Friday, February 28, 2014

Clouds & Trees

Uncertainty - Tehachapi, California
I can't remember who said this or what the exact quote was, but to paraphrase, "Great photographs have clouds." I remember hearing that while in one of the photography classes that I attended back in college. I'm not sure that I fully agree with the statement, but clouds can certainly add drama to a scene.

Photographer Darwin Wiggett said, "For me, the most memorable landscape photos almost always have a sky that is full of interest, and most often, that interest comes from clouds. Give me a weather forecast of mixed sun and cloud, and I am in photographic heaven."
One Tree - Tehachapi, California
I recently took a walk through the Tehachapi, California countryside. There was a mix of clouds and sun in the sky. The interaction between the trees and the sky struck me. Clouds are fluffy and formless, trees are strong and have a generally recognizable shape. I wanted to show that interaction through photographs.

Thankfully, I had my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera with me. The three photographs that you see here are what I captured on that walk.
Dormant Oak - Tehachapi, California

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thought of the Day: Nikon D4S

I had no intentions of writing about this camera, but someone asked what my thoughts are on it. So what do I think of the Nikon D4S? It's the same camera as the Nikon D4.

The differences between the Nikon D4 and the Nikon D4S are so minor that Nikon could (for the most part) turn everyone's D4 into a D4S with a firmware update. There is nothing revolutionary here.

The D4S, along with the D4 and the Df, which all share the same exceptional 16 megapixel full-frame sensor, are kings of high ISO. The D4S is very fast, too, making it ideal for sports photography.

The good news is that the D4 should soon sell for less now that the D4S has been announced. Wait until next year when the D5 is announced, and the price will drop even more.

Daily Joshua Project - Update 7

Reaching - Stallion Springs, California
Day 55
For those who may not know what my Daily Joshua project is, I'm photographing my son Joshua each and every day. He was born on December 18, 2013. So far I've managed to capture at least one photograph each day.

I nearly messed this whole thing up. On one of the days I almost went to bed without having captured an image. Thankfully, my wife reminded me, and I was able to capture a photograph.
Playing Time - Stallion Springs, California
Day 56
Not all of the images in this project are great. Some are far from great. While I'd love for each photograph to be amazing, that's not the point of this project. Besides, on some days I lack the vision and creativity necessary to create a great image. Also, more than once, I thought I'd captured a better image than I actually had. I didn't notice some deficiency until reviewing the images later on my computer. By then it was too late. (There is a lesson here: take extra care to make sure everything is right). 
Who's Batman? - Stallion Springs, California
Day 57
Sleeping In Mother's Arms - Stallion Springs, California
Day 58
A Joshua Look - Stallion Springs, California
Day 59
Play Time - Stallion Springs, California
Day 60
Sleeping Troll - Stallion Springs, California
Day 61
Sleeping Like A Rock - Stallion Springs, California
Day 62
Sleeping Super Hero - Stallion Springs, California
Day 63
Brothers, Playing - Stallion Springs, California
Day 64
Thinking About Football - Stallion Springs, California
Day 65

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thought of the Day: Leica S DxOMark Tested

The Leica S is a $22,000 37-megapixel medium-format digital camera. DxOMark just tested this camera, and the results were not impressive.

Normally I wouldn't care. But I had a thought: what cameras have similar image quality but cost a whole lot less? According to DxOMark's database, the Sony SLT-A57 and the Samsung NX300 have nearly identical scores as the Leica S. The A57 has a 16-megapixel APS-C sized sensor and the NX300 has a 20-megapixel APS-C sized sensor. You can find either one for under $700 if you shop around.

The biggest difference between these three cameras is resolution. Images from the Leica are much larger, but dynamic range, color depth and high ISO performance are nearly identical. Aside from large file sizes, what are you really getting from the $22,000 camera? Leica lenses.

Everyone knows that Leica lenses are super sharp, high quality glass. But why would anyone spend so much money on a camera that's good-but-not-great just to use Leica glass? I certainly would not.

Maybe I just don't get this whole Leica thing. But my guess is that my Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone isn't all that far off from the image quality from the Leica S. Not enough to justify spending $21,900 more, anyway.

Abandonment: Desert Home - Mojave, California

Abandoned Desert Home - Mojave, California 
I found another abandoned home out in the desert near Mojave, California. This one is a small four room place that had a camper attached as an expansion. There's also a two car garage.

