May 29, 2015
One thing Jamie and I buy every year is the OC Parks annual pass. It allows you to park in many different regional parks and wilderness parks throughout the Orange County. One of those parks is the Carbon Canyon Regional Park. Neither of us had ever been so we decided to check it out. The park functions as one of the entrances into Chino Hills State Park and while dogs are not allowed in that park, they are allowed in Carbon Canyon.
Jamie borrowed a Canon 5D Mark III and a couple of lenses to bring along with our Mark II and our 24-105mm F/4 IS USM L lens. The 24-105 is probably the best walk around lens you can own but it doesn’t let you specialize. Therefore Jamie borrowed a wide angle and a macro lens. These are two types of photography we both like but haven’t spent much time doing; probably because they each require their own special lens.
Carbon Canyon Regional has two sections. One is a large grass covered park with a small lake in the middle complete with fish. The other is a nature trail that ends into and loops around a grove of Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) http://ocparks.com/parks/carbon/. The Redwood grove is small on aerial photos but once you stand in it, you suddenly feel small. These are not the biggest Redwood’s you have seen but they are big enough that the area has its own little sub-climate caused by the shade the grove casts.
Jamie and I took turns using the macro and wide angle lenses in addition the 24-105. We captured a lot of photos in only a two mile hike. In the middle of the hike, we both aimed out cameras at Maxx simultaneously. This is because he is very camera shy so with two cameras, we could trick him into looking into at least one of them.
I think now that I have used the macro and the wide angle lenses, I’m going to have to pick up one of them for myself. The question is, which one?
May 17, 2015
Full Disclosure: I got to borrow the Canon EOS M for free.
Jamie, Maxx, and I did a photo walk along the bluffs of Crystal Cove State Beach. This allowed us to get some exercise for ourselves and the dog, get some food at Ruby’s Shake Shack, and finally get out and start photographing things again. We took the Canon EOS M with us and mounted the 18-55 mm IS STM lens as well as our 270EXII Speedlite flash. The EOS M is a mirrorless camera meaning it doesn’t reflect light into a viewfinder like an SLR. This means it can be significantly smaller and lighter.
If you are thinking about going to visit Crystal Cove, stop thinking about it and just do it. This park offers some of the most scenic coastline in California as well as a great beach, places to swim and body surf, and three different diving locations for those trained in SCUBA. Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on the beach or the one boardwalk trail on the bluffs. They are allowed on all of the rest of the trails on the beach side of PCH.
The EOS M is a camera that was discontinued over two years ago. Still it proved to be a good camera to use for this type of photo walk because it is small, light, and full featured. Essentially, if you have ever shot with any other EOS camera, the controls on this one will be familiar. It shoots in Canon RAW format using an 18 megapixel sensor and has a proprietary EF-M mount system that will work with EF lenses with an optional adapter. The replacement models for the EOS M are not available in the US market at this time.
Since I was shooting outdoors in full sun, I didn’t need the flash often. Still sometimes a shadow would be cast in such a way as to really detract from the image. That is where the fully functional hotshoe support for external flashes came in handy. I did have to remember one of the main principles of flash photography however. Namely that you use the aperture to control the flash exposure and the shutter speed to control the ambient exposure. Once I remembered that one important fact, achieving a nice balance of fill flash and ambient light was easy.
Once I was comfortable with the camera and working it’s touch screen controls, I focused on composition. I tried to work in the “rule of thirds”, color, leading lines, and abstraction in the various photos I took.
In post-production, I didn’t need to take anything into Photoshop. Instead all the adjustments I needed were available in Canon Digital Photo Professional which made the workflow a lot simpler. Really, not much tweaking was needed. Just a highlight here, and an angle adjustment there and I was ready to export.
Overall it was a fun trip and I know Maxx and Jamie had a good time. For me, the nicest thing about having a mirrorless camera around my neck was that my neck didn’t hurt after 6+ miles of walking. That right there is worth it.
April 25, 2011
To see more test shots from the Nikon P500 check out the GALLERY.
Occasionally a company known for quality of build as well as design will unveil a product that is so ill conceived and even more poorly implemented that it casts a shadow on the entire reputation of the company. For Nikon, that product is the Coolpix P500. What follows is born from my time owning this contraption and experiencing first hand just how wrong a product can get.
1)The Nikon Coolpix P500 tries to do everything but does not do anything well. This camera is packed with more features then I care to list. The manual is electronic only, most likely because if they printed it, it wouldn’t fit in the box. The features all sound nice but in reality are almost universally so poorly implemented to be useless.
