This blog includes photography mostly done around Vancouver Island and Victoria BC, with Olympus cameras and lenses. While images deemed printable make it to the galleries, the blog updates may also show just curious every day's shots.
2020 is over. Let me try and put together what it brought for me as a photographer. There are landscapes, eagles, hummingbirds, various other creatures, comet Neowise, Perseid meteor shower and whatnot. Whatever your memories of that year are, hope these images help make it a tad brighter!
This year The Butchart Gardens had to cancel their annual festive Christmas lighting display. I thought I would put together collection of shots from various years. Most of them without snow, but couple times I was lucky to catch the day when snow has been on the ground. Enjoy this amazing display!
One thing that always impresses me the most is ability to create something really innovative out of ordinary. Take a mundane thing and make it extraordinary. Want even bigger challenge? Turn mildly annoying thing into immensely useful. There are a few companies in the photography world whose products always impress with this special creativity. They regularly release products that makes you want to keep an eye on them, not to miss their next idea.
One of such companies is Miggo. If it sounds familiar, it should - we looked at some of their products before, namely at the Splat and Pictar. Latter is nothing short of revolutionary in phone photography, and former rarely stays home when I go on a shoot. Actually, two of Splats keep me company - larger one for the camera and smaller for the light. But I digress.
Let's get "annoying" part out of the way. By now the title surely clued you in, and you can easily identify the product we all love to hate. Or at least love to say that we hate it. It's fashionable to talk about just how annoying it is. Yet guess how many Americans own and use it regularly. According to 2018 survey, about 30% of adult population! You heard that right. As ON1 (editing software company) found during their market research, 70% of their customers routinely shoot with their phones and 47%)!) bought new phone this year specifically for a better camera - and where is photography there is an insatiable need in accessories. So, if you gotta use it, let's do it right and in style. (And if you belong to the segment that wishes for this accessory to be banned from the face of the planet, see if this one at least makes you acknowledge that it's a darn clever design!)
So, what can this thing do except hold your phone and take a shot? A lot, it turns out. It zooms in and out, provides motorized control over the angle of shooting, controls the brightness of your image, applies enhancing presets if you so desire, doing it all via its own phone app available for both Apple and Android. And, as if all that wasn't enough, it comes with its own detachable headlight that allows you add the light with 3 power levels. Instead of usual battery-draining Bluetooth, it uses ultrasonic connection, so your stick won't run out of juice for many hundreds of images (Miggo claims over 800 shots on a single charge; if you need more than 800 selfies in one day, you may want to talk to your shrink). If you are familiar with Pictar, you are no stranger to this very clever way to establish connection between your accessory and your phone.
Let's see how the thing looks. This is front view in folded state:
Here it is, extended - you can see how the controls are placed under your fingertips and used to change the angle:
Zoom control can seen here:
Finally, the (detachable) light with three power levels in use:
Light is held in place by magnet so putting it on and taking it off is quick and easy.
Miggo launched their stick on Kickstarter via their 6th campaign. Do watch the video clip presenting the stick as it's, while as cheeky as any advertising video, show the use cases very well.
Pictar Selfie Stick
There are of course more details on the Kickstarter page, so drop by for deeper look.
So there you go - believe it or not, actually very well designed and practically useful selfie stick! Wonders never cease.
Have you ever set the your camera for certain conditions and then used it under different light, only to find out that you forgot to change it back and now your settings turned to be all wrong? Most often this happens with ISO; set it to high in low light conditions and shoot at 1600 or higher next day in broad daylight, getting unusually high level of noise in the sky. Or setting IBIS to off while shooting on a tripod and forgetting to turn it back off when shooting handheld next day. Annoying, and may cause lower quality or even lost images.
Seeing how many folks do this, I thought I'd describe how I handle this to eliminate or greatly minimize my chance to run into this problem.
If you have your camera in any of the PASM modes, it defaults to the last set of settings when turned off and back on. That's convenient in a situation where you have a prolonged shooting session under the same light. You don't have to set your camera all over again every time you have it on again, as it retains all your configuration from before you turn it off. The flip side of this of course is the problem described at the beginning.
Custom Modes to the rescue.
Instead of using PASM, I put my standard configuration on the C1. This mode is my starting point for the most frequent situations. For me such configuration is Manual mode, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/250, IBIS S-IS1, WB Auto, single center point focus in S-AF-M, LSF+RAW, and other standard settings for your garden variety landscape shooting. This way, any changes I make during shooting session won't be retained when I turn the camera on next time. Instead it will default to this standard configuration. No chance of shooting next day with ISO 3200 under bright sun. It's also a quick way to reset everything to the starting point if I change too many parameters and want to cancel all the changes without remembering each of them. Just Off and On, and I am back to my standard configuration.
Configuring camera this way, you can have advantage of both approaches without their respective downsides. If you undertake the long session under the same or close lighting conditions, you use any of the PASM modes, set your camera to your liking and presto - off and on, and your configuration is still there. Done with that - switch to your default starting point, C1. Now when you shoot something different today or tomorrow, none of that session settings mangle your files. While I use the rest of custom modes for moving targets or tripod shooting, C1 is always my standard starting point for everyday's conditions on all my cameras.
After a few months of being out of commission, I am finally back to photography. Not fully up to speed yet, mind you, so there are not many images to show, but still was able to catch some of the autumn colors. They are thermonuclear this year. Judge for yourself.
This post covers about 2 and a half months of shooting, and will be the only one for the next couple months at least. I rendered myself out of commission for the next 6-8 weeks with no chance of shooting new images. At best, I might be able to postproocess some of existing photos, but even that is under the question. So, hopefully the wide variety in this collection will compensate for that. You will see tulips, roses, blue poppies, tiger lilies, eagles (I had a run with photographing them both perched and in flight), hummingbirds, sunsets, some experiments with glass ball etc. Hope you like them, and see you in a couple months!
This is first really spring-time post, filled with flowers, blooms and all spring-themed sights. There is not much to add to this description as this time of the year speaks for itself. I rushed this post a bit since I foresee way more tulips and rhododendrons in May, so I didn't want to overcrowd the blog post by bunching them all together. I also lightened up my workload considerably in the run-up to summertime, so hope to have more time to shoot.
These couple months were remarkable, in the sheer variety of weather conditions and their unconventional character. That explains somewhat wild changes of the course in the images you are going to see below. We start with quiet evening at the beach, continue with extraordinary hole in the sky that made many look for aliens landing nearby, go on to observe a hummingbird fighting bushtits trying to invade her feeder, observe said hummingbird in the snow, view quite unusual for Victoria snowy landscape and ducks dating on ice, experience relief when see peacocks walking on the grass carefully avoiding snow patches, see the return of the flowers (some peeking through the snow), see the Tsawwassen ferry terminsal (that's me testing new camarea), a very unusual bokeh (that's me testing vintage lens), and finish with a very cute cat. Dizzy yet?
Winter in Victoria, with its usual sights - sun, rain, and Christmas lights. Wasn't lucky to get interesting rainy images this time, so will offer an aftermath - mushrooms springing out after the rain. Also, couple of Bald eagles gracing Sidney fishing pier with their presence, taking in nice Christmas lights and adding to the holiday atmosphere.
This post covering two months, October and November, might be a tad lengthier than usual. It starts with a few shots of Abkhazi Garden Teahouse where my prints were on display for 6 weeks, includes fall images from all over Greater Victoria, some food photos, some sunsets... all in all, usual set of seasonal imagery you've come to expect from this blog.
Have you ever wished for something only to find out that your wish has been granted fairly soon, so you now wish that you wished for a million dollars? Well, just a few short weeks ago, reviewing Pictar by Miggo I concluded with this:
"to return to the promised third reason for my dislike of the phone cameras. It's a difficult-to-see screen during many outdoor scenarios. No matter what advances technology makes, there are still angles and lighting conditions where you can squint all you want, but you are essentially flying blind. Then there is that intimate eye-scene connection that a viewfinder provides, helping achieve much better compositions... If Miggo gives us a creative solution for this, phone combined with Pictar is going to be even more attractive as a camera alternative for many amateurs and as a solid backup for enthusiasts."
What do you know. This fine morning Miggo announced Pictar Pro, and one of the added features is... a viewfinder!
