First of a new line
Five axis stability
That’s waterproof too
I have two new cameras in the atmtx photography lair to report about this week. One camera is on loan and the other I bought yesterday at Precision Camera here in Austin.
My younger son is in 5th grade which means he is graduating elementary school this year. This year’s school Olympics is the last one I’ll go to. It was perfect timing for testing the new OM-D E-M10 that I have on loan from Olympus. Last year, I still had the Canon 7D for my sport/action camera. I traded that for the Canon 6D which is less ideal for action. The OM-D with it’s 8 fps burst was going to work out great.
I don’t use the Olympus 40-150mm telephoto zoom too often. I’m really not a telephoto guy — but for events like this, it’s fantastic. Mated with the small E-M10, the combo made for a surprisingly compact and very effective setup. Its power and capability hidden from view, especially to the few remaining DSLR toting parents. I admit that I had smug thoughts, which I wisely did not verbalize, about the power of my small camera system.
Consider the E-M10 and telephoto lens has a 80mm to 300mm focal length, focuses faster than an mid-range DSLR and shoots at 8 frames per second. It also has a very nice EVF (electronic view finder) that shows me real-time exposure changes. It’s a testament to how much technology has evolved, especially in the mirrorless camera space. You really don’t need to carry that heavy DSLR around these days, in most cases.
I also brought my Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for the indoor shots, particularly for the gymnasium, where the kids do the high jump. After 8 years or so that I shot the jump, I’m happy to report that I finally nailed that perfect shot. I started with the Rebel XT DSLR with kit lens and evolved to the Canon 7D with fast glass but it was the mirrorless OM-D that did the best. Certainly my photography skills have progressed but it’s really the camera advances that helped out the most. You see the Panny Leica 25mm is a much sharper lens than the equivalent 50mm f1.4 Canon and here the increased depth of field of the micro 4/3 format was an advantage.
I manually focused on the rope that the kids were jumping over. With the 4/3 sensor, I still had enough depth of field that I could catch one or two frames of sharp focus at the key moment. Add the fast frame rate and you have a half decent chance of getting something good. I shot at ISO 500, f1.4 and at 1/1600 of a second. I retrospect, I probably could have lowered the shutter speed slightly and decreased the aperture to further increase the depth of field.
I’m generally not an EVF shooter but it certainly helped in the midday sun — usually my photography is exercised in darker conditions. For sports where tracking running kids are important, I think the EVF lag is still a disadvantage compared to optical view finders. They’ve come a long way and I suspect in a couple of more years it’ll be a non issue. Consider the iPhone 5S, which shoots at 10 frames per second. I detect no LCD lag when panning the
camera phone. Apple uses a really powerful processor, the A7, to do this. Camera companies will add this kind of processing power in the future too. But for now, I find that stutter in the EVF refresh makes it less desirable for tacking running athletes, even the 11-year-old kind. I still got the shots I needed through the EVF, it’s just that optical still has the edge. For most other situations, EVFs now work just as well and with some added advantages.
I will do a full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 but will do some mini-reports first, as it undergoes testing. Oh and the other new camera, that I bought? I’ll talk about that too, in an upcoming post. For followers of the blog, I’m sure you won’t be surprised by my choice.
It’s fun to shoot quick images with smaller cameras and I even started enjoying Instagram shots with my iPhone 5S but there is nothing like a shooting a carefully framed photograph on tripod. I try to do this for my serious Urban Landscapes. On a trip to Singapore two weeks ago, I broke out the tripod and created some HDRs of my favorite subject.
I didn’t have a lot of free time with the demands of work but I’m happy that I got to shoot a little in the glittering city. Singapore, especially near the downtown bay area is quite magnificent. It combines the enthusiastic architecture of World’s Fairs, the tourist inspired cleanliness of Disney World and upscale stores. With office buildings, hotels and shopping malls, it’s not where most Singaporeans live but it sure makes for some great photo opportunities.
The top photo is the quintessential tourist image. The famous Merlion with the skyline in the background. I was at this spot two years ago and I’ve noticed some new buildings added to the impressive collection of modernist towers. On that trip, I was in Singapore for 4 days, on the way back home from India. It was the trip of a lifetime and I decided to do it without bringing my DSLR. Yes, my move towards mirrorless was in full swing even back then.
But there were some limitations. I used the Sony NEX-5 for my Urban Landscape HDRs but this was not ideal. It didn’t automatically bracket 2 stops apart, my preferred setting for all things HDR. You see, when creating HDRs, the merging of multiple exposures into one image, it helps to keep the camera steady from shot to shot. Any movement between exposures adds complications in the post processing. Since I had to manually change exposures on the NEX-5, there were always slight shifts that annoyed me. It also slowed down the photo taking process which is a disadvantage at times.
I never posted photos from my first Singapore trip. The quality was acceptable, but not as refined as it is now. With a few more years of photography experience and with the advances in camera technology, I believe my images have improved. Also, I’m woefully behind in posting photos. As much as I blog, I seem to perpetually fall behind. I definitely create more photographs than I have time to post. In fact, I still need to finish posting all the photos and stories from my India trip. I promise to get back to it soon.
If you move inwards from the water, on the other side of the office towers, you see older neighborhoods. I took the image above from Boat Quay, a tourist night spot. The bars and restaurants on the right point to a more modest and grungy side of Singapore. It’s still safe but not as quite as glittering. I remember trying to take a shot from here two years ago. Without a tripod, my old Olympus E-PL1 (my first Olympus) with the 20mm f1.7 didn’t quite get a steady shot. I’m happy that I had a second chance to capture these towers and their reflections.
