Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nikon's most Overlooked Lens: Nikon 55-200vr

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If you are like me, a photographer on a budget, buying expensive lenses are what dreams are made of.

My first lens when I bought my Nikon D80 was the 55-200vr. The picture on the left was taken with it.

This is the cheapest vr lens that Nikon has to offer, and perhaps the least purchased. Many opt for the 18-200vr that costs about 3x more.

Before I purchased this lens, I did some heavy thinking. And these were my thoughts:

The reviews are OK, but not spectacular, and try to point you to the 18-200vr. This is likely to be an entry level lens. Some of the reviews said the focus was too soft. Then I looked at images this lens takes, and was wowed.

Then I started to think counter-intuitively: This lens may not have the lens range that the 18-200vr has, but that also means there will be less compromise in lens quality, concentrating on a shorter range.

Now, after a year of using this lens, it is a favorite. The bokeh (the unfocused background) is superb. In fact, I think it produces the best bokeh of any lens that I have, a stunning bokeh as exhibited in the picture above. I have not seen this in images that the 18-200 produces, and it makes for some very impressive photographs.

If you are the fence about this lens like I was, I can tell you Nikon does not disappoint with this wonderful lens. I love the bokeh, and the colors are so vibrant, and the printed pictures are awesome.

By the way, if you buy this lens through one of the ads on this page, you are helping support this blog and my photography.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Photoshop trick: How I Sharpen Images

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Personally, I do not use in camera sharpening. I shoot in raw and I do all the adjustments myself.

Sharpening the image is one of the first steps I do, and in some images having a great sharp image is more than impressive. I took the picture on the left and applied the method below.

First step as always: Make a new layer.

Then go to the filter menu on top. OK, that Sharpen filter is there, but remember what your mama told you: "Don't touch!"

You are going to meander down all the way to Other. This is the place your mama didn't tell you about. Click, and head to High Pass. Once you open High Pass, move that slider over to 10.0.

Now, I bet you are wondering why didn't I listen to mama and and go to sharpen. Have no fears, and go to the Overlay blending mode for your layer and click Overlay (sometimes I use Soft Light). Click that and your mama will be impressed with your sharpening. Now, use the Opacity slider to get it where mama likes it.

Flatten the layer, and use whatever noise reduction filter you use. I use Imagenomic - works great for me. And now you have a sharp yet soft image with a smooth texture that every mama will love.

Thanks to Birdtoes for teaching this sharpening technique.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Customize your Nikon D80 for High Performance

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As we all know, photographers are gadget geeks. I use a Nikon D80 and I love it, but I had to customize it. Two small additions I made was an Opteka battery pack, and a Hoodman LCD hood.

Opetka Battery Grip:

Now, normally I do not consider Opteka for outfitting my camera. They did state that they use the same molds that Nikon does for their battery pack.

My thinking at the time of purchase: well, even if I was wary of some Opteka products, this one does not affect the quality of the shot. I got it and was more than pleased. It does affect the quality of the shot, all to the good.

Not only does it extend your battery power, it adds a comfortable weight to the body.

When shooting portrait shots, the extra shutter does not make you go through contortions. One of the best advantages is the camera fits my hands better, and everything seems to stay more stable when you click the shutter. I have pretty much put my tripod in the trunk and left it there.

Have fair warning though, the feel of the shutter release on the battery pack is not the same as on your camera. It does take some time to adapt to the new feel. And the AA battery insert is not well made in my opinion, but I would never use that anyway. (It does use six AA batteries, not four as reported on many sale sites)

With two batteries in the pack the right one drains first. You can check the level of each battery through your in-camera menu.

Would I buy this again instead of the Nikon grip? Yep. The price difference is the key here and the Opteka works great for me. And the added battery gets me through at least ten gigs of shooting.

Hoodman H-D80 LCD Hood and Cap:

Now, this works nifty over your LCD. It provides a tinted plastic cover for the LCD, which is better than the one Nikon provides.

And it closes up and covers the LCD for added protection. The shade works great, shielding three sides of the LCD when opened, and helps with that pesky sunlight.

Before I bought this thing, I read many reviews. Some said that the product could have been a little more robustly built. One person said that it makes it difficult to use some of the buttons on back of the camera.

My opinion:

The product is well made for what it is, and functions well. I imagine that I will get a long life out of the Hoodman because I am careful with my camera. Even though I do wildlife photography and hike through rough ground, I think the Hoodman will stand up to that abuse.

Now, about the button controls on the back of the camera - I have no problem at all using them. I have big hands too, so I do not know where that guy was coming from when he said it blocked things. Well, that is not the case at all.

One thing that you've got to watch out for: If you are a wildlife photographer like me and are reviewing your shots, be sure you close the darn thing or you are going to poke yourself in the face trying to get that quick shot. You will only do this once - the learning curve is great when a little pain is involved. I did it once and that taught me.

I would say that the Hoodman only improves your view of the LCD by 10 to 20 percent, but that does make a world of difference in seeing.

Would I buy this again? Yes, the protection of the LCD screen is great. It does improve your view of the LCD in sunlight. And as for the build, it is adequate and I believe it will last me quite awhile.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Five Cool Things about Flickr

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What is Flickr?

Flickr is the largest social photo sharing site in the world. Last time I checked, about six million photos are uploaded daily. They offer both free accounts and pro accounts. The cost of a pro account is 24.95 USD, which is a good investment even if you just use it as an online photo storage site. With a Pro account you have unlimited uploads in the original size of your images. You can make your photos public, private or just share them with friends. Well, that is neat, but now for the really cool stuff.

Cool stuff:

1. Flickr has third-party development with generous use of their API. This enables Flickr users to have many resources at their disposal for promoting photos. Perhaps there are thousands of configured uses. Check this out - it is all done from the Flickr API. It is one cool gallery that shows a very professional touch.

To get your free gallery, go to photofront. For a mere ten bucks more you can upgrade to a more flexible use of your gallery. And it is pretty much a lifetime subscription.

2. Another use of the API is that many companies enable you to directly access your photos for products. This greatly streamlines you time because you don't have to re-upload photos to their site.

Two of my favorites are:

I get my very unique business cards there. A pack of 50 with different pictures on each one!

A self-publishing on-demand book store. So far, I have made three books there and the quality is top of the line.

3. The Internet presence of Flickr is huge. This in itself is a great advantage for aspiring photographers who want to be published. Just putting up your photographs and making them public brings offers for use from many necks of the Internet woods. This happens to me and it will happen to you.

4. People constantly ask me what formal training I have had in photography. Well, the truth is I have had none. What has improved my photos the most is seeing what others are doing on Flickr. Flickr has a vast network of socialization through groups, where you can learn to improve your photographs tremendously. Have you ever wanted to talk and learn techniques from the top photographers in the world? Flickr is your opportunity.

5. Do you constantly look through reviews to see what camera you will get? And do you wonder if the reviews will be unbiased? At Flickr you can see what users are doing with their cameras and quickly see the truth in the pudding.

This just scratches the surface of what Flickr has to offer. Start using it yourself and see the benefits.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nikon Setting the Standard

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Nikon has just released the Nikon D700, an upgrade from their now famous D300. This should add a wow factor for Nikon enthusiasts. Presently, I use a Nikon D80 and have been considering an upgrade to the D300. I am so pleased with the D80, a move up would be a pleasure.

I am just starting this blog and not yet ready for prime time reviews. But I could not help making this new product announcement.

Here is a video unboxing the D700