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  • Dimensions: 310 x 310 x 80 mm
  • Weight: 916 g
  • Material: Plastic
  • Colors: White
  • Max. speed: 14.3 m/s
  • Max. altitude: 50 m
  • Max. photo resolution: 2 MP
  • Max. video resolution: 720p


Quadcopters are the most popular commercial type of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or simply drones. They come in all varieties and sizes, designed for different purposes with different properties and features. Some quadcopters are a little more than a hovering toy for kids to have fun with.

Some drones are a bit more serious, and can be used for adult entertainment and recreational sports like racing.

Than you have video drones, which are usually mid-range quadcopters with an integrated or a mounted camera, used by people who want to record personal events, such as wedding and birthday parties.

High end drones, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars are used commercial aerial photography at high profile events or for long-range deliveries.

The Syma X5C Explorers



Like with most products, if you want a capable quadcopter you have invest a potentially painful amount of money. That is until we came across the Syma X5C, a drone with a HD camera that will thin your wallet ever so slightly. It is normally hard to get excited about an entry-level quadcopter, especially for someone who has experience with high-end UAVs, but it is also hard not to get excited about a deal this good.

The Syma X5C is made for amateur pilots who want something more than a low-altitude indoor toy quadcopter. When we say more we mean an integrated camera with the ability to record high definition video, a dedicated remote controller and a drone with stabilization that can fly higher and farther.

Body and design


It features a design which looks like it’s been inspired by DJI’s Phantom line, which actually makes it look pretty good. Despite being made almost entirely out of plastic, it feels quite durable. As a bonus, you will get four propeller guards for each of the rotors. The guards are made out of hard plastic and attached to the body with screws. We’ve tested the drone with moderate hits against hard objects and the guards did their job perfectly, protecting both the drone and foreign objects. Battery is located at the bottom center side and is very easy to access and replacement. In fact, Syma has included two battery packs in the package, which is a nice little bonus.

If you somehow manage to crash this drone, you will be happy to hear that Syma has made sure all of X5C’s parts are available individually for replacement. So, all you would have to do is order the required parts and follow the detailed manual on how to replace the broken part. If you are not comfortable with doing it yourself, you can take it to an official service center, or even a local drone shop and they will do it for you. X5C has a fairly simple design so it shouldn’t be a problem to manage the repairs.

Both the quadcopter and the camera are powered by a 3700 mAh battery which will give you about 6-8 minutes of flight time with the camera recording continuously. Admittedly, this flight time is far from impressive, limiting to any serious aerial photography or videography and without the failsafe automatic return home function, presents a danger of crashing if the user is not careful. To make matters worse, it takes up to 90 minutes to charge battery fully, just so you could juice it out in a few minutes. Luckily, you get an extra battery pack so you can have reserve batteries. Also, these battery are quite inexpensive so you could order multiple packages.

One of the great features of the Syma X5C is the 6-axis stabilization system, which comes as an enormous help for stable flight, especially when taking off or landing. For example, you can simply throw the drone out in the air and push the thrust stick, and it will immediately stabilize in the air. So, there is no chance of it flying at a random direction and crashing. The same goes for landing, it stabilizes nicely and helps to safely land. Overall, it is much easier to fly than entry-levels copters without stabilization.




The integrated HD 720p camera is nothing to write hope about, other than the fact that it’s there, which is impressive on its own. Don’t expect to shoot commercials with this camera, or any kind of serious commercial video. But it’s not all that bad, it is still in HD resolution and it will do a fine job of recording for everyday activities, such as family events. It won’t much during night but with good lighting, you should be quite pleased. Overall, considering the price, it’s a great camera.

There is no image stabilization in the camera so do expect some shaky videos and potentially blurry photos. Although if you want to, you can stabilize the video with simple software post-production.

Another nice bonus is the included 4GB MicroSD card for saving those videos.

Optionally, you can buy an upgraded camera with Wi-Fi built-in. This would enable you to connect the drone to your smartphone (iOS or Android app) and watch a live video feed of your camera during flight, in a FPV (First Person View). This brings this quadcopter to an even higher level.


For what it costs, Syma X5C HD Quadcopter is a great drone with a HD camera and 6-axis flight stabilization included. It is great for beginners, amateurs and anyone who wants a capable video drone at a cheap price. All the essential features are covered with some nice bonuses such as rotor guards and extra batteries. Not everything is perfect so the image quality from the camera is a bit underwhelming and there is no IS, but you can’t have it all from a quadcopter in this price range. It won’t stay for long in the air but while it’s up there it is super fun to fly, has great agility and can even pull of some tricks like a 360-degree flips.

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Aerial Video Drone

A video droneis the new big thing in tech market, one of  the most exciting products of the 21st century’s electronic consumer industry. It’s not surprising, since people today love nothing more than to take photos and video, and what a better way to do it than from air.

There are several reasons why video drones are becoming widely popular. First of all, thanks to advancements in technology it is no longer that hard or that expensive to manufacture a drone. What was once mysterious stealth technology in the hands of the military, is now almost a normal, everyday product owned by your average Joe.

Actually, the technology to make a drone, even a consumer-ready drone, was already here much longer than the consumer drones themselves. Of course, there needed to be demand in order to have production.

Cameras have been developing rapidly since the rise of smartphones, action cameras and other compact system cameras, as well as DSLRs. Every year companies would push the technology a step further, in order to attract consumers with ‘the next big thing’. Remember the megapixel wars? All of this has made it possible to have impressive, but affordable video drones today.

In the broadest sense, they are all called UAVs, which stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. As the name says, these drones are unmanned, which means they are controlled remotely, using a computer or a remote controller. This is exactly the reason they are so attractive to everyone, be it for government, news stations, commercial companies or just normal consumers.

Drones are equally fun and useful. There is something mightily futuristic about being able to control a flying robot using a joystick. There was a time when a company had to rent a private airplane or a helicopter, and hire a professional pilot in order to get some aerial shots for commercial purposes. Today all it takes is a small video drone and a remote controller, which is so easy to operate that even children can do it.

Types of drones:

It is important to point out that out not all drones are the same and there are several different types. We are of course mainly interested in commercial drones, technically referred to as Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Furthermore, commercial drones consist almost entirely of quadcopters, or quadrotors, which is a small multi-rotor helicopter. They are propelled by four fixed pitched rotors. Each rotor is able to independently change its speed, thus enabling the control of flight direction.

Drones are also classified by drone packages, and this refers to the purchasing packages available at commercial retailers. There are two main classifications; RTF (Ready To Fly) and BTF (Bind To Fly).

RTF drones, like the name says, are ready to fly out-of-the-box. This is by far the most popular drone package, thanks to its simplicity. Consumers want it simple, and there is nothing more simple than a product which requires no further adjustments after purchasing, and is immediately ready to be used.

