Photos Spare Cycles MythBusters

Category: Photography

November 9, 2009

Advice to starting photographers

Shoot lots. Like, really, really lots.

Find something you care about and take hundreds of thousands of photos. Don't worry if they're good, because everyone starts out bad. Find something (or things) that you care so much about about after you've taken 100,000 shots, you're eager to take 100,000 more. Fill up the memory card every time you go out and shoot. Find other photographers who care about the same thing and study what they do.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. I don't take Gladwell as gospel, but at least in my case it's true. It also means that I'm not an expert yet.

I'm better than I was when I started, but there was no magical rule that made me become a better photographer faster. I've just taken a lot of bad shots. I've taken so many bad shots that, when I go to take more shots, I can remember those bad shots and try new ones. Sometimes I even try to take bad shots -- there's always chance to be happily wrong.

There's other advice I could give, like learn to use a flash, learn what every button on your camera does, get high, get low, so on and so forth. But, really, that's what the 100,000 shots are for.

December 22, 2008

ColorMunki Photo Review

Another day, another review:

ColorMunki Photo Review

September 22, 2008

Photoshop CS4 and Bridge CS4 Review

CS4 Review

My review is up on

September 16, 2008

Canon 5D II vs. 50D


There's just been an avalanche of camera announces with Photokina and they've been trickling out week-by-week. It's amazing that I can stay surprised, but I am. Even when expected, announcements like Sony's 24MP, full-frame, 5fps A900 can still impress. Then there was the Nikon D90, which amazed me with it's HD video capabilities -- I've been holding off on an HD camera for awhile in the hopes of improvements, but this is just a huge leap towards my needs. Too bad I'm Canon.

Canon definitely didn't start off with the biggest bang. The Canon 50D shows some improvements: 15MP, Digic 4, 4x resolution on the LCD screen, 1-1.5x noise improvement, ISO 12800, AF microadjustments, and improved Live View with two new autofocus modes. But with a 40D and 30D already in my gear bag, this is probably a wait-for-the-60D decision. It also ends up being slower than my 40D due to the larger MP size: 6.3fps/60 jpeg burst vs. 6.5/75 for the 40D. (update: a commenter below notes that the 40D was actually 6.3fps in actual use, making the two equal)

But, of course, Canon came out with the announcement that everyone expected -- though, given that it's been expected for over a year now, is it really fair to say that it's still expected? Yes, the Canon 5D II is real!. Well, I definitely didn't expect 1080p video! Forget the Nikon D90. In addition to the better resolution, the 5D II one-ups the D90 by allowing longer clip lengths (12-30 minutes vs. 5 minutes), external mic jack, continuous auto white balance, simultaneous photo capture, and autofocus.

The rest of the camera specs are a little more bland. It mostly looks like the love child of the 50D and the previous 5D, with some niceties like ISO 25600 thrown in. Still, I've long wanted a full-frame body as carrying around a 30D and 40D is like having two of the same camera.

August 8, 2008

Camera accessory review: Phoxle's SpectraSnap white balance and flash matching filters

First ReviewMy first review for is up. Hopefully the first of many. Please check it out and let me know what you think.

I reviewed Phoxle's white balancing products, which I was first introduced to when I attended a Camera Owners of the Bay Area meeting. I was impressed with their ingenuity and sought them out as a review target. If you're wondering what the big white disc is that I have with me when I'm shooting, you can checkout the review for more. Chris Pedersen of Phoxle was a stand-up guy throughout the whole review process and his presence on message boards out there showed that his friendliness is not reviewer-biased. So, to summarize the review before you read it, buy the SpectraSnap.

It's been pretty busy between reviewing camera equipment, reviewing bikes, reviewing pens, and writing web sites to collect cycling links. I've also been doing more studio work with bikes and holding down the day job building robots. I was a bit ashamed to have to use official shots of the Phoxle equipment instead of taking my own, but the time is just crazy hard to find I say, crazy. Of course I'm not complaining because all of this is a lot of fun.

June 10, 2008

SLRs for everyone! Canon Rebel XS/1000D


Canon broke the $1000 price barrier when it introduced the Digital Rebel 300D for $899 in 2003. It was a pivotal moment for people like me, who saw it as an ideal time to jump into the digital SLR arena. I've since migrated up the line through the 30D and 40D, so I'm sure that Canon has been happy with my money. Later Rebel models -- XT, XTi, XSi -- have been introduced at the same $899 price point but with greater and greater performance. Nowadays you can get a new Rebel XT for $450, if you're willing to accept three-year-old entry-level performance.

This may soon change: a Japanese page for the oft-rumored Canon Rebel XS/1000D has emerged with promising expectations. There's no mention of pricing, but it's expected to come in around $700 to replace the Rebel XTi. While previously Canon was content to let lower price points be fulfilled by its older models, it now seems that they will creating new products to siphon in even more entry-level SLR users. Instead of getting two-year-old technology with reduced specs, these consumers can get new technology with reduced specs -- there is a difference. For example, while it has the same megapixel count as the Rebel XTi, the new Rebel XS uses the newer Digic III processor common across their SLR line. It also comes with Live View (shooting using the LCD screen instead of viewfinder), a lighter body, and image-stabilized lens. The autofocus drops from 9-point to 7-point, which is perhaps a simplification for entry-level users, and it also uses cheaper SD/SDHC instead of compact flash.

January 30, 2008

Eye-Fi on the way and other camera bits

My Eye-Fi is on the way, prepare to see a spammage of low-quality point-and-shoot ELPH photos on my Flickr stream. I just read that the Nikon D60 automatically adjusts its power settings for the Eye-Fi --one of the annoyances the Eye-Fi setup tries to navigate you through is IDing your camera and then telling you how to adjust the settings so that your camera stays on long enough to transfer the photos. It's nice to see the product getting mainstream traction from camera makers.

