Friday, December 23, 2011

DP Review Publishes Guide to Mirrorless Cameras

Digital Photography Review has published a comprehensive guide to the new category of cameras, sometimes called Mirrorless Cameras and other times called Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras. Instead of old school SLRs, let's call them MIL's. There is more than one format in this category, but the standout format is the Micro 4/3 format used by Olympus and Panasonic. DP breaks out the different categories of cameras within this loose camera definition with Beginner, Intermediate, Enthusiast, and Specialist varieties.

For people looking for a professional alternative to DSLR's, the Enthusiast and Specialist sections are a great place to start. For myself, I must admit that some of these cameras are quite intriguing. I've been very impressed with the Panasonic DMC-GH2 and the Olympus PEN E-P3, and the Nikon 1 V1 is about the cutest camera I've had in my hands in quite a while and it feels extremely well-made. Though I've been a loyal Canon user for many years, that V1 is really tempting. And the Sony NEX-7 sports a 24 MP sensor and appears to be at the top of the image quality heap at the moment. Lots of people are singing its praises.

The other place for these cameras is as a back-up or casual camera; those cameras we like to take with us all the time or when it isn't practical to carry around a full SLR system. They offer enough control and image quality that when we make an image, we know we won't look at it later and wish we had used something different. There's a lot to be said for that. Anyway, check out the article here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Changes to Focus on Photography

There are a few changes to the blog here, as you may have noticed. It's now easier to subscribe to it and I am now allowing moderated comments. I turned off the comments a while back because of some weird spammy comments that kept showing up. And with luck, the new favicon will now show up on everyone's screen views. Cheers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Polaroid Goes Digital!

Talk about "What goes around, comes around," Polaroid is once again making a "spit 'em out" instant camera. The difference this time is the camera is really a digital camera with a built-in printer. So it acts just like an old Polaroid camera, but it saves the 14 MP images on an SD card, so you can print them out bigger at a later time. Convenient and flexible!

The old Polaroid cameras were loved by countless amateurs for family pictures and vacation snaps, but photojournalists used them, too. Many times, in the field, far away from a lab, working photographers would hand out Polaroids to their subjects, in place of prints from their "serious" cameras. I could see this camera filling the same niche.

The Polaroid Z340 Instant Digital Camera will retail for around $299.99 for the camera and $19.99 for a pack of 30 prints. You can order them directly from Polaroid, B&H, Adorama, and Amazon. Considering the cost of a good point-and-shoot, not to mention even an inexpensive mini-printer, this seems like a good deal to me. It's nice to see Polaroid back in the game with a camera that hits the right nostalgia notes along with current digital convenience. Kudos to Polaroid!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Basic Portrait Lighting Tips

Here's a well-done, though with a slightly silly, slapstick ending, video on five basic lighting set-ups for portraits. It's on the Digital Photography School website and features photographer Jay P. Margan. I recommend this for poeple looking for basic, easy to follow info, and you can see it here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Digital Cinema Developments

When the EOS 1D X was announced recently, I thought that Canon would have another high-end camera to add to the line-up, and here is a preview of it. It has no name yet, but the letter "C" is a clue to what it is: a pro-quality DSLR designed specifically for HD cinema shooting. Canon isn't saying much about this new model (my guess for its final name is the EOS 1D C), so we don't know the resolution of the sensor, though I'm assuming it will be full frame 35mm, but they have said it will shoot in 4K, which means 4000 lines of horizontal resolution, compared to the 1080 lines that 1080P HD now has. That's a substantial increase in resolving power and it may change the way that movies are made in the future, even more than the 5D Mark II changed things. We shall see.

Canon also announced a new line of lenses, the 4K EF Cinema lenses. These are lenses designed for the latest HD video format mentioned above. The price of these lenses are somewhat unbelievable and indicate they are being targeted to the film studio crowd. For example, the lens pictured will go for $47,000. Ouch! Saving your pennies won't help with these babies.

Another cinema product is the EOS C300, a HD video camera with an interchangeable lens mount for Canon EF lenses. This isn't a 4K camera, but it will have a Super 35mm 8.29 MP CMOS sensor. This means that the sensor is approximately half the size of full-frame 35mm and will match the size of the image that pro 35mm film movie cameras shoot. Its price will run around $20,000, another high priced item aimed at pros.

The last item is one that should have potential buyers of the EOS C300 rethinking their choices. RED has finally announced its Scarlet-X camera with a Canon EF lens mount, which will shoot in 4K resolution with a 13.8 MP sensor. It will sell for less than $10,000. Relatively speaking, it sounds like a good deal, especially when compared to the EOS C300. I wonder if Canon will lower their prices on that camera when it finally becomes available. I wouldn't be surprised.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Grit" Equals Success in Life

There is an interesting article up on the Behance website that talks about personal "grit" being the most important factor in determining success and achievement in life. More than talent or ability, being able to stick with a task and not let obstacles get in your way is a better predictor of how well you do in school, career, and life.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at Harvard, sums up the two main qualities this way:

1. "The tendency not to abandon tasks from mere changeability. Not seeking something because of novelty. Not "looking for a change." "
2. "The tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness."

In my life, I've seen this in action more than once, where people with a modest amount of talent, nothing extraordinary, succeed because they just never give up. They just work harder than anybody else. And I've seen other people with enormous amounts of talent ultimately fail because they just never stick with anything. They either get bored or they lose interest or they move onto something else.

So when it comes down to it, as it turns out, personal drive is more important than talent. You can read the article here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Digital Detaill Enhancement

DP Review has published an interesting how-to article, "It's All In The Details," on enhancing the level of details in your digital images and compares how different software programs and plug-ins perform this job. It should be noted that the author of the article works for one of the companies she talks about in the piece, Nik. Otherwise, good and informative reading.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New EOS Camera From Canon

Canon has just announced a new model of the EOS-1D, with the designation: EOS-1D X. Canon claims this is the latest flagship model for their line of professional digital cameras, superseding both the EOS-1Ds Mark III and the EOS-1D Mark IV. The specifications are impressive and seem to be targeted at laying their own claim as the high ISO champions. In the last few years, Nikon has firmly led the pack in that regard.

Here are the new features of the EOS-1D X:

• 18.1 MP full frame CMOS sensor
• Up to 12fps and 14fps shooting
• 100-51,200 ISO, up to 204,800 ISO
• 61 point AF system
• 100,000 pixel RGB AE metering with DIGIC 4
• Full HD 1080p EOS movie
• Dual “DIGIC 5+” processors
• Clear View II 8.11 cm (3.2”) 1040K-dot LCD
• Ethernet port

All this just screams “speed” to me. The blazing fast 14 frames per second continuous drive, dual processors to handle the image processing, 61 autofocus spots, and ISO settings up to 204,800. This will be the photojournalist and sports photographer’s dream camera. And there are other advances: full color metering and full HD movie modes. This camera may become the first choice for documentary filmmakers, with that kind of low light performance.

But the curious thing is the size of the sensor. It’s only an 18.1 MP sensor, although it is full-frame. The EOS-1Ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II both have 21.1 MP full-frame sensors. Going backwards in resolution will benefit the high ISO performance, without a doubt—lower resolution means bigger photosites on the sensor which means lower noise—but what about commercial, studio, and architectural photographers, not to mention fine art and landscape photographers. They are all going to want a camera with more resolution, not less. So while the EOS-1D X may be the current king of the Canon hill, I suspect they will announce another model with substantially higher resolution. The rumors floating around the web point to a model with somewhere between 39 and 58 MP resolution, which will be a major change for handheld digital cameras.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Native American Dances at the Pendleton Round-Up

This past weekend I was hired to photograph at the Pendleton Round-Up in Pendleton, Oregon. This is a rodeo that just celebrated its 101 anniversary and for most of that time, the Indian Dances have been a part of this event. The Native Americans compete with each other in different categories of Native dances to win honor for themselves and their families. They also win Pendleton Trade Blankets. They make their own costumes or regalia, and they make the dances open to the general public. Lots of people, mostly Native Americans, attend the dances and if you follow a few guidelines and don't make a pest of yourself, anyone is welcome to photograph.

One thing to remember is that you are a guest and you should behave like one. Be polite, stay out of the way of the dancers and judges, and if anyone tells you to move, do it. Earlier this summer I interviewed Steve McCurry for PhotoMedia magazine, who made the famous image "Afghan Girl," and he had some interesting things to say about photographing in public. According to McCurry, he never takes a picture of anyone without some kind of verbal or nonverbal permission. For a documentary or street photographer, that's an amazing position to take. In the context of a public dance, this means that the performers are mostly fair game, since they are in a public performance, but spectators should be asked before photographing them.

In technical terms, for most of the images I used a medium telephoto (an 80-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens) on a reduced sensor D-SLR body. I shot in Aperture Priority, though I could have used Shutter Priority, and used an ISO of 800. The autofocus was set on servo mode, to follow the action, and continuous motor drive was used. I tended to shoot in bursts of 3 to 5 images and followed the movements of the dancers. It's hard to predict the movements of the dancers, or any other action-oriented event, so it's best to shoot as much as you can and edit later. During the 2 hours of the dances, I shot around 1000 images. The photos ranged from full-length shots to details. Below are a few of my favorites.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great Printer Deal

B&H has a great offer on a great inkjet printer that I have to tell you about. The Canon PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II is a pigment-based inkjet printer that will do 13x19 prints. It has ten ink cartridges, includes red and green inks, two blacks (one for matte and one for glossy prints), and one gray ink cartridge.

I have to say that I've used all the major brands of inkjet printers (Epson, Canon, and HP) and once you get the printers figured out, they all do exceptional prints. Some are more reliable than others though. Based on my own personal experience, for what that's worth, I'd rank them this way from most to least reliable: Canon, Epson, and a dismal and distant HP. So if you are looking for a good printer for your images, this is a deal you may want to consider. Just keep in mind that the deal is short-lived, so act fast.

B&H is offering a $200 instant rebate on the Pro9500 Mark II. This brings the $749.95 printer to $549.95. On top of this, Canon is offering a mail-in rebate of $300 on it, bringing the price to 249.95. To say the least, this is a good deal.

The $200 instant rebate ends September 4th. The Canon rebate ends September 30th. Act now or regret it!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Harper Lee Never Wrote Again

Though this has little or nothing to do with photography, it does have a lot to do with creativity and with being an artist. Some artists, no matter their area of expertise, are endlessly prolific, churning out an unceasing number of canvases, or prints, or performances, or books. Other artists, like author Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, seem to have only one good effort in them. They create one stunning achievement and then nothing else. This can be frustrating for the audience and frightening for other artists.

Harper Lee wrote one of the most cherished books of the 20th Century and it was turned into one of the most cherished films of the 20th Century, yet she never had a follow-up. There was no second book or anything else. She became a recluse in New York City and stayed out of the public eye for the rest of her life. Why would this happen?

For working artists, Harper Lee's story and life must seem like a nightmare. To create the one good piece and then have the well of creativity run dry? Never to create again? That is a nightmare for creatives, but I don't think this was the case for Harper Lee. For her, one good work was enough and the benefits of the life of an artist and writer never came close to matching the drawbacks she experienced to make writing worthwhile for her. For her enough was enough.

Her friend, Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, told Harper Lee's side of the story:

“She once said to me when we were up late one night, sharing a bottle of scotch: ‘You ever wonder why I never wrote anything else?’ And I said, ‘Well, along with a million other people, yes’.

“I espoused two or three ideas. I said maybe you didn’t want to compete with yourself. She said, ‘Bullshit. Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill A Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again’."

For most people, the story of Harper Lee is baffling. Most believe that an artist should create and create until they die, never letting anything get in their way. So what is the lesson here? Well, sometimes, creating one good and beautiful thing is enough and being true to yourself is more important than anything else. The truth is, Harper Lee didn't have it in her to keep working as a writer and she knew it. And then she acted on that knowledge. You have to admire her for her sense of personal integrity.