If Cameras were Hammers

If you aren’t familiar with Roger Cicala, you might know his company Lensrentals.  It is a great way to get a lens you only need for a short time (wedding/special event/etc.) or want to try-before-you-buy.  Roger is a very cool and knowledgeable guy, and is a regular visitor to one of my favorite photography forums (fredmiranda.com).  Anyway, a buddy of mine sent me a post from his blog yesterday that I think is pretty funny, and also pretty darn true.

Take a quick read of his post “Hammerforum.com”

The lesson I hope you’ll take away is that there are infinite opinions on the internet, and some of them can be pretty obtuse and confusing to the novice.  As a Nikon guy, I mainly watch Thom Hogan (byThom.com), and check out reviews from Nasim Mansurov, Roger  and others.  And of course I visit the site of the inestimable Scott Kelby often.

The net is that the web can be a little overbearing.  The hardware of photography can be a little over-consuming, and most people can do just fine with the tools they have in their hand.

What sites do you find particularly helpful or useless?

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Black Rapid / Arca-Swiss Solution: Mr. Blurrycam Edition

I get enough questions about my setup that I thought a video might help:

Black Rapid and Arca Solution – Enthusiast Photographer from Lee @ Enthusiast Photographer on Vimeo.

The full write-up can be found here.  I’ve carried this setup literally all over the world, and it has performed flawlessly.  If you’ve got a Black Rapid Strap and an Arca-Swiss-based tripod head/plate system, I think you’ll like this rig a LOT.  I think it even acts as a quick-release system for Black Rapid users who don’t have Arca-Swiss, too…

Apologies for the poor camera-work – I’ll try to improve on that in the future!

Here are some updated photos (though still camera-phone pix):
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Scrapyard Visit

I was driving home from an out-of-town work trip the other day and saw an old boneyard with a bunch of cool, rusty old American cars. I turned around and pulled in to look around, and then remembered I had my camera with me. After talking to the guy running the yard and asking if it was cool for me to take some photos, I had a nice time wandering around, looking for texture.

It was actually a lot harder than I expected. Of all the photos I took, only three came out even close to what I was going for:

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Nikon D300s – 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.5 – 1/40th – ISO 800 – Set for – 1/3 EV

A little thinner on depth-of-field (DOF) than I wanted, but it was pretty dark. Since I was hand-holding and shooting from an awkward angle/position, I had to keep a reasonable shutter speed. Since I thought there would be too much noise if I popped the ISO higher, I went with a wider aperture. In retrospect, a bad choice.  I could have also done myself a favor and not set the exposure for -1/3 EV.  That would have helped, too.

Nikon D300s - 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8, 1/8000 - ISO 200

Nikon D300s – 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 – 1/8000 – ISO 200 – Set for -1 EV

Shooting outside in harsh sun, this shot was actually pretty challenging. Even setting the camera for a full stop lower exposure (-1 EV), I still have some blown out spots. The DOF worked better for me here, though, and I’m happier with this shot

Nikon D300s - 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 - 1/3200 - ISO 200 - Set for -1 EV

Nikon D300s – 35mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8 – 1/3200 – ISO 200 – Set for -1 EV

Another shot where I was fighting really harsh sun, I also used the exposure compensation to adjust down a whole stop.  In retrospect, I wish I’d gotten in tighter on the “Special” medallion.  You can faintly see 1957 engraved there, and it would have been a cool shot, and a lot less busy than this one.

A few lessons of the day:

  • Always have your camera with you
  • Don’t forget about the EV/exposure adjustment, but don’t forget when you’ve set it! 🙂
  • Use the screen to zoom in and see if you’re getting what you want.  I usually do it more carefully than I did that day.

Even though I didn’t get all the shots I wanted, I’m so glad I stopped.  It was really cool to see all these old cars, some of which will either be on the road again or help another car get there.  The experience is always good, no matter how the shots turn out!

What kind of problems have YOU had shooting lately?

By the way, if you enjoyed this post, feel free to follow the blog or “Like” the Enthusiast Photographer Facebook page.

Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 v2 Quick Review

ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60 v2

ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60 v2

Summary for the impatient:

Want a bag that has a clown-car-like ability to absorb your equipment and still feel manageable? Want to carry a fair bit of equipment and still have a longer lens mounted and ready on your camera? Want to do those things and not look like you’ve got a lot of expensive camera equipment? The Think Tank Urban Disguise is just the ticket.

