Posts By: bobbyk

How to drop a DSLR – Brand New Canon 5 D Mark III

Posted by on Nov 30, 2012 in Blog | One Comment

I will show you how to drop a DSLR Camera. I did it…. Its easy!. And then you get that sinking feel that happens immediately after the fall. Did I just turn a $3000 camera, a Canon 5D Mark III into a piece of junk. OR Even if the camera still works you KNOW that now you have a big ding on the camera and your resale value just dropped about $700 or so. Oh and lets not forget that new lens that you just got for $1500.

Closeup of the ding

Turns out the damage was a big ding on the camera and the lens auto focus would no longer work. It cost me $250 to fix the lens and I know when I sell my camera in a few years I will get about $700 less or maybe I wont be able to sell it? But it works great now and my lens is fine after the fix.  BTW the lens fix would have cost a lot more if I broke any of the glass components but the Hood saved that at least. I talk about hoods vs filter here.

So how did I drop it.

Well…. it’s what we used to call, in the aerospace industry, as a double fault error. All caused by operator error… that would be me.

The short of it was that I use strap with an arca clamp and a camera with an arca plate, without safety stops.

 

Plain arca plate with no stops

Somewhere along the line I did not tighten down the clamp and it was loose and became looser, then looser still. So I am putting on the strap with the camera after having lunch at a restaurant. And… Whoosh, bang, bang, bang. It’s an awful sound.

So here are some details of my set-up. I use a blackrapid strap RS-4. I talk about that product here. I connect that to a blackrapid FastenR Tripod (FR-T1).  Actually I have the earlier version that looks like this.

 

whole set up connected with older fastener

That is then screwed into a  Kirk 1″ arca clamp .   By the way I think that Kirk makes some great stuff…. if you buy the right stuff (i.e. with safety stops).  That clamp screws on to a simple little arca plate.  Notice no safety pins….. Who needs safety pins or stops.  Evidently I do.   Check out the bottom of this page to see what the safety stops do at the Kirk site.

So this is the arca camera plate that I have now.  Here is a picture of the whole set-up on my camera.

 

whole set up disconnected with kirk plate with stops

 

 

 

 

Those little pins would definitely have kept the camera from sliding out.   The clamp has to be very loose to allow it to become detached from the camera plate and it would have been very noticeable, in time to re-tighten the clamp.

I know that I will get some critics that will say how can you put many thousands of dollars of camera equipment on a strap with several connection points and then a 1/4 screw into the camera.   My opinion is that my set-up is very comfortable, very functional, and very light weight.   Tensile strength of the materials used here are all way way higher than the weight of a camera and lens.  Its only operator error, Me, that screwed it up.   But now with the pins this will not happen again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bags, Bags, Bags, My Journey to the best DSLR Camera Bag

Posted by on Oct 29, 2012 in Blog | 2 Comments

This post is about my journey to the best DSLR Camera Bag.   Now of course this is a highly subjective statement.   But its the best bag that I have found for my purposes.  Its the LowePro Flipside Sport 15L AW.

LowePro Flipside Sport 10L AW

 

So why is this the best DSLR Camera Bag and how did I get to that conclusion for my purposes?

Well……  It starts about 5 years ago.

I was a big point and shoot guy.   I would laugh at all you DSLR idiots loaded down with your large cameras, huge lenes, filters, flashes, and tripods.   I could always have a tiny camera in my pocket, ready to take a shot at any time.  But then I began to notice that photographers with bigger cameras got better shots.  There was more control over depth of field, richer more accurate colors,  and lots of data room in each file for processing images that were not perfect to begin with.

So I got a larger prosumer or hybrid camera.

Canon 3S IS

 

Whoops now it wont fit in my pocket any more.   But at least I still did not have to carry all that other stuff.  But now I have a camera that wont fit in my pocket.  I did a bunch of research and came up with a bag that was well rated but did not look like a camera bag.  The Crumpler 3 Million Dollar Bag.

 

Crumpler 3 million dollar bag

 

So now I am not quite the fool that I thought the DSLR guys were but I am carrying a bag… but its a cool bag… yah!

Here is where I start doing microstock work.   And the Canon 3S IS is not quite making it.  I could get a few images accepted into microstock but I really needed to get a DSLR.   So I get a Canon Rebel XS also known as 1000D.

Canon Rebel XS

Turns out the 3 Million Dollar bag fits in this camera great.  I mainly used the Canon 17-55mm f2.8 lens ( a really nice lens).

But as I got more involved with Microstock I started experimenting with lenses, flash units, tripods.  Then I upgraded to a Canon 50D.  The 3 million crumpler was really only good enough to carry one camera and a medium size lens.

So I went crazy and bought a big Tamrac backpack.   They don’t make my model anymore but it was like the current Tamrac  model 5789.

Tamrac Model 5789, similar to the one I bought.

The model I got had a frame, padded waist belt, vented back, an interior section that came out for storage of the equipment.  I loaded it will all of my lenses, my camera, filters, flash unit, and tripod.  All of my stuff fit in this bag.  I hung it on a hook in my closet and  would admire it every time I walked by.  My admiration stopped on a hike with my daughter.  I loaded up all of my stuff on a short hike up a hill to three different waterfalls.   I died at the first one and had to turn back.  I weighed the pack when I got home and it was 38 lbs.   When I was 30 that was doable but at 60 it was a different matter.   So I started paying attention to weight.   The bag itself was over 5lbs!!!

I had officially become the “DSLR Idiot” that I had made fun of several years ago.

I had to find a solution.  So I went into two different directions.  The Black Rapid Strap RS-4.  I wrote about it here.  So no bags, just the camera, its lens, and a strap.  In the strap are extra cards, battery, and rain cover.   This covers 80% of my photo needs.  But when I travel or want to have an expanded kit a strap will not suffice… So I upgraded my crumpler to a 6 million dollar bag.

Now I have the camera and a lens over my shoulder and in some cases this bag over the other.   I would only load it with one or two added lenses and filters.  The new 6 million dollar bag has straps on the bag for a tripod.  On mine I would pull the flap over the tripod.  It mostly worked but it was cumbersome.  But even without the tripod I found pulling the lenses in and out of the back a little cumbersome.

