8.16.2017

I bought a new light for my location kit. I thought you'd want to know about it.

Neewer Vision Four with Radio Trigger. $279.

In the distant past I owned two different flash systems that were designed from the ground up to be used on location and powered by batteries. Both were pack and head systems and both were cumbersome but very useful. I owned the Profoto B600 power pack and head as well as the Elinchrom Rangers RX AS power pack and two heads. Both were older tech. They used sealed lead acid batteries for power and as you can imagine they were both heavy. The Profoto was 600 watt seconds and a nice little system but the batteries only provided between 80 and 120 full power flashes, depending on the ambient temperatures. I had to carry a bunch of heavy and expensive batteries with me to get through a day of shooting. Recharging the batteries took five hours and each replacement battery was about $250 plus shipping. The current Profoto system, with newer battery tech, is well over $2,000.

The second light was my super heavy duty system from Elinchrom. The Ranger RX AS pack and head could belt out 1100 watt seconds at full power and a single (very heavy) battery could pump out about 250 full power flashes before it needed recharged or swapped out for the second ten pound ballast I hauled around as a back up. The pack with battery weighed in at 18+ pounds and, yes, I've carried the system over rough terrain for miles, at times. Not a pleasant way to roll. 

As styles changed and the jobs that required massive amounts of battery fueled flash power declined I sold both of the units and was happy to

Two more weeks and the kid goes back for his last year as an undergrad.

A much younger Ben.

I've come to see the last weeks of August as bittersweet. We love having Ben at home for Summer vacation but when the calendar starts to slip into the second half of August I know that I'll only have a couple more weeks to enjoy his company before he heads back to school. This is his senior year. His academic achievement has been just what we expected it would be. I have a row of Dean's List Honors certificates which he has earned each semester hanging across the wall behind my desk. His excellent performance led him to the stint at S. Korea's prestigious Yonsei University last semester. 

I thought we'd struggle to make all these experiences work out financially but every step has been manageable and his commitment and discipline makes the investment rewarding.

In the first week of September he'll pack his rolling duffle bags and head back up to Saratoga Springs, NY. He's looking forward to cooler weather, rolling hills, and the camaraderie of a bright and engaging group of fellow students.

Someone asked him a week or two ago, when he was assisting me on a video project, if he was planning to follow in my footsteps as far as business was concerned. He smiled and shook his head. I think he realizes that the markets have changed, flattened, whatever and he's interested in so many other things. Too bad; he's a great director.

Ah well. I'll miss the runs around the lake with him in the Summer heat. His mom and I will miss his dry wit at the dinner table. But the family member I feel the most sympathy for is Studio Dog; she will miss him with the kind of intensity only a loyal and totally imprinted dog can feel.

I see more time with Studio Dog in the near future. I'd better stock up the treat jar...

8.15.2017

Client applies reality to thoughts of camera system change.

Good enough for any scenario? Hmmmmm.

I'm in the honeymoon period with my Panasonic GH5. The camera is shiny and new and all the little stuff like the EVF and the dials seem so just right. After shooting the first thousand photos with the camera I started to entertain the idea of taking my vast collection of Sony cameras out to the camera store and trading them in on a total immersion into the micro four thirds system. I'd get a second GH5 body for those seamless two camera shots. Toss in a bunch of cool, new lenses like the 8-18mm Pro lens and the 42.5mm Nocticron. Add the 25mm f1.2 from Olympus and maybe even spring for the 100-400mm Panasonic. I keep talking about the transition to video. In my fevered mind it was starting to make so much sense. 

Then I went to a meeting with one of my long term, medical practice clients and we started talking about Fall projects. Video came up but one of the partners in the group is hesitant to use video. What they do love using is photography. Lots and lots of photography. And when they use it they seem to embrace the idea that bigger is always better. 

One of the images that we'll be re-doing this Fall is a group shot of the doctors on the plaza of the Long Center with the downtown skyline in the background. The last time we shot this particular shot we had fourteen doctors in the the line up and shot them with lots of space around them and an ample amount to dramatic skyline in the background. They made lots of fun, large 30x40 inch prints. They made a large banner with the shot. Essentially, anything they could think of that would challenge the limits of resolution and detail was fair game. 

I went back and researched to see what camera I was using at the time. It was a Nikon D810. So that sets the bar for future shoots. What it really means to me is that the Sony cameras; and the A7Rii in particular, aren't going anywhere. There's always a need in the tool box for sheer, overwhelming detail for some shots and that line of thought extinguished my brief flirtation with crazy system change at this time. 

Thank goodness we have clients around to keep us sane.

OT: Thoughts about swimming this Fall.

2007 Master's Nationals. Austin, Texas.

On the first of October the pool I've been swimming Master's workouts in for the last twenty years will be closing for much needed repair and renovation. The expectation is that the pool will be out of commission until the end of January (at the earliest). This means that everyone on our swim team will need to figure out a new, temporary home at which to swim. Not working out at least five days a week is not an option for the majority of us. 

As the closure date approaches I'm busy researching options. The obvious one is my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, Jamail Swim Center. My friend, Whitney Hedgepeth (Olympian: Backstroke: Two silver medals; one gold) coaches an extremely competitive Masters workout in the big pool there. It's a tough program with tons of no nonsense yardage and tight intervals. There are two drawbacks to swimming at the Longhorn's pool; the first is that it's indoors and I'm used to swimming under blue sky. The second problem is that workouts start at 6 a.m. An additional annoyance would be trying to find parking on a busy campus with nearly 50,000 students plus faculty and staff...

My next choice is the Austin Swim Club run by Brendan Hanson (Six time Olympic medalist who set world records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke). The pool is outdoors and 50 meters, long course. It's about equidistant from my house/studio and there's no indication that parking is ever problematic. Brendan has a reputation as being a demanding coach with tough workouts. Some of the swimmers from our program are negotiating to get a new workout time from this club at 7:30 am. That means my trip there would be against the commuter traffic and by 9 am,  the end of workout, the worst of the rush hour  traffic heading back would be over. 