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The demands of being an Enthusiast Photographer will probably mean you’ll need more than one bag. I think most serious photographers will really need at least two, and three isn’t a big stretch. Depending on how much you want to carry, how obvious you want to be about having a camera bag and what else you’re doing while you’re out, having multiple bags can be the difference between having a successful outing and being miserable.

Now that you’ve been able to show your spouse those words and leave the room with your credit card, let’s talk about the next target on the list of many camera-bag-junkies: the Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise.  (By the way, there aren’t enough camera bags in the world. I don’t have a camera bag problem. I really don’t!)

There are a lot of models of this bag, which are all generally the same configuration with more and more space as you go up the line. I saw a good deal on a used Urban Disguise 60 v2 and jumped on it. If you’re a regular reader, you know I also own a couple Timbuk2 bags, both built around the medium Snoop insert. I’m still a big fan of my Timbuk2 bags, but I’m finding there is a pretty hard limit to the amount of gear they absorb, and there are a couple things that nag me when I travel. And I travel a lot, especially on business when I need to have my work stuff and I want to have my camera stuff.

I’ve decided that some reviews are greatly enhanced by video, but in the meantime, here are a few thoughts on the bag:

Pros:

  • Massive capacity
  • Durable ballistic nylon and amazing zippers. Zippers are important.  The other hardware on the bag is robust, too.
  • Great flexibility – the bag comes with a ton of inserts to configure the bag like you want, and there are an astounding number of pockets and nooks.
  • All the camera stuff, and computer stuff too – I was able to put my ThinkPad X1 Carbon and my ThinkPad tablet in the bag.
  • Comfortable – you wind up with a lot of stuff without feeling like you’re hauling another whole suitcase
  • Sleeve for use with a roller bag – I’ve had a couple spills with the Timbuk2, which makes me nervous when it isn’t on my shoulder.

Cons:

  • Not as flexible as the Snoop once you get inside the plane – the camera stuff and the bag are a package deal, which means you’re going to be in the overhead compartment on smaller planes.
  • Pricey (but you pretty much get what you pay for…)
  • Not much style – they come in any color you want as long as you like black.
  • I’m finding it hard to configure it when I’m in camera-bag-only mode to hold more than the Snoop.  That is probably my own limitation.

If the “Cons” look a little weak, you’re right.  This is a really impressive bag.

The bag comes with a rain hood, and there is a strap kit that gives you the ability to carry it as a backpack, which is pretty interesting.  My bag came with that kit, so I’ll report on that later.

Here’s what I was able to put in it:

TTUD60v2Contents

Working from the back to the front, that is:

  • ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
  • ThinkPad Tablet 2
  • Nikon D300s with L-bracket
  • Nikon MB-D10 and L-bracket
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/4
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.8
  • Nikon 35mm f/1.8
  • Nikon 18-200 VRII
  • Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
  • Tamron 28-75 f/2.8
  • Cough drops, headache powders, lip balm, a luggage tag and some napkins (I always want napkins on a plane)
  • Ear buds in a case
  • Remote for advancing PowerPoint
  • ThinkTank media wallet (comes with the bag)
  • Two microfibers (I wrap my  camera in one)
  • Cable release
  • Two LensPens and two real pens
  • A headcap for cold mornings
  • My phone (this is actually my old phone, I used my Lumia 920 for the pix)
  • My filter wallet
  • My Singh-Ray variable filter
  • SB-700 flash
  • Black Rapid strap with my Arca-Swiss hack
  • My travel AC/DC adapter
  • My bag-o-cables
  • My sunglasses
  • My car keys

Believe it or not, there is room for more that wouldn’t add volume to the bag if you’re careful packing.

Obviously, lenses are the majority of the bulk here, and it is impressive.  I use the sleeves because I’m overly anal about my stuff, but here’s a look at them all with my keys for scale:

Lensfamily

The bag is easy and comfortable to carry.  I like that the strap has swivels so I never have to take it off to “unwind” it.  I’ll try to get a video tour put together sooner than later, but hope you find this useful.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post ’em up!

As always, feel free to follow this blog, “like” the FaceBook page and/or “Follow” Enthusiast Photographer on Twitter!