Back towards the bay again, near the Fullerton Bay Hotel, you see a mix of modern architecture. What I like about Singapore’s buildings are that, despite being minimalist and modern, they are not boring — they are not simple glass boxes. A variety of shapes adds visual richness. The Fullerton Bay Hotel seems to be a conglomeration of several unique buildings. Together they create a hotel that has character at a more human scale. I prefer it to the massive and impersonal uber hotels. Maybe someday, I’ll get to stay here.
I actually took a similar composition with my iPhone 5S on Instagram. Though the Instagram came out pretty good, a carefully blended HDR with a big camera is entirely at another level. I shot this with my usual HDR setup, the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic 14mm with wide-angle adapter. I think it’s one of the best and smallest cameras setups for HDR.
Upcoming, I want to dedicate a post to just the Fullerton Bay Hotel. I think you’ll agree that its architecture and details are quite exquisite. A rarity these days, especially for modern buildings.
I’ve been using smaller mirrorless cameras for a while now but on my latest trip to California, I went even smaller. I still carried multiple cameras, as usual, but the camera bodies and sensors continue to shrink.
The Nikon J1 with its 1 inch sensor was the largest but still smaller than my primary Olympus micro 4/3 system. I also used the Fujifilm XF1 point and shoot and finally the iPhone 5S. Mainly through Instagram, I’ve shot the iPhone more seriously, lately. The latest generation iPhone has really improved image quality wise — particularly if I post smaller photos.
I was giving a tour of San Francisco to a visitor from abroad and decided to take some tourist photos myself. Since the iPhone has an approximately 30mm point of view, I adjusted the Nikon J1 and Fuji XF1 to a similar focal length. Here is the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge. Let’s see how they compare in good light.
These were post processed in Aperture 3. The Nikon shot in RAW and the other two in JPEG. Which photo was taken with the iPhone, the Fuji point and shoot and the Nikon mirrorless?
With good light most cameras do a fine job these days. Technology wise, the iPhone 5S has the newest and most advanced sensor, though it’s the smallest.
These are not great photographs. It was an overcast day and nothing exciting was happening, lighting wise. However, I think these are typical snaps that a tourist would take. The biggest surprise is how well the iPhone 5S did, which is the first photograph. I liked its colors the most and the lens was sharp edge to edge. I took the second photo with the Nikon J1 which was equally sharp. The third photo, taken with the Fuji XF1, was a bit disappointing. As much as I like the Fuji point and shoot, I found the edges were not as sharp as the other two. The color was also a bit cooler, which I warmed up in post.
So how do these cameras do in dark, challenging light? Here are three more photos.
Clearly the iPhone 5S, with the smallest sensor, is the noisiest. If you look at the 2nd photo, you can see that the iPhone color is also more dull, probably with less dynamic range. The Nikon J1, the third photo, doesn’t do that much better than the Fuji XF1. The Nikon, with the kit lens at f3.5, is the slowest — the ISO jumped to 2200. Though the Fujifilm XF1 has a smaller sensor, its f1.8 lens really helps and the ISO remains lower at 1250. The Fuji exposed the brightest and I could have lowered it a 1/3 of a stop and increased the image quality. Interestingly, all 3 cameras chose 1/15s shutter speed.
Overall though, the most surprising is how competitive the iPhone 5S really is. It doesn’t quite match the dedicated cameras with larger sensors in darker conditions but it’s hard to believe that this is a smartphone. No wonder point and shoot sales are crashing. Sure, you don’t get shallow depth of field, but for these types of landscapes, that usually doesn’t matter.
Finally, the images at the top are some Instagrams I took with the iPhone 5S and processed directly on the phone. I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of iPhoneography and the creative process can be equally rewarding using the smaller device. With the smaller images sizes, Instagram photos can look quite good in almost any light.
Don’t worry though. I have no plans of turning this into an iPhone photography blog. More photos from my larger cameras coming soon.
I got back home from Singapore without incident but within 30 hours, as I write this, I’m on a plane back out to California.
It was an action packed day. Saturday morning, after my 30+ hour flight back, I headed straight to Precision Camera. Charles from Olympus was there and I wanted to find out how the Olympus Day at Drink and Click went. It apparently was a rousing success. Too bad I missed it but I think we’ll have another one.
More importantly, I made it back for my son’s 11th birthday and survived the sleepover of 7 additional kids. I also let my, soon to be, 15-year-old drive for the first time around the neighborhood. They grow up so quickly and I’m happy I didn’t miss these key moments.
My Singapore trip was a whirlwind. Lot’s of work but I also got to have some fun. I shot some 1700 frames on the Nikon J1 and 900 on the Olympus E-PM2. It will take some time to edit these down but no doubt you’ll see these images soon enough.
As promised, I did some Instagrams throughout the journey. In case you missed it, here is what I captured, feel free to follow me. Unlike my usual photos shot with my larger cameras, I post processed these images completely with the iPhone. I’m finally starting to understand the allure of shooting, post-processing and sharing images on one small, go anywhere, connected device. It’s an entirely different dynamic.
It’s not about the image quality. It’s about creating small jewel like reminders of your life — at least that’s the way I now look at it. It’s also fun to do while I have downtime and It’s better than playing some mindless game. The creativity in the shooting and image processing is still there like regular photography, it’s just small and portable.
I’m not sure how much “big camera” shooting I’ll do during this trip to California. I’m going even lighter with the Nikon J1 and the Fuji XF1 point and shoot. I left the tripod and Olympus at home. And yes, I’m sure I’ll add to my Instagram collection via my iPhone 5S.
More frequent blog postings will commence in a week or so, once I get back home.