The final choice would be to swim each day at the spring fed, 1/8th mile long natural pool, Barton Springs Pool. There would be no Masters program to swim with, no pace clock and no lane lines. I would  have to be very disciplined to hit the 68 degree water before first light each morning and push myself to get a really substantial workout done. Barton Springs pool is closed on Thursdays and, when the weather is bad. You have to get there before 7 am if you want a clear path to swim down because the pool starts to get moderately crowded as the light comes up. Not as big an issue in the dead of winter when the temperatures drop....

I'm leaning toward option two. We'll see as we get closer. Might not seem like a big deal to most readers but it's a huge shift for me. I've spent six or seven hours a week, over the last twenty years, swimming up and down the same two lanes, looking at the same black line at the bottom of the pool. I think I could blindfold myself and still hit my turns from muscle memory. Like most people I fear change. 

Not a good time to also think about changing camera systems..... too much change would be overwhelming.

8.14.2017

Pushing off the wall in a nice streamline and gliding through the water is the closest most humans will ever come to the sensation of flying.


Testing the Panasonic FZ2500 at ISO 80. Supposedly the extended ISO limits dynamic range. Is that true?

OOC Jpeg with camera set to Vivid and ISO 80

I needed a walk yesterday. I'd heard the news about Charlottesville and I was disturbed that Nazism and racism reared its ugly, nasty head once again; and in such an obvious and hate filled way. I know some readers think we should only talk about photography here but hatred spreads when normal, middle class people like me choose to "duck and cover" for comfort instead of at least making the public statement that racism and Nazism is unacceptable and has no place in our society. Even less so when used as a tool by political opportunists on the far right. If you disagree then feel free to click away and never come back... 

At any rate, I decided to get away from my computer and my phone and just walk with a camera. I recently saw a YouTube video by Tony Northrup making the case that extended low ISOs were not the bad compromise that many technical photography writers have suggested over the years. He backed up his words with tests and examples and it made me curious to see what files from the Panasonic FZ2500, which has extended ISO range to 80, might look like. Would we see a flattening of the contrast or a diminution of dynamic range? Or something else? 

On nearly every other aspect of the camera I have made my peace, figured out the best ways in which to use the camera and have come to really, really like both the raw and Jpeg files I get from it. I've also discovered that the wide ranging lens is close to equalling the lens on the Sony RX10iii when proper focus is achieved. My little foray into lower ISOs would not change my overall opinion of the camera but a great performance at lower ISOs would be yet another tool in its growing tool kit. 

In looking at the finished files later in the evening, yesterday, I noticed that the skies and flat color areas were mostly noise free. No fine pattern graininess or noise. The obvious use for lower ISOs would be in video where one is working with 24 fps set ups with the shutter speed set to 1/50th. If wider apertures are called for the recourse is either to use the lowest ISO possible or depend on neutral density filters. Too bad the extended ISOs are not available in video so the lowest ISO there is 125. 

After carefully inspecting the files I would say that the lower ISO use case for best image quality would be to use the camera on a tripod, use f5.6 for optimum sharpness (pretty much anywhere in the focal length range) and then find the shutter speed that works best in combination with ISO 80. It was a bit of a revelation for me to see just how sharp the files could be. A final suggestion for ultimate sharpness at lowest ISO would be to turn down the noise reduction within your picture profile. A minus two step or three step setting in noise reduction is just about right for increasing very fine detail without introducing any noise that would be visible in normal use or at normal viewing distances. If your life is spent pixel peeping at 200% then all bets are off. 






The second part of my investigation with the FZ 2500 was to ascertain just how sharp that sometimes maligned lens is; especially when used in a normal, handheld fashion (apologies to people who live in the UK and profess to never seeing sunlight --- this is the bright stuff I live with....). The images below are mostly shot at ISO 125 and ISO 200 because I wanted shutter speeds that would allow good, handheld exposures with sharpness.  The image from Bill's Blacksmith shop is near the longest end of the lens. But the coffee sign painted on the side of the parking garage below ranges from the widest end to the longest end. 

While it may not be apparent in the web compressed images here the sharpness at all focal lengths (mostly shot at f5.6) is very, very good. On par with many of the lens and camera combinations with bigger sensor sizes that I've used in the past. 









Got brick walls if you want them..


As I've noted before, the FZ2500 is a very good still photography camera for many uses. Its one weak spot is high ISO performance. That's a trade off between its sensor size, cost and flexibility. When you add in the amazingly good video performance of the camera it's one on the best bargains on the market today.

Finally, I don't care which political party you affiliate yourself with, hateful racism and any embrace of Nazi ideas is always wrong and we should all stand up against any incursion of this into our society.

8.12.2017

I shot a photography assignment with the Olympus 12-100mm and the GH5 yesterday. Here are a few random observations.


A client I'd done work for ten years ago called me a few weeks back and asked if I could do a photo shoot to replace the images on their website that had been there for over a decade (now that's how to get your money's worth out of a photographer!). When we did the original website it was cool just to have a well designed site and basically the photography was little more than a documentation to prove that the staff existed and that the firm actually had physical offices. Nothing fancy to the photography.

Now so much water has flowed beneath the bridges that photography for a website is a different conversation. The firm still has a central office but it's more of a way station. Most of the executives are working from home or from small, single person, satellite offices that are close to their homes. The client's thoughts about websites have changed as well. Rather than have individual headshots against anonymous backgrounds they wanted to do something much more casual and almost conversational with their people photography. Their business is still a "people" business and they want their people to be visible but they want to be seen as approachable, likable and congenial. Also important was to show their cohesiveness as a team.

I like their out of the box thinking. They asked me (as the assignment) to join their six person executive leadership team for lunch at a new restaurant and to shoot  candid images of them at lunch as they talked and laughed and shared a meal together. The client checked with the restaurant and made sure it was okay with them to have me shooting, almost randomly, in their main dining room during a busy lunch. This being Austin, Texas, home of the very idea of laid back, it was no problem.

