Joseph V Higbee.com P & M Intro

Photos and Musings

Volume Three

Page 9
September 6, 2013

Equipment matters! However............

Spotted Sandpiper

There is an old saw that "a good photographer can take a good photograph with just about any camera." I think that is true enough as far as it goes but it really doesn't go very far. An old Kodak Instamatic I had in the '60's took pretty good pictures of my kids before I dropped it. If I had been a 'good photographer', those photos could have been better posed, had better lighting, etc., and would have been "good" photos. Under the conditions they were taken, the camera wasn't a limiting factor. However, the best photographer in the world would have problems equalling any of the photos on this page with that camera! He might do so with one of the better cameras available then but even that would not be easy.
   What may be just as true is that "with good equipment just about anybody can sometimes take a good, even great, photograph". I put the quotation marks there for defining purposes but you can quote me if you wish. The point is; improvements help, be they in the equipment or the expertise of the user and, over time the improved equipment will outweigh most skills gained by the user. A Corvette will beat a Model A in a drag race regardless of the skills of the drivers. Ansel Adams is recognized as one of the greatest of photographers. White-breasted NuthatchHis skill at creating photos using the tools of his time is legendary and his photos stand forever as a testament to that skill. But even he, using those tools, could not equal what is possible with today's equipment. He would recognize that, of course, and would probably be found with one of the best lenses available coupled to a large resolution digital back mounted on a quality carbon fiber tripod.
   None of the photos here are even close to the work of anyone really skilled in photography. But that isn't the point, the point is; improvements help, equipment matters. Kinda, mostly and somewhat. However, a second point is; not every improvement is important for every purpose. Any of these four photos is good for illustrating, on the web, the details of the bird shown. In fact, the reason I am writing this is because I had to redo the first two, taken in 2003, and was impressed at the quality from that very early model of digital SLR. But they are not as good as the other two photos, taken in 2013, for every purpose. A large print for example.
    Cedar WaxwingSome other ways equipment matters have to do with with how many. How many photos taken are keepers, how many junk. Skill plays a large part in this as well but advantages and disadvantages of the equipment are important to all levels. It's true the experienced person will more readily overcome the disadvantage but the inexperienced will more quickly become proficient, not having to deal with it to begin with. For instance, the 10D used in 2003 was slow to focus and inaccurate as well. Consequently, I was constantly missing shots while trying to focus or shooting too quickly and having unfocused photos. Today the camera and lenses I use are much faster and more accurate but I still have trouble taking the shot without confirming, with my weak old eyes, focus. I still miss some shots whereas, if I had never had that earlier camera, I may not.
   How much equipment, or almost anything else, matters depends on the person using it. For some, what they have does what they want to do and they may go for generations of camera improvements before they feel the need to upgrade. For others, every new feature seems like the one that they need for their purpose and they will upgrade often. It would seem like I fall into this second class, having missed only one upgraded model from the 10D to the 7D.juvenile Anna's HummingbirdThe main reason has been mostly the focus improvements although the increased resolution and low noise improvements have also been very worthwhile. I would probably buy one more when I feel a significant improvement is made in focus speed and accuracy as well as noise level at higher ISO settings. Some of the newer technical improvements are interesting but not pulling on me ...yet.
   I have also tried several lenses, seeking the right combination for my endeavours. Presently I have settled on a 300mm f2.8 lens that I can use with a 2X extender for 600mm and a 70-200mm f2.8 that gives me 140-400mm with the extender. These are both very sharp and fast to focus lenses even when use with the extenders. I also have a 15-85mm for landscape work. I could use a macro lens but haven't done enough to justify one yet. Other than that I am now happy with my lenses.
   One more area where equipment has improved and has allowed real advantages in being able to present ones photos is the computer and software. Computers have become very fast and the software has taken advantage to become ever more powerful in making adjustments to the photos. I mentioned having to redo the photos from 2003 and I was consistently surprised at how much better I could make them than the old versions. Some of that is experience but the color accuracy of the newer software coupled with the new color accurate monitor is a joy. Something I had wanted for years before finally getting it this summer.
   So, better equipment will take better photos. A more experienced photographer will take better photos. Skills are worth improving. Some young fellow, still wet behind the ears, will show you a photo taken with his digicam that'll blow your socks off. Lots of things are true but not necessarily of importance. Enjoy the moment.

