Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Exit . . . No Exit

The title of Jean Paul Sartre's existentialist play was "No Exit".  Last night, for unknown reasons, I was confronted with a series of "EXIT" signs that reminded me of Sartre's play.

All were taken with the Leica M 240 and 50mm Summilux lens.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Photographing a city scene at night

I have been waiting for the spring trees to fill out with some leaves before taking this series of night photos of the Arcade and Bethesda Fountain in New York's Central Park. The renovated arcade is now fully lit and provides a beautiful mosaic frame for the angel fountain in the background.

The evening was slightly overcast. When this happens the sky will usually go quite blue, as it did here. The interior lights were tungsten and tended to the warm yellow end of the color scale. In fact, when I measured it, the interior scene balanced out at around 2500 degrees Kelvin, while the exterior was a high 9800 degrees kelvin. This is a very wide spread and resulted in a very warm interior and very cool blue exterior. I did cut down some of the exterior blue in post-processing.

The other problem I had was that this is a popular place in the park for street vendors, buskers, and tourists so the scene was very populated. I dealt with that by selecting a very slow shutter speed. That way, as people moved through the scene they blurred themselves out and I only had to make a few retouching  corrections to cover them up.

An exposure of 20 seconds blurred the people who were moving throughout the scene. I used an aperture of f/11 to gain good depth of field and a ISO of 200.  I carefully positioned the camera in the center of the arcade to emphasize its symmetry.  I kept the camera position low to give more emphasis to the ceiling detail and less to the ground because it is less important.  The camera was a Nikon D800 with Nikon 24-70mm zoom set to 24mm.

A slow shutter speed of 13 seconds blurred the people in this shot, but also gave a nice blur to the flowing water in the fountain. Nikon D800 and 36mm focal length.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nikon G lens to Leica M 240 adapter

Today I received the adapter I ordered to connect a Nikon lens, including G lenses, to a Leica M 240 -- combining two of my favorite camera systems. The interesting thing about this adapter is that it allows you to open and close the aperture of the G lens.  Since I shoot both Nikon and Leica professionally, having this adapter will allow me to bridge the two systems.  I often carry both a Leica and Nikon system with me when I do travel photography.

Adapters like this are readily available on eBay for around $45. Nikon G lenses do not have an external aperture ring. To use them you will need an adapter that can open and close the lens diaphragm. Adapters are also available that do not synch with a G lens. Make sure you have the right one if you plan to pick one up. Note that on the adapter photo below there is an external ring with the words "Lock" and "Open" on it.  Turning this ring opens and closes the G lens aperture.

I didn't expect any of the lens data to make its way to the final image, and was surprised to learn that the camera was at least able to figure out the aperture that was used. There are no f/stop markings on the adapter and the control ring moves smoothly without any clicks so you can't use it to count the stops. What I did was rack the diaphragm open, note the shutter speed, and then slowly close the aperture while watching the shutter speed change.  Each change in shutter speed indicates a corresponding change in the aperture.

The "lock--open" ring on the adapter turns to open and close the Nikon G lens aperture.
The new EVF (electronic view finder) on the Leica M 240 is going to make connections like this possible. I expect to see a flood of such adapters becoming available.

Here is Nikon's latest 70-200mm f/4 G lens adapted to the Leica M 240.  Not only does it work, it works well!
Here are a couple of sample images that show the results you can expect.  There is a link below the image to download a high res version.

This photo and the one below were both taken with the new Nikon 80-400mm lens mounted on the Leica M 240.  Click here to download a full res version.

Click here to download a full res version.

Click here to download a full res version.
This sort of precise alignment with the sun just peeking out from behind the blossoms was hit or miss using a rangefinder viewfinder. The new EVF finder on the Leica M make it as precise as on DSLR.  Taken with the new Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens.

The new World Trade Center is seen out of focus in the background of these blossoms taken with the new Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens on the Leica M 240.
A new Nikon 80-400mm zoom lens mounted on the Leica M 240.  Awesome!

I suppose the most important thing I can say about this adapter is that it works. It was made in China, not to the most exacting standards.  While it fit snugly on the Leica -- maybe even a bit too snugly -- I did detect a bit of wobble on the adapter-to-lens side. This didn't seem to cause any problems with resolution, as the sample photos above will attest, but it is disconcerting. Hopefully, as the new Leica M 240 enters the mainstream, other manufactures will come out with more precisely machined adapters.

I will use this adapter primarily for mounting long telephoto lenses or a macro lens onto the Leica.  I don't see much reason for using it with mid-range lenses where a real Leica lens would be a much better option. Of course, that said, I did try it out with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 zoom, and found it quite handy to carry as an all around lens.

I prefer using the long Nikon lenses on the Leica as opposed to the actual Leica-R lenses because the R lenses rack out much more than the Nikon lenses do beyond the infinity setting.  I find this makes the R lenses more difficult to focus on the Leica M 240.

Top of the new World Trade Center taken with the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 zoom.  Click here to download full res version.

Taken with the Nikon 24-120mm. Click here to download full res version.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Show and Tell
From time to time I will post a "Show and Tell" image as a thought provoking exercise with little comment other that the technical details.

"The Red Pipe" - taken with Lieca M and 35mm Summilux ASPH lens

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Backlighting for portraits

Backlighting is undoubtedly my favorite form of lighting for portraiture. It is soft, flattering, and forgiving.When used properly, it lends a light and delicate feeling that enhances the model by down-playing blemishes and wrinkles, and eliminating unflattering shadows. The only trick to using backlighting correctly is in having proper fill to compensate for the severe exposure differential between the model's face and the background light.

Backlighting can be supplied by window light, a tungsten of flash light source placed behind the model, or with a bright sun situated behind the model instead of in front. In fact, on bright sunny days I often prefer to turn the model away from the sun and use a strong fill to compensate for the lighting differential.

This photo is back lit by soft window light, which you can see in the background. I placed two large reflectors in the foreground to kick light back onto the model and even out the exposure. The soft, delicate backlighting is very bright and airy and enhances the subject matter of mother-baby.
The only tricks to backlighting are to make sure you have proper fill, and are properly exposed. Most cameras set to automatic exposure will try to underexpose the scene. You may need to switch to manual and take a spot reading directly from the model to achieve the correct exposure. Of course, with digital cameras you can readily see what you are doing on the viewing screen.  You want a light that is balanced enough to keep the subject bright but also to have enough fill to bring in some detail in the background.

Autofocus is often an issue in backlighting because the scene is usually very low in contrast with potential for flare, both of which hamper the ability of an autofocus system to grab onto a contrasty area it can use for focus. In situations like this, the camera might hunt for focus, meaning it will rack in and out incessantly while searching for an area of sufficient contrast. A good camera and a lens with a large aperture will help.  I use Nikon pro cameras such as the D4, D800, or D600, all of which have exceptional autofocus abilities.  On top of that, for portraits I usually use an 85mm f/1.4 or 105mm f/2.8 lens where the large aperture provides extra contrast in the focus areas.

This scene is lit with a single tungsten lamp placed behind the model. That along with the plain white dress she is wearing make for a very difficult auto focus scene.
I usually use at least two, very large 4' x 6' collapsible reflectors for fill, such as these by Lasotlite. The reflectors have a white side and a side that is a mix of shiny silver and gold. It is important to have this silver/gold mix to achieve a neutral color balance from the reflector. A square rather than oval shaped reflector provides more illumination.When used in their vertical position, such reflectors provide even illumination from head to toe. While it is important to place a reflector to bounce up some sunlight to fill shadows, it is equally important to guard against using too small a reflector placed too low as this will result in a false glare to the light.

I place one reflector on each side of the model and as close as I can go together without having them enter the shot.

