Posts Tagged ‘photo’

TOP Photo

3 October 2008

Dear J-

Although it’s fun to read some of the discussion threads on the various partisan forums, it’s better (more relaxing) to read things from folks who have a pretty good idea what they’re doing — today some break time was consumed by The Online Photographer, Mike Johnston (and others)’s blog.  It’s not that experience automatically confers genius status — if that was the case, I’ve got a wealth of how-not-tos to sell you.  After you’ve spent your time thinking about what makes what — why is this better than that, how do I see the world, what fits my work flow best — and you learn from that, that’s when your work is able to grow.

Even better, reading about the traps other folks fall into helps you recognize your own flaws.  For instance, there’s this entry about challenging your lenses; I recognized immediately that I’m guilty of just about all the habits, but especially the zoom habit of treating it as a two-stop train ride:  one extreme of the focal length range or another, very rarely stopping in the middle.  This I think I picked up from years spent with prime lenses, shuffling back and forth with my feet to frame things just right.  Perversely, the added flexibility is precisely what’s kept me away from extreme zoom designs; it was only this year that I broke down and got an SLR zoom, and the one I use most has less than a 3x range (Nikon 80~200 f/4 AIS — referred to around here as the Zoo Lens).  It’s enough of a choice to have two focal lengths, but a huge range of intermediate settings would result in a flurry of fiddling.  Incidentally, the well-developed 80~200 range and its ilk make me wonder about whether the rumors are true about the similarity in design of the Contax, Praktica, and Leitz entries in that range — after all, there’s only so many ways to design that zoom.

It’s not just technique, but the interleaved critical thought and philosophy that make TOP a fascinating read for anyone with a passing interest in photography.  I’ll be back, but hopefully not at work — my break times seemed to stretch a little too far today!

Mike

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Aquarium Lens

22 June 2008

Dear J-

As part of the campaign to find air conditioned spaces in San Diego (the four major malls closest to us — University Towne Center, Fashion Valley, Mission Valley, and Horton Plaza — are all outdoor malls) we spent part of the afternoon going through the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography.  When I was younger my imagination was sparked by the romance of the sea, specifically treasure-hunting sunken-ship divers like Mel Fisher (who discovered Atocha) and, later, folks with a more scientific bent like Robert Ballard (Titanic and Bismarck).  Dr. Ballard worked for Woods Hole, who always maintained a friendly rivalry with their West Coast counterparts, that same Scripps we visited today.

But onwards to the lens; put simply, bring along the fastest lens you can lay your hands on.  Today, I used a f/1.8 lens wide-open at ISO 800 and still found myself wishing for a bit more speed for some situations.  The angle of view was equivalent to a 100mm lens on 35mm film (10 degrees, horizontally), which turned out pretty much perfect to frame most of my shots without getting in anyone’s way, or getting anyone else’s fingers in my way.  Maybe for 10% of the shots I would have chosen something a little wider — the octopus in full fury, cruising along the glass was a sight to behold, and some of the larger sharks would have been nice to get a full-body shot of up close — but the humble little Nikkor did the trick today.  In fact, the only thing that would have been better would have been a macro lens — thus the Digital Zuiko 50 f/2 I keep telling myself I need to save for.

It’s a nice aquarium to visit; not so huge that figgy got bored halfway through; this time she delighted in pointing at the numerous fish all capering seemingly for her entertainment.  The crowds were thin enough that we never had to wait an interminable amount of time for our turn at the window.  Funny how all at once it strikes you, sometimes; I asked theVet several times today when it was that we had this daughter.  For some reason it feels both like forever and forever new, all at once.

Glassy Eyes

19 June 2008

Dear J-

The more I shoot with my current setup (Olympus E-1 with vintage lenses) the more I’m tempted to acquire more glass, even though I swore off more acquisitions only a month ago, and this even despite already owning multiple lenses in those same focal lengths.  What I’d be smart to do is set money aside for some actual Olympus lenses instead of making do with the motley crew of lenses I currently rotate.

For example, Olympus makes a 50 f/2 macro lens for the 4/3rds system; that lens is fast, compact, autofocus, and a 1:2 macro lens to boot, so why would I even consider instead spending a fraction of its purchase price on something like a Summicron-R 50 f/2?  I will say that there’s something seductive in the way the Leitz lenses feel:  well-damped, solid, and with an impressively long focus throw.  Here’s where my limitations come into play, though; anything less than 50mm or so of actual focal length and I can’t honestly say that I’m focussing accurately.  Besides, giving up on manual focus and aperture rings would mean that one-handed operation would be a bit more feasible; considering that for most photographic opportunities I find myself juggling baby, dogs, and camera, a free hand would be greatly appreciated.

