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Canon 24-105mm L IS

I've been shooting with the newish Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM for a couple months now and feel comfortable reporting on its performance in the field.

The 24-105 lens (18 elements in 13 groups) has a constant aperture of f-4 throughout the entire zooming range. The image stabilizer is Canon's latest generation, and it really does enable you to shoot at shutter speeds that are 2-3 stops longer than without the stabilizer. Since I prefer to shoot "existing light" style when working in bright interiors, the IS comes in very handy. For example, I'm normally apprehensive about hand held speeds that dip below 1/30th of a second. With this lens I've captured good shots at 1/8th of a second with no visible camera shake. Coupled with the fact that the lens performs well wide open at f-4, you can actually use this zoom for low light photography.

Additionally, all of this performance is squeezed into a package that is remarkably compact (3.3 in. x 4.2 in., 23.6 oz. / 83.5mm x 107mm, 670g). This lens feels much lighter and more balanced than the 24-70mm f-2.8 L lens (3.3" x 4.9", 2.1 lbs. / 83.2mm x 123.5mm, 950g). The mechanics and zooming feel solid (5-group helical zoom), as you'd expect with a Canon L lens. And the package includes both a lens hood and a soft leather-like pouch.

The front filter ring is 77mm. I recommend that you use the "thin" filters so you don't incur any vignetting at the wider focal lengths. Since the front glass element is large, you should probably factor in the price of a protective Sky 1A or filter of your choice to leave on at all times.

The USM zooming motor (inner focusing system with focusing cam) is ultra quiet and very responsive. I think Canon L lens are the quietest of any autofocus lenses I've tried.

As for the images the lens produces -- sharp, contrasty, and saturated throughout the zooming range. This is a lens that performs well on the Canon 5D, and if you don't mind the 1.6X magnification factor, is a good choice for the APS sensor cameras too such as the Digital Rebel XT. The only real optical tradeoff I've noticed is that the 24-105 can only close-focus to 1.48 feet (.45mm). So this is not a lens you would use for your close-up photography.

Is it worth the hefty $1,250 price tag? That depends. If you like having an all-around zoom that you can trust to cover most shooting situations, including some existing light, I think so. I like the IS functionality, constant aperture, and relatively light weight compared to other "L" zooms. I recommend this lens for serious shootings looking for an all purpose zoom.

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Around the Next Corner

Mazatlan Mexico

I had finished a morning's worth of exploration in Mazatlan and found I had wandered all the way to the beach. As I looked around, I noticed that a restaurant called the Shrimp Bucket was just a few hundred yards away. I had been told about this place, but doubted that I would ever find it. It was a good omen that I did.

I sat out in the patio that faced the shore. About half way through my first Pacifico, a couple whom I had met on the cruise ship entered the patio and invited me to their table. He was on the Geek Cruise faculty too, teaching Final Cut Pro. We had a great lunch and I was telling them about some of the sites they may want to go photograph. They said they might take a look, but I knew they were going to head back to the ship. Our restaurant was quite a distance from port.

At first I was going to head back too. But then I decided that I was going to "see what was just around the next corner." I was fairly sure it would be just more beach, but I wanted to see anyway. After just a few minutes of walking, I discovered some of these amazing rock structures. I spent the next two hours exploring the beach and photographing all sorts of interesting subjects.

I got back to the ship much later than I had planned. That night, while hanging out in the library, I saw the same couple with whom I had shared lunch. They asked to see my pictures and seemed to enjoy looking at the day's shoot. The woman asked my where I found this shot (and the others related to it). I said that they were just around the corner from where we had eaten. Funny how often that's true.

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Night of the Iguana

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta was a quiet port town in the center of Banderas Bay, that is, until 1962 when director John Huston chose a piece of property on the southern end of town as the set for his Night of the Iguana. Thanks in part to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor having a torrid affair during this time, Puerto Vallarta suddenly became the center of Hollywood attention and regarded as a steamy tropical paradise destination.

I ventured out to where the movie was filmed with fellow photographer Ben Long. It's now an abandoned property that overlooks the bay. Apparently there were attempts to convert this location into a restaurant and resort. But, by the looks of the deteriorating buildings, those attempts failed.

This image is from a series I took while spending the morning there with Ben. We had the entire area to ourselves, which enabled me to quietly focus on shapes, color, lighting, and abstract compositions. We left the property on foot and walked through a few small villages before finding a resort hotel that had cabs back to town.

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Heard It All Before

Mazatlan Chat

While I was hanging around in the Old Town Plaza in Mazatlan, I enjoyed watching this conversation among friends. The gentleman on the left launched into a long story that I'm certain the other two had heard more than once. The expressions say it all.

I've been using the Digital Rebel XT with only two lenses for my street shooting in Mexico: 17-40mm L and the 75-300 IS EF. So far I've been able to cover everything I need with this duo. This picture was recorded with the 17-40mm, wide open at f-4 at ISO 100. I'm shooting everything Raw on this trip and processing the images in Aperture.

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Cabo Street Sign

Cabo Street Sign

Just like any tourist destination, if you walk a bit farther than most people are willing to venture, you'll discover new and interesting things to photograph. I found this street sign after an hour or so of wandering about the outskirts of Cabo San Lucas. Much to my delight, I also found a great place to eat minutes later. Both the food and the sign were authentic.

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Good Data In... Less Photoshop Out

Thanks to the wonders of satellite Internet, I can post tonight from somewhere off the shores of Mexico.

I spent all day today (Sunday) on the Geek Cruise working with Deke McClelland teaching Photoshop technique. If you're not familiar with Deke's work, he's in the Photoshop Hall of Fame and a very knowledgeable writer and speaker.

During the workshop I had a good reminder. We were spending lots of time correcting photos that had a variety of exposure, sharpness, and compositional problems. Eight hours, in fact, we were at it. And I realized that the teaching that I do here on TDS can help people avoid lots of this Photoshop pain.

The fact of the matter is, if you learn good camera technique and practice it, you can save yourself hours of computer work in post production. I'm not against Photoshop. In fact, I really like it. But I want to spend the bulk of my time wandering the streets of Cabo taking pictures, not on the boat correcting them.

Just a thought that crossed my mind out here in the middle of the ocean...

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On the High Seas

Cruise Ship

I'm off to San Diego this morning to board the Photoshop Fling Geek Cruise to the Mexican Riviera. During the week I will have Internet connectivity and will post the usual array of goodies on The Digital Story. I'll also post pictures from Cabo San Lucas, Mazaltlan, and Puerto Vallarta.

This week's podcast (published on Tuesday) will focus on "Life Beyond Program Mode," where I'll discuss situations where Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes are better choices (and how to use them). While I'm on the ship, however, I'll also be gathering material for the following podcast on why photographers like (or don't like) photo vacations. I hope to have interviews and location spots for that one. So stay tuned!

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HP 8700 Pro Printer

I've been looking closely at two professional printers for my studio: the HP Photosmart 8750 Professional Photo Printer ($499) and the Epson Stylus R2400 Photo Printer ($849). I had a chance to compare these excellent models at the recent Macworld SF Expo.

I was particularly interested in the B&W output. Why? Because I'm far enough along in my digital photography where I'm starting to miss having a chemical darkroom. I'm not missing it enough to set one up, but I would love to have a good B&W printer so I can begin making enlargements again.

The HP 8750 has nine print cartridges: cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta, blue, light gray, dark gray, black. The two gray and one black cartridges enable you to do B&W printing right out of the box without having to buy any special kits. It can print up to 13" x 19" enlargements, and there were some good paper choices available from HP. Connectivity includes USB 2.0 and Ethernet. It also has memory card slots so you can print directly from your media, although that isn't as big a concern for me with this type of fine art printer.

The Epson R2400 has eight individual cartridges: cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow, photo black or matte black, light black, and light-light black. Paper size can be as wide as 13" in either single sheet or roll. As with the HP 8750, making 11" x 14" enlargements with the R2400 are a snap, and Epson has some truly wonderful photo paper stocks to choose from. Connectivity includes both USB 2.0 and FireWire. One of the things that impressed me about the Epson is that I could download custom ICC printer profiles for the printer free of charge. Very nice. There are no media card slots however on this model.

So how did the prints look from these two units? Both did a great job with color output. Both provide archival quality. One thing I like at trade shows is you get to see the best prints possible in each respective booth. The B&W was also impressive with both printers. But I would give the nod to the Epson for B&W output. It was a close decision, however. One thing to note about the Epson is that you do have to swap out an ink cartridge for optimum B&W output.

There's a substantial price difference between the printers -- $350. So my bottom line is, if you have the budget for the Epson R2400, it would be my first choice because of the excellent B&W output and the ICC profiles. But the HP 8750 is a very tempting printer for $499. You can make big beautiful enlargements with it that rival the quality of the Epson's output. In this case, deciding between the two printers really comes down to how much money you have to spend.

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Cruise Ship Tips for Photographers

Cruise Ship

This coming Saturday, I'm boarding a Holland America liner as part of the staff for a Photoshop Fling Geek Cruise to the Mexican Riviera. We'll be visiting Cabo San Lucas, Mazaltlan, and Puerto Vallarta. The Geek Cruise concept is quite interesting. While we're at sea, we have a full conference with classes on Photoshop and digital photography. When we port, it's just like any other cruise. The tourists invade the destinations.

Here's the deal. This is my first cruise. And I'm wondering if those of you who have sailed before could share some tips for me, and for others who are considering cruises. I'll be packing a DSLR and a compact camera. I think I have a handle for photography while on the ship (although could use any suggestions you might have), but am really wondering about when we port in Mexico. How much equipment should I take? Any tips for getting great shots? Things like that.

Please post your sage words of advice in the comments area of this blog. It will help me next week, and countless others who are packing a camera on the big ship.

Oh, and BTW... I'll have an Internet connection while sailing, so I'll continue to post all week at sea.

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Round Ups!

If you're looking for a collection of photo tips or product reviews on The Digital Story, take a look at our new Roundups feature. You can find the links at the top of the page below the logo. These roundups will continue to grow as I add posts to each category. There's tons of good information there now. So go take a look at the Photo Tips and the Product Reviews roundups. They're a hoot!

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