a (fashion) shooter


the “upgrade”

by on Apr.09, 2009, under cameras

Some thoughts in response to whether or not to upgrade from the Canon system to medium format digital. The Medium format systems typically cost $25K and up when camera, back, and lenses are included. One could easily spend $60K or more on a new system. The below is in response to a conversation on LL where some photographers were comparing  (at 100% zooms in photoshop) the various pros and cons of the systems…

“I think it’s humorous reading about these differences and comparisons between cameras. Of course I don’t shoot huge landscapes for a living, but I do wonder just how many people in the world are in fact making a good living at it. I can think of not one of my hundreds of favorite images over the years which would have improved from more “micro-detail.” I am talking about my own work, prints I see in galleries, magazines, museums, etc., etc. 

I believe there are micro-differences, but I believe that these have little to do with the goodness of an image. I mean seriously, go over to your bookshelf, flip through the pages of some of your coffee table tomes, and tell me what you see. How many would have much greater impact with 20% more detail?

And as has been said many times, do what your business requires. Have your clients ever asked for more micro-detail? Do they even see it? Do they care? I use a variely of camera formats from 4×5 to polaroid to 5D2s. Just the 5D Mark I cameras have earned me 6 figures per year for the past several years, without any complaints from clients. One client had their best sales day ever during the economic meltdown just this past November – with sales exceeding $1.1 million on the Monday following Thanksgiving. The ads were all shot with the lowly 5D, with no complaints about micro detail or anything else. (and no moire either ;-))

I know that in terms of investing in my business, spending on plane tickets makes a lot more sense and will better my portfoilios to a MUCH greater degree than spending huge amounts on cameras.

I think about it this way: given my portfolios as they are today – if I were to have shot everything inside with a 40 or 60mp back, they would essentially look the same. Now if I had spent that same $30K or so on traveling, hiring talented stylists, locations, models, there would be a huge difference in my portfolios. $30K sends me on a lot of trips, and could potentially transform my portfolios. In my experience, what you put in front of your camera is 95% of the battle. The camera itself: 5%.”

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Allie Crandell of MTV’s “The City”

by on Apr.06, 2009, under cameras, lighting workshops

Ok, so it’s not really fashion per se, more like a P.R. shoot really, but here’s Allie Crandell of MTV’s The City fame. Anyone seen it?

Anyway, this was shot with the Canon 5D2, and thankfully it worked fine. It was a mixture of cloudy daylight and strobe which was coming from the same angle as the window light.

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Waterways (lucky landscapes)

by on Mar.31, 2009, under cameras, lighting & technique

Flying back to NY from Palm Beach last night, we got some pretty and moody views of the landscape. Of course my airplane window was filthy, and looked like it had several leyers of Saran Wrap sandwiched in between the plexiglass – causing all kinds of glare, flare, color smear, low contrast, you name it. Plus the old 50mm 1.8 I was using contributed plendy of flare on it’s own. (I actually keep this lens because I really like the flare it produces when pointed at the sun and other bright things.)

(for the most part post-processing included only contrast and exposure adjustments. All images were shot with the Canon 5D Mark II and the old Canon 50mm 1.8 Series I lens)

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more tests…and notes on lighting

by on Feb.17, 2009, under cameras

(I was trying to get off of this testing phase on this blog. and back to lighting, but I am still testing…)

In trying a third Canon 5D Mark II body today, it focuses better with the outer AF points, but they are still no good for full figure shots where the target is far off. Lots of out of focus ones. 


On a positive note, the outer AF points seem to work ok for waist-up shots. And the color on this one is FAR better than my other 5D2 bodies.


(If the skin tones look a little funny, that’s because they are. The model is going to Japan tomorrow, where they insist that the models be as pale as possible. So she’s been hiding from the sun ;-) And thus, copius amounts of spray-on tan were applied.)


Still, if I were shooting something critical and could not be tethered to a computer to check focus, I would not use this camera! The auto focus is just too dodgy on far away objects, even using the center point. Tis a pity.


p.s. Dear Canon: Isn’t the one-shot AF mode supposed to only take the shot when it’s achieved focus at the selected AF point? IF so, maybe part of this problem could be resolved with a firmare fix: make it so that in one-shot AF mode the camera actually does not take the shot if the image is out of focus. Would this work, or can the camera just not tell that the image is not in focus?