Favorite Shots of 2012

Well, I figured since it is mid-March (already!) I should get on my favorite photos of 2012…

It was a pretty busy year, full of travel to some pretty amazing places.  I think the biggest jumps I took with my photography are mostly centered around being more thoughtful and confident with composition as well as knowing my equipment better.  The goal (and I haven’t achieved it yet by any stretch, but we’re getting there….:) ) is to make the camera disappear and concentrate on capturing the image as you want it.  And have fun.

I took a lot of shots last year, and there are many that I’m fond of, so choosing a few was hard.  Clicking on a shot will open a larger version.

Strictly speaking, this and the next shot were some of my last shots of 2011.  But since I sort of lost track of them and they didn't make my 2011 series, I'm cheating and putting them here.

Strictly speaking, this and the next shot were some of my last shots of 2011. But since I sort of lost track of them and they didn’t make my 2011 series, I’m cheating and putting them here.  This is the pineapple fountain in Charleston, SC.

My second visit to this boat produced one of my favorite photos ever.

My second visit to this pilot boat in Charleston Harbor produced one of my favorite photos ever.

Spring found me in Alabama for the 10th edition of my favorite car show.

Spring found me in Alabama for the 10th edition of my favorite car show.

A business trip took me to Beijing, where color always seems to surround you...

A business trip took me to Beijing, where color always seems to surround you…

My favorite drink is done well in Beijing...

My favorite drink, a rye Manhattan, is done well in Beijing…

There is an art district in Beijing called 798 where you can find a lot of off-the-wall art, but the old buildings there offer some nice texture, too...

There is a  district in Beijing called 798 where you can find a lot of off-the-wall art, but the old buildings there offer some nice texture, too…

I liked the mood of this shot, but knowing it was taken in Beijing adds a little incongruity to it as well...

I liked the mood of this shot, but knowing it was taken in Beijing adds a little incongruity to it as well…

This statue was in the 798 art district in Beijing, which was ironic enough.  The billboard on the walls just layered on top...

This statue was in the 798 art district in Beijing, which was ironic enough. The billboard on the walls just layered on top…

They wouldn't let me take my tripod and it was really windy 55 stories above Tokyo, so getting this shot wasn't a picnic.  The view was stunning though, so I made due by holding my camera to a railing on my L-bracket, giving me enough stability to get reasonable sharpness.

They wouldn’t let me take my tripod and it was really windy 55 stories above Tokyo, so getting this shot wasn’t a picnic. The view was stunning though, so I made due by holding my camera to a railing on my L-bracket, giving me enough stability to get reasonable sharpness.

I like this shot, though it doesn't do a great job of showing the scale of the world's largest Buddha.

I like this shot, though it doesn’t do a great job of showing the scale of the world’s largest Buddha, located in the temple city of Kamakura, Japan.

This carved stone monolith was near the Great Buddha of Kamakura.    I thought narrow depth of field helped give it a sense of texture.

This carved stone monolith was near the Great Buddha of Kamakura. I thought narrow depth of field helped give it a sense of texture.

Prague is famous for the Love Locks that decorate fences along the waterway inside the city.  It is a growing trend around the world.  This shot was the feature of my "Touristy Photos" post.  If you're looking for cities filled with amazing things to photograph, this area of Europe is your ticket.

Prague is famous for the Love Locks that decorate fences along the waterway inside the city. It is a growing trend around the world. This shot was the feature of my “Touristy Photos” post. If you’re looking for cities filled with amazing things to photograph, this area of Europe is your ticket.

Budapest is a city filled with history, texture and stunning views...

Budapest is a city filled with history, texture and stunning views…

I wonder how many people walk through the doors of this charge and never look at the detailed and ornate metal castings all around them...

I wonder how many people walk through the doors of the La Madeline church in Paris and never look at the detailed and ornate metal castings all around them…

These shots took me through the end of the Summer, and to be honest by then I was a little worn out!  The rest of the year was also very busy at work and featured much less interesting travel, so I wound up with a sort of involuntary vacation from photography (not to mention this blog…).

So that’s it!  I’m off to a much stronger start in 2013, and I’m really looking forward to warmer weather to get out and have some fun with my camera!  If you’ve got favorite shots from last year posted, paste a link to your blog, flickr or whatever!