So…… I got a Thinktank Retrospective 20:

This is a great bag.  Its light.  The internal padding is thin, light, and slick.   Moving lenses in and out of the bag is easy.   And the look of the bag is very professional.   And with the nice wide padded strap its a very comfortable bag.   Lots of extras too.   I reviewed it with a video here.  I still have this bag and its great. But it can get a little heavy when fully loaded.  And there is no feature for a tripod so I put it on top and pull the flap cover down tight which is ok for travel but not the greatest in the field.

So I would have stayed with this bag but we recently moved to Portland, OR.  Portland has got to be one of the bicycle riding capitals of the US.  Everyone does it.  Great bike lanes everywhere.   And despite what you hear about the rain….. we have GREAT weather up here.

Hmmmm….. riding a bike with my camera stuff.   Strap won’t work.   Thinktank bag won’t work. I don’t want to put any of my camera equipment in the panniers.  I need a backpack but not a huge one like before.  But now I am smart enough, from my previous  experience, I hope, to know what I really want.

1.  It has to be light

2. Waterproof

3. It has to fit a least the camera and a couple lenses and my filters

4. It has to be as small as possible

5. It has to allow for easy lens replacement

6. It needs to have the ability to carry my tripod

So I did a lot of research.   By the way there are easily a few hundred camera bags out there and many that come close to meeting these.  But the Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L AW  fit them all.

Flipside Sport 15L AW with open bag

 

 

Flipside Sport 15L AW Front of Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a good video that shows how this bag works.   Note that they are selling it as a sports camera bag and it is, but what that means to me is small and light weight while still being able to carry enough stuff:

 

So that’s my perfect bag now.   If I go on a bike ride I put the RS-4 strap on the camera and then put all of that in the backpack.  My camera will usually have a Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC lens mounted on it.  Then I will also pack my Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens for distant shots and my Sigma 70mm macro for really close work.   I will also load up some graduated ND and polarizing filters.   The pack is not too heavy.   I can shoot from the bike.   If I leave the bike I can use the strap for quick shots and then change lenses easily.  Its a very comfortable and light pack.   If I am in a car, train, or plane traveling then there is room for some flashes as well, my battery charger, remote shutter release,  AND  my tripod.  Its heavy but for travel its fine.

So… ok…. I am still a little like the DSLR idiots that I made fun of  but I am much cooler than when I could only make it up to that first waterfall with my 38 pound pack.

FocusTune by Michael Tapes Design- Review

Posted by on Oct 27, 2012 in Blog | One Comment

I just bought FocusTune by Michael Tapes Design!

The new FocusTune by Michael Tapes Design

I am a big fan of having sharp images.  My Canon 5DMkIII has micro adjustment for Autofocus.  So, as an ex-engineer,  I love to fiddle with my camera and lenses to make sure the AF is always right on the money sharp.  Of course AF systems are not totally reliable….but I can try.   So I have have had Michael Tape’s Lens Align systems for years.  I think I am on my third upgraded set.  I wrote a blog post on how to do lens calibrations here that covered that system and others.  I will have to update it with this new FocusTune system.

One of the problems I have with the Lensalign system is that you have to judge where your depth of field is on this ruler and sometimes its hard.   In some cases you have to go into Photoshop and do an emboss effect to really see the focus area.  But it works and in most cases you can see the focus area without this.   The lensalign target also comes with an alignment system where you can be sure that the target plane and the camera sensor place are parallel.

Then along comes FoCal by Reikan.  I reviewed it here.  This is a nearly fully automatic system.  You tether your Mac or PC to your camera.  Make sure you are aligned with the target.  Hit a button.   Ka-ching…..  Minutes later there is your best MA adjustment.   One of the problems is that there is no alignment system .  Maybe that is not all that important unless you are doing Macro work.   Then in addition to that…. I upgraded my camera to a Canon 5D Mark III.  Well the Canon camera software does not allow for automatic MA adjustment with FoCal.  So you have to sit there and wait for the computer to ask you to change the MA ….. about 20 times or so.  Gets old….

Now there is FocusTune by the LensAlign guys.  I had to get it.  So here are some of my impressions.  Its Cheaper.   The LensAlign is $80-160( depending on the model),  the Focal Pro (this is the one to get) is about $111.  The Focus Tune is $29 unless you are already a LensAlign owner and then its $19.  So price is NICE!

But its a little less automatic that FoCal.  Even though I have to make my own MA adjustments on the FoCal system, because of Canon,  it still seems easier than the FocusTune.   Here are FocusTunes steps:

1.  Set up target and Camera so they are aligned (if you have the lensalign target then this is easy and gives you confidence that you are aligned) or you can use their printed target (like the FoCal system)

2. I put a set of lights on the target

The Lens Align MkII target that I used

3. Set up the camera.  I use manual, f2.8, Single pt focus, ISO 100, IS or VC off, cover eye piece, Mirror lock up. And I set up a remote wireless shutter release.

4. Take a series of 4 shots at each MA value.  I start with -20 then -10, 0, 10, 10.  I rotate the focus ring to infinity between each shot.

5. Take the memory card out and feed the images to your computer.

6. Start FocusTune, and import the images

7. In the lower left of the screen zoom in till you have a good view of the target.  Point to each corner of the target.

8. Hit the process and then analyze button…… Wha Lah!!!  There is an estimate of your best MA an a graph.

First try at -20, -10, 0, 10,10

9.  You could stop there but to be precise I pick about 10-15 points around that recommendation and rerun the whole thing for a more accurate result.

Final try

So good news is its cheap.  Bad news its kind of tedious.  More good news is that you can turn around and check the results almost immediately by looking on the LensAlign Ruler.  I think I like that the best.

Even when I do the FoCal, which is much more automated.  I always get the lensalign system out and double check it.

