11.29.2018

My final assessment of the Panasonic G9 versus the Fuji X-T3.


Zach Theatre.

Earlier this year I bought two Panasonic G9 cameras to supplement my little collection of GH5 variants. The GH5 & GH5S are still the best hybrid video and still cameras on the market for actual, day-in-day-out video productions. The new stuff from Nikon (Z7), Canon and Sony is all flawed in one way or another when it comes to video but that's another story and one that will change soon. 
The G9 is the best handling of the family. The grip fits my hand perfectly, the camera is an extremely stable platform and the image stabilization is amazing; especially when using lenses that are supported by Panasonic's dual I.S. system. The capper is the wonderful EVF on the G9. In many respects it's a perfectly designed photography tool. 

I should have left well enough alone because the system is fun to shoot with, produces really pretty files and very, very nice photographs. Coupled with Panasonic's best lenses and a few of the Olympus Pro lenses the whole system should provide P.R. photographers, event photographers and art photographers with an amazing assemblage of powerful imaging tools. But then, there is a natural curiosity that seem to only be assuaged by hands-on experience, and so, I fell into the Fuji trap. 

I call it the "Fuji Trap" because it's set up with lures and encouragements to just dip one's toe in and give it a try. The constant marketing mantra is just how wonderful the color is in the files and how beautifully Fuji cameras and lenses render skin tones. 

Now that I've put 6,000 exposures through the X-T3 and have spent like a drunken trust funder on their lenses I think I can pen a few thoughts on which system I like best and which one I'll keep. 

Here are the arguments for each camera: 

Panasonic G9:

Perfect ergonomics. Which means that camera handles better than most and every button and control is intuitive and well placed. It may be the most sensible camera layout I've come across.

The electronic viewfinder is large and lovely to look through. 

The camera is very responsive. Using fast, V90 UHSII cards means the buffer clears quickly and the camera never slows down in use. 

The camera's AF is constantly an issue with writers and v-loggers, existentially. Most have bought into the religion of CD-AF being vastly inferior to PD-AF but my experience doesn't bear that out. In all but the lowest light the camera focuses quickly and accurately. Certainly, one of the bigger DSLRs, optimized for sports shooting will do better, lock on quicker and follow a moving subject better but for most photographers the G9 gets it just right and works well. In the studio, under good modeling light or LED panels I've never had the camera hunt for focus. The opposite side of the whole religion of phase detection is that the G9 is consistently more accurate in its focusing. If you've got the little square in the right place and it lights up green you never need to second guess that you'll get a sharply focused image with the nexus of sharpness precisely where you need/want it. 

The smaller image sensor has several benefits. In video use it doesn't generate as much heat as a larger sensor so the image are less subject to thermal noise. The second advantage of the smaller sensor is that its lower mass and smaller geometry make its image stabilization very effective. Much better than anything I was ever able to get from a full frame Sony camera, for example.

The one area in which all arguments end up is about the size of the imaging sensor. It's a micro four/thirds sensor and not an APS-C or full frame sensor. For some people this may be a deal killer. My experience is that in decent light and with great lenses the system holds its own for nearly every use imaginable. It will give up ground to bigger sensors as the ISO goes up and the light goes down. That's the ONLY trade-off for this camera. 

So, what about the Fuji system?

The Fuji X-T3: 

The X-T3 is interesting. The only parameter in which it beats the G9 is in the sensor technology. The sensor has twice the real estate and because of this can handle high ISO noise a bit better than the G9. In a raw to raw comparison there is little difference in the color; a skilled post processor can make either camera look like the other and so the only real imaging advantage beyond high ISO noise handling is one of preference: Do you like Fuji's Jpegs (SOOC) better than those of the competitors? The Jpegs are very nice. With much effort you can get the G9 Jpegs close but for the rest of us the X-T3 does it effortlessly and that's a nice thing to have if you are predominantly a Jpeg only shooter. I'll confess that part of my obsession with getting exposure and white balance as accurate as possible is my desire to use Jpegs for as much of my work as possible. I resist spending too much time fine tuning images. My early experiences with color photography mostly revolved around slide film and medium format transparency film where color accuracy and the exposure were locked in and unchangeable by the photographer once processed. It worked for us then by freeing up our time. 
It can work for us now for the same reasons.

While I like the retro controls on the X-T3 I think anyone would have to admit that the controls feel more cheaply made and more plasticky than those on the G9. A better made control interface may not affect imaging but it sure adds to one's comfort level with a camera and one's confidence that it will be reliable. 

Demerits for the X-T3 include: a less logically laid out menu and a kludgier interface altogether. A pixie size battery which definitely limits shooting time with stills and even more so in video. Where the G9 can shoot well over thousand frames without breaking a sweat the Fuji is probably best coupled with a battery grip. There is a reason the Fuji engineers made a grip that keeps the camera battery in the camera and then adds not one but two additional batteries in the grip. You'll want them.

Much has been written about the Fuji lens line up and Fuji users absolutely gush over their favorites. I'll agree that every Fuji lens I've tried so far is great but the line up is fallow just in the range where I wish it was lush. With the luxury, all purpose, standard zoom you get a nice, wide 24mm (equivalent) starting point but the lens only extends to the equivalent of 82.5 mm. For a portrait or lifestyle photographer one would hope for something that extends out at least to 105mm (equiv.) like the venerable Canon 24-105mm L lens, or even better, to 120mm like the Nikon version of the all purpose zoom. 

I could live with the limitations of their luxe zoom if they also had a portrait lens that hit the sweet spot around the (equiv.) of a 90mm to 100mm. In actual focal lengths I'd relish a 60-65mm or a 70mm with an f2.0 or faster aperture. But they don't have one. And I haven't found a good third party alternative that hits the range I want. Sad, because it would make a nice extension to their f2.0 primes to have a sibling that works for those of for whom shorter is not better. They do make a 60 macro but by almost all accounts its first generation pedigree delivers a slow and iffy AF performance. There are both an 80 and a 90mm (actual) lens but they are very expensive and just a bit too long. There is a reason why the traditional companies had lenses in the angles of view which photographers loved. They delivered; experienced photographers proved those focal length to be task perfect. 

