Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lens Review: Tamron SP 150-600MM F/5-6.3 Di VC USD

Image courtesy Tamron

I recently had the opportunity to try out Tamron’s new super-telephoto zoom lens, the SP 150-600MM F/5-6.3 Di VC USD. It was mated to my Canon EOS 5D Mk II in place of the Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens that I’d generally use in the same situations. My primary objective was to photograph the Tule Elk herds at Point Reyes National Seashore, and I also stopped by Piedras Blancas on my way up the California Coast to shoot the elephant seals that haul out on the protected beach above San Simeon.

The Tamron lens feels larger and heavier than the Canon 100-400, and it is. It weighs in at 4.3 lbs., about 1.26 more than the Canon gun, and it’s also almost 3 inches longer. Theoretically, it’s a slower lens, with a maximum aperture range of f/5.6-6.3 versus the Canon’s f/4.5-5.6, but if you want to get out close to 600mm with the Canon, you’ll have to use the 1.4x extender, which costs you a full stop.

The narrow overlook at Piedras Blancas was crowded with people on a Sunday morning, so I went handheld and relied on the lens’ Vibration Compensation (VC) system to help deliver steady shots. This female elephant seal was shot at the far end of the range, a full 600mm. Exposure was 1/640 at f/11 at ISO 400 in manual mode. I found that there’s just a hint of softness that comes in beyond 550mm, but it’s only noticeable at the pixel level.

The elk was shot at 309mm, 1/800 second at f/11 and ISO 400. The eye is tack sharp. (This was a tripod-mounted shot.) Only minimal Lightroom adjustments have been applied to these two images. Overall, I was quite happy with the images the Tamron lens was giving me, and I’ll use it again on an upcoming wildlife shoot.

There’s nothing wrong with the Canon glass. I’ved used it for several years and it always delivers tack sharp images and quick performance. The Tamron gave me greater range without needing an extender, and it’s $1,069 price is a great value.

See more images at DBZphoto,com

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the Road with the Fujifilm X-T1

Straight from camera at ISO 200, no sharpening or exposure
adjustments applied. Film simulation mode = Velvia.

I recently had a chance to spend almost two weeks with the Fujifilm XT-1 (black edition) and I was impressed with this mirrorless camera’s sharpness, color and speed.

I used the X-T1 on a road trip through Northern Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. In the hand, it felt light but solid, making a perfect travel companion. It was coupled with the Fujinon XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens. Images were tack sharp - so sharp that my typical Lightroom sharpening settings had to be dialed back.

The sensor delivered excellent dynamic range, easily handling contrasty situations even at its basic setting. Noise was absent at ISO 200, and well within the range of noise reduction post-processing up to ISO 3200. I did not test it at it 6400, or use the extended range, which provides ISO from 100 to 51,200.

Straight monochrome
from camera
at ISO 1600
When shooting landscapes, I set the film simulation mode to Velvia, which delivered nicely saturated colors. I also did a series of shots in monochrome mode (no filter). The black & white images had nicely neutral tones and a full contrast range. All images were shot in RAW. 

I found the electronic viewfinder clear and sharp, responding quickly when brought to the eye. The fold-out LCD screen is useful when shooting at unusual angles, when you want to be more discreet, or when you want to see a larger image for more critical focus.

Shot at 1/500 sec, f/8, ISO 640 in continuous high mode
I was also impressed with the X-T1’s ability to handle motion and continuous shooting. The locomotive was probably moving at 30-35 miles per hour across the frame, and I got a series of truly sharp captures using the camera’s high-speed burst mode, which is rated at up to eight frames per second. The mode wheel beneath the ISO dial allows quick access to various shooting modes, including continuous shooting and bracket modes. 

Fujifilm claims optical image stabilization up to four stops for the XF18-55mm lens, which I found a bit too optimistic. At times, it was allowing me to shoot as low as ⅓ or ⅙ second. I’m pretty steady, but that’s asking a lot. Given the superior low-noise quality of the sensor, I’d suggest bumping the ISO up a notch if you find the shutter speed dropping too low.

Inside the Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff.
Natural light at ISO 1600, no noise reduction used.
My only other issues with the camera were ergonomic and practical. The lens cap, which did not grab well, was easy to lose. I also found that the battery compartment cover could spring open and cause the battery to fall out. On one occasion, that had me crawling around and under my car seat to retrieve the errant battery. One other note of caution: it’s easy for your thumb to move the exposure compensation dial at the top right of the camera body.

Overall, the Fujifilm X-T1 is an excellent mirrorless camera with professional capabilities and picture quality. It’s a good choice for travel, street photography, or any situation where you want a camera that’s reasonably small, light and discrete. I do wish it had a sensor larger than 16.3 megapixels, as I exhibit in galleries and sell prints. Buyers often want large prints.