Bright days is a bane of a phone photography no more. To keep things compact and neat, viewfinder apparently can be folded:
From the press-release: "uniquely connecting the viewfinder that automatically shrinks the image down on the phone to the size of the viewfinder via proprietary technology."
There are added features (for shooting video, among other things) and improved ergonomics over which you can pour on their Kickstarter page, but I want to mention specifically one more here. Press-release promises "wireless charging to keep the smartphone charged for continuous shooting." Is it cool or what?
There is expanded compatibility with phone models, control addition (rocker switch for smooth zoom instead of choppy jumps), new modes, but... the video at the top of the Kickstarter page and description of the features throughout the page will showcase the gadget and multiple aspects of its use, so I'll leave you to it. Enjoy those humor bits in the video - I sure did.
I am looking forward to try new and improved Pictar when the Kickstarter campaign is over and shipment begins. It seems to address my last remaining reservations regarding phone photography. Meanwhile, gotta test my newfound powers and wish for that million dollars. I'll let you know how it goes.
This post will cover approximately two months worth of images, so you can witness this transition from full-blown summer to the beginning of the fall. Transition happened fairly quickly this year, so expect drastically different images from the beginning of the post to the end. As usual, I try to show variety: plants and birds (and one lizard trying to date a parrot!), shore and forest, ships and food, downtown and my beloved Sidney... and we will have a Harvest Moon for the big finale!
Phone photography... one thing I've never embraced. I always had a good reason for that. Three actually. And no, they were not lack of interchangeable lenses or image quality. Those are limitations within which you can work, and they become less and less of an issue as new generations of devices come to market. Let's see what really ground my gear (sorry, couldn't help myself).
First, and most important: controls. You know your phone camera has a lot of parameters you can change, adjusting it to lighting conditions and desired look but... how much do you actually use them? Chances are, you tried them when you got your new sparkling phone... and haven't used them ever since. It's not because they are useless or not very good. They are necessary for a decent photography, and can alter the look all the way from very average to stunning. Yet you rely on auto, letting program do all the work. Why? Because those parameters can be controlled through screen menu only, unlike in actual cameras that offer physical controls - dials and buttons which are intuitive and convenient. Diving into menu is tiresome, cumbersome and annoying, not to mention slow. What I can do with camera controls fluidly in a blink of eye takes forever to do in menu. And if you are not a professional photographer or advanced enthusiast taking images daily, you don't remember all the menu and sub-menu settings. Gotta read them every time - who does that? Nobody. We push the button and hope for the best. Often it works. Just as often, or more so, it doesn't. To sum it up: when I want the result, I need controls. Actual physical ones, not the screen menu offered by a phone camera.
Second is ergonomics. The way people hold the phone to take photo (those extended hands in front of the face) is very unnatural for a photographer. There is no stability - where do you think all those blurry shots are coming from? There is no connection between eye and scene facilitated by a viewfinder - this is where awkward compositions and all kinds of distractions in the frame come from.
I'll leave the third one for the end of this post. Let's speak of the first two for now. Enter the phone attachment Pictar by Miggo. I like how these guys think when design their accessories. You may remember my article about their unusual and very useful tripod, Splat. When they announced the gizmo designed to turn your phone into a camera, I was intrigued. On paper it promised to solve just those two problems I described above. At the time of the release it worked with Apple phones only though, so being an Android guy I couldn't test it. Recently good folks from Miggo kindly offered me to try their Pictar with its new capabilities covering Android phones now as well. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.
What is a Pictar? It's a grip for your phone - grip allowing to hold a phone as an actual camera, equipped with actual controls that interact with your phone via an app. Here is how it works.
You get a (very well designed) box, take out the grip and insert your phone in it. There is an adjustable ledge at the bottom that grabs your phone's bottom edge, and you click the upper one in, securing the combo. Depending on your model you may have to take off protective case first. This is how it looks:
Considering the sheer number of phone models on the market, Pictar comes in two sizes accommodating various dimensions. Here you see it with my son's LG Stylo 3 Plus. Being in investigative state of mind, I tested it on all the phones I could get my hands on within family circle: that LG above, Motorola G3 and Samsung Galaxy S7. Larger model (Pictar One Plus MKII) fit perfectly to the first two, and smaller one (Pictar One MKII) felt snag with Samsung. I fished out ancient Motorola G2 and successfully paired it as well. Here is the smaller one with Samsung so you can see the combo:
After fitting the phone into the grip, you switch it on and open the downloaded in advance app. This is where the real fun begins. First time you open it, it guides you through trying all the controls - to test the connection and to familiarize you with how things work. It's quite neat. And so is the way the grip communicates with your phone. To avoid the battery-draining Bluetooth Miggo went another, and quite inventive, route. When you turn the dials or push the buttons, they make sounds beyond human perception. Phone's mike picks up the sounds and gets its instructions from them. Neat, isn't it? Well, my first thought was: what about dogs? Sure enough, I went about testing it on family and neighbors' dogs. Sunny never reacted on dials being turned within 4 feet. Neither did Nula. I even found neighbors' Jordi the Cat honoring our backyard regularly with its presence to observe the hummingbirds - he ignored the dials as well.
Here are those controls that put the zoom, shutter speed and aperture at your fingertips:
Does this look cool or what?
Upon finishing the "break-in" part, app offers you links to the guide and video, to further familiarize yourself with all the capabilities. There are different modes and effects, fairly close to what actual camera offers, including Manual mode. There is an extensive array of settings, including adjusting to an external lens if you use one with your phone (starts sounding like DSLR, doesn't it?) If some function offered by grip is not supported by your particular phone model, app will inform you about that - nice touch, so you don't guess why something doesn't work. Being a Luddite when it comes to phones, thus not having the latest and greatest (I still tend to think of them as devices to make phone calls - I know, how 20st century of me, right?), I run into that couple times.
That nice box I mentioned at the beginning contains one more thing aside of the grip itself. It's a posh black pouch, convenient to carry the grip or a gripped phone. You can use it with a hand or neck strap, both enclosed, easy to attach or take off.
What is this 5-legged blue thing, you ask? That's a younger brother of that Splat. It's a flexible lightweight compact tripod for smartphones, smallish cameras and action cameras. The same principle as the big sibling, so you get an idea how it works. It's a separate accessory; can be used with phone without Pictar using this adapter:
...and here it is in action, with Samsung phone in the adapter:
Alternatively, it serves as a tripod with standard 1/4" screw, for which Pictar has a threaded socket. Here the combo is attached to the tripod using just that:
See some more creative ways to use this tripod here.
Finally, after playing with cool new toy and internalizing the main controls, I decided to try and use it just as most folks would - make a tour over the touristy places (I mean, I live in a touristy town, gotta take an advantage of that, right?) and take a few photos as most phone camera users would. I was interested to get a sense of how (and if) Pictar changes my perception of phone photography. Having my grown-up camera with couple lenses in the sling, I uncharacteristically whipped out my Pictar-equipped phone and started snapping away. I realize that photos below represent a phone more than a grip but hey, it's a photo blog, right? What good is it without photos taken with help of the equipment we discuss?
They'd look much better with blue skies and spectacular clouds but it was rather grayish day with showers now and then. Here is my verdict after this little tour. Pictar does credible job imitating the real camera workflow. Credible enough for me to envision some situations where I take just my phone with me, and to compensate for the absence of a camera to a considerable degree. One of family members playing with it also put it this way: It rekindles interest in photography.
Now, to return to the promised third reason for my dislike of the phone cameras. It's a difficult-to-see screen during many outdoor scenarios. No matter what advances technology makes, there are still angles and lighting conditions where you can squint all you want, but you are essentially flying blind. Then there is that intimate eye-scene connection that a viewfinder provides, helping achieve much better compositions... If Miggo gives us a creative solution for this, phone combined with Pictar is going to be even more attractive as a camera alternative for many amateurs and as a solid backup for enthusiasts.
This is summer in all its glory. Birds, flowers, parks, food, backyard life... I'll shut up now. Enjoy!
There is a lot of variety in this post: barbecued food (why did I start the post with it, I wonder), new bridge in Victoria side-by-side with old one (take this sight in since old bridge is no more), tulips and wisteria in Sidney, rhododendrons in Finnerty Gardens, some more blooming things, Great Blue Herons, hummingbirds... all in all, it's late spring turning into full blown summer.
« Older Posts
© Vadym Graifer