So, in essence we have a camera with a great sensor, great colors, really wonderful files that by my estimation match the quality of full frame sensors and we also have a bunch of great lenses in some focal lengths (I could argue with myself that I should just skip the portrait primes and get the 50-140mm f2.8 but....... why can't I have both?) but we have a body with plasticky dials and wheels, parsimonious battery life and some weird interface issues (not insurmountable). 

Does the quality of the final files make up for the less lovely parts the equation? I'd say the raw files are just a bit more detailed and less fragile than the G9 files. You'll see a difference when you're operating at the edges of the envelope. Your choice is to get stuff really right in camera with a G9 or take advantage of the extra margin of safety with the Fuji. Used well the Fuji can really sing in making portraits. 

My take? For sheer usability, reliability and lens selection (across both Olympus and Panasonic), as well as great battery life and great ergonomics, the G9 wins hands down. If you need a robust camera system that can deliver great video and really good stills then the G9 is perfectly sorted. 

So, why would I want the Fuji? It's a slightly better portrait camera. One can see that Fuji's core market is portrait workers and they've worked to optimize the look and feel of their files to make photographs that make people look good. While the 55mm f1.2 is just a bit short for a portrait lens it is highly usable at f2.0 and makes gorgeous images. Used in a square format orientation it's just beautiful and this is the one area in which it just pulls past the G9. The extra pixel diameter, lower noise and wider dynamic range, coupled with Fuji's famously good color expertise tips the scales in its favor when it comes to making people look good. 

When it comes right down to it I can't decide which system to give up so I'm keeping them both. I've processed tens of thousands of Panasonic files this year and they've finally got the color really dialed in with the G9. It's the best color photography camera the company makes and part of the reason people prefer the Fuji is that the Panasonic is more (too) accurate. People like a richer, warmer and more flattering files and that's what the X-T3 delivers. I'll keep both systems. 

strange twist: I knew that cameras could be very lens dependent but the Olympus Pro line of lenses and some of the Panasonic/Leica lenses illustrate to me how much this aids or diminishes the look a camera system can deliver. I've always found the look of the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro to be special and highly detailed, in a very convincing way. Recently, I've been playing around with the same company's 45mm f1.2 Pro lens and find it spectacular. Funny that the right focal length and the right designs of a lens can make such a profound difference in whether one likes or dislikes an entire system. 

So far, I've only found a few lenses that deliver this for me in the Fuji line up and, interestingly, they are the three f2.0 primes I wrote about earlier today.

In my estimation the G9 stays as my all around system. The Fuji earns its place as my studio and environmental (fair weather) system. 

That's where I am on the two systems now that I have over 5,000+ examples from the Fuji to ponder and maybe 20,000 from the G9. Take it all with a grain of salt; I might warm up more to the Fuji after we get into five figures worth of experience. You never know. 

Added 12/30/2018: I found this video on YouTube which is also a comparison between the two cameras. His take is slightly different than mine but it's well done and I've enjoyed other reviews presented: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEAztipqsmE

A trio of lenses that remind me of my early days in photography; working with one old Leica and three prime lenses.

There's always another side to the argument. The photos here were all done with the amazing 
24-600mm equivalent zoom lens on a Sony RX10iii. Somewhat neuters my whole 
argument just below. Consistency is a vice......


When we photographers get together to jabber about equipment these days and mention the "holy trinity" it's mostly understood that we're referencing three lenses; usually fast zooms; and that they'll cover something like 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. It seems that everyone with any thought of being a "professional" is drawn to these lenses like addled moths singeing themselves on a naked 60 watt lightbulb. If everyone is using pretty much the same lenses (but with small variations between manufacturers) then everyone's work will probably have.......some vectors of commonality?

And what's old saw? That when one has a hammer everything looks like a nail? Never before have so many lazy photographer stood in one spot and zoomed in an out in order to make the most of their almost infinitely flexible choice of overlapping focal lengths.

I get it. There's a compulsion to "have all the important focal lengths covered." You'd use a prime but you might get agitated if your lens was a 50mm and what you really needed was a 45mm, right? So, with a spread of something like 16mm to 200mm in a seamless progression you now have the potential to cover everything without missing a beat because you have....the holy trinity of zooms. 

How did we ever do photography before these zooms were all perfected? And is an endless choice of no gap focal lengths a good thing or actually an impediment to interesting photography? I can see it both ways. If you are under pressure and are delivering images that have to fit a project instead of really exploring a personal vision then zooms are definitely the way to go. I often reach for an even simpler and more mentally boxing zoom, the 12-100mm. I can cover a lot of stuff quickly with that one but I often find myself staying stationary and using the zoom to compose and crop rather than investing a bit more time and energy in actually thinking about what particular focal length might work best in a given situation and then taking my time to implement that vision. 

The zooms are also practical when weather, dust or the jostling of crowds makes changing lenses dicey or inconvenient. And yet, I can't help but entertain the idea, bolstered by a bit of research in my archives, that discrete, single focal length, prime lenses that are well considered and used, might be better tools for the more creative parts of photography.

After a recent job during which I used my new Fuji X-T3 almost nonstop with the 18-55mm zoom (weather, dust, time, packing considerations, etc.) I walked through downtown carrying two lenses; neither of which could change focal lengths. These two lenses are very interesting to me because they force me to think about how I will compose and what I will photograph with them. 

These two lenses are the Fuji XF 50mm f2.0 and the 35mm f2.0 models. They are small, unobtrusive (in a way that the Sigma 50mm Art lens and the Zeiss Otus will never be) and easy to handle lenses and they are part of a diminutive trio of lenses that Fuji fans call, "Fujicrons," a nod to Leica's f2.0 lens family which are all called, "Summicrons." In the days when I shot with Leica rangefinder cameras it was de rigeur to build a system the core of which were the 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. Photojournalists modified that by selecting the 28mm instead of the 35mm but the intention was pretty much the same; have great optics that mostly covered the absolutely most important and most used focal lengths in a professional's arsenal.  When compared to zoom lenses both the Fujis and the Leicas are at least a full stop faster, are better corrected, have higher resolution and sharpness, and are much less of a burden to carry and shoot when out on the streets or in the middle of an event.

I bought the 50mm XF Fuji first and was delighted by the test shots I was getting from it; even wide open. It's a bit short, for me, to be the optimum portrait lens for the Fuji system but they seem to have a dead spot they need to fill in the fast, 60-70mm range. I'm sure they'll figure it out at some point. But with the nice sensor in the X-T3 I don't really mind cropping just a bit. And the 50mm is just about perfect when I use the camera's 1:1 crop setting (square format). 

I liked the 50mm so much that when the lenses went on sale I bought the 35mm (which is my favorite normal focal length on the APS-C sensor). It's also very good wide open and excellent everywhere else. When I got back from my whirlwind of shooting for my corporate client (in snow, sleet and rain. Now I'm starting to sound like the old postal service....) I thought it would be fun, medicinal, happy, restorative, etc. to get back to my roots as a primitive and naive, low tech, photographer. So today I ordered the missing link in my diminutive trio; the Fuji(cron) 23mm XF f2.0. 

While I'm sure clients will drop in from time to time in December, and I will do their work with my many zooms when appropriate, I thought it would be fun to create a formal construct for my own work during the month. To that end I'm putting together, in an small, old, worn Domke camera bag, my nod to the nostalgic (and very effective) systems of yesteryear in my collection of the 23mm, 35mm and 50mm f2.0 lenses along with the small and light (and rangefinder-esque) Fuji X-E3. Maybe I'll go all Robert Frank and just climb onto a Greyhound bus and head west. Maybe I'll drive somewhere. Oh hell, I might as well use up some frequent flier miles and fly somewhere... In any case I can't wait to subject myself to the formalist discipline of limiting myself to these three well spaced focal lengths and some additional shoe leather. Maybe I'll start a new counter trend to the standard zooms, giant perfect fast lenses and all the other stuff we routinely convince ourselves we need in order to be professional. Or at least to play at being professional. 


 I'm going to break with tradition here and put in some links to Amazon. You can ignore them and move on or click them and read more about the lenses. If you buy stuff on Amazon while you're there on a direct flight from my site I'll get a small commission which I'll use to buy more lenses..... but accessing Amazon from my blog and then buying stuff is penalty free. The prices are the same.

Here I go: The Fuji 23mm, the Fuji 35mm and the Fuji 50mm. I'm still not sure the X-E3 is as good a choice as an X-Pro 2 might be but it's a damn sight cheaper and the imaging performance should be just the same..... Time will tell.

Whatever your point of view you have to admit that's one cute dog......

Making sense of the current camera market. Why is it so strange?



Many years ago I started writing about the inevitable switch from DSLR cameras to mirrorless ones. It seemed obvious to me that once electronic viewfinders were perfected that there would be no one who would pass up the chance to have real time live view and a convincing and mostly accurate preview of what their final images will look like. But I did not predict that sensor size would become a fashion imperative. The “full frame” sensor is all the rage right now. And, to a certain extent, I get the emotional attraction of getting something that was either unattainable (Nikon) or brutally expensive (Canon) just a bit more than a decade ago, but the question is whether or not it’s still important, necessary or even that much of a differentiator for most people. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a good while you’ll know that I’ve vacillated back and forth between the pixie formats and three different camera makers’ full frame offerings. In the best of all possible worlds I can see a difference in absolute quality between the bigger sensors and the smaller ones but I can also see that it’s mostly a big, long game of diminishing returns. 

I do think that if you are truly concerned with ultimate image quality you should now be considering the even larger sensors in the new flood of medium format cameras from Hasselblad, Fuji and Phase One. My take is that the overall geometry and size of the sensor makes more of a difference in the look or visual style of files than whether or not the actual technical quality of one sensor is superior to another. Or whether the differences are worth the $$$.

The common comparison is generally between any of the new 50 megapixel mini-medium-format cameras, like the Fuji and Hasselblad and the flagship of 35mm style cameras, the Nikon D850. Techno-enthusiasts love to point out that the Nikon at least equals the dynamic range of the bigger cameras (but only when used at ISO64-100) and that the resolution differences are so small that they are mostly unnoticeable. I’m sure it’s true that it would be hard to discern any advantages as you spend more money to get into the big stuff, unless you want to take the big step up to the larger, 100 megapixel cameras and backs. 

But this misses the point of the difference in overall size. It’s the real estate. The need for longer focal lengths in order to get the same angle of view as the lenses on 35mm sized cameras. The different linear dimensions of different size classes of sensors impacts what I like to call the “focus ramp” of a lens/camera system.

But for better or worse the emphasis on full frame orbits around two parameters: How well you can drop stuff out of focus in the background and how high an ISO you can use before you get multi-colored, popcorn-sized noise in the files. It’s a small envelope of advantages for a nice premium in price.

I find it fascinating that everyone seems to have a conflicting sense of the current camera market now. The smallest segment, full frame mirrorless absolutely dominates the news and appeals to people who follow the camera industry daily.  Why is it so strange? Why have multiple companies set their camera manufacturer tipping point to mirrorless+full frame at the same time? All except for Sony, who have had a five year head start in this particular market. My thought is that the fashion for full frame started buzzing about four years ago on the internet and that the companies who make cameras anticipated a longer timeline for mass adoption of mirrorless and got caught with their pants down. But I think it's critical to remember and understand that this market segment (FF mirrorless) is actually a very small percentage of the overall market for cameras. APS-C and smaller is the bulk of what people actually buy.


If I had to guess I would conjecture that the market for mirrorless will continue to rise in relationship to DSLR cameras but the percentages of the overall mix between smaller formats and larger ones will remain the same unless and until full frame cameras drop in price dramatically and become as affordable. For the vast majority of users micro four thirds and APS-C cameras delivers results now that are mostly far above the abilities of most practitioners to wring out of them. I prefer the smaller formats for a number of reasons but foremost is the ability to do so many different things well: 4K video, high resolution stills, generous depth of focus and great handling. While premium m4:3rds doesn't represent the ultimate in price to value ratios the current flagship Panasonic and Olympus cameras are formidable imaging tools that deliver variations of image stabilization that bigger formats cannot currently match. 

Following the herd means stepping in a lot of manure. The right camera for one user might be another users least favorite. I council my friends who are camera shopping to pick the camera that feels best to them and does what they want it to do; regardless of sensor size. You might feel the same.

11.28.2018

Flash one day, LEDs the next. It's a sunny Wednesday in Raleigh...must be a flash day.


The snow started drifting in as I followed my construction industry guys down a rural highway in Indiana, just past the tiny town of Santa Claus (no! I'm not making that up!!!). We turned off on a small, one lane road and then turned again onto a dirt path. Snow and ice were starting to settle into the ruts in the road as the wind picked up and fatter, wetter snowflakes began to fall, faster and faster.

It was one of those "low light" days where the thick cloud base acts as both the ultimate light diffuser and a big neutral density filter. I followed the three big pick up trucks as far as I felt was tenable for my rental car and then I heaved my cases into the bed of the lead truck and we continued on for another half mile, the windshield wipers intermittently sweeping snow off the glass. I found a spot with a nice progression of foreground, middle ground and sweeping background elements and asked the driver of my truck to stop. I'd found a good spot to show the company's work, which involves  clearing  swaths of land for high voltage power lines and their attendant concrete pads. Now I just needed to figure out how to pose and light my three individual portrait subjects. 

On all prior shoots of this extended assignment, in locations from Newcastle, CA. to the Florida Everglades, I'd been using portable, battery powered flashes to offset bright sunlight, diffuse sunlight and weak sunlight, but here was a situation with no sunlight and it seemed like flash might be contraindicated. More so since my flash would freeze every snowflake that flittered between me and my subjects and create an endless visual distraction. Instead I dug into the big lighting case and found a smallish LED panel I'd packed. I pulled a big lithium battery out of the camera backpack and fitted it onto the panel. I set the camera's white balance to "cloudy" and adjusted the LED's color temperature to 6500K.  I didn't want dramatic fill; you know, the kind I'm talking about where the sky in the background is dark but the foreground subject is in stark relief against it. I wanted something more subtle --- just a puff of light to give a little bit of modeling to faces and a sense of light having a rational direction --- and I wanted some eyelight. Just a little sparkle in the pupils to give each eye a nice catch light. 

I used the small, Aputure panel on a stand over to one side to give me the barest hint of short lighting and I used it without any additional diffuser beyond the standard "comes with it" diffuser, hoping to balance it so no stark highlight/shadow interface gives away the sharper nature of the added light. 

When we shoot on locations with construction professionals there is an impulse on their part to jump out of the trucks upon our arrival anywhere and stand around either waiting their turns or just watching the progress of the shoot. For most people lit location shoots are still novel enough to be interesting. But with a ten to fifteen mile per hour wind and an actual temperature hovering just above 20 degrees (f) I encouraged them to stay in the warm cabs until each person's turn came up. That way the cold wind wouldn't give them overly rosy cheeks that would be a saturated magenta mess which I'd have to fight later in post. 

I was looking for a tight head shot with a background reference, a medium shot that would be a combination of portrait and more landscape, and then a wider shot that would give me a full reference of the location. As time progressed the snow came down thicker and faster so that by the time I was ready to photography my last participant we had to move and place a thicket of evergreens to the wind side of my subject guy in order to cut down on snowflake intrusion. 

There was no way I wanted to change lenses in the middle of what was quickly becoming a snow downpour so I depended on the Fujifilm 18-55mm "kit-ish" lens to cover all the focal lengths I needed. I know it's not weather resistant but it was cold enough to brush snow off without melting it and, if I did destroy the lens I could always replace it. But my client had spent thousands of dollars in airfare, car rentals and hotels to get us into this position so the choice of destroying a lens or killing the shoot was an easy on to make... The lens is fine. And yes, I had back ups.

Once we wrapped the final shot one of the guys checked the weather and told me we were (unexpectedly) getting the south tail of the blizzard that hit the midwest this week. He encouraged me to get my rental car back onto solid pavement and get going to the airport an hour away --- if I wanted to get to Raleigh, NC the next day. I packed quickly and headed out to find progressively more trafficked roads.

The LED panel light was both subtle and effective and reminded me that it's nice to have access to a fuller palette of lights than just a bag of strobes. But, of course, today was the opposite situation. I found myself at an electrical substation in Raleigh on a bright, brisk morning with the sun as a backlight to my new portrait subjects. A small LED panel wouldn't even tickle the pixel wells of the camera sensor by comparison to the brilliant sunlight bouncing around the photo-scape.

Today it was back to the battery powered flash and the mid-sized softbox, all assembled on a light stand and bungee-corded to a gear case for stability. At half power it was just right for a close-in portrait and when I moved the light back to get a wider frame the full power setting just about handled the spread. I'll need to bring up the shadows just a bit but that's hardly an issue with the raw files from any current camera. Different lights for different situations. It's important to know when to switch gears. And it's nice to have the right stuff in your back to make a difficult scene work without telegraphing your technical underpinnings. 

Now headed home to Austin and delighted with American Airlines associate, Diane, in Raleigh, who got me on an earlier flight and also upgraded me to 1st. A nice way to spend the final miles heading homeward. Tomorrow? Maybe just a swim and pizza later with Ben and Belinda. Now that's the good life....

11.27.2018

So. Fuji camera users. Do you know about FUJIFILM X RAW STUDIO????

