Thursday, March 26, 2009
I've been doing macrophotography for quite a while. From 35mm to medium format, and in between, digital. The beauty of macro is that one can photograph almost anything and make it look interesting. The downside of macro is that for most people, it means more money for adapters, lenses, cameras, etc. I won't deny that I have some expensive macro equipment. My Nikon 70-180 Micro-Nikkor is a lens that Nikon doesn't offer anymore, and you can't find one used. I have used it for years and love the results. However, I am not telling you to go and buy the latest macro gear for your DSLR. Instead, we are doing this on the cheap.
I recently bought a factory-refurbished Fuji Finepix S700 online from eCost.com for about $90. I used to own a Fuji S7000 EVF camera and loved it. When I bought a Nikon D70s, I sold the Fuji. I'd been keeping my eye on the S700 for a while, because it is compact, and best of all, besides the 10x optical zoom, the 46mm filter ring in front of the lens offers a way add filters and adapters. That is something that the retractable lens P&S cameras do not have, and after I opened up the S700 box, I knew my Canon Powershot A570 was going to Adrienne.
So, how does one get super macro from the S700? First of all, most P&S cameras that have a "Macro" feature are not really shooting macro. They are allowing you to focus very closely at the shortest possible focal length. That's a trick of wide-angle lenses being able to close-focus. True macro is defined as being able to achieve a 1:1 reproduction ratio. If the object is 5mm long, then the resulting image on the sensor (or film) is the same size. Now, with the small sensors of point and shoot cameras, that's obviously an issue.
So, how do you get true macro from the S700? Simple. First, you need a 46mm to 52mm step-up ring. That allows you to use any 52mm diameter filter on the front of the S700. Very useful if you want to do fun things.
Second, you buy a 52mm reversing ring -- really just an adapter with male threads on both sides.
Third, you screw any 50mm (called a normal lens) manual focus lens on the front of the S700 using the reversing ring (if it has a different diameter than 52mm, find an appropriate adapter).
Here is the S700, the 46-52mm adapter, the reversing ring, and a Vivitar 50mm 1.7 lens.
Set the S700 to maximum optical zoom, and make sure that the 50mm lens is set to its widest aperture (fully open). Do not use the "macro" setting on the camera. Be prepared to go wow.
A yellowjacket at full magnification.
If you use a macro setup like this one, which utilizes a steady base and good lighting, you'll get much better results. Be careful of that exposed rear element of the 50mm lens.
what the camera saw....
If you reduce the zoom, you will get some vignetting from the attached 50mm, but you'll also get crisper results.
At maximum magnification, the field of view is about 5mm wide! You can go crazy with exploring the tiny world in your backyard.
These are the fruiting bodies of lichen in my backyard. The beauty of this outfit is the compactness and versatility that you get from the S700, and the inexpensive nature of the gear that gives you some pretty good results.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Yesterday, the local online sources were announcing that the Ann Arbor News will fold in July. Today's news confirmed it. It's a sad commentary that a city the size of Ann Arbor cannot support a daily newspaper. I know that things have been tough on newspapers all over the country. But I wonder is it truly symptomatic of declining advertising revenues because of the web that some papers are going under, or is it the result of larger syndicates and big corporations that have only the shareholder's interest, and not that of the people that they serve? Just as with Pfizer, that pulled up stakes and left Ann Arbor (after pumping millions into new facilities here)-- Ann Arbor was a dot on the map. The head offices had no more affinity to this town than anywhere else.
So, my question is this: Has globalization and a faceless corporate bureaucracy spelled doom for our country? When companies are no longer part of the community -- whether its the banks that have your mortgage, the owners of your newspaper, or the company that bought out your local big employer -- are they sensitive to local problems, and being so large, are they incapable of actions that might actually be beneficial? Smaller companies can often be more innovative, more adaptable to localized conditions.
On top of all that... what about the photographers, the writers, etc., that make a difference by being the people that make journalism one of the aspects of our democratic society. A blogger can do only so much. But the power of the printed page has made a huge difference in our society. A free and independent press is essential for public discourse and communication to all levels of society. Depending on getting your news off the web is not the same. It shuts out more people than the pundits want to admit.
Surely, Ann Arbor can support a daily paper, if it were locally-owned. Perhaps even a weekly edition, or whatever the Ann arbor News morphs into. Maybe some group just needs to restart the Ann Arbor Argus and give it a go. Maybe I'm just an idealistic idiot, but Washtenaw County needs to be served by a paper. We are not, and never will be covered by the Free Press or the Detroit News unless it's UM sports or some tragedy befalls someone.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not against news on the web. It's a good adjunct to a paper. It's not, and never will be a replacement for the tactile and easily scanned newspaper. Besides, I can't light a fire in the fireplace with my laptop.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Yesterday, I visited the Conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens to photograph the garden fairies that my wife, Adrienne had been telling me about. She's one of the horticulturists at MBG, and has worked there since 1983. So, you might think that I go there all the time to take photographs, but in fact, I don't go there enough. For those that rarely go there, or haven't been there yet, the conservatory is a good dose of what one needs as we emerge from the lingering grip of winter. Yes, spring is technically here, but until the last vestiges of those piles of snow that remind me of decaying whale carcasses disappear, we are fortunate to have Matthaei's conservatory to buoy us.
