Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wonkers Digest

Here's a couple of items that caught my eye in the last week while wonking out on all things photography:

- The League of Creative Infrared Photographers (there should be more leagues out there, don't you think?) looks to bring together infrared photography enthusiasts from all around to share their images, tips, techniques and experiences. This comes as a response to Kodak's discontinuation of their HIE-135 film, as well as the increased availability of cheaper and used DSLRs on the market that can be converted for use in infrared photography. Full disclosure – I've never shot in any kind of infrared format, and probably don't care to see any more of the same clich├ęd "white fuzzy trees" shots, but I'm curious to see more of their members' work.

- The New York Times has a cool little piece up about O. Winston Link, famous for photographing the giant locomotives on the Norfolk and Western line during it's completion in the late 50s. Many of Link's images were carefully constructed and lighted compositions, relying little on chance and more on lots of flash bulbs and rapport with the train engineers (who would occasionally back up and come back through the frame again so he could catch the perfect shot). This great interactive graphic goes into detail about how the image was put together. I think there's probably a lot of folks out there that would decry the "staged" nature of this and other photos in Link's portfolio, but I love thinking about all the technical hoops he had to jump through to get this image. That photography can be about both capturing a fleeting, natural moment and assembling an elaborate scene in front of the camera is what fascinates me so much about the medium.

- Deleted Images requests all of the photos you would normally delete from your digital camera for being too darlk/blurry/whatever. The site calls itself "The Junkyard of Art," but I don't think that's necessarily correct. I don't see much here that's art in that it was a conscientious exercise in imagemaking. That doesn't mean that I think it's a junkyard though – there are a lot of intriguing, happy accidents here that are oddly compelling. And in the future when we'll no longer have old shoe boxes of negatives to look through, and are instead trying to figure out how in the hell folks in the early 21st century got images on these weird, shiny discs, these may be the only images we have left.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

That being said, you might as well save money on your tools...

Here's a roundup of a few rebates currently being offered on cameras and photographic equipment. When possible, the link is to the manufacturer's promotions page:

- Canon has extended their Instant Rebate program through 17 February. There are some really nice lenses included in this program, as well as their Speedlite 580EXII, and savings up to $125 (if you're ready to drop a load of cash on the EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM, that is).

- Canon also has a few rebates tied in with their Pixma Pro9000 and Pro9500 Photo Printers. Buy it by itself and get $100 in Mail-In Rebates. Buy it with a EOS Digital Rebel XTi or 40D and get $200 in Mail-In rebates, OR (this is the nice one), buy it with the mighty, mighty EOS 5D and get it essentially for free after Mail-In Rebates. w00t! But hurry – offer ends this Saturday, 12 January.

- Nikon is offering a $150 Instant Rebate when you purchase their dandy AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED along with their D3, D300, D200 or F6 (they still sell that thing?) bodies. That runs through 31 January.

- Fujifilm (again, why Fujifilm?) has $50 Mail-In Rebates on their Finepix F40fd and S8000fd models. Both these pieces feature Fujifilm's Super CCD sensor which gives them improved performance at higher ISO settings. These offers are good through 31 March.

- Epson has a $100 Mail-In Rebate on two of their entry-level wide format printers, the Stylus Photo R1800 and R2400. Sadly, they don't throw more money at you for buying it with a DSLR. Offer good through 31 March.

- Pentax would love for you to buy their K10D, so much so that they're offering a $100 Mail-In Rebate that's good through 31 January. There are also a variety of lenses and flashes included in this promotion.

- Tamron is offering Mail-In Rebates on a number of their lenses, including their nice little SP AF17-50 F/2.8 Di II LD Aspherical, which makes a great, fast walk-around lens for not a lot of money.

I do(n't) care.

I spent a good portion of yesterday wondering what I should write for my next post. Should I try to keep up with all of the countless announcements/rumors coming out of CES this week and PMA at the end of the month? Should I offer my two cents on the long-contested Nikon v Canon debate? Should I offer some killer Photoshop tutorial that, truth be told, you could find any number of other places? And all while I was doing this, I was trying to finish a CD of images I took for some friends of mine at their wedding, wait on customers, keep our photo lab here at work from getting further behind, and educate a new coworker on some of the more confusing aspects of photography. And somewhere in the middle of all of that was when I realized...

I don't care.

Let me clarify: I do care deeply about photography. It's the one thing I am most passionate about; the one thing I can't learn enough about; the one thing I can see myself doing vocationally or avocationally for the rest of my life. But somewhere along the line (be it a result of having to keep up to speed on this spec and that figure to then turn around and sell goods and services to the public, or me just being a little bit of a closet gearhead myself), I started to lose sight of what it's really all about, which is taking photographs.

