Yesterday, Saturday, Feb 8, I joined 20 other ‘togs from the Prescott Photography Club for a shoot at Reed’s Farm, a huge junkyard in Wittmann, AZ. The weather was beautiful and the junkyard was a target-rich environment. Not only did I meet a bunch of fun people but I also got a chance to put my new Canon EOS-M mirrorless through it’s paces. Later that evening, I got to hear Hal Linden (aka, Barney Miller) at a “Conversation with the Artist” event of the Del Webb Center in Wickenburg. All in all, it was a great day. Here are some photos from the junkyard as well as my review of the EOS-M.
I used a combination of Lightroom 4, Topaz Labs Adjust 5 and Photomatix HDR software to process the above photos. Can you identify the 3 that are nearly straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) from the Canon EOS-M? If you have any questions about post-processing, post them here.
Canon EOS-M Mini-Review
I finally broke down and sprang for a mirrorless camera. For those who don’t pay attention to this stuff, a digital SLR (dSLR) has a mirror and pentaprism to project the image coming through the lens to the viewfinder in the correct orientation. As the shutter is released, the mirror springs (reflexes) out of the way and allows the image through to the sensor. Of course, by that definition, P&S cameras are also mirrorless but what sets them apart from mirrorless cameras are several critically important differences. First, mirrorless cameras have interchangeable lenses. On the Canon EOS-M, using an adapter, I can attach any of my current lenses to the M. HERE (8th image down) is a cool shot of an M on a SIGMonster and the next photo shows it on a Canon 800/5.6. More importantly, mirrorless cameras use much larger sensors. The M uses an APS-C sensor, probably the same one found on the latest batch of Canon Digital Rebels. The image quality is outstanding. P&S use tiny sensors that result in tiny photosites (light collecting buckets) which produce noisy (grainy) images. Finally, the M incorporates a Canon DIGIC 5 processor, the “brains” of the camera. This is Canon’s latest and greatest and is instrumental in producing that outstanding Canon image quality.
I was totally prepared to hate the M and send it back to B&H. Surprisingly, the M fits my hand and feels like a “real” camera.” Even my wife’s Canon G11 has always felt a bit cramped but not the M. The 22mm (35mm equivalent) kit lens is outstanding and the images are clear, crisp and fully detailed. When I receive the Fotodiox adapter, I plan to test my Sigma 10-20 (16-32 equivalent) as well as the 50/1.4 (80mm equiv) and 85/1.8 (136mm equiv.) I’ll post photos at that time.
All the negative press about slow focus on the M has been pretty much put to rest with the new firmware. Because the slow AF issues caused M sales to crash and burn at introduction, it’s now available for under $400 (I got mine for $379.) If you’re a “latest & greatest” type, the new Canon EOS-M2 has been announced and should be available in 3-6 months.
That’s not to say the M isn’t without compromises. The lack of a viewfinder is annoying in bright light. I’m sure there are aftermarket LCD hood, a’la Hoodman, but I’m too cheap for that. I’ll probably fashion something out of an index card. The LCD-based controls take a bit of getting used to but, surprisingly, I found it was very easy to manipulate after an hour or two with the camera. I really, really wish Canon had incorporated an articulating LCD. In the above photos, numbers 1 (crane), 4 (hubcaps) and 10 (steering wheel) are from the Canon EOS-M and, are, for the most part, SOOC. As always, all Comments are welcome.
Bisbee, AZ: The Definition of Quirky
Bisbee is an island of long-haired, hippie-type liberal Democrat artists in an ocean of Red conservative Southeastern Arizona. This town is the very embodiment of “reinventing” oneself in the face of adversity. When Phelps-Dodge Corporation (PD) closed the copper mine in 1975, the town was on the verge of extinction but for a visionary mayor, Chuck Eads, who, with help from PD turned part of the world famous Copper Queen Mine into a tourist attraction to keep alive the rich mining history of the area. In the ’70s, Bisbee started to attract artists who established a quirky, thriving colony that continues to this day. I was in Bisbee in mid-January and made the following photos. Again, I got a little carried away with Topaz Adjust and Simplify.
