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Kodak DCS 760C. 6 megapixels
Sony R1. 10 megapixels
Kodak SLR/n. 14 megapixels. Shot in the 6 MP mode.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Fuji S5. 6 megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 megapixels.
Fuji S3. 6 megapixels. (Shot in 2006, still in use by client).
Kodak DCS SLR/n at 9 megapixels in square crop.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 Megapixels.
Kodak SLR/n. 6 megapixel mode.
Canon 1D mk2. 8 Megapixels.

Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Nikon D700. 12 Megapixels.
Kodak DCS 760C. 6 megapixels. 

I wasn't sure what to expect when I twisted a 55mm macro lens onto the front of my newly acquired, ancient D2XS camera and steered my car toward the my familiar stomping grounds. If the mainstream photo press (incuding bloggers, v-loggers, gear review sites and more) are to be believed then any camera older than a year is so fraught with technical deficiencies that it's mostly unusable for any photographic work more demanding than a quick social media post but I wanted to see for myself just how atrocious the files might look --- especially since I've had the opportunity to use much more modern cameras, like the Sony A7Rii and A7Riii as well as the Nikon D810. I was prepared for devastating disappointment. 

As I left my car a light rain started falling but I decided to believe all the reviews I'd read in the distant past and left the camera and lens exposed to the elements to see if all the talk about "weather resistance" was bogus or an actual thing. By the time I'd walked the first mile a steady rain was being propelled toward me and my unprotected camera by a zippy north wind. Every once in a while I'd brush the accumulated water off the camera with my gloved hand and wipe my glasses clean with the front of my sweatshirt. 

It was a dim and contrast deficient day. At ISO 200, using the lens at f4.0 and f2.8 the shutter speed mostly hovered around 1/125th. Sometimes higher, sometimes lower. The rain and cold were good disincentives for sidewalk traffic so downtown looked a bit deserted. A few brave food trailer operators were open for business but as I walked by there wasn't a customer in sight. 

So, what did I find out about the decrepit and obsolete camera during and after my two hour long, outdoor adventure? 

Well, first of all, I have to give credit to the camera and lens for not giving up the ghost because of the rain. Neither of them seemed worse for wear and when I removed the lens back at the studio there was no sign of water intrusion into the camera body or into the workings of the lens. 

The two important controls on the camera; the exposure metering and the focusing screen passed all my tests. The meter seemed to accurately nail every situation I threw at it while the screen had enough bite to it to allow me to manually focus the lens, at wider apertures, with no front or back focused images. I didn't really test the camera's ability to do white balance as I used the "cloudy" preset and also because I used the raw file format. 

During the course of my soggy walk I shot about 150 images and chimped a little bit but the battery indicator didn't budge from 100%. After years of using Sony's dwarfish batteries I'd forgotten just how efficient the old DSLR cameras are with batteries; and also how big the batteries in the old pro cameras were. 

The camera is hefty but as I'm generally only carrying one body, one lens and my favorite credit card (for necessary coffee and potential, emergency camera equipment purchases...) it was hardly overwhelming or overly burdensome.

The most pleasant part of the adventure was my triumphant return home with a still functional camera. I rarely subject my cameras to a couple hours of rain without some sort of protection since I actually buy my own cameras and can't just return them to a promoter or P.R. person with a shrug...

I plugged in a USB3 card reader and ingested the files I liked into Lightroom. Of course I was expecting them to be an unholy mess. I mean, really, the camera's sensor score didn't even top 60 on the DXO site!!! But surprise, surprise! The files were nice and rich. Detailed and sharp. Color neutral and tonally virtuous. It's almost like I shot everything with a current APS-C camera. 

While I didn't test it today I am sure that modern cameras will outperform this old professional tool as soon as the ISO starts to rise. But, to my eye, keeping the camera between 100 and 320 ISO means getting files that rival current higher end tools in everything but sheer resolution. 

This revelation, that ancient top-of-the-line cameras can be as effective (in a smaller operational envelope) as current cameras is dangerous. Dangerous for me and, I think, dangerous to the camera makers. 

The danger to me is that my wily brain will now start to fabricate reasons to buy alternate lenses so I can "explore the vast potential of old tech..." I'm already unearthing stuff from the cabinets that I overlooked in the last giant Nikon purge. I'm already scrubbing through the Precision-Camera.com website, looking for locally available bargain glass (after all, if the old cameras are this good how might the older lenses fair?).

The danger to camera makers might be an wider awakening to the idea that (other than lower high ISO noise) not much has really fundamentally changed in camera I.Q. over the last five or seven or ten years and maybe it makes more sense for cash strapped, potential professionals to mine the junk yards of the retail camera world to find that cast-offs from that coterie of buyers who have an insatiable need for the newest and greatest stuff. 

As someone who until recently made most of my income taking portraits the thought had crossed my mind that a couple of these old D2XS cameras and some select older glass would be more than adequate for just about any real business need. And would be available for a song... I'd miss things like eye detection AF, and, of course all the art modes but if push came to shove you could make the old stuff work for just about anything the newer cameras can do. Need bigger files? There's a menu item in PhotoShop for that...... For now I think I'll just be happy with the new toy and stop wasting money on these kinds of nostalgic adventures....... But I did happen to see a copy of my very first Nikon interchangeable lens digital camera on a used shelf. It was a D100 for about $95. I wonder how that one is holding up?
















