To Shoot a Mockingbird

Notice I refrained from “To Kill” a Mockingbird.  That was never my intent.  Besides, I live in Texas and the particular species in question is the mimus polyglottos known  as the Northern Mockingbird, which happens to be the official state bird of Texas – so, there’s most likely some law that prevents killing these birds.  Anyway, the only shooting I’m interested in is with a camera.  My intent was to not even shoot a mockingbird.  There was a red bird hanging around the house yesterday which is not all that uncommon.  I decided to grab my camera and add its image to my unofficial collection since I’ve never “shot” a cardinalis cardinalis, known as the Northern Cardinal.  I pulled up a lawn chair and waited, and waited but never caught sight of him.  The mockingbirds, on the other hand were plentiful and gave me lots of opportunity to get a decent shot – which I did.

I sat at least 50 yards from the spot where the mockingbird perched and zoomed in with my Fujifilm HS50EXR.  I had the camera in my usual P mode.  The only setting I manually set was the ISO which I always keep at 100.  The HS50EXR has an incredible optical 42X zoom with highly effective stabilization to minimize, if not eliminate blur.  In this photo I had the lens fully extended, no tripod and without Fujifilm’s VR (Vibration Reduction) there most certainly would’ve been some blurring.  The resulting photo is a testament to how effective this camera is.  

The Fujifilm HS50EXR has fast become a favorite for birders and nature photographers.  There is some give and take with a camera of this caliber, most notably with the size of the sensor.  In return for the high quality 24mm-1000mm 42X zoom lens comes the drawback of a small sensor in order to maintain the aspect ratio of the lens.  Ideally, a sensor of 1″ or more would be ideal, but that would substantially change the dynamics of the lens construction – as well as the affordability of this camera (which retails BTW for under $400).

All things considered, I really like the HS50EXR.  With its 24mm wide lens and its 1000mm zoom, it’s my go-to camera for outdoor photography.

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Full (enough) Moon

This last Wednesday was a full moon.  I knew this several days in advance and planned for it.  I wanted to capture a few full moon shots with my new camera, the Fujifilm HS50EXR.  So, right after dark I headed out the door with my camera and tripod – totally oblivious to the fact that it was only Tuesday night – a full day (night) before the full moon.  Oh well, it was full enough for the camera – and for me.  I used a tripod for all the shots and set the timer to 10 seconds so the camera had a chance to steady itself from the motion of pressing the shutter.  I used the camera’s manual settings with an aperture of F11 and ISO of 100.  The only setting I changed for each shot was the shutter speed.

Shutter 1/125
f11125

Shutter 1/100
f11100

Shutter 1/80
f1180

Shutter 1/60
f1160

BANG! ZOOM! …you’re going to the moon!

You're going to the moon!

You wanna know where you’re goin’, Alice?!  You’re goin’ to the MOON… BANG… ZOOM!!!  How prophetic these words from the immortal Ralph Kramden were.

A trip to the moon is actually not totally out of the question.  After all, man has already been there – more than once.  But for the rest of us, of course I’m speaking metaphorically.  But still, a visit to the moon is quite possible – visually.  Granted, we may not be able to do a “moon walk” or pick up a handful of “moon dust”, nevertheless, we can get a whole lot closer to the moon that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing through our naked eyes.

This was my intent when I picked up Fujifilm’s new flagship super zoom, the HS50EXR.  I’ve had the camera for two weeks now and I must admit it’s exceeded my expectations by providing me with above par images considering the HS50EXR is not a DSLR and is equipped with a sensor that’s roughly half the size of most new DSLR’s.