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September 28, 2013

Some Personal Notes

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Where did the time go? It seems like such a short time ago that I retired, bought some photography stuff and set out to see the world. At least the corner I live in, called the Pacific Northwest. I did manage to stretch it a little to become the north-western U.S. but by no means have I seen it all. And now I think some spots may just go unobserved by yours truly. Not that I'm entirely finished, I still hope to make western South Dakota next year. I would like to explore the grasslands, the badlands and a small section of the Missouri river. The birds are of interest, of course, but also I would like to see and photograph the animals from the big buffalo to the smaller prairie dogs and everything I can locate in between.
   I don't have much interest in the faces on the wall but the different landscape in the Black Hills and the Badlands seems good for the long-lens scenic shots I have found pleasing in the Palouse. Hopefully I will remember the things I have learned about paying close attention to camera settings in that open, bright environment. A couple of times I haven't and only a lot of work in Photoshop has salvaged the day.
   On another note; my wife and I have will have lived here about ten years next summer. That would be a record. But it is looking like the record will end there, at least for this location. My son, whose property we live on, has the need to sell the place and move on and, while I have enjoyed the small wildlife area I have created here, I also feel the need for a change.
   One of the disadvantages here is the lack of nearby parks or other public recreation areas. Also, it's central location to nowhere at all is notable. We would all like to be some place where we could get some place else a little easier. One bothersome thing though; most of the times my wife and I have moved before, (every 7 years or so, average) we have moved into a house we built ourselves. Solidly into our mid-seventies, I don't suppose we will do that this time.
   I know time won't slow down and wait for me, or anyone else for that matter. So, I might not do as much as I once did but, hopefully, I can make it count.

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October 23, 2013

Musing about Differences in Cameras and Subjects

Mushroom Mushroom

I guess you could say that starting with mushrooms and ending with mountains is 'musing from the ground up'. That is pretty much what I have been doing this past year or so as I have tried to broaden out into different areas of photography. I have put five photos in this musing to illustrate my musing.
   These first two, the mushrooms, are of a type of photography I have mostly ignored until recently. It isn't quite macro but does involve paying closer attention to those smaller things around us. One of the reasons I have previously overlooked this is possibly the pace. It takes more time and effort to set up and take this type of photo compared to the photos I take of wildlife, mostly birds. Birds are moving a lot so the preparation is done beforehand and then watching for the few seconds the shot presents itself. Not necessarily less work but much faster pace. The mushrooms didn't move which allowed me much more control over the setting which then required more time and preparation for the shot. One shot in fifteen minutes instead of fifteen shots in one minute. Mt. Rainier reflected in Reflection Lakes
   Another type of photography, landscape, has received my attention but has been slow to develop. I have mainly shot scenery only as a sideline to being in an area to photograph birds. That hasn't been conducive to trying different lens and camera combinations or trying and learning different techniques. These things take a lot of time and consideration during the process of getting the shot and so, as above, it is slower paced. I say slower paced meaning not that there isn't a lot to do in the time given but that you don't take your shot and then move on to the next one.
   About the cameras and lenses: The first mushroom photo was taken with a 60D and 24-105mm lens. The second one was taken with the SX50. Both of these cameras have an articulated view screen allowing them to be supported quite close to ground level. Both are telephoto lens which makes framing a little easier. Both have macro capability allowing the subject to fill the frame. Mt. Rainier reflected in Reflection Lakes The reflection photo on the left was also taken with the SX50 while for the one on the right I used a 7D and 15-85mm lens. Both were set to their minimum focal length and could have used even a little less. From these photos, it is obvious how versatile the SX50 is and how favourably it compares for anything less than quite serious photography. For web purposes and smaller prints, the compactness and portability are often going to make it the camera of choice. Sometimes that's enough but most of the time what I'm wanting requires techniques that only the larger, heavier and more sophisticated cameras and lenses can provide. Part of Tatoosh Range from Wahpenayo to Eagle Peaks
   Technique; That's the part that is up to me. Here's where I can try new ways to express the subjects as I see them. This last photo shows one example of a technique I am working on. It involves taking several photos and combining them in processing. This photo consists of 21 different shots taken in 3 rows of 7 using the 70-200mm lens and 7D that were merged in Photoshop. The advantage over a single photo from a wide angle lens is not extremely great when displayed here on the web. Even here, however, the corner to corner and front to back sharpness and detail is noticeable. In a print, especially a large print, it would be outstanding. Perhaps, a comparable image could be had using fewer exposures. Something to work on. So it goes. So many things to try and learn but they all require a slower pace. I think I'm ready for that.

