7.30.2017

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



Camera living on desk, currently. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


7.29.2017

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


Dave Steakley interview from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7.28.2017

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

This one is just... funny. 


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

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

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

Was someone sending a subconscious message?

Seems odd to me. 

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

Retail marketing is certainly replete with social minefields.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

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

Thanks for reading our (always) free content. 

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7.27.2017

Buying a Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 makes it pretty clear that I'm back in "Two System Hell" again.


After my shoot on Tues. at Zach Theatre I couldn't get one idea out of my head; that it would be really cool to have a very sharp lens that covered all the focal lengths between the equivalents of 24 to 200mm in a lens with a fixed, fairly fast aperture. A lens that could cover all the near and far shots in a theatrical dress rehearsal without breaking a sweat. One that I could use on the GH5 to press into service when shooting video or regular photographs. Turns out that such an animal does exist and all the feedback that I've gotten here, via e-mail, and in trusted blogger reviews made the lens out to be pretty fantastic.

I've been testing my GH5 and find it to be a wonderful camera to work with but I wanted a lens that could take advantage of the autofocus capabilities of the camera but would also be optimized for manual focusing in video. Seems that the 12/100mm from Olympus checked all the boxes.

I didn't know what the supply might be like in the bold world outside the cocoon of my studio so I called the folks at Precision Camera to find that they had three in stock. I only needed one.

With the eternal, maddening construction and consequential delays on our major north/south road from my studio to the camera store I was able to "enjoy" a half hour of driving to go ten miles north and then nearly 45 minutes to make the same trip back south. But I had a new goal in mind besides just buying local, my plan was to negotiate a deal which would also get me a free, vacuum insulated, stainless steel water bottle from the store. Yes, it has a logo on it but it's still a very cool (and effective water bottle).

I've been walking around the studio, the house and the neighborhood from the minute I got back snapping images willy-nilly and everything I focus the new lens on looks very cool.

So here we are again. Two systems deep. Unwilling to fully commit to one or the other. At least it's a hell of a lot of fun.....

Looks like we've got at least one foot in that small sensor camp. What keeps you shooting m4:3?

Answer to reader who wants to know if I'll be returning my GH5 for a refund...


For a while here at the VSL's massive testing laboratory it looked like sheer gloom and doom for the GH5. The darn thing is about the same size as our beloved Sony A7Rii but that Sony camera just blows the GH5 out of the water when it comes to mind altering levels of resolution and detail. The A7Rii makes the Panasonic cry like a little girl when it comes to dynamic range and highlight recovery. And, it's got that all important more narrow depth of field when used with fast (or any) glass in the same basic angle of view.  Add to this that the A7Rii already had pretty nice 4K video (in APS-C mode) and it seems like a total smackdown. Who in their right mind would keep the 5?

My accounting department came in early this morning to box up the Panasonic and get the paperwork in order to make a return today. When I found out I fired everyone in that department. Who needs logic and metrics where camera body decisions are made?

You're damn right we're keeping the GH5, and here's why: The video performance from this camera is fantastic. Reason enough to own it. When used in conjunction with an external video recorder/monitor like the Atomos Shogun, in the 4K Pro Res set up it holds its own with anything out there except maybe a giant Red or Arri Alexa camera. For the kind of corporate work I do even staying all in camera delivers the good and does so in a very small form factor. While the Sony has an advantage in the arena of noise performance at higher ISOs the GH5 has much, much nicer skin tones and overall color and gradation. We'll keep it for anything that demands great, fast, happy video. 

But wait, there's more! Few other cameras (maybe the Olympus EM-1.2) are set up to use my dear old Pen FT lenses as well. At last count there are seven that we actively use... 

In either video or stills the GH4 runs circles around the Sonys when it comes to battery capacity and power management. Two extra batteries will get me through a full day of shooting while three pockets full of Sony batteries might be needed for the same run. 

