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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nikon: Out of This World!

In advertising, testimonials carry a lot of weight.

As proof, take a look at the demise of Tiger Woods’ revenue since his recent dalliances became public. Not only has his income from endorsements taken a hit—it’s been estimated that the value of the companies he stumped for have dropped nearly twelve billion dollars. That’s billion, as in one thousand million. We’re talking nine zeros! That’s a lot of scratch! Perhaps even the cost of a space shuttle mission.

When I was a kid the sports heroes of the day were Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, however these baseball sluggers were eclipsed by a few heroes of greater proportion: The Astronauts.

Today, space exploration has become commonplace with Space Shuttle launches and landings garnishing just a few minutes on CNN. Back in the day, whenever a rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral my family would join the entire nation as we sat in front of our black and white televisions watching Walter Cronkite narrate history, and if the launch was during school hours the teacher would have one of the AV nerds roll a television into the classroom.

And for breakfast we drank Tang, because the Astronauts did!

A vintage Tang Ad
A vintage Tang Ad featuring the Gemini capsule

Today, despite graduating from corn flakes and Tang to Irish Oatmeal (or a spinach and cheese omelet ...yum!) and fresh-squeezed orange juice I still enjoy the thrill of a rocket launch. I thank the space program for the technical advances that allow me to sit at a laptop computer and share my thoughts with you.

So you can imagine my elation when I learned that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration placed an order for eleven Nikon D3S dSLR cameras, along with seven AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lenses. According Nikon and NASA press releases these imaging devices are to be used for photographic documentation. (Duh?)
Nikon D3 Camera
The Nikon D3s

The Nikon D3S cameras and NIKKOR lenses will be launched into space via the Space Shuttle. Upon arrival at the International Space Station (aka ISS) they will be used for various photograph activities. Nikon notes that NASA will make no special modifications to the cameras or lenses. These new bodies and lenses will be used right along side the existing Nikon dSLR cameras and accessories that already reside on the ISS, which include Nikon D2Xs dSLRs, and several Nikon speedlights.

Nikon has a long history with NASA:

In 1971 the Nikon Photomic FTN (specially designed to NASA specifications) was used on Apollo 15.

In 1980 NASA commissioned a "Small Camera", based on the Nikon F3 equipped with a motor drive, and an F3 "Big Camera", which utilized long rolls of film thus avoiding the need to reload. The "Small Camera" was also used aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia launched the following year.

In 1991 Nikon F4 and F4S cameras were delivered to NASA.

In 1999 the a Nikon F5 and AF Nikkor lens were carried aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery to photograph extravehicular activities. (Spacewalking!)

In 2008 the first digital SLR cameras were delivered to NASA. Six D2XS cameras are used in space to document activities such as inspection and maintenance.

According to NASA and Nikon approximately about 15 types of NIKKOR lenses (more than 35 lenses all together) are kept aboard the International Space Station for intravehicular and extravehicular photography to provide continued support for NASA's space activities.

So what does this mean to you the average earth-based photophile?

The same thing that Tang meant to me as a kid!

I’m jealous. Not only do the astronauts have a great job with a killer view, they get to use the best photo gear on earth, and supplied in copious quantities!

However I did stop and think about the needs of an orbiting photographer verses the needs of the rest of us. The astronauts are getting the Nikon D3s, a weather-sealed dSLR with full-frame 35mm CMOS 12.1 megapixel sensor. It will also shoot 24 frames per second 720p video and had slots for two memory cards. The D3s also offers a feature called “Live View” which allows the unit to be tethered to a computer and operated remotely. That’s a lot of camera and it ought to be since the price tag of five-plus large! Without the lens!

If you don’t need to shoot video and you realize that 10 megapixels are more that adequate I personally would chooses a Nikon D3000 which you can buy with a lens for 10% of the cost and you can still feel a kinship with our space explorers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

My Holiday Wish List

Whenever I read a write-up on a photographic accessory I always wonder about the motivation of the writer. Did he just get one of these do-dads for himself? Was the spiffy item a gift from the manufacturer in exchange for the embedded kudos?