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November 16, 2013

Resolution; how much is needed?

Mt. Rainier reflected in Reflection Lakes

I am going to be pondering this question more than once and in more ways than one in this and future musings.
   Resolution is much the same as information. More of it allows a clearer picture to be seen but only when presented in the right way at the right time. Consider this photo on the right and compare it to the two similar photos from October 21st. As you see them here on the web page there is little difference. They are all about the same file size and are approximately the same physical dimensions. If you enlarged any one of them to closely examine a section they would still look about the same as each other. In other words; any one has all that is needed to allow the viewer to see clearly the scene depicted. All of them have been reduced from the original to this size with just that intent. If I had put the original file sizes on the site, you would only see a part of the photo at one time.
   However, if a closer look at detail is desired, then having the original file becomes more important as does the size, or resolution, of the file. On the left I have a comparable crop of each of the three original sized photos. The larger photo would print a nice picture 36" wide while the smallest would be just OK at 10", still a nice picture if that is all that's needed.Comparison of file size
   Here's the point; If you want to see the 'whole picture', you may not have as clear a view of all the details as you might like but trying to have all the details at once may make it hard to see the whole picture. Putting it another way, you could walk all over the mountain you see here, examining it in great detail, and only have the vaguest of ideas of what it looks like as a whole.
   On the other hand, if you have this overall view and then use the greater resolution to clarify details with a closer look, you can have a better understanding of the scene. For instance, in the original of the highest resolution photo here, Camp Muir (used by mountain climbers) can be seen by those knowing where to look.
   Obviously, to show a large area, such as this scene, on a web page doesn't require huge amounts of resolution. If, however, your wish is to see clearly only a small part of this scene then more resolution, or information, can be vital. In fact, the small part can then become picture of it's own. Sometimes photos are taken with just that aim in mind, to crop and portray a certain part of what the camera/lens captures. Even those photos are better understood by the viewer if they are able to first see the 'bigger' picture.

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December 5, 2013

To Video or not to Video


I started fooling around with video when I was trying to go lightweight with the Panasonic GH2. At that time, after doing a couple of videos and putting them on YouTube and embedding them like this one here, I started a separate section on this site just for video. I also started using Vimeo and subscribed to a plus feature to give me higher definition and more control over how they were presented.
   Now, some three years later, I have gone back to using the APS-C type of SLR camera bodies with full size lens for most of what I do. I have found the SX50 to be just right for the times I want the lightweight option. So now I am pondering the amount of video I may do in the future as well as what I may use to do it and how best to display it on this site. Here are my thoughts at this time:
   Musing, mostly about photography, is what this site is all about. I have a Photo Gallery with photos without comments, but it is hosted on another site and the link above is only a link to that site. When I post a photo or a video it is usually to illustrate some point in my musing. It seems to me that I am better served by putting any video here in my musings rather than in a separate gallery.
   Quality beyond a certain point is superfluous for such purpose and can even be detrimental, causing problems on older computers or slower connections to the web. Therefore, I am going to post all future video in the standard resolution and discontinue the plus subscription. I will also be removing the Video Gallery from this site.
   Cameras these days almost all have video capabilities. This makes it easy to just use whatever is at hand when video is desired. The biggest requirement for video purposes is an autofocus system that will refocus quickly and smoothly as the subject moves about. The new SLR's show promise but, so far, the SX50 is the only camera I have that comes close enough to be usable without manual focusing, something I find to be beyond MY capability.
   Notice the Lincoln's Sparrow in the video, an unusual bird in my yard this time of year.

