1.06.2021

Urban-scape photography at f2.0. The twilight hour opens up a different palette of f-stops and shutter speeds.


 Winter look. 





Panasonic S1R camera
Panasonic S-Pro 50mm f1.4 lens
@f2.0.

Lightly toned in PhotoShop

Panasonic S1R does black and white camera "porn."


 I'm having fun working with my new, square, black and white camera. It's one I already owned; I just needed to reconfigure the system and re-adjust my brain. I'm photographing with the camera set to 1:1 aspect ratio and L. Monochrome profile. The capper is the selection of the S-Pro 50mm f1.4 lens. It's an endearing combination. 

More to follow. 

Doesn't the chrome version of the Fuji X-100 V look swell? 

1.04.2021

A different way of looking at aspect ratios points me at a different use for my Lumix S1R.


 People who grew up in photography in the film days continue to hold onto some of the "rules" and ideas they learned working with the constraints of film technology. To start with, most users of 35mm film were limited in the sizes they could print by both their tolerance for graininess and the lower resolution of both film and the design of lenses made for shooting film. 

A lot of us cut our teeth shooting with "faster" films such as Kodak's Tri-X which is a 400 ISO film that generated ample grain at the labeled ISO and especially so when the film was "pushed" to higher ISOs in processing. Because grain limits resolution it became a suggestion or "rule" that good practitioners always shoot with an eye to filling the entire frame with their compositions. The idea was that any part of the frame that needed to be cropped would reduce the overall sharpness and resolution of the final image. It's a sound practice for people for whom image quality is the primary consideration in a photo. "Fill the frame!" was the mantra of every photo instructor or workshop leader in the film days. 

In the early days of digital the same basic ideas still held. With 4 and 6 megapixel files any sort of cropping led to less overall resolution and that was a time when our cameras still had to reach hard to match the "standard" of filling a printed page at 300 dpi. 

Now we have more pixels that most of us know what do do with and it makes a lot more sense to start re-thinking the arbitrary format limitations we've lived with for so long. There are many images that seem to be more natural in longer, higher aspect ratios and just as many other images that could be made more powerful when cropped closer to a square format or some other lower aspect ratio. 

While I am hardly a wide, panorama photographer I could tell even when shooting the mural above that the photo really needed to be a wide, skinny frame to work well. All of the visual material above and below the crop here was just distracting stuff that would take attention away from the part of the image I wanted viewers to see. With a few moments of trial and error I think I came across the best crop for this. It's a wide frame reality in the first place. 

With a 47.5 megapixel camera like the S1R it's easy enough to make "radical" crop like the one above and still have lots of detail in the remainder of the picture to use it for just about any medium. Print or electronic. 

I find myself using the 16:9 crop more often than not when I head outside to make images of street scenes because there are often times when wider shows more information and taller only serves to minimize what I think is important by adding extraneous detail top and bottom. I'm never happy with radical vertical aspect ratios so I rarely use a skinny crop if I'm shooting that way.

But the thing that brought me back to playing with various aspect ratios was a friend's recent offer to loan me a Fuji GFX 50R and the nice, little 50mm lens. He casually mentioned that the camera, when, cropped to a square and used with the 50mm basically mimicked the frame size and angle of view that I used to get with my medium format Hasselblad cameras when using a 120mm roll film holder. This tweaked by interest and I started thinking more about shooting in the square with my existing cameras. 

The obvious choice was to start experimenting with the highest resolution sensor in order to keep at bay my prejudices about cropping too much. The camera shoots files that are 8368 x 5584 pixels in its highest res, native 3:2 aspect ratio but it shoots a healthy 31.5 megapixels and 5584 x 5584 pixels which is an ample file size for everything EVERYTHING that I need to send, print or post. 

Once I decided to try that avenue I started thinking about appropriate lenses to mate with the high res camera. I would want to use a lens that was about two stops faster than the lens on my old Hasselblad just to get me a wide enough aperture to mimic the fall off in focus I would have gotten from the lens for the much larger format. 

The Hasselblad 80mm Zeiss lens opened up to f2.8. So I was considering a 35mm format lens that opens up to f1.4. But I wanted the lens to be critically sharp, or at least as sharp as possible at that f-stop so I narrowed my search down and decided that the Lumix 50mm f1.4 S-Pro lens would be the best choice. It's the "reference" lens for the system and one of the few 50's on the market that's very high performing at its maximum aperture.

I rarely used the Hasselblad lens wide open and a more usual f-stop was f5.6. With the S-Pro lens that would equal an f-stop of 2.8 which is an aperture at which the lens is, for all intents, perfect. 

The combination of the lens performance and the 31 megapixel file size is pretty wonderful. My first tests were done using Raw+Fine Jpeg using the Monochrome "L. Mono" profile, along with a few sub-menu tweaks (plus contrast, minus sharpness, minus noise reduction) and I'm happy enough with the files I'm getting. 

I find getting great monochrome results straight out of camera is a lot tougher than just getting pleasing colors so I'm still working on fine tuning the output. I liked the DXO Film Pack for black and white but I think I can make my own custom profiles that are an even closer tweak to my current preferences. 

The detail though is superb. And seeing the images in the finder in black and white is wonderful. 

The way I use the system most is as a portrait camera and regardless of whether I'm shooting in studio or on location I love working with the camera on a tripod. I guess that's why, even in this age of downsizing, I still have four or five tripods scattered around the studio...

Shooting this way is one of the few times that I actually prefer to use the rear screen of the camera (or better yet, an Atomos Ninja monitor). For some reason seeing that beautiful gray tone square floating in a field of black is very satisfying. 

I find that in the past I would have preferred a longer lens for portraits but that I am loosening up now and the 50mm is fine when cropped to the square. I think the best lens for this combination might be something in the 65-70mm range but I guess I should get more frames under my belt with the current set up, just to be more informed. 

