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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Graduated Filters


Although I have been using digital cameras since 2003 and undertook a college course in photography in 1999-2000 (which I failed miserably!) it's important to know that I am a ridiculously shy and awkward person and that until the past couple of years I have seldom braved to outside world to actually take photos. I have been making an effort to reverse this situation in the past couple of years and where I once might have gone out less than once a month I try to take photos at least once a week. I would say without hesitation that I have improved and learned more in the past two years than I have in all the years prior put together and I am still very much learning!

One situation I have only recently begun to look at is using graduated filters and multiple exposures to balance the sky and land in sunset scenes. Before now I have mostly just settled for well exposed skies and tried to find silhouettes in the foreground well aware that attempting to expose both simultaneously without the aid of additional equipment is an exercise in futility. As with most things in life once I made one serious attempt at using graduated filters I find I have quickly become very interested in perfecting the technique and while I am far from what I would consider to be accomplished I am still pleased by the results so far.

Currently I have a couple of Kood filters which are excellent value for money and the quality in my opinion matches or exceeds that of Cokin branded filters (which isn't saying much I'm sure some of you are thinking!) and I also have some cheaper brandless filters from ebay which much like the cheap CP-L filters I have talked about in the past actually perform pretty well as long as you keep things wide angle! I found with my Sigma and Canon wide zooms that resolution was unaffected up until around 50mm where a slight softness became apparent but the majority if not all of my landscape shots tend to be taken at 35mm or wider so it was not really an issue in the real world although I will most probably by a set of three Hitech filters soon as I am taking this more seriously and they are about as high quality as anyone would ever need but are still priced very reasonably.

Among the cheapo ebay filters there are some coloured grads which I am somewhat afraid to use because they are generally considered cheap and tacky but I find they are sometimes quite effective if used in the right circumstances, it helps to use them with sunsets where there is a lot of contrast in the lighting, I find the eye tends to believe what it is seeing more if you use them in a scene where we are used to seeing bright and vibrant colours in the sky, all too often on flickr I see people using them on a dull overcast day and the results are ridiculous whereas when they are used in more suitable circumstances they results are at least slightly more believable!

I will hold back on the coloured grad photos for now but here are some taken using the Kood and Ebay graduated ND filters stacked on top of each other:



Porthcawl again

Porthcawl

Porthcawl

Holy Lens Flare Batman!

Porthcawl Sunset

Porthcawl Sunset

Porthcawl Sunset

Porthcawl

Porthcawl


Monday, 24 October 2011

Image Theft!!


When it comes to sharing my photos I am pretty easy going, I mention on my flickr account that people are free to repost, reblog and share my photos as long as a link back and credit are provided which I think is pretty generous.

The following websites are all using my images without a linkback or credit and to make matters worse several of them are very large corporate websites!

Needless to say that once a body of evidence is gathered I shall be issuing some invoices and take down notices!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Tip: Metering for looooong night exposures!

Most of us who have attempted night shots will no doubt have encountered that point where the camera refuses to meter for exposures longer than 30 seconds or so, you can easily shoot longer than this in bulb mode but the camera will no longer help in terms of metering. You can get around this with an external meter but this can be expensive. You can also use an exposure table but this will never be 100% in tune with the scene you are looking at so it can be unreliable but do not despair!

There is a very very simple workaround to calculate exposure times using the cameras built in meter!

With the camera set at ISO 100 the required exposure time quickly exceeds the maximum 30 seconds the camera is willing to offer but WHAT IF we set the camera to ISO 1600 or even 3200 or basically the highest standard ISO your camera will go to before you have to enable software expansion? Whatever shutter speed your camera gives at ISO 3200 for example you can just multiply by 32 and that's the exposure you need when you turn the ISO back down to 100!

So let's say you set your aperture to F/8 and the camera is set to ISO 3200 and the camera meter gives you an 18 second exposure, all you do now is turn the ISO down to 100 and multiply 18 by 32 and you will get 576 seconds.

Next you divide 576 by 60 and you get 9.6 which you round up to 10 minutes.