If you're tired of the equipment rat race and frustrated with the demands of trying to stay "current" in the fast moving world of cameras you might be ready to step off the ever accelerating, new introduction carrousel and try an alternate method of assuaging your deep hunger for acquiring cameras. It came to me just a day or so ago as I was sitting around trying to "decide" which camera I "needed" to get next. I've been shooting with Panasonic GH5's and have been very happy with them but then Panasonic went and introduced two new models and the lust for a new camera welled up strong and quick like blood from a fresh knife wound.

I read the same bubbly reviews in the style that I recently decried. I watched poorly done videos of other peoples' renditions of creative spec sheet reading.  I looked in my check register, trying to see where the cash might come from to pay for my obsessive compulsive need for the latest and greatest in camera gear. And then I hit the wall...

It dawned on me that I've been engaged in the new gear dance for well over a decade now and have precious little to show for it. We had a good time deducting the wretched excess from our taxes and we had many a good discussion about the merits of various new models while saluting photography with frosty and salty margaritas but it's hard not to feel
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The disheveled cotton candy of the linear mind. 

I wrote a piece a couple of days ago that was, on the surface, a critique of the latest Fuji camera. It was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek critique of the current photographic press, many of whom are making an entire career of endless junketeering tours, hosted by the makers and marketers of the cameras about which they write. That content being the "product" they use to lure readers and advertisers to their sites. The new generation of professional reviewers are just like the writers of columns about automobiles who are often flown to wonderful locations, housed for a while in five star hotels, and feted like princes and dukes, who get to drive the latest cars on wonderful winding roads and then, ostensibly, write unbiased reviews for their hosts.

And we now have a coterie of likable, affable and effusive video bloggers, review sites and old fashion typed-blog site writers who live anchored to the nurturing breasts of the camera makers' P.R. teams in much the same way as their car loving cousins. I find it amusing (and depressing) that we've gone from having online sites where an expert, deeply involved in his or her preferred camera system, wrote from hard-won experience,  about nuts and bolts of the system they knew, with the benefit of long experience and laser like focus, and we have now moved to a frenzied and unregulated market place where the process of reviewing extends to the products and models of any and all systems makers who are willing and ready to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to extend "courtesies" including: air fare to fun locations, copious alcohol, shooting opportunities and prime lodging to our industry's blogger celebs so those writers can be spoon fed tailored "experiences" that form the homogenous bedrock of hundreds of near simultaneous and transparently similar camera "reviews". Even the images (since they were all generated at the same event) are interchangeable. All just so positive and sparkly. 

A few of my readers didn't seem to get the "inside joke"; that I was using the Fuji marque as nothing but a foil of my (obvious) target, the ersatz press sales process. Several denounced my "hatred" of Fuji or my fanboy attack on Fuji. In the past I would gloss over all of this but it's been a tough quarter so far and I'm loathe to accommodate painfully literal thinking and obtuseness, and even less inclined to give it power or public voice. 




For many years I have listened to people refer to the ebb and flow of partisan politics as akin the swinging of pendulum where one side or party, having secured the right kind of leverage, takes their pet policies and runs with them, outpacing the general electorate which eventually reacts to the lopsidedness of the new paradigm and pulls the whole process back to the other side. More or less analogous to a sine wave. At some point we conjecture that there is a stable middle ground which is largely logical but never attainable. One theory is that the amplitude of the changes will eventually become smaller and smaller and somehow logic and reason will have us all meeting closer and closer to this theoretical middle ground.

In capitalism we often talk about cycles. In commercial real estate, in which I have some long experience, the accepted wisdom is that we tend to overbuild, panic and then overcorrect, which leads to a shortage of inventory which then leads to overbuilding, followed by surpluses and panic and then the inevitable overcorrection. General consensus is that this is a seven to ten year cycle in most parts fo the U.S.

Cycles, Sine Waves, Pendular Swings. This all makes our politics sound like an arena where the majority of Americans are making changes to their own perspectives and changing their point of view on issues with a degree of flexibility and open-mindedness that I have rarely seen in "the real world."

It dawned on me yesterday that, where politics is concerned, the model of the constituent swing is just wrong. The real model is a giant 24/7 tug of war over an open pit of hot lava. Each side straining and pulling to gain ground and capture territory, inch by inch. One side gets ahead and, perhaps in a celebratory moment, is distracted for a small fraction of time. This gives the other side an advantage which they press with vigor. A big victory makes one side feel as though momentum has arrived as an ally and they can now coast a bit. The sting of a big defeat galvanizes the other side to pull harder to capture back lost territory. People on either side either let go of the rope in a play for self-preservation or are pulled into the lava and die a quick and excruciating death.

But the real point is that the opposing teams rarely loss their team members to the other side. Defections are rare. Minds are not changed. The rope, the struggles is the only thing that energizes each side. The struggle is continually energized by millions on either side.

In the theory that there is a natural ebb and flow there is effort followed by a period in which the fruits of one's labor (or ideology) can be savored with a respite from the process. The wave will continue, supposedly, until it hits its natural peak and then ebb back. The pendulum will swing too far, slow toward its furthest travel in one direction and then accelerate back in the other direction.

But in the tug of war lava pit theory there is no real respite only the struggle and the commensurate balancing of two divergent views on either side of the philosophical lava pit.