I like cameras that offer a wide range of aspect ratio choices in camera. The Panasonic S1 series is exemplary in that regard. The S1R offers me my favorites while the S1H seems to offer every choice under the sun. 

Hope you just came in from taking some amazing photographs of 2021 and you're enjoying a good, hot cup of coffee. Or the beverage of your choice. We're going to have a great year!


-Kirk


1.03.2021

Summer and Winter Street Shooting Looks. Camera brands optional.



 

OT: I have just finished reading Benjamin Graham's, "The Intelligent Investor" (most current edition, with recent commentaries added) and now I'm totally informed and confused.

 


Making money has very little to do at all with photography. In fact, it's proven for most people to be a very efficient way of loosing money, over time. As a former ASMP chapter co-president, a reader of professional forums, and an adviser for a large community college commercial arts program, I can say that the number one cause of failure I've seen for nearly every imaging business, over time, is not the inability of the photographer who owns it to make salable photographs, and it's not the photographer's inability to charge for their work, rather it is what the photographer does with the money they make which becomes the critical factor in their financial failure or success.

Sadly, a spot where even the most savvy photography business owner usually comes up short is in saving for a rainy day; and even more important, saving for retirement. Or saving for the point at which he or she becomes fed up or discouraged and wants to leave the "field of battle" for nicer surroundings. 

I have a number of friends and plenty of acquaintances who maintained "successful" careers for twenty or so years only to come to the realization, near the end, that there would be no real continuing income from stock photography sales, that it's incredibly difficult to get profitable gallery representation, and that they've mostly invested every cent back into their businesses instead of into sound, financial investments. Their lifestyles take a dive and their outlook becomes a bit grim. It's especially hard to value and sell a single proprietor business based on one person's craft knowledge.

Some, who worked and lived in Markets like Boston, Austin, Seattle and various spots around the country to which new industry flocked, have built up enormous equity in the homes they live in. Not by rigorous planning but sheer, dumb luck. But many more have had the opposite experience of watching a lifetime worth of mortgage payments result in property ownership, the value of which is just treading water. At least the photographers in the growing markets can sell their homes and harvest the equity but they'll also have to consider moving somewhere cheaper...

Every once in a while I'll meet a photographer who was quite disciplined and took the advice of the person who wrote, "The Automatic Millionaire" ( David Bach) and invested month by month and year by year into an investment account and ended up taking advantage of compound interest. These few generally end up with more than enough money to allow them to travel and pursue what had been drudgery but is now a fun hobby - photography. 

I know several Austin photographers who decided early on in their careers that they wanted to own the studios they worked in, own the houses they lived in and also own rental properties in town. They made a bet on the housing and real estate markets here and ended up doing well through good economic times and bad. Most will retire well just on the sale or long term lease of their studio properties. The additional rental properties are icing on the cake. 

By way of disclaimer, I know just enough about investing to be a danger to myself and others. I seem to have the reverse "Midas Touch" when it comes to picking individual stocks. But I am smart enough to listen to good advice and not dabble in things I don't understand. Anything I discuss here is just residual fallout from having read Benjamin Graham's book. 

First off let me say who it was that recommended the book to me in the first place. It was none other than Ultra-billionaire, Warren Buffett. If Buffett had a mentor in his early years it was certainly Mr. Graham. Buffett suggests this book in order to provide the reader with a foundational understanding of the history and mechanisms of not just the stock markets but also bonds of all kinds and other, more obscure instruments of investment. 

Graham does a great job of laying out a history of financial market booms and busts, and growth and decay. The first take away of the book for me is that I would have lost everything I ever earned if I had convinced myself that I could make a fortune as a day trader.... Or that "everything is different this time." 

After having read the book I'll probably recommend it to my friends who: Read fast with good comprehension. Have the stamina to get through 623 pages of financial/economic history and the discussion of investment theory. Understand basic math. Want to be financially secure. Obdurately still believe in the Easter Bunny, and the "hot stock tip." 

As a photographer I've made every financial mistake I can think of. I've done jobs without getting a written agreement and been burned almost every time, in one way or another. I've taken big, unexpected profits and rather than putting all, or even some, of the money into an investment or retirement account I've blown it on "re-investing in the business" which is mostly photographer code for: I bought a really cool camera system that I've convinced myself will make me money somehow, somewhere down the road. I've routinely fallen into the Dunning-Krueger trap of believing I know "better" than the rest of the investing market. I've bought stocks and then sold them quickly, sometimes after loosing a bit of money but usually for just a bit more than the friction of trade minus the regular tax that triggers when holding a stock for less than a year. Only to watch the stock revive and rocket up just after I've sold it. I've sold too soon and bought too late.

I can only imagine how different the financial outcome for my business, and the businesses of so many other photographers, would have been if we'd read more books like this one in our twenties and put into practice even just some of the things we could have learned. 

If you are interested to read one point of view about markets and investments while cooling your heals during the pandemic I think this one is interesting. Graham certainly goes in depth.

My takeaway? A smart friend's advice many years ago led me to invest in a well known balanced index fund. It's done well enough that I'm entering this phase of life without abject panic and without throwing the mother of all photographic garage sales. 

I do regret all the ways I've wasted money over the years. But on the other hand I'm happy to have been married (and continue to be married) to a fun but frugal partner who did read books like these even back in our early 20's and who has provided a set of guard rails for my occasional, unfounded episodes of irrational extravagance. (I'll never live down buying a 5 series BMW near the end of the 1990's. I can still hear the quiet advice to consider a Honda Accord ringing in my ear...).

I won't give you much advice here. Most of our readers are people who are smart; smart enough to keep their hobbies and their jobs separated. Smart enough to get employer matches to their 401K's, and smart enough not to rush out and buy Hasselblad systems the minute you get your first big job from a major company. 

But here's the advice I would give to Ben, or anyone silly enough to want to be a freelance photographer:

1. Don't buy a single piece of new gear until you have a year's worth of living expenses tucked into the bank and waiting for some sort of disaster. The disaster will come. And probably not just once...

2. Invest in financial instruments that have been demonstrated to have a decent return, are low enough in risk and which have very low costs or fees. 

3. Make investing automatic. Do it every month. At least every quarter. Believe in "dollar cost averaging" and understand that few, if any, people can successfully time the markets with any reliability. Most who try end up losing money. Lots of money.

4. Unless you have lots and lots of time on your hands to research and pore over statistics and annual reports consider making most of your investments in a well regarded index fund administered by a very large and stable investment company. 

5. Consider nice restaurant meals and trendy vacations to be luxury extravagances and not routine purchases. I have an acquaintance who feels that his family "deserves" regular, pricy vacations and he hustles them onto planes and drops upwards of $8K -10K more than once a year. He also buys new cars as if they have the same kinds of sell by dates as eggs and milk. The rest of the time he bemoans how broke he is and how far in debt he's become --- ostensibly through no fault of his own. Learn to cook. Learn to shop. Learn to vacation on the cheap. 

6. And, finally: Never take financial advice from other photographers. Think about it. They are photographers, for God's sake! 

But the book is nothing if not an interesting and deep look at investor psychology. The understanding of which is almost always handy. 



1.02.2021

A Production Photo from "Singin' in the Rain." Directed by Abe Reybold for Zach Theatre.

GH5 + Olympus 40-150mm Pro Lens.

 I was looking for this photograph after a friend of mine (once again) said that one couldn't really do professional work with a GH5 camera. I laughed as I made a living one year bouncing back and forth between a Panasonic GH5 and an Olympus EM5 mk2. 

Perhaps I should also send him the photo below for those times when he "instructs" me that no micro four thirds cameras can be shot at any ISO above 800 without horrendous noise and lack of sharpness. 

Leslie Anne Leal as the "Queen" in "Narnia"
A kid's production at Zach Theatre.
GH5 at 3200 ISO.


1.01.2021

And so, how is that Panasonic, Lumix 20-60mm f3.5-5.6 "kit" zoom lens? Well, let's look at some photos.

the obligatory self portrait at the start of the year. 
chilly in Austin today.

When we left off from our last bout of gear talk I had just made my last two acquisitions of the year, a black Fuji X-100V, and an unexpected impulse purchase of the lens in the headline here. I've written a few posts about the Fuji, and I'm sure to write more about it, but I have been quiet about the Lumix 20/60. Mostly because the Fuji seemed appropriate for the solemn days at the end of a hard year. After all, it was meant to be a bit of an antidote for the doom and gloom. At least for me. 

I wanted to test the new lens (20-60mm) out yesterday but it was freezing, and raining, and sleeting. I even caught some hail when I went out for rigorous afternoon walk, sans camera. But today I woke up to clean, clear skies and buckets of sunshine. It was a perfect day to walk around Austin's ever changing downtown and test out a new lens. Even if I was just considering the little zoom to be a competent but boring replacement for a less comfortable single focal length lens. 

Today's guest star is a lens that launched alongside the Panasonic S5. The S5 camera has been well received by critics and everyday buyers so far. How can I tell? The long waiting lists for future shipments of a new camera model that sold out almost on launch day. With all the excitement surrounding the camera I think most people considered that the new lens would join the ranks of mediocre kits lenses that other makers crank out by the bucket load. But then reviewers started wading in and for the most part they were surprised by just how good the lens was.

The Lumix 20-60mm is full frame lens with a variable aperture. While nearly all other full frame kit lenses only go as wide as 24mm the Lumix stands out first of all because it goes all the way to 20mm. Another feature that stands out is that the lens is weather resistant and even has a rubber gasket around the mount to keep out water and dust. But the real surprise, to me and others who've bought and tested the lens, is just how sharp it is at the kinds of apertures people will mostly be using with a lens like this. 

Two respected (as opposed to hundreds of non-respected) reviewers mentioned that they generally liked the lens but they also mentioned that the far corners were a little soft at the biggest aperture and widest focal length. I was ready to see something awful, or at least mediocre, but I've found that unless you are a specialist in photographing brick walls you will rarely, if ever, encounter the softness of which they speak.

My use of most wide angle lenses, zooms and primes alike, is to get a lot of depth of focus and fine detail in wide scenes, which almost mandates that I work with medium to small apertures when I photograph with them. Since the lens is limited to f5.6 and smaller on the long end of the focal length range I just set f5.6 as my max aperture for all focal lengths on the lens and then I don't have to worry about exposure changes as I zoom. But frankly, most of my work with lenses that go extra wide is shot at f8, f11 and f16. I no longer fear the idea of diffraction because I find any slight decrease in overall sharpness is usually taken care of with the many sharpening controls in Lightroom, PhotoShop and even Luminar. 

The samples I've included in this blog post range from f5.6 upwards but are mostly centered around f8 and f11. The exceptions are when I've leaned way in to get something very close all in focus and in those instances I've reached all the way to f16. A tweak to the sharpening controls and any differences in file details become invisible. 

The lens weighs less than a pound and it's lack of heft is down to a design with fewer and smaller glass elements as well as a mostly plastic exterior construction. Designing the lens with smaller aperture settings, and also making the design a variable aperture one, keep the heft of the finished package on the light side. But the lens itself is big enough to get your hands around and feel comfortably balanced on even the weightiest of my S series cameras, the S1H.

