Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring is in the air, here in California.

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

I can hear it now, It doesn't get cold in California, does it? Well, California has all of the weather. Where I live, what they call the "High Desert", it can get pretty cold. The elevation is approximately 4,000 ft and the surrounding mountains get as high as 9,000 feet. There is always snow on the mountains in winter and it sometimes stay till mid-summer. This winter was particularly cold and we had up to 12" of snow, which apparently was a 40 years record.

California has beautiful wild flowers and they are of different species depending of the elevation. The wild flowers usually appear early March but this year, we are about one Month late. The quantity and quality of blooming largely depends of rain and how much snow has accumulated on the mountains. We didn't have much rain except for the early part of winter, which of course has accumulated as snow on the mountains through the long winter. Now that the snow is melting, it seems that we will have a good wild flower season after all. We are seeing some results here at the 4000 ft elevation. The end of April through mid-may is the best time for photographing wild flowers, as they are blooming at all elevations.

I went for a ride today, (Sunday March 29, 2009) in Lucerne Valley and then to Big Bear Lake. There was some blooming in Lucerne valley but there was nothing yet in Big Bear at an elevation of 7,600 ft.

I thought I would share some of the early pictures.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Saturday, March 28, 2009

If spending $139.00 makes you feel better about checking lenses AF accuracy, it's your money!

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

Maybe I should have more of an entrepreneurial mind and turn everything I touch into profit.

Case in point; Last year, I designed a focus check system, still free for the download on this site, to check front and back focusing problems reported by many. It was downloaded thousands of times and I received a proportional amount of thank you notes for making it available. There were other charts available at the time, with a different approach to the same problem (perceived or real),

It seems that someone found a way to mimic my charts and added an alignment plastic device to make sure you could get your camera aligned with the chart, kind of idiot proofing the process. It's a neat gadget, but if you can't perform the simple task of aligning your camera with a chart, maybe you have no business messing around with precise DSLR cameras and lenses costing thousands of dollars and equally complicated. Actually, alignment is not paramount to the results obtained. What is, is the point where your camera center auto focus sensor locks on. Nonetheless, I applaud the business savvy of the person that introduced his rendition to the market for $139.00.

There is some kind of paranoia amongst some photographers about their camera or lenses not properly focusing and thus rendering "less than ideal" results. Although it does happen once in a while, DSLRs and lenses are generally adequately adjusted at the factory. The first signs of back or front focusing should be easily detected by repeated blurriness where you, the photographer, thought the illuminated focus point in the viewfinder was right on your intended subject. It is more apparent at close range and with a large aperture, as the depth of field is narrower in these conditions. I doubt that anyone has ever had any problems with back or front focusing while shooting a subject at ten feet away or more and at an aperture of f/8 or smaller. Note that back /front focus problems are easier to adjust with prime lenses. It is very hard, if not impossible, to adjust the back/front focus accuracy of a zoom lens, at both the wide and narrow end. I suppose that you could adjust a zoom lens at one end for particular shots and set it back to average when completed.

You can still download my focus check system (3 charts) for free and save yourself $139.00 for some more glass. However, read the following paragraphs carefully and use these instructions with the larger chart of my system.

Chart viewed at right angle. Notice the target area in oval shaped.

Viewed at an angle of 45 degree, the target looks perfectly round.

That larger chart is good for any lenses but just more cumbersome. You can't go wrong and you will be able to determine if indeed you have front or back focusing problems. If you own a Pentax K20D, or a Canon 1DMkIII, 1DsMkIII, 5DII, 50D or a Nikon D3, D3x, D300, D700 or a Sony A900, you can adjust your lenses "in-camera", assuming that the lens is at fault.

Place the chart on a flat surface.

Install the lens to be tested on your camera and use a tripod to secure the camera from any shake.

Leave the Shake Reduction off if your camera is so equipped.

Use a remote or the timer on your camera so that you don't touch the camera while testing.

Set the Autofocus to single.

Set the Aperture Priority mode (Av).

Set the AF point to center.

Set the lens aperture to its maximum.

Set the camera on a tripod, at about 45 degree from the chart. (You don't have to be exactly at 45 degree, whatever angle you use will allow you to see the same depth behind or in front of the focus point). Get as close as you can from the chart while still being able to get the camera to autofocus on the chart.

Align the camera to the chart by making sure the intersection of the black/white line is seemingly horizontal in the viewfinder.

