14 March

Win a Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 Lens at the Persistent Vision Seminar

Anyone coming to the Persistent Vision Photography Event this Saturday in Bragg Creek will be entered into a draw to win a set of top pro lenses from Sigma Canada. The two lenses in question are the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 and together are worth $2700 (available in Canon, Nikon, Sony or Pentax mounts). Not only will you get a stunning weekend of inspiration and learning with David duChemin, the oopoomoo team and our panel of pro photographers and publishers, you can win this great lens set from Sigma Canada! Only those who pre-register through The Camera Store will be eligible (tickets must be purchased before 5 pm MST on Friday March 15). Tickets to the event will be sold at the door for $200 cash but cash sales are not in the draw for the lenses plus why pay nearly $40 more at the door, save money and sign up now.

571_24-70mm_f28_ex_dg

See my review of the 24-70mm Sigma Lens.589_70-200mm_os

See my review of the Sigma 70-200mm lens.

See you at Persistent Vision!

the oopoomoo team

the oopoomoo team

22 August

Real World Review of the Sigma APO 50-150mm f2.8 DC OS HSM lens

Samantha has been looking for a fast focusing, fast aperture, mid-range telephoto lens that was sharp and responsive on her Nikon D300s for several years. Every time she tested a lens it did not meet up with her expectation.

Now here is a case where I bet Sam was glad she did not own a long lens! (Notice the pepper spray on her hip in case the Faun gets frisky — safety first!)

In the past she tried out the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 ED VR II. At a price of nearly $2100 she expected a superb performer. It was very good optically (but not as good as she had hoped considering the price). It also suffered from close focus problems (it did not focus close enough and had some front-focusing issues with close subjects). For the dollar paid it fell a bit short. Yes… Sam is picky especially, when her wallet is involved!

She also tried out the Sigma APO 70-200mm f2.8 EX DG OS HSM. We both thought it was as sharp or sharper than the Nikon lens when stopped down to an aperture of f4.5 or higher and it had less fringing and chromatic aberration than the Nikon lens, but wide open at f2.8 the Sigma lens was a tad soft and rendered images lower in contrast than when stopped down. Why pay the price for a f2.8 lens if it is not an optimal performer at that aperture? So that one did not make it into Sam’s camera bag either.

We had heard really good things about the original Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 (equal to a 75-225mm on Nikon crop sensor cameras or an 80-240mm lens on Canon crop sensor cameras) released in 2008.  This year Sigma released its newest version of the lens, the 50-150 DC OS HSM this time with optical stabilization and a built in lens collar. Price in Canada is about $1150.00. We thought this might be a candidate for Sam’s search for a ‘reasonably’ priced mid-range f2.8 telephoto lens.

I borrowed a Canon version of the lens from Sigma Canada to try on my Canon Rebel T2i and Samantha borrowed a Nikon version to try out on her Nikon D300s. We both had the lenses to try for about 2 weeks. Thanks to Sigma Canada for letting us try out demo versions! Below is a photo of the lens in question (available in Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts)

Rather than give you a long-winded blow by blow review we’ll just cut to the chase with the final word on what we loved and what we disliked about this lens. After all, most people will just scroll to the conclusion of a lens review anyway, so why waste space with filler no one will read 😉

(more…)

11 August

Why We Don’t Discount Our eBooks (and Some eBooks We Think you Should Buy!)

THE marketing strategy for selling eBooks online is the time-limited discount code. Almost every photographer or website out there that sells eBooks offers some sort of discount at some time or another. We did that back when we sold our first eBooks on Visual Wilderness and on my old blog. And it works! How many of you have purchased an eBook or set of eBooks because the offer was so attractive you simply could not pass up the deal? We have! And how many of you have actually read, used or even remember the eBooks you purchased this way? We have a library of eBooks that have never seen the light of our computer screens past the initial glance-over on purchase.

On the other hand, how many times has there been an eBook that you actually wanted but that you didn’t buy right away because you were waiting for a discount code or special to show up so you could get it cheaper? Finally, you give up only to find it selling somewhere else two days later at 50% off! We hate that too!