Like most tourist attractions, the Copper Queen Mine had some anomalies. I liked the old mine equipment and gear for tourists taking the tour but the dynamite fuse can label looked a bit too neat to have been around much longer than say, 2 months! St Pat’s Church was interesting for all the stained glass but churches aren’t really my thing. Old Bisbee had very nicely re-purposed building like this old stock exchange and the Central School Project, now an artists’ co-op. Lowell used to be a separate town when traveling 3 miles took all day. Now, it’s a funky “suburb” of Bisbee and home to Bisbee Breakfast Club, one of the best places for breakfast and lunch.
My purpose for being near Bisbee was to photograph sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw. Based on my experience at Bosque del Apache, I thought I understood the fundamentals of sandhills but, alas, I didn’t have a grasp on the basics of controlling the weather. First, I never realized it got so cold in southeastern AZ. It was 20F in the mornings as I got out onto the playa. I’m sure it’s been as cold at Bosque but I wasn’t expecting it in Arizona. Second, the sight lines are only from the east side of the playa. That meant the wind had to be from the east for the cranes to take off and land facing me. Of course, the winds were always from the west so all I saw were crane butts. Third, the closest I could get to the cranes was about 100 yards, much further than Bosque. At that distance, I needed 600mm just to get a crane in 1/20th of the frame. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the arthritis in my left knee kicked in and I couldn’t hobble the 1/4 mile to the playa. You can also add to this litany of excuses the fact that while some cranes flew overhead from the east as they returned from the feeding fields, there were no clouds in the perfectly blue sky and I already have lots of photos like that. Here are a few of the photos out of several hundred.
The first image was made with a 300/2.8 with a 2xTC resulting in a 600/5.6. That’s about as close as I could get to most of the cranes. There were more Northern Shovelers at Whitewater than I had ever seen anywhere else. I’m surprised they haven’t dug their way down to China by now. The coot was slipping and sliding across the ice, trying to get to open water. Every so often, he’d peer down through the ice. Not the brightest bulb in the pack. As always, comments are welcome. All comments are published (except outright SPAM) regardless of whether I agree or not.
A Boring but Necessary Chore
I recently replaced my 6 year old colorimeter with a new Datacolor Spyder4Pro from B&H Photo Video and was amazed at how much the technology has improved. I lucked out and stumbled across it during a sale and got it for US$125 versus the regular price of US$169 but I can honestly say it it’s worth every penny of US$169. Currently, B&H is offering a memory card worth $30 if you buy the Spyder4Pro.
This was prompted by problems I was having printing a photo for a friend. It’s a sunrise filled with subtle yellows and reds and, no matter what I tried, the colors just weren’t printing correctly so I wanted to be sure my 4 year old monitor and 6 year old colorimeter were correctly displaying the image. Also, a new colorimeter was cheaper than a new monitor. Monitors and colorimeters are prone to drift as they age. Like people, an old colorimeter or monitor doesn’t work as well as internal parts begin to age and degrade. Lastly, software is a key component of colorimeters like the Spyder4Pro. As you might imagine, vast software improvements have occurred since my last consumer colorimeter was introduced 7 years ago.
The following screen grabs show some of the features in this low-end colorimeter. The first image is the opening splash page that shows the different info and test modes. The first time you’ll need to do a Full Calibration (FullCAL) where the software requests basic info about the monitor and checks the monitor’s capabilities. After that, it’s only necessary to do a Recalibration (ReCAL) as all the basic info is already in the software.
The next three images show one of my favorite features, selectable test images that can be enlarged for closer inspection. Clicking on the 4×4 matrix enlarges a 2×2 segment. Clicking again on one of the four images displays a single image at full size. For my purposes, I tend to check the Gretag-Macbeth Color Checker because I have one and can compare the screen directly against the “real deal.” I also like the four people images in the upper right corner because skin tone is universally understood.
The final image shows a graphical representation of gamut. My LG E2250T, a relatively inexpensive TN (twisted nematic) LCD monitor can display about 90% of all sRGB colors and 69% of Adobe RGB 1998. This type of chart helps me visualize what I can or can’t see on my LG. When I bought the LG about 4 years ago, TN was the most cost effective technology but IPS (in-plane switching) produced the widest gamut and best color representation. Unfortunately, IPS monitors were very expensive at that time. Today, good IPS monitors can be had for less than $500 with some in the sub-$200 range. My next purchase will be a good IPS monitor but, for the moment, the LG is still working well enough and the Spyder4Pro confirmed that for me.
The biggest problem with the Spyder4Pro is the lack of a manual so, if you buy one and run into difficulties, either view one of the videos on YouTube or, if you’re desperate, e-mail me and I’ll try to help.
Gamut, Color Space, Monitors and Oh My!
I’ve been spending a lot of time researching, reading, studying and trying to understand how colors captured by a digital camera sensor are handled inside Lightroom and, most importantly, how is color displayed on different output devices ranging from monitors to televisions to projectors to prints. Normally, I’m the sort who likes to tackle the whole gamut (pun intended) of issues at once because what I learn in one area can often trigger an idea or understanding about another aspect. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been practical for these subjects because 1) this has turned out to be a HUGE area of study and 2) my brain can’t keep up with complex, technical details anymore. I hate to admit it but I can no longer keep multiple (6 to 10) complex thoughts or details in my mind and retrieve them on cue. If it gets much worse, I’ll probably have to report to the Soylent factory! (If you’re too young to know about Soylent Green, Google it. You may be surprised how much us old fogies knew about the future.)
Anyway, I’m writing a future article about color space in Lightroom. I’m sure anyone who reads this blog is aware of sRGB, Adobe RGB 1998 and ProPhoto RGB. Well, allow me to throw out a few tidbits that I’ve learned in my research. Lightroom histograms use Melissa RGB, a ProPhoto variant named for Melissa Gaul, one of the original Adobe LR team members. This is the same team that included George Jardine, the LR instructor from whom I’ve learned more than any other instructor, period. Melissa RGB assigns a gamma of 1.0 instead of the usual 2.2 because 1.0 is the native gamma for most digital cameras. However, the LR Develop module uses ProPhoto RGB with gamma 2.2.
Why the difference? We have to understand the purpose of each. Histograms are literal representations of the pixels in an image. Therefore, mucking (a technical term) with gamma can change the actual histogram. However, in the Develop module, we’re trying to adjust the photo for human consumption.
Human eyes see things differently than a camera sensor. If a camera captures a scene that is twice as bright, it duly records twice as much light. A human eye, on the other hand, automatically compensates by toning down the bright scene to preserve shadow details. In order to produce an image that mimics what a person sees, a gamma curve is applied to tone down bright areas and bump up dark areas. Ergo, Melissa RGB produces an exact representation of what the camera captured but ProPhoto RGB produces what the human eye would have seen.
Sorry I don’t have “purdy pitchurs” to illustrate my points. I hope to have some by the time I finish the article. Also, sorry if this is too techie, geeky for you but I’m only writing about what interests me anymore. Have a great 2014.
Small Town Service at It’s Best
If you read the last two posts, you know we started this year’s Eastern Sierras trip with a broken right rear turn signal on our toad (towed vehicle.) Towing without turn signals and brake lights is both dangerous and illegal. I knew the part I needed but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. We stopped at several stores on the way with no luck. Here’s Arbey (RV, get it?) and R2 (toad) at Tuttle Creek BLM campground overlooking Owens Lake.
In Bishop, I stopped at a local trailer shop. The owner gave me one to take back to the RV to see if it worked. If it did, he said, “Come back tomorrow and pay for it.” I was flabbergasted but took him up on the offer. Back at the RV, I scoured the Web to learn how that adapter worked and decided it was wrong for my needs. The next day, when I returned it, he pointed me to a local U-Haul dealer who also worked on RVs. BINGO! That was the key.
The owner of the U-Haul dealer, a bushy bearded gentleman with the demeanor of a crotchety curmudgeon but who turned out to be the nicest guy, knew exactly what I needed before I finished explaining my dilemma. For less than $30, I was set. Upon returning to the RV, it took less than 30 minutes to install the part and “voila” all was well with brake & tail lights! The whole episode made me feel so warm and fuzzy that I went back the next day and bought another $100 worth of RV accessories I’d been putting off.
In a small RV like ours (24 ft) we need to hook up every 4-5 days to take on fresh water and dump our waste water tanks. This year we tried the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop. At $25/day for full hookups (electric, water, sewer) plus the best, cleanest bathrooms and showers I’ve ever seen in an RV park, this place is a bargain. From the fairgrounds, we scouted the Bishop area for photo ops but didn’t find much. Despondent over my lack of good photos up to this point, we headed to Lone Pine and Alabama Hills. By now, I was beginning to feel tired and had a scratchy throat. By the time we got home, I had a full-blown cold and sinus infection so I didn’t immediately review my photos. When I finally got around to it, I was appalled at the lack of creativity and composition.
In the process of setting up my new laptop I came across several Topaz Labs plug-ins that I had tried over the years. Since I had nothing to lose, I played around with several photos in Topaz Labs Adjust and Simplify. Here are the results. Let me know what you think.
All were done in TL (Topaz Labs) Adjust and Simplify but I don’t recall which was which. Also, don’t ask what I did because I don’t recall. The artistic term for my technique is “futzing around.” I just wanted to make each look like a painting. All started with some version of “Painterly effects.” I tried to make the first one (Grand Army of the Republic Highway) look like an oil or acrylic but, to me, all three look like watercolors.
The next two are well outside my comfort zone. The last image is where I started, an uninspiring photo of arches at the Gunga Din movie location in the Alabama Hills. If you look carefully, you can see 3 or 4 combined arches near the top middle. IF I hadn’t been feeling like something the dog threw up, I would have changed lenses and waited for the sun to better illuminate the scene. IF I had felt better, I would have climbed up for a better look. IF a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its butt every time it jumped.
My first inclination was to convert this to black & white but a lousy photo is a lousy photo regardless of whether it’s color or B&W. While futzing around in TL Simplify 4 I came across a preset titled Colored Pencil Light on Black. Using that as a starting point, I played around until I got to the first version which I titled Neon Rocks. Playing around some more, I found a Transparency control. Increasing that gave me the second version which I haven’t yet titled.
Both versions still need work. For example, I automatically included a bit of the sky in the upper left corner but that’s totally superfluous in these TL versions so I need to crop that out. Please note, I am not claiming these are “real” photos any more than I claim my HDR efforts to be photos although restrained HDR is actually closer to a real photo than SOOC (straight out of camera) since it tries to emulate the wider dynamic range of the human eye. In fact, what we call “photographs” are nothing more than a sliver of what our eyes actually see and must always be interpreted in some manner.
Protecting Yourself from Internet Creeps
Have you ever searched for something on the web and soon noticed ads for that exact or similar products/services popping up on all your other sites? For example, if you search for Termidor, a termite eradication chemical, you’ll suddenly be bombarded with ads for termite services or other termite chemicals when you visit a news site or Amazon or Yahoo. Search for tires and suddenly, you’ll see ads for Big O, Bridgestone, Sears, Tire Rack and Discount Tires including a bunch of stores located 3000 miles away. If you find that a bit creepy, have I got a tip for you!
Install Tunnel Bear, a VPN (virtual private network) that keeps sites from knowing anything about your web surfing preferences. The basic service is free for up to 500MB of data. Depending on how much you use the Internet, that may or may not be enough for you. Since I practically live on the WWW, I ran through 500MB in about 2 days. In two days, I was so impressed with TB that I paid US$5.00 for a one month trial that allows unlimited bandwidth. If all goes well, in January 2014, I’ll upgrade to an annual subscription for $50.
The only downside is that your connections may be delayed by 1/2 to 2 seconds because your requests now go through TB servers to first be stripped of all personal information. On the flip side, when the site serves a page (displays it on your screen,) it first goes to TB so the site has no idea who requested it. A really cool advantage is when surfing limited view sites that cut you off at a preset number of views. For example, I read the Washington Post (a long-haired, hippie-type, commie, junkie, pinko-sympathizing liberal lame stream media site.) WaPo limits non-subscribers to 20 articles per month. Using TB, WaPo has no idea who is reading their site so I get unlimited access as long as I also disable cookies. A tip of the fedora to my smart, long-suffering wife, Mary for this idea.
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Onward to Mono Lake and Bodie
After the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Forest bust, we moved on to Mono Lake and Bodie. Since we had our toad (towed vehicle) this trip, we set up camp at our favorite boondock site overlooking Mono Lake (below photo) and drove to Bodie for the day.
In Bodie, we found the parking lot filled with construction crews building new restrooms and pouring concrete. Since the old vault style restrooms were in good working order the previous year, I was puzzled. The concrete walkway leading toward Bodie seemed incongruous but the significance didn’t strike me until I spoke to a ranger. It turns out Bodie is a victim of the ADA/PC police. The vault toilets were being replaced with ADA compliant toilets, the dirt path into town was being turned into a concrete sidewalk and other ADA changes were being added. I don’t have a problem with ADA compliant toilets. The concrete walkway into town will require some creative composition and/or editing and, in general, I support ADA “when it makes sense.” What concerns me is the wording of the RFQ (Request for Quote) issued by the CA Dept of Parks and Recreation:
“Construct a new Comfort Station, boardwalk replacement, ADA parking upgrades, ADA upgrades to path of travel and various ADA upgrades throughout…“
“Boardwalk replacement” and “path of travel” are vague while “…various ADA upgrades throughout…” sounds suspiciously like, “All other changes, modifications or whatever we want, as assigned!” Look at the photos below and tell me how concrete sidewalks can be blended in without creating jarring inconsistencies with the very essence of Bodie. The ranger also hinted that a proposal to build concrete, wheelchair accessible platforms in front of several building to allow wheelchair-bound visitors to see into buildings was defeated, for this round. Look at the photos below and imagine concrete platforms in front of the iconic buildings. The last photo is the only photograph I made at Bodie this year. It represents how future visitors wanting to visit a genuine ghost town will feel.
Back at Mono Lake…
My mood was as cold and dark as the 17°F nights. Back at Mono Lake, we futzed around Lee Vining for a day and spent a few hours at the beautiful Forest Service Visitor Center where I learned useful tips for kayaking to the islands in the middle of the lake which I’ll try next summer but, overall, it was just too darn cold to make the same photos of tufas under clear blue sky that I’d already made several hundred times. It was time to beat a retreat back to Bishop.
Robson’s Mining World
Before leaving for the Eastern Sierras, we visited Robson’s Mining World near Aguila, AZ with the Wickenburg Art Club. Basically, it’s a recreated western mining town, like dozens of others in Arizona. In fact, I had visited another one, Gammon’s Gulch, near Benson, AZ last year. We plan to revisit Gammon’s Gulch in January 2014 when we go to the Chiricahua Mountains for images of snow covered rocks. I practiced my HDR techniques at Robson’s so here are the few acceptable photos I made at Robson’s.
I tried to stay on this side of realistic but a few strayed over into the Ben Wilmore Old School Hyper Grunge space. I promise to exercise more restraint in the future.
All the photos were made with either a Canon 7D (my go-to body) or Canon 5D MkII with either the 24-105/4L or 17-40/4L. Most were on a Gitzo tripod. All processing was done in Lightroom 4 and HDR software is Photomatix Essentials. Next post, I’ll be showing some photos that are definitely outside my comfort zone with Topaz Labs Adjust, Simplify or B&W Effects.
2014 Plans for Eastern Sierras
Mary and I are going back for Bishop Mule Days in May 2014 with her old church RV group from San Diego. I’m really stoked because I’ve identified Sky Rock as well as what I believe is a real photo of Methuselah tree in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. I’m hoping to scout both areas and come away with photos to study before next fall’s Eastern Sierras trip.
Thanks for reading and, as always, all comments are welcome and appreciated.