Categories
Featured Photography

Lensbaby New Soft Focus Lens Optic

Want a great lens with the look of a $1,000 Rodenstock Imagon for your digital SLR? Look no further than the newest lens addition to the Lensbaby line. Lensbaby, the brain child of photographer and inventor Craig Strong, brought soft focus and skewed focus planes to cameras that normally produce sharp results. The current generation lenses offer interchangeable elements, and that is where this article comes in. I recently obtained a Lensbaby Soft Focus element, and wow, is it cool!

My 3 part review of the Lensbaby Composer can be found here… Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3. I tested this new Soft Focus lens element with the Lensbaby Composer that is always in my camera bag.

I got my first soft focus lens in the early 1980’s, a Sima Soft Focus 100mm f/2 lens. It came with three aperture disks (f/4, f/5.6 and f/8) that you could install as desired. I played with the idea of creating a Imagon-style aperture disk for the Sima, but I never got around to it. Craig Strong played with the idea, and built the Soft Focus element for the Lensbaby line. No “woulda, shoulda, coulda” for Craig… he just does it.

Categories
Featured Hardware Photography Reviews

Lensbaby Composer: A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens (pt 1)

A Three Part Series Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Pt. 1 of 3:  Be My Lens, Baby!

Soon after receiving my first 35mm camera, I found that photography was a little more difficult than it had first looked. Ok, it was a lot more difficult. After mastering the learning curve on how make a sharp, well-exposed photo, I saw some photography by David Hamilton and Robert Farber. I was back to square one. Suddenly, I wanted to shoot soft focus images. But, how to do it?

Shortly after graduating college, I got my first dedicated soft focus lens. I had tried all different ways of getting that beautiful soft focus look… shooting through cigarette package cellophane, smearing petroleum jelly on the filter, shooting through other materials like hose, netting, window screen, almost anything you can think of. Then came the Sima soft focus lens… 100mm at f/2 wide open, a simple single lens plastic element, push and pull focusing, it made beautiful images. It worked great… as long as you had your subject perfectly centered. The lens was sharper in the center than at the edges, so if you put your subject off center it would suffer degradation beyond the intent of soft focus. You could manipulate it slightly with an f/4 and an f/5.6 disk, plus there was a neutral density disk in the box that I never really used. The other limitation I immediately realized was the focal length; it was too long to use for most landscape situations. I moved on and tried other specialty lenses, mostly with less success than the Sima.

Then something wonderful happened… a guy like me who liked soft focus made a lens with an integral hard rubber-ish bellows to focus and bend all over the place to skew the plane of focus. Let me be clear – I experimented but never really built anything. I was content to use what others had made before me. Not so for photographer Craig Strong. He too had been unhappy with the soft focus options available to him, so he decided to do something about it, and the first Lensbaby was born. That was 2004; I found it in 2005 at PhotoExpo in New York City… when I saw the booth I went in and bought a Lensbaby 2.0.

The Lensbaby 2.0 creates beautiful images, but it has limitations for me. First, if I wanted to shoot a bracketed exposure, sometimes I found it difficult to hold the lens exactly on the focus point with the skew for a 3 or 5 shot bracket. I also had some difficulty focusing and bending the lens exactly the right way to throw the focus off a certain way. Using it on a tripod gave similar results. Forget trying to do a perfect long bracket for rendering an HDR scene… the original and version 2.0 Lensbabies were great for quick, on the move photography, but not for more studied compositions.

Jump forward to 2008. Apparently nobody mentioned to Craig Strong that he had created a great product and that he should rest on his laurels. He continued to improve the Lensbaby design, and introduced the new Lensbaby Composer. Instead of a bellows, it has a rotating ball-n-socket joint. Focus is achieved in a much more conventional fashion (to us old-school folks who were already used to focusing the lens themselves) with a rotating collar that moves the element assembly closer or farther from the sensor plane. But lo and behold, this wasn’t just an improvement on a single lens… the Lensbaby Composer had crossed over to… the system side. I remember one of the early literature pieces I saw from Nikon – it was titled the “Nikon System”. Need a right angle viewer that magnifies? Got it. How about a high-point action/sports finder? Ditto. Motor drive with 250-exposure cassette (yeah, film was somewhat precious, but what was really precious was time… like the time spent reloading your camera while the shot gets away). They can do that. Not to mention little things like the Noct Nikkor (look it up if you don’t know).

