The photographer as a kind of musician

It doesn’t matter how good your instrument is if you don’t know how to play it.

It doesn’t matter how good your camera is if you don’t know how to use it.

High-priced, complex equipment with lots of ‘features’ will not overcome a lack of photographic knowledge just the same as a tin-eared rock star wannabe can’t get a song out of a Gibson Les Paul. If the player has the talent though, a Silvertone will sing for him.

Here’s me playing my ol’ Sears Silvertone, as it were. I make no apologies about the boast.

Eyes in the dark.

 

Dendrite.

 

Black-capped chickadee-dee-dee.

 

Last drops.

 

Another galaxy.

 

The reason I love this camera.

Pictures taken with the Nikon P610; the camera I keep coming back to despite its ailments. I think manufacturers should be really embarrassed that their much-more-expensive ‘professional’ DSLRs can’t do any better than this low-dollar, ten-year-old ‘bridge’ camera.

Mini Manual Manual

Being basically lazy, I rely heavily on automatic settings. Hey, I paid for ’em so I’m gonna use ’em right? Besides which my eyesight isn’t that great so autofocus is a must.

Except when I’m using classic lenses, which don’t hook up to today’s automation technology.

It is then that I fall back on 50+ years of being behind a camera (any one of hundreds), and go “full manual”. This means “pre-setting” everything, and then hoping for the best. If you can judge the light and the distances it usually works (we didn’t always have light meters and rangefinders, you know). Here’s how to do it, in as brief a lesson as I can manage.

1). Set ISO. The only rule for this is that higher numbers mean more noise, the digital equivalent of grain. Otherwise it’s a matter of choosing your favourite film speed, or in this case as close as possible. I’m picking on the Pentax K100DS for this experiment, and it only goes down to 200. Ordinarily I’d use 100.

ISO set to 200 because there is no 100 on the camera.

2). Set shutter speed. There are two rules-of-thumb about this. The first is the “exposure rule”, wherein shutter is set to “1/ISO” or as close as possible. In this case 1/250. The second is the “image stabilizer rule” wherein the shutter is set to “1/focal length” (or higher) to minimize blur problems with long focal length lenses. Since I’m using the Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f2, this isn’t an issue. Thus we go back to rule #1. Now if you plan on shooting things in motion, the high speed shutter rules apply and you may have to go even higher than you would ordinarily as it’s all relative. This means you might crank the ISO up another stop or two as well. Remember that 1 stop increase in ISO is double the current number, and for these APS-C cameras 800 is about the upper limit for acceptable results regardless of what they can be set to. (Me thumbing my nose at manufacturers’ ridiculous claims.)

Camera on ‘M’, shutter at 1/250.

3). Set lens. This is the big one. This is where the trickery comes into play. That ‘trickery’ is depth-of-field, which enables sharp (or sharp-ish) imagery before and beyond the actual focal point. So we start by closing the aperture as much as possible, which on this lens is f16. Yes I know it’s all the rage to shoot wide open all the time these days. That’s just so much dingo’s kidneys. This full manual trick will not work at maximum aperture because there’s almost no depth-of-field available – we’re looking for exactly the opposite of the blurred background effect that’s so popular today it has become a cliché. The second half of this part is setting the focus to where infinity is at one edge of the D-O-F scale for the aperture. On this lens that’s about 8′ (2.5M), giving a range of sharpness from around 4.5′ (1.4M) to infinity.

Setting aperture and focal point to give maximum range of sharpness.

Now we can take pictures. These are corrected for exposure (under-exposed is your friend for digital; over-exposed is just an uncorrectable loss), white balance (including in this case negating the thorium yellowing of the lens glass), and then reduced to ‘Internet size’.

Bleak tree. I finally got all the crud off the sensor!

Eight feet from the Whale, the actual focus point.

Closest focus possible. Image is sharp!

Not framed: I just held the camera up to the roof and pushed the button. You can see the range of sharpness here.

Close up and cropped in, Marley’s image is sharp.

A couple of notes: bright light is your friend for this procedure. There was some variable cloudiness that effected the available light on these pictures. I did not change the settings, I just compensated in post-processing (sometimes as much as 2 stops). You can adjust the aperture in the field if you want to, but remember it will alter the depth-of-field and you may lose sharpness where you want it. Longer focal length lenses have less D-O-F for a given aperture and don’t work as well with this trick. Also if you want to focus closer you can, but you have to remember to switch back when you return to scenic shooting.

Some people may think this is a silly thing to do, as it basically turns an expensive DSLR into a box camera. But frankly I have no sharper modern lenses than these old Takumars, and some that are much worse. Other people may be a bit miffed to find they don’t need all the fine complexity of the modern digital camera to turn out halfway-decent photos. And didn’t I myself once say I paid for those auto functions so they better work? Yet here I am not using them. Sometimes, at least.

BONUS SECTION!

I said I’d compare the Pentax K100DS 6MP to the Canon T100 18MP (both APS-C size sensors), and here are those shots:

Barn shot #1

Barn shot #2

Taken with the same ISO, the same exposure, the same focus, in fact with the same lens (the 35mm f2 Super Takumar) switched from one body to the other. Slight adjustment to white balance for each to rectify exposure but nothing else. Both shrunk from their native size to “Internet size”, with no cropping. Go ahead: try and figure out which picture came from which camera.

Art at the end of February

When life hands you rubbish, make art. Some slob tossed this in the driveway. (Pentax K100DS)

Well this has been a week. A week of weak. I’ve had several days in a row where just being alive has been a major effort. No answers to that problem either, as the last ‘diagnosis’ (guess) turned out wrong like all the others. If it’s a new disease, will they name it after me? What a way to achieve immortality!

A “long log” truck; single span of about 40 feet. These are destined for log home construction. (Nikon P610)

Sometime in the future I should be getting an appointment with another specialist, regarding my hearing. I doubt there will be a resolution to that either, other than my sinking into a world of endless noise and no sound. It’s weird because I can hear all sorts of sound, even very soft ones, and sometimes ordinary sound is way too loud. The dogs barking can be downright painful. It’s just that over top of it all there is the constant noise(s) of tinnitus. It is not fun.

Another shot of Bleak Tree. (Pentax K100DS)

Quite a lot has been going on in the world around me that is just dumbfounding, to say the least. I’m not going to rant on about it because others have already managed that quite well. Suffice to say what I take away from the whole situation is an ever-stronger desire to not be a part of it.

You know why. (Nikon P610)

Of all the things I’d like to gain right now, mostly I’d like to have my ‘vacation’ room. Isn’t that silly? It’s supposed to be “tropical themed” so I can go in there and pretend I’m on a desert island somewhere. With sounds from the south pacific, including waves and ukuleles. I lack the logistical ability to do anything about it at the moment, from the finances to the actual physical strength to bring it about. But with all this crap going on everywhere I find what I really, really want is a room I can retreat to and shut the door on the rest of the world. I’m old; I’m not supposed to be a soldier anymore.

If you know photography or astronomy you know what’s wrong with this picture. (Pentax K100DS)

Today’s images are a mixture of artistic shots out of various cameras. I still enjoy doing that, when I’m able to get out and take pictures. Believe me, using the cameras you have is more rewarding than adding to the collection. But there are still one or two others I would like to have …

I’m outta here! Black-capped chickadee taking off. (Canon T100)

Finally, a couple of notes about WordPress itself: one, it seems to have slowed down immensely including handling image uploading/viewing – along with my no longer being able to access notices from my “front page” as it were; I have to go into “Reader” or “My Site” to see what they are about.

And two, I get a lot of likes for my simple efforts and I do appreciate that. What’s more, I almost always go to the person’s site to have a look at what they do. It doesn’t always work out, though, because my eyesight isn’t that compatible with some of the formats chosen by others to present their work. That’s a long-winded way of saying I can’t see gray print on a black background, for example. I’m sure it looks nice, I just can’t see it. Hence the very simple layout of my own blog.

Now if the weather will co-operate perhaps I can do some more photos.

Olympus Serendipitous

The camera: Olympus E-410 (aka Evolt 410).

The lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-42mm f 3.5-6.5.

The other lens: Olympus Zuiko Digital 40-150mm f 3.5-4.5.

The cost: camera and ‘short’ zoom lens $108.80 CDN; ‘long’ zoom lens $29.16 CDN. (I’m not joking).

Olympus E-410 and lenses.

Why did I buy it? You got me there. Perhaps I got confused. I was looking for the E-300 model, which was the last with a CCD sensor. But they command a premium price it seems. Then along came this and well … It’s bad if I’m bored. I made the purchase over a month ago but thanks to the seasonal shipping slowdown it has only just recently arrived.

A couple of things to point out: this is not the “Mystery Camera” used in two prior posts. Also, this is a four-thirds camera not a micro four-thirds. The difference being in the distance between the sensor and the lens flange; a micro four-thirds does not have a reflex mirror to take up space, and as such there is much more flexibility in the design for adapting other lenses. For the four-thirds cameras (which came first) there are less 50 different lenses available and adapting others is unlikely. As it is I got the two zooms which cover the most range. The ‘standard’ prime lens for this unit is a 25mm, which when found for sale tends to cost 3 to 5 times what I paid for the camera & short zoom. I don’t think I’ll be buying one.

So how does it work? Amazingly good. After getting over some minor ‘teething troubles’ having to do with getting images on to and off of the only compact flash card I have (64 megabytes) results are pleasing indeed. Lacking sufficient storage space for full-size images (I got 12 before the “card full” warning came up), I ‘dialed down’ the resolution to get more trial shots. Also had to download pictures by putting the card in the Canon PSA70 because I don’t have a USB cord for the Olympus. Nevertheless, we have images.

Obligatory lens sharpness test. It’s sharp.

The main reason for my going after any four-thirds camera was to see how that particular format compares to others. I’d say it does so favourably, with expected shortcomings and advantages. For example it is lousy in low-light conditions, as would be normal for a small sensor (APS-C sensors are bad in low light, anything smaller is even worse). On the up side it produces better pictures than, say, a 2.3 sensor. It is a good “compromise” camera, which is both its strength and its downfall: if you could have only one camera and needed it to shoot good pictures and take old lenses and be reasonably sized to carry about and have good wide-to-telephoto capacity (crop factor of 2X on this, so the 150mm focal length is 300mm equivalent) … well I can see where a modern micro four-thirds like the Olympus OM-D series would be a great choice. I would not recommend one of these older four-thirds cameras to anyone because they are truly dead-end devices.

Obligatory raven in the sky image. It’s raven.

Subjectively, using this camera is excellent. It handles very well indeed. Okay the focusing is a tad slow, but that is typical of cameras this old. On the whole the controls are in the right places and it passed the all-important test of producing acceptable photos on ‘automatic’ right out of the box (as it were).

Obligatory dog photo. It’s dog.

I don’t really know why I bought it, but I’m glad I did. Is it a ‘keeper’? It shouldn’t be, because it doesn’t fit the criteria for any of my kind of photography nor does it open up any new avenue as the G11 did. Will I get rid of it? No. For one thing it isn’t valuable enough to be worth making the effort to sell. For another … I’m invoking the Eric L. Woods Defense: “I like it. Leave me alone.”

Obligatory cloud picture. It’s cloud.

Always darkest

We’ve actually been picking up minutes of daylight now that the Earth is moving away from the Winter Solstice. You’re forgiven if you haven noticed. Around here it’s a tad hard to, what with the clouds and the mountains. Our sunrise is actually 45 minutes after the official time and sunset about half an hour before, thanks to the topography.

Anyway, some more shots done with the G11. In B&W. Not shot in B&W, as I tried that and didn’t like it. Most digital cameras don’t do a good job in monochrome.

This is not a nighttime camera.

Ice is everywhere.

Really everywhere.

Snow is everywhere else.

Lonely junco.

Jet’s go! (Heavily modified.)

3 from camera ‘A’, 3 from camera ‘B’

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Raven in flight

I like the way the feather motion is a blur at the edges.

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I’m on fire

This is about the light, not the composition. I couldn’t due much with the composition.

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Spring robin

The light is finally getting to where I can get colour on these birds and I’m not always shooting silhouettes.

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Reflect

The melt water makes for some temporary opportunities.

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Metal bird

Amazing how many jets pass over here given the extreme drop in air traffic.

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Marley the dog

For once not being a goofball. Usually if the camera is out she is hamming it up.

Cameras used: Nikon P610 and Lumix ZS60.

Film Finis

In one of the unusual circumstances that are so usual in my life, I came across the prints of the last roll of film I ever shot. I know it must be the last because the images start at the old house, ‘visit’ the cabin, and finish at the ‘new’ home, meaning they were taken in the time period of 2009-2010. Yes, the film sat in the camera for almost a year. No doubt something to do with someone having an automobile accident and breaking her back, resulting in a lot of confusion and changes to our lives.

Anyway, I scanned the images such as they were and worked them a bit because the prints had faded in the ensuing 10 years despite being kept in the dark. Possibly not the best photo finishing service either; the prints are a bit grainy. But the camera they were taken with was the Pentax Spotmatic and its Super Takumar lenses shine out.

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Our Friend Peter

Taken at the old house, the kind of picture I don’t usually take: a people shot. He doesn’t look amused, but really he had a great sense of humour. You can see the usual chaos of my over-active life all around him. The vehicle to the left is the gray ’98 4Runner that would end up on its roof in October with Brenda trapped inside.

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The Stony Shore

Here we are at the lake, then. The terror of the future yet to be revealed. This is not the sharpest picture I’ve ever taken of that lake. It might have been hazy that day or … well who knows. No sense speculating about it, really, as it’s past.

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Denim Pine

The pine bark beetle epidemic was in full swing then. This shows the end of a pine log cut, with the characteristic blueish staining cause by the tree trying to defend itself against the beetles. This would have been cabin fire wood, as we didn’t heat our main residence with wood until we bought the ‘new’ place.

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Daisy Bug

Even then I liked to take pictures of bugs on flowers. The newer cameras have better macro ability, I must say. Even so, not a bad effort.

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Sun on the Water

A decidedly artistic shot. The vignetting is on purpose, the rampant chroma is not. Therein lies one of the faults with film: you don’t really know what you’ve got until the prints are done. With digital, I could look at this in a second and try a different approach – or even afford to take the shot several different ways right off the bat.

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The Clearing

This is one side of the property of the ‘new’ place as it appeared in the Spring after we bought it. The stumps everywhere were infected pine trees that had been cut down and sliced up for firewood. Yes, the house came with the first two years’ heating free, so to speak. I would reproduce the shot as it appears now, only I’d have to trudge through 10″ of hard packed snow and I don’t fancy breaking an ankle.

As I glance over these I wonder about the thousands of images I have taken which have simply disappeared to who-knows-where, never to be seen again. I also wonder about how well digital images might be preserved in their magnetic form. I know I’ve already lost a few to hard drive failure, and since have taken extra measures to back up anything I feel is really worthwhile.

Even so, I will stick with digital. It’s certainly cheaper than film these days, and easier to manipulate. Plus there is the added advantage of not being ‘stuck with one type of film for a whole roll’. If you load your camera with Kodachrome 64, you must shoot the whole roll before changing film types – or spring for numerous cameras to handle different films. With digital, you can alter ISO, colour intensity, even ratio and resolution from one shot to the next if you so desire. Personally I try to go for a “base universal setting” which not only produces the kind of results I like right out of the camera most of the time, but also allows me a lot of latitude to post-process into different forms if I feel a particular shot needs the change.

Into the deep freeze

It’s been cold here. One morning it was -22°C (-8°F). This is coming early for the area. It curtails a lot of activity, like photography. I mean, have you ever tried working a camera with insulated gloves on? Not that the gloves make much difference against the cold. Well I took them off and made a few shots anyway.

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Frost on the glass

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Winter wire

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Post top

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Frosted fir

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Waxing crescent

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Picture 2000 Nikon P610

All photos taken with the Nikon P610 except “Frosted fir” which was shot with the Kodak V1003 as I was passing by that tree in the car. The last image is the two thousandth photo taken with the Nikon, meaning all my current cameras have now exceeded that number of exposures – equivalent to 83+ rolls of 35mm film. I guess it’s time to buy a new camera, eh? 😀 Maybe I’ll wait for it to warm up a bit; it’s -20°C this morning.