4.22.2017

The latest "major issues" in the pursuit of photography.....camera insufficiencies! Oh my.


A few years ago many people were trashing new cameras if they did not come equipped with GPS. I never understood why and I still don't today. Very, very few people really need to have ancillary crap like GPS in their cameras.  People have rushed to explain the benefits of location tagging their images but I file that into the same folder as people who keep a meticulous record of every penny they spend in a day, or people who keep notebooks about the calories they've consumed. Meaningless informational crap. Might as well tell me how important it is to keep an Excel spreadsheet of your daily breathing patterns. You know, just for reference....

But this must be how they sell FitBits and "smart" watches that record one's workouts.

Well, the same compulsive and scary people have now decided on a new metric for all new cameras. They've decided that all cameras must now come with dual memory card slots or risk being labelled as major failures. The overwhelming rationale is that they MUST have an in-camera back up files for everything they shoot. Really? Most people who feel this way seem to be the same people who actually use their cameras to photograph their own lunches, their friends drinking coffee, selfies and bad landscapes. Hardly earth shattering reportage that would diminish the quality of life for anyone if the images were lost due to technical glitches...  And I can't for the life of me remember which film cameras we had that took double film just in case of lab accidents or mis-loads....

The cold, hard reality is that most memory cards don't experience failures on their own these days. If you follow the best practices of formatting your memory card, in camera, and never erasing images in cameras or when the card is connected to your computer, you will probably never experience a fault with your memory card. The other instances that might lead to failure are: the act of removing your card from the camera without first turning off the camera, or from a card reader without first ejecting the card from your computer.

Simple rules, and easy to follow. But no longer enough for a contingent of people who would rather try to buy their way out of incompetence and poor workflow protocols. They now demand that all cameras be equipped with additional "training wheels"  in order to be considered professional,  or even proficient. This is the same cohort that must have raw processing built into the camera as well as HDR settings and panorama settings. And all other manner of gimmicky things made possible (cheaply) by excess space on camera microprocessors.

But the very same people who demand all many of glitzy operational crap and unneeded redundancy will bitch and moan about the inclusion of first rate video on the same camera. Go figure.

OT: Saturday morning swim practice.



We had a cold front move through this morning. It dropped the temperature to 61 degrees. There was a slight breeze and the sky was overcast. Not gloomy grey but a sky bordering on a bald white. I drank a cup of hot tea with a half teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of milk in it, grabbed a towel, and headed to the Western Hills Athletic Club pool to join 25 or so like-minded swimmers for our usual Saturday morning masters workout. (For more information about Masters Swimming see the USMS website).

Most of us swim five or six days a week but some of the members alternate running days, biking day and swimming days. Whatever their schedule Saturday mornings are usually a priority. On Saturday and Sunday the workouts are an hour and a half and we try to get in a lot of good, hard yards. There's an early workout of the truly dedicated swimmers and they were exiting as I trudged up to the pool deck with my swim gear in hand. They looked tired, beat up and happy.

I've been trying to get back to a regular five day a week schedule lately and I can see the rewards; I'm swimming better and faster and the waists on my collection of pants feels looser... The benefit is being able to eat almost anything without tipping the bathroom scale in the wrong direction.

I swam in lane four today with Ed and Shannon. They are both a little bit faster than me but I'm able to hang with them on anything shorter than 400 yards. After a bunch of warm up sets our coach, Cheryl, concocted a brutal little set for us as the main entree. The set consisted of three X 50 yards on a forty second interval followed immediately by 4 x 25 yard sprints; halfway under water in each direction. We repeated that set four times. It's basically three fast sprints in a row with little to no rest. We call them, "touch and goes" because, unless you are really fast, you are hitting the wall at the 50, looking at the clock and then going again.

As a warm down after that fun set we did: 2x200's, 2x150s, 2x100's freestyle before starting the next set. It was an ambitious day in the pool. We did a bit more than 4,000 yards in our hour and a half and that seemed to satisfy even the most masochistic and compulsive exercisers in the group.

Following the workout a group of us did what we have done on most Saturdays for the last twenty years. We headed to a local coffee shop to drink coffee, talk about the workout, talk about swimming and just catch up in general. There is a core of swimmers who've been at coffee since the beginning and new ones who cycle in and out. But it's so good to have time to maintain the bonds. As we all grow older we have to make concessions in our training but if we are growing older together it's not as obvious, or as emotionally painful to deal with the toll of time.

