5.06.2016

Magic Hour at the Waste Treatment Plant in Biloxi.


It's interesting to me that we are constantly investigating and researching new cameras and lenses when, at the same time, we can look back over twenty or thirty years and see that we did good, timeless work with whatever tools were at hand. I understand the (marketing) compulsion to make sure that the cameras we use in the service of client projects are perceived to be state-of-the-art but whether or not the underlying reality of the upgrade cycle is true is a whole other subject....

5.05.2016

A quick test of the Sony RX10iii video capabilities. Shooting available light, indoors, in 4K (UHD).


Untitled Project from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
This video is about Untitled Project

 A short minute of video so you can see the video imaging and hear the sound. The content is part of a program aimed for a new, video oriented blog. Coming soon. ...

I started writing about the Sony RX10iii yesterday and most of what I wrote had to do with the camera's abilities as a photographer's tool. Today I set up the camera and started to put it through its paces for video. Why? Well, because I have video project coming up that would really benefit from this camera's capabilities. So, how did my tests work out?

I'll start with the one downside and work my way up from there.

The camera's files have visible noise in the shadows at ISO 800. There, I've said it. If it was a still camera I'd have whipped those files into PhotoShop or Lightroom and dealt with them in a few slider pulls. But it's video and I can't seem to find the noise reduction menu in Final Cut Pro.

The second caveat isn't really a "downside" it more of a "geez, all these cameras are great at video why aren't they equally great at audio" kind of a thing. I plugged my Sennheiser receiver directly into the camera input and listened through a nice set of headphones to the wireless lavaliere microphone I'd incorporated into the test. The camera's pre-amps are a bit noisy. It's not a deal killer but the noise floor is definitely there and it's higher than I'd like. I'll be running the audio through a mixer with better microphone pre-amps from now on before I send it to the camera. But, of course, I was shooting in the studio where there was very little ambient sound to cover for the camera. For really critical work I'll send the signal to a digital audio recorder and sync up sound in post production.

The video upsides are much more numerous. The range of video profiles is very good and the various gamma presets are highly usable if you are willing to take some time in post to grade your completed footage, and do some contrast corrections.

It's simple to map your audio levels menu item to one of the function button slots so you can access audio level control quickly while shooting.

The continuous focus, when also set to face detection AF and wide area AF is pretty darn good. Not a lot of hunting, even though the model was swaying back and forth. And what re-focusing was done was done gracefully and without drama.

All in all it was a good video performance by the camera. Having now tested it I can refine the way I use it a bit more.

First, I'll always want to do a custom white balance. Every shift I make in color or exposure introduces noise or in some way degrades the overall image quality. I think this is the way of all cameras but we've had the luxury of shooting 14 bit, uncompressed RAW for quite a while and we're used to a more forgiving and information rich file set.

Second, for important (read: "paying") work I'll want to get the exposure right on the money instead of depending on my third party, external monitor, which is exuberantly bright, for validation. This is where a hand held meter comes in handy. Nailing the exposure more exactly will also help to ameliorate some of the shadow area noise too.

Next time on the tripod I'll try shooting more stuff with manual focusing, which means I need to map "image magnification" to one of the function display slots, right next to the audio levels.

Overall, I thought the imaging performance was exactly where it should be. If you have acres of light and can use ISO 100 or 200 I think you'll be rewarded with saturated and relatively noise free image files. The detail out of the files is very good and the tonality is fairly accurate and more layered and nuanced than ACVHD files I've gotten out of previous generations of Sony cameras.

The real test will be outside in bright sunlight. How will the AF stand up to a variable neutral density filter?  We'll find out in a few days.

For now I am praising both the sharpness, detail and color of the files. The first outing is a success in my book. Thanks. 

I like photographs about which I can tell stories. Some people like photographs that tell stories.


Many years ago, on a hot Summer day here in Austin, Ben, Belinda and I went out for lunch. We went to a burger joint called, Hillbert's, that had been on Lamar Blvd. for decades. It was toasty warm outside, the kind of weather where sandals and shorts are the order of the day. Inside Hillbert's two big window AC units blew icy air across the main counter and the row of swivel stools that line the front window.

Ben has always been an adventurous eater and loves the process of going out anywhere for food. I took along my camera, as I have for nearly thirty years now. At the time it was a Leica R8 fitted with a 50mm Summilux lens.

I took two or three snapshots during lunch and this is one of them.

I've always liked this image for a number of reasons. There is Ben's expression, of course; and the wonderful way the image falls out of focus in the middle distance and the background. I enjoy the flow of soft light coming in from the floor-to-ceiling window at the left of the frame, and I like the warm, not totally corrected, color that mixes yellow and red on skin with magneta and blue on the floor behind Ben and Belinda.  But the one attribute I love best about this image is the twinkle and energy in Ben's eyes.

The image stayed with me and, when I wrote my novel (The Lisbon Portfolio) the image prodded me to write a few pages of reminiscence for my character, Henry White, who was in a foreign country, having a trying interpersonal experience, and missing his own child...

The image informed three or four pages of writing and provided a richer texture to Henry White's feeling of being unanchored and apart. I could extrapolate entire stories from visual reminders like the one above. And, in fact, many of the descriptions in the novel are verbalizations of images that tend to stay hooked in my mind, signifying something unfinished, yet not transient.

For some people photographs tell stories. For me I like to tell stories about the feelings and ideas that photographs can spark. I think there is a difference. It's not always one way or the other but sometimes it really is. Interesting to think about the links between our different creative processes...



5.04.2016

Sony RX10iii. It's better than I expected, and I expected it to be quite good. This blog is about my first afternoon with the camera.

