Friday, December 25, 2009

7 Days of G7 (7 of 7): Christmas Morning

How handy it is that this seven day series ends on Christmas.  You almost might think I planned it that way!

This year, I planted two fixed lights (a la Strobist) and switched between the G7 and 20D.  The images in this post are only from the G7.  (Last year I did something similar, and the year before I used bounce flash).

The way it was set up, I was shooting at 1/4 power on a Nikon SB-20 and 1/4 on a Sunpak 383.  That gave me around f/3.5-f/4 at ISO 200 on the G7 and f/6.3 at ISO 400 on the 20D.  Note that you can use a larger aperture on the G7 since the chip is smaller and depth of field is larger -- the smaller aperture also allows lower ISO, which is necessary for avoiding noise.

Overall, I thought it went well.  The G7 is quite responsive and performs flawlessly in manual mode with off-camera flash.  The one thing that really bugged me was shutter lag -- from what I could tell, using the off-camera flash actually slowed down the G7 shutter and I often missed shots that I would have gotten on my 20D.  It was long enough to be annoying (I'd estimate 100-200 ms) but not a huge deal.  Without the flash, the G7 seems to respond faster -- I wonder why they do that?  Maybe the G7 tries to talk to the flash (and fails because it is a dummy) before it takes the shot?

Aside from that, I liked the combination quite a bit, and really love the G7 for situations where I'd like to proof a flash setup, especially for a film camera.

Well, here ends the 7-day sequence on the G7.  I can't believe I made it the whole time without posting any macro shots!  Stay tuned for more next year!

7 Days of G7 (6 of 7): Low Light Shooting

I took the G7 as my only camera to the Christmas Eve service last night.  In the past, I've used both my 20D and a Sony Videocamera for the job, but this time, I figured I'd just depend on the G7.

Before I go further, let me explain the conditions -- the church is very, very dark.  For instance, 1/6s at F/4 and ISO 400 is about as good as it gets.  It really is a situation that exposes the limitations of a camera.  Add to that the necessity of reducing noise, and it is really hard to get a camera to work well if flash is not allowed...

My experience with the G7 was mixed.  There were a number of good things:
  • The G7 is super quiet -- I could shoot away without worrying about the click-Ka-CHUNK of the 20D bothering people.
  • The zoom on the G7 along with IS makes a very usable combination, even at very slow shutter speeds.  By doing a minimum of bracing my arms in a sitting position, I was able to get a decent number of keepers around 1/10th or 1/20th.
  • The G7 was quite good at acquiring focus quickly.  I was pleasantly surprised.
  • The built-in video mode was very handy and easy to use, once I figured it out.  The key is to set zoom, acquire focus, then depress the button fully to record.
  • The optical viewfinder is pathetic, but that is made up for with a very good implementation of live-view.  I never missed the optical viewfinder (accept for the cases where I wanted to steady the camera well).
But there were also a number of bad things:
  • Let's face it -- the G7 has a relative large chip for a point and shoot, but it still has pretty abysmal noise performance compared to a dSLR.  Below is a 100% crop from the shot above -- I believe this is ISO400.   
  • You can't shoot at high ISOs in RAW...  I know I am repeating myself, but my 20D is at least serviceable at ISO 1600 and quite good at ISO 800 for web-size images.  The G7 just craps out past ISO 200 and even shooting with RAW you can't save it.  (Disclosure -- I haven't tried RAW on the G7 since it isn't natively supported, but the reviews for it haven't compelled me to install the hack to make it work)
  • You can't zoom during videos (well, you can, but it is only digital zoom).  That is probably because the zoom would be super noisy...
  • You can't autofocus during videos -- this is a big issue.
  • The autofocus light is a light green, VERY directional light that can be quite distracting if you shine it towards, say, your kid, while he's trying to say a line.  If it was possible, I'd love an infrared autofocus light (not sure it is possible with this technology).

