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Topics - drmikeinpdx

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Theater, Concert and Event / My First Concert Shoot
« on: February 22, 2015, 12:28:28 PM »
I mostly shoot glamour/nude/naughty genres.  When I shoot in my studio under controlled conditions, the percentage of properly exposed and focused photos is very close to 100%.  Depending on the model or client I'm working with, the percentage of photos I send to them can vary from roughly 10% to roughly 70%.

Last week I tried something new.  A friend in the local live music community got me a stage pass to a blues benefit concert in Portland, Oregon at the Crystal Ballroom.   My last event photography was as a high school yearbook photographer, back in the last century, so I was looking forward to the challenge and seeing how my fancy 21st century camera gear would handle the job.

Photographing this concert was quite a challenge, even with modern equipment.  My keeper rate was 20 out of 700.  I didn't have much problem with exposure.  I just used my 5D3 on manual and did not try to adjust for the quick changes in lighting.  Nearly all of my shots had acceptable exposure.  Mostly at ISO 6400.   Lightroom easily handled the noise reduction job on the RAW images.

Most images were rejected because the performers had a microphone or some other object covering part of their face!  How rude!  LOL

I did have a big problem getting sharp images.  I'm still evaluating the reasons, but here are some that I believe are factors.

1.  Some of my lenses had a problem locking focus on the performer's faces.   I only brought three lenses, the 35mm 2.0 IS, the 50mm 1.2L and the 85mm 1.8, since I knew I would be able stand at the edge of the stage.   The 35mm had the worst focus reliability.   I suspect this is due to the focus sensor covering a larger area and picking up other high contrast objects like microphone stands.   

2.  I almost always shot wide open.   However, I could tell via my LCD screen that I was having sharpness problems and did try a few shots at smaller apertures and higher ISO.  That did not seem to help.

3.  I did not try use any kind of camera support, although I saw another photog with a monopod, so perhaps I could have used one.   One funny thing about the Crystal Ballroom is that the ancient wood floor is mounted on springs to enhance the dancing experience for the folks who used the place 100 years ago.  I could definitely feel feel the up and down motion!  So I guess maybe a monopod would not have helped.  :)

Anyway, here is one of the keepers with the 35mm F2 wide open.  I applied a lot of sharpening in Lightroom, which is not something I'm used to doing.

Here is the link to the gallery if you wish to see the other 19 keepers.

Lenses / Have you negotiated your own "street price?"
« on: February 06, 2015, 09:48:02 PM »
I love the "street price" listed on Canon Price Watch.   But what if the lens you want is not included in the street price program?  Is it worth trying to negotiate a better deal with B&H or Adorama?  If you have done this, what worked for you?  Did you contact them by email or phone?  Did you offer a lower price first or ask for their best "street price?"

Lenses / Focus asymmetry - Canon 50mm 1.2 L
« on: December 28, 2014, 03:21:58 PM »
A few weeks ago I picked up a Canon 50mm 1.2 L from another local photographer at a decent price, $1050.  The lens appears to be in good condition and I'm using it on my 5D3.

I intend to use this lens for portraiture at about 4-6 feet, with the aperture wide open.  Since this will require very accurate focus, I conducted some of my usual autofocus tests in that distance range using the various autofocus points in the viewfinder of the 5D3.  All tests were done wide open, so focus shift with aperture changes would not be an issue.

The center focus point works great with no AFMA needed.  Accuracy is within one inch at 5 feet and very repeatable!

Unfortunately, the peripheral focus points tend to front focus.  The farthest point to the right will front focus by about 4-5 inches. The top one, about 3-4 inches.  The left and bottom points front focus by about two inches.  I use that farthest right point a lot since I hold the camera vertically and place that point on the subject's eye.  You only have about a two inch depth of field at 5 feet, at F/1.2.

As a control, I ran the same tests with my Canon 85mm 1.8 and all points were within one inch.  (Love that lens.)

I will probably send the L lens in to Canon for calibration.  I'm planning to call on Monday and ask if I should also send the body with it.

Anyone run into this before or have an idea what the problem is?  Anything I can do to help Canon diagnose and correct the problem?


I've been really curious about the Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM, aka: the 50 Art lens.  I've read a lot of reports about autofocus problems, but wanted to check it out for myself.