Enthusiast Photographer Perspective: Five Things That Need To Happen If Micro Four Thirds Is Hoping To Take Over The World

This blog is a commentary on the post linked below at Photofocus:
Five Things That Need To Happen If Micro Four Thirds Is Hoping To Take Over The World.
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I read pretty much every post at PhotoFocus – topics range from industry news to photography tips to ideas on how to challenge yourself to shoot something new.  I’m a big fan of Scott Bourne and his team.  Scott’s post the other day about Micro Four Thirds (I’ll use MFT for the rest of the post) left me with a number of questions that all boiled down to “Why?”

Scott starts out saying he’s a huge fan of the format, but other than size and less fuss about vibration (MFT cameras don’t use a mirror like that moves during shooting like DSLRs do), why is MFT something I should consider switching to?

Don’t get me wrong – size matters.  When I’m traveling, the idea of getting high-quality photos from a much lighter kit than my DSLR requires is attractive.  For street and candid photography, it is a lot easier to be discreet and unnoticed, which is hard with a DSLR body and a 70-200 lens hanging around your neck.

But as I read Scott’s “Five things”, I’m struck by the question “Why” over and over.

  1. More Players: If there was a market, more players would emerge.
  2. Pro Support:  As Scott knows far better than I ever will, pros use what works.  I’ve seen several pros mention that they shoot MFT at least some of the time, but if it were superior for a pro, I think they’d be there already.  If there was opportunity or a core of pro shootsers, one of the manufacturers would offer pro support services (which is a set of services exclusive to pros – faster repair service, access to loaner equipment, special tech support, etc.).  While I do think there are “chicken or egg” problems for some markets, I just don’t think this is one of them
  3. Education: I’m a huge supporter of education, but it seems like this is another thing that is more of a “pull” than “push”.  Also, how much different is the MFT world?
  4. Spokespeople: MFT has a good one in Scott, and I know Trey Ratcliff from Stuck in Customs has said mirrorless is the future (but he’s still primarily shooting on a DSLR – see my thoughts on that here).
  5. More of everything: (equipment, accessories, etc.)  All I can say about this one is markets follow opportunity.

Why isn’t it more popular?  At the end of the day, there are always going to be niche markets.  If a platform like MFT were compelling enough, the products would be on the shelf.  There is a constant stream of cameras that come to the marketplace looking for the right combination of features.  At the end of the day, I think there are things that are keeping the MFT platform solidly in the niche segment, mainly centered around price (MFT isn’t less expensive than DSLR) and performance.  Comparing the Nikon D5200 against two poplular MFT cameras – the Sony NEX-7 and the Olympus OM-D shows both of these cameras as more expsensive, offering fewer lens options (hence Scott’s point above) and short on specs like ISO performance and dynamic range.  Nikon’s V1 didn’t compare well, either.  They are a LOT lighter, shoot higher FPS, have higher boost ISO, etc., but those are “niche-specs” for me.  I’m also wondering if the format is capable of delivering the shallow depth of field/bokeh that is such a part of the creative process in some photographs.

So other than performance-for-the-size, I’m not seeing a reason why I should consider switching – any comments or experiences are welcome!

Should I buy a Nikon D7100?

D7100_heroIf you’re in the Nikon world you’ve heard about the recent announcement of the new Nikon D7100 (unless you were under a rock somewhere).  Predictably enough, the Nikon sections of the various photography forums are ablaze with questions of whether a given photographer should upgrade.

If you’ve found your way here, you might be wondering the same thing.  Regular readers of Enthusiast Photographer are probably predicting my answer already:  for the vast majority of people, it is “It depends, but probably not.”

Heresy.  Crazy talk.  Doesn’t a new camera make your images better?

Usually not.

Here’s the thing – why do you want to upgrade?  What isn’t your current camera doing for you?  In what way or ways are you exceeding the capabilities of the camera? Do you know the camera inside and out?

If you can’t answer those questions in some detail, you probably don’t need to upgrade (but you want to ;))

The desire is always there for the latest thing, and certainly the D7100 is a compelling camera.  If you’re carrying a D90 or D7000 (especially the latter), my recommendation is probably to sit tight.  Yes, the autofocus system is more capable and sophisticated as you go up from the D90 to the D7000 to the D7100.  Yes, you get more megapixels at each step.  The D7000 has a pretty big jump in ability to pull details out of shadows (dynamic range) vs. the D90, and we can assume the D7100 offers even further improvement.  There is a small bump in low light (ISO) performance – likely to be less than a stop between the D90 and the D7100, which isn’t much.