I may have just complained about the Rebel XSi getting 12MP vs. the 40D's 10MP, though I realize that in practice 2MP at that size means jack squat. What would really set my heart aflutter is Sony's new 24.73MP, 6.3fps, full-frame sensor. Given my Sony boycott -- or rather my $8000+ worth of Canon equipment -- it won't be in anything I own, but I can always dream that a Canon 5D successor will have similar stats.

January 24, 2008

Canon, I don't get you (Canon Rebel XSi announced)


The Canon Rebel XSi was announced today, bringing Canon 40D features over to the Rebel line, such as a bigger LCD, highlight priority, 14-bit A/D, and live view. It also ups the megapixel count to 12.2 and switches over to SD/SDHC media. The latter seems a good prosumer move, given how much cheaper SD media is nowadays.

But I'm not sure I grok Canon's SLR strategy. This is the second time I can recall that Canon has one-upped their professional line. Six months after Canon 30D debuted at PMA, they announced the Rebel XTi. The 30D premium over the Rebel line became harder to justify when the XTi added automatic sensor cleaning, a superior megapixel count, and an equivalent autofocus sensor. Now, six months after the release of the Canon 40D, they've released the XSi, which again puts the Rebel line in the lead with megapixel count and matches some of the 40Ds biggest improvements: highlight priority and live view. The 40Ds advantages are mostly whittled down to build quality, viewfinder brightness, and +3 fps.

I understand the need to stagger their new products into the marketplace to keep the buzz alive; what I don't get is why they choose to let the Rebel line be the leader with new features and more megapixels. Perhaps they figure that consumers and semi-pros will stay in their camps and in my case they're right, but a 50% price premium hurts, Canon, it hurts. Or perhaps they are secretly using the Rebel line to debug the newer sensors so that they're rock-solid by the time they land them in the next xxD model :).

January 21, 2008

Eye-Fi WiFi card for cameras

I went to an Eye-fi demo in November [yes, I'm behind] and its been on my wish list ever since. It's a 2GB SD card and wireless card in one. In essence, it hooks your camera up to the cloud that is the Internet -- you can even send photos directly to Flickr (and many more). This is a huge time saver for me: I have scores of photos that never make it to Flickr because I am too lazy. It is also the final piece of the puzzle for cloud-computing photography: take photos, find any computer with a Web browser, and edit online. You don't even need to own your own computer anymore. It can even automatically rename your photos based on your location (no more 'IMG_1235' image titles).

There are already many, many reviews of this device on the Web, so I'll quickly get out of the way some questions that I still had going into the session:

  • What about compact flash?: the Eye-Fi will work with a SD-to-CF adapter, though the range may be less due to the way the antenna is obstructed
  • Can you control privacy settings for Flickr, i.e. upload private?: Yes
  • What about wireless networks with logins? (e.g. Google WiFi): you're outta luck here. In the future they plan on adding this as a 'premium' feature.
  • Can it auto-delete successfully transferred photos, i.e. become an infinite-storage-capacity card if you're on a network?: 'unloading' may be a feature they add in the future.
  • Can it use WiFi geolocation services like Skyhook?: they may add this in the future, possibly as a paid feature

At the demo I went to, the presenter took shots of us with his SLR that almost instantly showed up on his laptop screen. The claimed transfer speed was 2Mbit/s, though they hope to ramp it up to 4-8Mbit/s with some firmware updates. The range is ~45 ft indoors, though this will vary significantly. You get all of this for only 5% more battery usage.

Eye-fi is very focused on the consumer demographic. They worked hard on some slick packaging and streamlined setup, going as far as attempting to ID your camera so that the setup can tell you if you need to adjust any camera settings and also attempting to guess your WEP key. The consumer focus also means compromises: they chose to go with a 2GB SD card instead of 4GB+ SDHC cards to eliminate any confusion over compatibility; they only transfer JPEG images (no RAW, MOV); it won't attach to ad-hoc networks, and they don't offer a compact flash form factor. If you want to take it into the field you'll probably have to purchase a USB WiFi basestation for your laptop.

Most of the management of your Eye-fi card is via an Eye-fi Web page. This page lets you configure multiple WiFi access points with your card as well as setup your transfer settings. The card can upload directly to sites like Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, etc... or to your computer, or both.

There are professional alternatives to the Eye-fi. Canon SLR users can get the WFT-3a grip, which adds wireless transfer to Canon SLRs with much greater transfer range than an Eye-fi, but at a steep cost: $750. At $100, the Eye-fi is a bargain and adds many features (i.e. Flickr, Smugmug) that you generally don't see in professionally-oriented accessories.

January 17, 2008

Canon Professional Services

My Canon Professional Services (CPS) membership arrived in the mail today along with a big book of lens porn (EF Lens Work III). You can download the book for free, but it is pretty in print.

What is CPS? As a Canon repair person explained to me on the phone, the boxes with CPS stickers get taken off the mail truck first and handed to a repair person. CPS also has another great benefit: the CPS loan program. It is a "Try Before You buy" system that allows you to demo various Canon equipment.

You have to be a professional to qualify and the application has a long list of materials you have to supply to prove this. If so, you can e-mail cpsmember [-at-] for an application.

January 3, 2008

The 40D is coming

canon40d.jpg2008 has arrived (Happy New Years!) and soon my Canon 40D will as well. The $1149 price held and the Tour of California is only 45 days away, so its time to break in some 2008 gear.

I'm hoping that this is my main purchase for 2008 as 2007 was an expensive year: 70-200 f/2.8L with 1.4x extender, 580EX II, and 16-35 f/2.8 II. The 40D bumps my old Digital Rebel 300D out of the lineup and will mean that I no longer have to bug m every time I need to borrow camera equipment. I've heard recommendations for a 300mm lens to shoot finish lines, but I'm going to have to do a lot more pushups and earn a lot more cash before that becomes a reality. I still have a 35mm-70mm gap in my lens lineup, but with two camera bodies I'm happier going long and wide.

