Friday, February 26, 2010

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USM lens - initial impressions

After many weeks of waiting, I finally managed to get my hands on the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM lens. The lens was out of stocks for quite a while, so I am hoping that the wait is worthwhile. The initial impressions seem quite favourable, with a nice solid construction and a decent weight. Mounted on the EOS 5D Mk II with vertical grip, the lens feels really right at home.

 Image shot wide-open at f/1.4

I took it out for a couple of test snaps, and the initial results were rather pleasing. No back focus issues detected so far, and the bokeh is really nice and creamy. I’m going to shoot more with it over the next two weeks, so you can expect a more thorough review soon. 

Oh wait... perhaps I can pit the 35mm f/1.4 L lens against another 35mm f/1.4 "L" lens? Canon vs Leica - Battle of the 35mm f/1.4 lenses! Let me know if you're interested to see something like that...

But meanwhile, here are two images from my first ten minutes with the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USM lens!

 Image shot wide-open at f/1.4

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sigma launches the Sigma SD15 DSLR - again

You got to give it to the guys at Sigma for their dogged determination in the face of improbable success. Many moons ago when Sigma first launched their film SLR, I figured it was going to be over pretty soon given the dominance of Canon, Nikon and Minolta. When they launched their first DSLR in the form of the SD9 in 2002, I thought it was pretty interesting with the Foveon sensor. Eight years later with little sales to show for, I’m damn surprised that they’re persisting with this business and launching this new Sigma SD15 DSLR.

It’s been a year ago when Sigma announced the 14-megapixel SD15, and looking at the specs of a 3” (460k) LCD screen and 3-fps rate, it’s difficult to be excited about this new offering. Even the ISO range of 100-1600 seems absolutely archaic in the face of the tremendous strides made by Canon and Nikon. The Foveon X3 sensor might seem promising, but it’s going to take a lot more to deliver a complete package that DSLR customers are looking for today.

Sigma launches 5 new lenses


I'm convinced that Sigma’s engineering and production teams must have been chomping on pizzas every night recently, judging from the slew of products they just announced. Hot on the heels of the original camera manufacturers, Sigma has been launching exotic lenses one after another. Judging from the technical specs, it’s definitely no mean feat to engineer such optics!

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

First up is the new 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens from Sigma, equipped with Hypersonic Motor (HSM) and optical stabilizer (OS). Depending on the price tag, this can be a good alternative to the pricey original 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses that camera brands have launched (notice how prices jump substantially with every generation?) Optically this lens looks promising, with Sigma using its new 'FLD' glass to control aberrations, plus a nine-blade circular aperture for more attractive bokeh.

Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM
Great… Sigma announces a 85mm f/1.4 portrait lens just after I purchased a 85mm portrait lens for a not insubstantial amount of moolah. Anyway, this new Sigma features nine-blade circular aperture for more attractive bokeh and a minimum focusing distance of just 85cm. I’m sure it won’t be as good as the one I bought… I hope.

Sigma 50-500mm DG OS HSM
Sigma’s management’s directive to the engineers must have been blindingly obvious based on the latest releases – make the widest and longest lenses you can! The result is a hulking monster like this 50-500mm 10x telephoto zoom. The Sigma has been popular with nature photographer, but this latest iteration (finally) comes with optical stabilization. Guess someone in Sigma figured out it wasn’t easy handholding a 500mm lens after all.

Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM
If you ever need evidence that Sigma engineers are going mad, this is it. Say hello to this crazy piece of optics – the Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM. Not contented with the batch of current ultra-wide angle lenses for APS-C cameras, Sigma engineers decided that photographers needed to go really wide, so they decided to make one for APS-C photographers, just like they already did with the Sigma 12-24mm for full-frame. Seriously, anyone who tried to use such a wide-angle needs to buy really nice shoes, because they’re going to get into the frame easily. Salvatore Ferragamo anyone?