That's all I was thinking about today.
Here's my breathtaking and highly original announcement. You heard it here on the VSL blog. This may be one of many decent cameras to be announced in 2018. It may be even better for some uses than other cameras which will also be announced. It's possible that some people will take good photographs with it.

so. Where's my "real world" "hands on first impression" "what you need to know" review?  Okay, I've got this. Here's my "I've read the same press release as everyone else so I'll take a stab at summarizing how I feel about a camera I've never seen" journalism:
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Are you looking for a good test of your patience, you lighting skills, your manual dexterity and you photographic technique? You might want to try your hand at the devilishly hard process of photographing the innards of microprocessor and micro controller chips. If they are lit correctly you can get some interesting patterns and colors. But you'll need to get a lot more magnification than you'll get out of that 50mm macro lens attached directly to your DSLR camera....

At one point back in 2004 we were photographing eight or ten sets of chip dies a month for the folks at Motorola. They had two big fabs in Austin and it was a time in which the hardware side of the tech business was booming. 

I'd get a phone call from someone in marketing and I'd head over an pick up a heavy duty plastic container with tiny, tiny little squares of silicon with even tinier photo etched circuits on them. The clients needed clean, colorful photographs that they could blow up big and use in printed brochures and magazines, and it was always a bonus if we could make them high enough resolution to print onto 4x4 foot wall posters. It was always a big "ask" with a miniature deadline. 

I'd haul the little squares back to the studio and start assembling the macro rig. A very rigid copy stand with a camera holder on rails so that one had two levels of control of lowering the camera toward the subject. But between the camera and the subject was a bellow that sometimes extended nearly twelve inches along with a specialized macro lens that was optimized for magnifications between 3x and 8x life-size. 

There were three hellacious speed bumps we had to deal with on almost every job. One was getting hard light onto the subject from just the right angle to create a visual representation of the information on the surface (actually, several layers of surface). The second challenge was to keep the small (and very light) wafer in place and plano-parallel to the lens stage and the "film" stage of the camera. We cheated and used a little bit of spray mount painted on a holder surface with a toothpick. 

We had to secure the chip so we could "puff" it with compressed air just before shooting so we could make sure that we didn't get giant piles of dust in the photo. Retouching was out of the question. Too much fine detail. 

If we used compressed air on an un-anchored die it would go flying off into the infinite clutter of the studio.

The colors and the details were dependent not just on the angle of the lights but also on the aperture of the lens. Diffraction and fall off limited anything smaller than f5.6 and sometimes our best shots were at the widest aperture of f2.8. Changing apertures meant that the focus changed and that meant a whole new round of re-focusing. 

The final challenge was vibration and movement from the camera shutter. When the chip sizes went under a certain size we started to depend on opening the shutter with a black card under the lens, moving the black card and counting out "one elephant, two elephant...." and then replacing the card. No vibration --- as long as we didn't touch anything. 

If I was lucky I could get a good shot in a couple of hours. All of these images are from the same chip product. They are a result of changing the light angles, changing the elevation of the lights and changing the size of the light surface. The experiments (and re-focusing would go on until I got a handful of successful images and then it would be another hour in post processing. 

We started doing this kind of work back in the film days. A really good chip die shot could take a day to get just right because every bout of trial and error required Polaroid testing and then more testing. 

Our first foray into chip shooting was for the Apple/IBM/Motorola consortium that came together to create the RISC based PowerPC chip family. The last Motorola conference I attended was still using an 8x8 foot blow up of the original PowerPC chip I had taken (on large format film) nearly a decade earlier... 

A bigger challenge was getting a good die shot of the first IBM multi-core processor. Security in the pre-announcement stage was so high I had to take all my stuff and head over to their offices where I juggled a full sized 12 inch wafer filled with the little squares while a marketing person hovered close by. We processed the images on site and then they "helped" me to erase my CF card just in case....

Makes for a pretty iron clad NDA. 






I'm a fan of using cameras correctly. In many instances a really cheap camera, use right, can create files that look much, much better than a very expensive, state-of-the-art camera. If you take a decent camera, get the white balance zero'd in correctly, figure out exactly where you want to place the depth of field and then put the whole shebang on a sturdy tripod you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between a Phase One medium format camera and, well, a micro-four thirds camera.

This is, ostensibly, a simple shot. Just hang out about three feet outside the door of the room (the powerful magnetic field created by the newest generation of MRI machines can turn innocent cameras and tripods into deadly, high speed projectiles.... think: rail gun. Also, subject to the inverse square law....) and shoot to your heart's content.

Except... the machine and the room are only illuminated by relatively few compact fluorescent bulbs stuck in ceiling cans and distributed around the room just where you don't want them... The room had deep, dark shadows and areas of burnt out highlights. This became apparent when I shot my first test frame.

Without being able to light the room we needed to work with what we had and what the camera could supply us for leverage.

I switched from my usual RAW file camera setting to the finest Jpeg setting so I could take advantage of the Panasonic GH5's built-in HDR setting. Then I took a series of exposures at different starting settings so I could evaluate the sweet spot (or sweet frame) where the highest resisted burn-out but the shadow were opened up enough so that, with a little more boost in PhotoShop, I'd be able to create files that we liked.

I used the camera on a smaller Gitzo tripod about two and a half feet off the floor. I originally composed the shot a bit wider than shown here so I could crop and correct perspective. I used the Panasonic/Leica 8-18mm lens because I depended on its ability to help me fine tune final composition. The built-in level helped me keep the shot from being too wacky.

For safety's sake I also shot a bracket of RAW shots with the idea that I could blend them in post production if my in camera HDR didn't make the grade.

At f5.6 and an ISO of 200 all of the parts of the machine that I think should be sharply focused are. The lower ISO goes a long way to equalizing the quality between a shot in this format and an equivalent shot done with a full frame camera in that the full frame system would require me to stop down two more stop in order to get the same depth of field. Probably not critical in this show as we could have dragged the shutter on the full frame camera to make the exposures equal. But nice to be able to use a lens in its optimum aperture range and still get the deep focus required without worrying about the effects of diffraction.

This was the first of many shots we did that day. Some with people and some without.

This shot prompted me to go back and look at a shot we'd done back in 1988 for Central Texas Medical Center. They had just gotten a CT Scanner (no magnetic/kinetic danger...) and part of a brochure assignment was to take a sexy photo of that machine. It was the age of color filters and 4x5 sheet film.

CT Scanner. Circa 1988.

I was working with art director, Belinda Yarritu, on a brochure project for a new hospital in central Texas. It was located in San Marcos, Texas. During the course of the day we shot a beautiful mom and baby in a maternity room setting, nurses with geriatric patients, earnest looking doctors, spiffy looking lobbies and much more. But the most technical shot we did that day was in the CT Scanner area you see above. 

We shot everything that day on 4x5 transparency sheet film because, well, that's just the way advertising shots that might end up as double truck spreads were done back then. We were also hauling around 2 Norman 2,000 watt second power packs and a box full of flash heads. 

The shot above was done on a Linhof 4x5 using a 90mm lens stopped down to about f32. I wanted to get as much in focus as I could. We used four flash heads running off two 30 pound power packs and, as you can see, we used a mess of filters. 

We were shooting ISO 64 sheet film and my meter reading told me we'd need to turn out the room lights and modeling lights and hit the power packs for four separate exposures to get enough light onto the film; we were battling reciprocity failure at the f-stop I wanted to use. We also had to put black velvet over the computer screen for the flash shots and then do a separate exposure for the actual screen information (screen on the right, just to the right of the phone...). So, four pops for the room and about 10 seconds for the screen. Sadly, Polaroid had much quicker reciprocity failure and wasn't as useful as an exposure tool for lighting situations like this. 

The shot at the top of the blog took about three minutes. Lighting and testing a shooting the shot on film, just above, was probably 45 minutes to an hour of time. A lot has changed. 

It's fun to see the difference over 30 years... It was a different and less sophisticated market back then. 




Jennifer. Goggles. ©Kirk Tuck.







Bloggers and reviewers of cameras tend to direct their attention to things that are measurable and comparable and, if you are into charts, graphs and measurements, this can certainly be interesting and entertaining but lately, when I'm looking for something fun to read about my hobby of photography I find myself wanting to read more about the personality of a camera or the the way in which the object itself (the camera) changed, amplified or even ruined the creative process of shooting photographs for the writer. I found myself thinking, "Tell me why this camera is your companion. Tell me stories about how you spend your time with your camera. Tell me why, after years of experience, this is the camera for you." 

There was a time when the best image making cameras on the market were also the biggest. Think back to the Nikon D3x or the Canon EOS-1Dmk3. These were the cameras that really pioneered the higher resolution sensors but they did so in frightfully expensive, bulky and ungainly packages. If you wanted the highest performance you just sucked it up, went broke, and carried around a beast.

I think most of us agree these days that the majority of cameras using modern sensors have passed over the bar which stands between sufficiently good for just about everything and "non-starter."

So just what is it that I like about the GH5 (and also the GH4)?  

When I walked into Precision Camera to see the first GH5 I was already shooting a different system; one which checked all the techno-boxes for low noise, high resolution, high bit depth, and superb detail. It was everything a technocrat could love in a camera system and I should have been happy with it but there was always the niggling feeling that the way it felt in my hands was a bit off. A bit sloppy and possessed of too many sharp corners and hard edges. It also felt a bit chintzy. As though a good, bumpy bike ride might put its internal parts out of whack.

That system was a bit schizophrenic. Its mirrorless heritage must have made the original designers feel that it should be smaller than DSLRs, as though the smaller profile would be a selling point. At the same time, in order to go toe-to-toe with the DSLR competitors the lenses (needing to cover full frame) were as ponderous and hefty as those made for all the other full frame systems; and pricier into the bargain. So, if I wanted a good performing long zoom I could by either a f4 or f2.8 version of a 70-200mm zoom, either of which dwarfed the cameras on which I could use them. It was a system of imbalances for me.

The camera system I owned a generation before that was a "professional" DSLR centric system featuring bodies and accessories that were big, obvious, inelegant and ungainly. If you wanted to play at the popular culture's version of a professional photographer you certainly couldn't go wrong strapping a bunch of these heavy bodies and lenses over your shoulders and across your torso. But you could write off any sort of discreet presentation because the sheer bulk of the system denied you any camouflage. It was essentially camera as theater.