When we started oopoomoo, we decided not to discount our eBooks. We feel that they are already a pretty darn good deal for the quality of the images, instruction and Stephen’s design skills contained in them. We also think it kind of sucks if our friends buy one of our eBooks and then find them discounted either at a later point in time or at another site. Finally, junk is junk: even if an eBook is free, if it ain’t worth the consumer’s time to buy, download and read it, you as an author just wasted that person’s time. While nothing in business is ever set in stone (if you want to stay alive), we’re pretty happy with this one. We want you to buy our books because you want to read them and learn not because they were ‘a steal’.

Finally, we don’t offer oopoomoo eBooks on affiliate programs where others post or review our eBook on their site and then get a cut off the sales. If you see a review of one of our eBooks elsewhere you can rest assured the reviewer did not get a kickback. And same goes here: when we review an eBook we’ll give you our honest opinions and, if you buy an eBook based on a link in our review, the author gets 100% of the sale (as it should be).

Good photography eBooks are rare. Ones that are well written, have great instruction, wonderful photos and are inspiring are even more rare. So, in the spirit of this post, here are four stand-outs we have seen over the last few years that you might want to consider buying and reading:

Guy Tal’s Creative Landscape Photography

Guy Tal is one of the best writers in photography today. Period. But beyond his thoughtful writing, he is one bloody talented photographer and a hell of an instructor. If you only can afford one eBook, buy the one above! Or better yet go to Guy’s eBook page and buy any of the titles that interest you. Bang for your buck, these books are it — discounts or not. (Full disclosure: ok, ok, we’ve met Guy and we like the man. He may try to deny it, but we think he’s our friend! He doesn’t know we’re writing this so boy would he be surprised if he woke up tomorrow with a spike in sales — woot! Do yourself a favour and check out his eBooks, though — they really are the best on the market).

Mitchell Kanashkevich’s  Rabari – Encounters With the Nomadic Tribe

When we first glanced through this eBook we thought, “hey this is just a rip off of a David duChemin-style, Craft and Vision eBook“. But closer inspection proved us wrong in a delightful way! Here is a story of a photographer just starting out and going on a 4-month journey to India with a Canon Rebel and three inexpensive prime lenses and coming away with stunner shoots as good as anyone with high end gear and a lot of travel experience could make. Mitchell shows us his 10 favorite shots and describes the back story of making the images from concept to execution to post processing decisions. This eBook is refreshing because it shows that gear does not limit our creativity, we do! Worth the read for inspiration alone (full disclosure, we were sent this eBook for free to review — we like it and think it is worth the full price).

Pinch of Yum’s Tasty Food Photography

Speaking of refreshing, this eBook on food photography really caught our eyes. First of all, Lindsay, the author, is a newbie at photography with her start in 2010. In the short time since then, by using a dSLR with a prime lens, window light and home-made reflectors, Lindsay has learned to make mouth-watering food photography the equal of anything that comes from a high end food studio with all the best lighting gear and high end digital cameras. The eBook shows you exactly how she makes her food images with simple lighting and a strong emphasis on styling and composition. She has really great tips and tricks without all the technobabble that comes in most photography how-to eBooks. As well, we really like the fun and quirky design of the eBook and the conversational writing style. If you like food and recipes we highly recommend the Pinch of Yum blog! Thanks Lindsay for a photography eBook that breaks the mould! We bought this book using a 50% discount code. It captured us the minute we opened the PDF and this is one of the rare eBooks we feel bad that the author did not get full price!

Christopher O’Donnell’s The Art of Bokeh

Want dreamy, mystical, moody, painterly images? Well then check out Chris’ eBook on Bokeh (the aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of an image). Here is an eBook all about using wide open apertures like f1.4 or f1.8 to get super thin slices of focus and dreamy blur in landscape photography. But getting photos like we see in Chris’ eBook is not as easy as buying a fast lens and shooting wide open; there is much more to it than that! Fortunately, this wonderfully illustrated and well-designed eBook gives us the guidelines we need to make impressionistic-style images sure to make our painter friends’ hearts flutter. We paid full price on this one; it was worth every penny!

So, don’t waste your dollars – consume what you buy or save your bucks.

30 April

Update on the 5D Mark III (file quality vs the 1Ds Mark III)

A few weeks ago Samantha and I did a test shoot with the Canon 5D Mark III. We were impressed by the handling and ergonomics of the camera and we loved the new auto focus system in the camera. It seems that Canon is back in the game with an auto focus system that is responsive and accurate – finally!  The only thing we were not thrilled about was the what appeared to be ‘crunchy’ file quality. We weren’t sure if it was the camera giving us the lower quality files or the lens we used on the test unit (a Canon 24-105 f4L lens) or both. Further tests were in order.

So it was off to The Camera Store where Sam and I shot some parking lot scenes at the store with both the 5D Mark III and my old 1Ds Mark III. The 1Ds Mark III gives high quality files especially when coupled with super sharp lenses like my Canon TS-E 24mm tilt shift lens and the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens. We wanted to see if the 5D Mark III would give files at least equal to the 1Ds Mark III (the latter being nearly five year old technology).

We shot the same scenes with the two cameras at the same settings (and using magnified live view for precise manual focus). We processed the raw files exactly the same. For the most part the files from both cameras looked similar as we see in the graffiti shots below:

Canon 1Ds Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

Closer inspection shows very little differences  between the two cameras in terms of file quality (although the 5D Mark III files appear a bit ‘snappier’. The photos below are magnified views showing 100% magnification of a wider scene captured with the cameras using the TS-E 24mm lens at f8.

Canon 1Ds Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm lens at f8, live view manual focus

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon TS-E 24mm lens at f8, live view manual focus

The only real difference we saw was in high contrast scenes where it appears that the Canon 1Ds Mark III had a little higher tonal range capturing the shadows and the highlights with a tad more detail (only barely discernible) but at the expense of a slight colour shift in the shadows (slightly green). The 5D Mark III did not appear to have the colour shift in the shadows at all. But for the most part unless you are extreme in pixel peeping, the files looked very similar.

Canon 1Ds Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens at f8, live view manual focus

Using the same lenses at the same settings and processing the raw files exactly the same showed us that the files from the 5D Mark III could easily match the ‘gold’ standard of the 1Ds Mark II. Where the 5D takes it up a notch is in its noise performance. With the 1Ds Mark III we rarely use any ISO faster than 800. With the 5D Mark III we would without hesitation use ISO 1600. We are more conservative in what we accept as acceptable noise so our ISO numbers might appear lower than others who rave about the 5D Mark III’s low noise at high ISO.

For us the 5D Mark III is a better camera than the older EOS-1Ds Mark III for a several reasons:

  • better high ISO performance
  • faster more accurate auto focus (this is a real biggy!)
  • much better ergonomics and handling
  • much better LCD and improved live view (this one is big too; we love live view!)
  • video capabilities (we’d use this)
  • smaller and lighter camera (this is more important the older we get!)
  • better value for the dollar ($3700 new vs $7900 new for the 1Ds Mark III, the latter is even going for over $4000)

As a final note, although we did not rigorously test the Canon 24-105mm f4L lens that the camera store originally lent us to use with the 5d Mark III, our initial impression of that lens is less than favourable. Once you’re used to really sharp lenses (like the TS-E 24mm) it is tough to go back to just ‘acceptable’ and the 24-105 lens to us is just acceptable.

13 April

Photo Shoot with Talyn Stone (and a quick test of the Canon 5D Mark III)

A couple of weeks ago, Samantha and I along with our friends Lori Maloney and Wayne Simpson went out to Hamish Kerfoot’s place to photograph model Talyn Stone messing around with some of the old cars on the property. Hamish gave us a tour of the ranch and volunteered to hold our reflectors but, more importantly, Hamish was the ‘official’ spider wrangler to keep the eight-legged beasts away from Talyn.

Below is a wee video of the proceedings followed by a few photos that Sam and I took of Talyn. To see more photos of the talented Talyn see our Flickr Set.

After you scroll past the photos, you can check out our first impressions of Canon’s latest camera. Thanks as always to The Camera Store for letting us play with the camera. We are big fans of that store as our credit card statements can attest!

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

©Samantha Chrysanthou

 

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

First Impression of the Canon 5D Mark III

Autofocus

The Camera Store lent us the Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 24-105 f4L lens to use for two days. On the first day I took the camera out and along with my Canon 300 f4L I went searching for moving subjects to test Canon’s new and ‘improved’ autofocus system.

For anyone who has been sleeping for the last 5 years and didn’t know, Canon has had a ‘few’ issues with autofocus on their pro line of bodies since the release of the Canon 1D Mark III and 1Ds Mark III in 2007. Autofocus foibles followed with the releases of the 5D Mark II, the 7D and the 1D Mark IV. Canon lost a large number of sports, photojournalist and wedding photographers to Nikon as Canon shooters became frustrated with the finicky autofocus of these high end Canons.

