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This blog post image is about the cart in the foreground, center frame.

I tried to travel light on my last trip. I didn't want to check a third bag. For the most part it worked out just fine. But no matter how many light stands you take with you any time you venture out of your studio you probably know that Murphy's Ordnance declares that you will need at least one more.

I brought along 4 Manfrotto light stands but the optimal number for location work seems to have escalated to five; minimum. My first two days of interviews went smoothly, as far as lighting and light stands were concerned. I used two to hold LED light fixtures, one to hold the diffusion panel and one to hold the microphone boom. Easy as pie.

But then I tried to get fancy and use a larger part of a big room to do my Friday interviews. I marked the position I thought would be best for my interviewee with an "X" of orange gaffer tape and then went divining with my camera and tripod until I found the right combination of focal length, background and distance. I marked that spot with tape and then started lighting. I set up the big scim first because I knew that would be my key light and you kinda always have to have a key light. And through some quirk of my personality that key light (nearly) always has to be diffused. Two stands down.

I knew I needed a light across the background, a mural of a forest, to keep it from falling into noisy darkness so I put up a LightStorm LS-1/2 on a third stand and sprayed the wall. Just lighting up that particular plane (the wall) and nothing else (except a welcome little spill that served as a backlight for my interviewee's shadow side...). Lighting in planes, in a big room, is a good strategy because you only end up lighting what you'll see instead of trying to fill up the whole space with photons. See more in Russ Lowell's great book, Matters of Light and Depth. 

At that point I turned on the camera, walked over and sat in the spot I'd designated as the "interviewee" spot and ran some selfie video to test. When I looked at the test I knew I would need some fill for the main light (key). A traditional solution for photography would have been to tuck a big flex fill reflector near the subject's shadow side but I had a "B" camera set to film from that side so that was a "no go."

I bit the bullet and tossed the second Lightstorm LS-1/2 (CRI 98 !!!!) onto the last remaining light stand and bounced it off the ceiling at full power. Gone was my fill light dilemma but newly arrived was my microphone/boom arm imbroglio. Now bereft of light stands I was temporarily stuck. Fortunately, I was setting up all this after a long day of shooting (instead of waiting for the morning of...) and I had time to scavenge for a support.

I roamed around my client's facility looking for something that would work as a light stand. The limiting parameter being the need for a 5/8ths inch termination at the top to accommodate the grip head that would hold the boom support. That part was a non-negotiable.

I found the Metro cart first and realized that the corner construction would make a channel in which to insert a long pipe. It would also make the who assemblage portable. In a store room I found some metal conduit that was the right length but its diameter was to large. Finally, I found a length of aluminum tube that was just the right diameter; and long enough to work. I put the conduit into place through the gaps in the shelves of the cart. Then I gaffer taped the metal tube to the top of the conduit. Finally, I attached the head and boom to complete my grip project.

When the cast and clients came in the next day no one gave the "Rube Goldberg" assemblage a second look. I seated my first interview subject, wheeled the "microphone cart" in the right position and made a few small adjustments, and we were ready to roll.

Yes, I'm sure someone will tell me they never travel without ten stout light stands and some very compulsive visitor will regale me for not mapping out every single shot on a spreadsheet along with sub-categories for every screw and bolt that might be necessary. I don't care. I'm happy I got to do some basic problem solving and that it worked as seamlessly as it did.

Next time I'll suck it up and bring the fifth stand. Then I'll find the hidden Murphy's Regulation: All people packing five light stands will find, on location, that they actually need six light stands. It never ends.

I'm happy. I love 85mm lenses but I hate paying the outrageous premium for super fast apertures, the pursuit of which ultimately compromises a bit of performance and, for the most part, are not very usable. I'm a lover of sensible, high performance 85mms with sensible maximum apertures. Like the classic 85mm 1.8s from Canon and Nikon which have been in their line ups for decades.

When Sony introduced their line of Alpha translucent mirror cameras such as the a77, one lens that came along for the ride was a much under appreciated 85mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8. It's much, much easier to design in, and manufacture with good precision, a lens with a modest f-stop. The real costs and compromises come in trying to make the fast glass perform.

I snapped up on the 85mm f2.8 lenses and found, as expected, that it was sharp and sassy from wide open on. It weighed about what the current Sony 50mm f1.8 weighs and it focused quickly and accurately. I'd buy one in the FE mount in a second, if Sony offered it...

But for now I will happily line up and pay for the 85mm f1.8 (to be shipping late March) as I expect its performance to be very, very good and, just as important to me, it will be priced so that most of us can actually afford to get one. I'm always a bit pissed when a camera maker adds the showy lenses first and makes us wait for the daily users. 

I'm sure someone can make a good argument for the G Master 85mm f1.4 and the G Master 70-200mm f2.8 but it sure won't be me. I can't imagine having to carry those heavyweight packages around all day long in a shoulder bag when I can have the same, basic image quality and performance is the 85mm 1.8 and 70-200mm f4.0 but at half to one quarter the cost. What am I giving up? Just a prestige aperture that rarely gets used in real life. Certainly not in corporate portraiture where the overwhelming majority of clients expect both the tip of one's nose and one's eyes to both be in focus in the same image....

