Fun little afternoon project. Photographing an actor for an upcoming, one man play. About Barbara Streisand. With a camera that was definitely not marketed for studio use....

J. Robert Moore. Zach Theatre. 

Here's the description from the Zach Website of the play, "Buyer and Cellar":   Alex, a struggling Hollywood actor, takes an outrageous job working in Streisand’s Malibu Barbra dream house in an underground mall housing her showbiz collections. One surprising day, the FUNNY GIRL herself comes downstairs to “shop” and, for Alex, icons who need people are the luckiest people in the world. But will this desperate actor ever be invited upstairs to Babs’ palatial estate? This giddily hilarious one-man play will have you doubled-over laughing, proclaiming “it’s like butta!"

Hmm. Not sure who wrote the description but, okay. The marketing folks at Zach Theatre needed to have some images taken for promotional postcards (yes, real businesses still print and mail stuff...), social media and various other outlets. They wanted to get Mr. Moore in a studio and get a range of emotions from him that would express the character he'll be playing this Summer.  (more below). 

As you know, I've been ruminating about cameras lately and I decided to choose a camera that would be counter-intuitive from my usual selection. I would be lighting the whole set with powerful mono-lights so I knew I could shoot at the lowest ISO on the camera. And every camera I own is state of the art (within its format). I figured that the controlled lighting and low ISO would save me from any unintentional, stupid choice I might make. 

I packed two big lights and one small flash. I brought along a white seamless paper background (I chop a foot off most of my backgrounds (from side to side) so they fit better in small spaces). And I brought along one Sony RX10 and one Panasonic fz 1000. This time the fz 1000 got the nod. I'd used it once before with flash and knew what to expect. I shot about 400 shots in raw then processed and delivered about 350 for the theatre pros to wade through and select from. We're talking about ranges of expressions here and the marketing people know what they are looking for better than I do. 

The lighting couldn't have been simpler. There was on light just behind Mr. Moore that illuminated the background and one light in a medium softbox just in front and above him. Occasionally, I would toss in a small, dialed down portable flash on the opposite side of the main light; just for a little fill. 

We could have complicated the lighting but since the client will clip out the background I really didn't see the point. 

So, how did the $700 Panasonic super bridge camera perform? Let's see.... there was super fast focusing that nailed every frame without hesitation and, when used with face detection, had AF sensors covering the whole frame. The EVF was spot on as an indicator of correct exposure. The lens and sensor gave me files that were wonderfully sharp; I can see highly defined eyelashes in the image just above. The lens performance never stops amazing me. No flare of other shenanigans from the lens either. If I wanted to I could move way back in the room and zoom in for a different look but, on the other hand, I had a lot of wide angle to play with on the other end if I wanted to step back a bit and offer my VSL readers a look at the set. The buffer was fast and happy as was the shot to shot timing. I think I was able to shoot raw files more quickly than with either of my current model Nikons... Did I mention that I could instantly review the taken images in the finder without moving the camera from my eye?

I used the camera with an infra red trigger in the hot shoe which worked perfectly. At one point I wanted to change the exposure just a bit but was running out of aperture since I was already at f8.0. Instead I raised the shutter speed which had the effect of reducing overall exposure as well. I haven't tried it but since the shutter is a circular, leaf type, it should be able to sync all the way up the shutter speed range --- as long as I stick with the mechanical shutter option. Bodes well for exterior daylight shoots in Texas. Especially if I keep that variable ND filter in the bag. 

I got back home from the shoot at 3 pm and now it's 4:30 pm and the colors and tones have been corrected and the raw files have been converted. The last thing to do is to upload the final Jpegs to the client and then burn a DVD to save a back up copy. No muss, no fuss. 

Those one inch rascals are pretty amazing ... and a lot of fun to shoot in the studio. Who would have guessed?

Why camera buying sucks right now.

