I'm happy to see that my client has posted our most recent project on their YouTube channel. (See the link above). This assignment was one of those fast breaking projects that takes advantage of my skills both as a photographer and as a video producer. I worked with a crew of one. Me. And I worked inside a very tight time constraint; I had a little over half a day to shoot interior and exterior video b-roll, an in-depth, two camera interview, and a large collection of corresponding still images. I lit with available light, LEDs and also flash; and worked out of one big case, a light stand case, and a backpack full of cameras that can fit under the seat in front of me on most airlines. With good packing you can move quicker and that means you can get more content. That helps later on when you are desperate for some good cutaways...
This video is a story about Steve G. who was shot in the leg in a hunting accident decades ago. As a result of the accident he lost his left leg; just under his knee. He was recently fitted with a new prosthetic product from my client and, well..... click on the video to hear Steve's impressions.
On this project I made extensive use of the Sony RX10iii. Every time I do a project with this camera I learn new things to like about it. On this project I used a new set of parameters in one of my Picture Profiles settings. It's a set of parameters from Andrew Reid who runs the site, EosHD.com. With this profile engaged I felt like I could get easy-to-use and edit files right out of camera without having to resort to using S-Log.
I used the RX10iii for every part of the video except for the black and white segments of the interview. That "B" camera was a Sony A7rii with the new 85mm on the front. All of the still images from the shoot (including the ones I used in the video) were also from the A7rii.
I used a Rode NTG-4+ microphone running into a pre-amplifier and then directly into the RX10iii for Steve's audio. The ability to ride levels with a physical knob on the pre-amplifier was a good thing. No menu diving (or function button diving) needed to get to the audio level controls!
One thing I've been doing on all of our healthcare projects is to shoot all the footage I can in 4K and to bring the 4K footage into the editing timeline in 4K, along with smaller proxy files which I use for the actual editing process. The higher resolution is great for those times when a client would like for you to zoom in during the edit and crop out something in the background. It's comforting to know that you can crop in and lose 2/3rds of the frame and still match the resolution of HD. The final output, as specified by the client, is HD in H.264.
The times I shoot with HD instead are the times when I am shooting handheld and either I am moving, or the subject is moving, or both. I drop to HD because the five axis image stabilization built into the RX10iii is more effective at quelling camera movement at that setting. I get smoother footage that way. I guess I could just shoot everything in 4K and do my image stabilization in post production but it's hard, when shooting really quickly, and not to a script, to anticipate in advance how tight or loose you might need your crops to be. Shooting a nice composition in the finder means I'll be more apt to use the resulting shots.
Our shooting day generated print ad content, a video, and social media content for our client in an extremely cost effective way. As usual, the editing is like taking a workshop for future shooting. You learn just how much you screwed up when you try putting everything together in post...
One sad note for me is the fact that most people will only see the video as a (highly) compressed HD file on YouTube. I spun out a version for myself using ProRes 4:2:2 HQ as the codec and when I watch this on a 60 inch, 4K TV I am blown away by the jaw dropping differences in sharpness, detail, tonality etc. It kinda feels like those days in photography when you made a great shot on a 4x5 inch transparency (big ass slide film) and later saw the resulting ad in newsprint. Kind of anti-climatic; especially when you've had a chance to see the original.
I give it a year, maybe two, and then we'll all have enough bandwidth at home and in our offices to watch stuff on YouTube and Vimeo with larger files and more pixels. Won't that be fun?
Working at 1000 ISO with the Panasonic fz2500 at Tech Rehearsal. Nailing Focus Makes Your Lens Look Sharper.
I love shooting stage productions. Yesterday evening the folks at Zach had a technical rehearsal for an upcoming production of "In the Heights." I wanted to attend and scout the show so I could be more effective when I come back to shoot the dress rehearsal this Tues. evening; and it was a good opportunity to give the Panasonic fz2500 another good test to see if the focusing workaround I learned from my friend, Frank, was working as we both hoped (and expected) it would.
When I bought the camera and made some initial tests I got the same soft results that the people at DP Review got when they tested the camera but one of my colleagues owns the same camera and was able to pull stunning images out of it so, unlike the folks at DPR who chalked up the issue to a less than stellar lens design I was not willing to toss the blame to Leica and move on without a little deeper dive. I kept testing because I had done some images earlier, both with and without AF, and was able in some circumstances, to achieve results from the Panasonic lens that were very much on par with the gold standard lens; the Sony RX10iii/Zeiss zoom.
I noticed that the AF square on the back screen seemed to shift left every time I shot with the camera. Frank's workaround was to create a custom AF pattern, restricting the pattern only to the very center focusing point. Once I did this the camera seemed to nail focus on everything I pointed it towards. And once I got it focused properly the resulting files were sharp and detailed; and to be honest I prefer the overall tonality of the Panasonic files over that of the Sony RX10 files (which are not bad by any standard...).
The production lighting of the show I was shooting last night was contrasty and lit to a lower level than the last few shows I've shot there. To the eye it was a lighting design that created a wonderful sense of twilight ambiance and drama but to the camera it was --- a challenge.
I locked in ISO at 1,000 and set the camera to manual exposure. I worked with the lens either wide open or very, very close to it for the entire evening. That's a great test since most lenses are sharper a couple of stops down. I would not have the luxury of being able to work in the sweet spot of the optical design of the lens but that was fine with me because this is a test based on the real way I shoot some projects. If a camera lens can deliver at a wide open aperture it passes at least one of my tests.
I shot 1300+ files last night and editing them down to about 700 this morning. In order to partially compensate for the contrasty stage lighting I had to make a few adjustments, both in the camera and in post production. In the camera (shooting raw) I set the highlight/shadow control to plus 1 in the shadows and minus 1 in the highlights. When I brought the files into Lightroom I used the shadow slider at +50 to get the background of the set design to read and used -15 on the highlight slider to tone down white shirts and various highlights. I also pulled up the blacks to +8. With any sensor that's a recipe for noise but probably more so with a smaller, one inch type sensor. I hit the noise reduction menu and dialed in +15 on the luminance slider, +61 on the detail slider and kept the contrast at zero.