In conclusion, stay away from the Nikon Coolpix P500 like a medieval peasant would avoid the plague. I know for a fact that Nikon is more than capable of making fine cameras that produce wonderful photos. This is not one of those cameras. I would go so far as to say that this camera is single-handedly destroying Nikon’s reputation around the world and they would be best served by taking it off the market.
Jamie and I dumped this contraption and picked up the Canon T2i instead. This is mostly because we already have a collection of fine Canon lenses. We both love the camera and coincidentally the camera fits in the same case we picked up for the P500. If you can afford the price difference, get that camera instead because you will not regret it.
April 10, 2011
I am actually going to write this review over the course of a few weeks starting from the first day I received the Nikon Coolpix P500. We will actually be writing two reviews, one from Bryan which will probably be way more technical than what I will write about. So let’s start from the beginning, why did we get a another camera. Considering we already have a 5D Mark II this camera seems like a step down. Don’t get me wrong I love my Mark II, LOVE IT, but at the same time it is not something that’s easy to carry around everywhere. I usually bring it to big events and photo trips because I know that I will get amazing images every time. I don’t like bringing it to parties or hikes or random things like that because I feel it weighs me down. I needed to get a camera that was going to be more versatile. We were prepared to shell out $650 for the Rebel T2i which is also a superior camera to the P500 but also not as versatile because I would still have to carry around lenses. Now let’s get one thing straight, comparing a DSLR to a super-zoom is like comparing apples to oranges. The P500 is very good at what it was manufactured for but I knew that when I bought it I wasn’t going to get DSLR image quality. For one thing it has a very small sensor and so the low light capability is not going to be great, but that’s not what I bought it for. I was more excited about finally having on camera flash, something my Mark II does not have. Yes I could use an external flash but if you know me you know I hate carrying around extra equipment. You will almost never see carrying an external flash, a battery pack or a tripod. I try to keep things simple.
Now it’s time to sum up the review with the pros and cons (at least the ones that matter to me). I’ll start with the cons:
- Only satisfactory image quality
- Poor auto focus
- Inconsistency in white balance
- Noticeable lag time between shots
- Aperture changes automatically even when the mode is set to Manual or Aperture Priority (this is the one that really bothers me and so does Nikon’s answer)
- No shortcuts for settings like ISO or metering
- No sensor to tell you when the lens cap is still on when powering up
- No RAW file format
- No info in the display or EXIF data showing what mode you are shooting in
- Does not have the ability to choose an auto focus point besides the center
And here are the pros:
- Macro mode is fantastic
- Manual focus works well especially with Macro
- Large LCD screen
- Easy Panorama mode really is easy and the results are totally awesome
- Pet Portrait mode
- Menus are easy to navigate
- Surprisingly good performance at ISO 1600
- Very light and easy to carry around
- It’s RED!!!
You may have noticed I said nothing about the video quality, while I have taken videos on it I am just not a video taking person (I can’t scrapbook videos). From what I saw the video looked acceptable but it’s not a feature I really care too much about.
June 11, 2010
For our final project in our digital photo class Niel brought in a jar of fortune cookies. He asked each person to pick two cookies and told us to create a series of photos based on the fortunes inside. We could either combine the two fortunes or use one of the fortunes as our theme. Bryan and I both chose to do only one of our fortunes with his fortune being “Keep up the good health habits you already have.” He interpreted his project very literally and shot photos of activities he normally does such as walking the dogs, riding his bike and going to the gym. He added a twist to his interpretation by shooting all the photos from his perspective. Everyone in the class thought his idea was very successful and I totally agree.
May 23, 2010
Jamie and I have been pushed to do more creative work in our latest class then any of the previous classes we have taken. The most recent example being our “Truth is Stranger than Fiction” assignment. We each had creative blocks for a fairly long time before we came up with the ideas for our individual projects. Once we each decided on what to do the next challenge was taking the photos and editing them in the amount of time left. I personally was limited in that I didn’t have access to a pickup truck and so I relied heavily on the abilities of Photoshop for post production work. In the paragraphs to follow I will take you through the steps I took to make just one of my images. I will also tell you what I would have done (and may still do) to correct some of the less successful images.
My idea for the project was to take photos of myself on a couch that I am in the process of disassembling in my garage in various locations where you would not expect to find a couch. In addition I would be staring off into something out of the frame and have a gaming controller in my hands and a headset on. Seeing as I was crunched for time and didn’t have a truck I decided to take the background shots separately from the subject shots of me on the couch and then merge the two into a composite image in post production. This proved to be a difficult task as you can imagine.
The first step was for me to take the photos for the background settings. I wanted to choose settings where it would be strange for a couch to be sitting in the foreground. In addition I needed photos which had an empty space for me to place the subject. I took two such shots and then went into my massive library of images to find the other four. Fortunately I had many images with empty ground in the foreground. Why I have these photos, I don’t know but it worked out. Next I needed to take the shots of the subjects.
I dragged my old couch out of the garage and set up the shots. I put it in direct sun but didn’t worry about the background. I set up the shots but I had Jamie help with actually pressing the shutter while I posed. How the shots were composed did not matter as much as getting the couch in the frame. Once we got the shots of myself I posed the dog and stood behind him while holding his leash. The next step was post-production where all the magic happens.
The first step was to mask just the subject out of the photo so it could be placed in the background shot. I started this in Photoshop CS4 trial and during the process the trial ran out. I purchased Photoshop CS5 Extended and downloaded the trial to get me through the time between when I ordered it and when it arrived. This was actually good because the “quick selection” tool and “refine edge” dialog box became even better in CS5.
Something you can see in the photo is the new “Mini Bridge” which lets you browse as you would in Bridge except within Photoshop. One note is that if Bridge is not already running then it will need to start in order to show “Mini Bridge”.
I used the quick selection tool to select the subject. There are a few tricks to using this tool successfully. The first is to understand the two means of controlling how much it selects. These means are: 1) reduce or enlarge the brush size and 2) zoom in and move the tool more slowly. Another tip is to remember that it is called “Quick Selection” for a reason. There are times when you need to fix things with the lasso tool or other times when the magic wand works better. You should remember though that by default the quick select tool adds to your selection but you can just as easily use it to remove from your selection.
The next step I took was “Refine Edge”. You can access this by going to Select–> Refine edge or by clicking the “Refine Edge” button which is visible when using the quick selection tool. You can use this tool to expand the area of edge detection, smooth the edges of a selection, feather the transition of the selection edge, or adjust the contrast of the selection edge. The most useful part of this tool for me is the ability to expand the radius of edge detection as it is a really easy way to get a good selection of hair, fur or other uneven edges.
There are a few new options in this dialog box in the CS5 version. These include the “Smart Radius” check box, the ability to paint to expand the refine edge radius in certain areas, and the “Decontaminate Color” check box and slider. The “Smart Radius” check box will contract the maximum radius of the edge detection in areas where it does not need to be so large. If you need more control, you can now paint in to add to or remove areas of edge refinement. Lastly, “Decontaminate Color” will actually change the color of pixels to get rid of background color seeping through or light from a nearby object which reflected onto the edge of your selection. If you use this option then you are forced to output to a new layer as some of the original image information is destroyed/changed.
Once I completed masking out the subject (myself and the couch) I simply copied the image information and pasted it into the background of the new image as a new layer. This results in the object in the new layer being much too large in this context. In order to re-size the subject you can go to edit–> Transform–> Scale. Then hold shift as you change the size of the object. Holding shift maintains the aspect ratio as your re-size. You can also drag the object around while in this mode.
For this image this completed everything I did. Now the success of the image at this point depends on the quality of your selection as well as the way the lighting on each image matches or contrasts with each other. For instance this is how my image would look if I flipped the subject horizontally. You can do that from Edit–>Transform–>Flip Horizontally. Now the shadows are heading in the same direction, however I didn’t like this as much compositionally so I left it.
Depth of Field, Lighting, Shadows, and other challenges:
Some things which I needed to take into account in the project included lighting, shadows and depth of field. In this image I applied a blur to the subject because if it was completely sharp it would not make sense. This landscape shot had a focus point approximately at the hyper focal distance. This means things in the foreground have various levels of being out of focus. Still even with this applied this image appears just slightly unbelievable. To add to the realism I made a selection of just the foreground and pasted it in place on a new layer on top of the subject layer. Then I moved the subject so that it was sitting behind the foreground.
I realize that in order to fix all my shots I should have shot it in such a way as to eliminate shadows completely. Then the images where there was a shadow could be manipulated to reduce the contrast and exposure of the subject to match the background. Oh well, next time.
The final step that I could have taken to blend my images more convincingly would be to apply adjustments to the whole image. Here is what it would look like converted to Black and White with noise added.
What does it mean?
You might ask what does my project mean or what is it trying to convey. I guess it’s trying to convey that games transport you places. It could also be said to convey that people get sucked into gaming so deeply that they forget what is going on around them.
Jamie did the same project with a little bit different approach. She took multiple shots from the same angle and merged them together and then used layer masks to bring out the different locations of the subject. She also combined multiple images of the background at different exposures to create HDR (High Dynamic Range). Below is my completed project followed by hers.