This abandoned home had indoor plumbing, which is hit-or-miss among other abandoned homes in the area. Many didn't have kitchens or bathrooms, but this one did (and not just in the camper). 
Garage In The Desert - Mojave, California
I'm not sure how long this place has been abandoned, but I'd guess at least 15 years, just based on the conditions of the place. whoever it was that lived here most likely worked at one of the nearby mines (which are now closed).

I used a Nokia Lumia 1020 to capture these images. Click here to see my other abandonment photographs.
Interior Decor - Mojave, California
Shadows of Abandonment - Mojave, California
Forgotten Cupboard - Mojave, California
Hello Door - Mojave, California
Yellow & Blue Board - Mojave, California
Old Tire Pile - Mojave, California
Drum Set - Mojave, California
Color Unknown - Mojave, California

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Light Painting With The Nokia Lumia 1020

I wanted to know if light painting was practical using the Nokia Lumia 1020. I knew it was possible because the Lumia 1020 is capable of four second exposures, but possible and practical are two different things.

If you are not sure what light painting is, during long exposures one adds lights to the image to give different effects. There are no rules, just whatever one wants or imagines. It is usually somewhat abstract.
Painted Tree - Stallion Springs, California
The vision I had for light painting with the Lumia 1020 was a tree trunk with a green light swirled around it. So last night I grabbed my Lumia 1020 and set out to turn that vision into a photograph.

The first issue was a tripod. Anytime there is a long exposure the camera must be secured in place. Cell phones aren't designed to attach to traditional tripods. One can purchase a tripod meant for cell phones, but being cheap I decided to just find something around the house. What I settled on was a small picture easel.

I manually set the the ISO to 100 and the white balance to incandescent (the light bulb). I could have used any white balance, I just thought that this one would give the results that I wanted. Because it was a very dark night and I live out in the country, the camera automatically picked four seconds for the exposure. I lit the tree with a flashlight and touched the screen over the tree to let the camera auto-focus on it.

The camera has a two, five or 10 second self-timer. I found that five seconds worked well for my needs. Unfortunately, the self-timer must be selected for each exposure, which was a bit of a hassle.

The only light source for this shoot was a flashlight, which has a clear LED bulb on one side and a green LED bulb on the other (like a safety wand). My vision was to circle the tree trunk several times (moving either up or down) with the green light.

I encountered two problems with this. First, the green light was not sufficiently illuminating the tree. Second, the four second exposure was not long enough to circle the tree enough times with the light to create the effect that I wanted.

Back to the drawing board. What I decided on instead was to wave the light in front of the tree in an arching pattern, allowing me to cover more space. I hoped that this would make it look like the light was circling the tree even though it wasn't (unfortunately, it was not effective at this). Again, the tree was not being sufficiently illuminated.

Finally, I used the clear light to briefly illuminate the tree (for about one second) and then used the green light to quickly arch around the trunk (for about two and a half seconds). This took a few tries and some quick actions.

I made a total of six exposures before I was satisfied with the results (Painted Tree above). I was not able to achieve the original vision because the camera is not capable of exposures longer than four seconds. Overall, I did find that light painting with the Nokia Lumia 1020 is practical, just not in every situation. Sometimes you'll want a camera that is capable of longer exposures.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Abandonment: Little Yellow House - Mojave, California

Yellow House In The Desert - Mojave, California
I found a little yellow house abandoned in Mojave, California. By little, I mean one-small-room little. No bathroom, no closet, no kitchen. No plumbing of any kind, in fact. Just one (roughly) 12' x 12' multipurpose room with a door and two windows.

For most people this might be a storage shed, or perhaps even a guest house. But it was clear to me that someone lived in this tiny place. This was someone's home. And it was the only structure on the property.
Knob - Mojave, California
Inside I found a bed, two chairs, and an end table. Nobody had occupied this place for a while, but it didn't look like it had been abandoned all that long, either. Someone may have lived in the house within the last 10 or 15 years.

There is a nearby mine that's not currently active, and my guess is that whoever built and lived in this place worked at that mine. When the mine closed, I'm sure the occupants moved on to some other town.
Broken Chair - Mojave, California
Whoever lived here were neighbor's to another now abandoned home that I've photographed. Perhaps they new each other and were even coworkers. Another two abandoned homes that I've photographed are close by, too.

