Category Archives: Uncategorized

Creative Cloud and the Open Source

A large part of my workflow, as a photographer, happens after the lights are put away, and after the camera is turned off.  At that time it is my job to make use of a “virtual darkroom”.  By this I mean Post Processing.

What I will not be providing in this article, is a breakdown of my own workflow.  What I will provide is some thoughts about the current generation of tools and some options for people who don’t do this for a living.

For staters, let me share with you one of my principle guides in establishing my workflow: I set a tool up to do its job, then I don’t change it until the job changes.

What this translates into is when I setup an editing machine, the last thing I want to do mid project is update, change software or try to make it do something else.  This is to minimize risk and in some experiences, the updating process denying access to older project files or changing a tool set. Computing these days is significantly more stable than what I remember from my old 486 sx and the first untread lands of pentium processors.  Operating systems and hardware have come a long way to bring power and stability to digital imaging.  Now imagine that despite using a certain tool for many years, another tool came into the market, usurped the leading market share and then once it had convinced that large portion of the market that it was the only tool, it becomes a subscription service.  How would that effect my guiding principle?

My principle heads into some problems with this format, in that if you were to enter into this subscription, the value it provides of constant updates to keep you at the leading edge, and the necessity that you are constantly online could in fact defeat that principle.  It won’t necessarily do so, seeing as how you can just turn off the updating, and you don’t have to use all of the creative suite, but the benefit of subscription then begs the question of why didn’t I just purchase a program to be done with it?  Is it saving me money?  Does it make my job faster and more profitable, or inprove my product? What kind of problems could occur if I just go along with that value of having the company’s warm and comforting cloud symbol in the upper right corner reminding me that I am in the creative heights and on the leading edge of tools for my work?

Here’s the first principle behind subscription to be aware of:  Customer Familiarity. What I’m referring to is that by creating an expectation of value and where it lies in the product, a manufacturer can control and retain their customer.  It’s a hook.  An example would be in making a similar product to your competitor, but making it function with a different language or arrangement by design.  In this way your customer feels uneasy or out of place using the competitor’s product.  It is not a reflection of the tool’s ability, but the interface being foreign.  Subscription has the power to do the same thing; Instead of seeing the value in the software as being based on the software’s performance, stability and ultimately its final output, the subscription service itself is what bears the value in the marketing pitch.  This creates in the customer’s mindset, the illusion that the subscription itself is the valuable piece.  It’s like being part of a club where the people pay for the access to software, rather than the software itself – and this provides a powerful motivation to demand that service; which if not provided by competitors excludes them from meeting the customer’s perceived need.

The Real Value

Let’s not kid ourselves here, even if I don’t like the subscription model, it does have some powerful merits for the right person that I am truly excited about.  I’ve had some really good conversations with a friend who uses this subscription service for all the right reasons, and I’ve seen it work in the right circumstances myself.   Let’s look at some of those:

  • Capital VS Operating Expense: Instead of a Capital Expense, a regular subscription becomes an Operating Expense which makes the Creative Suite a financially viable solution for some not-for-profit outfits and some businesses.  The risk is that you will be paying this in a contract arrangement similar to a cell phone contract, whether you are using it or not, on an annual basis.  It is a form of debt that if your business closed its doors can cause problems for you.
  • Many Applications:  When you look at the robust options of applications that work almost seemlessly together, all in one place, it equates to a real financial saving over buying all of them individually (if you could).
  • Multi-user synergy:  There are many ways to syncronize the efforts of a creative team and the Creative Cloud offers some of those tools integrated into the suite.  This can save time and energy, which equates to profit, from your design process while enriching your return.

The Big Let Down

Herein lies the rub for someone like me:  What happens when you only use one or two of their products, work on the ethic of setting it up and leaving it, and continue to produce a consistent product for several years?  Or what if you don’t do this for a living, as in a hobby, and don’t have budget lines and capital expenses to reduce?  These users are left without a licensed option from the company.

Let’s compare the cost of buying a sinlge program for $500, and using it for 5 years. Your cost is $8.34/m.

