Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blue heron

I went walking around in the woods near my apartment today, and came across a beautiful blue heron. They're abundant here in Charlottesville, but despite that fact I have yet to get a good picture of one. I fell short again today, but here he (she?) is:

I had the Canon 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 lens on my camera; it's a step above the various non-IS 75-300mm lenses, but nothing special.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Against all odds, I "fixed" my broken 50/1.8 tonight. Its wreckage was lying on the kitchen counter, and I picked it up to take a last look when started thinking, "Hey, this isn't as bad as it looks." I lined up the two pieces, and pop! It snapped back together. Hmmm, maybe I jumped the gun yesterday.

I flipped the manual focus switch, turned what passes for the plastic 50's focusing ring, and what do you know — it's working again. So I pulled it back apart, cleaned the front and rear elements on both sides, and popped it back on my camera for some test shots.

I thought it would go one of two ways. One, nothing happens, and since it doesn't have an aperture dial it would be stuck wide open. Or two, it works, but focus is slightly off.

You have probably guessed what happened — the lens works just like it always did. Pretty much. It's a little noisier when focusing now (apparently, that is possible). Plus, when it gets to either end of the focusing range, there's more of a clunk. I suspect it will be replaced for general use by the 28/1.8 once it arrives, but I can still use the 50 as a portrait lens on my 40D. And I'm happy to have my little friend back.

You know when you have one of those "yard sale" wrecks while skiing, and the little mechanism on the bindings causes your skis to fly off before your leg breaks? Maybe Canon has designed the plastic 50/1.8 to survive minor falls using the same principle. Yes, that must be exactly what they did.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Loss of a dear friend

An old friend bit the dust today — my Canon 50/1.8. It was on my 40D with an old metal hood attached when I knocked it off the coffee table, and it tumbled about two feet to the wood floor. It hit hood first, and the lens snapped in half. As you can see, the damage was total and final.

The 50/1.8 is Canon's least expensive lens. It's obviously cheaply constructed. But it was the first fast autofocus lens I had, and it had some sentimental value. I remember when I first got it I never took it off for a few months. There's just something I like about walking around with a prime lens on my camera; it makes me notice more details and think more about framing and composition.

I'm replacing it with the much higher-quality 28/1.8 USM lens. But I'll miss my "plastic fantastic" 50.

G10 macro mode

The G10's macro mode is fun to play with. You're not going to get results like you would with a Canon 100/2.8 macro lens, but on the G10 it's a good way to trick the camera into blurring the background a little. At least if you're close enough.

I used the self timer and set the camera on the counter to snap these pics. The G10 does (by far) its best work when left in ISO 80. So check it out, your batteries and cat food can look this good with the G10's macro mode.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

G10 snaps

Just took a couple quick shots today, but the G10 continues to be fun. The best way I can describe it is that it makes you want to take pictures — or just screw around and play with all the settings.

The shot above is of a tree near where I work. The one below is from somewhere near work, too, at the top of a hill on the way to the grocery store. The shot is hand-held at ISO 400...I stabilized the camera against my car's window.

I hit the sky with Nik Dfine due to heavy noise. It was a 1-second exposure, so the noise in the sky wasn't a big surprise. The fact that I was able to get a sharp picture (no sharpening applied) without a tripod was pretty cool.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Badge of honor

I was playing around with the G10's macro mode, and took a shot of my old Digital Rebel's worn grip. Looking at it made me kinda proud, really, it shows how much I used that camera over 4+ years before I got my 40D.

The 2003 Digital Rebel (300D) still works as new. The eyecup fell off at some point, and some paint has rubbed off here and there, but the guts are intact. After getting used to the smooth responsiveness of the 40D this year, I find it harder to use — but I had no problem using it for a long, long time.

It was the camera that I learned so many things on. And I'm proud of how the paint wore off where my middle finger spent so much time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

G10 First Impressions

I've only had my hands on the G10 for a couple days, but I thought I'd share just a few first impressions.

First of all, the G10 has a LOT of features. The manual is longer and more complex than the one for the 50D.

