11.18.2017

"Memory is getting so cheap these days that file size doesn't matter any more." LMAO, ROTFL,

Behind the scenes at a three camera interview.

We decided to shoot a video project with multiple GH5s over the last two days. We also decide to shoot in 4K and to shoot 10 bit and 4:2:2. If you do that you'll quickly find that while the GH5 camera is a robust and stable platform it does demand fast memory cards in order to push through high density video signals. I'd been using UHS-1, class 10 cards with 95mbs write times but found out the hard way that once you go with big files your SD memory card speed has to upgrade with you...

Here's what I learned: You can get away with using slower cards in certain situations. If the camera doesn't move. If the talent doesn't move very much. If you don't shoot stopped way down (which vastly increases the detail in video files, increasing dynamic file size) and if you aren't recording with all the available camera bells and whistles on. If you are running next to a subject who is also running and you are shooting at f16 and you have image stabilization engaged. Your crappy UHS-1 card will sooner or later generate a camera screen message that says "Recording was cancelled due to slow card write..." Or something like that. 

What other things stress the system? Well, how about automatic diffraction compensation? Better to just shy away from apertures smaller than f8 and to keep this control off. Same for corner shading compensation. Just click "no." Some of the bells and whistles slow the whole process because the internal processors have more to do but the biggest culprit is cards that just can't suck up data fast enough. And, since you paid for all those other features you might feel entitled to use them....

In that case it is incumbent on you to supply your previously deprived camera system with a kick-ass fast SD card. If you are planning to take advantage of everything the GH5s have to offer you might use in-camera, 400 mb/s, All-I files as the gold standard to shoot for as a performance target. To play on this playground you are going to need a card with the following attributes: It should be a UHS-II card. That means it will have a second row of gold electrical contacts just below the usual UHS-I contact configuration. The UHS-II cards are speedier at reading and writing (anyone want to explain the technical reasons? We've got room in the comments....). The card should have a V90 rating. This is, as far as I know, the top rating for current SD cards. Oh, and you'll need a write time about 3-4X faster than a really good "Extreme" UHS-I card. Ready, set, let's drop $100 per card for 64 Gigabytes.... Or $278 for a 128 GB card...

The $100 price tag is just about double the price of previous generation of 64 Gb cards which  I purchased. So maybe memory isn't quite as cheap as the pundits proclaim....

But wait! There's more! Each GH5 comes with two card slots and unlike some of their less well spec'd brethren both of the slots are UHS-II ready. This means that if you are using two cards for simultaneous back-ups your camera can only write as fast as the slowest card can accommodate. This means that in practice you'll want/need to have a V90 UHS-II card in both slots. Now you have $200 per camera for basically the same 64 GB. Shooting three cameras deep and begging for simultaneous back-up? That's three cameras X $200 per camera or about $600 for a little over thirty minutes of 400 mb/s All-I shooting. That's $1200 per hour. More or less. Thank goodness the cards are re-usable. 

We opted for a lower intensity codec on this project. One with an average throughput of 150 mb/s. But a faster card makes for a more responsive camera system whether you are shooting big video files or slamming through a bunch of raw photo files. The faster the card the better advantage you can take of a big, fast buffer. After all, you paid for it....

Even if you never shoot a lick of video a good UHS-II card with a fast rating will make your raw+jpeg shooting Texas Jackrabbit fast. Even as it puts your credit card on a hard diet...

I'm using a combination of Delkin 128 GB, V60 cards and two Hoodman 64 GB, V90 cards at the moment. I'm sure it's advertising bravado but Hoodman labels them as 2000X cards. 8K, ultraHD capable. Guess if I want to be a really serious pro I should buy another handful...


I'd buy the 128 GB cards but they're way too pricey...




11.15.2017

The Three Graces. Louvre. 1986.

©1986 Kirk Tuck

People keep asking me where the Sony cameras got off to. And why they seem to have vacated the premises...

Sigmund Freud is credited with saying: "But really, how can you actually know which camera you like best if you have not used all of the available cameras? Now, what would your mother say? What do your dreams tell us?"

I woke up one morning and there was a stack of one hundred dollar bills bunched up under my pillow, along with a note from the Camera Fairy. The note read, "You seem less enthused about that big pile of Sony cameras and lenses than you used to be before you bought that Panasonic GH5 and that Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. Just like my cousin, the Tooth Fairy, does with old teeth I've taken it upon myself to remove the no longer cherished cameras and replace them with cold, hard cash. Good luck!"

We're a month and a half shy from closing out 2017 and it's been a year of interesting changes. I've gone from a business model that was based almost entirely on making photographs for businesses to a totally different sort of undertaking. This year will mark the first year in which the majority (just a bit more than half) of my income has been derived from producing, writing, shooting and editing video. In nearly every instance the companies I created video for approached me directly or I approached them, and this will mark the first year in which the vast majority of my engagements were directly with the final client and not finagled or funneled through a third party, such as an advertising agency or public relations firm. Those are big, huge, changes. I believe that these changes are a reflection of the greater market shifting---
---but that's a subject for a much lengthier and more analytic post.

What changed in regards to cameras? My ownership of the Sony cameras (and the Nikons before them) was based on the idea that I'd continue doing my business with a traditional photography workflow and that I'd be called upon to create high resolution images for print and trade show use. I bought cameras like the A7Rii and the Nikon D810 for the same reason people buy all kinds of stuff. It was the tradition, of a sort, in my industry. Everywhere you look people who purport to make a living with photography are sporting around big Sonys, big Nikons and big Canons. They all seem to love big lenses as well. But unless they have aimed themselves at the retail side of photography (weddings, babies and family portraits) I believe they are gearing themselves up for a business model they've been seeing in the rear view mirror of time. A working model from the past that's diminishing year by year. With the new awareness of a business model that's shifting (for me) into video and rejecting traditional printed photographs, the requirements for the cameras I want to work with have shifted away from the idea of "ultimate image quality at any cost" toward something less gear rigorous and more thought intensive.

I bought the first Panasonic GH5 on the strength of investigatory work I'd done with its less expensive sibling, the G85. Once I started using the GH5 with really good lenses, like the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro, I was hooked. The video quality; especially flesh tone rendering, was a clear step above what I had been able to squeeze out of the Sony cameras. All models of the Sony line create video that's amazingly sharp and detailed but I wasn't feeling the love for the color palette the cameras delivered. Where color grading or correction was a struggle when making video with the Sony cameras, it has been very simple and straightforward when using GH5 files. 

I also knew that I wanted to be able to offer my clients technically sophisticated video files that would conform to broadcast quality standards, where needed. I wanted to offer things like the ability to do 4:2:2 color for work with green screens; more tonal separation via 10 bits of information, and All-I files that would tame subject motion artifacts or camera motion artifacts. Finally, for very demanding clients I wanted to be able to offer files with lots of information, like the 400 mb/s, All-I files now available in the GH5. When I combined these features with a wonderful EVF and batteries with stamina I was more or less sold. 

I kept both camera systems until I was able to test out the "goodies" that got delivered in firmware 2.0 of the Panasonic camera and then, when completely satisfied, I dumped the Sony stuff into the used market to help pay for the fun stuff I wanted for the new system. 

I'm not particularly dense so I do understand that the bigger sensor in the Sony cameras will provide some extra quality at high ISOs, but having done several illumination-challenged jobs with the Panasonic FZ2500, with a much smaller sensor that the m4:3 cameras, I'm pretty confident that this won't be an issue for the way I shoot. We also keep a healthy inventory of lighting gear around here which means that most of the stuff we produce that can be lit can be controlled and shot at lower ISOs --- where all cameras look great. 

The other parameter where full frame cameras such as the Sony A7ii and A7Rii have had traditional advantages has been in depth of field control. Or, more precisely, being able to easily put the backgrounds of photographs out of focus by using wider apertures. I'm clearly concerned about being able to continue to do this as it's a look I use in my environmental portraits a lot. 

In this regard I am confident that I'll find equivalent control with the new generation of Pro lenses that are coming on line from Olympus. I have the 45mm f1.2 Pro on order; I am considering picking up one of the 25mm Pros (though my experiences with the Panasonic 25mm f1.7 and the 7 Artisans 25mm f1.7 are both quite satisfactory), and I have had much satisfaction using the very, very good Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens at it's wide open aperture. 

