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My New Camera - Day 21

More on focus, 35mm 1.4 manual focus, NEF,
Billy Joe Shaver, Anna & Lens Dreams

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Almonds and Change - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Almonds and Change   1/80 @ f/1.4     iso 800 FF HH  CWA

March 23, 2006: It's cold in Dallas, and instead of walking at the lake, I've been holed up in my warm office checking out web sites about important things photographic. Next steps in several directions. Up, mostly.

I shot a few informal photographs yesterday using my recalcitrant 35mm f//1.4 lens, but I didn't expect much, since it has been so difficult to focus (manual only). So, for most of the photographs on this page, just getting something in focus was more important than great aesthetics, and the resulting freedom insured that these shots would be different from others on these pages. Very informal, almost haphazzard.

Most of my internet seeking today had to do with lenses in my future, RAW vs. JPEG files, sharpness, RAW fs. JPEG files and cleaning my digital sensor. I've been overly sensitive to that last bugaboo, so far about a week in this learning curve climbing process I didn't change lenses once.

I also have not removed the Compact Flash card from its nestle in the D200, because I'm overly aware that most of the wear on those things is from taking them out and putting them back into digital cameras. However, I'm about to spring for a card reader, so I don't have to wait long minutes to dump each day's shots into my aging, non-USB2 computer.

The D200 can do either or both, JPEG and/or RAW files for each shot taken. So far, I've stayed with JPEGs (though always in fine quality), because I know and vaguely understand that compression format's files — and because until today I didn't have any software that would let me open RAW (Nikon calls them NEF).

The people across the street in my neighborhood can get DSL, but I cannot. In major thunderstorms, the lights go out on this side of the street and four blocks around, but not the other side of this same street. It bothers me, but what can I do? Download slow. It took a little more than two-and-a-half hours to download one variety of Nikon and Macintosh compatible software that will let me delve into the RAW realm. I hope.

I'm excited about the possibility, but I'm waiting till Mercury goes direct and stays there (after March 25) a while before I load and upgrade (I downloaded both files) that software and begin struggling with NEF. That should be intersting, but so far, all of this has been.

Carnations - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

1/30 @ f/2.8     iso250 FF HH  CWA
The red-brown tone of all these shots is compliments of the D200's auto white balance,
which is notoriously too warm under incandescent and tugsten lighting, like at Anna's,
but here it's kinda nice in these photos, so far, so what the hell...

Future lenses include — very probably — an 18-70mm AF (autofocus) zoom, although I'd rather have the 18-200 VR (vibration reduction) lens that is not likely to be available before Anna's daughter's wedding. I have only vaguely considered an additional flash unit (there's a weak one that pops up from the camera). Weddings can be flash fests, but I try to avoid those blasts and have done without them often.

Somebody else will shoot the reception.

The 18-70 would be a great little lens for that event and for dealing with art shows and receptions and much of the shooting at the lake, except following birds through the air, up or down. I wish it were VR, since I am not, but I've read enough lens tests that I am sure it will serve me well.

That 18-70mm zoom range will encompass the focal lengths of all my old Nikon lenses except my longish 180mm telephoto, but it's not a macro (good for getting in really close) — like bottles flowers and bugs. It will, however, focus very fast and render very sharp images, unlike the lens I used for the new photos on this page.


Feet Up - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Feet Up and Laid Back   1/8 @ f/8     iso 1600 FF HH  CWA

After that, I'm not sure what I should/will get. I love shooting birds up close and in flight, and althogh the 180 lets me do some of that, it would be nice to be able to zoom not quite so telephoto and a lot more. From my online research, I've gathered that the Nikkor 80-400mm VR zoom is superbly sharp, except when used with a tripod, and I hate those contraptions.

The VR will help me hand hold that lens down to about 1/8th of a second, but it won't reach out and make pelicans or turtles or people or anything else hold still that long. And supposedly, it won't help me pan a fast-moving subject, like a projectile pelican. I do look forward to being able to get in really close when they're lined up on the sandbar, however.

And I'd expect it to let me sneak up on people in public and maybe even in performance situations. When I published the underground newspapers Dallas NOTES and HOOKA, I used to shoot a lot of rock and roll. When I worked at and later co-published Texas JAZZ, I photographed a lot of really famous and amazingly great jazzers, so I suspect I'll want to do more of that, once I'm more properly equipped.

Billy Joe Shaver - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Billy Joe Shaver at Dan's Silverleaf November 12, 2005
1/15 @ f/2.2 iso 400   50% crop HH pattern metering
[This shot taken with Son F707 zoom lens.]

The last musician I shot on stage was Billy Joe Shaver at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton. I got mixed results, tending toward digitally noisy and overly red flash and non-flash shots with my Sony F707, which allowed me increase the iso only to 400, and by that lofty speed, everything was rendered soft, fuzzy and replete with grain-like digital noise.

Dan's lighting is terrible, dominated by bright red neon left of the stage and piercing spots. Bobby got us great seats right up front, but it was still out of reach of the tiny Sony zoom and tinier popup flash.

At first, I told the friends we were with that I hadn't got anything good. What I had not got was anything great. Good was in its usual abundance, but I remembered shooting Tri-X black and white film and getting amazing results of Janis Joplin through a piano and of Jimi Hendrix the year they both died, and lots other rock stars in the 70s.

Billy Joe Shaver - Big Grin - copyright 2005 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Billy Joe Shaver - Big Grin ©2005 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.
1/80 @ f/3.5 iso 100   80% crop   HH  on-camera flash
[This one, too.]

The Billy Joe pix each required at least an hour of careful post-production and color correcting before they were presentable.

I think a Nikkor 80-400mm VR zoom would have let me get close enough in that situation, to get expressive face shots, even when Billy Joe stepped back from the mike. And the D200 would let me up the iso to 1600 or more, although 5-800 might have been about right and not looked like a sandstorm of digital noise. Plus, RAW files are supposed to be easier to color-correct. I think...

I don't know what the D200 on-camera flash could have done, although it's metered, so I wouldn't have wasted so many shots guessing at the right exposure. Björn, my online photo hero, threatened to pour super glue in the D200's popup flash, and close it forever, but the test camera wasn't his. I suspect I can live with its puny guide numbers, since I avoid using flash and far prefer natural or ambient light.

Right now, I can only imagine getting up close and personal with my pelks, egrets or herons at White Rock. I have in mind face-shots and beak-to-beak personal-space invasions of their privacy and not having to scare egrets into the sky just to get feather details, but that is an expensive lens, costing about $1,500 with a USA Warranty, somewhat beyond my budget.

Now that I'm thinking about it, for a Billy Joe setup in a dark nightclub with dreadful colors bouncing about, bright spotlights and strange shadows, my trusty 180mm 2.8 might have been just almost, except for the ability to reframe by zooming, and VR would have let me hand-hold shots a lot slower when he stepped back out of the spotlight or when he was talking with people in the street before the show. That hefty lens' big, f/2.8 max aperture would be 4x brighter than the 80-400's long-end f/5.6.


Bat Girl - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Bat Girl Blur   1/60 @ f/2.8    iso 1600 FF HH  CWA
not even close to focus with my elderly 35mm f/1.4 lens

I've also been thinking about picking up the very inexpensive, only about $100, 50mm 1.8 formerly 'normal,' now slightly telephoto lens for informal portraits and shooting art. That focal length would be somewhere in the high middle of the 18-70 zoom, but much brighter, so I'm not sure. The 1.8 lets in about 4x the light, so that would be a big help in low and natural light.

But I'll take this lens quest one step at at time, much as I have been with my old stable of last-century, manual focus ones this far. Feel my way around the 18-70 before I get too excited about the next big purchase. It will be amazing just to have anything zooming and focusing quicker than I can worry about it. I may warm considerably to that wide to medium tele span.


Anna Almost Grinning - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Anna Trying Not to Grin   1/80 @ f/2     iso1600 FF HH  aperture-priority  CWA
Sometimes a little softness in a lens is a nice thing.

Every once-in-a-while while I was shooting at Anna's last night, I'd manage to get something in focus with that old 35mm 1.4 lens. Here, it's her eyes. That, her bangs, glasses frame and smile are the only things in this photograph that are sharp.

And here, at least, that's enough. It's plenty. If photographers can get a subject's eyes in focus, and those eyes have a bit of sparkle, reflection or a glint of highlight, many people seeing it will assume the photograph is in focus, even if nothing else is. I have not always been above scribing a negative on a people-shot just to get that look. It's easier with digital, and not so destructive if I miss. This image had zero post-production. It's all real.

This is the best photograph I've taken of this lady yet. I even like the too bright and busy background, in a vagluely environmental portrait kind of way. She was trying very hard not to giggle at having her picture taken, so I'll be photographing her a lot more in future, wear her down so I can photographically peek deeper into her soul.


Total images expended, so far = 2,772

[All shots above taken with the Nikon 35mm 1.4 manual focus lens.]