Saturday, July 31, 2010

Olympus - the spirit of innovation

When you think of SLR cameras today, most of us will think of brands such as Canon, Nikon and perhaps Sony. These brands dominate the majority of the market share with their popular DSLR models. But if you were an old-timer in photography, you'd probably be familiar with Minolta, Pentax and Olympus as well. For those who miss the old times, it was an exciting period where there were much more brands, and every one developed their products in a very different direction.

For those who recall, Olympus had very innovative products, thanks to a clever Japanese engineer named Maitani. He was like the Steve Jobs of Olympus, conceptualizing and developing new products that took Olympus into areas where no other brands dare go. Some of his most iconic products include the Olympus Pen, the Olympus XA and the Olympus OM (SLR) system. I remember being simply astounded when I first came across the futuristic clamshell design of the Olympus XA and the petite Olympus OM that fits right on my palm!

Olympus Pen
Olympus XA

Olympus OM-series

* Product images copyright of Olympus

Maitani's trademark seems to lie in miniaturizing products, since his designs for the cameras made them almost half the size of competitors. Legend has it that Maitani was in a public hot bath one day when a truck driver entered the bath. Before long, they heard a commotion outside and saw that the truck had caught fire due to a short-circuit. But because Maitani (and everyone else) did not have a camera, the moment was not caught on film. Maitani then resolved to make a compact camera so that everyone can always carry one with them, and the result was the Olympus Pen.

If you're an Olympus fan or simply fascinated with the exploits of this legendary Olympus chief camera designer, check out this Maitani website where his fans showcased his adventures and his work. Frankly, with such a colourful character, Olympus could do well engineering a marketing campaign revolving around the innovative spirit of the company. Are you listening, Olympus?

Check out Maitani's fan site at today!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Getting bored? Try HDR photography!

Bored with whatever you've been shooting? Perhaps its time to try out HDR photography! In case you haven't already heard, HDR stands for "High Dynamic Range". In simple layman talk, that means that you're capturing details in both the brightest (highlight) areas of the photo, as well as darkest (shadow) area of the photo. The end result can be spectacular like this...

HDR photography works by combining multiple exposures of the same scene into one single image, allowing the software to extract data from the various exposures and combining them into your final photo. To do that effectively, you should shoot the same scene at least three times - once at your normal exposure, once over-expose and once under-exposed.

Normal exposure

Over-exposed (2-stops) 
Under-exposed (2-stops)

HDR software then allows you to combine the sequence of shots automatically to generate the final HDR image. You should probably use a tripod to ensure that all three images are similar for easy matching. The thing about HDR photography is that much of the process is done post-exposure in your computer, but it is not as easy as it seems. There are many adjustments in the software that you can explore, and many of them will process the HDR image differently. You'd need to explore the software thoroughly to be good in HDR photography.

I've posted a link to a video which explains HDR photography and the software adjustments necessary for a good HDR processing. Have fun!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sony launches trio of prime lenses


After wading painfully through Sony's terrible press release (which looks like it was written for amateurs by amateurs), it dawned on me that Sony has launched three prime lenses for its Alpha DSLR system, taking the total to more than 30 lenses in the entire range. The jewel in the trio must be the full-frame Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 24mm F2 SSM, a relatively fast wide-angle prime made by the esteemed German optics manufacturer. Photographers should love the 0.19m minimum focus distance (great for dramatic effects) and a nine-blade circular aperture designed for smooth bokeh (out-of-focus areas). Focus should be fast and quiet, thanks to its built-in SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor).

The Sony 85mm F2.8 SAM represents the first full frame lens in the "Easy Choice" lens range, which are designated to be more affordable. "Easy Choice" is such a tacky and terrible marketing name, but thank goodness it does not appear anywhere on the lens! The full-frame 85mm is a traditional choice for portrait photography, and so the 0.6m minimum focusing distance (which Sony claims is the shortest in its class) should come in useful. At 175 grams, the Sony 85mm F2.8 SAM is extremely compact and light, although f/2.8 seems a tad slow for a portrait lens (compared to Canon and Nikon's offering of 85mm f/1.8 lenses).

The Sony DT 35mm F1.8 SAM is designed as a fast wide-angle lens for APS-C sensor DSLR only. At 170 grams, it's a compact and light addition to the camera bag, and it features the shortest minimum focus distance of just 23 cm, which Sony claims as shortest in its class. All of these lenses can be used on the NEX mirrorless cameras via the LA-EA1 adapter (manual focus mode only).  The 24mm and 85mm lenses will start shipping from late September at retail prices of €1,250 and €250 respectively, followed by the 35mm which will be available from mid-October at a retail price of €200.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Photographers and Apple iPad - perfect partership

With the Apple iPad shipping worldwide, many photographers are scrambling to get their hands so that they can share their portfolio of works with everyone on the gorgeous 10" screen. But there's more to using the iPad as an electronic portfolio, as Jesse Rosten discovered. Did you know that you can shoot and transfer your files wirelessly to the iPad?

All it takes is an Apple iPad (obviously), a DSLR, an Eye-Fi card and an app called ShutterSnitch (US$8). Jesse Rosten shares the exact method on how to set-up your DSLR to transfer your photos wirelessly to your iPad as you shoot. It's great for viewing your photos on a huge screen compared to squinting at a small LCD behind the camera. And it's especially good if you're a commercial photographer who needs to show the client (and art director) as the shoot goes on, without having them stand behind you to check the shots.

The above is a video clip by Jesse Rosten showing how the wireless setup works. For the details on setting up the wireless transmission of images, visit his website at

Review of Leica X1


When I went to Sri Lanka recently, I thought it'd be a good idea to bring along the Leica X1 for a real world review. This compact camera features a full-sized APS-C sensor, delivering extraordinary image quality, for a camera that fits into your pocket! Couple that with the legendary Leica lens and brand name, and you'd expect the images to rock your world. Check out how the Leica X1 performed in Sri Lanka...

Sigma launches new 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens

If you own APS-C DSLR and you're bemoaning the lack of a image-stabilizer on your fast wide-angle zoom, you're not alone - or at least that's what Sigma thinks. For years, manufacturers (with the exception of Canon who has a EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS) have not heeded the pleas of consumers who want image-stabilizer on wide-angle zooms, perhaps on the rationale that users can get away with lower shutter speeds on such focal lengths. However, Sigma chose to listen to the voices of the customers, and they have launched the new Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens!

Off the specs sheet, the new Sigma ultra-wide angle looks brilliant. It covers an ultra-wide focal range, even more than the traditional 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses we're used to, and it throws in an image-stabilizer mechanism to ensure sharp images even in low-light shooting conditions. Other goodies include a compact dimension of just 3.6 inches, minimum focus distance of 11 inches (through the entire zoom range), new FLD optical glass, Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for quiet and high-speed auto focus, and a rounded seven-blade diaphragm for great out-of-focus background.

Interestingly, Sigma has chosen to launch the Canon mount first (at US$980), and subsequently for Nikon, Sigma, Sony and Pentax mounts in the coming weeks. A weird choice given that Canon users already have the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS, and it's the other brands owners which need this unique configuration for their systems. Sigma has once again chosen their battle very carefully by delivering a niche product for the numerous DSLRs owners out there, instead of butting head-on with the camera brands by offering exactly the same focal length and aperture. And this has provided photographers with more options when it comes to camera gear and budgets. Sigma is indeed looking at the world through a different lens!