11.05.2019

A three way camera system brawl with two clear winners and one consolation prize. Lumix vs Pentax vs Fuji.

Our wonderful vocalist, Paul Sanchez, with our youngest cast member, Illiana. .

I am usually mercenary and want to get paid for the photographs I shoot that aren't specifically my art. But I make exceptions... One client gets a good amount of shoots for free but there is an underlying and valuable return on my time since I get to use the free shoots I do for them as testing grounds for new camera bodies, new lenses and complete new systems.

On Friday and again on Sunday afternoon I went over to the Zach Theatre rehearsal stage to take candid  photos of the rehearsals for the upcoming production of "Christmas Carol." On each day I took along the new camera and lens system (the Lumix stuff) and one of my other, more seasoned systems. On Friday it was a match up between the Fuji and the Lumix; and more specifically, between the S1 + the two Panasonic zoom lenses versus the Fuji X-T3 and the 56 f1.2 (APD) and the 90mm f2.0. I'm giving that first round to the Fuji stuff because the speed of the primes (and the optical bite and color) were a bit more competition that the Lumix could handle. Also, it was my first time really trying to use the (mostly new to me) Lumix under dire lighting conditions, with fast moving subjects, while trying to go for the shallowest depth of field I could achieve (because the aesthetics of the space are nothing to write home about). 

While the 56mm f1.2 is no speed demon when it comes to auto focus my familiarity with the camera and lens saved my butt over and over again. The 90mm is pretty much perfectly behaved and was the standout favorite of the day. 

I was photographing moving actors practicing choreography as well as actors blocking out stage moves while they sang and practiced lines. Unlike a well lit stage the space we worked in was a bit like a big warehouse; high ceilings, dim lighting only from the ceilings and bare white walls on three two sides with overhead doors on the third side and a wall of mirrors on the fourth. 

I expected more out of the Lumix system but it's my fault for trying to toss two zoom lenses that each max out at f4.0 into the ring against two very, very good and fast primes. Wanting to see the real potential of the S1 I decided to slant the playing field in the other direction and supplement the pokey zooms with an advanced rocket ship of a fast lens in the form of the L-mount version of the Sigma Art series 85mm f1.4 lens. It's optically wonderful, incredibly sharp, but at 2.2 pounds the darn thing is a monster. It needs its own set of wheels if you intend to walk around with it.....

Any camera system that is new to you has it's own peccadillos when it comes to the autofocus systems and I'll confess that I have not done a deep dive in the details (and potential) of the Lumix S system. It's close enough to the G9s I owned that I thought I'd wing it with the default settings for now. That may be misguided.

So, on Sunday I showed up with three camera set ups, the Pentax K-1 with a 50mm f1.4 AF lens, the Fujifilm X-T3 with the 56mm f1.2, and the Lumix S1 with the above-mentioned 85mm. The slowest focusing of all three cameras was NOT one of the mirrorless models. The Pentax is just not a good tool (at least when combined with that old screwdriver AF lens) for fast moving subjects under perilously low light..... (How low was it? How about 1/125th of a second at f2.0 with ISO 800-1,600. And super-icky color balance courtesy the banks of ancient florescent lights high up in the tall ceilings....).
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I shot as much as I could with the Pentax and then, during a break, tossed it in the back of the car. Then it was down to Lumix versus Fuji. And here I found an interesting weak point for camera face/eye detect focusing and people with darker skin. If I had a person with dark skin, who was in the middle of the frame, fairly close to camera, the Lumix camera would create boxes around all the faces it could find in the frame and then locked focus on the face with the most contrast -- light skin against dark eyes and eyebrows, etc. Since many in the cast are African-American I mostly gave up on face detect AF on the Lumix and switched to single spot AF. The Fuji wasn't fooled as often but the trade off there, which drove me away from their face AF is the slow, slow response and focusing of the 56mm f1.2. It's much faster with single point AF and even a bit more sure with full manual focus and focus peaking.

Another issue across all three cameras, and one that photographers and review sites rarely discuss, is the big variations from frame to frame that are caused by old florescent lighting banks. They run on a 60 cycle set up which means they tend to get brighter and dimmer as they go through a cycle. It mostly affects images taken at shutter speeds above 1/60th to 1/125th of a second. Below 1/60 you can shoot all day long and never see the effect. At a 1/60th you can usually do just fine, and 1/125th is generally usable unless the florescent systems are on their last legs and their ballasts are giving out. But!!! But!!! as you get to faster and faster shutter speeds you see whole frames that are a stop or two dark followed by one or two normal frames followed by a bright frame or two. Since the EVFs in most new cameras also refresh at 60hz or 120hz you rarely see the effect in live view. You only see it in the post review.

