10.04.2019

Point taken. No more politics on the blog (unless someone declares martial law...). More MTF and less WTF.


I hear you. I'll keep the politics off the blog.

All packed up and ready to head off on vacation. When I return we should have some information for you about the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens used on the Panasonic Lumix S1, a first look at the Log upgrade to the same camera (4:2:2 10 bit 60p) and a review about two small tripods.

I'm leaving all my computer stuff at home so Studio Dog can keep in touch with me while I'm gone. She'll have her paws full supervising young Ben Tuck for the week. Since I'm only taking an iPhone for comms I won't be torturing myself trying to write anything for the blog on the tiny, tiny keyboard. Any brilliant ideas I come up with will have to wait.

This will be the first trip I've taken in a long time during which I'll be able to travel with only carry-on luggage. All the flights I took last year for clients required checking in lighting equipment and other support equipment in a large Manfrotto case (or two). How deliciously purging...

Belinda is warming up to the idea of actually carrying a camera along with her to Montreal but it's not one that will be very exciting to most readers here; she's taking a Canon G15. Fits in her small bag.

I'm taking one camera and two lenses. The camera is a Pentax K-1 and the two lenses are the 50mm f1.4 and the 28-105mm zoom. Oh, yeah. And some extra batteries.

We'll argue about my camera choice when I get back.

Finally, I want to thank the VSL reader who volunteered to drive up from central New York state to Montreal in order to pick us up at the airport and drive us to our hotel. I think he was kidding but I'm not 100% sure. I do appreciate the thought...

Hope everyone in Austin has fun (and stays safe) at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and everyone else has a great week making photographs and video someplace quieter. I'm pretty sure I can hear Guns and Roses from the park right now....

Adios Mi Amigos.

I know all of you probably want a Pentax K1 so here's a link to one at Amazon:



10.03.2019

Another black and white comparison. I just had to see which one I liked better.

In this case I prefer the color. I like the skin tone. It's got just the right amount of "eeriness" 


From our photographic coverage of the "Dracula" play at Zach Theatre. 

I was tooling around with a Lumix S1 this morning. I wanted to see how it "felt" with a Sigma 45mm lens on the front of it.

Sweaty and hot as Austin continues to set new weather records with temperatures 
nudging 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the first week of October...

I've had a Panasonic Lumix S1 sitting around the studio since the last week of September. It makes really nice photographs but the camera body is really heavy compared to just about every other mirrorless, full frame camera out on the market right now. Maybe not as heavy as something like a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1DX, or even a Nikon 850 but.... heavy enough. I compounded the size and weight issues by adding the  Lumix 24-105mm f4.0 lens to the mix when I acquired the camera, which follows the current full frame lens trend of being... bigger. And heavier. 

After using the camera in tandem with several other brands of cameras I'd pretty much decided that while it's a great "work" camera it might not be my first choice (or even my second choice) as a travel camera. With the zoom lens attached it would make walking around shooting in urban settings more of a burden than a blessing. Not quite as bad as spending the day with a Fuji GFX 100 + lens over one shoulder but close, very close. 

Belinda and I are leaving for Montreal on Saturday to have a little vacation, get ourselves out of the relentless heat, and to avoid the additional 100,000+ people who are coming into Austin for the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which starts this Friday (Good Lord, what is wrong with people that they'll spend hundreds of dollars for a ticket to sit on the hard dirt and open sun in 100+ degree heat, inside a chain link fence, to hear bands play their music over giant speakers in the least acoustically pleasant environment one could think of? And to pay outrageous prices for water and food into the bargain? Just stream the music on your phone and get a decent pair of headphones --- cheaper, more comfortable and better sounding).  Sorry, a person prejudice against large, outdoor concerts...

Back on the subject: 
On trips where I don't have to come home with salable images I actually have more of an issue deciding which cameras and lenses to drag along with me. "It's a vacation." I tell myself, and then I get into an argument with myself over why I need to take along something more than an iPhone. It's crazy to feel like I have to nail every shot, especially when we're mostly just going to do touristy stuff. 

