PowerShot in black & white

Our ever-unpredictable weather has made photography a gamble lately. One day we have bright sunshine, the next thick overcast. Temperatures go above freezing in the day, then plummet well below at night. Tuesday a big wind blew in and changed the atmosphere from dry and warm to cold and snow and now the sun is out. It’s ridiculous!

Anyway in the past couple of weeks I have been ‘lugging’ the Canon PowerShot A70 around, set to monochrome, in hopes of trying out its in-camera B&W abilities. I would be trying the other settings, but the indicators on the LCD are so small that I can’t make out what they are. This means setting aperture and/or shutter speed is too difficult for me. So right now it will do colour on “Auto” and B&W on “Program” and at that I’m not sure I know what the ‘fine tuning’ is at; I need reading glasses and a magnifier to see the tiny symbols! There are newer versions of this camera which retain the nifty eye-level optical zoom finder but have a larger LCD for seeing the settings (and images). Maybe one day I’ll come across one. Until then …

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Marley, of course

This is a crop from the full-size image, so it isn’t reduced. Not bad for a 3MP camera, eh? I did have to fix the exposure as the gray day was giving very flat light to work with. Still an acceptable “snap shot quality” image.

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Rounds winding down

Taken in a rare moment of actual sunshine, I was surprised that the camera got the exposure right on this one. Considering the shot consists of bright light and deep shadow, the dynamic range is pretty good with just some washout in the highlights. There’s no editing been done to this, just size adjustment.

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Cloudy

Full image reduced in size. You can see the ‘sensor streak’ at the top, although it is less intrusive in monochrome. This is the kind of sky I was dealing with for most of these shots! Here the contrast has been turned up a little as it was just too flat.

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The Red Coach Inn

Monochrome doing the old building a favour, as it looks far worse in colour. Seriously this historic landmark needs millions in renovation and repair, and it is unlikely to get it. One of the few structures in town that isn’t some pre-fab quick-build utilitarian monster. It still isn’t very interesting.

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O Canada!

This would look better in colour. In fact it would look better in ‘red only’ colour, higher resolution, and closer zoom. This is a segment of the full frame. Quite grainy and gray despite contrast tweaking, looking like some ‘pushed’ Tri-X. I don’t like the effect.

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Raven

Cropped out of a full view, not shrunk. Contrast increased slightly to make up for the flat light. This is at full zoom, panning to follow the bird as it flew because the shutter activation on the A70 is slow. Same ‘feel’ as the flag picture, but perhaps it works better here? Perhaps not. This kind of picture is what the Nikon P610 is for: that camera would not give us fuzzy feathers.

Although the PowerShot A70 is a capable performer for such a cheap camera, I don’t think I’ll be keeping it because it’s difficult for me to use it to its full advantage. This is a fault with eyes in their seventh decade, not the camera. I’ll probably donate it back to the thrift store I bought it from.

Full circle?

My very first 35mm film (aka size 135) camera was a “Willoughby’s Classic IV” made by Fujica (Fuji Camera, now known as Fujifilm – which is ironic given the state of film photography these days). It looked very much like this:

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Internet image

When it comes to modern day digital Cameras, Fujifilm still makes “classics”; great performance and magnificent retro styling, like this X-Pro3:

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Fujifilm promo image

I’d love to have one, but can not in any way justify the price (in the case of this model about $2,400 CDN). There are many ‘cheaper’ Fujifilm cameras, but when you get down to my price range they don’t have the ‘classic’ styling and the eye-level finder I’m so fond of.

Then along came Jones, as the song used to go. Just to see if Fujifilm had all the image quality others say it does I looked at some used offerings, and found one I could afford. Not new, but used. No eye-level finder, but cheap. No retro styling, but interesting specifications. Thus I forked over for a Fuji FinePix F80 EXR. It’s that ‘EXR’ part that intrigued me.

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F80 EXR

The ‘EXR’ function is a unique programming mode that does some interesting things. Like it can ‘sacrifice’ pixels in order to improve dynamic range. Now it’s only 12 MP to begin with, but for my shooting that’s more than enough. Even when it shifts itself down to 6 MP to work its image magic that’s more than enough. The weird part about this is seeing that some of the images come out as 4000 x 3000 pixels and others are 2816 x 2112 pixels – without the user doing a thing.

Now, I haven’t had much time to use it yet. I took a couple of walks around the yard taking some snapshots just to try it out. If you’ve read my posts about the nightmare of getting decent images out of the brand new and fairly expensive Lumix ZS60 you’ll understand what I mean when I say the Fujifilm started out gloriously. Charge battery, insert card, turn on, take snaps, get pictures. Right out of the box this camera returned acceptable results under admittedly not-the-best lighting conditions. Such as this:

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Bleached Marley

That is an absolutely dreadful scene to ask an automatic camera to handle: part of the field of view is in deep shadow, part is in glaring sunlight, part is in-between. The EXR ‘shifted down’ to 6 MP to enable a greater dynamic range and came up with a shot the average user would see nothing wrong with. I see Marley is slightly washed out, but only slightly. Typically either you’d get correct exposure on her and the background would be totally black, or it would try to bring up the shadows and the dog would be an utter washout of white.

The other big complaint I had with the Lumix was its disappointing lens sharpness. So let’s see what the Fuji will do:

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A full-frame shot of some trees looks fine when shrunk to ‘Internet size’, but how is it close up? Well here’s a screen shot of a portion of this image (4000 x 3000 resolution) at 100% resolution on a 1366 x 768 screen:

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The lens is sharp. Not extremely sharp or even very sharp, but sharp enough to not disappoint. Admittedly it has ‘only’ 10X zoom capacity, running the equivalent of 27mm to 270mm, whereas the ZS60 is 30X – but how much zoom do you need? Let’s face it; I’ve been spoiled by the Nikon P610 with its stunning 60X optics that are incredibly sharp – and not just ‘for the type of lens it is’.

No initial report on a camera (by me) would be complete without the ubiquitous shed shot:

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You’ll notice some distortion in this wide-angle image, but it’s not awful. You will also notice, despite no effort to correct the colour, the Fuji predilection for green-blue tones; the reds are somewhat muted.

Let’s have one more picture just for fun:

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Conclusion: This Fujica gives decent pictures right from the get-go without a lot of mucking about. I like that in a camera. It fits in my shirt pocket, which is another bonus. The only ‘downside’ is that it is used, which brings up the question of why manufacturers abandon known good products in favour of new and often questionable designs. Well we know why; to trick you into buying the latest set of impressive specification numbers.

I’m looking forward to using this camera on a greater scale as soon as conditions permit. If you want to read more about its technical aspects here’s an excellent review of it at Photography Blog.

 

Canon (snap) shots

These are some photos I took in the rare sunshine the other day, using the Canon T100 and Super Takumar 35mm lens. This is part of testing whether or not that focal length would be a good ‘prime’ for me before I shell out hundreds of dollars on a coupled automatic lens. As it is, with the old lens exposure is ‘guestimated’ and focus is manual – and every shot has to be post-processed to remove the thorium yellowing (which also affects the sharpness and contrast).

You can see that with just using auto white balance correction there is still some colour shift. I found decreasing the yellow in the images all by itself also worked, but at the occasional expense of the actual image tone.

Anyway I need to shoot some more varied scenes before I decide if it’s worth getting a new lens in that range. The old lens looks best in B&W:

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Shadow of the Dog

That’s picture #5, square cropped and desaturated to monochrome.

The photos I don’t take

We all have our particular favoured fields of photography. Some prefer landscapes, some nature, others urban views, still others go for macro or astronomical images. It’s all according to taste. My own work tends toward either documenting projects I’ve done or things I’ve seen or else I delve into the artistic realm, sometimes to the extreme. And although I have been known to stray from these norms occasionally, there are certain kinds of pictures I really can’t be said to indulge in.

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The Jazz Man

People Pictures.

Although I have been known to take the occasional self-portrait (definitely not ‘selfies’), I just don’t take pictures of people. Not friends or family or strangers. I can’t explain it other than to say they’re just not my sort of subject matter. As it is the self-portraits are more a form of artistic exercise than anything else. There are of course the legal ramifications of taking pictures of people; generally you can’t use the images to your benefit without a model release (the requirements vary from place to place), and that adds an extra measure of complication. I don’t like complication.

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Mural at Coach House Square

Urban Images.

I’ve never liked cities much, no matter what size. I grew up in a small village that got bigger as I got older. I’ve always preferred rural, remote, natural settings. Probably why I have a cabin in the woods miles from anywhere – and just across the creek from the neighbours. The nearest ‘city’ to me now is not very interesting to look at anyway; it’s a ‘rapid-build’ settlement made largely of concrete block one-story industrial-look structures put up quickly for practical use rather than with any eye to architectural aesthetics. In other words it’s ugly. Even the residences are mostly brought-in-on-a-truck design. Not much ‘real’ architecture anywhere. A sop has been made to beautification with flowers and murals like the one sampled above (unfortunately I don’t know who painted it) which are everywhere yet do little to improve the view anywhere. The one nice effort along these lines is the seasonal store window paintings, all done by the same artist which gives a certain homogeneous look to local retail. But frankly photographing this civic art or the ‘canvas’ it is on is not for me.

