Wednesday, July 31, 2013

First Impressions: Holga 29mm Lens for Samsung NX Cameras

The Holga lens that I ordered from China arrived in the mail today. I ripped open the package and attached the 29mm lens onto my Samsung NX200.

If you don't know what a Holga is, it's a cheap, plastic, extremely basic medium format film camera. But it can capture images in a unique and interesting way. I bought one for $20.
Horse At Fence - Onyx, California
Captured with a Holga 120N camera.
Holga recently started making their cheap, plastic lenses available for use on popular digital cameras. They have lenses compatible with Canon, Nikon, Pentax and others, including Samsung.

I paid $15 for my 29mm lens, and that included shipping.

So why would anyone want this lens? Well, first, it's fun and different. Second, you can create the Holga look without having to purchase and develop 120 film, so it is much more convenient than using an actual Holga camera.

I captured a few photographs at my home just to try it out. I discovered that there are some differences between using a Holga lens on a Holga camera and using one on a digital camera.

First, exposure is controlled exclusively by ISO on a Holga camera, while it is controlled by ISO and/or shutter speed on a digital camera.

Second, on a Holga camera one has the choice of either rectangular or square images, but on a digital camera it is restricted to rectangular images. Yes, the images can be cropped to square, but you will crop out the desirable vignette.

Third, no light leaks. Light leaks are fun surprises with Holga cameras, but you won't find any on your digital files.

Fourth, focusing is less guesswork when using the lens on a digital camera. You use zone focusing (sort of, anyway) with a Holga camera, but you can actually see the focus with a digital camera.

Fifth, even with a 20 megapixel camera, there is not nearly as much resolution from a digital capture as there is from a high-quality scan of medium format film.

So while attaching a Holga lens to a digital camera gives a Holga effect, it is not exactly the same as actually using a Holga camera. This is both good and bad.

Below are the Holga photographs that I created today using this new lens attached to my Samsung NX200.
Red Flower Blossoms - Stallion Springs, California
Apple Thought - Stallion Springs, California
Hose And Faucet - Stallion Springs, California
Window Unicorn - Stallion Springs, California

GIMP Magazine

I had no idea that there is a magazine dedicated to GIMP users. Well, it's a "digital magazine" but it's free! So far there are three issues, with the fourth out next week.

What is GIMP? It is a photo editing software that is pretty close to as powerful as Photoshop. But instead of costing $700, GIMP is completely free.

I use GIMP sometimes, but, like Photoshop, it is a bulky program. I prefer Paint.NET because it does what I need it to without being too clumsy. There are other free photo editors, too.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Story (of a photograph)

I just posted about the importance of knowing why you photograph, and in that post included an image. Someone wanted to know why I picked that particular photograph to be included with the article. What's the story that goes with that image that made me include it?
Sailboat Race - Oxnard, California
The photograph in question is Sailboat Race seen above. I captured that image just this last weekend in Oxnard, California.

There were probably 100 other people on the beach with a camera who could have created the same image. None did. I had to have photographic vision. I saw the final image in my mind before ever opening the shutter.

The combination of the clearing clouds and backlit scene caught my attention. This could have been a black-and-white image (it's almost duotone anyway), but I thought the color on the sailboats in the right half of the image provided a needed balance (or imbalance) to the white sailboats on the left.

I included five sailboats. Five is a good, strong number that has a certain uneasiness that creates natural drama. Three is a good number, too, but in this case, with three boats on the left (the middle boat is just left of center) and two on the right, just the right balance (or imbalance) is achieved to draw the viewer in.

It was a matter of finding the decisive moment of the scene.

The almost featureless sky (the features are subtle, anyway) gives a good amount of negative space for the photograph to breathe. If I had included more ocean and less sky the image would have seemed busier. Busy typically doesn't equal strong.

In post-processing I gave a cross-process effect to the photograph to increase the color interest.

Interestingly, a similar photograph, Three Sailboats, captured only about two minutes later, is not nearly as strong. It's not a bad image, but certainly it is the weaker of the two.
Three Sailboats - Oxnard, California
Photographic vision allowed me to create both images, but the top photograph had my creative mind working just a little harder and nature cooperated just slightly more. I was able to create an image that expresses what I wanted to express about that moment at the beach.

Why You Photograph

I certainly don't agree with everything said over at Luminous Landscape, but sometimes there is a gem. Alain Briot has an interesting piece about understanding why we photograph.

It is important to understand why you photograph because it is a part of photographic vision. Without photographic vision you are unlikely to create successful photographs.
Sailboat Race - Oxnard, California
"Knowing why we photograph is going to help us create better photographs," writes Alain. "This is because knowing the reason why we photograph also means knowing what we are after: what we are looking for, what our motivation is, what drives us."

It is with deep internal reflections that we begin to understand the "why" question, and once answered we can then move into the "how" question. If you consider yourself an artist photographer, you have to know where you are going in order to get there.

