Photographing Thailand, Spring 2013

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I just got back from a wonderful, fun, inventive and fantastic time in the sunny land of Thailand. What an amazing place! The food, the weather, the landscapes, the friendly people (some exceptions here, others really lovely) and simply being in a different, exotic place is so fulfilling. I’ll be honest, the cheap prices don’t hurt much either and it’s liberating to not need to worry about the price of things.

Yes, as per usual, I took oodles of photos, in fact over 70 gigs worth, including bracketed HDRs and the like. I was going to limit myself to jpeg, but whenever I do that, I end up getting some shots I’d really like to post-process properly, so it looks like it will soon be time to upgrade my HDD, either that or do some serious culling of excess images. Eek maybe just get the new HDD!

This trip was seen more as a holiday, without much sightseeing. Not so many early mornings and exhausting days, just nice times at our own pace. Yet that didn’t seem to stop the photography process, judging by that 72.5 gig figure! Interestingly, a lot of the photos were taken in transit, the journey counting for as much as the getting there.

So, tech talkers, what did I bring? What does it mean to me to travel light? Well, the iPad handily replaced my PC, though we brought a slim laptop for many things, including as it turns out photo backup and some light editing. Then came the cameras-

D5100

As usual, my travel favourite, especially with the convenient 18-105mm VR lens mounted. I was going to bring some m43 gear, but at the last minute decided to keep things simple. Maybe when I get a new m43 body that can handle low-light better and take good video it can be the main one. For now, though, this was my best choice.

Sunrise on the Beach

P510

For a few minutes I contemplated just bringing this. Then my sanity came back. The range is truly extraordinary, but the lack of dynamic range can be crippling when the light is less than perfect. Lack of Raw is a concern, too. What it does allow is some otherwise unreachable shots, as I have no long lenses other than the m43 40-150mm (80-300 equivalent) that are light enough for travel and this has the massive advantage of having all the wide angles and 1080p video as well. A very versatile tool indeed, yet not as essential as a travel zoom lens on a good sensor for my purposes.

Bangkok-5240

Lenses and Accessories

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

My standard ‘bright prime’, which I tried to use as much as possible just for the IQ and discipline of using a fixed lens. I tried using it alongside the P510 at times, using the later to zoom and it is a nice lens to use, though ultimately, given the choice, I’d prefer something brighter. Assuming I stay with DX and don’t migrate up to FX or ‘down’ to m4/3, I may try out the re-made Sigma 30mm f/1.4, which if the quality control is good may just be the thing I need. That is, however, a very big ‘if’.

Ice-cream

Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

I got some nice portraits and detail shots with this. As usual, I’ll have to look through what I got, as the amount of actual shots I take with this is not so high.

Pattaya-1167

Nikon 18-105mm

I really like this lens, especially on the D5100 which gives me so much dynamic range and high-ISO goodness, to a great extent overcoming the dark aperture ratings. Oh, also the automatic lens correction, which I usually do in Lightroom anyway. All this makes a ‘lesser’ lens more usable, though I’m not so sure it will scale so well to the newer 24mp sensors.

Pattaya-3135_6_7

iPhone 4S

I got a bunch of shots with this, even experimenting with some random Hipstamatic. It’s a nice and reasonably fast little machine and I can’t say I got a shot from it I didn’t like, though the P510 stole some of its thunder simply by being so versatile  As of now though, it’s my only camera with apps.

Thailand Thailand

B&W Polariser filter

Sorry, rarely used. I really should have stuck it on my 18-105mm more, but I’m not a big fan of the colour-shift involved and the times when I could really have used it, on Koh Samet island, it was in my bag on the mainland. Basically, I avoided shooting too much in the middle of the day, so hopefully got away without using it. HDR work is a good workaround, too.

SB400 Speedlight

Unusually, I used this a lot. I did quite a lot of backlit and night photography and this came into its own. Unlike the polariser, I had it with me constantly and whipped it out all the time. I even experimented with rear-curtain sync and the like. A very nice and handy flash, especially used in slow sync mode to get that wonderful background light (I didn’t get many chances to bounce it, being outside so much).

Koh Samet-1865 Koh Samet-1848

Kegon Falls Virtual Tour

Here is a short video made from footage I took when I went up to Nikko to see the frozen waterfalls and snowy landscape there recently. I was quite astounded by the natural beauty, especially of Kegon Falls (Kegon-no-taki), which seems to me like very sophisticated art, such as I can hardly comprehend. I found it so detailed and harmonious, it is hard to believe.

