10.31.2015

A status report on the Visual Science Lab Headquarters and the safety of our personnel...


First, I want to thank all the readers who got in touch to make sure we were okay here at VSL during and after the epic rains we've had both this weekend and last. We got about 8 inches of rain on Friday morning between midnight and 10 a.m. but other parts of Austin, including the airport, got up to 16 inches in the space of just two hours! Whole neighborhoods were evacuated and flooding was widespread. It was a bad coincidence that we'd had 16 inches of rainfall the weekend before because the ground was too saturated to soak up any of the new rainfall and the water had no where to go but where it was led by gravity.

Fortunately, our house and our offices are located in the Westlake Hills area which is west of downtown and across the lake. We are 690 feet above the base water level of Austin so we are immune from most catastrophic flooding. We are mostly dealing with spots of nuisance flooding where water is coming down the grade from the properties just above us and is jumping the gutters out in the front of our house. If the rains comes down too quickly it sometimes overwhelms the French drain on one wall of the studio and causes water to seep through the masonry and onto the floor.

The main house is never in danger of flooding and, after having lived here for nearly twenty years I'm pretty confident that we don't need to worry about the house proper. The floor in the office is concrete with dense foam tiles laid on top. These tiles are interlocking and easily removable and replaceable; and not expensive. If I get water on the floor of the office I use a wet vacuum, designed for sucking up liquids safely, to remove the water and then, when the weather changes (general in a day or so) I take the tiles outside and let them dry in the sun. The vacuum is plugged into a GFI plug and should be safe to use even in standing water as long as the unit isn't submerged.

All camera equipment is store in rolling tool cabinets that stand eight inches above the floor and all other gear; from backgrounds to light stands, is stored on Metro shelving with the bottom-most shelves set at about 12 inches. Even plugs and power strips are positioned on blocks of dense foam that keep them well above the 1/8th inch of spreading water we get on occasion. Our flooding is more of an inconvenience than a real danger and, so far the wet floor has only happened, at most, once a year; on average.

The real danger would come from driving though the low water crossings that dot Austin. A number of people are drowned each year in central Texas trying to drive through rapid water and being swept away in their vehicles. We're a bunch of sissies. If it looks dangerous we're quick to re-schedule shoots because no shoot is more important than our safety or the safety of our clients. A side issue is that even without danger of drowning, etc. the traffic in Austin comes to a screeching halt with any weather event and it can take hours to get several miles, even on the major highways.

The house and studio have brand new, 40 year roofs on them; installed last month. The gutters are clean and the French drains near the studio are usually functional. Nothing in life is guaranteed but we're feeling pretty safe and mostly dry over here.

Our hearts go out to the people who have been flooded out both in May and now this weekend. We are suggesting that locals can do the most good for those effected by contributing money to the local Red Cross chapter or a similar charity that helps provide emergency aid and shelter to displaced families.

To keep this somewhat photographic....when I went out to shoot some shots of the raging waters at a nearby low water crossing I made sure to take a water resistant lens and camera body. My choice? The Olympus OMD EM-5.2 with a Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 lens. Like the Nikon D750 last weekend, the Olympus spent about an hour in moderate to driving rain and has suffered no ill effects. As I am not a competent weather photographer the images were not very inspiring. That's why I decided to erase them and start over fresh next time.

Thanks for all the good wishes and the concerns for our well being. I appreciated hearing from so many VSL readers. Have a safe week ahead.

10.30.2015

Did Apple just give their users 10 bit color at the monitor? Is it usable on older systems?

iMac:
  Display Type: LCD
  Resolution: 2560 x 1440
  Pixel Depth: 32-Bit Color (ARGB8888)
  Main Display: Yes
  Mirror: Off
  Online: Yes

  Built-In: Yes

              See the type just above? It's from my system profile on my 27 inch Apple iMac. Look down to the
              third line. It shows the pixel depth for the monitor to be 32-bit. This is one of the changes that Apple's new system software (10.11.1), El Capitan, delivers. That might mean that we're now getting 10 bit per channel color! I love the idea of it but have no idea yet whether the increased bit depth is only available in Apple programs like Photo and Preview and not PhotoShop, etc., but I'll wait to hear from our more technical and enlightened readers before I stumble into meaningless conjecture and outright Male Answer Syndrome.

                     Intersting, yes?



Crazy Rain Again in Austin. Two weeks in a row...

Sixth Street.

Last weekend the city of Austin (and the race track at Circuit of the Americas = F1 venue) the mysteries of nature dropped about 16 inches of rain over the course of two days. It was a thin and whipping rain that soaked everything. Zillions of smaller rain drops but delivered in awesome quantity. It generated a lot of flooding and shut down the prelims for the Grand Prix on Saturday. 

I think most Austinites presumed that this was going to be our one Fall drenching and, par for the course, the rain stopped and the sun came out as the last of our car-centered visitors left for their next engagement. We had a wonderful week of moderate temperatures and light winds. 

When I headed for bed last night there was a forecast saying we'd get some rain today but no big panic on the part of weather casters.

Sometime in the early (pre-dawn) hours the rain started falling. By eight a.m. it was falling down a lot. Big, fat, fast, juicy drops. There gutters up on the street looked like white water. The never-ending homebuilding project next door starting sloughing off unprotected topsoil by the ton and diverting it into the storm sewers, and around 9:30 a.m. water started seeping through the low lying East wall of the studio. 

I was working at the computer and I turned around to notice a slow moving sheet of water moving out into the room. I really need to get an expert out to check what's happening with the French drain that runs along the wall but I think I already know = 6.5 inches of rain in about three hours, coming in on top of the 12-16 inches that saturated the ground last week. 

The vacuum cleaner sucked up the water and I cancelled a coffee appointment. Lightning had precluded any idea of early morning swim practice. But I've been lucky,  I just had a little bit of water on the concrete floor. All over South Austin whole neighborhoods are getting evacuated and the airport was completely shut down for four or five hours this morning. I headed out to Trader Joes to get some stuff for dinner and just in my neighborhood several roads were closed. 

Today, in Austin, it's good to have some weatherproof cameras. We've got a few more bands of heavy rain to get through and then the weekend cleans up its act and we get some sunshine and clear skies.

Just in time for Halloween photos. Have fun. Stay dry.



Sponsorships, free product; good intentions meeting subconscious manipulation.


No one at Apple has ever offered, or given, me a computer. They won't even let me cut in line on new release days, and yet I sing their praises whenever the subject of computer appliances arises. Olympus paid me once to be a presenter at a show. I traded long hours of speaking and showing work that I had done with cameras I purchased at retail stores for full price. In direct exchange they traded me a 14-35mm f2.0 lens for my Four Thirds camera system. End of the deal. A one time shot. From that point on I subsided back to being one of the rank and file customers; but I always get a friendly nod from the tech reps with whom I have worked.

I have borrowed gear from our local Nikon rep from time to time. She loans me fun optics because she thinks I might buy one or two if I had the chance to use them. So far I'm winning and I haven't bought any of the esoteric stuff I've tried out. But the last time I borrowed anything was back in 2006 so I'm pretty sure I'm not subconsciously feeling beholden to Nikon because of their ongoing largess.

