11.22.2019

A few thoughts about the new Lumix system after using several S1s and four lenses over the course of a month+

This camera, with a battery grip and one of the big, native lenses, is a heavyweight.

I've got to get one thing out of the way right up front; if you are physically frail, averse to carrying weighty objects, in thrall to the pixie-fication of cameras, trying to cram an entire system into a shoebox, or just lazy, you will not be happy as the owner of a fully decked out S1 or it's nearly identical sibling, the S1R. These are heavy cameras that are built to take the knocks and tumbles of professional life or adventure life without falling apart. I handed an S1 with a Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art lens and battery grip to Belinda and she was shocked at just how heavy and dense that package was. Shocked.

So, why inflict this burden on one's self? Why carry around such a massive package? There is really only one answer and that would be the potential image quality of the camera and lens system for both traditional photography and videography. A secondary reason might be the desire to do on the job weight training.

I was interested in using an S1 from the moment I saw the initial announcements of Panasonic's full frame Lumix system because I had gotten stellar results from their micro four thirds format G9 and figured that, scaled up to full frame the results had the potential to be class leading. I'm also a big fan of Panasonic's menu structure and their button layout. As a former Leica M and Leica R shooter I also have an attraction to both the Leica S Pro lenses and a dangerous interest in several of the Leica L mount lenses. 

There are currently two cameras in the system. One is the S1R which features a 47+ megapixel imaging sensor. This falls into my category of: would be nice to have sometime in the future. The other camera is the S1 which uses a lower resolution sensor of 24 megapixels. The second model is the one that makes the most sense for the kinds of work I do which include everyday photography that's destined for computer screens and magazine print, and also high quality video projects. In this regard the S1 is, to my mind, the perfect hybrid camera tool for the working content provider. The base camera gets an "A" in every category while the higher res model gets an "A+" for resolution but only a "B-" for video.

While most buyers will write of as "marketing" the idea of Leica certification for the Pro series Lumix lenses I've tossed myself into the camp of true believers after using the 70-200mm f4.0 for a spell. Over the course of the last week I've shot nearly 4,000 images with the system and of those 4,000 about half were done with this zoom. Nearly all of them were shot with the lens at its widest aperture of f4. The resulting photos are wonderfully sharp and almost completely bereft of distortions, artifacts and optical glitches. This lens reminds me of the revelation I had back in the 1990's when I first started using longer Leica Apo glass on my R8's after having used Canon and Nikon's lenses. The difference was obvious to not only me and my fellow photographers but also to art directors who had rarely commented previously about any technical aspect of submitted images. The 70-200mm Lumix lens is superb. If this was the only lens I needed I would say that the cost of entry to the system is worth it just for this tool. 

Why would I buy the Lumix S1 over its competitors? Understand that my motivations are probably different from yours. I had no collection of lenses from any other full frame system so, in the time period in which I made my purchase I also considered the Nikon Z6 and 7, the Sony A7iii, and, even glancingly, the Canon 5Dmk3 (dismissed out of hand because it lacks the 21st century "must have" super-feature; an EVF).  I also bought a couple of used Pentax K-1s but can't use them as serious work cameras in most situations because their video is not a good match for my client's needs and, to be painfully truthful, the autofocus I've experienced is about two generations behind just about everyone else's. 

While the Nikons have their merits they lack a good selection of native lenses, have some banding issues (which isn't that big of an issue) and seem to be stop gap products meant to wave the Nikon flag while they desperately work to get some sort of professional version ready to go out the door. 

I've owned and used a number of iterations of the Sony system and while the image quality is good and the focusing is not problematic the design of the camera seems to be at odds with the idea that human hands would willing hold them for any period of time. While the cameras have state of the art photo specs they are woefully underpowered as video cameras. Fine for family vacation documentation but nothing you'd want to shoot with for clients who demand things like 10 bit color and 4:2:2 files. Also, while you have to pay extra for it the Log profile that Panasonic makes available for this camera is world class and provides real benefits in editing and color grading. Using the S-Log on the Sony cameras is a bit of a smoke and mirrors thing. You can get real Log encoding but you are doing it (always) on 8 bit files which means banding in final images with sky, etc. is almost a given. 

Add to this Sony's legendary overheating issues with video and you have a handful of reasons to run in the opposite direction from their cameras. If you are truly interested in Sony and video it makes sense to just buy one of their dedicated video cameras like the FS5 or FS7 and keep separate inventories for each type of job. At least the lenses will work across both platforms. 

So I ended up investigating the Lumix cameras. I went through the check boxes that matter most to me. Yours will almost undoubtably be different. First up was imaging quality from a sensor perspective. Having had great performance from the G9 I knew I'd like the way Panasonic tweaked the color from the sensor while DXO numbers informed me that the overall sensor performance in raw would make the S1(rated 95) pretty much equal to the best performances of the Sony and Nikon rivals and far ahead of the Canon offerings. The S1's excellent low light score makes it a good match for the theater photography I routinely do....

After having shot theater and portraits with the S1 I find myself well pleased with the choices Panasonic has made in color treatment in both raw and Jpeg files. The images are easy to work with in post. My one complaint, which is easily remedied with a one time dive into the Jpeg menus is that the default sharpening is a little high. Interesting that on the Pentax K-1 files I find I need to boost the sharpness of the Jpegs to match.

So, image color, noise and sharpness are all satisfactory; in line with my preferences.

Video

Moving on to the video performance. Even in the "out of the box" configuration the camera does a nice job with 4K video files. The on-the-body microphone pre-amps are very low noise and sound nice. The full size HDMI plug should be standard on any camera that wants to be considered as a "professional" tool and, of course, it is on the S1. This camera is transformed with the addition of the V-Log unlock code and the addition of the microphone accessory that fits in the hot shoe. The V-Log unlock code gives us full-on 4K files at up to 30 fps with no crop while delivering 10 bit, 4:2:2 files straight into the camera's memory cards. No external recorder needed for this performance. I'd say it was "class leading" but none of the other cameras in this full frame class can provide this level of performance. Add an external recorder and you can get 60 fps with the same basic specs, but with a 1.5x crop. 

