Sunday, 30 November 2008

EOS 1D - Very quick first impressions

It arrived a few days ago, so I haven't really had time to shoot with it (other that to 'set it up' for my shooting style and fire a couple of quick tests to see that it is all working as it should). Luckily - but hopefully not surprisingly - it is (working as it should).

First impressions are one of solidity - of course this is a very solid 1.4kg+ camera. And it feels it in the hand. But then again, not intimidatingly so. It's heavy, without being oppressive. It's definitely a Canon EOS, and therefore very easy to find your way around if you have come from that stable with any previous EOS camera (like the film 1 series or the 5D etc). What did throw me slightly, however, and something that took me about 5 minutes to get my head around, was the way the menu system works.

With other Canon digitals I have used, you press the menu button, choose a category with the fly wheel, and press 'SET' to enter it into the camera. It's a two step process, but it works well and is fairly intuitive. With the EOS 1D, you press the menu button and use the fly wheel to get to the correct sub menu, then you hold the 'SELECT' button down while using the fly wheel to highlight your choice in green, and then when you let go of the SELECT button your choice is set. This makes it a three step process, but it does mean that nothing can get changed 'accidentally' and this is presumably why the 'professional' cameras are controlled in this way?

I don't like it - or hate it. It's just different. It does mean I have to 'remember' a different way for each camera (the 1D and 5D), but largely they will both be set up to go anyway. As I said, it took me all of 5 minutes to figure it out (no, I didn't read the manual beforehand), and I suppose the more I use it, the more 'used to it' I will become.

This is a shot I took of my daughter - one of the first from the camera. Shot with a 50mm f1.8 (at f2.8) with late evening light coming through our kitchen window. Even though it's 'only' 4 megapixels, I reckon this would make a very sharp 11x16" print - so I'm more than happy with it for wedding work.

A couple of other things to mention with the 1D - first: it's NOT full-frame, so you need to multiply the lens focal length by x1.3 (which makes my 50mm f1.8 prime lens a 65mm f1.8 on the 1D), and second: it only takes CF cards up to 2Gig. With a 2Gig card and the camera set to RAW only, I can get about 400 photos. Not great, but probably OK considering I have heaps of cards for the 5D.

Anyway, that's first impressions. I'll shoot with it some more in the next few weeks, and confirm or deny what I've already written thus far. I'm off to take some photos.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

EOS 1D - I weakened...

So I've got this EOS 1N film camera, right. And it's a back-up for my wedding kit if the 5D and 10D fail, right. Only I didn't take it with me to the last wedding I shot - did I. I used the 5D and 10D instead. Only the 10D annoyed me because it was so slow at reviewing after the shot has been taken. It bugged me. I wished it was my 1N. Except I wished the 1N was digital and not film. See where this is going...?

You know where it's going. Although this time, rather than go looking for one, I had a 1D offered to me by a guy who replied to an unrelated auction (for some CDs) I was running on Trademe (NZs equivalent of Ebay). He 'made me an offer I couldn't refuse' and so, to cut a long story short, my 1D should be arriving early next week.

If you can see a pattern emerging here, then you're right. Since starting this blog I've gone through a 30D, Pentax 645, Canon EOS 1N, 10D and now the EOS 1D. All in about the space of a year. What does this say about me? Well, the cynical might say that I can't make up my mind and go through cameras like some hollywood actresses go through husbands. Mmmm... Maybe.

The more astute amongst you, however, might think that I've embarked upon a great search to get together 'my' ultimate kit and, as the saying goes, you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelet.

Am I there yet...? Probably not. I'm there with the 5D, for certain. It has everything I want in my main wedding body, and nothing I don't. The new 5D Mark II doesn't interest me in the slightest. Sensor cleaning would be nice, but other than that I don't want (or need) more megapixels, I certainly don't want HD video, and I certainly don't need Live View on my Digital SLR's.

Will I be there with the 1D then? Maybe. It'll be fast enough, of that I have no doubt. And it will certainly be rugged enough. It's 'only' 4.5 megapixels, but that should be enough for wedding albums and prints up to 11x16 (and probably slightly beyond) considering I do most of my cropping 'in camera'.

One of the camera's most compelling reviews for me was one written by Dennis Reggie, one of the greatest Wedding Photographers on the planet, and the 'father' of the modern photojournalism style we are all shooting in. He was given a pre-release 1D back in 2001 and spoke glowingly of the camera, using it in 4 weddings before having to hand it back to Canon. Not long after he bought three for himself! If it's good enough for Dennis, it's good enough for me.

Now granted, that was 6 years ago (such a long time in digital camera history), and Canon have gone on to 'better' the 1D with a Mark II and Mark III version. Faster processing, bigger buffers, more megapixels, full frame, live view, sensor cleaning... the 'upgrade' list goes on. But as an 'entry' into Canon's professional digital EOS 1 series, I'm willing to bet that the 1D is still a kick-ass camera.

I will give another report once the camera has arrived and I've had a chance to 'play' with it a bit. One things for certain though, it will be a heavy beast - a real shoulder cruncher. I'd better go and find those dumbells and start working up the old arm muscles then.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Leisha & Ross 01/11/08

Shot my first wedding for the season last weekend and surprise, surprise, it didn't rain - it poured! I haven't done a wedding for a couple of seasons, and this was my first out on my own, so my worst fears were realised when I awoke Saturday morning to torrential rain, with no sign of a let-up. Bummer!

The original plan was an outside wedding (yeah right) on a cliff overlooking the beautiful coastline, with bridal party shots on the beach. So with that out of the way, it was on to 'Plan B'.

Unfortunately plan B meant shooting everything inside, mainly with on-camera flash (which I don't 'love' as a rule), in cramped little spaces. And this is with a wedding party of 12!

The image above of Leisha (the gorgeous bride), taken while she was getting ready, was shot with the Canon 10D and 50mm f1.8 (taken at f2.8). It was shot looking down a tiny hallway, with Leisha placed in the middle, looking up into one of those small tungsten recessed lights that are popular in modern households now. The light is warm, contrasty and harsh - and has been softened slightly with a soft-focus blur applied later on in Photoshop. It's an example of an image I would never have taken if it had been an outside wedding on a sunny day, but it's also an example of an image that I pre-visualised and took knowing that I could make something out of it later on.

Despite the mornings torrent of rain, it did actually clear for the afternoon (thank goodness), so we were able to go out and take the bridal party photos outside. The lighting was very flat, and it was cold and windy, but at least it was outside - and not raining! Leisha and Ross were great about it though, and were naturals in front of the camera. This shot of them together was taken on my Canon 5D with the 70-200mm f4 'L' lens on f4.

I'd never shot a wedding party of 12 before, and it was as challenging as it sounds! No sooner would you get one couple placed where you wanted, you would turn around to place another couple only to find that the first couple had then moved! It was an exercise in diplomacy and patience, in very cold, windy and trying conditions - but fortunately I managed to pull it off enough times that I think Leisha and Ross will be happy with the final results. The Bridal party image above was taken using the 5D with 17-40mm f4 'L' lens on f5.6. The sky has been 'burnt in' later in photoshop, with a slight vignette added to draw attention to the group.

The pancake rocks at Punakaiki were a great place to take wedding photos, especially with such a large bridal party. Next time though, I'd like it to be slightly warmer, with no wind, or rain (hey, I don't want much).

