Points in Focus Photography

I’m not <insert big name photographer here>, I don’t have the luxury of investing massive amounts of cash into protecting my digital photography. For the last 4 years or so I’ve relied on a 3-disk RAID 5 array to safeguard my data. Yes, I know RAID isn’t a backup nor will it protect me against accidentally deleting something. Unfortunately I didn’t have the money (or data important enough really) to worry about it, I was protected in the even a hard drive failed, and would just have to live with it  if anything went further south.

The Nomming Jaws of InevitabilityThat was until I started feeling the pinch of my array’s pathetic 500GB capacity and punctuated by the nomming jaws of inevitability, that I started rather hurriedly trying to do something about my lack of backups and my ever shrinking amount of available space. This was about the time I posted Just a Friendly Reminder, Backup Your Data.

Since then the nomming jaws of inevitability haven’t been far behind. Trying to do things on a budget I elected to go with a pair of new 750GB drives. I of course wanted to source them locally as I didn’t want to keep my now degraded RAID 5 array running that way for any length of time. Besides terrible performance, if anything else happened I was pretty much screwed. Of course, all I could get locally was a  pair of Seagate 7200.11 SATA drives, ones that happen to have a firmware issue that under certain conditions can cause the drive to fail when the system boots. Fortunately, Seagate had a firmware fix for that issue so that sorted out the first bump in the road.

You’ll notice that I’m using consumer level disks, this of course was mistake two. Oddly enough I never had a problem with running consumer level disks in my raid array prior, the 3 Western Digital drives in my old array were just run of the mill consumer grade drives. Oh how things have changed. Not long after I had the new array was online, I had my first consumer disk in RAID hick-up. One of the drives was slow in responding to a disk operation and the Intel RAID driver failed it. Lovely, the drive was fine, but the array now needed to be rebuilt. Two or three days later the other drive did the same thing, and back to rebuilding the array again. At this point I was concerned that if this continued I’d be in serious trouble, especially if the active disk was failed during the rebuild.

At this point I broke down and ordered a enterprise grade WD RE3 drive. Which sat on my desk while I was in Sanibel shooting shorebirds, only to be quickly swapped on my return as one of the disks timed out for a second time and I was forced into another time consuming array rebuild.

On the up side, of all of this, I’ve been left with a perfectly good 750GB drive that just can’t coexist in a RAID array–as an aside, you’d think that the Intel StorageMatrix controllers that are integrated into their desktop motherboards would be designed to be more forgiving of these types of problems as most people wouldn’t be running RAID ready SATA drives in their desktop computers. Slapping that extra drive in a USB2 external enclosure and I’ve got the start of a backup strategy.

Now the only question left is how long is this going to last before I have to figure out how to replace it. If I shoot 16GB a week–that’s about 1200 frames on a 40D or 600 frames on a 5D-II or 1Ds-III, I will run out of storage space in 46 weeks with out aggressively deleting bad frames. That puts my need to address this again point at sometime in the fall or early next year. So until then we’ll just have to see what happens.

Back from Sanibel

I just got back from an interesting trip to Sanibel and Ding Darling NWR. I had been hoping to get a couple of decent sunsets, I even borrowed some grand ND filters to have better control over the lighting as the sun was setting. Anyway, if you don’t follow my twitter feed, the entire time I was there the island was socked in with sea fog, except for a couple of brief clear times. The total lack of a decent sunset was definitely disappointing.

Anyway, Ding was pretty quiet, though crowded compared to the last time I was there in December. The highlight of that excursion was when a Bald Eagle showed up, though it was to far away to really warrant shooting. I’m not convinced that Ding is really practical for shooting, there haven’t been great numbers of birds when I’ve been there, nor are they close enough to be practical to shoot without some seriously long glass. All in all I find shooting shorebirds on the beach to be much more productive and enjoyable.

Taking a Break
Taking a Break

All in all I didn’t shoot a whole lot, but I’m still slowly working though the images, and mostly trying to ID shorebirds as that is still a big weakness for me. Anyway more to come.


A recent thread over on birdphotographers.net on diffraction prompted me to do this quick test.

