Lensbaby experiments (and a quick review)

I picked up a used Lensbaby the other day. I’ve been wanting to play around with one for a while and when I saw a used one on Craigslist for a good price, I snatched it up. This morning, I did some experiments with it so I could get a feel for how well it would perform.

The model I have is the 3G with the optional macro kit. This is the same as the newly rebranded Control Freak. It has double glass optics and a handful of aperture discs.

Just like I read in every other Lensbaby review, it is difficult to focus and get used to, but with some patience, you can get a good feel for it. As you use smaller aperture discs, it becomes more difficult to see and focus, which means that working with a lot of ambient light is essential. I found that shooting with at least the 5.6 disc, and preferably the 11, I was able to get a respectable depth of field. Anything wider and the depth of field was so tiny that it became nearly impossible to find a focus point.

When I first heard about Lensbaby lenses, I was under the impression that they were an inexpensive option for tilt/shift. Unfortunately, that is not true. While they do allow you to tilt the focus plane, the design of the lens is such that there is a central circular focus sweat spot with the sharpness of the optics falling drastically towards the edges. What this amounts to is a fun and unique tool for playing with focus and depth of field, but not a tool for architectural photography.

I have some hopes of using this for my wedding photography, most likely it will be relegated to ring and flower shots, but probably not too much for portraits. It’s fun to play around with, but I’ll need to use it for a while before I feel comfortable enough to pull it out during a fast-paced wedding when time is short.

Would I recommend a Lensbaby? It depends on how you want to use it. With the macro attachments, shooting closeups is fun and rewarding (and more cost-effective than an expensive macro lens). As a portrait lens, it will never be a primary lens, but if you allow yourself the time to become proficient with it, you should be able to get some fun and creative shots with it. In the end, it falls in the same category as Holga cameras for me. It’s fun to use and gives you a non-traditional image, but is not going to be a primary lens in any camera bag.

Twitter and Facebook: broken together

Web2.0, or the social web, or whatever buzzword you want to apply to the current state of the interwebs is a great place.  The number of options for keeping in touch with people and sharing information is infinite (yes, there are that many).  Unfortunately, I don’t think that more is better in this case.  Take Twitter and Facebook for example.  These are the most popular social networking services right now.  They are similar in some ways, yet fundamentally different in others.

Twitter and Facebook are broken together.  Independently they serve a specific purpose, yet they just aren’t meant to be together.
Here’s the problem: I use both of these services and for the portions of the services that overlap, I really only want to use one service.  Unfortunately, the two services don’t work well with each other and I end up having to maintain both at the same time.  Here’s my breakdown of the good and bad of twitter and facebook.

good bad
twitter
  • short and sweet updates (the 140 character limit is pure genius)
  • updates can be automatically sent to facebook
  • lightweight — not bogged down by photos and videos and absurd quizzes
  • lots of twitter clients
  • too many twitter clients — I oftentimes miss replies and messages sent to me because I’m using a variety of clients to access the content
  • threads are nonexistent — it’s hard to have a true conversation
  • no way to hide or minimize the number of updates you see from a chatter-happy followee (in facebook, you can hide somebody but not unfriend them)
  • tagging a post is clunky (#tagname just eats away at the 140 character limit)
facebook
  • status can be updated straight from twitter
  • can post photos and videos
  • much easier to follow a thread/conversation than with twitter
  • polls, quizzes and games are the smog and pollution of facebook
  • updates do not get sent to twitter
  • only the facebook.com website is a valid option for viewing content (the iPhone app sucks)

My ideal world would take the best of both worlds and combine them into a single service.  I really like to be able to check twitter updates from just about anywhere, but I’d like to be able to dig further into a more feature-rich service like facebook (sans quizzes, of course) — a two-tier system of sorts.  I would also like to have the multitude of clients that I use to view the posts somehow know what I have and have not seen yet so that I don’t miss any messages aimed directly at me.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you use either/both of these services?  Am I missing something here?

I'm a OneWed Best of 2008 vendor!

I just found out today that I was selected as a ‘Best of 2008 Vendor’ at OneWed.com. This award was given to the vendors with the most positive feedback. I have been rated a perfect 5 stars from seven past clients.  OneWed is a relatively new site and they seem to be gaining traction in the wedding market.  My favorite feature is that you can read actual customer reviews of the many vendors listed on their site.  When you’re looking for a photographer you can trust, the best advice you can get is from somebody who has actually worked with the photographer.  Many thanks to my clients who took the time to spread the word about my photography.

Josh Gormley Photography

Nikon failures

I’ve been a Nikon user for quite a few years now and I do not have any complaints about the quality of their equipment. Lately though, I’ve had more than one complaint about their service. It all started late last year when the D200 was announced. At first, I was exceptionally excited because I had been looking to upgrade my D100 and wasn’t really liking my options (less expensive D70, or more expensive D2x) — this was perfect timing for me. After nearly 3 years of service from my D100, I was going to be able to upgrade to the D200. Unfortunately, Nikon has done a fine job of squasing my excitement.

Nikon’s first mistake: Announce a highly anticipated new product, but not have enough quantity on hand. The initial ship date that I heard was that the D200 would be available early December 2005. So I waited and waited. When Christmas rolled around and I had heard of only a handful of D200 shipping, I got a little disappointed. When I finally got my D200 in April of 2006, I was totally shocked that they could take that long (5 months), and there is still a shortage of D200s.

