Why do I keep those Olympus EM5.2 cameras around? Why do I like using them so much more than everything else I own?

Got the Bokeh, if you want it. 

I finished up all of my August work yesterday morning. There was the big PhotoShop project which called for me to convincingly make an executive (who we photographed in front of a green screen) look as though he was addressing a packed auditorium. There were the two portraits for two professional women who are re-entering the workplace after some years off and needed the right look for LinkedIn and other social media. There was the video footage that needed to be post produced for the company providing speaker and spokesperson training. By the end of the day everything had been delivered, approved and billed. Time to take a long neglected walk through downtown Austin. But first the task of selecting a camera and lens(es) to make the walk fun and interesting....

I stood up from the desk and walked to the equipment cabinet which is really a professional grade, Craftsman rolling tool chest (five ample drawers; lockable) and peeked into the bottom two drawers. If you read the blog on a regular basis you probably know that I have relentlessly downsized on camera inventory and also lighting inventory. In fact, I own fewer digital cameras now than at any time in the past fifteen years. Something I still find scary and amazing....

I have exactly four cameras. Three if you are just counting camera models. I own a big, wonderful, competent, Nikon D810 which is an amazing work camera; if you want "Shock and Awe" files and an enormous amount of file safety margin. If you are working at the lower ISOs, which I usually do, you can realistically underexpose the files by two full stops and then recover them in post processing with very little, if any, visual degradation. In the same system I own a D750 mostly as a back up to the D810. It is smaller and lighter and the files aren't so gigantic and unwieldy so it makes a better "carry everywhere" sort of camera but it still screams, "WORK CAMERA" to me and while it's a competent picture taker it's not particularly charming or endearing to shoot with. Put a fast lens on the front and you're right smack in the middle of an ergonomic neutral zone. Or, in high heat, a fun depletion system.

I told the Nikon cameras that we'd shoot again soon, when we have our next paying job probably. Then I shut the drawer and moved up to the next drawer. There they were, the two Olympus EM5.2 cameras; one black and one silver. Each with a petite battery grip on the bottom to make handling more comfortable, more sure. The grip also means I get an extra battery so I don't have to fill up my pockets with little rectangles of lithium and other magic chemicals. 

I've been in a Sigma mood lately and I waffled for a few minutes about putting the 30mm Sigma f2.8 on one body and the 60mm f2.8 on the other. I'd add in the Olympus 17mm f1.8 to cover the wide angle space. But as I sat there and listened to the clock of my leisure time count down I decided to chunk all the redundancy and options and instead go with one perfect street camera and one perfectly perfect lens.  I chose the black EM5.2 body and the old, gracious, 60mm f1.5 Pen FT lens, festooned with a polarizing filter and a metal lens hood. Nice and long. The lens delivers two things I like: a bit of compression and much control of depth of field for the smaller format.  I used to worry that the lens is less contrasty than the more modern optics (the 75mm f1.8 comes to mind) but now that Lightroom has the "DeHazing" control one swipe of a slider in post makes this old optic as snappy as anything out there. If you haven't tried the DeHazing control in the new edition of LR CC you're in for a nice surprise...

Once I parked the car and headed past Whole Foods and into downtown proper I quickly re-understood the power of choosing one camera and one favorite lens; my brain starts (almost immediately) to take the focal length into constant consideration and to start looking for images that are a good match. A half an hour into the exercise and my brain and feet agreed on just how far I had to be from various subjects to fill the frame the way I wanted to. No more looking through the finder and then backing up ten feet or coming forward five.

Having worked on very controlled images lately I was hungry to just explore and, recently, I've made a much greater effort to work against the light and even to embrace flare. And other thing I worked on, kind of an exercise, is to just focus on something in the foreground or the background and to let everything else collapse around it. That feels more like a poem than writing a descriptive paragraph. 

The lens, combined with focus peaking or one touch magnification (function button 2) makes the old, manual focus lens quick to handle and quick to acquire the sharp plane of focus I intended. 