All in all it was a very stressful, yet very successful day. I'm happy with what I produced for my clients under the circumstances, and I think they will be too?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Street Racing

I started my love affair with photography by shooting a Rally Sprint event in Canterbury. I had no idea what I was doing, shot far too many rolls of film, and got pretty average results. But I was hooked.

I'm a photographer and not a petrol head (I appreciate that you can be both), but I hold a certain amount of nostalgia for shooting racing events because that is where it all started for me. I don't shoot them often, but when I do I have a lot of fun and, I'm pleased to say, get some OK results.

This Labour Weekend the town I live in (Greymouth) hosted its Annual Motorbike Street Racing event. I had shot the event about six years prior - on film - but thought it was time to 'upgrade' the images and try my luck with digital. I loaded my Canon 5D with a fast 16Gig card, set it to shoot large jpegs (I thought RAW processing might slow me down a little), and moved the autofocus from one-shot to servo mode so that it would follow the action across the frame as it happened.

Shooting in this way is fun, but it requires a total mind shift from how I would normally photograph. For portraits and weddings, even though there is 'some' action involved, I usually have the 5D set on one-shot, single frame mode. This is plenty fast enough, but tends to promote a fairly precise way of composing and shooting.

With sports action photography however, precise composition almost goes out the window. Some of the big 1000cc bikes reached 200km+ going down the straight. That's FAST! When you are shooting things traveling at that speed, you have one chance to nail it and then they're gone. Pretty cool - and a hugh challenge for someone like me who doesn't normally shoot that way.

As you can see, I did manage to nail it some of the time - although it really was only some of the time. I shot about 700 images in the space of 3 hours, and culled it down to about 100 from there, getting rid of the ones that weren't sharp enough or well composed.

The 5D was set on aperture priority, f4 (as wide open as my Canon 70-200 f4'L' goes) which gave me a shutter speed of around 1000sec - plenty fast enough to use the 3 frames per second that the 5D is capable of. I also used the camera with a monopod, and I'm glad that I did because it allowed me to keep the camera at an even level while shooting through the protective wire barrier that is in place around the whole track.

All of my images were taken at the same place on the track - at a hairpin bend where the bikes had to slow down before taking off again down the straight. This allowed me to get great head-on shots of the bikes and riders when they weren't going 'as' fast.

Could I have gotten better results with a 'sports' camera like the 1D, with its 45 segment autofocus and 10 frames per second shutter speed? Yeah, of course I could. But I haven't got one of those have I. The 5D isn't known as a 'sports' camera, but I'm not a sports photographer. It performed well enough for me to get images like the ones above (and several more besides), and boy was it a lot of fun.

Now having said that, if I was to get into sports photography in any serious way, then I probably would be lusting after a 1D Mark 3 (and the Nikon equivalent D3? if you're a Nikon shooter). Faster autofocus and higher frame rate would be helpful if this was my full time gig.

Luckily for me, it's not. My full time gig starts this weekend with my first wedding for the season. It's with a wedding party of 12 (gulp) and surprise surprise - the long range forecast is for rain. Prey it ain't so.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Beauty in the Eye

What is it with the lottery of photo judging?

Now I have to be careful here, for a couple of reasons. First, because I am a judge myself, so anything I say can (and will) be held against me and applied by others to myself (if you follow).

And second, because this could quite easily come off sounding like a bunch of sour grapes - which it isn't - (honest).

But hang on a minute. What am I going on about? Let me explain...

We had our local camera club evening last week, and as is usual for all camera clubs around the country (and around the world I would suspect), our images were 'judged' by an 'expert' from away. Nothing unusual there, and I've had some very good feedback from this type of judging process.

This time, however, we struck a judge (and I'm naming no names) who must have forgotten to put his glasses on and had skipped his medication all that week! He was atrocious. Brief, bizarre, unfounded and horribly dismissive grading then ensued, to the point where he rejected a good 80% of all the images submitted.

Above is the image I submitted for the Set Subject which this month was "Still Life". It was rejected. "Don't like it" was about as helfpul and as informative as the judges comments on this particular image got.

This is where it could start to sound a bit like sour grapes. He rejected my photo - how dare he! But it really isn't like that at all. I don't think it's the greatest image ever taken, and it was a bit of an experiment for me with some gritty HDR photoshop techniques that I'd wanted to try out for a while. So I really didn't expect it to score highly, or get me an honor mark or anything. But rejected! Really?

And trust me, there were images better than the one above who also suffered the same fate. So it got me thinking - what kind of lottery is this whole judging process - and does it need to be?

We all know that judging art is subjective - right. You like what you like, I like what I like etc, etc, etc. But hang on. Do we really want judging to be purely subjective? Or is there some objective elements that can serve as guidelines or principles when judging others work? Well, I believe there are. But who judges the judges? And who gets to be a judge? Is there some test you have to take to determine whether you'll make a good judge (no, there isn't), and if not, why not?

If you're looking for answers to these questions, then sorry, you've come to the wrong place. I could give 'My' answer to the above (having been an Art Critic, Lecturer in Aesthetics, and Camera Club Judge myself I have probably pondered on this more than most), but it's a scope way too big for this blog. Suffice to say that I think the judging (and passing of 'opinion') of others work is not a job to be taken lightly, to be handed out to anyone just because they've been in the club the longest, or who doesn't take the responsibility seriously.

I'm not worried about me - it's the children for heaven's sake, think about the children! Fortunately, my 8 year old daughter didn't put anything in for last months camera club assignment, so she didn't have to be put through the farcical judging process. But what if she had entered...?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Late Night Light

I've often written about late evening light and how it can transform a landscape. In fact my first D-Photo article was on exactly that topic. But often, you only get to see the 'final' shot - the one I want to keep and print - without it being put into context with the other shots. It's only when you do this that you begin to see why late evening light is so special for landscape photography.

So while out shooting last night, I thought it would be a good idea to show how an image progresses, according to the lateness of the evening. All images were taken with my 5D, a 17-40mm f4 L lens, on a tripod with a cable release.

The first image has a 6th of a second shutter speed, using an f-stop of f22. There is some nice light - it is dark enough so that the highlights in the sky have been easily retained by the cameras sensor, as has the shadow detail. Not much was done to this in Aperture, except a slight shadow adjustment and saturation boost. Not a bad shot, but the lake isn't 'glassy' enough for my liking. Better wait around a bit longer.

10 minutes later, and this is the result. Exposure is now 6 seconds, at f22. It's getting more like it with the longer exposure for the water - but to me it still isn't 'quite' there. The Canon 5D can shoot at up to a thirty second exposure before going to its 'bulb' setting, and that's about where I aim for with my long exposures. I could go longer, but 30 seconds seems about right for me in terms of colour and water effects.

And here it is. One of my last shots of the evening - taken with a 30 second exposure on f22. It is really very dark now - almost difficult to see the hand in front of the face, but the camera sensor still manages to pick up lots of detail with the long exposure. I love the saturated 'blueness' that this long exposure gives, as well as the silkyness to the water, which is exactly what I'm after. My landscapes tend to have a simple, serene quality to them, and I can get this kind of effect perfectly with long night time exposures.

To me this last image stands head and shoulders above the rest - although others may think there's only subtle changes. They are basically all the same compositionally speaking, but the largest (and most important) difference has to do with the 'mood' they create. The later the light, the longer the exposure, the more mood is conveyed.

