Sunday, 17 October 2010

A moment of Nostalgia

I've been doing a lot of research on the Olympus Pen (see previous post) and it's got me all nostalgic for film and retro-looking cameras.

So this weekend I pulled out a few of my old Canon cameras, and decided to shoot some film on the camera that started my passion - the T70.

The Canon T70 wasn't the very first camera I ever used - but it was the very first camera I ever owned. The first camera I used was a Nikon (FM I think?), handed to me by a friend when we went to a car rally. I fiddled around with the camera all day, desperately trying to freeze cars in a single frame as they went hurtling past me at a great rate of knots. I didn't get many good photos, but it didn't matter. I was hooked on photography from that day on, and it's been my passion/obsession ever since.

I had a love-hate relationship with my original T70, the camera that launched Canon into the 'computer age'. I loved the way it handled, the up-to-date interface (this was the 1980s) and its ease of use. I hated the top LCD screen that kept dying on me which meant that my T70 was in for repair more than it was out in the field. It was truly frustrating for someone trying the immerse themselves in photography and I think I would have eventually given up on Canon if they hadn't come to the party with a brand new T90! Now that was an amazing camera.

I don't own a T90 anymore, but have managed to buy a very good condition T70 (and T80 pictured behind it). This weekend I popped a couple of batteries in the T70, loaded up some Velvia 50, and went out with a Canon FD50mm f1.8 and Sigma 28mm f2.8 manual focus lenses. 

The family went for a walk along a local beach and I snapped away with the T70. Got to admit it felt good using a manual focus camera again. Although I wouldn't be too keen to take it to a sporting event with much accuracy. Auto focus really has spoiled us as photographers.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Will your next camera be EVIL?

There's a new category of camera hitting the market - one I suggest you take a very hard look at if you are looking at buying a new point-and-shoot anytime soon.

They're being called EVIL camera's (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) and most are based around a new 4/3rds sensor - although some (like Samsung's NX100) are even using an APS-C sized sensor taken from digital SLR's.

The very first of these EVIL cameras (I just love that term) was the Olympus Pen EP-1 - a camera I am seriously considering as my next 'travel' camera.

Olympus pioneered the 4/3rd's system (with an image sensor smaller than the APS-C sized, but much larger than those found in today's point and shoots), first seen in the Olympus' E-1. As solid and professional as that camera was, the 4/3rd's system failed to capture the imagination of most other manufacturers (with the exception of Panasonic) - until the release of the Pen.

It was with the Pen EP-1 that Olympus defined their 'micro' 4/3rd's camera. Beautifully built, and stunningly retro (harkening back as it does to the original film version of the Pen from the 1950's), the EP-1 almost literally rocked the camera industry, and Olympus built a very loyal following that now includes the EP-2 and (more consumer driven) EPL-1.

The 'micro' in Micro 4/3rd's doesn't relate to a smaller chip - the chip size hasn't changed from that which Olympus uses in their digital SLR's. It's the bodies of the cameras themselves that are now smaller (micro) because they have done away with the prism viewfinder experience of a digital SLR - to the more point-and-shoot experience of using the LCD to compose and shoot (although optional Electronic Viewfinders are available - hence the EV in EVIL).

Panasonic released their first Micro 4/3rd's camera, the G1, soon after the Pen - although they took a slightly different tact. The G1 was a much more SLR-like camera (with a built in Electronic Viewfinder) - and have since released a much more compact model - the GF1 (seen here) to compete directly with Olympus.

Both systems use a Panasonic 4/3rds sensor, and both have interchangeable lenses (the IL part of EVIL). Popular among these is the 'pancake' lens with a fixed focal length (17mm for Olympus and 20mm for Panasonic) which makes the EVIL system 'almost' pocketable (but still much larger than the smaller point and shoots that are available).

So why would you want one of these new EVIL camera's. It's all about the sensor baby. Bigger sensors (generally) mean better, noise free images - especially at high ISO's, and the reviews of these cameras are bearing this out. At ISO 800 the images are very useable, and the Olympus can even shoot up to 6400 for 'OK' results (the Panasonic stops at 3200). This is much better than even the best point and shoot, which is why serious amateur's and professional photographers alike have been flocking to buy these cameras.

With so much interest being shown in this new line of EVIL camera's, it's not surprising that more manufacturers are coming on board with their own offerings.

Korean electronics giant Samsung is the newest kid on the block, with the NX100 released this year (2010) at Photokina. And Samsung have upped the anti further still by putting an APS-C sized sensor in the NX100 which should produce even better high ISO performance (although we'll have to wait and see).

The 'other' electronics giant who I haven't mentioned, but who also recently released their own EVIL cameras onto the market are, of course, Sony. The NEX 3 and NEX 5 are, as you would expect from Sony, beautifully designed cameras that 'stand out' from the crowd, but have received slightly mixed reviews so far.

With all this flurry of activity and interest around the new EVIL camera system, it's surprising that there are two notable absences from the party. What are Canon and Nikon up to? the two camera giants might be silent at the moment, but they are certainly not sleeping. Both were heavily rumored to release their own EVIL cameras at Photokina - although it didn't happen. Why? Well, I can't say. But Nikon have already indicated that they will be coming out with their answer 'in due course' - and whatever Nikon does...

What this all means for us, the consumer, is better/smaller/lighter cameras fitted with decent sized sensors - FINALLY! Thanks to Olympus and the 'Micro' 4/3rd's concept, life in digital camera land just got a whole lot more interesting.

And for me. Well, the Olympus Pen EP-1 that started it all remains a very attractive camera - literally! Look at it - it's gorgeous! And while it's auto focus system isn't reported to be the fastest, the images it can produce are classic Olympus - beautiful colour, great sharpness - with very good ISO performance. That may be something I find very hard to resist. My next camera will be EVIL. Will yours?

Monday, 11 October 2010

Down 'n Dirty Home Studio

I was commissioned this week to shoot some jade (pounamu - pronounced po-nar-moo) for the local Polytechnic Jade Carving School. I used to shoot jade for collection purposes when I was director of the Left Bank Art Gallery here in Greymouth, and this was a fairly similar gig - just record shots mainly. They also however, wanted some more 'advertorial' images to use for brochures, advertising etc.

 To achieve the look I wanted that suits jade (very backlit) I set up a home studio in my living room. Very D.I.Y - but it works :-)

I went to the local fabric store in town and bought a meter of black velvet for the backdrop ($20NZ), which I taped to the top of a plastic pipe strung between two light stands. In front of this I placed a small table with my SB600 flashgun pointing up from behind to give the strong backlight.

Then I set up a boom arm on another lighting stand from which I hung the jade using nylon fishing line (I will photoshop this out afterwards).

My Nikon D300 was placed on a tripod, with the 105mm macro attached, and the camera set for wireless flash mode so that it is acting as a commander to fire the SB600.

Fairly straight forward - and it works a treat. I reckon the result speaks for itself.

BTW - the 'studio' shot was taken with my iPhone. My first 'published' camera phone image :-)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Nikkor 105mm f2.8D Micro lens for Portraits

Having run my 'new' Nikkor 105mm Macro lens through its paces in the 1:1 macro magnification (see last post), I also wanted to see how it would perform as a 'portrait' telephoto lens.

I grabbed my usual model (my gorgeous daughter Emily) and took her outside on a warm spring evening to use the 105mm wide open - as I would for a bride on her wedding day.

My Nikon D300 was set to ISO 200, opened the aperture to f2.8, changed the lens to autofocus, and set the limit switch on the telephoto so it wouldn't focus through the whole macro range.

My early initial impressions of the autofocus was confirmed with my first few photos - quick, quiet and sure focus locked on easily with the D300 (using the central focus point). In fact, it locked on so quick that I had to re-check my focusing to make sure that I hadn't left it on manual focus! Nice.

And the results when the images were downloaded and checked on the computer in Aperture afterwards? Just fantastic. Very, very pleased with the results wide open. I will definitely be using it for my wedding work.

And what about the bokeh from the lens (the quality of the out-of-focus background)? Well, I'd have to be honest and say it isn't as creamy or as smooth as the Nikkor 85mm f1.8 I used to have - but then again it isn't completely horrible either.

On a scale of 10, I'd give it a 7 - probably on a par with the Nikkor 50mm f1.8. You can see for yourself the slightly hexagonal and blurry highlights you get from lit areas in the background - and you can also see the incredible sharpness you get from the actual subject (the side of Emily's hair) at f2.8.

I wouldn't hesitate at all to use this as a fast telephoto portrait lens wide-open, and stopped down a little for bride and groom 'couples' shots.

So am I please with the Nikkor 105mm f2.8D micro lens? Absolutely. An incredibly sharp macro lens, and a great wide-open telephoto prime for portraits. Who could ask for anything more?

Friday, 1 October 2010

Nikkor Micro 105mm f2.8D

My 105mm f2.8D Micro (Macro) lens has arrived and I got a chance to take it outside this morning for a quick test.

Here it is attached to my D300 and focused out to 1:1 magnification. It's a solid feeling lens, and the auto focus is quick and reasonably silent  - although for macro use it's more likely to be used in manual focus.

To facilitate said manual focusing, the 105mm has a large rubber focusing ring that is nicely ribbed, with a smooth action (as you would expect for a macro lens).

It uses 52mm filters, which you can see in the picture already attached to the front of the lens. And, as you can also see, it's a reasonably hefty lens - bigger than my 18-70mm zoom lens, and a lot heavier (although I wouldn't call it a 'heavy' lens at all).

Since I haven't done a lot of this macro stuff, I wasn't expecting too much from my first attempt. I read a few on-line articles that suggested setting the lens to 1:1 magnification and using your body to move the camera/lens in and out of focus. So that's what I did. And it worked - although it's a very tricky manoeuvre because even at f22 the depth of field in the viewfinder can be measured in millimeters! Breath and the insect you're focusing on goes out of focus.

I chased a white butterfly around the garden for a while, and eventually managed to snaffle a few quick shots. With an ISO of 400 and aperture of f22 I was getting 1/250th shutter speeds, so I took several shots in quick succession, hoping that at least one of them would be sharp! Fortunately, one or two were.

To calm the nerves I also took some flower photos (they don't move as much as insects). It was still tricky staying at 1:1 magnification and moving the camera in and out to achieve focus, even for flowers. Next time I think I'll use a tripod for the flowers. That should increase my rate of 'keepers'?

My favorite (and most successful) shot of the morning (IMHO) was a fly sitting on a leaf having a drink of dew. It looked to me like he was blowing a bubble, and that's exactly what my daughter said when she saw the shot on the computer later that morning. I'm very happy with this shot, and deem my first shoot with the Nikkor 105mm f2.8D Micro lens to be a success!

I'm also going to try it out as a 'portrait' lens, and see how it performs around the f2.8 to f4 region for my wedding work. If I'm pleased with the results using it as a fast telephoto at f2.8, then I'll be a very happy camper! A stellar macro lens and a fast portrait prime in the same lens... what more could you ask for?