Those are the thoughts that go through my mind when I read articles and reviews. Why shouldn't you think along similar lines? I wouldn't blame you. So here's the real deal about this posting: Being somewhat of a photo-nut I hear about lots and lots of photo-gizmos and gadgets. You should also be aware that having had the opportunity to play with so many cameras, lenses and accessories I've become numb to marketing hyperbole. Therefore... all the accessories I'm going to mention below are: THINGS I REALLY WANT!


First on the list are memory cards. Memory cards are the new "film" and as much as you can never have enough film, you can never have enough memory cards. If you've ever seen that dreaded, "Card Full" prompt on the LCD screen of your camera you know what I mean! Each year manufacturers of memory cards push the limits of storage. Merely a few years ago cameras would come with cards that were measured in megabytes, today cards that hold 32 gigabytes and more have become commonplace. So there is no excuse to run out of memory.

The coolest thing I've seen on the memory card front is the Eye-Fi card. Sold in 2 and 4-gigabyte models for still and video photography, the Eye-Fi marries a Wi-Fi transmitter with a memory card! Unfortunately they are available in SD format only and not Compact Flash.

Eye-Fi Cards

Eye-Fi cards store photos or video just like a traditional SD memory card, and even look like one. But they save time and make sharing easy through using your Wi-Fi network by automatic and wireless uploading of photos and videos from your camera to your computer or an online sharing website. You can even choose to upload only selected media, or all new media.

The Eye-Fi card comes in various models with various features. The models are named; Home, Share and Pro. By using the Eye-Fi Home card, you can upload photos wirelessly from your camera to your computer (Mac or PC). Mac users can upload directly to iPhoto. No cables. No hassles.

With the Eye-Fi Share card, you can also wireless upload photos to your computer and you can also share your photos with friends and family with effortless uploading to Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, or to one of over 25 other sharing, printing or social networking websites. Eye-Fi Video cards offer the same ease of uploading video and will also handle still photographs. And the Eye-Fi Explore Video card also gives you access to a lifetime of geotagging, and one year of Hotspot access. So you don't even have to be near your computer.

I have a friend in Chicago whose cable provider allows him to connect his television to Flickr and run a constant slide show of his photos. I imagine that with the Eye-Fi card he could have a party, photograph his guests during the party, and his guests could view his photos as they are shot. Very cool tech!


Nearly as annoying as running out of memory is running out of light. Photography is all about light and sometimes there just isn't enough of it. When you're faced with that situation adding some more light is the only solution.

There aren't many choices when you need more light. You can either turn on some room lights, or add a flash. A surprising number of camera's have built-in flash units. Some do not. I, of course, own a flash-free DSLR. Which is where the problem arises. Every camera manufacturer, Nikon, Olympus, Canon, Pentax et al, use different connections/systems for the flash unit to communicate with the camera's exposure computer. So you must buy a unit which mates to your particular camera. You're not limited to the flash made for your camera there are many other brands that will do the job just make sure that you're buying the unit for your particular brand of camera. And don't forget extra batteries.


Regardless of the camera you have, compact, DSLR or video, if you don't have a tripod you need one. Back-in-the-day the rule for tripods was "the heavier-the better". That is no longer the case unless you're a serious professional working in extreme lighting conditions.

As a snap-shooter you need a tripod for one main reason: to place yourself in the photo. You used to be able to place a camera on a stack of books or use a beanbag to get that shot but today's compact cameras are loath to stand by on their own. They're either too small or oddly shaped. I suggest that everyone that owns a compact digital camera buy a compact tripod like this pocket tripod.

table top tripod

If you're shooting video the main reason for a tripod is to stop camera shake, especially if you're using the long telephoto setting on your zoom. If you're shooting mostly video I'd also recommend a "fluid" head tripod. The fluid head is like having a tiny shock absorber in he tripod so as you pan and tilt the tripod smooths out the motion. You might also consider a fluid head tripod if you're shooting a lot of video with your still camera.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Camera of the Year, Perhaps the Decade!

