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Yoko Yoko Photo Club

March 7, 2011 13 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

 

All but one of todays photos were taken with the venerable Kodak DCS Pro Back 645M.    It’s a discontinued image making monster capable of producing some of the most film-like files I have ever seen come out of a digital camera.  It’s not the fastest camera out there. In fact, it’s downright glacial in its pace of taking photographs.  But this causes me to also slow down in my image taking, and gives me pause to think about what it is I am trying to capture.  I’m sure the great medium format Mamiya glass adds a lot to the image quality, but the sensor of the Kodak back itself must be given due credit.

For those of you in the local Yokosuka/Yokohama area, you may be interested in a photo club I recently started.  You can check it out here:  www.meetup.com/YokoYoko/

This new photo club will not be taking the place of the Tokyo Camera photo club I have belonged to for years.  Rather, it is a way to get people on the Miura Peninsula/Yokohama area who are interested in photography together without having to make the trek up to Tokyo.

We have had two meetup events so far, and any member of the club can organize a gathering.  So if you are interested, then sign up and plan a day pf photo shooting.

Leica M9 – First Impressions

September 13, 2010 7 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

I finally went and got myself a Leica M9.

And ironically enough, I took delivery of it on 9-9-10, (at just after 09:00 in the morning!) one year to the day after it was announced.

No, it was not on back-order that long!  🙂    I just noticed about a week before  that B&H had an M9 in stock, so I made the order.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading through all the M9 reviews I could find, and after an exhaustive amount of pondering I finally decided that it was time for me to give it a try.

Having previously owned an M8 on two separate occasions, it was with a bit of trepidation that I ordered the M9.  On both previous experiences with the M8, I was always put off by its inadequate image quality at higher ISOs, as well as the IR sensitivity  issue.  The crop factor never really gave me problems since the Epson R-D1 has an even higher crop facor, and the fact that I had shot with cropped sensor DSLRs for years prior to moving up to full frame.  But after 6-10 months of shooting with the M8, on both occasions I found myself going back and shooting the R-D1 more frequently than the M8, so both times the M8 had to go.

Don’t get me wrong.  The M8 is a good camera, and a joy to use.  But I was just bothered by the fact that I had to use IR cut filters, and limit my available-light photography to cases where I could keep the ISO down below 640.  Compared to the R-D1 this was as serious step backward in functionality since the R-D1 is not plagued by any IR sensitivity issues (at least as far as I could tell), and the fact that the R-D1 absolutely sings at higher ISO with the most film-like grain (noise) I have ever seen a digital camera produce.

Having the M9 for less than a week now, I guess this post will be my first impressions of the camera.

First off is the color. Not the color quality of the photos, but rather the color of the camera body.

I got the steel grey version.  I also like the black, but I don’t really like the vulcanite covering being offered on the black paint version, so my choice was steel grey. (Grey was also the one that B&H had in stock at the time)   What I really wanted was a silver chrome version of the M9 with the same finish as the M8.  But for whatever reason, Leica decided not to offer the M9 in silver chrome.  Some think of this as a poor decision on Leica’s part to not offer their flagship rangefinder in the classic silver chrome finish.  But me, I think this is all part of their master marketing strategy.  I would not be at all surprised if a silver chrome version of the M9 were to be made available in the future.  They may also make the much coveted sapphire crystal lcd screen an available option, at the right price of course.  Right now, a full year after the M9 was launched, they are still having trouble producing them fast enough to satisfy the demand.  This is saying a lot in the world of digital camera where a camera is a good third of its way towards becoming obsolete in that span of time.  It is saying even more when you realize they are charging $7,000 for it!

I’m not sure how the steel grey will look as it wears.  The black seems to brass pretty quickly, from the photos I have seen floating around the web.  The steel grey seems to have a silver coating between the grey paint and brass core, so it may brass a bit less cleanly than the black paint version.  Time will tell.

