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Pune/ India, Irvine/ CA, now Boulder/ CO
Welcome to my blog! I'm Hrishi from Pune, India. I am an earth system scientist currently working as a postdoctoral research associate at Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at CU-Boulder. These blogs are mostly about my travels, landscape photography, scientific computing, book and film reviews, fitness, cooking, and science communication. Feel free to navigate based on the labels below. My website: hrishikeshac.wix.com/hchandan

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Field experience- Canon 450D and 55-250/5.6 IS

First of all, this is NOT a review of any sort, not even a field test. I am merely sharing my experience with the Canon system in general and 450D and 55-250 IS lens in particular.
Dawn over Kaziranga


Recently, I had an opportunity to try out the kit at Kaziranga National Park, Assam. Though we stayed in the park for only two days and were 'inside' the park for only 3-4 hours, We saw a great deal of wildlife.
One-horned Rhino, Kaziranga National Park


The 450D felt very comfortable in my hands. It felt lot lighter than my Pentax K10D and I liked this fact. Its viewfinder was somewhat darker than K10D, but I didn't have much issue in focusing manually. Its LCD was bigger than K10D but was little confusing. Image looked very dark in the LCD than on monitor. I never used the Live view mode. The very fact that I have to go through settings to change from LV to VF mode didn't impress me at all..(please let me know if there are any shortcuts to do so)..

I liked the dedicated ISO button in the 450D. It enabled rapid change of ISOs as and when I needed and I needed to change ISO very frequently. Auto focus operation was super quiet. almost SILENT. Focus was fairly quick too. The fact that it was so silent also made it appear even more quick. Coming from manual-focus-lenses background, this was the first AF tele (provided you call 250mm a tele. On APS-C, it certainly is.) I ever used and I was in awe of the AF to say the least. Initially, I had difficulty in shooting birds in flight with the combo but soon learnt the beauty of Al-servo and the central cross-hair AF point. I could effortlessly track every bird I was able to get inside the frame. Once again, I was limited by my own self. IQ wise, 450D was excellent. I used it most of the times at ISO 800 and at times at ISO 1600. Seriously, there are many things which we hear on forums and reviews which are to be simply forgotten during actual field work. High ISO is one of them. How am I to avoid ISO 1600 if the camera meter shows 2" even at ISO 1600, wide open? Many times I had to use EV to increase shutter speed by increasing ISO even further. Here I wished Canon had 5 stops of EV instead of 2. Especially considering the over- exposure Canon bodies normally cause. This brings us to the only serious issue I had with Canon system- the one which cost me at least half a dozen of well taken images- WASHED HIGHLIGHTS. I had heard from most of the Canon users that Canon bodies over expose slightly and hence, one should keep the EV at -2/3. I invariably had to keep it from -2/3 to -2! Being a user of Pentax, which is (in)famous for underexposed images, I was never bothered by washed highlights before this and I didn't even know it until I saw the images on monitor. Damn. I had to shoot jepg because there weren't many memory cards provided with the camera and we hadn't taken laptops for security reasons. The images had appeared darker in the LCD which refrained me from using extreme negative EV. I think shooting RAW would have solved the problem. Thus, this in no way count against the camera as I should have, following John Shaw's guidelines, calibrated the meter before use or at least shot in RAW.. I didn't fiddle with the camera much and used it only in the field. Hence, I'm sure there are many more tit-bits which I don't know of.

Tusker, Kaziranga: Plenty of washed highlights in this image, toned downed a bit.


