Solmeta N2 Geotagger
As a nature photographer, I think it is important to be able to identify and share where photographs were taken. In the future, I think good cameras will come with built-in geotagging capability just as most smart phones and some point and shoots have currently. But until then, photographers using a DSLR can’t enjoy that capability unless the add one of three (or more) ways of entering the location information into the EXIF data.
The Solmeta N2 Geotagger is one of those ways. There are many geotagging attachments for DSLRs, bu the Solmeta is the only one that I know of that is also capable of recording compass heading too. Working off of the satilite data like other hand held GPS units, the Solmeta embeds the latatude and longitude into the EXIF data for each image taken. The Solmeta does something else that other geotagging units doesn’t, it also includes the direction that the camera was pointing when the picture was taken.
The Solmeta has it’s own rechargeable batter and doesn’t draw any power from the camera until the unit’s power gets low. That allows a fast satellite acquisition. The actual GPS unit clips into the hot shoe bracket of the camera. There is a cord that goes from the GPS unit to the 10-pin connection on the camera that allows the unit to embed the data as the pictures are taken. Included with the purchase is a pass-thru adapter for the 10-pin connector so that you can still attach other accessories/flashes to the camera without affecting the GPS unit.
On the Nikon D300, it works great. The EXIF data for each image contains the coordinates and direction of each shutter activation. This can be used in a multitude of applications and programs such as Google Earth, SmugMug, and others. It’s interesting to see where each image was taken and it’s relation to other images taken.
The downside? (There’s always a downside!) It broke after a week of use. The cable that goes from the 10-pin connector on the camera to the Solmeta unit broke off inside the Solmeta breaking the circuit board inside the unit. In other words, it is NOT the strongest built accessory on the market.
Would I recommend it to someone else? Yes, but with hesitations and some conditions on it’s use. At under $150, it is a good investment and is very competitive in pricing, but it has to be handled with care and not knocked around. It almost has to be babied and that is NOT my style. As a result, I no longer am able to geotag my images, but am working on getting a new unit.
Posted 1 year, 10 months ago at 9:11 am. Add a comment
DSLR Camera Bubble Level
This is one of the best thirty dollars I have ever spent. I have a real problem when shooting keeping the camera level. Especially when hand-holding it for my shots. But even on a tripod, what appears level to my eye is off level just a little bit.
When shooting landscapes, I want my camera perfectly level so that when I compose the scene, I don’t have to worry about any edge being lost when I straighten the image in Lightroom. The JOBO Dual Bubble Camera Level does a great job.
It slides into the hot shoe on the top of the camera and has one level each for horizontal and vertical shooting. All you have to do is attach it to the camera, compose your shot, check the level, make any last adjustments to the camera level, and take the picture.
I have found that by using a tripod and the bubble level, my work has slowed down and I take the time to think my images through a little better.
If you are looking for a simple way to improve your landscape photography, this is a well spent thirty dollars.
Posted 1 year, 11 months ago at 12:33 pm. Add a comment
I have read/heard a lot about the auto-ISO function on cameras lately and everyone of the “experts” claim that it should never be used. I disagree. I think that sometimes, you have to trust your camera to make the an adjustment on the fly.
The picture above is from a community theater production of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. I shot the dress rehearsal for the troupe and had full access to the theater. Even with the full access, the lighting wasn’t good. Stage lighting never is.
I work with my camera on manual. That way I can set the aperture wide open to get the most light and still have a fast enough shutter speed to stop the performers movement. By using Auto-ISO, I only have to worry about the aperture and shutter speed for the image I am trying to capture and the camera will choose the correct ISO to get the exposure correct. As the lighting changes in the scene, the camera adjusts the ISO to compensate for the increase or decrease of light.
There is a danger in allowing the camera to choose the ISO. As the ISO goes up, the amount of noise in the image goes up also. The secret to using Auto-ISO is to know the limits of your camera. My Nikon D300 can produce good quality images upto ISO 1600. Above that, the noise gets to a point where it is noticeable.
At ISO 1600 and lower, the noise isn’t a big factor. Yes, the images aren’t great quality, but they are usable and that is the goal of shooting.
In answer to all of the experts who say not to use Auto-ISO: I agree, unless that is the tool that you need to capture the image you need in the situation you find yourself. Learn to use your camera as a tool and trust it to do the job it was intended to do.
Posted 1 year, 11 months ago at 12:25 pm. Add a comment
I was doing some photography for a community theater yesterday and was talking to one of the board of directors about using a camera. She said that she had purchased a Canon Rebel a couple of years ago, but had bought a point and shoot last year because she didn’t understand how to use the Rebel. Her quote was “I just put it on the green auto and then I don’t know what to do. Why carry a big camera when a small point and shoot will do the same thing?”
After some further discussion I figured out what she meant was that she didn’t know how to use the camera to utilize the features of the camera. She didn’t understand the relationship of the exposure triangle; shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. There have been plenty of books written about exposure, so I’m not going to go into it here. I will address how to wean your way from auto to full manual.
The first step is to GET IT OFF THE GREEN AUTO. But where to?
Start with the Program setting. It’s the same on Canon and Nikon cameras: P
Program is basically the same as the Green Auto, but you have some control over it. The camera’s computer evaluates the scene and picks the best settings to get the correct exposure. But you can change the settings; usually by changing the shutter speed. As you change the shutter speed, the camera changes the aperture to maintain the correct exposure. If you are looking through the view finder and watching the numbers at the bottom, you will begin to see that as you slow the shutter speed down, the aperture number gets bigger.
That is because the longer the shutter is open, the more light is let in. To compensate for that the camera makes to opening in the lens smaller. Likewise, when you use a faster shutter speed, the aperture numbers will get smaller because the opening of the lens is getting bigger.
If you experiment with the camera on P, changing the shutter speed and watching the aperture change, you can begin to get a feel for how the camera is thinking as it evaluates the scene in front of it. When you are doing so, take lots of pictures and start to look at how the images are effected by each change.
Once you feel comfortable with changing the settings on the Program mode, try Shutter Priority (S on Nikon and Tv on Canon). Again, watch the aperture settings in the viewfinder as you change the shutter speed. Remember, as you slow the shutter speed down, you will begin to see motion become blurred in the image and as you speed it up, motion begins to take on a stopped look.
You can also begin to experiment with Aperture Priority (A on Nikon and Av on Canon). Once more, watch the shutter speed settings as you change the aperture. Aperture is the setting that confuses most people. Just remember, the bigger the number, the smaller the opening, but the bigger the depth of field. In other words: if you set the aperture to f16, you are making a very small hole in the lens and letting less light through, but you are allowing more to be in focus. Conversely, if you set it to f2.8, you are making a really big hole in the lens, but you have a very short depth of field.
Think about the affect of aperture when you are taking a portrait. If you set the aperture to f2.8, your subject will be in focus, but not the background and the shutter speed will be very fast. A setting of f16 will result in everything being in focus and a slow shutter speed.
When you feel comfortable with those, try Manual. Again, its the same on both Nikon and Canon: M. In this setting, you control everything and this is where photography gets fun. Lets say you want to take a picture of a person walking. You want some blur of their hands and feet as they moved and you want to isolate them from the background. You would use a slower shutter speed (maybe 1/15) and a more open aperture (possibly f4).
You can find more about using a camera on this post at the Digital Photography School
Posted 2 years ago at 12:43 pm. 1 comment
I have been listening to some podcasts recently and the debate of the merits of digital vs. film keep popping up in the conversations. I honestly don’t think this is even a topic of discussion. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Both have hidden costs and expenses. And both are embraced by many as the only acceptable way to capture an image.
I see it very similar to the way that Ken Rockwell discusses it in his post about the subject.
Neither is better on an absolute basis. The choice depends on your application. Once you know your application the debate goes away. The debate only exists when people presume erroneously that someone else’s needs mirror their own.
The question really is: What are you trying to accomplish when you take the photograph? Which do you like to work with?
In one of his posts, Chris Marquardt states that he has tested over 15 different cameras including different formats of both digital and film and admits that what he has learned has influenced his photography. The reasons he lists include aspect ratio, the focusing ability of the camera, the sound of the shutter, and the weight and size of the camera.
That all makes sense. Aspect ratio definitely influences how we see and view the world. The weight and size of the camera will determine how far off the beaten path we are willing to go for the image. The sound of the shutter may not be noticed in some situation, but will ruin the atmosphere in a scene in others. And the ability of a camera to focus can determine how quickly we can capture what we see and therefore determine what we shoot.
In a post on The Luminous Landscape, Charles Cramer discusses the quality of 4×5 inch film compared with a Phase One medium format digital back. He includes images showing quality comparisons. There is an obvious difference between the two, but in different ways. Film seems to have better resolution than digital, but digital has better color. Again, what are you looking for in a photograph?
With digital, you can shoot a lot without paying a any money for each image. If you use film, you pay for each exposure in film and development costs. On the flip side, digital requires a expensive software expenditure. If you buy a new camera, the current version of the software you are using may not support your model of camera. Digital cameras can become obsolete, while a film camera will continue to be viable as long as you have film.
Going back to Ken Rockwell’s statement, what are you trying to do with your photography? Once you have decided that, you can make the decision as to what medium you want to use.
The debate about digital vs. film will rage on, but remember, there is no right or wrong answer. There is a good, better, and best solution for you. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.
Posted 2 years ago at 1:34 pm. 3 comments
I bought the Nikkor 50 f1.4 as an all-around, keep-on-the-camera lens. I wanted something that would work in low light, I could use everyday in most situations, and was small and light. The cost was a plus at under $250.
It is a very light, small, and easy to carry and store/pack. It is usually on my camera at all times. I like being able to pick up my camera and having a lens that is fast enough to capture what I am seeing in just about every situation. It has become my “walk-around” lens. I’ve really learned to use this piece of glass as both a challenge and a tool.
The lens brightness is a great tool. It may be a little soft at f1.4, but at f2.0 to about f11 (maybe f16), I find it tack sharp.
The challenge comes from a fixed focal length. A 50mm lens isn’t limiting, but it does make you think your image through. You can’t zoom (unless you use sneaker zoom) so you have to frame and compose the image very carefully. The shallow depth of field at the more wide open apetures makes it a little easier to be creative.
It takes a little getting used to working with prime lens, but that is both the fun and the challenge.
A weak point of the lens is that it isn’t a Silent Wave Motor lens and uses the a screw drive from the camera body. This means that 1) your body must be able to focus the lens. Not all can. 2) It can be comparatively louder than other lenses. Also, I sometimes find that it doesn’t always focus when the camera is moved in small amounts.
The bottom line is that it’s a great all around fast piece of glass that is capable of taking some great images.
Posted 2 years, 1 month ago at 10:45 am. Add a comment
The Lensbaby Composer is not a lens that you are going to use everyday or even very often, but it does have a creative place in a photographer’s kit. I think of it as an inexpensive, weird version of a tilt/shift lens.
Wheel Taken with a Lesbaby
The Lensbaby is very simple in concept. An element is placed in a ball and socket type of flexible container. The lens is not ground so that the image is not sharp throughout the image, but so that the farther away you go from the center, the blurrier it gets. The photographer can determine how sharp the image is at the edges by inserting a magnetic aperture ring in front of the lens. The different apertures are stored in a container attached to the magnet used to remove the rings from the lense. Like in a normal lens, the smaller the aperture, the more sharp the image from edge to edge.
Using the Composer is not difficult, but there is a learning curve. The whole purpose of the lens is to add creative blur to an image. By moving the ball and socket portion of the lens, you can move the location of the sharp area in the photograph. I refer to it as the sweet spot. It takes practice to learn how to move the lens so as to place the sweet spot on the subject.
Focus is also an issue. The Lensbaby doesn’t have an automatic focus system, so you have to focus manually. This takes practice to focus the lens and move the sweet spot to an off center point. I have found that if I focus on a subject and have the sweet spot at the center of the lens and then move it to the point I want it in the frame by keeping the lens pointing at the subject while turning the camera, I get good results.
Crankshaft Taken with Lensbaby
As for the images that the Composer produces, they range from awesome to bleh. I think the subject matter has a lot to do with it. I have found that textures work real well. Also, the amount of blur can be controlled by the use of the aperture rings. Creative use of aperture is needed to produce nice results. I have found that there are some people who like the blur created in the images and others who really don’t like the blur. There seems to be no in between.
With a price around $250, it is a lens that is within reach of almost all photographers and should be considered if you are looking for a way to jump start your creativity and have some fun with your photography. If you do, you will understand why their Twitter name is @SeeInANewWay.
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Posted 2 years, 2 months ago at 1:08 pm. Add a comment
This past weekend I made a monumental error in the execution of a photo shoot I had planned. It wasn’t a particularly difficult or technical shot, but it was derailed by one small error.
The plan was to travel to San Diego’s Balboa Park and shoot the city skyline with the storm clouds clearing behind it at sunset. The park has a bridge that goes over the freeway and from the bridge, you can see the city. At dusk, the lights of the cars would snake into the city, the building lights would be lit, and the sky would have some character.
Everything went as planned. I packed my gear. I made the one and a half hour drive. I was in position at the correct time. And I had my camera set up and was ready to go. Just one small problem. I looked through the viewfinder and saw -E- on the display.
For a moment I panicked. I rechecked my settings. Then I stopped for a moment and thought. My camera said I didn’t have a memory card. I opened my camera and my heart sank.
I had left all of my memory cards in the middle of the living room floor. That’s right, EVERY memory card was back at home.
That’s when I remembered that I had just gotten done downloading the images of the play I shot last week from my card to the computer and then I packed my gear. I thought about bringing all of my cards in my Pixel Pocket Rocket, but thought that would be overdoing it, so I left them at home. Along with the card that had been in my camera.
What was my result? I packed up my gear, headed toward the car, and drove home. When I arrived, there were my cards. Sitting on the floor in the middle of the room. Mocking me.
Lesson learned? Follow the checklist. Body, lens, batteries, CF cards, gear for intended shoot, extra gear. That’s my quick packing list. I skipped it and paid the price.
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Posted 2 years, 2 months ago at 1:44 pm. 5 comments
The exposure is controlled by three important settings on your camera. Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
The first two can affect the feel and focus of your image. Slow the shutter speed down to give the feeling of movement. Speed it up to freeze the action. Open your aperture up and create a shallow depth of field causing the subject to be the only thing in focus, thus drawing the eye of the viewer toward it.
Shot at a slower shutter speed allows the motion of this actor to be blurred as he does his flip.
By using a large aperture, the singer is in focus and the background is slightly blurred.
Shutter speed and aperture have a huge influence of the artistic side of the image, but ISO is the setting that can make or break the picture. It controls the quality of the image and, when used right, can allow the photographer to use the other two settings to match the image to their vision.
Setting your camera to a low ISO, like 200 on Nikons or 100 on Canons, allows the highest image quality available from the camera, but it limits the sensitivity of the sensor. This can make the fast shutter speeds or small apertures that a photographer is looking for in some situations, hard to achieve. Especially high shutter speeds.
Remember, you should be using at least the reciprocal of your lens length. So if I’m shooting with a 150 mm lens, I should be using at least a shutter speed of 1/150 of a second in order to not introduce any camera shake into the image.
I was in a high school theater to shoot the images used in this post. The stage, even when under full light, was dark. As a result I had to use a very large aperture (usually 2.8) and a low shutter speed for the lens I was using (70-200), but by raising the ISO from my normal 200 to 1600, I was able to raise the shutter speed up to a point that helped eliminate camera shake and get most of the shots I wanted.
The trade-off? High ISO settings can introduce a lot of noise into an image. If you know the limitations of your camera, you can reduce the affect of the noise in your images. My Nikon D300 produces good images up to ISO 1600, so I was able to set the ISO at 1600 and still get usable images.
At this size. the image still looks good even at ISO 1600
You can see in the image above that the higher ISO setting doesn’t affect the quality that much, but if you click on it, you will be able to see a larger version and how the noise is beginning to affect overall quality of the picture. But even then, it isn’t that bad yet.
Don’t be afraid to raise your ISO to get the image you are trying to capture, but be aware of the possible affects it is going to have on your pictures. It is one of the tools we have as photographers and if we know how to use it, changing ISO can help.
You can read more about ISO settings at The Digital Photography School and The Digital SLR Guide websites.
Please feel free to leave comment and tell me what you think.
Posted 2 years, 5 months ago at 10:30 am. Add a comment
Even the best tripod in the world is worthless if you use a cheap ballhead to secure the camera. I choose the Markins M-20 for a variety of reasons.
I looked at several other brands. I considered the Really Right Stuff BH-55, the Arca-Swiss Monoball-Z1, and the Kirk BH-1. On the Nikonians, most of the regulars liked the Markins M-20 and they have a great article comparing the most popular ballheads on the market at the time. You can read it here.
There is a great table that shows all of the weights, heights, load capacitys, and costs of the different ballheads. Markins was the obvious choice. It was the lightest by about a 1/2 pound. The Markins holds 88 lbs. of gear on the ballhead, which is second behind the Arca-Swiss by 2 pounds. I have no plans on putting more than 88 pounds of gear on my tripod. It is second lowest in height, only 5mm higher than the Really Right Stuff and it is the lowest priced ballhead by $15.
The performance of the Markins is great. Once you have set the basic tension for the ball so that it is adjusted to your specific camera weight, you tighten the small indented dial that is on the front of the main tension knob. After that is done, your tension can’t loosen up any more than than you set it at. That prevents your equipment from flopping around when it is at it’s loosest tension. You can tighten it down more, but not loosen it until you undo the dial.
It takes a little practice to be able to ge the tension just right to the point that the camera is easy to move but still stays in the position you leave it. When you find that sweet spot, the ballhead is a joy to use.
The camera is secured to the ballhead using a Arca-Swiss type of groove and rail system and there are two ways of securing it. One has a lever that tightens the clamp and the other a knob. I wanted the lever system, but now I’m glad that I got the knob because I feel that it is more secure than the lever method. I have read posts where the lever gets caught on something and opens by accident and the causes the camera to fall off.
There is also knob that tightens down the panning of the ball head. It is a great way to quickly move from side to side while the camera is still locked down.
Are there problems with the ballhead? Yes, but none that are really significant or cause me to want to replace it. The biggest problem is that when it is moist or misty outside, the ball can stick a little. A little WD-40 took care of the problem. Also, it took some time to figure out the best position for the knobs so they were easy to reach, find, and work with while in the heat of shooting. I found that having the clamping knob point to the rear of the camera is the best idea because if you put it under the lens, it can be difficult to get your fingers in and get a grip to loosen the knob. One time I had to use a pair of pliers to get the camera off of the tripod. The only other problem that I have encountered is that the panning knob can be hard to tighten once in a while.
Would I recommend the Markins M-20? Yes. Without reservation.
Posted 2 years, 6 months ago at 11:05 am. Add a comment