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Focal Points Photography

The Photographer’s Holiday Gift Guide 2010

Friends, Black Friday is upon us and if you’re like me you would prefer to avoid the stores altogether and shop online. With that in mind I thought I’d give you some ideas for hot holiday gifts for the photographers in your life, be they hobbyist or pro. Many of these I own myself and use nearly every day but if I didn’t have these I’d likely be asking for them myself.

Canon 50mm f1.8 Lens
To start with we have the “nifty 50” a great lens at a great price. The Canon 50mm f1.8 Lens is a phenomenal prime lines for less than $100. This is the #1 lens I recommend to people who are looking to be a photographer and really want to learn how to use their camera. It’s what we call a prime lens. Which means it doesn’t zoom. It has a very shallow depth of field making it great for beginner portraits and amazing in low light. You can see some shots using this lens on Flickr.

If you want to spend a little bit more ($300ish) you can step up to the Canon 50mm f1.4 Lens which is not only faster, but made of metal (instead of plastic) making it quieter and more durable than the 1.8. I’ve owned both of these lenses and cannot speak highly enough about them.

Nikon shooters can find comparable lenses for around the same prices. Here is the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 and their Nikkor 50mm f1.4. I’m not a Nikon shooter but I hear great things about them.

Eye-Fi Pro X2 8gb
Flash memory is a must have for every shooter. With that in mind the coolest memory cards on the market right now have got to be the Eye-Fi Pro X2. Fro around $100 it’s an 8gb memory card that will mark the location all of your photos as you shoot them and show them to you on a map on both Mac and PC. Not just that it allows you to wirelessly upload your photos to many different sites and your computer! I use an older model of this myself for my day to day shooting and it’s amazing.

Thing is about the Eye-Fi is they only come in the SD Card format but that’s okay, there is a company called Digigear who make a SD to Compact Flash adaptor so that you can use this in professional level cameras as well. Best part? It’s only $16. I have not tried this myself however it’s reviews say it works great with the Eye-Fi.

Panasonic Lumix GF1
In the market for a new camera? The Panasonic Lumix GF1 is my personal best-buy. With interchangeable lenses a 12mp sensor and the ability to shoot beautiful HD video you can’t go wrong. I shoot with this myself here on Focal Points and it’s probably my favorite camera I have ever owned.

It should be noted that Panasonic has just announced the Lumix GF2 which is smaller and shoots “True HD” however it gives up the traditional dials in favor of an integrated touch screen. No American release date has been announced yet. That said I still recommend the GF1 as the announcement of the GF2 has caused it to dramatically drop in price (from around $900 to around $600) and it really offers better control despite the advancements of the GF2.

Gorillapod SLR-Zoom
Next up we have the GorillaPod SLR-Zoom by Joby. For a little more than $30 this little tripod is extremely flexible and can go with you just about anywhere and work in any environment. Seriously, I’ve attached my camera to signs and fences with it. It’s amazing.

Lastly we have my favorite toy and an accessory for it.

iPad Camera Connection Kit
The Apple iPad has caused me and Oprah to agree on something for the first time in a while. This is absolutely my favorite thing ever. The battery life is amazing and with the abundance of apps available I find myself using this now than I do my laptop. Combine it with the iPad Camera Connection kit and it’s the perfect tool for the photographer in your life.

Good luck everyone and enjoy your turkey sandwiches!

Categories
Focal Points Technology

A New Toy and an Evening Walk

Last Tuesday a coworker and I grabbed dinner after work at “Goddess and Grocer” downtown. It was a nice night out so after eating our meal outdoors she suggested that we walk back to her place in Lincoln Park where she would then drive me back to my apartment in Wrigleyville.

My legs were still mighty sore from ‘Journey to the End of the Night‘ a few days earlier but I figured the exercise would do me well and give me a good chance to shoot some photos.

In preparation for ‘Journey’ I purchased a new camera: the Panasonic Lumix GF1. I am normally a devout Canon shooter but when James started talking about the GF1 and ultimately let me try his; I was swayed.