Is there anything Sony could do to improve their offering of the 85mm f1.8? Hmmm. I've got it! They could re-price it to $495. That would feel just right.
http://www.nikon.com/news/2017/0213_dl.htm

Wow! Just....wow. Nikon announced three models of one inch sensor, fixed lens cameras in three different zoom ranges, including one that might have competed with our favorite Sony camera, the RX10iii; and now they have announced the cancellation of all three products. They cited delays in the development of the image processor as well as the stumbling camera market.

Is this a (scary) tipping point for Nikon? Or will they circle the wagons around their DSLR position and retrench back into the cameras they feel they know best?

I wrote a few weeks ago that Nikon needed to focus like a laser on their core market if they were to move forward. They need to get back to producing their full frame DSLRs but they need to make sure that there are no more issues that lead to highly publicized recalls; like the D600 oil spots  on the sensor and the various mirror path design/implementation issues that plagued the D750.

I'm coming to believe that the days of having a business model built around offering something at every single price point and in every style are quickly coming to a close. It's almost impossible for a company to fight their own DNA and to make both an ultimately capable and distinguished flagship model, like a D3 or a D5, or a D500, and also a line of inexpensive models that seem to have no real market strategy or position, like the Coolpix series.

The writing was on the wall even before the announcement of the DL discontinuation when Nikon more or less stopped all support for the interchangeable lens, one inch family of cameras they created.

One imagines that they'll now pursue a strategy of building more strength in their core, DSLR line-up and offering traditionalists solid models that fit well researched price points.

The tragedy for Nikon will be that the traditionalists' market is quickly shrinking and what's left of that camera buying demographic is embracing the smaller and more advanced alternatives from Sony, Olympus, et al.

Canon, on the other hand, seems to be making inroads in the very same mirrorless market that is eating Nikon's lunch. The M5, while not ready for my camera bag, is a big move in the right direction and has been well reviewed in some corners.

While Nikon seems to have a hit with their APS-C, D500, is the cancellation of the DL series an indicator that they changed too little, too late?

Or perhaps the overwhelming performances of cameras like the Sony RX10iii were too much to compete with...

Interesting news with which to start the week.
Photo Courtesy: ODL Designs.

Habit is a powerful deterrent to change. Most of my friends who have been in the video business for quite a while started out shooting with big, over the shoulder, ENG video cameras. They weighed a lot and came with batteries that are heavier than my entire RX10iii camera. Most people used them planted on stout tripods. Part of the process was connecting multiple people to the camera.  Umbilical cords running off to sound techs and cables running off to remote monitors so everyone on the crew and client side could second guess and comment on your shots. People standing next to the camera to focus.  It's a process that depends on a slow, step by step collaboration with one's crew. 

I was the still photographer on an advertising video shoot last year and I was amazed at the  waste of time a relatively large group of seasoned professionals was able to engineer. We waited for 1990's style lighting to be set and tweaked by a crew of three. We waited as the sound person went through cord after cord, trying desperately to track down a persistent hum until someone finally pointed out to him that his cable was running directly across one hot extension cord and running parallel to another...

I am certain that the audio would have been just as good run directly into the videographer's FS7 video camera instead of monkeying around with dual sound into a high end audio deck.

The videographer was experimenting with flexible, rubber dolly track and a motor driven set of tripod wheels and we lost a time to all the jerky motion, caused by the on-off of the motor ,out of the system.  I would have suggested turning the servo driven motors (complete with game style joystick controller) off and having one of the many superfluous people on the set just push the whole assemblage. 

With the camera fully festooned with "pro" crap it must have ballooned to double its unencumbered size and weight. Fancy grips, electronic zoom triggers on the handgrips (doh! Prime lenses), giant matte boxes on rails, Anton Bauer batteries hanging off the back (and we were surrounded by electrical outlets....go figure) and a gigantic, third party EVF replacing the stock one ---- even though the whole camera rig was tethered to a monitor just to one side of the camera. It was an amazing example of last century necessity translating into this century overkill. All the touches, the job specific crew, the tight anchoring to the tripod, the emotional anchoring to the failed dolly track, and the constant fixing of unproven new tech cut the total number of in studio shots to about 10 that day. And when I saw the final product I didn't see the value add of the time expended. It reminded me of a mid-tier corporate video from 20 years ago. 

I am baffled at people's resistance to change. I can't imagine trying to get enough fluid and dynamic shots in a day straitjacketed by such a clumsy process. Especially when most of the video being produced is headed straight for your phone.

The "big crew" approach to video production is entirely at odds with the style of video content and editing that's popular today. Watch commercials, good web content, or a modern event presentation, and you'll see fast cuts. Except for interview segments it's routine to see a new scene, from a new cut, every two to three seconds, and four to five seconds now feels like an eternity. If you are editing a current, three to five minute, video ( see our "Cantine" video) you're likely going to use about 60 to 100 short clips (or more)  cut together to make the program. This edit pacing demands a faster, more fluid approach to shooting ----- unless your client is comfy giving you days and days to move the big camera and crew around, and to stand stationary, problem solving your rig for a while...

