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Camera Class by Harry Flashman


Seeing round corners - or eyes in the back of your head

Have you ever sat in a Toyota Fortuner fitted with the trick special rear vision mirror mounted on the front passenger mudguard to assist the driver in parking?  The mirror is around 200 mm back from the front of the vehicle, and yet it lets you see the very front of the car.  Fascinating optical technology.

However, I only recently came across a camera lens which has a 220 degree field of vision.  Remembering back to geometry, 180 degrees is the field of vision you have from one side of your head to the other.  You cannot look behind you at the same time.  But this lens does, just like the Fortuner mirror, this lens was built by Nikon in 1970.  Forty years ago this optical technology was already being used.

It is known as the Fisheye-Nikkor 6 mm f2.8 lens, first shown in 1970 at the Photokina trade show in Cologne, and held the distinction of not only offering an angle of view of 220 degrees, but also being known at the time as the world’s most “extreme wide-angle” lens, and which it still is, forty years later!  The lens officially went into production in 1972 and uses multi glass elements in nine groups with a total weight of more than 5 kg.  This extremely wide-angle lens from Nikkor is also extremely rare and I only became aware of it when it was offered by Grays of Westminster in the UK for 100,000 GBP (approximately $161,400 USD, or 5 million THB) for those of you with the deep pockets.

The specifications of this lens include:

Focal length/Aperture: 6 mm f2.8

Lens construction:12 elements in 9 groups

Picture angle: 220 degrees

Diaphragm: Automatic

Aperture scale: f2.8-f22 on both standard and aperture-direct readout scales

Exposure measurement: Via full aperture method; meter coupling ridge provided for AI cameras and meter coupling shoe for non-AI cameras

Distance scale: Graduated in meters and feet from 0.25m (0.9 ft.) to infinity (00)

Weight : 5,200 gm

Dimensions: 236 mm diameter x 171 mm long (overall); 160 mm extension from lens flange

Filters: Built-in: skylight (L1BC), medium yellow (Y 48), deep yellow (Y52); orange (056), and red (R60)

Front lens cap: Slip-on

Those with an interest in photographic history will remember that this extreme wide lens was introduced around the same time as the longest reach Nikkor lens - the 2,000 mm f11 Reflex Nikkor.  Now that is a monster, and Nikkor then possesses not only the widest angle, but also the longest reach in 35 mm photography.

Its specifications are:

Focal length/Aperture: 2000 mm f11; Lens construction: 5 elements in 5 groups

Picture angle: 110'; Diaphragm: None; Aperture scale: None

Exposure measurement: Via stop-down method

Distance scale: Graduated in meters and feet from 18m (60ft.) to infinity (00)

Dimension: 262 mm x 598 mm

Filters: 4 types Built-in: ultraviolet (L37C), medium yellow (Y48), orange (056), and red (R60)

Weight: 17,500g

However, neither of these lenses are ones you will see the local pro-shooter pulling out of his bag.  The practicality is not there, even though both lenses deliver what you would expect from such ‘ultimate’ optics.  Both are very heavy lenses and their use could be described as cumbersome.  Finally, since it is not an entirely day to day usage optic lens, they are only made available through special order.  This ultimate fish-eye+ lens is more of a status symbol than a viable commercial application lens for photography.  More of a Rolls-Royce, when a Toyota Fortuner will do!

But 5 million baht will get you a nice house, a Mercedes-Benz or four Fortuners.  It is impossible to justify the purchase of a lens such as this, though the technology that produced it can be looked upon in awe.

But once again, for those who wish to achieve certain optical objectives and if price is not an important issue, it does fulfill many objectives such as situations where you need a high performance wide angle lens with extreme wide coverage to use for low available light photography, or fulfilling scientific and researchers aspirations, this lens is indeed a dream lens for them.  Or even looking behind yourself to see where you have been!

Today’s column is brought to you by the numbers 15 and 16

In photography you will find that on your SLR will be a shutter speed called “15”.  This represents 1/15th of a second, and for many photographers you would think that 1/15th is something akin to a long time exposure.  It is not, and even without optical image stabilization electrotrickery, offered on many DSLR’s, this shutter speed can actually be hand held, as long as some basics steps are adhered to.

There seems to be an idea in the photographic world that anything slower than 1/60th of a second cannot be hand-held, and you must use a tripod.  This is tripe - unless you have some medical condition resulting in uncontrolled shaking spasms, but I think is a carry-over from Box Brownie days.

The reason to use 1/15th is to expand the light range in which you can take shots without flash, such as sunsets for example, or to bring out the background, even when using flash.  You know the shots taken at a function where you get someone looking like a startled rabbit in blackness, where if you had used a 1/15th shutter speed you would have got a nice mellow background to soften the picture.

Of course there are a few tricks to hand-holding at the slower shutter speeds.  The first is to steady yourself and that can be done easily by leaning against a wall or a pole (preferably not a chrome one attached to a go-go dancer).  The second is to hold the camera firmly in both hands, take a breath in and hold it and then gently depress the shutter button.  I have even shot at a second by holding the camera firmly pressed down on the back of a chair.  Take a few as some will have obvious camera shake, but you will get at least one good one.

Still on the number 15.  There is a theoretical f stop which could be called f 15.  F stops after all are only a way of measuring the diameter of the aperture inside the lens, to bring it to its simplest terms.  As you go through the usual f stops of f 8 to f 11 to f 16, you are actually cutting the light down by one half each time.  The f stop scale is also an inverse ration, as the bigger the number, the smaller the diameter.  There is a good mathematical reason for this, but just believe me.

If you really want to get technical, for example, f/16 means that the aperture diameter is equal to the focal length of the lens divided by sixteen; that is, if the camera has an 80 mm lens, all the light that reaches the film passes through a virtual disk known as the ‘entrance pupil’ that is 5 mm (80 mm/16) in diameter.  The location of this virtual disk inside the lens depends on the optical design.  It may simply be the opening of the aperture stop, or may be a magnified image of the aperture stop, formed by elements within the lens.

The f stop scale is a sliding one, allowing for fractional differences in the light allowed through to the film (or the digital sensors).  Most old cameras had an aperture scale graduated in full stops but the aperture was continuously variable allowing the photographer to select any intermediate aperture, and thus it would be possible to shoot at f 15.

The continuously variable aperture cameras slowly disappeared, with ‘click-stopped’ aperture became a common feature in the 1960s; the aperture scale was usually marked in full stops, but many lenses had a click between two marks, allowing a gradation of one half of a stop.

On modern cameras, especially when aperture is set on the camera body, f-number is often divided more finely than steps of one stop or half a stop.  Steps of one-third stop (1/3 EV) are the most common, since this matches the ISO system of film speeds.  Enough technical details!  Understand the numbers 15 and 16 and how they affect your final image, and you will expand your photographic abilities.

Camera fun at night

No, I am not suggesting you smuggle your camera into Nekkid a-go-go; the bouncers in these places tend to frown on such antics.  What I am suggesting this week is that you experiment with the time exposure facility on your DSLR.

Yes, this is a time where the trusty compact will not do the job for you, and let’s face it, you bought an SLR because of its capabilities to take different photos, and for you to have fun experimenting with taking ‘real’ photographs and not just ‘record’ shots.  A ‘record’ shot is one of wet people at Songkran for example, ‘recording’ what happens, with no real input from the photographer.

Let’s get down to it.  How many times have you used the “time exposure” facility on your camera?  So when was the last time you tried using a time exposure?  Probably  “never”!  That is the usual response to that question.

The reason for this is simple.  It all sounds too complicated, you need to have a tripod, don’t know how to work it out, the list goes on.  It is a shame that people feel this way, because you can get some spectacular shots with time exposure and it really isn’t all that difficult these days.  Let me show you how!

Let’s address the “too technical” first.  A camera is purely a device that lets a certain amount of light fall onto electronic sensors for a predetermined amount of time.  This is the old “f8 at 1/60th” sort of routine (also known as the photojournalists creed - f8 and Be There!).  The number of the “f” stop (the aperture) tells you how large the hole is that lets the light in, and the 1/60th denotes how long the hole was left open.  Is that really technical?  No!

What do you need for Time Exposure photography?  Well, a camera is a good start, but it has to be one with “T” or “B” settings.  The “T” setting stands for Time Exposure - one “click” opens the shutter, the second “click” closes it.  “B” originally stood for “bulb” and the way that works is by holding the shutter release down keeps the shutter open until you take your finger off, which closes it.  Why two settings?  Simple, use “B” for time exposures up to a minute and “T” for longer ones (mainly because your finger will go numb holding the button down for 20 minutes!).

What ISO speed rating should you use?  I am sure your DSLR has 400 ASA which is fine (but you can use anything, I generally just use the standard 100 ASA I use for everything).  Now you may have read about “reciprocity failure” with long time exposures.  Give up reading!  It’s photo industry techo-talk and won’t stop you getting good pictures, it just could change the colors a bit, but with digital cameras this is not a worry either, most digitals compensate by themselves.

