Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween: a Haunted History of Spirit Photography

The most famous 'spirit' photograph of them all: Abraham Lincoln with wife Mary Todd.

What happens to us after we die? Do we go on to exist in some non-physical form or is death truly the end? Well, the answer to that question will probably never be found but the uncertainty created by death and longing for lost loved ones created a booming industry for photographers in the later part of the 19th century.

Enter spirit photography.


Almost as soon as the camera had been invented, some people started thinking that the almost magical photographic medium could be just the thing to prove the existence of spirits, and thus life after death. So far as we know, the first photograph of a supposed spirit was taken in 1860. However, while ghost photos started to appear sporadically in the years after, one event alone produced an onslaught of ghost photos: the Civil War.


The Civil War, which raged from 1861 to 1865 was the bloodiest war in American history, leaving over 625,000 Americans dead, more than were killed in every other American war combined. Needless to say, with so much sudden death, America in the late 1860s was not a happy country as it would probably have been impossible for any one family not to have been touched by the war. In this nationwide grief, some enterprising photographers saw the potential for big money.


While no one knows who made the discovery, by the 1860s, the double exposure was common knowledge among photographers. In doing a double exposure, the photographer would take a picture of someone against a black background and then reuse the plate for another shot. Result: an eerie, transparent figure of a person would be superimposed on the final picture. At the time, portraits would often need to be exposed for a few seconds so, by cutting the exposure short, the photographer could further muddle the 'ghost' and make it much harder for a clear image that could be identified by grieving relatives as their lost loved one.


In the wake of the Civil War, some photographers of questionable morals seized on this opportunity and public ignorance to make big, big money.

Of all the supposed spirit photographers, William Mumler of Boston, then New York was the most famous. At the time, getting one's picture taken was a big, and expensive, event. Mumler and other photographers, being careful to guard the double exposure secret, would then advertise that they had the ability to photograph spirits. Needless to say, with all the sudden death wrought by the war, people lined up for photos in the hope that their dead relatives would join them, paying far in excess of the normal portrait price and making the spirit photographers rich in the process.

With the general public ignorance about photography, it seemed as though this fraud could go on indefinitely. Unfortunately for the fraudulent photographers, the good times did not last.

In 1869, William Mumler was put on trial for fraud, with his accusers, among them, P.T. Barnum, stating that he was using double exposures to fake spirit photographs. While Mumler himself was acquitted of the charges as there was no hard evidence against him, his trial let the big secret of spirit photographers, double exposure, out into the open. Result: once everyone knew about trick photography, people were less inclined to line up for photos when they knew that they were, more than likely, being swindled.


By the turn of the 20th century, spirit photography as well as the whole spiritualism movement was consigned to the pages of history. However, while the spirit photographs of the 1800s have been essentially proven as fakes, the interest in catching ghosts on camera has not waned in the least. Just Google something to the effect of 'ghost pictures' for proof of this fact.


Some'ghost' photos from the 1800s











And now. . . the best for last. . .
                                                        Ghost snot! Eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww!!!!!


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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Using an Astronomical Telescope as a Camera Lens


The Moon in the day, hand-held with Orion ED80!

For photographers, there are two kinds of equipment “fevers”: aperture and focal length. For anyone suffering aperture fever, there is only one solution: fast, often expensive glass. However, for anyone wanting focal length, there is a way around buying those ungodly expensive telephoto prime lenses: astronomical telescopes.
Everyone is familiar with the idea of looking through a telescope to see the Moon, stars, and planets. For astrophotogarphers, they take their pictures by coupling their dSLRs to their telescopes. In the same way, any traditional photographer wanting an extra-long reach can use a telescope as a terrestrial lens, too.

Stop sign from a quarter mile away with an 600mm scope

So, how does one co about attaching a camera to a telescope?

First, you'll need a T-ring and T-adapter. Together, both parts can be had for under $20. First, the T-ring is a camera brand specific part that will mount to your SLR in the same way as a lens will. So, if you own Canon, get a Canon mount T-ring. Olympus? Buy an Olympus ring. The second part of the puzzle is the T-adapter, which goes into the back of the scope itself and is universal in nature. So, get your camera-specific T-ring and thread it onto the T-adapter. Next, attach the ring/adapter setup to your camera just like a lens, then stick the whole thing into the back of the telescope, being sure to secure it in place with the thumb screws.

So, camera attached, how does a telescope work as a camera lens?

