- Entries : Category [ photography ]
- On picture taking... and pictures
21 January 2008
How Not To Buy a Camera - and get away with it!
Review of my Samsung Digimax Cyber 530
In case you are planning to buy a digital camera, the prudent way is to
check on the web what's available, find out which cameras have positive
reviews, and then decide which ones offer the best features and quality
for the best price. Don't just buy a cheap camera on the spur of the
moment... except that's exactly what I did. Lucky bastard that I am, I
got a good value for my money, but for a moment I was scared clean and
nice. Read on for my review of this camera...
I had been at a department store back in Switzerland (never buy cameras
at department stores!) and while waiting for the gf, I strolled through
the electronics corner. Usually I just look at the computers, but since
wildweasel has burned a hole in my ears whining about my lousy phone
camera pix, I had a look at the digicams. Shouldn't have done that,
because I saw a camera at a reduced price, at the bottom of one of
the locked glass vitrines, down from ~ 100 Euro to ~ 60 Euro. As my
friend saad always says, I'm the master of cheap jokes, so this hit my
cheapness detonator switch.
Once the gf came back, I showed her my find and we got a sales droid
to open the lock and hand me a "Samsung Digimax Cyber 530" - whatever
that is. (This camera is sold also under a couple of other names, like
Kenox S500, Digimax S500.) To tell you the truth, I have heard the name
Samsung before, and I've read a general good review about Samsung stuff
on gizmodo or so, that's about as much as I know. The sales droid tried to scare me that this camera
takes two AA cells, and tried to tempt me with a Sony camera that cost
~ 120 Euro - only a little more. Having to buy batteries wasn't to my
liking, but the poor guy couldn't guess that I have a strong dislike of
Sony stuff (because whatever Sony I have owned in my life has died of
buttons not working any more). I got the Samsung.
Next thing I'm back at my fathers place, playing around with the camera.
I'm indoors, in a room with a few windows, but every picture I take is
violently shaken with smears due to long exposure and me shaking the
camera. I felt like Mr. Stupid. To give you some background information:
I used to be a photographer. As such I never liked the light emitted
from the built in flashes in cameras. They are the cause of very sucky
pictures. I'm also willing and able to take long exposure shots holding
a camera steady in my hands. I've been known to hold a steady camera
through 1 second exposures. So I was mighty confused.
The solution was to read through the flimsy little manual. Apparently,
in automatic mode the camera sets the sensitivity of the chip very low,
which is fine in bright light and when using the ugly built in flash.
What I had to do is keep the camera on "program" mode, and manually
set the sensitivity to 400 ISO. That gives acceptable times even in
indoor situations for me (which means exposures like 1/3 second -
not acceptable for most people I guess). The good thing is that with
"program" mode, the camera even remembers that I have set the flash to
The next surprise came after taking about 20 pix. When pressing the
exposure button to the point of auto focus, the display would go black
and the camera totally unresponsive. The lens stayed extruded, but the
camera didn't react to any button presses. Bummer, looks like I
had bought a lemon. I took out the batteries, waited a while, inserted
them again. The camera came to life, working display and all... until
you pressed the exposure button again. Same game. I remembered the
sales droid trying to scare us about the batteries, so I suspected the
batteries to be low already. Looked like I had gotten old batteries
or (even worse) the camera was sucking up a lot of juice. The battery
indicator would show "full", then when the battery came back from
blackout for a second it would show "empty" before jumping back to
A new set of batteries were empty as fast as the first ones. I felt a
cold chill and smelled a soft lemon scent. But at this point I was back
to a place with Internet access, so I checked the wisdom of the many.
It turned out that the camera got acceptable to good reviews, with the
exception of the batteries, to which one reviewer mentioned that you
have to get rechargeable (NiMH) batteries or something called "super
AA" cells (never heard of those) and normal AA cells just won't do.
We went out and got a set of 4 NiMH batteries of 2700 mAh with charger.
Using the first 2 of these, the camera has gone through 3 days and about
40-50 pix (most without flash though), and it's still showing 1/3
charge. Acceptable to me.
As most of the reviews I had seen state, the image quality is good. In
my totally unscientific tests, I see nice sharp pictures, even though
I don't even run the camera on the highest resolution (which is 5.1
MegaPixel, but I want my pix for this blog, where stuff gets massively
resized anyway). I don't really see a lot of optical aberration (neither
with the zoom on wide angle nor on tele). Of course I'd have to take
real measurements to get these really examined, but if the lens isn't
aberrating to the point that I see it right away, I'm not scared.
The colors look good too, but I've never been very good at color
correction anyway. In my totally unscientific experiments I did not have
to correct the colors to get acceptable shots. In fact when I attempted
to correct colors (e.g. for a blue hint of the sky on a white ice rink),
I couldn't find a setting that improved much. I found out how to correct
the white balance too (again only in "program" mode), using the on screen
menu. Not very often needed, but helped a bit with taking indoor
lamplight shots in front of window light.
The camera's handling is simple. No surprises and most things work as
expected. That's an important thing, because the manual suxx, and if I
had to rely only on the little information given in the manual, I'd
be lost. (Yes, I'm the kind of guy who read the manual, and indeed have
taken useful information out of this one too.) But most things are just
where I'd expect them to be, and work just how I'd expect them to work.
There is cool stuff like thumbnails of the stored pictures and a zoom
view that shows you "where you are" - I don't know how standard they are
for cameras like these.
Some of the on screen stuff is never explained in the manual. Most of
it I can figure out. There are some "advanced" flash modes (flash-A,
flash-S icons), which I'll have to experiment to find out what they do.
As mentioned, I'm not much of a built in flash user. In the meantime I've
downloaded a real manual off the Web. The flash modes are nothing fancy,
but I'm unlikely to use the flash much anyway.
To connect to my Mac I used the USB cable that came with the camera.
It has a special connector on the camera side, so I'll have to take care
never to lose it. The camera shows up as a removable drive on the Mac
then, with access to pictures and movies through the Finder. All I need.
There's a CD with Windows software, which I guess makes a nice coaster
for your teapot. The camera takes SD memory cards, I got a cheap 1Gig
with space for a lot of pix.
Fast is nice: Something that always was annoying with my phone's
camera was the long time it took switching from picture taking mode to
viewing mode. If there were a couple hundred photos in there, it could
sometimes take almost a minute. On the new camera it's instantaneous.
I've set the time that a pic will be auto-displayed after snapping it to
minimum and just fast switch to the "playback" mode when necessary.
This is a "point and click" camera. There is nothing to attach an
external flash cable, no optical viewfinder (and the display will
at some point be unreadable in bright sunlight). There is a thread to
screw the camera on a tripod though. It's not a SLR where you can set
up everything. Most of the automatic modes do whatever they like, but
there is the "program" mode (you can change everything except diaphragm,
shutter speed, and focus) which I seem to be using exclusively, and a
"manual" mode, where you should be able to change every setting except
focus (which is always on auto focus it seems).
Apparently the amount of stuff you can set is much compared to some
other point-and-shoot cameras. It seems I was extra lucky there, as I
wouldn't have liked something with less control.
I got good value for my money and I was one lucky bastard for buying a
camera on pure luck and ~ 60 Euros. Even taken into account the 17 Euro
I paid for rechargeable batteries and a charger, I still got a cheap
good camera. And wildweasel will hopefully stop the whining now.
22 January 2008
Do I Get To Keep My New Camera?
Should it stay or should it go now?
After yesterdays camera review post, there was a flurry of comments (not something I'm that much used to). So far most of them remarked on the cake in one of the pictures, bummer. One little bit more drastic reaction came from saad, who posted a blog answer Ditch The Camera, Your Phone Roxx! and even went as far as to set up an online petition to get the old style eerie, crappy camera pixx back... what can I say? Do I get to keep my new toy^Wcamera? Should I go back to taking blurry, otherworldly phonecam shots? Maybe you can decide!
16 January 2009
During my vacation my wonderful Samsung Digimax Cyber 530 broke down. The camera has one of those zoom lenses that get extruded from the camera body by a little motor. The mechanism had already been stuck some months ago, back then a little push had fixed things. Now in the Bretagne it was probably just a tiny little bit too cold for the mechanism. It's stuck for good it seems and this kind of "cheap" digital object is hard to get repaired.
So, I'm looking around for a replacement. Something a little bit more robust would be nice. Without a protruding lens, even if that means a little bit less optical quality. Basically there are two "rough" compact cameras around: The Olympus line (currently at the Olympus Mju 1050 SW) and the Pentax line (right now at the Pentax Optio W60). I've looked at the Olympus in a shop and in reviews, didn't like it too much. I'll probably go for the Pentax.
27 January 2009
New toy arrived this morning
Yesterday I had finally kicked my own butt, finished deciding on my camera shopping decision, taken the plunge and ordered a new camera. I still miss the old camera. I do know that the new one is not perfect, I will discover its good and bad sides.
