Friday, December 30, 2011

Nikon FT1 Mount Adapter

Nikon has just announced the FT1 mount adapter which allows NIKKOR F mount lenses to be used with Nikon 1 cameras equipped with a Nikon 1 mount. The angle of view of an F mount lens mounted on the FT1 is equivalent to that of a 35mm format lens with a focal length about 2.7 x longer.

This new adapter can be used with more than 60 Nikkor lenses, and supports autoexposure, autofocus and vibration reduction in the AF-S line of lenses.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The New Leica V-Lux 3

We now have in stock the new Leica V-Lux 3, a 12.1-megapixel camera with a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 4.5 - 108 mm f/2.8 - 5.2 ASPH.lens (25–600 mm in 35 mm format). One of the fastest consecutive shooting cameras in its class, the V-Lux 3 incorporates a high-speed burst-shooting capability: bursts of 12 frames per second at full resolution, or 60 frames per second at a resolution of 3.5 MP.

The Leica V-Lux 3 also features a very impressive range of video functions, capturing full-HD video in AVCHD format with 1920 × 1080 pixels and 60 full frames per second with an integrated stereo microphone with an electronic wind noise filter to help record a crystal-clear soundtrack.

Stop by Camera West and see this exceptional camera.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Fine Art of Manual Focus

The Zeiss manual focus 50mm f1.4 Planar T* ZE has a long focus throw, helpful when shooting video.
Those of you who were shooters before auto focus or those of you who currently shoot with any of the Leica M series cameras or other older film cameras know what it is like to manually focus. It's difficult and if you are like me and got spoiled by today's auto focusing digital cameras, it's frustrating to manually focus quickly on moving subjects, especially at wide open apertures.

I used to be good with my hand/eye coordination before autofocus technology came along. When shooting sports with long lenses at wide open apertures, you had to be good - or frustrated and out of focus all of the time. All that has changed however because we've been spoiled by the lightning fast, extremely accurate auto focus capability of today's cameras. Who needs to manual focus when autofocus is so much better?  Well, if you like to shoot video like I do with a DSLR, you'll need to learn the lost art of manual focus.

Although it's true that some DSLRs will allow you to auto focus while in video mode, it's never very good and is easily fooled. Pros never use auto focus because you can't risk the chance that your auto focus will get fooled especially for those scenes where you get only one take. You need to focus manually, which takes a lot of practice. And to make it even worse, you can't look through the viewfinder but rather, need to focus off the lcd in live view mode which presents a number of additional challenges.

How do you work with these challenges? I've already mentioned practice. On top of that, it helps to have some focusing aides. A magnifying loupe to place over your lcd helps, as does a follow focus, an external monitor or an electronic viewfinder. I use all of these and they all help you get sharp. Also using non-auto focusing lenses will make obtaining focus easier. Why? Longer focus throws. Today's auto focusing lenses have a very short focus throw. Makes sense that the shorter the throw, the quicker the lens can lock focus. That short focus throw however makes manual focusing difficult. A short 1/4 inch turn of the lens barrel can shift focus 30 feet with some lenses. Try manually focusing a fast moving subject with such a short focus throw - you'll see it's next to impossible.

With my background in photojournalism and sports photography, I have a great assortment of auto focus zoom lenses. They are the perfect tools for fast moving scenes however for video, not so great. I'm now looking to manual focus primes for video work. Zeiss and Leica R primes have crisp optics and long focus throws. Zeiss lenses will also communicate distance and aperture values with the camera which can be helpful. Some budget minded DSLR video shooters are using old Nikon manual focus glass again for the long focus throws. Even Canon shooters are using the Nikon glass with a converter although I don't really recommend this since the focus pull is opposite of Canon.

Here is a comparison of the focus throws of various 50mm f1.4 lenses.

3 Feet to Infinity Focus Throw Distance :

Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Planar T* ZE : 2.25 "
Nikon 50mm f1.4 AI : 2.0"
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM : 5/8 "

Now go out with your gear and practice, practice, practice!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Hike with the Leica X1

It's been said that the best camera is the one that is in your hands when you want to capture a fleeting image. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a wonderful moment and had no camera with me to capture it. Very frustrating…but that's where the compact camera shines. It's small enough to put in your coat pocket or small bag, always ready when you need it.

I had the opportunity recently to take the Leica X1 out for one of my hikes along my favorite beach. I have to admit up front that I'm not a huge fan of compact cameras mostly because of their small sensors and lack of quick auto focusing. I'm spoiled shooting DSLRs with their lightning fast auto focus and 8-10 photos per second frame rates, not to mention their large sensors. But, do I carry one everywhere I go? No way.

The Leica X1 is small enough to carry at all times and with it's APS-C size sensor, produces beautiful images. The auto focus is also much improved over many past point and shoots I've used. Not DSLR fast, but getting better.

The beauty of the X1 is it's large sensor in such a small package. Combine that with Leica's legendary optics and you have a great compact camera.

The X1 comes with a true Leica lens. An Elmarit 24mm f2.8 ASPH lens. I'm not a fan of fixed focal length cameras, however if I were to choose just one focal length, it would be a 35mm field of view and that's what the X1 gives you.

The camera is a joy to just look at. It is beautifully designed with all metal construction, clean lines and a leather trim. It fits well in my hand and most of the functions I want are exactly where I would expect them. And those that are accessed through the menu system are easy to find. The menu system of the X1 is by far the easiest I've ever navigated. It's flow is very intuitive making getting to various functions quick and easy.

The X1 has an optional optical viewfinder and handgrip. I highly recommend both. Shooting outdoors and composing an image on an lcd is difficult no matter what camera is in your hands. Using the optical viewfinder is the way to go to precisely frame your shot and Leica was clever enough to have an LED light up close to your eye to let you know when the camera has locked focus. The optional hand grip just makes the camera feel more secure in your hands.

The X1 has been out for 2 years now and hopefully we'll be seeing some added features and improvements soon in the next version. What I'd like to see is a 2-3 X zoom without sacrificing the compact size, a closer macro capability and quicker auto focus. Give me those three improvements and this camera will be my go to compact camera.

So, here are a few X1 photos from my hike on Limantour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore.

It was good practice for me to leave behind all my gear for this hike along the beach. Keeping it simple using one fine camera with one very fine lens.

The 35mm field of view is how I see the world. If I were stuck with just one lens, 35mm would be my choice.

I was pleased to see that the Elmarit 24mm f2.8 ASPH lens could handle the subtle detail in the sand drift. 

Although I wish the X1 had better macro capability, all I had to do is crop into this image and with the large sensor, I was able to get closer without sacrificing much in quality.

Leica X1 Key Features
Compact lightweight body with analogue features
Fixed 24mm f2.8 lens (angle of view equivalent to 35mm lens on a full frame)
12.2 MP APS-C CMOS sensor
Full range of manual controls along with program, shutter and aperture priority exposure modes
DNG raw format recording

The Leica X1 is available in silver (shown above) and in all black. Stop by at Camera West and check out this classic camera.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Leica Lens Compendium

You can now download the 2005 version of the Leica Lens Compendium by Erwin Puts for free. This 223 page pdf document does not contain any images but it's available here as a free download with the permission of the author. Erwin Puts released a new version of this book recently, available for purchase at Camera West.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

San Francisco at Night Workshop

© Thomas R Brichta

Join us for an evening of fun, shooting in and around the beautiful city of San Francisco.

Learn to capture the stunning scenes of San Francisco at night. We will be covering multiple locations to capture the sunset, the city lights, and of course the iconic Golden Gate Bridge after dark. The city takes on it's own magical light and the colors will be fascinating.

This Camera West Walnut Creek workshop will cover all aspects of night photography and low light conditions. Hal Kam and Tom Brichta will tailor the teaching to each individual, assisting with camera settings, etc, to ensure your best possible night photography workshop experience.

This night photo session is best suited for those with a DSLR or other camera that is capable of manipulating the shutter speed and aperture settings, to sustain the long exposures required for night photography. You will also need to have a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 
3pm - 9pm

Contact Hal at Camera West in Walnut Creek for more info or to sign up

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Leica S-2 Firmware

The latest Leica S2 firmware update FW supports the Leica Elmarit-S 30 mm f/2.8 ASPH. wide-angle lens (above). This fifth firmware update has been specially developed for the use of the camera with the new Leica Elmarit-S 30 mm f/2.8 ASPH. wide-angle lens and ensures optimum functionality of this lens on the Leica S2 body. Registered S customers can now download the files containing the firmware and an installation guide from the owners' area at:

Nikon VR Fieldscope

Nikon has announced the world’s first fieldscope featuring Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction) system. The new EDG VR 85 Fieldscope is based on the technologies developed for NIKKOR VR lenses, reducing image vibration and blur.

Match up the EDG VR 85 with the optional Nikon FSA-L2 attachment and you can quickly and easily connect it to your Nikon D-SLR camera for photos and video. The FSA-L2 adapter provides a 3.5x zoom capable of delivering a focal length range from 500mm to 1,750mm (FX Format) or 750mm to 2,625mm (DX Format).

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Firmware for Leica D-Lux 5

Leica has announced a new firmware update for the D-Lux 5. The firmware update v2.0 improves the autofocus speed, increases automatic white-balance precision in adverse lighting conditions and lengthens the longest shutter speed from 60 to 250 seconds. New features also include high ISO noise reduction for ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 and the implementation of an 'active mode' for image stabilization.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Micro Four Thirds Olympus Lens

Olympus introduces their first micro four thirds lens with an electronic zoom in a weather sealed body. The M. ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ (35mm equivalent : 24-110mm) delivers a smooth, quiet zoom and will focus as close as 8 to 20 inches. Estimated street price of the lens will be $499.99 and should be available mid-January, 2012.

More details from Olympus :

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lightroom and Camera RAW Updates

Adobe has released updates Lightroom 3.6 and Camera Raw 6.6, available for immediate download. The latest versions provide RAW support for 9 additional cameras, including the Canon Powershot S100, Fujifilm X10, Nikon 1 V1 and J1, among others.

Camera Raw 6.6
Windows :
Mac :

Lightroom 3.6
Windows :
Mac :

Sunday, December 11, 2011

P is for Professional

This is too good to save for April Fool's Day…

Meet Missy, a stay at home mom with a camera who offers her tips for becoming a professional photographer in her series of YouTube videos.

"I am a stay at home 'Mom With A Camera: MWAC' who made the decision overnight to become a Professional Photographer. After 3 years, I've decided it's time to give back and show that it's a lot easier to be a Professional Photographer than most people think."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shooting the Lunar Eclipse

6:35 am 70mm 1250 ISO .8 sec @f2.8
Those of us fortunate to live on the west coast of the United States were treated to a rare sight this morning - a total lunar eclipse.

Not wanting to miss out on this, I set my alarm for 3 am! I needed to be near the Golden Gate Bridge at 4:30 am at the latest as the eclipse was to begin it's show at 4:45 am.

I didn't want just an image of the eclipse, but rather something interesting in the foreground, an iconic image nearly everyone recognizes, so I chose the landmark bridge.

It also helped to have a great app called The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) to plan my shoot. TPE is a free desktop app, which allows you to plot exactly where the sun or moon will be on any given day from any location in the world.

I arrived at a nearly deserted Crissy Field just north of the Palace of Fine Arts/Exploratorium at 4:30 am. I had 15 minutes to set up 2 cameras on tripods and make a few test exposures. I knew exactly where I needed to set up thanks to TPE. A steady, bitter cold wind was blowing off the bay waters making it miserable on two accounts - making me shake and also my cameras. Long lenses even when locked down on tripods can move in the wind, ruining a long exposure.

Soon, I was not alone as more photographers arrived and I stopped counting after 100. Nearly all of them I'm sure used TPE to keep me company.

For the next hour and a half, we watched and shot the lunar show above the Golden Gate Bridge, the lcd camera backs blinking in the pre-dawn darkness. The moon got redder as the earth's shadow covered it, and by 6:05 am, we witnessed the reddish glow of a total lunar eclipse.

Well worth the 3 am alarm clock.

Missed this one? You'll get another chance April, 2014. Maybe we'll have a Camera West Photo Outing for that one!

6:15 am 130mm 320 ISO .8sec@f2.8
5:32 am 400mm 320 ISO 1/125 sec@f4
6:10 am 400mm 320 ISO 1/125@f2.8

A few facts on eclipses 
From NASA : "A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth is directly between the sun and the moon, blocking the sun's rays and casting a shadow on the moon. As the moon moves deeper and deeper into Earth's shadow, the moon changes color before your very eyes, turning from gray to an orange or deep shade of red. The moon takes on this new color because sunlight is still able to pass through Earth's atmosphere and cast a glow on the moon. Our atmosphere filters out most of the blue colored light, leaving the red and orange hues that we see during a lunar eclipse."