December 22, 2007

Canon 40D: It keeps getting cheaper

canon40d.jpgI've been following the price of the Canon 40D on Amazon closely over the past week, trying to avoid the temptation of buying new camera equipment. I told myself that I would at least wait until January 1st so that I could claim it as a business expense in 2008, seeing as my lack of restraint gave me more than enough expenses in 2007. The main features that are enticing me are better dynamic range + highlight protection (important for shooting in the noon sun), live view (important for when you just have to hold the camera over your head to get a shot), and dust reduction (I hate swabbing the sensor). 10MP is a plus, but not a huge improvement over the 8MP I'm used to.

Anyway, in the past week, it seems that the 40D has been plummeting in price. When it was $1299.99, I was considering getting the $1424 40D + 28-135 IS USM kit, seeing as you get a $400 lens for only $130 or so. Then the price dropped to $1219 and I was thrown into indecision. Now it's dropped to $1149 -- who cares about the package deal at that price? The closest reputable dealer I could find selling at that price was B&H, which has it for the same price, used. BuyDig has it for $1199. I'm hoping that these price reductions last after Christmas.

Side note: Canon hit the 30 millionth EOS SLR this week -- I'm doing my best to contribute.

November 21, 2007

Vector Magic

Vector Magic is one of the coolest online tools I've seen come along in awhile (seam carving is a close second). Simply put: you give it an image and it outputs a vector version. Why am I so excited? Both of the uses I see are by themselves compelling:

  1. Put in a photograph and you get a cool artsy version.
  2. Put in a logo and get a vector version of that logo

Heck, you could probably do Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly automatically.

There have been plenty of times that I have been stuck with a crummy low-res, jaggy, anti-aliased version of a logo that I needed in higher res. Retracing logos sucks. I could even see doing a logo in Photoshop or in Sharpie first and then running it through VectorMagic to get the resolution-independent version (this will depend on what their vector shapes look like, though).

Corel PowerTRACE and Adobe Live Trace have the same feature, but neither is as simple to use as pointing your browser to a Web page and converting. Vector Magic also has some compelling comparisons. My only knock is that their online editor/tweaker needs a bit of work, but for many things you may be happy with the first-pass result.

I'm at heart a photo person -- I don't really do vector -- so having a tool that handles shapes and lines for me is a beautiful tool.


September 11, 2007

Photoshop Express


Adobe is previewing an online photo editor called "Photoshop Express", but like many of their "Photoshop" products is something entirely different from Photoshop. As much as a single screenshot can be indicative, it looks like it could be a good product, an online version of Picasa, a simplified editor for personal photos. I like how Photoshop Express lets you choose from different candidates in the autocorrect.

Photoshop product manager John Nack has a bit more.

August 31, 2007


casio.300fps.jpgCasio is showing off a 60fps still shot/300fps VGA camera at IFA 07. DDDDDDDDaaaaaaaannnnnnnnngggggggg.

Japanese press release

August 30, 2007

Online demo of seam-based image resizing

Some of you may have seen video of the interesting image resizing technique by Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir. Patrick Swieskowski managed to whip up an online demo of the technique that you can try on your own images -- not perfect, but impressive given that it's only been two days since the video really made its rounds.

There's hope of seeing it in real product -- Shai Avidan has just been hired by Adobe.

August 29, 2007

They're here: 70-200 f/2.8 and 1.4x

New Toy (the bigger one)

Two new toys arrived in the mail for me today: the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS USM and the Canon 1.4x extender. I've long been eying these as additions to my cycling photography arsenal, but I didn't view myself as 'worthy' of them at the start. Actually, price was probably more a factor. With the Tour of Missouri coming up, I figured now was the time to take the pocketbook plunge.

Experience matters for photography, but let's not kid ourselves. The person with the more expensive equipment will take better photos, at least for sports photography, where your photos have to been in focus to qualify. I took cycling photos for years with a film and analog Rebel, but it was the Canon 30D that immediately took things to the next level.

I'm hoping for the same sort of results with the 70-200 f/2.8 IS and 1.4x combo. The image stabilization in the 70-200 f/2.8 IS has a specific mode for doing panning photography, which is a popular staple of cycling photography (example). The extra advantage of the f/2.8 should also help in darker conditions, which my old 70-200 f/4 suffers in. One other bonus: weather sealing, which matters when you're trying to run around with a plastic baggie trying to keep the rain out.

As for the 1.4x, it's my compromise. It's been recommended to me that I pick up a 300mm lens, and there's been no lack of them at the finishing line of events that I visit. A 200mm isn't long enough in those situations and a 300mm collapses the depth of field better. Unfortunately, a 300mm requires man-of-steel arms to lug around. I've seen a photographer leave his 300mm in the media van rather than lug it around the course.

A 1.4x is cheaper and lighter. It will turn my 70-200 f/2.8 into a 98-280 f/4, which should fit the bill (an extender affects both the focal length and aperture). I was always worried that 1.4x or 2x extender would slow down my old f/4 lens too much, but the f/2.8 provides that extra breathing room.

I'll have several occasions in September to break the new equipment in. Hopefully it will perform well. In any case, it's another step towards guaranteeing that I never make money off of photography.

70200_28lis_usm.jpg canon14.jpg

August 20, 2007

New Canon SLRs, Want!

The Canon 40D is officially out and brings a whole lot of upgrades to the table:

  • 10.1 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • 6.5 fps continuous shooting, max. burst 75 JPEGs
  • New AF system with 9 cross-type sensors
  • DIGIC III processor
  • 3.0” LCD with Live View mode
  • EOS Integrated Cleaning System
  • Clear and bright viewfinder
  • Customizable Picture Style processing parameters

Notable is the 2MP increase over the 30D and 20D, as well as 'LiveView' for the LCD screen, which makes it possible to hold your camera above the crowd and snap away. The greater fps (6.5 vs 5 for the 30D) and improved autofocus are also big wins for people like me that have to snap at sporting events, and they've added a dedicated "AF On" button that gives independent control of autofocus.

Of course, for only 7x the cost ($7999), you could have the new Canon 1Ds Mark III:

  • 21 Megapixel full frame (35mm) CMOS sensor
  • 5 fps continuous shooting for up to 56 frames
  • Dual “DIGIC III” processors
  • Highlight Tone Priority
  • Auto focus system with 19 cross type sensors and 26 focus assist points
  • EOS Integrated Cleaning System
  • ISO 100-1600 (expandable to L:50 H:3200)
  • 3.0” 230K pixel LCD with Live View mode
  • Redesigned viewfinder now wider and brighter

July 13, 2007

Moo Stickers July 19

People have always been delightfully surprised when I hand them one of my Moo cards, so I'm pretty sure I'll be ordering a bundle of Moo's upcoming Vinyl stickers.

May 30, 2007

Lenses are tough to make

This video looks into the lens-manufacturing process at JML Optical. Somehow I thought it was a lot more automated than this.

Update: Mark Wallace of Snap Factory points me to the even more detailed Canon Virtual Lens Plant, which has video covering the lens manufacturing process from glass-forming to lens assembly. Canon's process seems even more complex. Just to get the glass for the lens, a glass mixture is blended from raw materials (different mixture for each lens), fused in a crucible, cast, broken apart, and recast into a sheet. Then the sheets are cut to the right shape/weight, ground, reheated, pressed into lens shapes, and annealed. Then you start the 'lens machining', i.e. actually grinding and polishing the lens. For this stage, the lens is rough ground with a diamond grind stone, fine ground with a diamond pellet platter (1/1000mm precision), polished, milled to the right diameter, and coated. The final lens assembly process is all expertly hand-done from the inside of the lens out. It's impressive how many steps have to go right to get to the final product. (got all that?)


May 7, 2007

My mistake, but no more BuyDig for me

I've used BuyDig for many of my photographic needs -- Rebel, 70-200 f/4L, and most recently, a Canon 580EX. Except, I screwed up on the latter because I really wanted the Canon 580EX II. BuyDig has a blanket policy of charging a 10% refund fee -- they offer no store credit -- which really adds up for photography equipment. I was able to haggle them down to 5%, but I'm pretty sour on them now. It's a bit irrational as the mistake was mine not theirs, but after flushing around $50 down the drain for both shipping and the refund fee, I can't bring myself to buy from them again.

My original plan was to return the item and immediately order the more expensive 580EX II from them, but I'm reminded once more that the comfort of an actual storefront can be worth the non-Web markup. I'm fairly certain that the salespeople at Keeble & Shuchat would have warned me of my mistake with the 580EX given that the new version was about to be released (note: it would also be fairly trivial for BuyDig's Web site to have given me a similar warning). I also wouldn't have had to spend for expedited shipping on an item that I couldn't use at the event I needed it for because I had to return it unused.

May 1, 2007

The Sports Illustrated way... in 2004

I stumbled across this older Rob Galbraith article (via) that uses the 2004 Super Bowl (aka the "Wardrobe Malfunction" year) to delve into how Sports Illustrated takes and processes its photos: camera settings, post-processing settings, guidelines, equipment, etc... Their photographers are told to not delete any photos, deliver the entire reel, shoot in RAW+JPEG, etc... Even if the software configuration that is discussed is a bit dated, it is one of the best overviews I've read of a pro pipeline.

Sports Illustrated's digital workflow

April 19, 2007

Moo trading cards

As a followup to my comment about people treating my Moo cards a bit like trading cards, I've found out that there is the Moo Me Flickr Group dedicated to... trading Moo cards (Flickr's note feature seems particularly well geared for supporting this style of interaction)). I even found this well-done notecard specially designed for Moo card trading. Maybe I'll trade a couple if there happens to be a cycling fan amongst them.

Moo notecards and update on my MiniCards


Moo had recently launched Notecards, which is their entry into the snailmail world. These 5.6" x 3.9" cards feature the same matte finish and print quality as their MiniCards, but they also come with envelopes so that you can mail them to your friends.

I passed out several of my own Moo minicards last weekend and nearly everyone reacted with complimentary surprise -- I think the most common comment was, "Wow, this is a great idea." With my cycling portfolio, it almost became like handing out trading cards -- one person refused the Levi card and scanned through to pick out a Chris Horner card. The variety was extra handy when talking to a particular vendor because I could find a card that featured their product.

April 11, 2007

Moo Biz Cards


I decided to go with Moo's minicards for my cycling photographer business cards. They won me over with the quality of their free ten-card sampler, so in my case I think their marketing was a good investment. The odd cropping makes them a little bit harder to design for, but they make it so easy to print off a variety of cards that you don't care if a couple don't turn out as well as you hoped. I'll be handing these puppies out at Sea Otter.

The cards come in a nice, recyclable plastic container that perfectly houses and protects your cards. I continue to be impressed with Moo.

April 9, 2007

Trading DOF for hyperfocal distance, aka calculating DOF for 70-200 vs. hyperfocal for 16-35

another crosspost from spare cycles

For my Canon 70-200 f/4 lens I keep in my head some approximate equations for calculating depth of field (DOF) at f/4:

200mm: 11.5 / (100/distance)2
70mm: 89 / (100/distance)2

These equations look difficult, but if you keep to easy distances you can rough it out. For example:

200mm @ 10ft: 11.5/(100/10)2 = 11.5/100 ~= 0.1 ft
200mm @ 25ft: 11.5/(100/25)2 = 11.5/16 ~= 0.7 ft

To convert to other f-stops, you simply multiply (e.g. f/8 is twice f/4).

When shooting with the 70-200, the DOF tells you whether you're going to be shooting a lone rider, a pack, or a really-in-focus gear shift. My Tour of California photos from last year are full of examples of overly optimistic DOFs for my slow Digital Rebel and trigger finger.

Chris Horner nears the finish-1 Ekimov nears the finish-1

above left: Horner's chest logo and thigh are in focus, but not much else. above right: I got luckier catching Ekimov's face, but the DOF is only about the length of his hands. If I had used a larger DOF, I wouldn't have tossed away as many shots. An alternative is to get a better camera, which I did.

My new 16-35 is adjusting my way of thinking on this. I can't extend my previous equation because at 100 ft, the DOF is infinity. In fact, at f/2.8:

16mm @ 10ft: DOF 21.4ft
16mm @ 5ft: DOF 3.52
16mm @ 1ft (minimum distance): DOF 0.12ft

At less than 5ft, it might be worth remembering, but a more useful calculation will probably be the hyperfocal distance:

When the lens is focused on the hyperfocal distance, the depth of field extends from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity. -- Photography, Phil Davis, 1972. source

Instead of trying to put one thing in focus, this is the distance to think about for putting everything in focus. For my 16-35mm this breaks down to:

16mm @ f/2.8: 15.7ft
35mm @ f/2.8: 74.9ft

This is much easier to remember and calculate than DOF. To get hyperfocal distance for other f-stops you divide (f/5.6 = half f/2.8).

This isn't field tested, but I'm thinking that it will be more useful to trade DOF for hyperfocal distance when I'm getting my 16-35mm shots. We'll see how it all works out after its inaugural run this weekend.

Thanks to the ever useful online DOF calculator

Branching out with a new lens

crossposted from spare cycles

canon1635II.jpgThe newest lens in my small arsenal is the recently released Canon 16-35 f/2.8 II. Its bigger, badder, and more expensive than its predecessor. The Mark I was known for being a bit soft at the edge, so much so that some people have gone for the half-as-expensive 17-40 f/4 instead. The Mark II helps re-justify the 16-35's greater price tag. Of course, none of that really matters if you're shooting with a Canon 10/20/30D or Digital Rebel -- the 1.6x crop factor of those cameras cuts off all the fuzzy bits -- but lenses outlast the bodies they're attached to. One day I hope to have a full-frame camera for shooting architecture.

I was in a bit of a rush to get this lens because I want to break it in at Sea Otter this weekend. The wideness will be more useful for MTB shots and will also help me get some nice panoramas of Laguna Seca. It will also be useful for road shots where I'm standing really close to the action.

Rather than recommend the same course of action to others, I'll list the pros and cons I debated in choosing this rather extravagant purchase.

Pros: * f/2.8 is fast and you'll need if you are planning on shooting in the woods or in bad weather * better edge sharpness than the Mark I, though not applicable for 1.6x crop cameras * 1.6mm wider than the 17-40mm f/4L on a 1.6x crop camera

Cons: * $300-400 more than the Mark I * Over twice as expensive as the 17-40mm f/4L. In fact, you could almost buy a 17-40mm f/4L and a 70-200 f/2.8L for the same price.

March 9, 2007

Now that's a lens: Sigma APO 200-500 f/2.8


Forget the Canon 70-200 f/2.8, I'm skipping straight to the Sigma's 200-500mm f/2.8. All the other photographers will have to get out of the way when you wield this 35 lb behemoth -- if it doesn't break your back... and wallet.

If that's not enough grab for you, it comes with a 2x extender to turn it into a sick 400-1000 f/5.6. It even has room for a LCD with focal length and distance readout.

March 8, 2007

Two items of lust from PMA 2007


The ELPH-en Canon Powershot TX-1 may be replacing my master plan to acquire a Sony HDR-SR1. My YouTube and Google Video efforts are clear: my ELPH digital camera is a terrible video camera. But my ELPH doesn't shoot 720p HD. The TX-1 isn't an 'ELPH' but it sure looks like an ELPH replacement: it shoots 7.1MP and it's got the same boxy, deck-of-cards size of the old CompactFlash-era ELPHs.

The Sony HDR-SR1 is one of the hottest HD video cameras on the market, but it's not the type of camera that I carry around in my pocket; nor is it a camera that escapes notice if you're trying to sneak it into an event. One other big advantage: the TX-1 will be $500; the SR1 is over $1100. I know its not the only small HD video camera on the market, but I have a bit of brand loyalty for all things ELPH and ELPH-en. I say this without actually having seen any photo or video samples yet, but the Gizmodo TX-1 hands-on promises samples soon.


The Jobo PhotoGPS unit is intriguing. I already have a GPS unit, but having a unit that snaps to the top of your SLR hotshoe is attractive even if a bit frivolous. Hopefully the included software that geotags your photos will help justify the $149 pricetag.

Canon 1D Mark III Machine Gun

I giggled like a girl when I first pressed the shutter on my 5fps Canon 30D. The Canon representative has a much more respectable hehehe for the 10fps Canon 1D Mark III.

February 26, 2007

QotD: ISO 10000

"You can take shots of black cats fighting in a coal mine... at night."

Photographer John at the Tour of California, in reference to Olympus' ISO 10000 digital camera.

Post-race lens purchase?

My Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L lens was a champ during the Tour of California. Once I got a decent camera body to stick it on, its true quality shined like a diamond. But I have a whole void for < 70mm that I need to fill. Milling about the start area in Santa Barbara as well as the post-race interviews, it simply wasn't possible to frame a lot of shots unless I wanted closeups of nose hair.

