Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Camera-Critters #104: AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED

Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus
Last year, I bought this lens for about $1500 when I was starting to do some bird photography . The lens was introduced in 2000. I remember clearly that year, the Nikon booth at the photographic show in Boston was surrounded by hundreds of people eager to try out this lens. It is the first VR lens on the market, which allows the photographers to hand-held the lens for most photographic situation without tripod.

Scarlet Ibis, Eudocimus ruber
At the time I bought the lens for use with my D700, I have two concerns, one is the lens is about 10-year old and may the replaced; second, it is not AF-S and was known to focus too slowly for action photography. Well, for a telephoto lens of 400mm, there are really not a lot lenses that we can chose from at that price range and body weight. The lens weights 1.2 kg without tripod mounting foot, which is less than the 70-200mm lens that weights 1.5 kg.

Scarlet Ibis, Eudocimus ruber
I use the MB-D10 with my D700 and a Nikon AH-4 Hand Strip to have a good hold of the camera and lens. I usually use ISO640, f/8, speed at at least 1/100 and almost never use a tripod.

Toco Toucan, Ramphastos toco
However, I recently read a report claiming that this is the worst lens that Nikon every produced, not only the focusing speed was slow, but also the image quality was low. At larger aperture, the image quality suffers by Chromatic Aberration, stop down, then the image immediately suffers Lens Diffraction. As I quote "Since this lens is a consumer grade telephoto-zoom lens, the user cannot expect to receive sharp images at all apertures".

Guinea Turaco, Tauraco persa
Well, AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8G ED VR weights 4.6 kg and 500mm f/4 wights 3.8 kg, both cost close to $8,000. It will be a while that I ever think of moving up from my 80-400mm. The last image was taken hand-held at 200mm, ISO2200, f/5.3, 1/100. It is good enough for me now, a consumer not a professional.

You can click on the photos to get a closer and clear view of the images.

To see more Camera-Critters from around the world click here.

Happy anniversary Camera Critters!

ABC Wednesday: K is Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty (ハローキティ Harō Kiti), was created by a Japanese company Sanrio and first designed by Ikuko Shimizu. It is portrayed as a female white Japanese bobtail cat with a red bow and no drawn mouth. It has such a popular following worldwide, the licensing arrangements worth more than $1 billion annually.

Last Saturday, after her facial, I dutifully pick Grace up and suggested that we might go to the new branch of National Taiwan Museum, which has a very nice museum coffee shop. It was the old building of Japanese Kangyo Bank and Mitsui Bussan Company during the Japanese occupation era. It has been used as the head office of Land Bank of Taiwan. The building has only recently been renovated and became part of the National Taiwan Museum with a new exhibition of dinosaur bones.

The museum is located at the western part of Taipei, an old part of the city with many small shops and restaurants. We first had a quick lunch in one of the oldest Shanghainese restaurant in Taipei then walked through the small alleys. I photographed this Hello Kitty sign outside of a shop carrying various Japanese clothing while Grace was browsing. She bought a hat.

I then photographed this advertisement for Pantene shampoo on a city bus. It featured two models and one actress who are famous throughout Chinese speaking world. The ad said, "Try and Believe, 10-day use will decrease the hair-end splits". I suppose that it has something to do with Keratin.

This is the store sign for iRoo, Milan, Italy. However, it is a 100% Taiwanese clothing store. Grace was inside for a long time. I swore if she stayed in there for 5 more minutes, I would go to the next store, which happens to be a photographic shop to buy myself a new Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens. Luckily she came out in time dressing in her new outfit and the new hat.

We then walked through a busy market street and bought over 10 baby cloths for our grandchildren. It was about time to head back to the car. Mmm..., what museum we supposed to go to? Well, next time!!!

To see more entries of ABC Wednesday click here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D

Many years ago (30+) when we were young, the first lens that we would get other than the 50mm, was the 135mm. It is between the 85mm portrait lens and 200mm real telephoto lens. It was kind of comprise and do everything lens. .

In the old fashion magazine, we can often see the head shot or full-body shot of models with blurred background. The telephoto lens that did this shots did two things. One, a telephoto effect that raises the background forward; second, a shallow depth-of-field that blurs the background.

Nowadays, Nikon does not even offer an ordinary 135mm lens anymore, but its proprietary AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D, a hard to get item. The lens can controls the degree of blur (out of focus image) either in the background or in the foreground. Japanese call this blur, BOKEH. Other than the normal aperture control, the lens has a Defocus Image Control ring, to control the BOKEH in the foreground (F) or in the background (R). Although, the 135mm seems is out of fashion for the moment, but discussion of every telephoto lens always still include on how good the BOKEH looks for the particular lens. The BOKEH of the AF DC-Nikkor 135mm f/2D looks really good. We can even add BOKEH to the in focus image, the marvel of the DC lens. However, with the Defocusing Image Control, it is quite complicated to find the sharpest setting for the lens. This is what I set out to do this afternoon. The test is relatively easy. I put up a photo magazine cover on the wall and shot the image at f/2, 2.8, 4 with different Image Control ring settings. The objective is to find the best setting that gives me the sharpest in focus image with no BOKEH appears on it. As comparison, I also tested the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED and AF Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G.

The results are
135mm DC: f/4 and Defocusing Image Control at 2R
105mm Micro: f/4
70-300mm (100mm): f/8

Nothing surprise for the 105mm and 70-300mm, but it is good to know the sharpest setting for the 135mm DC lens. Diverting from this setting, I started to see small amount of BOKEH appeared on the image.

Another important point for the 135mm DC lens is focusing. Set at f/2, for a head shot, the depth-of-field is only about a few centimeters. The focusing plan of my 135mm DC lens is at the rear of the depth-of-field. Thus, when I focus the lens on the eye of the model, anything behind the eye is out of focus, the nose is still in focus. If the model is facing side way from me, it would be a good idea to focus the eye further away from the camera in order to keep the eye closer to the camera also in focus.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Today's Flowers #86: Japanese Garden II

This is the scene from the East Garden of Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It was a beautiful spring day when I (Grace) visited the garden in February this year. The season was too early for the famous cherry blossom (the cherry blossom season just peaked this week). These are ume flowers, Prunus mume (梅花, also known as Japanese apricot or Chinese plum).

It comes in two colors, here are the white ones.

And these are pink-red ones.

They look so nice against the crystal blue sky.

This camellia tree must be over 100 years old.

It is covered with big red clusters of flowers.

To see more flowers from around the world click here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Camera-Critters #98: Sacred Ibis

African Sacred Ibis (埃及聖鸛), Threskiornis aethiopica breeds in sub-Sarharan Africa. It was often mummified as a symbol of the god Thoth in the old Egypt.

The bird is not native to Taiwan. Many years ago, people imported it as pet bird and kept in local farms, some escaped. They adapted well to the local environment and climate and has been living alone river banks and ponds mingled with other water birds such as Egrets.

This one was taking a bath and extended its wings to show off its majestic figure.

Click on the photo to have a clearer view of the bird.

To see more Camera-Critters from around the world click here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ABC Wednesday: J is for Japanese Garden I

I (Grace) was in Tokyo in February for a brief business trip, but I still found time to make a short visit to the East Garden (東御苑, Higashi-Gyoen) of the Japanese Imperial Palace. Before getting to the Palace, I visited the Kitanomaru Park which is located adjacent to the East Garden.

This picture shows how impressive the palace is. The white wall at top of the castle wall is about 2-meter high. Thus you can imagine how big these stones are and how high the castle wall is. The entire Palace is surrounded by various moats.

The scale of the huge entrance can also be seen in comparison to the school boy.

It was a beautiful sunny day, the sunlight came from the other side which lit up the entry way.

The architecture of the entrance is very traditional Japanese, giving a serene atmosphere.

There was a race for the school children in the park. You can imagine that these kids must come from very prestigious families in Tokyo, in order to have a school outing and race so close to the Imperial Palace ground.

This boy was very good, way ahead of his classmates. Many mothers were cheering along the way.

He may be the last one, but he made it through and cheered by all the onlookers. I think that he is very cute, looks like a Japanese cartoon figure.

Go to our next blog to see the flowers of the garden.

To see more entries of ABC Wednesday click here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Today's Flowers #85: Sweet William

I came back from Washington, DC in February and finally got away from the cold to come back to the warm weather of Taiwan. Of course, I also saw many flowers blooming for the spring season. I photographed these beautiful flowers at the flower bed in front of the condo. I felt that they looks familiar till Grace pointed out that they are Sweet William which we planted many times in our garden in the US.

To see more flowers from around the world click here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ABC Wednesday: I is for Caught In-Action

Unlike movie/motion picture, photography is stationary. If we can convey an action in a photograph then it becomes much more interesting. I was fortunate to be at the right place and right time when this Little Egret took flight. I caught the bird In-action with a sequence of shots then just simply stitched them together in the Photoshop.

This Blue Tiger Butterfly is very common in Taiwan. Usually, we can hardly even follow the butterfly with a camera, let alone to catch it In-action in the mid-air. For this occasion, I just caugt this one flapping its wings almost at a stationary position in the mid air. I pushed the ISO of my D700 to 6400 which allowed me to use the speed at 1/640 and took a sequence of shots. The speed froze and gave a clear picture of the body but with some motion blur of the wings. I then pasted three sequential shots together in the Photoshop.

This Common Rose Butterfly (紅紋鳳蝶), pachliopta aristolochiae interposita with its beautiful wings and amazing red body, just kept on flapping its wings on top of a flower. Actually, we do not want it to be stationary. When they are stationary, they either completely expand their wings or close them which make less interesting photographs. I set the ISO of the D700 at 2500 and took the picture at speed of 1/250. There is a motion blur of the wings which I like it better than the picture taken at 1/1000 which stopped the movement of the wings completely.

Well, this Rice Paper Butterfly (大白班蝶), Idea leuconoe clara was frozen In-action in the mid-air. I took the picture at ISO2500; f/8.0; 1/1000. I did not realize that I succeeded in taking the picture till I came home and uploaded the pictures on the computer.

The picture of the Little Egret taken-off was photographed in Taipei Botanical Park three weeks ago. The butterfly pictures were taken at the Insect Museum of National Chiayi University when we went to Chiayi for the Taiwan Lantern Festival on February 28.

To see more entries of ABC Wednesday click here.
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Today's Flowers #84: Yellow Ipê, Tabebuia chrysantha

Several weeks ago, during the Chinese New Year, Grace and I made a day trip to the Southern Taiwan city of Kaohsiung. We saw this flowering tree by the road, it had no leaves but with beautiful clusters of yellow flowers. The trees are over two-story high. We have no idea what it is and thought that the flower very much looks like the flowers of rhododendron or azalea. Then we thought that it may be the deciduous rhododendron that we once planted on Cape Cod.

However, after much search of the Kaohsiung city government website and internet, we realized that it is Yellow Ipê (黃花風鈴木), Tabebuia chrysantha. Chrysantha is derived from Greek words of Golden Flower. It is a deciduous intertropical broadleaf of South America. It is the national Tree of Venezuela.

To see more flowers from around the world click here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

ABC Wednesday: H is for Heron

The herons are wading birds in the Ardeidae family. This one is the black-crowned night heron (夜鷺), Nycticorax nycticorax. It could be found throughout a large part of the world. The bird is very patient when it is ready to catch a fish from the pond. So, if we are patient enough, we can quite often get very clear photographs of this bird.

This is the subadult of the black-crowned night heron. It is an immature bird in the process of acquiring adult plumage. Notice its distinctive spotted feather!

This is probably another night heron about to grow into maturation.

Look at its blood-red eye, a hallmark of this bird!

This one is the Malaysian Night Heron (黑冠麻鷺), Gorsachius melanolophus. It has distinctive blue ring around its eyes and at the base of the beak. It could be found in Southeast Asia.

The grey heron (蒼鷺), Ardea cinerea looks very much like the great blue heron, Ardea herodias of the North America. It is a migratory bird breeds in Siberia, Northeast of China and Korea. It passes by Taiwan during the winter and early spring. This one kept itself in the distance in the middle of the pond. Not long after I took the picture, it caught a fish of over 1-foot long.

You may notice that the grey heron has the body shape of an egret. Egret is actually a common name given to any of the several species of herons with white feathers. Thus, I have to include here the picture of a little egret (小白鷺), Egretta garzetta.

Look at its yellow eye and black beak, which are very different from the great egret, Ardea alba and intermediate egret, Egretta intermedia.

You can enlarged the pictures to get an even clearer view by click on them.

To see more entries of ABC Wednesday click here.
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To see birds from around the world click here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ABC Wednesday: G is for a very Good Lantern Festival

The 15th day of the first month in Chinese calendar is the day for the traditional Chinese Lantern Festival(元宵節). Traditionally, it marks the end of New Year celebration. It is the first night to see the full moon in the New Year and people eat Youanxiao (元宵) (glutinous rice ball).

Every city in China and Taiwan has major lantern exhibition during this time. In Taiwan, different city takes turn to host the major Taiwan Lantern Festival. This year, it is hosted by the southern city of Chiayi, 1 1/2 hour ride on the high speed train from Taipei. Grace and I went for the opening of the festival last Sunday.

This year is the year of Tiger, not surprisingly, the major theme of the festival is the tiger. You can see a movie clip shot by Grace using her Nikon D90 of the Giant tiger lantern in our last blog.

The Giant tiger is accompanied by two other Chinese mystical animals: a Giant Kirin (yes, it is what a famous brand of Japanese beer named after) and a dragon.

Here is the Giant dragon seen from a distance. It changes color every minute.

No Good festival can do without a Good show of fireworks.

There are thousands of lanterns that are hanged all over the festival ground.

Is it the flying dragon from the movie Avatar?

Nanjing is the official city of China that participates in the Taiwan Lantern Festival. It occupies a very large area of ground in the exhibition.

The theme in the Chinese exhibition is very traditional, very Grand and very delicate. After all, they have thousands of years of experience of making lanterns. Here a gentleman just gets the highest mark in the national exam and is parading with a large entourage.

Here two ladies in a house boat that is leisurely floating on the moat of a walled city.

Here it shows two boys standing on the head of a dragon turtle, another Chinese mystical animal. It symbolizes the winner of a game or competition, especially a national exam.

Overall it was a very Good Lantern Festival. We had a very tiring but very Good trip.

To see more entries of ABC Wednesday click here.


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