An evening photograph. Walking across a bridge.

 Early Evening. Early Spring.

Sigma fp.

I had an interesting day today. I was at swim practice when I noticed a friend at one end of the pool looking "not right." I headed directly over and asked what was going on. He had a pain in the left side of his chest. It was a pain or pressure he'd never felt before. We hopped out of the pool while the rest of the swimmers continued their workout. We quickly got dressed and I got him into my car. We headed to the nearest ER. His EKG was abnormal, his blood pressure was sky high and the pain was not going away. He got stabilized, medicated and then transferred via ambulance to a cardiac center with more comprehensive resources and staff. With aspirin, morphine and a nitro patch as well as continuous monitoring, his EKG stabilized, his BP dropped back down to normal levels and blood test showed no troponin. According to the attending cardiologist he probably dodged a bigger problem. 

We're not sure what caused the symptoms yet. It was a tough swim practice but not that much different from usual. At any rate, it was a lesson re-learned for me: If you get a strange chest pain don't ignore it or hope that it will go away on its own. Get it checked out. And for goodness sake, if you are having chest pains don't drive yourself to the ER. 

I have every hope that my swim friend will be back in the pool in no time. We'll make sure he goofs off more and over-achieves less. Not everything in life needs to be a sprint...

A weird day for me as I didn't touch a camera all day long. We'll fix that tomorrow. 

Take care of your friends. They're gold.


Sigma fp + Sigma 45mm f2.8 go to the museum.

Fashion exhibit at the Bob Bullock/Texas History Museum.

It's all in the wrist.

Swim season is quickly approaching. Time to work on starts and turns with more diligence. Photo season is fast approaching, time to work on quicker technique.

Jennifer. Triathlete.

I'm sure you were dying to know this but the USMS (United States Masters Swimming) Short Course National Swim Meet is coming up in April in San Antonio, Texas. All members can sign up for as many as three events without having to meet qualifying times. You can sign up for up to five events if you have the qualifying times. The exception to the above is the 1650 yard race. You must have qualifying times to enter. It's done that way so that particular event doesn't go on forever. 

In shorter races so much depends on getting off the starting block as quickly as possible while avoiding the dreaded, "false start." We all need to constantly work on our starts. The 50 and 100 yard sprints are won and lost at the walls so we all need to be working on our flip turns, our streamlines off the walls, and our underwater dolphin kicks. Finally, you need to finish strong all the way to the wall. Finishing strong is critical.

If your turns suck you might want to find a good coach and work on them NOW. Trying to perfect a turn in a new pool on the day of the meet is a fool's errand. 

For more info on the event: 

Can't wait to see you all there! 

Photographers: Time to tune up for Spring photography. While the Corona virus is causing panic and havoc for many big events it shouldn't affect those noble souls walking through the streets of interesting cities and town with a camera in hand and intention in their brains. In fact, it's probably the best time to travel (by car) to major cities you've always wanted to photograph in because the hotel rates are already dropping faster than the Dow Jones average, and Open Table (online restaurant reservations) will probably go on vacation for the foreseeable future since there are ample open tables at even the finest restaurants. 

Here in Austin we hold an annual festival called SXSW. So far, in the last two weeks, nearly every major U.S. sponsor and exhibitor for the show (Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Intel, Amazon, etc.) has cancelled and will not be attending. Neither will their employees. With a local petition of 38,000 calling for the event to be cancelled Austin has all the earmarks of being a relative ghost town for two weeks. I wonder if wristbands will start being discounted and hotel room rates heavily reduced in price. 

I don't think the people who own the festival can take a full year's cancellation and stay in business so I hope it survives in some form this year. I'm on hold for three days of shooting for a corporate client beginning next Friday but I have a suspicion that I'll be getting a phone call just outside that 48 hour cancellation period telling me the gig has been cancelled. I'm fine with that since it means more time at the pool, at the half empty restaurants, and on the phone with suddenly un-busy clients.

Mindless Photo Workshops.  I saw a mindless ad for a laughable workshop on Instagram yesterday. The copy basically said: You are on assignment for a client. You are very excited about your assignment until you get to your location and find that the light there is ugly. What do you do? You can take Bob Smith's workshop that will teach you how to find beautiful natural light. 

