Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Grampians

3 weeks worth of travel and more than 8 month of Adelaide shots =~ 200GB of raws! It is an awesomely tedium experience to go through all the shots, but all of them, even the bad ones bring back such lovely memories. I'm really glad I actually bothered to shoot so much.

That said, this is the start of day 3 of photo choosing for printing (I have not yet started actual processing).... I am not sure how I'm going to print them all lol.

Anyways, just fiddling around with the photos (Bibble 5! Please be out soon!) and restarting my Houdini vibe again. Got at least 2 ideas I'm working on in H :) Very simple projects but just wanna engage my engines before they rust.

Oh, the above shot is from the Grampians national park in Victoria (the state that Melbourne is in). It's around the 8-ish to 9ish mark, still not yet to the half way point.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Mow From Sengkang

Yesterday I was at Sengkang being a brother to a hia di. ARGH! Co-ordination duty does not include "suffering" in order for the groom to pick up the bride lol! :P

Anyways this was at the couple's new SengKang flat, when I was waiting for the lift. Only managed 2 shots b4 it ran off. Evidently someone's pet.

GAH. Why aren't there wolves running around Singapore? Only cats? ****

**** the question, is rhetoric of course.



More Mow!

Little furball I met today while walking around Marsling. Only 3 shots before it ran away. (It probably has something to do with how close I was :P )

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Road Train

We saw many of these vehicles hauling containers along the road. I managed to catch this one pulling out of one of our rest stops. I've also seen one carrying a small boat. Perhaps the owner was shipping it from Darwin to SA?

King's Canyon Random

Slowly going through photos of Australia. Been testing out Autopano for my panos, and it seems to do a pretty good job. I'll be buying that pretty soon. However, since I shoot all my pano shots bracketed, I still haven't figured out how to combine all of that in AP.

Sigh. Pano Head or Extension Tubes next?

PS: This pile of rocks was stacked up by some tourist before us; don't disturb the natural zen-ness please!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Nikon 80-400 Day 3: Singapore Zoological Gardens

Third day out. It was raining on my way to the Zoo, but happily when I arrived, it stopped, and only clouds remain. I'd try to get to the White Tigers exhibit before 10, as I *thought* the website said the feeding was at 10am (I was planning to leave the zoo by noon), unfortunately a plaque there stated it was at 2.20pm. Oh well. I did my lens testing on the various denizens, went out for lunch, then went back in.

I think by now I'm already getting used to the heft of the lens, and getting acquainted with the tight zoom ring. I went directly to the White Tiger exhibit and probably shot off 200 shots in under half and hour lol. I have *alot* of very similar white tiger shots; since I was having relatively low light levels in the morning (I was so jealous of the dude with the huge Canon lens + monopod + flash extender lol), I took many shots, hoping that some would be sharp. That paid off!

AF performance, is slow as always, but again, it generally held the lock pretty well. There were only a few times it had to focus all over the place (mainly in really dark areas, like the wolf's den area. )

Anyways for the last day, I'll show you some 100% crops of my shots. GASP! It's pixel peeping time folks! I would like to caution that the lighting today for the Komodo Dragon and Otter ain't optimal; in fact I think due to the reflections, I think perhaps there is some flare in the otter shot. Ah well doesn't bother me. Let's go:

White Tigers... So... Cuddly...

100% Crop, 330mm, 1/250 - Not as sharp as I like, but given the conditions, I think it's pretty good! There was waist level rail that I used as support.

Komodo Dragon. Somehow, I think it's not THAT cuddly.

100% Crop, 400mm, 1/400, fully handheld. I think if I had support I'd probably get a sharper image. I also have _alot_ of komodo shots, but I just wanted a quick random example of how the lens performs at the extremities.

Otter, however using the 70-300VR. While cuddly, they are also damp :(

100% Crop. 300mm, 1/250. I think I was bracing against some support..

Ah well. I returned the lens after this shoot. I'm gonna miss the extra range, but not the handling... Sob! I think the bokeh is pretty delicious for a zoom, but for example the twin tiger shot above, I wish I had the ability to really stop down to get both of the furballs in focus. Sigh.

Oh, btw. Was using the 70-300 today, and it felt... really cheap :P Guess that is what happens when you pit a pro level lens versus a consumer zoom! I'm just glad that for nikon glass, the image quality is still pretty good on the consumer stuff.

Nikon 80-400 Day 2: Jurong Bird Park

Weather during my visit was miserable. It was the usual overcast in clouds, which really puts a crimp on high shutter speeds. Thankfully, there were a few breaks in the clouds, allowing me at times to shoot at 5.6/1000 @ ISO 280.

Autofocusing this baby today was a huge surprise. I'm not sure what's up, but I only remembered a few times that it actually lost focus. It's still slow to focus, don't get me wrong, but generally when it's locked on, it stayed locked.

I was able to track a Pelican - granted, a very big furball - through its landing pattern, a nice crescent around its living area. I was really surprised that the AF was able to lock on, and I managed to track/zoom it till it landed, then switched to another pelican taking off. Whew.

That said, I won't use this lens to track faster birds like the owls and eagles. In the morning, the Bird Park has a Birds Of Prey show, and using both the 80-400 and 70-300VR yielded only a few shots where the bird, flying towards the camera, was usable. None from the 80-400 actually :P And a few were from the 70-300 VR were actually in focus with the bird heading nearly head on.

Unfortunately, lighting was a bit low in the morining, so I was managing with shutters of about 250, not enough to stop motion.

