Macros: playing with shallow depth of field ... and a flash

Shallow depth of field occurs when just a very thin slice (or plane) of the image is in focus.  The rest of the image is blurred.  It is an effect that some people like and some people don't.  It's one of those "your mileage may vary" things.

The effect is easily obtained with high magnification (as with macro lenses) and large aperature openings. In this case I used a 105mm macro lens set at F2.8, which is the largest aperature I have on this lens.  I focused on the tip of one of the tulip buds.  It is the tip closest to the camera.  The result is that essentially everything but the tip of the bud is out of focus. Nevertheless I find the blur appealing, as the background now seems to be more about color (pink and green complement each other nicely) and less about image detail. Again, your mileage may vary. 

This is the best one of about a dozen pictures I took this afternoon.

(Actually, my intention was to fool around a bit with the my Olympus 36R flash, using it for macro shots.  It worked perfectly, even when using my old Nikon 105mm lens on a Panasonic camera.  The TTL auto feature kept the flash from overpowering the exposure, even at the 12" focusing distance.)

Panasonic GH2, Nikon 105mm macro, 1/250th, F2.8, ISO 160, Flash in hot shoe at -1EV


Five images from a fishing trip in September, 2010

I missed the fall fishing season this past year (2011).  I don't remember what happened.  Likely it was the weather.  As I recall streams were running very high and for the fishing to be good they need to be low.

The river shots here were taken the previous year, in September of 2010.  These are of Ammonoosuc River in northern New Hampshire, near Mt. Washington.

The fishing for me and my friends is done with a fly rod and artificial flies.  The fish are mostly native brook trout, with a few stocked rainbow trout thrown in the mix.  For those that are concerned, we are "catch and release" fishermen.  It's purely for  the sport of it.

The Mt. Washington Hotel is shown below.  There's good fishing right behind it. The hotel was built in 1900 and opened in 1902.  The elegant hotel is perhaps most famous for hosting the Bretton Woods  monetary conference in 1944 where the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were established.


Scan of old slide: Kansas, 1975

I can't explain why I like this shot so much.  It was taken with Kodachrome 25 or 64, whichever was the ASA available in 1975. The Kodachrome slide was scanned last year, and I converted it to black and white and cropped it to a square so as to eliminate a lot of the blank left side.  Black and white, and square.... perhaps that is why it looks like an old style photograph.

I remember this day.  My college roommate and I had departed from Los Angeles a week or so before.  I had flown into LA so I could ride shotgun as Mac drove back to New England after dropping off his brother at graduate school in California.  An extra bonus for me was a couple of days with my brother who was living in Los Angeles at the time, and a trip to Disneyland.

Mac and I drove east from LA, first visiting the southwest and then north into Colorado.  I still remember having Montezuma's Revenge in Durango.  Anyway, I was shocked as we left the Denver area.  Eastern Colorado is flat and the interstate is straight.  I had always known that Denver was the Mile High City. Coming from New England, a mile above sea level meant mountain tops. But Denver was basically on the prairie.  I was incredulous that the prairie (and Kansas) could be as high as some of the tallest mountains in New England, such as Mt. Katahdin in Maine. 

This shot was taken at a rest area just after an afternoon storm.  I'm looking west.  I remember that it was very windy.  I half expected Toto to run across the road looking for Dorothy.  Or, is it the other way around.


Switzerland in 1968: a few scans

In the summer of 1968 I worked at the Hotel Berhaus in Switzerland.  It was the highest hotel in Europe, at the top of the Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe.  To get there, a train zig-zaged inside the mountain, gradually ascending to the Jungfraujoch. 

Much of the hotel was actually inside the mountain. I wish I'd taken pictures of it, as the hotel burned down some time ago. In the picture below you can see the part of the hotel that had a view of the glacier.  In this case I am on the glacier where a small airplane with photographers crashed.

The images below are some of my favorites.  I am amazed at how few picture we all used to take with film.  I think I was in Switzerland for 8 weeks and shot 6 rolls of 36 exposure Kodachrome 25.  I've posted about 25 images here.  Many are only snapshot quality.

My Dad's old Kodak Retina IIIC

I am nearly ready to post a selection of images I took in Switzerland in 1968. For a camera on this trip during the summer after my freshman year in college, I borrowed my Dad's old Kodak Retina IIIC. 

My dad bought the camera in 1954 or 1955 while touring in Germany.  As I recall,  he told me he paid the equivalent of $250 for it, and with the exchange rate at the time, that was quite a deal compared with the cost at home, in the USA. Nevertheless, that's a huge chunk of change for "normal" people like my dad to spend back in 1955.  But I also think that anyone buying a camera in 1955 was probably thinking this would be the "last camera they will ever need." How things change.

Anyway, the Kodak Retina IIIC was an awesome little 35mm camera for its day.  Check out the images below.  Wouldn't you agree?

The Retina IIIC featured a built-in lightmeter which was fairly unique at the time.  Nearly unfathomable to shooters today, no batteries were needed to run the lightmeter or the camera!  That's incredible.  And it was nice and compact, with that little 50mm F2 Schneider lens that folded into the body.  Again, I think this was pretty unusual at the time.

In 1968 I used Kodachrome with an ASA (ISO) of 25.  And since I didn't own a tripod, this meant pictures needed a lot of light.  Blurry or soft pictures were commonplace (for me) as very slow shutter speeds were required. 

Looking at the scanned images now, I think the lens created lots of glare/flare when the sun was anywhere but behind you. The lens has none of the fancy surface coatings that today's optics have. A lens hood would have helped, but probably not solved the problem.

I was perfectly happy with the 50mm prime lens.  I didn't know anything different.  Today, with the range of lenses available to on my modern cameras, I feel quite spoiled.

