12.09.2013

THE FIVE CAM SLAM.

Samsung Galaxy NX. Kit Lens.

I had a fun, raucous and loud assignment this past weekend. I was asked to photograph the opening of the new location for the Children's Museum (re-named, The Thinkery) on Saturday. I spent most of my day there and, capriciously, used five different cameras to take nearly 2,000 images. When I left my house at eight in the morning it was the coldest day we've had yet this year in Austin, with the temperature hovering aroun 27 degrees. I packed two Panasonic GH3s, one Panasonic G6 and a Sony a99 into my big Domke bag, along with a fun assortment of lenses. But wait, that's only four cameras... Oh, yeah, I also had a brand, spanking, new Samsung Galaxy NX body and a kit lens lingering on the passenger seat of the car. It had been there overnight for a routine "chill test."

When I got to the new museum location at the old Mueller Airport (now a trendy, cool and growing neighborhood) I grabbed the bag and left the Samsung in the trunk along with my swim bag and an extra tripod. The first stop was into the main museum building to check in and then across the street to the big, multi-level parking garage. The wind was whipping and their was moisture in the air. We would start in the parking garage and there would be a mariachi led parade over to the museum. I grabbed out the Sony a99 with the 24-105mm lens and a flash and started making images of kids and their parents enjoying hot chocolate and coffee. The light levels in the garage were very low and it was a difficult location in which to shoot. If I pointed the camera at the walls the outside lighting overwhelmed the interior light and burned to white, even with the flash. I tried to compose images without showing the outside but it wasn't always possible. 

We started the parade and I made images of the whole short procession. When we got into the museum there were a few speeches, a ribbon cutting and then the kids got to tear through a big paper barrier and enter the guts of the museum. I shot the speeches with a mixture of flash, fill flash and available light and figured I would sort out the right direction in post. The paper barrier shot was very much an on camera flash shot.

After the images that required flash were over with I dripped the Sony and the flash into the bag I left under the client's desk in the second floor warren of offices. I spent the rest of the morning shoot with three other cameras: A GH3 with the 14-42mm, a GH3 with the 45-140mm and the G6 with the 25mm 1.4. The cameras all focused quickly and accurately and the files from the GH3s are good and clean up to 3200 ISO. Occasionally I would switch the 25mm to one of the GH3s just to see how the cameras looked with that lens at higher ISOs. After a couple hours shooting available light with that combination I pulled out a 40mm 1.4 Olympus manual focus half frame lens and put in on the G6 in order to try out the focus peaking feature. It worked great, even at f2. 

Around one in the afternoon I decided to put all the rest of the cameras up and go out to my (refrigerated) car to get the Samsung Galaxy NX and use it for a while, just to mix things up. Rookie mistake here. As soon as I walked into the well heated museum space with the 27 degree camera and lens everything condensed over. Instant fog filter. I put the camera under a hand dryer in one of the restrooms and gave it twenty minutes or so to warm up. As soon as the moisture cleared the camera was up and ready. In the next few hours I shot nearly 800 images with the camera and the kit lens at every setting from ISO 400 to ISO 6400 and I decided that, now that I'm shooting with a full production version of the GNX instead of a series of prototypes and pre-prototypes, that the GNX is a pretty good shooting cameras with really good files. Now I regret sending all the super cool lenses back.... 

As the day wound down I finished up with the 25mm Pana/Leica lens on the G6 body and was very happy with how fast (very) and fluid the operation of that combination was. 

So, when I finish shooting a job like this I try to get into post production mode the very next day. I shoot large, super-fine jpgs in all of the cameras (this is to be interpreted to mean that I shot at the largest size setting and the lowest compression setting for each camera) and I am able to do a fair amount of Jpeg file tweaking in the Apple, Inc. program, Aperture 3. 