So for the future I will likely stay with FocusTune and the Lens Align system.   But…. since I am relatively lazy…. if  the Reikan and Canon people can get together so that they can go back to a FULLY automatic cal on the Canon 5D MarkIII…. I may go back to FoCal.

There are many other features that the FocusTune system has like AF consistency, Focus point Comparison, Aperture Comparison, and a few others.   These are good but FoCal does a better job at these and those particular tests ARE automatic on the FoCal system.

My Microstock Sales

Posted by on Oct 26, 2012 in Blog | 8 Comments

I have and friends and photographers ask me what is microstock?  What kind of images do you sell?  How much money can you make?  And then they don’t ask but always want to know how much money have I made?   So I thought I would write a blog posting about My Microstock Sales.  So this is for people who are newly interested in Microstock or just starting or for microstockers just curious about what the lower 50% of microstockers are doing.

The first question about what is Microstock I answered in an earlier post here.

I have been selling microstock for about 3-4 years now.  I am not a top microstock photographer.  There are at least 10s of thousands of microstock photographers out there.   They make anywhere from many hundreds of thousands of dollars per year down to earning nearly nothing per year.  I have read that 20% of microstockers make 80% of the money.

I have about 1300 images on about 10 different sites.  After 3 years I have made about $8000 total.   Each year my sales have increased by 50-100%.  So I am confident, that as long as I can keep submitting more images, that yearly sales will get to about $14000 in the next few years.  I pick that number because above that it will affect the social security that I get ( God… that makes me feel old to say that).  I submit 10-12 photos per weeks, sometimes more.   I have many hundreds more ready to submit but I have found that every now and then you run across a reviewer who either does not like your style or just had a bad day and can reject most if not all of the images you submit.  So with this method my worst loss is 12 images rejected.

So while I am not a real professional,  I am making enough to buy most of the photo and computer equipment that I use.  In a few years it will pay for photo seminars and trips.  And the best part…. it never feels like work.  I probably spend about 2-3 hrs a day taking photographs, or processing, or submitting them.   Submitting is a little like work but the other two areas are pure fun for me.

So what microstock agencies do I work with and how have each of them paid?

% of Sales for Each Microstock Agency

So take $8000 times the approx. percentage and you can see roughly what each has paid me so far.  Most of these agencies have between 800-1700 of my images.  Shutterstock is the big winner for me.  I get a minimum of $.36 per image.   The most I have received from them is $42 for an image.  I have sold 5700 images with them since I started.  Most are $.36 but I also get a fair about of  $2.48 and a few $28.00.

What kind of images sell best with Shutterstock?

 

So for example I have sold tons of the power meters and have made about $160, total,  just at Shutterstock.    The paddle wheel, lots of those and about $90.   The others $30-$70 total.   So how does that add up to thousands of dollars?   Well its the other several hundred images that have sold  $.36- $30.  So with Shutterstock its lots and lots of images that make $10’s of dollars.

Interestingly enough istockphoto, dreamstime, veer, 123rf are similar to shutterstock in that its volume that makes  total sales.  But the big selling images on these sites tend to be different than the high sellers on Shutterstock.  So I believe that they have a different set of customers with differing needs than Shutterstock.

I sold a few of these at Shutterstock but many more, and they are a big earner at Veer as an example.

Then there is Alamy.   I think I get about 1 sale every several months.  Its like Macrostock but I do sell them with a RF license.   But…. when they do sell. I get a lot of money (by my standards).

I did not think that is was that great of a photo.  I rate my images 1-5 stars and only submit the 3-5 stars.   This was a 3 star.   I got $365 for a single sale of this image?

Same situation with this  3 star image.

I got $222 for that one.  Alamy is also a little frustrating in that the allow their customers to return the image for a refund many weeks after the purchase.   Alamy won’t pay you till everything is cleared.   So you don’t get paid for months or sometimes you will see a sale, get excited, and then weeks later its cancelled. ;-(

I submit to all of these placed because they all have different acceptance standards, different customers, and different commission.   And once you process your images it is not that much work to submit them.

Can you make a good living at this?  Yes…. but it would be a lot of work and commitment.  In addition I think you would need a studio and some good lighting equipment and probably an assistant.   I don’t do many people shots if at all.  It takes my full attention doing the shots that I do.  When I get people involved it just seems to complicated stuff.   And its more cost.   You can do general public shots but if they are recognizable  you need to get a release from them.  Lots of photographers do that but I would have a hard time doing that without looking like a strange old weird man.

So there you have it.  If you want more info about anything let me know and I will add to this post or answer your questions.



My latest images for sale at
Shutterstock:







My most popular images for sale at
Shutterstock:





How to Buy DSLR stuff

Posted by on Sep 23, 2012 in Blog | One Comment

I wrote an earlier blog on how to sell your stuff on the internet.  So now I felt it was time to write about how to buy DSLR stuff.  I think I have a pretty good method.  I am not a pro but over the past 5 years I think I have bought and sold about $20,000 worth of camera stuff.  And I have always been happy with what I have purchased.   So here is my method on how to buy DSLR stuff.

What do you want ?

Entry Point DSLR

Top of the Line DSLR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is important.  If you do not have this figured out there is a high likelihood that you will eventually NOT be happy with what you got.

If its a camera then you need to think about what you will be using it for.  Will it only be for family and friends, for the art of it, to sell prints or images, sports, planes, flowers, insects, babies?  Are you a beginner, somewhat experienced, a pro?  Are you a first time DSLR buyer or are you upgrading from previous cameras.  There are just too many possibilities here to offer advice for all of them.  But I think the key thing is that you need to spend some time thinking about what you want to do with it.

If you are new to dslr’s and are just not sure what you want.  I would suggest this.   Get a basic DSLR ( like the one shown above on the left a Rebel T3).  I would suggest Canon or Nikon because they are good cameras with lots of lenses to grow into.   And lots of better models to buy when you know better what you want.   Also, unless you are made of money.  Get a used camera from a reputable seller (More on this later).

If you a more experience buyer then think about what is lacking in your current camera.  Not enough AF points.   Want a bigger sensor for higher quality images?  Want faster frame rate?   Think about that  first.

