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Wind-blown grassesWind-blown grassesDry grass blowing in the wind near Canberra.
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Welcome to Miscellaneous thoughts of a photographer.

As the name implies, it's a series of posts on various thoughts, ideas and discoveries I've made as a photographer. I hope you find it useful - and more importantly - interesting.

Please feel free to leave comments!

Shane Baker
Perth, WA.

 

 

A good product and good service - Peak Design

June 19, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

As photographers, we are told often enough that gear isn't everything - and rightly so. I think that almost all of us know that despite "needing" that new lens or body or whatever, its about the art and craft of photography: a great photographer will come back with great images using ordinary gear. (I was about to write "mediocre gear" and then corrected myself. These days, very, very little gear is less than good.)

Anyway ... although we know this, we keep buying stuff and two things most of us buy all too regularly are bags and straps.

To be fair, it's hard to know whether either will work for you without actually living with it - which is why most of us have a cupboard somewhere with a killer bag (or two) that we had to have - which wasn't so killer when used.

I've done this with bags and I've also bought a few straps over the years. You'd reasonably expect Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Sony et al to provide a useable strap with their multi-thousand dollar cameras, but as we all know, your typical "genuine" camera strap is a billboard for the manufacturer with all the comfort of a length of rope. Walk around for a day with a full frame SLR and a zoom, and you'll be in real pain. Hence the need for straps.

When I bought my Nikon D800 a few years back which as my first full frame camera was also the heaviest I'd owned, I quickly started looking for a strap. The one I bought was a neoprene unit, moderately priced, which seemed on paper to be comfortable. What it turned out to be was quite uncomfortable - not the least because it was elastic and bounced the camera. What I thought would be a positive was not so at all. So when I lashed out and bought my D850, I looked for a better strap and in the end, ordered a Peak Design Slide

A "what's in the box" view of the Peak Design Slide

The Slide seemed to have two things going for it. Firstly, it appeared to be easily adjustable - and it is. For those new to the game, you would expect that a strap would be "set and forget" - but they're not. The Slide can be adjusted in seconds to fit the body/lens you're carrying and the conditions. The other thing going for the Slide, and indeed, Peak Design straps in general is that they can easily be removed using little thingies they call "Anchors".

Peak Design Anchor attached to a camera.Peak Design Anchor attached to a camera.

This may seem unnecessary, but when you're walking around in the bush with a long lens, looking for wildlife, the camera is in your hand - not around your neck, so a strap gets in the way. Ditto for studio work.

These two reasons were valid, but in addition, the Slide is comfortable. It's hard to know why, but it is. It flexes but doesn't bounce, it seems to be just the right width, and one side of the strap grips your shoulder while the other is slippy - so you can move your camera around at will, while it stays put when you want it to. 

So I was a happy camper. Then on June 6, an email arrived from Peak Design. It seemed that some of the Anchors (they've now put out four generations of these apparently simple little things) are wearing rather too quickly, which doesn't bode well for the gear they're carrying, and Peak Design wanted to know if I had some of the faulty version. I did, and so PD advised they would send me replacements. They arrived today (June 19), less than a fortnight after I answered PD's email.

So that's it. Something went wrong, they told me without making excuses and got replacements to me well before the faulty Anchors could fail - if indeed they were going to fail.

The bottom line is that the Slide remains the best strap I've used - and now I have a great deal of confidence in Peak Design as a company. They actually believe in concepts like service and customer support - a rarity these days.

If you're looking for a strap, check out the Slide. They come in two colours (black or grey) and two weights - for SLR and mirrorless.

Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au

 

 


A new tripod - the Sirui W2204

June 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I've been looking around for a new tripod for a while now. The fact is that I already had three: an old Manfrotto, a relatively newer Manfrotto and an Induro. The Induro was definitely the most rigid of the three and also has the twist locks I prefer, but with the Acratech ball head, it was heavy. It also can gunk up a bit with dirt on occasions and was just a little short.

So, having convinced myself that it was not GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), but a genuine need, I'd been scanning reviews and come across the Chinese Sirui brand. A few months back I needed (there's that word again) a ball head to replace a Manfrotto unit which didn't really handle the weight of my Nikon gear. I bought a Sirui, and I've been impressed with its design and quality. One more tick for Sirui.

I was also interested in carbon fibre, rather than aluminium. Those in the know said that apart from being a little lighter than metal, it was also more rigid and less prone to vibration. Further googling turned up several reviews speaking highly of Sirui and some singing the praises of the waterproof W-2204. It looked good but wasn't cheap, so the plan stayed on hold.

Sirui W-2204 in various modes.

Then, a few weeks back, Perth retailer Camera Electronic had a Sirui 30% off sale, and I decided to take the plunge.

I'm happy I did.

