Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Devoting Some Time To My Other Hobby

Well, actually I have several hobbies, but I have only declared two of them to be my primary hobbies (the ones that I tend to spend a lot of money on) and those are amateur radio and photography. Over the years I have spent quite a bit (of money) on amateur radio equipment, but I have also sold some stuff in the past couple of years. I still have two HF radios, two mobile radios, and two HTs, and some of the accessories that go along with that, but my station is not nearly as extravagant as a lot of others. Photography seems to be where I spend the money the most.

I've got my Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS USM lens now, and used it shortly after buying it to photograph some of the Columbus Marathon that our ARES group was providing communication support for. I've been taking quite a few pictures at Dawes Arboretum and the Franklin Park Conservatory. I'm also in the process of trading up my point-and-shoot digital camera (the one that I take on business trips). The new P&S camera is actually a 10 megapixel, down from a 12 megapixel, but promises to be less noisy at the higher ISO settings. Plus the new camera also has the latest processor (Canon's DIGIC 4), a 20x optical zoom, USM focusing, optical image stabilization, and records stereo videos in the H.264 mode. The new camera is the Canon Powershot SX10.

I'm considering my next photography purchases. I want to expand into more macro photography. I've already got three items that are biased towards that type of photography: a Sigma 50mm macro lens, a Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, and a Canon MR-14EX Speedlite. However, I want to sell the old Sigma lens and put the money (it won't go far) towards four new items: the Canon 180mm f/3.5L macro lens, the MT-24EX twin-flash Speedlite, a focusing rail system, and the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens (a very specialized lens). In my recent research on the MT-24EX and the MP-E lens, I re-discovered the Flickr website. I had an account on Flickr that was created a year or two ago, when Yahoo decided not to do photo-hosting. I never really used Flickr, but I had some photos on there that were transitioned from the old Yahoo Photos area. Flickr is a vast area and I look forward to regularly visiting it. In addition to Flickr, I spend quite a bit of time on two other photo-sharing websites: Pbase and Picasa. All three sites seem to have there strengths and weaknesses. I won't go into all of the pluses and minuses at this time, but I can tell you what I tend to use each one for. Pbase has been really good for me as I research new cameras or lenses. In most cases when a user uploads a photo to Pbase, the camera and shooting data is read from the JPEG's EXIF data and displayed automatically. The EXIF data includes the lens' focal length setting. Users have to flag photos in a batch mode with specific lens information, but once this is done, it helps out potential buyers immensely. I've used Picasa lately to display most of my photos. The site will also show shooting data, and will allow the photos to have tags, have geographic information associated with them, and most recently, allow people in the photos to be tagged. I can see that one of Flickr's strengths is the sharing of photos with other photographers. As a user, you can build up sets of photos, then collections (which are usually sets of sets). You can also submit photos to hundreds or thousands of groups (and those groups can have pools of photos), have slideshows, order prints (which the other two sites can do also), and tag and geotag photos. The tagging feature makes this a useful site for doing research also, assuming that users take the time to tag their photos.

UPDATE: I started composing this post about three weeks ago. I find it tough to get back in the same train of thought that I was in originally, so it is time to post it. I'll start a new thought in another post. To update some of these original thoughts: I've got the Canon SX10 now; I've sold the other P&S (a Canon PowerShot A650IS) to a co-worker; and I discovered that the older Sigma lenses don't always work on newer Canon EOS bodies and produce an error message (it's something related to timing), so I don't feel comfortable selling it on Ebay.

My photos on the aforementioned sites:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Acquiring New Lens

The photography gear that I own is based on the Canon EOS system, specifically the EOS-5D. I also own a Canon PowerShot A650 IS point-and-shoot camera for taking on my business trips. I'm planning to acquire the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens in the coming days. It will nearly round out the lenses that I feel that I need. One lens that will still be missing is the EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM. That lens will replace the Sigma 14mm lens that I had previously. There are other lenses that I would like to have, but my sights are on all "L" series lenses and they are expensive. I've considered such lenses as the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, the EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro, the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, and a wide-angle tilt-shift lens. I suppose if I had to prioritize those lenses, I would get the tilt-shift lens as it would allow me to experiment with something new.

