Hard Work Pays Off – Hoferart.com Updates

So my numerous sessions with Christian Hofer of http://www.hoferart.com finally got updated into his website and I couldn’t be happier to see everything be put to good use. The cover shot as well as everything under Live Painting section.



Future collaborations will be on an even higher level since I’ve since overhauled my workhorse to a full frame sensor and the quality of the picture it puts out blows most of these completely out of the water.


Canon Crop Sensor Gear – Just Like Condoms

Apparently, and I had no idea solely due to assuming that Canon’s eternal rivalry with Nikon led to their cameras sharing most of the basic features, but I guess not.

So Nikon’s full frame bodies support crop sensor lenses with smaller glass elements by using an equivalent portion of the whole sensor that the crop lens will cover – crop mode. Though you lose more than 1.5x the megapixels, you can still enjoy the old lenses; especially if you’ve invested into pro-level, f/2.8 ones. Since Nikon offers pro-level crop bodies, it surely does lenses and they cost about as much as their full frame counterparts. In short, no Nikon lens ever becomes useless even as you climb up the body ladder.

Seems that on the contrary, Canon made a straight and simple split between two sensor formats AND with them all of their lenses. So if you’ve saved up for that sweet pro-grade 2.8 crop lens before you scraped the money to move to a glorious full frame body, you’d have to save ALL over again for a different lens to do the same exact thing in a larger format.

So never mind Canon cutting off their vintage selection of glass from all their modern bodies, that’s honestly not what enough of the population is even interested in, but essentially splitting up their current selection in half forcing you to re-acquire everything per jump into full frame is simply retarded.

So my Canon folks, why do you even bother with the company?

Final Reflections Before I Jump… to FX.

So a year some went by since I realized that I wanted to man a camera seriously with 48032 clicks on my D5100 (via camerashuttercount.com).


This thing was a real trooper and survived more than your average camera gets put through these days- various lenses, traffic slalom, snow, poorly lit conditions, and not that much rain due to its lack of weather sealing (snow doesn’t count since its magical substance that simply shakes off before getting inside of anything).

It saw the kit lens days, including 55-200 that quickly made me realize that I DO want a long telephoto and I want it in a much better quality than ‘5-200 had to offer…


Not that I didn’t take some neat snaps with this one,


But it really does not compare to my realistic tele-zoom dream- 70-300 VR.


But this thing came much, much later on since I went through a dirt-poor photographer stage and couldn’t event squeeze enough cash out of my pockets for this guy. I did get weary of kit quality, despite upgrading to a much more capable 18-70 DX along the way, and fiddling around to fix its busted manual focus ring (that I honestly seldom used anyway)…


So budget days brought about the biggest revelation and my best to-date photography teacher: Nikkor-H 50 f/2.

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This was a true, full-manual bargain that also came with an extension tube that I didn’t fully and properly break in until way, way later.

This lens required me to truly learn aperture as a whole and rewarded me with a realm of speed being an f/2 lens, which IS miles better than kit 3.5 and up. Not to mention its sharpness that really impressed me given that the 50 survived all the way from 1966 (via some internet serial number sleuthing) and that it only cost me ~$45 with postage.

And drove my enthusiasm through the roof, making me try crazy stunts like shooting bees using an ancient piece of glass coupled with some insanity.

This combo (or rather, mostly the 50 since I neglected the 18-70 hence after) lasted me until my decision to invest into some fast auto-focusing glass for the sake of night-time action shots.

Did I like this $200 worth of plastic and silent focusing? Even despite it leading to my discovery of chromatic aberration that I’ve never seen prior to shooting this little guy? Given the power to trust my 5100 to focus for me third of a stop faster, it was quite refreshing indeed.

And the round bokeh! This lens became the new workhorse given the season for DC road skating and me not wanting to have to worry about poor aperture vs manual focus.

Consistent and terrible CA in direct light still bugs the heck out of me, but I just can’t deny the usefulness of this little guy.

Eventually the 18-70 found a new home and has been treated and treating the new owner very well from what I hear, feeling right at home on another D5100 to boot.

I finally mustered up the funds for the glorious 70-300 and it became my primary workhorse of a lens unless I absolutely needed a wider angle than it offered. I absolutely abused it at the National Zoo, which eventually led to some collaborations with a good new friend.