Overall, I liked the camera but is it worth 38k? certainly not. I won't give more than 20k for it or any camera in this class, especially when one can get a 40D for 39k. I used the 450D exclusively with the 55-250IS lens even though I was provided with the 18-55IS lens. 55mm is wide enough for most of the landscape shots I usually take on field. However, I think ideal focal length for the job would have been an image stabilized 28-300/5.6 or a 35-350/5.6..I would have preferred the latter. Canon did make these lenses, but they were too expensive and heavy for the target users and purpose they fulfilled. All shots of birds were taken at 250mm. Mammals required the lower focal lengths. IS was God sent. It gave me sharp images at 5.25 stops more than the normal shutter speed when I shot at the wider end of the lens. At tele end, I could get about 2.5- 3 stops advantage. IS clearly substituted tripod at least for this tour. Of course there were opportunities which only tripod could have taken, but they weren't many. I am planning to buy this lens and a used 400D.
People asked if 250mm is enough? Well, I performed a simple exercise- I used Juza's focal length calculator with references being 250mm on a 10 MP Canon APS-C slr and a 720 X 480 canvas. With the help of this calculator I found out that if I crop a 10 MP image to 7 MP, I will get a field of view (FOV) of a 300mm lens. Similarly, I will get FOV of 400mm, 500mm and 600mm lenses if I crop the image to 4 MP, 2.5 MP and 1.7 MP. I know 1.7 MP sounds too small. But I mave made excellent 12 X 8 prints of images as small as 1.26 MP. My only concern is of IQ. Yes, IQ isn't the best at f5.6 but improves dramatically through f8 and finally at f11. In Pune, the weather is mostly sunny and I am able to usually shoot at f11-16. Its weight is perfect for my needs- a light weight, in-expensive lens which would remain with me 24/7. Add the close focusing ability so essential for dragonfly, butterfly and reptile shots and you have the truely wonderful all round lens required for wildlife documentation. Seriously, 55-250 IS lens is one of the best ways one can spend 13.5k. :)
The 400D decision is based on the fact that I liked the 450D. Yes, they are two different cameras but belong to same class. Quite similar Viewfinder, ISO performance, fps, negligible weight difference etc. I never used the Live view and the bigger LCD didn't quite impress me. The minor differences are not field relevant. The only major difference IMHO is 2 extra MPs, which are enough to make a difference between the FOV of a 400mm lens and a 450mm lens (on 35mm film). That, however, isn't worth the extra cash. The 400D and 55-250 make an inexpensive kit which I can carry around all the time without stress of lugging $$$$ everywhere I go. The money saved by opting for such an inexpensive kit will go for a decent laptop which will replace my 11 year old desktop or may be as saving for 100-400 or a 400/5.6 in near future.
Few images from the combo..


A few images from the trip:

Wild boar, Kaziranga

Rhino, Kaziranga



Hog Deer, Kaziranga



Safari

Sunset, Kaziranga


Moonrise over Kaziranga



Monday, September 29, 2008

Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary- August 2008





Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Pune was conducting a day long workshop on various environmental issues faced by the local communities over there, introducing them to the concept of sustainable development and helping in resoliving the man-wildlife conflict at the border villages around the Sanctuary..We arranged the workshop at a village school, very near to the Sanctuary limits and just near this Water Tank..




As usual students arranged the whole event, girls working the most..I am more or less useless when it comes to these things, hence spent time and puting myself to some use..yes, PHOTOGRAPHY!





I had taken the following gear-
1. Pentax K10D.
2. Pentax FA50/1.4- For low light and portrait photography..
3. 18-55/3.5-5.6- kit lens which came along with the K10D..
4. Super Macro Takumar 50/4- For macro stuff. No I hadn't bought it, just 'testing' it on field..
5. Pentax SMC 300/4- For birds/mamals..
6. Vivitar 2X TC
7. Juhi's Tripod (Yuntgen or something)- I didn't even opened it..
I had stuffed the gear along with clothes etc in my main bagpack (owned by Darshan)..I still don't have a dedicated bag for photgraphy equipment..




Forest officer Mr. Nale was a very dynamic person. He encouraged me a lot and told us of his many wild experiences..It was sad that other students were least interested..Here was a man of much higher calibre telling us something which is so rare these days- first hand experiences- and they wre busy playing Antakshari..



Next day at dawn Nale Sir took me in his car and we went for a quick trail..Mayureshwar Wildlife SAnctuary is well known for its Chinkara population..These Antelopes are well dispersed in the Sanctuary and off it too..Nale Sir knew of a loner male who, after being dismissed from his herd by a younger and stronger male, liked to stay around a particular intersection of roads..I was able to get a decent image of him, even though I nearly missed the shot thanks to the cumbersome manual focus of the 300/4..We saw few herds, I saw a jackel running away from us..The Chinkaras weren't bothered much by cars than they were by pedestrians



 During off times, I used to hook on the Macro lens..There were always some or the other bug around..


Overall, it was a great learning experience.. learnt lot of lessons..


Tortoise beetle







Thursday, July 3, 2008

Super Macro Takumar 50/4 III


I have been doing better and better with the Super Takumar 50/4 Macro with each passing day. Though I don't get to spend much time with it just few minutes a day, I do get at least 2-3 usable images every time I take out the camera. The lens has replaced my Kit lens and is always mounted on the K10D.


Though we ain't sure about the above species, Juhi thinks it is a Blue Tiger.



This is Common Red Eye (Matapa aria) of Hesperiidae family as identified by Juhi. Hesperiidae members are also called skippers for their quick darting habits (wikipedia). There are about 3500 species of them worldwide belonging to 550 genera.


I had never thought a ground skimmer (Diplocodes trivialis) could make me skip a heart beat. But as I looked throught the Pentaprism of the K10D and focused the silky smooth ring of the Super Takumar, I was completely zapped by its beauty. For a moment I couldn't help but stare at it without pressing the shutter. Ground skimmers belong to family Libellulidae which include 1139 species worldwide. For more information on Odonates of peninsular India, lo on to this link http://www.ias.ac.in/initiat/sci_ed/lifescape/odonates.html.



