Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Canon 35mm f1.4



I've been mulling over the idea of getting a new lens for this upcoming maui trip/wedding shoot. I looked over my lens collection to see what I was deficient in. I have the following lenses:

- Tamron 17-50mm f2.8
- Canon 50mm f1.8
- Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro
- Canon 70-200mm f4 IS "L"
- Canon 400mm f5.6 "L"

You know how I love to shoot with natural light. This presents a problem when shooting indoors. Your best bet is to get a prime lens with a fast aperture (less than f2.8). My very first canon lens was the 50mm f1.8. Yes the "plastic fantastic." For a $90 lens, it has given me great images and I have gotten much mileage out of it. However lately I have been feeling the need to upgrade it. I could always get the canon 50mm f1.4 or f1.2 lens. I'm not sure if going from 1.8 to 1.4 is going to make that much difference. The f1.2 lens is a whole different ball game. It is very expensive. It is a huge and heavy lens for its size. Also at f1.2 wide open the dof is super shallow. It is very easy to get out of focus shots just because you miss aimed the focal point. Or you will get 1 eye in focus and the other will be out of focus. Danny's work uses that lens, and he was kind enough to borrow one for me to play with for a weekend a couple of years ago. Here is the set if you want to see. All in all I was not that impressed given the high cost of the lens.



I been thinking about getting a wider angle fast prime for indoor photography. Now for the maui wedding, Janet's main job for me is to shoot the pre-wedding. Obviously it will be in her hotel room with natural light from the windows. In my mind, I think the shots would look best if done with a moderate wide angle fast prime. I could use my plastic fantastic 50mm f1.8 lens, but this was a special occasion and I really wanted to give her high quality photos. I did a bit of research and came across the canon 35mm f1.4 "L" lens. It is a very highly regarded lens but at a ridiculously high cost ($1400). At first I thought, no way am I going to pay that much for a lens. I kicked the thought back and forth until I got sick of thinking about. I had Wednesday off and so I was going to go rent it from Sammys and see if the hype about this lens was actually valid. The problem is that I really would only have about 6 hours to test it since I could not return it the next day. Yes I could have waited for the weekend but I don't have a lot of time left before I leave for the wedding and so if I do end up buying a lens then I would need time for the shipment to get here before I fly out.



Did you guys know that Sammys raised their rental fee? On their online catalog, the canon 35mm f1.4 lens was $25 per day. When I talked to the rental guy on the phone, he said that they raised it to $40 per day. So $40 just to play with it for 6 hours... Again I thought, what a waste of money. But my curiosity about the lens would not leave me alone. I would rather pay $40 to test it out rather than pay $1400 and end up not liking it. So off I went.



The first thing I noticed was that even though it is a relatively small lens, it has a good amount of weight to it due to all the glass of the large aperture. Not as big and heavy as the 50mm f1.2 but definitely bigger and heavier than my 50mm f1.8. My 50mm f1.8 lens uses the camera's motor to autofocus which can be slow or inaccurate at times. The 35mm f1.4 lens has USM (ultrasonic motor) which makes for super fast, accurate and quiet focussing. I love it so much on my canon 400mm f5.6 and canon 70-200mm f4 IS lenses that I vowed to only get lenses with USM from now on.

I shot most of the indoor pics wide open at f1.4. Man this lens is so freakin sharp wide open. In the second to last shot with the tricycle, when I zoomed in 200% of the original image, I can read the warning sticker on the back of that tricycle. Most of the time when you zoom in even 100%, the image quality goes to crap. Not this lens. I think the outdoor shots were set at f2 mainly because I had too much light. We went to a park at about 2pm and the light was super harsh and bright. With such a large aperture, I was getting shutter speeds maxing out at 1/8000 sec wide open. I had to stop down. One bad thing that I did notice was some chromatic aberration in the wide open shots with a bright background.



The other thing that I notice when shooting with high quality lenses, is that when it comes to post processing, I have less to do. The contrast, color and sharpness are quite excellent straight out of the camera and so I find myself making very little adjustments in photoshop. The bokeh is oooh sooo buttery smooth. Overall I was very impressed with the image quality from this lens. Whether or not it's worth the $1400 price tag, I'm still debating over. I didn't get any objections from Sandy so the decision is up to me. Now there are 2 more options. Canon also has a 35mm f2 lens which is older and does not have USM. Some say the quality is no where near that of the f1.4. Others say that it is a little gem considering the low price ($329). Another option is the Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens. It has a strong fan following but there are mixed reviews concerning front/back focussing. *shrug* Danny's work also uses that lens and he told me that he would try to borrow one for me to play with. That would be awesome. That lens sells for $439 which is much much more affordable and it has USM. The question is how does the image quality stack up against the canon 35mm f1.4. Is there really a $1000 difference in image quality between the 2? Time will tell...



One last thing to consider. Here is a recent shot I took with my 50mm f1.8 ($90 lens). Compare this last shot with all of the above. Now since I took and edited all of these pics, I will tell you that yes there is a difference in image quality favoring the 35mm f1.4 lens. BUT...is the difference enough to justify the $1300 price difference?? I guess that depends on how much of a pixel peeping, bokeh whoreing, fast prime lens freak you are...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ethan's 3rd birthday

1)


Ethan turned 3 this past weekend. We tried to keep things simple and only had the family over for pizza and cake. I normally shoot natural light only, but I wanted to work on my flash skills. A lot of times I will find myself in a situation where there is strong back lighting which messes up the exposure. Shooting with an external flash comes in very handy in those situations.

2)


Our formal dining room has very large french doors which let in a lot of light. The head of the table is right up against those french doors. When Ethan blew out his cake candles and opened presents, he was positioned right in front of those doors and so was strongly back lit.

3)


These are not very good shots but are at least usable thanks to the fill flash. I basically blew out the background but was able to get a decent exposure on the subject. I noticed that a lot of wedding/engagement photographers will do that (but with much better effect of course).

4)


You will notice that I shoot a lot of head shots, basically chest and up. I find it hard to compose shots with a wide angle. When I do use my wide angle lens, the shots usually end up looking like I shot it with a point and shoot camera. *shrug*. I've been thinking about getting a fast wide angle prime like the canon 35mm f1.4, canon 28mm f2.8, or the sigma 30mm f1.4. Just a thought. Nothing written in concrete yet.

5)


Then again I also fancy the canon 85mm f1.8 lens and the canon 135mm f2 lens. Those are such great portrait lenses. Not sure how it would work on a crop sensor body. I would imagine it would be very tough to use indoors unless I am only shooting head shots or standing way across the room. However for outdoor shots, low light just before sunset, I can just imagine all the creamy bokeh. A word of warning when it comes to using fast prime lenses is that if you are shooting more than 1 person, it is very easy to have one in focus and the other person out of focus if they are not both positioned equal distance from the camera. I was shooting with my canon 50mm f1.8 lens for most of these shots and I had to delete a few shots because in group shots one person or the other was out of focus. This happened even when I stopped down to f2.5.

6)


Ethan is very much into Thomas the Train right now (if you hadn't guess already). So for his bday, he got a Thomas the Train cake and a lot of Thomas the Train gifts. Here he is saying hi to the Thomas the Train toy on top of his cake. Silly guy.

7)


I almost forgot to mention that I have switched to using rechargeable batteries for my external flash, finally! For the longest time, I have been using regular disposable batteries. What a waste. They don't last long and as they start to fade, the flash recharge time slows down. With these Enelope rechargeable batteries, they give out a very steady output which worked out great.

8 )


Here we played the game of, lets pass around Noah and take pics with him. It was actually challenging to shoot because Noah kept on looking randomly around the room and would not look at the camera, let alone smile.

9)


To date this is my best shot of Sandy's mom, Satoe. Usually most of my shots of her from previous events were not usable because she always and I mean always blinks when a photo is taken. No flash was used for this shot, just window light.

10)


I like the juxtaposition of Noah's soft baby skin with Grandpa Ted's sun weathered face. Yes we have made much progress in getting Noah's facial eczema under control. It still flares up here and there but it is much better than before. I think now the eczema is worse on his hands and feet which he constants scratches or picks at.

11)


Here's my mom holding Noah. Again, a bit of fill flash to even out the exposure due to the strong back lighting from the window. Not a great shot but usable at least.

12)


Here's my dad with Noah. I have this great B&W shot of my dad and Megan that I was trying to reproduce with Noah. That original shot was taken back when I first started out with my first DSLR camera which was a Pentax K100D and 18-55mm kit lens. I have not been able to reproduce the same shot with the same sentimentality that I so love in that B&W. Again, Noah was looking off at someone else in the background which didn't help the composition.

13)


The night before the bday party, we invited their cousins over for a slumber party. The kids have 2 cousins named Kai and Emi. Watching a total of 5 little kids for a sleep over was not an easy task even for 2 seasoned parents. I think Sandy grossly underestimated how challenging a night like that would be. Here is a cute shot of them right before going to sleep. We had them "camping out" in the play room. Noah definitely enjoyed the energy of all the kids that evening. Emi liked playing with Megan's toy stethoscope. Perhaps she will be the next doctor in the family. =)

14)


Just a couple of shots from Friday night, which was Ethan's actual bday. Sandy bought him a small cake to enjoy after dinner. It was a Thomas the Train cake of course.

15)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Point Loma Tide Pools and La Jolla Cove

1)


We had a wedding to attend down in San Diego this weekend. My parents generously agreed to watch all three kids for the whole weekend, so Sandy and I got to enjoy a mini vacation. This was the very first time we have ever spent time away from the kids since starting a family 4 years ago. After my parents agreed to babysit the kids, my next question was, "how early can I drop them off Saturday morning?" LOL.

2)


The wedding was down in La Jolla. We drove down there early to spend some time at La Jolla Cove. It was nice just to sit on a bench overlooking the ocean and just enjoy the cool ocean breeze. It was kinda weird actually not having to keep an eye on the kids and take care of their endless needs. I spent some time photographing the sea lions sunbathing on the beach and taking in the beautiful vistas of the rocky cliffs and breaking waves.

3)


I regret not taking more photos at the wedding itself. It was mainly an indoor wedding with the ceremony in a dark church and then the reception in a big dark recreation hall. You know how I love to shoot natural light shots. You really can't get the same look with flash photography. There was one time when we were outdoors, but everybody was packed like sardines into this little side courtyard area. I didn't have any working room to shoot since we kept on bumping our shoulders and backs with other people trying to make their way through the crowds. I tried taking a couple of shots, but I was not satisfied with the results and so I put my camera away. There was one moment out in the garden when the light was just perfect. But that was when we were getting our food. After waiting 2 hours after the ceremony to start dinner, I knew we were all hungry and I didn't think that Sandys' friends would want to go back outside to shoot some pics. Ah well.

4)


We got a hotel and spent the night down in San Diego. On Sunday, we decided to drive over to Point Loma and do some hiking. Sandy and I use to do a lot of hiking before the kids came. There was a short trail that winded it's way on the cliffs above the tide pools. It was a grey cloudy day but the cool ocean breeze and the chance to get some exercise was quite refreshing. The hillsides were covered in beautiful spring flowers which made for some nice portrait shots.


5)


It was high tide when we got to the tide pools so unfortunately we were not able to see much of the tide pools critters. I used my canon 70-200mm f4 IS lens which worked out great for shooting portrait shots of Sandy, semi-macro shots of flowers and also landscape shots. The more I use this lens, the more I love it for a general outdoors walk around lens.



6)


Sunday afternoon, we hopped back on the 5 freeway and headed back home. Even though we had just left Orange County yesterday, it really felt like we had gone away for a much longer vacation. It was so nice to be away from the kids and experience the intimacy of just being a couple again. Sandy and I always talk about scheduling more date nights and mini-vacations away from the kids. However we just never seem to have the time or energy to do it. I think this weekend proved to us how important these moments are. Big thanks to Grandpa and Grandma Tran for watching the rugrats and giving us this opportunity to get away! Hopefully the kids didn't tire out the grandparents too much so that we can do this more often. Hahaha.

7)


8 )


9)


10 )


11)


12)


13)


14)


15)


16) Now where did I put my towel...



17) Hot sand!


18) Watch out for the crazy lady in the bushes!


19) Our intrepid "national-geographics-wanna-be" photographer...

Monday, April 5, 2010

My first youtube video

Ever since I got my canon 7D, I've wanted to play with it's HD video capability. I made this short little video as a test run.



Making a video is a whole different ball game as compared to photography. It took me about a weekend to figure out the nuts and bolts. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

- Shoot in the highest quality video setting. If your camera has HD capability then I highly suggest shooting at 1080P and 30 frames per second. When shooting video you will immediatly notice how huge your movie files are. Don't worry about that. Youtube will compress and optimize it for you. Always try to give them the highest quality video to start with and then you won't get blocking pixelated looking video.

- You will need a video format converting software. The camera will produce MOV files. Unless you use an apple computer, you will not be able to edit this type of file. You will need to use a program to convert it over to another type of file. I converted mine to an AVI file using a free program I downloaded called Prism Video Convertor.

- You will need a video editing program. I downloaded a free trial version of VideoPad Video Editor. It is a very basic program. It lets me cut and splice segments of video and to add music. That's about it from what I can tell. I didn't find any options to add special effects other than captions and narration. I will eventually upgrade and get PremierPro at some point.

- When adding music to your movie, you cannot use itunes music. (You might be able to if you use an apple computer though). Itunes encodes their music in a totally different type of format that is copyright protected which means you cannot mess around with it. I had to find an mp3 file of the song I wanted to use.

That's about it. I shot some short video clips and played around with the video editing software and then waaah-laaaah! I think the whole process would have been much easier and streamlined if I had an apple computer though...but I'm a PC...Doh!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Carlsbad Flower Fields

1)


This weekend we took the kids to see the Carlsbad Flower Fields. In my mind, I had thought that the place was somewhere in the desert where wildflowers bloomed every spring. In actuality, it is a flower farm where they grow rows and rows of Ranunculus flowers in every color imaginable. They also have a wagon ride which takes you around the perimeter of the property. It was definitely worth it because it will take you to the top of the hill over looking the flower fields. You get an amazing view of the flower fields and the ocean from up there. We got there at noon which is of course the worse time of the day to take outdoor photos due to the harsh bright light. I didn't get too many usable outdoor shots. Thankfully we found a greenhouse which had an amazing orchid collection on display. I've been wanting to shoot some orchids for awhile now since my dad loves to collect and grow orchids.

2)


It was very tiring herding the 3 kids through the farm. There was definitely a lot of wining coming from Megan and Ethan. Noah is also getting pretty heavy these days. I strapped him to the baby bjorn and I definitely felt a strain in my upper back at the end of day. Before we left the flower farm, we made a pit stop and refreshed ourselves with a strawberry shortcake sunday. Yummy!

3)


4)


5)


6)


7)


8 )


9)


10 )


There goes Ethan again and his crazy face.

11)


12)


13)


13)


14)


15)


16)


17)

My life one click at a time...
There was an error in this gadget