Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pushing the Limits

This title image has been overly sharpened and corrected for the CA evident in the RAW images. I did not do this with any of the other images in this post.

Tonight, my Tamron 400mm camera lens became a telescope. Optical modifiers abounded. The moon's limb was looking good and night was beautiful. Actually it was quite humid, so much so, in fact, that my gear had to sit and acclimate to the outside warmth and increased humidity.

The Setup

Heavy Manfrotto tripod (Still not heavy duty enough for all this though. I really could have used a geared head as well.), the Tamron SP 400mm f/4, the Tamron 1.4x (140f) TC, AND Tamron 2x (01f) TC stacked, a M4/3-Nikon-F adapter, and the little GF1. Altogether:

400mm (Lens) * 1.4 (1.4x TC) * 2 (2x TC) * 2 (Four Thirds Crop Factor) = 2240mm

2240/50 = 44.8x magnification

= Awesome

The Results

I have added black around this image to reframe it, not only for a bit better comparison with the image I made with the D700, but also since the moon took up nearly the entire GF1's sensor.

On the D700, with this setup, the Moon is nearly a quarter of the frame. Other than slightly increase the exposure, I have done no real PP save for a tiny bit of sharpening I typically do since uploading them to the web tends to soften. I have sharpened about .3 pixels with an unsharp mask in CS3. Also, I used a .jpg file from the GF1 since CS3 cannot open it's proprietary RAW format. Because of this, in-camera sharpening is evident which is perhaps why the Panasonic's image is a bit crisper. Looking close up at the crops below, CA is very evident but is to be expected with this many optics in place; especially optics that aren't necessarily outstanding pieces of glass such as the 01f converter which adds some CA in everyday use at early apertures and cost around $20.

By clicking the first image, then clicking the second, you can then navigate to the new tab/window and use the back/forward buttons of the browser to toggle and view the differences. They are subtle but overall I am pretty excited about these results! I really wasn't expecting images this good from stacked TCs.

I am finding more and more greatness about that Tamron 400mm and I don't regret the buy or the wait for a second!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blog News

Above is the Alton, IL bridge I head over each day as I drive to work. I really is a beautiful little structure!

I'm going to try somewhat of a new feature. A news feed of sorts. I am new to blogging and thus figuring out a working formula to share information effectively has proven quite the challenge. Truthfully, I am terrible at organizing things. I am constantly renaming files, folders, and completely re-organizing directories to manage all the image and documents I generate each day.

I began a new job last week and have been in somewhat of a transitional state for the past few weeks which is directly related to my relatively sparse posts. I have a few main desires for content on this blog. Organizing them within the free Blogger format has been the challenge. I haven't had much time to look but I will this weekend. Originally, I began the blog in hopes of doing some lens reviews, or at least posts of compiled info from across the web (this you have seen much of if you have been following along). The other purpose for the blog was to obviously publish/post images both as samples of lenses for demonstration but also as a creative outlet for my personal work. I have done less of the latter, partly because I am not so sure how to organize them just yet. I could have two blogs but that's a little too much for me right now. I would much rather have two streams or feeds, like pages but with continual post updates on both. Any suggestions are welcome!

So I will at least begin to update a bit more frequently even if I don't have a new lens to showcase because I am always shooting. I do general info updates and additions to posts as well which I would like to highlight so people can check out the new content. One issue with creating news posts is that I would like the images to remain viewable for the duration of the blog, but since the content will no longer be "new" after a few days, I would just assume delete that text. I think for now, I will keep a post at the top of the blog with updates and just leave images with captions as newer posts arrive. So, on to the news!


Blog News

String-addicted Beasts

I couldn't stand it any longer. I broke down and got a kitty. Cats just are a big stress reliever for me. When I get frustrated or worn, I look over and the little furballs are usually sound asleep or playing with some completely inane object, reminding me that, whatever it is, it just doesn't matter that much. Meet Neely. She's a rescue kitten. Here was her first weigh-in at nine weeks old.

Just under 2 lbs. Not for long. I foresee a lot of photo ops.