Now if you were on the most basic subscription for one App for 1 year minimum, your cost is $19.99/m, more than double, and subject to annual change.  (Adobe didn’t adopt subscriptions to make less money).

Does a hobbiest want that kind of ongoing expense?  And for the proffessional, what is the tangible difference in the software?  does it improve your workflow?  Do you use the new tools?  I’ll be blunt, what I can do in photoshop has gotten more robust over the years, but the tools I use have not changed in 5 versions of releases.  In fact, tools I used in Corel photopaint more than 10 years ago are still the same tools used today for the majority of what we do.  The primary reason I have a current version of software on a machine is more closely linked to the operating system needed by the new computer hardware.  We have this abundance of ideas that are flooding the app markets of smartphones and tablets, and a proliferation of alternate workflows that the new operating systems embrace but do any of them tangibly increase the productivity or quality of the product?

Free Goods – The Open Source and Other Options

For the people out there that wish to maintain more control over their workflow, and don’t want to have to pay a steady stream of money to allow you participate in your hobby, here are some of my favorite tools:

Image Editing Tools:



Gimp – The free, open source alternative to photoshop.  Powerful but uses a different language.  Learn the language and contribute to the community and you’ll feel at home in no time.

Pixlr – The Free online image editor.  A little sluggish when working with large files, but for simple editing and for anyone at home on Photoshop or Gimp, this is an easy tool to make use of.  Workspace is similar to Paintshop Pro X (which is sadly PC only).

Paintshop Pro X – While not on the same level as photoshop for plugins and composite editing, it is my hope that Corel will bring this back to its respected place in the editing world.  With Photoshop gone subscription, there is a large market share for an inexpensive and powerful image editing product that would allow complex masking and paths.  I would put this in line with or better than PS Elements – More than enough for most photographers but critically not on Mac at this time.



Corel – It is worth noting Corel as an alternative since their Painter X, CAD and Draw programs, even the video editing isn’t bad, have been around for many many years.  I learned Corel Draw more than 15 years ago, and it is still a competent vector program.  It is worth mentioning that Corel routinely puts their software on sale and you can save hundreds of dollars as most of their tools can be bought for less than $100 CAD.

Inkscape – The Free opensource vector tool.  Its native format is SVG, and while it is not on par with illustrator, it has a strong community and will produce professional results in the right hands.

Serif Drawplus – Another commercial quality vector program.  Note that Serif has free stripped down versions of most of their software though it seems all of it is PC only.

RAW Processing:


Raw Therapee

Raw Therapee

Raw Therapee – I gotta say, I’m fairly new to this one, but I am impressed.  It appears to handle detail extremely well and allows for multiple monitors and using your own file system with a non-destructive process with tagging, ratings and colour coding (Note that this means your tethering software can feed directly into it without a proprietary database).  Batch editing and other great tools are here too though there is no localized editing.  The default screen layout is not what I like, but this is easily customized in the preferences panel.  As I am just learning, I can’t vouche for plugins or supported cameras, though at this point I have had no problems.  Raw Therapee is significantly faster, but lacks the editing tools of Aperture – though it has the ability to send an image to an external editor at the click of a button.

Darktable – Though I haven’t got this running on my mac, it is another free option that from the demos I’ve seen looks solid

Aperture – Mac Only, Aperture is basically iPhoto with a little extra horsepower.  The downside for me is that I have very low expectations from it outside of a batch raw processor.  My macs are just too slow to make full use of the software due to the filesizes I’m working on. – If your mac uses an integrated graphics chip, I wouldn’t advise it.


Yes believe it or not, there are ope source video editors!  Are they any good?  Surprsingly yes.  Now there are free editors that come on your machine like iMovie and Windows movie maker.  They cut and splice sure, but can they produce professional results?  These ones do.

VLMC – Not out at the time of this writing, however if it is anything like the VLC player from VideoLAN, I have high hopes.

Blender – Okay so this isn’t a video editor perse, but it is an animation and effects program that is extremely powerful and FREE

Lightworks – Can’t go here without bringing this one up.  This is free, and the free version has some restrictions but the full paid version is less than $300 if you buy it outright, OR a modest subscription budget of only $8/month.  I have high hopes for the mac version because this is seriously good software.  Final Cut Pro is starting to show its age, and with my macs coming to a point of needing to be replaced in the next year or two…  So How good is it?  Recognize any of these titles?



Audacity – Can’t believe I missed this one in the first writing of this.  Audacity is capable, while not as robust as other major suites like Logic Pro, it is often as much as you need.

So in the end, are there other options for the designer out there?  Yes, and darn good ones too.  So let’s price out a suite including a video, vector and graphic editor like the photoshop/illustrator/premiere setup many hobby and avid users would want…


Free Professional Results option:

Gimp, Inkscape, Raw Therapee and Lightworks

Paid Option:

Paintshop Pro X6 $60-$99, Inkscape or Corel Draw ($499-$549), Raw Therapee, Lightworks Pro $279 – Total: $378 – $927 or the cost of 1 1/2 years on the low end to 3 years on the high end, of a subscription for one creative suite product.

This isn’t in any way to denigrate the Creative Cloud, and I want to reiterate that for some people, it is a great solution.  For the hobbyist out there, these open source and inexpensive options are getting better and can produce great results.  One thing that I hope comes from the Adobe switch to subscription based service is the strengthening of the open source community, to continue to drive the creative freedom artists have to push the envelope.  Many great artists are not found in the business world, and these tools are there for them.


Lest We Forget

Heard some comments today on the radio from people who feel that wearing a poppy is glorifying war.  I can’t be silent when others are denied a voice.  I cannot be idle when others are impotent to act.  I cannot forget that men and women fought for those who were powerless, and died for those that were dying.

Have a look here for a sobering reminder.

Unforgettable Memories

There are moments in life that are bound to come upon everyone.  There is no escaping them, no place you can go or hide, and no way to persuade those moments to come at another time.  One of these moments is your death.  It comes to mind today as I have recently been confronted by my own mortality, and the value of the memories we share with one another.  As a photographer, I have the privilege of being a part of and recording some of life’s most cherished moments in people’s lives.  Only a week ago I learned that someone who I had photographed recently had died.  This is the first person, to my knowledge, that has come to the end of their allotted time.  The family was prepared for this inevitability and their fortitude and strength is admirable.  Part of why this didn’t hit me too hard was that this person was an elderly person with known health conditions.

Today however was something entirely different.  I spend a lot of time photographing babies and children.  It was with great sadness and a somber heart that I learned today that a baby I had photographed had died.  I am not privy to the details, but I was honoured to have been able to provide photographs for the family.  Those pictures will draw to mind cherished memories in the tough time ahead.

In today’s media saturated era, photographs have become something of an overlooked thing that, when critical moments in life involving pain or great joy come along, become priceless and invaluable possessions.  Hard-drives and flash drives and CD’s may be able to temporarily store a great many pictures, but they are all “disposable media”.  They break, degrade and fade faster than you think, and are dependant on having a tool – computer or otherwise – that can read those files.  Bear in mind also that several file formats are no longer supported.  Although I feel it is likely that many current file formats are going to remain relevant for a long time, at the rate of accumulation that people take digital photos today, the average person will have several tens of thousands of images to look through, only a few years from now, in an effort to find the one great shot they remember.  As one media-savy commentator said recently, “I believe that I will outlive facebook”.

Remember to print those images on quality paper of those people in your life that you value most.  Remember also to never take life for granted, every minute you breath is a gift from God and is only one more step to the door that leaves this world for the next.

Oh Nuts, One of us Has to Change…

The chances are that at some point in your life, you’ve had one of those moments.  You know the one, where you and someone you know find yourselves in public, dressed in the same shirt or pants, or even the same outfit all together, and one of you says, “Okay, one of us has to change!”  Well with the increasing availability of editorial images through online agencies, and the wedding event of the decade, someone was bound to publish the same images somewhere.  What magazine publishers need to remember however is that most often, those images are not exclusively yours, and you should never use an non-exclusive image for your cover shot.

There has been some trouble in the past few years, frustration expressed and articles of the kind, that have adequately shown the changing landscape of professional sports and editorial photography.  More and more publications are favouring readily available and relatively inexpensive sources in agencies and social media, over the assignment and staff photographers who are not represented by those agencies.  It is a cornershop versus big-block store type of conflict.  How can the freelance professional, compete with a media conglomerate like Getty images and their army of photographers offering their images for significantly less money, making their profit on the quantity demand?

In the case of a cover shot, the argument can be made that the only safe way to go, is to hire your own photographer, or pay for exclusive rights to the image.  A lesson, these blushing publications will be paying attention to in the future.

Cover shot by Mario Testino:

New Tutorial up: HDR Without the Plugin

Having used this technique for some time, I thought it fitting to address a popular trend in digital photography, and how to do it without the latest software plugins.  In fact, I rather prefer this technique to the plugin in PS CS5.

Check it out here!

Sony Struggles to Define Itself in the DSLR World

There has been a lot of discussion in forums and amongst people in the “know”, or those who wish they were in the know on the topic of the A700 successor.  In the Konica/Minolta world, the dslr world took them by storm.  The 5D and 7D allowed them to lovingly bring their maxxum (Dynax in England and Alpha in Japan) lenses into the computer age.  Financial difficulties arose to find that their long standing brand could not survive, but offered an opportunity to electronics giant, Sony, to venture into the world of photography on the K/M laurels.

They launched  with plenty of product, and design consideration, that appealed to that legacy, and soon launched a camera body that the loyalists were itching for, but K/M could not produce – the A700.  It was familiar, but Sony had begun to take strides in the interface that moved the camera from the enigmatic tool that only photographers could speak the language of, to something more intuitive and friendly.  The quick nav system was brilliant, and the camera blended the experienced photographers functionality in a cutting edge design, with the familiar landscape of the k/M body layout.

One of the interesting things when you look at the history of slr cameras is how little they’ve actually changed at their core.  Sure with the digital era, the standard shutter speed and f-stop combinations have now been joined by the convenient ability to change iso from shot to shot.  But at its core function, a slr has a mirror, film (sensor) and a body that controls the time and shape of the light that hits that film.  Pick up a Nikon or a Pentax slr and you’ll see that the technology in the body is still harnessed by the same basic structure that all of their cameras follow.  The A700 and the newer A850 and A900 cameras all share the same layout making them complementary bodies that can function in a professional system.  They share the same kind of memory, lens mount, button layout and navigation system.  A photographer can seamlessly hang a couple of these cameras around their neck, and use all of them for their unique strengths without breaking step.

Not 2 years into the camera’s life however, the A700 was inexplicably discontinued.  People bought up the last of the stock in a fervor, to make sure they would have a backup in case something broke.  Now, 2 years later, there is still no replacement on the shelf, but Sony has launched their A77 skeleton body at camera shows in Asia to reassure people that there is one coming.  But is it really a successor?

Here’s a shot and a link to the Sony Japan site:

You’ll notice it is a stylish presentation, but as far as the body layout very different from the older cameras.  Looking at some of Sony’s competition, mid-range cameras tend to offer the latest technology, often features that are being tested on the public and often supplement the abilities of the flagship cameras.  This looks like it will do the same.  Other companies however package the new technology and features in a familiar package, a direction Sony is definitely not going.  Perhaps their goal is to change the A850 and A900 in the near future as well, to match this new body, however the question I have to ask, is what does this new camera do that the A55 or A33 doesn’t already do?

Granted there is a lot that is unknown about this camera, however there are a few things you can see by looking at different angles of this new body.  For instance, it does not use the same memory format as the A850 or A900.  The button layout is radically different, leading me to believe that the interface is changing just as much.  *(incorrect ft 1.)*There is no PC sync port on the body either making sony’s proprietary hotshoe more of a hassle.  Sure you can buy adapters, but who wants their $12 00+ camera to be dependant on a flimsy adapter on the hotshoe?

