Saturday, October 6, 2007

DSLR and Star Trails - Part 3

Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.

I finally got around to doing another test with my Pentax K10D and 16-45/4 lens as I was camping on the Maine coast. I set up the tripod and started the exposure a couple hours after sunset. The stars were out big and bright, there was no sign of the moon, and it's an isolated area but the sky still seemed to be pretty bright.

I locked the shutter open (ISO 100@f/5.6), popped the flash a few times on the foreground rocks, and let the sky do its thing for 1 hour 50 minutes. The battery still held up through the dark frame and I was happy with how the sky came out. Unfortunately for the first time it seems there is some obvious noise coming in, especially in the upper left/center.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I'd Rather be Lucky then Good - Star Trails pt. 2

Click here in case you missed my first DSLR star trails test.

Last night found me camping in central Oregon about 60 miles south of Bend. Plenty of lava fields and some trees trying to scrape out an existence. Since I usually wait too long to set up and compose my star trails shots I got a jump on things and scrambled up a scree slope to set up my second star trails test shot for my K10D. The sun had set about 20 minutes earlier, still giving me some nice silhouettes to focus and compose with.

It was a clear night and I knew the stars would be out but unfortunately a 3/4 moon was out too; and it was shining right on the trees in my shot. I normally would have abandoned the shot figuring that the moon would cast too much light on the foreground and maybe even wash out the sky too much. Since I was still testing how long my battery would last through a "bulb" exposure I figured even if the shot didn't turn out it would be a worthwhile test.

After setting up the shot I had at least a couple hours until it was dark enough to start the exposure. I hiked/slid back down the slippery slope to my campsite and proceeded to have a nice fire with some hot chocolate/Baileys. Ahhh, the perfect combination! By the time I was done with that it was still too light on the horizon so I did some reading before hiking back up the hill at 11:45 to find my camera and tripod in the easy task considering how brushy it was on the other side of the hill.

Sure enough the moon was out big and bright and shining right where I didn't want it too. The sky wasn't as dark as I wanted and the moon was even casting noticeable shadows. At least it made walking around in the dark easier! I locked the shutter open, started my stop watch, and headed back down to the car again.

My previous test had been for 1 hour and the camera/battery had no problem so I figured I'd go for 1 1/2 hours this time. I did some reading and writing to kill the time and just when I didn't think I could stay awake anymore it was finally time to lug myself up the hill one more time and search out my camera again.

Much to my happy surprise I'd found the mood had dropped below a hill and had quit shining on my trees. I didn't know how long it had been behind the hill but at least it was now. I let the shutter close and drug everything back down the hill and to the car while the camera went through it's whole dark frame subtraction rigamorow.

When I did a 1 hour exposure the dark frame only lasted about 50 minutes. Even though I was tired I was curious if it would go longer then that with a 1 1/2 hour exposure. I managed to stay awake another hour reading and the dark frame was still in progress. It was after 2am and that was as much time as I was willing to give that night.

I went to sleep and when I powered up the camera in the morning this was the image that was waiting for me. It turned out way better then I thought it would and the moon actually did a perfect job of lightning the foreground without blowing any highlights. It wasn't the look I was going for when I set up the shot but I'll take it anyway!

I've taken about 60 shots today on the same battery charge and it's still going strong. So far I'm very impressed with the K10D's ability in taking long exposures; both from a noise and battery life standpoint. I thought the images would be a lot noisier then they're turning out.

I've got a little AC power inverter for my car now so maybe I'll have to get the AC power adapter for the K10D and use it with one of those little portable battery booster packs to see how it handles some really long exposures.

Next time I'll try a 2 hour shot.

Details of above shot: 21mm focal length @f/5.6 on 16-40 f/4 DA lens. ISO 100 and 1 1/2 hour bulb exposure

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Soggy GX100 update

Well, yesterday I slipped the battery and memory card back in the GX100 to see what would happen. I hit the power button and the camera began to power up but the lens didn't extend and the "remove lens cap" warning appeared on the LCD. Well, at least the LCD is working.

I gave the camera couple light knocks on the steering wheel hoping to break something loose and magically the lens extended...things are looking up!

Unfortunately there is no image displayed on the LCD, it's black except for the image info. It works fine if I want to display images from the card on the LCD so it must be that no light is getting through the lens. Looking a little closer at the lens I could see a few water droplets inside and I can also see that the shutter appears to be stuck shut and never opens. Bummer! Everything else seems to work fine but without a shutter it's not good for much. I guess my next step will be to contact Ricoh and see what can be done about it.

