Category Archives: photography

Prime

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!

Reflections during vacation

As I settling into a week-long vacation back at my parents’ place, then off to a friend’s wedding on Prince Edward Island, I’ve collected several thought tidbits as I unwind and take stock of longer term projects I want to tackle.

Photography

Maybe it’s summer talking, but I’ve been more eager than I can remember to get outside, in the city, through the mountains, nearly anywhere, and bring my camera with me. Unfortunately, starting not many months after I picked up a Nikon D600 and associated full frame zooms, 90% of the occasions no longer consist of tripod-mounted or otherwise nearly stationary photo excursions. Add to that the fact that the parallel micro-4/3rds system I started is able to produce 80% of the image quality using only 30% of the weight. Case in point, I came on this vacation with my Panasonic GX1, accompanied by the 14-42mm power-zoom and the 20mm f/1.7. Absolutely tiny, but a versatile kit for many shooting situations.

However, a few things irk me about the GX1. The first is completely of my own doing. I did quite the number on the touchscreen, having, at some point in my carelessness, scratched it ruthlessly, it would appear. Switched on, it’s barely noticeable indoors, but outdoors, where the LCD is already trouble enough to see when lighting is tough, the scratches only exacerbate the issue. The second issue is that while I love the size and weight of the GX1 kit, compared to the full frame D600, composing through the LCD (even if it weren’t scratched) at arm’s length is awful. I feel less involved in the shot, my composition and framing gets lazy, and good thing the combo is light, because there’s no added stability with it hanging off the end of my arms. Lastly, unlike its brethren over at Olympus, the Panasonic cameras have never been known for great out of camera image renditions, when it comes to colours, white-balance, or default noise reduction. I find myself shooting in RAW 99% of the time, then it becomes a chore to post-process, especially when many pictures these days are simply snapshots. It’s a significant contributor to why so few pictures appear anywhere from me and why I have something like 100GB of RAW photos, yet to be processed. I really want to get out of the business of being a hunch-backed, pixel-peeping, camera-computer nerd.

So, I’ve been on the look-out for something that:

  1. Has great out of the camera quality photos (let me use the OOC JPEGs, please)
  2. Is sized much closer to the GX1, rather than the D600
  3. Sits within a system that has great lens options
  4. Provides an eye-level viewfinder, electronic is fine, if it’s good
  5. Doesn’t have a scratched screen (hopefully this one’s a given)

Best I could come up with so far is the Fuji X-E1. It helps that it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and reviews of it largely conclude at a singular point: it gets out of the way and allows a connection between photographer and subject.

X-E1_BLC-XE1-web
Doesn’t this hark back to the good ol’ days?

The upcoming Panasonic GX7 is also technologically very interesting, but it doesn’t quite satisfy my #1 criteria, assuming Panasonic’s in-camera processing doesn’t deviate from their current trajectory. The Sony NEX series, the NEX-6, in particular, is also attractive (tons of technology, great sensor squished into a surprisingly small and cheap package), but its lens system is quite mediocre. Contrast the 3-year gestation for the NEX lens line-up to the slightly-more-than-one, for the Fuji X-series interchangeable, and you’ll see why I’d rather put my money on the latter. Fuji still knows great glass.

Design

It’s been over a year since I’ve made much in the way of changes to this site’s design, and even at that time, it was but a minor bump in the architectural road. (sidebar: I’ve also just noticed, pathetically I might add, that I’ve posted a total of 12 times this year, a run rate barely surpassing the totally anemic 17 posts I wrote in 2012.  Shame on me for not putting my thoughts down into words more often.) WordPress has, meanwhile, moved on to add some pretty neat features in subsequent Three-Dot releases. For example, in this most current iteration (3.6 “Oscar”), they’ve improved the auto-save, multi-user editing, added HTML5 audio and video players, and integration with services like Spotify.

But above all that, the particular update that has spurred me on, at least in thought, is the Twenty Thirteen theme. My own lackluster attempt at creating content-aware styling (shorts, photos, normal writing) is showcased in the current design, but it was done with little time and effort. I can now see a wonderful starting point in Twenty Thirteen to take my site’s design where I want. I’m truly looking forward to it. I’ve not had a design project to sit down through the wee hours of the morning, essentially, since university.

front-page
Look at those colours, man.

