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Archive for July, 2009

dSLR Battery Grips – Why?

I’ve been shooting with a D300 for half a year now, and in anticipation of a trip to Japan I’ve looked at my options for a battery grip to more than double the amount of battery power I have available during any given day of shooting. I couldn’t justify the cost of the official Nikon grip in addition to an extra battery, and so have settled for a knock-off, Link-Delight grip.

Foreshadowing the grip's fate.

Foreshadowing the grip's fate.

Hear Me Out…

This banter has nothing to do with the choice of battery grip, as the Link-Delight grip is in every way a clone of the Nikon version and I couldn’t be happier with its functionality. Rather, I’ve yet to come to grips (no pun intended) with why I need to use one in the first place.

The opinions I’ve gathered online from happy users of grips were encouraging: 
a.) Provides increased shooting time with lots of battery options (AA’s, a second battery, or a higher-capacity D3 battery for even more shooting time). 
b.) You can shoot vertically without contorting your arm unnaturally, I guess making continuous portrait shooting much more comfortable. 
c.) A grip balances the camera nicely when you’re walking around with a larger lens.
d.) At least with Nikon, a grip with AA’s or a D3 battery inside increases your frames-per-second from 6 FPS to a whopping 8 FPS, which I’ll admit is pretty cool and useful. 
e.) It looks darn cool and professional.

Looking cool with a battery grip.

Looking cool with a battery grip.

Now I must say that all of the above points (except for the last one ^^) were reasons why I’ve attached a grip to my D300. But after shooting with it daily around Japan I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just plain odd:

a.) Who cares about the increased shooting time… With the original D300 battery I filled up an 8GB memory card without recharging, and that’s a whole day of shooting. Keeping a second charged battery in my bag to swap if my main one died was a no-brainer, but I never needed it. I suppose this all depends on your shooting time! 
b.) Shooting vertically? I’m not a professional wedding photog nor do I intend to shoot mainly in portrait, and so my random style of shooting didn’t benefit much from the ‘comfort’ that the vertical-shooting option provided
c.) Balances the camera? Hmph. At least for me, the only reason why it balanced the camera was because it added more weight , making me want to hold part of the camera from the battery grip to counteract the effect :P The increased heft is noticable, and without the grip attached it feels just as comfortable to hold the camera as it was designed. After my first day out in Tokyo, the grip remained in my bag at home. You can really feel the added weight when walking around for a whole day. 
d.) The increased FPS is nice, and gives you a better chance of ‘getting the shot’! But I have to wonder how iconic photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bressoncaptured the moment without such gimmicks… I’ve never needed the increased FPS as I wasn’t exactly shooting sports cars when in Japan (was panning on taxis instead).

No need for the increased FPS when panning a taxi :P

No need for the increased FPS when panning a taxi :P

e.) For making the camera look cool, I can only say that you’d be drawing more attention to yourself, making it more difficult to remain inconspicuous. For a nervous guy like me, the grip proved bothersome in the large crowds.

It’s a No for Me!

So at it stands, the Link-Delight grip will remain at home until I shoot more sports or outdoor events (in which case people actually don’t mind you taking their picture and will happily pose when they see such a bad-ass camera).

Links of interest:

  • Read all about candid-photography master, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
  • Link-Delight eBay Store, for all your battery grip needs.
  • Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries. Not your typical rechargeable battery, these AA’s retain their charge much like your camera battery and can thus be stored for months without missing a beat.

Thanks for reading!

The Vivitar 85mm f1.4

I’m part amatuer photog and part camera-gear geek, so I thought I’d share my take on the Vivitar 85mm f1.4.

The oh-so-sexy front element of the Vivitar.

The oh-so-sexy front element of the Vivitar.

You may have seen this floating around online under various names like Samyang, Rokinon, Polar, etc. Though cosmetically different, they are all the same lens manufactured by the same company in South Korea.

That's right! This is a Korean-made lens.