I would have loved to have shot all the dance movement at 1/500th of a second; especially with the Lumix camera, which does not seem to fear high ISO settings, but I was getting some banding and lots of dark frames as I shot through the day. My workaround was to settle in at 1/125th of a second with all the cameras and then work hard to anticipate the peak of action at which things seem to become more or less stationary for a piece of a second. Capture it and you can stop some action. For most of the shots I ignored potentially blurry hands and feet and worked to make sure faces were sharp. There's no real workaround for working under A/C driven florescent lights. In the film industry the good cameras have VFR (variable frame rates) which allow camera operators to fine tune shutter speeds to eliminate flicker from ambient light sources that are known to flicker. These would include CRTs, some A/C LED fixtures, most industrial fluorescents and neon. 

Good LED lights tend to have power boxes that convert electricity from A/C to D/C to drive the LEDs without flicker. But even tungstens have flicker, it's just that it's usually fast enough so the temperature decay and glow from the filament doesn't have time to cool off enough in the cycle to change the light output... I only worry about A/C LED spotlights and bad, commercial florescent fixtures for the most part. But this is by way of explaining why, even with cameras that can shoot at 51,800 ISO you may be constrained to shoot at 1/125th of a second. And if you have to shoot at 1/125th of a second to prevent flicker you'll probably want to use a lower ISO so you can still have the advantage of shooting wide apertures with longer lenses in order to drop backgrounds out of focus.

Back to our main (commercial free) program: 

I used the two camera systems interchangeably and mostly concentrated on getting shots in which one person was in focus and the rest of the people in the shot, in front or behind my main subject, go out of focus. Both lenses (Fuji and Sigma) are sharp wide open, and more so nearly wide open, but I have to give the nod to the Sigma Art 85mm.  When it nails focus on eyes, for example, the amount of sharply rendered detail at the plane of focus is amazing. If I had never used the Sigma I'd be well pleased with the Fuji 56mm as its performance is close. Very close.

When it comes to how the photographs look on the screen both the X-T3 and the Lumix S1 are keepers. With the Fuji I can reliably go to 1600 ISO and get great files with low noise. In Jpegs or Raw files. With the Lumix I get the same kind of performance at ISO 4000. The Fuji cameras and lenses are easier to carry, easier to use and the lenses are a fraction of the size and weight of the Lumix system stuff. 

Whatever will I do? Well, I went out today and bought a second Lumix S1 body because it's just a natural system for the theatrical documentation work I'm doing for several theaters now. While most photographic disciplines don't really require two cameras (other than for back-up) shooting a non-stop dress rehearsal requires me to use a wide range of focal lengths combined with a certain fast enough f-stop. I normally use two zoom lenses to cover the range I need. Something that starts at 24mm equivalent and goes to a full frame 85mm equivalent for wide shots that encompass the entire stage along with a traditional 70-200mm zoom that allows me to crop in on smaller groups, shots of two people together and even single person shots. There's no time to change back and forth between lenses so I go in with a different zoom on each camera, set them identically and go with the flow of the show.  My choice now is to shoot with the Lumix S1 and the two zooms wide open at f4.0 (where they are plenty sharp enough) or to shoot with the Fuji X-T3's with the 16-55mm f2.8 at 4.0 (it needs one stop down to match sharpness...) and the 50-140mm f2.8 wide open. 

On the dress and tech rehearsals we'll be doing in a couple of weeks I'll probably use one system for the tech and the other system for the dress and see which one yields the best results. I better practice with the Lumix S1 in the meantime. It's complicated. But at the same time it feels familiar. The Fuji is like a nicely worn flannel shirt on a chilly day. Comfortable. 

An embarrassment of riches. A nice time in which to be a photographer.






11.02.2019

Re-discovering motivation. Or maybe discovering new angles of motivation.


visual problem solving as food for the brain. Images for the heart.  I wonder where radishes fit in?

I've been doing some back of the envelope calculations about why I photograph. The math never really seems to add up. I suppose that after doing so much photography for a living that there's a momentum that keeps me reflexively looking at the world through a camera; but I'm not sure it's a healthy fascination. 

