Monday, June 13, 2011

The revival of the Nikkor 35mm f/2D AF

There is a renaissance of 35mm focal length lenses ever since the DX format DSLRs came into existence. I love my Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX lens so much so that when I parted with it, I realized I have to get one with the same focal length, hence, I got this lens – Nikkor 35mm f/2D AF for my new Nikon D7000 DSLR with an APS-C format sensor. Initially, I thought this is a better lens compared to the 35mm DX simply because it is more expensive and has a full frame coverage. Based on my recent takes, I’m quite dissatisfied with the results for being slower in focusing compared to the DX version which I presume to be faster because it focuses silently. Aside from generating a louder noise when focusing, it has a tendency to witch-hunt when shooting in dimly lit environment. Had it not for the high ISO capability of the D7000, this lens would be less useful compared to its newer DX version. The f/2 aperture pales in comparison to the image quality of photos taken in f/1.8 wider opening setting of the DX version.
The lens, although made in Japan, is not supplied with a plastic lens hood unlike the Thailand-made DX version. It may have a better build quality than the predominantly plastic DX version which is lighter and scanty. The bokeh is less exciting, dull and crunchy unlike the DX version, though not that pleasing, was nevertheless much smoother. The bokeh circles are bigger though and this is attributable to the wider diameter of its lens opening compared to the DX version but they share the same deficiency in the background highlights which are not circularly shaped at wider openings.
Having tried this lens on available light and flash photography, I would say that it is more useful at f/4 and up and this is where it shines or may even exceed the DX version in image quality. The best uses of this lens would be travel, environmental photography or general purpose photography. This may be a good portrait lens but judging from its earlier results coming from a better camera like the D7000, I would rather prefer a wider focal length, say the 28mm or the 24mm as my next lens.
This lens was not a hit when it came into production for use on a 35mm film plane but with the advent of smaller APS-C sensors, it suddenly got a new lease of life. Whatever deficiencies it may have on a FX sensor, the smaller plane of a DX sensor would not expose such downfalls like light fall off on the edges and softness on the corners. Designed as an FX lens, it benefits from the sweet spot advantage on the APS-C size sensor of D7000. I’m not expecting much from this average lens and this would surely end up at my favorite ad section for sale again in the very near future. Next to the Nikkor 20mm, the 24mm focal length on a DX body might suit my compositional style of taking full body shots more than half body or head shots.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

from DSLR to pocketable camera

DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex or a Digital SLR camera that uses a mechanical mirror system and pentaprism to direct light from the lens to an optical viewfinder on the back of the camera. The basic operation of a DSLR is as follows: for viewing purposes, the mirror reflects the light coming through the attached lens upwards at a 90 degree angle. It is then reflected three times by the roof pentaprism, rectifying it for the photographer's eye. During exposure, the mirror assembly swings upward, the aperture narrows and a shutter opens, allowing the lens to project light onto the image sensor. A second shutter then covers the sensor, ending the exposure, and the mirror lowers while the shutter resets. The period that the mirror is flipped up is referred to as "viewfinder blackout". A fast-acting mirror and shutter is preferred so as to not delay an action photo. Source:Wikipedia
Since DSLR allows the use of interchangeable lenses, it is rather bulky and heavy and requires extra caution in carriage and handling. Lately as an enthusiast, I find the need to carry with me on a daily basis a pocketable camera which I can take out easily when shooting opportunities present itself. Thus, I found myself owning a Canon PowerShot S90. This little point and shoot camera was dubbed by Ken Rockwell as The World's Best Pocket Camera.

I like Nikons and I'm a staunch critic of Canons when it comes to DSLRs but when speaking of compact cameras, Nikon models suck and Canon has the better line up. Sometimes, sticking it out with your favorite brand would limit your photographic options and knowledge on what the other brands have to offer. These are the reasons why I tried other brand/model like the Ricoh GRD3 and this current gem among the smaller-sized sensor compacts, the Canon S90. Like the GRD3, the S90 sports a similar 1/1.7 inch high-sensitivity CCD sensor and designed to compete with the popular Panasonic Lumix LX3.

Considering the smaller size sensor inside compact cameras compared to APS-C or full frame cameras, image quality will of course suffer aside from the obvious lack of other features found only on more expensive DSLR models. But if you only post your pictures on the net and printing large copies of the images you took is not one of your preferences, then compact cameras should do the trick.