With the release of the 5D Mark III, reviews began circulating that finally Canon had corrected the auto-focus issues. I mostly shoot landscape photos and use manual focus and so the autofocus problems are not an issue for me. But lately Samantha and I have been returning to photographing more people and pets and so we are searching our options (Canon or Nikon) for an autofocus speed demon.

To cut to the chase I am super happy to report that the 5D Mark III does what it is supposed to do! I spent a few hours photographing cars on the Trans Canada Highway as well as photographing running cows, jumping deer and flying birds. I had hoped that at least 50% of the action photos would be sharp, but I was giddy that the camera locked focus every time on the moving subject as long as I had a focus point or a small number of focus points covering the subject I was tracking.

©Darwin Wiggett - 5D Mark III. Canon 300mm f4L, 1/2500s at f4

©Darwin Wiggett - detail of the above shot

File Quality

The verdict is still out on this one for us. Mostly we used the Canon 24-105 f4L lens for the Talyn shoot the following day and in hindsight this was a mistake. We had never tested the lens before and so it becomes hard to dissect how much of the ‘ready-processed’ files we saw from the 5D Mark III were from the lens or from the camera. The images shot with the 300f4L were better than the images with the 24-105 so we suspect the lens was part of the problem. Keep in mind we are used to seeing files from my EOS-1ds Mark III shot with a 24mm tilt-shift lens. The tilt-shift lens is amazing in the sharpness department, so we are spoiled with detailed files. As an aside, after seeing all the haloing and fringing of the 24-105 f4L we would never buy this lens ourselves; it’s a decent go-to product but we’re searching for something with better returns.

Even in spite of the poor performance of the 24-105 f4L, the raw images with the 300mm f4L (which is a pretty good lens) seem a bit ‘cooked’ somehow. It’s like Canon gives you a raw file but there is still some elixir going on behind the scenes. We are not sure we like that ‘Canon hidden magic’. Further testing is in order. For now let’s just say we were not overly impressed by what we got out of the camera in terms of file quality. We’ll go out with a 5D Mark III and our 24mm TS-E and shoot it side by side with the 1ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II to do a real comparison. Stay tuned!

©Darwin Wiggett - 5D Mark III, Canon 24-105f4L at 35mm, 1/60s at f13

Noise 

According to many reviews, noise is well controlled in this camera and high ISOs like 3200 and 6400 are totally useable. It’s easy to impress people by showing sample photos of incredibly low noise at high ISO with the 5D Mark III, but these images are always derived from bright areas of the photo. Look at the image below: it was taken at ISO 12800. First, I was blown away that the camera focused so fast in such low light. Second, when you look at the bright areas of the photo, noise is amazingly low given the ISO.

©Darwin WiggettCanon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4 lens, 1/125s at f1.4, ISO 12800

Detail in the highlights of the above at ISO 12800

Once you start peering into the shadows, noise is going to get worse. And if you manipulate your files at all (e.g. process them) then the shadow areas will be even more noisy. This camera (like all digital cameras) will be pretty noise-free even at high ISOs as long as you keep all your data in the upper half of the histogram.

Shadow noise from the image above

Where we see a real test of image noise is in the blue channel. I did a quick test using the dusk scene below and exposing the image to the right side of the histogram for the best data possible. Here is the minimally processed raw capture.

©Darwin Wiggett - "Exposed to the right" raw capture

And here is the image as I would process it in Adobe Camera Raw.

©Darwin Wiggett - Finished image processed in Adobe Camera Raw (slightly darkened, curve added and a touch of clarity and vibrance)

I took the same photo at different ISO settings and then ran the resulting images through the exact same processing regime. I checked the sky for noise (dusky blue skies really show noise if there is any) and the cropped results are below.

Noise comparison of the processed images

If you’re going to do any normal processing of your image and if your image has a histogram that is anything but highlight capture, you are going to get noise at higher ISOs especially in the blue channel. The promise of amazing ISO performance is only a theoretical possibility (highlight capture of the upper third of the histogram, and minimal processing). In the real world (and this is what we care about), we think the 5D Mark III works for us up to 1600 ISO.

Handling

Finally, we loved the handling and control of the camera (it handles like a 7D). Users of the 5D Mark II will need to get used to the new layout but overall it is intuitive and easy to understand.

Conclusion

So far we love the handling and the quick and accurate autofocus (finally!). We are not overly impressed with the noise at high ISO (but we rarely use high ISO anyway). The real clincher is the file quality. We are not sold at this point because the raw files look crunchy and a little ‘souped up’ somehow.  We need to test the 5D Mark III against other cameras to see if what we saw in our first test is just us or the camera or both. Stay tuned!

2 April

My (Nearly) Perfect Point-n-Shoot Pocket Digital Camera

Darwin has long been a fan of digital point-n-shoot cameras and, when he still had his Canon G11, he took it with him nearly all the time. I wasn’t so keen on that camera. Although I really liked the tilt-swivel LCD screen which made low and high angle photography easy, I wasn’t a big fan of the controls on the G11. I found there was no good place to grip the camera without accidentally bumping a button (especially with gloves on) resulting in constantly having to readjust settings. Also, some of the features that I like to use required pressing multiple buttons or pressing the same button multiple times — and that means missed shots! Perhaps if I could’ve pried the camera out of Darwin’s fingers more often I would have become more familiar with it, but I do appreciate a camera that not only has intuitive ergonomics (so I don’t have to memorize where a particular function is) but also ‘gets me to my shot’ as quickly as possible. No more did I feel the pain of a slow-handling camera than on a summer backpacking trip; by the end of that multi-day trip, I wanted to pitch the camera into the lake.

Maybe it’s too much to ask for a point-n-shoot camera with user friendly controls, raw file capability and passable file quality. I was even prepared to settle for a camera without a tilt-swivel LCD! I decided to not give up (or drown the G11) and started searching for a point-n-shoot that would meet my needs. Darwin and I tried out two compact digital cameras; the Fuji X10 and the Panasonic GX1. Both were wonderful cameras and we were impressed by them (see our review here), but neither fit my needs for a small pocketable camera (they were both too big for my needs). Several people wrote to us here on the blog and suggested we try the Panasonic LX-5 since it might fit the bill for a user-friendly pocketable point-n-shoot with raw file capabilities. Although the camera was introduced over two years ago, it is still widely used by many photographers especially more advanced photographers who appreciate the raw files and level of manual control.

Our good friend Alan Ernst of Aurum Lodge has owned and used a LX-5 for nearly two years. He swore by it not only for ease of control and logical layout but also because he loved how fast it was to switch formats from 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 or 1:1 ratios. Alan lent us his LX-5 to try and I gave it the ‘Sam’ test. If there is something that does not work well with a camera, I’ll find it!

I was pretty stoked to find that the controls make sense and I could access them quickly.  The camera makes fairly nice files with natural colours. Like Alan, I also came to appreciate the ability to quickly change formats so I can frame the scene with a format (square, rectangular or wide screen) that makes sense for the composition. The exposure compensation is fast and easy to use and the camera is small enough to take anywhere. The only think I didn’t like and apparently all point-n-shoot digital cameras suffer this problem is the fact that macro mode works best when the lens is at its widest setting. In macro photography I rarely want a wide angle view! I wish point-n-shoot digital cameras allowed macro focus even when the lens is extended to its longest telephoto setting. I don’t design ’em, I just use ’em, I guess.

In the end we bought the LX-5 from Alan (he replaced it with a GX1) Not only did we follow our own advice about the minimal upgrade (waiting and buying an older, used and proven camera model), I now have my own little pocket camera that I am happy to use. Now if I could just get Darwin to stop stealing my camera!

Pathway in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou - Pathway in Cochrane

Aspen forest in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

©Darwin Wiggett - Samantha hamming it up for the camera.

©Darwin Wiggett - Foggy morning in Cochrane

6 March

Personal Style: Is Your Camera Determining Yours?

We’ve found that there are several advantages to shooting with different brands of cameras including helping people with their gear during our photo workshops. But another intriguing side effect that we’ve noticed but never really thought more about is how the cameras record a scene differently. We often shoot side-by-side but of course have our own interpretations of the same subject matter. Darwin would be the first to say he is attracted to warmer, more contrasty scenes and my images always seem to be more moody, quieter and flatter. We’ve always chalked it up to differences in our personal style, and certainly there is some truth to that idea. On the recent winter photo tour on Abraham Lake, Darwin was showing me an amazing shot he’d just taken. The image on his Canon 1ds Mark III was gorgeous! In fact, it almost looked like he was on a different lake compared to what I was capturing. I had a bad case of LCD-envy.

“Darwin,” I whined, “Your pictures always look great on the LCD! I’ve been photographing the lake all morning and my images look nothing like that. Where is that spot?” We walked back to the location on the ice where Darwin had been shooting. We decided to see how differently the two cameras would render the same scene. We set our jpeg settings to ‘vivid’ (Nikon) and ‘landscape’ (Canon), chose auto white balance, and roughly composed the same image with our different cameras. So here are my photographs of Darwin’s Canon 1ds Mark III LCD playback of the scene:

 

Canon 1ds Mark III camera on Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

Camera displaying an image on Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

And here is Darwin’s capture of my Nikon D300s playback of the image:

Camera displaying an image on Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

You can see in the LCD of the cameras that there is some difference to the jpeg displayed. Darwin’s camera displays a warmer, more contrasty file than the monochromatic, cool image displayed on the Nikon. We figured the difference was probably due to variation in the cameras’ algorithms churning out the jpeg for the LCD, and this is not very surprising. But the raw files should be essentially similar if all camera settings are comparable — right? We actually didn’t expect to see much difference in the raw files; after all, raw data is raw data! But, surprisingly, there were some differences in the raw files. Here is Darwin’s unprocessed jpeg of the raw file:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

And here is mine:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

As you can see, Darwin’s raw file seems more contrasty and warmer in temperature than the Nikon file. When we inspected the files in Camera Raw, we saw that the Canon file set to ‘auto’ white balance came up at 6000k while the Nikon on ‘auto’ white balance came up at 5000k. In other words, the auto white balance for the two cameras returned different results: ‘auto’ for one camera is not the same ‘auto’ for another. This matters a lot if you shoot jpeg and matters less if you shoot raw, because of course you can alter the temperature of the raw file to be whatever you like. Why would anyone care about this? Well, we think that, unless you have a strong vision in mind, what your camera captures influences how you process. This would be especially true if there were differences in the raw files. Could there be an insidious side effect? Could the raw file actually influence how you process? I tend to spend less time processing images than Darwin and usually end up with cooler, flatter images. Darwin favours warm hues and higher contrast and steers his images more in this direction. But is this a result of our artistic vision…or are we being secretly led by our cameras to deliver a particular result? We processed our two shots (without peeking at the other person’s image!) to see if the final, processed result would be very different. Here is Darwin’s:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Darwin Wiggett

And here is mine:

Abraham Lake, Bighorn Wildland, Alberta, Canada

© Samantha Chrysanthou

What a difference! The subtle differences captured in the raw files are even more apparent in the final, processed results. By the way, the dark green-black colour in Darwin’s photograph is closer to the real colour of the ice (although of course Darwin’s shot is more saturated and contrasty) than in my photograph. This is by no means a scientific study, and of course there are some limitations when comparing different cameras and lenses, but we do find this relationship of Canon=warm/contrasty and Nikon=cool/flatter consistent across our photography. So, what do you think? Is Darwin really a warm/contrasty photographer or is he just following the lead of the Canon files? Do I really favour moody, flatter scenes or just suffer from lack of artistic vision to deviate from the raw file? Have you ever noticed a consistent ‘look’ to your camera’s files even on automatic settings?

15 February

Playing on Valentine’s Day with the Fuji x10 and the Panasonic GX1

Samantha had some really great surprises for me on Valentine’s Day. From a Valentine’s Treasure Hunt to a fantastic dinner at our favorite restaurant, Farm it was a great day! Thanks, Sam!

But one of Sam’s suggested Valentine’s activities really threw me for a loop. She asked that we head over to The Camera Store and borrow a couple of cameras to play with while we walked around downtown Calgary. Now, you gotta realize, Sam is not much of a camera gear junkie. She only cares if a camera works for her needs and is not impressed by spec listings or fancy bells and whistles. So of course I  was wondering: why the heck would she want to go out and play with new gear (on a date day, of all things)? She didn’t seem feverish, so we set out; and of course I was happy to play with the goodies even if I could not figure out her newfound interest in the lastest batch of cameras.

©Darwin Wiggett - Kissing Shadows (Panasonic GX1)

Turns out Sam is on the hunt for a functional ‘travel’ camera that she can take with her anywhere (we are headed to Iceland in June and a pocketable camera would be great to have).  So, for Sam, the perfect ‘travel’ camera would be small, light, easy to use but give quality files that are still usable for publication. The latest round of point-n-shoot and ILC (interchangeable lens compact) cameras had her thinking that there may finally be a perfect walk-about camera for her in the future. Sam was less enamored by our previous point-n-shoot digital camera, the Canon G11, than I was mostly because its back panel was polluted with buttons and dials that made holding the camera almost impossible without accidently pressing something you didn’t mean to press! Plus the files were quite decent but not overly great.

We asked the good folks at The Camera Store which cameras they would recommend as a candidate for Sam’s “Perfect Travel Camera” and they came up with two contenders, the Fuji x10 and the Panasonic GX1.

Please not that what follows is not a review but simply our first impressions of two cameras we played with for two hours. In the end, what we both were interested in was if either of these cameras was worthy of serious consideration as an ‘oopoomoo’ travel camera.

The Fuji x10

$598 at The Camera Store, 12MP digital point-n-shoot, 2/3rds inch CMOS sensor, 28-112mm f2.0/2.8 lens, manual zoom, 2.8 inch LCD, HD Video, optical Viewfinder, raw file format, extensive manual control. For a full review check out Ron Martinsen’s Photography Blog where Ron dubbed it the best point-n-shoot of 2011. Also be sure to check out  the entertaining video review done by The Camera Store on this camera.

Fuji x10

The Panasonic Gx1

$687 at The Camera Store (lens extra), 16 MP ILC camera with micro 4/3rds size Live MOS sensor, raw capability, micro four thirds lens mount, HD video, 3.0 inch touch-enabled LCD. We used it with the 14-140mm lens. For a full review check out  Photography Blog. For another thorough look, check out The Camera Store Video review of the Gx1.

Panasonic GX1

Well, what did we think of each of these two possible ‘perfect’ travel cameras?

Samantha on the Fuji x10:

I found the Fuji to be a cute, retro-looking little camera (hey, fashion counts!). The camera’s styling is reminiscent of something from the early 70’s — Darwin you remember that decade well, right? The camera was small and light and quiet (cool for street shooting). It was very easy to use; much easier than our old Canon G11. But there were a couple of things I didn’t like. First, the LCD was cluttered with shooting information which makes it hard to judge your composition. Sure you could turn off the display information, but to toggle it on and off was a bit of a pain because I  had to cycle through several buttons to get to a clean display — too time consuming for point-n-shoots which I hope to be quick and easy to use.

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Winter Branches (Fuji x10)

Speaking of buttons and such, most functions are quite accessible, but I found the thumb wheel placement to be awkward. In order to use the buttons on the top of the camera, like the function button, I had to shift the camera to my left hand (where there is no grip) so that I could free my right hand to work the multiple buttons and thumb wheel on the right. I always felt like the camera was going to slip out of my hands! For me, the thumb wheel was too far down from the top of camera for me to manipulate all the controls on the right-hand side without changing my grip to my left hand.  Maybe it’s just my teeny thumbs.  Also, while the viewfinder was very bright, it only covered about 85% of the view and of course suffers from parallax when shooting close-ups.

Fuji x10 Back - too cluttered with little space to hang onto the camera

Finally, I found it weird that the camera only goes up to 1/1000s shutter speed when the lens is wide open (e.g. f2.0/f2.8) but will go to 1/4000s when the lens is used at apertures like f8. This little idiosyncracy caused me to overexpose some bright sunny photos when shooting with the lens wide open:

At f4, the camera's fastest shutter speed is 1/1250s causing sunny day shots to overexpose even at ISO 100!

Darwin on the Fuji x10:

Well of course I liked this little camera a lot (geek likes new toys!). I loved how it had a manual zoom mechanism instead of the step power zoom that the Canon G11 had (boy, I hated that). I also liked the fast, sharp lens and fast auto-focus. However, speaking of focus, without the camera manual I was stumped on how to manually move the focus point to one of the 48 focus points available. After they showed me how at The Camera Store, moving the focus point was a little easier than on the Canon G11 (but not much). But it was not initially obvious to me how to get the focus point to move!