So granted there can be all the technological advantages of liveview, panoramic stitching, video modes and … well basically all this camera can do better than the A55 or A33 is exactly what those cameras already do.  Can technology make the professional?  I have said to people that having anything is better than nothing, but it has to be the right thing.  For instance you cannot do some jobs without at least the basic tool.  So you can up the megapixels, include all sorts of fancy software in the camera, but if it doesn’t allow you to see through the viewfinder when using manual lighting (like the A55) you just can’t use it for studio work.  They may correct that problem in the A77, but without a sync port, the camera is physically just as incompatible with the rest of the system as any beginner camera.  I’ve pulled up a DXO comparison to illustrate this point (

You can click on it to see it in detail, and what you’ll see is that Sony has 2 cameras with sensors that perform better than the much more expensive Nikon D300s.  They all have similar features, they all take great pictures, this is not to dis one system or another.  Most people could easily say that the D300s is a superior camera, but what makes it so?  Is it the technology inside?  No.  It is the build quality, layout and function of the camera that makes it worth what it is.  Also very importantly, it’s layout of buttons, features and the language it uses is consistent with the rest of the Nikon System.  This is where Sony has repeatedly demonstrated itself ignorant in the world of still photography – They do not treat their cameras like a single system that should complement one another and strengthen the photographer that uses them.  If I want a back up body to my A900, I want something that expands my scope of work by being lighter, and with new features and technology, but it has to be unacquitably compatible with the rest of my camera system.  Here’s hoping Sony figures this out in this new camera body before it launches, because right now, it just looks like a beefed up A55 that will cost more money without offering anything more.

ft 1. UPDATE Mar 11, 2011,

It is with great relish that I admit an error in the original article and hereby correct it.  At the time of writing, Sony had released no information of a PC sync connector on the camera.  Fortunately, somebody shared an image recently from a trade show seen here, where a sync port connector is concealed under a rubber flap. Yay! Sony!

First Shoot of 2011

I got a little something under the tree this year that always made me curious.  It was a 16″ beauty dish, with a portable flash mount, and it also fits my AB800 strobe as well.  I got to try it out yesterday with a friend and model from Model Mayhem.  You can check out her profile here.

We got up bright and early in anticipation of sunrise being around 7:50 am.  The thick cloud layer quickly changed my idea for the shoot.  I had hoped to use that dramatic sunrise against the backdrop of an abandoned complex, however with no significant sunrise, I was glad to have the beauty dish with my F58AM connected to a flashwave 2 receiver.  I am really loving the control I get, while keeping the specularity of its directional light.  Here are a few shots that I thought really worked.

An Inspiration Passes

There are few enough great men in this world.  To know one of them is a rare and true privilege.  A few months ago, one of Canada’s great artists died in an unfortunate accident, but doing what he was known for.  He was a volunteer, and a giver of his time.  I can tell you who he was to me,  the article below will tell you a little about who he was to some of the many other lives he touched.

I was a small boy when I met Leonard.  He was a friend of my father, and through him I met many refugees that stayed with or were helped by Leonard and his wife.  These experiences impressed upon me a need to support the disenfranchised people in the world. I remember the mess that was his shop, and the serious literature that overflowed from his shelves.  I still remember a photograph in one of those books, of a man, dead.  He lay in a pool of his own blood and the caption said that if he had lived a few minutes longer, he would have survived the second world war.  It was this kind of tragedy that I think that Leonard would spend his life fighting in his own way.  He rose above circumstances, and would give of himself without any expectation of return.  I have many stories of this man, and as it pertains to me, some of my memories of his art, his paintings, his sculptures and his prints, have served to inspire me to be creative and express myself, but more importantly, to give of myself.  My father has a set of prints from Leonard, that are maps.  They are maps of parts of Northern Quebec, that identify lands and the names of families in the Cree community that used each area.  They are remarkable, beautiful pieces.  They are a gift that will be treasured in our family for some time.

I am thankful to have known the man, and I know that many more people were touched by his hands and his generosity.


