Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - A Year in Review

2013 has been a year of change for me. Some changes are related to photography and some aren't, but indirectly affects my photography hobby. The major change was my career. In May of this year, I left the job of 14 years and it was not without some regret, but mostly for the great people I worked with, and the excellent location, which was very conducive to photography related activities.

I am happy with the new job, but it is a very different culture that I need to get used to slowly. What I am less happy with, is the environment around my new job. It's mostly buildings that don't change much. I am not a street shooter and this created some difficulty for me to find things to photograph. In the old workplace, I could walk around the neighborhood and there is always something worthwhile to click the shutter for. This explains the lack of blog entries after May 2013. Being on a 17th floor of a building does not help either. I have had to motivate myself to get out of the office, wait for the elevator and finally get outside the building.

On the photography front, no new camera gear for me in 2013, with the exception of a used 5D Mark II, which, against my original reasoning, I have not used as much as I thought I would.  This year I have added very few lenses and I see myself coming to the reality that I have had enough lenses, both AF and manual focus. The only I lens I missed so much, and wish I could have it fixed, is my Canon EF 200mm f1.8L. This is especially true when shooting swimming events.  Other than that, I don't feel I have missed much. It is true that I would like to play with new toys, but what I already have is quite adequate for most of my needs.

The camera industry is in a slump as a whole. Some companies, such as Sony, is innovating and giving us fantastic products, like the A7/A7r, RX1, RX10, etc. And Olympus, which I see will do better than most in the mirrorless market, has photographer friendly OM-D series, especially the EM-1, which has won many Camera of the Year awards. The only company caught sleeping is Canon. What a lackluster year, in terms of gear, from Canon. Where is the once innovative company? If all they are going to do is to rehash the old tech and put on a new coat of paint, I see it going the way of Kodak. It's time to wake up, Canon.

Getting ready to rise - Canon 5D Mark II & EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Today is Christmas day, celebrated by many in North America. Here in Toronto, we have had soft snowfall this morning, enough to cover the trees, and we are truly having a white Christmas!

I received my Christmas present from a loyal Lens Bubbles reader, my daughter Megan. It was two frames, one with picture of the words Lens Bubbles, made from her favourite pictures from this blog; the other is a collage of pictures from the blog. This has been one of the best Christmas presents I have received. In addition, I am blessed to have my wife and four kids, a gift I celebrate every year.

I want to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, and may Santa bring you all the toys you ever wanted.  Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, you never know, some jolly fellow might bring the toys you want anyway in his sleigh, er, delivery truck.

Lens Bubbles - Created by Megan.
Outside my window - NEX-6 & E16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

More Ice Storm Pictures

Below are some more pictures taken of the ice storm on the 22nd of December. I kind of regretted that I didn't go to Tommy Thompson Park, as I believe there would be more opportunities for pictures, but I had other commitments to fulfill and could only spent about an hour shooting around the area.  Again, the lenses used were the Kinoptik Speciale Cine 210mm t2.8 and the Canon EF 100mm f2.8L IS. Both lenses produce spectacular pictures, especially the Kinoptik cine lens, but it could not beat the usability and sharpness of the modern Canon 100mm f2.8L macro. It should be noted that the lenses were designed for different purposes. The Kinoptik for smooth and cinematic look while the Canon macro for sharpness.

The first two pictures were taken with the Kinoptik Speciale Cine 210mm f2.8 and the rest were taken with the EF 100mm f2.8L IS on the Canon 5D Mark II. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Toronto Ice Storm 2013

We have had a pretty severe ice storm since last night. The rain freezes on power lines, trees, and everything else. There are lots of power lines down by the weight of the ice, and consequently, more than 300,000 people households (more than a million people) were without electricity. Bad timing, of course; winter without power is always bad. Inconveniences aside, this is a great opportunity for photography.

I went out around the area and took some pictures of ice on trees. It was spectacular!

All pictures were taken with Canon 5D Mark II & EF 100mm f2.8L IS, except the first three pictures, taken with Kinoptik Speciale Cine 210mm f2.8.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

JML 50mm f0.95 TV Lens - Stopped Down Samples

I have had the JML 50mm f0.95 lens for a few years now, but I don't recall using it with apertures smaller than f2. It has been used mostly wide open or slightly stopped down. I took a few pictures the other day stopping down to f5.6 to see how it performs, and found that it vignettes quite badly on my NEX-6. So, sadly, it does not cover full frame. At f5.6, the center sharpness is very good, but the edges are very soft. Clearly, this was designed to cover a small sensor, and probably works best with Micro 4/3 format, if you want better edge.