Try to autofocus in the white area inside the target. The lens should not be able to autofocus correctly and it should be “hunting”. If it achieves focus while pointing to the middle of the white area, it means you could actually be in focus with the lines surrounding the white area and you need to get closer or you need a yet bigger chart. (Any office store will be able to enlarge the chart).

Next, move the camera / lens angle slowly downward until it autofocuses. When it does, you know that you are focused on the intersection of the black / white portion of the chart. Take the picture and look at the results.

The center target line (00) should be perfectly clear while the top and bottom target lines and text should get increasingly and proportionally out of focus. The top target lines represent the back focus area while the bottom target lines represent the front focus area. Repeat this test a few times to make sure you have a problem. If the center target line is in focus, and the front and back target lines are proportionally getting out of focus, there shouldn't be any serious problems with the lens. Remember that this test is done with the lens opened at the maximum aperture and that the depth of field will increase with smaller aperture. Most of the lenses have a “sweet spot which is usually 1 to 2 stop smaller than the maximum aperture. Therefore, you should only be concerned if the center target line is not in perfect focus while either the back or front lines are.


Sensors are either vertical, horizontal or cross type. Pentax K10D and K20D have 9 cross type sensors and two vertical sensors. Vertical sensors detect the sharpest horizontal contrast within its area of coverage and lock the focus on that point. Alternatively, the horizontal sensors detect the sharpest vertical contrast within its area of coverage and lock the focus on that point. You guessed it; the cross type sensors detect the highest vertical or horizontal contrast and lock the focus on that point.

Since we use the center focus point of our camera, which is a cross type sensor (that's true with most if not all brands of cameras), our chart was deliberately designed without any vertical lines in the center so that the focus could only lock at the intersection of the black and white portion of our target. Note that in your viewfinder, the little red square indicates the focus area but the cross sensor is not necessarily dead center. The red square merely indicates the area of the sensor, but is not an exact focus point and the sensor will lock on the point of maximum contrast, and that might be anywhere in the red square. With our chart, we know it will lock on the black/white intersection, and even if it's not exactly in the middle, it won't matter.

You take the picture and enlarge it on the LCD screen and check if you have back or front focusing problems. You actually don't want any graphics, bulls eyes, etc, in the way otherwise you can't tell for sure what the focus is locked on.


Front Focus Problem - Not acceptable

Pretty much on target - Acceptable

Slight back focusing problem - Acceptable

I suggest that you check the autofocus with various lighting conditions as there are reports that tungsten lighting makes the lenses front focusing. My tests were consistent with all lighting conditions. I don't have $139.00 to test the plastic gadget, but it would be interesting to see if the results are different. My guess, they should both give the same results, one for free and one for $139.00. But I have to admit, the plastic gadget is really cute!

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Pentax 645D, Lenses, Titanium K20D etc.

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

There is so much Buzz about the new Pentax 645D being announced at at Photo Imaging Expo 2009 in Tokyo. There will also be two new lenses for the 645D. It will be 100% compatible with the current 645 lenses. The K20D gets a retro look and the K-m receives another color. I'm still sick so I won't take much time writing about today's news. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a few thousands words. Drooling is permitted.
Note that this move is very similar to what I had predicted in this article back in October of 2008.

And that's just the "New Beginning". There will be more to come.

Thank you for looking!

Yvon Bourque

Sorry for not publishing the last few days.

Hi Pentaxian friends.

Sorry for not publishing articles for several days now. I'm sick in bed with the flu. It's killing me...I missed the weekend to go shoot with my new DA* 55mm f/1.4. I'll be back soon. In the meantime, I have 375 articles previously posted since July of 2007. They can be found in the [Blog Archive] about halfway down in the right column.

Thank you,

Yvon Bourque

Friday, March 20, 2009

I got my new Pentax DA* 55mm SDM f/1.4. Here's some images and a short review:

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

I received my new Pentax DA* SDM 55mm lens yesterday. It was my birthday and the FedEx delivery man brought two boxes for me. One was from and one from a camera shop, which we won't name. I really really wanted to open the camera store box because I was waiting for the lens, but I opened the box with flowers from my wife, who by the way was standing at her desk looking at me. As soon as I opened the box with my lens, I installed it on my K20D and took some pictures of the flowers received. Here is what I shot.

I have to say, that for whatever reason, the lens received had a bit of back focusing problem at the widest aperture and at close proximity of the subjects, in this case the flowers. I checked it more carefully with my Autofocus chart and confirmed the slight backfocusing. Lucky enough, I have the K20D and I fixed that with the custom setting # 35, and it is now perfect. The bokeh is the best I've ever seen, better than the legendary FA 50mm f/1.4.