The 30 second exposure does take a little more post-processing work though - I did quite a bit of fiddling with shadow, black-point and levels in Aperture before I got this looking how I wanted. Noise is also a factor with a 30 second exposure, even with the 5D shooting on ISO 100. But Noise Ninja cleans it up nicely, and I could probably get away with some noise from the Canon sensor without it effecting the image too negatively.

Anyway, that's how I go about getting some of the best light for landscapes. I'd get up early in the morning and do it too, if I wasn't so damn lazy...

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Pre-Photokina Rant (Prt 1)

Well, Photokina 2008 is almost here - the camera industry trade show to end all trade shows.

'Pre' Photokina releases from Canon (and Nikon) have been very interesting and thought provoking (for me at least) in terms of where the whole DSLR industry is going.

So without any further ado, and if I may hop up onto my soapbox for a while (and since it's my blog I think I may) here's 'some' of my thoughts on the Canon 50D pre-release.

First - 15 megapixels. Wow. Double wow even.

But why? Wasn't 10 big enough for everybody? Who was out there shooting with the 40D and wishing they had more megapixels? I DON'T WANT ANY MORE MEGAPIXELS! MY FILES ARE BIG ENOUGH ALREADY! I'M RUNNING OUT OF HARD DISK SPACE AS IT IS!

Now I realise that it's just because they can. Technology moves on. But we, the consumer, are the ones that have to deal in real terms with the ramifications of such technology. Maybe it's just me? Maybe every other photographer prints A2 and needs bigger files? Maybe 10 megapixels isn't enough? Will 15 be enough do you think? What about 20? How about 40? How many images will you be able to fit on a 1Gig Cf card if we get up to 40 megapixel cameras? See my point...

We don't really 'need' all these megapixels. Manufacturers just tell us that we do.

And speaking of manufacturers telling us what we need -

Second - Live view. Wow. Double wow even.

And again I ask - but why? Who asked for live view on DSLR's? Who was shooting a year ago and saying "yeah, using the viewfinder gets me sharp images, but I really wish I could hold my camera out at arms length in front of my face and take photos from the LCD screen". I mean - SERIOUSLY.

I personally would have kissed someone at Canon if they'd left Live View off of the 50D.

Ah, but no. We demanded it - apparently.

But it gets worse folks. The 50D also has... (drum roll please)... Live View with Face Detection. Aaaaarrrrrggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! Shoot me now!

Please, please, please Canon - leave these stupid noddy technologies off of the 5D's replacement (he asks, knowingly in vain).

Don't know about you, but I want to use a camera - not a PS3 game controller.

Just my 2 cents worth... for now.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Evolution of a Scan

Speaking of old negatives and backing up (yes we were, see previous post) - of all the old photos Jackie came to me with, I was most fascinated by the medium format negatives.

Jackie spent the afternoon going through them on a light table, and then handed me 20 that she wanted to have scanned for a book she is writing on her family.

All have been very poorly stored, badly handled, and so are not in the best condition. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I must say that at the end of the exercise I was presently surprised at how they turned out. These images weren't taken by a professional photographer (that I'm aware of anyway), and the exposures were all over the place. However, the level of detail and final product I was able to achieve through even basic enhancements in Photoshop, was pleasing.

Above is an original scan of a medium format (8x6cm) black and white negative. I have no idea of the camera or film used, but as you can see, the initial result wasn't much to write home about.

Opening up the 'Levels' in Photoshop and moving the left and right sliders inwards to create a real black and white has helped tremendously. Far more than I thought it would, in fact. It's not brilliant, but it's a heck of a lot better, and more like we would expect a well exposed image to look.

The photo still wasn't quite punchy enough for me, so I also opened the 'Brightness/Contrast' control and gave the scan both a brightness and contrast boost. Normally I wouldn't suggest using brightness/contrast in Photoshop, as the results aren't particularly subtle and detail tends to get lost. However, in CS3 the Brightness/Contrast control has had a huge makeover, and now I used it all the time. The engineers have managed to keep the very basic slider setup, but have also allowed it to be used more subtly - without blowing out highlights or blocking up shadows. Brilliant. (Just don't tick the "Use legacy" box or you'll get the horrible old Photoshop results).

Finally, I gave the image a slight 'Curves' adjustment, fixed up some of the spots using the 'Clone' tool, and used a moderate 'Unsharp Mask' setting (Amount 150, Radius .5, Threshold 0) and viola - finished photo.

Ok, so it's not going to win too many awards. But look where we started from, and where we ended up, and you've got to say it's a vast improvement. Yes, I could have spent a lot more time tweaking all sorts of other controls in Photoshop - but I had a lot of these to do in a small space of time, and so I was looking for a quick - but pleasing - result that would give Jackie most bang for her buck.

And just to round out the technical information (for those of you who care), the negatives were scanned on an Epson V700 Flatbed Photo scanner, at a dpi of 1200, which gave a final image size of 'roughly' 30cm x 20cm at 300dpi.

Digital as an Historical Record

A friend was recently given a suitcase full (literally) of old letters, photos, and medium format negatives that had belonged to a great uncle from the 1920's. They eventually found their way to my friends mother who didn't know what to do with them, and was about to throw them out. Fortunately, Jackie salvaged them, and contacted me wanting to know what she should now do with all these images.

It's still a fairly common scenario, but it got me thinking. How common will it still be in 100 years from now? Will a great nephew of mine inherit a suitcase full of my digital images archived on DVD? And if they do, will they know what to do with them? Will they be able to open them and view them? Will they still be readable, or will adverse storage conditions have destroyed them beyond saving?

I don't know about you, but I find these pretty important questions. Trouble is, I'm not sure I've got very satisfactory answers.

Do you back up all of your digital files? I hope so. But if you do, exactly how should you do it to be as 'future' safe as possible? Is backing up to DVD enough? Should you also back up your important files on an external hard drive? Is just one back up enough - or should you keep another copy at another location in case anything happens to your first back up? And what about hard copies of all your best images - don't forget to print them out.

Printing as we know it today throws up another bunch of issues though - issues that a lot of photographers aren't even aware of. How are most digital images printed at home? No prize for guessing that it's done on an inkjet printer. Best case scenario on how long those prints will last? How's a couple of years - if you're lucky!

Inkjet printers use 'ink' based dyes for printing (duh) - trouble is, these dyes aren't very stable over time, and start to break down (very quickly) when exposed to even moderate levels of UV (sunlight). They just won't last.

Manufacturers such as Epson, Canon and HP are combating this by bringing out new ranges of inks that have their 'molecular structure' fortified to give a longer-lasting print, especially if used in conjunction with their own photo papers that also have better structural properties for holding and retaining the ink. But at best you're still talking about maybe 20 to 25 years with a print that is kept in an album - out of direct sunlight.

If you are looking for 'archival' quality prints that will last 100+ years, then your only option at the moment is to go with a 'pigment' based printer. Not surprisingly, these are much more expensive than their inkjet cousins, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of permanence of the final print.

Pigment based printers use a pigment similar to paint, and not the traditional dye based inks. They are far more impervious to UV light (just as is normal paint), but again care must be taken when exposing them to direct sunlight. NO artwork should be placed in direct sunlight - full stop! Why do you think all those art museums and gallery's are fairly low-lit, temperature controlled vaults? It isn't for their visitors comfort - trust me.

So how do I archive my precious images. Am I any better at this than you? Probably not. At the moment I back-up my own work 'reasonably' regularly onto DVD, and external hard drive. Both of these copies are kept at my home. Not good enough. I should really make two DVD back ups (at least) and keep one off site. That is what I do for my design work, and it's what I should do with my own images. And it's what you should be doing too.