I should mention that I do have a DSLR, a Minolta E-450 based on the micro four-thirds sensor technology.  One of the lenses I have for this camera is a quality optics 70mm-300mm telephoto lens.  I’ve had pretty good luck with capturing shots of the moon with it.  However, I personally find that it’s really quite a hassle hauling around a DSLR with bag full of lenses.  First of all, the camera is fairly heavy and secondly, with the telephoto lens attached, it’s quite hefty and cumbersome to handle.  Also, a tripod is an absolute necessity for the Minolta w/the telephoto lens since there is no VR (Vibration Reduction) offered in the lens or the camera.  The slightest movement with the telephoto lens fully extended and you end up with a blurry shot of the moon.

camera_bagEnter the Fujifilm HS50EXR.  This camera looks very much like a DSLR but has several significant differences.  On the positive side, the camera is quite a bit lighter than the average DSLR and significantly lighter when you take into account that the DSLR might have a hefty telephoto lens attached.  I realized that the small sensor size puts the HS50EXR in a class outside that of a DSLR, but Fujifilm’s EXR technology is pretty interesting and you can get some pretty interesting photos out of this camera.  Nothing like you’d get from a high end DSLR, but acceptable nonetheless.

Fujifilm has a decent reputation for its Fujinon lenses and they used their technology and experience to design the lens on the HS50EXR.  It starts at a respectable 24mm giving it nice wide angle and extends to a ridiculous 1000mm for a 42X zoom factor.  With that kind of zoom the slightest jar when taking a photo can quickly ruin a photo with an magnified blurring effect.  Fujifilm took serious consideration of this and incorporated a very effective in-the-lens Vibration Reduction system – what they call  Lens-shift OIS (Optical Image Stabilization).  It’s not voodoo magic, but it does work.  The lens is fully manual – no motorized zoom.  This allows for quick zooms and no battery drain, which accounts for the above par battery life by not having to drive a lens zoom motor.

Unlike a DSLR, the HS50EXR does not have an optical viewfinder, however, it does incorporate both an EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) plus a fully articulating 3″ bright LCD.  I’ve grown to like articulating LCD’s on cameras.  It makes taking unusual angle shots easy. The viewfinder has an “eye sensor” that switches between the viewfinder and LCD simply by moving your eye in front or away from the viewfinder.

manual80Back to the moon.  I stuck the HS50EXR on a tripod last Saturday evening and shot an 83% Waxing Gibbous moon.  I set the camera on full manual and full zoom, setting the aperture at F11 and shutter speed at 1/80 of a second.  To minimize noise, I set the ISO at 100.  The results were quite satisfying.

Hope you enjoy.

Autobiographic Journey Through My Cameras

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11

HS50EXR

Putting the X20 Through Its Paces

Other than a few trial shots, I really haven’t had the opportunity to put my new Fujifilm X20 through its paces.  Until the the day before yesterday, that is.  I finally got the chance to put the camera through an extended photo session under a variety of conditions.  Although all the photos were taken outside, there were periods of bright sunshine, clouds, sun and shade and full shade which presented a variety of challenges.

P mode using the camera's on-board flash as a fill.

P mode using the camera’s on-board flash as a fill.

The X20 has some unique and some fun features.  Like all point ‘n shoots & compact digital cameras, there’s an Auto mode where the camera’s on-board processor makes all the settings decisions.  With my other cameras, I prefer to shoot in the P mode where I can control the ISO.  My preference is to keep the ISO as low as possible for the conditions – generally between 100 & 400.  The X20 is proving to be just as capable in the P mode.  So many of my photo sessions involve children that it’s almost a necessity that the camera pick the aperture and shutter speed, since children are almost always running a mile a minute and generally always moving.  In order to capture “keeper” photos, I have to be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, constantly moving the camera, constantly focusing and constantly snapping the shutter.  The P mode is ideal for this kind of shooting.

"smearing" on the left side of photo in the face area caused by subject movement.

“smearing” on the left side of photo in the face area caused by subject movement.

Saturday’s session involved a four year old little girl, Sarah, with boundless energy.  For the most part, Sarah was cooperative and patient as I fiddled with the various settings of the X20 trying each of the multitude of features.  One particular feature is the Advanced Auto mode with some interesting sub features.  One sub feature mimics a rich bokeh, or depth-of field (that blurry background with the subject up front in focus).  Apparently, the X20 takes a quick succession of about 3 photos in focus, out of focus and then quickly stitches them into a single photo.  It’s very interesting, but seems to work.  However, I found that both the camera and the subject need to be still – if there’s movement on the part of the subject, the photo has an unpredictable “smear’ that results.

