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The Online Photographer
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Monday, 4 June 2007

Laid Low by the Spam-Fighting Robots

Well, wasn't that fun.

If you haven't heard, last Friday I got locked out of The Online Photographer. When attempting to post I got a dire Warning! message that informed me that Blogger's Spam-Fighting Robots had identified TOP as a spam blog (whatever that is...and please don't tell me, I'm quite sure I don't want to know). So for three days—thank the stars and the Blogger Team it wasn't more—I haven't been able to post here or to even tell you what was going on!

I've been almost ill over this. I feel I've worked hard for my traffic—you, that would be, and thank you—by giving you something new every day. In nearly a year and a half I don't think I've ever gone three days without posting new content. That was the original idea behind TOP—to give photo enthusiasts a place where they could reliably find something fresh.

And I have to say I've been pretty happy with Blogger for this purpose...up till now.

But apparently I have just run headfirst (and, yes, ow) into one of the major failings of a free-service site: namely, no Customer Service. I did everything I could think of to find someone to help—even tried to call Google in California. No luck. Good as it normally is, Blogger is a take-what-we-give-you type of arrangement. Don't like it? Tough tiddlywinks. Once I'd made the request for reinstatement, all I could do was wait. My only option was to sit on my hands. You can imagine how I felt when I heard the news (from reading in the Blogger Help forums) that TOP might have been out of commission for as long as a week.

I did get the "thanks for your patience" reinstatement this afternoon, and here I am posting again. Fine. But in the meantime, I did something I probably should have done a long time ago—built a new version of the blog, and registered it under my own domain name.

It's looking pretty rough yet, but I think it will end up being an improvement. See what you think: the new URL is (same as before, just without the "blogspot" in the middle there).

For now, until the DNS servers catch up with us, you may have to access the new site HERE.

I'll be interested to hear comments. And my apologies for abandoning you over the weekend—it wasn't voluntary, believe me.


Thursday, 31 May 2007

Tripod Resolution

Every now and then when the moon is almost full I grab my camera. I think it's because I love the phrase "waxing gibbous moon." Waxing is the opposite of waning; it means it's getting bigger. And gibbous is the opposite, or the complement, of crescent; it means a partial moon larger than a half moon. I've always wanted to title a picture Waxing Gibbous Moon.

Two nights ago I took the camera out by the garage and took this. I tell myself in those situations that there's no time for a tripod. For this shot, I turned on "Anti-Shake" (actually, I never turn Anti-Shake off) and jammed the camera up against the garage door.

When I saw that the exposure wasn't totally sharp and the moon was still blown out (this would be a good application for two quick exposures blended with one of those actions that combines two exposures for extended dynamic range—I'm not just imagining that those exist, am I?), I had one of those "tiny epiphanies" of which my days are full—I realized I dislike tripods on principle. That is, I don't think of myself as a tripoddy kind of person, all finicky and particular. I'm an anti-tripodite.

Real Purple: This unsharp waxing gibbous moon Kind of Blue moon
—a detail from the shot above—is also one of the few times I've ever
actually seen bonafide purple fringing from my 7D and 28–75mm lens.

I have a friend named Christopher Bailey who was once a house painter. I remember keeping him company once four stories above Georgetown. I couldn't leave the window, but Chris was scampering around on boards laid on scaffolding with nothing under him but sidewalk, dizzyingly far below. Now, I'm scared of heights, dramatically so, so just watching him had my stomach in knots. At one point I said, "Chris, aren't you afraid of falling?"

At that, he started jumping up and down on one of the boards, which flexed beneath him and then flung him upwards. He jumped on it like it was a trampoline. "Oh, I don't know," he said, "I just feel like if I fall, I'll get my hands on something."

Bingo. That's how I feel about steadying the camera. I'll use anything and everything to brace the camera on or against—mantelpieces, car windows, someone's back, whatever. I like to extemporize. More than that, I like to think of myself as someone who can extemporize. Even when I do use a tripod, I just jam the camera down on the top plate with my hands—I seldom actually attach the camera to the tripod head. What I realized the other night is that I avoid tripods just because of this self-conception I have—even when they're called for, and would be appropriate and useful. There was really no reason at all not to grab a tripod when I went inside to get the camera the other night.

So here's my resolution. The next time I shoot a waxing gibbous moon (granted, the shot above is another miss), I'm going to get the tripod out, and use it properly. In fact, I'm going to try to use my tripod more often in general. I don't care for "tripod snobs," but being an anti-tripod snob is no better.