When I was first interested in photography the major bell ringing, jump for joy, scream from the hills innovation was through the lens metering on single lens reflex cameras. No longer did the photographer have to read a hand-held meter then transfer the exposure settings to the camera. All he had to do was match two metering needles in the viewfinder or align one needle in a slot by adjusting shutter speed and/or F-stops.

Since then digital has surpassed film photography faster than anyone predicted, spurred on by improvements in chip manufacturing, sensor design and personal computers. And today's digital cameras offer myriad features to make personal and professional photography successful and satisfying. We have certainly come a long way.

Samsung gets my personal kudos for introducing the most innovative cameras of the decade, let alone the year. Going by the innocuous but accurate title of DualView, model numbers TL220 and TL225.

These innovative compact digital cameras feature Dual LCD screens, with a 1.5-inch LCD on the front of the camera, and a second one on the back of the camera. Giving you the ability to shoot a self-portrait without trial and error framing. I'll admit that there are a few high-end digital SLR cameras that have swing-out LCD screens allowing self-portraits but the DualViews are the first consumer level units to offer this feature built into the chassis. And both DualView models offer 12.2 mega-pixels resolution, which rivals some of the best DSLRs.

Dual View camera

Innovation doesn't end there. Take a look at the camera and you'll notice a distinct lack of buttons. There is an on/off button and the shutter button. The camera's controls are set on the touch screen; actually both touch screens.

If you want to shoot a self-portrait for your Facebook or MySpace page then just tap the front LCD and the camera will set itself to self-portrait mode. But that is not all it does.

Those picture-wise engineers designed a few spiffy idiot-proof features into these cameras. First is Samsung's Perfect Portrait System, which takes the guesswork out of shooting portraits. The key features of this system are Samsung's Smile Shot and Blink Detection. These cameras automatically detect when your subjects are smiling, and if their eyes are closed. THEN SHOOT THEPHOTO FOR YOU! Which, by the way, is really nice when you're framing at arm's length while looking at the inch-and-a-half LCD.

What if you're not steady enough to hold the camera at arms-length? No problem! Both DualView models offer Advanced Dual Image Stabilization (also known as IS), a technology that allows you to capture blur-free images. Dual IS combines both Optical and Digital Image stabilizers to produce sharp images. The Optical IS intelligently compensates for hand trembling by shifting the lens in the opposite direction. Not that you even need to know how its works, just that it does. And when the Optical IS isn't quite enough, the Digital IS automatically takes over to ensure blur-free images.

So imagine that you're in Paris during early spring and its cold up on the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. Your fiancé has just put that ring on your finger and you want a photo of the moment. You're trembling with excitement while shivering from the cold and you don't speak French. No problem! Tap the front LCD, frame and shoot. Not only will the dual IS system guarantee sharp photos but the 27mm Schneider-KREUZNACH 4.6x zoom optics (read: GREAT LENS MANUFACTURER!) will allow you to frame your life-changing moment with the entire Parisian vista. And it gets even easier!

Let's review because this is so amazing even to my photography-jaded mind I need to go over it again: once the camera is on, a simply tap on the front LCD and the camera is automatically set to Self Portrait mode with smile detection. This means that when you want to take that self-portrait, you only need to tap, frame, then smile. The picture will be taken automatically without pressing the shutter button. Samsung calls that feature the Smart Gesture User Interface (UI) with built-in Gravity sensor.

You would think that Dual LCDs, killer sharp optics, 12.2 mega-pixel resolution and touch screen controls would be enough but there's more, lots more.

Dual View camera When you photograph children the camera can show a Smiley Face, personally I'd prefer a tweeting birdie!