First thing in the morning, before coffee, I head to the office to ingest every file into Aperture, renaming them with a different code for each camera. I also append metadata and caption info. Once I have them ingested and I've had some coffee I make a quick pass through the whole folder looking for obvious trash (blinks, wildly bad exposure or pegged color) and I dump those files.  Then I go through files with lots of versions and try to find the best versions from each group while dumping all the lesser versions. Once this is done I get down to the work of post processing. Nearly every file is touched; either in a  batch mode or individually and it can be as time consuming as the post processing that wedding photographers do. 

I start with color correction because doing exposure first and then color correcting will shift the first exposure correction and require a second pass. After the color correction I move to exposure  and brightness settings, then on to contrast, then to definition and clarity, then to saturation (most cameras need a slight decrease, the GH3s need a tiny increase...) and finally on to sharpening. I try not to sharpen much as the camera Jpeg engines are already tweaked with my preferred sharpen settings.

Once everything is tweaked I go through one more time to see if there is anything I can throw away. That done I burn three sets of DVDs. One for the client and two for my archives. I know DVDs aren't archival but I also know that some jobs have lifespans that are measured in a few years, even months and not everything I shoot is so amazing that I need it to outlive me. I also have the originals backed up on two hard drives. A final fallback is my written disclaimer to clients advising them that once I have delivered a set of final files they are responsible for archiving their copy. We have no legal obligation after 30 days to maintain the files or provide replacements. In practice we keep them for as long as we can but it moves clients to at least think about safeguarding the IP they've paid for and will need to use in the future. 

How do I like the cameras? The Sony has the best files of all but the worst exposure consistency and the worst auto white balance. I'm starting to think of these full frame, DSLR cameras as more studio cameras or cameras to shoot when you can tether them and take your time to assess the shot closely. The Samsung has the second best files in terms of depth, resolution and low noise. The AWB is somewhere between the Sony a99 and the m4:3 cameras. The best compromise (and all cameras are compromises) is the GH3.  The files from those two cameras stand up well to scrutiny even at 3200 ISO at 100%, if you shoot them bright enough. Underexpose and you'll get back high ISO files from just about all cameras. For sheer joy of shooting the G6 is the best of the bunch. It is so small and light that it becomes almost invisible in actual use. I love it with the 25mm Pana/Leica on it. It weighs next to nothing but the EVF is good and the files, though not as noise free as the GH3 are very good and sharpen up nicely in post. It's a least a full stop noisier than the GH3 but with a fast lens you go right back into the whole compromise thing.

Next time I shoot a day long event I'm leaving the Sony stuff at home and shooting exclusively with my trinity of Panasonics. I love pre-chimping with the EVFs and I love carrying around three cameras with different lenses that, in total, weigh less than the one DSLR with a zoom and a flash. 
Your mileage may vary and you may have emotional reasons or nostalgia to deal with in selecting your gear. It's all a compromise so everyone gets to make the compromises that work best for them. That's the way the photo world works. That's my story from the weekend.

I will say one more thing. I was familiar with the menus and the operation of the cameras and had shot all of them pretty extensively before but if you really want to know how a camera handles then use it for a fast paced, all day assignment. I guarantee that by the end of the day you'll find out what bothers the hell out of you and what makes you smile. Saturday reinforced my feeling that the G6 is a wonderful and well thought out camera for the money. Its only flaw is that there is no "constant preview" (or setting effect, in Sony language) in the manual mode and I think there should be. Even if we can never fix this one thing in firmware I'm happy with the camera.  Too plastic?  No, that's just silly.

14 comments:

Kirk Tuck said...

Three day long assignments and two half day assignments over the course of one week remind me that, A: I am a full time professional photographer with a blog on the side. B: That post production on jobs takes at least as much time as the shooting and travel. C: Doing photography correctly is still hard work.

Frank Grygier said...

The photograph is vintage Tuck and one of the best this year.. The camera makes no difference.Pro photographers do pro work.

David in Seattle said...

Wow, the mid 20's in Austin! That's cold, I think. The last time I passed through that part of Texas, many years ago, a Blue Northern put the kybosh on my travel plans. I enjoyed imagining the camera under the hand dryer. Thanks for a great Blog!!

Brad Calkins said...