Well, when it comes to going a long way for a little cash, the telescope gets the job done in a big way. Example: Orion sells a 400mm f5 telescope for just over $100. In contrast, Canon makes a 400mm f5.6 telephoto lens that it sells for about $1,300. So, if money is your big concern, the telescope is, on the surface, just the thing for you. However, there is more to photography than saving money, so read on.


Vulture resized, uncropped.

100% crop
Undoubtedly, the biggest drawback of using a telescope over a conventional camera lens is the fact that the telescope won't autofocus. For stars, this isn't a problem as they don't move. For living subjects, though, the lack of AF can be a big, big, problem, especially considering that there is no communication whatsoever between the camera and the scope, which means no focus confirm, either. So, when it comes to getting things in focus, it's all on you. If you're lucky, your camera will have the ability to change focus screens, which means that you can drop in one friendly to manual focus, like back in the old film days. No MF-friendly screen/the ability to change them? Have fun trying to get the focus!

Big problem aside, there's more. to come!

Continuing with the communication problem, when the camera and lens don't talk to each other, that means less reliable metering. Personally, my Canon 30D overexposes by about 1 ½ stops when used with the telescope, your camera/scope combo may be different, not that any of this matters if you are smart and shoot RAW format. JPEG lovers, you may want to reconsider your loyalties!

Unlike lenses, telescopes don't have image stabilization, either. At long focal lengths, it gets increasingly hard to hand-hold lenses, especially slow ones or when the light is less than ideal. Heck, even at 300mm and f5.6, many people have trouble hand-holding, so how do you think a 400, 600, or even 1,000mm lens will work? Not good! Needless to say, tripods (strong ones) are pretty much a must when using telescopes as camera lenses.
Trying to focus can be a pain in the neck, literally, as you rack the focuser in and out.

Now a third issue: the act of focusing. When focusing, you have to rack the focuser in and out while with lenses, if they change length at all, will extend on the front end. Back to the scopes. Obviously, when trying to look through a viewfinder while racking back and forth, it can be a real pain in the neck (perhaps literally) to keep your eye to the camera. This is especially troublesome in you like to hand-hold your telescope. Tripods will alleviate this problem somewhat, but having to move all the time to keep your eye up to the viewfinder is still irritating.

Okay, if you still want to use your telescope as a camera lens, know that you can produce some excellent pictures, provided you have the patience. In fact, I've seen some great bird shots taken with astronomical telescopes. My only question is this: for every good shot, how many bad ones were there? Still, as with everything else, it will take practice, but you should be able to get some good pictures with your telescope if you take the time to learn.



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Sunday, October 24, 2010

This Week on Examiner

Another Sunday, another Examiner roundup, so be sure to see if you missed anything.

Astronomy Column
Featured sight for week of 10/17: Comet Hartley almost as big as the Moon!
NASA mission to Comet Hartley
The Oroinid Meteor Shower is coming!
Orionid viewing tips
The Orionids peak tonight
The Orionid Meteor Shower: it's not over!
U.S. To prepare for asteroid impact


Photography ColumnMcDonald's Happy Meal refuses to decompose-after 6 months!
B&H Photo-Video releases iPhone app
“Cigar Guy” unmasked, what does he really look like?
How to photograph meteors
Ugly Meter app: the perfect tool for bullies?
Man arrested for filming federal building sues government
The 7 degrees of digital camera


New Sub PageIf you look at the top right sidebar, you'll notice yet another page, this time titled "educational." This is the place where you'll be able to go and find general, informative type pieces. Keep coming back and watch these pages grow!


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Astronomy in Ancient Egypt

Think 'Egypt' and most people think of pyramids, not astronomy.
When one thinks of Ancient Egypt, pyramids, hieroglyphs, and mummies come to mind, not astronomy. However, unbeknownst to many who are more conscious of the more popularized aspects of Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Egyptians left quite as astronomical legacy, too.

Trying to trace the history of Ancient Egypt is difficult as Egypt (along with the Fertile Crescent) can be considered the birthplace of civilization. By 7,500 B.C., the first permanent settlements were already in existence in the Nile Valley. By 3,500 B.C., two distinct kingdoms, Upper Egypt in the South and Lower Egypt in the Nile Delta, had emerged. In the centuries that followed, Upper would conquer Lower Egypt, thus unifying the country and establishing Egypt of the Pharaohs. This unification took place under a king named Narmer (alternately given as Menes) in around 3,100 B.C.