As I’ve said many times here, you can generally get better and more enduring benefits from investing in high-quality lenses than buying a new body.  The lenses will usually work on your next body.  If they don’t they tend to keep their value extremely well, especially compared to a body (which is more like a car – the older it gets, the less it is worth).

Maybe you can answer the questions above, know your camera inside and out and you have a clear idea of what problems the D7100 solves for you – you’ve wrung every bit of performance out of whatever camera you own.  Maybe you’ve got a complete kit of great glass and you’re ready to take the next step with the body.  If one or more of those is true, the D7100 will be a great camera to have.

If you’re on an older body, a D70 or a D80, I think the case for replacing your body is stronger.  There are a LOT of improvements in features, usability and performance in a D7100 over those cameras.  It might be wise to save a few bucks and grab a D7000 as it begins its ride into the sunset, too…

There are a lot of sensor-bullies on the internet who will say your aren’t getting good images quality unless you have the latest sensor, which is ridiculous.  Every other camera that went before didn’t suddenly become less capable – Nikon just took another step forward.  There are lots of ways to improve your images, and the top three are, in order most to least:

  1. Improve the photographer
  2. Shoot with better lenses
  3. Shoot with the best camera you can

OK – that is a little arbitrary, but it is pretty darn true! 😀

At the end of the day, it is hard to get away from the desire to buy a new body.  My general advice is to resist and focus on the other two things.  The next body will always be there…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the D7100, upgrading or any other topic – feel free to comment!

Nikon announces D7100

If you haven’t heard yet, this is yet another new camera from Nikon, and it is aimed squarely at Enthusiast Photographers.

Details here: http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Nikon-Products/Product/Digital-SLR-Cameras/1513/D7100.html

I’m on an airport bus in LA, so more thoughts later :).

Seattle Photowalk

Had a bit of fun today on a work trip…a walk before dinner.  My fun favorite?

My favorite, if just because of the perspective.  He was hanging over the front of the ice-bin...

My favorite, if just because of the perspective. He was hanging over the front of the ice-bin…

My real favorite?
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Full set here: http://on.fb.me/11TNZzY

Enthusiast Photographer Photowalk – Charleston, SC

Every year I shoot this boat, but I try to do something different.

Every year I shoot this boat, but I try to do something different.

One of my favorite things to do is walk a city at dawn and shoot photographs.  Each February finds me in Charleston, SC, and I make a point to get out and capture some of the rich texture so richly abundant here.

The harbor boat above is one of my favorite subjects.  One could say I should find something different, and next year I probably will, but I always enjoy this shot.  It isn’t the most accessible place to get a good composition, but the boat and the dawn sky are great.

Some advice for photowalks.

  • Look for texture and detail.
  • Scout the area beforehand if you can.  Wandering around the day before can give you an idea of where you want to be and where you want to go, and save valuable time while the light is changing.
  • Check your equipment the night before.  Make sure you have a extra batteries and cards, format your cards and make sure to either reset your camera or go through it to make sure there aren’t any settings that will interfere with your shooting (ISO, custom white balance, etc.).
  • Pack light.  If you’ve been able to scout, you probably have a good idea of what lenses to take, etc.  The bag can get heavy fast…
  • Respect “No Trespassing” signs and private property.  Not only is it polite, but failing to do so might lead to some sticky situations with the police or worse.  There’s always something else to shoot.
  • Trust your eye – if you see something interesting, figure out why it caught your attention and try to strip your shot down to that.  Composition is one of my big struggles, but I always have fun with it.
  • Look for the unexpected places.  While I always like to have the photo of the landmark I took myself, try to get an unconventional perspective/composition, and always look for the things other people are missing.

Here are a few other shots from this morning (fairly quickly edited from JPEGS – I’ll play with the RAW files when I get home…):

LEE_6806 LEE_6859 LEE_6853 LEE_6850 LEE_6842 LEE_6833 LEE_6827

I had a lot of fun, and found some new and interesting places my trusting my instinct to turn a corner and see what was there.  If you’ve got some photowalk photos, post a link in the comment area!  Constructive feedback is always welcome, too!