There is a gripe with the lens handling though. I've noticed that the zoom ring was very tight to zoom from 80 to 400, but the other way round, it's pretty loose (perhaps it's my copy of the lens). Also, I am unable to zoom from 80-400 in one swift motion, I actually need to crank it 2 or even 3 times. By then, my framing is all over the place and the action is mostly over. Sigh.

That said, I was able to capture a few nice memories. Here's a few:

Malaysian Fish Owl

Egyptian Vulture

... Dang forgot what bird this is :(

Cormorant - I think this is the species of Cormorant that I find very handsome when they're drying after a dive. Pretty cuddly, no?

Shoebill. NOTE: This was shot using the 70-300VR

All images above, if cropped, have their top and bottom removed to change the aspect ratio to 16:9 - I try my best to not crop into the images. Processed from .NEF using Bibble 4.10 om Ubuntu 7. Resized in GIMP. Note, I DID NOT run any unsharp masking on them. You may wish to run some USM on the high res pics to evaluate these lenses - most of them are at their max zoom.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just some fun updates! Nikon 80-400VR thoughts

I've been spending time away from Houdini and work in general, spending most of it out in the field taking pictures of Singapore before I head away to my next assignment. I also have 200gbs of RAWs to go through slowly in Bibble! It's amazing what exposure bracketing can do on a 2 week holiday :P I'm not only just selecting my images, I'm also spending time re-tweaking the raws again and again, and oh, also trying to figure out which photobook provider to print my stuff from.

My current kit is a Nikon D200, Sigma 10-20 for my ultra wide, Nikon 16-85 for my normal use lens, and the Nikon 70-300VR as my tele/wildlife toy. 300mm for wildlife isn't enough for me imo, even with the crop factor giving about 450mm equivalent. So yesterday, I rented out the 80-400 for a test drive! I thought if the lens checked out fine I'd get a copy for my use and sell off the 70-300.

This is day 1 of 3 of my rent, and at the moment, I'm already leaning on just using my 70-300. Why?

Two things, first is the handling and autofocus on my D200

First, the lens itself is quite balanced with my D200. The focusing ring though, is located closer to the lens mount, and is quite stiff, at least the copy I rented. MF simply needs to slide a ring from AF to MF (and unlock the ring, if you locked it before). Tripod mount was in the way, so took it off even before I left for my shooting "expedition". Perhaps I'm just used to the 16-85 and 70-300's arrangements for the focus/zoom rings, so I can't adapt yet for the 80-400.

But enough of the handling, what's troubled me most was the AF on my D200 body. Apart from it being slow, I think I could get used to the AF speed, was the AF on the outer sensors were hit and miss. Alot of times I shoot in Continuous AF mode, and use my 11 AF points to help my framing. Subjects with low contrast were particularly prone to focus hunting. I rarely use Single Shot mode nowadays for focus lock -> recompose as sometimes the subject is moving, and Single Shot doesn't work very well for me. I've also yet to use the AF-On technique.... one day...

Using the center sensor, it generally works very well, but in low light conditions (e.g. ISO 800, F5.6 1/60 kind of exposure levels), even the center sensor hunts. While my 70-300VR also will annoyingly hunt at 300mm (exactly like the kit 55-200), the AFS speed kind of makes up for it, plus, you won't hear it grind through the AF range.

Many forums report the D300 plus the 80-400 makes an excellent combo, no surprise with the many, many cross sensors on the D300. I think for now, since this is the only lens in my budget (no 3rd party lenses for me, at least for now...), I'll just stick with my 70-300 and rent like the 200-400 if I really need it.

I leave you here now, with some pics from the Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. Note: All pics shot using the 80-400 are shot at full aperture from 4.5 to 5.6...

I think this reserve is the favorite haunt of many bird lovers, unfortunately, I do not have the skill to take much bird photos. So I'll lead with... a Monitor Lizard! Which there are tons wading about. I was unable to shift to a different location to frame it without the grass in front of its snout; it had moved on by then :(

No bird, but a Mud Skipper is up next lol!

Here starts a few bird shots!


More little furballs...

Panning shot. It's not so bad as long as the sensor latches on. If it does that hunting thing then yeah, pain in the ass.

Closeup on a monitor lizard leg! It was raining quite heavily when I spotted this guy probably about 20 metres away. I inched bit by bit under the pouring rain. Ended up having a whole series from far to near. (NB: This is using the Nikon 16-85! The 80-400 doesn't have a gasket around the mount; I wouldn't try that lens in the rain. Plus, the 16-85 + D200 combo has been though a few thunderstorms with me, protected only with a lens cap :P So I know it can take it.)

"Portrait" of the lizard about a meter away. These guys don't seem to be bothered when you inch up to them crouched; walk up to them standing upright and they bolt.

My plan will be to do the Singapore Bird Park, followed by the Singapore Zoological Gardens with the 80-400 to further gauge it in different shooting conditions, before I make up my final, final mind (I'm already complaining to my kakis online about the lens, you know who you are ;) )

Last I went to the Bird Park, was using a Contax G1 and 45mm lens, and I was able to take some reasonable shots; which makes me wonder how annoying it will be to try to maneuver a lens with a 2 meter plus minimum focusing range :(

Tech Note: All photos processed with Bibble 4.10 on Ubuntu. Resized for web in Gimp. I generally tend to crop from 3:2 to 16:9 by removing the top and bottom, rarely the sides. If you take a look carefully, you will see the sides of some of the images will have some black lines. These are the lines that appear in bibble after lens distortion is corrected. I usually do not bother to crop them out. Finally, vignetting. I vignette all my stuff in bibble! The lenses are great! Don't worry!