Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Revisiting an Old Image

The above image is a re-processing of one I took nearly four years ago. It was taken at Sunwapta Falls in Jasper National Park. If I made this image today I would have definitely treated it as a monochrome, the original version doesn't have a lot of natural color. It was an overcast day (the best kind for shooting waterfalls, in my opinion) so I got lucky there.

Here is the image as I originally had processed it back in 2007 with Lightroom 1.0

I like the composition of the image, its not perfect but it works. What I didn't like was the bit of geometric distortion and I thought the water didn't have enough texture and was too hot. The geometric distortion gets easily knocked out with the profiles built into Lightroom 3 and getting the right texture in the water was using a local adjustment brush increasing clarity and contrast and lowering brightness. There were also some dust bunnies to clear up and unfortunately the original image was captured at 1s without a tripod (I held the camera firmly against a railing) which meant careful sharpening in Photoshop. A total of about 15 minutes of work later:

Of course I prefer my new version. What do you think? Also, its clear to me now that this is a weak color image since color isn't really dominant visual element and the texture in the rock really comes through better in monochrome.

Technical: 1D3, 17-40 @ 19mm, f/22, 1s, ISO 100.

Monday, May 30, 2011


There has been quite the epic thread on the Fred Miranda board for the last week discussing the image quality of the Canon 100 f/2.8L IS lenses versus the Zeiss 100 f/2 Makro Planar. Since I own both lenses, I've tried to present data in an objective manner. I've starting putting some of it together on my 'Reviews' page.

This morning, we had some soft light due to clouds so I grabbed a couple of images of Chrysanthemums growing in the front yard. I then figured I should do some real photography. The above image was made from a burst of 9 shots, taken at f/2, hand held, manually focused. The images were focus stacked in Photoshop CS 5.1. I used a Zacuto Z-Finder attached to the back of the 5D2 and I have to say that I'm really liking it for hand held manual focus photography.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Structured Chaos

As I walked along the trail at Point Lobos State Reserve and came across this tree with all the moss and lichen growing on it, I knew this was the image I wanted to make. The trick was to find a framing I liked. This was on the first images I made, none of the other compositions ended up working.

Technical: Canon 5D2, Zeiss 100 Makro Planar, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Two Marine Iguanas

Another image that was left unprocessed from my trip to the Galapagos last year.

Technical: Canon 1Ds3, 500 f/4 IS, f/10, i/800s, ISO 400.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Muscovy Duck

I took Maya to the Palo Alto Baylands duck pond yesterday afternoon for a little stroll. I recognized this Muscovy Duck from last year and it seemed very tame so I approached it carefully and managed to fill the frame with the duck (on a X100 which has the field of view of a 35mm lens). It was partially cloudy yesterday too, leading to some really soft filtered light.

It is said the best camera is the one you take with you and that was true for me here. In spite of whatever shortcomings the X100 may have, it fit in my jacket pocket, so it came with me. If I didn't have the X100, I wouldn't have brought anything.

Technical: Fuji X100, f/4, 1/640s, ISO 200.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Zebra Stampede

Watching Zebras drink is a blast. They'll rush into the water, drink for a little bit and then all rush out. If you camp out for a while you can watch them do this over and over again.

Technical: Canon 1D4, 70-200 f/2.8 IS II @ 200mm, f/16, 1/25s, ISO 100.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Snow Goose Approach

I am definitely de-emphasizing avians in my photography; my last avian trip was in January and I have no Avian trips planned for the year. I made this image last December at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and figured I would finish working on it to something different than landscapes.

Technical: Canon 1D4, 800, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 800.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fuji X100 Thoughts

f/2, 1/15s, ISO 1600
 Since I first had a chance to play with the Fuji X100 at CES earlier this year, I knew it was a camera I wanted to try. Unfortunately at that time, I didn't get a chance to examine the images so I didn't know what the quality of the lens or sensor would be.  When the X100 started trickling out, it seemed like people were satisfied with the image quality so I bit the bullet and decided to get one.  Unfortunately, due to the March 11th Japan disaster the camera has been available only sporadically with many (unscrupulous) retailers choosing to sell what couple of bodies they had for grossly inflated premiums on eBay (I think one even went for $4000).  I was patient and last week managed to snag one from Amazon which I received last Friday.

f/4, 1/30s, ISO 400

I own several DSLRs, have used micro four thirds cameras and also have a Sony Nex, yet all of these cameras represent compromises in one or more ways and something has always been missing.  The DSLRs are sometimes just too big, and the mirror + shutter combination being just too loud.  I wasn't very impressed with the sensors in the micro four thirds cameras and finally the Nex is small and the sensor is great but I'm underwhelmed by the lenses and adapting manual third party lenses just wasn't doing it for me.  Then there is the Leica M9.  The high ISO image quality is ok, the lens lineup is incredible featuring some of the best optics ever made.  However there's the archaic rangefinder focusing and the heavy price tag. 

