Monday, August 21, 2006

Using Foreground Bokeh as a Compositional Element

In a post at FujiFilm SLR Talk forum member Wolf Cry asked for more information on foreground bokeh. Having a few weeks ago listened to a good podcast which had four very fine foreground bokeh samples accompanying it, I whipped together a few URL's for those interested in using foreground bokeh as a compositional building block. I prefer the Americanized English spelling bokeh,and so I spell it bokeh,not boke; both spellings are acceptable I feel,and I don't harbor pretensions about the spelling of this word either,unlike some people who pointedly and repeatedly make it obvious that 'boke' is the only spelling they feel is acceptable. Whatever floats yer boat,I guess.

Photographer Martin Bailey has a quite a number of good podcasts available on-line. Check out the folowing URL's to navigate to Bailey's podcast on foreground bokeh and practical photography tips for it. Bailey prefers the spelling boke,BTW,hence my summary Podcast notes from Derrel (below) uses his spelling.
boke podcast #6 on foreground boke

Quick notes on Martin Bailey's podcast, from Derrel:
Using boke in the foreground for effect. Choose your subject,like flowers and leaves for example.
1-Put main subject off-center in one of 4 points where the 1/3 points, or along one of the imainary lines itself.
2)Select a wide aperture, such as say f/2.8
3) Have a number of objects closer to the lens than the main subject. We're after a dreamy effect here. 4 attached shots #559 japanese red maple leaves,day's end,low sky,warmth of shot, patch of light behind a leaf in top left which is almost like a halo throwing the leaf into silhouette"....iTunes,click thumb in bottom left hand corner to see the shot full sized
early-flowering lavender plants in Hokkaido,Japan-END NOTES on Bailey podcast

As part of my testing phase of using Nikkor lenses on a Canon EOS 20D body by means of a $19 lens adapter, I have made a number of photographs designed to help me explore and examine the bokeh characteristics of several lenses. The following two photos demonstrate use of foreground bokeh as a compositional building block,and were made using the 85 1.4 AF-D Nikkor,which is renowned among Nikon shooters for its pleasing bokeh.
One of my all-time favorite photos made using foreground bokeh as a compositional building block is this candid photo of my wife and infant son, made using the 45-P Nikkor as my lens of choice. The caption information under the photo has a few of my thoughts on using focal length and foreground bokeh.
Another sample,shot just a few days ago, uses a long expanse of out of focus masonry as a foreground and a natural leading element to put emphasis on our little son and two of his favorite cats. This photo was made using the 135mm DC Nikkor,which has a high degree of bokeh "impression" in photos made at shortish ranges like this one. The 135 DC lens from Nikon imparts a very strong bokeh impression under most circumstances. Sometimes it's too much.
I went back and found a couple other shots from one gallery,Looking Out My Back Door, which use foreground bokeh as compositional building blocks.
This shot of chives in bloom uses foreground bokeh elements,and was made in May of 2003 using the 80-400 VR lens.
This one is a favorite of mine for its subtle use of out of focus foreground elements which I think, truly ADD depth clues,much more so than the normal use of OOF foreground elements.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Entry-Level D-SLR's Markedly Improved

Well, I've recently checked out three new entry-level cameras; the Pentax K100D,the Samsung GX-1S,and the Sony Alpha D-SLR A100. All three feel nice and light and are very COMPACT. In terms of volume of the body size in cubic inches, these three cameras are among the very,very smallest d-slrs.According to a chart at DC Ressource [ ] comparing the dimensions and volume of 13 d-slr's and one popular digicam, the Nikon D70s's volume is 75 cubic inches; the smaller Samsung GX-1S model is 45.9 cubic inches, and the Sony Alpha is 58.4 cubic inches. We're talking about cameras weighing 1.3 to 1.4 pounds without batteries. I also,very briefly, held a Digital Rebel XT in my hands (46.3 cubic inches,485 grams minus battery) and remarked once again how incredibly light and how very cheap and plastic it felt, and I did not spend any time evaluating the Rebel XT either on its own or as compared with these other cameras. I must say, the Sony Alpha is the nicest of the entry-level D-SLR's I've examined lately, in terms of fit,feel,finish,and viewfinder appearance. The Samsung feels good too. I was neutral on the Pentax for its lack of emotional connection, but the K100D's viewfinder image was adequately large and bright,and the Pentax 18-55 kit lens felt the most-solid of any kit type lens I've seen so far from ANY maker of a short 18-50-ish kit zoom. Prices are very low, from around $600 with the lens for the Pentax and Samsung, and $899 for the Sony Alpha body, with another $98 for the lens. I did not get to see the Sony-dressed 18-70 AF lens ,but a slightly older Konica-Minolta "diagonal rubber dress" 18-70 AF lens. The new Sony-branded lenses have rubberized rings with ultra-fine ribbing in a straight line, whereas the Minolta and K-M lenses had/have that unusual looking, steeply-angled diagonally oriented,deeply-grooved rubber coverings on the rings of the various lenses. The Minolta-styled diagonal rubber barrel dress has always been a love it or hate it type of thing since its introduction, I must say. Cosmetically, it draws a lot of eye attention and is the only really WILDLY out-of-industry practice Minolta used to engage in. Oh, that and insisting on using their own proprietary electronic flash foot design. Which, BTW, Sony has stuck with on the Alpha DSLR A100.
As I've said many times, it's a great time to be involved in digital photography. You can take your pick of three small,lightweight d-slr models which all feature built-in anti-shake systems,right in the body,decent viewfinders for crop-frame d-slrs,built in pop-up electronic flash units,and very comfortable feeling body design and construction. If you've longed for a truly LIGHTWEIGHT camera, these cameras feel,and are,lightweight. If you've read the test reports in the last three issues of Popular Photography & Imaging magazine as these cameras have come out, you know that the new wide-to-normal kit lenses in the 18-55 range and 18-70 range in the case of the Sony Alpha, are actually ALL pretty GOOD kit lenses,optically. According to tests done by Popular Photography & Imaging magazine, the Sony Alpha offers the highest image quality of any camera under $1700,meaning its nearest image quality competitor is the Nikon D200. Pretty good company to be in. The fact that currently Fuji,Pentax,and Samsung have 6 Megapixel-class image sensors in their d-slrs is probably more in line in keeping with their users' actual desires--very high image quality, but with reasonable file size economy also a concern. Six MP worth of quality pixels is ample for many,many purposes when first-rate lenses are used,and there's nothing like being able to get hundreds of images off of each 2-gig storage card,and of not needing a DVD and a half to archive off one afternoon's shooting in RAW mode.Using a d-slr with a 6 MP image sensor means more shorts per gig of storage,and that is important to many Fuji,Pentax,and Samsung customers,I'm sure. A 10.2 or a 12.2 MP camera eats through storage cards MUCH more rapidly than a 6.1 MP camera does, and for many people doing high-volume shooting, smaller is better. Really. With an efficient compressed raw format, the D70 for example uses about 5.3 megabytes per RAW image. The EOS 20D is around 7.2 megabytes per RAW capture from its 8.2 MP CMOS sensor. The Nikon D2x's 12.2 MP CMOS sensor's typical RAW capture is around 10.9 megabytes per compressed RAW capture.
I have not seen the new Nikon D80, Nikon's $999 newcomer. It's supposed to be available within mere weeks,and reports from insiders indicate it has substantially improved higher-ISO abilities over the D70s it is replacing in the lineup,and it sharessome selected aspects of the D200 model,such as a shared all-glass pentaprism viewfinder system first used in the D200,not a lower-performance pentamirror system style of construction. The D80 has a similar CAM 1000 AF focus module as the D200 does,but with some focus option simplifications as compared to the D200. Overall Nikon's new D80 appears to offer a whole slew of D50 and D200 strengths in a very affordable $999 body. Thom Hogan's D80 Analysis article is well worth reading if you're interested in getting a handle on what the D80 is supposed to be like. One new feature I expect from the D80 is a new capability in terms of usable,useful ISO range. In my opinion Nikon needs to improve its consumer-level cameras and their High-ISO performance at 800 and above,for many types of shooting where the ISO choice simply isn;t much of a choice, and one BEGINS shooting at 800,and moves upwards as the light fades and the lens is opened up to maximum aperture and left there all event. The thing I want the MOST in a d-slr camera is usefulness across a broad RANGE of shooting situations,and with a certain level of baseline camera capabilities. I'm going to venture that the AF of the D80 is adequate for 3/4 of a broad range of shooting,at least in decent light and with AFS lenses. The D80 looks to be a fairly camera capable across maybe 3/4 of my current shooting spectrum. Regardless of brand, the entry-level d-slr is now a very good value camera compared with what was on the market two years ago.In Nikon's lineup, the D50 is entry level by model designation, but some might consider that the $999 D80 is entry-level since it compares price-wise and MP-wise with the Sony Alpha 100 at 10.2 Megapixels and $999 body price, same as the D80's body price. I think going with 6 MP sensors and built-in anti-shake systems adds the most appeal for snapshot type hobbyists and budding photographers who are concerned about storage space,and who want a d-slr for its quick shutter release lag times and lens interchange capability, but who do not want excess megapixels and the MP penalty (in-field card storage penalty/hard disk storage limits/archiving headaches) that the Big Gun d-slr's all carry with them.
Let's face it...the D80 has got to be aimed by Nikon at their company finally making headroom against the excellent EOS 20D and EOS 30D imagers, with 8.2 VERY high-quality megapixels,low noise from 100 to 800 ISO, and with very,very good ISO 1600 capabilities. I own the Nikon D70,and have since it was a new camera,and I've owned the EOS 20D since Feb 2005,and I see a BIG image quality gap between the D70 and the 20D at 800 ISO. On the Canon, ISO 800 is actually USABLE. On the D70, I like to keep it at 500 ISO or lower, for anything resembling image quality. I think Canon's got Nikon beat at 800 ISO. The 20D's out of camera image quality at 800 beats the D2x or D70 at 800,pretty easily in lower level lighting,or when there's not ample light. I personally LIKE the clean,bright,detailed image quality Canon can get out of only 8.2 megapixels in the 20D and think that Nikon's D80 needs to make some inroads against the Canons at 800 ISO if Nikon is to retain respect from certain people,me included.
One way to "boost quality" in image-making is to return to fundamentals,including using premium lenses shot at wider apertures and moderate ISO ratings ,and if the light demands it, of using auxilliary lighting or reflectors or both to improve the lighting,and to make photos the old fashioned way. When you're working this way, a 6.1 MP imager can produce very,very good,clean files. The key is professional-grade optics, used at appropriate apertures, with decent lighting,solid white balance choices, and decent post-processing. What I am seeing now is sort of a dual-level entry price/performance point. We have the $599 and $699 D-SLR models at 6MP and now Sony and Nikon are offering $999 models with 10.2 MP sensors and significantly higher resolution that from 6MP cameras. The interesting camera now becomes the next _Canon_ offering designed to slot in as a 20D/30D replacement . Canon's $1399-class higher-end amateur market d-slr is not yet announced,and I have some really positive feelings about what Canon's next-gen return volley will include. Currently, Canon is now "behind" Sony and Nikon on the megapixel race in the higher-end amateur d-slr market with its 8.2MP offering against two 10.2 MP cameras,and within days,a third 10.2 model (the upcoming D80 from Nikon).

I would expect that the upcoming Nikon D80 will come very close to the overall picture quality of the Nikon D200 and the Sony Alpha 100. If one looks at the Phil Askey comparison shots on the dPreview web site, one can see that Canon manages to squeeze out a LOT of image quality over the ISO range from 100 to 800 on the 20D and 30D models, with not a whole lot of improvement actually being "seen" in images made from either Sony or Nikon 10.2 MP sensor cameras,and at 800 ISO and up, the Canon sensor of the 20D and 30D does a very respectable job. My question that I want answered is, "How good will an APS-C-sized 10.2 or 11 MP Canon sensor be in the 20D/30D's replacement model? Just how far will Canon feel like it needs to go as a direct improvement at the advanced amateur d-slr segment typified by the 20D/30D and Nikon D200? How many megapixels will Canon respond with to the 10.2MP threat of Nikon and SSony? As I see it, the D200 is a very much more-advanced camera BODY than the 30D and 5D bodies Canon has out right now, with the D200 offering much,much more of the flagship-type technologies than Canon has included in the 20D for example, or the relatively spartan 5D. I'm talking about body and system feature sets, which in my opinion Nikon wins on in a D200 versus 20D/30D or 5D comparison. And, what about anti-shake? Will that prove to be something Canon feels it needs to offer,or decides to offer?
Needless to say, 2006 is a GREAT TIME to be involved in digital photography. The newest cameras are the lightest,smallest, and the most-afordable entry-level d-slrs yet to be sold. I think it's exciting that prices are coming down, and new models are coming out,and with each new model it seems the makers get a little bit closer to that almost-perfect d-slr body. Better equipment is always welcomed by me,and as manufacturers improve their products and continue to lower prices and to introduce more new models,I think once again, it's time to reiterate: it's a GREAT time to be involved in digital photography!

What's In the Water in the FujiFilm SLR Talk Forum's Well?

WOW! What's in the FujiFilm SLR Talk Forum well's water? Poison? Vitriol? Bile? Crazy Pills? Dog Piss? Man, there have been some thoroughly entertaining debacles on dPreview the past few weeks. Joe W calling internet trolls "sexual predators" in the FujiFilm SLR Talk forum and getting all feisty,continuing with that line about internet trolls being sexual predators in another reply,and acting like a flame warrior by acting as a troll-killer poster, then geting banned. He did make a large,public apology in FujiFilm SLR Talk upon his temporary ban being lifted,and that was that,back into the mix at dPreview. TGP, a former Fuji SLR Talk member (according to his own admission, a former member) is back under the handle TGP...not sure who he is...Joe Lacey or Eathbound_ca, or who???? I have no idea who he is,as a man,as an individual,but I have a pretty good idea of his grasp of photographic principles and practices, ie 'he knows how to shoot',which is in my book the reason for practicing the art and craft of photography--to learn how to "shoot" well. TGP's sig file signs off with "Ciao"....hmm...who is TGP?? The snotty comments exchanged in recent threads between Wolf Cry,Anthony,Artichoke,TGP,and a couple of other FujiFIlm SLR Talk members were,I thought, really uncalled for. Really some ugly,disgusting comments were written by several individuals who all need to take a little chill pill on the personality clashes.

I read a comment not to long ago,from Sooty, a former Fuji SLR D-SLR user. His comments about the FujFilm SLR Talk forum were,from my point of view, spot-on. He said that basically, the regulars in the FujiFilm SLR Talk forum are almost all convinced that nobody is doing any good work with anything,unless it's a Fuji. I'd have to seems as of late that the FujiFilm SLR Talk forum has been populated by people who basically talk smack about all Nikon and all Canon cameras.Since I got banned from dPreview by Dillon James (who snuck back on not too long ago), I've stopped reading Fuji SLR Talk unless somebody sends me an e-mail tip to advise me that there's something worth reading about. And let me tell you, the past three weeks have seen the clowns come to the front of the classroom. No, not really clowns, but people who've gotten involved in the current internet photography forums and their 2006 status as rough and tumble public discussion/argument/pissing match/brand-loyalist/techno-babble/measurebating/pixel-peeping boards; many otherwise respectable people have acted like clowns in recent weeks,on several internet forum sites. I've watched the FujiFilm SLR Talk forum's members,almost all of the regulars, become involved in some pretty heated,sometimes nasty exchanges with one person or another who has dared intrude into the hallowed halls of FujiFilm-land, where the tonality is better, the bit depth is greater,the color is more subtle, and the shifting-and-drifting white balance erraticism of the S3 Pro is mentioned by detractors,but seldom addressed by the camera's supporters.One older wedding shooter, a real gentleman too, and a class act, admits that he gets something like 5-9 percent out of focus shots for most wedding shooters under tougher conditions with the S3 Pro. I can actually understand how that can happen!
The real truth of the matter is that dPreview's various forums have gotten very,very "tough",along with user forums at OTHER web sites as well; there are quite a few people with a lot of emotional involvment,often with their own camera BRAND, and their own camera's tendencies, and they exchange comments with people from warring tribes. There are ample hotheads shouting the merits of Canon,or the merits of Nikon, and to a lesser extent Fuji, and there are digital dilettantes who've hopped from one brand to another since 2002 or 2003. And there are those who have never known ANYTHING but a Nikon digital. Or a Canon digital. Or a FujiFilm digital. There are also software zealots, who rave about one S/W or another,for one particular use or another. There are people who _REALLY_ know their stuff, and there are also people who seem to be genuinely nice,wonderful people who are working hard at learning their craft and about the principles underlying photography,like how lenses draw scenes depending upon focal length,how depth of field works,what hyperfocal distance means, understanding light fall-off and practical shooting methods,like figuring out how flash and ambient light balance or dominate one another,and how to shoot for success, stuff like that. There are people who have broad understanding of the science,the art, the craft,and the history,of photography. I myself can see that the number of people who truly understand photography and photographic principles and practices is pretty limited. BY MY OWN estimation, I'd say that maybe 15 percent of posters on dPreview have what I would call a very a broad understanding of photography and photographic principles and practices,and the rest are less-accomplished students at various places along the learning curve. There are MANY people bunched up,just outside that top 15 percent area, too, and many bunched up at the Newbie or Beginner/Snapshooter stage as well. The number of Digital Rebel clicks, and Nikon D70s clicks show that those cameras are the TOP models on dPreview, and there is a mix of rabble,regular people,and royalty on the dPreview forums.Experts and serious practitioners of the art and craft of PHOTOGRAPHY are few and are the people I call 'royalty' in my air quotes. I just wish the royalty were not so prone to bare-knuckled brawling in public forums. My disillusionment is with the way the forum royalty are behaving these days...they've been engaging in the types of public attacks on character and personality that I'd expect of the rabble. Why? because the royalty have been treated shabbily,and have been annoyed with the frivolous trolls and digital dilettantes who have come to consititute a growing segment of the new internet digital photography community. SSome of the nicest people on the internet forums, the long-time regulars and some really great guys have taken to dissing other people in ways that are,really, unfair and uncalled for.'s sad. There's a huge newcomer influx,and these new people are seeing some of the nicest people, the royalty of the boards, behaving very poorly,and hurtfully. I've even had shit said about ME, in a discussion I never wanted to happen, based on comments I left on a person's pBase site. Amazing. But, I tell you, the posts of the last three weeks in FujiFIlm SLR Talk, and in Open Talk and Nikon SLR Lens Talk forum....oh,seriously. What happened to Uncle Frank in Open Talk and also in Nikon SLR Lens Talk was another horrible example of the state of digital photography today.

I see a lot of new people have jumped on the Fuji bandwagon since Fuji started blowing out the last of its inventory at firesale prices some $1400 under the introductory price of the camera. Yup....$1299 and $1199 and $1099 firesale prices have almost, but not quite yet, cleared the channel of remaining S3 inventory. However, the camera's a slow seller,and so there are still ample S3's available for anybody who wants one. Right now, 6MP entry-level D-SLR's are available from Nikon,Pentax,Samsung for $599 or a little bit more. $1100 for an older 6MP probably seems like too much money in today's 2006 marketplace,what with all the newrr, higher-MP Cameras out for hundreds of dollars less money,and with built-in anti-vibration,and so on.

But seriously....those in the FujiFilm SLR Talk forum who seem to think that TGP needs to produce a portfolio to show that he's competent and capable? C'mon....I can tell by reading his comments that he knows his way around a camera,and far better than many people do. He knows how to shoot. I'd bet my reputation on it, just from reading his comments. And seriously, FujiFilm SLR Talk regulars--maybe you could lay off on the sanctimonious crap, and start showing a little bit more respect to people whose opinions you happen to disagree with. I've seen some real shit-talking from some of the long time FujiFilm SLR Talk regulars, and that shit-talking has reached new lows as of late. There are some FujiFilm SLR Talk forum regulars there who need to lay off their web board high horse and start looking around at all these misguided Canon and Nikon shooters who, for some ineplicable reason,are able to produce great results without the FinePix moniker on their camera's top deck. Ease off,people. Whatever happened to that "Friendly Forum" spirit? Some of the regulars are acting like total cranks there,and are really acting disrespectfully to people who are,actually, their photographic superiors in terms of experience and ability. If you have ever made your SOLE LIVING shooting pictures, and I have, then in my book,you're a real photographer. If you shoot frequently and consistently for money, then you're a real photographer. It doesn't matter what you shoot. If you understand photographic principles,and practices pretty danged well, but don't shoot for a living, in my book you're still a real photographer. If all you do is breathe one brand,and live or the newest gear,and the next model up,you're a Digital Adam, a prosumer consumer, or a techno-geek,or a gearhead,or something like that. But to me, you're not a real photographer. You see, the internet digital photography community is a mix of regular people, photographic royalty (most from the now-deposed Film Dynasty (1889-1999),and also quite a bit of digital rabble. The digital rabble are the people who really,really,really seem to identify with the BRAND,and who have almost no real understandig,or love, for the art and the craft of photography. The mixing of these three groups, rabble,regulars,and royalty, is why the biggest digital internet forum,dPreview, is in such a state these days. It's a huge,huge,huge crush of people,and the field is simply burgeoning. Feelings get hurt. Brands get insulted. Brand feuding skirmishes erupt all over. Frequent posters develop little Fan Clubs of people who defend their Frequent Poster,right or wrong. It's amazing the fallout at Nikon Cafe the last few weeks as well over the issue of censoring nude,topless,bikini,and glamour photos. We're seeing a huge,vibrant,conflict-filled mob mentality, with warring factions,innocent regular people, and digital rabble. "Be safe out there, people." The old Hill Street Blues saying needs to be revived; its meaning was basically, hey people, we're all in this together--let's watch one anothers back--let's take care of our brothers and sisters in this thing...let's be safe, be cool,act right,treat people right and don't be such an ass and show a little respect to people.

Real photographers aren't loyal to JUST ONE BRAND of camera. C'mon, that attitude is for gearhead idiots and brand warriors. Use what works best,and get over the idea that one brand is "best". And, when you adopt the idea that nothing but a Fuji can take good pictures, get your head examined. And, when you adopt the idea that nothing but a Canon can take good pictures, get your head examined.And, when you adopt the idea that nothing but a Nikon can take good pictures, get your head examined.And, when you adopt the idea that nothing but a Sigma can take good pictures, get your head examined,and a coffee to go.And, when you adopt the idea that nothing but a Kodak can take good pictures, get your head examined and buy a nice bottle of cognac to go with that sirloin.And, when you adopt the idea that nothing but an Oly can take good pictures, get your head examined and buy some of those sweet,sweet high-speed Oly 4/3 optics.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Multi-Speedlights or Studio Lights?

In recent months, Nikon's new i-TTL or Creative Lighting System system of electronic flash has been generating some buzz,as they say. I have read of people purchasing two,or three,or four or even more SB-800 flash units,and trying to use those as a way learn how to bring studio-type lighting effects into their photographic repertoire. I'm all in favor of Nikon advancing electronic flash technology. I am all in favor of people taking steps to improve their own photography. I am fully in agreement that moving the flash unit OFF of the camera is a good thing; even a flash bracket moves the flash off of the camera, and can improve lighting results compared to on-camera flash. But the thing I am not in agreement with is how Nikon's Creative Lighting Sytem is being adopted by people who are using it as their introduction to studio-type lighting. I think sinking a lot of money into Nikon speedlights as a way to learn electronic flash lighting is a big,big mistake. And I am not alone in my feelings; notable,really notable experts in photography seem to share my belief that once one gets into the need for multiple flash lighting, that old-school "studio lights" actually work better than a handful of small speedlights, and allow one to achieve complex lighting effects fairly easily. I think,especially for beginners, that the Nikon CLS system is a diversion from the direction that would allow them to really learn how to use auxilliary lights in the fastests and yes, the best way possible. By seeing what they're doing,and not by "shooting blind" using speedlights.

I am not really sure WHY the idea of multiple speedlight flashes is so alluring to people. Oh, I get the techie fascination with being able to trigger a remote flash unit,one that's not hooked directly TO THE CAMERA...I get that....I understand the fascination with being able to trigger MULTIPLE speedlights--I did that back in the 1980's with a system I rigged up myself, but it was NOWHERE near as good at actually lighting things as a Speedotron Brown Line 1600 watt-second power pack, and three Brown Line M-11 flash heads with 11.5 inch reflectors, a softbox, and a handful of umbrellas and a few reflectors, and a boom stand and six light stands and some clamps and tape. Sounds like a lot of gear, but it fits into a large rolling suitcase, except for the three 11.5 inch reflectors. Seven-inch reflectors will fit in the suitcase however! I bought the above-mentioned Speedotron Brown Line box-and-cable system in 1987 I think it must have been. I payed about $1699 for the whole thing,as I recall. Every piece of that original Speedotron lighting kit still works--flawlessly. Since then I've added two more power packs and some more flash heads and some more stuff,stands,a Pocket Wizard remote triggering system,Bogen Auto Poles,etc. Personally, I think that the main reason traditional studio lights are better is the sheer amount of POWER they have,compared with shoe-mount flash units. And also, the ease of attaching light modifiers is so much greater with a real studio light unit. And, things like 10-,20-,and 30-degree honeycomb grids are very,very useful but are impossible to fit to shoe mount or handle-mount flash units. Barn doors and large softboxes, etc,etc--when it comes to attaching a wide range of light modification devices to flash units, camera-style shoe mount flash units are basically out of the running. Multiple speedlight setups usually means having about three 80 watt-second flash units,all firing in the same configuration,more or less; naked, or through an umbrella, or being bounced off of something like a wall,ceiling,floor,or reflector.

When we're talking about buying three,or four,or five camera maker flash units which cost upwards of $300 each, the amount of flash power per dollar is not really all that great in terms of return on investment,particularly when you need four or five lights. In terms of ease of mounting light modifiers, we have umbrellas,soft boxes,reflectors and onto the reflectors is how we affix 1-honeycomb grids and 2-barn doors or 3-snoots or perhaps 4-snap-on diffusers of various matrials--translucent plastic,window screen,etc and also using some type of frame that snaps on to a reflector is how we attach 5-gel sheets for either 7 inch or 11.5 inch diameter reflectors. So, with a regular,traditional studio light head, you get the ability to mount an umbrella,softbox,reflectors ranging from 7-inch to 20-inches in diameter,a snoot, or a reflector with a diffuser of some type, or a reflector with a gel fitted to it to color the light. Adding an umbrella to a shoe-mount flash is pretty easy to do,and works surprisingly well as long as you do not need a lot of flash power. The most serious limitation of speedlights is that they simply do not accept nearly as many light modification devices as conventional studio light units can accept; things like softboxes or reflectors or snoots or reflectors+gel holders. The shoe-mount or handle-mount flash unit was never really designed to mate with a wide variety of lighting accessories,and there's not as much flexibility with speedlights as with regular studio light units. As if the accessory light modifier superiority of studio lights were not enough, there's also the issue of modelling lights,which are built-in lamps,usually incandescent type bulbs or higher-intensity quartz-halogen style (very hot!) modelling lamps. Modelling lamps range from around 150 to 250 watts,and they mimic or "model" the light that will come out of the light when the flash fires. They are on continuously,and help tremendously in previewing lighting effects as one moves the lights through an arc to adjust and aim them. MODELLING LIGHTS HELP. A LOT. ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE LEARNING to use studio light and light modifiers.

I've watched the practice and test shots of a few people who were learning to use the Nikon CLS system. While their posted results were okay,all had some problems with consistency and with ratioing their lights properly and with the getting the exact effects that THEY wanted to achieve. And,while their results were "okay to good", actually nothing matched the quality of lighting that I associate with using even just one umbrella and one 4x6 foot reflector and 400 to 1200 watt-seconds of flash power. The quality of the light, its q-u-a-l-i-t-y, is simply not that great when it's coming out of a 1 x 2 inch flash window. That ain't truly quality light. It's good as fill light, but one,or two,or three naked SB 800 lights does not give the same quality of light as three lights run off of a power pack,or two packs for speedier recycling, or for those times when a LOT of flash power can be utilized. The problems I've seen in looking at these folks' results is that,without modelling lights, they often had their flash units positioned so that they'd get a catchlight in one eye,but not in the other eye. Or their lights would be positioned too high,or too low,or too far back and toward the subject,and the lighting sometimes looked to me like it would have been much better had there been a modelling lamp clearly SHOWING, and I mean showing, the best location to set the main light AS THE LIGHT WAS BEING POSITIONED, before the shots were made. The modelling light allows you to take hold of,and physically rotate,elevate,swing,tilt,and angle the light unit to position it so that you get the placement of light you want,and with the light's beam positioned "just so". With a speedlight, you're basically shooting blind. And uh, that stroboscopic modelling light substitute? Well, not really the same thing. Sorry, just ain't.

I think the answer is "studio lights",and not multi-speedlights. As to which kind of studio lights, there are hot lights which I am not advocating for most people, and flash systems of either monolight style, like Alien Bees or Elinchrome or White Lightning or the new and inexpensive JTL Systems monolights (and many other brands too), or the older style which is often called box-and-cable. I grew up using box-and-cable systems,and I actually prefer them over monolights for many reasons, but I honestly think that owning three "real" studio light units is important if you wanna' get into studio lighting effects. And I think that,especially for beginners, they NEED the help that modelling lights provide. Learning how to establish successful lighting patterns is one hell of a lot easier if you can acually SEE what you are doing, as you position the lights and then refine their positions. With modelling lights, you get a decent representation of the effect; with multi-speedlight shooting, you're shooting're shooting without being able to see what the light is doing to your subject. Shooting without seeing what the light is doing to one's subject is generally considered bad practice. Electronic flash gives tremendous output per dollar spent as long as the dollars are spent on conventional studio flash equipment like Alien Bees lights, or Speedotron Brown Line, but $350 speedlights that give off 80 watt-seconds of power are not a good deal.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sigma Sees The Light While Nikon and Canon Sleep

Sigma's new 50-150mm f/2.8 DC lens is a welcome addition to the third party lens party. Sorry, I couldn't resist the play on words. Seriously, there are a few niche lenses that are still VERY much missing from the lens catalogs of both Nikon and Canon,at least for those shooting cropped-sensored d-slrs as their bread and butter cameras. I use the word niche lenses simply in reference to Thom Hogan's use of the same words,in the context of missing lenses. Hogan's points come in his cogent analysis of the newly-announced Nikon D80, the hybrid D50-D200 offspring slated to ship in September,2006. You can read his comments here in his piece entitled Nikon D80 Commentary by Thom Hogan.
Anyway, in my book, the DX lens campaign from Nikon has been somewhat incomplete. There's a 12-24 DX and a 17-55 Dx but there's absolutely NOTHING truly new and previously heretofore unavailable from Nikon in the way of sports/event lenses for the DX format in the focal length range from 55mm to 180mm in prime lenses. And the zooms? Pretty much stalled out at the "old" focal length ranges in the professional and advanced amateur price ranges,with things like 70-200 and dog-slow 70-300 (soon to be with VR, but also a 300mm top end speed of only f/5.6),no 400mm f/5.6 or 400mm f/4.5 prime in the Nikkor family,and in general a lens lineup with DX wide-angle coverage addressed, but some major problem areas still smoldering in the normal-to-tele and tele-zoom categories for the Dx-sensored bodies Nikon sells.

Oh,there's a brand new 105mm f/2.8 VR macro lens from Nikon this year, sure, but a 105mm lens for sports/event use ought to be f/2,at least to be called 'fast',and better yet f/1.8. So,the new 105mm f/2.8 macro isn;t a real,fast telephoto prime lens, and thus Nikon is still continuing without ANY FAST tele-prime lens that gives normal-to-telephoto angles of view all the way from 50mm to 85 to 105 to 135 to 180mm prime focal lengths.Nothing normal has AF-S focusing in Nikon primes, until you get to the true exotics like the 300mm f/2.8-VR-G and 200mm f/2 VR-G models. I'm one of MANY users who's disappointed in what the 1.5x FOV factor has done to the Nikon lens catalogue. All Nikon has done is to address 1.5x's chief failing,which is what a 1.5x FOV factor does to wide-angle lenses. Nikon came out with the 10.5 fisheye,and the 12-24 DX and the 17-55 DX lenses. And so now, are we supposed to feel that the 1.5x FOV limitation found in ALL Nikon D-SLR bodies is somehow solved,and that the old-school lens catalogue offers a complete set of solutions for all Nikon users? I think not. Both Nikon, and Canon, have not squarely addressed the problems that DX-sized sensors cause when trying to press pre-digital lens focal lengths and zoom ranges into the same service for events today.

Not that the 105mm AF-S VR-G Nikkor doesn't sound like a sweet lens--but it's large,outsized for a 105mm 2.8 you might say,as large as many zoom lenses,and it's heavy for a 105mm of only f/2.8 aperture. On the other hand, it is the second Nikkor to use Nikon's new Nano Crystal tenchnology in its antireflective lens coatings, and it has a pretty nice imaging characteristic from the few dozen frames from it that I've looked at carefully. If you're _in the market_ for a 90-105mm macro lens, then yes,by all means, I'd give this lens a look, but if you've got that area covered as I do, $899 is a lot of scratch that could be pointed at something else. For those without ANY Nikkor prime lenses, and there are many people like that, the 105 VR Nikkor might actually make a lot of sense as a first-step into prime lenses. A short-telephoto macro lens is a solid,long-term investment,and this new 105 VR really does look like a big advancement over the lens it replaces (at about $175 additional dollars). I think this lens is aimed at being more of a generalist lens than any previous Micro-Nikkor. I have no need for a macro lens in this category,and there are a number of very good alternatives to this lens,and the price is somewhat high, but the lens is a very new,very modern design,and has some nice touches that some people will like.

No, Sigma's actually on the ball with the 50-150mm f/2.8 lens concept.I'm solidly behind the idea of a 50-150mm tele-zoom,and am planning to get one as soon as I get some first-hand reports on it. Just from the focal length range, I can tell you it will be a blessing, a real blessing, to have the 50-70mm range along with 85,105,135,and 150 mm settings in one fast, f/2.8 aperture zoom lens. My Nikkor 50-135 f/3.5 manual focus zoom lens has gone missing, and THAT was a REALLY handy lens to have on a 1.5x Nikon body,and so the additional aperture, autofocusing, a low-dispersion glass and more-modern optical design have me salivating over a 50-150 that's about the same physical size as the old 50-135 Nikkor. Sigma's recent efforts, with the 15-30 EX and 10-20 EX wide zooms have proved than they have the lens designing expertise,and the vision, to flesh out the choices for discerning customers, who want high quality lens designs that don't cost a small fortune. Often times too, the lens designs from the third party makers address real,significant "gaps" in lens design and focal length, or "price point problems". For example, many want the 500mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor, but few can afford it. Many more people can afford the 500mm f/4.5 HSM Sigma,which is several thousand dollars less costly,and also smaller and lighter. Similarly, the 100-300 f/4 constant aperture Sigma EX HSM lens, the 180 f/3.5 EX macro, and the 150mm f/2.8 EX macro, as well as the 300-800mm Sigma EX zoom. Yeah....300-800mm,in one big zoom. Nikon ain't got that. Neither does Canon. Neither camera maker makes a 500mm f/4.5 either. Neither camera maker manufactures a 150mm f/2.8 macro lens either, but Sigma makes a 150mm f/2.8 macro lens. AND SIGMA MAKES a 70mm f/2.8 macro lens, to replicate the former 105mm angle of view in a macro-focusing lens. Nikon has a 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor, while Sigma,and Tamron both offer nice 180mm macro lenses. And in the 10-20mm zoom range, Nikon has no offering either. It goes on and on. Sigma and Tamron can both make $449-$409 17-50mm lenses or 18-50mm lenses with f/2.8 constant apertures,and ULTRA-small profiles; meanwhile Nikon re-hashes the 28-70 with the monstrous 17-55 DX lens. Sigma and Tamron are competing with 18-50 and 17-50 2.8 lenses with very,very SMALL profiles.

I am REALLY glad to see that Sigma sees the wisdom of a DC or Digital Camera-optimized type of zoom lens designed for 1.5x and 1.6x customers, who constitute the bulk of d-slr shooters anyway. I know Nikon's got a new G-series 105mm VR prime with AF-S focusing and all for $899, but I really cannot see paying that much money for yet another 105mm lens when I own three 105's,a Tamron 90 macro,a Sigma 180 macro, a 60 Micro and two 55 micro's, and a Canon 100mm EF macro. I don't need another 105mm VR lens... I'm much more interested in a lens that would give me a 50mm,an 85,a 105,135,and a 150,all at f/2.8. I've been trial shooting my 75-150 f/3.5 Series E Nikon lens on my 20D recently; the 20D has a roughly 1.6x FOV factor, and even outdoors shooting family photos, the 75mm bottom end is a huge problem at distances under 30 feet. 75mm is just simply TOO NARROW an angle of view on a 1.6x body. Widening the angle of view SIGNIFICANTLY,by dipping down to 50mm will make the Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 a VERY versatile tele-zoom on 1.5 and 1.6x cameras. Frankly, there is NO substitute for that 50mm angle of view many times.

Here's some URL's on the new 70mm f/2.8 Sigma macro and Sigma's newly-announced 50-150mm f/2.8 constant-aperture zoom lens. I think it's amusing to see Sigma launch a 70mm macro lens in this 1.5x digital age.
Sigma's 70mm macro URL
Sigma's newly-announced 50-150mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM lens, only 5.2 inches long, 780 grams (27.5 ounces),with four SLD glass elements,which are touted as giving good chromatic aberration reduction. This lens has full time manual focusing override,which is very helpful for sports and events; anything less than full-time manual focus override is clearly far from state of the art in the year 2006 when it comes to sports/event lenses.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Using Nikkor Lenses on A Canon EOS 20D Body,Pt. 2

Yes, with the Nikon F mount to Canon EF lens mount adapter, I am able to mount pre-Ai era Nikkor lenses onto my EOS 20D body with absolutely NO problems. AND, I get Aperture-Priority automatic light metering,and Manual,match-diode light metering that's pretty damned good! Yup, a couple weeks ago I mounted the F-to-EF lens adapter onto my old 1975 vintage 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor lens,and bayoneted the combo onto the 20D's steel lens mount and presto! I was shooting at f/5.6 with the old warhorse,and loving it! I don't have much that's not Ai,Ai-S,or Ai-converted, but I do have a few pre-Ai lenses still,including the 55/3.5, and a very good performing 50mm f/2 also from apprx. 1975 in what was known as the "rubber inset focusing ring" era that came right before the Ai introduction. Now that I know how well pre-Ai lenses work on the 20D,I feel like I can consider buying pre-Ai F-mount optics as being something other than mere paperweights.

The fast-ratio focusing helicoid of the 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor makes manually focusing a very "quick" and "short" affair. The focusing at close distances like 2,3,4,and 5 feet is very easy; at longer distances,it's more difficult to visually determine the EXACT distance for the EXACT focus placement. The 105mm f/2.5 AiS is very easy to focus. The 85mm 1.4,105 D.C.,and 135 D.C. lenses focus quite easily,as does the 300 f/4 AF-S.

In my somewhat limited experience (a month or so) of focusing by eye at stopped-down or "shooting aperture", shooting and focusing outdoors with the short and medium telephotos set to f/5.6 ALL OF THE TIME is,and I quote, "Not that bad". The reason seems to be the bright,brilliant focusing screen in the 20D; it allows me to see the screen's image pretty well at f/5.6. At smaller apertures, depth of field gets greater and the screen image grows correspondingly darker,and so,as the viewfinder image dims ascertaining precise points of focus at progressively smaller apertures becomes kind of tricky, as is composing and actually SEEING what's going on through the viewfinder.

I own a number of slowish lenses like the 28-200G, 70-300 G, and the 80-400 VR and when those lenses are zoomed out and are admitting only f/5.6 worth of light, the finder image is sub-optimal on Nikon and Fuji d-slr bodies; compared to manually focusing slow AF zoom lenses, establishing accurate focus with manual focus Nikkor prime lenses on the 20D is "Not that difficult",and I can get a reasonably high percentage of in-focus images without too much difficulty,as long as the lens is set to f/5.6 or a wider aperture value,and the lighting is reasonably bright.

It's hard to compose well at f/11 stopped down,let's put it that way, but at f/5.6 or at any wider aperture, the finder image is adequately bright in good lighting conditions for composing,and "not that bad" for focus ascertainment. At wider apertures, shallow DOF tends to make the longer tele lenses "pop in" and "pop out" of focus more noticeably and suddenly than the same lenses do when stopped down more, and that pop in/pop out ease allows for easier pin-point focus placement when using one's hand and eyes to select and set the best focus.

The fact that the 20D body gives me Aperture-priority Automatic light metering and Manual,match-diode metering with a 31-year-old Nikkor on it is sweet. Not even the Nikon N80 can do that! Hell, the N80 cannot even mount that pre-Ai lens! So, as long as the light is decent and I'm outdoors in the summertime, the viewing and focusing issues are really, "Not that bad" at f/5.6; obviously focusing is easier at f/4.5, and f/4 is better still,and when shooting around the f/3.2 to f/2.5 area with short,fast Nikkor telephotos like 85/105/135/200, there's basially NO PROBLEM in focusing the 20D by hand-and-eye. It works pretty damned well. AND, the light metering is pretty reliable too,in actual use. I can even use the exposure compensation system in Aperture-priority Automatic mode, which Canon calls Av mode. For me, the real joy is simply in the discovery that that the pre-Ai Nikkor lenses can mount,and give light metering, on the EOS digital bodies, by means of a machined steel adapter that costs as little as $20 from any one of three dozen e-Bay resellers! That's sweet! The old 55/3.5 cuts a pretty good image on the 20D.

Pre-Ai Nikkor lenses which have not been Ai-converted by removing excess diameter on the lens barrel area can simply NOT be safely mounted on a growing number of Nikon-made bodies. Same for the Fuji d-slr models S1,S2,and S3--attempting to mount almost all pre-Ai lenses will damage the sensing pin located at around the 7 o'clock position on these bodies. Mounting pre-Ai lenses on other Nikon-made bodies will cause the Ai-coupling tab in the body, located around 2 o'clock, to have a problem with the too-large barrel of most (but not 'all') pre-Ai vintage Nikkors PLUS there's the sensing pin danger on the top-tier bodies F5-D1-D2-D200.If you break off that sensing pin located at 7 o'clock on the camera body, you're hosed. The EOS system, since it has no mechanical interface for the lens diaphragm coming from the lens, has basically NOTHING mechancial to interfere with ANY part of a Nikkor lens barrel! There is nothing but pure,open space! So, man, these EOS bodies with these adapters are really great for breathing some new life into pre-Ai lenses. Easy mounting, light metering,and new-found usefulness for pre-Ai cheapie lenses which sell for $5-$25 in pawn shops and at garage sales and on eBay.

In terms of lenses which I think work BEST on the 20D, the prime lenses that are my favorites so far are the 85 1.4 AF-D and 105/2 AF-D DC and the 300 f/4 AF-S and the 55mm/3.5. I have not tried 'everything', but I really am not impressed with the 180 AF-D I have, nor with my 135 DC. The 105/2.5 AiS is the most recent lens I've just trialled, and it is a DAMNED fine performer on the 20D. Just sweet. The focusing is very sure,very certain,but then I've used the same one for many,many years. The 200 f/4 Ai I have shows some promise I think, but is has just entered a trial phase along with the 105 2.5 AiS. Here's a semi low-light,early evening indoor photo done with the 105/2.5 AiS at f/4.

One thing many of you might not be aware of is that the Ai and pre-Ai lenses typically had a much stiffer, harder-to-move focusing action than the later manufactured Ai-S series lenses,which have a lighter-touch, more-freewheeling mechanical feel and,and this is a big thing, a shorter arc focusing throw than the older lenses had. There are some focusing situations where having a stiffer, harder-to-move focusing action can be good,such as with long-ish tele lenses where you must move the focusing ring only tiny,tiny amounts, or when you do not want to constantly over-run the focusing distance with a hair-trigger focusing ring that tends to run loose in actual shooting conditions,such as when re-orienting the camra from wide to tall, or when moving the camera around minutely, only to see the focusing ring go for a spin. Whenever a telephoto converter is used, focusing EFFECTS as seen through the finder change in relation to the degrees of arc inherent in the lens's focusing throw. On a fast-throw lens,adding a TC can make it damned hard to focus very precisely,since the added magnification renders huge changes in focus EFFECT even with very minute turning of the focusing ring of a fast-throw lens,such as many AF lenses, and in most Ai-S Nikkor teles. Overall, with all the variables added together, I'm pretty happy with the focusing behavior of most Nikkor teles on the 20D body,and the manual focus Nikkor primes I've tried work quite well on the 20D.

I have not even bothered with Nikkor zooms on the EOS,yet. Just the 70-150 (yes,it works,and yes, focusing it is a bugger) for 25-30 frames or so, and about the same number with the 80-400VR. That is IT. Those are the only Nikon-made zooms I've even mounted to the 20D so far. I'm not sure that I'm interested in using a slow-aperture,or a variable aperture zoom on a body that has no autofocus. And since my 24-85 AF-S and 70-200VR and 70-300 are G-series lenses,with no freaking aperture rings, they are useless,minimum-aperture G-series junk when mounted on an EOS. Useless. Removal of _THE FUNDAMENTAL LIGHT CONTROL and FOCUS CONTROL MECHANISM_ is a stupid way to castrate a lens,and that removal is THE main reason the G-series mount really,really tweaks me off.It's like removing the brakes from a car. Or taking the heating element out of an oven. Ya' kinda want some way to control a lens using the LENS as a self-determinant,capable tool in the chain. The camera has the shutter, the lens,since when? since 1884 or so.... has contained...the fucking diaphragm control mechanism! Removing aperture control makes a lens worthless for use with many,many devices. Like an extension tube. Or a bellows, or anything,except a modern, Nikon camera made after the mid-1990's and NOTHING ELSE ever made,before or since. G-series lenses are basically useless when they are reverse-mounted.

I've never really wanted to go with the G-series mount, but Nikon has been pushing it recently,for very little good reason,in my experience. The fact that the 200 VR lens is a G-series lens is a bitter pill for me to swallow. It'd be a GREAT lens on the 20D,of that I am sure. But at f/22, who gives a shit? A seven pound fucking f/22 lens once it's removed from a modern Nikon body? The 200 VR's ultra-sweet bokeh would make it a truly sweet lens for a motion picture camera, or for a Canon body,or a Nikon F2 or F3. But, being a G-series lens, it defaults to minimum aperture except on the latest and greatest Nikon bodies, AND it prevents the lens from being migrated from one body system to another body system,and it prevents the lens from being migrated via an adapter to a 3-CCD Canon camcorder,and so on.The 200 VR is a four thousand dollar,lifetime-grade lens,and the thought that Nikon spared themselves $21 in manufacturing costs by not putting an aperture ring on the 200 VR is truly a travesty.