Posts tagged digital cameras

iPhone 4S + Camera + Life

The biggest improvement for me when upgrading to the new iPhone 4S is actually the camera. Yeah, I’ve a ton of apps but my core apps are frequently my communications and networking tools – messaging, email, social media, etc. The next most common app I use is the camera and Instagram.

One thing for sure is that it’s always with me so it’s always the best camera — even when I’m lugging a truck-load of photo equipment, it still allows me to document, capture and basically, photo-log my activities.

More importantly, it lets me capture events and people important to me. I’ve every photo taken since my iPhone 2G days and the count is in the five digits. Browsing through the photos is like stepping back in time.

Book Review: Speedliter’s Handbook

One of my favorite photography lighting books is Joe McNally‘s Hot Shoe Diaries. Joe can really write and its a great book with lots of inspiration and stories behind how each picture is made. Sometimes, you do want a book that’s specific to your camera system and covers the nitty-gritty details in configuring your small flash units. There are many books on lighting and flash but only a couple are really good. If you want a good flash and lighting book that is Canon specific, there’s only one good book and it’s this one. The Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena. Joe McNally started me on multiple flash units and others like Louis and Syl has gotten me to journey down the e-TTL multiple speedlite path. As you start to wander down this road, it’s indispensable to have a book like this.

What I love about this book is that it’s big but not too big. You need space to have nice readable type and space for diagrams, before and after shots as well as some in-between shots for various settings or configurations. The pages are printed on quality paper and it feels good in my hands. There’s technical information and jargon along with clear concise explanations that beat the crap out of those boring Canon manuals. In case you need to shoot penguins, the infamous Canon flash penguin makes a cameo appearance! The best part about the handbook to me is the shoot sections where Syl’s goes through various setups with various flash configurations. The section starts with a single flash and moves on until it gets fun, scary and crazy… like with his gang-light. There’s detailed explanation on each shoot and setup so that you will understand what goes on, why the photographer is doing so and why each piece of equipment is used. Nothing could be clearer or simpler than that — you just need to duplicate the setup and you’ll be able to get the similar effect.

And for those readers who love getting new gear, there’s also plenty of that in the book along with photos showing the effect of each. I know getting new stuff won’t necessarily help you become a better photographer, but sometimes, new, shiny stuff will at least encourage you to get off your butt and shoot more. It’s not a really cheap book but it’s packed full of information. The amount of knowledge gained more than outweighs the investment — yes, it’s really an investment because you can start with one camera, one lens and one flash along with this book and grow your way up!

If you are a beginner, the book is clear and concise enough that you can understand it. If you’re in the middle of working out how to use your flash, this book will help you. Even if you’re a professional, I think this book still has something to teach you. I love the way the information is laid out as there’s plenty of basic to advance information provided for you. Syl starts with the basics and moves all the way down so this really IS the handbook to own if you intend to use small flash in any way (yes, including parking it on top your camera).

My opinion is that this is the book Canon should give you when you buy a flash unit from them! If you have one flash and am looking to improve your lighting, buy this book before you buy that second flash unit. If there’s anything this book doesn’t have is that there’s no rebate coupon for a 580EX II… or a lighting how-to DVD but then again I do wonder when Syl’s going to have a workshop down in Malaysia. Joe’s been here so come on down!

Buy this book from Amazon today!

Panasonic GF-1 – real world experience

I’ve had my little Lumix GF-1 for two months plus now. This is not a technical or “proper” review of the camera but it’s more like my experience using it. My GF-1 comes with the 14-45mm stabilized lens. I might add the 20mm pancake lens at some point but for now, it’s a one-lens camera. My reason for the GF-1 is purely to complement my full-sized 35mm DSLR. I use the 5D Mark II by the way so the GF-1 is not a replacement for my main cameras. The GF-1 is used for situations where a larger DSLR and lenses are not required. For me, it’s primarily for travel and all-round carry with me camera. My need for the GF-1 comes from situations where I would like a better camera than my iPhone but the situation doesn’t warrant me carrying my 5D.

Stabilizer worked well here – ISO 800, 1/10s, f/5.1

Travel. I always travel with my full kit of photo equipment. However, there are times the GF-1 gets used such going down for the hotel breakfast, on the flight, serious hiking when my DSLR is stowed because I need my hands. Since the GF-1 is lightweight, I can have the GF-1 around my neck, ready to shoot something. It’s also less intrusive when doing street photography. As the GF-1 can look like a little point and shoot camera, more likely everyone’s going to ignore what you’re doing. When not traveling, the GF-1 goes with me to little restaurants, coffee shops, work (sometimes), and all sorts of places. Currently, either I carry it naked as is or in my ThinkTank Photo Speed Changer. I’m looking to get either the Trim Changer or All the Other Stuff as a permanent GF-1 case though. It’s a relatively hardy little camera though and fairly well built.

A small camera is less intrusive and hence, most people will allow you to take their photo. ISO 100, 1/125s, f/4

The GF-1 is pretty much fast enough for almost everything I use it for. From street photography to people and a little bit of action. Yes, the buffer is small when you shoot raw but if I’m shooting fast action, chances are, I’m using my DSLR. Quality is good if you keep the ISO below 800 and if you shoot raw. In well lit scenes (i.e. outdoors), the quality can be comparable to a cropped sensor DSLR (i.e. 500D, 50D, etc). In low light, the sensor does struggle but you can have everything. Battery life is amazingly good — I do have a spare and I only charge it after three days. Note that I do use my DSLR as well so remember that this is assuming a second camera. That said, I have the camera power save set to five minutes and it’s hardly turned off. Auto-focus is mostly good with occasional misses. The stabilized lens helps here. The lens hood works well to minimize flare and I’ve used the GF-1 in light rain, heavy wet fog without problems.