Oh well, I can't let a little thing like this spoil my trip. I'll just have to spend some more time with my DSLR when I want wide angle, which is never a bad thing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

$600 Oh Crap!

I've been getting along a little better with my little Ricoh GX100, though I admit not to doing a whole lot of photography in the last couple weeks. Yesterday when a friend and I went out to do a little exploring around Astoria though I left all my other cameras in the car in threw the GX100 in my new little P&S photo bag I got to sling over my shoulder. I had been keeping it in my pocket but it was a little bulkier then I liked and I didn't like how it dirt and dust would collect on it while in my pocket and how it would get wet with sweat if I was hiking or something. I found a nice, small, cheap bag that fit the camera perfect and had a second little pocket for extra batteries and an SD card or something. When I was looking for bags I specifically got one with a zipper because I didn't like how noisy the velcro ones were; especially if I'd be in a quiet place.

So anyway we're out galavanting around the sea shore and we walked out on this rickety old dock. As I jumped across a sunken spot in the dock and landed on try boards I noticed something black flying through the air out of the corner of my eye. I was confused as to what it could be but just after the “splash” in the water there was no mistaking the black shape of my $600 GX100 as it slid out of site down into the murky water. I was stunned for a second, not really understanding what had happened, but I hit my belly on the dock and stuck my arm into the water up to my shoulder where I'd last seen the camera. As I was sticking my hand down as quick as I could I was thinking how poor my chances were. Even if I could reach the camera on its way down I was afraid that I'd just bump it and not actually get ahold of it. The water was awful cold and I was wondering how deep I could dive.

Miraculously enough my finger tips felt the wrist strap as I reached as far as I could and they got a positive lock on it! I drug the camera to the surface where I quickly pulled the battery and memory card before rinsing it off with fresh water. We turned the floor vents of the car to heat and let the camera sit in the warm, dry air to hopefully dry off.

When I woke up this morning I looked over the camera and from the outside it looked just fine. I slipped the card and battery back in the camera and powered it up. The lights came on and the LCD panel lit up, but it was displaying the “please remove lens cap” warning even though the lens cap was off; then lens must be stuck! I gave the camera a couple sharp taps on the steering wheel hoping to knock something loose and the lens extended just like it's supposed to. Everything was looking pretty good except that when trying to compose a picture the LCD screen remains black. It's not that the LCD is failed or not able to light up, it's just that either the sensor isn't recording any information or no light is getting through the lens. I'm thinking it might be that no light is getting through as the camera isn't able to focus either (you can hear focus hunting and unable to lock). I did take a picture and the camera recorded a nice black frame to the SD card.

Looking into the lens I can see a few water spots inside, I wonder if the shutter isn't stuck shut? Either way it's not looking too good. Maybe I'll get lucky and it will dry off some more over the next couple days and work normally but who knows what damage might be done or how long the camera will last until other things start to fail. I can't imagine water spots in the lens will do any favors to image quality either.

Oh well, at least it makes a good story. I'll probably end up contacting Ricoh and seeing if anything can be done for it. If it can't be repaired then I'll have a tough decision to make as to whether to replace it with another GX100 or a different camera. I'm still not totally convinced the GX100 is worth $600, but there's really not anything else that size that I'd want that could take its place either. Decisions, decisions!

Looking at my little camera bag it was obvious what had happened, the zippers for both compartments were open. I never leave the compartments unzipped when the camera is in the bag, so how could this happen? What happened was that I must have reached down to zip the bag without looking and grabbed the wrong zipper. So instead of zipping up the camera I unzipped the little accessory pouch; allowing the camera to come flying out when I jumped. It looks like that bag was by far the worst $10 I ever spent. Guess I should have gone with velco.

Today I downloaded the few pictures from the Ricoh that were on the memory card. To the left are the last two pictures I took with the camera before it went into the drink. Oddly enough they show my frustrations with the camera. Both pictures are of the same scene, from the same distance, with the exact same camera settings (I was shooting in Manual); the only difference is vertical vs. horizontal. I focused on the same spot and the shutter speed was plenty high at 1/1000 to keep camera movement from being an issue; yet the vertical shot is definitely a lot sharper then the horizontal shot. So much so that it's pretty apparent in a 700 pixel web image. I don't really think either of them look all that sharp though.