This is a wide angle shot of my kitchen shot at the 24mm equivalent. It's my first frame out of the camera. (You can always click on the pix to make them bigger). 

Just by way of background; I have owned the original Sony RX10 twice now and that, of course, led me to buy the RX10ii when it came out. The 2 is a beautiful camera, like the original (which I will call the classic) and I bought it because Sony increased the EVF resolution and also gave it useful and well implemented 4K video. When the RX10iii came out (released into distribution today) I rushed out and got one so that I would be able to take advantage of the new, long lens. I did not do this blindfolded. I knew the camera would be bigger, heavier and also more pricey. 

One of the reasons I decided to go ahead and grab one is that two of my current corporate video clients have both decided that the projects we're starting need to be shot in 4K. The newer two Sony RX10s both feature UHD 4K and all the trim needed to make nice video; including: microphone and headphone jacks, time code, fine-tunable profiles, S-Log (if I ever master grading...), focus peaking, customizable zebras and, most importantly, they share the same basic menu structure with the A7R2 and the a6300, which are also 4K ready video cameras. 

Why not a different camera? Why not just default to the A7r2? Hmm. The RX10iii shoots video at 6K and down samples to 4K. The files (if they are like the RX10ii) should be perfectly sharp and detailed. The camera is built with video in mind which influences handling in a very positive way.
The two models (rx10-2 and 3 and the A7R2) are a nice complement to each other. Handling and robust operation from the smaller sensor cameras and narrow depth of field and lower noise from the bigger camera. What a flexible set of tools for the kind of work I like to do. 

In order to justify the purchase I liquidated the classic, and the two Panasonic fz 1000 cameras I've been using. The Sony RX10 classic found a new home because it doesn't do 4K. The Panasonics found new homes because, dammit, they don't have headphone jacks. Now I can go out on projects and shoot multiple cameras which all share both a common color family, 4K capabilities and the same batteries. 

I killed two test birds with one stone while sitting at the kitchen table after sticking a newly charged battery and a clean SDXC card in the new camera. I did a wide shot to look for vignetting and distortion and then, from the same position, I zoomed all the way out to the 600mm equivalent focal length to test the image stabilization and focus acquisition. So far so good. But I also inadvertently tested one more performance parameter; the high ISO. I'd left the camera in Auto ISO and the image of the dish soap (which you can see on the left side of the sink in the photo just above) was shot by the camera at ISO 6400. Oh, and the image stabilization at 1/60th of a second seems to be working well. 

It's my first day with the camera but it didn't require that much practice to become comfortable with. The focus and zoom rings take a little bit of getting used to but by the end of a 75 image stroll through town I was grabbing the right controls about 90% of the time....

I have not shot video yet with the new camera so that will get covered in another post. I do have some initial observations about the camera just in passing. First, it is bigger than the previous RX10s. The grip is also bigger and deeper. The camera is heavier as well. Do not buy this camera sight unseen if you are one of those folks who love small cameras you think you might like to carry one around in a pocket. You will be disappointed. This is a big and solid camera. It feels much bigger than any of the Olympus cameras and even bigger and beefier than its sibling, the A7R2. Really. It's big. And heavy(er). 

Handheld at the longest focal length in a kitchen dark enough to call for ISO 6400 at 1/60th, f4.0.

While my primary intention in acquiring this camera is to use it in video productions of all kinds I am certain I'll find lots of alternate uses for it. A few come to mind: Shooting from the middle of the house at Zach Theatre during dress rehearsals when there is an audience in attendance. Photographing keynote speakers, on stage, at corporate conferences where low/no audible noise,, and much discretion is called for. And for those rare times when I really do want to use a long lens for compression. As a daily, carry around shooting tool I am partial to the a6300 which is much, much smaller and lighter. It's perfect with a small, 38mm f1.8 lens on the front.....

Compared to the RX10ii the 3 seems to have been tweaked in at least two discernible ways. The first is that the Jpegs out of cameras seem to be better. They have more coherence and feel more solid. And second, the EVF image is sharper and brighter, and seems more accurate. 

As a disclaimer to the forum chum who will immediately start calling me a Sony fanboy I rush to say that I have had no communication or commerce with Sony, and paid the full ongoing U.S.A. price of $1499 for the camera ------ no discount from Precision Camera --- even though they profess to "really appreciate me" as a customer. (And my rejoinder to them, which all sales people hate to hear, is: "Thank you for your time.").

Some random test shots, all done in Jpeg Super Fine, from this afternoon...


24mm eq. is looking really good. Really good. 








So, this is a 24mm eq. frame. Note the star near the top center of the red brick building.....

This is the 600mm eq. from the same shooting position. And it's sharp at f5.6...


Always keeping an eye out for linear distortion.... But not seeing much at the  wide end. 


That's all for now. Having too much fun playing with the new camera. I'll let you know what I think of the video shortly. Should be an interesting week as my video mentor, James, is picking up a new Sony FS7 tomorrow. Maybe we can do a few side-by-side tests.....



5.03.2016

Cameras as art. Operation as a function of good design.


We love to trot out the idea that visual and industrial design is very secondary to the metrics of the camera's performance as measured in tests and comparison images. That the only acceptable rationale for buying or upgrading to a new camera is for some sort of measurable performance boost. Trading in weaker performance for strengths that you can see on a gauge.

But if you really ponder the whole jungle of available camera models and then look at who is buying what it becomes obvious that a number of people are making their primary buying decisions based on the creativity and expression of modern design as represented by various expressions from different camera makers.

As with cars, jeans, shoes and food, the market for cameras encompasses a big tent.

On one side you have traditionalists who are still buying the "jelly bean" (1980's Ford Taurus) styled cameras from Nikon and Canon. In another corner of the tent is