My New LUMIX DC-G9

My first Micro Four Thirds camera was a LUMIX DMC-GF1 that I purchased on eBay for $100 in 2016. That led to an upgrade to an Olympus Pen F in early 2017 and I was very happy with that camera for three years of shooting street images. A series of events led to my purchase of the G9.

The Pen F had a hard fail and I sent it to Olympus for major service that cost over $400. I do not blame Olympus for the failure since it is my street camera and received some rough treatment. It was never dropped, but it spent some time on the back of my bicycle getting bounced around in a trunk pack. The camera came back from Olympus in great shape and was taking pictures as well as it ever did. I am happy with Olympus service.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit and I began looking for a webcam so that I could experiment with streaming photo shows. My gallery was closed, my solo show was cancelled, and I was looking for an alternative. There were no webcams available. It is likely that many people had similar needs that were driven by the pandemic, including work meetings and school. All sources were out of stock.

I investigated using a digital camera as a webcam and found that the LUMIX line was especially popular for that purpose as well as for video production. The G9 with the latest firmware was for me the best compromise between the video capabilities and the still image features. It is primarily a still camera, but has video features that overlap somewhat with the LUMIX DC-GH5 that is very popular for web streaming and video.

There are plenty of reviews for both the G9 and GH5 on the Internet, so I will not try to repeat them. My rationale for buying the G9 and sticking with Micro Four Thirds included the reviews, but also my desire for a light camera that i could carry all day. While the G9 body weighs more than the Pen F, the combination of the camera and the preferred lens weighs about the same. I was using the M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens on the Pen F, a heavy and bulky lens. On the G9 I have a Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4 that has a much smaller footprint.

I had lots of reasons for the upgrade. My new street kit with the G9 is moisture resistant. Videos are impressive, assisted by effective Image Stabilization. In my opinion the auto focus for stills is much better than the Pen F and the shutter is more responsive. I can rip off back-to-back images much more quickly. I hooked it up with my computer and Open Broadcast Software (OBS) and got great results for web streaming.

I have had my G9 on the street a couple of times and am totally converted from the Pen F.

LUMIX DC-G9 Image Straight from the Camera
Boston Seaport Fisherman

The image above is reduced resolution, but I think shows the excellent color and contrast rendering by the sensor and the LUMIX firmware. The image is straight out of the camera with only the resampling to 640 x 480 from the native resolution.

So far I am very happy with my choice and I consider it a significant upgrade from my Pen F. Many will question my judgement in sticking with Micro Four Thirds. The format has many limitations, especially in low light. Low light is not a problem for me since I do most of my street photography in daylight. For me the light weight and other street-friendly features close the deal.

Back to My LUMIX GF1

The Olympus Pen F that I love for street photography is at Olympus for service. It has served me well for three years, but I am concerned about long term reliability and ruggedness. Since I have some expensive glass, an M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.2 lens, I am committed to Micro Four Thirds. They are easy to carry during a long day on the street because of the small size of the Micro Four Thirds camera bodies in general.

While the Pen F is being serviced, I have fallen back to my LUMIX DMC-GF1. It was the camera that I purchased used for $100 over three years ago to give Micro Four Thirds a try. For $200 I found a Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens to go with it. That model was already eight years old at the time I bought it. At twelve megapixels it is a credible street camera as long as I don’t need to crop very much. It forces me to be more careful with my compositions. The shutter release is a bit slow, but I don’t use it to capture fast action or sports.

I took it with me last week to Cape Cod where I spent the day on my bike. It spent most of the day in the bicycle trunk pack because there was little activity on the Cape for this time of year. The camera came out of the pack near Brewster where I enjoyed a hot dog. It had been three hours since breakfast and I had forty miles to go. The hot dog gave me a protein boost to get me to Wellfleet.

LUMIX GF1 Image
Hot Dogs Near Brewster

After riding through the trail head at the end of the trail in Wellfleet, I decided to ride up the hill to a beach that was familiar to me. The beach parking lot is on a dune that is high above the beach. A precarious sand ramp leads from the parking lot down to the beach below. An old wooden life guard station rests at the edge of the dune overlooking the beach.

