Monday, July 21 2003

Live Munitions!

The most popular content from is now back online: my large photo archive, consisting mostly of fully-clothed Playboy models. It’s in serious need of a complete overhaul, including rescanning every image to get rid of the worst mistakes that my flaky LS-2000 inflicted, but it’s back.

Of course, the whole collection was apparently posted to Usenet again last week, and I’m sure that a bunch of the pictures are being fraudulently sold on eBay this week, either as “real prints from the negative” or “copyright-free image CDs.” This, however, is their home, and having it back online makes it easier for me to file copyright infringement claims with ISPs.

Monday, August 18 2003

pictures on

This is a placeholder for comments from people viewing my photo archives. Now that I’ve got everything back online, I’m curious what people think of it.

Friday, October 10 2003

Minolta, Minolta, Minolta!

Pardon the shameless cheerleading, but I finally got around to hooking up my new film scanner (Minolta Dimage Scan Multi PRO), and it’s just too cool for words. These are the raw scans with the default settings; no Levels or Curves, no Unsharp Mask, just crop and resize (in iPhoto, no less; I didn’t even bother loading them into Photoshop). If a few quick snapshots at the zoo come out looking this good with no effort, I can’t wait to pull out the good stuff.

Even better, this was done on my shiny new 15” PowerBook under the last Panther beta, using Minolta’s standalone scanning app. 100% native OS X goodness, fully compatible with the latest version of the OS.

People familiar with my model photos will know how long I’ve been coddling my unstable and often-stubborn Nikon LS-2000. Five times into the shop, and it’s still a pain in the ass to work with. Worse, it’s SCSI, and while I could have gotten it to work when I migrated my graphics apps from a PC to a modern Mac, it would have been a hassle. The Minolta is a true plug-and-play FireWire device that I can turn on whenever I need to without rebooting.

Best of all, it’s a multi-format scanner, so I can finally make high-resolution scans of all the medium-format film I’ve been shooting. I’m doing some studio shoots next time I go down to LA, and I’m really looking forward to pulling out the RB-67.

update: Okay, it has one stupid feature. Like other film scanners, it has a locking screw that holds the head in place when you transport it. The only documented way to move the head to the lockable position is to use the supplied software (which would really suck if you packed up your office in the wrong order). You will search in vain for a button or menu item in the software that says “lock the optics”; you do it by hitting Ctrl-Shift-L on Windows, or Command-Shift-L on a Mac.

Sunday, October 19 2003

Featured model: Liz Stewart

After the famine, a feast. I’ve finally updated my picture site, posting the last scans I made before I abandoned my flaky Nikon LS-2000 for good. These are from a quick outdoor session with Playboy Playmate Liz Stewart, seventeen years after her centerfold.

I’ve met 200 or so Playmates, and Liz made my top-ten list about fifteen seconds after saying “hello.”

Liz Stewart

Tuesday, May 18 2004

Page 3: less real than RealDoll

Some people just don’t get it. Beverley Goodway got it. Alan Strutt? Doesn’t get it. (link NSFW in countries where women cover their breasts…)

I’m sure this woman is quite attractive. I’m sure that another photographer could show her in a flattering light. But I don’t think even Gen Nishino on his worst day could make her look any more like a department-store mannequin! That pose! That shiny skin! That cast-in-plastic expression! All that’s missing is a price tag on her thong.

Will the editors of The Sun please take away this man’s camera before someone gets hurt?

[local copy of NSFW image follows…]

(Continued on Page 1954)

Friday, June 18 2004

Where have all the FoundViews gone?

Someone forwarded the story of the “lone Chernobyl motorcyclist” to Steven Den Beste, which naturally resulted in a lengthy and interesting article that has very little to do with Chernobyl, motorcycles, or the common Internet tendency to share wonderful, unlikely things with everyone you know.

I’m going to go in a different direction.

(Continued on Page 1993)

Tuesday, August 24 2004

Vice advice on photography: only 80% nonsense

This is amusing for how it reveals the biases of (cough) “hip young media,” but outside of the context of submitting photos to them, it’s not worth much.

Sunday, September 12 2004

There goes my savings…

I’ve been so good recently. Really. My credit cards are clean, my home equity loan has plenty of headroom, I didn’t spend much in Vegas (although for a change I actually lost a few hundred, but still got the room comped), I haven’t gone wild on bike accessories like some Harley owners I could name, and I’ve even resisted the temptation to buy one of the new iPods to replace my now-obsolete 30GB unit.

So what happened? Minolta finally sorted out all the problems with their merger with Konica, and announced this:

Minolta Digital Maxxum 7

Full-frame 35mm CCD, 6.1 megapixels, optical image stabilization built into the body so it works with existing lenses, and based on the Maxxum 7 body. Pixel count might seem low compared to some of the alternatives out there right now, but this thing has been delayed for so long that it’s mere existence is good news, because it preserves my investment in lenses and flash gear. And 6MP is good enough for most common uses of 35mm, especially since I’ve been moving toward medium and large-format film for a lot of things.

