Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I've got nice veins...

... or so says one of the guys I work with. According to him, they are almost too nice. (click to see them larger)

Apparently, blood is very opaque to infrared light, allowing veins to show up pretty accurately.

I'm just glad he caught me on a day that I was pretty warm and my circulation in my hands was actually going.

One of these days I'd love to experiment with digital IR photography (not just of my hands, either). We'll see -- right now I don't have a camera I can donate to IR conversion.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Shoreline Birds at 400mm

This post is going to be mostly pictures and not as many words.

The Saturday after my defense (Feb 7th) I took a bike ride out to Shoreline and searched around for some birds to test my new Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO Telemacro HSM on. I was not dissappointed and found a couple of snowy egrets, a great blue heron, geese, a hawk (not pictured since I only got it in flight at long distance), and a western grebe (I think).

As always, click on a picture to see it larger.

Most of these shots are from a snowy egret that was catching minnows or maybe crayfish in one of the drainage streams. At first I thought the bird was a bit nuts since it kept swishing its feet around and doing a little shuffling dance, then ducking its head into the water and coming up with a leaf.

Later on, I realized that the stream was full of little minnows this time of year and it was just disturbing the leaves at the bottom of the pool to stir up whatever it was eating.

A little further along I ran into a GBH. Sadly, I was a bit constrained on my angle and wasn't able to keep that leaf from behind his head (it was around the corner in the stream and I had to climb out on some sand-bags without startling it). Although, I have to admit I didn't see the leaf until I processed the image, but I don't think I would have been able to move enough to remove the leaf from the shot.

Later on, I ran across the grebe, diving in the bay. He (she?) would dive and disappear for a minute, then pop up in a new location. But he had those electric red eyes that look so cool!

The Sigma 400mm performed quite well. The weight honestly didn't bother me as much as I thought it would (in some spots I used a monopod, but most shots were hand-held). Likewise, since it was a sunny day, I didn't feel like I was banging against the limits of its light gathering ability, and most shots were at ISO 200 with a pretty high shutter speed (1/500s or shorter).

The thing that bugged me most, which is really more due to the camera, was the fact that most images were back focusing. In other words, I'd line up the center focus point on the eye of the bird, but the autofocus would focus slightly behind the bird, putting the bird's head a little out of focus. I've noticed this before on my 20D, but a 400mm lens at f/5.6 really highlights any focusing problems.

The typically thing to do for backfocusing is send the camera and lens in to the factory to be calibrating -- oftening costing $100 or more EACH. Yeah, that's not going to happen with my current photography budget. I honestly suspect my camera because I've detected the problem before. Overall, it is relatively minor (with only a slight bit of softness). As long as I'm aware of it, I can adjust the focus manually using the HSM.

Speaking of the HSM, it is really nice. With proper light, the lens focuses really fast. Definitely on par with my 70-200mm f/4's USM. I'm very glad I was able to get the HSM version and it makes clean-up of focusing problems very easy -- just focus, twitch the wheel a little forward, and shoot.

I do regret the Err 99 problem (forcing me to stay at f/5.6). The lens gives pretty sharp pictures wide open, but I know it'd sharpen up even more (and give me a larger depth of field) if I could stop it down to even f/6.3. Especially for closer subjects, that extra depth of field would be nice.

But, for $250, I'm pretty happy with the thing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

eBay Research at UsedCameraDB.com

It has been over two weeks since I've last posted.

The good news is that my dissertation is in the revision stage, meaning I actually have some time to work on side projects. The bad news is I've been focusing more on a new project which I hinted at before: the Used Camera Database (http://www.usedcameradb.com/).

Lately I've been spending most of my time learning (re-learning?) PhP, html, and other web stuff. And, instead of focusing on making the site pretty, I'm working on some of the utilities which should make the site really great. Ultimately, I want the site to include in-depth reviews, ratings, user comments, and used camera price aggregator which provides a one stop shopping for finding which camera (or lens or flash) and locating a good for that item at the same time.

Ultimately, I want to use the site to save myself time. No more searching for hours to find that elusive review of the Sigma 600mm FD version or get the latest price on used SB-20s. Hopefully these ideas appeal to you, too!

Of course, a big project like this starts with baby steps, so the first research utility I present is the eBay Price Research Interface. It allows you to search the previous 30 days of listings and generate a histogram of prices, some statistics, and daily statistics. Of course, there are some limitations, most notably the ability to exclude certain keywords (which is critical for getting accurate price estimates in my opinion) and limits the number of searches to 1000 each month.

Still, though, the eBay Price Research script can come in handy if you'd like to know the going rate of an item. For instance, the search pictured at the top of the page shows a distinct delineation between Canon 5D and Canon 5D Mark II prices. I've already used it a number of times to price things on eBay in the few days since I've made it.

Give it a try! If you have feedback, leave a comment or e-mail me at info@usedcameradb.NOSPAMcom (obviously, take out the NOSPAM part).

My next tasks relating to UCDB are to add live listings to the utility above and make a larger/better aggregator for more than just eBay. Beyond that, I'm also building a searchable database of camera equipment which will include a price history more accurate than any other site provides (and trust me, I've been looking!).

This will all take a while, so be patient!

On the photography side, I've got two posts brewing with some actual pictures in them. Look for them in the next few days.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dreaming of David Hobby

Yes, I'm serious, Mr. Strobist himself, David Hobby, appeared in my dream last night.

Don't worry, it wasn't that kind of dream...

This is the gist of the dream (cue wavy image transition):

I'm in a car with a bunch of other guys with David driving. Oddly enough, it is my car (Honda Civic) but way roomier than usual. We're on our way to a Strobist meetup and so the car is full of luggage, flashes, cameras, and other Strobist crap.

We arrive at the meetup and David rolls up the windows before he shuts off the ignition, but they roll up really slow and laboriously. After a moments hesitation, I tell him that the car is unlikely to start again since it has a bad battery or alternator and the windows rolling up that slowly with the car on means something is likely shot. David looks less than pleased and gives me a stern look.

It is at this moment, I realized I not only forgot my flashes and stuff but I also don't even have a camera with me. I opt to not tell David this stuff as we're unloading because he's already pretty perturbed. As I'm unloading, the homeliest dog I've ever seen jumps out of the luggage. I remember that this is David's dog but I forgot how ugly it was -- it is a small white dog with very little hair (not in a good way) and a huge bottom lip that drags on the ground. It comes up to me and I pet it, even though the bottom lip feels like a big bunch of loose, hairy skin.

At this point, I wake up, wondering why the hell David is in my dreams!
Apparently my PhD dissertation has been wearing on me a bit more. I'm sure a dream analysis guru could tell me lots of important things about my relationship with my parents, but I think it is just a build-up of stress and some recent things floating in my mind. For instance, the car problem is real -- my battery isn't great, and a friend at work told us a story of a dog without a bottom jaw the other day.

The weirdest part was just the presence of David Hobby -- I've never even met the guy before and, let's face it, it's not like he plasters his website with pictures of himself!

I know I'm going to have some weird dreams as I reach the end of the road on my PhD, but please, could I just dream about someone prettier than David Hobby? I've seen plenty of beautiful women on the web and on TV -- couldn't one of them stop by?