I'm learning a bit more about the mysterious ways of FujiFilm as I use the XT-3 out in the field and try to make it work the way my Panasonic cameras work. They don't. It's different.

I recently held my breath a little bit when I couldn't open the new camera's raw files in the Adobe products I use. A quick search informed me that Adobe just recently launched an update and now everything works more as less the way all modern cameras to with the software. Like a spoiled consumer I just assumed all the other vendors would follow along.

So, today I loaded a bunch of raw files from this morning to my snazzy new laptop and clicked on one of the raw file's I'd just backed up. I was wondering why my computer wasn't generating icons from the files; why they did show up in Preview. Well, it's because they haven't updated their applications yet. I'm sure they will but a quick read on the web indicates that Apple has a history of not extending their updates to include Fuji's compressed raw files. And I like to shoot compressed raw because we can all talk about endless storage and super fast computers but at a certain point (uploading?) smaller files can make life easier. And I don't want to bend my workflow in accommodation.

Well, FujiFilm has an application for both Apple and Windows that converts from raw to your choice of Jpeg or Tiff. It's also an actual converter in that it gives you the ability to change settings like your color profile, size, compression etc. during the raw conversion. Here's the interesting thing: The app is resident on your computer. The folder of images to convert is on your computer system but to use the app you have to plug in the camera, load the card, and use the camera to do the actual computational conversion. The app uses the camera's processor (and ostensible the image processing software in the camera) to make the conversions. It's pretty fast. I just processed a folder with 325 compressed raw images to Normal Jpegs and it took about 7 minutes.

It also maintains the Fuji conversion mindset and might be a workaround for the Fuji users who are raw converter sensitive. I just checked and it doesn't appear as though the processor does anything to the files on the card. All the Jpegs were written to a desktop folder.

Just though you might want to know......

11.26.2018

OT: The travel day of a zany working photographer. Not everything takes place in Manhattan or Austin.....


So, I am making portraits of supervisors, managers and Vice Presidents of a large infrastructure company this week. I'm photographing people at the various projects where they are most actively involved. Most outsiders think big projects like building lakes, clearing a swath of land for miles and miles in order to run high power lines, or building a dam, happen close to the glittering metropoli but what I've found out is that there's a huge number of these projects happening out in the middle of nowhere. And if I'm going to photograph the people who are making the work happen, at the locations of their various projects, then I'm going to be traveling far from the techno-yuppie--latté-world.

I went to bed at nine p.m. last night. I don't usually do that. My whole family is a nest of night owls. Even the dog. But my client had arranged for a 5:13 a.m. flight from Austin. I was up at 3:30 am, at the  airport at 4:15 and in the air by 5:16. Not my usual schedule. But here's the deal: the closest airport hub to Bastian, VA. is Charlotte, NC, which is just about a 3 hour (speedy) drive from Bastian. To hit our schedule for our three shooting days this week I needed to get from Charlotte airport (where I got in around 8:30) to the rental car facility, and then on the road quick to be able to rendezvous with 12 people who needed be photographed... starting around 12:30. We found a great spot at the top of a dirt road, overlooking several mountains and a high voltage power line, as a background element, running straight down into the valley. It was a chilly 30 degrees when we got started and you would have laughed at the look of my lighting gear = flashes covered (loosely) with Ziploc plastic bags. Why? Because it started to sleet while we were shooting.  The subjects were all committed. They didn't seem to mind a few ice pellets to the face.... so I joined in the fun.

We wrapped up in an hour and I turned around and headed back to Charlotte to turn in my rental car, check my lighting case, and get set up for my flight to Evansville, Indiana. We flew in on one of the dinky dwarf jets. And the Think Tank backpack still fit under the seat in front of me. The flight was delayed which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it meant the photographer actually had time to sit down and eat a turkey, brie cheese and green apple slice sandwich, and guzzle down an iced tea. A curse because it meant arriving in Evansville around 9 pm and still having to secure the next rental car and then drive an hour to the tiny town of Jasper, Indiana, which is the rally point for tomorrow's photoshoot.

I meant to grab something to eat in Jasper but when I arrived I realized that everything (EVERYTHING) closes around 9 pm and arriving at 10 pm looking for good food means you are just shit out of luck (as they say in parts of Texas). I settled for a single serving bag of Planters peanuts, a couple of cookies I saved from the morning's flight, and a Blue Moon, Belgian White Ale. Ah....the dinner of creative champions. (yeah, yeah. I know. You would have packed a Yeti cooler with all kinds of nutritious food and Fedex'd it ahead....).

I've taken a shower, charged batteries and transferred files to my laptop. I'm ready to crawl into bed and sleep. I don't have to get up early tomorrow. My lead on this part of the project has to be in a safety meeting miles away in the morning and we're going to meet up at my hotel later, around 8 am. I just have to make sure we work efficiently so I can make it back to the airport in time to catch my circuitous flight to Raleigh-Durham, by way of Dallas Ft. Worth.  But that's a different story.

But we may be near the end of the project. We're just dancing around the final portrait of one of the company's founders. If the stars line up we'll head to Tampa for that one at the end of this week. Oh dear. Another four days out of the swimming pool. That cinches it. I'm taking all of December off. I you need me I'll just be swimming and writing a blog.

Today's camera of choice? The Fuji X-T3, coupled with the 18-55mm f xx-xx

11.24.2018

A few quick, post Thanksgiving notes. The camera you know is the camera you love. And hate.


I'm still working diligently on my comparison between the Fuji and the Panasonic cameras. Both are the most current models from each maker so there should be no question about comparing older models to newer technology. It's a slog and the addition of the 50mm f2.0 XF lens has created the need to shoot a bit more... Both the G9 and the X-T3 are very good cameras. One excels at handling and the other is a very, very competent photograph maker. I'll have more to say after this week's corporate shoot in three states...

