12.30.2018

OT: A Saturday afternoon with the cameras left at home. Enjoying an event camera-naked.

Jaston Williams as "Scrooge."

Zach Theatre produces the best "Christmas Carol" I could ever imagine. No hostage to anything but the barest framework of Dicken's holiday tale, Zach Theatre uses contemporary music, lavish doses of humor and pop choreography to get audiences on their feet and then, minutes later to get them quietly pulling out their handkerchiefs to wipe away tears of (alternately) joy or painful empathy. How much more could one expect from live theater? But here's the sad reality of my involvement over the last few years....

...I get booked to photograph the dress rehearsal and I also request attendance, with camera in hand, at the tech rehearsal, a few days before. The play is the same as what the one the audience will experience later in the week but I have the freedom to roam the theater, anticipating the best angles from which to photograph and getting myself in place to take advantage of them. But I don't experience the emotion, the heartfelt catharsis, or the message of the play as keenly or as deeply. I'm doing my job. Almost second by second I'm analyzing changes in the stage lights or iteratively repositioning myself for a better angle; a better composition. I'm deciding whether to continue with the long zoom lens or to let that camera and lens drop on its strap to my side and grab the second camera, with the wide-to-short standard zoom, in order to get some "air" around my compositions. In other words I'm processing too much work process to let the play connect with me in any real way that will affect me and interfere with getting the photographs the theatre needs to fill the seats. Kind of sad, if you think about it. In the middle of everything but not affected by it...

By the time I've shot the play twice (usually bringing Belinda along to enjoy the last dress rehearsal before we get a full audience...) and have processed the thousand or fifteen hundred images I've created I'm burned out in the moment and ready for a break. The photography for this production, since it's a holiday play, is usually right after Thanksgiving and in the heart of those weeks in which all other clients are making up for lost time and piling onto my assignment calendar. 

I always have every intention of getting back to see the play and soak up the energy and happiness it delivers but I never get around to it. I'm always distracted by the next shiny object...

I meant to get back and see one of the final shows last year but my mother passed away over the holidays and that was a whole different world.

This year we did the same routine, capturing the dress rehearsal and the tech rehearsal. Life sped up. Assignments cropped up. The holidays delivered a full calendar and yet, I really felt like I'd missed the boat on some level. That I'd forgotten to enjoy something really special. I could always feel the energy of Zach's "Christmas Carol", from the soulful rendition of "Halo" by a young high school prodigy to the wonderful solos that Chanel delivers; like ephemeral but existential gold...

The charmingly exuburant affectations of The Ghost of Christmas Past, and the sheer power of The Ghost of Jacob Marley singing: "Money, Money, Money." For some reason, this year, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the whole thing. I wanted to feel the redemption of Scrooge in the strongest way possible. I wanted to see the play without any interference, any filters.

I missed the showtime on Friday evening. Other plans, other plans. But after swim practice and lunch on Saturday I put on my official Zach name badge and headed over to the theater for the 2:30pm matinee. 


I was surprised to see the parking lots and the front entrance so busy, so filled with families and couples. I walked in and saw so many familiar faces in every corner of the lobby. I asked the people at the box office if there was an extra seat. Of course there was...

Here I was, in a theater in which I've shot dozens and dozens of stage shows and, in which I'd shot at least a dozen video productions, and I was in the middle of the audience with no camera bag by my side, no camera in front of my face. No calculations to make. No side-tracked attention.

The show was perfect. I "saw" so much more of this show than I ever have with a camera in front of my face. I'd given my "analytic" brain the afternoon off. I let my emotional brain take over. I laughed with joy at the fun stuff. I marveled at the way the production had come together since I first saw it. The delivery was beyond script and memory and had, for the actors, sprung into life. Every sentence, every utterance and every lyric felt so fluid, so natural and so honest. 

When the Ghost of Christmas Future showed Tiny Tim's grave to Scrooge, I had to pull out a lens cleaning cloth from my pocket to wipe away the tears streaming down my face. When Francene Bayola sang a soulful, "Halo" as a musical eulogy for Tiny Tim, surrounded by his family, I was overwhelmed with the beauty, sadness and emotion of the scene and the performance. I pulled out a second lens cleaning cloth to catch the tears. It was one of the most powerful moments I've experienced in any of the (over 500) live performances I've seen.

And moments later the rush of joy as Scrooge wakes up and is redeemed and set on the path of love for his fellow humans infected me with a happiness and upbeat spirit that's still sparking and speaking to me a day later. (Thank you, Jaston!!!)  I hope it's a feeling I can savor and share all year long. 

When the whole cast joins together to sing a rousing, Zach version of Andy Grammer's, "Good to Be Alive Right About Now" the audience jumped to their feet to cheer and deliver the most heartfelt standing ovation I've seen in, well, a long time.

