Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pixel Peeping

So I have been pixel peeping and checking out the Sony NEX-5, as well as other cameras.  I downloaded some sample RAW files from www.dpreview.com and compared them between different cameras.  Sony used to be one of the worse when it came to noisy images, but they really have cleaned up their act.  The NEX-5 RAW files are impressively clean, even at ISO 1600.  OK, the sample pictures were taken at optimal lighting conditions with near perfect white balance.  A real life high ISO picture at ISO 1600 will surely look worse, but when you compare the ISO 1600 RAW file to the Canon T2i, the Sony NEX-5 has more details, and cleaner.  I am really surprised how far Sony has come.

What impresses me most is the 5D II.  At ISO 3200, it's still very very clean, comparable to the Nikon D700, but at almost twice the pixels.  That's one incredible feat to achieve.  This re-enforces my goal as my next camera.  I am hoping Santa will be nice and sneaked one under the Christmas tree :-)  Still, I want the NEX-5 to replace my G1.  May be in 2011.

No Blood For Oil -- G1 & Kern Pillard Switar 75mm f1.9 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cosmicar 12.5mm f1.4 Television Lens

Micro 4/3 users are usually at a disadvantage when it comes to manual focus wide angle lenses, due to the 2x crop factor.  Any lens mounted on a Micro 4/3 camera, its focal length will be multiplied by 2.  So, even for a modest 28mm equivalent wide angle, you would need a 14mm lens in 35mm format.  Well, we all know how much one has to pay for a manual focus 14mm lens, regardless who makes it.

One alternative to normal 35mm format lens, is C-Mount Television lens.  These lenses are usually pretty cheap, but they also have very small image circle, not to mention the normally abysmal resolving power.  You can usually find very wide angle C-Mount TV lenses as wide a 6mm.  Unfortunately, all you would usually get is a small circle of an image with a huge black border.  In other words, not really usable.  There are some that covers  a larger sensor, such as the 1 inch sensors.  You can tell by the size of the lens.  If it's really small, it would have a rather small imaging circle.  A friend of mine showed me a trick to check the approximate image circle of a lens.  Find a light source, and use the lens to form the clear image on your palm.  The size of the image gives you some idea how much coverage the lens can provide.

I came across a Cosmicar 12.5mm f1.4 TV lens.  Cosmicar is a division of Pentax that manufacture close circuit TV lenses.  The size of this lens is almost the same as the Angenieux 70mm f2.5.  It's very fast for such a wide angle lens with a maximum aperture of f1.2.  Mounted on the G1, the equivalent focal length is 25mm.  This is wide enough for most occasions.  BUT, you don't get the whole image, sad to say.  This lens would cover a one inch sensor, but not enough to cover the Micro 4/3 sensor, hence its heavy vignetting.  As with most wide angle TV/Cine lenses, the edges are blurry.  This particular lens would still give you usable image if cropped at the long edges.

In terms of image quality, contrast is low wide open, with a soft glow, but still quite sharp.  From f2.8, center sharpness is actually quite respectable with markedly improved contrast.  Resolving power seems low, as expected from a TV lens.  Not too crazy about the colour that comes out of this lens either.  The colour seems washed out.  Minimum focusing distance is 0.3 meters, or about 12 inches.

The 14-45mm kit lens is still light years better than this cosmicar lens in terms of sharpness, contrast and colour saturation, but it does free you from Photoshopping your own vignettes.  In some situations, this lens gives you somewhat unique characteristics not possible with the kit lens, especially in dim lighting condition where you can take pictures at f1.4. It's kind of fun to play with, as long as you can get it cheap.

Wide Open at f1.4 -- note the soft glow effect and heavy vignetting

Fence -- Aperture is around f4.  Note drab colour.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Toronto Open, Fall 2010

Yet again another speed cubing competition held on November 27, 2010 at Seneca's Residence & Conference Centre.   This is the fourth and last competition of 2010 in Toronto.  It was a larger turn out, but the previous winners, Harris Chan and Eric Limeback did not enter the competition.  Eric did come by later in the day to help out the event as a judge.

Dillon and Ryan did very well for the Rubik's cube 2x2.  Both of them advanced to the second round, but unfortunately, only Ryan made it to the final and finished 8th with an average of 5.19 second.  Neither of them could advance to second round of the 3x3 event, as the there are so many great faster cubers.

Once again, Ryan won first place in Rubik's Magic with a best score of 1.11 seconds, and an average of 1.25 second, slightly better than the last competition.