I hope this video relaxes and inspires you as it does me.

Moonography

I’ve spent a fair amount of time documenting beautiful sunrise and sunsets, but only occasionally have taken time out to capture the moon. Yet with the long lens of the P510, things have changed a bit and it is quite possible to get a clear capture of this celestial marvel even handheld at night. Yet, just as the fully risen sun is somewhat predictable and familiar, so too is the moon, to an extent. Zooming in fully, more details become apparent and significant features emerge on a surface which we habitually see illuminated by the reflected sun. You realise that it is in fact a barren rock, yet one with landmarks that we don’t usually see. Perhaps more beautiful, though, is the various colours of the ‘moon rise’ and her relationship with things closer to home. Welcome to my Moonography.

Note- as with other recent posts, these were all taken with my Nikon P510, which is about as good as it gets in a fixed-lens camera for this. I used manual exposure settings, as otherwise the moon is too bright and often used manual zoom set on infinity.

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A Trip to the Zoo With the P510

Zoos are actually a great place for photography- providing, that is, you have a long lens. I thought I’d take out my P510 to Ueno again and take her for a trip to the zoo. One thing I’ve found with zoos, as with birding and any wildlife photography, really- is you can’t have too long a lens. Especially if it’s a zoom and you can shrink it at will. I found a remarkable connection with the animals through this. Whilst I may have looked absurd to some, through the lens I could get closer than my merely human eyes are capable of. Of course, another option would have been to jump in the cage and get even closer that way. But not wanting to be anyone’s lunch course, I opted for the safer option.

Certainly, I found the same joys and limitations as when birding. I could get in astonishingly close, even being able to find abstract patterns of the animal’s skin and isolate them as I took them. I can’t overemphasise too much how meaningful it is to be composing such photos as you take them. Simply to crop afterwards may get the same effect, but (a) it won’t usually have enough resolution for a decent print anymore, as only slight cropping allows this, however high megapixel numbers might seem. Also, (b) it’s far more effective and fun to be seeing what you’ll create. So that’s the positive. The negative is the impossibility of tracking any movement unless it be that of a snail and also the lack of fine detail at the pixel level, something that limiting ISO can help, but you are a far cry from DSLR, or even M4/3 land. So, knowing this, I just got out there and took some images I found remarkable as with less reach they simply wouldn’t be.

See what you think- is an ultrazoom for you?

Birding With the P510

As part of my user report with this remarkable camera, I can share some observations about how it handles for my primary intended use- birding. Firstly, let’s get out of the way that you won’t get the same quality with this camera as with a DSLR, let alone a M4/3 or even Nikon 1 camera. It just isn’t possible, due to the sensor size, even if it is better than such sensors used to be. For serious uses, I’d rather have a DSLR setup. Yet, so often that isn’t possible and even if it were, I currently have no DSLR lens even nearly in this range.

Yet for what it is, it is remarkable. I have been able to get up close and personal with a variety of birds, large and small. I can see them feed, rest, interact, as never before. There is something very inspiring about seeing these creatures, free to fly about, so graceful and beautiful, as if I was right next to them. Leaving aside the photographs for a minute, it can be exhilarating to see them defy gravity in a way we can only do with machines. Even as a spotting scope with added camera features, it is well worth the price of admission. The beautifully hi-res, tilting LCD is a joy to use and whilst the resolution is truly pitiful, just having the EVF helps no end for framing and holding the camera steady.

I have started to capture evocative images that previously would have eluded me. The feeling is of entering an exotic world, one which humans are usually denied entry. To be able to get a reasonably high quality capture (especially at ISO 100, which I try to lock it to) is such a reward. Now follows a few of my captures- see for yourself if they stand out or the quality just isn’t there… something I used to worry about, but no longer consider a deal-breaker. The only thing I would add here, however, is that the AF is no-where near adequate for BIF (birds in flight) photography. It just can’t track the focus fast enough, though it does have a tracking mode that might be useful in some situations. We are talking still birds here, which still (pardon the pun) makes a lot of evocative nature shots possible.

Street Candids in Ueno

One of my favourite types of photography is the street type. Capturing the lives of people, with brief snapshots of their lives. Each photo in this field should tell a story, preserving for posterity those fleeting moments that make up so much of the human experience. Generally, for intimacy and inconspicuousness, short, relatively wide lenses are often used for this and also small, range-finder style cameras are prefered.

Yet there is certainly a place for the candid taken from a distance. The intimacy can be just as real, with the space bridged by the lens. I took my Nikon P510 out for a stroll in Ueno. I found the range of images I could capture quite miraculous, all without scaring anyone or feeling like an intruder.

A little note here might be appropriate- I intend to turn this more into a photo-blog, or at least a blog with more photography as an art-based features.

Nikon P510 User Report- The Camera Compared

So why did I chose the P510? Of course, there is the V1 option, with it’s adapters allowing AF with long Nikon lenses, offering a massive, stabilised 200-800mm with my 70-300 (or so, actually for nitpickers, 189-810mm). I tried it out in a shop and both the usability and detail was surprisingly good. Yet it feels unwieldy, delicate to have that long lens on a small body, like a NEX on steroids. Also, having only recently gotten into m4/3, for now I don’t really want to invest in yet another system, especially one that is in its infancy as far as native lenses go and I’m not so convinced Nikon’s DSLR lenses can all hold up so well to its massive 2.7 crop either. I can see myself getting into that in the future, though, perhaps when their uniquely attractive (in abilities if not so much in the looks department), V2 plummets in price. The V2 fixed a lot of the problems of the V1, despite losing the smooth styling, but is at least twice as expensive as it ought to be considering its small sensor and doesn’t really develop the IQ much from what I’ve seen. If I’m going to make a big purchase, I’d rather invest in DSLR lenses or m4/3, where you can already get such great images. So I went even smaller, sensor-wise.

Memory Lane-1972

I live far from Mt. Fuji, yet on a clear day and on a high point, you can make her out in the distance.

Memory Lane-1970

With the ultrazoom at 1,000mm I can clearly see the crest. Almost unbelievable, considering the distance.

So far, there’s a lot to like. It has incredible software, which can quickly take and process HDR images, or construct panoramas as you pan the camera. The zoom is accompanied by a tremendous VRII system, which works right to the end of the zoom. Even the mode choices are good, choosing the clearest shot automatically, or adapting to the environment well (snow mode much more appropriate than automatic for today’s purposes). I’ll admit I’ve previously turned my nose up at such ‘bridge’ camera due to their tiny sensors and often low IQ, but as sensors advance and their lenses get so exotically long it is hard to ignore them. There is simply no other way to get small lenses that reach so far and whilst my interest is birding, there are other applications where it may work wonders- flower-fields, candids in the street way out of sight, temple details on a trip. It opens up new avenues, even if, with that small sensor, the dynamic range and high-ISO qualities are so limited… something that blending photos with the special modes may help with, the same way that HDR helps with my iPhone, which with newer apps and faster processors has become my standard usage now for it.

(more…)

Snowy Day- First Shots with the Nikon P510 Bridge Camera

Great- it’s snowing! Or terrible, I’m not sure which, as I have the day off and my Nikon P510 just arrived and I’m itching to take it out for a spin. So I settled for throwing on my coat and taking some shots from the balcony. After all, I don’t really want to risk any damage to it on its first day.

 

I’ll cut to the chase and put some samples right here- I think you can see the rich creative potential of having such a tremendous zoom in such a small and handy body, as well as modern processing abilities that make it a fast and effective camera to use. Meanwhile, I’m working on a review/user report, which I’ll be posting in installments shortly.

 

Wow that zoom is tremendous! You can see how, from a safe distance, I could zoom right into the scene and catch what was going on. You get an intimacy with events that you otherwise would just distantly notice. It is, in fact, the digital camera equivalent of a telescope.

I got it to help out with my birding, where the maximum reach of anything I have is a relatively short 450mm equivalent, offered by my trusty 70-300mm VR on a Nikon D300, which offers excellent autofocusing even on birds in flight (BIF). This is fine for big birds or those silly or brave enough to stick around when I’m approaching, but the little ones get away. Even the photos I do get, when they are snacking on fruit in trees, as heavily cropped, so I really need more image. This seems to be a very convenient way to get that and in portable form. As a companion to my DSLRs or even m4/3, I can see it transforming my photography. It can produce some wonderful candids, as well, without the obvious issues of pointing a long lens in someone’s direction- it looks so small and inconspicuous.

Straight, No Chaser.

A Traditional Photography Blog - dehk © 2016

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