Monday, August 30, 2010

The iPad and Your Camera

I'm a recent convert to Apple's iPad. Bought one a few weeks ago and absolutely love it.

With Apple's camera connector kit and a great photo app, I can now, no matter where I'm at, take images off my camera, crop, color correct and caption the photos and send them to friends or to a client's ftp site - all from the small, 1.6 lb tablet. No more lugging around my 6 pound MacBook Pro!

After nearly 40 years as a photojournalist, I feel naked without a camera with me at all times and without a quick way of transmitting photos. Didn't matter if I was working or not, I always needed to be able to shoot and transmit photos, no matter where I was or what I was doing. So, I lugged around a laptop with me everywhere. No need anymore. Not with the iPad, the camera connector kit and an app called Filterstorm.

Since the iPad cannot support the processor intensive photo apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, etc., third party developers have come up with some great solutions. My favorite among them is Filterstorm which is one of only a few photo apps I've found that attaches IPTC tags to your photo - an absolute must if you are sending the photo to most clients and any news publication.

Apple's camera connector kit consists of just 2 small connectors - one has a sd card slot and the other a usb connector. They plug into the bottom of the iPad. With the usb connector, you can either attach a card reader to it or skip the reader and just run the cable from the camera to the usb connector.

Filterstorm Features :

Adjust brush size, softness, and opacity
Email images
Post images via FTP
Save edits as automations to apply to other images
Export images up to 3072x2048px
Color balance
White Point Picker
Text tool
Black and white fine-tuning
10-step Visual History
Cropping, with the ability to specify aspect ratio
Rotation and Image Straightening
Tone map (Simulated HDR)
Noise Reduction
Clone Tool
IPTC tags available for E-mail and FTP (does not work with saving to photos)
Title (byline)
Supplemental Category
Job Title
Job ID

All this for $3.99!

Another option that works well comes from Adobe, the makers of Photoshop. They offer iPad users a free Photoshop Express app.  Not nearly as robust in features as Filterstorm but if you want basic controls and don't need to caption your photo, then this may work for you.

Note : iPad processor speeds currently preclude the possibility of running a RAW workflow.

Anyway, there are many, many more photo apps to choose from - most either free or very inexpensive. Have not looked into the video editing apps but I'm sure to find some. If I find any that look interesting I'll let you know.

Friday, August 27, 2010

GoPro in Near Space

Check out this amazing video shot earlier this summer with 2 GoPro Hero video cameras tethered to a balloon.

Near Space Balloon Flight, shot with HD HERO cameras from GoPro from Kevin Macko on Vimeo.

"We are a group of engineers/designers from San Francisco. This was our second balloon launch on 6/5/2010. Shot with 2 HD Hero cameras from GoPro. Launched from the California coast near Davenport, landed in Crows Landing 70 miles away. Peak altitude 80,000 feet. Acquired GPS, pressure, accelerometer, and temperature data with a Shadowbox ( The payload was tracked with a SPOT satellite personal tracker."

A few excerpts from Kevin Macko, one of the engineers, answering viewers questions:

Technically for payloads under 4 lbs there are no FAA restrictions, but we made sure to stay out of SFO and SJC airspace. We also put the radar reflecting material on the capsule and called the FAA to let them know what we were doing

Yes, we did notify the FAA and made sure to stay out of the takeoff/approach airspace of the surrounding airports.

The peak speed on the way down was about 50 miles per hour. This was high up where the atmosphere was thin and the parachute was not as effective. At the bottom it slowed to about 30 miles per hour.

The brunt of the impact was absorbed by the styrofoam container. We actually didn't even see any cracks in the styrofoam, so the parachute must have slowed it down a good bit. It's hard to say how the camera would hold up if it impacted water - probably depends on how fast you're going when you hit.

We did check the wind patterns ahead of time and it landed within ~10 miles of where we predicted. We definitely didn't want it landing in water or the mountains, and we got lucky that it landed so close to a road on a farm without a fence!