The afterglow was amazing for me. I left the crowds and went downstairs to the dressing rooms. I found my friend Kenny Williams who plays many parts in the production but is an absolutely stand out in the role of The Ghost of Christmas Past. He and I worked this Fall on making the art for his newly released CD of music: Kenny Williams Sings.  Check out the link --- I love the way he used the photos!!! He handed me advance copies of his CD. His energy was amazing. And he still had a second show to do a few hours later!

I was stunned by how much I had missed when in my usual role of photographer. The real power of live theater is only open to you when you bring your full attention. Your intention to soak up every moment, every speech and every move.

Sorry, I am usually cynical and sarcastic but my experience at yesterday's show was transformative. I left believing that we really can change the world ..... if we can figure out how to get past our differences and embrace our better natures. It may be as simple as: Reject fear. Embrace love.

At least that's what I think I learned when I went to the theater without a camera in my hands...

Roderick Sanford's rendition of "Money" is was an amazing 
injection of pop culture at its finest....

Francene Bayola as "Martha Cratchitt" broke my heart  
with her amazing rendition of Beyonce's, "Halo." 


Paul Sanchez and Michelle Alexander were so uniquely perfect as 
Mr. and Mrs. Cratchitt, with their adopted family.






Chanel. The perfect Ghost of Christmas Present.

Kenny Williams (right). 


The moment when you catch the perfect expression in the background.


Wanna make a full grown, cynical, seen it all, photographer cry like a baby?
Just have Fracene Bayola (center) sing her version of "Halo." 
Box of Kleenex please to seat M 204.....

I hope that each and everyone of my readers had some sort of wonderful, heartfelt, transformative moment in 2018 which changed your idea of life for the better. And I hope it wasn't just a new camera.

Tiny Tim: "And God bless us everyone."

Special thanks to Dave Steakley and Abe Reybold for bringing Christmas to life for me...


12.28.2018

Wrapping up an interesting year. What's in store for 2019? Who knows?

It's been a fun week. We have a tradition of spending Christmas Eve with long time friends. Some years we gather at our house and some years we end up at our friends' home. But which ever way it works each family's dog is a welcome guest at the festivities. Studio Dog was exceptionally well behaved (as always) and she and her companion were treated to little bits of very good steak for their manners and patience. I brought a camera along to our friend's house just to photograph the noble dogs. Sometimes I think they must be twins...

This was the look they gave me when I showed them the Ed Ruscha show catalog. Not recorded here was the painful whine they both let out when they looked at the black and white photographs of gas stations.

Earlier the same day we were out in Dripping Springs, Texas visiting chef, Emmett Fox and his wonderful partner and better half, Lisa. For some strange reason Emmett was using a saber to smack the tops off bottles of sparkling rosé wine. I caught him in the frame just below getting ready to dispatch another bottle. Landing an invitation to a famous chef's home for an early Christmas Eve party is always a wonderful thing. You get to eat stuff that's just magnificent. And take turns violently opening bottles.


Emmett with some of the liberated liquid.

For the moment I seem to have adopted the Fuji X-E3 and the 23mm f2.0 WR lens as my newest "take anywhere" "shoot anything" camera and lens. I do have an embarrassing story to tell about my lack of preparation with this combo. Emmett asked me if I brought a camera to his gathering and I told him I had and that the camera was in my car. He asked me if it could shoot video and I said I was pretty sure I could; most modern cameras do shoot at least moderately spec'd video and I sort of remembered that 1080p video was on the spec sheet somewhere. He asked me if I'd grab my camera and record a few bottle decapitations. I was happy to oblige. I grabbed the camera and headed back to the patio to record the lopping for posterity. I looked down at the camera and couldn't find a little movie camera icon with which to set up the camera for video. Then it dawned on me that I could not even find a red button with which to engage the video; to turn it on or off. 

I was the butt of more than a few jokes while I concentrated on trying to figure out how to shoot video. I looked through every menu, and while there are places where one can change video settings there was nothing in the menus that would allow me to actual actuate the damn thing. 

Twenty minutes (or longer) later I finally tried pushing every button on the camera. All the function buttons; everything. Eventually I got to the "drive" button on the back of the camera. At the very, very bottom of the "drive" menu lives a tiny video camera icon. What the fuck?! I set the drive menu to "movie camera icon" pushed the shutter button and we were off and running. I was trying to handhold the video for the next swing of the sword while simultaneously hand holding a glass of Champagne, without the benefit (on either device) of image stabilization, and so the ensuing footage is as bouncy as a Super Ball(tm) but I figured I can run it through post processing image stabilization three or four times and maybe it will be okay.

