11.28.2019

A very short observation about the Nikon z7 camera and the 50mm f1.8 Nikon Z lens.

This image is not from a Nikon z7. It's from a Lumix S1.

As hard as it might be to believe, I have a friend who is just a few years younger than me who has been in the photography business for a few years longer than me (darn; I spent too much time teaching and in advertising!!!) and who probably buys equipment more frequently and more dramatically than me. I know, after the recent purge that must be hard for sane people to even comprehend...

He's been through more high-end systems than I have at this point having shot professionally with medium format Hasselblad and Leica systems; sometimes even overlapping them. He was an early adopter of the Leica SL system and he's been through most of the Canon and Nikon catalogs. But spend as he might his income from his work keeps surging ahead of his expenses. I tell him that it's not fair, he never had a kid to put through college. He laughs and says that everyone has to live with their choices. 

We've known each other for decades and have done some travel assignments together. He might be a bit obsessive about gear but he's a great guy. And a brilliant photographer. When we're both in town we usually meet up for coffee or lunch once or twice a month, a bit more during the holidays. And we're always comparing notes about the state of the health of the professional photography business. 

We met for coffee yesterday at Trianon Coffee House which is just around the corner from my stately office. Usually we bring along some interesting new acquisition to share. I figured it was my turn to have the latest and greatest so I brought my Lumix S1R and the 50mm Pro S lens. I showed it off and we talked about the potential of the system, etc. Then he reached into his charcoal grey camera bag and pulled out a smaller and lighter body. It was a Nikon z7, a camera I'd more or less overlooked. 

And when I write, "overlooked" what I really mean is that as I got more and more into the Lumix S system I developed more and more tunnel vision. It's a defensive mechanism most people develop when they are in the late stages of decision making. It keeps them from constantly reviewing potential choices in a wider category before finally being overwhelmed by choice and delaying making a decision, or giving up deciding altogether. 

He handed the z7 to me, equipped with a new Nikon 50mm f1.8 and I was....impressed. It's half the weight of the S1 and smaller to boot, but it has a nice handgrip and feels very good to hold on to. I like the basic body design very much. I clicked on the power switch and focused on a nearby cup of coffee with the lens set to its widest aperture. 

The click of the shutter was aurally beautiful with none of the slappy, tinny, bang-y sound of a mirrored camera. I clicked the shutter a few more times to confirm --- that Nikon finally got the shutter sound and feel just right. The photo (viewing just on the rear screen) was wonderfully smooth and ran from nicely sharp at the point of focus to liquid-y soft as it ran out of focus in the foreground and background. In fact, if the lens were longer and still maintained its look it might be a perfect portrait optic. 

While the EVF is not quite as detailed as the one in the S1 it's close enough to be de minimis. 

So, what are the main differences between an S1R and a z7? The resolutions are close enough to be meaningless. The z7 would be a much more comfortable (size and weight) all day long street shooting camera. The 50mm 1.8 Nikon lens is about 1/3 (or less) the weight of the Panasonic 50. So, for the most part, where imaging specs are concerned they are on par with each other. But when it comes to comfort the Nikon gets the nod.

The S1 is better for video but the S1R is also equipped with better video specs than the Nikon and two very fast card slots, along with an audio interface unit for professional microphones and a full size HDMI port. But the Nikon is smaller and lighter. (I haven't compared video from the z7!).

If I did not want the higher spec video capabilities, and if one can live with one card slot ( I can) then I think the Nikon might just be the better "fun" all around art camera. But for some reason I'm into the brute force build of the L-mount products. Still, the z7 is much better "in person" than on paper....

Just thought I'd toss a bit of positive non-shade on the Nikon mirrorless stuff. It feels a lot better (menu and operation-wise) than the Sony cameras. But I'm optimistic, some day Sony will hire a haptics engineering team from Pentax or some other traditional camera company and they'll finally catch up and make a nice-to-use camera. They did it once before with the Sony a900 and a850 cameras but they must have early retired the team they must have inherited from their Minolta acquisition. 

Now I can't make unequivocal statements about which mirrorless FF camera is the best. I'm split. 

An Assortment of Images (cropped square for Instagram) of Jimmie Moore as the Macy's Elf in "Santaland Diaries."