That's right! This is a Korean-made lens.

The Good, the Bad, and the Disappointing (though I must stress The Good).

Seemingly popping out of nowhere in 2008, this 85mm lens has been favoured by those who own it because of the following qaulities:

  • Sharpness! This thing is made to be shot wide-open at f1.4, and is the sharpest I’ve seen at that aperture. Some claim it’s even sharper than Nikon’s own 85mm f1.4.
  • Solid build. It’s sturdy, made of metal for where it counts, and has a nice heft that balances well with your camera.
  • Smooth, long focus-throw. The focus ring is large, has a long throw (meaning a single turn from minimum focus out to infinity) and is smooth to use, making focusing at f1.4 relatively easy compared to similar lenses in the same class.
  • Cheap, cheap price. For what you get it’s one helluva deal. As of this post it retails on average for >$300 US.

So what’s the catch?

I was craving an 85mm but could not afford Nikon’s version, and so, based on the positive reviews, purchased the cheesy Rokinon brand from Cameta Camera on eBay. It soon arrived in a tacky box with minimal instructions and a useless pouch (which can only fit the lens sans hood). Meh, so what, we only care about the lens right? And for the price I didn’t expect fancy packaging.

Some may not like that this is a manual-focus, non-metering lens. Though it comes in various mounts for different cameras, at least on Nikon you’ll need a higher-end body to be able to meter with it, otherwise you’re shooting in total Manual mode and guessing at the exposure. For me, this isn’t a problem as I’ve upgraded to a D300 which meters with any lens attached, and actually dig the manual focus approach.

After shooting with it for two weeks I noticed it had splotchy multi-coating on the rear element and exchanged it for a second copy, only to experience a sticking aperture. I then exchanged it for a third copy, which is working flawlessly. I should have expected the hassle, as for the low price there must have been a downside somewhere. The only problem is that I live in Canada and had to pay $50 in taxes each time it crossed the border. I’ve no complaints of Cameta however as they were extremely helpful in replacing the lens each time.

To summarize:

Pros:

  • Comes in various mounts, for Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc.
  • Extremely sharp.
  • Solid build.
  • Smooth focus.
  • Low price!

Cons:

  • Poor quality-control from the manufacturer. If you’re going to purchase this, be sure to have the seller inspect its aperture at all stops and inspect the elements for problems.
  • Tacky packaging and useless pouch. Toss them :)
  • Somewhat stiff focusing ring. This could be a good or bad thing depending on your view. On the one hand, the stiffer ring makes it easier to nail focus at f1.4, but on the other hand it takes more time to focus on moving objects. This shouldn’t be a big deal, as focusing on moving objects at f1.4 would be difficult anyway, and you should only be interested in this lens for its fast aperture in which case the stiff ring helps.
  • Loose, plastic hood and plastic filter threads. If you knock this lens against something, make sure the hood is still attached!
  • Be aware of custom fees should you be purchasing from another country. I still haven’t received a refund from the government in my $100 of unecessary taxes…

Should you need (or want) an 85mm lens, put this one up on your list!


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Vivitar with hood and without.

Vivitar with hood and without.

The magical f1.4!

The magical f1.4!


Links of interest:
  • jsv_foto on Flickr is the man initially responsible for my interest in this bad boy. Check his page for a technical review.
  • Check the Cameta Camera eBay store for great customer service and a cheap price on this lens.

Thanks for reading!

A photog lesson, combined with Salsa!

The fifth annual Salsa on St. Clair event crowded the local streets once again this year, which is a great thing!

There were free giveaways, food, live entertainment, but most importantly free dance lessons! It ran on both Saturday and Sunday, until late into each night. The heavy crowds in the evenings however left little room for any dancing ;)

I’ve learned a couple of things when taking random candid shots during this event…

  • Do not delete any shots until you’re home. Buy more memory cards instead.
  • Good photos don’t have to be sharp. It’s all in the emotion you capture.