One of the longest discussions I had during the Tour of California was asking another photographer for recommendations as to which lens to get next. Two in my book ranked highly as contenders: the Canon 16-35 f/2.8L and the Canon 17-40 f/4L. The 16-35 is twice as expensive for the extra 1mm of wideness (1.6mm on my 30D), but the f/2.8 could come in handy if I start using it for mountain bike races. The 17-40 has an extra 5mm (8mm on 30D) of reach. Another plus for the 17-40 is that is much sharper at the edges than the 16-35, though this doesn't matter as much if you have a 1.6x crop factor camera (like the 30D). This photographer actually knew colleagues who turned in their 16-35s for 17-40s because of this sharpness issue (money wasn't an issue).

Canon may have settled the debate for me last week if I can locate the money:


The new Canon EF 16-35mm II is designed to improve the sharpness issues of its predecessor. Not much is known about this lens yet as I have not seen any hands on reviews. About the only complaint I see with the new specs is that it now requires an 82mm filter instead of 77mm filter, which will cost you a few extra bucks... but you should have a few extra bucks if you can afford this lens in the first place.

January 30, 2007

New Reuters photoshopping guidelines

I found the new Reuters Photoshopping guidelines rather interesting. They are partly in response to recent scandal involving doctored photos from a Beirut photographer, which featured cloned and darkened smoke as well as cloned flares.

The new guidelines are interesting to me because they make judgments on the journalistic value of various Photoshop features -- it's somewhat like arguing "what is art?", though admittedly not as troublesome. I find it funny that objective tools like Auto Levels, In-camera saturation styles, and In-camera sharpening are disallowed, but subjective variations of these manipulations are*. It's very possible that these are disallowed for technical reasons, but still...


  • Cropping
  • Adjustment of Levels to histogram limits
  • Minor colour correction
  • Sharpening at 300%, 0.3, 0
  • Careful use of lasso tool
  • Subtle use of burn tool
  • Adjustment of highlights and shadows
  • Eye dropper to check/set gray


  • Additions or deletions to image
  • Cloning & Healing tool (except dust)
  • Airbrush, brush, paint
  • Selective area sharpening
  • Excessive lightening/darkening
  • Excessive colour tone change
  • Auto levels
  • Blurring
  • Eraser tool
  • Quick Mask
  • In-camera sharpening
  • In-camera saturation styles

* note: you aren't allowed to use the saturate tool, but you can do the same with both levels and curves

November 8, 2006

White House photography - Christopher Morris and Brooks Kraft

Credit: Christopher Morris (Hasted Hunt Gallery)

I find White House photography fascinating. With the heavy-handed use of symbolism in American politics, this genre of photography has the ability to dissect the staging, either through an overt presentation of the symbol or positioning itself orthogonal to the television camera.  I came across Christopher Morris's gallery for Hasted Hunt and Time's White House Photo of the Day separately and enjoyed both immediately. As it turns out, the TIme site mainly features Christopher Morris and Brooks Kraft.


Credits (clockwise from top left): Brooks Kraft, Christopher Morris, Christopher Morris, Christopher Morris

October 23, 2006

Hide your wallets, Canon Rebate Season once more

Canon is now offering double rebates until January 13th. Double rebates means that your rebate doubles if you buy two items, e.g. if the 5D is $300 off, you get $600 if you buy another eligible Canon item. This isn't quite as good as the triple rebates that they sometimes do, but it is catchy enough to make me want to hide my credit cards until the rebate is over. Must... resist... more... lenses.... and... speedlite...

You can view the rebate details on Amazon -- the rebate applies wherever you buy the equipment.

March 7, 2006

Canon Camera Upgrade Lust

Photo Marketing Association (PMA) 2006 is over and a couple Canon cameras caught my eye*. Both have me thinking, "Upgrade! ... at a much later time when I have more money... which of course means that there will be even newer cameras to catch my eye."

The first is the SD700 IS Digital ELPH. I've used ELPHs since the S400, which I replaced with the smaller SD300 after I wore the S400 into the ground with constant abuse. I didn't see the SD300 as much of an upgrade as a replacement, but it did add faster startup times and a much smaller body. If I hadn't broken the S400 I would probably still be using the older ELPH today.

SD700 front SD700 back

The SD700 is the first new ELPH since the S400 to really get my attention. First off, the Canon engineers have finally figured out how to stick 4x zoom into the tiny ELPH form factor. Then they added Image Stabilization (IS) and ISO 800 on top of that. There are other features to admire in the SD700, but it's these three that set it apart for me against previous ELPHs. My ELPH is the camera I always have on me and it's the camera that I rely on to get the shot regardless of the conditions. The IS and ISO 800 capabilities would give me additional flexibility in darker situations (e.g. restaurants) without having to resort to picture-ruining flash and the 4x zoom would get me that extra step closer to my subject.

30dThe second camera to catch my eye is the EOS 30D, which is a new addition to Canon's Digital SLR line. I'm currently using a Digital Rebel 300D that's excellent for it's price tag, but has plenty of shortcomings for cycling photography. The EOS 5D has given my camera cravings since it's announcement, but it's $3,000 price tag keeps it out of my reach. The full frame sensor is also an argument against me buying it for sports photography as my 70-200mm f/4 lens would no longer be the 112-320mm f/4 lens it is with the Rebel 1.6x crop factor. I probably couldn't afford the extra $1000 to upgrade the 70-200mm and a 1.4x extender might slow down the lens too much**.

The EOS 30D is an attractive compromise. At $1400 it's less than half the price of a 5D but can shoot 5 frame per second (fps) -- that's 2 fps faster than the 5D. It doesn't have the full frame sweetness and big viewfinder of the 5D, but the 1.6x crop factor provides that economical zoom. Another compromise is the smaller 8MP sensor versus the 12MP 5D. Some of the other niceties:

  • RGB histograms
  • Improved AutoFocus (the bane of my Digital Rebel)
  • Simultaneous RAW and JPEG recording
  • 30 JPEG/11 RAW photo buffer
  • 0.15s startup time -- I've lost far too many photos due to the slow startup time.

Don't get me wrong -- if offered to buy me either the 5D or the 30D I would choose the 5D without hesitation. But part of the gadget-buying-lust fantasy is the small, minute possibility that one might actually someday have enough expendable income and the 30D looks like you get a lot for what you pay for.

* Some non-Canon equipment caught my eye as well, but I committed on the D-SLR line and I like my ELPHs
** One could always crop the 12MP photo of the EOS 5D down to 8MP or 6MP and come up with the same 'zoomed' photos, but that's yet another extra step of processing.

Continue reading "Canon Camera Upgrade Lust" »

March 6, 2006

EF versus EF-S

One of the most confusing things I dealt with first buying a Digital Rebel were the terms EF, EF-S, full frame, and crop factor. It's hard to get through any Canon SLR review without encountering them, so I thought I'd try to clarify them in terms that I at least understand.

The "film" in a Digital Rebel, i.e. the sensor, is smaller than that of actual (35mm film) film cameras (22.2mm wide versus 36mm wide). Imagine taking a photo and trimming a third of it off around the edges. This is what your Digital Rebel is doing and it's what is referred to when people discuss 1.6x crop factor.

Crop factor has it's upsides and downsides:

  • pro: you get extra "zoom."
  • con: it's a lot harder to shoot wide-angle images because you're throwing away the edges of the image.
  • pro: it can improve photos taken with cheaper lenses, which tend to be worse towards the edges.
  • con: the viewfinder for Digital Rebels is smaller because of the smaller sensor size.

Crop factor is also referred to as focal length multiplier, which describes a useful rule of thumb even if it is a bit of a misnomer. A 100mm lens on a Digital Rebel has the same field of view as a 160mm lens on a film camera (100 x 1.6 = 160). It's not the same thing as actually shooting with a 160mm lens on a film camera: as you are just trimming off the edges of the photo, the depth of field is still the same.

How does this relate to EF and EF-S lenses? EF lenses were designed for film. They are built assuming that they are going to focus your image on an area the size of 35mm film. For Digital Rebel owners, this is great if you're trying to shoot telephoto images because you get all that extra artificial zoom for free. This is very bad, though, if you're trying to shoot wide angle. A 16mm lens suddenly acts like a 26mm lens.

Canon's solution to this problem was to design a new type of lens for the smaller digital sensor size and they've called these lenses EF-S lenses. EF-S lenses try to get rid of the major downside of the crop factor: reduced wideangle. They accomplish this by positioning the lens closer to the digital sensor.

Important things you need to know about EF-S lenses:

  • You still use the 1.6x multiplier when evaluating the field of view for EF-S lenses. The 10-22mm EF-S lens gets zoomed up to a 16-35mm lens. You may think it's a bit confusing at first that a lens designed specifically for the crop factor still has to have the multiplier used, but it's consistent: always use the multipler.
  • You (currently) can only use EF-S lenses on Digital Rebels, EOS 20D, EOS 30D, and EOS 40D. You can't use them on Canon's top-of-the-line Digital SLRs, which have different sensor sizes.
  • There is always the possibility that Canon could stop making cameras that support EF-S. However, EF-S lenses tend to be cheaper, as lenses go, and you would only really buy them for wide-angle uses, so it's unlikely that you would ever have many EF-S lenses.

Some other terms:

  • APS-C size sensor: the Digital Rebels (300D and 350D) use a APS-C size sensor, which is 22.2mm wide. This gives a 1.6x crop factor.
  • full frame: A full frame digital camera has a sensor the same size as 35mm film, so there is no crop factor. It's just as if you're shooting with film.

January 23, 2006



Canon's newest camera will have it all: from bp's/meta's pizza button to the latest in AI sensing/reminder technology for the "Pee Break Now" indicator. But which button calls my mom to tell her to come and pick me up?

I'm waiting for the model with GPS.

credit: bigconig's posting on dpreview

August 2, 2005

'interesting' photos

It's even better than what they promised: Flickr: Explore interesting photos from the last 24 hours

You can even go back in time and view 'interesting' photos of the past: December 25, 2004

June 10, 2005

B&W Study

(still incommunicado, but also innundated with digital imagery that I need to offload)

There are a lot of techniques for converting digital photos to black and white. I've generally been lazy and just done standard desaturation, but I'm starting to discover the wonder of 'Lab mode' in Photoshop. This technique involves converting your image into Lab mode, then switching to the lightness channel, which will be a black and white version of your image. If you know what you are doing, you can then do things in this channel to get the black and white image that you want. So far, I haven't figured out what those things are, but I did stumble across the 'a' channel in Lab mode, which is even cooler, and I did figure play around a bit with curves in the lightness channel to get a B&W image that I like better than standard desaturation (but am too bleery-eyed to improve anymore).

left to right: original (unaltered) photo, 'a' channel

B&W Study-1 B&W Study: Lab mode ('a' channel)

left to right: desaturated, lightness channel with some curves adjustments, lightness channel plus this fill layer technique

B&W Study: Desaturation B&W Study: Lab mode (lightness channel) B&W Study: Lab mode with fill layer

update: added in one more photo using a this lab mode technique. I also did some sharpening with the unsharp mask. I think this one has the best dynamics.

May 21, 2005

Cheap and wonderful

Blue boxA lot of the folks over in the Canon DSLR forum were recommending the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, so I finally picked one up. It's not an amazing lens, but the important part of the lens is it's price tag: $80. For $80 you get a lens that's small, light, and with a big 1.8 aperture. The autofocus sucks and the manual focus ring is a tad hard-to-use, but it was nice to my wallet and it can take some nice photos.

Flowers Plant Leaves Leaves Above the stair Beau Bunny

I also got some close-up lenses for my 70-200mm so that I can take zoomed-up photos of bugs and flowers. I haven't taken that for a spin yet.

April 28, 2005

Photos: Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan's photos remind me a lot of Michael Wolf's, but with consumer refuse rather than ultra-dense housing. Some of his prints are huge (44"x75"), which would be really interesting to see in person. Hopefully he'll do an SF exhibit one of these days, or maybe I'll stop by the paulkopeikingallery next time I'm down in LA.

04-28-05.crates.b.jpg 04-28-05.boards.jpg 04-28-05.chassis.b.jpg

April 19, 2005

Canon USM

pqbon and I have been trading lists of lenses that we are lusting after, and I've been realizing that all this Canon lens terminology has been leaking from my brain faster than I can put it in. I've decided that I'll do a series of posts representing various things I've learned on the Web about Canon equipment, as well as photography in general, in the hopes that I can slow the rate of leakage.

One bit of Canon terminology that is troubling is USM, a technology for autofocusing that stands for "Ultrasonic Motor." USM was a term they first started using in 1987 when they developed a new fast and quiet motor, which they dubbed a "ring ultrasonic motor" -- the motor uses tiny vibrations to generate rotation. As the term "ring" implies, the autofocusing mechanism sits in a ring around the optics of the camera, and most importantly, it allows you to do manual focusing even when in auto focus mode. Steve Weixel put together a nicely photographed dissection of his broken ring ultrasonic motor. Here's a photo of the ring motor itself:


Several years later, Canon developed a new autofocusing technology that is a motor that connects to the focusing mechanism via a set of gears. This mechanism is cheaper to produce, and Canon also touts the ability to stick it into smaller lenses. As you can see from the photo below, this new motor is considerably different from the ring-style motor:


The downside of this new motor is that it is louder than the ring-style mechanism and in most lenses that it is used in you cannot do manual focusing when in auto focus mode -- you need to check if the lens has "FTM" (full time manual) as a feature.

Blessed with creativity, Canon decide to call this new technology "micro USM." In an attempt to conserve letters, Canon shortens this to "USM" in its product names and instead of having a red-rimmed ring around the front of the lens they use a golden ring (update: red-rim indicates "L" luxury lens, which happens to generally be an indicator of ring-type USM, but there are several ring-type USM lenses that are golden-ringed -- see comments).

If you read this thread, you'll find people listing all sorts of other 'tests' you can do to see what type of USM motor a lens has, though the easiest method is probably just to use Google to find out which type your lens has.

Does the difference between the two lenses really matter? Depends on you, really. Micro-USM saves you money, and I'm also so used to flipping a switch between autofocus and manual focus. Another caveat is that you have to be careful that you are not in sports mode on a Digital Rebel, as in sports mode the auto-focus mechanism will try to continually autofocus in order to follow a moving target (AI Servo mode). So, for me it probably doesn't matter, but I do enjoy the feel of the ring ultrasonic motor on my 70-200mm lens.

Link summary: * Canon Web site on Ultrasonic technology * Philip Greenspun posting on about Canon EOS lens * Dissection of an ring ultrasonic motor

February 13, 2005

Exhibit touring (Tokihiro Sato)

Without intending to we stumbled upon a Tokihiro Sato "Photo Respiration" exhibit, which was in the gallery next door to the Robert Koch Gallery. Sato's photos use interesting technique: he sets the photo for very long exposure (~1 hour) and walks around the photo with a flash light, pen light, or mirror, which he shines back into the camera for varying effect. The long exposure also means that photos like the one below of Shibuya Crossing are nearly empty of people and cars -- only faint ghosts remain.

Sato also has an interesting presentation: the photos are mounted in front of a bed of lights that shines through the semi-transparent print, which emphasizes the points of light (similar to viewing the photos on a computer screen). Some of the photos remind me of japanime scenes were the little light spirits in the woods start gathering (missing a specific reference here, but possibly Princess Mononoke). My favorite image in particular is one where the dots of light are huddled around a massive tree -- unfortunately I can't find an image of it online.

I also couldn't find the exhibit page, but this page has a fairly good collection of Sato photos (some in the exhibit, some not). There is also a book available under the same title as the exhibition.

photo photo photo photo

Exhibit touring (Michael Wolf)

d and I went to go see the Michael Wolf "Architecture of Density" exhibit over at the Robert Koch gallery in downtown SF (at the intersection of Geary and Market). The online gallery had more photos than the actual exhibition, but there was a lot to be gained from seeing the photos in person. So many of the building details are not evident in the small images on Wolf's Web site: workers hanging precariuosly from the scaffolding, plumbing fixtures climbing up the stories, the lack of people in the photographs (altering the voyeuristic quality of the photos somewhat). Also hard to replicate is the sense of light-headedness I got from seeing the photos blown up to gigantic proportions -- somewhat like the feeling one gets looking down from the top of a tall building. d noted that the photos were grainy and clearly digital, which might make it difficult to stomach the $4-6K price tag, though the light-headed feeling would be enough to keep the photos off of my wall.

There are more photos in the online gallery, but these are some of the ones (IIRC) that are in the actual exhibit:

photo photo photo photo photo photo photo

Update: d points out the work of Andreas Gursky as well: * Singapore Stock Exchange * Gallery with some of his building facade photos * MOMA exhibit * Google Images search has even more works

January 19, 2005


Michael Wolf's Hong Kong skyscraper photos are fit for a Koyannisqatsi remake.

October 29, 2003

Photos for that site redesign

Cool features of a stock photo site:
1) royalty-free
2) search by color: istockphoto lets you specify a color and will return photos in its collection that match that color, ensuring harmony in your CSS design
- istockpro
(via Zeldman)

June 17, 2003

Stock Photos

Copyright is a destructive issue, so I'm glad these royalty-free photo sites are out there: stock.xchng and


photoThis talk introduced me to the field of lomography, and this site taught me a little bit more. After browsing around I feel like ordering the Supersampler, which lets you stripe four photos across a single image.

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