I played with it through the night and analyzed the results closely and came up with this unofficial review:

Pentax is the king of Prime lenses, particularly with the Limited primes, and the FA 50mm f/1.4 and the FA 31mm f/1.8 which are considered some of the best lenses ever. The DA* SDM 55mm will not be a disappointment. It has an angle of view equivalent to an 82.5mm in the 35mm format and reminds me of the SMCP-FA 85mm f/1.4.

This is now the fastest Pentax DA lens at f/1.4. The retail price is currently at $699.00 but as usual, the street price will be less than that shortly. It is weather-resistant and dust-resistant. It is an SDM lens which means it can only be used with the newer DSLRs. SDM only autofocus (manual focus on non-SDM bodies) as there are no mechanical autofocus transmission shaft, only the supersonic motor. The finish is very good, although never as good as the Limited lenses, but it is weather-resistant and dust-resistant.

The lens has nine elements, in eight groups, and has the famous Pentax Super Protect (SP) coating. The lens has nine diaphragm rounded blades which renders great bokeh. The Autofocus seems to be faster than non-SDM lenses, but what's really impressive is that the autofocus is silent. Apparently, the lens has some color fringing, but they all do and that's easily fixed in post-processing. It renders true-to-life colors and saturation. I couldn't see any barrel distortion or pincushion, and the image did not show any vignetting. I suspect the image circle is bigger than what's necessary for the APS-C sized sensor.

I think this lens will be my all-time favorite.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My first try at product photography! Comments and help needed!

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

I never did product photography before. I don't have my own studio with a professional lighting system, so that makes it pretty difficult. So not to disappoint anyone, I tried to do some for a client using natural lighting. I set my equipment up in one room in the house that has a great bay window. I laid the product flat, (in this case a new guitar model from Mollenhauer Guitars), and set my tripod up so that I could shoot vertically or almost vertically. I had the guitar propped up about 15 degrees on one side. I draped a black cloth behind me and the camera so that the reflection in the guitar shinny surface would not pick up objects in my room. I shot using a remote so I too would not be reflected in the guitar. The camera being black blended with the black surface behind it.

I was still not satisfied with the results, so I post-processed the image by cutting the surrounding background area. I made a gradient background using PhotoShop and pasted the guitar in. I added a mirror effect at the bottom to emulate the guitar being suspended in mid-air. Then I pasted sections of the guitar in separate boxes bounded by a thin red line to bring the attention to important details. Of course, on the client's website, the details will be blown full size when clicked on.

I would appreciate comments from the photographers that do product photography. I need all the help I can get. I'm not about to spend thousands of dollars just yet. I want to work my way up. I want to start small and add equipment as I go along, to make the work more professional and easier.

Four different results

The one I picked above

03/21/09 - Update: I received some comments and emails, and revised the aspect ratio, positions and some of the details on the guitars above. Hopefully it's better.

Thank you for reading and thank you in advance for comments and help.

Yvon Bourque

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Interview with Mark Dimalanta - Pentaxian Photographer Extraordinaire

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Interview with Pentaxian Photographer Mark Dimalanta
By: Yvon Bourque

Hi Pentaxian friends.

While at the PMA09, I had the chance to meet and talk with all Pentax Representatives, Executives as well as the Official Pentaxian Photographers, Julie Quarry, Mark Dimalanta and the newest Pentaxian Photographer, Charles Waller. All three of them are very knowledgeable and friendly. They all allocated me some of their time for an intimate interview, although each of them had to be on the Pentax stage every half hour or so.

It's taken me a while to put it all together for the blogsite, but I finally completed the editing of my interview with Mark Dimalanta. Mark is such a genuine nice guy. If you watch this
biography video on the Pentaxian site, you will know a bit more about Mark's career change from Medical Doctor to full time Photographer. Mark has such a good view on life and it all transcends to his photographs.

Pentax K20D with the new DA* 55mm f/1.4 - 1/45 sec @ f/1.4, ISO 200, SR on, Aperture Priority, shot in DGN Raw format. The only correction...The White Balance to match the multi lighting sources of the PMA exhibition hall. This lens rocks!

Mark, where is home?

I'm from the Philippine islands, but I was born and raised in California. My family made frequent visits, back and forth, so I'm very comfortable, here and there. Collectively I spend as much as half the year in the Philippines and the other half in Huntington Beach. When I go back to the Philippines, I usually work on travel assignments and media publications for a few months, and then return home to Huntington Beach. On average, I can spend a total of up to six months in the Philippines and the remainder is spent traveling, wherever the surf is.

Who are you as photographer?

It's funny you should ask that question because just the other night, prior to PMA, we were thinking about this when all the Pentaxian Photographers were together, during dinner. For me, it seems that we are exactly what Ned had envisioned, for each of the Pentaxians to be uniquely different. We all shoot a different subject matter. I had never realized that I was a "people" photographer. I never thought of myself as that, I just shot and shot, you know, the things I found interesting, but if you look at all my pictures there are always people in the photo and I think that lends back to my journalism days. In high school, I was the chief photographer for our yearbook; in college I was the fraternity historian and photo editor for the University Paper, all the way into medical school where I was a contributing photographer for the Medical Center's Paper. It was something I always did. But I always looked at it as a hobby, instead of a career. I didn't embrace it fully but always had enough passion for it that maybe; I should have been considering it.

If you could live anywhere on the planet, where would that be?

It would probably be my own island back in the Philippines. We have seven thousands islands, some unexplored and it’s the one place on earth where you can still buy “your own” island. I would just like a beachfront home on an undeveloped island. My own private paradise.

How did you get into photography?

My dad was a photographer, nothing professional, just a decent photographer. He was an officer in the U.S. Navy so he got to travel and he always shot and he brought home these great photos, put them in an album, and as I got older I could see what my Dad experienced in all these beautiful places. I was always amazed with his photography because he could capture something and bring it home to share. Even when I was a kid, we were at Disneyland and my Mom took a family picture with a Polaroid and when that image “popped out” I would say, “how did you do that mom?” From that moment, photography had always fascinated me.

How would you describe your style?

I'm very old school, very into the fundamentals you know? Like the classic rule of thirds, reading the scene and metering with your mind. I still practice all of that, and I find it hard to break away from all of that and do some “new school” stuff...but I like it. The new stuff that's coming out (ie: the “Dave Hill Look” or HDR), I think that's all great. Things like tilted horizons and crazy compositions where you put your subject in a weird unconventional spot are things I would never have done in the past but am more receptive to now. All of it very progressive and effective styles these days.

What made you decide to shoot with Pentax equipment?

My dad brought me to a camera store, he let me touch and feel everything that was there, this was 1983, and the Pentax cameras just felt right. They had better ergonomic design, a better more solid build, all that was out, when I got my Pentax Program Plus, was the Canon AE-1, and I think the Nikon FM and I'm not sure what other cameras were available back then but those options felt “cheap”. I think there was also the very expensive Olympus OM-1, but I favored the Pentax and I've been with the brand ever since. Pentax proved to be such a niche product. I started to realize that I was that “Pentax guy”. I think it was the investment in my gear and the quality of the glass that made me stay loyal. I couldn't ever invest in another system and always felt that other systems didn’t reward me with the color and clarity I obtained from Pentax glass. I just couldn’t let go of my glass investment and patiently waited for Pentax to enter the digital arena. My industry is dominated by another brand, we don't have to name it, but when my images started to come through, Editors couldn't believe the resolution depth. The other brands are great and we saw that predominate for a long time, but that was merely because not many pros in my industry shoot with a Pentax, but when you see a Pentax image you're going to know it was shot with a Pentax. That's another reason I stayed with them. If all goes as planned, I have a feeling we may have a paradigm shift…

What equipment would you like for Pentax to introduce?

They really need some newly designed super telephotos (hopefully a DA* 500 or 600mm) made with a lighter materials like that of modern DSLRs, and because of their proprietary optical coating, they can make these lenses smaller than the competition. If you go head to head with other lens makers, Pentax’s offerings are always smaller, often a rival or even outperforming them.

Mark, if you would have to choose only one lens, what would it be and why?

I actually would like to include two lenses for the work I do. I like the fish eye DA 10-17mm, only wishing that it were weather resistant. The new DA* 55mm f/1.4 would probably be my recent choice because it's weather sealed and at f/1.4 it's very fast optically. The bokeh is perfectly round and creamy because of the nine rounded aperture blades. The contrast and clarity are exceptional.

Do you use Pentax lenses only or do you use other brands as well? Why?