In this severely backlit situation there is enough reflector fill to light the model's face and maintain detail in the sheer curtains. A weaker fill or no fill would have resulted in loosing the sheer curtains entirely.  You can look into the model's eyes to see the position of the two reflectors I used, one on each side of the model.
Proper handling of backlighting is all about balance, achieving sufficient fill to evenly light the subject while also allowing some of the background to come in to provide a soft sense of place.
In all the examples provided here, it is obvious that backlighting provides a very soft, even, bright flattering light. Having a good digital camera with extensive dynamic range will make the job even easier to handle.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

 Walden Pond

I went back to Walden Pond to capture some images of early spring for the year long project I am doing on Thoreau and Walden. Unfortunately, I was too early for the spring flowering. There were only a few early buds around. I did, however, manage to pick up some shots of other life at the pond.

Thoreau was interested in detailed observations of life in the woods and pond and examined nature up close. I used a macro lens quite a bit to explore the close-up nature he would have seen and to capture some scenes he described in his journals.

Just as I was leaving the pond these mallards obliged my by swimming out towards the middle.  Their wake formed a composition echoing the shape of the reflection from the background shore in the pond.
I was shooting directly into a very hot sun for this photo.  The pine cones in the foreground were in deep shadow.  So I took 6 exposures at one stop intervals, and fused them later in post-processing. This resulted in full detail for the sun and the deep foreground shadows of the pine cones. Taken with a Nikon D800 and 18-35mm lens at f/22.
Thoreau specifically described looking through the clear water of the pond at life on the bottom, which is why I took this photo.

For this photo, I held a pine cone in my hand directly in front of the late afternoon sun and pond, and opened the aperture for shallow depth of field. I also over exposed the shot to enhance the flare, open the shadows, and emphasize the pastel colors.

This photo and the one below were of the few instances of new spring life I found in the woods. I put the camera directly on the ground and composed the scene using live view.  This allowed me to position the leaf against the bright out of focus background.
I brought along this early edition of Thoreau's Walden book to photograph on the forest floor.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nikon D5200 camera
a hands on review

Nikon's two highest megapixel DX cameras are the D7100 and D5200. Both have a 24mp sensor. What came as a surprise is a recent sensor review on the DxOMark website that rated the D5200 higher than the D7100 -- admittedly only by a point, but higher nonetheless. It is currently the highest rated APS-sized camera and actually rates higher than all Canon pro cameras, including the full frame models.  This peaked my interest enough to make me take a look at this consumer camera to see whether it lives up to the hype.

Unlike the D7100, which is considered a semi-pro camera, the D5200 is smaller, with a body frame built mostly of plastic. Like all Nikon consumer cameras, it can only autofocus with the more modern Nikon lenses. Nikon's pro line of cameras are built of rugged, weather sealed metal bodies, and can accept almost every Nikon lens ever made. Of course, the D5200 camera body costs under $800, which is a far cry from the price of Nikon pro bodies. So the end result is pro results for a less than pro price tag.

The Nikon D5200 shown here mounted with a Nikon 40mm macro lens.
A lot of what makes a digital camera deliver professional results is also determined by the optics you choose to put on it. For the purposes of these tests I used better quality Nikon glass rather than the kit lenses usually sold with consumer cameras. The reason I did this is because I am doing my review from the point of view of a professional photographer who might want to use a camera like this as a spare, as a "crash" camera, or as a very light weight occasional camera.

One convenient feature of the D5200 that is not even found on professional Nikon bodies is the flip out viewing screen.This makes the camera handy for reaching into tight shooting spots, overhead shots, or ground level setups.

A ground level shot like this is easy to achieve using a flip out screen while the camera is resting on the ground.
The focusing screen has 39 focus points, 9 of them cross-type, that cover a very large part of the overall frame making it very easy to find a point to place on the subject. The viewfinder shows approximately a 95% coverage.

The frame rate on the D5200 has been raised to 5fps as opposed to the 4fps on its predecessor.