We drove to where we predicted it would land. Ordinarily we would have had real time tracking, but unfortunately we got interference from the other electronics on board and didn't get a tracking signal until 6 hours after launch. We were very excited to finally hear from it!

Yes, we can definitely go higher by using a bigger balloon and inflating it with less helium. The GPS tracker may not work above a certain altitude, but we could certainly track it again once the balloon pops and it descends to a working altitude. I think a goal for our future flights is to get above 100,000 feet.

Btw, Camera West now carries the GoPro. Come check it out. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canon and Nikon News

Big announcements from Canon and Nikon this week with both offering a consumer level camera body and an assortment of new lenses.

55-300mm/f4.5-5.6 AF-S VR DX
28-300mm/f3.5-5.6 AF-S VR super zoom for FX
24-120mm/f4 AF-S VR, constant f4 mid-range zoom for FX
85mm/f1.4 AF-S (no VR)

EF 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS USM
EF 8-14 f4 L USM Fisheye
EF 300 2.8 L IS II USM
EF 400 2.8 L IS II USM
EF Extender 1.4x III and 2x III

Surprisingly, no Canon 24-70mm 2.8 IS which has been a hopeful rumor all year.

I'm most familiar with the Canon lineup but I have been a Nikon user, most notably in the early eighties when I joined the staff of the SF Chronicle and they were using Nikon. So, I always anticipate Canon and Nikon's new product announcements.

Anyway, back to the purpose of this post - new toys! Since I don't have the opportunity to have any of this equipment in my hands to play with, I can only comment on what is coming out in the press releases and some of it is pretty exciting! I'll start with the lenses and then finish up with a few brief thoughts on the two bodies, especially their video capabilities.

What is in my opinion the coolest lens to be announced by both camps has to be Canon's EF 8-14 f4 L USM Fisheye - a zoom fisheye! And the way it is designed, you get two lenses in one - a circular 180 degree view at 8 mm and a full frame coverage at the 14mm setting. How cool is that! This is certainly a specialty lens and not one you'll use all the time, but it's the one lens I really want to play with.

Looks like Canon is revamping their fast super telephotos with their EF 300 2.8 L IS II USM and EF 400 2.8 L IS II USM - most notably the weight. (They also just announced they will be doing the same with the 500 and 600) If you've ever lugged around a 400mm 2.8 all day, every day for 3 weeks like I did at the summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia a few years back (Ok, 10), you'll know what I mean. And aside from the weight shaving, Canon offers a new three mode, four stop IS with movable programmable buttons. Something else I look forward to trying out!

The new and improved extenders will be also be interesting to check out. I've always liked the 1.4 extender, especially on my 70-200 2.8 zoom. Paired with a 400mm 2.8, the combo was perfect for covering football and many other sports. On the other hand, I never liked the 2X - never seemed sharp to me and it slowed the auto focus capabilities so, it will be very interesting to see how these new converters perform.

The lens that looks most interesting to me from Nikon is the 28-300mm/f3.5-5.6 AF-S VR zoom. With this lens, you pretty much have it all covered - I see this as a great travel lens. Don't really ever need another! One of my friends who was a long time shooter for Associated Press loved this zoom. (He was using the old EF 35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L Canon lens released in 1993) He would often show up to events with just this lens and 1 body while the rest of us had 3 bodies draped on our neck and shoulders with wide, medium and telephoto lenses. Biggest drawback to this lens is the relatively slow aperture however with image stabilization and better sensors, even that is less of an issue these days.

Now on to the camera bodies…and this is what I'm most excited about.

The Nikon D3100 is the first DSLR that will allow you to shoot video with auto focus! Don't know how well it works - will be interested in getting my hands on one to find out - but to be able to shoot in auto focus mode is huge for many. Pro film makers of course will pooh-pooh auto focus but for most, it will solve one of the most frustrating things about shooting video with the DSLR. The D3100 also offers 24, 25 and 30p frame rates at 1080p resolution however the biggest disappointment is that there is not a 60p mode. The higher frame rate is important for film makers who shoot action or like to slow down their footage for smooth slow motion effects.

The Canon EOS D60 stands out for me because they finally put a flip-out variable-angle 3 inch LCD on the camera so that you can set the camera anywhere and still be able to see the screen. For video, this is huge because if you're shooting without support, you can now tuck the camera to your hip for added stability to avoid  the all too common jittery videos you see these days on YouTube. The other features of this new camera are very similar to the 7D but unlike Nikon, Canon unfortunately has yet to offer us an auto focus video mode. Soon I'm sure!

Here are a few links for more detail on these new toys.

Nikon D3100
New Nikkor Lenses

Friday, August 20, 2010

Access to History

Saw an amazing set of photographs last weekend at the ProPhoto Expo by Stephen Somerstein who stopped by the Camera West booth for a visit. The black and white images were taken by Somerstein in 1965 in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama when he was the editor for a small college newspaper at City College in New York.

This was of course during the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was calling for a march to Selma to protest discriminatory voting laws and many of the students at City College were heading down to participate. And Somerstein, being a dedicated journalist went with them to report on the story with his cameras. It was his first foray into the South and a memorable one.

This historic march brought together thousands of people from all over the country, from politicians, and union leaders, to students, and many others to support a federal voting rights law and Somerstein was right there, up close and personal.

What amazes me most about Somerstein's images is the intimacy. We see a photo taken directly behind Dr. King while he was on the podium speaking. Another image shows folk singer and political activist Joan Baez all alone except for a line of state troopers behind her and another of Rosa Parks who was a key figure in the civil rights movement. It is as if Somerstein was part of the civil rights leaders entourage instead of just a college student with a camera.

Access like that these days is nearly impossible.

I covered many political events during my time at the SF Chronicle. Whenever a national or international political figure was coming to town, we had to fill out an application days in advance with our name, date of birth, and our social security number. And that was just to get into the same building! And once inside, after going through metal detectors and having our equipment sniffed by explosives trained dogs, we often had to shoot from assigned positions, on risers 30-50 yards away. That's as close as we could get so long lenses were the norm. Sometimes if we were lucky, they would escort us to the base of the stage for a few minutes where we could at least get a close perspective and angle.

And even when the politician was visiting a business or public place, we were corralled to a certain area and told to stay there for our photo op. Everything was  controlled, rehearsed and staged and because of that, I hated covering them. Sometimes I would carry just one camera and try to blend in with the crowd to get a more intimate photo and sometimes it worked, especially when the politician would work the crowd in a grip and grin session as they often did after a speech. But most of the time it was difficult if not impossible to get the access Somerstein and other shooters had in the 60's.

With the political and social climate being what it is today, we will never see that kind of access. It's unfortunate because those kind of images are unique and are an important record of our history.

Stephen Somerstein is hoping to publish a book of his images. Until then, you can see them on his SmugMug page which you can access through his website.

Check them out...they are truly amazing.

Photos above of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Stephen Somerstein

Monday, August 16, 2010

Camera West at the ProPhoto Expo

Fun weekend!

Dan Leto asked if l'd like to help him out at the Professional Photographers of California ProPhoto Expo at the South San Francisco Conference Center. He didn't have to ask twice as I thought it would be cool hanging out with other photographers and seeing some of the new products vendors had on display during the two day show.

The star of the show was clearly the incredible Leica S2 that Dan brought for people to get a hands on experience with a camera most could not afford. The S2 however is one amazing camera with it's 37.5 megapixels, collected on a Kodak 30 x 45mm CCD sensor through Leica's legendary lenses.

We had Shelby, a professional model posing at our booth so the public got to shoot her with the S2 which was tethered to a 23 inch Apple Cinema display. The images popped up on the screen through Leica's S2 Image Shuttle software which fed the raw 16 bit DNG files into Adobe Lightroom 3. It was fun to blow up a very small portion of the image and watch people's jaws drop as they saw just how sharp the images were.