Friday, April 16, 2010

vibrant colors

It's not an everyday affair when you go out in the open and able to shoot your subject and get rich and vibrant colors. I'm referring to subjects other than persons. Foremost consideration is, of course, your camera settings. For Nikonians like me, we have options to pick our Picture Controls and D2X Mode III is particularly effective in projecting rich and vibrant colors for your pictures.

The best time to shoot in the open is when the sun is hiding behind the clouds so that direct sunlight is filtered out thereby eliminating glare and too much highlights. In this kind of shooting condition, it is also best to choose a small aperture so that every thing, from the foreground to the background, are in detail. Besides, picking wide apertures is very limiting because of the bright light unless you fit in a Neutral Density filter to block some degree of brightness.

Even with portraiture, shooting under these conditions could give your photos the magical effect of an enormous diffused light from the skies above. What is good about overcast skies is that the sun is not so dominating and the shadows not at all prominent. These shadows, if there are any, should even give more depth and definition to an image. The selection of all the images featured here were all taken in RAW format, hence, I have to use my Capture NX software in converting it to JPEG images. I wish to further share a technique which I found to be useful in giving punch to your captured images. To get rich and vibrant colors like the sample images, tweak the focus slider in the NX a little bit more to give it a sharper look and add some green punch by tweaking the RGB sliders according to your taste.

Inasmuch as you've gone the extra mile of taking RAW shots, you might as well tweak them a little more by calibrating the colors of your image. And this is easily said and done if you're quite familiar with the features of the Capture NX software provided by your friendly Nikon maker. How to get the green punch is like increasing the saturation of the Green color and darkening the shadows at bit more and reducing the Gamma flare to make up for a darker and more appealing shadows. In Photoshop, there are lots of ways of achieving this look and it will all depend on your familiarity and customary flow of work on what suits you best

Generally, what seems to be the predominant contributory factor in getting rich and vibrant colors is the overcast skies serving as a huge and diffused source of light. All these images were taken in Baguio, a mountain city in the Philippines, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and this is the time of the day when great images abound in the highlands.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ricoh GRD3: The Small Wonder

I’m not switching brand but sometimes I feel the need to carry with me a small and unobtrusive gear for taking instant shots when opportunity presents itself. Although I love my Nikon, I simply think that there is nothing in their Coolpix line can truly match the superior features offered by the Ricoh GRD3. It has been three months since I acquired my Ricoh GR Digital 3 compact camera and it never ceases to amaze me with its usability and ease of use. I’ve been using this pocketable camera as my wide angle lens option being equipped with a fixed focal length equivalent to 28mm in 35mm format. It boasts of having a faster lens of f/1.9 aperture, thus it can take pictures on low light environment at a faster shutter speed or the same shutter speed but with a lower ISO sensitivity setting. This third generation GR Digital camera from Ricoh has a new GR Engine III Image Processor which they claim to be capable of producing photos with enhanced image quality.

What I like most from this little gem is its 3 inch high resolution LCD screen with 920,000 dots making your images look so clear and vibrant when viewing them on the LCD. However, the clarity of images you see on the LCD screen is sometimes misleading and is not a guaranty that you’ll have a clearer or sharper picture if you view it on a larger computer LCD screen or monitor.

As a compact camera, nothing beats this GRD3 when it comes to customi- zation. It is designed like a DSLR where you can find the main controls ergonomically and strategically located where your fingers can reach them. On the top right is the Mode Dial where you can either select a choice of Full Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual and the Scene Setting. At the back is the Adjust Dial where you can access various menu for setting Exposure Compensation, White Balance, ISO Speed, Quality and AF target. The front circular control acts as Aperture Dial while the toggle lever at the back operates as your Shutter Dial.

Since I am more interested in showing you sample photos from this little gem, I will purposely shun from talking about its paper specs but dwell more on what it can do and can produce as photographic image results. This GRD3 truly excels when shooting landscapes and street scenes or when you simply would want to come closer to your subject.

Overall, what I can do with my DSLR, I can easily do it in this small wonder. I can set the built in Flash to Manual which I usually do instead of relying on its Auto Flash capability. I can avail of its Front Curtain or Rear Curtain setting just like a Nikon can, thus, I can also do remote flash photography using my Nikon SB-800 speedlight in its SU Mode.

