29 September, 2014

FE 55mm on the NEX

FE 55mm on NEX-7, Noosa Heads, Queensland

The Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 works very nicely on the NEX-7. It moves from being a standard FE lens, to a short telephoto for the NEX sensor. It doesn't quite reach the traditional 85mm; but makes it to a respectable 82.5mm.

If you don't need the macro capability, I think it makes an excellent alternative to the 50mm Touit. It's faster (by one and a third stops), it's longer, it's a bit less expensive, and it's a hedge against the day you might move to an A7.

With the addition of the Loxia line, there's incredible choice for NEX (and A6000) users, not just A7/r/s owners. And for the NEX cameras the excellent Sony 50mm shouldn't be overlooked — which also brings stabilisation. And, the Sigma 60mm is a wickedly sharp alternative.

55mm, Noosa Heads, Queensland

27 September, 2014

Photographs with altitude

Spring Hill in Brisbane

If there was a man standing on the roof of the building in the picture above, or even if there was a window washer; well, then, it might be an interesting photograph.

Not every outing delivers a worthwhile image. It's just the way it is. 

Many modern urban environments seem sterile to me. In most big cities (in the West, anyway) people work very hard not to stand out; only going out to get from one place to another. Even the number of smokers escaping the indoor prohibitions is way down.

When confronted by tall(ish) buildings it seemed reasonable then, to look up. Oh, well.

Next time.

23 September, 2014

Expose to the right

Noosa Heads, Queensland

People whose opinions I respect, seem to differ about, "exposing to the right."

Expose To The Right (ETTR) is a tactic designed to exploit the way that digital files are organised. The tactic is based on the recognition that half the digital data of any photo is in the brightest stop, half of the remaining data is in the next stop, and so on. This means that when you get down to the shadows, there’s not much information left to be manipulated — or printed.

The "right" in "expose to the right," refers to the right (brightest) side of a histogram. The theory is to expose the image so as to push it to the bright side without going to white ("blown" highlights). The seeming overexposure will then be pulled back down in the post processing of the RAW image. (This is not useful for JPEGs.)

There's no information (except pure white) in a blown highlight. So, unless you really have a bright highlight, like a spectral highlight from a metal object for instance, you probably don't want to go there. If a shiny nose or forehead gets blown out in a portrait, for example, then the portrait is probably done.

If histograms are a bit of a black art, then I suggest the Luminous Landscape discussion of histograms as a precursor to this discussion.

If you're interested in the debate, then here's where to look. (If you don't want the debate, then you can skip down to my view at the foot of the post.)
So where do I stand? I agree that ETTR can be a useful tactic. But care is required when you start pushing up the exposure. And, I agree with Ctein that times have changed; that cameras are now much better at delivering files with lower levels of noise, and noise reduction in post processing is much better at fixing it.

So, if:
  • You know how histograms work in general and how it works on your camera in particular; and
  • the exposure range of your scene falls comfortably within the exposure range of your sensor; and 
  • you're already at the base ISO; and 
  • there's detail in the shadows that you'll want to bring out; and 
  • the shot will be displayed in a medium where that shadow detail will actually show; and 
  • no part of the scene will get blown out unintentionally by moving to the right; and 
  • you have the time to consider all these matters while still getting the shot; then
Go ahead, expose to the right.

18 September, 2014

Pronouncing ISO


For a long time I thought that ISO was pronounced as the separate letters of the word; that is, "I-S-O." (I think that for me, this was a carryover from, "ASA," which was spoken as the three separate initials of the American Standards Association. Showing my age here a bit.)

Then, I heard others pronouncing it as, "EYE-so." That didn't seem right to me, so I started looking around the web and found conflicting advice.

ISO coordinates standards for all manner of things, but this discussion is about what used to be the convention for describing film speed (sensitivity), but is now sensor sensitivity.

Some were suggesting that ISO was an acronym from the name of the organisation — the International Standards Organization. A nice theory, except that their name is actually the International Organization for Standardization — those initials would be IOS.

To resolve the issue I devised a cunning scheme. I went to the ISO videos produced by the organisation itself to see how they pronounced it:

"EYE-so," it is.

Turns out I didn't need a cunning scheme. The ISO media page says this about their name:
Our name
From the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of our name is always ISO.

14 September, 2014

Retirement - not mine.

West End, Brisbane

I was asked to take some pictures at a retirement party for a colleague.

I decided on the NEX-7, as I wanted to be unobtrusive and none of the pictures are destined for prints. If they'll be seen at all it will be on-line and in small sizes. If I had needed better quality, I would have gone with the A7.

I set the ISO to 1600 for the duration. Whenever I can I avoid using the in-camera flash. It's impossible to be unobtrusive with flash, because everyone in the room is alerted to every shot you take.

In unposed settings I take a lot of photos, as I need to be able to weed out the blinks, the yawns and other goofy looks. When you're shooting flash, that's harder to do.

I rarely chimp my pictures in such a situation. If you stop to look at your shots the subjects will join you and you'll be showing your unedited (mostly to be rejected) work. It  slows me down. By simply taking my shots, I can move quickly to my next subject.

Because it was standard fluorescent office lighting, I could have lived with ISO 800; but I wanted the shutter speed high enough to avoid any shake or minor movement problems. It's all RAW, so I'm addressing the white-balance in Lightroom. I also shot wide open at f/1.8, or at f/2.0. I can fix most noise (especially for snaps) but motion blur is very hard. (Yes, Photoshop has some tools, but I suggest you not rely on that when taking pictures, only when you encounter a situation in post processing.)

My 32mm lives on the NEX, but I took a wide and a telephoto to complement that — I didn't use either one. Things moved along pretty quickly and I just said to myself, this will work.

Moderate telephoto lenses are great for portraits. They eliminate the distortion that arises at close distances with a wider lens. I can get the same geometric result by using the standard (32mm on the NEX) further away — and then cropping. 

10 September, 2014

Holding on longer?


So, here we are:
  • Digital cameras are as good or better than medium format film.
  • Camera feedback to users, such as histograms, focus peaking and zebras, dramatically improves the reliability of image capture.
  • The convenience of 32gb cards over 36 shot film, is unbelievable – and memory is cheap.
  • The various flavours of image stabilisation work like magic.
  • Autofocus can be really, really quick, and accurate.
  • Low light performance is off the old charts.
  • Lens selection is better than adequate, and in many cases outstanding.
  • Many cameras are so small the problem is fitting in the controls. 
  • Digital colour is so good they don't even make most of the transparency films anymore. 
  • Digital photography is much, much less expensive than film.
  • The selection of bags, straps, tripods and other accessories is almost unlimited.
  • Digital printers blow the doors off of wet darkrooms.
  • Access to legacy lenses using mirrorless cameras is incredible.
  • The addition of video into cameras is icing on the cake for still photographers.

As digital has finally delivered the goods, I think photographers will be holding on to cameras longer. I know I am.

Tough times ahead for manufacturers?

06 September, 2014

Burning bridges


I was very surprised to hear from Michael Reichmann (in his video – he doesn't actually call me), that he's sold his Nikon gear.

Those who've moved "down" to mirrorless gear often seem to advise that they're still hedging their bets: That there's a D800 on the shelf, "just in case."

I think that some enthusiasts are worried that without the "big iron," they'll erode their status as "serious" photographers. (NB I've got Michael's, 20 Year Photography Retrospective book, and it's clear that Michael doesn't need to worry about securing his place as an artist.)

I, on the other hand, have been creeping up from the other end – smaller formats. The FZ7 (no RAW, but TIFF) was useful in its day; and the LX3 (my first RAW camera) was better yet. (I don't actually get teary-eyed, but I'm still wistful about the LX3.) 

As Michael Reichmann also noted, Canikon needs to be thinking hard about the future.

Can you feel it? I think the ground is shifting.

(As I've mentioned before, however, those who earn their livings taking pictures have different needs. If I was a wedding photographer, I'd have more than one Canikon.)

03 September, 2014

Third World – Small World

Alternate, pretty picture - Fiji

When I think of photography in the Third World, I think of Steve McCurry, ceremonies, colourful portraits, street vendors.

So, not long ago, when I was in Fiji, I had hopes of such opportunities. Alas, the cities where I visited didn't seem to have fully recovered from Cyclone Evan in late 2012. The resorts, of course, are fine, and we didn't have a chance to get out into the villages.

As I already knew, the Third World is not always vibrant and colourful, but can be quite sad. Sometimes it just doesn't seem right to whip out a camera and start snapping away. I was in Fiji in the early '80s, and my recollections are different to what I found this time.

For some time, Fiji has been under the control of the military. This was presaged by a coup in 2000, when George Speight and a small force kidnapped the Prime Minister and 35 parliamentarians.

I worked with George in 1990 when he lived in Brisbane. (My wife, Susan, and I were introduced to kava at a birthday party at his house.) It was a shock, then, to see him on the news taking over the government of Fiji. I remember watching the news and Susan asking, "Isn't that George?" Small world.

George was sentenced to death for overthrowing the constitutional government, but the death penalty was abolished. The current "leader" had a much more effective solution to constitutional quibbles. When the Supreme Court ruled his military takeover unconstitutional, he had the President abrogate the constitution. Easy.