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21st Century Camera?

GH3 with X 35-100 f2.8

Two years ago I ditched the mirror for a mirrorless camera. I sold all my Canon gear and bought into Panasonic.  I did it at first for the video capabilities.  Not anymore.  There have been predictions from the beginning that Micro Four Thirds and mirrorless cameras would never really catch on.  The latest comes from The New York Times, the USAToday and Dan Carr at the ProPhoto Coalition.

In the article Nikon Cuts Full-Year Profit Target as Mirrorless Cameras Lose Their Shineit misses the point.  The Nikon 1 series of cameras don't have the advantage of the larger sensors of Micro Four Thirds, Fuji X and Sony NEX mirrorless cameras.  These little cameras were ill conceived from the beginning.  The public wants a smaller, lighter camera but with DSLR quality.  Nikon did not want cannibalize their DSLR sales, so they made a sensor that in my opinion is too small.

Mirrorless camera sales don't reflect potential in the USAToday talks about declining mirrorless sales.  They say that the mirrorless cameras are not living up to potential, as they say in the article.  “In 2008, a fresh kind of camera was set to rock the world of photography, ushering in “a new era of digital imaging,” as one news release put it.”  As in the first article, they say that in Asia sales have been good for compact system cameras but in the USA and Europe this has not been the case.

120809-121328-021The third article, Micro Four Thirds & Mirrorless- Here To Stay or Gone Tomorrow ? by Dan Carr, also comes to the wrong conclusion.  He writes, “I don't expect we'll see M4/3 disappear within the next two years but it's certainly going to be a telling time.  If sales numbers continue to decline as they have done then I think we'll see manufacturers shift their focus back to DSLR.”  He calls them “an elongated fad”.  Though he does mention that so prominent pro photographers have switched to systems like I have.  Prices are coming down on DLRS because of the competition.  But why is he so gloomy?

To begin with this new concept in cameras has an up hill battle.  We are in the 21st Century, but the camera design most prominent is from the 20th Century.  Compact System Cameras are a new concept that has to be sold to consumers.  Well, lets look who are the major players in the DSLR market – Canon and Nikon.  Look at their mirrorless cameras.  They are weak.  The Canon EOS-M is a half baked attempt at capturing sales because what others have done.  The Nikon 1 is also a strange beastie as I have stated above.  Go to the store (Best Buy, Wall Mart, Costco), what do you see in the high end camera cabinet. There are DSLR's, mainly from Canon & Nikon and sometimes Sony but not their mirrorlses cameras.  Panasonic and Olympus, who are the biggest promoters of this 21st Century way of shooting are not featured well.  Their mirrorless are with the point n shoots.  That certainly gives them class.  Who is winning here?  The ones with the showroom space.

Carr mentions full frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony RX1 and Leica M series that are small and lightweight.  Both of these are out of the pocketbook of most photographers.  Sony has rumored that they are working on a full frame 35mm E-Mount camera, that the mount supports it.  Prices are coming down on full frame 35mm DSLR's.  Somehow he thinks full frame 35mm is the end all and nothing else will do.

Nikon F3

Full frame 35mm is that, full frame 35mm.  It is a standard that all others are measured against.  Before, it was 4×5.  35mm was small compared to that format and the quality was good but not as good as the larger negative.  A majority of pros did switch when the film quality advanced and the cameras were better made.  Well, the “film” got better (better sensors).  Originally it was hard to manufacture a full frame 35mm sensor so the crop sensor was used instead.  That is no longer the case.  The 35mm crop sensor cameras and micro 4/3rd's are now considerably better because of better technology which is more than what most people need.  We have made incredible advances in sensor technology.  The need for an 35mm sized sensor is not as important for low light sensitivity as it once was.  I use a smaller sensor because I choose too.

