Thursday, 27 March 2008

DA 40mm bokeh and *ist DL at ISO 1600


This is quick and dirty test that was done for no other reason than my own curiosity. However, I was quite impressed so I thought I'd share it. The *ist DL, with the 40mm f2.8 attached, was set to ISO 1600 - a sensitivity level that I normally wouldn't think of using on the K10D.

The unprocessed shot, taken at f2.8, is at the very top and shows the results straight out of the camera. That's a 6 mp jpeg at the highest quality setting that only had a slight levels tweak and was then reduced in size. The photograph below shows the same file after it was run through Imagenomic Noiseware Professional and a bit of unsharp masking applied. I think that shows that ISO 1600 is entirely usable on the *ist DL. You really have to click on the pics for the enlarged version to find out what I'm on about. I'm going to shoot the same pic with the K10D to see if there's much difference.

The other notable thing is the nice bokeh produced by the 40mm. It's maybe not the sternest test of bokeh but the lens has produced a very attractive background with no irritating double lines or excessively haloed highlights. I'm off to get some more handwash now :-)

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

What gear to take to Paris?

It's dilemma time again. The time when you're going on holiday, want to cover every eventuality but don't want to lug unnecessary weight around. Cath and I will be travelling very light when we head off to France on Monday. We're only taking hand luggage for a four day trip and have an allowance of 11 kgs each - and that includes my camera outfit. Everything we need has to be capable of being fitted into two holdalls measuring 50x40x20 cms - and that includes my camera outfit. And a tripod! Maybe travelling light isn't such a good idea after all...

OK, it's not very fancy but the hard-wearing Domke F-803 usually gets the job done - and with the minimum of fuss.

Definitely going along for the trip are the K10D and *ist DL bodies. My 16-45 DA zoom is also vital as that's the widest lens I have (I think I'm going to have to sell off bits and pieces when I get back to finance a 10-20mm Sigma). The 50mm f1.7 is fairly indispensable as it's the fastest lens I have. A quick digression: in this post "Bloody silly Ebay prices" I revealed that I'd lost my 50mm f1.7 "M" lens and had bought another off Ebay. Sure enough, just a couple of days after posting that - and exclusively predicted by me in that post - I found the one I thought I'd lost. Anyway back to the outfit and so far so good. This is where it gets slightly more complicated. I could just stick my 70-210 f4 "A" zoom in the bag and be done with it but with stock photography needs in mind, I'm determined to use primes whenever possible.

So I'm thinking of taking the 21 and 70 DA Limiteds and a 135 f3.5 "M". That lot would give me, in 35mm terms, a 24-67mm zoom and 31mm, 75mm, 105mm and 200mm primes. Ideally, I'd like something a bit longer than 200mm but if pushed I can always pull something out of the centre of the K10d's 10 megapixels. I should manage to fit everything inside the compact Domke F-803, although it'll be a squeeze. I really want to take my early 1960s Rolleiflex along as well for black and white work but the last time I did that I never took a single shot during a five day stay - and that's a luxury I can ill afford this time.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Blown highlights AND shadows!

Everybody knows that the ideal histogram is one where the shadows just touch the left hand side and the highlights brush the right. That's OK for the average scene but sometimes rules are there to be broken.

This bench was catching the full glare of a low, late afternoon sun and really threw the undulating design into relief. As usual, I chimped away to make sure that I didn't overexpose any highlights, plunging a few of the deeper tones into irrecoverable darkness in the process.

When I got back home and uploaded the SD card's images, this one stood out for its graphic appeal. But when I tried to produce a photograph that didn't blow out any highlights, it looked much flatter than the impression the scene made on me at the time of exposure. The problem was that the impact of the strong side/backlighting was diluted and the sense of glare gone.

It was quickly restored when I tweaked the levels in Photoshop. The histogram isn't one that Ansel Adams would have produced had he scanned in one of his black and white masterpieces. There are two large spikes - one at the shadows and one at the highlights - and precious little in between. In a lot of photographs, this very high contrast histogram would have looked awful but it was necessary to achieve my visualisation (hope that doesn't sound too high-falutin'!).

I had my walkabout lens - the 16-45 DA - on the K10D on this particular day and it again proved what a good chunk of glass it is. As I've written before in the post titled, aptly enough, 16-45 DA Zoom, it's a very sharp lens but the photograph above shows that it also handles high contrast situations well.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Pentax *ist DL- first impressions


If you read my previous post, you'll have seen that I've added a *ist DL (I'll call it the DL from now on) to the K10D as a back-up when travelling abroad. I've only had it a couple of days which isn't long enough to do much shooting but I can say from the first couple of dozen frames that it's actually very impressive.

It's smaller, lighter and not as well made as the K10D - not surprising really as the K10D is one of the best built in its class - but the image quality is easily on a par if we're comparing like with like.

Obviously, images from the K10D will print at larger sizes courtesy of the extra megapixels - 10 versus 6 - but in no way is the DL outclassed. In fact, my initial impression is that it beats the pants off the K10D when it comes to shooting at 800 and 1600 ISO. That might be expected as, everything being equal, the signal-to-noise ratio is better with fewer megapixels on the same size sensor. However - and I've yet to test this thoroughly - there seems to be quite a gulf in performance between the two at higher ISOs.

Other differences I've noticed between them include the K10D's much improved viewfinder and it's slightly faster and surer AF performance. The DL came with rechargeable AA batteries and seemed to be malfunctioning when I picked it up and moved it around. Sometimes it would work and then the power would just shut down. That wasn't happening with normal AA batteries. I stood a rechargeable and normal battery side-by-side on a table and the former was a couple of millimetres shorter. It looks as if they don't achieve a proper contact in the battery compartment.

Overall, though, the DL looks as though it will make a great back-up camera. With the 40mm DA lens added, it's as light and compact a DSLR package as you'll find and seems capable of producing very sharp results. With the 50mm f1.7 fitted and the camera on 800 ISO, it should be possible to take some handheld shots of Paris landmarks and even brightly lit street scenes. Perhaps the DL will be able to make up for the one area of disappointment I've experienced with the K10D.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Bloody silly Ebay prices!

There was once a time when people used Ebay to pick up a bargain but now it's looking as if your favourite neighbourhood camera store might be the place to go for affordable gear. In a post "Playing with pancakes" a while back, I complained about the prices that the humble 40mm f2.8 "M" pancake lens was fetching. I've given up looking for that one now as I wasn't prepared to pay the going rate. They may have plummeted in price since then but I doubt it, somehow.

With our trip to Paris looming, I've been contemplating what long lens I should take with me. I really just want to take one to keep the weight down and the choice at the moment is the 135 f3.5, the 200mm f4 (both "M" lenses) or the 70-210 f4 "A". Normally, I would just have taken the zoom but with stock photography in mind, you have to start considering factors other than convenience - sharpness and chromatic aberrations amongst them. I hate testing lenses but I did a bit the other day, shooting out of the bathroom window at the clock on the bowling club, and found that, in order of sharpness, it was the 135, then the 200 and finally the zoom. Nothing in life is ever straightforward, though, and when it came to chromatic aberrations - the dreaded purple fringing - it was the same order with the 135 the worst offender. In fact, I couldn't get rid of the CA on this lens in Lightroom. That was wide open, though. Once stopped down to f8, CA was more manageable.

Then followed a bit of creative thinking (creative for me anyhow). What if I got a Pentax 2x converter and used that with the 70mm DA? That would give me the equivalent of a 210mm lens and the quality might be quite acceptable. There would be a fair weight saving as well. Well, we all know where that sort of thinking usually leads. Sure enough, there was one sitting on Ebay with a price tag of about £16. The auction had a few days to go and I imagined picking the converter up for £30 or £40. It was worth a go, I thought, and, if it wasn't up to the job, I wouldn't lose much putting it back on Ebay.

The auction finished tonight and, believe it or not, the converter went for £97 plus £7 postage. £104 for a piece of glass that will probably produce results, combined with the 70mm DA, that aren't as good as I'm getting with my £35 200mm.

It's not all bad news, though, as I've also had a couple of good buys over the last few days. One was a 50mm f1.7 "M" lens to replace the one I've somehow managed to lose (bet it turns up the same day as the new one arrives...) and the other was a Pentax *ist DL body. I've been having nightmares about going abroad only for the K10D to pack up as soon as I've arrive, rendering the trip, from a stock photography point of view, worthless. I didn't want to spend a lot on another K10D as chances are it will be used very little. The 6 mp *ist DL produces files that are just a nice size for many microstock libraries. From what I can see, it's low-light performance might be a shade better than the K10D's especially from a noise point of view so it might see one or two outings in the evening in the City of Light.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Carnoustie bay


We've had a few stormy days down here over the last week or so. This picture was snapped on one such day when the wind was whipping up the waves. I realise this will probably look pretty tame to someone used to the breakers off the Californian coast but everything in my neck of the woods is on a smaller scale!

It was taken with the 70mm DA and given the split tone treatment in Lightroom. I dialled some creaminess into the highlights and a colder tone into the mid tones and shadows. I wanted to emphasise the waves and clouds by making them a warmer tone.Lightroom is great for that sort of thing.

Any time global changes have to be made to an image, rather than small changes to different parts of the photograph, I find it's usually quicker than Photoshop.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Best flashgun for the K10D?

I could really use a bit of advice/help with choosing a flashgun for the K10D. Frankly, for the type of photography I do, I've always seen flashguns as a luxury. That's why I'm using an ancient Vivitar model that is just a basic affair with no TTL, etc. That's been adequate up 'til now, especially with digital as it's easy to check that the flash exposure is bang on.

However, we're off to Paris in a couple of weeks for four days and I'm intending to slip into photojournalist mode and photograph/write something for sale to travel publications to finance the cost of the trip. It's with this in mind that I thought I'd better take a look at flashguns. And I'm a bit bewildered by the choice of models and their complexity. I'm pretty sure that out of the few hundred regular daily readers of this blog, there are bound to be lots who know a huge amount more about flashguns than I do - and I'd like to pick your brains, if I may!

Pictured in this post are some of the likely contenders: Pentax's own AF-360FGZ, the 48 AF1 from Metz and the Promaster 7500 which may not be available in the UK.

I don't want to spend more than £200 - in fact, I'd like to spend a lot less but want something that will be reasonably powerful and flexible and I'll pay the extra if necessary. A guide number of around 35m at 100 ISO, coverage out to 24mm, a bounce and swivel head (the swivel bit is really important), TTL or P-TTL (if someone wants to explain the difference I'd be grateful!) and wireless capability if possible so that I can use the flash handheld off camera are the main requirements. At the moment, the Metz is looking pretty good to me. There are probably other models from the likes of Sigma that I don't know about so any advice regarding other makes would be great. If you can shed any light (crappy pun) on the subject, please leave a comment.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Night Photography


One of the things I love about night photography is its sheer unpredictability. It's best when there are different light sources in the frame as the mix of colours can be lovely. The night shots I posted earlier were largely made up of a monochromatic light (thanks Jostein for that information!) and, although I liked them, there was really no way of getting rid of the strong orange colour cast.

On the two above, however, there's a range of colour that adds something extra to the pics. Of course, the colours you see were not actually evident when I was standing looking at these scenes. Both were shot with the K10D mounted on a tripod and with the 21mm DA lens in place. They're a couple of "accidents" in that I hadn't gone out to take night shots. I'd been around to the YMCA where they have several sets of studio lights to get in some practice. I've never done any studio work but I thought it would be useful to figure it out as there are a lot of subjects I can tackle that might play well with microstock photo libraries.

The photograph below is from that session. It's a conch shell I found in the YMCA which I sat upon a fondue bowl. I sat the conch and bowl in front of a small softbox and shot them from a distance of about 15 feet with a Tamron SP 300mm f5.6 on the K10D and a piece of card bouncing some light back into the shadows. That was the only way I could contain the conch within the confines of the softbox. Once I know what I'm doing, I'll take my own props!

