3.22.2019

I'm not very good at wide angle photography...yet, but my new lens appears to do it very well. A first day quick peek at the Fujifilm 8-16mm f2.8 XF lens and a confessional about wide-angle-phobia.


It was a glorious day in Austin, Texas. The temperatures were mild, the skies were clear and blue and with the NCAA Swimming National Championships in town there is swimming in the air and beautiful swimmers all over downtown soaking in the Austin vibe. Rumor has it that the Stanford team is doing some of their practices at my home pool, WHAC.org.  Of course I went out for a walk with a new lens. Think of it as the break in period.  And what a nice day on which to do it.

So, what lens are we talking about? 
It's the recently introduced 8-16mm f2.8 XF (Red Badge) lens from Fujifilm. 

The lens has somewhere over twenty elements and many of them are either aspheric or some other speciality glass. The lens is big and heavy so it's not my first choice for a "walk around" lens on any of the Fuji cameras. Here's what the lens has: a short zoom range of 8-16mm. A non-changing maximum aperture of f2.8. A very nice aperture setting ring. Weather sealing. A permanently attached lens hood. No front filter ring and a big, fat front element. It also has sharpness. Lots and lots of sharpness. 

While I'm not very cozy with wide angle lenses I'd like to do more architecture and industrial photography and the consensus is that having a few good wide angle lenses might be a positive thing for dealing well with that sort of work. I much prefer those telephotos that are just a bit longer than a "normal" lens but I'm trying hard to figure out what my wide angle vision is and how to nurture it. I know from endless reading and some lucky shots that it's great to have a foreground element in order to create more impression of depth. And I definitely know that, if I am foolish enough to attempt doing portraits with the lens, I should never put my portrait subject on one edge or the other. If I want any chance at selling a portrait with this beast it will be because I put the subject directly in the center and that someone other than the subject is actually paying for the assignment. 

I am keenly aware from reading reviews on both Lenstip.com and OpticalLimits.com that the lens measures well and produces very sharp files but that some of the performance superiority comes from crafty software corrections and enhancements. Had the lens been introduced in the days before built in lens profiles I would have my doubts about its value proposition. Since I can't see the faults through the opaque machinations of the software I'm blissfully unbothered by theoretical limitations due to it's actual optical performance. If it looks sharp and it measures sharp then I'll just applaud the work of the programmers and venture forward. 

I picked up the lens from Precision Camera yesterday, along with a second lens which I hope to test out tomorrow. I have only had a few hours to walk around and get used to shooting such a wide angle view. I've read that it's at its very sharpest at 12mm and at f4.0 but I tried all sorts of combinations with it. It's big but handles well. It's heavy but then most fast, well made zooms are. Is it worth $2,000. USD? I have no idea if it's worth that for anyone but me. From my point of view the right project pays for the lens and then I get to use it again and again. If I were shooting just for fun???? Right, I'd just be shooting with the old 50mm on some ancient (but perfect) body. 

More to come but I'll try to do some sort of from memory captioning on the images below.

Shot at 14-16mm f5.6

Shot at 8mm f5.6

Shot at 12-16mm on f5.6

Shot at 8mm at f5.6


8mm.

8mm

12mm.

8mm.

8mm



12mm

10mm

14mm.






12mm

8mm


12mm.

8mm. 

I have my fingers crossed for luck. Luck that I'll learn the ins and outs of shooting wide. 
So many people seem to like crazy, wide. Maybe I'll become acculturated. 

3.21.2019

OT: Food, Cars, Exercise, Discipline, Tolerance.


Corn Soup. With Olive Oil garnish.


I have a really insane diet plan. I thought I'd share mine in the same week in which Michael Johnston goes off topic at theonlinephotographer to discuss his views about diet. I'm not making a case that either of us is right or wrong, but at around 63 years of experience I can safely say that we both have our perspectives about what makes the most sense for each of us, individually. 

I am not a vegan or even a vegatarian. I'm a moderationist. I believe that part of being an omnivore is the privilege to enjoy a wide variety of foodstuffs. If you talked to my close friends I think you would find that they definitely consider me to be a "foodie" in the sense that good restaurants and great chefs cause me much happiness, across many cuisines. I think the human body was designed to not just tolerate many different ingredients in our diets but that we actually crave the variety, and that it makes sustaining ourselves part the pleasure equation that ensures long life and health. 

We follow a similar pattern around here for functional reasons and for fun. Belinda goes grocery shopping for the bulk of our home-cooked food on Sunday afternoons so we generally always have fresh fish at dinner on Mondays. If you're going to buy really good fish you want to prepare it and eat it while it's fresh, right? On Tuesday Ben cooks dinner and loves to create new dishes inspired, in part, by his time in S. Korea. I'm just getting settled in with kimchi. I'm responsible for Wednesday dinners and I'm all over the map but we do have a few family rules for whoever is cooking. One is that we should have a flavorful and high quality protein at each evening meal. It could be a pairing of rice, black beans and corn (supercharged with some avocado), it could be fish, well prepared beef, or even (gasp) hummus or something soy based. Every evening meal needs at least one fresh vegetable; preferably two, and a clean starch. 

It was my turn last night and I cooked sirloin steaks. I started by trimming the fat and then searing three six ounce pieces of the beef, cut about 1.5 inches thick, in a very, very hot cast iron skillet. One minute on each side and then the edges seared while holding each piece with tongs. Then the skillet goes straight into a preheated 450 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Pull out the skillet, put the pieces of meat on a warmed plate and let rest for five minutes before serving. They generally come out nice and tender this way and are cooked to a medium/medium rare level of doneness. Pink in the middle; not red. 

Last night I paired this with freshly made mashed potatoes and a big salad of julienned fresh broccoli, kale, red peppers, finely sliced cucumbers, sunflower seeds, blueberries and cherries and a very light dressing. 

Belinda is partial to green tea with her dinners, Ben is a water fanatic but is known to have a craft beer from time to time and I'm trying to lose weight by cutting out red wine and replacing it with sparkling water with lime. 

Every breakfast is done individually; we all have different schedules. I'm partial to toasting sprouted flax bread and pairing it (sandwich style) with Laura Scudder's organic (crunchy) peanut butter and blueberry preserves. It's a perfect morning eye-opener and it pairs really nicely with good coffee (whole milk, steamed). Most cold days it's oatmeal with walnuts and fresh berries.

