Category Archives: Hardware

Digital cameras, lenses, tripods, and more…

Lobelia Lens Baby

No, it’s not Photoshop! I did nothing in post processing except to crop in a little, normalize the levels and sharpen the Raw file slightly.

This photo was created with my Lens Baby (described in an earlier post) which essentially will turn your (and my) expensive digital SLR (Nikon D70, Canon EOS, etc.) into a cheap, soft-focus camera with a disposable lens. Yeah for technology!

My Lens Baby is now equipped with a set of macro lens, so I can do groovy Lens Baby macros, like this one, baby!

Also posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Lensbaby, Photography

Alas for Analog

Meta information: Nikon D70 Raw capture, AF-S VR-Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED at 78mm (117mm 35mm equivalence); tripod mounted and VR (vibration reduction) turned off.
Exif: ISO 200, 1/5 second, f/2.8.
Focus: Manual, at infinity.
Post: Raw file processed twice (once for sky and once for foreground) and combined using a layer mask and gradient, minor cropping, routine level adjustments and sharpening, a dark blue gradient overlay used to enhance the sky.

I took this picture last night with my camera mounted on a tripod on top of Indian Rock, one of a sequence of photos taken as sunset faded into dusk, and then dusk into night.

Taking these photos somehow led me to muse about reciprocity failure and analog photography.

Here’s the connection: Many serious film photographers bemoan the loss of analog (film) photography, just as some serious audiophiles miss analog high fidelity sound.

In the realm of photography, my opinion is certainly that the gains in the digital toolset more than make up for the loss of the delicious quirks of analog film–but it is fair to recognize that there have been losses. One of these is the bizarre (and sometimes beautiful) effect of reciprocity failure: when making really long time exposures, the color balance of film can shift to create unreal looking effects because a given film stock (such as Kodachrome, or whatever) was only rated within specified time exposures to provide accurate color renditions.

This “reciprocity failure” could be a royal headache when precise results were called for, but it could also produce (unpredictable) spectral and dreamlike effects, particularly in night time photography with light sources of varied color temperatures.

Well, it is goodbye to all that for reciprocity failure and other analog effects. A digital camera sensor is essentially a scanner, and to this scanner a pixel is a pixel. If the pixel is there to be recorded, it will be recorded, using whatever color balance the camera thinks is right (or that you’ve told the camera to use). You can always adjust the color balance later.

The photograph I’ve illustrated this story was taken at too brief an exposure for reciprocity failure to kick in even in the bad old days of film, but a couple of implications do come to mind:

  • If you want an old-fashioned analog effect in your digital camera, you need to meticulously recreate it using post-processing
  • There’s no longer any evading responsibility for the way a photo looks by saying “I just took the picture, and here’s how it came out.”

A digital photographer is responsible for all aspects of the way the final image looks.

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, San Francisco Area, Writing

Bridge Beneath and Big Lens

I like this photo of the Golden Gate Bridge–because it’s from an unusual angle. Unless you are on a boat, you can’t normally see underneath the bridge.

This photo is the last I’ll post for a while in a series of entries about photographing the bay and bridge from a catamaran using my new 70-200 VR Zoom lens. I took Phyllis, my wife, and Julian (my eight year old) on the trip, and as Phyllis said, “There are four of us here, you, me, Julian, and that lens.”

The other posts in this series include:

Regarding the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 G IF-ED (to give the lens its mouthful of a moniker), here’s my description from the post that I originally discussed it in:

This is a preposterously expensive, heavy, big, and magnificent lens. If I saw a photographer strutting down the street sporting it on their Nikon dSLR, I’d think they were compensating for something.

I still think this is essentially correct. Even apart from the cost, this isn’t a lens for everything or everybody. For example, I wouldn’t want to take it backpacking.

In terms of weight and size, according to the specs it is about three pounds and about 9″ long–although it seems longer and heavier to me. It’s got four toggle switches on the lens barrel: to set focus to manual, to control the auto focus range, to turn VR off and on, and to set the VR mode (there’s a special VR mode for panning from a vehicle). Folks, you’ll have to read the lens documentation to use this one (and who actually ever even looks at those things, normally).

