By Nathan L. Walls

Articles tagged “photography”

Recent Delaware River photos

Bare Sycamores/Delaware River Bare Sycamores/Delaware River
Bare Sycamores/Delaware River Silhouetted Sycamores/Delaware River

Both taken near Delaware and Lehigh Canal Path Mile Marker 52 in mid-November, 2023. I am incredibly fortunate to have this close by to go photograph almost on a whim and, in this particular case, just looking to go practice, I had these two scenes and some others to work with.

Dials, haptics, anachronisms, and user experiences

Nikon recently announced the Zf, a full-frame, 24 megapixel camera that follows the style cues from the Nikon FM and FE. It has brass dials for adjusting mode, exposure, and metering compensation. But, it is also a fully-modern, high resolution video-capable camera.

Thom Hogan has notable critiques about the form-factor, critiques he also had for the earlier Zfc and the decade ago Digital SLR Df. I agree with several of his criticisms. But, I also see the opening of a video from Nikon Europe’s Ricci Chera and he’s adjusting the dials and they have an ASMR-like quality of thunk. An apparent tactileness that, as nice as the other Z bodies and lenses are, apart from the on off switch and the exposure and aperture dials, buttons push and dials spin freely.

Hogan notes that physical dials that can be overridden in software end-up lying to the user. The same is true in vehicles that have physical volume controls or climate controls that can be overridden by touch panels or other secondary interfaces. But, something that some cars provide for knobs are detents, which give a tacile note of getting to the next setting. On smartphones, the equivalent are feedback haptics.

While I see the Zf as somewhat anachronistic, there’s an audience for this camera. My best guess is this is accessible with smaller primes for street photography. It can drive anything else available on the Z-mount, but I suspect it’s not going to be used much for, say, the f/2.8 400mm, setting aside Morten Hilmar’s Zf video where he considers using the Zf as a video and backup body to his Z9. Seeing and hearing that dial turning from Ricci, it comes across as an solid, expensive fidget toy. Fidget toy sounds dismissive, yet, I also would appreciate that tactile feedback, if maybe not the aural feedback. If the configurable rings on Z-mount lenses could give haptic feedback when changing aperture settings, or when manual focus was reached, an ISO setting was changed. Heck, I’d also like it at the common prime points on zoom lenses. Instead of framing at 48mm or 52mm, I’d know I was at 50mm. It isn’t important at all for the lens performance, but I’m just that particular about wanting to use my zoom lens at one of the typical prime focal lengths.

Another thing I think about is that here missed having a sense of the tactile with modern computers and cameras and cars.

There’s a sense of adding convenience and flexibility by moving things to flat screens and bad keyboards. Thinner phones. Removing buttons, switches, and dials that would all provide immediate physical feedback. Things are sleeker and can demo well. But, what looks good staring at it for thirty seconds and liking it isn’t the same as living with it and using it for months or years. While I see and understand the motivation for the short-term benefit, I also feel where things get worse if there aren’t some tactile affordances. For instance, I typed this paragraph’s first draft on an iPad using the software keyboard. I can do OK with it and it is quieter than typing on most physical keyboards. But, I am far more efficient if I use even the smallest, shallowest Magic Keyboard paired with Bluetooth. My fingers have a better sense of where they need to be, I get the tactile feedback.

The existence of a software keyboard is still super useful, I can work with it, just as I can work with touchscreen interfaces in cars. But, I’m a far sight better with a physical keyboard, a dial or knob to navigate with. Haptics or tactile feedback are super helpful.

Bringing this back around to cameras, I’m not the target market for the Zf, the older Zfc, or cameras from Fujifilm that evoke a similar aesthetic in the APS-C format. But, I want to see the concept of the brass dials that you know you’ve moved to inform the software-configured dials and control rings on camera bodies and lenses that I would more likely use. An option for detents, configurable haptics, or both please.

Cosmos and bee

Cosmos and bee Cosmos and bee

One element I talk about in a pending post about photography practice is using my yard and immediate neighborhood as a practice area. We have several different areas of flowers and plants that attract plenty of bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, birds, and other pollinators.