f/2, 1/60s, ISO 3200

Enter the Fuji X100 which promises a high quality sensor, a high quality, reasonably fast (f/2) fixed lens and a hybrid viewfinder that marries the appeal of rangefinder framing (where you can see outside the frame lines to anticipate action) with the modern convenience of an electronic view finder for accurate focusing.  All of this in a compact package that fit in a spring jacket pocket.  Does it live up to the promise, that was the question in my mind.
f/4, 1/640s, ISO 200, flash fired
The short answer is yes.  The X100 is by no means a flawless camera, but its key strengths, namely the sensor and lens are very strong with most of the weaknesses being the software.  When I saw the first couple of images I took with the camera I knew that the lens was great.  It has the kind of great colors and contrast that I get from my Canon L series lenses and is quite sharp even wide open.  Stopped down to f/2.8 its sharp right to the edges.  The sensor is also impressive, great color fidelity, excellent dynamic range and low noise at high ISO (easily better than a Canon Rebel T2i).

f/2, 1/20s, ISO 1600

The UI controls are generally where you'd expect them, I felt no need to bust out the manual.  Aperture is set on the ring.  Shutter speed / Aperture Priority is set via a top dial much like the Leica as is exposure compensation.  ISO can be assigned to a button at the top.  There is Auto ISO and unfortunately its buried as a menu option instead of just being part of the regular ISO settings (i.e. one of those software things).  Also, I find the Auto ISO to be of limited use for me, since my preferred workflow with auto ISO is to use the camera in a sort of Shutter+Aperture Priority.  I.e. I want to set the aperture and shutter speed and have the camera pick the ISO based on its meter.  However, meters aren't always accurate so I need to be able to use exposure compensation to bias the ISO the camera chooses.  Unfortunately, the X100 doesn't allow me to do this, the camera ignores the exposure compensation dial when using Auto ISO and having manually set a shutter speed.  Again, this could probably be trivially fixed in a firmware update.

f/2, 1/1000s, ISO 200, flash fired

There's a well known bug in the X100 where the camera will continue to do red-eye reduction even though its turned off in the menus.  But this bug only happens when shooting RAW and not when shooting JPEG or RAW+JPEG, bizarre I know.  Curiously, I encountered this issue within the first couple of hours of using the camera.  Since the X100 features a leaf shutter, its both extremely quiet and is capable of very high sync speeds.  I wanted to try this out by photographing my daughter Maya blowing bubbles in backlit evening light.  The ambient exposure was giving shutter speeds that would have been too high for most cameras without an ND filter.  But with the high sync speed of the X100 and a built-in flash that is *very* competent, I was able to make some fun images.  Unfortunately because of the camera's insistence on shooting with red eye reduction, that caused a significant shutter lag.  At the time, I didn't realize that to work around it one had to switch to RAW+JPG, but I got used to the lag quickly and could anticipate when to release the shutter to get the shot I wanted.

f/2, 1/17s, ISO 3200
One of the first things I did when I got the camera was to shut off all sounds it makes.  When you do this the shutter is almost completely silent and makes using the camera discreetly without disturbing anyone so much easier.

The hybrid viewfinder in the X100 has been talked about a lot and I know many are wondering what all the hype is about.  If you've ever looked through the optical finder of a rangefinder like the Leica M9, then you'll know that you get very nicely magnified view that is considerably brighter than what you get through an SLR.  The viewfinder is also usually larger than the captured frame size and so you can see elements outside your frame to help compose faster or to anticipate when something is going to come into frame.  The X100 has this and it overlays an electronic HUD with various bits of interesting information.  Then how would you focus?  In the case of rangefinders, there is a mechanical coupling to aid manual focusing.  In the case of point and shoot cameras and the NEX, the camera auto focuses using contrast information from the image as its read off the sensor.  But you'd need an electronic view finder to show this in the eye.  With the X100, you have two choices.  You can tell the camera to auto focus using sensor data while you look through the optical viewfinder and trust that the zone you've indicated is in focus.  Or (and this is the cool part) you can flick a switch and now your optical viewfinder becomes an electronic viewfinder and you can easily verify that what you want in focus is in focus.

f/2, 1/80s, ISO 400

So if the optical viewfinder is so great, why not just use it all the time?  It really comes down to when you are trying to focus on something that is relatively close to the camera (say within a few feet).  You have an issue of parallax because your eye and the sensor aren't on the same axis.  So when you select a zone for the camera to focus on, what you intend on focusing when looking through the optical finder may not be what the camera's sensor sees, this can lead to major focus errors.  But if you are shooting something at a distance, then you can just use the optical finder and can be reasonably confident that auto-focus will be accurate.