There are two theater assignments that seem to be most difficult for me. One is shooting theater in the round, where the audience completely surrounds all 360 degrees of the stage. Since the actors need to give equal time to all quadrants of the audience a stationary photographer will have to work hard to get good images because, unlike traditional stage/audience set-ups, he or she will only have about 1/4th the amount of visual content to work with. About 3/4ths of the play will happen with the cast facing in a different direction from the photographer. 

We try not to shoot rehearsals of productions done in the round without an audience because no matter where the actor faces and no matter what the relation to the camera there will be nothing but empty seats in the background. We've found that's not the optimum way to create visual advertising in order to  sell tickets....

The second most difficult assignment for me is to shoot a one person play. There are only so many shots you can pull off that are different enough to make an hour or two of earnest photography worthwhile. An actor will have different expressions and gestures, and may work with different props, but without the dialogue and sound effects the photos, in isolation, quickly become repetitive and boring. While frequent costume changes help the reality is that most one person plays hinge on the quality and humor of the script. And the effective delivery of the dialogue. Neither are particularly (or even marginally) in the wheelhouse of still photography. 

So, when we combine a one person performance with intimate theater in the round, I get a bit nervous about my ability to deliver the same value of content that we can get from a traditional production. But that doesn't keep me from trying my best....

Here's a sampling of my assignment at the dress rehearsal of Santaland Diaries on Thursday evening starring my good, friend, Jimmy Moore.  Click on the images to see them larger!!!














11.27.2019

A quick, Tuesday evening photographic assignment is the perfect time to test two lenses. The Lumix S Pro 50mm and the Lumix S 24-105mm.

jimmy moore at 1:1. Some pixel peeping.
See image below for the full frame....

I shot the dress rehearsal for the David Sedaris play, "Santaland Diaries" last night. It's a one person play and it's being performed on the Zach Theatre's smallest stage which is in the round. Since the actor needs to play equally to all quadrants of the theater, and since we had an audience in attendance, I was positioned in one spot and had to pay rapt attention and shoot while the actor was facing me. The one exception is the shot I include at the bottom of the blog (which is not supposed to be a "great" photography but rather a photographic example of lens performance). 

I used two Panasonic S1 camera bodies. One was paired with the S Pro 50mm f1.4 lens and the other was equipped with the S 24-105mm f4.0 zoom lens. Both were set to large, fine Jpeg and both were set to a color balance of 4,000K. 

The lighting in the smaller space is lower output which means lower shutter speeds and wider apertures than when I'm working in our premier theater. The walls and ceiling are also painted matte black so there is no reflection to provide any additional fill light. Still, it wasn't a big problem. 

The image above is a 1:1 crop of the image just below. This image was taken with the 50mm f1.4 lens, stopped down to f1.6. Not bad. You are looking at a small crop of a file that was downsized to 2200 pixels on the long side for Blogger. The original Jpeg file yields distinct, individual beard stubble and dramatically defined eyelashes. The lens and camera together constitute a formidable image tool. I think the lens might actually be worth the $2,300 asking price.....


Jimmy from behind. 

I wouldn't normally include an image of someone's back but this photo fulfills two objectives; it shows just how sharp the 24-105mm f4.0 lens is when used at maximum aperture ( you can see the threads and weave pattern in his sweater and the thread stitching on his jeans) but it also show the resistance to a bright, direct light source that appears in the scene itself. While there is an artifact to the right side of the frame and there is a bit of contrast lowering around the light the contrast and detail are impressive considering that the image was capture at the widest apertures of the zoom lens, used handheld. Works for me. 

Just a random set of observations about last night's paid job. New cameras and lenses make me sit on the edge of my seat until I'm certain that everything will work out.....

Loving the spate of holiday plays!!!!! Ready to see my favorite holiday movie, "Love Actually." 

Do you have a favorite holiday movie? List it. Thanks!

11.26.2019

I had lunch with a fellow photographer today so I brought along the Lumix S1 and the 50mm f1.4 S Pro. My friend brought a handful of cameras as well.