Of course the long tonal range and high sharpness of the images above and just below could only have been made with the latest, high resolution, low noise cameras on the market. Right? How else to explain the smooth transitions and convincing level of detail? The image of the child with the basketball is one of my favorite work shots. When I made the image our original target was a full page in a  printed annual report. Later, the agency called to see if they could blow up some of the original raw files into "larger prints" to use at a fund raiser for the client. I gave my permission and looked forward to see how the images from this state of the art camera might look when blown up a bit bigger. Little did I know how big they would go...  When I walked into the fundraiser there were many of the images that had been used in the annual report distributed around the room on easels. Large easels. The files had been enlarged to five by six foot prints. You could walk right up to the prints and put your nose on them. A good use of the new, super high resolution cameras like the D810, the Sony A7R2 and the Canon 5DSR, right?  Right?

Except that this all happened a decade ago and the files came from a 6 megapixel, cropped frame (APS-H) camera that capped out, performance wise, at ISO 125. It was, in fact, a Kodak DCS 760; and inspite of its "limitations" it was actually a very FUN camera to work with. Nice finder. Good focusing acquisition, etc. The shots worked because we understood whatever limitations the cameras might have had and compensated by working on the lighting. We didn't use window light, we emulated window light, but we did it with more lumens on the sensor and a bit more contrast. Could we do this with "modern" cameras? I believe so but it might be tricky to work around the unmitigated hype....

But, of course, this imager from the musical, Aida, had to be done one of the cameras with one of the newest, Sony super sensors because there is no noise in the black background and no burn out in the specular highlights. Wow, pure blacks and wonderfully delineated highlights. But with flesh tones this nice it surely must be something special like the new Fuji. Ah..... no. This is from the same, old Kodak DCS 760. Just lit and processed with care. Also used in print and as a life-sized duratrans on the side of the theater. 

But I won't try to fool you again. The image just below was really done with a Fuji camera. And it was shot nearly wide open and mostly lit with the soft glow of the X-ray reading monitors in a small, windowless room. There was a small flash from the back corner of the room but it's just there to provide a little separation for the hair. Since it's shot wide open and the eyes, lips and microphone are tack sharp I bet you can't guess whether it was done with a Zeiss Otus lens or maybe the Batis, or one of the new Fuji primes....right? Oops. Nope. It was shot on a Fuji S3 or S5 camera using a very crusty and well used, used Sigma 24-70mm f2.8. No, not the latest ART series lens but one from the period that made Sigma's previous reputation as a producer of opt-mechanical junk. So, another six megapixel, cropped frame digital camera and a nothing special lens. Pattern here? Maybe. 

This is a tough audience to fool so I'll cut straight to the chase. The image below was also done with one of these older, CCD chipped cameras. It's snapshot for sure but I like the overall look and feel. I blew it up on the screen to look at (the original) when I was thinking about new cameras last week but I do believe it hangs well with the three images above. Since it was an older camera it was slow and kludgy to use and the buffer was extremely poor, as was the auto focusing of this ancient thing. 
But I like the image quality and I think it's in the ball park with the 6 megapixel files shown above. It came from the 40 megapixel Leaf AFi7 camera along with a 180mm f2.8 Schneider prime lens (made for 6x6 cm medium format cameras).  Once reduced to web viewing size it's in line with all the other stuff we've shot with over the last twenty years....And now you can probably pick one of these up cheap, maybe 90% off the original asking price of $40,000 (no lens). 

The final print I was considering as I browsed through the new camera offerings (hurry, hurry!!! Pre-order NOW. If you wait you MIGHT NOT get to own the latest $1,000 miracle camera with NEW knobs and EXCITING wireless features SURE to Enhance your creative vision. You know, Candy Crush! Words with Friends!). I picked it out because it's a photo of Ben as a much younger person but also because several professional photographer who have seen the image liked it so much that they subsequently asked me to do their own headshot in the same style and with the same camera and lens... I shot this with a great camera that no one liked except for the people who actually owned one and used one. But I could never use it today because it was ONLY!!!! a 12 megapixel camera and, of course, no pro today would be caught dead shooting for money with a camera having only 12 megapixels. In fact, a lack of initiative in rushing to adapt to the largest megapixel count camera may be the thing that precipitates your business's ultimate demise. What client would want to shoot with less than ALL the megapixels? 

Won't keep you hanging, it was shot with the Kodak SLR/n 12 megapixel camera and an ancient, Nikon 135mm f2.8 lens. Still my favorite portrait of Ben. 