Alain asks, "Why do you photograph?  Why do you create art?  Answering this question will go a long ways towards defining your vision for your work."

Monday, July 29, 2013

Trip: Oxnard, California (Beach Photographs)

I made a day trip to Oxnard, California this last Saturday. This is similar to the day trip I did a couple weeks ago to Pismo Beach. Oxnard is not nearly as beautiful as Pismo Beach, but it was nice nonetheless, with moments of nearly perfect weather.

I say that the weather had moments where it was nearly perfect because it was a little chilly until the clouds cleared away in the afternoon. When the sun came out and warmed everything up it was very nice. But just before sunset the clouds and chill returned.

The only camera and lens I brought along was a Samsung NX200 and a 50-200mm zoom. This turned out to be a good camera and lens combination for the images that I wanted to create. A tripod was used for a few photographs.

Here's a tip: Topper's Pizza near the coast is an excellent place for dinner. I recommend the carnitas pizza.

Here are the photographs in no particular order.
Beach Homes - Oxnard, California
Sailboats - Oxnard, California
Waiting Pelican - Oxnard, California
Crashing Wave - Oxnard, California
Sailboat Race - Oxnard, California
Three Sailboats - Oxnard, California
This is a massive crop with more than half of the original capture removed.
Sailing Star - Oxnard, California
Americana Life - Oxnard, California
Worth One Dollar - Oxnard, California
This was another massive crop because I had no macro lens.
The Waves of Time - Oxnard, California
This image and the ones below all required a tripod.
Ocean Abstract - Oxnard, California
An Unknown Dream - Oxnard, California
Pacific Waves - Oxnard, California
The Movement of Water - Oxnard, California
Uncertain Sea - Oxnard, California
Forgotten Footprints - Oxnard, California
When The Story Ends - Oxnard, California

Friday, July 26, 2013

I Took The Plunge And Purchased A Sigma DP2 Merrill

I've spent the last few weeks radically changing my camera gear. I've been downsizing and simplifying, and at the same time (hopefully) upgrading.

I wanted a fixed-lens camera that could travel easily. Initially I was leaning toward the Ricoh GR, and then the Sigma DP1 Merrill. Someone suggested that the DP2 Merrill might be a better fit for my style of photography.

Yesterday I took the plunge and purchased the DP2M, and it should arrive in the mail next week. After I get a good handle on it, you can expect a full review.

I know the camera has a huge upside and downside, and isn't the most versatile equipment available, but I think I'll enjoy it tremendously. I think, for me, that this is a better choice than the Ricoh GR. Only time will tell for sure.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Peter Stackpole: Bridging The Bay

I saw this and found it interesting. Back in the 1930's, Peter Stackpole photographed the building of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Currently those photographs are on exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California.
Quitting Time by Peter Stackpile via Oakland Museum of California
When I was a child I lived on Treasure Island under the Bay Bridge. I saw the massive structure every day, and often found myself in a car traveling across it. So perhaps that is why I'm drawn to Peter Stackpole's amazing images of the bridge's construction.

If you are in or near Oakland, I would suggest visiting the museum and seeing these photographs in person. If you are not, at least visit the website and check out the images there.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thought Of The Day: Keep Pushing Forward, Keep Improving

Wave And Three Rocks - Pismo Beach, California
With photography, you've got to keep pushing forward, you've got to keep improving. You've got to constantly be challenging yourself to do better.

There are so many photographers and "wanna be" photographers out there. The only way to set yourself apart is to be better, be more creative. Never settle, never be satisfied, strive for perfection. Strive to be the most creative that you can possibly be.

I can look back at my own photography and see improvements. I'm a better photographer today than I was last year, and a better photographer last year than two years ago. Hopefully, with lots of effort, I'll be a better photographer next year. I'm always striving to become better. I'm constantly trying to improve my art.

So don't be discouraged if you are not as good as you'd like to be. Just push yourself forward, constantly push yourself forward, and you'll be surprised at where you end up.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: Samsung NX 50-200mm OIS II Lens

I recently purchased Samsung's 50-200mm zoom telephoto lens for their NX camera series. I don't want to get too much into the technical data regarding this lens (others have covered that pretty well), but give more of a real-world experience in this review.

The Samsung NX 50-200mm OIS II lens is well built and somewhat small and lightweight for what it is. It has a maximum aperture of f4-5.6 (depending on the focal length). Image stabilization is provided through the lens on NX cameras, and this lens does a good job of it (pretty much what one would expect).

I was surprised at just how sharp this lens is--it's almost "prime-lens" sharp. Defraction starts around f11, but isn't really noticeable until f22.

Distortion is almost nonexistent. Chromatic aberrations are kept very well under control, but were at their worst in the 150-200mm range and with the aperture above f16 (I didn't find any in normal use, but only when purposely trying to create it preparing for this review). Illumination falloff is very minimal.

This kind of performance is unusual for an inexpensive zoom, and it performs well above the kit 18-55mm lens that came with my NX camera.

