3.02.2018

A quiet exercise in old camera appreciation.


I worked late on a video last night. Got home around 10:30pm and still had a couple hours of post production to wade through. The video shoot went like clockwork. It was tiring though because I had to pay attention to everything all the way through the run of the play. Monitoring two cameras and following the main actor with one of the cameras means never pausing to actually enjoy the performance. 

At any rate I survived and delivered files this morning after swim practice. I returned e-mails and calls and made myself a lunch and then prepared for my one p.m. call. I was on the line for an hour with a wealth advisor taking care of the boring part of being an adult and owning my own business. I had a weird feeling about the markets recently and decided to move sufficient money into CDs to allow me to sleep through the night. We also fine-tuned some diversification/asset allocation. After that I had to dutifully give full details to the CFO of my company and family. (Literal readers, by CFO I really mean my spouse who is, literally, much more adept at money and numbers than me...).

When we finally wrapped up I was shot, spent, tired, and felt like I'd just spent a week working overtime in a cubicle (apologies to any reader who works in a cubicle. It was a metaphor...).  What better antidote to maturity and responsibility is there than a nice, late afternoon walk through the downtown areas of my favorite city? It was 68 degrees and the skies were central Texas blue. 

I've felt a bit sheepish all week long about having wasted good money on the used Nikon D2XS so, of course, that's the camera I grabbed to take along with me. I'll tell you right off the bat that it's at least twice the weight of a GH5 with a similar optic on the front. My lens of choice this afternoon was the cheap 50mm f1.8 Nikon AF lens I picked up last week (adding financial insult to injury). It's a very decent lens from f2.8 to f8.0 or f11 but then what lens isn't?

As you can see from the image above I've been playing around with the black and white mode which was one of the features I think was added in the upgrade from the X to the XS. It's nice. The screen on the back doesn't do the files justice but they looks pretty in Lightroom, especially if you lean on the contrast slider a bit. Don't bother adding sharpness; they already have sufficient bite...

My goal was 10% about getting a decent little handful of photos and 90% about walking around without a schedule, a deadline, an assignment or a self-imposed goal. It's been a tough year for me as far as family goes and after losing my mom and getting my father situated in memory care it's been all I can do to get business done and then drop myself on the couch at the end of the day where I sometimes just fall asleep curled up with Studio Dog. This walk was the first one done in nice, sunny weather in weeks and the combination of bustling sidewalk traffic, clean, clear sunlight and 60 degree temperatures worked miracles on my recently re-acquired stress and anxiety. 

But what about that darn camera? Deja Vu. It's big and heavy. The rear screen sucks hard. But it focuses like a bat out of hell and the files are rich and satisfying. I remember why it was I had such fond memories of my first ownership of this camera model. In it's time the handling was state of the art. And, at ISO 100 and 200 its image quality might still give current cameras a run for their money. While its 12 megapixels might not give you the micro detail of the new generation of 40+ megapixel cameras I remember an article about "shot discipline" written by Ming Thein wherein he made the point that if you are using a camera handheld, in the street, you'll probably never exceed the image resolution that one gets at 12 megapixels and, that at higher megapixel densities shot discipline (technique) becomes ever more important. Perhaps 12 megapixels won't satisfy every situation but he made a good case for the many, many times that 12 megapixels is optimal. 

Here are a few shots I made shooting the camera at ISO 400, straight to Jpeg. I think it's a marvelous camera as far as images go and I'm trying right now to figure out how to integrate it into our shoot at a radiology clinic tomorrow, along with our GH5's. Maybe I'll bring it along as a "behind the scenes" black and white documentary camera. I've done crazier things.....

Hope your week was as productive as mine --- but a lot less stressful. Hope Mike Johnston can dig himself out of the snow banks! Hope Ben is staying warm in Saratoga Springs. 

I'll end by saying "I'm just an average intelligence, working photographer but I'm happy I've re-allocated some of my meager assets to cash (literally: CDs)". It will be interesting to see what the markets do in the next few weeks. I guess we've never touched on the topic of personal finance here on the blog before. I've always assumed that most of my readers are much more adept at finance than am I. But maybe this will open up some discussion. I'll admit that I vacillate between having a medium to low risk tolerance. Your mileage probably varies. Where do you think the market is going?

Will we be happily buying medium format digital cameras next month or boiling our leather camera straps to make soup? 


The famous electrical pole. With old fashion dust spots in the sky. (Left in for nostalgia. Yes literal readers I do know how to remove them with the cloning tool or the spot healing tool in PhotoShop.....and, no, this image is not intended as a marketing tool aimed a paying clients).






Last night's last minute video assignment. 200 Gigabytes later.....

The camera and lens are the same ones I used last night, as are the headphones but
I used different tripods and also the new DMW-XLR1 audio adapter. Added for literal readers. 

I got an e-mail late Wednesday asking if I could help ZACH Theatre out with a video project the next day. We had stuff booked through the midday but the request was to make a two camera, video documentation of the current production of, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" on the main stage. The theatre needed archival footage to satisfy their usage contract. 

I got the message as I was walking into the house at 9:30 pm after shooting all afternoon and evening at a radiology clinic. I responded that I could do the project but would not have the bandwidth to also edit or do post production. "No Problem." was the response. They just needed the raw footage of the show from two different cameras; one for a wide, static shot of the stage and a second one to follow action on the stage. I started a quick job folder so I could make a list of the things I'd need to take along and what sort of pre-prep my gear might need. 

Usually I shoot things like this during the last rehearsals and I like to use external Atomos monitors so I can really see the frames clearly which helps me achieve better focus and is even more helpful with nailing exposure. We would be shooting this project with a sold out house and I would be on the cross through row in the middle of the middle of the house. This meant that there would be paying clients behind and in front of me. We had the house manager take out three seats so I could position two cameras on two tripods. The row behind me starts the upper half of the seating configuration so their floor is at about my shoulder level when I'm seated behind the cameras. Still, I knew the bright Atomos screens would be unacceptable for most of the audience behind me. Sadly, I had to leave them at home...

Pre-prep for something like this mostly means putting all the gear on the list onto a table in the studio and making sure it's work-worthy. Since we need to shoot with two cameras we'll need an extra set of batteries. All the batteries need refresher or full charges. I generally use a third set of batteries in the camera while setting up the menus for specific shooting so I don't start with a partially drained battery in camera. I pull the caps off both cameras, grab a loupe and inspect the sensor for dust. If there's any foreign material on the sensor I use a bulb blower to dislodge it. While I don't recommend doing it I have, on occasion, used canned air to blast something off a sensor but I'm very careful to hold the can level...

If we pack monitors I make sure there are ample batteries and two back-up HDMI cables. 

If I'm using tripods I make sure the quick release plates are attached and the correct tripod screws are resident on the plates. Can't tell you how depressing it is to pull out a tripod only to find that the last user (probably me) left the plate with a 3/8th inch connector attached instead of a needed 1/4 inch connector....

I finished by earlier photographic jobs and packed for the video job with my inventory list in hand. 

I arrived at the Theater two hours before the start of the show, just in case. I set up both GH5 cameras putting the (adored) 12-100mm f4.0 Pro Olympus lens on one and the 40-150mm f2.8 Pro Olympus lens on the other. Both cameras were set to MP4 at 100 mbs, 1080p, 10 bit, 422 color space. The cameras and their attendant V90 memory cards are capable of writing 400 mbs All-I files at 10 bit and 422 but since I wouldn't be editing the material I defaulted to a file size I knew would not be problematic for the editor. 

The camera with the wide zoom was my stationary camera and it was the one on which I put the Panasonic audio adapter. The sound engineers had dropped an XLR cable from the sound booth to my location so it plugged right into the adapter. Important to note that the sound coming off the main mixer (usually) is a higher line level signal. If you run that signal into an input that's looking for a microphone signal you'll almost certainly overload the input and the audio you end up with will sound distorted and crappy. Set you're switch to "line in" instead of "mic." 

