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Golden Gate Bridge, Red, San Francisco

The Golden Ratio (Spirals) & Custom Grids.

Most photographers have heard of the thirds rule, and most camera models have grids available either in the view finder, live view or both. Most supported grids are normally 1/3 or 1/4 in size. 1/3 size being the most popular supporting the 3rd’s rule. However I think it’s become increasingly obvious companies are missing out on one big consumer need, and it’s a need that is very easy to fill:

Custom Grids.

As a landscape photographer I shoot a lot using live view, and I use a lot of the information provided in live view to assist me to position my shot, such as the grid, exposure, level, filter position, focus etc. But some of the information is very limiting, particularly the grid. What  I may want to use is a custom grid, such as the popular Phi Grid (Golden Spirals) ?

Nikon, Canon, Sony, I’m talking to you, how hard would it be to allow users to upload their own overlays from the SD card? or for you to even provide a few more options inbuilt? I mean, seriously it’s not that hard, the only hard thing about a custom grid is possibly the orientation, but even that can be solved with 4 seperate grids that can be flipped and mirrored. Semi-Pro+ bodies allow you to reassign buttons to do this fairly easily.

I would love to have a button assigned to rotating a custom Phi or golden ratio ‘grid’. Nikon, make it happen (please). In all seriousness, DSLR producers really are behind the software curve when it comes to bells and whistles, and it wasn’t until Sony started to bring in new features that the others took note. How long did it take the Nikon and Canon to introduce features like HDR and time-lapse in camera? Why does magic lantern exist? I was completely frustrated with Canon years ago and their inability to innovate.

Sure you could argue that it’s not a priority or not inline with their goals, but some features really are an easy add-on, and this is one of them.

Aurora, Australis, Beams, Colours, Pirates Bay, Selfie

Dealing with Social Media & Lightroom.

It seems every year there is a new photo sharing social media site that photographers have to deal with. I have had my photos on Flickr for as long as I can remember, before it was purchased by Yahoo. During that time may photo sites have come and gone, but a few have persisted and in this short article I will discuss what I use and how I handle my workflow.

I like many use Lightroom (LR) for post editing and to catalogue my photos, so it makes the most sense to publish directly from LR if I can. Firstly there are a number of features built into LR that you should be using beyond the basic editing. Two important concepts that can save you a lot of time and effort are collections and metadata.

Bottlebrush, Red, Tasmania, TreeCollections are a way of sorting images based on criteria, either automatically through a smart collection, or a unique selection of images you desire. Smart collections allow you to automatically create a collection based on information or metadata about an image, such as a lens or body. A general collection is just a bunch of images you want to have grouped.

In any given year I shoot thousands of photos, some years tens of thousands. Of course I’m not going to publish them all so whenever I do publish an image I add it to a collection I created for that year, i.e. “2015 Publish Images”. This allows me to quickly go back and find images I have published from any given year. No one wants to go and search though thousands of images to find it. After you have created a collection all you need do is drag the image(s) into it (NOTE it does not move the image, it’s just a reference to the image).

Metadata is additional information recorded about an image, your camera records some metadata and adds it to the image by default, such as camera settings, location, date, time etc. LR allows you to build upon this and add additional metadata to make it easier for you in the future, for locating, sorting and publishing. Trust me a little time spent here will save you later on down the track….

Addition metadata you should add:

  • Check the defaults (Metadata menu->Edit Metadata Presets), i.e. copyright info and default keywords. You should be adding these all the time.
  • Always add additional metadata on EVERY import, if you add a few hundred shots from a shoot the least you can do is select them all and add a few additional keywords, such as the location, the model, the event etc.
  • For each shot that you are going to publish you should add additional keywords, Title and a Caption.

 

Once I have edited an image for publishing I add the additional metadata mentioned above, and then I place it into any useful collections, including a publishing collection for that year. From here I can publish to many locations. This is done my dragging the image into a publishing services, the same you do with collections. then publishing it with the publish button. Here are the publishing services I use:

LR has Facebook and Flickr built in, all you need to is configure them:

  • Facebook: This is pretty straight forward to setup / link to Facebook and all the export settings are pretty standard, the Title you added to the metadata will be used as the text when it posts to your account.
  • Flickr: Again this is pretty straight forward to setup. Title will again be used as the text, and if you have export all metadata enabled in the plug-in settings then the keywords should also carry across as well.

