Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
and a 
Happy New Year
to all!

. . . and now to go and watch Fiona unwrap her gifts. Maybe I'll post some pictures. I do hope you are all having as wonderful a Christmas as I am. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fuji HS10: the good, the bad and the ugly

Shot in California, lots of luck here. This would make a good enlargement.
I have had lots of hits from folk seeking information on the Fuji HS10. Even today, well after the release of the HS30 I am attracting attention. This is an add to this post, added in mid-December of 2012. My HS10 has had a lot of knocks and falls and yet it is still taking pictures. I'm a little concerned about its health but it seems to be aging well. My most recent HS10 images can be found here: Shooting Action with a Point and Shoot.

After about two and a half years of steady use, I can honestly say I still love my Fuji HS10. Note, I said, "I love it." I did not say I like it. The love I feel for my HS10 comes at a price not measured in dollars and cents --- as if love could ever be measures in such a crass manner. You give up a certain amount of control when you use a glorified point and shoot. There are times that you're at the mercy of your camera. Thank goodness it is a merciful little thing.

Love the moment, but it is clearly soft when enlarged.
If you are a serious photographer with goals of making huge prints and even possibly selling some of your work, this Fuji may not be for you --- especially if you shoot a lot of action stuff.

That said, if you are like me --- rather challenged in the money department --- then the Fuji HS10 is worth your consideration. I don't have to make large prints. If my pictures carry on the Web, I'm happy. If my image files are good enough to make good snap shots, I'm happy.

And when it all comes together, you can make incredibly large prints from the Fuji HS10 files and I am sure my best shots would look great published. It is just that I cannot be sure when shooting, not one hundred percent ---  especially when shooting action, that the picture being taken will be up to snuff.

The colour is off but I love the moment. It's a good file.
When I was a working pro, this was not good enough. My Canon EOS was expected to be perfect --- and it was. But it cost thousands, and that was without a lens. The bag of zooms I carried added more thousands to the cost of my kit and added lots of weight. The cost of camera bodies has come down but the cost of the lenses is still high, although if one opts for lesser quality lenses one can get by.

In other words, the choice isn't as clear cut as it once was. The spread in dollars is no longer as great but neither is the spread in quality.

In the end, I don't have the money.My back is failing. I don't have the health. But my shooting eye is as good as ever and I my love of photography as strong. My Fuji HS10 brings me great joy without being a burden.

I still shoot news, now for the Web. The Fuji delivers.
If I was just starting out in photography, if I wanted a good, little camera to learn about the art, if not the craft, of photography, I'd buy a Fuji HS10. Because this camera is essentially a point-and-shoot, much of the craft is handled by the camera. The art is up to you.

p.s. My Fuji has fallen at least three times. Once, it fell far enough, and hard enough, to scratch the viewing screen on the back. (I said, I was getting old.) Unlike me, the little camera has taken it all in stride, showing no signs of slowing down.

But I do try and take care of my little friend. I have a clear filter on the lens made especially for protecting the lens on a digital camera.

See it; Shoot it. I love my little Fuji HS10.

Google "Rockin' on: Photography" Fuji and check out some of the other pictures taken by this little camera and posted here.

So remember, this is an amateur camera and not a professional one. It suffers from shutter lag, and has some trouble with follow focus but it has a zoom that works just like the ones on the cameras owned by the big boys. If you shoot for the Web, this is a camera worth considering.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We still need the "darkroom"

Almost all pictures can be helped by a little Photoshop.
More and more newspapers are having their reporters take pictures. That's O.K. That's right, I think it is about time reporters shot some of their own art. Today's cameras make shooting a quick head and shoulders or a fast shot of a crumpled fender easy. I say free up the photogs for the stuff that requires a skillful photographer.

Just because reporters are now also shooters does not mean the paper can get by without trained photographers. Unfortunately, the folk in charge of today's newspaper chains can't see past the bottom line. If they could, they would still have lab staff. With the wet darkroom gone, these bean-counters let all the lab staff go.

And along with all the folk they showed the door, they also moved a lot of concern with picture quality out of the newsroom. Don't follow the lead of the newspaper folk. Set up a darkroom, an electronic darkroom, and "print" your pictures.

At a minimum, this photo needed white and black points set.
I use Photoshop. But I have played with Adobe Elements and Adobe Lightroom and found them very good for the price. On vacation, caught without Photoshop loaded on my laptop, I resorted to using ACDSee to enhance my images.

Compare today's two pictures. The top picture has been "printed" in the electronic darkroom (Photoshop). The bottom picture is just as it came from the camera. The difference is not always this dramatic but almost all images benefit from some "printing."

And now you know why, if your paper is like The London Free Press, why the images in your paper are occasionally so poor.