This sounds like the lens is very bad and unusable, but that's not the case. When used in low light at very wide apertures, this lens can produce some very interesting pictures with shallow depth of field, and I am very happy with it, and used it quite a bit on my Panasonic G1, but not much on the NEX.

Definitely not the lens for landscape.

Frozen lake, note the vignette - NEX-6 & JML 50mm f0.95 @ f5.6. Click for larger.

Boats, slightly cropped - NEX-6 & JML 50mm f0.95 @ f5.6. Click for larger.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

First Lego League - Regional Qualifier 2013

William has been in the school Lego Club for a couple of years, and this year their team, along with two other teams from his school, attended the Regional Qualifier at Runnymede Collegiate this Saturday. First Lego League (FLL) is an international robotics program for kids 9 to 14 years old (US/Can/Mex).  This year's theme is Nature's Fury. The objective is to program the robot (using Lego NXT robots) to perform various tasks, including obstacle avoidance, rescue, placing objects to other areas, etc., utilizing various sensors including touch, ultrasonic, and infrared. In addition, they have to present to the judges on robot design (including programming), a solution for one of nature's disasters, team-work, and more.

The competition arenas - Canon 5D Mark II & EF 35mm f1.4L. Click for larger.

William's team consists of six members, all from his class. Their team is one of the smallest of the 27 teams competing. The competition officially starts at 8:45 am and lasted until 5pm. It was a long day for the kids but they were all pumped.

The T-Bot Team - Canon 5D Mark II & EF 35mm f1.4L. Click for larger.

I am really surprised at how well the kids did, from design to presentation. Really proud of them. They didn't come out as well as they hoped and William and his team members were heart broken. They placed 16 out of 27. I think they did well for their age group.

T-Bot (Turtle Bot) being programmed - 5D Mark II & EF 100mm f2.8L IS. Click for Larger.

Lucas & William. the T-Bot programmers - 5D Mark II & EF 100mm f2.8L IS. Click for Larger.

Fine tuning - 5D Mark II & EF 100mm f2.8L IS. Click for larger.

Presenting to the judges - 5D Mark II & EF 100mm f2.8L IS. Click for larger.

Let's Go! - 5D Mark II & EF 85mm f1.2L. Click for larger.

Frisbee throwing robot, made by the Runnymede Robotics, team 1310. They are ranked 17th in the world. This robot can throw frisbees with amazing accuracy, guided by a laser. It can also pick up frisbees from the floor. Quite sophisticated.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What is Your Biggest Gripe with Camera Makers?

It's inevitable. The greed will drive some companies into making decisions that will benefit them in short term, but ultimately piss off their customers, sometimes to a point where the customer just stop buying their products, for good.

The most common trick the camera makers have done, is to reject or make life difficult for third party accessory makers, through the use of firmware updates. Sony did it, Panasonic did it, and now Nikon has done it. Your perfectly working third party battery suddenly stop working after the firmware update on your camera.

I believe Panasonic was the first to do this. When I updated my G1's firmware, all the third party batteries stopped working. I was mad. There is no reason for them to do this, and they know sooner or later, the third party battery makers will find a way around it, but the existing batteries will no longer be usable. Who loses? The customers. I wouldn't be too mad if the OEM batteries are reasonably priced, but they are not. They cost three to four times more than the non-OEM version and offers little or no advantage. They can argue, that the OEM batteries are safer, but I have never had problem with third party batteries in decades of using them in electronic devices. It was greed, pure and simple. Sony also did this. The non-OEM battery that worked fine on my NEX-5, no longer worked with the NEX-5N or NEX-6; at least Sony did not make the existing model incompatible with third party batteries through firmware, like Panasonic did.

So what to do? I don't want to be a piece of meat on a chopping board and let them slice and dice, so I vote with my wallet. I never did buy another Panasonic battery, nor any Panasonic products after the G1. Still have the G1 but is put on the back burner. I don't foresee myself buying any Panasonic products in the future, unless they have something so unique and great that I have to buy it; there are many choices out there.

