Friday, February 13, 2009

Inexpensive Macro Photography

I've moved this post, please head over there to see my newest photography reviews.

I am very much enthralled with the abstraction of macro photography (as seen in my photos) and I'm all about cheap. So, let me combine the two, here is a cheap way to shoot macro. The nice thing about this solution is that it will work on just about any camera, DSLRs as well as Point and Shoots.

Here it is, the Opteka 52mm 10x HD² Professional Macro Lens. This 'closeup filter' attaches to the front of a lens with a 58mm filter thread. Opteka sells this closeup filter in several different kits, each one containing a different 'step down filter adapter' that allows it to fit different lens filter sizes. 58mm is the size of many Canon lenses including the ubiquitous Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS. On this page, Amazon has a boatload of kits to fit just about any DSLR and many point and shoots.

Essentially, adding one of these to your lens is like putting a magnifying glass in front of your camera. The images below show how it compares to a true macro lens, the inimitable Nikon 60mm Micro. The first image is with the 60mm at full extension, at this 'zoom' the 60mm is a 1:1 ratio. That means that image is fully filling the sensor at a one to one scale. The next image is with the Opteka fit on the standard Nikon 18-55mm AF-S VR kit lens at 55mm and focused as close as possible. Following that, is a shot with the same lens, but without the 18-55mm so the impact of the closeup filter and be readily seen. The last image is with the Opteka attached to the wonderful Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF-D.

Click on an image to see the larger, straight from the camera, image.

Nikon 60mm Micro

Opteka on the Nikon 18-55mm AF-S VR lens

Nikon 18-55mm AF-S VR lens without the Opteka

Opteka on the Nikon 50mm f1.8 AF-D

The Opteka brings the 18-55mm quite a bit closer, almost to 1:1. Same goes for the Opteka on the 50mm. The images a softer than the 60mm Macro, but for $30, it seems like a bargain to me. On these smaller lenses at longer focal lengths there is no noticeable vignetting, but there will be on fatter lenses. The 18-55mm will show vignetting as you zoom out, but it works best for macro shots at 55mm, so there is no reason to be zooming out.

The depth of field is noticeably more shallow in the image from the 60mm, this is because the closer you get, the shallower your depth of field becomes. All the images were shot at f14 so it is apparent that a lot of light is needed to make a macro shot work. Unless you want to exaggerate the shallow depth of field, in which case, attaching the Opteka to the 50mm f1.8 really makes things interesting. Even though the 60mm is rated as an f2.8, that is not fixed, the closer you focus, the more it stops down. It is only f2.8 at about 6 feet to infinity, then starts to stop down and ends at f5 at its closest (1:1) focus.

Now, if you put the Opteka on the 50mm f1.8, it does not stop down, it shoots at whatever aperture you want from 1.8 too 22.

OK, so what happens if the Opteka is attached to the 60mm? It does get in closer, but the trade-off of sharpness is, in my opinion, is not worth it. Without the opteka, the 60mm will frame the helmet from top to bottom with a little space, with the Opteka attached, most of the domed head would be cropped out. At that point, the depth of field gets so shallow that a great deal of light is needed to stop down all the way to the 60mm's minimum aperture, f57.

One last note, I've tested the Opteka with the 50mm f1.8 on a full frame FX camera (Nikon N75) and there is no noticeable vignetting there either.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Showing at 2009 KMAA exhibition "Seasonal Shift"

I had two photographs selected for the 2009 KMAA exhibition "Seasonal Shift". The show will be at Ridgefield Guild's Gallery Barn. Show details:

  • March 15, 4-7 PM: Artists' Reception
  • March 22: Gallery talk by the juror, Michael Blakeney
  • March 29: Last day of exhibition . Artists pick up work 4-7 PM
Ridgefield Guild of Artists

Water / Light #4

Water / Light #3

A list of the participating artists

  • Sally Aldrich : The Sky is Falling
  • Frances B. Ashfoth : Spring Field
  • Suzanne Ashley : Mill Street
  • Lois M. Barker : The Awakening
  • Deborah Beck : Morning Dew
  • Richard Bennett : Yankee Nightgame & Baseball Grid
  • Edward Burke : Early Spring
  • Sarah Corbin : Oak Spring
  • Ivy Dachman : Untitled43
  • Hilda Green Demsky : South of the Wind
  • Karen Williams Edelmann : The Earth. That is Sufficient
  • Monique Ford : Tropic Improv
  • Marcy B. Freedman : Ten Seconds (How Time Flies)
  • Randy Frost : Metro North - Harlem Division
  • James Fryer : Water-Light-3 & Water-Light-4
  • Michele Gage : Untitled (Mianus River Gorge 4)
  • Julia Goldberg : Lily Pond - Bronx Botanical Gardens
  • Patricia A. Grabel : New England Winter
  • H. Sitki Gulergun : Bullseye
  • June Gumbel : The Orchard in the Spring
  • Nils Hill:  WNY-1
  • Bernie Kessler:  Constitution Marsh, Garrison & Rolling Meadows
  • GG Kopilak : Tree Reflections
  • Barbara Korman : Coming Alive
  • Paul Krause : Crescent Pods
  • Elaine Krause : Lotus Variation
  • Martee Levi : Winter Thaw
  • Annette Lieblein : Transitional II
  • Belle Manes : The Woods are Lovely Dark and Deep…
  • Ronald Meyerson : Illusion #12
  • Bernie Mindich : Spring Forward
  • Nancy Egol Nikkal : Winter Thaw 2
  • Constance Old : Whiskmarks 0107212508
  • Ethel Renek : Edge of the Woods
  • Harriet Sadow:  Four Seasons & The Midnight Wind
  • Renee Santhouse : March Wind on the Bay
  • Barbara Browner Schiller : Joie de Vivre
  • Wendy Shalen : Montalk Dawn
  • Phyllis Sinrich : A New Day
  • Arle Sklar-Weinstein : Message from Waccabuc
  • Ron Topping : Four Seasons
  • John Wagner : Mianus Summer
  • Gabriella E. Wagner : Little Raincloud

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Fusion Essentials Non-Review

I am in the market for a new Web Design application and NetObjects Fusion Essentials looked interesting enough to take out for a test spin.