Overall, I know there's some things I can tweak in my technique, but I know the G7 is not going to be a good low-light camera for anything but snapshots.  I've heard that the G11 is the first in the G-series that has improved high-ISO performance -- in fact, the G11 at ISO 800 looks better than my G7 at ISO 200! -- and I might look into getting one used sometime down the road.  The G7 will remain for me a beater-camera for snapshots that has some advanced features too.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    7 Days of G7 (5 of 7): Self-Portrait

    Many great plans have unraveled due to one or two unconsidered issues.  For instance, the Russian winter completely blindsided Napoleon and ultimately lead to his downfall.

    (Actually, that's not true -- apparently the weather only got him during his retreat...  Well, the analogy still works as long as you have a warped view of history...)

    In this case, I've had this idea of getting a shot of my new G7... with the G7.  Sort of a self-portrait.  In the end, the results were both sub-par, and better than I hoped...

    The general idea was to set up a shoot in my bathroom since I have a mirror on my medicine cabinet that can be swung to provide different angles with respect to my main bathroom mirror.  Using mirrors in that way, it is possible to use the G7s flash to actually illuminate the G7 from the side and take a picture from an off axis.  I considered a lot of factors -- cleaning the mirror, a second light to better illuminate the G7 (triggered optically with a snoot on it), etc. 

    But I forgot one big issue -- bathroom mirrors have the silver on the back of the glass, not the front.  As a result, there's always two reflections -- a slight one from the glass, and the main one behind it.  In this case, with very bright highlights, this causes very distracting issues as shown above.  (FYI, the mirrors in an SLR or TLR have the silver on the outside of the glass, avoiding this double reflection but making them very fragile!)

    Yeah, so that didn't work.

    But, as I was processing my images, I found the very cool image I opened the post with.  This is a shot of my G7 (twice) and me (twice), illuminated only by my G7.  I love the look of the shot, although I'm not wild about the composition (needed more space on the right).  I'd try to tweak it, but honestly I couldn't do it again if I tried.

    Anyway, another happy accident as I get used to my G7!

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    7 Days of G7 (4 of 7): Cleaning Out My Desk

    Today I went to Stanford and finally cleaned out all my stuff from grad school.  I didn't take a 'before' shot, but here is a 25 percent in shot:

    And here is the end shot:

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    7 Days of G7 (3 of 7): Olander Co Inc

    Boring picture, but there's a nice story behind it.

    Oddly enough, my Canon G7 was shipped to me (used, on eBay) with three screws missing.  Strange, right?  Well, I got them to discount the purchase a bit, and set off to find the screws I needed to fix it.

    Well, with some experimentation at work, I figured out that I needed M1.6x0.35 screws in both 3mm and 4mm lengths to replace the missing screws.  As luck would have it, I work right down the road from Olander Company Inc, a very well known fastener distributor.  Even better, they allow customers to come in and order parts in small quantities.  And even better than that, for the five screws I asked for, they sampled them for me so I got them for free!

    How awesome is that...  they are one of the few companies that would have given me that kind of service, and didn't even hassle me at all about the small quantities.  So, if you ever need screws, head to Olander!

    ...or, you know, use the internet...

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    7 Days of G7 (2 of 7): Shoreline

    I took a bunch of shots out at Shoreline today with the G7.  The first image is the official shot of the day, but I'm going to give you a few more shots because I learned a few things.

    First, I'm really liking the G7.  Yes, it doesn't have quite the per-pixel detail of my DSLRs, but does a good job.  The detail on this shots of random buildings at NASA is an example.  I can't really tell the difference at 100% crop between the G7 and my 20D.  Sometimes I had a bit of trouble controlling exposure, but I think I need to read the manual more.

    Second, it does well at the extreme telephoto range.  I was actually able to get some decent shots of this snowy egret.  The combination of the 220mm equivalent lens with IS makes a very usable telephoto end, although the limitations of the camera are exposed a bit more.

    Finally, it appears I have some dust on my sensor as visible in the image below (middle left edge and bottom, slightly left above the cloud).  The spots aren't that bad, and are more visible when stopped down at the telephoto end.  I have no idea how easy it will be to clean a G7 sensor, but it isn't something I'll send the camera in to Canon for -- I doubt they even repair G7s at this point.  So, at some point, I hope to open up the camera myself and clean it up.  There's also sizeable lint pieces inside the lens, so I could take care of them at the same time.