Shooting night scenes is a possibility with its extremely longer shutter speed choices of setting thereby allowing you to capture enough light just like when using a Bulb setting while placing it on a tripod and activating the self timer button. Macro photography or those taken in close distance is likewise an easy task because you can focus in as close as 1cm away from the subject.

This little gem is a small wonder. Though only a compact camera, it can take great photos too and this is a very customizable tool in the hands of a serious photographer. Photography, after all is not owning the better gears but what matters more is what you do with what you have.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

black on black

This is a lighting technique which I would like to share to some people who have been asking - how to light a black subject on a black background in low key style. Using your flash mounted on its hot shoe or doing a wireless remote lighting even in CLS fashion won't get you this softly diffused lighting. Even using light modifiers like honeycomb, snoot or soft box can't get things right either. So, how did I do it?

Light painting must be the answer. How did I set it up? well, you must do it at night in a room without any stray light. Of course, you can do it on a day time as long as you keep the daylight away. Put on a sturdy tripod where you can mount your camera. Tripod is the key equipment to this lighting technique because you will set up your camera in a long exposure release mode using a self-timer to trigger the exposure.

In the first two photo samples here, I randomly picked 6 seconds as my shutter speed. The shutter speed you will choose should let you have all the time you will need to paint your subject using your chosen light source. Since you are exposing your subject in a longer time than usual, you should also pick a smaller aperture so that light will pass through slowly into your sensor. The choice of a smaller aperture would likewise give you a deeper depth of field which is important in product photography where details of the product should be emphasized or made readable.

And now this is the clincher - what light source did I used in painting my subject? Well, since I'm a Nikonian, I can only experiment using my speedlights on hand - the SB800!! I fitted it with a snoot but of course without taking off the diffuse dome to make the light softer. Then using its modelling light by snaply pressing its button, I painted my subject with light coming from the localized light of my diffused flash. Six (6) seconds is more than enough for you to circle around your subject and get the illumination you wanted.

To show you the difference of doing black on black using a lighting technique other than painting with the light, I posted this third sample photo where I used my SB800 mounted in a soft box and wirelessly triggered in CLS. Despite using a manual flash setting of 1/64, the harshness of the light can still be seen despite diffusing the light with a softbox. Light painting is therefore the better technique because it can give you more latitude on experimentation.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX: The DX-format normal lens

It has been four (4) months since acquisition and I only have good things to say about this lens. Price-wise, it's a bang for the buck and affordable prime lens although I was able to purchase mine over and above the published listed price. Its performance and optical quality have so far exceeded my expectation for a cheap prime lens costing USD250 or less.

When fitted to a DX-format Nikon DSLR like my D300, the 35mm focal length renders a picture angle approximating the classic normal angle of view of a 50mm lens on a Nikon FX-format digital SLR or a 35mm film camera. A normal lens, without limitations on the viewfinder, would give you a field of view without magnification of the image or increasing or decreasing the field of view of what you're seeing with or without the viewfinder. This 35mm DX lens multiplied by Nikon's 1.5 crop factor would equate to a 52.5mm focal length or approximately that of a 50mm standard lens.

The lens comes with a supplied plastic lens hood maybe because it was designed as a wide angle and it is prone to chromatic aberrations on high contrast scenes or where there are extreme highlights on the background. Though considered as a normal lens, the bokeh is not that pleasing compared to a similar 50mm f/1.8 lens much more the 50mm f/1.4 lens. Although an AF-S lens, the focusing speed of this version is only comparable to that of the 50mm AF-D versions without the gliding sound of the D versions.

Having tried this lens on available light and flash photography, I would say that it renders sharper image when used with flash but as long as there are sufficient light source, natural or deflected, it will still produce a wonderfully sharp image. Because it is made of hard plastics, it is lighter than the usual 50mm D versions or even the 35mm D version. From the samples uploaded, one can easily perceive that the best uses of this lens would be travel, environmental photography or general purpose photography.

Next to the Nikkor 20mm, the 35mm focal length on a DX body perfectly suits my compositional style of taking full body shots more than half body or head shots. It can even fulfill the role of a portrait lens if you want to shoot half body or head shots and the results are surprisingly amazing. You will need to come closer to your subject in order to get the desired compositional crop and this takes sharper images because of the shorter distance between the lens and the subject.