I used a Nokia Lumia 1020 to capture these images.
Ghosts of the Past - Mojave, California
Yellow, Door - Mojave, California
Roof Line - Mojave, California
Small Wood Home
Sleeping Doorway - Mojave, California
Right across a dirt road from the yellow house is another small abandoned home. This one is probably three times larger than the tiny yellow house and it appears as though it had a couple of rooms (although the interior walls no longer exist).

Like some other abandoned homes in the area, there is no indoor plumbing. There was no kitchen or bathroom. It has one door and a few windows. It might have been used for storage at one point, although there are no other structures on the property, so I'm not sure who would have used it as storage. 
Sunlight Through Brokenness - Mojave, California
Every abandoned home that I've found in the Mojave Desert has a story to tell. There is a bit of mystery  found in the walls. I wonder who lived there and why. I wonder what life may have been like for them. I wonder why the place was left to succumb to the harsh desert. I wonder what the future has in store for these forgotten locations.

I almost feel a duty to photograph these old buildings. People pass by some of them often, others places are so far off the beaten path that onlookers are rare. But most of these people will never see the beauty in the broken. Most people will not see the value in the destruction. Unless someone shows them.
Wood Window - Mojave, California

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sigma DP2 Merrill vs. Nokia Lumia 1020

The title of this post sounds ridiculous. The Sigma DP2 Merrill vs. the Nokia Lumia 1020. Really? Absurd.

The two cameras are in different classes altogether. At best it's comparing apples to oranges. So why am I doing this? Become someone asked me to.

You see, in my review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 I mentioned the Sigma DP1 Merrill as a similar camera. Why? Because they are both wide-angle fixed-lens compact digital cameras.

I don't own a Sigma DP1 Merrill, but I do own a Sigma DP2 Merrill. Those two cameras are identical other than focal length (28mm-equivalent and 45mm-equivalent, respectively). So what applies to one applies to the other regarding image quality. So perhaps this comparison is a bit less absurd than it initially sounds.

What I'm not going to do is studio tests and comparisons of 100% crops. I want to give real world, real use impressions. Can the Lumia 1020 hold its own against the DP2 Merrill?

The Sigma DP2 Merrill has a 46 megapixel APS-C sized Foveon sensor. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41 megapixel 1/1.5 sized Bayer sensor. One could not find two sensors that are more dissimilar, despite the similar megapixel count. Foveon sensors are entirely different than Bayers sensors, with both good and bad qualities. Yet, upon closer look, there are some surprising parallels.

The Lumia 1020 actually has significantly more resolution than the DP2 Merrill, as 46 megapixels on a Foveon sensor equates to (roughly) 28 megapixels on a Bayer sensor. The Lumia has 38 megapixels when used in the 4:3 aspect ration or 34 megapixels when used in the 16:9 aspect ratio. That's a big difference. However, the DP2 Merrill is sharper, I think due more to its lack of an anti-aliasing filter (which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion) than the lens. Foveon sensors do not need anti-aliasing filters while Bayer sensors do (although not all cameras with Bayer sensors have one).

The Sigma camera has less resolution but is sharper, the Nokia camera has more resolution but is not as sharp. I'd like to say that this is a wash, but I give a slight advantage to the DP2 Merrill here.

The Sigma DP2 Merrill has significantly more dynamic range than the Nokia Lumia 1020. It's not even close. This is the biggest advantage of the Sigma camera over the Nokia. Some workarounds for the Lumia 1020 are fill-flash or even HDR processing.

High ISO performance is one area where the Nokia Lumia 1020 outperforms the Sigma DP2 Merrill, although not by a large margin. Neither are good at high ISO, but the Lumia 1020 is noticeably better.

The Sigma DP2 Merrill has a maximum aperture of f2.8 while the Nokia Lumia 1020 has a fixed aperture of f2.2. Minimum focus distance on the Sigma camera is about 11 inches while it's about six inches on the Nokia camera. RAW files from the DP2 Merrill are in a format that only Sigma software recognizes, while RAW files from the Lumia 1020 are in the more universal DNG format. I'm sure there are some other differences I'm missing, but you get the idea.

What I'm more interested in here is real world use. I found two photographs from each camera of the same subjects. I captured the Sigma DP2 Merrill images last August within a few days of receiving the camera. I was still trying to figure everything out. I captured the Nokia Lumia 1020 images last week within a few days of receiving the camera. Once again, I was still trying to figure everything out.