So to recap:

Set your camera to a high ISO
Get a meter reading
Multiply the reading by the ISO (reading x 32 for ISO 3200, reading x 16 for ISO 1600 etc)
Divide the number by 60 and then round up.

Obviously this only works if you intend to shoot at ISO 100, if you shoot at 200 then halve the exposure time and so on....

This also assumes that you have taken your meter reading already stopped down to your desired shooting aperture.

Slightly more advanced options:

The above method should be just fine for most people, if your camera only goes to ISO 1600 then you should still be able to calculate exposures of 7-8 minutes with the lens set to F/8 which should be enough to get a correct exposure with just the full moon as your light source but there are occasions when much longer exposures are desired or lighting is darker and you can push things further by taking the meter reading with the aperture of the lens opened up and then factoring that into the maths.

I'm not going to go into half stops etc but let's just say you should double the exposure time for each stop you will be closing the aperture so if you take a reading at F/4 and the camera gives 8 seconds and you want to shoot at F/8 then use 32 seconds as the start point for calculating the exposure!

There's also the matter of fine tuning, light meters are by their very nature intended to measure light so in environments where there isn't much of it they can struggle. My suggestion here is to take some test shots with the ISO turned up high, that way you can get a quick preview without having to do a full lengh low ISO exposure and you can then tweak the exposure as necessary, if you're camera suggested 8 seconds and you find 10 seconds gave a better result then use 10 seconds as the basis for your low ISO calculation!

Now grab your remote and go and try it out! All you need is a remote that can activate the bulb mode of your camera and a stop watch, you may well even have one built in to your phone!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Pentax Q and C-mount Lenses = A predictable disappointment!

I did have my doubts about using adapted lenses on the new Pentax Q and they have just been confirmed by DC Watch.

Whilst the very small sensor promises full frame coverage with most C and D-mount lenses it's important to remember that the photosites on the sensor are incredibly tiny and most lenses simply cannot resolve enough detail to keep up. One combination in particular that had me salivating was the Q mated with the Pentax 8-48mm F/1.0 which would equate to a 46-267mm F/1.0 (in terms of light gathering) but it just isn't going to deliver any sort of usable image quality.

The camera does better with SLR lenses that tend to be capable of much higher resolutions so there is still some potential for interesting combinations, a 200mm F/2.8 would become an 1100mm which could have some interesting applications although even with SLR lenses I suspect only the very sharpest would be up to the job. If you're not interested in extreme telephoto then you're still best off using SLR lenses with 4/3 or larger sensors with all the associated benefits such as lower noise and shallower depth of field.

I would expect that modern megapixel CCTV lenses would perform somewhat better but they cost as much if not more as native Q lenses so what's the point? It's a shame really but I was expecting it to happen, there's just no way these old video lenses can deliver enough resolution to feed the tiny pixels in the Pentax Q It's still a cute camera and I know that the native lenses are very decent but it terms of using it for all those c and d-mount lenses that won't work on your 4/3 cam I'm afraid it's a no go!

Here's the link to the DC Watch article where they test several lenses all with disappointing results.

http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/review/special/20111020_484895.html

Tokina RMC 28mm F/2.8

 

I've been updating more frequently but it's been a while since there has been a lens review so without further ado here is a review of the Tokina RMC 28mm F/2.8. In my last entry I was somewhat critical of the SLRmagic 28mm lens which costs £100 so let's see how this legacy lens does bearing in mind that if you're lucky you can drop a zero off the price of the SLRmagic lens!

 

Build quality and finish:

Perfect pretty much, it's not a Leica but it's solid, well damped and feels like it will never break, you can't really ask for more from a lens in this class. Tokina have always had a reputation for build quality which persists today with their modern AF lenses.

 

Image Quality:

The lens puts in a very decent performance with great central sharpness at F/2.8 which does fall off somewhat at the boarders but not too much. Once the lens is stopped down to F.5.6-F/8 there is impressive sharpness across the image frame. The lens gives very nice saturated colours and contrast is good and punchy as well. Bokeh whilst not the first thing on people's minds with such a lens is commendably smooth for such a lens and certainly doesn't spoil a picture when it rears it's head!