The first place of 3x3 event was once again won by an American, Rowe Hessler, from New York.  Rowe had a fastest 3x3 solve in the event -- 7.06 seconds.  This would have been a world record few months ago, but now the world record holder is Feliks Zemdegs of Australia with 6.77 seconds.  This time bettered Harris Chan's 7.33 seconds.

It was a long day, but the kids (Dillon & Ryan anyway) enjoyed themselves.

Rowe Hessler at 7.06s. Click to enlarge.

Dillon Solving a 2x2. Click to enlarge.

Ryan with First Place for Magic.

Friday, November 26, 2010

When You Have Too Much Gear - Part II

I did a little more pondering about having too much gear, and I think I should really face the fact, which I have always known, but don't want to admit it -- I acquired so much gear because of:

1.  I am possessive.  Having lots of gear somehow makes me happy.  Often, I derive lots of pleasure just playing with lenses and cameras, not necessarily taking pictures with them.  However, this sometimes have the opposite effect -- it also makes my fell guilty.

2.   I am greedy.  When I see people take pictures with different kinds of lenses, I feel the need to try them or own them.  More often than not, a lens that is bought but only used a few times, then put away for a long time before using it again.

3.  I lack creativity.  My pictures exhibit too much sameness and me-too-ness.  Just can't break out of the mold and try different styles/methods.  To compensate, I keep hoping a different lens/camera will make a bigger difference.  Unfortunately, this is just not true, but I refuse to accept the fact.

There is more, but I think it's enough for a start.  I am hoping this post will be kind of like my own shrink to help me cure an addiction.

CN Tower & Downtown Toronto in Silhouette - G1 & Canon FD 55mm f1.2. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When You Have Too Much Gear

I remember when I got my 3.1 MP Canon G1 back in 2001, I took it everywhere and made a lot of pictures.  I debated for months before spending the $20USD on a LensMate adapter, so that I can use filters and close up lenses on the G1, and I did use it quite a bit.

I had the same passion with my Canon 300D from 2003. Used it a lot and whenever I got a piece of new gear/lens for it, I was excited and spent weeks checking it out, and comparing it to others.  I really enjoyed both taking pictures and acquiring photo gears.

After the 300D, I got more cameras and lenses, and more often.  Still like to take pictures, but the passion to tryout new stuff is gradually waning.  Today, I can hardly get excited about new cameras, especially Canon cameras that show no real innovation, but going backwards in image quality with more pixels, in their consumer/pro-sumer grade of cameras.  But, I think it's just me, because Canon still sells more DSLRs than other manufacturers, and people are buying them like there is no tomorrow.

For the last two months, I seem to have developed resistance to photography, gears or otherwise. There interest doesn't seem to be there any more, or perhaps, as they say, the flame has extinguished.  I think it's partly due to the number of lenses I have built up.  Frankly I am very tired of having so many lenses that actually distracts me from taking pictures.  A decision needs to be made, and that is to get rid of the majority of my manual focus lenses and buy a full frame camera that I can use for the next five years, with a set of auto focus lenses, and a set of manual focus lenses of most common focal lengths. Yes, this shall be my new resolution of next year -- less gear, more pictures with substance.  We will see how it goes.  

Gardiner Express Way - 1D IIn & EF 100mm f2.8L IS.  Click on picture to see bigger.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Santa Claus Parade

This year marks the 106th anniversary of the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto.  Every year since 1905, kids and adults alike look forward to the annual Santa Claus Parade.  Two years ago our whole family went out early to find a good spot to see the parade.  It's always very crowded and you need to be early to get close to the action.  I shot the parade two years ago using only one lens -- the 200mm f1.8L and the 1D Mark II. Below are few of the pictures from the parade:

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Santa Claus Parade 2008. 1D II & EF 200mm f1.8L. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Canon EF 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus

I admit.  I am a sucker for weird and unusual stuff.  Soft focus lenses are niche lenses that are normally used in rare occasions, especially in film days.  Almost every major manufacturer made a soft focus lens of some sort.  Pentax 85mm f2.8 soft focus, Nikon 105mm/135mm f2 DC, and of course the Canon 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus. Like few of the often neglected Canon primes, such as the 28mm f2.8, 100mm f2, the 135mm f2.8 SF lives in the shadow of its big brother, the 135mm f2.0L.

135mm f2 and 135mm f2.8 SF. Click to see larger.

Having owned this lens for quite a few years, I can't remember using it more than 7 or 8 times in total.  I think that the Soft Focus indication on this lens kind of make people think that it's a soft focus lens only, but in fact the soft focus effect can be turned off. Compared to the 135mm f2L, you immediately see the difference in material and workmanship.  The SF version is by no means a badly made lens, but the barrow is plastic, though the mount is metal.  It's very light as well.  The most annoying thing is that like most of the lenses from this era and series, such as the 24mm f2.8, 28mm f2.8, 35mm f2, dusts seem to get inside the lens too easily.

Despite the relatively cheap (often under $200 used), this is actually quite a nice and sharp lens, even at f2.8.  From my experience using many of the Canon lenses over the years, the sharpness of Canon lenses wide open often has a lot to do with critical focus.  Many of the consumer cameras just do not have the accuracy to achieve exact focus, and thus the pictures will look soft. If you ever use live view to focus, you would often find the lens is much sharper.  This 135mm f2.8 SF is no exception.  Sure, contrast suffers a bit at wide apertures, but by f4, this lens is extremely sharp.

Most people who buy this lens tend to use it for the soft focus effect.  The soft focus effect is not easily emulated by software filters.  It's very pleasing to look at if applied appropriately.  Most often used to photograph women, or couples to create a romantic look.  I used it to take pictures of a friend, and my sister-in-law's wedding with satisfactory results.  This particular lens has two settings for softness, setting #2 is often too soft and masks too much details.  Setting #1 is what I normally would use, with apertures between f2.8 and f4.  Smaller than f4, the softness is almost completely gone.

I am quite happy with this lens, although I usually grab 135L when shooting, but when it comes to special soft effects, it's great to have around, not to mention it can be used as a normal lens.

Black Squirrel - 1D IIn & EF 135mm f2.8 SF at f2.8. Click to see larger.

Fence - 1D IIn & 135mm f2.8 SF @ f2.8. Click to see larger.

Back Lit Trees - 1D IIn & 135mm f2.8 @ f2.8. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Empty Bench

Empty Bench -- 1D IIn & EF 100mm f2.8L Macro

The 100mm f1.28 IS Macro hasn't gotten much use after I acquired it months ago.  But each time I do use it, I am more impressed with it.  There is nothing to fault this lens optically, from wide open on, it's just amazingly sharp.  The hybrid IS works as advertised.  Consequently, I get more keepers from this lens than most others.  I find it very versatile lens, not just for macros but as a general purpose lens.  Still haven't compared this one with the 100mm f2 USM, but I think the 100mm f2 may have to go, despite the many times that I said I would never sell it.  Just finding the time/initiative to do the comparison has been a challenge.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Prelude to Winter

Lone Leaf - 1D IIn & 16-35mm f2.8L II. Click to enlarge.

Autumn has always been my favourite season.  Not too cold, not too hot.  It's Goldie Locks sort of season. Not to mention the beautiful colour that's a yummy feast for the eyes.

This year seems very warn in this time of the season.  We are in mid November but temperature is still in the low teens (Celsius).  Not that I am complaining or anything.  I rather enjoy it until the bone chilling Canadian winter hits, which won't be long.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Busy Elves

Elf -- G1 & Canon nFD 50mm f1.4.

Can't explain it.  This last two weeks has been the laziest two weeks of this year, in terms of photography -- I have taken very few pictures.  For some reason, I have had no drive, desire to take pictures, even though the camera has been with me all the time.  Am I starting to get tire of the hobby? Perhaps I am just feeling burned out.  Hopefully, I will start taking pictures again next week.

Monday, November 1, 2010

When Your f1.2 Lens Is Not an F1.2 Lens

The Luminous-Landscape has an open letter to the camera manufacturers. Interesting and fascinating read.  Basically, depending on the individual camera, you could lose as much as a full stop of light by the time the light hits the sensor, according to the DxO Lab's findings. Most APS-C sized sensors would lose anywhere from 0.75 EV to 1 EV.  So, the actual amount of light from an f1.2 lens on the Canon 450D that the sensor receives is around f1.8.  Of course, you will still get the exposure value of f1.2, because the manufacturer raised the ISO to compensate.  This means when you set the ISO to 100 when at f1.2 on the 450D, it's actually f1.2 at ISO 200.

Should you care?  With today's high performance sensors, most people probably won't notice, or even care even if they know what's going on behind the sensor.  But that's kind of cheating, me thinks.

My take on this is this: Manufacturers should publish the behaviour of the cameras they make.  If the sensor raises ISO to compensate for the loss of light, they should mention that fact.  But, I also don't think it's a big deal, as long as you understand the image characteristics of a particular camera.  After all, the final image is what counts.

Leaf - Panasonic G1 & Minolta MD 50mm f1.2 @ f1.2.