the best of my abilities, do a very precise global color correction and apply (almost like a LUT in video) a look to the files, and put all of them up on Smugmug.com and make every image downloadable in full resolution by the client. I'll effectively take myself out of the selection and retouching process. Taking it one step further I'm shooting all the files as Jpegs (yes, I'll take a hand held meter, and yes, I'll do a careful custom white balance...) which will save me time and space in the backend of the process. To take it one step further I'll use the GH5S as my primary camera depending on the G9 only as my back up camera. Why? Well, the 10 megapixel files, of course. 

I did mention above that the aim point for delivery was files to use on social media...

I considered using the Nikon D800s because they do very nice files. But they are also bereft of things like eye and face detection autofocus, which I want to use in case my attention drifts away from the task at hand and I truly go into autopilot. 

The D800 is less agile about nailing focus; especially when compared to any of the recent Panasonic cameras that do face/eye AF. I also have to admit that I like the color straight out of the GH5S better than anything else I've played with. Better than any camera since the Kodak D760. 

The ten megapixel files have ample detail for any sort of social media use and the ability to use the 4:3 aspect ratio is also a bonus for this particular project. 3:2 vertical just never really looks good on LinkedIn. Using the GH5S allows me to use one of my favorite portrait lenses of the last two years, the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro. And by using it at ISO 200 and f5.6 I'll get ample depth of field while keeping the needed flash power low enough to ensure that the lithium batteries in the Neewer monolights lasts all day long. 

So I end up with files that absorb fewer archiving resources, are faster to upload to the final gallery and have the color and tonality I like. Seems like a win on every level.

The score would be much different if the parameters of the job were different. If the client was using the images for big, scalable banner ads or full screen graphic I might elect to use the G9 as my primary camera in order to get a larger file. If the client also needed images for print advertising and intended to use the images in advertising or in trade show graphics then I might step up once again and go to the raw files in the Nikon. At some point it's all contextual and the days of re-tasking images for all imaginable uses are long gone. Current clients understand that different images have different uses, different values and can be created with various tools. Part of my job is choosing the right job to both satisfy my clients and my need to continually streamline and drive costs out of my process in places where the requested quality won't be affected. 

We have no obligation to provide our clients with more than they pay for or more than they contract for. If clients want to sharpen their accounting pencils and make budgets smaller we're okay with complying as long as we are able to structure our offerings to reduce cost and complexity. 

But what if one of the participants wants to have his photograph retouched? Well, we have an ala carte price in this job for individual retouching. It's extra and it's billable. And that's how I think jobs should be going forward. 

For all you folks still having issues figuring out how to get the best auto focus from your Panasonic GH5, GH5S and G9 cameras.....

Here is Panasonic's in-depth and very well produced answer/guide:

https://www.panasonic.com/content/dam/Panasonic/Global/Learn-More/lumix-af-guidebook/LUMIX_AF_Guidebook_1809.pdf

It's a full of great answers, suggestions, settings etc. Some of the features discussed are upcoming in a firmware released tentatively scheduled for October 28th but most of the material is relevant in the here and now.

A tip of my hat and a "thank you" to motion picture superstar, James Webb, for sending this along to me. Should make all of us Panasonic users look that much better....

from the Pecan Street Art Festival.

10.07.2018

Black and White Image from Saratoga Springs. A few thoughts about using the monochrome modes in the Panasonic G9.

not taken with a G9...
Might be a Panasonic GH4.

I always like to at least try the monochrome modes on cameras. Sometimes you can get lucky. Fuji users seem luckier. Using "monochrome" on my Nikons is an exercise in futility. I thought, maybe --- just maybe --- the newer Panasonic G9 would be better. I tried the different modes like Monochrome L and D and I tried the different color filter settings but the files just weren't very convincing as black and whites. The one thing I will warn you against, if you are intent of trying to make the G9 your "go to" black and white camera is to shy away from using the "add grain" feature. Even at the lowest setting it adds way too much grain and the grain "edges" are way too soft to be even glancingly close to real film grain. Better to bring your files into PhotoShop and do conversions from color there and add film grain with PS filters.

Maybe it's just a control issue...

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.