Tamron SP 400mm f/4 Adaptall 65B Returned from KEH Repair!

She has returned, and she brought friends! Despite a few bumps a long the way, I finally have the Tamron 400mm in beautiful, operational order. KEH was a pretty good repair service but it didn't exactly go off without a hitch (more on that later). I did manage to find the Tamron 1.4x (140f) and 2x (01f) converters for very little money in great condition so I picked those up to try. I still have my eyes peeled for a 2x (200f) version (optically superior to the 01f). I even threw this whole rig onto the GF1 for a 1600mm equivalent. While I was out playing I was accidentally asked The Girl, "hey, what's on that log?", while looking at something obscure in the viewfinder of the GF1. She said, "What are you talking about?" Then I looked up and realized, whatever it was, it wasn't visible to an unaided eye, haha! So this is pretty cool! So far results are awesome. f/4 is a bit soft to be expected and has CA but this lens doesn't cost $5000 either!

Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X

Couple things with this. I managed to pick up the Tokina macro extender (NAI mount!) and it also comes with the original AT-X Leather case and extender compartment! I'm a junkie when it comes to original accessories. Also, eBay user Malak sent me a couple images of the boxes of the Tokina 90mm and extender and I have promptly posted images. The feature slick cut-away technical drawings. Thanks to Malak!

See them HERE.

eBay Watch

A couple great items to note here:

Ends : June 21st, 2010
Malak's Pentax KA-mount Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X - Rarer mount you wont find very often. I have seen Tokina 90mm of equal condition go for over $500. I have also heard of people picking them up at local garage sales for <$15 (and I am overcome with jealousy). It's an amazing lens so however you choose to get one, you won't be disappointed.

End: July 17th, 2010
Tamron SP 400mm f/4 ED-IF Adaptall 65B - I have only seen 5 of these for sale so far this year so its something of a rarer lens. It's a wonderful piece of glass. Now that I have mine in working order, I use it all the time! I think this price is a bit high, if you're interested, you should make an offer. One eBayer got an excellent deal on one of these in great condition with the bag, 1.4x and 2x TCs, boxes, and a couple other OEM accessories for $899 BIN two weeks back or so.

+ + +

That's all for now!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

6 Months with the Panasonic GF1

It has been 6 months since I first got the Panasonic GF1; Panasonic's most compact endeavor into the EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras to date. The GF1 boasts a small, portable body, interchangeable lenses, a hot shoe for external flash or electronic viewfinder, and a full Four-Thirds sized sensor. Designed to fill a niche between the most capable point-and-shoots and entry-level DSLRs, these Micro Four-Thirds cameras represent a brand new market within the digital photographic industry. Olympus has already release two more models (EP-2 and EP-L) of their M4/3 line since their initial release of the EP-1 back in july 2009. Just a month ago (May 2010) Sony announced their foray into the EVIL cameras with their NEX-3.With all this money and effort being funneled into the EVIL cameras, photographers and enthusiasts are left wondering just how good these little cameras actually are.

After some time with the GF1, I have formed a much clearer perspective on specifically the GF1, but also some general pros and cons to the M4/3 world.

What Do You Think of the GF1?

This doesn't happen often, but my initial impressions of the M4/3 and specifically the GF1 were pretty accurate. One factor I have found, which will greatly impact how someone will receive the GF1 or another M4/3 camera is what the user currently has for equipment. I have been using prosumer cameras like the Nikon D200, D300, and D700 along some of their better optics and great macro lenses. Honestly, shooting anything after the D700 or full-frame (barring medium format digital) leaves more to be desired. I am also quite familiar with the Canon G9, G10, G11, and S90 which are a few of the better P&S on the market. It was actually the vast difference between the phenomenal ISO performance of the D700 and the comparatively poor ISO performance of the G10 (or any P&S with such a small sensor) that caused me to explore the Micro Four Thirds System as an alternative to lugging around a big DSLR all the time while still getting good low lighting images.

What I Love:
  • Under standard conditions, the GF1 is capable of beautiful images that can be easily enlarged to standard print sizes up to 8x10 and even greater.
  • The kit 20mm f/1.7 enables the user to compose with a beautifully shallow depth of field reminiscent of film and rangefinders and relatively unknown to the point-and-shoot world (though that too is changing).
  • Short flange-to-sensor distance allows for maximum adaptability. Just about any lens you can think of can be used on this thing with the right adapter, save for the most extremely intrusive lenses (such as the fisheyes from the older rangefinder systems which had a large rear protruding element, and even then, they may be usable ).
  • HD video capability demonstrates clarity and quality with the added bonus of interchangeable lenses and legacy glass (noted above) in a small package to boot.
  • Convenient, portable, and gives me full control of my image making.
What I Wish Were Different/Better:
  • At high ISO, the GF1 fairs better than a P&S but still nowhere near the better DSLRs. The Four Thirds sensor is still just too small to yield the kind of results I would like. Given the physical reality, a small sensor with small photo receptors simply will not perform as well as a larger sensor with larger photo sites, I suppose I cannot help but accept the reality that this camera is not a D700. Though I do believe technology will eventually advance to a point where even the smallest sensors can produce nearly noiseless images at high ISO.
  • TOO EXPENSIVE! The optics for these cameras are good, but not as good as optics of equal cost for DSLRs! The basic 20mm f/1.7 was retailing around $400. While Nikon's sharpest optics, the 50mm f/1.8 (roughly the equivalent focal length, 40mm, for an M4/3) retails around $100. The new 8mm fisheye is set around $800 and the 7-14mm ultra-wide rectilinear is nearly $1000. As much as I love this concept, I have a hard time with the fact that lenses for the GF1 run equal-to and more than some of my DSLR optics! Perhaps I am in the wrong mindset; I am using the GF1 as a smaller alternative or second-string device to my DSLRs. The image quality just isn't as good. So why am I paying more for less performance?
  • Lens compatibility issues. Using the correct M4/3 adapter, I can use just about any camera lens I want on this thing (awesome). However, the liveview, which is the only means to focus unless you purchase the separate $200 EVF (I have read inside the EVF isn't all that pretty either), looks dreadful when using a non-CPU lens. And even though this doesn't affect the image quality, I am noticing a considerable degradation when using adapters and lenses vs. the dedicated Panasonic optics.
  • The HD video while cool, doesn't offer me enough options. For a $900 "mini-DSLR", I want the ability to manipulate exposures and so forth in video mode. The GF1 is pretty limited in what you can change while shooting HD. Exposure and "Defocus control".
  • I didn't think focusing solely with the LCD would be an issue. But it is. Trying to make a macro of a flower on a beautiful sunny day is far more of a challenge than it needs to be. Again, this can be remedied by the EVF, but I just don't have the money right now. Plus that's one more step closer to DSLR size.
  • No audio options beyond mono recording. I would like the ability to at least add stereo.
  • AF isn't incredibly fast or extensively manipulate-able (such as numerous easily adjustable focal points or something)
Wow, that gripe list looks awfully long; it's longer than the love list...

In A Nutshell

Ultimately the GF1 is just too expensive for what it is. In some ways I feel like it is being marketed more as a gadget than an image making tool. Sure, it is more than I ever got out of my already stupidly expensive P&S. I remember having the hardest time picking out a P&S because every time I finally got close to picking something that had the options I felt I needed in a camera, it was the most expensive (usually one of Canon's G cameras) at around $500. At which point, I felt, why don't I just get a small DSLR body with still better image quality? But now I have doubled that price and still am not quite getting DSLR quality images. Maybe I just want too much. This would all be different if the GF1 (with lens) cost around $600, and lenses at most cost $400. Ridiculous perhaps but somehow it makes sense in my fantasy world of photography.

Again, this could all be tainted by the fact that I regularly shoot a D700 which, as far as I'm concerned, is just a gorgeous camera. I can make some killer images with that beast, and print them to perfectly reasonable (and absurdly unreasonable) size, and need nothing more. And the fact remains, even when technology has moved on, my "old" D700 will still be able to enable me to make the same great images, printed to the same normal, or huge sizes, to my heart's desire. An 8x10 is an 8x10. And my 20x30's look just awesome. I'm not printing billboards...yet.