At this stage, it's purely Pentax. Before, and this is ironic, I used Tokina because that was the affordable option. If you go back to 1993 ~ 1994, Pentax’s high-end lenses, like the FA* Series, were more expensive than the competition's equivalent. Pentax was the most expensive high-end lens maker back then. I could never afford those during my college days, that is why I chose Tokina. At present, it's kind of funny how Tokina and Pentax have this engineering co-op. It makes me wonder how long this relationship has been there.

Do you have a Website for your photography?

I do have a Website and I actually have to focus more on it. My wife keeps telling me to update it. It looks like I might be loosing business because I'm not updating. It is extremely important because in this digital age, that's where the people go.

(Mark also has a Blog site; Chasing Light. Check it out.)

If you could have dinner with any photographer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

For me, it would definitely be Gordon Parks! I think because he shot through some difficult times in America. I'd like to hear his experiences and learn what it was like for him. His subjects were influential in my life and his groundbreaking work preserved an important part of our American history.

What one advice do you have for someone that just wants to improve his or her photographic skills?

Well the one thing I could advise is to shoot everyday, and learn from it. Try and avoid being static and unprogressive! Figure out something that you don't understand and play with it, because digital gives you instant gratification and you can correct mistakes “on the fly”, not like during my time when we would shoot, go in the dark room, load the tanks, make sure that your mixing and temperature were right, develop and then print. Two hours later… you finally got a preview, and the moment was kind of… gone. With digital, you can learn instantly. Shoot everyday, emulate until you develop your own style, then make it your own.

Is photography an art?

Of course it is. Photography is definitely an art, and although a lot of what I do is purely editorial, I am a huge fan of the creative aspect. There are pros out there, especially nature photographers that get so “artsy” with composition and post processing to the point that it's so beautiful. One guy who's like that isParker J. Pfister , I think he's one of the best portrait / wedding photographers. Much of what he does is uniquely his own, I can't shoot like him, and he can't just jump in the ocean and shoot like me, but I respect and admire what he does with his camera.

What is your opinion on post-processing?

For me, I believe in getting it right in-camera. I do minimal things like correct for exposure, and simply preserve how the scene was, because that's my style; but I do appreciate some of the oddball stuff like layering and textures, some of it looks great. I don't do it because in editorial photography we are relaying the truth.

One thing that puts me off is the “copycat”. Some "looks" belong to certain people. So many people attempt to copy Manny Librodo or Dave Hill, but those “looks” are uniquely their own and I applaud their originality. Sadly, because of the Internet, "some people straight-up copy and imitate".

Finally,what would you say to other up and coming photographers out there who aspire to what you achieved?

All I would like to say is “make it original”. Do something that's different, that's your own. If you copy someone's style, don't say it's yours. Learn from it and develop your own. Well that's my two cents. I hope it helps out.

Mark, thank you for your time. It's been very rewarding for me. I noticed that all of the Pentaxian photographers have one thing in common. It's the passion for what they do that makes them so good , not so much the equipment. Mark's first love is surfing, but photography pays the bills. Knowing the ins and outs of photography and combining that with his love of surfing, the results couldn't be anything but impressive. Mark, thank you so much for being so candid with me. I learn so much when I chat with other photographers, and I still have a lot to learn. The day I stop learning is the day I'll start pushing daisies!

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

Friday, March 13, 2009

Inspector Gadget new discoveries

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

Inspector Gadget brings two new discoveries this week. They were found on Conceptual Gadgets

In-Car Journey Recorder is designed to affix to the windshield to record the road ahead, not the driver. It uses a 1.3M CMOS image sensor, which can record video footage for your insurance or lawyer in case of an accident. Now you have proof that it really wasn’t your fault in a collision case, when it’s your word against someone else.

The In-Car Journey Recorder records to an SD card for up to 2GB capacity, which is good for up to 18 hours worth of video footage. It can capture intervals between 2-3 seconds and 3 minutes.

Originally posted by Mark R at Coolest Gadgets.

Sometimes, you see something that is worth photographing. If you don’t have a camera on you, many take my their two fingers and make an L-shapes and frame the subject in question. It’s the same thing you see directors do on television.

A Japanese designer named Mac Funamizu is currently designing a camera of the future that works on this age-old finger principle. The camera is put in a pair of sunglasses, and what you see here is what the user is seeing through the sunglasses.

Funamizu’s camera works by putting your fingers in the place where you would want to frame your subject. Then you take your picture with a wink. That is a literal wink by the way, as in you shut your left eye, and the picture is taken in your literal hand frame.

Originally posted by Mark R at Coolest Gadgets.