Friday, September 30, 2011

End of the Month

New Moon 30 Sept 2011

Now is the end of the month of September. The end of the quarter. Tomorrow is the start of the last quarter of 2011. I saw this new moon early evening, after the sun had gone down, but with plenty of twilight left in the sky. Taken with the E-3, the EC-14, and 50-200mm at maximum zoom (283mm). It was hand-held, or more precisely, hand-propped on the top of my old Sorento. I was surprised at the reasonable sharpness of the image, considering it was taken under less than ideal conditions.

The primary black and white treatment was done in Silver Efex Pro 2 to pick out the lunar detail, then the black was tweaked a tiny bit more to get rid of noise artifacts in the black of the sky. Tweaking that black also enhanced the lunar detail a bit more as well.

I still have dreams of walking on the moon. I think I always will.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It Needed to be Done

Presenting the ticket

You're observing the presentation of a well-deserved ticket to a very bad driver. What did he do? On the south-bound side of Wallace Road, at the intersection of Wallace and Dr. Phillips Blvd, he pulled out of the right lane and into the left side into on-coming traffic so he could drive down a few yards into the left turn lane from Wallace to east-bound Dr. Phillips. I know this because I was several cars behind him when he pulled that stunt.

What makes this really bad is the driver did this during the morning rush when parents were dropping their children off at Dr. Phillips Elementary, which is right there at that intersection. Along with heavy automobile traffic, there were kids in the crosswalks along with the adult cross walk monitors. Now you've got a really bad situation where an extremely selfish driver in his expensive car feels he's entitled to get somewhere in a hurry regardless of the rules, and so puts a lot of very precious lives at risk. Because the through-traffic was heavy, and because he was too impatient to wait until he reached the left turn lane he pulled into the regular traffic lane and into the front of a van that was turning right onto north-bound Wallace from Dr. Phillips so he could get into the left turn lane. The van, of course, had the right-of-way.

Why do I feel this stirred up? Because this is "my" neighborhood elementary school. My two daughters, who are twenty-something's now, graduated from Dr. Phillips Elementary. I had a strong sense of parental protectiveness for that school then, and I still do now.

Marching and Watching

It's not as if this was some hidden trap by Orange County. They were standing right there in plain view as a group along with their cars in the bright morning sunshine. The fact that he (and a number of other bad drivers that morning) pulled that stunt in front of them just goes to show his ignorance as well as his overwhelming feeling of self-importance.

Not only was he the only one that they'd pulled over, but there was a truck pulling a trailer with lawn care equipment on the side of the road as well, having been pulled over for doing the same violation.

Three of Four (Writing the ticket)

I am not particularly friendly with Orange County. I have absolutely no use for their radar speed traps they run, especially on the east side of Orlando on Corporate Blvd and Quadrangle. If you don't believe me just search for "speed+traps" in the search box above and read my commenets. As long as they continue to run speed traps and I spot them doing it then I will stop and take photos of those actions, because those actions are wrong.

But today, the Orange County Sheriff's actions were absolutely right on. I hope they keep this particular action up. And I hope the tickets they hand out for this particular infraction are expensive as hell.

Treatments

Thunderheads Black and White
This is what I felt

Thunderheads
This is what I saw

This time of year Orlando is usually blessed with afternoon and evening thundershowers. In between running in and out of the house I managed to notice this afternoons collection of thunderheads around the horizon.

The original is the bottom photo, and shows what it looked like in color. What's disturbing about the image is the tinting due to air pollution. These clouds were on the eastern horizon, with the setting sun's light slanting through a large section of the atmosphere.

The upper photo was developed in Silver Efex Pro 2 with a copper tint added. I worked with the Full Contrast and Structure preset, then dropped the brightness -20, pushed the contrast to +20, and structure to +50. I wanted the wild energetic energy I was seeing the the cloud (the lightning) to come through the photo.

Technical

Taken with an Olympus E-3 with ZD 50-200mm zoom, base ISO, post processed in Lightroom 3 and Silver Efex Pro 2.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Day in my So-called Life

IMAG0241-1IMAG0238-1IMAG0247-1
IMAG0240-1-1

IMAG0250-1
IMAG0253-1
IMAG0258-1
IMAG0259-1

People keep saying that the best photos should tell a story. OK. Here's a collection you can follow from top to bottom, that shows little vignettes as I was heading home from the office. I won't add words. You can imagine what it might all mean. Or not.

P.S. Yes, that is Milla Jovovich looking up at you, the way she looked up at me while she was shilling for some beauty product in a bottle.

Everything taken with my Android-based smartphone. Five tiny megapixels. Everything post-processed on the smarphone.

I found this via TOP, and for some odd reason it fits into my attitude towards overly expensive camera gear. From anybody. And you thought the Nikon 1 was a joke. At least it doesn't cost $8,000.


I need to call Ken Rockwell. I think he's on to something...

Dazed and Confused

IMAG0235-1

Do you know what I find fascinating about my cellphone's built-in camera? The ability to push any image, still or video, immediately up to the web for all to consume. In my case it's pushing them up to my Flickr account. There's no other way to easily do that unless I cross over to my laptop and plug the phone into one of the laptop's USB ports with a micro-USB cable. Then I can bring up Windows explorer (or Linux Nautilus) and navigate the phone's filesystem looking for the image, then go through the rigamarole of using Flickr's browser interface to select and upload the photo.

It's a whole lot easier pushing it directly from the phone to the 'cloud'.

You can accomplish the same task with cameras that use SDHC memory cards by using Eye-Fi's online sharing feature. What makes the cellphone easier than even Eye-Fi is the ability to select, with a simple single touch, a given network out of a fairly extensive list to upload to.

Yes, as an old man, I know I'm very late to this party. But I can certainly appreciate what it means. Especially in this day and age of raw citizen journalism. My cellphone isn't the only phone capable of doing this. And cameras with Eye-Fis are just as powerful, just as dangerous.

Strange days indeed.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nikon, Sony, et alia redux

After reading Matthew's incisive response to my original post about the future of digital photography and his judgement of Sony, I have to admit that he is right. Mostly. His key thesis, that "Sony chronically shows exciting technological promise but hasn't demonstrated much commitment to photography" is unfortunately dead on target. Looking at the history of the Sony α brand since it's inception nearly six years ago, it bears all the unfortunate marks of a product line designed by committee with no real single photographic visionary in charge. A problem that seems to afflict just about everything Sony makes these days, and is 180° opposite from Apple. But I digress...

The reason I keep hoping that Sony will actually accomplish something with the Sony α brand is because it is derived from my beloved Minolta system, which I used for a decade from the 1970s to the early 1980s. During that time I owned a Minolta SRT-SC, XE-7, and XD-11, as well as a collection of Rokkor lenses (most MC, some MD) that included two absolute favorites, the 24mm  MC VFC and 85mm 1:1.7 MC. I eventually sold everything except the XE-7 and Vivitar Series 1 90mm macro, which I still have.

When I transitioned from film to digital in the mid-2000s I had every intention of going back to Minolta, or Konica Minolta as it was known then. But by the time I was ready the rumors were already circulating that Konica Minolta was putting the camera division up for sale, so I waited and then bought into Olympus.

My support for Sony nee Konica Minolta is emotional and irrational, born out of rosy romantic memories decades old, rather than cold, hard facts.

