Dallas and D.C. Workshops review

I love teaching. I came back to NYC with dreams of being a teacher, filling minds with all the power that good photography and journalism can possess, the way I’d done as a student newspaper advisor in Northern New York. But I realized that one of the few things I love more than teaching was constantly getting out there and creating art, honing skills, testing and challenging myself. I still haven’t left that phase, and my blessedly full shooting calendar keeps me from teaching more than a few workshops each year. In fact, my upcoming May 19 workshop might be the last U.S. workshop I can fit in my schedule for the rest of 2012. But when I was approached by my friends and fellow photographers Lynn Michelle and Bill Millios to teach workshops in Dallas and D.C. respectively, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

My pedagogical background always comes out when planning a workshop. Lots of people will pay lots of money for workshops from well-known photographers, but I’m deeply results-oriented, and I’m always trying to thread the needle on workshops’ Catch-22: Anything that will really change your life as an artist and a businessperson forever isn’t something you can reliably be expected to learn in a single day of group instruction. Real, lasting success comes from staying energized and focused so that you can undertake a lifetime of hard work without it feeling like hard work, or to have the endurance to continue on when it does feel like hard work. What I hope to do in a day is find those things that will light a spark, tools and techniques that might open new pathways, help you see solutions to problems in new ways, and give you perspectives on what works for me in a way that will easily let you see how to adapt it to your needs.

It’s never about being more like me. It’s about you.

One big piece of the technical aspects of these workshops is learning to overcome bad situations. Of course, when you’re shooting in a gorgeous space like the Marty Leonard Chapel we have to be creative to even find bad situations, such as pulling intimate moments like these…

… out of the Men’s bathroom:

(and yes, I have run into situations where the Men’s room was the least-bad location to shoot in on a wedding day.)

Thank you guys all so much for coming, and especially to Lynn and Bill for their hard work and general awesomeness. Now onto May in NYC! We are just about sold out, but there’s always some variation around the edges, so at this stage e-mail photos@ryanbrenizer.com to check if spots are available instead of just paying the deposit first.

Once, Twice, Six Times Fearless

One of my favorite wedding photography organizations around is Huy Nguyen’s growing Foundation empire, from the hard-core Foundation Workshop I’m excited to do in January, to the Foundation Conference I’ll be at in November to the best-known aspect, the Fearless Photographer contest.

When I started out, I used to enter and do very well in a number of contests such the WPJA, but after a while I started getting more and more focused on the work that I had yet to do, instead of the work that I’d already done, and I cared less and less about contest results. As I go on as a photographer, I feel more and more deeply that the metric I care about is both simple and maddeningly difficult — to constantly keep getting better than I have been before, to continually feel that at any time I am currently turning out my best work. I’m energized and inspired by the great work my photographer friends are doing, but on a shoot I don’t give them a single thought, I just think about how I can push myself forward.

But a couple contests kept grabbing my eye, such as Junebug’s annual curated list and Fearless in particular, just because the work was so consistently great. So, (after a few rounds of missing the deadlines), I submitted some of my work, and I got six Fearless awards, which I think ties me for first this round with some really fantastic photographers. This is really exciting for me just because of how great I think the Fearless/Foundation organization is, and because of how incredibly strong the selected photos are over all. This is a club worth joining, even if they have me as a member.

Here are the six chosen photos:

Thanks!

Tribeca Rooftop Wedding: Heather and Peter

One of the reasons I love my job so much is that it’s different every day.

Really, you say? You seem to spend a lot of time hanging out with women in white dresses. True, but the people, the personalities, the nuances, everything is changing and different and new, always. It’s pretty easy to see that with a South-African/Persian wedding, like Heather and Peter’s fantastic day at Tribeca Rooftop. One second elegant and gorgeous, and the other with the groom showing that he does, indeed, have the moves like Jagger.

Always new, always exciting, and with a day like this doubly so.

Thanks to Jake Whyman for assisting; he did a fantastic job.

