Friday, January 30, 2009

Win a K20D Rig

Just give up a few personal details, and tell the world about them, and the Cameratown content will give you a chance to win a really nice K20D rig and accessories. Only available to US residents though :(

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quick Shout Out

Cause I said I would..... check out Neil Creek's site for some truly awesome shots. Found via his twitter/@neilcreek profile page. I've spent some time trolling through his site and portfolio links and am looking now at buying the DA 10-17mm Fisheye and experimenting with the Deep Sky Stacker software to duplicate some of his night sky fisheye shots. Just great stuff.

Don't forget to hit me up on the twitter at @arcterex for some random stuff related to photography and general geekery.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stealth Camera Bag

(Cross posted from my personal blog).

So I finally got around to throwing up some pics to Flickr of my "Stealth Camera Bag" which I raved about before. The inspiration came from this article (via lifehacker). The idea is simple, take a generic and boring looking messenger bag and fit it with foam and padding to protect a camera so you can wander around the or foreign area without lugging around a Lowe Pro bag that screams "mug me, I've got expensive photo gear here!".

Most of the work here was done by my lovely wife, as the bag I found needed a bit more work than the article described (it was a single big interior pocket and not segmented like they found and she felt doing it right and sewing things properly was better than slapping a cut up old t-shirt in with duct tape :)

Anyway. My idea for this was to allow me to use it as a laptop, going-to-work bag as well as a photo bag. A little bit of design and voila! Here are the "build" pics:

Open Bag from Front
First of all the overall view of the finished product.

Laptop Mode Top View
Here's the top view in "Laptop" configuration. It's got a piece of cloth sewn on both sides along the seam, made a bit longer to accommodate the laptop and it's extra padding in the left hand side. Note the small bits of stick on Velcro on the inside of the pocket, those'll come in handy in camera mode.

Laptop protector
This is the laptop in it's padding. It's basically a three fold chunk of cloth with foam inserts in each section. It's not a perfect fit, but as it's stuffed into a cloth area so perfect fit doesn't matter that much.

Ready for work
Fully stuffed for work.

Full Open
For when I want to put in a camera (the real purpose) I use the bits of Velcro (see above) to close the laptop area and now it's open with more stick on Velcro in a familiar looking configuration for anyone with a camera bag.

Stealth Bag With Dividers
... which I use to stick in standard camera bag dividers stolen from another camera bag. It's not perfect, but it gives side padding and creates a familiar and usable triple section setup. There's a fair amount of adjustment in the center area, though it doesn't make it as snug as a "real" camera bag.

Lens Padding
This is another bit of folded padding, this time a 4 fold section, each with it's own foam padding, and configured so it can be wrapped around something, say a longer zoom lens.

Stealth Camera Bag
In full camera configuration. Note the zoom lens on the right wrapped up in the second chunk of padding and my beloved K20D sitting happily in the middle. Lots of room on the other side (and front pockets) for flash, more lenses, etc.

I've been using this bag as my full time work bag for a week or so now, and for one weekend of photowalking and here's what I've found so far:

  • Sits nicely and comfortably across the shoulders. Much nicer than my laptop backpack as I don't have to have one hand on it for security (I tend to carry my backpack off of one shoulder only). Seems to stay comfortable for longer, even with laptop and workstuff in it.
  • Easier (marginally) to get in and out of compared to my Lowe Pro bag, and way easier to get into than my "proper" camera backpack.
  • Feels way more subtle carrying it around, and could potentially even be something to not alert people I'm a tourist on my next Mexican vacation (assuming my sunburnt or white skin doesn't of course).
  • Flexible! Easy configuration changes with a small towel, tuque or t-shirt for padding.
  • Lots of room for everything I've needed to lug around. Fits personal stuff (phone, wallet, etc) along with K20D with 16-45/4, Sigma 70-300, DA 40 Limited, walkaround P&S, batteries, spare memory cards, etc.


  • There isn't a "top" handle so it's a bit odd to pick up the bag, I tend to grab it from the side and worry about it falling to the side and dumping everything out.
  • The interior isn't perfectly padded compared to a real camera bag and I'm not sure how much I'd trust it to take a fall.
  • The flap is a bit large, so the distance you have to go to get into the bag, and the amount of cloth you need to hold up if you're changing lenses is a bit much. Fairly easily mitigated though.
  • The Velcro in the front isn't the most secure thing in the world. The option of a proper buckle that can be optionally clipped for longer trips might be nice.
  • The Velcro really needs to be properly sewn in, the stick-on stuff isn't all that great.
  • The colors are a bit.... uhm.... unexpected compared to the green of the canvas. Course, I'd have to be crazy to bitch about what my wonderful wife did set up for me!
As an aside all pictures taken with the K20D at ISO 1600 (other than the last one with the K20 in it of course). Minimal PP needed except for a slight bump of the noise reduction in lightroom, even at 100%!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

1400+ Megapixel Inauguration Panorama

Not strictly Pentax related, in fact, our arch enemy Canon is involved here... regardless, check out this guy who made a 1,474 megapixel panorama from the presidential inauguration. It was done with the help of a Gigapan imager rig and had over 200 images stitched together.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Searching For a Great Portrait Lens

A few days ago I suddenly got the feeling of "getting" the point of the fast zoom lens. The Canon and Nikon people have these great lenses that are 70-200mm/2.8 or thereabouts, and I never really got the thrill. Hey, I have a 70-300 macro that's just fine thanks, and it cost me $60 at a swap meet and it doesn't require an assistant to lug it around, what's the big deal... ?

Oh yea, the "f/2.8" part :)

So I got it in my head that a good or great portrait lens would be awesome to have, and being able to shoot shallow DoF portraits from distant(ish) distances was a new goal. Maybe this is what has been missing in my people photography? Course, having a budget I also tend to chant the following to myself:

Buying new gear will not make me a better photographer,
Buying new gear will not make me a better photographer

But if I were....

Let me say that the site Pentax Photo Gallery is both brilliant and evil. Brilliant for giving a forum for Pentaxians to show off their (peer selected) work, and evil for allowing people such as myself to browse images by metadata and see a set of amazing images by a particular lens or camera.

So I have been looking at the following lenses:

  • Pentax FA 77/1.8 Limited - by all accounts one of the best lenses from Pentax ever, full frame (for when Pentax releases a FF DSLR), but expensive and limited to one focal length (though it's a good length for portraits). PPG Images, BH info page, luminous landscape review.
  • Pentax DA* 50-135/2.8 - Digital optimized, so not full frame, covering a nice set of distances (75-202mm in 35mm) for portraits, though I haven't heard much about it's quality (though I'm sure it's great). Also expensive. PPG Images, BH info page.
  • Tamron 70-200mm/2.8 - I was surprised to hear that this came in a Pentax mount, and have seen and heard nothing more about it, other than seeing that it's also in the $700+ USD range. BH info page.
That looks to be about what there is out there for high end, bright portrait length lenses. Based on the fact that something like 80% of the images in the PPG site for those lenses (well, the top 2 anyway) were portraits (and great ones at that) that would indicate to me that I'm looking at the right ones. Course, other suggestions would be great too.

Course, there's also this little DA 10-17mm Fisheye zoom that I've been looking at... With pictures like this gorgeous one (and others if you click back and forth) that show none of the screaming "hey look, it's a fisheye!" look that you can get makes me think that could be a really fun lens to play with.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Exposing To The Right in the K20D

Found this quick one through the DPReview forums.... Daystar Visions has an article with good tips for the K20D on how to do Expose To The Right and wrangling Shake Reduction. If you don't know what Expose To The Right (ETTR) is, you can catch up on it here.

Basically it's an idea that seems really simple at first, amounting to basically "make sure the majority of the stuff on the histogram is to the right instead of the left (but not over the edge, or "clipped" of course).

However, when you dwelve into it more, such as in the luminous landscape article, you see that the reason for this is the amount of information that's stored gets progressively larger the farther right on the histogram you get. It was only after looking through articles like this for ages that the meaning of "expose for the highlights, develop for the shadows" finally clicked in my brain. Sadly I still forget to do this in practice sometimes, and end up falling back to relying on autoexposure and clicking away :)

Another nice product for this is a set of videos on exposure and the Zone System called Perfect Exposure from PhotoCafe.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Toy! Quicky Panasonic LX3 Thoughts

So on boxing day I broke down and picked myself up a Canon G10 (you may have seen my angst regarding pocket cameras). It was quite nice and at the base ISO of 80 it produced nice images (at least on screen), had good physical controls, and so on. It didn't feel quite "right" to me though... it was a bit hard to describe, and I'm not sure if it was a bit too big, or the controls and menus weren't "new" enough, or maybe I'd just already made my mind up about getting an LX3 and I knew that I was just delaying the inevitable return of the G10.

After a lot of searching locally for a while (where apparently the LX3 simply isn't available for anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months) I finally purchased one off of the B&H site.

Well, the 2-4 day shipping option I chose got it here in just 2 days and I spent last night playing with it, figured I'd let you know some initial thoughts.

First the bad (or not great):

  • The size is a bit small for my hand... I liked the feel of the G10 in my hand, it felt hefty and solid. The shape of the LX3 makes it feel a tiny bit insecure while holding it, even with the nice rubber grip.
  • I'd love more zoom (without compromising the lens of course).
  • The buttons would be nice to be a tiny bit bigger. I'm sure this is just a learning thing though.
  • This camera has a lot of features. I'm not sure if this is a bad thing or a good thing, or whether it's that Panasonic stuffed as many things in that little package that they could. Things like focus tracking, aspect ratio bracketing and a billion and one scene modes, custom functions, etc are great, as long as they don't a) clutter things up too much or b) detract from the quality of the software that does image processing, etc.
  • More physical controls would be cool. The ability to map the custom function button to something (I have chosen ISO for now) is nice, but the G10 had a very nice setup on top with a mode dial (the green/Tv/Av/P/etc dial), ISO dial and EV dial. Another button that maps to a second custom function would be nice too.
So that's a lot of bitching about some fairly minor things. Of course, there's no perfect camera (though the great Joe McNally has specced out his perfect camera), so I can bitch as much as I want! :)

On to the good!
  • Nice and small. Not 100% jeans pocket sized, but very close (or baggy jeans sized).
  • Lots of cool functions... see above. Discovering things like the focus tracking was fun.
  • Advanced(ish) features like limiting auto-ISO and auto-shutter speed adjustments.
  • The physical controls it does have are quite nice. The aspect ration selector and focus type selector in particular.
  • The lens... Wide angle (24mm). Awesome. f/2.0-2.8. Yummy. Leica glass. Delicious.
  • Menus and UI are also nicely laid out and visually are appealing... not a huge deal granted, and still nice to have.
  • It seems that your custom settings (ie: set to shoot RAW or setting the program shift) are preserved from shot to shot. I think one thing that irked me about the G10 was you could set your aperture or shutter speed in program mode but it would reset back to baseline after you shoot.
  • The quick menu seems potentially fairly awesome, allowing a fast change to a fair amount of settings. Will have to see how well this works in practice.
  • I tend to shoot in program or Av mode, but it was interesting to see some of the preset scene modes they have, such as "film grain" which goes black and white and bumps the ISO up high to make the image grainy... looks very cool (at least on the screen).
Those are my first impressions anyway, from playing with it while sitting in my living room and going through the manual. Not the perfect camera by any means, but it feels like it fits me a little better than the G10 did, which will mean that I'll shoot more pictures, which is really what matters most anyway right? If you like the G10 (or [insert $your_favorite_camera here]) then awesome, I'm not attacking it.

I really look forward to getting out and using this bad-boy "for real" though and will be posting some images in the next few days. Now, back to your irregularily scheduled K20D talk!

Update: Note to self - need to get one of these: Ricoh lens cap on lx3.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

JPG Archives Available

As you may or may not have heard, JPG Magazine is shutting down. Luckily they still have the archives available for download.

Some Snowed In Reading

The weather here has still been insanely snowy (at least for the lower mainland) so here's some reading I've been doing the last while that might be of interest.

That should be good enough for now. I'm working on a new photo-a-day photoblog for 2009 which I'll release soon, still doing some design tweaking and making sure there are more than 1 or 2 images in the archives for people to check out :)