This journal documents my experiences with a Canon 50D, my first DSLR camera, purchased on Oct. 16, 2008. It has some of my photographs taken with the 50D, comments about the camera's usability and suggestions for improvement. It also has links to photography-related sites which I found interesting.
My first digicam was the S30. I chose the Canon brand after playing with a Canon EOS SLR camera (belonging to a faculty member in the department). What amazed me about that camera was that Canon developed technology that tracked your eye and focused the lens wherever you looked (ECF, eye-controlled focusing). My most recent camera was the Canon S60, which is in need repair.

Canon 50D Irritants


Sat Nov 01 10:57:52 2008

A list of things that I expect to work a certain way, or things that make me wonder why they are a certain way (perhaps later, as I learn the camera, I will understand why) and things that generally bother me about the 50d:

DP Review: 50D


Mon Nov 03 14:35:00 2008

David had sent a link to the 50D review. Reading it was helpful as an supplement to the dry user manual.

I noticed that the charger that I got with the body-only kit looks different than the one pictured in the review. I still don't know what the AF-ON button ("The AF-ON button allows you to trigger auto focus independently of the shutter release 'half-press'.") is supposed to do— pressing it seems to focus the lens far and then close in small steps— more reading required. Page 10 of the review has a movie that shows AF operating in LiveView mode. Perhaps it's not working for me because I always have the camera handheld rather than mounted on a tripod or stabilized. Page 17 has an interesting comparison of the sensor noise levels of the various cameras; the Nikon D300 is unexpectedly impressive at ISO1600.

Update Sat Nov 08 12:55:45 2008: After re-reading the LiveView chapter, I have a better understanding of the auto-focus in LiveView mode now and it does work (for some values of "work").

Verve Photo


Tue Nov 04 00:34:21 2008

Verve Photo showcases documentary photographers.

Documentary photography involves telling stories of people, with still pictures (the captions fill-in the details; the photos stand on their own). Photographing people without affecting the emotions in the photograph because of the camera's presence, is an art that cannot be taught.

GO Solitaire


Tue Nov 04 12:35:49 2008

Today's photographs were either in A-DEP (automatic depth of field) mode or aperture priority at f/1.4. More pics tomorrow.

A passenger playing Solitaire on her Rogers Blackberry, on the GO Train this morning. This was a lucky shot as the sun fell perfectly to the spot where she was holding the BB. [1 of 4 photos]

100% crop shows lots of chromatic abberation in the hilights.

F430 Ferrari Spider outside the Dundee (Wealth Management) building on Victoria. I have a blurry shot of the cockpit. I really miss the wide angle lens; I had to walk across the street to get the the entire car in the frame. A scooter is parked just to the left of the Spider; I now regret not photographing the two together. [1 of 4]

St. Michaels Hospital hedge along Bond Street. Nice contrast between the sunlit grass in the background and the hedge. [1 of 3]

Some wide photos in A-DEP mode came out blurry. I wonder why.

Night Shoot

usability "low light photography"

Tue Nov 04 23:17:58 2008

Did some night photography on the walk back home. Tried full auto (with flash) and Creative Assist mode (supressed flash and reduced exposure). I would have to praise the CA mode for allowing those learning to use the camera, to take great pictures. Photos forthcoming. I didn't take as many photos as I would have liked as I wasn't dressed for standing around in 10C weather.

Found another irritant: the CA mode settings reset after photos are reviewed or if the camera is switched to another mode.

This afternoon, I took a 15MP photograph of a student, who was standing in the Atrium, from about 70 feet away; it was pretty impressive that you could zoom in and see she was holding an iPod Touch or iPhone.

Thorny Hedge


Wed Nov 05 13:46:33 2008

Photos taken yesterday morning while walking to work.

