Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One Of The Dishes On The Buffet - Tokina

When we get a big-name camera we sometimes get a big name complex...and we cannot see beyond that name.

Members of camera clubs throughout the state are familiar with this as discussions of Nikon versus Canon versus Sony versus Flapoflex start up during the coffee breaks. The opinions expressed range from youthful enthusiasm to senile folly but fortunately there are few fist fights over the subject. Fair amount of snarling, but...

It can be the same with the lenses for the cameras. The big-name enthusiasts argue with each other and in the process sometimes fail to remember that there are other players in the game - and some of them are stars. Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina come to mind...and we're going to consider the latter brand.

I can make a personal judgment of this brand of lenses - I own one. It was purchased when I ran Nikon cameras and I was so taken with what it does that I retained it when I switched systems. It is the constant workhorse of the Little Studio and for good reason; it has a focal length and focus range that is unavailable in other brands , and it is very well made. For interest - you are looking at the illustrations on this column through it - the Tokina 35mm f:2.8 Macro.

But back to the lens in the heading image. Tokina AT-X 70-200mm f:4 PRO FX VCM-S. That's the usual advertising alphabet soup to tell you that it has a big enough image circle to work on all Nikon cameras, an image stabilising mechanism inside, and no aperture ring. You'll see that readily from the upright image, but what will not be evident until you handle the lens will be the weight of it and the solidity of the barrel. The secret lies in the fact that Tokina use metal barrels for their lenses.

The operation of the focus and zoom ring are as smooth as you could ever want. The focusing is internal so there is no pumping of the front element.

In every respect this is a first-class medium zoom lens that deserves your consideration along with the others in the class. The price is likely to be very attractive. I know the 35mm Macro was certainly so.

One other note: Made in Japan.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

An Obscure Product From Ilford


There are times when you just have to let yourself go. You have to go out and go mad. Office Christmas parties and federal elections come to mind, though the snacks are better at the latter than the former...

In the case of photography, we all need a dose of fun now and again, and I have decided to take my enjoyments wit a new product from Ilford - the Obscura camera kit.

The box you see with the inspirational if slightly twee slogans on the outside contains a bargain - a fully functional 4 x 5 pinhole camera, 30 sheets of recording media, and exposure calculater* and a book of instructions. The whole thing is $ 50 from the new Camera Electronic Murray Street shop, and they have plenty in stock. Note: I did not get this as a free sample - I paid out my own money for it...

Well, the camera is well made. It is essentially two boxes that slide in upon each other and are kept closed by small magnets - you'll see them as the bright round dots in the illustrations. The box that forms the inner case locks the recording sheet into registration and gives the negative a border. The boxes seem to be formed MDF board.

The pinhole is laser-cut and very precise - about f: 248...an optimal size for the 4" x 5" negative. The shutter is s simple rotary flap that is held closed or shut with those shiny magnets. There is a tripod socket in the bottom of the thing.

There is a sheet of decorative stickers with one valuable inclusion - a sight-line sticker that you put on the top surface of the box to give a rough idea what they camera will see.

The media included is 10 sheets of  4 x 5 Ilford Delta 100 film and 20 sheets of Ilford Multigrade IV paper also cut to 4 x 5. There is an empty 3-tray box to help with storage of exposed films later. There is also a sheet containing printed dials that you can assemble into an exposure calculater* and Ilford have been thoughtful enough to include a plastic pop rivet for the dial.

The only other things that I need to complete the outfit are:

1. A tripod. The trusty Cullmann 622 will do fine.

2. An exposure meter. The dear old Gossen Lunasix 3 will be hauled out.

3. A change bag. Dang - I gave mine away a year ago. Hate to spend money on another. I'll make one from an IKEA cardboard box and a couple of black wool socks...

