Archive for August 2010

 
 

New Prime Lens Choices

I’ve narrowed down my hunt for a new prime lens to two. Neither are 50mm. The reason for that is that I find the 50mm lens to be too constricting. You need to be a good distance away from someone to capture more than just half their face with that. This is not helped by the fact that my camera, the Canon XTi, is not a full frame camera. It has a 1.6x crop factor, so the 50mm acts like an 80mm lens. That’s great for portraits in studio or outdoor situations where you have lots of breathing room. It’s awful when you’re in the same room of a house with the subject, or in a bar with them, or anywhere relatively close.

50mm is something of a sweet spot in photography, though. It’s close to the way the eye actually works. So to get to 50mm with my non-full frame camera, I need to get a lens closer to 35mm.

Thankfully, there are two viable options, both well reviewed.

The first is the Canon 35mm f/2 lens. It’s a hair slower at f/2 instead of f/1.8 (less than a third of a stop, I believe), but I don’t think I’ll ever notice. It’s the equivalent lens for a crop sensor camera, and I’m surprised it’s not talked about more often. The reviews at FredMiranda.com are pretty good, with an average 8.8 rating.

There IS a better lens — the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. It’s a professional lens, earning the “L” ranking for Canon’s system. This also means the price is nearly quadruple that of the f/2. So nevermind that.

Sigma makes a 30mm f/1.4 lens that is also getting good reviews at FredMiranda.com, which is where I go to start any lens purchase hunt. It has great reviews from a variety of Real World users for every lens.

In any case, the Sigma is an extra $100 over the Canon, but it’s also a touch wider and a half stop faster. It’d be the fastest lens I’ve ever used. And it’s still about the same price as the Canon 50mm f/1.4. I considered that lens, too, but I’m shying away from 50mm.

Both lenses have had complaints about being soft when wide open, and both have had some auto focus difficulty, according to some voices on the ‘net.

So it’s a toss-up. I can actually get the Canon at the local camera store for a hair under $300, while the Sigma is over $400. If they’re roughly equivalent lenses, then Canon wins handily. But the Sigma does let in more light, which might be a great thing to have in some situations. And it includes a lens hood! (OK, so that’s a $10 advantage. No big whoop.)

The more reviews I read, the more confusing the whole situation becomes. I’m not averse to third party lenses. My Tamron lens is my work horse. So which to go with? I don’t know just yet. I’m just thinking out loud today.

The Insides of a Canon 50mm f/1.8 Lens

If you’ve ever wondered what the inside of a camera lens looks like, here’s mine:

<

p>

Sad News – My Nifty Fifty’s Death

My Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens died this weekend. It’s my fault. I jammed my camera into my camera bag and heard a sound. That little plastic Nifty Fifty was hiding in the corner and my camera broke it apart. While it’s interesting to see the inside of a lens, it’s not something you want to see on YOUR lens. EVER.

At the same rate, the Nifty Fifty is a notoriously cheap lens. It’s total plastic, and breaks easily. I just learned that lesson personally. It sucks.

And because it’s so cheap, it’s not worth sending out for fixing, because the usual minimum repair charge is more than the cost of the lens, itself.

So, new lens? Yes. I definitely want one. I want a fast prime lens. There’s nothing like the look of a prime lens. I don’t know all the physics reasons for it. They’re a simpler design, so there’s less stuff between the light and my camera’s sensor, I guess. And with that wide open aperture, it’s a great lens for low light. They also tend to be cheaper than zoom lenses, not that any lens in the world is actually “cheap.” So, what to do, what to do.

Tomorrow: The Options.

The Wiggles Wrap-Up

So, after spending the better part of the week talking about photographing the concert, how was the actual concert?

Pretty cool, actually.

I spent one night cruising YouTube looking at Wiggles videos during the week. I believe now more than ever that what I wrote last week was dead-on: If you know the Wiggles from their TV show, you’re going to hate ‘em. If you know them as a live kids’ band, you’re going to appreciate them a lot more. Watching videos of them in Elvis jumpsuits lip-synching to a medley of their early hits from The Disney Channel circa 2003 is painful. Watching the cheaply-produced show with over-the-top characters is annoying.

But, at the heart of it, the music is catchy and the four members of the band are entertaining. Watching them live on stage, you can feel the chemistry amongst the members of the band, and even with the back-up Wiggly Dancers. Something you don’t get enough of from the concert videos is the improvising and joking around they do between songs, with genuine laughter back and forth.

And they’re not perfect, but at least they didn’t forget any words. I still don’t know how they can do all that singing and dancing at the same time. I’m out of breath just watching them. But, wait, Sam tweeted about that a couple weeks back:

Singing while dancing is similar to holding your breath while swimming.Tiring. Add low oxygen from high altitude = drowning

So there you have it.

Now, I need more concerts to photograph! When’s Dora coming through?

The Wiggles and Wiggly Dancers and Dorothy take a bow

The Wiggles and Wiggly Dancers and Dorothy take a bow

Backgrounds (or the Lack Thereof) Are Important

wiggles_feathersword

The number one mistake I think most people make in their photographs is in not considering the backgrounds. They can detract from the focal point of a picture or just plain clutter it up with useless detail. Even worse is when a pole appears to be sticking out of someone’s head because the subject is standing in front of a traffic sign or a phone pole.

I don’t think half my pictures would be as good as they are if I had instead been sitting on the floor in front of the stage. All the pics would then have been fighting the busy lighting patterns and colors of the central “Wiggly Circus” display behind the performers. By being to the side of the stage, where the backgrounds for all the pics would be the dark seating area that they didn’t even sell tickets to, I ensured the ability to get flat plain black backgrounds, thus focusing on the performers.

The one hang-up I did have, though, was the speaker located on the near corner of the stage. I had to fight my way around that quite often, mostly in the wider shots. There’s a skill to using foreground elements in landscape photography, but that’s not what I was going for that day.

There’s no perfect position. If I were in the front row on the floor level, all my pics would be up the Wiggles’ noses.

Strangely enough, there were open seats in the first three rows of my section. Only one parent took her kids down there. If I weren’t blocked seven seats in, I might have taken a quick walk down for a couple different pictures, too.

Two Concert Camera Preparations I Missed

Two equipment issues popped up at the concert:

Like I said, I didn’t have my battery grip attached to the camera. That meant I was operating on one battery’s worth of power instead of two. It was a fresh battery, so I wasn’t worried too much. In the end, it wasn’t a problem. I only lost one bar of power through the whole concert. I guess not using the flash helped. I also turned down the brightness of my LCD screen. It needn’t be so bright, after all. I was in a dark concert hall. And that brightness is a notorious battery drain.

The second thing turned out to be the bigger challenge. I only had one 8 gigabyte memory card in my camera. And it already had 100 pictures on it, only a few of which hadn’t been previously transferred to the computer. Still, that left room for another 600 – 700 pictures, so no big deal, right?

I wound up deleting by hand all of those pictures on the card that I didn’t need. And my final frame was shot during the curtain call at the end of the show. I could have used another dozen frames or so, but I don’t think I missed much. If I had brought my 2 GB card in with me, I probably could have filled it up. I slowed down a bunch in the last 15 minutes of the concert.

Interestingly, my camera tells me that an 8GB card should hold just over 700 RAW pictures, at 10 megapixels. I ended up stuffing almost 800 pictures on the card before I was done. I imagine the file sizes were smaller because half of every image was just inky blackness? Maybe?

Next: Backgrounds are important! That should be the final photographic post in this saga. I might have one last post about the Wiggles, themselves, though…

The final semi-decent picture I took at the concert

The final good picture I took of the concert

Wiggles: Manual Mode

Always shoot in manual.

Use aperture priority to get the general gist of where you’re shooting, but then switch to manual. Why? Aperture Priority mode blows out the highlights every time. Try exposure compensation if you want (and I did, to the tune of two stops), but it will still blow out pixels where the spotlights hit the performers square in the face and chests.

Shooting in manual and playing with shutter speeds helps. I could choose a shutter speed twice as fast and get a much better picture. With less light being let in, the dark background would go black, helping to isolate the Wiggle, and those highlights wouldn’t blow out. They’d look more like plain old studio lights.

I went from shooting 1/60th of a second in some cases to 1/320th and 1/200th. And the pictures were sharper and better exposed. The Image Stabilization of the lens helped a bunch, too. I could never have pulled off those shots without it. At 300mm, the image looks very shaky through your viewfinder if you don’t have IS turned on.