I like using my RX10iii, or the model 2, for the majority of my non-interview shots. If I'm on a tripod (a nice, lightweight tripod with a good head) I can shoot lots of moderately long shots with good stability in 4K and also have the advantage (when working in a 1080p timeline) of being able to crop in, use the "Ken Burns" effect, or lay on additional image stabilization in post production. 

These cameras come into their own when you pull them off the tripod and use them handheld. In this capacity I switch gears and use them in 1080p so I can take advantage of Sony's very, very good "active" and "active intelligent" I.S. modes. With practice one can learn to do steady, even, short pans that work. In wider angle settings, when using the continuous focus modes, you can use your feet (or bend at the waist) to "push in" or "pull out" instead of zooming. No need to set up sliders or improvise dollies for these kinds of clips. And, with good performance AF used in close, wide shots you certainly don't need to travel with a focus puller. 

We were shooting mobility this last week and I thought it would be great to do some trucking shots; moving the camera parallel to the talent while he walked with the camera cropped in close to the talent's microprocessor controlled leg. The old school method would have been to have the extended crew bring in dolly tracks and piece them together for the fifty foot stretch we might be traversing. We'd also need to rent a dolly.

With a stellar lens and really good image stabilization we made good use of a Metro cart with a heavy book and a soft, pliable scarf as a camera holder. It's hard to see in this illustration (below) but I have a small (7 inch) monitor on the top shelf of the cart so I can accurately track the talent and match his speed. It took five minutes to rig and the shots looked great. Total time getting 8-10 variations was about ten minutes. Then we were on to the next scene. 

And it's not just "about the camera" it's about the need to embrace a newer, faster production mentality if you want to work efficiently in a modern visual idiom. I could do the same thing with a Sony z150 video camera but I couldn't do the same kind of work with an FS7 and a handful of single focal length, manual focus lenses. Not the same. Difference in quality? Tell me when you see that FS 7 programming on the small laptop screens, telephone screens and on your iPads....

Photo Courtesy: ODL Designs.

One of the most compelling production features of the RX10 series cameras are those great lenses on them. The shot I was working on below tracked along with our talent couple as they walked up a long sidewalk toward the camera. Using the center focusing sensor the camera was able to accurately track the couple while I use the power zoom control next to the shutter button to (slowly) zoom out and maintain the same frame composition as I slowly and smoothly zoomed from nearly 600mm (equiv.) to about 35mm (equiv.) as they strolled past my camera position. One take. We reviewed it, saw that it worked and moved on. Can you imagine doing this same shot "old school" style? A bigger camera on a solid tripod with an operator moving the camera to maintain the couples' comp in the frame while a focus puller racks focus on a super heavy and super expensive, manual focus zoom lens! That takes coordination, rehearsal and manpower. And for what? To match the quality of a shot we were easily able to get while handheld, in blowing snow and freezing wind? A shot of which only a small portion will be included in the final edit...

Photo Courtesy: ODL Designs.

When my (videography) friends and I talk and the conversation comes around to how we shoot video they are always quick to dismiss the Sony RX10's (and other non-conventional cameras) and when I ask them what's different they point to XLR connectors, built in ND filters and external controls. Really? Adding a filter, and an audio interface from Sony is child's play ---- and very affordable. External controls? Set your camera up before you start shooting and you'll have it nailed. For high end work I totally get the bigger, denser files from more expensive, dedicated video cameras, but.... the Sony UHD looks pretty good on big screens; especially if you nail the exposure and white balance before you push the red button...

I could be missing something but the final results tell me I'm heading in a direction that feels right for me. Smaller, faster, happier.

VSL Baby Wrangler, Kirk Tuck, calms the talents' two  month old daughter.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs

My time in Canada is coming to an end and it's a crying shame. Everyone I met here, and everyone I worked with here, was kind, happy, helpful and just flat out wonderful. I've spent the last three days just consumed with making video and I'm heading back home tomorrow with well over 100 gigabytes of 2K and 4K video content. I could not have asked for a more fun work project. 

I landed in Toronto on Tues. evening in the middle of a big ice storm, grabbed my rental car, and headed slowly down the QEW to Burlington where I checked into one of the Hilton suites hotels. It was situated about 500 yards from my client's offices. About a thirty second commute every morning. 

All the lights and the audio gear arrived without incident. The only injury was to one of the locking screws on the fluid tripod head but it was still usable. I checked out the gear, repacked and then hit the bed in anticipation of a fun day ahead. 

The next morning I donned on my long underwear, a couple shirt layers, my warmest shoes and biggest gloves and made the 30 second commute. I was warmly greeted, given a tour, given my own "all access" key card and left to my own devices (in a good way). I'd planned for this day to be a combination scouting and B-roll harvesting day. I walked around, from lab to lab with my Sony RX10 iii, a Lastolite white balance target disk and sometimes, a tripod. I shot at least one hundred B-roll clips with one break to go and grab a couple fresh and tasty slices of pizza from Longo's grocery store. In the late afternoon one of my clients took me on a scouting trip of local parks. It was 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside but my haberdashery was more that adequate. 

On Wednesday evening the CEO of the company took me to dinner at an amazing restaurant where we enjoyed a great meal and discussed everything; from the attributes that made (make) the Leica M3 such a desirable camera to the intricacies of his industry. And lots more in between. 