4. A darkroom. I live in a darkroom, so no problem.

5. A plastic developing tray. Got one.

6. A graduated measuring cylinder and thermometer. Got 'em.

7.  Bottles of film developer, paper developer, and rapid fixer. All my old stuff has long since been tossed so I got three fresh bottles.

8. A copy of " Pinhole Photography" by Eric Renner. My copy is sitting on the desk as I type. Younger readers may opt for looking up the subject on the internet, but Renner is the bible for the subject. His exposure tables are invaluable.

Now more on how this is all to be used in a future weblog column. I shall fast forward to slowing down completely.

* That is not bad spelling or a mis-print. Plan and calculate all you like, but all pinhole photography requires more light. Just set the shutter open and come back later...

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Olympus Week - Addendum To Stacking

I was wrong when I thought that I could not use the focus stacking facility in the new Olympus camera I played with - you can indeed stack close-up images in Photoshop Elements 14 - but not automatically, and not neatly.

The process involves using the panorama maker to throw up 3 to 5 separate images - the ones taken in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mk II as a focus bracket sequence do very well. You then click the mask section of the layers and use a white brush to reveal the sharp section of each layer. It reveals the best of each and then the whole can be melded together at the end of the process. The full Photoshop program does this automatically, but the Photoshop Elements compels you to do the masking.

There is also a Photomergeâ„¢ guided edit in PSE 14 that incorporates different versions of a group shot into an improved one. It also will do the trick, and does not require you to paint anything out.

This means that you need not use a PRO lens in the Olympus range to get your initial folder of images - any lens is usable. I did have a 17mm Zuiko in the loaner outfit this last weekend but it had been over-scrubbed in the centre of the front element and was a little inclined to fuzz out. Fear not - the fresh 17mm lenses are a treat to use.

The pamphlet accompanying the loaner - an interim production as they are going to make a much more detailed one - listed a number of features that I did not exercise - the 4K recording for video and the 121 AF points in the viewfinder. The 25,600 ISO sensitivity would have been far outstripped by the studio lighting. I have no idea what to use a 1/32,000 second shutter speed on, though the idea of filming my tax refund before it is spent would be one thought. You have to be fast...

I do think the ideal lens choice for most people with this new camera would be the equally new M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100 f:4 PRO lens. You could use all the features on the camera and really never change it for all your shooting.

Notes about studio use - getting older is the pits when you have to climb ladders and sink on your knees to the floor to frame picture shots. You pay for it next day big time. Young readers may laugh now but we seniors know that revenge is coming...One feature of many modern cameras that reduces this trauma is the folding LCD viewfinder. You can tilt or swivel it out to let you see the framing of the shot without having to stoop or peer. But some movable screens only tilt out flat.

This is fine as a substitute for the old waist-level finder, but does not help the shooter when they revolve the camera into vertical orientation. And remember that portrait framing is what most magazine illustrations run to.

The screen of the Olympus can be out sideways and flat and you essentially have a vertical waist level finder. Very civilised of them. I should add a dedicated L-Bracket ( Really Right, Kirk, or Nanking Knockoff...) plus the appropriate Arca-Swiss mounting block  for smooth operation.

The 25mm f1.2 is no slouch at illustration when you just run it flat at f:16. There is a circuit in the camera that reduces the native 200 ISO sensitivity to cope with over-bright lights and it does not seem to harm the dynamic range of the rig one bit.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stacking It In the Studio - And not at the Motorcycle Races

I mentioned earlier in the week the unending quest for depth of field with studio tabletop illustration. In most cases of products or packs, we can shoot from such a distance that we avoid running out of depth of field. We select medium focal length lenses and stop down enough to get the thing sharp from the front of the product to the back.

 I do not know if anyone uses the facilities of the older monorail large format cameras to gain this sharpness - perhaps they would if there were an affordable digital sensor that you could slot into the back of the camera. But there isn't - no great new discovery of a 4 x 5 digital back has appeared.
The pack shots take care of themselves - people also have the option for tilting and shifting if they use the larger full-frame cameras. For an amazing amount of money they can get tilt and shift lenses for their DSLR. Few give way to the need for amazement and many save their money...