Sometimes you have to wonder who makes these stupid and short-sighted decisions; they are just shooting themselves on the foot. In the case of batteries, they can do what Canon has done. Develop a new battery for the new camera models with firmware protection. For the LP-E6 battery, there are many third party batteries that work with the cameras that uses the LP-E6, but can not be charged using the Canon charger, and they usually come with their own charger, which works with both OEM and non-OEM batteries. I know the risk and the shortcomings so I am OK with that. Making existing third party batteries non-functional is just low and greedy.  Of course, Canon could one day have a new firmware that makes all existing LP-E6 clones stop working, but so far, they haven't, and I hope they won't do such as stupid thing.

Big candy cane - Canon 5D Mark II & EF 50mm f1.2L @ f1.2.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Photo Set - Swim Meet

The Canon 1D Mark III is usually my camera of choice when it comes to shooting sports, but since I haven't used it for so long, the charger has gone missing and I have no idea where it went. So, the 5D Mark II will have to be used for shooting the kids' swim meet yesterday. Another problem is the lens. The EF 200mm f1.8L was the lens I used to shoot most of the kids' sports events but of course, it is no longer working, so I had a choice of 135mm f2L or the 70-200mm f4L IS. The 135mm is a tad too short, so I ended up using the slow 70-200mm f4 for the whole event.

It wasn't a total write off. If you time it right, you can get some decent captures. The good high ISO performance of the 5D II helped. I set the camera most of the time to Shutter Speed Priority (AT mode) at 1/320s. As with the 5D classic, the 5D II's auto focus is actually quite accurate and most of my pictures were in focus. The slow frame rate and a small buffer (compared to the 1D III), coupled with a slow lens makes it difficult to get actions in sequence.

Megan on Butterfly Style - Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4

Ryan on Butterfly Style - Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4

William on Back Crawl - Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4

Megan after the race - Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4

Coach of Team Tridents -Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4 

Sign of the times - Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4

Life guard - Canon 5D II & EF 70-200mm f4

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Evil of Irrational Desires

After posting "The Upgrade Dilemma", I have realized how silly and irrational I have been regarding the A7/A7r. No doubt they are great cameras, but as obakesan pointed out, what "more" is there that I want from my existing equipment. Rationally, not much. The 5D Mark II is still a great camera, and I still have a whole set of Canon L lenses that covers the focal length from 16mm to 200mm, plus the 1.4x and 2.0x telecoverters (which I almost never use). That ought to satisfy my need when I salivate over the A7/A7r's full frame feature. The only thing missing is small size, and of course the short flange distance of the mount.

So, it's not really much about what I need, but what I irrationally want. I need to get a grip on reality!

Behind Bars - NEX-6 & Leica-R 90mm f2 Summicron @ f2. Click for larger.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Upgrade Dilemma

The inter web is abuzz about the Sony A7/A7r; even none Sony users are talking about them. I have been following these two cameras even before they were announced through the rumour mills. Now that they are a reality, should I upgrade my NEX-6 to the A7/A7r?

I happen to like the NEX-6 a lot. In fact, it's one of the best cameras I have used. No complains about its image quality, nor its usability; if it were a full frame sensor inside the NEX-6, I would be all set for a little while. But, there is always that little thing called money. Upgrading is usually expensive. For mortals like us who has limited funds to spend on camera upgrades, a $1700 camera is a significant chunk of disposable income to blow on a camera. So what are the options?

Get a Metabones Speedbooster -- This almost gives you the illusion of a full frame camera, but of course it isn't. I am always leery of optics that gets in the way between a lens and the camera. As good as the Speedbooster is, there are limitations; and it does optically modify the lens in front of it. What you get in image is not really exactly the same as what you would get natively on a full frame.  And, there is the problem of mounts. If you are like me, who have lenses in many mounts, you would need Speedbooster in different mounts. True, one can get the Canon version and then buy cheap Canon to whatever adapters, but that again, increases the margin of error with double adapters.

I could sell some of my existing lenses to fund the purchase. This is really something I try to avoid. I don't plan to add many more lenses to my collection, but at the same time, I don't want to reduce what I have either. However, if the upgrade urge is uncontrollable, this might be the way to go.

Another option is to sell/trade in my 5D Mark II, and sell fewer lenses. This sounds better to me.