If you chimp at 100% you'll still see noise but looking at the images in the sizes we intended to use them they look pretty darn good.
I am very satisfied with the AF I got last night. There were only a handful of images that didn't make the cut for reasons of unsharpness and I suspect a lot of that was me being less than compulsive about getting the focusing indicator in the correct position.
I hope Panasonic comes out with a firmware fix that makes AF less horsey for those of us who just want to quickly designate an AF point and keep it there. Otherwise? High marks from me for the camera based on images for last night.
An interesting possible solution to the overheating problems many find in Sony's A7X series of cameras.
While the Sony A7 series of cameras brings many great features to the table there are two "flaws" to the camera for many people. The first one is almost universally mentioned; the small batteries don't come close to matching the stamina of the much larger batteries in cameras like DSLR Nikons, Canons and the mirror-free battery champ = the Panasonic GH4. The second, more egregious failing of the series is the tendency for them to overheat; especially when shooting 4K video.
In the first instance there is a cheap and relatively efficient workaround; just buy some extra, third party batteries like the Wasabi Power models. Keep a couple extra in your saddlebag and you're good to go for the day. Unless you are shooting video and then you might want to consider increasing the size of that saddlebag... But, if you stock up on batteries you won't be caught short with a non-working camera.
The second fault is much more vexing for a working photographer, or for any photographer that expects reliable camera operation, and that's the tendency for the cameras to overheat. Once that overheat indicator becomes visible
The agony of video editing is the fact that there's always something somewhere that could be improved.
I've spent the last two hours trying to eradicate a rustle noise from the moment at which our interviewee crossed his arms and created a quick rustling noise with his shirt. I didn't notice it on the first ten passes but on a final review, with the volume turned way up I could hear it plain as day.
After skimming the audio with the timeline stretched all the way out I found the audible culprit and also found that it stretched across two clips. I detached both audio tracks from their video tracks and started blading around the area in order to get just enough of the noise but not so much as to grab part of the dialog. There was a lot of trial and error involved. I watched the waveforms to see just how tightly I could make the cuts. I tried version after version until I got
I've been shooting the A7ii a lot. I've had mine for less than a year and have already put about 25,000 exposures on it. I love the form factor. I love the EVF. I'm very happy with the uncompressed raw files it generates. I'm even neutral about the small batteries.
But there is just one thing I hope they fix when they come out with the A7iii.....I want a quiet shutter like the one in the A7rii. I don't need "silent." I'll take quiet.
The camera they may want to purchase and learn from is the Panasonic G85. It has the nicest sounding shutter of any camera with which I've played. It's sublime.
Please, Sony! I don't need a million frames a second. I don't need ten thousand PD-AF points. Not looking for a buffer deep enough to bury Jimmy Hoffa in. I just want a camera that makes a pleasant sound when the shutter goes off. With 24 megapixels on a full frame sensor. Oh, and 4K video would be nice but I'd settle for 1080p if you could make it 10 bit 4:2:2.
Oh, I forgot to mention, my birthday is in late October so if you can get the upgrade in stores by the end of September that would be super.
P.S. Not kidding around here. KT
Self-Awareness is a constant battle. My own sense of enlightenment is mostly elusive. But I look for it from time to time.
Today I took out a camera that reminded me of the small but potent cameras we shot in the film days. If you are of a certain age you'll fondly remember the wonderful feel and the great images that we all created with Olympus OM-1's, Pentax LX-1's and MX's. Most of us had something like them, or a Nikon FM or a Canon AT-1, that we kept in our hands whenever we didn't need some weird feature on our bigger "professional" cameras. In a way, my trashed copy of the Sony A7ii, when used with the Zeiss 45mm f2.8, reminds me very much of the Leica CL and the 40mm Summicron I carried around for years. Shooting in a monochrome setting takes me right back to the feel of my favorite Trip-X film.
When I go out shooting with this camera I feel like I did when I was a young instructor at UT walking down the drag at lunch time, channeling one of my previous instructors, Garry Winogrand. I was never in a rush, was endlessly fascinated by whatever I saw in front of my camera, and anxious to capture everything that seemed transient and beautiful in the world directly around me. Deep down, the feel of today's current small, cheap camera in my hands is a direct link to the insouciance and vigor of unfettered youth. And the joy of just existing.
So it's always a moment of jarring self-awareness when I happen upon a mirrored window on the side of a tall building in the middle of downtown and I stop to take a self portrait. The person looking back at me isn't the kid with the long hair and a scraggly beard, or the middle aged man with curly brown hair. It's an older guy. And it reminds me of how long I've been on this road. This process of looking for images and sharing them. The process of spending time with myself; in the darkroom, in the studio, on the street, in a different city. There is a strand, a string of continuity between all the past selves but each one is a little different and the perspectives divergent.
At some point I hope to discover and distill what all this photographing means to me. And when I do I hope it brings along some clarity to my images. I still wonder why I do this photography thing and what I ultimately hope to accomplish. Even if it's just the understanding that the only important thing is to enjoy the process. At least the process provides a framework on which to build one part of my existence.
I know one sure thing. The camera I shoot with has nothing really to do with my expectations for the image I'm shooting and everything to do with my affinity for the way it feels and operates. One thing that having owned and used hundreds of cameras can provide is the enlightenment to know that the camera is just a foil for the process. A reason to enjoy looking. Nothing more. We all grow old. Everything will become "old school." And then, it will get re-invented just the same, a little while later.
For the ultimate in quick composition and follow through try a single focal length and manual focusing.
A man running east on Sixth Street.
Any researcher of brain science will probably tell you that having multiple choices slows thought processes down. When presented with many options the brain would always like to explore them. By the time the exploration is complete, and all the parameters have been locked in, it's a good bet that whatever you were considering doing is now in the immediate past.