Second is the body.  Rock solid, just like the M8.

Third is the shutter. I am liking the more quiet shutter on the M9.  I guess I can live with the tradeoff of not having the 1/8000 sec shutter speed of the M8.  If I really need to shoot wide open in bright light then some ND filters will fit the bill.

Luckily, I didn’t have to buy any lenses, since I already had a bunch of L and M mount lenses that I have been using on the R-D1, and M8 when I had one. Although I did say that working with the M8’s cropped sensor did not bother me, it sure is nice to have my 50mm lens act like a 50mm lens again.  I’ve been shooting full frame DSLRs for years now, but this is my first (actually THE first) full frame rangefinder, and it is nice to have 35mm be a decent wide angle again.

So far I’ve been shooting mainly with a trio of older Canon screw mount lenses: 28mm f2.8, 35mm f1.5, and 50mm f1.2.  They are not the sharpest lenses out there, particularly wide open but then again, what lens is tack sharp wide open?) but I like the way they draw, and they are very compact for their given apertures and focal lengths.  The 50/1.2 in particular is a bokeh-making machine, and is my go-to lens once the sun goes down.

My first impression of the image quality of the M9 is good.  Very good. Other than medium format, I have not seen a digital camera with as much dynamic range as the M9.  The only other camera that comes close was the R-D1 (oddly enough, another rangefinder).  This may be in part due to the lenses I have been using as the older Canon glass is known to be lower in contrast.  But even the few shots I have taken with more modern lenses such as the Konica Hexanon UC 35/2 still show the Leica M9 having very impressive dynamic range, even in challenging conditions.

It appears that Leica hass addressed at least some of the issues I had with the M8.  So far, I am very happy.

Sony NEX-5 versus Sigma DP2, looking for the perfect travel camera

August 16, 2010 16 comments
Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took while in Tallinn, Estonia.

The two cameras I used were the aging, yet still very capable Sigma DP2, and the new, hot off the shelf Sony NEX-5.

I pretty much stuck with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) f2.8 lens on the NEX-5, and when I needed a bit more reach I used the Sigma DP2 with its 41mm equivalent field of view.

And as happy (dare I say ecstatic?)  as I am with the NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens, I do have to say that I actually prefer the images from the Sigma.  The sharpness, color fidelity, and dynamic range of the Foveon sensor continues to astound me.

While I was travelling, the excellent LCD on the NEX-5, and the comparatively horrid LCD on the DP2 had me thinking that the Sony was going to be the one with the superior image quality.   But after downloading the images and viewing them on a large monitor, I am once again caught between two systems.

I love the wider choice of focal lengths on the NEX-5 due to its interchangeable lenses, as well as its superb image quality at higher ISO’s.  The flip out LCD is also a great feature, especially when doing street shooting as it lets you shoot “Rollei-Style”, looking down at the LCD, instead of upright and pointing the camera from your face.  I could do with a few more external buttons and less menu digging on the Sony, but after a day of shooting that part became pretty transparent to me as I got more used to it.

Yes, the new Sony NEX-5 coupled with a pancake lens is a very compact, and portable travel camera.  It really is a pocket camera, and I very much enjoyed travelling light and not toting around a DLSR with a sack full of lenses.  Considering all this, it would seem that the Sony had pretty much nailed it with the NEX-5, making it the perfect travel camera.

But in situations with adequate lighting, the Sigma DP2, with its seemingly anemic resolution of 4.7 megapixels, actually mops the floor with the Sony NEX-5’s and its 14.2 megapixels when it comes to resolving power and pure sharpness.

This could be partly to blame because of the Sony lenses, which do not have a reputation for being very sharp.  But I think it has more to do with the sensor technologies being used, and the resolution advantages of the Foveon sensor technology compared to CMOS and CCD type sensors.

The Sigma is capable of producing astounding images, if you know what you are doing, AND you can put up with its horrid user interface which pretty much cripples what could have been an excellent all-around travel camera.