Addendum: I noticed that this post was hit by someone at The London Free Press. So, I quickly found an image shot by a reporter, John Miner.

In the old days a picture shot by a reporter was printed by the lab staff. When the lab staff was let go, the duty fell to the photographers. Now, with the photo staff severely chopped and under great strain, I'm not sure who enhances the pictures shot by reporters. From the looks of this example, the answer is no one.

John Miner's a bright guy, very talented. There are some nice things about his shot. The movement, the one foot off the ground and the other lifted. The flying snow. But the image is presented to the reader in a very poor manner. The picture says: "We don't care about quality."

I am not suggesting that John Miner or the photo staff should enhance this image. This could be done by the modern equivalent of the old lab staff and this would free photographers for shooting and free reporters for reporting. Both should be encouraged to be two-way people but with reporters the emphasis would be on the writing and with photographers on the art.

That said, if papers were using their staff wisely, they would be amazed at the untapped talent in their newsrooms. For instance, one photographer at The Free Press started out in a journalism course. Originally, this fine shooter wanted to be a reporter. As a double-threat person, a two-way person, this photographer would do a superb job if given the chance, and the time to do it right.

As I was saying, almost all images can benefit from a trip to the "darkroom."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Best point and shoot

O.K. I don't know what THE best point and shoot is. I don't know you, nor do I know all your needs. But the following are three suggestions as to great little point and shoots that in the right hands will keep a photographer busy capturing life's important moments.

Love that f/2.0 wide angle.
My first suggestion is actually two suggestions: either a Canon S95 or a Panasonic Lumix-DMC LX5. I own the Canon S90 and I am quite satisfied; It does what I expected. This means it is not perfect but it answers my needs.

My first need is a fast lens. In most cases, I do not like straight on flash photography. All too often, for 1/1000th's of a second you destroy the light and the shadow that drew your eye in the first place, and replaced that with harsh, straight on strobe.

Both the S95 and the LX5 have very fast, for point-and-shoots, lenses. At wide angle both can be opened to a maximum aperture of f/2.0. Nice.

Team a fast lens with a big chip and you have set the stage for a camera that can shoot usable images at ridiculously high ISO settings. Both cameras, I believe, top out at 12,500 ISO! If you think that's crazy, you're right. Images shot at such a high setting suffer, but they are usable.

Owning the Canon S95 has been a delight. The shutter lag is noticeable to me, but then I used a DSLR for many years with absolutely no shutter lag. If you prefocus the camera by depressing the shutter button half way, the shutter lag is maybe a fifth of a second.

A small camera is always handy. My Canon S90 is rarely far away.
 The Lumix LX5 seems to be Panasonic's answer to the Canon S95. And, although I haven't used an LX5, the specs and the reviews indicate that it is a fine response indeed. If size is all important, the smaller Canon wins. With a slightly longer lens, the Canon may again be your choice. But the Panasonic sports an 24mm wide lens rather than the Canon's 28mm, the chip in the Panasonic is slightly bigger and the LX5 has a lot of other nice bells and whistles to keep those with technological savvy more than happy. Check out the comparison of these two point-and-shoots on Snapsort.

Let me end this with some info from Dana Wollman's recent article in the Huffington Post. Note how Wollman starts right out by accenting the S95's small size when declaring the Canon the best point-and-shoot.

Pros: About as compact as a deck of cards, the S95 looks like any other point-and-shoot, but its photos are lovely enough that even people used to carrying bulkier, more advanced digital SLRs will be impressed. Although it's the same size as other cameras, the body feels particularly solid, well-made.

This camera from Canon Inc. has an unusually large sensor for a small camera, which means clearer, sharper pictures, especially in low light. It takes generally beautiful shots and does a better job of blurring the background than other point-and-shoots. The camera also shoots HD video (1280 x 720) and has an HDMI port, enabling people to connect the camera directly to a high-definition television. Serious photographers looking for a lighter camera will enjoy the various manual controls.

Under low light levels, the Canon S90 sings.
Cons: The S95's battery life is relatively short: Canon says it can take up to 200 photos on a charge, whereas competing models such as the Panasonic Lumix-DMC LX5 ($399) claim to take up to 400. The shutter button is small. Also, the S95's 3.8X optical zoom – about what you'd get on a $99 camera – might be too shallow for some people.

Let me add, the short zoom criticism also holds for the Panasonic LX5. And one should never leave home without a second, charged, spare battery. Never! I spent almost six weeks traveling across North America last summer and not once did I miss a picture because of a dead battery.

Since relatively short zooms may not answer all your needs, I know they don't for me. That is why I also own the Fuji HS10.

