Monday, June 27, 2011

Tokina Announces FF-Capable 17-35 f4 AT-X PRO

Tokina's new, FF-capable, 17-35 f4 AT-X PRO


Good news! Tokina has just announced the latest addition to its full frame-cvapable lens lineup: a 'PRO' 17-35 f4 model, which is obviously designed as a lower-cost, filter-friendly alternative to the 16-28 f2.8. Basically, if Tokina's past ultrawide optics for crop cameras (11-16 f2.8, 12-24 f4) and full frame/film shooters (16-28 f2.8) were any indication, this should be one stellar lens, especially if it hits stores for around $600.




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Friday, June 24, 2011

Astrophotography for May 2011

Here's the May gallery. Again, as befits 2011, not much owing to the crappy weather . . .

The Milky Way on a crisp, low-humidity night.


 Follow the arc to Arcturus, speed onto Spica . . .


The Dippers


 The Moon as shot through a 1000mm F.L. refractor



A crop from the above shot. Don't go dragging a laptop with waste of money telescope focusing software programs out to your telescope for astrophotography! I used the live view with 13x magnification function on my D700 to get this crisp, perfectly focused image.




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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eratosthenes, the Summer Solstice Sun, and Caclulating Earth's Circumference in 2,300 B.C.

Eratosthenes used the Summer Solstice Sun, an obelisk, and a well to calculate the Earth's circumference in 2300 B.C.


Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (for us North of the Equator) and the official start of the summer season. For many people, this serves as a chance to celebrate what is, for many people, their favorite season.  For astronomers, and especially those intersted in the history of the science, the Summer Solstice also marks a major anniversary in the quest to undestand the universe and our place in it.



An obelisk like this one was the first piece of the puzzle.
Eratosthenes was the first man to measure the circumference of the Earth. The whole drive to do such an audacious thing came from curious stories coming out of Egypt. In Syene, Southern Egypt, it was said that at noon on the longest day of the year, and only on this day and at this time, the Sun would illuminate the water at the bottom of a deep well that was in shadow at every other time in the year. However, in Alexandria, where Eratosthenes served as chief librarian of the great Alexandria library, the Sun cast definite shadows at noon on the Summer Solstice. So how could this be?



This is supposedly the well Eratosthenes used for inspiration.


Well, Eratosthenes was quick to realize that, for this to happen, the Earth had to be spherical. However, while lesser minds may have been content in this knowledge, Eratosthenes was not, he thirsted for more. Calculating the angle of the shadows, Eratosthenes determined that the shadow in Alexandria was at an angle of about 7.2 degrees, or about 1/50th of a circle. Thinking in terms of the big picture, he reasoned that the distance from Alexandria to Syene was about 1/50th the distance around the Earth. So, finding the distance between these two cities and then multiplying by 50 would give the circumference of the Earth, easy in principle but not in practice. As hard as it may be to believe, Eratosthenes hired a man to pace out the distance between the two cities! Despite no one having paced out such a great distance before, the distance was determined with remarkable accuracy, which resulted in Eratosthenes coming to a circumference within a few percent of Earth's actual circumference of just under 25,000 miles.

Not bad for the 3rd century B.C.




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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Longest Day: the Summer Solstice and a Year-Long Photo Shoot

Sunrise on the Vernal Equinox this March. Hopefully, a Solstice (or close to it) picture will be coming soon!

Today, the Northern half of the Earth will be treated to the longest day of the year: the Summer Solstice. For astronomers (except the solar or radio variety), this also marks the shortest night of the year and for photographers, it is leg 2 of a year-long photo shoot.

Okay, explain?
Besides rising and setting, the Sun also moves horizontally at its point of rise throughout the year. On the Equinoxes, the Sun rises/sets exactly due East/West. On the Summer Solstice, our nearest star is well into the Northern sky. On the Winter Solstice, the opposite is true in that the Sun finds itself very obviously in the South. So, for anyone into astronomy or just curiosities of the natural world, these 3 days (Summer Solstice, an equinox, and Winter Solstice) present a cool opportunity for a year-long photo shoot.

Okay, how to do this?

Simply go out at sunrise/set, take the camera, and snap a picture just before the solar disk starts to disappear into the horizon. Cloudy tonight? Don't worry. As the Sun is standing still, it will be rising/setting at virtually the same spot for about a week, so don't fret if it's cloudy on the solstice (like it is for me in wonderful Northeast Ohio!). Repeat the dawn/dusk shoot from the same location for the Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice to gain a full picture of solar motion.

For someone really dedicated, go out around the 20th of each month for a year.

Good shooting!


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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

12 Years Ago Today: Nikon Announces the Revolutionary D1

The Nikon D1, announced 12 years ago today, changed the course of photography forever.