The next day was Christmas and the four of us (yes, Studio Dog too) headed down to San Antonio. Ben and I dropped Belinda off at her mother's house and continued on to the memory care facility to have Christmas lunch with my father. Nothing like a Christmas lunch in a nice dining room full of 90 year olds with memory issues. Actually, it was fun and cheery. Everyone loved seeing dad's grandson and everyone introduced themselves to me once more....for the 67th time this year. 

After lunch and some time spent catching up I took Ben to his grandmother's (on Belinda's side) house so he could keep Studio Dog company and I could bring Belinda back for more quality time with dad. Later, we had dinner with Belinda's family which is when I snuck away to photograph myself in a mirror with my new favorite (at least for the next five minutes) camera. (See above). 

It's actually a very delightful camera and lens combination and all of the images above in this post were taken with that camera and the 23mm lens while all of the photographs except for the very last one below were taken with the same camera and the 35mm f2.0 WR lens. The images below were done today and I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful sharpness of the 35mm! Sharp and contrasty is good for many images (but not all).





The image just below was done in Iceland with the Lumix G9 and the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. 

So, 2019. What's in store? I haven't a clue but I do have some thoughts as to how I'll make it better for me as a photographer. First, I'll be pickier and pickier about which clients I accept. We stayed well booked when I wanted to be booked in 2018 so I can only surmise that I could be a little choosier. I'll get rid of the ones who love to tell me exactly how to do my job. And the ones who are slow to pay.

Next on my list of ideas is to spend more time thinking about what I want to photograph and a lot less time thinking about what I plan to shoot those subjects with. We've crossed the point where specific cameras are important to the process. But we will never cross the line where choosing the subject itself, and my approach to it, are unimportant. 

I think I'll supplement the swimming with more running this year. I'd like to eat more interesting food this coming year as well. And I resolve to continue to weigh exactly 160 pounds and continue to wear pants with a 32 inch waist. I don't care if it's politically incorrect to even think that I don't want to be fat. But I don't.

I'd like to drink more coffee in 2019 and less red wine. 

I'd like to buy more weird, cheap and zany lenses this year instead of thinking that everything has to be "state of the art." To that end I just ordered a 7Artisans 35mm f1.2 lens for my Fujis. It cost $144. I think it's going to be incredible. And my finger is hovering over the "buy this now" button connected to the 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 for $188. Should be an outrageously fun year, if the lenses turn out to be any good, to torment my friends who can't bear to shoot with any lens that costs less than $2,000 or comes from anywhere other than Germany or Japan.

I'm also promising myself that I'll go back to Iceland again in 2019 on my birthday (as I did this year). Only this time I'll go solo, or, at the most with only Belinda. I'd like to see the place at my own speed; not in a tour. 

Those are all the plans I'm making. I'm not going to resolve to exercise more because I think 6 or 7 days a week is enough. I'm not going to resolve to stop drinking alcohol because a drink or two a week doesn't seem excessive. I would never resolve to give up coffee because that's just an evil thought. And I'm not going to resolve to make more money because I don't have time to spend the money I'm making now. 

I know. Maybe I'll give up writing blogs. Naw. Everyone should have at least one safe space in which to be archly and profoundly opinionated. 

The 35mm 1.2 gets here in the next day or so. If it's 90% as good as the 55mm f1.2 7Artisans lens that I took possession of a couple weeks ago then I'm in for a real treat. 

(That's right Stephen. I'm right on the cusp of taking the plunge for the 12mm. I'll tell you how it all works out...) KT

12.27.2018

Self portrait with Lumix GH5S and the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm lens.

The pool was closed for too long over the holiday break. Our last masters swim practice before today was way back on Sunday the 23rd. That was four long days ago. We're breaking in a new pool manager and we need to consult with her before the next holiday rushes up. In past years we tried to get in a workout on the day after Christmas in order to burn of some pent up holiday energy and to give dedicated swimmers an excuse to escape, if only for a while, from the glorious fun of entertaining in-laws and keeping everyone overfed.

Last night we had a huge weather front roll in from midnight till about 2 a.m. Studio Dog huddled in the corner of a closet, I checked for clogged French drains while the rest of the family slept soundly. By first light this morning the front had blown through, scrubbed out a lot of the cedar pollen that's been making people miserable, and ushered in lowered temperatures and clear, dry skies.

I grabbed a cup of coffee, my swim gear and a clean towel, and headed to the pool. I hit the second practice at 8:15 a.m. and we swam diligently until 9:30 a.m. We racked up about 3,500 yards; a bit over two miles.

Nobody but Ben seems to be working this week so I'm abandoning the office in favor of a walking tour of downtown coffee shops and some genial photography. Maybe I'll see someone famous. Or interesting. Or beautiful. Or nice. Or all of the previous things. I'll try to get a nice photograph. Otherwise I'll try to get in a bit more exercise and a lot of casual, walking observation.

Today's camera of choice is the Fuji X-H1 with the 60mm Macro 2.4. We'll see if the choice holds between now and my downtown parking spot.....

I hope your holidays are progressing happily. Did anybody get ( or get themselves ) anything photographically interesting for the holidays? Curious minds want to know.....

12.26.2018

I haven't spent enough time talking about the FujiFilm X-E3. I can fix that....


It's been a while since I owned a "point and shoot" camera. For the last year and a few months my smallest camera has been a Panasonic GH5 and most people would not consider that to be a pocketable, diminutive, minimalist camera; even with small lenses attached. But since my initial seduction into the FujiFilm product universe I've been looking past the standout, new cameras and checking out the camera bodies Fuji offers to see what I might like. 

I bought the Fuji X-T3 on a whim but I've been pretty surprised at just how great that camera is as an all around, professional tool. I've taken it out into snow, sleet and rain in the little time I've owned it and shot under all kinds of lighting conditions only to find both its Jpeg files and Raw files to be wonderfully color accurate and to have very pleasing tonality with no glitches or stumbles from hard use. Anyone entertaining the idea that Fuji files deliver "pleasing color" at the expense of accuracy ought to visit the PDN tests of color accuracy, where cameras are tested with objective metrics and then ranked according to how color accurate they are. The top camera (tested) at the moment? Oh, yes, that would be the X-T3. See the test results here.

And tied for second place? Oh, yes, that would be the Fuji X-E3. I didn't know about the color accuracy scores when I bought the X-T3 or the X-E3, I only knew that I really liked working with my first, modern Fuji camera enough to want to take it with me on assignments out of town and that to do so I'd need to grab a good back up camera from the same family. The camera that fit my budget at the time was the X-E3. Fuji closed the deal by having a price drop, and it didn't hurt that both cameras took the same battery. While I would like all batteries to have stellar endurance having all models use the same battery model is always better than beefier batteries which almost proprietary to each camera model in a maker's line-up. 

I didn't do much research about the X-E3 but I did know that it shares the same sense as the X-T2, that it's a 24 megapixel X-trans sensor, and that most reviewers gushed about the image quality and high ISO noise handling characteristics of the sensor in other cameras in the family. I read a few reviews and then walked into the local store and splashed cash for one. It did exactly what I needed it to do on the last legs of my big assignment, which I'm now calling "The Endless Flights to Flyover Country." It fit in the gear case, taking up minimal space and adding very little additional weight. It hovered just in reach should my main camera become overwhelmed and quit working. And it came back home safely. It fits into that mental space, thinking of a camera as both a "point and shoot" because of its size and weight but also as a proficient back up for pricier cameras.

To get right to the point, the X-E3 is capable of making superb images as its sensor yields very accurate colors, very nice and easy to work with tonalities, ample dynamic range and good white balance. It focuses relatively quickly and when used with the trinity of reasonable f2.0 aperture primes from Fuji it makes a dandy, modern analogy of shooting back in the 1980's with a Leica rangefinder and a 35mm, 50mm and 90mm set of Summicron lenses (although the longest one of the three in the Fuji set is, at 50mm, just the equivalent of a 75mm and not a 90mm (sad for me)). 

You can put any Fuji X lens on this camera and be reasonably assured that the output will be identical to that of any other current  X camera. Perhaps the X-T3 has a few different processor advantages but, as I always point out, the advantages are rarely as discernible as the manufacturers and some click-happy reviewers would have you believe. There are situations in which you will be better served, ergonomically, by a bigger and more traditional styled body, such as the X-T2 or X-T3, or, even the X-H1. These situations become obvious when you start using bigger and heavier lenses on the X-E3. It's a small body and not heavy at all. It balances gracefully with the three smaller primes I talked about above but much less so with bigger and heavier zoom lenses. I find it awkward to use with something like the 55-200mm lens and even the 16-55mm f2.8 lens dwarfs the body such that you end up holding the assemblage by the lens instead of depending on the body's almost non-existent grip. 

After getting spoiled with direct, analog controls for all the major parameters I most frequently change on the T3 (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) I resented having to go into the "Q" menu or even the regular menu in order to quickly change the ISO setting. But I am thankful for the exposure compensation dial which resides on the top plate of the camera and is easy to use (but which went missing on the X-H1...).  While I'm being cantankerous I'll go ahead and complain about the smaller, fiddlier buttons... 

If you love flippy screens or even flip-uppy screens you'll dislike the X-E3 as its rear screen is fixed into the body and does not move. By the same token, the EVF, while good and information rich, is not particularly comfortable for eyeglass wearers. Not enough optical relief. But I'm finding that these two things are more preferences ingrained from using different cameras. If this was my lone camera I think I would easily become comfortable with the screen and EVF in short order. 

The camera has nearly all of the good, settable color profiles you'll find on the X-H1 and X-T3, including the Acros black and white settings and lacks only the "Eterna" setting which is a flatter and less saturated profile mostly intended for video footage that you might need to deliver quickly, and straight out of camera, without having to color grade. In fact though, the eterna profile can be a beautiful profile to use for portraits. 

So, what you have is very much akin to the original Leica CL from the 1970's: A small, light and nicely designed camera body that can be a bit awkward to hold for long periods of time and which has a smaller EVF eyepiece than the bigger cameras in the system. It's a small camera that works best with smaller zooms (18-55?) and comes into its own with the three small, f2.0 prime lenses (23, 35,50) that Fuji offers. It's the perfect companion for long walks, and tight packing in situations where you are still trying to get within 95% of the quality levels of the best full frame and APS-C crop cameras on the market. 

The video is not earthshattering but if your main requirements are good, clean 1080p video it does a decent job with the visual side of the files. There is no headphone jack and so no way to monitor audio even though there is a microphone jack. But why the microphone jack uses a 2.5mm size instead of the much more standard 3.5mm industry default is beyond me. I guess I'd buy adapters if I thought I'd use the camera much for video. But I have other tools for video production...

One thing you have to be okay with if you think you are in the market for this camera is the fact that there's no built-in image stabilization. You have to depend on the stabilization in various lenses. I like to use this camera body with one of the three primes I mentioned and none of them have I.S. either so you're either okay with that or you need to look at a different camera. The only interchangeable lens camera in the Fuji system right now with built-in image stabilization is the X-H1 but I consider that more of a heavy duty pro "banger" camera and less of a discreet, demure and beautiful street shooter....

After I used the X-E3 for a while as my back up and second camera I added an X-H1 body to gain the option for (worked related) image stabilization. But a walk on Christmas Eve down and around the Barton Springs fresh water pool re-convinced me that the kind of photography I do with cameras like the X-E3 can be done just fine without that feature. Image stabilization is nice to have and does improve some images but it's nice to know I can still handhold a camera without that particular set of training wheels.

So, to sum up. A small, light and beautifully designed camera that easily fits into the niche for which I used to use "point and shoot" cameras, like the Canon G10, and for which many other people use the Sony RX100 series.  A near state-of-the-art imaging sensor with a competent imaging pipeline. Access to some of the best lenses in the business. A fairly quiet shutter. Lots of really well thought out color profiles and a form factor that helps (with smaller lenses) create a discreet and almost all purpose photography machine.

The detractions: smaller buttons, fewer direct/dedicated physical controls, an EVF that's less pleasant to use for wearers of eyeglasses, and a camera body that's not a great match for heavier and bigger lenses. For me, it's the perfect backup camera for locations shoots where an X-T3 or X-H1 are the star cameras. It's also the perfect primary camera for personal shooting/street shooting art photography when paired with the trinity of f2.0 prime lenses that Fuji has designed to be small, fast, weather resistant and nicely sharp. 

I'm happy with the camera when used within the right parameters. So happy, in fact, that I also bought a Fuji X-E2 as a back up for the X-E3 for those times when I want to go completely minimal but still have an extra body lurking in some crevice of my suitcase; just in case. YMMV.
Barton Springs Pool is a bit more than 1/8th of a mile long and is constantly refreshed by clean spring water from deep below the Hill Country. Since the water comes from underground it stays a pretty constant temperature = about 70 degrees, Fahrenheit. There are no chlorine or chemicals in the water so if you swim laps there you aren't likely to get the itchy skin and dry, bleached hair you get from an over managed YMCA or country club pool. The facility opens to the public at 5 a.m. most mornings and stays open until 9 p.m. In the Summer the pool gets large crowds but in this period between Christmas and New Years you can show up anytime, swim some laps and not bump into anyone. It's really nice. Perfect time for swimmers who are also loners....

Recently I've become interested in all the different ladder rails used for getting in and out of the pool. Maybe I should make a book. A very, very short book. At any rate these were photographed on Christmas Eve morning. I was out for a walk and enjoying the calmness and quiet of the center of the city at a time when everyone else seemed to be scurrying to the malls or headed out to parties or to see family. The hike and bike trails were relatively vacant and the pool was host to two swimmers while I was there. A great way to get ready for the holidays. 













Tomorrow I'll swim early and then take another big walk. 
It's a great way to keep holiday stress at bay.



12.23.2018

Death Match!!!! Olympus versus Panasonic. Which all purpose zoom lens wins the title: Best.?