I love that little camera but note I said love and not like. It has some, what my wife would call, idiocrazicies. The time lag is truly annoying but when that little camera with its incredible zoom delivers, all is right with the world. There is a clunker of a work-around for the shutter lag problem and I've learned to rely on it but it is still a clumsy work-around. I talked about this in length here: Best Frame Capture.

A long lens is sometimes one's biggest need. Think Fuji HS10.
Of course, since buying my Fuji HS10 other camera makers have put out competing models. Still, all things considered, I remain happy with my HS10 and can't see dumping it in the foreseeable future.

You may have noticed one common thread here: Size. I carried a "door stop" camera for years for work. I don't want to lug a monster camera and bag of lenses in my retirement.

In the end, if you do your homework, you will love the camera you buy and you will make beautiful pictures together.

And if you want the 'marriage' to work, don't have a wandering eye. Lust destroys relationships.

Find the bright, clean light

Shot with my Canon S90. S95 is latest version.
My home is poorly lit. I'm green. No, I'm not a leprechaun. I'm an aging environmentalist.

This means that when I shoot pictures inside my home at night, I have a problem. I hate flashes. They destroy the ambiance, the light and the shadow that made the picture worth taking in the first place. Bit when I push  my cameras to high ISO ratings, even my Canon S90, I get a lot of noise. Not good.

The answer, if one has a camera with an external flash, is to use the external flash and bounce the light against the low, white ceiling. If you don't have such a camera, or don't have an external flash, you're almost snookered.

The only answer is to search the home for any small brightly lit patches and maybe one will be suitable for photography. I searched and I found one spot - my kitchen. The florescent lights are bright and daylight balanced. I encourage Fiona to play in the kitchen and when she does something picture-worthy, I capture it.

This attitude of watching for light that does the job, light that answers your photographic needs, is very important. Learn to watch the light and work with it. And if the light is wrong, if it is outside, one can wait. Remember, you have some control over when and where you take your pictures. Keep your options open.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Telling a photo story.

Canon S90 set to automatic and hand-held. Image enhanced in Photoshop.
London, Ontario, has a great ice pad at Storybook Gardens. The rink is scheduled to open this coming Sunday and staff are hustling to prepare a proper ice surface. The weather is cooperating, its cold, and workers are spraying the cold concrete with water.

Shot at dusk and the sky darkened in Photoshop.
But the beauty of the Storybook Gardens rink is not just its size, it's an almost kilometer long loops filled with gentle curves. The rink is situated in a park dedicated to well-known storybook characters and stories. Kids can find Humpty Dumpty in the park, and the Old Shoe that served as a home for the old lady and her brood, and more. In winter, Christmas lights add to the atmosphere.

It is a cool spot and recently I had the chance to get some images of the park prior to its opening.

The trick here is to try and tell a story. Clearly the watering of the ice pad is a core image. For this you must set some clear goals: The water spray must be backlit to make it pop in the dark, the pavement must be wet with puddles to reflect the colourful lighting, and the large size of the pad and its curved shape must be clear. Shooting at dusk makes this all just a little easier. The shutter speed is faster. Still, bracing the camera on any solid, suitable surface is an excellent idea.

The Christmas lighting must feature in at least one shot. The outline of a steam locomotive was the obvious shot but it was important to include of the curving ice trail in the picture. This photo essay is about a location and we must work to locate each picture, where possible.

After getting permission, I shot the train lights from behind. Note the rink.
I have often heard folk complain about the poor focus of their point-and-shoots. This can be a problem, I must admit. That said, I use point and shoots as I can't afford better. (I'm retired.) One trick that will work with almost all cameras is to aim the camera at whatever must be in focus, partially depress the shutter release (this causes most cameras to focus), and then with the release kept depressed you recompose your image and shoot. With today's oh-so-smart cameras you may have to watch the on-screen focus indicators to be sure that both you and the camera agree on what should be in focus.

Remember to shoot lots. This is especially true if you are shooting for the Web. You are not constrained by a finite expanse of paper on the Web, so take advantage of this fact. The rink can be seen behind the Christmas lighting locomotive but it is not especially clear. Punch up your photo story with one good image of the rink.

Photoshop is expensive. I own a copy because I am an ex-teacher and ex-photojournalist. At the least consider buying a program like Photoshop Elements to punch up you images before "publishing" your images on the Web. I like to think of this as electronically printing my pictures. Photoshop is my electronic darkroom.

Action's important.
Lastly, if you have any pictures in your files to round out your photo story, now is the time to dust off one or more of those images. Voila! You've told your story.

Oh, one last thing: Simple news pictures do not require model releases before publication. Even so, I often speak to the people in my images and make sure that they do not object to being in one of my online publications. If someone were to object, I would remove their image without argument.

To see how this approach worked with the same pictures presented on a different site, read my article on photostories posted on Digital Journal.