Samsung's Smart Face Recognition technology will memorize up to 20 faces and adjust the focus and exposure to the most high-ranked faces on the camera. This allows you to sort images by registered faces and scroll through to find images of people in your Smart Album instead of viewing every single photo.

With Samsung's Beauty Shot feature you can remove all the imperfections on your subject's face such as wrinkles, blemishes, and moles. Simply select one of two editing options and presto! Skin tone and complexion are evened out.

Another advanced feature is the Red-eye Fix mode. This in-camera feature automatically fixes the typical red-eye associated with the use of the flash, before the photo is produced, a significant time saver as you don't have to spend time afterward removing red-eyes from your photos.

Samsung's Photo Style Selector allows you to transform your photos from simple memories to works of art. Choose from a wide selection of artistic treatments ranging from classic black and white to something more vivid, giving you full control over the color tones of your image. Additionally, with Samsung's unique highlight feature, you can focus on one area of your photo and blur everything around it, turning a normal photo into something much more complex.

And it also shoots movies!

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Camera Do I Buy as a Gift?

The most common question asked of photography professionals is also the most annoying because there really isn't any correct answer. The question comes in a few different forms: "What is the best camera?" or "What camera should I buy?" or worse, "What camera should I buy for my _______?" Enter father, mother, brother, spouse or significant other in the blank.

A professional shooter knows that the best camera is the one that you have with you when you need to take the picture. However that answer will only alienate the dear friend or relative who is seriously looking to you for advice, plus cement your reputation as a smart aleck, joker or wisenheimer. I've have learned that the solution is to play detective and ask some questions before making a recommendation.

Will the user have any interest in learning the camera's operation? My father had me purchase a Canon PowerShot as a gift for my mother on her 80th Birthday. I dutifully researched the models and purchased a camera and small snapshot printer within the price range he indicated. My mother has never used the camera and it's my fault, kinda-sorta, I never realized that my Dad actually wanted the new camera for himself. My Mother has no interest at all in taking photos. This taught me that before you buy someone a camera you should ask if they would actually use a camera if they had one.

Another question I've learned to ask is: "What type of photos will this person be taking?" In other words, will Uncle Bob be shooting family snaps at social events and vacations or does he dream of being the next Ansel Adams or Richard Avedon? (The answer to the latter is to tell Uncle Bob to go and pick out a camera for himself while you buy him a necktie.)

Now that you're even more confused about which camera to buy I will simplify it for you: It doesn't matter! Every compact digital or advanced DSLR produces technically remarkable photographs. Chalk it up to globalization or advanced corporate espionage but the differences in cameras among the major brands are small and each manufacturer makes models to fit every price point. So as far as I'm concerned the most important question is, "What is your budget?" Which is a bit more polite than, "How much cash have you got?"

So you've decided on the budget and you're going shopping, the most confusing feature you'll encounter is Megapixels.

The biggest selling point that camera manufacturers use is the number of megapixels that their unit offers. It is a fallacy is that the more megapixels the better. Big megapixel numbers surely sound impressive, especially if you don't know what a megapixel is.

A megapixel is 1,000,000 pixels. To understand what a pixel is look at photo in a newspaper. Notice that the photo is made up of lots of little dots. In the old days of film photography we would have to convert the photograph to dots, they are called halftones. Today with digital photography the image from the camera is already in dot form, those dots are called pixels.

Television is where pixels came to being. Your standard television set has 425 pixels/dots top to bottom. If you are lucky enough to have a new HD television you have 1020 pixels top to bottom. In photography we measure pixels by how many are in an inch or how many there are in an image.

Most computer screens are set to 72 pixels/inch. A 1-megapixel file will fill your high-def screen and a 10-megapixel camera will give you a file large enough to fill the Diamond Vision screen at new Yankee Stadium.

If the only thing you do with your photos is print 4x6 photos for your album and load your images to Facebook you don't need a massive DSLR like a Canon 5D or Nikon D100, a Kodak Easy-Share will do you fine. And the beauty of these smaller cameras is that you'll always have it with you when you need it!

