Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm loving this thing.

I have to admit that I am just loving my new 5D Mark II. The pictures in this post were just shot yesterday in an adhoc fashion using my 580EX II as filler. The post processing was minimal on these. All I did was do a minor tweak on exposure due to my error. But there was nothing done to colors or sharpness. What this camera produces is just amazing.

I also have to give a plug for the shutter sound of the 5DII. As I mentioned in my 5D Mark II First Impressions article these are quiet and smooth. When I would shoot my dogs with my 40D (while its a great camera) due to the louder shutter the dogs would get distracted and stop being my wife calls it. With the 5DII the quiet shutter made it possible to take shots without distracting them. In essence they did not realize I was taking shots and kept doing what they were doing. I can see how this would be a tremendous benefit to wedding and event shooters.

Well, I'm sure I will have a lot more to say about the 5DII but wanted to share this experience with everyone. I'll continue to keep you posted as to how things turn out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Lighting Lesson

Well, I learned a lesson about effective lighting recently. I was taking some pictures of my son doing some Christmas Caroling with his Cub Scout Den at a local nursing home and assumed I would need a flash. There were two errors in my thinking...which I will get to later.

Having used crop bodies for years now, with a ceiling ISO of 1600 or so, I slapped on my 580EX II flash and configured my settings appropriately. I was convinced that given the dark situation there was no way to get shots without the flash. With my 40D this is a true statement, at least without unacceptable image noise.

Okay, so you see one of my errors in thinking, that I had to have the flash. I was forgetting that I was now shooting with my 5D Mark II, a camera I have discussed here previously and one that has much superior low light abilities to the crop bodies I have been using. In retrospect, with the 5D Mark II I should have 86'ed the flash and cranked up the ISO.

In shooting with the flash, one I am comfortable using, I realized after the fact that I was shooting down which caused the flash not cast evenly out across the halls and large rooms we were in. So the nearest part of the shot was over exposed and the back underexposed due to the angle of the flash.

So what did I learn???
  1. Keep in mind what camera you are using and shoot for that camera. If I had remembered the 5D Mark II's capabilities I would have not used the flash and gotten much more natural exposures.
  2. Thought about how my light was reflecting. Even if I had used the flash no matter what I would have adjusted the angle to best cover the space I was shooting.
In the end my lesson is to pay attention to what equipment I am using and what conditions I am shooting in. I was able to adequately fix all the pics in post processing but getting it right the first time is always best.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

5D Mark II First Impressions

Well, I have had the 5DII for about a week now and gotten to go on a couple shoots with it. Below is a quick list of thoughts after using it for a bit. This is not a review, there are plenty of those by people far more qualified than myself.
  1. Size & Weight: It is larger and heaver than my 40D. However, as I like a larger body size this works for me. I still added a battery grip and find the 5DII to fit my hand the best of any Canon I have used in years. My xxD bodies fit will but this one is just outstanding.

  2. Feel: It has a nice feel to the touch than my 40D. The covering feels softer and higher grade for lack of a better expression.

  3. Menu System: I know it is different than the 40D but not enough to make using it difficult. Now that the 5DII has a my menu I have what I need at my fingertips just like in my 40D so the learning curve was very small.

  4. Back Buttons: Ok, this is one of the biggest learning curves for me. Having the buttons below the screen on the 40D for the past 18 months I have gotten used to having them there. It is taking some getting used to having them on the side. I know when I pull out my 40D I will be going to the side instead of the bottom. My wife just laughs at me as I make a "Doh" sound every time I go to the wrong spot.

  5. Back Screen: Absolutely fantastic. I never thought the 40D screen (or any previous Canon DSLR screen) was bad until I got my hands on this one. It presents a crisp and clear image that when magifying allows for precise knoweldge of focus accuracy. This is turning out to be a pleasure and having used it with Live View while doing some night photography it has finally converted me to the value of Live View. On the 40D I didn't use Live View as the back screen made the image look drab.