As for future proofing, well, it's crystal ball gazing stuff - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least be thinking about it. What we 'can' say for sure, is that DVD will be replaced by 'something else' in the future, and we will then all have to migrate to the new format. But what will that mean for all of our files saved on DVD?

I'm optimistic enough to think that, just like I can with the suitcase full of negatives today, someone will be able to open - and then convert - my 'digital negatives' in the distant future. Will my optimism be rewarded 100 years from now? Only time will tell.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Back-up for the Back-up

Remember that EOS 1N I got recently as a backup to my 5D for Weddings? And remember how I said I was also tempted by the 10D as another Digital option? Well yep, you guessed it - I've now got a back-up for my back-up.

I only got it recently - second hand from a camera dealer - but I've had a little play and formed a few opinions on it already. The body is a little worse for wear, but everything functions as it should (except perhaps for the 'occasional' sticking of the control wheel on the back).

First impressions after using it a few times? It's a solidly built camera with excellent heft (weight) and nicely laid out controls. It's lighter (but not much) and smaller than the 5D, so I will try to get a vertical grip for it as well to give it a little more 'body'. The LCD screen on the back is 'tiny' (1.5" I think?), especially after using the one on the 5D. The image processing engine is a little on the 'slow' side as well - taking about 2 seconds to show a full-res preview with histogram after taking a shot. This isn't necessarily a problem, as long as you're not wanting to review each and every shot after you take it (you shouldn't be anyway). The screen might be tiny, but it is clear, and the images are still easily viewable - just not very big.

Shot-to-shot speed isn't a problem though, it's plenty fast enough so that you're not waiting to take the next shot (although as already mentioned reviewing them is another matter altogether). The shutter is beautifully soft and quiet - next to Nikon's F80 film camera the quietest shutter I've experienced. This could be quite important during the Wedding service, and the 10D may become my 'go to' camera for these times when quietness is of the essence.

Autofocus seems quick and accurate - especially set up for my shooting style with the central sensor active, and it has a nifty programmable button that you can push to go straight to your selected focus point. There are heaps of custom functions available, and you can set every parameter imaginable so the 10D fits your own personal style.

One slight 'quirk' with the 10D is the way it handles shooting RAW files. Set to RAW, you don't get an option to tag a Jpeg file (or not), it automatically creates a jpeg file as well. You do get to select the size of the tagged jpeg - and to be fair it doesn't add that much to the file size, but I do find it odd that there is no straight RAW option. I've never shot RAW + Jpeg on any of my other cameras, but I guess I don't have a choice with the 10D. Odd.

Another 'quirk' of the 10D that most reviewers pick up on is the 'softness' of its image files. And yes, I can attest to the fact that the 10D does take 'soft' images at the default settings. Seems that Canon's engineers were a little 'light' with the in-camera sharpness settings of the 10D, but again, this isn't really a big issue. Either bump the sharpness settings 'in camera' to +2, or sharpen later on in Photoshop (which I do anyway). I can also attest to the fact that the Canon 10D's images sharpen up beautifully with moderate settings of the 'Unsharp Mask' filter (I use Amount: 150, Radius: .5 and Threshold: 0 for a lot of my images to create a little more 'pop'). And notice that it's a radius of 'point 5' (or a half) and NOT 5 - that's way too much radius.

Is the 10D the best camera ever made - well of course not. Is it a solid, well made photographic tool capable of taking stunning images of great clarity - you betchya. Does it have a few 'quirks' that may require some thought - absolutely. But its 6.3 Megapixels is plenty big enough for Wedding Album images - even double page spreads at a push - and it's only a back-up to my 5D (and EOS 1N) after all.

Canon 10D with 24-105mm f4 'L' set to 50mm, f8 @250th sec. Taken on an overcast day, with moderate sharpening applied in Photoshop.

It may be a few years old now, but Canon didn't hold back with this solid little digital SLR. If you were looking for a 'cheap' second-hand introduction to the Canon DSLR system you could do a lot worse than the 10D (the 300/350D springs to mind). In fact, I'd go with a 10D over any of the new plastic 'prosumer' DSLR's out there any day. Slap a cheap 50mm f1.8 on the 10D (which will give you an 80mm f1.8 equivalent due to the 10D's 1.6x 'cropping factor' from the smaller sensor), take some photos with the sharpness set to +2, and go WOW!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

What's on your mind?

These blogs are a funny thing when you think about it. Part diary, part vanity - and in my case, hopefully part educational - they consist mostly of unrelated musings and quick 'bites' of useful/useless information.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking them. I'm sat here writing this at 11.00pm after all, so I must find some sort of merit in it. But I also can't help thinking that it's all pretty arbitrary, and a very large part of me knows that no one else is reading this stuff anyway.

But hey, I need my ego massaged as much as the next guy - so here's a quick challenge. In the immortal words of Pink Floyd.. "Is there anybody out there"? And if there is, then why not let me know that you are... and who you are. I've always found the photographic fraternity a fairly friendly bunch on the whole - so please, say "Hi".

Apparently this blog address is now going to be attached to my articles for D-Photo - so SOMEBODY must get curious and check it out one of these days. if you do, don't go away without saying 'gidday'.

And if you want answers to any questions, or any topics that you'd like me to cover - anything at all (although it would be helpful if they were photographic in nature), then drop me a line, add a comment, leave a note - LET ME KNOW for crying out loud.

Who knows, it just might make me write here more often?

Sunset Point at Hokitika. One of my entries for this months camera club competition.

When it blows, it blows.

It won't be news to anyone from New Zealand that we've been having some pretty wild weather lately. This culminated in Greymouth exactly a week ago with some of the worst winds locals have ever experienced. 160km + winds ripped through the town - and especially up on the hill in Cobden where we live.

Although we got off relatively lightly, it was still pretty scary, and we decided to evacuate from our house in the dark. The kids found it all rather exciting, but watching sheets of roofing iron flying down the road as you're evacuating your house isn't something I'd like to repeat too often.

We stayed the night at friends (thanks Tim and Niki) and then went back home the next morning to survey the damage. Fortunately the rain that was forecast didn't eventuate until late the next day, so there was no water damage to worry about - and a quick lesson in tiling a roof (cheers Eric - aka Spiderman, and foreman Rob) meant that we got the tiles back in place and tied down before the rain came. All in all pretty lucky really.

We had patches of tiles like this come loose all over the house - but luckily none of them dropped off the roof and smashed, so we were able to fit them back into place and tie them down (the next day of course).

The neighbours Pohutakawa tree didn't survive the battering though... so neither did our fence!

We used to have a tunnel house - one of the selling points for buying the house in the first place. Oh well, maybe we didn't need one after all?

Houses up and down our street fared much worse than we did - some lost their entire roof and are dealing with water damage now. The clean up continues, and we are all just thankful that no one was seriously injured. Hopefully one of those 'once in a lifetime' storms that won't come again in a hurry?

And BTW, what was the only thing I took with me when we evacuated the house (apart from my family of course)? You guessed it - my camera gear. I'm not completely stupid! :-)

Don't ya hate it when...

Don't ya hate it when you visit a blog a few months later and 'nothing' has changed...

OK - slight dig at myself, cause yeah - it's been a while. Same old same old. "Too busy, too tired, too busy - blah, blah, blah".