When we first discussed going on a trip I immediately thought I'd be happy taking along a Fuji X-Pro2 and maybe the 23mm f1.4 and the 56mm f1.2. After thinking about it for a while it evolved into the two lenses and an X-H1 (for the image stabilization). Then I went on a little shooting spree with the Pentax K1 and bounced around the idea of the K-1 plus the 28-105 zoom lens. The body has great I.S. and the lens is more than decent. I still like the idea but that shutter is a bit loud and I might really miss the EVF-ism of the other cameras. Then I found myself messing around with the Lumix S1 and got all excited about the (absolutely killer) EVF and the amazing image stabilization and started thinking about taking it and the zoom. But the bulk of the zoom and the body together dissuaded me...

In passing, one of my photographer friends mentioned to me that Sigma (a signatory to the L-mount consortium) was putting out interesting, and quite good, lenses for the L-mount cameras. In particular he suggested I check out the small, light and gorgeously designed 45mm f2.8 L mount lens. It's certainly not the fastest option but it sure is an interesting one.

It's a  near normal focal length lens that's designed to have great character when it comes to the rendering of out-of-focus areas when used wide open and, when stopped down just one stop from wide open, it's supposed to have high sharpness and otherwise desirable imaging characteristics. The lens is built mostly from metal, has its own external aperture ring(!) and comes with a metal lens hood. The current price is $550 and I should mention that it's also available in the Sony E mount.

The lens is designed with eight elements in seven groups and includes two aspherical elements in its design. It's nicely light and compact and dramatically reduces the overall profile of the Lumix camera package.

I need to shoot some more images with the combination of the S1 + the 45mm this afternoon in order to convince myself but the camera and this one lens are my current leading contenders to make it onto the Montreal trip with me and Belinda. I'll stick a 128 GB V90 card in the #2 slot, set the camera to large, fine Jpegs and try to disconnect from being too technically involved.

In other news I'm finding that the Fuji X-H1 is highly competitive with the Lumix camera when it comes to shooting video. A quick test shows me that I'm happier with the Eterna profile in the Fuji than either the Flat or Cine-D profiles in the Lumix. When I get back from Montreal I'll load up the Log functionality in the S1 and do a direct comparison against the Fuji F-Log (that comes free in the X-H1) and we'll see who is really the boss of 4K video.

Currently packing for the trip. The goal is to get everything I'm taking into one smallish, lightweight carry-on. I'm going back and forth about which shoes to take. Hopefully the cameras will get sorted out after a bit more experimentation with the S1+45mm. I may give up entirely and just take my new-ish iPhone....

A final note for today: If the political environment gets any more crazy here, with a full-on dictatorship blossoming as we speak, we may just stay in Montreal and send for Studio Dog. Just sayin. 



10.01.2019

Showing off a short, short TV Commercial we shot with a Fujifilm X-H1.


We started out aiming for a thirty second TV spot but ended up
downsizing the run time because of downsized placement budgets. 

It's a fun, little spot for a kid's play that we shot in an afternoon
at the Theatre 

I did the camera work while Joshua Cummins 
directed and edited the piece. 

Go see it on Vimeo rather than looking at the small frame here....

Fujifilm X-H1 with various Fuji lenses. 
Shot in 4K, edited down to 1080.

9.30.2019

Getting to black and white. From a raw file out of the Pentax K-1.

My formative photography years were spent learning to shoot, develop and print black and white images. Color was too expensive, too complex to do on my own. I still spend time trying to make conversions from color digital raw files to monochrome to see if I can get close to the feel of the images we used to make on some of the premium papers (loved graded Ilfobrom paper) back in the days of the wet darkroom. 

These two images are the same file but imagined in two different ways. I like the black and white better.  But I think a propensity for liking one or the other is generational. And even within my generation there were those who were confirmed Kodachrome (color slide) shooters and the contingent of black and white shooters so there's also a divide there. 

Curious how it breaks down amongst VSL readers. Anybody want to chime in? Which do you prefer and why?



The more "colorful" side of downtown San Antonio. Assisted by the original Pentax K-1 and the HD 28-105mm zoom lens.