  6. Top Screen: Seems a little larger than my 40D's and some of text is different sizes. But on the whole it is similar and consistent with what I am used to. The only thing that gets me is the backlight button is now on the right when I am used to it on the left. I think I can live with that. :-)

  7. Shutter Sound: Notably much quieter than the 40D. I see that as having huge benefit for event shooting when you don't want to draw attention to youself.

  8. Shutter Button: Very smooth, almost a buttery feel to it. Very easy to press and helps promote a smooth motion which helps promote better technique and more a squeeze versus press (which can lead to increased camera shake) method.

  9. Battery Life: As expected it is great. I like having the meeter which tells me the level for both batteries in the grip. As a bit of a worrier about power this gives me more confidence when I'm out. But that could just be me and my paranoya.

  10. ISO Performance: The ISO performance is fantastic on this camera, it is worth upgrading for this alone. Below are links to some posts I've done for a few quicks tests to show the high ISO performance. Take a look, I think you'll agree that the 5DII is usable up to 6400 at a reasonable print size.
Person High ISO Test
Flag High ISO Test
Ladder Joint High ISO Test

These are just my impressions and as I said not scientific in any way. They are just hte opinions of some guys that likes to take pictures. Let me know your thoughts as well, I would love to see what others think of the 5DII.

Have a great one.

5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 3: Ladder Bolt

Ok, here is the final set. This is a 100% crop of the stair joint on a ladder laying in the horribly lit hall I mentioned in the first installment. This time I got smart and expanded the range to start at 1600 to give you even a better feel for the capabilities of the 5DII. Enjoy and as always, let me know what you think.

ISO 1600:

ISO 3200:

ISO 6400:

ISO 12800:

ISO 25600:

Previous Installment: 5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 1: Person
Previous Installment: 5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 2: Flag

For my first impressions of the 5DII take a look at the 5D Mark II First Impressions Post.

5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 2: Flag

Ok, here is the second set I took last evening. This was an American Flag with all conditions mentioned previously being consistent and the images being 100% crops.

ISO 6400:

ISO 12800:

ISO 25600:

Any thoughts?

Previous Installment: 5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 1: Person
Next Installment: 5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 3: Ladder Bolt

For my first impressions of the 5DII take a look at the 5D Mark II First Impressions Post.

5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 1: Person

Well last night I was in a large hall taking some candid shots of my son's Cub Scout meeting. This hall is one of the worst shooting situations I shoot in as the lighting is horrible, its dark and the walls have the most God aweful color on them. I always shoot with a flash in this enviornment as a means to compensate for the innate challenges, however, I thought that this time I would give it a shot at high ISO with my 5DII. Below is the first set of what I found.

All these shots were done with my 5DII with 24-105 f/4 L with no post processing, just a conversion of the RAW file to JPG. The EXIF is in tact if you want to review as well. The only changing variable was ISO which as you will see impacted shutter speed. Note: all pics are 100% crops.

(Please Note: the shutter speeds would get a bit lower than the IS on the 24-105 L could compensate for so please be forgiving of any lack of sharpness. Normally my 24-105 L is a very sharp lens.)

ISO 6400:

ISO 12800:

ISO 25600:

So what do you think?

Next Installment: 5D Mark II ISO Test - Part 2: Flag

For my first impressions of the 5DII take a look at the 5D Mark II First Impressions Post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Radio Poppers

Well the new Radio Poppers have been announced. Anyone interested in wanting ETTL without the concerns of line of site will be interested in these. Check out the video below for a review or go to the Radio Poppers Blog for details.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm just giddy...

This will be a short post, but I just had to tell everyone that my new Canon 5D Mark II arrived today with the BG-E6 grip and an extra battery. Thanks to Paul at Calumet Photo in Chicago for getting it so soon after release and thanks for shipping it to me in Florida while I'm on business. This way I get to play with my new toy without waiting until the weekend.

Below is a quick pick of the boxes. I'll post some body and sample pics once my batteries finish charging.


Monday, November 24, 2008

My dog ate my camera strap

A bit a story I wanted to share...with a little bit of a point.

So, on Saturday I am getting things ready to go to our the Christmas Festival of Lights here in Chicago. Well my POTN Strap (a OpTech strap branded for a photography forum I visit quite a bit) had been off my 40D for a while as I've been using my off I go to find it. Well, its not where I left it, where could it be? Hmm, asking my wife she says, is it black? "Yes I say." And she tells me our 8 year-old has been using it for some play. No worries I think, he is a good kid and doesn't break things. I go to his room and ask him where it is and he hands it to me, or should I say what is left of it. Ends up he had been using it to play tug of war with our German Shepard. Lets just say there was not enough of this strap left to use.

Here is what it looks like uneaten.

I was heart broken, I always liked the POTN strap, it was comfortable and as a person that normally did not like neck straps, it was the only one I ever found which was usable. Since I needed a neck strap for that day off I go to Calumet Photography to see what I can find. I come across the Domke 1.5" Strap.

It looks so simple in comparison to the POTN strap, however, I love my Domke bags so I figure what the heck, lets give it a try.

I have to admit, I was suprised, this is the perfect strap for me! Just the right size around my neck (I did think the POTN strap was a bit wide), held like iron on my shoulder as do my Domke bags and when hanging the strap next to the camera it did not feel too large. I hate to say this but I may never get another POTN strap.

I'm willing to take any ribbing my forum buddies have to offer me. This strap is that good. Well, thanks for reading I wanted to tell my story. They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

"My name is Paul and I use a Domke neck strap." There I said it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I did it!!!!

I did it, I just had to, I couldn't help myself. As a Canon fan I found the new 5D Mark II very exciting and I've been wanting to go full frame for some time. Well, I caved and pre-ordered the 5DII last week. I'm so excited I just can't stand it. Hence the happy dance.

Sorry for the pointless post, but I couldn't help myself.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Playing with Extension Tubes

So our family was off to Guatemala last week. Knowing there were great flowers there I picked up a set of Kenko Extension Tubes so I could start doing some macro experimentation. Below is a link to the tubes I purchased from B&H Photo

Kenko Extension Tubes for Canon EF Lenses

I have to tell you, these things are very cool. They do as advertised and allow you to focus in very close. Of course the first thing I did was stack all three together, toss on my Nifty Fifty and snap away. While this was very fun, it tought me a lot.

  • First off, the depth of field is razor thin. This is very neat, but makes one very aware of apeture and the like.
  • Puting these on my 70-200 f/2.8 causes the focus to be fixed and I had to use the zoom to focus. I was suprised by this but got used to it quick enough.
  • Don't be over zelous, use one tube a time to start. I wanted to toss the 36mm on or stack all three when I later learned that using the 12mm is much more effective. Be patient and start simple, you will get better results more quickly.
  • Use a tripod when ever possible. With the thin DOF any movement will make a shot out of focus. Look at the flower below. While all was still most of the flower is out of focus because of the ever so think DOF.
  • Finally, get the Kenko tubes. They are fantastic at at $169 for 3 you save yourself lots of money over the Canon version.
The point here is if you are considering some macro play and don't want to lay out the cash for a dedicated macro lens, extension tubes can be a great way to experiment. Give them a go and see what you learn.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Consideration Of Others

As I'm sure is true for many of you, much of the time my primary photographic subject is my family. As a result, I find myself often lugging my gear to and from my children's events, swimming, baseball, Boy Scouts, etc.

Last week was no exception, it was swim class day and of course I went with my usual gear. My gripped 40D with a 70-200 f/2.8 L attached, all sitting on top of a monopod. I like the 70-200 when shooting swimming as the pool is indoors and every bit of speed is welcome as well as the fact that I like to shoot from across the pool so as to get the best angle, thus every bit of reach is welcome as well.

Now on to the point of this post...

Now keep in mind, this is a pool at the University where my wife works/teaches and where my son has taken over a dozen swim classes, we are known by name to the pool staff. So last week I was sitting there with my gear, snaping away, happy as any enthusiast photographer can be when a pool security guard walks up to me and asks if my son is swimming. I answer yes and point to my son (pic above) who at that moment waves to me. At that point he tells me that shooting pictures at the pool is not allowed...something I've been doing for years. However, he tells me he will give me a pass this time and walks away.

I didn't think much of it at the time but looking across the pool I see the security guard and other staff talking and pointing at me. My wife notices this as well and walks up the security guard and staff and points out I am her husband, my son is swimming in the class and I can stop taking pictures if they wish. They tell her no and she walks away. Unfortunately, jabbering and pointing continues.

The short of this is that it seemed obvious my presence and camera were making pool staff very uncofortable so I decided to pack it in for the day. After putting everything back I went and sat over by my wife. This is when everything came together. Apparently my sitting on the other side of the pool with a big white lens, shooting away was making some of the other parents nervous so they were asking pool staff who I was. Pool staff whom I at least looked familiar to wanted to do something to put the parents at ease. Hence why the pool staff were obsessing over me so much.

Apparently, my coming to the other side and sitting by my wife put things at rest. I allowed the other parents to realize that my son in fact was in the class and my interest was merely that of a parent that loves to take pics of his family, nothing more sinister.

This was a huge learning experience for me. I was reminded that while my intentions are pure, not everyone's are. I learned that other parents care and wish to protect their families as I do. I learned that letting other parents know who I am and why I'm sitting across the pool with a big white lens will go a million miles in eliminating issues and headaches. This week I showed up with the same gear and was not bothered in the least.

Thanks for reading along with this long story, just remember that a quick introduction in some circumstances can go a long way in putting your subjects at each and making your presence not affect the situation around you. This week, not only were the parents more relaxed but so were the children, resuling in much richer and more valuable outcome.

Friday, April 11, 2008

An Affordable Clamp

So I'm working on developing my strobist kit. One of the things I need to do is get my lights off camera and be able to trigger more then one at a time. Of course I will need a trigger for the flashes but most importantly I need a way to mount them to things. I wasn't too hot on buying a $25 super clamp (Click Here) as I am saving for more strobes and remote triggers. Two clamps would cost me almost as much as a Sunpak 383 flash. So after hanging out on my favorite Photography Forum I was inspired by the do-it-yourself ingenuity of many of its members. This inspired me to make my own clamps. Following is the process I followed and the outcome. Hope you find this useful.

Here are the parts you'll need and the steps necessary to make your own clamps.

1. Get a spring clamp from Home Depot. I went with the Babco generic brand and I figured why spend more on a Pony clamp which is twice the price and has no benefits that I can discern. You can find the clamp at Home Depot for 99 cents (Click Here).


2. You will need to cut a hole in the back handle where there is a pre-drilled hole ready for you to use. As the handle cover is soft I was able to do this with a sharp knife with ease.


3. Know you'll need a few more parts which will allow your flash to attach to the clamp.
  • 5/8" bolt...about 40 cents
  • 5/8" locking washer...about 15 cents
  • 5/8" nut (Click Here)...23 cents
  • Umbrella adapter which hot shoe mount (Click Here)...$16.99. I got mine at Calumet Photo but I'm sure you can find this even cheaper at B&H. I think their Impact brand is $13.99.

4. Now assemble mount for the flash bracket by pushing the bolt through the bottom then placing the locking washer and nut on the other side, tightening everything up nice and tight.


5. Now just screw on the umbrella mount to the bolt. It will tighten up nice and tight for you. Providing the perfect place to put your flash.


6. Finally just put your flash on and hook up your other items like remote triggers and you are ready to go. Below is my 580EX II attached. The bracket holding on to my desk nice and tight.