It’ll probably also help to reinvigorate my use of this blog, photography and generally get me to better document what the heck’s been going on, year after year.

Cars

Combining my recent car search with photography, and you naturally get… photos of cars!

mbc300

I’ve had the C300 for just about a month, and it’s been a wonderful ride thus far. I have much to write about, but in a nutshell, driving the Volkswagen CC to its lease return appointment made that difference between the two cars all the more noticeable. That’s not to say the CC wasn’t a nice car; I really liked it; there’s simply more than the MB badge the extra money gets you. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on these mouthwatering images of a yellow Porsche Cayman running through Swiss and Italian scenery.

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.

Around and About

Paseo

It’s been a while since I’ve carried a camera around town. I’ve made numerous excuses to myself, had to go do something specific, weather was poor, I forgot, etc, but this past weekend, enough was enough. I grabbed the GF1 along with the diminutive 20mm f/1.7 and headed out for the day. I’m glad I did.

I didn’t have any particular photo spots in mind, which is usually a prerequisite when I think about bringing any camera that doesn’t fit into my jeans pocket. First stop was Paseo, in Fremont. I had heard it was delicious, but when I got there, there was a long line out the door. Halfway through the line, I saw an interesting ad hoc decorations on the outermost post of a fence. The smell as I got closer and closer to the doorway was mouthwatering. The Caribbean Roast sandwich I ordered was delectable.

Pike Place Market

Although the early afternoon was cold and gloomy (thick clouds overhead), things quickly cleared up by the late afternoon. You could see low clouds being quickly whisked away by the gusty winds. I ventured down to the waterfront to catch some sun by the water, and then took a walk to Pike Place Market. Shops seem to start closing up around 5pm, so the crowds were thinning, but with each day growing longer towards spring, at least the place wasn’t plummeted into darkness. In another sign of warmer weather to come, the first non-dried flowers appeared, with the largest crowd gathered around one stand, which had tulips for sale.

On the walk back to the car, I passed by a herbs and spices shop near Pike Place. There were so many strange edible plants that I had never seen nor heard of before. It was interesting to read about some of the origins, as well as how they’re used in cooking and baking.

Spice

The day around Seattle made me want to carry a camera (and my cellphone camera doesn’t count) around more often. Granted, the jacket I had on had big pockets that allowed the GF1 to easily slip in, which helped. It’s been a while since I’ve looked into micro 4/3rd lenses. I had a brief look tonight, and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4, Olympus 12mm f/2 and Olympus 45mm f/1.8 all look pretty interesting.

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.

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.

Canon S90 Grip by Richard Franiec

When I’m out and about to do some serious photography, I usually take my Nikon D90 and a set of lenses, but it’s not always practical to do so, when the focus isn’t photography. My search for a carry-everywhere camera eventually led to the Canon S90, which I reviewed in detail last year. The camera combined a compact form factor with great image quality (for the size, of course). However, in an attempt to be minimalistic, Canon made the camera a bit of a handling nightmare. The camera surfaces are quite slick and the natural hand position places the index trigger finger over the mode dial, instead of the shutter release. It’s a bit like holding a bar of soap.

I came across Richard Franiec’s S90 grip over at DPReview, where the comments were enthusiastic. I placed an order and waited.

Richard was on vacation around the time I ordered, so I didn’t get the grip until a short while ago. Using 3M heavy bond adhesive, the grip attaches with great solidity. It feels like it’s welded, not adhered, to the camera.

Canon S90 Grip

The grip looks great, feels great, and vastly improves handling. It’s made out of aluminum and is very well machined. It doesn’t quite match the slick exterior of the S90, and is instead more textured to impart additional grip. Aside from making the camera feel steady in a single hand, it also forces the natural hand position over, such that the index finger now lies directly over the shutter release. Bravo!

Canon S90 Grip

It simply looks professionally made. Richard has made custom accessories for a host of cameras and this is just another in the line of great additions to already great photographic tools. With Lightroom 3 beta 2 doing spectacular things for image quality (mainly noise reduction), I’m really excited to get out there with this camera. After some post-processing tests with LR3b2, I feel comfortable with up to ISO800 on the S90, but I’ll leave the results of that test for a bit later.