I worked my stubborn, natural-light mentality towards a proper flash that changed the game very substantially towards a positive new level and started to miss <50mm kind of field of view since my 18-70 was no longer at my side. I’ve also come to miss having a mid-range zoom since the flash took care of having relatively low aperture and having a zoom would have been much more convenient indoors than dancing around with my primes. My solution? Another bargain hunt- Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 for a whopping $40 shipped, and it even came with the original leather case!
This guy had surprisingly awesome color rendition and plenty of angle for me to work with too.
Somewhere in between all of that I got lucky with my research tendency and actually narrowed down a dream lens, that I got lucky enough to be able to find and afford around past October- Nikkor 45mm f/2.8 AI-P pancake. The modern remake of the old one, and pretty much the only duo of true pancake lenses Nikon ever made. It sported uncanny thin profile and the oldest, Zeiss-like Tessar lens design.
And once this went into action, I would rarely take it off despite being forced to use manual focus and only having f/2.8 as my highest aperture. This lens simply felt perfect for me, and this is speaking with the DX field of view, so of all others I can’t wait to use it as it was intended to be on a FX body.
The ghosting/flare rendering is extremely unique thanks to the Tessar design and I love having something that produced unique images. A lovely flower of light instead of the standard straight scatter.

I’ve done some odds and ends with this thing too, like mounting it onto my neglected macro extension tube and using a ring light on its front via step-up rings.


With surprisingly decent results to boot.


And so, now I’m ready to enter a whole new world of full frame sensors and plethora of useful settings to help me fight my ideas and framing more than the ISO and shutter speed on the camera. D5100 has been a solid starter, with pretty capable video capability, but it’s simply not a body I want to trust with small things and feel confident in its judgement of my idea of utmost quality. Hopefully my D600 that should be here in couple of days will rise to the challenge with confidence and quality. Based on all the reviews I’ve watched and read, as well as user opinions, it should be able to do just that for where I am on my learning curve.

What Settings to Use for…

Perhaps the most asked question from beginners all over the photography forums and the internet today- what settings should I use to shoot X?

There are only 2 proper answers that can cover the typical factors involved such as lighting, subject motion, additional lighting, time frame to take the shot, and mounting of the camera:

  • Shoot using Auto mode, it knows how to adjust everything for you.
  • Learn how aperture works as a whole and take quick test shots, since you can instantly view the fruit of your work on your camera’s LCD screen, and adjust further as needed.

First off, we are no longer in the film age where it was impossible to view your work instantly and it is silly not to abuse the new edge we have. We don’t even need light meters or extensive understanding of golden aperture settings to suit any kind of situation; however, a concrete basic understanding is always a must because manually exposed shots will how out exactly how you wanted them to as opposed to whatever the camera will decide on its own.

Coming back to the beginning, any given shot has way too many factors involved for the person typically asking about how to take it to even fully comprehend, and to boot, there are always several different ways to achieve the same exact result (with an ever so slight, often negligible difference) that makes answering such questions more difficult and not as accurate as quick trial and error right on the scene.

Here are 2 shots taken with big enough of a difference in settings to achieve extremely similar results:



These 2 can also represent slightly different styles of photography and the right one, even for this shot, depends heavily on what the photographer wants. No one else can really predict nor decide that, but neither will you be able to achieve such looks using camera’s Auto settings since only Manual allows you to keep everything the way you want.

So I encourage everyone to learn via experiments on the scene rather than trying to prepare for it beforehand through someone else’s advise. I have encountered numerous shoots where there were 2 or even 3 sets of settings that made for successful shots depending on what exact look I was going for, so hearing advise regarding it would not have really helped.

5 x 5 – A Bargain Experiment (CPC MC 70-162mm f/3.5 AUTO ZOOM Macro)

$5 subject, and literally a $5 lens. What can it do?

The contender is once again my Bismuth crystal and this new bargain glory- CPC MC 70-162mm f/3.5 Macro telephoto zoom. Got it as is from a local store for mere $5, and given its age and cost today, this thing is in immaculate condition.