The Photographer's Ephemeris
As I mentioned above, this is a must have app for anyone who wants to predict exactly where the sun or moon will be from any location in the world, at any time past, present or future. It works within Google maps and after a small learning curve, is easy to use. The desktop app is free, the iPhone, and iPad app is $8.99 and for the Android, $4.99. I find however that the phone apps can be difficult to navigate but that's not the fault of TPE, but rather just the difficulty of using the small screen of a phone.

My Camera West Blog post of TPE (July, 2010) gives you an overview :

Download the Photographer's Ephemeris here :

TPE shows me exactly where the moon will intercept the GG Bridge at 6:05 am

Tips for shooting the moon or night shooting in general

Focusing, exposure and keeping your camera steady are the three biggest challenges. Let's take a look at each.

Depending on your camera this may be easy - if - your camera is on single-point auto focus. If it still cannot lock focus, just use live view mode and the magnify button if you have it and manually focus. At 10X magnification, manual focusing is a snap.

This is the tricky challenge. Unless you have a really long lens, light meters are useless for getting good exposures because even with a one-degree spot you can’t meter off just the moon — you’ll be reading both the moon and surrounding black sky which will fool the meter. Also keep in mind that you don’t want exposures that are too long, as the moon is moving and will blur. You can get away with 10-15 second exposures with a wide-angle lens, but with a telephoto you'll need to keep exposure times to two seconds or less. Pushing the ISO up will help with your exposure times when you need it and of course fast aperture lenses will also help. Best tip on exposure? Bracket, bracket, bracket - the only way to nail exposure.

Keeping Steady
Use the heaviest tripod you can get your hands on and/or use weight attached to the center column. Also a heavy bean bag over your lens can help stabilize it. If shooting with long lenses that have tripod collars, use them as that will balance your rig better. To deal with the wind issue I had this morning, I took my oversize lens hoods off as they were catching the wind and also placed by body between the wind and my camera to help block the wind. Also, use a remote shutter release or if you don't have one, use the self timer mode on the camera, This will eliminate any movement as you depress the shutter. And finally, lock the mirror up as a flopping mirror will cause the camera to move during long exposures. If your camera has a live view mode, use it as that keeps the mirror locked.

Last shooting tip - actually two - Shoot a lot and have fun!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Firmware for Leica M9, M9-P

Leica has announced another firmware update for its M9 and M9-P rangefinders. 

Firmware v1.176 addresses what the company says is a rare fault that can occur when formatting some SanDisk memory cards. It says it has tested 'all types' of SanDisk cards and that the latest firmware guarantees their proper function.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Total Lunar Eclipse this Saturday

Photo by Michael Frye

This Saturday, December 10th, set your alarm clock early and get your camera and tripod out for a rare treat.  There will be a total lunar eclipse viewable in the western United States and Canada. The show begins at 4:45am when the red shadow of earth first falls across the moon. By 6:05, the moon will be fully engulfed in beautiful red light. You won't want to miss this as it will not be until 2014 before we have another.

And for great tips on shooting a lunar eclipse, read photographer Michael Frye's excellent post here :

Also check out the rest of his website and blog. Michael is a talented landscape and nature photographer who freely shares his tips to help you become a better shooter.

For more info on the eclipse, check out NASA's website :

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to Lose $2400. in 24 Seconds

"Regrettably" filmed by Kurtis Hough

Filmmaker Kurtis Hough was shooting with his Canon 5D Mark II at Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. His camera was set up on a tripod and recording video when disaster struck. Watch the video below.

500px & Lightroom

Users of the online photography community 500px, can now publish their photos directly from Lightroom thanks to a free plugin released today. Until now, it’s been a bit of a hassle for users of Adobe Lightroom to get their photos from Lightroom into 500px. But with this new plugin, it's become so much easier.

The plugin allows you to:
Publish photos to a public profile or a personal portfolio
Create and manage portfolio collections
Edit titles, descriptions, and other metadata and sync it with a 500px profile or portfolio
Read and write comments for your photos from Lightroom
See your individual photo statistics, such as views, favorites, votes and rating

The new plugin supports Lightroom 2 (in export mode only) and Lightroom 3 (publishing and export modes) and is now available as a free download here :