Category Archives: Photography

Armistice Day Celebrations in Cambridge (NZ)


Over the weekend I attended a family reunion of sorts in Cambridge. Cambridge celebrates armistice day in emphatic style with a remembrance ceremony at the town hall, and a military show that runs two days.

My camera had shot over 600 frames by the end of the weekend, which left quite a few photos to sort out and process. In the end I came out with 40 decent shots.

The final set is here.

For more information about Armistice in Cambridge, visit armisticeincambridge.co.nz.

Camera News

I doubt you’re reading this blog for the news, but there have been some recent announcements that will be of interest if you have more than a passing interest in photography.

  • The Canon EOS 7D looks like a nice step up from the 50D. It packs 18MP, so it will be interesting to see what the high-iso shots are like. Since Canon is apparently expanding its range of cameras with APS-C sized sensors, we should see more EF-S lenses, indeed two new ones were announced at the same time.
  • Also the Panasonic GF1, that equivalent to the Olympus E-P1 I was waiting for, has hit the announcements board. This really looks like a camera worth buying, and instantly rules out the E-P1 for me, assuming the price isn’t any higher. I still can’t decide whether to go for a micro four thirds (MFT) camera over an advanced fixed-lens camera (LX3 / S90 / G11) though.

E-P1, and new Canons with less pixels!

I posted a while back about the then yet-to-be-released Olympus E-P1. Since then it’s been reviewed by practically every major site, and generally the reviews have been very favourable. But it takes good pictures and has no competition, so of course they would be. This is a new class of camera which clearly takes much better pictures than a point ‘n shoot but lags way behind DSLRs in many respects, particularly in speed and focusing (and to a much lesser degree image quality). Maybe my expectations were a bit high, but I did expect startup times, focusing speed and general performance to be better than bargain basement plastic fantastic cameras.

I think this class of camera will improve a lot once competition starts, and I’m particularly interested to see what Panasonic, who also make micro four thirds cameras, will release. It would also be good to see Canon and Nikon come up with similar compact non-SLR large-sensor camera systems. So for now I’ll stick with my trusty 40D.

Review links:

Canon also recently refreshed their compact lineup, and two of the new models are of particular interest.

The S90 looks like a decent competitor to the LX3, as it also has an f/2.0 lens and a similar pixel density but a larger zoom – a more conventional 28-105mm as opposed to the LX3’s 24-60mm. The reviews will be very interesting once the embargo on this one is lifted.

The G11 also looks like a big step forward. This one actually has a third less megapixels than the model it replaces, the G10. It seems marketing has finally listened to engineering, and they’ve decided to reduce the resolution in order to provide better light sensitivity instead of cramming in more noisy pixels than we need. Bravo!

So after drooling after the LX3 and then the E-P1, I now don’t have a clue what my next camera will be. But I like where things are heading.

Olympus E-P1, my next camera?

DPReview have a preview up of the soon-to-be released Olympus E-P1. I was thinking seriously thinking about getting a Panasonic LX3, but this looks like the perfect travel companion:

E-P1 side by side with the LX3

E-P1 side by side with the LX3 (source: dpreview.com)

Perhaps the only barrier could be the price – I’d expect it to be somewhere around the level of current prosumer DSLRs (50D, D90) which is a bit of a step up from the LX3 (close to double, probably more once you add lenses). But image-wise this is more DSLR than compact, whereas the LX3 is much more of a compact. In a portable camera I wouldn’t miss the viewfinder so much, but the poor contrast-detect autofocus would be its major downside compared to the 40D, and the Panasonic G1 which is based on the same system has much better autofocus.

And even with the 17mm “pancake” prime lens it’s still bulkier than the LX3, so there’s definitely room for both models. But with the E-P1 the micro four thirds system just got a whole lot more interesting, and this is tempting as a “do-it-all” camera to replace both my point ‘n shoot and DSLR.

