Friday, January 06, 2017


Experience is something sometimes you can't really replace, at least for me.

I just got my hands on a Nikon 16mm AF-D f/2.8 fisheye.  The thing is it has a 180 degrees of coverage, and hence the fisheye designation.

Now I like to shoot with my flash bracket and flash mounted.  The thing is the 180 coverage can get the bracket'S grip ever slightly into the picture if I am not careful enough.

My older version of the Custom Bracket Junior, I dare say, doesn't design with fisheye in mind, or with much flexibility when mounting.  I can't slide to the right or left to accommodate for wider coverage lens like a 16mm fisheye.  Sometimes it just takes a few millimeters to make a difference.  I only have the option to shift the bracket further back closer to my body but then my hand or fingers would have a difficult time getting in between the camera's grip and the bracket grip, as the bracket doesn't provide the option to shift it a bit to the right.  Normally a 16mm lens doesn't present a problem as I have a 16-35mm f/4 and it never causes any problem.  The angle of view wouldn't get in the way; it's only when the fisheye's 180 degrees of coverage that the bracket grip gets into the way.

Now I am contemplating of actually left hand holding the flash when shooting.  It certainly isn't a good solution for me.  I am old school, I like to cradle my lens with my left hand while depressing the shutter using my right hand index finger.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Moonlight (2016)

There is probably a dozen reasons to see a movie.  But this is a first for me--I would like to hear your take on it.

Barry Jenkins' Moonlight tells the age-old story of growing up and finding one's place in this world.  If you are some kid living in a Manhattan high-rise that bears your family name, your struggle could be setting up a lemonade stand in that posh apartment building.  But's that's another story for another time.  If you are Chiron aka Little or Black, the protagonist of Moonlight, it could be a myriad of things like being black growing up sexually unsure in a single mother household in a drug, poverty, and violence infested environment.

Chiron's life is a series of disappointments.  His mom is a crack addict who ends up in rehab.  His only father figure Juan whose tenderness and generosity are as genuine as he is a crack supplier, his mom's crack supplier no less.  His first romantic sexual encounter is his only friend Kevin who also betrays him for the acceptance of a group of bullies.  All these people love Chiron.  But love simply is not enough.  Chiron ends up trapping in the street, with seeming success, just like his childhood father figure.

Trevante Rhodes who plays the adult Chiron delivers the most awkward, in the best sense of the word, and the sexually palpable scene when Chiron confesses to Kevin that he is the only man that ever touches him.  The film ends with a shot pulling in from behind Little, the little Chiron, in the beach then Little looking into the camera.  Chiron is no longer the frail kid that he was, he is a bona fide trapper that can easily bench press ten times his body weight and kills a grown man with his bare hand but deep down he is still that same awkward child who yearns to connect, to love and to be loved.  Aren't we all?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016).  Or how to read ink squirt from giant alien octopus.  This borefest is about time and how time doesn't have a beginning or an end, that is, provided that you know how to communicate in squirt ink.  Louise, played by Amy Adams, is a linguist enlisted by the US army to communicate with the aliens.  Together with some guy called Ian, played by Jeremy Renner, the two keep going in and out of the giant spacecraft parked or floated somewhere above Montana.  Often times a boring movie is just a boring movie.  Arrival fails to deliver any intellectual rigor in the sci-fi genre nor jolts us with any action if only to wake us up every now and then.  The cinematography is a constant drab and looks horribly underexposed.  Amy Adams' performance is not understated, just underwhelming.  With the help of a $2 freshly brewed small coffee I manage to stay awake the entire time if only in a fugue state which is not too different from what Louise experiences in the movie.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II

I was thinking about getting one on eBay.  The older version of course.  So naturally I tried to play with one when I got the chance at the Exp Plus Photo 2016.

I shoot regularly with my 70-200 but this 300mm is on another level.  I am glad I tried it.  I don't think I can shoot an event with this lens.  Not the entire event anyway.  The 70-200 is versatile enough but this 300mm is quite specialized I imagine.  It won't be too feasible to carry around this 300mm on location for 3 hours or longer, unless you have an assistant.  For any extended shooting, I think a monopod is a must just so your arms and back can thank you later.

I certainly appreciate the 70-200, more so than ever.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Custom Brackets

When you want to buy something photographic and yet don't have $2,799.95 for the latest Nikkor AF-S 70-200 f/2.8E FL, you can buy something like a lens hood, a sync cable, a filter or some flash bracket.

I am a fan of Custom Brackets.

My first one is the CB Mini-RC.  The camera screw is the "D" type kind while the flash screw is not.  So you do need a coin to tighten your flash up.  I like this bracket.  It looks cool even if it doesn't do anything at all.  I am a fan of accessorizing your camera.  The biggest fault is of course there is no anti-twist built-in.  I understand you can buy an anti-twist plate AT separately for $15 only.  I don't know how effective it is.  So while I am shooting with this flash bracket, I have to adjust the camera screw to re-orient the bracket and the flash.  It keeps you on your toe and busy making you work harder, look more professional, more on edge.

The latest Mini-RC comes with some improvements.  The flash screw is now D type as well, so you can leave home without any quarters or coins, just bring your hundreds.  The most important improvement is anti-twist.  This is the number one improvement that I need, the rest is just icing on the cake.  Now it comes with what Custom Brackets call "camera anti-twist post," two of them.  They can be positioned and tightened by a 1/8" Allen wrench provided.  So you may want to carry a 1/8" Allen wrench when you are out and about with the bracket.  During my field test, for about 3 hours, shooting in the jungle in extreme heat and cold, both horizontal and vertical, the bracket never twists and I don't have to tighten the screws with the Allen wrench.  I think this is a big improvement.  The new one is also about 1cm wider than the old one, which I think is a good thing.

Custom Brackets CB Junior
This is a more elaborate bracket than the Mini-RC.  It flips and extends.  This is an old version which doesn't even allow you to add any anti-twisting plate, nor does it come with any D type screw at all.  If you don't have a coin or a quarter, you are screwed.  Either your bracket or your camera may fall off your hand.  I guarantee the bracket will twist like crazy even if you only shoot horizontal.  Another drawback of this bracket is it's difficult to pack and carry.  This thing is sticking out every where.  It's just hard to put it inside a bag.  The Mini-RC totally wins in pack and carry as it's basically flat, small and weighs nothing.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Event Photographer Experience

My experience as a "photographer" or "event photographer."  My fourth time doing the same event different venue though.

Nikon D810, though it has 36MP but when I convert the NEFs I usually downsize them to 4000 pixels on the long side make them 12MP just like the D700 files!  I need the mega pixels just in case--the truth is that "just in case" never happened.

Nikkor 20-35 f/2.8, this lens was iffy when it is cold or very cold.  It failed me on two occasions.  The aperture blades got stuck and pictures overexposed.  Now that I know, I can always just shoot at f/2.8 circumstances allow.  The Nikkor 16-35 f/4 is reliable but since f/4 is not as bright it's really not so great when you are taking pictures in a dark venue like most dinner parties I am in.

Sunpak 120J with sync cable to the camera PC socket and battery pack.  I have it set at the "red" automatic to take the guess work out of it.  My setting is 1/60 and f/8 which should give me ample depth of field and fast enough shutter speed to avoid blurry pictures (given the relatively short flash duration, wide angle coverage, and not so close-up shots).  The battery pack is great when you want to have fast recycle time and long lasting battery life.  It's a bit of a hassle to shoulder carry the pack that I have to put up with.

Custom Bracket Junior (old version).  Like most other good brackets, it's is very good except one thing; it twists on the body.  This one doesn't come with a D-ring so I have to use a quarter to tighten screw to the tripod mount.  And that night I just didn't have a quarter with me.  When I asked the wait staff they didn't have one either.  They probably didn't trust me with a quarter.  So one lent me a Swiss army kind of knife with a very small blade, I was afraid I would break the blade so I handled it with extreme care.  Thank you man!  The bracket not only just twisted but came very loose in the middle of the shoot.  You certainly don't want to drop your flash or even worse your camera.  The sync cable and the power cable can be unwieldy and sometimes you pick up the camera and forget about the battery pack which may just end up dropping on the floor.

AF-S.  Normally AF-S is set for focus priority by default.  Though I use AF-C most of the time when I am shooting cycling or any other sports.  I switched to AF-S so I can recompose and lock focus.  In some instances, the camera had trouble locking focus because the subject was too dark or lacked contrast.  So I changed the AF-S to release priority so the shutter would fire even focus is not locked.  (This would give me trouble later on.)  I don't want my subject to wait or I look like an idiot when the shutter doesn't fire--the focus even not locked should be good enough or actually spot on even it's not locked, I hope.

Half way through the shoot, video time.  Initially I planned to shoot with my iPhone but then I don't need too many equipment hanging around my shoulder or my neck.  So I used my D810 for video as well.  And that's trouble.  In the middle of the video shoot, I decided that I wanted to change the lens AF to M so I can manually focus.  What a brilliant idea.  After video, I switched the camera settings from B back to A or whatever I thought shooting stills should be.  And I thought I had everything under control.  And of course I didn't.  In the middle of eating, drinking and people asked me to take pictures, I totally forgot about switching the lens back to AF.  So for the rest of the evening I was shooting with no focusing, not AF not manual just no focusing.  The last manual focus distance was left at some 20 feet away.  But "lucky" me most, actually all of the shots were wide angle, 7 to 10 feet away (at the same time, if not, I guess I would have noticed it already), and I was shooting at f/8.  The f/8 saved me plus before the video I had most of my shots already.  So the out of focus shots weren't that plenty and weren't obvious enough.  Still it's a mistake that I shouldn't have made.

If I used the Nikkor 16-35 f/4, it wouldn't happen as there is no need to switch to manual focus, you can simply grab the focusing ring to focus manually (* this is not entirely true, I want to manual focus in video not letting the lens to find focus so for the Nikkor 16-35 I still might have switched the lens to fully manual when shooting video).

If I left AF-S in focus priority, the default, it wouldn't happen as I wouldn't be able to fire the shutter if the focus can't be locked.  Alas, I changed it to AF-S release priority so shutter fire even when focus is not locked.

Lesson learned.  Always double and triple check your settings.