12.01.2019

Camera reality check. Go back 10 years and see what a point and shoot camera of that era can do. Even with a CCD sensor.....

The steps to the Topfer Theatre at Zach Theatre campus.

I gave myself a Sunday afternoon challenge....

I've been buying state-of-the-art cameras lately as if my photographic existence depended upon them. Just a few days ago I went over the top (even by my standards) and ordered a second Lumix S1R body. Can you blame me? If you've been shooting with one (along with the Lumix S Pro lenses....) you know just how good that camera can be, and it's that good without having to wait for all the stars to line up correctly. But do you really need to hemorrhage money to get decent photographs? Is it mandatory or just pathological? Yes, I know what the financially prudent among my readers will say.... no mystery there. 

But is it all about the gear?  Naw. While it's fun to buy cool stuff, and to see stuff come out of the camera files onto your computer screen that only a year or two ago would have taken your breath away I started to wonder just how far cameras have really come. Or do we just remember our older cameras in a pessimistic and dismissive way as a adaptation of our new camera rationalizations?

So, here was my Sunday challenge for today: I hunted through the studio to find my oldest and crappiest(?) digital camera still remaining in inventory. I would take that camera out for a walk through part of downtown and see just how many decent shots I could get in one hour. I would use no tripod, no filter, no fancy (first aid) post processing and no attachments of any sort. I would use the camera only in its Jpeg setting but I'd give it a fighting chance to do okay by using the camera's highest quality Jpeg setting. 

The only extra help I gave the camera was to intercede on white balance and to step in an adjust overall exposure with exposure compensation when I disagreed with what I was seeing on the small and primitive rear screen. 

I did not pick a ten year old, full frame DSLR with some esoteric lens. Nor did I pick some (for that time period) state of the art APS-C camera with a cherry-picked optic either. Nope, with the exception of the S1s and the S1Rs, the only other digital camera I have left in the entire office/studio/or house is a Canon G10. It was introduced in 2008. It has a very small, CCD sensor and it coughs up files of about 14.7 megapixels. It did not achieve parity with the most recent VSL acquisition; the Lumix S1R. 

I charged the battery for the G10 about a month ago and was happily surprised to see that the camera still registered a full charge. I outfitted it with a 16 megabyte, class 10 SD card and set the ISO for 80. My experience informed me that going much about 100 ISO would make the camera work that much harder....

I parked at Zach Theatre and headed across the beautiful pedestrian bridge and into downtown proper. If I shot in full sun I changed the WB to the sun icon. If something was in open shade I chose to shoot in "cloudy" and if I was inside in mixed light I just punted and went with AWB. I chose (as I almost always do with every camera...) to use the center focusing point and to use S-AF. 

It's important with these smaller sensor cameras to be a bit sensitive to diffraction effects caused by stopping down too much so I tried to stay as close to wide open as I could with the 28-140mm equivalent lens. When I got back to the studio and looked at my take on the computer monitor I was a bit shocked to see just how nice I thought the files were. The two major fixes I did use in Lightroom's develop panel were the camera profile (which corrects for vignetting and lens distortion) and the check box that fixes chromatic aberrations. 

I shot for one hour, took a break for one of my favorite downtown lunches (grilled Cuban sandwich and Iggy Pop coffee at the Royal Blue Grocery, right across the street from Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop (owned by Lance Armstrong...) and then headed back home the same way I came. 

While the G10 won't compete when it comes to dropping backgrounds out of focus or making huge files or giving me noise free files at high ISOs it certainly does a great job when you use it in the envelope of  opportunity in which it excels. Shoot these small cameras in great light and with good operational technique and you'll be a bit surprised that your newest Sony, Nikon or Panasonic camera isn't really that much better. And then you'll remember that you dropped twelve grand or so on your new system but you bought the G10 from a friend for a couple hundred bucks.... Sobering, no?

Anyway, you'll have your own opinion about the quality of the files but I won't hesitate to bring the G10 out with me if I'm on task with something secondary to photography but not comfortable leaving the home base camera naked. It's always fun to shock oneself with a bit of reality therapy. We'll see how long that lasts...

The one thing I have to admit is that I find it fun to challenge myself by using a very old, low spec, used camera to take images. You really do have to tighten up any sloppy technique if you want the machine to shine. Maybe the extra care and concentration on optimization I apply to the G10 will transfer to my work with the cameras that aren't on the edge.....  Kind of like doing a closed fist drill in swimming and then being amazed when you can go back to swimming with your open hands.....



Click on the images to see them bigger!







The red and green are perfect, color-wise. CCD? 






 A menu simple enough that even I can handle it...













I think the dynamic range is just fine!


































11.29.2019

I spent some time a week ago photographing some new material for Esther's Follies. They have a new cast member. She's great!!!

Chelsee J. On a magical apparatus. Part of her performance is assisting with 
Ray Anderson's magic.....

I love photographing theater. Especially good, funny, topical theater. Like the kind I find at Esther's Follies, on Sixth St. in Austin, Texas. I've been photographing for Esther's Follies for a couple of decades and a recent book published about the incredibly talented troupe is filled with my photographs from over the years. https://www.esthersfollies.com

The cast at Esther's Follies does hilarious political satire and comedy (nailing both sides of the aisle) and, for as long as I've been going there a big draw is an irreverent but wonderful magic act by renowned magician (seriously: internationally famous!) Ray Anderson. 

When he does his feats of magic he calls on the services of one of the glamorous cast members to serve as his assistant. Chelsee J. is his able assistant these days. She gets chopped in half, defies gravity, is levitated out of a pool and much more. Since she's a recent recruit I got to make some images of her (Above and Below) along with our regular show documentation. . 

