vrijdag 30 november 2012

Rut 2012

Although very late, the blogpost about the rut of 2012 is finally here. This year, the weather did not wanted to cooperate. Most of the times, there were a lot of clouds meaning soft not-dramatic light, and it rained a lot. Nevertheless I could not resist going, which was rewarded every time.
This year started of with a great day, the weather was good, and we got some amazing light the last 3 hours before the sun went down. Because I thought the rut hadn’t really started yet I wandered of from the usual arena to a big field nearby. It turned out there were a lot of deer, waiting for the night to fall. I crossed the field, but all of a sudden I heard a fight going on nearby. I ran back to the field, and crouched behind a hill trying to prevent disturbance. 2 deer started were fighting like it was their last day. Sand was going through the air, and they just didn’t stop. And most importantly, they did not run away after a fight.

Usually when you see a fight, you are lucky to see 2 or 3 “strikes” but with these men showed me their whole fight. When they were finished, and one had clearly won the last few strikes, the defeated one ran away, while the winner was approaching me. I backed away silently, and saw him walking up “my” hill. And he just stood there, in the best light I could have imagined. Although I had mounted my camera on a tripod, I could see the shaking of my hands in the viewfinder, as I was pumped with adrenaline.

After this day, nothing compared to that day again. The weather got worse, and it rained a lot. When the rut was almost over I decided to try one more time, ignoring the rain. With rain clothes and a watertight bag, I tried one more time. After an hour walking I was lucky enough for the clouds to break, just when I spotted a deer. The deer didn’t mind me at all, and as long as I stayed on the path, he wouldn’t run away. Using a 135mm, I was able to get this image. I was that close, and he didn’t mind at all. When this moment was over, I walked past him, and he just kept looking at me. With that curious deer, the rut was over for me.

Time to concentrate on some landscapes. 

donderdag 6 september 2012

macro photography and flash

Macro photography can be pretty light consuming. You want to maximize depth of field, so you close your aperture to f/11, or even smaller. To get to greater magnifications you might use extension tubes, reducing the light reaching your sensor as well. Or to get rid of the harsh shadows you put a scrim over your working area, etc. To put it shortly, some extra light would be nice.

The first time I encountered this, I was still photographing with a point and shoot. But firing the flash was no option, as I found out that the lens barrel was blocking most of the light. Unfortunately most of the on camera flashes will not be useful for macro photography because of this.

However, there’s also external flashes. I have always been very enthusiastic about external flashes, and the moment I started with macro photography I have been using them. Basically you can use them in two ways, on your hot shoe (on-camera) or external. First I will cover on-camera use.

On-camera use of our flashes is the easiest way of using them. If you use modern lenses and flashes they even communicate to each other, and make a good exposure. But even without this auto-exposure you are very well able to make good photographs. Typically the distance to your lens doesn’t change much, as you want to keep a certain magnification. So the area between the subject and your flash doesn’t change.
A commonly heard complaint about flashes is that they produce hard ugly light. First of all hard light can be really beautiful (but that will be another post in the future), but the light coming from your flash actually is really soft. Your subject matter is really small compared to your flash head, and your flash will be close to your subject, so the light from your flash is still able to wrap around your subject. I took this photo with my SB-24 mounted on my camera, with a diffuser dome.
As you can see, it doesn’t look like your typical hot shoe mounted flash picture, as the light is quite soft.

However, there are disadvantages, as your distance from flash to subject is very small, you will get fast fall-off. If your exposure mainly depends on the flash output, you will get dark backgrounds. You could search for backgrounds which are also quite close to your subject, which will catch more light. Don’t be afraid of distracting backgrounds, as they will be out of focus anyway, due to the small DoF.
Or you could make use of your ambient light. The photo shown above is taken 1 o’clock, in the harsh sun. Even though my flash is my main light, the sun increased the exposure on my background. (That’s why I like to do macro photography, since I’m able to control my exposures anyway, I can do it at any time of the day)

Off camera flash is another option. It can create more dramatic light, and I like it better than on-camera flash. However, compared to on-camera flash, you are less mobile, since you also have to move your light. Besides that, if your subject moves, your flash exposure will change as well. This can be especially difficult since most of us will be using non-TTL triggers / cords / non-TTL flashes. I just hope for the best, and try to move my flash along with my camera, and usually I’ll be all right. Don’t get discouraged because you blow a few exposures, because after some practise you will remember to move your flash.

Again, you don’t have to diffuse the light that much, although I like to diffuse it more. Soft light is more forgiving, and also will create less harsh shadows. (Again, the sun can be your friend and can fill up the shadows) As I use extension tubes, most of my pictures mainly depend on flash for their exposures. This can result in very dark shadows on the other side of your subject. (As you can see in the photo below) Normally an envelope put over the head of the flash is enough, providing very soft light.