My model shoots will work just fine at 6MP, and get processed for the web a lot faster. And the truth is that this thing won’t actually put much of a dent in my wallet; I’ve been waiting for it for quite a while…

Update: The official announcement is out now, with sample images and more details. This is a recompressed crop from a full-sized JPEG sample:

crop from Minolta 7D sample

Right now, the only compatibility limit they list to the image-stabilization is with the 16mm Fisheye and the 3x-1x Macro Zoom. I never bought the latter, and I can see why it would be tricky to stabilize the former. If it really does deliver the promised 2-3 stop improvement in hand-holdability with the rest of their lenses, though, it’s going to be a fantastic tool. With its matched 2x teleconverter, my 300/2.8 makes an excellent 600/5.6, but I’ve never been able to use it without at least a monopod. Very, very cool.

And then there’s the 500/8 Reflex, the 100-400/4.5-6.7, etc, etc. Actually, there have been enough times when I was losing the afternoon light while shooting ISO 100 film with my 80-200/2.8, that those three extra stops would come in handy for all sorts of lenses.

Nifty feature: RAW+JPEG, which allows you to record each picture in both formats, so you’ve got both a compact version for previewing, and an uncompressed, full-quality original to import into Photoshop (a 1GB CF card will hold ~76 of them). And they’ve put in a buffer big enough for 9 RAW+JPEG images shot at 3 frames/second. If you sacrifice the RAW image and adjust the JPEG size and compression, you’ve got a continuous shooting range of between 12 and 43 pictures at 3 f/s.

Only downside: APS-sized CCD, not full-frame (“wait for the 9D?”), so there will be some magnification from my lenses. On the bright side, this will reduce the cost a bit, and I’m not big on superwides anyway.

Minolta’s official sample images.

Wednesday, September 29 2004

Okay, this is cool

Mamiya has just shown off a 22 megapixel SLR body with a 36×48mm CCD. That’s twice the physical area of a 35mm film frame (which should produce visibly higher quality than the high-MP Canons and Nikons), although it will still have some magnification when used with Mamiya’s 6×4.5cm medium-format lenses, and even more when the digital-back version is used with their 6×7cm body and lenses.

Tuesday, March 1 2005

Why the Minolta Maxxum 7D is cooler than your Nikon/Canon digital SLR

Minolta was a bit late in producing a modern digital body that used their full range of 35mm lenses, and the 7D doesn’t have the raw pixel count that some of the others do. In addition to Minolta’s typically superior ergonomics, though, it has one very cool feature: optical image stabilization that works with almost every autofocus lens that Minolta has ever made.

I haven’t picked up a 7D for myself yet, mostly out of laziness, but a co-worker did, and I brought in some of my lenses to see just how well the image stabilization worked. The following image was shot handheld with the 500mm/f8 Reflex lens, and the full-size JPG (click the thumbnail for the 4MB version) is straight from the camera with no modifications (fine-mode JPEG; I didn’t change the settings on his camera, so I don’t have a best-quality RAW image).

That’s a very small bird, but I was able to grab a quite reasonable picture of it while just walking around outside my office with a cheap mirror lens. I own much better lenses, and every one of them will gain the benefit of the 7D’s image stabilization. Now I just have to buy one…

Thursday, April 7 2005

Epson PictureMate 4x6 photo printer

This is a great little product with one serious, annoying flaw. It prints extremely nice 4x6 borderless prints, with excellent color, but even if you send it a picture that’s been formatted to be exactly 4x6, something in the driver or the printer itself is increasing the image size slightly and cropping about 1/8th of an inch on all sides.

This is actually the same behavior people have been getting from traditional one-hour-photo prints for decades, but when you have complete control over the cropping on your computer, it’s a damn nuisance. It’s even more annoying when you’re printing out documents with narrow margins or pictures downloaded from the web.

A quick Google suggests that their tech support folks are clueless about this issue, and don’t actually understand the complaints they’re getting about it. [Update: those complaints must be old. I got a clear, correct response within a few hours. Sadly, it’s a “working as intended” feature, and they don’t mention workarounds]

My guess [confirmed by tech support] is that they’re fudging the image to cope with misaligned paper, so that a supposedly borderless print doesn’t end up having a border on one side. I’m going to create a numbered 1/16th-inch grid in a PDF file and see precisely what ends up on the paper.

Update: Printing this PDF (created by this Perl script) at various magnifications reveals that 95% is just about perfect, but small alignment errors may produce a tiny white border around the edge of photos. The print driver has some adjustments for paper positioning, which should allow you to get perfect, uncropped, full-bleed prints at 95%. Mac OS X applications that use the standard print dialogs should all work with this, including iPhoto.

