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Time-lapse photography video clip – Brooklyn waterfront, NYC

Dipping ever deeper into Time-Lapse Photography, I recently bought the Dynamic Perception Stage One motion controller. What makes it unusual, is that it breaks down into 20″ segments. The carbon-fibre rods are also light enough to carry around in a tall backpack … just the recipe for adventures in Time-Lapse photography. One thing that you quickly realize with Time-Lapse is that there is a never-ending learning curve. Just as you have a good grasp on the ethnical aspects of shooting – the gear, and such – then you realize that there is still the editing and processing to make the video clip more slick.

Here is one of my more successful time-lapse video clips, shot with the rig shown below:

Equipment used during this shoot

 

More about the video clip

The idea behind the movement is obvious – it starts with a close up of the words by Walt Whitman: The tall masts of Mannahatta, as he penned it in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” From there I wanted the camera to rise higher, revealing more of the Manhattan skyline as the camera recedes.

This was my second attempt at this spot. I had tried the rig with lighter, more portable tripods, but that just does not work – far too much shake. Even these heavy beasts were affected by the wind. The jitter was reduced with the Stabilization setting in Final Cut Pro.

The video clip is 30 seconds long, and took 45 minutes to shoot. In retrospect, a shorter shoot duration (for the same movement), might have been better. I a 3-stop Neutral Density filter to bring the shutter speed down to an 1/8 second. A longer shutter speed would’ve given a smoother appearance to the water – but I was limited in only having a 3-stop ND filter with me. A 6-stop ND filter would’ve been perfect.  The aperture used was f/19 on the perspective control lens. The reason for the PC lens, is that the aperture mechanism is manual – and this eliminates flicker from the aperture stopping down for every shot like it would with a different lens.

These are the tripod legs and heads that I n – an interesting combination of not-too-heavy, but quite sturdy:

The RC4 quick release is a larger plate, and works beautifully with the motorized dolly. A smaller quick release plate like the Manfrotto Q2 plate was just too small and narrow.

 

Another version, with mild HDR processing

Running each of the final JPGs through a midl HDR processing, and then recompiling the video clip, gives a brighter look with more shadow detail.

 

Related links

 

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I think it's interesting to see all the old players in the camera market scramble to try and divine just what the modern consumer really wants, and where the profitable niches still exist for their brands. Hasselblad has been floundering since the dawn of digital and there are probably more reasons than most of us know of their perilous situation. 

I have been a Hasselblad user for a long time. Well over twenty two years. I've watched them (with sympathy) go from being the prestige camera maker amongst the top working professionals in photography to a company trying to re-brand decent cameras from Sony and then price them as though the addition of the H-Blad nameplate was a tremendous value add. 

I think it's important to understand what initially made the Hasselblad product so sought after, pre-digital. I think the single most defining feature of the V series cameras had to be the square aspect ratio. This allowed the camera to be used in exactly the same way whether shooting with a vertical or horizontal intention. This meant that the camera never had to be turned sideways. While it was a very convenient way to shoot it also made it incredibly easy to shoot images square for final use. Legions of portrait photographers and artists of all types came to find the balance and integrity of the square to be very valuable. Seductive, almost.  In truth, I had no real loyalty to the Hasselblad brand but I have been (as a medium format practitioner) very loyal to creating in the square. In addition to the Hasselblads I have owned, I have also owned, and been very happy with, the Mamiya 6 cameras (square, 6x6) the Rolleiflex 6000 series cameras (square, 6x6), the Rollei twin lens reflex cameras (square, 6x6) and even the occasional Yashicamat 124G or the Mamiya C220. 

The common denominator across all these cameras was the wonderful and glorious square. 

Now, I have a bit of background in semiconductor technology and I understand very well that making larger sensors with a high yield is a very, very expensive proposition. In the early days of making medium format sensors the aspect ratio of the chip dies was a direct result of the need to maximize the use of wafer space and that meant using a rectangle. Making a large, square sensor for what was perceived as a very limited market was just logical. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Dalsa and Kodak didn't get around to offering one to the rarified MF market until much further into the evolution of medium format cameras. But, in point of fact, by denying previous customer of one major attraction to their products, Hasselblad was already falling down. 

Continuing along the evolution of the digital products the other major attraction of the square, film Hasselblads was the sheer surface area of the film. Having a 6 by 6 cm canvas to create with meant that lenses with longer focal lengths were required to get the same angles of view as smaller format.  This meant that the optical signature of the system was much different. At any angle of view the fall off between areas of sharp focus and out of focus was much quicker and much more pronounced. I call it focus ramp but other people (wrongly) refer to the effect as bokeh. Some of the allure of all the film medium format cameras was the way the longer lenses elegantly separated the in focus subject with an out of focus background. With the need to engineer and design around much smaller (geometry) sensors, early on (and still, today) the visual results of today's MF systems offer a compromise; the focus falls off more quickly that does that of a 35mm equivalent but much less quickly than it's run-of-the-mill ancestors. 

So we don't get the square and we don't get the full effect of the focus ramp I've described but what we did get was a frightfully expensive series of cameras that required a whole new series of lenses and provided (as a minor justification to the absurd cost of said lenses) us with autofocusing which most of the consumers for the product neither needed nor wanted. Gosh, this just sounds worse and worse as I write all down....

In the film days one could pick up a decent and highly functional, used, square body for about $800 and a nice 150mm portrait lens, complete with T-star coatings for about $1200. You could put down your $2K and start shooting fashion, portraits, editorial stuff. No problem. But in the mid-era of Hasselblad's engagement with digital we were looking at bodies in the $30,000 range and the need to buy a totally new collection of much pricier lenses. It was almost as if the company (already a lux maker) had used the move to digital as an excuse to make insane price increases.  And all for cameras with small, 645 aspect ratio sensors, and a handful of pricey lenses made under license by Fuji. 

The market voted with their feet and out of necessity all the but most well heeled professionals opted to figure out how to make cameras from Canon and Nikon work well enough to serve their markets. The cost of entry into Hasselblad's version of the future was just too much to bear for the vast majority of photographers who had loyally used their products for decades. 

So, now they've hit the wall and they are looking for a brand new camera (with a brand new set of lenses) to save their bacon. Maybe the X1D will be the camera that will save the company from oblivion. But I don't think so. It looks cute. It's small and seemed nicely designed (thank you, ex-Volvo designer....) but it just seems so much like what Bronica did as a last gasp to hold onto their film customers. They came out with a 645 rangefinder body, along with a small line of slower and less expensive lenses and it was a marketing failure. 

While I'll admit that not everyone shares my love for the square I think that Hasselblad dropped the ball on a good opportunity to differentiate this camera--- and by extension, their brand --- by not have the camera use a square format sensor. But the major failing is their inability to read the current market. One of the reasons Sony has seen significant growth in their A7xx series sales is the fact that by going digital and reducing the space between the lens mount and the sensor, they created, essentially, an open architecture that allows users to try just about any interchangeable lens on the market. Why does this work? Because there is a shutter in the body. The new Hasselblad system, based around the X1D, is designed with shutters in each lens and not in the actual body. You might be able to source an adapter sometime in the near future but if you put lenses on from other systems there is no shutter with which to actually take a photograph!!!!!

For around $14,000 you get a system that locks you into using either the large and expensive H series lenses or the two new X1D lenses that were announced with the camera. The sensor in the camera may have twice the surface area of the familiar 35mm sensors but in terms of linear differences it amounts to barely more than a single digit percentage increase. In comparing the sensors in the Sony A7R2 and the X1D it's just a difference of approximately 7900 pixels (Sony) versus 8200 pixels (H-Blad). It's certainly not enough to make any difference at all in normal print sizes. And there's no matching portrait lens to boot.

Continuing with the comparisons the Sony and the H-Blad have the same EVF resolution numbers and while the H-Blad specs show 14 stops of DR the Sony is already in that ballpark, according to DXO. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Sony makes the sensor (and maybe even the engine under the skin...). The appeal is limited by Hasselblad's limited vision of what consumers really, really want and what professionals really, really need. 

It's a cute little system that's out of the budgets of most amateurs while being too limited (lens selection) to suit most professionals. And, from my personal perspective, $14,000 in 2016 should buy you 4K video performance. The camera is limited there too. Ah well, it was never aimed at me...It's not square enough.