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    7 Days of G7 (1 of 7): Tree

    I'm starting another seven day series today, in honor of my new (well-used, actually) Canon G7. I'm really liking the camera, even though it is pretty beat up, and it should be handy because I can carry it around much easier than my 20D.

    Hopefully tomorrow I can get something better than this back-lit tree that caught my eye...

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Photo7 (7 of 7): Snow on the Mountains

    Today was notable both because it was raining yet it was also clear enough to see snow in the mountains east of San Jose. Managed to grab this show while driving to work.

    Here ends my Photo7 sequence. I'm not going to say that it was ground-breaking for me in any sense, and the images were not much to speak of. But, it was good to shoot regularly again, and I can think of a lot of themes I'll want to do for my next one.

    "Photo7" doesn't seem to have much of a ring to it though, so I think I will start calling it "Seven Days of..." I'm looking forward to doing Seven Days of Macro, Seven Days of Off-Camera Flash, Seven Days of Yashica-Mat, ... etc.

    Of course, I need a few days break first!

    Photo7 (6 of 7): Parked on a Hill

    The place I played poker last night forces me to park on the edge of a very steep hill (winding, one-lane roads, no guardrail, etc). I tried to capture this idea in my shots, but I didn't quite do it (the steep hill is right behind my car -- you can see some junk that was dumped down the side the hill too).

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Photo7 (5 of 7): In the Basket

    Many parents worry about their kids residing in a closet -- I need to worry about my daughter residing in a laundry basket... when she watches TV.

    Taken with my 20D but turned to B&W because of the nasty color balance in the room. Also, taken at ISO 3200 (a stretch with the 20D) since my living room is quite dark.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    Photo7 (4 of 7): Under the Overpass

    An overpass near my work that has a strange 'rock garden'.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Photo7 (3 of 7): Reflection

    Near my work there are two convex mirrors at an intersection. I figured it was a good time to take a self portrait.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Photo7 (2 of 7): Autumn Trees

    Near where I work there is a pathway lined with small trees. It has been looking beautiful lately, so I got a few shots. Too bad the path lines up directly with a large utility box! Luckily I have a burn brush and I know how to use it!

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Photo7 (1 of 7): Christmas Decorations

    I haven't touched my camera much at all this past year, although I'd like to. A lot of it is just that the camera is put away most of the time, and sometimes I get the impulse to shoot, but don't feel like getting it out.

    So, time to use a gimmick to get me back into photography!

    I'd say I should start a Photo365 (you know, one of those things where you take a photo every day for a year). Let's be honest though, that's a little bit too much commitment for me. So, I'll just cut it down to a more manageable size -- a Photo7. For every day of the next 7 days I will take at least one photo and post it.

    Full disclosure: this blog actually started as a photo a day blog, but I only made it a few months, and that was with cheating!

    If it goes well, I might do more Photo7s and choose a theme for each 7 days. But, for this first one, my goal is to just get shooting, so I'll just take pictures of whatever I feel like.

    Here is the first:

    As you can see, the Christmas decorations are up (my wife is very prompt with decorations, but not as prompt as the radio station that starts Christmas music before Thanksgiving).

    I would have taken pictures of something more... lively, but it is just too dark in my living room.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    More Black and White: Arastradero Preserve

    Another shoot with the Yashica-Mat 124 (see the last one). Actually, this does not represent the full shoot, just the first half of the negatives.

    I love the way the sky looks in black and whites. Sadly, it is the sky that my DIY Negative Scanner screws up the most. I'm sure there's something I can do though to reduce quantization error.

    There was an interesting burned stump that had a pretty strange shape.

    Here is the same shot in color with my 20D.