The restaurant is near downtown and is in a re-purposed power plant facility. It's very cool. There were a couple stories of glass windows and all the furnishings were spare and modern. We wouldn't be lighting anything but I had full license to be as intrusive and

8.09.2017

I live in Austin. I should show some photographs of live music performances. Don't want to get typecast as someone who can only shoot corporate......

Austin likes to call itself the "Live Music Capitol." We get a lot of musicians, bands, performers through the city on a extremely regular basis and there's well over 100 venues for live music every night of the week. So, if you've been a photographer in Austin long enough you've probably done some concert shots or performance shots. I know I have done my share.... Here's a small selection from my collection....

8.08.2017

A small set up for quick, run-and-gun video conversations.

Panasonic GH5+Olympus 12-100mm f4.0+Camvate Camera Rig Cage+ Saramonic SmartRig+ Pre-Amp + Aputure Diety microphone + Audio Technica isolating headphones. 
Manfrotto fluid head and Berlebach wooden tripod. Add batteries. Push red button. Make sure you see the flashing red indicator or nothing really happened.

Test it all before you go out the door. 

Make sure you can look through your viewfinder without poking yourself in the eye with the back of the microphone.

Test the lens with the body you're going to use it with. 

Have a plan to take the whole rig off the tripod.

Work with your pre-amp enough times that you know where the gain knob is without having to look.

Grab the correct release lever. Nothing worse that watching a camera slide off the rails.

Figure out how you're going to hold that puppy when you want to move around. 

Do you really need an external monitor if you need to be very mobile (not with the GH5 at 30 fps).

Can you access all the menu items quickly?

Is your cage rock solid?

Did you set the headphone levels correctly? (Any alternate advice on the proper way to set headphone levels? Chime in please!).

Did you bring the right tripod or do you wish you could go up another foot?

Did you get the advance check?

Did the bank cash it for you?



It's fun to look back at old campaigns. Reminds us of what we are capable.


In the early days of digital imaging I worked with an agency called, Dandy Idea, to create a series of magazine print ads and posters for the city of Round Rock, Texas. They wanted to up their tourism profile and didn't think being the headquarters for Dell, Inc. was really a major draw for families. 

Since they have great public soccer fields, an enormous number of great baseball/softball fields and lots of areas in which to give road bikers a workout the chamber decided to position the city as a destination for sports. The theme for the campaign was "Game On." and the ads used the stencil type I'm used when I created these images for my portfolio and for direct mail. 

Of course, as scheduling would have it we did the shots in the middle of an especially hot Summer. I got a lot of practice drinking Gatorade(tm) and finding convenient shade. I worked with one of my all time favorite art directors, Greg Barton, and we had a great time looking for locations and doing crazy stuff like me lying belly down in a ditch filled with stingy plants to get the bike shot, or getting my car stuck in the mud on scouting shot (rescued by some good ole boys in a pick-up truck equipped with a winch). 

The photos ran everywhere and the response exceeded expectations. Everyone was happy. You'll probably be happy to know that I can't quite remember what camera and lens I was shooting with back then so I guess it really didn't matter. Right? Just thought I'd share a blast from the days when digital cameras were barely out of the crib......

Actual Competitive Cyclist.

Little Leaguer. 

8.07.2017

Inexpensive flash accessory. Not much money for much enhanced performance in my softbox.


The object above is the business end of my Godox AD200 which is a cross between a portable flash and a mono-light. It's small and agile and comes with a powerful, rechargeable lithium ion battery that pounds out about 500 full power, 200 watt second flashes. The even cooler thing is that the AD200 comes with two different, interchangeable flash heads. One is the bare bulb flash tube in Pyrex that you see in the illustration. The other is a more conventional flash head, like the ones you see used with on camera flashes. That head has a small, LED modeling light incorporated into the package. The bare bulb head has no modeling light. 

The reason to have the bare bulb flash tube is for how well it spreads light into a softbox or even big umbrella. But there is a diffuser that gives you a bit more control over that spread. With the diffuser in front you get a 180 degree light spread which is more efficient (and slightly less "spill-y" than the bare tube). It's well designed and even has ventilation for the flash tube. That's a nice touch. 

I used it both ways; with and without the diffuser and I found the light across the front of the 32x48 inch softbox I like to use to be more even and to have a softer quality to it overall. And there's very little light lost -- maybe 2/3rds of a stop. For a bit less than $20 it's a great addition to your AD200 flash system. Nice when a cool tool is so affordable!







8.06.2017

Can a $70 lens (brand new) deliver decent results on a Micro Four Thirds camera? VSL investigates.


I was buying some cheap bits and pieces for my Godox AD200 flash at Amazon.com a day or two ago and, after getting my pressing flash accessory business squared away, I started doing a little good natured browsing. I was looking to see all the different lenses that are available for my Panasonic cameras. I was especially interested in a fairly fast, normal lens which, on the GH5, would be a 25mm. I was surprised to find a number of choices, including: the (most coveted!!!) Olympus 25mm f1.2 (with 19 elements, no less) as well as the 25mm f1.8 Olympus and it's counterpart, the Panasonic 25mm f1.7. The lens I wasn't expecting to find was a new product by a company called, 7Artisans. 

The lens is a 25mm f1.8 lens that is fully manual in its operation with any of the Olympus or Panasonic cameras. The thing that caught my eye was the price; it was a mild and rational total of $70. 

Usually I read a few reviews before taking any sort of action; even before sticking the item in my shopping cart for later dismissal or acceptance, but in this case there were no reviews. Nada. Nothing. But the lens looked pretty cool, the specs were nice (12 bladed aperture) and I went ahead and

8.05.2017

A quick observation, or two, about using older lenses on newer camera bodies. Like the Panasonic GH5.


It was a super hot Sunday night and I took refuge in the chilly air conditioning at Zach Theatre's Topfer Theatre. I was just in time for the technical rehearsal for "Million Dollar Quartet" and I had a strange combination of cameras and lenses in my little Husky tool bag. It was early days for me with the GH5 but I thought I'd push it around for a while and see if we gelled or if I'd made yet another acquisition error. I would have loved to have shot the show with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 but it wasn't on my radar yet. I went with the ancient 60mm f1.5 from my Olympus Pen collection instead.