Well today I tried the Olympus solution to this problem - the focus stacking program inside the new OM-D E-M1 mk II camera. Thanks to YouTube I found out the difference between focus bracketing and focus stacking and watched the camera do both things.

 Focus bracketing is the automatic process of shooting slices of an image with different focus points and then having them ready to present to a suitable external processor - Zerene or Helicon or Photoshop - for combination. You get to specify how many slices and how deep they are, and once you press the go button the thing is automatic. You can apparently use it to fire flashes as it works, though I did not achieve this. In any case you can watch the back LCD screen as it shoots and see the focus travel back from the start point.

Focus stacking is similar, but you don't get to choose how many slices - just the depth.  Compensation is provided by the fact that this Olympus program does the processing in-camera after the final shot and presents you with a final result.

Here's an illustration of the basic problems - this Soviet motor bus is 1:43 scale, and ends up being about the length of your hand. A conventional shot with a macro lens leaves soft edges at the front and back bumper.

You don't have this sort of problem with a shorter model such as this taxi.

I was unable to get the 25mm f:1.2 lens to work with the focus stacking, but the 300mm f:4 lens did go very well. It meant retreating to the back of the studio to get the thing in frame...not a practical way to shoot... but look how well it stacked in front and back.

Perspective is different as it is a tele lens. But the fact that it has a much shallower intrinsic depth of field due to the focal length - but still renders the thing sharp - means that with one of the smaller Pro zoom lenses you could get even better backdrop. The smaller sensor size, allowing a shorter focal length for the same angle of view, scores here. The Focus stacking is the sweet icing on the cake.

Can it pass the Pontiac Test? The 60's Pontiacs were some of the longest American cars available to the general public and the 1:18th scale models of them are nearly impossible to adequately illustrate with a standard lens - they run out of focus front and back. But look what happens with the 300mm Zuiko and the focus stacking....

I see a few shiny blob artifacts where the lights bounce off the chrome but the overall rendition is sharp. You see the same compression of perspective in the heading image round the studio Muzz Buzz bar.

The process of the stack is very fast, but you need to have the camera on a tripod, as well as constant lighting. I selected Incandescent WB for the strobe modelling lights and it all worked well.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Wind's Under Your Wings With Olympus

A sunny morning, Jandakot Aerodrome, and the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II camera. And the 300mm f:4 IS PRO lens buckled on...it's my own local air show for free.

All I have to do is brave the traffic on Karel Avenue ( and I get the easy part of it - the poor people who have to join the roundabouts from the side can be waiting for ages... ) and the grassy space in front of the Aviator's Cafe is open to all.

Light planes are an amazing variety of shapes, but unfortunately they can have a sameness about their colour schemes - white is used for most of them with a little trim. You can see them against the sky to some extent, but I find myself wanting a different hue. Fortunately this last Saturday saw several aerobatic aircraft working the runways.

The Olympus camera features stabilisation in a variety of planes ( not a pun ) to a degree that other manufacturers do not match. You can roll, tilt, yaw, and displace the camera and lens to a remarkable degree while the IS systems  - in the camera and in the lenses  - iron it out. The Olympus Pro lenses talk electronically to the computer in the camera to figure out which system does which correction.

Experiment one was to set the camera to give a continuous autofocus and to shoot with it doing a low rate of shots. I took a couple of passes at the taxi strip but found that it was just wasting frames with no real movement between the aircraft. So I took it off the continuous and selected single AF shooting.

This proved just as good, as the Olympus responds extremely quickly to the first pressure on the shutter button. When you hit it, the IS starts up instantly and the bounce or jitter of the viewfinder smooths out like a calm sea. It is much easier to find and follow the subject with the IS on. There was no perceptible lag as I pressed the button for the final exposure - I was able to freeze the selected airplane as it passed through the belts of colour in the backdrop.