Who doesn't want a flaming scull to decorate their home with?

I've traveled a fair bit over the years and seen lots of amazing places, mostly with a camera over one shoulder. I've been in and out of Paris and Rome at least a dozen times each. Lived in Turkey for two years. Did a two week long project in St. Petersburg, Russia in the dead of winter back in 1995. Back packed through "classic" Europe for months and months back in the 1970's; slept in tents and hostels, cooked eggs nearly every day with a small frying pan that hung off my pack and a little Blue Gas burner. But over the last few years travel has become more crowded, more frenetic, more....mundane. I traveled 22 times out of Texas on business last year. Not much of the actual travel was fun... 

That's what I love about having San Antonio close at hand. If I feel the need for a break from the  "exhausting excitement" of being in Austin, Texas I can hop in my car and more or less reliably be in San Antonio in about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

What I love about San Antonio is that it has not (yet) been destroyed by a steely-eyed core of highly entitled groups hell bent on making it into the next Yuppie Paradise. There are many more working people and solid, middle class families than there are denizens of fortified enclaves of flashy wealth. Which means that the downtown area hasn't been made over as a hipster vacation spot, replete with avocado toast and an Aston Martin (or two) on every block. Which further means that the city has retained some authenticity and some of its historic vibe. Which means more street festivals, more diversity in public, less expensive attractions and dining and, a more welcoming disposition. 

Sure, you can find expensive hotel rooms and pricey restaurants in The River City but you'll have to try a bit harder than you would in Austin. San Antonio depends on a different kind of tourism. Instead of executives flying in from some place chic to sit in posh hotels and plan the next disruption in their industry, or the pampered children of the upper middle class flying in from around the country for a three day ($$$$) concert in the park you get many less affluent people who drive in to San Antonio from towns and cities across Texas to see the Alamo, buy giant margaritas and take selfies in front of the giant dinosaur at Ripley's Believe-it-or-not. For the most part these tourists are: not big spenders, not obnoxious, not destroying as much nature (flying = massive carbon footprint) and, seemingly, more likely to be having fun. Not a gritted teeth, latest Patagonia outerwear, Let's run a marathon across the glacier and then have a bottle of Cristal at the lobby bar to loudly celebrate sort of fun but just casual, walking around, looking at stuff, eating gorditas and churros, hanging out in Tex-Mex restaurants, listening to mariachis, and buying Bart Simpson piƱatas kind of fun. 

All of which makes it a great city to visit if you just want to walk around taking photographs with a big, little, or phone camera. 

Yesterday I posted images of mostly buildings from my time there last Saturday but I also wanted to show the silly, fun, zany, weird stuff that just seems to crop up when walking from the Alamo to the Mercado and back. All shot with a Pentax K1 and the 28-70mm zoom. No muss, no fuss. And home in time for dinner...

Make up your own caption...

Above and below, the Ripley's Believe it or Not across the street from the  Alamo. 



The workers depicted are also part of the mural. The car is the car.

One above and two below: Altars at the entrance to one of the most popular, 
24 hour operating Mexican food restaurants in the center of the city. 
I should have gone in to look and see if the big altar to singer, 
Selena is still there.






After all these decades I still love taking photographs of the ticket office
at the Majestic Theater on Houston St. 

And they've done such a nice job keeping it maintained. 

9.29.2019

Walking with a camera in downtown San Antonio. Part 1. What interesting buildings!

Flowers at a fountain in the old courtyard of the McNay Museum.

I spent a lot of time in San Antonio over the last year and a half taking care of my father, who passed away at the end of May. I had not been back to San Antonio since then but I woke up yesterday with the idea that I needed to revisit the city to keep from having those recent days of responsibility and sadness harden into my lasting impression of the city in which I grew up. There is so much I like about San Antonio and its vibrant downtown is part of that. I needed to feel welcome again.

