Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A flash exercise

One evening I went for a walk in Scheveningen. I decided to take a photo of a lantern in the ambient light only.  On the spur of the moment I decided to make it into a flash usage exercise. I did not have my ordered Metz lamp yet, so I had to rely on the D700 built in flash. It turned out, that there are times, when even such limited flash is of great use.

The first photo I took turned out quite dark.

I put the flash compensation to -2, to avoid that the flash will dominate the picture. It would be useless anyway, since it has not reach to get up to the horizon. The result was this photo.

It looks much better to me, even if I used only the D700 built in flash. I decided to take one more photo, this time with the flash compensation set to -3. The result you can see below.

This cannot be called a Strobist exercise though. The flash was on camera, and I did not tweaked it in manual mode;-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Strobist inspiration

Recently, I found a very interesting site on the web. The title is Strobist (, and generally, it is all about using light to enhance photos. I must admit the site and presented thinking are very close to my thinking, only that I have not got so much knowledge as the author(s). As I understand, there is quite a crowd of followers, large enough to alter market prices on e-bay, and to make some Chinese manufacturers to start making flashes which, according to common wisdom, should have long belonged to the past.

The philosophy of strobists is very appealing to me. The strobist believe you should always think about light, and ways to enhance it in your photos. The pocket size flashes are the best way to achieve it, because of their flexibility and portability.

Right now I am working through their Lighting 101 section. This is very nicely written tutorials, with many examples. I find some problems with them, I will come to it later.

The strobists seem to favor working with flashes in the manual mode. I can say only embrace that. As an aquarium photographer, I already invented my portable aquarium studio as a set of four simple manual flashes, which I would trigger via those radio triggers. In aquarium the usefulness of highly advanced metering and focusing is problematic anyway. The smaller the objects, the more useful is manual mode. So I thought I would set my flashes as close to te glass as possible, fire them by radio, and check the result. After it is OK, I would go on taking the real photos.

So, when I stumbled upon the Strobist blog I was really ready to take over their philosophy and apply it in my shooting. Unfortunately, I do not have my aquariums at hand, which is really pity. And the public aquariums are out of question anyway.

So I am looking for fish models in the Hague, Netherlands. If anyone would like to risk their fish as photographic guinea pigs, let me know.

The problem is it is not always possible to use flash. One such example is sports competitions. I find the examples of sport photos with flash a little disconcerting. At the sports events in my disciplines, kendo and iaido, it is strictly prohibited, at least in my country.

The other situation involves the public aquariums. The aquarium photographs are the only ones which I have ever published in a printed magazine, so this type of photography is special to me.

Most public aquariums prohibit to use flash. It is understandable. A single photographer with a flash is not a problem for the fish and does no harm (usually). However, thousands of them, every day, it is a completely different thing. No wonder the prohibition holds. The occasions I could use a flash in the aquarium were the exceptions.

It is a pity, because using a flash can really make a wonderful photos, especially in such dark environment, like in the aquarium. I was taking nice photographs in the Wilhelma Aquarium in Stuttgart, with flash. This was in the era of film cameras. I could not imagine how it would be possible without a flash at all.

I mentioned already that aquarium photography with a flash is exceptionally hard because of the possible reflections from glass and the water, and that is why the strobist thinking of flash off the camera agrees very well with aquarium photographers.

In the times I was more serious about it, the main problem was to fire the flash off camera. I had Minolta Dynax 5, which could do it, but I could not afford those flashes anyway. Well, I could just afford one Sunpak flash, which I later changed for the more powerful Minolta 5400xi. Using the camera build in flash as a commander usually ruined the photo anyway. The currently popular e-bay triggers were not available. The e-bay was not available in my country at all. In spite of the fact, I learned quite a lot about reflections, angles, and I did some pretty nice pictures.

In aquarium photography the more powerful the flash, the better. The photos I took with Sunpak with guide number 40 were underexposed at 100 ISO, and barely acceptable at 400. Those taken with Minolta 5400xi were acceptable at ISO 100 and very nice at ISO 400. But good ISO 400 slides were very expensive.

I was carrying that flash anywhere I was taking picture. Of course, I was bouncing from the ceiling or walls, but I did not think of using flash off camera – at least until I have some means to use it wirelessly.

When I upgraded to digital camera in the year 2005, it changed a lot. I tried to use some flash light, but at public aquariums I could not. I took pictures at ISO 800, and sometimes at ISO 1600. At really desperate time I could use ISO 3200 - but the results were almost useless. And then using the same settings at other opportunities was very tempting.