Yes, having better gear can help you achieve results that you can't get otherwise. Yes, knowing what Acme Camera Co. offers on their models compared to those made by Blam-O Imaging can help you make informed purchasing decisions. And yes, knowing how to further enhance your images using the available software is the other half of any photographer's workflow...

See, I just said the word "workflow." That's not a word I like to use. It has nothing to do with photography per se, but everything to do with how we approach things in the digital age. Those of us shooting digital (and I know of some holdouts out there that aren't) are often coming home with a memory card full of hundreds of images, which requires sifting through them to find the ones worth keeping, and then sifting through those to find the ones worth editing, only to have to decide which of THOSE are worth ever sharing with anyone else. Workflow. Fun, right?

The point is that I never intended this blog to be another photo technology blog – there are plenty of them out there that do a much better job of keeping all the facts and figures straight. I wanted this to be a photography blog, discussing the art, the passion, the education, the struggles, the mistakes, and yes occasionally the tips, techniques and technology that allow us to make the art, feed the passion, make and then correct the mistakes. I was so excited trying to explain to my aforementioned coworker how some of these things work, and even when I was presented with a question I couldn't directly answer, I had fun trying to figure out the answer, and explain it in such a way that it would make sense, not to someone already familiar with the terminology, but to the average person off the street that wants to know more.

So anyway, with that new mission statement....

(See, there I go again, using annoying terminology.)

So anyway, with that new manifesto (I like that!) out of the way, I hope Photowonk can be a source for all of those things and more. With the possible exception of Henri Cartier-Bresson, there's not a single famous photographer I can name whose equipment I can also name, becasue it doesn't matter. The equipment is simply the tool through which the mind and the heart find expression. If that tool is a Leica rangefinder, a Canon EOS 30D (raises hand), a Nikon 35mm point-and-shoot, or a pinhole camera made from an oatmeal box, what matters is how you express yourself with that tool. The tools help, and you can't do certain things with the wrong tools (although frankly, just about anything can be used as a hammer when you think about it), but it's what you build with those tools that counts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Down at the ol' Rumor Mill

Oh boy. The internets are all a-flutter with rumors of a Nikon D3x currently in beta testing, with possible release later this year. One version of this story has the D3x with a 18MP FX (Nikon's full-frame) sensor. That seems reasonable enough, I guess – a challenger to Canon's studio champ, the 1Ds Mk III, weighing in at 21.1 MP. Another version tells of a 38.7 MP FX TIMOS (for Time Interpolated Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor, whatever the hell that means) sensor, which seems implausible enough, but then they go on to say...

"Oh, by the way it will be out in September,2008 and since R&D costs were recovered on the D3, the price will be unchanged!"

Yeah, I'm calling shenanigans on this one. It took Nikon THIS long to get in the full-frame sensor game, and we're supposed to believe they have a 38.7 MP version already waiting in the wings? Imported from the future indeed!

I feel torn, because on one hand, this is a photography blog, and you expect to read that sort of unsubstantiated rumor on, well, ANY technology blog, and who am I to blow against the wind? On the other hand, I find this kind of crystal-ball gazing and gear-head-ery tedious, and distracting from the real matter at hand, that being making great images.

Down the Rabbit Hole (with Flash Bulbs)

In typical internet fashion, going to one page led me to several other pages I never knew existed...

1. I have a feed that pulls in any photo equipment being sold in my area on Craigslist, and as is often the case, what's being sold doesn't make me want to break out the checkbook. Seems like it's always something too rich for my blood, not really anything I'm interested in, or some antiquated little nugget that I really can't justify spending any money on. This was once such case – a case of flashbulbs, in fact. Now, in theory, I could use these, having an old press camera with a Graflex Flashgun/Lightsaber, but I've never used the flash with this camera, nor ever intended to, so I think I'll pass. What piqued my curiosity though was this passage:

"...bulbs are just the thing for cave photos. Spelunker's [sic] have been using them for years."

Which led me to...

2. ...this page, going into great detail about photographing the interiors of caves, and the virtues of a bare-bulb style of illumination, namely from old flashbulbs. Now, I can certainly see where being able to pump out that much light on each exposure can be awfully nice in a dark cave, but having to go over and change out those bulbs after each exposure would be a pain in the butt in ANY location, let alone a darkened, damp cave. Should I ever find myself shooting down in a cave (and I must admit, this sounds like a lot of fun), I think I'll take my chances with off-camera strobes fired remotely.