Another difference is in handling. The Panasonic is designed for someone who actually shoots all day long. The Sony can deliver the goods and it's head and shoulders above most cameras for imaging performance but the Panasonic feels good. Works well. Has some winning personality. Got the good genetics when it comes to the menu UI and so much more. 

I can see a difference in image files. The Sony is lush and luxurious. You reach the end of your tether a little quicker with the Panasonic. But, again, we're talking the difference between 100% and 95%. I could make a living with either system. And do it pretty well. 

So, I'm getting rid of all the Sony stuff, right? Not so fast. There's a lot I like about the two Sony FF bodies I have and the selection of lenses I've put together. But the kicker is that big sensor hiding behind that weird body design. 

The Panasonic is fun to shoot. The Sony will deliver when the art director with OCD comes through the door. Let's keep both. 

Starting my personal KirkStarter Campaign to raise money for my hotly anticipated acquisition of the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 to round out my m4:3 system. I've already donated some and I guess I'll keep donating until I've reached my goal. Sorry, there's no website for donations. 

Sony vs. Panasonic. No contest. Both.



A very important test for my new GH5...


Sure, the GH5 can work with "legacy" lenses and it can work shooting stage shows in near darkness but can it bring home the bacon on a really tough assignment? I thought I'd take some time this morning to see. 

It was a fun, tough day in the pool. The water temperature was creeping up to 86(f) but the hard charging folks in my lane were loathe to back away from the kinds of intervals they usually do on sets when the water is 78. We ground through much swimming but I saved my real energy for my most definitive test yet of the new GH5. Could it handle full daylight at ISO 200? Would the files fall apart at such a dicey sensitivity setting? Would we get all the color saturation and sharpness we were used to getting at ISO 1600? 

The testing crew was on pins and needles for sure. Why? Well, I think today is the last day I could return the camera for a full refund...

I took no chances with sissy-style autofocus lenses. I precision-attached a proven favorite, the Olympus Pen FT 40mm f1.4. Since this was to be a "real whirled" test I eschewed the false support of a tripod and relied on the in-body image stabilization. 

We planned on having an extensive crew on hand but our digital tech couldn't get his three ergo carts through the pool door and up the little hill. Our grip crew, along with our grip truck, got caught in rush hour traffic on the insidious Mopac "Expressway" (where good commuters go to die from boredom) so we had to make due without the diesel generator, the sky crane and the raft of 18K HMIs. My original plan was to "fly" a giant scrim over the entire pool area and then come back in and emulate the effects of sunlight by using a bank of large HMI lights. Sadly, logistics prevented this critical part of my test. 

We had hired America's best towel fluffer from Miami but her flight into Austin was delayed. She and her three assistants are recovering from their horrendous flight delays over at the Four Seasons Hotel and, as of 8:00 am this morning she was not returning my calls...

On the call sheet for this test was a small (twelve persons) crew of grass stylists who were supposed to be on site by 5 a.m, this morning  removing any brown grass in the frame and replacing it with bright green grass that we had flown in from Scotland but when they arrived the team of barristas we'd arranged to be on site was nowhere in sight so the grass experts left in protest. Can't blame them. Who can style turf without a good cup of coffee?

I had to send my two assistants home sick. Once we lost the DIT and the turf crew they began to suffer from existential angst, which both assured me was a real condition and covered extensively in the beta of the DSM-VI. Just go look it up. I'm sure it's there. Photographic Existential Angst or "PEA". Few cures, many symptoms. 

Trooper that I am I went boldly ahead with the critical towel testing pretty much on my own. The almost final straw was when I got the text from our model, Karlie Kloss. Her Toyota Corolla had broken down just a few miles from her secret home in Pflugerville, Texas and she was waiting for a tow.  Now I was starting to panic because I'd been led to believe that few could wrangle a Marvel-themed towel like Karlie. 

Fortunately one of my lane mates agreed to hold the towel. I proceeded with understandable trepidation. Could Anne really manage to hold the towel exactly as Karlie Kloss would have? Who would do Anne's nails? 

