5.25.2020

Revisiting one of my favorite cameras of all time. It's now rising like a Phoenix with a new firmware upgrade which makes this nearly 4 year old camera still perform near the top of the heap.

Panasonic Lumix G9 camera.

A friend asked me for a couple of prints from Iceland. He'd always wanted to go there and had planned a trip for this Spring. Plans were cancelled (hopefully just delayed) because of the pandemic but he felt like having a few color prints around would keep him focused on making the trip happen, eventually. I was happy to accommodate him and went to the folder on one of my hard drives that had all of my selects from the 2018, late Fall, trip to Iceland to put together an even smaller set from which to choose. 

As I looked through 2500 images shot over 8 eight days I remembered how much I loved the color and the general "look" of the files from the two cameras and assorted lenses I packed and carried through that little island country. There are no images in the set that I think, given the circumstances of group travel, could have been made any better with any different camera, and, I think the amazing image stabilization of the G9 provided me with shots I would not have been able to get otherwise. I made a conscious decision not to bring along a tripod because I was also instructing and it wasn't a trip dedicated to my personal shooting. 

Around that time I'd written a number of blog posts about how well I liked that camera and how much I appreciated the performance of two specific lenses; the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 and the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0. Both were as near to perfect as a zoom lens could be, in my estimation. The fact that I took both spoke to my inability to be decisive and leave one at home. I rationalized my inability to choose between the two lenses by claiming that I needed one as a back-up to the other. I mean I did bring two camera bodies, why would I not be equally careful to bring back-up lenses? Right?

When I got home from Iceland I played around with a lot of the files in post production and noticed several things about the G9s and the two lenses. First of all, they worked well together. While the Olympus offered a good bit more reach the Panasonic/Leica offered a comfortable range but also gifted the system with a second point of image stabilization that made the whole system so rock solid I felt like I could hand hold.....any exposure time. It was (and still seems) like magic. 

Recently a blog reader named, David, asked me my opinion about the G9. I went back into the VSL archive to see what I wrote contemporaneous to my shooting with that camera. The more I read the more I smiled. It was one of those cameras that just becomes your best friend. And I started wondering how I would feel about that camera now; especially since I've spent some time with its bigger siblings, the S1 and S1R cameras. And I've started to appreciate the size and weight advantages of the smaller format camera; at least for non-commercial work. Stuff like walking around the lake, or through downtown. 

After I came back from  Iceland I started reading about the Fuji XT-3 and I started hearing great reports from all over the place. I bought and tested an XT-3, shooting half a job with the G9 and the other half with the Fuji and comparing them. I worked on a tripod which cut out the need to use and evaluate the handling when using the dual I.S. system of the G9 versus the "lens only" image stabilization of the Fuji. I liked the Fuji so when I got back from a 16 day, madcap, maximum travel, commercial job I decided to further investigate the new Fuji system. The advantages of the Fuji XT-3 over the G9 were mostly in video. The XT-3 could shoot at a much higher data rate and could output 10 bit, 4:2:2 over HDMI. The G9 was capped at 8 bit, 4:2:0 and had a much lower maximum bit rate of 100 m/bs. The Fuji also offered a slightly bigger sensor with higher resolution.

I sold the Panasonic stuff and stocked up on Fuji equipment and that turned into a whole other story. I used the Fuji equipment quite happily for about a year until Panasonic launched their full frame, S1 and S1R cameras which made (and make) more sense for my commercial work. But one of the things I really liked about the S1 camera was the ability, with the new SFU firmware upgrade and feature unlock, to shoot video at great bit rates, with 10 bit 4:2:2 in camera. That, and the Panasonic dedicated audio adapter makes shooting video with great audio a breeze. And, for the last five months I've been happy with the full frame S1s and their super good but heavy lenses. The only thing that gives me pause is when it comes to using the cameras outside the boundaries of my commercial work. Those suckers are heavy!

When working commercially (for the client's hard won money!) I'm willing to use the cameras that give the best image quality ( in my estimation ) without much regard for size and weight. Anything I can do to ensure my success with clients is fair game. And, usually, we're transporting our gear on carts and with assistance. Especially so when shooting video. 

But looking back over my history of personal shooting recently I started pining for an adjunct, mythical system that would have the same menu structure as my commercial cameras, offer really good video specs, and weigh half as much. That combination would make the mythical camera my new "art" camera and I'd take it with me all the time to shoot all the stuff that I do just for myself. 

As I did cursory research to best answer David's question about the G9 I was a bit shocked that I'd ignored a critical firmware upgrade for the G9 (2.0) which came out last Fall. The fixes and feature upgrades make a three (plus) year old camera a head-to-head contender to all the latest and best micro four thirds cameras currently on the market. The biggest step up was unlocking 60fps, 4K video (full frame; no line skipping or crops) in 10 bit, 4:2:2, in camera. And the basic firmware upgrade was...free. You can spend $100 more to unlock V-Log and waveform monitors...but if you don't need V-Log you basically get a camera that can go head-to-head with the Olympus OMD EM1-3 at about half the price. 

The firmware upgrade with all the new features, combined with a price drop to under $1,000 for the body, changes the camera buying calculus. It piqued my interest in a big way. When I checked in with my local dealer they told me that the camera, bundled with the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm lens was on sale right now for $1600. With the "good customer:thanks for shopping with us during the pandemic" coupon the price dropped another $50 to $1550. Now the body and a premium, wide-ranging zoom lens was priced at less than what I had paid for my first, original G9, body only. By several hundred dollars. Curiosity properly instilled and desire well fanned I drove out yesterday and picked up the brand new set. And here's the kicker: Unlike other camera makers who also offer firmware upgrades you don't have to bring your new camera body home with firmware 1.0, charge the batteries, and then upgrade it yourself. No. The G9 has a sticker on the box that tells you it has the upgraded firmware. And, when I charged the battery and checked the version # it showed as firmware 2.1. 

A nice touch. 

I said back in 2018 that the G9 was one of the most fun and most comfortable cameras I had used during my 40 years of experience with cameras and I meant it. Yes, I got sidetracked for a while but I decided that it was time to just disregard logic and re-own a camera that comes as close as any I've used to being perfect for the kind of work I do when clients aren't in tow. 

The owner of the camera store had just taken in a used (mint, almost new) Fuji X-100V and wanted to show it to me. Everyone was excited to have a used unit of the 100V to sell. I played with the camera for a few minutes and handed it back. It's very, very nice. Very well built. But with the straightjacket reality of a single, overly wide lens grafted on the front for all eternity by direct comparison the X100V  made the G9 an even more logical purchase. (If the buying of any camera during the business shut down of a pandemic can be said to make any sense at all...). 

So, now I'm almost completely overrun by Panasonic cameras, lenses and accessories. The one, lone non-Lumix camera in the house is the Sigma fp (not counting old point and shoot Canon G series cameras). The nice thing about being in a uniform eco-system is that all the menus make sense and work with a group logic. Don't know why I keep buying these cameras when I'm not even sure I'll still be doing commercial photography when the "stay-at-home" stuff ends. We'll see when we get there.

Now. On to yesterday's swim. I got to swim practice for three weekdays last week and it was a nice if somewhat painful re-entry to our swim program. But I took it easy on myself, which was convenient to do since attendance at the 6 a.m. workouts was a bit low. I had a lane to myself on all three days! Then Sunday rolled around and I had signed up for the popular 9-10 a.m. swim workout. That meant I'd be sharing a lane with another swimmer. That meant we'd have to agree on intervals and I'd have to actually perform instead of taking it easy on myself. 

Will was our coach and he instructed us about following the rules for aquatic social distancing and all the on-deck protocols we were required to observe. We started with a 400 yard swim followed by two 100 yard kicks. Then we rolled into a set of twelve x 50 yard swims, alternating strokes and drills. Once we were as warmed up as we were going to get we pushed forward into a daunting (for someone who has been absent from the pool for two months) set of nine x 100 yard freestyle swims on a 1:40 interval. We followed that with two 200 yard swims, working on stroke techniques. A shadow of our previous workout intensity, pre-Covid, but enough to wear me out. I woke up this morning sore and tired. I'm coming to grips with the realization that as I age I lose fitness more quickly than I used to and it takes me longer to recover than it used to. Or maybe it was the four mile run a couple of us did after practice that put the whipped cream on the sundae of exercise.... At any rate, it was hard to get out of bed today. 

Thank goodness we have the day off from swimming. All I have on the schedule today is some planking and a nice, long slow run. That, and playing around with a G9. 

Hope your Memorial Day is good and safe. 




meditating on the compulsion to always try something new, even if it's old.

I would never have imagined that barely 2400 yards of swimming would be enough to 
make me tired and sore. It's important to move past the mental resistance and remind myself that 
repetition will make everything easier over time...

Just day dreaming about sun blocking diffusers. Such a nice idea.

G9 in Iceland. Also, see below. 















Somewhere in rural North Carolina for a client. G9.


Need to work on flexibility today. My flip turns were rough yesterday...


G9 +diffuser.


My current favorite summertime goggles.


Just another day in paradise. S1R 45mm Sigma.

5.22.2020

A concentrated test of the Panasonic Lumix S1R's capabilities as a black and white "Art" camera. Tested in conjunction with the Sigma 45mm f2.8 lens. Around Austin, Texas.


 I've been anxious to test the S1R as a black and white camera; you know, for those times when you want to feel like you have been swept back in time to the 1970's when you lived for Tri-X and D-76. I took the camera out for a two hour walk and set it up in a very particular way in order to get the kinds of photographs I thought I'd want. 

It was set to L. Monochrome D, which is a snappy black and white profile (three to choose from). I tweaked the contrast and sharpness parameters to taste. I set the filter effect to either Green or Orange, depending on the subject at hand. To keep things simple I used the 45mm Sigma lens because I've familiar enough at this point to guesstimate how it will render at my three favorite f-stops. 

After I came back to the studio I took all of the files (shot as Jpegs = no turning back) and processed the ones I liked in Luminar 4.2. There are some nice controls and it works pretty quickly. I think I can tweak my shooting settings a little more but I'm very happy with what I got. The next thing I'll try is reducing the noise reduction for the L. Monochrome D profile to introduce a bit more noise and a bit harsher sharpness into the files.

That's about it. Short and sweet. The test is the images, the words are secondary. Probably unnecessary. 



















OT: Swim, Swim, Swim, Walk, Walk, Walk. It must be "Freestyle Friday." (Sorry, no discussions of magic speaker wire or miracle hydroxychlorquine today!)

For those of you unfamiliar with a swimming pool at six in the morning...

It's amazing to me to find that you can program your brain to wake up at a specific time; without an alarm clock! Good brain! Powerful brain! I've been signing up for the 6 a.m. swims (coached workouts) at the pool for the simple reason that these are the least popular times for most people and so I have been able to (selfishly) have a lane all to myself for an hour each morning. On a few mornings this week we've had up to six people in the pool for the 6 a.m. workout but that's okay because we've got seven lanes. 

Last night I set my iPhone to wake me at 5:30 a.m. I was up at 5:20 instead and already grabbing my towel and a multi-grain toaster waffle to munch on as I read the news feed on the dining room laptop. 

I was the first swimmer on the pool deck today, along with the coaches. Just before 6 two other swimmers showed up and we arranged ourselves into lanes with at least one empty lane in between. Our two coaches didn't bother to write the workout on the whiteboard; we were a manageable group and able to follow spoken workout "suggestions." I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to get a swim out of the way before you fully wake up. You get into a meditative rhythm and the whole workout is complete before you even realize you are tired. 

We're getting back into this whole competitive swim thing nice and slow. Today we did about 2,000 yards in a bit less than an hour. We're cutting five minutes off the normal length of time to make a safer transition for the next group at 7 a.m. In years past I would have tried to push the yardage but now I'm content to go slow and make progress-to-fitness a longer journey instead of a mad rush. At 64 years of experience recovery from two months off takes more time than it used to. It's not an aerobic hit but more muscle fatigue right now. But that will pass. 

It's a great time to work on technique. 

The swimming pool at 7 a.m.

When I got home I went into the office to sign up for all of the slots/time reservations for the workouts I wanted for next week. I've opted to continue doing the 6 a.m. routine. Maybe I'm subconsciously punishing myself for having been too lazy to find another swim venue for the last two months. Just not happy swimming in the lake...

After doing the online sign ups I headed into the house to make a large cup of organic Ethiopian Sidamo natural coffee. Love this stuff. Got another pound from Trianon Coffee just yesterday. Sadly, it won't be available again for several months --- seems the hoarders snapped up as much as they could.

With a travel cup in one hand I joined Belinda for an hour long walk through the hills around our neighborhood. Our usual route is about three miles and has four really nice, long hills. By 9 a.m. I felt like I'd had just enough exercise for the morning and came into the studio to start working on a video about two new lights I'm playing with. Don't worry, they're cheap lights. Barely more cost (per) than a one pound bag of great coffee.  And video seems a better tool for talking about these specific lights. 

It seems like all the other photo blogs are getting side tracked into discussions of stuff about which I have no interest so I felt like it was okay for me to do one more here about swimming. Arguably no more interesting than speaker wire but at least the exercise is good for people, is inexpensive or free, and makes for a healthier brain and better social bonds (said "Hi" to 14 good swim friends as they came in to do the next workout; said "Hi" to six or seven neighbor couples who were out walking in the neighborhood...) and gave me a chance to once more revel in having a partner who is so calm and sweet. We talked economics, home repair, and future vacation plans. All good. All happy. 

Favorite Netflix show of the week: Kim's Convenience. 

Feels like a pretty wonderful way, overall,  to spend time even as the world seems to be collapsing around us. 

Hope you have all the kinks worked out and have discovered new ways to be happy. Best, Kirk

5.21.2020

A "Reprint" for the past. Looking back to something I wrote for you guys in 2010...

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/08/street-shooting-part-one-why-hell-would.html

Security guard peeing on the corner of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. 1978.

It's Thursday. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of a bunch of still serviceable photo gear without having to ship stuff everywhere. Suggestions?

But first, speaker wire analogies continue....
The image above was photographed with some pretty lux stuff. A Panasonic S1R coupled to a Panasonic S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8 lens. This was shot at Enchanted Rock a couple of weeks back and I'm certain that if we were to blow it up to eight feet by eight feet and print it the file would knock the socks off of anything coming out of my iPhone XR. Really. Cuz....enlargement. More pixels. Super lens. 

But then I photographed this cityscape (below) with my iPhone XR and I think it's a technically good image as well. Not because I'm a decent photographer but because the subject matter interests me and the camera in the $700 phone did a great job. When I look at the images side by side here on the web (arguably the only place I'll ever end up putting them) they seem...equivalent to me. No better and no worse. 

If any of my engagements with casual photographs were transformed into brow beetling and intense "viewing sessions" during which I sat in a perfectly positioned chair, ancient brandy sloshing in a crystal snifter at hand, with both images writ large and perfectly illuminated, would I see a difference at a viewing distance that makes sense? Probably not. And I've been looking at prints for the better part of 40 years (yes, ever since I was a toddler). 

But here's the kicker: There is no takeaway here. I enjoy both images. The one above for its sublime sky and the one below for both the saturated green of the water just beneath the tree line and --- the .... sublime sky. It's the content, almost always, and rarely the technical stuff that draws me, my friends, and a larger audience to enjoy photography. It's the same in music. The actual art is the breath of life. The content, the intention, the selection and style of presentation. The granules of pigment in paint, the film grain, the tiniest third order harmonics in the music, are all incidental to the art itself. Critiquing the quality of substructure is absolute folly. Now moving on to the question of the day.... below: 


Over time some photographers become hoarders of a sort. We try stuff and if it doesn't work out of the box we send it back and try again. But there are so many times that we'll try a product and it will work in the moment. Maybe the product matches the style of photographic work that a client drives over a year or so. Then the styles change or the subject matter that drove the initial purchase goes away, replaced by something else that might benefit from a change of tools. Since we're all relatively affluent and masters of rationalization we rush out and buy new tools that more closely match the parameters of the projects at hand. Kind of human nature for a large part of the population.

When we pull up short, stop the game clock, reset the paradigm... or, whatever, there is engendered a re-evaluation of our needs and wants as they relate to our professional practice. And Covid-19 is presenting a hard stop.

I looked around the office yesterday and was unamused by my own avarice. While I can't toss away good hard drives, filled with "priceless" photographs, I can downsize the stuff that's growing like mold in the walls of a swamp house. Here are examples: I have three identical battery powered monolights that are in perfect shaped and served me pretty well during the time over the past three years when I was dragging them on and off airplanes to shoot portraits in locations not served by wire-borne electrical power. The lights were inexpensive to purchase with an average acquisition price around $200. I have three dedicated wireless triggers, one for each light, and a motley assemblage of reflectors which are of the ubiquitous Bowens type. 

Now the lights sit in a rolling case and I haven't used them in the better part of a year. What to do with them? I could offer them for sale on the web but then I'd have to deal with multiple buyers, endless questions, the fraught-ness of shipping them out in good working order only to have one or more arrive damaged. Would it be better to find a struggling, young artist to bequeath them to? How does one find a truly deserving young photographer who truly needs better tools? 

But then there is all the ephemerata of smaller, less valuable (but more hardy) grip equipment. The multiple super clamps, the Lowell Tota-light I couldn't bear to give up. The weird and variated collection of light stands. The hodge podge of light modifiers. The seven generations of Apple laptops (going all the way back to the "Blueberry" iBook) which I can't let go of because I can't upgrade them and then erase all the hard drives...)? The two Leica slide projectors. The drawer of indistinct, older camera parts and accessories. The filters which seem worthless now but always, when I get ready to move them on, remembering having to re-buy another identical one for now more money when a new need arises. The half-used rolls of seamless background paper. The un-used pop-up background purchased for a marketing shoot with a satellite company that went bankrupt before we could use the background for their portrait sessions. And the seemingly endless binders full of CD's and DVD's of advertising projects that no one wants or needs any more.

If you can't already tell I'm in the mood to purge the endless physical anchors binding me to the way I used to do things in the past. 

What's my vision for the future? A small case of speed lights to take the place of decades of bigger lights. (already purchased). A larger case of LED fixtures for the present (already in house and ready). An ever smaller collection of cameras and lenses. (trying to rein that musthavecamera thing in). Just enough light stands for an individual portrait shoot. One perfect portrait modifier which will sit proudly in the studio and sneer at the lesser ones bought on a lark. 

In impulsive moments I feel like dragging the big garbage "can" over to the door of the office and just shoveling stuff in until I can see the tops of all the horizontal surfaces in the office and can walk, unimpeded, across the studio floor. Tabula Raza. 

And then there's the unkempt nest of wireless microphone systems, weird audio interfaces, viper wraps of balanced cables and so much more. None of it getting much use. All of it falling into obsolesence. 

So, if you know of an easy and cost effective way to rid oneself of endless photographic clutter would you be kind enough to give me your considered advice in the comments? I'll blend the best of the ideas and see if I can move forward and take myself out of the paralysis of owning too many small and cluttery things. Thanks.


One more thought... The image of an old copy of the English edition of Zoom Magazine (below) surfaced in my endless machinations to bring order from chaos. It reminded me why the job of thinning out possessions is so hard. You come across a magazine you haven't opened in 25 years and find yourself fascinated by the huge page sizes, the beautiful quadratones of impeccably nude people, see amazing colors and smart work. Mostly done by people who owned one or two cameras, no lights and certainly no ever expanding collection of lighting modifiers, and you remember why you didn't recycle the magazine in the first place...

I guess this is a ramble with a certain amount of circular direction and no beginning or end. Well, until we drop quite dead surrounded by a life time of unstructured collecting.

oops. I forgot to mark this post: NSFW. But I didn't really forget, I just didn't care.

5.20.2020

OT: Finding the right XLR cables for my video microphones. Perhaps identifying the weakness of my entire working system... Yes, XLR connectors! (humor alert!)

https://www.headamp.com/products/kimber-kable-select-1136-analog-xlr-balanced-interconnect-cables-pair?variant=28220635185216&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9p2s8KbD6QIVVP3jBx3P2wI8EAYYCSABEgJ0KfD_BwE

I know these were originally designed to be used with an audiophile headphone system but I started thinking that a set of cables this highly regarded, judging by the price, could make my Rode NTG-4+ microphone sound even better. Sure, I could just buy a much nicer microphone but that might be a false economy if the wiring can make a really fantastic difference. Could it be that the wiring between microphone and pre-amp has been my video system's audio input Achille's Heel?

I'm on the fence about ordering for just one reason; I think that silver connectors are prone to tarnishing and don't have as fast and stable an electron transfer rate as solid gold connectors...

I've sent along a note to see if they can be upgraded to gold but I'm leery that the price may go up too much.

I guess I could pass along the cost of investing in superior audio accessories to my clients, who always seem anxious to pay much more for our services.

Just sayin.


A weird, non-video thing that the Sigma fp camera can do. And does it work?


While most digital cameras have a low ISO floor of 100 (in some cases, 200) those ranges can sometimes be expanded a bit to offer ISO 80 or even ISO 50. But those lower settings are basically software tricks that depend on using the native ISO and changing the arc of the files in camera processing. Those lower ISO settings can be valuable if you are trying to get wider apertures or trying to get slower shutter speeds in strong light but the files usually entail some dynamic range penalties. And they add nothing more that a third of a stop or so of fake "neutral density" of sorts. 

The Sigma fp goes about giving photographers lower ISO settings in an entirely different way; one which has both advantages and foibles. Sigma have designed in a way to get ISOs all the way down to 6. Yes, single digital ISO numbers. You can choose from 6,12, 25 and 50 ISO. These are in addition to the conventional 80-125,000 ISO settings available. The slower ISOs only work in photographs, not video, and they do work in Raw. 

When you set the lower ISOs the camera makes a quick series of short exposures and stacks them together and blends them, in camera (hello hour glass icon!) to make a single frame. The advantage is that random/non linear noise gets factored out and color sampling is increased by the number of exposures taken. What this should mean is that the lower ISO files will have better and more accurate color and much less noise than files shot at higher ISOs. Stacking multiple frames for noise reduction is a long time solution for many different photo uses but it's usually done manually, in PhotoShop. It's much more convenient to let your camera do the heavy lifting. 

This is not the first camera to offer this multi-shot lower ISO feature. It was in the Kodak SLR/n full frame camera I purchased way back in 2004. That camera had a 14 megapixel, CMOS sensor and it got noisy when used above 100 or 200 ISO. I used the lower ISOs in the studio with (at the time) tungsten lighting for still life shots. One project paid the freight for the purchase price of the camera: I did a series of still life shots for a manufacturer who used the files to make four by six foot prints for trade shows. The images were sharp, detailed and most importantly, noise free. When that line of cameras faded from the market we were left with a selection of cameras that all did the same thing but none of them offered the multi-shot, low ISO feature until now. 

There are a couple of trade-offs you'll want to consider if you decide that you want to use the low ISO feature. When I selected ISO 25 for most of these test shots I discovered that the lowest shutter speed I could set was 1/20th of a second. The camera shoots the images with an electronic shutter so you don't hear the multiple "firings" but it does take a bit of time to do and then more time to process. The processing time is a fraction of that which was required by the older Kodak camera but that's all up to the increased processor performance in the newer camera. 

Since the camera will be making multiple exposures you'll need to be aware that moving subjects can be problematic. See the last image at the bottom and look at the truck on the bridge to see an example.
The same goes for camera movement. You'll want to use the camera on a tripod and select scenes that have little or no movement to them. 

Would I use the feature a lot? Not me, personally, since I tend to photograph mostly people. For handheld work I've never required more quality from the Sigma fp than I already get using the camera at ISO 100, 200 and 400. But, if I shot more still life work, architectural work and other more controlled types of imaging I can imagine that it would come in quite handy. At some point a client will ask me to shoot a bunch of interior spaces and I'll have a blast playing with this feature.

The image just below is a 100% crop of the image from above and I think the detail and also the sky color are pretty much perfect. 

100% crop.

See the blur on the pedestrian.

See the multiple images of the van on the bridge... 

To sum up: It's not a life or death "dealkiller" feature 
but the expanded, low ISO range is fun to have and 
offers one more creative tool that's not available on 
many other cameras. Kind of follows along with the 
philosophy of, "don't be like everyone else" that
I love so much with the fp.