I installed, registered it (they require an email address and verification - tacky), and started it up.

Then I tried to open a site I've been working on. Trouble is, the site is built with PHP pages, not HTML pages. Fusion Essentials does not recognize PHP files, so I could not open anything on the site.

A 'Web Design' application that can not open and edit PHP files? Seriously? Even Kompozer will open and edit PHP files. Not only that, Kompozer will render HTML markup in its WYSIWYG mode. Heck, even Notepad will at least open PHP files!

Friday, February 06, 2009

JustLooking Image Viewer for the Mac

JustLooking is a nice little application for OS X that previews images and lets you scroll through all the images in a given folder. It acts like Picture and Fax Viewer in Windows XP.

It is a nice free little application I use all the time on my MacBook.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

There is a lot of chatter about Panasonic's new top end point and shoot, the Panasonic DMC-LX3Panasonic DMC-LX3, and it all seems pretty good. And with good reason, this camera looks to be the first time a big manufacturer has put image quality ahead of marketing tricks. Instead of increasing megapixles well beyond reason, Panasonic has capped it at 10MP. Granted, that's still more then is needed, but at least it is a start. For reference, 6MP is a great spot for most people. I have many prints from my 6MP D70 printed at 20x30". That is pretty big.

The constrained megapixels keep the images from being overrun with undesirable color noise that has a big negative impact on images. Because there are fewer megapixels, you can get more images on the memory card. And those smaller images take up less space on your computer. The smaller images are easier and faster to both view and edit on the computer.

But the constrained megapixel count really is only one reason for all the interest. This little camera has a very wide angle lens for a point and shoot. Its wide end is equivalent to 24mm (on a 35mm camera). Most point and shoots are 35mm at best at the wide end. There are a few that go to 28mm, but not many. Most all DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony ship with zoom lenses with an 18mm (28mm equivalent) on the wide end of the kit lens.

But, wait, that's not all! In addition Panasonic LX3has a super 'fast lens'. It's aperture is f2 to f2.8! That is just crazy for a point and shoot. The LX3's aperture (a variable iris between the lens and the sensor) opens wider then most lenses to let more light in. That means that it can shoot in low light, but maintain a faster shutter speed. This camera can take better, less blurry and less noisy images in low light. For comparison, the kit lenses for most DSLRs are f3.5 to f5.6, that lets much less light in so it is not as good in low light. This is not to say the LX3 can really compete with a Nikon D40or Canon XSi, but it is starting to encroach in their territory. It is the most serious competition DSLRs have yet seen from the world of point and shoot cameras.

It is important to remember the that 'low light' to a camera is not the same thing as 'low light' to humans. We see in low light much better them cameras. In a typical indoor scene, we humans can see very well, there is plenty of light. But for cameras, this is considered low light. The only time a camera is really happy is outside on a bright day or when it can create its own light by using a flash.

Using a flash is convenient, but not very pleasing. First, with a compact camera, you usually wind up with 'red eye'. But more important, flashes make people look bad, they highlight blemishes and create shadows that exaggerate wrinkles and can often over expose faces and make your subject look like the undead.

So, flash = bad.

Panasonic has three techniques to let you shoot without flash:

  1. Wide f2 aperture
  2. Restrained 10MP sensor
  3. Effective high ISO performance
And for shooters who know there way around photography software, the LX3 has one more trick to eek out the most from low light shooting, it can shoot in RAW. The RAW format is the 'raw' image data that the sensor captures. Then, the camera converts that data into a JPG image file. This is a handy step because it takes that raw data and refines it so the final image not only looks great, but also is easy to print and share.

But, this ease comes at a cost. When the camera converts to JPG it applies a lot of 'enhancements' that it thinks you want and discards a bunch of other image data that you might want. During the conversion, the camera will try and correct the color, adjust the contrast, sharpen the image, and even correct for barrel distortion. Most of the time, for most shooters, this really is a good thing. But, for photography pros, this is not usually desirable.

If you are a pro shooter, you have spent years learning photography and developing a process to capture the image you want the way you want. You, the pro shooter, do not need to leave the 'developing' up to some dumb camera. You can do it better, and with the RAW data, you have more latitude to make the adjustments you want to make.

With the RAW file, the pro shooter has more latitude to push the exposure, color balance, noise, and sharpening one way of the other to really get what she is after.

Now if the last few paragraphs about RAW bores you to tears, no worries, the LX3 takes great shots in JPG. Done.

The natural competitor to the Panasonic LX3is the Canon G10. Some people who have used both, like the image (and movie) quality of the LX3. They generally do bemoan the fact that the LX does not have the nice solid feeling body of the G10, or the G10's dials and buttons that allow direct control of advances features.

The G10 is definitely a beauty, but for me, the smaller size of the LX3 and, more importantly, the better image quality trump the G10.

But then, I've not shot with either of these cameras so don't take my word for it, see what the pros say:

Panasonic Lumix DMC LX3 Unboxing from Scott Bourne on Vimeo.

Scott Bourne's mini review

DPReview's complete review