Despite the many months between the images and different seasons that they were captured in, the lighting was fairly similar. I did not plan this post and so no effort was made to create the same photographs. I just happened to have created these images. There is nothing scientific here.
Keep Out of My Dreams - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Sigma DP2 Merrill.
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Nokia Lumia 1020.
The vision of the two images above were completely different despite being the same subject. There is no doubt in my mind that the bottom photograph, which was captured using the Lumia 1020, is the better of the two.

I think the take away is that it does not matter what camera was used. I could have just as easily created the top image with the Nokia and the bottom image with the Sigma. Photographic vision is much more important than equipment. 
Dilapidated Barn - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Sigma DP2 Merrill.
Broken Barn - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Nokia Lumia 1020.
The two photographs above were captured on the same day and time as the previous two. In fact, the two scenes are on the opposite sides of an old country road, literally right across from each other.

The biggest difference between the two barn photographs is focal length. If I cropped the bottom image and I could make them look even more similar. Is one better than the other? Not really. They are almost identical. You have to look up close at the full size images to really notice that the Sigma DP2 Merrill image is slightly better (click here for the full size Dilapidated Barn and here for the full size Broken Barn). For practical purposes, they are so close in image quality that it really doesn't make any difference which camera was used.

The take away is that, while in most circumstances the Sigma DP2 Merrill is slightly better, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is not very far off at all. If you are not picky about tiny details in 100% crops, you would not be able to tell the difference between images from the two cameras.

By far the largest difference between the Sigma DP2 Merrill and the Nokia Lumia 1020 is that the former cost me $720, while the latter cost me $100. The Nokia doubles as a cell phone, too.

Part 2

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reminder: Creativity Is More Important Than Equipment

Hanging Barbed Wire - Stallion Springs, California
Captured using a cell phone.
As I use my new cell phone to capture images, I'm reminded that creativity and the artist's vision are most important in photography. Equipment doesn't really matter all that much, in fact.

One can have all of the expensive cameras and lenses in the world, but if that person isn't creative with it, they're a snapshooter making boring images. On the other hand, if one has creativity, they can make works of art with some junk cameras and lenses.
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured using a cell phone.
Don't believe me?

To illustrate the first point, I'm sure you have heard, "I have a [place expensive Nikon or Canon DSLR here] and my pictures don't look anything like yours." I've heard that many times. The user has no photographic vision, so their photographs are lifeless.
Leaning Joshua - Rosamond, California
Captured using a cell phone.
To illustrate the second point, look at Chase Jarvis and his Best Camera project, or David Burnett and his cheap toy camera, or Michael Chrisman and his home made camera. What do they have in common? Creativity made great works of art despite the poor cameras used. I captured all of the images in this post over the last few days using a cell phone.

Don't worry about what equipment you do or do not own or what other people think of the equipment you have. Be creative with what you've got and you'll surprise everyone, including yourself.
Night Industrial - Palmdale, California
Captured using a cell phone.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Abandonment: Various Locations - Tehachapi, California

I got a new camera, the Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone, and I wanted to put it to the test. So this last weekend I visited several abandoned places in Tehachapi, California.

Below are the photographs that I captured of those different places.

Boss Hog Ranch
Boss Hog - Tehachapi, California
Come To - Tehachapi, California
I previously visited the Boss Hog Ranch back in July of 2013. It's a funky little place that once sold raspberries, and (apparently) meth. It now sits completely abandoned.

The Burnt Shack
Burnt Shack - Tehachapi, California
Fence Post & Shack - Tehachapi, California
This was just a little structure at the edge of a field. I have no idea what it was used for, but it did once have electricity. At some point there was a fire that significantly damaged the roof.

Brite Barns
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Broken Barn - Tehachapi, California
Dilapidated Cattle Ramp - Tehachapi, California
The Brite family was one of the very first to settle in Tehachapi almost 150 years ago. I'm not sure if these structures were built by that family or not, but they sit on land that was originally part of their ranch. The photograph at the bottom of the Abandonment page is of the inside of the Keep Out The Sun structure.

Abandoned Porch
Abandoned Porch - Tehachapi, California
Broken Glass - Tehachapi, California
I'm not sure what the story is with this place. Along a stretch of road that was once a highway (before the highway was realigned), there is an old porch without a building. It appears as though the porch was built there. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the building. There is not a lot of evidence left to tell the story.