Changing the camera to Sony A700 was nice. I got very nice results at ISO 800. I gradually I started to use flash less and less outside of public aquariums as well. It was to easy to get high ISO on the camera, and not to carry a flash – especially, that my most portable bag did not have place for it. To have a flash was becoming a bother. Of course, I never went to use the internal flash – the quality of the pictures are so horrible. I had one experience of photos taken with the help of the internal flash, and that is enough.

When I switched to Nikon, flash was actually the last thing I thought of buying. After all, the main reason for this swich was the exceptional low light abilities of the D700.

But this thinking belongs to the past now. This site convinced me to embrace flashes again.

And, additionally, it inspired me not to sell my Minolta 5600 HSD lamp – but to buy an ISO hot shoe adapter, and use it in manual mode as part of my portable aquarium studio. Actually, It saves me many problems (although, if someone offers me two of those LumoPro 120 lamps in exchange I won't say no - it is always better to have two than one).

A few words on the batteries

I admit I have had no idea when the world was going recently. One such thing was the rechargeable batteries. I started to use them when I bought a battery pack for my Minolta 5 in ancient times, and also for power up flashes.

When I went digital, those cameras had their own format of lithium batteries, and recently I rarely used flashes, so I gradually ceased using the reachargeable accus. So I overlooked the introduction of such thing as Sanyo eneloops, which I am buying for my flash.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Geotagging issues

I am deeply disappointed with Nikon GPS GP-1. I thought it was a very cool idea to have my photos geotagged, with convenient on camera unit, with the data going directly to the EXIF without any additional effort.

The practice is not so nice. It turns out the unit has big difficulties with staying on track. In Japan, where I actually wanted to tag my photos, I could only occasionally get the position. And when the position was lost, it took a huge amount of time to get the satellites back. I see no reason for that in places, where other GPS devices work without problems.

I was waiting for 4 minutes with camera taken out in front of Madurodam in the Hague, until I got the position, in spite of the fact I put the camera on long time before. If I am in a company, I simply cannot afford waiting.

Entering the buildings – forget. It is understandable, that the device loses satellites. But is has no function „last position” to tag the photos, when it loses track. It would be sufficient to do so, since it is reasonable to tag the photos taken inside a building as one position. However, the unit does not remember, where it is. So the camera cannot tag the following photos as taken in the same building. Shame.

Of course. I can take the photo at the entrance, and then tag the subsequent photos manually. But to take a photo just it could contain a tag, and then tag the rest is not the way I wanted to do it, when I decided to buy the device.

Another problem is ergonomy. The camera with this accessory attached feels clumsy, and it is not possible to put it easily inside a bag. I used to put camera on the left side, for easy catching the grip. It is not possible. Keeping it always off the bag is also impractical – sometimes you just have to put it in, like you going inside a shop and the security is concerned with your camera ready to take photos.

If you think that attaching and detaching it is a solution, you are wrong. It takes too long, for the operation, and for it re-aquiring position.

Those issues are the reason it is good device only for people, who arrive into the photographing location, have lots of time before starting shooting, and rarely move to other location before the shooting is over.

When you use this accessory, you cannot use a remote control. The battery drain on the camera is smaller issue (but if you want to have the GPS on most of the time, and you probably want, because otherwise it is never ready when you want to take some action shots, it depletes the battery quite quickly).

The last issue, I plan to add small Panasonic GF1 camera to my gear for use when D700 feels too big. I would also like to geo tag those photos as well. It is probably impossible to do with GP-1.

Summing those thing up, I have a GP-1 for sale.

However, I got already hooked into geotagging my photos. There are other solutions on the market, like a hot shoe synchronized JoboGPS. This would work with GF1, but it would still feel clumsy, and I would still need to run my photos through external program.

I suppose a simple GPS logger comes the closest to the ideal solution.

  • It is very small, so you can carry it anywhere.
  • It is very discreet. Nobody would even notice it.
  • It can provide accurate position e.g. each 10 seconds. The probability you move fast enough, that photos taken in the 10 seconds time frame should be tagged differently, is zero.
  • It will work with any digital camera.
  • It does not attach to the camera, so the camera operation, like putting it in and out the bag is not affected in any way.
  • If you carry more than one camera, one device is enough for all. It can serve also for your companions cameras, too.
  • It can be useful not only for geotagging photos, but for other purposes, like marking you jogging route on Google Earth.
  • It works on its own batteries, so it does not interfere with your camera battery, and camera operation cycles (on, off).
  • The log gives basically the „last position” feature, when it loses satellites.
  • Typical logger weighs less than 100g, so it is not bad for you back.
There are many different loggers on the market. I put additional requirements on the list:
  • Works with standard AA or AAA batteries
  • Operates in the driverless mode: it is visible to a computer like a storage device.
After some research I think the small Amod AGL3080 will fill my needs completely.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Switch to Nikon

Decision to switch systems always is a difficult one. Buying new camera is not a problem. Replacing the existing repository of lenses, flashes and other accessories is difficult and expensive. And then there is the factor of just being used to the ways of doing things.