While bumming through the internets I came across Luminous Landscape (another group of hopeless Sony α romantics) and an old article about the Leica M8. The Leica M-series camera is the granddaddy of mirrorless cameras. The article dealt a great deal with a key measure, the telecentricity coefficient, the ratio of the lens-to-flange-distance to the sensor (or film) diagonal. Quoting a bit from the article:
...it is possible to reduce to a minimum distance between the last element of the lens and the sensor or film. This characteristic is important because it allows you to avoid retrofocus designs in wide-angle lenses, and make them much smaller. Reflex [SLR] cameras have a typical distance between mount and film plane of 45 millimeters ... and this imposes the adoption of retrofocus designs for every wide-angle lens... These types of lenses typically have more lens elements and are bigger and more difficult to design for a good correction of aberrations... However, retrofocus designs have a particular advantage in the digital medium: the light rays fall over the film (or sensor) plane in a more perpendicular way. Electronic sensors have a thick cover of filters that deviate the incident light if it comes in acute angles. Reflex cameras have a key advantage here, because the distance between the mount and the sensor plane makes easier to get more perpendicular light rays coming to the sensor surface. The old advantage of rangefinder cameras in the film age is a disadvantage in the digital age, and the opposite happens for reflex cameras.
In other words, it's good to have at least a 1:1 ratio or greater, which means increasing the lens-to-flange distance in relation to the sensor diagonal. This is one reason why Olympus originally designed the 4/3rds system with the largest ratio of all, 1.78:1.

That was back in the early 2000s. While Olympus was designing the 4/3rds system with a high ratio everybody else was adopting APS-C sensors to fit in their film-era 35mm cameras for essentially the same reasons; getting better edge-to-edge performance (less sensor area to cover) and hopefully a better system for designing less-expensive lenses, especially wide-angle.

Unfortunately Panasonic and Olympus discovered a bitter marketing truth, and that was the dominance of Canon and Nikon. As a consequence Panasonic pulled completely out of the 4/3rds DSLR market and Olympus eventually scaled back their efforts to just one body, the E-5. In the mean time they cut the flange-to-sensor distance in half, shrunk the mount, kept the same sensor dimensions and re-released the 4/3rds standard as the µ4/3rds standard.

Why? Marketing, obviously. They weren't going anywhere in DSLR sales. And technologically. Experience in sensor manufacturing combined with sensor technology advances and increasing faster embedded processors and sophisticated software allowed Panasonic and Olympus to minimize the telecentricity issues they first faced and move back towards a Leica-like "design". This gave them a truly smaller camera and matching lenses and thus a real marketing difference when compared to the Old Guard. Note that Leica's 35mm film telecentricity coefficient is 0.65. With all that in mind lets look at the telecentricity coefficient for three of the mirrorless systems that Matthew mentioned.

Telecentricity Coefficient Table for a Selection of Mirrorless Cameras
Mount and formatLens to flange
distance (millimeters)
Sensor diagonal
(millimeters)
Telecentricity coefficient
ABA/B
Olympus µ4/3rds2022.50.89
Samsung NX-Mount25.5280.91
Sony E-Mount18280.64

Everybody is under 1, with the Sony E-Mount even lower than Leica. Keep in mind we're talking about so-called "cropped" sensor sizes, which are less than 135mm frames. I don't think it's an accident that Sony chose such a ratio for the E-Mount. I think there's a lot more going on with Sony sensors and processors that we're not fully aware of, something a lot more than just mere megapixels.

The eternal question is will Sony really succeed with the E-Mount-based cameras. Sony is going to have to make their lens lineup as strong as µ4/3rds, and as small in comparison to the body. I run in a two-year-cycle with regards to major camera purchases, and this year is the year I will probably pick up another body. This year is even more significant in that I may also switch to another brand. Whether I stay with µ4/3rds or switch to Sony remains to be seen. But Sony has definitely piqued my curiosity. Let's see what Sony can really deliver between now and the end of the year.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Nikon, Sony, et alia.

Samsung NX11 with 18-55 standard zoom lens.
Just a few days ago Bill wrote down his thoughts on the future of photography, and in one of those quirks of timing, we now know more about what the market will look like in a few years. What changed is the "Nikon 1".

Nikon calls their new mirrorless camera system revolutionary, and while they may be right it's far too soon to believe them. Steve Jobs, who's certainly no dummy, called both the iPad and the Segway revolutionary, and he was only right about one of them.

The biggest noise about the new Nikon format is the smaller sensor. I'm reserving judgement about what the image quality will be, because photosite size really isn't everything – the Olympus E-1 has bigger pixels than the Canon 5DmkII. While the magnification factor and deep depth of field of the 1.16 cm2 sensor won't disappoint the hypothetical purchaser who's looking to upgrade from a compact camera, it's something that enthusiast photographers are going to need to come to terms with.

Nikon's CX format has stripped away the leverage of its installed DX and FX lens base in order to create something that won't undercut their established SLRs. This has echoes of Sony, who invented and owned the market for portable music players – called "walkmans" way back then – only to have it taken away when they insisted on locked-down digital formats in the face of demand for MP3s. They lost to Apple, a company that has never been afraid to undercut its own products; compare this to Olympus, which has collapsed its SLR line in order to drive the market for Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses.

If all goes well, the CX-mirrorless will be different enough from SLRs that people will want to own both styles, and even meagre lens interoperability might be enough to create the brand tie-in. In Nikon's favour, they do have a proven ability to change their direction mid-stream. It was only a few years ago that they were still insisting that "DX is the future." Nikon shifted its priorities and rebuilt its dated full-frame lens line, and quickly achieved remarkable success in the fight back to high-end parity with Canon.

(Canon diverged from Nikon by refusing to properly develop lenses for the overwhelmingly vast majority of its digital cameras, which amazingly continues to not blow up in their face. Instead flocks of fledgling photographers spend too much money for lenses that don't suit their actual needs 'because they might go full-frame one day'. My mind boggles, but I digress.)

Panasonic GH1 with 7-14mm ultrawide zoom lens.
While other systems are struggling to be invented, Panasonic and Olympus sit on an ever-expanding range of lenses and cameras that is second only to the decades-old Canon and Nikon systems. No, they don't have tilt-shift lenses or "professional" cameras yet, but Micro Four Thirds is a viable and vibrant system in a way that the others simply aren't. And with the transient exception of the Olympus E-5, the m4/3 makers are the only ones who are committed to a mirrorless format as their only system cameras. For everyone else it's a second line, a niche that they only compete in because someone else has already established the market. I include Samsung in that despite their abandonment of the K-mount – they're quite devoted to their compact cameras.

Where Bill and I really part company is in our expectations for Sony.

Sony chronically shows exciting technological promise but hasn't demonstrated much commitment to photography. They make great compact cameras – thirty-five new ones since January 2010 – and then migrate those features up into their interchangeable lens models. Sweep Panorama is fun, but Sony just doesn't seem to understand that compacts and system cameras aren't the same market.

When Sony took over Minolta's Maxxum catalog it created a flurry of opinions that they would soon be rivalling Canon and Nikon. Their size and electronics background made it seem inevitable. Five years have gone by and their rebranded Alpha mount actually has fewer lenses available than the upstart m4/3 system.

Sony's new "SLT" designs aren't so much an innovation as a way for Sony to finally rid themselves of their weaknesses, moving their A-mount cameras from Minolta's pentaprism tradition of big, bright viewfinders to Sony's skills in creating light-gathering devices that feed video screens. This gives them a market differentiator – which is sometimes the same thing as an advantage – and so they continue to split their shelf space between the SLT and NEX lines.