WTF? If you are at the point in your career where you are accepting assignments, taking a client's money to produce photography for profit, and working on various locations then why in all that's holy don't you know how to use lights? Yes, available light can be great but after years of doing this and earning a good living at it I'll tell you straight up that not every location will have ANY beautiful, naturally occurring light. And then there's mixed light. And then there is darkness. And then there is good light with bad backgrounds, and even worse locations. And just because the light is best over there by the dumpsters doesn't mean the CEO of Super Corporation wants to stand next to a smelly dumpster to take advantage of that crucial spot of available light. 

If you are accepting a range of assignments from paying clients you need to put on your big boy pants and learn how to light with lighting instruments. Flashes, LEDs, movie lights, and so much more. Anything else is malpractice. Of course the ad was from a camera store and flashed on Instagram...

Doesn't anyone want to learn how to do the business correctly? Geesh. 

Michael Johnston doesn't understand Leica. MJ recently wrote something that was so (intentionally?) opaque about Leica, and the idea that most photographers don't like rangefinders, that it led me to believe his newest diet fad is causing him some light-headedness. 

I think the underlying issue is much the same as today's reader's response to the Sigma 45mm lens blog post (all lenses with the same focal length and aperture are commodities and interchangeable) which, reading into the comment was basically the question: "Why should I pay four times as much for the same thing?"  Short answer: Because all lenses of the same focal length do not supply the same results...

MJ is wearing his finances on his sleeve and it's spilling over into his writing about cameras. If we can only be interested in cameras that fit into a very narrow price band then this hobby, profession and industry is going to get even more boring and homogenous than ever before. 

Yes. I get it. Leica's are expensive. Very expensive. Not everyone can afford one. But that doesn't mean Leica shouldn't continue to try to be the best, to be different, to make a product that people who can afford it will love using and appreciate owning. It's like saying everyone should drive cars that cost between $24,000 and $36,000 and that anything outside the top of that range is meaningless, unattainable and wasteful; nothing but a ego purchase. (Don't get me started about MJ's outlier belief that people only buy SUVs because everyone else is driving an SUV...)

As I said, MJ was opaque and I couldn't tell where the honest opinion ended and the sarcasm began. 

Rangefinders are an acquired taste. In a small range of focal lengths rangefinders deliver a bunch of real benefits. They are not good for use with long telephoto lenses and the viewfinders aren't optimal for shorter lenses, but in that typically critical 35-90mm range they totally rock and are incredibly useful. 

Nope. A Leica M is not the camera you want to buy if you want to take tightly composed photos at your kid's soccer game. No, the M is not a great camera with which to do macro work. And, no, it's not good if you are one of those psychopaths who believe they need to shoot everything at 30 frames per second, all the time. But you can't pull stumps with a Miata, can't pull a horse trailer with your Vespa, shouldn't consider going off road with your Ferrari, etc. 

What Mike misses is that true photography, as the gods intended us to practice it, was invented to be done with a German designed 50mm lens on an M body with a nice, big finder magnification and a bright rangefinder. Everything else is just functional heresy. Oh, and having to take the bottom plate off the camera to load film was implemented by design; to give photographers a moment to cool off between shots....

Buy yourself a great, digital Leica M, become disgusted with your inability to learn how to use the rangefinder, sell it while in existential despair so I can buy it from you for a song. 

But not really. I'm waiting for the SL2 to become widely available. It's got all the hallmarks of a cult camera for the moment. That's the one I'm interested in.

That's all the opinionated vitriol I have for you right now. Stay tuned for a booster dose.


I get it. The Sigma fp is not for everyone. But I can't imagine why the 45mm f2.8 lens isn't... I liked it so much....

I know I'm becoming more eccentric by the minute but I have to confess that while the Panasonic cameras are wonderful professional tools if the studio was burning to the ground and I could only save one camera with which to document the tragic event that camera would be the Sigma fp. 

I know that many of you pride yourselves on being very, very rational human beings. You make decisions based on weighing the features and benefits. You read the spec sheets. You delve into the reviews. And then you go for the most practical product. But that's antithetical to the whole idea of art. And I certainly can't imagine you picked your spouse that way....

Embracing stuff that's imperfect because it's perfectly imperfect is probably the reason you can't explain why you love some stuff and other stuff leaves you blah. I'm a big fan of the Sigma fp precisely because it isn't perfect, it isn't mainstream and it certainly isn't "cookie cutter." I live by the Texas motto that the only thing in the middle of the road is a dead armadillo. 

And this carries over to my love of peculiar and differently abled lenses as well. I was shooting video with the Sigma fp at a fun job last week but also making photographs on the same project with a Panasonic S1. I loved the look and the angle of view I was getting from the Sigma 45mm f2.8 and I wanted the same sharp/soft mix on my S1 but I didn't want to stop and change lenses over and over again. So I defaulted to a 50mm f1.4 on the S1 and finished up the job. As soon as we wrapped I left the painful packing to a perky assistant, jumped in my car and rushed to the camera store to buy a second 45mm Sigma. The idea is that when you find a lens that grabs you by the amygdala and makes you grin like a wild man you should have it on both of your active shooting cameras. 

It also doesn't hurt to lay in a back-up copy of the lens you find yourself using the most. But, of course, that's crazy talk. Most people will be fine with one. Unless you really find yourself smitten.....

Why do I like it? Because the object itself looks gorgeous, it works perfectly, the images coming out of it look different and (to me) better than the more "perfect" lenses around that focal length, and because it's demure. If you shoot with Sony or L-mount you should give it a try. It's not going to win the test chart beauty pageant but is that how we need to be assessing lenses? Or people? Or anything? Naw, you want to equip yourself with things (and people) that bring you joy. This lens is one of those things.

Yes. Of Course. It's got a delightful aperture ring. 
 Third stop clicks come standard.
I took a bag full of Sigma Art lenses and Lumix S Pro lenses to a job today.
The lens I used for the entire morning was the inexpensive 45mm. 

 In the limelight.

Probably more important than the most righteous video codec (at least when it comes to sellable video) is getting your audio just right. Here's some gadgets to help your DSLR or ML camera along the path to better audio.

I worked, far in the past, as a creative director for an advertising agency. When we did commercials back then we used 35mm film and all audio was recorded separately and matched to the visual footage in post production. It was the same about a decade later when I bought a Rolex 16mm camera for personal work. There were crystal sync modules that applied a pilot signal to the audio and film to keep them on the same time lock but stuff like PluralEyes (an automatic audio-to-video matching app) didn't exist. Or, if they did most of us shooting movie film didn't know about them...

When we started working with video in conjunction with DSLR and mirrorless cameras one of the nice things was the ability to record audio right into the camera and have it locked in step to the video. Very nice. Except that early cameras were primitive and aimed at a non-professional market. The audio inputs were not balanced, not set up to work with professional microphones and, worst of all, the early cameras had built-in automatic audio level controls. They just weren't suited to pro work. To compound the problems, up until recently, the pre-amplifiers for microphones that were built into the cameras were kinda crappy. They were noisy and given to fits of unexplained audio rage. 

Eventually many of the early issues were sorted out but one issue dogs many of the cameras that are currently on the market; they have little 3.5mm TRS microphone jacks and they are set up for non-balanced inputs from consumer microphones that have a different output impedance than professional microphones. Trying to use pro microphones with little adapter cables gets the signal to the camera but it's usually a woefully bad signal that's plagued with noise and all kinds of aural issues. 

I think we've all pretty much come to the conclusion that clean, nice, happy audio is at least as important to the creation of pleasant and watchable video programming as is a decent visual file so this mismatch is a clutch point for many. 

A few years back I bought a decent (but not great) shotgun microphone that had its own internal amplification and it was powered by an internal battery. It was supposed to sound okay but it was a disaster if I plugged it into my digital camera by way of a plug adapter. It required a bunch of gain from the camera's pre-amplifiers and the sound was just... off. That's when I decided to do some research and understand what I was missing. It was all about the impedance mismatch. My camera was expecting to see something at one value but my microphone was hellbent on delivering a signal designed for a different, more professional input. Electrically speaking they were never going to be in a happy relationship without some sort of buffer in between them. Also, the balanced, three connector XLR connections, delivered in conjunction with shielded cables were important for reducing noise and intermittent glitches. What was needed was --- translation.

What I needed was not an additional pre-amp so much as a simple device that would use high quality transformers to convert the signal coming in through the XLR connectors to a signal that would make the inputs on my camera happy and more productive. I found that in a small and inconspicuous project from Beachtek called, the DXA-2T.  On one side are two XLR inputs. You can run long cable from your microphones to this box and plug them into real XLR plugs. The innards feature well crafted transformers that convert the signal from "pro" mic to "amateur" camera inputs. 

On the opposite side of the box is a single 3.5mm output that allows for a stereo or dual mono signal to be delivered to your "hybrid" camera's mic in plug. On one end are two click stopped knobs that allow you to pot down the output signals which gives you a certain amount of level control. The device is passive so it won't actively amplify your signals. You can turn stuff down but you can't turn stuff up...

This box allows me to take a signal from a microphone like the Rode NTG 4+ with its built-in in battery and amplifier and route it to my camera after "fixing" the signal to make it compatible with a typical camera input. Perfect for any brand of camera that doesn't offer its own audio interface. (Sony and Panasonic offer "active" adapters for use with some of their cameras....).  The DXA-2T is simple, has no moving parts, requires no maintenance and doesn't require batteries. So, I found the perfect audio interface, right?

Well.......for some stuff......but...
Once I got my camera and pro microphones to speak the same language, via the Beachteck, I was much, much happier with the sound quality I was getting from my system. But being the ever ready consumer I started to wonder if more expensive microphones might provide even better sound quality. This led me to microphones like the Diety from Aputure and the 416 from Sennheiser. Both are short shotgun microphones and both share one other thing, in order to work they require phantom power from an external source. The three wire configuration of XLR cables can provide a 48V from an audio interface or professional video camera which can power one of these microphones (be sure to check whether or not you need phantom power because applying it to a microphone that doesn't need it can fry the microphone's circuits...) but a plug adapter and a DSLR or mirrorless camera's 3.5mm mic input will not.

The DXA-2T also has a line/mic switch for each channel which allows me to bring in a feed from an audio board or mixer which would normally overload a camera input. That alone is worth keeping one of these in your bag.

I bought four different microphones that each has its own super power but all four are dependent on external/phantom power. Now I needed to purchase an adapter that could not only make the electrical matching I needed for pro microphones but I also needed one that could power this growing collection of professional microphones. 

One method is to use a digital audio recorder as the interface. Something like a Zoom HN-4 or a Tascam DR60ii. These have the inputs and outputs needed by also feature internal audio recording with the idea that we'll step back in time and record video to our cameras, audio to a separate device, and then marry the two up in post production. But after using digital audio recorders for a few projects I resented having to take the extra steps to sync up audio, not to mention the burden of having big boxy appliances hanging off the camera rig and also sucking up battery juice. I wanted what I needed and nothing more. I wanted a box that would take balanced XLR cables from microphones, run them through noiseless transformers and output an unbalanced but corrected signal that would make my chosen camera happy. I didn't think it was too much to ask...

I am currently using the Panasonic audio adapter in conjunction with the S1 cameras but I still need one of the audio interface contraptions for my Sigma fp camera which is a powerful video (visual) camera but a really bare bones audio capable camera.

The Beachtek DXA-Micro Pro is one I like for that particular camera. It only offers one XLR input (does have additional 3.5mm inputs) but most of my use with that camera is video street shooting with only one microphone. It can supply phantom power for a microphone that needs it and is also a pre-amplifier which can add gain to a "quiet" or insensitive microphone's signal. But the icing on the cake for me, when using it with the Sigma fp camera, is the headphone jack right there on the box. While being able to monitor exactly what the camera is inputting, at the camera, is optimal that's not an option with the fp. It has no headphone jack. The DXA-Micro Pro has a headphone jack and a volume control for it too. But you have to understand you are only hearing what the DXA-Micro Pro is sending to the camera not what is actually being recorded in the camera.

While I don't use the DXA Micro Pro anywhere near as much as I use the Panasonic dedicated audio interface it's become a job saver for those times when I'm using cameras that don't work with the Panasonic device. It's not too big so I leave it in the video case all the time. Takes one 9V battery and seems to work well with most microphones and cameras.

When I am working with Panasonic cameras like the GH5, the GH5S, and the Lumix S1 I love using the Panasonic DMW-XLR1. It sits in the hot shoe of the camera and connects via contact in the shoe. It accepts two XLR inputs (either line in or microphones) can supply phantom power to the mics that need it and has a wide range of good controls. It can boost weak signals, filter out lower frequencies, record in stereo or dual mono, and it even has automatic level control (ALC) for those times when it just makes life easier. The DMW-XLR1 pulls its power from the battery in the camera so I like using it best with a camera that's got the battery grip attached. 

It's small, elegant, works well and gives me really good audio. Sony has a very similar unit for their A7 series cameras which I have also used and can recommend. 

The only downside of the DMW-XLR1 is that it can only be used with Panasonic cameras. I'd love to be able to use it on a Leica SL2 (if they ever come off back order...) and I'd dearly love to use it with a Sigma fp, but there we are. 

The control side of the DMW-XLR1.

loving the covers for the XLR connectors. Keeps water and trash out off the connectors.

There's one final product I've used to good effect and which was recommended to my by audio expert, Curtis Judd. That's the Saramonic SmartRig+. It's all plastic, and built like a 1960's transistor radio but it delivers twin XLR inputs, dual channel gain controls and a headphone output for anyone who needs a budget option which actually sounds good. The icing on the cake is that you can use this one as an input device for mobile phones. There's a phone ready plug permanently attached and a switch right on the body of the device to make it compatible with most phones. 

The only camera to date that has not worked with the Saramonic SmartRig+ has been the Fuji XH-1 which caused a low level, rhythmic hum cascading whenever I tried to connect the camera to this particular interface. On the other hand it was absolutely great and rock solid with cameras like the Sony RX10 iii and the Panasonic FZ1000. 

Another good work around for audio into consumer/hybrid/non-XLR cameras is to just use wireless microphone systems. I've purchase pricy Sennheiser systems but this Saramonic set gives me two channels into a typical camera's microphone input connection while providing great level controls. I've actually run an Rode NTG 4+ microphone through a Beachtek DXA-2T and into the input of one of the Saramonic transmitters and gotten it to work well as a wireless shotgun microphone. You never know what will work until you try it out. 

I'm going through all the systems today because we have a shoot on Sunday that's split between video and stills. The video consists of several fast paced, newsy style video interviews and I want to make sure my audio is locked down tight. Testing and familiarization is the only course I know of that works 99% of the time. 

I hope everyone is happy and well. 

More to come. 


Rest in Peace, Studio Dog.

Studio Dog goes into the Great Unknown.
Feb. 29, 2020.

Studio Dog's real name was Tulip. That's the name that came attached to her from the foster parents who nursed her back to health when she was a tiny puppy rescued dog. We fell in love with her immediately. Over the last twelve years she guarded our home, nurtured our son from an unsure pre-teen to a smart and bold adult. She slept with him on his bed every night that he was home, even after college. She lavished him with unconditional love every time she saw him. 

Tulip had a strong amount of terrier in her genes so she was stubborn and opinionated. In all of her twelve years with us she never fought with another dog, never bit anybody and never failed to deliver maximum affection to her small and devoted pack (us). It seems strange to describe her as witty and charming but she was a very, very special dog. People would meet her out in the neighborhood, take one look at her beautiful brown eyes and their hearts would melt.

She saw me through a devastating bout of anxiety years ago by greeting me every time I came home and shepherding me to get out and do things (mostly walks with her) instead of moping around the house. She was the first person I greeted on arriving back home and I always explained to her where I was going and when I would be back if I was leaving the house. She seemed to understand.

Later in life she kept Belinda and I good company as we became empty nesters and Ben went far away to college. She had her place on the couch when we watched movies and she moved one of her beds next to my place at the dining room table just in case a tasty scrap happened to fall on the floor... She parked herself next to my desk in the office and reminded me how important it was to take breaks. After my father died she pushed me to work a bit less and nap a bit more in the afternoon. At every nap she  spent the time with all four paws touching me. Holding me in place.

We discovered several years ago that she had a congenital heart murmur and we had been treating her for that with medication. Recently she started to tire easily on relatively short walks and we consulted with her vet. The vet didn't sugar coat the bad news; Tulip's heart rate was abnormally fast and irregular.  We escalated to a canine cardiologist who did an EKG and a Echocariogram and suggested other medications. She didn't tolerate them well and was declining quickly. Her breathing was labored. Walking, even through her back yard, was a becoming an ever bigger effort.

We spent the last week trying to create a little "heaven on earth" for Tulip. Ben came over to the house daily, for hours at a time and sat with her, played with her and loved on her. Belinda and I cancelled all work and outside plans and doted on her with all of our hearts. 

She stopped being interested in food on Wednesday and by Thursday was refusing everything. I rushed out and bought her the best steaks I could find, cooked them as cleanly and perfectly as I could and chopped them into half inch cubes. She ate them with gusto, and with a tired smile on her face. 

She passed away yesterday with the assistance of a compassionate and wonderful veterinarian. She was at home surrounded all day by the only family she ever knew. She went quietly and comfortably and we each said "goodbye" in our own ways. She was affectionate and calm to the end.

One of my swim buddies knew about our situation and sent me a message. It was this:

"...grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you. I loved you so--twas Heaven here with you."  -Isla Pachal Richardson.

I think of it every time I start to cry...


How will the stock market plunge affect photographers in the near term; in 2020?

I was packing my bags for a shoot tomorrow that we're booked to do for a law firm located in the downtown area, when I stopped for a few minutes to look at the financial news on my computer. I noticed that the stock market (the Dow Jones Industrial Average) has dropped nearly 13% this week, effectively wiping out all the gains for this year and much more. The short term retreat of the market is mostly because of the widespread fear/logic that the coronavirus will affect enormous numbers of suppliers based in China and that the short fall of assembled goods, commodities and other cogs that drive industry will be in short supply around the world, which will hamper businesses in every corner of the globe.

As the virus spreads through big markets like the E.U. and north America there is also the realization that fears of the pandemic will cause consumers to snap wallets shut and shelter at home, away from bars, restaurants, shopping malls and events. Travel will be curtailed and the hospitality industry will directly suffer. The slowdown of all the consumer and B-to-B businesses will mean fewer assignments for photographers and lower marketing budgets for everyone.

So, I guess one thing we can expect is a retardation of business engagements and more re-use of old stock imagery by clients. But this slowdown will also have a negative effect on all those folks who like to buy stuff or need to buy necessities; like cameras and lenses. It's true that many of the cameras and lenses we want to buy are still made in Japan but I'm guessing that the vast majority of Japanese branded cameras and lenses are now made and/or assembled in China and neighboring countries. More or less the epicenter of the virus outbreak...

Even in the cases where our favorite products are made in Japan the tsunami a few years ago made it painfully evident that the supply chains for nearly ever electronic product run through China; be it the raw materials, or the tiny resistors that fit on critical circuit boards, the shortage of one part delays an entire shipment and radically disrupts the sales cycle, and plays havoc with consumer demands. 

My take on the equipment side of this new crisis is this: if you are planning a purchase and the product is already on retailer's shelves you may be smart to buy it now because it may be that when supplies on hand dry up getting the next batch into the system might be dramatically delayed. 

Looks like the bubble we've all been watching on Wall St. is in the slow motion beginnings of a wild and scary pop. Guess all we can do is hunker down, try to figure out where the bottom might be and get ready to drop all those bucks we saved up by not buying Leica and Hasselblad gear, or sparkly Bentley automobiles, into equities as they bottom out. If history repeats then we'll all ride the up cycle back to happiness. If history has been permanently disrupted (does happen from time to time) then I hope you've been buying real leather camera straps because I'll be posting a good recipe that uses them to make soup....

A quick after action report on a hybrid shoot with a couple of Lumix S1 cameras. It seems we have a couple of the only good ones out there....sigh. (Sarcasm alert).

Scenes from the play: "Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch." 

Last week I tried to show that most of the pundits on the web are not accurate when they pronounce: deal killer! deal killer! deal killer! about the Lumix S1 cameras, arguing (incorrectly) that continuous AF doesn't work with video. I even supplied video which showed the camera I was using locked in tight on a person we were interviewing. But facts don't seem to matter much anymore...

 (added: Feb. 28: Hey, how about all you folks who are having trouble getting a state-of-the-art camera to focus correctly read the instructions first so you know WTF you are actually doing when you shoot?
Here: https://www.panasonic.com/content/dam/Panasonic/Global/Learn-More/lumix-af-guidebook/LUMIX_AF_Guidebook_S1R_S1_Sep_19.pdf  Read up! I know, I know; reading is sooo hard and that many pages with pictures on every page is so long.. and you shouldn't have to know anything to use a camera just like the professionals do...) TSDR? 

Ignoring the negative propaganda of the online faux reviewers entirely I took the same cameras, along with several really good lenses, along with me to make marketing, dress rehearsal photographs and also video content for a new play that my dear friend, Emmy award winner, Allen Robertson wrote, scored and is currently directing at Zach Theatre. The play was great. I laughed, cried and fogged up my glasses.

But I also used the Lumix S1 cameras under tricky conditions to make both photographs and video; not for my hobby, but for an actual client who depends on the quality of my content creation for most of the marketing they do for their productions. The Theatre is a non-profit enterprise with many employees and an operating budget that depends on ticket sales and solid performances; not just from the actors and crew but also from the marketing team and marketing vendors like me. In other words while some people on the web show tests of cameras done in bright sun, with fake models and lots of time to fine tune, or add light, the tests that I tend to show and write about are done in situations with no time or resources for re-do's if I screw something up. And no opportunity for me to tweak light levels, to modify poses or, really, to do anything but document. And the ramifications of failure ripple through the workflow of the theater and affect, well, everyone in the organization. 

So, when I use a camera I am not subjecting it to the cotton candy happiness of a best case scenario or a set-up situation meant to show a camera (or lens) in its best light. I'm mostly using cameras near the ragged edge of what's possible. It's surely a better way to understand just what a camera is capable of in real use. In bright sun, with a cute model in a bikini, or in a bold and colorful landscape, just about any camera out on the market in equivalent categories will do pretty much the same great job. It's when things aren't optimum that differences show. 

This is what we might call an "after-action" report based on the way I used my two Lumix S1 cameras and assorted lenses from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. last Friday. I documented two runs of the play I mentioned to produce a collection of marketing photographs and then applied the camera, with the V-Log upgrade, to making promotional videos for the show without the crutch of additional lighting (just stage lights). We had a lot to do in a short amount of time so I worked fast and without more than two or three takes per set-up, max. 

The first run through of the play was done without an audience. It was a polished tech rehearsal and even without an audience it's a challenging hour of shooting. Here are the obstacles: 1. This was on our smallest stage which is a theater in the round. That means action happens in 360 degrees. You have to try and intuit which way the actors will be facing in each dramatic (photo-worthy) situation. I had help from crack lighting designer, Austin Brown, who has been hands on with the production from the minute they moved from the rehearsal stage to the studio. He cued me to the locations I needed to be in with enough time for me to get in place. 2. The ceiling, walls and entry doors are all black. Matte black. The lighting is sparser and less powerful than the array of stage lights the theater has "on tap" in the big, shiny-new MainStage. 3. This play is made especially for kids (but with appeal for adults) and the action moves very quickly. If you aren't ready and poised to shoot you'll miss a lot of stuff.

I chose to use two identical cameras so I could mirror color and exposure settings between the two. I put the new Panasonic 24-70mm f2.8 S Pro lens on one body and the 70-200mm f4.0 S Pro on the other. I used both lenses wide open, whenever possible. A typical exposure setting was ISO 3200, S.S. 1/160th, Aperture f4.0. I shot raw because this play has lots of different color gels in play for the lighting and I wanted the luxury (and certainty) of being able to fine tune after the fact. 

When you walk in cold it takes a few minutes to really understand the feel of the production, the physical quirks of the actors and the general balance of the lighting. After that you pretty much go on autopilot and start looking only at content, gesture and expression.

I used an AF mode on the camera that's like a single point mode but adds a bit of smart slop space around the chosen AF square. It's a tenacious setting. I shoot these plays mostly in S-AF because I don't want to lock on and then have the camera shift focus unintentionally. Even in this low light, with moving targets and a moving photographer my hit rate for AF was about 95%. When I edited out photographs it was mostly because the timing was wrong or an actor blinked or my composition was off. Usually it's the timing. The hit rate was easily as good (or better) than anything I had gotten in previous shoots with cameras like the Sony A7R2 or the Nikon D810s. 

After we broke for a quick lunch we took a deep, collective breath and got ready for the second run through which had an invited audience. Usually far fewer people show up for invited performances in the early afternoons during a work week. Allen's work (and Allen) is so admired that the house soon filled up to near capacity. I had only 180 degrees of the back row in which to shoot and move. The audience pushed the performances up to 11 out of 10 and I captured even better material in the second go around. 

When the play ended things started to get trickier. We wanted to keep about half of the audience for a quick section of our video. Two of the actors would lead the audience is a dancing/singing routine with the most popular song from the show. I needed to switch my brain from photographer to videographer/director in five minutes or less. 

I had staged a Manfrotto video tripod just off the entry door. The tripod was fitted with a wheeled dolly so I could move it around for shots and place it quickly for lock down shots. I had an audio interface on the camera and I had the sound engineer for the show drop a long XLR cable to camera position so we could get a music feed directly into camera to make post processing easier. 

It's important to understand that the line coming off most professional sound boards is a line level output rather than a mic level output. You'll need an interface of some sort if you are bringing the feed into the camera's microphone plug. The S1 allows you to set the difference in a camera menu but most cameras do not. Also, the XLR adapter from Panasonic for the GH5 and the S1 cameras also provides switches for each channel to allow for mic or line.

The two actors; young women from Zach's Pre Professional School, led the (enthusiastic) crowd through three rounds of song and motion while I rolled camera and panned through and across the audience. I used continuous AF in the "tracking" mode to maintain focus on the closest actor and it locked in like a dog with a bone and never wavered. No glitches. Happiness under time pressure. 

During our shooting for the rest of the afternoon we did several scenes in which five actors are sitting on a big, black box, all with their backs to each other, singing the theme song for the show. They were very active and moving around a lot. I used the wheeled tripod to do a number of 360 degree moves around them. I used the face detect AF and took advantage of a technique a smart pro who also uses the Lumix S1 cameras showed me. 

He insists that the people who can't make the face C-AF work on the camera aren't playing with a full deck or they haven't read the freakin' manual. You can't just point a camera at a group of people and expect the camera to know where you would the like the focus to reside. Further, as you circle around a group the prominent, camera facing face changes five times!!!!

To use face AF in a situation like this the camera operator must exert a bit of control and give the camera some intelligent direction. Every camera on the market will hesitate as you are moving and the face you had locked is going away while a new one is coming into the frame. You can let the camera decide when and where to focus or you can take charge; like a real videographer. 

In the Panasonic S1 when there are multiple faces in a frame the camera puts boxes around all the faces (or bodies) and prioritizes to the closest face unless you intercede and tell it which face you want in focus. You do this by using one finger to touch the box in which the image of your intended subject is contained, on the rear touch screen. That box will turn green and the AF will stay on that person until such a time as the person turns away and the face detection is forfeited in favor of a more recognizable face. But the bottom line is that not only can you make the decision, if you want success you MUST make the decision. This is not a fault of the camera, this is a reality of film making and a reality of the camera not knowing where you want the focus.

If you want to track only one object which will always stay in the frame you can use focus tracking. But even in focus tracking you'll need to tell the camera which thing in the frame it is that you want the camera to track. You do so by putting the AF square on the (in this case) face of your subject and then touching it on the rear screen to engage. The camera will not automatically find the thing you find most captivating in the frame, agree with you, and then engage without fail. How could it know?

After talking to several photographers I think I understand where they are having issues with C-AF and various cameras. They expect the camera to do all the decision making without their input. They would suggest that one should be able to pull a camera out of a camera bag, point it at a general scene and instantly have the camera lock on to the thing the "photographer" most cherishes in the scene. It might work that way on some cameras but it's certainly not an optimal way of working when confronted with scenes that are more complex that just a centered selfie vlogger. 

To sum up: The cameras worked well for both photography and video. The AF in video locked on securely to anything I asked it to focus on. The 4K, 10 bit files, recorded in camera look fantastic; especially the skin tones. In short, when used as designed the S1 is a remarkably good, all around, hybrid imaging machine. Especially so if used correctly and intelligently. I'd say "read the manual" but most manuals are too sparse. Better to understand what the camera needs in terms of guidance and then figure out how to accurately deliver the input that will make both of you shine.

Amber Quick and Samantha Beam as "mother and daughter" 
in "Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch." 
Below is a crop from the side of the same frame. 

Nicholas Kier as "Mr. Hatch."


A progress report on the repair of my wayward Panasonic Lumix S1R camera. Good news, bad news. As ever....

Photo: Kriston Woodreaux. In "Every Brilliant Thing" at Zach Theatre.
Shot with a reliable S1, not the jinxed S1R....

You might remember that I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a camera that stopped working two months into its time here and had to be shipped back to Panasonic for repairs. The camera in question was an S1R that I bought as "new" from B&H Photo & Video; an authorized USA dealer. My local store handled the logistics of getting the camera out and back to Panasonic. I was pleased when I got a phone call today, less than two weeks from the time we shipped it out, telling me the camera was ready for pick-up.

I was less pleased when I read the repair report. The repair people replaced the 47 megapixel sensor as well as the main PCB. That's a lot to repair in a two month old camera that's never been subjected to any abuse, weather or even stern looks! But, okay. Panasonic did the repairs quickly and got it back to me quickly. I was willing to believe that we'd dodged a bullet on this whole deal....until I took the body cap off the camera pursuant to putting on a lens and then testing the body.

I never got as far as putting on a lens. There! Right in the middle of the sensor was....wait for it......a big, juicy fingerprint. Yes, on the cover glass of the sensor. Big as day. Didn't need a magnifying glass to see this one!!! I was....shocked, pissed, and in a state of disbelief since the sensor is the whole reason for existence for a digital camera; right? 

Q.C.? Not a chance. No one could have missed that. It was just an atrocious oversight. Have I made a grievous error in embracing the Lumix S1 series of cameras and lenses? I hope not but this ain't the way to sell seasoned pros on a whole new camera line that is supposedly aimed at professional and advanced users. In all the time I've used digital cameras I've never put a fingerprint on a sensor. Neither has anyone at our local repair shop.

How can Panasonic and their representatives make this right? 

What would you expect? How would you handle this?