The second camera, the one with the longer zoom, got its own microphone in the hotshoe. This provided a sound track that would make it easy to sync footage between the two cameras in editing.

Once the cameras were set the sound engineers played the loudest pre-recorded cue that they would send to me during the evening. I set levels for that and noted the dial position. We then had a quick dialogue rehearsal which showed me where I should set the average level. This is important because in a two camera set up I can't follow action with the longer lens on one camera and set sound levels on a second camera simultaneously. As a back-up the entire audio of the show was recorded from the main mixer in the sound booth by the engineers. 

I then asked to see the lighting cue that was used the most during the show. The lighting designer got a cue up for me and I had a crew member from the theater hold up a white card dead center in the stage. The lights, LEDs with filters, gave a reading of 4600K with a negligible hue shift. I also checked the follow spot and it was balanced within 100K of our average lighting cue as well. 

White balance set. Camera set to show green focus peaking outlines. Exposure and focus set to "M." 

The final step before the start of the show was to balance the fluid head with the "following" lens. Having a well balanced video head makes for smoother moves but if I was too ham-fisted in any one spot we could always cut to one of the wide shots as b-roll. 

Now my job was to start the cameras and then follow the main action with tight framing on the camera with the longer zoom. The first act is about 1:15:00 and the action moves continuously. That means the camera and the focus also move continuously (and as smoothly as I can possibly manage).

I was using 128 GB V90 cards which, based on the shooting codec, would give me about 2:45:00 of shooting time. The two acts combined were about 2:15:00. No worries there. The batteries were both still showing 2/3 full at the intermission but I had the luxury of just putting in fresh batteries and that also meant one less thing to worry about in the final act. 

After the early swim practice (Yay!!!!!!) this morning I got to work transferring the files to a small, milspec hard drive. Each camera card clocked in at about 100 Gigabytes for a total of just under 200. I'm happy I won't be the one editing this project. I think the render time will be agonizing....

I delivered the work on the hard drive to the Theatre offices this morning and sent out an invoice an hour later. Now comes the gear post production during which we pull everything out of cases and charge all the batteries. I don't want to take chances with gear as we have a full day of still photography shooting schedule at a location tomorrow for another client. I can finally say that it's a busy start to the year.

Go video. 

On a related front, the Stephanie Busing Video has been well received and tallied a little over 10,000 views during the first five days of life on Facebook and YouTube. The client is very, very happy and ready to enter into discussions about the next project. Fun with stuff that moves. See the video in a previous, recent blog. 


I must not write very clearly. Someone yesterday interpreted our blog post about stand-ins to be a professional portfolio presentation of my work and not a behind the scenes look at process. I need to write better or a commenter needs to read better.

The "Jenga" Building in Downtown Austin.

People are so painfully literal. It seems that every time I post an article about how I did something photographic, or how I set up a shot in video, I get someone who writes in with the "tsk. tsk." patronizing tone to let me know that "this is not your best work...." "it's a really mediocre portrait" "I expected more...."  I should develop a thicker skin but people who read blogs should develop better reading skills. 

So, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that yesterday's article about stand-ins, and the assistants' role in helping make photo assignments work more smoothly, was NOT meant to be a portfolio of finished, polished work. The images were meant to illustrate the written points I was making in the piece. 

Had the commenter paid attention he would have read (pertaining to the first image) that Amy (my assistant) was standing in for a doctor who would be photographed after we got the lighting just right and after we cleaned up all the clutter in the scene. It seemed to make sense to me when I wrote it but  I obviously must be overlooking something. 

A quick show of hands. Is anyone else confused by the use of the photos in yesterday's post? 

(I didn't have an image to illustrate frustration, and a sense that I'm just writing this stuff to exercise my fingers, so I put in a cluttered shot of a building under construction. This image is not meant to be a classical or formal presentation of the architecture as an art piece. It is meant to convey the visual chaos that layers parts of an urban environment. And no, I won't be explaining the intent of every photograph I post in the future.).