Through an unusual confluence of events, I will be traveling more this month for work, than I ever have. All last week, I was in Sacramento, California. This week I ended up going back there again for a couple of days. Tomorrow I leave for Singapore. I get back on Saturday for my son’s birthday party and then the next day, I’m off again to California.
I suspect my blog postings will be very spotty for the next couple of weeks.
I’m just about packed and I figured out what to bring, equipment wise, to Singapore. I’ll be very busy but I’m hoping to squeeze in a little bit of photography. Urban landscapes in Singapore would be spectacular with its very modern skyline. Street photography too should also be fun. I visited Singapore exactly 2 years ago but I never posted any pictures from that trip. I’ll need to combine any photos from this excursion with the previous and do a series of postings.
I’m bringing my Olympus E-PM2 and 14mm Panasonic lens with wide-angle adapter, of course. That’s my go to, very portable, setup for my urban landscape HDRs. I’m also packing the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4 for some low light street photography. For day time and brighter conditions, I’m hoping to use the Nikon J1 with kit lens. This is my latest camera and it has proven to be both very quick and reliable.
A total of two small bodies and 3 lenses — very light and compact. I’ll also be shooting and posting with the iPhone 5S through Instagram. I recently upgraded from the 4S, and the images are noticeably better. I’m finding Instagram to be useful for creating, when all goes well, little jewel like images that remind me of my activities. Instagram photos look best when viewed through the Instagram application on retina displays. On those small, high resolution screens, images can look quite good at times.
Since my blog postings are going to be sparse, you may want to check out what I post on Instagram. They’ll be shot and post processed completely with the iPhone 5S.
People in Austin and Central Texas, there’s going to be a fun and free event next Thursday at 7:30pm (February 20, 2014) at the Spider House Cafe.
I’ve talked about Drink and Click several times before, it’s a socially oriented photography meet up. Well next week, Charles from Olympus is going to be there with 10 of the hot OM-D EM-1 cameras along with a full complement of Olympus lenses. You know the E-M1, it’s the camera many people voted as the best of 2013. These cameras are going to be available to anyone who wants to shoot them for a while in a real environment, just bring an ID. And what a neat place to take pictures. Spider House Cafe is an eclectic Austin establishment just north of the University of Texas campus. It will be a fun setting to test the camera.
I helped organize this event and was looking forward to being there myself, except, a last-minute business trip dashed my plans. I’ll be on the other side of the world in Singapore. I’m kind of bummed that I’m not going to be there. But make sure to go. It’s not going to be some corporate sales pitch. Just a way to let photographers play with equipment in non-store setting with a group of like-minded photo enthusiasts.
Here is the address and map:
Spider House Cafe
2908 Fruth Street
Austin, TX 78705
Here’s some more photos from the Spider House that I took during a previous Drink and Click — just to give you taste of the place. Let me know how you like the event. It will be there in spirit.
I went to the Chinese New Year celebration at Chinatown Center today. It’s my 3rd year. Every year, most of the events seem similar — there’s dancing and music as the opening acts and the Dragon and Lion dances, as the highlight. But there are differences. It seems to getting bigger. We had the Austin Police Department show off their neat tank like SWAT Gear and Capitol Metro showed off their fancy MetroRapid extra long accordion buses. The event has become a community outreach opportunity I guess and a way to showcase the growing multi-cultural experience in Austin.
Photographically, I change things up too. Every year I bring a different permutation of cameras and lenses. I grabbed the Nikon J1 with kit lens and the Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 this year. I thought the J1 would especially be fun because of its high performance shooting. I just checked and last year, I bought three cameras, all Olympus.
The gear you bring, of course, affects what and how you shoot. I didn’t have a long telephoto with me this year so I wasn’t going to stand in the audience with everyone else. I decided to do more “back stage” candids this year. The change in perspective was worth it and I got some nice stuff behind the scenes. The Nikon J1 was working so well, I used it almost exclusively. The 27mm to 81mm equivalent kit zoom was adequate for the most part. Though in retrospect, I should have brought the 40-150 Olympus lens again, like last year. That would have perfectly complimented the J1.
Check out the child in the lower right. I love how he seems to be interested in “Miss Pacific Islands-TX”.
No need to be stealthy. Almost everyone had a camera, mostly camera phones, of course. But the photography enthusiasts were there in full force and they had their big DSLRs with long lenses. I felt extra nimble, shooting with the J1, which is not much bigger than a point and shoot but faster than a DSLR. It worked brilliantly for action and given that it was daylight, the image quality looked great.
The downside perhaps, is that the J1 has a small sensor so the depth of field (DOF) is pretty deep. You’re not going to blur out the background. But I’m trying to make stronger compositions so that I don’t rely on shallow depth of field. Have a strong enough subject and hopefully your eye will be drawn to it and not swayed by the background. I don’t aways achieve this but that’s what I’m going for.
Accept the DOF limitations and this camera can be a dream. It works so fast and tracks subjects accurately that my hit rate was really high. I also tend to shoot in bursts so that I can pick the best expression. I shot 900 frames in less than 3 hours — almost all were dead on for focus. I narrowed down my “keepers” to about 170. This also includes video snippets too which, if I’m ambitious enough, I’ll edit into a short movie. The J1 does really solid home movie style videos too. Unfortunately, I need to change a dial to go from stills to video but it works decently enough, most of the time.
I came for the Lion dance and those shots came out great. But I’m most happy with the behind the scenes photos. The dance performances were also fun. Shooting in bursts allowed me to choose my favorite poses. This is actually my second Chinese New Year celebration this year. Last week, I went to a Buddhist Temple which had its own multi-cultural extravaganza. I was going to blog about that too but my trip to California changed my plans.