My normal body is a Canon 5D Mk II and it is hands down my favorite camera I’ve ever owned, however it’s a bit bulky and expensive to be carrying around day to day. What caught my eye about the Lumix was it’s small size, excellent low light performance and it’s compatibility with a variety of micro 4/3 lenses. It’s the perfect camera to throw in my bag and have on me at all times which made it the perfect camera for ‘Journey.’

The opportunity to go for a walk on this particular night was an opportunity to further test out my new toy. What follows are the shots from that night.

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General Photography Technology

A month with the Canon G10


Just under a month ago the fine folks at Canon hosted a hands on event at Calumet Chicago. Excited at the chance to possibly get to play with the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II I happily trotted down to check it out.

Unfortunately they didn’t have the new 5D, however I did get to play with the new Powershot G10.

This was something I was afraid would happen. While the 5DmkII is a bit out of my spur of the moment price range… I did have the $500 on me to drop on the G10. Holding it in my hands I was instantly in love.

For those unfamiliar, the G10 is a significant upgrade of the intensely popular G9 point-and-shoot camera. Now, if you’re seriously into photography or just getting into Digital SLRs, you might be wondering why you should care about a measly point-and-shoot.

Because this is no measly point-and-shoot.

The G10 offers full manual controls as well as the standard point and shoot settings, Canon’s new noise reducing Digic IV chip, a variable aperture of 2.8 – 4.5, a 14.7 megapixel sensor and the ability to shoot RAW. The G10 is, in short: everything you would want in a basic point-and-shoot, in a much smaller more compact body.

My normal day-to-day camera has been a Rebel XTi since it’s release.. I’m never without a camera. Since my purchase of the G10 I’ve been carrying it around almost exclusively and I have to say, I’m in love. I have to say my favorite part about it is the ability to utilize the ‘Live View’ feature that will let me see what my image will look like using manual controls via the LED on the back of the camera. I can dial up and down to allow me to shoot in different lights and judge before I shoot in a much more accurate way. This is great for me as someone who does a lot of low light shooting. While the ISO 1600 setting is near unusable, the Digic IV chip does a great job of reducing the noise and makes serious strides by making ISO 800 a viable option for someone like myself. The 2.8 aperture doesn’t hurt either.

In closing, while I’m still waiting on the 5DmkII for more professional use, the G10 has taken over the role my Rebel previously filled as a solid and powerful day to day camera and it’s made me rethink my impressions of point-and-shoot cameras.  I love using it and I can’t stop showing it off.

You can check out some unprocessed images from the G10 to get an idea of how it performs and for yourself on my Flickr account.

Categories
General Photography Technology

Waveland and Kenmore in HDR


HDR or High Dynamic Range is a photography post production technique that seems to be very trendy these days. It’s known for yielding striking images full of color and detail not attainable through a single shot. I’ve been fascinated by the idea since I first heard about it a few years ago.

Basically, for those of you who are not photographers the idea is pretty simple. A digital image can only contain a certain amount of light / color information so tones above and below the acceptable range get clipped out, either appearing as pure black or pure white. What HDR seeks to do is to bring back that information by working with multiple exposures.

In short: you take three shots, one too dark, one too light and one even. Each one of those images will have information the others won’t. For example, one image might highlight the color in the sky and another might bring out the details in the shadows. By combining these three shots we can create one composite image with more color and detail than any of the originals.

For my first attempt I worked with a combination of tools from shot to upload. The first of which is my Canon Digital Rebel XTi and my trusty Canon 28mm f2.8 lens. I’m a big fan of this lens for it’s wide angle and relatively high aperture (the f2.8). The allows my camera to take in a lot of light very quickly with a lot of sharpness and crisp color. This is absolutely one of my favorite lenses.  Every Canon shooter should have something similar.