Ken Rockwell has a very thorough review of this lens posted, which helps to place it in the context of other Nikon versions of their 70-200mm zoom lens.

It is awesomely sharp, and the vibration reduction feature does seem to work well, as you can see in all these pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge taken from a very moving sail boat on choppy water.

Downsides: besides cost, size and weight I’m a little unhappy that vibration reduction should be turned off when you put it on a tripod. Also, both automatic focusing and automatic metering don’t seem to work very well when the lens is coupled with the Nikon 20E 2X telextender (supposedly designed for this lens). Sharpness when combined with the telextender also leaves something to be desired.

Still, I think I can compensate for the exposure and focus issues at extreme focal ranges.

So how expensive is the lens? Count on paying at least $1600.00 (this price may take a bit of haggling) less any rebates Nikon is offering (currently $150.00).

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bridge Tops

Mostly, the day was quite blue, clear, and sunny.

I took this image from across the bay using my new AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED (to give the lens its full mouthful of a designation).

The lens was at 200mm, the maximum focal length, and mounted on a tripod–with the Nikon 2X teleconverter (AF-S TC-20E II) between the lens and the camera.

Multiplying this out, you get a 35mm equivalence of 600mm: 200mm (lens) X 2 (teleconverter) X 1.5 (focal conversion factor for my D70)–which probably explains the apparent “graininess” of the image.

I took the picture with Julian from Indian Rock on Friday–the day I held him out of school to go sailing on the Adventure Cat.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Sea Lion Society

Today I’m trying out my new lens, an AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED.

This is a preposterously expensive, heavy, big, and magnificent lens. If I saw a photographer strutting down the street sporting it on their Nikon dSLR, I’d think they were compensating for something.

The VR in the lens model name means “Vibration Reduction.” VR gives you 3 stops (or 8X) additional exposure in which you can reasonably expect to hand-hold a lens–making this shot of sea lions near Pier 39 in San Francisco’s harbor feasible. It would have been impossible with a conventional telephoto or zoom telephoto of comparable focal length, and (of course) a tripod doesn’t help with moving subjects like these sea lions!

Another photo from the set:


Also posted in Photography, San Francisco Area


Wasp, photo by Harold Davis. View the wasp larger.

A WASP used to be slightly derogatory term for a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Today it’s just an insect, a wasp without the upper-case letters.

This one was torpid on our living room ceiling. It took some contortions on my part to get my tripod close enough to take this picture, as you can see in this photo Phyllis took of me in my pajamas photographing the wasp with my tripod raised up using diaper cartons:

There are many kinds of wasps, and I’d appreciate any help identifying this one.

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Should I Buy a Canon or a Nikon?

I often get questions from readers about what digital cameras they should buy.

There’s no one answer, of course. It depends on many factors, and is a personal decision. You should consider these issues when you think about buying a digital camera:

  • How much money you have to spend
  • What you are going to use the camera for
  • How serious you are about photography
  • The camera size, shape, and weight that works for you

As you get interested in digital photography, you may want to “move up” from a point-and-shoot style digital camera to a digital Single Lens Reflex (“dSLR”). For example, a reader writes:

I can’t seem to get the macro shots I want with my current camera, and want to buy a dSLR. Should I buy a Canon or a Nikon?

My answer: I’m really agnostic about camera brands. I think Canon and Nikon are both great brands, although I happen to use Nikon. Canon always seems to be a little ahead in digital technology, while Nikon lenses may be just a little bit better. You won’t go wrong with either, although if possible get your hands on the equipment in advance. In other words, try before you buy.

For macro shots, I use a 105mm macro lens, with the camera always on a tripod, and a set of 1X, 2X, and 3X extension tubes.

You should know that LCD equipped non-SLR digital cameras actually have some advantages over heavier (and apparently more professional) dSLRs. Many of these cameras, like Canon Powershots and Nikon Coolpix actually have macro modes that bring you closer than most lenses for the dSLRs–and LCD viewing screens can give you a better idea of the final result tham through the lens viewing on a dSLR.

It’s worth considering the issue of 35mm focal-length equivalence. Nikon lens on a Nikon dSLR have an equivalent focal ange of 1.5X the same lens put on a 35mm camera. For example, a 70mm lens on a Nikon D70 digital SLR will show you the same angle of view as a 105mm lens on a 35mm camera.

This is great for telephoto lenses, essentially a free ride with greater magnification. But it is not so cool for wide angle lenses, and makes it hard to get true extreme wide angle shots with your dSLR. For this reason, the Nikon 10.5mm digital fisheye, shown in the photo at the top of this story, actually reduces the image optically inside the lens. This photo shows what you can do with this extreme wide angle:

Nicky and James

The magnification and 35mm focal-length equivalence of Canon models vary, with some models having a 1:1.6 equivalence and some being 1:1. The 1:1 ratio makes wide angles photography much easier (although you lose the telephoto free-ride kicker).

Whatver camera you use, if possible you should set it to save images in RAW format. Once you learn to process these in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you’ll get far better results than with photos saved as JPEG files.

Also posted in Photography, Writing

Digital Photography Cyborg

Dream Vase

I like saying that digital photography is a cyborg: one part photography and one part computer. To be a good digital photographer, you should be skilled at both parts of the cyborg’s personality.

Photography, of course, is performed with a digital camera–and to a great extent (at least until camera manufacturers stop copying film cameras when they design their digital cameras) the principles are the same as film photography. See The Evolution of Photography for my thoughts on how digital cameras could become, well, more like computers, and less like cyborgs with split personalities.

The computer is used for post-processing the photograph, usually in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. See related posts: Processing a Photo for Flickr and Processing a Digital Photo.

In the hands of a master, most people won’t even know the photograph has been manipulated. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with post-processing, and it is truly analogous to manipulating a conventional photo in the print making process. There’s no evil to image manipulation, there’s only good taste and bad taste. Taste is always debatable, and the subject of a different story.

As opposed to photos that don’t show that they’ve been manipulated, anyone can tell that my picture of a dreamy vase that accompanies this story was largely made in Photoshop. It is an obvious. A true cyborg.

Related post: Would Ansel Like Digital?

Also posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Writing

Fiberoptic Pumpkin

Soon comes the day of Halloween, which means in our house it’s time to trot out the fiberoptic pumpkin!

I bought this thing at Costco a number of years ago, and ever since then its emergence from the garage has been one of the highlights of Halloween for the kids. Sure, I guess it doesn’t really compare to costumes, candy, parties and the sugar highs–but they do tend to spend hours staring at the changing colors and (in the case of Mathew the toddler) cackling with glee.

This was a little tricky to photograph. I had to completely darken the room, put the camera on a tripod with my long macro lens, and stop down the aperture for a long duration exposure.

The problem was that the automatic meter underexposed, using some kind of average rather than exposing for the fiberoptics. I had to guestimate the exposure, and put it in using my D70’s manual settings.

Entering the manual exposures wasn’t so easy in the complete dark, and I found myself laughing (at yours truly) up on a chair in a darkened room with a flashlight peering through my bifocals at the camera. Is this Flickr and digital photo addiction, or what?

Some more fiberoptic pix:

Fiberoptic Hair

Fiberoptic Face

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Photographing Lustrous Metal

Slinky 8, photo by Harold Davis.

A reader of my Digital Photography Digital Field Guide writes:

Thanks for your excellent book which has helped me learn about digital photography. My speciifc question is how to photograph stainless steel containers. (I work for a company that manufactures these vessels for the food and chemical idnustries.)

I can’t any information about how to do this in your book, or anywhere else.

As product photographers know, metal objects are among the hardest things to photograph. A small technical issues is that refelective surfaces will foil most autofocus mechanisms–so you should plan to focus your camera manually.

The overall pictures is that a very reflective surface is like a blank slate. How it looks depends on the color that you reflect into it. Also, if you are not careful, the reflections will show the setup you used to photograph the metal object–and even the photographer.

Here are some more suggestions for photographing metal:

To make shiney metal look its best, one usually has to reflect warm color into it. One way to do this is by placing a colored board just out of the camera view, but where it is picked up by the metal as a reflection. This has to monitored carefully.