Featured Comment by Cliff: "Waxing Gibbous Moon—Nikon D70, Nikon 18-200 VR, 1/400 sec. F5.6:"

Featured Comment by Joe Decker: Image stabilization can save the day when tripods won't do the job. This was taken from a moving ship (Canon 300L/4 IS, f/4, 1/160, ISO 400):

Featured Comment by DMayer: "While I agree with your comments both pro and con about both tripods and VR/IS/whatever, I'd like to humbly point out that the argument would be moot (mooot?) for moon shots. To successfully photograph the moon you have to shoot at a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the moon and to make the earth's movement negligible. At usual f-stops, the proper exposure would be fast enough to freeze the moon with a 'normal' lens in a shutter speed range that would allow your IS to be effective. Shoot slower, and a tripod may yield a sharper picture of everything else, but your moon would either be blurred or grossly overexposed. Cliff's WGM looks good at screen resolution, and was presumably shot at 200mm at a high ISO (I would guess around 800?) At this shutter speed some people may not need the VR, let alone a tripod, especially if you use the stabilization method that you (Mike) used for your moon shot. And let's not talk about the need for remotes and mirror lockup while on your tripod. Sort of takes away the spontaneity a little, eh? Yes, I do have a tripod (carbon fibre of course, sniff-sniff), a remote cord, and a usable MLU function on my camera, and do from time to time use these functions, but I also have VR lenses, and in a pinch which do you think would yield a more successful moon shot? (The smarta-answer is the tripod, used a couple days before the full moon around sunset, when the difference between the sky exposure and the moon is within the dynamic range of your sensor and the moon is close to the horizon. Luck has nothing to do with making a good photo.)"

Once in a Blue Moon

Today is the Blue Moon—the second full moon in a calendar month.

Blue moons happen about seven times every nineteen years.


Featured Comment by Doug (seconded by many other NPR listeners): "Based on a story on NPR last evening, it seems that this was not a Blue Moon and that people have been using the wrong definition since 1946 when it was incorrectly reported in Sky and Telescope magazine.

Idle Response by Mike who actually knows nothing about it: Doug, perhaps that will end up being one of those "errors" that are sanctified by popular acceptance into becoming true. For instance, there is (or was) no such word as "troops"—"troop" (or troupe) is already plural; the singular is "trooper." But I doubt you could convince many Americans, or even many lexicographers, of the non-existence and/or incorrectness of "troops" as a legitimate English word.

(I'm hoping the same thing isn't going to become true of "loose" for "lose," which I think is one of the most persistent misspellings on the internet. Or maybe it just annoys me the most.)

As for Blue Moon, we would probably need the AHED Usage Panel's scientific advisory panel to render a verdict on this one.

Further Comment by dasmb: "I've a degree in rhetoric and agree with Mike—the only definition of a term that matters in terms of effective speech is the one that your audience expects. Dictionaries are a largely academic thing—it doesn't matter if your usage is right by the dictionary, if it contradicts popular belief then it's unsuccessful speech.

"As for me, I'm going to celebrate this lunar event falsely called a Blue Moon with a nice tall glass of Blue Moon, a beer falsely called a Hefeweizen."

Random Excellence

Jan von Holleben's Dreams of Flying.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to David A. Johnson

They Needed to Talk

And family friend William Eggleston, his camera at his side, felt compelled to shoot

By Emily Yellin, Smithsonian magazine

The details are a bit sketchy now, but everyone agrees the picture was taken in Memphis, Tennessee, on a late summer night in 1973. Karen Chatham, the young woman in blue, recalls that she had been out drinking when she met up with Lesa Aldridge, the woman in red. Lesa didn't drink at the time, but both were 18, the legal age then. As the bars closed at 3 a.m., the two followed some other revelers to a friend's house nearby. In the mix was a 30-something man who had been taking pictures all night. "I always thought of Bill as just like us," Karen says today, "until years later, when I realized that he was famous...."


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Robin Mellor

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A Banner Year for Big Cameras?

2007 is shaping up to be a banner year for top-end cameras. Not only is the new Canon EOS 1D Mark III now shipping, with its leading-edge high-ISO performance, but it looks like this year will finally see Sony filling out its fledgling line with two higher-end DSLRs—one paralleling the old Konica-Minolta 7D (right) and one situated above that, at flagship level (top)—which might or might not be full frame. Sony is releasing product pictures, but no specs yet.

Even more interesting rumors are swirling around Nikon. "According to the French magazine RĂ©ponses Photo (issue 183, June 2007)," went a recent post by one Charles Brugg on the DPReview Forums, "Nikon will soon bring out a new 'pro' camera. It will be available around the same time as the Rugby World Cup later this year." The poster goes on to report that "this new camera will use a 18.7MP sensor made by Sony, slightly smaller than full frame (1.1X) thus allowing further use of the classic F-mount."

This is all just scuttlebutt, so please don't ask me for more information. I just pass along what I hear. My contact at Nikon, for instance, is an illiterate guy named Gitchi who sweeps up under the counters where they solder the circuit boards. I'm sure he knows something, but then, I don't speak Japanese.

It looks like both Sonys and the Nikon might have image stabilization as well, although we will have to wait and see.


Featured Comment by David A. Goldfarb: "Big cameras?

"Indeed, with regular special sheet film offerings from Ilford and Kodak and the East European manufacturers, large format camera builders like Keith Canham, Richard Ritter, Chamonix, and Lotus seem to be selling all the larger-than-8x10" cameras they can make and there is a brisk trade in ULF and banquet cameras on the used market."

Mike Replies: Okay, here we go. 2006. All DSLRs: about 6 million units sold. All film rangefinders from Leica and Cosina (Voigtlaender and Zeiss) combined: about 20,000 units. All ULF cameras (larger than 8x10") sold by the above four companies: I'm going to guess not more than 400 units between the four of them, and I'll even let you throw in Wisner, Phillips, and Gandolfi and anybody else you can think of.

Just a wild guess. What do you think?

Oren Adds: "I guess I'm one of the two people in the universe who found the headline strange.

"When I tell family or friends that I'm heading out with a big camera, it means a big wooden camera that makes pictures on big pieces of sheet film. It would never have occurred to me to call one of those Sonys a 'big camera,' no matter how bloated it is relative to those little sensors."

David Answers: "I'm just poking fun at the 'big cameras' headline, Mike.

"Wisner's been reorganizing their operation, so I don't think he's sold many new cameras in the past year. In addition to those we've both mentioned, Ebony and Shen-Hao should be in there as well.

"400 ULF cameras? Maybe, but among ULF cameras that would be a banner year. I wonder how many are being sold in China, which seems to be the growing market."

Mike Adds: I wonder how many people in our audience have never seen a wooden ultra-large-format camera in person? (I'll never forget the sight of Fred Newman with his 20x24" Wisner...nor of David Alan Jay 'hiding' under its dark cloth when he wanted a break from the Photo East show crowds...).

Glyph Supersale

Encore Data Products, one of this site's sponsors, is having a monster sale on two audio-production-quality Glyph hard drives—you can save 49% and 45% below retail on a 500GB or 750GB Glyph Quad drive, respectively. The sale only lasts until 3:00 tomorrow Mountain time, so move quickly if you want to take advantage!


Question from Richard Sintchak: "What is it about 'audio-production' quality that makes it worthwhile at so much more?"

Here's the best answer from Glyph's website:

"Glyph was born with a customer service focus, addressing the needs of its coveted clients. The A/V production world is full of content creators and editors providing audio and film entertainment, training materials and broadcast programming as their core businesses. Down time means lost revenues, especially in this market. Oddly enough, most of the companies that claimed they were servicing these niche markets were in fact just large hardware vendors with antiquated service policies based on the commoditized and gigantic general computer market.

"Glyph has instituted some very powerful service policies that are 'standard' with the purchase of Glyph products.

"Since hard disk drives have been replacing analog tape in many studios, quality storage products and minimal downtime are critical to the user's success. In 1997, Glyph launched the Advance Replace program. Still in effect today, if a SCSI or GT Series FireWire hard disk drive fails within the first year of its warranty, it is eligible for advance replacement by 10:30 AM the next business day.

"Glyph offers 5-year warranties on SCSI hard disk drives, and 3-year warranties on FireWire hard drives and enclosures. Any in-warranty product will have a maximum turn around time of 48 hours in the Glyph facility. Simply put, if a product needs replacing, Glyph will install a new or serviced part in the device and ship it back within 48 hours. This requires a serious commitment to on-hand service inventory and the necessary human resources."

Featured Comment by Encore Data Products: "Just a follow-up...

"The Glyph drives definitely cost more than an off-the-shelf usb drive you get at Best Buy, etc. For basic backups a cheaper one will work fine; we always suggest brand named product so at least you know where it came from. The benefits of Glyph are reliability, speed, little noise, and quality. Glyph products are used a lot in music, TV & film production where you can't take a chance of the drive not booting up, being loud (especially when recording music), or having slow transfer rates. With Glyph you know the drive will do what it is supposed to. Backed with the best support on the planet, Glyph does well in situations where you don't want to take any chances. If someone is just archiving photos and they don't access them all the time the Glyph quad series is probably more than they need but for ongoing usage it works well. The Quad series also offers 4 port formats: FireWire 400, FireWire 800, USB 2.0 and eSATA. This helps if you move the drive around and require different connections. The portable storage case is a plus too."