Sunday, September 29, 2013

How to Use DotTune AF Fine Tune Calibration For Nikon Cameras

Autofocus fine-tuning (calibration) basically falls into two categories: distance-scale methods and everything else. Distance-scale methods involve aiming the camera at a target and measuring the distance from true that the the actual focus deviates by. You can shoot a set with different adjustment values and pick out the best one, or you can skip all of that and use math. Under the "everything else" category, you have methods like the moiré fringe and DotTune, which don't rely on distance scales.

DotTune was first proposed by veteran DPR forum member Horshack (Snapsy on Fred Miranda) in this post in early 2013. It works by taking advantage of the fact that the familiar AF adjustment value of +/-20 is applied on the input side of the AF operation. Plainly stated, this means that the adjustment value is added to the AF system's sensory input before the processor calculates distance rather than having it added afterwards to adjust the distance value. In other words, the adjustment factor essentially "tricks" the AF system into thinking that the distance to subject is different from what it actually is.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Binocoluar Review: Sierra by Tasco 8x25 Compact Roof Prism (TS825D)

Compact binoculars are a dime a dozen, or more literally, $20 by hundreds. Just about any sporting goods, drug store, big box.. you name it... seem to carry the ubiquitous 10x25 compact folding binoculars. For most people, the lower quality of the optics isn't pertinent, considering how infrequent the average person uses binoculars, but the price and convenience of small size make up for it.

If you can look past the numbers, it helps to go to the 8x25 size. The magnification is slightly less, but the objective diameter is the same at 25mm. This makes for a brighter and clearer image, and with binoculars, brighter beats more magnification all of the time. The Sierra by Tasco 8x25fits this bill, and is pretty much a proper and sorted-out version of the 10825 cheapy special.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

iPhone 5s Review: Camera

Since the launch of the 4s, Apple has delved deeper and deeper into photography with each generation, turning "iSight" into a branded concept so that the consumer is not left with the more pedestrian concept of  "iPhone camera." Though there were a few software feature additions (burst mode, square format pictures, filters), there were two big additions this year: improved flash white balance and electronic image stabilization. Few were expecting a new flash system, but many were hoping for image stabilization. A final improvement was not in the camera itself, but in the new iOS7 camera app, which moved to a more user-friendly gesture-based interface.

Much has been said about how the mainline camera companies seem to be caught in a rut, constantly iterating, but seldom innovating. DSLR users have been accepting of this; until recently, camera performance had yet lived up to people's wildest expectations, so constant improvement was something most DSLR users looked forward to. Apple faces a different dynamic; as a consumer electronics company, it's not enough to say that something is better. These days, it's not even enough to say how it is better.... instead companies now must tell as the name of the thing that makes it better.  So with that said, do the two biggest new features deliver?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to Calculate AF Fine-Tune for Nikon Cameras

Autofocus fine tuning is one of the most powerful, misapplied and frustrating things that you can do to try to improve your camera. It's powerful because it can make a mediocre slightly out-of-tune lens into a stellar in-tune lens performance-wise. It's often misapplied because too many people resort to it before first checking to see if they are using appropriate camera settings and/or have adequate hand-holding technique. It's frustrating because for the most part, the act of determining focus calibration is a trial-and-error process. Shoot. Examine. Adjust. Repeat... until you get it right.

However, if you understand the theory behind AF fine-tuning, then you can adjust your focus in one-shot without the repeated hit-and-miss attempts. The following is based off of a post from the redoubtable Marianne Oelund as posted on Jan 26, 2011. Note: The following can't be used with the Moiré Fringe method of focus calibration, as it requires the absolute distance in mm by which focus is deviating.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Survey of Used Canon Prices on Craigslist Across the US

This is a rundown of Craigslist asking prices for Nikon bodies and lenses across the US for the month of September 2013. There aren't any surprises, as used prices have held steady through the summer, but overall, prices are trending downward on most of the commonly owned older items. If you are buying or selling used Canon camera equipment, hopefully this will help you to determine your target price.

Note: For a similar sweep of used Nikon equipment on Craigslist, go here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Launch Review: iPhone 5s Camera First Impressions

It's that time of the year again... new iPhone, and in what seems to be a trend, even more emphasis on photography.

The iPhone 5S Camera

  • Still 8mp, like last iSight Camera. 5-element design
  • 15% larger area
  • f/2.2 aperture
  • 1.2μm photodiode size
  • 15 zone AF matrix metering - not what you think it is.
  • Dynamic local tone map  
  • Digital Image stabilization by burst mode
  • New "True Tone" flash - flash changes colour output depending on ambient white balance
  • 10 fps burst capture
  • 120 fps - Slow motion video. 

No real surprises here except that they resisted the urge to increase the megapixel count. There a lot of improvements, but not a radical change of direction like moving to a larger sensor. A 15% increase is a nice-to-have improvement, but will just be on the edge of imperceptibility if you pixel-peep.(Remember, you have to double the area to achieve one EV of difference and despite what Apple's promotional videos would have you believe, 1.5 microns is still minuscule by camera standards.) Combined with the move from f/2.4 to f/2.2, I would guess that there is a theoretical advantage of about 1/2 stop in total of low light ability. Though not announced at press time, considering that the overall dimensions of the phone have not changed (it looks like the same or similar case to the 5 and is still only 7.6mm thick), one can assume that the field of view of the phone has not changed much (though it did slightly between the 4 and 4s generations). For reference, that would correspond to approximately the equivalent of  28mm on full frame.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Creative Photos and Avoiding Cliché on Vacation: Is there Anything New Under the Sun?

Diamond Head State Park, Honolulu, HI
Those of you who are reasonably fit and have visited Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii, will probably recognize the above picture as being one of the staircases leading up to the viewpoint in Diamond Head State Monument. The photographer in me couldn't help taking this snap, what the single-point perspective draped by the swirling of the staircase rail and an added bit of motion blur in the people circling the staircase from behind. There's added interest with the dappled light trickling through the shadows. Technically, this an interesting shot; the problem is that if you recognize it... then it's not truly creative is it? Thousands of people must have taken this shot over the years.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Canon EOS 70D Review: Part 2 - Where do We Go From Here?

As previously mentioned, the Canon EOS 70D is a well-sorted camera that is competitive with its nearest rival, the Nikon D7100. Much has been made of the 70D's Dual Pixel phase detection architecture, but one of the questions that isn't being asked is if this technology is actually revolutionary, or if it's merely very good. Here's some food for thought:

  • The Olympus OM-D M5 focuses faster with contrast detection when taking stills. A lot fast actually.
  • The Nikon V1 and Fujifilm X100s also use PDAF, but without the added complexity of having double sets of read-out interconnects in the sensor bed. 

These are actually shortcomings against other on-chip phase-detection technologies, but they are also red herrings. The OM-D M5 and the PEN E-P5 are ridiculously fast at single-shot image-taking, but the 70D, though a tad bit slower, does better with tracking moving subjects. The other red herring is speed: we're at the point now that most continuous PDAF systems track faster than what is reasonable for well made video. (Hint, pan slower than what you think you need to, your viewers will thank you for it.)

In the most obvious ways, the 70D sensor is a success, but it's a success that reminds you of the skeleton in Canon's closet: the EOS M.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Canon EOS 70D Review: Part 1 - The Camera of Today

This is a wrap-up of sorts for what has turned out to be the season of the Canon EOS 70D. With no new Nikon launch to compete with and a novel autofocus system, Canon certainly has given the photography community something to talk about since it's announcement earlier in the summer. In terms of marketing, Canon has pulled off what something nearly impossible; they've turned what could have been a boring iteration into one of the summer's hotly discussed topics. Smart shoppers know to skip at least one generation when buying DSLR's; skipping two generations is even easier on the wallet. Were it not for the new sensor, the 70D would have been barely a nudge over the 60D, and would have suffered the same launch indifference that the PowerShot G16 received.

A body that's barely changed and a modest, even minor improvement in image quality over the 60D... yet, the 70D is an immediately likeable camera.

Launch Review: First Impressions of Sony QX100 and QX10

Sony QX100
Like photography but don't like cameras? That almost seems to be the target audience that Sony had in mind for the new QX series of integrated camera sensor/lenses. I'm not (just) being snarky... a lot of people had some legitimate questions about this category of product, like "Who is this intended for?" and "How is this better than just buying a separate dedicated camera?" The cynical amongst the crowd came to the conclusion that these cameras were for hipsters who are forever wedded to their smartphones, but who would never buy a camera. Think: Instagram/Vine user who doesn't own a dedicated camera and finds DSLR forums stuffed full of incomprehensible camera nerds. Unfortunately, instead of directly answering the more fundamental questions and product usefulness and utility, it looks as like Sony's marketing people went straight for the hipster trope:

Predictable, but hardly inspired advertising. I'm not knocking the the spot per say, as the production value makes for a watchable ad that does nicely illustrate the benefits of the QX cameras without resorting to hyperbole or mumble-jumbo jargon. However, there's a difference between being cool and trying to be cool; thankfully, the protagonist doesn't speak and the copy doesn't do a hard sell, so there isn't anything overtly unlikable from a narrative standpoint. The problem is that the ad itself is trying to be cool so hard that it basically breaks the fourth wall; you can almost overhear the production meeting conversation creeping into the sound track.

Tousled hair? Check. Thick glasses? Check. Facial hair? Check. Slender build? Check. Uses social media? Check. Adorkable love interest? Check.

The problem with so strongly identifying with a sub-group is that you've automatically excluded other groups from the conversation. The hipster-dofus stereotype has long been heaped on Apple users, but one thing you can say about their ads; it's not that they show somebody using their devices, the idea is that they are showing that anybody can use their devices. But enough about advertising critiques; I think the pros and cons of these products have been hashed out quite a bit since the cameras were leaked, but here's a recap:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Difficult Light and Casual Cameras: Shooting with Compacts Past Their ISO Capabilities

Alumni of the University of British Columbia know that while there are a multitude of clubs on campus, the two that everybody remembers are the ski club and the dance club. Both have memberships that number into the hundreds, if not thousands... but for different reasons. Ski club held the best beer gardens, year in and year out, so you didn't actually have to be a skier to reap the benefits of membership. Dance club, on the other hand was(is) a wonderfully social and expansive society that turned a number of my friends into hardcore ballroom junkies; that or raging swing addicts. I think one or two even met their eventual spouse through dance as well.

Combining the alum of both the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University makes for an active dancing population in the city of Vancouver. This weekend was the last of the Dancesport BC events held at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver. During the summer, the society holds free open-air events for public dance lessons and demonstrations, which ends up being a popular place to spend a Friday night... with or without a date. There are a lot of enthusiasts, but equally, the events grab the attention of the considerable pedestrian traffic that goes by during the summer months.

The Panasonic LX5 makes for a great street shooting companion, but being an older compact camera, it has it's limits. Though it has a fast f/2.0 lens (at the wide end), it's difficult to take the camera past ISO 400 before the image quality degrades to noticeable levels. Some of these shots were up to ISO 1600, which makes for the digital equivalent of impressionistic watercolour. An LX7 and its f/1.4 lens would have knocked that back down to ISO 800, which would have been huge. Also... I don't have one those. They say that the best camera you have is the one that you have with you, but what if the camera that you have is not the best?