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 SmartRig 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....







5.13.2017

Stream of Consciousness timeline of a photo assignment.

AcraYoga at Eeyore's Birthday Party, 2017. This image has nothing to do with the subject matter of this blog. It's just part of my continued sharing of images I like. Sony RX10iii.

I thought it might be interesting to write a piece that outlines a day of visual content creation on location, complete with what I'm thinking about as I go through the day. It's something new I want to try out so here goes: 

5.12.2017

A Perfect Saturday Morning. OT: a swim post. Proud to be sedentary? Don't read this.


There are some things I just don't do with my camera and one of them is swimming. I suppose I could rivet a Go Pro to my head and document every stroke but I'm pretty darn sure the audience for the resulting images/video would be about one, and even I would tire of it quickly. 

We have two masters workouts on Saturday mornings. One is the serious/low conversation/high yardage workout that goes from 7:30am- 8:30am while the second is a more crowded, boisterous, engaging and eclectic workout - from 8:30am to 10am. Make no mistake though, while we have fun in the later workout we do get our yards in. 

Last Saturday I woke up early for no good reason at all and decided to go to the early workout. I had a big glass or water at home and drove the mile and a half on quiet, almost empty streets. I hopped into lane three with Ann and Tom and we followed Ann as she dragged us through each set on tight intervals that I could barely make. It was great to watch the sun come up over the hill next to the pool and send beautiful rays of light through the (almost) crystal clear water. 

I was tired at the end of the first workout but stayed for the first half hour of the second workout. I probably swam in four different lanes; just to mix things up. 

The Western Hills Athletic Club seems to be one of a fading type of club --- one almost completely dedicated to the sport of swimming instead of being a social club for upper middle class networking. Kids workouts and teams trump everything but masters workouts are still a top priority. The club has no food service, no bar, no service staff. Just lifeguards, a pool manager and a freelance tennis pro. You mostly come here to swim. And usually you come to swim hard. 

I've spent so many beautiful days here over the last twenty years. Saturday was a wonderful day of swimming and recharging. I'd write more but I'm heading over to participate in the noon masters practice today. I wonder which former gold medal winning Olympian will be our coach today? 





Camera: Panasonic G85. 12-60mm f3.5-5.6

5.11.2017

Back in the driver's seat at VSL. Had a wonderful shoot in OKC but now have to wade through the post production. What worked and what didn't?

Steve, at our lake location. A quick lighting test. 

Our trip to Oklahoma City was a fast paced affair. My client and I flew out from Austin on Monday morning, arrived in OKC mid-afternoon and immediately headed over to our primary shooting location to meet the our contacts and scout the locations. When the project started on Tuesday we shot video and stills; intertwined. I went without an assistant on this adventure and I'm happy I did. I was able to handle what needed to get done and I didn't have to keep track of anyone else. I like having my hands on all of the controls.

Lots of the photographs and video content were done in the available light of a well lit research facility. This meant that I leaned on my lighting kit less frequently than I usually do. I won't say that I over packed here because I did use all three of the lights and light stands that I packed, but the need to light was much more about getting the right aesthetic than it was just providing enough photons to operate. The two, plastic, Amaran 672W LED panels travelled well, as did the smaller LED panel I toted along. I came home with at least 50% battery power remaining for every light.

I also packed one Godox flash unit, along with its cute radio flash trigger and used it only in one sequence of shots in an exam room where I wanted total control of the light's color temperature. The lithium battery in that flash is pretty amazing and I was able to bang off a hundred perfect frames at half power without making a dent in its capacity. I love using small flashes to light "big" by bouncing them into wall and ceiling intersections. It's a fun technique. And being able to sit at camera position and control power output is always a lazy man's bonus...

I bought and used Andrew Reid's (EosHd.com) formula for setting an optimum picture profile for the Sony A7 and RX cameras. It's a method of fine tuning color and contrast in order to get nearly perfect files out of the cameras, ready to deliver. I have to say that it worked really well. The profile set-ups he suggests are clearly intended for video work with those cameras but worked for most of the outside images I created; both as photographs and video. It was a very cost effective expenditure; a whopping $15 for a big savings in post production time on many of my set ups.

Here's the way the camera use broke down: I used the A7Rii for almost all of the still shots I produced. I shot in uncompressed raw and I'm processing the 600+ images in Lightroom. About 12 of the images need some additional care (retouching out a lens that creeped into the image, dropping out a background for a social media photo request by the client, etc.) and I'll drag them into Photoshop and fix things that are either unflattering (I'm no strict journalist) or goofy mistakes on my part.

The remaining files were grouped and post processed this morning and I'm writing this as they export into folders as Tiffs with LZW compression (client mandated format....).