I'm not anti-zoom lens. I am not anti-AF. But I have to say that they fail me, in my quest for immediacy, more often than they deliver the goods. I was thinking about that after I shot the photo above. I was walking with a 35mm frame camera with "normal" manual focus lens on the front. I looked up as I was walking down this pedestrian walkway, just east of Whole Foods, and I saw a bald man running towards me. I thought that the repeating pattern of studs and poles that made up the walkway would make for an interesting photograph if I included the runner. I set the camera's focus distance to about 25 feet. The aperture was set to f8.0. My depth of field was wide enough to convincingly include the closer construction features of the temporary structure while getting sharp focus on the runner.
He ran by and I turned, put the camera to my eye and clicked at exactly the spot I wanted.
Now, I am sure that many photographers can set up a camera with fast AF and tracking features, and a zoom lens, and nail a couple hundred decent frames of a scene like this. In the process they will certainly get something akin to the frame I captured. At least I think they will find a close one after they pull their memory card, toss it into the card reader, open Lightroom, and look for the one out of one hundred that they like.
But as they shoot they will go through the process of micro-waffling about which focal length at which to shoot. Then there is the micro-indecision about where exactly to place the point of sharp focus in order to keep everything sharp in the parts of the composition that wants to be sharp -- close and far (hint: it isn't exactly on the back of the runner...). If they are carrying more than one lens there will be a micro-moment of hesitation as they wonder whether or not they really have the right optic on the front of the camera.
It's a process and the more available steps there can be in a process the more likely it is the brain will want to investigate them all. And, even if you are stern with your brain and you have more discipline than an Olympic swimmer, the desire to analyze choices is hardwired into your thinking system and there is a friction of decision that interferes with the ability to react without undue hesitation.
The simpler the system the more streamlined the process. The more streamlined the process the more uncluttered the path is between recognition and action. Perhaps this is why so many of the great documentary photographers of the last century were so happy to find one camera and one lens that resonated with the vision they overlaid on their subjects.
This may be another reason why time spent mastering the many focusing modes of modern uber-cameras might be an even bigger waste of time. But that's just my simplistic approach.
Yesterday I wrote a bit about the idea of my process being akin to dreaming. How coincidental that I would start my walk today by seeing a bit of type on a step I've walked over many times and never noticed. While Michael Johnston writes that it's good to look up from time to time the universe seems to be telling me that it's also important to look down.
This week has been rocky. I've had a couple false starts on a video project edit. I've rolled up my sleeves and ratcheted down my typical need to be right all the time and ended up with a better product as a result of actually collaborating with my client (as opposed to just giving lip service to the idea of collaboration...).
I photographed attorneys for one of the downtown law firms I work with on Monday. And then, of course, there is the required post production afterward. I made portraits here in the studio on Tuesday of a tech giant with a need for new images to attach to a rash of new projects. Which, of course, required the usual post production afterward.
I worked on a bid for an advertising agency. Normally I can estimate a job in five or ten minutes but a job that entails shooting lifestyle images on seventeen different locations with 25 different models/talents needs to be attached to a bid that is far more comprehensive. When I finished factoring in usage rights (yes, agencies and their clients still pay these) and craft service for the six shooting days the bid is right as the boundary of six figures. I may or may not get some work from this. Usually the ad agency will have a budget figure in mind and we'll start cutting and pasting the bid for while until we hit the point where the need for the images in an ad campaign outweighs the pain of paying for them...
During this chaotic week I also fired a client who was too cavalier with my schedule and I seem to have done most of it with the worst Summer cold I've had in years. No wonder I felt the need to turn off the phone, put the computers to sleep and head out the door with a demure camera and lens to clear my head and get some non-swimming exercise done. Shutter Therapy indeed (credit to Robin Wong).
The camera I chose was the battered Sony A7ii I bought used last year. The lens that looked the coolest riding on the front was the Contax Y/C Zeiss 45mm f2.8 planar. And the setting was all Sony monochrome with two tweaks; plus one on contrast and plus one on sharpness. As I close the door to my studio I always take a moment to shoot a random test shot with whatever camera I've chosen to bring along, just to make sure I've remembered to insert a fresh battery and to confirm that there is a functional memory card along for the ride. That's the side of the studio on the left, the kitchen side of the house on the right and two of the towels I take to the pool. I hang them on the gate to our backyard to dry. Today everything was fully operational. (above).
The black and white matched the day and my mood. It was gray and cloudy outside and I was tired of multi-party decision making. A walk is something I can more or less own and do however I see fit to do it. I guess that's why I so infrequently walk with other people.
Yesterday was the last day of school for most of the kids in our city and it's also Memorial Day weekend. The downtown area was as unpopulated as I've seen it in a long while. Few runners were on the trail and even the world famous traffic seemed tame and mellow.
I parked at Zach Theatre and headed across the river toward downtown. For the first time in several weeks I had no agenda, no deadlines, no meetings. The air was soupy and the heat index is supposed to be around 105 when the sun comes out this afternoon. I was glad to be out walking in the morning. I'll get to that last motion graphic later; when the sun is beating down out side.
The Contax/Zeiss 45mm is a small, pancake style lens that is fully manual on the Sony a7 series cameras. The focusing ring is tiny and positioned right around the front ring of the lens. The camera has a green hyperfocal marking on the focusing ring. It's right around the 10 foot mark. The f8 aperture is also marked in green and this is intended to be a quick setting for street photography and documentary news photography. If you are working close in with your subjects it gets you a zone of focus that's fully sharp from about 7 feet to about 25 feet. I left the lens set to f8.0 but I used focus peaking to quick focus most shots more carefully. For some reason I felt like I should always return the focusing ring to the green spot index mark after every flurry of photographs. At least this way I was always starting at some neutral point.
When I got back to the studio I looked carefully at a few of the images; especially the ones with trees and leaves, or chain link fences. I wanted to see if the lens was as sharp as I had been led to believe when stopped down to f8.0. I can confirm that it is. It's exquisite at that setting. Today's walk had a nice, calming effect on me. I talked myself out of the need to buy a Panasonic GH5 and talked myself into shooting for myself more often. And when shooting for myself to do it more often in black and white.
I hedged my bets a bit. I shot in Raw+Jpeg just in case I didn't like the way the camera's monochrome profile worked on some of the images. I needn't have bothered. I think the camera and I see black and white in much the same way. That's nice to know.
The little A7ii and the tinier 45mm lens are the perfect combination for roaming around shooting at random. With only one focal length there's very little extraneous decision making to suffer through; you basically line up your composition (stepping backward or forward to adjust), take your chances with zone focusing or take a moment to dial in focus peaked focus and then bide your time until the moment is right and push the shutter button. My only other control was to ride the exposure compensation dial while watching the enchanting black and white images in the finder.
"Dream to See Anew." Coincidence or message? I'll go with message.
I wrote a blog post earlier today because I was stunned and amazed that DP Review had posted a video for general consumption that had obvious and recurring audio problems. Problems so big that it made the program unwatchable.
After I posted the site took down their video. Since it's no longer there and you can't go see (hear) it my critique of their dicey publishing move is no longer useful. I've taken it down.
Thank you to everyone who posted a comment. I hope to see much better production value (and judgement) from what has traditionally been a well produced site.
Eeyore's Birthday Party, 2017. Austin, Texas
There's something magical and fun and immersive about photography. While you glide through the streets of your city, or slip through the landscape of more rural environs, you are constantly seeing and capturing things from a unique point of view, a personal perspective, an aesthetic that's a reflection of your own experiences. Some of the personal images I take are just for me while others fall into the category of images I want to use to help me share a vision with an audience.
In our culture (U.S.A.) it seems selfish or indolent to leave your home just with the intention of taking photographs for yourself. The over-riding imperative seems to be that productivity is the most important measure and, "why the heck would you do anything that didn't have as it's primary motivation immediate profit?" That may be why so much of the photography we do is wrapped around the concept of "a walk." Or "a Photo Walk." If we intertwine the passion for our craft with the medically proven necessity to get more exercise we at least rescue a little bit of virtue from the time spent with a camera in our hands.
Lately I've come to think of my process of photography as having the same function as dreaming. It seems that our subconscious does most of its heavy lifting while we sleep; replaying the day's events or perceived slights to our self-fabricated sense of reality in order to help some quadrant of our brains make sense of the things we experience. In one sense the dreams keep us healthy and safe but in another sense way help us figure out why we are what we are. Dreaming is almost always a working through of impressions, mixed with ideas.
Now, when I leave the house with a camera I think of the activity not so much being a rationale for play while living in a productivity-compulsive environment but more as a way to freeze and archive the things I see in order to make sense of them over time. To re-see them over time.
Riding in a car and looking out a window as we rush from place to place feels like tremendous visual overload. But walking with a camera in our hands allows us to control the amount and pacing of our visual experiences. We can stop and, with our cameras, experiment with angles, exposures, juxtapositions of objects, and movement. If we leash our desire to over-think our process and just let our intuition and sense of playfulness take charge we can sometimes come home with images that are both in our style but also somewhat like a gift-wrapped surprise, one that we know we bought but are unwrapping and re-examining in the quiet of our own comfortable space.
One thing that makes a contemplative approach to the process of photograph seem comfortable and fluid is our reflexive ideas about just how important it may be to have just the right gear. There is something about our left brain celebrating culture that gives priority to any part of a process that can be measured or dissected. No where is this more evident than in any intersection of art/craft and technology. We have a cultural tendency to STEM stuff to death. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It's the byproduct of being told for decades that anyone without a technical specialty will die a cold, lonely death; mired in abject poverty.
This has given rise in my generational cohort to a group of photo practitioners who measure their own self-worth as potential artists by the depth and primacy of their toys. Over the last two decades I have been as guilty of this as anyone else. And as much of victim of this kind of thinking as anyone else. I've spent so much time "researching" the gear and commensurately less time actually using it.
I think this is because it's much easier to have opinions about what constitutes a good interface than it is to pursue the actual taking of photographs. We love the buzz words that make us appear to be skilled technical experts but it comes at the expense of not really immersing ourselves into the art we profess to love. It's tough in any enterprise to serve two masters but it is especially so in the world of creating subjective visual work. It's rare that, in a group of similarly priced or specified cameras, one tool will be profoundly better than another. But it's the deep dive into the tool; even after we have purchased and acquired it, that puts up roadblocks to creativity because it robs us of our time; and our belief in our own powers. We need to give more respect to the role paid by our ability to "see" and bring home interesting work while we need to look at our tools as just tools instead of magic charms that will bring us luck.
I have some good tools. Statistically, the best of them is the Sony A7rii. But it's not my favorite tool, or even one I pick up at all for the pleasure of shooting. I bought it to ameliorate my own sense (fear) that I needed to have a camera with a high degree of specification to satisfy my clients and make my living. But I'm drawn to much different cameras when I shoot for myself. It's all a bit crazy. But when I am enjoying the scenery the camera I have in my hand becomes less and less significant. After a while it becomes transparent and I work with what I have. It's almost always more than enough.
A new flash rushes into the studio and its form factor, flexibility and functionality win me over almost instantly.
"Be careful what you wish for..." A couple of years ago I started thinking that it would be a good idea to supplement my traditional photography business by adding video services for clients. The idea was that I'd be able to offer a turnkey solution so that we could efficiently do photographs as well as video on various assignments. The job acquisition and actual shooting/directing/editing/photoshopping is going well but I wish I had given more thought to the packing and production end of the hybrid photo/video idea.