Shown in the photo on the right is my portrait shot where it was taken so close to the subject to get a head shot crop like this. Perhaps the only complaint they have on this lens is its tendency to produce barrel distortion. It's not an issue with me as the same can be easily remedied in Capture NX or in Photoshop. All told about its respectably reliable performance, I still have to test this lens shooting portraits on natural and available light. It is said to perform well in low light situations but I have to try and evaluate the experience myself.

For modelling credits, from top to bottom, I would like to thank the following pretty ladies: Ingrid Dela Paz taken at U.P. campus, Diliman, Quezon City; Edzen Pineda and Kim Dimatulac taken at the Heritage Park in Taguig City; Sandra Palma taken at Nu.Vo Greenbelt, Makati; Joanna Gonzales and Kristin Villarosa taken at Luminosi Studio in Makati.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jasmin Ouschan at the 2009 Women's World 10 Ball Championships

It's a weekend and I had nothing much to do so I went to see the few but interesting matches left at the 2009 Women's World 10 Ball Championships held at the SM City North EDSA Sky Dome in Quezon City. This sports event was participated in by 48 of women's top pool players including Allison Fisher, Kelly Fisher, Jeanette Lee, Karen Corr and lots of others.

Last June 2-6, 2009, the Sky Dome and The Block of SM North EDSA were the venues of some of the better matches I've seen in women's pool circuit. Jasmin Ouschan, who earlier competed in the Philippine Open battling top male pool players was also present in this women's 10 Ball event. During the elimination round, Jasmin was surprisingly outclassed by Hsiang-Ling Tan but went on to win her remaining matches and beat Miyuke Fuke in the round of 16.

In the other matches in the round of 16, Karen Corr of Ireland won over Yun Mi Lim of Korea, Akimi Kajitani of Japan bested Yuan-Chun Lin of Taiwan, Jeanette Lee of the U.S.A. sneaked past Tamara Rademakers of Netherlands, Rubilen Amit of the Philippines disposed off Hsiang-Ling Tan of Taiwan, Allison Fisher of England was stunned by Yu Ram Cha pf Korea, Shin-Mei Liu of Taiwan easily defeated Charlene Chai of Singapore and Kelly Fisher of England advanced to the quarter-finals by beating Chieh-Yu Chou of Taiwan.

In the quarter finals, Karen Corr was crushed by Akimi Kajitani, Jeanette Lee was trounced by Rubilen Amit, Jasmin Ouschan trumped Yu Ram Cha and Shin-Mei Liu drubbed Kelly Fisher.

In the semi-finals, Jasmin Ouschan was pitted against Shin-Mei Liu who seemed to have the better luck in the later racks and went on to beat Jasmin. Rubilen Amit had a more difficult time slugging out with Akimi Kajitani.

This sight of a helpless Jasmin in her match with Shin-Mei Liu might have broken the hearts of her fans who prefer seeing an Amit-Ouschan face off. But Shin-Mei Liu was the steadier player that night and moved on to meet Amit in the finals. Being the reigning European pool champion, Jasmin easily captured the hearts of the local crowd with her powerful hard breaks and beauteous look on and off the camera.

Despite her loss, Jasmin remains a darling of the Filipino crowd. Next to Rubilen Amit who won the championship, Jasmin Ouschan was the player with the most number of fans and local supporters for being such an amiable and approachable person. She will never turn you down when you ask for an autograph or pose with her for a picture taking.

This first-ever Women's World 10-Ball Championships was the inaugural staging of the event and was promoted by Dragon Promotions and sanctioned by the WPA. Hopefully, this women's 10 Ball sports event will return again next year with the same top women players.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR: The Inexpensive Performer

I recently had a chance to try this lens for a period of four months shooting everything from landscape to portraits, with flash and in available light. Like all kit lenses, they are manufactured cheaply and comes in plastic mounts and therefore, we should not expect them to deliver outstanding results in comparison with other lenses that are usually sold separately. Even with a VR feature, this lens is still considered a slow performer but nonetheless, the VR comes in handy every time you're in a low light situation and would want to pick a slower shutter speed.

Being more inclined to shoot portraits, the samples shown here are all portraits shot by this inexpensive performer. I must confess, this lens did not yield any spectacular images when I used it in available light, hence, all the sample shots here were aided by an artificial light source either from my SB-800 or from the built-in flash of my D300.