My first note here is just an example of my meandering single-mindedness. One of the first accessories I bought for the Fuji cameras, after extra batteries and an aftermarket flash, was an inexpensive Pen FT to Fuji FX lens adapter. Yeah, you know why.... I had to see if the ancient Olympus 60mm f1.5 worked on the new cameras. I am happy to say that it does and I've been in manual focus, Acros black and white heaven since yesterday. Granted, I haven't had much time to use the combo (X-E3+60mm) but what I have done with them makes me smile. The lens is still an amazing example of just how great some of the lenses from the late 1960's and early 1970's were... It's still a great fast lens and the APS-C crop factor makes it a 90mm portrait lens equivalent.

Several readers have written to tell me that I must try the 55mm f1.2 Fuji lens and add that it's just right for me. Well, no. It's not. It's too short a focal length; by about 5mm. It may be exhilaratingly sharp and sassy but 60mm is where it all starts for a nice headshot in APS-C. Believe me, I've shot the format more than once. But while we're on the subject I'm given to understand that the 50mm XF f2.0 is sharper in the center than the 55mm f1.2 anyway. If I'm going to carry around the weight of the 55/1.2 I'd make a different choice and grab the 16-55mm f2.8 for about the same money. More choice = fewer lenses to carry.

At any rate, I've got the 60mm f1.5 on the X-E3 body and it's pretty sweet. Reminds me of the old Leica LC cameras. Lightweight and fast to use. Not the world's best ergonomics but then the CL wasn't that great to hold either... The files are nice though. As was the film that came from the CL's 40mm Summicron.

As you might know, I've been working for over a month now for a corporate client which has me photographing exterior, environmental portraits at huge infrastructure project sites across the continental United States. I've traveled a lot and have shot nearly 6,000 images. Mostly with a G9 and two great lenses. Just looking at Lightroom stats I see that the lens I seem to be grabbing most, on this job and in conjunction with the G9, is the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8/4.0. I don't know exactly why but I'm guessing my sub-conscious brain is guiding my choice based on the idea that the camera and lens combo offer dual I.S. and that it must be something special since it's all over the camera maker's advertising.

I think I'm on to something here. Once I started using the combo on these remote location assignments I got confident enough to leave my Gitzo tripod at home and depend on my ability to handhold the camera and lens. The way I'm packing for next week goes in one of two directions; either all m4:3 gear or all Fuji. If I go with the m4:3rds stuff (which I may because of weather and the comfort of experience) I've pared the equipment down to two lenses and two camera bodies. If I go in that direction I'll take two G9s and both the Panasonic 12-60mm and the Olympus 12-100mm Pro. They both fit into the parameters I've established on my first 16 locations and they provide the perfect back up strategy for each other.

Last week, when I came home from shooting on the same project, with the Fuji X-T3 and the 18-55mm f2.8-4.0, I was happy with the results and ready to substitute the new system for the G9 system. The images looked great, the backgrounds looked great and I pretty much figured out most of the handling issues and settings. What I didn't get absolutely right was well covered by the safety net of shooting raw. So why am I suddenly leaning back toward the small sensor encampment?

It all has to do with how stuff really works rather than theoretical pondering. I've been told that the Fuji has: more dynamic range, better color, more DOF control, etc., etc. and so it should be obvious to me that it's the superior camera system. But experience shows me that the difference in ultimate quality is finer than I ever imagined. Talking about the difference between similar working files is like trying to describe the difference between kinds of fog. In a fog. The differences just aren't as substantive as we are being led to believe. Not in any meaningful way.

This became clear to me as I was working on the part of every assignment that determines a project's ultimate success: post processing and retouching.

My client put together a short list of 120 portrait images that they wanted retouched and made ready for public relations and advertising use. Now, instead of glancing at a SOOC image on a screen and making presumptuous comments I would have to get my hands dirty (metaphorically) and see how the 20 megapixel raw files actually perform when shot the way I shoot. No test chart tacked to the wall. No tripod mounted, remote triggered preciousness. No time to re-shoot and no time to wait for wind to die down or rain to stop. Just make photographs.

The thing that kept my keeper rate high (technically) is that we decided (client+Kirk) that I'd shoot the exterior portraits with an off camera flash and a small soft box or umbrella. The flash does such a great job of freezing small amounts of motion and allows one to actually zoom in on a monitor and look at the fine detail a lens and sensor together are capable of producing. Many of the images were taken in full sun so I had to put up a diffusion panel to prevent direct sun from hitting my subjects, although I did use some direct sun (from time to time) as backlight.

But since there were strong contrasts between deep shadow and daylight exposure that pushed highlights to the brink of burnout a lot of my post production was aimed at making the most of the dynamic range in the raw files. Many times I'd have the shadow slider in Photoshop cranked up as well as the highlight slider. Trying to pull useful detail from a wooded area in shadow while at the same time pulling down highlights on heavy equipment and even water.

All the files have been shot at ISO 200. All the same for the Panasonics and all the Fujis.

I have now spent twelve hours working on the client selected Panasonic files; stopping to compare them to files taken with a Nikon D810, a Sony A7Rii and the X-T3. Shot correctly (meaning: no blown highlights, keeping the shadows as open as possible, and, most importantly, getting the WB correct in camera) the differences at the same magnification are mostly things like differences in depth of field and differences in sharpness of lenses. Key things like noise, resolution, color integrity and dynamic range are all pretty much the same if you are viewing the photographs on a nice monitor. I also find that each camera's look, if the file was originally shot in raw (meaning I was re-working raw files) could be nearly identically mimicked by any of the other cameras using the same raw processor.

If all cameras in my test are compared at ISO 200 and at a maximum size of 20 megapixels it's entirely possible for me to get files that are close enough to each other to be visually nearly identical.

While I've shot with the G9s for a good long while this was the first assignment that really pushed the photographer (me) to do things consistently and for a long period of time. I was like a dilettante in the early days of appraising the camera. I shot a street scene here or there, or a sexy shot of a cup of coffee and that was my test. Now I'm down dirt roads, carrying a 50 pound lighting case, setting up in mud and light rain, putting plastic bags over my flashes, and really working to get the best flesh tones, the best textural detail and the best overall look to my files, and I'm doing it over and over again.