The ability to shoot HD movies is great although audio capture is just average without an external mic. The wind-filter works to some extent but it doesn’t help stop user and other little sounds from being captured. The AVCHD lite codec is a pain in the ass to work with though.

Nanjing Road night scene, ISO 1600, 1/200s, f/4.5

Ergonomics and usability
The menu system is overly complex and the usage of icons and abbreviations doesn’t help. I find it easy to inadvertently set something up when the camera is bumping around powered on. The small size however makes camera shake more pronounced. The shutter lag is almost negligible with the camera focusing and taking the shot almost as you press. That can’t be said about the video though. The dedicated video start/stop button is great but it’s laggy and sometimes takes a second or two to register. That said, if you ensure the shutter speed is relatively fast (1/100s), you can get great results. It’s also the camera I let other friends, local guides or strangers to take photos of myself or our group.

Image quality
In China, I shot RAW exclusively. While noise levels above ISO 800 was fairly high, it definitely beats any point-n-shoot’s pixel dense sensor out there. The ten-plus megapixel (I’m no fan of 4:3 ratio images so the GF1 is set to 3:2 ratio) images are quite awesome – with some processing, they look great. With ISO 1600 or 2500, a bit of noise reduction processing (I use Noise Ninja), the output is still pretty fantastic. With ISO set below 800, prints up to 12R (12″ x 16″) are quite achievable and look indistinguishable from any mid-range DSLR.

Discrete shooting at the Nanjing Mass grave site, ISO 2000, 1/30s, f/3.5

Crowded & packed train stations means the GF1 is always on-hand. ISO 1250, 1/13s, f/3.5

Or even hiking. West Sea Canyon, Huangshan, China. ISO 100, 1/200s, f/4.5

For some real reviews, you can check DPReview or Steve’s Digicams.


You know what’s the best things about presents when you receive them? It’s not the value. It’s the abso-freaking-surprise when it’s something you really, really want and that the person went through great lengths to research (blog, twitter, social, whatever) what you really want. So, from the bestest brother ever, I get this awesome little thing of black plastic and magnesium alloy.

It’s so awesome but the most hilarious thing is my mom going “like are you sure you’re gonna buy this camera expert a camera? It’s not even a Canon. It’s a Panasonic! He’s already got enough cameras (ahem)!” A small camera, just what I need. This is OMG Awesome. Yeah, so Canon, if you’re listening, I want an EF-S mount (EF with adapter) body the same size as the GF1. APS-C Sensor and HD Video.

Mark IV

It’s finally launched. Unfortunately not full-frame but otherwise, a rocking camera body I can’t afford anyways! Okay, wait, I have to clarify that. Purchase it, I can but need it I do not. Hmm, that came out rather Yoda-esque. Pretty happy with my 5D Mark II. Next on the list is a H4N audio recorder and a Red Rock Micro Video DSLR rig! And plus my 7D 🙂

Rob Galbraith has a good preview here and of course you have to watch Vincent Laforet’s Nocturne video.

And in case Vincent’s blog has been flogged by too many people, here’s the embedded link from Vimeo:

Nocturne from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

A 60D possible?

A few friends asked me if they should get Canon’s newest DSLR* 7D. The thing is that camera is as big and heavy as the 5D Mark II. Nothing wrong with that. I use my 5D Mark II with the BG-E6 grip, making the camera the same size and weight as a 1D series. The problem is that these friends aren’t dedicated photographers plus they have kids and lugging a few kilos of equipment around is a bit difficult. The video mode is great feature for them though since they usually take small clips of their kids and not having to lug the camcorder around is a good thing.

If you look can Canon’s US line-up shown below you can see that Canon has opened up their line-up a bit more, i.e. more tiers plus also to match Nikon in terms of the D300 & D300S. The Malaysian price conversion factor is roughly 3.85-3.9 times the US price.

You’ll see the price ranges like this: Tier 1: $6999 and $3999 (1-Series). Tier 2: $2699 (5D Mark II), Tier 3: $1699 (7D), Tier 4: $1199, Tier 5: $700-900 (xxxD series/Rebels) and Tier 6: $599 (xxxxD series/Rebels).

So which tier has no video yet? The 1-Series of course and video is going there of course but that’s out of this discussion. Next is the EOS-50D. While only a year old, it lacks video, and comes with a sensor that’s not much better than the 40D. The thing is that the 500D actually trumps the 50D in the sense that it has the same sensor but has 1080 and 720 video! So of course if you’re looking for a camera that ergonomically better than the 500D (that’s the only reason why I won’t get the xxxD series, but the 7D is a bit over your budget (or size & weight limits), then you’re actually looking at the 50D. No video you say! Of course, so I think a 60D is definitely coming from the tier above. The only question is when? I mean Canon has a problem in terms of if they just dump video into the 60D, it’s gonna look like the 500D. Well, they can but they might need to cut the price a bit then. Oh well, my 7D’s coming when my 40D turns 3 in 6 months. Joy!

Dragonfly sitting on the tip of my Christmas tree!

* The term DSLR or Digital SLR is a bit overused now considering the fact that most SLRs sold today are digital anyway. Just a pet peeve of mine that now every model has a “D” in there somewhere. 5D, 500D, D300, etc.