Ever set time aside to take jaunt through your own photographs? I like to do so when I'm working on a new style, a new project or a new book of images.

Determined young swimmer at a swim meet.
Belinda in Verona.

The USMS Short Course Nationals. Austin, Texas. 2007.

Same as above. 

Alanis Morrisette, in concert in Austin, Texas
Leica M3+50mm Summicron.

An old favorite camera; consigned to history, coupled with an 85mm Cine lens.
A camera from that too short era when Sony made really fun cameras.
You know, before they made crappy cameras with good sensors inside.

Heidi patiently posing for book #2.
Minimalist Guide to Studio Lighting.

Studio Dog in repose. On green screen.

from an earlier "Janis" play.

also from an earlier "Janis" play. 
Jet Age.

S. Korean Photographer in a Chinese restaurant in Berlin, Germany. 

End of day bike commute. 

the formative camera for B. Just right for her...OM1

Ben looks into the 35mm Summicron on an M6.
At Asti Trattoria in Austin, Texas.

Kirk working the Samsung booth at Photo Expo, NYC, in 2013.

The Sigma fp was not my first rodeo with a "finder only" camera. 
Do you recognize the Pentax K-01?
It was actually a very good picture taking machine....

Austin Children's Museum. Hands on. All the time.

What last week's academy award winner looked like in 1991....
And below. 

Bad Cappuccino. 

Young Genius at work. His own early workstation in his father's office. 
Never too early to start them on bad work habits. 

Lou. One of my favorite magazine covers.

A freezing afternoon in Paris.

lecturing to a small group of photographers at UT Austin.

B. Person with whom I have celebrated the last 40 Valentine's Days.

Shooting Samsung. One of the few photographers in the world to own 
a Samsung Galaxy NX camera....
Out on the back porch.

Noellia on the banks of Barton Springs.

Jana, on our "get to know you" photo shoot. 
She's the face of my LED Lighting book. 

Michelle looking fabulously elegant.

The opening of Zach's Topfer Theatre.
Meredith McCall.


Favorite camera ever?

A commenter named, Ray, asked me if there were cameras I regretted buying. I responded, honestly, that I never (rarely) regret having bought a camera but I do regret selling a few of them. When I look back at some of the images I was able to take with the Sonya99 I wince just a little about letting it go. 

But rather than focus on regrets I feel like celebrating the cameras I've had that I really liked. I'll keep it to digital otherwise we'd be here all day.

My top ten: 

Kodak DCS760. Nothing above ISO 100 please; and if possible let's keep it at ISO 80...but the colors (see above). 

Nikon D610.

Nikon D700.

Panasonic G9.

Olympus E-1.

Fuji XH-1.

Sony R-1.

Sony RX10-3.

Canon 5Dmk2.

Sony Nex-7.

If you want to play along let me know your favorite digital cameras in the comments. It was actually a fun exercise for me trying to nail down not which cameras were the absolute best from a technical point of view rather, the ones I had the most fun shooting and got the best results from because they were friendly enough and competent.



I don't know why I ever, ever take reviews on the web seriously. And yes, I do get the irony of writing that here. I'd like to address C-AF and the Lumix S1 camera.

Lou. ©Kirk Tuck.

I've read and heard over and over again that the Lumix S1 camera is "flawed" because it just isn't competitive with XXX or YYY camera when it comes to continuous focusing or face detection focusing when used for video. I almost believed it because, as in politics, a lie told over and over again starts to become "true." There is a story in the photo and video marketplace that says Sony rules the continuous autofocus performance race in video. The other prevailing story is how awful the Panasonic Lumix S1 is in the same contest. I've used various Sony cameras for video and experienced foreground and background pulsing as the camera changes focus quickly, over and over again. I've also experienced my share of low light hunting with them. In fairness the last model I used was the A7Rii but it did use PD AF....

Well. Maybe I just got the only good Lumix S1 sold in north America but my experiences yesterday confirm to me that the consensus on the web is unmitigated, mindless, fabrication or out and out laziness. Let me explain...

When I bought the two S1 cameras I shoot with I decided not to care whether or not the camera was a quick and accurate focusing machine for video. Most of the video I've done over the years (about 90% of it) has been done in manual focus for one reason or another. I learned to shoot motion stuff with my own Bolex Rex 5, 16mm film movie camera and its lovely companion, the Angenieux 12-120mm zoom lens. There was absolutely no way to shoot that rig in any other way but manually. And the small and gritty finder one used to attain sharp focus was no great shakes so one really had to be on their game to nail sharp focus. Moving subjects? One did a rehearsal with the subject of the film and marked different "focus marks" at different critical distances on the lens barrel. When the subject moved from one mark to the next the camera operator moved the lens from one focus mark to another. It worked. 100 years of Hollywood film production serve to prove the process works. 