One time a rep from Leica loaned me a 15mm f2.8 and it was kinda scary because the lens was so frantically expensive. I only used it around the house because I was afraid I might accidentally destroy it out in the wilderness and it was worth more than the car I was driving. Leica didn't get anything out of the loan because there was no such thing as blogs back when this transaction occurred and I didn't even get to brag about using it. Until now.

The same progression holds true for Leaf Systems, Phase One and Mamiya, who all sent me evaluation equipment back when they thought medium format digital equipment might make some headway in the market. I did fair evaluations of their equipment for a magazine that is now defunct, and immediately sent the equipment back to them. I was happy to test the cameras but they may have been less happy with my evaluations.

I have been invited to participate in several junkets from various camera makers while I was shooting with their gear but declined until I got invited to play with the Samsung cameras. I liked the people at the PR agency really well; they are fun and super professional. My problem was always with the cameras. In a way the Samsung cameras and I just have different personalities. It was like having me work on a computer loaded with Microsoft, Windows Eight. Try as I may I just didn't bond with them. The glass was good and some of the sensors were as good as their competitors but the whole mix didn't work for me.

I did a trip to Berlin with Samsung to shoot and write about the Samsung Galaxy NX, but I think all of us (me and the PR company) realized that the social networking leanings of that camera weren't quite in line with my personality -- which is more private and plodding. I was fine shooting the camera but hated the idea of stopping everything to spend time uploading, and social networking, the images.

I continued on but lost my enthusiasm for new product from them because I preferred the cameras I kept buying from other makers and we severed our agreement and went our separate ways. They did send me product  in a  quid pro quo but, for the most part, it didn't work out as either of us planned and all the Samsung cameras have been given away to friends and younger photographers.

I now have a new rule that I won't write about gear at all if there is any financial tie between me and the company that makes it or markets it. That means no pre-release trips to shoot a new product line in a nice locale. No acceptance of gift cameras or lenses with the idea that I will write about them and say nice things. In fact, you may have noticed that I've stopped reviewing new products in the month or so after they come out if I haven't wanted them badly enough to go to the store and buy them by giving my personal credit card a hard workout.

The problem is that any special treatment given to a reviewer immediately gives the appearance of preferential treatment that probably goes in both directions. Added to that is the fact that my sense of ethics winds me up so much that I become too heavy handed in my reviews and actually step over the line in the opposite direction by becoming too critical of the gear. Marking it down for insignificant flaws that were small potatoes in the grand scheme of a camera's design.

To be clear, none of the companies whose cameras I am currently working with had anything at all to do with my selection process and nothing at all to do with my decision to buy. No early deliveries were offered and no discounts proffered. The Olympus, Nikon and Panasonic cameras I own were all bought new, and at retail (same price for me as for you..dammit.) at Precision-Camera.com in Austin, Texas. All six cameras.

I mention this because I see all over the web that so and so is a "fanboy" and must live at Nikon or Canon's teat. I want everyone who reads one of my reviews to know that I'm tossing my money into the same pit everyone else is and those greedy bastards at Olympus, Nikon and Panasonic haven't even stepped forward to offer me a mouse pad, a pen, a promotional baseball cap or a t-shirt with their logo emblazoned in 100 point type, across the front and the back.

If I toss my money away buying a second Panasonic fz 1000 you can rest assured that I didn't get to go to Bora Bora or Tahiti for free in order to pick it up. Its passage of ownership from the store to me was not presaged or dependent on a good night's rest and dinner at a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons Hotel, avec room service. My mastery of the camera; or at least my mastery of a language to describe the virtues of a camera, were not earned over canapés at the pool in Beverly Hills or effected by shooting bikini clad super models in some coastal paradise.

I really have quite an idyllic existence here in Austin and like to think I'm harder to buy than the general forum reader presumes.

Which leads me to my next line of thought: Why do we go back again and again and read the stuff that our jet set reviewers write about cameras? How are they so magical that they can hold a camera in their hands for a week or so, totally understand its every nuance and menu item and then write about it so prolifically? If they are working photographers then where in the heck do they find the time? if they are not working photographers who've given the machines a long and sweaty workout under pressure then why do I care what they say?

There are good sites that do honest reviews. We mostly all read them. But I'm starting to get annoyed at the sites where the entire raison d'être is the uniformly gushy camera review and nothing else. Maybe these guys could spice it up a bit by writing about photographs too. Or at least the occasional ten point list about "how to convince your models to take off their shirts." To hear that the placement of X button is "about one point five millimeters too far to the left for their comfort" is......boring.

10.29.2015

Good working tools for an event photographer. Going traditional.


I just finished an event assignment and I know there are some readers who are interested in what kind of gear an I used on the job and why I made the selections I did. I'm sure the vast majority of our VSL readers are not the least bit interested in gear but I do like to indulge the tiny minority who believe that the gear influences the shooting and the shooting is an influence on what gear you pack and bring to the job. Writing about what I just used helps me either confirm that I did as well as I could or, make me realize that I may have fallen short and might want to reconsider what I drag around with me next time.

To set the stage most of the four and a half days were spent walking around in ballrooms, restaurants, bars, and conference rooms as well as in reception rooms at a race track, in the grand stands and on the Formula One track. In almost every situation the goal was to document people. Small groups of people. Couples. People on a step-and-repeat background with a band, groups of four or five in the grand stands, couples in a fine restaurant with the ambiance of the space and the group behind them. I also photographed some interior spaces and the set up and display of some amazing food. With the exception of portraits taken on the first day there was never a light stand or tripod in sight. 

Everywhere I went and everywhere I shot I needed to be able to work in with just the gear I could carry. If I couldn't carry it for hours at a time I left it in the car. That should set the stage.

Let's start with the small piece of gear up above. It's a pack of filters that Rosco put together for all the fans of the Strobist.com website. It has pre-cut color correction filters that fit directly over the front face of most battery powered strobes. The filter kit includes a range of CTO filters, including an 85 which is a full correction of daylight flash to 3200K tungsten. The filter pack also includes "plus greens" and CTB filters. I bought the collection of filters years ago and was delighted to find that the most popular ones (the ones I like) have included duplicates. Handy for multiple flashes or just as back ups for what is, ultimately, an expendable. 

When I am working in a restaurant, bar or other venue with true incandescent lights I like to put an 85 filter on the flash to get the overall color temperature into the same range. Most dim incandescent lights are between 2600-2900K so there's still a gap between the color temperatures but it's not so obvious and jarring and means that ambient light can be used as non-polluting fill light! Fun and games. A good camera and flash do all the necessary exposure calculations so I just sit back and enjoy images that are more neutral, overall. 

Metz 44 AF-1

The filters would be pretty useless without a flash to put them on so I brought along a dedicated flash for the Nikon DSLR cameras. It's not a Nikon brand flash but it also doesn't have a thermal protection circuit that's more protective than a mother bear and it cost about half of what one of the better flashes from Nikon costs. It's not as flexible in use but it certainly serves my purposes for event work. Here's why: Even though it takes four double "A" batteries it's lighter and smaller than the big Nikon flash units. It meshes with the D750 pretty seamlessly. By that I mean the TTL works well and I'm rarely ever surprised by the exposures. It has a good, powerful AF-illuminator which is a red pattern instead of a white light. It swivels and bounces. The output is lower than the max you can get out of the bigger Nikons but that also means it sips batteries at a much reduced rate. It's pretty common for me to use this flash with a diffuser, a reflective modifier or just bounced and still get 350-500 flashes out of one set of Eneloop batteries. Nice not to have to worry about quick changes in a crowded and noisy venue. 

There are some things I will look for in my next flash. I would like a metal shoe. The system that holds the flash head up for a ceiling bounce could use a stronger detent to hold up my Rogue Flashbender (more on that to come). That's pretty much it. Oh, yes, I would love to have a big, physical dial on the back of the unit with which to turn the flash compensation up and down...

When I use on camera bounce or modified flash I try to keep the flash exposure 1.5 to 2 stops above the ambient light. If my flash is too bright the room goes to dark. If the flash is dialed down too far there's a lot more change of mixed light ruining the look of someone's complexion or of capturing camera and subject movement by "dragging" the shutter. 


I always carry my ancient Phottix off camera cord with me because if I use a diffusion dome on the flash (but never a Gary Fong Tupperware cup...) I like to get the flash up as high as I can reach and direct the flash over to one side (usually my left). This cord was bought as a cheap alternative to the Nikon product and I always meant to buy the more expensive one down the road but this one has been amazingly resilient. Doesn't matter what brand you use but in many, many situations getting that flash off the top of the camera just makes the lighting look so, so much better. I am grudgingly impressed with the cord and I just noticed it does have a metal shoe!


I got tired of using little scraps of foamcore, business cards and rubber bands, index cards and tape, or whatever to attach to my flashes and get some soft front fill while at the same time bouncing a certain amount of light right off the ceiling. Then I found this device and I've been happy carrying it around whenever fast, portable flash is on the menu. The Flashbender has a thick connecting strap that uses a combination of tight, stretchy stuff to hold it on tight as well as a grippy rubber interior surface to the strap that keeps the unit from sliding around on the flash. Inside the square are three piece of armature wire that can be bent and hold that shape in order to form the diffuser to your customized desires. It's nicely done and folds in thirds, in one dimension, for easy packing and transport. Well worth bringing along when you want to fling some photons around... 


I'm having a mini-lovefest with this camera this week. I shot several thousand images with it and less than 5 % required much tweaking in Lightroom to make them highly acceptable or perfect. I like this camera because it does nice Jpegs. I've been using it in the 13.x megapixel mode (medium size) because it's almost unheard of for a client to want to use an event photograph of clients for anything more than a commemorative print, an image on an event gallery or included in electronic collateral for the following year. Translated, that means most of the images could be well shot at 6 MP but I like a bit of comfortable security so I opt for the middle ground. If things are vital and not re-shootable then I'll switch to raw but that's getting rarer and rarer for me in event situations. 

When I use the D750 this way the downsampling in camera seems to create smoother tonalities and less noise in the files. Score! I can store more of them on every card. Score! They take much less time to post process and export, as well as less time to upload into galleries. Yay! On another score, the D750's flash technology is pretty mature so it meshes well with portable flashes in automatic modes. 

The D750 is also just the right size to use as a flash+camera imaging platform. Smaller cameras feel dwarfed by big flashes and small flashes yield harder light and work less well with diffusers like the Flashbender. 

Finally, in "group" mode AF the camera is surefooted with center area, S-AF autofocus. So, the images are sharp, tasty, in focus and well exposed. Just what I want. The final feature? The battery for the camera will take me all the way through a typical event shooting day. Go camera. 


I've tried event photography with everything from Hasselblads and Leica Ms to Panasonic fz 1000s and everything in between. It all comes down to the lens. The right lens can make your day or evening of event shooting comfortable and straightforward or turn you day into a nightmare of juggling optics on and off a camera. 

While there are sharper and better corrected lenses out in the world I'm happy with this compromise. It's actually more than sharp enough for any kind of event work that revolves around people so I don't ever ding it for sharpness. In fact, this past week I shot close to wide open at a lot of the focal lengths and didn't have any issues at all. Now, if you are an architectural photographer this puppy will have you running out of a room screaming. At the wide end the barrel distortion is right there in your face. Even after turning on the in camera distortion correction or working with the profile in Lightroom there is some residual wonkiness. If I use the lens for the purposes it was designed then I have no complaints. If the bulk of my business was straight lines I'd be looking at the new, Sigma 24-35mm f2.0 Art lens instead. Or maybe one of the better corrected, single focal length lenses. 

But what I love about this one is that I can go from big group to tight head shot without much effort, and I have a reasonable assurance that the lens will work well in both circumstances.  If I know that I'll be at a big conference with speakers on stage I will add an 80-200mm f2.8 to the mix. But lately I"ve been experimenting with using this lens (24-120mm) along with the DX crop in the D810 instead. That yields me a 180mm focal length and still delivers good pixel density in the range of 16 megapixels. It may be the perfect all around event tool but the D810 is bigger and heavier than the D750 and not as good as ISO6400. 

To top it all of the whole combination, along with extra camera and flash batteries, a back up lens and bits and pieces, pens and notebooks, all fit into one small, moss green, Tenba backpack. It's comfortable to carry and does a good job of protecting the gear. When you can show up and do a good job with the contents of small, comfortable, not too heavy backpack you've figured it out well. 

Do I need more back-up gear? It's rare to have a camera or lens go down but I've always kept an extra body and lens in the car. Now I'm starting to use the fz 1000 as a back up instead. Smaller overall package but still ample performance in a pinch. 




Just another day at the "office." A shot from the pits at the Austin F1 Grand Prix.


Walking through the pits with a Nikon D750+24-120mm f4.0. Though I had on a rain coat and was holding an umbrella the rain was a 360 degree, immersive experience and I was soaked to the bone when I got back to our suite at the Paddock Club. The camera and lens were both thoroughly soaked but worked fine and continue to work. The weatherproofing that camera makers have been implementing really does seem to work.

The preliminary rounds of the F1 were canceled on Saturday but the rain finally broke on Sunday and the race scheduled the prelims and finals on the same day. I was not there to photograph the cars or the race but to support a corporate clients whose sales event was partially wrapped around F1 festivities.

As the photographer for the business event I worked four very long days and evenings. On Saturday night I was making prints until 4 am for a next morning delivery. But I got to see lots of fast Porsche races before the main event, had a spot just over the finish line from which to see the race and had dinners in some of Austin's finest restaurants --- always with my camera right next to me.

A fun and entertaining weekend of "work." Now we're back to normal life. I've vacated my provided room at the Four Seasons and have made it back to my own neighborhood and, more importantly, our swimming pool.

The pool area was dark this morning when we arrived. We pulled off the insulating covers and watched the steam, backlit by the pool lights, rise into the air. I was swimming some backstroke as the sun came up over the horizon and turned the sky pink and then blue. Our coach, Kristen, wrote a beautiful, almost lyrical workout that had a main set that looked like this:

4 x100 yard freestyle (fast)  on 1:35
50 freestyle (recovery) on :60
3x 100 freestyle + 1x 100 individual medley (fly, back, breast, free by 25s)
50 freestyle
2x 100 freestyle + 2x 100 individual medley
50 freestyle
1X 100 freestyle + 3X 100 individual medley
50 freestyle
4X 100 yard individual medley
50 freestyle

It was beautiful. With the warm up and some other sets we managed to plow through 3100 yards this morning before most people had their coffee in hand. Nice feeling. I missed that over the weekend. I had the coffee; no problem, but the swims were nowhere to be found.

Back in the groove and happy about it.

10.27.2015

The agony and the near ecstasy of using the FZ1000 for an event. (note: for rain, low light, and flash, keep your DSLR at hand).

Just a fun photograph. Not even tangentially associated with the 
subject matter of the blog. Shot by me for a telecom company in 
the earlier days of digital.

Ah. It was the ultimate in hubris from a smart ass photographer who thought his skill and talent could overwhelm and cheat the laws of physics only to end up chained to a rock, waiting for the eagle to come by and gnaw at his liver....

So, I had a little luck in some nice light in the middle of the day and shot a few images I liked with the Panasonic FZ 1000 and then I went off the deep end. I capriciously decided that I could press the one inch sensor into any job at any time. My luck held until the second day of a four day long job. I showed up bright and early for an assignment in a hotel ballroom to discover that someone had gelled the ballroom down lights of part of the room with orange theatrical gels. Other parts of the ballroom were lit with naked fluorescent can lights and at the back of the room was a 10 by 16 foot, high output LED video screen which would show massive versions of speakers' PowerPoint presentations.  

The lights were turned down low to prevent washing out the LED screen, but honesty, the screen was so bright they needn't have bothered. The room had four color sections: One part was cast in deep orange with scant little from any other part of the spectrum. The second were the outposts of greenish, unfiltered fluorescent lights. The third color section was the ever changing wash of mostly blueish light coming off the amazingly powerful video screen. And finally, there were areas where attendees at this large, roundtable discussion were not lit. At all. This was a location designed to kill the spirit of any photographer. Especially one who had accepted the client request not to use any sort of flash. 

I was early and as I stared around the hellish ballroom (both figuratively and color wise) I got angry, frustrated and a bit nervous. I still held out hope, however, that by sheer dint of experience, I would be able to pull it off. "It" being gorgeous, thoughtful photographs of people engaged in the give and take of spirited debate and conceptual sharing. 

Well, the problem with orange gelled anything is that it narrows the available spectrum for the camera sensor. Essentially the wavelengths being delivered to the sensor in this case are almost entirely in the red spectrum and any attempt at color balancing causes the camera to push the blue and green channels to the limits. That's where the noise lives. And then the noise reduction kicks in and everything is a mess. I gave it a valiant try but I could tell the files were always going to be either mostly orange or mostly noisy. Especially above 1600 ISO. 

Fortunately, a stint in the Boy Scouts back in the 1960s left me with the mindset of always being prepared. I tossed the little(?) Panasonic back into its bag and went up to my hotel room to fetch the "safety" camera; the Nikon D750 and it's pal, the 24-120mm lens. The images will still be mostly orange but the camera handles the noise better at the elevated ISO at which I had to shoot. 

I learned a lot by pressing the wrong camera into the wrong job. I learned that the one inch cameras are good at low noise file production if the circumstances are optimal. That includes full spectrum light sources and enough light to register. For the record, the fz 1000 had no trouble focusing on anything I wanted it to focus on. It was at least as good in focusing as the Nikon D750. Maybe better. 

I learned that I can only get the flash exposures I want with the consistency I need if I use flashes in a manual exposure mode on the mirrorless cameras (a lesson I learn again and again). I set the flash at 1/8th or 1/16th power and use the guide number method for determining exposure. It works all the time but it's not automatic. Your brain has to be engaged. When I switched over to the Nikon the flash on full TTL auto was right on the money time after time. 

Does this mean I'm over the fz1000? Not at all. But I'll use it more intelligently in the future. It's a great walk around camera and a great daylight camera but it's hopelessly outclassed by the D750 when it comes to creating files under mixed light at ISO 6400, no matter how badly I wish it wasn't so. 

But, let me tell you where the fz 1000 does shine; it's a wonderful and inexpensive 4K video camera. My kid's birthday was last week and he's off at school 2,000 miles from home. I thought it would be fun and would make him smile if I could put together a video of his Austin friends wishing him well for his birthday. I went around with the fz 1000 and a small microphone and interviewed as many of his friends as I could find. I also got on camera birthday wishes from the chefs and owners of his favorite restaurants, etc. In every case the video was perfect. Highly detailed and wonderful skin tones under lots of different available light sources. 

I wish Panasonic had given me a headphone jack so I could monitor what kind of sound I'm getting but it's not a deal killer for a camera that generates such nice files. I'll work around that one oversight. 

I mentioned the ecstasy of using the fz 1000 as well as the agony outlined above. Here's where it shines: I needed to photograph two concerts. I used the camera as an available light concert camera and having a 400mm equivalent along with massively good I.S. meant I could zoom in and create tight headshot without having to huge the stage and be in everyone's face. The images were great.

We also did a "grip and grin" session with a band and some clients, against a step-and-repeat background and once I dialed in an off camera flash correctly the camera was very easy to work with and the files matched the quality I would expect from a much more expensive camera and lens combination. Use this camera at ISO 200-400 and you'll get wonderful images. Use it at 1600 ISO in the right light and you'll still get wonderful images. Use it in an impossible situation for any camera and it's guaranteed to fail.

I'm keeping mine around. It's a perfect casual shooter and a seriously good video camera. Just don't be experimental (stupid) to the extent that I was. There are laws of physics that are not changed by even the grandest hubris.

The taboo subject that no photographer or blogger really wants to write about. But it's part of the spectrum of our professional (and personal) existence...

Self Portrait on my Sixtieth Birthday.

It is often said that "photography is a young person's job." There are few professional football or baseball players who last in the leagues over 40, much less 50; and sixty year old sports stars are almost unheard of in professional sports. Same thing with photographers. Most of them are smart enough to find something better to do by the time they hit their forties. The drop out rate of professional (working) photographers gets higher as the years advance. Many people credit aging with the greater and greater market acceptance of smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras: they are easier to carry around on battered shoulders and by people with bad backs.

We also live in a youth culture that has a difficult time believing that anyone over thirty has anything useful to say about visual culture. The younger people in our business and our avocation tend to think of older photographs mostly as "landscape" photographers rather than as people who can still have a vital connection to popular culture. We venerate some older advertising photographers but we also relegate them to being workshop producers, club speakers and people busy cobbling together various retrospectives.

In one regard I get it. We tend to shoot a lot of the same kinds of assignments over and over again. I just finished photographing a conference with software executives who are convinced that everything they are working on is new and groundbreaking. That it will change the landscape of modern business. That they alone are gifted enough to pull it off. "It" being the industry and financial success of another "unicorn" business. I shot earnest business meetings and included lots of shots of men in sport coats looking serious and engaged. I sat through dinners and presentations ad infinitum. I laughed (weakly) at the same kind of jokes I heard from the same basic cohort of people thirty years ago. I was happy with the challenges of working with low and drifting light but I was bored by the content and almost resentful about the huge gaps of lost time between and around the various events. It was deja vu all over again. The documentation of the ephemeral nature of commerce...