LUMIX GF1 Image
Old Lifeguard Stand in Wellfleet

It was early afternoon and people were still arriving, leading to a steady stream of people on the ramp. Some stood at the edge of the dune searching down below for a suitable place to spend the afternoon. Nearly two years ago a 26 year old man was killed by a shark at this beach and a sign at the edge of the dune just above the Severe Bleeding First Aid Kit in the orange box reminds visitors of the danger. There were few people in the water.

LUMIX GF1 Image
At the Edge of the Dune at a Beach in Wellfleet

It was a perfect day to be outdoors since it was warm and I was not in a hurry to go anywhere fast. The only sad thing was that there were too few people for really good street photography. Still, it was a great day to practice using my LUMIX GF1 again since I may be using it for a while. The image quality and color from the old camera are still great.

The Need to Persist

There are only a few of us who are willing to take the risk of venturing out into the city or even out of our homes. It is possible that we are the ones who feel the caprice of indefinite lock-downs and stay-at-home directives. Personally, as a cancer survivor, I would rather take some risk and live my life rather than give up a large portion of the time remaining in my life to fear.

Many of the people that I follow on Instagram are posting older work because they have suspended their lives. They are posting sad, dated retrospectives with hopeful messages about getting back to normal. I prefer to take action rather than wait for others to decide what is right for me and I refuse to suspend my life.

Depression often motivates me and my wife, Marne, will prod me when she feels me descending into Mordor. That is when I hop onto my bicycle and go for a ride. Rides into Boston have been a staple for me and for my street photography. I had a solo show of my Boston images planned for this month until the world stopped turning.

This year I have made two bicycle trips into Boston to date and both times I persisted in bringing my camera. During both of those trips I visited some of my favorite places in Boston. My style includes people in unique situations and my images almost always have a message or a story. My favorite places did not deliver as they have in the past since the density of people was low. High volumes of people guarantee a diversity of subject matter.

During both of those trips I found that I could do a documentary on homelessness during the pandemic. It seemed that the only occupants of the park benches in Boston Common were homeless and there were many congregated near the Park Street Church. More than half of the pedestrians in the canyons of the Boston city streets were also homeless.

Still, there were bright spots, such as the Esplanade where there was the usual traffic of runners, walkers, and cyclists. There was thin attendance at the Boston Public Garden. It is difficult to imagine people avoiding the place once the weather turns warm since it is already flourishing with the addictive colors of the trees and flowers. Even with the parking areas cordoned off, a few people from Southie cannot resist the lure of the ocean at Pleasure Bay and Castle Island. In the North End, Christopher Columbus Park entertains a number of people who have no trouble maintaining their distance.

There are plenty of trite reminders of our current predicament. The statue of former mayor Kevin White across from city hall has a face mask. The duck and ducklings of the famous Make Way for Ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden are wearing face masks. It would not be so bad if there were crowds of real people wearing face masks walking among them.

In the North End at Christopher Columbus Park near the harbor I found a hopeful sign of life. A man and his eight year old grandson were flying a kite. The boy was retrieving the kite hand over hand while the old man wound the line on a card. We talked a bit and I learned that this was not the first time they had flown a kite at this location. The old man and I both had our faces covered and the boy looked at me curiously, probably trying to discern an approving smile. That is my best image from the past two outings.

outdoor activity in Boston during pandemic
Mr. Kite in Columbus Park

I will take every opportunity that I can to return to Boston during the coming months to witness the transition into summer. My hope is that the people, the beer gardens, the pushcarts, and the food trucks come back soon. None of us can continue to live this way.

Street Photography Disrupted by Social Distancing

As a street photographer, I know that I will not be able to do a credible shoot for some time. My style almost demands crowds so that there is a diversity of people and activities. Not all activities are worthy of a street photograph. Street photography is similar to nature photography in that respect. It takes time and patience to find a worthy scene because my images are little vignettes that evoke an emotion or tell a story.

My images are immersive because I get close to my subjects and a crowd gives me cover so that I do not influence the action. Social distancing makes it impossible to get lost in a crowd or to get close to my subjects. The crowds of Boston themselves are temporarily gone and those people who remain walk in small groups and keep their distance from others..