Did I mention I am bipolar? Practicality aside (not all but that which was mentioned above), I find the GF1 to be an excellent tool and it does possess some strong points. It represents a great first attempt at a new type of camera. I find benefits to it all the time! People act more natural around it since it is less intimidating than a DSLR. As photography becomes more persecuted where people are more wary of who is taking pictures and why (I see this a lot in retail stores. I come in with a camera just to browse and owners/managers always want to know why the camera and who I am taking pictures for. The small GF1 is unassuming and saves me that trouble 9 times out of 10. Without the loud mirror clack, I can make images in quiet venues (Though the GF1 isn't silent, the minimal shutter noise is far less disruptive). The GF1 is a great camera and a wonderful tool to have in the kit. It just costs more than it should and given the tighter financial status of beginning photographers, I wouldn't recommend this camera as a replacement for a DSLR. Though I will say, photojournalists may find something like this an excellent sidearm due to the importance of minimizing your presence and capturing a moment in as pure a form as you can.

Other EVIL Cameras

As mentioned before, these small interchangeable lens cameras aren't going away. As of this post, Olympus and Panasonic are going the Micro Four-Thirds route. Sony is using APS-sized sensors in their NEX line. Samsung has released a brand new line starting with the NX10, which utilizes a brand new mount system and APS-sized sensor. It is rumored Nikon has something on the way too.

It is a new niche and technology will only get better. I still feel the same initial excitement over these smaller EVIL cameras, even despite the drawbacks of the GF1. A newer, better model will always be on the way. The beauty here, is that conceptually, these cameras have such potential. I don't know what it is about large gear that people find so upsetting, but it doesn't seem to be the images quality. Though, it would appear the line of thinking may be: bigger camera means more "professional" or detailed image to which the self-conscious flushes with reluctance and excuses. "Oh, stop I don't have make-up on." Side-note: I love that strange desperate yet seemingly erratic attempt to get out of the frame. Where the person ducks and bobs while awkwardly searches for the edge of the image as if it will be a physical frame which they can grab and dive out of.


For a comparison of sensor sizes, see this great chart from

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Wedding, A Mimosa Tree, and Kinley - Adventures with the Bokina

For the past two weeks, I have been carrying this Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X around where ever I go in an attempt to really get a feel for how it handles on a day-to-day basis.

Just as the title suggests, it has traveled across a good range of subjects and even went to a friend's wedding. For those who are new to the blog, Ashley (Sometimes referred to as "Girl") is my girlfriend and is the redhead seen throughout these images. Megan, the Bride, is her friend from college.

The Wedding

Above image made with Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 and corrected for perspective.

The wedding was held in a gorgeous and rustic little winery called the "Casa de Loco". It was originally a mental hospital which burned down and has since been restored. Located in the woods of the Ozarks, it sits on a precipice overlooking the Niangua River where many take float trips and cruise along on jet-skis.

Megan (The Bride) with Ashley

Ash signing the Newlywed's Platter

She has great eyes!

Mimosa Tree

Last year we planted a small mimosa tree. This year it has already doubled in size and has twice the pink fuzzy blooms to photograph. These are beautiful subjects! Almost all of these images were made at either f/2.5 or f/4.

Below is a crop from the above image.

The Little Neighborgirl - Kinley

Whenever I am outside enjoying the sun or working in the yard, I tend to acquire an audience. The neighbor kids love coming over and getting in my way, haha. This is little Kinley. She just had her bath and was ready for "beh-tie" (bedtime). She defines photogenic.


The Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X is an unbelievable lens. It has surpassed my love for the Vivitar Series 1 90mm due to its utility and newer better coatings. Both are equally sharp wide open but the Tokina fairs much better under every light condition I have put this thing through (strobe, sunset, bright and sunny days, etc.). The bokeh produced by this lens is aesthetic and ethereal. It is a joy to shoot with. I am actually finding I appreciate the slight weight reduction as well as the larger grip and more loose throw focus. Everything they say about this lens is true!

I have a few more images I want to post so those will be coming!