As we age we tend to get pigeonholed by younger generations based on the stereotypes the media creates about people who are our age. One mythology is that few people at sixty can program a remote for their own television, troubleshoot their own computers, or text with admirable dexterity. They presume that we all have bad backs, heart conditions, hearing loss and need to pee all the time.  The younger photographers are mostly convinced that we are all bitter wedding photographers who've lost our relevance to modern photographic commerce and are coasting unhappily toward retirement with fond memories of our time spent with Mamiya RB67's and portrait films. Pass the Metamucil and the Centrum Silver vitamins and let's rehash whether Dean Collins or Monte Zucker was the better lighting teacher.

Well, I hate to push back on the stereotypes but I'm not ready to give up, get a mini-van and a Naugahyde Lazy Boy Lounger, and sit back watching "Good Morning America" with a cup of Sanka in my hands. Fuck that.

Some of us can still knock out a good, five mile run without reaching for the AED paddles. Some of us can swim faster at 60 than the general population could....ever. Some of us still take the stairs two at a time with a camera bag filled with dead weight, without falling over, panting. And some of us can still take really good photographs.

If I'm sounding a bit put out today it's because it's my birthday and I turned 60. I hate the idea of getting older. I hate the idea (with a white hot passion) of ever retiring, quitting, stopping or slowing down. And I will resist, with all my energy, the entropy that renders one irrelevant. I'm not ready to drop the bag of stands and bag of cameras in order to start the decline into the "quiet and thoughtful" workshop routine. I have no desire to put together a big show of my life's work. I never got into the field of photography to preen and display. I do this because I love the process more than I love the trappings. I show images to prove my value--- in order to get new access, and to gain entrance to new conversations. I shoot the images because they touch something in my heart or my brain.

The human condition is in constant flux. The nature of human physiology changes with the intermingling of our races and societies and creates new faces and new cultural identities. It's a rich mix of ingredients that make portrait photography and documentary photography new and magical nearly every day.

I've come to understand that the best way to prevent sliding off the map is to resist embracing the dated mythologies of the people in my general age group and social strata. Embracing the constant change keeps one in the flow of change rather than on the outside, tutting derisively about "the way things have become." If it's common knowledge it's generally so dated it is now wrong. Discovery.  It's why I shoot with new cameras. It's why I embrace street art and it's why I refuse to do photographic things the "old, proven" way instead of pushing a bit harder at the parts I never liked in the first place.

I plan to shoot and work until no one else will hire me. I intend to go out into the world in the spirit of visual exploration until they stop making cameras and outlaw serious photography altogether.

So, what am I doing for my 60th birthday? Same stuff. Walk the dog. Have coffee. Swim with the master's team. Take a long walk through downtown Austin with a fun camera in my hands. Finish the post processing from a long, four day job and then wind down and have a nice dinner with Belinda.

That, and fight against the stereotype of the aging photographer.

added after posting: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/04/up-in-smoke-burn-past.html

10.26.2015

The newest "retro" trend in camera design... Bigger really is better.


Let me be really clear about one thing. I love the mirrorless cameras for the EVFs and all the power and convenience that gives you when shooting but I have often railed against the trend to grow cameras smaller. I'm so happy to see a bit of a move in the other directions. Both Panasonic and Leica have come out with cameras that have more "real estate." More places to put your hands and more places to put full sized, vital plugs. More interior space to wick away heat from sensors and circuit boards. More of everything. 

The whole camera size preference cuts across two intersecting cohorts. On one hand we have professionals and on the other enthusiasts (everyone else is shooting with their cellphone now). As the pros age up they'd love to have lighter and lighter cameras and lenses because it's a shoulder and lower back saver. The smaller weight is also an energy conserver. But even the most physically feeble pros still need certain camera parameters in order to do their jobs correctly. They need to be able to have access to controls, to be able to hold the cameras correctly and to use them with flashes, remotes, plugged in video monitors and also tethered to their computers. As one reader pointed out, when buying a shrunken camera, like the Sony A7 series, you get a nice camera and a bag full of compromises. The A7s do nice video but.... the batteries run down quickly (too small), mini and micro HDMI cables break and get loose at a much higher rate than the full sized HDMI cables (more contact area more torque distribution, etc.), there's insufficient internal space to maximize heat management and, since the cameras have full frame sensors there is absolutely no weight or size savings when it comes to nice, elegant, fast-glass. FF lenses are just always going to be heavier. 

So, you get a mini-camera that's horribly hobbled for pro shooting. I'm sure this is what Leica was considering when they designed the SL. I think it's a sleeper video camera that will break out and be the next step fun the hybridization process between pro stills and videos. Why? Because there's enough room to hang stuff on the camera. And I think most users have issues with the size of the smaller cameras where handling is involved. Too much finger, too little camera. 

Most of the same arguments can be made for the GX8 from Panasonic. The body is bigger and it is more comfortable to hold and use. I'll also bet that it handles heat distribution from video more efficiently than older body designs. If it were all about handling I'd be smiling more about the GX8 but I'm still pissed that they went back to a weird size for the microphone inputs and capriciously elected to not include a headphone jack.

I notice that the cameras the a lot of serious photographers still use are not shrinking in size. The D810 is an ample package, as are the D4s and the Canon 1DX. The Canon 5D line is still a full size camera body style. And the Nikon D750, while measuring smaller still feels like a full grown camera. 

I love the Olympus EM-5.2 but I'd love it even more if was bigger. That's because I love the features. The stuff like killer IBIS, a great EVF and a nice movie mode. But I'd love it even more if it was integrated into a body that had batteries that lasted through whole video interview or half a day shooting stills. And if I'm carrying only one camera and a nice lens I don't really care about the weight. I'd rather have the excellent handling. A nice, good fitting outline to wrap my hands around...

But there is another whole cohort out there that loves the idea of "small" and drives some parts of the market. These are the users whose overriding priority for a camera are whether it fits in the pockets of their tight pants. I guess this group is why Sony is making a killing on the RX100IV.  I think the RX100IV and its ilk are transition cameras. They are cameras for people (who own only one camera and..) who thought at one time that they might want to be real photographers but who have decided it's too much work so they are downscaling from DSLRs to high end compacts on their inevitable transition to being a phone photographer. 

Most styles and designs are like swinging pendulums that overshoot the mark of balance and swing into silly and excessive self-parody. Cameras are no different a fashion statement. The phone is one extreme while the medium format cameras and ultra pro 35mm style bodies like the D4s and 1Dx are the other extreme. Leica is wisely returning to the middle ground. To stasis and to the normal order of things where the tools fit the hand as well as the imaging purpose. 

A couple of analogies about size: While manufacturers could make framing hammers much smaller and lighter the skinny handles wouldn't fit in beefy hands well, would not provide a secure grip; and a smaller, lighter hammer head wouldn't drive a 16 penny nail worth a damn.... 

I'm okay with smaller sensors. That's cost savings and depth of field on the opposite end of the spectrum from full frame dof control. I love eves over optical finders. But I never thought I needed to trade those attributes for body size. Like most pampered North Americans, I want it all just exactly the way I want it. Until I change my mind. Again. 

I prefer bigger cameras, up to a point. In fact, I hope the makers of cameras don't overreact to the swinging pendulums of camera fashion and start making giant cameras. But they might be able to sell them for higher dollars. We like big packages and still believe that bigger is better. I saw that this weekend at the Formula One races in Austin. The parking lots were filled with big Suburban SUVs and pick-up trucks. Big cars for big people. hmmmm. Any camera makers paying attention?

Besides Leica and Panasonic I mean....

My Thoughts on the Leica SL.


Many reviewers at many photo-oriented sites and blogs have rushed to breathlessly discuss the newly announced Leica SL. The problem with their assessments is they are mostly photographic neophytes who don't understand the Leica value equation. They obsess about camera features that real photographers will find unimportant while ignoring the one dominant attribute a true Leica should possess; absolute image quality. And that absolute image quality comes from the design and manufacturing precision of the lenses and the necessary tight tolerances of the camera and sensor integration with the lenses. That's it. No other magic beans. No vampire killing, secret silver bullets. 

Being a member of an extreme, mercantile culture here in the U.S.A. we need to talk first about the value proposition of the whole package from Leica. The legions of bean counters have trained us as consumers to salivate in reaction to shiny new gear with newly enhanced specifications (not necessarily enhanced performance) and, when they couldn't sell product on merit alone, to follow Dell Computer's many examples and race to the bottom of the pricing ladder. Camera makers are rebating and having sales left and right these days as they try to move low and mid-priced product in today's fragmented and confused markets. But, Leicas are relatively expensive and have never, ever been cheap. They are not traditional bargains. Their real products (M series rangefinders, the MF cameras and now, the SL) are not aimed at casual users or tentative hobbyists. They have traditionally been aimed (excluding "collectable" versions) at working photo-journalists (now almost extinct) and serious, committed image makers. The bodies (with the exception of the Ms during their nascent period) are never breakthroughs or platforms for experimentation. They are, instead, good, solid platforms for what many experts feel are the best lenses on the planet. 

I'll repeat what I wrote in a review of M cameras in 2001, "Everyone seems to have an opinion about the Leica M series rangefinder cameras, yet so few people have actually picked one up and used it for enough time to understand the unique features and benefits that make it one of the finest tools for certain kinds of photography."
(Go read the review here: Photo.net leica m6 review )

It's the same now. People see the fun, relatively cheaper Leicas, based on Panasonic bodies, and dismiss them out of hand. They see that they can buy the same lens, sensor and body from Panasonic for half price. And they extend this logic forward into the more professional tools Leica makes. But the difference is that no one else makes products that are like the top Leica products. 

I started shooting with Leica R and M cameras early on in my career. Up until the late 1990's I never owned a brand new body from Leica, all of them were purchased used. I owned the original Leicaflex which was their very first single lens reflex camera. As budget and supply allowed I moved on to the more efficient Leica SLs and SL2s. These were the most solid cameras I ever worked with until I moved on to the last, real generation of Leica SLR cameras, the Leicaflex SL2. It had a reputation as the toughest SLR ever built. After these hefty, wonderful cameras came a host of cameras based on Minolta camera body designs. Some were quite good because Minolta was not a poor camera company but it was early days for the incorporation of electronics of all sorts in cameras and reliability was an issue for almost every generation of these cameras, right up until the introduction of the R8 cameras. Those cameras were perfect. But they came to market too late. Digital imaging was gathering steam and people began directing their camera buying resources at shiny new product with sensors. Leica dabbled in digital with the R9 but it was half hearted and they could never implement new sensors at the rate required to serve the whims of the market. 

That led to a number of years in which the only professional Leica imaging product for photographers was the M series. No DSLRs. And while M cameras are wonderful platforms for wide and normal focal length lenses they were never conceived or designed to work well (viewing and focusing accuracy) with long lenses. And certainly not with zoom lenses. That has always been the primary reason for owning and using DSLRs. 

I used the Leica R cameras because many jobs require longer lenses and precision framing. I also used them because the lenses I liked (80mm Summilux, 90mm Summicron, 100 Elmarit Makro, 180mm f2.0 apo, etc. were demonstrably better than anything else I could buy and worked well with the types of film and the styles in which I shot.

It was a sad day when I realized that clients were never going to go backwards and accommodate a film workflow again. I traded in many good Leica lenses and bodies for not much money in order to re-tool as a digital shooter with Nikon gear. I have never gotten over the visible difference in lens performance between my Leica R series primes and just about anything else on the market, although I am sure that 50% of my dissonance is due strictly to nostalgia. But if you had ever shot a 90mm Summicron R on a Leica R8....

So now Leica launches a new, non-rangefinder body. A "mirror-free" body. A camera for the well heeled AND serious photographer. What is it? Simply put it's a platform for a line of R series lenses. Lenses we can't buy from other vendors. Apochromatically corrected 90mm, 180mm, 280mm primes that are wicked sharp, and contrasty and possessed of true nano-acuity (sufficient even for my stringent requires for my patent pending HYPER-PRINTS) that deliver really wonderful quality in a field dominated by the compromise of zoom lenses. There's no reason you can't use the R lenses with adapters on Canon bodies but newer Leica lenses will work well, one supposes, on their native cameras. 

Given the size of the lenses shown at introduction with the new SL it makes sense that the body is bigger. One needs true purchase on the camera body to use it effectively. But the bigger, heavier lenses are always the price one pays for the best performance. 

In a nutshell the body offers four things: Tight integration with new and older Leica R series lenses. An absolutely state of the art EVF (shot over the bows of Nikon and Canon -- for sure!). A sensor and software combination that is certain to be tweaked for Leica color and tonality (color purity and depth instead of the passing obsession with high ISO noise - if the MF camera is an example of their POV). 
A totally different way of looking at high end work tools; EVF and mirrorless versus flipping mirror and optical finder (with all of the EVFs efficient shooting features) and, finally, great 4K video in the body.  Those are the selling points in a nutshell. 

If you make professional videos for people the selling price of the system is in line with what you'll pay to get an entry level, state of the art, video camera like the Sony FS7 (the current, under $10,000 darling). But the FS7 is a super 35mm sensor instead of a full frame sensor so the Leica offers more depth of field control (in one direction). And consider that Leica makes very, very good and much coveted "cine" lenses for big time productions.  If the look of the files is wonderful then no one in that industry will bat and eye at the price of the body. Or the lenses. Does the 28-90mm zoom look expensive? Compared to a similar product by Nikon or Canon --- then yes. Compared to a $35,000 cine prime? Or a $40,000 Angenieux zoom? Not very. 

For me, if I were a risk taking fan of new technology, the single feature that would tip the scales for me between something like a Nikon D5 (coming soon, I am sure) and the Leica SL would most certainly be the integrated, 4.4 megapixel EVF and all of its associated optical parts (eyepiece magnifier, etc.). For a couple thousand more dollars over the Nikon I'd have the finder I want (and predicted five years ago) and all the video advantages of a mirrorless implementations as well (focus peaking, punch in, zebras, WYSIWYG real time color, tone and exposure evaluation. 

Just looking at the specs, the images and talking to dedicated Leica fans who have been privileged to use the new body I can say that Leica got most everything I was interested in just right. If I did not have a child at a private college I would already be in line for the camera body and the current lens, with the announced, longer zoom on order. But life isn't always logical, easy or straightforward. I worked with a D750 for most of the weekend and it work just fine. Can I justify the Leica on more than nostalgia and the IDEA of "ultimate image quality"? Naw. 

But I am certain that a group of working pros who value the fluid back and forth between video and stills, who relish the best image quality, who want the look and feel of their images to differentiate from they competitors and rivals, will embrace the camera and they system. And, for the most part they will be correct. For them. It's not a toy but a tool for creativity, and in that regard visual design of the product is a part of the mix. To some a very important part of the mix. And the cohort that admires and respects this will like this camera. 

A final note. Leica understands the shift in the market. I conjecture that they've given up the middle and bottom of the markets; written it off as deceased for serious camera makers. What other company is better positioned to go after the remaining high end photographers and photo enthusiast with unfettered budgets? The others have already screwed up their reputations by trying to embrace every step of the demographic ladder with some sort of product. They've damaged their brands in the eyes of the last, remaining consumers with money. They'll pay for that...

10.20.2015

I'm having a love affair with portraits right now. I love looking at work I've done and work that others have done. It's all about the lighting and the expression. Nothing else really matters.

I've been spending more time really looking at portraits these days. Everything from the early Avedon photos, in Paris to the fashion spreads in V. It's amazing how compelling the human face is when described by photography. I love images that are well lit. Even if the lighting is already in place by the grace of nature, and the photographer has seen it well.

I had a small studio on the second story of a crumbling downtown building that used to be called (no lie) the California Hotel. We had neither heat nor air conditioning but we did have laughably cheap rent, and I had a wonderful window to the north. I built my portrait lighting designs around that window.

In this case I loved the portrait so much that I subsequently dated, and then married the subject. I took this photograph back in 1979. About 36 years ago.

We obsess about gear (me at least as much as everyone else) but this was done with a Mamiya C220 camera with an ancient 135mm f4.5 lens. Could I do better now? Not very likely as there was nothing I wanted to improve upon. I still don't.

If you don't love your images maybe you just aren't pointing your cameras at the right subjects....

10.19.2015

Square aspect ratio portraits are infinitely better than any other aspect ratio. Prove me wrong.

Amy. In the current studio. 


Early experiments with LED lights proved to me that my assumption that LEDs would become a dominant photographic light source was correct.

Cuties. Lit with LED panels. 

Around 2010 I became very interested in LED technology as it related to photography. The consensus at the time was that LEDs were too weak, too color inaccurate and too expensive to ever be a workable light source for photography. I thought I knew differently because I had read about cinematographers already pressing LED lights of various makes into service to illuminate feature films. 

The first, serious LED lights I got were re-branded Chinese units sold by Fotodiox on Amazon.com. They made a $225 light that was constructed of 500 (quasi) daylight balanced, 3mm LED bulbs and they also made a lighting unit that used 1,0000 of the same LEDs. While many technocrats scoffed at what they described as the limited "spectral response" of the lights I knew that the custom white balance capabilities of the modern cameras would be able to compensate for any shortcomings as long as all the light sources were consistently consistent. 

I bought three of the 500 bulb versions and two of the 1,000 bulb units and I proceeded to use them on jobs for me and for clients. While the output was a bit low for action portraits the lights quickly proved themselves as the perfect source for still life photography of all kinds, and food photography, especially. I probably shot over 100 assignments with the first set of LEDs and I sold them to a photographer who has probably used them for hundreds more assignments. 

These lights were the impetus for the book I wrote on LED light for photographers called, LED Lighting For Photographers, which was published in 2012 by Amherst Media. It is still the best selling guide to acquiring and using LED lights for photographers, in the world. 

The basic information and techniques stands the test of time, while the products available have advanced rapidly. I still think the book is worth reading at least once. I suggest you buy it and read it from cover to cover but, if you are a cheap bastard, you can always ask your library to order you a copy....

Sometimes all you need is a one stop scrim. Not a camera with infinite dynamic range or limitless ISO.


I worked on a project for an ad agency a number of years ago. At the time the state of the art digital camera was the Kodak DCS 760. It was a fine camera for its time and had many wonderful attributes, including a raw file that was amazingly pliable. But even though it had one of the highest dynamic ranges of any camera on the market, at the time, it wasn't even in the ballpark compared to the camera sensors we enjoy today.

In order to get really good (technically) images in full Texas sun we had to use the lighting techniques we learned over the years, fashioned in the era when we used very unforgiving and limited D-range color transparency film.

This image of a professional softball pitcher was done at one p.m. on a hot Summer afternoon. I positioned her to put the foliage in the background because I knew that most sensors rendered green leaves about a stop darker than metered indications would suggest. This positioned her facing into the direct sun which was merciless on her face.

I brought along (as I usually do) a one stop, 4x4 foot silk scrim (diffusion panel) which I placed on a weighted light stand and "flew" over her head. The edge of the frame for the silk is just out of the frame, right over the top of my subject's head. It's just enough diffusion to flatten out the harsh lighting but not enough to materially change the authenticity of the prevailing light. It was a simple and elegant solution when most would call for some form of fill flash.

The simplicity of execution is what always draws me to this particular image. It is a reminder to me always to build from the simplest solution to the most difficult to employ solution instead of the other way around. When you find something that works then STOP fussing and start shooting.

You make your own dynamic range if you understand how to light. Or how to modify light.




Stories from the field: Packing the Olympus cameras and lenses but ending up with the Panasonic fz 1000 in my hands for the morning. Why? How did it go?

A shot from the Blanton Museum. It has nothing to do with the content of the post 
but I'm not able to use the images from the job we shot, yet. This is a placeholder.
It was shot with the camera we are discussing; the Panasonic fz 1000. 

I was booked on an assignment last Friday morning. It was at the headquarters of a radiology practice that has over 100 doctors, and lots of locations around Austin and central Texas. They are a wonderful client and we have provided photographic services and video to them for nearly 20 years. 

The assignment was in conjunction with a video project they were also doing. They straightened up the offices, asked the employees to dress well, and let everyone know that a photographer and a videographer would be in the building, and while the videographer would mostly be interviewing three or four people and taking "B-roll" shot, the photographer would be ambling all over the building making shots of happy employees, working or just smiling into the camera.  I would be moving quickly and trying to capture a wide cross section of employees so there would be very little time for involved lighting. We would literally be asking for individual permission to photograph, quickly posing and interacting with each subject and then snapped anywhere from three to five quick shots of them. 

I didn't want or need a full frame camera for this adventure, after all, the biggest use of the images would be the top half of a magazine page sized print ad, and most of the images would end up being used on the web. Since we'd be carrying everything from cube to cube and from office to office it just made sense to travel as light as possible.  With this in mind I packed up the two Olympus EM5.2 cameras and a nice assortment of lenses; intending to lean heavily on the 12-35mm f2.8 Panasonic lens  with the longer Sigma 60mm f2.8 thrown in for good measure. When I arrived at my destination in north Austin I grabbed the bag of cameras, a battery-powered LED panel and a small light stand.

Once I was in the building the client and I lined out our plan for the morning. I started by shooting some portraits in a long hallway. I tried several different focal lengths on the EM5.2 but for some reason I just wasn't feeling the love. Too short, too long, too something. And the cameras seemed to be fighting me when it came to color balance. The blend of fluorescent ceiling fixtures and encroaching, exterior daylight seemed to conspire to make every face a thick, tangy yellow. There are some days when certain cameras (cameras that in other venues have given me good service) just get bitchy with me and we don't click together. This was one of those days. I kept telling myself that I was shooting raw and I could correct these faults in post production but that line of thought started making me dread the idea of post production.

Early on we had a natural break in the shoot as we waited for someone to arrive. They were a bit late. I took advantage of the time to run out to the car and grab the new Panasonic fz 1000 out of the backpack it's currently living in and quickly set it up for a kind of run and gun mode. Auto WB, Auto ISO with the top ISO set to 1600. Aperture priority mode. Raw. I hate to say it because I really like my Olympus cameras, but, the Panasonic just started nailing the color balance and exposure from the minute I turned on the camera. I turned off the Olympus cameras and stuck em in their bag.

A lot of the day was spent wandering around with the VP of marketing. We'd go into a phone support or scheduling area and make quick portrait after quick portrait. No real set up. Not much more than me smiling, introducing myself and asking the person in front of me if was okay for me to take their photograph. A couple people declined but nearly 60 others thought the whole process would be just dandy.

While I had heard and read many times that the Panasonic battery was a power lightweight that would give only about 300-350 shots I ended up the morning with about 650 shots and a bar left on the battery indicator. While that's not impressive when compared to DSLR battery performance what it means to me is that two batteries with a third in reserve will take me through a long and involved day of shooting.

The camera performed well in terms of focus acquisition. Again, it's better than the Olympus cameras at finding and locking on to focus quickly. The DFD focusing feature seems to live up to the advertising. The lens range came in handy when I went outside to photograph people conferencing over coffee on the company's expansive deck. I stood way back (fewer fake smiles that way) and took advantage of the long focal length compression. Even at the longer focal lengths the I.S. did its job and I didn't see much of the degradation that the more anal camera reviews had cued me to expect.

The client and I covered a lot of ground before lunch and we were happy with the coverage. But would I be equally happy with the final results?

I got home, had lunch with Studio Dog, and after the walk we took, which she insisted was for my health, I got down to the questionable pleasures of post processing in the non-deconstructed version of Lightroom CC.

The first thing I noticed was that no matter whether I'd shot with just the fluorescent lighting or if I had added in some front fill from the LED panel, the camera did a fantastic job of nailing white balance and, by extension, skin tones. The second thing I noticed was the lack of blown highlights and featureless shadow areas. But the thing that caused me to stop in my tracks and start pixel peeping was the lack of noise at ISO 1600. At 100% you can see a monochromatic pattern of noise in lower mid-tones and shadows but since there are no patches of mottled color the effect is more than just acceptable. It's film-like. On Saturday one of my friends who works professionally as a video producer came over to borrow a couple of lenses. He's extremely noise averse and already has the new Sony A7S2 in his hands. He stared at the Panasonic image on the screen and then clicked to the exif information just to be sure I wasn't messing around with the facts. He was amazed. I was amazed.

And the wonderful thing about the noise profiles at 800 and 1600 is that the fine details of the images are still sharply rendered and defined. This little camera had smacked that job right out of the ball park!!

Which led me into a philosophical discussion of sorts with my video counterpart. Had technology reached a point where, other than niceties like XLR connectors and S-Log3 and handling, consumer cameras were flattening the barriers to entry by putting high performance into cameras that cost a fraction of what it had cost to do certain types of work only a few years ago? Is the A7S2 within a gnat's eyelash of the performance of something like a Canon C300 or A Red camera? On so many parameters the Panasonic fz 1000, a $750 camera, was outperforming almost all the previous generations of all digital still cameras up to about the introduction of the new generation of Sony sensors in the Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and other cameras (around 2012).

Was it only ingrained, professional user prejudice that was keeping people from pressing the newer, cheaper cameras into service in projects? And the same in video?

For the most part I would say yes. The one place where the differentiation is easy to see is in the one parameter of focus ramping and depth of field. It is basic physics. A full frame camera with a fast lens will allow the artistic choice of quickly dropping backgrounds (and foregrounds) out of focus. With a longer, faster lens the backgrounds can be blown entirely out of focus. It's a nice effect and one I like to use in my personal portraits but it's hardly mandatory on all jobs, especially in documentary jobs and events. But also jobs or projects where overall context is a concern.

Are we mostly holding on to the older, bigger, more expensive tech out of reflex and habit?

I am deep in thought today about my relationship to all the gear I've been shooting with. The Nikons prove their value to me in portrait shooting situations. Part of my prevailing style is to shoot with wider apertures on longer lenses and to play with the out of focus tonalities of backgrounds. But not all of my work falls into this camp. I've spent years and years shooting all kinds of events, both social and business. I'll be doing so again on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week.

On Thurs. I'll be shooting portraits in my usual style and have already selected the Nikon D750, along with the 85mm and 105mm lenses for that part of the job. But the rest of the time I'll be standing back, documenting client and customer interaction, making images of business meetings, attending dinners and catching candid images at the Formula One race --- images of the clients and customers, not necessarily of the cars.... We'll also be shooting a concert in a downtown venue. One evening we'll be doing a walking tour of restaurants on Rainey Street. These are almost all situations which seem perfect for an all in one, high performance solution that's highly portable. A week ago I had made up my mind to use the Olympus cameras for these various functions but now I'm not at all sure and am leaning toward the fz 1000.

How serious am I about using the new camera? Serious enough to head out to Precision Camera to buy a second one. Why? No professional should show up for a job without a rational backup camera. And the best back up camera is one that is identical to the first. Same batteries, same flash, same menus and the same handling. It's this a dicey decision? Naw. If the camera can make help me make beautiful portraits, by available light, in small office cubicles I should be able to do just about anything else with it too.

The past exerts a tyrannical hold on us. It keeps us in a certain stasis that may not be beneficial. Belinda and I remind ourselves when we are out on morning walks that our tendency, when charging for work, is to hew to what we've always done. But that doesn't take inflation and increased skill sets into consideration properly. We always remind ourselves to change with the times. Twenty years ago it was heretical for corporate photographers to accept credit cards, now it is mainstream. Small flashes replace big flashes. Internet replaces print. And smaller, more capable cameras can replace a dozen or more pounds of last generation gear when the final deliverable product is taken into consideration.

At a certain point, if the work supports the decision, it makes good sense to continually downsize the gear that you'll have to carry and conserve for eight or ten hour days at a time. And if you can buy a camera that does all this for what you would have paid for one prime lens for your heavyweight system, then how does it not make sense?

This particular blog post, I think, is aimed at working professionals. If you aren't doing photos for money you can use and carry whatever you want whenever you want to. We, on the other hand, have felt I think culturally constrained to use what has always amounted to "herd approved" gear for the bulk of our work, even when it doesn't serve a rational purpose. The upheaval of the past few years may change all that; especially if the quality of the images in their final use doesn't take a hit.

And it's not just that the fz 1000 is some magical tool, I could feel just as comfortable with the Sony RX10.2, and for most uses even the Sony RX100.4 or the Panasonic LX100. They are quick and functional. In conjunction with flash and ISO 200 they match what we've always gotten from cameras--- all the way back to the film age.

Need narrow depth of field for everything you shoot? Then you need a large sensor camera. For everything else? Now it's your call.