Ben grazes on whatever looks healthy in the fridge. Lately he's been making a pudding from chia seeds and almond milk, and pairing that with fresh berries, and sometimes a wedge of hard cheese. 

I can never keep track of Belinda's breakfasts as she's always whipping up something amazingly healthy with yogurt, coconut oil, spinach, kale and other zany stuff ---- which she professes to actually like. 

Lunch is all over the map but if I'm home I'm usually making a bowl with a mix of brown rice, sardines, chopped spinach and soy sauce. Ben is partial to veggie bowls at Cava, and Belinda --- healthy leftovers. 

I love a good glass of red wine but over the last year I've had to compromise my exercise schedule a lot to take care of family stuff and because of a crazy travel schedule. I've gone on an alcohol fast until such a time as I can take off the 5 to 7 seven pounds my doctor believes (in his heart) that I've gained in the past 18 months. He's got a good point. It's easy to get lazy when you are operating under a certain amount of stress. 

The one thing we do as almost a family ritual is to have Pizza Night on Thursdays. And NO! I am not talking about gluten free, whole wheat crust dabbled with fresh veggies and finished off with some sort of soy cheese. I'm talking about traditional crust, puddles of great tomato sauce and ample cheese that is stringy and delicious. You know, the cheese that ties you to that slice of pizza at arm's length...

We eat eggs two or three times a week. We have two vegetarian dinners a week and, most importantly, we try to maintain rational, healthy serving sizes. 

When it comes to desserts there is no carton of ice cream in the freezer, nor is there a pantry stuffed with cookies or weird sweets. Ben is immune to sweets and Belinda and I share a love for dark chocolate. A square or two of dark chocolate fills up that emotional space that calls out for the sweets of our youth.

I guess what we do is considered moderation. We don't do fast food. We rarely do frozen or canned foods. We mostly buy good stuff and prepare it in fun and tasty ways. And we nearly always eat our evening meal altogether. There is a strict rule that bans cellphones and other electronic devices at the dinner table and this has been a hard and fast rule since we've been parents (could this be one reason why the child graduated magna cum laude from his college? And can carry on interesting dinner table conversation?) We want everyone to appreciate the work and creativity each person brings to their preparation of the family meal. 

I also believe that if negative stress can cause disease, heart attacks, cancer, etc. then it only makes sense that good thoughts, happiness, connection and a sense of community can have the opposite effect and reduce those same metrics. Happiness and connection being much more powerful than lipitor, or a joyless, cardboard diet endured in solitude. 

Okay. So, all good things in moderation with occasional splurges for BBQ, Pizza, a steak, some sloppy Tex-Mex food, etc. But in context these kinds of food are much more the exception that a rule around here. We might go out for dinner at a restaurant two evenings a month. A few more times during the holidays. Maybe.

So, how do you keep from getting fat, unhealthy, and in near constant need of ever expanding clothes? 

This part is simple. MOVE. I think we thrive on exercise. It's pretty hard to overdose if you enjoy the exercises that you do. My two favorites are long, long walks and competitive swim workouts. I think the doctors are wrong when they suggest 25-30 minutes of exercise three or four days a week as a good regimen. I think the human body thrives on daily exercise and also is happier with more calories spent than less. Our swim workouts on weekdays are an hour and fifteen minutes and we don't stop more than ten or fifteen seconds between sets. Any day that doesn't include a good swim gets at least an hour walk. Usually it's a two hour walk and a swim. Believe me, there's time in the day. Especially if you unplug your TV and stop thinking of your computer as a close, personal friend. 

In my estimation a healthy exercise regimen/habit is far, far more important, overall, than diet. There is a famous swimmer who wrote a popular vegan diet book and everyone seems to credit his diet with his amazing physique and fitness. He's a genetic lottery winner. He's always had a great physique and level of fitness. How do I know? I watched him swim at UT, long before he adopted his vegan diet and he was plainly in the .001% of fit adults in the country. And I watch him each morning (because we've swum in the same program for the last 15+ years) and he is still looking great. The diet did not come first. The years of highly disciplined exercise set the stage. Years of running and biking as a professional triathlete coupled with decades of high level, competitive swimming. I think I could feed this guy a diet of Twinkies and cream puffs and as long as he can get in the water and bang out a fast 5,000 yard workout,  pacing along with a couple his fellow swimmers who are Olympic gold medalists, he'll never be fat or unfit. 

But I'd bet you hard currency that if you fed this guy his cookbook diet and never gave him time to exercise he'd be indistinguishable from all the office workers everywhere, with just a little paunch hanging over the belt line. 

The take away? If you want to be healthy exercise a lot. Get up now and go out for a long, long walk. The article will (probably) be here by the time you get back. Do it every day. Sun, snow, rain or meteor showers. Get out of breath. Get the ole heart rate up. Feel sore from time to time. You'll love it.

My take is that if you are always comfortable you are always getting fatter...

I'm on a roll; let's do cars now. Nah. Everyone who lives in an urban area knows that you only need three things in a car: Reliability, enough space for the crap you need to carry around with you and (depending on where you live) a good heater or air conditioner. Don't spend more than $35,000 on a new car. An $18K Toyota Corolla has a better reliability metric than a $90,000 BMW.  Always save up and pay cash. Moving on.... If you are buying a car just because you love the way it drives, well, I just won't be able to relate.

Discipline. The difference between a published author, the owner of successful manufacturing company, a world class athlete, a great painter, a marvelous chef, a person good at anything, and everyone else, is that the people who get stuff done know how to get started, how to stick with the process longer,  and to work until they master whatever it is they want to do. Discipline is getting up in the dark and heading out into the cold because there is something you want to get done. Now.

I have a story about starting, doing the work and finishing. When I got my first book contract it was to write and illustrate "Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Lighting on Location." The publisher read my outline, sent me a contract and an advance check. I sat down the day I got my advance and worked on the book for the first three hours of every day for the next three month. I'd arrange photo shoots to create the sample photographs in my spare time, between paying photography gigs. I finished up the project a couple days before the deadline the publisher had set arrived, sent the work along and then waited.

