30 August, 2014

F One Eight

Around a year ago, Sigma launched the 18-35 f/1.8 zoom lens. An f/1.8 constant zoom. Wow. I snapped one up as soon as I could afford it, but there were some teething problems the first time I tried it, and after that it just sat in my bag. It never quite got dark enough for me to face those problems and use it in place of my Nikon 24-70/2.8.

But I knew darker times were approaching (this weekend, as it happens), and earlier this month, I figured it was as good a time as any to force myself to learn how to use this lens. I shot a concert with my friends, Holychild, and all I had on me were this lens and my typical long lens, the Nikon 70-200/2.8. All shots in this post are from the 18-35.

Finally, a few technical notes. This lens is 18mm-35mm f/1.8, and is designed for APS-C bodies. For Nikon's 1.5x crop factor, this means that the effective focal length is 27mm-52.5mm in full-frame terms, and the effective depth-of-field matches f/2.7 on full-frame. That said, the light-gathering ability of the lens is independent of the sensor size — you would have to use an f/1.8 constant zoom to gather the same amount of light with a full-frame body — but on the other hand, the APS-C sensors will exhibit more noise at each ISO as compared to similar-resolution full-frame sensors.

All that means that this lens can put an APS-C body on similar footing to its full-frame cousins, but likely won't cause it to perform better than those full-frame bodies by most regards. Anyway, on to the show…
It was pretty tricky at first. The 18-35 and 24-70 focal ranges hardly overlap, and they call for different shooting styles. Also, I hadn't realized just how much I had internalized what settings to use when shooting with an f/2.8 lens. I shot this at 1/50s, 1250ISO. At f/2.8, things would've been fine, if a little hot. At f/1.8, all the highlights were completely blown. Whoops.

On the other hand, the detail in the audience is something I had been struggling to capture with the 24-70, and with this lens, it was pretty much effortless. So there's that.
The key with any wide lens, of course, is to get close to things. Which I found incredibly uncomfortable at first. I like to move around when shooting, but when that's difficult, I look for perches that give me a reasonable view of the crowd and of the stage. As with any perch, though, it's far away from all but a few things. This shot convinced me that I needed to get closer to the stage.
Another crowd shot. This one was 1/30s at f/1.8, 1000ISO, which is pretty far outside the the scope of the 24-70 (at least, without bumping the ISO and losing some of the smoothness of the gradients fading to black). I again love how you get a glimpse of even the people who aren't in the spotlight.
The night ended with a headline performance by Miniature Tigers. During the short opportunity afforded by the changing sets, I made a leap of faith and painted myself into a corner that was way too close to the stage. Of course, way too close turned out to be just the right distance. The 18mm wide end meant that I wasn't as cramped as I would have been with the 24mm, and the position gave me a completely different perspective on the concert.
Even something as simple as having the musicians appear larger in the frame than the audience members is something I've only previously accomplished in outdoor, open-stage concerts. But this lens made it easy simply because it was wide enough to get most of the musician in the frame, and bright enough to capture the faces of the audience-members. I also love the speckles of colored light in the distance — there's enough dynamic range to see some hints of the surroundings.
Sadly, this lens isn't all sunshine and rainbows. The primary drawback is the extremely short focal length range. This photo has the lens racked out to full tele, and it's just not that long. The hole between 18-35 and 70-200 is pretty significant, and there were plenty of times during the concert where my ideal composition would have landed me in that gap. In terms of canonical full-frame focal lengths, I miss the entire 60mm-90mm portrait range.

Also, autofocus is slow. I mean, it's still usable, and I still adjusted to it pretty quickly, but shooting back-to-back with the 24-70 made the difference blindingly obvious. The 24-70 doesn't rack the focus so much as pick a distance and land there — the actual time required for the focus elements to move is almost imperceptible. The 18-35 isn't quite so supernatural — when I focus on something, I watch it come into focus, whereas with the 24-70, the viewfinder starts off blurry and ends up sharp with almost no apparent transition.

All in all, though, I feel like I figured out when it'll come in handy, and what kinds of tradeoffs I'll be making if I slap it on a body. So mission accomplished.

21 August, 2014

Rinse, Repeat

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11 August, 2014

Stages of Grief

"Why didn't you make him leave? I told you not to let him stay around here. Why didn't you tell him to leave?"

Watching someone go through the stages of grief gives a glimpse of their hopes and fears; it exposes the humanity that underlies their rational behavior. In this case, I heard the owner (I presume; second from right in the foreground) fluctuate between anger and acceptance.