Shutter speed was left at 1/1000 or 1/2000 for most in-air shots. The stopping power is awesome, though viewers will note the heat shimmer on the tarmac spoiling some shots - it was the same on the car race day out at Barbagallo Raceway. For the close liftoffs or passes the detail in the shot is phenomenal.

Two tricks with this lens: Select the 4 metre to infinity limiter on the side of the lens barrel - saves the lens hunting and losing time. Any aircraft closer than 4 metres will be engaging your attention in ways other than focus. Also unlock and rotate the tripod foot up over the top of the lens as you hand-hold it. It is a weighty combination - you do not want that metal bracket digging into your palm for hours as you stand waiting for the takeoff.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Don't Be Shortsighted -Try A MIOPS Pic...

I have waited a decade for a straight line like that...you may also have been waiting a similar length of time for an easy way to make special effect shots with your digital camera. Well, the time has come - the MIOPS is here.

Over the last few years there has been increased interest in doing spectacular shots - capture of lightning as it strikes - lightbulbs and balloons shattering - time lapse sequences  - sound and motion activated photography - etc. Some of these images have always been possible - even in the film era -  but the amount of equipment and specialised knowledge to arrange them has been staggering.

As an example, most photographers have seen Dr. Harold Edgerton's stoboscopic pictures and experiments with flash in history books. Or they have seen Muybridge's studies of animal motion. The results are pedestrian now but were revolutionary at the time, and the amount of grear and mechanical setup that was needed to get them was far beyond what you could carry or afford.

Lightning shots have been done for over 100 years, but not reliably and not easily. You generally had to stand out in an open field while Ben Franklin got his kite in the air...Climbing to the top of the church steeple with a metal umbrella in the middle of a thunderstorm was also a possibility but generally it was the sort of thing you only did once...

And chasing pictures of elusive wild animals in the woods? Baits and blinds and trip wires and telephoto lenses and crawling around in a ghillie suit to change the glass plates...The only simple way to get wild animal shots was to sit in a tree during bear season and make a noise like a bucket of blueberries.

Okay. Now it is the 21st century and you have a digital camera with an electronic trigger port. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, Fujifilm....whatever. If it has a socket for a cable release you are in business. You also need a mobile phone - iOS or Android - and a teenager* to show you how to get an app to work on it.

You also need the MIOPS controller. This little box contains the ability to do sound and light triggered exposures  ( There's your lightning and pistol shots taken care of. ) and it will sit there and do the multiple shots over a very long period of time that the time-lapse photography requires. You don't need to sit there and fire the camera every 5 seconds or so - you can go about your business while it does the monotonous task.

You can get it to respond to laser beams of light or to the sudden interuption of a light beam - here's your chance to leave it in the woods for those wildlife shots without sitting up the tree. You can set up a light trigger beam to capture images of intruders. You're only limited by your imagination and several inconvenient statutes...

The MIOPS is powered by a good - sized lithium rechargable battery so that it can be on duty and responding for a long time. It is equipped with a shoe mount as well as a 1/4" tripod screw socket so you can securely couple it to the camera. There are dedicated connection cords for a number of popular camera makes - the one you see in the illustration is for Canon. Bless them, they have made the cord as well as the controls and port covers in bright orange so that you can see them when you are out the back of Doodlakine at midnight on a astro-shoot and it is as black as the inside of a cat. Would that ALL manufacturers of cords, wires, and connectors for studio use followed the same lead.

As far as controlling the controller, that is where your mobile phone comes in. The days of complex codes and strange computer words are gone - Bluetooth couples the MIOPS to your phone and as soon as the teenager gets the app into the phone, you can use it.

Expensive? No. About 60% of what this sort of thing used to cost and about 600% easier to use. And in-store right now - no need to try to find something on the internet. Save your internet time for reading this column...