The microphone accessory, the DMW-XLR1 is well worth cost. I provides two XLR inputs to the camera along with phantom power, filters, line level input adjustments, and hard dials for level controls.  While many productions have the budget to do separate sound, where a sound engineer records from the microphone into a dedicated recorder from Sound Devices, Tascam or Zoom and then syncs up the sound in post production, the DMW-XLR1 allows a single operator to pull in very competent audio that's already sync'ed to the video files and does so in a package that is unobtrusive enough to make single operator work doable. 

While Sony has a competent version of this audio interface available for their cameras Nikon and Canon lag far, far behind when it comes to audio recording as part of videography. Whether they will or want to catch up is not clear. Both systems are well capable of creating great video products but in the case of Canon one gets the impression that so much video prowess is missing from their still cameras in order to protect sales of their video lines. Nikon, on the other hand, has mastered the art of nice looking video files but seems not to have the bandwidth to add tackling audio to the list of things they need to get done right away --- like introducing more Z lenses....

Moving on to how the S1 camera performs I have to mention that the EVF is the absolute best I have ever used and sometimes, when I am switching between the S1 and the Pentax K-1 (which has an exemplary optical finder) I forget that one of the two finders is an EVF!!! That's a huge deal to me. I've been championing the concept of EVFs for over ten years and this is the point at which I can say we've finally surpassed "good enough." The finder is big and bright and can be configured into one of three different magnifications so eyeglass wearers can be accommodated as well as people who need to see information around the edges. Purists can call up a magnification that files the eyepiece. It's just beautiful. And stand off is good as well.

Stabilization

Another feature that most will see as required is Panasonic's class leading image stabilization. The system is great while using the in body image stabilization but is superb when lenses with stabilizers are used in conjunction with body stabilization. They call it "dual I.S." and it leverages the benefits of each kind of system to give photographers up to 7 stops (cited in conjunction with the new 70-200mm f2.8 lens). Both of the Lumix lenses I use work in dual I.S. and I've found the system nearly as good as that on the G9 camera when using the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm. 

The in-body image stabilization makes possible the high resolution feature in which the camera takes multiple shots while moving the sensor a tiny bit between each shot in order to capture more color information more accurately. It works. Not on moving subjects but on any still subject, it works. 

One of my friends was discussing camera choice with me and posited that the S1R (high res model) would be more useful to him as an architectural photographer. Since most architecture doesn't move I argued that the 96 megapixel files that come from the hi-res mode would seem to be more than enough for nearly any application...  We'll test this theory some time soon. He's still shooting with a Nikon D850 so we can do a side by side test to evaluate. Will we see a difference? Hmmmmm.

Build quality

I'm going to take a minute to talk about something that shouldn't really make a difference in the age of ever-obsoleting digital cameras but seems to make a difference to me, and that is the build quality and implied reliability. I've seen the dedicated site that Panasonic put up showing how much metal lies just under the fake leatherette and also how well sealed the S1 series cameras are and it is impressive. Also impressive is the specification that the mechanical shutter is rated as being good for about 400,000 exposures. What all this points to is a camera that won't let one down, mechanically.

Will any of this make a difference in three to five years when 60 megapixels is baseline and 100 megapixels seems to be the new, exciting metric? Will I care if the camera is impervious to full on meteor strikes if the next generation features 8K video and all sorts of computation imaging tools that make my stuff look better? Probably not but....if I see myself as an artist/hobbyist instead of a mercenary photographer I would imagine that we're in a sweet spot that's going to last for a while and having a camera that can take a lot of use and abuse without bricking makes me feel more....comfortable. Less antsy about taking fewer units along for the ride.

This is a camera which, along with the S Pro lenses, that I can be comfortable with if there's sudden rain shower at Eeyore's Birthday party and the camera and lens get sprayed with rain (or beer). I've already dropped one of the two I own on to concrete and gotten nothing more than a ding on the metal shade of my Sigma 45mm lens. 

Handling

Coming from the Panasonic G9 there are a lot a operating interfaces, both on screen and via external buttons, that seem familiar to me and make operating the camera more assured and less hesitant. For instance, there are three buttons just behind the shutter button. One is for WB, one is for ISO and the one on the far right (as you operate the camera) is for exposure compensation. The ISO button in the center has two small but pronounced bumps on it so you can identify it immediately with one touch. The left side WB button is a bit taller than the exposure comp button. Small features but useful to one who works with the camera in near dark situations.

The hand grip is just right. It's even got a little "shelf" indentation on the lens side that helps fingers find a nicer purchase. It's nice. The camera, when used without the battery grip, is pretty much perfect for me to handhold. Even more so when equipped with a small, lightweight lens like the Sigma 45mm or my adapted Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.7. The grip and the larger lenses together take some getting used to. They have made no compromise for size and weight and you'll feel it. The trade off is, hopefully, robust reliability.

When I shoot the camera bare, without the battery grip and with a smaller lens (like the 45mm f2.8 Sigma) it's actually a small enough package (not much bigger than a Fuji X-T3) and it feels comfortable but dense.

The finder is BETTER than an optical finder. It also makes handling more fun. And commercial shooting more productive.

What are the perceived drawbacks (cons)?

To my mind there are really only two dings on the cameras (both the S1 and S1R): One is the autofocus and the other one is battery life.

I tend to use S-AF almost all the time, and to simplify even more I find myself using a single focusing square, moving it with the rear joy stick to the right point if I have time, otherwise I use a center focusing point, lock in focus and then recompose. I am resolutely old school in this regard. I find continuous focusing to be in opposition to my work flow with cameras. Too much to keep track of. Too many things to re-learn. But I had heard so much about "focus wobble" when using AF-C that I had to try it out just to see what the deal was. And it's true, there is a very disconcerting wobbling in the EVF during C-AF that would make the camera less desirable to me if that was my routine manner of working. If you routinely use C-AF or focus tracking AF with your cameras and this is an important way of operating for you I strongly advise you to head to a bricks-and-mortar camera store to check out the camera yourself. You might be able to get used to the frenetic action in the finder but...... you might not.

Will Panasonic improve this with a series of firmware updates? I have no idea but I buy cameras in order to use them right now; not some vague date in the future after home improvement firmware upgrades. If you are a heavy duty sports shooter I'm going to conjecture that these cameras were never on your short list to begin with.

The cameras focus quickly and accurately in S-AF, as good as anything out there, but if you want the camera to track stuff moving around the frame I think you need to spend an afternoon with an S1 and see what you get.

Battery Life

The battery that comes with the camera is big, beefy and rated at over 3,000 mAh. That would lead us to believe that it will power a conventional camera for hours and hours; even days.... But, alas, Panasonic rates the battery at about 390 exposures and I'd venture that with reviews and longer timeouts  you might even get less out of them. As I buy more of the cameras I cajole my sales person to give me an extra battery in lieu of a discount on the main product, knowing that I'm a nervous user when it comes to running out of power and I'll charge and take all the batteries I have on a shoot so I can avoid ever having to tell a client that we've run out of juice.

The batteries are $90 a pop and I'm beginning to think that Panasonic is taking "pricing lessons" from their good friends at Leica. Going on location for a day's worth of shooting I'd be comfortable with two batteries but even happier with three batteries total per camera. So, to be safe you end up carrying around an extra $180 dollars worth of little black objects with type on them.

Alternately, you could go with one battery and take along an external Lithium battery pack/device such as the ones that are sold to charge iPhones and tablets in the field. The camera has a USB-C 3.1 port and it allows in camera battery charging as well as powering of the camera. With a set up like this you sacrifice a bit of mobility but you gain some piece of mind. Not such a great trade off for a wandering tourist but probably just fine for a working pro on a fixed location with the camera welded to a tripod.

Bottom Line

Cameras should feel good to operate, from a strictly machine/human interface point of view; that should be a given. Next up in importance are two things in equal measure: The performance of available lenses and the quality of the sensor in the camera.

It seems that Panasonic, and in fact all members of the L-mount Alliance are focused on making lenses that are exemplary and high performing regardless of their cost to consumers or the cost of the resultant size and weight. Several of the Panasonic S Pro lenses are designed by Leica and carry an inscription claiming: Leica Certified. According to Panasonic this means that those lenses have passed the rigorous optical standards and build quality standards of the world's most prestigious consumer lens designer. From what I've seen so far I think I'd say that the lenses rock.

On my wish list is the 50mm f1.4 Lumix S Pro lens. It's being touted as their "reference standard" and the lens all others in the system will be judged against.

Another reason to consider the Lumix cameras is, in fact, the range of lenses that are already available for the system. There are numerous Sigma Art lenses now provided in the mount and on the other end of the price spectrum you have access to the Leica SL lenses which are excellent.

While you won't find a $200 kit zoom or a $149 "nifty-fifty" you might find some really great lenses that mesh well with the very clean and well reviewed sensors in both the 24 and 47 megapixel cameras. This isn't a system for those who want a mix of economy and convenience lenses along with a few premium lenses; at this juncture it seems like this system is aimed at people who are tired of the middle way and ready to just buy premium.

Does it work for me? Yes. It does.





11.19.2019

Marketing missteps to avoid. #1 branding yourself as the top tier of your local market...

LBJ's school house, outside of Johnson City, Texas. 

I think most photographers survive financially not because of the big jobs that come to them from time to time but from the income derived from a constant stream of smaller, less flashy projects that constitute the bulk of what most advertising and public relations clients need on a month by month or week by week basis. 

Going against the prevalent marketing common sense I'll say that the continuous flow of decent paying, moderate to low stress jobs beats the adrenaline euphoria of the occasional all hands on deck, national advertising jobs. 

I realized lately that, in my market, many local clients and potential clients have positioned my company in their minds as one that only does high profile photography projects. While this is not true, nor even welcome by me, it's a market perception that is most definitely a double-edged sword. A long tenure in any market paints a target on one's back for all the up-and-coming photographers while also fostering the idea that financial and business success in our field depends on creating only top dollar images for big, complex projects. But nothing could be further from my own wheelhouse of skills or preferences. 

My greatest comfort zone is the happy creation of portraits either in the studio or in any fun location within an hour's drive. The budget is generally always less important than how much freedom I'll have in doing the actual work and defining the style. There is so much that's reassuring about "limited engagements." For example, if your intuition failed you and you are on site with a client that turns out to be a real jerk, you have the comfort of knowing that after you wrap up, head home and deliver the deliverables, you'll never have to work with that client again. You have that control. You've only suffered through one engagement.

It's different if you are working on a big project through an ad agency and you've done lots of pre-production work before finally meeting the client from hell on the set. At that point you have sunk cost and sunk scheduling and you probably have a number of people who are directly or indirectly counting on you to pull off the job, and stomping off the set, no matter how convincing your excuse, is pretty much career suicide. Multiple day jobs create multi-day stress. The higher the budget, generally, the higher the stress...

Don't get me wrong, a big, long job with a fun, happy, well adjusted client is like an early Christmas but there is charm and calmness that comes from a series of unrelated but similar smaller assignments that will keep your blood pressure low and not mess up your early morning swim schedule. 

When we (collectively) market we tend to put our best feet forward and that usually means finding the most impressive job you've done in a given quarter and then broadcasting it far and wide. That's great but by doing so you create the expectation amongst art buyers that this is the only kind of work (budget) that you are interested in. They save you for that mythical job that might come to a smaller agency only once or twice a year. Those are the kinds of jobs that generally require competing bids, jockeying amongst client requirements and budgets, and lots and lots of nervous tension from the agency and clients (remember, if they are doing this kind of work only once or twice a year that makes them amateurs for this kind of project!). 