Somewhat fitting I guess.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

ICC you

Does your web browser recognize ICC profiles? Judging from the stats of people who view my websites only 6.76% of you can say yes. If you're using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Camino, Opera, or Netscape then the answer is a big old stinky NO!

So why should you care if your browser recognizes ICC profiles? Because the ICC profile is a little bit of encoding saved with most digital images that tells whatever program that happens to open them exactly how to interpret the colors in that image. Unfortunately this seems to be a pretty low priority for most web browsers and they choose to ignore it. The result is that the images you view on-line probably aren't as they were intended to appear.

I've always noticed that my pictures on Flickr had more muted colors and were more drab then when I edited them in Photoshop and that the browsers ignoring the ICC profile was to blame; but there wasn't much to do about it so I just lived with it and bumped up the saturation a little before posting on-line to try and make up for it. Then I found out that the web browser Safari actually recognizes color profiles to I gave it a try. All I can say is that I was amazed by the results; images finally look identical in Photoshop as they do when I view them on-line. Of course this only helps me and not everyone else in the world who views my photos on-line.

Safari used to be a Mac only application but the new beta version is supposed to work with Windows XP and Vista as well; though I can't vouch for how well since I'm a Mac guy now.

The image to the left was uploaded to Flickr by another user and shows the same image opened in 5 browsers at the same time, comparing the differences in color rendition. Only two of them recorded the same colors that the original author saw when he created the image. It's a pretty eye opening example I think. Unfortunately if you're not looking at the image on a browser that recognizes ICC profiles then it loses some of the impact; but it's still obvious to see the differences. If you click on the image to the left you'll be taken to the Flickr page where each browser is identified by scrolling over the image with the mouse.

Anyway, just thought you might want it brought to your attention and I highly recommend you check out Safari to see what you're missing.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

DSLR and Star Trails

For a long time I've wondered how my DSLR would get along with star trails. How long would the battery last and how would the sensor handle the noise? Start trails are always something I mean to do but never actually get around to trying; probably because it involves not going to sleep, which is something I enjoy quite a bit. If I am in the mood to do star trails it's invariably cloudy or there's a full moon. Either that or I don't have fully charged batteries.

About 6 months ago I gave it a go as a test when I was on vacation in Arizona but one of my batteries was dead and after about 10 minutes into the exposure on my fresh battery I realized that my car charger had failed and if I wasn't careful I was going to end up with 2 dead batteries and no way to charge them for a few days. I stopped the exposure at 15 minutes and although it seemed to have came out ok it was tough to tell with the relatively short exposure, plus a few clouds had moved in during the exposure. It was a pretty boring shot so I deleted it, otherwise I'd show it here.

Cut to a couple nights ago when I was camping on a mountain in the Cascades on a beautifully clear night. The stars were shining brightly and I knew I had one nearly full battery and one fully charged battery. I stuck the fully charged battery in the camera and decided to give it another go. Of course I'd waited too long so trying to compose and focus were no easy task in the dark (the infinity setting on the 16-45/4 lens isn't actually in focus at infinity).

I set the lens to f/4@100 ISO. I waited until the sun had been set for about 2 1/2 hours and figured I'd give it a 1 hour exposure to see if the battery would last that long and how bad the noise would be. I put the camera on the bulb setting, locked it open with my wired remote, and read my book for an hour.

I was happy to go back to the camera 1 hour later and hear the mirror thunk down when I released the shutter. The battery had survived so far; now lets see if it would last through the dark frame subtraction.

In case you aren't familiar with dark frame subtraction it's used in digital cameras to help eliminate the noise that creeps in during long exposures. For example, if you shoot a 1 second exposure then just after taking the shot the camera will make another 1 second exposure on its own; but it won't raise the mirror or open the shutter so the sensor isn't actually exposed to light. Any 'light' that shows up during this totally black exposure is interpreted as noise by the camera and it subtracts that noise from the affected pixels in the original exposure. Not an exact science but a help.

So back to my start trails. I checked my watch and was curious to see how long the battery would last into the dark frame and if the dark frame would actually last an hour, the same amount of time as the exposure.

Happily the battery lasted without problem and interestingly enough the dark frame only lasted about 50 minutes. The results of the picture turned out better then I'd expected, though in hind site I wish I would have set the lens to f/5.6 instead. I darkened this shot a little in post processing.

So it's a start but I need to do some more experimenting. Will the battery last for 1 1/2 hours? 2 hours? Is 50 minutes the maximum time the dark frame will last or will it go longer with a longer exposure? Will the noise ever get to the point where it's really bad or will it be acceptable.