Finally, do nothing. Keep and make use of the 5D Mark II and ignore the A7/A7r ever existed.

Yeah, I know you lucky people are laughing at my dilemma.

Men At Work - NEX-6 & 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS @50mm f5.6 [wide open]. Click for larger.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Redpapth Sugar Refinery

The Redpath Sugar Refinery is just a stone's throw away from where I work. I pass it at least twice on my bike, everyday during the week. The unmistaken smell of burned sugar that often lingers around the area reminds people of its presence. Some like the smell, others find it very offensive. I am neutral. It does not bother me.

Redpath Sugar has been around since 1854. Originally started in Montreal, Quebec, but later merged with Canada Sugar Refining Company in the 1930s. In 1958, Redpath Sugar opened the current refinery in Toronto's Waterfront, where it is still operating today. Sadly, like many Canadian companies with heritage, the Redpath is now owned by an American company.

The Redpath refinery has a museum inside the plant. I haven't been to it, yet. Perhaps it's worth a visit.

Redpath, taken from 17th floor -- Canon 5D Mark II & EF 50mm f1.2L

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro -- Non-Macro Photo Set

I am a big sucker for macro lenses.  At current count, I have three autofocus ones: Canon 180mm f3.5L, Canon 100mm f2.8L IS, and the Tamron 90mm f2.8, and there is a half dozen or so manual focus macro lenses.  I actually don't shoot a lot of pictures at macro range (1:1), but I like the very close focus capabilities of these lenses.  Besides, I haven't seen a really bad macro lens, yet!

I traded a few manual focus lenses that I hadn't used for this Tamron SP 90mm f2.8.  I used (and still have a broken one) one of the first version of Adaptall 90mm f2.5 briefly, also a fine lens, but the modern AF version is simply much better.  Extremely sharp, even at f2.8, and even at infinity, which the lens was not optimized for. No, it's not as good as the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS.  The sharpness of that lens is legendary, but the Tamron holds its own quite well, especially at less than half the price of the Canon.  True, the 100mm f2.8 has image stabilization, and is much better built.

One of the things I don't like about his lens is the focusing.  It's nothing like the EF 100mm f2.8L with its UltraSonic Motor (USM) for lightning fast and silent focus.  The Tamron is a lot noisier, slower, and less accurate.  Once in a while, I would get a picture not critically focused.  Not ruling out user error, though.

I think this lens is an excellent value, offering versatility from macro to portraiture, and 90mm is a very comfortable focal length for full frame as a short telephoto.  In fact, I am quite impressed by its image quality. If you overlook its plastic construction, occasional mis-focus (or user error, not sure), it's a great value.

All pictures below were taken with the Tamron SP 90mm f2.8 and Canon 5D Mark II.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Super Takumar 105mm f2.8 - Photo Set

In the hay days of manual film cameras, the 105mm focal length was quite popular, especially from the cheaper third party lens makers/resellers. Soligor, Sun, Hanimex are among them.  Pentax also had one in the M42 mount (they also made one for 6x7 medium format as well).  Despite the popularity of the 105mm focal length, the Pentax Takumar M42 version isn't as common.  Unfortunately, this is also one of my least liked Takumar lens.  I don't know why, but having had at least three copies of this lens, I never seemed to warm up to it.  The reason I still have one, is because it was cheap when I bought it, and I haven't sold a lens for a while.

The lens looks like the Takumar 135mm f3.5 and almost the same size as well.  The copy I have is not Super Multi-Coated, just Super Takumar so it doesn't have the famous multi-coating. This may explain why the lens has very severe colour fringing, especially green, in backlit and sometimes not even contrasty scenes. It's trivial to correct in Lightroom, but still, it's bothersome. The lens does not have very high contrast, properly designed like that as it's a portraiture lens.  It's also not very sharp until stopped down to around f5.6 to f8; again, this might be designed like this.  The other thing I don't like about this lens is the relatively long minimum focus distance of 1.2m.

Too bad I am not using this lens as a portraiture lens like it was designed for.  Still, it makes a nice short telephoto lens and is quite versatile.  The small size and the lightweight are nice. It also inherits the legendary build quality of the Takumar lenses and focuses butterly smooth.

And, you may like it more than I do.

The girl & her dog - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Lone Leaf - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8 with Yeenon Helicoid. Click for larger.

Park Bench - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Stairs - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Internal Gear Hub Revisited

I have been riding, on and off, the 4-speed bike that I put together about 3 months ago using the Shimano Inter-4 4-speed internal gear hub. Generally, I like it quite a bit, but at times, the gear ratio leaves me wanting. I know this sounds strange coming from a guy who rides a single speed bike most of the time, but when you are on a single speed bike, you don't think about shifting, and riding a bike with gear shifter, it's a different mindset.  

The Good:
"Silent" shifting
Simple and low maintenance
Gear ratio is good enough for most situations

The Bad:
More drag than normal wheel
Noisy when coasting
Trigger shifter sucks (er, sticks)
Coaster Brake is a real drag; engages far too easily
A nightmare to change a flat tire

As you can see, there are more bads than good.  So I have been looking for an alternative. Came across a very cheap, decades old Sturmey Archer 3-speed gear hub; installed it, works great, and less heavy than the Shimano 4-speed, and lower drag too.  Again, coasting is noisy, and even less gear ratio than the Shimano, and the trigger shifter was not designed for flat handlebar. I was able to make it work, but it's not elegant. More searching...

"New" 8-Speed Bike - Sony NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Enter the Shimano Nexus 8-speed Red Band. Like the Canon L lenses, this one came with a red band around it to differentiate itself from the normal Nexus 8-speed; it's a premium line, but below the top of the line Alfine hubs.  The hub, unfortunately, came with a wheel that's not the right size for me, not to mention the weird and uncommon 24 spoke holes.  Took me a little while to find the rim with 24-spokes, but I really prefer a double-walled rim.  Oh well, didn't want to wait so I laced it up.  This is the 4th wheel I have laced, but still can't master the skills of truing it longitudinally. I find it very hard to make the wheel round; a problem compounded by the lack of a wheel truing station.

Anyways, as imperfect as the wheel is, I mounted it on a more sturdy MASI single speed steel frame with horizontal dropout.  I had to get the yellow non-turn washer as the original was grey, for a slanted angle dropout.  It was not easy to find locally.

Shimano Nexus Red Band 8-Speed shifter - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Since I have decided to build a new commuter bike, and winter is coming, I was more careful about the components used. For the chain, I used a heavy gauge and heavy duty YBN-MK918 BMX/single speed chain.  I have been using this chain for a few years now and it's bomb proof, but more noisy than the SRAM PC-1 chain that I also use.  The cranks are Sugino VP with a 50t chainring. The front wheel is a Shimano with a DH-2N71 dynamo hub. The dynamo hub will eliminate the need to worry about batteries for the light. Front light uses a very bright single LED and I can turn it off if I don't need it on.  I had one light that had no switch, and used the halogen bulb and it wasn't bright enough and uses much more power and thus creates more drag for the dynamo hub.  LED dynamo lights used to be very hard to find, but now they are relatively common.  A search on eBay will give you lots of choices.

Shimano Dynamo Hub - NEX-6 & Super Takumar 105mm f2.8. Click for larger.

Still looking for an LED rear light that can be powered by the dynamo; there are lots of choices too, but I will decide after I get a bike rack and pannier. The rack has to provide mounting provision for a rear light. Unfortunately, the frame was not designed to take bike racks and fenders; an adapter needs to be made so that I can mount the rack on the hub axle.

The bike, even with a front dynamo hub engaged, runs smoother and less drag than the bike with the 4-speed hub.  In fact, this setup feels like riding a conventional derailleur bike, and I am very happy about.  The weight of the dynamo hub in the front balances the weight of the gear hub at the back, and the bike doesn't feel rear heavy and the overall weight is very manageable.

So far, my observations of the Nexus 8 hub:

The Good:
Very quiet shifting and coasting; almost like a normal wheel
very low drag
Adequate gear ratios (until I get hold of an 11 or 14 speed hub, haha)
Lighter than the Inter-4 4-speed hub and provides more gears

The Bad:
Expensive - ok this is relative. If you consider a good derailleur group set, the cost could be more.
Still more drag than a derailleur system
Gear shifter only comes with flat bar option; if you like drop bars, you will have to buy a third party shifter

Hopefully, this bike will get me through winter without giving me any troubles.