Advanced Auto - Portrait setting w/enhanced depth-of-field simulation.

Advanced Auto – Portrait setting w/enhanced depth-of-field simulation.

Since the setting is labeled “Portrait” it’s apparent that it’s meant for still portraits where the subject is posing with no movement.  I found this to work quite dramatically with great bokeh results when the photo is properly setup.

All things considered, I was more than pleasantly surprised at how well the Fujifilm X20 performs.  Its controls, knobs, dials are ergonomically placed and intuitively easy to operate.  One of the features for which Fujifilm has earned quite a reputation is the wonderful skin tones.  The X20, in this regard does not disappoint.  The main feature that drew me to the X20 was the presence of an optical view finder – missing from so many of today’s point ‘n shoot & compact cameras.  I found myself using the OVF over 90% of the time during the session – which is interesting since the OVF on the X20 is not a true WYSIWYG view finder and only provides about 85% actual field of view.  Nevertheless, I still found myself framing each shot through the view finder versus the LCD screen which does, in fact, show a WYSIWYG view of the photo about to be taken.

In short, I simply can’t state how much I like this little camera.  Its a gem of a secret being overshadowed by the DSLR’s and the new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, but nevertheless, for a compact non-interchangeable lens camera, the X20 has a plethora of features, a zoom lens with just enough reach, superb optics and an Xtrans sensor that produces marvelous images.

To view the entire photo session of Sarah, please visit my Flickr site:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/rayalstrom/sets/72157635332980583/

Blue Moon

blue_moon“Blue Moon
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
Blue Moon
You knew just what I was there for
You heard me saying a prayer for
Someone I really could care for”
Rogers & Hart – © 1934

The big 2013 “Blue Moon” event has come and gone.  I missed it by a day.  It was this past Tuesday – August 20th, and I thought it was yesterday, August 21st.  It wouldn’t have mattered because Tuesday there was too much cloud cover and yesterday, when I actually went outside to “shoot the moon”, the sky was mostly clear.

While there’s no real difference between a full moon and a blue moon, it’s still unique in the fact that it’s the third full moon in a season with four (most seasons have only three).  What makes Tuesday’s full moon such a special event – some are calling it rare – is because of the many names this moon also envoked; Full Sturgeon Moon (sturgeon fish are most easily caught in the Great Lakes), Full Red Moon (atmospheric conditions tend to make the moon look red as it rises in the early evening) and the Green Corn or Grain Moon (crops grow tall under this moon).

I dusted the cobwebs off my Olympus E-450 since it’s the only one of my cameras with a telephoto lens, a quality optics Zuiko 70-300mm.  Photographing the moon is not easy.  The slightest movement of the camera – even with built-in shake reduction, will make your moon shot blurry, so a tripod is a must.  The moon is a very bright object against a dark sky so you have to find the right mix of aperture and shutter speed coupled with a low ISO or you’ll lose detail and end up with a glowing white orb with highlights blown.  I ended up opting for ISO 100 to keep the noise as low as possible, an aperture of f5.6 and shutter speed of 1/180 seconds.  Even with the lens fully at the 300mm mark, the moon still came out rather small in the photo, which required a crop to make it look larger.

All things considered, I ended up shooting many frames until I ended up with this acceptable shot – my entry in the crowded field of “blue moon” shots.

The Marvelous Toy

Fujifilm X20“When I was just a wee little lad,
Full of health and joy,
My father homeward came one night
And gave to me a toy.
A wonder to behold it was
With many colors bright
And the moment I laid eyes on it,
It became my heart’s delight.”

The lyrics above are from a Tom Paxton song that reaches way back into the 1960’s and made popular by Peter, Paul & Mary.  It lets loose a flurry of emotions for an object that captures the utter imagination and delight of a child.  There’s an old saying “the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys” and this could not be more apropos in regard to my toys, which are my cameras.  The Marvelous Toy of which I’m speaking in this post is my new Fujifilm X20.