Saturday, July 9 2005

Minolta Maxxum 7D glitch

[Update 7/23/05: okay, the rule of thumb seems to be, “if you can’t handhold a 50mm f/1.4 at ISO 100-400 and get the shot, spot-meter off a gray card and check the histogram before trusting the exposure meter”. This suggests some peculiarities in the low-light metering algorithm, which is supported by the fact that flash exposures are always dead-on, even in extremely dim light.]

[Update 7/22/05: after fiddling around with assorted settings, resetting the camera, and testing various lenses with a gray card, the camera’s behavior has changed. Now all the lenses are consistently underexposing by 2/3 of a stop. This is progress of a sort, since I can freely swap lenses and get excellent exposures… as long as I set +2/3 exposure compensation. I think my next step is going to be reapplying the firmware update. Sigh.]

The only flaw I’ve noticed in my 7D was what looked at first like a random failure in the white-balancing system. Sometimes, as I shot pictures around the house, the colors just came out wrong, and no adjustment seemed to fix it in-camera.

Tonight, I started seeing it consistently. I took a series of test shots (starting with the sake bottle, moving on to the stack of Pocky boxes…) at various white balance settings, loaded them into Photoshop, and tried to figure out what was going on. Somewhere in there, I hit the Auto Levels function, and suddenly realized that the damn thing was simply underexposing by 2/3 to 1 full stop.

Minolta has always been ahead of the curve at ambient-light exposure metering, which is probably why I didn’t think of that first. It just seemed more reasonable to blame a digital-specific feature than one that they’ve been refining for so many years.

With that figured out, I started writing up a bug report, going back over every step to provide a precise repeat-by. Firmware revision, lens, camera settings, test conditions, etc. I dug out my Maxxum 9 and Maxxum 7 and mounted the same lens, added a gray card to the scene, and even pulled out my Flash Meter V to record the guaranteed-correct exposure. All Minolta gear, all known to produce correct exposures.

Turns out it’s the lens. More precisely, my two variable-aperture zoom lenses exhibited the problem (24-105/3.5-4.5 D, 100-400/4.5-6.7 APO). The fixed focal-length lenses (50/1.4, 85/1.4, 200/2.8) and fixed-aperture “pro” zoom lenses (28-70/2.8, 80-200/2.8) worked just fine with the 7D, on the exact same scene. Manually selecting the correct exposure with the variable-aperture zooms worked as well.

These are the sort of details that make a customer service request useful to tech support. I know I’m always happier when I get them.

Tuesday, May 23 2006

Lost in translation: “bokeh”

Every once in a while, I suddenly remember that I’m studying Japanese, and that I have the resources to figure out what things really mean, not just what other people claim they mean. Usually, this involves song lyrics or anime dialog, but today I was reminded of the trendy photographic term bokeh, and decided to sort it out.

Googling the term will turn up dozens of sites that carefully explain that bokeh refers to the quality with which a photographic lens renders the out-of-focus area of images, with a mix of technical jargon and artistic handwaving, and tell you that “boke” is the Japanese word for blur.

There are objective, measurable differences in how lenses render blurred areas of the picture. Minolta even made a monster of a portrait lens specifically designed to produce glorious blur (I tried it out side-by-side with a conventional lens here). Once artists get hold of a word, though, there’s no telling what it might mean, and I’ve seen a number of pretentious explanations of the true meaning of bokeh.

So you’ll understand my amusement when I looked it up and discovered that boke actually means “out of touch with reality”. Less politely, “idiot” or “senile fool”.

The actual Japanese photographic term is ピンぼけ (for the kana-impaired, “pinboke”). It’s a compound word; pin from the Dutch brandpunt = “focus”, and boke from the verb 暈ける (“bokeru”) = “to fade”.

[update! a comment on the Wikipedia page led me to an alternate choice: ぼけ味 (“bokeaji”), which is a combination of ピンぼけ and 味 (“aji”), meaning “flavor”. Supporting evidence for that can be found on Japanese camera sites like this and this (second one mildly NSFW).]

Oh, and the real “Japanese word for blur”? 不鮮明 (“fusenmei”). A related word that might come in handy occasionally is ぶれ (“bure”), meaning “camera shake”.

Sunday, June 25 2006

World Cups

I just admire how thoroughly the photographer covered this little World Cup promotional tie-in. Two girls, two bikinis, two DVDs, seventy pictures. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Tuesday, October 10 2006

Aperture 1.5: fragile

My new MacBook is not the ideal machine for running Apple’s Aperture application, but it’s supported, and with 2GB of RAM, usable. At least, it would be if Aperture didn’t crash every five minutes on a brand new install of version 1.5, while just poking around with the supplied sample project.