Matthaei's "Enchanted Spring Display" is very charming, with small fairies placed in the plantings amongst the spring flowers that are now blooming the conservatory. The fairies look like they are right out of the Art Nouveau period, and are obviously a big hit with children of the age that can still imagine fairies as something that might exist. In addition, there are placards with fairies for different plants, such as the "Lobsterclaw Fairy" for the Heliconia flowers. I like the idea of garden fairies... and there is that part of our psyche that seems to want to believe in the supernatural. Fairies are certainly some of the less horrific things that one could believe in, and if you want to create your own fairy garden, one source that seems to have it all is the aptly-named Garden Fairy.com.
I spent over an hour in the conservatory, photographing the diminutive fairies and the flowers with my Nikon F3 with my Lensbaby lens, as well as a lot of shots taken with my Fuji Finepix S700 with some different filters on the front to achieve the look I wanted. The S700 was great for reaching in over the plants to get close-up shots, and of course, to get the immediate results that you see here. I'll be interested in seeing how the F3 shots came out, as I was using Kodak's Ektar 100 color film. Despite being an adult, I was having fun trying to find the various fairies amongst the flowers, and I saw small children there that were having even more fun than I was. The display will be up until March 31, so give yourself a respite from the weather, and see the flowering bulbs and the fairies at UM's Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Dixboro Road.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Not to be confused with the Fab 4 or even the Fab 5 (a disgraced chapter in UM basketball history), the Fed 5 is a robust Russian rangefinder with a Leica thread mount. My camera came directly from Russia. About six years ago, a colleague at work went to St. Petersburg for a few weeks, and I gave him a $20 bill and a photo of a Fed 5, and asked him to buy one if he saw some for sale. Sure enough, he did, and the camera is in pretty decent condition and works properly. I haven't used it as much I probably should, and last summer I loaned it to my buddy Marc Akemann to shoot with. he recently returned it after finishing a roll of Kodachrome 64. His wonderful photos inspired me to use the camera again.
The Fed 5 has a pretty nice rangefinder, and the eyepiece has an adjustable diopter control, which I find very useful. Mechanically, the camera works well -- not as smooth as a Leica, but not bad. The cloth focal-plane shutter goes from B- 1/500 sec, and the selenium light meter on my camera works, though I have never used it. The only thing the camera lacks are strap lugs! For some reason, the designers must have thought that everyone uses a camera case, so why bother with strap lugs?
A few recent photos:
Mike Myers at the Recycle ReUse Center 3/15/09
The "habitrail" parking garage in East Lansing, MI
The Power Center at UM (cropped image).
Some Fed Links
Antique Russian Cameras
Rick Oleson tears open a Fed 5
Sunday, March 08, 2009
Yesterday, Adrienne, Marc Akemann, Stefan Peterson and I ventured over to the Grand Rapids Art Museum to view the exhibit - Andre Kertesz: On Reading. There were over 75 photographs spanning 50 years from 1925 to 1975, all related to the subject of reading. Many were focused on the act of reading, from Paris to New York, and Japan. Others presented the universality of the importance of books and newspapers in our lives. While presented as a photo-essay of a sort, and even though the images represented 50 years of work, I can't really say that I was enthralled or enlightened by the exhibit. There were perhaps a handful of images that I really liked and thought were exemplary images. I was amazed that the prints were never spotted -- and in fact, some had very distinct dust spots and defects that had they been in a Weston photograph, would have elicited horror from anyone. Perhaps, as a body of work from someone as prolific as Kartesz, it might be forgiven. I certainly feel that the images presented in the tiny book, Andre Kartesz - The Early Years are of a superior quality.
I get what the photographer was trying to do, and photographing someone in the act of reading is almost like photographing something intimate. In fact, several of his photographs are voyeuristic in composition. Others were simply street photography, and less intrusive. There is no question that Kartesz predates people such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand, and Robert Frank. Perhaps for that reason alone, his work is held in such regard, and there is justification for that.
Reading is a mostly individual activity, and there were several images that brought home to me why the PRINTED page (as opposed to the digital image) is important. One can take a book anywhere - no batteries, no other technology is required to support the act of reading it, save for a light -- but even then, one can read in the daylight. Once printed, the book remains there for reading, unchanged and an absolutely real thing with solidity, even if the thoughts contained within may be vacuous or weigh heavily on the reader. I'm sure Kartesz didn't anticipate today's digital world. However, he obviously did know something about how people respond to the printed page, and how the direct contact with those pages affects us, and influences our society. Perhaps that is the final lesson one can take from On Reading.
Added -- 03/23 -- I just found out about a new book that contains nothing but SX-70 Polaroid shots by Kartesz, now available on Amazon.com. From this link, it looks like a book that I'd like to own.