You see, most of the evening was spent shooting with a manual focus 85mm f1.4, and so I was of course disappointed to see lots of blurry shots. But after reviewing them at home, I’ve salvaged what I could and am pleased at the alternativeresults. I say alternative because up until now I’ve always strived for critical sharpness in my shots. Not that my images will win any awards, but a good photo does not need to be sharp or even in-focus, and I hope you feel the same when viewing my first image of the night below. I was too caught up in finding interesting things to focus on that I forgot the whole Salsa thing is about movement, energy and smiles!

Enjoying the Moment.

Enjoying the Moment.

Please enjoy a couple of other shots from the event:

Concentration.

Concentration.

Concern.

Concern.

Through the Glass.

Through the Glass.

Everyone to the Dance Floor.

Everyone to the Dance Floor.

Motherly Love.

Motherly Love.

$5 LOMO Acquisition

As noted on my Flickr page some time back, a short trip to a local Goodwill revealed an original LOMO LCA for $5.

The actual Goodwill LOMO

The actual Goodwill LOMO

I’ve heard of these before, which is why I wasn’t wasting any time picking it up from the bin after spotting it. Matter of fact, I apply the LOMO ‘effect’ to most of my processed images using Photoshop. This little Russian gem has a wacky lens hidden behind that Minitar window you see in the pic (which opens with a lever underneath the camera) that creates a wonderful vignette and super-contrasty shots. The camera is so popular that it demands highly exuberant prices (check http://www4.lomography.com or eBay).

The only problem is that it’s built like sh*t.
I can imagine that back in the day before anyone outside of its local distribution channels discovered this camera, the prices were very low. The shutter jams, aperture blades stick, and the film rewind lever is known to break (actually, the one I’ve found suffered from all of the above) and I’m not even sure the qualities that make the lens what it is were at all intentional.

So what? This is really fun to shoot and makes candid street shooting even better. It’s got a cheesy zone-focusing system (there are four pre-set focus distances to select from on the right-most lever in the pic above) with an automatic exposure system, so there’s little to actually think about when shooting other than framing your shot. And it’s (barely) pocketable, thanks to that sliding Minitar cover over the lens.

Thinking of buying one?
I would suggest staying away from the Lomography store. Personally, I think they’re riding the popularity of this thing hardand are charging well over what it should be worth. Plus, the versions they sell are either a) refurbed LOMO LCAs or b)copied, china-made LOMOs, as the original Russian version was discontinued in 2000. That’s not to say the one they sell is at all inferior — far from it — but definitely try finding one cheaper if you can. Again, this camera is not built to survive without TLC, so the less you have to pay the better. Or how about a cheap alternative? The Smena 8M (Google it) is actually the same thing and probably easier to find at flea markets for cheap since nobody knows what it is.

Here’s a fave shot from the most recent roll of my $5 LOMO. This beautiful old car was being driven on the highway by an equally beautiful (and, ahem, old) couple :)

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Thanks for reading!

My new blog…

Welcome to my blog!

So you may have stumbled upon here through my Flickr stream. Flickr is great for socializing and sharing a portfolio of photography, but there is more that I would like to share with all my Flickr friends, things of which are not necessarily applicable to a Flickr upload.

Forthcoming in my blog you will discover:

  • More post-processing tutorials. I’m still learning of course, but there are lots of things I would like to share. You will find these in my Tutorials section and of course in future blog entries.
  • Free software for managing pictures. I’m a hobbyist software developer, and when I can’t find a solution to something I need, I write a program. Any digital photography-related software will be found in my Software section.
  • More pics! Frequently I haven’t had much time for Flickr, so instead of posting and neglecting others’ streams, alot of images sit idle on my hard drive. You’ll see lots of these show up on my blog, as a kind of personal outlet :)

Feel free to jump around. Subscribe via the feed icons on right. I’d appreciate any and all feedback. Leave a comment or send an e-mail. Cheers!