On the Road – Christmas 2016
After some last minute delays, we finally got on the road on Sunday, December 25, Christmas Day. It was actually a good move because the traffic was calm and weather was pretty sketchy until Saturday. We made it to Benson, AZ where we laid over at a RV campground right off I-10. The next morning, we backtracked a mile and headed to Bisbee via AZ Highway 90 and 92 through Sierra Vista. It’s a a few miles longer but an easier route for a motorhome towing a Jeep.
I decided not to take my photography too seriously so all my photos were simple touristy snapshots. I also tested the new Canon EF 135/2.0L USM lens on a few opportunities.
These first 6 were made with a Canon EOS-M with the EF-M 22mm STM lens, my favorite walking around kit. The Great Dane in the first photo is Sunday. He weighs as much as me and he travels with his staff in a truck camper. He’s apparently a pretty mellow traveler and sleeps most of the time. The next 3 were along a dirt road back to a wildlife preserve. There wasn’t anything out there except cattle, a purple outhouse and a pony ride. There was actually money in the bucket so I threw in some change. The last is Mary with Reed, the owner of Killer Bee Honey. He’s a character and his mesquite honey is great.
The next 10 were with a Canon 5D Mk II with the new Canon EF 135/2.0L USM. The first two were made at Oh-Dark-Thirty with the temperature around 30F. In other words, it was way too cold for me to spend a lot of time composing and checking focus. The mid-range and background are sharply in focus but DoF wasn’t deep enough to get the near objects in focus. It’s impossible to evaluate lens sharpness in small web-size images that have been sharpened but, trust me, the 135/2.0 is sharp. The rest are basic funky, weird art (?) found all over Bisbee. The bumper sticker really captures the Bisbee “vibe.” As you can see, I call Bisbee “an island of blue surrounded by a sea of Arizona red.” The whole town is filled with “long-haired, hippie-type, commie, junkie, pink-o sympathizing liberals” and I really like it. I’d move there except it’s in the middle of nowhere.
This last shot was made at Whitewater Draw to show the low water level. Normally, this whole area is filled with water with the exception of the tiny island in the foreground with green growth. There should be ducks, avocets and other shallow water birds within 10-20 feet.
New Laptop for Travel
For this trip, in the spirit of not taking my photography too seriously, I ditched my humongous HP laptop with a gazillion gigabytes of RAM and many terabytes of HDD space for an HP Stream 11 laptop. The Stream is just above “toy” level but works great for checking e-mail and light photo editing. It has an 11.6″ screen, 4GB of RAM, a 32GB SSD (solid state drive) and runs Windows 10. Weighing just 2.6 lbs, it runs about 10 hours on a single charge. Best of all, it only cost $199. I deleted the included subscription for MS Office 365 in favor of MS Office 2007 because I didn’t want the whole suite hogging the limited disk space. With MSO 2007, I just loaded the products I use most.
For photo editing, I loaded Canon Digital Photo Pro (DPP) because Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) has grown into a humongous porker that took up 1.9GB whereas DPP requires less than 120MB. I also added IrfanView, a cool little photo viewer/editor that takes another 2.5MB. For longer trips, I intend to haul along my fat laptop but only for specific requirements while on the road. The HP Stream 11 will meet 98% of my computing needs on the road.
Wishing Everyone a Great 2017
Time, Effort and Practice Pay Off
The following hummingbird photos were sent by Butch, a former student. As you can imagine, out of every 100 students, probably no more than 1 or 2 stays with photography or advances beyond basic snapshots. Butch has far exceeded what most students ever attain. After about 5 years, out of the clear blue, Butch sent me these photos and added I was the first to advise him to use a flash and HSS to “freeze” hummingbirds in flight. He’s learned well and I applaud his persistence. I particularly like that he used a slow enough shutter speed to leave some blur in the wings.
Canon EF 135/2.0L USM
I recently bought this lens, one of Canon’s sharpest. I’d always wanted one but didn’t have a need for it. Now that I’m mainly shooting studio nudes, I can put it to good use. When I saw it on Canon’s Refurb shop for $799.99, I jumped since it retails for $999. But wait, it gets better. While waiting for the lens to arrive, I noticed Canon had further reduced the price to $679.99. Calling Canon, I was pleasantly surprised when the rep cheerfully adjusted my price and refunded the extra $120. In the end, I got a great lens for 32% ($320) off retail.
As I get older, I’m suppressing my measurbater tendencies. I considered doing a test shoot using various targets to measure and quantify its sharpness compared to other lenses in my bag but the idea was quickly dismissed. I’ll take some test shots and post them over the next few weeks. If you’re a measurbater at heart, read what Roger Cicala, Founder & CEO of LensRentals.com says about the EF 135/2.0.
Canon Refurbs are returns or overstocks. A defective or damaged lens goes through Canon’s repair facility where a Canon trained tech goes through each lens. Parts aren’t repaired but replaced and the product is tested. At the factory hundreds of lenses come off the line and each is given a cursory inspection but at the repair center, lenses are tested individually. In my experience, every refurb has always arrived in pristine condition and the only difference is that it may not come in an original retail box. This lens only came with a lens pouch, front & rear caps and paperwork.
In the case of overstocks, a dealer or distributor may have overestimated how many units they could sell or the company may have gone out of business or the product might have been superseded by a newer model or technology. In such cases, Canon sells them as Refurb in the original box, just like you find at a store.
Wishing Everyone a Merry, Merry & a Happy, Happy!
Keep It In Focus
There are many different levels and interests in photography but, sometimes, I’m a bit surprised by what passes for “good” photography, especially when photos are out of focus (OOF) and basics of depth of field (DoF) are overlooked.
Here are some photos that illustrate good focus vs soft focus. The first is the minimum of what I consider “in focus.” Both models are ever so slightly OOF. The actual focus point is about where the shoulder strap attaches to the dress of the brunette on the right. I know this because at 100% I can make out details on her gold chain in that area. It may be difficult to see in small web images so the next two photos are 100% crops.
The front of Vikki’s (left model) pompadour is OOF and her eyes are OOF. Eyes MUST be in focus. The eyes of the model on the right (camera left,) are barely in focus while the front of her bumper bangs are focused. The photo was made with my 5D MkII using a Canon 50/1.4 set to f/3.5 at a distance of ~5 feet. That gave me about 4 inches acceptable DoF. Since the image is focused on the brunette’s shoulder strap, we split ~4 inches (2″ in front and 2″ behind) and both models’ eyes are just beyond the 2″ back margin. The difference is more noticeable if you compare the models’ lips and teeth. The reason I selected f/3.5 and such a narrow DoF is simple, I screwed up. When you’re “running & gunning,” you’re prone to making mistakes, slow down, take a deep breath and make better photos.
All this may sound nit-picky but, if you’re into photography, it’s important to check focus before uploading photos to a public forum. Everyone screws up from time to time but it’s not necessary to show those to the world. More importantly, if you print OOF images, the softness will quickly become evident as the image is enlarged.
These last three show what good focus looks like. The eyes are clear, crisp and detailed. You can almost count the eyelashes. If your monitor is sharp enough, you should be able to see the fine “peach fuzz” around their mouths and skin pores will be quite evident. All these photos were made with a Canon 5D MkII and Canon 24-104/4L IS USM, my “go to” rig. All three photos were at 4-6 feet. Chandra (1st) and Jackie (2nd) were at f/4.5, 84mm with about 3.25″ DoF. Arya (3rd) was at f/4.5, 58mm resulting in ~7″ DoF.
A good online resource for learning and understanding DoF is www.dofmaster.com. If you’re confused by depth of field, search my site for “depth of field” for a dozen or more articles. Keep in mind that DoF is controlled by aperture, focal length and distance to subject.
If You Need/Want a Website
My friend, Susan Gregory, is a website designer and SEO maven. Anyone looking for a new website or simply wanting to “freshen” their existing site would do well to ask Susan for an evaluation and quote. My long time readers know I hardly ever push my friends’ products or services so you can believe I trust her.
Why All the Leaning Buildings?
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of leaning buildings and I haven’t been in Pisa. When processing photos of buildings, take a minute to correct the perspective so it doesn’t appear as if the building is leaning back and away. Here’s a video I created a few years ago showing how to correct perspective in Photoshop Elements. Advanced PS or LR users will be able to figure out how to find and apply the Transform tool in those programs.
Sometimes, perspective distortion is useful in conveying a sense of height or grandeur. If that’s your intent, make it so the viewer “gets it.” In the photo below, I got as close to the building as possible to make the building seem taller than it really it. In the photo of Kayla, I got a little carried away emphasizing her long legs. In the last image, I took 10 seconds to readjust Kayla’s proportions. The point is, Perspective Control is a useful tool for many subjects. When applied judiciously, Perspective Control can even be used to “shave” off a few pounds off a subject, not that I would ever do such a thing!
Can You Really Use One Billion Colors?
Some days, I get my exercise by jumping to conclusions, running off at the mouth and pushing the limits of my technical understanding. To wit, buying a wide gamut monitor that encompass 98% of Adobe RGB 1998 as opposed to a “conventional” monitor that typically displays ~95% of sRGB. I thought I understood the considerations needed to make a clear decision on the purchase of a wide gamut monitor. Oops!
About 99.99% of all monitors are “conventional” displays that can show approximately 16.7 million colors. They have 8-bits per channel. Eight bits is equal to 28 (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2) or 256 levels (colors.) Since there are three channels (RGB or red, green, blue,) multiplying 256 x 256 x 256 gets you 16,777,216 different combinations (colors.)
Wide gamut monitors, on the other hand, have 10-bits per channel or 1024 x 1024 x 1024. That means they display 1,073,741,824 (~1.07 billion) colors, 64 times more than conventional monitors. So, that must mean wide gamut monitors are 64 times better than conventional monitors, right? Well, it all depends.
During my 4 days at Stephen Johnson’s Fine Art Digital Printing Workshop, one thing that dazzled me were the wide gamut Eizo monitors in Stephen’s lab. I’d been thinking a wide gamut monitor might help me with some photos that had caused me consternation. For the rest of my summer road trip, I researched monitors and had pretty well decided to spring for an Eizo CS2420 24″ wide gamut monitor. Still, there were some doubts that I couldn’t completely stifle. When B&H raised its price by $45, that was enough to cause me to step back and delve further into the wide gamut question. (nb, B&H has now reduced the price from $861 to $719)
Buying a wide gamut monitor isn’t just a matter of ponying up the bucks, there’s more to consider. For most of my readers, there’s the matter of the software they’re using. I do 90% of my post processing in Lightroom 6 and, it just so happens, LR6 doesn’t support 10-bit color. In other words, I would have to revert to Adobe Photoshop (CS4 or newer) which are the only versions that support 10-bit color. I like Photoshop but not enough to totally revamp my workflow.
Keep in mind that many of the colors are simply finer shades between existing colors. Let’s say we have two shades of red in sRGB with numbers 254,0,0 and 255,0,0. In aRGB 1998, there are 64 additional shades of red between those two sRGB shades. This is useful in producing smoother transitions for prints but may not make a lot of difference for 0nline images.
Bottom line, wide gamut monitors can be useful and helpful in situations where you’re using compatible software to process photos that need more colors in the blue-green space. Obviously, some purists will say a wide gamut monitor is necessary in all cases but, for most photographers, a conventional monitor could be the best current compromise.
For those looking for specific recommendations, unless you’re sure you want and need wide gamut, buy a good IPS (in-plane switching) monitor in the 24″ to 26″ size as a second monitor, especially if you’re editing on a laptop. At a minimum, the monitor should have OSD controls for color temperature in Kelvin, custom RGB adjustments, gamma settings and digital inputs. At B&H, monitors fitting these requirements can be had for $300-$500. A low cost option is a Dell U2515H for $339. On the high end, an Eizo FlexScan EV2455 will set you back about $536 but should last forever. Lower-cost options are plentiful but require careful study of the specs to ensure they can be accurately calibrated. Also, if you don’t already own one, buy a good monitor calibration device such as an X-Rite Color Munki to ensure you get the best images out of the monitor.