It's all very well to say that we'll use LED lights for everything since we have a bunch of LED lights but sometimes reality bites you on the butt and makes you realize that there is no "one size fits all" strategy when it comes to shooting photographs. Much as I would love
It's odd. I have been a working photographer for more than 30 years and in most of that time, while I may have dabbled in constant light sources (LED, Tungsten, Fluorescent..) my commercial work was done mostly with electronic flash. In the early days it was because film was relatively insensitive and the bigger formats we worked in demanded smaller apertures to keep everything we wanted to have in focus sharp.
Our first studio electronic flashes were huge and heavy. I remember why we needed assistants so desperately, a Norman PD 2000 power pack weighed in at over 30 pounds; we traveled with three of them. Add in the flash heads and the heavy light stands and there was no way one could survive going out of the studio solo.
Eventually flashes got smaller and more efficient. In tandem we moved from large format to medium format and then; mostly, to a 35mm style of camera (this transition coinciding also with the advent of primitive digital cameras) and the overall gear package shrunk in size and weight.
I never truly abandoned studio flash and up until very recently
The G85, on a crowded desk, with a SmallRig cage on it.
My last experience with Panasonic cameras was with the workmanlike GH4. It was actually a very well done camera with exceptional 1080p video quality and a wide range of both video features and very decent photography chops as well. But it sported a lower resolution EVF, the anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor robbed the camera of that last tweak of sharpness and the shutter was a bit loud.
While I am certain that I'd like a GH5 I'm not at all ready to give up the sterling photography and video performance I get from Sony's A7Rii to plunge down into yet another full camera family change. In fact, I've written here before that I am now certain the minute I sell off or trade in my Sony cameras and lenses on whatever looks better on the other side of the fence will be the day that Sony announces a camera that will fit my needs even more perfectly. I'll be honest and say that I think the G85 is somewhat a camera for people who really would like a GH5 but can't justify the cost of a wholesale system change. In my mind the GH5 can only be justified if you see it as a video camera that's capable of great still images instead of a still imaging camera that can take great video.
On the other hand, the Sony A7Rii is resolutely a great still photography camera that can be pressed into video service and deliver the goods but with a penalty in handling and connectivity. (What a marvelous camera it would be with the addition of a full HDMI plug and the option to use some of that processor bandwidth to delivery 10 bit 4:2:2 in 1080p....).
I bought the G85 because I was very happy with the video performance (color, tone, handling) of the Panasonic fz2500 and thought I'd try one of the interchangeable lens, M4:3 cameras with the latest magic to see if it might be a great addition to the cameras I use for video work. After all, if the image stabilization lives up to Panasonic's promised and the color and tonality is at least as good as the fz2500 then I would have a great new tool to shoot handheld video content on the run. Right?
Since the camera was more or less brand new to me last week I decided against taking it on my trip to shoot stills and interviews in OKC. The combination of the Sony RX10iii and the A7Rii gave me a sterling still performance and great video, all with the same basic menu structures, profiles and batteries. The time crunch was too great to work with a new camera under pressure. No time to fix unexpected stuff...
But now that I'm back and the photographs from that assignment have been delivered I've dived back into my explorations of the G85.
First of all I should briefly describe the camera for people who are unfamiliar with it. The G85 is the replacement for the G7 (corrected model name; thank you anonymous commenter). The G7 was a good camera but subject to "shutter shock" and also endowed with some sloppy feeling dials. The G85 is a micro four thirds camera with the same type of 16 megapixel sensor but the anti-aliasing filter has be removed (or weakened, more likely...). The camera also inherited the same dual OIS image stabilization afforded the GH5. This allows the camera and lens stabilizers to work together (with a small number of currently lenses) to provide up to five stops of image stabilization for stills and 1080p video along with lesser capability when shooting 4K video. I've been using the camera with the elegant little 12-60mm f3.5 to f5.6 lens and have found the I.S. to be very, very good.
When I mount one of my older, manual focus, Olympus Pen FT lenses on the camera a menu automatically comes up asking me if I want to input the correct focal length into the system in order to match it to the camera's I.S. programming. A very nice touch and one that will keep me from having to dig through menus to set the right focal length every time I change non-system lenses.
The color and tonality I got from my older Olympus EM-5.2 cameras is similar to what I am getting here and while the Jpegs are lower contrast they are very malleable in post processing. The video menus are truncated when compared to what I have in the fz2500. By this I mean that a range of setting options for video files is less generous. First, this is not a "world" camera. You can't switch form NTSC 24 fps to PAL 25 fps. None of the PAL frame rates are included. Also, the camera doesn't give you the option to wrap your files in a .MOV wrapper. You get ACVHD or Mp4 and that's it.
So when you shoot 4K you are shooting 100 mbs into an Mp4 file.
This is a camera that you will want to use almost always in 4k as none of the 1080p files, Mp4 or ACVHD are bigger than 28 mbs. Not really enough information to make insecure videographers feel like they are getting enough information to work with in post. The only use I can see for the smaller 1080p files would be long for documentation like recitals, stage shows or corporate events for which the documentation video doesn't have to reach broadcast standards, or a near approximation.
The flip side of the coin is that the 4K files that absorb information at 100 mbs are very nice and very easy to work with. Panasonic seems to be using the same style of file for 4K that they provide in the fz2500 and that is very good, especially at 24 fps. While the fz2500 provides a wider aspect (and slightly bigger format- 17:9 ) cinema 4K at 24 fps the G85 does not provide the cinema version and is limited to 24 or 30 fps at the UHD ( 16:9 ) format. I don't see it as a roadblock for personal or corporate work but if you were using this camera as a "b" camera in a movie/cinema production with cameras that can go wider (17:9 ) you'll have some issues with editing that will require you to either do some letter boxing or cropping and neither are good, after the fact solutions where quality and control are concerned. The aspect ratio imbroglio.