Firstly, it's taller than my other tripods – too tall for me on the flat (even with the centre column retracted), but that will work on downhill slopes. It feels lighter than it actually is, the legs slide in and out very smoothly, and it's very, very stable. Other plusses are that is folds down very small, it comes with a tool kit (four more allen keys!), replaceable feet or spikes and a proper bag. I haven't tried its waterproofness yet, but it seems to cope well with Perth's ever-present sand.

Oh, and due to cunning design, one of the legs screws off and can be used as a monopod!

The bottom line? I like the design and the quality of the Sirui. The Induro is now my back-up tripod and the Manfrottos will go on the market.

If you need a new tripod, check out the Sirui line.

Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au

 


Controlling depth of field

April 21, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

One of the steps in changing from someone who "takes snaps" to one who makes photographs is to create images which guide the viewer to the subject.  There are a number of things you can do in this regard, but one is to learn to control depth of field (DoF).

Depth of field (also sometimes called depth of focus) is the depth of the area in focus. For example, while you would typically want deep depth of field in a landscape shot (just about from your toes to the horizon), in a portrait, you may want the background to be pleasantly blurry, and you can achieve that with a shallow DoF.

Sheila

Of course, this isn't always the case. For environmental portraits, where you may wish the subject's location or workplace to be clearly in view, you would set up for deep depth of field. 

Claude in his workshop

Four factors generally dictate depth of field, and ordinarily, only three of these can be controlled by you:

  • Aperture - the size of the opening in the lens which lets in light. The smaller the aperture (and the higher the f number) then the greater the depth of field. So f/16 will give a greater DoF than f/2.8.
  • Focal length of the lens - whether the lens is "long", say 200mm or "wide", say 24mm or somewhere in the middle.
  • The distance to the item. Generally, the closer the object, the more shallow is the DoF.
  • Sensor size - which cannot be controlled. The smaller the size of sensor, the deeper the DoF. So (for example) with all other things being equal, due to its tiny sensor size, the depth of field on your phone's camera will be deeper than say a full-frame DSLR.

So let's look at some examples - and this is a simple exercise which you could do at home.

Firstly, let's look at the effects of aperture. In these two shots, both the focus point and the focal length of the lens is unchanged. The top image was shot at f/4, while the second image was shot at f/16. You will see that the DoF is much deeper in the second image than the first, which is as one would expect as the smaller the aperture (ie: the higher the f-number), then the deeper the DoF.

Image shot at 50mm and f/4Image shot at 50mm and f/4

Image shot at 50mm and f/16Image shot at 50mm and f/16

Now lets look at the effect of focal length. The second pair of shots was made with the aperture set at f/8. In the first, the lens was zoomed out to 120mm, while in the second, it was set to a wide 24mm.

Image shot at f/8 and a focal length of 120mm.Image shot at f/8 and a focal length of 120mm.

Image shot at f/8 and a focal length of 24mm.Image shot at f/8 and a focal length of 24mm. Note that the shot made with the long 120mm has much more shallow DoF than the image made at 24mm. This is despite the camera being much closer to the subject in the second shot, where you would expect DoF to be more shallow!

So, choosing an appropriate aperture or focal length or carefully choosing where to focus (or all three) will help control depth of field, and guide your viewer's eyes to the key parts of the image.

Ok, so much for test shots. Let's look at some actual photographs and examine how they were created. First, this image of a street in Cambridge:

Cambridge street.Cambridge street. f/11 at 38mm focal length. This was shot with a fairly wide 38mm focal length and with an aperture of f/11. The focus point would have been around that black object on the right, to ensure the maximum area in focus.

Both the focal length and the aperture contributed to its deep DoF.

Next, let's look at this image of terns on Montague Island. The settings were f/16 at 200mm:

Terns with chick on Montague Island.Terns with chick on Montague Island. f/16 and 200mm. I used a small aperture (f/16), so why was the DoF so shallow? Two reasons: the long focal length of 200mm had a lot to do with it, and the fairly close focus also reduced DoF. If I'd got up close and shot this at say 50mm, that grass and those birds would be quite sharp - but that's not what I wanted.

Finally, let's look at this image of dry grass. I wanted the grass at the front to be sharp, but with a rapid fall-off of sharpness so that the background was quite blurry.

Dry grass seeds, Australian Capital Territory.Dry grass seeds, Australian Capital Territory. f/5.6 at 36mm In this image, and despite the focal length being shortish at 36mm, the combination of a reasonably wide f/5.6 and more importantly, the lens being close to the focal point on the nearest grass created the pleasingly shallow depth of field I was looking for.

So that's it - control the aperture of your lens, select where you wish to focus and chose the right focal length of your lens, and you can decide what's in focus - and hence, what viewer looks at in your photographs.

If this isn't all that clear, you can google for other examples, or even better - try different combinations with your own camera. Practice makes perfect!

Happy shooting

Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au

 

 

 


A new camera body, "The Beast" and bird photography

March 21, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

It's been a while since I posted a blog (November 2017 in fact), so I thought I might tell you what I've been doing photographically speaking.

Back in August, I shared my gear lust about the then-recently announced Nikon D850. I wanted one - but not at any price, and given the combination of little discounting due to demand for the camera and the "Australia tax" prices we Antipodeans are required to pay, I couldn't justify buying one then. Between Christmas and New Year, Camera Pro in Brisbane offered the D850 at a price I haven't seen before (or since). I stumped up the cash and waited - and waited and waited.

Finally, Camera Pro (who had kept me in the loop all through the process) sent an email: it was on the way - and the next day, the courier handed me a big package.

What to do with it? Of course, the first shot I made was one of my wife - as is now traditional with new cameras in our house. But what next? Well, last year I bought The Beast - a Nikkor 200 - 500mm f/5.6 lens with the particular intention of trying my hand at bird photography. I'd tried using my extremely good Nikkor 70 - 200, but even with the 1.7x extender, I wasn't getting close enough. A 500mm lens would do the trick! (New gear solves all your problems, doesn't it???)

Of course, every solution has its downsides. The Beast weighs 2090g, which with the body, gets the kit up to around 3kgs. Doesn't sound much does it - say, three litres of milk. But try holding that out in front of your face for a couple of minutes and see how you you go.

Then there was the question of whether to stalk birds or sit quietly and wait. I'm not a "sit quietly" type of 'tog, but more experienced bird photographers than me seemed to think it was the way.

Anyway ... by trying to photograph birds at home, in nearby parks and occasionally, travelling to bush areas around Perth, my technique improved a little. In fact, I had a couple of successes - like this image of a Nankeen Night Heron.

Nankeen Night-Heron, Lake Joondalup, Western Australia.
To be fair to the bird, in much the same way that Lee Marvin attributed half of his Academy Award to a horse, had I won a prize with this shot, at least half would be due to an unusually cooperative bird!

What's this got to do with the D850, I hear you ask? Well my point is that the heron shot was made with the long lens and my old faithful D800. As I noted last year, there's nothing wrong with a five year old body.

So why did I buy the D850? A few reasons. Firstly, it's a new sensor and while that in the D800 is brilliant, technology has moved on over five years. Not only do they have lower noise at high ISO, and greater latitude (the ability to deal with bright highlights and dark, dark shadows), but Nikon had stopped putting antialiasing filters (AA) on their SLRs. Taking away a filter which is there to fuzz up your images has to produce sharper images.

What's more, Nikon had put their top of the range 151 point focussing system into the D850, which would help - especially when photographing fast moving objects like birds - and grand children.

What was the potential downside? Well ... cost. I've never spent that amount on a camera body, although I suspect that my first digital SLR, the Nikon D70 may have cost that much in real terms. The camera sports an even bigger sensor than the 36M D800: nearly 46 megapixels. That requires a lot of storage - especially when you're trying to back up to the cloud using Australia's third world internet connections.

Finally. I've always said the D800 was a great camera - but unforgiving. When I first moved from my 12M crop frame D300 to the D800, I thought there was a problem with the camera. After analysis, I realised the problem wasn't with the camera, but with my technique. As good as the D300 was (and is), it was allowing me to get away with some sloppy technique whereas the much higher resolution of the 800 didn't. The D850 takes that a step further and with 46M and no AA filter, I could expect to need to refine my process further.

I was correct on all counts. The D850 is a great, great camera; an instant classic in fact, but it's not for everyone. It's expensive, heavy and demanding.

But if you're willing to persevere, it can produce images like this.

The Brown Honeyeater is a small, incredibly active little bird - and with the D850, I was able to nail that image. The focussing system also helps with objects moving in the sky:

Australian Pelicans in formation at Penguin island, Western Australia.Australian Pelicans in formation at Penguin island, Western Australia. However, today I saw a spider in my garden. I wondered what my ordinary, every day, non-macro Nikkor 24 - 120 lens could do on the D850 with such a small object - especially one that was moving back and forth in a strongish breeze. This is the initial image.

Full frame image of spider made with Nikon D850 and the Nikkor 24 - 120mm lens.Full frame image of spider made with Nikon D850 and the Nikkor 24 - 120mm lens.

Pretty good. Then I zoomed in - and to give you an idea of how much detail is in that image, this is the area showing just the spider. Look at that detail!

Crop in to spider on the earlier image.Crop in to spider on the earlier image.

 

I stress that this was made with a lens that has no claim to doing close-up work, but it's a good honest piece of glass. Combined with the resolution of the D850, I can do ultra-crops like this.

Does that mean I don't need my macro lens? Of course not - but it does show the incredible resolving power of this camera.

I'm very happy with my purchase and I honestly believe the D850 is helping me be a better photographer and make better images. But it's a camera that demands respect.

Happy shooting.


Shane Baker
shanebakerphotos@iinet.net.au