However, not all drone pilots are simple consumers looking to have fun or commercial aerial photographers looking to get the job done as fast as possible. There are many drone enthusiasts who are willing to put in some additional effort and hassle into preparing their perfect drone for flight. That is where BTF drones come into play. BTF drone package is actually a drone-only package, meaning you get a drone, but not a controller. Bind to Fly refers to binding, or connecting a remote controller to a drone. Since pilots don’t get a controller in the package they purchased, they are expected to have, or to make one of their own.

Drone cameras:

Similarity to BTF drones, which don’t come with a controller, not all drones feature a camera. For those interested in aerial photography and videography, you should buy yourself a drone which already has an integrated camera ready for recording. Other than that there are also drones with a camera-ready mount, this can be a sort of a universal mount or  a GoPro-ready mount. This way you can install a video camera of your choosing on your drone.

Of course, there is also the possibility of a DIY (Do It Yourself) drone, that is creating an improvised, homemade drone from scratch, and installing a camera of your choosing. If building an entire drone from scratch sounds like too much trouble, one could create an improvised mount on an existing drone.

As far as a video drone is concerned, the video camera is obviously the most important factor to consider. First thing to watch for there is video resolution, and just like in any camera market, there is a lot to choose from. An entry-level video drone only records sub-HD resolution who’s camera is used merely for flying with a first-person POV (Point of View). Other drone cameras offer standard 720p HD and 1080p Full HD resolutions. Just like action cameras, drone cameras have come a long way, with high end video drones now offering 2.7K or even Ultra HD 4K video recording.

Most video drone cameras come with an wide-angle lens in order to fit as much as possible in the view. Some of those cameras have a field of view of as much as 170°, which is so wide that it distorts the image, creating the famous fish-eye effect.

Video Drone Advanced features:


Higher end video drones also feature some very interesting and useful automated functions. For example, using a signal from the controller, a drone is able to track the pilot. Some companies label this feature as a “Follow me mode”. Not only can the drone follow your location, but it also able face you at all times during tracking, which gives a unique perspective and an opportunity to shoot self videos.

Advanced video drones are also able to follow (and record) a previously designated trajectory along a two or more waypoints. There also functionalities such as hovering in once place, automatic lift off and landing, as well as some neat tricks such as 360-degree flips and others. In fact, there are drones which house an open source operating system, such as Linux, which are open to any kind of programming imaginable.

Video drones are very powerful tools for shooting aerial videos, be it for personal use or for commercial footage with broadcast quality. Drones themselves are very diverse, flexible devices which can be utilized in various ways to create high quality and unique video footage.

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I'm out on vacation until the first of September but I wanted to give you a link to my Studio Portrait Lighting class that is $25 off the regular price. It's a fun course and this link makes it so inexpensive. Try it. If you aren't happy they'll refund your purchase. See you on the 1st.

The course is fun and you can watch it as many times as you like.

Just a quick note to let you know that tickets have just gone on sale for the Gulf Photo Plus PopUP event in Berlin for the weekend of October 29-30.

If you are unfamiliar with GPP's PopUP, it is a road version/distillation of their world-famous Photo Week in Dubai. Each year, it is held in a far-flung city somewhere in the world that is not Dubai. It is done over a weekend, so as to be able to be fit in with many peoples' work schedules.

The faculty sometimes varies, but this year it is the core group: Greg Heisler, Joe McNally, Zack Arias and me. The weekend will feature a half-day with each person. Basically, like being in front of a fire hose.

This is the fourth PopUP GPP has held. I have been involved in three of them, and they are one of the most enjoyable photo events I can think of. If Berlin is reachable for you and you are available for a weekend this fall, I strongly encourage you to attend.

(And as an FYI, Berlin has a large and thriving photo community, so this is expected to sell out quickly.)

For more info, and/or to register, head over to the Gulf Photo Plus PopUP site.


How to get a blurred background in photos

Somewhere at the start of the adventure that is photography, a newer photographer will soon realize that having your subject stand out from the background, really gives the photo a near-3-dimensional effect. Your subject just pops out with the background blurred. The question of how to get blurred backgrounds in photos, is easily answered.

There are two ways to blur the background in a photography – In-camera (i.e., optical) vs Photoshop. Doing it in Photoshop is in my opinion, a boring way to spend an afternoon when you could be out shooting. Much more fun, and much more satisfying, is doing this in camera. The method in this case is quite easy – it comes down to lens and aperture choice.

Back in the day of film cameras, the camera would come with a standard lens – the 50mm lens. These lenses always had a fast aperture of f1.8 or so. If you shoot at a wide aperture, the background will go out of focus. There are other factors at play as well, and we will discuss them, but that’s the essential part – your choice of aperture. While 50mm lenses were the standard many decades ago, it is now more common to find slower zooms as the kit lens that comes with a camera. These lenses have apertures in the range of f/4 to f/5.6 … and they are relatively smaller apertures that make the background sharper.

So for a blurred background, it is up to us to control the aperture and our subject’s distance from the background. Have a look at this overlay of images, and you will see how the background becomes progressively sharper with a smaller aperture.



Newer photographers, don’t be confused by the technical wording. Even though f/2.8 is numerically smaller than f/16, it is in fact the wider or larger aperture. In comparison, f/16 is a smaller aperture. The convention is to describe the aperture size (wide / large / small) in relation to the physical size of the lens opening, and not the numerical value. In other words, never describe f/2.8 as a smaller aperture than f/16 – stay with the accepted phrasing. This is important and not merely a pedantic point.

That slideshow appeared in a previous article here which discussed depth-of-field and aperture change.  One of the best explanations of depth-of-field, is on the Cambridge in Color website. Well worth a visit if you want to get a handle on depth-of-field and aperture choice.


Things which control how blurred the background appears

Your choice of aperture – the wider your aperture, the more blurred your background.

Your choice of lens – the longer your lens, the more the background will appear to be blurred. There’s a caveat here though – for the same positioning of your subject in relation to the camera, the DoF will be the same for different focal lengths! But with the enlarged view of the longer lens, the background will still somehow appear to be more blurred, even if technically it isn’t when you do actual cropped comparisons. Still, we can comfortably say that the longer your focal length, the more blurred the background will appear.

The distance between your subject and the background. No use backing your subject up against something and then hoping to blur it. Have your subject step well forward of things. The further the better.

The optical quality of your lens known as ‘bokeh’ – a description of how the background blur is rendered. Some lenses will, for the same aperture, give a smoother rendition than other lenses which might show a more harsh rendition of the background. More info here: Bokeh vs shallow depth-of-field (DoF).


Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used

  • Left: 1/4000 @ f/1.4 @ 100 ISO
  • Right: 1/1000 @ f/2 @ 100 ISO
  • Both images shot with available light only.



The larger your aperture, and the longer your lens (with your subject at a distance from the background), is the recipe to get a blurred background to your photos. It need not be a 50mm lens or a fast 85mm lens – a longer f/2.8 (or even f/4) zoom lens in the 70-200mm range, will give you that kind of effect with shallow depth-of-field.