A long lasting flower, cosmos are in three or four different parts of the yard. So, walking around with the telephoto lens, I framed the flower with some out of focus flowers and stems as background. Then, the bee pops in and lands. Perfect.

Rudimentary astrophotography

One great thing about living on a hill in the country is great sky visibility. Our visibility of the hill’s downslope starts to the southeast, so, at night, we get a great view of rising constellations.

Through the winter months, Orion and the Winter Triangle look fantastic. In January, with a New Moon, I can get the full Winter Triangle after it’s cleared the tree line from 8 pm onward. Heading towards Summer Solstice, the Big Dipper sits right over the yard, handle pointed towards the east southeast.

Our house isn’t in the darkest area, we can see sky glow around from Philadelphia to the south, the New York metro to the east, and the Lehigh Valley to the north and northwest. Even with the light pollution, the backyard is a fun spot to experiment with astrophotography.

Orion and the Winter Triangle

I’m working with single exposure images instead of image stacking until I get more experienced with focusing, exposure, and composition to make capturing, editing, and processing an image sequence worthwhile. The good news is modern cameras, lenses, and processing software are remarkably capable of yielding stunning results. On later dSLRs and recent mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, photographers can push ISO pretty high before really sacrificing image quality to noise.

Big Dipper just after sunset

As with other genres of photography, there’s a wide range of equipment useful for astrophotography. There’s not a lot of a equipment that’s necessary to get started. A recent interchangeable lens camera like a dSLR or mirrorless camera from any major manufacturer, a lens, and a tripod are enough to get started.

Some specifics to start with:

  • An interchangeable lens camera, either a digital single lens reflex, or a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
  • A lens that:
    • Can be focused manually
    • Has a focal length somewhere between 12mm at the very wide end to 50mm at a standard viewing angle
    • Has a maximum aperture at f/4 or faster (3.5, 2.8, 2, 1.4)
  • A tripod
  • A way to trigger shutter release without shaking the camera
    • A wireless remote
    • A corded off-camera shutter release
    • A shutter release delay function on the camera

The limitations of the equipment you start with are worthwhile. There’s no moving star tracker here. Instead, the learning emphasis is on composition, exposure, and the part I’ve found the most challenge with, focusing. Throwing the lens into manual mode and setting the focusing distance to infinity ought to work, and yet, my results show an incorrect assumption with blurry stars. Using too high an ISO means photos get noisy and/or show banding. Too long of an exposure and the risk is motion blur from star travel. Star travel is fast enough that even at 24mm (in full-frame terms, 16mm for APC-C or 12 mm for Micro 4/3) exposure to exposure can be enough to see noticeable star movement, particularly shooting toward the equator.

There’s more info from Photography Life that concentrates on beginning Milky Way photography, but the general ideas there are valid for constellations, too.

Once I get a better sense of single-image composition and getting results I like in the backyard, I’ll be exploring night landscapes.

Snow geese and the moon

New Year’s Day was a stellar opposite, weather-wise, from New Year’s Eve. Dry, partly cloudy skies vs. fog. Over the winter, snow geese migrate in and eat among crop stubble for a couple of months.

Snow geese fly just below a waxing gibbous moon.

Around sunset, various groups of snow geese fly over our hill. There are corn fields elsewhere on the hill they might frequent, but they’re also crossing over from New Jersey, and flying between fields in the small valleys.

Snow geese against sunset lit cummulus.

Snow geese individually fly well, but are substantially less well organized as a group than Canada geese. Canada geese have the very formal Flying Vs and, at least as I’ve seen, fly in far smaller groupings than snow geese do. Snow geese formations bend and fold frequently. They’ll change direction, sometimes circling our hill or flying opposed to a second grouping, then ending up in a conflicting, fowl mess.

But, the great thing about seeing snow geese flying are their bright white bodies set against jet black wing tips. Catch them at the right angle with low angle sun, and they’ll all appear to flash in the sky overhead.