From there I loaded my images into Apple’s Aperture 2.1 software where I picked my three shots and did some conservative adjustments to bring out more detail in the images. From there I went into Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Now anyone who knows my photography most likely knows that I do everything I can to avoid working in Photoshop. These days I try to accomplish everything I possibly can inside Aperture. However I have not been impressed by what I’ve seen from the Hydra HDR plugin that is available for Aperture, so I decided to give Photoshop’s built in one a chance.

Much to my delight the feature worked as advertised. By loading in the three images it was able to create one 32-bit image with a startling range of color. Unfortunately not many programs can handle a 32-bit file so I had to convert it back down to the 16-bit range of the previous files. However, the ultimate goal was still accomplished. My one 16-bit file now contained a lot more color and detail than any of the three. Still the image started to look a little flat so, from there I did some basic curves adjustments to restore some contrast and moved the image back to Aperture.

Inside Aperture I did a little more tweaking of saturation and sharpness to make the image punch some more and there we have it, my first real HDR image is a success. (At least I think so.)

The biggest challenge in this process to me was shooting the photographs themselves. I had to make sure that, without a tripod, I kept my shots steady and without interruption from cars or passers by.

As a whole I’m pleased by the process and the results. I will definitely play with HDR imaging a lot more in the future.

Categories
Photography Technology

Digital Rebel + Aperture + Flickr = Ridiculously Simple.

Seriously, it’s getting ridiculous how easy the process for photography is getting.

Back in February, my friend Lindsay and I did a photoshoot in the mall parking garage. She’s a photographer herself, but she’s also an aspiring model. This works out well because I consider myself a designer who is an aspiring photographer. So anyway she’s looking to build a modeling portfolio, and I’m looking to build a photo one of my own. I also recently acquired a copy of Apple’s Aperture professional photography software and was itching to try it out.

Overall while we had a great time, but when I looked at the shots, I was disappointed. We were limited by cold weather,  the lighting was awkward, and many of the poses left a lot to be desired. (due both to the weather and Lindsay and I’s comfort levels I’m sure). I ended up letting the photos sit for months after the initial shoot.

It was shortly after that time that I discovered my Flickr addiction. And the other day, I decided to take another crack at the photos because I wanted to put something up, just for the sake of it. (I paid for a Pro account, I should use it no?) When I dove in, I was blown away. I can’t say enough how impressed I am, both by the ease of use of the program and the results I achieved. Aperture made it easy to color correct and retouch a lot of what I viewed were unusable photos.

The more I think about it though, the more it’s unbelievable to me. Anyone who has even worked with real professional color photography can tell you how much of a pain in the ass the whole process can be. While it’s a lot of fun, you can spend weeks on single images at times. Not only that, but it’s expensive. Retouching can be a nightmare, and color correction can have you walking back and forth, turning nobs trying to get something just right. Don’t even get me started on the cost/hassle of promoting and sharing your work.

Nowadays, you can get a Digital SLR for under a grand that take images at resolutions higher than film grain and print to a high-end printer that outputs higher than film grain as well. Using a program like Aperture or Photoshop, you can have a whole ‘roll’ edited and corrected in a matter of minutes. From there, it’s easy to share share it on the web for everyone to see or subscribe to, so you know people are checking it out.

As a side note; I remember during my senior year at Pratt, I did some of my work digitally for my color photo class. I would print my work on my Epson 2200 and hang it next to my other work. The really amazing part is that my peers in class were unable to tell the difference. That to me sealed the deal, my 35mm camera sits and collects dust these days. Stuff like iPhoto and Flickr’s are the icing on the cake. I can hardly remember what life was like before digital.

Anyway, I present to you without further ado: Lindsay O’Connor.

Elevator
Lindsay
Lindsay

Out of fairness to my lovely modeling friend, I will not post the before and after comparisons. I’d like to assure you, though, that the quality was not nearly this nice until I took them into Aperture. That’s not a criticism on her, but on my skills as a photographer. Luckily, I’m still a designer.

Check out the rest of the shots here.