So I decided to give downtown Austin a day off from my Paparazzi abuse and, after early morning swim practice, I grabbed the camera that keeps resurfacing as an odd but highly attractive choice, and headed out the door. I stopped by the Goodwill store to donate an old scanner, then hit Starbucks and was on the road by 10 a.m. Traffic was light heading down IH-35 to the River City. I pulled up to a parking meter just a few blocks from the Alamo and laughed for a few seconds when I saw the parking rates. San Antonio still charges 30 cents an hour in the very center of their downtown!!! About a quarter of the usual parking fee charged at meters in Austin....

I was dressed for comfort and a bit of protection from the sun and, to lighten my load, I only carried one camera and one lens. My choice for the day was a Pentax K-1 and the small, elegant and dense-packed 28-105mm lens. In my mind it was the perfect choice for an afternoon of random rambling. Beautiful files, lots and lots of resolution, and enough dynamic range to keep even the wizards of DXO moderately happy. Yes, the camera is chunky and a bit heavy but it's bits of friction that keep us paying attention to our process.

As is my habit, I kept an extra, charged battery in my pants pocket, along with a wad of cash and my wallet. No camera bag. No sling thing. No backpack. Nothing to make the process physically arduous. 

The Pentax K-1 has a sharper, brighter look than the Fujis I normally use and it just begged to be unleashed on some architecture. I'm not an architectural photographer but I love photographing urban "landscapes" when I'm walking with no purpose other than to walk and look. I did find myself waiting in front of old buildings, like the ones below, waiting for people to either enter the scene or to move on, or for clouds to blow over, so I could harness the hard edge of bright sunlight. I also found myself (uncharacteristically) stopping just to look at a building facade for a while as though by doing so I might unlock some secret to making a better image. 

Of course, I was just shooting for myself so I wasn't feeling compelled to shoot in a certain way or to come home with images that look like all the other "perfect" images of buildings, which I tend to see a lot. I felt as though I was doing "snapshots" of old friends because these are buildings (for the most part) that existed long before I started heading into downtown S.A. in the 1970's with a little film camera in my hand. I've seen the fronts in disrepair, seen them renovated and smelled the fresh paint, and then seen them decline again. It's like a special season that follows the economic conditions of the city. 

I like the look of strong, stark blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. I like hard edges on most architecture. I try to look for compositions and color pairings that are bold and contrasting. I'm rarely trying for subtlety, and even more rarely trying to make a "classic" image of a structure in which all the blinds are drawn to the same measure in each window and all the edges of the building are parallel and straight up and down. I'm more in the mode of trying to coax out the character of the old storefront or apartment house. 

I walked around in the heat on my usual route. I start near the Alamo and then walk across downtown via Commerce St. (passing by the St. Fernando Cathedral) until I get to the Mercado; mecca for all tourists to The Alamo City. After mingling with the other tourists and becoming overwhelmed with all the insane and tacky souvenirs, I resist getting a temporary tattoo, or having my face painted, and I head back in the  direction from which I came but I do so on Houston St., just for the visual variety.  I laughed to myself when I thought about this route I've constructed because the family of my beautiful girlfriend in high school owned a clothing store on Commerce St. while the family of my best guy friend owned a tonier men's wear store on Houston St. Both stores have long been sold off by the respective families and it's always interesting to me to see what kinds of businesses are in the spaces now...

I'd been walking since 11:30 and by 2:00 p.m. it was really hot and the air was sticky and moist, like steam from a kettle, whistling on a burner. It was time to find some air conditioning, a cool drink and a calm lunch. I didn't want to go to a regular restaurant with table service, wasn't in the mood for Tex-Mex, and not of a mind to try something exotic and new either. I looked around as I walked and was happy to find a shop called, The Royal Blue Grocery. It's a small, small chain of stores that started in Austin as little deli/grocers for people who lived in the big, high rise condominiums that dot our downtown. They serve great, hot sandwiches, make killer coffee and have a better selection of wines that one might imagine. The one on Houston St. in San Antonio is new and is their first one in that city, and maybe the first one outside of the magnetic pull of Austin. 

I parked my camera on a table, grabbed a (glass) bottled water and order a Cuban sandwich. Pulled pork, some ham, delicious pickles and onions, some melted provolone cheese, and just the right amount of a picante sauce. It was exactly what I wanted in the moment. Absolute comfort food and nothing budget straining.