Photo courtesy "dirt cheap" lens. 
This (above) photo was taken with 
a 7Artisans 25mm f1.8
Brand new it was +/- $70.

When I bought back into the Panasonic system again I took a chance and purchased the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro zoom lens and figured it would be my standard, do everything lens for the system. It's a big lens and has something like 60 elements in 50 groups; all either aspherical or ED (not really, just: 17 elements in 11 groups (1 DSA lens, 3 Aspherical lenses, 5 ED lenses, 2 Super HR lenses, 1 HR lens). 

It's a wonderful lens and does everything I want it to. It handles wide angles of view out to the equivalent of 24mm on a full frame camera, and on the long end it reaches out to an equivalent of 200mm. It does all this while maintaining high sharpness and resolution at every focal length and at every aperture, from f4.0 (wide open) to about f8.0 (that's where diffraction kicks in). In addition to being satisfyingly sharp it's also blessed with in lens Image Stabilization that works not only on Olympus cameras but on all the recent Panasonic cameras as well. No, you don't get dual I.S. with it on a G9 or GH5 body but you do get at least 4 stops of image stabilization, and maybe a bit more at the longer end.

I've used this lens for all kinds of projects, jobs, assignments, dalliances, walks, etc. and I'm always happy with the results. So, what possessed me to buy the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0? Besides reckless spending and mindless product duplication? Well, to start with the Olympus lens is bigger and heavier. Sometimes, when you're out strolling, it's nice to take along a lens that's almost half the weight. Then, especially with the G9s, there was the alluring idea of dual image stabilization which promised to put the stabilizing performance of a Panasonic body and lens in close competition with that offered by Olympus. It was tempting. I almost plopped down the credit card just to test out the image stabilization marketing hype.... No, the thing that tipped the scales was a video job on which we used two Panasonic GH5s and wanted two good lenses, with the same basic range of focal lengths, to have two camera angles on each scene of the project. If I was a purist I'd have bought a second Olympus 12-100mm so the lenses would match exactly but I saw this need for a second lens as an invitation to spend less money and try a new lens without feeling apprehensive, or spendy. 

The Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm has fourteen elements in 12 groups with four aspheric elements and two ED elements so as far as construction goes it's no slouch. I've also owned and extensively used the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens and have come to trust the line of Panasonic/Leica lenses because of the exemplary performance of that particular lens. 

We used both standard lenses for what turned into an extended project and I thought that by the time we finished up I'd have divined which lens was the "keeper"; and which lens was going to be thrown out of the nest... But each has a different look; a different visual style. The Olympus feels a bit more clinical and profoundly sharp. It's the lens I use most (after the 40-150mm Pro) for live theater documentation and any video project that requires tremendous lens flexibility. 

The Leica isn't quite as ferociously sharp (still better than almost any other mid-range zoom on the market!) but it seems to do a better job on portrait work. For the recent project on which I shot the first part with Panasonic G9s and the last part with a Fuji X-T3 I tended to gravitate toward the Panasonic/Leica whenever I photographed people with the Panasonic camera system. It has a slightly softer or perhaps more graceful flow between tones but still resolves good detail. It also seems slightly warmer than the Olympus lens. The more elegant tonal transition is subtle but makes the Leica lens render more like color negative film and good lenses from the film days. 

You would think that I'd take one or the other on a series of projects where space and weight were essential to good logistics but from Sacramento, California to Reykjavik, Iceland I ended up always making space for both lenses in my backpack. In Iceland I took the 12-100mm instead of the Olympus 40-150mm; I wanted something that was long enough but more flexible than a resolutely telephoto zoom lens. I grabbed the Olympus whenever I knew I'd be shooting in snow, sleet or the kind of driving winds that make lens changing problematic. I'd grab the Panasonic/Leica lens when I headed out to shoot in the streets, slightly (very slightly) preferring its color rendition and not needing the last 40mm of reach. There was also the security of having a perfect back up lens no matter which one I chose to shoot with in the moment. If you bring a back up camera then why not also a back up lens?

The difference between the two lenses is really very subjective. If you photograph people, gravitate more to wide angle use over telephoto, and shoot with Panasonic cameras, I'd push you towards the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm with no hesitation. If you are more of a portrait and long lens shooter, or an Olympus camera user, or both, I'd push you toward the Olympus. 

If you could only have one I think it would depend on the way you use lenses and your tolerance for size and weight. If I worked only in the studio I'd end up with the Olympus because the vast range of focal lengths would allow me to use the lens for nearly every project. But if I was out roaming the world and shooting in a wide-to-normal-to-slight-telephoto documentary style (and I shot with Panasonic cameras) I'd select the Panasonic/Leica because it's smaller and lighter. Less burden/more good shots. 

Don't take the apertures into consideration if you shoot as I do. The f2.8 is only available on the Panasonic/Leica lens at its very widest focal lengths and quickly heads toward the f4.0 as you zoom in. Since I shoot in manual exposure a lot of the time I choose to think of the P/L lens as an f4.0 lens and just use that as my maximum f-stop. Same as on the Olympus. Then I never worry about variable apertures.

If you only consider the image quality at focal lengths between 12-60mm, and exclude the extra reach of the Olympus lens, you'll find very little measurable (discernible) quality difference between the two but you will find a big difference in pricing. The Olympus lens is around $1200 while the P/L 12/60mm is usually $1,000 (but available for a limited time over the holidays, at Amazon, for $750). 

It's a bit crazy to have both. For my use, experience and comfort level I should probably sell the Panasonic lens and keep the Olympus but it's never that easy. Once you've found the sweet spot and the perfect use profile for each lens one comes to think of each lens as a different tool for different looks. Same reason I seem to own so many "normal" focal length lenses, across systems. 

My bottom line advice is to be rational. If you have a marvelous long lens like the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 you really don't need the last 40mm of the 12-100mm. If you are logical you'll snag a good copy of the 12-60mm P/L and be very happy. If you don't have a longer lens and you don't need the reach then the 12-100mm can cover most of the range that most photographers use without having to slip into a two lens system.

Here's my desert island conclusion: If you could only have one lens it would instantly and without question be the Olympus. More reach, the manual focus clutch with hard stops at close focus and infinity, and amazingly good optical performance would allow me to spend my days completely satisfied with my singular lens. If I was a working photographer with more income than common sense I'd make up some nonsense about being able to depreciate the lenses and then I'd add in some self-serving crap about how the lenses will pay for themselves in no time and I'd end up with both. But no one ever claimed I was a brilliant business man. 

I can look at it in one more way: if you shoot only stills then the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm is for you. It's bright, sharp, easy to use, well behaved, and less a burden to carry around. If I shot mostly video I'd choose the Olympus lens for the better manual focusing implementation and wider focal length range, which would mean stopping less for lens changes. 

Oh well, I guess I haven't really come to any final conclusion. Sorry to have wasted your time....



Jeepers. Do I really need more dynamic range? Should I drop all other considerations and rush towards the camera with the biggest dynamic range?

Lighthouse via Panasonic G9.

I recently made some portraits on a remote location. The light was interesting. We were on the verge of a winter storm and the thick, swirling clouds acted as multiple diffusers. There was little difference between the quantity of light in the shadows and that in highlight areas. What was missing was not dynamic range but rather interesting light for portraits. The prevailing light was great for all the foliage and mountains (and fog) in the background but rather flat on my subjects' faces. I added a light from one side in order to provide some directional illumination which made the portraits much more interesting. But I never thought for a second that the solution to getting a great image was dynamic range. In fact, in situation after situation, over six weeks time, I might have faced bright sun, rainy days and the golden glow of magic hour but I never stopped and said to myself, "If only I had a stop or two more dynamic range."  

I'm speaking from experience as a portrait photographer, not a landscape photographer, but the thing I find in just about every photography situation is the need to add light or control the direction of light in order to control how the images look. If your main concern with dynamic range is your desire not to burn out highlights I suggest that you engage the blinking highlight indicators in your camera's menu and use them as a guide to set the right exposures. Problem solved. Aha! But what about blocking up detail in the shadows? In most situations you can fill the shadows more convincingly with a reflector fill since bringing up all the highlights via a slider control in post opens the shadows everywhere in the frame. That kind of manipulation creates a flatter file overall which is contrary, I think to the way we imagine photographs should look. Just because you can pull up shadow areas with sliders doesn't mean you are adding any information in those darker areas, you are just flattening the overall file and creating a contrast curve that, to my eye, appears unnatural.

In the days when most cameras had dynamic ranges of 7 to 8 stops the mania for increased range was understandable. Now that we have cameras which can capture more range than a monitor or print will be able to even show it's become as much of a red herring as demanding 16 bit files for images that will mostly be displayed on 6 bit phone screens. You can already map your current 11-14 stops across the 6 stops of your monitor in any way you please. Do you really need to condense down even more discrete tones in order to be happy? I don't. 

At the top of this blog post is an image of a lighthouse. It's lit by the sun. One side is in shadow. Nothing got lost. No burned highlights. No crushed, black shadows. There are so many controls to help you get the contrast curve you need in camera for success, it's just up to you to practice good exposure technique and make sure you are putting your rich supply of tones into the correct exposure slots in order to reproduce them the way you want them. Most extra dynamic range is lost in process. 
Get everything right in camera and your file will be better than those from someone who depends on the available "slop" in a raw file to compensate for lack of technical discipline. 

