8.18.2017

I'm bored with Summer. That's dangerous. Too much time means bad equipment decisions.


Self portrait.

I think everyone has a few screws loose, if you look hard enough, or long enough. I know what one of my main hiccups is; I love change. Even if it doesn't make sense I still love change. Every once in a while I catch myself. About a week and a half ago I bought a Panasonic GH5 and the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. I immediately used the combo for a paying gig and loved it. The camera feels pretty perfect in my hands and those crafty engineers seem to have put all the buttons exactly where they thought I'd go looking for them. But the real shot of espresso shot in my experience with the camera and lens combo was just how nearly perfect the lens turned out to be. This of course whetted my appetite for more Olympus Pro lenses. Many more Olympus lenses. 

I wasn't nearly busy enough last week to stave off boredom of the most pernicious kind. Sure, I had another Philip Kerr novel languishing next to my reading chair, and I had a few lunches with clients lined up but it's August in Austin and that means everyone is doing everything in their power to avoid dealing with the relentless heat. Everything slows down. Business slows down. Socializing slows down. Naps get longer....

Like many of you I gravitate toward a path of least resistance. For me, last week, it meant cruising all over the web looking for anecdotal evidence to support my contention that owning as many of the Pro series Olympus lenses as I could gather up would irrevocably result in me becoming the world's greatest photographer and videographer. Then yesterday I went to the Blanton Museum and saw an amazing three screen, video/multi-media exhibit called, "GIANT" by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. The video presentation and the accompanying audio was amazing (if you're in Austin you MUST go). I walked out of the museum after seeing the presentation three times, newly convinced that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do video art like the work I'd just seen. 

By the time I got home I (and boredom) had convinced myself that the way forward, at least for now, would be to buy a second GH5 (the two camera angle set-up) along with the 7-14mm 2.8 Pro lens, the 25mm f1.2 Pro lens and maybe also the 42.5 Nocticron --- just for good measure. An easy way to finesse the whole deal in less than 24 hours would be to take my Sony gear to my local camera store and trade it in on the whole ball of Panasonic/Olympus wax. 

After swim practice this morning I came home and packed every vestige of Sony product up in a big hold all and headed to the camera store. I had previously arranged to meet my friend and video mentor, Frank, for coffee on the way to my own private Shop-A-maggedon. So I joined him and filled him in on my new plan for personal photo and video domination. He asked a few pointed questions and then smiled and laughed and said something along the lines that this would be the 8th big system switch I'd undertaken since he's known me and it hasn't changed my style much at all, anywhere along the line....

In my gear-addled state I took that all to mean that he massively approved of my basic camera logic and wished me godspeed to the camera shop. But a funny thing happened as I drove away and the coffee kicked in; I started thinking with some basic logic for the first time this week, about the whole idea of yet another massive equipment turnover.

If I thought about it rationally my reason for buying the GH5 and the 12-100mm was to make better video. When I drilled down into the lode of logic so recently surfaced I realized that the 12-100mm was enticing specifically because it held the promise of being an "everything" lens (and a damn good one). From the widest focal length I am normally comfortable using to the longest. All in one package. With great performance at every stop and every focal length. All the other "Pro" lenses I was considering were desires motivated by that hoary hold over from the film days: covering all the focal lengths. They weren't lenses that would necessarily get much use...

When I looked into the bag full of Sony stuff I started matching up memories of past successful jobs and stellar shots done with the individual cameras and lenses and I realized I'd be decreasing my shooting and creative options, not increasing usefulness. 

The two lenses that punched me in the face and stopped me in my tracks were the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 (which ends up being my default headshot lens) and my very recently added 85mm f1.8 FE lens which has quickly endeared itself to me as one of the fabulous portrait lenses whose eloquent performance I've had the pleasure of knowing. I had less regard for the 28mm f2.0 FE but mostly because I'm indifferent to the actual focal length. I'm stone cold neutral about the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss lens but mostly because I see it a very utilitarian tool. Not a glamorous formulation. A workhorse but not a diva.