I shot and walked for another hour before heading to the McNay Museum which is one of my favorite art museums in the world. By the time the museum closed I'd shot a couple hundred images, had a great lunch, made a modicum of peace with the city and its ghosts, and felt like I'd accomplished something I have a hard time putting into words; not actually relaxation but maybe re-integration. 

I knew the images I'd shot on the K-1 looked nice on the back screen of the camera but I've been fooled by LCDs so many times before. Because of that I was especially happy to sit in front of my computer today and find so many that I liked so much; most of which were good right out the camera and great with just the tiniest bit of Adobe-coaxing. Always just a little brighter. Always just a bit more shadow detail. 

I have more stuff to show but it's far more quirky than these buildings. I thought that instead of mixing them in one post I'd get two days of posting joy from one afternoon's adventure. So, if you "hate the buildings" stay tuned and I'll get some non-building stuff up in your face tomorrow. 

So, how was the Pentax? Vexing! I never expected that camera and that lens to be so good or so comfortable to use. Now I'll never be able to make up my mind about which camera to take with me to Montreal next weekend. A very nice problem to have. Thank you very much.

Commerce St. 
Commerce St.
Commerce St.

Commerce St.
Commerce St.
Commerce St.
 Commerce St.
 Commerce St.
 The Signage for the historic Aztec Theater.
 The Robert E. Lee Hotel as seen from Houston St.
Don't know if you can read it all but the sign underneath the name says, 
"Air Conditioned." 
 Houston St.
  Houston St.
  Houston St. The old Bromley Communications Bldg. 
One of SA's big advertising agencies. Now headquartered in
some other part of the city. 
 A Pillar at the McNay Museum.
 The McNay Museum.
 Entrance to the sculpture gardens at the McNay. 
 And no trip to S.A. is complete without at least a view or two of the Alamo.

A beefy camera and a moderate zoom lens. What more could you need?
Well, at least for walking around a city...

9.27.2019

I've been playing with a Panasonic Lumix S1 this week and thought I'd share a few thoughts.


I was intrigued when Panasonic first announced it's full frame line up of the S1 and S1R cameras. But I was in the middle of managing my dad's declining health, my mother's estate and lots of other un-fun stuff so I didn't pay the announcement much attention at all. I figured it would take a while for the cameras to hit the store shelves and a bit longer after that for actual user reviews to hit the web. Plus, I was very satisfied with the images (and the handling!) of the Fuji cameras on which I had been stocking up. 

The Panasonic  S cameras are pitted against a couple of strong mirrorless adversaries, such as the A7III and the A7R4 as well as the Nikon Z6&7, and since the Lumix FF cams are the new additions on the menu they seem to currently be an acquired taste. I decided to take an afternoon to do a bit of reading about the cameras and then make the trek up to the local camera store to play with actual cameras in my real hands.

Most of the stuff people have written (or spoken) about the Lumix s1 is true; the camera is by far the largest and heaviest of the batch. The EVF is far and away the best finder I've ever had the pleasure to use and makes the EVF in the Sony A7III look.....sad, lame. The construction feel of the S1 is the best in the class with second place going to Nikon and last place to Sony. 

While playing with the S1 I had a sense of deja vu, the menus and basic buttons and controls are very close to those on the smaller format Panasonic G9 and I felt right at home after twenty minutes or so of menu diving.

I shot at the theater with the camera for a dress rehearsal/marketing shoot on Tuesday evening and photographed Jaston Williams (Actor/Playwright and co-originator of the hit play, "Tuna Texas") in the studio this morning. In both situations; one using the camera handheld at ISO 3200 with a fast moving live production, the other using the camera on a tripod, lighting with big flashes and shooting at ISO 160, the camera performed perfectly and returned files that are as good as anything I've seen from any camera, short of a medium format Phase One. 

In full length, full body shots in the studio the eye detection AF never missed a beat, not in over 200 photographs. The focus in the theater was very good when considering that I was using a fairly slow (f4.0) lens and shooting sometimes under very little light. 

I haven't had the camera long enough to test out the video performance but from everything I've read I'll  go into those tests with high expectations. 