The Lensbaby and Lensbaby 2.0 had some attachments, but weren’t what I would call a system. The Lensbaby Optic Swap System is the heart of a new system of lenses that cover the spectrum of soft focus possibilities. Start with the sharpest, a double element glass lens. Second, a single glass element, followed by a single plastic element (if you have experience with a Diana or Holga, you’ll know this look). Apertures… we have apertures! Wide open the Composer is pretty soft with any of the lens optics. In the compact storage case/aperture tool housing (Lensbaby calls this the “Magnetic Aperture Set” and is included in with your first Lensbaby), you will find apertures from f/2.8 to f/22. If you are looking for f/4 in there, it is probably already in the lens. Finally, there is a fourth (and fifth?) element that thoughtfully combines a pinhole and zone plate in one housing. But wait… there’s more! All of these lens elements fit neatly into the newly redesigned Lensbaby Muse (replacing the Lensbaby original and 2.0 lenses), Control Freak (if precision soft focus, which seems something of an oxymoron, is your gig, this is the lens for you), and the Composer.

Ok, let’s do our math now. 5 lens types (double glass, single glass, plastic, zone plate and pinhole), 9 possible apertures including those in the creative aperture kit (without making your own), wide angle and telephoto converters, macro close-up kit… Without creating your own apertures from the blanks in the creative kit, there are well over one hundred different possible system configurations. Of course, you can also get there 3 different ways – the Muse, Composer or Control Freak. For those artsy readers that aren’t system oriented, don’t be alarmed… on the Lensbaby website you can preview the effects of many of the combinations… just browse to  http://www.Lensbaby.com/optic-comparison.php and use your mouse to create the combinations. This handy preview tool will get you started toward the look you desire.

Examples

Lens Baby SLR Lenses

$150-270

Free Shipping Via USPS

For more information or to purchase, visit

www.lensbaby.com

The Lens Baby Composer – A Selective Focus SLR Camera Lens : A Review in 3 Parts

Part 1 |   Part 2 |   Part 3

Categories
Digital Lifestyles Photography

Photographing Live Concerts

I have a spent a great deal of my life attending hundreds of of concerts and I regret not photographing each and every one of them. The reason being Baby Boomers are revisiting their youth collecting photographs of their favorite Rock Stars while many say they have a whole room or wall collection of Rock n Roll images .

Many of the images from my "So you Want to be a Rock n Roll Star" collection were shot live at the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. Others were taken at concerts around the country while I was on assignment for either the artist or record company, or for my own personal collection. In most cases, I have been lucky enough to be able to photograph some of my favorite musicians. Legendary artists like The Grateful Dead, The Byrds, Kinks, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Leon Russell and the Who.

The keys to shooting a live performance are: the right location, the right equipment and patience. Securing the prime spot, whether on stage or right up front close to the stage requires planning and a well trained eye. I usually arrange for a Press and Backstage Pass, but I also make sure I’m in the front row with the audience during at least some of the performance.

A lot of thought goes behind the equipment choices. At the very least, plan on either two fast prime lenses, like a 50 1.4 and a 135 F2, or a fast medium telephoto zoom such as a 28-105 2.8 or a little longer 70-200 2.8 .

Shooting concerts with todays digital professional SLRs such as a Nikon D3 or a similar Canon etc. is really nice as there is very little noise at ISO 1600 and higher.

If you visit my website, Vanredin.com, I have posted some of my collection. The older Black and White images were shot on Tri-X pushed to ASA 1600 and processed in Diafine developer. Older color images were shot on Ektachrome 400 and if needed, pushed 1 or 2 stops. These images were then scanned, cleaned up and in some cases enhanced using Adobe Photoshop.

Van Redin’s Rock ‘n Roll prints are for sale.
Prints sizes are available from 8×10" to 16×20" and larger on some images.
Canvas prints stretched on a frame are very popular also.
See all the images at VanRedin.com . Leave a comment or contact the author through his website for more information.

Categories
Books Photography Reviews

PRACTICAL HDRI: High Dynamic Range Imaging For Photographers

Jack Howard should be a familiar name to many of you photographers as he is the Editor of PopPhoto.com/Popular Photography & Imaging where he tests and reviews cameras, lenses, software and a multitude of camera gadgets. 

HDRI photography (high dynamic range photography) is a growing phenomenon of interest in the photography field.  Simply put, it is a method by which the photographer produces an image that has more dynamic range than that which is possible with normal film or digital processes.  In extreme, it produces a surreal image; however, used judiciously it opens up the shadows and recovers highlight detail in an image.  Briefly, the process involves taking a series of images at varying exposures while keeping the f-stop and focus constant and varying only the shutter speeds.  This procedure produces a range of exposures that at some point expose correctly for the shadows but not the highlights, a “normal” exposure, and at another point exposures for detail in the highlights but not the shadows.  Once done, the selected software chooses the correct exposure for each area in the image and mixes the areas to produce an image that has a wider dynamic range than is possible with a single exposure. Finally, tone-mapping pulls the assorted areas back into a luminance range our eyes and our perceptions consider to be more normal.