It's not like nothing has been happening - I've always got HEAPS I want to write about. It's just finding the time. Maybe I'll be better at this when I have retired?

My 'big' photography buzz recently was seeing my 8 year old daughter Emily take away a 'Highly Commended' in the adult section of a local photography competition. The judge had no idea she was only 8 when giving out the awards, and you should have seen his jaw drop when he called out her name and she came forward (thanks Simon).

The whole family is getting involved in photography - which I think is fantastic of course - but it's really not through any 'pushing' on my part (honest). Emily and her brother (Joshua who is 7) both really enjoy it, almost despite of me, and when we are out taking photos they just go off and do their own thing.

Part of Emily's Prize for the competition was a membership to the local camera club, which we've had converted to a Family Membership. So now we have monthly competitions to shoot for, and now Emily's on at me to go out and shoot for the competitions.

Here's one of Emily's entries in this months 'Landscape' Competition at Camera Club... She's only 8 for crying out loud!!!

And here's another...

Not to be outdone, this is Joshua's entry - taken when he was 6!

I think I need to go out and take some more photos. I feel a competition entry coming on...

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Backup for Weddings

Winter is here, and I've decided to get serious about the coming wedding season. That gives me about three months to get ready, although I've started my advertising campaign now. There are good signs already. I have flyers up advertising the business in a local jewelers, and had an engaged couple in on the first day they were on display. No contacts yet, but the jewelry store wants to work in with me even more to offer 'package deals'. So I'm encouraged.

So with a 5D, 17-40mm f4, 24-105mm f4 and 70-200mm f4, and Canon Speedlite, I figure I'm pretty set. But if I'm really serious about shooting weddings again, I really needed a backup camera. I could look at a 40/30/20D - or even earlier 10D as a digital solution - I certainly can't afford another 5D (haven't even started paying for the first one yet). But I don't really want to go back to the cropped sensor again. A quick flick around Trademe (a NZ internet auction site similar to ebay) is usually good for inspiration - and it was there that I saw it... at a price I couldn't believe!

I started out with film cameras, way back when digital wasn't even science fiction, let alone science fact. And back then, as a Canon devotee, the EOS 1 was King. Oh, what I wouldn't have given to have owned an EOS 1.

Then, a few years ago, I did own one (a pretty bunged up, well used one - but an EOS 1 nonetheless), just before digital hit the mainstream. I think I owned it for about three months, and then I 'went digital' with a Nikon D70. So in a strange twist of fate, the camera I had wanted to own all my life was mine very briefly, and then the world moved on and I was swept away with it all. Now digital was King - and it still is. Film is dead (saw a great catchphrase for a group recently that said "film isn't dead, it just smells funny") and those amazing professional film cameras are now going for a song.

Which gets me back to what I saw on Trademe. A mint condition Canon EOS 1N (an 'upgraded' EOS 1) complete with battery grip, for NZ$350.00. That's just a crazy price for originally a $2k+ pro series camera - and I couldn't resist. And hey, guess what - it also happens to be full-frame :-)

It arrived about a week ago, and the weather has been consistently miserable since then. I have taken some shots with it, but have yet to finish the first roll of film. Seems to be functioning as it aught, although I have noticed that the 'L'ow drive setting flashes when it's set, as if something is wrong. It still releases the shutter, even with the flashing, so I'm presuming nothing is actually wrong and it's working as it should. If it bugs me too much I will change it to 'S'ingle frame drive mode, and hopefully the flashing will go away? Anyway, for $350 bucks for an EOS 1N if that's all I've got to worry about then I'm definitely up on the deal!

So my plan is to use the 5D as my main camera at the wedding, probably switching between the 24-105mm f4, and 17-40mm f4. I will attach the 70-200mm f4 to the EOS 1N and maybe use it during the service if there's enough light, and for some nice tight head and shoulder bride images during the bridal party shoot.

That's the plan at this stage anyway.

I am also thinking I might need a 'low light' lens option - and will opt for either the 50mm f1.8 or the 85mm f1.8 - or both. That will probably complete the kit. And then all I need is some weddings to use it all on!

I haven't quite discounted the 10D backup option yet either. They are also coming up for auction at ridiculous prices - and you can always use a back up for the back up - right?

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Fuji S6500FD digicam

My fun with the Canon 5D continues, and I am still enjoying full-frame digital photography and all that it entails.

I've slowly figured out how to set up the 5D for my shooting style, and now I just have to get off my butt and get out there a bit more. Took a 2.5 hr drive to Okarito last week to catch the sunset, but it was pretty disappointing. I think it's more of a sunrise destination so I'll have to try again soon.

Of more note recently is my new digicam purchase. A friend came for advice on his next digicam upgrade, so that got me looking (and drooling) at all the new models.

I've had a Canon A710 IS point & shoot compact for 'snap shots' for a couple of years now, but to be honest I very rarely used it. Image quality was ok, but the slim, compact style digitals just really aren't me. I much prefer a truer SLR style experience, and have always liked the look of the Fuji line of 'bridge' cameras (not quite SLR, not quite point-and-shoot).

I decided to sell my Canon compact, giving me enough money to get myself a Fuji Finepix S6500FD (called the S6000FD in America). It's a 6.3MP camera, but with the use of Fuji's 'Super CCD' technology most reviewers believe it performs more like a 10 megapixel equivalent. Noise is also kept under control in this 6th generation CCD sensor, going up to 3200 (although only really useable at 1600). Still, that's pretty impressive when many other brands peak at 800 and are only really useable at 400 or lower. Shooting RAW should elicit even better performance, so I'm excited about the potential this camera could give me for a light, go anywhere, high quality digicam option - especially for travel images.

A couple other features of note in relation to the S6500FD - it has a manual zoom lens that goes from true wide angle 28mm to a very respectable 300mm at the telephoto end. The fact that it is a manual zoom lens, and not the electronic style, is also a huge selling point for me - I dislike the 'rocker switch' style zooms as they tend to be fairly imprecise.

The big selling point with this particular model, however, is the FD (Face Detection) hardware built into the camera. Hit the detection button and in 0.05 seconds the camera detects up to 10 faces in the viewfinder, locks on, focuses, and exposes for perfect portraiture. Combine this with 'natural' balanced flash which boosts the ISO to give more exposure to the ambient light in the background and you have a fairly impressive wedding and events camera. Not that I'm doing weddings mind you.

Should be arriving any day now. I'll talk more about my impressions of the camera after I've used it for a couple of weeks. See you then (if not before). BFN.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Canon 5D and 'Hot' Pixels

So I've just got this brand-spanking new 5D, right. And I've taken it out on its first landscape shoot to a favourite spot of mine where I 'test' a lot of my gear and put it through its paces.

I'd heard, and read, a lot about the 5D's low noise - especially with long exposures, so I was very keen to experience this for myself. I enabled the custom function that extends the camera's ISO capabilities, and set the camera to 50. I also put long exposure noise reduction to 'on', and set my tripod up for some long exposures.

The previous night I had been reading a few commentaries on the internet - in particularly one from Ken Rockwell - that claimed there is little to no benefit in shooting RAW. I had been surfing on this topic because, to my horror, I discovered that shooting RAW with the 5D only gives me about 220 images on a 4 Gig card! Whereas turned to high quality jpeg nets upwards of 1000 images. That's more like it, I thought.