On Thurs. morning we started in earnest, interviewing a user of one of my client's products, documenting the alignment and adjustment of a CPU powered prosthetic, and then going to a nearby park to document the user's incredibly good mobility. I shot the interview with the A7Rii and kept myself efficient and entertained by again shooting buckets and buckets of B-roll with the RX10iii, along with lots of stills on the RX10ii.

It's hard to find quiet spots in busy offices to record interviews but we did our best. The Sennheiser MKE 600 was my microphone of choice and I was again impressed by its detailed reproduction of human voice. I dislike using lavaliere microphones as most non-pro talent moves around, touches their clothing and creates a lot of random noise. That's one thing hyper cardioid and super cardioid microphones are relatively immune to.....clothing rustle.

The 600 was routed through the BeachTek XLR interface on the way to the camera. I monitored the audio with headphones but couldn't use the Aputure video monitor with the "A" camera because it is only a 1080p monitor and our "A" camera was set up to shoot in 4K (UHD).

We had a relatively big group from the client side. Product managers, marketing managers, a make-up person, the talent and the talent's wife and then, of course, there's me. After a nice, catered lunch in our main shooting area we all suited up and headed to one of the local parks. Our talent, who is walking on a high tech prosthetic leg, navigated a long, gravel path,  stepping over lots of tree roots and tackling inclines galore. I shot wide, medium, tight and extra tight shots of everything. I figured out that the "active" setting worked best for image stabilization but we don't have that setting available for 4K (only standard in 4K) so I dropped down and shot in 1080p, but at 60 fps so we can slow down the footage in post and do a "half speed" slo-mo. 

The active I.S. worked well and, after inspecting the footage on my laptop back in the hotel, I am impressed. The I.S. is not as good as the Olympus I.S. but then, what is?

The weather on Weds. was cold but no rain or snow. That came later....

After a long day of shooting and getting my bearings at my client's facility I had the pleasure of meeting a Toronto-based VSL blog reader for a wonderful dinner. We ate and talked for three hours and I'm sure I bored him to tears but he proved to be a wonderful host, and quite resilient since he volunteered to come back this morning and assist me on the busiest day of our three day project.  He also shot these great behind the scenes images. 

Today we interviewed two different people, one product user and one clinician. We also got action shots of the technical experts calibrating and testing a prosthetic for that user. I'm sure I came across as unorganized to my fellow photographer/assist as I tried to juggle an RX10iii on a Leica table top tripod at one shooting angle, the A7Riii as a primary camera and also carry an RX10ii for still photos in between monitoring audio and video. It wasn't too big of a stretch as we had a person from the client side actually conducting the interviews. 

I'm always nervous about video content until I get back to the studio and back up the memory cards to my little laptop. 

I was exhausted by the time we wrapped up, what with baby bouncing duties and keeping track of all the details, but my VSL reader/volunteer, Abraham, helped lighten my load by assisting me in disassembling all the gear and helping to pack it out to the car. I am so thankful that he came along with me instead of me muddling my way through the busiest day solo. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

More below.....

Stepping away from the video camera to take some silent still photographs with the "C" camera.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Do you see the Metro cart in the foreground (above)? Do you see the conduit taped to the 5/8ths inch metal pipe at the top, where it connects with the grip head? Yeah. Well, I only brought along four light stands and in this one particular set up I wanted to use three lights as well as a big diffusion for the main light. That used up all four of my stands and left me bereft of support for the microphone boom. I hijacked the cart and built this "Rube Goldberg" rig the day before; after I tidied up for the day. It actually worked well as it's a wheeled cart and could be easily adjusted. That, and the fact that it was amazingly stable. No sandbag needed there...

Monitoring the audio and the "A" camera for David's interview.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Here's a good view of the main light for this interview. Notice how far it is from the diffuser. The Aputure LightStorm LS-1 LED panels have a pretty narrow angle to their illumination. It's a tight beam. I pulled the light back from the diffuser for a softer, more even spread across the diffuser. Our standard ISO was 640 and I was using a 1/60th of a second shutter speed to get a nice, smooth 30 fps. All cameras were set to the same picture profile and all were color balanced with the Lastolite WB target. Hope it makes the edit that much easier...

Canadian clients head to the car while the video team keeps shooting the Lake Ontario shoreline in a valiant attempt to log enough b-roll. 
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Around the time we headed for our exterior location the wind began to blow and the snow began to fall. It was exciting for me. I'm from central Texas, we don't see this kind of weather much. Not so exciting for the natives who seem to have lost their sense of amazement concerning frozen precipitation.

The big gloves are from REI and the thinner "camera control friendly" gloves are also from REI. So is the hat you see and the little Polartec skull cap underneath. I was toasty warm but the best part is that I found the jacket at Costco for about $29 and it seemed as warm as anything my Canadians were wearing. Never a shiver, even after 30 minutes shooting in the wind, and standing adjacent to Lake Ontario.

I guess we Texans aren't that slow on the uptake, when it comes to personal comfort. 

A naysayer suggested that I did not have good cold weather gear; or the world's warmest gloves. Au Contraire. Here's proof. Tossed in the Sherpa hat for good measure. Me cold? Not likely.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Early to bed tonight as I've heard the U.S. Custom in the Toronto airport is notorious for long lines and big delays. I'd rather be five hours early than five minutes late. Besides, the family moved our traditional Thursday pizza night to Saturday evening just so I could share in the fun. I wouldn't want to miss my flight and disappoint them.