It was difficult to photograph the vibrant reds and yellows against a dark, contrasting background. Except for the first photograph, I find the the colours too overwhelming (at least for a desktop background). All the photos were taken at the minimum focal distance of 1.5 feet at f/1.4. [3 of 20]

This morning I shot everything in Program mode after last night's low-light shoot. Update Wed Nov 05 17:38:56 2008: Reviewing the photos, I noticed (and confirmed) that the "Shade" white-balance gives a yellow-orange tinge to the sunny part of a photograph taken in the shade. I think the "Cloudy" setting (which is also recommended for indoors photography) gives a better colour reproduction.

Exposure Lock

functions panorama

Thu Nov 06 14:01:35 2008

Today, I was browsing through the manual and I discovered, Exposure Lock ("*" button on the back), that can be used when taking panoramas.

If the panorama spans dark and bright regions, the camera re-computes the exposure between successive shots which makes the panorama look unevenly lit when it is stitched. Pressing the "*" button locks the exposure setting and keeping it pressed while panning the camera and shooting, ensures the same exposure is maintained across the entire panorama.

iPod Bliss


Thu Nov 06 14:01:35 2008

Look to the lady;
And when we have our naked frailties hid,
That suffer in exposure, let us meet
And question this most bloody piece of work,
To know it further.
—Macbeth, II.iii

iPod bliss: waiting for the King Street streetcar this morning. Later, I realized that the photograph prefectly represents all the different ethnicities in Toronto. [1 of 1]

100% crop: unfortunately, the camera focused on the building behind the passengers (and for some strange reason, I didn't notice), so the point of interest is blurry.

I have to remember to take more than one photo.

Portfolio: Callie Shell


Fri Nov 07 16:03:22 2008

The Digital Journalist has an album of photographs taken by Callie Shell, who travelled with Obama during his campaign; the Time magazine cover is suprisingly prescient.

My guess is that the photos were taken with a Nikon (I'm not sure about the Time cover, probably because the colour-map was adjusted).

Homeward Bound


Sat Nov 08 10:35:19 2008

Photographs from last Thursday's train trip home. I was standing in the train vestibule and shooting through plexiglass. I took four shots at different f-stops and focused at different depths of the train. I was trying to get everyone in focus— but using a wide aperture requires a slow shutter speed, which doesn't quite work on a moving train (the f/4.0 shot was blurry).

In this photograph, focused in the middle, you can see the man at the far end of the train is eating an apple. f/1.8, 1/60s, WB: fluorescent, EV:-.66

I increased the aperture (DOF and shutter speed decreased) and focused on the woman in the foreground wearing the poppy. f/2.5, 1/25s, WB: fluo., EV:-.33

Taken from outside the train; the platform is lit with tungsten lights. I am surprised how well this shot turned out. Completely lucky shot taken in Program mode. f/1.8, 1/60s, WB: flou., EV:-1.33 [1 of 1]

In general, I would say that the 50D tends to over-expose the shot and I have to compensate down one or two notches so the hilights don't blowup.

Manual Mode


Sat Nov 08 18:52:46 2008

But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails
—The Tempest, Epilogue

I found a couple of articles written by Bryan Peterson that explain the fundamentals required to use the Manual mode. The first article, Basic Photo Tips: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO explains the relationships in the "photographic triangle". The second article, Exposure Basics: Correctly Expose Your Photographs explains why there are six possible ways to correctly expose each shot but only one or two are what you want.

Another Brick in the Wall


Sun Nov 09 12:17:51 2008

I took several wide and close-up photographs of the brick wall for use as the desktop background but I found they are too busy and the icons get lost amongst the bricks. The corner photograph with the blurred edges, below, turned out to be the best choice for a desktop background.

Corner of a brick wall in a parkette behind the Staples store on Yonge. f/1.4 [1 of 1]

The same, but sepia toned. Makes a nice desktop background; the blurry edges are good places for storing icons.

This photo also makes a nice background. I love deep burgundy of the bricks in this photo, which looks nicer than the real wall. The crystalline white substance looked like water damage.

Update Sun Nov 09 18:43:41 2008: I added another photograph.

The Big Picture: Obama


Mon Nov 10 13:53:24 2008

The Boston Globe's feature, The Big Picture, features Obama.

I would guess that Dunand and Young use a Canon.

No. 19 is pretty interesting from a photographer's point of view (and the photographer is pretty hot). You can tell she's using a prime lens because she's leaning forward to compose her shot.

Film Shoot


Tue Nov 11 16:10:29 2008

This morning, walking up Bay street, I saw a film crew standing just in front of the Design Exchange. I took a picture and then I noticed the assistant cameraman (to the right of the cameraman in photo 1) picking up the camera and giving it the the cameraman, he started shooting high and I looked over to see what he was shooting. As I looked back to the crew, I noticed a EMS crew exiting the DX with a patient. I missed the shot because I didn't realize it was part of the shoot until the cameraman began photographing them. The woman in the last photo is also a character who exited the DX after the EMS crew.

Sequence of shots showing, very likely, the second unit photography for Boondock Saints II (photo 1 is a crop).
Principal photography is taking place at the United Metropolitan church at Queen and Church streets
(the last photo of trailers is looking south from Bond and Shuter street).

I am assuming this is a second unit photography for Boondock Saints II which is currently shooting Downtown. There was a call for extras, on Monday, for a large crowd scene at the United Metropolitan Church. The equipment trailers were still parked on Bond street, this afternoon.

Sigma Acquires Foveon


Tue Nov 11 18:18:38 2008

Sigma has aquired Foveon, makers of the X3 image sensor.

November 11


Wed Nov 12 09:12:30 2008

Yesterday I shot 144 photographs (not including ones I deleted because they were obviously blurry).

I think I will get another Sandisk Extreme III 1GB card (Henry's has them for $39.99; Blacks has them for $49.99). I wasn't able to find them for cheaper (within walking distance).

Update Sat Nov 15 11:50:51 2008: Photos posted below.

Good Deals

Wed Nov 12 19:01:54 2008

David emailed me about BestBuy having a Sandisk 8GB Ultra II on sale for $49.99. I dropped by this afternoon and picked one up.

I find that the Ultra II is fast enough for my needs. What I need mostly is a week's worth of storage as I shoot about 150 pictures a day (typically three or more of each scene) and only have time during the weekend to look thorough them carefully and decied what to keep.

I think the Extreme III is likely useful for those that need to shoot 6fps continuously.

I also got a couple of good desktop background photos from the candy section, while I was shopping for groceries at the local Metro (aka. Dominion). Photos forthcoming if they turned out well.

Jim also mentioned that Henrys has $50 off the 50D body which means I might be able to get $50 back since they have the Price Gurantee. Update Thu Nov 13 12:06:03 2008: Dropped by this morning and got a $56.08 credit on my card. Essentially, I got a free 8GB CF card out of all these deals.

Portfolio: Arnold Newman


Thu Nov 13 13:57:01 2008

Arnold Newman passed away on June 7, 2008. After looking through his portfolio, I realize that many of the iconic photographs of artists I have seen, were taken by him.

I now realize why it's called "portrait" mode. There's a photograph of Woody Allen that is framed in portrait mode even though he's lying horizontally on the bed (99% of photographers would have framed it in landscape); Claude Shannon's portrait is also interesting.

You don't take pictures with your camera. You take them with your hearts. You take them with your minds. The thing is, if you find a good tool to use, that's nice, and it's good to use it...but you still have to have a heart about what you're doing. And again, learn photography, don't learn subject matter. There isn't a single thing about subject matter that hasn't been photographed. Subject matter is older than the hills.