So anyway, the high quality jpegs were in the bag (so the speak), and I headed home to marvel at them in Lightroom. And marvel at them I did. Wow, the sensor on the 5D is incredibly noiseless at ISO 50 - even with 30 second exposures. I was impressed.

But hang on a minute. What are those little spots through the images? They seem to be in exactly the same place all the time. Don't tell me I've got dust on the sensor already? I haven't even changed the lens on it - ever. A closer look was called for.

A 'Hot' pixel from the 5D - at 300% enlargement, from a 15 second exposure.

On closer inspection it turned out that dust wasn't the problem at all. My brand spanking 5D has 'hot pixels' - about 6 of them, that show themselves during long exposures (of about 2 seconds or more).

I was gutted, crushed, inconsolable. How could this be? I'd never had this happen on any of the dozen or so camera bodies that I've used or tested over the years. Yet here it was, on the supposed 'King" of them all, the 'noiseless' 5D. My initial thought was to send the camera straight back to Canon and complain bitterly. Luckily, I slept on it over night and decided to do a little more investigating.

Internet discussion on similar problems with the 5D (and other cameras) shows mixed views. About half who responded to another disgruntled 5D owner with hot pixels said 'send it back and complain bitterly'. My thoughts exactly.

But there were others who claimed that hot pixels were to be expected from all camera sensors, and a 'few' hot pixels out of 12.8 million isn't too bad. And anyway, they said, there is a difference between 'stuck', 'dead' and 'hot' pixels. Dead pixels are just that - dead, and won't show any information no matter what settings the camera is on. They always appear as black spots, beause no information is reaching them at all. Stuck pixels are the opposite - the always appear as bright white, because the are 'stuck' and blow out the information they receive. Whereas hot pixels only show up when the exposures are longer (typically over 1 second) and function perfectly normally on speeds below this.

Further testing with my 5D showed that the sensor was indeed fine under 'normal' shooting conditions. No bright or 'stuck' pixels at all. It was something of a relief. But I still wasn't happy.

Then I hit upon a site that claimed cameras could be 'cured' of hot pixels. Apparently all sensors do indeed have them, but they are 'mapped out' before leaving the factory. By activating 'sensor cleaning' from the menu with the lens still on, the camera 're-maps' those pixels, and viola - no more hot pixels. Trouble is, it didn't work.

Lots of people claim it does fix hot pixels, (or maybe it fixes 'stuck' pixels) and I have no cause to doubt them. Maybe I did something wrong? But whatever the case, it didn't fix my hot pixel problem. So I'm sending my 5D back - right?

Well no, actually, because I followed the final solution to the whole 'hot' pixel problem and it worked a treat. Shoot RAW. That's it. Just shoot RAW. That was my problem all along (thanks for nothing Rockwell). I ALWAYS shoot RAW, that's why I've never come across this problem before. I can practically guarantee my other cameras have also had a few hot pixels, but the RAW processing 'maps' these out so they don't appear in the final image. Works great.

So now I have a perfectly functioning 5D, and yet another reason to shoot in RAW. And the solution to the 200 odd images I can store on a 4 Gig card? That one's easy. I've just purchased an 8 Gig card as well.

Confessions of a True Gear-Head!

Doesn't seem that long ago I was writing on this blog about my new Canon 30D - how much I loved it, and how it would see me right for quite some time with my photography. Oh the subtle (and maybe not so subtle?) irony of it all!

Truth is I 'was' happy (notice the use of the past tense) with the 30D, and it is a great camera. The 17-55mm f2.8 and 10-22mm Canon EF-S lenses I paired it up with are some of the best glass I've ever owned, and it was/is truly a great setup.

So why am I using the past tense in all of this?

Well, yeah, I've gone and changed cameras (but not systems), and now - finally - have the 5D as my weapon of choice.

I say 'finally' because really that's the case. I've lusted after the 5D since it came out, and always wanted to own one since I reviewed it for D-Photo. But at $5000NZ for the body, it was a little out of my price range. So I opted for the next best thing - the 30D with its reduced sensor size (and reduced weight/size/specs/price).

So how come I have the 5D now? Well partly it's a change in my financial circumstances (at least I think I can afford one), and partly it's due to the great deals that are out now with the 5D.

Yes, we all know that Canon are about to 'upgrade' the 5D. It has served Canon well over the past 4 years as the camera of choice for those who wanted/needed a full frame sensor but didn't want to (or couldn't afford to) - make the leap to the 1D series (there's some SERIOUS $$$$). And although four years is a long time in the digital technology business, the 'need' to upgrade doesn't make the 5D obsolete. It makes it a bargain.

I'm sure the 'new' 5D (or 7D or 9D or whatever they'll call it) will have live view (don't want it), 16MP (not even sure I need all 12.8 of the 5D's), in-built sensor cleaning (now that would be handy), Digic III processing (what - the 5D's not fast enough?), and a few other tweaks and cosmetic changes. Hey, I know it will be a nice camera.

But I'm a landscape photographer (largely), and what the 5D doesn't have, I don't need. At ISO 50, with a 30sec exposure, this thing is NOISELESS! I don't know what I can happily blow up the 12.8MP sensor images to - haven't tried yet. But I'm willing to bet it's BIG. As big as I'll need anyways.

My 'kit' came with a Canon 24-105mm f4 'L' IS lens - and oh my lordy, what a lens! It's solid, beautifully made, balances well on the 5D (haven't decided whether I need the 5D's vertical grip yet), and makes crisp, clear, contrasty, colourful images.

It also means that my 17-55mm EF-S f2.8 and 10-22mm EF-S f3.4-4.5 won't work on the 5D with its full-frame sensor, so out they go. That's kinda sad - but not too sad when you consider what I've replaced them with. The aforementioned 24-105mm f4 'L', and a 17-40mm f4 'L', to go with my earlier purchase of a 70-200 mm f4 'L' - and my f4 'L' lens trinity is complete! Yeeehaaa!

I believe the saying is "Happier than a pig in mud"?

"West Coast Realtor" - Canon 5D and 24-105mm f4 'L' lens.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Canon 70-200mm f4L Initial thoughts

Well, I weakened, and I bought one.

Not brand new - I got it off an internet auction site here in NZ (Trademe) - but it's close enough to mint condition. So now I have my own white(ish) 'L' lens. So what do I think of it?

Hey, it's Canon, it's white, and it an 'L' series lens. What's not to like! But seriously, take one look at the image of Emily on the left and you'll see what's not to like. This lens is 'sharp'. And I mean 'tack' sharp. Wide open at f4 her eyes are in blazingly crisp focus, while the rest of her softens out beautifully into a creamy background. Wow.

Not only that, but it's a joy to hold, focuses quicker than you can say 'snap', and is extremely well balanced on the 30D with grip attached. The supplied lens hood fits snuggly (at the moment), although I have heard that the plastic varieties loose their grip after a while. Time will tell on that.

It's a big lens, but it's not a 'really big' lens, if ya know what I mean. You'll definitely get noticed wielding this baby down at the local sports field on a Saturday morning, but you'll be able to carry it around comfortably most of the day and it won't need a tripod (or even a monopod with good light) to support it. I didn't go for the IS version, and only time will tell if I regret that decision or not. But hey, even if I do, I can always sell this lens down the track - probably for as much as I just spent - and upgrade to the IS version if I feel I simply have to.