* Or you could get the Camera Electronic staff to show you how to do it. They are like teenagers but without the sarcasm and eye-rolling.

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Pixel-Shifting At The Coffee Stand - Olympus In The Studio

Ever since the Olympus company announced that their new cameras could make images with more pixels in them than were on the sensor, I have been longing to try it out. The literature made it sound like they were lifting themselves up by their electronic bootstraps...

The trick needs a studio with constant lighting...which I can organise. It needs a camera on a sturdy tripod...my Gitzo Studex 5 certainly qualifies. It needs subjects that do not move at all...and my collection of miniature cars is ideal for this.

The function revolves around the fact that the Olympus engineers have made the image stabilisation mechanism on the sensor for the new OM-D E-M1 mkII move sideways and up and down by extremely small amounts - pixels - and with great precision.

This allows the camera to present a slightly different portion of the Bayer array to the incoming light over a series of exposures. Multiple images are put into the buffer with slightly different colours for each shot, plus a shot taken to allow the camera's computer to subtract electronic noise. Then they are recombined into one image that contains far more information than could be packed into it with one shot.

The multiple shots are not spaced out much in time. When I pressed the button down on the camera it was done in about a quarter of a second - the electronic shutter inside doing the 5 shots in that time. The lighting was simple tungsten modelling lamps from the Elinchrom studio lights and the camera was left to decide an effective white balance. After the shot went off it needed a couple of seconds to do the computer work inside.

Does it work? Yes it does. Here are two shots of the dashboard on a small Maisto model of a 1961 Volkswagen ( Yes children, dashboards were really that simple...no LCD screens and MP4 players... )  Shot A is the multiple detail shot while shot B is a standard exposure at 1/160 second.

One thing I did notice, though... when I shifted to the detail mode the manual aperture selection for the 25mm f:1.2 lens would not close down past f:8. Normally it can go to f:16, and this is desirable for the extra depth of field it gives. I suspect that it is deliberately limited to prevent diffraction effects through the lens masking the gains produced by the shifting mechanism.

This would make for a real balancing decision when doing close-up shots - they always need more depth of field. Fortunately Olympus also have another technical triumph in their camera to deal with that. Where the current pixel-shifting would be most use would be with setups at a moderate distance. or perhaps even with flat art copying of extreme detail.

Note: the only chance you are going to get to use this feature will be when you are using Pro-grade glass on the front.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

New Camera Week - Olympus

One of the splendid perks of being a weblog writer is that you get the chance to try out new photographic equipment in your own time. It is altogether a different experience from that of reading Internet advertising or just hefting the gear in the retail shop. As a writer, however, you have to have something to say when you start typing - and the only way you can say it with authority is if you are going to do something with the gear that you know how to do.

This last weekend I got to test-drive the new Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII camera with a variety of lenses - and the Olympus company were kind enough to match the optics to the tasks I normally do. It gave me a chance to exercise the camera in the studio and out covering a long distance subject. Every equipment test is, inevitably, a comparison with other systems  - so it is as well to subject the test gear to the same experiences as the normal rig.

As the Olympus representative pointed out, however, and as I have certainly discovered, there can be a world of difference in the ways the manufacturers ask you what you want to do ( menu communication ) and accept your instructions ( control operation ). We have to second guess how the engineers wish to refer to a function. If we're lucky we know what we want to do, but the question of how may arise.

The OM-D E-M1 MkII is new on the scene and there are good stocks available - it is a camera - not a phantom. You can march in, pay up, and march out with one. While you are at it march out with a pro lens.

When you do, you'll note that the original premise of the mirror-less cameras - small, light, simplified - has been somewhat set aside. This thing is solid and weighty. So are the optics, particularly  the pro-glass models of the Zuiko lenses. The ergonomics are good as the hand grip is deep enough to provide good finger clearance and the placement of the finger and thumb wheel as well as the shutter release are perfect. The on/off switch is somewhat disconcerting until you remember that Olympus used to put the thing on the left top plate under the rewind crank. No crank these days, but the switch is over there.