So, when I decided that all interchangeable lens camera systems had hit the point where 95% of my jobs could be satisfied with any of them I circled back to the smaller systems. After 30 years of hauling around way too much gear I was interested in acquiring a new generation of equipment that would just get out of the way. And that could be packed in bags I could carry for miles without wanting to change careers.

I looked at the Olympus cameras but, truth be told, without the addition of battery grips those cameras are just too small to be comfortable for me. I've owned many different Olympus bodies over the years and enjoyed the files I got from them but I wanted more space for my hands, more space for hard controls, and bodies that could be paired with heavy duty, professional lenses (some of them from Olympus) and not feel ultimately unbalanced.

When the person on the other side of the counter at the camera store handed me the GH5, fitted with a 12-35mm f2.8 lens, I was immediately struck by how well it fit in my hands, how nicely the controls were laid out and also how solid the camera felt, structurally. But the proof is in the daily using....

I'm a traditionalist so once I unboxed the camera and charged the batteries I was ready to do my first bit of customization to make the camera familiar to me. I took one look at the crappy, promotional neck strap supplied with the camera, logo emblazoned in 72 point, red type, and I threw it into the trash. There must be something in every camera maker's marketing department that requires them to leave good taste at home when considering the look (and feel) of camera straps. The are all uniformly ugly and just scream, "free marketing." 

My preference is for the pedestrian Tamrac strap with integrated leather shoulder pad. Not a big pad and not a pad of contrasting color but just enough black dyed leather to give good purchase on the shoulder of a cotton shirt or wool jacket. Nothing fancy and certainly not the childish, faux military visual aggression of something like the laughable Black Rapid (camera killer) Strap. I have the Tamrac straps on every camera I own and they are like a warm handshake at the beginning of every use.

The first thing the survivor of a lesser camera body notices is that the GH5 is the round peg in the round hole. The size is perfect. Not so small as to cause your pinky fingers to curl up and cramp and not so big as to cause casual bystanders to point and gawk. Not so ubiquitously branded that everyone's uncle wants to come up and talk to you about his camera model from the same company.  No, it's the perfect size for a usable camera that can accompany you with little fanfare (or drama) as you glide through life.

I was unpacking and getting ready to shoot in a medical clinic a week or so ago. My assistant was setting up three mono light flashes on stands while I pulled one of the three Panasonic bodies I brought with me out of the small backpack in which they travel. I twisted off the body cap and put it back into the bag. I selected the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens as my top choice for my first shots of the day and I put it on the camera. The next step was to flick the power switch on and start checking my settings.

I wanted to make sure the image stabilization was turned on, that I was shooting raw and that I had all the parameters for the files set the way I like them so I can make good assessments as I go. Next, two v90 memory cards get loaded into their slots and each is formatted. The touchscreen on the LCD makes whipping through the menus incredibly quick and easy and it doesn't hurt that the menus are easy on the brain. No Roswellian menu icons here....

With the camera and lens configured I put the strap over my left shoulder and start walking around the facility figuring out how I'll shoot. I see something I want to make a visual note of and I reach down for the camera. I leave it on all the time while I'm shooting so there's no wait state when I'm ready to use it. I feel my right hand instinctively wrap around the grip and, cradling the bottom of the camera with my left hand I bring it up to my eye. The finder image is perfect. The best I've used.

The left side of the camera has a big, smooth space that comes in handy if I need to switch to a vertical orientation. It sits in the palm of my left hand while I work the controls with my right. While the 12-100mm is bigger than most of the primes it's not that big when you factor in what it does. And the bigger size of the GH5 makes it more comfy to use than the cameras in the lens's own system.

I'm standing on my tiptoes peering into the EVF of the GH5 and trying to set up a shot and get the composition just right. The camera is locked on a tripod and I've got it set just exactly right. But I realize I need to dial in about -2/3 stop of exposure compensation. Without having to ( or being able to) see the top panel to find the button for exposure compensation I find it immediately by touch.  I know the button is the right one because it's one of three buttons just behind the control wheel at the top of the handgrip. It's not the dedicated White Balance button because that one is on the left of the three and is tactilely identifiable by its taller profile and rounded surface.  I know it's not the dedicated ISO button because that button has two small prongs that gently remind your index finger that this is the button you push to change sensitivity. You know your finger is on the exposure compensation button because it's more flush (almost indented) and smaller than its two mates.

Since I'm attempting to fine tune exposure and there is a human in the shot and I want to see something other than just a histogram or in-camera meter indication while I'm setting exposure comp. I remember that I've set the function button just behind the row of three dedicated buttons(just above) to turn on zebras and toggle them through different strengths. I set zebras to 85, get them to start doing their thing on the talent's flesh tones in the finder and then roll down the exposure comp until the zebras disappear. I want to be 1/3 to 1/2 stop under the point where the zebras stop flashing to make certain that caucasian flesh tones render correctly. Once set I hit the button again so I don't get annoyed at having to look at the zebras in the finder as I shoot.

With two ultra-fast V90, UHS-II SD cards in their slots the camera is amazingly responsive. The buffer seems to clear instantly. I'm never waiting for the camera.

The camera comes off the tripod so we can shoot super close and super wide and see a technician through the parts of a medical scanning device. I use the 8-18mm lens to get as close to the machine as possible. The lighting is low so we can read the function lights on the control panel of the machine. I need to use a slow shutter speed to keep the ISO down but the camera inspires confidence. If everyone stays still we can pull off some pretty amazing slow shutter speed shots. I try a bracket of shots around 1/8th of a second and 1/15th of a second. They are all sharply detailed. The in-body image stabilization works very well.

We're moving quickly now and I've got the camera around my neck and several speed lights set up to provide soft lighting for a series of quick portraits. Sticking the flash trigger in the hot shoe causes the camera to cancel out of "setting effect" and gives me a nice, bright image with which to focus. I pull the trigger out of the hot shoe and set the exposure by eye using setting effect. Once the manual exposure for available light is dialed in I put the trigger back on the camera and go back to the bright viewfinder image. A quick test shot shows me a good balance between natural light and the flash. We're ready to shoot.

I'm shooting handheld and the in-body image stabilization helps to ensure that the ambient light that makes up part of the exposure doesn't show off camera movement.

It's lunch time now and I stop to check a few shots and look at the rear panel of the camera. We've had the camera on non-stop for nearly three hours and we're down to the last few bars of power indication for the battery. I change the battery out, put the camera over my shoulder on its strap and grab a sandwich and some salad from the craft service table.

My client is anxious to take a better look at the material we've been shooting so as we sit and have lunch my assistant plugs a full size HDMI cable into the port on our shooting camera and connects the other end to an Atomos Ninja Flame monitor. We're able to review our work on a big, bright screen and not worry about the smaller, inherently precarious HDMI connections available on all the other more "semi-" professional cameras on the market....

We get to shooting stills for the rest of the afternoon. Near the end of our shooting day we get a visitor to our location and he turns out to be a specialist in medical imaging. The clients asks if we can get a quick interview. She means "video" interview. I set up the camera on the monopod with fluid head which I've just recently added to the car, pin a microphone on the man's jacket and check levels and lighting. We're good to go. The client suggests starting the interview with a close-up on the machine the interviewee will be discussing and the panning and pulling focus to the talent. We set up the automatic follow focus in the camera menu, do a few rehearsals and then shoot footage with a text book perfect focus pull. Five minutes later we're wrapping the interview with some great 200 mb/s All-Intra footage and we're ready to go back to still mode to get a few more shots.

The last shot is a new MRI scanner that's an example of the latest tech in medical scanners. I'm shooting low and from just outside the door (dangerous magnetic field inside).  The composition the shot is good but the lighting is way too contrasty. I switch to the fine Jpeg setting and enable the in-camera HDR, setting it to a three stop composite. The tripod is splayed so our camera is about a foot above the floor so I'm lining everything up on the rear tilting screen and thanking the photo gods for live previews. I'm focusing manually so I can place the depth of field with greater accuracy.

Several quick tests later we've found a setting that preserves highlights, brings up some shadows and works. We bracket a set and then switch back to raw to record a back up set of images to use in case we want to do a different HDR style in PhotoShop.

It's time to wrap up so I put a red rubber band around my shooting camera and toss it back into the backpack. When I get back to the studio I'll know from the rubber band that this was the shooting camera and I'll pull the cards and battery from it. In the meantime I pull a second GH5 body from the backpack, attach my favorite lens of the day (the Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7) on the front, set the focal length for the IBIS and hit the menu to make sure my settings are just how I like them. This is now my personal camera and it's ready to shoot anything interesting between the client location and the studio.

This camera also has an inexpensive Tamrac strap on it. The diopter is already set to work with my new glasses. The camera feels so perfect in my hand and, as my assist drives us back to Austin I find myself unconsciously holding the camera and going over each function button, re-memorizing its exact position and loaded feature.

The camera is not so big as to be a burden or an intimidation. It's not so small that it feels squirrel-ly in one's hands. It's not overwhelmed by bigger, professional lenses but not so big that pancake lenses are dwarfed by the body.

Later that evening I went for a walk downtown and brought along the camera and the very tiny 42.5mm f1.7 Panasonic lens. I chose this lens for my walk because it was twilight and soon I'd be shooting with nothing but the illumination from street lights and shop lights. The 42.5 is pretty sharp when used wide open and amazingly sharp when used at f2.5-2.8. The lens has its own optical stabilization and it's one of the lenses whose I.S. can work in conjunction with the camera's own built-in I.S. It's a feature called, dual-axis I.S. It might not be quite as good as an Olympus EM5-II or OMD-EM-1.2 but it's clearly better than anything from the other camera makers, and not far behind Olympus....

When using this combo the EVF image is perfectly stabilized with a half-press on the shutter button. It makes composition easier because it keeps the finder image from jittering or moving around. I'm walking past a coffee shop and I see an interesting customer in the window. He's in his 60's or early 70's, is impeccably dressed and has a small stack of books in front of him on a small wooden table. He's got a book open on top of the stack and he's referencing that book while jotting something down on a yellow legal pad just to the right of the stack. I take a meter reading and it tells me I'll be shooting at f2.2 at 1/8th second at 200 ISO. I line up my shot, exhale slowly and push the shutter button. The shot is crisp and detailed. I drop the camera to my side where it dangles on the strap and I move on. The small size of the camera and its dark exterior finish blend in with the deep gray sport coat I am wearing and becomes almost invisible.

I reach down one more time to wrap my hand around the grip. It is entirely possible I've found my favorite camera body of all time.

It may not have all the bells and whistles and technical superiority (for stills) that some full frame or even APS-C camera might have but many of those attributes are mostly theoretical. Most users lack of discipline and technique water down advertised perfection.  The makers of those cameras have focused solely, it seems, on impressing us with numbers and specifications but usually at the expense of handling and pure design logic.

But let's talk about image quality for a bit. Most experts agree that the color and tonal quality of the video files at 4K run rings around their competition but most people considering this camera are apprehensive about the still image quality. It's not as good as some full frame cameras when you dial up the ISO; I get that. But in my day-to-day use that's not a vital parameter.

I got a panicky e-mail from a client yesterday. There was a photo we took last year of a doctor and his family.  A young doctor, his wife and four small kids. We took the shot in the studio. We lit it with flash. The client needed a copy in a different format. I opened the file in PhotoShop and took a quick look. I blew it up full screen and it looked good. Actually, great. I remembered that we took the image sometime during my switch of systems so I assumed it was made with a 42 megapixel Sony. I blew it up to 100% and sighed, thinking of how rich that file looked and wondering if my system change made any sense at all...

Then I looked at the metadata. Oops. It was a raw file from the GH5 taken with the Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens. It looked pretty incredible. It fooled me.

I took the camera with me to coffee this afternoon. I had the old Contax lens on the front. When I left the coffee shop to head home I saw an interesting image. The camera was at my side. I flicked on the power switched, quick focused with the focus peaking and shot. It's a beautiful twilight shot in a light mix and it's perfect.

This is why I like this camera but hate most reviews. It's clearly more than just the sum of its specifications. And if you shoot video it's like getting two great cameras for the price of one.

But most important to me is that it's a camera I actually enjoy having by my side. Always.

I liked the way I lit portraits in the time when big film allowed us to take maximum advantage of film's gorgeous highlight roll off. We could light right up to the edge of overexposure with black and white emulsion and especially with color negative film emulsions and have an almost certain expectation that we'd be able to manifest endless tones in even the brightest areas of our prints. When I shot 35mm transparency film I was a habitual user of a handheld, incident light meter so I could carefully match the light levels to a color zone system that occupied space in the logical part of my brain. The interim steps of either scanning or printing added a safety margin to our war against burnt highlights as well.

When we jumped across the chasm to digital capture it seems that the biggest casualty has always been the ability to retain great highlight detail without having to underexpose and then raise all the tones in order to compensate for our timidity. Until recently the method of underexposing in order to preserve valid highlight detail and tonality carried with it the curse of noisy and information poor shadow and lower mid-tone areas. There was also the very real disaster of banding in the shadows and mid-tone transitions that were the manifestation of lack of bit depth in the lower registers.

This was somewhat mitigated around 2014 when Sony sensors became more or less immune to the worst ravages of underexposure. Now that the technology of the shadow tolerant sensors have been implemented everywhere but in the Canon camp most of use are breathing a little sigh of relief. I have noticed though that m4:3 users are still closer to the edge in terms of highlight control versus overall dynamic range that we might want. Yes, the modern m4:3 cameras can do the same underexposure+lifted highlights trick as the cameras with bigger sensors but few are capable of shooting 14 bit raw files (perhaps only the GH5S...) and there is still some trade off between the overall information density of a camera like the Nikon D850 and the Panasonic GH5, in the realm of still photography.

Since I've cast my lot with the smaller sensor cameras I'm re-thinking how I light my portraits and I'm experimenting with ways to do so that don't depend on post production heroics or magic.

I'm more interested now in making light that's composed of smaller, closer lighting units. In the past I was a proponent of large light sources. I've often written about using 6x6 foot diffusion screens as main light sources as well as 72 inch diameter umbrellas, complete with diffusions socks over the front. Now I'm interested in using smaller soft boxes or, in the case of LED lighting, smaller diffusion flags, closer in toward my subjects and then using multiple sources to build an overall lighting design rather than just depending on big, soft sources and the necessary post partum enhancement.

Part of my investigation has to do with my increasing use of high quality LED panels in video settings. I'm re-learning how to sculpt faces better without imperiling my highlights or adding to much texture to faces that don't want to show off the daily battle scars of life.

In these undertakings it's good to remember that the inverse square law is your first assistant. Accelerating fall off is delicious, when used correctly.

I'm working on some examples of lighting that yield a tighter delineation of facial form and more interesting tonal transitions that I've used in the past. It's not enough just to get sufficient photons onto a subject; I'd like the photons, collectively, to also describe a more interesting range of information.

Just a few thoughts about lighting today. I've been watching too many Gordon Willis movies (a great DP). The lighting is just so much more interesting that most of mine. Now a conscious work in progress.

I hadn't seen a lot of press about this book when I stumbled across it. As a big, big Avedon fan I had to buy it and start reading it immediately. In my estimate he's one of the five powerhouse photographers who shaped Photography across the 20th century; especially in the United States of America. His work is powerful and seems to be doing a great job withstanding all tests of time.

So here, finally, is a definitive biography of a man who changed the business of photography, written by a business partner who knew him socially, commercially and as one of his closest confidantes. 