Here is a full frame, along with a 1:1 photo from the same image showing the incredible sharpness this camera can produce. No post processing was done with these. Shot with the Leica APO-Elmar-S 180mm f/3.5 lens, 1/125 sec at f 3.5 at ISO 160. Note the sharpness and shallow depth of field of this lens at it's max aperture.

Just for fun, I shot a little time-lapse of the Camera West booth with a GoPro Hero on still camera mode, 1 frame every 2 seconds with the 2,238 images put on a 30 frames per second timeline. Also added a bit of blur with the CHV Electronics Long Exposure plug-in for Final Cut Pro.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

What To Buy?

So, what camera to buy if you want to shoot both great stills and HD video? It can be quite confusing so I'll break it down for you. Note that I am only going to list DSLRs, and out of those, only the ones that allow you to manually control the exposure - an absolute must feature in my opinion. You will notice that I left out Pentax and many of the Nikons. They just haven't stepped up to the plate to offer manual exposure control - the notable exception is the impressive Nikon D3s.

First of all, here's a sensor size comparison chart to help visualize the differences.

Nikon D3s

The D3s gives you a full frame sensor that produces beautiful images in both stills and video. The low light capability of this camera in video mode out performs all the Canon DSLRs by a huge margin. Unfortunately, you only get to shoot 24p at 720 - no 1080p resolution. Also, it records in MJPEG format which is not ideal and you can only record at 5 minute clips. And like many others, no manual audio control.

PROS: Full frame, incredible low light in video.

CONS: Expensive, 24p - 720p only, 5 minute clips, MJPEG recording format, no audio control

Canon Rebel T2i

This is the newest offering from Canon and it is taking everyone by surprise. For it's price, it gives you plenty...and at great quality. Some say the video image rivals that of it's big brother, the Canon 7D. The LCD is surprisingly the best resolution of all the Canon DSLRs. With an APS-C chip in it, you get a 1.6x crop of a full frame

It has the same crappy audio options, as in no manual control. But does have the full range of recording options. 24p, 25p and 30p in full HD and 50p and 60p in 720p mode. This means you get to shoot great slow motion.

PROS: Inexpensive, great image in video mode, full list of video modes to record in, nice big APS-C sensor, great LCD screen.

CONS: Not weatherproof, missing top LCD screen, missing second dial, no audio control, no intermediate ISOs, no ability to dial in your white balance.

Canon 7D

This camera came out after the success of the 5D and Canon added some great features not offered in the 5D - mainly a better button layout to get to video mode and more shooting modes. It uses the same sensor as in Rebel t2i but in a much better body - completely weather-sealed.

With the 7D, you can shoot at 24p, 25p, and 30p in 1080p mode and 50p and 60p in 720p mode. It has the same audio limitations that we run into again and again. No manual audio controls.

PROS: Great price, superb weatherproofing, stunning image, good in low light, switch for video mode, nice LCD screen.

CONS: Not as good as the 5D and 1D Mark IV, not full frame, crappy audio options, 12 minute record limit.

Canon 5D Mark II

This is the camera that started it all just a short 18 months ago. The full frame sensor produces beautiful images capable of extremely shallow depth of field with fast lenses. Canon also came out with a few firmware upgrades that gives the 5D more frame rates and manual exposure control and manual audio control. Unfortunately, no 60p is offered, some say it will never happen due to over heating issues.

PROS: Beautiful full frame image, manual audio levels, very good in low light, great build quality

CONS: No 720p mode, no overheating warning, 12 minute record limit, not as good weatherproofing as 7D and Mark IV

Canon 1D Mark IV

This is the camera of choice among sports shooters and photojournalists and for video, it does quite well. The 1.3 crop sensor produces beautiful low light video images although it does not come close to the Nikon D3s. It offers all the frame rates of the 7D including 50 and 60p 720, but no manual audio control.