You are the only pro I follow that can follow up a blog on keeping life in balance, with a blog on shooting an assignment with 5 cameras and somehow make sense of it all :). But I think that is your point - having fun with it while working!

Chad Wadsworth said...

Ok Kirk, those Pannys sound great. Just let me know when you are ready to pass on to me your A850. I'll be waiting.

Dave Jenkins said...

I had a Panasonic G3 and sold it in favor of a second OMD-5. In retrospect, maybe a mistake. I think it was an underrated camera. May get a G6 when the price comes down some more (as Panny prices seem inevitably to do!).

npatricksmith said...

Kirk,

You are right about the G6's lack of "constant preview mode", but there is a preview mode that shows the effect of the aperture and shutter speed. You have to deficate a Fn button to it. See page 104 in the User's Guide to Advanced Features.

Anonymous said...

I know it's not your bag, but it would be cool if you could shoot some more sports/action stuff (like some of the swimming and XC shots you've posted in the past) but with the m43 cameras. I'm pulled to the format for all the reasons you routinely point out, but as a rank novice whose shooting includes his kid's high school sports and their skiing/snowboarding - it seems that the consistent advice is to stay with traditional dslrs. However, that advice always seems to be aimed at more advanced, or at least wealthier, shooters who are using pro or nearly-pro equipment. I'm one of those crazy "loyalty" guys you joke about and, because I got a k1000 for my high school graduation, am now shooting with a K30. I know the price of m43s drops quickly, and that used stuff can be really cheap - but when the question becomes a new camera or a new lens - for high school football and lacrosse, and for the boys' stunts at the skateboard and ski hill - I'd really be interested in the trade offs between this relatively small dslr and, for instance, the g6. I know this is not an advice forum, but assume there are others in my position.

Anonymous said...

Kirk,I love your blog and check it every day. I am interested in your opinion of the IQ and focus speed between the G6 and the A57. As an amateur am limited on expenses. I shoot all types of photos. I shoot a lot of low light, nature and sports. I have been saving for a G6, but have a opportunity to get an A57 at very low price. I currently have a Sony A700 and a Panny G3. I shoot primarily zooms.

atmtx said...

Kirk, I really like that photograph. Very neat.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk, I went from a gh3 + omd + 4 lenses to an a99 with 2 zeiss primes after I realised price and weight of the m43 kit were getting similar, if not more, than full frame, yet image quality isnt. I will even argue that the a99 gives better footage, as the IS on a fast prime outweighs the technically better quality of the gh3.

I would just like to ask, instead of using two gh3s with average zooms and a g6 + prime, why not stick an average superzoom on an a99 and a cheap minolta 50 1.7 on a second a99? Wont the total weight be similar?

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed your comments about your 'cold' car. Last night after coming back from carol festival it was -27C in the car! Crispy!(SK, Canada)

Kirk Tuck said...

"I would just like to ask, instead of using two gh3s with average zooms and a g6 + prime, why not stick an average superzoom on an a99 and a cheap minolta 50 1.7 on a second a99? Wont the total weight be similar?"

Sorry Anonymous, the GH3 absolutely bitch slaps the a99 for video. It's much sharper and has much higher detail rendering. They might be closer if I were using uncompressed HDMI out of each but that's too big of a hassle for smaller productions.

You might also be laboring under the presumption that I can only have one system at a time. I still own the a99, in fact, several Sony full framers. We use different stuff for....different stuff.

Again, no way the AVCHD codec (at 28mps) comes close to the ALL-I codecs (up to 70 mps) of the GH3 unless you're only playing back on your phone....

Anonymous said...

Hi kirk, actually I follow your blog pretty closely and know you own 2 a99s and an 850, so was just wondering if you ever considered the superzoom option, as You dont really find many pros using sony blogging about using anything less than top glass.

Also for my comment on a99 footage, personally I still feel that the full frame "look" coming out of the camera is more desriable to me than gh3's technically better image as I dont grade heavily and am not really concerned about the higher sharpness or detail.