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM
Strictly for APS-C sensor cameras only, this Sigma is your standard zoom lens with a fast constant aperture of f/2.8. Other nice features include optical stabilization (OS) and Hypersonic Motor (HSM) for faster focusing, as well as the incorporation of Sigma’s new FLD glass and non-rotating front focus ring.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cool by the pool - new Sony Cybershot TX5


Think Lara Croft - sexy and adventurous. That's what the new Sony Cybershot TX5 is about.

Sony has just launched the new Cybershot TX5 - the compact waterproof camera that will have you looking very cool by the pool. Unlike many waterproof camera, the Sony TX5 does not have the typical "I'm waterproof! Just look at my bulky design!", but rather it maintains the sleek outline of the Cybershot series. You can't tell from the design that it is actually waterproof, since it's measures just 17.7mm slim.

Available in five stunning colours (black, silver, pink, green, red), the Sony TX5 is designed for the pool rather than scuba diving. Unlike the other tougher underwater cameras rated for deeper waters, the TX5 is rated for 3m water resistance, making it more suitable for your swimming pool jaunts only. Of course, Sony claims its shockproof and dust proof as well, so you can bring it for your light adventures without looking too gungho.

Tech wise - the Sony Cybershot TX5 is pretty impressive with 10 megapixel sensor and a Carl Zeiss 4x optical zoom lens with 25mm wide-angle capability. Incredibly, the TX5 features a touch-screen LCD screen, a surprising inclusion for a get-tough compact digital camera. You can even shoot your own Indiana Jones/Lara Croft adventure movie with the HD movie recording capabilities as well!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Annie Leibovitz - prima donna or talent supremo?

Annie Leibovitz has a reputation of being a difficult photographer to work with – both as an assistant and as a client. If you are her assistant, you’d better be fast on your feet and mind, and be as much of a perfectionist as she is, or risk being railed at.

If you are her client, Annie will not yell (at you). But you just might, when you see the bills that she chalks up per assignment. Being the perfectionist that she is, Annie Leibovitz has unfortunately gained the reputation of a budget buster by insisting on the best for every shoot.

In this video you can see the locations and equipment she brings for an otherwise low-budget editorial shoot for Vogue magazine. And as Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine puts it aptly, that Annie “drives them crazy” since “budget is not something entirely in Anna’s consciousness”.

But Anna concludes that “but it’s worth it because at the end of the day, she gives you an image that nobody else can.” That’s Annie Leibovitz for you!

Friday, February 12, 2010

1-in-8 million photo essay by New York Times


New York is a large metropolis consisting of 8 million inhabitants. Most of the people you meet in a city are faceless individuals whom you recognize only as a fellow human living in the same area. But yet, everyone has a story to tell, regardless of the role they play in their daily lives.

The New York Times has a very interesting photo gallery showcasing the life and story behind the common people. Aptly named “One in Eight Million”, photojournalists photograph and interview New Yorkers who are socially insignificant, and yet these are the people whom make up New York city. Each segment is a short video clip showcasing the daily lives of each individual, accompanied by the narratives of those being interviewed. I love the insights gleaned from the videos – on the subject’s occupation and their take on life. The photography and editing of the video is amazing too!

(Hint: click on the Series Index on the top left of the window to see more interviews)

Photo credit: Griszka Niewiadomski

And the Oscar goes to.... Pentax!

As mentioned in my previous post, I think Pentax is full of crazy ideas (think colourful DSLRs and launching a digital medium format camera). I'm not sure I can agree with their off-tangent thinking, but they sure caught me off-guard with this one. You see - Pentax launched the K-7 DSLR last year boasting HD movie recording, but everyone's eyes were on Canon's 5D Mk II and Vincent Laforet's movies.

So Pentax said enough is enough, and they commissioned filmmaker Jamin Winans and Futuristic Films to shoot a movie with the K-7 DSLR and Pentax lenses. While the quality of the HD movie is good, I'm more impressed by the crazy script and the great execution of a wild idea. Seriously, anyone who has worked in a corporation would be impressed with the guts of the executive who approved this movie. Drugs, gun battle, wild car chases... not the typical kind of stuff a Japanese company would normally endorse.