Either way, I can definitely see myself owning a micro 4/3rds camera at some point in the future, but it might be worth waiting for the E-P2, which will hopefully refine the concept (and include Panasonic’s autofocus system).

Update 22-6-09:

It’s available on pre-order in the states at $799 US. Using the Canon 50D as a price index, the cost here at retail for the 14-42mm kit should be about $1450-1500 NZD. Which is about what I paid for my 40D body, so not too bad, in fact slightly cheaper than I was expecting. It’s quite a lot to spend on a downgrade, but for traveling it might just be worth it.

Buying a second-hand Digital SLR Camera

Having recently purchased a camera from TradeMe (New Zealand equivalent of ebay), I now realise that I made several mistakes. The camera was a Canon 5D with a 24-105 F4L lens and was physically flawless. It appeared to have been very well looked after, and the test shots looked fine, so I have to admit I wasn’t as cautious as I should have been. But the day afterwards I noticed what looked like very fine cracks in all my photos. Some quick internet research revealed that what I was seeing was fungal growth on the CMOS sensor! How did I not notice this?

The problem was that I went to have a look at the camera after the sun had gone down, thus all the photos were taken in dim indoor lighting which needs wide a aperture for proper exposure. At wider apertures much of the light hitting the sensor comes in at a wider angle, and as the sensor has a filter in front of it some light can get behind foreign matter on the surface of the filter before hitting the sensor. Narrow apertures show up dirt far more readily as the light is coming in from a narrower range of angles.

Looking at the sensor itself I could see the fungus and some other specks of dust. So I took a test shot of the sky at f/22, +1 EV (although any brightly lit background would do)… and this is what I saw (this is the full frame so you’ll have to view it enlarged to see what I’m talking about):

Filthy!

Filthy!

Needless to say, these marks have a very visible impact on any pictures with an aperture narrower than about f/7, and looking back I can even make out the fungus in the original test shots I took at f/4.

Fungal growth on the sensor could potentially be expensive, as a by-product of fungus is an acidic compound which could eat away at the coating on the filter. Worst case is that it needs a new filter, which should not be expensive in itself but would expensive in terms of labour as it requires dismantling the camera. So I’m hoping a simple clean will put it right!

So, the lesson I learned is to take some test shots in BRIGHT LIGHT, at both narrow and wide apertures. Narrow apertures reveal dirt on the sensor, and wider ones are more likely to show up any lens issues such as fringing or bad focus.

A summary of advice:

  1. Go to view the camera during the day, not at night.
  2. Take your own memory card along so you can examine the shots in more detail when you get home. I did this, but the wide apertures meant that the fungus was barely discernible, and it was on the edge of the image where the picture was out of focus anyway, so I wasn’t looking in the right places.
  3. Take test shots of the sky or another brightly lit background at the narrowest aperture possible (normally f/22) and +1EV (exposure value). If you simply can’t arrange a time during the day, flash shots of a clean white or lightly coloured wall should suffice. Or you could use a long shutter speed, since dirt on the sensor isn’t going to move you don’t have to worry about camera shake or motion blur… just make sure you get the right exposure.
  4. If purchasing a lens with the body, take some shots at the widest aperture possible, as these are far more likely to show up lens flaws such as fringing or bad focus.
  5. Examine the sensor by putting the camera into “sensor cleaning” mode. This flips up the mirror so you can see the sensor. To do this on a 40D you would go to setup menu 2 (yellow icon with two dots) > Sensor Cleaning > Clean Manually. On the 5D just scroll down to it, it’s in the orange setup section close to the bottom.

There are no doubt many other flaws to look out for in cameras which I haven’t touched on here. So be sure to look at other sites with more complete information, but nonetheless I hope this has been useful for someone!

Update 1-6-08

Probably what most people reading this are going to want to know is; did the sensor clean fix the problem? Unfortunately it didn’t, and Canon quoted me $2500+gst in parts alone for repairs (which is a new sensor assembly). Since this is considerably higher than the value of the camera, it’s basically not economic to repair unless you know someone capable of replacing the filter or dismantling the camera and cleaning it properly.