First Manual Shoot


Thu Nov 13 14:35:15 2008

The previous night, I played with the camera in Manual mode and learned about the light-meter and what happens if you ignore it. So, here are the steps (I have used) to take a photograph in Manual mode:

  1. Set the camera in Manual (M) mode
  2. Set the White Balance (sunny, cloudy, etc.)
  3. Set the ISO; e.g. outdoors, sunny=100, overcast=250, etc.
  4. Set the f-stop; e.g. for a close-up, use f/1.4 where center is in focus; for a landscape, use f/8 or f/11 to get everything in focus
  5. Look through the viewfinder; along the bottom should be (left to right) shutter speed, f-stop, light meter, ISO, shots remaining and the camera-ready indicator
  6. Look at the light meter; it will indicate a number to either side of 0.
  7. Spin the upper dial (which changes the shutter-speed) so that the indicator moves to zero (the indicator will move in the direction of spin; that's a nice UI touch)
  8. Look at ths shutter speed and ask yourself, can you shoot at that speed? e.g. if you're shooting hand-held and the shutter speed is at 1 second, the photograph will be blurry.
  9. If you can, take the shot; if you can't, do one of two things:
    1. Reduce the f-stop (spin the back dial) until you get a shutter speed to can shoot at, or
    2. Increase the ISO (press appropriate button on top and spin the dial or press joystick on back and navigate to the ISO setting) and try to get a shutter speed you can shoot at.

The conditions you want before you can take the shot are: first, for the light meter to be centered at 0 and second, for a shutter-speed that is fast enough to capture your photograph.

So, being used to taking photographs where the camera is ready to shoot in under 2s, you can image why I thought shooting in Manual was so terrifying, especially when I was trying to capture the GO train pulling into the station at 20km/h. I would say it took me more than 10s to set the camera and take the first photograph, see it was blurred, under-exposed, etc. and then a few more seconds to re-compute the settings and re-shoot.

I'm sure there are short-cuts to my method, especially if I memorize the exposures/shutter/ISO settings based on known conditions (and note them down in my moleskine notebook) and set the camera before attempting my first shot.

Jelly Beans


Fri Nov 14 11:20:33 2008

Some more desktop backgrounds (I have configured my Mac at work to rotate them every hour and my Mac at home to rotate them after every wake from sleep).

Two pairs of photographs showing the original and the modified photograph of a jellybean display.
I used the Color Adjust tool in Preview to change the exposure and contrast (both increased a touch),
temperature (weighted towards blue), saturation (increased) and black level (increased a touch
to give the shadows more depth). Av, f/1.4, ISO250, WB: flou. [2 of 2]

I found the originals dull and boring (through no fault of the camera; it was the lighting in the store) so I tweaked the settings to make them more delicious. The green beans need a lot of "healing" as the bit of sugar, visible as white spots, are too distracting at such a close distance. Perhaps if I had stood further away...

I'm sure you will agree that the adjusted images look better than the originals.


photos lowlight photography

Sat Nov 15 11:42:25 2008

But you're sure you could be right
If you held yourself up to the light
And the embers never fade in your city by the lake
—Tonight, Tonight

Photos taken downtown along Church street, last Wednesday night.

The first thing that is obvious is that the photos are underexposed; since the camera over-exposes in daylight,
the camera had -1.3EV exposure compensation set. The next thing that is apparent is the lack of noise at 400 ISO.
Program Mode, ISO 400, WB: flou. [4 of 18]

All the photos were taken with the camera braced agains a lamppost. I selected the aperture (2.8-5.6), WB, and the ISO and let the camera calculate the shutter speed (which ranged from 1/8-1/15). I wasn't checking the histogram in the reviews, but if I had, I would have noticed the photos were underexposed. It took 4 tries to get the McDonalds photograph without blowups; by the 4th photograph, the pair of girls hugging in front of the restaurant had left.

Update Sat Nov 15 15:00:57 2008: Perhaps subconsciously, I decided to re-watch The Godfather, Part II this afternoon. The film is famous for not only being better than the original, but for Gordon Willis' "under-exposed expressionism".

"Imaging Resource" Review of the 50D


Sat Nov 15 14:19:57 2008

Another good review of the 50D by Imaging Resource; it includes comparisons with the 40D and the Rebel, and has sample photographs.

Gigapan Tripod and Panoramas

hardware panorama

Mon Nov 17 17:43:21 2008

A motorized tripod is available, for mounting DSLRs, for gigapixel panorama photographs.

A three-image panorama of the demolition of the United Metropolitan Church's rectory along Shuter street, taken last Thursday. In the background is St. Michael's Cathedral. The camera was held in landscape.