Obviously, this normally involves using a tripod and having a stationary subject, as any movement between each exposure can only contribute to blurring and the failure of the image.  Surrealism is easily achieved in HDRI photography through a number of software and procedural choices.  Making the photograph look “right” with tone-mapping is where a discerning eye and more than a bit of art comes in.

Getting a new book from Rocky Nook Press is always a joy to me because of the high quality of the reproduction of images in their volumes.  As a photographer, the quality with which a book image is reproduced is extremely important to me.  First comes the quality of the original reproduction, and then I’m concerned with the lifespan of the paper it is printed on.  With these volumes printed on acid-free paper I am comforted by the thought that if I return to one of their publications in a year or three or more I can expect to see and handle pages and images that will be as fresh in reproduction as they were on my first look.

Jack Howard begins by explaining that on our regular computer screen or on the printed pages of a book, we cannot actually see the full scope of high dynamic range imaging.  Very few individuals possess the quality of computer screen to actually take advantage of the total product of HDRI; instead, we view a tone-mapped version that attempts to cram or compress all the brightness (luminance) into a smaller space that can be managed by either the screen or the printed image.

With that in mind he explains that even with the most basic DSLR equipment it is possible to do HDRI work.  Even basic DSLR’s have the manual capability to set exposure in such a way that the f-stop and focus can remain fixed while adjusting the shutter speed which provides the variables in the exposure range from under to over exposure of the subject.  Most point-and-shoot cameras lack this capability.  In addition, because the process of HDRI photography depends upon several images being in the same position or focus, then a tripod becomes a necessity, and bracketing burst capability in the DSLR a highly desirable function.

With the tools explained and in hand, he devotes a bit of time to the basics of photographic composition, and then discusses the best lens types for HDRI work.  Each lens type produces a distinct “look” to the photographic image and choosing that “look” can very well be part of the developing style of the photographer.

The subject of whether to shoot in RAW or .jpeg is covered. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages, so the basic recommendation is that if the photographer’s camera has the capability, the basic images in the exposure bracket should be made with both simultaneously.  Metering for an HDRI bracket can be tricky and Jack Howard discusses the various methods of metering and the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Download sites for a number of HDRI software programs are given, but the programs are not included as a CD with the book.  The reasoning is that based on the length of time it usually takes to produce a book, the software will have been revised during the production period.  Having the photographer download the software guarantees that the latest version is what the photographer works with.  A number of software types are mentioned and demonstrated. They include Photoshop CS3, Photomatix Pro 3.0, FDRTools Advanced 2.2, and Dynamic Photo HDR 3.x.  Not all of these are available in both Mac and PC versions, so the appropriate software should be chosen to match the photographer’s computer platform.

Once the photographer has created an HDRI version of their selected image, then tone-mapping should be applied to their product.  This is necessary to make it possible to handle the image with conventional viewing and printing media because the image will otherwise have problems with over-saturation, hyper-vividness, and out-of-gamut warnings.

Of particular interest to me were the set-up procedures for Photoshop, Bridge, and Adobe Camera Raw as the easiest methods for correcting tone-mapped images that have an initial flat appearance and lack either a real black point starting or white point ending.  This legitimatized the process I had worked out for myself while using an earlier version of PhotoMatix Pro while previously experimenting with HDRI photography.  It also encouraged me to update my PhotoMatix Pro 2.4.1 to version 3.0.3.

If you are looking for a straightforward introduction to HDRI photography–and can do it without the necessity of a precise-step-by-step procedure where both you and the instructor have identical sets of variably exposed copies of the same image to work with–then Jack Howard’s book is an excellent choice. As an author, Jack Howard seldom applies an aesthetic judgmental qualification to the result of a decision you might make in the adjustments of the software.  Rather, his approach is that “if you do A, then B is going to happen, and that may or may not be what you want.”  He demonstrates HDRI techniques on a multitude of different images producing results from surreal to extended-normal.  He allows the photographer to decide which approaches best fit their philosophy of imaging. He encourages the photographer to experiment and to apply his or her own aesthetic judgment to the product.  This volume is 170 pages, well illustrated, beautifully printed, and is in paperback format; it is a good addition to the bookshelf of both the beginning and intermediate photographer.

 

Categories
Hardware Photography

Camdapter by Jim Garavuso vs Nikon SLR Hand Strap

A former student of mine dropped by to show me his new Nikon D80 camera.  He stopped in because he knew my wife had the same model and he wanted some help with a couple of menu choices.

I noticed a handstrap on the right side of his camera, into which he slipped his right hand, which left his other hand free to support its long lens. This is a feature he uses frequently shooting sports and wildlife. Having just come back into the world of pro-weight cameras, and being older than I once was, I realized this might now be for me too.