Drawing in Space

In my design studies at university, we had a fascinating sculpture assignment called “Drawing in Space”. We used strips and small blocks of wood to create a sculpture with interesting lines when viewed from any angle. Both the lines and the negative space they defined were equally important. I really enjoyed framing spaces and cutting into volumes of space, and that is something that I don’t get to do quite as much with photography. But when opportunities present themselves, as they did this last week, I get lost in the creating. I’m not sure how long I spent in this particular treasure trove of grass curls. The shallow depth of field I’ve used here really adds to both the ethereal-ness and the depth of the photo, letting you almost feel the space around the grass.

All taken with my 5d, 150mm macro, f6.3, 1/200 – 1/640 of a second.
Taken on the Beaver Pond Trail in Elk Island National Park.

If you’re still reading and interested, I’ll just write a quick note about composition. In the last two photos I’ve done something that is generally disapproved of in standard compositions – there is a strong line running vertically through the frame (even directly in the middle of the frame! the horror). In these cases I think it works as an unusual visual device to emphasize the depth of the photo. If the grass curls did not wrap around the vertical line it would not work.

Panasonic G1X Impressions

The Panasonic G1X is a great little camera. I got to use it for a short trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park a few weeks ago. I used it with the Olympus 12mm f2.0 prime, the old Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens, and Panasonic’s 100-300 telephoto lens. Carrying this kit was a welcome change from carrying around a Canon 5d with 4 fairly heavy lenses. I found the Panasonic very comfortable to use, and all the controls were well thought out. Not quite perfect, but no camera is. I was very curious to see if the image quality of this 4/3 sensor could get anywhere close to the 5d (a 7 year old full-frame digital slr).

Panasonic G1X with 14-42 lens
14mm, f9, 1/400 of a second

Remarkably, to me, it was close (it should be noted that I only shot raw photos, not JPGs). There is definitely a different characteristic look between a full-frame and a 4/3rds sensor, but that is not necessarily bad, just different. You get greater depth of field with the Panasonic, which I think accounts for much of this look. Dynamic range was surprisingly good from this little sensor — it didn’t seem to blow out highlights any quicker than my 5d. High iso pictures also looked better than I expected, and the grain, when it did show up, had a fairly pleasing quality to it.

12mm, f4.5, 1/40 of a second

Autofocus was a mixed bag. It is very fast, and I really enjoyed the touch screen to select autofocus points. The problem was that the autofocus areas are actually quite large, and you can’t tell what the camera is focusing on in that square. I did try the pinpoint autofocus mode, but it didn’t work that well for me. It could be that with further investigation and custom settings I could get this to work better.

Color was one of my biggest problems. Part of it is just getting used to the color response of a new camera — every camera is different, and this means that you have to process the colors differently. But the G1X didn’t seem to have the color depth I am used to from my 5d. It was actually quite similar to the Rebel XSi I had for a few months — I had trouble getting the color and color transitions to look the way I want. This meant desaturating some photos to get the colors to look good to my eye. I’m sure I could get more comfortable with this over time, but I’m also sure the colors are not quite as good as I’m used to. And I didn’t even get to try it with greens. Greens are my biggest problem color – trying to get greens to look natural to me can take many tries, even with the best cameras I’ve tried.

252mm, f6.3 1/500 of a second

My other complaint — and this really is the big one — is with the 100-300 lens. It is a sharp lens. It is a beautiful lens. The problem is stability with this long of a lens. WHY COULDN’T THEY PUT A COLLAR AND TRIPOD MOUNT ON IT???? This would fix everything. Putting a quick release plate on this camera works pretty well, but it is a small camera. The plate only has a small surface area that touches the camera, and this introduces some degree of instability. Add a relatively large lens like the 100-300 on the front and the tripod is now doing almost nothing. So this lens works fine for shooting at fast shutter speeds with bright light, but otherwise is useless. All because of the omission of a tripod mount.

275mm, f6.3, 1/4000 of a second

Small cameras have always been tempting to me. I don’t like carrying a lot of weight while I’m out hiking around, but image quality is most important to me, and at this point my old 5d is still a bit better. And new full-frame cameras (with even better quality sensors) are likely where I’ll be going once I can afford something new. But I do really like the trend towards small, light, fairly high-end cameras. I’m very curious to try out the Sony NEX-7, as this should be significantly better image quality and has an intriguing control layout.

So, is the G1X a good camera? Definitely. Is it a great camera? Possibly. Can it replace a full-frame camera for professional use? Not really, although I suppose that is obvious. Micro 4/3 is the most mature compact system at this point, with lots of good lens selection. But Sony’s NEX system has great cameras just waiting for lenses. And Fuji’s X-Pro1 looks fascinating. Things are changing fast.

Harvest Moon

Shots of the moon are hard to get. With a wide angle lens, the moon is a dot in the sky. With a telephoto, you have to make sure your exposure is short enough – the moon actually moves pretty fast. While keeping your exposure short, you still want enough depth of field to keep some detail in the foreground. If the moon is exposed correctly, everything else is too dark, and if everything else is exposed correctly, the moon is completely blown out (although both of these can look good). And then you have the whole chromatic aberration problem unless you have an amazingly expensive lens, because the scene is so high contrast. So I’ve never shown these before. These are not the sharpest photos in the world – I didn’t have the highest quality telephoto lens at the time. But I’m pretty happy with them too. They have a great feeling to them. This was at Cooking Lake Natural Area last year the night of the harvest moon.

Lens Changes

While my photo compositions and perspectives change slowly over time, lens changes transform my pictures overnight. I recently switched over to a camera system with a larger sensor, and currently only have money for prime lenses. This has taken a bit of getting used to, and limits my photography in some ways, but it has also provided opportunities I’ve never had before. Cue the shallow depth of field landscapes!