Don't get me started on white balance......


Some blacks are blocked up in this shot. That's intentional. It adds to the graphic quality I was aiming for in the black and white file. Deep, dark shadows are NOT evil. They are graphic elements. 

12.22.2018

Another sunny day in urban paradise. Another perfect walk with a camera. Another perfect camera and lens combination.


It's been a pretty nice day around here in Austin, Texas. I got up and went to swim practice and our coach put up a whimsical "12 Days of Christmas" set. As you can imagine we swam sets of 12, 11, 10....etc. distances until we finished with a leisurely 600 yard semi-sprint. We didn't get too much yardage in over the hour and a half but we did get in a lot of zany sprints. At coffee one of our long time swimmer/coffee klatch comrades handed out Starbucks gift cards to everyone in attendance. My swimmer friend Nancy brought everyone ample, pre-packaged servings of her rightly famous bourbon balls. John brought a treasure trove of witty bumper stickers and encouraged everyone to take a few. 

After our coffee I headed home to check in on Boy, Mom and Studio Dog. We headed to our favorite hamburger place for a fun Saturday lunch (a twenty year tradition). Yes, the parents (mostly me) interrogated Ben about the progress of his job..... We're only human. But he takes everything in stride and managed to share a few nuggets (of information, not "nugget" nuggets). 

Since the sun was shining and the thermal measuring device showed 81 degrees Fahrenheit I figured it was high time for a cleansing walk through the streets of downtown Austin, Texas so I grabbed a camera and lens and headed out.

Having spent far too much time glorifying the Fuji cameras and lenses lately I decided to revisit one of my favorite and most quirky cameras, the Panasonic GH5S. It's the version without image stabilization and with only 10 megapixel files. Most people just presume it's for video.  But it's also the camera with the perfect viewfinder, and the only Panasonic consumer camera I know of that generates true, 14 bit raw files. When I open the files via Adobe Bridge the info panel tells me they are 16 bit files but I know better. I think. At any rate they always seem to look very, very juicy and swank.

The perfect all around lens to mate with this particular camera is the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 as it has Panasonic's version of lens based image stabilization and it's nicely sharp and well behaved at just about every setting. 

As I walked in the warm sunshine I was feeling a bit guilty after reading Michael Johnston's column yesterday in which he goes into detail about his arduous toil on his estate. Mowing, leaf mulching and all sorts of manual labors. Even bringing his lawn mower into his house so it will start on frosty days... His post made me feel as though I should get off my lazy butt and get some yard work done. 

But then I remembered that I'd had a run in with a particularly vicious tree saw nearly 20 years ago and at that time, after damaging the hood of my wife's car, destroying a $1,200 pair of Armani eyeglasses and giving myself a cut on my temple that required medical attention, all in the space of about a minute (my very first attempt at tree pruning!) Belinda forbid me to ever work with yard tools, and especially powered tools, ever again. As a result, I've never owned a lawn mower, edging equipment, anything that might mulch something and, of course, no power saws!

We've got a yard guy who has a helper. They come about every two weeks during the verdant months and PRN (as needed) in the winter. They do work around Austin so they've got a good sense of how fast grass is growing and how the leafs are falling at any particular time. While I have had to pay for this service for several decades the secondary benefit (after not having our big yard look ratty and unkempt) is that I am free from spending the time it would take me to do this myself. Time I use to take walks around the city and to play with various cameras. My yard guy also does nice rock work and built us a beautiful retaining wall. He also has all kinds of other gear, including a pressure washer. 

I've hired him to drop by on Friday next week to pressure wash the chimney (exterior, of course) because we had all kinds of issues trying to make efficient fires in the fireplace which generally resulted in lots of smoke and a sooty coating on the exterior rock work, and a relatively recent rationale with which Belinda and I convinced ourselves that burning firewood was increasing our carbon footprint and that we should cease and desist for the sake of the planet. That, and the fact that there are only a handful of days in Austin when a fire might really be appreciated. 

I will think of Michael Johnston the next time my yard guy pulls up in his white truck and I hand him a check on my way out for another leisurely walk; which may or may not include good coffee.

So, how was the camera? Did it live up to my memories of its previous grandeur? Yes. It's the current "cult" camera (wink, wink, nod, nod, secret handshake, etc.) for the Panasonic m4:3 system. Coveted by those in the know as much as a seven element, dual range, Leica 50mm Summicron was in the days of yore.

Swimming, eating, drinking coffee, walking and playing with cameras. Nice vacation. Happy Holidays.

Below: all are from the GH5, shot raw in 14 bit, with the 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 P/L lens. Actual sunny skies.....