Photography and Art

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surprising Lens Test Results

As you may know, the folks at DxO have added tests of lens/camera combinations at their site. They test various things like resolution, transmission, vignetting and chromatic aberration and assign a weighted composite score. It's a lot of fun to look at the various combinations to see if there are any surprises. And, indeed there is a major surprise. If we limit our search to Canon lenses, the top performing lens with a score of 30 is the 85mm f/1.8 lens. This comes as no surprise given its reputation despite it not being an "L" quality lens.

Here's the major surprise: coming in at number FOUR with a score of 27 is the lowly 50mm f/1.8 II lens. This lens costs less than $100 US at B&H! It has a plastic lens mount. What a bargoon! I don't think you can buy a cheaper lens that that.

The "L" version of the 85mm lens comes in at number three with a score of 27. The "L" version of the 50mm lens comes in at number six with a score of 25.

The best zoom lenses are the 28-70 mm f/2.8 L lens (not the newer 24-70 mm version) with a score of 28 and the 70-200 mm f/2.8 L with a score of 26.

Just goes to show that you don't always get what you pay for!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

African Animal Alphabet

A is for Antelope

B is for Baboon

B is also for Buffalo

C is for Crocodile

C is also for Cheetah

D is for Dik Dik

E is for Elephant

E is also for Eland

F is for Fox (the bat-eared variety)

G is for Giraffe

H is for Hippo

H is also for Hyena

I is for Impala

J is for Jackal

K is for Kangaroo (didn't see any)

K is also for Kudu

L is for Lion

L is also for Leopard

M is for Monitor

M is also for Mongoose

N is for Nothin'

O is for Ostrich (I know, it's a bird)

P is for People (we're animals too)

Q is for questionable 

R is for Rhino (maybe next time)

S is for stumped

T is for Tortoise (imported from Madagascar, not native)

U is for unknown

V is for Vervet

W is for Wildebeest

W is also for Waterbuck

W is also for Wild Dog

W is also for Wharthog

X, Y (Y? I don't know)

Z is for Zebra

And that's the animal ABC of Africa!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Serengeti Balloon Ride!

We were originally going to skip the balloon ride on the Serengeti. It's expensive ($500 a head) and a bit scary (see, but fortunately we relented and signed up for the trip. It was one of the main highlights of our vacation.

It all starts well before dawn when the balloon company comes to pick you up at your camp in their Land Rover. It takes a good hour to get to the take off spot which changes from day to day depending on wind direction. Once the sunrise is imminent, they fill the three balloons by heating the air pocket inside and load everyone into the basket. These are large balloons - our basket held 16 people, divided into eight compartments. You lie down on the side of the compartment and wait for the balloon to rise. Slowly and majestically, the balloon rises above your head and the basket starts to right itself and suddenly you're flying!

Here we are getting organized to get into the basket. That's our pilot directing traffic.

Here's what it looks like from the basket before lift-off - one view sideways and another upwards

And suddenly you're flying!

The pilot of the balloon is well-trained and certified. You have to have their Private Pilot's License (B) to fly a balloon and then you have to get your CPL (B) (Commercial Pilot's License - Balloon) to be able to take passengers. The minimum number of qualifying hours is 75. Our pilot was a Canadian trained in the U.S. 

For the most part, the balloons fly at tree-top level so that the passengers can see the animal life. According to our pilot, it is possible to have a good amount of precision over the altitude of a balloon, but speed and direction depend totally on the winds. However, winds do vary with altitude, so it is possible to change direction and speed a certain amount by choosing the right altitude.

Here's the view from the balloon:

The sun rises shortly after take-off

Here's a shot of one of the other two balloons flying over the Serengeti plain. It's a large, empty place.

Here's a jackal from above

A herd of zebras

A pool of very smelly hippos

Hippo pod close-up

Rare shot of a hippo out on a walk-about

A herd of buffalo flees from the balloon. Note how low we are!

Here's a bat-eared fox out for a stroll.

Another shot of our fellow balloon riders

Proof that we made it through unscathed

After our flight, we were taken to a lovely site for a champagne breakfast. Here are the pilots preparing the champagne for their guests.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Three Computer Problems Solved!

Cue the Hallelujah Chorus! Today I managed to solve three problems that have been bugging me for MONTHS. In case you were suffering the same symptoms, here are the solutions:
  1. Does your Nvidia video driver crash if you do a print preview for your Epson printer from Photoshop or Lightroom in Windows 7 64 bit? Mine did! Here's the simple fix from Epson (courtesy of a discussion forum): 
    • Click on the bottom left button and choose devices and printers
    • Right click on the Epson printer that has the problem
    • Click on printer properties
    • Select the advanced tab
    • Unclick the "enable advanced printing features" check box
  2. Are you having REALLY SLOW RESPONSE TIMES from your Epson printer driver running under Windows 7 64 bit? It was taking MINUTES to navigate the driver to do stuff like changing the paper type and set properties. I called Epson support on this and they acknowledge a bug. There is a file in an Epson folder that keeps growing larger and larger and slowing down the driver. They don't have a fix, but they do have a workaround -- you can just delete the file and the driver instantly speeds up. Over time, the file grows and the driver slows down and you have to do it again. Here is the path to the file: c:\ProgramData\EPSON\PRINTER\EPAUD01.AUD. Mine was over 40 MB and it is now sitting at 3 KB.
  3. Do you have a DPR-1260 printer server from D-Link? Does it work in fits and starts with Windows 7 causing you to tear your hair out when you get communication error after communication error? Here is the fix:
    • Launch your web browser and enter the IP number of your printer server. 
    • You should get a dashboard for the device.
    • Click on the SETUP tab 
    • Choose the Firmware option from the left side. You'll be prompted for a password - leave it blank and press enter
    • Open another browser tab and go to the support site for the product:
    • Choose the Support Resources tab and download the latest firmware version
    • Go back to the device tab and follow the instructions to install the firmware
    • The device will reboot
    • Call up the Windows 7 Devices and Printers Dialog and delete your current DPR-1260 printers
    • Go back to the device browser tab after allowing a minute for it to reboot. Select the Setup tab and follow the instructions to re-install your printer.
Hopefully those of you who have one or more of these problems will find this post. I saw hundreds of discussion forum postings on these topics with only a handful of actual answers. If I have time, I'll go back and post the answers in some of the forums.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Rock Paintings of Kolo

Kolo is a small village in the middle of Tanzania just north of the town of Kondoa. Kolo is unremarkable as African villages go. It has a dry river that runs through it and the villagers tend herds of cows and goats. However, if you climb the walls of a canyon just outside the village, you come across shallow caves that have long been inhabited by bushmen. These are the caves that shelter some very nice rock paintings as we shall see.

Here is a picture of one of the larger caves. You can easily tell the four tourists from the Kolo guide and our driver by the extensive Tilley garb. Many thousands of years ago, bushmen lived in these caves and hunted in the valley below. They decided to paint pictures of the animals that they hunted on the cave walls using a red ochre paint. The paint has lasted centuries, although the onslaught of modern civilization threatens to ruin the pictures. I was reminded of visiting Stonehenge when I was a youngster, playing tag with my brother as we ran around the stones. Today, the stones are protected by a stout barricade and tourists are kept well away lest the stones be ruined. In Kolo, we had full access to the paintings and could touch them if we wanted to. How long will it be before these are guarded by plexiglass to preserve the paint? Will they create faux caves with faithful copies of the artwork like they do in the caves of France?

If you are interested in the artwork and wish to visit, I suggest that you start off by reading Mary Leakey's book "Africa's Vanishing Art, The Rock Paintings of Tanzania". It is out of print, but can be ordered through used book stores or

Here are my best pictures of the artwork:

The men are depicted with large dreadlocks and straight bodies. Here they are carrying a spear. The women are depicted with curved bodies as you can see below.

Here's the famous abduction scene with two factions vying over the woman in the middle.

Two male figures, a giraffe and a skinned animal.

Close-up of a figure carrying a basket

Close-up of a stretched out animal hide.

More basket carriers. These were painted with more orange in the paint indicating a later time period.

A Figure

A pair of animals

An animal about to get into a trap.

More animal traps