Leonard Gerbrandt, 1941-2010: ‘He touched our hearts’

Mennonite helped countless strangers through difficult times

Leonard Gerbrandt, 1941-2010, was a beacon to numerous new Canadians.

Leonard Gerbrandt, 1941-2010, was a beacon to numerous new Canadians.

Photograph by: Image courtesy, Gerbrandt family

Caroline Nakayenga, a refugee from Uganda via camps in Kenya, arrived in Ottawa on April 11, 1990, along with her three-year-old daughter and little else.

But she had a phone number.

“The only telephone number I knew, the only name I knew, was Leonard and Ute Gerbrandt,” says Nakayenga, who had been given the number of the Canadians by a Catholic nun in Kenya.

“Life would not have been what it is without them.”

Leonard and Ute immediately welcomed Caroline and little Catherine into their lives, taking them to their Mennonite church for Easter, arranging for donated clothes, helping with the job hunt, teaching them how to use OC Transpo. They began babysitting Catherine when her mother was working long shifts, and she became their “weekend child.” Later, when Caroline sponsored her teenage niece and nephew, Leonard taught them how to ride bikes, to ski, to skate.

It wasn’t the first time the Gerbrandts had done that for strangers, nor was it the last. They helped numerous refugees over the years.

Many of them packed the Ottawa Mennonite Church on Oct. 30 for Leonard’s funeral. The 69-year-old artist, teacher, adventurer and volunteer extraordinaire died on Oct. 23, after sustaining a massive brain injury in a fall while volunteering in the annual church yard cleanup.

“Leonard knew no religion, no colour, no tribe,” says Nakayenga, now 55 and a nurse at the May Court Hospice. “He reached out for our hands, but he touched our hearts.”

Born in Saskatchewan, the eldest of nine children, Leonard left school at 14 to start work and only completed high school as an adult. He later studied fine art at the University of Guelph, where he met Ute.

When Ute discovered that Leonard was camping at the boy scouts campground and living on biscuits, they struck a deal: a ride to campus once a week in exchange for a meal. By the next semester they had decided they were meant for each other.

Marriage in 1968 was the beginning of a 42-year partnership that took them around the world, but first to Ottawa where in 1971 Leonard began his art teaching career in local schools and later at the Ottawa School of Art, where he taught watercolour and printmaking to generations of students. The Print Room, which he helped set up, is named after him.

“Leonard cared very much that his students understood what he was teaching and that they were enjoying themselves,” said Ottawa School of Art director Jeff Stellick.

Gerbrandt held numerous solo and group exhibits over the years, and recently was instrumental in helping organize a new group of printmakers in Ottawa, Stellick said.

“Leonard was the person who would jump in and give you a hand and when things were pulled together, you’d turn around to thank him and he’d be gone,” Stellick said. “He was never looking for a pat on the back.”

Gerbrandt taught himself and Ute to cross-country ski on the Rideau River. He entered the Canadian Ski Marathon, eventually becoming the happy owner of a permanent bib number after completing the arduous gold class three times. Gerbrandt did it eight times, says his friend John Burrows.

“Leonard’s favourite expression when skiing on a beautiful day was, ‘I guess Heaven can wait another day,’ ” says Burrows.

Burrows met Gerbrandt at the Nakkertok Ski Club in Chelsea. Gerbrandt took on responsibility for maintaining Trail 3, an 18-kilometre stretch of wilderness that connects the club’s north and south trails, for which he earned the nickname “Prince of the Middle Kingdom.” Gerbrandt taught many of his refugee friends to ski, including Daniel Baheta of Eritrea, who was introduced to the winter sport on a frigid April morning, the day after he arrived in Canada.

A development worker with the Canadian International Development Agency, Ute was posted to Bangladesh from 1984 to 1986 and later to Kenya, from 1995 to 1999.

Leonard made the most of his time abroad, volunteering in various ways. In Kenya, he helped the International School of Kenya to design its new art building and taught art teachers at a school for street children.

Wherever Leonard went, he soaked in the local culture, took thousands of photos, learned the language and made friends, often through music. He played guitar and mandolin. He loved to sing, whether in English, German, Bangla or Swahili.

In Kenya, the Gerbrandts used their Mitsubishi Pajero to collect fellow churchgoers on Sunday (singing much of the way), and to help Kenyan friends transport the bodies of loved ones home to the villages for burial.

“Leonard did a lot of casket-carrying with our Pajero,” says Ute.

It was in Kenya that the Gerbrandts gave refuge to Deo Namwira, a refugee from the Congo, and later also to his family.

“Leonard and Ute cared for us, they worked hard to get us to Canada, and hosted us in Nairobi and in Ottawa. Even though we now live far away from each other we have stayed closely connected,” says Namwira, who now lives in Winnipeg and works in development with the Mennonite Central Committee.

“Our children considered Leonard their Opa,” the German version of Grandpa.

Leonard and Ute made time to give similar support to newcomers from Cambodia, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Laos, Somalia, and Sudan. Leonard took time to join a water conservation group, lobby for human rights in Congo, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, haul boxes and furniture for newcomers, repair bicycles and furniture, and show kids how to draw or paint.

Caroline Nakayenga’s daughter Catherine is grown now, studying medical illustration at the Ontario College of Art and Design — a path that echoes the many mornings she spent drawing with Leonard in his home studio.

“I never saw him down, never saw him annoyed in 20 years,” says Nakayenga. “Knowing Leonard was one of the greatest delights of my life.”

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
“Mount Fairweather” – Watercolour by Leonard Gerbrandt

UCI World Championship of Trials Now Available!

I had the opportunity to shoot the UCI World Championships of Mountain Biking and Trials at the beginning of September.  I had a fantastic time getting close to the riders and enjoying some world class riding.  To my knowledge this is the first english book about the sport of biketrials.  Available internationally through blurb, be sure to check out the preview here.

Sony’s A55 and A33 Cameras bring phase detection auto focus to DSLR video capture

It is not news to the majority of people in the camera world that the past year and a bit has seen the rise of new buzz words in the marketing of digital cameras.  With the megapixel race worn out, and a growing number of consumers who are educated in how pixels really perform in their camera, manufacturers have turned to new features to sell their goods.

Ironically the new features that are causing cameras to fly off of the store shelves are features that have moved from consumer cameras, into the professional realm, and not the other way around.  Live view was the first big one, and now it is the advent of HD capture ability.  Canon has lead the way with the viral distribution of video captured by the new 5d MkII camera.  The ability to change lenses, and capture incredible video quality that has made much high end standard definition equipment virtually obsolete.  Or has it?

One of the major drawbacks to this kind of video capture is the focus system.  For a 5D MkII or the popular 7D, the mirror must lift up for the camera to operate in live view, and record video.  This means that the sophisticated phase detection autofocus system, that makes for accurate focusing despite difficult lighting conditions, is unable to be used.  The camera manufacturers have then employed the still useable, but less accurate, contrast based autofocus.  This may not mean much to some people, but put someone in a white coat in a winter wonderland, or experience some heavy backlighting and you’ve got some real problems.

The solution of course is in manual focus, and as one videographer said to me the other day, “The mark of a true videographer is their ability to manual focus and rack in and out.”  Some videographers even train with a swinging bag on a rope, or by tracking cars as they pass.  For the casual user, or the less refined videographer though, Sony has offered the continued use of the phase detection autofocus while recording in full 1080/60i HD.  This is accomplished through the use of what they call a transparent mirror.  Personally, I’m pretty floored by how accessible interchangeable lens HD video, now with fast, accurate autofocus systems, can be.

artner the A55 with the Carl Zeiss optics being offered in the Sony range of lenses and the low-light ability of a sensor twice the size of most high end video cameras and you’ve got a powerful tool in the right hands.  One can only hope that the impending A7x (unnamed) camera from Sony will further distinguish itself as a tool for the advanced user and even the professional to expand their work.

The promo video:

Further information is available on the Sonystyle site.

UPDATE: Jan 29, 2011

National Geographic Photographer Ben Horton recently took the A55 out for a test run.  Check out his thoughts here