I bought this lens with two regular tasks in mind. First, I can replace my fast (but almost completely unused) 20mm f1.4,  28mm f1.4 and even my 35mm f1.4 with this one lens and cover all the once-in-a-while duties that usually fell to the heavy and cumbersome, but optically very good, trio. That's a huge weight savings. And while we're on the subject of weight and handling the much lower weight means this lens is one of my prime candidates for use with the full frame system on a gimbal. This lens is pretty much a universal lens for video. I just have to remind myself that we start at f5.6 and go to f22 but we can't really go in the other direction. If I need to go even lighter in order to save my wrist, I switch to the Sigma 45mm f2.8 which, after a year of use on four different cameras, is still one of my very favorites. 

The 20-60mm is also very well behaved in terms of vignetting and distortion but I'm assuming these things are corrected in the camera firmware; even in raw. I would have no hesitation using this lens on a tripod for photographing architecture images indoors or outdoors. And, in terms of sharpness, I think it's as good as most of the faster, fatter and heavier (and more expensive) 16-35mm lenses I've tested over the last few years. Give up the notion that you need f2.8 or faster and you can get a lens with good corrections and equally good performance. You just won't get to brag about it as much. 

If you have a Lumix S series camera get this lens. But if you use a Fuji fp or an older Leica SL you'll probably be happier with the first generation Panasonic 24-105mm. Why? Because the 20-60mm doesn't include in-lens image stabilization and neither do the Leica SL or the Sigma fp offer IBIS. Those cameras are dependent on lenses to bring the stabilization and the 24-105 does it really well. If you shoot a lot of multiple camera set ups you might as well get one of each.

If you are on a budget then this lens and the Lumix S5 camera are a great place to start. If you are an all-around, multi-subject shooter you'll probably want to supplement the system as soon as you can with a longer zoom. Something like the 70-200mm f4.0 Lumix S-Pro. You could probably stop there and handle just about anything that comes your way; with the exception of super low light jobs that might require some faster apertures. But I don't find many fee paying clients demanding that kind of imagery nearly as often as I encounter clients who like to see their products or processes actually in focus. 

So, what about the S-Pro 24-70mm? Yeah. It's a great lens. It's a wonderful tool for photo-journalist and documentary shooters who need to be able to rely on working at full aperture and knowing they're going to get very sharp and useable images. You'd have to carefully consider the bulk of your work to choose one over the other. I bought the 24-70mm f2.8 last year and every time I've used it I'm amazed at its optical performance but you have to go into ownership knowing that you get a limited range of focal lengths, a lot of weight and bigger size. And you'll pay well over $2K for the privilege. 

If budget constraints were a pressing part of the decision matrix I think I'd recommend the 20mm-60mm. If you've already paid for all the expensive stuff life throws at you and you don't need to please clients get the 24-70mm. But only if you think you're going to be willing carry it around. And if you are willing to work in what is basically an extended normal lens range point of view. 

So, on to the rest of the samples. All shot as Jpegs. Tiny exposure tweaks and an occasional light touch on the saturation levels, otherwise SOOC. I must say again, the color out of the S1H is the absolute best from all three of the S1x cameras. I haven't compared it to the S5 but I'm very happy with what I shot today.


If you look carefully you'll see some leaves blurred and some sharp. 
There were wind gusts and I shot to catch the branches when they hit their
slowest point. The shutter speed was 1/125th. Interesting effect to 
see sharp and blurred leaves right next to each other and random through
the frame. 



the three images just above are shot at about the same time but 
at 20, 40 and 60 mm. I should also mention that the lens appears to have
been designed to be nearly par focal. If you are shooting at f8 you won't 
notice any focus shift as you zoom. In either zoom direction.

60mm. 





Dying to try this carry out only pizza place but it's in the middle of downtown and 
by the time I get a pie all the way home to share with the family I'm worried it 
will have settled and gotten too cold. But dang, the pizza ovens are imported from 
Italy, as are most of the ingredients. The menu looks great. 


I tossed a PhotoShop LUT on this one but I can't remember off the top of my head which LUT it was...

My opinion? 20mm is wide enough for anything. 
Also, notice that the tree branches and leaves in the bottom corners 
are nicely sharp. More than sharp enough for client work.



f16 and be there. 


Again. Look at the branches and leaves in the corners.....


double fisted, masked coffee drinker. Love it. 
Top one is full frame while the one just above is a crop of the upper image. 


If you are going to buy an S5 go ahead and get the lens. It will cost you $300 more (USA) but you'll be able to re-sell it for between $400 and $450. It's a smart play. Just make sure you have a market for. But I'm going to suggest that if you test it first you probably won't want to sell it. It's a nice, workman-like tool. 

I'm happy my impulsive nature won out on this one. Happy New Year. 


P.S. Just remember, it was a 2020 purchase. It doesn't count in any gear churn for 2021. 

Starting the year by posting an antidote to Gear Acquisition Syndrome. A nice, five minute read with examples.

 https://petapixel.com/2020/12/31/camera-gear-overkill-why-bigger-and-faster-is-not-always-better/

Happy New Year! I'm out taking photos but hope to have some sunny pix from the Panasonic 20-60mm to share a bit later. Nice day for a walk...

photo: Iceland 2018. G9 + Olympus 12-100mm f4.0.


12.31.2020

We've arrived, somewhat intact, at the end of 2020. Here's my year-end review. (Not a good year for photographers. -understatement).

Noellia as a counterpoint to the zeitgeist. 
 

Ah. Where to start? We came into the year with a certain amount of promise. The stock market was rising and the jobless rate was low. It seemed that photography and most of the arts associated with advertising and marketing had finally recovered from the last recession and people were once again able to spend and save instead of having to choose one or the other. And then? BAM. Total shutdown. 

