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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Photo of the Week 2014: #6 One Raffles Place

Location: Singapore
No doubt it's been ages since I last posted a photo proper...

Today I share a very random shot I grabbed while wandering around Raffles Place after some school activity.

11 mm DX, 1/80, f/2.8, ISO 1600.
This is the entrance to One Raffles Place, one of the newer and more prominent office buildings in the area.

I took this photograph in the early evening. There were no clouds which made the sky look rather empty, but clouds could have been distracting as well. The effect of this photograph is mainly to show how lights stand out at night, and how they also give architecture an interesting texture. Quite unfortunately the trees, like anywhere in Singapore, were rather overwhelming, and thanks to a CCTV pole I had to crop out the bottom strip of the photograph. But I thought the angle and the texture looks cool nonetheless, together with the LED typography. Really fun (but also annoying) to play with all the lights available in this area at night.

It will probably will make a good and appropriate cover photograph for this place - I really get the commercial feels from this shot. Perhaps I need to do a bit more cropping at the sides, to remove the redundant structures.

The CBD area has a lot to explore; will share more next time, when I get the chance to visit the place and do a shoot proper, with tripods and everything!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nikon D750: Where does it stand?

Nikon officially announced on September 12th that they're adding the new D750 to their full frame line up. Check out their official release here.

I would firstly like you to consider the following images.


Minus the model and FX labels and the shapes of the infrared receiver, you really have to scrutinize the extremely minor details such as slight shifts in button placements and differences in rubber texture to tell them apart.

Now the back panel:
D750
D610
D7100

Back panel has slightly more evident differences, particularly the vari-angle LCD of the D750. But generally the layout remains almost the same.

I'm actually quite glad that Nikon has finally come to standardize its camera layouts, and focus more on what is inside the cameras. As a D7100 user, I am happy with the current layout. Also this layout is more of a matter of familiarization than an absolute good or bad; if I am handed a Canon DSLR I'd suck at figuring out how to navigate it, not because the layout sucks, but simply because I'm not used to the layout. So it's good that more and more Nikon cameras now have similar layouts - a D810 is not much different as well except for the mode dial and the AF-ON button - and now I can easily switch bodies / work with multiple bodies and still feel absolutely comfortable with all of them.

But there's another point I'm trying to drive at by comparing these models. Take a look at the following.

The D700 is known to be the serious full frame DSLR for non-action photography pros. D800 (now D810) was rarely seen as a D700 replacement, because it is way too rich in pixels to be as versatile as the D700. There has been anticipation for a true D700 replacement, if it ever will happen.

The D600 (now D610) was perceived to be Nikon's effort to bring full frame to the consumer range. It seems like a camera targeted at strong enthusiasts who would like to take a step up to full frame. But many pros use it due to its price (especially compared to D800/D810) and how outdated D700 was.

The D7000 (now D7100) was introduced as a bridge between D90, then a prosumer camera, and D300s, a professional DX. It was never a D300s replacement, and professionals await the D400 or equivalent to arrive as an upgrade from D300s. Nevertheless the D7100 is now the top DX camera in Nikon's lineup, but still targeted at the prosumer market.

So what is the D750?

D750, based on its numbering, should fall in the D700 category. But looking at its design and specs (which you can search yourself), almost every aspect of it corresponds to the D610 and D7100, which are effectively prosumer cameras. Also given the new features it has - WiFi, and vari-angle screen, it really looks more like a consumer than a professional body.

And it lacks what a true Nikon professional camera should have - a full magnesium alloy body (D750 has a monocoque body which effectively means the body is crafted in one piece, but is a mix of carbon fibre composite and magnesium alloy; is that the new pro body Nikon is trying out?), AF-ON button (which I believe is highly useful in subject tracking, and given D750's FPS rate, it is mildly suitable for some action), and Nikon's iconic professional mode dial (which makes managing settings much more centralized). All these indicate that Nikon did not intend for this to be targeted at professionals, like D700 back then, or the current D800.