Canon “nifty 50” 50mm f1.8

Same advice for Lenses.  If you are brand new I will suggest one of two things.   If you want to be a purist about it.  Get the basic 50mm f1.8  lens.     Use your body to be your zoom.  I think this will help you a lot with learning about how to frame a shot.   If you are lazy, like me, get the basic zoom that is both a wide angle and telephoto like an 18-135 or 200mm

Canon 18-135mm

Canon 18-200mm

.

For you more experience photographers, again,  think through questions like:

  1. What is the widest aperture that I really need?
  2. How far away are my subjects usually?
  3. What is the field of view like for the distances that I will shoot at?
  4. Is Sharpness really important?
  5. Is really good bokeh important?
  6. Is resale value important?

What can you afford ?

 

Home much Money do you Have?

Well… only you can determine this.  But here is some good news.   While the really expensive cameras and lenses are usually very very good,  there are some excellent cameras and lenses at affordable prices.   In addition, if you buy these items used….. they are even more affordable.  AND…..  I have found that if you buy a used camera or lens, and the condition is good, and it comes with the original box…. And you do not ding up the hardware…. You will be able to sell it for about the same price that you bought it.  How great a deal is that!  I have done that many times.  But here is a hint…. Keep all of your boxes, bags, wires, straps, cases, warranty cards, manuals.  They are worth their weight in gold when it comes to selling items.

Also keep in mind that there are cameras in between new and used.   I am referring to Refurbished by Manufacturer.  I actually think this is the best type of item to get because its cheaper than new yet had just gone through a full manufacturers check and calibration.  Here is the Canon Site and the Nikon Site who does this.  I highly recommend this kind of buying.

So, for you beginners,   you can get a basic used DSLR with a basic used Lens.   A year later you have saved your money…. Sell one or both of the items.  You get most of your money back and now upgrade!

I have done this starting with a Canon Rebel XS and a basic zoom lens.  Four years later I have a camera (had two but sold one) and the best of every lens I need or want.  I supplemented this effort with money that I earned in microstock.

How do you know whats best ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

First on camera brands,  I would stick with Nikon and Canon.  Why?….  I think they have the best collection of lenses and from my experience usually come out with good quality cameras.  For lenses stick with your camera company’s lenses except that I have also found that Sigma and Tamron make some pretty good lenses.   Ziess if you are interested in high lens quality MF lenses.

What about which model.   First know what you want (see above).  Next … go on the internet.  My favorite site is Dpreview.  This site has an excellent section on comparing different cameras (they do lenses too) here.

From these comparison pages there will usually be a link to a pretty thorough and impartial review.  Other good sites are Fred Miranda, Luminous Landscape, Photo Camel, Photography on the net, and Steve’s Digicams.  And there are many others. Some specialize more in lenses like Digital Picture, Photo Zone, and others.

I would also recommend that you participate in the forums of each of the sites (DPreview is my favorite).  Ask a question and you will get more help than you could hope for.  There are lots of friendly photographers who would love to help you.

Another idea is to join a camera club.  Google your town and camera club and you are bound to find one.   I have used the Meetup Groups for photography groups… There are lots.  They are friendly and very welcoming to any questions that you may have.

When you narrow it down to one or two products I would suggest renting them for a day or two.   You may find that the product is everything you had hoped for or you may find that it does not meet your needs at all!  I have done this several times and it has convinced me to buy and sometimes to avoid buying a product.

Also keep in mind that once you buy it you can always (if you bought from the right seller) return it.   Its much easier to do this at your local camera store but you can do it at the other merchants as well.

Where should you buy it ?

I have bought cameras and lenses at the local camera shop, on Craigslist, Ebay, Fred Miranda, AdoramaB&H, Abe’sCalumet Camera, Amazon and directly from Canon.  Probably the best place to buy camera is at your local camera shop if they had competitive prices. Luckily mine does.  When I lived in Sacramento the most well known shop sold at prices that i would never pay.  But after hunting around I found a smaller shop that priced items the same as Adorama or B&H.

Easy Answers

  1. You want the best quality camera equipment that you can afford.   Only buy top reviewed equipment.  Or new just released stuff from high reputation companies.
  2. Only buy from high rated low risk sellers.  For instance if I were buying on Ebay I would only buy from a seller with over 100 sales and a rating of 100%
  3. Make sure there is a good return policy

Local Camera Shop

This is the best place assuming they price stuff competitively and have a good reputation and a good return policy.  I will always pay a little more for something, as long as its only a little mor, to be able to talk to someone face to face.  I am luck here in Portland to have one of the best camera shops that I have ever seen.   It’s Portland Pro Photo Supply.  They have all of the items that I discussed AND they rent.  I found them through Yelp.  And they were highly recommended in the Photography Meetup Group that I am in.  I have also found that they will have new release products as soon or before others.

Craigslist

I have bought some inexpensive and my most expensive purchase (Canon 300mm f2.8 lens) via Craigslist.   It always makes me nervous and I tend to stay away from them unless it is a cheap or unusual item.  You get to be face to face but then you never see them again and there is no rating , like in ebay, and no incentive to promote dependable returns.   On the other hand it has always worked out for me.   The reason I got the expensive 300mm is that I wanted the older cheaper model, and I wanted it used because it is so expensive.   And I could not find it anywhere on the internet….but it was in my city on Craigslist.   BTW  I found out that I hate large heavy lenses so I ended up selling it on ebay and got the same price I bought it for.  If you do buy on Craigslist I would reserve it for cheaper stuff or an item you can’t get anywhere else.   Do the transaction at a crowded place.   Check out the item well.  Pay with cash.

Ebay

I have bought many items on ebay.   But I probably have sold many more.  The nice thing is that you can get some good prices here, particularly on used items.  The downside is that it is not face to face and you will not see the product until after you have paid.   I have never had a problem here.   The key is to only buy from sellers with at least 100 sales and a 100% good rating.    There will also be a stated return policy.   Read it.   The seller is incentivised to keep their 100% rating so, normally, they will honor a return to avoid a bad review.

Fred Miranda

I have only used this once and it worked out fine.  Its a well respected photography site with a section for people who buy and sell.   There are no sales fees.  There is also a rating system for sellers.   I think its a little riskier than ebay or the face to face options.   But the people who use this site swear buy it and my transaction, on an expensive lens, went very well.

Adormana, B&H, Abes of Main, Calumet

These are some of the big retailers.  I have bought from all of them.  I have used B&H the most.   This is a HUGE online store and even HUGER retail store in NYC.   I had the chance to go there in the past year.  Its like 3-4 floors of camera and video stuff.    It was packed and run by what looked to be Orthodox Jews.   That is not a site you would see in Portland.   If you ever get to NYC and your a photographer, then you should visit the place. I think Adorama and Calumet are similar but smaller.   I know less about Abes except that they will try to sell you more than you need…. and hard sell it too.   So I avoid that store.   Most of these stores have a “used department” and I have purchased from them as well.   Other than your local shop these guys will have some of the lowest prices and they are low risk dependable stores.

Amazon

I have bought many items here as well.  I would recommend only buying items that ship from Amazon.  When they go to another company delayed deliveries and returns get a little complicated because Amazon is acting as a go-between.  They also have competitive prices

Conclusion

I find the whole process of shopping, reading, researching, comparing, and talking about new camera stuff almost as much fun as buying it.  If you do your homework you will get a great new lens or camera or other stuff at a great price that will give you lots of fun and satisfaction.   So go buy something!!

 

Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro Lens and my journey to get there

Posted by on Sep 6, 2012 in Blog | 2 Comments

This blog post is about this great lens that I have found, the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro Lens.  I did a video summary of this blog here;

I covered part of my thoughts on this in my blog about How Zoom Lenses will make you Lazy.    This post is sort of an extension of those ideas with more detail on the Sigma.  Before I tell you about the Sigma I think it would be helpful to go through about how I ended up with this lens.

Even though I have been doing photography for 50 years ( Only the last 4 years seriously),  I am still learning and some things that should be obvious are not.   A good golfer will walk up to his ball and look at the lay of the course, the distance, the wind and he/she will make a decision of what golf club will best suite this situation.   Its the same with photography but I don’t always guess right on the lens.  For me its more trail and error.

On top of that I also needed to determine what are the kinds of shots that I, most often, like to take.   And there are many many photo specialties.  Protraits, macros, landscapes, motion, abstract.   The list goes on.  Then there are the subjects, insects, mammals, birds, flowers, architechture, planes, trains, cars, people, kids, babies and on and on and on.  I think to know what you really need for a lens is based on what kind of images you like to take and what kind of subjects.   In addition what context you want.   Context meaning,  is it all about ONLY the subject or is it about the surroundings.

So it took ME  a while to figure all of this out.  This is how I got there.

With point and shoots and later with the APS-C and first full frame cameras it was about having zoom capability.   I did not know what I was going to see but I wanted to be prepared to take any image in any what I wanted.   The zoom capability of the point and shoots and the zoom lenses on the DSLRs let me do that.   I took lots of pictures.   First of the places that I went, then family and friends, and finally ended up doing microstock.   The quality of the images had to go up with microstock so that pushed me to own the DSLR’s .   With the APS-s frame camera (Canon Rebel XS, then 50D, then 7D) my favorite lens was the  Canon 17-55mm f2.8 IS.  I wanted better low light performance and higher image quality so I went to full frame.  The Canon 5DMkII and now the 5DMKIII.   The 17-55mm is for APS-c frame cameras so I had to upgrade to Canon’s 24-70mm f2.8.   I missed the IS capability but it took great shots and I have sold a lot of them on microstock sites.   Recently I upgraded that lens to the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC (vibration control)

Ok…..so now 3yrs after I started seriously using DSLR’s, mostly with the 24-70mm zoom lenses,   I started to figure out what kind of photography I liked to do.    I also discovered that the tools (lenses) that I had were not quite getting me where I wanted to go.   I discovered that I really enjoy taking pictures of fruit and vegetables at the market,  flowers in flower beds or nurseries,  elements of inanimate objects (trains, planes, cars, buildings, water fountains, etc).   I liked if I could pick the most interesting feature of my subject and get a really sharp focus view of that.   And then have the backround give the subject some context but in a soft focus manner.  An example is a strawberry at the farmers market.   I like taking a shot where a single strawberry or a portion of the strawberry is in perfect focus but then the background drifts off into soft focus that looks like a sea of strawberries.

But I was not getting that with my zoom lens.  I was getting close but I knew that there had to be a way to do better.

I had a Canon 100mm f2.8 IS Macro.   It got me close.  But the field of view ended up being too small to provide a more full context than what I was looking for.  I also had a 50mm f1.4 lens.   But, because of minimum focus distance issues,  I could not get close enough.

I keep all of my images on Aperture 3  (a great Mac program).   And looked at all of my highest rated images for the most common focal distance used with the 24-70mm lens.   Well it was mostly near 70mm.  Hmmmmm that ought to be a clue.   And I wanted to get close.  Hmmmmmm close means Macro.  Sharp images…… Prime?

So could there be a good quality Prime lens that takes sharp images around 70mm with macro capability and good bokeh (f2.8 or better).

Well….. I did not have to shop around.   There is only one that will work with a Canon (or Nikon)  the Sigma 70mm f2.8 DG Macro.  And lucky for me…. its a good quality lens and not expensive ($500) at Amazon.

Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro Lens

This lens is great.  Here are the specs.

Lens Construction 10 Elements in 9 Groups
Angle of View 34.3º
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9
Mininum Aperture f22
Minimum Focusing Distance 25.7 cm / 10.1 in
Filter Size (mm) 62
Maximum Magnifications 1:1
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
76 x 95 mm/3.0 x 3.7 in
Extended Dimensions / 5.7 in
Weight 525g / 18.5oz.
Corresponding Mounts
Sigma
Nikon
Canon
Sony/Minolta
Pentax

 

There are not a lot of reviews on it, but here are some good ones.