The interesting thing, to me, about the book and the story it tells is how Avedon almost single-handedly demanded that photographers of a certain stature get well paid for their work, their insight and their art. Consider this, in 1965 he was asked to become a photographer for Vogue Magazine. He'd been the super star photographer at Harper's Bazaar previously. He demanded (and got!) a contract for one million dollars per year. In 1965. And this was not an exclusive contract, nor were the demands on his time constricting. He continued to work for the French arts magazine, Egoiste, as well as a legion of commercial, advertising clients. 

The reason he was able to command lofty fees and huge retainers? It was a simple equation; when Avedon shot something the metrics of newsstand magazines sales and client product sales skyrocketed. Clearly he was able to tap into the markets in a way his competitors could not, and he was rewarded for it. 

While the book, written by his business partner of 37 years, has a chatty, sorority girl feel to the prose and the subject matter ranges from deep insights into business and art philosophy all the way to catty name calling and reputation slamming but the underlying stories are endlessly fascinating to someone like me who is still amazed at what Avedon was able to accomplish, and the legacy he left behind. 

I'm on page 335 of 672 pages and I'm loathe to put it down; even to write this...

If you want to see just how golden that particular "golden age" of photography was then this is the history book that looks behind the seamless background paper of a master image maker who was, perhaps, even more masterful as the marketer of his own image and vision. It's well worth the read if only to serve as a kick in the ass to raise your own expectations of what can be done.

Buy it. Read it. Laugh at it. Whatever. 

Note: I know that some readers don't hold Avedon in the same regard I do and I'm willing to listen to your (valid, non-emotional) reasons but if you just want to come here and trash him be aware that those comments probably won't pass by our resident censor. 
In the meantime I've got nothing new to post.
Photograph from our marketing shoot for ZACH Theatre's production of:
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

I was hauling my enormous Panasonic G85 around with me this morning as Studio Dog and I patrolled the neighborhood looking for deers and skunks at which to bark. I was giving some long thought to a few things I'd read recently on the web about using cellphones as cameras, in place of "real" cameras and it struck me that we've come to believe that it's a multiplicity of uses that drives adaptation of smart phones to take some people's daily photos. 

I began to think: What if it's not the immediacy of being able to send a photo that moment that's driving the adoption? What if people just like the form factor and the fact that newer generations of processors and software have made the images from the small form factors much more appealing and technically sufficient? 

The top dog in the cellphone market right now, for photography, video and day-to-day stay in touch at all costs syndrome, is probably the iPhone X. Big screen, fast processing, many (too many) features, much technology dedicated to things like facial recognition, banking security, fast access to multiple networks, the ability to crunch more data more quickly, etc. The downside of owning the "best" cellphone camera on the market is obviously the price. It's north of a thousand bucks. 

This led me to start thinking about an alternate product; one that I would want to have, one that would appeal to purists looking to downsize from Godzilla DSLRs into a product that was capable of taking good images but really, really fit into a pocket. And how about one without a recurring, monthly price burden? 

There are many times when I think I would like to own a super small camera that did 4K video, had image stabilization, made good images and had ample storage. Something the size of my iPhone 5S but without the initial purchase price penalty or the monthly subscription to AT&T to keep the whole mess breathing.

Here's the camera I designed in my head as Studio Dog sniffed fresh deer poop: It would have the same form factor as the iPhone 5S. All internal electronics would be dedicated to the perfect processing of images and videos. There would be no web access, no wi-fi, no bluetooth, no apps. It would shoot in raw and basic Jpeg as well as H.265 video. There would be three external ports across the bottom end of the device: One 3.5mm jack for microphones. One 3.5mm jack for headphones. One USB3 C port for charging and seamless downloading of images. The interior space would be dedicated to battery, processing and storage. No antennae, no gingerbread, but also no high prices.

The mini-camera should hit the market at $199 or less. A one time buy. No contracts. No monthly dues. No endless parade of apps to buy. Just buy the device, charge it and go shoot. Finished shooting? Go home, plug it into your computer, tablet or laptop (or even your phone) and download your images. Recharge, do it again.

There are already cheap phones on the market with cameras but most of them absolutely suck as a camera. Think of this device as the iPod of cameras. A dedicated device tuned to the way real photographers want to use them. 

Yes, we are all pretty affluent and we already have phones but think about the legions of younger, less affluent people who can't afford the stretch to the very best phones --- especially the weird conundrum of unlocked phones with no service plan. I think they (the ardent imaging fans) would lunge for something like this. 

Think also of the people who need "crash cameras" for dangerous shooting situations where the likelihood of losing a camera is high. A bag full of $199 fully capable mini-cams could be just right. They would be elegant versions of GoPros but with better performance and a more enticing design aesthetic. 

I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Part of the attraction to me is the singular nature of the device's nature. It would have one role; imaging. It would have one attractive feature set: easy to carry and nearly disposable. It would be the perfect camera for kids and people who sometimes get pushed into the swimming pool with their street clothes on. Might not survive the chlorinated water but it wouldn't cost a thousand bucks to replace. 

I don't always want a phone. If I used my iPhone as a camera I would be pissed off when people called as I was trying to take a photo. If I turn off the phone I also turn off the camera. Yes, I could ignore the ring but yes, I could ignore mosquitos and loud banging noises but they don't help me concentrate on the task at hand. 

Would you buy one? Something the photographic equivalent of an iPhone 6 or 7 but without all the social magnet bullshit installed? I would. I would jump at the chance. For those times when I'm in a suit and tie and a camera slung over the shoulder just isn't right....