Porthcawl harbour

Porthcawl harbour

Ogmore Vale

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2010

Porthcawl

Porthcawl

Porthcawl


Conclusion?:

This is a great inexpensive lens that is well made and gives nice punchy images. If you shop around you can get it for very little money although they are starting to creep up in price. If you have trouble finding one then look out for rebranded versions of the same lens, the Mitsuki 28mm F/2.8 for example is the exact same lens except it has an auto/manual switch!

 

SLRmagic = How to get the same lenses for less.

I'm sure a lot of Micro 43 and even some NEX users out there have caught on to not only using manual lenses but also using manual C-Mount lenses made for motion capture such as movie and TV lenses. Some of you will also be aware that many CCTV lenses can be used as well, specifically most lenses with a focal lengh over 25mm should give usable coverage on m43 cameras and many 35mm and longer lenses will even cover the APS-C size sensor in Sony NEX cameras. These lenses are rarely designed to cover sensors this large but are "over engineered" or at least project an image circle large enough even if the image quality becomes "interesting" towards the image boarders!

One of the main perks for me with using adapted lenses is the potential for a bargain and usually this is never more true than with using a CCTV lens however there is a company out there that appears to be selling very cheap CCTV lenses that have been lightly breathed on cosmetically and then sold for an immense mark up. Admittedly these lenses do give very unique and interesting results but it seems somehow unfair to charge such a huge premium for no reason.
This is NOT the SLRmagic toy lens!

The first example is the Fujian 24mm F/1.4 which is a very cheap CCTV lens that offers great low light ability, shallow depth of field and a nice swirly bokeh effect to backgrounds when the lens is used for portraits. It's not a high tech lens but it is very fun and can delivery surprisingly good results and certainly encourages creativity! I purchased this lens last year for under £20 and was delighted. Subsequently SLRmagic released a "26mm" lens with some decorative rubber bands, the result was the "toy lens" coming in at a grossly inflated £80! despite claims to the contrary, extensive examination and image analysis seems to indicate that the lens is optically identical and gives exactly the same results! It's up to SLRmagic what they charge for their products but I just wanted to point out that you can get the exact same lens for a lot less money! In fact you can now buy the same lens complete with rubber bands for £16.62 with free delivery! (you'll have to buy an adapter but it will cost less than £10) Which one would you choose?

SLRmagic: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Toy-Lens-26mm-f-1-4-lens-GF1-GF2-GH2-EP1-EP2-EPL1-/250752008080?pt=Camera_Lenses&hash=item3a61fbff90

Alternative: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/25mm-F1-4-CCTV-Lens-Set-Olympus-Micro-4-3-M4-3-Sony-NEX-E-Mount-/390354310005?pt=Camera_Lenses&hash=item5ae2ee1375

PS: SLRmagic also sell a version with an extension tube for an additional £60!!!!!! Yes that's right, £60 for a C-mount extension tube!


The next release from SLRmagic was the 35mm f/1.7 which can be yours for £102.48 or for ONLY £51.15 extra you can have that amazing extension tube that.....well it's just an extension tube, seems a bit steep really doesn't it? Despite their best efforts to disguise the lens with a new name ring and a splash of silver it was obvious to many that a seemingly identical lens made by, you guessed it, Fujian was already available at a greatly reduced price! Once again after extensive testing it was found that the cheaper version performed exactly the same and gave the same results and can be found for prices as low as £18.50 including shipping! A quick search of alibaba confirms that if you order a sufficient amount of these lenses from the manufacturer you can pay £3 or less a piece!

SLRmagic: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/SLR-Magic-35mm-f-1-7-MC-lens-EP1-EP2-EPL1-GF1-G1-G2-/250673066577?pt=Camera_Lenses&hash=item3a5d477251

Alternative: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/35mm-f1-7-2-3-C-mount-CCTV-lens-Micro-4-3-M43-NEX-/350474061881?pt=UK_Lenses_Filters_Lenses&hash=item5199e1c839

Again, a tough choice I'm sure you'll agree!


Some of you might remember back at the beginning of the year that a company called Zhongyi Optics was on the verge of releasing a 28mm f/2.8 manual focus lens for m43 and NEX cameras. It was a simple but attractive lens with a cool rotating aperture mechanism instead of blades meaning that a round aperture could be used regardless of F stop. The lens was intended to go on sale for £50 but nothing came of it. Suddenly, a seemingly identical lens bearing the SLRmagic name has arrived on the scene costing £100 or even better you can have an extension tube for just an additional £60!

I'm sure I don't have to say this but for £160 you could buy a fantastic legacy 28mm lens, adapter and extension tube and have change to spare! The choices are endless with lenses from Olympus, Canon, Konica, Tamron and Tokina to name just a few! For £50 this lens would have been good value and interesting but again SLRmagic have spoiled the party!

There are more examples including the Noktor 50mm F/0.95 which sounds impressive but yet again, a seemingly similar CCTV lens is available for less money!

The latest endeavour from SLRmagic appears to be a CCTV lens with wide angle added to the front! Early reports suggest it is actually fairly good although I tend to be cautious of some reviewers who are all too eager to put their SEAL of approval on SLRmagic gear. You're thinking great!, they have made a fast 12mm lens with decent IQ and being derived from CCTV components it will offer fantastic value for money......well actually it's going to cost around £350.

UPDATE: The reviews are in and the lens is actually very good, kudos to SLRmagic for making a quality product, the build quality is high and the optical performance is impressive, they appear to have made a giant leap in quality and value with this lens, maybe they aren't so bad after all!

If I come across as bitter I apologise and I know companies exist to make profit but there's just something about SLRmagic that doesn't feel right. Maybe it's because they have turned something that was cheap and fun and fascinating into something that is overpriced and represents bad value for money. Some time in the past few years somebody tried these lenses and reported their findings online for all to see and if it wasn't for this nameless individual SLRmagic wouldn't have seen an opportunity to cash in and I think that goes against the very spirit of trying weird and wonderful lenses on modern cameras.



Sunday, 9 October 2011

Some shots from a lovely sunset the other day plus one of our new baby!


Heol-y-Cyw
Heol-y-Cyw
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Sarn
Sarn
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Sarn
Sarn
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Seren And Mummy At The Beach
Seren And Mummy At The Beach
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Voigtlander APO-Lanthar 90mm f/3.5

I recently purchased this lens having admired it from afar for quite some time! It's not particularly fast but the image quality is beautiful, the bokeh is buttery smooth and there's hardly any longitudinal chromatic aberrations (bokeh CA) I haven't used it enough for a review yet but I certainly like what I see so far, it's a great match for my Sony NEX-5.


DSC00216
DSC00212
DSC00215


Canon EF-S 17-55mm IS USM: Still not there!




So how is copy number 5 of the Canon 17-55mm holding up? Don't ask.

Well I suppose I'll have to tell you because this is a blog! Well after some use I have realised this lens has a centering problem, it's not terrible but the very left hand of the image is noticeably softer when the centre is sharp and when the left hand is sharp the centre is soft, great. I really cannot believe how hard it is to get a good copy of this lens.
My options are the same as always:

Put up with it: It's not really bad but then again why should I have to deal with this issue on such an expensive lens?

Try another: Can I really go for a sixth copy in the quest for a good one? It feels like a step too far.

Try another brand: I've already been through a few copies of the Sigma 18-50mm EX, I still have a macro version now and it is much better at the wide end than the Canon but it just refuses to focus accurately beyond about 28mm which is infuriating because at the wide end it is absolutely fantastic from edge to edge! It also has warmer colours than the Canon and smoother bokeh! I could also try the newer Sigma 17-50mm with OS or the two variants of the Tamron 17-50mm!

I honestly believe that all of these lenses have great potential, I think when it boils down to it the one I decide to keep will be the first one that doesn't suffer from quality control issues!







MV Arcadia
MV Arcadia
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS

California Highway
California Highway
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

MV Arcadia
MV Arcadia
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS

MV Arcadia
MV Arcadia
Canon EOS 60D
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM


Saturday, 8 October 2011

Followers