As with many Olympus offerings, there are multiple function buttons scattered over the control panels, and there are multiple ways to actuate the controls. Bless them, they have included two of these buttons right where we most espect them - under the fingers at the right-hand side of the lens mount. You can progam one of them as a depth of field preview like we did in the old film days.

 I switched off the touch-screen apparatus as I find it disconcerting - others love this facility. In my case I accessed the most-needed controls by pressing the menu and getting what is essentially an extended " Q " display on the LCD screen. Had I not had some coaching from Burke, the Olympus representative, I don't think I would have found half of the controls.

This week's experiments were conducted entirely in the JPEG mode - my processing programs will not decode RAW files on something as new as this camera. No matter -  the programs I wanted to try all responded in this mode and with a bit of enlargement I was able to do clear comparisons on the computer. But one thing I would like to mention at the start is the facility that Olympus put in this camera ( and in their Pen F ) for in-camera processing of images. This will give the sort of results that you might produce in an editing program on your main computer. Were you out on the road without access to a computer, you could still edit quite a lot with the camera as you shoot.

Note that the camera came from Burke with a 70% charge and shot all afternoon in the studio - with a number of electricity - hungry programs and screens in use all the time - and still had 22% left at quitting time. I found out why when I brought it home and opened it up the do the charging.

The battery is huge! I've seen smaller trays of lasagna...There should be enough capacity there for any reasonable shoot. As a way of measuring the size, that's a plastic dinosaur - and the battery is bigger. It holds 1720 mAh.

So tomorrow we start in the studio...

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Friday, February 17, 2017

A Bunch Of The Boys Was Whoopin' It Up...*

And they were ably assisted by a bunch of the girls - last night was a special launch party for the Murray Street shop of Camera Electronic - and it featured a surprising number of the movers and shakers of Perth photographic retailing. Not that there was all much room to move or shake - people pretty well filled the floor. Still space for selfies.

This sort of party report could easily dissolve into nothing but a series of shots of old employees and leave the average retail reader absolutely cold...except for a couple of interesting facts:

1. The people there included the cream of the Western Australian wholesale agents and reps...which means that the new premises will be well supplied with the best of new equipment. I didn't hear much business being talked amongst them but they all made their number to the Admirals so you can be certain that the new shop will not languish.

2. The old employees were there wishing the new premises well. Because they recognised the immense effort that had been put into the venture and the high level of finish that it exhibits.

There were speeches - industry figures that have dealt with the company since the earliest days in Angove Street as well as the principle commander on the floor right now - Domenic Papalia. There were speeches by Saul and Howard, and to their credit they were good ones.

And  I took away a few realisations too...

You couldn't get that many people to meet, greet, schmooze, booze, and lose their inhibitions in any other retail photographic store in this town. Camera Electronic has a unique style and position as an icon in the industry. It's a real place full of real people. Noisy real people.

CE's also got some powerful friends - the AIPP for one - and the other professional bodies, as well as their trade contacts. They got those friends by being able to do what people needed - sales, repairs, advice, etc.

The humourous phrase that came out in one speech -  " Ron had everything " - might sound funny when you remember the past but it was a foundation for a mindset on the part of the photographic public that drew them back and back to the shop. The fact that the staff also knew a bit of everything was also valuable - someone could always be found in the place with a cogent answer to a problem.

In some cases the answer was " Here, use this. " and in others " We can get it/repair it/make it, etc. ".
When Ron served a customer it was likely to be " You need one of these and one of these and..." And in my case I usually did.

Last night was a night of good humour amongst the guests. People who visit Murray Street today ( after they put the showcases back in place and scrub the suspicious stains off the new vinyl floor...) can be equally happy - the place is up and running well.


* At the Malamute Saloon. From the Land Of the Mounties. See - there's one now...

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