External Plugins, downloaded from 3rd parties and added to LR via the Plug-ins Manager.

  • Instagram: https://www.lrinstagram.com/, Pretty straight forward to setup and link to your Instagram account. In the plug-in settings change the Instagram Caption to be a custom template and add “{title} {caption} {#keywordTags}”. This will ensure that your title, caption and keywords (as hashtags) are used in the post.
  • WordPress: https://wordpress.org/plugins/wplr-sync/, This one is slightly more complex to setup as it requires a plugin in both WordPress and LR. In WP you can find the plug-in via the plugin search and install it, you need to make sure you change the permalinks as recommended. In LR download and add the plug-in and link to your WP blog. In the LR plug-in settings I use the ‘Alt. Text’ box to pass the keywords.
    NOTE: this plug-in does not create a new post in WP, it only added the image to your media, but it will have a title, caption and keywords, which are all a handy for a new post you are writing. Also If you update an image and LR you can re-published and the WP site will also update accordingly.

Some important stuff to keep in mind:

  • Get your metadata right at the start, this saves you additional work later on.
  • Start using collections to improve your workflow.
  • Get the export settings right for each publishing service, such as image size and watermarking. What is right for one service will not be right for another.

If you are publishing your images on other sites chances are they will have LR plug-in, heres some I found fairly easily:

  • GETTY: http://www.gettyimages.com.au/resources/plugins
  • iStockPhoto: http://www.berman-photo.com/lrplugins
  • ShutterStock: https://www.shutterstock.com/lp/adobe-photoshop-plugin-shutterstock

Happy Publishing 🙂

YES! Sigma 14mm f1.8, Full Frame, Yes. Really.

When I first heard that Sigma were making a 14mm f1.8 Art my initial reaction was one of resentment, why are sigma creating more crop sensor ART lenses?
What about us poor sods waiting in the full frame (FF) world?. It seemed to good to be true to be a FF lens. But there was still the hope deep down, that just maybe, Sigma has been able to do something magical and bend the laws of physics and light to pull off the first 14mm f1.8 lens. After all companies are innovating in this space all the time right?, look at Canon with their fancy 11mm lens.

Then a few weeks ago the chatter started across various tog sites, rumours so wonderful they seemed to good to be true. The new 14mm was indeed going to be FF. At this point I like many others were hanging out on the edge of their seat, waiting for an official press release. Had Sigma done the impossible? Well it appeared they had when the offical word was given from Sigma. Since then specifications have been released, as well as sample pictures.

However, the story is not over. Possibly the most important piece of information is missing. How much is it going to cost? Surely bending the laws of physics and light comes at a cost? Now we wait, stuck in a holding pattern until Sigma release offical pricing. Oh course it does not stop people of speculating, so far I’ve seen people quote the lens as cheap as $800, and as much as $3000. Oh course I know a few people who are familiar with Sigma pricing, and they believe it should be around the $1500 mark (AUD).

So my name is number one of the order list (well at least here in my local town), and you can be assured that I will be testing it as soon as humanly possible. So until then, let us all keep calm and make sure your name is on a list somewhere, or you can wait for my review 🙂

The Flagship, Canon 1DX Mark II, No. 50!

The Canon 1DX Mark II results are now in the Sensor DB, and it’s our 50th camera to be added. WOW 50. It’s taken a few years, but the list is now becoming quite substantial, giving the community some good insight into the level and treatment of noise.

The results are good and there is a significant improvement at 5 mins compared with the 1Dx, which, I think is reflective of the new ISO range, allowing up to 409600 ISO. There has obviously been a sensor change from 17.9MP in the old model compared to 20.2MP in the new model, with the original 1DX slightly better with noise at 1 and 30 seconds. However the 1DXm2 gives very respectable results, and the difference could easily be attributed to the additional megapixels.

Of course the 1D series of cameras is not intended for astrophotography, and it would be hardly the camera to recommend for that task. But it’s nice to see it’s a solid performer none the less.

Again, a big thank you to Walch Optics for providing access to many of the models we test.

More Models Tested: Canon 1300D, 760D & 80D. + Olympus PEN-F

We have added 4 more models to the Sensor DB today. Including the Canon 80D and Olympus PEN-F.

Some interesting results, and worth a look if you are considering one of these models for long exposure low light work.

Pushing to +5EV, Pentax K1 & PetaPixel

I have been working hard on the Sensor DB, add new features and models. As part of the process of adding newer and better models I have re-processed all of the samples to +2.5EV and +5EV. This allows the noise to be more visible in the samples for comparison. It was getting tougher to determine visually how samples were comparing. With this problem in mind I also added some statistical data to show the RGB noise characteristics and the mean, median and standard deviation are now shown.

New models added include bodies from Fuji, Nikon, Sony, and Pentax, including the new K1, along with the Fuji XPro2. I’m also hoping to add new search features soon to allow searching by sensor size. This will make it easer to compare common models.

I’d also like to thank Michael Zhang at PetaPixel for the great review of the Sensor Database on their site. Thanks for the write up, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, and it certainly seems to have caused a lively debate.

 

Gotcha, Buying Secondhand.

I run a local buy/sell page for photography equipment here in Hobart on FaceBook, and I’m also a member of many other similar pages across Australia. Photography equipment can be expensive. So I’m as keen as the next photographer to grab a bargain.

But what is a good price?

Price is very subjective and what people are willing to pay can depend on many factors such as urgency, availability, age and condition.  So I thought I’d give a few points to consider when buying your next body. Since the specifications, age, availability and the like are all subjective I will focus mainly on condition.

Even if a body has issues, it’s not necessarily a reason to pass, but it could help you to determine if the price is right. If you are buying on the internet some of these checks many be impractical to do, but never the less, here is my check list:

  • Condition (External):
    • How does it look externally? To be honest most photographers will baby their equipment, so this is not a good factor to look at. Dust and dirt can be easily removed, but it is worth looking in the hard to get spots to get an idea on how well it has been looked after.
    • Check for obvious dings and the like, even if it still working external marks could indicate internal damage.
    • How worn do the buttons appear? Are there any wear marks, text worn off or shiny buttons?, Glue? Do they all work?
    • Does anything feel worn? (Lens mount, thumb sticks, selection wheels etc)
    • How worn does the tripod mount look, marks around the mount point?
    • How worn are the anchor points and strap?
    • Are there any screws missing? Do they appear to be tight, check lens mount particularly.
    • Are there any parts missing? (Battery cover clip, rubber weather seal boots, view finder surrounds, viewfinder cover for long exposure etc).
    • Check articulated displays have full movement, and display has no issues while moving.
    • Is there any damage to LCD screens caused by excessive sunlight / heat.
  • Condition (Internal):
    • Is the inside of the mirror housing clean?
    • Is there any dust in the viewfinder?
    • Is the sensor clean?
    • Is the battery compartment clean?
    • How worn is the USB port and jacks? Do they work?
    • Are the card slots clean, do the cards click in and out as they should?
    • Is there any corrosion or residue to indicate it’s been used around salt water a lot?
    • What is the shutter count?
  • Problems & Testing:
    • Does this body have any recalls? have they or can they be fixed? cost?
      • Classic examples here include 5D mirror falling off, 5D light leaks, D750 AF light banding issues / shutter issues, D800/D600 oil spots on sensor etc.
    • Are there known issues with this model? Google, know the body, not just the specs on paper, Test for them….
      • Classic examples not covered under recall, D800 asymmetric AF issues, 7D bent CF pins etc.

After you are happy the body and it’s condition, obviously you should test it further if you can, run it through it’s paces, and preferably review the shots before buying.

Happy hunting 🙂

Nikon D500, good for Astrophotography?

Recently I tested the Nikon D500 sensor for long exposure noise, and to be honest it performed a little worse than I expected initially, but the more I thought about it the more realistic I became about my expectations. After all it was the D500, the new D300(s).

There is no doubt that the D500 is going to do great in the reviews, you only have to look at the specs on paper and combine that with the unchanged layout to entice existing D300 owners, and you are on a winner. With 10 frames per second shooting and 153 Auto Focus points it’s going to be a sports or wedding shooters dream.

But what about the long exposure high ISO?

The D500 performed slightly better at 1 second than it’s closest rival the D7200, but performed worse at 30 and 300 seconds. But the more I thought about this, the more it made sense, after all not many general users push cameras beyond 30 seconds, and most will never be taking shots at even 1 second. For sports or wedding use it’s going to be well above 1 second. In some respects I can understand why manufacturers care little about long exposure and high ISO, it really is the 0.05% use case. For all other uses this camera is going to beat the D7200, and possibly any in it’s class*

However it is worth remembering that manufacturing tolerances do occur from body to body, and with this in mind I will be re-testing the D500 as soon as I can get another body just to confirm the outcome.

The results, can be viewed here.

*I have no idea, just speculation.

What Lens for Astrophotography & Aurora?

It seems I can’t go a day without seeing this question at least asked once on a Facebook page or in a forum, so I thought I’d create the go to ‘list’ for lenses that are best suited for shooting the night sky and Aurora’s.

Of course there are many factors to consider when purchasing a lens so I have limited the list below to common lenses used and proven in the field. I have structured the list based on the angle of view and the type of body it will be used on either a full frame or crop. I am only focusing on Canon and Nikon, however brand like Samyang are universal, and can be purchased with mounts for Sony and others.

If you are looking for a lens for your camera this list would be a good starting point.

Lenses with a ‘B’ have a bulbous front element and standard 4×6 filters will not fit.

 Full Frame BodyCrop Body
Ultra WideSamyang 14mm f2.8 B
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 B
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 B
Canon 16-35mm II f2.8
Canon 14mm f2.8 B
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 B
Nikon 16-35mm f4.0
Sigma 15mm f2.8 (fisheye)
Zeiss 15mm f2.8
Samyang 8mm f2.8 B
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8
WideSamyang 24mm f1.4
Canon 24mm f1.4
Samyang 14mm f2.8 B
Samyang 16mm f2.0
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 B
Sigma 18-35mm f1.8
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 B
Canon 16-35mm II f2.8
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 B
Nikon 16-35mm f4.0
StandardSigma 35mm f1.4
Samyang 35mm f1.4
Samyang 50mm f1.4
Canon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Nikon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Samyang 24mm f1.4
Sigma 35mm f1.4
Samyang 35mm f1.4
Telephoto*Samyang 85mm f1.4Samyang 50mm f1.4
Canon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Nikon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Samyang 85mm f1.4

*Normally deeper space work or stitching involved requiring motorised mounts.

I can’t say it enough, foreground!

The other night I was out shooting an Aurora with a friend of mine, and we were discussing what can make or break a shot. What is it about some scenes that make a photograph popular?

To be honest the Aurora Australis is not all that hard to shoot, you join a Facebook page, find out when the actions happening and the weather is clear, then go out and setup your camera pointing south with the settings everyone is willing to freely give you. The result? Well we have all seen them, the countless shots from decks and backyards.

BPD_1844So, what am I waffling on about? Imagination, creativity, beauty and effort. Yes, effort. A good shot does not happen when you drive into a carpark and proceed to setup your camera next to your car. A good shot takes research, framing and most importantly good subject matter. A good Aurora is not good enough by itself (yes there are exceptions to the rule), a good shot draws you in on many layers, first it may be the Aurora, but then your eyes start to wander as you look at the other subject matter and composition.

It’s very important to make sure your shot is level, and you use the proven framing techniques, and that the rest of the shot enhances the main subject matter, in the case of an Aurora maybe it’s reflections on water, interesting foreground subject matter or some lovely rolling hills. Also, try to avoid to much subject matter drawing your else away from the central theme, or bad subject matter.

Anyone can shoot a car, anyone can even shoot a nice expensive and exotic car, but it’s never going to look nice unless you place the car in surroundings that enhance the featBPD_1843ures of the car, and of course, shot in a way that enhances the cars features.

In the days before digital cameras you knew you only had one, maybe two rolls of film for a shoot, consequently much more time was spent on planning and setting up shots. Today there seems to be this idea that quantity is going to make up for quality. Sometimes I may only shoot 6 pictures, and at most I generally never go over 50.

The best shots are always the ones that have been researched, pondered upon, then with the subject matter framed correctly.

Could you go out and ONLY take 24 different shots?

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