In short I'm finding that the fewer different menus (and families of menus) I must recall on the spot the happier and more secure I am in executing my assignments. I have now (for the first time ever!!!!!) winnowed down my collection of photographic toys to the point where two of the cameras (the GH5s) are identical and the other two are from the same basic generation  and have very similar menus to navigate through. Whether I am picking up the one inch sensor FZ2500 or the m4:3 GH5 all the basic menu items are pretty much the same and all the nomenclature now makes sense to me. 

Add to this the smaller footprint and lighter weight of the holistic system and I feel lean and ready to engage in the actual work.

None of this is intended to paint the Sony cameras as a "bad choice" or an ineffective imaging solution. On the contrary, I think that for people who are engaged solely in traditional still photography the Sony family is a great choice. Especially with the new A9, and A7Riii and the RX10iv. I was just looking for a different set of parameters and I believe I've found a system that's closer to my multiple uses than anything else on the market. I mean really, who else gives you waveform monitors and vector scopes in a camera at this price point? Nobody. 

At some point I'm sure I'll hear the siren call of bigger formats and less detail in my backgrounds. I can hardly wait to start shopping for a Fuji or Hasselblad medium format (pixie medium format) camera system but it will be a while before I circle back around to the more conventional choices. 

None of the images here were made with either the Sony or the Panasonic cameras. You can do decent work with just about anything. Make you job easier if you can. Or if you want to....

If it doesn't have an EVF I don't want to shoot with it...












Don't be too literal about guidelines. There are exceptions to everything.

It's hard to stop two young women on a scooter speeding through Rome to ask permission to photograph them as they speed by at XX kilometers per hour... Sometimes you need to shoot first if you are to get a shot at all.

I ran eight miles to catch them and ask permission but lost them on the Apian Way. (sarcasm).

Photos from Downtown San Antonio. With Renae.



11.14.2017

One step closer to "perfection." The DMW-XLR1 for the Panasonic GH5.


We're shooting a project on Friday and Saturday that calls for a bunch of interview footage and we've decided to use a couple of GH5s and one G85 for our production cameras. While my partner and I both have standalone digital audio recorders, and we both have pre-amplifier interfaces of various types, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the audio interface that Panasonic made exactly for their flagship m4:3 video camera. It arrived last week and I put it through its paces in anticipation of the upcoming project.

What the hell is this thing? It's an audio interface and pre-amplifier which adds the capability of using all kinds of professional microphones, which require connection via balanced XLR plugs, with your GH5.

This means that it works with pretty much every professional microphone you'd want to use; with one small caveat.  It works with my Aputure Diety shotgun microphone, all manner of Rode shotgun microphones, my hyper-cardioids, the Sennheiser radio mics and many more. Where it falls down, in terms of universal compatibility, is with less sensitive dynamic microphones. It's fine with my Rode Reporter microphone (a handheld dynamic) but my dynamic, side address microphone, the Audio Technica AT2035, requires lots and lots of gain and that pushes up the noise. It's fine for me but some clients are really sensitive to audio noise so --- approach with caution if you are dead set on pairing up the Panasonic DMW-XLR1 with non-condenser/dynamic microphones.

This unit allows XLR cables from two different microphones to be plugged in, supplied with phantom power, if your microphone requires it, provides precisely controllable gain, even high pass filters, and sends the resulting signals to the GH5 directly through the hot shoe connections. It's small, sturdy and light.

The unit is not self-powered but depends on power from the camera, supplied through the same hot shoe contacts. There is a green light on the rear of the unit (where you'll have a hard time not seeing it...) that lets you know your unit is powered up. I haven't measured the run time of the unit + camera shooting at 4K and also providing phantom power to two microphones, but Curtiss Judd has and he found it to be about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Coming from the tiny Sony camera batteries this performance seems miraculous.

Why are we shooting with GH5s instead of an (available) Sony FS7 video camera? Pretty straightforward answer, I think.  We want the files coming out of camera to be "final look" in case we need to hand them off to the client's people for editing (over which we might have no control) so we'd like to get them as close to what we want to end up with as possible, right in camera. Experience tells us that we'll have an easier time getting the flesh tone and general look we're shooting for with the Panasonic cameras. We're sporting light meters as well as in camera scopes so we're pretty sure we're going to nail exposure. We're lighting our important interior scenes so were almost certain to manufacture lighting that matches the dynamic range of the (non-Log) camera files and, we're both going to carry Lastolite white/gray targets so we're hoping to keep white balance between our three cameras close.

Also, we don't have access to two more Sony FS7s, dedicated batteries, etc. and want to make sure that all our sources have the same basic family color science --- in case we wind up doing the edit.  Just to make it easier on ourselves...

This is also why we're using a DMW-XLR1 audio unit to capture main audio from Sennheiser wireless microphones. Recording primary sound to an external recorder would add a step of potential failure for some other editor. If we deliver good, clean audio right on the SD cards, bundled with the video, it's once less thing someone needs to sync up in post production.

That's the reason for the DMW-XLR1's use on this week's job.

We have another project coming up in early December that will require me to video document a stage presentation  by a celebrity in the medical field. I've been asked to capture the presentation. I'll be able to use the DMW-XLR1 via its "line in" setting to record the audio for the event directly from the sound board at the venue while also running a wireless microphone, attached to the speaker, as a safety. All in one unit that won't require extensive cabling or extra batteries. Since the GH5 will run as long as the internal battery and memory card allow I should be able to record the hour long presentation with no sweat.

Fun when a product pays for itself in one or two days of shooting....


Be sure to order fun camera equipment for yourself and your loved ones for Thanksgiving. 
Use the link above to get to Amazon.com and then search for the perfect self gift. 
I'll be as happy as you that you did...




11.12.2017

As money burns a hole in my pocket I re-think the portrait lens scenario with an old, adapted Zeiss 50.


Everything starts over coffee. I spent some time one morning reading about three lenses from Olympus while drinking a cup of Illy brand coffee I'd made and suddenly it seemed like the most brilliant and obvious idea would be to run out and drop $3,600 on three Olympus Pro primes. Primes that are  already well covered in my camera bag by state-of-the-art zooms from the titans of the micro-four thirds camp. I thought I wanted the new 17mm, 25mm and, of course, the 45mm. They are all f1.2 lenses so I had visions of super shallow depth of field and high sharpness. The coffee was very, very good too. I may still pursue this course of action because I am, admittedly, a bit eccentric...

But, in the course of ruminating over the consequences of spending even more money that I really didn't need to spend, I thought I'd convince myself of just how badly needed the new lenses were by putting on the front of my little Panasonic G85 body one of the Contax C/Y Zeiss lenses I have rolling around on the edge of my desktop, here in the palatial world headquarters of the VSL...

It's a 50mm f1.7. At the time of its peak popularity it was merely the "kit" lens that came, de facto, on the front of Contax film cameras. I bought it a few years back as an afterthought. Perhaps a momentary salve for the stinging, grand price of the Sony 55mm f1.8... I used it a few times and remembered it to be a fine performer on a full frame Sony camera but now I wondered just how well it would acquit itself on the diminutive m4:3 format cameras. Would it have the contrast and resolution needed to compensate for the Lilliputian geometry of the image sensor?

I put the Contax Zeiss C/Y 50mm f1.7 on a no-name adapter and we sped downtown at dusk. A torture test for sensor and lens. The test started with a cup of coffee and a vegan, lemon and hazelnut scone from Whole Foods. Just a little something to tide me over during the rigorous testing procedures I anticipated. 

The light dropped quick as I walked toward the new city library and the new arched bridge over Second St. I used the camera with the lens mostly set at f2.0 and shutter speeds around 1/125th of a second. Pretty soon I found myself down in the 3200 ISO territory we small sensor masochists fear so much...

I found that the Zeiss lens seems very sharp at f2.0. Even sharper at the several shots I took at f5.6. This 100mm equivalent lens is a good choice for portraits. Maybe as good as the Olympus 45mm Pro would be. But if I am to be truthful the fabulous marketing of the new 45mm will carry the day and I'll end up with a little less in my retirement account this year than I could have had....

Ah well.

After looking through the images taken with the 30 year old, bargain lens I just have to say once again that there's no magic bullet. No miracle optic that will make one a better photographer; a better artist. The 50mm is one of the perfectly sorted lenses that will find its way into my video equipment package every single time...










I'm still looking for the flare when shooting wide open. 
But this is like "Where's Waldo?" I just can't seem to find it...