If you're expecting a pleasant blur of the background or what we call the bokeh, you will be disappointed because its lens opening of f/3.5-5.6 at a focal length range of 18-55mm can never produce a blur of the foreground or the background unlike if it is with a telephoto range where the lens opening of the lens is not at all crucial. After a brief stint in my dry box, I decided to sell this lens not being worthy to keep and for use in taking better images. In its place, I purchased the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX which is currently on the test run on my D300. Incidentally, if a lens stays with me for over a year, then it must be good!!

Thanks to Jacqueline Karen, Brandy, Rida and Janice for posing in the photos. The first and second photos above were taken at Johndel Beach Resort in Nasugbu, Batangas. The third photo was shot at Lewis Grand Hotel in Angeles City while the fourth and last sample photo was taken at Narra Park, Ayala Alabang Village, Muntinlupa City. All photos were taken using a Nikon D300 fitted with a Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR.

Friday, April 10, 2009

conquering the back light

Backlighting is such a nightmare for some photographers but for me, I always find it a challenge and a new experience to harness the light coming from the back of your subject. I had a shoot stretching late in the afternoon and I specifically waited for the golden hours of 4pm and up when the light is at its softest when I positioned my model in the right place. With just enough edge light on the facial contours, the nose and shoulder, I brought out a softbox with SB-800 and attached it to a light stand to fill in some light and tame the backlight. The results are the sample photos

With the sun serving as the key light, being the stronger light source, there is a need to provide for a fill in light to achieve this kind of images. Where to place the SB-800 with soft box to provide for a fill-in light is critical in these situations. On these sample photos, I placed it on the left side forty five degrees away and in front of the model. Placing it on the right side would flatten out the light and would not make your image as edgy as the ones in the sample.

This kind of set-up will likewise give you that elusive Rembrandt light with the sunshine as your main light. For a review of these terms, Rembrandt effect is a high contrast lighting scheme and is achieved by placing the main light at a high angle to your subject's face. The Rembrandt effect is characterized by a triangular light underneath the subject's eye. It also allows the nose shadow to blend in with the shadow on the dark side of the face.

With the sun directly shining at an angle above the model's back, a stray of light will produce the triangular light below the eye of the model with the high bridged nose carving the shadow on the left cheek forming a triangular high contrast light.

The last two photos also showed some edge light on the arms and face of the model creating an edgy effect which for me is a very pleasing effect - a combination of highlights and soft shadows.

For modelling credits, many thanks to Maya Vasayllaje, a former Palmolive Circle of 10 model.

Equipment used: Nikon D300 fitted with a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF, SB-800 Speedlight with Falcon Eyes soft box

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

window light

I have always been fascinated by the light streaking in from a window. For photographic purposes, such ambient light creates expressive effect on portraits where you can harness the light either as a key light or fill light. Shooting in ambient light would, however, give you shadows in unwanted places. Shadows can either make or unmake your photo depending on their placement or location where you let them appear. Perhaps, the most appropriate time to shoot using window light as your light source is when the sun is at its peak of strength.

Although I havent tried it yet but worth experimenting would be to block or temper down the strong light with a diffuser to soften it like a modelling light. The first two photos were taken in mid daylight and the venetian blinds separating the subject from the light source acted as diffusers to tame down the strong mid-day sunlight. Using reflectors would also help disseminate some light to recover details from the shadows. The third photo was taken late in the afternoon and it is during this time of the day when an artificial light source should be considered and mounted to provide additional illumination.

When shooting in ambient light like this, it is always a good practice to mount your camera on a tripod, use a small aperture and longer shutter speed and tell your model to stand or hold still for at least 2-3 seconds. This way, you can let in more light into your sensor using a lower ISO. Meter your subject using spot metering or if you have a light meter, you can choose to meter your settings by placing your light meter on the particular area where you want more light to appear.

Lately, i tried combining window light with artificial light from a speed light to get a more predictable result. In photography, you cannot always capture what your eyes can see. You should introduce additional light somewhere to eliminate or create shadows. The last sample photo was also taken in mid-daylight but the window light was diffused by the curtains, hence, i tried introducing artificial light from my speedlight mounted on a diffuser umbrella and placed at the back of the model to eliminate the shadows. The result is a more natural looking photo just like what my eyes have seen from the location where I took the photo.

Modelling credits from top to bottom: Gabrielle, Nicole, Camille and Elaine

Lenses Used: first two photos - Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF, third photo - Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D AF and fourth photo - Nikkor 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR