Photography and Art

Friday, October 31, 2008

Law of Diminishing Returns and the Canon 50d

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an art auction fundraiser for Art City Toronto, a store-front art drop-in centre for under-privileged kids in Toronto. I donated a couple of works to the silent auction and I'm delighted to report that an 18x12 framed print of my Phonehenge image sold for nearly $400. Here's the image:

It was fascinating to watch people in the silent auction as they looked at the artwork. For this particular image, a lot of people did a double-take when they noticed the old English phone booths (the photo was taken on a farm in southern Ontario in Canada). Many people walked up close to the photo to look at the details and, I'm happy to say, at 18x12, the details hold up just fine. The photo is quite sharp at that size.

Nowadays, I take most of my photos with a full-frame 12.8 megapixel camera, a Canon 5d, but the Phonehenge image was taken with an 8 megapixel APS-C camera, the Canon 20d. With the recent advent of the 50d and the 5d mk II, I've been starting to think about upgrading the 20d. In fact, I've placed the 20d on permanent loan to my son while I cogitate about an upgrade.

You can imagine my interest level when DPreview published an in-depth review of the Canon 50d. After reading the review and looking at the resolution stats and the RAW noise levels of the new camera, I must admit that I now have misgivings. With the current state of the art in sensor silicon, it looks like the sweet spot for APS-C sensors is around 10-12 megapixels. Any larger and noise levels start to increase. Not only that, but system (i.e. camera and lens) resolution becomes a matter of diminishing returns. Look at the following tables extracted from DPReview:

Camera Measurement
Canon EOS 50D Horizontal LPH 2250 2700
Vertical LPH 2200 2700
Nikon D300 Horizontal LPH 2200 2600
Vertical LPH 2100 2600
Pentax K20D Horizontal LPH 2250 * 2300
Vertical LPH 2250 * 2500
Sony DSLR-A700 Horizontal LPH * 2200 2900
Vertical LPH 2100 2800
Canon EOS 40D Horizontal LPH 2100 2300
Vertical LPH 1800 2300

Camera Measurement
Canon EOS 30D Horizontal LPH 1850 2100
Vertical LPH 1650 2100
Nikon D200 Horizontal LPH 2100 2250
Vertical LPH 1700 2200
Canon EOS 5D Horizontal LPH 2300 2500
Vertical LPH 2000 2500
Canon EOS 20D Horizontal LPH 1850 2100
Vertical LPH 1650 2100

Looking at the absolute resolution, moving from 8 MP (20d) to 10 MP (40d) to 15 MP (50d) results in a gain in horizontal resolution from 1850 to 2100 to 2250. If this was correlated to the number of megapixels, you would expect 1850 to 2336 to 3608. Clearly, there is something (e.g. lens resolution) hitting the wall that is preventing these new sensors from delivering on their promise. Not only that, but noise seems to go up beyond 10-12 megapixels, so the extra resolution may be getting obliterated by extra noise.

All other things (i.e. automatic sensor cleaning, larger LCD, LiveView) aside, is it worth paying $1,500 to get an uplift of 22% in resolution at the expense of more noise? Consider this in the context mentioned above, where an 18x12 image produced at a resolution of 1850 lines holds up to a room full of people examining the image up close.

I'm thinking that I might wait for the 40d to come down in price and buy a good used model instead.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Mounting Prints Part II

At a recent workshop with Alain Briot, our group was sitting around a hotel room listening to Alain review prints from some of the participants. The next person to have his images reviewed was a photographer named Loren. He'd been on a few Briot workshops before, so he knew the drill very well. As a result, he had a collection of very nice images from a previous workshop and he knew that the presentation of your portfolio was very important. While the rest of us had presented naked images, basically as they had come off the printer, Loren had mounted his prints on matte board and had brought them along in a portfolio case. As a result, his images were presented beautifully and he came across as being a notch or two up the ladder compared to the rest of us.

Alain made a point of stressing that the presentation of your work is very important. If you don't love your work enough to mount it and sign it, why should anyone love it enough to buy it or exhibit it?

In my previous post, I described Natalie Briot's mounting method, a method that I've now adopted for all my portfolio candidate images. But, I neglected to talk about cutting mattes, a subject that comes up sooner or later in the career of every photographer. There are four stages of matte cutting:

  • Stage 1: you pay other people to cut mattes for you. This is problematic on two fronts. First, it is expensive. Second, it encourages you to produce standard size images that are easy to matte instead of cropping images where they want to be cropped.
  • Stage 2: you start to cut your own mattes using a steel ruler and an Xacto knife. For low volumes, this is certainly an option. But, it takes lots of patience, steady hands and tolerance for the occasional little error. Try not to throw the knife or the ruler when you manage to screw up a matte on the fourth edge!
  • Stage 3: after putting up with stage 2 for a little while, you realize that you are accumulating a backlog of images that need to be matted. It's time to get some help. Fortunately, there is gear that can help. I recommend Logan Matte cutting tools from the Lee Valley Catalog. For just over $100, you can start to produce nice neat edges in a reliable way. The cat no longer need worry about dodging flying tools.
  • Stage 4: if you are good and lucky, you'll start to sell your work in volumes that demand a better tool set. Enter the computerized matte cutter! Be warned, the price isn't quoted, but you can have one of these babies for as low as $79 a month. This is the method used by pros like Alain Briot.
I've graduated to stage 3 and can produce a decent matte in about 10-15 minutes. The process is relatively fool proof and is perfect for my relatively modest print output. I aim to produce 1-2 portfolio quality prints a week.

If you want a little more detail on this, Alain Briot has written a tutorial on the subject.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mounting Prints

I'm still working on my review of the Alain Briot workshop, but thought I'd pass on a tidbit of knowledge that I gleaned from Natalie Briot, Alain's better half. Natalie is the brains of the Briot operation and runs all the logistics of the workshops as well as assisting Alain in the field. She also does all the matting and mounting of Alain's prints and does a fabulous job. Here's how she does it:
  1. Pick a standard outside dimension for your matte board. It is wise to choose a dimension (e.g. 16x20) that fits standard frames.
  2. Cut two identical matte boards. One will be used for print attachment and the other will fold over to matte the print. In other words, your print will be sandwiched between the two boards. The back one will provide support and the front one will present your work for viewing.
  3. Your images should be cropped to suit your art. Alain was adament that you not crop to fit a standard matte. Sometimes photos just want to be an odd size and you should crop accordingly.
  4. Print your photos to fit inside a rectangle so that there is plenty of white space around the image. For example, on a 16x20 inch outside dimension board, I'll crop my photo so it fits inside a 12x16 inch rectangle, allowing a minimum 2 inch boarder.
  5. Mount the print to the back board using archival quality plastic photo corners.
  6. Measure the size of the print and subtract a quarter to half an inch to ensure that the matte fully covers the image. Cut your matte to frame your photo.
  7. Attach the matte front board to the back board with an archival quality linen tape hinge. The tape needs to be moistened and attached to the boards.
Hey presto, you're done and your image is now framed in a durable double layer of matte board, suitable for framing or suitable for showing others your portfolio.

Just don't forget to sign your work. You should sign the actual print itself somewhere where the signature won't show through. Depending on the paper used, you might be able to use a pencil or might have to use ink. You should also sign the matte board below the image in pencil.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

LensCulture and Contemporary Photography

I don't know about you, but I admit to being a little bit lost when it comes to contemporary photography. I've read widely on the subject and I try to see as much of it as possible, but I'm pretty much incapable of telling the good stuff from the bad and frankly don't get some of it.

To use a musical analogy, landscape photography is a little like classical music. The landscape was manufactured a long time ago, just as most of the classical repertoire was written a long time ago. Musicians and photographers are adding their own interpretation to well-known works. I was thinking of this as I photographed Mono Lake last week along with a bunch of other photographers. The parking lot was full before sunrise and people kept getting in the way of each others' shots. However, it is still fun to see the way other artists interpret Mono Lake and I'm sure, given changing lighting and cloud conditions, there is still something unique to say on the subject.

I'm currently singing in two musical groups: The Toronto Classical Singers and The Ensemble Tryptych. The former is a large oratorio choir that specializes in traditional masses and features a large orchestra during performances and the latter is a chamber choir that has a more varied repertoire. By chance, both groups are performing Handel's Messiah this year, so it has been very interesting comparing the approaches of the two conductors. Jurgen Petrenko of the TCS has to cope with a large chorus of over 100 voices, so he stresses simplicity and musical singing. Lenard Whiting on the other hand is working with TET's smaller, nimbler size and can go for a much more detached musical treatment that won't get muddied by the size of the ensemble.

Two groups, two conductors, two unique interpretions of one master work. Similarly, we have had generations of landscape photographers interpret the same scenery in different ways. The constancy of the subject matter allows the viewer to focus on the interpretation and to get a sense of the message being conveyed by the way the artist has arranged the subject and the light.

Not so with contemporary photography. Just as modern music throws out the structures of classical music and all notions of timing, scales and melodies, contemporary photography seems to dispense with the structures of classical landscape photography and substitue a free-for-all.

I've been looking at an online contemporary photography magazine called LensCulture recently and there are lots of examples of interesting work. Some of the work I get. For example, there's a gallery by Hanne van der Woude entitled Natural Red Hair that I find quite compelling. The portraits of redheads are quite lovely and, being married to a redhead, I find them very attractive. The settings are very interesting landscapes as well and the lighting is wonderful.

I also really like a gallery by Jim Vecchi called Markings: Art Underfoot in San Francisco's Sunset District. This is a beautifully composed gallery of images of brightly painted sidewalk pavement arranged in unusual shapes. The images turn sidewalk art into a superior art form.

On the other hand, I just don't understand the attraction of Ebbe Stub Wittrup's Out from Under. Here's a gallery of mediocre landscapes where the images have been de-saturated, given a colour cast and in some cases blurred. To what purpose? Here's what the accompanying blurb says: "In his most recent work, the landscapes are hardly recognizable monochromatic surfaces. But still, Ebbe Stub Wittrup obviously knows exactly how to bring this mental abstraction to life. " The only mental abstraction that matters to me is the one in the head of the viewer and my eye only saw pale, ghostly imitations of landscape as if the photographer had used really old film in a camera that over-exposed each image. There was no "bringing to life" for me.

Similarly, the portfolio of Alexei Vassiliev entitled Here and gone: 21st century anonymous portraits leaves me wondering what all the fuss is about. Here's an entire gallery of blurry portraits of people. I guess this is supposed to convey a feeling of anonymity and de-personalization, but all I see is a photographer who can't seem to find the right focal point or shutter speed.

Of course, there are lots of landscape photographers that I don't like either, so finding contemporary art that doesn't speak to me should come as no surprise. It's only that I feel on firmer ground in the world of classical landscape photography. Contemporary photography kicks all the props out from underneath and I feel uncomfortable passing judgment in case I'm missing something deep and meaningful. Perhaps I'm lacking the context required to interpret these works and enjoy them.

Nevertheless, I recommend LensCulture and hope that you visit it often and join me in developing my appreciation for contemporary photography and developing my taste buds.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Galen Rowell

One of the most delightful discoveries of my recent workshop to the Eastern Sierras was Galen Rowell. I'm pretty sure that I'd heard of Galen before, but I'd not seen a lot of his work. For part of our workshop, we stayed in the town of Bishop California (Population 3,600), home of the Mountain Light Gallery, dedicated to displaying the works of Galen Rowell.

Galen was an adventurer and mountaineer who combined his love of the outdoors with photography. Photography was not an end, but a means of recording his life as he journeyed to the ends of the world looking for wilderness.

His images are not for the faint of heart! They tend to record brilliant sunrises and sunsets, big mountain vistas and wild animals in their natural terrain. Color abounds. Rowell used Nikon 35mm cameras that he carried with him everywhere and made good use of Fuji Velvia slide film to record the world in live and living color.

Rowell was extensively published in National Geographic as well as more specialized outdoor and climbing magazines. This allowed him the freedom of travelling the world looking for projects to photograph. However, his first love was the Eastern Sierras and that's where he came to live, in and around the hamlet of Bishop.