So, what's the point of this blog post today? Well, I was wondering why, with the launch of the Nikon D500 and D5, the new Fuji XPro2 and the Olympus Pen F, I was not interested in any of the new camera introductions. I'm wondering why I've been resistant to the Sony offerings and defaulting to using point and shoot cameras instead of my enormously expense and surely talented Nikon D810 camera. The truth is painful. I've finally stumbled onto the realization that, for me, none of these camera will change anything in my work as a portrait photographer. 

The cameras, with all their bells and whistles, are being designed for someone who does things I don't care about. I've never used "Art" filters on any of my Olympus cameras so the idea of dedicating a large front dial to them seems silly. The sensor isn't much better than the one we had in the original EM-5 and I think I would feel ashamed to be manipulated into buying yet another camera just for the styling. How many pairs of black oxford shoes does one need in the closet? And, of course, I still don't give a fuck about having wi-fi on my camera. No matter what you tell me about GPS or clicking the shutter from my easy chair...

The Fuji cameras bore me because they are boring. I'm sure the lenses are good and the Jpeg files are pretty but every Fuji I've played with since the original X100 faux rangefinder has had flaws that make me want to fling the camera against the wall as I'm trying to shoot with it. I am sure the new body appeals to everyone over 50 years old who ever wanted a Leica M but feared the retribution of their spouse and didn't buy themselves one. Now you can have "almost" one for about a quarter the price. But did we really need it? Does it make sense if no one (including the Fuji SpokesToGrathers even uses the optical viewfinder in everyday practice (see the review on TheCameraStoreTV). 

And why buy a camera that still doesn't play well with the world's largest, most ubiquitous and powerful professional imaging software? Eventually you'll want to shoot raw, don't you want the images you get to look at least as good as those you could have gotten out of a boring Canon DLSR from six years ago? I do. I just don't want to have to work that hard. 

You know what the biggest improvement was on the new Fuji XPro2? It was the inclusion of an adjustable diopter for the EVF. Think about that for a minute. They added a diopter. Just like the ones everyone else has had on every entry level camera since the dawn of digital. Enhancement complete. 
But let me tell you right now; if you have ever shot with a Leica M series rangefinder camera you wouldn't put up with any of these fake rangefinder cameras anyway....Fuji. Humph. 

So, why no love for the Nikon stuff? Oh, I'm sure the D500 is a great camera. Great sensor, big buffer, great focusing. But then so was the D7200 and the D7100 and the D7000 and the D5500 and the D610 and the D750. Will a couple frames a second faster make your image of a sleeping cat look better? Will the "tweaked" autofocus really matter if your existing camera already locks focus where it is supposed to be? Do you think high ISO REPLACES creative lighting? The folks at Nikon just trotted out another iteration of the same cameras they've been churning out for a decade and they are hoping they've increased the horse power specs just enough that, in conjunction with the new seat warmers, you'll be anxious to immediately dump your perfectly good photographic machine for the latest style.

And same to you, Canon. We changed the color of the shoe laces to see if we could get you to spill some cash on a whole new pair of shoes. 

I guess that what I'm really thinking is that if you are a new photographer and you are buying your first good camera then "congratulations" you've got lots of good options to choose from. Yay! Go cameras. But if you are a salty old dog with a shelf full of last year's miracle cameras and you feel the tug of the newest model it might be time to sit back and really examine the tug.

Could it be that all this camera buying is a manifestation of your subconscious resistance to doing ANYTHING you find meaningful with ANY camera? Maybe it's time to LAUNCH that long planned project instead of using the IDEA of that project as just another excuse to buy yet another camera. 

In many ways I pine for the simplicity of the old Nikon D100 with it's 4 shot raw buffer. Six giant megapixels and a look that changed the look. Or the Kodaks which were all mostly as good as what we've been working with since. 

It's something to think about. There is a post cognitive dissonance that sets in after you realize that you have what you need to shoot whatever you need to shoot but when the buying is done and the credit cards are cooling off in the refrigerator, you finally hit the wall and feel ashamed that you spent so much time in the selection and rotation of ever newer cameras that you actually never got around to going out the front door and shooting anything more than "just a test of how sharp the new camera and lens is." It's something to ponder. Unless you are in the camera making or camera selling business and then it behooves you to just tell me to shut up.