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January 29, 2014

Rules

Swainson's Thrush

Two different subjects discussed recently on a bird list got me to thinking about rules. Image manipulation was one subject, the other had to do people behavior.
   There are different kinds of rules. The first and foremost of these are ethics. These are the moral rules, or principles, such as honesty. To misrepresent something is unethical.
   Then there are the rules imposed by authority. One such authority would be those whose responsibility is to manage something so that it accomplishes its intended purpose. A government agency would be one such authority. The person or entity purchasing an image is another. They have the right, or authority, to govern the amount of manipulation of the image. The same would be true of one accepting entries in a contest they sponsor. I think of these as 'hard' rules, having little or no flexibility.
   Then there are rules that are more flexible that we sometimes refer to as 'rules of thumb'. These are rules that generally produce the best results but are not binding. 'Soft' rules, bend to suit.
   The first discussion was about image manipulation, that is; manipulating, or changing, an image to make it look different than the photo produced directly from the camera. There are many changes and degree of changes that can be made to the digital file. These can vary from a mild enhancement to an almost unrecognisable version of the subject. There is nothing wrong with any of these changes in themselves. The wrongness is if the resulting image is incorrectly represented as to what it depicts. This is where rules come in to play.
   Mt. StuartIf the image is an outright fraud, misrepresents the subject or scene with the intent of deception, that is unethical. If done for the purpose of gaining value from someone, it is also illegal. However, the purpose and not the alteration is the defining factor. In the case of 'hard' rules, though, purpose is not a consideration. If a news editor pays for images to use in a publication he has a ethic that governs what he requires in those images. That ethic will cause him to set very specific rules about what he will or won't accept. It's those rules, not the ethic, the photographer must follow. The ethic is open to interpretation, the rules are not. The same can be said for a competition. A better looking image may be had with some enhancement. It is the rules though, not the ultimate result, that governs how much enhancement is allowed.
   If someone, such as myself, has a web site they post their photos to, they can do pretty much as they want. If they want to mislead someone, and it's not for gain, they could do it but it would still be unethical. They would be breaking a rule that no upright person wants to disregard. When it comes to 'soft' rules, however, purpose again becomes the predominate factor. If the purpose is to show the subject in it's natural environment then a 'rule of thumb' would bar cloning it out. If the purpose was to aid in identification of a subject by showing it's features clearly, then removing a distraction would be a logical thing to do.
   The other subject that started me thinking about rules was people behavior. Specifically, behavior as it relates to viewing and photographing wildlife. Our first group of rules, ethics, is not as rigid but the basics, such as proper behavior and not seeking dishonest advantage, still apply. There is, however, some overlap here in what some may consider ethical and others may think of as 'rule of thumb'. The Nature Photographers Code of Conduct is a good example. It is something I agree with in almost every way. But is it ethic or is it 'rule of thumb' or even somewhere in between? A quote; "Never let your presence cause the animal any stress. If there is a sign of stress, pull back." A question; what is stress and what is normal caution? A bird or animal has an area of tolerance that will change as they become used to a presence. The rule is cardinal but can be a little 'soft'.
   'Hard' rules, those imposed by a regulating authority should not be mistaken. The authority has the obligation to make those rules plain and individuals have the obligation to learn and follow them. If one side fails to fully do their part it certainly doesn't relieve the other of their part. Reminds me of a saying regarding trespass; if in doubt, stay out. So if we aren't sure of a rule, assume the firmest restriction, you'll survive.