I spent an hour and a half just walking and shooting before heading across downtown to join the staff of Zach Theatre in saying goodbye to my long time friend, collaborator, art director and theater mentor, Jim Reynolds. He's moving on after 25 years at the theater and we will all miss him very much. To my mind he was the glue that kept everything working...  It feels odd to have someone who has been so much a part of my orbit at the theater leave. I feel a little bit like I've been set adrift. We toasted him many times yesterday evening. He is one of the most brilliant marketing people I have met in that he could leverage a meager budget into a blockbuster marketing success by sheer force of will, experience and intelligence. Were in not for his art direction my portfolio over the years would have been much poorer.... 

After best wishes and a fun happy hour I trudged back to the car with the camera still firmly in hand an switched on. Nothing I shot during my walk is world class or even particularly riveting but this kind of thoughtful walk, with too many choices removed, is a great reset between photo work and photo play and one exercise I have been recommending for years.

I used the highlight/shadow control on the camera to open up the apparent dynamic range of the camera (in Jpeg SF) and started shooting images of tree branches in very shallow focus. I call this image urban tree with fast train in the background....

I am now, officially, a fan of flare.

After having used the two Olympus cameras in the production of the Cantine video, and having mastered the Hi-Res mode pretty well, I have a new respect for these little cameras. I think people judge them on their sensor size or their overall size relative to price instead of realizing the value of their potential. I know that it all depends on what you shoot but my use of them is a lot like the way I used Leica rangefinder cameras back in the 1990's. We worked all day long with medium format and large format cameras and all of my personal work was done on a brace of M6 cameras (with different finder magnifications, matched to the focal lengths -- .58x, .72x, and .85x). While the slides were no match for the resolution of the bigger Hasselblad cameras the rangefinders were right at home on trains, in restaurants and on the street. 

Not everything needs to be done at the highest technical level and, in fact, when looking around the blogosphere it almost seems like the better that technical quality of a camera (more pixels, better DXO scores, bigger formats) the more boring the work from the people who slavishly use them. 

If you are an Henri Cartier-Bresson/Robert Frank/William Klein fan you'll probably already agree that you'd trade ultimate sharpness for immediacy and genuine-ness in your frames in a heartbeat. Eliminating one pursuit usually opens another. Ignore perfection for emotion? Careful working methods traded for the right visual feel at the right moment?

Pretty remarkable cameras. And not very showy...

The Summer Went By Too Fast. Balancing Family and Work is a Tougher Equation Than it Seems at First Glance.

A Nice Little tripod set up for quick studio portraits. 
Gitzo Something or Other with a "side arm" center column.

Belinda and I just drove back from the Austin airport. We dropped off our kid, Ben, for his flight back to school. He's heading back a week and a few days early for an orientation/training week. He'll be a peer mentor for sixteen incoming freshmen this year and the college takes the training of their peer mentors seriously.  I know a lot of parents are anxious and eager to accompany their kids to college, help them set up their dorm rooms and generally mope about, delaying the disconnection that has to happen. 

Ben has never been the kind of person who needs that amount of handholding and he's done a reasonable job of training his parents not to hover. He went by himself on his initial college tours and got on a plane the first semester of his freshman year to travel solo. That doesn't mean there are no moist eyes in the car as his mom and I drive back home. But damn, he looked so grown up wheeling his luggage into the airport...

The Summer was interesting for me. I worked lackadaisically. A project here and a project there. Nothing major got done with the next book. No real marketing happened for the business. No big, out of town trips to shoot stuff. Instead I set time out for more family interaction. We ate dinners together almost every night. We hit all of our favorite restaurants.  After Belinda headed off to work in the morning Ben and I would sit at the dining room table, each sipping coffee and reading the news on our respective electronic devices. Then, at 9:30, Ben took one of the cars and headed off to work.

I worked on my various projects but mostly I entertained the Studio Dog. Ben and Belinda worked more than me. Ben had two fantastic job offers at the very beginning of the Summer. Both were from established software companies. Both were interested in his writing and video production skills. He worked hard but short days (his choice, his negotiations) and was very well paid. He fit into the corporate culture of his chosen company well. He saved most of his money and invested it. 

Dinner conversations were inevitably interesting. They ranged from "how to invest" to "I found a Japanese online clothing company that actually has cool clothing for short, thin people...." to "you have to see this movie in the theaters because..."

Try as I might I couldn't find the balance between work and family this Summer so I defaulted in favor of family. I could not have made a better choice. 

I'm happy to see Ben having so much fun with school. I'm sad because I already miss him. He's been a fun guy to hang around with. I have hope though.  Even though he loves his college he mentioned that Austin is amazing because there is always so much to do and so much great food. I'm sure the city will keep drawing him back.

Studio Dog has already staked her claim to his bedroom.

Now it seems like it's time to get back to work. 


The Cantine Italian Cafe and Bar Video Is Complete. Please Take A Peek.

Canine Italian Cafe and Bar -- Austin, Texas from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This is a video that will be used on the restaurant's website. James Webb and Kirk Tuck shot this entirely with Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras and assorted Olympus, as well as legacy, lenses. The visual direction came from James Webb who also did the scene selections and the editing. Kirk Tuck was the producer.

I am extremely happy with my collaboration with talented film-maker, James Webb. We shot together over the course of a day and a half at Cantine. James selected the scenes and had the vision for the final edit. I worked as a second camera person and as the producer.

For this project we used two Olympus OMD EM5.2 cameras and an assortment of Olympus lenses as well as older, manual focus lenses, adapted to fit. All of the material was shot handheld with the exception of three or four beauty shots of food, which are


Just being happily amazed at online learning. I just checked some metrics at Craftsy.com...

In the last two years 170,919 individual people have taken my free course: Professional Family Portraits at http://www.craftsy.com

Nearly 8,000 more have signed up to take one of my two other classes.

Before the advent of online edutainment these classes would have been workshops with about 10 students in each. I would have had to teach 17,000 workshops to reach the same audience that I have with the free class.... amazing.

Post processing at my Craftsy.com studio with a Wacom Cintiq.

Behind the scenes at the video production.

Our Super Model: Victoria. 

I explain stuff. 

I play with gear.

And then we shoot.

Wooden Tripod Rocks.

So much excitement surrounding the Sony A7R2. Is the camera really that great or do we all just need a big dose of new camera adrenaline on a regular basis?

Some Tues. morning observations. I've had three friends send me online reviews they've found for the new, Sony A7r2 camera. Two gushy reviews, and one less than glowing review from Ming Thein. Since there is nothing else at all even remotely as exciting happening in the higher end of photography right now the new camera has become a magnet for every variation of praise and criticism. In fact, there is little on or in the camera that isn't stirring debate among the various camps of image makers. From the armchair experts, who will surely never pony up and buy one, to the online, mercantile reviewing class like Steve Huff and Lloyd Chambers who both seem to have rushed into the frothy, early waters to claim their cameras and get out in front of everyone else with a click-driving review.

The thing that seems to make this camera different to a separate group of buyers is the video specifications. The camera is being hailed as a great video creation tool (for the money) but even in the motion market there are still multiple camps who see the camera either as the savior of small production videographers or the flimsy work of commerce's dark forces.

So, where am I on this whole A7R2 deal? Happily neutral. But most of my neutrality stems from already having two camera systems that I am mostly very happy with. And then there is the fact that I seem not to be as picky about perfection as a lot of the people who post.

Look, I was pretty happy with the performance I was getting out of the old Nikon D2X camera a few years back. I can't remember why I sold it and moved on but I'm sure it had to do with the excitement of the market, the seductive peer pressure, and the fact that the full frame D700 seemed to be such an alluring camera. It was the first, affordable, full frame camera from Nikon. But in my rush to share the glory of full frame I really didn't do much due diligence when it came to the actual image quality, the color rendering or anything else. But, on dear God! It was full frame!!!

I'll go out on a limb here and admit