But with the smaller sensor you don't get that creamy lack of depth of field?  Believe or not, sometimes you don't want the small of depth of field.  For one, it is harder to focus.  On some of these F1.2 lenses it is hard to get both the nose, eyes and ears in focus on full frame 35mm.  Two, most 35mm motion pictures are shot with a sensor size that is similar to cropped sensors and it's depth of field.  Full frame 35mm is the size of Vistavision. Over the last 100 years I have not heard of any motion picture directors of photography complain about the depth of field in 35mm their cameras.  To get shallower depth of field in movies the director and photographer used wider apertures to get the look.  Look at Stanley Kubrick's work.  It is not a problem to get nice depth of field with these smaller sensors.  Use fast aperture lenses.

Leica and Nikon proved you could make a very high quality small 35mm camera.  Panasonic and Olympus are doing the same in the digital age, but they need help from retailers as well.  Because of technology they have been able to remove the mirror and make a more advanced camera.  The optical viewfinder is 20th century technology.  If you shoot with a digital motion picture camera, there is no mirror except one, the Arri Alexa Studio.  That is the other advantage of no mirror in still cameras, Video.  Almost all of the new DSLR's shoot video.

Carr claims to be a “lens man”.  He says, “Good lenses have the potential to last a whole career”.  Not mine!  I started with film.  The SLR was always a compromise.  Your were tied to a mount.  You can not see exposure or white balance.  The focus is only as good as the focus system.  Size of viewfinder, type of ground glass and pentaprism were factors as well.  With phase detect auto focus there can be front and back focus issues.  Wide lenses had to be re-engineered to take in account for the mirror.  The mirror had to be locked up to reduce vibration.  The lens focus field had to be adjusted to take in account for the curvature of film.  Digital is a flat sensor, so lenses need to be reworked for it.  The lens had to be stopped down to see depth of field preview.  The image stabilization is noisy.  The lenses had to be bigger, heavier and more expensive.  Only the most expensive cameras show close to 100 percent of what you see.  Most DSLR's have a tunnel viewfinder.

GH3 with X 35-100 f2.8

GH3 with X 35-100 f2.8

Why compromise?  My Lumix g X 12-35 f2.8 lens has the same angle of view as a 24-70mm which is much bigger, heavier and more expensive lens.  My lens with the same light gathering capability, plus the bonus of quiet optical image stabilization in a package the third of the size, weight and with the depth of field of a 35mm motion picture camera.  Size and weight is not all that a mirrorless camera gives the user, though they are very welcomed.  Cost is also an advantage.  Smaller lenses.  Adaptable lenses, m4/3rd's cameras can be adapted to almost any lens available because  a shorter back focus, so there are a lot of adapters.  All because of a smaller sensor.

Other mirrorless advantages include, no mirror vibrations to worry about.  The photographer sees the exposure and white balance.  They see what the camera sees.  A 100 percent of the view.  Image stabilization can be in the body for all lenses mounted.  Less moving and non moving parts that cost less.  For me, one of the big ones is, quieter shooting like the Lumix GH3‘s Silent Mode.

The question to ask is, do you want to use 20th century technology or do you want to be using 21st century technology?  I believe that in the distant future all cameras will be mirrorless (expect for film cameras).  The advantages are greater.


We Must Go Fourth!

Light Speed on Train Mountain

Normally this blog does not go into political matters but it is based in the United States.  Today we celebrate our independence.  But lately this has been challenged by unlimited snooping of our federal government.  The Fourth Amendment clearly outlaws warrantless surveillance.

AMENDMENT IV to the Constitution of the United States: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Alex Marthews writes on Boston.com, “The Founders did not fight for a country where the security agencies “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type”, as one NSA agent has put it. They would rightly call the NSA’s surveillance programs, covered by fake “warrants” and approved en masse by secret courts, a tyranny and a farce.”

How does this effect filmmaking and photography you ask.  It effects all privacy, in our communication, in our use of the internet, in our creativity, in our budgets, in our works.

The NSA through the PRISM program has made privacy a thing of the past.  Through the leaks of information we know now that big brother is watching us in the name of combating terrorism.  They are creating terrorism.  All the mainstream news stories (only 5 big media companies in the US) are about the leaker and not what he has revealed.  The sad part about all of this is that a majority of those polled don't seen too concerned about this loss of freedom.

