Points in Focus Photography

Thoughts on the Canon EOS 80D and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM ledeImage: Canon USA

Just when I get done looking at Canon’s new flagship camera, they go and release a new enthusiast class camera; the 80D, successor to the 70D. And much like the 1DX mark II Canon has made a number of interesting and not so interesting improvements to the 80D. Moreover, they’ve released an enthusiast focused lens to go with the 80D that really looks quite decent for video work as well as stills.

Like my thoughts on the 1DX mark II, I’m not going to go into every detail of the new camera, there are just to many. Instead I’m going to focus on a handful of points that I think are the biggest points.

I Like: Autofocus at F/8

AF at f/8 has been a thing for Canon’s higher end cameras for a while. The EOS–1 series could focus with the center point only going back to the mid 2000’s. On the other hand, the enthusiast tier hasn’t been so lucky, until now.

I’m a huge proponent of having an AF grid that’s active at f/8. It’s immensely useful to me as it lets me carry lighter lenses and get more reach out of them. And this is a position that I still am strongly behind even in the enthusiast tier and with enthusiast like use cases.

The way I see it, enthusiasts are even less likely to be buying fast telephoto lenses. Instead of 70–200mm f/2.8L or even f/4L they’re much more likely to buy a 70–300, and maybe not even the L version. And when they find that the 300mm isn’t enough zoom for them, they go out and buy a cheap 3rd party teleconverter to put on it.

I know this, because I did this back when I was first starting out and didn’t have a lot of money to drop on gear.

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Things in the EOS-1D X mark II that I’m Excited About ledeImage: Canon USA

A couple of weeks ago, Canon announced their latest flagship camera, the EOS–1DX mark II. At the time, I tired to post something, anything, about it, if only to get my thoughts together on the matter. Like the vast majority of photographers, Canon doesn’t send me hardware to test, trial, or use. And like the vast majority of photographers, the EOS–1 series cameras are at the upper edge of my budgetary bounds.

At the same time, Canon has shown with the 5D mark III and EOS–1DX, that they’re willing to put 1-series features in at least 5-series bodies, even if there are some limitations. With that in mind, when I look at an EOS–1 that I probably won’t be buying — even though I’d love to have one — I’m looking in part for the things that I really want to see become more pervasive.

So without further ado, these are by far the top features that I see in the EOS–1DX mark II that I think change the game in a big way.

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Lightroom 8 Years Later: Modules & Organization of User Interface lede

Eight years ago, Adobe released Photoshop Lightroom, a unified digital asset manager and non-destructive raw image processor. Since then, Adobe has released 5 major versions of Lightroom, each making small revisions, tweaks, and sometimes adding new functionality. This is part 2 of my series looking at Lightroom in depth, inside and out, and what I think Adobe needs to do to continue to build on Lightroom as a tool for both professional and amateur photographers alike.

In this article I’m going to look at the overall Lightroom user interface at a high level. Many of the nuances and issues in many parts of Lightroom’s user interface (UI) stem from decisions made early on about the way Lightroom would work and act.

One of the problems that I run up against in talking about software UIs and how they were designed, is that there’s a great deal of interdependency in the decision process. A design decision can have ramifications that impact other decisions that in turn either reinforce or work against the initial design goal.

The other major problem I have with trying to look at Lightroom’s UI is that I’m not at all clear, even to this day, what market space Adobe is really trying to target. On one hand, as a pro photographer, Lightroom dramatically improved my workflow in terms of managing, searching, and processing images. In fact, I can say that same sentiment is generally true with most of the other pro photographers I know or work with. On the other hand, Lightroom makes this kind of workflow accessible to more inexperienced and less technically savvy photographers as well.

The trouble is that pro/serious user oriented interfaces are almost always an in scrutable nightmare for novices, and the converse are underwhelming for pros. However, without really having a handle on what market segment the software is actually targeting.

With that said, lets get started.

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Lightroom 8 Years Later: An Introduction lede

It’s been just almost a decade since Adobe released Lightroom, their digital asset manager (DAM) and non-destructive raw image editor. In that time, Adobe has made a number of improvements in many respects, from improving the raw engine to adding new processing features, to finally adding GPU rendering support. However in many ways Lightroom hasn’t changed much at all, and there are all kinds of interesting quirks and issues from it’s nearly decade old heritage.

Truthfully, age hasn’t been kind to Lightroom. The user interface (UI) is dated and clunky. There are a whole host of quirks, pit falls, and short comings. A lot of the internals and back end processes make interesting trade offs that sometimes are woefully inefficient. Finally, based on the few fits and starts we’ve seen from Adobe, it’s not clear at all whether they ever plan to address any of the deficiencies going forward.

When the first public release of Lightroom hit the market in February 2007, it wasn’t the first commercially available raw processor and digital asset manager (DAM). Apple beat Adobe to market by more than a year with Aperture. However, Lightroom was the first cross platform non-destructive raw editor and DAM, which was largely a first for us Windows users.

I switched from using Bridge and Photoshop to using Lightroom with version 2 back in mid 2008. At the time, for me at least, Lightroom was a breath of fresh air and quite revolutionary. The develop/process as a recipe style of editing made it significantly more space efficient than doing a similar kinds of edits in Photoshop, and the ability to make tweaks and easily sync them across many images made working with large numbers of similar images, very efficient.

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Extension Tubes and Magnification lede

Last time I posted, I noted that the easiest way to figure out magnification with extensions tubes is just to measure it. This time I’m going to show you how I measure and the results of as many configurations I expect that I’ll use.

Note, if you’re a Canon user and you stick to only their 12 mm and 25 mm extension tubes, and you don’t stack them, you can get the magnification and working distances from the manuals for their lenses.

I’ve found that the most efficient way to measure this is to use a movable ruler that’s on parallel to the film plane and on axis with the lens. How you move the ruler can be as simple as sticking to a glass with some gaffer tape and moving along the top of a table. For my tests, I pulled out a section of track for some large scale trains and used one of the cars as my movable carriage.

The whole point here is to be able move quickly from setup to setup without having to readjust a tripod. I did that for one lens when I first got the extension tubes and found it to be a pain in the rear.

As for the rule, you want it as parallel to the film plane as you can get it, but it does’t have to be absolutely perfect. We’re not interested in measuring this to the micrometer, we just need a close enough approximation.

Keep in mind, if you were to calculate the magnifications, you have to assume that the published focal lengths and magnifications for the lens in question are accurate. This further presents a problem, as the published focal length is almost never the actual focal length of the lens. Moreover, for virtually all modern inner and rear focusing lenses, the published focal length is the focal length at infinity focus; as you focus closer to the camera, the focal length decreases.

In any event, I suggest making two rough measurements for your tests. One will be the width of the field of view at the close focusing distance — as given by the ruler.

The second measurement should be the distance from the front of the lens to the ruler. This isn’t critically important to get to the mm, but it is useful as a guide if you don’t want to get to close to something.

Below is a table of magnifications and working distances I’ve measured so far with various Canon lenses and 12, 20, and 36 mm Kenko extension tubes. I’ll be adding to these tables, as I complete more measurements in the future. I’ll also be updating the linked reviews with information regarding the image quality of these lenses at various magnifications.

Magnification and working distance for lens and extension tube combinations
Lens Bare 12 20 36 12 + 20 12 + 36 20 + 36 12 + 20 + 36
Canon EF 70–200mm f/4L IS USM (200 mm) 0.22x / 38″ 0.29x / 30″ 0.33x / 27.25″ 0.41x / 22.25″ 0.40x / 23.38″ 0.49x / 18.88″ 0.53x / 18.88″ 0.60x / 17.38″
Canon EF 100–400mm f/4L IS USM (400 mm) 0.33x / 23.75″ 0.39x / 20″ 0.42x / 15.38″ 0.53x / 15.38″ 0.44x / 16.38″ 0.60x / 14.13″ 0.64x / 13.25″ 0.71x / 12.13″

Also, with a 12 mm tube, all of these lenses can mount a Canon 1.4x or 2x teleconverter. I don’t have a 2x TC, but I also ran the tests with my 1.4x TC.

Magnification and working distance for lens and extension tube combinations with a 1.4x II teleconverter
Lens Bare 12 20 36 12 + 20 12 + 36 20 + 36 12 + 20 + 36
Canon EF 70–200mm f/4L IS USM (200 mm) 0.30x / 38″ 0.36x / 33.38″ 0.4x / 31.75″ 0.49x / 28.25″ 0.47x / 29″ 0.54x / 26″ 0.58x / 25.13″ 0.65x / 23.88″
Canon EF 100–400mm f/4L IS USM (400 mm) 0.44x / 23.75″ 0.50x / 21.75″ 0.55x / 20.88″ 0.65x / 19.13″ 0.61x / 19.38″ 0.73x / 18″ 0.64x / 17.5″ 0.84x / 17.88″

Remember, if you stick to Canon’s 12 mm and 25 mm extension tubes, the magnification and working distances are published in the manual for your lens.

One of the things that I’m always looking for in new products is how they will improve something I do or open up some new avenue for me. When Nikon announced the D5 and the 153-point AF system, my first reaction, before I saw the actual field was, “That’s going to be awesome!”. Given the massive increase in the number of AF points, I hoped Nikon may have figured out a novel way to do something like the 399 “point” system in Sony’s mirrorless A7, but in a DSLR and not as extreme.

When I finally got around to not only seeing the pattern but really thinking about how AF systems behave, well, the whole thing really started feeling like marketing numbers more than useful progress.

The way I see it, there’s utility in both AF point density and how much of the frame the AF covers. The question, in my mind at least, is how much utility do I get from the changes.

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I like macro photography. I don’t shoot a lot of it mostly because it’s a pain in the rear and requires specialized equipment to do well. I do own a macro lens, a Sigma 150 mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM, but the problem with a macro lens is that it’s a whole lens. Don’t get me wrong, a purpose built macro lens is the best possible quality solution for macro photography.

Of course you don’t need a 1:1 macro lens to do really nice close up work. There are plenty of reasonably good close up but still general purpose zooms on the market. A lot of the 3rd party lenses top out of 0.25x magnification, which isn’t great but it’s better than nothing.

Canon has done some interesting work on that front, with their EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM, which on its own is decent range for a general purpose walkabout zoom, but can zoomed into macro mode where it gets a very respectable 0.7x. Likewise, the EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS USM II, gets a pretty respectable 0.31x magnification at 400 mm and does even better at 0.44x and 0.64x with a 1.4x and 2x teleconverter respectively. In fact, the 100–400 mark II with the relatively huge working distance of 3.2 feet, makes a really nice lens for those little critters you don’t want to or can’t get that close to.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a beef with using a purpose built macro lens per se. My problem mostly comes down to what I can pack in my bag when I’m going somewhere. Sure if I know I’m gonna be in a macro rich environment, sure I’ll pack the macro. But more often than not though, taking the macro means leaving some other lens behind, and that can be a tough pill to swallow.

The other macro option is to use an add-on to modify another lens; extension tubes. Tubes aren’t the only option, there are also close up lenses, and each have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s tubes I’m talking about because it’s tubes I’m giving a whirl.

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LED Panel Project – PWM Control Test 1 lede

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about my LED light project. This article is no different. There’s functionally two aspects of this project that I’m working on simultaneously. One is designing an actual LED Light panel, we the controller for one at least ,and the other is more investigative work on various control mechanisms and the required level of precision and accuracy for control.

The intent of this experiment is to begin to look at the accuracy of PWM control over LEDs, especially as they approach very low duty cycles.

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Dynamic Range and Lights lede

Today I want to talk briefly about dynamic range, but not that of a camera sensor. Instead I want to talk about the dynamic range of a light.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’m working on designing an LED Light Panel controller and part of designing such a thing is figuring out what the operating range of the light should be. Specifically I need to make decisions on two key factors, how far the light can be dimmed, and what kind of resolution I want to have in the dimming (e.g. 1/3-stop steps or 1/10-stop steps).

Now this may sound like an obvious answer? More is better right?

But this is going to be digitally controlled, and that means that it is subject to a whole host of “limitations”.

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Quite a while back, before I learned the proper terminology, I wrote about the metameric failures here and here that occur when using non-tungsten light sources. These sources have become increasingly common and popular due to their low power consumption and low heat output, and solid state — LED — lighting forms the basis of my DIY lighting project exactly because of those reasons.

Since cheap LED light strips are the focus of this project, it seemed useful to make at least some rudimentary tests on the color quality of light. Since I don’t yet have the neutral or cool white LEDs that I intend to use for the final panels, I’ll have to revise this in the future to deal with that, but rudimentary tests now at least make some considerations to the quality of light that can be achieved.

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