I saw a film about W. Eugene Smith, the incredible Life Magazine/Magnum photographer who was at the top of the game in the late 1940s through the 1950s. The documentary movie is called, "Jazz Loft" and is available on Amazon Prime Video. The two things that were most striking to me were, 1. The almost insane level of commitment of Smith to his craft and his photographs. The man worked nonstop; constantly shooting, developing and printing his work. One peer who was interviewed told the story of Smith going through a box of 250 sheets of photographic paper to get one perfect print with which he was satisfied. 

He would work on projects for months, sometimes for years, shooting tens of thousands of rolls of black and white film. Ultimately, he abandoned his family to concentrate 100% of his time on his work. The movie also incorporates the story of the Jazz improvisations and jam sessions that took place in the NYC building he lived and worked in, and talks about his passion for making audio recordings of.....everything.

The second most striking point to me, in looking at the large number of images done by Smith that the filmmakers present to the audience, is the superb technical and aesthetic qualities of the images. He was routinely working under dim lighting conditions; shooting jazz sessions that lasted all through the night. Looking at the edge print of the film he was using shows a mix of Plus-X and Try-X black and white film. The former had an ISO of 125 while the later was 400. Given the quality of the lenses available in the 1950's and the fact that for many of the images he almost certainly had to be working wide open I found myself thinking that even with the best of the modern gear we have available I have yet to see work that surpasses his technical shooting abilities. 

And remember, this is way before auto focus, saving stuff in PhotoShop, or even having auto exposure. And yet the work is uniformly great. No zoom lenses either. He is often shown with three cameras with three different focal length lenses on them, hanging off his shoulder and his neck, positioned for quick access --- the old school way of "zooming." (Maybe this is why "old school" photographers still feel a phantom need to use multiple camera bodies....). 

Here we are, surrounded by the latest technologies in cameras, able to make up for massive problems in post processing, gifted with cameras that shoot at 6400 ISO and above, and yet only a tiny handful of people seem to be able to make anything decent, photographically, with all that implied progress. Sad, in a way...

While I won't be leaving my family and dedicating all working hours to shooting and printing I was moved by Smith's laser-like focus and walked away from the film recommitting to the original passion I had for shooting my own work as well and as often as I can. 

To that end I brought my camera to lunch today. My lunch companion trumped me by bringing three cameras! We spoke about the state of photography for a good while. It was interesting to go back to such an important "mile marker" in the history of photography and to make it a current topic of discussion. I highly recommend setting aside one hour and twenty six minutes to broaden your perception of what could be accomplished so well in our field already nearly 70 years ago....

One thing my lunch mate pointed out, and which I believe to be very true, is that there were so many fewer distractions in Smith's time. No social media, no continuous and instantly breaking news, in fact, no television at all. A person's immersion into any field then could go on uninterrupted for periods of time that would seem impossible today. And mostly to our loss. 

Ah well. Here are a couple more images from lunch at El Mercado on S. First St. All shot at f1.4.

A mystery camera makes an appearance. 


11.25.2019

There's a powerful argument to be made that the most effective, minimal system would consist of just on Lumix S1 body and the 24-105mm f4.0 Lumix lens... It's pretty self-contained.

The buying philosophy I seem to adhere to...

Not really an oppressive package to haul around. The kit lens is lighter than it looks. 

Love being able to go from wide (above) to tight (below) without a lens change. 




Nothing really amazing but when I blow stuff up and become a pixel peeper in Photoshop I am impressed by the sharpness and resolution of the 24-105mm lens. Maybe I should have just stopped there?

Some samples from the Sigma 20mm f1.4 Art lens when used on the Panasonic Lumix S1. Nothing very formal. No tripod required.


I've been photographing as a career for decades, have written a number of books about technical aspects of photography and also do it as a hobby. But I'm still trying to learn how to use ultra-wide angle lenses better. I know, we're supposed to put stuff in the foreground, etc. but my brain just doesn't see the logical answers to the visual puzzle with so much going on in the frame. But I bought one of those lenses wide angle lenses anyway. And now I'm trying to learn enough tricks to rationalize working with one. It's by no means my first wide angle but regardless of pedigree or specs the wide view still leaves me cold. Tips always welcome. 

Anyway, here are the wide images I shot on my walk around the lake and through downtown today. Maybe we can salvage something?  It is sharp and I don't see any real issues.... but.....

















Not sure why but Studio Dog sure hates bath time!

I try to get her all dried off after a bath but she prefers to run to this chair and sink into 
the rear cushion for a while. Such a look. All over a twice monthly bath....

I have no idea why she's so averse to a bath. She's generally rolled around in something suspect nearly everyday but I resist the urge to clean her up unless she smells badly or the CFO or Junior creative director suggest that "now would be a good time."  Why this chore/privilege never falls to one of them continues to mystify me, even after 11 years of tenure with America's smartest and best canine (although I am certain that yours is very, very close behind...). 

We use the finest dog shampoo. Her bath water is precisely regulated for temperature, alkalinity and softness. Her Turkish bath towels are ultimately absorbent yet soft as a puppy's tongue. I turn up the heat in the house to 74 degrees. I try to schedule baths on warm afternoons, and yet, nothing seems to mollify her. She hides before the bath and then rampages up and down the long hallway for a while afterwards until finally settling down, grudgingly accepting a treat, and then spending the rest of the day vacillating between looking haughty and outraged or waif-ish and victimized. 

Doesn't matter. If the CFO says, "bathe the dog!" the dog gets bathed. I wonder who handles this when I'm out of town on a job?



So, What ended up in the camera bag (metaphorically speaking) when the dust settled?


Engagement scene from "Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre.

If you've read the last two blog posts you've discovered that I capriciously purged all of my cameras and lenses, accumulated over the years, and replaced them with the new Lumix S system from Panasonic. By way of disclosure: I don't know anyone at Panasonic. I am not being paid or entertained or junketed by them, their agents or affiliates. I paid for the new gear in the most old fashioned way possible, at retail, at a local, bricks-and-mortar camera store, and for the full asking price. I did ask for a discount but was gently rebuffed.

I am not an Ambassador, a Visionary (although I reserve the right to think of myself as a visionary) Explorer of the Light or a professional hanger on of any sort. Nor am I enough of an influencer to qualify for open ended equipment "loans." Just a lone, professional photographer trying to hammer out a meek and meager existence taking photographs... That's enough legal mumbo-jumbo, now on to the fun stuff...

What's spread across the office desk in the aftermath of the cathartic gear recharge? (I already know the floor is cluttered with boxes and manuals, I've been "instructed" by the CFO to "neaten up the space...).

There are two Lumix S1 cameras, both upgraded with the V-Log firmware. I bought these as a pair because twenty years of shooting theater and event photos informs me that the most productive way to shoot time sensitive events is with a wide to standard zoom lens on one body and a standard to telephoto zoom on the other. Match the bodies for less post production color grading, and less operational resistance caused by having to know the different procedures and different menus in two different models or system cameras. 

There is one S1R camera (the 47 megapixel model) to satisfy my current idea of returning to the avid making of portraits in a cropped, square format. Mostly in black and white. The rampant, extra pixels give me the leeway to crop and still end up with a big, juicy file to play with. I'm currently trying to get my black and white look locked down just right but that's going to take some time and experimenting (which is part of the fun, not a "con.").

That's it for camera bodies. I did buy one battery grip for those times when you end up shooting all day and don't want to stop to change batteries. I also bought four extra batteries for... you know... just in case. 

Both the "video" bodies have a big V90 SD card in the top slot and a big XQD card in the bottom slot. They are fully ready for our first new video project!

The "big" camera (they are all the same camera body, I mean the one with the extra pixels...) just has two 128 Gb V90 SD cards in its slots. 

That's it for "real" cameras in the studio. It's the lowest number of cameras I have owned since starting in photography over forty five years ago. I'm cheating though; I still have a Canon G10 camera that I use when I need something small, light and retro but can't find my phone....

I've kept the lenses pretty simple as well. I have the three original Panasonic Lumix S lenses: the 24-105mm f4.0 (which I think every owner should have = it's pretty great) as well as the 70-200mm f4.0 Pro S lens (yes, it says, "Leica Certified" on the bottom of the lens barrel) and the ponderous but beautiful 50mm f1.4 Pro S.  I have supplemented these lenses with a few more lenses from Sigma's L-mount Art line. Just two. The 20mm f1.4 (for those times when I still imagine myself to be a generalist who will need to document the inside of someone's new office building or water treatment plant) and the 85mm f1.4 because it's probably the best portrait lens in the world and, according to ALL reviews, is better and higher performing than the Zeiss Otus 85mm, at about one quarter the price. I've already used it for several portraits and it delivers as advertised. ( it is the gateway lens for Sigma; if one is willing to take up a power lifting regimen to prepare for using the lens off tripod...). 