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February 22, 2014

I Still Wanna New Camera

Sensor comparison

On 9/15/2012 I wrote about wanting a new camera but having difficulty deciding what kind of camera to want. I followed up on 9/17/2012 with some more specific thoughts concerning the 5D3 and the soon, or so I thought, to be released 7D2.
   Nothing has changed! I still want a new camera. I'm still waiting for the release of the 7D2 before I make a final decision. I have been tempted many times over the year and a half since I wrote those previous musings to buy the 5D3. But I haven't and I won't until the 7D2 is available for serious comparison. Besides all of the things I mentioned for consideration in those earlier musing,time has added a couple more.
   I mentioned that I wouldn't like the hybrid sensor such as the Rebel T4i has. Now there is a new type of sensor having different capabilities that sound really good. In real life, however, it has a way to go before it is proven good enough for serious work. Bugs are being reported. If the new 7D2 has that type of sensor, I would not feel comfortable buying it in the first year. That would mean another year and more of waiting and wanting. Don't know if I could do that.
   One consideration I mentioned previously was cost. I don't think that is too important now. The 5D3 is selling for around $3000. The 7D2 is expected to be in the $2000 range. Rock Pigeon The difference isn't negligible but this may be the my last major camera purchase and getting it right is worth that much if need be. Other considerations I mentioned were AF speed and IQ. As long as the sensor is of the type currently in use in the 5D3, not the new 70D, the only question on the image quality would be the noise level at higher ISO settings. This has been the minus side of the current 7D. The autofocus system on the 7D is good and the 5D3 is better so the new 7D2 should be more than satisfactory.
   As you look at the photos here and in the aforementioned musings, one thing stands out. I call it 'real estate' or image size. The pigeon is well contained in the smaller sensor but it was much harder to keep it there than it would have been with the larger sensor. If an image of comparable quality is obtained in the crop, then the full-frame camera has some advantage. Different lenses can offset much of that advantage but the visual advantage of the larger sensor simply cannot be equalled by one 2/3rd the size.
   However the 7D2 may have even more resolution and may have much improved noise levels. Coupled with it's almost certain higher frame rate, lighter weight and lower cost, shrug, like I say nothing has changed. I'm still waiting.

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March 8, 2014

One Half of a Decision

Mt Baker

Oh boy! Just about the time I think I have my mind made up, I change it. Even though I said before that I wouldn't consider it as an option, I did consider it and ended up ordering a Canon 6D. It should arrive in two days. Now I will attempt to explain my reasoning and expectations and then I can read them later and see if I am thinking clearly or not.
   The photo here was taken with the 7D and 70-200mm lens at 123mm, f16, 1/500th sec., ISO 200. A FF camera would have given me about the same size photo at 200mm, other settings equal. But the FF would have more (a few) and larger (a lot) pixels which relates to better resolution and less 'noise'. This photo is about as good as it gets with a crop frame camera but the noise can be seen here in the sky of the enlarged photo. Not bad but it was a bugger to sharpen without making the sky look too noisy. So, OK, I want a full frame camera but why the 6D and not the 5D2?
   I could say that money was no object but, of course, it always is so I will take that first. The 5D2 is currently $3100, the 6D $1750. The top dog 1Dx is $6700 by the way. All can be had cheaper but these are the US warranty, regular dealer, prices. So cost advantage is $1350. That is about 2/3rd of what I expect the 7D2 to cost when it is announced. So, yes, that is important. But if the camera doesn't do what I need, then even that advantage would quickly be forgotten. A tool that doesn't do a good job is worse than no tool at all.
   What, then, is the job the 6D will be expected to do? Primarily landscape. Sometimes family photos. I will try it for some birds in flight work, thinking that, even limited to the center focus, the wider frame and brighter viewfinder may give me an edge over the crop frame 7D. If it doesn't it isn't too important as I expect the 7D2 will fill that purpose when I get one using in part the money I saved on the 6D. Oops, gave it away!
   Okay, here it is in a nutshell; Only the 1Dx stands a chance of doing all that I want to do with one camera. Wildlife and landscape are two different worlds. While any modern camera can be made to work for both in a limited way, having different cameras for each type of work should produce the best results. The 6D is one half of my decision in how best to do what I want to do. I expect the upcoming 7D2 to be the other half.