Once I figure out the max the battery will last maybe I'll have to get a portable, external power source for the camera to try some really long exposures.

I figure by the time the year is up I'll have made my second test exposure and it a few years I should pretty much have all the variables worked out. By then it will be time for me to replace my DSLR and start all over again.

Anyone else have any experience with star trails and DSLR's that can save me some time?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Ricoh Caplio GX100

So I said that I'd bought two new cameras to replace my Fuji F30 and to act as a DSLR stand-in when I wasn't able or didn't want to carry the weight and bulk of my DSLR system. A pre-requisite for both cameras was that they must have a hot shoe so I could do wireless flash work with them. The Canon S5 IS took care of the long end of things and gave me a flip out screen which I really wanted, but that left the wide end lacking. When it comes to P&S cameras it's hard to find something with a wide angle lens, most start at a 35mm equivalent (which isn't wide enough for me) with a few starting at 28mm. Finding one with a wide angle lens and a hot shoe is darn near impossible!

When I heard about the Ricoh GX100 I was very intrigued. It has a zoom lens starting at a 24mm equivalent (same as my wide angle DSLR lens), a hot shoe, and it's supposed to be designed to be used as a photographers camera. Basically that meant the layout looked to be well thought out with the most important controls directly (or almost directly) accessed instead of being buried in menus. It was also able to capture RAW images in addition to JPG and that was enough for me to give it a serious look.

Unfortunately this is a hard camera to get ahold of. There are only a few vendors offering it for sale in the US which makes it impossible to actually look at in person before buying it. I had to make my decision by listening to the experiences of other users and reading some so-so on-line reviews. In the end I decided it was the camera I needed, gulped real hard, and ordered it from Adorama. Their is also a clip on EVF (Electronic View Finder) available for an extra $100 but I decided to pass on it for now.

As with the Canon S5 IS I wasn't expecting miracles from the camera. I realized that it wouldn't be anywhere near the level of image quality that a DSLR offered and it wouldn't be nearly effective at high ISO's in comparison to my old F30. I was hoping the image stabilization would make up for that though by letting me shoot at lower ISO's in lower light. But I was willing to give that stuff up for a 24mm equivalent lens in a pocketable camera that had a hot shoe and could do RAW capture.

When the camera arrived I immediately fell in love with the layout, handling, and feel of the camera. I was a long time film hold out and did my share of rangefinder shooting; it felt a lot like holding my old Olympus XA when I picked up the camera. A nice, compact, hefty package with well laid out controls. The size of the camera is a little larger and heavier then your typical P&S but it still fits in a pocket and has a very nice feel.

Just in front of the shutter release under you index finger is a rotary control wheel to control lens aperture. I LOVE control wheels, they're so much better then little rocker switches!

Just under your thumb is another control wheel of sorts, but it doesn't actually spin. In Manual mode this button gives direct access to shutter speeds by moving it either left or right. When in AV (Aperture Priority) mode you press it in and a customizable menu pops up giving you access to up to 5 controls (I use 3 to keep down the clutter) such as EV, white balance, ISO, and some other stuff I can't remember right now. You can choose how many items are in the menu and what order they appear...very nice for a P&S! Once you've selected on of the menu items (using the same switch under your thumb by flicking it left or right) the 4 way control rocker makes the adjustments. You can leave the menu item (like EV) displayed on the screen or hide it with another press of the control rocker. I've always felt comfortable with figuring out new electronics but I found this all very easy and intuitive. I still haven't opened the users manual and didn't know how the controls worked before I bought the camera. I think it took me all of 2 minutes fiddling with the camera and running through the menus before I had this all figured out. I'm sure when I actually go through the manual I'll find even more I wasn't aware of.

Another handy and customizable feature is a small f button on the top left of the camera. Out of the box it's setup so that when you press the button it engages manual focus. I personally find manual focus to be next to worthless on a digital P&S camera unless I were in a controlled situation with good light and plenty of time to compose and focus. But if that was the case I'd be using my DSLR. Thankfully though you can set the button up to control a few different things. I set it up so that it locks exposure with the press of a button. Very handy when I don't want to focus on what gives me the proper exposure. All of this is made even easier with the live histogram, which I absolutely love. My biggest complaint with the F30 was that it didn't have any histogram at all (not even in playback). A live histogram is a godsend though.