"Well, at least no one was hurt. We'll be out of business one or two days, but we can afford that." He pointed at the employee he had been interrogating as he continued, "But if this guy got hit…" His voice trailed off. "What's important is that nobody got hurt."
According to other onlookers, the driver of this rental car got confused between the gas and the brake and plowed through the front of the store. And according to the owner, the driver had taken to spending hours upon hours loitering around the convenience store.

When I arrived, the occupants of the vehicle had gotten out, but the vehicle itself was still lodged in the storefront. The tow-truck driver then used his flatbed truck to help disentangle the vehicle from the remains of the store's glass-and-metal fa├žade.

In the photo, a firefighter inspects the front of the car after it was loaded onto the truck.
The group of fire-fighters managed the general safety of the situation. They cautioned onlookers from getting too close, and I believe they shut off power to the building as the car was extricated — in case any electrical lines were damaged during the incident. Afterward, they hung caution tape at the entrances to keep vehicles from entering the somewhat glass-strewn parking lot.
After everyone else had left, the staff began the cleanup process. Within two days, they were back open for business, with a plywood wall in place of the damaged sections of glass. Life goes on…

31 July, 2014

Open Carry: Photos in Unexpected Places

I've long had the desire to keep a good camera with me wherever I went. But I never found an option that combined small size with nice controls and great image quality until I picked up the Fuji X100 back in 2011. Since then, I cycled through the Sony NEX-7 and NEX-6, and I've currently got a Fuji X-T1.

But the best camera is always the one you've got with you, right? So I've endeavored to keep the X-T1 (like the NEX-7 and X100 before it) on my person at all times, and I've been rewarded with opportunities to take unique photos in unexpected situations. Enjoy
Late night. Hungry. What to do? Find something that's still open in San Jose. So I went, ate, and was on my way back to my car when I noticed a bunch of cops with their lights flashing, heading away from me. Hmm...

So I did what any curious photojournalist would and I started following them, but then, it seemed like they were coming toward me. Yep, definitely coming toward me. Then when they hit the intersection, they broke; some went left (my right), some went straight.

Then they turned around and did it again. Near as I could tell, they weren't really going anywhere, so much as just making their presence known. I imagine it was related that the time was 1:45 am, so likely pretty close to last call.
Dinnertime in Flushing. I was walking around Flushing, Queens, NY when I spotted a bus driver having dinner in a parked bus at night. I wonder if it was the beginning or end of his shift...
I was catching up with some friends at Smuggler's Cove, up in San Francisco. It was impossibly dark. Think "pitch black at 1/30s, f/2.8, 3200ISO, and underexposed at 1/15s, f/2.8, 25600ISO."

So I had given up on getting any decent photos until I was reminded that flaming drinks are something of a specialty there. After watching a performance at an adjacent table, I had the settings dialed in to get this shot as the server carried the flame upward with some sort of fast-burning fuel.
Red Crawfish, San Mateo. We were lucky to be seated near where the servers were stationed, and I watched as they grabbed plates and silverware, and cut sections off a giant roll of the paper that they used for disposable tablecloths.
Some friends invited me to lunch at Dropbox, up in San Francisco. As I stood in line, with a plate already balanced in one hand, I was able to use the tilting LCD screen to compose this shot with the camera hanging down at my waist. I immediately spotted the awesome, slightly ragged symmetry of the seating arrangement when I got in line, but I had to wait until the line moved forward a few meters for the composition to actually capture that symmetry.

After getting home and reviewing those photos, I realized that the man in red had noticed me awkwardly fumbling with the camera (which I didn't realize at the time). I had taken three photos, and this was the only one where he wasn't watching me. Worked out, though.
I was having lunch at work when I heard the sound of a very large helicopter outside. I looked, didn't see anything, and went back to my meal. Then I looked again and was surprised to find a V-22 Osprey essentially patrolling the sky around our campus. I was surprised at how much noise it made while approaching, and conversely, at how quiet it sounded as it flew away. Rumor was that President Obama was in the area.
And, back to NYC (but Manhattan, this time). We went to a hand-made noodle place, and I was able to take some photos as one of the chefs pulled the noodles. I've often watched, but this was the first time I've had a good opportunity to photograph as well. And if you're wondering, yes, the noodles were really tasty :o)
Do you remember this fellow's name? I know he's from Charlie Brown, but that's all. Anyway, 'twas painted on a wall in Downtown Richmond, VA.