Capdase camera bag for Canon

I just got a new bag for my ‘small’ Canon: a Capdase MKeeper 180A. My previous bag was too soft and I wanted to try something more solid. I looked through the Canon 500D bags and rather liked the rectangular MKeeper series. The 180 is just big enough for the 350/400/450/500/550 body and an extra lens. I could actually fit the camera body in with the extra battery grip, but that’s stretching the case a bit. If you take the camera without a battery pack, you can choose to store body and lens attached or separate. A really nice feature of the bag is the ‘raincoat’: in the back zipper pocket there is a rain protection cover that envelopes the whole case. Clever touch!


Capdase mKeeper

There is a big selection of camera bags at LoveCases for Canon and other SLR Camera Cases!

Shooting portraits of strangers

Shooting Portraits of Strangers
This was quite a discovery: Danny Santos has been shooting portraits of complete strangers on Orchard Road, Singapore. The story was featured on JPG Magazine with some beautiful examples and that post pointed to his Facebook album, which pointed to his blog post about it. This phrase he wrote made me think: “Suddenly, strangers were no longer unwitting victims subjects, they were now willing participants … and that gave different life to the photograph, and a new awareness and dimension to my idea of shooting in the streets.” Touches a weak point of mine: asking strangers for permission to photograph them.

What I like a lot about the photographs is their shallow depth-of-field. He talks about his material: a Nikon D300 with a 85mm f/1.4 lens. That’s a $999 lens, so one can expect some good results.

Let’s see what that looks like in my depth-of-field calculator: there is one picture on his blog that shows him taking a picture of someone at +- 2m away, so let’s use that as distance. If we fill in the right values (1.5 crop factor for a Nikon D300, f/1.4 aperture, 85mm focal length, 2m distance, 3:2 aspect ratio) we get this:

Depth of field calculation
0.019 mm Circle of confusion
1.99 m Near limit (anything closer will be too blurred)
2.01 m Far limit (anything further will be too blurred)
2.8 cm Total (1.4% of the subject distance)

portraits of strangers: depth-of-field

Continue reading Shooting portraits of strangers

Not happy with the Canon 500D

Couleur Cafe 2006
In June 2006 I bought my first reflex camera: a Canon 350D. About the same time I started taking pictures of tango (above: my first tango picture, at Couleur Cafe 2006). And it was the start of an exciting journey. Concerts, milongas, tango festivals, portraits, I discovered the joy of creating – or recording –  beauty. It has become a passion, and a privilege to do. I love the concentration, the play with light, the search for the right frame, the waiting for the perfect moment and then, every now and then, the joy of seeing that you’ve created an image that actualy IS worth a thousand words.

Along that way, my 350D was my trusted accomplice. I took it everywhere, first in a simple black camera bag, afterwards, when I started buying more lenses, in a Lowepro backpack. Eventhough the screen on the back of the camera was small, it gave me enough feedback to know whether I was taking pictures the right way, allowed me to finetune ISO, whitebalance, shutterspeed. It sometimes felt like the extension of my hand, of my eye. I just loved that camera.

But then, end 2009, it started breaking down. First random power issues, then just dead. It was sent to Canon, they said: completely oxydated, we have to replace the whole interior. So I needed a new camera. I doubted a lot: should I take the 500D, its successor, or the 5D Mk II. In car terms: should I stay in the BMW 3 series, or move up to the 5? After some weeks of hesitation (“that 5D is a lot of money“), I finally settled for the 500D. Boy, have I regretted that.

Continue reading Not happy with the Canon 500D

Focal length for the common man: “portrait distance”

I remember that before I started photography on a serious level, I had some understanding of shutter speed, but none of aperture and focal length. Even when I read what they meant, I still couldn’t ‘picture’ it, had no feeling for the numbers. Let’s leave ‘aperture’ for another time and just concentrate for now on the concept of “focal length”

First of all, the focal length of a lens is not the same as the actual physical length of the lens. Yes, 200mm and 300mm lenses (telephoto lenses) tend to be longer, but they’re not exactly 200mm and 300mm long. For instance, the Sigma 55-200mm F4-5.6 DC HSM is 85mm (3.3″) long,  while the 70-200mm F2.8 II EX DG lens is 184mm (7.2″). Same maximal focal length, but more than twice as long.

So what is focal length? I could explain that it is “the distance from the center of the lens to the principal foci (or focal points) of the lens“, but that wouldn’t make it more comprehensible, would it? Well, I read through the theory, with tangens of the viewing angle and stuff, and I think I understand it (I’m an engineer, I actually like trigoniometry). A 200mm lens gives a viewing angle of 12° on the diagonal. Still not clear? That’s when I thought: let’s invent something more tangible: the “portrait distance“. Say you need a surface of about 72cm x 48cm (28″ x 18″) to make a portrait of a person (not just a headshot, but with some torso on it too). See some examples below:

Vriendschap foto's voor Erfgoeddag Sandy @ Chaff Brussels Tango Festival - Day 1 ¿Que? Fado & Tango - Dirk

Well, the distance between the camera and the person you’re making the portrait of, will be +- 20 times the focal length.

Continue reading Focal length for the common man: “portrait distance”

Five tips for taking tango pictures in dark environments

I have been taking tango pictures intensively for more than 2 years now. Most of that time I’ve been using a Canon 350D with a number of lenses. What’s special about tango pictures? Most importantly, the tango events are in the evening/night with minimal lighting. I avoid using a flash, since it’s unpleasant for the dancers and because the pictures have very sharp and ugly lighting. Another thing is that I don’t use a tripod. I can’t tell the dancers where to move or to stand still, so I go with the flow. The fact that they move also means I need a shutter speed of 1/15s at the slowest; 1/20s is better and 1/40s is comfortable.

All these tips come down to the same: get the fastest shutter times possible while keeping the picture quality acceptable.

#1: take the highest ISO your camera can afford
50mm - f/1.8 - ISO800
If you can use sensitivity ISO 800 instead of ISO 100, you’ll win 3 stops. This is the difference between a picture at 1/40 sec (sharp) and 1/5 sec (blurry), certainly with moving targets (and tango dancers do move). Of course there is a trade-off: you loose colour detail.

This is the main reason why you’ll need a camera with a decent sensor, or in other words, an dSLR instead of a regular point-and-shoot camera. Even my 350D gets colour defects at ISO800. When they’re too bad, I tend to convert the pictures to black-and-white or somewhere halfway (by decreasing the saturation).

The camera I’m drooling over now, the Canon 5D Mk II, can take decent pictures at ISO 3200. That’s another 2 stops faster.

Continue reading Five tips for taking tango pictures in dark environments

A JPEG picture doesn’t care about no DPI

Every now and then I get a request to use pictures of mine for a poster, a flyer, a book. People usually find the pictures they want in my Flickr sets, where they are available in a max resolution of 1200 pixels for the longest side (so e.g. 1200 x 800 for photos in 3:2 aspect ratio). When this is not enough, people ask me for higher resolution versions. And that question comes in two versions:

  • the logical i’m-used-to-this-digital-stuff version: “could I get those pictures in 1800×1200” / “Can I have at least 2 megapixels“?
  • the weird I-used-to-work-in print version: “can you send them in 300dpi“?

DPI (dots-per-inch) only make sense for me if I would know on what size you want to print them. If you’re making an A4 flyer, that’s 8½ × 11 inch, and you need 300 dpi, then that means you need 3300×2550 pixels. If you want to print only an A6 size, that’s 1650×1275 pixels. So don’t tell me what DPI you need, tell me what pixel dimensions you need. Yes, you can save the DPI parameter in a JPEG file, but it changes nothing to the data. My 1200×800 picture with a DPI value of 72 or 300dpi is still, pixel by pixel, the same picture. Your image viewer might decide to show it as a bigger picture on the screen, but the image data is identical.

Beginning to see the pattern? No matter what DPI you set (or, as it happens, what size in inches) so long as you don’t let Photoshop resample the image up or down, it’s STILL 504 by 144 pixels.

Let’s save this one as 12dpi.TIF before we forget, then have a look at the file sizes. You’d think that a 300dpi file would be higher resolution than a 12 dpi file, and because of that a lot bigger, right?

Sorry. All three files are exactly the same size.


So, if you’re asking someone for a high-resolution version of a digital picture, ask for minimum pixel dimensions, not for DPI! Otherwise you just show that, while you might have experience in managing print, you have no clue how digital imagery works.

Photography workflow with Picasa & Flickr

I’ve been thinking about writing this for a while, but I always thought everyone would probably work in the same way. But then I got introduced to iPhoto, which I consider a sh*tty piece of software, so apparently not everyone is as spoilt as us PC users. So here it goes: how do I process all the pictures I take, easily a thousand per month?

Step 1: the camera

As you might know, I’m a Canonista, I use a EOS 350D digital SLR. I’ve got two CompactFlash cards of 1GB, of which I use the second one only rarely. I don’t take my photos in RAW format, I use the highest JPEG resolution: 3456 x 2304 pixels or 8 megapixels. On a 1GB card I can get between 250 and 300 pictures.

Step 2: import into Picasa

picasa import2

Continue reading Photography workflow with Picasa & Flickr

New lens for my Canon camera

My current favourite lens for my Canon 350D is the Canon EF 50mm F 1.8 II ø 52 mm. I really like the wide aperture (f/1.8) that allows me to take pictures without flash in dark environments like tango events, and the small depth-of-field that brings out the subject really nice. Plus, it was only 100€ when I bought it, and now it’s even at 84€.

Maryline-Vincent-Roma (5)

But a 50mm lens in a small digital SLR is equivalent to a 75mm, and sometimes that’s too much. I have to step 2m backwards to get a portrait of two persons (people ask this, you know), and even further if I want a picture of a tango couple with their feet included as well as their head. So I’d like to find a second lens with at least the same aperture, and with a lower focal distance, at a non-ridiculous price (below 400€).

Candidates seem to be:

Does anyone have experience with these lenses? Any suggestions?

What is HD-JPEG?

While reading the specs of the PackardBell Store & Play, I fall upon “Foto formaten: JPEG, HD JPEG” As I am working with several aspects of HD (High Definition) video all the time, I am of course intrigued. There is a standard for HD JPEG? Wow, tell me more!

HD JPEG = HD Photo = JPEG XR (my guess)

Well, it’s not that easy, actually. When you do a search for “HD JPEG” on Google, all you see is promo talk. Vendors like Philips and Panasonic use it as a feature on their devices, but there is no official definition of what it stands for. What I think happened is:

  • Microsoft developed a standard “HD Photo” (formerly Windows Media Photo) that corrects some of the disadvantages of JPEG:
    • It can store color information at 32 bit per color instead of 8 or 12. (In current JPEG, “24-bit colour” means: 3 x 8 bits for R, G and B.)
    • All encoding steps of the algorithm are lossless (except for quantisation). So it has a true lossless mode (all coefficients = 1). JPEG does not have this (at least, not implemented).
    • All kinds of tech mumbo-jumbo reasons (read the Wikipedia article)
    • “HD Photo offers image quality comparable to JPEG-2000 with computational and memory performance more closely comparable to JPEG”
  • The JPEG committee announced that they would (consider to) adopt HD-Photo as a standard, with as a working name JPEG XR. Provided that, of course, …

    One important aspect regarding the standardization of HD Photo is Microsoft’s commitment to make its patents that are required to implement the specification available without charge. Microsoft’s royalty free commitment will help the JPEG committee foster widespread adoption of the specification and help ensure that it can be implemented by the widest possible audience. The JPEG committee hopes and encourages all participants in its meetings to consider this royalty free approach when offering patented technology as a candidate for standardization.

  • The hardware vendors didn’t like the “JPEG XR” name (it doesn’t really show clearly that it’s an upgrade from JPEG), so they combined it with an acronym that consumers know and associate with “better” and “more expensive”, so was born “HD JPEG”.
  • in short: Technically, it does not exist. Practically, it sells flat screens.

Competition Continue reading What is HD-JPEG?

My first picture in the papers

De Morgen: artikel
An Baccaert wrote an article in De Morgen about Nathalie and Andrés, who are representing the Benelux in the ‘Mundial de Tango‘ in Buenos Aires. She wanted a nice picture to include with the article and came across one I made at the Tango Marathon in June.

She asked me if she could use it, and because An is a friend of mine, because I know Nathalie, because I use a Creative Commons license and maybe also a bit because I like the idea of having an image of mine in the papers, I agreed. So there it is: my first newspaper publication!

(hat tip to Clopin for getting me the PDF version!)