Sep 092013
 
Buildings In SF

CTS & RSI, What’s That?

CTS and RSI, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Repetitive Stress Injuries, for those who don’t know, is endemic in the IT industry. Long hours on the keyboard and mouse combined with bad posture and/or bad desk/chair/monitor/keyboard/mouse setups greatly compound the problem. Dealing with CTS/RSI requires those who have it to basically not do anything that aggravates or contributes to the condition. For the IT field, that means changing up the work environment and reducing typing and using the mouse. It also means not being able to put much weight in the affected hands/arms, as that too would contribute to the problem.

In short, CTS/RSI are a serious pain in the neck… both figuratively and literally.

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Aug 282013
 
Flower Hat Jelly
 Flower Hat Jelly - Olindias Formosa - Medusa Sombrero Floreado

Flower Hat Jelly – Olindias Formosa – Medusa Sombrero Floreado

I’ve got to say, I’m admire the beauty of the Undersea Jelly exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They’ve completed a very extensive renovation a while back and it’s only been on a recent trip that I’ve had the time to take some photographs of their amazing jellyfish. Above, the Flower Hat Jelly is amazingly colorful, especially under the special lights of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s displays.

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May 182013
 
Photography of Ben & Jerry, local guitarists, performing at Filoli Gardens
Photography of Ben & Jerry, local guitarists, performing at Filoli Gardens

Photography of Ben & Jerry, local guitarists, performing at Filoli Gardens

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live performance by Benett Zussman and Jerry Snyder. They are both performing artists, instructors, and an absolute pleasure to watch and listen to them play.

The Guitar Story

Ben & Jerry have a regular performance entitled, “The Guitar Story”, in which they will be performing a series of pieces from different time periods in history leading up to the current day.

They have two performances coming up in June 2013. So if you enjoy the guitar played well, their performance would be worth attending.

The Guitar Story : http://sbgs.org/ai1ec_event/the-guitar-story/

Sep 182012
 

A Small Case of Mistaken Identity

Occasionally, I get interesting little tidbits of entertainment from certain facets of real life. Case in point, people with similar names to me. Apparently, my name is fairly common. As such, there are in excess of 600 “Wing Wong”(s) in just the bay area alone. So it was inevitable that I would eventually encounter a collision at some point.

Yesterday, I got an email from a photographer I had contacted a while back. He asked in passing whether or not I was the “Wing Wong” who was recently featured in RangeFinder magazine. I just HAD to check it out. If you’re curious, facebook profile.

Apparently, he’s based out of San Francisco and is a working photographer and designer. Very very cool. No blood relation though.

What To Do When Inspiration Strikes

While it was an interesting case of serendipity, I didn’t think much of it. A couple of Facebook posts, and some inspirational ideas on the commute home. Slept on it. This morning, on the train ride in, I thought to myself, “why not?”.

So, I went and checked out the RangeFinder online site and found that they had a contest going on, which was about to close shortly. I took a couple of minutes to download the original of my “Crystal Forest” shot and uploaded a resized version, after paying my $35 image fee.

For those interested and who’d like to support me with a People’s Choice vote, here is my submission:

Aug 262012
 

Crowdsourcing Money Is Awesome!

All one has to do is look at awesome Kickstarter projects, like TheOatmeal’s Tesla Museum to realize how great the process and community is.

In fact, I just recently received the extremely awesome, Gwendolyn and the Underworld, by Bill Robinson! I’m looking forward to another book that I’ve backed on Kickstarter, along with some retro game remakes.

I’ve also gotten a very well made 360 pano adapter for an iphone, as well as great support software.

However, all is not well.

Crowdsourcing Projects Can Suck!

So, I also backed this document the last shuttle flight project. The reward was to have been a CD/DVD of the footage. It’s been like 2 years and the project organizers have stopped responding to emails and communications. In this case, I’m basically screwed. I’m out my money, and I’m SOL on getting the reward I was promised. And since the dollar amount was fairly low, it isn’t worthwhile to go after them.

Most everyone else got their reward, so in my case, I just got the short end of the stick. Though you can bet had the value been higher, this would have been pursued. Short of a class action, though, it would be very tempting for some crooks to rip people off through these crowdsourcing funding projects.

Summary: Buyer Beware!

Long and short of it, crowd sourced funding is definitely buyer beware. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of funding an underdog or a potential dark horse, that you fail to see that it could just be too good to be true. :( The massive funding campaigns for the game stations and such… I fear might wind up going down that dark road. Only time will tell.

Mar 202012
 
Sea Nettle

Sea Nettle - Monterey Bay Aquarium

So… Just How Bad Is The Noise?

Recently, I got to spend some time shooting in low light conditions with the Sony Alpha A77 at ISO 1600+.

So, when I got the images home and started looking at the previews… I felt an overwhelming urge to throw my camera through the window. Seriously, it was pretty disheartening. The low light performance of the camera isn’t all that great. There is a good deal of noise and after noise reduction, I feel like 24MP was in name only. Let’s just say… I was wondering if it wasn’t too late to swap out for the D800… but then again, aside from the high iso performance issue… I love the A77, so giving it a day to sit, I gave processing the images a second try.

The first thing to remember is that the A77 is NOT the A700. I know I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but it bears repeating. The images have more luminance noise. Using LR defaults will give you some really bad looking previews.

Red Moray Eel - Monterey Bay Aquarium

Red Moray Eel - Monterey Bay Aquarium ( Sony A77 / ISO 3200 )

The above image was shot at ISO 3200. Given enough light, the shots come out clean. However, when you have more challenging scenes, the amount of noise and somewhat heavy handed noise reduction can obliterate detail, resulting in the “painterly” effect.

Beautiful Images

Hammer Head Shark - Monterey Bay Aquarium

Hammer Head Shark - Monterey Bay Aquarium ( Sony A77 / ISO 3200 )

The photograph of the Hammerhead shark above was shot handheld at ISO 3200 from the big two story tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s pretty dark, shooting hand held with the 70-200/2.8 was a bit of a challenge. However, it was significantly easier with the A77 than it was with the A700, thanks to the EVF and articulated LCD. It was thankfully, literally painless.

At the end of the day, you choose the right tool for the job. For low light, high iso, settings, I’m not convince that the A77 is the best camera for the job. I’m looking forward to the A99, which may potentially bring better high ISO performance. But I’m also keeping an eye on the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D MK-III, both of which boasts better high iso performance, albeit at a much steeper price and without the ergonomic benefits of the A77′s articulated LCD display.

After processing some of the images from the aquarium, I went back and compared the images from the A77 and those from the A700. The difference is evident: there is more detail in the A77 shots vs the A700 shots. Yes, there is more noise, due to the number of pixels for the same area. However, there is definitely more information there and it shows.

Is it the best it can be? No. There is enough detail robbing noise that the output will annoy more than a few photographers. For me, however, while annoying, the benefits of the A77 overall outweighs the weaknesses of the camera’s high ISO low-light performance.

Jan 162012
 

So, I’ve been the proud and fortunate owner of the Sony Alpha A77 for a few months now. Like many, one of my primary concerns with the camera was the EVF, or electronic view finder. Like so many, I was concerned about image quality, response speed, accuracy of colors and exposure, etc. etc. The list of fears went on and on.

8mm Shot of Brisbane Marina

8mm Shot of Brisbane Marina

My Vote: EVF preferred over OVF

My impressions of the EVF thus far is that it is superior to the A700 optical viewfinder, which already, was brighter and larger than most APS-C DSLR optical viewfinders, bested by the A900′s full frame optical viewfinder. When I say superior, I am referring to the following:

Accuracy of composition

  • With an EVF, you get 100% of the framed shot. With the A700, as great as it was, you would always end up with a mysterious border of a few pixels. Not enough to spoil most compositions, but leaves the door open to distracting elements getting in the shot, which you had thought were composed out.

Accuracy of exposure

  • The EVF does what the OVF can’t: give you a prediction of how your exposed shot will look. At 1/800th of a second, at 8 seconds, or at 18 seconds… darkness comes to life with an EVF. It isn’t perfect, no. But then again, neither is the OVF.

What most people complain about, however, are the following:

Refresh rate of the EVF

  • Yes, while the refresh rate is amazing, it isn’t so fast that you don’t notice pan lag or other factors. Physics is on OVF’s side here.

Blackout during shooting

  • True. Shoot sequential at slower speeds, and you will see screen blackout. If you do image review, you will get blackout and a flicker of the last image you shot. I turn off image review and shoot at 5fps, since 3fps will result in extended blackouts. However, blackouts were present with OVF(s), so this is really more an exchange than a new issue.

Noisey/Grainy/Color casts

  • You have simply replaced a view that was too dark to see anything in with one that is grainy and color casted because of gain amplification. I consider this to be an exchange of faults as well.

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Jan 112012
 
8mm Ultra Wide Angle Shot of Office Building in Brisbane, California

8mm Ultra Wide Angle Shot of Office Building in Brisbane, California

I recently acquired the Rokinon 8mm manual focus lens with a Sony Alpha mount. I’ve been shooting with this lens as often as I can.

I love the way the lens renders an amazing amount of detail in focus, whether the subject matter be near or far. I love the curvature that the lens lends to any straight edge, almost as if on some spring.

 

Cresting View

Cresting View

Valley View

Valley View

The way the world seems to converge or diverge based on the angle of the lens in relation to the horizon is just so much fun to play with!

 

Aug 312011
 

Will update this post more, but here is an epic example of why flash photography at an aquarium is a bad idea:

Photo ruined by someone’s popup flash.
As you can see, I was unlucky enough to have taken my shot at the same time as someone firing off their popup flash. Yes, I can really see the value add of using your pop up flash in an aquarium… against a large 2 story window. That glare really adds to the look and feel.
Seriously, why do people do this? I can’t imagine people are thinking this is a “great” image of what they saw?
Contrast the above shot with one I took, which was not ruined by someone else’s flash:
Sea Turtle
I took a different post processing approach with the sea turtle shots this time around, vs past visits. You can check out the images, as well as the ruined shot in my sea turtle gallery:
Aug 072011
 

As one might have read, Sony is going to be announcing their A77 DSLR, which is the replacement for the A700 DSLR. A good deal of expectation is being heaped on this new camera and for me, some extra money will be spent in addition to the cost of the camera itself.

Memory Cards

I’m a  consumate user of compact flash. I own and use PhotoFast 16GB and 32GB cards, both rated at 533X. They are great performers and are rock solid. Needless to say, I’ve spend a bit of money in getting them when 533X compact flash cards were fairly new. They work great in the A700 and I had hoped to continue to use them in the A77. However, Sony decided against including support for compact flash. Instead, it will be Memory Sticks and SD cards.

Limitation of Memory Sticks

The current top of the line Memory Sticks are the HG HX type cards, which are advertised as being “50MB/second” cards. However, that is only the READ speed. If you are writing to the card, the minimum WRITE speeds are 5MB/second and 15MB/second for 4bit and 8bit modes, respectively. That is fine for writing out 28mbps compressed video. However, it will cause the buffer to empty out slowly, causing wait times between bursts of shots. The RAW images on an A700 are 17MB in size. With the 533X CF cards, I can go 19 shots before the buffer tells me to hold off. With the MS, it drops to between 9-12 frames. Granted, you can shoot as soon as an image is flushed out, but you’re going to be waiting 1-2 seconds between shots. Not ideal.

UHS-I SDXC Cards

Now, looking over at the SD memory card side of things, if you go with SDHC and SDXC cards, the rate maxes out at around 22-25MB/second in real-world performance. In fact, SanDisk non-UHS-I SDHC/SDXC cards are generally rated at around 25MB/second max. This isn’t bad, and for the A700, would be acceptable. However, for a 24MP sensor dumping 36MB RAW files, this too will choke up the buffer if you have several fast paced sequences you’re trying to capture.

Enter UHS-I, which claims a bus capable of 104MB/second read and write. The top of the line UHS-I SDXC cards out there are claiming 95MB/second read and 80MB/second write. If it were fully leveraged, that would be perfect! In fact, there are users out there who have tested out their SDXC capable cameras, like the D7000 with the UHS-I cards, only to find that the performance difference between a SanDisk Extreme Pro (45MB/45MB) vs a Delkin (95MB/80MB) shows no performance difference. The reason, when the calculations are in, is that the D7000′s implementation bottlenecks at 22MB-25MB/second. So there is no gain.

If the A77 properly implements UHS-I, it will/should provide amazing shot-to-shot performance, with an image buffer that will effectively expand, with a fast enough card. This is what people saw with the firmware update and fast UDMA CF cards on the A700, an effective doubling of the image buffer from 8 to 18. If the A77 implements UHS-I properly for SDXC cards, I will be one happy camper.

However, if it implements just the SDHC/SDXC non-UHS-I interface, then we will see transfer speeds capped at around 22MB-25MB/second, with RAW image shooting suffering.

Batteries

The other bit of interest, from a gear upgrade perspective, are the batteries. It would appear that the A77 might continue to use the same cells employed by the A700, the NP-FM500H. This is likewise a boon to those of us who are already A700 shooters: we have a handful of these batteries, and it will mean we can re-use those batteries in the A77. That much less of an obstacle to upgrading.

Closing

I’ve made my peace with Sony’s decision to go with SD vs CF, so long as they implement UHS-I properly. At this point, I’m just waiting for the camera to come out, so that I can get it into my hands and see what it can do. I’m looking forward to the low light performance as well as the upgraded AF system. I’m also looking forward to the live view auto-focus, as it will greatly help with manual focusing on subjects.  Oh, 24MP doesn’t hurt either, for some nice blow-ups.