I've been swimming with the same masters team five or six days a week since 1996. I love being in the water and have often thought that the five or six seconds after a swimmer pushes off the wall, in a good streamline position, is the closest most humans will ever come to flying without an aircraft. The aerobic fitness that a disciplined group workout conveys is vital to me as a working photographer. With the combination of swimming, walking, running and resistance training I've been able to work at the same physical levels I did in my 30's; with no back or shoulder issues. Staying in good physical shape may, in fact, be the most valuable investment I've made in my career as a working artist.

The wonderful thing about playing within a group of swimmers is the example set by everyone around you. They may be recovering from something dire, like cancer; they may have lost a loved one or had a misfire in their career, but they show up, put on their goggles and push aside the worries of life for an hour spent relishing their fitness and their ability to apply discipline to this part of their lives. And everyone in the pool is there to support them and push them forward.

In every set back I've had in my own life the medicine that worked best to get me back on track was the time I've spent in the water. I think I've always known that using a particular camera is far less important than having the fitness and discipline to use whatever camera you have with you to make your work.

We caught up with the group news while we swilled coffee. One of our group brought along a bag of hazelnuts. the chef in our ranks brought along some banana-chocolate bundt cake, we snacked and re-energized ourselves. An hour later we headed our separate ways. Some heading home to do chores, others heading in to tend to the businesses they own, and still others heading home for a quick nap or lunch with family. We only have coffee together once a week but it's a good bet we'll see most of the same characters at tomorrow morning's swim.


4.21.2017

Flipping the argument. Sports Photographers can now eliminate a major DLSR camera flaw...

(I write this somewhat tongue in cheek. Try not to get too bent out of shape if you are in the wrong camp...).

"I'm sure I would have been a sports photographer and, perhaps a very good one, but I just couldn't bear to grapple with one of the significant shortcomings of the modern DSLR. I'm sure you've experienced it if you've tried tracking a football player with a mirror-encumbered camera. Or perhaps you've lived with the mechanical menace of the DSLR when trying to keep a fast runner well composed.... We all know what the Achille's Heel of generations and generations of DSLR camera is but for some reason we've all chosen to ignore it, or to sweep it under the carpet and make our excuses. 

It's the dreaded MIRROR BLACK OUT. Each time we actuate the shutter the mirror leaps up (alarmingly) and blocks our view of the image we are so intent on capturing. Visualus Interruptus.
The image is there, in front of our eye, and then it's gone and replaced with a visual fluttering of blackness, accompanied by some raucous noise and then a decidedly unsettling vibration. Thwack! Bam! Kapow! Oh sure, it's only a few (or a dozen or a hundred) milliseconds but it interrupts our continuous observation of the objects of our (momentary) desire. The faster the frame rate the longer the overall percentage of time blacked out. The slower the shutter speed the longer the overall percentage of time blacked out. 

It's been there since we gave up our Leica rangefinders in order to use longer telephoto lenses. It's always been a grave compromise as well as a source of indiscreet noise and interrupted concentration. And anyone who ever shot with a Pentax 6x7 camera (the most egregious of the breed) probably deserves restitution for partial hearing loss from the loud shutter/mirror cacophony and for the sheer amount of time spent waiting for the massive mirror to rise and then smash itself back down again. 

I can hear the cheers already from legions of sports photographers, who felt they had no choice but to use Canon 1D series cameras and Nikon Fsomething cameras to capture sports photographs, as the new Sony a9 makes it initial appearance on the market. Imagine, at speeds above 1/125th of a second (the general realm of sports shooters) there is absolutely NO FINDER BLACK OUT AT ALL. NONE. Even at 20 frames per second. 

The EVF shows the image continuously, refreshing the finder image 60 times per second (about twice the speed of human perception). Never again will these beleaguered pros face the humiliation of finder blackout. Never again will they feel the ravaging vibration of the slamming mirror assembly thrashing around in their hands. And, if they choose, then never again will they spook a golfer or diver with their klaxon-like shutter noise. In one low key product introduction Sony has saved the hordes of sports shooters from their own self-inflicted mechanical hell. Oh happy days. "

Ah, but just now I am learning that the new a9 is too small and light to be a serious professional sports shooting tool. Too many chiropractors would be forced out of business...

4.20.2017

A Good, Old Fashion, Event Assignment Updated with a Modern Camera.


After having to wade through all the nonsense about my latest fascination with video I thought I'd give my readers a break and write about a more traditional photographic function = shooting an event for a conventional client. With a photography camera and even a flash!!!

