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Click for moreMay 7, 2009 - Going to town with tubes

Roaming around in natural areas, there's usually a long lens on the camera always at the ready for any birds I might come across. In the camera bag are a range of items including a flash I rarely use, a teleconverter, macro lenses and a relatively new add-on, extension tubes.

Having a 400 or 500mm lens is excellent for capturing things from afar. The problem with these lenses is that they're not as useful when shooting nearby subjects. On my 500mm lens for example, I need to be over 8 feet away to be able to obtain focus.

This is where extension tubes come in handy. They can be added to a wide range of lenses, and once added, they dramatically reduce the minimum focusing distance of a lens.

In some of the included shots, I was using a 70-200mm lens, and shooting from less than 3 inches from these tiny flowers.

The detail you can capture with a telephoto zoom is amazing in itself, but with the addition of extension tubes you get a super-macro lens and a new world of perception opens up.

This summer I have a goal to use these tubes to photograph small flowers and lichens, as well as dragonflies, butterflies and other smaller insects. There's going to be a bit of a learning curve, but from a few recent shots it looks like it will be worth the effort.

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Click for moreJan 24, 2009 - Horsing around with new gear

Today's outing was dedicated to field-testing a telephoto lens. When it comes to telephoto zoom lenses, many options are available, and there are many factors to consider.

Focal length, overall speed, focus speed, weight, handhold-ability, brand, and cost all need to be considered. In this case, there's a need for more reach, image-stabilizing, and the lens needs to be capable of sharp images without a tripod.

Another key consideration is price. Our current economy left me evaluating different offerings from various manufacturers.

The lens is intended for capturing birds, so birds were the primary target today. Shots of Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches turned out very well. Larger birds of prey were seen but not many photo opportunities arose.

Additional travels yielded more subjects, namely a female Horned Lark, horses and a lone Snowy Owl.

In the end, the test was worthwhile and the lens is very capable. The attached shots aren't award-winners, but they were taken while testing specific situations and apertures, and I am satisfied that the lens will perform for the purposes it's intended for.

Additional learning will be needed to get the most out the glass, but that's part of the process. More testing will be done in the weeks to follow, but it does appear that a longer lens will join the team, welcome aboard...

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Click for moreJan 23, 2009 - Photoshop CS4 upgrade

It's been a few months since Adobe released Photoshop CS4. I was intrigued by the new features but forgot to upgrade until this week.

If you already own CS3 (or even some earlier versions), the CS4 upgrade comes at a special upgrade price, which is fair. Some folks question how worthwhile the upgrade is, and after installation I was able to test some of the features I've been looking forward to.

In addition to improved speed for the CS4 and Bridge applications, there are also new features in the Camera RAW tool, which I use as the first step for all post-processing. Of the new features, a few I'm most excited about are the adjustment brush, and the new filters that can be applied to a portion of the image.

I went back to some older RAW images and reprocessed them all over again.

Choosing images with difficult exposure situations, I was amazed to try the new gradient filters. In the included farm photo, I was able to equalize the exposure of the trees without affecting the sky or field. I further enhanced the image by brushing some additional saturation onto the tractor. I last applied a yellow/red filter to the trees, and a blue filter to the sky. This is similar to using a circular blue-yellow polarizer while shooting.

Adobe's addition of these features to the RAW editor is a great idea. The new capabilities allow greater control over RAW processing, which in turn minimize how much work is required in Photoshop after the fact.

Other interface enhancements have been added, and work well. If you're already using the Photoshop CS family of products, the jump to CS4 is definitely worth considering.

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