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!

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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.
——————————————————-
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!

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?
8501377135_ecf23a4790_c

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!

Top 5 Pieces of Advice for an Enthusiast Photographer (100th Post!)

locks

I started Enthusiast Photographer because I thought it might be useful to someone to track what I learned over time about photography – tips, equipment, industry news, whatever.  This is now the 100th post on the site, so I thought it would be appropriate to boil things down a little.  Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Learn more about photography: What makes photography fun (and sometimes intimidating) is the vast amount of knowledge out there to acquire – there is always something to learn!  I’ve said many times that the best upgrade in photography is improving the person behind the camera.  Find some good books (Kelby, Peterson, et. al.), Blogs (byThom, PhotoFocus, etc.) or videos (FroKnowsPhoto) and always keep growing!
  2. Learn more about your camera (and lenses): I don’t think it is unfair to say most Enthusiast Photographers haven’t maximized the capabilities of their equipment.  I was astounded how much I didn’t know about my camera (especially the autofocus system) when I read Thom Hogan’s guide to my camera.  What I learned greatly expanded my understanding of the piece of equipment in my hand, my comfort level while shooting and ultimately my photography.  I’ve read it a couple times, and I’m getting ready to do it again – each time I walk away with more.  The same thing is true about some lenses.  Does your lens have switches or buttons?  Do you know what they do and when you should use them?  Generally we’re limited to the owner’s manual here, but read RTFM 🙂 and check reviews to make sure you’re getting the most out of your glass, too…
  3. Decide if you’re a tripod shooter or not (if so, get a good system): Kelby, Hogan and others say that you should invest in a good tripod off the bat.  I’m going to disagree with them…sorta.  If your thing is kids, street or travel photography, a tripod might not be as big a deal – modern lenses with vibration reduction give you much better hand-held results at slower shutter speeds, and your money might be better spent on glass.  If you love landscapes, portraits, macro or any other area of photography where the sharpest picture is key or you’re dealing with very low light (think dawn, dusk or inside dark buildings), then a tripod is one of the most important things you’ll buy.  If you do, spend money on a good one. That doesn’t automatically mean a super-expensive one, but don’t go cheap either.  Find a nice one used or save up for a good one.  I’ll have a post coming on buying tripods and heads later.  For the record, I love my tripod and use it constantly.  I also have a monopod that has come in extremely handy, too.
  4. Always prioritize glass over body when it comes to upgrades:   The latest “sensor” is always sexy.  More megapixels, better low-light performance (ISO), more detail in shadows (dynamic range), whatever.  But here’s the thing – A good lens is going to make any camera better.  An average lens is going to make every camera and photographer work harder.  Icing on the cake comes from the fact that your glass will probably work on your next body, too.  If it doesn’t (for example if you switch from crop-sensor to full-frame), lenses keep their value far better than bodies.
  5. Have fun!: There are so many details to remember and settings to fiddle with that you can wind up missing out on the cool stuff going on around you!  Frankly, if you’ve been diligent about #1 and #2 above, this is probably less of an issue.  One other way you miss the fun is when everything becomes a photo-walk.  During my trip to Europe last Summer, I went light in my bag and shot for fun as much as expression.  It was great – we had a ball and they camera never got in the way of my vacation.  I wound up with some shots I really love, like the one at the top of this post.

So there it is!  Honestly, there are probably more than those five, but that is what is coming off the top of this hair-thinning dome… 🙂

One last note – if you enjoy this content, please feel free to “Like” the Enthusiast Photographer FaceBook page or “Follow” @enthus_photo on Twitter

[EDIT:  It has been a day or so since I posted this, and I just happened to wander by Thom Hogan’s site – he has a very-similar 5 things on his site (called “Last Camera Syndome II)!!  All I can say is I didn’t see his until just now, but it makes me feel good that my thinking tracked pretty closely with Thom’s (though that might worry him!! 🙂 )

Scott Bourne of PhotoFocus Reviews Ona Union Street

The Ona Union Street Messenger - Available in three great-looking colors. (from the Ona website)

The Ona Union Street Messenger – Available in three great-looking colors. (from the Ona website)

If you’re not familiar with Scott Bourne and PhotoFocus, it is a very useful blog to subscribe to.  Scott and his guest bloggers are almost always short, direct, to-the-point and really useful to Enthusiast Photographers of all stripes.