Check these two articles for further reference:


Using an 85mm lens as a shallow depth-of-field portrait lens

This photograph was shot at f/1.6 with an 85mm lens. It is even better than the 50mm lens in giving a more pleasing portrait perspective:  85mm – The best lens to change your portrait photography.

Selective focusing / selective DoF gives a specific look that is very attractive, and can help draw attention specifically where you need it. With photos like this, an aperture f/22 would give a cluttered image …

… as the pull-back shot at f/5.6 already implies.


Related articles


A bit of homework

It is going to be essential as part of your growth as a photographer to know at least the full-stop values of apertures, up and down. Better yet, know the 1/3rd stop indents off by heart. Up and down. It’s important.


The post How to get a blurred background in photos appeared first on Tangents.

Kicking back in the August. Back the first of September.

Noellia shot on 39 megapixel Mamiya MF digital camera. 150mm lens.

Early photographer.

Later photographer. 

hanging out with B&B
&Studio Dog.

Returning on Sept. 1, 2016

Enjoy what's left of Summer!

Young Renee Zellweger in Austin.

Every once in a while I take a look at the numbers. How much traffic we get at the blog. Where it's coming from. How much feedback we're getting. For some reason as Summer drags on the numbers are trending toward a precipitous decline. A portion of the decline is part of a wide spread pattern or trend across the landscape of photography (as opposed to photography of landscapes...), as sales numbers for serious (interchangeable lens) cameras drop year over year so does interest in the nuts and bolts articles about photography.

Thom Hogan takes the month of August off and I'm beginning to think that's not such a bad idea. I'm coming off a very busy June and July and it seems like a waste of good nap time to write just for myself. I already know what I think about things like the Rio Olympics (go swimmers! NBC, stop showing me the stupid beach volley ball junk and stop supporting stupid ideas like air rifle marksmanship. What's next, Pokemon Go championships?) and I know what I think about some of the new product announcements from camera makers (incremental, incremental).

I'm going to leave it up to my readers. Should we keep rolling out blog posts for the rest of August or succumb to the inertia of the season and come back when there's more to write about and more people back from vacation to read it?

Ben acts as lighting shepherd and white balance target custodian at a photoshoot for a law firm. 

Belinda baked a blueberry pie in the new range. We are all reflexively making quesadillas on the griddle on the stove top. I never knew new things other than cameras could be fun to buy and use....

The Asian style bowl with sticky rice. An unfulfilling dinner for a true Texan. 
But oh so healthy.

We're seeing red at the Hope Outdoor Gallery and capturing it with the Sony RX10iii. 

A shot from a couple hundred feet above. Made possible with the Sony RX10iii's magic lens.

Reclining Art Tourist.

When photographers get together they talk about cameras and lenses. 
Do graffiti artists talk about various brands of spray paint? 
Maybe. Krylon seems to be the Canon of painters...

The selfie within the frame.

Artist hard at work. 

Vigilant Dog monitors commotion in the hallway. 

Escaping up the ladder and into the sky.

The other (wider) end of the Sony RX10iii lens.

The collections of masks I choose from when going out to collect on overdue invoices.

Youthful enthusiasm at the Mercado in San Antonio. 

Cooking up comfort food at the Mercado in San Antonio. 

Hmmm. Get your Frida Kahlos here?

I'm beginning to understand. It's all about the frames.

Keeping watch over the Mercado.

Does this camera make me look fat???

Majestic Theater box office detail. San Antonio. 

Remind me to pick up a payday loan on my way back to the car....

I finished with my allotted chores, my studio loose ends, and the changing of the air conditioning filters. It's not as though I needed the additional exercise having swum several rapid miles this morning, along with a bout of resistance exercises; but I felt the need to go out and embrace the heat. I also wanted to give the Zeiss Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens a second chance before I wrapped it up and sent it back to the dealer. Was the lack of snap I noticed last week something endemic to the lens or had shortcomings in my technique dealt it a losing hand?

When last I wrote about the tiny C/Y optic I was leaning heavily on hyperfocal distance settings for sharp focus. Might have worked in the old days but in the days of adapters, etc. even being a fraction of a millimeter longer or shorter than the original computed flange distance might make all the difference in the world. I traded out adapters and reminded myself to use focus magnification to confirm the efficacy of my focusing. 

Ahhh. The foibles of the tester and the testing chain... The lens is really very nice when you take the time to ensure that the focus point is where the focus point is intended to be. Short version? The lens is better than I wrote it was. It is indeed sharp and yields detailed and high resolution images. It's still not "snappy" but it performs extremely well and the slight lack of zing, vis-a-vis the most modern of lens designs, is very easily remedied in post processing. Or by increasing the contrast setting, in camera, for your Jpegs. I'm keeping the lens. I have commuted its return sentence. 

My first mistake or misstep of the year as a blogger. Tragic. 

It was well over one hundred degrees at 2:30pm and the radio weatherman claimed that the "heat index" was hovering around one hundred seven. I had the wide brim hat but I left the house with a  short sleeved technical shirt. By the time I'd walked a couple of blocks I found myself wanting a long sleeve version. The less burned you get the cooler you are later in the day. No heat radiating from burned skin...

I ducked into REI (Outdoor and camping equipment store) and found a medium, long sleeve, REI Sahara technical shirt, with an SPF of 50, on the clearance rack. I also bought a bandana which I soaked in the store's water fountain and wrapped around my neck. Newly configured, I headed back out to resume the walk. The new combination was effective and I did not succumb to the heat, even though I spent a good amount of time in the blacktop heat sink of downtown. 

The images are secondary today to the walk. I wanted the camera in my hand and I wanted to re-test the lens but mostly I did not want to capitulate to the Texas weather. And I was not the only one. There were hardy souls all around, running, biking, shopping and even drinking outside on sun-drenched bar patios. 

We've had 15 or 20 days of temperatures over 100 but I stopped complaining about the weather after my recent trip to Baton Rouge. They had similar temperatures but the humidity seemed permanently stuck at a zillion. It was a nice afternoon for a walk. 

Nancy. ©2013 Kirk Tuck

It's almost comical when you interface with new clients about making a business portrait. They might come to you because they've seen some signature work you've done for someone else and the new client decided that it really clicked for them. They've been all over the website and blog and now they are ready to get together and make a nice portrait. "You know, like the ones on your website.."

And then it begins. They want you to come to their location. They have a very limited amount of time in which you can set up in this location. The person you are to photograph is "A very busy person so you'll only have a few minutes of their time.." The new client would kind of like it if you could match the style of the images they've already had done for their website. "We like that dark gray background you use but could you make it yellow and brighten it up and still keep that nice feel that we like about your work?" 

I'm hardly making this up. It happens all the time. It's the way that participation commercial art homogenizes everything it touches. 

I really like portraits made in my own little studio space. It's not that the space itself is magic but, to me, it's a known commodity. One less variable in the equation. When I shoot in my space I can always come into the studio the night before and set up the lights just the way I want to. And I can set up time consuming lighting. The kind you have to use a lot of light stands to make.

Generally, when I get to new client location the time allotted to me for set up before the very important person's schedule intersects briefly with mine, starts to get sucked away as I wait and wait at the front security desk. Every non-employee at this facility has to be escorted by a media specialist. You wouldn't want a rogue portrait photographer stalking the hallways. But the emissary from the client is invariably not at her desk when I arrive. I leave voice mail and the bland and unmovable security desk person moves glacially to find her direct line on the in-house data base. He asks me for a third time if I can spell the contact person's name. I can. But I can't understand it for him.

After enough time has passed for me to read two or three trade journals about cloud storage and data center design my media specialist comes faking-puffing down the hall to receive me, or to take me into her custody. Or some permutation of that. We drag a cart laden high with lighting gadgets and support gear past row after row of carpeted cubicles until we get to the elevator that is out of order. I look at 200 pounds of gear on my cart while my media specialist mulls over the efficacy of taking a couple flights of stairs versus retracing our initial path to find the other bank of elevators...

When we get to the room I am stunned into silence by the mental disconnection that must take place in the minds of the people who supposed they might want a new portrait of said "very important person." Do they really expect that we'll be able to do a wonderful portrait of vip in about 140 square feet of space? When over 60% of that space is already occupied by a very ugly and very unmovable conference table? Do they expect us to manage a nine foot wide background in a room that is only eight feet wide? Do they think we can transmute the laws of physics and get our 6 foot by 6 foot scrim set up and ready to concurrently occupy the space already filled by conference table molecules and atoms? And finally, who designs these mini-conference room torture chambers with seven and a half foot ceilings?

When this pattern is repeated time and time again by legions of clients you start to change the way you work. You only take small softboxes or umbrella boxes that are quick to set up and take no space at all. You take only the gear you think you can sprint up the stairs with while avoiding cardiac arrest. You start telling each media specialist that you need two hours to set up. In this way, if your media specialist is twenty or thirty minutes tardy in coming to collect you then you'll still have mountains of time left to negotiation the elevator/stairs and figure out how to move a 900 pound table two feet to the right without shredding the carpet and the wires that connect the odious teleconferencing system seemingly permanently married to the giant, wood laminate covered monstrosity of a table. And you'll have ample time to move all of the counterfeit AERO chairs out into the hallway. Argue with the security guy over the fire code and them move all the counterfeit AERO chairs back into the mini-torture-conference room.

And you'll get to do all these things right up until you realize that the air conditioning has been turned off to this space and no one knows how to turn it all back on.

A week later you'll get the phone call that starts like this: "There's something wrong with the pictures."

Me: "I checked each one as I was making the web gallery. They looked okay to me. What's the problem?"

Them: "Well, I was looking at them with four or five of the other people in the office and the problem is that there's a shadow on one side of his face. One side is darker than the other.

Me: "Oh, that's the style of lighting we use. It shows off the contours of people's faces better and makes the images a lot more interesting and three dimensional. We discussed that with the marketing team when they hired me..."

Them: "Oh. Well, I don't know about the marketing people by I'm the VIP's admin and I know he won't like this either. And neither does Francine in accounting and she's a really good landscape photographer..."

Me: "Have you gotten any input from the marketing team? And has Mr. VIP seen them?"

Them: "No, we got the link you sent for Mr. VIP and we decided to save him some time and go through them first. But I'm not even sure we should show them to Mr. VIP. He won't like the shadow on his face.  And he shaved off his beard and mustache since the session... so the pictures don't even look like him anymore."

Me: "Well, I can't really do anything about the shadows on his face. That's what your marketing team said they wanted, and they hired me."

Them: "Yes, but we write the checks...."   A long silence ensues.  Followed by: "I think we could live with the shadows if you could find some way to just Air Brush the beard and mustache off his face..."

Me:  "I'm sorry but that's impossible. Even if we could do it in Photoshop that kind of retouching would take days. It would be better if we could just re-shoot him. But this time I'd like for him to come into our studio. We'll have more control over the lighting."

Them:  "He's far too busy for that but let me see if we can reserve the same conference room...."

The reality is that most people don't know what is required to set up lights and do a really good and sincere portrait. All they want to do is walk in somewhere quick and grin at the camera. Happy with a flat as a pancake, one-to-one lighting ratio and a crappy background. Part of our work is translating to people who live in these other universes what it is we do and how we do it.

I shot two portraits in the studio this week. One was on video and the one above was a still project. I was lucky to work with an art director who really understands the whole process, from beginning to end. He gets "buy in" from the client and he carefully leads them, step by step, through what to expect in a portrait sitting. And he shares back to me, in very clear terms, what his needs are. He would rather always have business portraits of his clients shot in the studio because it's easier to control access to the sitter. To cut off the interruptions and help them get their heads in the game.

I set up my lights the day before and I test them. I've been working with large, soft, light from one side with small white "flags" as fill. I've been using banks of fluorescent fixtures (made for video and cinema) behind 6x6 foot silks diffusers. I'm blocking out any stray light that wants to come into the studio. I use a posing table from the 1950's to give subjects some place to rest their hands. I'm using a fresnel spot light to cast a subtle, soft light onto the background.

When the sitter arrives my art director is here to greet her. We're introduced and I take some test shots as we get to know each other and talk about what everyone wants to get from the shoot. Then the art director says, "I'm leaving now. I'll be in the house having coffee and returning phone calls. Come and get me when you need me. Kirk will take good care of you."

Once my art director walks the twelve steps to my house and starts operating the Keurig coffee machine and arm wrestling with my little dog we start our session in earnest. I'm looking for a few different emotions. Compassion, caring, warm, happy and calm. We talk about these attributes and how to manifest them in the image. We chat and I ask about things I know she is interested in. In twenty minutes or so we call for the art director. We review the images and everyone is happy. I'm happy that I am able to supply nice, rich shadows to someone who will understand and appreciate them. The subject is happy  because she knows we have her best interest (visually) at heart. And the art director is happy because he knows he has an image of his client that will look good on the website and in some public relations they've got coming up.

The image above is one I grabbed from the very end of the session because it reminded me of how sweet the session was and how engaging Nancy looked at the end. It is almost certainly not the image that the art director will select. He knows the demographic he's aiming at and almost certainly I'm not in it. And that's okay.

When I do my portraits on my own path way I have at least a chance of making something that positively represents my sitters. When I capitulate to the demands of clients, against my better judgement, I fight to get something that is usable. Something a client is at least willing to pay for. There's big ocean between these two points. Hewing to your own path is a way of making sure everyone wins. At the very least being in control gives you a fighting chance.

non-photographic ramblings: After a long July, in which I worked too much and swam too little, I've been conscientiously back in the pool and trying to be diligent about making it to the early morning workouts. It's Summer in Austin so even with the water chillers running the pool is still on the warm side. Today the water temperature was 83.5 degrees. A bit toasty for swimming fast, long distances.  Our coach modified the workout by incorporating lots of sets of 50 yard swims, mixing up the freestyle with other strokes to keep us engaged. 

It's a Saturday tradition for some of us to go out for coffee after the workout. We catch up with each other's lives and talk about swimming, pool politics and, where appropriate, the Olympics. Today one of our crew detoured over to the farmer's market nearby to pick up a bag full of TacoDeli breakfast tacos. I went with an egg, cheese and black bean version. Most Austinites would agee that TacoDeli breakfast tacos are the Leica of breakfast tacos.... 

I'm working on a new discipline in my swimming. I am eschewing all the extraneous swim gear, like fins, hand paddles and pull buoys in order to concentrate solely on stroke mechanics for the next few months. While most of our workouts are straight swimming we do use swim gear to enhance various parts of our training. I've just decided I've been leaning on the toys a bit too much and should spend more time distilling down the techniques dealing with body position, hand entry geometry and stroke timing.  So far, it seems to be working. Time will tell. I've resigned myself to the idea that I'm never going to go as fast as Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte. 

on to the photographic rambling: First up, an amazing public admission of spectacular gear excess. Not on my part but by a well known, west coast photographer. I was looking at my Facebook feed and there on my screen was a post from a luminary in our field who wanted to show off what he was packing in his bags for some travel assignment or workshop. He is a Nikon "Ambassador" so I wasn't surprised that his gear was all Nikon. It was the sheer overkill that made my head reel. It's almost like the advertising manager sat next to him and read off a list of stuff they'd like to promote and had the photographer pack it in.  We're talking six camera bodies (including the latest D5s) and ten big, brand new professional zooms of various focal ranges. And we are talking about a lot of overlap between focal ranges. 

I have no idea what this photographer is running off to shoot but I doubt he'll be doing much running with the 40 or 50 pounds of gear he's toting. I get the need for back up cameras and the idea of using separate bodies for individual lenses but even the most ardent gear addicts might draw the line at wearing six heavy cameras, sporting six even heavier lenses, with three more lenses in the bag, just in case. It's funny because at the same time, over on Petapixel, there was a profile of a veteran Olympic sports photographer who was showing off the gear he was taking to Rio. Three bodies. Four lenses. A bunch of CFast memory cards and ..... that's about it. What could our art photographer friend be hunting that might require more gear (over 100% more) than a veteran sports photography professional shooting with the experience of three Olympics under his belt?

I guess I found the whole thing hilarious (and sad) because the gear-happy photographer was so obviously proud of his mountain of glass and metal, and I had just written a blog about the changing targets and changing gear. The idea that our jobs have changed and DON'T require that kind of portage commitment. Now, none of this is intended to malign the photographer's talent; he's really a good picture maker, but he weakens his case as a real talent by making his connection and commercial relationship with Nikon so blatantly obvious. It was a mercantile Facebook post and that's the best I can do. 

a follow on thought: There is a pervasive idea of professional courtesy that we blogger/photographers seem to extend to one another. In a way it's dishonest. I wasn't going to write what I just did about the gear nut because I thought some of his fans would put two and two together and roast me for being critical of the photographer's choice in slut parading his Nikon inventory as though it was a requirement for a real assignment. And it is true that everyone has different inventory comfort levels when they go on assignment. On the other hand a post like the one delivered to social media leads legions of other photographers (aspiring new professionals, hobbyists, etc.) to believe that kind of heedless excess is a normal and everyday part of being a "real" professional photographer when nothing could be further from the truth. No one needs the sheer inventory vulgarly displayed there and to not comment on it is, in a way, a backhanded complicity in the over reaching marketing of photo gear in our time.  It boarders on reverse marketing: The idea that Nikon cameras are so unreliable that a pro might need many back-ups just to cover butt...

Two cameras and three lenses will handle all but the most specialized jobs. Everything else is just a free advertisement for the manufacturer.  Ah well. I will now put the fire extinguisher next to my desk and await the fury of the perceptive fans of said gear jockey. I still think he would be just as well served with a nice bridge camera.... (kidding, just kidding ---- hmm.)

and now, on to what I am interested in today.  Another manual focusing lens cobbled onto a Sony A7ii. After my successes with two different Contax/Zeiss lenses attached to Sony full frame cameras, and after having received ample compensation for projects completed in the last few months, I decided to "reward" myself by scrounging around and looking at a few other lenses from the same brand and era. Nothing to see at my local resource,, but a few interesting used products over at (the big, used equipment store in Atlanta). I looked at 85mm lenses and I looked at wide angles but nothing really tweaked my interest until I came across the tiny and super light weight Zeiss Tessar 45mm f2.8 lens for the older Contax (Y/C) cameras. I think I was mostly interested because of the small profile of the lens and how apt it looked in conjunction with small, A7 style body. 

I found a "mint" version and decided to order it and see what makes this lens tick, if anything. It's the antithesis of a previous lens I owned, the Sigma 50mm ART lens. That lens has pounds and pounds of miracle glass, many elements, much gravitas and a very fast aperture. When I shot with it I was mostly busy trying to nail exact focus with the last century focusing mechanisms of my Nikons. Once in a while everything would click and I'd pull out and image that was beautiful and striking because of the lens's ability to be shot wide open, drop focus all the way out of the background but to still be sharp where I wanted it to be sharp. Very sharp, even wide open... 

On the other hand the Zeiss 45mm Tessar is an ancient design that uses only four elements. Hard to even imagine in this day and age...  It weighs about as much as the lens cap and back cap of the Sigma 50mm f1.4, and it's actually small enough to fit in a pants pocket with room left over for a Zippo lighter and a pocket knife with a corkscrew. 

I've been using K&F Concepts lens adapters that I found on for my growing Contax lens collection. They are a whopping $19 and seem to work well. They might not be totally accurate (flange distance) so if you are using the hyperfocal settings on the lens ring I'd stop down an extra stop just to make sure you cover the tolerance slop.

As you can see in the photo above the focusing ring is very narrow and certainly takes some time and experience to get used to. The aperture ring near the rear of the lens is wider and easier to handle but it is what it is. The front and rear elements are tiny. Or maybe they are "normal" in size and we've just been getting used to outrageously big front elements in our willing participation in the marketing dance to sell faster and faster lenses.

On the Sony A7ii the focus peaking does a decent job but for images were I need to know for sure that we've achieved all the sharpness I think we can wring out of this lens I feel like I need to hit the focus magnification button and go in for a good look. The lens is decent wide open but certainly nothing to write home about. By f5.6 it's sharp across the frame and there is NO vignetting that I can see. I'm guessing that f8.0 is the optimum setting but, frankly, I don't really care. All the images I took looked sharp enough when viewed at normal sizes. 

The one parameter that is less than optimal with this lens seems to be its contrast rendering. It's a bit flat. It lacks "snap." But here's an interesting post processing trick: You can use the contrast slider, the clarity slider, the enhance slider or a combination of all three to get the lens to provide images that look exactly the way you want them to look in Lightroom.  It's a fascinating secret and one I think I'll make into a high dollar, weekend long workshop in the new future. Look for the T-shirts any day now. 