I don't know whether it is the lens, the weather which yielded this magic. None of the 6 people who were there with me cared to notice this beautiful standout. How can soo many people simply don't care to appreciate nature?



This is a Crimson Marsh Hawk male. (Trithemis aurora). This is the first Dragonfly I was able to capture using the SUper Takumar. I was disappointed as almost 2 weeks went past without a single good image of an odonate with the lens. Well the wait yielded warm returns.



When I spotted this plant in Alice Garden, I remembered a quote from a Canon user on an Internet forum. He had said that he would love to buy K10D only to shoot Reds!! I wondered whether K10D was really so fabulous with Red. Yes, it certainly is!


Insects are actually like small kids. Very shy! While kids hide behind their parents, curtains, this one decided to hide under the Golden Duranta leaf. But inquisitive as it was, it couldn't help but keep an eye on me!









I had to actually lay in wet dung to get this image. I have found the perfect photography wear in my rain pants and jacket. I can go anywhere without getting my clothes dirty and this makes my Mom unusually happy(more than my photos make her!).








This leaf isn't eaten to this shape. Clearly God favoured this shape. As the lens is useless for non macro subjects like this big leaf, I got underexposed shot but thanks to RAW and the S/W Raw Therapee that I could adjust the exposure.





I have been obsessed by the colour rendition given by the Super Takumar 50/4 Macro. Its absolutely mind blowing. The adjoining image is not even cropped, only resized and copyrighted. I wouldn't even had considered it worth photographing few weeks ago. Every moment I'm growing up as a photographer and understanding the magic of an SLR.



It is not a Tennis ball..It is a nest of a very small spider which looks alarmingly similar to the Giant Wood Spider. You can actually see the eggs inside. Nephila family members are well known amongst spider lovers for their skillfully constructed beautiful webs.




This spider belongs to genus Telamonia from the Salticidae family a.k.a 'Jumping spider family' was identified by my spiderman friend Sudhikumar A V. There are 5000 species belonging to 500 generas in the family Salticidae which is the largest spider family.



This spider was good enough to give me another chance to capture it. It came out of the Duranta leaf and posed for a brief moment to again disappear behind it.










This image has been spoilt by the harsh light of the onboard flash. I do need a better flash or a better flash position. None-the-less, I could have diffused the light with a butter paper. But your brain doesn't always work at the right time..













































































Saturday, June 28, 2008

SUper Macro Takumar 50/4 II



Here are few more images which I was able to capture in the Alice Garden, my favourite place in the University of Pune campus(apart from the Department of Environmental Sciences). Though Alice Garden is (in)famous for college couples and the ghost of Alice, I love it for its rich biodiversity. I'll write more about it in a separate blog on Alice Garden. This Tiny Grass Blue (Zizula gaika) is really very tiny and impatient. Its always in flight. I was lucky to find it sitting. There are at least 4-5 of these around the pond in the Alice Garden. They fly very close to the ground. They are so tiny that the wingspan of an adult is only 1.5cm and the caterpillars are only 0.7cm long! Food plants are from the the family Acanthaceae. (Source- Wikipedia)




I found this Chrysalis of the Common Indian Crow in the premises of Arts building in the University opposite to the Open canteen. Few days ago I had spotted two caterpillars on exactly the same plant which Juhi recognised to be Euploea core (Indian Crow). Today just out of curiosity I searched the plant again to find this lone Chrysalis. This butterfly is very common in the University and is often seen flying slowly, somewhat carelessly. It is not eaten by any predator because it it is very bad to taste (Of course I haven't tasted!) as it consumes the chemicals secreted by its host plants.




This grasshopper was at such a lower surface that I had to actually hold my K10D just few inches above ground to meet its eye level. It was one of those times I wished my camera had a Live LCD view.





















These images are shot as ** quality 10MP jepgs straight from the camera (Pentax K10D) with default sharpness tweaked a little bit.

Apart from the resizing, bordering, cropping and copyrighting these images, no editing is done.


This Plain Tiger was very patient indeed. Twice it settled on a twig, I positioned myself at leisure, focused and just before I pressed the shutter, it flew to a nearby twig. I was lucky the third time.






I usually don't capture flowers. I haven't wondered why. But this image makes me wonder how many beautiful images like this have I missed.







This frog was extremely brave. It let me shoot at least 20 shots in different position and light. It let me come so closer that I was limited by the minimum focusing distance of the Super Macro Takumar 50/4 lens! Though this image looks a little underexposed, it was necessary to do so in order to save the highlights.



Macro world is the weirdest world in our world. Many of the tiny creatures like this one would pass on as aliens to unfamiliar eyes.