On the way home - it's a walk of about three hundred yards - I set up the tripod to take a couple of shots. The top image is of a "close" that I've posted before in Close Encounters . When I was in the process of taking the other one, a bunch of teenagers approached me and one young lad said, "Why are you taking a photograph of my house?" We got chatting and they asked me if I was a photographer so I lied and said yes. I feel more like a photographer than a reporter anyway so it was out of me before I could think about it. The guy said he wanted to be a photographer when he left school - so that made two of us. How do we sometimes manage to end up in the wrong job?

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Pentax 200mm f4 "M"


I don't have any prejudice against zooms and will use them as long as they provide sufficient image quality which most of them do nowadays. However, I've made a decision to try to use my prime lenses more often. That's because I've decided to submit photographs to microstock libraries and, when it comes to having work accepted, every advantage helps.

Theoretically, the primes should be sharper and show less distortion than the zooms although this won't be the case for every lens at every aperture. The shots above were taken with my 200mm "M" lens. I've started carrying the 135 f3.5 "M" and the 200mm in preference to the 70-210 f4 "M" just to see if I can detect any noticeable improvement in sharpness.

My initial findings are that the 135mm is indeed a bit sharper than the zoom. I've not yet made up my mind about the 200mm but there's nothing to complain about in the photographs in this post.

The subject is a church that sits on a hillside just south of St Andrews. I've passed it lots of times and thought it would make a nice pic but there aren't many parking spaces - i.e. none - on the busy country road that passes it. Today, I parked on a grass verge, stuck my hazard warning lights on and kept my fingers crossed. In the top shot, I was using a fence post for support and turned off the anti-shake button as it was almost as steady as a tripod and you're not supposed to use anti-shake when on a solid support. The other pic was handheld at 1/250th. The aperture was the same in both cases, f5.6.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Digital and analogue


There's a few years between these two photographs. The top one was taken on my Minolta A2 and the bottom on a Mamiya Press 6x9. Apologies for the lack of Pentax input but they are interesting for the reason that the medium format shot is much grainier than that from the A2's tiny sensor.

Printed in the darkroom, the 6x9 image is quite fine-grained. Scanned on my flatbed scanner, though, and what grain there is is exacerbated. I used to think this was a property of my ageing scanner but it appears to be a widespread problem.

I don't mind a bit of grain but if you've ever had to lug a Mamiya Press on a heavy tripod to the middle of a river to get a shot like this and then found the results to be grainier than something you could have snapped handheld with a bit of lightweight plastic, you'll understand why grain isn't a desirable quality in this instance.

I still have the Mamiya but if I was looking for fine-grained results, there's no way I'd take it over the K10D - or the A2 for that fact.

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Barcelona staircase


I've been searching through some pics I took in Barcelona a couple of years ago with a view to sending them to a microstock library. I've read the figures that some of the guys with a lot of photographs in a library have been achieving and it looks as if it could be quite worthwhile.

Unfortunately for me, I was there when I had my Minolta A2 and not the K10D. A while back, I submitted some A2 shots taken in North Cyprus to a library and they were rejected as being too noisy. I'm now in the process of looking at noise reduction software to see how much difference that will make and I'll post more about what should be an interesting wee experiment later. The Barcelona images will be run through the noise reduction software and submitted and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that everything works out OK.

Anyway, the point of this post isn't to speak about noise reduction but about what can happen when you're ill-prepared on holiday. Barcelona was my first trip abroad with the A2 and I hadn't used it for a full day's shooting at home. Our first tourist stop was at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's amazing cathedral and one of the city's great icons. I took a couple of shots before we entered with the intention that I'd spend time after the tour doing some more. Halfway through the tour my battery - the only one I had for the A2 - packed up.

That was the end of that day's shooting as by the time we got back to the hotel and I'd charged the battery up it was late in the evening. We were only in the city for five days and never got back to La Sagrada Familia. As a result, I now have four batteries for the A2 - one more than I have decent pics of the cathedral. Very soon afterwards, I bought the bolt on battery grip for the A2 which allowed me to go out with two batteries in the camera and two fully charged in my bag. Once bitten twice shy.

Despite the mini-disaster at the cathedral, I did manage to get some nice shots of Barcelona, particularly La Pedrera which must be the loveliest block of flats in the world. It was whilst sorting through these pics that I came across the one above. It's the staircase in a building that we passed on the way to La Pedrera. I caught a glimpse of it through an open doorway and nipped inside for a quick pic. It looked OK in colour but I think it's a lot better in black and white. Unfortunately, my description of its location is likely to be a bit too vague for a picture library!

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Why no ISO 50 on the K20D?

I think Pentax have missed a trick by keeping the lowest ISO rating on their two new cameras at 100. It's not so much from a quality point of view as there's virtually no noise at 100 ISO with the K1D and the new models should be even better. However, a lower setting would have turned the K20D into a great street shooting machine - and here's why.

I suspect not too many people bother to use the K10D's TAV setting but it has a lot of potential. It works by allowing the photographer to select an f-stop and shutter speed and then varies the ISO level automatically to keep the exposure correct at those settings regardless of changing lighting conditions. In other words, if you want to shoot at 250th at f5.6 all day long for some reason, it is supposed to allow you to do so.

At first I thought this was just a gimmick. I mean, who really needs to stick to just one f-stop and one shutter speed? And then it occurred to me how great this feature would be for street shooting. When you're out on the street and you're focusing by selecting an aperture and setting the lens to a given distance to ensure that everything from, say, 5 - 15 ft is acceptably sharp, you're really not in a position to change f-stops. On aperture priority, you can choose the appropriate f-stop and let the camera take care of the shutter speed. But what if the sun goes behind a cloud and you turn to take a shot of someone in a doorway? You could find that the shutter speed has dropped too far. For pictures of people moving just feet from me, I like to keep the shutter speed at 125th or above.

That's where TAV should come in, keeping the aperture and shutter speed where you want them by varying the ISO. As the old saying goes, in theory, practice and theory should be the same but in practice they're not. And in practice, TAV doesn't work as well as it should. And the reason is that there are not enough truly usable ISO speeds on the K10D. If I'm after good quality results, I won't use anything faster than ISO 400. That gives me just three EVs to play with - 100, 200 and 400.

Let's see how this would work on the street. It's a cloudy bright day (this is Scotland we're taking about, after all, and that's about as good as it gets much of the time). I have a 28mm lens on the K10D as that's the closest I can get to my 35mm film format favourite of 40mm. With the lens focused at 8 feet, I need an aperture of f11 to get acceptable sharpness from just under five feet to just over 26 feet (no need to work that out: just check out these depth of field tables). I pick my 125th minimum shutter speed and work out that on a cloudy bright day, I'd need to set the ISO at 200 for a proper exposure. I dial the K10D to TAV mode and now I'm all set.

But what if the suns pokes out from behind the clouds (it does happen from time-to-time, even in Scotland)? Bright sun would mean a two stop difference in exposure forcing the camera to drop down to ISO 50. But I only have ISO 100 so the image will be one stop over-exposed. Or perhaps a particularly black cloud passes in front of the sun at exactly the same time as Elvis emerges from a dark doorway riding Shergar. That's a difference of three or possibly even four stops from an open scene in cloudy bright conditions and would require an ISO of 1600 or 3200.

OK, I'd get the shot and it would make the front pages of all the papers but it wouldn't make the best A3 print I've ever seen. From what I've read on the 'net so far, the K20D and K200D will have usable 800 ISO and the dearer of the two passable 1600 ISO. For the K20D, that's a range of 5 EVs - better, but still not enough to make TaV the perfect street shooting mode. I wonder if there are any other DSLRs out there with a TAV mode, ISO 50 and a fully usable ISO 800?

For the latest Pentax Photography post, click here.



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