Canada Rocks! The people are great. The food was great. I give the whole experience five stars. 

Now comes the hard part, reviewing and editing all that footage.  Good night!

Profoto: How to use gridded strip boxes as the main light

My favorite light modifiers when working with studio-type flashes like the Profoto B1 and D1, are gridded stripboxes. In the studio where I have space, I tend to prefer the larger Profoto 1’x6’ strip-box (affiliate). When I have to travel with gear, or work with kids, then the Profoto 1’x4’ strip-box (affiliate), is my preference. Both of them with a grid on them. That egg-crate grid on the front helps control how the light spills.

This video explains how I use them as the main light, and what makes gridded stripboxes such powerful light-shaping tools. The video is a recording of my presentation at Profoto’s platform at WPPI last year. Of course, it was a huge honor to be invited to appear on stage.

One thing I noticed when I watched this clip now, I understand why my 30-minute presentation was over in 20 minutes. From sheer nervousness, I motor-mouthed my way through it. At times I even sound breathless as I speak. You’d think I would be used to speaking in front of an audience by now! Oh, my pronounciation of ‘muscles’ as ‘muskles’ is a joke that I often make. So, it’s not a South African pronounciation. (I was asked about that.)

I do hope you find this presentation informative. This video is part of the Tiny Talks series that Profoto just released which are condensed versions of our presentations. Catch the others as well – there is always something to pick up and learn from.

The specific details about how I shoot with stripboxes, are further explained in the linked articles listed at the bottom. Check them out too.

 

Camera gear (or equivalents), and lighting gear used

In previous articles (listed in the Related Articles link below), I show how it is possible to swing and rotate a gridded stripbox for fine control over how the light falls on your subject and background. The long shape of the softbox, as well as the grid on the softbox, create a unique light fall-off – giving soft, but dramatic light.

 

Summary

In controlling our light in how it spreads, and how our light falls on our subject, we can intentionally enhance the mood we want to create. As simple as that, and as dramatic as that.

 

Studio lighting workshops

If you are interested in learning more about studio lighting, including lighting for headshots, I offer workshops on studio lighting. The workshops will be held at my studio space in NJ, and it has a wide range of studio lighting gear to play with!

 

Related articles

 

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 Profoto: How to use gridded strip boxes appeared first on Tangents.
































































Belinda, looking at slides. 1980.

I never thought much about file sizes and HD video. My office computer, running Final Cut Pro X seems to handle 4K video without breaking a sweat. This being the case I never looked at one of the options in the Sony camera menu that allows one to record both a big, husky 4K video file and also makes a simultaneous, much smaller MP4 file. I enabled this feature before I shot my first interview yesterday because I had the idea that I would be able to send along a bunch of the smaller files to the client for review. The setting, and the duplicate files didn't have any deleterious effect on the camera performance, and the additional files aren't big enough to take up too much space, so, what the heck?

I came to realize the value of the duplicate files when I downloaded the two days of shooting into my 2011 vintage, MacPro laptop. It's got 8 gigs of memory, and a small Intel HD Graphics 3000 card with 512mb on board. No! It can't run 4K video without a very slow, three to four second per visual frame, screen refresh. It's like watching a slow slide show while listening to a continuous audio track. 

I searched and found the much, much smaller, 1080p MP4 files and clicked on one. It plays just fine. No big hit on systems resources. So, the 4K content is safely backed up but I also have duplicate content I can play, without penalty, for my clients. It's a pretty nice deal. It's like making your own "all purpose" proxy files in camera. In fact, that's exactly what it is.

The more I work with the cameras the more fluid I'm getting with both handheld camera movement and decent, on tripod, panning technique. 

We worked outside for about an hour and a half today. The RX10iii took it all in stride. With my GoreTex lined Ahnu hiking shoes, my Merino wool socks and my long underwear, along with my toasty Sherpa hat and amazing gloves, I stayed perfectly warm and was amazed to see Canadians in down outwear shivering and stamping their feet to stay warm. 

I'm heading out to meet a new friend for dinner but wanted to share this largely overlooked feature for other Sony videographers. I'm happy when I realize that a feature is not worthless...it's just sitting there on the camera waiting for me to get smarter...


I had a good flight from Austin all the way through to Toronto on Delta Airlines. Right on time every step of the way. The baggage handlers seem to have done only minimal damage to the gear. There is one set screw on my fluid tripod head that is bent but the device is still fully usable. The Amazon Basics backpack was perfect for the camera  carry on task and easily held everything I wanted to toss into it. It was even able to fit under the seat in front of me, if necessary.

When I hit the Toronto area the weather service had just announced a "freezing rain" warning. Liquid rain coming down in sub-freezing temperatures. Man, do they do a great job treating the roads! Even as a Texan with little to no experience navigating weather I was able to travel all the way to Burlington, CA. with no issues --- pretty cool.

Yesterday I spent at my client's HQ. I got a good tour of the labs, the warehouse, the training areas, etc. Unlike my more paranoid tech clients these folks were happy to hand me a badge that allowed me all facility access and then the let me do my work unencumbered. (Yes, I have worked in some facilities where non-employees are so supervised that they are escorted to the restrooms when nature calls....