I received The Marvelous Toy last Tuesday.  It was Christmas, New Years, Easter, the 4th of July and my birthday all rolled up into one.  I suspect I have no need to describe the feeling that came over me while opening the box and unwrapping the contents – those of you reading this post most likely already know the exact feeling of which I’m describing.

Fujifilm X20 Back“The first time that I picked it up
I had a big surprise
Cause right on the bottom were two big buttons
That looked like big green eyes
I first pushed one and then the other,
Then I twisted it’s lid
And when I set it down again, here is what it did”

The Fujifilm X20 was as marvelous as I had imagined it would be when I first picked it up.  It’s a solid, rigidly constructed camera with looks that are faithfully reminiscent of the popular cameras of the 1950’s and 1960’s.  However, “looks do not a marvelous camera make” and the X20 does not disappoint in style or in performance.  Turning the X20 on for the first time was both a thrill and an adventure.  You can look all day for a traditional On/Off switch and you’ll get no where.  The X20 turns On (and Off) by rotating the lens, as if you were focusing a traditional camera.  Indeed, the X20 follows the traditional path in regard to its lens.  The X20 features a 4X zoom lens, but zooming is done manually, the traditional way, by rotating the lens barrel.  Focusing, however is fully automatic and you can choose, via a switch mounted on the front of the camera, to continuously focus, single focus (½ pressing the shutter button) or manual focus (via the lens focus ring).

Fujifilm X20The Fujifilm X20 fits into the enthusiast compact camera category.  The common trend by manufacturers these days, for cameras in this category, has been to ditch the OVF (Optical View Finder) in favor of the LCD only, for composing and viewing photos.  The X20 bucks this trend by including both an OVF and a 2.8″ LCD and it’s a much welcomed addition in my opinion.  There are just certain conditions where I feel more comfortable using a view finder versus the LCD.

The X20 is probably the most user friendly of all the Fujifilm digital cameras I’ve owned (this is my 5th).  The menu system is rather involved an detailed, but I was able to step through each feature without opening the paper manual for help.  The X20 has Fujifilm’s new dedicated “Q” button on the back.  Press it and the most commonly used settings appear arranged all on one screen.  Thats’ really a handy feature for me.  I shoot almost exclusively in “P” mode so I can quickly adjust the ISO.  There is a dedicate FN button directly to the right of the shutter release button and by default it’s set to bring up the ISO settings, so that’s another handy feature that I like.

Fujifilm X20Fujifilm debuted their new XTrans CMOS sensor in the X20 and the photos it produces are quite spectacular for a sensor of its size.  The sensor is larger than most 2/3rd’s sensors in most enthusiast compact cameras, but smaller than the full frame APS-C sensor found in Fujifilm’s X100, the big brother to the X20.  Nevertheless, the X20 produces stunning photos even in higher ISO’s with no real noise problems up into the 1600 range.  One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of color noise which is a very welcome feature of this processor.  I’ve always been a fan of Fujifilm colors and natural skin tones and the X20 comes up a winner in this area.

There are a ton of built in “auto” settings – too numerous to list.  I personally will probably never use any since almost all my photo effects are added in post processing using Corel PaintShop Pro.  There are some unique feature that bear mentioning, like the ability to easily, intentionally shoot double (or triple) exposures – something that’s a real throw back to the old film days.  All things considered, the X20 is just a great looking, fun camera that produces some really great photographs.  The Marvelous Toy – The Marvelous Camera.

“It went “Zip” when it moved, and “Bop” when it stopped,
and “Whirrr” when it stood still.
I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.”