I know I was hesitant about buying a 28mm lens for my A7 cameras but in retrospect I am glad I did. We were working in some tight spaces and it was great to have a sharp, fast wide angle that wasn't so wide that it would cause too much perspective craziness. The 28mm f2.0 is small, light and very sharp in actual practice. I also used it to very good effect in a number of exterior shots in which the subject needed to be prominent and the background pushed away. I've given the 28mm focal length the cold shoulder too often. It can be nice. I'll be using it more often.

The other two single focal length lenses I took along feel like variations of old friends. One is the 50mm f1.8 FE and the other is the 85mm f1.8 FE; I am delighted with both of them and they each performed flawlessly. I amazed myself by finally having the discipline to limit myself to a trio of primes instead of bowing to my usual anxious overkill of having overlapping zooms, supplemented by a bag full of obscure primes for, you know, just in case stuff...

The other camera I took along was the RX10iii. I used it for all of the b-roll video and as the "A" camera for the interviews we did with our subject, Steve. The only video I took with the A7Rii was when I used it as a second angle camera for the interviews. I didn't bring a second tripod but mounted the camera onto a Leica ball head and mounted that to the 1/4 inch screw on top of a small light stand. Sure, there was some vibration and movement when I turned the camera on but it subsided before we got the interview into full swing, and, as long as no one touched the assemblage it was solid as a rock. Funny, a $50 light stand and a 50 year old ball head filling in for a $1,000+ video tripod ---- and doing a damn fine job. As long as no one tries to pan it...

I fed audio into the camera from one of the Saramonic SmartRig+ pre-amplifiers which was attached to a Rode NTG-4+ on a Gitzo boom pole. I was able to monitor the audio with headphones plugged into the camera's headphone jack. It worked well. I brought a second microphone along but didn't need to use it. I also brought along a second Saramonic SmartRig+ but we'll file that desire for redundant back-up under excess gear anxiety...

The only issue I've ever had shooting video with the RX10iii is achieving good manual focus, even when using magnification. The problem was finally solved for me by, again, Andrew Reid. In his instructions he advised that for many types of shots it was wholly unnecessary to set the camera to the little movie camera icon and then shoot. In that mode the camera only gives on 5X magnification of the frame and at a lesser resolution! If one leaved the camera in the regular "M" mode one can fine focus using magnification all the way up to 16X and will be doing so on a much higher resolution image (the still frame versus the reduced resolution video frame). The result of doing it this way is much improved focusing parameters. There are two downsides, only one of which is critical. The first downside is that you view the frame in photography 16:9 when in the "M" mode but when you push the red record button the frame shrinks a bit. This is a pain mostly if you are wedded to a very specific crop. The second issue could bite you on the ass. When you are outside the dedicated video mode (little film icon) you give up manual audio level control and the camera defaults to automatic level control. That's okay if audio is not important to the shot but for interviews it's pretty important to be able to set levels that stay....level.

I got into the habit of focusing in "M" mode and then switching to the dedicated video mode to shoot interviews. It worked well. The "M" mode focusing was a revelation for all the b-roll shots. Just a great way to shoot with manual focus.

The new Manfrotto case worked well as did the more seasoned Tenba rolling stand case (it always amazed me when it arrives someplace new with all of the bottom casters and wheels still attached).
I was able to toss in a shirt, boxers, socks and a shaving kit of the second day so I passed entirely on taking anything for "personal" luggage.

There were no direct flights to OKC from AUS so no matter how you do it you're going to spend some quality time in an airport in Dallas. I like to fly Southwest so I knew I'd be spending a couple hours each way at Love Field. It's nice. Only one terminal and only 18 gates. You won't miss a tight flight because the tram was out of order or the distance between terminals too great. A bonus is that Love field actually has a Whataburger in the terminal so that native Texans can get their burger with chopped jalapeƱos. Airport comfort food?

There is only one thing I hate about traveling these days and that's the making of calculations about when to head to the airport. I always go early. I've been burned by crazy traffic en route to the airport, to car fires shutting down the main parking garage and the human roadblocks at TSA checkpoints caused, on a regular basis, by the mass, temporary migrations of people coming to or escaping from Austin concerts, events and conventions. The check in lines in our moderately small airport can be as long as two hours. But if you choose too early you'll have an equal number of experiences where you arrive, slide into a parking place and hit the airport at a time when you are the only one standing in front of a Sky Cap and the only person going through security. At those times you might wish you had slept in another hour or wish that you hadn't splashed to for the TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry. But then you visualize that Whataburger with those spicy peppers, smile, take a seat and read that great novel you brought along... Ah.....JalapeƱos....

Two cameras was just right. The trip was just right. Now I hope to get the post production to the same level. It's good to be home. Someone has to nap on the couch with Studio Dog....