Amazingly we were able to pull it off. The towel went up and the necessary shots were taken. I've analyzed the nano-contrast and the bokeh and integrated it into my DXO data. 

The upshot? Even without a vast crew of highly trained helpers we were able to do a successful test of the GH5 and the best towel ever made for swimmers. My conclusions? My verdict? My assessment?

Yeah. The towel looks pretty good. Now we'll all sleep just a little bit better.......

7.26.2017

Photography would not be as much fun without a little risky experimentation. Right?

So, let's play "guess this lens."

Last night was the dress rehearsal for Zach  Theatre's production of Million Dollar Quartet and I was in a quandary. I really wanted to play with my new GH5 but the only Panasonic lens I currently have for it is the 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. It's a nice lens; especially for a kit lens, but that long end is really slow for shooting stage shows and, actually, the long end isn't that long. I was looking around for something closer to the 90-100mm range. I guess I could have cobbled on my older Nikon 105mm f2.5 or something but I wanted the ability to recompose on there fly and that meant I really wanted something zoom-y. 

Yesterday's discussion about the Olympus 12-100mm lens really whetted my appetite but I felt a bit reticent, after having dropped kilo-bucks on the GH5, to return to the trough too soon... that, and the fact that projects have been a bit "light on the ground" this Summer. Something to do with having an overweight position in healthcare clients in the middle of a period of funding uncertainty brought about by our elected officials...

So I rummaged around in the equipment cases and came across two copies of a very old lens that would work with one of my Pen FT to m4:3 adapters. It's a lens I seldom use and one I never had much luck  with on the first and second generation of micro four thirds cameras: it's the Pen FT 50 to 90mm f3.5 zoom lens. 

I carefully inspected the glass and tried it on the GH5, just shooting inane images around the studio. I set the image stabilization on the GH5 to 90mm since I figured that was the focal length I'd need the most help with, and the one I'd mostly be shooting at the theater. I dived into my saved archives and found an original Modern Photography Magazine review of the Olympus PenFT lenses from 1970. Yes, that's 47 years ago. It's a lens that hit the market when I was twelve or thirteen years old....

I hadn't remembered the magazine's scoring but I was pretty surprised when I found it. They rated the lens as "excellent" in both the center and edges at f3.5 and f4.0. The sharpness dropped off as it was stopped down but never fell below "good." It's pretty impressive that the lens hit such good performance metrics wide open and at all focal lengths. Two things help this lens; one is the very low zoom ratio and the other is many fewer lens elements than current zooms. While I know that modern zooms can correct all sorts of things with moving lens groups and fancy elements I also know that mechanical precision and tolerances can be a bitch to achieve and thereby deliver the theoretical performance in the "real world." A lens in which on the zoom mechanism and the focusing group moves may not self-optimize for close ups but a nice, tight mechanical package will less often fail or go out of pristine alignment. 

After a bit of shooting and testing I dropped the lens and camera into my tool bag, along with the reliably good fz2500 and headed over to see the show. 

Here are my few observations after examining about 650 shots from the GH5+Ancient lens combination: 

1. Manual focusing with moving targets on a dark stage using an older lens that shoots at the stopped down aperture can be a bear. Focus peaking seems to be, in this case, more of a general guide than a precision measurement.... I'm assuming that practice would really be helpful and I'll have to shoehorn in some addition time behind the finder to the schedule. But here's the deal; if you hit focus you are rewarded with a fairly sharp and detailed image. You can't blame poor lens performance on your own focusing inadequacies. Sorry, that doesn't fly. If the lens is sharp on a tripod it's a sharp lens. If it's dull because you can't focus it's still a sharp lens. 

2. Older lenses seem to transmit color differently. I keep saying it's more rounded but that may not convey what I really mean. The color tonality just looks different to me than current lenses or mid-1990's Zeiss lenses. Rounded. Less fine gradation?

3. The I.S. at 90mm with the camera set to the same was very good. You could see it in the finder as you touched the shutter button; the frame calmed down and got very stable. I didn't notice much of a problem with wider focal lengths, but, again, we're just heading down from 90mm to a minimum of 50mm. 

I'll readily admit that I think the big Sony A7Rii does a better job with this kind of stage photography but only because there's so much more detail to work with. I'm not bothered by noise in the GH5 files (shot here at 1250) but I do hit a resolution limit. Part of that could be the resolution of the lens but when I look closely I see the kind of difference that 20 megapixels vs. 42 megapixel shows.

The zoom, focus and aperture rings of the 50-90mm lens are smooth and still well damped. They roll between your fingers exactly like high priced, precision engineering is supposed to work. They are so smooth that you end up wanting an excuse to focus or zoom. Kinda nutty, for sure. 

Don't think that I'm being unfair to my client by tossing in this kind of experimentation. On some level there is the expectation that we'll find a look that resonates with the time period of the play. On another level you have to understand that this was the third rehearsal I've shot of the same play and we covered the hell out of it on Sunday night. Also, playing is good. Fun is good. 

While I'm getting more and more serious about the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 (modern lens) I am slowing down that acquisition and spending a bit more time exploring this fun, new, 47 year old lens I have attached to the GH5. If the lens does a good job with moving stage actors from halfway up the house I'm looking forward to walking around with the combination to see what we can do in fun sun with time to focus diligently. 

Finally, the lens looks funny on the camera. It's long and skinny. But to my eye it looks just like the Angenieux 12-120mm I used to have on the front of my Bolex Rex 5, 16mm movie camera. Hmmm. I wonder if that lens would work on m4:3 ??????



7.25.2017

A quick question to the VSL braintrust: Tell me your experiences with the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0.

I'm thinking I might buy one... Figured I'd slow down until I heard back some good or bad reports. Hit the comments below please!

Thanks, Kirk

Using a Contax/Yashica Zoom Lens on a Panasonic GH5 and a G85. Interesting...

I've become quite agnostic about camera formats and brands over the last two years. If I buy a new camera these days it has to bring something valuable and different to the table. While I have a camera (the Sony A7rii) that is arguably one of the top cameras in the marketplace today for dynamic range, resolution and color I recently purchased the Panasonic GH5 for its video prowess (features not equalled in the current marketplace, under $6000). It was the fz2500's video performance that convinced me and the handling and image stabilization of the G85 that made me write the check.

I have a handful of really wonderful, old Olympus half frame lenses that I intended to press into service with the new cameras, as well as the nice 12-60mm kit lens from Panasonic but, on a lark, I decided to buy an inexpensive adapter for the Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses I've picked up over the past two years. I specifically wanted to try out the heavy, massive but well corrected

7.24.2017

Spending a lot of time making short movies for Zach Theatre.



I definitely bit off more than I could chew for what is basically a one person shop. In a moment of languorous downtime I agreed to make five short videos to help Zach Theatre market a fun new production: Million Dollar Quartet. The video above is the first one out of the chute and I'm pretty happy with it. As usual, I learned a lot in the shooting and there are things I would change, but for the most part I am happy with our mini-movie.

I was happy to be able to work with #1 (and only) son, Ben. He helped me schlepp way too much gear over to the Topfer Stage at the Zach Theatre campus on a very hot day. Helped set up the lighting and also ran the second camera. His footage is the stuff you'll like of Cole while mine is the stuff of which you'll say, "Dude, you lit this way too flat..." 

We shot four interviews on location over the course of a long afternoon and then I came back the next day to interview the show's director. After the interviews Ben helped me disassemble all the junk and get it back to the studio. Today he dropped by the studio to see what kind of progress I was making in the editing and it took all his restraint to keep from pushing me out of the edit chair and jumping in, elbow deep. He gave me a legal pad page of "suggestions" and then left for lunch. I'd be stern and cajole him into doing the actual work but I value his expertise more and don't want to push ---- especially since there's no real budget for editing....

The one thing I would like to direct your attention to is the sound. As I wrote a week or so ago, this was our first real immersion using the Samson C02 cardioid microphone and I am blown away with how clean and noise free it is. I would buy a second one if they did not already come two to a package. It's astoundingly good, in my opinion.

I'm always happy when I can shoot an early rehearsal to get some good photos/stills for b-roll but then you get into an ongoing debate of where to stop. I had the piece almost fully edited when I went over to Zach yesterday to watch the technical rehearsal. Of course the actors were now in (nearly complete) costumes and so when I looked at some photographs I'd taken at an earlier rehearsal I immediately wanted to pull the older ones and drop in the new ones. Sounds easy but everything takes time....

So, what did I shoot with?  Most of the stills come from a Panasonic G85 equipped with various ancient Olympus Pen FT lenses. A few of the shots are from yesterday and were shot with the GH5 and an older Carl Zeiss 28-85mm f3.5-4 that was originally made to work on the Contax/Yashica SLRs.

When I actually hit focus both rigs worked very well. If anything I'd say the G85 outperformed the GH5 for exposure and accuracy of exposure and color on the EVF. But take that with a grain of salt because I am still in early days with the GH5.

The b-roll video of stage performances was done with the G85 and the same Pen FT lenses; all handheld and initially shot in 4k and downsampled. The interview footage was shot with two cameras: the frontal camera (my less favorite footage) was my Panasonic fz2500. My mistake? Combining an inadvertently introduced shadow/highlight curve along with the typical flat CineLike D profile. Ouch. (Lesson: always zero out your camera before each new project...). Now that's hard to post process. Ben was much more meticulous with his side angle shots of Cole. He was using a Sony RX10ii. And apparently he used it well.

Our sound track is from live recordings made during rehearsals. My thanks to Allen Robertson for his generous musical assist. The errant guitar riff at the mention of "Elvis" was added by me. Tacky but fun. Just don't blame Allen.

As usual, as long as you aren't snarky, vindictive and mostly say nice things about my work I'd welcome your feedback. I've got a few more videos to go so now is the time for feedback. Really.


David B. Jenkins has a great new book! It's a 300+ page guide to Georgia.

Dave Jenkins has been commenting here at VSL and offering me gentle course corrections almost from the beginning. A couple of years ago he sent me a note and let me know that he was working on a book. I love book projects so I wished him my best and hoped that he would follow through.

Boy. He followed through. About two weeks ago I got a package in my mailbox with a nice surprise inside; it was a copy of the finished book. It's entitled,

Backroads & Byways of Georgia. Drives, Daytrips and Weekend Excursions. 

And it's a beautiful book.



Rather than me trying to re-explain it I'm including the press release here:

Backroads And Byways of Georgia 
An Off-The-Beaten-Path Guide to the Peach State

Photographer and author Dave Jenkins spent the better part of a year crisscrossing Georgia for more than 10,000 miles, exploring the nooks and crannies of the Peach State. He visited old mills, covered bridges (almost every one in the state), courthouses, historic houses and old churches without number, and whatever else caught his fancy. And then he organized it all into 15 tours covering various parts of the state, and wrote it up in a book appropriately titled, Backroads and Byways of Georgia. 

Ride the historic Atlantic coast from Savannah to St. Mary's, ramble the Appalachian northwest, cruise the broad plains of the southwest, or roam the Blue Ridge Mountains of the northeast. Each tour is carefully mapped out with precise driving directions and information about points of interest. Even explore a bit on your own if you like, because there's something new to discover everywhere you look: the historic, the quirky and offbeat, the strange and unusual, and abundant beauty.

More that 200 color photographs make Backroads and Byways of Georgia a visual treat, whether you're in your car of your armchair. And if you're traveling in fact, rather than fancy, the book equips you with itineraries for trips of differing durations and in different seasons plus information about comfortable accommodations, great food, and good shopping too. 

David B. Jenkins is a photographer and writer whose previous books include Georgia: A Backroads Portrait and the best-selling Rock City Barns: A Passing Era, which won the Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal. His domain is the old, the odd, and the ordinary; the beautiful, the abandoned, and the about to vanish away. He is a visual historian of mid-20th-century America and a recorder of the interface between man and nature; a keeper of vanishing ways of life. 

He and his wife live on a small farm in the Northwest Georgia mountains. 

The book is published by Countryman Press, it is priced at $19.95 and is available wherever books are sold. Signed copies are available directly from the author at 706-539-2114 or e-mail dbjphoto@gmail.com

*********************************

Here's my review: Dave sent along a book that made me want to take the rest of the year off and see his home state. His writing is clean, welcoming and direct. His photography did a great job showing the character and personality of the many locations he visited. If I were a Georgian this book would be my travel bible. Not just the site but the commentaries about travel, restaurants, interesting asides and the road stories.

This is not a flimsy book tossed together quickly. It is well researched, complete and it earns a privileged place in the pantheon of regional travel guides; and it does so while also being a printed witness to part of our national history. 

While the book is also available as a Kindle book I would suggest that folks get the paperback. It's a 6x9 so it's easy to handle and it's one I'd want to carry with me as I explored Georgia. 

Congratulations are in order! Way to go Dave Jenkins !!!!

Here's hoping the Visual Science Lab readers are enthusiastic about supporting one of their own. Head over to Amazon and grab yourself a platinum level guide to traveling through Georgia. 

7.22.2017

Thinking about the closure of Bowens. Where is the flash industry headed?


People on various forums and on photo industry blogs have suggested that Bowens, a long time maker of electronic flash equipment for photographers, was forced out of business because they either could not compete with the lower priced gear coming out of China or because they were unable to innovate fast enough in order to stay relevant to consumers. 

Of course I think there is a quite different reason for their demise and it's one that must be haunting Profoto, Elinchrom, PhotoGenic, and even Alien Bees. I think there is a tidal wave of change coming in the practice of photography and it's rendering traditional working methodologies, gear and business constructs obsolete. And it's happening at an accelerating pace...

While photography is a growing hobby and pastime the traditional approaches to photography as a business are in flux. The mainstay customers for studio electronic flash gear (especially stuff that plugs into the wall); the kind of lighting Bowens was selling, was aimed at, and mostly purchased by, photography studio owners. The gear was set up in a "camera room" and used on a daily basis for years and years. Every studio had its own collection of electronic flashes and as technology advanced the studio owners might upgrade or add to their collection. 

In the beginning nearly everything on the market was some variation of a central power pack/generator and an orbit of flash heads with long cables that were plugged into the generators. When I taught photography in the early 1980's the only people we knew who

7.21.2017

It's hot here in Austin. But that didn't stop the intrepid VSL testers from taking a long walk with a GH5.

Selena.

We matched a long standing heat record here in Austin today. It was 104(f) at camp Mabry which matched a record from 2000. With the humidity moderately high the "feels like" temperature is simmering around 108. To be frank, it's a crappy time to be here in Austin. The lake water is about 86 degrees and keeping the swimming pool cool enough to actually do heavy duty swim workouts requires running multiple aerator sprays all night long. It also means that working outside is iffy for a lot of people.

If you are working outside you move a little slower and try to always stay in the shade. A nice, insulated bottle of water helps.

I swam this morning and then I had stuff that had to get done today in the morning. Around noon I was ready to take my first excursion with the new camera. I put on one of my favorite anonymous shoulder straps, latched in a 64 gigabyte SD card, and headed downtown with my newest camera, the GH5.

I have only two things to report. First, the EVF is very nice and much preferred to an OVF. I love being able to see a representation of the camera's reality in the finder. This one is beautiful. The second thing I have to report is that there's nothing remarkable to point a camera at in downtown Austin today. I have made much progress though in getting deep into the 300+ page owner's manual.

Since I had nothing of substance from the walk to post I thought I'd toss up this image of Selena from a few years back. As I remember that was a pretty hot day as well....