Let’s see what I end up doing next year. The events may be similar but knowing me, I’ll probably have a new camera again, which I’ll want to test.
May you find peace and happiness in the year of the horse.
I’m in California for another day — I arrived on Monday. I’ve been too busy to do much photography but I took some photos on the trip out. I’m also gradually getting into iPhone photography via Instagram. Technically, these photos aren’t any great shakes. I’m staying true to Instagram and only using photos taken on my smartphone. But I’m trying to move beyond technical perfection. I want to create good photographs with any device.
I rarely create masterpieces, of course. But these Instagrams also serve as a visual diary of sorts — places I’ve been and things that I’ve done. Here are 3 photos from the 3 airports I visited on Monday, all taken with the iPhone 4S.
Virgin America is a relatively new airline. They gets high praise from a number of people I know as well as in the official airline rankings. They were recently ranked the best domestic airline in the United States. How does it compare with American Airlines, which ranks towards the bottom of these same airline rankings?
I took my first Virgin America flight a couple of days ago, from Austin to San Francisco. The most striking feature is the mood lighting and the club like atmosphere. Imagine a trendy W Hotel mated with an airplane — soft blue and purple LED lights contrasting with glossy white seat backs. The black leather seats adds the final touch to something unexpected in a commercial airline. It’s a far cry from the dingy blue-gray interior with yellow lighting at United Airlines.
The second, absolutely hilarious feature, is the mandatory safety demonstration video — which are usually, totally boring, as you probably know. You got to watch the YouTube video below. Kudos to Virgin America for doing something different and entertaining.
All seats have a built-in entertainment system with glossy, Star Wars Storm Trooper like, white. You get free cable channels but the movies cost money. There is an interesting and decently executed user interface where you can order food and drinks. But this is where all the niceties stop.
You look past the strikingly different interior and the catchy safety video and you see only thinly veiled differences. The flight attendants, who appear perhaps a bit more hip and young compared to their American Airlines counterparts, don’t seem any more helpful or friendly. The sandwich was a bit tastier but generally the same as the American counterpart. See below.
Where is the catchy packaging and branding? My sandwich looks as appetizing as any other airline meal. It looks like it was supplied by the same institutional food vendors. A little bit of effort in this area could have made a big difference.
Notice the generic looking airplane boarding card. The same low-res and confusing document you get from any other airline. A company truly thinking out of the box might have done this. And that’s the thing. Beyond the snazzy plane interior there doesn’t seem to be much that really separates Virgin from the other carrier. Sure the plane looks new because it is new. Scratch beneath the surface and you see lots of ordinary stuff, not even disguised with superficial graphics and design.
The movies, $8 a pop. Internet, yup that’s extra too. At least on American, I can get a free movie with some NBC comedy skits thrown in. That neat looking entertainment interface? Truly annoying. The touch screen is so unresponsive that I was ready to give up. Except I couldn’t because I needed to use it to order my food. When the flight attendant came through with the free drinks, I couldn’t verbally order my food. She insisted, a bit rudely I might add, that I need to use that lame interface. In the era of responsive multi-touch iPads from Apple, that Red Entertainment system is a cruel joke.
Sure they have catchy pop music playing from tiny computer speakers at the check-in counter but is that it?
I’m probably being too harsh. I do appreciate a company that tries to break out of the typical industry mold. Airline travel lost its glamor a long time ago. This is no longer the era of Pan Am in the 60s. And perhaps no matter what an airline does, the realities of security screenings have sucked the fun out of jet-setting.
As you may know from my past postings, I tend to travel on American. For that reason, I luckily have some “status” which enables me to board a bit earlier and I get to bypass the bulk of the security lines. Nothing too special. It just gets me to the level of service that everyone got back in the 90s. I was hoping, maybe unfairly, that I would be so enamored with Virgin America that I would choose them over my default. Indeed a direct flight from Austin to San Francisco is very convenient. But alas that might not be enough to ultimately change my mind, or my airline.
In a concrete jail
Tiny Fiat left alone
Dreams of open road
It’s been several months since the last “Color or Black and White, which do you like?” I figure it’s time for one.
I shot this portrait last Thursday at the Drink and Click event, which I talked about in the previous post, Drink and Click: Impromptu portraits and neon landscapes.
I took it in color as a RAW at ISO 400, using the Olympus E-PM2 with the Panasonic Leica 25mm f1.4. Black and white conversion done in post using Aperture 3.
Chime in with your opinion. Which do you like better the color or the black and white version?
I went to Drink and Click again, last Thursday. I go to their events once in a while — its always a good time. For those of you who don’t remember, Drink and Click is a combination of a social get together, yes with some drinking, and photography. I’ve noticed that often the drinking and socializing tends to win out over the photography. And that’s okay with me. I shoot enough by myself, it’s always fun to get out with interesting photographers.
I had a good long talk with Kirsten, who is relatively new to photography but already has a good eye. We talked about cameras and techniques but discovered we both had an interest for design. I love talking about photography but appreciating the merits of Danish and mid-century modern furniture can be fun too.
Do you think Valentine’s Day is big for these guys?
I got here early with my Olympus E-PM2 with the 25mm f1.4 and the Nikon J1 with kit lens. It’s been years since I’ve been to this North Loop neighborhood with its cluster of modest stores except, like many parts of Austin, it’s transforming. Like often the case, new stores have opened with vibrant neon surrounded by trendy bars. I tested the J1 again. It’s not 6th street, but there’s always interesting compositions to be found at night, especially when there’s neon.