When compared to the Fertile Crescent, Egypt was much better suited to breed a great civilization and all of the things that come with it, including: literature, religion, medicine, art, music, and science. While the Fertile Crescent was located on a flat floodplain between two irregular rivers (Tigris and Euphrates), Egypt was nestled in a valley bordered by deserts and bisected by a river that behaved like clockwork with its annual flood. With a reliable water source and protection from invaders on 3 sides, Egypt was the perfect location for history's first great civilization.

Now, onto the astronomy.

Even before the kingdom of Egypt was unified under Narmer, Egypt was a nation of farmers. Every year, snow in the Ethiopean highlands (where the Nile originates) causes the world's longest river to swell. In time, the flood reaches Egypt and inundates the land with water. While many would consider this a disaster, the Egyptians did not. Along with the water, the Nile flood also brought large deposits of nutrient-rich Nile mud. When the water receeded, the land would be covered with soil that was perfect for planting. Unlike other areas where there was always the risk of exhausting the soil, this problem was nonexistent in Egypt as the Nile would bring a fresh later of rich Nile mud each year. With this lucky chance, farming flourished in Egypt as it could nowhere else in terms of both productivity and yearly security.


'Nilometers' were used for measuring the height of the annual flood.
So, with this national reliance on farming, telling time was a most important business.

As far as we know, the Ancient Egyptians were the first people to recognize the 365 day year. For the Egyptians, a calendar allowed them to predict the time the Nile would flood. This way, the growing season could be determined from year to year. Besides the calendar, the Egyptians also noticed another astronomical portent of the seasons: every July, the Dog Star, Sirius, would appear to rise just ahead of the Sun. The helical rising of Sirius is where we get our “dog days of summer,” which mark the hottest period of the year.

On a more day-to-day scale, the Egyptians also developed a system for dividing up smaller units of time. The Egyptians divided the 365 day year into 12 lunar months of 30 days each. Also, the day was divided into 36 weeks of 10 days. Unfortunately for the Egyptian working man, the weekend was still only 2 days! Like other civilizations obsessed with even numbers, the last 5 days of the year were troublesome for the Egyptians. Unlike other cultures, the optimistic Egyptians took the last 5 days as a cause for celebration. Considered independent from the rest of the year, the extra 5 days were marked by festivals, feasting, and general revelry as the Egyptians celebrated the gods' birthdays at this time.

Unfortunately, as smart as the Egyptians were, they never picked up on (or did anything about) the fact that the solar year is actually 365 ¼ days long. As a result, after 4 years, the calendar would be a day off of what is was supposed to be. In longer time spans, the difference would become dramatic. In 100 years, the calendar would be almost a month off of where it should be. In all, it would take 1460 years for the calendar to cycle back to where it needed to be. So, with the calendar essentially useless most of the time, how could one go about telling the time of year?

Enter the Dog Star.

By an amazing coincidence, the helical rising of Sirius not only marked the start of the hottest days of summer, but also heralded the soon to come Nile flood. At its origin, the Nile would flood in spring. However, it would take several months for the flood to reach Egypt, with the delta over 4,100 miles downstream. So, come July, just like clockwork, the Nile would flood just as Sirius reemerged on the other side of the Sun as a morning star. With this lucky chance, the Egyptians were still able to tell time regardless of their flawed calendar. Because of this new cycle of flooding, planting, and harvesting, the Egyptians considered the first appearance of Sirius in the morning as the start of a new year. In Egyptian mythology, Sirius became associated with the goddess Isis, who is credited with creating the first mummy after she restored her slain husband, Osiris, to life after he was killed by his evil, envious brother, Seth. A more appropriate choice of stellar association was not possible as, just as Isis restored Osiris to life, the Nile flood, announced by Sirius, would restore Egypt to life via the life-giving waters.

Although it was only one star, the gods-stars association would grow much stronger as time progressed.

For the Ancient Egyptian, the greatest concern in this life was preparing for the afterlife. Although there were many different theologies in the early days of Egypt, they eventually coalesced together into a uniform religion that, at its start, was very stellar in nature.

The central idea of Egyptian religion was that, to guarantee an afterlife, the body needed to be preserved. Again, no one is sure where this idea came from but one idea is that, after burying the dead in the sand, the sand would dry out the body before bacteria could cause it to decay, thus preserving a shriveled, but very recognizable human form. In essence, these were naturally made mummies. In time, the sand would shift, revealing these preserved corpses. The living, upon seeing the bodies, may have assumed that, since the remains looked so life-like, that the individuals cheated death. What started as accidental preservation soon became an obsession and a central idea of Egyptian religion.

However, some people could see to that they were better prepared for the afterlife than being buried in the sand and hoping for the best. The pharaohs, considered living gods, had the wealth of Egypt at their disposal in order to ensure eternal life. With all the resources commanded, the pharaohs commanded elaborate tombs be built and techniques developed for the purpose of preserving the body. By the Fourth Dynasty in around 2,600 B.C., the art of mummification was essentially perfected and the tomb had evolved from a large pit in the sand lined with bricks and roofed over into the massive pyramids that people all over the world associate with Egypt to this very day.

For the pharaohs, all of this preparation still wasn't enough.

By the time of the pharaoh Khufu, the religious beliefs of the Egyptians, especially in regards to what happened to the king after he died, were very complex. For the pharaoh, there was no rest after death. By day, it was believed that the spirit of the king would join the sun god, Ra, in a solar boat that bore the Sun through the sky. With this association, the pharaoh's spirit would conquer death every day when
the Sun rose in the morning. After the Sun set, it was believed that the king would join the god Osiris, associated with the constellation Orion, in the night sky before being reborn with Ra in the morning. It was for this reason that two boats were buried with the pharaoh Khufu beside his Great Pyramid. However, the always prepared Egyptians had a backup plan in place just in case something went wrong somewhere.

An undeniable feat of engineering, the Great Pyramid is home to what have been termed “air shafts,” even though they don't all (at least today) extend to the exterior of the Great Pyramid. In the Great Pyramid, there are four such shafts, two extending from the king's chamber where Khufu was buried and two more from the incorrectly-named “queen's chamber,” which sits almost directly below the king's chamber. Ever since the pyramids were examined by historians, the purpose of these shafts remained an utter mystery, at least until the last few decades.

It was long known that the Ancient Egyptians placed a lot of emphasis in the stars in the battle to overcome death. However, it was not until 1960s that Alexander Badawy and Virginia Trimble  first postulated the idea that the air shafts in the Great Pyramid could have some stellar connection. The angle of the shafts known, the experiment was simply this: extend a line up to the sky and see if the shafts pointed at any stars that were important to the ancients. When this was done, no matches were found. However, thanks to computers, the sky's motion can be traced back through time and the phenomenon of precession to the point in time when the Great Pyramid was built. Result: each of the shafts was pointing at a star venerated by the Ancient Egyptians.

The South-facing shaft in the King's chamber was pointed at Alnitak, the lowest star in Orion's belt. As stated already, Orion was associated with Osiris, Egyptian god of the dead. The choice of this particular star could also be of more significance later.

The Southern shaft in the Queen's Chamber was pointed at Sirius, which was associated with Isis, goddess of among other things, rebirth.


The Great Pyramid's astronomical alignments.
The North-facing shafts were directed at alpha Draco/Thuban (King's chamber) and beta \Ursa Minor/Kocheb (Queen's Chamber). For the Ancient Egyptians, the circumpolar stars were known as the immortals for the simple reason that they never set and therefore, never “die” as they don't dip below the horizon. It was only natural that the immortality-desiring pharaohs would want to be associated with them. However, with these two particular stars, the Egyptians sought to do better for their King than merely send him in the right direction.

At the time the Great Pyramid was built, there was no North Star. Instead, all the stars seemed to revolve around an empty patch of sky located between, guess what, Thuban and Kocheb. Aa a result, the Egyptians pointed the air shafts at the two brightest stars near the location for the North celestial pole as it was at the time of construction. In addition,a the point of night when Thuban and Kocheb were directly vertical of each other, true North was indicated. Perhaps this is how the Egyptians orientated their pyramids so close to true North, with the Great Pyramid being less than 1/20th degree from perfection.

As good as this was, incorporating stellar alignments into the Pyramid's design, the whole Giza complex itself may have been modeled on the heavens.