It's covered in knobs and dials. The G10 is heavy and big for a compact. My wife noted that it looked like an old camera, and I agree — it has the look of an old rangefinder. I rather like the look of it, but at its size it needs a jacket pocket in transport, or to be worn around your neck.

You can see some barrel distortion at 28mm. The colors look
good straight from the camera, set at "Vivid.".

It's got a little grip on the right size which makes it very comfortable to hold. The outside of the camera is covered in covered in rubber where the grip is, makes it very easy to hold.

The screen is nice. Not at the level of the 50D's new screen, but definitely better than my 40D's screen.

The lens goes to 28mm wide, nice.

Exposure compensation has its own dial, pretty cool. I can program in my favorite 5 or 6 menu settings into "My Menu," for easy recall later. There's also C1 and C2 settings on the dial for complete camera setup memories; it's one of my favorite features on the 40D, too.

The macro function works great! Better than the automatic macro setting in any camera I've ever used.

Macro shots are fun with the G10.

The G10 goes all the way to ISO 3200, but it's a joke. So far, ISO 400 is the limit I'd recommend, but I'll reserve final judgment for when I've had more time to test.

The hotshoe on top lets you bounce a flash.

There's a hotshoe on top, so I attached my 430EX flash and was able to bounce it, like with the shot above.

The RAW files aren't compatible with anything other than Canon's DIgital Photo Professional software, which feels clunky to me. And I didn't like being knocked out of my workflow, so I'm switching to fine jpeg. I'll shoot some RAW frames later on and put them in the time capsule until Adobe updates their software.

I'm going to keep on shooting with this fun camera and report back later.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prints made it

I took advantage of Adorama's recent deal: $4.95 for 16x20 prints. I chose Kodak Endura metallic paper since I had no idea what it would be like. Well, I got my two prints back this week, and that metallic paper is sweet! It looks even better from a slight angle, with a silvery sheen over everything. The blues in the sky and orange in the autumn tree on my print really pop.

That deal has expired, but they've got a new one — $0.99 photo greeting cards, so long as you get 10 or more.

Here's the print, in an Ikea frame. This photo doesn't do it justice.

I took that snapshot using the Canon G10 I scored for a couple of weeks. I'll be sure to give my impressions of that camera as I go.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Canon 50D

I had a 50D at home tonight — it goes back tomorrow, so there's no time to test everything. I decided to screw around and take a bunch of shots at ISO 6400. It actualy goes to ISO 12800, but those were useless. I was thinking maybe the 50D's ISO 6400 would look like my 40D's ISO 3200.

Well, not so much. I didn't see anything amazing. ISO 6400 isn't bad, though. The 40D's ISO 3200 edges it out, but not by much.

The 50D is nice, but not really worth an upgrade from the 40D. It has a very nice screen, good enough to actually determine if a shot is in focus or not. It has some new bells and whistles. Oh, and 15 megapixels. What that did for me was slow me down with huge files.

It feels and handles just like the 40D. One of my beloved user setup slots on the dial has been replaced with a new "Creative Auto" mode. Ugh. And the dial is a highly reflective aluminum color that I can see burning out someone's cornea on a sunny day.

I'd say go straight for the 50D if you're making the leap from 20D or 30D, but if you've got a 40D, keep it. Save up for the 5D markII or wait a year or two until the 60D comes out. The 50D is a wonderful camera, no doubt, but other than its great screen, there's nothing there tempting me to upgrade.

Here's one at ISO 6400 that came out better than most of the shots I snapped.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008


My friend Craig at MockProper and I shot a fashion show Saturday night, a benefit for domestic violence. It was pretty hectic. We got there early, scoped the place out, took a few practice shots. The guy in charge of the event told us the plan. "Scene one, they come down the stairs, pose here, pose there, walk off over there...scene two, they come in from the other side, pose there, then there, then again over there, walk off over there. Scene three, they come one at a time, meet in the middle..." Etc. It went on like that, seven scenes. I think. We took off for a while.

Then a phone call came in: we had to head back and brief the other photographers, since we were the only ones who had heard the whole plan. Hmmm. Other photographers? Brief them? Um, OK, be right there.

We get back, and it's in full swing. A couple hundred guests seated. People milling around, fiddling with lights, arranging merchandise. There are now another ten photographers, we tell them we have no idea what's going on. Which is true, I think hearing the description of the event actually made us more confused than if we had simply guessed what was going to happen.

Now we both were loaded for bear, with two bodies apiece, one fast prime, one image-stabilized zoom, speedlights, and 10GB of memory. Ready for a real gunfight.

But in the end, we each used our main body with the fast lens attached, that's it. I shot every frame at f/1.8. At first, I was out of position. The other photographers were all over the place, in the way. Eventually, though, I worked my way into a good spot and planted myself there. Got some good stuff, but I think I snapped 350 shots and kept 36. It was a real struggle.

But it was fun, I'm glad Craig asked me to help. Certainly I learned a lot and got some good experience. I'll post a link to our full gallery when I can.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Deep thoughts

David Pogue wrote a great article yesterday. A reader had written to him in response to a review he wrote about the new MacBook, where he (like many others) decried the fact that Apple took away the firewire port. Why they did that is a topic for another day, but Pogue's reader ended up asking him, in so many words, why was it he shot home videos. Would anyone ever watch them?

Which led Pogue to question why he bothered documenting anything at all. Which, in turn, got me thinking about it. I mean, I take my camera with me when I go out to breakfast. Why? Why do I have stacks of DVDs and external hard drives full of my pictures? Even the ones that are not good or (worse) not interesting?

Pogue came up with 5 good reasons why he shoots home videos and takes pictures. I came up with one:

Because I love to shoot.

On another note, I'm helping my friend Craig at MockProper shoot a fashion show tomorrow night. After some careful deliberation, I've decided to bring just one body, my 40D, plus two lenses: the 28-135mm IS and the 50mm f/1.8. I'm bringing my Speedlite, too, but hoping I don't have to use it. I'll report on the experience later, should be a lot of fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thom Hogan's 2009 predictions

Nikon man Thom Hogan has published his predictions for 2009 — a must-read, as are his predictions from previous years. This year's edition is peppered with company-level predictions due to the current economic crisis. He's not affiliated with Nikon in any way, but is an astute observer. It's a dense read; block out 20 minutes or so.

Remember, these are opinions. But the man makes a lot of sense.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Selective color

Selective color is one of my favorite projects. It's one of the joys of digital photography. I did this one by creating a duplicate layer, converting it to B&W, then erasing the tree to expose the color layer underneath. Simple as that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

16x20 prints only $4.95

Adorama is offering $4.95 16x20 prints right now. You can get them on Kodak Endura Matte, Endura Lustre, and Metallic papers. That's at least 50% off - the Kodak Metallic prints are normally $14.95. I've never ordered prints from them before, and I know nothing about Kodak paper, but geez, it's Adorama. I'm sure they're great. I plan to try out the metallic paper; report forthcoming.

Plus, you get 25 free 4x6 prints and 3GB of storage when you sign up with them. Actually, pretty much every place gives you free 4x6s for signing up. I'll bet if you just kept on signing up for these places, you could get free 4x6 prints for life.

Serenity now

I always figured that if reincarnation turned out to be true, that I'd want to come back to life as a dog in my mother's house. But just as good would be a cat in my house.

The shot above was made with the SMC Super Takumar 55mm f/2 at f/2, ISO 3200. The one below is with the Canon 28-135mm IS at f/3.5, ISO 3200.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A time-lapse camera for your pet

Got an outdoor pet? Ever wonder where they go all day? Check out the Mr. Lee Catcam — it's a little camera that hangs from your kitty's collar, and you can configure it to take a picture at regular intervals throughout the day. What you end up with is a series of shots chronicling your cat's — or other roaming pet's — daily movements. Thanks to Eolake Stobblehouse for pointing this out in a recent entry.

The site has a great gallery of pics, following a day in the life of "Mr. Lee."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bypass noise reduction by shooting RAW

Ken Rockwell's site is one of my favorite reads. He writes about photography and camera gear from an experiential standpoint, rather than from a technical one. One of his recent articles is about why film is superior to digital for landscape work; I can't argue with him there, he makes a great case.

But Ken's also a devotee of shooting only in jpeg, his reason being that time spent messing around with RAW files in post-processing is time that could be spent doing anything else, including shooting more pictures. Again, it's hard to argue that aspect of it. But in his film article, he bemoans the fact that digital cameras smudge out details with noise reduction, which obviously doesn't happen when you shoot film and have it scanned.

But here's the thing — in-camera noise reduction is not applied to RAW images, only jpegs. Or at least it is with my Canon 40D. So that's a sacrifice you make if you only shoot in jpeg.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fall colors

Snapped these at lunchtime today in a nearby park.

Check out a few more snaps here.

Cat guarding pigeons

As someone who takes a lot of cat pictures, I can appreciate this excellent example from an Israeli photographer.

More to come later today; still basking in the post-election glow. I tell you, it's better than the post-election turd sandwich that has defined this century so far.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Deciphering forum-speak

While I'd much rather be out shooting pictures all day, I have a desk job and find myself reading about photography a lot when I can't actually be doing it. Fortunately, educating myself about photography has at least a small tie-in to my day job.

Inevitably, I end up reading some forums. In my opinion, you have to read between the lines to get the good stuff out of forum banter — there's a lot of mud in there you have to ignore. For example, when you see the following titles, here's what they really mean:
  • pro: has been paid at least twice in the last calendar year
  • semi-pro: has been paid once
  • advanced amateur: knows how to change lenses
  • beginner: beginner (the only honest ones)
In reality, pros are those who earn their entire living through photography. Semi-pros shoot a few weddings or other paid events a year. Advanced amateurs are skilled photographers who don't get paid. And so on. People on forums inflate their titles to appear more knowledgeable. Don't believe them, because they are full of shit.

A lot of terminology is thrown out there in forums. Actually, forums are all about terminology, specs, reviews, and any other number of discussions that have more to do with technology than photography. The reason for this is simple: technology is quantifiable, and therefore debatable. Hardly anyone debates how to make fine art. And it's important to remember that photography is an art, not a science.

Here's an example: newbie photographer A asks the forum to help him decide between a couple of lenses he's considering buying. Both are either entry- or mid-level in quality. It's obvious he wants to spend a few hundred dollars at most. And do you know what most of the responses will be? Recommending professional-quality glass that costs between $1,000-5,000. Are they trying to help? Of course not. They're trying to prove to everyone else that they're important, well-heeled photographers.

Forum posters love to blame everything on "a bad copy." Pictures out of focus? "I got a bad copy. I had to send three of them back to Sigma." Too much noise? Bad copy. With a good copy, they get more "keepers."

And everything good has to be "tack sharp." I loathe that term. It's like seeing the phrase "torture porn" in a movie review.

Forums will debate, ad nauseum, the merits of cameras that nobody arguing actually owns. Generally, this involves looking at test shots on a review site and spewing dogma about them.

People who post regularly in forums are insecure about the gear they use. Because of this, they try to point out that all the other brands are crap. Generally this is a Canon vs. Nikon thing, but not always.

If a less-than-stellar review comes out, sometimes forum posters will threaten to switch systems. It's a lie. Once you're invested in a system, it's costly to switch. I still don't know what it proves to make hollow threats like this.

And, of course, many forum posters have the "gear list signature" in which they list every piece of camera gear they own. Whoop-de-do.

Forums do have useful information — you just have to read between the lines.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Online video class about manipulating light

Scott Kelby's training site has an excellent video course with acclaimed pro Joe McNally about lighting a scene. It's a cool video, and while I don't have access to thousands of dollars worth of lighting gear, the principles are what matters. Check it out here. McNally uses an abandoned prison as the set, looks like an extremely cool place to snap away.

Warning: requires signing up for Kelby training, but it's free, and you can opt out of emails upon signup if you prefer.