The astute photographic minds amongst you realize I’m breaking a cardinal rule of photography already, the reciprocal rule — that your shutter speed should be one over the focal length of your lens. On my 1.6x crop sensor camera, a 300mm lens extends out to 480mm. So I should be at 1/500th of a second speed to guarantee sharp images. That wasn’t at all possible. I kept my elbows propped up on my knees and the camera pressed hard against my face to help steady it, but that’s the best I could do. Also, don’t breathe while shooting.

Take this picture, for example:

Slow shutter speed leads to blur and blowouts

Slow shutter speed leads to blur and blowouts

It’s shot in aperture priority, which only gave me 1/60th of a second. That gives you the motion blur. Even in “Rock-a-Bye Bear,” you need something faster. Perhaps even worse, check out Sam’s shirt or Jeff’s face. They’ve gone completely white. The highlights are blown out completely. That data is not recoverable. Trust me, I tried.

On the other hand, I went manual for the next shot:

In manual mode, you can control for more variables

In manual mode, you can control for more variables

It’s 1/320th of a second at 160mm. So it passes the reciprocal rule, keeping everything sharp, despite a fair amount of movement in the scene. And since I was controlling the shutter speed and aperture, both, I kept the highlights from blowing out. I did have to nudge the “Recovery” slider in Lightroom to the right a little bit, but no big deal. I didn’t lose any date in the highlights. The shadows may be lost, but that’s the compromise I made when I took the picture. I made the decision to let them become inky blackness. I don’t need to see the empty seats behind the stage. They’re just clutter.

I chimped constantly. I know it’s not what you’re “supposed” to do, but the light was changing constantly and it’s not like I could ask the Wiggles to redo a song so I can get the exposure right on Dorothy the Dinosaur.

I also ignored the histogram. It’s pointless in this situation. I’m not trying to evenly light the scene. I recognize that what I’m photographing is going to pin to the left side — mostly black. And if it overexposes, I could see the blinkies on my display. So why bother with it?

For slightly larger versions of the pictures in this post, click on the images.

My Wiggles Concert Equipment

I read up on concert photography prior to going to the show. (IShootShows.com has some awesome information. Start there.) I knew I didn’t have the equipment for it, but was prepared to give it a shot, anyway. All the concert photographers will tell you to have a relatively new camera with great high-ISO performance, and lenses that are at least f/2.8, if not wider. Even better: Shoot prime lenses.

Me, I had a nearly-five year old model Canon XTi camera, one 50mm f/1.8 prime lens, and a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens.

Uh oh.

But two things work in my favor with that: First, I had a great seat. We were off to the right side of the stage, eight rows off the floor, just about even with the front of the stage. So, basically, we were just over eye level with the Wiggles, and not that terribly far away. My 50mm lens would just squeeze in the entire stage. My 70-300mm lens would give me portraits of people close up, and full body images of performers at the far end of the stage.

Second, Lightroom has good noise reduction features. LR3 is amazing, from what I’ve seen, but I don’t have it yet. (Won’t work on my ancient PowerPC-chipped Mac.) But LR2 does the job just swell, thanks. Plus, I don’t plan on blowing any of these images up that large, so I don’t need them to be so clean.

I had to shoot the entire concert at ISOs 800 and 1600 (mostly the latter) but I got images that were surprisingly usable. Plus, it’s the Wiggles: They light up the whole stage. And I’m not trying to get pictures of the people in their seats where it’s dark. I’m happy to have them disappear.

Still, shutter speeds weren’t always super fast, so I had to do two things to compensate:

First, I shot in burst mode. For every picture I wanted, I’d take three, figuring one of them would come out sharp enough.

Second, I chose my moments. Having watched the Wiggles concerts before, I knew some of what I was in for. I knew the poses that specific Wiggles would hold. I knew where in the song the most movement would be and so should avoid those spots. So choosing more pictures of people closer to me (more open f/stop at closer distances on my telephoto zoom) at times when they’d strike a pose was a big help.

But I still had one LARGE lesson to learn, and it’s the one that hurt the most. I’ll discuss that on Monday. (CLIFFHANGER!)

The Wiggles are feeling strong!

The Music Industry Makes Me Laugh

So let’s get this straight:

Album sales hit a new record low last week, when less than 5,000,000 albums were sold. It’s only the second time that’s happened since SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991. The other time it happened was, of course, earlier this year.

But don’t worry! The RIAA and the radio industry have your back! They have solutions! This is not a problem.