People complain a lot about the handling of digital cameras as compared to film cameras but I've got to say that many of them are easier to control manually then most film cameras. I'd take the easy to use control wheels that fall under your fingers any day over the shutter control wheel on top of the camera and aperture control on the lens. How many film cameras will let you adjust shutter/aperture easily and quickly while holding the camera with one hand? I have 3 digital cameras and I can easily do that will all of them. Of course that's not the case with your typical digital P&S shoot, but they didn't let you do that with film P&S cameras either.

Anyway, enough about the handling and layout of the camera; all that doesn't mean anything if it can't take pictures. When it comes to actually taking pictures I'm still on the fence about the camera. As other reviewers and users have mentioned auto focus in macro mode really sucks. Every time you focus the lens seems to focus all the way in and out before finally settling on the correct focus. Even if you focus the camera with a half press of the shutter, release the shutter and then do another half press without moving the camera it goes through the whole process again, which takes a couple seconds. But hey, I didn't buy it for it's macro performance so I can live with that I guess.

I've gotten some very good results from it but I've also had some shots come out blurry where the shutter speed should have been high enough to keep camera movement from being an issue. The color hasn't always seemed that great in the pictures, white balance doesn't seem to be the most accurate, and the shots just don't look that impressive out of the camera for the most part. I started out shooting in JPG mode but since I've mostly been hiking with it so far I haven't really needed the shot to shot speed so I've been putting up with the 5 second RAW write times; which is nice as it allows more flexibility in post processing.

Shots in good, bright light look plenty pleasing, it's the shots in poorer light that just don't look right (and not just because of the poor light). The just don't look very sharp, even when shot at fairly high shutter speeds and viewed as small images on-screen. Perhaps the image stabilization isn't all I'd hoped it would be on this model and it's letting me down a little. I'll have to do some comparison shots on a tripod.

I definitely need to spend some more time with the camera to get to know it a little more and figure out how the get the best out of it. I'm not sold on the image quality yet but I need to do a little tinkering to see if it's me or the camera that's at fault. One thing I've noticed is that the shutter button is a little harder to depress then I'd like and it makes me prone to rotating the camera slightly when I do press the shutter, which could be resulting in some of the problems. I currently have the camera switched to “spot focus” so I can choose where it focuses but it still hasn't seemed 100% accurate and even though it lights up green to show it's successfully focused there have been times I could see on the screen it wasn't even close to in focus.

Time will tell how I really get along with the camera; it might turn out to be great yet but I am a little nervous about it. I've always been comfortable with electronics and new gadgets and I've never had a camera yet where I couldn't get consistently good results almost right out of the box. I'm no where near ready to say the camera is a dud yet but the jury is still out. I'll update more after I spend some more time with it and get to know it a little better.

I've started a Flickr set with some GX100 shots in it, you can see them here. Take a look for yourself and see what you think of the sharpness. Even in these small web images I think it's plain to see some just aren't very sharp. I realize that some are due to too slow of shutter speeds but many are in good light with high shutter speeds. I've got more, some better and some worse, but I just don't have time right now to edit and post all of them. I'll add more as time allows though. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Canon S5 IS

I told you all that I'd gotten a couple new cameras and it's about time I introduced you to one of them. I didn't ever think I'd buy myself a super zoom but I'm now the proud owner of a Cannon S5 IS camera.

I was getting tired of lugging the DSLR and lenses around all the time but I was reluctant to leave them behind on my hiking trips never knowing what I'd see or when the mood to do some photography would strike. After getting a couple longish lenses for my DSLR I was finding I liked using the longer focal lengths. The idea of a decent super zoom camera was really starting to appeal to me. It would give me a good range of focal lengths (leaving out the wide end) and was also light and compact enough not to be a burden when back packing. Not having to lug around as much camera gear would also let me carry around a smaller, lighter back pack as well.

I did some research but it really wasn't tough to settle on the Canon S5 once I decided to buy a super zoom. The fact that it was one of only a few to offer a flash hot shoe made the decision even easier. While there may be other brands that do better under some circumstances Canon seems to build the best overall P&S cameras from what I've seen.

I stopped in a Best Buy one day and was able to play with both the S5 and the S3 (its predecessor). Both are setup very similarly but the larger screen of the S5 was nice and it also seemed to have a much wider viewing angle (the S3 seemed to black out very easily if not looking at it straight on). As with all small sensor cameras the S5 IS won't do real great at higher ISO's in low light but I'm banking that the IS (Image Stabilization) will make up for the difference by allowing me to shoot at lower ISO's in low light.

So far I must say I'm very happy with the camera. I've taken it out on a few outings from biking, to walking around the city, to hiking in the mountains. The small size and light weight is a real blessing and I love the long zoom capabilities of the lens (423mm Equivalent). I've gotten shots with the camera I wouldn't have been able to get with my DSLR just because I don't have that long of lenses. The 35mm equivalent on the wide end is pretty much standard and it's a focal length that I enjoy using. So far I've found the controls to be set up pretty well and using the camera in either AV or M (Aperture Priority and Manual) is very easy; the live histogram makes getting the exposure correct a snap. I also love the flip out screen which is something I wanted the camera to do. It's great for macro and low angle shooting when I don't want to crawl on the ground for the shot. You can flip the screen around 180 degrees too which makes taking a self portraits a snap!

The picture quality is decent and pretty much what I expected. There's no way the image quality compares to that of a DSLR but I didn't expect it to either so I'm not disappointed. Most of my images will only be used on the web anyway and I'm sure I'd have no problems making 8X10's from most of the shots.

I haven't done any real testing but the IS seems to be working as advertised and I've gotten some sharp shots at very long focal lengths at pretty low shutter speeds.

The focus speeds is fast enough for me and I haven't had any troubles with the focus accuracy. I'm using the camera on center weighted metering and it's done a fine job so far. Like I said earlier the live histogram makes it easy to see when it's made a mistake before you take the shot.

There are of course a few complaints I have with the camera, none of them real major though. The EVF (Electronic View Finder) sucks, not that anyone else is doing any better in this regard from what I here. It's low resolution, small, and I find it difficult to use. So far I haven't had much issue using the screen even in the sun but it would be nice using the EVF to save battery life. As it is though I'll sacrifice battery life for easier to use screen over the EVF.

I also wish the lens cap fit tighter. I find it's constantly popping off and if I forget to remove it before powering the camera on the lens extends and just pops it off and onto the ground, which could be a very bad thing in some situations. I wish they would have just programmed the camera so that it would detect excessive current as the lens tried to extend on startup if the cap was on; causing it to stop extending the lens to keep from damaging anything and displaying up a warning on the LCD to remove the lens cap.

If course, I really wish the camera had a RAW capture mode too though I've been happy with the JPG output so far.

I'm sure as I use the camera more I'll find more limitations and things I don't like but right now it's looking like it's going to be a real winner for me. Hiking 10 miles through the mountains yesterday was definitely easier and more fun since I could carry a smaller pack and less weight.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fuji F30

To compliment my DSLR system I bought a Fuji F30 just after it came out. It got rave reviews for excellent lens sharpness as well as unsurpassed performance at high ISO's in the digital P&S market. A feat which still hasn't been matched by any other manufacturer. I got along great with the camera and I took plenty of good shots with it. It was small, light, and I hardly even noticed it in my pocket. As advertised the lens was very sharp and it performed excellent at higher ISO's (nothing compared to a DSLR though). Battery life is fantastic too at around 500 shots or so. For a a while I used the camera a lot and in many situations where I normally would have used my DSLR. The longer I owned it though the less I used it, favoring my DSLR for all but true P&S situations.

One of my major gripes with the camera was the lack of a historgram; either live or in play back mode. It's just not possible to properly judge the exposure looking at the screen on back of the camera, particularly in bright sunlight. This left me with plenty of pictures that turned out to have badly blown highlights. There are no full manual controls either, although it does offer AV and TV modes; though I find them kind of clunky to use. The control wheel on top of the camera was too easy to turn and it seemed to never be on the mode I left it on when I put it in my pocket. The purple fringing everyone talks about wasn't horrible in normal use but it was a little annoying at times; made worse by the blown highlights from the lack of a histogram. What it really boiled down to for me was that the F30 was set up to be used as a P&S camera and I wanted something that offered more control.

A few weeks ago I started thinking about replacing it and I started researching my options. I wanted something that gave real manual controls and also had a hot shoe so I could use it with external flash. I knew I'd be giving up the great high ISO performance but felt that I could make up the difference by getting a camera with image stabilization. I realized that I very rarely shot the camera at over 400 ISO and if image stabilization gave me an extra two stops I could still shoot at ISO 100 in those situations.

I also wanted something that could actually stand in for my DSLR when I was backpacking or traveling light when I didn't want the extra weight and bulk. In the end it took two more cameras to give me what I wanted. So far so good with both of them but only time will tell if they were really an answer to a problem or just a temporary patch. I realize that the F30 is capable of remarkable results and I've seen people over come its limitations with some incredible pictures. Hopefully though these new cameras will better serve my needs for a longer period of time and will help me create some the shots I feel I've been missing.

Still though, if you're just looking for a small P&S that can easily fit in your pocket and give tremendous results then the F30 is definitely something to look at; though it's now been replaced by the F31 fd which is supposed to be pretty darn good as well.

More to come on the new arrivals soon!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

New Stuff around the corner

I just got back from a 4 day bicycle trip in the San Juan Islands and I'll be spending the day and evening in Seattle today so I don't have time to do much writing. I do have some new toys to write about though so expect more fun stuff in the next day or two.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Pentax K10D

I suppose I should start things off with a run down of my gear; I'll start with my DSLR since it's my main camera.

I finally jumped into digital a few years back when I purchased a Pentax *ist DS (yes, I know it's a stupid name) because I had plenty of old Pentax lenses, they were the smallest DSLR's out there, and they had the best viewfinders. I wasn't disappointed and I got along great with the camera. Earlier this year I decided to upgrade when Pentax came out with the K10D. The biggest reasons for the upgrade were built in image stabilization, dual control wheels, larger buffer, semi-pro build quality, weather sealing, and more customization. It also had 10mp over the 6mp of the *ist DS but this was way down on my list of reasons for an upgrade.

Overall I'm very happy with the camera. It's a little bigger then I'd like but it still fits my hand well and I don't have a problem lugging it around. As with pretty much every DSLR out there image quality is fantastic and I've found nothing there to complain about. Because of the increased number of pixels they crammed onto the sensor noise does seem a little worse at higher ISO's then the *ist DS but it's still acceptable for me; though I do try to stay away from ISO 1600 when possible.

Having dual control wheels is great and I love being able to customize their functions how ever I want in the different modes. For instance, in manual mode I have it set up so the rear wheel controls aperture and the front shutter speed. In AV mode the rear still controls aperture but now I have the front set up for exposure compensation. If I wanted I could set up the wheels to do any number of things. There are plenty of other nifty modes like TV, SV (sensitivity priority), Auto, etc, but to tell you the truth I don't think I've ever used them; I do all my shooting in either manual or AV (Aperture Priority).

I done very little testing of the image stabilization system but I've gotten some very good results at low shutter speeds so it seems to be working as advertised; no complaints there.

One thing I wasn't too crazy about with the K10D was the move from AA batteries to a dedicated rechargeable battery (D-L150). I liked the idea of using AA's with the *ist DS (actually I used CRV-3's) since you could always pick up a set no matter where you were if you found yourself with dead batteries. As it turns out though I get along great with the dedicated battery and like it better then AA's. The solution for me was to pick up a spare battery from EBAY; it's much cheaper then spending $40-60 on one from Pentax. As it turns out the K10D shares a battery with the Sony/Minolta line of DSLR's (they call it an NP400)which have been out for quite a long time and it's a battery that's readily available on-line. I bought one for about $12 off EBAY (that included shipping and a charger) and it works great. Each battery gives close to 1000 exposures, so with 2 of them I'm pretty much set for everything. If I know I'll be traveling for a long time (like on this trip) then I'll bring the charger too knowing that somewhere along the line I can find a power source to plug into to recharge the batteries. So far I've had no issue at all with the batteries and find them easier to carry and keep track of them multiple AA's.

Of course there are some negatives to the camera and I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about some of them. The biggest one is the lack of high quality lenses and accessories for Pentax in general. It's never been a highly popular brand so there aren't many after market companies that build good gear in the Pentax K mount, instead focusing more on Canon and Nikon (even my spell check doesn't recognize 'Pentax' but has no problem with 'Nikon'). There are tons of slow, consumer zoom lenses out there. But if you want something along the lines of a professional zoom lens (like a 28-80/2.8) then it's going to be hard to find either new or used, and when you do find one it's going to be really expensive because they're so hard to come by. Even Pentax doesn't build many of these lenses so you can't even buy them new from the manufacturer. They're supposed to be coming out with some professional quality zoom lenses later this year but still, Nikon and Canon have had them available for many years. Same goes for dedicated flash units and the like.

Couple that with the fact that for the last year or so most Pentax lenses and accessories have been unavailable due to low supplies can make owning a Pentax camera and wanting to outfit it very frustrating. The second a large supplier would get in a shipment of Pentax lenses word would spread like wild fire through the internet forums and they'd be sold out again within a day or so as people bought them up. This seems to have been resolved to an extent but after just checking I see there are still some really good lenses being listed as “out of stock” at B&H. One thing Pentax does have going for them though is unique lenses. They seem to have devoted themselves to high quality prime lenses more then any other manufacturer with quite a few different “pancake” lenses, so named for their amazingly short physical length, making them very small and light.

Another problem I have with the K10D is the low flash sync speed of 1/180. That wasn't a big deal when I bought it but not that I'm getting more into off camera flash with small strobes thanks to I'm wishing many times that it had at least 1/250 and I'm totally jealous of even the low end Nikon D70 with an electronic shutter that can sync at well over 1/500. Other then those two things I don't think I have any real complaints about the K10D, though I'm sure I could find some more small things if I really thought about it. It's a great camera overall and gives a lot of bang for the buck.

I've gotten rid of most of my old manual focus K and M lenses for convenience sake and now primarily shoot with the 16-45/4 DA and 100/2.8 DFA Macro lenses from Pentax. I'd shot nothing but prime lenses (fixed focal length) for years so it was kind a tough swallow to break down and buy a zoom; but I must say I've been very impressed with the 16-45. The quality seems to be excellent even wide open and it's gotten me shots that I never would have gotten had I been carrying around primes. It's also handy to have one zoom lens take the place of 2 or 3 prime lenses when it comes to lugging it all around. There are times I wish it had a longer maximum focal length but for a general carry around lens it's perfect.

The 100/2.8 macro was a tough decision because it was more then I really wanted to spend but it really fit the bill for me. I needed a lens in the 100mm range with a wide aperture for some of the theatre shooting I was doing for a local community theatre and I also wanted something that would go down to 1:1 for my macro work. At the time I had both an old 100/2.8 M and 100/4 M macro (only 1:2 magnification) lenses that worked OK but it was a pain to carry them both so I decided to consolidate by selling them.

Since getting the 100/2.8 DFA it's become one of my most used lenses and I really love it. Some people complain that the build is too light but that was my biggest reason for getting it. It still feels plenty substantial to me and the small size/light weight makes it perfect for carrying around in the back pack or over the shoulder. It's smaller/lighter then any other macro lens I looked at. And the picture quality? I can't imagine anything being any better. Along with being an excellent macro lens it's done great as a portrait lens and I'm also finding it a focal length I get along well with when it comes to landscapes. Although it was a tough decision I'm very happy I went ahead and bought it.

I also have an old 50/1.7 A lens and a 70-210/4 A lens that get occasional use now and then. Both are good quality and fill a niche for me but are a bit more of a hassle to use then their newer, electrified companions.

That pretty much covers my most used equipment. I'll write more about my flashes, bags, tripods, and little P&S cameras later.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Get this show on the road

If you want to know more about me then I'll recommend you over to my travel blog where you can be entertained for hours on end by my little adventure.

If you're lazy and not initiated enough to follow a simple link then I'll give you a brief run down by introducing myself as Alan Gage and letting you know that I've sold my house and nearly all my worldly possessions to live out of my car and travel around the country. Cool, huh?

I'm currently about 2 months into the trip and things are going very well. Unfortunately I'm not independently wealthy so nearly everything I do has to be on the cheap and I'm picking up work a week or two at a time as I travel to try and keep some money in the bank.

But that's not what this blog is really going to be about. Photography is my main hobby and I'm trying to get plenty of it in while I'm seeing the country. I show plenty of it on my main travel blog but I don't really want to bore everyone that reads it with all the little technical details that I find so interesting; because believe or not that's just plain boring to 99% of the population!

I'm pretty much a what you see is what you get type of guy and that should be reflected in my writings on photography. I'll talk about my equipment, how it works, and what I think of it; but you're not likely to see me put up a bunch of 100% crops and nit pick every little thing. I'm much more concerned with how the equipment actually works in real life and not in controlled test situations. Hopefully that viewpoint will be a bit refreshing.

Phew, that's about enough work for today. There's no need to rush into anything. I better go rest a while and further updates will follow.

Details of above self portrait: umbrella to camera left, Pentax K10D and DA40/2.8 lens on tripod in front of me set to a different ISO then my flash meter because it was really late and I also forgot to turn on the bare flash to the camera right to act as fill. Oddly enough I liked this picture better then any of the others I took where things were actually set correctly! Ain't that the way it always goes?