Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween: Don't be Tricked by Fake Ghost Pictures


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.

Ghost pictures can be . . .


Historical


Eerie


Accidental


and comical (ghost snot?!? Seriously?)

 

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Website Structure Changed


For as long as I've been archiving my content not in the AP/Reviews pages, I've just lumped everything into one, 'General,' page with all sorts of astronomy and photography stuff crammed on. Well, as I've not created quite a content library, I decided to make things easier by separating my content into an 'Astronomy' and 'Photography' page, wherein sub-categories can be found under the two, broad umbrella topics. Hopefully, this will make your (and my) life a lot easier!


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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Camera That Can Do Everything: What a Novel Idea!

The Canon EOS 1D X has just revolutionized photography.


Yesterday, canon made big news in the camera market by announcing its 1D X, a camera that is being marketed as a replacement for both the 1D Mark IV and the 1Ds Mark III. How did Canon manage to do this? Well, how about blending the speed of the sports-focused, 1.3x crop factor 1D-series with the mind-blowing resolution of the 1Ds-series. In the end, one gets a 18Mp, FF camera that can do up to 14 frames per second, all aided by an all-new 61 point AF grid.

For many Canon and non-Canon shooters alike, it' s about time.

Since the dawn of the digital era, the pattern has been this: a manufacturer comes out with a professional-grade camera and then, about a year later, takes the camera, sticks in a much higher resolution sensor, and then starts selling the 'new' model for about 50% more. Example: since the dawn of the professional digital era about 10 years ago, Canon and Nikon have bringing low-resolution, high-speed cameras to market for about $5,000 and then, after the new model has been out about a year, jamming a high resolution sensor into the exact same camera, slowing down its frame rate, and charging $8,000 for it.

Needless to say, these companies have been making killings of of the fact that, despite being labeled 'professional,' its top-tier cameras have been anything but all-around photographic tools, but specialized instruments for a specific purpose (action or still shooting). Now, I'm willing to bet that there are a lot of pro photographers owning both a 1D and 1Ds model on the Canon side and a D3 and D3x o the Nikon side.

Well, with the 1D X, Canon has effectively blended its parallel pro cameras into one model that splits the differences enough to be a general purpose camera. Here are some of the key specs.:


18Mp FF sensor. More than the current 1D IV but less than the 1Ds III. Still, when comparing 21Mp of the 1Ds III to 18Mp of the 1D X, the loss of 3Mp will barely be noticeable as even most pros don't go above 12x18 that often as the Average Joe is often simply unwilling to pay for bigger prints.

14fps capability. The 1D x is the fastest mechanical dSLR on the market, easily beating Nikon's D3 (9fps in F and 11fps in crop mode). This is a win-win.

Three processors for fast data writing. Who can complain here?

400,000 shot shutter life. The highest shutter rating on the market, gotta love it.

100,000 pixel RGB metering sensor. Canon finally catches up with Nikon by utilizing a color metering sensor.

ISO 204,800-capable. Generally speaking, the top ISO an all cameras, no matter their rating, is generally crap, the next-highest is often seen as 'usable' in emergency situations. If this pattern holds true on the 1D x, ISO 51,000 will be respectable in performance. Remember when we all thought ISO 25,000 on the D3 was insane when it was first announced?

61 AF points, 5 are cross-diagonal. One can never have too many AF points, at least according to action shooters. One just has to hope that the 1D III new-AF system issues don't make an encore here, ruining what could be the world's very best action camera. |

AF functions have own menu. Access to AF modes is made quick and easy.

Up to 9 shot multi exposure. A Canon first, the rich, artsy-types will love this.

Improved video mode. I'm not a videographer, but Canon says that the entire movie making experience will be a lot better, so I'm taking their word for it.

Wireless control options for multiple cameras. An old hat for Nikon that first appeared in Canonland on the 7D, many pros with dinosaurish cameras in wireless control regard are rejoicing right now.


Needless to say, the 1D x is the most ground-breaking dSLR in quite some time, perhaps since the Nikon D3 really started the high ISO wars 4 years ago with its fall, 2007 announcement. Either way, the real winner in this announcement is the consumer. For Canon shooters, you have quite a camera to look forward to, provided you can afford its expected $6,800 price. For everyone else, Canon has brought a lot of innovations to the market, features that all other manufacturers will be striving to equal or better in their future cameras.

Hats off to Canon for their great, new camera that will only serve to make photographers happy and spur further technological advances of the future.


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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Don't Fall Victim to a Sour Scam This Sweetest Day


Today is Sweetest Day, Hallmark's 'Valentine's Day, Take 2.' Now, while flowers, candy, and cards are sure, generally safe ways to go when it comes to gift giving, one modern take on a romantic gift is not even worth the paper it's printed on: the naming rights to a star.

The short answer (go here for the detailed one) as to why this is stupid: only the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has authority to name anything in space. Honestly, as stupid as this seems, I could open a 'business,' give it a fancy name, and then offer to name stars for people, too. It's simple really: convince people that there's something real to your service, get their cash, and then print up an authentication slip (that's not worth the paper it's printed on) stating that some obscure star is now named for their loved one.

And you thought paying $30 for a dozen dead flowers was dumb, didn't you?



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Friday, October 14, 2011

Camera Lenses 101: Street Sweepers

With its 18x reach, Tamron's 18-270 is the widest-reaching SLR lens on the market.

As the last installment of my Camera Lenses 101 series, we come to the all-in-one zoom lens, the lens that can do 90% of what all the other classes can do. Covering extreme focal lengths, typically 18-200 on crop and 28-300 of FF/film, these lenses easily earn the nickname of “street sweepers” because they can, literally, capture just about anything you come across when out and about.

Tamron created quite a stir in the early 1990s when it introduced the world's first vacation zoom, a 28-200mm model. As with any first, the initial 28-200 was, other than for its zoom capability, nothing worth writing home about, the optics were terrible. As a budget-orientated college student when I took up dSLR photography, I snagged one of these lenses for its ability to cover a vast zoom range in a single package. My take? Well, it got the job done, but not overly well unless one closed it up 2 stops, not a very practical undertaking at 200mm in less than ideal light!.

In time, other third-party and name brand manufacturers would get into the vacation zoom market and the quality of the lenses themselves would improve as opticians got more used to designing such extreme lenses. Now, as the vacation zoom enters its second full decade, about the only thing that hasn't changed are the focal lengths. For FF/film, 28-300 is still the standard. With the advent of sub-frame crop cameras, 18-200 is the norm, although some lenses are now ending in the 250+mm range. Now, the innovation is all about optical quality and add-ons.

Like with anything else, the addition of stabilizers, sonic drive AF, and weather sealing ups the price of a vacation zoom lens. Right now, the cheapest models are the $300ish third party offerings while the $2,200 weather sealed Canon 28-300L IS leads the pack in price. In the middle, there is a wide variety of lenses priced to suit anyone's budget. For those who are especially budget-conscious, there are always the older vacation lenses, though the dollar savings often come at the price of optical quality.

In short, the vacation zoom can do 90% of what the other classes of lens can do all in a single package. While missing the ultrawide, true macro, and ultra telephoto offered by other specialty lenses, the vacation zoom is a jack of all trades that can do most things increasingly well. Oh yes, if you're going on a trip, I'd highly recommend one of these plus a fast prime for your pocket just in case you encounter extreme low light situations.


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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

July 2011 Astrophotography

Well, it was a long, long time coming, but here's July 2011's gallery, it's a big one as clear skies abounded this month. Enjoy!

M13, the Great Hercules Cluster


 M25, one of my favorite open clusters.

 The galactic center.

 The Summer Milky Way


 Moon, Pleiades, Hyades, Jupiter, 17mm.

 Moon, Pleiades, Hyades, 50mm.


 Lagoon, Trifid, M21 (could your crop can do this on a 600mm scope?)

Can you find the Summer Triangle? The wonders of 17mm on FF!



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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Examiner for weeks of 9/25, 10/2


Two Examiner roundups for the price of one!



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Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 1833 Leonids: the Greatest Meteor Storm in History

Famous depiction of the 1833 Leonids by Adolf Vollmy.

Today, the world is abuzz over the Draconid Meteor Shower, which some optimistic forecasters are calling for to produce 1,000 meteors per hour. While the 2011 Draconids, if they live up to the hype, will be the best meteor shower in quite some time, they will have nothing on the greatest meteor shower in history: the 1833 Leonids.

In the early 1800s, meteor showers were recognized, though their exact origin had yet to be determined at that time. Through centuries of observation, scientists and amateur sky watchers noticed that showers always seemed to take place on the sane dates over the course of decades. In time, the showers became known by the name of the constellation from which they seemed to radiate from. So, when meteors started to appear in the sky in the middle of November, no one was surprised.

Then came the morning of November 13 came along.

On the night of the 12th, many sky watchers noticed that there seemed to be an unusually high number of meteors in the sky heading into the morning of the 13th. Suddenly, as if someone turned on a switch, the sky filled with meteors to the tune of, according to some estimates, over 200,000 per hour! That translates to over 3,000 per minute or, even more mind boggling, 50 meteors per second. All across North America, people were woken by their bedrooms suddenly becoming filled with light thanks to the light of all the meteors. Now, the kicker: this lasted for 4 hours until the Sun started to rise.

Needless to say, reactions to the shower, which just about turned day into night, were quite varied. Naturally, those well-versed in the sciences were excited as no meteor shower of anywhere near this magnitude had ever been seen before. On the other hand, for a lot of the less well educated, panic ensued as many thought that Judgment Day was at hand, that the stars were falling, and that the earth would soon be destroyed.

As night gave way to morning, some of the meteors were so bright as to be seen by day, a true rarity for meteors. However, while the shower lasted only about 4 hours at its outburst phase, its implications were much more long-lasting as this event, more so than any other to that time, did much to drive knowledge.

After the 1833 Leonids, meteor showers, namely finding the cause behind them (now known to be cometary debris entering Earth's atmosphere) became a true scientific study, yearly ritual, and even musical inspiration.

For more info:
NASA

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Camera Lenses 101: Going Long

The Sigma 100-300 DG HSM APO: an excellent telephoto lens.


After the standard walk-around lens (whether it be zoom or prime), the next optic most people look to when building a kit is the high-power telephoto lens. Whether they be zooms or primes, telephoto lenses greatly expand photographic applications thanks to their extra long reach. And, just like standard walk-around lenses, thanks to the high demand, the telephoto lens market is very crowded, and not always with good products, either.

Let's start with the telephoto zooms.

If you look in every manufacturer's lineup, you'll be sure to see one, if not more, telephoto zooms in the 70-300 f4-5.6 (or equivalent) range. Why so many lenses of this specification? Simple, they're cheap and easy to make, unfortunately, the results produced by such lenses are often in accordance to the price. However, like with the kit zooms, the quality (at least optics-wise) are starting to get better with the low-priced telephoto zooms as customers have been demanding better, and manufacturers are starting to offer products accordingly. Some of the new 70-300s are now getting stabilizers, sonic drive AF, weather sealing, or any combination. However, the more add-ons are attached, the higher the prices go, too.

The next class of telephoto zoom is the short, fast lens, typically a 70-200 f2.8 optic. The bread and butter of many working pros, such lenses are ideal for low-light conditions (provided they can deliver the goods wide open). Unfortunately (their fast aperture should have been a clue), such lenses are typically very expensive, with even the third party models running for around $750 new. When one adds a manufacturer nameplate, weather-sealing, sonic drive AF, and a stabilizer, the price can be pushed to nearly $2,500.

The other class of telephoto zoom is the extremely long model, with some lenses in this class reaching 500mm at the telephoto end. Essentially, these are big brothers of the 70-300s in that they are typically f4-5.6 (or even 6.3) in order to keep the size down. In terms of price, these range dramatically, starting at around $500 and nearing the $2,000 mark on high-end models. As with everything else, the addition of weather seals, sonic-drive AF, and stabilizers up the price dramatically. As a bit of advice, when buying such lenses, getting fast shutter speeds becomes increasingly important to prevent camera shake, which manifests itself at an ever quickening pace the longer the lens is.

Now, onto primes.

The first group of telephoto primes are the modern AF versions. More than any other class of lens, the price variances here is dramatic. Stating at around $600 for a 200ish f2.8 model, primes can go over the $10,000 mark with the 600+mm designs, especially those that add sonic AF and stabilization. The good news with telephoto primes is that they typically work well with teleconverters (at least the more modest 1.5x types). In short, getting, say, a 200 f2.8 and a 1.5x teleconverter is cheaper than buying a 300f4 and will typically produce results that are almost as good. This aside, being optimized for a single focal length, primes will almost produce better images wide open than zooms.

Next up for telephoto primes: the obscure brand optics. Typical prime manufacturer optics over 300mm are out of most people's price range. In contrast, many obscure manufacturers offer 400mm and up lenses for just a few hundred dollars, often about $300 at most. So, how do they do it? Answer: chop the AF, focus confirm, build quality, reasonable focal ratios and presto, sub $300, 400+mm lens. My advice? Skip these as even a cheap 70-300 is better by virtue of the AF alone!

The good news with telephotos is that, more so than with the other classes of lenses, price is a direct indicator of quality with the zooms as there really are very few hidden gems lurking in bargain-price category. Primes? Well, as long as they don't need some kind of adapter to attach to the camera (think those 500mm lenses priced at $300), they should be good, at least optically, too.



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