Bicycle rides into Boston are one of the ways that I use to find street photography subjects and on Monday, 6 April, I took my first bicycle ride into Boston this year. I wore a bandanna over my nose and mouth. My goal was to determine the impact of social distancing on street photography. Usually, I ride to one of my favorite locations and linger, relaxing or eating lunch and waiting for something to happen. Monday was not a usual day due to the virus.

My bicycle trips to Boston often yield fifty to one hundred images of people enjoying life in the city. On Monday there was not a single scene worth capturing. Everywhere I went, people were trying to pass time outdoors on a nice day rather than indoors taking in more televised commentary on the virus. They were deliberate in their pursuit of exercise and fresh air and were not in a mood to stop and play.

There were lots of people as I approached downtown on the Esplanade, although they were trying to maintain a safe distance among them. Few were wearing masks or face covering, but it is still early in the epidemic and I imagine others will comply as they see their fellow citizen doing so. Everybody was on the move and nothing unusual was happening.

At the Hatch Shell I crossed Storrow Drive into Beacon Hill. From there I rode along the edge of the Public Garden and into the Common. There was a very low concentration of people distributed throughout the park. In contrast, the area across the street from the Park Street Church was occupied by thirty to forty homeless people who were guarding shopping carts carrying all of their worldly possessions, sleeping on the benches, or engaging in boisterous conversations. Social distancing is difficult in their world and I wondered how they managed to care for themselves if they got sick.

Protecting myself in Boston during COVID-19 pandemic
Me on 6 April 2020 with Boston Common Behind

This part of the Common is one of my favorite places in Boston, but the typical flow of people was missing except for a few locals passing among the homeless who were occupying most of the park benches. The food trucks and pushcarts were also missing, one source for lunch during normal times. The people who staff the food trucks and pushcarts are also missing their source of income for the duration. The cheerful gatherings of people and tourist groups around Brewer Fountain are gone.

As I continued my ride from the Common, the streets of Boston were devoid of the usual crush of traffic and honking horns. I rode through areas that I would not usually attempt on my bicycle. Across from City Hall on Congress Street I stopped at the statue of former  Boston mayor Kevin White. Someone had strapped a white face mask to his head, a reminder of the times to all who passed.

Mayor Kevin White Statue
Mayor Kevin White Statue

Surface Road along the Rose Kennedy Greenway was uncommonly safe for a person on a bicycle. I rode south and from there I turned left on Seaport Boulevard, my favorite route to the Seaport District and the South End because a bike path takes me well into the Seaport. I worked my way to Castle Island and Pleasure Bay where people seemed to be congregating.

From the Bike Lane on Surface Road
From the Bike Lane on Surface Road

The area around Castle Island been a particular problem for city health officials because crowds of people were gathering there on nice days and this was one of those nice days. The solution has been to block all curb parking around Pleasure Bay and to barricade the entrance to Castle Island. Even though there was no parking, there was a large number of people walking around the area, probably locals from Southie. I took up a position on one of the barricades to eat the lunch that I had with me. As I sat there at least ten cars drove up to the barricade and left discouraged.

Nearly Empty Seaport Boulevard
Nearly Empty Seaport Boulevard

After a quick lunch I also left, riding back through the Seaport, into the North End, and back to the Charles River for the bicycle trip back to my car in Bedford. I felt that hanging around trying to salvage my photo outing would break the rules of social distancing anyway. A man with a bandanna covering most of his face approaching with a camera pointing your way would be a bit intimidating. When I got home I had five or six images in my camera, none of which satisfy my standards. They are mostly the familiar scenes of empty streets that you have seen on the news. I enjoyed the ride, but miss being in the crush of people that makes street photography so much fun.

Video Image Display for a Photo Show

In May 2020 I have a solo street photography show and I will have over twenty prints in the exhibit. A friend made the recommendation to supplement the print exhibit using digital images. At first I balked since the idea of a monitor or projector connected to a computer or laptop in the gallery seemed cumbersome. Since it was an idea that had merit, my mind churned on it in the background until I came up with a solution that I plan to use.