Since most reviewers are reviewing cameras with the hope of getting people to click on links to vendors in the initial reviews in order to get them to buy, or at least pre-order the product, they have a vested interest in getting their reviews "to market" as quickly as possible so they can be the first in line to offer up the affiliate links. This means that cameras get reviewed very quickly and very early on. Which means that they are working with cameras that have mostly 1.0 firmware. 

Camera makers, well at least Panasonic and Fuji, are really good at continually fine-tuning their products and adding features but you'll never know about it if all you read are the initial reviews. A case in point is the Fuji X-Pro2. When the camera was first delivered it featured 1080p video but later on Fuji added 4K video to all XP2's (and a host of other improvements) via new firmware update, but if you read the initial reviews you would never know this as few reviewers go back and update early reviews. You might read that a certain camera has laggy C-AF but never read about how the maker fixed the issue.

In the case of the Lumix S1 Panasonic announced at launch that they would be adding support for a Log profile for video in a "soon to arrive" firmware update (1.2) which arrived in the Summer and added a host of additional features which made the camera more responsive and quick as well as adding waveform metering for video and allowing for a (paid) Log upgrade.

Everything I read in early reviews of the camera had little to no bearing on the camera I now have in hand. I updated the firmware to the current version before I shot my first frame.

The most amazing thing about this (more or less) bulletproof camera (shutter rated for 400K actuations!!!), after the amazing EVF is the image stabilization. With a stabilized lens like the 24-105mm f4.0 that I paired with this camera you are getting stabilization performance that rivals what you get from Olympus OMD cameras. Somewhere near 6 stops of steadiness improvement! 

My interest in the camera and in the system is largely a result of having played around with the Pentax K1, mixed with my excellent experiences with the Panasonic G9 cameras and lenses. My memories of the G9 (and evidence of ten thousand or so photographs) caused me to imagine that this camera, with a big sensor, could be even better.  The time spent with the Pentax K1 made me nostalgic for the look of a full frame sensor. While my video experiences with the GH5 and GH5S lead me to believe that the video from this camera might be equally amazing. 

On the other hand the lenses that are currently available are expensive and big. They are very much positioning this camera as a professional solution and not giving much priority to people whose main desired features are smaller size and lower weight. Since there are few fast primes available currently under $2,000 I'll be keeping and using my Fuji lenses and cameras for most contemporary work. That is, unless there is a specific project (most likely video) that can really leverage the strengths of the S1. 

So, here we are back again three systems deep and with no real game plan in mind. The Pentax might be on the block but like an ugly but affectionate puppy there is something about the K1 cameras that is so endearing I might just keep them around and watch their rate of depreciation accelerate.... The images from the K1 are different than those from all my other cameras and I've just about convinced myself that they have a role to play in my tool box just like the other cameras. But I will make a clear statement about one thing: Neither the Pentax nor the Lumix are "travel" cameras and I will definitely be taking a couple of X-Pro2s with me to Montreal and beyond. Just say the phrase: "you have to fly there!"  and I can pretty much assure you that I'll be arriving with some combination of Fuji camera bodies and lenses. I have lots of different shoes in my closet. I don't run the trails in the Summer in waterproof hiking boots and I don't walk on glaciers with a pair of Cole Hahn oxfords, or flipflops. Kinda the same thing with cameras. 

More to come as soon as I find some fun video work on which to test the Lumix S1. Now, where's that equipment bag with wheels? This is a heavy camera (kidding, just kidding). 








New Gear Added. Part One. A Gift from my Sister. Practical but showy.


My sister is a smart traveler. She looked at the expected temperatures during the time I'll be in Montreal (starting next Saturday!) and told me that my usual sandals or flip-flops (official, year round footwear for Austin) might not be comfortable. She suggested.....shoes. And, as an incentive, sent along these three pairs of socks. They are just my style but may clash with my basic black camera straps. Perhaps I need to re-think my camera straps...

I'm guessing that if it's too cold for flip flops I might also want to pack something other than short pants.... Just trying to get ahead of all this.

Just trying to do some judicious pre-planning.