Like the D3200 and D600, the D5200 supports the WU-1a wireless remote plug-in so the camera can be controlled from a smart phone, or tablet, or upload to social media.

As already mentioned, the D5200, like other Nikon consumer cameras, cannot autofocus with all Nikon lenses. Autofocus is limited to AF-S and AF-I versions of G and D lenses.

The camera is very small, (5.9"W x 3.9"H x 3.1"D (129x128x78cm) and weighs only 1.11 lb (505g).  This diminutive size makes it very convenient as a casual carry around camera for a pro -- or anybody else for that matter.

In this photo you can see how much small the D5200 is in comparison to an FX Nikon D800 on the left.
A very practical information screen on the viewfinder makes up for the lack of many manual control buttons and wheels. The display is intuitive, and easily adjusted by highlighting any of the display items and changing it.

A graphic information screen also acts as a means of making menu selections. Push a button and the display across the bottom becomes interactive allowing you to change any of the displayed items.
Of course a camera is only as good as the resolution quality it can deliver. Let's take a look at how well it performs.

The still life scene below was intentionally set up to mimic a tough lighting environment for high ISO shooting. The scene is lit from above with available room lights casting harsh shadows. These shadows are the telltale place for analyzing noise at high ISO's. Below each photo is a link you can use to download the full resolution image. All photos were taken in RAW but no post-processing was added. The ISO range goes from 100 to 6400 in one stop increments.  ISO 1250 and 2000 were added in because they are in the more practical upper range where modern cameras tend to peak out as "acceptable" in terms of ease of fixing in post processing.

ISO 100 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 200 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 400 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 800 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 1250 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 1600 - Click here to download high res image.

ISO 2000 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 3200 - Click here to download high res image.
ISO 6400 - Click here to download high res image.
I found very little noise correction to be necessary up to the ISO 1250 and 1600 range. After that, noise reduction software was necessary but had a very easy time of producing an acceptable image, even as high as ISO 6400. Of course, excessive noise is also a product of how much you intend to enlarge the image. For most practical uses, where you might be down-sizing it, noise is very low and not visually intrusive, and even ISO 6400 would make a fine 8x10" print.

Below is a version of the above scene after it went through post-processing. Click below it to download a high res version.  I think you can see that the results from this "consumer" camera compare very well with what can be achieved by top professional models.

This is the scene after it has been worked on in Photoshop.  Click here to download a high res version.
The kit lens for the D5200 is a Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G. While not on a par with Nikon's pro and semi-pro lenses, it is nonetheless conveniently sized and adequate for casual usage. I like having one of these lenses around for times when I just want a portable camera for things like family events. As mentioned previously, image quality is mostly a product of how large you intend to use the photograph.

A single candle lights the face of the model, a very difficult low light scene with the ISO set to 3200. Click here to download a high res version.
The images above demonstrate how the camera performs in the worst of circumstances. Opening up the deep shadow would reveal extensive noise, which is to be expected in a situation like this. The following examples were taken under more ideal lighting conditions.

ISO 400 with Nikon 24-120mm lens. Click here to download high res.

The new version of Nikon 80-400mm lens becomes the equivalent of 120-600mm, and makes a perfect combo for wildlife photography.
ISO 200 with Nikon 80-400mm lens. Click here to download high res.
ISO 1250 with Nikon 24-120mm lens. Click here to download high res.
ISO 1100 with Nikon 24-120mm lens. Click here to download high res.

It's small; it's light weight; it has a plastic body -- all typical qualities of a consumer camera. Inside, however, it has a sensor and features that perform like a pro. All the features that make the D5200 a consumer camera also make it a perfect choice for professional use in tight quarters, mounted to a helicopter drone, or attached to a moving vehicle to record video.

In terms of resolution, color accuracy, dynamic range, or low light shooting  the D5200 performs up there with the best of them yielding professional results that out-class many top professional cameras. The D5200 is a top flight camera at the right price. What's there not to like?