I hope it will be more stable on my Quad-core G5, which is the ideal machine for this sort of application…

(or was, before the new Mac Pro came out; still, one can’t whine too much about the power of Last Year’s Computer, especially when it’s quite the screamer)

Friday, March 9 2007

Sony pre-announces pro and semi-pro SLR bodies

Sony’s first Minolta-compatible SLR was the A100, which was a rebadged and slightly improved Minolta 5D. They’ve now shown off prototypes equivalent to the old 7-series and 9-series bodies, which is good news for people like me with a significant investment in Minolta glass.

Monday, August 13 2007

VMware Fusion

I like Parallels, even if it can be a real memory hog, but even the latest version doesn’t have very good USB support. Unfortunately, there’s a Windows application I want to use that requires good USB support. Even more unfortunately, it will never, ever run under Vista.

Why not? Because Minolta sold off their entire camera business to Sony, who has no interest in updating the remote-control software for the Dimage A2.

I don’t currently own any computers that run Windows XP, and I don’t particularly want to. But if I ever find the free time to start playing with studio lighting again, I’ll want to remote-control the A2, and with XP gradually disappearing from the market, now’s the time to figure out how.

With the latest Parallels 3.0 build, plugging the camera in while it’s in remote-control mode locks up the virtual machine.VMware Fusion not only handles the camera correctly, it seems to use about half as much memory.

[Note that there is an abandoned open-source project to decipher the Minolta protocol and write a GUI capture tool. I’m not really interested in hacking on it.]

Wednesday, August 22 2007

Here’s a lawyer with big brass ones…

…and if he wins, you’ll be able to check them out for yourself. It seems a Florida man took some upskirt photos, got arrested for voyeurism, and now his attorney insists that he didn’t break any laws, because there’s no expectation of privacy in a public place.

It’s true that US law generally agrees that you can photograph anything that’s visible from a public place, but there are already a number of exceptions, and I suspect that shoving your camera into a private place is one of them. This argument might fly if she had deliberately exposed herself or worn a skirt so skimpy that a reasonable person would conclude that her underwear was supposed to be showing, but in all other cases, the perv’s gonna lose.

[And, yes, I’ve met a few of these guys. One of them worked in a camera shop and eagerly showed off a digicam that had the lens connected by a 5-foot cable. His exact words were: “perfect for my sneakies!”. (if I recall correctly, it was this model)]

Tuesday, December 18 2007

Apple Aperture: sluggish but useful

[Update: Grrr. Aperture won’t let you updateor create GPS EXIF tags, and the only tool that currently works around the problem only supports interactively tagging images one at a time in Google Earth. Worse, not only do you have to update the Sqlite database directly, you have to update the XML files that are used if the database ever has to be rebuilt.]

I’ve played with Aperture in the past, but been put off by the terrible performance and frequent crashes. Coming back from Japan, though, I decided to give the latest version a good workout, and loaded it up with more than a thousand image files (which represented about 850 distinct photos, thanks to the RAW+JPEG mode on my DSLR).

On a MacBook with a 2GHz Core Duo and 2GB of RAM, there’s a definite wait-just-a-moment quality to every action I take, but it’s not long enough to be annoying, except when it causes me to overshoot on the straighten command. The fans quickly crank up to full speed as it builds up a backlog of adjustments to finalize, but background tasks don’t have any noticeable impact on the GUI response.

My biggest annoyance is the lack of a proper Curves tool. I’m used to handling exposure adjustments the Photoshop way, and having to split my attention between Levels, Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, and Highlights & Shadows is a learning experience. I think I’ve managed so far, and my Pantone Huey calibrates the screen well enough to make things look good.

I have three significant wishes: finer-grain control over what metadata is included in an export, real boolean searches, and the ability to batch-import metadata from an external source. Specifically, I want to run my geotagger across the original JPEG images, then extract those tags and add them to the managed copies that are already in Aperture’s database. Aperture is scriptable, so I can do it, but I hate writing AppleScripts. I could have geotagged them first, but for some reason MacOS X 10.4.11 lost the ability to mount my Sony GPS-CS1 as a flash drive, and I didn’t have a Windows machine handy to grab the logs. [Sony didn’t quite meet the USB mass-storage spec with this device; when it was released, it wouldn’t work on PowerPC-based Macs at all, and even now it won’t mount on an Asus EEE]

For the simple case of negating a keyword in a search, there’s a technique that mostly works: the IPTC Keywords field is constantly updated to contain a comma-separated list of the keywords you’ve set, and it has a “does not contain” search option. This works as long as none of your keywords is a substring of any other.

I’ll probably just write a metadata-scrubber in Perl. That will let me do things that application support will never do, like optionally fuzz the timestamps and GPS coordinates if I think precise data is too personal. The default will simply be to sanitize the keyword list; I don’t mind revealing that a picture is tagged “Japan, Hakone, Pirate Ship”, but the “hot malaysian babes” tag is personal.

Monday, December 24 2007

Fast, Wide, Ninja

(all vacation entries)
Temple guardian, Toudai-ji

A big problem with temples and shrines is that they’re generally pretty dark inside. In many cases, even an up-to-the-minute digicam that has optical anti-shake and can shoot at the equivalent of ISO 1600 film speed isn’t good enough to get a sharp picture. And even when the picture’s sharp, there’s so much noise that it looks like crap. Flash is useless unless you brought along a pro rig that has an external battery pack, and tripods are usually forbidden. So, what to do?

I got a few decent indoor shots with my pocket digicam (a Canon IXY 2000IS purchased in Akihabara; domestically, it’s known as the PowerShot SD950 IS), but it was a crap shoot. If we hadn’t been with a group, I’d have taken several shots of everything and braced myself against something, but there wasn’t enough time.

Fortunately, I had my Sony a100 DSLR along, with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. It made the above shot easy, and the below shot possible:

World's largest bronze buddha, Toudai-ji

The first picture was shot at ISO 1600, 1/80th second, f/2. When zoomed to the equivalent focal length, the little Canon can shoot at f/4, which would have yielded a 1/20th second exposure. Not too bad, with anti-shake.

The second one was much harder: 1/8th second, f/1.4, right at the edge of the Sony’s anti-shake ability. The little Canon would have needed a full one-second exposure, which means a tripod. Even then, there were so many people walking around on the wooden floor that the vibration might have introduced some fuzziness. The Canon has an ISO 3200 mode that doubles the speed but cuts the resolution to 1600x1200, but half a second is still too long for hand-held, even with anti-shake.

You can extend your range by bracing the camera against a sturdy object, using a monopod, or finding someplace that you can set up a mini-tripod, but the most important things to have are fast exposures, wide-aperture lenses, and Noise Ninja; these pictures were a lot grainier before I turned NN loose on them.

I had brought a mini-tripod with me, but rarely had a chance to use it. Next trip, I’ll bring along my REI collapsible carbon fiber walking staff and a Bogen mini-ballhead, which makes a better monopod than most of the ones you’ll find in camera shops. It’s a bit shorter than I’d like, especially when used properly as the third leg of your human tripod, but it doesn’t scream “camera stand” when you’re entering a no-tripod zone.

And, to be honest, there are places where I wouldn’t mind having a walking staff…

Monday, January 7 2008

Noise Ninja

(all vacation entries)

I finally got around to making a proper noise profile of my little Canon camera, so here’s a quick sample of how well Noise Ninja cleans up an ISO 1600 image. Note that this is just using the default settings; it’s capable of more aggressive noise reduction, but that can eliminate too much detail in some images.


the view from Decks, Odaiba


[noise-reduced] the view from Decks, Odaiba

Wednesday, January 30 2008

Dear Sony,

[Update: Thanks, guys; the check is in the mail. More new-camera-porn here.]

Now that you’re releasing a 24+ megapixel full-frame 35mm CMOS sensor, don’t you feel a little stupid for making some of your high-end Zeiss lenses for the Alpha line APS-C-only? I doubt you’ve actually sold many of them, given the price and scarce distribution, but still, you had to know that full-frame was a requirement for a serious player in the DSLR market, and your recent announcements show that you’re not just keeping the low end of the old Minolta lineup.

Just to be clear on this: if you put that sensor into a body that’s the equivalent of Minolta’s 7 or 9 series (pleasepleaseplease a 9!), you’ve got a customer here already waiting in line.

Sunday, February 17 2008

Ume no hana

Ume no hana

The test last week in my Japanese conversation class covered some useful grammar, including “dou yattara” and “~ka dou ka” (also humble form, about which the less said the better). The structure of the test was that the tutors composed a number of questions in advance, and students were chosen to answer each one. Grading was subjective, but just understanding what you were being asked was as important as composing a grammatically correct answer. There’s no penalty for occasionally passing with “wakarimasen”.

One that stumped a few people was a very polite and grammatically annoying version of “where can I go to see plum blossoms blooming?”. After someone finally got it, I said “my back yard”. It’s not as fancy as a proper Japanese plum garden, but at least I’ve got some.

Tuesday, March 11 2008

Aperture 2: smells like boosters

Sad, really. Amazon finally delivers my Aperture 2.0 upgrade, and my first thought upon opening the package is, “wow, this manual smells like a freshly-opened Magic: The Gathering booster pack”. Not those cheap, modern, anyone-can-get-some boosters. The good stuff, from the old days, when people would line up around the block to buy a case, then get back in line to buy another one.

Oh, and I didn’t expect it to work, but no, it doesn’t support my old Minolta A2 in its new tethered mode. That was my second thought.

Wednesday, August 20 2008

Three points define a plane…

…four points define a wobble. Some months back, I left myself a note to buy the Manfrotto Modo Pocket camera stand when it finally reached the US. I had taken their tabletop tripod with me to Japan, but hadn’t used it much because of the overhead: pull it out of the bag, find a dinner-plate-sized surface to set it up on, take the shot.

I didn’t bother buying any of the other “quickie” mini-tripods that are out there, because most of them struck me as gimmicks first, stabilizers second. The Modo Pocket, though, looked eminently practical:

Small enough to be left on the camera while it’s in your pocket, with a passthrough socket to mount on a larger tripod or monopod. Usable open or closed. Solidly constructed, like most Manfrotto products. A design that derives its cool looks directly from its functionality. It’s even a nice little fidget toy.

What it isn’t is a tripod. If you put a three-legged camera stand down on a surface, it might end up at an odd angle, or even fall over if there’s too much height variation between the legs, but it’s not going to wobble. A four-legged stand is going to wobble on any surface that’s not perfectly flat, and is also going to be subject to variations in manufacture.

The legs on my shiny new Modo Pocket are about two sheets of paper off from being perfectly aligned, which means that it can wobble a bit during long exposures. Adjusting it to perfection is trivial, but even once it’s perfectly aligned on perfectly flat surfaces, it won’t be that way out in the real world.

It can’t be, because it has four fixed-length legs. This is a limitation, not a flaw. Just like it’s not designed to work with an SLR and a superzoom (it would fall over in a heartbeat), it’s not designed to replace a tripod. It’s designed to help the camera in your pocket grab a sharp picture quickly, before you lose the chance. I expect to get some very nice, sharp pictures with this gadget, and I don’t regret the $30 in the least.

Monday, November 3 2008

I’m tired of election “news”, so here’s Tokyo

Tokyo Tower from the Shinagawa Prince Hotel

For quite a while now, I’ve been meaning to go back and do some cleanup work on the small number of photos I shot out of our hotel room window. The one I originally posted just never looked right to me. This one is the result of some careful Levels work, combined with the updated version of Noise Ninja that works as an Aperture plug-in.

Friday, November 7 2008

Reflections on Tokyo

Here’s the reason I didn’t take a lot of pictures of the view from our hotel window in Tokyo, and why it took so much work to make one of them look decent:

Reflections on Tokyo

Yes, that’s the in-room television set that was bolted to a stand right by the window. I worked around it in later shots by covering it with my black jacket, but the correct solution would have been to put a rubber lens hood on the camera and press it right up against the glass (this also works with aquariums, if the glass isn’t curved).

There were three reasons I didn’t use the correct solution: first, I forgot to pack a rubber lens hood; second, it wouldn’t have helped anyway, because the hotel next door was lit up for most of the night, spilling light across the window that would have washed out any shots taken from that position; and third, because my little tabletop tripod wouldn’t have fit on the window sill.

Friday, April 9 2010

Big rock, little flower

Head-sized rock in Grand Canyon

Thursday, April 15 2010

I want some of these…

After a visit to the Cactus Garden at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory, this is one of the plants I want to have growing in my yard. I don’t know what it is, or how moisture-tolerant it is, but wouldn’t a front yard full of these make for a wonderful Halloween trick-or-treat experience?

Mystery plant from the Ethel M Chocolate Factory Cactus Garden

Sadly, the “factory tour” doesn’t necessarily include having the factory be operational; it appears that it’s currently a Monday through Thursday thing, so if you see it advertised as part of a Hoover Dam or Lake Mead package, understand that you may just see a shut-down food line, without oompa-loompas or chocolate rivers. Go anyway, if you have any interest in cacti or special prices on chocolates.

(the other must-have from the garden is what I can only refer to as a “balloon-animal cactus”)

Friday, April 16 2010

The Loneliest Balloon Animal

For some reason, none of the other balloon animals want to play with Prickly Sue…

Balloon-Animal Cactus

Thursday, April 22 2010

Now we are tree

See that crack in the rock that looks a bit like a tree? Click on the picture and take a closer look.

Tree growing in the wall of Red Rock Canyon

Friday, April 30 2010

Caption the squirrel…

squirrel sightseer

“Day three: still no sign of the bunnykin army, and my hay fever is killing me.”

Thursday, June 3 2010

Pennies from Sony

One of the first things I did when I got home with my shiny new Sony Alpha 850 camera was try to find out if it could honestly deliver on its 24 megapixel resolution. The image is 6048x4032, but does it actually resolve?

First off, is it physically possible? If you break out an optics textbook and do the math on a full-frame 24x36mm sensor, it is possible to keep the circle of confusion below the pixel size at apertures wider than about f/8. With a terrific lens. And a tripod. And a cable release. And mirror lockup. And no wind.

Mind you, the actual measured lines per inch matters far less to me than the fact that it’s a full-frame DSLR that takes all my old Minolta lenses; I’d have been perfectly happy with a 12-megapixel full-frame body, but since 24 is what’s available…

I didn’t feel like breaking out my big tripod or my good lights, so I settled for getting into the ballpark: a decent lens (Tamron 90/2.8 Macro) at 100% magnification, a sturdy table-top tripod, cable release, mirror lockup, indoors, available light. ISO 100, f/8, 6-second exposure. Developed from RAW using Sony’s app, resized and cropped in Photoshop with no other modifications.

(Continued on Page 3572)

Friday, July 16 2010

CNET, Slashdot, and Gizmodo fell for it, so it must be true!

Some guy bought some off-the-shelf parts and attached a Canon SLR lens to an iPhone, and without even releasing sample photos from his “iPhone DSLR prototype”, suckered several major sites into giving him traffic. The “tech bloggers” and most of the commenters are excited about the “potential” of this “cool idea”, going so far as to say that even if the initial results are low-quality, surely someone can refine it.

Optically speaking, this is precisely as cool as taping a 50-cent magnifying glass to your camera, just a lot more expensive and clumsy. It’s like putting on a pair of reading glasses: put a prime lens in front of another prime lens, and you get something that can only focus on nearby objects, with some amount of magnification.

Here, watch me turn my Blackberry into a large format view camera, with full movements!

(Continued on Page 3592)

Friday, August 6 2010

Dear Sony,

Most people don’t read much of the manual that ships with a camera. Some because they already know what they’re doing, and just need a few keys facts about specific features. Others because the quick-start guide covered batteries, power, and how to get at their pictures, and they really have no use for 90 pages of details on what every possible sub-menu does.

This, however, is no excuse for putting useless information into the manual. For instance, the descriptions you’ve chosen to explain the “image styles” in my a850, a high-end DSLR aimed at serious photographers:

  • Clear: For capturing images in a clear tone with limpid colors in the highlighted area, suitable for capturing radiant light.
  • Deep: For capturing images with deep and dense color expressions, suited to capturing the solid presence of the subject.
  • Light: For capturing images with bright and uncomplicated color expressions, suited to capturing refreshingly light ambience.

Compare to some of your other descriptions in the same section, where for instance the Vivid style is described with the words “saturation and contrast are heightened”, Neutral with “saturation and sharpness are lowered”, Landscape with “saturation, contrast, and sharpness are heightened”, and Night View with “contrast is attenuated”. These factual statements are followed by descriptions of their effect and intended use, where Clear, Deep, and Light are just fluff.

This is not a translation problem, because they’re fluff in the Japanese manual as well: “クリア:ハイライト部分の抜けがよく、透明感のある雰囲気に表現する。光の煌めき感などの表現に適 している”. This is about as clear as “limpid”, which is, ironically, as clear as mud.

dpreview’s test images from the optically-identical a900 suggest that Light and Deep are roughly equivalent to mild over/under-exposure, but sadly there’s no side-by-side of Clear and Light to see how they differ.

Tuesday, February 15 2011

Frog not included

Gelaskins makes very nice, colorful skins (with high-quality 3M materials) for a wide assortment of gadgets, and if they don’t currently support yours, you can measure it and make a custom order for the same price. I liked the idea, I just didn’t really like any of the pictures. Fortunately, they let you upload your own, or use any image that you have rights to.

I’ve taken a few photos that I’m quite happy with, so I went searching through my Aperture archives to find one that would work. To my surprise, the image I ended up liking the most was a test shot.

Right after I bought my latest camera body, the Sony Alpha 850, I went up to San Francisco to spend a day trying it out at the Asian Art Museum and Golden Gate Park.

I spent a lot of time fiddling with the silliest and most glorious lens Minolta ever made, the 135mm STF, which I was delighted to dust off after several years where its long focal length made it difficult to use with APS-sized sensors. Out at the park, though, I pulled out an old standby, the long-discontinued Minolta 70-210mm f4. This is a consumer-grade lens, but made back when that meant “serious amateur”, not “cheapest plastic crap we can throw into a bundle”. It’s a terrific walkaround lens, despite its striking resemblance to a 24-ounce canned beverage.

One of the photos I shot while walking around the Japanese Tea Garden in the park jumped out at me as perfect for a laptop skin and wallpaper. [210mm, f4, 1/250, ISO 640]

Frog not included

Wednesday, May 11 2011

I’m comfortable with the size of my lens

When I was shooting for Glamourcon, my rig was pretty silly. Heavy pro SLR with vertical grip, 80-200/2.8 lens that stuck out a mile, big honking flash with a belt-mounted battery pack, and a Newton rotating flash mount. Not so strange for a wedding photographer, but a bit over the top at an autograph show. I often didn’t have the footroom for the 80-200/2.8, so I’d switch to the old “secret handshake” 28-135/4-4.5, using just the 50-135 range with a decent hood. Still, the rig was so bulky that I’d ditch it in my hotel room as soon as I got all the official shots of the guests, and walk around with something more reasonable.

The only thing I owned that was bigger and heavier than the 80-200/2.8 was the mighty 300/2.8, which is great fun outdoors, but not suitable for grab-and-go shoots with models. More of a lug-and-go, really.

Which is why I found Jeffrey Friedl’s recent street-photography shoots intriguing, since they were shot with a 300/2. My 300mm lens weighs 5 pounds. His monster tips the scales at 16 pounds.

The price? “If you have to ask…”

[incidentally, IIRC I’m the one who first described the Minolta 28-135/4-4.5 as the “secret handshake of the Minolta user’s group”, so it was amusing to see the term used frequently in the reviews on the Dyxum site. It really is a terrific lens, but many people have been disappointed with their results; this appears to be a tolerance issue, where certain combinations of body and lens result in a touch of back focus, eliminating its sharpness. Mine was fantastic on three different bodies, and if I ever reclaim it from its current home, my new body supports per-lens micro-adjustments to eliminate any back/front focus issues.]

Saturday, May 14 2011


I was doing some lens-testing around the house this morning, and one shot in particular struck me as interesting for laptop wallpaper.

new wallpaper

Sadly, the result of the testing was that my 35/1.4 is busted; mechanically functional, but severe circular aberration wide open, and horrible back focus. My camera’s micro-AF adjustment can compensate for the back focus, but unless I want to shoot dreamy soft-focus landscape and architecture photos, it needs fixed or replaced. Sony’s current 35/1.4 lists for $1,369, or I can send it to the last remaining authorized service center for Minolta lenses, Precision Camera, for $250. If I don’t want to eventually pitch it, I might as well get it fixed now, while there’s still someone willing to do the work.

I originally bought it used, and it never seemed quite right, but most of the time I prefer to shoot with much longer lenses, so it didn’t bother me too much. Testing it with my newly-acquired LensAlign MkII allowed me to quantify the focus issue, and direct comparison to my other f/1.4 lenses made the CA flaringly obvious. Some of my other lenses benefited from a small micro-AF adjustment, but that was 1-3 units of tuning; the 35 was so far out of spec that it needed -18 units, and the scale only goes to 20.

My previous uses had been at f/8-f/16 at 20+ feet, which mostly masked the defects, but the LensAlign test was done wide-open at 2.9 feet, with only an inch of depth of field on each side of the focus point. And it was off by nearly an inch.

The picture above wasn’t shot with the bad lens, by the way. It was done with my Tamron 90/2.8 Macro (which, I discovered, falsely identifies itself as a Minolta 100/2.8 Macro!), and the lack of focus was deliberate. It’s a dusty old compact disc that was sitting on a shelf, reflecting the blinds from the nearby window.

Sunday, September 25 2011

Japan photos

For fun, I’ve been playing with Google+ recently. I remain invisible on Facebook, but the Circles design makes organized sharing more practical, and the various Google services also integrate nicely with my shiny new Android device, the Sony Tablet.

(oh, did I forget to mention the new toy? Full review soon, but the short version is that the most negative thing I can say about it is that you need tiny little fingers to retrieve the full-sized SD card; otherwise, it’s great)

Anyway, I ended up copying a bunch of the pictures from my 2007 Japan trip into Picasa, for when I get the urge to share a random picture.

Japan, November 2007

This version was exported directly from Aperture, so it didn’t pick up the geotagging I did before Apple supported that properly. I still haven’t tinkered with merging existing geolocation data into existing albums, but maybe soon.

Friday, December 9 2011

The only piece of camera gear I bought in Japan

The Ninja Reflector, which can be used either to keep room light and your reflection from appearing in a photo, or bounce a bit of extra light onto the front of the subject. They also have a full-body version.

Sadly, while it’s available at Amazon Japan, it’s flagged in the database as “can’t be shipped internationally”. The same thing happens to items like hand coffee grinders, which get treated as kitchen appliances.

On a side note, it was a real struggle to get out of Yodobashi Camera without a suitcase full of new gear. If the dollar had been where it was four years ago against the yen, I’d have been pulling out the reserve credit card…

Friday, February 10 2012

I’m almost glad my company hasn’t made it big yet…

…because then I’d have to talk myself out of buying the just-announced Sony 500mm f/4 lens. They stopped making the old 600/4 when they bought Minolta’s camera business, but the modern optical design of this should more than compensate for the slightly shorter focal length.

Of course, I’m still drooling over the Sony/Zeiss 135/1.8, and technically I could afford that one…

Sunday, March 24 2013

Dear Promaster,

The purpose of a camera strap is to keep the user from dropping the camera. The cheap little rivets holding this piece of shit together fail miserably at this task. Fortunately the camera only fell a few feet onto asphalt, rather than, say, off a cliff or into the ocean.

Thursday, July 25 2013

Dear Glamour Photographer,

Don’t get so distracted by Anna Konno’s hotness that you forget about the laws of physics.

Anna Konno, slightly deformed

(via the very, very NSFW Gazou Navi)