Nikon’s second mistake: Have a limited stock of accessories for a product which is already difficult to get a hold of. Ok, great, I have my D200, but I can’t buy a second battery for it because they are backordered too. Even though the D100 had superb battery capacity, I always like to have a backup just in case and this is even more important because Nikon also dropped the ball in terms of battery consumption (see mistake #3 below).

Nikon’s third mistake: Take two steps forward and one giant stumble backwards. I am excited about nearly every new feature that the D200 has. It’s faster, smarter, and more customizable than my D100. But what the hell happened to the battery consumption? I can go weeks without having to charge my batteries in the D100, but I can’t even make it through an entire day with my one EN-EL3E battery (remember, I can’t get another one because nobody has them in stock — Mistake #2). Nikon claims that you can capture up to 1800 images on one battery charge with the D200, but during my first wedding with the D200, I got less than 700 — and I wasn’t even using the built-in flash!

So what do I do? I’ve got 4 Nikon lenses, a couple of Flashes, etc. Do I just suck it up and accept that Nikon can pull my strings like this? For now I’m going to have to because I just can’t afford the switch to Canon. But I can tell you this much, Nikon has bitten me once and I will be very shy about investing more money into their products unless they can prove that this won’t happen again. I love my Nikon equipment, but I’m not willing to put up with BS to use it.

New wedding albums

Leather Craftsmen album
Leather Craftsmen
Overview. I’ve been looking into various album options for my wedding clients and recently ordered an album through Leather Craftsmen. Well, I just got the album in the mail and it looks fantastic. Here’s my review of the album.

First impressions. I am very impressed with this album. The first thing I said when I pulled it out of the box was “wow!” The leather cover is top-notch, the binding is impeccable, and it just feels good in your hands.

Album Details. It’s a leather bound album which contains pages of full-bleed images that are hand-bound together. The pages are actual photographs and therefore very high quality — as opposed to the Apple albums that I reviewed previously which the images are printed directly on the page. Each page is very sturdy and coated in a laquer that feels like it will last forever.

Options. I chose to have the slate blue leather with gold gilding on the page edges. This doesn’t show up in the images very well, but looks fantastic in person. There are a lot of options to choose from with these albums. You can pick from about 8 leather colors, you can have text printed on the cover and the spine, you can have a cover photo, rice paper inserts between the pages, and so on. I think there are enough options to satisfy just about everybody. Oh, and did I mention that they come in about a dozen different sizes?

How to order an album. For my clients, the ordering process couldn’t be much easier. You simply choose 40 or more pictures that you want included in the album and I design an album layout for you. The album layout is viewable online which is very convenient. After you approve the layout, you pick from the available options (leather color, text imprinting, etc.) and then order the album. The turnaround time is about 8 weeks.

Pricing. Please contact me if you are interested in purchasing an album.

Review of Apple's iPhoto Books

Apple – iLife – iPhoto – Books
Background. I had been seeing the ads for Apple’s new iPhoto books and figured they were worth a look-see. My son was about to turn one and I thought it would be nice to have a book printed with pictures of his first year. Also, since the prices were affordable, I decided to have two 6×8 softcover books printed for the grandparents.

Prices. The hardcover book had 38 pages and cost about $50 while the two 6×8 softcover books were 20 pages and cost $10 each. In addition to the printing fee, I needed to upgrade to iPhoto 5 (only available as packaged with iLife), which cost $79.

First impression. I like the idea of these photo books. If you already use iPhoto, then all you do is create a book with an album in iPhoto, organize the pages, add text to some pages (optional), send it to Apple and within two weeks you have your book.

Creating the book. The interface in iPhoto is easy to use, but somewhat limited. You are presented with the option of several themes, all of which have different page types. Once you choose a theme, you can either have iPhoto populate the album for you or you can do it manually. I recommend the manual process because a lot of times you will want to group specific images together.

I have two complaints about the interface.

  1. The number of page layout options is limited. For example, you choose how many pictures you want on a page and then the layout of that page. If you choose to have 6 imaeges, you get just a couple of layout options for those six images and are not allowed to configure your own layout.
  2. It’s not really easy to crop an image to fit within an image placeholder. If you have an image that is horizontal and you want to put it in a verticle box, there are no options in iPhoto for you to choose how that image is cropped to fit the format of the box. The only option you have is to crop the actual image in your album, but that affects the actual image as opposed to just how it is used within the book.

Quality. This is where I really have my problems with these books. The quality is probably good enough for the average consumer, but for me as a photographer, it’s not quite good enough.

I think that the photos are compressed before they are sent to Apple. This is probably done to save on upload time and because iPhoto knows how big the photos are going to be printed and compresses them to be as small as possible and still print well. If this is the case, then I have a problem with this because you’re already dealing with a compressed image and if iPhoto compresses it again, you have a real chance of losing quality. I have emailed Apple about my concerns and will update this section when I found out for sure what’s happening.

Rating. If I had to give a rating, I would say 7 out of 10. As a professional photographer, I can’t say that I’ll be using this service a lot, but for the average consumer, the quality is probably good enough and by limiting the album options, Apple makes the process of creating a book easy and affordable.