Now that you understand that massive megapixel capture is irrelevant unless you're making poster size prints or billboard you can settle on some other important things like what color camera you want. Yes, cameras are no longer just silver or black they come in colors!

Another important feature is the size of the screen at the back of the camera. The larger the screen the easier it will be to review the image, especially if you need glasses to read. In fact, if you need reading glasses you need to have your glasses on when you shoot. No way around that.

Here's the deal, photography is fun, if you're not having fun and capturing fun memories with your camera then something is wrong. Perhaps your money would be better spent on therapy and medication or an extended vacation. But then you won't have those vacation photos to share!

One final bit of camera buying advice; if you're young daughter is a big Ashton Kutcher fan and talks about him in those humorous Nikon television commercials then a Canon or Olympus just won't cut it. Buy her the Nikon she wants and be a hero.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Holiday Photo Advice

When Rod Stewart sang “Every Picture Tells A Story” he was lying. While an accepted fact that every picture should tell a story we all know that few actually accomplish it.

Holidays are about stories. Stories are the way civilizations pass the reasons behind its traditions to future generations and photos are the way we pass our personal stories to future generations. So when you take photos this holiday season keep in mind your responsibility to your descendants. (And all you thought you were doing was grabbing a few snapshots.)

Telling your story pictorially is not hard if you stick to a few simple rules.

1) Before you shoot know your equipment.

Don’t let that new camera sit in the box until everyone is already on his or her second course at dinner (or after you’ve had that second glass of Uncle Robert’s homemade wine). Take it out of the box right now. Unwrap all the memory cards, software discs, and wires, charging cables, manuals, guides, doodads and gizmos packaged with the camera. Find the Instruction Manual and if you’re lucky, the Quick Start sheet.

Next compare what is in the box with what is listed in the Instruction Manual or Quick Start sheet. This will accomplish two things, first it will allow you to familiarize yourself with all the camera’s parts and, just as important, see if anything is missing. Do not throw anything away!

Now charge the battery.

While the battery is charging read Instruction Manual to learn how to operate the controls, especially the On/Off switch and Shutter button. Don’t bother to look at the camera for the moment, there are plenty of pictures and illustrations in the manual, let the battery charge. Later you’re going to read the manual again with the camera in front of you, after the battery is fully charged. Did I mention to charge the battery enough times?

When reading the manual the second time around, with the camera in your hands, play with all the buttons and shoot a few worthless pictures then delete them.

In the history of photography cameras have never been more sophisticated yet simple to use. By reading the manual cold then going back to it again with the camera in your hands you’re effectively studying its operation and re-enforcing your memory. If you take this advice, when you have an operational question in the future you’ll pick up the manual to find that you already know the answer.

2) Have enough memory on hand (or film if you’re still doing that).

There’s nothing worse than having a magical moment appear in front of you and seeing that dreaded MEMORY CARD FULL prompt on the LCD screen.

Download your memory card’s contents to your computer! Buy extra cards. And never delete individual photos from the card to free up space. You might accidentally erase the entire card.

I don’t recommend permanently storing all your photos on cards since they are small (especially SD cards) and easy to misplace. Also dropping a card on a hard surface or exposure to the elements, especially magnetic fields, can damage them and make the pictures unreadable.

3) Tell your story.

A good story has three parts: a beginning, middle, and an ending. So shoot lots and lots and lots of photos. While its true that a seasoned professional photographer can tell a story with one really great photo you’re not under that kind of pressure. You can shoot everything. In a future blog entry I’ll give you some ideas as to what to do with all those photos.

Maybe your story starts with packing the car for the road trip to Grandma’s or dressing the kids.
If you’re going on a road trip don’t forget to take photos of the signs along the way. If you’re driving stop first or let your passenger grab the picture. I spent many years traveling by motorcycle and my favorite pictures (and best reminders of where I was) are of my motorcycle in front of a sign.

The author on a car trip to Las Vegas This is me on a car trip through the California high desert.

Breakfast Bears The sign at restaurant in Vermont where we stopped for breakfast.

Shoot the turkey going into the oven or even start your story with shopping for the turkey, especially if you’ve gone to a turkey farm and picked out a live turkey. Opening a bottle of Champagne makes a good photograph. Relatives greeting at the door also makes a great image. Pay particular attention to older friends and relatives, one day you might wish you had a photo of someone that is no longer around.

Mix it up. Take generational photos. Your oldest relative holding the youngest child. If you have photos from past holidays and the same people are together arrange them in a similar pose. Make that same photo every year.

Baby in Grandma's arms This is Gabe in Grandma's arms

When taking photos of people eating give them a chance to swallow their food. Stand up or on a step stool or chair when shooting across the table to minimize the table clutter in the foreground. Have people get close to each other, wrap their arms and get their cheeks together (both sets). If using a flash, arrange everyone in the same plane as people close to the camera will appear lighter than folks in the background. Learn and use the red-eye prevention setting and warn everyone to keep their eyes open and smile while the flash fires multiple times.

Move in close, either with your zoom or by taking a step closer. Fill the frame.

Take pictures while saying goodbye no matter how late it is or how tired you are. Pictures of children who have fallen asleep on the spot always look angelic (as opposed to the shot of Uncle Robert who’s passed out after the third glass of his own homemade wine).

Thanks to the digital photography revolution we no longer need to worry about the cost of each image and with rechargeable batteries we don’t have to worry about buying extra batteries. However if you’re really shooting lots and lots and lots of images, then having an extra rechargeable battery and a charger is a nice idea.

Shoot photos unmercifully now and delete the one with Mildred’s eyes closed later, ON THE COMPUTER, AFTER DOWNLOADING!

Thanks for reading my first blog entry and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Buddha and the Windsurfer

My Bro-in-law must like to take the tougher road. For a first career he became a cop (albeit in a peaceful/boring 'burb) then he married my sister and now, as an artist, he's decided to work in stone.

Lately he's also developed a serious windsurfing habit, which doesn't distract him from earning a living because he's semi-retired, and courtesy of the economic crash local wealthy folks aren't dropping huge amounts of currency into hiring him to build stone walls around their estates.

Recently he's been obsessed with carving Buddha and, as it turns out, Buddha is a favorite mascot for surfers - who woulda thunk?

I'm not sure how it happened but word of his Buddha carvings made its way to Windsurfer Magazine. So he requested that I shoot one of his Buddha carvings with his windsurfing gear and beat-up stone-hauling truck. I obliged happily .

Turns out that the windsurf rag ran the image. Of course the editor didn't pick the best shot (above) and then to add insult to injury they sent me a contract that offered $40.

I don't mind getting the measly $40 for a photo I did as a favor for a family member. What ticked me off was that the contract the rag sent me asked me to relinquish all rights in perpetuity for the image. Plus, they wanted my tax ID. For those of you unfamiliar with tax/income comings/goings - the feds only demand a tax ID if you've paid someone more than $600 in a calendar year.

Needless to say I redacted the contract eliminating their rights grab and sent them an invoice for the $40 stipulating ONE-TIME use as an accompanying illustration to one editorial piece.

Having been a publisher of a small circulation special interest rag (see my blog at RidersCramp.com) I understand the budget bit - but demanding ALL rights! Gimme a break!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stephen Colbert Nails Amtrak

The Amtrack Police arrested a photographer who was shooting photos for the Amtrak Photography Contest!

While this of itself is funny what's not funny is that fact that police departments across the country have used the "9/11 Excuse" to harass and arrest photographers who are not violating any rules. Recently New York City paid a $31,000+ settlement to a photographer taking photos of the a subway.

Thursday, January 1, 2009