The image above is one of hundreds I made during the course of the rehearsal. This one was shot down at 1/60th of second at f2.8 with an ISO of 400.

There are a number of things I like about using the GH5 with older lenses like this one. First, the camera allows you to program in the exact focal length of the lens you are using, down to the millimeter. Most cameras have a list of possible focal lengths you can program in and usually they are about 5mm apart. Or they are common focal lengths. This tells the camera how to use image stabilization correctly for the focal length. I'm not sure that it makes a real difference but if you are picky it's nice to be able to select 25mm instead of 24mm if 25mm is the actual focal length.

In my limited experience, with older legacy lenses programmed in like this, the camera does a good job with stabilization.

The second thing that's nice for shooters of older, manual focus lenses is the focus peaking. After looking through a lot of frames I've found very few from the evening's shoot where I missed focus. When I first wrote about the focus peaking performance I gave the G85 higher marks because the frames looked better, in review, on the screen on the back of the camera. I gave credit to a better implementation of focus peaking. But after spending time with the files from the GH5 I found that they images were sharper when inspected on my computer monitor. Apparently, and I have duplicated this in camera, the initial write to the card generates a lower res review file but the actual file is almost always sharper. I think the camera is set up this way in order to optimize for speed of capture. Reviewing on the fly is always fraught with peril anyway.

I don't think the camera, in Jpeg, is writing 1:1 review files. There is no advantage to reviewing files at the 16X magnification on the rear screen over reviewing the same files at 8X. That tells me that 8x is the maximum resolution of the review image and going to 16X just shows you the same pixels larger; which looks less sharp. It's one of the many small things that take experimenting and getting used to working with a new camera. A kneejerk reaction would be: "Is the GH5 less sharp?!!" But it would not be an accurate assessment of the actual files.

Another observation is how much better an exposure tool zebras can be than judging a scene in the finder, by eye, or using a histogram. I've started setting my zebras at 75% because that's the point at which most caucasian skin starts to overexpose. If I have a caucasian actor in front of the camera and I'm trying to accurately set exposure I want to be able to ignore the effects of direct stage lights shining into the lens and brighter areas in the scene and just see how my exposure setting relates to correct skin exposure. I shift exposure until I start getting zebra stripes on a face and then back off until the just go away and I know I'm in a great exposure zone for the important subjects on stage. It's a great way to narrow in on getting the exposure right on the subject that you choose. This isn't particular to manual focusing lenses only; it works with all lenses.

I'm coming to grips with more and more features of the camera and as I learn what works well I try to adapt it to my working methodologies. I'll probably put the zebra control on the function button next to the lens because it's nice to be able to toggle it on and off. After I've set an exposure the zebras can be annoying. You can set two different custom zebra settings in the GH5 and toggle between them. It's a really nice way to "meter."

8.04.2017

Another lovely morning (not) wasted at the swimming pool.


A VSL reader sent along a link to a blog post from Neil van Niekirk the day before yesterday. It was sobering. Neil was the person who helped me decide to become a Craftsy.com contributor and he also provided a great section of photographs and writing for my book on LED Lighting back in 2010. He's a great photographer and a popular blogger about photography but this blog from him was completely different. 

In it he talked about having a heart attack on his first day of vacation in Italy. It sounds like he was treated promptly and got great care. He's on target to make a good recovery. But his post sounded alarms that should be heeded not just by photographers but by anyone who has let their diet, fitness and stress management get out of whack. Just what Neil admitted he had done in his post...

Neil and his cardiologist partly blamed the sedentary lifestyle of most visual creators for causing his cardiac event. Photographers and videographers spend long days sitting almost motionless in front of their workstations editing their still images, making precise corrections and, in the case of videographers, working an edit over and over again to get it just right. Sitting, it seems, is as bad for us humans as smoking cigarettes or knocking back Scotch and sodas. 

And I've noticed that the more focused we get on these sedentary tasks the more importance (and stress) we attach to what we're doing and the deadlines surrounding the processes. When we're stressed time management tends to fly out the window and we fast track our food consumption, replacing healthy meals and snacks with things that are highly pleasurable,  and easy to eat with one hand while keeping the other hand on that all important computer mouse/pen tool/touchpad/phone. Pizza. Chips. Soft drinks, etc.

It's a killer combination. Business stress, large periods of sedentary isolation, junky, convenient food.  

I had my own health scare a long time ago and I've never forgotten the lessons I learned back then. I used to think of my time in the pool as a bit selfish and self-indulgent but now I think my disciplined approach to exercise is a benefit to me and my family on which I cannot put a price tag. Swimming every morning has kept me healthy and focused. I am within five pounds of weighing what I did when I left college nearly forty years ago.  And my blood pressure is probably lower.

Swim practice started right on time this morning at 7am. I was in lane three, leading my three other lane mates through the workout. I felt like I could accomplish anything. But I also realized, after reading Neil's blog post, just how important the ongoing camaraderie is as well. The joking around during the short breaks between sets, catching up during kick sets and checking in with each other as we leave the pool. 

Most people have ample opportunities to socialize all day long in their workplaces but creative people tend to spend a lot of their work lives in solitary pursuits. I remind myself how important it is to hit "sleep" on my computer and head over to the coffee shop to catch up with friends. How vital it is to my general health to meet Paul for sushi on Thursdays or to meet a few other friends for a stroll through the salad bar at Jason's Deli. 

Exercise, diet, sleep and community. It's worth remembering that none of these things are wasted time. None of them are diminished productivity. It's the opposite. We should work just enough to be able to do these things. Everything beyond work should be play. 

I'm sending all the good thoughts and positive energy I can to Neil. The great thing is that creative people tend toward resilience and discipline. I think Neil will do well. It sounds like he's focusing on creating a healthier lifestyle.

It's a reminder to me that taking time to take care of yourself is not selfish. Remember that when cabin pressure drops it's vital to put on your oxygen mask first and then help the people around you. That's just how it works. 

Think good thoughts! I think I'll head back over to the pool and get in a few more laps before lunch....


The "Aspirational" car. The "Aspirational" camera. Do you age out of that paradigm?


I was having coffee with a friend and we went down the conversational path of..."What if money was no object....?" It all started because we were talking about cars. Now, you have to understand that both of us have spent the last thirty or so years pursuing photography as both a hobby and business so it's not like we're going to wake up next Monday with some uncontrolled impulse and rush out to buy a Bentley or Ferrari, (or the cash with which to do so) but when the question, "If money was no object and you had to buy a new car what would you get???" came up we both paused to think about it.

When I was in my thirties I could have blurted out a laundry list of cool cars. I could go vintage with a fully restored Sunbeam Tiger. I would have been equally thrilled with a restored 1967 Pontiac GTO with the triple carburetor set-up. There were a couple of BMW Alpinas that I would have lusted after and, of course, there was always the gull wing door Mercedes. I might have also tossed in a Lancia Beta Scorpion and, of course, one of the perennial Porsche 911 variants.

In my more practical forties I thought the BMW 5 series cars were the right blend of comfort and performance along with having a trunk big enough to haul around gear for most photo shoots and, at the time, I was happy to buy one. I was even happier to trade it in four years later after and endless series of repair bills....

But somewhere in my mid fifties my perspective about cars changed and I started thinking about them less as toys, status symbols, and fun and started thinking about them in much more practical terms. My interests had more to do with how much photo gear I could get inside, what kind of gas mileage could I get and how small my total cost of ownership could be.

So when we played the "What if money was no object?" game this time I just blurted out the first thing that came into my mind and it was: A Honda Accord. That was it, my "aspirational" car.

I guess I've realized that Austin traffic will never get better, all cars on the local highways spend the majority of their time going less than 20 mph and, as long as the air conditioning, the radio and the bluetooth connection all work well then I think I would find most sedans of a certain size more or less interchangeable. I've owned Hondas for the last ten years, have found them to be cheap to own and reliable and, so, why would I want anything else? Besides, if I had gazillions of dollars I think I would just contract with a luxe car service and never have to worry about parking, dead batteries, pumping gas or getting lost ever again. No car ownership needed.

The car conversation naturally led my mind around to the idea of aspirational cameras. Cameras that you lust after but are just way out of reach. Cameras that are a decided luxury but nevertheless keep calling out to you like the sirens of Greek mythology...

In the film days there were no cameras that were so outlandishly expensive that we could not afford them. I was never drawn to the silly cameras like Leicas cast in platinum and wrapped in the hide of extinct animals but I rarely met a high end Hasselblad I didn't like. But in those days crazy expensive was less than $5K.

When we hit the digital days I'll admit that it became much more difficult to afford the newly developed, stratospheric level cameras. I lusted after the medium format Leaf A7i and some of the very pricy Schneider glass for quite a while. The system I'd mapped out would have run me a bit shy of $60,000 but I could never pull the trigger because my CFO could run the numbers every which way and show me how I would never re-coup that "investment." Not with a practice photographing mostly people for mostly Austin clients.... And in the back of my mind I realized that the tech in the camera would be superseded (not obsoleted) by something better and cheaper within 18 months. But I still wanted that camera. I had the brochure in my desk drawer for a long time.

Then fate stepped in and a photo magazine called and asked me if I would like to review that very system. "Would six weeks with the system be enough time?" I jumped at the chance to be one of the very few people to play with the 40 megapixel, medium format camera and its near perfect German lenses.  But you know that line from the movie "The Adventures of Buckeroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension"? It goes, "Wherever you go....there you are." 

When I actually started working with the camera and lenses there was no big change in what I shot. Of course the images had more detail but it was detail that was only useful in certain use scenarios. I shot a couple of images that I had the local lab make some large prints from. At 30 by 40 inches you could readily see a difference in resolution when compared to the 12-16 megapixel camera files of the day.
The difference in sensor size was nice as well. In terms of focus ramping and that special, out of focus background look one gained about as much as one would going from an APS-C format to a 35mm full frame format. In the end I came to realize that while owning a $60,000 system might be fun and ego gratifying it wasn't really going to change my game as a photographer and it wouldn't be a very smart long term investment.

I also got to test the Mamiya and Phase One cameras in their age of ascendancy and found too that they might provide the potential for better files (where larger print sizes were needed) but not so much better than they shifted any business paradigms which might make them financially productive. As far as personal work went I spent a day walking around shooting with the seven pounds of camera and 180mm f2.8 medium format lens and quickly discovered that the medium format digital cameras were too slow, too heavy and too......ponderous for any sort of normal street shooting. That and, at the time, about one hundred shots per battery charge.

The Leica S2 camera was another camera I considered "aspirational" until I played at length with one. Same issues as above. Different logo.

But now that we've hit the age of sufficiency  I'm finding no cameras that I lust after and can't readily afford to buy. My choices have so much more to do with what the cameras will do for my day to day work than anything else. I am in no hurry to step up (or sideways) from my Sony A7ii camera as my mainstay portrait camera because it just works. And it was cheap. And it works. I've used it on 14 portraits in the last two weeks and each one exceeds the technical parameters I need. Hell, it exceeds the best I could get just a few years ago for any reasonable price. It's a camera I bought used last year for about $1,000.

I guess I should want a Zeiss Otus 100mm f1.4 (if they made one) with which to make portraits but, again, it's the age of sufficiency and I'm finding the all purpose, 70-200mm f4.0 G lens is the perfect lens for almost every work portrait I shoot. I lock in at f5.6 and just blaze away. That gets me just enough focus at the 110-135mm focal range I seem to work in to get sharp focus on lips, eyes and almost back to the ears. Any less depth of field and I'll spend my life explaining to clients why "Bob" isn't totally sharp......