When I couldn't wait anymore I called to find out if I'd passed or failed, or would be re-writing for the rest of my life. The editor laughed and told me (this was weeks after I sent the manuscript via overnight Federal Express) that it was in their stack and that they would get to it shortly.

I was confused. "But the deadline....?" I think I said.

"Oh yeah. Well we always set a deadline for projects but you're the first writer I can remember who actually got us the work on time. Most are weeks or months late." Said the editor.

I must have registered some sort of amazement at the idea so many people would actually miss a deadline. 

"That's nothing" the editor remarked, "For every ten advance checks we send out only one person actually finishes their book." 

You don't have to be exceedingly bright to write a book. You don't have to have a powerful agent. You don't need a ground breaking idea.  You just have to start. And then proceed. And then finish. If you do that you will already be so far ahead of your competition that they cease to be competition. It's just discipline.

Tolerance. When I was younger I thought I knew so much more than I think I know now. I wanted everyone to think the way I did. I still do but now, at least, that's tempered with my understanding that everyone has different thoughts, tastes, skills, ideas about food, ideas about cars, ideas about exercise and ideas about life. I'll never change most people's minds and if I continue to try and have everyone think like me I'll end up alienating a lot of interesting people while missing out on a lot of good ideas.

I'd hate to miss out on such a rich mixture so I'm learning one very valuable phrase and I keep repeating it over and over again to myself: What if the other guy is right?

What do you really want from your cameras and lenses that you aren't already getting?


We're such social creatures. Even the brightest and most independent folks among us can fall into "follow the leader" mode when the stars and the rationales line up correctly. Here's a case in point: I have a friend who changes systems at least as often as I do. The big difference between us is that he's primarily a videographer who also does photographs while I am very much a photographer who happens to do some video.

While my friend owns a Sony FS 7 video camera for big, high production video projects he fell for the lure of the Panasonic GH5 system and ended up with a couple of cameras and a bushel basket full of lenses. After using them for the better part of a year, and having done a number of very successful assignments with them he decided that the files generated are too noisy for a camera that he likes to press into service for many different kinds of projects. He also is much less fond of lighting as much as I do and would love for his cameras to all be great low light shooting tools. This week he sold off all of his Panasonic gear at once and re-oriented himself back to the Sony A7xxx cameras he'd been hot and cold on before.

Seems he really likes the color of the Panasonics better but the noise rendition of the Sonys better. He's acutely disturbed by noise in video files so he's made his move back into a system that he hopes will solve his problems. With the proceeds from the sale of his Panasonic stuff he's gone into the process of cherry-picking new Sony lenses (which will work with his still cameras as well as with the FS camera) like the 70-200mm f2.8G, the 24-70mm f2.8G and several others. I wish him much happiness with his new choices; I really do.

But here's the maddening thing for me; I think my friend is an extremely creative artist and I feel drawn into his slipstream to also better sort out my camera systems. I did a quick inventory of my m4:3 gear and talked to my dealer about its trade-in value. He tossed out a number and I did what I normally do, I started putting together a list of my fantasy purchases to round out my Fuji camera system. I figured I could sell off the smaller format gear and plow the proceeds into the bigger, APS-C system. It's a kind of madness that I've done before with other systems it's just that this time I had my very own thought leader making the jump before me and, by extension, making it okay for me to consider the same kind of transitioning.

In the end I have little doubt that I'll go ahead with the whole transaction. Having one unified system has been a goal of mine for a while. The timing is good as the stuff I currently own will never go up in value while the lenses I'd like to add to my Fuji system are both on sale and will give me a $1,000 savings if I make the trade before the Fuji sale runs its course at the end of March.

If I stick with my plan I'll have an excellent collection of Fuji lenses that will give me the range of 8mm to 400mm or, in full frame speak, from the equivalent of 12mm to 600mm. Every lens I've bought for the Fuji system so far is really good and I haven't yet stumbled across a reason for regrets.

I'm trying hard to fall in love with wide angle lenses and I'm hoping I'll have some sort of epiphany or satori with the 8-16mm. Or maybe I'll just mellow out with the 14mm f2.8; I already know that lens is a keeper.

Usually, I'm more drawn to acquiring new camera bodies but in this regard I feel well situated with the three XH-1 bodies I've accumulated, along with the XT3 and EX3.

The allure of having a single menu to keep in my mind is strong. We'll see how it all pans out...


3.18.2019

Testing the XH-1 for use in day to day video production.



Hi there. For the last year and a half I've been using mostly Panasonic GH5 cameras to do my video projects with. I recently bought three of the Fuji XH-1 cameras and I was curious to find out how well they would do the same kind of work I've been doing with the GH5s and, before that, the various Sony cameras. I'm between projects so it's a great time for me to test out all the stuff I might want to use down the road. It's kind of rude to do your testing while actually on the job; I mean, what are supposed to do if some piece of gear you're "testing" doesn't work out quite the way you wanted it to and the client is looking over your shoulder with the clock ticking away in the background?

No, it's much better to test stuff in your office where you can grab the fire extinguisher to battle unexpected flames and where you can make all the dumb mistakes we all do when we're trying out new ways of doing things. Or new gear. 

Up till now I've leaned on the Panasonics for my video and I've more or less transitioned to the Fuji stuff for photography. But in the back of my mind I'm anticipating the day a client changes his/her mind and decides on the spur of the moment, that they really. would like some video as well..... I'd like to know exactly what the Fuji cameras will deliver and how to set them up to deliver an optimum file, if they are the only ones in the bag. It's one thing to memorize the owner's manual but it's another thing altogether to put your hands all over the equipment and to know, without a doubt, how to set it up and turn it all on. That's what this afternoon is all about for me. Later in the week I'm planning to take a rig up to Blanco, Texas and see if I can shoot some footage at my favorite brewery, The Real Ale Brewing Company. But for now getting the rudimentary stuff right is the first step. 

So, why am I testing the XH-1 instead of the XT3 which is supposed to be the "better" video camera? I guess it all depends on what you find useful and necessary versus which camera has the best specs on paper. I have them both and at some point we'll probably do a head to head test but right now I just like the solid feel of the older camera a bit better.  Especially since I have it fitted out with the battery grip and I haven't gotten around to getting a grip for the XT3...