I found the layout of the camera to be intuitive and easy to figure out. The LCD is bright and beautiful. I did not have as much problem with the back panel as I did with the Canon G11 because there is a tad more space back there than on Canon’s G-series cameras but I still wish for more hand-holding real estate!

The raw files produced by the Fuji X10 were of similar quality IMO as the Canon G11/G12; decent but not earth-shattering (but about what I would expect from a good point-n-shoot). Overall, for handling I really do think this is a better camera than the G11/G12 but I did miss the tilt-swivel LCD that the Canon models have! In the end, if offered an x10 or a Canon G11/G12, I would probably take… hmmmm, better camera controls (x10) or LCD (G11/G12). Tough one (I want both in one camera!)

©Darwin Wiggett - high Rise (Fuji x10)

Samantha on the Panasonic GX1

Comparing these two cameras is like comparing lions with kittens: they are very different beasts. The Panasonic is like a big point-n-shot with interchangeable lenses. With the lens we had on the camera (the 14-140) it was almost as big as a dSLR (like our Canon Rebel). This is definitely not a camera I would carry in my purse (unless I had one of Panasonic’s little lenses to go on this camera (like the 14-42mm lens that often comes as a kit lens with the camera). Even then this camera would have some heft hanging around your neck. If I am going to take a bigger camera out on travels then I might as well take my Nikon dSLR and get the all benefits of my APS sized sensor and the great controls of my dSLR!

Having grumped about that, there were many things I liked about the Panasonic GX1. It focuses fast and fits well in the hand with a comfortable grip.  Also, the function buttons make it easy to customize for quick use, and the files were much better than what we got from the Fuji x10 (but they are not as good as what I get from my Nikon D300s).

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Going Up? (Panasonic GX1)

Darwin on the Panasonic GX1

Cool camera. Of course I like it! I like all cameras but this one felt great to handle, was super easy to figure out, had nice files and was much smaller than my big Canon EOS-1ds Mark III dSLR. Heck, for me, this is a great walk-around camera. I like the easy menu system and how it can be customized, and I love the touch screen feature especially for setting a focus point in the photo. Wow! (But it does not work great with mitts on!). I did find the focus confirmation beep to be super loud though!

For me, this is a bridge camera: better than any point-n-shoot I have tried but smaller than dSLR’s (even smaller than my Canon Rebel). If I wanted a higher end travel camera this might be it. Still… I would prefer a more pocketable camera. I want it all — bigger sensor and small camera. This one was close but not enough for me to spend money on it.

©Darwin Wiggett - Slushy Calgary Street (Panasonic GX1)

Conclusion

Well is Sam (or even me) going to buy one of theses cameras for travel photography? The answer is nope. And the reason why has less to do with these cameras as it has to do with us:  we are really looking for that teeny camera that will be easy to use but produce high quality files. Are we too picky? Perhaps. Although the advances being made with cameras  make us hopeful that our dream point-n-shoot is just around the corner! In the meantime Sam is left without her ‘perfect’ camera. I guess this means I get to play with more goodies in the future!

©Darwin Wiggett -Snow Bench (Panasonic GX1)

 

©Samantha Chrysanthou - Divine Wall (Fuji x10)

 

18 January

Wild In Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – Real Life Review

Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers

A Guide to When, Where & How

by Paul Gill & Colleen Miniuk-Sperry

Background

From time to time, we will review products, books, photo gear and, well, whatever else catches our fancy.  You may even see food reviews or hiking gear creeping into this category!  We want everyone to be aware that we don’t hold ourselves out as experts at anything.  Our opinions are just that:  opinions.  Always go test things out for yourself.  Our Real Life Reviews are meant as one possible reaction to a product, service or event, and we encourage you to post your own thoughts on our reviews.  Remember, though, that your opinion will have more value if you actually have some experience with the product, service or event in question!  Finally, we don’t receive any monetary benefit to reviewing products as we feel this allows us to put to words what we truly feel.

And with that, we’ll turn to our very first Real Life Review.  Colleen Miniuk-Sperry has sent us her new book, co-published with Paul Gill, and entitled, Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers.  We found Colleen and Paul’s guide book easy to understand, extremely well-organized and deftly attuned to the photographer’s needs.  It’s overall a great addition to guide books on wildflowers.  Read on for the nitty gritty details of our review.

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