How do we know that in the future that the government intercepts an email about a documentary critiquing the government won't be stopped and the people responsible for it thrown in jail without due process like the prison in Guantánamo.  That is being done in the name of terrorism.

How would you ask this unlikely documentary scenario ever happen?

When I was a journalism student, there was a documentary film produced by a local TV station in Los Angeles.  The producer was a national Emmy winner which is unusual for a local station.  The documentary was narrated by the actor Jack Lemmon.  The doc, “The Powers That Be” was a critical look at nuclear power.  This was the first doc to look at the down side of nuclear power.  Up to this point there had been not programs critical of nuclear power.  The doc was shown only once on TV.  Pacific Gas and Electric (which has the now to be shut down nuclear power plant at San Onofre) was a commercial sponsor at the station at the time.

The producer's Emmy was turned around at the TV station so you could not see the name of the producer.  When it was being shown at a screening it was stopped in the middle and never officially shown again.  I could not find anything on the internet about this project or at the internet movie database.  Nothing in Jack Lemmon's bio either.  How do I know this doc ever existed?  I saw Jack Lemmon's personal print at a secret screening.

All the mainstream media did not touch this NSA and PRISM story except the Washington Post.  It was actually started by The Guardian, a British newspaper.  According to the revelations, our big internet companies complied.  Who, do we trust?

We must go fourth and protect the fourth amendment and our independence.

The Shape of Cinema

How did they come up with 16:9 aspect ratio for HDTV. Watch this fascinating history lesson on how the aspect ratios we know (16:9, 4:3) became the standard of what we watch.  It's a lovely journey back where things can become standard by just doing it for a very long time.

You will see how 16:9 aspect ratio came about: old 4:3 movie theaters birthed 4:3 television sets which stopped people from going to 4:3 movie theaters.  4:3 movie theaters went widescreen to offer something different  than what was at home.  Off course now we have widescreen TVs in the home.

“Simply put, the aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of the image to the height. This can be expressed as two numbers like 4×3 or 16×9 or as a decimal such as 1.85 and 2.35 – though these can be written as a ratio as in 2.35:1.” [FilmmakerIQ]

Aspect ratio is very import to filmmakers.  Having shot 16mm or video most of my career, I was in 4:3 land.  I was glad that they standardized on 16:9 for high definition because I enjoy the wider film like look.  Now that theatrical films and TV has similar ratios what is needed for the theatre to set themselves apart is better stories which we are not getting.  I am having as much fun watch movies on my home theatre as going to the theatre.

A Long Journey

I have not liked a camera so much since my Nikon F3 film camera.  My Nikon F3s were used for almost 20 years.  This is a lifetime in digital.  When I put the beloved F3s and all it's lenses on eBay I moved to digital.   I have used quite a few digital cameras since 2001.  Spending over a $100 a month on film and processing I was willing to change.  Another reason I started doing digital photography was because, I had been manipulating images in the computer for sometime with Photoshop and other programs and I was scanning film and prints.  Shooting digital would eliminate that step.  I had been using my video camera to shoot digitally with since 1995 so I was happy to start shooting stills with a digital still camera.  I waited till the cost of digital cameras came down to about $1000.  I think I found a digital version of my Nikon.

The first digital camera was the Sony F-707.  It was wonderful to be able to look at the images right away on the back LCD. Being a professional video user, I use to an electronic viewfinder on the camera.  At five megapixels, the first digital cameras were pretty low in resolution. The shot had to be shot right and you could not blow them up that big. The camera had a lens that was a fixed zoom.

Then Canon startled the world with the 6 megapixel Canon Digital Rebel. Unlike my F-707, the Rebel was a DSLR which meant interchangeable lenses and an optical viewfinder.  I bought some of the consumer lenses for it and they were at best, so so.  Not great.  Nothing like the Nikkors for my F3.  I could not afford the L-Glass from Canon because most of my money went into buying video cameras as they were my main money maker.  The images were good but the color was a little off for my taste.  I was a Kodachrome guy and it was more like Fuji.  And the auto focus was not very fast.  Some of my old manual lenses were adapted for it as well.