Raw photo processing on Linux

Being a Linux user, one of my concerns with shooting raw was what to do with the files once I’d captured them. On Windows I’d probably just use Canon’s software that was supplied with my 40D – Zoombrowser and Digital Photo Professional.

However the default photo mangement application in Ubuntu, F-Spot, pleasantly surprised me in the way it handles raw files. Not only does it understand and preview them, it can manage raw .cr2 files, developed jpegs and camera jpegs as one image, meaning that you can preserve all versions of a picture without cluttering up your library with multiple versions. For me this is almost an essential feature now, as I frequently have three, sometimes four versions of the same image – raw, camera jpeg, developed jpeg, cropped, etc.

So here’s my brief outline of the components I use for managing photos:

  1. F-Spot, installed by default in Ubuntu and also many other distros such as OpenSUSE
  2. UFRaw standalone
  3. F-Spot DevelopInUFRaw plugin
  4. F-Spot RawPlusJpeg plugin
  5. Canon Digital Photo Professional

UFRaw is an excellent raw processing tool, based on dcraw, and supports many other raw formats (not just Canons). Ubuntu provides a standalone version and a GIMP integrated version, but the one we want is just called ufraw. To install it, open a terminal and type:

sudo aptitude install ufraw

You will need to have the universe repository enabled to install this package, to enable it go to software sources and tick the appropriate box.

The F-Spot plugins are simple to install and can be added from within F-Spot itself – just go to Edit > Manage Extensions, enable them if present and install them first if not:

F-Spot Extension Manager

Once you’ve installed everything, the first thing I recommend doing is merging your raw files:

Merging Raw Files

With the UFRaw plugin installed you should also be able to right-click on any image and select “Develop in UFRaw”, but obviously it will only work if the picture you’ve selected actually has a raw file. Any developed files appear as a version rather than a new image like so:

FSpot Versions

The main down side to using UFRaw as opposed to Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, is the lack of lens aberration correction. This may not be a problem for you if you only shoot L glass, but for the rest of us with consumer zooms the lens correction is a nice feature to have. I also find that it’s easier to achieve better results with DPP, it’s not that UFRaw can’t make the adjustments, but DPP does seem to make more intelligent guesses and I find I can achieve a good result faster than with UFRaw.

Fortunately, Digital Photo Professional works fairly well in Wine. To install it on Ubuntu 8.10 simply pop in the CD, and open the setup.exe file with wine (right click, Open with “Wine Windows Program Loader”). I’d suggest deselecting all drivers and anything unnecessary, I installed DPP only).

F-Spot and UFRaw make a pretty powerful photographic toolset, and with DPP running in Wine there’s little need for Windows. If you don’t like F-Spot there’s Google’s Picasa (which is actually a Wine app on Linux…), and DigiKam which is the KDE equivalent.

North Head Sunset


Last night I decided to head over to North Head in Devonport (see map below), with the intention of photographing the sunset. I got a few sunset pics, but they weren’t spectacular and I think the shots of the city came out better.

Pity I forgot to take a tripod!

Full set is here.

My new toy


img_6909-1.jpg

Originally uploaded by Al404

I’ve been getting into my photography recently – I’ve had an SLR camera (a Canon 350D)  for a long time but haven’t really used it as much as I could have. What better way to reinvigorate my love for photography than buy new gear?

I started quite modestly, replacing the kit lens of my 350D with a Canon 17-85mm which really makes it a whole new camera as it’s a much nicer lens. Next I bought the cheapest possible prime lens, the 50mm F1.8 II. So far so good.

But then I bought a 40D. Followed by a 70-200mm F4L lens. And before you can blink I’ve spent over $3k NZD…

Ah well, it was nice having money while it lasted. You can see the results of my purchase on Flickr, although you’ll need to be a friend to see them all.