The final piece of equipment you need is a tripod, but even that is not 100 percent necessary.  But it is easier with one.

The important point to grasp, is that all Time Exposure photography is “hit and miss”.  There’s no real way anyone can tell you exactly “f8 and 24 seconds”.  There’s too many variables, but all you have to do is to take the same scene or picture with several different exposure times - one of them will be right.  Believe me!

Here’s the rough guides.  In all of these the aperture (f stop) is set on f8.  Now to take a street scene at night, try 2 seconds, 4 seconds and 8 seconds.  For the interior of a room, lit with ordinary light bulbs, try 5 seconds, 10 seconds and 20 seconds.  To take a picture, just before dawn try 5, 10 and 20 seconds.  Now, for a completely dark, night landscape (or seascape) try 30 seconds, 1 minute and 2 minutes.  And for a different sunset, try one second and half a second.

Make a note of the order your time exposures were shot in, and note the “best” result.  Sure, sometimes colors will be strangely different - but if you wanted a “normal” shot you’d have taken it in daylight, wouldn’t you?

Weird photographers - Edweard Muybridge

Muybridge’s bison on the hoof.

Photography can certainly bring out some of the real characters in this world.  I was reminded of this the other day when Mr. Google had several shots in sequence of a horse galloping by.  This was the work of one very weird photographer, Edweard Muybridge who was one of the ‘characters’ in the history of photography.  However, while decidedly eccentric he did further scientific knowledge and in fact made the first cinema projector, so should be remembered fondly.

Edweard Muybridge was actually born plain Edward Muggeridge in the UK in 1830 but emigrated to America in the early 1850’s and changed his name (as did a lot of other people emigrating in those days - and even these days to places like Chiang Mai).  Edward’s reasons for emigration were not stated.

In the 1860’s he took up photography and gained some fame as a topographical photographer and even published a book, “Scenery of the Yosemite Valley” in 1867, so Ansel Adams was not the only one to see the possibilities in the majestic landscapes.

However, it was the photography of motion that attracted Edweard.  In 1872 he finally managed to successfully photograph a horse in motion showing that at certain times all four hooves are off the ground simultaneously, this fact being one of much controversy and wagers.  Unfortunately, immediately after proving his point, he was tried for murdering his wife’s lover - but was acquitted.  He was then sued for divorce by the distraught lady and finally widowed.  All this kept Edweard away from his photography of motion for four years.

Returning to photography, with the millionaire railroad builder, Leland Stanford as his sponsor, Edweard developed a unique system in 1878 which was in reality 12 cameras mounted side by side and operated by trip wires.  By the following year he had expanded this to 24 cameras and could thus take very short time interval photographs of horses, dogs, pigeons and goats in motion.  This in turn led to photographing moving humans, despite enormous problems in getting people to walk past his battery of 24 cameras in the nude!  However, by 1881 he published these in a book.

His next objective was to show these as motion and he invented the “Zoopraxiscope” which projected sequences of these photographs mounted on a glass disc to give the impression of true motion.  This was in fact the worlds first cinema projector and preceded Thomas Edison’s “Kinetoscope” by some twelve years.

In 1882 Edweard went to Europe, hopeful of raising sponsorship to continue his photographic study of movement, but returned to America with empty pockets.  He was then lucky enough to get backing from the University of Pennsylvania.  They kept him alive while he photographed 2000 models, male and female, clothed and nude, as well as wild animals.  When he ran out of models, he even used himself, taking his serial shots of himself walking up and down ramps.  20,000 photographs of almost 800 different subjects were published in a book called “Animal Locomotion” in 1887.

Once again, he was to run out of money for his grandiose schemes and tried selling the “Animal Locomotion” book at $100 a book.  Needless to say it was not an overnight best seller.

This led our Edweard to new heights.  He built a hall to demonstrate the Zoopraxiscope, called the Zoopraxographical Hall in the 1893 Chicago World’s Colombian Exhibition.  This was the world’s first movie theatre and predated the Lumiere brothers “Cinematographe” presentations by three years.

Despite his inventiveness, the world did not beat a path to his studio and Edweard decided he had enough of this photography lark, returning to the UK, where he bequeathed all his photographic equipment to the local library.  At the turn of the century he reprinted his original books, earning enough to eke out his last four years of life.

Of course, what Edweard did not realize was that almost 100 years later the scientific community would find that he had left them the most complete records of animal motion ever produced and in fact in 1979 his books were republished.  It’s a (ed)weird world we live in!