I set up the camera to shoot 4K and I opted to send the 4K file to the camera while sending a smaller, HD file to my Atomos digital recorder. I'm interested today on how the bare bones file out of the camera will look for all those times that I want to travel light or shoot on a gimbal and won't be linked to an external recorder which would allow for the bigger file. The XH-1 allows you to choose to send the 4K file to either the camera or the recorder while sending a smaller HD file to the other device. You can have it both ways...

I set the camera to shoot at 100 mbps because that too reflects a lot of what we shoot for corporate clients. I generally always originate in 4k and then edit on a 1080p timeline. It's a little bit for "future proofing" and a lot for having the capability to crop in and resize the frame without loosing quality. It's also cool to be able to say, "yeah. We always shoot in 4K." As if I have unlimited storage or the world's fastest computer (neither).

For this test I was less interested to see what the "ultimate quality" might be and more interested to see what a routine file looked like. 

I shot the short test just using the camera microphones since this is all about color and focus and not about ultimate sound quality. When I get around to really testing the camera's pre-amplifiers I'll need to drag out a couple rolling cases filled with sound blankets and cover the walls and window. I'll also want to use a really good microphone so I'm not blaming the camera for inadequacies of a lesser instrument. 

No, I just wanted to see what the files looked like shooting at 24 fps with a nice wash of natural (indirect) light coming through the studio windows. A nice touch, the camera provides an actual 1/48th of a second! 

I had the camera set up on a tripod so I could play with variations of rigging. I'm trying different shoulder mounts for DSLR style cameras and figuring out different ways to configure the camera for basic interview shooting that I'll be doing, using a tripod or monopod, but being ready to go quickly to a handheld set up for mobility. Recently we've been doing a few events that require some basic interviews and some quick transitions to b-roll shooting. It's nice to get it figured out and practiced without the added pressure of dozens of people standing around watching you mess up.

So, in my quick test I was looking at the way the Eterna film emulation profile looks on old, weathered flesh (very flattering, easy to contain both highlights and shadows)  and how well the camera does when using face detection while shooting in 4K. Also very good. 

While I talk about working to transition the camera from the "sticks" to handheld, to be truthful, I am lazy and hate to do anything under pressure so I will most likely have one body dedicated to tripod use on a job and a second body configured to be handheld. When I finish with one I'll be able to put it back in the case and turn to the alternate one. That's enough of a good reason to call for having two cameras. It's always a time save to have each camera set up well for just the right use. The rationale for a third identical body is to have a ready back up should either of the two "dedicated" cameras develop a flaw that you can't troubleshoot in the moment. 

So, how does working with the Fuji compare to working with the Panasonic cameras? One thing that I'm less than happy about it losing the audio interface of the Panasonic. It's wonderful to have the audio device plugged right into the hot shoe to provide balanced XLR microphone inputs to the camera. Even better is having handy controls in just the right place. With the XH-1 we're back to running microphones into a 3.5mm jack or using a Saramonic or BeachTek adapter to wrangle XLR microphones and line level inputs to the camera. That will be the next thing for Fuji to solve for the video part of the market.

When going back and forth between systems I do miss the bigger battery capacity of the Panasonics as well. Yes, with three batteries in the XH-1 plus grip I can more than match the single, big battery in the GH5 but when I want to strip everything down to the essentials to, for example, put the camera on a hand-held gimbal, loosing the battery grip on the XH-1 means relying on the single, in-camera battery and that can be a nail biter as the camera tends to have a healthy appetite for electricity.

On the other hand I think I like the Eterna profile better than a customized "Natural" profile, or a "Cine D" profile from the Panasonics. The Eterna files seems more directly usable while the Panasonic files seem to need some extra tweaking. I also think that (excluding Log comparisons) the Fuji camera tends to preserve highlights and dynamic range a bit better. 

In terms of face detection.... I've been testing side by side for a while and I'm finding the Fuji camera (with the 16-55mm f2.8) does a (slightly) better job getting to focus and staying put while filming (using the latest firmware in each). 

But all this is my early blush with dialing in a new camera model; pre-work. I've got to make sure the audio is good and usable and that adjusting the audio during filming is workable (one of the reason I like external boxes like the BeachTek or the Saramonic mixers is to have the physical control of the audio level knobs) before I commit to making the XH-1 my first choice for video. 

I'm trying to take the emotion and nostalgia out of my testing so I can make some good determinations in order to streamline my workflow. If the Fujis can at least match the Panasonic cameras for video and out deliver them by a certain margin for photographs then I'll pare down to one system and joyously commit to one menu. But I'm not as impulsive as some might conjecture. I have to make sure everything works for me first. 

In other news: The Subaru Forester continues to satisfy for day-to-day stuff. Nice amount of space and a surprisingly good ride. The downsizing of studio inventory continues apace with fewer and fewer accessories and modifiers cluttering up the space (and my brain). I've resisted buying any new studio gear since the beginning of the year and have slowed down on camera and lens buying after a particularly ambitious flurry of wallet emptying near the beginning of the year. Oh the horror, I may be embarking on fiscal competence...

Swimming is glorious and I'm happy with my current progress. I guess being 63 is not a death sentence after all. 

News on the family front is okay. My dad is declining week by week but he is happy, not in pain, getting the best care imaginable and between my brother and me he sees family a lot more than he did before everything started to crumble. Hospice care + Memory care is great and his caregivers are super. We'll be celebrating his 91st birthday next week. He's mentioned that "he's way past his sell by date already but he's not off the shelf yet". I'm heading down to celebrate with him, giant chocolate cake in tow. 

Hope everyone is having a good week and is not currently having trouble with their Range Rover automobile....

3.16.2019

I went down to SXSW in downtown Austin, Texas. I took a different camera and lens this time. It was fun. Different.

1959 Rome? Nah, 2019 Austin.

I've been rattling on about Fuji cameras so much I'm starting to believe I must be on their payroll but every time I check the mailbox I am disappointed; there's nothing but bills...

I'm kind of side-tracked with the Fujis right now because I'm deep into testing my favorite work cameras to see just how well they can handle video oriented assignments. My brain has them segmented into the video world this weekend so it was only natural that I'd reach for a different camera and lens for a cool afternoon walk through SXSW on the last day. 

I pulled a Panasonic G9 out of the drawer and popped the (amazing!!!!!) 40-150mm f2.8 Pro on the lens mount. I grabbed an extra battery (442 exposures, no second battery needed; not even close) put a few bucks in my pocket for emergency coffee and headed down to walk through Sixth St. (the nexus of all things in Austin....). 