I've ordered the camera at e-shop.gr, a Greek web shop with a little twist: Since package delivery is not the most reliable of all things in Greece, you can order online and pick up the goods at their "outlets". And since not everybody has a credit card (or wants to use it that much) you can pay cash.
So, yesterday I ordered a Pentax Optia W60, a waterproof point+shoot camera. It's a tough little badass camera, but it does not have manual exposure control - snif. I'll have to learn to live with that. Probably will post more about the camera itself some day.
The funny thing with e-shop.gr was that they listed the availability as 1-2 days, but managed to have the thing ready for pickup in the local outlet in 1 day (actually less, but I was already in the bus when I got the SMS that I could pick up my stuff). Nice. Picked the thing up this morning, took this pic with the Nokia e71 phone... total toy rush here.
They also have an online order tracking page, where you can follow how the order is processed in stages like "checking address data", "assembling order", etc. with date and time on each. I must have clicked on that poor web application a thousand times, just for fun and to see if those guys were having their coffee or what or finally finishing my order?! ahem.
Looks like they start late in the morning and rush to finish before lunch... or else they did have other orders to fulfill along with mine:
15 April 2009
Mykonos and Delos Panoramas
Wide view of these totally different islands
Last weekend's trip resultet in a lot of pictures. Some of them
were made to be stitched together to form a panorama.
The first one is a view from the side on the "little venice" area of
Mykonos. I find the name "little venice" totally off, as the row of houses
that are built onto the shoreline does not remind me of Venice at all,
but whatever works for them. It's a nice enough area anyway. Well, it
probably is much, much too crowded for my taste in the summer, off-season
in spring it was nice and more or less quiet.
You can click on the image for a bigger view or click on "read more"
to see the other panoramas.
These on the other hand are some of the public toilets in Mykonos.
(That square thing built into the sea. No, not the open thing in the front, the one in the back with the little windows.) I didn't test them for cleanliness
and fitness-for-purpose, I admit I'm a bad tourist guide tester. I just
liked the graphicality of that wall with the cubic structure.
You might notice there are no partying people on the picture... I was
quite content, that it was off-season (in case I haven't mentioned that
On the other side of town, there was this little beach area, with this
little white church (there are lots of little white churches on
Mykonos). It happened to be sunset time when I passed by there, so
here I stitched two pictures together. It was colder than it appeared
on the picture. Still I managed to get a bit of color onto my face.
Mykonos is quite famous for its windmills. They are photographed
over and over by everybody. I did what everybody did and clicked
the shutter whenever a windmill came into view, in this example
Over from fashionable, partying Mykonos to Delos, an island mostly
devoid of people, consisting of the distant memories of the people
who once lived there.
This here are the famous lion statues... or I guess some reproductions,
as I expect the originals to be in the museum. Where I didn't see them,
because we had only 3 hours to see the island and that wasn't enough
by far for all the nice spirit to pick up there and all the fantastic
archeological stuff in the wonderful springtime flowers to see there.
Instead of going to the museum (which is btw an architectural atrocity,
I sometimes had to avoid getting it into my photos) we went up the hill
to have a nice overview. We didn't go all the way up, because we were
running out of time and there was more stuff to see. There is a lot
of remaining stuff on Delos, that will really give you an impression
of what it was like.
25 May 2009
Chasing the Late Afternoon Sun
Some of the best light
Working steady hours results in a different light situation when I leave the office as we move
through the circle of the seasons. In winter, I get home in darkness, in
summer in bright daylight, same as most people. Currently, there are
various levels of warm, late afternoon sun, which I chase with my
It's simply some of the nicest light to take pictures in. Here I have
three pictures taken more or less randomly, from my way home. Click on
"continue" to see the other two.
This church was glimmering in the sunlight at the end of the street. I
spotted the sight, as I drove by in the bus. Hopped out, walked back,
tried a few shots.
It's really at a point, where my camera is taxed hard, not enough
telephoto power! But nevermind, I think I captured what I saw about
"good enough" for me.
Here I saw the topps of these majestic pine trees glowing. I think here
I did the worst job of catching the moment, but I still like those
trees. Even if the picture is not too impressive for you, it will remind
me of the moment.
18 September 2009
Re-learning Large Format Photography
The Slow Down Experience Project
When I went in August to Switzerland, I brought back my trusty old Arca Swiss camera with me. 10 days ago I took my first pictures. I was a bit pressed for time there, because the sun threatened from disappearing from the garden I was working in.
