Snapshot Voyager is about my own personal photography journey. I am always looking to try something new, inquisitive as to how it works, and to the end results I might achieve.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Forgiving Winter

Sometimes I wonder why I live in Canada.  Awful winters, a long way from home, awful winters, Tim Hortons coffee and let’s not forget the Awful winters.  However for two weeks in October, somehow you can forgive the country all its foibles, when just around the corner from the house it looks like this.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

ROM Architecture

One of the most interesting buildings in Toronto is the Royal Ontario Museum.  About 5 years ago it had a very modern extension added on to a heritage building that is over 100 years old.  Sounds like a clash, and honestly it is, but it is still interesting and unusual.  The modern part of the building creates great opportunities for photography, so here’s a few quick shots.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Better Being Negative

Quite a while back I took this photo using my Hasselblad on 120 Kodak Portra colour negative film using some fill flash.  As a photo it’s pretty crappy.  No, really crappy.

One day my sister, who moonlights as an artist, was looking at some of my images on the computer and she saw the negative below.  “That would make an AWESOME print!!” she exclaimed.  And ya know, she was absolutely right.  I sent her a detailed scan of the negative, though I have no idea what she ended up doing with it.

The Hasselblad is a great camera, with super sharp lenses on a huge 6x6 negative.  I’ve owned three, and all have been excellent.  The first one I bought to try out and I then proceeded to build up a kit.  The second and third were kinda by accident. I ended up buying another body as I couldn’t sell the second lens and back I had bought.  The third one was a spur of the moment deal as it was a great price.

Unfortunately I didn’t really use them a ton.  Though the images are out of this world when you get it right, they can be unforgiving.  Once I didn’t load a film quite right and it tore when I was shooting a wedding.  Another time I loaded the film backwards (easy to do) and got nothing.  They’re also not small cameras and more awkward to carry around for casual shooting.  So I ended up selling them and moving towards Leica.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Train too fast

The camera that I have had the longest is a Nikon F100 which I got new just over 8 years ago.  It was the insurance company replacement for the F90X I had stolen, which itself was my first upgrade from the original F60 I bought in 1999.

It’s a very nice camera – nicely weighted with easy, accessible controls, and remarkably, quite similar to the D700.  It also has that older Nikon ‘clunk’ when you hit the shutter, making it feel like it’s been hewn directly from billet metal.  

For shooting film, it’s the go-to camera for reliability.  The fast autofocus, absolutely spot on exposure and quick controls means you will get it right every time.  

This photo was taken with the F100 when I lived in Sydney, Australia.  The contrast between the pregnant woman and the moving train is pretty cool; suggesting life moves too fast and we should stop and think about the more special moments in out life. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Lights in the rain

Today I was in the Yonge and Eglinton area in Toronto, and it reminded me of some shots I took here a while back from my car is the rain.  I focused on raindrops on the car window and trying to get coloured lights out of focus with beautiful round circles.  There’s lots of traffic around here, as well as bright lights from shops, so it worked out quite well.

This was one of the first outings with the Nikon D700 after I bought it and I used a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 lens.  The Sigma has a lot of good points – constant aperture f2.8, centre sharpness wide open and general sharpness at medium apertures across the frame.  However, it has two things I don’t like though – its a little bulky, and there’s lots of light (and sharpness) fall off in the corners at f2.8 on 24mm.  

The first time I used one of these lenses was on my Dad’s Pentax K7, and it performed really well on the crop sensor format with no problems exhibited.  So I bought a second hand one, but full frame really tests a lens, and on the D700 it was a bit disappointing.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Sky Shooter

Have you ever visited relatives or in laws and been, well....bored?  Luckily enough my mother in law allowed me to excuse myself to her garden with my camera and let me be for a while.  So I borrowed the garden table and a vase and went to work.  What was amazing about that day was the fascinating clouds, and I thought they would make a great back drop with some flowers from the garden.

The camera and lens combination I took along that day was a little unusual - a Nikon FE2 with a 35-70mm f2.8 AF lens.  AF???  I hear you say.  Yep, actually the AF and AF-D lenses work really well on the older manual focus cameras, and this one is no exception.  This lens is also very sharp and has a macro function at 35mm which allows you to get quite close.  I actually can't remember what film I used, but it would have been one of the better ISO 100 colour negative films - certainly the colour saturation was quite extreme, no doubt helped by the polariser.

I found though that if I wanted to get both clouds and flower in focus I had to get back away, use f22 and then shoot.

