Monday, March 1, 2021

Repairing the focus on an SX-70

 First a little background.  Back in the summer of 2019, someone gave me a very unusual Polaroid SX-70 that was customized for scientific photography.  Later, in September, I removed the customization hardware and gave the camera a new skin.  

I then discovered that there was a problem with focus-to-infinity with this camera.   You can see the problem with one of the shots that I posted on my Flickr account.  Out to infinity, there has consistently been a bit of lens blur.

This brings me to a couple of weeks ago, when I searched for some repair solutions.  Flickr came to my rescue with some basic instructions.  All I had to do was remove the front housing rectangle around the lens opening.  I was able to pry it off quite easily.  Then I ran the focus out to infinity, where I could easily see the blur in the split screen focus.  I depressed the "idler wheel" as described and with a very slight turn of the gear, I was able to regain the focus-to-infinity.

Although I have a fresh pack of film, I'm waiting until Spring, when there will be much more to photograph in color.   I'm confident that I'll be able to achieve decent focus this time around.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Pelican (can hold much more than my belly can)

 I had no serious intentions when I was browsing on eBay a couple of week ago.  Someone was selling a large number of  used cases for $50 each.  The Pelican 1520 Protector is a nice-sized case for my camera equipment. A new one is in the $150 range.  In order to add my own equipment to this case, however, I needed to by a new foam insert.  For $23, I was able to get Pick and Pluck Foam for a Pelican 1520 case on Amazon.

This all turned out to be a sweet deal.  I have room for a little bit more, but I'm taking my time to decide on the final slot.

Pelican 1520 case with camera equipment

From the top, circling clockwise:

  • 50mm f/1.4 primary
  • EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro 
  • 70-200f/4 L telephoto
  • EF-S 18-55 IS 
  • Canon D77 camera with EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM "pancake"
  • Canon Speedlite 580EX flash
I'm thinking of cutting a hole out for my LensBaby, but I'm going to let that thought marinate.  On the plus side, it would give me something with tilt-shift and fisheye capability.  On the other hand, I'd like to be able to store a few specialty filters, too.

Monday, February 8, 2021

A new year and a new lens

 I got an early birthday present of a Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM "pancake" lens.  A co-worker had gotten one a few years back and I've admired it since.   It's small, lightweight and has a low profile, making it easy to carry around.

A Ken Rockwell review of this lens gives it good marks.  He summarizes that

The optics of this lens are superb, and its size make it a complete winner. For $150, you can't go wrong.
He's right.   

As a side benefit, the lens is classified as a Macro, but I haven't really taken much advantage of that at this point.  I ought to work dandy with a lens extension tube.

So, here's the moment of truth.  One of my first shots with this lens:
Back of WVU's Woodburn Hall

It's the back of Woodburn Hall on WVU's main campus.  This is an uncropped hand-held shot, but I did apply lens correction in PhotoShop.  I also ran it through Topaz Labs' DeNoise AI.   For the B&W, I ran this through one of Tim Shields' Lightroom Presets (Cold Tone).  

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Life in Macro

 Even thought I'm not very good at it, I love macro photography.  I've written recently about my experience with a new flash unit, and I've tried to make more use of it.

One of the problems I've had for a long time is wrestling over depth-of-field.  My trusty Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens has served me well over the years, but because of natural light, I was prone to shooting it wide open at f/2.8.  Thus the shallow depth of field.

It's possible to teach an old photographer new tricks, though.  With a ring flash, there's no reason why I couldn't stop down.  My macro lens can stop down to f/32, so I gave that a try.  The first problem I ran into at f/32 was that my shots were dark.  I compensated to this in Lightroom, where I was able to recover amazing detail.   I do need to learn how to goose up the strength of the flash, if it's possible.

But the low f-stop really made a difference. Here are two recent shots:

This is a Red-headed bush cricket (Phyllopalpus pulchellus) sitting rather boldly on the leaf of a miniature rose at my house.  A here's a real beauty:

It's a tiny little sweat bee belonging to the genus Augochlorine.  I would normally have to create a focus stack to get this kind of DOF, but shooting at f/32 did a darn good job for a lot less work.

Now, this shot wasn't quite this sharp to begin with.  I ran it through a couple of plug-in filters that I had bought from Topaz Labs:  Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI.  I'll have to tell you more about those later!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

A New Old Lens

 I while back, I managed to score a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens on As always, a Goodwill auction purchase is "as is."  Turned out that both automatic and manual focus on the lens would not go below four meters.  There has apparently been a long-standing problem of this sort with that lens.  It has a part with a design flaw that makes it very easy to damage. A repair company was able to replace the flawed part with a redesigned one that isn't as easy to damage.  It wasn't a cheap repair, but it's not a cheap lens, either.  Of course, the lens also got a thorough cleaning as part of the repair.

Although I already own a couple of 50mm f/1.4 lenses, they are both vintage, manual focus lenses.  Perhaps because of that, I hadn't been as attuned to their superior light gathering properties. Since this new one is made to work on a Canon digital SLR, I can more easily appreciate the superior optics.  Foremost is that the lens can work really well in low light and natural situations.

Another great feature of the 50 is the focal range.  It's great for portraiture because it give a nice blur to the background.

Here's one of the best shots I've taken with this newly repaired lens:

This is a great spangled fritillary butterfly on an iron weed. I shot it with the lens wide open at f/1.4, where it is said to be "soft."  Note the dreamy background, which is the woods behind the flower.  If I want sharper pictures, I'll need to stop it down to at least f/2.0.

Despite this newer, easy-to-use lens, I'm going to find it difficult to part with my Konica 50mm manual lens. I'd love to compare the image quality side-by-side with these two lenses.  Perhaps another day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Getting the Bugs Out

 Ever since I got a replacement for my old Sigma EM-140 ring flash (it's an older model and it doesn't flash on my EOS D77), I've been back to shooting macros out of doors.  The cheap replacement for the Sigma ring is a "KF150 TTL Marco (Sic) Ring Flash," which seems to be doing a decent job.

But what I really want to write about is a site that I recently stumbled across.  It's called iNaturalist. According to a Wikipedia description

iNaturalist is a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

I've joined iNaturalist and have posted a number of my recent shot to the site, along with my tentative classifications.  Boy, what a humbling experience.  My identifications have been largely challenged by the experts, and I have little to doubt their authority as to the correct species.

I had labelled this a a Dog Day Cicada (Neotibicen canicularis):

However, it turns out that it's really a Common Swamp Cicada (Neotibicen tibicen).  To my delight, this photo has been flagged as a "research grade."

One other earned that classification.  I'd originally identified this as a Modest Masked Bee (Hylaeus modestus), but that has been corrected to be an Eastern Masked Bee (Hylaeus affinis).  At least I've been getting the genus right.

In my defense, if you look at a picture of a Modest Masked Bee, it looks identical to this. The telltale distinction, according the the expert, is the presence of a yellow spot on the tegulae.

Just for grins, here's one that I took with my Canon EF70-200 telephoto:

It's tentatively identified as a Robber Fly (Efferia aestuans).  Let's hope that I got this one right.

To date, I've submitted six insects and one plant to iNaturalist.  I'm hoping that I can contribute many more.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Bee-Grade Photography

 I stepped outside yesterday on my lunch break to photograph some insects near the side of the house.  A mint plant was blooming, and I caught a couple of bees that gave me a real challenge at identification.  I got a lot of help from Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography's web site.  If you visit this site, do click on the Gallery, which contains some fantastic nature shots.

The first bee that I photographed is called a Masked Bee.  It's a tiny creature, only about 5 mm:

It belongs to the genus Hylaeus.  An interesting thing about this genus is that they don't carry pollen in the usual pollen basket.  Instead, they carry pollen in their crop and then regurgitate it into the cell where it will be used as food for the larva.

This second bee was much harder for me to identify.

Best guess is that this belongs to the genus Nomada.  They are kleptoparasitic or "cuckoo bees." which enter the nests of hosts and lay eggs there. The larvae steal the resources that the host has already collected.