More soon. KT

The GH5 in VSL. First Up: The rationalization. Sure to be an interesting flight of fancy....

Ah. The "good old days" of shooting fill flash with film. We actually used light meters then....

I was pretty sure I'd get a lot of responses to my latest purchase along the lines of: "He needs an intervention." "Here we go again." "He's back into m4:3." "But wait, I thought you said Sony (Nikon, Canon, Leica) was best!?!" "It's just Gear Acquisition Syndrome." etc., etc.  But I was equally sure I could come up with at least one convincing rationale for my seemingly illogical purchase.

A few years ago, around 2013, I looked at the market for photography and made a few decisions. My read of the trajectory of paid photography was not optimistic. I saw evidence of financial decline in the actual profession that mirrored the slow down in the camera sales world. Not being anxious to ride the trend to the bottom without some sort of plan "B" I started looking around at options which could leverage the position I built in my market and also leverage many of the skills sets I'd learned over the years. While re-engaging with my advertising background seemed possible it was more of a long shot, in my mind, than ramping up my comfort level with video production and setting marketing goals to sell more video services. The benefit with this second choice is that I would get to play with technical toys (always a plus) and learn new things. If I played my cards right

7.20.2017

So, which VSL reader had "July" as the anticipated tipping point month for a GH5 acquisition?

Was it the same wag who called the fz2500 a "gateway drug?" I was working on video files today and marveling at how great the files looked from the fz2500 camera. Then I grabbed some of the handheld video files I'd taken with the G85 and marveled at them. The next thing I knew I was driving up Mopac Expressway toward Precision Camera and Video with the intention of grabbing for the new gold ring of consumer video cameras; the GH5. It just came over me like sun stroke. But with far fewer ill effects.

As of 3:30 pm, CST, I am in possession of a GH5 and two extra Lumix batteries. I'm setting up the menus this evening and the daily reporting about the camera will most likely begin tomorrow. I have to shoot some stuff first.

Here's how the reporting will go: Part one = The big rationale.  Part two: All the stuff I like about the camera and the files I get from it.  Part three: The stuff that bugs me.

Since the temperature hit 104(f) at the house today and the "feels like" temperature was closer to 108(f) I wonder if the purchase was a subliminal response. You know, buying a camera that isn't prone to shut down from overheating.....

So far it's almost exactly like the GH4s I used to own only with a much more complex menu and a much more robust video feature set. More tomorrow....

I tried to put into words the "personality" of some older lenses I was using; maybe photos are worth thousands of inaccurate words...



Yesterday, in a blog I wrote, I was trying to describe the difference in the look and visual "personality" of a set of older Olympus Pen FT lenses. Lenses from the late 1960s and early 1970s. As I swam this morning I wondered to myself, "Why talk about it? Just show some images!" So here are a dozen images from the shoot I did on Tues. evening at a Zach rehearsal of "Million Dollar Quartet." They were shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio so I can slip them into video without cropping. All shot with a Panasonic G85 camera and mostly with the 60mm f1.5 and 40mm f1.4 lenses. 

These were not made as "standalone" images for public relations or marketing but I'm sharing them here so you can see what I mean when I talk about a "rounded" sort of sharpness or a richer color palette. I guess it's all subjective. I hope Google's Blogger doesn't compress these in a ham-fisted fashion. Ah well, back to the edit...












7.19.2017

Two interesting shoots done nearly back to back.

Portrait of Sarah shot years ago on film.

Works comes in with no particular pattern. On Saturday afternoon I videotaped four interviews with the four musical leads for the musical/play, "Million Dollar Quartet." I liked each of the interviews and on each one we shot with a second camera to get different angles, but even so I knew I needed some interesting shots to use as "cutaways" for those (numerous) times when I need to cover over visually obvious edits in the program. I also needed to get interview footage of the director who was unable to make it by for his session on Saturday. I cleared yesterday afternoon/evening with the stage manager (48 hour notice needs to be given to equity actors when we schedule media shoots) and showed up with an assortment of cameras with which to capture stage shots in rehearsal, along with the lights and microphone I'd need to capture the missing interview.

The play celebrates an actual event, an evening in the 1950's (December 4, 1956) when four musical talents all met in an unplanned session at Sun Studios and played together. The musicians were: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. 

I got to the theater around 3:30 in the afternoon and grabbed an

7.18.2017

A quick note about providing all of my Sony A7xx, RX10xx and Panasonic fz2500 with instant dual card slots.


The argument generally revolves around shooting a "ONCE IN A LIFETIME" "MISSION CRITICAL" event or person or launch. How can one be a professional videographer using cameras with ONLY one SD card slot? ( I wonder how the old guys got two Beta SP tapes crammed into a single Betacam.....).

I can't help photographers who want to shoot raw still images with fault tolerant redundancy but I can help all the hapless Sony and Panasonic (not counting the new GH5...) owners who feel helpless and vulnerable shooting only to their one bare and rickety internal SD card!

If you shoot with an Atomos Ninja Flame or the Shogun model of external video recorder you can default to 8-bit capture and send video to both the camera card and the recorder's SSD. You'll have the back-up video you've been pining for over the years along with the bonus of having a great monitor. 

Problem solved. At least for video. Might even be a hack to record still images on your external recorder. I haven't looked into that yet. Growth market for Atomos?


A Few Thoughts About Shooting Green Screen.



West Texas Rest Stop. 

I'm resistant to shooting "off the cuff" green screen for clients. Like anyone not directly in our business clients tend to have a simplified view of the technique required to do it well. We use green screens in order to easily drop out the green background behind a subject and replace the background with a different image. Compositing is so easy in still photography now that one rarely even needs to bother with a green (or blue) screen but video comes at you at 30 frames a second and it would be more than a little time consuming to go into each frame and do selections, etc. so green screen is still standard if you want to layer in a different background behind a person or object in video. 

Like everything there is a right way to shoot green screen and a wrong way. The wrong way is to set up a green background without lighting and hope that available light and luck will get you a clean enough background to composite. It kinda works but requires a lot of post production masking to deal with variations in tone and color that make automated background drop outs tough.

I've done half-assed green screen in the past with reasonable results but I'm shooting a big video project tomorrow for a larger ad agency. It's mostly green screen and I wanted to understand the best way to do the work and what kinds of things to watch out for. Nobody likes having to make excuses

A Short, Celebratory Note: Another Mile Stone.

Barton Springs Pool. My new Monday morning habit.
1/8th mile long. Temperature +/- 70 degrees.
A great training pool for distance swimming.
Not too crowded at 6 am. 

The counter on the VSL blog just clicked over the 23,000,000 mark. That's a count of page views which happen here on the site. The Google counter for all reads (RSS, etc.) now exceeds 90,000,000. I'm pretty happy with either metric. I use the 23,000,000 for analytical purposes. 

We've shared over 3,000 posts in the last eight years. We're in the middle of a slow motion embrace of video but I still consider myself a photographer. The core audience I write for is fellow photographers.

I appreciate all the loyal readers I've gotten comments and e-mails from over the years and look forward to many more. 

Occasionally I put up little Amazon ads but I've made it a rule not to ask for donations, not to do Kickstarter campaigns and not to work as a shill for any manufacturers. I hope you know that the writing comes from my honest opinions about trends and photo-philosophy, and my discussions about gear derive from my having purchased said gear and pressed it into use for my own commercial enterprise. Although I do reserve the right to discuss new gear that I don't own but find interesting enough to consider.....

Your only responsibilities as a reader are: To enjoy the writing. To share your knowledge and opinions in the comments. To comment with compassion to the author and to fellow readers. To disagree with me when I've run off course (but gently, gently). To share the blog with like minded friends. That's it. 

I hope you'll stick around for the next 3,000 posts and be part of the next 23,000,000 views. It's been a fun ride so far...