    Honestly, I like the color shot better, but the black and white highlights the intense contrast between the burned portion and the sky. Black and white also seems to lend an old-time feel to the shots -- sometimes that is appropriate, sometimes not.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Black and White Playground Pics

    I'm trying to update this blog a little more with the pictures I've taken over the past few months. Tonight's post consists of a number of shots I took at the playground with my Yashica-Mat 124. The Used Camera Database Blog has more information about the hardware that took the pictures, here I'll just be focusing more on the actual images.

    Speaking of the images, these are a bit grainy -- I suspect I need to reevaluate how I convert the images from the negatives that I photographed on my DIY Film Scanner. There seems to be a lot of noise, probably from quantization error. For now, you just get grainier images than you might expect. The real shots are a lot cleaner than these appear.

    Playing in the sand:

    On the way there:

    This fire hydrant appealed to me when we were heading to the park. I liked the bright contrast between the hydrant and the shadows behind it.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Halloween Pics

    It has been a while since I posted. I wanted to get some pictures up, and I have one quick tip for you that I'll lead off with.

    As usual, we wanted to get some pictures of my kids in their Halloween costumes. So, before we started trick or treating we stepped out front to take some pictures. I think you can see the obvious problem:

    My kids always turn into Squinty McGee whenever I try to get any decent front lighting (or side lighting). From experience, I knew that just trying to force a bad situation would result in mediocre shots. So I pulled an audible and moved out back.

    The shot at the top resulted, and I also got a few individual shots:

    Total elapsed time? About 10 minutes. That's including the required herding of children and two locations. I also was able to set up this shot that I really like:

    Who said that taking family portraits needs to be a chore?

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Family Photos

    Just figured I'd post a few shots from my new (old!) Yashicamat 124. It has some problems (that I should be able to fix pretty easily) but sometimes the problems add some character to images. These a few of our favorites from the first roll.

    If you are interested in the hardware side of things, I'll be posting more over at the Used Camera Database blog.


    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Vacation in Black and White

    As I mentioned in the last post, I took a number of black and white shots on vacation. I'll share some of them with you here (note: I have more to say on the technical side of shooting on black and white film, but those posts will be over at the Used Camera Database Blog).

    Today, I'll just share some of my favorite photographs from the second and third rolls of film (from the Costco scans on CD). I'm going to try to scan the first set of negatives myself (more to test quality than anything else) -- so those will be a little delayed.

    I've been wanting to shoot black and white for a while, but this is the first time I really got around to it. Of course, I could always convert my color images to B&W in post processing, but I almost feel... overwhelmed... when converting color (digital) shots to black and white because there are so many options and variables. I'd almost rather be restricted to monochrome at shooting time than do it in post processing.

    Maybe, with more experience, I'll get to know what it to look like when I do conversions. For now, I'm still learning what will show up and what won't. For instance, in the shot below, the path through the gate is totally lost in the conversion.

    On the other hand, many shots that would be mediocre in color really have a little something extra in black and white. Much of it is the contrast and the way black and white restricts you to just the dark and light spots. Part of it is that 'old-time' feel of black and white -- for that reason, I think there's a good argument for doing black and white in portraits.

    For instance, this shot of my son is definitely helped by removing the color (which would be distracting):

    Likewise, the frame around my daughter in this photo is brought out by the lack of color. It is too bad I missed the focus and it turned out soft! (she was hamming it up too, which usually isn't a good thing, but it worked on this grab shot).

    I've always felt like black and white lends an old time serenity to shots of people. For instance, the shot at the top of the page, or this one:

    This last one is a bit blown out on my kids -- I think it would be benefited by rescanning at a stop or two less exposure. It probably could have worked pretty well in color though -- the barn was red with nice texture, and the surroundings were a vibrant green.

    Flowers can look pretty nice, but honestly, I think this one would have looked better in color...

    Black and white does excel in terms of texture, like this old building I had my daughter try to get into. I shot a series of them, but they looked better in my mind than on film :(

    I like these shots though:

    And I made sure to get the family dog, Annie (who, sadly, is not going to last much longer since her back legs are no longer cooperating).

    I love this shot...

    Finally, I'll end with a shot of my son, hard at work. One thing about black and white film is that it handles a wide dynamic range -- this image really shows that off...