G.G.A.S.*: Canon 100-400 mkII

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*Galloping Gear Acquisition Syndrome

I am generally happy to remain ignorant of the latest bells and whistles that the camera manufacturers have added in order to sell another piece of gear that no-one really needs. However, of late my head has bean turned by lots of new doodads. The latest in this parade of head turners is the updated version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens. I had the original ‘dust pump’ version of this lens which I eventually retired because it never saw much action and following it’s use I ended up spending a while cleaning the sensor on the body that it was used on. Having said that, there was a certain novelty factor to the way that the lens extended to change focal length. For the weight and number of times I used the lens I decided to leave it on my desk at home and make do with my very much lighter 70-200mm lens.

There are times however when the extra reach can allow you to make the photograph that you have in mind. The image above is a case in point. I’d tried with my 70-200, it really wasn’t working, click on the image below to see what I mean. Nixon_150115_6450

While getting closer was certainly an option I had an opportunity to use the new 100-400 lens and made the image below using the same settings as I had with my 70-200mm. Nixon_150115_6462

Immediately noticeable on the LCD screen on the camera was that the image made using the 100-400 was sharper than that made with the 70-200 even though all the camera settings and lens settings were the same. This in inevitably led me to wonder what if I dumped the 70-200 and replaced it with the 100-400 lens. That way I’d have a nice sharp lens capable of the extra reach when I need it. My only concern is the weight – a chunky albs. We’ll see how I get on!

I’m Going to Need Some Bigger Memory Cards

The world of Canon photographers was all of a twitter last week when the new Canon 5DS and 5DS R cameras were announced. Why the buzz? These cameras, that boast 50.5 MP sensors are Canon’s attempt to get back into the pole position of high mega pixel DSLR cameras, a position that they held for a long time until they were surpassed by Nikon, with the D800 and now D810, and then Sony, with the AIIR. I’m sure that these are not the cameras that everyone was looking for, but seems as though they will be interesting to play with once they become available in June.

While the world of Canon is waiting it will be worthwhile for those of us thinking of making the leap to learn from the Nikon folks who stepped up from 12 MP to 36 MP. Not only will we need larger memory cards, each full size raw file will be ~ 60 MB, but also we’ll need to make sure that our lenses are of sufficient quality to handle this resolution – this will be a great way to find out which of your lenses are slightly soft, and work on our technique to ensure that we’re getting the sharpest photographs that the camera will allow.

The video above is Canon’s introduction to these new cameras, there’s a lot more that we want to see a know but this was a good introduction. Also check out the interview below with Chuck Westfall the Canon USA spokesman. I’m looking forward to finding out more!

Filters – Trials and Tribulations

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There’s nothing that frustrates me more than being prevented from making the photographs that I have in my head than gear that doesn’t perform as expected or fails in one way or another.

While I’ve been in Japan I’ve been using my normal collection of ND filters but also experimenting with the Big Stopper. My usual approach to photography is to make exposures that I can then use to recreate the feeling that I had when I was there. Although much of my post-processing work has previously consisted of a few trivial moves in Lightroom, it is increasingly becoming a more substantial amount of work in photoshop.

For shooting moving water at the coast specifically I try to have the shutter speed be around 2 or 3 seconds, which is generally long enough to blur the water substantially while still retaining a sense of movement. At sunrise or sunset getting the right shutter speed is a matter of playing with ISO and f-stop, as it gets lighter and I can no longer decrease the ISO I will generally add a 3 stop neutral density filter. On this trip I’ve also been adding the Big Stopper into the mix to get even longer exposures such as the one above which was a 2 min exposure.

To make an exposure that is well exposed for the sky and the ground (or water in this case) I may use a graduated ND filter or take a bracketed set of exposures or both. I’m essentially collecting the raw materials to make the image later and not being stuck on getting ‘it right in camera’.

I have been using the 4 x 6 in filters from Singh-Ray, specifically the 3 stop ND filter and the Galen Rowell 3 stop soft ND gradient filter in a Lee filter holder. The filter holder attaches to the lens by means of a screw in adaptor ring.

Here’s where the fun began – I have UV filters on all of my lenses to protect them from the salt spray that I inevitably get covered in when I’m at the beach. We could argue about the value of those filters some other time and I will provide an argument below why I shouldn’t be using them. What I managed to do was to get the filter holder adaptor stuck on the UV filter of one of my lenses making it very cumbersome to use the filter system on any other lenses – not impossible just cumbersome. And annoying…

I tried all kinds of things to get the two separated, wearing rubber gloves so that I could get a better grip, putting a rubber band around the UV filter to help me get a better grip, heating with a hairdryer, all to no avail. At the suggestion of one of my new best buddies to warm up the UV filter by holding it and by doing so expand the UV filter slightly I did the following:

  • cooled the UV Filter/Filter adaptor pair by putting it in a cold draft, essentially on an outdoor window sill
  • sat the UV Filter on something warm, in this case my bare arm, taking care not to touch the upper adaptor ring, until it didn’t feel cold any more
  • put a rubber band around the UV filter
  • put on my rubber gloves and twisted

The whole thing then came apart with a little bit of effort. I was stunned given that I’d been trying for a couple of days to separate them. File this away in case you ever find yourself in the same predicament.

On a wide angle lens I will usually see substantial vignetting that results from the filter adaptor being stacked on the UV filter. In the past I’ve gotten away from this problem by hand holding the filter and not using the holder. Inevitable this means that I scratch the resin filters and move during the longer exposures or screw the shot up in some other way which is why I’ve started using the filter holder routinely. After a bit of experimentation while I was here I realized that if I take the UV filter off the lens then the vignetting goes away. The lens of course is still protected by the ND filter and all is right in the world. When I’m done with the filter holder I’ve been putting the UV filter back on the lens but can imagine that I will soon ditch the UV filters completely.

A New Tilt on an Old Theme

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I thought that I’d share my first in the field experiment with a tilt shift lens. My first attempt with a tilt shift was this which of course taught me that in addition to manual focusing I needed to also be manual exposure. Probably not too much of a surprise for anyone whose used these lenses but it’s all new to me. I also was ready for the back end freak out where photoshop isn’t able to stitch my images together for me but that comes later.

So how did I get here? I’ve been worrying unnecessarily about depth of field. While you, like me, are setting the F stop to 22 (or some other high number) focusing a third into the scene and then firing away with the knowledge that you’re going to have good front to back focus. While this has served me well I realize that the only thing in your image that actual is in focus in the thing that you’ve focused upon and everything else in the same plane as that point of focus. Everything else is acceptably out of focus.

The medium and large focus photographers that have access to tilt and shift are able to angle the plane of focus and by doing so get more (all?) of the image in focus. Scheimpflug principle anyone? With a DSLR one way to achieve the same large depth of field is by taking multiple images with different points of focus and then blend them to extend the depth of field. Helicon focus is a well respected piece of software that can help if this is something that you’re interested in, beyond what you can achieve in photoshop. This approach is somewhat problematic when things in your image are in motion, such as my favorite subject – water. This is where a tilt shift lens comes in. It should give you access to the same tilt and shift functions that you would have with a medium or large format camera.

My playing so far has been restricted to the shift function which is how the image above was made. A vertical panorama stitched together and then cropped. See the images that I used below.

Top:

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Middle:

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Bottom

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Which when stitched together give:

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Which I then cropped to this:

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I think that this is working. The next experiment will be to see what I can do with the tilt functionality. That should be fun.

An Easy Way to Add a Second Display

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I am continue to tinker with my post-processing workflow, not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with what I’m currently doing, just that I feel it could be better.

In looking what graphic designers and others who edit images for a living gravitate towards many seem to be using two displays and a tablet based editing system such as the Wacom Cintiq.

I’ve experimented with Wacom tablets in the past but they always seem to be more trouble thatn they’re worth. Perhaps if I made myself use the tablet for everything for a week it would start to seem as natural as reaching for the mouse does.

Wondering whether I would struggle to fully embrace a second monitor I was intrigued when I came across the air display app that allows you to use the iPad as a second display.

Having a second monitor means of course the ability to move the pallets section in photoshop to a second monitor, or to have a full screen image on one display and a zoomed in image that you’re working on on the other, or perhaps to use the iPad and an appropriate stylus as a budget Cintiq.

Seems like there are lots of reasons to try this option out and the cost of the app is much lower than that of an additional monitor. Have you tried using the iPad as a second display? I’d be delighted to hear your experiences if you have.

Trouble with Tripods

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As I was setting up my tripod for this shot this summer as I collapsed, de-telescoped, closed or whatever you call it, one of the legs the rubber foot shot off sending me scrambling to find it. Luckily I did! The glue had finally given up on the Gitzo 1325 legs of my tripod. Not bad after taking a beating for 8 years. I got a two part adhesive and glued it back in place and my tripod problems were over. Or at least I thought my tripod problems were over.

When I was using the tripod this week one i found that one of the legs was impossible to fully extend. Years of neglect had finally come home to roost. Photographing in and around the ocean means that your gear takes a pounding. Ideally you would rinse the salt water off your gear with fresh water. There are obvious problems doing that with cameras and lenses but you can and should do some clean up of your gear with a soft damp cloth after you’ve been out. I do this as needed after every shoot but I’ve never properly cleaned my tripod. This has largely been out of fear of getting the tripod to pieces and not being able to get it back together again.

I actually found that taking the tripod to pieces was much easier than I’d expected. On the old Gitzo that I have it’s simply a matter of unscrewing the leg lock the whole way and then pulling on the leg. The one that was stuck needed me to stand on the head of the tripod and then yank hard on the leg. Eventually it yielded to force! While the tripod was in pieces I took the opportunity to clean up the threads both on the leg and on the screw lock. The leg locks had been making awful grinding noises for years, presumably from sand and salt getting in there. This was easy enough to do with a rag for the legs and a toothbrush to get into the locks. As an aside I had always been taught to extend the tripod fattest section first, which of course meant that the lower section lock ended up under water the first time I used the tripod at the beach. While this advice is generally sound I typically have the lower section extended the width of my hand – about 4 inches – and then when working at the beach this is the first section that gets extended.

At the top of the tripod legs I found 3 bushings – two plastic and one that could easily be carbon fiber. Trying to get the legs back together was a little tricky and after a little bit of trial and error I realized that it was the plastic bushings causing the problems. I took these off the tripod and wound them into a tighter circle and then when they went back on the tripod the plastic stayed in this tighter configuration long enough to allow me to reassemble the whole thing relatively easily,

It was quite an educational process and easy enough that I could have been doing regularly all along!

How the Right Software Can Recover Your Files

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When I’m on a photography trip I take all of the obvious precautions that I’m sure we are all taking with digital files. I have two card readers in case one fails, it will eventually and it can be a pain to replace depending on where in the world you are, I download the images to two separate places and have enough memory cards so that I don’t need to reformat cards until I get home.

What this system doesn’t account for is what happens when a memory card goes bad. This has happened in a couple of different ways for me. In one case the memory card wasn’t being read by the card reader but could be read by the camera. Easy fix – plug the camera in and download the images. Slower than it would be with a card reader but it worked. In the second case the card wasn’t being read by the card reader. The lights were on but no files appeared on my computer even after waiting for an age. It’s at times like this that the card recovery software that is often free when you buy the memory card is what you need to have. I foolishly always toss the unlock code for the software along with the other packaging materials from the memory card and so when I needed the software I didn’t have it. I ended up paying what felt like a lot to get a ‘free’ program. Fortunately this software worked a treat and I was able to recover all the images on the crashed card.

So the moral of the story is – if you haven’t done it already, the next time you get a new memory card make sure you download the card recovery software. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever need it but when you do it’s an absolutely blessing to already have it installed and ready to go.