Coincidence or design?Popularized by Robert Bauval in the 1994 book The Orion Mystery, one notion is that the Ancient Egyptians tried to copy the heavens on Earth via their pyramids. Whether this was intended or not is unknown (and probably never will be), but the coincidence is stunning. The Giza pyramids, three of them, consist of two large pyramids in a straight line with a smaller one slightly offset. Lookinga t the belt of Orion, the two lowest stars are of the same brightness but the highest one is dimmer and slightly out of line. While Bauvall and often co-writer Graham Hancock have taken their theories in a distinctly alternative history vein, the initial idea that the Giza pyramids were meant to copy the belt of Orion found supporters in the Egyptological community, including that of Egyptology legend I.E.S. Edwards, a former chief keeper of antiquities at the British Museum. Whether by coincidence or design, the theory does explain why the perfection-obsessed Egyptians would have made such a huge “error” in the layout of the Giza complex.

However, just after the Great Pyramid was built, the stellar orientation of the Egyptian religion started to wane. Yes, the stars were still important and astronomical scenes often decorated kings' burial chambers but the Egyptians would never go to the length they did with the Great Pyramid to incorporate the stars into the structure's design. Evidence for this fact comes in the names of Khufu's successors: Jedafra, Khafra, and Menkura. Notice all the kings' names end in “Ra” for the sun god, which the later kings would increasingly seek to associate themselves with.


The burial chamber of 5th dynasty pharaoh Unas.
As a last bit of pyramid-astronomy, consider the pyramid shape itself. Sure, when building in stone with the technology of the time, the only way to build extremely tall was with the pyramid shape as the design spreads the weight of every block onto the four below it, thus preventing collapse. However, why build perfectly, geometric pyramids at all? The first pyramids were stepped versions, simulating a staircase to heaven. So why spend time and effort building a true pyramid, which gives virtually no room for error? One theory is that the Egyptians saw the Zodiacal Light and thought of it as a light ramp to heaven for the king and thus wanted to replicate this launching pad on Earth.


Was the Zodiacal Light the inspiration for the pyramids?
After the Old Kingdom, which saw the construction of the Great Pyramid, collapsed in around 2,100 B.C., the stellar associations in Egyptian religion would decline as the Sun became ever more important. By the time of the New Kingdom (1550-1070B.C.), giant obelisks would populate the Egyptian skyline. According to some theories, the obelisks were built to simulate sun pillars in stone. However, at this time, the astronomical ceilings that adorned the burial chambers of the royals (and sometimes non-royals) reached their highest level of sophistication.


The burial chamber in the tomb of Seti I.

Obelisks: sun pillars in stone?
In 1279 B.C., the pharaoh of the pharaohs came to power in Ramesses II, better known as Ramesses the Great. Under his reign, it is widely regarded that Ancient Egypt reached the high-water mark of its 3000 year history. As befitting the greatest Egyptian, Ramesses created what can be considered the most spectacular architectural work (rivaling the pyramids, but in a different way): the Temples of Abu Simbel, located a the Southern border of Ancient Egypt.


The temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel
The inspiration for Mt. Rushmore, the facade of the larger of the two temples features four statues of Ramesses seated on his throne, each nearly 70 feet high. If that wasn't enough, the temple then extends nearly 200 feet into the mountain, revealing more chambers, colossal statues, and corridors before terminating in an inner chamber featuring the statues of four of Egypt's most important gods: Amun, Ra, Ptah, and Ramesses himself. However, on two days and two days only (February and October 20), the light from the rising Sun will penetrate all the way into the temple and illuminate three of the divinities, leaving the god of shadows, Ptah, out of the direct sunlight. Obviously, whatever the Egyptians were doing was being done with a purpose. According to legend, one of these dates marked the coronation day of Ramesses the Great.

However, the story of Abu Simbel wasn't done: in the 1960s with the building of the Aswan High Dam, the temples at Abu Simbel were soon to find themselves underwater if nothing was done to stop the rising water that was quickly becoming Lake Nasser. In a concerted effort sponsored by nations all over the world, UNESCO descended on the site, cut the temples (carved into the mountain) into blocks, and then moved the pieces up and out of the lake's reach before reassembling them like a giant puzzle. Through all this destruction and reconstruction, the alignment was preserved. In all, the project cost $80 billion in 1960s dollars.


The temples then and now

Despite all the moving, the alignment was preserved.
In summary, the Ancient Egyptian civilization fits the general pattern of ancient cultures that become interested in astronomy in that the initial motivation is practical (timekeeping to ensure successful farming) but the final product involves religion as supernatural powers increasingly find themselves assigned to the stars and the starts eventually find themselves transformed into deities. In all, the Egyptians have left us an incredible astronomical legacy in stone, that is, if you know what to look for.


A final word and warning . . .

When dealing with works about Ancient Egypt, especially those of a speculative nature, it is important to keep oneself firmly grounded in the facts. Yes, it is good to speculate on ancient mysteries and such speculation can often lead to truth, but, when it comes to Ancient Egypt in particular, authors have a thing for taking a perfectly plausible unknown and transforming it into something completely unrecognizable and highly implausible. Example: the Orion Mystery, which takes a perfectly logical idea supported by facts (the air shafts in the Great Pyramid being for religious purposes and even the idea that the Giza complex was built to simulate Orion's Belt), but then ruins it with assertions (the complex was built in 10,000 B.C. by survivors or a superior, lost civilization, probably Atlantis), both of which are without any solid evidence whatsoever.


As another example, consider that the pyramids have been:

1. Ancient mathematics coded in stone (play with numbers enough and you'll 'find' anything you want to find)
2. Repositories for lost ancient knowledge Iaparrently, someone checked out the entire library and forgot to bring it back)
3. The Biblical grain storehouses built by Joseph (never mind the fact that there is little internal space in the pyramids)
4. Prophecies in stone (prophecy is bunk in itself)
5. Built by survivors of Atlantis (pyramids have been dated to Ancient Egypt)
6. Built by aliens (there are quarry workers' notes on some on the blocks)
7. Power plants (if we're so confident of this 'fact,' why can't we fire it up again?)
8. Weapons of mass destruction (I'm not making this up!)

Yeah, right!


 
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking A Walk On The Dark Side: Canon vs. Nikon Ergonomics

The Nikon D200, originally a $1,800 camera from 2005 that can be had for around $600 used today.

Recently, I got the opportunity to shot with a Nikon, specifically, a D200, the father of the current D300s. Never having shot with a Nikon dSLR before, I was very eager to give it a try and see exactly what it was like on the other side of the fence, having been a Canon shooter since the day I got into dSLR photography.

Granted, it was a bit of an adjustment, but my, my, was I ever impressed . . .


Nikon Positives

Very comfortable in-hand.
The grip on this thing is absolutely amazing in that it is a very soft, almost sticky rubber that should afford a firm grip even with sweaty hands in the middle of summer.

Great for manual focus.
Until Canon incorporated interchangeable focus screens in its mid-level dSLRs, we could just about forget thinking of manually focusing our lenses. On the other hand, the D200 is just as good as my 45-year old Canon FTQL film camera that was made for such focusing.

Setting lock buttons.
Granted, this isn't a problem for me but it must be for some people as Nikon incorporated setting lock features on the camera to prevent accidental switches during shooting.

Better AF point spread.
The Canon's 9 vs. the Nikon's 11 AF points doesn't seem like much of a difference until you see how they're laid out in the viewfinder. Canon's diamond pattern can make portrait shooting interesting (in a bad way) while the more conventional Nikon grid makes it a snap, or, in this case, a click.

AF assist lamp/built-in intervalometer
All the Nikons have one of these (heck, even my $100 Olympus P&S does) while not a single Canon SLR has since 2002. Instead, Canons with a pop-up flash pop the flash and emit bursts of strobe to act as the AF assist. Besides being ineffective, this will annoy subjects and potentially get you thrown out of a public venue for being a PITA. AS for the intervalometer, Dxx Nikons and up have them while no Canon does.

Quiet
This is undoubtedly the quietest dSLR I've ever used.

Metering mode button
On Canon, you have to change the metering on the LCD. On Nikon, just turn a button.

External file format control.
On a Canon, if you want to change your file quality settings (RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG), you'll have to dive into menus. On the D200, hit a button and then adjust in the topside LCD screen.

Dedicated ISO, white balance, and drive controls
On mid-level Canons, if you want to adjust these things, you'll have to use the dual function buttons. On Nikon, you have single function buttons for ISO and WB. For drive, it's even better as all you have to do is spin a wheel, which eliminates the need to look at a LCD display altogether.

External image protect button
Again, if you want to protect your image on a Canon, menu-diving is required. On the Nikon, just press a button on the back of the camera.

Better located depth of field preview button
The Nikon's DOF preview is on the right side of the lens mount, which means that you can just move a finger to touch it as you are free to play with the lens using your left hand. On the Canons, this button is on the left side, which means that you have to take your hand off the lens while previewing your DOF.

Weather-sealing
Yes, the D200 isn't sealed as well as its successor, but it's better than any Canon until you get to the 7D, which costs around $1,500.

Better on-off-light switch
People with a need for speed will appreciate the under the shutter finger location of the D200's on-off switch. In addition, the control for the light on the top LCD is here, too. On the Canon, it's not as conveniently-placed being located nearest the viewfinder chamber.

Nikon Negatives

Aperture rings on old lenses
On the old non-G Nikon mount lenses, the aperture ring has to be stopped down to minimum aperture for the camera to work. Unfortunately when shooting, it's really easy to bump the aperture ring and thus stop the camera from working.

Thread-on port covers
Yes, it's a sturdier design than the Canon flaps, but, since these covers come off the camera, they could be very easy to lose, too.

No quick control dial
Canons have the wonderful, intuitive quick control dial that allows users to blast through menus at near warp speed. Nikon only has a 4-way joystick (Canons have one, too). True, this is a lot better than the set of 4 buttons on lesser cameras, but still not as good as the rear wheel on the Canons.

Focus mode control on front of camera
Maybe Nikon just ran out of space on the back of the camera or maybe the designer came to work with a hangover that day, who knows. Either way, placing a 3-way control in a place where the photographer can't even see it wasn't a good idea.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Yes, I didn't get all that much time to play with the D200 when it came to diving through menus but I did manage to get a good feel for the external part of the camera which does, needless to say, have a lot of great things about it.

Again, this reiterates the wise advice that, when buying the camera, in-hand feel and ergonomics, not just the spec sheet, should play a large part in making the decision. Besides this, when shot in RAW, all cameras are pretty much equal, anyway.



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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stunning Astrophoto-Op Tonight: Comet Hartley and the Double Cluster

Comet Hartley and the Double Cluster this morning. Canon 30D, 2 minute exposure at ISO 400 with a Tokina 80-200 2.8 lens (review coming!) set to 100mm and f4. Image uncropped.

Throughout October, Comet Hartley will grace the sky for astronomers living in the Northern Hemisphere. Starting the month in Cassiopeia, the comet will move down through Perseus and Auriga by the time the month ends. During the course of October, the Comet is expected to brighten to around 4th magnitude, within the realm of naked-eye visibility, given the sky is dark.

While the comet will be hanging around all month, tonight and tonight only, it will be putting on a spectacular show the both observational and photographic astronomers will be able to savor when irt comes just within a degree of the Perseus Double Cluster?

Hint: get all your gear ready to go!

The great news about the comet is that it is well-placed in that it will be a virtually all-night object. So, whether you like to observe/shoot in the early evening before you go to bed or in the early morning just after you get up, the comet will be there.

Above is an Comet Hartley's approach to the Double Cluster this morning, which simulates where it will be tomorrow night, but on the opposite side of the cluster. By looking at the size of the comet right now, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the gas cloud will get into the Double Cluster itself, making for a truly stunning sight/photograph .

Clear skies and good luck!



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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

August 2010 Astrophotography

Yes, over a month after shooting wrapped, here are my astrophotos for August, which feature both late summer and early fall deep sky objects. Enjoy.


The Trifid Nebula and M21 open cluster. Between equipment problems, unexpected clouds, work, and the Moon, this one took a total of 4 nights over the course of the month to get an hour and a half's worth time.



M33, the Triangulum Galaxy



The spectacular Double Cluster in Perseus



Orion through the clouds at dawn, hand-held to boot!



The Moon and Jupiter in the morning



Cassiopeia, a favorite fall constellation. Note the Double Cluster below and the Great Andromeda Galaxy to the right of the constellation.



Another fall favorite, Perseus. Again, the Double Cluster is present above Perseus' head and the Pleiades are in the bottom right, note the slight nebulosity in the 5 minute exposure.



Awesome sunbeam



Thin crescent in the morning



The next day and an even thinner crescent



Full Moon


                                        
Venus at dusk.


Venus over a highway. If you want to see the planet, don't wait around, this is essentially the last week you'll be able to see it.


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Friday, October 1, 2010

New Page Added

On the top of the right sidebar, you'll notice that I've added a new page titled "How-To," which contains, not surprisingly, a collection of how-to articles. This way, you won't have to go wading through a year of old stuff just to find what you're looking for. Expect this page to grow in the near future, too!


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