I tried the autofocus on the Lumix for regular photography and found it to be very good for the way I operate. Yes, there's some wobble if you use C-AF and a faster frame rate but the focus itself has always worked fine for me. But until yesterday I never tried using the C-AF or the eye detect AF with video production. And, having read the usual incorrect and overblown crap on various websites (big and small) I thought I'd be giving it a try and quickly retreating to the proven MF methods I've learned. 

First, let me tell you the context. 

I was asked by the folks at our regional theatre, Zach Theatre, to help them promote a very good, one person production of "Every Brilliant Thing." It's a play about a boy who tries to help his depressed mother by creating a list of all the things that make life wonderful and worth living. I'm assuming from the title that the playwright is British... 

The marketing team decided that it would be a fun bit of social media advertising to create a video, or a series of short videos, asking random people around Austin, Texas: What makes them happy? What makes their day special? What small pleasures make life extra good for them? What are their favorite things? 

We'd be moving quickly and carrying all my gear along with us. We'd go from office to office, and from exterior location to exterior location, without any crew. No DP, no grips, no sound guy, no production assistant to fetch coffee and take notes, no make-up person to slow down our process. And no pre-casting; we depended on our charming personalities to enlist total strangers to our cause. And it worked!

But, that brings me to the reason I tried out the continuous AF in the video mode for this project. I had the camera on a Benro monopod, with an S6 video head. I was using the Lumix S1 camera along with the DMW-XX audio interface so I could use physical knobs to control audio levels. We used a reporter microphone which our marketing director wielded and I had a very small, Aputure LED light in the cold show of the audio interface unit. I was trying to juggle maintaining good composition and good audio in fairly close-up shots and I thought that if I could outsource the task of focusing to the camera it would be a lot easier for me to get everything else right too.

Our first shot was done outside on a very overcast day that came complete with flurries of rain and bits of wind. I put the camera in face detect AF mode and composed my shot. I used the touch screen to touch the face of the person on the screen so the AF would know where I wanted to start. The little yellow boxes leaped into action, found my subject's eyes and locked in like a dog with stolen bacon.

The first interviewee moved forward and backward and from side to side. The background was lighter than the subject. The camera wasn't rock steady (intentional) but the take away from this first test was that the camera never lost focus, never hunted and never pulsed between foreground and background. There was no focus jitter and no sense that the camera was compulsively refocusing in any unwanted way. In fact, it was focusing exactly the same way an experienced focus puller would have performed the same task only the camera was smoother. Emboldened by our first success I kept using the video AF for the next two hours. We interviewed 38 people and did something like 55 clips. I've examined each clip in Final Cut Pro X, on an iMac Pro 5K screen, and in each clip the eyelashes of my subjects are crisp and perfectly defined. 

At first I thought that the good performance of the C-AF in video was just because we started outside and the light was bright enough to be using ISO 200 with a 180 degree shutter (1/60th) at 30fps with a f4.0 aperture. I thought, given all the horrendous misinformation on the web, that when we headed into the darker offices of the next interviewees we'd selected the much lower light would cause the autofocus to hunt and peck like a starving chicken. 

One of the locations we shot video in was an office with minimal lighting and closed window blinds. To maintain the same video exposure triangle I outlined above I had to raise the ISO to 6400 (which is actually not a big deal with the S1 as it's a pretty clean ISO for video...).  The camera and lens showed the same smooth tenacity in focusing as they had in ISO 200 quality lighting. 

When we headed to the pedestrian bridge to downtown to recruit new subjects I looked a bit comical as I trailed along behind the marketing director and the social media expert with my rig nestled on top of a stout monopod. I had headphones around my neck as we walked over to the next location and I kept the reporter style microphone in my back pocket. I didn't want to disconnect stuff since we had a bit of mist to contend with from time to time but I also didn't want the marketing director to carry the mic in case she got distracted and inadvertently tested the length of the XLR cable. And the structural integrity of the cable to audio interface connection.

So now I'm curious where the other reviewers of this gear get their results. Do they actually put a lens on the camera and point it at something or do they just parrot what the guy before them said in his basement vlog? I think it's embarrassing for the industry and ruins the overall credibility of camera reviews. 

In addition to rock solid interview autofocus I have to say that the footage directly out of camera, with no color grading and no processing, is wonderful. We shot 1080p since the final use of the content will be on social media and will, overwhelmingly, be enjoyed on much smaller screens that the ones we're editing on. With the paid video upgrade for the S1 I was able to make video at 1080p that was both 10 bit and 4:2:2 color space. It's a bit rate of 100 mbps. I think it looks beautiful. Just beautiful. 

Here's a short clip:

Zach Interviews from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

If I could change anything in our very impromptu interview it would have been to add more front light so I could bring down the sky exposure. With that said my waveform tells me we're not burning out highlight detail. I guess I could reduce the highlights and increase the shadows but that might mess with the overall skin tone. It's always a compromise; either shadows and highlights or access versus production time. At least I know I chose the right camera for the job.


Packing for a "Person in the street" video assignment.