I've been tempted to take this old gem on a trip or two, to shoot side-by-side with my digital camera.  The IIIC mechanics seem to work just fine, though the lightmeter readings are a bit sketchy.  I know that there are "apps" for smart phones that allow the phone to work as a lightmeter.  On the other hand, it's getting more and more difficult to get film developed.  I guess I just don't have the interest to go back to film.  Digital is sooo easy.


Why I bought the GH2 and sold the G2

I had owned the Panasonic G2 for perhaps six months, when I sold it earlier this year.  I loved the camera and found that it pretty much ate the lunch of my Olympus E-620. I am not saying the image quality was better: as far as I can tell, the IQ is essentially equal.  This shouldn't surprise anyone, as they have the same 12mp Panasonic sensor.

I gave the G2 the nod over the E-620 even though I own no Panasonic or m43 lenses.  As a result, every lens I used on the G2 was unstabilized.  Nevertheless, I found that my favorite regular 43 lens, the highly acclaimed Olympus 14-54II, worked just fine without stabilization.  You see, by using the 43-to-m43 adapter on the G2, the camera body could read the focal length of each shot I composed, and it provided me automatically with a shutter speed of at least 1/focal length.  I typically use aperture (A) priority mode or programed automatic (P) mode.  I also use auto ISO.  So, in both of these modes the camera protected a shutter speed that was sufficient to eliminate camera motion.  It protected this speed by bumping the ISO if there was insufficient light.  I set the ISO max at 1600.  This set up worked fine for me. What I have found is that 95% of the time my required ISO is 400 or less. Incidentally, the 14-54II focuses slower on the G2 than it does on the E-620, but for most of my images it is still plenty fast enough.

Another big bonus of the m43 system is the ability to use a Nikon-to-m43 adapter to attach any of my four old Nikon lenses.  Because the G2 uses an EVF instead of an OVF, I can use the magnification feature when manually focusing these old lenses.  As I stop down the lens, the EVF "gains up" (increases brightness automatically) so that I can continue to see what I am capturing.

A third feature I liked about the G2 is the availability of  buttons and levers for a couple of my favorite items: (1) easy access to bracketing and (2) several custom modes on the mode dial. (The bracketing system on the E-620 is a multi-step and inconvenient process, and there are no custom settings on the mode dial.)

All of the G2 benefits are also available on the GH2.  The GH2 adds more bracketing options and speeds up the frames per second performance.  I like the multi-aspect sensor which I had previously become familiar with on my Panasonic LX5.  Plus the GH2 has higher resolution and better high ISO performance.  (I've set the maximum ISO to 3200.)

I had wanted the GH2 even when I bought the G2,  but couldn't justify it's high cost.  Oh, and the GH2 has great video, though I don't use it.

So this is how the whole purchase and sale thing happened: 

Both cameras were bought at great prices.  The G2 body was purchased brand new for $378 from Amazon late last summer (2011). It was a deal that lasted perhaps two days.  The GH2 became available earlier this year (2012), also from Amazon, at $999 with the 14-140 zoom lens, by using a discount code I learned about on the Internet.  This was a fantastic deal and I jumped right on it.

As soon as the GH2 arrived, I took the 14-140 zoom and sold it on Amazon for $625, as "like new".  I explained that although it had never been used, that because it had been purchased as part of a kit, there was no separate box for the lens so it wasn't exactly the same as buying the lens itself "new".  It sold within a week.This transaction brought the cost of the GH2 body down to an unbelievable $375. 

My final step was to list the G2 on Amazon for the same amount I paid for it, $378.  It also sold within a week.

The GH2 is a fabulous camera.  (Especially at $375!) The high ISO performance is the best I've ever experienced.  I realize it is not as good (from what I read on the forums) as cameras with bigger sensors, especially those with the highly capable Sony 16 mp APS-C sensor, but it is good enough for me. 

GH2 with Olympus 14-54II regular 4/3 zoom.  There's no image stabilization but as long as I keep it at 1/100th second or faster, I don't think it is necessary.
I don't know if this effects RAW files (I shoot either RAW or RAW+JPEG), but I've turned off the in-camera NR (noise reduction).  Even so, when post processing in Lightroom 3, I rarely touch the noise reduction slider even at ISO 3200, and then only minimally (slider set at 10, out of 100.)  With the G2 and E-620 I had always applied noise reduction in Lightroom starting at ISO 800.  It seems like the GH2 gives me about 2 more stops of performance.

I think more people would leave the noise untouched if they were to recalibrate their minds to think of "noise reduction" as synonymous with "detail smudging".

I haven't had much time to use the GH2 camera outdoors.  After all, it's winter here.  But I have been pleased with indoor performance.  Below are some samples of images taken indoors in available light, at ISO 3200.  Only the closeup of the mosquito fishing fly had any noise reduction applied, at that was only 10 out of 100 on the Lightroom slider.  These were shot in RAW.

I know these are small files and are only 650 pixels wide.  I have larger files on my Web site, though they can only be viewed at a maximum dimension of 1550 x 960 pixels, depending on your monitor's size.  I'm very pleased with the 8" x 10" prints I made of a couple of these.  I haven't yet tried anything bigger.

The larger images are here:


GH2 plus Olympus 14-54II at 54mm. Set at 1/100, F3.5, ISO 3200.

GH2 plus Nikon 58mm F1.4.  Set at F2, 1/100, ISO 3200.

GH2 plus Nikon 58mm F1.4.  Set at 1/125, F2, ISO 3200.

GH2 plus Olympus 50mm F2 Macro.  Set at 1/100, F2, ISO 3200.