Going on vacation I needed a second camera for my wife, so I bought an Olympus E300 on a special deal.  Being the new Four Thirds sensor format camera, the E-300 had a smaller sensor than the Rebel. Not that much.  The thing I liked about it right away is that it had a Kodak 8 megapixel sensor with Kodak color and the jpegs out of the camera were excellent.  Olympus is known for that.  The images were very good but the camera noise was much higher than the Rebel.  Olympus cameras were at the time not too fast in auto focusing.  What I loved about the Olympus cameras was that even the consumer level lenses were very sharp and well made.

So next I wanted a more professional camera so I bought the Olympus E-1.  It had a beautiful image at 5 megapixels and the pixel sharpness was better than my previous cameras.  I really liked it for the rugged construction and how quiet the camera shutter was.  The sound of most digital cameras are quite noisy and the press photographers use them like machine guns.  Not very discrete.  The camera was smaller than the other DLSR's at the time.  Lighter too.  I was very happy to loose the weight.  The LCD was small and fixed but worked well.  Also I added some Pro level for lenses to my kit.

The Olympus E-1 was upgraded to the E-3 which had 10 megapixels. This  was even better and I loved the colors and richness of the image.  It was weather sealed like the E-1.  It was one of the first cameras to have a live view function.  It also introduced the back swiveling LCD like a video camera.  It was really nice being able to adjust the angle for low angle pictures just like I done with my Nikon F3 by taking the viewfinder off.  I could close the LCD to protect it. The camera spoiled me.  I was glad that Olympus improved the autofocus in the E-3 to such an extent that it competed with Nikon and Canon.

Then I bought my second Canon camera, the Canon 7D. For the first time I had a still camera that had 1080p video from a large 18 megapixel sensor.  I also this time bought the expensive L-Glass as this was going to be my video camera as well.  I first bought the EFS 17-55 F.28 IS lens but sent it back and bought the Canon L 24-105 F4 IS lens. I did because of the image stabilization and I wanted the longer focal length for video interviews. My clients wanted the low depth of field that the large 35mm sized sensor gives.  The lenses really focused fast.  Faster than any other camera I had owned.  The 7D did have some minor and major problems. There is the 12 minute record limit.  The audio had to be spoofed with a pilot tone into being usable as the camera had only a bad AGC circuit and it could not be monitored.  I bought a JuicedLink DT454 audio mixer to help.  Even bigger was the problem that the sensor would overheat and shut the camera down.  It did this on a professional shoot and it was not good.  I was also unhappy with the moire and aliasing at the sensor had.  At 1080P resolution was not that great.  Canon uses line skipping to create their video in their DSLRs.  Another major problem was the rear LCD was the viewfinder as the optical viewfinder was black because the reflex mirror was up to shoot video.  The camera had to be adapted to be used as a handheld camera which required a third party viewfinder which inturn required a camera rig.

I did not like that the 7D did not have a swivel LCD.  I missed it, so when the Canon 60D came out, I bought one.  The 60D was improved in another way as well in that it also offered manual audio level control for more control, but no meters.  It was not as nice as the 7D as it was not weather sealed and made of plastic composite.  I was happy with the 60D.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThru reading the internet I had heard that Panasonic GH2 had better video then the Canons, so I investigated it. The GH2 also had the swivel LCD screen which I loved.  I was impressed, so I purchased one.  After using to GH2, I could not use by Canons anymore.  Besides swivel screen, the other thing I liked about the camera was being able to see the audio level in viewfinder and on the LCD.  I was happy that I had a camera that can be used for both stills and video.  Panasonic and Olympus introduced some very nice lenses for these cameras.  It was great to have a smaller, lighter camera again.  It was not weather sealed and I could not monitor audio.  I was very happy with the GH2 and bought a second one.