(Provisional) Review: Fuji X-Pro 1

Specs and Pricing

120413 162659 35mm f1 4C35mm, f/1.4, 1/1700th, ISO 400

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Fuji releases a delightful camera that’s not quite like anything else out there, but it comes with all sorts of quirks.

A lot of you will remember that the same thing could have been said about the X100, but honestly you can say the same of all of Fuji’s professional digital camera line-up, going back more than 12 years to the “frankencameras,” S1 and S2 Pro, which had great technology at the time but also felt like welded-on digital backs for the Nikon F60 and F80, respectively. They’re weird, they’re wild, and generally I love them for it. I ground the S2 Pro into fine dust from overuse, and the S5 Pro helped see me through the dark days of Nikon bodies with terrible high-ISO quality.

So now Fuji has merged its dormant line of professional interchangeable lens cameras with the aesthetic of the X100. It brings the retro styling and — most importantly to me — the fantastic hybrid viewfinder that turns from optical to EVF with a flick of a switch, and allows you to use a variety of lenses. Fuji released three at launch, the wide-angle 18mm f/2, the “normal” 35mm f/1.4, and the telephoto macro 60mm f/2.5 (the sensor is DX-sized, so each lens is cropped 1.5x the focal length equivalent to a 35mm frame). It’s a nice high-level kit, made even more interesting with the lenses coming down the pike. f/2.8 ultrawides? f/4 constant aperture zooms with IS? This all shows a focus on making an advanced compact kit with a great deal of versatility — in contrast to, say, the Sony road map, which is dotted with variable aperture zooms. They also have an adapter for M-mount lenses, and companies are now coming out with third party adapters for all sorts of other lenses — versatility that is an advantage of any sort of interchangeable mirrorless system.

I’ve played briefly with all of the lenses, but I’ve gotten to use the X-Pro 1 with the 35mm for a while now thanks to B&H. My friend Sam Hurd had me come along with him to a wedding, which gave me the opportunity to test this camera in ways I couldn’t do as a primary shooter. I have more than enough information to write a review as it is now, but from the start I need to make two caveats:

1) Virtually no third-party software, not even Adobe, supports the X-Pro 1 RAW files yet. I don’t know why the delay is so long. I can open the files in Fuji’s recommended Silkypix, but Silkypix is, in a word, terrible. Every company needs a RAW converter that at least will open up a file that looks like the JPEG the camera took, but in Silkypix out-of-the-box the files look much, much worse than the camera’s JPGs, so most of these are edited JPG files.

Luckily, the camera takes phenomenal JPEGs.

2) Fuji is becoming known for releasing half-basked cameras and then fixing problems in firmware. I know they’re already working on solutions to the biggest problems. But given that it took a full year to make the X100′s autofocus better, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The body:

RKB 5175

As you can see, the X Pro-1 is significantly larger than the X100, but much, much smaller than my normal big, honking’ DSLRs. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same size as the Leica M9, which is full-frame (but also in a complete other price class). It’s also much larger than the camera that competes most with it on specs, the Sony NEX-7.

In practice, while you’re not sticking this in any sort of pocket, it feels quite nimble. The ergonomics are great for a square body, with a nicely modeled grip, and the exposure compensation wheel is extremely easy to nudge with your thumb without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. In aperture mode, the EVF will mimic the proper exposure, so you can very quickly and easily use the exposure compensation dial to expose your photos just the way you want to even in changing light. X100 shooters will be frustrated that they’ve flipped the OVF/EVF switch upside down, but that takes approximately 30 seconds to get used to. The shutter and aperture controls are the same retro dials as the X100, and a pleasure to use.

It’s much easier to change settings on the XPro 1 than the X100 in general, since important things like auto-ISO can be customized to not be so deeply buried in menus and a “Q” button brings up pretty much any setting change in two clicks that can’t be found on a top dial.

It’s a good looking camera, but it definitely needs some styling on the top plate. Put on a plastic red Leica dot and quadruple its cost, perhaps?

Battery life was decent as long as you don’t use the back panel or continuous focus all that much. It lasted me through a wedding and well into another shoot (though it wasn’t my only camera).