Zoom and macro mechanisms are both internal, giving this thing pro kinda feel. Focus is the whole front element, which rotates outwards as you focus closer. Cool feature I haven’t seen in ages is a built-in, slide-out hood:



But, how well can it macro? Pairing it up with my good old macro extension tube, results were pretty solid.

And a crop-

And some other shots-

Not shabby at all, and much easier to manipulate than my primes in hopes of achieving similar results. Zoom and manual aperture are definitely a must options for still macro photography, though auto focus wouldn’t hurt either.

Field test shots weren’t that terrible either, although they do leave you wanting something better at the end of the day.

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First Impressions – Dolica GX650B204 Proline GX Series 65 inch Tripod

So my quest for previously unattainable night cityscapes pushed me towards finally getting a tripod. Dilemma was not to spend more than a beginner-intermediate level is worth as well as not over $100.

After some homework, I decided to try this Dolcia after reading an awesome review over at Str8ShotPhoto. The current price tag of mere $55 considering all of the features this rig has sure beats anything found in retailers like Best Buy or Caulmet right now.

I wanted a solid, light tripod without leg connectors to be able to set it as high or as low as I’d want, a quick release plate, and a dedicated panning swivel joint and this Dolcia has all of these and then some.


So it comes with a very nice carrying bag, which I honestly wouldn’t expect out of $55 (though plenty of tripods have these as default accessory).

The head features a nice dual action release, that is said to help prevent any accidental slips- the knob on the left loosens the plate and then a button on the right lowers the safety peg that allows you to remove the plate off the mount. I’ve read that some people saying that the ball head does not hold the weight as well when over-tightened, and it seems true. To “fully” tighten it, you only need to twist the tightening knob a little bit as opposed to cranking it all the way down. A little odd, but a nice feature when quick repositioning is required. Lastly, the panning joint is very nice and smooth with some resistance even when it is fully loosened. Quite a nice feature to allow for a smooth pan instead of having some jerks in the process.


The camera mounting bolt can move a bit as well to let you fine-tune where you want this thing on the base of your camera. Helpful when you wish to offset it a bit or correct an offset mounting hole that certain battery grips have.


Next is something I would not expect even in some $100 range tripods: a weight hook with a twist- it mounts via standard bolt, so if you wish to mount the camera to the bottom of the center column, you no longer have to remove and flip the whole thing. Quite nifty for those tricky low-angle shots.


The base column can lock when extended all the way up. Extra safety or if you simply wish to ditch the hook mount altogether.


Legs are aluminum and sport 4 sections altogether, 3 being extendable and lockable via quick and simple locks.


Now legs are perhaps the most interesting features as they include both rubber tips and studs for those off-roading set ups, and unlike many other tripods this feature is integrated in this Dolcia. Simply twist the rubber feet all the way down or up to reveal the studs.


My D5100 in all its glory


And a couple test shots of our Christmas tree @ISO 100, f/22, and 15-20 second exposure + usual post processing.

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And as always, updates will come as I take this thing for a field test.

Another Macro Dabble – Extension Tube – 45mm f/2.8 AI-P

Had this thing ever since I got my 50mm f/2, but hardly used it since I didn’t quite grasp the essence of this direction before. So, I proceeded to use my 45mm AI-P paired with the tube and my WJ-60 light to shoot some Bismuth.



Try one was pretty nice, so I proceeded with a slightly better setup for this-



Thanks to my friend, a lil shot of me doing my experiment. This time the subject was propped up, camera mini-tripod’ed, and remote in full swing to minimize any shaking.

The final result (after very minor photoshopping the prop stand out), quite nice:


While nowhere near a proper 1:1 kinda stuff, this is a solid close-up method on a budget since virtually any lens at hand will suffice and older non-AI extension tubes are dirt cheap. An older lens with manual aperture will help, but isn’t crucial since shooting at a small aperture is better for macro.

And So, A Year Goes By

Friday, the 27th, marked my D5100’s technical birthday. The little bugger went through hell and back over this year and I can’t quite think what I haven’t tried to shoot with it. As of the very last shot on Thursday, the shutter count was 43543 via CameraShutterCount.com. That quite the mileage I put on it in just a year- far more than I used to put on cars when I drove and commuted.

And so, one of the very first shots this guy took was this one-


And the 43543rd was this-

Was a pretty fulfilling year in terms of a new direction in life, and this next one will be bigger, better, and uncut.

Bresson Split Focusing Screen – Nikon D5100

After much research and decision, I went with an ebay purchase from China. The brand is Bresson and they seem to make a ton of these resin focusing screens for most of the DSLRs out today. Here is their product page for these nifty little buggers.

Just in case some of you haven entered photography after the film ages, this is how focusing screens used to be- 2 or 4 little prisms embedded into the main screen. Each small screen sits at an opposite angle than its other half, thus splitting the incoming scattered (out of focus) light in different directions unless it is in focus. The circle around aids too by adding grain to the image while it is out of focus. So 2 ways to get something in focus is either using the inner circle and aligning subject’s lines until they appear straight and/or using the outer grainy circle until it looks crystal clear and thus in focus.

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As you can see, it works just fine albeit not matching up the stock AF points exactly in the middle. No big deal in my opinion, considering it only costs $20 unlike Katzeye and other brands ($80-150).

Is it accurate? From what I can tell, it is. Tested focusing with both AF-S 35mm f/1.8G as well as D5100’s on-board meter (green dot indicator) and both confirmed the split-cirle.

Now, this kind of screen can also be a great tool for testing your AF- whether it hit where you wanted it to or to quickly override it if it starts to hunt past the good focal point. I can definitely see this prism being essential for anything macro.

Based on promises from Katzeye screens, they treat the surfaces with compounds that help brighten the image and offer another treatment that reduces the split circle blackening when shooting at lower f/ stops. All modern Nikons always keep the aperture wide open until you take a shot, so realistically this issue will never surface unless you use a lens with a high maximum f/ number like 5.6. This one indeed becomes a few shades darker when using my 70-300 since the lens’ maximum range is 4.5-5.6, but even with such effect it is still easy to focus and use.

Installation: quite easy with skilled and nimble hands, though packaging could have been a hint more professional. This came in a box with metal and rubber-tip, plastic tweezers; rubber finger tips; soft cloth; and the screen in a ziplock baggie wrapped into the cloth. All you have to do is VERY, VERY carefully push the wire bracket holding the screen in down to unlatch it, let it drop down, let the screen drop onto it, grab the stock screen with plastic tweezers and place it on the cloth, grab the new screen and try to pop it into its slot, then using your fingers in rubber finger tips close the wire bracket back up. Viola. Note that the wire bracket needs to be bent down to get into its locking piece.

Should you spend $150 for specially-treated screen? If it makes you feel better, why not; however, this Bresson thing is everything I expected and am perfectly happy with it so far. One of these is definitely a must for any sharp shooter out there, especially when using manual-focus, high aperture lenses like 2.0-1.2.

First Impressions – Yongnuo WJ-60 Macro Photography LED Light

Decided on my truly last piece of affordable gear to put an end to my/camera’s struggle to focus in very low light/pitch-black situations with this wonderful ring LED rig. Decided to go with Yongnuo again since 565 EX I got was a VERY solid flash, so I trust this little brand.


This guy uses 3xAAA batteries; has a hard on/off switch; and a left and right buttons that cycle through brightness modes, half-on modes, or turn it off (ready to be turned back on via another press of either button).


It has 60 LEDs in two rings and a total of 6 modes- all on, half off, left half fully on, left half half off, and likewise for the right half. Not too shabby for a $30 rig.


It can mount in two ways- onto the lens tip like a proper macro light or into the camera’s hot shoe like a flash via plastic mount. Both work quite well. Since its completely autonomous unit, it can just be hand-held as an aid light or even mounted on a stand.

To fully test it, I rigged my D5100 with both this light and my proper flash.



I even tried it with my 70-300 VR for a completely beastly setup-


And of course the lewd setup using my 45mm AI-P that’s thinner than the LED ring with a quarter width to spare. Best part is that I can still use the filter-style hood along with all these lights on this lens!


And onto some “macro”-ish shots-





And edited-


Conclusion thus far? Awesome macro light! While it can’t double as a flash since it’s completely analog, it doesn’t really interfere with using a real flash and does what it needs to do perfectly- illuminate dark places enough to use the big boy properly focused.

Follow-up: And a few shots using the WJ-60 as a base light and then on-board flash at 1/32 the power: