Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Inches from a Rattlesnake!

Every so often, we run into a photographic opportunity that we did not expect or foresee. Last night was one of those times for me. Before I get started, let me emphasize that you should NEVER under any circumstances do what I did. Do not try this at home! With that said, let's proceed.

1/125s @ f/8; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

As I was driving along the road toward home, I saw a snake crossing the road. I immediately recognized the pattern of a rattlesnake. I passed it and then immediately turned around and stopped. This was not a very good location on the road but those things can never be planned. Closer inspection confirmed the presence of a western diamondback rattlesnake. The snake measured somewhere around three feet long. It was not a huge snake but it was not a small one either.

1/160s @ f/8; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

When I first arrived the snake was still crossing the road and attempting to crawl up the curb. Right after I got my gear out, it coiled up and stayed at the top of the curb for the remainder of this event. While gear can be heavy, I was very glad I had brought along my camera bag with a decent amount of gear. This included my two Pentax K10D bodies with D-BG2 battery grips. My DA 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 Fisheye, DA 14mm f/2.8, FA 50mm f/1.4, DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM, and D-FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro lenses were in the bag. In addition, I had the AF-200FG flash and an off-camera cord as well as a Kenko 25mm Uniplus extension tube. This was all packed nicely in my Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 40 bag.

1/60s @ f/2.8; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

What I really needed was a DA* 300mm f/4 SDM or similar lens or even the A* 200mm f/4 Macro lens. This would have made it much easier to get close-up images of this snake. However, the DA* 300mm f/4 SDM lens has not been released yet and I did not have my A* 200mm f/4 Macro lens with me. The obvious next choice was the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens. This turned out to be a fantastic lens for this purpose. The problem with this lens is that it cannot focus as close as I would like. Here comes the Kenko 25mm Uniplus extension tube to rescue. It turned out to be a perfect combination.

1/160s @ f/5.6; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

Fortunately, the temperature was such that this snake seemed to be a little cold. This allowed me to get within twelve inches of the snake with the front of my lens. The fruit of this danger was fantastic pictures. As I have already said, DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME!

1/160s @ f/4; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

After getting a number of pictures, I wanted to get a different perspective. Most of my shots thus far had been with either the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens with the 25mm extension tube or with the D-FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. I wanted to try something a little different. Since the snake was cooperating so well, I brought out the DA 14mm f/2.8 lens. These would actually be the very first pictures I had ever taken with this lens since it arrived earlier that day. In order to get good pictures with the DA 14mm lens, I had to get very, very close to the snake. This time, the distance was six inches or less. While the DA* 50-135mm lens gives you some working room because it has a fairly long barrel, the DA 14mm lens gives you almost no room because of its short barrel.

1/25s @ f/4; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

I was not about to look through the viewfinder with a short-barreled lens and a camera between the snake and I. It took a number of attempts to get what I really wanted. It was all too easy to focus on the snake's body instead of its head. The shot you see above, which turned out to be the last of the evening, was the best.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pentax Optio S10 and Z10 Announced

Last week, Pentax announced two new cameras. The first is the Pentax Optio S10. It follows in the trend of the Optio S series of compact digital cameras. It ups the resolution to 10 Megapixels. It also supports the usual raft of face recognition and auto picture modes. It also has a bright 2.5 inch 232,000 pixel LCD screen on the back. According to Pentax, this is also the seventh Pentax camera to support DivX movie recording. More details are available from the Pentax web site. The unique detail on this camera is that it will be only offered through Wal-Mart stores.

The second camera is far more interesting than the more predictable Optio S10. This new camera creates a new niche for Pentax in the compact digital camera market. This new camera is the Optio Z10. While all the other compact digital cameras feature essentially a 3x optical zoom, this camera changes all the rules with a 7x optical zoom. This 7x zoom also does not protrude from the camera. Pentax calls this exciting new feature a refraction lens system. This 7x zoom is equivalent to a 38-266mm lens in 35mm format. This all comes along with 8 Megapixel resolution and a 2.5 inch 230,000 pixel LCD screen. As with most recent Optio cameras, the erroneously named digital Shake Reduction is included as well. I hope we continue to see cameras such as this one. The only thing it is missing is optical Shake Reduction.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM Review Part 1

We have all anxiously been waiting for the Pentax SDM lenses. The first of the series, the SMC Pentax-DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens has arrived. This is the first of several parts dealing with various aspects of the lens. Part 1 deals with the appearance of the new lens.

DA* 50-135

Many of you remember the old * lenses of days gone by. These included the M*, A*, F*, and FA* lenses. These were the best of the available lenses in their class. While the color scheme of the A* lenses was a black lens with a green band, the later FA* lenses carried a silver and black theme. We now have a new DA* theme of black with gold highlights.

DA* 50-135

Besides the SMC Pentax DA* badge on the side of the lens barrel, the band around the front part of the lens barrel is also gold.

DA* 50-135

As for size, the SMC Pentax-DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens is much smaller than both the SMC Pentax-FA* 80-200mm f/2.8 and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lenses. While only the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lenses are pictured, the FA* 80-200mm f/2.8 lens is only slightly smaller than the Canon lens.

DA* 50-135

Obviously, it is expected that the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens would be smaller by virtue of its focal length being different than the longer telephoto 70-200mm range. This might be a disadvantage for some but it also very much fits with the Pentax philosophy of small and compact. Although this new lens is not small, it is very small for its capabilities. Those that need the extra reach of a 200mm focal length will be happy to see the SMC Pentax-DA* 200mm f/2.8 SDM lens on the horizon with a scheduled shipping timeframe of September.

I find it quite interesting that Pentax is matching the former equivalent focal lengths of lenses designed for the 36mm by 24mm frame size. Unlike Canon, Pentax does not offer a 36mm by 24mm digital SLR and therefore does not have to worry about providing lenses that work for both the APS-C digital format and the "Full Frame" digital format. Like Pentax, Nikon does not currently have a "Full Frame" digital SLR although one may be on the horizon. Nikon has stayed with the 70-200mm and 80-200mm focal lengths.

In part 2 of this review, we will gain some more insights into the SMC Pentax-DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens and its new capabilities. The most interesting new feature seems to be the inclusions of SDM. Look for part 2 coming soon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Small Spider Macro Shots

When I got to work this morning, I found a very small spider crawling around on my office floor. I stuck him in a container and brought him out this evening to get some pictures. I am not sure what kind of spider this is but it appears to be some sort of wolf spider. If anyone knows, please leave a comment. These four pictures turned out the best.

1/180s @ f/18; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

The spider looks a little terrified in this shot. Although I do not like the background, it is a good angle. It was shot on a clear plastic storage container. I do like the reflection.

1/180s @ f/22; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

When undisturbed, the spider would bring its legs in and just sit there.

1/180s @ f/22; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

When disturbed, it would flare its legs and brandish its fangs. It was a feisty spider.

1/180s @ f/22; ISO 400; SR On; Flash

I shot all four of these with the Pentax K10D along with the SMC Pentax-A* 200mm f/4.0 Macro lens and the Kenko 25mm Uniplus extension tube. To light everything, I used my new Pentax AF-200FG flash on a Manfrotto 3373 Compact light stand. The light is from above left at about a 45 degree angle.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

K100D Super and DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 Arrived

On Thursday the Pentax K100D Super body and DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens arrived. As expected, the K100D Super is basically an upgraded K100D. The additions are support for SDM lenses and a new Dust Removal system in the same vein as the K10D. While I wish the buffer were larger and the buffer clearing would be a little faster, the K100D Super continues to be a great camera. I love its size and it just does a great job. When I am traveling and space is tight, I have been taking the K100D and DA 40mm f/2.8. I will now replace the K100D with the K100D Super and this continues to be a great combination.

My initial impression of the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 SDM lens is that it has a great feel and fantastic build quality. While I have not had any chance to do any image quality evaluation, I am planning on getting some shots very soon. I will also do some size comparisons with some other well known Pentax lenses and a Canon lens or two. As far as the DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM lens, I have been told that they have started shipping. Other sources have confirmed that they have already started arriving. I should have my first delivery very soon and I will likewise report on this lens.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pentax Photo Gallery

I am a little behind on this announcement but I want to introduce a superb web site. The new site is the Pentax Photo Gallery. This site, created by Pentax, showcases the work of photographers using Pentax equipment. It really is a superb selection of work by all sorts of photographers from hobbyists to professionals. Very nice job Pentax!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Portable Storage: OWC Mercury On-The-Go

It's funny how things coincide at interesting times. Earlier this week, Derrick Story of Inside Aperture posted a blog entry on his quest for more portable storage. He ended up going with the OWC Mercury 250 GB FireWire 800/400+USB2 5400RPM 2.5″Portable SATA Drive. I have been eyeing this exact same drive but I have decided against it. More on that in a moment.

Oddly enough, Steve Simon, also of Inside Aperture, posted a blog entry which mentioned that he just purchased another OWC drive as well. He was likewise surprised at the timing of Derrick Story's post. His choice was the OWC Mercury On-The-Go 200 GB FireWire 800/400+USB2 7200RPM 2.5" Portable SATA Drive.

I have been using OWC Mercury On-The-Go drive cases since early 2007 and I am very happy with their performance. However, I have put together my own solutions. One thing that I really like about all of OWC's solutions is that you can buy the drive case without a drive for all of their solutions. Instead of buying a pre-packaged deal, I purchased an OWC Mercury On-The-Go Firewire 800/400+USB2 Portable SATA Drive case. This allows me to pick my own drive. Years of using hard drives from different manufacturers has caused me to have some preferences as to what drives I generally use.

When it comes to desktop drives, I generally use Western Digital, Seagate, and Hitachi drives in order of preference. I like Western Digital drives for their RAID editions as well as their great price. Seagate drives have always worked well for me but they tend to be a little more expensive than Western Digital drives. The third option is to use Hitachi drives. I have rarely done this but I am seeing good things coming from them. Their 1 TB drives are pretty attractive for their space.

By contrast, with laptop drives my choices are different. I tend to prefer Hitachi drives and sometimes Seagate drives. I have used Toshiba drives in the past but I have had some not so great experiences with them. They also lag behind in the performance category. Western Digital laptop drives are the newest series of laptop drives on the market and they are not quite up to the same performance and power consumption standards as some of the more established players. Reviews will confirm that recent Hitachi drives seem to have the best performance and definitely the best power consumption levels and those are the two qualities that I am most interested in.

I had to start looking for more storage when my iTunes library grew to the point where it would not even fit on a 160 GB drive. In this situation, I ended up buying the OWC Mercury On-The-Go 200 GB Firewire 800/400+USB2 4200RPM 2.5" Portable SATA Drive. This drive is the Toshiba 200 GB 4200 RPM SATA 2.5" drive. While I do not usually go with Toshiba, this was the only 200 GB laptop drive on the market at that time. I considered buying the case separately but decided to buy all of it together because there was essentially no price advantage. Now my iTunes library has grown to fill nearly my entire 200 GB drive. I only have about 6 GBs of space left on it. Once again, it is time to upgrade.

My first experience with OWC was actually with the same portable case and a Hitachi 100 GB 7200 RPM SATA 2.5" laptop hard drive. This was and continues to be my portable picture storage. It works very, very well and I have been very happy with it. Its only drawback is that there is not quite enough space to do what I want. Although I still have not upgraded my drives, I have already decided which drives I will be purchasing.

I am planning on purchasing two more OWC Mercury On-The-Go Firewire 800/400+USB2 4200RPM 2.5" Portable SATA Drive cases and putting a Hitachi 7K200 200 GB 7200 RPM SATA 2.5" drive in one and a Hitachi 5K250 250 GB 5400 RPM SATA 2.5" drive in the other. I prefer the Hitachi 5K250 250 GB drive to the Western Digital 250 GB 5400 RPM SATA 2.5" drive that OWC uses for their solution that Derrick Story purchased.

I will basically replace my current 200 GB 4200 RPM iTunes library solution with the new 250 GB 5400 RPM drive and I will add a new 200 GB 7200 RPM drive for my image and video storage. The older 100 GB 7200 RPM drive will continue to be used in this same capacity as a backup. I hope by reading through my choices it has given you some additional thoughts and options for yourself.