Today brought a familiar topic – the Ona Union Street bag, and Scott’s conclusions were familiar, too.  Check it out:

http://photofocus.com/2013/02/10/one-union-street-dslr-messenger-bag-mini-review/

What are f-stops?

If you’re an Enthusiast Photographer, you’ve probably heard the word “stop” used in relation to aperture, depth of field and other areas of photography.  If you’ve wondered what a “stop” or “f/stop” is, one of the best and most accessible things I’ve read on the topic is the amusingly titled “A Tedious Explanation of the f/stop” – check it out!

Lens Dilemma

I’ll start this post with an apology for the long gap since I added anything to Enthusiast Photographer.  November and January combined for nearly 30,000 miles in the air, and while December didn’t involve any travel, I was either recovering from travel, working, enjoying the holidays or getting ready for more travel!!  The good news is I’ve been keeping a running list of topics, and I’ll promise to spend more time turning that list into (hopefully useful and/or interesting) content!  So let’s get to it!

Ironically, what inspired me to write were a couple of items I’ve seen in the last day about lenses.  I’ll start with a post from the almost-always interesting Photofocus blog about advice regarding what lens to buy.  The post boils down to the fact that the answer is different for almost every photographer – your needs, skills, budget, interests and style is different than anyone else.  If you frequent photography forums, you’ll nearly always find someone asking for advice on this topic.

What is my advice?  Same as it has always been:

  • Always buy the best glass you can, and don’t be afraid of older lenses.  I have some pretty vintage lenses in my bag, but I’ve got a very workable kit.
  • Buy used at places like FredMiranda.com where enthusiasts and pros sell to each other (and there’s a good rating system in place for buyers and sellers).
  • If you can’t afford the expensive constant aperture zooms, get the inexpensive zooms and add a nice f/1.8 prime to your bag (they’re usually pretty affordable, even new).

By the way, if you aren’t sure what “fast glass” “prime lens” or “constant aperture” means, see the my post on “Fast Glass“, and of course always feel free to ask any question via the Comments section – if I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find out!

Honestly, most Enthusiast Photographers aren’t getting as much out of their equipment as we could (myself included).  Boning up on your skills, your knowledge, your holding technique and more can be a huge benefit.  See my book recommendations on books in one of my first posts “Breaking Through the Wall.”

Enthusiast Photographer Lens? Nikon Announces the 70-200 f/4

The net: Lower-priced, fairly fast glass gives Enthusiast Photographers a compelling and (relatively)  lightweight choice, but there are lots of options in this price range. It isn’t a mistake to get one, but my advice is look at other new and used options. In this price range, it is hard to wind up with a dud…

Being an Enthusiast Photographer has a lot to do with affordability.  Most of us never make any income from our photography, so the equipment you own is mainly about enjoying the process of capturing images.  And since I’m guessing most of you are like me, the amount of money you have to spend on that equipment is limited.

There are lots of great reasons to own a long zoom.  They help you get in tight on kids at recitals or on playing fields that are a long way away or the birds or animals that run away if you’re close.  On my recent trip to Europe, I spent a lot of time taking pictures of what I called “texture” for a project my niece was doing, and having 200mm of zoom was extremely useful.

Nikon just announced a new zoom aimed directly at Enthusiast Photographers – the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR telephoto zoom lens.  It offers a constant aperture of f/4 throughout the focal  (zoom) range.  This means that you can set the camera “wide open” for the best low-light performance and/or shallowest depth of field and it won’t change at all as you zoom, as apposed to my 18-200 VRII, which will automatically change to higher apertures as I zoom out, all the way to f/5.6 at 200mm.  How big a difference is that?  One full “stop” of light.  That means at f/4 the camera has twice as much light to work with, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed or a higher ISO if you need to.  Lots of people say “only one stop”, but for me twice as much is a big deal, and often the difference between getting the shot and *not* getting the shot.  One stop of ISO performance is a lot in a body – the D7000 only has “only” 1.1 stops better ISO performance than the ancient D70 (though it has many, many other advantages!).

Anyway, I’ll let you read the Nikon page on the 70-200 f/4 for the specs and full details, and offer up my opinions.

At $1399, it is a pretty pricey lens.  Yes it has the latest generation of “VR” (Vibration Reduction) technology that will let you hand-hold at very low shutter speeds.  I have to say that walking around Europe and Asia in low light with this camera and, say a D600, would have been a magical hand-held shooting experience.  That is because for shooting stuff that isn’t moving at very low shutter speeds VR is a huge help, and you won’t need a tripod.  Add that to clean files at ISO 6400 from cameras like the D600 and D7000 and you can have a lot of fun.  One word of caution, however: it won’t help you nearly as much if what you’re shooting is moving.

Also – it doesn’t have a tripod collar!  The collar is what gives you a tripod foot for good balance and stability, plus allows you to rotate from “landscape” to “portrait” orientation (horizontal to vertical) without taking the lens off the camera).  I’m sure Nikon’s logic was that VR means a tripod isn’t necessary, but there are plenty of landscape shooters shooting panoramic photos with a long zoom, bird-in-flight shooters and others who use a tripod a fair bit.  Having this 30 oz/850g lens hanging off the body isn’t going to do much for stability on the tripod.  If you want a tripod collar, Nikon is happy to sell you one for $223.95 (who came up with that price?? For that kind of money, I’d wait and see what Really Right Stuff or Kirk come up with).  That said, this lens is a much lighter alternative to the Nikon f/2.8 “pro” zooms – 30oz. vs. over 54oz. for the current 70-200 VRII and almost 52oz. for the older 70-200 VRI (so a little less than 1.9lb vs. roughly 3.4lb and 3.2lb).  1.5 pounds is a lot when you’re running around all day with it on your shoulder or back.

New 70-200 f/4 with the collar

The optional RT-1 collar…

Even without the collar, we’re now talking about money that gets you close to the older, $2399 70-200 VRII, which is f/2.8 throughout the range and one of Nikon’s best zoom lenses ever.  Of course, that isn’t chump change, either.  (but it does have a collar 😉 )

Inside Nikon’s product line, that makes me look at the old 80-200 ED f/2.8, which is great “Pro” glass for under $1100 brand new.  It doesn’t have VR, but fast glass makes up for a lot.  Or you can find a nice used copy of the first generation 70-200 “VRI” that has stability control and is a terrific lens for about the same money as the new f/4 model (though it is slightly better for DX than FX, where the new lens is optimized for FX or DX).

If you’re looking for affordability, the 70-300 VR is still a great lens for under $600 brand new and is even lighter than the 70-200 f/4 (a bit over 1.6lb), though it isn’t capable of the low-light performance.

Outside Nikon’s product line, Tokina has announced they’ll offer a similar lens, though pricing and availability haven’t been published.

Lastly, Tamron and Sigma have f/2.8 long zooms for similar money.  These are generally well-regarded and are “faster”, though I have less confidence in Sigma’s consistency when it comes to quality (which is just a personal impression – I have no data to back that up and there are many Sigma owners thrilled with their lenses).  User reviews of both of these makers tend to complain that low-light focus performance doesn’t match the Nikon-branded lenses.

Should you buy one?  Hard to say.  If you have a D600, this lens is designed for you, and is as-good or better than anything out there for the price.  I think the Tokina lens will be a very interesting and high-quality product, probably at $1299 (though it apparently doesn’t have a collar, either).

If I had the money to buy a lens in this price range, I’d be a little flummoxed.  Especially with the collar, there are a ton of options.  The good news is any of the options will net you a really nice lens.  Personally, I’d probably go with a used 70-200 VRI, though the weight and the likely quality of this lens would make it a tough call.

If you’re debating about a new body vs. this new piece of glass, the old saying comes to mind – always invest in glass.  Good lenses make any camera better (see my posts on fast glass and “should I get a new camera” for some additional thoughts), and this lens is good for any modern Nikon DSLR whether it is DX or FX.

Please feel free to post any questions, thoughts or comments!!