Sony's NEX system was announced almost eighteen months ago, yet we're still waiting for their fourth lens to be available for it. By the end of 2011 Sony wants to have seven shipping lenses, which will still give them less than half of the lineup from either Olympus or Panasonic. This is not the sign of a juggernaut.

Sony is an important innovator, and perhaps they can inspire the entire market. For reasons which don't need exploring at this juncture, I would absolutely choose their NEX cameras over any other for some specific uses. Different cameras and systems will continue to have their individual strengths and weaknesses, and there's a place for everything from the NX to the Q. But the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Format belongs to Panasonic and Olympus, and I see no reason why the near future won't look a lot like the present and the recent past.


Matthew Robertson mostly confines his unfounded personal opinions to Thews' Reviews, but is always happy to have the chance for a guest post on blogbeebe.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

1 Is The Loneliest Number

Nikon 1 Pepto-Bismol Pink J1 w/10mm 1:2.8 1 Nikkor
The last 48 hours have been remarkable to watch in the MILF world. I had a ring-side seat as one of the behemoths of the the contemporary camera market released a new camera to near universal scorn.

Or at least that's what many pontificating internet paperback intellectuals would have you believe.

I'm speaking, of course, of Nikon and its Nikon 1 Camera System, "built from the ground up." The Nikon 1 Camera System, "built from the ground up," consists of two bodies (the V1 and the J1) and four lenses and is delivered in a variety of colors, one of which, a nausea-inducing eye-blinding Pepto-Bismol Pink, you can see even with your eyes closed to your immediate right.

As an owner of perennial whipping boy 4/3rds and µ4/3rds, I stood in silent solidarity with Nikon over what Nikon has wrought, and at the same time in utter disbelief at the howls of rage and indignation rising up from the roaming internet forum monsters and former Nikon fanboys over Nikon's "obvious mistake."

For the most part (with the notable exception of that hideous pink color) I can actually appreciate what Nikon is attempting to achieve here. Or at least I'm willing to give Nikon the benefit of the doubt.

Two Can Be As Bad As One

As I noted, there are two versions of the Nikon 1, the J1 and the V1. While the J1 is apparently targeting young Japanese females (or the American equivalent, young southern California Valley Girls), the VI looks more button-down and serious, aimed at drifting twenty-something males on both sides of the Pacific.

What makes the V1 interesting is its price, $900. For that price you get a body with the Nikon 1 10-30mm 1:3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The bundled kit lens has the same 35mm focal length as the Olympus Pen's 14-42mm zoom. The Nikon 1 kit lens also comes with built-in image stabilization because neither the V1 nor J1 have IBIS.

For that price you also get a built-in 1.4MP EVF. It's the same resolution as the Olympus VF-2. You also get the most interesting piece of technology of all in the V1, its 1" sensor that in addition to stills shoots 1080i60 or 1080p30 video and combines phase detection and contrast detection autofocus, in movie shooting or 10fps continuous bursts. It's built to be a powerful multimedia creation tools.

Look again at that part about phase detection autofocus, the same PDAF that's in standard DSLR cameras. PDAF is built into the sensor. There are no PDAF capabilities in the Olympus Pens, only CDAF, and Sony requires a big honkin' LE-EAF Alpha adapter for around $350. I would imagine that the adapter for Nikkor autofocus lenses requiring PDAF support would be a lot simpler and cleaner, little more complicated than Olympus and Panasonic adapters with simple electrical pass-through from lens to Nikon 1 body.

All joking aside (except for that hideous pink color), the Nikon 1 is going to be a success, both because it does have something to offer (especially the V1) and because it has Nikon's marketing muscle backing it up. Would I buy one? I have no idea at the moment, as I've neither held or used one. But it's interesting enough to consider and not dismiss out of hand, unlike the Pentax Q.

With apologies to Harry Nilsson and Three Dog Night

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

E-1 Experiment #4

This experiment involved the use of the KT E-1 with an Olympus OM 28mm 1:2.8 lens mounted via an Olympus MF-1 adapter. I had them lying in the drawer, the OM 28mm because I had no use for it at the moment, the E-1 because it had taken on something of an "aura" due to its genesis and was thus a bit afraid to "tarnish" it. I pulled the two out, put them together, and started playing around with the combination. They're going to stay together indefinitely until I change my mind.

The combination gives me a decently fast 56mm equivalent picture taking machine. I can open it up and close focus or stop it down and set it to the selected aperture's hyperfocal distance and photograph with impunity. Without having to focus the E-1's shutter trips almost instantly. I'm also using full manual settings. I can't believe how tiny the whole thing looks and feels.

I took the photograph because I was charmed by the weave and texture of the teddy's "fur". I'm also playing with black and white textures, and using subtle toning as well.

Texture Experiments

This is one of the many teddy bears that have collected about the house over the decades. Photographed with the E-1/OM 28mm combination, processed with Lightroom 3 and Silver Efex Pro 2.

What I've quickly learned is that the E-1's OVF is bright, but not bright enough to do critical focusing in dim light. The fact the lens is an f/2.8 makes it a forgiving lens with regards to focusing. There is far too much emphasis on fast glass for speed's sake. Very fast is big and expensive, especially if you want it optically corrected to the nth degree (think Leica).

E-1 with OM 28mm 1:2.8

Milestone

This blog post marks my 1,000th blog posting. Here's to the next 1,000.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pack Small. Shoot Big.

There was a disturbance in the force today. Olympus disturbed it in a big way by managing to produce a solid, if not outright high-quality advertising campaign and supporting website called The Pen Ready Project, with the slogan "Pack Small. Shoot Big."

The site is there to promote Olympus' latest µ4/3rds camera, the E-PM1. As I wrote about in an earlier blot post this particular model is another example of refining the camera down to its essential essence, an image capturing device small and light enough to carry discretely yet with a large high-quality sensor (very much larger than the overwhelming majority of fixed-lens point-and-shoots over which it sits) and the critical ability to change its lens.

What makes this remarkable is the price of the camera plus kit zoom lens, an M.Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-56 Mk 3: $500 ($499.99 if you insist). Price-wise this slots neatly right on top of the classic digital point-and-shoots. For $500 you can get a very well appointed point-and-shoot, with long zoom lenses (20-to-1 and more), movable LCDs, and more, but they all fall short in two critical areas; the sensors are very tiny compared to the E-PM1s and the lenses are fixed.

There's only two competitors on the market for this camera right now at this price point; one from Panasonic and one from Sony.

The Panasonic entry, the GF3, is diminutive and capable like the E-PM1, and has a 12MP 4/3rds sensor just like the E-PM1. The fatal problem with the GF3 is the price; it's $200 more with the same type of kit lens.

I've seen the price begin to drop down a bit, but it's still not worth nearly $200 more. What do you get from Panasonic for your extra $200? An equally diminutive, underpowered built-in pop-up flash. No thanks, I'll save my money.

The Sony entry, the NEX-5n, is far more interesting. It sits at $700 ($200 more, just like the Panasonic) with its own 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 Sony E-Mount lens. I should note that the Sony focal length matches the Olympus focal length (35mm equivalent of 28mm-84mm for Olympus, 27mm-83mm for Sony).

The NEX-5n has a 16MP sensor, which on paper looks more and better than the E-PM1's 12MP, but when you do the simple math, you find the pixel pitch between the Olympus and the Sony are the same. And in spite of the claim that Sony has better pixie dust sprinkled on its sensor, that means the performance of the sensors are essentially the same. Which, from what I've seen, is excellent on both counts.