I wasn't chomping at the bit to rush out and buy a Panasonic GH5. It's not the ultimate portrait camera. It's not as good as the cheap, used Sony I bought used when it comes to handling most of my still imaging work. I bought it to make my video look better and to provide video features that make my work in video more productive. Hardly an "aspirational" camera.

But I'm starting to realize that all my notions of "dream" cameras seem to be vanishing. Just like my appraisal of cars. If meteor hit the studio today (and I wasn't there to see it...) what cameras would I buy to replace the splintered and melted remains of the meteor impacted previous cameras? Would I rush out and buy a Phase One 100F? I'd probably buy another A7ii and another 70-200mm f4.0, along with some wider stuff. If the Sony gear was out of stock I'd buy a Canon 5D mk4 and the same kind of lens. And if all the video oriented cameras went up in smoke then the next time around I might just buy a really cool video camera like the Canon C300ii. But the idea that all of these digital cameras will soon be superseded by more able cameras diminishes their allure as "ultimate" cameras after which we just have to lust. Maybe it's the impermanence of the new gear that removes it's sparkle as something you might cherish for 20 years or more.

I still remember when the camera I wanted, and had to scrimp and save up for, was the Leica M5. That, and the 50mm Summilux lens. Once I was able to eventually write the check for that combo the glow of satisfaction lingered on for years and years. I conferred a relative immunity to camera lust.  Every time I pulled the M5 out of the camera bag to use it I appreciated it more and more. Sadly, that feeling about current, digital cameras as left the building. Now my emphasis is on practicality and use parameters and not much more.

I'm curious to know what your aspirational film cameras were and if you've got cameras that you'd love to own in the digital age that give you the same feeling.

I can't be the only one thinking this way, right?


8.01.2017

Video: Million Dollar Quartet. ZACH Theatre.


Gavin Talks about Million Dollar Quartet at ZACH THEATRE from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

(before you comment on technical issues can I ask you to go see the video at Vimeo and sidestep the additional compression that comes free of charge at Blogger? Thanks!)


This is part of a series of videos I've been doing for ZACH Theatre's newest production, Million Dollar Quartet.  It's the true story of an evening in 1956 when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash all gathered together for an impromptu jam session at Sun Studios. The music in the production is almost a greatest hits compilation and the energy the actors/musicians bring to the show is pretty amazing.

I had done a couple of interviews for Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, and for the recent LBJ plays at ZACH, and we found them to be a really good "soft" sell for the productions. People who are somewhat interested could hit the videos for more information while the still images from rehearsals provided another layer of texture and context for the plays. We had thousands of views of the videos and saw a commensurate uptick in ticket sales as a result.

I decided to do some videos again with Million Dollar Quartet and I had a lot of fun interviewing the four musicians.

Doing a set of videos is always more time consuming than you imagine it will be. Our interviews were pretty darn efficient; all done in the course of one long afternoon, but gathering enough material for b-roll required three more visits back to the theater. One for an early rehearsal where I was able to get good videos and good close-ups, as well as the Tech Rehearsal and the Final Dress Rehearsal.

I worked with Ben Tuck to get the interviews. We got to the theater an hour before our first interview appointment, selected our locations and our shooting angles and spent the rest of the time setting up lighting and prepping the room for better audio.

I used the Aputure LightStorm LED panels for our light sources and tried to light a little differently for each actor.

We shot with two cameras. I used the Panasonic FZ2500 running into an Atomos Ninja Flame video recorder as the "A" camera. I was excited to try generating ProRes 422 files and when I look at the original video on my monitor (pre-Vimeo and YouTube compression) I am very happy with the detail and sharpness of the HD footage. I tweaked Gavin's skin tones a bit... but not much. I shot too flat but made up for it with Nattress Curves (a "curves" plug-in for Final Cut Pro X).

Ben shot a second angle using a Sony RX10ii; also in HD, and he used a Sennheiser shotgun microphone on the camera to record scratch audio, which made it easier for me to sync up the two angles in editing.

I am anticipating my next project which will allow me to use the new GH5 as my primary shooting camera and will probably go right back to shooting in 4K again. It's fun to have files that you can crop in on when editing; it makes a difference in how flexible you can be in your editing approach.

I enjoy doing this kind of work and consider it in the same light as I do swim practice: the more often you put yourself out there the quicker and better you learn. But we'll talk about what I learned on this one in a future column. The list of new aspects of my "learning curve" is just too long.



7.30.2017

The idea of the "personal" camera as opposed to the "business" camera.



Camera living on desk, currently. 

I've always enjoyed making delineations between the cameras I used for business and the cameras I used for the sheer joy of shooting and, looking back, I can see that I've always been wired this way; determined to use the "right" camera for the paying job at hand and then picking up the camera that feels best to me to take out onto the streets, into the coffee shops and out to the museums for the pure joy of documenting life. Sure, you can do both things with the same camera but really, if you do this for a living and a hobby wouldn't it be nice to mentally change gears between the two? And wouldn't a change in cameras help facilitate throwing that switch in your brain that let's you switch from making photographs that the clients like (and because they pay you...) to making photographs the likes of which you don't have to care if anyone likes? I know I'm happier this way. 

When I go out to shoot at corporate events I wear a suit and tie. It goes with the territory. But I can hardly wait to get home and, if it's Summer in Austin, change into a pair of well worn shorts, a cool, short sleeved technical shirt and a pair of flip-flops. 

When I go out to photograph the CEO for mega-corporation I'll take along a couple of Sony full frame camera bodies, most likely leading with the A7rii and 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. I'll supplement the camera gear with cases of electronic flash gear or LED panels. But when I'm off the clock I put away those huge file generators, stop weightlifting and trade the best in class for the most comfortable to carry. Today was a case in point. I'd spent last week shooting portraits of physicians in my studio. The camera was the A7Rii with the aforementioned lens and four lights. Since all the appointments were in my studio I traded the suit and tie for khakis and a dress shirt. Yes, I wore decent shoes. 

But when I decided I wanted to roam around Zilker Park today and possibly shoot a bit of 4K video I did not reach for the A7Rii or even the new GH5; I had my eyes firmly fixed on the Panasonic G85 and the lightweight/compact 12-60mm kit lens. At about a quarter the weight of the Sony rig and less than half the weight of the GH5 and the 12-100mm lens carrying the G85 in 105 degree heat, down a dusty path, was much less of a burden than those presented by the other choices. 

My shooting goal was to get a start on creating a stock, 4K video library of Austin attractions, monuments, notable landmarks and typical Austin pastimes. It can't be a bad idea to have good, color rich video of Barton Springs Pool thronged with swimmers in the heat of the Summer, or people sitting out, braving the heat to have coffee at Jo's Coffee on S. Congress Ave. because I am fairly certain that one or more clients will decide in the dead of winter that they need to create a new recruiting video and, Hey! wouldn't it be great if we had some Summer-y shots of people being casual all over the trails and pools and lakes of Austin!? And what about that Graffiti Wall I've heard so much about?....

Here's the thing about shooting popular landmarks in Austin when they are in full use. Peak demand. There's no such thing as adjacent/nearby/reasonably close parking. If you want to hit the big pool at 2 or 3 in the afternoon on a Summer weekend you'll need to get clear that you need to do some hiking to get there. Today I parked at Zach Theatre because I have a hangtag that I can use to access the lot. It's about a mile from the thousand meter long, spring fed pool. You just have to get to the hike and bike trail that runs around Lady Bird Lake and wend your way around on the crushed granite trail to get there. And I have to say that when it gets much over 105 degrees with a bit of humidity tossed in (because the Photo gods can be cruel and playful...) you'd have to be a bit daft to want to drag along more weight than you absolutely need to do your task. 

The Sony stuff and the Hasselblad stuff and the Panasonic GH5 with its new friend, the Heavy Lens, all stayed home in the air conditioning. I put on a pair of walking sandals, grabbed a hat with a brim, put a six stop neutral density filter over the 12-60mm kit lens (58mm) and put that lens on the G85 (cage temporarily discarded) and headed out the door. My one concession to overpacking? I put an extra battery in my left pocket.

Guess what? The little G85 is wonderful. The finder has better than average magnification and I actually used the touchscreen on the back of the camera from time to time. I was lucky with the ND filter and the prevailing light. With the harsh sun I was shooting 24 fps (1/50th shutter) and f5.6-7.1. At those apertures the lens is plenty sharp for video. The dual I.S., combined with the digital/video I.S. works extremely well and the only thing I had to re-learn was the optimum speed at which to pan in order not to create disorienting video. (has to be Kinda Slow). 

The camera seems to do well with subject motion and, since the video was ostensibly for stock, I didn't care about sound and didn't bring along a microphone and its attendant accessories. 

I find that the hotter it gets outside the more stupid I become. I really have to keep my menu choices simple and concentrate on doing things in a certain order when I shoot video. It goes like this: See scene to capture. Find best angle. Check exposure via zebras and eyeball. Make sure shutter speed didn't get accidentally changed. Focus manually. Focus again. Push "record" button. Check to make sure red "rec" light is flashing. Make sure to push "record" button again when I'm done. Do it all over again at a different focal length.  If I don't do the mental check list I often screw up one part or the other of the process. 

I've just reviewed today's footage and am happy with the color, tone and detail of the 4K footage. I'm hoping I can, over time, put together enough of my own footage to cover the b-roll/Austin needs of any of my clients, no matter which season we're in when the project gets signed off on. 

The small camera+kit lens was a joy to use and carry. I can't imagine doing the two mile roundtrip in this disgusting heat dragging along a giant camera bag filled with big bodies and every lens I own. Since this was self-assigned I used the casual camera that appealed to me in the moment. And it was much more comfortable than the "work" gear. 

Reminds me of the period in my life when I shot for clients with 4x5 inch view cameras and Hasselblads and did all of my personal work with a clutch of Leicas. It feels the same today.



 My second most used piece of studio gear. The diffuser holder. 
My most used piece of studio gear. The 50 inch diffuser.

Marvel towel on the left. Drying on a C-Stand. Not happy letting it out of my sight.
Can't take the chance that Ben will get his mitts on it and relocate it with him back to college.


7.29.2017

A video interview with Dave Steakley, Artistic Director of Zach Theatre.


Dave Steakley interview from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I've been working on my "One Man Movie" video chops for a while now and I'm getting comfortable doing spur of the moment interviews. A week or so ago I was at Zach Theatre shooting some photographs of the cast in rehearsal for Million Dollar Quartet, and I thought it would be a great idea to tape and interview with the director of the play, Dave Steakley. (Actually, I had planned the interview in advance and brought along the gear I might need if his schedule permitted...).

When the cast and crew went on their dinner break I set up a couple of lights, and a microphone on a boom, and asked Dave to step in and give me ten minutes of his time. We shot in the main theater and I knew I wouldn't have time to find electrical boxes, run extension cables, etc. so I lit him with two of the Aputure Amaran 672W lights, since they are battery powered; one through a 50 inch, circular diffuser and the other used directly (a stop or two down from the main light). I used the Samson C02 cardioid microphone that I've been writing about recently, running it into the Saramonic pre-amplifier/phantom power unit I've also mentioned.

My camera of choice was the Panasonic fz2500 since I'd used it as my main camera on the previous four Zach actor interviews and feel so comfortable with it. I use it set to manual in every mode. Manual focus, manual exposure, custom white balance, etc. I love touching the focus ring and having the camera punch in for fine focusing. I love the ease of setting the white balance. I love getting home and finding nothing has changed or shifted from clip to clip....

In retrospect I wish I had dropped the stage further out of focus. I'm so used to shooting and post processing still images, I guess I had in mind that I could easily select Dave and use a gaussian blur on the background area but it's not quite so easy to do in video. Better to do things like focus control while you are shooting.

I am fairly happy with the audio. If I remove the music bed and listen just to the dialogue with headphones, I am not really able to hear much noise. Also, with a less focused microphone (when compared to traditional shotgun microphones) placement is not as critical.

Since the interview will only be seen on social media I didn't feel compelled to shoot in 4K, archive in 4K and spend extra time in the edit, so I shot in 1080p, selecting a setting that gave me 100 mbs of information.

I'm getting faster and faster at editing and I believe that part of the credit needs to go to the amount of still photography I had at my fingertips. It makes very effective b-roll, though at one point in the edit process Ben dropped by the studio to see what I was working on. He looked at the piece twice and asked me if I had any other video footage to stick in as b-roll. I asked him why the stills weren't enough and he said, "We millenials really like it if everything is moving all the time." He was kidding about the association with millennials but serious that he feels audiences want more and more kinetic visual structures.

I'll keep practicing but at least I feel like I'm making decent progress...

Just wanted to share the culmination of yesterday's work with you.

On another note, it's too hot here now. It was into the 90s by 10 a.m. this morning. It hit 100 by noon and the thermometer is working its way up toward 108 degrees today. I swam in the early workout to avoid the extra sun exposure but now, after lunch, it feels smart to just stay still in the air conditioning and read something. Not a day to shoot exteriors. Not a day to go for an afternoon run. Not a day to park in a vast and tree-less parking lot. These are essentially our dog days of Summer. 

I can hardly wait until Monday morning; early. That's when I swim in Barton Springs Pool where the water is a constant 68 degrees. It'll keep your core temperature in the safety zone. 

Hope you are staying cool. Now I think I'll start on the next edit.


7.28.2017

Two things I saw on my walk around downtown Austin this morning....

This one is just... funny. 


This one made me stop and consider the painful irony. 
This shop creates marketing that celebrates the differences in 
women's bodies. They are proud to offer fashions for 
both petite and "plus" size women. 

The goal being to avoid shaming people with different body types.

Why then is the dress on the right, clearly intended for a larger sized person,
styled with a giant ice cream cone attached? 

Was someone sending a subconscious message?

Seems odd to me. 

Maybe next time put the ice cream cone right in the middle. 

Retail marketing is certainly replete with social minefields.

Panasonic GH5+Olympus 12-100mm f4. A seriously good match.


Preliminary analysis from use tests indicates that the Olympus 10-100mm f4.0 lens is an excellent lens. When coupled with the GH5 camera from Panasonic I was able to get highly detailed images up to the resolution limits of the sensor. The combination is a heavy package that is not much different from the mass of a typical full frame DSLR with a (shorter zoom range) 24-70mm lens. It should be noted that our reasons for the acquisition of this equipment were strictly for the image performance in video from the combination of the specific camera and lens and were in no way motivated by a need or desire to obtain a "low mass" or "low weight" system.

The images shown here were taken early this morning and are all handheld and taken at the maximum aperture of the lens, or one stop down from maximum aperture. I shot the images as raw files and converted them to Jpegs with Adobe Lightroom. The default sharpening in Lightroom seems a tad high but is easily corrected by reducing the slider setting from +25 to +12. 

As I shot the photographs I used white balance settings which were a match for each scene. If I shot objects in full sun I set the WB to the pictogram of the sun. If I shot in open shade I shot using the WB as indicated by the icon of shade falling from a wall. I used aperture priority but used the 100% zebra setting to protect highlights. If the zebras showed in a light area or a white area with detail I used the exposure compensation control to lower the exposure until the zebras disappeared. I was careful though to ignore zebras nested in specular highlight areas. 

My overall impression of the lens is that it is very sharp and capable of convincing sharpness across the frame. The zoom ring turns in the opposite direction from what I expected it would but I'm reasonable sure I will get used to it in short order. Since the zoom ring is mechanical the direction of rotation cannot be reversed via software. The lens has a push-pull clutch which engages or disengages a true, mechanical manual focus setting. The allows for hard stops at the close focus distance as well as the infinity setting. It offers repeatable settings which makes manual focusing with this lens usable for video work. 

The camera and lens are both heavier and larger than most of the lenses designed for micro four thirds. With that being said the fact that both are bigger and heavier means, at least to me, that they are well matched, ergonomically, and feel very good in my hands. The lens makes the combination a bit front heavy but that's to be expected from a very high quality lens with such a long range of focal lengths. 

I have no idea if the camera's I.S. and the lens I.S. work in tandem but the results with I.S. engaged in both are very satisfactory. I was able to shoot down to 1/8th of a second with good results, even at the longer end of the lens.

As my own testing continues I look forward to setting up typical video interview situations and testing how well the lens renders skin tones. When I finish with that I'll share the results here. 

My last note is just an observation about exposure. I'm very pleased to find that the Panasonic GH5 does a very, very good job at setting exposure automatically. While I made "course corrections" from time to time with the exposure compensation control these we're always in situations that are widely known to fool most camera meters. I would trust the exposure control of the camera for just about any situation that falls into the realm of normal scene tonal structure. 

The combination of lens and camera cost approximately $3300 and provide exceptional value for anyone transitioning from shooting only stills to shooting a combination of stills and videos. A full frame, state of the art camera such as the Sony A7Rii will easily outperform the GH5 for still photography where sheer resolution and dynamic range are concerned. The GH5 will outperform the A7Rii in video, both in overall handling and also the quality of the video captured. While the Sony has advantages in still photography meant to be printed large the Panasonic has an equal advantage with its 10 bit video files. It also provides a more able combination of features for video with niceties such as a full sized HDMI connector, much longer battery life and a much bigger selection of file types/codecs. 

A well equipped visual content creation business would benefit from having both choices in their inventory to deliver optimum results across a wide use spectrum.









Additional blog note: The camera and lens were both purchased from a local retailer. 
I paid the prevailing retail price for both and received no special consideration or discount for 
my purchases other than a free, promotional water bottle. 

The water bottle is good and we'll have one of our "no nonsense" reviews of it up as soon as we put it through it's paces in its hydration implementation configuration. 

Thanks for reading our (always) free content. 

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