Portrait Subject. 

Several days ago I wrote a post that showed how I was using LED lights to illuminate portrait subjects at a law firm here in Austin. I wanted to follow up that description of the technical stuff by showing what the final result looks like so you can better understand what I was trying to accomplish at the shoot. The image above may not be the one finally selected by the client for inclusion in their website but it is a good example of what we were going for. No major retouching has been done.

To refresh, the taking camera was a Sony A7R2, using a Rokinon 85mm t1.5 cine lens set at f2.8. My goal in lighting is to first make the subject look great while matching to a consistent look for all the thirty+ images I've made for the same company over the last few months. My lighting goal is to control the color and quality of the light on the subject while effectively blending the existing light from three different, continuous sources (exterior through the windows (blue/cyan), mixed spectrum florescent, and more yellow spectrum from compact fluorescents in ceiling cans). The effectiveness of precisely targeted, custom white balancing can not be underestimated.

That's it. 

(Sorry for the delay between the first blog and the example photo. I wanted to receive permission to use my client's portrait before posting it here. Not necessarily required but very appropriate....).



Tangents – the Facebook group

It’s time for me to fully embrace FB … and have a FB group that relates to the Tangents blog. With that, I will be re-posting photography related stuff to this group. As the Facebook group for the Tangents blog, this is where anyone can show off photos; ask questions; hang out and discuss photography.

This has also become necessary since FB is randomly throttling organic traffic to my FB page on photography when I announce new Tangents posts. Perhaps this move will also stop some people’s disappointment when I post a cat video to my personal FB account. Yup, that has happened.

For those who avoid Facebook and don’t have a FB account, nothing has changed – all the good stuff will still happen right here on this blog!

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Belinda was making fresh corn soup on Monday. Here are the primary ingredients. 

I'm pretty happy with the Zeiss 50mm f1.7 for Contax. I bought the lens and an adapter last week and got the duo on Monday. The lens is relatively old but in great shape. I'm guessing it was the current cheap 50 for the Contax RTS system in  the late 1980's and early 1990's, and then fell away when the Contax N system came out as the last iteration of the Yashica/Contax cameras before being swept away by the digital revolution. 

I finished up my "must do" work and took some time out to do a brisk walk through central Austin with the 50mm f1.7 cobbled on to the front of the A7ii. I did one thing differently today; I put a .9 ND filter on the lens so I could easily shoot at the optimum apertures instead of being pushed into the range where there's practically no difference between cheap or dear lenses, in terms of performance. I tried to shoot mostly at f2.8-f4.0 today, along with keeping my ISO at 100. That's why the left and right sides of the fence shot (below) go out of focus. It's not a fault of the lens, it's the limited depth of field available. Where the lens is in focus is pretty darn sharp. 

From time to time I took the ND off the lens so I could make sure I wasn't killing the overall performance of the lens by inserting two more air/glass interfaces into the basic lens structure...

Shooting with this lens on the Sony A7ii was a blast for me because it took me right back to the feel of my first cameras. I'm from the generation that started with manual focus lenses and I'm always most comfortable (if the finder works well enough) when I turn off the automation and just use my fingers and my eyes to get stuff focused. Once you are focused you can take your fingers off the ring and shoot to your heart's delight, right up until you change the camera-to-subject distance. Nice for faster shooting.

I didn't notice any faults in particular with the lens, and the package of lens/camera/adapter is still small and has a low impact on the user when carrying the collection around. We are now officially on the search for more wonderful and elusive Zeiss glass from this particular system. I hear they made three different 100mm models. Sounds like something I might need....

On another note: I am doing an interesting self-experiment. I have not touched the novel (The Lisbon Portfolio) since I launched it on Amazon back in the Summer of 2014. I picked it up last weekend and decided to re-read it after a two year passage of time. Would I still like it? Did it hold up? Were the editing oversights as egregious as everyone says? 

What I found is that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and, after the scene with the gun fight in the bathroom, I could not put it down until I finished it. So, I will toss this out again.... If you know J.J. Abrams (the director of the latest Star Wars movie, etc.) please toss a copy of the book to him and implore him to read it. I'll be happy to option the movie rights to him. But, if he doesn't get on the stick it may be too late. I may have to send a copy to Sam Mendes (latest Bond movie, Spectre) and see how interested he might be......

If you have not read the book you probably should. It's entertaining and all about photography----kinda. Give it a try. The Kindle version is super cheap on Amazon and the Kindle app is free for many, many devices.... Really, get a copy...






From "James and the Giant Peach." A Zach Theatre Production.

I guess it's not hard to imagine that a lot of my close friends are photographers and filmmakers. In some of our down time between projects we have a tendency to meet at the local coffee shop and discuss a wide range of topics related to our work. It's nice because it provides and information feedback loop that helps keep us current. Everyone seems to have their own point of view and their own assessment of the value, and the balance of, technical and artistic considerations.

One of the discussions that came up this week concerned video cameras but is cogent to all cameras. My friend had shot some video with his Sony A7Sii camera (a really good DSLR for shooting video) and was observing that the 8 bit files from that camera were more "fragile" than the 10 bit files from his other video camera, a Sony FS7. I asked him to explain and he told me that he is able to color correct much more aggressively with the bigger files and that smaller changes to the 8 bit file cause those files to quickly "break" and lose image quality. He said that the same was true when it came to correcting exposure or lifting shadow and recovering highlights. Much more latitude for correction in the bigger camera.

As I struggled to understand why one camera could be so much better than the other I asked a few questions about his shooting habits. It turns out that he is not as concerned about getting a good white balance prior to shooting because he feels that he can correct a great deal in post processing. He does not use a light meter and has similar beliefs about exposure correction in post processing. That's fair; everyone works in a different way. But my point of view is different.

Rather than depending on the latitude and flexibility of the final files from a still or video camera I tend to take the approach that most cameras can give very convincing results if you are able to fine tune your shooting parameters to optimize your files at the time of shooting.

Whether your camera shoots in 8 bits or 10 bits as long as the files are not raw a certain amount of color shifting is permanently part of your files if you are not making custom white balances. I'll admit that I was more reticent to take the time to custom white balance with my Nikon cameras because the procedure was complex and I would sometimes forget the process without my cheat sheet. But, if you shoot a Jpeg file and the file is too blue that means some of the yellow color information has already been thrown away and the best you can hope for in post processing is an interpolated and non-linear, subjective reconstruction of the file color. You are basically trying to boost the yellow channel and replace the lost yellow; working from memory. The information is already lost. And the loss of information in one channel overloads the color balances in the remaining channels.

Remember too that color balance also effects exposure! At some point, if too much color from one channel is discarded it is impossible to get back to a neutral balance which would have been the starting point in post processing, if a custom white balance had been done.

In my workflow at shoots the color balance precedes every other step. I always custom white balance before I set exposures.

But even in the custom white balance process there is ample room for error. While a so-so custom white balance beats auto white balance in many situations the truth is that most people are sloppy with their technique here too. The problem is that people see all white as "white." They aim their cameras at typing paper, seamless backdrop paper, a white cotton shirt, white paint, white boards and tons of other "whites" which have UV brighteners, which fluoresce, which have various color casts, etc. The use of UV brighteners makes paper look brighter and more highly reflective but it also causes magenta and purple color casting. Some papers are warm and some are cold in color. White boards have a lot of blue included in their spectrum which makes them look "cleaner" to the human eye.

The solution is to use known targets for WB that are designed with neutral white in mind. The use of the same target for every situation gets you a giant step closer to consistency and color matching between shots and between takes. Whether you use an Expo disk (lens mounted white target diffuser) or a Lastolite pop-up target or a Macbeth card, or some other known target engineered for neutral response your use of a consistent target will eventually give you greater and greater confidence in getting good white balance and will make your time correcting color in post much more enjoyable.

Buy a good white target and your camera becomes more color accurate than a more expensive camera that is poorly white balanced. Neutral is nice. It's one way of being happier with the camera you already have in your hands.