PROS: Incredible build quality, beautiful image, superb low light, great long life batteries.

CONS: Expensive, heavy, crappy audio, 12 minute time limit.

So there you go...plenty to choose from. Keep in mind however, these are all just tools. It's how you use them that counts the most. Also, as soon as you buy one, it will be outdated and soon replaced with something better but that's technology for you! Also keep in mind that your big investment should be in the lenses. Those will rarely be outdated.


(8/19/2010) Nikon just announced the D3100 at a price-point of $700. which includes a kit lens. It will shoot 1920 x 1080 24p, and 1280 x 720 24, 25, and 30p. No 60p unfortunately. But, autofocus is possible in video mode (!) which is something Canon does not offer currently.

(8/25/2010) Canon just announced the long rumored EOS 60D. 18 megapixel APS-C sensor, hinged, variable angle LCD screen and all the video features of the 7D.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Adobe Releases Lightroom and Camera RAW updates

Camera RAW update: 

The Camera Raw plug-in provides easy access within Photoshop to the raw image formats produced by many leading professional and midrange digital cameras.

Lightroom 3.2Update: 

Fixes include: New Functionality, New Camera Support, New Lens Profile Support,  and some Bugs Corrected in this Release.

Friday, August 6, 2010

M9 Firmware 1.138 available for download

New M9 Firmware
Version 1.138

1. Camera Performance:
• Improved compatibility of SDHC cards. Nevertheless, we recommend our customers the “Extreme
III” cards from the leading brand “SanDisk”.
• Improved Auto White Balance in conditions with power saving lamps and tungsten light.

Notice: The choice of SD and SDHC cards in the market is already very big and is constantly growing. Therefore, Leica Camera AG is not able to do comprehensive compatibility- and quality testing with all available
cards in the market. We recommend leading brands such as “SanDisk”. Using other card types, will not
damage camera or card, but as especially “no name” cards do not respect the full SD or SDHC standards,
Leica Camera AG cannot warranty full function with those cards.

2. Bug fixes:
• Saving user profiles has been improved (changing from one profile to another did sometimes
cause problems)
• Time display in “American” format corrected.
• Auto power off bug fixed (camera did turn off automatically while using the Play Mode or scrolling
through the menu).

Download Here

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas · January 21-23 2011

 Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas · January 21-23 2011
Join Jason Bradley at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery just North of San Simeon and Hearst's Castle. Every winter female elephant seals come ashore to raise their young and males battle for control of the beaches. It is one of the most dynamic wildlife spectacles in North America.  We'll be in the field in the morning and discussing image development in the evening in Lightroom and in Photoshop.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lost Negatives

Don't know how many of you have been following the supposedly found lost Ansel Adams negatives but briefly, a guy bought the negatives ten years ago at a garage sale in Fresno of all places for $45. Subsequently, the buyer did some research and came to the conclusion that the negatives were taken by the late Ansel Adams. He hired experts to testify that they were in fact Adams' work and that his $45. investment is now worth $200 million. The photographer's family and friends however remain skeptical. Anyway, it's now becoming an interesting legal battle.

Here is a recent article explaining what has taken place.

Meanwhile, I leave you with this Ansel Adams photo I found from the Library of Congress collection to illustrate a point. It was taken when Ansel visited the japanese internment camp at Manzanar, California during WW II. It's from an authentic Ansel Adams negative but it's certainly not an Ansel Adams print.

Adams performed magic in the darkroom, making his photographs come alive. It's that magic along with his signature that give value to his work. Not just a handful of negatives.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Creative Stop Motion

It never fails to amaze me the creativity that is out there.

Check out this awesome stop-motion clip made from 60,000 images, 9,600 of them printed and no post processing. It's an ad for Olympus cameras. You'll be amazed!

And here's another stop-motion video, this one for Levi jeans of a guy walking across the US from New York to San Francisco earlier this summer. Make sure you check out the behind-the-scenes video.