Where were you on June 15, 1999, the day that photography changed forever?

The last five minutes of evening newscasts are normally the domain of dumber than usual criminals, celebrity gossip, and two-headed snakes. 12 years ago today, this is where there might have been a 30 second story about the announcement of a digital camera. While not significant at the time, history would prove otherwise. This wasn't just any camera, it was the Nikon D1, the camera that changed the course of photographic history forever.

While it has long since been relegated from top of the line photographic tool to the bargain price used shelf at the local camera store, the historical impact of the Nikon D1 is undeniable. True, still digital cameras had long previously existed, since the early 1970s, but up until the D1, they were considered by most as expensive toys for extremely deep pocketed, tech orientated individuals. With the D1, the picture changed. While the introduction price of about $5,500 is stratospheric, it paled in comparison to the previous, often vastly inferior digital SLRs already on the market, which could cost upwards of $20,000. As an added bonus, unlike the other digital SLR cameras of the day, the D1 was built entirely ground up by a single major manufacturer, Nikon, and was reverse compatible with all Nikon F Mount lenses, which date to 1959. These facts, coupled with its outstanding (for the time) performance helped make the D1 a camera that professionals were willing try. No longer would the digital SLR be seen as an expensive toy for a rich amateur. With the Nikon D1, the digital SLR matured into the practical photographic tool that every good camera should be.

After the success of the D1, the floodgates were opened. Other manufacturers, quick to realize that the digital SLR was here to stay, jumped aboard the bandwagon. Fujifilm would launch its S1 Pro in January 2000. Canon unveiled its EOS D30 in May of the same year. Both of these cameras were priced in the $3,000 range, which was about half the introductory price of the D1. Canon launched its first professional body, the EOS 1D the following year. With the two biggest photographic companies (Nikon and Canon) now firmly in the digital camp, the rest of the major manufacturers joined the digital race.

While many digital SLRs of different levels have come and gone in the 12 years since Nikon's revolutionary D1 and while enthusiasts have always been eager to debate who makes the best camera, the real winner of the digital camera derby is the consumer. Competition breeds better products and lower prices. And as the manufacturers offer more and more cameras with better features at ever decreasing prices, the consumer will continue to win.

For all of this, thank Nikon and the D1.



For anyone who wants a piece of history, D1s can be bought here
KEH Used Camera Brokers

Nikon D1 reviews (there are many more, just search online)

Digital Photography Review
Thom Hogan





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Monday, June 13, 2011

In-Depth Review: Nikkor 50 f1.4D

The Nikkor 50mm f1.4D

Tech Specs
Focal Length: 50mm
Dimensions: 1.7 x 2.5 in.
Weight: 9 ozs.
Maximum Aperture: f1.4
Minimum Aperture: f16
Diaphragm Blades: 7
Front Element: non-rotating, extending
Optical arrangement: 7 elements in 6 groups
Autofocus Mechanism: Mechanical drive
Closest Focus: 18 inches
Maximum magnification: 1:6.8
Filter Size: 52mm

BackgroundTraditionally, 50mm prime lenses have been the most popular optics in the world, at least until the advent of crop-frame digital. Still, with all the film cameras still around (and with the advent of FF digital), the manufacturers are still cranking out such lenses. Want proof of how popular 50s are? Look at any manufacturer's lineup and you're all but guaranteed to see at least 1 fast 50 (Nikon makes 4). The lens we're dealing with today is the Nikkor 50 f1.4D mechanical drive AF lens, which can trace its optical design all the way back to 1977, a total of 18 years before this model commenced production in 1995. So, how does this decades old design fare in today's world of digital cameras? Read on to find out!

The lens grows slightly when focused at macro distance.
Build Quality 3/5
The Nikkor 50 1.4 D is a plastic lens built on a metal mount. Picking up the lens, one can't help but notice how tiny and lightweight it is. That said, the lens isn't poorly built. Yes, it's plastic, but the construction is of good quality and there is no wobbling whatsoever among the moving parts. Being a mechanical drive lens, there is no AF/MF switch as you control this on the camera. When focusing, the inner barrel extends about 5mm but the front element doesn't rotate. Speaking of focus, the well textured, rubberized manual focus ring spins during AF, so watch where you put your hands! In MF, the ring is silky smooth in movement. As an added luxury over the f1.8D version, the f1.4 has a distance window while the 1.8 only has painted markings on its barrel.

AF Performance 5/5No, the old 50 1.4D is not a sonically-driven lens, but it's still extremely fast as in faster than its new AF-S cousin. Why the speed? Simple, the lens only contains ### elements. With so little glass to move around, the camera's focus motor doesn't have to work all that hard with this little lens. Result: lightning fast focus. In terms of noise, this lens is very quiet for a mechanically driven design, far quieter than any camera save perhaps the D7000. Note: because this lens doesn't have a built in motor, it won't work on the cheapest Nikons as you'll need a D90/D7000 (or ancestors) or higher to have AF.

