To wildflower or not wildflower…that is the question

Bluebonnets for a front yard

Bluebonnets for a front yard

And the answer lies on how much rain your part of Texas has received so far this year.

Parents have their toddlers ready, their point and shoot batteries charged, and the blankets washed and ready to plunk down on some prime wild-flower filled Texas landscape.

The 20 million dollar question is will there be any wild flowers there to greet them?

Plan your wildflower trips by using these links/tools:

  • http://www.wildflowerhaven.com/default.aspx
  • http://www.txdot.gov/travel/flora_conditions.htm
  • http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/tx.html
  • http://www.lone-star.net/wildflowers/sightings.htm
  • If you know of any other places where landscape photographers in Texas keep track of the state’s annual gas-guzzling targets, please let me know.

There goes my hero–LensHero

So you have your new Christmas gift camera and it probably only came with a stock lens. Now you are probably wondering things like what kind of lens fits my camera? What size of lens should I use to shoot a child’s soccer game or a loved one’s recital?

Selecting lenses for a Nikon D40, D3000, D5000 or other DX cameras is more complicated than buying a lens for a $5000 Nikon D3x or other cameras. The difference is that in the DX models, Nikon has built the auto-focus motor within the body of the lens instead of putting it in the body of the camera.

Take a look at these two photos (courtesy of DPReview.com) and you can see the drive for the D80’s auto-focusing mechanism at the 7 o’clock position of the camera lens connector. That drive stem is missing from the D40 and it is missing from all of the DX version systems.

A word of caution…because I focus mostly on Nikon systems, I do not know what the equivilent is for the Canon system. So you should check with them about what their lower priced systems use for focusing.

So LensHero has come to the rescue by asking you for information about your camera, what you intend to shoot and then gives you suggestions on the lenses you should consider.

http://lenshero.com/

Check out the site–it covers almost all DSLR cameras. It’s a nice tool for beginners as well as experts. There are other sites that are also helpful but none are as simple as this one.

So you want to give a camera to someone this Christmas?

You need to learn how that person would use a camera. So ask these questions either of yourself or of the person you are buying for:

  • Where do you normally find yourself saying “If I only had a camera?”
  • Can I/they learn how to adjust aperture, focal length, or shutter speed?
  • Would they be better off with a point and shoot or do they need a DSLR?

Once you can get a handle on those items, you can then adjust your purchase and remember…the bigger the opening of the lens, the more light that lens lets it.

So a camera that looks like this:

A photo of the Nikon Coolpix P100 camera

The Nikon Coolpix P100 has a larger aperture which lets more light in

Takes better photos than a camera like this:

A photo of the Nikon Coolpix L22 camera

A Nikon Coolpix with a small aperture (opening)

And don’t let price deter you. Spend the extra $50-150 and get a camera that will show you a lifetime (or at least 2-4 years) worth of excellent photos!

Dealing with the old and the new

First off…PC World magazine has a great article on how to turn those old photographs in the family album into digital treasures. This is a key item in any family’s history—old photos and photo albums. The problem with giving them a digital treatment stems from the inability to know how to properly make safe backups of these files. It is not enough to simply store them on a blank CD/DVD and put them in a drawer or safe. Nope…

The best thing to do with these digitized old photos is to store them online. Looking for a place to put them? I covered that a couple of months back in my digital photo storage primer, http://jchampion.com/?p=352

NewToy
Having said that..it’s time that I introduce my new toy. It’s a mid-range camera to most but it’s a solid performer with a good record in the camera world. It’s a D90:

Nikon D90

My new Nikon D90

Here is one of my first pictures with it:

Bailey the Golden Retriever mix poses for the new D90

Bailey the Golden Retriever mix poses for the new D90

Would Nikon dump its entry level lines?

Word has it that the Nikon 3000 and 5000 series cameras I’m going to check this out because I cannot believe that Nikon is going to abandon the entry level markets and leave the D90 and D7000 as its lower level line. These cameras sell for $800 and up. The D7000 starts at $1000.

That’s now quite an entry level starting point.

Nikon’s new toy

I have to get my hands on one and try it out but I think that the new Nikon 7000 series camera will be for me.

Just last month Nikon released its new entry level camera, the 3100. It featured something new that is being used on the 7000 and that is the use of autofocus when using HD video mode.

Now without going into too much detail, I know from my experience with my Nikon that sometimes autofocus hones in on the wrong thing. Your mileage may vary however and like I said, I need to get my hands on one of these in order to confidently tell you how it works.

Right now I can tell you that the 7000 is going to run you around 1200 but there is a brightside. You may soon start seeing reduced pricing on the D90 and the D5000 models which were the first cameras that Nikon offered which had some type of video recording.

There will be more on this camera as more information and reviews become available.

New Sigma lens for your Nikon

High resolution images of it may be hard to find but fast images with the new Sigma 70-200mm APO EX DG OS HSM for both Nikon and Canon which will make you quite happy.

Sigma 70-200mm f2.8

New lens for your Nikon

The lens uses two FLD panels which will help it give you a clear image, and it also has three SLD glass plates to help prevent abberation.

Now this lens has a large aperture which means that f2.8 will come in handy with your wildlife, wildflower, and even sports photography. While I would not recommend using this to shoot action on say a football or baseball field, it might work well for hockey, basketball, or other indoor sports.

A New Nikon for Newbies

The newest Nikon, the D3100 against a blue background

Nikon's newest newbie-friendly DSLR

My how time flies. It was only 13 months ago that Nikon announced its new flagship camera designed for beginners, the D3000. It is a 10.2 megapixel camera with an APC chip which excels as being a beginner’s camera. The camera has been overshadowed by its predecessor, the D40, the upper-end D5000 and the even higher priced D90.

Now Nikon has introduced to the world the new D3100. So what has changed? Let’s see…according to the folks at DPReview.com, the new DSLR has four additional megapixels topping out at 14.2 megapixels. This addition means larger file sizes. How big are the new files? Well that purely depends on your format. If you shoot in a raw format, it could make your file sizes a couple of megabytes larger however, it still is nowhere near the 77 megabyte file sizes of the Canon Mark III series.

It has live view which means that you can use the LCD monitor as a viewfinder and compose your image like you do as when you use a point and shoot digital camera.

In many ways this new camera seems to mark the new standards for Nikons updated line for 2010-11. You can bet that many of the same improvements that we see in this camera will make their ways up the line for at least the consumer grade DSLR’s. So this means that I expect to see similar jumps in the D5000 line and maybe even the D90 line however I would not expect to see this in their pro-sumer catagory which, to me anyway, starts with the Nikon D300s which already has most of these upgrades in this $1500 model.

The best part of this camera is that it can shoot videos at 1080p using any of the existing range of Nikon lenses. (You can see the details of those lenses at Nikon.com or at DPReview.com or any other review site). It also has a wonderful new HDMI output so you can plug that camera into your plasma, LED/LCD, or other high definition telelvisions and view your work before editting it or burning it to DVD.

The camera has more than 2 megapixels in quality

Don’t lose your images to a lossy .jpg

Comparison of the original image with the lossy jpg version of the same photo

Comparison of the original image with the lossy jpg version of the same photo-Courtesy of Rick Miller/Wake Forest University

Before we being, I apologize for my absence. I’ve switched jobs, switched lives basically and am just now getting settled into some kind of routine. Thanks for sticking with me during the past month of silence.

Okay…so if you’re like me you shoot in raw or maybe jpg and then rush over to your PC to download your shots and view them in some tool like Lightroom, Picasa, Microsoft Paint, whatever…

There is a reason why you should not save those precious images in a .jpg format for long term.

Everytime you open a .jpg type image you decompress the image and when you close it, you recompress it. It’s in this recompression that you wind up losing data. To understand why this happens you have to understand how compression works.

Compression works by using an algorithm to compute where changes in your file can be safely made to substitute one character for several. Now for you techies…this is a major simplification of the process. There is actually a lot that happens but suffice it to say that the original file that you started out with is stored in a compressed format. JPG uses this to reduce the size of the file and there are two formats…lossless and lossy.

If you are using lossy, you are also using a format that loses data. So everytime you open a file in Picasa, Photoshop, John’s photo viewer, etc…you are losing data. So over time, that image of your loved one, pet, flower, or something else over time, and multiple openings and closings, will start showing noticeable signs of deterioration in the digital version.

So what’s the solution? Save images in a lossless .jpg format or save them in an entirely different format like tiff, or maybe even .bmp (yes…a bitmap). Another option is to save original in their raw format that your camera shots them in, and use a lossless .jjpg for sharing and use a tiff/bmp on those images that you want to save for a very long time.

If your images are already in a lossy .jpg format. save them in a different format like tiff now. If you are just now importing images from your camera in a nice raw file mode, leave them in that mode and work with/use .jpg copies for short periods of time. Of course you can always make digital copies of your jpgs and share them.

How do you photograph falling snow?

Snow in downtown San Antonio

Snow in downtown San Antonio

So this week I learned a new lesson on how NOT to shoot photographs of falling snow. I took one shot and realized that I needed to crank up the speed of my D40. So I cranked up the ISO instead and still had no luck. So what I have discovered is that I was on the right path but you should try using flash and shooting against a dark background as much as possible. In the end it is smarter to crank your shutter speed as fast that it will go. Then, in Photoshop, GIMP, Lightroom, or Appature open the image and crank up the contrast. I tried those thing and prepped this image in Lightroom and you be the judge. Drop me a line if you have better ideas on how to get the snow to look less like heavy rain.