Tag Archives: photography


I spent part of the Labour Day long weekend in Vancouver, night market in Richmond, biking around Stanley Park, and hiking in West Vancouver. It was a great weekend of outdoors activity, accompanied by beautiful weather. It was a ton of fun, and at the last moment while packing, I decided to bring my neglected Nikon D600 (I figured the night market would benefit from the high ISO performance). To test out whether my interest in the Fuji X-system and its great prime lenses will work out, I brought a fast prime, the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4. More challenging than being just a fast prime, it’s a manual focus-only lens. Not something I envied a ton, with my little experience with manual focusing and the razor-thin focal plane of a fast prime paired with a full format sensor.

What I did forget, though, is just how stunning a great sensor and lens combo can be. That’s not to say that my go-to Panasonic GX1 + 14-42mm or 20mm pancake isn’t capable of producing good photos; it’s simply that there is another tier of image quality to be achieved, if one is willing to lug around some more weight. I took a risk by opting for the 58mm as my only lens on this trip, but I’m happy I did. I discovered that it’s very enjoyable to frame and zoom with your feet. I also discovered epic image quality, again. Below is a small crop of a shot at night (full frame is inset, top-right) at ISO 1600 with no sharpening or noise reduction (aka both are set to 0 in Lightroom). Wow. This cleans up very nicely with minor tweaks. By comparison, the GX1’s sensor quickly falls apart beyond ~ISO 800.

Nikon D600 + Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4

It certainly gets me even more excited for the highly lauded X-Trans sensor on the Fuji X-E1 and great (autofocus) primes in that system, including the 35mm f/1.4!

A New Flickr

Very impressive! Flickr received a massive overhaul today, and immediately, my inclination to post there has increased many-fold. There’s the 1TB of storage space (not that they expect everyone to use it, of course), full resolution photo support, no more paid subscription required to display more than ~100 photos and a nicer, although still somewhat clunky, photo viewing experience.

But more than all that, it’s resulted in a lot of buzz, and hopefully a rejuvenation of the audience on the social sharing site, as a result. After all, posting camera-phone photos to Facebook isn’t because it’s the best photo sharing experience, but rather due to the fact that it’s where everyone is already during their online time.

Feel free to take a look at my album, and expect new photos to appear in short order. Large photo backlogs from trips to Grand Canyon and Death Valley await.

Photo Gear

I recently had a chance to stretch some dormant photography muscles, during a trip to San Francisco. It was a quick, couple day jaunt and I traveled pretty light. In terms of camera equipment, I packed my Nikon D7000 along with a Nikon 24-70mm. For times requiring more subtlety, I decided on the Panasonic GF1 along with the 20mm pancake. I debated between taking the 24-70 or the 16-35, and actually settled on the wider lens. However, in the rush of the morning, I forgot which lens was on the camera and ran out the door. In retrospect, I think the 24-70 was the right choice.

The D7000 with 24-70 mounted is a monstrosity. Yes, a beautiful combination, in my opinion, but a monstrosity nonetheless. While it doesn’t tire me out during a day of walking around the city, it’s a bit unwieldy, showy, and doesn’t work well inside cramped shops and restaurants. That’s where the GF1 + 20mm came into the picture.

It’s compact enough to fit into an interior pocket of my light jacket. It creates a bulge with its lens protruding, but leaves my hands and neck free. It’s effortless to get out for a photo. It’s also far less conspicuous. It’s not so in-your-face like the 24-70mm. Furthermore, it’s backed up by great image quality and is a pretty useful walk about focal length.

I haven’t followed micro 4/3 news in a while, so when I found out the spiritual successor to my GF1 has arrived in the form of the GX1, I was stoked. I also discovered the wonderful Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and 45mm f/1.8 lenses, which have received glowing reviews. The combination of those two, plus the 20mm, should make for a high quality, small, carry around set. There were some situations where the 20mm alone was a bit constricting. The 12mm and 45mm should solve any inflexibility.

Then, big news came out of Nikon recently. The D800, long waited successor to the D700, was released with a whopping 36MP sensor. I purchased the 16-35mm and 24-70mm with the intention to eventually move to full-frame, but what I was hoping for in a D700 successor was something that focused a bit more on improving high-ISO performance, while moving the resolution bar ahead, slightly. Instead, we have a sensor that is 2.25X the resolution of the D7000 and, get this, 2.25X the size (area). While I’d be surprised if the D800 doesn’t have better noise performance over the D7000, I’m not betting it’ll be even a single stop better. Does this mean that I now need a D4 to get what I was looking for? A bit too rich and serious for my blood, I think.

At the same time, I can’t deny the attraction of the D800e for landscape. I wonder if the 16-35 or 24-70 will be outmatched by the resolving power of a LPF-less 36MP sensor. I’m eagerly awaiting reviews on that one.

Digital to Analog Conversion

Prtinted Photography

I’ve finally discovered the joy of printing digital photos. It’s now 7 months into my stay in Seattle, yet sometimes my apartment still feels like a hotel, not personalized to the extent that I’d like. Running on some recommendations, I tried out Costco printing, with a few 12×18″ prints. They turned out pretty darned good – one had a nasty in blotch on it, but a quick call netted a new print, and all I had to do was swap the out the misprint.

Soon my walls will be filled. It’s a great incentive to finally post-process the tens of gigabytes of RAW photos sitting on my hard drives.

Hurricane Ridge – Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge

3-shot HDR from Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park.

The weather over the past few days has been absolutely phenomenal, so I set out on Saturday to Olympic National Park. I had originally planned to drive down to Oregon for the Historic Columbia River Highway, but I realized I hadn’t visited the much closer Hurricane Ridge, yet.

No longer used to catching ferries since many, many years ago on Prince Edward Island, we ended up missing our target sailing, so had to wait about 40 minutes in the lineup for the next one. The trip from Edmonds to Kingston was aboard the MV Walla Walla, which brought back a ton of memories from before the Confederation Bridge was built, connecting PEI to the mainland – we stood out on the bow of the ship the entire time, where it was frightfully chilly at times.

Our first stop was Port Angeles, for a quick lunch, then we set off for the mountains. From sea level, we climbed (or rather, the car climbed) about 5500 feet over a span of 17 miles. It was a mainly clear day, although some moisture trapped in the mountain valleys created a few low-altitude clouds. All along the road, wherever we saw a turn-off, we prepared ourselves for awe-inspiring vistas. Although there was some haze, we could first see down to Port Angeles, then the open water, and eventually, when we got high enough, Vancouver Island. Mount Baker loomed far in the background, wreathed in clouds.

The drive was a ton of fun, with very twisty roads, climbing and wrapping around the mountain ridge, and when we burst out to the top of the ridge, we were greeted with what I think is best described as a miniature version of the Alps. There were 180 degrees of uninterrupted mountains to the south, and 100 yards across the ridge, you could look north to Canada. Breathtaking.

Hurricane Ridge
Hurricane Ridge
Winding Road - Hurricane Ridge
Volkswagen CC at Hurricane Ridge

A Seattle Sunset

Seattle at Sunset

With work really ramping up these past couple weeks, I decided, instead of a long trip, to take the long weekend to catch my breath at home and write some specs. Still, I’ve missed photography enormously, and with few weekends left in the summer, I decided to stop at Jose Rizal Park, on my way home from some chair-shopping at IKEA. The day’s weather vacillated between cloudy and sunny, and hoping that trend continued through sunset, I camped out just above the I-90, waiting for the sun to set.

This is a 3-shot HDR. Exif is for the center exposure. The sunset itself didn’t turn out to be anything spectacular, but I liked how the I-90 to I-5 ramp guided the eye toward the city. I’m going to have to return there in the future. It’s a pretty popular spot as I learned. I met a couple other photographers through the evening, also eager to take in the sunset.

It’s busy time for PMs in the Office org. I’m trying to take advantage of the challenging task assigned to me, but it’s been a steep learning curve. Baptism by fire, if you will. While I might whine about it quietly, I’d much rather be over-engaged than bored with a trivial task.

Paradise at Rainier

Mount Rainier

With the wonderful summer weather here in the Pacific Northwest, I set out to Mount Rainier to hike the Skyline Trail with a Waterloo friend. It was my second time at Mount Rainier, but my first to Paradise, on the southern side of the mountain. Last year during my internship, I went to Sunrise (north of the mountain), but never got any good shots of the mountain, as the sun was behind it nearly the entire way. This time, with the sun at my back, I got better results.

I expected a lot of people, due to the weather, but I didn’t realize it was also a free parks weekend, drawing even more. The parking lots at Paradise and the surrounding area were completely swamped, but we happened upon a van pulling out just as we were trolling the area. Lucky us. Skyline is a very popular trail, noted by many to be the easy-moderate trail to hike at Rainier. As a result, we were sharing the paths (and slippery snow) with quite a few hikers, both casual, like us, and more serious ones, perhaps headed up toward Camp Muir and eventually the summit.

The trail ascends approximately 1700ft from the upper Paradise lot (we started at the lower) to Panorama Point, which is where we turned around. The Lower Skyline trail was completely covered in snow, and the Upper looked like it would take us quite a ways around and it was nearing evening. Total hiking time was close to 3 hours, but I stopped numerous times for photos. The trail takes you pretty close to the mountain proper, and is probably one of the reasons why Camp Muir, a popular mid-camp for summiting, is an extension from the Skyline trail. Nisqually Glacier seemed nearly within touching distance at some points along the trail.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, with Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens visible on the horizon. If you looked hard, you could also see the outline of Mount Hood, far in the distance. Although very hot at the foot of the climb, at 7000ft it was much cooler, with a welcome breeze to help cool us. Snow patches dotted the trail and melting snow made for interesting leaps across impromptu creeks in the path.

A few photos are attached below – more over on my Flickr.

Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier - Tatoosh Range from Panorama Point
Mount Rainier - Quite a bit of snow was still on the trail

Major Flickr Interface Update

Flickr’s been my go-to web location for sharing photos, but the viewing experience has always been a letdown, with an antiquated interface, showing tiny versions of the image. A couple days ago, Flickr launched their revamp of the photo viewing interface, and you now get options to quickly view larger versions, on-black, better navigation, and at-a-glance access to some more metadata. A great update, and I’m a happy user.

Lightroom ‘Underexposing’ Nikon RAWs?

Solution inside.

I used to have a dilemma. I typically shoot RAW with my Nikon D90 and process them with Capture NX2. I much prefer the workflow and interface provided by Lightroom, but couldn’t quite get the same color and tone I got from Capture NX2. I knew that Lightroom didn’t have access to all the proprietary camera data that Nikon can put into NX2, but Lightroom always seemed to do something weird with the exposure of the RAWs I took, seemingly dropping the brightness or exposure on them. I would then need to tweak the hell out of the develop settings (boosting exposure, for example) to get it anywhere close to the Capture NX2 starting point. It was a pain. Even the camera Nikon camera profiles I downloaded from Adobe didn’t help matters.

I had become content, settling with Capture NX2, but recent glowing reviews of Lightroom 3 beta piqued my interest once more. More digging on the issue led me to download some Nikon color presets, which didn’t help, and one tidbit on Capture NX2’s handling of Active D-Lighting (fancy name for dynamic range expansion through in-camera processing). Apparently the feature works by underexposing the shot, then gaining up the photo in select areas to produce the effect of increased dynamic range. Capture NX2 reads the ADL setting and previews the RAW image with the adjustment. However, Lightroom, not knowing anything about Nikon’s proprietary ADL algorithms, simply spits out the RAW sensor data, resulting in the sometimes grossly underexposed image. Take a look:

Nikon Active D-Lighting Effect on RAW

On the left I’ve switched off ADL in Capture NX2 and you see the RAW sensor data. Meanwhile, on the right, Capture NX2 has done its wizardry and applied ADL – High. Lightroom will display the image on the left, even though the camera will show you something akin to the right in its preview display.

I fault myself for not turning off ADL in the first place when shooting RAW. Now that I know what’s causing Lightroom’s ‘apparent underexposure’ problem with Nikon RAWs, I can switch my workflow over. Hope that helps people out there who were just as confused as I was. I went through a ton of unsolved trouble-shooting posts during my search.