(As an aside, I hate the term flashgun. There's this old fogy I deal with periodically that still uses that term and it drives me nuts. He's one of those types that if he's reading you a model number, he'll say "Delta-Echo-Alpha-4-Fiver-Baker" instead of DE-A45B. End rant.)

While looking at other sites discussing photography in caves, I found a link to...

3. ...Cress Photo, who apparently has the market cornered on flashbulbs and accessories, including special rigs used in motion picture and television special effects. Now that's all well and good, but do they really need photos of buxom, bikini-clad women holding or standing next to their equipment? Does this kind of marketing have any kind of positive effect? Does any heterosexual male see this and think, "Ladies LOVE bare-bulb flash photography – I got to get me some of that?" Do female photographers (there are a few out there) see this and not feel that still, here in the 21st century, their industry is an old-boys club that welcomes them mostly as models, and occasionally as colleagues? Does sex still sell anything to anyone other than 18-year olds? I mean, it's offensive, both from a certain feminist standpoint, and mostly in an insults-my-intelligence kind of way. I want to be sold on the virtues of your equipment, not be lured into your website by skin. Is THIS the best we can do?

Welcome! (Again)

Wow. Hard to believe it's been nearly a year and a half since I last posted to Photowonk! Wha happen? Sadly, there's no great cataclysm or thrilling news to explain my absence – more a lack of time and motivation. And while there's still not much time, there seems to be the motivation, so I figured I would strike while the iron is hot. Several things have me thinking more about photography these days:

1. I purchased a Canon EOS 30D some months back, and have been enjoying it immensely, even though when I bought it, it was already "obsolete" by some folks' standards. Still, it's a terrific camera, and has got me back in the habit of just taking photos whenever, wherever.

2. I will be attending the PMA convention this year, the first time I've been since 2002, and plan to write about some of my experiences there, including first impressions of expected Nikon, Canon and Pentax D-SLR offerings.

3. I just learned of the passing of Herbert Keppler, whose various writings I've been following ever since I picked up my first copy of Popular Photography back in who-knows-when. Anyone who reads or writes a camera review, photo tutorial, or really anything related to the photographic industry owes a debt of gratitude to this man. He and his safari hat will be sorely missed.

So join me again, won't you? It promises to be an exciting few weeks here at Photowonk as we get our blog legs back in preparation for PMA and all the exciting new toys.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fujifilm 2GB xD Card

Here's good news for all of you Olympus + Fujifilm digital camera shooters (and you know who you are): Fujifilm has just announced that their 2GB xD Memory Card will be available in September. Those of you with legacy Fujifilm cameras (anything over a year and a half old?), take note - some models will require a firmware upgrade, some models may not record movies properly, still others will say "2 GB? Why on Earth would anyone need all of that storage?", chase you out of their yard, and die quietly on their settee in front of the wireless.

BTW, why are they still called Fujifilm?

Nikon D80, two new lenses announced.

Of course, this was the big day that Nikon unleashed the full details of their D80 Digital SLR upon the world, and every blog and their mother had to have something to say about it, so why should I be any different? Really, the D80 does deserve the attention it's getting - it seems to be a perfect blend of high-end features passed down from the D200 and D2X/H family, and user-friendly elements from the D50 and Coolpix cameras. Here's the bullet points:

- 10.2 megapixel Nikon DX CCD sensor
- New Nikon image-processing engine (Whites whiter! Color-safe!)
- 3D Color Matrix Metering with variable-size center-weighted and spot metering (which can be coupled to the...)
- 11-point AF system
- Pictmotion slideshow allows for various fades between images and music to be added (as seen on the Coolpix S6)
- In-Camera Retouch Menu includes D-Lighting (from the Coolpix cameras), Red-Eye Correction, and Color Filter effects
- Fuel Gauge provides more accurate battery life information
- Accepts SD cards (SDHC compliant)

All this for an expected price tag just short of $1000 when they hit the stores sometime in early September.

Nikon also announced two new lenses today. The first is the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor. For those not familiar with Nikon's own special brand of gobbledy-gook, that's means it's near the 35mm equivalent of a 28-200mm focal length, a relatively decent aperture range, Extra-Low Dispersion glass (and here you thought ED meant erectile disfunction), Internal Focusing, Silent Wave focusing motor, and a smaller image circle exclusively for the Nikon DX sensors in their digital SLRs.

Perhaps even more appealing is their 70-300 f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor. All the same abbreviations apply, with the addition of Vibration Reduction to minimize the effects of camera shake. Expect to plop down about $400 and $560 respectively.

Make that two weeks with...