Next, light source reflections are a huge source of problems when photographing something reflective (like a steel vessel). Perhaps the easiest approach without a very fancy studio setup is to photograph the containers outdoors on a cloudy but bright day with your camera on a tripod and using a high f/stop (like f/22 or f/32 or even greater) so that you get a great deal of depth of field.

Another approach is to combine natural light and an incandescent light source, still placing the colored boards just outside the area photographed to add an interesting color effect. (A tripod and a setting with high depth of field should still be used.)

I followed both approaches to light the metal slinky in the pictures that accompany this story, and I think the photos as a whole create a very interesting set of patterns.

Also posted in Patterns, Photography

Digital Storage in the Field

I took this photo towards the beginning of my recent trip to Yosemite, Owens Valley, and the desert. It’s pretty similar to another image that I blogged at the beginning of my series of stories about this trip.

So here’s the thing. I was photographing for about a week and generated thousands of images. By the very nature of the thing, most of these images are discards. But many are not. I certainly can’t tell from the LCD display on my Nikon D70 whether or not I’ve hit the jackpot.

It’s not the point of this story, but the way I work, I don’t always know when I have a good image until second (or subsequent) passes through my files — as is the case with this Yosemite autumn image, which was not my first choice in its set. (You can decide for yourself which you prefer!)

A 1 gigabyte CF (compact flash) memory card stores something like 140 images for me in Camera RAW plus JPEG. A possible strategy for me would be load up on ten or fifteen of these cards. Drawbacks: somewhat expensive and still limited in the amount of storage (to the ten or fifteen gigabyte maximum). Also worth noting, these cards are magnetic medium and potentially fragile. Photographers in the field should protect them from sand, moisture, and not drop them.

I think I’ve come up with a better alternative. I use a little device called the FlashTrax with a 40 Gigabyte hard drive and a viewing screen from a company called SmartDisk. Here’s a picture:

The FlashTrax thing costs about $400 in the 40 Gigabyte model, so it is not cheap. It does have a hard drive in it, so you should protect it from unnecessary bumps and bangs. However, my experience is that the thing is quite sturdy. It’s survived a nasty backpacking trip, river crossings, sandstorms in the desert, and more.

The thing holds its charge a pretty long time, and you can also recharge it from a car lighter.

My process is pretty simple. I have two memory cards. When my first one gets filled, I slam it in the FlashTrax and press the copy button. By the time I’ve filled up the second memory card, the pictures on the first have been copied to the FlashTrax. I make a point of reformatting the flash memory card in my camera, not in the FlashTrax. When I get home, I use a USB connection to get the images off the FlashTrax and onto my computer.

I can conceive of a situation in which the FlashTrax would not provide enough field storage–three months in Antarctica, for example, with no access to the Internet. But for most purposes, it will do the trick.

In my research, the FlashTrax was the device that had been designed with photographers most in mind–the quick copy from a memory card is great, for example. But the FlashTrax is a multipurpose device, it plays movies and music and more. You can also use other media players, such as the Apple iPod, as a digital storage repository–and an iPod is probably a pretty good choice for this purpose. If you decide to use your iPod to store digital pictures from your camera, you need to buy the (inexpensive) iPod Camera Connector accessory for this purpose.

Also posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

How Close Can You Go?

We had some cut asiatic lilies, and a bud came off. I looked at it, and said, “What can I do that is a little different?”

I love photographing lilies, but I wanted to try something new. This time I decided to see how close I could get. I stacked all three of my Kenko extension tubes (for a 6X extension tube, 3X + 2X + 1X) behind my 105mm macro lens, put the D70 on a studio tripod, focused the lens as close as possible, and then moved the bud closer to see how close I could go. As you can see, pretty close!

This is the small part of a lily that is in the very center of the flower. By the way, I am not a botanist – so if anyone call me what exactly it is I’d appreciate it. Note: It is the pistil, the delectable female part of the flower. (Thanks to MontanaRaven on Flickr for the info.)

Next stop was to experiment with depth of field. With the camera set on aperture-preferred mode, I tried almost everything betwen f/8 and f/40. This one at about f/32 seemed best to me.

Also posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

The World in a Marble

Take a good steady tripod and an excellent 105mm macro lens and a marble on a mirror. That’s a good start. Adding an extension tube to get even closer is wow! Terrific!

It’s great to stop the lens down to f/40 and get everything nice and sharp. But what happens if you use the strobe and get shallow depth of field, and shallow exposure? A mystical look…

Use the Clone tool to extend the bands of blue and white around the marble, er, world. Next, use the Lasso Tool to select the center of the globe, and use the Distort > Spherize Filter to make it all rounder, and somehow more three dimensional. Modify the solar flares by using the Render > Lens Flare Filter to change the highlight in the center to a moderate lens flare. Here’s the intermediate effect:

So Flares the World

Next, save off the image, and start working on a copy to have more fun safely.

Add some black around the edges using the vignetting feature in the Distort > Lens Correction Filter.

Here’s where the metal hits the road: Use the Stylize > Glowing Edges Filter with Edge Width and Edge Brightness set quite high and Smoothness set very low to add the wonderful colorful effect in shown at the beginning of this entry. Here’s a tip: resize the image so that it all fits within the filter dialog so you can see what you are doing as you change the Glowing Edges Filter settings in real time.

For that final soupcon of manipulation, use the Adjustments > Hue/Saturation dialog, with Blue selected, to up the saturation of the blue elements of the image.

Note: I’ve omitted standard workflow steps from this process, such as adjusting levels, contrast, and color, sharpening, and cleaning up the image (most very close macros tend to have a least some nasty specks and hairs).

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

My New Macro Lens

Marbles 3, photo by Harold Davis.

I’ve been having lots of fun playing with my new AF Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro lens.

Actually, the lens isn’t new – I got it used on eBay, but it might as well be new, since it is in perfect condition.

This is a beautiful lens. It may be the finest macro lens I have ever owned, and the statement includes my years as a photo pro back in the days of film. I’m so excited to own it!

One of the cool things about it is that it gets out of the way of itself. Meaning, the 105mm focal length has a 35mm equivalence of 157.5mm on the Nikon digital SLRs, so this is a moderate telephoto. You can be a nice distance from the subject of your macro photos.

Here are some more marbelous macro photos (yuck, yuck!) taken with this great lens:

Marbles 2

Marbles 1

Also posted in Photography

Without My Polarizer I Am Blue

Blue, photo by Harold Davis.

This is a photo of a fingerpainting project at Nicky’s pre-school drying outside.

I took the picture in the late afternoon sun. The only thing unusual about the picture from a technique viewpoint is that I used a polarizer to deepen the colors.

As the memory of the craft of film photography begins to fade, we forget how much of color photography used to be accomplished with filters. In the digital era, the role of the many filters has been taken over by Photoshop.

But not the polarizer. You cannot easily replicate the effect of a polarizer using Photoshop. This filter rotates, and its impact changes both depending on the light and on its rotation. The polarizer deepens colors, and brings out reflections in glass and water (or diminishes them, if that is your desire). It makes skies seem dark yet translucent.

The polarizer used in this picture is the 67mm Nikon circular version that fits on the from of AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor ED 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF, a mouthful of a moniker, but basically the lens most people get with a Nikon D70. But with this standard camera, and standard lens, the polarizer now has to be special ordered. People are forgeting the tools, such as a polarizer, that worked well before digital.

I also tried playing with this image in Photoshop, and came up with an abstraction that looks like a sinister bird to me:

Abstraction from Blue Painting

Here are the steps I took from the original blue image in Photoshop:

  1. First, of course I opened the RAW version of the blue image in Photoshop and saved it as a PSD (see Processing a Digital Image)
  2. I used Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast to pump some color into the image
  3. I applied the Glowing Edges filter from the Stylize section of the Filter Gallery
  4. I used the Film Grain filter from the Artistic section of the Filter Gallery to add just a little grain to the image
  5. I cloned out some areas that I didn’t like so much, and cloned in some of the glowing orange to make it more look like a bird
  6. I used the Unsharp Filter to sharpen the image by about 100%

Was all this worth it? I had fun playing, and that is always a good thing. But I’m not sure that I don’t prefer the original blue image…

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Writing