Optics: 3/5A lot goes into determining the optical quality of a lens, so let's look at them separately.

 Center of the frame


 Mid frame (corner DX)


Corner of the frame

SharpnessFor a f1.4 lens, the Nikkor 50 1.4D is not all that bad wide open. Sure, it's a little soft at widest aperture in the center of the frame but, with a little sharpening, can produce perfectly usable results. In regards to the center, it improves dramatically by f2 and is as sharp as it will get by f2.8. In mid frame, the story is pretty much ditto that for the center. The corners? Well, they're mush wide open and things really don't get acceptably sharp until f4. By f5.6 the lens is quite good, but peak performance isn't reached until f8. The good news: if you're shooting landscapes in bright light, stopping down will be no problem. DX shooters, consider the mid frame the corner, which means that sharpness will be uniform across the frame for you.

.

Corner shading disappears by f2.8. For DX shooters, it shouldn't be a problem even wide open.

A blue morning shot at f1.4, note the corner darkening?
 This lens vignettes noticeably when shot wide open, and this just isn't shooting a gray wall, either. Shoot at f1.4 in daylight and you will notice corner shading, no way around it. Stopping down to f2 improves matters quite a bit but to get rid of the shading, stop down to f2.8. The good news is that when used in its specialty, low light conditions, the vignetting probably won't even be noticeable as everything will be rather dark anyway. For DX shooters, there should be virtually no vignetting even wide open..
Vignetting
.
DistortionThere isn't any in practical terms.




Note: the CA is nowhere near as obnoxious as the 100% crop leads one to believe, but it's there.
Chromatic Aberration A somewhat disturbing finding with this lens is the fact that there is CA wide open in conditions that one would not think would be all that prone to color fringing (namely bright sunlight). Below, the cat photos were shot in a room lit only by light entering through a bay window. In short, the room was rather poorly lit. Unfortunately, the lens fringed big time where black and white fur meet. Stopping down to f2 dramatically cuts the problem and f2.8 kills it, but beware that this is a CA-prone lens!


A complete range of CA shots ranging from wide open to f4





Bright light, no ghosts, just beautiful diffraction spikes.
Flare/GhostingThe Nikkor 50 f1.4D is remarkably resistant to flare/ghosts. In the below night scenes, bright lights abounded, yet there is no flare, a very pleasant surprise considering that the front element is not recessed one bit into the barrel like it is on the cheaper 50 f1.8D. No hood was used for these photos, either. Note the beautiful stars around the bright lights, too.



This lens offers a lot of glass for only a little cash!
Value: 5/5
Simply put, this is a lens that anyone with a FX format Nikon camera should take a serious look at. Priced at around $375 new, this lens can do just about anything under any lighting condition, especially when combined with the stunning low-light capability of the D3/D700. In short, with its f1.4 aperture, this lens will smoke any (far more expensive) zoom, hands down, in low light conditions.

CompetitionIn camp Nikon, the 50 f1.4D is one of four 50mm primes, the 50 f1.8D and the new 50 f1.4 and f1.8 AF-S lenses that will work with all current Nikons. So, which one to buy? With the 1.8D, you pay only about a third as much but lose nearly a stop of aperture and the distance window. Moving up to the new AF-S version, you pay about $100 more, gain full time manual focus, a dust seal at the mount, and reputedly better corner performance. As for the 1.8 AF-S, you have a slower version of the f1.4, this one sells for around $250. Unfortunately, thanks to the in-lens focus motor, the AF-S versions are a lot larger than either of the 'D' lenses. Surprisingly, the AF-S lenses are reported to have slower focus speed, and, being a 'G' lens, it cannot be used on old Nikon film cameras. As for the 50 f1.4D, it's a Plain Jane lens that, though being over 30 years old in terms of optical design, can still deliver the goods shot after shot and is thus a very good investment.
Conclusion: 4/5The Nikkor 50 f1.4D is an oldie, but a goodie. The fact that Nikon has kept producing this lens (with a 30+ year old optical design) despite the introduction of the AF-S model a few years ago should tell you right there how highly regarded it is. Build quality is plenty adequate and focus is top-notch, The optics are a mixed bag, but the wide-open shortcomings (CA, corner softness, vignetting) can all be remedied by stopping down. Value? For FX/film shooters, this lens is a steal, especially if you can pick one up used, as it can do probably 90% of all your photography while still being able to fit in a pocket. Recommendation? A whole-hearted “yes” unless you absolutely need a dust deal, which would require the new version.

For more:f1.4 + D700 high ISOs = amazing hand-held results




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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Endeavour and the ISS

The ISS and the craft that built it.

Well, two weeks ago, I said I would be posting a picture when NASA finally released the photos snapped from a departing Russian Soyuz capsule that showed space shuttle Endeavour docked to the International Space Station. Well, this morning, guess what, NASA (finally) released the photos. Above is the best one of them all. Click on it for a larger version. By looking at the picture (which is foreshortened big-time) it is hard to believe that the space shuttles were the real workhorses of ISS construction. Without the shuttles, chances are, the ISS would still be in the process of being built. So, besides 3 decades of spaceflight and scientific accomplishments, every time you look up and see the light that is the ISS flying overhead, you are looking at the space shuttles' legacy.



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The Coolest Astrophotography Toy Ever


The Pentax O-GPS1 can eliminate star trailing withthe K-5 and K-r cameras.

Pentax just announced a new accessory for its cameras, the O-GPS1 unit, which attaches to the camera's hot show and allows for the usual adding of location and altitude to your data files as well as the more innovative feature of actually being able to tell the camera what direction it's pointing. However, for astrophotographers, this pales in comparison to the fact that the O-GPS1 unit can actually prevent star trailing with its Astrotracer function.

So, how does this work?

Unlike Nikon and Canon, which rely on lens-based stabilizers, Pentax (among others) employs a sensor-based stabilizer wherein the sensor itself moves to compensate for camera shake during long hand-held exposures. Because the Pentax system of stabilization is in the sensor rather than the lens, the sensor itself can move to compensate for the Earth's rotation when the camera it set on a fixed tripod. The O-GPS1 is able to do this by taking location and camera orientation data and then using this information to calculate the movement of heavenly bodies and move the sensor accordingly.

Needless to say, the O-GPS1 will go a long way in making astrophotography easy for people who own either a K-5 or K-r camera, the only two models that are compatible with the Astrotracer function, and who do not want to get into the business of buying and piggybacking the camera on a GEM. According to some forum chatter, there are reports of the Astrotracer being good for up to 5 minutes with wide angle lenses, which is more than enough for wide angle tripod-based shooting.

The O-GPS1 will be available in mid June at a price of $250.

For more info:
Press Release


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Monday, June 6, 2011

2 Year Anniversary, Examiner Roundup

Another week over, another Examiner roundup.

In addition to the weekly (or sometimes bi-weekly) list of stories, this week also saw my 2nd anniversary writing for Examiner. Back on June 3, 2009, I started as Cleveland Photography Examiner and have since accumulated Cleveland Astronomy, National Space News, and National Photography titles. Honestly, I've made far more with this than I ever expected to do and it is all because of YOU THE READERS who take the time to click on my stuff. So, after another year, thanks for reading my stuff and I hope it was enlightening, interesting, or at least entertaining.

Space News

National Photography

Cleveland Photography

Cleveland Astronomy

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Retrospect: Space Shuttle Endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour lands for the final time

It's officially over: space shuttle Endeavour's career has come to an end as it touched down for the 25th and final time yesterday upon completion of the STS-134 mission. In a career that spanned 19 years from May 7, 1992 to yesterday, Endeavour has firmly made a place for herself in space lore and will make a very worthy centerpiece at the California Science Center.

Right from the get-go, Endeavour was breaking new ground in space exploration, with her maiden voyage, STS-49, featuring an unprecedented 3 astronaut spacewalk and the longest time spent by an astronaut outside a space vehicle since Apollo 17 back in 1972, all in an effort to catch, modify, and redeploy a satellite.

In its second flight, Endeavour carried Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, into space.

In 1993, Endeavour made the first service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, which had become something of an embarrassment to NASA because of a faulty mirror.

In 1998, Endeavour had the distinction of becoming the first shuttle to visit two space stations in a single year, docking with the aging Russian Mir in May and then visited the barely-there ISS in December to deliver the first American-built component.

In 2007, more than 20 years since the Challenger disaster claimed the life of Christa McAuliffe, who was to be America's first teacher in space, Endeavour carried Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup for Challenger, into space.

Going out in spectacular fashion, on its final mission, Endeavour delivered the most expensive, non structural component to the ISS: a $2 billion (yes, billion) physics experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

Endeavour would visit the ISS 12 times in total, 10 of which were assembly missions.


Needless to say, Endeavour has had quite a ride!



Now, with only one fligght left in the shuttle program, all eyes and hands are focsed on Atlantis, which was originally supposed to have lown its final mission last fall. However, despite budget concerns, a final shuttle flight, STS-135, was approved to deliver a last load of spare parts to the ISS for the simple reason that the shuttles have, by far, the largest payload capacities of any space vehicle in history.




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