What do you get for the additional $200 required to get the Sony? A bigger sensor (APS-C), a tiltable LCD, and a bit of magnesium across the top of the body. There are additional built-in features such as a focus peaking aid for manual focus lenses (a feature we've been asking Olympus forever for), 24p video (for those who want that 'cinematic' look in their videos), and a possibly interesting HDR capability (note that I'm no fan of HDR).

You also get very big lenses to go on the front. APS-C sensors seem to demand glass every bit as large as what you find on the front of APS-C DSLRs. There's a reason the body looks so small in comparison to the lens, the lens is that big. And if you want fast glass, the lenses get even bigger and heavier than equivalent µ4/3rds lenses.

The Sony and the Olympus provide true choice at this price level in the current crop of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The Sony NEX-5n is a strong competitor, one that Olympus will ignore at its peril. The Panasonic, however, is not. Due to the GF3's much higher entry price (equal to the NEX-5n) it is dead on arrival. The Olympus and Sony are both exciting models, and you the consumer have to do your homework to deterimine which model will satisfy your particular needs.

But what I like about the E-PM1 is that for once, finally, Olympus has truly nailed a camera spot. They nailed the size, they nailed the overall design and feature set, they nailed the price, and they nailed the marketing promo. This may be an example of the law of averages finally coming out on their side, but I won't be that cynical. I really think somebody at Olympus is finally thinking and executing. For once. And it's refreshing and enjoyable. I don't know if this is the kind of camera I would buy, but it's certainly the kind of camera I could recommend without reservation.

Well done, Olympus!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pinching #1500 Matthew


This is, so far, my most favorite bestest photograph of Matthew's that Matthew Robertson has created for his five thousand photos. If you sit back the proper distance from the photograph the art patron on the right becomes an almost abstract far eastern-style dry brush painting at the edge.

Who said black and white is dead?

Cool beans.

Mundane Scenes of the Day

Red, White, and Blue Chromed
Stairs Start Stairs Down
The word 'mundane' has come to mean boring and dull, and it really shouldn't. It should mean the opposite because it comes from the latin 'mundus', meaning the world, and the world is anything but dull; the world is wonderful. There's real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.
Richard Dawkins, "The Enemies of Reason"

The Future of Photography

Utility cameraThe future is bifurcated, with what is currently referred to as mirrorless interchangeable cameras from the low to enthusiast tier, and SLR-based designs turning into an expensive high-end niche product. The reason is manufacturing costs and margins and a saturated DSLR camera market dominated by Canon and Nikon.

Where Did We Come From?

The seeds for digital mirrorless' rise and eventual dominance were first planted by the point-and-shoot cameras from the film era. Many like to point to range-finder cameras, such as the Leica, but the real genesis occurred when manufacturers started to strip out every non-vital camera part they possible could and ruthlessly simplify what was left. The end result were drugstore and big-box-store cameras that came preloaded with film and wrapped for single use. Buy the camera, take your pictures, drop the camera off to develop the film, pay for the prints. Rinse and repeat.

You can still buy those cameras today at places such as your local Walmart, made by companies such as Fuji. And as you can see you can buy them for less than $10, not including processing.

Where We Are Now?

That's significantly inexpensive, especially when you consider that the least expensive digital camera is a good order of magnitude more expensive. And yet, in spite of its low cost, Fuji makes a profit on each camera sold. Not much, mind you, but the fact they make a profit at all is amazing, and comes from stripping the camera down to its bare essentials;
  • a light-tight simplifed box to hold the film
  • the film
  • a simple mechanism to wind the film and set the shutter
  • a simplified single element fixed-focus lens to focus the image on the film
  • a mechanical shutter release to take the photo
  • a framing aid
Some cameras come with built-in flash good up to about 10 ft (3m) for just $1 more. But they're all stripped down to that simple formula.

The Digital Difference

Modern digital point-and-shoots are very similar in formulation.
  • a light-tight box to hold the sensor
  • the sensor
  • a simple fixed-focus lens to focus the image on the sensor
  • a switch to trip the shutter release and take the photo
  • a framing aid
The biggest difference of course is you have no film and you add batteries and some sort of inexpensive digital storage card to store you images. Once taken you have to go to a shop somewhere, offload those precious digital images, and select your prints. A far cry from the dead-simple buy-shoot-dropoff-develop-pickup model of film point-and-shoots.

And then there's the price to buy one. You're going to spend around $100 if you want a contemporary digital point-and-shoot (not a discontinued sale item) that isn't an "utter disappointment". You can go well under $100, but you truly get what you pay for. And that's fine by the manufacturers, since the lions share of the market belongs to such point-and-shoots. Margins aren't so great, but like film cameras they make it up in volume.

The price for classic digital point-and-shoot cameras ranges from $100 to $500 (we'll deliberately ignore the outliers from Fuji (X100) and Leica (X-1), and similarly specified cameras). As you move up in price you find extra features such as zooms, autofocus, image-stabilization, large (up to 3") LCD screen on the back with possible live view, and swing-out LCDs. The framing aid is still optical (although it begins to behave like a rangefinder viewfinder).

If you want to see what the sensor sees then you spend enough money towards the $500 price point to purchase a camera with live view, so that you get to hold the camera out in front of your face and compose with the LCD screen on the back of the camera. Lots of "enthusiasts" turn their noses up at that method, but it seems to work just fine for untold millions of photographers around the world who are more interested in making a photograph than a statement.

But no matter what, there are no mirrors of pentamirror/prism optical viewfinders in this cameras. They're a thin box honed down in size, weight and complexity for taking pictures.

When you want a "real" DSLR then you start to spend around $600, usually for a body and inexpensive interchangeable kit lens. At that price Canon will happily sell you T3s and Nikon D3100s. Move up the price curve and you hit Canon's T3i, 60D, 7D, and then the 5DMk2 at $2,500. With Nikon it's D5100, D7000, and D700 again at $2,500. I stop at that point because those are the cameras that will probably disappear over the next five years, to be replaced by mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

The Future

Panasonic and Olympus showed what you could do by dropping the mirror box and replacing the pentamirror/pentaprism optical viewfinder with electronic viewfinders. The bodies shrank in size, but more importantly, the complex content shrinks dramatically along with the concomitant costs. Complex content is more than just the cost of raw materials and includes the labor necessary to assemble it into the overall camera and test it before it goes out the door.

Panasonic and Olympus showed even more savings when they shrank the distance between the lens mount flange and the sensor in µ4/3rd's bodies, starting with the GH1 and E-P1. Thinner bodies mean less material and lighter overall systems. Another savings occurred with the consequent shrinking of µ4/3rd's lenses. The overall system size and complexity shrank by at least 50% between regular and µ4/3rd's.

But Panasonic and Olympus kept the prices of the cameras up around the same price points as the entry and mid-level DSLRs they replaced. This allowed margins to increase, which is always a good thing. As Thom Hogan noted, the entry level µ4/3rds camera with kit lens is $599, the same price point as the Canon and Nikon entry level DSLRs. It's a price point the market is conditioned to (in spite of nasty grousing by certain forum denizens to the contrary). As long as the market is willing pay that price, then Panasonic and Olympus have no reason not to sell it for that price, giving them fatter profits at that price point. The only reason Canon and Nikon make more money on less markup/entry-evel DSLR is due to their market share and subsequent volume.