First, they want Congress to mandate that FM radio tuners are put into all mobile devices. Because, you know, Congress has nothing better to do. This, they assume, will broaden their audience, who will happily pass up all the pre-recorded music on their mobile device — which the RIAA will shortly be suing them for, as we all know it’s mostly pirated — to listen to ads on the local radio stations with bad transmission signals.

By the way, this isn’t something they’re trying to sneak through Congress. It’s not like this is couched in anti-terrorism wording or anything. It’s a naked, shameless, desperate appeal for government intervention in the free market.

While they’re at it, they’re demanding that net neutrality (or the lack thereof) includes anti-piracy measures. No, one has absolutely nothing to do with the other, but has there ever been a hot topic the RIAA hasn’t attempted to press for its own advantage? Wait, this one gets better. They’re pairing up anti-piracy efforts with child pornography. That’s right: The RIAA wants any net neutrality legislation to be sure to include exceptions for piracy and child porn. because, you know, they’re of equal measures.

If it wasn’t so painfully tacky, it would almost be funny.

The RIAA will be needing a fundraiser for all this lobbying. If I were you, I’d be expecting a knock on the door from one of their lawyers. You need to be sued for file sharing. (You have an MP3 paying device, right? They think that’s filled with pirated materials.) Doesn’t matter if you did it or not. They can always extort money from you just to get them to go away.

The only hitch is that the lawyers usually make more. Earlier this year it was reported that the RIAA lawyers made $16,000,000 suing music lovers to recoup $391,000 for “lost sales” from piracy.

I don’t listen to much music anymore, to be honest. I’m past the age of 30, so my tastes have solidified. My music days are behind me. I listen to podcasts, or iTunes or Amazon MP3 Store-purchased songs on my iPhone or computer when I need some background music. The RIAA can do whatever they want and it won’t affect me directly.

But, darn, they’re fun to watch trip over their own shoes.

Shooting the Wiggles Concert

I wasn’t able to get a photo credential to the show, but I didn’t really try, either. My efforts were limited to a desperate Hail Mary attempt on Twitter the night before. Surprisingly, a Wiggles publicist responded, letting me know that the Wiggles shows are camera friendly, so it wouldn’t be a problem. Oh, and Anthony seems to have shaved his head on tour and we haven’t seen that back in Australia yet, so if you get a pic of that, could you pass it over?

I love Twitter.

Not that I didn’t believe her, but we all know the hassles of concert security these days. Looking on IZODCenter.com, the home page for the concert venue, I saw that cameras which were “small” and “nonprofessional” were allowed in. Technically, Canon doesn’t think my camera is professional-level, nor is any of my glass of the white variety of “L” lens. (I am not eligible for Canon Professional Services on any level, so I proudly claim amateur status here.)

I hedged my bets and attached my tiny 50mm lens to the front of my camera, took off the battery grip to make it smaller, and slung it around my neck to get through the front gates. I couldn’t look like more of a point-and-shoot father that way.

The funny thing is, the concert had NO security. Maybe they didn’t want to waste time searching all those diaper bags coming through the door. (I hid my telephoto zoom lens at the bottom of the diaper bag.) Maybe they figure it’s a small kids’ concert, so who’d want to bother?

I’m not sure whether to be grateful for this, or scared, to tell you the truth.

But I was able to attach my long lens, sit back in my seat, and take pics through the whole concert without anyone looking at me twice. At one point, I think Anthony was pointing at me, but I can’t prove that. Odds are better there was a kid with a sign sitting behind me that I didn’t know about.

And, yes, Anthony’s head was shaved clean. At separate points in the concert, Captain Feathersword punctuated the point, referring to Anthony as Daddy Warbucks and Jean-Luc Picard.

Tomorrow: Equipment concerns

How To Enjoy (Not Hate, at least) The Wiggles

The Wiggles ride in on their Big Red Car

The Wiggles ride in on their Big Red Car

Do not watch their television show.   It’s that simple.  From the conversations I’ve had with people who don’t like the Wiggles, the one thing I notice about them is that they had to sit through endless loops of the TV series, which is a cheap green screen affair that’s soul-crushing to adults.  Kids eat it up, but adults want to grind their teeth.   Here’s the trick: Ignore the TV show and buy the two concert movies.  Just enjoy them for the music and the theatrics of the live stage.   Yeah, that’s right: The Wiggles are a Live Band, not an Album Band.   Coming soon: Lots of photography lessons learned from photographing a Wiggles concert.

Wiggles Big Big Show Concert DVD

Wiggles Big Big Show Concert DVD