Since that beginning of my photographic adventure I have been a user of Minolta. My first camera was Minolta Dynax 5, and then it continued to Konica Minolta Dynax 7D and Sony A700. In case of A700, I could not even read the menu properly, but almost from the beginning I could operate the camera almost with my eyes closed. A900 would be a logical choice.

Nevertheless, quite recently I have decided to switch systems. The main reason for switching the system turned out to be rumored unsatisfactory high ISO performance of the A900, which could be the possible expansion for my Sony/Minolta gear. It has brilliant performance in the normal condition. But in the low-light high ISO shooting, there was too much noise on the pictures. And really high percentage of my photographing was low light. Actually, recently I was not even using flash in the conditions that would justify using it. I put ISO640 or 800 and took pictures. Of course, they could not probably get to the National Geographic – but they were quite OK.

The original reasons for taking up photography was to photograph aquariums, both public and private. This almost always requires high ISO.

It turned out that the champion of low light shooting is Nikon D700. It offers a fantastic maximum range of ISO 25600. It will probably be of not much use, but that means, that ISO 6400 should be much more usable than on the body, that provides such option only at maximum boost. And it seems, that common sense is right here.

Nikon has made a very bold step not packing a 20+ megapixel in the full frame sensor of D700. On the first sight it is making D700 looking a little bit outdated. However, this is just the price for the unparalleled performance in the high ISO.

There was other minor reason. I was looking in Japan for a very cheap second hand film Minolta body – and could not find anything satisfying. The relative lack of second hand Minolta gear on the market made me a little uneasy. I could find lots of Nikon second hand gear. In end out I bought a second hand medium-format Mamiya 645 Pro. But this in another story.

For some time I am already enjoying my new D700, and I am generally very happy with it. I am generally happy with its low light performance. The colors also look nice.

From 毎日写真

Nikon body is not supporting image stabilization. You have to have a special lens to have it. Sony supports in in their all bodies. Sometimes it can be useful.

Fortunately, it is alleviated by the faster lenses and higher ISO supported. Image stabilization helps with static pictures, but not with the dynamic ones. Te dynamic pictures require anyway faster shutter times in order not to blur the motion. I do not consider it very serious problem.

I have the impression the dials for exposure compensation work the other way round than in Sony/Minolta. I still need time to get used to it – usually I am doing opposite to what I want.

Nikon has always had better battery management. Comparing A700 and D700, it is also true. One of the reasons could be, that parameter adjustments in Nikon usually do not require using LCD, whereas most of parameter adjustments start up the LCD on A700.

The lenses are one of the most important factors. There is no problem with lenses for Nikon. Nikon has probably the largest systems of lenses available. This is because of the fact, that Nikon did not gave up on the mount, when it came time to produce autofocus cameras. All other manufactures has split system, on manual and autofocus lenses.

The problem with Nikon mount is, that because of large focal plange it is not very well suited for using other system lenses with an adapter. For example, I saw adapters for Nikon lenses for Canon. The other way round is not possible without an optical correction elements.

Some of the Nikon lenses has built in focusing motor, the other use camera body engine. The difference is silence. The AF lenses with motors, like Nikkor 50mm 1.4G AF-S, are very, very silent when comparing to classic, camera-body focusing lenses. I have made a test using the above mentioned lenses, and my friend's Nikkor 50mm 1.8D – the result was very audible.

I have acquired following lenses:
  • Nikkor 50mm 1.4G
  • Sigma 24-60 2.8
  • Sigma 70-200 HSM II

In the beginning I was using the Sigma standard zoom. However, very soon I switched to the Nikon prime. I was going to a place, where I needed a rather silent operation. And the I was using this standard prime. On one occasion I switched to the 70-200 zoom, when taking pictures of the dolphin show. I was very happy with it, it was much more usable than on a 1.5 crop body – I mean, 70mm was wide enough for than application.