Yes, so my plan to put the Pentax Optio T10 through its paces ran into a slight snag, namely real life. Never enough hours in the day to do all the things you want to do, and this was no exception. Still, I intend to give a report on this camera - it may just have to wait a week. My time spent with the T10 so far has not been all that pleasant - the touch screen interface is quite nice, but it seems Pentax forgot to spend much time on the camera part of it. Still, I want to give it a fair shake, and I just haven't had the time to do it yet.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Week with...

Today we provide the first of many installments of hands-on camera reviews, A Week With..., where Photowonk will spend a week putting a current digital camera model through its paces. Hopefully, we'll provide something different than just the standard, anal-retentive camera review we all know and love. What makes one camera great and another suck goes well beyond just resolution and zoom, and often has more to do with the experience of using it. Are the various settings where you would expect them to be? Is it too light/heavy? What about the software that comes in the box? Was it worth the amount you paid for it?

And so, Photowonk starts A Week with the Pentax Optio T10. Here are the basics:


- 6.0 Megapixels
- 3x Optical Zoom
- 3.0" LCD display

What sets this camera apart from a lot of the other compact, 6MP cameras is that 3.0" LCD doubles as a touch display, thereby eliminating almost all of the buttons from camera body itself. Will this feature make the T10 a winner, or will not having dedicated buttons for specific features (like my beloved Canon Powershot SD450) make every little setting a pain in the butt? Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Crowns, Trains and Autoexposure

One of things that fascinate me most about photography is that it is a medium so familiar to everyone. Much how most everyone doodles in the margins of pages when they're on the phone, but then swear they cannot or do not draw, almost everyone takes or has taken photos at some point in their life, but so few people would claim to be photographers, either for fun or for profit. This has always been one of the hurdles photography has had to clear in being considered a fine art - the fact that anyone can take a photo or use a camera (although my experience in camera retail might suggest otherwise). Particularly now in the age of automatic metering and focusing, taking a minimally well-exposed photo is quite easy - it is what to photograph and how that still seems to separate what we consider art and what we consider document.

What got me thinking on this tangent again is two recent instances where I was asked about particular photographic techniques in quite different fields. In one case, a customer asked if I knew anything about pinhole lenses for model railroad photography. In another instance, Erin was wondering what constituted clinical photography, and a Google search yielded one of Dine Corporation's many products for dental photography. In neither case is the resulting photograph an end unto itself, but rather a document of a particular hobby (model railroading) or process (dentistry). And yet, I think I would find the photograph, and the means by which it was made, to be vastly more interesting than model trains or someone's mouth.

Anyway, what all this rambling is about is that most of us, in one way or another, use a camera on a regualr basis, whether for family or vacation snapshots, documenting a process or interest, or simply to create a photograph. What I want to know from you, dear reader, is the ways you use cameras that I might not know about. Do you use a camera for work? Does your hobby often require some specialized piece of photographic equipment? Let me know!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Food Porn

The other day I read an article in the Chicago Tribune about food porn. This article was quite a revelation to me; it made me realize that I am not, in fact, a freak for photographing my food. You see, this is something I've been doing for quite some time without even thinking about it. It most often occurs when I travel, but has been know to happen at home as well.

A friend of Neil's, after looking through my photos on Flickr, asked Neil why I always photograph my food. I'd never given it much thought before and I quickly realized that I didn't have a concrete answer. Why wouldn't I photograph my food? I photograph other things I find enjoyable or interesting, and food definitely fits into those catagories. I want to remember it. I want to share it with my friends, and assuming they're not sitting across the table from me, that's the best way to do it. Sometimes I want to try to duplicate it. But mostly, I think, I just feel compelled to capture something so wonderful yet so impermanent.

Here are a couple of photos from a great food city, Philadelphia:

Not a great photo - but a great dessert - from Morimoto

Philly cheesesteak, the likes of which can't be found 'round these parts


The next time you worry that your digital camera isn't as fast or high-resolution as it should be, take comfort that at least it doesn't take 2 + a half hours to generate an image, and is more than .0027 megapixels. Of course, your camera also isn't powered by ping-pong balls.

Two Media Technology students from the University of Leiden, the Netherlands created PingPongPixel for their graduation project as an example of "interactive non-luminescent display systems." In English, this means a shelf of six different colors of ping-pong balls, varying shades of gray, being processed and dropped into place 45 at a time, until 2.5 hours later, a picture of Elvis emerges. Or perhaps you would prefer Gandhi, or Margaret Thatcher - it's a very versatile system.

The inventors promise a home version by 2007. Okay, not really.