So, if the lens isn't particularly fast or contrasty then why the heck would anyone want to use it anyway? Hmmm. I like it because unlike the recent Rokinon lenses I've bought (100mm Macro and 135mm f2.0 Cine), and the memory of the commitment it took to go out and around the streets with the five pound Sigma 50mm Art lens, this lens is a featherweight with a very small profile. It makes my whole A7ii package a delight to sport around. The angle of view is pretty much perfect for me and, if I use reasonable technique I get really nice images. And that's before we talk about the different flavors of rendering between modern and more archaic lenses. 

The lack of snap in the little Tessar translates into very nice skin tones and images that will put up with a lot of post processing nonsense. They have a different look and feel. Not better or worse but different. I notice the same thing when I compare the ancient Nikon 105mm f2.5 with the 100 mm f2.8 Rokinon Macro. They both resolve similar levels of detail but the appearance of high sharpness, right out of camera, is much greater with the Rokinon. The advantage to the Nikon is that it appears more real, like something you'd see with your eyes instead of an image created by a camera. That alone might be a juicy selling point for some artists who have a different vision for their work than just an endless repetition of super sharp, in focus images. 

I guess the proof is really in the shooting. I had a chance to get out and around town with the 45mm Tessar a few days ago. The first image is a 100% crop of the image just below it. If you click into the crane you'll find high amounts of detail and great color. Not as much snapola but a very mellow rendering. 

finally. marketing images. While the trends for interchangeable and cool camera sales are all heading toward the draw of gravity and pervasive entropy the world of marketing still sees images of cameras as being indicators of artsiness and aspirational living. Below are two construction fences that make use of camera imagery to augment their basic marketing messages. These are surrounding a unit under construction in the sweet spot of Austin's downtown so I imagine that one bedroom units are starting at a half million dollars or more. It's funny that they would use older film cameras to convey their message. I would think that the target market would be able to afford all six of the cameras and all ten of the lenses that seemed to make the social media poster referenced above so proud....  I like the signs anyway. 

Remember those great American cars from the 1950's? They were enormous and had wonderfully rounded and sculpted lines. Five tons of rolling art. Back seats that doubled as beds. Infinite trunk space and so much more. My very first car was a 1965 Buick Wildcat. It had an enormous V8 engine, a hood that took up real estate and an air conditioner that could chill a six pack of beer between San Antonio and Austin. Not quite as voluminous as the 1950's Cadillacs but still formidable in its presentation.

Except for collectors we don't drive those cars anymore. Cars have evolved. Maybe not in a sexy direction but certainly in a more practical direction. Padded dashes replaced sweeping metal ones. Headrests and seat belts were added. As gas soared in price cars shrank in size and weight. The sexy lines of the body styles were replaced with "jelly bean" designs that are more efficient at moving through air.

These cost cutting and efficiency changes were partly a result of the 1950-1990's exodus by Americans to far flung suburbs which created Herculean commutes. Cars had to be cheaper to acquire and operate as families moved from owning one car to owning two cars and accumulating mileage at a dizzying rate. With the decline of small towns and compact cities it became impossible to commute by walking for most people. Now (with the exception of people living directly in downtowns) it's virtually impossible to go anywhere without a car. That moves the idea of the car away from an aspirational acquisition to a necessary commodity, which strips away the glamour and allure of owning and using them.

If the millennial generation is any indicator we won't be going backwards to big car worship any time soon. In fact, this rising generation is almost completely car indifferent. Makes sense that something like 90% of Corvette buyers and 80% of Porsche buyers are also getting ready to apply for Medicare.

So, when I went out to buy a car a few years ago I had three parameters on my radar: Good gas mileage. Reliability. The ability to put enough gear into the car to make it efficient for business. Gone was any desire for the 400 horsepower cars of my youth. Where could I drive them fast? Not in Austin. Too much traffic. Gone was my lingering nostalgia for my old Karmen Ghia. Where would I put that Pelican case full of LED lights? And the C-Stands? And the nine foot long roll of seamless paper? I bought a Honda CRV but I could have done just as well with a Jeep Compass or a Ford Escape or a Toyota Rav 4....

In decades past Texas photographers seemed to have a penchant for purchasing used (or New, if they were doing well financially...) Chevrolet Suburbans. The rationale was the sheer amount of gear they could load into the vehicle and still have room for an entourage of assistants. I wonder now if there are any clients left who really need photographers to show up with tons of gear and a gaggle of people to move it around. It seems so ---- inefficient.

But that brings me to photography in general. When I started shooting for fun, and then for money, the camera that the masses (and I) thought was the coolest thing to own in the imaging universe was the Nikon F2, with a big motor drive on the bottom. There were some zooms floating around but those were the days when we strived to arrive on our jobs with a shiny Halliburton suitcase full of prime lenses. Single focal lengths. And we didn't want to specialize so we felt like we had to carry a full range of lenses in order to be ready for anything. It wasn't at all rare for someone to arrive and open their steamer trunk-sized Halliburton to reveal lenses from 15mm to 400mm in closely spaced focal lengths. Something like: 15, 18, 20, 24, 28, 35, 50, 55(macro), 85, 105, 135, 180, 200, 300 and 400mms. No wonder we felt the need for assistants; especially when one considers that there were no wheels on those Halliburton aluminum cases...

With bags full of Kodachrome 25 slide film we also needed as much light as we could deliver to the film gate. Those were the days of 2400 watt second and 4,000 watt second Speedotron and Norman electronic flash systems that tipped the scales at 30 to 60 pounds. And that was just for the box, it doesn't consider the weight of cables and heads and stands and more.

And none of this was efficient. Not at all. With the extra people, and the mountains of gear to get from one location to another, or one room to another, a hard working professional might only get four or five set-up shots done in a day. Add models to the mix and the number of shots shrinks even more.

So, what is my point in recounting this stroll down memory lane? Just as we are paring down the size and inefficiencies of our transportation options it would seem, from looking at the photography landscape, that it makes sense to do the same with our cameras and our basic working tools. We can still get from point "A" to point "B" with more efficient gear, we'll just spend less money and less time getting results that reflect the targets at which we are now aiming.

Just as independent bricks and mortar book stores have disappeared from our daily environment so too have traditional portrait studios. I can no longer drive around Austin and see large, gold framed, 24 by 30 inch "master" portraits in mom and pop studio show windows. No more large and gaudy portraits of debutantes and pledge sisters. The saccharine, soft focus child's portrait with a field of bluebonnets in the background has disappeared as have most of the local labs that counted on gauzy, big canvases of heavily retouched portraits to make a profit. Gone except in the most depressed and backward areas. Relics of a different aesthetic period in our culture.

Along with the retreat of the big framed, canvas portraits is the retreat of diffusion filters. vignetters, posing blocks, posing tables, English countryside backgrounds. Weathered (plastic) brick backgrounds and all the trappings of conventional, last century portraiture. It's a similar view over on the commercial side. The portraits we do now are environmental, for the most part. The lighting is either what is present in the environment or a good, designed approximation of that light. The key to success is in making the images seem real. A slice of life. The ultimate ascendency of the "snapshot aesthetic" sometimes helped along by "supporting" light not obvious light.

I am rarely asked to shoot portraits for display anymore. Recently we did one for a utility company located in rural Texas. We were following a tradition in their offices but, with the arrival of a new CMO (chief marketing officer) that may be a thing of the past as well. No, most of our work is headed to websites. Microsite or pop-up online campaigns. Little of it ends up in printed magazines or brochures, and even less is destined for walls. We mostly get paid to deliver images for three targets: websites, trade show graphics, video displays. Many of these projects, I think, could be done with cameras like the Sony RX10iii which can handle a surprising variety of visual content creation needs. I'll confess that many jobs now can probably be done with the latest iPhone, with the value add being the styling, lighting, point of view and taste of the photographer.

Photographic jobs did not magically  grow in complexity, level of difficulty or sheer technical demand as the cameras have gotten better and better. In fact, we are at a point where we are still buying cameras to handle the memory of previous times and not really accessing them for the performances needed today. Products and portraits still need to be lit and composed well. They still need to be post processed correctly. But the need for hyper performance faded as post production creation blossomed.

We may still want, or be able to, continue to do the work the way we've always done it but I think it is smart to acknowledge that so much has changed and, along with it, the way we do the business of photography has changed. We charge now for what we know instead of how long we work or what kind of equipment we bring to bear. The client is licensing the look, not the machinery of production.

I've proven this to myself so many times in the last few years. It's the reason the Sony A7ii trumps the A7R2 for everyday use. I use the full frame camera not for the high resolution or the low noise but for the basic look that lenses provide on the full sized sensor. When I don't need or want that look there are many cameras with smaller sensors that work as well or better for specific tasks. To pretend that we spend our days shooting double truck print ads for very high production value magazines is self-defeating. Like trying to drop a 600 cubic inch engine into a Volkswagen Jetta for one's daily commute. At some point the suspension gives out. Or the post processing load becomes unwieldy.

Newer cameras may make some tasks easier but a well honed skill set makes jobs easier still.

The latest Zeiss (or fill in the blank with your favorite lens brand...) lens may make for sharp photos but I'm betting the discipline of using a tripod with your existing lenses will provide a lot more bang for the buck.

You don't have to change. But you should be aware that the photographic world is changing around you. I know this is an Olympic year and the focus is on the high end DSLR cameras made for capturing sports. But the other 98% of the market might (most probably) be better served adapting the newer technologies and formats in order to make their work the best it can be.While being affordable, portable and fun to drag around.

I like change. If I can add value to any camera then all change works for me. If I can't add value without a specific cameras system then I have become nothing more than an equipment rental house. No glory for me there.

Shift happens. It may mean your cameras become cheaper, lighter, easier to use and more fun. Can't see how fighting that makes for a good business strategy. We're all in the consumer culture together. The DSLR was an aspirational tool a few years ago. Now vision and knowledge are the aspirational tools and the cameras are just the conduits.  The big camera and the bag of lenses seems now a bit like a Member's Only Jacket or a Camaro with a hood scoop. No longer cool and coveted. Now just an ungainly tool. No wonder sales are dropping; we no longer need to bring "window dressing" cameras to work. Now we can just use what works for the projects in front of us.

The lights are still too big....

I look forward to reading about a photographer from a newer generation who ably does high end advertising photography work with nothing but a long focal range fixed lens camera. Something like a Panasonic fz 1000 or a Sony RX10ii. It would signify to me that his or her client was hiring based on a portfolio of well seen images or video and not the last century swagger of gear ownership.


Shooting a boudoir photography promo video

Ideally with a video there should be some narrative or some forward momentum in what is being portrayed. An idea that propels it forward and gives it meaning. A friend once tried to convince me that I should team up with another photographer who had video gear since we would make a really good video with the gear we had available between us. I immediately put a spanner in that by insisting that without an idea or a story, we’re lost. We have nothing. Someone with an idea and a mobile phone would be many steps ahead of us. All the gear in the world doesn’t help if there isn’t a core idea on which everything rides. Some kind of narrative or storyboard.

My friend, Erik Colonese and I have, have been working with a New Jersey based boudoir photographer, Cate Scaglione, in developing a series of promotional videos for her. Having worked with Cate before, I knew we’d have a solid foundation because of her experience as a former Director of Global Advertising for a large luxury brand. She helped create television and print campaigns for new product launches and celebrity endorsements.

I knew we’d be able to work with her vision, which would be encapsulated as a storyboard as a guide. Of course, Erik and I discussed everything with her beforehand, and helped suggest changes.

With this, we could shoot with specific ideas in mind. Of course, we’d adapt and add to it off the cuff, but this was a solid foundation to make sure we had enough material for the edit stage.

Working from a storyboard

This then is the plan that Erik and I worked with on the day of shooting. Snippets of words, and intended dialogue. Notes. Also, images grabbed from our inspiration folders, or from Pinterest. Images that could help form our own ideas and describe more or less what we would aim for. Obviously, it is all open to interpretation. The studio and the lighting and the background and our model – everything in fact – would shape what we actually did. But this storyboard helped anchor us, and helped us tick off video sequences of our To Do list. This storyboard also gave us something to improvise on. A springboard.

As you can see, we originally named this ‘Crazy love’, but in the end Cate decided that it would be better to name the clip after our subject in the video – Bella. An important element to this video (and the future promo videos), is that these and to be client stories and not models. Real stories. Bella’s own words. The promo videos had to be real to appeal to other potential clients.

In the space of one week, we shot material for two of these clips, with another two promos still in the planning stage. We all agreed that a series of these shorter promos would work better than a longer one. More variety, and to the point. Each of them targeted to a different potential client.

With the initial edit of the promo video, we felt that the story was too linear as we had it there. To give the story more immediate appeal, we made it non-linear. We had enough footage to play around with the sequences and settle on a final version that Cate and Erik and I were happy with. Again, shooting with specific ideas in mind as our springboard, gave us enough footage to play around with in the edit. I’m not sure that randomly shooting stuff and making things up as we go along on the day, without a basis, would’ve delivered as much useful material.

I can’t stress this point enough – if you are going to create a video (that is not an event that is presented for you to capture on video), you had better have a solid plan to create a final video that will hold together.



More on Cate’s style of shooting

In Cate’s words:

With boudoir sessions, I like to use only natural light. In fact I go so far as to eliminate other ambient light so that I’m always working with what nature provides. Fortunately, my studio has large windows that allow me to shoot this way.

I like to keep equipment, props etc to a minimum so it’s always about expression, connection and “being in the moment”. That’s how I get the emotion to resonate in photos.

I try hard, all the time, to bring in other lighting to my boudoir and when I do, it’s just not me. So I’d rather bend and shape light to get beautiful effects I love than force myself to replicate what I know is possible for my look.


About the music choice in the video clip

Again in Cate’s words:

There were a million different directions we could have taken this video. Music largely dictates a mood and a rhythm of the spot. She could have been edgy /sexy but the goal here was to get people to relate to a story. And the music was to create emotional connection rather than the obvious sensuality of it.



Techie details about the video gear and lighting

There are two parts to this video:

  • The photo session, with Cate photographing Bella – we wanted to depict her rhythm and style of shooting. Here we relied on the available light – the same as Cate was using.

Here we used two Nikon D4 bodies, and a Nikon D810, and a bunch of zoom and prime lenses. One camera had the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on all the time. The zoom was helpful to get exact framing – which is the reason why we use zooms in the first place. One of the other D4 bodies had the 85mm f/1.4G on it for tighter framing, and a wider aperture. I also used the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens a lot.

For the sequences with camera movement, I used a Defy G2X gimbal with a Nikon D750 and Nikon 20mm f/1.8G combination (affiliate links). The reason for this lens and the Nikon body, is that with the ability of the Nikon bodies to shoot video in FF or crop mode, you can effectively have a 20mm lens and 30mm lens on the camera, without changing the center of gravity on the balanced gimbal. That makes lift a lot easier than constantly re-calibrating a gimbal.


  • The interviews with Cate, Bella and Miranda (the MUA and hair-dresser). These were static setups with specific lighting that I used. We ended up using Cate’s interview just as a voice-over.

The interviews were shot on two cameras, with our subject looking into the one camera.

Audio was with a Rode shotgun microphone (B&H / Amazon) overhead on a boom arm, outside the camera frame. The sound was recorded to a Zoom H6 audio recorder (B&H / Amazon).

Lighting was done with two Litepanels Astra EP 1×1 Bi-Color LED Panel  (B&H / Amazon). I’ve already mentioned them in a previous article – Lighting for a small commercial video shoot. I love these lights – relatively compact, yet powerful. And you can change the color balance at will to match your ambient light.

Here is the setup with Cate’s interview (for which we only used as a voice-over).



The success of the promo clip came together in careful planning – from the storyboard stage, all the way to having a great selection of gear to shoot with. But most of all, the mapping out of the shoot was what made the actual day of shooting a lot easier.




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While the most flexible and most Swiss Army Knife-like of my cameras is the RX10iii with it's great, long lens and remarkable 4K video, the camera that most matches my personal vision of the perfect personal camera is a different one. You would be forgiven for thinking it has to be the Sony A7Rii but you would be wrong. While the R-2 is a great camera the one I reach for to do my work is almost always its sibling, the A7ii. Plain vanilla personality with the ability to deliver great images.

Let's take a look at this one now, even though it's been on the market for a bit less than two years now. Especially since it's been on the market for nearly two years.

Like the A7Rii the A7ii is a small, mirrorless body that fits well in my medium sized hand. It feels dense and durable but is much smaller and lighter than the Nikon bodies I had been shooting with. In truth, it feels (and probably is) smaller and lighter than the RX10iii.  It's more the size of an M series Leica than a traditional DSLR. The camera has all the good stuff inside. The EVF is the same as the one in the A7Rii and it will make a believer out of most photographers, when it comes to electronic viewfinders. There is little to no perceptible finder lag in my style of shooting and both of the A7 cameras I own have finders that are able to give accurate indications of exposure with a much better correspondence with what I eventually see on my calibrated monitor at the studio. One of the reasons I switched systems was my inability to accurately judge the actual, optimal exposure on the back screen of my Nikon D810 or D750.

Along with the exposure accuracy I have been preaching the benefits of "pre-chimping" via EVFs since 2010. You can assess color shifts, contrast, effects and, of course, exposure as you are shooting, and even when you are just looking through your finder, lining up your shots. It's a time saver and a shot saver and eventually all but a handful of camera models will be "upgraded" to use this viewing system.

The A7ii is staid and boring and reliable. The images coming from the 24 megapixel imager have great color and a high degree of sharpness. There is supposed to be an anti-aliasing filter in the make up of the sensor module but it does little to diminish the overall sharpness of the system. I recently did a series of portraits using electronic flash and my one issue was the need to tame color aliasing in the fine fabrics of several mens' suits. This is an indicator of high sharpness. For nearly every use I have (in taking portraits) the 24 megapixel sensor is more than enough resolution, and that resolution is coupled with ample dynamic range.

I tend to use the A7R2 when there is no limit to the sharpness and resolution I think I'll need. It's the perfect camera for big group shots (lots of detail for every face) and technical images of products that potentially need to be produced at extreme sizes for trade show graphics. But the uncompressed 14 bit raw files are huuuuge. They take up a lot of disk space. They require a lot of computer horsepower to batch process.... And that's exactly where its less endowed sibling, the A7ii, comes in most handy. It's 95% of the image quality of its sibling in a file that's half the size. I'm comfortable using it for any portrait, no matter how big, and for most advertising images as well.

I never intended to use the camera for video work as I'd heard from various review sites that the 1080p (no 4K) files were nothing special. The implication being that the files were less than sharp or less detailed than other available, 1080p, options. One day I grabbed the A7ii body entirely by mistake (the A7x cameras are nearly completely intentional on the exterior) and used it to shoot an interview for a video project. When I realized my error I was very nervous about how the video would cut together with the "higher quality" materials I'd already shot on the RX10iii and the A7Rii. I was anxious until I got back to the studio and ingested the material into Final Cut Pro X. The video looked great. Absolutely great. The quality reinforced what I've believed for years: You can't take my word or anyone else's word for the performance of cameras. You have to test them yourself. You have to shoot them and look at the files. Everyone has a point of view and it's highly probable that their points of view don't align with your preferences. Test the cameras that interest you yourself. You just can't rely on website reviews. Even if you like the way the guys write....

So, what's not to like?

We can bitch about the batteries all day long but they are what they are. You give up one thing (battery life) to get another (body size).

If you want to bitch about EVFs you've wandering into the wrong blog. I think a good EVF is a major plus for a camera.

After having used the Sony A7ii for a good while I've got the menu items I use memorized. I've got my function buttons committed almost to muscle memory and I've got my back button AF squared away. I've heard horror stories about service but I'll just keep buying the used bodies and hope Sony has their QC shortcomings conquered for the long term.

I am pretty certain that Sony will soon come out with a replacement for the a7ii and I can't wait. The used price on the existing models should (given a quick look at Sony history) drop like a rock. At a certain price we can even start thinking of them as disposables....

As far as I can see the A7ii is a boring, reliable, small, easy to handle package. Big performance. Small used price. Fun to use with older, manual focus lenses. So far, I love mine.

Just thought I'd share where I am with cameras at the moment. I started writing this last week in Baton Rouge but just finished up after lunch today. July was the busiest and most prosperous month in my long career. Just amazing. Sometimes the blog fell between the cracks.

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