The final two lenses for the system are rather pedestrian but vital. The important one, at least for me, is the Sigma 45mm f2.8 "normal" lens which is one of the few L-mount lenses available that allows the S1 cameras to pose as "walk-around" cameras. The lens is small, light and more than sharp enough and it makes the whole package of camera and lens manageable for walks that last hours at a time. A perfect counterpoint to the 85mm f1.4 which might be the least "walk friendly" lens I've owned (outside of huge, fast lenses like the Nikon 300mm f2.8 I used to take to swim meets...). 

The final "arrow in the quiver" is the old (from the film days) 50mm f1.7 Contax lens that I use on the new cameras courtesy an L-mount to Contax Y/C adapter. It also makes the system package manageable for ambulation while delivering, at all rational apertures, a very nice image. Since I already owned the lens it's basically a free, normal back up for those times when I irrationally crave getting my hands all over the focusing ring and aperture ring.... Plus it's a reminder that even back in the film days much of the technology of imaging was already quite good. 

Finish off with a TTL proficient speedlight from Godox and that's the entirety of the system. Nothing wildly long, nothing too wide. Just a bunch of tried and true focal lengths backed up with some state of the art optical design work. And three bodies that work the way I like them to. 

We'll see how long I can keep the desire to add more lenses at bay. I give it about a month and a half. But I'll tell you right now, if a prosumer body with a lower price tag and lighter weight gets announced I reserve the right to pounce on it. 

So, when you add it all up it's not an outrageous amount of cameras and lenses. Just the right amount for work, and put together this time with more of an eye to some studio work and more thoughtful work from a big tripod. 

Just thought you'd want to know what's in-house. This is the first week of the new adventure. 

Also; re-launching the entire business. But that's another story. 

It's a beautiful day for a walk in Austin. I'm cancelling a meeting and putting on my walking shoes. Real life can wait.

11.24.2019

A first portrait with the new system.

Belinda
Lumix S1R camera
Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art lens
shot square.

the eye detect works so well... even with people wearing glasses.

Feeling chained to a system that's no longer working for you?

Roderick Sanford as "The Ghost of Marley" in the Zach Theatre Production of Christmas Carol. 

I've been having fun transitioning between a chaos of multiple brands of cameras and a clean, orderly drawer with just enough cameras in it to do what I want to do. Stuff changes all the time. If you don't have the budget to change it's certainly not mission critical to do so. The most important things in photography are creative vision and intention, everything else follows along.

But if you can swing it and you've got the right clients changing systems can give one the feeling that you are keeping up with technology and that the technology will better serve your vision; even if it's not the most important part of the business.

I have a twinge of regret moving on from any system. The Fuji equipment is really nice and the video in the X-T3 is wonderful. I like most of their lenses as well. Before that the Panasonic G9s I used, along with the Olympus Pro zoom lenses were just sublime. In fact, of all the cameras I've shot, the camera-ness of the G9 was head and shoulders above the rest for physical handling and things like focusing. The Pentax felt like the last of the traditional DSLR generation...

But I'm interested to see a few things with the S1 and S1R cameras. With the S1 I'm hoping for a more interesting look in video while with the S1R, with its bountiful resolution, I'm looking forward to shooting it in the same way I used to shoot medium format film. Nice and square! And the newest generation of high resolution sensors doesn't falter when cropped to 1:1. The files are still over 30 megapixels.

I made a portrait today and it was satisfying to use the 85mm f1.4 Sigma Art lens on an S1R in square mode. What I ended up with is beyond pleasing and feels to me as though we're circling back to the look I worked so hard to get in the film days. Now I just have to get the black and white adjustments elevated in PhotoShop.

Yes, we purged all other cameras to the walls. Yes, I bought a carefully selected little collection of Lumix S bodies and lenses (and batteries and fast memory cards) but no one will go without shoes here. I swear.