Storm Clouds

I’m determined to capture clouds to my own satisfaction.  Capturing clouds is challenging because cameras just aren’t adept at capturing them.  You’ll notice on pre-programmed digital cameras, none of the settings include “clouds”.  There’s a reason for that.  Clouds are porous, their contrast is unpredictable, distance ranges from several hundred feet to several miles, and color range is almost full spectrum.  Adjusting the camera settings to accommodate all these factors results in a lot of give and take.  I admit, I’m stubborn in regard to figuring out the best camera settings.  There are probably chapters written on the subject, but I’m one who just has to figure it out on my own.

We had a particularly nasty storm front move through town yesterday.  It turned out to be all bark and no bite.  For all the noise this storm made, with lightning, thunder and wind, it didn’t drop a lot of rain – if any.

DSCF0028

DSCF0027

To view more of these clouds, please visit my Flickr page:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/rayalstrom/sets/72157635013994235/

Touching Strangers – Richard Renaldi

renaldiportraitCBS Evening News ended tonight’s broadcast with a human interest story [ http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57596845/new-york-photographer-turns-strangers-into-friends/ ] that caught my immediate attention.  It was about a photographer, Richard Renaldi [ http://www.renaldi.com/ ] who, truthfully, I have never heard of before.  The story was about his latest project “Touching Strangers” which involves pairing perfect strangers into somewhat intimate portrait settings.  The results are remarkable.  In the majority of the photos, without knowing the associated story, it’s hard to visualize that the people in the portraits are not family or well-known friends.

renaldicameraOf course, from a technical aspect, what caught my eye also, was the camera that Renaldi was using.  It’s not your average camera.  I’d expect a high-end Digital DSLR, or even film along the lines of a Canon 6D, a Mamiya or Hasselblad perhaps, or even a mirrorless Leica.  Instead the camera in the CBS story appears to be a field camera – the old style wooden type along the lines of the Tachihara 4×5 Cherrywood Field Camera.  This an expensive camera and quite cumbersome to haul around, but extremely rewarding in the photograph that it produces.  In the hands of an experienced photographer, the camera is soulful, artful and masterful.

In any event, camera notwithstanding, all the portraits are wonderful [ http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-500142_162-10017769.html ].  People photography is my favorite.  I love to pour over people shots of any kind and from all over the world.  I like to study the body language, expressions and emotions and try to imagine the thought process taking place as the photo was captured.

I encourage you to click on the links I’ve provided and checkout the CBS story and Robert Renaldi’s website.

XXIII TIPA AWARDS (2013)

tipaTIPA – or the Technical Image Press Association – is a group of photo press editors representing both print and online photography media publishers.  Organized in 1991 the purpose of this group was to form a large association of independent editors of photography-related publications made up top experts in photography.  The initial organization was open to European editors, but went global in 2009.  TIPA represents independent photography experts who are not tied to manufacturers, advertisers or marketers.  Their tag line “A Small Logo Makes a Big Difference” is in reference to photography-related devices and equipment for which awards are bestowed.  The presence of the TIPA logo along side a product is meaningful and prestigious.

x20soloThe annual TIPA awards are begun in May and published upon completion for various categories of cameras and camera gear.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the 2013 award for the “Best Expert Compact Camera” go to Fujifilm’s X20 camera.

I’ve had my eye on the X20 since it’s release in April of this year.  I’m a big fan of the Fujifilm “X” series camera family.  I own the Fujifilm X100 and love it.  It’s full-frame APS-C sensor and full manual controls produce gorgeous images.  The X20 is a perfect compliment to the X100.  Although the X20 sports a slightly smaller sensor (2/3rd’s class), it features a 4X zoom, where as the X100 has no zoom capability.  The presence of both an LCD view and optical viewfinder (with setting info) make the camera great for indoor and outdoor shooting.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and the sample images produced by the X20 are sharp, vivid and brilliant.  Skin tones are natural and both greens and reds are even (one usually drowns the other in digital sensor technology).  You can view photographer submitted samples of X20 produced photos here:  [ http://fujifilm-x.com/x20/en/gallery/ ].  If you’re interested in non-professional X20 produced images, just check Flickr for Exif-tagged X20 photos [ http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=x20 ].

Congratulations to Fujifilm and their X20.  I’d love to have you in my arsenal.