I was halfway to the store by the time I realized that my impulsiveness had nearly cost me one really good and useful system while trying to hypnotize me into believing (once again) that new gear would yield entirely new outcomes for my engagement with my craft. I took a deep breath and realized that I liked my Sony stuff. A lot. And I've had two years in which to get used to it. That's almost a record for me in the realm of digital camera systems and I thought to extend the record instead of crashing and burning. 

So, Frank, if you are out there reading this: I got halfway there and turned around. I might add a few bits and pieces to the Panasonic stuff I've recently acquired but you were right when you (pointedly) asked if I might not miss having the full frame stuff. I know my rationale was glib but, HEY! I used to be an advertising copywriter. If I can't figure out a sellable rationale for buying something then I will have totally lost my advertising touch.

So, this afternoon I pulled out the Sony A7Rii, pried the battery grip off the bottom and stuck in a freshly charged battery. I put the 28mm f2.0 on the front and tasked myself with the responsibility of getting to at least know that much maligned and ignored focal length. It was hot and humid in Austin this afternoon but the camera and lens were balanced, trim and almost dainty. Much less of a burden than the GH5 and the 12/100mm lens. 

I didn't shoot much but I did come to understand (yet again) that it's okay not to do everything in an "all or nothing" manner. 

Now I have the luxury of two groovy systems. What a nice problem.


Not a literal self portrait.

8.16.2017

I bought a new light for my location kit. I thought you'd want to know about it.

Neewer Vision Four with Radio Trigger. $279.

In the distant past I owned two different flash systems that were designed from the ground up to be used on location and powered by batteries. Both were pack and head systems and both were cumbersome but very useful. I owned the Profoto B600 power pack and head as well as the Elinchrom Rangers RX AS power pack and two heads. Both were older tech. They used sealed lead acid batteries for power and as you can imagine they were both heavy. The Profoto was 600 watt seconds and a nice little system but the batteries only provided between 80 and 120 full power flashes, depending on the ambient temperatures. I had to carry a bunch of heavy and expensive batteries with me to get through a day of shooting. Recharging the batteries took five hours and each replacement battery was about $250 plus shipping. The current Profoto system, with newer battery tech, is well over $2,000.

The second light was my super heavy duty system from Elinchrom. The Ranger RX AS pack and head could belt out 1100 watt seconds at full power and a single (very heavy) battery could pump out about 250 full power flashes before it needed recharged or swapped out for the second ten pound ballast I hauled around as a back up. The pack with battery weighed in at 18+ pounds and, yes, I've carried the system over rough terrain for miles, at times. Not a pleasant way to roll. 

As styles changed and the jobs that required massive amounts of battery fueled flash power declined I sold both of the units and was happy to

Two more weeks and the kid goes back for his last year as an undergrad.

A much younger Ben.

I've come to see the last weeks of August as bittersweet. We love having Ben at home for Summer vacation but when the calendar starts to slip into the second half of August I know that I'll only have a couple more weeks to enjoy his company before he heads back to school. This is his senior year. His academic achievement has been just what we expected it would be. I have a row of Dean's List Honors certificates which he has earned each semester hanging across the wall behind my desk. His excellent performance led him to the stint at S. Korea's prestigious Yonsei University last semester. 

I thought we'd struggle to make all these experiences work out financially but every step has been manageable and his commitment and discipline makes the investment rewarding.

In the first week of September he'll pack his rolling duffle bags and head back up to Saratoga Springs, NY. He's looking forward to cooler weather, rolling hills, and the camaraderie of a bright and engaging group of fellow students.

Someone asked him a week or two ago, when he was assisting me on a video project, if he was planning to follow in my footsteps as far as business was concerned. He smiled and shook his head. I think he realizes that the markets have changed, flattened, whatever and he's interested in so many other things. Too bad; he's a great director.

Ah well. I'll miss the runs around the lake with him in the Summer heat. His mom and I will miss his dry wit at the dinner table. But the family member I feel the most sympathy for is Studio Dog; she will miss him with the kind of intensity only a loyal and totally imprinted dog can feel.

I see more time with Studio Dog in the near future. I'd better stock up the treat jar...

8.15.2017

Client applies reality to thoughts of camera system change.

Good enough for any scenario? Hmmmmm.

I'm in the honeymoon period with my Panasonic GH5. The camera is shiny and new and all the little stuff like the EVF and the dials seem so just right. After shooting the first thousand photos with the camera I started to entertain the idea of taking my vast collection of Sony cameras out to the camera store and trading them in on a total immersion into the micro four thirds system. I'd get a second GH5 body for those seamless two camera shots. Toss in a bunch of cool, new lenses like the 8-18mm Pro lens and the 42.5mm Nocticron. Add the 25mm f1.2 from Olympus and maybe even spring for the 100-400mm Panasonic. I keep talking about the transition to video. In my fevered mind it was starting to make so much sense. 

Then I went to a meeting with one of my long term, medical practice clients and we started talking about Fall projects. Video came up but one of the partners in the group is hesitant to use video. What they do love using is photography. Lots and lots of photography. And when they use it they seem to embrace the idea that bigger is always better. 

One of the images that we'll be re-doing this Fall is a group shot of the doctors on the plaza of the Long Center with the downtown skyline in the background. The last time we shot this particular shot we had fourteen doctors in the the line up and shot them with lots of space around them and an ample amount to dramatic skyline in the background. They made lots of fun, large 30x40 inch prints. They made a large banner with the shot. Essentially, anything they could think of that would challenge the limits of resolution and detail was fair game. 

I went back and researched to see what camera I was using at the time. It was a Nikon D810. So that sets the bar for future shoots. What it really means to me is that the Sony cameras; and the A7Rii in particular, aren't going anywhere. There's always a need in the tool box for sheer, overwhelming detail for some shots and that line of thought extinguished my brief flirtation with crazy system change at this time. 

Thank goodness we have clients around to keep us sane.

OT: Thoughts about swimming this Fall.

2007 Master's Nationals. Austin, Texas.

On the first of October the pool I've been swimming Master's workouts in for the last twenty years will be closing for much needed repair and renovation. The expectation is that the pool will be out of commission until the end of January (at the earliest). This means that everyone on our swim team will need to figure out a new, temporary home at which to swim. Not working out at least five days a week is not an option for the majority of us. 

As the closure date approaches I'm busy researching options. The obvious one is my alma mater, The University of Texas at Austin, Jamail Swim Center. My friend, Whitney Hedgepeth (Olympian: Backstroke: Two silver medals; one gold) coaches an extremely competitive Masters workout in the big pool there. It's a tough program with tons of no nonsense yardage and tight intervals. There are two drawbacks to swimming at the Longhorn's pool; the first is that it's indoors and I'm used to swimming under blue sky. The second problem is that workouts start at 6 a.m. An additional annoyance would be trying to find parking on a busy campus with nearly 50,000 students plus faculty and staff...

My next choice is the Austin Swim Club run by Brendan Hanson (Six time Olympic medalist who set world records in the 100 and 200 breaststroke). The pool is outdoors and 50 meters, long course. It's about equidistant from my house/studio and there's no indication that parking is ever problematic. Brendan has a reputation as being a demanding coach with tough workouts. Some of the swimmers from our program are negotiating to get a new workout time from this club at 7:30 am. That means my trip there would be against the commuter traffic and by 9 am,  the end of workout, the worst of the rush hour  traffic heading back would be over. 

The final choice would be to swim each day at the spring fed, 1/8th mile long natural pool, Barton Springs Pool. There would be no Masters program to swim with, no pace clock and no lane lines. I would  have to be very disciplined to hit the 68 degree water before first light each morning and push myself to get a really substantial workout done. Barton Springs pool is closed on Thursdays and, when the weather is bad. You have to get there before 7 am if you want a clear path to swim down because the pool starts to get moderately crowded as the light comes up. Not as big an issue in the dead of winter when the temperatures drop....

I'm leaning toward option two. We'll see as we get closer. Might not seem like a big deal to most readers but it's a huge shift for me. I've spent six or seven hours a week, over the last twenty years, swimming up and down the same two lanes, looking at the same black line at the bottom of the pool. I think I could blindfold myself and still hit my turns from muscle memory. Like most people I fear change. 

Not a good time to also think about changing camera systems..... too much change would be overwhelming.