I'm going out today to do some impromptu video snippets to support a new play at Zach Theatre; "Every Brilliant Thing."  We're a crew of three; the marketing director, who will ask random people on the street questions about joyous things in life, her in-house social media manager (and aspiring videographer) and myself. I'm bringing the gear and running the camera.

I've packed a Lumix S1 with its 24-105mm f4.0 lens, the XLR microphone accessory, some XLR cables in various lengths, and a Rode Reporter microphone. Why not lavaliere mics? Why not a shotgun mic?

My choice of camera is easy to explain: it's the best video/hybrid camera I have in stock and the upgraded video performance from the paid unlock gives me a nice 1080p choice with 10 bits and 4:2:2 color. It's an All-I codec so it won't stress the social media manager's computer as he pummels the footage into shape in Adobe Premiere.

The lens choice is straightforward; it's a very nice, sharp lens with a wide range of focal lengths and a very good dose of image stabilization built-in. The lens I.S. also works with the I.S. in the camera body for extra stabilization. The combination of I.S. features makes the camera (almost) like a gimbal with no gimbal. I can use the lens wide open without any fear of unsharpness. And I can handhold for short takes without too much human-inspired jitter.

Just in case I decide to have too much coffee on the way to the gig I'm bringing along a monopod with a fluid head and chicken foot for stability.

So, back to the microphones. Why an old style reporter mic?

Well, there's a reason newscasters out on location still use them. They are extremely rugged and also water resistant but the compelling feature is that an omni-directional microphone like the Rode Reporter is really good at picking up sound that's very close by and then it's ability to pick up other audio falls off very, very rapidly (inverse square law to the rescue) which helps to isolate the sounds you want and reject the background noise that you don't.

A less apparent but no less important consideration is that you don't need to attach the microphone to the person's clothing like you would a lav. This means interviews, and the subsequent separation from the person being interviewed, can be quick and efficient. Unlike a shotgun microphone that has to be well aimed to perform at its best a reporter microphone offers much more latitude in placement. Just get the business end within about 12 inches for the person's mouth and you're golden.

Finally, a reporter microphone can cover both sides of an interview: the interviewer and the interviewee. You need only move the mic back and forth between the two, depending on who is speaking.

A bonus is that a good quality reporter's mic is usually less than $150.

It's raining outside today but the folks I am working with are clever and resourceful. I think we'll have fun.

Industrial Strength Imaging. Hardware.

I was playing around with the Sigma fp today and decided to give the monochrome setting a try. In a sub-menu there are settings for sharpness and contrast that can be set just for that profile. Additionally, there is a "tone" button on the rear of the camera that gives you the opportunity to create custom curves that work on all the profiles. I tried combinations of both setting banks and ended up with some interesting stuff. 

These images were shot with the Sigma fp + 45mm f2.8 lens. I tried a different approach today and instead of working close to wide open I worked closer to stopped down. Most of the shots done today were executed at f8 and f11. It required a bit more camera supervision to make sure I stayed within the realm of hand-hold-ability but that's okay; I wasn't moving too fast. 

I'm happy with the way the stuff turned out...


Walking in the rain with a camera.

©2020 Kirk Tuck
"Zach Theatre; the Topfer Stage."

Sigma fp

Evening in Austin. Heading back home with my little Sigma fp in my hands.

I took off the magnifier and the other attachments, left the heavy lenses at home and went for a walk with just the basic Sigma fp body and the 45mm f2.8 Sigma lens. It was fun. The camera is small and discreet. The lens is tactilely magnificent. And the color from the camera generally makes me very happy. 

After four days in a row of fast swimming, including an early workout this morning, a long, slow observational walk was just the thing. I think of long walks after hard swims as being recovery walks. The camera in hand makes for a good excuse to stop and examine every little thing. 

We've got interesting weather here right now. It's warm-ish (70's) and rainy and that's the forecast all the way through Wednesday. Tomorrow we're supposed to do "man in the street" video interviews for the theater but I'm thinking  that's going to turn into "man/woman in coffee shops" interviews instead. 

I'm using a Lumix S1 that's been upgraded with the video firmware unlock. Not because I want to use V-Log but because the unlock also gives me many other good codecs to choose from. Tomorrow it's my plan to use a 1080p, All-I setting since the final results will end up on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. A really clean and sharp 1080 should be just right. 

Why not use the Sigma fp for this? No headphone jack! That's right, it's a high performance video camera that doesn't come with a headphone jack. I guess that's what the Ninja Inferno is for.... We can take a headphone signal right off the external digital audio recorder (as long as we shoot into an Atomos). Not sure how we'll monitor audio when I'm ready to plug in an SSD and try out the Raw video settings....

I'll worry about that when it becomes an issue. For now I'm using up the Sigma fp mostly because I like the way it makes photographs. 
Click on the images to see them bigger.

Playtime. Dusk. The Pedestrian Bridge. The Little Sigma FP and its 45mm.

©2020 Kirk Tuck