Photo assignments at Esther's are the antithesis of many Zach Theatre shoots. At Zach I mainly shoot in a documentary style during a technical or dress rehearsal (or both). I don't do any lighting and we don't set up shots at the rehearsals (we might do set ups in a separate session....). At Esther's I drop by and set up three or four lights (generally electronic flash mono-lights into generous umbrellas) and we run through fun set-up shots that showcase the current skits, gags, magic, and ample song & dance. 

We give the flashes a real, old fashioned workout; sometimes shooting six or seven hundred shots during an afternoon session. 

Last week I photographed everything with one Lumix S1 camera and the 24-105mm f4.0 Lumix S lens. The combination worked perfectly and the AF never missed a shot. 

I love going back and forth between the theaters. Keeps me from getting rusty, or too complacent with one style or the other. If you come to Austin you owe it to yourself to catch a show at Esther's Follies. Soft-brained liberal or cold-hearted, cruel conservative? Doesn't matter = you'll leave with a big smile on your face, certain that the other side got it worse....


Funny sometimes to go and look at the analytics to see what posts from the past are trending on any particular day. Like one of my favorites from 2011....

From today's walk through downtown and around the lake...

but here is the post from 2011.


I was so much smarter then....

Walking in a soft, Fall rain with a camera and an old lens. Getting wet is part of the process. Makes you appreciate getting warm and dry....

This is the view of downtown from the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge just west of downtown proper. 

We had a lovely Thanksgiving and I hope you did too. But after spending a lot of time socializing it's nice to spend a bit of time doing some walking meditation with a camera. Even if it is raining and a bit chilly. 

Natives like to think of Austin as a first tier city where everything is super-cool and something outrageously fun is always happening, but I'm here to tell you that it was like a ghost town in downtown the day after Thanksgiving. I walked through about two miles of tall buildings and shorter shops and only saw a few dozen people out on the streets. Well, a few dozen in addition to the homeless. 

I did a few assignments earlier in the week which involved people and some lifestyle and I got a lot of use out of my new ├╝ber lenses (the Panasonic S Pro 50mm and the Sigma 85mm Art) but on a walk through a quiet urban environment, wrapped on all sides by a gentle, misting rain, I thought a more subdued and understated lens would fit better. I reached across my chaotic desk and grasped my older 50mm Contax f1.7 lens and put it on the front of the S1R instead.

It's actually a good fit. Literally and figuratively. The cheap adapter seems to do the job just right and the lens is really pretty good at making photographs. Okay when used wide open but much, much better at f4.0 and f5.6. Still, in a side-by-side comparison the Lumix lens is like tech from an advanced civilization. Not that you'd really see much difference looking on a website...

The old, Carl Zeiss lens does one thing much better than the Lumix Pro S, it lightens your walk-around burden and makes the camera/lens package pretty perfectly sized for recreational imaging. For some reason I've warmed up to it on the S1R body more so than I have developed any affection for the Sigma 45mm f2.8. But I'll chalk that up to being more comfortable with a lens I've owned across years and camera systems rather than as a mark against the Sigma.

I didn't have a rain cover for the camera and lens but I tightened up the neckstrap so the camera would sit up under my left arm (I wear the strap on my left shoulder). My arm, in my voluminous hoodie, blocked most of the rain and mist and I also cover the top of the camera with my favorite bandana as an extra layer of protection. I understand that the camera is supposed to be splash resistant but the lens and adapter are bare and bereft of casketing and protective engineering so I'm loathe to take chances. No matter. It barely slows me down. 

I do love these kinds of days. It's one time at which all the dynamic range in the world is largely meaningless as the water in the atmosphere and the close cloud cover render the shadow/highlight ratio as 1:1. You won't really be worried about blowing highlights on a day like today...




Curious to hear if anyone (besides me) took advantage of the open box sale at B&H on the S1R. I paid $3700 for my first one so I couldn't resist dollar cost averaging and paying $1800-something for a second one. We'll see if "open box" is all it's cracked up to sometime in the middle of next week.... I hope that great return policy is still place. Just in case. 

It's a cold and rainy day in Austin, and I guess everywhere. A perfect time to check out the Die Transfer print sale over at Michael Johnston's site: theonlinephotographer.

Here's a link: https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2019/11/master-dye-transfer-print-sale-one-week-only.html

Michael's artist friend, Ctein (one name only; like "Cher") is a master die transfer print maker and photographer and he's selling off his collection (built over decades of hard work and mastery) of gorgeous prints on Michael's blog. A look through the work is a fun way to spend time on a post-Thanksgiving Friday. Sitting in front of a nice, warm monitor with a hot cup of coffee in your hands while taking in the results of what might have been the most beautiful print process every invented for color photography....now very rare.

Can you say, "collectible"?

I don't want to compete, visually, so I'm tossing up a black and white print here just to stay with my tradition of always putting a visual image in the blog post.

If you don't know Michael Johnston's site; https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/

You should. He's a great writer and one of the few writers on the web who understands both the art of photography, the art of art, and the art of writing about photographic art. His past experience also makes him a steady hand when it comes to discussing and dissecting cameras and (especially) the lure of lenses. Try his site. It's free. You'll thank me. He's a better writer than me but I hope you'll come back here, at least sporadically, after you've discovered his work, just to see what new camera system I might have changed to in the interim...

Seriously though, a sale of die transfer prints like this, by a master printer, is a rare thing and worth a look. Costs nothing to browse...

Here's my somber photograph from today's walk:


Ooops. I snuck in a second shot. (Below).
Both with a Lumix S1R and the adapted 50mm Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.7



https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2019/11/master-dye-transfer-print-sale-one-week-only.html

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!!!