The DP2 used to be burdened with an extremely slow focusing system, but some recent firmware updates actually solved that problem.  (THANK YOU SIGMA!)  And while you are not going to be doing any sports type photography with it (not without manually pre-focusing anyway) it now has a respectably fast and responsive auto focus mode.

So once again, I have come to the conclusion that there is no single perfect camera.

Although, if a person were to use a Sigma DP2 with its 41mm field of view, AND a Sigma DP1 and its wider 28mm field of view, you may be able to cover most all of your bases for a lightweight travel cameras setup, the benefit of which would be you could share batteries and memory cards between the two, carry only a single battery charger, AND not have to take along a netbook or other portable photo storage device since more than 1,000 RAW images fir on a 16GB SD memory card.  This is all thank to that measly 4.7 mega-pixel resolution.   But don’t let number fool you into thinking the image quality will suffer.   The proof, as they say, is in the pictures.

Sarushima

June 15, 2010 4 comments
Click here for todays photos

Click here for todays photos

At the end of May Saori and I took advantage of a beautiful day and spent a few hours exploring Sarushima, or “Monkey Island” which is about a mile off shore from my apartment in Yokosuka.

If you want to learn about Sarushima, just open up the first photo for today and you will be able to read the information sign that is on the island.

The week previous we had spent a Saturday on the island for a barbecue party with a group from the photo club.  But at that time there was no chance to do any exploring, as we were busy cooking, eating, and drinking.  So on this day we made a point to walk the entire island.  It’s not too hard to do and you can see thee entire place in a couple of hours, and that’s if you go really slow and check out all the interesting corners and ruins.

My camera for the day was my trusty Epson R-D1 with a 28mm f2 CV Ultron, 15mm f4.5 SWH, and 50mm f1.5 Nokton.  The 28mm was used for most of the shots.  Saori was using a Sigma DP2, which after its most recent firmware update has turned into quite the usable little tool.  Sigma really did their customers a service by improving the speed and accuracy of the auto focus system in their recent firmware update.  The DP2 is no longer a great image maker thats a pain in the ass to use.  Now its a great image maker thats usage is very transparent to the image making process.  This still does not keep me from lusting after a Leica X1 though…  🙂

Could the megapixel race finally be over?

August 21, 2009 13 comments

Click HERE for today’s photos.

Could the megapixel race finally be over?

Let’s hope so.

Here’s the headline: “Canon releases a new camera with lower resolution and better image quality.”

While this seems a bit counterintuitive, it does make sense.  You see, cramming ever more and more pixels onto the same sized image sensor is NOT the way to improve image quality.

In my view Canon did a VERY smart thing in reducing the pixel count with the G11.  And to make the news even better, they upped the sensor size, so you get a double whammy effect that results in larger photo sites, meaning a higher signal to noise ratio and lower overall noise.

I don’t want a super high resolution 100 megapixel image that is so noisy it looks like it was taken during a snowstorm.  I’d much rather have a sub-10 megapixel image from the same sized or larger sensor as that will dramatically improve final image quality.  Sigma, with their 4.7 megapixel Foveon sensors in their DP1 and DP2 cameras have proved this.  Granted Foveon sensor technology is something entirely different from CMOC and CCD, but the fact remains that the 4.7 megapixel resolution images have the sharpness, clarity, and detail of 10-12 megapixel images shot using CCD or CMOS technology.

The only thing that really puzzles me is why Canon decided to grace the new S90 with an f2.0 lens, whilst only giving the G11 a widest aperture of f2.8?  I am sure anyone who knows anything about taking pictures would have easily traded the 140mm zoom on the long end of the G11 for the 105mm on the long end of the S90 if it meant they could get an f2.0 aperture on the wide end.

S90: f/2.0-4.9 28-105mm (35mm equiv)

G11: f/2.8-4.5 28-140mm (35mm equiv)

In its defense, the G11 does have a very useful articulated LCD screen, although it is (marginally) smaller than that on the S90, AND on the long end of things, the G11 has the S90 beaten both on aperture, as well as reach.

It seems funny, but I think the biggest threat to Canons new G11 is their very own S90.  The again, maybe not, since they seem to be marketed towards slightly different groups.  The S90, being very pocketable is a “take it with you everywhere” camera that is sure to be popular with everyone.  But the G11, while still compact, is certainly not something that you will want to stuff in your front pants pocket, not unless you want to make people think you are happy to see then anyways…  The G11 seems geared toward the same crowd as the G10, those serious about their pictures, and after an all-around best-fit camera to fit as many photographic situations as possible.

I also see that they left HD video out of both of them, further ensuring a solid upgrade path for those that buy into the current lineup.    So neither the S90 not the G11 are perfect cameras.

Smart.  Very smart.

And in truth, I don’t think it is in any manufacturers best interest to produce the ‘perfect” camera.  After all, their goal as a manufacturer is to make money.  If they made a perfect camera then why would people fork over more of their hard earned (or inherited, or ill-gotten, or whatever type) money for a new model?

Businesses are IN business to DO business.  Period.

That’s why we see such incremental product updates most of the time.  It cuts down on R&D and manufacturing costs while maximizing the mount of units being sold, and this translates directly into profit.

It is a fine line though, and I am sure Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and everyone else I watching each other like hawks to make sure than no one manufacturer gets too far ahead of the curve and upsets the balance.   I can just see the CEOs of all the big camera companies getting together once every year to decide what features to release on the public, how much to charge, and what features should be reserved for future product updates.

Following is a brief summary of my thoughts on some digital camera manufacturers.  Basically, I attempted to describe each companies philosophy when it comes to making cameras:

Canon: Full frame is where it’s at, ergonomics are for pansies.

Nikon:  Full frame is overrated (oops, that was last years line…) “Full frame is where it’s at, and oh by the way, our ergonomics wipe the floor with Canon.

Olympus: Damnit, 4/3rds IS full frame!  (if you can accept the logic that the original Pen was a full frame camera this may make sense, otherwise, it’s a bunch of rubbish…), and lets make some really good glass, but lets also make the mistake to price it outside of most peoples ability to afford.

Panasonic:  Yes, we really do make cameras, not just electric shavers and flat panel TVs.

Leica: Screw sustainable business models!  We’re making rangefinders and medium format digital cameras that nobody can afford.  But just to hedge out bets we’ll partner with Panasonic and place one of our fabled red dots on a few of their models which will allow us to instantly charge $400-$600 more for the exact same camera.

Pentax:  It’s all about the glass.  (And they are absolutely right)

Sigma:  No, really, it really IS a 14.7 megapixel sensor!    (all the other makers roll their eyes)

Kodak:  Someone has to sell cameras to the people who bought Yugos

Mamiya:  Isn’t that Italian?

Casio:  Someone has to sell cameras to people who are ready to step up from Kodak.

Ricoh:  Yes, yes, I know this shot looks like it was taken during a snowstorm, but look at just how sharp that palm tree is!  Ricoh should sell their cameras with a disclaimer: “Use Only In Direct Sunlight”

Hasselblad:  Let’s make our equipment even more expensive than Leica.  That way we can feel exclusive and justify our high prices.  Never mind that our digital backs cost more than a mid-sized SUV.

Fujifilm: We’ll take a Nikon mount and put one of our bodies and sensors on it and instantly charge $400-$600 LESS than the comparable Nikon.

Epson:  Epson?  I thought they only made printers?

Contax: R.I.P.

Sony:  A little late to the DSLR game, but since buying up Konica/Minolta they have really come into their own.  Now if only they could increase their focus speed, and decrease their high ISO image noise.  They have been making solid point and shoot cameras for years.

HP: I thought they just made printers and computers?