The back patio at the Workhorse Bar was really dark. It’s a modest place with not much visual interest, good thing. I couldn’t get anything with my cameras, not without flash anyway. Perhaps a f1.4 and ISO 12,800 on my Canon 6D would have worked but not with my Olympus and Nikon.
Some models stopped by and the clicking started. I strategically stole some light from a smart phone screen and a flash light to snap these photos of Beth and Robin. ISO 3200 at f1.4 at 1/15 of a second and with luck and I got some shots.
A few of us and the models headed a couple of stores down and did an impromptu shoot at a video rental store — I was amazed that these places still exist. Shooting in an unlikely setting made it all the more compelling.
I mainly shot candids. I generally enjoy catching natural gestures. Also, I admit that I’m really not any good at directing models. But unlike a studio, this was pure fun. Just interesting women surrounded by stacks of DVDs in a really relaxed social setting.
Caitlin also stopped by, she’s been to these events before. She was flamboyant and didn’t mind posing with a “Sinister” movie.
Robin was leaning against the stacks and I like the effect of the leading lines. Even on a micro 4/3 camera, a 50mm f1.4 equivalent has decently shallow DOF. I certainly preferred it over the Nikon J1 for its superior image quality and the ability to defocus the background. I called her name, catching Robin with an unguarded expression.
Finally, I took a few posed portraits of Beth. I found out she wasn’t a model but just decided to stop by with Robin. Beth is a Civil Engineering Student at the University of Texas. Go figure.
Juan, the head of Drink and Click was going strong at around 10:30pm. He was using is portable wireless soft box to do some portraits outside with Caitlin. I parted company about that time. Another fun night at Drink and Click.
By the way, Drink and Click Austin is going to have a special Olympus Night on February 20th. I helped coordinate the event and Charles from Olympus is bringing 10 OM-D E-M1s so that you can test them out. You’ll get to play with the latest and ultra popular E-M1 in a real environment, not some silly contrived setup. Come on down if you’re in the area. It should be a fun time. The venue hasn’t been finalized by it will most likely be on Rainy Street. Stop by my blog for updated details.
Old SLR like
X-Trans in a new package
The Df done right
I had my doubts. Shooting at night with a f3.5 to f5.6 lens is not what I typically do. But that’s all I have, the kit lens on the Nikon J1. You know that I wasn’t going to be content just shooting around at Costco and in restaurants. I wanted to see what my newest camera can do.
It was Wednesday, I called Tony for a downtown photo walk. It was a good way to catch up with a friend and test out a new piece of gear. While I inevitably hit 6th street, I explored the area just south, near the convention center, first. Surface parking continues to transforms into hotels and tall buildings. It’s nice to see the city filling in.
A f3.5 – f5.6 lens is pretty slow, at least compared to what I’m used to. On the Olympus and Canon, I usually shoot with prime (non-zooming) lenses with f values from 1.4 to 2.8. Even on my point and shoots, the zoom lens starts at f1.8. To put this in context, the Nikon 1 kit lens, like most kit lenses are 2x to nearly 8x less sensitive to light. That means you have to bump up the ISO or slow down the shutter to compensate.
I did both. I reduced the shutter speed to as low as reliably possible to hand hold. Luckily the IS, image stabilization, is quite good on the lens. While I started at 1/15s, I continued to lower it and settled at 1/10 of a second. Most striking about the camera, the focus almost always locked on quickly and accurately and almost all shots were rock steady even at these slow shutter speeds. Very nice.
The area near the convention center is filling up with new hotels. I found this nice bit of neon within the new development.
The Hilton is the big hotel in the area until the 1000+ room JW Marriott is completed next year. There are plans for another 1000+ room hotel too, the Fairmont. That one’s going to be interesting, if they build it. It’s supposed to be 50+ stories tall.
The interior of the Hilton is huge by Austin standards. You can tell it is geared towards conventions.
The last stop of Austin’s train is in front of the convention center. I thought the red ceiling made the ticket booth look a little festive.
We are back to the (in)famous 6th street. Wednesday nights are still quiet.
The “Pizza Guy” in front of Roppolo’s was entertaining. It’s the first time I ever saw this costume.
Was this guy buying because of the “Pizza Guy”?
As I mentioned before, and as the Austinites know so well, there are a lot of bars on 6th Street. Most of them are right next to each other, all vying for attention. The one with the chandeliers looks almost elegant. You’ll see from the next set of images that they all look different.
I think this one is called the Library Bar, for obvious reasons. I don’t think much studying goes on there, are least studying of books anyway.
The side door of Coyote Ugly. Wait long enough and you see women dancing on the bar.
Some bars have been around for a while but many fold and reopen on a regular basis. This is one of the newer ones, I think.
Finally I headed down a side street back towards the car. I don’t even know what this place is.
Here’s the a last one, at ISO 3200. It was a bit grainy but it cleaned up nicely with some noise reduction software. As you can tell, the little Nikon J1 is surprisingly versatile with the right techniques. Of course the slow shutter speed won’t work for portraits or for stopping action — in these dark places, you need a faster lens. And that’s the weakness of the Nikon 1 system. They don’t have a good selection of lenses, yet. I like wide-angle primes and they only have a 27mm equivalent but in a relatively slow f2.8. Nikon also has a 50mm equivalent f1.8 but that’s not my favorite focal length.
Unlike the Olympus where the image stabilization is built into the body, the Nikon 1 more conventionally uses in lens IS. Unfortunately none of the prime lens have IS. For low light photography, I can potentially shoot better with the kit lens with IS rather than the f1.8 lens, at least for non-action shots. The one downside of the slow kit lens is that it doesn’t work well for video in low light, since the shutter defaults to 1/60 of second. My videos look too dim without a faster lens.