I’d also like to be able to regain wide-angle photography without having to resort to pulling out some of my exotic lenses; the full-frame 16mm Fisheye-Nikkor works surprisingly well with minimal distortion, but what I’ll probably save my pennies for is either the 11~22 zoom or the 8mm fisheye, along with the 50mm macro.  The 14~54 has had great reviews, but considering my recent usage of that focal length range (on the LC1, I’d usually rack the zoom out to full-wide or full-tele, 28 or 90, and be perfectly happy with those results).  I don’t generally find myself limited when shooting with single focal lengths, although that may be a by-product of the lenses I’ve owned.  Now if Olympus would just lower the price on that 7~14 …

Mike

Walkabout Rig

26 November 2006

Dear J-

The worst pictures are the ones you end up not taking because the camera was too bulky/complex to use. On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to be relying on your camera phone for much beyond casual snaps, so what’s a budding photographer to do?

I have an absurd amount of grad student stipend invested in (politely, classic; popularly, obsolete) Nikon glass, so I ended up with the cheapest SLR capable of handling AI lenses with some grace and resolution — Kodak DCS 660C, which is a modified Nikon F5 with a 6MP Kodak imager stuck inside. In the nicest possible sense, this is a beast of a camera; the regular F5 is heavy enough, but when Kodak is done with it, it feels more like something you’d weigh corpses with, assuming you never want to see them again. The ‘developing’ process is straightforward but clunky — open files in DCS Photo Desk, tweak, save into 18MB TIFFs, then convert into JPEGs for sharing.

For a couple of years before, when I’d initially converted to digital, I was using a Sony DSC-D770, which had an optical TTL finder, mechanically-linked zoom, and decent (assuming you left it in manual focus) responsiveness. Ideal, then, except for the resolution — 1.5MP is enough for desktop backgrounds and e-mail, but not much else. Enough squinting through its keyhole of a finder and I was ready to chuck it; it was cheap enough that I didn’t mind bringing it in places I’d rather not lug an SLR rig, but boy did it attract attention, despite being nice and silent.

So, for now, the 660C fits my abilities as a high-end rig; given that the lens that lives most on it right now is a 50f/1.8 AI-S, I can’t be happier with the results I’m getting from it. All the errors are clearly my own, not the camera’s. But back when I was serious with film, I also carried around a Olympus 35RC, for those times when I didn’t want to be conspicuous and pull out a motorized Nikon F2 to blast and flap and scare any potential subjects (there’s a few folks who respond to the sound of a motor drive, but they’re fairly few). Maybe I should have loaded it with high-ISO film for that gritty street look, but I supplemented with a Vivitar 285 for when I needed more light — the camera can be small, but lots of light is going to call for a fairly good-sized flash (my other flash is a Metz potato-masher, ’nuff said).

So, I have my high-enough-end digital squared away. What’s the equivalent of the 35RC, then? What are the requirements?

  • Reasonably wide, bright lens (35RC = 42mm, f/2.8)
  • Compact — the 35RC is less than a pound
  • Flash shoe
  • Manual exposure capability
  • Dedicated controls — I don’t want to dip into a menu

Suffice it to say that there’s not too many new cameras that fit my bill, and honestly, not too much interest in providing photographers with manual controls in a compact body (the manufacturers are much more interested in selling you a cheap dSLR, which then may or may not entice you into higher-profit glass). So, just like grabbing a rangefinder from the 70’s made sense, it might be worth the effort to get a used ‘prosumer’ digital.

First off, forget cameras in the SLR/ZLR mold — Olympus E-10/20, Canon Pro1, Nikon x700, Sony F-series. Forget the superzooms; not compact enough. Think something more like a Canon G-series (or the slightly dimmer-lensed S-x0), or a Coolpix x400. Me, I’m going for a Sony DSC-V1 for one reason alone — it’s not as wide as some of the others, and it doesn’t save in a RAW format (but when you’re talking about a walkabout rig, wouldn’t you really rather have something useful straight out of the camera?), but it’s much faster/more responsive than its peers (Canon G5, Nikon 5400) — in a world of the decisive moment, response is key.

It’s an unassuming little brick of a machine, and it’s hit the MP-obsolescence curve gracefully (e.g. cheap enough to be a bit of an impulse buy, enough resolution to make good prints). As they’re all mostly leaf-shutter cameras now, noise shouldn’t be a critical issue, either, and should thus allow for less intrusive photography; I’ve always prefered the fly-on-the-wall approach to paparazzi-stalker long-lens tactics.

So, that’s my vote. Why no Powershot-G? Check the response times; it’s clear that electronic wizardry trumps silver halide in the veins, at least at that time. Plus the G’s have held their value absurdly well (as has the Coolpix 5000, which is usefully wider, as well as better-accessorized), compared with the V1.

Mike