While Panasonic and Olympus pioneered mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, it's been Sony that just recently blew everybody's doors off technically and showed where the future really lies. In case you didn't notice it, Sony has introduced three new cameras with 24MP APS-C sensors, with the most expensive, the SLT α77 DSLR, a mere $1,400 body only. By all accounts the Sony sensors are quite good, being one stop noisier than Sony's on 24MP 135mm sized sensor. For many folks, myself included, that's more than good enough.

But it's what Sony can do with that sensor technology that's most interesting. Assuming that Sony wants to continue making 24x36mm sized sensors, such a sensor, which is 1.5 times larger than the APS-C, would theoretically produce a 36MP monster of a sensor. Consider that the Pentax 645D, a medium format digital camera, has but a mere 40MP (across a much larger sensor). The hypethetical Sony sensor in an α850/900 replacement would be good enough for a lot of folks, especially if Sony could keep the cost down to around $3,000 like it has for its α900 body. The Pentax, by contrast, is a good $10,000 dollars.

Sony has dramatically raised the bar with regard to sensor resolution. It appears on first blush that its noise and ISO performance is more than adequate for a good 90% of the market. For that small market share that demands even more there are the extravagantly expensive tools to satisfy those needs. That's not the market segment Sony cares about, because that's not where the real money is.

Sony will push mirrorless, and they'll market it effectively, far more so than Nikon, and probably more than hide-bound Canon. Panasonic and Olympus have the ability to survive, if not florish in this new world order if they can effectively market what they have and deliver product when the say. Panasonic can't deliver, and Olympus (until very recently with their PenReady marketing push) can't effectively market. Both Panasonic and Olympus have spent the last two years creating an effective lens lineup for the µ4/3rds series, a lens lineup that Sony is having a hard time matching, and one that neither Canon nor Nikon have anything to match at all.

The key feature that made it so hard for Panasonic and Olympus to break in the regular DSLR market with regular 4/3rds, the extensive catalog of current and past Canon and Nikon lenses, is now an impediment to a new Canon or Nikon mirrorless system. The regular 4/3rds lens catalog wasn't that established or extensive, so it was relatively easy for the transition from regular 4/3rds to µ4/3rds. Sony actually did something very bright with its PDAF adapter for allowing its A-mount lenses to work on the NEX-series E-mount bodies. But at the end of the day customers don't want to use older, larger, heavier lenses on the new lighter bodies unless they already have them; they want to purchase new lighter lenses for the new lighter bodies. Panasonic and Olympus currently have the most extensive lens catalog for a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system. That will, of course, change over time, especially with Sony.


Many of those big, complex DSLR cameras in the $500 to $2,500 price range are ripe for replacement with far simpler designs, with the same sized sensors, that do the same job or better taking photographs, with fatter margins for the camera manufacturers. And don't think that everybody isn't thinking this, and of ways to move their customer base towards the next big thing in digital photography; mirrorless.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Get Over It Already

Teddy Bear Focus Test
Teddy Bear Focus Test (Dining Room Table Photography)
Olympus E-P2 w/ZD 50mm 1:2 and MMF-2 Adapter

On occasion I tend to get really peeved when a blog reader shows up on a blog post trolling for reactions. For example, this trollish post from Kirk Tuck's second E-P3 usage posting:
Not to be argumentative, but even a small sensor phone camera can create a blurry background when the subject is up close. Most people who make the "m4/3 can't do blurry backgrounds" argument are referring to portraiture when the subject is one to two meters away (emphasis mine).
OK, I'll bite. The teddy bear you see above you was taken with my E-P2 and the regular 4/3rds ZD 50mm macro lens. The distance from the camera to the teddy bear was between three and four feet (the minimum one meter lower limit). I used the 50mm as a stand-in for the newly announced M.Zuiko 45m 1:1.8 portrait lens for the µ4/3rds system.

I don't normally use that lens that wide open. I normally like to stop down to f/4, which gives me enough depth of field and the kind of acutance I look for in a lens. If you pixel peep you can see where the focus plane landed, right at the eyes, where you can see the dust and a few dark hairs from our chocolate Lab Babe, who left us in December 2007.

That big black out-of-focus blob in the back about two feet behind the teddy bear is my E-1 with the ZD 50-200mm zoom mounted on it.

So what does this tell us? That given something as "slow" as my ZD macro, and a proper subject and setup, that you too can have bokeh out the wazoo just like everybody else, and  more power to you.

Technical

Olympus E-P2, ISO 200, ZD 50mm 1:2 opened up to f/2. ISO 200 (base ISO). Exposure 1/10 sec. Available light, adjusted slightly to 3000° K in Lightroom. Camera was resting on Ruby's Pumpkin Puppy stuffed toy, on the same table as the teddy bear, to minimize handshake. Ruby directed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Olympus E-P3 — Reassessing

Comparison of E-P2 and E-1
E-P2 w/17mm 1:2.8 and VF-2 next to an E-1 with Sigma 30mm 1:1.4
Ever since the E-P3 was officially announced in late June I have been quite critical of the model in particular and Olympus in general.

That critical attitude has also spread to all the other camera manufacturers. I will not run from Olympus, but to a manufacturer and model that makes sense.

I've been quite busy this year, especially recently. This past week I drove up to Columbus Georgia and Ft Benning to attend the the 2011 Maneuver Conference. Since I drove from Orlando to Columbus Georgia I took nearly every camera body and lens I had in my collection; an E-1, an E-3, and an E-P2 along with the ZD 12-60mm, ZD 50-200mm, ZD 50mm macro, Sigma 30mm, ZD 9-18mm, M.Zuiko 14-42mm, and M.Zuiko 17mm. You can carry a lot when it's locked in bags in the trunk.

The majority of the time in the field I carried the E-1 and E-3 with the 12-60mm and 50-200mm (respectively). When I was at the conference center itself I use the more discrete and lighter E-P2 with the 14-42mm kit lens. The one thing I noticed, time after time, is how much easier it was to carry the E-P2 with its kit zoom. Compared to the dual load of the E-1 and E-3 the E-P2 was negligible, yet when I needed it the E-P2 was more than adequate for what it was called upon to do. You can see the difference in sizes above, where the E-P2 and a 17mm is sitting in front of the E-1 on its HLD-2 grip and with a Sigma 30mm mounted on the front. The sensors are the same size, but the surrounding hardware in each body is considerably different.

Bradley with Dismount, Ft Benning, Ga

Up on Ft. Benning, out in the field, walking and riding around in regular old trucks (not military vehicles) across small parts of the range out in the heat and the dust, I carried the E-1 with the 12-60mm and the E-3 with the 50-200mm, and used them both. This matches my use in Florida in rain and outdoor humidity, as well as additional Florida dust, sand and dirt.

Environmentally sealed cameras like the E-1 and E-3 are great, but they're big and heavy, especially if you've got two hanging off your body while you're out and about for hours on end. I'm not just there just to take tourist shots, but to observe equipment and how it's used as a systems engineer and to help document what I observe with the cameras.

If I were a hardened photojournalist out in the Real World, then there'd be no argument; I'd shoot a high end Canon with a matching ruggedized zoom and get on with it. But I'm not and thus I have to choose something that is affordable. And as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate lighter, less expensive, yet more capable cameras. The one thing I've noticed repeatedly is that the higher end more expensive models are on a longer release cycle measured in years, and their features are usually conservatively apportioned. This is great for those photographers who need that kind of stability and have businesses that can pay for it, but I''m not one of them. I can't afford it economically or technically.

I've started to put a table together comparing four cameras I know and care about with various capabilities. The cameras are the Olympus E-P2 (which I already use) and the E-P3, the Sony NEX-7 and the Sony SLT α77 hybrid DSLR.

Beebe's Personal Camera Comparison Table
CameraE-P2 (current)E-P3NEX-7SLT α77
Weight355g/12.52 oz369g/13 oz291g/10.26 oz732g/1lb 9.8oz
Sensor Size4/3rds4/3rdsAPS-CAPS-C
Resolution12MP12MP24MP24MP
ViewfinderClip-onClip-onBuilt-inBuilt-in
ISO Range200-6,400200-12,000100-16,000100-16,000
Video720/30, 480/301080/60i/60p, 720/60i/60p1080/60i/60p/24p1080/60i/60p/24p
SealedNoNoNoYes
Cost body only$800$800$1,200$1,400

Table notes: Weights are with batteries and cards, and ISO range is what will produce raw image files from the cameras and are not produced by putting the camera in some special exposure mode. Sealed means environmentally sealed, like my E-1 and E-3. All viewfinders are electronic, which is fine by me. All sensors are so-called "cropped", which is also fine by me. The fact that the NEX-7 is a bit lighter than the E-P3 isn't that big an issue, but the fact the SLT α77 is a good pound heavier is. Add another pound or two for a zoom lens like a ZD 12-60mm or 50-200mm plus a vertical grip and that combined camera system gets heavy.

For reasons I'll keep to myself for now I've pretty much given up on Canon and Nikon. The two non-Olympus cameras I'm most interested in are the Sony NEX-7 and the SLT α77. Again I won't get into any emotional details as to why I've decided to only consider these two.

Based on the initial table I think I'm going to concentrate on the E-P3 and the NEX-7. The lighter weight of the NEX-7 is interesting, but it will be quickly overcome by the weight of additional native lenses. And I will buy native lenses for whatever platform I choose. If there's one thing I've learned it's that for size, weight, power and performance regular 4/3rds lenses will never match native µ4/3rds lenses regardless of manufacturer. And I have no strong desire to go hunting up manual focus lenses to mount via adapters either.

One last observation; I need a machine that is fully multi-media capable, able to record very long video passages at industry standard resolutions. Just shooting still images are no longer adequate; customers and sponsors want video as well. Both the Olympus E-P3 and the Sony NEX-7 seem more than capable of fulfilling this need. I will never again buy another camera that can't record 1080 video unless it's dirt cheap or given to me.

In spite of appearances I'm not hung up on the number of megapixels. What I want is clean high ISO performance with as low levels of noise as possible on one end, and wide dynamic range on the low ISOs. As for environmental sealing, I'm going to look at some sort of baggies I can put the cameras in. The E-P3 and NEX-7 are certainly small enough.

I'm moving towards a pragmatic working kit that's a fraction of the size and weight of my 4/3rds (or hypothetical APS-C or 135mm-sized) kit. Cameras are getting smaller and lighter and less costly, and I'd be a fool not to consider all their features together, instead of just fixating on only one feature. I don't yet know what I'll purchase, but I'm past that hard spot I found myself in since the E-5 was released back in September of 2010. As a final observation, I can buy two E-P3 bodies for the price of one E-5 body. That's still a lot of money, but the resultant tools are a lot more flexible. I really do need two bodies with me, one with a reasonably fast wide zoom and the other with a reasonably fast telephoto zoom that I can quickly switch between without having to swap lenses.

Update 18 September

Kirk Tuck has purchased his own E-P3 and has written about it twice so far, here and here. Kirk approaches the E-P3 more as an "artist's camera" designed to make you feel productive and creative. He goes on to chastise people with a "spreadsheet mindset" (and I should note my little spreadsheet above) saying the E-P3 is not the kind of camera for them. Or if they're fixated on high-ISO performance, the E-P3 is not the kind of camera for them.

Kirk is reacting in part to those who don't know "horse poop" about the E-P3, a category I might be uncomfortably close to. Then there are those reacting to the price. I've read and heard a lot of those reactions lately, how folks bash the cost of the E-P3 in one breath then sing the praises of something like the Fuji X100 ($1,200 if you can find it) the next. The price of the E-P3 is the price. Look at my little chart above, and check the prices of both Sony cameras. Note how expensive they are. I have looked at the entry level Canons and Nikons and found them cheaply made and bulky or the DSLRs in the same price range (actually higher, and a bit higher) and found them too expensive and too big.

For the money nearly nothing matches the E-P3 or NEX-7 on the features, size, and price point I'm currently considering. And I'm re-evaluating the sensor performance of the E-P3 in the face of all the excellent example photographs that are now making their way onto the web. All I'm waiting on now are equivalent photographs from the NEX-7 and an ability to physically handle the NEX-7 with a lens attached.

The Bad Habits of So-called Pros

2011 Maneuver Conference, Columbus, GA during a break
I don't normally criticize other professional photographers. I'm generally not in their league. But there are times, when I'm around a so-called pro at work, that their choice of equipment and how the operate it annoys the pure living bejesus out of me and many sitting around me.

This past week I was up in Columbus Georgia attending the 2011 Maneuver Conference held at the Columbus Georgia Georgia Convention and Trade Center, hosted by the Maneuver Center of Excellence at near-by Ft. Benning.

The majority of the activity was held in the Iron Works combined Ballrooms A, B, and C (see above). By the time all three rooms were combined, you had enough room to hold thousands, and it was indeed packed. All the chairs were filled and there were people standing across the back three walls, at many places three deep. Colonels and Generals from the Army were giving talks about training, and all aspects of training. And right in the middle if it were a group of professional photographers, at least two of which were women.

I have no problem with women photographers; I have a youngest daughter who wants to become a pro photographer. That's not my issue.

My issue was how they were photographing the speakers up at the front. They were using what appeared to be remotely triggered flashes in beauty light reflectors on both far sides of the ballroom, aimed back over the crowd towards the middle of the back wall (the front is where the entrances are located). When the speakers were making a presentation the ballroom lights were turned down to give better contrast to the screens at the back (which you can see above). And every time they'd take a photograph in that low light setting both flashes would go off, sometimes many times in short order.

I don't know what kind of flash gear they were using. I refused to get close enough to find out, out of professional courtesy (ironic considering that their use of flash I did not consider courteous) that I might get too close and cause a problem. Nor do I know what brand or model of camera they were using. But I do know this.

I know that the lighting on the stages where the speakers delivered their presentation had more than adequate lighting for available light photography. There was a large A/V setup on the front wall opposite from the stage, and the video cameras in the back were used to project the presenters against those screens you see along the back wall above, so that all could see and hear. Considering the high-ISO capabilities of current Canon and Nikon mid- to high-end bodies, there is absolutely no excuse not to use available light, unless you're down-right ignorant.

Add to this that the photographers were dressed very casually, and were moving around the center part of the ballroom from front to back, and it reached a point where if I'd been able to I would have ejected them all.

If there's any lesson I would give to my daughter (or anyone else), it's to never ever do a job the way this one was done. As a photographer, pro or otherwise, your job is to do your best as innocuously as possible. That means staying out of way and doing nothing to call attention to yourself, such as a gross use of flash. If you don't have the gear to do it right, then rent it.

The more I think about this the more I believe this was handled not by a paid pro buy by local staff to the convention center. Or maybe it was a pro, but a cheap pro. I certainly can't prove it, but it leads me to believe this was done on the cheap, which is indeed a shame if it was.

Technical

Photo taken with a piddly-old Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 14-42mm Mk I kit lens zoomed out to 14mm at ISO 1600, hand held over my head, at 1/25 second. Color adjusted in Lightroom 3.4. If you pixel peep you can see the grain/noise. I was in the far right corner looking back towards the screens and the speaker stage.

Home Again via Tallahassee

Scenic Tallahassee

It's been a crazy week, what with me traveling up to Columbus Georgia and Ft. Benning, then traveling back again. The way up I took I-75 most of the way, turning west at Cordele on I-75. On the way back I went south towards Albany and then took 300 the rest of the way to Thomasville, then south down 319 into Tallahassee. I wanted to drop by and say hello to #2 daughter before turning down I-10 and south down I-75. As it turned out, I could have shaved about a half hour off the trip if I'd taken the non-intuitive route from I-75 to I-10 and then turned immediately north on 300 through Thomasville and Albany to Columbus. I'll do this in the future. Or maybe Tifton. But never, ever again Cordele.

The Brogan

The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science is located on the Kleman Plaza in downtown Tallahassee. My daughter just got a job there and I wanted to pop in real fast and at least say hello. It appears the wife and I were able to do this without embarrassing her too much. If we had had the time we both would have taken in the Titanic exhibit which had just opened. It'll be there until January 2nd so I can head back up later this year and take it in before it's gone.

In the Hole 2In the Hole
In the Hole 2In the Hole

We parked underneath the Kleman Plaza. On the way up from the second level (there are six) I happened to look up through the access and managed to fire off a few shots.

Lit Exit

So what's this with a light and an exit sign, you ask? I'm trying to riff off of Mathew Robertson's 5k series, some of which have signs (calligraphy) and some of which have lights. I saw the two and decided, "why not?"

More to come as I decompress and look at all I took earlier this week. And more ruminations on using Olympus camera equipment, and why the Pen might be mightier than the DSLR.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

E-1 Experiment #3

Cat's Eye
Cat's Eye
Another cat picture. Oh well, it's Lucy and it's my cat.

Taken with the E-1 and the Sigma 30mm 1:1.4 at f/1.8, then post processed in Silver Efex Pro 2.

I chose black and white via Silver Efex to soften some of the harsh contrasts on Lucy. By the time I had lowered the harshness a bit to show more of the detail in her fur, her eye had disappeared into a deep shadow. I used a tight control point to bring the eye's exposure back up and thus the detail.

Even under rather unusual conditions, the E-1 and the Sigma 30mm consistently locked on the correct focus point, her eye.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

E-1 Experiment #2

Squared OrchidsContinuing with my E-1 experiments. In this experiment I deliberately cropped a 5PM image into a square format to better draw attention to the orchid blossoms. This photo was taken with Kirk Tuck's donated E-1 at the same time as I photographed the other orchids. This is a different part of the bloom spray.

The photo was originally taken in landscape mode. The 1:1 crop retains the original vertical pixel count. Only the right end of the original photo was cropped (well, a bit on the left, but mostly on the right).

The same type of treatment was used for this image as the other in the prior post; blacks increased to cover the detail in the background, and a little post processing magic to increase the color saturation a bit to my tastes, as well as enhance the grain and the detail of the blossoms.

I also did something I seldom do in post processing. I used the adjustment brush, set to black, to a part of a petal in the very upper right corner. It made no sense to leave it there after the 1:1 crop, and it detracted from the overall balance of the photo.

What this shows is that you can crop a photo as "limited" as the "mere" 5PM the Olympus E-1 produces. I like 1:1 format, having acquired a taste for it when I used a Mamiya C300 Pro f "back in the day".

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Random Act of Kindess

Today was a most interesting day. It all started late last week when Kirk Tuck posted on the Flickr Olympus E System Community forum that he'd boxed up his last E-1 body and "sent it off to some lucky soul on this forum." He went on to further write that he want it sent "to someone who would appreciate other than it's market value." And of course, someone who he already had their address.

It all sort of added up to me, and I wondered if that was the case when I first read the posting and some of the replies. I sent Kirk a teasing email asking if he'd autographed it, and he sent back a cryptic "Wait and see...."

I basically forgot all about it until today, when my wife called me late morning at the office to tell me that a FedEx package had arrived from Austin, TX. I felt a small electric shock on hearing that and immediately remembered the forum posting from last week. I thought the rest of the day would drag but work conspired to fill ever minute until I realized it was time to leave.

When I got home, sure enough there was the box. I opened it and nestled inside the box, in lots of Austin newspaper crumpled pages from the September 2008 issue of PDN and bubble wrap, sat an E-1 body mounted on an HLD-2 grip. He'd also included the BLL-1 charger, which he had carefully stowed in a Zing black bag. A letter sat on the top addressed to Mr. Beebe. I won't quote the letter verbatim but I will say it was very well written and special enough to hang onto for quite some time to come.

Being a gearhead I'd take some special photos of the newly arrived equipment just to post, but not this time. Just take my word for it that the camera is in immaculate condition and worked flawlessly the moment I turned it on and started to use it. And that, my friends, is the best thing you can do with any camera; create photographs with it, not of it.

The Spider and the Orchid

It was late in the afternoon here in Orlando when I finally started to use Kirk's former E-1, first with the ZD 12-60mm and then the ZD 50mm macro. One of my orchids was in bloom again, and I happened to see the little white spider on one of its blossoms. Because it was very late the sun had already set, so I set the ISO to 400, dropped the EV down 1.7 to darken the background, and created a small series of the orchids. In post I increased the black to fully drop the background, raised the recovery a bit as well as the exposure, and there you are.

Squarespray

This second image is just another experiment, this to see what kind of detail the lens and camera together could produce at ISO 400. This image is pretty much straight out of the camera, just passing through Lightroom to convert to JPEG and then save to disk.

Why did I take that second image? Because I liked it when I saw it in the finder. And that's all that really matters.

Words alone can't begin to express my gratitude for what Kirk did. Some cynics might laugh that I'm so excited to receive an eight-year-old five MP DSLR, but I am. I truly appreciate the high-end Olympus FourThird DSLRs. And I think that's one major reason why Kirk sent it to me, because he knew I would appreciate it, take good care of it, and really use it. As he said earlier he wanted to bequeath it to someone who would appreciate it for more than just its market value.

Kirk, I too enjoy knowing you on the web; you (and several more like you) remind me that there is value in the whole big mess.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

This I Believe

I got another one of those "forward if you believe in this" far-right spam emails. It started off with the pledge of allegiance, and then asked the following question:
"If Muslims can pray on Madison Avenue, why are Christians banned from praying in public and erecting religious displays on their holy days?"
Well, let me answer that question in a series of simple steps that even the questioner can hopefully understand.

But first, a few words about my modest religious upbringing. Born and raised a Southern Baptist in Atlanta, Ga, I switched to Methodism in my mid-20's, and I've been a United Methodist ever since. Yes, believe it or not, I'm a Christian.

As I was born in Atlanta, I'm the product of the Fulton and DeKalb county public school systems of the 1960s and early 1970s. I actually managed to learn something during those years, such as American history, civics, and critical reasoning skills. Which gives me an increasingly rare ability to see through the nearly infinite B.S. spewing forth like oil out of a ruptured underwater oil well from so many contemporary neo-conservatives. But I digress...

The questioner asked why we can't pray on, or erect Christian religious symbols on "their holy days"? The simple answer is that to do so on government property violates the first part of the First Amendment concerning religious freedom:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
First Amendment to the US Constitution

In case you missed the first part, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. And this, my friend, includes Christianity. This covers saying Christan prayers or putting up Christrian "religious symbols" such as the cross or Nativity scenes on public grounds such as libraries, court house lawns, and other government locations around the country.

The writers of the Constitution wrote that because they'd lived through the evil of having the King of England the head of the Church of England (thanks to Henry VIII) and all that it implied, including the forced tax to support the church and going to jail if you didn't pay it. They wanted nothing to do with it. History shows that even as Christians they had diverse views of the practice of Christianity. Perhaps I'm wrong in my interpretation, but I get the impression they didn't want anyone telling them what or how to worship, or even to worship at all.

And that second part, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", means that those same Muslims can pray in public, just like we can. I don't know what part of the country the original author lived in, but here in Orlando we have all sorts of public Christian symbols on private, non-governmental land for all to see. Take, for example this huge cross located on Central Florida Christian Academy's private land at Good Holmes Road and the 408 West.

Losing My ReligionThe Almighty Dollar
March 2009August 2010

This religious expression is covered by the First Amendment, and it's not the only one in the area. Many churches, including St. Lukes United Methodist at Conroy and Apopka Vineland have similar, if somewhat smaller Christian symbols.

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance has an interesting history. The original pledge was penned August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Original Pledge, August 1892, Francis Bellamy

In 1924, against Bellamy's wishes, the American Legion and Daughters of the American Revolution pressured the National Flag Conference to replace the words "my flag" with "the Flag of the United States of America."

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Revised Pledge, 1923

Then, in 1954, depending on which story you read, Congress added the words "under God".

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Revised Pledge, 1954

The pledge has had a controversial history starting in 1940. According to an entry in Wikileaks;
In 1940 the Supreme Court, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, ruled that students in public schools, including the respondents in that case, Jehovah's Witnesses who considered the flag salute to be idolatry, could be compelled to swear the Pledge. A rash of mob violence and intimidation against Jehovah's Witnesses followed the ruling. In 1943 the Supreme Court reversed its decision, ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students are not required to say the Pledge, concluding that "compulsory unification of opinion" violates the First Amendment. In a later opinion, the Court held that students are also not required to stand for the Pledge.
In spite of my upbringing and personal belief, I find the phrase "under God" troubling, as pledging an oath with religious connotations does conflict with the free expression clause of the First Amendment. Blind unquestioning allegiance to anyone or anything, either religious or secular, is wrong. History has shown repeatedly what happens to societies that follow this path, and the pain and suffering they inflict on their citizens as well as those poor unfortunates who are "not one of us." That's why the Constitution is written the way it is, and why we must be ever vigilant to properly interpret and as well as defend it, to the best of our abilities.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Dead Perkins by the side of the road

It's happened again. Another restaurant on University Blvd next to the University of Central Florida has kicked the bucket. By my informal estimate this makes about half the restaurants along the stretch of road between the entrance to UCF and Rouse Road that have died since I started keeping track around January 2009.

Dead Perkins
It's dead, Jim

It isn't as if this is the only Perkins in the area. There's a sign posted on the main entrance directing former patrons to their closest location.

We Regret - Dead Perkins Notice

The referenced location is due west on University Blvd at the intersection of University and Forsyth near Full Sail University, right before University dead-ends into Semoran Blvd (SR 436). That's a bit of a haul if you're in need of a Perkins fix.

Perkins across the street from IHop
Perkins in happier times - August 2010

This particular Perkins had been around for a while. The photo above was taken a year ago when the new IHOP opened up across the street. At that point Perkins started pushing their breakfast menu, with various specials every week for several months. Perkins always seemed to have a full parking lot, and plenty of traffic into and out of the restaurant. I never ate there, as I never preferred anything that Perkins served.

Krispy Kreme fully transformed into IHop
Newly opened IHOP - August 2010

I've heard that the IHOP across the street helped with the Perkins' demise. If true, what's grimly humorous about that is the IHOP itself; it was built where the former Krispy Kreme once stood. Why is that funny? Because the Krispy Kreme was supposedly done in by the Perkins.

Krispy Kreme UCF 3
Dead Krispy Kreme, future IHOP - January 2009

Life's a bit funny that way.

Technical

Everything taken with Olympus equipment. The top two (latest) photos were taken with the E-1 and the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm. The next two photos were taken with the E-P2 and the M.Zuiko 14-42 Mk 1 kit lens. The bottom photo was taken with the E-3 and the same 12-60mm lens, when Olympus was new to me and I had a much better opinion of the company than I do now.

I played a bit with the top photo in Lightroom in an attempt to achieve a bit of a gloomy photo, especially when compared with the bright snapshot of when Perkins was open. The morning was overcast (a gift from tropical storm Lee), so I shot into where the sun would have been to take advantage of the dark and flat light. Then a little post processing to saturate the orange and red color channels, a little bit of black, vignetting the corners to darken the upper left sky, and voilà. A photographic masterpiece is born.

Monday, September 05, 2011

E-1 Experiment #1

Corner Light Black and WhiteIt was a long day this Labor Day holiday. I got up early, packed the Prius, ate a bit of breakfast at the nearby Cracker Barrel, and then hit the road.

The remnants of Lee continued to wash over Florida from the Gulf, so that I had the pleasure of driving through periods of heavy rain on the way back to Orlando. I made the conscious decision to take 27 Alternate instead of the regular I-10 to I-75 route. Because this was a major holiday I wanted to avoid the traffic and the possible of sitting for hours on I-75 around Gainesville or Ocala due to some crazy accident. I took my chances on Alt 27 and it paid off.

Sitting at home, putting away my gear, I picked up the E-1 with the 12-60mm. Such a potent combination. The 12-60mm was originally developed to be used with the E-3, but it fits quite well on the E-1.

So while I'm lounging about on the Max's love seat in the living room I cranked up the E-1's ISO to 3200 (I love to watch the ISO value blink on the top LCD display when I do that), aimed it at the corner of the fireplace mantel, composed the scene with the artificial flowers in such a way that the lamp was in the lower corner of the frame and fired off a few exposures.

This represents the second exposure. I played a bit with exposure compensation, setting it to -1, but the standard 0 exposure compensation, using the E-1's built-in meter, worked best.

All exposures were taken as raw. Lightroom 3.4 was used to convert into standard JPEG. I've written before and it bears repeating; the current crop of post-processing applications give older cameras a new lease on life, especially at the extremes.

Once imported into Lightroom, I used Silver Efex Pro 2 to convert to black and white. The main effect is known as Wet Rocks. I added an adjustment point on the top of the lamp shade to recover some of the highlight detail. I then selected maximum sepia tone for the color.

It's grainy, it's not all that sharp in the details, but there's still lots of detail from deep shadows to bright highlights. It won't win any awards, but it's not meant to. It's meant as a technical teaching aid, and to prove, at least technically, that you can still do quite a bit with an eight-year-old five mega-pixel DSLR.

Why? Because I don't know how it works. Because this industry is so hell bent on churning out the next latest and greatest, the One True Camera that will finally make you the photographer that the world will want to themselves at your feet. Or at least that's the way all the ads in the magazines and journals want to portray it.

For those of you who want pretty, I will leave you with pretty. This is what the E-1 can produce when it's used conservatively. At base ISO. With better lighting. The E-1 with the Kodak sensor produces gorgeous smooth tonalities. And with the right lens it's every bit as sharp and detailed as anything else out there.

Backyard Orchids 1