I rented a copy of the Sigma 50 Art from  Before I ordered, I emailed their customer service to ask if they used the USB dock to do any kind of calibration with the lens.  They replied that they take every 50 Art that comes back into the shop, put in on the USB dock and reset it to the default values.  That sounded good to me, as I planned to use the microfocus adjust feature on my 5D3 to make any needed changes.  I was planning to do an outdoor photoshoot where my models would always be roughly ten feet from the camera, so I did not feel like I'd need the USB dock to adjust the focus for different distances.

Upon receiving the lens, I did my usual autofocus calibration.  This time only at ten feet.  Using the center focus point, the Art lens was pretty consistent on my 5D3.   I settled on +3 MFA value and was pretty pleased with the stable focus from shot to shot.

Then I tried using other focus points.  I found that as you move away from the center point, the lens will front focus more and more.  Using the outermost horizontal points, the front focus was about two feet or a 20% error.  The next pair in toward the center front focused about one foot or 10%. Using the top and bottom points, the front focus error was about 1 foot or 10%.

When the lens was in focus, it was very sharp, so I went ahead and did the planned outdoor photoshoot.  I used mostly the center point, but occasionally moved the focus two spots left or right.   Used within this restriction, I was very happy with the sharpness, bokeh and autofocus accuracy.

I did a few shots with my old Sigma 50 Classic, which was autofocusing pretty well that day, since I fed it a shot of cheap gin before leaving the house and said some magic words over it.   The Art lens was definitely sharper, but not stunningly better.    They both created very nice bokeh of the distant trees when used wide open.

Here is a shot with the Art lens at F/2.0:

Here's a shot with the Sigma 50 Classic at F/1.4:

These are just fun shots to give you an idea of what kind of photoshoot I was doing, they don't really prove anything.

One thing I learned on this shoot was that the DOF at 1.4 is even more shallow than I thought.  Shooting two models standing side by side you have to make sure they are both exactly the same distance from the camera.  Unfortunately couples naturally want to move around.  I had a lot of shots where one model was in perfect focus and the other was slightly out of focus.  I was kind of expecting that and shifted focus back and forth between the two models, so I got plenty of usable photos.

In the future, if I'm not going for the absolute maximum bokeh, I plan to use my Sigma 50 Classic primarily at F/2 on these kinds of photoshoots.

One more item...  Before sending back the Art lens, I attached it to my old 7D backup body and ran it through my usual autofocus test.  It was difficult to come up with a precise AFMA number because the focus was not very consistent.  I settled on +12.  I tried the outer focus points to see if the 7D showed the same error pattern as the 5D3.  It did not, but the general accuracy and repeatability was poor enough that I would not venture a guess as to what the real pattern is.  Basically, I would not want to use the Art lens on my 7D unless I stopped it down to about F/4 or so.  As a control, I put my 40 pancake lens on the 7D.  It focused better than the Art lens, but still not as well as I wished.   I don't know about your 7D, but mine has never had a very accurate AF system, which is one reason I rarely use it now that I have a 5D3.

As a result of my experience, I have decided not to buy a new 50mm lens.  I will keep using my Sigma 50 Classic and wait and see if Canon comes out with a new 50mm lens in the 1.8 to 2.0 range.   If it is sharp wide open, it would be the perfect lens for me.

Update:  I turned this photoshoot into a blog post that includes some additional photos taken with the 50 Art lens.  Some are mildly naughty, so consider yourself warned.  :)

Check it out here:

EOS Bodies / Canon profit report
« on: October 14, 2014, 04:55:12 PM »

October 15, 2014 1:57 am JST

Canon likely saw 7% profit boost in January-SeptemberTOKYO -- Canon's operating profit apparently climbed 7% on the year to just over 260 billion yen ($2.41 billion) for the nine months through September thanks to strong office equipment sales and a weak yen.

     But sluggish camera sales blunted the Japanese company's profits, which had shot up 26% in the January-June half.

     Total sales for the January-September period likely stayed flat from the 2.69 trillion yen booked a year earlier.

     Both sales and profit appear to have grown at its mainstay office equipment unit. The recovery in the business environment has pushed up demand for photocopiers, laser printers and other office equipment around the world. The soft yen has further boosted profits. Yet sales of high-margin consumable items, such as toner, stalled.

     Meanwhile, profits in its imaging systems segment likely dipped from falling digital camera sales. The company sold about 30% fewer compact cameras due to competition from smartphones with better-quality cameras. Weak personal spending in Europe and repercussions from Japan's sales tax hike also contributed to a double-digit drop for interchangeable-lens products, such as SLRs.

     The company is focusing more on higher-end items, which have a wider profit margin, and has slashed production costs, but was unable to completely make up for the slow sales.

     Canon plans to release January-September results on Oct. 27. It is expected to retain its guidance for the year ending in December of an 8% operating profit gain to 365 billion yen.

Third Party Manufacturers / What happens to all those returned Sigma lenses?
« on: September 24, 2014, 07:29:07 PM »
I'm considering a Sigma Art lens and doing a lot of online research.  One thing that shows up a lot are reports of photographers sending back a lens to exchange for another that will hopefully focus better.  Sometimes there are three or four exchanges before they either give up or get a lens they are happy with.

You guys know that already, but what I'd like to know is what happens to all those returned lenses?  Does Sigma have a place where they sell refurbished lenses?  Do they destroy them as a tax write-off?   Disassemble them and re-use the parts to make new lenses?

Just curious!

Now that the new Sigma 50 Art lens is out, the old DG HSM version has been feeling neglected.  So I'm declaring it to be a cult lens!

It may not be as sharp as the Art lens, but there's just something magical about it's rendering, you know?

I will try to find and post some more images that aren't too naughty.  Feel free to post your own if you have this lens and join the new cult. :)

EOS Bodies / DP Review's 10 most popular camera list
« on: April 09, 2014, 12:36:37 PM »
I sometimes glance at DP Review's list of the ten most popular cameras.  I believe this refers to how many visitors are looking at the reviews, not how many are sold.

The number of Canon cameras on this list has been declining for the last year or so.  Today I looked and there isn't a single Canon on the list.

Most popular cameras according to DP Review pageviews:

Pentax K-3 7.8%
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 7.4%
Nikon D610 6.0%
Olympus OM-D E-M10 5.7%
Sony Alpha 7R 5.4%
Fujifilm X-T1 3.3%
Sony Alpha a6000 3.2%
Fujifilm X-E2 3.1%
Nikon D5300 3.0%
Samsung NX mini 2.6%

Even if you just look at DSLRs, there still isn't a Canon on the list.

I may have to tear up my Canon fanboy card if this situation continues much longer!

I want to be able to copy some JPG images onto my Compact Flash card, put it into my camera, and scroll through the images on the LCD screen, like I do with images I just shot.  It seems like a simple thing, but it's not happening.

Here's what I've been doing:

I put the CF card in the card reader and use Windows Explorer to transfer some JPG files from my hard drive to the active folder on the CF card.  In this case, the folder is named 100EOS7D.  When I try to view the JPGs on the camera screen, they aren't there.

Just for fun I tried this with a Canon RAW file and I was able to view it on the screen.  Tried again with a DNG image file and no luck.

Any ideas on how I can make this work?

Both my 5D3 and my 7D do the same thing.  It seems odd, since you can save your images as JPGs and view them easily, but when you copy in a JPG from your computer, it is not recognized by the camera.

Thanks in advance!

I thought my friends here at CR might enjoy reading about my recent Photoshoot with 40 pancake, 50 Sigma and a brolly box. 

I took the time to include the lens and ISO data for each shot.  Hope you find that interesting!  As usual, I am using my beloved 5D3, the camera that makes every lens look good.  (According to me, anyway!)

Oh, I also used my favorite lens, the Canon 85mm f/1.8.  You may notice that when photographing people, I tend to use my prime lenses between f/2 and f/2.8, that seems to be the sweet spot for me.

I am becoming quite a fan of what our Brit friends call a Brolly Box.  Basically it means an umbrella with translucent white fabric over the open side with a small hole for the light source.  In my case an Alien Bee 400 is located in the hole.  This makes a really nice soft box that is very compact to transport and very easy to set up.  It is so efficient that I sometimes end up using ISO 50 in order to use a large aperture with my prime lenses.  (Light source: Alien Bees 400)

Perhaps the best thing is that they can be made very cheaply, so if yours gets damaged (hasn't happened to mine yet), you just reach for a fresh one.  I bought mine at the link below.  They are so cheap they are sold in pairs to make a worthwhile sale.

So if you would like to read my blog post, just go here:

Fair warning... after the first few photos it is rated NSFW.   

Third Party Manufacturers / In praise of the Tamron 28-75, F/2.8
« on: November 23, 2013, 12:30:18 AM »
I've said good things about the Tamron 28-75 before, since it was the only lens that would really focus well on my persnickety old 5D Classic.

I've had my 5D3 for about a year.  About six months ago I figured the 5D3 deserved an L zoom so I picked up a 24-105, F/4.  It's a great lens, very sharp, with fast autofocus and effective IS.  My old Tamron sat on the shelf.

Recently I was doing a long studio shoot and started to feel the size and weight of the 24-105.  For the next shoot I decided to try the much smaller and lighter Tamron.  I was surprised to see how well it worked.

The autofocus isn't quite as fast as the 24-105 and it does make a little bit of noise, but not enough to be noticeable in the middle of a photoshoot.  The important thing as that the images are very sharp.  Of course, I'm shooting with strobes that prevent motion blur and I'm using enough light to permit apertures around F 5.6, so even a cheap lens will create sharp photos.  Under these conditions, at least for me, an L lens is overkill.

Since the Tamron is considerably smaller and lighter than the Canon, I am a happier photographer during a studio shoot.  I will still use the stabilized 24-105 for outdoor shoots, but in the studio, I'm back to the old Tamron, which, by the way, I picked up on Craigslist for $260 about three years ago.

This photo was at F/3.5, 53mm, ISO 100 (Alien Bees with umbrellas). I wanted to see if the Tamron would substitute for my 50mm Sigma in shallow DOF portrait situations.  I think I actually dialed back the sharpening in Lightroom.

Site Information / Avatar size?
« on: October 27, 2013, 11:04:23 AM »
It looks like I can now upload an avatar if I wish.  Does anyone know the maximum size (in pixels) that can be displayed?

Landscape / Columbia River Gorge
« on: October 25, 2013, 12:53:59 AM »
I think the Columbia River Gorge deserves a thread of its own.  Here's a shot I took today featuring my trusty steed at Chamberlain Lake Safety Rest Area on the Washington side of the Gorge.  (On State Hwy 14)

If you happen to need a restroom break while touring The Gorge, I highly recommend this spot.

Third Party Manufacturers / Sigma Service :)
« on: July 18, 2013, 09:34:46 PM »
Like a lot of photographers who use 50mm F/1.4 primes, I often wonder if it could be a little sharper wide open or focus a little more accurately.  While I was getting to know my new 24-105 L zoom last month, I decided to send my Sigma 50/1.4 in to Sigma for a little TLC under warranty.  I've had it for about two years.

On the repair request, I said that it was not as sharp as I wanted wide open and it did not focus as accurately as my Canon lenses.  I figured that would challenge them a little.

I got the lens back exactly two weeks after I sent it, which means they had it in the shop about 3 working days, by my estimate.  Pretty impressive.

The service invoice says they "adjusted af data"

If there is any improvement in performance, my methods are not adequate to detect it, but I do feel better knowing that the lens is properly calibrated. It's a confidence thing, you know.

This is still one of my favorite lenses, along with the Canon 85mm F/1.8.

I'm going to be doing some nighttime urban shots without a tripod using available light from streetlights and nightclubs.  I'm expecting to make use of the high ISO abilities of my 5D Mark 3.  A grainy, black and white motif is the plan.

I am wondering about which lenses to take along on this shoot, and here is my question:

How much does the maximum aperture of a lens affect autofocus performance in low light conditions?  I can select from lenses with max apertures ranging from F/1.4 to F/4.   Will the Mark 3 be able to focus better in marginal light with the larger aperture lenses?  Or does it depend more on the mysterious magic of the autofocus system in each particular lens and how it talks to the corresponding microprocessor in the body?

I've seen some discussion of the 6D being able to focus down to EV-1, or something like that, but nobody ever says if that varies with the lens that is attached to the camera.  It seems to me like it should.  Hopefully one of our resident experts can bring this issue into sharp focus!  LOL

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