We were working on photographs and videos for two very good productions at Zach Theatre. I think that a day or two after the final edit of "Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch" the show was cancelled because of the pandemic. Followed the next day by Zach's production of, "Every Brilliant Thing." The lockdown hit suddenly just on the 13th of March and all at once we had to consider things like: at total absence of toilet paper, Chlorox Wipes, paper towels and most pastas, rice and beans at our local supermarkets. We rushed to source face masks. And we sat next to our computers as client after client got in touch to tell us what we had already surmised; that X project would not be going forward. A week later the stock market went into free fall and family members and friends texted to ask, in a panic, if they should sell off all their stocks. 

One of the biggest disappointments for me was the closure of all the pools in Austin. No swimming for the next couple of months. I'm still wondering how I was able to survive...

The saddest day of 2020 was the day my dear Studio Dog passed away. I may not ever recover fully from that... sigh.

Slowly we started coming to grips with the new rhythm of life. Mask up to go to the grocery store. Mask up to go for a walk anywhere there might be other people. Stock up on toilet paper. Order face mask in one hundred count boxes from Amazon.com. Learn to walk in the neighborhood without my dog.

These are common stories or personal stories so I guess we should cut to the chase and talk about the impact of 2020 on photography and related industries.

Most commercial photography ground to a halt for months until, at least, people developed some protocols to deal with the potential risks. Face masks on all shoots were a given. As was having gallons and gallons of hand sanitizer on tap. I did a few projects taking portraits of people, individually, in the studio but all of them were done as safely as we could make them. Nearly all the subjects were medical doctors from the non-emergency practices we have had as clients for decades. Most came to the studio having been very recently tested. I cleaned all contact surfaces after each appointment and I worked to make the actual in-person time as short as possible. It was appreciated.

But this was a year for learning new things. I volunteered to do a giant project for Zach Theatre which was 100% video, and my theater counterpart and I agreed that large parts of the content we were making would benefit from footage that could only be effectively generated using a gimbal-mounted camera. I watched every video I could on the subject, bought a phone gimbal to practice with, and then bought a Zhiyun Crane V2 to do the actual project. 

Mastering a moving frame is a big learning experience for someone who comes from a background where we make every effort NOT to move a camera. I spent a week before our big, giant cast, kick-off day just learning how to walk with a gimbal, walk backwards with a gimbal and how to make moves that worked well with the constraints of a gimbal. 

My favorite camera, at the time, to use with a gimbal was the Panasonic G9 along with the 12-60mm zoom lens. The main reasons being that at the time of the project the G9 had the best AF of all the Panasonic cameras and was the lightest one that could do 4K, with 10 bit, 4:2:2 color  in camera. It was my relative success with this camera on a gimbal that eventually persuaded me to get a GH5. It has the same basic weight and size as the G9 but offers some improved codecs. Most valuable to me is the All-I codec which seems to handle motion best. A very important consideration for a camera moving via gimbal while tracking along with subjects who are also moving. 

We did a lot of work with the gimbal in a short amount of time and it's that compressed learning that I think yields the best results. At any rate, without a  client needing a "virtual" gala for fund-raising I might never have ended up buying a gimbal and learning, in depth, how to get good stuff from it. So I guess that's one silver lining presented by the adversity of 2020. I should do a behind-the-scenes video called, "Mastering a Gimbal in Ten Full Days of Trying." But maybe not... 

Now I also seem to have attracted a Ronin S gimbal and a newer Zhiyun Weebill S gimbal. Inventory juggling might be called for shortly.

We didn't stop with the generation of lots of performance content for the theatre's gala live-streaming event. I also provided the cameras and camera work for the event itself. A three camera show, switched live, over the course of three hours. I switched from using cameras based on their nimble-ness to cameras that matched up well and had long run times. At the time my main camera was the S1H and the second string cameras were the S1R and S1. Normally, I would not have considered the S1R for a production like this since its run time in 4K was limited to 15 minutes. But the editors handling the live switching and uplinks only needed 1080p footage and all three of the cameras could do that for as long as the batteries and memory cards held out. 

All three cameras were linked to the main switcher via HDMI cables and we rolled live with them for 1.5 hours of actual performers working live. I'm a nervous Nelly on jobs that can't be re-done so each camera had a back-up power solution. The S1 and S1R both had Anker power banks feeding into the USB ports on the cameras. The S1H had the battery grip attached and an extra battery installed. We used the camera mics for scratch audio in case we wanted to edit stuff down the road but the actual audio was from lavaliere microphones run into the digital recorder at the switcher. 

My digital video education continued with a series of live shows on  Zach Threatre's open air plaza. At first we used a two camera set up to record live concerts for 1.25 hours. Both cameras were set to record at 4K, at 30 fps. One was set up a fair distance back from the stage to keep from blocking any audience member from seeing the stage. That camera presented new learning experiences for me as I grappled with the need for very long lenses. I needed to be able to go in tight with this camera since it was the only one that would be manned by an operator. And that operator was me. I started out with the 70-200mm on the S1H but I needed more reach. I switched from full frame to the APS-C crop and it worked well enough but I still wanted more reach. Also, I had a hell of a time maintaining good, manual focus. I had to work with an external monitor so I could magnify the frame while rolling to constantly check and tweak the focus. The problem with the set up was that every time I touched the focusing ring on the lens you could see camera movement/vibration.

The next time out I tried using a longer lens on a smaller sensor camera, the 50-200mm on the GH5. It worked well but the files were noisier than those from the full frame, state of the art, S1H. But the extra, equivalent 100mm was nice to have!

I finally landed on a good solution by using the same long lens on a GH5S which is much better at handling lower light with less noise (dual ISO). The other big difference between the GH5 and the GH5S is that the GH5S lacks image stabilization. It's not a problem when you are using a big, fluid head tripod. And yes, I bought the GH5S just to use in situations like this. But I was still trying to focus manually. 

More research, and trial and error, and I finally narrowed in on a focus routine that consisted of setting up the touch screen for focus and touching the area with the face in it that I wanted in good focus. Damn if it didn't work! Once I got this figured out and could also see confirmation on an external monitor I pretty much learned how to do image magnification camera work acceptably well.

At the same time the editor and I both realized how great it was to have multiple angles to cut to during the performances. There were no costume changes, no props, no fancy lighting and no great decor at these concerts so the performers were all we really had to work with, visually. Seeing them from only two angles was limiting. After the first week I incorporated a third camera so we could have a wide shot of each stage as well as a follow camera (the one way back from the stage) to follow the performer and get close ups. 

By the final week of my involvement we were four cameras deep. One follow camera on a big, fluid head tripod, also equipped with an external monitor, as well as three other cameras mounted on smaller tripods or table top tripods, pre-focused and taped down in place. 

Just before the recording of the shows started (with full audiences!!!) I'd walk around from the furthest camera to the closest one turning each one on,  confirming that they were manually focused on the right spots, and that the WB and other settings were as we wanted them. I'd make it back to the main camera just as an announcer wrapped up the lead-in (which I labelled: Here's the part where we beg for money) and I'd slip on my headphones and get the final camera rolling. 

I learned a lot about camera positioning and how much better it would be if we could do the tapings without audiences so we could put the cameras anywhere we liked them. Or even use a gimbal mounted camera! If I do something like this again I'll try to push for additional camera operators who could zoom in and out and change compositions from their positions based on what they see happening on stage. The final touch would be to put everyone on a communication system and to also feed the view from all their cameras to a single show director who could call out camera moves or say which performer to highlight/focus on in the moment. But some of this is pie in the sky when you consider that our prime motivation was desperate money raising. 

Just as we got the system totally figured out Austin's Covid numbers rose to a new, high level which triggered a stricter shut down and we shelved the outdoor concerts entirely. It was an expensive building project for me. I started with my base cameras and added both a GH5 and a GH5S specifically to meet the challenges (as I saw them) of this project. I also bought the Panasonic/Leica 50-200mm lens to use as the follow lens for the GH5S which was another $1,600.

So, even though most of my projects in 2020 ended up being charity donations I still spent like a drunken sailor on gear. In fact, by the time we ended the live concerts I had already acquired three different gimbals in 2020; besides the one for the phone. 

I was happy to see a number of new, and very good, cameras hit the market this year. Not just the ones I would buy for my use but also models that various friends have quickly come to love. 

I picked up an S1H and I like using it for video. In fact, since all the firmware upgrades for the S1 cameras have been installed, tweaked and re-installed, I love all three S camera models more than ever. I've toyed with buying the new S5, which seems like a great, all around camera but I think my current S inventory covers me pretty well right now. Especially as client work is currently in limbo. 

I bought two new lenses for the S system this year. In February I bought (on a misguided whim) the Lumix S-Pro 24-70mm f2.8. It's a wonderfully sharp and capable lens and it's "Leica Certified" but I really didn't need it since I already had the 24-105mm f4.0 lens and find the cheaper zoom to be great. Both lenses came in handy (and presented a bit of overkill) when I used them on remote cameras for the video work

The second lens is one I picked up earlier this week but have not tested yet. It's the Lumix 20-60mm lens that Panasonic is pairing with their new, S5 body, as a kind of "kit" lens. Andrew Wong highly recommends it and I'll know on the next sunny day how I feel about it. Why buy it? Some one parted it out of a kit. In the first flurry of S5s to hit our market they could only be purchased with the kit lens. I was able to buy a basically new lens for a song since the original owner pulled the camera out of the box and handed his ready salesperson the lens to sell off for him. 

For me it makes a lot of sense. I'm not much of a wide angle fan but sometimes I need to go as wide as 20mm to get everything in that a client wants in a shot. I'd bought the 20mm f1.4 Sigma Art last fall but it was big, heavy and unwieldy. And, as an architectural photographer friend commented, "Who ever needs to shoot wide angle lenses at f1.4? Doesn't make sense." The 20-60mm, if it's sharp enough at 20mm, will fill the bill nicely and save me some weight in the camera bag. Bonus, the 20-60mm is weather sealed.

I didn't buy the S5 and was quickly (effortlessly?) able to rationalize that the money I saved by not endlessly duplicating the camera capabilities in the Panasonic S line could reasonably be put to good use buying a camera that everyone, EVERYONE! more or less demanded I try. That would be the Fuji X-100V. So, when I saw a barely used (500 actuations?) chrome version on my local dealer's website I meandered up to the store, haggled a bit (just for fun) and bought it. Turns out it's much, much better than the Fuji X-100T I actually did purchase three or four years ago, and it's infinitely improved over the very original X-100 I played with at the line's inception. It's so good that I can now say that I am happy to tolerate a fixed 35mm lens. 

The X-100V is a camera that launched this year and its sensor is great. How much do I like it? Well, I may still be in the "infatuation" phase but after shooting it for less than a week I went back and paid full price for a brand new black one as well. 

But in reviewing the gear that hit the market this year I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't mention a camera from a different brand that is equally impressive. It's the Sony A7Siii. Yes, it's a video centric camera but I long since decided that we're all heading towards producing web content almost exclusively and 12 megapixels just isn't a roadblock anymore. We've given up the pretense that all cameras have to be able to push out enough megapixels to make 40 by 60 inch wall prints. Do people even put prints up anymore?

Sony has made so many improvements over their previous A7mk2 that it's a totally different camera. An amazingly high resolution EVF, a much more robust battery, faster processing, higher data rate codecs, the ability to deliver (ostensibly...) 16 bit raw video files via an Atomos Ninja V or Shogun and a full complement of tools to make the camera faster and easier to use. Add the audio adapter to the hot shoe and you have a camera that is adaptable to just about any video or cinematic project. Even the memory card implementation is super; you can use either SD or CFE cards in either of the two slots.  Vrooom!

If I were still using Sony cameras I'd have this camera on my most immediate list. But, of course that presupposes that we have some clients around to do some work with. Or actors we can make movies of without masks. Still, if you have the need for video and desire stuff like 120 fps 4K and a superior EVF experience (and a lot more) this camera is a stone cold bargain at $3500. It even looks nicer than any previous A7 series camera. 

My sometimes video collaborator and full time friend, James, picked up the A7Siii early on and he was clearly impressed with the color and noise rendering performance on a recent video project for a large software company. Basically, if you set the exposure correctly and do a simple white balance you'll be through with post processing at record speed. If you use S-Log and the Sony supplied LUT in post you can pretty much deliver SOOC. That's big when it comes to video. 

On a non-video front I've played around with a Nikon Z7mk2 and it's really a great stills camera. It may also be a highly competent video machine but I just had time to play with it in its photography capacity. The AF is extremely fast and sure. The 24-70mm f4.0 is very sharp and the overall handling of the camera is great. The camera uses two of their fast processors, has dual card slots (although one is SD and the other is CF Express B), can be powered by USB and the video specs look good. 

But for me the very nicest thing about the new camera, besides its much improved speed, is the handling and the hand feel. It just feels comfortable and familiar even though the body style is very different from generations of DSLRs. This is a camera that begs to tag along for a full day of shooting. Even more so when paired with the new zoom lens. Which is phenomenally good. Worthy of that big sensor.  Nikon is not side-lined yet. And if the markets recover we may see a bump in many camera maker's bottom lines in the year to come. I'm not going to jinx it by saying "it can't get any worse..." 

Wrap up. I've learned how to spend quiet time alone this year. How to dig into books I should have read decades ago but put off while I dragged cameras hither and yon. I've learned a tremendous amount about using digital video cameras. And new-fangled accessories.  On the shooting end it's so different from the film and tape motion picture cameras I worked with in decades past. I've learned how to actually stop working and not worry. I've learned that all the new shoes I bought in 2019 probably won't get worn much until the end of next year. Not much call for suits and ties right now either. 

I've learned to enjoy eating at home and can actually cook a few more dishes than were in my repertoire just last year. And I've learned to just dive in and do the dishes without having to be asked.

I think I'm also learning to use my intuition better; I've dodged some dodgy jobs and weird situations just by paying attention to how I really feel about stuff and it's actually a profitable way to go through life. You just have to slow down enough to listen to some inner voice.

I'm waiting (im) patiently for my final delivery of the year. Will the lens hood I ordered for the black X-100V finally make it from Amazon's Carrier Facility here in Austin where it has been languishing since 8:45 a.m. today? Or will it be a tardy treat for 2021? I guess only this inquiring mind wants to know...

Thanks for reading this year. I hope you'll tune in for 2021. Maybe it will all be unicorns and rainbows, and all the markets, including photography, will recover and blossom. I'll be happy to write those stories. 

A bit less dark drama would be nice. 

12.30.2020

Heading out for a walk, fully cognizant that rain was coming soon. So what?

I'm currently addicted to shooting into one of those highly curved mirrors
that sits at the exit of parking garages to help drivers "see" pedestrians. 
fun house mirrors indeed.

Yesterday I carefully disassembled all the camera and lens combinations in my office and put all the cameras and lenses in their respective spots in the equipment drawers. In a way this action was a punctuation of my current resolve not to work, commercially, until I've gotten a vaccine (meaning, really, until Belinda and I both have been vaccinated). Over the course of a typical year the gear is always in flux with some stuff going into short term storage (days) while other stuff came out for different style jobs. I might have a camera bag with micro four thirds cameras and lenses sitting on one part of the floor because it was coming back from a project while close by there was another bag that had just been packed full of different cameras, ready to go out. 

When camera systems return home the memory cards get pulled, the batteries are extracted for charging, and the lenses are inspected and cleaned, if necessary. The second half of this year was more an exercise in adding, evaluating and then subtracting cameras and lenses based on how they performed in certain video situations. How long a lens can I use before vibration ruins the positive effects of reach? Which cameras are less noisy? Where's the trade-off between small and large sensors? How long will the internal batteries last? Which cameras can do power delivery over USB while running? But since early December all these issues have been put on hold.

All that matters now is whether I want to take a camera along with me on a walk or not. I don't have any defined projects I'm working on now; either for clients or myself. I want to shoot portraits my way and don't want to spin my wheels doing some alternative projects just to keep busy. I can figure out how to keep busy in so many other ways. If I come up short of things to do I'm sure my family can provide me a list... (attempt at light-hearted humor).

So I now choose the cameras that are most comfortable and convenient to walk with. So far these have included the Canon G16s, an old Rollei 35S film camera (with the unprocessed roll still in it after several weeks--an encapsulated review of the current film process), an Alpa 9D SLR with a 50mm Macro Switar lens on it (also with undeveloped film lurking inside), and the new (to me) Fuji X100V.

I took the Fuji out today and, being especially prescient, I also took along a Ziploc(tm) plastic bag to use as a minimalist camera protector --- in case of rain. Of which there was plenty. I like the Fuji X100V in spite of the focal length of the fixed lens. The camera itself reminds me of many of the rangefinders I owned in the past and, as I've written recently, I really like the files the camera produces. They are --- beautiful. My dissonance about focal length is ameliorated by the ability to do a 50mm frame easily, instead.

I really wanted to walk mid-day today because the weather people were predicting that this would be the time frame during which our weather would go through a big change. And there's something refreshing and rejuvenating in being caught in the storm, so to speak. 

The Fuji of choice was the chrome version of the X-100V because it already has its chrome lens hood. I got a note yesterday from Amazon.com telling me that my black lens hood which was supposed to be delivered had been destroyed in transit and was now undeliverable. They refunded my purchase price and gave me a ten dollar credit to assuage my hurt feelings about not getting the product nearly instantaneously. I re-ordered it and am expecting delivery tomorrow. But now it's ten dollars cheaper. Funny how that works.

I've yet to run any real photons through the black one I bought on Monday but will get on it as soon as its new hood arrives. 

I felt at loose ends this morning having finished all 2020 paperwork, reporting, conferring and bill paying. I feel like I'm in a big holding pattern until we start digging into the new year. A walk always helps me figure stuff out so I parked near a giant, historic tree called, Treaty Oak, and walked past the new murals under the rail road bridge over Lamar Blvd. I've been snapping away at my favorite parts of the mural since it started and today was no exception. 

I don't know what the image below represents but I like it and I liked the shaft of daylight coming from the top left of the frame. When I parked the car I had the camera set to shoot in the Acros film simulation but I knew the photo below was really all about color so I switched to Eterna which is like using a flat file in video. You can ramp up the contrast and saturation to your heart's content in post. Which I did.

I walked around the corner to Epoch Coffee, which I found recently, in desperation, after Intelligentsia Coffee suspended operation here. The coffee is not quite as good but the shop is open and you can actually get coffee. Which makes Epoch, temporarily, better. 

A side note: I like a bit of cream in my coffee and in the days of self-serve condiments you could regulate your coffee exactly. Now, all coffee enhancements and additions are made by the people behind the Plexiglas  screens. And it seems somehow wrong to return the coffee once you've handled it and taken the lid off if you feel you might need just a touch more something. I propose that Greytag MacBeth make a coffee/creme calibration chart which would show coffees from black to overly adulterated, and all shades in between. Each shade gradation would be labeled with a number to designate a fixed value of cream to coffee ratio. We could call these CC Zones (coffee/cream zones). This would allow customers to order exactly the amount of cream they'd like in their coffee with so much higher degree of accuracy than we have now. 

I can imagine a bright and happy future in which I could order like so: "I'd like the organic Columbian Medium Roast Drip Coffee with Zone 5." At that point the barista or wait person would know exactly how the patron would like his or her or their coffee served and, if coffee drinkers have the pocket-sized chart it would make correcting a sloppy coffee server's faulty cream addition much more conclusive. But I guess there are bigger world problems to tackle... (damn! more ellipses!).   

Today's coffee was about one full zone darker than I would have liked it but 2020 has taught us how to handle adversity more gracefully. I didn't ask for a re-do; I thought: What would the Buddha do if his coffee didn't have enough cream? In a moment of satori I imagined that he'd learn to like drinking it a bit dark. At least in this instance.
After sitting on a stone bench drinking the coffee I tossed the cup into one of those binary trash versus recycling, divided waste cans, being very carefully to separate the recyclable lid and insulating cardboard into one slot and the cup into the other. And I walked into downtown. 

It was gray and sullen outside. There were few people on the street and the sky glowered like a politician in his last gasp of judicially protesting his opponent's win. Rain splashed down in unenthusiastic micro-bursts and then relented leaving all three of us pedestrians to wonder when the next micro-soaking would occur. 

As luck would have it the rain and the threatening black clouds, rolling in with a 20 mph north wind, held off until I hit the spot on my intended walk that marked the furthest point from my automobile. Then the rain started to come down with a hellish fury. Real Wrath of God kind of rain. But, having been a Boy Scout I was as prepared as I could be. The new camera went into the one gallon Ziploc(tm) plastic bag and I sealed it up. The rain jacket I'd been carrying in my left hand for most of the day got put on. The hood fastened under my chin with Velcro. 

And, without any other rain protection (for pants? shoes? glasses?) I trudged back through downtown walking the long, ever more dampening mile and a half to the car.

Did I come home with wonderful images? Nope. But I did come home with coffee ice cream because I stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home. 

I'd love to tell you the Fuji camera is a miraculous machine that just keeps blazing away regardless of torrential rain, driven by wind Harpies, but I didn't have a filter on the camera and that's the only way it truly becomes water resistant. I didn't see much to photograph; I had my head down watching for fast moving puddles.

When I left the house it was a balmy 74° and by the time I got home it was in the low 50's. Tonight we will dip into the 30's and there's even talk about "wintery mix." Whatever the heck that is. 

But I will say that it's still fun to get caught in the rain. It's still fun to smell the clean freshness of a showered world. It's fun to see how much better the paint on cars looks when they are wet. Now, if my socks dry out things will be net positive for the day.

A note: Following along in the wacky precedent of being the most bizarre of countries, our federal government  is delivering the vaccines for Covid to the 50 individual states and letting each state decide their own priorities for distribution. The smarter states have, of course, prioritized the health care providers and first responders, followed by essential workers, followed closely by ancient people living in assisted living situations. But not Texas. 

Yahoo! We've decided that we'll do heath care workers and the shut-in seniors first but after that it's a grab all for anyone over 65, or any one of any age professing to have a pre-existing condition. If we lose a few grocery store clerks or other essential workers well, that's too bad. Gotta get those 65 year olds first. And the obese. Of course, the guidance is: 

"Here's a map of all the pharmacies and clinics in your area. Just call each one of them over and over again until you finally find one that might have the first dose. It's your ball, better catch it fast!"

Confidence inspiring to say the least. I say we go full-on Capitalist here and just start bidding for doses.... screw everyone else. (That WAS sarcasm!!!). Of course, our elected representatives here and in Washington jumped the line at the very first opportunity. As if they were at all essential...

Jeez.