A two-image panorama looking north up Royal York road from the train stopped at Mimico GO station. The original panorama is about 6k pixels wide and clear enough that the sign next to the schoolbus can be clearly read. The two-different shades are because I didn't exposure lock. The colours also look a bit strange because the train had tinted windows.

Last night I switched to shooting 15.1 MP images with the 8GB card; the camera says I can take approximately 1,700+ photos.

Fantastic 4


Tue Nov 18 17:54:18 2008

Jim brought his EOS3000 and I got a chance to use his EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 II lens which was the camera's kit-lens.

The wide end (35mm equivalent at 1.6x), is a deep breath of freedom when compared with my 50mm (80mm equivalent at 1.6x). However, being used to shooting at f/1.4 indoors this lens takes some getting used to. Today was a pretty bad day to test this lens outdoors as it was mostly overcast. In general, I would say this lens lacks crispness.

I spent an hour this afternoon shooting 56 photographs in program mode and aperture priority. Most of this shooting was work-related— I will be using these photographs for the departmental website homepage background. I did sneak one photograph of four fashionably dressed students; it's cropped and sharpened.

Advice for Budding Photographers


Wed Nov 19 00:06:27 2008

David sent me an article on Magnum's blog with thoughts and suggestions about photography from several Magnum photographers.

Sometimes, one photographer's advice to look at other photographer's work, is contradicted by another who perfers to not be influenced by others; I suppose it's up to each of us to decide.

I liked Constantine Manos' advice, "... show us something we have never seen before and will never see again." I would like to think that the "Fantastic 4" photograph, above, was inspired by this philosophy.

A Lifetime of Photographs


Wed Nov 19 08:07:26 2008

Google is hosting the entire photo archive of LIFE Magazine.

EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 II

lens photos

Fri Nov 21 13:43:41 2008

Two photographs looking south-west and south from the Rogers building at Church and Gould. Overcast skies are great for photographic panoramas and on-location movie shoots, since they bring their own sun.

Sample photographs with Jim's lens at 28mm. My verdict: this is an outdoor lens; indoors, in low light, it delivers blurry photographs unless using 1600+ ISO.

"canon elf"


Fri Nov 21 16:53:16 2008

Looking through the web access logs, it is regrettable that Canon (also spelled "cannon") makes a camera called the "Elph" (also spelled "elf"), which inevitably leads them here.

Considering the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L


Fri Nov 21 17:18:15 2008

After a suggestion by a faculty member, I am considering the Canon EF 17-40mm L wide-angle lens. Pricing is quite varied:

The reviews are very favourable, as is the comparison with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L (twice the price for twice the light). The primary advantage over the 24-70mm f/2.8L is the weight (approx. half) and the wider angle.

He also suggested that I could likely negotiate it down to $700, or if I waited until Boxing Day, I could avoid the sales taxes. My lack of people skills make negotiations impossible and I have a low tolerance for shopping-frenzy crowds.

I am hesitating on the purchase because I prefer a versatile lens— usable both indoors (meaning faster than f/4) and outdoors and I prefer a prime (less glass means more light). Canon's wide-angle prime lenses, however, are quite "sucky".

Update Sat Nov 22 16:15:07 2008: David responds with some suggestions:

What's your budget? Canon has a 24 mm f/1.4L for $1300, with a less expensive f/2.8 at $500. 28mm f/1.8 and f/2.8 can be had for $600 and $300. I don't see the half-stop going from 1.8 to 1.4 being worth $700 IMHO.

Gruber shoots (only) with 50mm and 28mm, both f/1.8.

Note that once you get into the f/3.5 range getting any kind of bokeh is difficult at these focal lengths. You probably want to stay below f/ 2.8 if you want any meaningful blur.

Remember that you'll replace your body before you replace your lens, and if you ever stop being interested in photography, lenses don't depreciate as much as bodies.

My budget is virtually unlimited, but at this early stage, I refuse to buy a lens that cost more then the body ($1400) just as a sanity check— I don't want to buy optically fantastic lenses that collect dust at home.

Eventually, I want a (indoor/outdoor) wide-angle lens (24mm or less), a 50mm (I'm happy with my f/1.4 USM) and an indoor sport lens— 85mm (f/1.8 or f/1.2L) or 100mm.

Ad: Polaroid Land Cameras


Sat Nov 22 12:10:59 2008

During some housekeeping on my Mac, I found a New Yorker magazine ad from the 70s (I didn't note the issue) for Polaroid Land (I assume it means "landscape") Cameras, ranging in price from $200 for the top-of-the-line camera with a f/3.8 lens and 1/500s shutter speed (top right), down to the $25 el cheapo (bottom left).

Update Sun Nov 23 09:58:56 2008: Land does not refer to 'landscape'; it's named after the founder of Polaroid, Edwin Land. When I did a Wikipedia search for Polaroid Land Cameras, there was no entry that redirected to Land Camera.

GO Trains: Night and Day


Sun Nov 23 00:25:18 2008

This is a Manual mode photograph taken of the old F45, soon to be retired engines, pulling into Port Credit station. It looks a bit underexposed. [1 of 3]

This is one of the new engines being introduced into service which is capable of pulling 12 cars. [1 of 3]

A night shot, taken in Program mode, of the 20:07 train pulling out of Port Credit station (engine is at the rear of the train). [1 of 1]

All the stations are having the platforms lengthened to accommodate 12 cars; the new platform sections can be identified from the thicker yellow warning lines.

Portfolio: Nick Brandt

photos "black and white"

Mon Nov 24 06:08:04 2008

Stunning black and white photography of the animal kingdom from Nick Brandt. Try to guess the lens he's using for each photograph.

Black and white photography is my holy grail. I see the world in colour, not as shades of light and darkness. One exercise I perform when I review my photos, is to preview them all in black and white, just to see how they would look— there are some that I think will look great in black and white, but they don't; then there are ones I don't expect to look good, but they look surprisingly good.

Black and White Photos

photos "black and white"

Tue Nov 25 00:00:28 2008

The WWI Memorial in front of Old City Hall, taken from across Queen street, the day after Rememberance Day. [1 of 3]

Bench on the Track 3 platfrom at Exhibition station. I think it's a combination of the the texture of the wall and the lighting that makes this photograph interesting. [1 of 1]

VIA Rail sign on the train-wash hanger at the Willowbrook train yard. Again, the texture of the corrugated metal and the various shades of grey make it interesting. Taken from the moving train in Sports mode.[1 of 1]

A night-shot in Program mode showing the old (now removed) signage (left) and the new signage at the Port Credit station parking lot. [1 of 6]

Both the bench and the war memorial look better after having been converted to black and white. For some reason, the reflection of the train windows onto the concrete is more prominent in the thumbnail than on the actual photograph.

The parking lot signs look good in both modes. The VIA Rail sign looks a bit better in colour. The contrast has been tweaked on some of the photos.

Portfolio: Aneta Kowalczyk


Thu Nov 27 01:15:26 2008

Beautiful models, beautiful, hair, beautiful makeup, beautiful clothes, beautiful lighting— all the ingredients (plus a good camera and lens) necessary for beautiful fashion photos (without beautiful clothes, the photographs become erotica). My guess is that she uses a Nikon.

If you look at the model's eyes in the closeup photographs of the third shoot, you can see the photographer's lighting rig.

Her black and white shoots are also superb.

RMS Photos


Thu Nov 27 13:59:45 2008

Some nice photographs of RMS in France taken with a Canon 1D Mark III and a 17-40mm f/4L lens.

Top-side LCD


Thu Nov 27 16:59:11 2008

After a month of using the camera, I have to retract my statement about the top-side LCD being "old school". I have found the top-side LCD handy when needing to quickly change the AF modes between One Shot, AI Focus and AI Servo.

The alternate way to change the focus mode, is to use the rear LCD via the QuickControl menu (after pressing the joystick).

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