I shot with the lens wide open at f2.8 all day long. Why mess around with all those other apertures if you're in the mood for some out of focus backgrounds? I set the camera on manual exposure with the shutter speed at 1/1000th and the ISO set to auto. I figured I could always twizzle the exposure compensation if I need to make an image brighter or darker. Better yet, I switched to raw file format and gave up caring if the image in the finder was slightly light or dark.

So, what did I find out in three or four hours of shooting? Well, that the G9 has a great matrix metering set up. That setting the cloudy sky WB icon is just right when.....you have a cloudy sky. That the AF in the G9 is super fast and extremely accurate and that the 40-150mm is a great collection of focal lengths and the lens itself is an impressive performer --- even when used wide open. 

I also learned that generations younger than mine approach life, events, culture and image capture in a totally different way. Who could have guessed?


I headed home as the light dropped and looked at my take for the day. Instead of erasing this batch I thought I'd re-open the discussion about micro four thirds cameras and why I don't think the current trend toward 24 by 36 mm sensors matters at all. Disagree all you want but I think the future will focus much, much more on content and much, much less on technique and super production quality. Sure, you can have both but......

But however you slice the camera conundrum it's all moot if you just sit inside and bang away on the computer, having serious opinions about optical theory and whose camera is better than whose. The real test is when you take the gear out on the street, immerse yourself into a different milieu that your usual bridge game or golfing foray and take a peek at the world through the gear you've already hoarded and crowed about. Then you can have a conversation about style, look and content. Much better than waxing eloquent (?) about which company makes a better 35mm f1.4...... really. Go outside. Go where people congregate. Take photographs. Smile at the people. Slide into the slipstream. Go with the flow.
It's groovy baby. 























3.15.2019

A reader wrote to ask me what my solution for printing is these days. I hardly know what to tell him...

This image is one I did last year. 
It was printed on an oversized postcard by the client, 
Zach Theatre. (they sent it out to a digital printing company)
 I got a credit for the photograph.
They probably sent out 30,000 to my local market.
That's the kind of printing I like best. 

At the dawn of inkjet printing on the desktop I think a lot of us thought this would be the golden age of the digital darkroom; an invention that would free us from the drudgery of working with nasty chemicals while laboring under the dim red glow of a safe light.

I bought into it hook, line and sinker. At one point many years ago there were multiple printers strewn about my office. One for printing 17 inch wide color prints, another festooned with six different tanks of black, gray and other gray ink, and dedicated to black and white (excuse me!) monochrome prints, and several others that were either dedicated to printing office correspondence and contact sheets or waiting to be discarded due to their velocity toward obsolescence.

I had one particular printer which nearly drove me mad (not a far drive according to our collective mental GPS....) because it was so well reviewed by online writers and yet so nasty, costly and ineffective in person. I won't protect anyone here because there isn't an innocent party. It was an Epson 4000 printer and was, perhaps, the most dreadful and financially ruinous piece of "photographic" gear that I think I have ever purchased. And I've purchased a lot of gear.

The ink was more expensive and addictive per ounce than pure cocaine and about as therapeutic. The printer couldn't go a day without a cleaning cycle which helped spray away hundreds of dollars a week of ink printing fractured test patterns on white paper. Once in a while it would relent and turn out a decent print for me. I'd pick myself up off the floor (collapsing from the excitement of a rare moment of success) and rush to print more before the fickle machine did its schizophrenic about face and plunged me back into despair. That one could conceivably make any money using this printer in a for profit business was and is so laughable to me that I still have trouble understanding how Epson stayed in the printer business. (See quotes from P.T. Barnum).

I hear that in other, more civilized countries, the use and ownership of an Epson 4000 printer is actually the punishment for crimes like shop lifting and "creating a public nuisance". I know that a fan or two out there will write to tell me that I should have dedicated a humidifier to its area of the office but I'll sneer at them and match them two humidifiers and one tank of pure oxygen ( the idea being that maybe regular air conditioned air was not good enough for such a printer and perhaps its best work could only be done under hyperbaric conditions).

This started my downhill slide where dedicated photographic printers are concerned. I have one now but I only use it for printing the few invoices I still send to some clients in the mail (most accept pdf files attached to e-mail). The idea of having to print a portfolio, or even worse, a print for a valued client, sends chills up my spine and makes me feel as though the doors of my business will soon be closing.

So, what do I do when I need to give a client a print?

Hmmmmm. That hasn't really come up in a long time. Before the days of the iPad Pro I used to carry around a printed portfolio. I still have plenty of them here in the office.... Now, when I go out to show work it gets passed around as an iPad screen and it looks fantastic. Clients can even zoom in if they want to check details. My "portfolio" fits in a backpack and I can easily take it with me on a plane.

No single commercial client has requested a print from me in nearly ten years. None. Never. If one did come to me requesting a print (of any size) I would most likely send the file to the folks at our long lived commercial lab here in Austin called, Holland Photo. Under the watchful eyes of Brian, the owner, the staff would no doubt churn out nicely crafted prints that I would be happy to send along to our clients. But I'm not sure what our clients might do with them.

We used to do event work where prints were the final result of days of shooting. I'm remembering an awards show for Broadwing Communications that we did in Palm Springs back in 2001. I was tasked with photographing about 250 people as they walked across the stage and were handed an award. I'd take second shot when the awardee shook hands with the CEO. At the end of the evening I was tasked with running out to a lab, with which we'd contracted in advance, that would soup the rolls of color negative film I'd shot and print a 5x7 inch color print of every frame. I dropped the film off after the show at 11 pm and the client expected and got the prints back at 7 a.m. the next morning so we could sit around in the press room and stuff the prints into presentation folders.

I'm not going back to that. Not ever.