I don't know what the adjoining photo shows. It was extremely tiny, maybe it belongs to one of the tiniest butterfly/moth.












This bee let me take its image only sideways. the moment I tried to go above it, it flew away.










Can you believe this image is taken using a flash? that too a built-in flash?? Of course the shadows in the background will give it away. anyways..




Hey, wait a minute, can u see a white spot almost in the middle of the image? (Click on the image to enlarge it.) I have no clue what it may be. Its not there in other images. Should check the lens again, thoroughly.

Super Macro Takumar 50/4 I Field Experience






The manual focusing is silky smooth. As the focusing ring rotates a great deal for even a minute change in focus, it gives the operator full control over focus point. There is a pin on the left side of the lens which enables the lens to get stopped down from wide open to the aperture selected in the aperture ring. This lens gives magnification of 1:2. i.e half life size. Still, with the help of my 25mm extension tube and 2 x Teleconverter, I can go beyond life size. I haven't tried the combinations on the field yet. A brief exposure test made me realise that the lens exposes properly only wide open and tends to progressively under expose at smaller apertures. However I found out that at f/16 with built in flash and camera on M or Av mode and ISO 100 gives me correct exposure every time. I prefer the Av mode because I don't have to press the Green button before every exposure. Also, In the M mode, the meter doesn't read the flash and gives exposure without considering that the flash is on. e.g. Sometimes it gives 3sec exposure which even with the flash fired thus producing blurred image. Keeping the camera in Av mode exposes every shot ( with flash fired) at 1/180.





The technique I followed while taking photos is as follows-

1. Keep the lens at its minimum focusing distance and at f16, built in flash popped up and at +1 of its intensity. Keep 'the stop down pin' down so that the lens is wide open and thus easier to focus.

2. Go close to the subject so that the desired area is in sharp focus.
3. Pull the stop down pin up so that the lens get stopped down at f16 and click the shutter release button immediately. This technique has enabled me to take few very good shots which I could have only dreamt of taking with my non macro lenses.







Though due to lack of money I wont buy this lens, I certainly recommend it! However please consider its limitations which I mentioned.
All the photos posted here are totally unedited except for the border, resizing, small cropping and the copyright.

I would like to mention that the views written in this blog are based on tests which I conducted and other's tests may yield (dunno how!) different results.






























Monday, May 26, 2008

First few experiences..

This is my first blog ever! I shyed away from blogging earlier because I used to think there's no need to express yourself on the web, when there are so many people around you. But now I feel the need to interact with wider communities, similar minded people and to share my experiences with them. One warning though- I am a compulsive writer. So only compulsive readers are invited!

Its strange that I am choosing to start blogging with a photography blog. When I first thought of blogging, photography was almost alien to me..Perhaps the choice would be Astrology, or Aquariums..Never the less, photography it is for now..


So here I go..

I remember myself jumping with excitement after seeing the print of my first photo ever. It was in May 1996, The subject was the Bergi Dam in Madhya Pradesh captured using Mom's Point and Shoot Yashica film camera (Yashica used to be very popular in India in the film days. I still have my Dad's Yashica 635 in perfectly working condition!). I didn't have to do anything but just press the shutter release button. The photo is the only existing photo from that album. It stood out from those taken by my Mom, Cousins because of its composition. (Actually my photo pretty average, it was just that others weren't sure of what exactly they were framing to capture!). Yes, even in film days, when so many things were to be considered before taking a photograph, composition of the photo was of utmost importance. Now in digital age, with sooo many things turning automatic and with the onset of stupid gimmicks like Face detection, Composition is always going to remain manual and certainly the most important thing in photography..
After that incident, I wasn't to hold camera for more than a year and I was under the impression that photography was the easiest thing to do in world. The impression was shattered to pieces when I took my second photo. A Red wattled Lapwing had laid eggs on the terrace of my house. I had just become obsessed with birds after seeing a slide show by Mr. Kiran Purandare. I was keeping a close eye on the eggs and desperately wanted to see the lapwing chicks coming out of them. Moment I saw minute cracks on the shells I rushed to Dad and got the same point and shoot camera and emptied the role. I went so close to a chick that the camera almost touched it. Now I was sure I had gotten the best lapwing chick photos in the world and told the entire family and friend circle about it. Imagine my shock when I saw the prints. 33 blurred photos. Dad told me that I shouldn't have gotten so close to the chicks. But when I asked him How could I have gotten the closeup shots without going closer to babies, he didn't have an answer. As a child, I was always at one emotional extreme or the other. The entire next week went in crying. I didn't even feel like looking at the chicks anymore. They were there for many weeks before they flew away, never to come back.
Later after 4 more years, after my schooling ended I did take the camera to Mahabaleshwar and got many nice shots, but all were general picnic shots. At least I had gotten over that nightmare. The worst was over.