**notes on the lighting setup for the above shots will follow shortly**

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Canon 5D2: so long

by on Feb.08, 2009, under cameras

My 5D2 is now gone. I couldn’t take it.
There are a few issues with this camera which I can not live with. The AF is still pretty bad on this, my second 5D2 body in anything but the brightest of light. (the first one was returned with abysmal focusing and weird image quality issues.)
People right and left are reporting failures in damp conditions/light rain. There were a bunch of 5D2 failures on Michael Reichmann’s Antarctic trip.
I am used to the 1-series bodies, which have never given me issues – the AF on the 1Ds3 has been superb. I get nearly 100% in-focus shots on the 1Ds3, as opposed to 50-70% typically in focus with the 5D2. Even my original 5D bodies have more consistent AF. Sheesh. There is also banding in shadow areas, even at 200 ISO and with the firmware update. I do not have any banding issues on my 3 other Canon cameras.
Additionally I still feel the 5D2 files are not as pretty as the 1Ds3 files are. Maybe it’s the new low pass filter, maybe it’s something else…anyway, with the grip and two batteries inside, it’s not noticeably lighter than the 1Ds3. So, I’ll try again with a video/DSLR camera once Canon sorts this thing out, or Nikon comes out with a good one. In the mean time, I’ll be shooting my older 5D bodies which have been bullet proof for years, 1Ds3 (which I LOVE) and perhaps a Nikon D700 just for kicks.
I do not usually shoot in conditions where I need to worry about water resistance in a camera, but lately I have been. Here are a few images of my friend Jenny’s horses (5D2.) I was shooting there because I am planning a fashion shoot this spring which will involve horses. Once again, there were many blurry shots, and what looks like very brittle looking images. Here are a few which turned out ok:
In the end, when the stakes are high (as they are whenever I am shooting a job) using a camera which I am not sure is focusing correctly, or which I am afraid may fail if there is moisture in the air, etc. is not my idea of a good time. There are plenty of things to worry about on a shoot. I don’t think my camera should be one of them.
(*I cringe every time I remember this scenario: I was shooting advertising with the 5D2 with models, hair, makeup, stylists, etc waiting on me. As I was shooting tethered, the art director was standing next to me looking at the monitor and saying “they are soft!”, and I was there thinking, yeah, I can see that, but I don’t know what the f*ck to do about it. This is after hours or working with the AF microadjustments, etc., etc.)
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Sveta Utkina

by on Jan.25, 2009, under cameras, lighting & technique

I recently used the 5D2 on another fashions shoot, but took another camera along just in case. While the focus is still pants (once again I got a bunch of out of focus images,) the image quality looks pretty good. The shots use a combination of daylight and some strobe for fill. They were shot in the NY studio, and the model is Sveta at  IMG Models…

Here is a larger one so fashionboy can check the tonality ;-)

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Canon 5D Mark II, Take II

by on Jan.07, 2009, under cameras

After some frustration and disappointment with the first one, I got a different 5D2 body a couple days ago, and strangely, the image quality is much improved over the first one – I think it may now rival my 1Ds3 image quality in some respects – including sharpness. Though the 1Ds3 images without a doubt still have more life and punch to them. They are just better, even with the same exact lenses. I will know more once I have done another proper shoot with models (next week.) Secondly, this newer body does not introduce banding when the Highlight Tone Priority is activated, which is good because I think HTP can really make some images have a beautiful, creamy quality in the highlights. Thirdly, the auto-focus seems to be better on this new one. Today I conduced a test in a similar situation to the model shoot posted below. I had a model standing in the same location with overcast daylight coming in the window at a similar light level, and the camera did much better at finding focus using the outer focus point. The First 5D2 got around 50% in focus images, and the test I did today got around 65% in focus. [This total was edited Jan 10, 2009] (I used the 85 1.8 lens, as it performed the best in terms of AF on the original 5D2 body.) Importantly, the camera was not as likely to illuminate the in-focus indicator when the camera had not achieved focused. This is still not nearly as good was what I get with the 1Ds3 in the same conditions using outer it’s AF points, but it’s not bad, and probably better than the 5D Mark I.
In any case, so far so good with the newer body, I am much relieved. Still, I wonder how many other people are going around with sub-par $3000 Mark IIs now…
For the record, they each have the same firmware version (1.0.6) and the serial numbers are:
(the bad one – bought sometime in Nov.)
Camera Body No. 0220105xxx
(the better one – bought Jan 5)
Camera Body No. 0320212xxx
Looks like Firmware 1.0.7 was just released tonight. We’ll see if that offers further improvement…
P.S. B+H finally had the S precision focusing screens today, and I got one for the 5D2, and it really makes a big difference. Leaves you with no doubt as to exactly what is and what is not in focus.
P.P.S. Going forward I intend to get back to talking more about photography and lighting and less about busted cameras…
Addendum 1/9/09
I recently read about the 5D2’s new sensor self-cleaning unit that includes a fluorine coating on the low-pass filter for better dust resistance. Perhaps this is responsible for taking some of the life out of the images as compared to the 1Ds3…
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5D2 AF in dim light: :-(

by on Dec.20, 2008, under cameras

So this week I got a change to use the 5D2 for a real shoot, using daylight which is my favorite way to shoot. Unfortunately, for full body shots, I got many frames where the model is out of focus. I counted 50% of the shots out-of-focus using the outer AF points and my 85 1.2 on a tripod! A few were due to movement of the model, but mostly just due to misfocus with the outer AF points which were positioned over her face. Fortunately I noticed this fairly early on and switched to the center AF point, which worked fine.

A week prior I found that these outer AF points work like a charm with the 85 1.2 lens in fairly bright light outdoors, but they apparently are not stellar performers when it’s dim. This is very disappointing in a $3000 camera. You will definitely do better with the 1Ds2 or 1Ds3 if you are shooting dim available light as I often do.  However if you are in a situation where you can use the center point 100% of the time the 5D2 AF should work fine.

This was not nearly my most adventurous photography, but the exercise did show me that the 5D Mark II files look fine in low light (when focused correctly,) as the 1Ds3 files do. Though the bad AF is an issue, I think the main problem here is that the red focus indicator lights up as if the shot is in focus, when it’s not. The 5D2 seems not to work better than the original 5D in terms of low light AF using the outer AF points. But at least with the original, the AF point does not light up if the shot is not focused. For $3000 it should indeed be better. Too bad they didn’t have the nuts to put all cross-type sensors in this camera like the $1000 40D has! :-(

here’s one example of the AF issue:



And here’s one which focused ok:

5D Mark II

Here is an older shot where the 5D Mark I focused effortlessly, even though it was darker:

5D Mark I

5D Mark I

UPDATE 12-22-2008

OK, so I just combed through a bunch of old shoot using the original 5D in essentially identical situations as the aforementioned bad AF shoot with the 5D2.

Where the peripheral AF points were used on the old 5D, I counted 40 in focus shots, 10 out of focus in one example; 40 in focus vs. 7 out of focus in another; 20 in focus vs. 4  out of focus in a third shoot. The lenses used ranged from the 50 1.4, 70-200 2.8, 85 1.8 – all used in the neighborhood of 1/30 or so, ISO 200, around f 2.8 or 4, and all on tripods. These were all full body shots like the example posted earlier in this thread. Facial features were used as focus points.

As I suspected, the older camera was FAR better at achieving focus with the non cross-type AF points in non-bright situations. So either this particular camera is not right, or something went awry with the AF update in the new camera.

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Twisty lens on the 5D2

by on Dec.16, 2008, under cameras

Tried the 45mm tilt/shift lens on the 5D2 yesterday for a few snapshots. It is surprisingly easy
to (manually) focus. I guess this is due to the good job they have done
with the viewfinder in this camera. However, I do look forward to
getting the Precision Focusing screen when it is available.

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black dots, black dots everyewhere…

by on Dec.09, 2008, under cameras

So, the internet seems to have exploded with “black dot syndrome” complaints about the Canon 5D Mark II.

A few can be seen herehere, and here.

As it happens I came across a 1Ds3 image from Paris last year – and wouldn’t you know, there are some artifacts similar to this “BDS.” And if you zoom in close enough, and tweak the levels enough, they will become more clear. This image is at a mere 100% view so you can not see them that clearly :-)

1Ds3 light, ACR conversion

1Ds3 lights, ACR conversion

Fact is, these 1Ds3 cameras have taken millions of images which have been published untold thousands of times, used for international advertising campaings, etc. And as far as I know, no one has complained about “black dots, lines, etc.” Why? I think it’s because pixel peeping at these levels (200%, 400%,) is not useful and has no purpose out here in the real world. After all, when looking even at a 100 percent view, you are effectively looking at what would be a 6.5 foot print (as rendered on your 72ppi screen) from 12 inches away and then complaining about the image quality. Have you ever looked at a print that large from that close? How’d it look?

Anyway, while Canon may try to fix this “problem,” I do not think any new technical flaw has been uncovered here. I think we are just witnessing a slew of new eyeballs using Photoshop to view images which are zoomed way in, exposures jacked up, over-sharpened, etc. to reveal digital characteristics which for the most part are not really relevant in the real world.

I encourage everyone to zoom their images back out to a proper viewing size, and get back to work. Your time is probably better spend working on improving your lighting skills :-O

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