At one point in the roaring 1990's we had a client who will remain nameless who wanted to have images taken of their guests in western wear on bales of hay next to rustic fencing in the ballroom of a five star hotel in downtown. They didn't want the prints the next day they wanted them right now. And they wanted them sepia toned to match the event theme. We decided to do them with 4x5 Professional Polaroid film. There were 800 couples attending and each couple would be photographed. I did the math and figured we'd need four shooting stations in order to get the project done in one evening (please don't make me set up next to the cover band ever again!!!!!). That meant four 4x5 inch view cameras with which to take the shots; each outfitted with a Polaroid back. Three additional photographers to make the photographs. An assistant for each station to time the Polaroid before peeling it apart. Four studio lighting systems to provide needed and ample photons in a cavernous ballroom. And two more assistants to accelerate the drying of the "instant" film and insert it into theme specific presentation envelopes. We had to special order the sepia version of the Polaroid film by the case....

It all went off without much of a hitch. But I think the whole grinding experience soured me on mass Polaroid until such a time as they discontinued their instant film business. That job paid for a BMW automobile...

Until recently I would send over files for my personal work to Costco. If you took the time to download the printer profiles they provided you could get great 12x18 inch prints for about the price of a Coca Cola. Those are now going away because.....nobody wants prints anymore.

Instead of prints from events we put up huge galleries of images shot during trade shows, conventions and other events and the participants are invited to download or share whatever they want. I suppose we could add an "order a print" component to the service but I think we tried that a few times five years ago and out of 2700 people two ordered one 5x7 inch matte print....each.

I'm sorry to say (because I truly loved the black and white prints I used to spend hours and days producing in my cozy darkroom) but I think prints are all but dead. The screen is the center of all corporate communications. Even magazine and other print work is a small fraction of corporate marketing output these days compared to e-screen publishing.

The latest numbers I've seen from the advertising community suggest that 80% of all people get their information (and entertainment, and news, and advertising) from screens. Of those screens over 60% are attached to those things we used to call phones. Each generation of phones results in a bigger and more beautiful screen. You can view photos in a dark room because the phones provide their own illumination. You can take them anywhere. They are more or less indestructible and, if you do lose your phone you can buy a new one and reload all your backed up photos to it in no time at all....

It makes me wonder why anyone anywhere is printing anything at all.

I think it's a generational thing. I love prints. I still print stuff but only because I've been sensitized to the argument about archival printing and long term keeping. I just send a batch of sized files to the folks at Holland and accept whatever they toss back to me. If they ever go out of business then I think we will have hit the end of the print and we'll move on and become nostalgic for something else.

The real magic of photography is not HOW it is shared but that it IS shared. Paper or screen is immaterial except this one thing: 25 years ago I could print and print, and perfect and re-print and get maybe 12 prints that were good enough to put in a show. I'd pay enormous amounts of money (for a young photographer) to get them matted and framed and then beg a gallery, or a friendly restaurant, to let me have a show for a month.

Over the course of the month maybe 100 people would see the work at a gallery. Or maybe 500 people would glance at my work as they were being shown to their table at the restaurant. It was rare that anything sold. Now I can post a photograph on the web, on my own blog site, and have the reasonable expectation that in the next 24 hours 4,000+ people would see the work and many of them would share it with their audiences. My financial investment would be nil but my exposure would be orders of magnitude greater. And across so many more markets. That same photo might form the content for an e-mail blast to my client mailing list meaning that another 1,000+ people would see the image. If I added it to my LinkedIn profile perhaps another 2,000+ people would see it. In short order.

And with repetition I can actually make a photograph seem ubiquitous to large numbers of people.

Sharing. An Audience. An Art Form. Isn't that why we do photography? Shooting well trumps printing well. I'll spend my time shooting and continue to outsource any printing that seems necessary.

And that's how I'm handling my 2019 printing needs.... thanks for asking.

It's officially perfect swim weather in Austin. Yesterday was amazing.


It was an early morning yesterday. My kid, Ben, is now all grown up, working for a public relations company, and traveling frequently for business. Since he's only been in the workforce since last August he's still living at home and saving up $$ resources. He needed a ride to the airport for an early flight and since neither of us really trusts Uber, Taxis, etc. I volunteered to get up at the ungodly hour of 5 am to drive him there.

On the way back home I grabbed some breakfast and coffee and spent an hour reading the news on the computer in my office. At 6:45 am I headed to the Western Hills Athletic Club pool for the 7:00 am workout. It was still dark but it was in the high 60s with a soft breeze coming out of the west. The water was about two degrees cooler than the day before and, while it's a little tougher to make that first jump in, the cooler water (within reason) generally means a faster, better workout.

There was the usual contingent of young (mid-20's to mid-40's), hard charging swimmers training for stuff like triathlons and USMS nationals, and they were frothing it up in the fast lanes (100 repeats on 1:05 to 1:15). I'm looking for a bit more moderation and 100 yard repeats in the 1:30 to 1:35 range. Yes, as I've gotten older I've gotten lazier. And a little bit slower.

When we started workout it was still dark and about halfway through there was a most glorious sunrise. I switched to backstroke for a number of laps just to look at the clouds slip through the rose sky turning to deep blue.

I headed home around 8:30 for a scheduled call that never happened. Seems my corresponding call "partner" is based in Colorado and was snowed in by a blizzard and unable to get to her office. I sat on the back deck of the house, sipped a cup of fresh coffee and pondered the reality of current life.

Everything swirling around us on the news is bad and tragic and sad and frustrating but when I close the lid on my laptop and turn off the feed I realize that so much of my life is so good that it's almost unbelievable. After a half hour of sitting quietly and savoring every sip of coffee I had the thought that the saying from an early Star Wars movie might be right. "Your focus determines your reality."

If that's the case then I choose to focus on swimming more, hanging out with friends and family more, and using the cameras I find to be the most fun. You'll have to find your own formula...


Why I think the Fuji XT30 will be a game changing camera in today's personal imaging market.


Fuji is doing something interesting which has its roots in the camera market from the film camera days. It's delivering the same image quality in an affordable camera as it does in its top line camera and it's not limiting the imaging feature sets for photography or video to compensate for the cost difference. In the 1990's you could buy a Nikon F5 that was the company's top line camera. The image quality was not dependent on that body but by the film you used and the lenses you put on the front of the camera. That meant that "top" image quality could have just as easily been a much less expensive FM or FE body, or even one of the entry level cameras of the day. The two critical components were always the film (sensor) and the lens you used. A more expensive camera offered faster frame rates, better build quality and features aimed at specialists. But a more expensive film body did not, de facto, produce any better image quality than the less expensive camera bodies in a maker's line-up.

Since you could achieve the same level of technical quality with a $350 Nikon FM that you could get with a $1995 Nikon F5 even entry level photographers were limited only by their ability to afford the right lenses and by their own vision and skills.

Last year Fujifilm introduced the third generation of their XT(single digit) cameras; the XT-3. It was an evolutionary step. A progression from the 16 megapixel XT-1 to the 24 megapixel XT-2 and the newest model, the XT-3 came with a new sensor design which now delivers 26+ megapixels of resolution.

The XT-3 delivers more than just a (very small) megapixel resolution bump. It's inner guts have been radically improved where focusing and video are involved. The sensor is a BSI design which enables faster data throughput. The camera's other processing hardware is vastly improved. Focusing, even face/eye detection, is now much more robust and the camera feels faster; more responsive. Indeed, it was so much improved that more than on experienced reviewer called the XT-3 the APS-C camera of the year.

I know most photographers might not care but the biggest improvements (my opinion) are in the video department. While in the past the XT-x cameras from Fuji were not particularly well provisioned for video the XT-3 is a totally different animal. The ability to shoot 400 mb/s in camera at 4K, to do 4K at 60 fps, and to do it with class leading color science is causing filmmakers to look to the XT-3 not as a stop gap video solution but a solid contender in the 4K filmmaking marketplace. Filmmaker and camera reviewer, Jordan Drake (late of Camera Store TV and now featured on DP Review) even praises the XT3's microphone pre-amps, which is usually a weak spot for hybrid cameras...

These are all good things if you are already shooting with a nice collection of Fuji lenses and you are financially comfortable spending about $1400 on the new camera. But what if you want all the imaging quality and processing goodness at a lower price? What if your appreciation level is unmatched by your bank balance?

Fuji, it seems, have endowed their new XT-30 with the same imaging pipeline found in the big brother. Not similar; the same. The new, under $1,000 camera uses the same sensor, the same color profiles and the same video guts and delivers an image quality that should be identical to the company's more expensive model. The major let down is that the new camera only uses UHS-1 cards and so the video throughput is limited to 200 mb/s second instead of the 400 mb/s of the XT-3. (offset, mostly, by the ability to record 10 bit 4:2:2 into my Atomos recorder. The new camera even supports F-Log for color grading masochists....).

The photographic imaging capabilities are, as far as I can tell, in no other way crippled to protect sales of the more expensive cameras in Fuji's line up (the XH-1, the XT-3 and the X-Pro-2). From a photographic point of view it joins the XT-3 in providing 14 bit raw files!

You will give up some camera body size (a plus for some, a detraction for others) the bigger viewfinder of the more expensive camera, along with the weather sealing and overall robustness of the XT3. If you have big hands the smaller camera may be less comfortable in everyday use. But if you are entering the business of video services and need to get your feet wet with a capable movie making tool then the XT-30 may be the best under $1,000 option in the video world today. At the same time it matches the XT3 for overall photographic image quality and does so with no technical compromises.

Most camera makers seem to design limitations into base model cameras to protect upstream models. The lower priced units get an older, less capable sensor. They might get limited video data rates and no access to things like clean HDMI output to digital recorders. They generally get only 8 bit imaging options while the XT30 can record DCI 4K at 10 bits with 4:2:2 color into an external recorder. The XT30 does limit 4K recording, in camera to 10 minutes and does limit 4K to 30 fps instead of 60 fps. If you want to attach a microphone there is a 2.5 mm port (instead of the industry standard 3.5 mm) and if you want to monitor audio with headphones you'll need an adapter for the USB 3.1 port to make them work.

But where the rubber meets the road, in image quality, both in photographs and video (at equivalent frame rates and data rates), there is purported to be no difference between the XT3 and the XT30. That's pretty cool.

For an experienced photographer who mostly does non-video assignments this means that, if image quality is the only reason you buy certain cameras, you may now be able to do all the work you would have done with the more expensive model on the XT30.

Of course, if money is no object and you aren't firmly in the philosophical club that believes smaller and lighter photo gear is always better you will find the XT3 to be more refined and perhaps more capable of taking the daily beatings of photography more gracefully. (Important in the old days of long term camera ownership but perhaps much less important in an age where cameras are changed out frequently for newer models). The XT3 also has a better finder, bigger controls, both standard microphone and headphone jacks and a bit more depth to the video files by dint of its UHS-2 capabilities (speed and throughput) and dual card slots.

Prior to the introduction of the XT30 I was considering buying another XT3 as a back-up camera but would now consider the XT30 as a good back up and at a reduced cost.

Am I running out to buy an XT30? Not likely this year. I've accumulated three of my favorite Fuji cameras now (in addition to the XT3) and am absolutely thrilled with what I am getting from them. But if I was just sticking my toe in the water (as in: last Fall) and wanted a second camera, or even a primary camera in a new system, the XT30 would be/would have been on my radar.

My favorite heavy duty workhorse Fuji camera? Coming up in a future post....





Re-orienting client expectations. Developing methodologies that work for you. And them.


Family, clients, friends, and that beautiful woman you met at the local coffee house; the one who loves your work. All of them probably share one or two traits; they aren't practicing photographers and don't understand what goes into making the difference between a merely functional "headshot" and an intriguing, satisfying portrait. Usually the expectation from any of these groups of people is that you will lean in and snap a few frames of the smiling subject, without any preparation or requirement beyond focusing your "pro" camera, and a few minutes later everyone will be on their merry way. 

The incidences of thoughtful, constructed (well lit?) portraiture are becoming so rare amongst most of the public that many times now, when I set up a few rudimentary lights on light stands, and use an umbrella or two, my portrait subject enters the room, looks at the set up and says something like, "Wow! Look at all the equipment! I didn't know we were making a movie!" Which I interpret to mean that their expectation for the session was quite different than mine. That they considered a portrait to be a quick, simple, and uncomplicated process that could be done with a phone camera but could maybe be done a little better with a fancier camera. 

To be fair, most people don't spend much time as photographic subjects and the little time they do spend generally consists of: smiling at the camera at someone else's wedding, standing on the yellow line and getting a photograph made for a driver's license, snapping a selfie at the beach, at the bar, at the tourist attraction, when confronted with a chance encounter with a celebrity or, in the current milieu, when they are getting their mugshot made after being arrested for lying to Congress. 

Even people who spent a fortune to have their own wedding captured probably didn't encounter much more than a hot shoe flash with some trendy modifier hung on the front, waving around at the top of a stick, while their drunk friends yelled at them to "Do your duck face!!!" Little wonder that they are unfamiliar with what might go into what we might consider a real portrait session. Especially a session done for the joy of the art and not on the tight time constraints demanded by most commercial enterprises. 

The modern history/legends about corporate photography are always replete with the weathered old pro telling a group of newly minted, future competitors: "You have to be incredibly experienced and talented to photograph CEOs because you'll only get five minutes of their time. And that's if you are lucky. Which you will not be. Sometimes we get ten frames before the publicists run us off like beggar children on the streets of Paris." 

The idea being to aggrandize the amazing depth of knowledge and talent that the "old pro" must possess in order to excel at such a precarious game. Which, of course is mostly... bullshit. 

What's really required of us is to understand that we're dealing with people who need to be educated. Not educated about how some famous photographer shoots, or how they did it in the old days, but educated by you about how you and they can collaborate to be as successful as possible. That education should start when you propose a shoot to a friend, or when you first talk with potential clients. 

The "feature" is that you will take your time to do your process the way you think it should work. The "benefit" is that the client will emerge from your session together with a better portrait than they would otherwise get. And so will you.

When I approach a friend with the idea of doing a portrait (mostly because I think they have an interesting face, and they are flattered to be asked, but on some level presume that they'll be getting an industry standard headshot in return....) I go into detail about what I'm trying to do. I show samples of what I want to do. I talk about the time commitment. I talk about my desire that they wear certain styles and colors of wardrobe and shy away from others. I talk about my desire that they either wear no make-up or very, very subtle make-up. But most of all I let them know that we'll spend at least an hour getting a portrait that I like and that I think they might like. 

If they are game then we are on. All we really have to lose is our time. 

When approaching business clients (the ones who seek us out and pay us for our time and the right to use the portrait we'll create for them) I go through a process of qualifying them to better understand both what they think they want and what their expectations are. If they want a quick, cheap headshot I can suck it up and do that. But if we can refer to work I've already done, and they appreciate the look, then I can walk them through a similar process to the one I described for friends, above. 

The important point is to set the expectation that you'll need X amount of time with the subject, and X amount of set up time to design the look you want (and hopefully the client wants as well). I talk details. I want them to know I'll probably shoot upwards of 250 to 300 frames. That we'll spend time talking. That I'll get rid of every frame I don't like before they get to see a gallery of what I've shot. I even explain to them how I retouch and why. By the end of the discussion the client understands the process I want to pursue. They understand what it will cost them in time and money.  They either come along for the ride or we default to a more ordinary headshot. In rare cases we just can't find any common ground and we choose not to work with each other. 

That, in itself, is a management of expectations. 

The image above is of my friend, Renae. I spent the better part of an hour setting up the lighting I wanted to use to create this image. I didn't have a "cookbook" of styles to reference. I knew the "look" I wanted. The chair Renae sat in was one she and I propped for a previous shoot but one which we both agreed worked well. Over the course of an hour we tried many expressions and poses. Most predicated by conversations about life and photographic aesthetics. 

At the end of the session I had at least a dozen rolls of film which I souped by hand and then made contact sheets. We looked at the sheets together and made little boxes around the images we liked on the contact sheets with a China marker (wax pencil; usually red or orange). I went back into the dark room to make work prints on resin coated paper. I hung these on the wall in front of my desk and soaked them in over the course of a few days (maybe a week) and then one day when I had the energy I headed into the darkroom and spent hours and hours printing variations of all my favorite frames on 11x14 inch, double weight, Agfa Portriga paper. Once they were toned and washed we looked at them all over again. 

It was a process and one that I'm not recommending in the age of digital. Not quite. You can remove all the darkroom drudgery and the parsimonious use of film stock. But the things you might consider keeping would be the time spent thinking about lighting and posing, and creating a real collaboration. 

I added the image below to this tattered essay because I wanted to relate the mindset of re-orienting client expectations with a shoot for a paying client. 

It's a location shot of a real radiologist in a real location but none of the staging, lighting, etc. are as we found them when the client's marketing person and I walked into a dim and windowless basement room in a local hospital. This was the last of maybe a dozen shots in a dozen locations we'd done that day. Most of the previous photos were easy and quick to do because the lighting in most of the locations was conducive to either an available light shoot or, at most, the addition of one or two speed lights. I knew that if we were going to make something usable out of this location I'd need to spend time to do so. I also knew that I'd be mixing flashes with the light coming from computers screens and that my subject, the radiologist, would have to hit poses and become still, stationary, to prevent blurring and unsharpness. 

My first task was to explain to the marketing person why this shot was different, why it would require more attention and why it might take half an hour or so to complete. She got it. She explained to the (tightly scheduled) doctor who shifted to another process while we took apart the closet-like reading room and re-imagined it for the photograph. 
My expectation and the client's expectation was that we'd get a shot that was usable for the project at hand. We set up and shot a number of frames and this is the one I liked best. It's a shot that the large medical practice at which the doctor is a partner still uses this image in some of their marketing over ten years later. Had I not changed gears and explained my expectations for this location we might have defaulted to bouncing a speed light off the ceiling, taken refuge in flat non-offensive light, and moved on. 

Once your process gets explained and you have the client (and subject if they are not the same person) on board it makes the rest of the work easier. If we have time I always want to push the envelope a bit further. That works best if everyone is happy to come along for the ride. 

As to the mythology surrounding the photographing of CEOs and other people with expensive schedules.... My experience is that in 2019 most executives in high level positions, within modern companies, understand (mostly through experience) that they need to invest time in making images if they are to leverage the images into positive media placement properly. They will give you time if you let them know what it is that you need to do in advance. It may mean pushing back. It may mean making more time to explain to a team what your process is. But if your work, your style, is what the client wants then my experience is that most times you'll be met with cooperation and a more satisfying acknowledgement of the skills you bring to the relationship. 

My expectation is that I'll be treated like a professional artist. I expect cooperation. I expect to get paid. And I love it when clients have the same expectations. But the responsibility for educating them about your role and how you do it is entirely up to you. No assumptions, just education.