I know that I started taking photographs because of the obvious and largely unconsidered desire to make visual images of the beautiful people I was surrounded by in my late teens and early twenties. So, in fact, my photography has always been driven, from the beginning, by the content and not by either the craft or the lofty ruminations of art philosophy. I bought my first "real" camera in order to take photographs of my girlfriend at the time. I thought she was amazing.  For one period of my life cameras lasted longer than some of my relationships. The girlfriend moved on but the camera stuck around to continue the process of documenting a series of subsequent relationships. Unthinkable in contemporary life where I've been with the same person for nearly 40 years but have changed cameras (as some wag recently wrote) almost as often as most people change their underwear.

I came of photographic age at a time when culture was changing and intimacy, nudity and even the way we defined and described human beauty came out of the shadows of puritanism and became progressively more mainstream --- at least in the university communities in which I lived at the time. Photographing the beautiful face of a person with whom you were also in love had many facets of reward. From having photographic subjects that were almost universally appealing, to having the photographic print with its ability to bring to mind immediately the shared experiences with a person who, in turn, was as interested in you as you were with them. It was a virtuous loop of positive affirmation and happiness, and the photographs were the ongoing souvenir of your object of satisfaction and joy. A reminder that you belonged somewhere. That you belonged with someone.

With this in mind (the experience of making desirable photographs of beautiful people) why would I ever consider landscape or travel photography? Where's the reward? What's the value? Nothing really has the photographic dopamine hit of being able to look at an image of your lover's face and re-appreciate the warm and happy feelings incorporated and expressed there...

As I hit the 30 year mark in commercial photography I've found it harder and harder to stay motivated to do my own work. Maybe the pressures of having to produce on command trims the edges off the endurance required to do work for someone else, in a specific fashion, and then turn around and produce work on cue for one's self. At the end of a long day dragging clients from cliché to acceptable it's a wonder most photographers aren't just sitting in their parked cars weeping and wondering why they chose such an awful way to eke out a living.

But something equally onerous seems to happen as we get older. We've seen so much stuff, at such a relentless pace, that sometimes it feels impossible to do any (personal) work that doesn't seem like a redundant copy, a bad derivation, or a worn out meme when we do pick up our cameras. Nearly every street scene, landscape and abstraction we come across seems to reinforce the feeling that we've been there; we've done that. It's a feeling that goes a long way toward dampening one's enthusiasm to march around with a camera and attempt to make "Art."

The final straw, also aging induced, is the paralysis of understanding that the majority of your life (statistically speaking) is now in the past and the time left is neither guaranteed nor able to be decelerated. If you now have the time and means to pursue the project of a lifetime then the question becomes "which project should it be?" How does one decide between all the competing possible photographic adventures when the catalog of possibilities is laid open in front of you?

Recently, with my attention turned away from the business, I slowed down my engagement with both the work-work and the "fun" work. It gave me the opportunity to be a bit more clear-eyed about my trajectory and my motivations. 

I've come to realize that, for me, the secret to staying motivated is to reach all the way back into the past and connect with what brought me to photography in the first place. That would be making portraits, for myself, of the beautiful people in my life. They are no longer all young, no longer filled with innocence and brimming with enthusiasm over something as ephemeral as potential, but most have become, in their own ways, even more beautiful and alluring, having been dusted with the patina of time and experience. I find that their eyes are now more expressive, the stories they tell more nuanced, and most have come to terms with their look and their physical presentation so that facades are easier to pierce and discard and now we can collaborate on illuminating a combination of experience and intrinsic beauty. 

I've started having prints made again. I'm putting images into small books and making prints for the wall behind my office desk. It's nice to see the physical manifestation of my work without the dependance on a computer or phone...

Another project is one that my wife and I are working on together and that's to make photographs for the house. Lately, we've been attracted to produce markets. Our current project is to make lots of food images from which to "curate" a small number that we'll turn into prints and put on our dining room walls. Something we talked about for years....

The art director + photographer .... it's like the barefoot children of the village cobbler. We've been so busy making content for clients that we almost forgot what it was like to do art for our own enjoyment.

So, the process of re-energizing motivation is as "simple" as getting in touch (and re-interpreting) your own photographic "origin" story and then filling in around the edges with different work you create just for yourselves. I guess that's why they call it "personal work."






11.01.2019

I came across another choreography rehearsal image I wanted to share. I have new found respect for the Fuji X system. It's really fun.

Working on dance numbers for the Zach Theatre Production of "Christmas Carol." My favorite play of the year.

They spend a ton of time getting every detail right. I'm just happy when I get the main subject's hands inside the frame....

Can't believe it's the first of November already. Where did this year go?

I read the reviews but I decided to do my own test on the Lumix 24-105mm f4.0, along with the S1 camera. Seems adequate...

