5.25.2017

Blog Post Removed. I'll save it for next time.



I wrote a blog 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.


Re-connecting with photography. It's hard to separate the gear hysteria from the practice.


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 rational 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.

Note added at 3:34 pm CST. About twenty minutes after this blog post went live the video discussed here (which had been up for most of the day) has been pulled from the Digital Photography Review site. Better late than never. 


5.22.2017

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

5.20.2017

How my work with video is now affecting my photographic lighting.


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

5.17.2017

Diving a little deeper into the Panasonic G85. It's a nice camera.

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....