Monday, June 28, 2010

A Very Tardy Product Review

I’ve been using my current DSLR body for nearly four years now.  Which means that it’s seriously outdated… an operational dinosaur.

But it IS usable, and use it I do.  Which means changing lenses frequently. 

I’ve always done this with care.  I do understand the downsides of exposing the delicate guts (especially the sensor) of the camera to the outside world.  But interchangeable lenses are very much the point of using a DSLR.  And the point of keeping the camera at hand is to be able to use it.

All the care in the world (barring hustling off to a clean room) will not eliminate the chances of dust and crud eventually settling on the sensor of a DSLR.

After about three years of changing and changing and changing lenses, a few clots of dust (or something) were making their presence known if I stopped down beyond f/11.  At first, it was a minor annoyance, but as time went on and I really really wanted to show greater depth of field, the problem intensified.

Conventional wisdom from a few years ago held that if you touched the sensor, you’d be doing well if you didn’t destroy the camera.  That’s an overstatement, but not a big one.  Accepted practice for “unqualified” sensor cleaners involved using a combination of gravity and the biggest damned air-bulb you could find to ever-so-carefully “poof” the offending jetsam off the sensor’s glass.

Translation:  remove lens; set the camera to “clean sensor”’ hold shutter open with the body pointing earthward and poofpoofpoof with a blower bulb until you got tired of the exercise.  Then check and see if your efforts had any effect.

The truth is, this is an inexpensive and not-too-scary way to take care of a lot of crap that lodges on the sensor, but eventually, one finds its limits. 

Eventually, a lot of little bits of gawdknowswhat end up sticking tenaciously to the delicate face of that light-gathering instrument and won’t let go.

Eventually, what seems like desperate measures are in order.  Either buy a new camera body (can’t do that) or risk ruining the existing one (don’t want to do that, but can’t find an option)…

…so I did about two weeks’ worth of on-again, off-again research on the best way to clean a camera’s sensor.  And I decided on a method, then found that I couldn’t get there from here.  More accurately, I couldn’t get IT here from there.  Amazon (or B&H or ProPhoto Supply) can’t solve everything… not if the contents of  product are on a “no fly” list.

“The Solution” contains methanol.  The same stuff that powers Indy cars.  Burns without flames.  Highly unwelcome on airplanes, UPS trucks and Post Offices.  I think I can understand the caution.

But I needed it.  I was ready to stop shooting if I didn’t get this crap off my sensor.

So I planned a stop on a Saturday at ProPhoto Supply in Portland after having called in advance to make sure that they had a bottle (all 2 fl. oz. of it) in stock.

$54.98 later, I held the nearly weightless answers (I hoped) to my prayers… a bottle of cleaning solution and a box of 12 sensor swabs from Photographic Solutions, Inc.  (It’s not cheap, but it’s a LOT less expensive than a new camera!)

The Photographic Solutions “kit” is available for use with all sensor sizes, but you need to know which type you need.  The swabs are sized for individual sensor types. (I needed Type 2… I’d already done my homework).

After all of this buildup, the actual implementation was incredibly anticlimactic.  The instructions are easy to follow, and I’m reasonably well-coordinated, so things went off without a hitch. 

My first (and so far only) foray into full-contact sensor cleaning is still holding up after nearly four months.

It’s been a wet, mottled spring, and a completely clear sky has been a very rare commodity, but I spent much of last Saturday shooting with just that as a backdrop… and there were no dots or fuzzy $^%^S%@ to deal with afterward. 

And that’s a very nice thing with 200+ files staring me in the face.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Process

First is the shoot. 

Get there, mount up the equipment, read the light, test the white balance.  Retest the white balance.  Shoot the first game.  Adjust compensation factors the second location.  Shoot the second game.

The easy part is done now.

Load the card to the hard drive.  Wow… 532 files (266 images, captured in .jpg and RAW simultaneously)… this is going to take a while.

First viewing.  There are some obvious and inevitable failures.  Autofocus took a smoke break, photographer couldn’t find the shutter button, etc.  Those are expected. 

And, I’d expected to see some improvement in the general quality of the images since my last attempt because I’ve changed lenses.  But I wasn’t sure if it would be something that would jump out at me.

It really did.

The G lens focuses faster (and sometimes mis-focuses faster) than the old gold can ever could.  The percentage of keepers leaped up… and the ones that went south when WAY south… no equivocation there.  Those were losers, and there was no doubt about that.

But the winners!  Oh, my.  I’m so happy!  I’m not talking total technical perfection here… this is a fast-moving sporting event in pretty crappy light… but the increased contrast, sharpness, CA (chromatic aberration) control is so obvious to me in the first viewing that I can’t help but get excited.

However… the white balance really wasn’t right, but the potential of the RAW files to correct for that, and opening shadow detail, and reducing noise and… I could go on for as many options as ACR offers.

The summary is that I’ve got a lot of work to do.

But it should be worth it.


Stella takes flight.  One of my favorites so far.

No crop.  Sony 70-300mm “G” @ 70mm.  ISO 200, 1/160 @ f/5.6.  Monopod used throughout the shoot.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Photographing With Intent

I left the house this afternoon in a mood for monochrome.  The day had finally turned for the better in terms of contrast, but saturation was still minimal. 

So I was thinking in terms of a limited pallet. 

I made an obligatory stop at The Cove in Seaside just in case my “finger in the wind” surf forecast was wrong… but it wasn’t.  The waves were blown to hell, “confused”, in meteorological parlance, and not especially photogenic.  But, it was a nice place to watch the gulls do their air-dance.

I squeezed off a few frames, but couldn’t get excited about anything, so I continued south.

Indian Beach still calls to me, but not loudly enough to make me forget my fall there at the beginning of the year.  I don’t fear the place, but recent memories from there keep me thinking of alternatives.

I pointed myself toward Chapman Point, and realized as I navigated up the ridge that I had not been there in more than 30 years.  The topography had not changed much, but what covered it certainly had.  Mega-homes encrust the ridge like barnacles on the rocks below. 

At least they left an access point or two for riffraff like me.

Until early afternoon, the day here had been a consistent shade of gray… no variation in the sky at all.  There had been now way to tell the time of day by solar observation… it all looked the same.  By early evening, that had all changed, which is what put me in the mood for monochrome and what follows.