It isn't all roses for this lens, however. I did find a few issues that one should consider.

I encountered two problems with auto focus. First, the camera struggled to auto focus when using this lens in dim light, and sometimes downright failed. Now this not a big surprise, but it seemed to be a little worse than with the kit 18-55mm lens that came with the camera. Second, the camera seemed to have problems accurately auto focusing when the lens was in the 150-200mm range. It would indicate that focus was achieved, but when reviewing the images focus was just ahead or behind where I was trying to get it. Not every photograph would have this problem, but enough to annoy me.

Of course, any time there is an auto focus issue the work-around is to manually focus. I have no problems doing this and the switch on the lens to auto or manual focus is logically placed for ease of use.

Another issue with this lens is that it doesn't have as much contrast as I'd prefer. This isn't a big deal because adding contrast in post-processing is easy. In fact, some may prefer to have less contrast. But I wonder if this is part of the cause of the auto focus problems.

The minimum focus distance of this lens is about three feet. I know this isn't a macro lens, but three feet seems pretty far for a minimum focus distance.

In conclusion, the Samsung NX 50-200mm OIS II lens is a great addition to my camera bag. It surprised me just how good it is. It isn't without its quirks, but for a low cost (MSRP of $350, but can be found for as little as $200 if you shop around) I'll gladly put up with a few quirks.

Here are some sample images captured with this lens:
Wasp And Ant - Stallion Springs, California
I cropped most of the original image out.
Country Wood - Stallion Springs, California
Three Horses - Tehachapi, California
Looking Deer - Tehachapi, California
Face In The Tree - Tehachapi, California
Red Bridge - Stallion Springs, California
Natural Design - Stallion Springs, California
Half Moon - Stallion Springs, California
This is a massive crop.
One Red Flower - Stallion Springs, California
This is another massive crop.
An Apple - Stallion Springs, California
Evening Oak - Stallion Springs, California
Purple Thistle - Stallion Springs, California
I cropped out about 2/3rds of the original capture.
Imaginary Forest - Tehachapi, California
Walking Bridge - Tehachapi, California
Water Faucet - Tehachapi, California
Daisy - Stallion Springs, California
About half of the original capture was cropped out.
Two Wasps - Stallion Springs, California
I cropped most of the original image out.
Wild Grass - Stallion Springs, California

Monday, July 22, 2013

Thought Of The Day: Pentax K-50 DSLR

The Pentax K-50 DSLR is what's replacing the Pentax K-30, a good quality, good value DSLR. It's a mid-level camera, designed to be easy enough for a beginner but capable enough for the advanced user.

The differences between the K-50 and the K-30 are more on the outside than the inside. There are very, very few internal differences between the two cameras, and nothing significant enough to even mention. They are the same on the inside. Same sensor, same software, same auto-focus--same everything. There are only a couple of very tiny internal differences.

The external differences are more significant. The cameras have a slightly different design--they look similar at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals some differences. I couldn't tell you which design is better, but they're similar enough that it probably doesn't matter. The K-50 is available in every color under the sun, while the K-30 only has a few available colors.

I would think that if you are considering the Pentax K-50, you would want to look closely at the K-30 because you are getting the same camera for less money. I would only choose the K-50 over the K-30 if there is some color you just have to have that isn't available for the other camera. Otherwise, the K-30 is the better choice just because you can find it for less.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Samsung NX 50-200mm Lens - Initial Thoughts

I purchased a Samsung NX 50-200mm telephoto zoom lens (f4-5.6 ED OIS II) for my NX200, and it arrived yesterday in the mail. I took a stroll around my neighborhood last evening and captured a few images.

My first thought it is, while the lens is certainly beefy compared to the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera, it is fairly small and lightweight for what it is. I actually expected it to be bigger and heavier.

I was a bit disappointed with the auto focus. It was plenty quick, but not nearly as accurate as I had hoped. It seemed like more of a problem at 200mm than 50mm. Perhaps the compressed scene gives the camera some trouble. Thankfully I have no issues manually focusing a lens.

Speaking of focusing, the closest focus on the lens is about three feet at 50mm. I know this is not a macro lens, but three feet seems a little far. It would be nice if it could focus a little closer, but this isn't a huge deal for my intended use.

Sharpness was satisfactory. Contrast was perhaps a bit low, but nothing to be concerned with. I didn't notice much in the way of distortions. Chromatic aberrations seemed well controlled throughout the focal lengths.

Overall, my first impression is that this is a decent lens that will get much use. However, I only briefly used the lens once, so my impressions my change with time.

Here are the images that I captured yesterday evening using this lens (all hand-held):
Red Bridge - Tehachapi, California
Purple Thistle - Tehachapi, California
This is a pretty large crop, with about 2/3rds of the original capture removed.
Evening Oak - Tehachapi, California
Half Moon - Tehachapi, California
This was a massive crop, with about 4/5ths of the original capture removed.