The same thing is true about exposure. The closer you get to optimum exposure the better looking your final files will be and the less work it will take to get them all to both match and show good detail in highlights and shadows. A camera with a limited dynamic range is scrupulously set to a correct, metered exposure will have more overall latitude than a more expensive camera that is set up to over expose or under expose. And even if you can "lift" the shadows with that miraculous Sony sensor you are losing detail and potentially introducing shadows banding whenever you make the lift.

I tend to use a meter because I trust an incident meter more in tricky lighting than the histograms in most cameras. And I trust the histograms in most cameras much more than I do the LCD review images. But my latest technique for good exposure setting comes from having worked a lot in video lately with cameras that have zebra stripes. I set the cameras I use to have the zebras indicate when a highlight is at 100% or higher. I aim the camera at the white balance target placed in the plane where I'll have my subject. Then I shift exposure settings until I see zebras. Then I bring down the exposure until the zebras on the white balance target just disappear. At that point I know that my whites won't burn out and that I've exposed as brightly as I can without the danger of overexposing my main subject.

A perfectly white balanced camera, set to the optimum exposure will yield the widest range of tones and the best image quality, regardless. If you have a better camera then the same holds true. The tighter your command of technique the better than camera becomes.

Once the essential camera parameters are set you are then welcome to knock yourself out and be the beret wearing, espresso sipping, monocle adorned artist you always knew you were....

Next up I guess we should look at working in a location with mixed color light sources. We've got a plan for working with that as well.


I've been prowling through the commercial-o-sphere looking at 50mm lens options for the clever mirrorless cameras that Sony keeps dangling in front of me. I like 50's. I like them a lot. But there is something strange and off putting about spending $900 or $1200 to get a decent normal lens when the world is filled with magnificent 50mm models from days gone by. And mostly they are available for much more reasonable prices. The only additional price of admission is an inexpensive adapter...

Back in the early 1990's I had a brief flirtation with the line of cameras built by Yashica and sold under the Contax brand. They had a licensing agreement with Zeiss and under that agreement they created and marketed a line of lenses that were really quite good. I had two different 50's from them; the f1.4 and the f1.7 and both were very good lenses for me. I have to confess that while I know I was supposed to like the faster and more expensive lens better I always favored the images coming from the f1.7 version. The benefit of that littler Zeiss lens is that it's small, light and sharp. Even with an adapter along for the ride it is not burdensome on the A7ii and, in fact, is the perfect fit where I am concerned.

I ordered the lens and the adapter from a merchant on Amazon. I was fine with the stated delivery time which would place the duo here between the 23rd and the 27th of the month. Imagine my delight when I came home yesterday and the box from Amazon was hanging out of my mailbox. Three days early! Nice surprise.

Over the weekend I had a chance to play with the Rokinon 50mm 1.4 and, while I am sure it's a good performer, the new, little Zeiss package is much more ergonomic. My total cost for the lens and a C/Y to Nex adapter was less than $150. I've shot a few images but certainly not enough to say anything definitive about it. Yet. My cursory observations include: Wow! No vignetting. None. And, wow, the finder image is bright and contrasty. I've got the lens with me today and it's following me on my rounds. I'll shoot with it as much as I can. Then we'll see if inexpensive, Zeiss branded stuff from the 1990's can hold a candle to modern, un-adapted glass.


The lens is small and the adapter is simple.


In the fourth quarter of last year I photographed a number of attorneys for a large law firm in one of the glorious new high rise buildings in downtown Austin. It was a fun shoot. The principals driving the photo shoot has seen a style I'd been shooting for several tech firms and liked it. They wanted a variation for their new website and so I found myself walking around the floor they inhabit, high above the street life, looking for cool backgrounds. We wanted to make a variation of environmental portraits where the background goes wildly out of focus and becomes a wash of colors and shapes.  If you are going to do this style you need some backgrounds that you can get far enough away from to drop off the focusing in a convincing way and those backgrounds should have some colors that work with portraits.

I found five or six different locations around the offices but the one I liked best was the above angle from the lobby looking down a short hall, with small conference rooms on either side.

Once the camera is set up and a subject in place this is what I want the background to do (see just below). 
I've intentionally silhouetted the person in the photo because it's an actual client portrait and I don't have permission yet to actually use her likeness in the blog. That's one of the restrictions of being a working photographer....

The windows to the left and behind the subject are interior windows of frosted glass that form the interior walls of the small conference rooms. So the (indirect) light from outside is coming through the outside window, filling the conference rooms and then illuminating the windows that the camera sees. The hall is more or less daylight balanced. Once you find a background you want then the next part of the process is figuring out the relationship of the subject to the background and the spatial relationship of the camera to the subject. Those relationships show me where I'll be standing and how I'll be lighting to get the look I want. 

The image just above shows my basic set-up today from behind the camera position. So let's break down why I have everything set up the way I do. I'll start with the chair. It's NOT for the subject to sit on. The chair will be directly in front of the subjects and they will be standing behind it using the chair back as a device to rest their arms on. Their forearms and hands are outside the crop but having a place to put one's hands goes a long way to helping people pose more comfortably. Having something to put your arms or hands on also "anchors" the subject into defined area which means less worry about focus accuracy and inadvertent changes in composition caused by our talent moving around. 

Bringing the chair in at the beginning also gives me a target zone for setting up my lighting and assorted modifiers. My next step is to set up my two 24x36 inch soft boxes. Each one has a CooLED 100 (these are the ones with the two by two inch square, SMD LED elements that effectively emulate the characteristics of a traditional bulb, as opposed to the less controlled panel LEDs we've used in the past. 

I use two soft boxes, butted right next to each other, to both soften the overall light and also generate enough light output to get me the shutter speed/f-stop/ISO combination that makes for the best image. I love lighting environmental locations with these continuous output lights because it gives me good control over the total lighting effect while helping to prevent blinking and flinching that the anticipation of flash generally causes (in people disposed to having a sensitivity to quick flashes). 

The next layer of stuff I add to the set up has to do with controlling the existing lighting that effects the area we'll be shooting in. My subject is actually standing in the lobby and nothing there is lit by natural light. Everything is illuminated by either long, fluorescent tubes or can lights in the ceiling. Since there are two different light sources, and both of them are not very well corrected. My job is to take that light off the subject altogether. I want to reduce or illuminate hard top light and the yellow/green spectrum the comes with it. 

That's where the circular, pop-up reflectors come in. One gets placed a foot or two directly above the standing subject. The role of this round, translucent diffuser is to knock down the top light by two stops and to also diffuse any light that insists on getting through. It's a vital tool, otherwise you'd need to radically increase the power of the two lights in the soft boxes to overpower the hard, top light coming from ceiling fixtures, and then you'd change the total character of the light in the room and make the whole scene look very artificial. 

The second reflector/diffuser is the one over by the wall on the right (looking from camera position). It's there to provide clean fill light in the form of bouncing the main light from the two soft boxes into the shadows on the opposite side of my subject. Having the while panel near the wall keeps the yellow cast from one of the ceiling cans from bouncing from the yellow wall paper of the wall back onto the subject. Kind of a critical addition if you want to keep your subject's face color neutral on both sides. 

The LED lights are pretty accurately 5600 K so why do the windows in the background look so blue. The frosted glass is neutral and translucent but think about it for a second... The light that's transluminating them is coming from essentially open shade and since it's not direct sunlight it's actually somewhere between 6500K and 7000K which makes it much bluer in appearance that the daylight balanced LEDs.  The room is warmer than the LEDs or the outside illumination but we are effectively controlling all the light striking our subject directly. 

The final step in the set up is to choose the right lens and then choose the right exposure/depth of field characteristics for your photographs. I was using a very fast 85mm lens on the front of a Sony A7R2. Using it at about f2.8 meant that we can reasonably tell that the background is an interior office space but without showing too much distracting details. The softness of the background goes a long way toward concentrating attention on the subject while the interplay of different color temperatures also helps to separate picture elements.

To try and do the shots with just a fast lens and no lights or modifiers would result in an image with weird shadows on the subject's face along with providing a tough time for anyone trying to deal with the ongoing cascade of colors and tones.








