Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's Playing

I downloaded a cool little app for the mac called "Now Playing" that allows you to publish what's playing on your iTunes as an image on a web server... here's what's playing in this part of the woods:

Cool, eh?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Canon 20D or 1D Mark II?

Long Eared Owl

ne question that I frequently am asked via email is "you have owned both the Canon 20D and 1D Mark II, which will be better for my needs?...." This is really a question that can only be answered in light of a particular user's needs and budget. Neither camera is "better" than the other, but they do have some key differences. In the hopes that it may help some of you pondering such a purchase, I decided to write a few notes on my experiences with both of these cameras.

To start, let me say that I have owned the majority of Canon's DSLR's ... from the D30,D60,10D,1D,1D Mark II, and now the 20D. The main question now comes down to "is the $1500 20D suffecient to meet my needs or can I justify spending $4500 for the Mark II?" I owned the Mark II and for me the answer to this question was "yes" so I decided to sell the Mark II and purchase the 20D. This was based on a number of factors. The first is that camera bodies lose value at an amazing rate. I purchased the original 1D for $5000 and sold it for $2900 after two years. While this is perfectly acceptable for some people, the amount of funds I have available for camera gear is very limited (I'm a medical student) and I just didn't like that kind of depreciation. Therefore, I decided to take the money from the Mark II and invest it (not truly an investment per se) in upgrading my 500mm lens to the 600mm lens, which is much more likely to hold its value (especially given that I purchased it used). The rest of the proceeds I used to purchase the 20D and a Canon 100-400IS lens (I made the mistake of selling my first copy of this lens a year ago and have regretted it since). For me this was a much more comfortable allocation of money and (I think) allowed me to best use my photography dollars.

Regarding the image quality... I feel that both cameras produce equally spectacular images. Personally, I would even give a slight edge to the 20D due to the weaker antialiasing filter (sharper images straight out of the camera) and lower noise. The low level of noise that both of these cameras produce is really astounding.

The other advantages of the 20D is its small size and ability to us the new EF-S lenses. The former is nice for around the town or family shooting, as the 1 series cameras are significantly heavier and larger. This doesn't really factor in much for me, but my wife hated handling the larger camera. The new EF-S series of lenses are designed for the smaller sensor of the 20D (and also the Digital Rebel) by actually protruding a bit into the lens mount hole. With focal lengths as small as 10mm they allow owners of these cameras to have a useful wide angle despite the 1.6x multiplier of the 20D. Speaking of that, I feel that the larger multiplier (versus the 1.3x on the Mark II) is an advantage for those that mainly utilize telephotos (e.g. bird photographers such as myself), but may be a drawback for landscape photographers.

hat being said, you do lose a few key features by going from the Mark II to the 20D. First and foremost is the AF. The 20D has a 9 point AF that is best described as adequate. It is fine for slow moving animals or objects, but really is not that good for high speed action (e.g. birds in flight). The AF was touted as an improvement on the 10D, but frankly I just do not see it. The Mark II, on the other hand, has a 45 point AF that is outstanding. If you need the best AF, this choice is a no brainer. For me, the performance did not justify the cost, but it may for you. In addition to AF speed, the Mark II is also much faster in terms on frames per second. I haven't found the 20D to be limiting in this regard. Unfortunately, the 20D AF will not work with a lens with a maximum aperture of f8, while the 1D Mark II will AF at f5.6. What these means for me is that an f4 lens, like the 600mm, will AF with the 2x teleconverter on the Mark II, but not with the 20D. I do miss that feature. Lastly, the Mark II has excellent weather sealing (when coupled with the appropriate can lens), which may be a factor in the decision.

So there you have it. This was not intended to be an exhaustive comparison and there are feature differences that I have not mentioned, as other sites out there can cover that information. Hopefully this will shed a little light on why I switched and help some of you considering purchasing one of these bodies. If you have questions, please leave a comment!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Photography Frustration

I'm sure that most photographers have been in a slump from time to time. Unfortunately, I am in a prolonged one. As you may know, I am a bird photographer. As much as I try to shoot other things, I never enjoy it as much as I do photographing avian subjects. Therein lies my problem... there aren't any good subjects in Connecticut! In years past I've been motivated enough to trek 4 hours before dawn to make it to the southern New Jersey coast to photograph ducks in subzero temperatures. I've driven to Long Island at 4am to look for owls. Why can't I get the energy to do this anymore? If you know the answer, please email me!

I've been in this slump for about a year or so now. The precipitating factor was clearly my obligations as a medical student. Last year was my third year of medical school, which happens to be the very difficult time during which medical students are first exposed to clinical medicine in the hospital. It is also the time in which we figure out which specialty we will choose. This was a busy time for me and somehow, someway, my photography seems to have become less of a priority. Why? I don't know.

The only time in the last 1.5 years that I have been productive photographically is on my trips to Florida. I love Florida. Living in Connecticut is like being a painter with no paint. In Florida, the subjects are so diverse and plentiful that making great images isn't limited by the availability of subject matter (i.e. the paint is plentiful). Ironically, I recently found out that I will be moving to Florida (Miami specifically) to learn how to be an ear, nose, and throat surgeon. Although I will have limited time due to work obligations, the time that I do have will be much more rewarding and productive and hopefully will pull me out of this slump!

If you've had similar experiences, I'd love to hear about them with comments or email!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Basic Digital Photography, Part 1: Introduction

So you have a shiny, new digital camera. It seems that everyone these days either has a digital camera or is in the market for one. This doesn't come as a surprise, as digital cameras offer a myriad of benefits over their film counterparts, including instant feedback, home printing, and the ability to share images over the internet or email with friends, family, or coworkers. The problem is that using a digital camera can be intimidating... not the actual camera itself, but the process of dealing with the images after you press the shutter. Compounding this problem is the tendency of seasoned digital photographers to make these techniques over complex and mysterious. Luckily, this process is not rocket science or brain surgery and is easily learned by anyone that knows the difference between a mouse and a keyboard. That's where I come in...

This is the first part in a several part series dedicated to making a simple process simple.... how to use your digital camera to its fullest. Do you want to organize your photos on your computer so that you can actually find that picture of Grandma's birthday party? Do you want to print images for your refrigerator? Do you want to email your photos? Do you want to safeguard your growing image collection so that a virus doesn't wipe them out? Then read on.

We'll start with the basics and move on to more complex topics, always keeping it straightforward and accessible. No jargon and no useless detail. Hang on for the ride!

Harbor Seals of La Jolla

Harbor Seal La Jolla, CA

Speaking of RAW processing, I thought I'd post a recent image. Ok, well not that recent. I photographed this Harbor Seal in La Jolla, CA three months ago. The population of seals there has become the focus of some pretty intense controversy into which I inadvertently stepped while making this image. The seals inhabit a small man made cove known as "Children's Pool." Some folks in the town are attempting to pass legislation to dredge the beach and cove, thus destroying the seals' habitat in order to make a place for people to swim. Of course there is an equally passionate group of environmental folks fighting it. It turns out that there is a small group of nuts that have actually been coming into the cove and attacking the seals... some were actually stabbed!

When I was in La Jolla, I visited this cove to photograph the seals. On the beach, I became so engrossed in shooting the seals playing in the water (at least 6 of them) that I failed to notice that I was the only person on the beach and that there were about 200 people on the seawall behind me watching the seals. "Hmmm " I thought, " I wonder why I'm the only one down here?" Not too soon afterward, I found out when I heard a loud voice cry "HEY YOU! PHOTOGRAPHER GUY! GET OFF THE BEACH AND THE SEALS WILL COME OUT OF THE WATER!" I turned to see a not too happy lady coming towards me. I retreated, accompanied by the applause of the growing crowd and my own embarrasment. It turns out the lady was with one of the local environmental group working to protect the seals. I apologized and we made our peace, but my embarrassment remained. I had the chance to talk to the people there about the controversy surrounding the seals and photograph them coming out onto the beach, as can be seen above.

If you'd like to read more about the controversy, here's an editorial presenting one side of the argument:

Canon RAW Workflow

One item of confusion for those in the intermediate to advanced arena of digital photography is the processing of RAW files. What
is a RAW file? Well check out my article on just that very topic and you'll see!

Canon RAW Workflow

So You Have a Digital Camera

Now what are you going to do? With the increasing prevelance of digital cameras these days, this seems to be a common question people are asking themselves. Not suprisingly, many people find their excitement for their new digital camera tempered by the confusion that often come with figuring out how to deal with the images it creates! That's where I come in... the goal of this blog is simple: to help you get the most out of your digital camera. I'll be writing for both beginners and those more advanced.... from those that barely can turn on their camera to those that make a living with the images that they create.

What the heck do I know about digital photography? A good bit actually. I've been shooting with digital cameras since the early days and have owned just about every camera that has been on the market over the course of the last several years. My primary interest is in nature photography, specifically in bird photography. You can see more of my work at

So hang on and let's make the best of that investment you made...