My dream lens for the Nikon 1 would be a 35mm equivalent f2, preferably with IS. I doubt they’ll make it.
Just when I thought the prices couldn’t get lower… B&H Photo has some two lens J1 kits for $249. I bought my one lens kit for $199. Incredible.
More retro goodness
With phase focusing speed up
Less quirky design
My older son is 14, a freshman in High School. He’s in the school orchestra and was practicing hard for the last couple for weeks for the yearly musical. He wanted to quit but the director encouraged him to try — they were playing Broadway caliber music which was a challenge for him. I’m glad he stuck with it and he is too. My son just wrapped up 4 performances with the drama class and help put on a first-rate musical. I’m so impressed by their performance.
My son seems to have discovered the joy of the performing artists. By hanging around the drama people, it unlocked an entirely new world for him. He said, the drama students were so much more interesting than the jocks. This is high school — your popularity and position is of the utmost importance. I’m so pleased that my son has moved beyond the common popularity of the sports jocks to the world of the creative people. He needs this. We all do.
As a parent, I want to impart a sense of passion one needs to feel in life. What moves you? What interests you? What do you want to do for the rest of your life? A couple of weeks a go, I linked to an Apple ad. Some people were cynical. I understand completely. Fluffy, feel good videos are so common these days, used as marketing tools. But I was serious. There are so many ways to make a living, but what is your passion? That is the question. That’s something that a middle aged man like me needs to figure out, let alone a teenager like my son.
For me, as I’m within a few months of my 50th birthday, I think about these things. What am I passionate about? How do I express my creativity? I am privileged to work for a great company and do what I like, most of the time. It’s primarily technical in nature. But I’ve recently rekindled the interest I had in my youth. When I was little, I built and designed things, that’s what I loved. As I grew up, I lost that — the practicalities of making a living overshadowed my early interests.
My photography and this blog has change my perspective. I’m creating things photographically, with words and with graphical layout which taps into my primal interests. And it has made all the difference. My day job is all the more interesting because I balance it with my creative outlet. My renewed interests and my son’s creative awakening has enriched us. We live in such a wonderful time where my words and images and yours can reach people around the world. Thank you for sharing your precious time looking at my creative expression. I am truly lucky.
I ordered a book recently that combines my love of product design, photography, electronic devices and Apple. “Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation” is a wonderful book that showcases almost every product Apple ever made. Spanning over 650 photos on 340 pages, the book starts with the Apple I and ends with 2012 iMac. 35 years of history.
I remember almost every product. There were a few surprises. I’ve used Apple products since 1981, an Apple ][ plus that my father bought. That’s 3 years before the Macintosh came out. For me it’s trip down memory lane. For any Apple enthusiast, I highly recommend the book, available on Amazon. 53 people gave the book a 5 star rating and only one person gave it a 4 star.
I would rate the book 4 1/2 stars, if given a choice. It’s a fine book with great photographs printed on high quality paper, though the overall quality doesn’t quite match an Annie Leibovitz book, American Music, that I own. My only pet peeve is that the photos, despite the intent of mimicking Apple’s product photography, just doesn’t quite match. Many of the products are shot on white seamless but to my eyes the backgrounds look a little dark — the vignetting also distracts me. This may very well be part of the intended design but I would have preferred a pure white background. Something that would blend in with the white page. Kind of the way the photograph above blends with the white background of the web page. Personal preference, I suppose.
I don’t want to be too critical. Johnathan Zufi did a momentous job collecting and photographing these products. I enjoyed the book thoroughly and plan to keep it for a lifetime. Out of sheer coincidence, the book arrived today on January 24th, 2014 the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh.
My sons thought it was dirty. I agree. Compared to the sparkling trains in Tokyo and Singapore, the New York City Subways are dirty. But they’re a heck of a lot better than they used to be. How bad was it 30 years ago?
I came across this wonderful Time.com article with accompanying photographs. It’s definitely worth a look. 15 images from Photographer Chris Morris, who documented the dark days of the subway system and the city back in 1981.
New York wasn’t always the sparkling and vibrant metropolis that it is now. Back in the early 80′s, NYC was only a hand full of years out of near bankruptcy. The dirty, graffiti covered subways are what I remember as I commuted for hours everyday to High School. Trains often broke down and were late. The heater was sometimes on full bast in the summer. Normal levels of graffiti withdrew into the background, becoming part of the fabric of everyday city life. Only exceptional levels of defacement raised eyebrows. I remember one day, the entire inside of a subway car was spray painted in a single act of vandalism, the windows, the seats and the floor.
I remember meeting Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angles that patrolled the subways. Imagine that, an unarmed citizen activist group to help protect the general public. That was the state of NYC at the time. Photograph 10 features a picture of this group.
People may now glorify graffiti as an art form. To me it’s just a form of public defacement. My opinion, no doubt, colored by my daily commute through people’s defiant self-expression recast as art expression. But the grittiness of the city is burned in my psyche. I am a product of the city. Even living in Austin, and in the suburbs for 20+ years, the city calls. I’m sure that’s part my motivation to create Urban Landscapes — why I return over and over to the dirty 6th Street in Austin.
All weekend, I was having fun shooting with the Nikon J1, my latest camera. I will do more extensive tests but for now, I wanted to share my initial observations.
The J1 is not going to replace my other cameras for my “serious” photography. I got this camera for casual family snapshots and video. I carried it around, doing my weekend family errands, taking snaps at restaurants and at Costco. I shot it a lot in the house both during the day and at night. The result, it works very well but with a big caveat.
First the good. This is a damn fast camera. Focusing in good light is blazing, as fast or faster than my Olympus E-PM2. Faster than the Canon 6D. Its continuous and burst frame rate is at 5fps and 10fps, there’s even a 60fps mode. Factoring in focus speed and burst speed, it the fastest camera I currently own, all in a very small package. It’s a really great camera for capturing young hyperactive children or for action and sports.
The build quality is very good. A notch above the Olympus E-PM2 though not as robust as the high end E-P5 or E-M1. I got the silver model which looks nicer than I thought. It doesn’t have that cheap metallic paint on plastic appearance. Rather, it has a solid metal feel though from touch I can’t always tell which pieces are actually metal or plastic.
The user interface is basic, as expected. The J1 was intended to be for novices so there aren’t a lot of function buttons. The menu is the simplest I’ve seen in a while — it makes the camera really easy to understand. I can generally shoot the camera without digging into menus but when I have to, it requires several button pushes.
The video is outstanding too, from a casual home movie perspective. This is not a camera for making your indie film. But for high quality home movies, it’s great — the best I have so far. What I really like is how it steadily tracks people and doesn’t have that annoying quick in and out refocusing typical of contrast detect systems. Also, when set to the vivid mode, movies have that richness that looks less like video and more like film. It’s saturated and contrasty.
Now for the bad. The JPEG engine on this camera sucks. This is my first Nikon so I don’t know how it compares to their DSLRs. But compared to Olympus and particularly Fujifilm, you can tell that the JPEG processing is really bringing the camera down. Even compared to Canon, it seems to be lacking. I’m not talking about the color, that’s actually quite nice, certainly better than Sony. But the noise reduction is too aggressive and I get some strange blotchiness even at ISO 1600. The result, the images lack detail and JPEGs are only usable for me up to ISO 800. Perhaps for the novice, they’ll be happy with higher ISOs but for anyone with experience it’s disappointing.
However, all is not lost. Shoot in RAW, and the camera magically unlocks some special powers. The RAW images have a fine grain to them, visible at times even at ISO 800, at least through Aperture 3. The graininess gradually increases and is useable past ISO 1600 to at least ISO 2200. For some bright exposures even ISO 3200 works in a pinch. The grain is very uniform and monochromatic. It almost seems like a texture and, dare I say, film like? Somehow, I don’t mind it as much. Certainly a big improvement over JPEG. The fine grained noise is easy to remove too, with software. My current noise reduction software of choice is Topaz DeNoise.
Some of the RAW colors were pretty wonky and dull. Luckily, I was able to hone my post processing to make them as good or even better, color wise, than the JPEGs. Thus, I have no qualms about using this camera only in RAW. For some reason, there seems to be a lot of latitude in the RAW processing, more than some other camera brands. Is that possible? Either way, when shot in RAW and post processed properly, this camera transforms.
Ironically, the Fujifim cameras, the X100S that I tested as well as the XF1 that I own have fantastic JPEGs and weak RAWs. The Nikon J1 is the opposite. It’s unfortunate since the novices that this camera targets won’t have the RAW post processing skills.
Try to ignore my culinary selections from last weekend. At least I ate a lot of salad at the pizza buffet place. And on Sunday, to balance out the carbs from the pizza, I had a very low carb lettuce wrapped double cheese burger. That’s my new favorite at P Terry’s, a local fast food chain that has a similar menu to In-n-Out burger.
As an aside, I’m wondering how P Terry’s will do now that In-n-Out Burger has setup shop in Austin? You can tell from the photos below that P Terry’s is stylish, architecturally, compared to the average fast food place.
Bottom line, how does this camera fit into my collection? It’s not going to be daily my carry around camera, it’s too bulky for that. My Fujifim XF1 still retains that role. The image quality certainly doesn’t match the Olympus E-PM2 and of course the Canon 6D. Those two are my serious cameras. I suspect the Nikon J1 will see the most action around my family. If, like a normal person, I wanted to carry one small camera to Disney World, this might be it. Make quick snaps and great HD home video.
However, being an enthusiast, I will certainly push the camera to see what it can do. I’ll try using it at night for my urban photography. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
Just when I thought the prices couldn’t get lower… B&H Photo has some two lens J1 kits for $249. I bought my one lens kit for $199. Incredible.
Watch out! Daddy’s got a new camera, again, and he needs to test it. The kids and even Lucky are scrambling because I’ve entered my new camera testing mode.
It’s been a couple of months since I got my last camera, the Fujifilm XF1, so it’s time for a new one, right? I still love the Fuji XF1, it is my daily carry around camera.
So, what did I get? The Nikon 1 J1, for rock bottom clearance price of $199, brand new. The J1 along with the V1 was Nikon’s big entry into the mirrorless market. Things didn’t go as well as Nikon liked. Originally released for an ambitious $650, over the last 2 years, the price steadily fell.
I was always intrigued by the Nikon 1 line but thought it was overpriced. Enthusiasts panned it because it has a smaller 1″ sensor. I wrote 2 years ago that Nikon has an uphill battle because it wasn’t getting support from the Alpha camera nerds. Unfortunately for Nikon, my fears came true.
But now I get to use an interesting camera, at a low price. How does it compare to the Olympus Pens? How does it compare to the premium point and shoots? Actually, more than still photos, I got this camera for its video capabilities. The Nikon 1 is one of the first systems to have a hybrid contrast and phase detect focusing system. This allows really fast focusing stills and smoothly focusing video.
Believe it or not, with all the cameras I own, I still don’t have one device that does great photos and video. While I don’t expect the J1 to have that ultimate image quality, it should work great for casual snaps and casual video.
I’ll let you know how it goes in a series of upcoming posts. Let the testing and the fun begin.
Update: Just when I thought the prices couldn’t get lower… B&H Photo has some two lens J1 kits for $249. I bought my one lens kit for $199. Incredible.
A lot has been written about how smartphone cameras have decimated the point and shoot market. It’s actually worse than that. Most regular people, non-enthusiasts, don’t really want to use DSLRs — they’re just too big and cumbersome. I see former DSLR owners just bag it and end up using smartphones instead. But how about people like me, the crazy, passionate photo enthusiasts. What are we doing?
Well, we are falling victim to the “good enough” mantra too.
I see two distinct groups of photo friends. Some diligently continue to use DSLRs for their serious work and then flip over to an iPhone when capturing casual snaps. I got a laugh when we go on photowalks. We all have expensive, sophisticated gear and we end up taking group pictures with an iPhone. These people are the same as the masses, documenting their world on smartphones. Except, for their serious pro or hobby work, they break out the DSLR. It’s like they have two distinct modes.
The other group, which I’m a part of, have embraced mirrorless cameras or even premium point and shoots. They may still own a DSLR but use it infrequently. These people tend to use tweener cameras (between DSLRs and smartphones) for both their serious and casual work.
Which ever group you’re in, there is no right way, of course. And I’m sure there are some people who don’t fall conveniently into either camp. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s going to get even harder for camera companies. Most cameras, especially under typical conditions, are now good enough. People know this. There is no longer a pressing need to update to the next model. The camera and sensor companies have done too well. They are perfecting themselves out of business.
So what can these companies do? There are still a few under served niches. Sony is the first to the mirrorless full frame game. Perhaps some others will follow. There is the retro camera movement that Fujifilm is leading. Nikon has followed with their Df. But ultimately, as the market saturates, these companies need to be in the aspiration business.
Leica is not really in the camera business — it’s in the aspiration business. They are selling the dream of the ultimate German pedigree, engineered and chiseled to physical perfection. People buy their cameras because they are rich enough to do so. It’s a badge of honor, like a premium automobile. Just go into one of their boutique Leica stores and you will see. Leica M is no longer the working photographer’s tool.
Fujifilm is moving into the aspiration business with their X line. They are the new Leica in spirit, with smaller, range finder like cameras that harken back to the street photographers like Cartier-Bresson. People romanticize the notion of having a simple camera with one or two lenses and perhaps use it to travel to exotic destinations. It’s also the anti-DSLR. People are proud of this and identify with it.
Olympus is also similar to Fuji and with the benefit of a rich history building smaller cameras. Both their film Pen and OM SLRs were smaller than the competition. Though not as blatant as Fuji, Olympus has also tapped into the nostalgia game. They are also anti bloated DSLR. With the E-M1, they can now tout DSLR performance in a smaller, better made package.
Panasonic suffers because they lack pedigree in the camera business.They are a consumer electronics company. Sony is similar but has done better by pushing the envelope on technological innovation and by buying Konica – Minolta. Sony is the most daring in design too. But they also seem lost, their camera lines, confusing.
Finally, the old guard, Canon and Nikon are already in the aspiration business with their DSLRs. What are they selling? The notion of the professional photographer, with the big, black DSLRs. For people who buy into this image, the bigger the better. They add battery grips to pump up their machines. Big zoom lens, especially the white variety to look even more Pro. Real professionals do use these cameras but the majority are amateurs with the aspiration. Except the wannabes have found that it takes more than equipment to become professional.
Are DSLRs enough to sustain Canon and Nikon? Are mirrorless cameras a big enough business? I suspect some downsizing is inevitable in the camera industry. These companies seem to be structured for the fast growth days when people switched from film to digital. That once in a generation trend is now over.
Let the scrambling begin.
Big beefy sensor
Does it challenge a Phase One
No still a Nikon
A month ago I was down on 6th street on a foggy and drizzly night. I made a photograph that I really liked — a street scene with the wet cobblestones, colorful bars and the glistening Frost Tower in the background. While I shoot often here, the weather added another dimension. I vowed to make more of these kinds of photographs.
Recently, everything aligned perfectly for another chance. It was a night with an occasional light drizzle. It was a Wednesday so the crowds were sparse and I even had free parking downtown after 6pm. I quickly got down there with my usual lightweight HDR setup, an Olympus E-PM2 with a 14mm f2.5 lens and a light tripod.
Regular visitors probably know that I like HDR but tend to process on the light side, opting generally for a realistic look. I like to add a bit of an edge and a boost of color, for some excitement. The neon, grit and the shine off the wet streets allowed me to amp it up more than usual. I wanted a colorful, saturated and glossy feel to the photos. The kind of images that fit the famous party like atmosphere of this place.
The most visually exciting part of 6th street is confined to a 4 block area. Continue eastward and things get darker, the buildings more modest. What stands out for me is how densely packed the area is. Bar after bar shouts in some way to entice customers. The lights, colors, flags and neon all attempt to stake out space. The visual presence is a requirement to stay in business and capturing this cacophony photographically, all the more fun.
Strip away all this bling and you’re left with standard late 19th century Texas architecture. Some of the buildings are more ornate than their small town cousins. But the buildings’ DNA is recognizable now, especially since I started visiting the surrounding communities. The big difference is that Austin is thriving while many of the nearby small towns only eke by.
Visit here on a Friday or Saturday and it’s wall to wall people. The visual queues no longer enough, these places resort to live music and calls for $1 well drinks to pull in customers. Some Austinites call this street “Dirty 6th”. I call it a photographic bonanza. It’s worth braving the young and drunken bravado or the calls for donations from the down and out. On this quiet Wednesday, about the only annoyance was occasionally wiping the mist off the front lens element. It was a good night for photography.