So basically, if you want to be very mobile, or your subject moves a lot, mounting the flash on your camera can be a good option. But I prefer to fire my flash from a slight angle to my subjects, so when I can, I will use my flash off-camera. 

zaterdag 25 augustus 2012

Processing images from the blue / yellow polarizer

As written in my previous article  there is a strong colourcast over your images when you use your blue/yellow polarizer. In the beginning, this filter can be hard to get good images of, your white balance panics when it sees all these unnatural colours. There’s the colourcast of the filter, and then there are the unnaturally saturated reflections. Who could blame your white balance.

Now, the solution seems obvious, just turn to a preset of your camera, as the auto white balance is fooled. Well, there’s still the colourcast. Normally I just shoot RAW, and worry about correcting the colours later. The reason for doing so, is because it’s not about the colour temperature, but about the tint (green/magenta slider). And besides that, sometimes the colourcast can add something even more unrealistic to your images. 

When I open my images in Capture NX, I go to the colour correcting dialogue. First I will adjust the green/magenta slider. I will add somewhere between 2 to 5 (no idea what values to be used in lightroom/aperture) This will correct for the magenta-ish colourcast. After that, the image usually still has some issues, and I will decrease the colour temperature (make it colder) as usually there is still too much red in the image.

After this, the image will look comparable to what you actually saw through the filter, but it may take some tweaking for every image. However I think the results from this filter are more than worth it. 

zondag 1 juli 2012

Composing for wildlife

I like to go to the Amsterdamse Waterleidingsduinen, a nature reserve in the Netherlands were there are a lot of wild deer. Well wild, they are pretty approachable, you can make very good pictures with a 200mm of them. The thing is, the photos I took of them were they were most visible, also were the most boring pictures. It took me some time to figure out that a 300mm lens is usually overkill for this area. You get way too close for an environmental portrait, while you are still too far away for a headshot. (no pun intended)

The photo above is an example, the deer is quite dominant in this photo, but the photo isn’t interesting at all. There’s nothing happening, and you can’t see where he’s looking at. This photo is taken with a 300mm, and I regret doing so. (although if I’m honest, I don’t think this photo would have improved if I took it with another focal length)

This photo is taken with a 135mm at f/4, and you can still see a lot of the deer’s surroundings. It makes a more interesting photo because I included more of the surroundings. You can see where he’s going, and you can see that the area wasn’t very open. And to be honest the light is better than in the previous photo.

Now, I did not mean that I’m trying to make photos with the shortest focal length possible. I think there is definitely a place for telephoto lenses. For example this shot, is taken with my 300mm, but I was much closer to this deer than I was with the first photo. This is more of a headshot, and I think, also makes an interesting photo.

The point I’m trying to make, is that you don’t necessarily need to go for your longest lens, or totally zoom in your zoom lens. When you can’t get close enough, it doesn’t improve your photo. Sometimes it is better to use a shorter focal length, and show the animal in its surroundings. Think more about your actual composition, and try not to be locked into the idea I need to get as close as possible. 

dinsdag 22 mei 2012

Cokin Blue / yellow polarizer

This filter is amazing, it already starts when you look through it the first time. If you have a clear sky, you are able to make it very blue, or turn the blue away and create a yellow sky. (if you can think away the colour-cast) And that’s also the strength of this filter, blue and yellow are two important colours in landscape photography. you can either make reflections look warmish, or coldish. I say –ish because the effect is easily overdone. It is very easy to overdo the effect, and make your photos look artificial.

How to use it:
There are two ways you can use this filter, with or without additional polarizer. Without the polarizer this filter mostly affects reflections in your scene. This is really cool to improve the sky, play with the colours in the water, or with any other reflections. The results are still relatively close to what you actually saw, at least compared to using it with an additional polarizer.

If you put a polarizer behind it, you will be able to affect all the colours of the scene. You are able to give the whole photo a yellow or blue hue. This is very strong, and I can’t think of any other way of using it, than a blue / yellow filter for black and white photography. But Cokin suggests it as a way of using the filter in its brochure, so just to let you know.

I have yet to develop my first roll of film shot with this polarizer, but this filter shows a very magenta kind of colourcast. If it doesn’t polarize, it becomes quite obvious. My impression is that the more light comes through it, the less visible it becomes, but nevertheless I always have to adjust the tint-slider. (green – magenta colour channel in the white balance dialogue of Capture NX) Although this can also be a cool effect on an overcast day to add some colour to your images.