f/2, 1/25s, ISO 3200

There are a few other quirks.  The battery life indicator is woefully wrong, keep spare fully charged batteries with you.  The battery will show full life, then all of a sudden 1 bar, then a dozen shots later it'll be toast.  The focus speed is also not going to come close to comparing to a modern DSLR, especially for tracking moving subjects.  I was hoping that Fuji would have incorporated some kind of optical or sensor based image stabilization and unfortunately they didn't.  It is possible to get good images at slower shutter speeds like 1/10s but with some kind of image stabilization, you'd probably be able to go a lot lower.

f/2, 1/10s, ISO 3200

I love it when camera companies innovate and this is a case where Fuji has demonstrated great innovation.  They've been able to marry some of the benefits of cameras of old with modern advancements.  You can have both a high quality, bright optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder.  You can have Live View to acquire very accurate focus.  All this with some excellent optics mated to a very good sensor.  In my books the X100 is a winner and if Fuji can someone make an interchangeable lens version of this camera with just a limited set of compact primes (24mm, 35mm, 75mm FOV equivalent lenses) with the same optical quality of lens in the X100, I would be all over it.  Even better, if they can make an interchangeable version of the X100 that takes Leica M lenses, on my that would be stellar.

f/4, 1/320s, ISO 200, flash fired

All that said, this camera with its compromises fits well into my lineup, but it isn't going to do so for everyone.  First, it certainly isn't going to replace a DSLR.  Second, its not going to excel at fast paced shooting, nor is it going to be a "jack of all trades" general purpose camera.  So if you get one, keep that in mind.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Black Elm under Half Dome

I scouted Cook's Meadow the evening before I made this image and knew when I saw the black elm and where the sun would come up that I wanted to do something with the elm back lit. Unfortunately, the sky was completely uninteresting and there was no fog but still I managed to get what I had in mind. Flare was definitely a problem and part of the reason this is in black & white.

Technical: Canon 5D2, Zeiss 50 MP, f/22, 1/13s, ISO 100.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


You didn't think I'd finished with all my Tanzania images did you :)

I made this image on the afternoon game drive during our second day in the southern Serengeti. We had spotted this pride of lions that morning and after spending a couple of hours with them in the morning, we returned to see if there would be any activity in the late afternoon.

For the most part, they weren't very active, though the entire pride got very interested when they spotted a couple of Giraffe walking by in the distance.

Technical: Canon 1Ds3, 500, f/10, 1/320, ISO 1600.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Waves - Garrapata State Beach

I made this image a few weeks ago at Garrapata State Beach. There was unfortunately a cloud layer low on the horizon which kept the sunset from being spectacular but we still had some really nice colors. As you can probably guess I had to stand in the water to make this image, unfortunately I wasn't wise enough to realize that I should have removed my boots first.

Edward got a couple of images of me while I was working (note the heavy use of filters , I love filters for landscape photography).  Also check out the workshop recap.

 When the waves started getting larger or my feet started to freeze, I had to bolt.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Swarm

Hundreds of red-winged black birds and Orioles take off and land in unison in this corn field at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

Technical: Canon 1D4, 70-200 IS II @ 70mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 100.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Golden River

I mentioned in my last post that the sunsets and sunrises at Yosemite this past weekend weren't that great. So in the afternoon, I focused on producing images with the river rushing by and reflecting the golden light on the mountains behind. I played around with several different exposure times to find one with just the right amount of kind of movement.  I didn't like the totally abstract compositions, and found a clump of grass and tried to incorporate it into the composition.

Technical: Canon 5D2, Zeiss 100 Makro Planar, f/20, 5s, ISO 100.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Circles over Upper Yosemite Falls

I love it when a plan comes together. If you don't know where that catch-phrase is from, you're probably too young to have experienced the A-Team in the 80s. I watched an episode recently and was struck by just how terrible it was. Alas, I was only about 6 then and there's no accounting for taste for a 6 year old.

My trip to Yosemite this weekend was probably the least productive of my photo trips. All the sunsets and sunrises were duds, I suspect due to the fact that there was not a single cloud over much of California.

However, I noted before leaving that the moon would be up during the day, leaving night time moonless. Since the sky was clear of clouds, I figured I'd at least try to do some star trail photography. Based on where Highway 140 was relative to Upper Yosemite Falls, I figured it would be the right subject. So during the day on Saturday while walking around the area with the family, I used the compass on my phone to figure out exactly where I wanted to be and which direction to face.

That evening I drove out to exactly the right spot, set up my tripod pointing in the right direction and was shooting in less in 5 minutes. I also knew I wanted the star trails to play a dramatic role in the image, so I knew I wanted to use my 24mm tilt/shift lens and shift up. The biggest challenge was acquiring focus, which I did just by trial and error.

One thing I wasn't sure about is how well the waterfall would be illuminated. I got lucky there with the light from the camps below providing just enough illumination to balance things out.

I took 10 minute subs, each at ISO 1600 and f/8 (to account for the error in focusing). I only had time to make 5 sub-images (for a total exposure time of 50 minutes) before the fatigue of having gotten up at 4:30 that day got to me. I'd love to go back another moonless night to make 3 hour exposure.