Here's another of my girl that show's the lenses potential. It's a fantastic portrait lens, but I'm looking forward to taking it out on some sporting shoots as well so I can really get a feel for what it's capable of producing with the 30D. Some even claim that it is their favourite landscape lens, but I think I'll need a little more convincing on that?

And speaking of landscapes... I downloaded a new 'Picture Style' for my 30D off Canon's website last weekend and loaded it onto the camera. It's called 'Autumn Hues', and I've installed it in preparation for an Autumn shoot down to Arrowtown that I'm planning. Adding the style was very easy to do - once I'd found all the software updates on Canon's website and installed them on my iMac. Canon's site has all the information set out step-by-step, and you simply follow your nose. I'll be interested to see how it performs as opposed to the 'normal' or 'landscape' picture style settings. I suspect it's nothing you can't create yourself by boosting certain colours later on in Photoshop? But anything that can be achieved quickly 'in-camera' and not later on the computer gets my vote.

I've also bought 20 rolls of Fuji Velvia 100 for the Pentax 645, so I'll try them out with the Autumn colours on the trip as well. Should be magical.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

First Images from the Pentax 645

I've used the Pentax 645 for a couple of weeks now - long enough to put through several rolls of film. I've been using Fuji slide film for the most part, but have also started to put through some Agfa Optima colour negative as well.

There's no lab where I live that can process 120 E-6, so I have had to send it to the nearest city (Christchurch) and have them courier the developed and sleeved film back to me. Adds another few days to the whole process, but that's the 'joy' of working with film again - it certainly isn't immediate.

Long story short - I've really enjoyed using the Pentax 645 and I'm glad I've got it. No, it won't replace my existing digital kit - which I also still love - but it certainly forces me to shoot differently, which I like. Anyway, I sent my first four rolls of 120 away recently and they arrived back yesterday. So what did they turn out like?

Not bad really. I'm very happy with the 645 format for shooting, and the image it produces is certainly large enough for my purposes. One thing I've 're-learnt' by looking over the slides is that I need to bracket my exposures more often. I basically relied on the Pentax's built in meter for everything, and it's probably .5 to 1 stop 'under' exposing almost every frame. Must remember to bracket!

Having said that, I'm very pleased with the colours (although that has a lot to do with the lovely Fuji slide film), both lenses look sharp and contrasty, and the detail from the medium format image is worth the price of admission alone. And before I forget - all the images here are basically being shown full-frame, with perhaps a slight cropping when a horizon needs to be levelled in Photoshop.

Above is an image that I have also taken a lot using digital cameras - one of my favourite spots to go and 'test' gear from. This was taken using the 150mm lens, and again no complaints about colour, contrast or sharpness. The colours here are pretty much straight from camera, with a little sharpening applied due to scanning for the web.

While we're on the subject of scanning, it may pay to outline my scanning workflow, because this is where I believe the medium format slide comes into its own.

These images have been reduced for web purposes (obviously), but the beauty of scanning medium format is that you can set your own dpi (dots per inch), depending of course, on what your scanner can go up to. What do I mean by this?

Well, if you take digital cameras, they are 'measured' in 'mega' pixels - that is 'million' pixels, depending on the size of image sensor they use. If, for example, you have a camera with a sensor that captures 3000 pixels across by 2000 pixels down, then you have a 6 megapixel camera - it's capable of capturing 6 million pixels. That's pretty common. Now if you take that file, and print it out at a 'hi-resolution' of 300dpi (300 dots per inch is seen by the human eye as continuous tone), you will get a print slightly smaller than A4 - about an 8x10 inch print (give or take). Not bad, and cetainly about as big as many people want to print.

But what say you want to print bigger? Well then you have to 'increase' the size of the file - either by making each pixel larger, or by 'adding' extra pixels to expand the image beyond what it's optimal printing size should be. You can get away with this - up to a point. But it isn't long before things start to look decidedly dodgy and you get that classic 'digital' pixelated look to your enlarged image. So with any digital camera, you are constrained with enlargements by the megapixel rating your sensor has. And as with the case of most things, bigger means better.

As a landscape photographer, I want to print my work big - as big as I can. So following what I've outlined above I will need to go for a camera with as many megapixels as I can lay my hands on. Right? Well yeah - problem is those camera cost a small fortune and I'm kinda lacking in the fortune department. But there is another way...

With my medium format slide, I can scan it to whatever dpi I desire - up to 12800 (as much as my Epson scanner goes up to). So, for example, the originals of the images shown here were scanned at 3200dpi. This took a speedy 4 minutes each, and resulted in a 100MB file! That's 6894 x 5111 pixels with a final optimal print size of 58 x 43cms at 300dpi. The equivalent of a 35.2 megapixel camera!!! Do you know how much it would cost me for a 35.2 megapixel camera - if they made them! Pentax is rumoured to be producing a digital 645 that will use a 31 megapixel chip - but it will cost an arm and a leg (when and if it eventually comes out), and I'm quite partial to my arms and legs thank you very much.

My Epson V700 is a professional flatbed scanner - with image quality approaching that of drum scanning (the very best scanning devices) - and it wasn't cheap. But still, if you factor in a top of the line scanner and shoot medium format you are still coming out smelling of roses, and kick digital butt in the megapixel file stakes.

I was curious, and wanted to know what 12800 dpi did for a file. So I scanned one at that resolution as well. The resulting image took 35minutes to scan, and then another 10 minutes to load into Photoshop. Boy, with times like this you just 'know' it's gonna be a big file. And I wasn't disappointed. Scanning a 645 slide at 12800dpi gives you a 1.6 Gigabyte file. That's right ladies and gentlemen - GIGABYTE file. Not megabyte - Gigabyte! That's 27815 x 20453 pixels - a 2.3 x 1.7 metre print at 300dpi! Unbelievable. I tried to calculate how many megapixels that was and my calculator exploded. It literally didn't have enough spaces for it. Even I don't need to print that big. But I 'could'. With film.

Think about it.

And finally - (sorry for the extra long post) - I've already started adding to my medium format kit. I managed to pick up a dedicated Pentax AF280T flash and had to give it a whirl. I'm very happy, and a little surprised, at the excellent results I got using it in full auto mode. The above test shot of my wife (thanks honey, I won't show it to anyone, honest), was taken in very low light, but has turned out perfectly. The light was so low, in fact, that I had trouble focusing. But I bounced the flash off the ceiling, and it has hit the exposure bang on. Impressive.

Is shooting medium format film for everyone? No, I'm not suggesting that it is. But maybe it has digital advantages - over digital? Maybe it's not the tired old dinosaur the camera industry would have you believe it is? Maybe.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Fish On!

I have dabbled a little in the past with catching fish - but never very successfully. So I was very excited when Rob, one of the guys at church, asked me if I'd like to go fishing with them one weekend. He builds his own boats, which in itself is pretty impressive. But what attracted me was the 'guarantee' of catching a fish!

I'm as primal as the next man. The old 'hunter gatherer' instinct is ingrained in our psyche, and I was keen to provide tea for the family. There's something about catching (yes, that could also read 'killing') your own meal. Heck of a lot more satisfying than "whipping down to the supermarket to pick up a couple of things" for tea.

It was a beautiful Saturday when I got the call that it would be on that day. I was very excited, but also a little anxious. Water and me don't get on too well, but Rob also guarantees that his boats are 'unsinkable' due to the use of polystyrene floats placed under the seats. So armed with a rod, life jacket, and an unsinkable boat, not to mention the guarantee of catching fish, it was all on for a very exciting and fun day of fishing.

After a successful launch into the lagoon, it was off into the headwaters of the Grey River, in search of the mighty 'Kawhai' (car-why). And it wasn't long before Niki - our Pastor's wife, was reeling in the first fish of the day. It was a very healthy 6 pound fish, and we were off to a good start. Behind Niki is Henk - outdoors man, fisherman and skilled net brandisher extraordinaire. He also fillets a mean fish.

It's very fitting that Niki caught the first fish, after something of a 'drought' that her husband Tim was very keen to have her on about. He even suggested to Rob that we should rethink Niki coming out with us, least she jinx the expedition. Well, needless to say Niki has had the last laugh, and Tim has had to eat his words (literally).

Once the first fish was landed, it was all on. No sooner had I cast my hook into the river, it was snaffled by a hungry Kawhai and my first catch was on the way. What a buzz! And a pretty good sized fish as well. Thanks to my pal Eric for taking this photo of me with my first fish. Cheers mate!

In fact, here's a photo of me mate Eric, showing off just a couple of the spoils of a great days fishing.

It was an amazing day, spent on a beautiful river, catching lovely fish. Thanks to Rob for suggesting we all go out, for organising the trip, and for building an amazing boat that made it all possible. We tripped around the river for a good three hours, caught plenty of fish for our tea (the kids had their favourite - home made fish and chips), and spent a day out that none of us will forget in a hurry.

Couldn't resist one last photo - of 'Captain' Rob and 'First Mate' Eric rowing us ashore. And no - we didn't make Rob row the whole trip. The boat is actually powered by an outboard motor, but Rob and Eric used the oars to position us carefully for a perfect landing back on terra firma. Well done chaps.

Friday, 11 January 2008

My 'new' Pentax 645 kit

My wife tells me that when I set my mind to something, I don't muck around. Maybe she's right.

After musing for about a week on what owning a medium format kit would be like, I now own one! Granted, it's not the latest and greatest auto focus digital billion megapixel jobby - in fact it's not even digital! It takes 'dum-da-da-dum' (drum roll please and a collective gasp of breath while the ladies faint and the men avert their eyes)... FILM. I know - tell me about it!

Yep, there it is, as taken from the internet auction posting that I won last night. Consists of a Pentax 645, 2 120 film holders, standard 75mm f2.8 lens (50mm equivalent in 35mm terms) and 150mm f3.5 (100mm lens in traditional 35mm terms). All for the princely sum of NZ$500. Which I thought wasn't too bad.

Of course to get the kit ready for landscapes - which is 'primarily' what I want to use it for, I will need to buy a wide angle lens for it - probably both the 45mm f2.8 and the 35mm f3.5 eventually, together with some Cokin adapter rings etc. So the total kit will probably reach the NZ$1000 mark before too long. Still not bad for an entire medium format setup I reckon.

I still have the 67 that I will take out again this weekend. Between it, and the 645, I'll have a fair idea about whether I want to continue down this medium format track or not. And believe me, with the price of digital medium format, that will mean using film for quite some time to come. Who would'a thunk it!?

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Images from a Sunday Drive...

Hey, wadda ya know... two postings in a row. Don't worry, it won't happen again :-)

Took the family for a Sunday drive today, out to the West Coast Goldmining 'Ghost Town' of Waiuta (Why-oo-ta). I'd love to say it was so I could try out the Pentax 67 (see last post), but it wasn't. Took the 30D and 10-20mm instead and all shots below were taken with that combination.

What I did get to try out was my most recent accessory, a lens hood for the 10-20mm. My wife got it for me on my 40th, and I was glad to have it today given the bright mid-day conditions. The hood fits perfectly, as you would expect as it was designed specifically for the 10-2mm, but it ain't small. It looks like you've got a black bread & butter plate mounted on the front of the lens. Still, it does the job, and that is most definitely the main thing.

Waiuta is the remnants of what once was a thriving gold mining town on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Built in 1900 around one of the largest and richest gold mining operations in New Zealand, it was all but deserted by 1952 after a major collapse at the main mine site. Today it is a ghost town, with only a few of the last cottages left standing. Foundation stones and parts of chimneys also dot the area, interspersed with rusting metal components of the old mining machinery.

At the end of the day I also came by the Blackwater School which has been closed for many years. It saddens me to think that these once thriving places are now being left to slowly perish and die. Then again, I suppose that the upshot for me is that they tend to make for great photo opportunities. Just like the kind I had with my family today.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

2008 - A new year, a new outlook

Hello all. I know, it's been a while - but I've concentrated in the last couple of months on the graphic design, and a lot less on the photography.

But early in 2008 that may be about to change, in a way that I hadn't quite envisaged. In the not too distant future, I may try my hand at medium format film again, with a Pentax 67.

What's sparked this sudden interest in medium format? Well, a couple of things really. First, it's 'calendar time' again at work, where we are sifting through thousands of 35mm and medium format slides - as well as the odd digital CD submission (even one from yours truly).

What I've noticed during this exercise (apart from the fact that hunching over a light table for 8 hours a day does nothing for your posture or your eyesight), is how fantastic a great medium format slide looks compared to 35mm. And this doesn't really go away once it's scanned (there's the digital part) for the calendars. In fact, this year I told the boss not to pick any 35mm if possible and stick to either medium format or digital submissions. And while he hasn't quite stuck with this advice, I think it remains sound for reproduction terms nonetheless.

There's just something about a large 6x7 film image viewed on a light table that still takes my breath away. In my previous life as an art director/fashion photographer I used the 6x7 format all the time with a Mamiya RZ67 - a beast of a camera and very temperamental, but I loved the images that came from it. Long story short, I left that job, moved into digital, and haven't shot medium format 120 film since. But I know where I can get my hands on one, so that may be about to change soon.

The other thing that's sparked my renewed interest in using 120 film is coming across the work of Chris Willson.

Chris is a travel writer/photographer living and working in Japan - working exclusively with the Pentax 67II medium format camera. His images are stunning - as you can see from the photos reproduced above and below. Check out more of his beautiful imagery at You'll be blown away. Chris shows exactly what you can achieve with dedication, careful planning and a great eye - using medium format film in this increasingly digital age.

I don't want to turn this into a 'digital v film' posting - that's not the point at all. BOTH are valid formats, both have their pros and cons, and both are different experiences worth having in photography. It saddens me that the 'new breed' of photographers will probably never shoot with film, will never know the difference between Fuji or Kodak emulsions, and won't experience the fun of developing and printing their own black and white prints in a darkroom. But then again, I did just turn 40! I suppose that just about makes me a photography dinosaur?

I love my Apple Mac set up, using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, working on my digital files in the full light of day, to create prints exactly how I want them to look. But I can do this with film too - I just need to add another step in the process and scan the large format slides.

Some may ask 'why bother'? Fair enough. But as I said earlier, it doesn't have to be about one over the other. You are allowed to like BOTH. I love digital, and will use it every day. But I also love the 'craft' of shooting with medium format film. It slows me down, makes me really think hard about the images I am making, and places me back in the creative process in a way that I don't feel as much with digital capture.

Maybe that's just me. Maybe I've developed a romantic vision of the 'good old days' of film? Maybe. Either way, I'm about to find out. I can hear the Pentax 67 calling my name. And for my own sake, I'm not about to ignore it. I'll let you know how I get on.

*Images reproduced by kind permission and are copyright of Chris Willson @ Travel67