My solution combines a 23″ monitor on an easel with a Raspberry Pi microcontroller to run a video. The monitor size is important since people will be viewing the images at close range. I think that 23″ is nearly the maximum size for that reason. Mounting the monitor on an artist easel makes it feel less like an electronic gimmick and more like art.

As with many projects of this type, following the steps below may not work for you for some reason. I did some hacking and debug to get it to work and you may find it necessary to do so as well. My objective is to describe the steps that I took and to provide a starting point. For help in getting through problems should you decide to try my approach, I refer you to the many Raspberry Pi resources on the Internet.

For the remainder of this discussion you will need to be reasonably well-versed in the use and configuration of computers. The steps discussed assume that you have a recent model Raspberry Pi. I am using a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ that I have in a plastic case as well as Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. After following the steps below, the keyboard and mouse will not be necessary when the setup is in the gallery because powering up the Pi and the monitor will start the video at boot. The discussion also assumes that you can navigate the Pi Raspbian Graphical User Interface and the nano editor.

For help getting the Raspberry Pi to display a video I turned to Adafruit and their video looper project. I followed the steps exactly and was able to run a trial video on the first try. Some changes must be made to adapt the video looper to begin playing at boot. To automatically begin play at boot, the video must be copied to a directory on the flash boot drive and the video_looper.ini file must be edited.

To copy the video I used the Raspbian GUI file manager to copy from a thumb drive to the /home/pi/video folder. Plug the thumb drive into the Pi and open the GUI file manager. Navigate to the /media/pi folder to find the thumb drive. If you attempt to copy to the video folder you may get a “permission denied” message or something like that. To get permission, go to the file manager Tools menu and select “Run a Command in Current Folder”. In the command window, enter “gksudo pcmanfm” followed by the “Enter” key. This will open a new window where you will have the necessary permissions. In the new window you will be able to drag and drop the video file from the thumb drive to the video folder.

The next thing to do is edit the video_looper.ini file. The best way to do that is to enter  sudo nano /boot/video_looper.ini in the command line window. The command opens the configuration file in the nano editor. Find the lines with the file_reader option. Change file_reader = usb_drive to a comment line by adding “#” to the beginning of the line. Delete the “#” from the file_reader = directory line. This sets the video looper to play the video from the /video directory instead of the thumb drive.

The remainder of the setup is mechanical and depends somewhat on personal preferences. I plan to hide the Raspberry Pi and the monitor power brick behind a placard hanging at the bottom of the monitor. The idea is to keep all of the electronics invisible except for the monitor itself. The power cords will be strapped to an easel leg and led down to a power strip on the floor.

The other bit of mechanics is developing the video itself. I use Photoshop CC to develop the main title, image titles, and the credits frames and I use Cyberlink PowerDirector to do the editing and rendering of the video. The image frames are exported from Lightroom Classic CC and imported in to PowerDirector. My video is a kind of slide show where each image title and image get about fifteen seconds of viewing time. I have ten images and the total length of the video is two minutes and forty five seconds, including a title at the beginning and a credit frame at the end. Each image title is numbered “N of 10” so that visitors know what to expect in terms of video duration. My recommendation is to keep the video short to hold the attention of the gallery visitors through the entire video.

This is something new for a gallery photography show and it will be exciting to see what kind of reception it gets from critics and gallery visitors. This approach is a method to get gallery visitors engaged in a different and unexpected way. At this point in time gallery exhibitions need all of the help they can get.

New England Model Engineering Society Show

Working Model V8

On 15 February I spent the afternoon at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation attending the New England Model Engineering Society show. It was their 24th annual show with about fifty exhibitors. The show was an opportunity for exhibitors to display and discuss their work. I captured the images using a Nikon D750 with a Nikkor 24-120mm kit lens in natural light.

These model engineers derive a lot of satisfaction and learn engineering principles from their work. Miniature engines dominated to show, although there were other interesting devices, including several toys, model aircraft, and a fascinating working model of a canal. Construction of any of these requires study and patience as well as an intuitive understanding of engineering.

The engines are especially demanding because their construction requires metal machining equipment that can be expensive and consume a lot of space in a home. Many of these hobbyists have a drill press, engine lathe, and milling machine. Sometimes these tools are supplemented by 3D printers and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines. Many of the engines are built from kits that are rough castings rather than completed parts. They must all be machined and made to fit precisely.

One of my first stops at the show was a V8 engine that weighed probably ten to fifteen pounds. The hobbyist is an optometrist by profession. I always inquired about the profession or trade of the hobbyist and I was surprised by the answers. Of the three that I interviewed, none was a machinist by trade.

Working Model V8
Working Model V8

The V8 is a beautiful thing and is a miniature cross between a Cadillac and a Ford flathead V8. Of course, I didn’t know that by looking at it. The hobbyist explained to me that Cadillac had the exhaust manifold on the top of the engine block and Ford had them on the side. He started the engine and it roared as you would expect a V8 to roar. It was a miniature roar, but still had the distinctive sound of a V8.

The next engine was a model hit and miss gasoline engine. It is called “hit and miss” because the speed is governed by a valve in the piston head. When the valve is closed the spark plug fires and ignites the fuel or “hits”, propelling the piston. When the valve is open, the fuel mixture cannot compress and does not ignite or “misses”, slowing the engine since the piston is not being propelled. Instead, drag slows it down.

Hit and Miss Engine
Hit and Miss Engine

The hit and miss engine was built by a retired architect. He gave ample credit to PM Research, the company that supplies the castings. In this case, the hobbyist also deserves credit for a masterful job at machining, finishing, and assembly. The kit is still available from PM Research for $550.

My final interview was with a retired draftsman who also had a version of a hit or miss engine. He had taken his engine to many shows and complained that it was balky. When I arrived he was working to get the engine re-started. This man also had a beautiful steam engine that he had restored. He said that his wife purchased it at a garage sale for $50 and that many of the parts did not fit correctly. His wife must know him very since she knew he would love to work on this engine and get it to work.

Hit and Miss Engine
Hit and Miss Engine

Just before I left the exhibit, there was a drawing for a model airplane. The man who won received the airplane and an explanation of its construction and operation. It is a beautiful piece of work constructed with colored tissue paper stretched over a balsa wood structure. There was another man behind us who was demonstrating how this was done. He was gluing balsa struts together to make the wing and the sides of the fuselage, pinning them to a paper pattern to align the parts. What I really like the most about this image is that the builder’s rugby shirt matches the colors of his airplane.

Winner of the Airplane Drawing
Winner of the Airplane Drawing

I hope that all of the hobbyists felt appreciated. As a photographer, I know that all of the hard work is especially pleasing when someone else admires your work. There was a lot of fine work to be appreciated at this show.

My PSA Bronze Portfolio – The Not So Good

If you have not read my previous post, “My PSA Portfolio – The Good”, you should go back and read it since the background for the Photographic Society of America portfolio program is detailed. That post discusses the three images that were good enough to qualify for the portfolio honors. Below are the seven of ten images that did not qualify and, therefore, disqualified my portfolio from the Bronze distinction. As I indicated before, that stings, but I have learned from the experience and from the assessors’ comments. I will show their comments in italic.

The first is “Park Ranger”. Too tightly cropped. It actually was not cropped: I was very close to the subjects. Nevertheless, it would have been a better image if it had shown the rider of the horse rather than chopping the top of his torso and head off. That is distracting.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. My rationalization was that the horse was the subject and it is in sharp focus. I was shooting with an Olympus Pen-F and 25mm f/1.2 lens wide open. That was not a good choice for the subject. I need to be more conscious of my aperture and ISO settings. Maybe I should stick with my Nikon D750 at f/16 and ISO 3200. Just joking.

Loses detail in highlights or shadows. Very true, almost to the point of abstracting the background. Some areas almost seem blown out.

Park Ranger

The second, “Banned in China”, is the image of a Falun Gong who regularly meditates on the Boston Common. Weak relative to statement of intent. It was a bad choice of subject on my part because there is not strong connection between this image and Boston unless you were aware of the Falun Gong activities locally.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. The image was overly cropped to eliminate some of the other distractions that were going on in the frame. However, even the un-cropped image lacks sharpness, probably due to a poor focus point. The shutter speed was 1/2000 s.