An actor dressed as "the Cat in the Hat" for Halloween.

Camera: Lumix S1
Lens: Lumix 24-105mm f4.0
Aperture used: 4.0
Shutter speed: 1/125th
Focal length: 81mm
ISO: 2,000
Lighting: Industrial florescent fixtures in ceiling
Profile: Natural
Color Balance: AWB
Client: Zach Theatre

Mindset: There's a lot to like about good, standard zoom lenses. And cameras with nice shutters....

www.kirktuck.com

The Cat in the Hat at Rehearsal. A Fun Halloween Photo.

A serious young actor's workshop at ZachTheatre.org  Just happened to be Halloween evening....

Camera: Fuji X-T3
Lens: Fuji 90mm f2.0
ISO 1600
Profile: Classic Chrome

Mindset: Getting ready to head home. Packing up. See the shot. Get the shot. Smile. Finish packing.

A Favorite Photo from a Choreography Rehearsal Yesterday....

Choreography rehearsal for "Christmas Carol" in the rehearsal studio at ZachTheartre.org.

Camera: Fuji X-T3
Lens: Fuji 56mm f1.2 APD
ISO: 1600

Mindset: Happy and paying attention to movement and gesture.


KirkTuck.com

10.30.2019

So, how does that old, crusty Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens work with a $15 adapter on the Lumix S1? Is it pure crap or was I able to salvage something?

Gone cheap. Thank God!

I've been buying up stuff like a Saudi prince with a open-ended credit card at Rodeo Drive. I put on the brakes but when I was looking through the gear drawer I found an almost forgotten Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7 manual focus lens. I went over to the computer and searched for a cheap adapter so I could use the lens on a Panasonic Lumix S1 camera. I found an adapter for about $15 so I ordered it. 

Today I put the adapter and lens on the camera and drove over to the lot next to the lake and then headed off on foot through downtown. I didn't shoot much but I did try to pay attention when I was shooting. You know, get the focus right (thank you, Mr. Peaking) and get the exposure nailed in. 

To say I am "happy" with the performance of the camera and lens together would be an understatement. They work very well together. The lens, by f4.0, is exquisitely sharp and even wide open it's better than decent. Pretty amazing. Putting a used $125 lens on a $15 adapter on a $2,500 camera and I'm as happy as I could be.

Two cons: you have to manually focus so you're not going to be following super fast action, and there is a bit of barrel distortion to the lens. Not that I care....I wasn't shooting test charts with it.



The right eye of the doll on the right, just above. 

This is a pretty good starting point for enjoying art. 
In the perfect world the tacos would be free. 



All done. Dusk. Twilight. The limits of my hand holding.

The cloudscape after the cold front blows through.


We had a cold front blow through last weekend (we're having one blow through right now!!!) and the next day the sky was filled with puffy clouds interspersed with blue sky. I headed out for a walk and I took a most basic set of gear with me. One Pentax K1 and one 50mm f1.4. I put the lens at f5.6 and the camera on turbo and set out. Everywhere I turned the sky was doing something new and different. 

I love shooting cloudy dappled skies because they make for great personal stock when I need to PhotoShop in a new sky in a photograph that had to be taken when the weather was less than cooperative. I have a folder now with about 600 or 700 cloudscapes. When we have to photograph against bald skies I've got my remedy close at hand. 

The weather is restless here this week. We started off pretty but now we've spent a day weaving in and out of rain. The wind has been less than discreet as well. Nothing like what the center of the country is experiencing but a bit disquieting for Texans. Tonight we're dipping down toward freezing but the forecast for tomorrow is sunny skies. Another day to shoot for the cloud folder. I can shoot outside until 3 p.m. but after that I'm booked to shoot a handful of different projects at the theater. I'd like to use the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens for most of the projects but I'm still on the fence. It just seems like another extravagance.....








So. Now we've had our two days of Fall. Get ready for our two weeks of Winter....

10.29.2019

I spent $15 dollars and now I have a 50mm Zeiss lens for my Lumix S1...


One thing that's kind of addictive about nearly all the mirrorless cameras is the way you can adapt older lenses that you might already own to the new bodies you love to buy. I have a 50mm f1.7 Zeiss lens that was originally made for the Contax (y/c) line of cameras that were on the market in the 1980's and 1990's and I've used it on micro four thirds cameras and APS-C cameras with very good results. The lens is one that consistently gets high marks when I look around for actual user reviews. It's in short supply these days because several influential budget lens adapters decided that the f1.7 is sharper than the more expensive and faster 50mm f1.4 Zeiss lens from the same family.

While I'm happy as a clam with the "normal" lens (Sigma 45mm f2.8 L-mount) I bought for my Lumix S1 I was sad to see the old Zeiss languishing in a drawer, unused. I went online and found a $14 (+tax) Fotasy brand, "dumb" adapter that would allow me to attach the old lens to the new camera and, since shipping was free, ordered it.

It came yesterday and I put the lens on the adapter first. It fit snuggly but not so snuggly that I might not ever be able to get it off again. Then I gingerly placed the combination on the camera and, with minimal use of force, turned the assemblage on the lens mount until the lock snicked into place. I turned on the camera and was happy to see that in "A" mode the camera meters correctly. Focusing was a little tough until I figured out how to turn on focus magnification and then everything fell into place.

The lens is as nice as I remember it. It's not as sharp, wide open, as some of the 50mm lenses I've owned but once you're past f2.8 everything is gloriously defined. And the lens has a different look than does the 45mm Sigma lens. I'm happy enough but I really didn't need one more option for the camera at that focal length.

What I do feel I need is a fast, fast, fast 85mm for the Lumix S1. To that end I'm currently considering the Sigma Art 85mm f1.4. Lenstip.com reviewed this lens and it even trounced Ming's sacred 85mm Zeiss Otus lens. Sigma makes an 85mm Art in an L-mount and my local bricks and mortar camera store has one for a whopping $1200. But, in comparison with the Otus lens I guess I should consider that to be dirt cheap.

My question to the collective brain trust: Has anyone here used the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens? The mount you used doesn't matter, I'm just interested to hear how you liked the optical performance of the lens. Anybody? 

I've read the reviews but until I hear from real people I always feel like I'm going in blind. Help?

Rainy, cold and damp here. I've pulled the office space heater out of the closet and I'm pulling my meager collection of winter wear out to see what's still fashionable enough to wear to work. I shouldn't really care about how cool something looks around the office but I don't want to embarrass Studio Dog if she has company over....


10.28.2019

Belinda helps to execute a durability test on the Panasonic Lumix S1 and a lens.


I've seen a lot of camera reviewers put a new camera and (weather resistant) lens under a shower of water, and one reviewer routinely pours water over camera+lens from his water bottle, but I don't see very many videos of people taking their own brand new cameras and dropping them from two or three feet in the air onto solid concrete or rugged rock terraces. Just generally not done. But we all hear about how "rugged" some cameras purport to be....

Now, Belinda and I did not do a dinner time "crash" test on purpose but I figured that since it happened I'd related the findings here. 

We were having delicious smoked ribs, and lots of healthy salads and such, at a photographer friend's home. It was a beautiful evening and this house has a wonderful terrace with a hand made picnic table and benches set on a rock-floored terrace. Of course I had my camera with me and I had used it a few minutes earlier to take a photo of my son, Ben, sitting at a second table nearby. I put the camera between Belinda and me on our bench and promptly forgot about it. 

A few minutes later Belinda got up to go in the house to get the beautiful chocolate cake which she baked from scratch for my birthday. As she stood up she dislodged the camera from its very tenuous and ill considered parking place and the camera spun off the bench and crashed down to the terrace smacking the uneven flag stones. And it bounced more than once. 

Which camera? Of course it was the newest one, the Panasonic Lumix S1, outfitted with the wonderful, little 45mm f2.8 Sigma L mount lens. Everyone looked at me. I don't know if they thought I was about to cry or if I was angry but ..... hey....it's just a camera. I picked it up, dusted it off and went back to the ongoing conversation. We can always replace a camera we have a harder time replacing wonderful events....

The point of impact seemed to have happened first to the metal lens hood which bent inwards a bit, and also had some paint and bit of the underlying aluminum scraped off. There's a tiny nick on the frame of the rear LCD but no other visible damage anywhere. I turned on the camera, clicked off a few frames and everything seemed to work just as before. Only now the camera gets radio signals, and the volume of the radio can't be mitigated by any control I can find. I wouldn't normally mind but the camera only seems to play country and western music (which I mostly hate with a white hot passion === excluding Bob Wills...) so I am a bit chagrined. 

Just kidding about the radio play (not kidding about my distaste for country music, especially current country music...) but seriously, the camera seems to have survived a kinetic aerial ballet from about 2.5 feet in the air to a hard, scratchy surface. Now I just need to take that bend out of the lens hood. 

Oh! And I should mention that the camera makes nice photographs. I try to help.

The imputed point of initial impact, writ large.