Photo shoot with Off-camera flash – Adapting to opportunity

One of the fun elements of the Photo Walks in NYC, is looking for opportunity, and being ready for any serendipitous moments. We were photographing Claudia, using the Profoto B1 TTL flash (affiliate), and a 3′ octa-box as our off-camera lighting setup. Of course, we could also shoot available light … or sweeten it with a touch of off-camera flash. We have options in how we use light. It’s all part of the adventure of looking for great photos.

In this instance, there was this reflective metallic wall on three sides of the one building’s entrance. With the cars zipping around, and people walking past us, the patterns in the reflections were constantly changing. Great for shooting available light portraits of Claudia, as show here below:

A simple enough way of working, giving us some variety in the images. Then, walking around the corner, I noticed that the 5pm sun, which was leaning Westward, was reflecting in this semi-halo kind of way against the wall. I thought this might make a neat frame for a sequence of photos with Claudia.

Of course, exposing for the reflection, would mean that Claudia would be heavily under-exposed … and this would necessitate adding off-camera lighting.

The softbox killed too much light, so I decided we should go with bare flash, so that we had a chance of matching that bright metallic reflection of the sun.

This pull-back shot will show how the bare Profoto B1 was angled towards Claudia. It was set to power level 9.5 which is close to max output. We had started at full output, but as the sun started dipping behind the skyscrapers, we had to adjust our camera settings, and the flash power. For the sequence here, we were are the settings show below.

 

Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session

Even though we used a bare Profoto B1 here, these photos are entirely within the reach of anyone who uses a speedlight!

 

A little bit of homework

Working with a speedlight, what would your flash settings and the distance to your subject be, to get the same flash exposure as here?  1/250 @ f/11 @ 100 ISO

Hints:
Tutorial: How to use the guide number of your flash
Applying the Sunny 16 Rule & Flash Guide Number

 

 

Posing and positioning the light

A question came up in the comments, and it is an important one:  “How did you get such soft flattering light with the bare strobe head?”

The key here is to work conservatively. I often see photographers who are new to using off-camera flash, place the flash too low, or too far off to the side.

I aim to have Butterfly Lighting, or Loop Lighting. This way there are no dramatic shadows, and little risk of the shadow of your subject’s nose creating a Charlie Chaplin mustache, or streaking across their cheekbone.

So, just a very simple way of posing my subject into the light.

Have a look at these two images. The left-hand one is where I started. It also has mild Loop Lighting as a lighting pattern. (Close to being Butterfly Lighting.) The flash here was nearly at a right angle to the wall – in other words, at quite an angle to where I was photographing from. This caused that gradient of shadow across Claudia’s cheek. The lighting is flattering, but very contrasty.

Moving the light much closer to me, and having Claudia turn her face more to the camera, gave light which was more flat … and hence, more flattering for such a small light source.

 

Summary

The algorithm is to find our background exposure – in this case, the semi-circle reflection of the sun … and then expose for our subject with flash. For the thought-process in how we got to our flash settings, have a look at the little bit of homework given above.

The thought-process here is very similar to other tutorial articles here, in how we progressively set this up for a successful photo. No haphazard jumping around between settings! Then it all falls into place much more easily.

 

Related links

 

Video tutorials to help you with flash photography

If you like learning by seeing best, then these video tutorials will help you with understanding flash photography techniques and concepts. While not quite hands-on, this is as close as we can get to personal instruction. Check out these and other video tutorials and online photography workshops.

 

The post Photo shoot with Off-camera flash – Adapting to opportunity appeared first on Tangents.

the bar scene on Austin's Sixth Street is widely known to be a class act. 

We had a cool, wet Spring. The first part of June followed along for the ride; but last week we headed back to typical, mid-Summer, Texas weather with heat indexes heading past 107 degrees and an intense sun unfiltered by any clouds. Hot. Sweaty, grimy, oppressively hot.

We're getting the edge of a monster heat wave that's ripping through California and our adjoining states in the Southwest. You've got to have sympathy for the folks in Palm Springs where the temperature is predicted to hit 118 on Sunday and 121 on Monday. Yikes! 

But you can't spend the Summer hiding in your house with the curtains drawn and the air conditioner panting. So even on the zany days I like to grab a camera and go for a walk. I know downtown is a heat sink, what with all the asphalt and heat transferring, reflective buildings but that's where all the stuff is. Like today's 2nd St. Music Festival. And Voodoo Donuts. 

It's Saturday so I hit the pool for swim practice at 8:30. When we finished at 10 the usual crew headed to the local coffee shop to catch up. I made it home in time for lunch. The family consensus was BBQ. Ben's been up in New York all Spring and there's little stuff you can really call good BBQ outside of Texas. Tennessee BBQ? (chuckle) that's just smoked meat with sweet sauce poured over the top... I have no idea what transplanted Austinites do when they find themselves in upstate N.Y. with a serious hankering for perfectly done brisket or ribs.... I guess they just suffer until they can get back and get in line at Franklin's, or Pokejo's. 

At any rate, the afternoon was going by quick so I grabbed a small camera and got ready. Walking sandals? Check. Sunscreen on face and arms? Check. Long sleeve technical fabric shirt with an SPF of 50? Check. Khaki shorts? Check. Decent hat? Check. Non-polarized sunglasses? (All the better to see screens with...) Check. Seemed pretty thorough but on days with UV at 10+ on a scale of 0-10 I was looking for just a little more protection. 

A couple of years ago I bought a UV umbrella from Whole Earth Provision Company. It's a small, collapsible umbrella with a reflective, silvered fabric on the side that faces the sun and black fabric on the side that faces Kirk. It's a perfect piece of portable shade, and since big swaths of my usual route are in direct sun I decided to bring it along. It's really kind of cool (literally and figuratively) to be able to bring your own shade with you...

I stuck a clip on my belt so the umbrella could hang out while I was shooting. And away we go. 

I parked my car in the usual, shaded spot and started walking downtown with my Sony a6300 and its 50mm f1.8 SEL lens (the APS-C version, not the new product disaster version...). I was about 20 minutes into the walk when I pulled the camera up to my eye to shoot yet another boring shot of the skyline with cranes when I noticed the distinctive visual pattern of a dust spot, dead center in the frame. And if it's big enough to see in the finder it's got to be a whopper.

I clicked the shutter and examined the image in review. Yep. A big hunk of dust hanging out right in the middle. I found the shutter cleaning feature in the menu and tried it several times. No luck. No happiness. I sighed. It was too late to turn back. I cruised on with the knowledge of my compromised camera weighing on my mind. 

The halfway point on my walk is the (nicely air conditioned and open to the public) Austin Convention Center. I ducked in, grabbed a drink of cool water from one of the water fountains and found a comfortable chair, and then I put on the reading glasses, popped off the lens and took a look at the sensor. Yep. There it was, a white piece of dust big enough to be seen by the almost naked eye. 

Against all logic and good sense I tried to blow it off with a puff of breath. Fortunately, the heat had dried me out so no spit flew onto my sensor. I came to my senses, put the lens back on and decided that the afternoon's take of photos would create a good opportunity to practice my retouching skills later on....

I left the convention center and wended my way down Sixth St., past the sleazy bars and the homeless panhandlers, past the Oxfam volunteers and Save the Children volunteers with their bright tee shirts and their clipboards with petitions and pledge cards. I stopped from time to time to document some of the better logos and signs on display --- like the one for the Dirty Dog Bar and the one just below, for the Velveeta Room (just love the microphones around the top half of the sign). 

And, of course, I am endlessly fascinated with the mystery of tattoos. I can't buy a shirt I'll like for more than a season or two, how do people think they'll want to keep tattoos all their lives?

Eventually I made it back to the car,  after stopping by Book People to get the latest copy of Photo District News. All in all, a pleasant way to spend a quiet Saturday afternoon. 

When I got back home Studio Dog gave me the look that said, "Where the heck have you been and why didn't I get to go?" She makes me laugh. She hates the heat. We would have gotten about three blocks before she would have plunked down and refuse to go any further. But I guess that's never the point...

The dust spot came off with the first puff of compressed air. All good now.





Hmmmm. No recent Austin music festival seems complete without the appearance of underwear models. I'm not sure of the connection but it's nice to see that not everyone in the city is getting fat....


Every once in a while I make it by Esther's Follies to see if Kerry Awn has painted new murals. 

See Austin! And then please go back home...

