Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 is a major upgrade to an already great product and introduces many new features that offer you even more control over an image’s detail, contrast, and tonality, making it easy to transform color files into stunning black-and-white photographs. Silver Efex Pro 2 now includes controls for Dynamic Brightness, Amplify Blacks, Amplify Whites, Soft Contrast, Fine Structure, Image Borders, Selective Colorization, as well as a History Browser and many speed and quality improvements. All of Silver Efex Pro 2’s new features also play nice with Nik’s U Point technology, giving you selective control over an image instead of globally applying an effect, although that option is available, too.
If Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate were graduating from photo school this year, the advice he would be getting instead of “plastics” would be “speedlights,” and why not? When compared to a monolight, the biggest advantage of using a shoe-mount flash is that they’re small and portable, which means you can take them anywhere. Today’s shoe-mount flashes—or speedlights as camera manufacturers like to call them—are sophisticated, seamlessly blending natural light and flash as well as having the ability to group several flashes together, trip them wirelessly, all the while calculating the correct exposure.
Steichen was always one of my photo heroes. A true Renaissance man, along with Alfred Stieglitz he opened the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in 1905, won an Academy Award for his World War II film The Fighting Lady, and became director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art where he curated the legendary “Family of Man” exhibit that traveled to 69 countries and was seen by 9 million people. A companion book sold 2.5 million copies. Yet, many photographers today don’t even know his name. One of this column’s goals is to bring future “Steichens” to the attention of Shutterbug’s readers and I’m especially proud of the group of photographers that I’ve assembled for this month.
Canon offers five different 70-300mm zoom lenses in its product lineup. Why so many? They obviously think this is a popular and practical focal length range and I happen to agree. I even own one of them myself—the EF 70-300mm
f/4-5.6 IS USM—but the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM tested is the mac daddy of ’em all. Part of the reason for its high price tag ($1599) is that it’s the only one of the five lenses that is resplendent in white paint (the better for TV cameras to see), making it part of the “L” series. (See “Just For The ‘L’ Of It.”) Canon’s L lenses typically have wide apertures fixed throughout the zoom range but in this case all five lenses in this focal length range have identical f/4-5.6 apertures. The new Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM telephoto zoom lens features two Ultra Low Dispersion (UD) elements for improved image quality and reduced chromatic aberration. It incorporates a floating focusing mechanism for sharpness from close-up (3.9 feet) to infinity plus an Image Stabilization (IS) system that Canon claims increases usability by approximately four stops. The IS system includes a function that allows it to continue to operate even when the camera or the lens, the latter being a better idea, is mounted on a tripod. There’s an optional ($189.95) Canon Tripod Mount C for mounting on a tripod or monopod but I was unable to get one for testing. The lens is dust- and water-resistant and features a Fluorine coating that resists smears and fingerprints and significantly eases lens cleaning, but that doesn’t make me suggest less vigorous lens protection. More later.
Edward de Bono is a physician, author, and inventor who originally came up with the concept of “lateral thinking.” He wrote Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. I’ve often said that the most useful photographic accessory is the one that’s between a shooter’s ears, and while lenses are important to accomplishing your goals as an image-maker, it’s your brain that will ultimately help realize that vision. This month’s featured websites are a perfect example of that kind of thinking, including a blog by a Shutterbug reader who has taken the concept of a photo a day (http://farace.smugmug.com) into an entirely new direction.
You don’t always need a lens to make photographs. When I was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, our instructor Jack Wilgus had all his students make their own pinhole cameras and shoot images with them. I took the easy way out and used a Quaker Oats box and used photographic paper cut into a circle to fit the box as my capture media. My homemade camera produced round, negative images that I kidded myself into believing echoed the style of early photographs but now, as with many things photographic and not, I know better. Yet one thing remains: you don’t need a lens to make photographs. Sure, many new SLRs, such as the Olympus E-30 that I tested (April, 2009, issue of Shutterbug), have a “pinhole” filter but the camera itself uses a lens and internal software to create the look of the real thing. But shooting film in a real pinhole camera brings back that very “ah-ha” that Ernst Haas was talking about.
As a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, I attended a class on color and my very first assignment was landscape photography. I wasn’t then or am I now a serious landscape photographer, but as a serious student I developed a set of personal guiding principles on the “what” and “how” of photographing landscapes that I still follow today. These four principles are not cast in concrete and are presented here only as guidelines for your own explorations in landscape photography.
This month’s column marks a special anniversary since this column, originally called Website of the Month, was originally launched in July 1999. In a much more recent column, I mentioned not hearing from Shutterbug readers about their own websites and since then the dam burst and I’ve been flooded by e-mail. Thanks to all of you who took the time to write. Working through all those e-mail messages takes time but for this month I’ve selected four reader sites that are “submitted for your approval,” as the late Rod Serling often said. Look for more readers’ sites to appear on a regular basis as well as a photographer’s blog of the month, which started unofficially last month.
Tamron has always been a pioneer in the do-everything zoom lens category and their new AF18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD lens is no exception. Don’t be intimidated by those initials—it’s all good stuff—and I’ll get to them shortly. The 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 is part of Tamron’s Di II family of lenses that are engineered specifically for digital SLRs with image sensors measuring 24x16mm, typically referred to as APS-C. The sensor size of the Canon EOS 50D I tested the lens with measures 22.3x14.9mm so I guess that’s close enough. The 15x zoom range of the lens provides a 35mm focal length equivalency of 28.8-432mm with the Canon EOS 50D’s 1.6x multiplication factor, but that will be slightly different for the Nikon and Sony versions that are also available. Shooting full frame? Check out Tamron’s Di lens series for 35mm film cameras or digital SLRs featuring larger (24x36mm) sensors.
As I write this, the temperature outside my office window is -11˚. It’s at times like this when my thoughts go to my favorite (warm) place to kick back and relax. Acapulco is different from other Mexican resorts because it’s a city with a wonderful history first and a resort second, and then there’s that old Hollywood connection. You can see some of my Acapulco photos in the self-published book Acapulco, Paradise of the Americas (www.blurb.com/my/book/detail/196617) with text by my friend Don Bain. For examples of my travel photography, you can preview the first 15 pages and see why I love Acapulco so much. If you would like a copy, I’ve removed all markups from the softbound edition so Shutterbug readers and their friends can purchase it for just the cost of production and shipping.