I love the viewfinder and use that about 95 percent of the time, but it’s nice to have the option to quickly switch to the LCD display live view, giving angles that are not always easy to get, like the lively legs of this father-daughter dance:

120413 201419 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/125th, ISO 1250

And a 6 fps mode allows you to quickly capture action and the perfect moment, although after any use it throws the buffer into overdrive:

120406 155848 35mm f1 8D

Focus:

Autofocus is a mixed bag, particularly in low-light. With a fast lens it could lock on to targets even in terrible lighting, but it takes a while at all times. Operation is a little faster in continuous focus mode, but it’s annoying to hear the camera constantly whirring away, and probably not great for the battery.

It’s not as responsive as is ideal, and I often felt like I was struggling against it instead of working with it, but as you adapt it can work well in a variety of situations, including strong backlight and at distance:

120413 154114 35mm f235mm, f/2, 1/450th, ISO 800

120413 163734 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/850th, ISO 800

The images:
Even though I can’t use a proper RAW converter yet, the images from this camera are phenomenal for a DX sensor. First of all, noise is extremely well-controlled. This is ISO 12,800 in an extremely dark restaurant:

120410 224125 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/100th, ISO 12,800

But better yet, Fuji has always had a keen understanding of color, and skin tones in particular. That’s what makes the JPEGs out of this camera so good. Without any tweaking you can get great portrait tones right out of the camera:

120406 144623 35mm f1 635mm, f/1.6, 1/60th, ISO 2000

The best thing I can say for it? When Sam saw me looking over the photos after the shoot, it took him a while before he realized they were from X-Pro 1. He thought they were the shots I took with the $6K full-frame Nikon D4.

One Big Problem and provisional conclusion

As has been reported many other places, the XPro 1 chitters like an Ewok when you point it from dark to light or vice-versa. This is a huge problem for my usage. I want this camera to be as silent as possible, not call attention to itself, and allow me to make people comfortable more quickly than I can with a giant DSLR. I can’t do that when it’s clicking like a spider-monkey. It’s audible, and it’s annoying. Now, this won’t really affect casual usage, vacation shots, even most street photography, but it does affect what I do. I know they’re working on a fix in firmware right now, and I’m eager to see what happens with that (and with RAW support), because I love the files from this camera so much. In the meantime, my X100 is working better than ever, because despite their quirks, Fuji has shows that they do care about continually improving their existing products and customer experience. That goes a long way.

Click here to buy the Fuji X Pro-1
Click here to buy the Fuji X 35mm f/1.4

More sample photos:

120413 184403 35mm f235mm, f/2, 1/350th, ISO 400

120413 133433 35mm f1 835mm, f/1.8, 1/1100th, ISO 800

120411 173844 35mm f1 435mm, f/1.4, 1/640th, ISO 400

120411 183637 35mm f235mm, f/2, 1/480th, ISO 800

120413 195332 35mm f1 635mm, f/1.6, 1/60th, ISO 2000

120410 144634 35mm f1 835mm, f/1.8, 1/60th, ISO 200

35mm, f/1.4, 1/52nd, ISO 800

35mm, f/1.6, 1/52nd, ISO 320

35mm, f/1.4, 1/125th, ISO 1000

Click here to buy the Fuji X-Pro 1
Click here to buy the Fuji X 35mm f/1.4

New workshop announcement: NYC on 5/19

120320 145041 85mm f1 4

Amber Wilkie and George laugh it up between two vans in a “terrible location” demonstration at my March DC workshop

I’ve been around the U.S. with workshops this spring, but it’s time to take it back home to NYC. It’s going to be another year filled with lots and lots of wonderful weddings, so this may be the only NYC workshop I have time for in 2012, and possibly the last in the U.S. at all. Given that, I want to create an especially great experience for intermediate to advanced photographers who are looking to take their work or their business to the next level. This will only be for a small group, and will include a get-together on Friday night to kick off networking.

Read more on the workshop page!

Featured on Strobist!

A little while ago, after I put up Amanda and Glenn’s wedding at the Merion, I got an e-mail from David Hobby, a man famous worldwide for making flash usage less scary through broad knowledge and clear instructional writing (as well as for a love of cargo shorts). He was curious about the one photo above, which shows the sort of reverse engineering eye he has, because faced with a scene that had great potential but also a lot of technical challenges I sort of threw the kitchen sink of technical tricks at it to pull it off.

You can read a full breakdown of it on Strobist.

(And as for the Strobist readers coming here … hello and welcome. Lots of flash-usage fun in my portfolio and full weddings samples.

Steiner Studios Stage 6 Wedding: Igor and Mishella

New year’s resolution: Let the photos do the talking. I don’t have to tell you that Mishella and Igor were awesome. Any bride with emotion that pure and any groom who can rock a Funky Chicken that hard have to be awesome.

Southern gentlemen Zack Delaune and Taylor Hide were fantastic help on the day, and have a photo apiece in the mix. And the staff at Stage 6 is absolutely top notch. When I hear how solid and comprehensive day-of manager Eric’s pre-wedding run-through is, reiterating lots of things I tell my clients, I kind of want to give him a hug.
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Rockstar trashes hotel room at WPPI!

Longtime readers will know that nothing crawls up my spine quite as much as taking wedding photography — a job that, in the end, is about providing a deeply important and heartfelt service to others — and making it about supposed “rockstar” photographers. After all, there ARE no rockstar photographers. Nowhere is the cult of the rockstar more prevalent than the annual WPPI conference in Las Vegas. This isn’t WPPI’s fault — at 16,000 attendees, it’s the biggest show in town.

Anyway, I had the fantastic Stephanie in town for some some shooting, and so I thought we could have some fun with the idea. (I had some Ke$ha style fun with it during prep for the shoot).

The last photo is an illustration of a concept I tell clients all the time: Photography is a wonderful liar because anything outside the frame doesn’t exist. With creative framing can take a classic beauty shot even if you happen to be lying on a bed of Coors light cans.*

I was helped with lighting and styling on this by Sara and Dylan of Sara K Byrne Photography, Boise’s finest. Here Sara shows us how real rockstar photographers roll:

*By the way, the Coors light wasn’t mine. I think we should just make that clear.

Fading Skyline

120316 151716 85mm f1 4A 28 images pano

One of the nice things about the Brenizer method is that it gives that same feeling with film that — even when you know exactly what you’re after — there’s still a bit of a surprise at how it comes out.

Camera: Nikon D3s
Lens: 28-image “Brenizer method” panorama with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 (equivalent of 27m f/0.44 according to Brett’s calculator)

A Nikon user’s review of the Canon 5D Mark III

Specs and purchasing info

The 5D Mark III at 12,800 ISO
Note: I will keep updating this review as I get more information. I am shooting another wedding with the 5DIII tomorrow for example, and will be able to do direct comparisons with the Nikon D4 and Nikon D800 soon

I am not a brand fanatic. I have used Fuji cameras as well as the 5Ds Mark I and II at weddings, loved point-and-shoots from Canon and Panasonic, and film cameras from a huge array of companies. The only camera I get truly emotional about is my first SLR, my father’s Minolta SR-T 101b. But you’ve gotta use something, and I’ve been using Nikon dSLRs for more than 12 years, since the days of the Nikon D1. I stuck through even through the dark times of noisy ISO 800, and have been loving the Nikon system for weddings more and more since the advent of the Nikon D3, and even more with the expansion of fast primes like the 24mm f/1.4 and the 35mm f/1.4.

120323 135225 50mm f1 2So why am I so excited about the Canon 5D Mark III? On the surface, it seems like an incremental upgrade. It has essentially the same resolution as the 5D Mark II, and nothing truly revolutionary like the original 5D’s full-frame sensor in a prosumer body, or the Mark II’s professional video features.

I’m excited because for the first time at semi-affordable rates, Canon users can combine the most comprehensive DSLR lens line-up with a full-frame camera that has no major drawbacks. The 5D Mark II was a beautiful camera that has produced millions of stunning images for photographers around the globe … but at its price point it also had some major flaws, in particular an amateur-level autofocus system. I’ve used the 5DII in conjunction with the Nikon D3s at dark wedding receptions, and the Canon’s autofocus was a cruel joke in comparison. One of the great things about Canon primes like the 35mm f/1.4L and the 135mm f/2L is that they focus faster than their Nikon equivalents — but only if they are paired with a camera that can keep up.

A lot of my friends who have been turning out gorgeous work with the 5D line rely heavily or entirely on manual focus for precision with shallow depth-of-field. If you want to buy a manual focus camera in 2012, go for a Leica M9. A workhorse DSLR needs to be able to keep up, especially at a wedding.

In short, with the 5DIII what looks like incremental upgrades amounts to an incredible increase in usability, closing major gaps in a comprehensive camera system. But it’s not quite perfect…

Build Quality and Usability

The design idea of the original 5D was to but as incredible a sensor as you could get at the time into as cheap a body as possible. There was an elegance to that idea — in the end cameras are just boxes with holes in them — but it certainly lagged behind truly professional bodies. The 5D Mark II made some improvements, but the Mark III is the first 5D that truly feels right in my hands, taking ergonomic notes from the 7D. It feels rugged and balances well with mid-weight lenses like an 85mm f/1.2L. The buttons are well-placed and the rear-screen is a pleasure to use, either in review or Live-View mode. Whoever the Canon exec was that said “Wait, the pictures this camera takes are in a 3:2 ratio, maybe our rear screens should be too!” deserves a raise.

There are some niggling little details that trip me up as a Nikon user. No matter how you change the settings, most of the time the AF point is either invisible or black. That’s OK unless you’re trying to track people in a pitch-black wedding reception. Most of my AF errors weren’t because of the autofocus system, but because I had no way of remembering exactly where I put the AF point unless I kept moving it around. UPDATE: The more I use this, the more of a problem this is. I had to set the 5DIII aside at a recent dark reception because I could never see what I was supposed to focus on. Canon needs to address this in a firmware update. You should be able to make the point red all the time in dark scenes.

On the good side, moving the AF point is much easier (and more natural to a Nikon user) with the addition of a joystick. I recommend immediately changing the custom function menu so that you don’t have to press an extra button to change the AF point. The joystick is well-placed, allows you to follow the action quickly, and it’s not something you’re going to move by accident.

And although I rarely use burst mode, 6 frames per second, makes it easier to catch that perfect moment than the previous 5D cameras:

120324 164220 50mm f3 2

50mm f/1.2L, f/3.2, 1/4000th, ISO 100
Autofocus

Has Canon finally fixed the autofocus in the 5D line? In a word? Abso-freaking-lutely. The autofocus is accurate, fast, and a pleasure to use — in some ways moreso than the Nikon D3s. I immediately turned off all sensors except the extra-sensitive cross-type sensors — and still had 41 left! Combined with the joystick, I never have to play the focus and recompose game very much unless I want my point of focus to be at the very edge of the frame. And even then I can get it close enough to not compromise the accuracy of my focal plane, which can matter when you’re shooting with a lens like the 50mm f/1.2L

I shot parts of two wedding receptions with the 5D, using my Nikon SB-900 as a flash. I almost always shoot manual mode, which works fine with that combination, but the Canon can’t trigger any sort of AF assist beam on the Nikon flash. A dark reception with people dancing around is a nightmare scenario, and one that often frustrated 5D and 5DII users, but even without an AF assist beam the 5DIII worked really, really well, capturing lots of great moments even at f/1.2:

120325 003710 50mm f1 2

50mm f/1.2L, f/1.2, 1/200th, ISO 4000

50mm f/1.2L, f/1.2, 1/80th, ISO 1250
The focus tracking was spot on as well, and AI servo mode will be a useful tool for 5DIII photographers, especially given the complex but intuitive autofocus menu that lets you customize your autofocus preferences to the smallest degree with a fast lens like the 135L, I was able to easily capture lots of great moments quickly and accurately:

120323 182432 135mm f2

135mm f/2L, f/2, 1/160th, ISO 1250

135mm f/2L, f/2, 1/125th, ISO 1250

135mm f/2L, f/2, 1/160th, ISO 4000
Image Quality

It’s tough to drill down too far into image quality right now, and I will update this post as RAW processors update themselves to support this camera. You can use Adobe’s DNG converter at the moment to process 5DIII profiles in most RAW converters, but I suspect there will be some differences once they have official support. For example, even with noise reduction turned off, Adobe’s processing has much less noise at high ISO than Capture One’s for the same files.

But here’s a generalization I feel safe with: The 5D Mark III has excellent results at high ISOs as long as you more or less nail the exposure.

The ISO quality and autofocus tracking saved my bacon at an extremely dark processional, where I had to use ISO 12,800, 1/125th, and f/2 to accurately and sharply capture photos with the 135L:

Unfortunately, like most Canon cameras before it including the other 5Ds, the 5D Mark III files are significantly worse at dealing with pushed exposures than the Nikon D3s, and seemingly also the D4 and D800. The Nikons keep a lot of dynamic range in their shadows, and you can raise exposures quite a bit without significantly degrading image quality. Even if you try to nail exposures, this gives you more dynamic range headway and better ability to creatively dodge and burn an image.

This quick test shot put me about 2.5 stops under where I wanted to be even for a silhouette, and even at ISO 100 raising it back up in post introduces noise and banding:

120324 171948 85mm f16A

85mm f/1.2L, f/16, 1/3200th, ISO 100
I’ve created a gallery here where you can compare the 5DIII and D3s at ISO 200, ISO 12,800, and at ISO 200 raised four stops in post-production. I’ve resized the files to 2000 pixels at the longest side, since cameras with higher resolution are otherwise penalized in noise comparisons. The light was the exact same, but the 20-year-old Nikon 50mm f/1.2 let in a bit less light than the four-day-old Canon 50mm f/1.2. In any case, though, the pushed exposure difference is clear.

(UPDATE: The light in these images is coming entirely from flash as it was shot in a dark room — the same flash at the same power setting — so the different shutter speeds shouldn’t make a difference in the exposure. I do appreciate the Nikon’s higher x-sync speed over the Canon, especially that, at least with the Nikon flash, the Canon sometimes has dark edges of the frame at 1/200th of a second)

Other Notes

I am not a videographer and have not extensively played with the video yet. I am having an accomplished cinematographer shoot with me tomorrow, and will relay some of his impressions if we get a chance.

Quiet mode is really quiet. With live view it’s really quiet. This comes in handy for ceremonies.

The rate button is a great addition. Like Nikon’s voice memos, it won’t come in handy for most users most of the time, but that small percentage of the time it’s REALLY handy.

Conclusion:
Right now, Canon is primarily competing with the Nikon D800. At $500 cheaper and with a high-resolution, high dynamic range sensor, the D800 will be a tempting option for most users. For someone like me who takes more than a quarter million photos a year, the idea of a sensor that only shoots 36MP is a non-starter.

More importantly, Canon has built a near-perfect wedding camera. Great at high ISOs, accurate and customizable autofocus, speedy and quiet operation and with versatile RAW resolution, this camera is finally a worthy companion to Canon’s huge array of lenses. On either the Nikon or Canon side, you can’t use the camera as an excuse anymore.

Buy the 5D Mark III here
More Photos

120323 192143 50mm f1 4A

50mm f/1.2L, f/1.4, 1/1000th, ISO 1000
120323 144641 50mm f1 2

50mm f/1.2L, f/1.2, 1/1600th, ISO 100
120324 192409 135mm f2 5

135mm f/2L, f/2.5, 1/125th, ISO 12,800
120323 145354 50mm f1 2

50mm f/1.2L, f/1.4, 1/160th, ISO 160

135mm f/2L, f/2, 1/160th, ISO 2500
120324 180235 24mm f1 8A

24mm f/1.4L II, f/1.8, 1/8000th, ISO 100