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March 13, 2014

Tired

Rufous Hummingbird A tired Rufous Hummingbird female A resting Rufous Hummingbird female

On Tuesday, March 11, I spotted the first male Rufous Hummingbird of the year in the yard. He spent most of the afternoon resting among the not quite ready current bushes and by evening seemed to have moved on.
   Then yesterday, late in the afternoon, I asked my wife if she had seen him around and she hadn't. Just a few minutes later I was sitting by the window and this female started fluttering against the glass as though trying to get in. Maybe she was getting small bugs? After a few moments, she gave up and just hung at the bottom (middle photo) for about two minutes. Then she kind of fluttered out about a foot from the window and perched for a full five, maybe ten, minutes.
   Interestingly, when she started fluttering, she attracted the attention of our bird-watching cat. The cat came right over and sat on the next window sill about 2 feet away. The glass was separating them but even so the hummer acted as if was just too tired to care.

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March 19, 2014

Canon 6D; The First Week


Gull with Busy Background

I've had the 6D for about a week and have been able to spend about a third of the time I would like in using it. But spring is upon us and I will try harder as the weather warms. At this point, I am happy with my decision to try another FF(Full Frame) camera. When the updated version of the 7D (Crop Frame) is released I may want one of those but for now I have no hesitation in rating the 6D more usable and more enjoyable to use than the current 7D.

The Autofocus

The first thing I want to talk about is the AF (auto-focus) system. In the minds of many reviewers, this has been a negative point. The 6D only has 11 AF points compared to the 7D's 19 points and 61 points on the flagship 5DM3. Only the center AF point on the 6D is of the cross-type whereas the others have several. It also has fewer choices in how to use AF. Let the camera choose (auto) or you choose (manual).
   Big disadvantage? Not really. For some types of photography it probably is but for what I do it seems to work just fine. And it is simple to learn and simple to use. With the 7D I tried many times to use the different AF features but was usually frustrated because what worked for one situation would not work at all for another. In what I do the situation often changes quickly and having to cycle through several focusing choices is not an advantage.
   My biggest problem using the 6D in real life was learning not to worry about it. Push the button for which of the two I wanted, auto or manual, point and shoot. I almost never use any but the center point and that works great with both. The photo with the gull was taken with auto and the hummingbird was with manual. In each case all I had to do was get the center point on the bird and shoot. The auto followed the gull as it should and the manual got what I wanted when I wanted. Compared to the 7D both are quicker and much more accurate.

Male Rufous Hummingbird
The Image Quality

A larger question in my mind concerned the IQ of the FF. Would it be good enough to allow me crop to the same size as I normally do? Short answer: Yup! This hummingbird photo is less than 10% of the original. That, even for me, is an extreme crop. It was sharpened but no noise reduction was used in processing. I used ISO 800 although 400 would be usual. I was intentionally using a shorter (less magnification) lens than I would normally. What this proves is the 6D out guns the 7D in every way. The detail is at least as good and the noise level, even in this crop, is as good as the 7D full size at any setting.
   Anything I care to take a photo of with this camera is going to give me as good or better finished image than any camera I have previously owned or used. I feel confident in saying this even though I haven't used it in many ways yet. I'm looking forward to doing so but don't expect the results to be anything but pleasing based on experience and what I have seen so far.

Other Things

One of the things I was certain would be an advantage was the 'real estate', or image size, if the IQ were good enough. It is and it is! Some photos posted in my 6D gallery show my early endeavours in this regard.
   I knew, from having had the 5D, that the viewfinder would be brighter and easy to see things in. I wasn't sure if I remembered whether an object viewed at the same distance from the camera would be easier to see, especially as relates to sharpness, than in the crop frame cameras. It is.
   One more thing; depth of field. If both cameras are the same distance from the subject, the background should be the same in the part of the image that is shown in both photos. Even though that be true, there is no doubt the 6D has a more pleasing, somewhat softer, look than the 7D. Whether due to pixel size, lack of noise or whatever, I like it.
   I'll leave it here for now. I'm sure to have more to say later.

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