Archive for October, 2009

Yashica EZ F521: First Look

Posted in Cameras with tags , , on Saturday, October 31, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


Yashica EZ F521

Photo by Japan Exposures

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from Japan Exposures owner, Dirk Rösler, informing me that he received a single unit of the Yashica EZ F521. He has posted his first impressions and some sample pictures here.

He’s also posted a video: A first look at the Yashica EZ F521 at Japan Exposures.

One thing that’s been confirmed is that the menus are available in a number of languages. Apart from Japanese, they also come in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch.

Dirk will start shipping preordered cameras next week. Stay tuned!

Lenses Fogging up in Humid Florida

Posted in Lenses with tags , , , , , on Friday, October 30, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


The Problem

I’m spending the week vacationing in Miami (located on the East coast of the USA, in Southern Florida, for those of you unfamiliar with American geography). I’m not taking many photos, rather concentrating more on actually vacationing and doing…nothing! But I still take the camera out of the bag every once in a while, and it was the first time that I did this while walking along the beach that I ran into a problem I’d never experienced: Fogging lenses.

Miami’s climate is tropical, with a hot, rainy, humid season extending from May through to October. I was hoping to avoid the humidity, but the cooler, dry season is late in coming this year. So how did this affect my lenses? To begin with, they spent most of the time in the hotel room, whose air conditioning rendered it cool and dry. When I first took a lens out of the camera bag while at the beach, the cold lens reacted with the humidity in the air to form a film of condensation on the front element/filter. You know how your breath condenses on window on a cold winter’s day? Well I had the whole city of Miami breathing on the front of my lens.


The Evidence

I tried taking a video of my lens fogging up yesterday and today, but due to reduced humidity (not as high as Monday or Tuesday) the fogging was not as intense and I didn’t manage to capture the process on video. I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.


How to Avoid It

The obvious way to avoid this is to store your photography equipment on the balcony, so it’s always at ambient temperature. The downside is it will also be at ambient humidity—humidity and camera equipment do not go well together. The better option is to take your camera equipment out of the bag a short time before you intend to use it, or maybe just leave your camera bag open on the balcony while you get ready. How long does your equipment need to be out before it reaches ambient temperature? I don’t know! You’ll just have to test it yourself. Bear in mind there is a lot of cold air inside a lens, not counting the glass elements. Modern lenses, which are made out of polycarbonate, will take longer to warm up because polycarbonate conducts heat less efficiently than metal.

If you find yourself with a fogged up front element, use an appropriate cloth to wipe off the condensation. It might form again, but I found that I never needed to wipe more than 2 times in the 5 minutes following the lens coming out of the bag.


A Word of Warning

I have been talking about lenses, but a bigger problem might be your camera. If your camera is cold and you take out (without a lens attached) in a hot, humid environment, you are likely to get condensation on the mirror, which is bad news any way you look at it. Mirrors are very delicate and you don’t want to be swiping condensation off them. You might also get condensation forming on other non-polycarbonate surfaces inside the camera, which again, is not good.

For all these reasons, I would suggest not changing lenses outside until you are absolutely sure your camera is at ambient temperature.

Random Pic of the Day

Posted in Miserere's Photos, Photos, Random Pic of the Day with tags , , on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


Miami Beach, USA, October 25, 2009.

Miserere - Miami Beach, Florida

My Photography Lens System

Posted in Lenses with tags , , , , , on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


Since I started this blog I occasionally receive an e-mail asking me what equipment I use. The questions come from beginning photographers who are trying to figure out what lenses to purchase now that they’ve used their kit lens for a while and found it lacking in some respects.

Peter Zack already wrote a comprehensive article about which lenses to buy, so I’m not going to rewrite that. I will simply list some of my equipment and explain why I chose it.

I’m going to list the lenses in groups, which is how I carry them, and how they make sense to me within a larger lens system. Obviously, some lenses are going to be Pentax, because that’s the camera I shoot, but every other brand will have a lens of similar focal length and aperture. You’ll also find I shoot a lot of third party lenses, which are available for most all camera mounts. Some are auto-focus, others manual, and the reason I picked one or the other was due to either availability or price. One last note, these focal lengths make sense to me on an APS-C sensor; for a full frame sensor I would make different choices.

I’ve included a photo of each group of lenses, all taken at the same scale so you can compare sizes.


General Purpose Prime Kit

A prime kit should be built around a standard focal length; what this focal length is depends on each photographer’s tastes. Some prefer wider, some longer, and there’s nothing wrong either. Once you’ve identified your favourite focal length, you would generally then choose two more lenses, one on either side of this focal length—one to be your wide angle, the other your telephoto. More lenses can be added, but 3 is a basic system.

When building my general purpose kit I centered on 28mm, which is my standard. It also happens to be the standard lens length for an APS-C sensor because 28mm is its approximate diagonal. Older 28mm f/2.8 lenses are ubiquitous on the used market, they also tend to be small, which is good because I wanted a small, light kit.

Pentax-FA 20mm f/2.8 A nice wide angle that’s also relatively fast. If I don’t sound super excited…that’s because I’m not a wide guy, but for many shooters 20mm could be their standard lens.
Pentax-A 28mm f/2.8 If I go out with just one prime, it’s likely to be this one. I like the focal length so much that I have four of them, one with a maximum aperture of f/2. If you can find one with close-focusing 1:4 capabilities, it makes the lens even more versatile. But the important point here is this: 28mm gives me a FoV that is just right for my, umm, view. This focal length is the center of my photographic system.
Pentax-FA 50mm f/1.4 A great half-body portrait lens, and the fact it was cheap didn’t hurt. Most brands sell cheap fast 50mm lenses and I find it strange whenever I meet someone who doesn’t own one.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG EX macro For tight headshots I prefer a longer focal length such as 105mm, or even 135mm sometimes. This 105mm is also a macro lens, so it serves dual purpose; it’s also AF and gets used more than my manual focus 135mm f/2.8.

Miserere's General Purpose Prime Kit


Low Light Prime Kit

While the same kit-building principles apply to a low light as they do to a general purpose kit, these primes need to be faster (i.e., have larger maximum apertures), and because fast lenses are less common, and more expensive, than slow ones, compromises need to be made as far as focal length are concerned. On the other hand, low light lenses are probably going to be used for a different type of photography than daylight lenses, so you may not want the same focal lengths.

Sigma 24mm f/1.8 DG EX Very useful wide angle low light lens. I try to use it stopped down to f/2 as it’s not very sharp wide open, but if light is low, I’ll use it at f/1.8. My main quibble with it is that it’s a huge lens for a prime; that it uses 77mm filters should tell you something.
Pentax-FA 31mm f/1.8 This is my standard lens for low light. True, f/1.8 isn’t that fast (f/1.4 would be nicer) but this lens is sharp wide open and deals well with high ISO softness. If I didn’t have this lens, I’d probably go for a Sigma 35mm f/1.4.
Pentax-A 50mm f/1.2 or FA 50mm f/1.4 For some people the extra 1/2 stop is no big deal, but when light is low, every extra bit of light you can get to your sensor helps. That said, manually focusing an f/1.2 lens in low light is a challenge, so if I’m not in a manual focusing mood, I’ll take the auto focus f/1.4.
Pentax-FA 77mm f/1.8 Ltd My low light telephoto. Like the 31mm f/1.8, it’s sharp from wide open. Obviously, I also use it in normal light for beautiful portraits.

Miserere's Low Light Prime Kit


All Purpose Zoom Kit

While I love shooting primes for their higher IQ at wide apertures, better performance in low light and smaller size, there is no denying that zooms offer a set of advantages that must be taken into account. My all purpose zoom kit consists of just 3 lenses, yet they allow me to cover from 17mm all the way to 300mm; that’s a huge range! Like primes, there will be a standard zoom that will probably get used for most of the time, but it’s useful to have a couple more zooms—one the goes wider, and one longer. I chose faster zooms for my wide and standard, so I could shoot in lower light, but a slow zoom for my telephoto because I’m most likely to use it during the day when there’s enough light. Your needs may be different, and if shooting mostly in bright light, or if you use a tripod in low light, then you could even get away with having just two zooms to cover the same range as my three, as my standard and wide zooms could be replaced by one of the popular 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 or 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 (f/4 for some brands) lenses.

Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 When I’m in a wide mood, this is my favourite lens. It’s an exceptional zoom that is not very well known; sharp wide open throughout the range, with great contrast. It’s a full-frame lens too, so it works as a super wide zoom on 35mm film/sensors. Most APS-C photographers use a 16/17-50mm f/2.8 lens (available from every lens manufacturer AFAIK) as a standard zoom, but for me those focal lengths are too wide for standard, so buying this Tamron saved me money.
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Now this is my standard zoom. It goes from my favourite focal length of 28mm into telephoto territory, and if I’m looking to carry just one multi purpose lens, this one is it. This is the lens that spends the most time on my camera and I could wax lyrical about how much I love it and how great it is, but I’ll spare you the pain. Just take my word for it: It’s a fantastic lens. Plus, it’s much smaller than equivalent lenses from other manufacturers, even though it’s a full frame lens.
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 A cheap lens that performs quite well; I tend to use it stopped down to f/8, but I’m not afraid to shoot wide open if I need to. I would like to replace it with the Pentax version, but can’t really justify the expense given how well it performs.

Miserere's All Purpose Zoom Kit


Long Telephoto Kit

Sometimes I feel longish. Maybe I want tight portraits of guests at a party or in a crowd, or maybe I feel like photographing wildlife. Maybe both! And so I came to acquire a long telephoto kit that, despite its sparseness, is quite flexible and fun (albeit challenging) to use.

Vivitar Series 1 200mm f/3 An old lens from the 80s, built like a tank; manual focus, of course. With a max aperture just 1/6 stop slower than f/2.8, it’s a fast 200mm that I use mainly for isolating faces in crowds, although it also works well for curious squirrels and other large animals.
Tokina AT-X 400mm f/5.6 I use this lens mainly for birds. It’s rather compact and light given it’s focal length so I use it hand-held most of the time. It’s not at its strongest wide open, so I try to shoot it at f/8-9.
Tamron MC4 1.4x Teleconverter This is a very good general purpose TC that doesn’t visibly degrade image quality. Used on the above lenses it gives me a 280mm f/4.2 and a 560mm f/8, so I get an extra 2 lenses by carrying a small TC. Sweet.

Miserere's Long Telephoto Kit

Will Optical Viewfinders Become a Thing of the Past?

Posted in In the News with tags , , , on Thursday, October 15, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


One thing that most dedicated photographers love on their cameras is the viewfinder (VF). There are endless discussion threads dedicated to mourning the small, dark VFs present in many of today’s cropped sensor DLSRs. Even full frame DSLRs don’t seem to reach the level of VF quality attained by classic film cameras such as the Olympus OM-1 or the Pentax MX.

It is not a surprise then, when some companies have decided to build cameras forgoing the optical VF (OVF) altogether by removing the mirror and prism from the camera body, thus allowing the lens to move closer to the sensor, giving us a thinner, lower camera. Examples of this are the Panasonic G1, GH1 and GF1, the Sigma DP1 and DP2, and the Olympus E-P1. Apart from the G1 and GH1, all these cameras lack a VF, although an electronic VF (EVF) can be added to the GF1 and Olympus sells an OVF for the E-P1. None of these solutions are elegant, and while the EVF of the G1 and GH1 are the best in the business (as of today), they are still nowhere near an OVFs.

But why remove the mirror assembly? It appears camera makers are incapable or unwilling to provide us with DSLRs the size of the aforementioned Olympus OM-1 and Pentax MX (except Leica, who have done so with their M8, M8.2 and M9 digital rangefinders), so they are resorting to mirror-less designs in order to bring size down. While many appreciate the small size, they are not happy with the loss of the VF.

Epson HTPS TFT EVFEnter Epson, who yesterday announced they’ve started volume producton of their HTPS TFT colour liquid crystal panel for EVFs. HTPS stands for high-temperature polysilicon. This panel features an SVGA 800 x RGB x 600 pixel matrix for a total of 1.44MP and is targeted at middle and high level cameras. Its physical dimensions are 12mm diagonal, but I have not been able to find out how thin it is.

The good news is, this is just the first in a series of HTPS panels, to be called Ultimicron, and Epson promises larger and higher resolution versions will be forthcoming in the near future. They say these OVFs will offer good enough image quality that they will be useful for manual focusing and will approach the viewing and handling of OVFs.

We’ll have to wait and see how accurate these promises are, but I am optimistic the future of EVF cameras will be bright; and high resolution too.

Photoshop’s Limitations with Panoramic Stitching: Use Hugin!

Posted in Miserere's Photos, Photos, Software links with tags , , , , , , , , on Wednesday, October 14, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


On September 15th, 2009 I went to see the Boston Red Sox play the Los Angeles Angels in Fenway Park, Boston. I knew the game would start shortly after sunset and that my seat would look out towards the West, so I planned to take a panoramic photo of the stadium even if I did nothing else that day. The weather cooperated and even provided some clouds to increase the dramatic effect of the sky at sunset. I also snapped the photos when the sky’s brightness was similar to that of the field; this is a short window of opportunity that cannot be missed!

While I had processed the many photos I took during the game, including the 4 individual photos that I wanted to stitch, I hadn’t actually got around to creating the panorama. I tried doing that this evening using Photoshop’s Photomerge function, but it kept complaining about not being able to align one of the images. This had happened to me on a number of occasions with less important panoramas, and I had simply given up, but I was determined to get this panorama to work. Where can I find a good, free panorama stitching tool? I need look no further than this very blog! Peter Zack keeps a list of freeware image editing tools and software that I recommend everyone bookmark. It was there that I found Hugin, a piece of software that serves as a GUI (Graphical User Interface) to the industry standard panorama creating algorithm Panorama Tools, written by German mathematician Prof. Dr. H. Dersch .

I downloaded the latest version, which installed quickly on my Windows XP laptop, and in very little time I had my panorama. And no, it didn’t complain about any images not being aligned. I wasted a lot of time playing around with different perspectives and other parameters, but in the end the default and automatic settings gave the best result by far. Next time I know not to touch anything and simply press GO. Actually…next time (tomorrow) I will redo this panorama using TIFFs instead of JPEGs. I’m sure it will take longer due to the larger file sizes and bit depth, but the end result will be of higher quality.

But even with JPEGs, the panorama looks pretty damn good to me. Please, judge for yourselves (click for larger version). And if you have any favourite panorama tools, let me know in the comments section!

Miserere - Fenway Park panoramaFenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox

Street Photography in Boston

Posted in Miserere's Photos, Photos with tags , , , , on Sunday, October 11, 2009 by Miserere

by Miserere


Bookended by kisses—no words, just pictures. Taken in and around Boston yesterday, Saturday October 10th, 2009.


Miserere - Love and Life on the Subway (Boston T)


Miserere - T Station in Cambridge


Miserere - Cafeteria in Boston's North End


Miserere - Boston's North End


Miserere - On the Boston T


Miserere - At the Holocaust Memorial in Boston


Miserere - A Kiss on Cross St, Boston