GH3 with X 35-100 f2.8

GH3 with X 35-100 f2.8

All these cameras over the past 10 years I have used.  I thought that I could do better and was always looking for something that would meet my needs.  I believe I found The Camera.  When Panasonic announced GH3, I was hoping that it would be a better camera.  It is a Better Camera.  The camera possesses many of the good qualitys of those other cameras but now these features are all together in this camera.  Also the new X lenses from Panasonic (the G X 12-35 F2.8 O.I.S. and the G X 35-200 F2.8 O.I.S.) complete the picture.  I now have a relatively small, light weight, magnesium, weather sealed, fast focusing, swivel LCD, electronic viewfinder, audio monitoring, high dynamic range, high quality, low picture noise, hybrid camera with great lenses.  I think I found a digital version of my Nikon F3 in the Panasonic GH3.

GH3 News Reporting

I have been using my Panasonic GH3 for news reporting for some time now.  As a former news photographer I was asked by our local radio station to shoot new stories for their YouTube channel.  I must say that this camera is an ideal camera for news reporting.  Great, weight, size, convenience, electronic viewfinder, image stabilization, No Rig, one shot auto focus, low depth of field, great audio, headphone monitoring, wonderful MOV codec at All-I 70, long life battery.  In Final Cut Pro X the footage is ready for editing right out of the camera and Final Cut loves the All-I 70 codec.  Never a hiccup.

Yes I could use another camera and shoot raw, but that is a lot more work and the camera requires a rig which is heavier and more expensive.  In news reporting one of the main things to consider is how fast you can get your story to air. Anything that gets in the way of that hinders your ability to finish on time.  I don't think there is a faster system out there then my GH3 with Final Cut Pro X.

For the news story below, I shot with my GH3, the Lumix G X 12 – 35mm image stabilized lens, handheld with no rig and a Rode Video Mike Pro microphone.

An Unplugged Wedding

How many times has a shot been ruined by an amateur photographer at a wedding. Especially those who use flash. These amateurs are always in the way. They make too much noise. And are not respectful of this occasion. With the explosion of gadgets this is more of a problem. It is time for unplugged wedding.

Over at PetaPixel, photographer Cory Ann has a very good article state of wedding photography today.

“I don’t have a single problem with guests taking images and sharing them later on with the couple. It makes me happy to know there will be other pictures and photos of moments I may have missed or alternate angles that I couldn’t cover.

I also completely understand that some have a love for capturing images and enjoy taking pictures at weddings they are guests at.

However, my heart breaks when a guest ruins an otherwise lovely image or jumps in front of me when I’m capturing a key moment from the day. It completely slays me when this happens because while I am not remotely egotistical at all, I am fairly confident that my image would have been better than the one they captured.

In the past 6 years of being a professional wedding photographer, it’s also been sad to watch the progression from seeing smiling, encouraging and happy faces as the bride is escorted up the aisle to faces hidden behind the backs of cameras and cell phones that line the aisle.

Read more at http://petapixel.com/2013/05/15/guest-photographers-or-why-you-should-have-an-unplugged-wedding/#xVEi8rvSuV7MzK1D.99

NAB 2013 – Glidecam

While wandering the halls at NAB 2013, I visited the Glidecam booth. I talked with David Stevens, the chief executive officer.  I found out that I had one of the original Glidecams as mine is made of wood.  He showed some nice new products including the Glidecam HD1000.  For more information on these items, see http://www.glidecam.com

NAB 2013 – Panasonic Shows A Powerhouse

As many of you know I now use the Panasonic GH3 for my video camera. So it was natural to visit the Panasonic Broadcast booth at NAB 2013. What I saw there made me surprised because they did not feature the Panasonic GH2 at NAB 2011.  I was told that it was from their commercial division so they did not feature it.  I searched all around NAB 2011 to see the GH2 but it was nowhere to be found.  I had to wait till I got back to my home to see the GH2 at a photo show.  I was glad that Panasonic has recognized that they had a new video powerhouse and we're featuring it. The following is my report from NAB 2013 at the Panasonic booth.