Saturday, January 23, 2010

Portraits of John (updated)

John A is a retired university lecturer, a scholar in history and Christianity, former bike racer, and hobby photographer.


I'm very pleased with these, especially since I've barely ever done that kind of thing before. And I'm looking forward to more people work.

Canon 5D2, 85mm F:1.2. Canon flash with Lightsphere diffuser, dialed down 1.5 stop to let ambient light dominate.

Update: Some people, apparently including David Hobby of Strobist, claim that handheld flash-softeners like the LightSphere are useless. I think this is a stupid claim, as these pictures support. Sure, they have their limits,
but I'd really like to know which technique does not. OK, an off-camera flash system can do many more things, but it's more expensive, slower, clumsier, and sometimes simply not practical.

Portrait of me

My friend John A took this nice portrait of me. Thanks, John!

(I also took some of him, watch this space.)

With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell

With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell, article.
And in some cases, the free e-books work. Pamela Deron, a 29-year-old administrative assistant in Florida, said she downloaded a free edition of “Already Dead,” the first in the Joe Pitt series, onto her Kindle this month.
“There are so many authors out there that fall into obscurity,” Ms. Deron wrote in an e-mail message. “Simply no one knows of them, and some readers are hesitant buying an author they never heard of. Free books allow you to experience the writer as a whole, not just a small tidbit.”
She added: “Fifty dollars later, I have the entire Joe Pitt series.”

Steve W alerted me to the article, and says:
This model does work, or has with my wife. She has found three new authors by downloading a free book and then buying the remaining books in the series. Most likely she would have stayed with the free book from the library or Gutenburg had they charged for all of them. The last sentence in the article describes the wife to a T.


Reaching Escape Velocity (Kindle Edition)

My first Kindle purchase is Reaching Escape Velocity (Kindle Edition) by my ole pal Steve Roberts, who is the famous engineer behind the compact mobile home, the micro-ship.

The guy has some serious shit onboard. Check out this drawing. Note: the image can not be magnified (yet). It's a teaser, he says.

He writes about it here.

Photograph gathering on Trafalgar Square

Photograph gathering on Trafalgar Square.

'The use of Stop & Search without grounds for suspicion has been ruled illegal by European Court of Human Rights,' say the organisers. 'This ruling from Strasbourg comes as thousands of photographers are set to gather in London on Saturday 23 January to take mass action to defend their right to photograph after a series of high profile detentions under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.'

Friday, January 22, 2010


Ray has a Pentax X70 "superzoom" camera with 24x zoom.
Such cameras not for pros, and of course one can't expect the same image quality from such as lens as is possible from a, say, 4x zoom, but it's still a remarkable range to play with. Here are two pictures, zoomed all the way in and out. In the first picture you can barely see the subject of the second one at all.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Roscoe and Surya

Another stack arrived

Today another stack of small parcels arrived with the same mailman, an indian guy with thick glasses and a thicker beard. This time he sauntered into the hallway, saying "you're certainly keeping me busy, aren't you? What is it, are you buying and selling, or...?" And he tried to look past me into my apartment, maybe to see if he could spot any signs of smuggling operations or whatnot! :-)

Well, I laughed and turned it around, pointing out that the big postal delays early this month pushed deliveries together.

As it turns out, apart from "volume" 4 of American Dad, it was all the same: ink for my printer. I ordered a bunch this time, and they ship it in many small parcels, I think it is to avoid import tax, since they do business from just outside UK proper. Import tax is only levied once a parcel goes above a certain value (thirty GBP including shipping, I think).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

eBay rules

I think a good example of the great utility of the Internet is how eBay has become not just an auction web site, but simply a universal market place. Where to buy those plastic bags for making ice cubes? eBay. Where to buy strong sowing string? eBay. Where to buy a slide rule? eBay. Where to buy...? It's hard to think of anything which can't be bought on eBay, and with a known payment system, fraud guarantee, and quick comparison of prices and so on. And because of the Reputation system, most sellers bend over backwards to make sure you're happy, so you don't give them a low rating.

I have bought all kinds of stuff on eBay, and I've almost never been disappointed. One of the few times was a camera where the guy had shown a picture of a different sample in better shape than the one I got. I complained and got my money back from eBay.

BW tank and bridge

(Click for big pic.)

A Visit to Ansel Adams' Home

A Visit to Ansel Adams' Home, and talk with Ansel's son, video.

By the way, some purists use Ansel as an example of "pure photography" and somebody who wouldn't touch digital photography with a fire poker. But actually, nobody was more skilled at darkroom manipulation of photos than Adams, and before he died he showed strong interest in the then-embryonic field of digital photography.


Silber interviews a documentary photographer. Apparently he uses all kinds of cameras, including "semi-functional Polaroids and toy cameras".

Spit-and-tape super-tele

I don't know how the hell this works, but somebody has stacked lenses on a GF1 and made a super-tele out of it.

Cave of crystals

Mexican cave with the biggest crystals in the world. Much larger than humans.
There's a second video here, a bit dramatic in tone, but has more information.
The cave is dangerous to explore, the humidity and the heat are extreme.

Critic turns waitress for a week

Critic turns waitress for a week, article.
"But then there are all sorts of niceties I never could have imagined. When directing customers to the restrooms, for example, it's best not to point. Patrick recalls a woman who once took umbrage to this indelicate gesture. “I don't want everyone to know I'm going to the bathroom!” she hissed."

Paint or anodization

For anybody who might be interested in such matters:

I asked Bert:

"Can you offer an opinion as to why camera lenses are usually anodized black, but camera bodies are painted black? (I think the former looks better.)"

Bert answered:
Painting is definitely the cheaper and simpler to use process. It easily produces consistent, repeatable finish qualities on just about any surface type, and that pretty much irrespective of part geometry. Paint does hide minor surface defects, so the requirements for part preparation prior to finishing are minimal. Opaque paints (pretty much the norm) also have the unique ability to produce a uniform finish across assemblies of parts made of dissimilar materials, metal and plastic for example. On the con side, paint thickness is usually significant and non-uniform (tends to fill creases and small detail; smoothes sharp edges), making it difficult to use on precision parts.

Anodizing is used mostly with aluminum alloys, although it can also be applied to titanium, magnesium, zinc, and a few rare earth metals, but definitely not for ferrous metals (i.e. steel) or brass. Finish thickness is predictable, controllable and highly repeatable, making this the process of choice for high precision components. On the other hand, this process does little or nothing to hide any existing surface characteristics, so parts generally have to undergo some more-or-less extensive preparation (cleaning, etching, sand-blasting, brushing, etc.) if a nice cosmetic surface finish is desired. Finished surface appearance can also be strongly affected by even very minor changes in material composition or contamination, generally making it unrealistic to expect nice, uniform results on cast parts. Obtaining uniform results on parts with complicated geometries like a camera body can also be challenging because of the great localized variations in the electric field within the anodization tank (especially around sharp angles). This yields varying porosity characteristics, so the subsequent dyeing (coloration) may not always yield uniform results. Cosmetic anodizing is thus at its best on of regular, symmetrical, machined parts.

As you can see, the answer to your question is both simple and complex at the same time, as it lies within the strengths & weaknesses of each process. If you carefully study the characteristics and properties of various surface finishes, then the range of application for each one becomes pretty obvious. That is especially true since there is not as much overlap in applicability domains as it might seem at first glance. Sure, almost anything is possible if you really want it, but there are usually very few truly smart combination for any given situation.

In the case of camera bodies, only some small P&S units have an anodized finish because a soft aluminum shell is not really a handicap on such lightweight devices. Small cameras are seldom subjected to rough handling after all, and the shell is not a critical component anyway (it often only covers an underlying plastic frame).

On the other hand, heavier cameras like DSLRs are expected to withstand a lot more abuse, and I doubt that the paper-thin brushed aluminum covers found on their smaller cousins would do much good here. In fact, any material that I would select for my camera body of choice would likely be unsuitable for anodizing in the first place. And even if I were to insist on using some super-resistant aluminum alloy to produce machined bodies, the amount of surface preparation that would be required to obtain a beautiful anodized finish would likely be prohibitively expensive.

Aluminum lens components on the other hand are generally machined from high quality tubular stock. Lathe operations naturally yield the nicest surface finishes of all machining operations, requiring very little surface preparation prior to anodizing. In other words, such parts meet all the requirements for anodizing, whereas paint is almost immediately disqualified because of the very tight dimensional tolerances required for lens work.
Hope this helps,

Well, that makes sense. Unfortunately, because I would really have liked a camera body to match the beautiful black-anodized finish of the Pentax Limited lenses. They are all aluminium, no plastic or rubber, and gorgeous objects.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

35 Most Beautiful HDR Photos (?)

35 Most Beautiful HDR Photos? I think that's debatable, some may say they look like chocolate box paintings.

(Note: an HDR photo is one which combines multiple exposures to compress a very contrasty subject into one photo.)

Robb said:
HDR, if done correctly (usually it's not) can result in fantastic ranges of tones in a photograph. This technique was used by many photogs familiar with - and willing to do - in-camera masking.
Now we have digital tools, and many view HDR as a quick blast back to the days of LSD, photography wise.
Using the tools correctly is the key.

Absolutely. (I did not intend to sound like I dislike HDR photos in general.)

EmptySpaces points to this article in favor of good HDR images.

Rare photos of celebrities

Madonna and the Beatles as teenagers, and more.

Oh my gawd, look at Jane Fonda:

And little Natalie Portman! I'm amazed how recognizable she is.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thoreau on fashions

Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.

-- Henry David Thoreau

This is one of those all-time great observations.

And of course by "fashions", I think he didn't just mean "fashion" as in clothes and such, but rather all the ways people follow group thinking.

Michal returns (updated)

Michal Daniel has developed the first batch of pictures from his huge old-fashioned Arax camera. Rock and roll.

Update: not one to rest on his laurels, Michal has made a book of this!

Container Adventures

Pentax K-x, 70mm F:2.4, 800 ISO, F:6.3 or 8.0 abouts.
A bit of darkening or saturation done on some of them in Photoshop.

One of the reasons I keep buying cameras is that they keep making them in better quality and smaller packages. And I think that right now, the Pentax K-x with the 70mm lens is the best image quality I have seen from a camera that size, it's lovely.

By the way, the second image challenged my hyper-focal abilities, meaning that if I focused on the tank, the trees were not sharp, and vice versa. I'm not so sophisticated with depth-of-field scales and such, so I just focused on something which I judged to be roughly equidistant between them, and lo, it worked. A wonderfully crisp image.

A couple of tree pictures

K-x noise trial

I made these high-ISO tests for a friend who's considering upgrading to a newer Pentax DSLR, like the K-x. And then I thought they might be interesting to others. Even if you don't consider a Pentax, they will be similar to other contemporary DSLRs with a reduced sensor (which is pretty much all of them under $2000). Albeit the K-x, surprisingly considering size and price, is near the top end, according to reviewers.

I chose subject with shadow areas, since these tend to show noise more. And low depth-of-field for the same reason.

Note that I have turned off the noise reduction the camera does by default, since I've found that computer software does a better job (not surprising, given the demands of the tast). I have used Nik's Define, but others are good too.
If you leave the in-camera NR on, you'll probably get a quality which is in between what I show here before and after.

You have to click on them to see the differences.
Something which may not be clear in the resolution Blogger allows is that high-ISO downsides are not only about noise, but also less sharpness/detail. And noise-reduction, while it makes for smoother pictures, tends to make this worse.

ISO 1600, no noise-reduction:

ISO 1600, with noise-reduction:

ISO 1600, no noise-reduction:

ISO 1600, with noise-reduction:

ISO 1600, no noise-reduction:

ISO 1600, with noise-reduction:

ISO 3200, no noise-reduction:

ISO 3200, with noise-reduction:

ISO 3200, no noise-reduction:

ISO 3200, with noise-reduction:

ISO 3200, no noise-reduction:

ISO 3200, with noise-reduction:

ISO 6400, no noise-reduction:

ISO 6400, with noise-reduction:

ISO 6400, no noise-reduction:

ISO 6400, with noise-reduction:

ISO 6400, no noise-reduction:

ISO 6400, with noise-reduction:

I have put the link to the 28MB zip file of the full sized pictures in Comments.)

If you want comparison to other cameras, I recommend and for that. Also just googling around.
And 1001 has just posted links to a couple of similar tests.