The images were taken with a Canon EOS 40D, with an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 100mm, locked off on a tripod. Exposure was ISO 100, 1/250th @ f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32. The target was lit with a Canon 580Ex II flash on camera. All frames were shot using one shot AF, with a 2 second timer and mirror lock up. No exposure or flash exposure compensation was used. The images were processed in Adobe Lightroom 2.3 RC, with the following settings:

  • Basic
    • Exposure: 0.00
    • Recovery: 0
    • Fill Light: 0
    • Blacks: 5
    • Brightness: +50
    • Contrast +25
    • Clarity: 0
    • Vibrance: 0
    • Saturation: 0
  • Tone Curve
    • All settings: 0
    • Point Curve: medium contrst
  • HSL
    • Hue, Saturaton and Luminance: 0
  • Sharpening
    • Amount: 71
    • Radius: 1.0
    • Detail: 25
    • Masking: 0
  • Nose Reduction
    • Luminance: 10
    • Color: 4
  • Vignettes: Off
  • Camera Calibration
    • Profile: Adobe Standard
    • All other settings: 0

The left column are 100% crops of bar code on the receipt in the center of the frame. The column on the left is the image the crop was made from, re-sized to fit in a 1000px by 800px box. Both series were exported with standard output sharpening targeted for the screen. Both columns are ordered by increasing whole f-stops from f/5.6 to f/32.

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I was at the southern end of the Everglades (Flamingo, FL) yesterday, so here’s the wildlife update from the trip. There were Roseate Spoonbills in Eco Pond, a handful at least. As well as White Ibis, and a couple of Great Blue Herons.

The Osprey population at Flamingo seems pretty healthy, there are several nests that can be easily photographed from along the side of the road with a sufficiently long lens (600mm + 1.4 TC at least). The light was not that great all day and nothing seemed to want to fly near me. The one flyby I got was late in great light quality wise, just not enough of it to get the shutter speeds necessary to make it anything more than a blur.

I ran into what I think was a female Northern Harrier (no picture) and what I know was a female American Kestrel (my first, but alas no picture worth sharing). There also seems to be some Eastern Phoebes around Flamingo, you can get quite close so long as you can shoot from your car. They weren’t approachable at all on foot, at least not for me.

I just got back from both the Northeast corner of the everglades (via airboat launched from Everglades Holiday Park in Broward county) and Green Cay, and there’s not a whole lot going on out there. Water levels in the ‘glades are still pretty high, though I forgot to look at the reading on one of the water quality stations we ran by. As for birds, I saw a couple of Great Blues, a couple American Bitterns (at least I think they were, they were too big to be Leasts), some vultures, Anhinga Cormorants and a couple Osprey. On our way in, we ran into a couple of duck hunters, as I understand it this is the last weekend of the season, and they said they hadn’t had any luck either. So things are still very quite right now.

When I got out of there I headed back up to Green Cay again (I was there Friday as well) to shoot Blue-grey Gnatcatchers again. I had some success Friday and a little today, though not for lack of birds being out. The usual suspects appeared to be around, I was there to shoot Gnatcatchers not general birds, Blue-wing Teals, Mottled Ducks, a Hawk (I think it was a Red-shoulder), the usual assortment of Grebes, Loons, Coots, Moorhens, herons and egrets as also there. Not very busy again.

Friday I ran by Wakodahatchee while I was up that way. Pretty quite up there as well. The Herons are still incubating at their nests. Not a whole lot else.

All in all so far this is starting to look like a rather disappointing season, at least unless it doesn’t pick up. The water levels in the Everglades are still a bit higher than the normally would be this time of year.

Redirected to EF 1.4x II review, 2019-02-10.

At this point, I’ve taken the EF 1.4x II into the field twice now, so this is my thoughts regarding the converter after a having used it in the field with a EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM on a EOS 40D as well as some very brief testing on an EOS 50D at least using contrast detection AF in live view mode.

First off a comment about caps. The front cap is is different from a camera body cap, it’s deeper to allow for the converter’s protruding front element. The converter’s front cap fits on a body fine, but converse doesn’t work at all. I only mention this because if you drop all your caps in a pocket in your bag you’ll can’t readily tell them apart by feel.  Now this hasn’t been an issue for me, mostly because I make sure to drop my TC caps into a different pouch than the rest of my caps.

Focusing, more specifically manual focusing, or at least that’s what I’m limited to. Most of Canon’s EOS bodies disable the auto focus system when the lens or lens and converter combination has a maximum aperture slower f/5.6. EOS 1 series bodies get a little more leeway, with the center point being sensitive to  f/8. That means when paired with either the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, EF 400mm f/5.6L USM or EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM, only EOS 1 series bodies will have autofocus.

There is a widely used “tape trick” out there, that prevents the teleconverter from reporting to the camera. This way the camera doesn’t know the aperture is f/8 and it doesn’t disable the AF system. While this sounds good in theory; in practice, at least with the 100-400 and a 40D, the results were far form usable for me. AF hunted for all but the most simplistic scenes, further even when it locked on it was frequently front or back focused by a good margin.

Given my testing, this isn’t a time where I think Canon was just being conservative, it really is slow enough and inaccurate enough that it’s best to not even try and use it. Actually I think it speaks volumes for how poor the performance is was when you consider that I’d rather focus manually.

Surprisingly, the contrast detection used by the 50D in Live View mode (and I suspect the Rebel XSi, but I haven’t tested that so I can’t be sure) does function with the lens and TC combination. This gives the 50D an edge if you’re looking for an inexpensive body to pair with a slower than f/4 lens and still use the EF 1.4x II with it. This configuration isn’t fast by any means, however. It took 2 to 3 seconds to lock focus on a brightly lit subject, so you won’t be tracking moving subjects, let alone quickly moving ones.

Also there are performance differences between the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L and the EF 400mm f/5.6L. The 400mm f/5.6 prime focuses faster and is reported to work better with the “tape trick” across the board. Unfortunately I don’t have one, so I can’t test the validity of this.

In the mean time, with the tape trick being less than stellar, and the lack of auto focus I’ve been working on learning how to judge focus manually though the viewfinder. My technique right now is to use the viewfinder to get initial focus, then flipping on live view and checking that I’m focused where I want to be. Then with live view off, I take the picture. I don’t use live view for shooting as I’ve found that with live view enabled the metering can be off, sometimes close to a stop over exposed.

The more I use the TC the more comfortable I’m getting with doing everything through the viewfinder. But the risk of loosing the shot with out checking focus in live view is still there. I found that out the hard way last Sunday when I was shooting a Red-Shouldered hawk on a perch close to the boardwalk at Green Cay, only to find I focused just behind the bird for everything I shot.

Little width =This isn’t turning out to be all that great of a bird season. I hit three sites today, Loxahatchee National Widlife Refuge and Green Cay Wetlands in Palm Beach county and Long Key Nature Center in broward county.

Boots were on the ground, both literaly and figuratively, at Loxahatchee just after 0700. And there wasn’t an awful lot going on. Like usual herons and egrets were seen around (I saw Great  Blue and Tri-colored herons, and Great Egrets at least), so were Gloss and White Ibisises. There was a Cardinal in another stand of pines, but it was far to distant to make any serious attempts at photographing it. A friend of mine who was also there found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers on her way in. There were also some raptors around, at least 3 Red-Shouldered Hawks and I saw what I believe to be a Snail Kite, though that was only a flyby and I’m not 100% sure I identified it correctly.

Green Cay was the backup site for the morning, and I’m finding it to be increasingly important to have a backup site given the lack of birds this year. Boots were on the ground there around 0830-0900. Unfortunately Green Cay didn’t do all that much better than Loxahatchee. The usual suspects herons, egrets, moore hens, cormorents, woodstorks,  etc., were  around. My friend spotted a Cardinal by the entrance. There was a Red-shouldered Hawk perched very close to the walkway where it turns in the northwest corner (just after the little island). There really wasn’t a whole lot going on other wise, I spoke with a  woman who had seen some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, on the large island in the northeast corner, though we couldn’t find them when we went to look. We ran into a really nice Little Blue Heron on the way out, that was very approachable.

What I didn’t see any sign of was the male Northern Harrier which I’ve seen the past two times I’ve been there. I have no idea if it has moved on, or was just down or in a tree somewhere that we weren’t.

While this isn’t necessarily helpful, there was a Wood Stork feeding by the boardwalk to the left (west) of the entrance that was having particularly good luck–hitting something like 8 or 10 fish in less than 10 minutes. I found this interesting, I’ve never really seen the Wood Stork hunting behavior; basically they try and kick the fish into their mouth.

Long Key nature center isn’t exactly my favorite location, it has never panned out well but I was reminded by a woman I spoke with, that there is a fairly decent rookery there, so on the way back I decided to check it out. Alas, nothing, there was an Anhinga and a Great Egret and that was all I could see, there was absolutely nothing in the rookery. Of course, I’m not sure that it wasn’t too early in the season though for that site. I’m going to check back there in the next month or so.

I also spoke to a gentleman who had been over at Wakodahatchee to check on the nesting Great Blue Herons, he said they were on/in the nest and weren’t doing much. I’m going to take that as a pretty good sign that there are eggs, and in about 3 weeks there should be chicks hatching.

Given the situation with birds at these sites and this season in general, I’m going to start wandering a bit more over the next month or so.

Note: Redirected to EF 1.4x II review, 2019-02-10.

In the search for a little more reach I’ve gone the route of teleconverters as opposed to cropping and enlarging in post production. Of course this is a bit of a challenge on a budget and while still using a none EOS-1 series camera. The first teleconverter I started with was a cheap Kenko AF 1.5x Teleplus, of course I was pairing that with a Canon EF 70-300 F/4-5.6 IS USM which isn’t supported by any Canon’s teleconverters.

This is about my first impressions of the Canon EF 1.4x II, and quite simply, wow. It’s a lot more solidly built than the Kenko I had prior. There so much less wobble and play in the lens mounts it’s not even funny. The first couple of dozen test frames, indicate that optically the 1.4x II is no slouch either; much much better than the Kenko 1.5 MC that preceded it.

The EF 1.4x II also properly reports it’s self as a teleconverter to the camera and lens. This is nice because I get correct focal lengths and aperture sizes, what’s not so nice is Canon’s AF system on non-EOS 1 series cameras disables it’s self when the max aperture is smaller than f/5.6. Of course I knew this going in, but what I didn’t know, was that when they say the AF system is disabled, they mean completely. I was hoping that the auto-focus drive would stop but the range finder/focus confirm light would at least still light up when you were “close” to having achieved focus.

That being said, this isn’t a setup that’s capable of being using with rapidly moving/changing situations, even performing the “tape trick” to stop the converter from reporting results in hugely abysmal AF performance at least on my 40D. Also I’m seeing some odd behavior with metering, specifically I’m getting between a 1/3 and a full stop underexposure shooting though the viewfinder versus using live view at least when using evaluative metering.

In the mean time, here are a couple of 100% crops from today initial testing.

EF 1.4x II Sample 1

EF width =


A man lands a fish under a wharf on the Mississippi river out side of New Orleans.
A man lands a fish under a wharf on the Mississippi river out side of New Orleans.
The address on a door in the French Quater.
The address on a door in the French Quater.
Jupiter and Venus are seen setting in the night's sky just after sunset.
Jupiter and Venus are seen setting in the night’s sky just after sunset.

I was reminded recently by a rather heated debate that boiled down to a lot of advocating towards specific techniques and technologies, that the how has little to no real meaning in the ultimate ends of photography. You could say in a way that either coincidentally or as a result of the discussion I had an epiphany about the reality that is photography. As I see it, photography, isn’t about taking a picture or capturing a moment in time, but making a connection with the viewer of our images. There is no math, glass, or gear involved here, simply an image and the response it evokes in the viewer.

Fundamentally, we produce illusions that are designed—whether we know it or not—to evoke a response from those that view our work. To deny this is to deny the entire purpose of photography, and perhaps even art it’s self. I think this is a critical idea that’s often missed though. Possibly, because it’s so much more fleeting than the concreteness of megapixels and resolution and possibly because in a world where almost every one can have a camera and take pictures the very act of doing so means very little to so many people.

The concept of an image being an illusion is important for another reason, quite simply in a very technical sense the image itself, whether produced by film or digital capture is an illusion. There is no property of the medium that fundamentally makes one more or less true to reality as much as pundits of either medium would like you to believe. There is no truer representation possible, the ultimate product is the effect of varying colors and intensities of light being reflected off or emitted from a surface. Nothing more and nothing less, to that end, a digital image works no different than one captured in layers of photo reactive chemicals.

This brings me back to technique and technology. Quite seriously, I think the only people who find any of this relevant are other photographers, and in many cases, I think they put far too much emphasis on exploring the minute details of it than what they can do with it. Pixel peeping as it’s come to be called now. Does our equipment have an impact on our ability to create, or vice versa, undoubtedly the answer is yes.

The age old argument about what’s more important, the photographer or the camera though is predicated on the flawed idea that either can exist with out the other. Or really, that with out access or knowledge of the equipment a concept may never even be born, let alone brought to fruition.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the image produced is more important than the process and equipment used to produce it. I have no delusions about this short note, I know it’s not going to stop arguments over whose camera is superior or whose technique is better. I do hope though, it brings some perspective to the argument.

Happy holidays, and happy shooting.

Photokina wrapped up last week, and I have been trying to following along on the news as best I can. The big news to me was that there wasn’t an awful lot of news, outside of the cameras and lenses I’ve posted about previously. There were a lot of rumors about a new 70-200 VR from Nikon and a new 100-400 IS from Canon, neither materialized. Sigma announced a new revision of their SLR, the DP15; and a new point and shoot, the DP2. The DP2 is similar to their DP1 but complementary with a faster (f/2.8) more normal (41mm equivalent) lens.

Probably the biggest news on the camera front was the announcement of a couple of Micro 4/3rds cameras. If you’ve not seen Olympus’s announcement on what it is, Micro 4/3rds is an adaptation of their 4/3rds system to a thinner mirror-less design. The new system is compatible with 4/3rds lenses—through an adapter—but supports a new smaller lighter series of lenses designed specifically to be as compact and portable as possible.

The most interesting new camera, at least form an SLR user’s perspective, is probably the Panasonic Lumix G1. Not much bigger than more traditional super zoom point and shoots, it supports interchangeable lenses and a SLR sized (2x crop factor) sensor, giving it more flexible lens choices and potentially better low light capabilities. That coupled with the forth coming 20mm f/1.7 (40mm equivalent) micro-4/3rds lens would make quite a powerful yet unobtrusive camera for street photography.

Some things that did catch my eye include the announcement of Adobe Photoshop CS4, which brings 64-bit support to windows machines and support for using your video card to accelerate calculations among other things. I could write about it, but most of the cool features are demonstrated in this podcast (creativesuitepodcast.com), and it’s far more fun to watch than it is to read about.

On the storage front, SanDisk announced Extreme III and Extreme IV flash cards, including 32 GB Extreme III cards. Speaking of which, while it’s been trumpeted all over the web as of late, but SanDisk has been running a rebate on their compact flash media for the last few weeks (ends the 11th of October), on their flash media. 16GB Extreme three cards are going for as little as $7 to $25 a card in some places, if you can find them in stock. Most of the online camera stores are participating, so if you’re in the media market right now that may be a place to look.

The other announcement in storage was by a company I’ve never heard of, Pretec (pretec.com), of two new compact flash flashcards, a 64GB and 100GB 233x (35MB/s transfer) flashcards. Something that’s sure to come in handy with the today’s high resolution and video producing cameras. I’ve never used them, and I can’t seem to find them listed any ecommerce sites I’ve used for ordering media, so I have no idea if they work well or even at all.

On the lens front, Tokina has added motors to their Nikon mount lenses. I’m not sure if this is good or bad yet though. On the up side, they will focus on the D40, D40x and D60 bodies; on the down side, Tokina doesn’t have an Ultrasonic lens motor design, so they will likely be louder than they otherwise would be when driven by the in body motor. One thing that is for sure, this gives entry level Nikon users access to fast f/2.8 zooms of decent optical quality in focal lengths of 11-16mm, 16-50mm and 50-125mm. All told, it’s not a bad for set of pretty close to pro grade lenses and can be had for less than $1900 for the three.

Also completely unrelated to Photokina, there is currently an update for Adobe Lightroom 2 in the final stages of testing. According to the Adobe Labs page, it fixes several stability issues and makes some performance improvements. As a Lightroom user, I’m keeping on top of this, and I can only hope it fixes a couple of the issues that I’ve experienced with Lightroom on Windows XP.

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