Friday, December 6, 2013

Ultra-Fast SLR Magic 25mm F0.95 Lens

I recently purchased an SLR Magic 25mm F0.95 lens, one of the fastest lenses ever made. This specialty lens only allows for manual focus. One thing having this lens means is that with the lens wide open, you can take pictures, or shoot video, in very, very dark situations, without supplemental lighting. Even at night, using only the light of the moon!

Another thing you can do with a lens like this is shoot pictures or video with very shallow depth of field, isolating your subject with a very blurred background. Again, this is with the lens wide open. This can be a very nice effect.

These shots are some examples of my first attempts to shoot with the lens wide open, either to capture photos in dark places, or to get that shallow depth of field effect. As you can see, you have to be very, very careful with your focusing. With some of these shots either the subject is a bit out of focus, such as the shot of my daughter on her bike, or, such as with the shot of the hibiscus flower, only a tiny sliver is in focus.
If you are mostly going for the shallow depth of field effect and have enough light, I would recommend using F 1.4 in most situations, because with F0.95 the range of focus is usually TOO narrow. The hibiscus shot for example would have been better at F1.4. Also, the lens is considerably less sharp in general when opened up all the way.

In those super dark situations where you really need that very widest lens opening, take as much care as you can with your focusing. I love my mirrorless cameras as opposed to DSLRs for taking video, but I must admit that some of the DSLRs, especially the full-frame ones such as the Canon Mark III, have a considerably larger and clearer viewfinder which makes for easier focusing with manual focus lenses. On the other hand, they don't make lenses as fast as the SLR Magic for that type of camera! My mirrorless cameras feature a focusing aid which magnifies a portion of the screen and I would recommend using that whenever possible, but that slows things down quite a bit, it's not practical for action shots, and you can't use the focusing aid when shooting video. It also features focus peaking, but that doesn't work well at the widest lens opening. Like I said, it's a specialty lens. I will be on the lookout for a magnifying eyepiece to make this lens more useful in fast-moving situations and when shooting video.

Still, even though the SLR Magic makes shooting more challenging, this is a great lens! I'm looking forward to getting a lot more practice with it. Look for another set of SLR magic pictures later.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Do Your Own HDR

One feature many of today's cameras have is HDR, which involves the camera taking multiple exposures and then blending them together to get maximum dynamic range. In other words, the bright areas like the sky are not washed out, but the shadows are not too dark either. But there are two problems with this automatic HDR: if the subject is moving the pictures don't blend together well, and you don't have any control over how the pictures are blended.

But if you shoot pictures in the RAW format as most pro photographers do, you can do your own HDR after the fact. First, in Photoshop you make three versions of the original photo. The top photo is about right for the water, but the sky is washed out and the girl is too dark. The next one has the girl properly exposed, but the sky is very washed out, while in the next one the sky is good but everything else is too dark. Then you blend the three versions together, which gives you the result like the big version at the bottom. You can do the blending in multiple ways, and since they are all the exact same photo they blend together perfectly no matter how much your subject was moving. This blending takes some time and expertise of course, but that's why you want to hire a pro to take your pictures!

When choosing a photographer, ask if he or she shoots in RAW, and is willing to do this kind of HDR correction at no extra charge. I do this correction routinely when faced with difficult lighting situations like this, rather than relying entirely on fill-in flash as many photographers do. Using a lot of flash makes for an artificial-looking image, in my view. With the extreme backlighting that is typical in a sunset shot like this one, using this HDR technique is not enough to lighten the shadows, so for this I did use some fill-in flash. But there are many situations where you can do without flash altogether, and the lighting looks so nice and natural.