By the time you finish with a typical high profile project you'll have spent way too much time hand holding, running through airports and managing people and not as much time shooting as you'd like. You'll find the budgets better but you'll also find that this kind of work, from a business point of view, is like whale hunting, in that you might invest in a big ship, sail the seas for months, maybe over a year, before you even catch sight of the next whale. In truth, I'd rather go fishing, cast a net and bring in a daily catch. In my mind a constant stream of fun, smaller jobs beats the feast and famine nature of giant undertakings. 

I've been changing up my marketing to emphasize more that I do small scale projects. I want people to call and book me for one executive portrait, one product documentation or one video interview for the web. There's so much less stress and so much more financial continuity this way. And, generally, I find that these dependable clients, when treated correctly, will come straight to you when a bigger project emerges: you've already built-in trust and value for the client and most of them will assume that you can "scale" to a more complex project. The reverse isn't necessarily true. Most people wouldn't go to a surgeon for a head cold but most people with a mysterious pain will head to a trusted general practitioner 99% of the time. 

I want clients to call at the drop of a hat. I don't want them to feel as though they have to schedule weeks or months in advance. 

A client called yesterday and they were almost sheepish about their request. They needed some photographs of a rental space to put on their website. "When could I schedule this?" It was an exterior space so the vagaries of weather were a consideration... I had just finished editing a different project and I was in the process of uploading 18-20 gigabytes of files. The client's rental space was a five minute drive from the studio. I hopped in the car and drove right over, shot the space from every angle and uploaded finished files for the (astonished) client about an hour later. Did I care about the budget or prestige of the project? No. I've worked with this client for years, decades. I knew what they could budget and I knew they could make good use of the images. I also knew that they'd call again in a week or a month with a daylong project or a half day video interview or some other calm and happy project. 

I'm more likely to market with a nice location portrait these days than a Promethean project. An e-mail blast and a post card. A quick upload to Instagram. The benefit is that I tend to lock in clients with these less intimidating projects. When bigger projects erupt there's less resistance on the client side to awarding me the project. Less competition. 

In the early part of the century I thought I was on the wrong marketing track. Most of my work came from ten or fifteen regular clients who had assignments like events, product shots, portraits and "people at work" stuff. Like radiologist reading scans, specialists taking readings at water treatment plants, engineers supervising large scale construction. They were smaller projects, less budget, less usage fee income, but the trade-off was stability. And consistency. And a certain flow.

I became friends with a legendary photographer who moved from New York City to Austin just before the big bust of 2008. He worked the big projects for corporate titans. His work was everywhere. He was surrounded by producers, multiple levels of assistants, representatives and more. His burn rate was (to my mind) ridiculous. We had dinner and we talked about each other's business strategies. After the bust his work more or less dissolved, vanished. The big projects weren't on anybody's radar for a couple of years. None. I too worked less but my work was flying under the CFO's radar which meant we kept working so the wheels of industry would keep turning. My friend's projects dropped from ten per year to maybe one per year. But all of his previous marketing made it unlikely that anyone would call him for a P.R. headshot. 

My work dropped (in 2009) from a pre-bust average of 140 projects per year to 60. But the income kept flowing. We tightened up on costs wherever I could and were able to survive what has to have been the roughest year for freelance artists since the Great Depression. In retrospect I owe that survival to the strategy of casting a wider net. The fish were smaller but there were more of them in the nets. 

Now, my decision making is less about economics and cash flow and more about controlling my free time. Working shorter and less rigorous projects means more unencumbered personal time and a more relaxed working environment. I'm happy with that. 

Now I need to figure out how to market "smaller and easier" without dumping the bigger projects altogether. It might take some dancing but I think I've got the shoes for it. 

Curious to hear from fellow pros about what works best for you. Thanks. 

11.17.2019

Just fooling around downtown. It was nice.

Walked with a Pentax K-1 and the 100mm Macro.
Shot raw and used the +2 clarity control. Nice. Pretty.

Cruised into the Royal Blue Grocery for a hot Cuban sandwich and a coffee. It was luxuriously good.

My hat reminded me to relax. I almost left it on the chair next to mine. But I remembered.

I've just packed up my Lumix gear and I'm headed to Zach Theatre to shoot the Tech Rehearsal for
Christmas Carol. I can hardly wait to slip into the wonderfully immersive magic of live theater.

This musical/play is like a booster shot of joy that gets me through the holiday season. It's funny, poignant, musical and hopeful. It's also really well done. I hope all of you have something like this in the fourth quarter that brings a big ass smile to your face and even makes you more tolerant of everyone else.

That's all I've got for today. Hope you're having maximum fun and minimum resistance. KT

(fun bumper sticker I saw today): "Do No Harm. Take No Shit." 

Complete with a drawing of Buddha meditating.

My DE-ACQUISITION review of the Fujinon 8-16mm f2.8 lens. Why I used to think it was "great" but now think it's good "trade-in" material.


The Fujinon 8-16mm f2.8. Big, sharp, and to me....useless. 

I've written lots of reviews about cameras and lenses before, and recently I wrote a satire about all the lead up reviews that are written about new products. You know, first impressions reviews, unboxing reviews, not-yet-in-my-hands-but-still-click-bait-able reviews. Mine was called a PRE-ACQUISITION REVIEW. That spoof-y blog post was about a product I had ordered but had never seen nor touched. I thought it was funny and, gauging from the comments here, so did at least 18 other people. One person (who did like the original piece) suggested that a novel, new and untried approach might be to write a de-acquisition review so I'm going to give it a shot. Here goes: 

I don't know why I bought the 8-16mm Fuji lens in the first place. I recently looked at the metadata of all the 460,000+ images I have in my Lightroom catalogs and out of all these images about 90% are shot with focal lengths of between 35mm and 135mm. If there is a winner in the focal length usage race it definitely belongs to the ever present 50mm. But even focal lengths around 200-300mm far, far outstrip anything under 24mm. In fact, there are so few ultra-wide focal length lenses represented that it shocked even me. 

The thinking at the time of acquisition (at the beginning of 2019) was that I was flushed with cash, wracked with anxiety about my family obligations, and as a result had entered into a sort of tunnel vision that convinced me of the need to plan for every photographic contingency, and to do so within the Fuji system. When the 8-16mm and the 100-400mm lens went on a rare sale I snagged them both, remembering the good old days of annual report photography when we might actually problem solve with our lenses and get dramatic photos from either end of the spectrum. I think now that must be a memory without actual substance.

I used the 8-16mm lens this year for exactly three commercial images. If you were to divide the retail price of the lens by the three shots you'd get a cost per shot of about $660 per image. If each image were, by itself, the final choice for a national ad I'd have no hesitation about the expense but as soon as the novelty of being able to get everything (including my feet) in the frame wore off the lens started to remind me of the fisheye fad of the 1970's. To me, all ultra-wide angle shots look the same; way too much foreground, extremely forced perspective and, generally an insult to human portrait subjects. 

To be honest, the fault is with me; I just don't see well in the wide angle space no matter how often or how hard I try. Maybe it's my long held prejudice that people who shoot long know exactly what they want in the frame while people who shoot short can't make up their damn minds about what to put in the frame. And people who profess to love the 35mm focal length above all others just can't make up there mind which way to go.....

The lens itself is/was pretty much perfect. It was obviously optically gifted even when used wide open. 8mm (12mm FF eq.)  was sharp and, when used with the automatic in-camera corrections, not subject to excessive vignetting or rectilinear distortion. 16mm was equally good. Were I the kind of photographer for whom life only starts under 24mm I think I would be overjoyed with such a solid and ultimately flexible lens. But since I tried to crop out about 85% of each frame I shot with the lens I think I assured myself that I'm not even remotely in the target market for such a great lens with those particular wide angle advantages...

My advice, if you think you may be in the market for a lens like this but you don't shoot for the bulk of your income? Spend a lot more time playing around with a 50mm until the thoughts of wide-angle-ality exit your brain and you forget the lure of being able to almost see around corners (even if what's in the corners is rendered tiny). 

To the folks who think this lens will magically transform them into world class architecture photographers? My personal experience is that the magic didn't work for me. Seems it actually takes skill and taste to make good architecture photos, not just super wide lenses. Crazy, huh?

After months of packing and unpacking for assignments I got tired of seeing $1895 languishing in the lens drawer, almost completely unused. I put the lens in my big, black camera bag and toted it over to Precision Camera where it offset the price of a second Panasonic Lumix S1 camera body. I noticed the lens sold quickly. No doubt to yet another photographer who currently believes the mythology of having to have all the bases covered, all the focal lengths represented. A fool's errand. At least for me. 



Whatever will I do now that I am bereft of the world's best 8-16mm lens for APS-C? I think I'll be just fine with Fuji's elegant, little 14mm f2.8. In fact, I've already used that one ten times as often as the 8-16mm and even if it is seldom used it's not a burden to bring along in a camera bag. Just in case. 

MMMV. 

Just a financial note: If I'd taken the (roughly) $4,000 I spent on the two outlier zoom lenses from Fuji (8/18 and 100/400) and put the money into Apple stock instead I would now have $6,720. Just a thought... that's the amount of appreciation in Apple stock just in the past 10 months. That would beat investing in gear and having to find jobs on which to use the gear. My financial guru has already chided me. Maybe next time.

11.16.2019

Another Perfect Day in Austin. Version 20,693.


I hit the pool at 8:30 today. Couldn't quite make it to the 7:30 practice since the air was chilly and the bed was so comfortable. We got a lot of yards done by 10 am and spent most of it swimming in the sunshine. Getting a good charge on my solar powered wristwatch. I've been swimming well lately. It's the result of both working on breathing and arm stroke recovery but also adding some pre-sleep visualization to my swimming. I spent about ten minutes visualizing exactly how my stroke should look and feel. It's sounds woo-woo but it seems to make a difference. You don't fix the stuff you never think about....

We had maybe three cold and cloudy days in the week so there is a lot of pent up consumer demand for sunlight and warmer temperatures. People are out biking, running, walking and soaking up the good weather day; trying to sock some extra away for the next bout of cloudy weather. 

I'm heading out the door to play with the Pentax K-1 and the crusty, used 50mm f1.4 I'm falling for. It's a lens with a history, I am sure. Now I'm writing my own stuff with it. 


I'd love to write blog about how great the new Fuji X-Pro3 camera is but only the cool kids have gotten one to review. I'd love to write comparison between the Lumix S1 and its sibling the SR1 but, again, only the cool kids get to do that without splashing out for their own versions of each. Not something I'm interested in doing in the moment.

I can write a very, very short review of the Godox V1 flash (dedicated to the Pentax): It works as well as all the other third party, dedicated TTL flashes on the market. The round diffuser looks cool and the assortment of modifiers which attach via magnets is fun and useful. The lithium battery got me through well more than 400 bounce flashes on Thursday evening and I still had lots of little bars left showing me I wasn't about to run out of power. The V1 isn't very expensive (especially compared to its nearly identical cousin, the Profoto  A1) so if you want to try one and you decide it's not exactly what you need it's not a very painful mistake. 

Nothing else seems to be calling to me, gear-wise, in the moment so I guess I'll just be boring and not write about gear for a while. Get me too close to that Panasonic Lumix 50mm f1.4 and I'll have lots to write about. Trying to keep from looking directly at one. Must be strong........


11.15.2019

Evening of photography goes about as well as I usually expect it to.

My first pair of glasses. Got them back in 1994, right after 
I accused Hasselblad of not making sharp prism finders...
But that's a different story.

I used to get nervous about jobs with tight schedules and no opportunity for do-overs. Mostly because the future of my business depended on keeping clients happy and continuing to book me for more jobs. For some reason gala events were the most nerve wracking. Organizations generally have one big fund-raiser each year and that means the clients are perennial amateurs; they don't do big events often enough to be comfortable and fluid with the process. They tend to replace expertise with adrenaline and lots of last minute dramas. 

While none of this really pertains to last night's client (they have their stuff together) it's hard to break habits and subconscious expectations. Five nervous and high strung event planners in a row sets a precedent and an expectation for the sixth event planner. I tended to come into the event jobs with a bit of armor on and a lot of redundant gear to offset the chance that a mechanical/electronic failure would hamper my ability to deliver good photographs for the client.

Yesterday I felt a little rusty because I haven't shot a large event since early September. I've also surrounded myself with a couple different systems and I was going back and forth, trying to decide whether to go with the tried-and-true cameras, lenses and flashes I used before or to try out something new (to me). 

Here's the job description: Go to the Four Seasons Hotel and photograph in two different ways. The first part of the evening is a cocktail reception in a lobby space in front of the grand ballroom. All of the attendees are partners in law firms or the spouses of partners in law firms. All 400 of them are there to honor one of their peers for his pro bono work for the organization I'm working with. The space is tight and, since most of the attendees are over 50 years of age, nearly everyone's voice is raised so they can hear each other. It's almost as loud as a rock concert, although there is no musical accompaniment. 

There are people from the board of directors of our charitable organization in the mix. Their name tags are festooned with an extra ribbon on the bottom that identifies them as such. Two ribbons on a name tag might indicate that a person is both a board member and a speaker at the event. My goal, and the expectation of the client's marketing team, is that I'll flow through the space, pull people together for quick, small group photographs, and, in the space of one hour capture nice images of couples, foursomes and small groups. Essentially, get a couple hundred pleasant photographs of everyone in the space, in various groupings, but be sure not to miss getting everyone whose name tag is embellished. 

I'm no stranger to many of the people in the crowd. Some know me because they have attended, and I have photographed, all nineteen years of galas for the group. Others know me because my company is commissioned by theirs to make portraits and marketing images over the course of the year. Still others I know socially. In a funny way we've all grown up together.  I was 45 when I photographed at the inaugural event. Now I'm 64. The faces of a quarter of the attendees are well known. Older than last time but still in the mix. We all wear dark suits and nicely shined shoes. Most of the men have gray or white hair. All have done well in their careers. That much was evidenced in the cash "auction" later in the evening. All for charity.

I dug my heels in and led with my art brain when I packed yesterday, much to the chagrin of my logical brain. I decided to work only with two Pentax K-1 cameras and two lenses. I brought along a 28-105mm zoom lens which I used in conjunction with on camera flash. For all the shots of speakers at the podium in the main ballroom I used a 100mm f2.8 macro lens. I've never traveled so light for an event like this one. Just to quell my fears of technical failure I did pack an extra 50mm lens to take over the grip and grin duties if the 28/105 glitched, and I did bring an extra flash.....just in case. 

Had logic prevailed I would have gone with the same camera and lens set I used a number of times before this. It would have been a couple of Fuji X-H1 cameras, the two f2.8 zooms (16/55+50/140) along with supplemental lenses that would cover the range. That, and a few dedicated Fuji flashes. 

On the other hand I just didn't feel ready to bring the Panasonics. Too new. No hands on experience with direct flash....

All my stuff fit in a small, black, photo back pack. 

I pulled an older, navy blue suit out of the closet. I bought it in 1994. It's in good shape and had just come back from the dry cleaners. The suit is 25 years old. It still fits just as it did when I wore it for the first time to an IBM function. I reached into the shoe repository and grabbed a pair of Vince Camuto cordovan oxfords. No cap toe, no fancy stitching. They needed a quick refresh so I polished them. 

The event started at 6 pm and I needed to be there half an hour early in order to show my face and allay any fears from the client side that I might be late, or worse, not there at all. Even though we're only five or six miles away rush hour starts earlier and earlier in Austin. I left at 4:30 just to make sure that I'd be there on time. A little rain and a few detours later I dropped the car with a valet right at 5:30pm. A good decision as traffic wasn't going to get any better later. 

With the tight schedule of the reception and the even tighter spacing I needed to work without getting fancy with the flash. The room had those fake tungsten, LED down lights that are close to the same color temperature as older, incandescent bulbs but they come pretty standard with a bit of a green cast. I set my camera's color temperature at 3100K and then nudged the hue adjustment to a +5 of magenta to offset the green. I used a Godox V1 flash with a rounded front diffuser. I covered the diffuser with a CTO filter and then added a +5 green filter from my old Kodak/Wratten gel filter stash so the flash color would more closely match the ambient lights. On top of the filters I secured (by magnets!) a white dome diffuser which I used pointed at the ceiling of the room. Since the dome is 3D some of the light is direct and some spreads around the room but the majority of lumens come racing down from the ceiling. It's a decent look and it's easy to work a room that way. 

In good light the Pentax K-1 focused well and the camera and flash worked reasonably well in the TTL mode (once I figured out that I needed a minus 1/2 stop permanent adjustment to the flash output). When I got into chancier light the camera hunted from time to time and it took a couple of seconds to lock in. I spent the hour going from little group to little group. Mostly they existed as closed circles which required me to politely insinuate myself into their space, interrupt whatever conversation they were in and getting them to all turn toward my camera. I'd do two exposures per group, in a mostly successful strategy for getting at least one shot where everyone's eyes were open and no one had a horrible facial tic. As I say, I was mostly successful...

In events like this the honoree is in high demand and the client would love it if we could photograph him, individually, with everyone in the room. That's when you need to help set client expectations.....

After a frenzied hour of photographing and trying to make sure everyone was represented in the growing collection of photographs a merciful banquet crew stepped out from the main ballroom and sounded chimes to signal that dinner was nigh and that the doors into the ballroom were open. 

A quick note to those who've never had the extreme pleasure of photographing a nice gala at a Four Seasons hotel: They don't do rubber chicken dinners. I love working there because the food (and the wine) are always first class. BUT, no matter how much the client talks up the idea that you too will enjoy the fruits of the banquet kitchen you should know that you will do so only while jumping up to catch the next speaker and the next, and that plate with the perfect beef filet, paired with wonderfully executed jumbo shrimp will only arrive at your place as you are getting up to head to the front of the large room to photograph the guest of honor --- ahead of schedule. 

Once you return to your place your plate will have either been whisked away or your food will be cold. 

In the main ballroom I needed mostly to photograph anything or anybody that happened or happened to be at the podium on the small, clean stage. This year the lighting got improved by several levels. There were multiple spots on the stage and a clean wash onto a mostly white background with the client's logo and the branding for the gala. I don't use flash on speakers or presenters unless they are handing some lucky person an award and shaking hands. So, for the most part I'm trying to get close enough to make the image dynamic but far enough away so that my silhouette to the people behind me doesn't become part of the show. 

Once one locks in the exposure for the speaker at the podium there is little need to revisit the setting unless the lighting changes. Yay! One less thing to think about. I chimped during the initial introductory speech and zero'd in on a good color balance and a good exposure. It never changed. Never. Not at all. A good reason to use your camera on manual and not screw with your settings!

I used a single AF point because I didn't want to get home and discover that my "smart" camera had elected to "celebrate" the speaker's microphone that evening instead of their (normally) sharp eyes. 

I also shot raw because, well, I just did. I won't next time. Not needed. 

The 100mm is the only long lens I have for the Pentax system but I figured that with the 36 megapixel resolution of the K-1 if I needed a longer reach I could either crop after the fact or set the camera to shoot APS-C and get a 50% increase in magnification. I did a bit of both. 

The evening ended around 9 pm and we spent a bit of time making a group shot of the client's staff. I retrieved my car from the valet and headed home. 

The images look pretty good. There are a few that I don't like the tonality of some skin tones. It's funny, there must be something odd with make-up these days as the camera will often "see" all the people in the frame with no make-up with absolute accuracy but the person with lots of make up takes on a color cast that's hard to remove. Also, Texas men seem to have spent too much time in the sun so I routinely hit the hue control in post and slide the red hue slider to the right by +5 to +10 which takes out some of the magenta from their "over tan" and I also drop the saturation a bit. 

Out of about 960 frames I color corrected and delivered a gallery of 719 to the client today. It felt good to do the 19th year of the gala for the client. The only embarrassing thing is my realization as I worked on the files today, that I have used a different camera system for nearly every different year. Ah well. It keeps that part of the process fun. 

11.13.2019

Studio Dog was sporting a new sweater today. She picked it out at Tomlison's Pet Store. It's an Eddie Bauer brand.

Studio Dog likes her sweaters a little bit large. Better than too tight. 
She's happier to be in the studio when warmly dressed, 
not too thrilled to be here if the heater is off. 

A grudging pose for my Lumix S1 and the Sigma 85mm.

Need to take event photographs with flash? The Pentax K-1 and the Godox V-1 for Pentax is a pretty good combination.

The basic, naked Pentax K-1 with a 50mm attached. 

There are two things that make the photo business fun for me; one is actually doing the work (which is like technical problem solving at a full run while keeping up your end of the conversation socially) and the other is playing with the right gear. But most photographers don't necessarily match gear to jobs so much as just shoe-horning one system into making do on any sort of photo project. I get that some folks shoot one style and one subject matter all the time and that using the same camera is comforting to them. It sounds great to be that specialized. As my brother, a Latin and Greek professor for 30+ years is fond of saying, "Find your rut and stay in it."  I tried specializing in a photographic niche and got bored. So I still accept and do projects that differ greatly from each other  a lot. My client base is all over the map.

While we'd like to think that there's one "golden" camera out in the wild that can do everything better than any other system of cameras I've found, over the years, that it's just not true. 

I currently own and use three different camera systems so when a client called and asked me to shoot a charity gala event this week, with 400 well to do guests, I walked out to the studio and pulled together the best from all three systems and began the process of narrowing down to the best gear solution. 

Most of the images we'll be taking will be classic "grip-and-grins." Images of couples, foursomes, and small groups pulled together during a bustling pre-dinner reception in one of the banquet spaces at the local Four Seasons Hotel. The ceilings in the reception space (mercifully) have been painted white and that's great because I intend to use a lot of bounce flash during this part of the assignment. 

I am not unfamiliar with the space as I've done this same event, in the same space, during the same week in November, for the last 19 years. During that time I've gone from shooting with Leica M series rangefinder cameras and "automatic" Vivitar flashes to every permutation of digital camera with their attendant, dedicated flashes. I learn something new every time I work this job.

The same camera outfitted for some quick field work. 
The lens is just the right range for close quarters couples/groups photos.
The flash is fun and accurate and uses one of those proprietary 
Li-on batteries that lasts forever.
And the whole system seems to nail exposures like few 
systems I've used in the past.

I'm photographing tomorrow evening and I hate surprises so I started testing cameras with their flashes yesterday and I'm continuing to do so today. I could use manual, Godox speedlights with any of the three camera systems (Panasonic S1, Fuji X-H1, Pentax K-1) and fire up some brain cells to continually figure out guide numbers and apertures based on distance (and a bit of on-the-job experimentation) but I'd actually like to find a combination that's consistent and good in its TTL performance so I can concentrate more on getting people grouped together for my shots and less on operating levers and gears on the cameras. 

I have a dedicated flash for the Fuji cameras but I find that this is one kind of photography that mirrorless cameras in general don't handle that well. For some reason my TTL bounce flashes with any of the Fuji cameras tend to give me exposures that are all over the map. The last time I shot this event I did it with the mirrorless Panasonic G9s and they weren't any better or worse with flash than the Fujis. In fact, the most recent time I had a more or less carefree evening using flash in this kind of environment I was shooting with a couple of Nikon D800es and Nikon dedicated flashes. I spent some time walking around the house yesterday with a Fuji X-H1+16-55mm+Godox TT685F taking photographs of random stuff and bothering my family with test shots of them. The results were mostly okay but I spent more time than I wanted to dialing in flash compensation. And the "always on" nature of endless shooting at events is a killer for Fuji batteries. 

Also, with mirrorless cameras blessed with EVFs, you have to turn off "constant preview" to see what you are focusing on when you do use flash. It's always better to have an EVF at a high enough brightness to see who is in front of you and whether they are smiling or not. When you need to switch over to available light photography (say...a speaker at a well lit podium) you need to turn "constant preview" back on. This is pretty much the same no matter which brand of mirrorless camera you are using. The one advantage I always liked with the Panasonic G9 was the switch in the hot shoe that sensed the attachment of a flash and switched off "constant preview" for you. If you forget and leave it switched on with other cameras you'll have a darker finder with a blurry, slow motion image with which to compose and assess focus...

I bought one of the same model flashes for the new Lumix cameras (but the Olympus/Panasonic version) and my first problem was just getting the flash on the hotshoe of an S1. The little contacts on the bottom of the flash shoe were a bit too long and a bit too stiff to fit easily. I grabbed a ballpeen hammer out of the tool kit, made some adjustments and finally got it on. I've got a chisel in my camera bag in case I have trouble getting the flash back off...

The flash performance is okay. The Lumix camera tends to be slower in response to all controls when in the flash mode. And the exposures aren't quite what I want. I'm right back to riding the exposure compensation control for the flash. It's probably just a matter of learning curve but I can't really accelerate the learning curve between now and tomorrow evening. I've got other things to do in between. Like swim practice. Taking a nap on the couch under the close supervision of Studio Dog. Packing up gear and remembering how to tie a tie again. I might even need to shine a pair of nice shoes.

And that brings me to the Goldilocks flash camera. Amongst my camera system treasures the Pentax is the simplest and best of my choices for old fashioned, fast moving, on camera flash oriented event/gala photography. 

I got a Godox V-1 flash for the Pentax and so far, it's just right. I like using a white dome on top of the round flash head to get a combination of some direct light mixed mostly (if I point the head the right way) with ceiling bounce light. I've been playing with the combination of the Pentax K-1+28-105mm+Godox V1 for the better part of the afternoon and I've yet to have to hit the menu to adjust flash output. So far every automatic TTL flash photograph with the combo is flawless. And, it's the one user scenario where even I can make a good case for a big, bright, clear OVF. There's no lag and no need to turn on or off items like "constant preview." 

The Pentax K-1 has the best battery life of the three cameras. The focusing speed difference is a toss up between the Lumix and the Pentax. My only disappointment is that I have a limited supply of lenses for the K-1 and I wish I could use the Lumix lenses instead. But compared to the first ten or twelve times I photographed this event the Pentax gear is light years more convenient and better quality than some of the loser cameras I used back then (looking at the Nikon D200 which absolutely sucked, the Olympus E-5 which could never lock focus accurately, the Sony A7R2 which didn't understand even its own dedicated Sony flash, etc. etc.). Looking back, the recent Nikons and the original film Leica M's seemed to have the edge over everything else I've shot with for interior, fast flash work with the flash on camera while in a hotel event space. 

So far the Pentax seems to be dialing it all in very nicely. And the files are big and robust. Hell, if I wanted to shoot the whole event in Raw I could probably ignore the flash settings entirely and just fix everything in post production. I do wish the camera had a "smaller" raw file setting. Something like 18 megapixels instead of 36. The client will likely just make 5x7 inch prints to send to the V.I.P.s and then use a bunch of images on a web gallery. We could probably do with far fewer pixels... But having non-destructive color correction is always welcome, right?

So, what's the final kit look like? What am I going to drag over the Four Seasons and handle for three or four hours?

It's two Pentax K-1s with a couple extra batteries. I'll use one camera with the 28-105mm for all the flash stuff. I've got a tungsten conversion (CTO) filter stuck in under the dome on the flash and it'll go a long way toward matching the subdued and warm light at the venue. (Setting the WB for "lightbulb").
I'll use the second body for speaker shots at the podium in the grand ballroom. I've got a nice 100mm lens that will give me enough stand off distance to the podium, especially if I do some judicious cropping in post production. That makes the second camera and lens more like a combo with a 150mm f2.8 if I set it to APS-C crop.... But then again, maybe I'll go crazy and shoot that rig at a 1:1 ratio for a square frame.

So, two bodies; each can be a back up for the other. A new, Godox V1 as my main flash and then a manual Godox V-850 as a back-up to the primary flash. If everything fails at once I guess I'll just pull out my iPhone and get right back to work. Better charge that one up before I head out to the job...

Well, in situations like this you never rise to the occasion and achieve something you've never done before, you mostly fall back on what you've practiced all the time and hope that muscle memory and good brain wiring take over from your jumbled, conscious adrenaline charged thoughts.  Set the shutter speed for 1/60th (dragging a little to get some ambient light into the frame) set the aperture somewhere between f5.6 and f8.0 to get those groups in focus from side to side, set the ISO to 800 (so you can have a chance at your flash batteries lasting the evening) put the camera in S-AF and pray the existing light is enough for your camera to achieve quick focus with, and you're set. Get your valet parking ticket validated before you head home and you'll do fine.

I love playing around with the small flashes but tomorrow is not the time to get fancy and experiment. Too many people crammed into too small a space and client expectations through the roof. But that's why I get paid the big bucks to put on the suit and tie and show up with a camera in my hands. And I love it.