A Spread from the Kipp School Annual Report. Designed by Gretchen H. 

We are a culture of obsessive, serial upgraders. We're always looking for the "best" solution to imaging projects; as though the camera was responsible for creative decisions or building rapport with a subject. I get it when people upgrade because a feature like video might open up a new business opportunity. After shooting my first commercial project in 4K video I now get why someone might upgrade to take advantage of new video technology. But, looking around at the visual landscape, I'm not sure that upgrading still cameras is a very effective tactic. 

The longer the "digital revolution" drags on the more I am convinced that "heretics" like Ken Rockwell had it mostly correct when he preached that 6 megapixels was as much resolution as most photographers would ever need.  Or when he wrote a long piece about sharpness being an overrated parameter when judging the success or failure of an image. We've all moved on from 6 megapixels to 16 or 24 or even 50 megapixels but there is hardly any indication that the final quality of most advertising or editorial imaging is even marginally improved, in any sense, over what the previous generations of cameras provided us. 

More and more I hear from people who think their cameras have become "obsolete" because the company who made their camera has come out with an updated model. Many times the update has very little to do with image quality and is introduced as "new and improved" based solely on newer features or the fine-tuning of features none of us asked for in the first place.

While we've eventually found some uses for things like wi-fi, GPS, panoramic modes, super high frame rates, in camera HDR and more, most of these things have absolutely nothing to do with making images of higher overall visual quality and everything to do with slaking the mass market's camera attention/boredom disorder. People would rather master the working methodology of a new "feature," and find some sort of seemingly practical use for their newly mastered feature than actually practice the discipline of concentrating on the visual projects they previously professed to love or enjoy. 

It seems they are more interested, for example, in mastering GPS and being able to show people exactly where, on a map, they took a photograph than in taking the time and effort to actually make the photograph interesting enough that people would enjoy looking at it. Does it matter where in the world an image was taken if the lure of using new technology side-tracked the user to the extent that the example image failed miserably? And I am sorry but nearly everyone I know who is busy geo-tagging their images is profoundly....boring.

Does having HDR in a camera create a subconscious desire to stop looking at the subject matter you used to like in preference for new type of subject matter that might better show off the technical proficiency of the HDR feature you are attempting to master?

Is the compulsive use of super high frame rates really producing more "perfect moments" or is it just instrumental in building a library of almost identical images, the bulk of which are boring garbage but are good at showing off the speed at which you can operate the shutter?

I think about these things as I hear from friends, and even readers of the blog and then I open the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet closest to the door of the studio and rummage through the samples from years (and decades) past and try to see if I can actually see a difference in the final products of the cameras I use today when compared to past generations. 

The image above is a good example. It was taken with what most of us would now think of as a primitive camera. The camera was the quirky but lovely Sony R1. It boasted a 10 megapixel sensor, a slightly smaller than APS-C sensor and a two frame raw buffer. The lens was great but the AF was slow and kludgy by today's standards. The EVF was small and of a low resolution, and the camera lacked any video capability. 

But when it came out the R1 was viewed as a fine and very workable picture taking machine. In fact, because of, or in spite of its limitations I worked hard to deliver well lit and well seen image constructs to its sensor. The image in the brochure above is a tight crop of a much wider frame. The overall design project won Addy Awards for the design and photography, and it still shows well today in my portfolio. I can't think of a single "improvement" in my current cameras that would have made the images we created for the brochure any bit better. Even 11 years ago the technology already existed to make photographs whose technical qualities generally exceeded the talent of most practitioners. 

The one thing that makes me believe that this "obsolete-ism" is a false crutch is the fact that every time someone asks an audience to envision their "ultimate" digital camera the vast majority of audiences always come up with the same basic requests:  All I need are XX megapixels (whatever the current average is). I'd love a camera with no extra junk on it that I never use. I'd love a camera without video. I want the controls to be very simple and straightforward. I don't need or want any of the silly filter modes or picture modes; like sport, or lunch or baby mode. The menu should be drop dead simple and not cluttered up with too many choices. 

I think what I hear when people say, "My camera is obsolete, I need to upgrade to...." is really, "I am too lazy to go out and work to get good shots. I am too lazy to perfect my technique. It's a hell of a lot more fun to just play with new cameras. Maybe this year's camera will have an auto-pro mode that will make my photographs more interesting." 

I'm not pointing a finger at anyone else. I'm guilty of exactly the same thing.  
Always bring an extra paddle.

I worked on a video project this month. At every step, from script submission, to rough cut, to final cut, the project was thoroughly inspected and approved by a hierarchy of responsible people; including the CEO. The video will play tomorrow at the company's annual meeting. I delivered the video program to the client via an FTP delivery earlier in the week. I sent the same file to the A/V company that would be in charge of technically producing the show. A day later I got in my car and drove over to the A/V company to deliver a memory stick with six different file types of the same program to make sure they had back-ups and options. Thumbs up everywhere.

But even though I had "covered my bases" I asked if I could come out this morning to the rehearsal.
I put two extra memory sticks with the video program on them into the pocket of my khaki suit coat, gave my shoes a cursory re-plolish, had a last sip of Illy coffee and headed out to the little town, thirty miles away, where the show is being held.

When I got to the auditorium I found the person I had worked with on a daily basis for the project and handed her a memory stick. I did the same for the person she reports to. "Just a bit of insurance." I told them as I handed the Lexar memory sticks off.

We chatted and then the A/V company started going through the "run of show" and I watched the video I'd worked on spread across a 24 foot wide screen in the middle of the stage. I paid careful attention to every second. I listened as carefully as I knew how. The projection was perfect. Detailed and crispy. The audio was perfectly EQ'd through the house P.A.

I shook hands with the CEO (the only other person on the premises with a suit and tie) and we said nice things to each other in passing. Then I got in my car and headed back home.

Now I'll be able to get a good night's sleep knowing that the project will be presented correctly and that my clients would indeed get the value they paid for. Call it one more step in a quality control routine....

I got back to Austin and changed into take the day off clothes. Shorts and an old, weathered shirt. Tattered sandals. I warmed up a couple slices of the pizza we had last night for dinner and sat down to work on correcting some auto-correct "artifacts" in yesterday's blog post.

I felt calm knowing I had done everything in my control to make the client's video presentation during their annual meeting as good as I could. And that's a part of the job most people never get around to writing about. But I think it's critical, if you want the next project...
Sunday afternoon coffee at grandmother's house.

I know you've probably read a few RX10iii reviews from videographers around the web and they may have been lukewarm about their (short) experiences with the camera as a motion shooting tool but I have a different perspective. I have just used the RX10iii as a primary camera for a video project that we've been working on, in spurts, for over a month. Many days we put miles on the car and hours on the camera; going from one town to another in central Texas; shooting interview footage. 

Ben and I have recorded in driving rain, in ghastly heat and  humidity, under all kinds of lighting conditions, and in plain ole sunlight. We logged about three hours of 4K video and at least another hour of 1080p footage. We've scrolled through said footage for about 60 hours in order to log it, select it, use it, edit it and color correct it. We've given the camera's output a good, hard look. And, for the most part, I like what I've seen. So let me take some time to break it down. 

I've been watching the "one inch" camera space, and video camera space, for several years now having owned and extensively used all three of Sony's one inch RX10x  cameras. It has not escaped my notice that Sony also uses the same basic sensor technology in the PXW line of prosumer video camera like the x-70 and x-150. These video cameras are designed in the traditional video camera shape and structure and have some niceties that would be welcome on anyone's video productions. The two biggest features I wish I could transplant to the RX cameras would be: the ability to plug XLR microphones directly into the camera, without having to use an interface unit or having to buy the Sony pre-amp, connector contraption; and being able to select and use the 10 bit, 4:2:2 codec available in those cameras (in 1080p). 

Given that the RX10iii has the latest and most advanced version of the 20 megapixel BSI sensor it makes sense that the information coming off the sensor is equivalent between this camera and the latest dedicated, one inch, video cameras and so the difference in final output is mostly down to the processing. I waffled a bit before I started the project I alluded to above. I toyed with the idea of buying one of the dedicated video cameras but in the end I tested and tested the cameras I had at hand and did not find them wanting. My main method of shooting involved putting the camera into the 4K mode and shooting with a flat (but not as flat as an S-Log file) video picture profile. I mostly used #4 in the Sony picture profiles provided. 

When we brought the footage into Final Cut Pro X we transcoded the XAVCs 4K files to ProRes 422 and edited on a 1080p timeline. The downsampling of the 4K to 1080p yielded very, very good results. Noise was low and detail was head and shoulders above almost any 1080p camera files I have seen so far. I was also a little nervous about how well the RX10iii would handle higher ISO settings in video but I was able to go to 800 ISO without noticeable noise, and at those settings there was no diminishing of detail, contrast or saturation when viewing the files after conversion to the editing file type. With those considerations behind me I moved forward with confidence in the technical aspects of the cameras; what remained to be seen was the handling and operational complexity of working with a camera that attempts to straddle two worlds --- video and still imaging. 

I used the camera in two basic ways. I either put it on a big, Manfrotto video tripod with a stout fluid head, or I used it with a shoulder mount that went a long way toward physically stabilizing the camera. With the shoulder mount there was little-to-no low level, hand-induced jitter to mess up the shots. While I'm not stable enough to keep the camera rigidly in one spot for thirty seconds or a minute I was certainly able to hold the camera steady enough for 10 to 15 second insert shots, and general B-roll. When we shot B-roll with people, in interview situations, we were generally using the RX10ii, also on a good tripod system.

When I used the shoulder rig I also took advantage of the camera's very, very good image stabilization. In 1080p mode the camera can take advantage of the five axis technology that they've obviously bought from Olympus. When combined with the shoulder mount the camera, across the focal lengths, was smooth as baby oil on glass. All motion was well damped. In fact, I shot a number of sequences of flood waters from an observation point that required me to use the long, 600mm, end of the lens quite a bit. Even at 600mm the footage is sharp and steady. It gets even better if I exhale while shooting....

Holding the camera in one's hands and using it without a tripod or a shoulder mount the camera becomes no better or worse (stability) than what I experienced last year shooting a restaurant video with a brace of Olympus EM5-2 cameras.  At any rate it is profoundly better at stabilizing images in video then anything I've used from Nikon. I think part of the performance of the camera's stabilization has to do with advantages conferred by the size of the sensor. A smaller sensor requires less movement to stabilize and has appreciably less mass to continually stop, start and control. While the O.S.S is good on the A7r2 body it doesn't hold a candle to the full, active O.S.S. on the RX10 series. (Full active only on 1080p. 3 Axis on 4K).

When I use the shoulder mount I am pulling the rig into my shoulder while shooting, holding the grip in my right hand and using my left hand under the camera and rig as a further point of stabilization. Just holding a naked camera up to my eye seems to be less effective --- by a long shot.

Much has been written about how poor the menu structure in the camera is, that's why I have nearly every video control I typically use set up on the function menu which comes up with the touch of one button. On mine I generally have: The microphone level control. The steady shot menu. The focus area.  The ISO. Face detection on/off. The White Balance menu. Focus Peaking controls. Zebras Control. Picture Profile menu. And, Exposure compensation. There's one intentionally left for still imaging; its's the drive mode...for those times when I want to switch to a self-timer.

Given that the menu structure is the same as that in the other five Sony cameras I use I've gotten used to the locations in the menu for stuff I use all the time but can't set on the function menu. Things like formatting, file types, file sizes, aspect ratio, and creative styles. (creative styles and aspect ratio can be selected but only by sacrificing one of the other six functions I've already chosen...).

So, how do I shoot with the camera when making video? I always start with a cleanly formatted card. Even though I find the camera's automatic white balance to be accurate 95% of the time I either set a preset WB (like "daylight" if I am shooting outdoors in the sun, or "cloudy" if I am shooting in overcast) or a custom white balance. I do this so the white balance or color balance of the frame will not shift or change if I pan across a scene or move the camera so that it sees a large field of one color or another. Lately, when using mixed lighting I am always making a quick custom white balance from a Lastolite White Balance target just before I start shooting.

Before you shoot you'll have to select your "file type" and also the size/data rate. If I set my camera to XAVCs 4K I'll need to go to the menu just below that and choose from 4 different settings: 30p at 100 M, 30p at 60M, 24p at 100M or 24p at 60M. The M refers to mbs. I generally shoot fun stuff for me at 24p @100M and client stuff at 30p@100M. Interestingly, while the XAVCs codec was problematic to edit in the past it can be used directly in the Final Cut Pro X now, without transcoding. Even in 4K.

In most situations where I shoot for clients I start with 4K and then downsample in editing to the more standard, and almost universal, 1080p size. This gives me great image quality and, if I want to do severe cropping or "Ken Burns pan and scan" stuff I can have the editing program refer to the full sized content to use so there is no quality loss.

There is one other size and file type setting that I'm getting good use from when shooting fast motion and I want to have the option to slow down the speed in post; that's the 120p @100M setting. If I am working on a 30 fps timeline I can slow the 120p footage down by up to a factor of 4 to create a very impactful (and smooth) slow motion effect. Unlike the higher frame rates available this one works in 1080p and can run for a full (almost) thirty minutes. If you place 120p footage on a 30p timeline but do not slow it down what you really get is incredibly smooth image quality. Also, since you are shooting at a higher shutter speed (1/250th), pulling 2 megapixel still frames that are convincingly sharp is less hit-and-miss.

Once we've got the settings taken care of we can start setting up to shoot. If I am working under bright sunlight I generally don't want to stop down past f8.0, and there is no built in neutral density filter, so I use a variable neutral density filter over the lens. I work with the lowest ISO available in the video mode (100), set the aperture I want, as well as the shutter speed that matches my fps setting 1/50th or 1/60th --- in most cases) and then dial in the amount of ND that matches everything up.

While I can use the live histogram to help me zero in on the correct exposure I find the use of the zebras to be quicker and more efficient. If I am shooting outside I set my zebras to come on when the highlights hit 100%. I look for the lightest tone in my shot (usually puffy white clouds in blue sky) and I rotate the VND until the zebras just start to appear in the bright spots of the clouds.

If we're not including sky I'm happy if someone in the scene is wearing white because I can use that for zebras. If wardrobe isn't cooperating I pull out the Lastolite WB target, flip it to the white side and then use that in the scene to find the 100% (255) mark. I can always err on the side of being just a little dark but once you crest the 100% mark with your white tones they are lost to you. Using the zebras a nice safety feature.

After I've gotten the scene comped, balanced and well exposed the last thing I need to do before I start shooting is to focus the camera. Now, in bright light (above about EV6) the camera does a great job of autofocusing, but there are a few things you should know. First of all, the options for AF are narrowed down to just two: Continuous AF and Manual. There is no locked in S-AF. Many people who are used to locking in their focus in S-AF with the halfway hold of the shutter button will be disappointed when they get bit by this because in video it's going to be C-AF  regardless of where the focus control knob is set or you can use manual focus. By that I mean you can have the camera set at "S" on the front control but the camera will ignore that command and default to C-AF. You have been warned. If you set it to "manual" then you get manual focus.

Sometimes I'll let the camera focus a wide scene in C-af but the bane of that is you never know, especially with a moving subject or a moving camera, when the C-af will decide to hunt. I might start the focusing process by letting the camera find the subject in AF then lock the focus and switch to MF for the actual shooting. That works quickly and well for the most part but many scenes will require you to manual focus. Many, many scenes.

So, you have a long lens that's not particularly fast, given the sensor footprint. That makes it really hard to just look at the screen and fine focus. Objects don't just pop in and out of focus as they do on large format cameras when using very fast lenses wide open.  Even the focus peaking is too optimistic for critical use. The only way to go is to use focus magnification. But in video you are limited to a limited resolution when in the video setting. In video the biggest magnification available is 5.8X. Might be enough for young and agile eyes, or wide angle work, but for perfect focusing with longer focal lengths, wide open, you might want more. Sometimes I'll head back to the still photography mode settings, hit the magnifier in that mode, selecting 11X or more, get the focus nicely grooved in using the manual setting and then switch back to video mode. The frame size may change slightly but the focus doesn't seem to change as long as I don't re-zoom or hit the focusing ring. It takes a bit longer but at least you'll know you've got the sucker as sharply rendered as it's going to get.