Loses detail in highlights or shadows. This was also shot using the Pen-F 25 mm at f/1.2, causing too much abstraction in the background, especially with the poor lighting. Using an exposure compensation may have given me more detail and the option to brighten the foreground. More importantly, this was not a good situation to use such extreme bokeh.

Banned in China

The third image is called “Athletic Pants” and was shot at the annual Head of the Charles rowing event in Boston. Too tightly cropped. Having the boat cut off at both ends probably annoyed the assessors. This was as shot, without any cropping. I had the option to zoom out since I was using my D750 and 24-120 mm lens at 105 mm. The lesson here is to take many shots at different focal lengths.

Consider a different viewpoint. The idea here is that a frontal view would have captured the full length of the boat and the athlete’s face. In many cases, my access to the athletes was restricted so that my view point was limited. That is not an excuse, just a factor in street photography.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. In the case of this image, I think the sharpness is a fine point. I could argue that the subject is sharp, but the viewpoint detracts somewhat from that perception.

Athletic Pants

“The Wild One”, shot in the Boston North End, is a reference to the 1953 Marlon Brando movie and is the fourth image. I still love this image and I might be tempted to use it again for something.Crop to improve composition. This comment puzzles me a bit, because I can’t see a meaningful crop. I wouldn’t want to lose the motorcycles in the background or any of the motor scooter that the subject mounts. I suppose I could change the aspect ratio from 3:2 to 4:3 to crop the right side.

Loses detail in the highlights or shadows. This is definitely an exposure compensation issue. There are blown out areas in the background. What I saw was a background that was not critical to the message and what the assessors saw was a distraction.

Over-exposed partial. There are some portions of the images that can be adjusted to give more detail in the dark areas.

The Wild One

“Melons in the Sun” is the fifth image, shot at Boston Market. Consider a different viewpoint. I agree that a shot at about 90 degrees from where I was standing would have shown the customer. That would have added more interest to the image.

Lacks sharpness on the main subject. The shutter speed was maybe not quite fast enough at 1/100 s and f/14. I also ripped off several shots and may have been in motion. There is some softness in the features of the subject.

Loses detail in the highlights or shadows. Some of the melons, in particular, are missing some detail. A little exposure compensation would have mitigated this.

Over-exposed partial. Some of the dark areas could have been adjusted.

Melons in the Sun

The sixth image, titled “Check!”, was a scene in Mary Soo Hoo Park in Chinatown. Consider a different viewpoint. Granted, a view that included more of the game board would have been better. However, I think the next comment is the most disqualifying.

Lacks sharpness on main subject. Yes. Although I am devoted to this image, it did not use the best camera settings. I was not paying attention to the conditions at the time. It was shot at 1/25 s and f/4. There was too much motion going on for that to work.

Check!

The seventh and final image, “i m skating – lol”, is at Frog Pond. While I like the humor of the shot, it falls short technically. Crop to improve composition. The aspect ratio can be changed and the frame reduced on the right to eliminate some of the expanse of ice.

Lacks sharpness on main subject. Since this was shot at 1/4000 s and f/1.4, it is likely that my focus point was off. At f/1.4 it wouldn’t take much.

Contrast too high. I am guilty of cranking the contrast in an effort to try to make the subject pop out of the frame. It was an inadequate method to compensate for other shortcomings of the image.

i m ice skating – lol

So, what have I learned? Since I shoot aperture priority on the street, I need to pay attention to aperture. It seems that I generally shoot too wide open. In difficult lighting situations, I need to use exposure compensation to get detail in the highlights, adjusting the exposure of the subject in post. Shutter priority may be a better choice for many street situations to get control of subject sharpness. I also want to experiment with higher ISO, although I have been reluctant to do that with my Pen-F since the focal plane is not as forgiving at high ISO as my D750.

Since I do a lot of street photography, I find it difficult to balance all of the things needed to create a truly great image. I know that it is not impossible because photojournalists do it successfully all the time. I can’t wait for Spring so that I can go out and try some more.