I think that this coming weekend, I am going to get my 85mm f/1.8 prime lens out and take some pictures with it. I've had that lens for six months or so and have not used it much. I'm also going to take the opportunity to use my Expodisc. For those not familiar with the Expodisc, it is a diffusing disk that clicks onto the end of the lens. It doesn't stay there, but it serves two purposes while it is there. It transmits 18% of the light falling upon it, and it is neutral in tone. The 18% number is significant because that is medium gray. You snap the Expodisc onto the lens, then set the camera to Manual mode, then you choose your aperture or shutter speed and dial it in. Then you adjust the other parameter (shutter speed or aperture) until the camera's exposure meter says that you have a proper exposure. You need to make sure that the camera is bathed in the same light that the subject will be, which works perfectly on a sunny day. Once you are in the proper light, you snap a picture. Then you configure the camera for a custom white balance. Most cameras will ask you to choose a picture to base the custom white balance off of. That picture will be the one you took previously of the Expodisc. Now you remove the Expodisc and put it away. You leave the camera in Manual mode. Assuming the lighting stays the same, the exposure settings will stay the same. You can always change the aperture or shutter speed, but you have to change the other value accordingly. For example, if you had initially chosen f/4 at 1/500-sec, and you wanted to go to f/8. That's two stops. You need to lengthen the shutter speed by two stops. For shutter speeds a stop is either a doubling or halving. In this case, a one stop change is 1/125-sec, and two stops is 1/60-sec. 1/60-sec is the new shutter speed. Using a tool such as the Expodisc or an external incident light meter is especially beneficial when the lighting is tricky. The Expodisc is a fairly new product, but I've been using an incident light meter for years (until recently a Minolta Flash Meter IV). I believe my first use of the light meter was to determine the proper exposure for a snowy scene. I've read several books and websites that simply say if you have a sunlit snowy scene, then overexpose by such-and-such stops, but no matter what number they mention, I cannot remember. For me, it is easier to use the light meter.

Assuming that I take some pictures this weekend, I'll try to post them to my Picasa site.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Canon EOS-5D Mark II Announced

This new digital SLR was announced a few days ago. I currently own a 5D and it is a great camera. I feel that I am taking higher quality pictures with it than ever before (even during the film years). Part of the better quality is due to the fact that over the past year, I have upgraded many of my Canon EF lenses to their "L"-series versions. Canon announced this camera, though, and there are a number of compelling reasons for me to consider the upgrade.

The new camera has a suggested price of $2699, and my favorite online dealer, B & H Photo and Video, is taking pre-orders at that price, too.

Here are some of the new features, and what they mean to me:

  • 21 megapixel resolution: higher resolution is usually better (for a given sensor size, however, the individual pixel sites are smaller, and don't collect as much light. Therefore, they need to be amplified more, and that means more noise). You start out with more information. It can always be downsampled accordingly.
  • dust reduction system: including a vibrating element over the CMOS sensor, plus the ability to manually clean the sensor. I've had my 5D less than a year, but I can already see the results of a couple of specks of dust in my pictures.
  • ISO ranges from 100 to 6400, plus expansion down to 50 and up to 25,600. I've already seen some on-line samples shot at 12,800 and 25,600. I felt that the ISO 12,800 were quite usable. The reason why high ISO capability is desirable is that there are certain times when you may not be able to use flash. High ISO might mean the difference between getting the picture or not.
  • 3.9 frames per second: this is a small improvement over the 5D in terms of continuous shooting. I don't do a lot of this type of shooting, so this is not too important to me.
  • DIGIC IV processor: what this means is that the analog-to-digital conversion is performed at the 14-bit level instead of the 12-bit level of the 5D. 16,384 shades of grey versus 4,096. The results should be smoother tones.
  • Lens Peripheral Illumination Correction: some of the wide angle lenses when wide open have a vignetting problem (light fall-off). This feature helps to counteract that.
  • SRAW1 and SRAW2: I guess that these are different sizes of RAW file. The 5D Mark II also allows you to separately control the sizes of the JPEG and RAW files.
  • AF Microadjustment: if a lens doesn't focus perfectly, you can tweak its focus. You can do that for up to 20 lenses. There is also a global camera AF microadjustment.
  • Three-inch 920k pixel electronic viewfinder: this should be an adequate size and should be quite crisp. Supposedly there is also an ambient light sensor to control the backlighting level for improved viewing outdoors.
  • 1080p Movie mode: There is the ability to record high-definition movies in 1080p using the H.264 codec. Suitable inputs and outputs (including HDMI, and microphone-in) are provided.
  • Water Resistance: the weather sealing of this camera is supposedly improved over the 5D. That's a good thing.
  • IR port: for using a infrared remote control to snap your own picture.
  • Live View: probably one of the best new features. Normally on a SLR camera, you are using an optical viewfinder (which is quite decent on a camera such as this), but Live View allows you to compose the picture on the viewfinder and see live luminance histograms, fine tune focusing (using magnification), and compose a shot at a weird angle.
  • Auto ISO: When engaged this feature attempts to choose an ISO speed that preserves the (1/focal length) rule. This is useful when using a telephoto lens.
  • Flash Control in the camera: I own a Canon Speedlite 580EX II. Supposedly you can control the flash's functions in the camera.
  • Face Detection: also a part of Live View. This is an autofocusing component.
  • Histograms: an alternating luminance and RGB histogram can be displayed. No more having to go into a menu and choose one.
  • Copyright metadata: The camera can encode this data into the JPEG saving you from having to do it later.
  • Shutter Cycle rating of 150,000: I believe that the 5D is rated at 100,000. Therefore the 5D Mark II has a more durable shutter.
  • AF-On button: normally autofocusing is initiated by half-pressing the shutter release. This button allows you to autofocus separately.
  • Buffer: Supposedly with a UDMA CompactFlash card, up to 310 JPEGs can be continuously shot with the camera.
Those are some pretty neat new features. I've also downloaded a couple of videos shot with this camera. Aside from the fact that my four year old computer has a little trouble with a 1080p H.264 video, I can tell that the quality is quite high. Another blogger promises to post some video that he shot during a 72-hour stint with the camera.

I went to B & H's website. I know that the camera won't be available for a couple of months. I tried to add my email address to a "Notify Me When Available" list. It wouldn't let me. The website said that interest in this camera is at an unprecendented level and the mailing list is full (I'm paraphrasing a little bit).

More on this subject in the future.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

New camera on the way

I've ordered the Canon EOS-5D camera and it is on the way. I have recently been reading some posts about the 5D successor. There has been no announcement of a "5D Mark II" but that doesn't stop some people from guessing what the features will be: higher resolution, 14-bit depth versus 12-bit, higher frame rates, etc. I decided to go ahead and get the current 5D instead of waiting. As a friend has reminded me all too often, there will always be something better that comes along. I'm looking forward to moving up to the 5D from my current 10D. There are so many improvements from my 10D. For me one of the more important upgrades is the full-frame sensor. My wide angle lenses will be wide angle again. It's always possible to replicate the magnification factor that I had with the 10D by purchasing a teleconverter (such as the 1.4x TC). Other upgrades are a faster top shutter speed, the ability to simultaneously record RAW and JPEG, E-TTL II flash metering, 9 AF points, larger electronic display, and much more. One of the things that I have been reading so much about is the full-frame sensor versus the cropped field of view sensors. Many articles indicate that with the full-frame sensor, you need to have good lenses. I've got about three good lenses, but I've also got about three mediocre lenses. As many people know a lens performs its best in the center of the image, and performance falls off at the edges. With a camera such as the 10D, you are working within a lens' sweet spot, but the 5D uses all of the lens. I am a little concerned about how the 5D will perform with my mediocre lenses. All I have to do is think back just a few years ago when I still shot film on a EOS-1 or EOS-1V. I thought those lenses performed acceptably on those "full-frame" bodies. Anyway, I currently have a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L USM, a Canon 100mm Macro USM, and a Sigma 14mm f/2.8 (and I think it is in their L-series equivalent category). My other lenses are a Canon 28-70mm, a Canon 70-210mm, a Canon 50mm f/1.8, and a Sigma 50mm Macro. All of these are non-USM by the way. I do have an ambitious plan to upgrade everything to L-series in the next few months. Here's my order of priority: Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. If the 24-105 works as a decent portrait lens as I suspect it will, I will scratch the Canon 135mm f/2L USM off the list. I will let you know how the new camera performs. As always, my photos are usually available on my Pbase site or on my Picasa site.