NOTE: The camera used for this review was paid for by the reviewer and obtained through BorrowLenses.com. No compensation was received for this review.

Monday, September 15, 2014

New: "An Affair of Light" Photo Book


My new photo book, "An Affair of Light", was released this morning. The 48-page book features dramatic images where light is the key element in each photograph. Sunrise and sunset shots are complemented by night photography and images made during the golden hours of early morning and late afternoon. 

Life here in the Southwest - and photography - is an affair of light. It’s bold and strong and in your face. It strikes early through your bedroom window and claws at your eyes on the way to work. Time spent outdoors, which is the gift of the West, is both a warm embrace of the sun and a sunscreen-armored battle to protect yourself from its deadly rays. Nothing is purely good or purely evil. 

Of course I travel, by car and aircraft and train, and that brings me to places where the light has other shadows and nuances. Cities come alive at night, the Pacific Northwest tries to hide its light in clouds, oceans retell the story of the skies above and Sierra snows soften mountain days.

Each image we take is defined by the character of the light at the moment we press the shutter. If we wait patiently and are lucky, we may find that perfect moment of light. It’s that perfect moment we lust after, the rare beauty we fall in love with, the affair of light we keep coming back to. 

Please take a look. It's available as a print or eBook, with a full preview, here. Prints of each of these images in the book are available on my website at DBZphoto.com

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11 Through the Tears of the NYPD

I grew up in New York City, and although I lived in Los Angeles on September 11, 2001, the searing live television images of the World Trade Center towers burning and then collapsing brought tears and shock and anger that morning. 

I wasn't able to visit the Northeast until May of the following year. A long line led to the platform overlooking Ground Zero, and on street corners and in alleyways all around downtown, people looked, remembered, and anguished.

But perhaps my most vivid experience took place that same week in Washington, D.C. It was  National Police Week. I hadn't known in advance, but the unusual number of cops in my hotel led me to ask what was going on. In fact, it was the first police week since 9/11. 

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is in Judiciary Square, site of the Supreme Court building. A low wall encircles the site, inscribed with the names of every fallen federal, state and local officer dating back to the 1800s. Crowds of officers from every part of the country were at the site, with most gathered around the area reserved for the New York Police Department. The NYPD lost 23 members on 9/11; 37 Port Authority officers  also lost their lives. 

My connection to the NYPD is personal. I served as a civilian volunteer for three years, grew up with two uncles on the force, and my great-grandfather also served. On that day in May, 2002, I watched big, burly men - some in uniform - shed tears as they remembered their comrades whose names had been inscribed on that wall. This image is dedicated to those fallen officers. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Exhibition Catalog Released

The exhibition catalog for the new "Stories" show at the PH21 Gallery in Budapest has just been released. My work, "Waiting for the Train", has been included in this juried international photography exhibition. 
"A narrative told with a single image is a most exciting challenge for the photographer and the viewer alike, and hopefully we appreciate these works with the care and curiosity they deserve." - from the show catalog
We released a limited edition of 10 signed, Giclee 10" x 15" prints for exclusive sale through the gallery. 

Image included in PH21 Gallery exhibit

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Camera Review: Canon A-1. Say What?

Canon A-1 with box of Kodak Ektar 100 film

I’ll admit to being somewhat of a packrat. I’ve kept many of the cameras I’ve owned over the years, displaying them on bookshelves as my own personal museum of photography. So one day a couple of weeks ago, I grabbed my old Canon A-1 just to look it over. It’s a camera I remembered fondly, having used it for automobile, event, and product photography. Equipped with a motor drive, it even did some cool motorsports work.

To my surprise, the meter functioned and the shutter clicked.

Wait … how was this possible? I haven’t used this camera in more than 20 years. Even way back in the untechnological non-digital days, some electricity was necessary. Popping open the battery drawer, I found a six-volt Energizer bunny still charged and working. Wow. This had to be an omen.

I love to try different tools and approaches in photography, and today, using film is certainly different. So I bought a fresh new battery (Energizer, of course, hoping it will last another 20 years), and a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 color negative film. I just started shooting the other day, so we’ll complete the review when I finish the roll and get the prints back.

The first habit I had to relearn was manual focusing. No AF on the old Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens. The second habit to unlearn was looking at the back of the camera to check the image on the non-existent LCD screen. Both were actually liberating, as was being highly selective when clicking the shutter. Film costs real money.

Compared to today’s professional DSLRs, the A-1 and cameras of that era were smaller, lighter and more tactile. Flipping that mechanical film advance lever is fun. So let’s see where we can take this!