I spent most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon shooting an assortment of video clips that I'll use to flesh out the stories that our interview subjects tell. At Ben's suggestion I've covered ten times more content than I think I'll need in the edits and have tight, medium and wide shots of almost everything.

For this kind of work; a mix of video clips and stills, I used the RX10iii exclusively. Someone asked me to list an important thing I learned from Alexander White's book about the RX10iii and I would immediately say that it was being able to set the focus to toggle between continuous and manual by assigning this the the center button in the four way array on the back of the camera. I set the AF to center focus and place the square over the subject. Once the camera hits focus I push the button and lock focus via manual focus mode. I have a constant indicator as to whether I am in AF or MF mode because in the AF mode the focus peaking indicators appear in the finder. Wonderful.

I am using the RX10 in 1080p for these "b-roll" shots instead of 4K because they will be ancillary to the interviews and will be on screen for seconds at a time. I would go ahead and shoot them in 4K but that limits me to the basic level of image stabilization while staying in 1080p gets me the choice of active stabilization and intelligent active stabilization. These settings make the camera very hand holdable; even at fairly long focal lengths.

The camera is amazing in this kind of work.

The other operational step I'm trying to be very consistent with is the use of a small, Lastolite white balance disk for custom white balancing as I move from area to area. One large room is used for discerning color analysis and it's almost perfect daylight while other areas use various lesser florescent tubes that can range from 3100 to 4300 with various hue shifts. The camera doesn't allow me to set a custom white balance in video mode so I switch to manual mode, do my CWB and move back to movie mode. One extra step but quickly done and well worth it.

I did my first interview yesterday. It was of the CEO. He was great. I had some noisy audio but I tracked down which bad cable was causing it and replaced it. Then I just had to contend with the HVAC cycling on an off for the whole building, as well as the occasional, loud door closure off in the distance. This was definitely a location that begged me to shoot "room tone" for later...

At the end of a long day of work the CEO invited me out for a great dinner at one of his favorite restaurants where we shared stories about photography and business. It was a wonderful way to end the first day of shooting.

I am typing this over breakfast at 6 am and I need to finish up and get back to checking batteries and packing up to go over to Client HQ for our first in a series of "product user" interviews. That, and a lot more of those texture shots  we use for cutaways, etc.  This is a fun project. I only hope the blizzard doesn't slow us down. You can make ice cubes here without even owning a refrigerator....

But I guess all you people who live in the north know this...

P.S. The thermal underwear really works! And my new, thick and furry gloves. And my monster good hat. And my Polartech scarf. And.....  All bundled up for the outdoor shots we'll be doing this afternoon. Projected temp? 12-15 degrees (f). All good. KT

Tim Hortons' Donuts? Discuss!
I thought I could intuit everything I needed to know about the RX10iii and I used about half of that camera's potential right up until I read Alexander White's book about that camera model. The book laid bare to me how little I really knew about fine-tuning the camera and shaping it to fit my shooting preferences.

I always espoused the idea of making a cursory run through the owner's manual and then just settling in for some extended use with the camera. And that's just what I did but instead of taking time in each use cycle to get to know another feature or working pathway I found myself using the camera pretty much the same way I've used almost every camera I've owned since the Nikon F5.

Why do I date my usage tendencies back to the F5? Well, that's when I felt confident enough with auto focus to capitulate and use it as my default instead of working (as I had) in manual focus.

And how did I use almost every camera? I set the mode dials to either manual or aperture priority, set the auto focus to S-AF with the center focusing sensor selected, pointed the camera and pushed the button. While that's a bit of a simplification I'll admit to being a late adopter of setting custom function buttons and setting up menu shortcuts. In fact, I'll admit that my primitive approach to camera customization is probably what led me to (prematurely) abandon my Olympus cameras. In retrospect, the EM-5.2 is really a very able video camera and a very advanced all purpose camera. You just have to invest the time and effort to really learn it. When I look at the handheld video that my friend, James, and I shot a year back I get a bit nostalgic for that almost magical image stabilization....

The issue, for me, is that in the days of un-digital cameras the controls were all pretty much the same. Mentally interchangeable. You could easily pick up a Nikon, a Canon or a Leica camera and understand everything you would ever need to know to shoot those cameras. One of the benefits to that kind of uniform control interface is that one could mix cameras with reckless abandon and never face the reality of forgetting where, in a crowded sub-menu, was the control that you were desperate to find.

I could easily go from a mechanical Hasselblad to a Pentax LX without missing a beat. Likewise, the steps for using my Linhof 4x5 camera were the same (with the exception of pulling a dark slide) as my Canonet. When we used our cameras over and over again the only thing we were getting used to was how the camera felt in our grasp. Sure, the lenses weren't interchangeable between brands but that never seemed to matter if the acquisition and use of a different brand body came with such a truncated learning curve.

I carried that poly-brand camera ethos with me for far too long in the new, menu-driven camera age. I resisted doing the deep dive into menus and features that would have made my work with some cameras more rewarding. Instead, I collected bits and pieces and tried to apply my general approach to all of them instead of focusing on one brand, one menu style, one interface.

Now I have exactly six cameras (not counting older film cameras that languish about the studio). All of them come from one maker. All of them were created and had menus installed from the current generation of that company's products. What this means for me is that I can shift from camera to camera and body to body without the frisson of having to remember different ideas about menus and control identification. This makes for a much more fluid use of the cameras in tandem.

But it was really just hunkering down and reading White's book that made me chide myself for my shallow embrace of so many previous systems. On recent projects my deeper understand of how to more finely control focus with the RX cameras and how to implement the right look across all the cameras in one project have made a big difference in my final products. A uniformity of look, engendered by a uniform selection of picture profiles, white balances and overall looks makes video easier to edit and makes mixing cameras in still photography productions much, much easier.

Recently friends have asked me if I've tried the new Fuji XT-2 or the X-Pro-2 and I have to tell them I haven't spent much time with the cameras. I have a friend who has offered several times to loan me his Leica SL and lens to test out. I paused momentarily on the Amazon.com page for the new Sigma SD Quattro H, before quickly moving on to find more Sony batteries. But the momentary truth is that I seem to have lost my taste for constant camera change, no matter how big the promise, because I know understand the depth of commitment to a system that real mastery takes.

In good conscience, and in attentive service to my clients, I can't ignore the potential of the cameras I have and how they can bring better results to the mix, if only I use them correctly and fully. That means I finally understand the benefit of a deep system dive.

I keep mentioning the RX10iii because it's a camera like the proverbial onion; it has layers after layers for you to peel back. Using it in raw for stills or in the 4K mode for video is a constant revelation. The better I know the camera the better I use the camera and the more it rewards me.

I am more amazed now than when I bought it that its 4K video is so pristine. In a head to head test with my $3200 A7Rii and my recent tests with a PXW-Z-150 video camera I can see no real difference in the files between the two one inch Sony cameras and the singular category in which the A7Rii is demonstrably better is in lower noise at higher ISO settings.

Before the hours I've spent with the Alexander White book I was using about $750 dollar's worth of my RX10's potential and now I feel like we're really just starting to get our money's worth our of it. But, mea culpa. This is what I get for being a "know-it-all" and believing my own press...

In the digital age the real mastery of a camera has to go so much deeper....
Ben uses a Sony rx10 iii and an Aputure LightStorm 1/2 to harvest "texture" shots.

A commercial photography changes we are doing more and more video projects and also projects that call for a mixture of both video programming and good photographs from the same engagement. On our previous project for one of our healthcare clients Ben and I wore multiple hats. For scenes with our main subject I did the important, direct to the camera, shots with a Sony a6300 while Ben shot different angles and different magnifications with a Sony RX10 iii. We used his shots in the final edit when we wanted to cut away and keep from hanging on one view for too long. 

Throughout the project we also shot still images. The Sony RX10iii allows me to shoot 1080p video and, while rolling video, hit the shutter button to capture full res, Jpeg photographs (at the highest image quality setting) at the same time. There were no glitches or breaks in the video and, as long as my shutter button pushing was gentle there was not discernible camera movement. This is a very powerful tool. There are times between video takes when we talk to the subject and prep them for a different question. This is also a good time to grab still frames.  

There is also an automatic setting that I've been experimenting with after reading Alexander White's wonderful book on the RX10iii. It allows you to set the camera so that it automatically shoots frames when the A.I. in the camera determines that a shot with people is good. So, in the video we just finished I had some longer lens shots that featured a woman in a wheel chair, and her friend, walking and rolling up a long, curved sidewalk, toward camera. Following them with the camera while adjusting focal length and making sure they were in sharp focus took all my attention. With the automatic setting engaged I can relegate the timing and the shooting of the stills to the camera and not have to think about yet another production detail. Since the stills use the same color settings, exposure and white balance as the video everything works well. 

It's still early times for this sort of automation and you may have to intercede to get the shots you want when you want them but it's a much more powerful way to capture concurrent stills than trying to "grab" them from 4K footage. Capturing from 4K with most other camera brands gives one an 8 megapixel file while the capture during video with the Sony gives me a full 17 megapixel image (cropped from the 20 meg image by the 16:9 video crop). 

At the end of the shooting process our clients get a video time line with all the good footage distilled into a H.264 file along with a folder full of high res still images that are ready for immediate use in social marketing, on websites and even for print. 

This week I'm shooting in Canada and I'm planning on making much greater use of the ability to create still frames while shooting video. If the camera can effectively take over the actual shooting task for me then so much the better. 

I need to do a bit of research and see if this feature is also available on the A7Rii as it will be my main "interview" camera. 

The only restriction I've come across when using the automatic still shot feature is that it cannot be used in conjunction with 4K shooting or shooting a 120 fps (for slow motion). I can live with that.

Shooting double is so efficient, both for me and the client. When I work with Ben and we use RX cameras we greatly increase the amount of content we are able to capture for our projects. We both set our cameras to the same profiles, make custom white balances from the same targets and have the same exposure aim points via zebras. This makes editing a lot more effective because everything we shoot cuts together very well. The added bonus, with "auto shot" enabled is that we'll both be generating still images simultaneously. 