The other poke in the eye, as far as serious video production is concerned, is the lack of a headphone jack. While photographers won't care anyone who is filming an interview certainly will. It's just too easy to not hear potential sound disasters if you don't listen through high quality, enclosed headphones. You'd miss everything from a bad electrical hum to appliance noise and even the rustling of a microphone on clothing. It's not an automatic disqualified for the camera's use in video since the Arri Alexa Mini at over $20,000 doesn't have a headphone jack either.... But it's a pain in the butt and, if they can put one on their bridge camera you'd think it would not be too difficult to work into this camera as well.
I have a good and then a better workaround for the headphone issue but both add bulk and complexity to the camera. The first is to use something like the Saramonic SmartRig+ which is a pre-amplifier for external microphone. It has a built in headphone jack. But it's limited. You'll be able to hear that what the mic and pre-amp are doing is fine but you won't know if the camera recorded it well until you play back the footage. It's a good way to catch noises and general problems but you'll spend time watching your meters on the camera to make sure you are getting enough level into the camera and not too much. About $100.
The better way (at least as far as making certain you have good sound) is to use an external, HDMI monitor that provides a headphone jack. The monitor is getting a signal after it's been processed in camera so you are seeing an image and hearing sound as the camera will hear them. While the monitor adds much bulk to smaller camera set ups it does deliver peace of mind for video makers.
A decent, 4K enabled, 7 inch monitor can be had for under $300.
Through I like the files coming out of this camera aesthetically I have to admit that the RX10ii and RX10iii, as well as the FZ2500 are much better solutions for video production.
Looking at the camera as a still photography tool shows me the camera in a different light. There is a laundry list of things I like about it. The EVF is good, detailed and has better stand-off than the Sony a6000 series cameras. The image stabilization, especially when using a lens with OIS -2 is closing in on Olympus territory. The files are sharp and their color is good. The body is a good size with nice heft and a good level of finish. The shutter is like butter. You probably will never need to switch into the silent mode since this camera, along with first curtain e-shutter, is so quiet it puts most other cameras to shame. And, while the battery is not the same high performance one found in the GH4 and GH5 it is the same as the one in the fz1000 and fz2500 and if used well provides lots and lots of reserve. I have five batteries across two cameras but you have to know that I am a bit compulsive on redundancy.
Do I like using the camera? Yes. It's a comfortable camera and it delivers beautiful stills when used with the kit lens (12/60mm) or one of my little, gem-like Pen lenses. It's small enough to be a comfortable daylong shooter for me. The DfD focusing seems fast and accurate and the dials feel good. The menus (except for the AF menu) are easy and straightforward. It's a fun camera to use.
But....would I buy it again? For my kind of shooting? If I had it to do over again I'd probably choose the other fork in the road and buy the Sony a6500. It might not feel as elegant and finished as this camera but I like the array of video options and video performance better and, by all accounts, it is a low light monster --- perhaps the best in the whole APS-C world. The 4K video files are downsampled from 6K for incredible detail and sharpness. And I can use the Pen lenses on that camera too.
With the other cameras I own satisfying me on most jobs I'm not in a rush to get rid of the G85 or lunge toward yet another Sony camera. I'll concentrate on figuring out what the G85 does superbly and focus on its strengths. I do like the 4K video very much. I also like the way the camera makes photographs. In the end though it's just a camera. I should know my way around these by now....
AcraYoga at Eeyore's Birthday Party, 2017. This image has nothing to do with the subject matter of this blog. It's just part of my continued sharing of images I like. Sony RX10iii.
I thought it might be interesting to write a piece that outlines a day of visual content creation on location, complete with what I'm thinking about as I go through the day. It's something new I want to try out so here goes:
There are some things I just don't do with my camera and one of them is swimming. I suppose I could rivet a Go Pro to my head and document every stroke but I'm pretty darn sure the audience for the resulting images/video would be about one, and even I would tire of it quickly.
We have two masters workouts on Saturday mornings. One is the serious/low conversation/high yardage workout that goes from 7:30am- 8:30am while the second is a more crowded, boisterous, engaging and eclectic workout - from 8:30am to 10am. Make no mistake though, while we have fun in the later workout we do get our yards in.
Last Saturday I woke up early for no good reason at all and decided to go to the early workout. I had a big glass or water at home and drove the mile and a half on quiet, almost empty streets. I hopped into lane three with Ann and Tom and we followed Ann as she dragged us through each set on tight intervals that I could barely make. It was great to watch the sun come up over the hill next to the pool and send beautiful rays of light through the (almost) crystal clear water.
I was tired at the end of the first workout but stayed for the first half hour of the second workout. I probably swam in four different lanes; just to mix things up.
The Western Hills Athletic Club seems to be one of a fading type of club --- one almost completely dedicated to the sport of swimming instead of being a social club for upper middle class networking. Kids workouts and teams trump everything but masters workouts are still a top priority. The club has no food service, no bar, no service staff. Just lifeguards, a pool manager and a freelance tennis pro. You mostly come here to swim. And usually you come to swim hard.
I've spent so many beautiful days here over the last twenty years. Saturday was a wonderful day of swimming and recharging. I'd write more but I'm heading over to participate in the noon masters practice today. I wonder which former gold medal winning Olympian will be our coach today?
Camera: Panasonic G85. 12-60mm f3.5-5.6
Back in the driver's seat at VSL. Had a wonderful shoot in OKC but now have to wade through the post production. What worked and what didn't?
Steve, at our lake location. A quick lighting test.
Our trip to Oklahoma City was a fast paced affair. My client and I flew out from Austin on Monday morning, arrived in OKC mid-afternoon and immediately headed over to our primary shooting location to meet the our contacts and scout the locations. When the project started on Tuesday we shot video and stills; intertwined. I went without an assistant on this adventure and I'm happy I did. I was able to handle what needed to get done and I didn't have to keep track of anyone else. I like having my hands on all of the controls.
Lots of the photographs and video content were done in the available light of a well lit research facility. This meant that I leaned on my lighting kit less frequently than I usually do. I won't say that I over packed here because I did use all three of the lights and light stands that I packed, but the need to light was much more about getting the right aesthetic than it was just providing enough photons to operate. The two, plastic, Amaran 672W LED panels travelled well, as did the smaller LED panel I toted along. I came home with at least 50% battery power remaining for every light.
