Monthly Archives: February 2011

New Breed of Digital Cameras

There’s a new movement in the digital camera market. We’re seeing an emergence of entirely new category of cameras that slots nicely in between pocket digital camera and the mid-grade DSLR. Until now choosing between a pocket sized digital camera and a dedicated DSLR meant dealing with trade-offs. But that is no longer the case.

Sony Alpha NEX5

These new type of cameras are known as “Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera” (MILC), “Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens” (EVIL), “Micros”, or “Hybrid Camera” among others. They are significantly smaller in size than the DSLR because they have less moving parts. Notably, the lack of the flipping mirror (hence the name ‘mirrorless’) which eliminates the need for number of other mechanical components that are found in SLR designs.

Samsung NX100

These hybrid/mirrorless cameras are just as small as a typical pocket sized digicam making them much more portable than DSLRs. Despite their small size these cameras have significantly larger sensors (some equal to that of the entry-level DSLR) capable of higher quality images. Also, one of the most appealing feature of the hybrid/mirrorless is the interchangeable lens which make them as flexible and capable as any consumer-level DSLR.

Due to the nature of their design, however, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras have their drawbacks:
- They do not feature Through-The-Lens (TTL) optical viewfinder
- Focus speed is known to be slower than typical DSLRs
- Limited number of direct controls (i.e. dedicated buttons)
- Limited lens choices (at the moment)
- Sacrificed pocketability when longer lens is attached

Performance of the MILC is improving with every new product released by number of respectable manufacturers. Although the possibility of hybrid cameras replacing the DSLR entirely is unlikely, they’re becoming a worthy competition to an entry-level DSRL.

One thing that would make these Hybrid Cameras truly desirable to enthusiasts is if they can accept the line of lenses made for SLR. But that would never happen because it would be a marketing suicide for big sellers of SLRs and lenses like Canon and Nikon.

Olympus PEN

Lumix GF2

Pictures: Sony NEX5, Samsung NX100, Olympus PEN, Panasonic Lumix GF2

Sky is the Limit – Adding Cloud with Photoshop

Some would say manipulating photographs with Photoshop is cheating. But I disagree. Color balance, dodging, burning, color correction or any other tweaks that photographers perform on an image outside of the camera is manipulating. Yet, we all do it without guilt. Using Photoshop to add enhancements for greater overall impact of a photograph shouldn’t be any different. After all, being able to manipulate your way around Photoshop is a valuable skill in itself as much as one’s ability to capture great photos.

Having said that, take a look at these two photos. The one on the left is straight from the camera untouched. It’s pretty dull and uninspiring to say the least. The one on the right is way more interesting to look at. Even an easy and quick enhancement with Photoshop makes a world of difference. Here’s how to add clouds and interesting sky quickly in Photoshop.
Add clouds with Photoshop

1. Here is the extremely boring original. The sky is virtually monotone. Luckily, that makes it whole lot easier to select the entire sky in Photoshop.
Add clouds with Photoshop

2. Select Color Range. That will bring up the Color Range Option.
Add clouds with Photoshop

3. Clicked anywhere in the sky to select most of the sky. Clicking on the Eyedropper with the plus (“+”) symbol adds multiple color ranges to the selection.
I clicked on the darker areas toward the middle until all of the sky is selected.
I set the Fuzziness to 140 to smooth out the selection edges and to prevent possible halo around the branches.
Add clouds with Photoshop

4. Click OK and this is the selection I ended up with.
Add clouds with Photoshop

5. Created a new Layer above the tree.
I used the Gradient Tool to create a dark to light gradient from top left to bottom right.
Notice the settings on top options bar. The direction and the intensity of the gradient ultimately will effect way the clouds appear and its density.
Add clouds with Photoshop

6. Choose “Difference Cloud” from Filters under Render.
Add clouds with Photoshop

7. Well, there is the cloud. But not too interesting is it? I need to make it a little more wild and bold.
Add clouds with Photoshop

8. I used “Curves” (cmd+M / ctrl+M) to control the intensity of the clouds.
This is where you can go wild with the cloud being careful not to make it look fake. Unless that’s the effect you’re shooting for.
Add clouds with Photoshop

9. There is the beautiful and bold cloud.
Add clouds with Photoshop

10. You may also choose to Sharpen the image at this point once most of the manipulations are done. Sharpening with “Sharpen” option may or may not appear to make any difference in the image depending on the resolution you’re working with.
Add clouds with Photoshop

11. It’s almost there. The clouds and the sky look convincing enough.
Add clouds with Photoshop

12. The sky looks good but I wanted to add more flair to this photo.
I created an “Adjustment Layer” and selected “Black & White”.
It’s always a good idea to create and work on an Adjustment Layer so that it keeps the unadjusted image underneath to always to go back to just in case.
Add clouds with Photoshop

13. I chose to add a little shade of bronze. I think it adds a little class to the photo.
Add clouds with Photoshop

So there you have it. A magnificent sky and some cloud to go with it in about five minutes! If you can imagine it, you can do it in Photoshop. Even the sky isn’t the limit…!

Mounting Vintage Nikkor on Nikon D90

I recently picked up an extra mint example of the vintage Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 prime lens on eBay. Judging by the serial number and the type, it’s most likely from the late 1960s or early 70s. This lens looks amazingly clean. Not only for its age, but clean. Period. It has not even a single rub mark on the barrel. It looks like it may have been stashed in the garage or in the attic for the past 40 years or so.

This Nikkor-S feels very solid and is built like a tank. The focus ring turns with a bit of dignified resistance – a feeling that’s missing from lot of modern plastic lenses. The aperture ring snaps into position with a confident click. Makes me want to just turn the ring back and forth just to feel the satisfying snap. It’s a beautifully constructed piece of equipment. I have no reason to doubt this lens will outlast my camera or any of my modern equipment.
Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4

Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4

Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4

THE CONVERSION

Unfortunately, any non-AI (or pre-AI) Nikkor lenses need to have its aperture ring filed down in order to be mounted on the Nikon F-mount. It’s a shame because this lens was in such mint condition – it broke my heart when the time came to perform the surgery on this little gem.

While a full AI conversion on pre-AI (or non AI) Nikkor Lenses is a common practice, it’s useless on the D90. Because the D90 does not have AI coupling ability nor will it meter with lenses made before Auto Focus (AF). However, I still needed to modify the aperture ring on the lens for it to mount properly. On the D90 lens mount, at about 8 o’clock, there is a switch that senses the minimum aperture. In my case, I don’t need this lens to interact with this switch. All I had to do was file away part of the aperture ring on the lens so it clears this switch. Otherwise, this switch will be crushed the moment you try to force mount the lens.
Minimum Aperture sensing post NikonD90

To do this I had to disassemble the aperture ring. I know from experience that manufactured goods from this era are put together in rather rustic fashion compared to the modern day consumer products. Don’t get me wrong, the build quality is superb but it’s just that the pieces – once you take them apart, it’s difficult to realize how they’re put together. This is in contrast to the modern day manufactured products where each pieces are designed in a way that it’s easy to see how they are meant to be assembled. This is probably so that an unskilled worker can assemble the pieces easily and quickly. Having said that, when working with a vintage piece you must remember how each piece came out otherwise you’d be lost for a very long time.
I used this as a guide. The example in the link uses a lens made in different year so the steps for removing the ring is slightly different.
Non AI Nikkor conversion

NIKON D90 with NIKKOR-S 50mm f/1.4

It was a nerve-wrecking experience but a rewarding one. Here it is, a Nikon D90 with a beautifully mounted Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4. Note, there is no metering with this set-up. You have to guess or use the Sunny 16 Rule. But this isn’t a big deal with modern DSLRs since you can preview the exposure immediately. The focus is manual, of course. I have taken a few test shots with this lens and it does seems to create the infamous ‘dreamy’ look at wider apertures. Being fully manual (including metering), it probably won’t see many action other than still-life shots or portraits. I will post the results as soon as I do some proper shooting with this lens.
Nikon D90 with vintage Nikkor-S 50mm f/1.4