No camera is perfect.  I know because I seem to have tried darn near all of them.  But it certainly is an interesting time to be alive with the steady progression of technological advances creeping ever closer to the end-goal of what had been developed in the film world years ago, but with the added bonuses of better high ISO image quality, huge storage capacity for pictures (can you even imagine changing your memory card after just 24 shots?), and immediate image/histogram review.
Click HERE for today’s photos.

Nikon D700 versus Canon 5D

February 8, 2009 27 comments

Click HERE for todays photos.

The reason for the change in the look of Sushicam is because I just mapped the sushicam.com URL to my 2yen.wordpress.com account.  I did this to try and prevent the continual hacking that I experience from disrupting the site even more.  

I no longer have to worry about keeping my WordPress installation current on my own server anymore.  I can rely on the good people at WordPress.com to take care of that for me.  In doing so I do loose some of the freedom that hosting your own website allows, but I think its a small price to pay to stop the hackers from continualy disrupting the site.

Well, another weekend has come and gone.   As sit here at my keyboard the clock is sweeping quickly toward 9 p.m. and all too soon I’ll have to head off to bed.

Yesterday I spent some time in Tokyo shooting my new D700.  It was my first  real chance to get out and do some shooting with it since it arrived a little less than a week ago.   So far I can say this coming from the 5D:  The high ISO image quality of the D700 is nothing short of extraordinary.  I set it for auto-iso, ranging up to 6400, and forget about it.  With the 5D I rarely went as high as 1600.  It really is a big step up for me, especially since I love to shoot in “available darkness”.  

I’d say as a baseline the D700 has about a 2-stop advantage compared to the 5D.  But in reality, the quality of the noise from the D700 is much better.  

I’m not sure exactly how the engineers over at Nikon achieved it, but the chroma noise on the D700 is extremely low.  

I mean Really low.  

Think “Danny-Devito-doing-the-Limbo” kind of low and you’ll get an idea of how low I am talking about.

At a given ISO the 5D has much higher chroma noise, and this leads to the greenish-purplish blotches that are so noticable and really degrade the image quality.   In contrast the D700 noise is almost entirely constrained to Luminance, and this allows it to look a lot more like film grain instead of digital nosie. 

I guess the big question is this: will the D700 replace my 5D?

I would have to say no, not entirely.  

I still love to use all of that great manual focus glass I have aquired over the years, and the EOS mount of the 5D is the ultimate in verstaility in this department.

Which one would I choose if I could only have one of them?  

This question is a bit harder.  I’m currently loving the D700.  But the 5D has been a real workhorse over the past 3 years, producing great looking images for me.  I guess I will only really know the answer to that one once I have more time to shoot with the D700.

Categories: Photography Tags: , , , , , ,

Random shots

February 5, 2009 6 comments

Click HERE for todays photos

As those of you who have been following Sushicam for a while, you will see that todays photos are a departure from the recent norm, and actually slip back into the style that I first started with: Documentary type shots that show some od things. Not necessarily artistic, or even Good for that matter, but a slice of the real Japan nonetheless.

Enjoy.

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Just sign up before 15 February and take advantage of this promotional offer.

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I spent last week in Hawaii on a business trip. (A hardship tour for sure) While it was nice to get a taste of the good old U S of A again, I was kind of surprised about how hard it was to get around. Especially seeing as I am not functionally illiterate there like I am here in Japan.

My coworker was the one doing the driving, and I was the navigator, and I have to admit I failed miserably at the job. It didn’t help that the street signs are effectively the size of postage stamps, and darn near impossible to discern since the hawaiian alphabet ahs only 13 letters, and at first all the street names looked pretty much the same. Just long strings of letters like HALAKUALAKOANAMOA.

Not the easist thing to filter through at 60 mph when you are not familiar with it. “3rd Street” would seem a more logical choice. It’s simpler too, but maybe that’s just me..

Categories: Photography