I also packed one Godox flash unit, along with its cute radio flash trigger and used it only in one sequence of shots in an exam room where I wanted total control of the light's color temperature. The lithium battery in that flash is pretty amazing and I was able to bang off a hundred perfect frames at half power without making a dent in its capacity. I love using small flashes to light "big" by bouncing them into wall and ceiling intersections. It's a fun technique. And being able to sit at camera position and control power output is always a lazy man's bonus...
I bought and used Andrew Reid's (EosHd.com) formula for setting an optimum picture profile for the Sony A7 and RX cameras. It's a method of fine tuning color and contrast in order to get nearly perfect files out of the cameras, ready to deliver. I have to say that it worked really well. The profile set-ups he suggests are clearly intended for video work with those cameras but worked for most of the outside images I created; both as photographs and video. It was a very cost effective expenditure; a whopping $15 for a big savings in post production time on many of my set ups.
Here's the way the camera use broke down: I used the A7Rii for almost all of the still shots I produced. I shot in uncompressed raw and I'm processing the 600+ images in Lightroom. About 12 of the images need some additional care (retouching out a lens that creeped into the image, dropping out a background for a social media photo request by the client, etc.) and I'll drag them into Photoshop and fix things that are either unflattering (I'm no strict journalist) or goofy mistakes on my part.
The remaining files were grouped and post processed this morning and I'm writing this as they export into folders as Tiffs with LZW compression (client mandated format....).
I know I was hesitant about buying a 28mm lens for my A7 cameras but in retrospect I am glad I did. We were working in some tight spaces and it was great to have a sharp, fast wide angle that wasn't so wide that it would cause too much perspective craziness. The 28mm f2.0 is small, light and very sharp in actual practice. I also used it to very good effect in a number of exterior shots in which the subject needed to be prominent and the background pushed away. I've given the 28mm focal length the cold shoulder too often. It can be nice. I'll be using it more often.
The other two single focal length lenses I took along feel like variations of old friends. One is the 50mm f1.8 FE and the other is the 85mm f1.8 FE; I am delighted with both of them and they each performed flawlessly. I amazed myself by finally having the discipline to limit myself to a trio of primes instead of bowing to my usual anxious overkill of having overlapping zooms, supplemented by a bag full of obscure primes for, you know, just in case stuff...
The other camera I took along was the RX10iii. I used it for all of the b-roll video and as the "A" camera for the interviews we did with our subject, Steve. The only video I took with the A7Rii was when I used it as a second angle camera for the interviews. I didn't bring a second tripod but mounted the camera onto a Leica ball head and mounted that to the 1/4 inch screw on top of a small light stand. Sure, there was some vibration and movement when I turned the camera on but it subsided before we got the interview into full swing, and, as long as no one touched the assemblage it was solid as a rock. Funny, a $50 light stand and a 50 year old ball head filling in for a $1,000+ video tripod ---- and doing a damn fine job. As long as no one tries to pan it...
I fed audio into the camera from one of the Saramonic SmartRig+ pre-amplifiers which was attached to a Rode NTG-4+ on a Gitzo boom pole. I was able to monitor the audio with headphones plugged into the camera's headphone jack. It worked well. I brought a second microphone along but didn't need to use it. I also brought along a second Saramonic SmartRig+ but we'll file that desire for redundant back-up under excess gear anxiety...
The only issue I've ever had shooting video with the RX10iii is achieving good manual focus, even when using magnification. The problem was finally solved for me by, again, Andrew Reid. In his instructions he advised that for many types of shots it was wholly unnecessary to set the camera to the little movie camera icon and then shoot. In that mode the camera only gives on 5X magnification of the frame and at a lesser resolution! If one leaved the camera in the regular "M" mode one can fine focus using magnification all the way up to 16X and will be doing so on a much higher resolution image (the still frame versus the reduced resolution video frame). The result of doing it this way is much improved focusing parameters. There are two downsides, only one of which is critical. The first downside is that you view the frame in photography 16:9 when in the "M" mode but when you push the red record button the frame shrinks a bit. This is a pain mostly if you are wedded to a very specific crop. The second issue could bite you on the ass. When you are outside the dedicated video mode (little film icon) you give up manual audio level control and the camera defaults to automatic level control. That's okay if audio is not important to the shot but for interviews it's pretty important to be able to set levels that stay....level.
I got into the habit of focusing in "M" mode and then switching to the dedicated video mode to shoot interviews. It worked well. The "M" mode focusing was a revelation for all the b-roll shots. Just a great way to shoot with manual focus.
The new Manfrotto case worked well as did the more seasoned Tenba rolling stand case (it always amazed me when it arrives someplace new with all of the bottom casters and wheels still attached).
I was able to toss in a shirt, boxers, socks and a shaving kit of the second day so I passed entirely on taking anything for "personal" luggage.
There were no direct flights to OKC from AUS so no matter how you do it you're going to spend some quality time in an airport in Dallas. I like to fly Southwest so I knew I'd be spending a couple hours each way at Love Field. It's nice. Only one terminal and only 18 gates. You won't miss a tight flight because the tram was out of order or the distance between terminals too great. A bonus is that Love field actually has a Whataburger in the terminal so that native Texans can get their burger with chopped jalapeños. Airport comfort food?
There is only one thing I hate about traveling these days and that's the making of calculations about when to head to the airport. I always go early. I've been burned by crazy traffic en route to the airport, to car fires shutting down the main parking garage and the human roadblocks at TSA checkpoints caused, on a regular basis, by the mass, temporary migrations of people coming to or escaping from Austin concerts, events and conventions. The check in lines in our moderately small airport can be as long as two hours. But if you choose too early you'll have an equal number of experiences where you arrive, slide into a parking place and hit the airport at a time when you are the only one standing in front of a Sky Cap and the only person going through security. At those times you might wish you had slept in another hour or wish that you hadn't splashed to for the TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry. But then you visualize that Whataburger with those spicy peppers, smile, take a seat and read that great novel you brought along... Ah.....Jalapeños....