1.  The Sigma Site

2. The Phoblographer ( I liked this one)

3. Photozone (with nice analysis)

What I can add to these reviews are my impressions.

Pros

  1. It looks cool.  Very professionally built.  Solid. Professional.
  2. Its very affordable at $500 versus the Canon 24-70mm at $2300
  3. Its takes very sharp high image quality images
  4. The Auto Focus gets sharp images
  5. Solid metal hood
  6. Tight manual focus ring so no problems with lens creep
  7. Focus stays pretty sharp in corners and no appreciable vignetting.  But since my images tend to be soft focus in the corners by intent I am not sure if I am evaluating this well.

Cons

  1. Tight focus ring for Manual focus.   Hard to move without overshooting/ undershooting focus point
  2. AF is slow.  Fine for inanimate objects
  3. Odd filter attach point (put filter on hood)

 

Summary

Its the only lens that I have found that fits exactly what I am looking for.  Its affordable at $500.  And the images are tack sharp with a nice bokeh in the background.   The focus ring and slow AF are not much of a problem for me.    I am finding that I have much less rejects using this lens.  What can I say…. Its my new walk around lens.

Here are some of the recent images that I have taken with this lens.

 

 

Blowing Dust away with the KOH Hepa Jet II Air Blower

Posted by on Sep 2, 2012 in Blog | One Comment

This blog is about blowing away dust on your DSLR camera and lenses and in particular about the KOH Hepa Jet II air blower

I did a youtube posting a while ago about changing lenses in the field.  You can see it here.  Its a little long winded but at one point I blow on the lens before I reconnect it to the camera.    I have gotten several comments about how this is an awful thing to do.   You can end up putting spit or saliva on the lens.   How gross and it WILL stick to the lens and it WILL gather dust.

But in the field I want to minimize what I carry.   A lens or two,  a DSLR body or two,  some filters, God-Forbid a tripod……..   I don’t need to carry a blower with me.   So I have found that if you are careful that you can blow on a lens and NOT get any spittle on it.   I have checked with a lens magnifying loupe and verified that this is possible.   But there is a risk when you do it.

At home is a different story.   You can be more careful and you have all of your cleaning tools right there.   So before I go out on a shoot  I inspect and  clean everything.   I will cover the more intensive cleaning processing that I use in other blogs but the easiest thing to do is to blow any dust away.

For years I used a what I called a “Pocket Rocket” air blower.

Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster Large

Its a great little air blower.  You can get it at AMAZON here for about $11.  The problem with it is that it will blow dirty air right through the bulb and into the camera or lens.   So this made no sense to me.   And how hard could it be to put a filter on it so that it would not do that.

Well….  I did a google search and sure enough someone had thought about that.   I got the KOH HEPA Jet II.

KOH HEPA Jet II Air Blower

That little red thing at the bottom houses a small hepa filter.   So NOW you are blowing in clean air!!!    You can get it here for about $25.  Its more than twice the cost of the other blower but spending $25 for NOT putting dust in my camera is worth it.   And this will last forever.

I did a little youtube video of what I am talking about here.

http://youtu.be/vDHWLa0qlJQ

 

 

Zoom Lenses Make you Lazy

Posted by on Jul 14, 2012 in Blog | One Comment

Yes.. Zoom lenses make you lazy. Most of your compositional creative thinking is shut down.

Before I explain that I gotta say that I love Zoom Lenses.  I have Canon’s 17-40mm f4,  24-70mm f2.8, and 70-200mm f2.8.  I also have Tamron’s 24-70mm f2.8 VC

Canon 17-40mm f4L

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L

 

Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love them all for different reasons.   So why do I say they make me lazy?  Well if you only shoot zooms you will never experience what I am about to tell you.   For me…. with zooms, this is how I take a shot.

  1. I make sure all my settings are right for the shot.
  2. I will see something that catches my eye.  I call that my “muses” talking to me.
  3. I whip up the camera to my eye from my nifty RS-4 Strap.
  4. I adjust the zoom so that the framing is just right.
  5. Then I click away taking 3 speed bracketed shots at a time at different f-stops using Av mode.
  6. Done…. move on to the next subject.

So what is wrong with this?

Well  lately I have not been happy with my some of my shots.  In particular its the close up shots of fruits, veggies, flowers with soft backgrounds of the same in the background.    I have mostly used the Canon 24-70mm f2.8.  I looked at my historical shots with this lens.   They run the gamut from 24 to 70mm.  But….Most of my shots seem to be in the 70mm range.   There were focusing issues with the DOF not really being where I liked it.  I was also taking shots in a low light environment.   I could only push the ISO to about 800 without having to do noise reduction  (its a microstock image necessity).  So many shots were less than 1/70 sec.  My older, 62 year old, hands are not as steady as they were.  So there were some shake focus issues.

So…… I  bought the Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 VC.  Vibration control.  BTW I did a comparison between the Canon and Tamron Here.   It really solved the hand shake issue and offered larger DOF’s (higher f stop) for the low light stuff.  But after a lot of AF MA adjustments.  I found that part of the problem with both the Canon and the Tamron 24-70’s is that both auto focus systems go a little screwy near minimum focus distances at 70mm.   I verified this with Reikan’s focal system and LensAlign and real image capture.   The MA adjustment that you make at 50X the focal length ( recommended by Canon)  will not work if you are at 6x.  So I was faced with changing the MA, in the field, for close ups or going to manual.  I also covered that Here in detail.

Ah….. but there is another option.

Try a prime lens.

I had a Sigma 50mm 1.4.

Sigma 50mm 1.4

I tried that but it was  just a little wide for the shots I like and I could not get as close as I wanted.  On top of that, for the close shots,  I was not that impressed with the sharpness.

I read a lot of good reviews about the Canon 85mm 1.8.  So… of course,  I got that one and tried it.

Canon 85mm f1.8

Well guess what….for portraits this is a keeper of a lens.  But now I was a bit too far from the subject and I could not get close enough for the kind of shot I wanted.  But I was not getting close enough.

 

Hmmm  What could get me closer????  Duh!!!  A MACRO lens.

Well I did have a Canon 100mm f2.8 IS Macro-

Canon 100mm f2.8 IS L Macro

That should solve all my issues.  Right?   It did take GREAT shots and I can now get close to the subject.  BUT….  its not wide enough.  It became clear at that point that what I needed was something like this Canon but at 70mm.

Yesterday I got the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro.

Sigma 70mm f2.8

Bingo!!!  Its too bad that it does not have IS…. but I think its sharper than the other alternatives and gives me the DOF and field of view that I need for these kind of shots.

What about the ” zoom lenses make you Lazy”?

Well because of all of this the past few weeks I have been shooting mainly with primes.  I have never done that before.  And it has altered my image capture work flow.  Its the same as the what I described earlier in this posting but when I get ready to frame the shot.  I have to stop and think.  I almost have an idea in my mind about what the 70mm field of view will be before I take a shot.  So I most likely will take that one but then I will probably step back and take some shots, step forward and take some shots, step to the left, step to the right, kneel down, up on my toes (new form of the hokey pokey).  In other words,   for some reason,  the prime is forcing me to think a bit more about the composition and move around to experiment with that composition.    Also for some reason  I don’t do this that much with the zooms.   I had read about this before but always dismissed it as a bunch of old fart photographers (wait… that could be me I am describing) that probably still shoot with pin hole cameras on film.

So now I think that if I know what I will be shooting and the subjects are mostly the same kind of thing.  I will put a prime on my lens.  If I don’t know what I am going to be shooting then a zoom is a good idea.  Or if I just want to exercise the compositional part of my mind a bit, a prime is the way to go.

By the way… you may be thinking…. what is this crazy guy doing buying all of these lenses.   Who can afford that??   The secret is selling the lenses you do end up not using much.  I talk about that Here.  And then Isupplement my buying money with money I earn on Microstock sites that I describe Here.

Here are some of the shots I took today at the market with the Sigma 70mm f2.8 Macro.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Michael Freemans Photographer’s Eye and Photographer’s Mind

Posted by on Jun 18, 2012 in Blog | 2 Comments

This is a review of a couple of books by Michael Freeman, The Photographer’s Eye and the Photographer’s Mind.

I am not a big reading fan.   I tend towards Science fiction or Historical based fiction.   But non-fiction…. not so much, unless its a subject that I am currently interested in.   Photography has grabbed my interest.

I am to the point where I know most of things necessary to take technically correct images with my Canon 5DMkII and 5DMkIII.

But then there is the Art or Composition part.

I think we are all pre-disposed to being naturally talented in certain areas.   I think I have a talent for math and science.  I also seem to be able to have good hand eye coordination.  I was able to fly USAF jets, test rocket engines, sail big sail boats almost instinctually.

But ask me to do a sketch, some color matching, or organize some objects in an pleasing manner ….. I turn into a bungling idiot.

Good Photography is ART.   There are those who can see and imagine a great composition of blending colors, contrasts, and subject material…..and then there are the rest of us.

The rest of us have to learn it, memorize  it, experience it and then hopefully remember what we did right and what we did wrong.

But, I think, we can LEARN it…… and maybe get close to those who can do this naturally.

If  you don’t have the time or money to go back to school or go to  photography  seminars (both of which I DO plan on doing) then you can read.

These two books are an excellent start.

The first one that I read was Michael Freeman’s:  The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

I have read this book 3 times.  I will probably read it again a many more times.  I think every page has at lease one example image on it  AND they are all great images.  One warning.  This book will NOT tell you how to set up your camera.   It’s a book that will explain why we like to look at art and images, why certain composition works and others don’t.  It turns out we are all wired to enjoy or prefer certain aspects of what we see in art.   Artists have figured that out since early recorded history.   I would not have believed it until it was explained in this book and then experienced on my own.  For an engineer it was a real eye opener.   Freeman explains, in some detail, with image examples:

  1. How to frame an image
  2. The elements of design (contrast, rythm, perspective, ect.)
  3. Photographic elements ( diagonals, curves, triangles, ect.)
  4. Light and Color
  5. Intent (conventional, reactive, planned, etc.)
  6. Process (Hunting, reaction, Exploration, etc.)

Most of these terms were foreign to me.  But after reading and seeing the images it really opened my mind to a much better photography approach.  It really improved my images.

So if you are a naturally talented artistic type maybe this book is just a good reference….. but if you are art challenged, like myself,  it will change the way you look at things.

The second book was Michael Freeman’s:  The Photographer’s Mind: Creative thinking for better digital Photos.

 

Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Mind

 

I think that Photographer’s Eye filled up most of the artistic portion of my engineering mind.   Reading the Photographer’s Mind was more difficult to grasp for me.  It is equally well written, like the “Eye” but the concepts and the demonstration images were more difficult to “get”.   Because of this it was not an easy read for me.   But I think it may be a mental exercise that I should put myself through.   The book is sectioned into Intent, Style, and Process.  Some of the concepts and images were brilliant and hopefully inspires my future work.   Other concepts and images…… I did not like or agree with.   Of course I think almost all modern art after impressionism is crap!  So take what I say here with a grain of salt.

So when I meet someone who is just taking up serious photography I ALWAYS ask ” Have you read ” The Photographer’s Eye “.   I usually don’t bring up Freeman’s other books ( I have them ALL)  because I think they have a more specialized purpose.

So….. If you have not read Michael Freeman’s Photographer’s Eye…… go get a copy and read it….. I guarantee that you will be glad you did.

 

Autofocus Microadjustment Epihany

Posted by on Jun 5, 2012 in Blog | 5 Comments

I just had an Autofocus Microadjustment Epiphany!

I recently got the Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC. I also have a really neat lens cal system called the Reikan FoCal (a autofocus microadjustment system ). So as soon as I got the lens I set it up with my Canon 5D Mk III and ran a MA series on it.

Now Canon says you should run this kind of check a a distance of focal length X 50. I also have the LensAlignPro ( another autofocus microadjustment system) and it says that you can cheat on that a bit and run X 25. FoCal says you can can also run the test at a distance where you take most of your shots.

I use the full range of 24-70 (I also have the Canon) but I also like to take close up shots near the minimum focal distance. Vegetables at the farmers Market.

So I did the calibration at around 28″ from the target and got an autofocus microadjustment of 20. That’s pretty high but I checked it and it repeated.

I go to market and get some good close up (<2′ away) shots. I also take some shots of friends from about 8′ away. The later shots are out of focus. They are all the same focal length.

So I have been doing both lens align and Focal calibrations on both the Canon and the Focal for most of today.

What I am finding is that when you do a calibration for autofocus microadjustment using any system the autofocus microadjustment value is only good for the distance that you test at. It changes for distance.

What I though I was seeing was for a fixed autofocus microadjustment point, your DOF focus moves back the further from the target and it moves toward you the closer to the target.

So…… Does this make sense?

Assuming it does I think that means that if you are using AF don’t get close to the minimum focus distance. Just because you can get a focus lock does not mean it will be in focus. And if you set up your autofocus microadjustment for distances that are close to the minimum distance then you will be compromising your other shots from further away.

I think that means I need to calibrate my lens in the 25-50X range and go get a prime between 50-85mm (calibrated for closeup distances) for my vegetables.

Then I thought…. lest spend some more time on this and look at the numbers for several different cases.

So lets check this all out with a series of tests  I will used my “rocket scientist” background……

Hypothesis:

Autofocus microadjustment is affected by distance.  This is particularly true near the minimum focus distance.

Test Equipment:

1.  Canon 5D Mark II

2. Canon 5D Mark III

3. Tamron 24-70mm f2.8

4. Canon 20-70mm f2.8 I

5. Reikan Focal Calibration system ver 1.5 beta

6. LensAlign Pro

7. Tripod

8. Two 6500K CLF lights

Methodology:

I will get the best autofocus microadjustment at three distances for both lenses on both cameras at 70mm at f2.8 in Av mode at 100 iso.    The distances I will use are

  1. My favorite distance for close up shots 28″  ( minimum focus distance is 1.25′)
  2. 5 feet ( close to 25X as recommended by LensAlign)
  3. 9 feet ( close to 50X as recommended by Canon-   50x is really about 11′ but my room has limitations)

So I will do both cameras and lenses at each distance on the Focal system.   Then I will repeat that on the lensAlignpro system.   Sounds like fun…… well its raining outside and my wife has a bunch a women over for an exciting domino’s tournament…..so this is what I can do.

Data

Reikan FoCal Results

Hang on ….. there are 12 of these things.  The summary and conclusions are at the end.

5DMk II Canon Lens 28″

Comment:  Decent curve fit with most points together at each autofocus microadjustment

5DMkII Canon Lens 5′

Comment: fairly wide spread of points for the near autofocus microadjustment’s…. not sure why

5DMkII Canon Lens 8′

Comment:  Really nice tight curve fit.

5DMkII Tamron Lens 28″

Comment: Except for -20 a pretty good tight fit

5DMKII Tamron Lens 5′

Comment:  This was rated, by the software, as a poor cal.   The points are all over the place.  But there were a predominance of points around 6 0r 7.

5DMKII Tamron Lens 8′

Comment: Fairly good fit with some stray points

5DMKIII Canon Lens 28″

Comments:  Again fairly good fit with some stray points

5DMKIII Canon Lens 5′

Comments:  Again fairly good fit with some stray points

5DMkIII Canon Lens 8′

Comment:  Better fit of points

5DMkIII Tamron Lens 28″

Comment:  Lots of spread at the high negative range but then tight after that

5DMkIII Tamron Lens 5′

Comment: Decent fit except for a few places

5DMkIII Tamron Lens 8′

Comment: Really nice fit

LensAlign Pro Results

I did not include images of the results of these tests.  There is a fair amount of subjective judgement with this system in determining the middle of the depth of field.  Its pretty straight forward at close distances and is easy to see.   So I have I lot of confidence in those results.   The more distant readings at 8′ were subjective in that the DOF was almost as wide as the ruler.  I will have to get the longer ruler that they sell.   The autofocus microadjustment’s that I did come up with are shown below with the FoCal numbers from above.

Here is a summary of all of the AF

Autofocus microadjustment values:

Focal Method
Distance 5DMkII 5DMkIII
Canon Tamron Canon Tamron
28″

-5

7

-4

20

5′

-3

4

-3

13

8′

-3

2

-4

13

LensAlign Pro
28″

-5

6

-3

12

5′

-2

4

-3

9

8′

-3

1

-4

11

Observations:

  1. If you compare each camera and lens combination between the FoCal and LensAlignPro, they are all pretty close except for the combination of the Tamron and the 5DMkIII.  If you look at the calibration curve it looks like it almost requires an adjustment of greater than 20, which is not possible.  But it does not behave that way on the 5DMkII.
  2. There is a small tendency to require Higher autofocus microadjustment adjustment, in the FoCal sytstem,  near the minimum focal distance.   This is most noticeable in the Tamron lens near the closer 28″ test.
  3. It was satisfying to see that the LensAlignPro test showed that the Tamron/ 5DMkIII combination a MA adjustment of only 12 was required and not the 20+ that the FoCal system showed.
  4. Most of the tests with the FoCal system at 8′,  closest to the recommended 50X, seemed to have the best curve fit
  5. DSLR AF systems are NOT 100% repeatable.   Stray bad focusing happens

Conclusion:

If you are going to be taking photos of images close to the minimum focus distance you DOF may not be where you think it should be.  I am thinking that several shots, with the focus point a slightly different distances,  may help to insure you get the focus where you want.    At least that is true with my lenses on these cameras.

Its probably best to set your AF MA at the 25-50 X distance.

For the most part Focal agrees with the Lens Align systems.   Note that I was using a FoCal beta version.

There is something odd going on with the Tamron Lens that you can see in both cameras.     I may try to get my hands on another Tamron and see what results I get.