Another minor detail: I suspect that the D750 has an AA filter, which, to many professionals, is a disappointment. I observed how many photographers jumped at cameras without AA filters built in for that extra sharpness, and it is also a growing trend for camera makers to take out physical AA filters and instead beef up their digital anti-aliasing technology. Honestly, for 24.3 megapixels, I believe the AA filter will not make too much a difference unless I scrutinize the photograph with a magnifying glass. But on the other hand, as a D7100 user, sometimes I do benefit from the missing AA filter, and I guess for professionals it would matter more.

Of course, I'm not trying to stereotype here, that a professional camera must certainly have a certain design or layout or contain certain features. Perhaps Nikon is trying their prosumer formula on professionals to see how it works out.

And it is also possible that Nikon is just expanding its full frame line up, to offer more tiers of cameras for buyers to choose. Because the D750 really does not fit anywhere in the original Nikon line up despite its apparent model number relationship with D700; it seems to be a new line altogether. And if this theory is in fact true, then I can actually draw some awesome parallels here to the entry level DX line up. The D600 range is like the D3000 range, while the D750 is like the higher D5000 range. Both ranges are vaguely similar, but higher range has some bonus add-ons, like a slightly faster FPS, better metering and AF, and of course our favorite vari-angle LCD screen.

I suppose with this new camera on the market which bridges the gap between D610 and D810, there seems to be a camera to suit everyone's needs in the full frame line up. On another note, full frame photographers are now more spoilt for choice. And I do feel that the D750 is a good buy, though on Nikon's side this new camera will steal quite a bit of business from the D610 and D810, but I'm sure (and hope) that's all part of Nikon's plan.

You can get a D750 at Amazon body only, or with a 24-120 f/4 lens. Shipment starts September 23rd.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Photo of the Week 2014: #5 SoDaChe

I apologize for my long long hiatus, which was thanks to yet another batch of university admissions to deal with. I realize that I am far from catching up with my Photo of the Week series, so I will just continue and post one whenever I am able to. Let's see how many POTWs I'll have at the end of this year!

Today I hope to share a photograph I took a few months ago. It is not scenery, but instead a scene that is rather personal to me.

11 mm DX, 1/3, f/13, ISO 2000.

This is a SoDaChe session at my JC, during orientation campfire. SoDaChe is short for Song, Dance, and Cheer, the three elements that defines the school spirit and culture. While not my own orientation campfire - I'm returning merely as a graduated senior - it always reminds me of the friendships forged, the hardships endured, and the precious outcomes earned. I did not think I'd enjoy my two years here for it'll be tough. Indeed it was, but I enjoyed them nevertheless.

Once again, a starburst, from a handheld exposure. I stabilized the camera against the railing, but it still takes a bit of patience. When dealing with such spotlights and trying to get starbursts, it is always a little tricky.

One thing is the camera angle: especially with my Tokina 11-16 DX II which has a rather big 77 mm front element, flare was very common. It can add some effect to the photograph, but too much will also ruin the picture (Photoshop is. of course, an option).

Then there is controlling the aperture for the starburst. The aperture cannot be too small or the starburst will look pathetic and with some bad fringing (perhaps it's the lens), and your long exposure will simply give you motion blur. Too big an aperture, and the starburst will not be possible. I took some time to figure out my balance. The starbursts were nice, I was able to stay still for the buildings to be sharp, and there was some movement in the people but they were still relatively clear. Of course, the two spotlights were probably at different angles and brightness so the starbursts came out different. That was unfortunate.

More photographs to come; I promise.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Photo of the Week 2014: #4 Phuket Boat Tour

Location: Phuket, Thailand
Today I bring you a photo from Phuket, Thailand. This shot was taken on a boat tour to James Bond island. On the way the boat anchored at an island and we were brought into a bat cave on water rafts. I found the style of the tour really unique (at one point in time, we were given time to jump into the sea to swim).

11 mm DX, 1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 100.

It's a fresh shot for me mainly because I've not used a wide angle for a very long while. This was shot on a Tokina 11-16 II, which on DX gives an equivalent of 16.5 to 24 mm. The wide-angle distortion I get here gives the shot an amazing perspective: I'm looking up from a low point to observe the magnificent surroundings (yes, I was on a water raft).

Of course, I was lucky to capture this scene with a beautiful sky, where thin streams of clouds form patterns. Phuket has wonderful skies. This I feel is the key attractive feature of this shot. Without a wide angle, you could barely capture that much of the sky, undoubtedly.

You would have noticed that the boat isn't very sharp. I was careless enough to shoot wide open at f/2.8, because just before this I was in the pitch-dark cave. Furthermore this was shot with my new D7100 which I was not very used to. In bright daylight and when shallow depth of field is not necessary (and not evident in wide-angles anyway), I've learnt to shoot at around f/8. Nevertheless, the loss in sharpness, I suspect, is not due to the focus but more of a faulty UV filter which was insecure and hence may not have been parallel to the front element. I've had a great deal of focusing and sharpness problems in Phuket, and after I obtained a change, the problems were much less prevalent.

If you like beaches and the sea, do visit Phuket. It's a pretty nice place to visit for a holiday.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Photo of the Week 2014: #3 Sunburst

Location: Singapore
I've been on a pretty long hiatus thanks to a new hard disk that I thought crashed after I attempted to back up my Mac in preparation for Mavericks. And I really thought I lost all my recent photos, until I passed the disk to my good buddy and he said there was nothing wrong. Well, probably the few stupid things about a Mac.

I'm now going to make up for this loss, so these few days I'll spam a few posts. Do bear with me!

Today's photo is taken at Sentosa. Sunburst: a starburst with the sun.

11 mm DX, 1/15, f/22, ISO 100.

As my friends were taking the sunset above the sea behind this bush, I thought I'd try something different. I noticed this little bush with two tree trunks sticking out of it, and I found the symmetry pretty interesting. The sun also produces nice star bursts when the light shines through the gaps in the bush. Hence I composed my image as seen.

One thing that's very unfortunate is that the trees behind that were slanting out towards the sea actually ruined the symmetry. Thus when I looked at this photo after nearly a month of taking it I didn't realize what I was trying to do until a short while later.

This shot was taken using a few layers of ND filters. Of course, my ND and GND filters were not strong enough to produce a nice sun. One thing to take extra care of when using such glass (referring to the filter itself and not its material), especially common plastic ones, is to blow off all the dust regularly. Rubbing it with a piece of cloth isn't a very good idea because the plastic will get easily charged with static electricity and attract even more dust. My photo was nearly ruined by the dust particles I left on it.

A very delicate procedure when editing such photos of the sun is the white balance. For this stage of sunset where there is yet to be any glow, it's tricky to get a good balance between the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the sky. A trick would be to use graduated filters in post-processing to separate the sky from the ground. However do not overdo this as it will make the photograph look very artificial.

Lastly, the starburst. The trick is to pick a lens with an odd number of aperture blades, which should be most lenses (sorry Canon users, most Canon lenses have an even number of blades). Rounded blades do not work as well, but they are still acceptable. Then stop down to the lowest possible aperture, which in my case is f/22. Starbursts occur due to a special type of diffraction against the aperture blades. I won't bore you with physics here.

Typically starbursts are made more pronounced in post-processing by boosting clarity and contrast. And a lens flare can enhance or ruin the effect, so be sure to check your shots. Unlike sun rays through clouds, starbursts should be identifiable out of the camera, and post-processing will only enhance them. If you can't see it on the camera LCD, then something is wrong.

Working with the sun is extremely tricky. We like it when the sky is cloudless so we get the full unobstructed sun. Yet, clouds dampen the rays and give you more options for a cleaner, more balanced exposure. I'd fix my shot, which has the sun too overexposed (it has to be overexposed; it's just about how much), with a big stopper, if I had one.

A final minor point: do play around with cropping; sometimes it helps concentrate the subject and remove distractions, and also adds something interesting to your photo.