The raw G9 files are superb. I use Lightroom and Photoshop interchangeably and I've learned so much more about getting faces right. I know I need to consistently change the red hue in the raw conversion. My G9s are both subject to having a bit too much magenta in the red channel. Once I zero that out faces look much more natural. The Adobe processing seems to fear green and so is heavy handed about not letting the green channel loose. When using their canned profiles I constantly find myself adding just a tiny bit more green to face colors in order to obtain numeric (and visual) neutrality.

While I might find the Fujis to be superior the more I use them I have to say that the G9s handle really, really well. Much better and much more fluidly than other cameras. If you can't get really good photographs in conditions that call for ISO 200 with the G9s and the two lenses I described above as being in my camera bag I think you might want to consider that something other than the gear is at fault.

The camera makers understand something that I think is also becoming obvious to many photographers. The truth is that we've hit the point where 95% of all the work we do; especially for money, can be well done with just about any interchangeable lens camera out on the market today. Most of the difference between cameras are gingerbread, or specific features aimed strictly at sports photographers. Super fast shutter rates are meaningless to a corporate advertising photographer out getting portraits made with flashes in remote locations. The battery powered flashes can't keep up with 20 or 30 frames per second while being cycled at full power (remember, we're competing with the sun!!!). Ultra fast continuous focus is likewise mostly useless for the kind of work I do. Even super long and fast telephotos have very little (to no) relevance for most of the image making that is most profitable.

The Panasonics and Fujis both have very good face detect AF. I use it a lot. But for critical work I like to stay with manual focusing and punch in magnification for critical focus fine tuning.

At the end of the project I'm currently working on our client will have hundreds of good photographs to use for marketing. The majority of the marketing will be aimed at web-based channels and websites. Some will be used in traditional print. A few images might be selected for display. But the vast majority of the audiences will see the work on the screen of an iPhone or a big Android phone. The step up will be viewing on a laptop screen. If you seriously think there is an ounce of difference between well shot and processed camera files, even from different formats,  when filtered through a 6 bit or 8 bit phone screen at a coffee shop; well I have either a bridge, or a full frame, 50 megapixel camera to sell you. Just keep believing you know what's right until I get your check cashed.

One other note, since Michael Johnston (TheOnlinePhotographer.com) keeps bringing up cars....
I was perfectly happy with my nicely aging Honda CR-V until my wife decided to replace her sixteen year old car and began the process of researching her purchase. She finally decided to get the premium model of the Subaru Impreza hatchback; not because she needed the nicest alloy wheels or the handling extras, and she certainly doesn't need the seat warmers (this is central Texas, after all). She bought the upgrade model because she wanted every single safety feature offered and that was the cheapest and most efficient way to get them.

I saw the car in the driveway when I got home from Iceland and thought it looked pretty cool. Then we drove down to San Antonio a week ago to visit my dad. Belinda drove down and I drove back to Austin. I was amazed. I don't know if it's the all wheel drive or just the relentless improvement of cars but I was in love with the handling of the car by the time I got home. 80 mph was solid and flawless. The interior was much more comfortable than my six year old car. Now the damage is done and I want one of my own. It makes no sense at all as I only have 60,000 miles on my car and it's perfect for hauling around all the photo-crap I sometimes take on assignments. I can even fit a nine foot long roll of seamless paper, in the box, in the CR-V and still close the hatchback. But the lure of a lower, grippier car is like a siren's song.... I'm sure I'll figure out some way to rationalize the purchase before too long... quick, someone tie me to the mast...

If MJ is serious about NOT wanting an SUV but wanting a car that feels perfect he ought to be looking at the little Impreza. But then I also think he should be shooting with a Panasonic G9 and the 12/60mm. But everyone has to come to these things on their own.

Finally, what have I bought to flesh out my Fuji "system"??? Well, we're sitting here with an X-T3, X-E3 (the back up camera/art camera), the 18-55mm, the 55-200mm, the 50mm f2.0, the 35mm f2.0, a funky Kamlan 50mm f1.1, and a Fotasy Pen FT to FX adapter, which opens up the door to a bunch of fun, fast lenses.... Oh, and a Godox dedicated flash. A few more additions and I'll have a real system here. But for now I have all my favorite focal lengths well covered. We'll see what happens in the great smack down. For now? I've veering back and forth like a texting millenial in a hubcap-less Toyota Corolla bouncing around the lanes on the freeway, desperately trying to stay connected.

Crazy travels start Monday at 5:30 am. Hope you stay in touch! Kirk


11.21.2018

Love being home for the week. I got to do two wonderful shoots at Zach Theatre and I just finished my third consecutive swim practice this week. About as close to perfect as I can ask for....

Scene from "A Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre. 

I photographed the image above with a Panasonic G9 and the 40/150mm f2.8. But what equipment I used is immaterial; the real question is: Why did I shoot this frame and what attracts me to it? This is a scene in which the Ghost of the future shows Scrooge Bob Cratchit going to visit his deceased son, Tiny Tim, in a cemetery. I was visually attracted to the way the lighting designer used spots to rake the side of the "angel" stature behind Cratchit. The scene is lit in a very monochromatic fashion and it adds to the feeling of sadness and gloom. One part that I particularly like is the bright light hitting the bottom right of the statue's pedestal and creating a hard contrast with the front of Cratchit's coat and face. My first inclination was to use a shot taken a fraction of a second earlier with Cratchit more or less centered in front of the pedestal but this frame, and it's off balance timing and geometry seemed to have more energy. That Cratchit is hunched over, carrying a heavy emotional burden, adds to the overall effect of the scene. In a final print I might tone down the two brighter, warmer spots on the floor at the bottom of the frame but only because I know other people will like that better....

So, after a hectic schedule last week I was delighted to be home this week. I've been shooting local stuff and doing lots of post processing but since my studio is ten steps from my house it's actually fun and low stress. I spent this morning post processing my take from last night's dress rehearsal of "A Christmas Carol." Belinda and I headed over last night to see the play, see theater friends and for me to photograph the show. For last night's foray it was Panasonic/Olympus all the way. We left with nearly 2,000 frames and I was very proud of myself to have whittled it all down to about 600 frames before I left the office for the noon swim practice today. I left Lightroom humming along, processing the images so I'd have a folder to upload when I got back.

Swim practice was great. Yesterday there was an issue with the water heaters and the temperature in the pool was about 76. Perfect for a competitive race but too cold for a routine master's workout. Today the pool was back in peak shape and the water was a luxurious 82 degrees, Fahrenheit. It's pretty amazing that the staff at the club is almost always able to keep the water temperature in a tight range since the pool is an outdoor pool and the weather in Austin can be all over the map during the course of twenty four hours. 

I swam in a lane with restauranteur, Emmett Fox, and I did a quick glance around the pool and saw (gold medalist) Olympian, Tommy Hannan at our practice, in lane seven. Olympian (multiple gold medalist and former world record holder), Ian Crocker was finishing up coaching the kids club that practiced right before us. Pretty amazing to have two medal winning/record setting butterfly swimmers at one noon practice in a dinky little athletic club in west Austin, but there it is....

We started with a 500 yard warm up, and then got into a set of 3x200's that were half fast freestyle and half individual medley. We followed that set with four 150's within which we were supposed to descend (get faster) by each 50. We spent the rest of the workout alternating between sets of 50 yard sprints and sets of middle distance, 200 yard swims. The workout is just an hour but we managed to get in about 3200 yards. 

Back at the office I uploaded my finished files to Zach Theatre and got back to the task of organizing my files for my big October/November client. I wanted to make sure I had the raw material backed up across three hard drives and also resident on a memory stick. Most of the images have been converted from raw to good sized Jpegs and uploaded to galleries on Smugmug.com; both for safekeeping/additional back-up, and also to share with the client's marcom team in order for them to make final selections for retouching. Still, with a big client and numerous jobs in process, I always feel better with a certain amount of file back-up overkill.

Roderick Sanford as "The Ghost of Bob Marley." 

I have been amused by some comments I've gotten when I write about out-of-town trips. Several people have given me restaurant recommendations in various cities where I'll be touching down. Ah, they must be remembering the "good old days" of advertising photography when we were all staying in five star hotels and wrapped up each shoot around 4 pm in the afternoon so we didn't get stuck in rush hour traffic as we headed back to our concierge level hotel rooms to tidy up before ringing up the car service to take us out to dinner. All billed to the client's account. There seems to be a clinging mythology from then; that we still hew to a normal work day schedule on the road. 

Sorry to burst bubbles but at least in my business we tend to be constantly on the move with multiple location projects. And most of the time we may be "flying in" to a nice, big city but it's because that's where the airline's hub is. The normal reality is that our flight arrives from Austin and I rush to some other, distant terminal to catch the second leg of my flight and do so within a window of about 55 minutes to an hour, from touch down to take off. I'm lucky if the line at the airport Starbucks isn't too long so I can grab a coffee and maybe even a sandwich to toss down in flight. 

On an upcoming shoot day I'll fly out of Austin at 5:31 a.m. which means I'll be at the airport around 4:31 a.m. to ensure the checked luggage (lights, stands, winter wear) makes it onto the flight. We hit Charlotte at 8:59 where I wait impatiently for the same luggage and then find the little bus to the rental car "plaza." Where I'll wait impatiently while the person in front of me has tremendous difficulty deciding on just which car he or she might like to rent. That'll be the same person who is renting for the first time and would like all of the words on the rental contract explained to them before they move on.

Once I've got the rental car and I've got the location programmed into the phone I've got a two hour, fifty six minute drive to reach my destination; a rural, unincorporated township that just happens to be next to a remote infrastructure project. If it's like the town in Texas there will be one very old gas station as the sole business in town. And yes, that's where you can get the frozen burrito and microwave it for lunch. We'll shoot for two hours (if everyone shows up on time) and then I'll turn around and drive back to the Charlotte airport and head from there to a smaller airport in Indiana and, while flying, I'll pray that the rental car facility there stays open long enough to get me a car. Which I'll use to find my motel/hotel and check in around midnight. Food? There might be some fast food still open somewhere near the big highway but I have no idea how far I'll be from the big highway.....

So, when you suggest I might like this little French bistro just north of Charlotte I laugh and cry a little bit and wonder what the other photographers do. Me? I've learned to pack Power Bars and to buy bottled water whenever I land (remember, it doesn't go in through TSA) and occasionally treat myself to a Snickers bar for a decadent dessert. 

My mission is to get to where I need to be, get the shots and get to the next destination. I won't be site seeing. 

But for now I'm relaxing in Austin. Getting some swims in every day. Walking through downtown with new Fuji cameras and then banging on the keyboard to post process a backlog of files. Tomorrow I'm taking the whole day off. No work. No blog. No phone. No travel. Sounds like a vacation......

11.20.2018

Coming in the next few days. The decisive competition between the Fuji X-T3 and the Panasonic. G9. Real world comparison. A winner announced.


Venice. 1985.

I shot my last last five assignments with a Fuji X-T3 and I photographed a bunch of assignments before that with my Panasonic G9; including 9 days in Iceland. This week I photographed two different rehearsals of Zach Theatre's "A Christmas Carol" using one camera system for each performance. I'm examining over 2,000 files shot at ISO800 to 3200 from the G9 tomorrow. I'll compare them with the 1200+ files I shot with the Fuji on Sunday. Same lighting. Same actors. Same costumes. Just different cameras. Then I'll tell you which camera has the best operating characteristics and the best images overall (for me). Stay tuned. My assessment is coming right after Thanksgiving Day.