Check out this movie made by the Pentax K-7... a lovely combination of wild ideas, great imagination and fantastic dose of fuzzy love!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pentax counts down for digital medium format launch

Just like a phoenix, Pentax is attempting to reinvent itself and rise from the ashes again. The venerable imaging brand had been struggling in the past decade, never really being able to put up a good fight against the likes of Canon and Nikon (or Sony for that matter). Pentax fans say that the recent crop of Pentax DSLR has great performance or bang for the buck, but I'd say that Pentax would need better marketing to take off from the dumps (regardless of the product).

Pentax is one company that is willing to take risk and boldly go where no other brands have gone before, although I'm not sure if that's out of sheer desperation. Just look at the colourful Pentax K-x DSLR - I'd bet Canon and Nikon will never do anything that brave! I'm not too sure what that does for the sales though - perhaps the Japanese domestic market love it, but I sure would like to stick with the more conventional colours.

Now Pentax is gearing up to launch the elusive Pentax 645D - a medium format digital camera. It ain't gonna be easy going up against Canon/Nikon/Sony in the 35mm DSLR market, so Pentax has also leveraged on its medium format cameras to open up a new market for itself in the digital arena. It sure takes a lot of guts, because Pentax is going into a market where other Japanese brands such as Contax and (original) Mamiya have collapsed.

The medium format (MF) market is a tough one, especially for digital cameras. Digital MF cameras are very expensive (if makes a flagship Canon/Nikon look like a toy in price), and the market is not exactly growing very quickly. With Hasselblad and Mamiya dominating the market with their comprehensive lenses and system accessories, as well as Imacon and Leaf digital backs respectively, it takes a brave brand (Leica S2 comes to mind as well) to swagger into the waters of digital medium format. Let's hope Pentax has something exciting for us, because I'd hate to see another established brand go under.

Aerial photos of World Trade Centre collapse unveiled

                               Image copyright property of NYC Police Aviation Unit

One of the most dramatic events happened on Sept 11, 2001 with the collapse of the World Trade Center twin towers, forever changing international relations and sparking off a series of conflicts and terrorism acts. The intense drama and rivers of human emotions ran deep, and scores of photojournalists documented the aftermath through their lenses. However, one of the most dramatic photo documentation was captured not by a photojournalist, but by a police detective high up in the sky.

NYPD Detective Greg Sermendinger was in a police helicopter hovering above, and in what's probably the world's most haunting aerial photos, he captured the city of New York being engulfed in a plume of dust when the tower collapsed. These images were classified until recently, and they were immensely useful to the investigations of the towers' collapse.

See the series of images at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Apple launches Aperture 3

Apple has launched Aperture 3 - the latest incarnation of its popular photo management software. The latest version includes a host of improvements such as  a new Faces and Places option that enables Face detection and geotagging - a feature first found in iPhoto 09'. The slideshow can now also combine both photos and HD videos. Build your slideshow with six Apple designed themes or choose your own transitions, background, borders and titles, and even add your own soundtrack.

More importantly, Aperture 3 will appeal to photographers with its new Brushes feature that allows you to paint effects onto your images without the complexity of layers or masks. There are a total of 15 effects, including Dodge, Burn, Polarize and Blur. Adjustment Presets feature lets you apply a specific style or look to the entire image with just a click, much like a filter or a film effect. Mac users who already own Aperture will be able to upgrade for US$99, while new customers can buy it for US$199.

Visit Apple's website for more information.

Canon updates a winning formula - EOS 550D

Canon has updated its popular EOS 500D camera with even more technologies, upping the bar on entry-level DSLRs. The new EOS 550D delivers 18MP of resolution (a moderate upgrade over the predecessor's 15MP) and a better 3" LCD at 1040k dot resolution (seriously the previous 920K was amazing enough though), as well as the inclusion of the 63-point iFCL metering system. Other minor improvements include 3.7 fps continuous shooting and +/-5 stops exposure compensation (seriously overkill).

