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.

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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).

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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…

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

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

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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)…

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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!
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This guy had surprisingly awesome color rendition and plenty of angle for me to work with too.
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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.
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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.

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With surprisingly decent results to boot.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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

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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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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.

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

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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:

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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.

Guide: Starting DSLR Photography (On a Budget)

Lately more and more of my friends are starting to really get into photography just as I have 8 months ago, and their top question is the same as mine: can I get a real bang-for-the-buck deal without selling a kidney?

Answer is, of course, yes, and with a very pleasant learning tool on top- Nikon + older/vintage full-manual lenses.

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Brand Preference

Typical follow-up question is: well, why Nikon over Canon? Inherently, because of lens selection versatility and thus budget. There are other contrasting differences, and I will go over them for the sake of a less blindly-biased guide.

Canon bodies offer built-in auto-focus, better video recording capability, and extremely cheap looks (haha). The in-house lens selection is vast and fits all grades of quality and prices, but the ones in question here are the lowest-priced, beginner consumer ones that sport equally cheap look and feel (especially the manual focus rings on the primes, like the 50mm f/1.8). You’re also limited to using EF mount lenses that only date back to 1987. So you can forget about using your father or grandfather’s gems out-of-the-box (aka without a special adapter). And now, onto my choice of Nikon over Canon.

Nikon beginner bodies (D3x00 and D5x00 series, as well as older ones like D40, D40X, D60) lack that built-in auto-focus motor, so that feature will depend on getting a modern day consumer level lenses with built-in AutoFocus-Servo (AF-S). Quite crucial for sports and nature, but not other types of photography (and definitely not helping you learn how to shoot film camera style). Nikon offers lower ISO noise than Canons (low-light photography) and are thus much better for classic, still photography. Video features are still quite capably, but Canon does win in this category marginally. The real gem however, is actually lack of internal auto-focus servo and Nikon’s F mount.

Brief History

The F mount dates back to 1959 and thus adds an enormous choices of lenses from all generations. Prior to 1977, all Nikon lenses were completely mechanical, simple, and offered solid image quality without any of the modern coating. At the turn of 1977, Nikon introduced the AutoIndexing (AI) so that the camera body could tell the user how bring or dark the scene is based on the lens’ current aperture.

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(Left is 50mm f/2 non-AI, right is a 24mm f/2.8 AI)

The design of the mount became slightly different, and modern Nikon bodies in the D7x00 series and higher require AI lenses to avoid damaging the auto-focus servo. This translates to inability to use lenses prior to 1977 on fancier bodies without the AI conversion (that Nikon did for a long period of time, and several private individuals do today). So, having a more simple body can be good for your budget when you’re just starting out.

Vintage vs Modern

So, why the fixation on vintage lenses? That bang-for-the-buck factor in its purest form. These lenses may be old, but back in those days there was no consumer and professional grades of equipment. Everything was professional quality, and people often could not even afford to buy a lens even if they could get a camera body. And the only thing that has changed since for these gems is simply their age, not their solid performance.

Here’s a sample with a modern 35mm f/1.8G lens ($200) and then a sample with my 1966 50mm f/2 (~$40):

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Both are sharp, both are fast, but the older 50mm has far less frequent fringing than the 35mm (see my reviews under my photography page). The bokeh is perfectly round on the 35mm due to having modern, curved aperture blades unlike straight ones on the 50, but it’s a mere matter of preference. For the most part, aside from being (able to be) full-auto or being full-manual, these lenses run neck to neck; aside from the price tag.

So here is the real nitty-gritty benefit of using old, full manual lenses: they teach you how to shoot. You HAVE to know the aperture and how it, shutter speed, and ISO work together in order to get a good shot. You HAVE to be able to focus by hand (though camera’s focusing algorithm still works and it will blink a green dot in the viewfinder when you are in focus for sure). So, you will have to learn how to shoot a film camera without having to waste money and time on actual film, developing it, and other inconveniences.

So, what befit does this serve? You learn how to be a photographer and not some monkey pointing a computerized camera at something and clicking a button to get that perfect quality shot. You have to think about what you’re doing. You have to know what settings to use. And since these lenses will get you thinking, you will automatically begin applying other aspects like composition into the whole equation. Your ability as a photographer will progress much faster than if you just used automatic settings and lenses, and at a fraction of the cost of those to boot!

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(Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 Macro)

Equipment Suggestions

So the big question- what to buy? Either D3x00 system or the D5x00 system is fine, and pick whichever suits the needs you think you’ll have better (do specs research yourselves).

Keep in mind that vintage glass is designed for the full frame sensors/film cameras, and our crop sensors add a x1.5 “zoom” in the field of view. Perspective of the lens does not change, but how much you will see through it reduces by 1.5. So for instance, a 35mm lens on a DX Nikon will have the same field of view as a 50mm lens on a film/FX camera. Now, there is the sweet-spot benefit to this loss of viewing angle- since vintage lenses are designed to project the image on a bigger area, the DX APS-C sensor only covers its projection area closer to the center thus avoiding any flaws the edges of these lenses may hide.

What lens to start with? Here you have 2 potential routes.

  • 1st route: get Nikkor 18-70 f/3.5-4.5 AS-F DX or either of its brothers (18-105 or 18-135) as your “kit” lens. Then simply play around with its full zoom/focal range and try to find your favorite one in order to decide what prime lens to get, since that prime of your choice will be your daily driver and photography teacher all in one. Just be mindful that the prime you get will really feel like its x1.5 “zoom” equivalent.
  • 2nd route: I will call this one the Point And Shoot route. Try to get a prime lens between 24mm and 50mm tops. Whatever you choose to get will become your default (since it’ll be your only lens), and your path of growth will come from feeling what your default is missing that you wish it could do (could be to have a farther reach, could be macro, could be actually having a zoom capability).

So, plan your purchase accordingly, and happy shooting to all of the newcomers!

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I’ll update this guide if I have something else to add.

First Impressions – Sigma 24mm Super-Wide II f/2.8 Macro (Manual) (1981)

Got this sucker in my quest for a wider and closer-focusing lens for indoor events, in vintage/all-manual variety. Only ran me an incredibly lucky $41 plus shipping for a mint condition piece with original leather case and the crappy snap-on hood (that’s broken, but nothing superglue can’t fix). It is also an AI lens, so it’s compatible with all Nikons off the bat. The build is full metal with the exception of the rubber grip on the focus ring and a full plastic aperture ring. Focus ring feels tight, but I would guess that it would loosen up and become very smooth, yet still solid just like my Nikkor-H 50mm. Disassembly looks fairly simple in case the need for repairs arises.

For history, based on the Japan Camera Inspection Institute quality control sticker, this lens and all in its batch passed the test and were from 1981. Bit newer than my 1966 50mm, but the difference in quality is extremely noticeable.

And now, onto the snaps of this puppy and my Nikkor-H 50mm f/2:

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How close can it go?

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Now it made me want to revisit my extension tube I got with the 50-

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And here comes the Bismuth grown in Germany-

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And one of the end of a Flowlight-

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Now onto the fringing test, which impressed the hell out of me as it did with the 50H. Another neat part about this lens is that it can do half-stops for aperture:

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If you compare it with 35mm f/1.8G, Sigma blows it completely out of the water, and it is extremely pleasing considering $160 difference in costs between the two.

Now for some edited and unedited outdoor snaps to show what this little guy can do-

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And now for some daytime shots, to really test the colors:

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(Slightly edited sky)

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And to finish this off, something really tasty-

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Also very pleased with the 35mm equivalent width for cramped indoor events. Definitely not something I could squeeze even out of my 35G.

And so you have it ladies and gentlemen- this Sigma definitely takes the cake considering how inexpensive it can be from time to time. Another nominee for inexpensive glass of fame in my book.

RAW Natural Artists – En Masse

Was a superb little party at Penn Social, DC, on Sunday night. Besides supporting my friend Mike and his Disco Zoo showcase, I was thrilled to finally see some of my photography on a very nice display. While you’re just starting out, especially in a creative field, even something this small is a pretty big feat and a step forward from the darkness.

Feel free to see the full album here.

First Impressions – Yongnuo 565 EX for Nikon (YN-565 EX)

Very last piece of gear on my list is now in the house. Retails for ~ $150 and sports excellent features for its price. Usual free diffuser gift from Chinese ebay stores, and essential accessory for these big guns.

Package is simple, but very nice – detailed manual, quick reference card, nice storage pouch and the stand for using this off-camera.

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And now some shots with it. These two were at low and high power at I believe f/11 and ISO100, which is a ridiculous number for anything indoor and hand-held.

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iTTL mode works perfectly and ev compensation on-the-fly is easy and works great. Manual mode is 1 button away and even easier to work with. Diffuser does real magic.

Shot of a bumblebee at ISO100, f/11 outside.

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Slightly edited butterly mid-flight, at f/5.6 and ISO200.

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Excellent flash all in all, and more tests to come. Refresh rate is very good too.