While this might not be the answer for all situations will provide me a nice sturdy clamp for all my needs for an great price. Only $18.76 compared to $44.94 when using the Bogen super clamp.
(Note: I included the umbrella bracket in my pricing. Taking out the umbrella bracket--which I like to use as it gives me adjustability for the flash--the DIY clamp is $1.77 versus the Bogen clamp at $27.95.)

Regardless of how you choose to ultimately go I would recommend giving this a try. Not only is it affordable but most importantly it is effective. Feel free to let me know if there are any questions.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Now this is a camera strap.

Those who know me know that I don't use a neck strap much. I do have one, the OpTech POTN (Click Here) strap which is the best I've found, and while it is always on my 40D I don't use it nearly as much as I use my E1 handstrap. Why, because I don't like the weight on my neck and am not happy with how the camera bounces around when I walk. I have come to accept that I would rather just carry the camera in my hand.

This has not solved the issue that I would like the camera on me and quickly accessible while giving my hand a rest. I have tried hanging it via the strap off my shoulder but find the camera getting twisted as it spins when I walk, making access slow. Yes, I'm hard to please.

Anyway, I think I have found the thing which can take care of this for me. There is a new device/stap which may address this issue for me. There is a new strap called an R-Strap which slings the camera across your torso and puts it in the perfect position for quick access. Further, the strap is designed in a way to make access fast and easy. At least that is how it looks. I have ordered one of these and will post a review once I use it for a bit.

Below is a video of the R-Strap in action. Give it a click. Perhaps I'm just a geek who is easy to please, but I think it is pretty cool.

Finally, below is a link to the R-Strap site. Take a look, it seems very cool...but only time will tell.R-Strap Website (Click Here)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Product Comparisons & Reviews

As you may have picked up already I like to use this blog to share information. Below are links for product comparisons. Just click the links and you will be taken to the sites. I will add to the list as I find new resources.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hosting Photos

I hear this question quite a bit. People always appear to ask where is the best place to post their pics, which is best, which is cheapest, yada, yada, yada.

I'm going to try to answer this question, but will say this. Go to the link below from the Photography-on-the-net forum, a Canon forum I frequent. This thread has a great review of the different options and how to use them. If you wan't to assess your options click below.

Where to Host My Photos - From Photography-on-the-net.

Now with that said I do have a preference.

I use Zenfolio and love it. I find the interface to be clean and professional, my users like the presentation. Further, I am allowed to sell prints, etc., etc. All of this added up, with their affordable price to make a good package for me. My recommendation is to take a look at Zenfolio, they have many different package options and outstanding customer service. There is even a 30-day free-trial you can use to give it a whirl. Finally, if you end up subscribing use the code below and save $5.00. Below are also some links which include the main Zenfolio site as well as my Zenfolio site so you can see it in action.

Feel free to let me know if there are any questions.


This will be an ongoing process/task, but I thought it might be useful to create a list of tutorials which I have found useful. Right now there isn't too much here but I plan to flesh this out with everyone's help


Flash Photography 101 - From Photography-on-the-net

  • Chapter 1: Beginners Guide (Click Here)
  • Chapter 2: (Why) Should I Get a Flash Unit For My Camera (Click Here)
  • Chapter 3: A Systematic Approach to Bounced Flash (Click Here)
  • Chapter 4: Guide Numbers and High Speed Sync (Click Here)

ETTL Wireless Config - From Photography-on-the-net

  • Part I: Working with a single remote flash (Click Here)
  • Part II: Working with multiple remote flashes (Click Here)
  • Part III: Working with remote flashes in Manual Mode (Click Here)

Strobist Tutorials

Scott Kelby Lighting and Gear Week

Misc Tutorials:

  • Shooting Large Groups - From Chuck Gardner at Super Nova (Click Here)
  • Evaluative vs. Average flash metering (Click Here)
Post Processing:

  • Aircraft Post Processing - From Photography-on-the-net (Click Here)
  • Black & White Conversion with Layer Blend Modes - From Photoshop Essentials (Click Here)
  • Brightening Eyes - From Photography-on-the-net (Click Here)
  • Skin Smoothing - From Ferradas Photography (Click Here)
  • Using the Unsharpen Mask - From Photography-on-the-net (Click Here)
  • Getting That Cool Gritty Look Right in Camera Raw and Photoshop or Lightroom - Scott Kelby (Click Here)
  • How to perform soft proofing - From TechTutorials (Click Here)

Note: Should you have any you would like to share feel free to post a comment.

Recommended Books

I love books, I like to read and learn and have been no different when approaching photography. Therefore, below is a list of photography related books I have found useful. I will attempt to keep them grouped by category as best I can.

Should you not see a book you know to be good please post a comment with your recommendation.

General Reference:
  • Best Business Practices for Photographers: Second Edition - By John Harrington (Find it on Amazon)
  • Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography - By Stephen Johnson (Find it on Amazon)
  • Vision Mongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography - By David DuChemin (Find it on Amazon)
  • Ansel Adams: An Autobiography - By Ansel Adams (Find it on Amazon)
Image Editing & Management:
  • The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers - By Scott Kelby (Find it on Amazon)
  • The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers - By Scott Kelby (Find it on Amazon)
  • The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers - By Peter Krogh (Find it on Amazon)
  • Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting - By Fil Hunter, Steven Biver & Paul Fuqua (Find it on Amazon)


  • Understanding Exposure: Revised Edition - By Bryan Peterson (Find it on Amazon)
  • Understanding Shutter Speed: Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 of a Second - By Bryan Peterson (Find it on Amazon)

Note: I'm sure some of you are seeing that I am a bit of a Scott Kelby fan. His books are sometimes accused of being recipie books and while I do agree with this to an extent I find them providing me the base I need to go forth and learn on my own. I rarely need another book once I've reviewed his. Photoshop Elements 5 is the best example of this. I had the purchased 2 books prior to Scott Kebly's, each claiming to be the definitive resource and it was not until I read his that I became empowered enough to work in this app on my own.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Plug for Natural Light

Take a look at the picture below. I would like to use to make a plug for natural light. This was taken in a hotel room in Guatemala during the afternoon sun which was shinning through some white curtains which covered the windows.

This was a pure opportunist shot, taken while my wife was playing with my 4-month old daughter. Granted I got lucky, granted, but I wanted to share as it acts as a means to illustrate to not miss the moment and work with the envionment you are given. Everything came together true, but hey, if I hadn't ignored the urge to take out my flash I would have missed this.

Hope you enjoyed the shot, it brings me joy each time I look at it.

Update: The light was coming in camera left going through some soft white curtains which gave it a great feel.

Who'ed a Thought...

Needed to share something that dawned on me this evening.

I am not a guy that follows or is intersted in sports. In fact, I find them boring. I am notorious amongst my friends for falling asleep during a Chicago Bulls game back when they were winning the championship every year and Jordan was still playing. Many say this behavior is a genetic defect, however, I'm not sure.

Well, with the above said, it has come to pass that I am now shooting more sports than I know what do with. Baseball, basketball, volleyball and even football...I've been shooting it all. Now I do get some income from this activity which can be called its own motivator, but that is not the astonishing thing. The thing is, I enjoy the heck out of it. Make me sit and watch a game from the stands and I am bored as can be. Give me a camera and place me on the sidelines and I'm off and enjoying myself.

Needless to say this confuses my friends even more than my nature not to follow sports. But hey, who am I to complain, I found something new and exciting to do with my hobby. Perhaps I should just shut up and accept it.

No real relevance to anything, I just wanted to share.

Current Equipment

So what am I using now? Good question. As I am a bit of geek and like all things geeky (as my wife says) this list can and will change and grow over time. I will do my best to keep it up to date.

Note: All items are links to the item on the appropriate retailer should you want to learn more.

Supports & Support Accessories: