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50mm Nikkor

"My favorite lens is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8," says Matt Jorgensen. "My dad suggested that I get a 50mm lens to complement the kit lens on my Nikon D70. I took him up on it mostly because he's usually right about most things and the lens only cost $99."

"I soon found myself turning to it quite frequently for candids and low-light shots. It is fantastic for portraits of my kids when I want a shallow depth of field (see attached shot of my son Lucas).

"I also think it improves my photography because it is a fixed focal length lens. I tend to get too caught up in determining the best focal length with zoom lenses and this simple lens seems to make me think more about composition and forces me to move around more. In short, I think everyone should go out and get a low-end 50mm lens. I use mine for both digital and film (Nikon N75 - the attached shot was taken on film)."

Lucas

"For me the extra speed of an f/1.4 lens isn't worth the added cost. An f/1.8 50mm lens costs under $100, is much faster than any kit zoom lens, is small enough to bring along just about anywhere, and will definitely improve your photography."

To tell us about your favorite lens, all you have to do is send an email to derrick@thedigitalstory.com with "Your Name: My Favorite Lens" in the subject line. Provide a paragraph or two about why you like your favorite lens so much. Include the brand, focal length, maximum aperture, and camera body you mount it on. If you have an anecdote about your lens, please include it. You may also submit a picture you took with the lens to illustrate why you like it so much.

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Fuji FinePix F20

The new Fuji FinePix F20 has an incredible array of features including 6.3 MP CCD, image stabilization, 2.5" LCD, extended battery life, 30fps movie capture, 10MB internal memory, and ISO up to 2000. All of this in a compact that will slide into your shirt pocket.

Two of the features that really caught my eye were the i-Flash technology that does a much better job of identifying scenes and exposing them properly with the flash. I think this will have a great impact on party and wedding reception snapshots. I also like the Dual Shot Mode that takes two pictures with a single press of the shutter button: one with flash on and the other with natural lighting. Then you choose which one you like the best.

Add the excellent Fujinon 3x zoom and their new RP Processor II, and I think this compact will be a real winner. Fuji says it will be available in August. They haven't announced the price yet.

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Sigma Macro Lens

Sigma's new 70mm macro lens is approximately 105mm on most APS-sensor DSLRs. Since it focuses from infinity to really close up (1:1 macro), it can serve double duty for portraits too.

Initially it will be available for Canon, Nikon, and Sigma mounts (probably in August). But not long after you'll be able to get the lens for Sony and Pentax DSLRs too. It's a handsome lens with a 62mm front filter ring, super multi-layer lens coating, special low dispersion glass, and an included lens hood.

Street price for the Sigma 70mm should be around $400, which is reasonable for a high performance macro lens that can be used for portrait work also.

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Nikon Capture NX

When Nikon made a big splash at PMA 2006 with its Capture NX software, I was throughly impressed. Unlike applications we typically see from camera manufacturers, Capture NX looks and behaves like finely-crafted software made by engineers who really know what they're doing. Actually, that's the case. Nik software has teamed up with Nikon to produce a real breakthrough for Nikon shooters.

Capture NX brings nondestructive image editing to the NEF format (Nikon's RAW). You can also edit JPEGs and TIFFs with Capture NX, although to avoid compromising the quality of those pictures, you'll need to save those images under a different file name, or simply covert the files into Nikon's NEF format.

One of Capture NX's real innovations is U Point technology. Quite simply, you point to an area of the image you want to edit, then adjust sliders right there on the screen until you're satisfied with the results. This approach is very intuitive and enables you to work quickly.

Windows users need to have XP or 2000 Professional to run Capture NX. Mac users need OS X 10.3.9 or later. Capture NX is not Universal Binary, so it will not run on a Mac/Intel processor. [Update, I should have said run "natively" on a Mac/Intel processor.] As you may have guessed, you can't edit other types of RAW files with this software, although any flavor of JPEG or TIFF is welcome.

For a limited time, you can download a 30-day free trial from Nikon's Software Download page. When released later in July, Capture NX will cost $149.95 for the full package or $89.95 as an upgrade.

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iLifeZone

By popular demand, TDS readers have asked that I post the photo assignments on the web site as well as discussing them in the podcast. You got it!

The July 2006 photo assignment is "heat." It's summer, so let's fire things up and get those sizzling images turned in by July 31. I'll post the images on August 7 (a slightly longer lead time than usual because I'll be on assignment). If you have any questions about the details, visit our Submissions page. To see past winners, take a look at previous photo assignments.

On a different note, the second episode of the iLifeZone is now available in the iTunes Music Store.

Scott Bourne interviews Jason Snell of Macworld Magazine fame, plus we have an iTunes tip from Chris Breen, an introduction to iPhoto Library Manager by me, and a GarageBand goodie from Scott. It's a great show. I hope you have a chance to listen...

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Canon G6

Back when Digital SLRs were wildly expensive, "prosumer" cameras satisfied the needs of advanced amateurs and some pros. These cameras had many SLR features -- such as hotshoes, filter rings, spot meter, manual exposure, fast lenses, and more. Consumers paid a premium price for these cameras, but compared to the even more expensive DSLRs, prosumer models seemed worth it.

In my recent podcast, Five Must-Have Camera Features, I noted the functions that I would insist on if I were buying a prosumer model today. I discuss these because I'm seeing features that were once standard -- such as RAW mode and a hotshoe -- disappearing from this class. Or is it possible this breed of camera is disappearing all together?

Personally, I like cameras such as the Canon G6 and the Sony Cybershot DSC-R1. But these compact, sophisticated picture machines will cost you between $650 and $900. Some people, such as TDS reader Ben D ask, "Why not just buy a DSLR?"

We've already seen Nikon pull back on building prosumer models. Will others follow such as Canon, Olympus, and Sony? Is it time to choose between a beefed-up compact such as the Canon PowerShot S3 IS ($460, but not RAW mode, hotshoe and other "prosumer" features) or a full-blown DSLR such as the Nikon D50? I'm curious about your thoughts around this...

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How to Shoot Fireworks

Fireworks
Photo by TDS reader, Brian C Davenport -- Details at end of article.

Pyromaniacs all across the States are gearing up for their favorite day: The Fourth of July. Technically, it's an American holiday to celebrate independence from England. But we all know its true popularity stems from great BBQ and dazzling fireworks displays. If you want to capture your own fiery composition, here are a few tips.

Let's start with the basics: turn off your flash. Yes, you're going to be shooting in a dark environment, and if your camera is set to auto flash, it's going to fire. This is the last thing you want, so turn it off.

Next, break out the tripod. You're going to be using long exposures. Use a cable or remote release if you have one. If not, just gently press the shutter button with your finger.

Resist the urge to increase your ISO setting. Keep it at 100 to help reduce image noise. You'll also have to switch to manual exposure. Auto exposure will overexpose your dark skies turning them to mushy gray. Start with a manual setting of 3 seconds at F-5.6 or F-8, and see what you get. Adjust accordingly from there.

Finally, use a wide angle lens so you can capture as much of the sky as possible. If you know the display is going to peak in a certain area, you can zoom in a bit. Remember, since you're shooting at the highest resolution possible, you can always crop your image later.

These tips will ensure that you come away from your 4th of July celebration with more than a tummy full of hot dogs and beer. Have a great time!


About the Photo
Brian C Davenport recently went to Windsor,Canada to shoot the Freedom Festival fireworks over the Detroit skyline. Here's how he got the shot.

"It was a very long day but the last 30 min was outstanding," said Brian. "Getting there early in the day gave us a front row seat, right on the shoreline to set up our tripods. I shot about 200 images during the day, and the fireworks shots came out really nice. It was a little tricky as this was a show where there were very few single bursts so there was alot of light in the air most of the time. I settled on 18mm, ISO 100, f8 and 3-5 sec exposure. These settings gave some definition to the bursts without too much "blow-out" of the highlights."

Great shot Brian! Thanks for sending it in.

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Sony DSC H2

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H2 is the main competitor to Canon's highly rated PowerShot S3 IS. Both cameras have been reviewed on DPReview, so we can now compare apples to apples from the same reviewer.

DPReview really likes the Sony H2, giving it a highly recommended rating and a slight edge over the PowerShot S3. One of the deciding factors was the $100-less price tag, making it a better value for the buck.

I'm disappointed that Sony also decided not to include RAW mode with this camera. If they had, I would have recommended it over the S3. But as it stands right now, I have to say that it comes down to personal preferences. Both cameras are solid, and you almost have to hold each of them to decide which one is for you.

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Knock-Out Punch

Eight featured slideshows that are as distinctive as the artists themselves... One photographer used this medium to bring his heritage to life, while others relived vacations or captured the rhythm of everyday events. One entrant created a movie to promote his photography studio. Still others shared life's drama, such as a balmy evening of boxing in Texas, or a garage band's road to local fame. These are just a few of life's tales vividly captured in the entries featured in the FotoMagico Slideshow Showcase.

You can watch each of these presentations, read about the techniques and software the artists used, and consider if any of these approaches might help you better share your images with the world. So sit back, turn up your speakers, and take a trip to the movies, digital story style.

Pentax K100D

Pentax's new K100D DSLR is compatible with any lens that Pentax has ever produced. This is intriguing news for fans of the traditional Pentax K1000, which was the outrageously popular camera for beginning photographers during the 1980s.

In your closet right now you might have the components to build a formidable digital system. The Pentax K100D is an affordable ($699 with 18-55mm lens) 6.1 megapixel DSLR featuring shake reduction technology, 11-point auto focus, 2.5" LCD, and a stainless-steel chassis that is built to last (much in the same way its predecessor the K-1000 stood the test of time).

If you have Pentax lenses stashed away, you might want to further investigate this camera. It's a handsome body with plenty of modern bells and whistles that enables you to use some of your favorite glass from the past. Nice move Pentax!

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