Tragically, he and his wife Barbara (a photographer in her own right) perished in 2002 in an airplane crash. Rowell was 62 at the time and fortunately had amassed a vast collection of images from around the world.

The Mountain Light Gallery displays about 50 of Rowell's best images. In keeping with his big, bold subjects, the prints in the gallery are blown up to huge proportions and are printed on high quality paper. Our workshop participants commented often on how these images, despite their humble 35mm origins, manage to withstand being enlarged to monumental proportions. Yes, you can see grain and the edges are far from sharp, but when viewed from an appropriate distance (like from your chair to your fireplace mantel), the images look just wonderful.

Coincidentally, when I was in Las Vegas just before the photo workshop, I stopped into a book store to find something to read in my spare moments (spare moments that didn't materialize until the flight home as it turned out) and purchased a book by Galen Rowell who was a prolific author as well as photographer and adventurer. The book, called Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, is a great read and provides an insight into how Galen approached his photography and why he succeeded in getting the shot while others failed.

If you ever find yourself down in the Eastern Sierras, make sure you stop in at the Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop. It will certainly open your eyes as to what's possible with humble 35mm equipment if you have talent and the motivation to be where the action is.

Ken Rockwell Really Knows How to Hurt a Guy

I was just reading Ken Rockwell's daily update and here's a quote that is killing me:

"90% of photography, and life, is showing up. It doesn't matter what kind of camera you have if you're not there. That hit home even hard this Monday morning at 7AM as I write this. I'm in Yosemite Valley, about to head out for a day of shooting, and this is also the busiest day for people reading the Internet. Over 100,000 people will be reading my site today, but only a few people are away from their computers and out shooting. Who's going to get better pictures, you, stuck in your office with your expensive gear sitting at home without you, or my grandma with a disposable camera up here?"

As someone who is stuck in his office with my expensive gear sitting at home, I send a big fat raspberry to Ken Rockwell and hope it snows!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lightroom 2.1

I'm back from my workshop in the Eastern Sierra's with Alain Briot and will write up my impressions of the experience soon.

In the meantime, note that a release candidate of Lightroom 2.1 has been placed on the Adobe site here. There are many small fixes that are part of 2.1, but the key one for me is a fix to the interoperability between Lightroom and CS3/CS4. One of the fancy things that was supposed to work between Lightroom 2.0 and Photoshop CS3 was a seamless transfer of a photo back and forth between the two products. I remember seeing demos of this transfer and thinking about how good it was.

Of course, when I tried it, I found that the transfer wouldn't work at all. There was a partial work-around on the support forum, but certainly not the seamless experience I was banking on.

Yesterday, I downloaded 2.1 and purchased CS4 (my refund for my purchase of CS3 came through on my credit card). After installing both products, I tested the file transfer between them and, hey presto, the transfer was seamless. I was able to do neat stuff like saving a file under a new name in CS4 and seeing it appear automatically in my Lightroom DB without importing it.

I think Adobe might be getting their shit together at last!

PS: CS4 is a HUGE improvement over CS3 and its predecessors from a UI point of view. The concept of having each open image in its own tab is very well executed. There are several other neat visual tricks too. For example, when you are using the clone or heal tools, the predicted result of the operation is contained inside the circle that are using to define the affected area. You can preview the result and then click with your mouse to apply it. Neat! In addition, the vibrance control from Lightroom and ACR is now available as a Photoshop adjustment.

On the downside, I tried the new transformation function that clones/subtracts out less important parts of the image to shrink or grow it. The controls work fine and the preview looked really good. However, when I tried to apply it, CS4 gave me an "out of memory" error message. I didn't have time to see if closing down some tabs would free up the memory, but be aware that this is a potential issue.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Off on a Photo Workshop

Travel is wonderful in three ways: you get that tingling feeling of anticipation as the months pass by and your trip becomes imminent, then you get to actually experience the trip itself and finally, you get to re-live it as you look at your photos or just sit and daydream in the office.

I've been anticipating a min-vacation for months now and the departure date is now close at hand. Back in March, I enrolled in a photo workshop with Alain Briot. The itinerary sounds mouthwatering:

Friday, October 10th, 2008
We will be meet you in Lone Pine, California in the parking lot of the Best Western Motel at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time, which is the same time zone as Las Vegas, NV.

On this first day we will start with a workshop orientation and introduce each other. We will then photograph sunset near Lone Pine.

Saturday, October 11th, 2008
We will rise early to photograph the Sierras at Sunrise. After breakfast, we will start on an all day exploration of the Eastern Sierra . We will photograph such famed locations as Mount Williamson, Mount Whiney and Manzanar, and we will also visit the exact place where Ansel Adams created some of his most famous photographs. You will be able to stand where Adams stood and visualize the difference between the scene as it is and the images that he created. We will end our day at a our chosen location where we will photograph sunset. This will be a day to remember. We will spend Saturday night in Bishop.

Sunday, October 12th, 2008
On Sunday we will focus on photographing the Bristlecone Pines near to Bishop. We will spend all day exploring the mountain and the groves where they are located. Sunday will also be print review day. Make sure to bring 4 to 6 prints of your work, 8x10 or larger. Our print reviews are comprehensive and friendly, lasting from 20 to 30 minutes per person. The print review provides a superb opportunity to ask any and all questions about your work. It is also a wonderful opportunity to get feedback on your work, not only from Natalie and I but also from other workshop participants.

Monday, October 13th, 2008
On Monday we will travel from Bishop to Lee Vining. We will photograph along the way, then explore the Mono Lake area in search of a great location for afternoon and sunset photography. We will also continue our print reviews. Sunset will be at Mono Lake and we will be staying in Lee Vining that night.

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008
Tuesday morning will see us return to Mono Lake for sunrise, to a location we will have found and selected the previous evening (we can't find the best location in the dark !). After the shoot is over we will have breakfast in Lee Vining. The workshop concludes in Lee Vining after breakfast, giving everyone plenty of time to drive back.

With any luck, I'll return from the workshop with a better ability to see. I was discussing this goal with a colleague today and used a musical analogy. There are many singers who can read music and belt out a tune, but there are very few who can interpret music in a magical way and convey the emotion of the song. Similarly, there are many photographers, myself included, who know how to point a camera and expose the scene correctly. We may also know how to develop the photo in Lightroom or Photoshop and print the photograph out in a pleasing way. But, this doesn't mean that our images engage the audience in such a way that feelings and emotions are conjured up. My goal is to learn how to make my photographs more transparent so that the viewer can see through the image into the heart of the photographer.

More on this next week when I return.

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Latest Camera

I seem to be developing an alarming predilection for losing small items on airplanes. If you saw my carry-on baggage, it would hardly seem surprising that I shed the occasional bit of plastic because I resemble Mr. Gadget when I go on holidays. Between the music equipment (headphones, Zune portable, various chargers and plugs) and the camera equipment (lenses, bodies, batteries, chargers etc.) there are 'way too many pieces to lose.

Last trip, it was a pair of Mountain Co-op sunglasses that never made it off the plane. I've been punishing myself for my stupidity ever since by wearing a $5 pair of sunglasses that I bought in Australia. The trip before that, it was a Canon S5 point and shoot. Until recently, I was doing without a point and shoot camera, but I missed having a camera with me to pick up those spontaneous shots that come out of nowhere.

I did a little bit of research. I was looking for a camera that shot Raw images, offered lots of manual controls, was fairly small, responsive (especially compared to the Canon S5 predecessor that was a slug), was inexpensive and capable of producing good quality images. The camera that seemed to fit the bill was the Panasonic Lumix dmc-lx2:

This is the silver version - mine is black.

I bought mine used on Craigslist for $300 Cdn. The young man who sold it to me must have imported it from Taiwan because the manuals and the software are Chinese, but other than that, the camera works beautifully. The controls are very intuitive and the big dial on the top is remarkably similar to the ones on my Canon cameras. It has no viewfinder, so it has taken some time to get used to shooting through the rear screen. But, the cool thing about using the screen is that it can show all sorts of useful information superimposed on the image, like ISO, shutter speed, aperture and even the histogram.

One of the neat things about this camera is its panoramic mode. Panasonic makes TV's, so it makes sense that their cameras would follow the same 16:9 format as high definition television. This is the default aspect ratio out of the camera and this really seems to work well for landscapes. For portraits, this isn't as compelling, but there are lots of pixels (10.1 MP), so cropping isn't problematic.

The Leica lens seems to be quite sharp for a compact camera and it has a very useful 28mm equivalent wide angle as well as a good 4x zoom range. There is also "Mega OIS", Panasonic's marketing buzzword for anti-shake and it seems to work very well. My old Canon S5 suffered from the occasional blur caused by hand-shake, but I've not had a single blurry shot out of the first 50 or so with the new camera.

The only knock against the camera is its noise at higher ISO's. Photos are useable out of the camera at ISO 100 and 200, but images taken at 400 and above suffer from the pox. A good dose of Noise Ninja is needed to make them presentable.

All in all, I'm very happy with this camera. I can carry it around in my jacket pocket and be ready whenever that magic picture taking moment arises. I can also attend family functions without looking like the hired photographer. Perhaps the coolest thing of all is that it allows me to lay to rest that oft-repeated phrase "those are great pictures - you must have a very good camera". Now I can reply: "But not at all, these were just taken with a normal point and shoot camera".

At normal sizes (e.g. 8x10) prints from this camera look quite indistinguishable from those taken with my Canon 5d. The white balance is not as reliable, so I often have to correct it in Lightroom, but I'm quite satisfied with the quality of the images. Here are a couple of party snaps of family members taken with the LX2:

Kate and Ben

Steve and Claire

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Canon Used Digital SLR Camera Prices

I've been doing some research on used camera prices. I'm a big believer in buying used cameras - so far, I've bought a Canon 10d, a 20d and a 5d as well as Canon S5 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 point and shoots. Every camera has been sold in its original box and has performed as new right from the start. I've used Craigslist for the most part because I like dealing face-to-face with local people and I really like saving the sales tax by dealing with private parties.

Here are my reasons for buying used:
  • The price is right. Once the newest and greatest is announced, people flood the market with the previous model and the prices sink. For example, the Canon 5d is now selling as low as $1,500 US because everyone wants to generate cash to buy the mk II. There is nothing wrong with a low mileage 5d - it is still a wonderful camera.
  • Canon makes cameras that are built like tanks. I sold my original second-hand 10d to a busy web site and they are still using it 2 years later to take pictures of local restaurants and attractions. For a beginning photographer, a 10d is a viable camera, will last for years and can be had used for $300.
  • The accessories all fit. All those beautiful Canon lenses and flashes will work fine on a lowly Rebel 300D and all the way up the line to the latest and greatest 1ds mark III.
  • You can get lots of goodies thrown in for free. Many people sell extra batteries and CF cards along with the camera. Sometimes, you can get terrific deals on lenses that are included with the camera.
Enough of the sales pitch. Let's have a look at what you have to pay for a used Canon DSLR. These prices are based on a survey of four sites: Adorama's used store, B&H's used store, Craigslist for New York City and eBay. For eBay, I stuck to used equipment with a Buy It Now price. I averaged the prices within these web sites and then took the median price of the four web sites. As you may have deduced, my methods are neither scientifically accurate nor exhaustive, but the prices were surprisingly close from site to site and within each site. The market really does work. One other note: I only priced camera bodies. If the camera came with a kit lens (or any other lens), I ignored it.

Canon Used DSLR Camera Pricing

Category Model Oct-08

Entry-level SLR Canon 300D Digital Rebel $ 250

Canon 350D Rebel XT $ 370

Canon 400D Rebel Xti $ 433

Canon 450D Rebel Xsi $ -

Canon 1000D Rebel XS $ -

Mid-level enthusiast SLR Canon 10D $ 318

Canon 20D $ 469

Canon 30D $ 646

Canon 40D $ 914

Canon 50D $ -

Pro-sumer SLR Canon 5D $ 1,759

Canon 5D mk II $ -

Professional SLR Canon 1D mk II $ 1,928

Canon 1D mk IIN $ 2,700

Canon 1Ds mk II $ 4,024

Canon 1D mk III $ 3,475

Canon 1Ds mk III $ 5,700

Findings and Extrapolations

Here are some things that I spotted:
  • Thanks to the announcement of the 5d mark II, there is a glut of 5d's on the market. Prices are dropping rapidly and you would be wise not to overpay. I'd look for a good low-mileage specimin in the $1,500 range. That's pretty good for a full-frame camera with nearly 13 megapixels and an excellent reputation for good image quality.
  • In the entry-level arena, the XTi looks to be a pretty good deal. You get a 10.1 megapixel camera with a fairly large screen (2.5 inches, 230K) for around $400.
  • The increment between the 20d and 30d never really turned my crank, so I would favour paying $470 for a good 20d over paying $650 for a 30d. If I was an aspiring photographer, I'd also favour the 20d over the XTi. It's a more robust body, although somewhat hampered by its small screen.
  • A Canon 40d can still be purchase new for $970 or so, so $900 for a used model doesn't seem like much of a bargain. Look for this camera to drop in price once the 50d ships in volume and the inventory of new 40d's gets used up.
  • At $1,900, a used 1d mark II at 8.2 megapixels doesn't seem like much of a bargain when you'll soon be able to get a 5d mark II for less than $2,700. If I were a pro and was looking at something that would last and resist obsolescence, the 1d mark II wouldn't be it.
  • There weren't many 1ds mark III's on the market, but the price, at $5,700, is showing some downward pressure from the street new price of $7,500. I suspect the rumored mark IV is starting to get people thinking about selling their mark III's before the price plummets.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

One of My Favourite Photo Books

I went to the theatre last night to see Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The show was brilliant, but not everyone's cup of tea. The audience was overwhelmingly of a certain generation - those darned baby boomers. There were boomers of all sizes and shapes roaming the lobby at intermission and it was fascinating to gaze at all that gray hair and chubbiness and reflect on what used to be.

And that brings me to a brilliant photo book: The Sixties by Robert Altman. Here we are in our glory days, with our long hair, sideburns, micro-minis, tight skin, heavy eye make-up and all our idols. Here are Jane and Peter Fonda, Santana, Jess Colin Young, Tiny Tim and the Rolling Stones. In their prime! Jerry Garcia is alive and young. Chuck Berry is duck walking across the stage and Tina Turner is wearing a see-through crocheted outfit.

We are protesting the war - not the current one, but the last one. The one in Viet Nam. We are caring activists, effecting change.

We are going to concerts by the thousands, wearing our afros and cool shades. We are dancing. Naked.

How sad that time changes and we are now old folks milling about the lobby of a ritzy theatre trying to recapture some of those days through the music of The Four Seasons. How lucky we are that Robert Altman was there with his camera to capture us in our prime!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Update on My Video Rant

I ran into a wedding photographer over the noon hour and asked him if he was excited about the new video capabilities of the Canon 5dmkII. He looked at me like I'd sprouted two heads and said that for video, he'd hire a videographer. As I suspected, the skill-set of a videographer is so widely different than that of a photographer that most photographers will just pass on the video capability unless they have small children around the house and want to record their own family for personal use.

Photokina 2008

Q: Photokina 2008 just wound up and quite a few exciting products were announced. What did you think of all the goings on?
A: Well, I was waiting for someone to ask me that. Here's my take on the situation:

  • First and foremost, the best full summary of the show is here at Dpreview.
  • I may be biased as a Canon shooter, but I think Canon took back the lead in the DSLR game with the announcement of the 5dmkII and the 50d. I was starting to wonder whether Canon was going to permanently fall behind Nikon, but these two products are significant jumps over the 5d and 40d.
  • I don't give a crap about video, so all the excitement about the Nikon D90 and Canon 5dmkII video capabilities fell a bit flat for me.. For some reason, Michael Reichmann is heralding the coming of video to DSLR's as the "next big thing", but I just don't get it. With the exception of wedding photographers, I just don't see still photographers branching out into video. It's bad enough having to learn Photoshop and Lightroom, not to mention buying 1 terabyte hard drives like they're going out of style just to keep up with new 20+ megapixel camera megafiles, but video? I can't even bear to think about the learning curve for video and sound editing software, let alone the skillset required to produce good video stories. It's as much as I can do to focus my energy on producing a still photograph that pleases me, so I'm not about to branch into making movies. Maybe the lure of 35mm video-making will draw people away from traditional video cameras, but if there was a cheaper 5d mkII without video capability, I'd buy it.
  • The micro four-thirds standard and the Panasonic G1 are very exciting announcements. I'm convinced that we're only at the beginning of the evolution of cameras from chemical-mechanical contraptions to full electronic and the G1 is another step along the path. This camera eliminates the prism/mirror assembly completely and goes with either live view on the rear screen or through the electronic viewfinder. The result is a very small camera indeed that promises to deliver decent picture quality with a fairly large sensor.
  • Sony is making its move to capture a share of the pro-sumer market with the A900. This is a very serious camera, with 24 megapixels, full-frame sensor and anti-shake in the body. If I was starting out and didn't already have an investment in Canon lenses, I'd have to give Sony a good look.
  • Adobe is making another annoying grab for my wallet. It irks me that I have to shell out $200 every time another release of Photoshop comes out. There's always this one feature that seems to speak to me and CS4 has this wonderful ability to scale photos without distorting the main features in the composition. I returned my purchase of CS3 and will shell out for CS4 begrudgingly.
  • One of the quieter announcements, overshadowed by the 5dmkII and the 50d, was the Canon EF-S 18-200 lens. I look forward to reading reviews of this lens because it would make a good all-purpose lens for my back-up body (20d). I was a bit shocked to read that it didn't have a silent focusing motor - nearly every Canon lens in the last few years has used USM for focusing. The review will be coming soon to this site.
  • Finally, I was pleased to here that Zeiss manual focus lenses were going to be available in a Canon mount. I'm not sure I'll ever buy one, but it would be fun to try one out. As sensors get larger and larger, good optics become paramount and Zeiss has a great reputation for optical resolution.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Neat Gizmo

One of the nice things about photography is the opportunity to learn about new things. For example, I'm always pleased and surprised to read about a Photoshop technique that I've never used before. Given my knowledge of Photoshop, this happens quite often!

Finding a neat gizmo doesn't happen quite as often, but it is a treat when it does. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Natalie Briot, partner of Alain Briot who is running a photo workshop that I'll be attending in the near future. Natalie sent out the final itinerary for the workshop along with lots of helpful hints about clothing and food for the trip. She also sent links to a whack of reading materials just in case insomnia struck me at some point before my trip. And, here's where the gizmo comes in, Natalie highly recommended that we purchase a device called a right-angle viewfinder.

A right-angle viewfinder turns out to be one of those very useful things that has you scratching your head wondering why you'd never heard of it before. If you've ever taken photographs with your camera on a tripod wishing you could actually read the information on the LCD on the top of the camera, then this gadget is for you. If you've ever tried to take a photo of a small wildflower by lying on damp grass so you can peer into the viewfinder, then this is what you've been waiting for. Here's a snap of the device:

As you can see, it is a sort of periscope for your camera's viewfinder. You slip your camera's stock viewfinder off (who knew this slipped off!) and attach the right angle viewfinder and, hey presto, all sorts of things become possible. You can position your camera slightly lower on your tripod so that the top LCD becomes visible. You can take pictures of small things without having to get your clothes all dirty and you can take pictures of the sky without permanent injury to your neck.

There are several of these things on the market. If you are flush with cash, most of the major camera companies make them. However, if you are rather impecunious (especially given the state of the economy), there is a good alternative that is less expensive and fits all sorts of cameras. The manufacturer is a small company called Hoodman. In Canada, the Hoodman unit is about half the cost of the Canon gizmo and seems to be comparable in quality. I went to Vistek to buy mine and the sales guy unwrapped the Hoodman and the Canon and we poked around with both of them. The Hoodman was slightly smaller, but didn't look or feel too plasticky.

I'll try it out in the field on my trip to California in a couple of weeks and report back.