Sitting in for the main subject. Getting the lights set up.
We were certainly mixing old school with new school today. I had an assignment to photograph the chancellor, and senior staff, of a university system, headquartered in Austin, Texas today and I went "old school" with my lighting and "current school" with my cameras. There were some glitches I could have avoided if I'd been more compulsively detail oriented, but none of them effected image quality; the errors just added time to my post processing.
Instead of using LED lighting, which has been my favorite source for most of this year, we used electronic flash. Not the little pixie on camera lights but 640 watt second monolights. We used traditional soft boxes and, from time to time, a big, 60 inch, white, shoot-thru umbrella. I brought these lights along on the project because part of our project called for matching interior and exterior lighting in the same frame and I've been conditioned to want more power for those applications. In truth, had I not wanted to use full frame cameras to drop backgrounds somewhat out of focus, it would have been easier to use use the Sony RX10 iii with its flexible sync capabilities, and a couple of the pixie flashes. There's always a compromise in there somewhere.
The bulk of our portraits were done in a big conference room and, since we weren't shooting out of the windows there, we could have used just about any light source we wanted. But it doesn't really make sense to pack two separate sets of lights when one set will do...
My first glitch stayed with me for the entire day and I didn't find out about it until I started downloading raw files into Lightroom. At some point in the last few days I must have hit a button during a menu search and enabled WB bracketing. I never think about WB bracketing because I just can't imagine anyone needing to use this "feature" ever. Who needs to subtly bracket their white balance while shooting raw files? Who? Give me their name and I'll go to their house to set them straight. It's an amazingly unnecessary thing. And, of course, it's in the drive menu (where I rarely venture since I like my drive all single-framey) and not the WB menu so it's one more step removed from logic.
The bizarre thing is that the camera doesn't shoot three different frames, it shoots one frame and then writes two more files with small changes made to color balance. So you don't get a cue from a triple shutter click while shooting, you find out when you go to download your card and discover that you have three times the number of files you should have. I filled a 64 Gb card today without breaking a sweat.
Now, none of this harms the original, neutral files but now you have a bunch of duplicate files which need deleting. I couldn't think of a clever way to dispatch them automatically so I went through and deleted each duplicate, one at a time before importing. Dammit. There's an hour and a half I won't get back.
Glitch number two was short-lived. After shooting my main portraits for each person the client wanted some images of the people that looked like stills from an interview. I shot these under ambient room light and used my A7Rii because it's such a great high ISO camera. I was also using a new (to me) lens. I had purchased just yesterday a used (but very nice) Rokinon 85mm t-1.5 DS Cine lens. The DS series is supposed to have some improvements over the first generation. These are mostly about new lens coatings which cut down flare and increase contrast. I'll compare it with the previous generation model I have in a Nikon mount and let you know how much difference there really is... But the point is that I was using it today for my available light stuff. With the camera at ISO 3200 and the lens at f2.0 to f2.8 I needed a fairly fast shutter speed. I ended up around 1/320th of second and I think you can guess what happened. Yep. Scan lines from some florescent fixtures in the ceiling that left bands of yellow/green across parts of the images.
In the days of optical viewfinders we would not have seen the obvious faults if we just randomly chimped frames in review. Depending on where in the cycle the flux is the frame can be clean or it can be horrible. Chimp the wrong frame with an OVF and you might not know until you get back home that a huge proportion of your take is tainted with nasty color. But it was apparent to me on the tenth or twelfth frame (Go EVFs!!!) and I quickly came back to my senses and changed the ISO and shutter speeds. Problem solved, but with a bit more depth of field than I wanted. Not by any means a "deal killer" and, because the EVF is a constant preview, we were able to catch the problem soon enough to start over in that location. Job saved via EVF.
The rest of the day was very pleasant. We had clients with whom we could actually discuss poetry, philosophy and economics. Ben was my assistant and he got tons of free advice about things like what to study and where to go to graduate school. We had sandwiches for lunch at my newest, favorite lunch place downtown, LaVazza Café. After we finished and wrapped we realized that it was oppressively hot outside so on the way back to the studio we stopped at Juice Land for hydration smoothies. They were delicious.
Two random observations about lenses: I used the 24-70mm f4.0 Zeiss/Sony and the 70-200mm f4.0 Sony/Sony lens on the A7ii. Both lenses, when used with flash and locked on a tripod, were exquisitely, painfully sharp, even wide open, where common lore says they are not. So here's my first observation/rhetorical question ---- if a lens is wonderfully sharp wide open when used in an optimum fashion is it possible that the lens becomes less sharp when used in other scenarios or can we assume that the performance of the lenses is constant and that user error may (sadly) define a lens's "shortcomings" in the arena of crowdsourced opinions?
My second observation has to do with lenses and pricing; mixed with the idea of proper use. I've been eyeing the Zeiss Batis 85mm lens as a possible addition to the Sony A7x cameras. It is supposed to be very good and people who review nice lenses for a living on the web seem to sing at least an octave higher when belting out their opinions of the Batis line. I know that using a Rokinon lens robs me of the joy of using auto focus and poring over exif data when I put one on a Sony body (horrors! how will we be able to shoot?). But I wondered just how good the 85mm f1.5 cine lens could be; especially when picked up used for around $225. Mint. Not in box.
Second observation: I think the lens is good wide open but damn you have to be very careful, and use focusing magnification, to really get perfect focus at or near wide open. At f2.0 it's sharp across most of the field and already edging toward "too sharp" for real portrait work. How mean do you want to be to your subjects? How cutting do you want your visual reality to be?
Short version: I have owned several Nikon 85mm f1.4s, a Contax 85mm 1.4 (actually two different ones for two different systems), the Canon 85mm f1.2 L, and the Leica 80 f1.4 Summilux lens for the R cameras and......drum roll....while they are all different and have different personalities none are really demonstrably better out in the real world than this used Korean lens. None. Yes, if you Lloyd-Chart it or DXO-gineer the lenses one or two of the above might (just "might") turn in better test numbers. But if your real goal is to make a beautiful portrait with a fast lens you'll just have to suck it up and realize that you can do as well for less money. You just have to leave your gear ego at the door....
We had a fun shoot today. It was great to work on yet another project with Ben. He kept the Chancellor busy discussing something witty from Milton's Paradise Lost, buying me time to find the Setting effect on menu item on the A7ii. Nice dividend from that fancy education....
I'll miss him when he goes back to school in August. But we have five or six more projects to complete before then.
Hope everyone else is having a delightful Summer.