If you put those two categories together you have Street Photography, which I also don’t indulge in. It just isn’t my thing.

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Hummingbirds at O’Hare

Video.

Oddly enough, the new Lumix camera is capable of doing 4K video. Evidently that’s supposed to be something desirable. All the other digital cameras I have do video in some form or another, but I’ve never done more than try out the function to see if it works. I have one nice video of hummingbirds swarming the feeder (see the still image above), but since none of my work is worth spending money on to present I don’t have a premium account here that allows me to post the actual video. In my youth I shot some 8mm and Super8 film, and even had quite a few movie cameras. Once I even made an entire stop-motion animated movie (it wasn’t very good). But despite these dalliances with video I never had any serious interest in making them, and still don’t. This is particularly peculiar considering I’m rather fond of classic movies and have quite a few on DVD. Sometimes enjoying something is best done from the sidelines, not from within the ‘game’.

So I will stick to documenting those things I feel I need to make a record of, and indulging my artistic desires with the kind of images I’m familiar with making. Not because old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but because sometimes old dogs are happier with the familiar antics they already know how to perform.

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Frosted Fir

 

 

Getting the hang of it

The Lumix ZS60 is starting to produce some decent pictures. I have to say it has taken me longer to get this camera ‘usable’ than any other. It still needs the colour balance turned down a little bit, but that and the other settings are almost exactly right now. The camera definitely has an ‘artistic bent’:

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Two birds flying

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Another sunset

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Refreshed snow

It still can’t take a decent moon shot, though:

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Snapshots it can handle:

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Snow pawtrol

Close-ups went from this:

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To this:

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Snow cocoon

And the detail on medium shots is now fairly good:

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Make of it what you will

Edit to add: I’ve now got the colour temperature set to 7800°K, and it seems to be right for the light here;

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Unprocessed

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Orange in snow

So now that I’ve finally got the camera settings where it will produce a good picture, what I need is some good shooting opportunities.

Unfortunately according to the forecast it’s about to snow heavily. *sigh*

 

The best laid plans

For some time now I have been lamenting about the lack of an affordable ‘normal’ focal length lens for my Canon APS-C DSLR. They have a 24mm, a 40mm, and a 50mm in the under $200 price range, but a 30mm-35mm choice is missing from the lineup. To get something that works out to ‘normal’ for this camera (crop factor 1.6, making 32mm roughly equivalent to 50mm on a 135 camera) you have to spend a lot of money. The Sigma 30mm seems to be the best choice at $629 +tax.

The question is; would I really use it enough to justify the purchase? In the past I’ve shot a huge number of pictures with normal focal length lenses, so I probably would. But “probably” isn’t “absolutely”.

Fortunately I have a way of testing the hypothesis: a 35mm Super Takumar M42 that adapts easily to the T100. Okay, I’ll put it on and shoot a dozen or so images to see if I’d really use this particular focal length now (I know I shoot mostly in the telephoto range, hence the hesitancy to make the purchase). What I’m looking for is how often the ‘normal’ field of view would suit my purposes.

The downside of this particular lens (aside from the lack of aperture coupling and autofocus) is that the thorium in the glass has turned it yellow. On the left we have Duncan as he appears through the yellow haze, on the right the necessary white balance correction to restore at least semi-accurate colour (yes the snow really does reflect blue).

Unfortunately trying to slog through a foot of snow isn’t easy, which limited my area of picture-taking. This was confounded by the interesting way the low-angle light illuminated the surroundings: my body was unable to wander far, but my mind had no trouble being distracted from the task at hand and going off in its own direction.

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Cropped – which I shouldn’t have done

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Hard to resist shadow patterns

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Oh look – now we’re on the moon

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The sun set

Oh well. Maybe the next time the sun shines around here I’ll remember what I’m trying to do and take uncropped, straightforward shots that will actually have some bearing on evaluating the usefulness of the particular focal length. :p

Of course the arrival of the Lumix camera is also interfering with this test, but mainly it’s weather and shooting opportunities that keep me from completing projects. In fact of four I started some time ago, I only managed to finish one. At least I won’t be running out of things to do.

Out of the cold

Looks like we’re warming up around here. For example Sunday morning it was -18°C, which is warmer than it had been in a week, and got up above freezing by afternoon. Now they are predicting more highs above freezing coming up every day this week. Massively different from the arctic conditions we’ve just suffered through.

To that end, a few things I shot while it was so cold. Most were taken inside in fact, even though they show the freezing outside.

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Window on the frozen world

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Ice snakes

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A spray of darkness

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Crystal forest

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Some other land

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Staying warm

I didn’t get the new camera last week. Hopefully it will show up early this week so I can try it out in the sunshine … and warmth.