I've shot events many, many times over the last few decades. I started out shooting events at conferences and galas in hotel ballrooms with a Hasselblad 500 C/M camera, a trusty 80mm lens and a big-ass, potato masher flash, complete with a lead-acid battery pack that must have weighed ten pounds and a lot of shoe leather zooming. Over the ensuing years the camera and flash have changed but very little else about events has. 

Yesterday evening saw me covering a corporate event for a non-profit. They were having a poster sale as a fund raiser at a trendy new venue on Congress Ave. Right in the middle of downtown, just a block or two from the state capitol building. The invitation list included a motley mix of attorneys, advertising agency people and, or course, artists. Mostly the artists who did the commissioned posters and their friends. In all about 350 people showed up to see the art, buy the art, and support my client. 
The event was beautifully done, with open bars and

4.19.2017

Preliminary Thoughts about The Newly Announced Sony A9 Camera.

Lou. Studio. One frame at a Time.

When I read about new cameras I  usually get caught up in the excitement about all the new features. 

I wonder what I could do with a camera that could shoot 200 images in a row at
20 frames per second.  Then I wonder which unfortunate photographer  will be required to sit down and edit through 200 nearly identical images in the search for one that may (or may not) have all the right stuff. 

I read about auto focusing sensors that range, densely, almost to the edge of the sensor  and I imagine what it  would be like to just point the camera at a scene and let it decide just where that point of sharpness needed to live. 

I 've been using  cameras with many focusing  points for many years and  I usually disagree with my camera when it decides to pick a point for me. That's why my cameras and I have agreed to mostly stick to using the center AF frame. It's a simple solution but in a way it's very elegant in that I rarely have issues getting important stuff in focus. And I rarely spend time looking at useless frames filled with perfectly sharp backgrounds and oozy foreground subjects. 

I certainly can't fault a camera for having a very high resolution EVF that also refreshes fast enough to seem....seamless. Nothing wrong with that  and certainly something I would like to have on all my cameras. I also like the idea of more external switches; like the little dial that surrounds the dial to the upper leftmost control  as I  hold the camera. I let's me choose the focusing mode. Will I use manual focus? Will I use continuous auto focus? It's easier now to go in either direction because I won't have to dive into the menus and scout around for the right column to find the switch.

Will I enjoy my new found freedom and become empowered by having a battery with twice the mph? Yes, but I'll miss the uniform battery size (and type of battery charger) across the whole Sony camera product line that I own. I'm not a manic shooter so I'm pretty happy glancing, from time to time, at the battery life indicator in the existing cameras and then pulling a battery out of my pocket , as required. Comforting too, to know that I can pull batteries from one camera and put them in another in those moments where necessity steps in and demands a quick solution. 

Who is the new Sony a9 really for? Is it aimed at a portrait shooter like myself? Is it aimed at the casual user who likes to range across cities and look for magic compositions in everyday life? I just don't think so. I'm presuming that this is really a "halo" product that won't sell in great numbers but will start to cement Sony's position in the professional camera neighborhood. By price point and spec it's obviously aimed at sports photographers and ...... well..... sports photographers. I may shoot a swim meet from time to time but I'm quick enough to catch the photos at the point of high action and not nearly patient enough to wade through tens of thousands of images taken in hopes that superior numbers will yield the frame I want. 

The one area of interest for me is video, but even there I don't see any real improvements over what is currently available in the Sony line up. The a6500 also samples the full 6k frame and beautifully downsamples to 4K and other than that and a new finder there isn't much to lure videographers in....especially at such an ambitious price point. 
Perhaps if they'd done one or two more things to the body video would be a consideration but I looked with distress at that same small and fragile micro-HDMI port and just shook my head. 
The Panasonic GH5 might not be having  the smoothest intro right  now (hello focus issues) but it's set the bar for video interfaces just by including a full size HDMI port under the flap. 

For the kind of work I do....that most of us do....I just can't see much advantage over the A7Rii. But the camera I am waiting for from Sony would be the replacement to the A7ii. And all I'd really like to see is 4K video (internal) and the option for a silent shutter. Not to much to ask and I have a piggy bank with about $1995 sitting on the floor next to my desk, just waiting. 

The Sony announcement of the a9 is exciting and fun. The camera looks really good. I'd do an even trade for my A7Rii in a heartbeat. But only because I like that 24 megapixel resolution region. It's nice to make files that don't clog up the processing pipeline or make me a prime customer for Western Digital or Seagate.

If you are a Sony shooter you'll have to make up your own mind. It's a shiny new toy. But is it "my" shiny new toy?