Monday, December 27, 2010

My Nifty Fifty

In previous posts where I've mentioned Depth of Field (or Depth of Focus), I'm sure I've bemoaned the lack of aperture in my standard kit lenses?  Well now I have my 'Nifty Fifty' with an additional 3 f-stops (taking me from f/5.6 at 55mm on my 18-55 zoom, to f/1.8 on the 50mm), so there is more opportunity for bigger and better things, DOF-wise... (and bokeh, and hand-held low-light shots, etc.)

So what is a 'Nifty Fifty'?
Basically, it's a 'prime' lens with a fixed focal length of 50mm.  Prime lenses have a fixed focal length such as 50mm, as opposed to zoom lenses, that have variable focal lengths, such as 18-55mm.  Prime lenses usually have better maximum aperture than the equivalent focal-length on a zoom lens.

And why is it 50mm?
Well, when combined with a full frame dSLR or a 35mm film SLR, the 50mm lens approximates the field of view of the human eye.  This made the 50mm lens a very popular choice in the pre-digital days.  Now, with entry level dSLR cameras having sensors that are smaller than a 35mm film negative, the size difference impacts on the 'effective' focal-length of the lens.  This size difference gives an adjustment factor of around 1.5 to 1.6, which makes the 50mm lens behave approximately the same as a 75mm lens on a 35mm film SLR.  This is a pretty good focal length for portrait work, so the nifty fifty has found a new niche as a portrait lens with entry level digital photographers - like me.

Giving it a go...
Anyway, I gave it a few tries this morning - keeping it seasonal of course.  Obviously, I wanted to use the full power of the f/1.8 aperture, and focus as close as possible for maximum effect.  I set the camera up on the tripod, set to aperture priority and f/1.8, and focused at the minimum distance (45cm).  Then I hunted around the Christmas tree for a suitable bauble to capture. Initially, I tried with no lights, just to see how much light f/1.8 would capture - it worked, but today was a bit overcast and even with f/1.8, the image was 1/10 second and the bauble was moving very slightly after I accidentally knocked the tree while setting up the camera, so I got a little motion blur (you can't see it at this size, but it's there when you zoom in - trust me).

Then I turned on the tree lights to help decrease the shutter time, and also to provide a bit of bokeh (though you can see some already from the natural light in the picture above).  I love this cute little snowman peeping out from inside one of the balls.

I'm struggling a little with the manual focus at the moment, but I'm sure it'll come with practice, otherwise I'm loving my new lens, and looking forward to the opportunities it will open up for me (no more excuses, eh?)

Till next time
Happy Snappin...


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Still just about Christmas Day here in Aus as I write this quick note to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I am over the moon - I got a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens and a Lowepro kitbag from my family.  New toys to play with :D  Hopefully, I'll be able to post some pictures in the next few days, perhaps something taken with my new lens.

Hope you are on Santa's 'Nice' list, and that he is kind to you.  Let me know if you got any Photography related pressies.

All the best

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Lights of Christmas

No – not just another bokeh shot of lights on the tree – not that there is anything wrong with that (and it is on my list of things to try this Christmas, especially if I can get myself a nifty fifty with an f/1.8 lens in the sales)… No, this is actually the name of a new lights festival in Sydney.  A small number of buildings were illuminated with spectacular lighting displays, in a similar fashion to the Vivid festival earlier in the year.
So I had another go at trying to capture these impressive shows, at St Mary’s Cathedral again (one of my favourite locations around the Sydney CBD).  The light show starts at dusk, so the ambient lighting is changing quite rapidly to start with, making it much more difficult to judge the exposure required, but once darkness settles, it becomes a bit easier.
Due to the tricky light conditions when we arrived at dusk, I spent most of the time shooting in Manual (M) mode, basing my settings on the camera’s metering, but allowing me to easily over or under expose after chimping the previous shot (for those that haven’t heard the term, Chimping is the act of quickly checking the review of a shot on the camera’s monitor between each shot…  It is sometimes used as a bit of a slur against those who do it habitually after every shot, casting them as amateurs - but under conditions like these, the ability of a digital camera to provide immediate feedback means that you'd be a fool NOT to CHeck the IMage Preview).
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Here’s the first pair of pictures that show the differing light conditions.  The first (2s at f/3.5)was taken as the light was still fading, and the pattern projected on the building’s facade is visible but drowned out by the ambient light.  The second version (6s at f/3.5) shows the same image after darkness had fallen.  The contrast between the illuminated building and the sky has reversed (the building is now brighter than the sky) and the details of the illuminated pattern can be seen.
The other issue I had (once again), was with moving designs.  Apart from the static 'title' display seen in the shots above, the show itself never stops moving, and with my basic kit lenses, my exposures were generally somewhere between 3 and 10 seconds (there was a girl sitting next to me with an f/1.4 or bigger lens taking great shots - in the dark - handheld!).  My issue, as you can see from the two images below, was capturing a design, rather than just a blur of moving colour, or the 'ferris wheel' type images I got here, as designs moved across the facade or rotated around the Rose window.
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In the first of these two images, you may just be able to recognise the yellow blur is supposed to be the sun.  The overall image was fairly static at this point, but the sun itself was rotating slowly.  The image above was a 4 second exposure, but by reducing the shutter time to 1.3 seconds, I got a darker sky, but a reasonably clear (OK, recognisable at least) image of the sun rather than just a yellow blur, as you can see in the ‘winning’ shot of the day, shown below.
I was very pleased to see pretty much exactly the same image on the front page of one of the daily papers the following morning – it made me feel a bit better knowing that their staff photographer was facing the same challenges as me ;-)

Lessons learned...?
1. Get there early to bag a good spot - though we were very lucky, the crowd wasn't that big and I was able to wander around during te ssecond cycle of the show, and get different pictures from exactly square on to the frontage.
2. Choose your angle - though I could get square on, exactly central, the images were actually less pleasing to me and felt a bit 'flat'.  I felt that this angled shot had a bit more 'oomph'.
3.  Don't curse about what you CAN'T do with your camera, but learn how to do what you CAN do, to the best of the camera's and YOUR capacity.  Sure - I'd love that f/1.4 lens the girl next to me had (and it was a Nikon, too), but even with my f3.5, I was able to get reasonable pictures, and I could probably still do better.
Thanks for looking,
and until next time – Happy Snappin’