Two cameras was just right. The trip was just right. Now I hope to get the post production to the same level. It's good to be home. Someone has to nap on the couch with Studio Dog....
I'll be at the Austin airport first thing Monday morning. I'm heading out of town for two days to shoot a project that requires both video and photographs. It's not an especially complicated project. We'll be shooting two separate interviews and then we'll need video that shows our main subject engaged in activities of daily life. These will include walking with his dog and fishing. We'll need close up shots of the client's product in all phases of these activities. The interviews will take place inside an office and the active shots will take place outside. The photographs need to feature the two subjects from the interviews working together (patient and clinician) as well as a few "product in use" photographs.
We travel and scout tomorrow but scouting tomorrow doesn't help much with packing today. I tend to want everything I need close at hand on assignment and I know we only have four hours with one of our subjects on Tues. If we need additional gear there's no time to run out and get more; we'll just have to figure out a way to proceed with what I've packed.
In my main case (above) I've got: two large, 672 W Aputure Amaran LED panels, in their cases. I also have a smaller Amaran LED panel snugged in next to them. In the center, front area I have a big, sturdy Manfrotto fluid tripod head, and in the same compartment (just under the blue case with the gray/white target) I have a Pelican case with a set of Sennheiser wireless microphones. On the right side of the case I have two different shotgun microphones, headphones, two preamplifier/phantom power devices as well as my usual Beachtek XLR to 3.5mm adapter box. There is an Ikan shoulder mount for shooting video and two 25 foot XLR cables; along with lots of connectors and adapters.
Somewhere in the front of the case is a Leica tabletop tripod with a ball head.
In the rear section of the case is a big set of Manfrotto video tripod legs. The legs are sharing the space with two Chimera 4x4' collapsible aluminum frames and several kinds of diffusion cloth. In a pocket in the same compartment is my Skidmore College-branded, wood paneled pocket knife; it's basically a Swiss Army knife with convenient things like a screw driver blade and a cork screw.
The case is a Manfrotto as well. Fully loaded, in this configuration it weighs in at about 35 pounds.
My next case is a Tenba 40 inch, rolling light stand case. I have three medium weight Manfrotto light stands and two nano-stands strapped in as well as a microphone boom pole, some grip heads, and various reflector cloths as well as two Westcott collapsible, shoot thru umbrellas. This case will also get a small shaving kit as well as a pair of pants, a pair of extra socks and a shirt for the second day.
The case has casters on the bottom and bigger wheels at one end. Packed as spec'd it weighs in at about 30 pounds. The two big cases get me up and running for an unmanned microphone on boom pole for interviews and they also get me lighting control for the interior shots, as well as possible overhead diffusion for close up exteriors. Being able to toss in shirt/pants/socks, etc. saves me having to pack any sort of suitcase. I'm flying Southwest Airlines so I get to check both of these without hassles. The final case is the camera container.
It's the same Amazon Basics Photo Backpack that I used when I went to shoot in Toronto in February. I've got it packed with a Sony A7rii, an RX10iii and a complement of three prime lenses; the 28mm f2.0, the 50mm f1.8 and the 85mm f1.8. I'll lean on the A7Rii for the interviews and depend on the RX10iii for all the action/moving/dolly/handheld shots. We're shooting 4K.
Also in this case are eight batteries for the cameras, neutral density filters for all the lenses, cleaning cloths, a Godox flash and a remote trigger for the flash. The bottom right compartment and the one just above it are stuffed with big lithium batteries for the LED panels. You are no longer allowed to include lithium batteries in checked luggage. Now the weight gets added to the carry on. Ah well, safety first... I'll add to this collection my phone and its charger along with a vintage/retro 40GB iPod that I recently re-discovered in the clutter on my desk and have been enjoying immensely. It's nice to listen to music and not be interrupted by phone calls or text notifications...
That's pretty much it. I'm overpacked and under packed as usual and, if I knew for sure in which direction I was erring I would lighten my load, but I have a duty to come home with good, useable content and it's not going to make itself.
Why a small backpack instead of my ThinkTank Airport Security case? Hmmm. Well, on two of my recent short jaunts I had a connection delay and even though I had arranged for early check-in I was one of the last people to get on the plane. The overheads were full and my roller case had to be gate checked. I pulled the cameras out and wore them but I still fretted about the lenses. On a different flight we ended up doing one leg on a regular commercial jet and then the second leg on a much smaller regional jet and the overheads were too small for anything bigger than a backpack. Yep. Another gate check. I wanted to stop tempting fate with my gear and it seemed smarter to just pack down a bit and find something that would both fit and be portable enough to jog with all the way from one end of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport (yes, I had to do that to make a connection on the last trip..).
Travel sucks these days. If I can get to my destination in six hours or less in a car I'll do it but for anything else air travel still makes sense. That doesn't mean it's fun, it just means we (generally) save time. But traveling with gear these days always turns into a nail biter. Will it get there? Will it still work? Will our cases be held for baggage fee ransom? Are there ever enough light stands? Why do extension cords weigh so much?
When I write something like this there is always a chorus of voices suggesting that I ship everything via Fedex. Yeah. If we were staying in a big hotel like a Four Seasons or a W I'd consider it but a lot of the time we're heading for a rural area and we're lucky to find a nearby LaQuinta or Holiday Inn Express. Not sure I trust that set up for basic gear security. And....we've had stuff lost in transit before. My take is that if you want to be assured of an item's use on arrival it must travel with you. In the cabin if possible.
So now you know how I spent my weekend. It's a process of charging batteries, putting things in cases and then thinking better of it and taking them back out of the cases. There is no perfect way. But if you think you know of one, please share.