One interesting and useful feature which is great for me is the ability to restrict the max ISO speed when setting to Auto ISO. Now, Auto ISO is a great tool when you're shooting in changing light levels, moving outdoors and indoors. But there might be a limit as to how much quality degeneration you're prepared to accept with increasing ISO. Having this feature is really neat, now that I can have the convenience of having the camera choose my ISO within a specified range. The new DIGIC processors and CMOS sensors might be great, but ISO 1600? No thanks!


In terms of video recording, the EOS 550D records video in full 1920x1080p HD resolution, with selectable frame rate (30/25/24fps) or 60/50 fps in 720p resolution. You can also plug in an external microphone when capturing video with its 3.5mm stereo microphone socket.

I think that Canon has done a reasonably good job in updating the EOS 500D, which is already a winner with its specs. Obviously Canon wants to win big in the consumer DSLR segment, and it's extending its lead by improving the key model even further, but not rocking the boat by overloading the features and spoiling the forthcoming EOS 60D's market.

Interestingly, Canon chose to announce the EOS 550D rather than an upgrade to the aging EOS 1000D. You can expect the EOS 1000D's replacement to sport similar features to the EOS 500D I guess! The EOS 500D's existing users will not be terribly handicapped by the EOS 550D's improvements, but if you have an older model such as a EOS 400D, the EOS 550D will represent a worthwhile upgrade.

Nikon announces two new lenses

Nikon has announced the launch of two interesting lenses - an ultra wide-angle lens with vibration reduction (VR) technology and a high-performance 24mm prime lens. Just when photographers around the world were about to give up, finally a manufacturer came around to our point-of-view that even wide-angle lenses can benefit from having image stabilization technology! It took them years, but we're still glad it finally happened (hopefully it'll open a flood-gate of more wide-angle lenses with vibration reduction technology). The new AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is designed for full-frame performance, although it is not f/2.8 like the Nikkor 17-28mm AFS. I guess Nikon is going to keep us waiting for a while more for a f/2.8 VR lens! The VR technology is an improvement over its predecessors, delivering up to four stops of stability when shooting in low-light. Optically the lens look promising, featuring Nikon’s Nano Crystal coat, two ED glass elements and three aspherical glass elements.

The AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED seems designed to go head-on against Canon's 24mm f/1.4 L Mk II lens. With a wide angle of view and such a bright aperture, the 24mm f/1.4 lenses deliver a unique perspective unlike any other lens. This lens will appeal strongly to photojournalists and event/wedding photographers with its focal length and ability to shoot in low light. Unfortunately Nikon didn't up the ante by throwing in VR at the same time, or this could be the ultimate photojournalist lens of all time! As you might expect, the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED features Nikon’s Nano Crystal coat, ED glass, aspherical lens elements, and even nine blade rounded diaphragm for the ultimate in image quality. I'd be interested to see how this lens match up to Canon's 24mm f/1.4 L Mk II lens!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Can cameras be capable of racism?

Guess which face got left out by the camera?

Can cameras be capable of racism? According to some discoveries by consumers, some cameras can indeed be "racist"!

It all began when cameras started shipping with face detection or smile detection technology, where the camera is programmed to identify faces and smiles for more accurate focusing and exposure, biased for the detected faces. However, in real world scenarios, variables such as lighting, contrast and even the size of the eyes affect the accuracy of such technology. Asians and blacks discovered that they had more difficulty in getting the cameras to detect their faces, leading to the "HP webcams are racist" viral Youtube video being circulated.

Of course, most people do not take these accusations seriously, and most are having a good laugh at the "racism" of such technologies. Still, it's interesting to see how the best intentions sometimes have unintended consequences!

Read more at: