27 September 2007

In Praise of Carbon Fibre

Over the years I've tried many tripods, finally settling on an aluminium Manfrotto 190Pro for a period of time. Not too heavy and not too big and having owned several Manfrottos at one time or another, I was pretty much satisfied with the build quality.

Just recently however, I made the switch to a Gitzo 6X carbon fibre tripod because I was offered a good deal for it. What a difference in weight and err, price wise! The Gitzo G1157 is pretty compact but I dare say matches the features of the Manfrotto with a substantial weight saving. This model has recently been replaced by the newer G1540 with the newer G-Lock design which increases load capacity quite a bit. If price is a consideration, the more affordable Basalt models (carbon basalt mix) is an option. These models weigh-in somewhere between the full carbon and aluminium. Whichever the model, Gitzo is unmatched quality wise.

I've kind of resisted buying Gitzo in the past because I felt the twist locks seemed slower to setup. Well the new models lock quicker and a tad faster than the flip locks of the Manfrotto. I've matched my Gitzo with a Manfrotto 486RC2 ball head and it's a perfect combination that's pretty light and sturdy. Thumbs up for a great tripod.

26 September 2007

The Lonely Hunter

Just recently I was fortunate enough to obtain a nearly mint copy of the Sigma 400mm f/5.6 telephoto in PKA mount. Up to now, the longest lens I ever had with a Pentax maxed out at 300mm so it was with some anticipation that I tried out a few shots with this manual focus lens.

Sigma made several versions of this lens, mine being the green finish non-APO version. The overall weight isn't too bad at about 800g and the built-in tripod collar definitely helps. For it's age this discontinued lens still looks very nice.

Took this chance shot of an old neighbourhood cat stalking some small birds. Shot handheld and thanks to the Shake Reduction feature, the image is pretty sharp.

25 September 2007

Hot Chocolate

A lazy Sunday morning calls for a nice leisurely breakfast. Didn't want to carry lots of camera stuff so the choice was an older Pentax-A 50mm f/1.7 on my K100D. Fortunately for me, some nifty work with a metal template by the barista gave me the perfect opportunity to take these lovely shots. Really a terrific lens. And how was the hot chocolate? Yummy!

20 September 2007

Voigtlander 125mm Again

Been quite busy lately and unfortunately it has limited my ability to go out and shoot. Here's a couple of shots taken with the Voigtlander 125mm Macro Apo Lanthar. The smooth and creamy bokeh is really outstanding. Half the shots taken handheld and half on my Gitzo tripod.

Works on people and insects too! Here's a wedding test shot. Quite a difficult subject to get the exposure right but got it spot on first time. Guess the old brain still works.

Well I kinda like this small solitary flower. The weather was dreary but somehow managed to get by. Can't decide if it looks better in colour or converted in B&W and given a slight gold tone. Well I leave you to be the judge.

In colour


05 September 2007

FA 77mm Limited: A Gem of a Lens

Just a few days ago I had the rare opportunity to pick up a new FA 77mm f1.8 Limited. Rare because over here, Pentax lenses are scarce and not often readily available even at the best stocked photo shops.

For quite a while now, I've been having a little mental debate on which prime AF lens would make a nice portrait lens. Now as we know, in the days of 35mm film, that would mean a short to mid-telephoto focal length typically between 85mm to 135mm. Factoring in the 1.5x crop factor, the current choices available were:

1) DFA 100mm f2.8 Macro
2) FA* 85mm f1.4
3) FA 77mm f1.8 Limited
4) DA 70mm f2.4 Limited
5) FA 50mm f1.4

I would rule out the 50mm and the 100mm. I find the 50mm a little too wide and it doesn't quite give a tele perspective. The plus side its f1.4 aperture allows for a very shallow depth of field and it's a fairly compact lens. Having been a one time owner of the FA 50mm f1.4, I find image quality is a little soft at f1.4 but sharpness gets better stopped down. I'd still recommend the lens because:

i) it's currently the most affordable Pentax AF prime lens
ii) it's a fast lens that's great for shooting available light
iii) you can use it with extension tubes for pretty decent macro
iv) use a teleconverter and you still get a decent and fast combo

As a macro, the DA 100mm is a sharp lens. However in the context of a studio or indoor shoot, the working distance for a head shot can be just a little too long; though this isn't an issue for outdoor candid shots. Secondly, at f2.8, it's the slowest of the lenses under comparison, and obviously a larger aperture would help give better subject isolation from the background. Still it's a good and versatile lens that can do double duty as a macro and telephoto.

The excellent FA* 85mm is a lens I can only dream about. Very expensive and very rare to find but a lens capable of rendering very compelling portraits. This is a great lens but I'm told produced in fairly limited quantities. Have a friend who has one and it is really a beauty.

So it's a toss up between the DA 70mm and the FA 77mm. The DA's distinctive "pancake" design makes for a compact lens. As a lens made for digital, it does away with a manual aperture ring, meaning aperture control is from the body. This is fine except that if you intend to use it with extension tubes or bellows, you're limited to shooting only at the largest aperture. (The DFA macros still retain the aperture rings for this very purpose.) The DA 70mm is newer, lighter, focuses a tad faster but only manages a modest f2.4 maximum aperture.

The older FA77 on the other hand has a image circle designed for traditional 35mm film. It's a little bigger and heavier but maximum aperture is 1 stop faster at f1.8. I think I could be equally happy with either lens though I feel the FA77 has a slight edge due to the larger maximum aperture and image quality wise.

My initial reaction to the pictures shot with the lens is the excellent colour rendition and contrast. At f5.6, the lens is exceedingly sharp. The bokeh is also very pleasant, an important consideration for a portrait lens. This lens isn't cheap but I'm suitably impressed by the build quality and more importantly the image quality to give it the thumbs up.

02 September 2007

How not to sell a DA* lens

I really like the new DA* 50-135mm. So much so that I was prepared to overcome reason and plonk a lot of money at the Pentax booth at the Comex consumer electronics fair here in Singapore. That was a couple of days ago before the fair opened.

A lot has happened since the fair opened. First, the long anticipated DA* 16-50mm and DA*50-135mm could only be bought as a bundle with the K10D. In other words, you had to buy a body and two lenses for a whopping S$4,699! Fine if you need a camera body or don't have one, but iwhat f you already have a camera?

With no takers the word was that the lenses could be bought individually at S$1,699 for the DA* 16-50mm and S$1,899 for the DA* 50-135mm. Still a lot of money and significantly more than what the lenses are selling outside Singapore. Again few takers.

Today, the final day of the fair, the price gets slashed down to S$1,459 and S$1,599 respectively. In other words, the prices for both lenses saw a drop of S$240 and S$300 all in the space of 2 days! What were the local Pentax distributor thinking? Horror of horrors, a blatant attempt at profiteering no less. Last I heard, hardly any of the DA* were sold.

Many avid Pentax users like myself who were hoping for some attractive promotional pricing for the DA*s and prepared to buy the lens on the spot just walked away. Those few who did manage to buy early on will rue their misfortune on having paid more than they should. Surely this isn't the way to market two fine quality lenses. I'm hoping Pentax should really investigate and give the Singapore distributor an earful for this episode of un-professional pricing flip-flops.

The two Pentax DA* lenses were co-developed with Tokina. They differ from the Tokina version in having SDM, weather proofing and Pentax SMC lens coating. Yet the Canon and Nikon mount versions of the Tokina currently retail at S$899, a huge price disparity when compared with the DA*s. Sadly the much cheaper Tokina will never be available in Pentax mount. I'm hoping the price for the Pentax lenses will come down further but I'm not optimistic of it happening here in Singapore.

Anyway I've already decided to console myself with a FA 77mm f1.8 Limited. I'll write about this keeper of a lens later.

IR Skyscapes

Here's a couple more IR images taken at different locations in Singapore. Taken in between visits to my clients. It was a bright sunny day but I still shot at ISO 1600 in jpeg.

Boon Keng

The noise is apparent, and I've been told is more apparent in IR because as the IR filter cuts out most of the visible spectrum (especially blue), only a portion of the sensor is active to record the image. With a high ISO setting, this exaggerates the noise level. Honestly I can't conclusively verify this bit of info but looking at the results, it's plausible.

Beach Road

I normally don't like grainy pictures, perhaps a carry-over from the time I shot 35mm black and white, but I think it works here. Images taken with the kit lens with R72, all cropped in manual mode. Images processed with a channel swap in Adobe Photoshop and minor tweaks with curves to adjust contrast and exposure.

Collyer Quay

01 September 2007

Neighbourhood Kitty in infra-red

Shooting IR usually means long exposures and that typically means using a tripod. Fortunately the Pentax K100D sensor is pretty sensitive towards infra-red, allowing a manageable shutter speed for hand holding to be used in bright sunlight. Here's where the camera's in-body Shake Reduction also helps to ensure pictures turn out sharp.

Well I decided to try shooting hand held at ISO 1600 on the K100D. Many IR images are typically associated with landscapes with lots of green vegetation, so I thought it would be interesting to find out how a subject like a friendly neighbourhood cat would turn out.

One thing I noticed is that the cat's ginger coat appears different when shot in IR. The first picture is straight from the camera before post-processing as it has the characteristic sepia coloured tone. However the cat's ginger brown patches takes on a purplish tinge. Actually the image doesn't look so bad and can look quite nice if it's desaturated a little. The second and third images have had a channel swap in Adobe Photoshop's Channel Mixer.

Another thing I noticed is that at such a high ISO setting, there is a noticeable difference in the noise level when shot in jpeg as compared to RAW. Image quality is so much better when the jpeg file is saved from a RAW file as compared to a straight in-camera jpeg. Images taken with the DA 18-55mm and a Hoya R72 filter straight from camera with no cropping.