Image quality:
I paid only 16 euros (A-size) for this filter, one can hardly expect tremendous image quality for that money. There is some loss in sharpness, but I think you can solve that in post. The images hold up rather well. Besides that I think the effect of this filter on your photo will be more than significant enough to justify using it, even with the sharpness loss. Of course there are more expensive alternatives (from Sing-Ray), but to me this filter is good enough.
I heard that the loss of sharpness becomes larger when you use longer lenses, but until now I haven’t used it on these lenses. I feel that this filter is more appropriate for shorter lenses, because I want to have as much reflective surfaces in my shot as possible.

As mentioned, the filter has quite a strong magenta cast. This is easily solvable in post, but it makes it a bit harder to pre-visualize how your photo will eventually look like. Besides that, this filter is virtually impossible to use with a graduated ND filter. This filter uses the same slots as the GND-filters in the Cokin holder. There are ways to avoid this, by tearing the filter holder apart, and fitting it in the filter holder of a normal polarizer, or star filter of Cokin. Perhaps I will do that in the future, but for now I leave it in its original casing.

But I still recommend this filter, its effect is amazing. It gives you control over the colours in your scene, and the change it makes is quite dramatic. One of the things I really like to use it for is to shoot right into the sun. As with normal polarizers the sky isn’t affected when shooting directly against the sun, but it does the reflections on the water. Now you’re able to create an incredibly large colourcontrast between the water and the sky. In this photo you can see that pretty good: the sun is just out of the frame on the left, leaving little to polarize in the sky. But when you get further to the right the filter kicks in, giving a very blue sky, which wasn’t as distinct as it is now.

This filter is also amazing when everything is wet after some rain, obviously there are a lot of reflections then, and you’re able to give everything your desired colourcast.
The only thing I am bothered a bit with, is that its effect can be quite unpredictable. I still have trouble deciding whether this filter would be useful in a particular scene, but when it is, it is a rewarding filter to use.

By the way, Cokin went bankrupt, and is bought by Tokina and Kenko. Although after the sale nothing is heard from them again about Cokin, so you might want to get your Cokin filters quickly. 

I made a post how to post process your images you made with this filter, as there is a strong colour cast.

zondag 25 maart 2012

Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 (pre-ai)

Why would you buy an manual focus lens within the range of your kit lens in the first place, and why on earth would you want to have one with an aperture that your kit lens is able to give you as well? First of all, I like primes, I like the way you always get the same kind of perspective. When you have a zoom, the perspective changes with every time you use another focal length. Primes give you a better idea how things will look like before you look through the viewfinder because the way they render what they see does not change. This makes you work faster, or at least when you’re used to using primes.

But for me the most important reason to have this lens is that it has hyper focal markings on its body. I like to use this lens for landscapes, and the hyperfocus markings are very useful. The reason I find the ability to use hyperfocus distances so important is that by closing your lens too far down diffraction occurs. Diffraction causes your lens to be less sharp than at the middle apertures, and because of that it is useful to use hyperfocus distances.

Handling the lens
The focus is very light on this lens, you need little pressure to turn the ring. But it is not so light you “overshoot”, you can focus this lens very precise. Besides the perfect focus mechanism this lens is fairly wide, even on DX sensors, this means your DoF is larger than with telephoto lenses. Because of that you maintain focus much longer, making it even easier to focus this lens.

Another reason I love this lens for my landscape shots is that the front element does not turn when you focus. It only extends a bit, but that doesn’t matter. This allows you to mount filters on this lens without the focus affecting it. Imagine using a polarizer on a lens which front element turns when you focus, almost impossible to use. With this lens it is much easier to use a polarizer, or a graduated neutral density filter.

Besides that there is little to mention about the lens, it is quite small and light. It makes the ideal travel companion on a DX camera. This lens decreases the size of your DSLR significantly compared to a zoom lens, because this lens is so short it takes up less space.

The results are just amazing. This lens isn’t very fast, nor is it very wide. Nikon didn’t need  to make compromises to build this lens, resulting in a very good lens. Pointed at the sun it is hard to get a flare, and sharpness is already very good wide open. There is little CA. It is sad, but there’s just nothing more to say about the results, except that it is just a very good lens.

As I said, this is a very good lens. You will get great results from this lens, even wide open. In that perspective it is sad that its focal length falls within the reach of the kit lens. This lens isn’t significantly faster than your average 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. However I am convinced that this lens was able to maintain its value, especially because of the hyper focus markings. These are really huge to me, and I prefer this lens over my kit lens because of that, and because its front element does not rotate during focusing.

Because this lens isn’t exceptionally fast or wide this lens can be found for little money, which is another great quality.