It's not a catchall though, we still need to stop from time to time and set up and shoot important still shots. The nice thing is that we already know our settings are nailed because we've just seen the results on an HD monitor. Most times were just shooting vertical and horizontal of the same set up but with the talent holding a pose or pausing their action. It sounds daunting at first but with a little practice it becomes second nature. Double shooting adds value for our clients. They like that. It keeps our wheels of industry turning...

Packed and ready. Flying out in the morning. 


Photograph from "The Great Society" at Zach Theatre. 

I thought packing for photography shoots was painful but packing for video and photography shoots mixed together is....well....more painful. One issue is with the way I use LED light when doing lighting designs for video (and stills now...) I use diffusion on frames to modify the light from the fixtures. I like this because I can control the character of the light by moving the light closer or further away from the diffusion, and I can add more control by moving the diffusion closer or further to the subject. But! It requires two light stands instead of the one light stand I could get away with if I was using something self-contained, like a soft box. 

As I delve deeper and deeper into the practice of recording sound on location I'm learning that different sonic environments require different microphones. A room with carpeting and lots of padded furniture and drapes is a location in which shotgun microphones can be used with good results, but a room that big and bright and echo-y might not be as good a match. In that situation a shorter, slightly less narrow pick-up pattern microphone might actually be a better choice.  And in areas of utter audio chaos we'd probably want to default to a lavaliere microphone. That means we're bringing all three kinds. 

Since the shotguns and hypercardioid microphones sound better to my ear in most situations that's what we'll mostly end up using the shotgun microphone on a boom. Since I'm working with a skeleton crew (or by myself for a few interviews) I won't have the luxury of a dedicated sound person so that means I'll be putting the shotgun microphone on a boom pole and attaching that boom pole to a light stand. Another stand goes on the packing list...

I'm pretty adept at using two lights for most situations but I'd never travel out of the studio without a few back up lights so that means we're packing an extra copy of our main light and tossing it the new "mini" LED light as a "last resort" back-up. 

I packed a smaller tripod last week but I spend a lot of time with my cameras on a tripod and it kept bugging me that I would not have my preferred tool on site so I pulled the smaller tripod out and replaced it with my big, happy, comforting tripod; the one with the leveling ball and the super smooth pan-ability. 

On my interviews I know I want to set up a stationary "b" camera to shoot my interview subject from a  difference viewpoint so I've packed a table top tripod for a second camera. 

While the main mission of my upcoming assignment is to get good video we'll also need to capture good supporting still images for complementary collateral and campaigns. That means camera and lens inventory is going to be a bit different. On my last shoot I depended mostly on the Sony a6300 and Sony rx10iii and both of them were good, solid choices for video. But I've spoiled this client over the last year by delivering mostly photograph files that originated as uncompressed 42 megapixel raw files from the Sony a7Rii, which is a wonderful and expressive still photography tool. It calls for a slightly different selection of lenses to work the way I like. That adds to the packing. 

In the end I've settled on three checked bags and one carry-on. One checked bag (a Tenba Tri-Pack) holds the big tripod, a few light stands and a couple of Manfrotto grip heads (one for the boom arm stand and one for the Chimera diffusion frame). The next bag holds the lighting and audio gear, along with audio cables. It's a wheeled (and very sturdy) Tenba air case. The third bag is the catch all. It's got the clothes I'll need, along with an extra pair of shoes, and also holds the diffusion frame and silk, a pop-up reflector, some clamps, the portable monitor (in protective case) and a set of Sennheiser lav microphones (in a tiny Pelican case). 

I can strap the tripod case to the Tenba air case in a pinch and then I'm just shepherding two cases with wheels and wearing a back pack. 

The backpack holds the cameras, lenses, memory cards, (way too many) batteries for the cameras, as well as batteries for the monitor. It also contains the script/shot list/meeting notes/contact info and, in a  nod to past practices..... a Sekonic incident light meter. 

In the best of all possible worlds I'd be traveling with a 1990's style entourage and would bring cases and cases of gear to play with. But I wouldn't want most of the people to hang around my sets all day and I certainly couldn't afford to pay them all out of the budgets most clients have these days. 

No, I think the stuff I've settled on will be just right. Anything else I need I can buy or rent on site. 

Packing really does seem like a negotiation. You quickly get to the point where, if you want to add something to the mix you absolutely have to dump something out that you've already packed. 

The nature of the beast.


I loved using K5600's smaller HMI lights. They sent them to me to test. There is something about continuous light that makes me happier about photographs; portraits especially.

This is my friend, Fadya. I love photographing her because she is so interesting to talk to. We can sit for hours with a few cups of tea and converse and intermittently photograph. What a wonderful way to spend the better part of an evening.



I bought something new yesterday. I bought a little Aputure LED light panel. It's daylight balanced, uses generic Sony batteries or double AA's. It rated at 95 CRI and it was all of $59. I bought it because several of my other devices take the same Sony batteries and now that airlines require batteries to ride in carry-on we are sometimes asked to prove that the batteries are batteries by powering something up. Usually the devices that are Sony battery powered are riding in checked luggage. The LED panel is small enough to fit in my equipment backpack and provided a battery demo for the TSA. When not proving my absolute innocence it can also be useful as a backlight or accent light.

It's this one:

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