The results actually turned out better than I expected, so I really have to thank my mother in law for her patience with her antsy son in law.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Variegated Black and White

A while back I was walking through the Edward Gardens and came upon some variegated Hostas.  I liked the shapes and patterns the stripes made, so I turned it into a black and white and added some contrast.  The result is quite dramatic, and certainly not like anything I have seen before - and that's what I look for in photography.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Montreal Wondering

Do you ever see something in life that makes you wonder?  Something that is totally out of the ordinary.  An object located where it usually wouldn’t be and you just have to ask why.  

This was exactly the question my wife and I asked ourselves when we were looking at this view from our hotel in Montreal.  It is so weird that chairs would be arranged on the top of a building.  What were the people doing there?  Drinking beers?  Smoking?  Just getting away from it all?  Dunno.  But it sure is interesting to wonder.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Snow White focussed

If there’s one thing that annoys me the most about using Leica M lenses on the Sony NEX is that the minimum focus distance is at least 70cm, and more often than not 1 metre.  I know there are a  couple lenses that will get closer, like the Leica 50mm Summicron Dual Range,  but few do.  This is quite unlike SLR lens, where most wide primes focusing down to 30cm or less.  Of course this has to do with rangefinders not being able cope with close focus, and the above mentioned lens was designed with additional ‘goggles’ to aid the close focusing.

This presents a problem when shooting smaller objects or if you need to get close.  When shooting shop windows I will often put the lens up to the window to prevent reflections.  If the object is close to the window, its going to be out of focus.

You can see in this shot of Snow White and some assorted Dwarfs in a shop window in Pembroke exactly what I mean.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Spindly tomato stems

Sometimes the oddest things make great photos.  A while back I found some stems from tomatoes that I thought might make great photos.  I let them dry out and, lo and behold, the turned into some unusual and spindly shapes.  I shot them on some curved up white paper with very direct flash to cast shadows.

I like the results – certainly like nothing I’ve seen before, which is what I like.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Pembroke Street Shootin'

I can’t help myself.  I found a Voigtlander 25mm f4 M mount lens in the local classified and decided this would work well with the NEX.   It works out to 38mm equivalent on a Full Frame camera – not quite as wide as I’d want, but not bad.  Interestingly this lens is not rangefinder coupled, so the patch doesn’t move on rangefinders.  However it has 3 detents in the focus ring between minimum focus distance and infinity, at 1m, 1.5m and 3m.  If you use these as a guide, with a relatively slow speed and wide angle, accurate scale focusing isn’t too much of an issue.  The deal included the original 21mm viewfinder and an older Canon 35mm viewfinder.  The Canon viewfinder is perfect for using with the NEX with this lens, and also useful  to when using the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 on the M3.

A few days ago I stayed overnight for business in Pembroke, which is located in the Ottawa Valley, North East of Ottawa.  To fill some time I took my camera down the main street to take a look and get some dinner.  There isn’t much happening in Pembroke, apart from some young guys playing loud, obnoxious music  from their cars as they were driving around; and the tattoo parlour was doing a roaring trade.

What surprised me was the large amount of murals painted on the side of the buildings, which made for some great photos.  There was also a large, old advertisement for chewing gum on the side of one abandoned shop which was also fascinating.

So how did the Voigtlander 25mm and NEX go?  Reasonably well.  I found that f4 is a bit dark for evening shooting and a minimum focus distance of 70cm is too far away, but other than that it works well.  I especially liked that it was really small, smaller than the 35mm f1.4, even with the shade fitted; and I also liked the resolution performance.  I think the also tiny 21mm f4 would have been better (equivalent to 32mm on Full Frame) which would have given a bit more scope for street shooting.  For now I’m happy, but I’ll still keep my eye out for a 21mm!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Niagara Falls

Earlier in the year I had a business trip to Niagara Falls.  It was early March, so it was still cold, with plenty of snow on the ground.  The evening light made for some nice photos, and certainly different from the normal shots.  Also rather different from my shots with the old Leica IIc too!

I took the D90, which worked out fine, but I ended up taking the 20mm f1.8 Sigma and the Nikon 35mm f2.  I really should have just brought the Nikon 18-135mm as I ended up missing quite a few opportunities shots.

I really liked this shelter and it especially looked good in the evening light.  I also liked the view through to the US Falls too.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

D2X ownership

About 3 years ago I decided it was time to upgrade from my Nikon D100.  I’d had the D100 for 5 years, and it had been a terrific camera.  Even though I’d taken about 30,000 shots, it was still in excellent condition.  I decided to look out for a used Nikon D200.  A friend had once loaned me one briefly, and I really liked it.  The screen was much bigger, the sensor better and it still metered with manual focus lenses.

As I was looking, much to my surprise, I found that some Nikon D2X’s weren’t a whole lot more.  The D2X offered a few things the D200 didn’t – HUGE batteries that would last 2,000 shots a charge, better 12MP sensor, metal body and 10 frames per second; but no in built flash, like most pro D-SLRs.

One day I saw a D2X advertised for $1,200, and I was determined to get it.  A pro was selling it, and she was looking at getting the then new D300.  It looked like it had had a fair bit of use, but (for then) it was cheap.  The lady gave me a further $200 discount and an extra battery – PERFECT!

When I got it home I found that it was a huge step up from the D100.  Beautiful colours with tons of details and it worked extremely well with the Nikon SB-800 flash I had bought for it.  It’s first major try out was my brother in law’s wedding in May 2008.  The results were very, very good – even with the very consumer Nikon 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 lens.

The longer I had it however it started to develop the occasional issue.  It needed new grips, battery door and then the AF and meter started doing weird things.  Luckily I have a contact at Nikon Canada and so it was fixed quickly and cheaply, but it’s unreliability was annoying.  What I also found out was that it had a LOT of shutter actuations – around 200,000!!  Sounds like a lot, but the shutter in these are built for over 300,000 actuations, with 500,000 being recorded by some cameras!  So it had a lot more miles on than I previously thought, which probably accounted for some of the unreliability.

I sold it after about 3 years of ownership, a little after I bought the D700, and interestingly it ended up going to Argentina.  The buyer had flown in on a business trip and wanted to pick up my camera while he was in Canada.

So all in all, a very good camera, but reliability wasn't as great as I hoped. 

Shots taken at the Guggenheim in New York City with the D2X and a Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens.

Monday, 16 May 2011

All Couped Up

This year I got absolutely hit by bad ‘flus - four in five months!  For me, a fairly active sort of person, staying inside recovering from a cold is like being put in a jail cell and someone throwing away the key.   

So I started taking photos of things around the house, which I’ve done a million times before, but I decided to look at normal things in a new way and try to take a photo unlike anything I had done before.  My success was varied, but at least I filled my time, and got in a few good shots.

All shots take with a Sony NEX and Leica 50mm Summicron

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Cat Model

 I love cats, but I am allergic.  If it wasn’t for that, I’d have one in the house right now.  However, cats do make for good photographic subjects.  Here’s a couple of different examples of some feline models.

 This shot isn't sharp, but it sure has a flare for the dramatic 

The three legged cat that guarded a Stratford bookstore

Saturday, 14 May 2011

50mm Summicron Story

My 50mm Leica Summicron has a weird history.  It is a fairly recent lens (made in 2000), and I found it on eBay for what seemed like an incredible ‘Buy it Now’ price.   When I read through the listing in its entirety, I found it was missing the rangefinder helicoids which meant that it would not mount on or adjust the rangefinder patch.  I decided this would not be a bad lens to fix up and decided to watch it.  

About 3 days later the listing finished and was promptly relisted with a price drop to just $280.  As new Summicrons list for around $2,500 and a nice used one for about $1,300, I committed straight away.  When I received it I then trotted off to my repair guy but he wasn’t sure where to source the part and suggested I hunt around on line for it.  

My first stop was to the local Leica repair people, Kindermann.  They have a reputation for doing good work, but when I rang them I found them difficult to deal with.  The guy wanted to know why I wanted the part, how come it wasn’t there in the first place and why I wasn’t asking him to do the repair work.  He intimated that I was totally wasting his time if I didn’t do it this way, but now interestingly I will never recommend his services to anyone.

Leica USA has their parts and service contact listed directly on the website, so I contacted them.  Dave, who is the parts manager, was excellent; promptly responding to emails, very courteous and always helpful.  Turned out the part I needed, was also included in the focus helicoids, the lens mount and the latter half of the barrel – basically half the lens....and it was also $400!  Gulp!  However with the huge initial saving, I ordered the part.  After a few weeks it arrived (it had to be shipped from Germany), I took it over to my technician to be put together.  He took one look at it and said it would only require 5 minutes and a few screws.  “I won’t charge you.  I know you’ll be back with other stuff.”  He knows a good customer when he sees one....

A Leica 50mm Summicron M is THE bench mark in lens performance, always sharp, always contrast, always excellent.  If there is a problem, it’s you.

All photos shot with Sony NEX-3 and Leica Summicron 50mm Type 4

Friday, 13 May 2011

The 20mm lens comparison

I have two very different 20mm prime lenses in my collection.  

The first is a Nikon 20mm f4 manual focus lens.  This lens is known as the “Galen Rowell” lens as it was a favourite of the noted landscape and wilderness photographer of the same name.  The best thing about this lens is that it is absolutely tiny.  From lens mount flange to the front of the barrel it is only 36mm long – less than an inch and a half – and looks dwarfish on a D700.  How I wish my D90 would meter with manual focus lenses because, if it did, it would live on there permanently.

My particular lens is a ‘K’ type non-Ai lens, made around 1976, that was later converted to Ai.
Lens performance is solid.  At f4 its sharp across the board with little light fall off.  This is unusual for a wide angle, but probably due to its conservative f4 maximum aperture.  Sharpness gets better stopped down, with peak performance at f8 and f11.  

Nikon D700 with Nikon 20mm f4 at f4, and at 30cm minimum focus distance

The other 20mm lens I have is a Sigma 20mm f1.8.  This is one of the fastest wide angle lenses you can buy and allows you to hand hold in extremely low light levels.  However, it is big, about the same length of my Nikon 18-135mm DX zoom, but a bit wider around the barrel, then protruding out to take huge 82mm filters.  Some reviewers haven’t given this lens a spectacular write up, with soft corner performance (true), BUT  it does have one very distinct ace up its sleeve, and that’s close focusing.  It can focus to less than 20cm away from the film/sensor plane, which means at the closest focus point, objects are only 7cm away from the front of the lens.  With f1.8 and fast aperture, this can give spectacular results with out of focus blur for a wide angle, which certainly cannot be repeated with the Nikon.

Nikon D700 with Sigma 20mm f1.8 at f1.8, and at 20cm minimum focus distance

So, I decided to do a side by side comparison test, both at maximum aperture and minimum focus distance on my D700.  The differences are stark.  The Nikon lens is not particularly close to the subject, but with the Sigma you’re right on top of it.  In fact, this shot wasn’t quite at minimum focus distance as the petals were already about to touch the lens.  Sure the bokeh isn’t creamy smooth, but it’s not an 85mm f1.4 either.  Worth noting though that the centre of the flower centre is still sharp.

So, for these reasons, both have a safe home in my lens drawer, even if it might look like I’m doubling up.

Dominican Night Shooting

Note the "Martian" like flare from the lights!

On March break my wife and I took a holiday to Samana in the Dominican Republic.  Samana is a small resort town on the north eastern coast, and after soaking up the rays on the beach, there wasn’t a ton to do.  But there were some opportunities for some night time photography, which actually ended up rather well.

The big disappointment came when half way through the trip, the as new open-box Nikon D90 I had just bought started to turn the pictures wonky, corrupting many of the files.  Was it the new camera, or the new 32GB Lexar SD card?  I kept shooting and hope some shots might make it back alive.  Even though none were absolutely special, I was still very disappointed.  I brought the camera to Nikon Canada, and they found that the card had corrupted.  They ran a recovery program on the card and saved about 90%, which I was very happy about.
Note blur from fast moving clouds

I like the D90.  It’s light, somewhat compact and performs well.  These are 3 lenses I took with me, and they make a great kit for travelling:
1) Nikon 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 DX zoom.  This is a handy no-fuss lens.  Its got a nice range (equivalent of 28-200mm), and apart from significant barrel distortion at 18mm, has no significant flaws.  The replacement  18-105mm has VR, which would be useful.
2) Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 DX.  This is one of THE great lenses for DX cameras.  This lens works extremely well, really wide with not too much distortion and reasonably compact.  A bit slow, but this is never really an issue.
3) Nikon 35mm f2 AF.  Yes, the Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX is a better lens, but its not full frame.  Still, this lens is capable of excellent results.

All photos shot with Nikon D90 and Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6Photos 1-3 @ ISO 800, Photo 4 @ 3200 ISO

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Looking for a Night Street Shooter - Part 6 - Concert Shooting


Last weekend our church hosted a concert to raise money for relief work in Japan following the devastating Earthquake and Tsunami.  Both my wife and I spent several years there, and is actually where we met – indeed my wife’s school that she taught at is less than 40km from the Dai Ichi Nuclear Reactor which was been in such serious trouble.  So we have a close affinity with Japan and wanted to show our support.

No Found Address
As usual we were running late, so I threw the first camera I saw round my neck, which was the NEX-3 with the 35mm Voigtlander lens.   When I got there I soon found no one else was taking photos, so I decided to step in.  Unfortunately this combination wasn’t ideal.  35mm is far too wide, even on a crop body; manual focus wasn’t that easy and it was hard to hold steady.  I ended up spot metering most of the shots, which actually worked rather well as it adjusted on screen what you were getting.

In the end though, I got enough good quality photos for the artists and the organisers to all be happy, and so I could hold my head high!

Fukushima local, Aoi, talks with Sandra about the devastation

So as a night time street shooter, the NEX isn’t 100% ideal.  A D-SLR like the Nikon D700 will always do a better job.  However, it is far superior to anything of this size, and in the end it’s just very difficult to resist such good quality results from such a small package.

CDH Live!

A special mention to the artists, who were all absolutely fabulous.  Check out their websites below:

Glen Soderholm and Jeanine Noyes