(I don't like to put up full resolution files, if you're interested in this lens you can leave a comment / sent an email for larger files)

donderdag 15 maart 2012

lenses with defects are ok

I once wrote a blog entry about whether photography is art or not. The reason I wrote that, and why I keep up my blog, is to find out what I really think about it. when I write it down I tend to think it more through. One of the things I mentioned in the article was that digital photography becomes too perfect. Almost cold and robotic instead of an organic process. I wrote that light leaks and lens imperfections shaped the character of old photographs. Recently I have been reviewing a few lenses on my blog, (mostly to help other buyers of old glass since there is relatively little written about it on the internet) and I have been complaining about the performances of some of these old lenses. For example in my review of the vivitar 200mm f/3.5 I do not sincerely recommend (even though it still is a great lens) it because it shows quite some CA wide open, and the sharpness is a small OK. 

However I took that lens out today, and because it was overcast and it is a longer lens I had to use it wide open. Then I took this photo, and when I saw it on the computer it struck me that I have been contradicting myself. I once said that it shaped the character of a photograph when it showed defects, and in my reviews I was complaining about their “character”. And to be honest I even exaggerated the softness of the lens. I shot this photo in raw, and did not add any sharpening, reduced the contrast, and applied a Gaussian blur at the edges. So what I am basically trying to say is that there are a lot of good lenses, but some are more appropriate for different kinds of photography. When you want to best (or clinical perfect) look, go for the latest lenses, but sometimes the defects of lenses can give a wonderful mood to your photographs. 

zondag 4 maart 2012

vivitar 200mm f/3.5

Vivitar was a lens re-seller, and the serial numbers are an indicator who actually manufactured the lens. There is some difference in optical quality and exterior per manufacturer. You can check who made your lens on this list
The serial number on my lens starts with 28 which means it’s made by Komine.

I am not sure if I am really positive about this lens. In test shots it shows what it can do, but in the field (which is way more important) it is a lens which takes getting used to before you get good results. It is pretty difficult to get the right focus, and if you missed just a bit you will notice it. I guess I will be more positive about it in the future, but for now I really need to pay attention to my focus, more than on any other lens (except for macro photos)

Handling the lens
The lens feels solid, it is quite heavy but not front heavy. You can stabilize it quite easily and does not feel unbalanced on my D60. The focus ring is quite smooth, not as smooth as my Nikkor lenses, this one uses oil. This is a major disadvantage during cold days because the oil becomes stiff and the lens is harder to focus. However most of the off-brand lenses use oil in their focus mechanisms so I won’t nag about it anymore. The thing is, focus is really critical with this lens. When I first got it and tested it I was a bit carless about my focussing. At first I thought I bought a dog because images were soft. This lens does not tolerate focus errors at all, and the right focus is a bit hard to achieve. It takes a smaller twist on the focus ring than I used to to defocus the lens. This is could be because the focus ring is not precise enough, but I think it’s mostly because it is a longer lens with a faster aperture than I normally use. The lens has a built in hood. It is relatively short and I am not sure how effective it really is. But it probably is better than nothing and it seems like a nice feature. (especially during the rain to keep your front element dry)

Wide open this lens is extremely prone to CA. In high contrast situations you’re able to see it without looking closely. During processing you will find CA everywhere. However it falls within the limits of what’s correctable in my post processing program ( I use Capture NX 2, but I’m sure any other program will be able to cope with it as well)
The sharpness wide open is a small OK. It does not shine wide open. At f/3.5 details start to blur, perhaps also caused by the CA.

without correction

With correction

At f/5.6 the quality starts to increase rapidly. Sharpness increases to great, but CA is still visible, but a lot less. You won’t be able to see it at normal magnifications, only when you zoom in for small precise adjustments (hey not pixel peeping right?) I would be confident to use this lens for a large print for a paid job at f/5.6.



Bokeh is all right, with busy backgrounds it can be distracting, especially branches. The only solution is to open up your lens, or come closer. But a lot of lenses won’t be able to handle it very well. If the background is a bit smoother the bokeh will be all right.

I bought this lens mostly because I wanted something faster than my 70-210 f/4-5.6 for my walk around wildlife photographs. And this lens does the job all right, it is a good lens but nothing special. It is not as sharp wide open as my 70-210, but this one has a faster aperture. I end up using this lens as a regular 200mm f/5.6 lens with some emergency extra F-stops. The reason I do so is because focus is really critical and I just need the DoF to get sharp images. Especially for wild life because the focus ring has more friction than my Nikkor lenses (but as much friction as my other 3rd party lenses) which makes it a bit less precise. And because the real sharpness of the lens is just better at f/5.6 So in conclusion I do recommend this lens, but don’t pay too much for it. The lens is OK, but nothing more. 

If you want full resolution images, just sent me an email, and I will send them to you. I just don't like to put up full resolution images