Now we're ready to shoot. One thought about fine tuning image quality... a big VND on the front of the lens means you probably aren't going to be able to use the supplied shade while shooting but all that exposed glass just seems to attract flare the way first graders attract colds. There are two things you need to do. If you are shooting wide angles you've got to keep the front surface of the filter stringently clean. At wide angles there is actually enough depth of field at certain apertures to show dirt on the lens! I carry liquid lens cleaner and a cleaning cloth with me in the bag. I end up using it a  lot. But also you'll find that a dirty filter, or a filter prone to flare, needs to have the right kind of shade or flag to subdue the nastiness that is non-image forming light. In 2013 I bought a lens flag that uses a velcro strap to attach it to a lens. The rectangular flag can be positioned anywhere around the lens to block flare inducing light. The panel can also be bent (armature wire inside) to hold a shape or position.  I never used the device until I started shooting video with the RX10iii and now I use the blocker all the time. Kills flare. Makes pictures crisp, contrasty and more saturated --- especially in conjunction with the variable neutral density filter.
An inexpensive Zomei VND. I bought a 77mm that I use with a 72-77mm step up ring.

The lens is wonderfully sharp from wide open until diffraction becomes noticeable (which is also dependent on the focal length setting). You can get away with smaller apertures at longer focal lengths. At the wide end I shoot between wide open and f4.0.   Some people have bitched and moaned about the fact that this incredibly sharp and well corrected lens gets slower as it gets longer. While many of us set a focal length for a shot and resist "tromboning" the zoom control for some it's a necessity to be able to change the framing while shooting and there is a simple solution to maintain the exposure equally across a zoom from 24-600mm. Just set the aperture to the maximum minimum aperture. If it is f4.0 at 600mm start by setting the aperture at f4.0. It will not change as the lens zooms. That seems pretty logical but I guess some people want it all; the ability to go from 24mm to 600mm at f2.4 with no change. Sorry, they don't make that lens yet.

While some of the other Sony cameras I use (a6300) have noticeable rolling shutter with fast moving subjects or fast pans the RX10iii seems pretty immune to the effect. I do not fear following moving cars or moving the camera. (rolling shutter shows up as distortions of the image; or "jello" cam).

If you get all the ducks in a row, and you are using the picture profile or creative setting that gives you the tones you want, then you've got the visual end of the camera down. If you've done it right you'll get footage/content that's as good as any 4K camera on the market under $2,000, and maybe a lot better than a few that are well over $2,000...

And you'll be able to do this for thirty minute "bursts" without having to stop. So far, the hottest day we shot on this month, outdoors, was about 95 with 85% humidity. It was uncomfortable for humans but, as long as I kept the camera flagged from direct sun exposure (a practice consistent all the way up the moving making food chain) the camera never experienced an alarm or a shutdown for heat. In fact, even when used in full sun I never saw a heat warning. Sony has certainly done some good engineering here compared to 4K use in the a6300 camera.

The Achille's heel for some shooters is battery life. I see where the are coming from. I understand their pain. But it's not something that bothers me much, if at all. I've never had a battery last for less time than a full 30 minute take. I carry a box of generic batteries (Wasabi Power, etc.) with me on every paying shoot. I check the battery level before we start shooting. If the interview will be a long one I'll change the battery before we get going. If we're in the studio with the camera connected to a monitor via HDMI and the camera's "energy saver" duration set to infinity (never shuts off) I can connect one of those USB Lithium battery packs to the USB connector on the camera and have ten times the reserve I would have in a fresh camera battery. One big, 10,000 maH battery will last for days and days. I sometimes wish for bigger batteries, mostly when I am walking around and don't want to carry anything more in my pockets than a $10 bill for coffee, but then I find myself being perfectly happy with the overall size of the camera and not anxious for it to grow bigger. You just can't have it both ways.

Someone will take me to task for not mentioning the fact that the aperture ring can be "unclicked" so that it becomes a noiseless operation to change f-stops but frankly, I've never had the use for it yet. We're pretty locked down when we're lit, on a tripod and shooting an interview. If we needed to change the aperture to compensate for changing light outdoors I think it would be easier and probably just as effective to set the camera of Auto-ISO instead. That way we could have automatic compensation for light level changes but keep the f-stop set for the depth of field we wanted in the first place.

Most of the time I don't want to change aperture but might want to fine tune the exposure and I'll set the camera to Auto-ISO and just use the exposure compensation for fine tuning. Not the clickity manual EV control on the top of the camera (I am convinced that is for stills...) but the menu driven exposure compensation (which you will notice is one of my presets on the function menu) because it changes the compensation noiselessly so I can effect the change while shooting. Nicely flexible camera, yes?

Let's move on to audio, shall we? The major benefit of a conventional, professional or prosumer video camera is having balanced XLR connectors for two microphones built into the camera body (or handle). Grab the XLR cables, pop them into the connectors with microphones on the other end and you are ready to set your levels and get after it. But the RX10iii, with it's need to stay relatively small and to do double duty as both a still and a video camera compromises by leaving off the professional audio connectors. This, however, doesn't mean it's a crippled audio tool like older generations of DSLRs with their bad audio circuits and auto level controls. No, it turns out that the RX10iii has very good preamplifiers but they sit just inboard of a small and more fragile 3.5mm stereo connector.

While there are a growing number of decent stereo microphones that can be used directly into the camera there are far more really, really good microphones that don't match the unbalanced, higher impedance connection, and you might want to use one of those microphones. There are a number of relatively inexpensive "boxes" that can take a balanced XLR input, transform the impedance to match a typical consumer camera input and output the signal to a 3.5mm connector. Voila, pro microphone into (new style) production camera with 3.5mm inputs. The Beachtek D2A that I use also has knobs to separately control the volume of two microphones, a switch to choose between line levels and mic levels and the ability to have stereo input or to have one microphone send the same mono signal to both channels in the camera. Very cool. About $180 bucks. No active circuitry to add any noise.

Also, no extra batteries required. But there is one downside....

Some microphones depend on the device they are plugged into to supply the electrical power they need to work. In the parlance of the industry, they require "phantom power." Their needs range from 24V to 48V DC. Most professional, full time video cameras offer phantom power as an built in feature. Neither the RX10iii nor the D2A have that feature set and it's something that both my nice Sennheiser MK-600 shotgun microphone and my Audio Technica large diaphragm, narrator microphone require. While you can  buy dedicated power supply that delivers phantom power to microphones both my Zoom H4N and my Tascam DR-60ii digital audio recorders offer the feature across all channels. Even if I want the convenience of having the audio on the same memory card and in the same file as the video I can still use the digital audio recorders as pre-amps+mixers+phantom power supplies and then run a connector from the output of the digital audio recorder into my camera to record both audio and video to its internal SD card.

If I take the time to calibrate my camera to my digital audio recorder with a 1K test tone, at a known signal strength, I can set the camera to a value of -12 Db and then use the controls on the digital audio recorder to control the strength of the signal being output to the camera. That gives me the ability to amplify the signal (in the case of a microphone with a very low output level) which I can't do with the Beachtek, or to use the same control to turn down the level and prevent clipping the signal. Just like white levels in the visual portion of our program, once the digital audio signal goes over 0 dB it's just a mess.

It doesn't matter if I'm bringing the signal straight into the camera from the microphone or D2A or amplifying it and bringing it in through a digital audio mixer: I'm going to be listening to the audio I'm getting by plugging in a set of high quality, closed ear, headphones plugged into the camera's headphone jack. It's pretty mandatory. You want to make sure that the final signal is good, not just some intermediary signal. I could listen to a signal coming off the audio recorder but if the cable to the camera is bad, or the camera is set incorrectly, I will never know until it's too late and I'm trying to edit the footage in the studio, late at night. That would be so sad....

Here's the deal with audio into the RX10iii. If you get the levels right, if you match the impedance of the microphone to the camera's input, if you put your microphone in the right place, if you condition your shooting environment to get rid of audio problems (bounce, echo, noise), the microphone pre-amplifiers in the RX10iii are very good and mostly noise free. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that they use the same monolithic audio processing chip that the bigger and more expensive cameras in the line up do. After all, the audio is linear PCM and that's mature technology. The difference between a great audio processor chip and a run of the mill one is probably a buck or two at the most and it just doesn't seem like this is a place where Sony cut corners.

People have all kinds of opinions on audio and only some of them are based on facts, or even good exercises in eliminating mismatches and variables. I've done my research and tried to do a good job of matching electrical interfaces in the audio pathway. If another reviewer says the audio is "crap" or "noisy" put the review down and do your own tests. Use the right mics. Use the right cables. Use the right matching boxes. Use the right levels. And then listen for yourself on a really nice set of headphones, not the earbuds from your Samsung Galaxy phone. See for yourself. You might find that Sony knows what they are doing in the audio world. A lot.

Well, after a lot of hands-on shooting I can say I really respect this camera as a video capture tool. The video pathway is good in 10080p and great in 4K. The range of controls for picture profiles, time code, exposure controls and parameter fine tuning is great as well. The lens does what it was designed to do and does it very well. The audio recording section of the camera is quite good (to my ears much better than the audio in the Panasonic GH4 on which I shot a long project in 2014.. ) and the camera is capable of making great content.

It's a pretty camera and it's well designed. After 40 or 50 hours of time spent in your hands doing work the camera maps to your brain pretty well and the controls become comfortably familiar. There were no hiccups in our editing. Nothing from the camera created problems. Any production problems were human judgement induced. If there was a noisy track it was from my hubris in shooting during a driving rainstorm, in a warehouse with a metal roof. If there was a focus problem with face detection AF it was my fault for trying to make it work under lighting conditions that also made manual focusing difficult. I should have added more light, not blamed the camera.

The camera has lived on the floor of my car for weeks at a time. It shot in the rain with basically a plastic bag draped over it. It's been banged into stuff. I continues on without any symptoms of abuse being visible, or emerging in use.

There are a few things the camera doesn't do but, in fact, they are very minor omissions in the grand scheme of cameras. Generally the camera won't give you narrow depth of field. I miss that sometimes when making portraits in that last century style that we've all come to love so much. It's not a rocket fast focuser like the Panasonic fz 1000 surely is. It would be nice of Sony could put the same PD focusing tech they used on the a6300 sensor onto the next generation one inch sensors. And, instead of bigger batteries it would be nice if Sony could invent more efficient batteries. Maybe a little plutonium core for a power source that only needs recharged once every fifty years. Oh yeah, another complaint is the lack of a built in ND filter. Easily remedied in the aftermarket....

Had this camera been launched about eight years ago, into the video market of the time, it would have easily sold for ten or twenty thousand dollars. Don't believe me? Go back and look at what was there at the time and what the costs were.

After using this camera on a long project and several one day projects, and having edited hours of 4K and 1080p footage I can honestly say that the only thing you'll likely miss are physical controls to control sound levels, and the ability to get very narrow depth of field. For the money it's a great video camera and I'm happy to use it for a wide range of shooting situations, including typical run and gun stuff. You know, jump out of a pick-up truck in the rain with the camera on one shoulder, line up your shot and record linemen working to replace blown transformers, brush the rain off, get in the truck and head to the next site. Nice.

But what is the underlying story? For me it's the fact that this generation of one inch sensor cameras (including the Panasonic fz 1000 and all previous RX10 models) is good enough to compete in projects at every level except when exacting parameters like narrow d-o-f and super high ISO are required. That the age of mandatory interchangeable lens cameras as professional tools is so last decade. That tech is slowly homogenizing the very top and the middle markets with cameras that enjoy very similar final output products. With good processing, and post processing skills, the images from the one inch sensor cameras can rival the full frame super cameras that used to be the signature of the working professional. There are "outlier" applications where ultimate image quality is still important but those are few and far between and are not really relevant to the way most professionals conduct their day to day work. Be it video or still imaging. Feels like another sea change coming on.










You can talk a good game but at some point in the creative process the people with the checkbooks are going to want to see your work. Sure, you can send them to your website and they can look at your work on their phone. If you're lucky they'll have their laptop handy and then they can see your work on a 13 inch, coffee-spotted screen with lots of glare and reflection layered over the top. Just what you need in order to show off the nuances of your incredibly detailed technique, right?

Or....you could actually make prints as you go merrily along your career path, and with enough prints you could put them into a book, or an album. You could make a book of images with similar styles and your work would look really cool when you showed it to clients in the right now, on the spur of the moment, in a quiet time between rounds at happy hour. 

The benefit of the book I made above is that the 10 inch by 10 inch prints which grace every spread are more than big enough to show detail and craft and yet, closed, the 10 x10 book is wonderfully portable. It fits in your camera bag, or your computer bag, or whatever you carry around with you. 

It works in almost any light. Your client can hold it in their hands or they can put it down on a table and it will lay flat. They get to leaf through your art at their leisure, their pace. They can stop from time to time to tell you once again that you are a genius.

Multiple people can see it from multiple angles. If the power goes out you can step into the fresh air and still show your work. It's like magic. And taking the time to print your images, sequence your images, produce a book and carry it with you shows the possible source of work and income in front of you that you are serious. You've thought about your work, its presentation, and it's overall consistency. It shows you've got skin in the game. Commitment. 

Wow. That's a lot of marketing packed into a small, square space. Get serious. Make a book of your work. Just a small one with 30 photographs. How hard can it be? You are serious about all this, right?


I constantly come across photographers who can't seem to work on their own. They need assistants at their sides even for the most rudimentary of jobs. In some quarters it feels like a fashionable thing to have plenty of people around to get the photographer coffee or a juice box. I can imagine that some would never consider carrying their own gear or opening their own doors. And, of course, they would be lost without someone to keep constant tabs on their smartphone to alert the photographer instantly if the need arose for an emergency Instagram posting...

Beyond their own entourages many photographers absolutely need the minute by minute supervision of art directors and clients to help guide them through the process of.....taking photographs.  How do I know this? I talk to other members of these photographer's teams, like the digital techs.  The prevailing trend is to shoot everything tethered to the biggest screen one can find. With a tethered monitor the group centric photographer can crowdsource things like: taste, vision, style, color preferences and even simultaneous post production looks. Imagine being in a creative business without ever having to make a creative decision on your own. How marvelous (dripping sarcasm...). 

I can just imagine the scene when a client whimsically decides to proffer the idea of shooting outside, on a city street. "Can you imagine it?" she might exclaim, "We could have the models walking briskly down the sidewalk--- and get this--- they would be holding our products!!!!" The entourage squeals with delight as the second first assistant calls a rental house to source a digital tech cart with bigger wheels....maybe even a servo motor for self propulsion.  Another second second assistant calls to make sure the digital tech's chair can be attached as well. 

Now we have ten or twelve or more people moving down the side walk with two models. The photographer is shooting and then craning his neck to see what he got on the monitor as it rolls by on the cart with big wheels. His girlfriend and a series of first, second and third assistants chime in to either critique or to make "oooooohing" and "ahhhhhing" sounds of mystified approval while the digital tech struggles to both add a post production "look" to the material while correcting the exposure ("no real artist understands how to use a meter!") and simultaneously uploading selected images to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. One layer of the entourage has their cellphones at the ready, doing behind the scenes photos of the "team" working while a second layer of second assistants snaps them snapping selfies as well. 

Doesn't really matter how good or bad the photographs are as everything is destined to go along to a retoucher who will pay for his new boat by fixing the mess the entourage created. Always sad though when no one in the entourage pays attention to the cross walks and the digital imaging cart gets creamed by a bus. Thank God the fourth assistant called the rental house to specify an ejector chair for the the digital tech. Oh, photography has become so much more difficult and unpredictable since the invention of digital imaging. 

Written after realizing that the photos above came from a project I did in New York city with no entourage. Just a bag of film, a couple of cameras, a light meter and a few lights. The ad agency didn't send along an art director. The client didn't demand a stylist or a make-up person. Was it really so easy to do good, fun work back then? Yes. I generally find that having an entourage of any size doubles the amount of time anything takes, homogenizes all creativity, quadruples the budgets and puts the photographer into a situation where he has to listen to inane chatter all day long. 

If I had to work this way I'd sign up for a different occupation. Preferably one that could be done far from the madness of group think. #teamworkSucks

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