Yesterday I got back the developed film and contact print. I worked with a color negative film, the camera is in the 6x9cm format on 120 roll film. There are some things I learned (or re-learned) when looking at the contact:
First, even after all those years I'm not too bad at setting exposure (something that I always feared when I started out with photography), all pictures were within usable range. OK, on color negative film that's not so difficult to achieve. I bracketed some of the pix, I'll stop doing that, it's a waste of film and money. If I'm not totally sure about the exposure, I'll just take a little bit more time to think, calculate and rely on the color negative material.
One thing I really have to do is slow down: There were some shots where I didn't carefully select the framing. This is no "digital, hit the button all the time and something will work out". Gotta take my time, slowing down is what large format is all about.
Last I learned that my 180mm lens is a bit of a problem. Optically it's fine, but since it's a "tele" design lens, it doesn't allow for enough movements of the camera standards. That resulted in one suboptimal picture, as I simply couldn't get the position and framing I wanted. A "normal" 180mm lens should get me tons of movement on 6x9. Also the shutter in that lens needs a cleaning job, maybe even a reworking. The times are way off, especially the longer times. I actually set the time by guessing and comparing to the shutter in my 105mm. Worked for the moment, but it's a joke.
Oh, and if you expected some pictures with this blog post: Hey, it's large format film... I don't have a scanner yet, I don't have a darkroom yet... slow down, it will take some time!
23 October 2009
Early Morning Sunshine
Catch the first light of the day
This morning I got up early, took my camera and went up to Filopappou hill. That's one of the hills opposite the Akropolis. I arrived a bit before sunrise, which is late here, due to the Ymittos hills covering the horizon in the east. I'd been there in the morning some days ago already, so I knew more or less which pictures I wanted to take.
One of them was the coastline and Pireus in the first rays of the morning light. As I took these pictures on film and as the film isn't developed yet, all I can show you right now is this documentary shot from my mobile phone.
This one is from some days before. I had set up my tripod and camera even a bit earlier and waited out the sunrise, with a view on the Akropolis and Lycabettus hill.
I made a couple of exposures with different stages of the sun coming up. I also moved the camera once, since while waiting I decided that from a bit further to the left I'd get a better cut of the city from above between the trees in the foreground.
Taking pictures with this camera (an old Arca-Swiss, with a lens from 1967) takes some discipline (lots of ways that one can spoil the end result) and patience. I enjoy the process, it was nice standing there, watching the day grow ever lighter. There is also an amount of uncertainty - I have no results yet and can only hope that I did everything right and the pictures come out ok. If they will be worth it or good enough... that is another question.
04 November 2009
Mit technischen Problemen ist zu rechnen
So geht's im Alter
Seit ich wieder angefangen habe mit der Arca-Swiss zu photographieren, sind mehrere technische Probleme aufgetaucht. Zuerst mal hab ich natürlich das Problem, dass ich keine Dunkelkammer habe und daher die Weiterverarbeitung meiner Bilder noch in den Wolken steht. Davon rede ich aber nicht. Das erste Problem war, dass beim 180er Objektiv (ein Schneider Tele-Xenar ca. 1954-57) der Verschluss bei den längeren Zeiten hängt. Zeit für einen Service.
Soweit so gut, die Beschränkung auf weniger Objektive fördert die Kreativität! Als nächstes stelle ich bei einem Ausflug zum Marathon-See fest, dass auch die anderen Verschlüsse klemmen, sobald die Umgebungs-Temperatur etwas niedriger ist. Mechanische Verschlüsse funktionieren sonst bis etwa -20ºC problemlos. Wenn sie schon bei ca. plus 5-10ºC klemmen, dann ist das ein Zeichen, dass das Schmiermittel im Verschluss alt und verharzt ist. Zeit für eine Reinigung und Neueinstellung.
Letzte Woche habe ich dann drei Farbnegativ-Filme entwickeln und scannen lassen. Zu meiner Freude sind ein paar brauchbare Aufnahmen dabei (Bilder demnächst), aber ich hatte auch eine weniger freudige Überraschung: Anscheinend ist bei einer meiner Kassetten eine der Verschluss-Sicherungen ermüdet. Das führte dann dazu, dass ich bei einigen Aufnahmen Lichteinfall hatte. Zum Glück nicht bei allen. Ich hatte konsequent die zweite Kassette für s/w benutzt, also kann ich noch hoffen, dass zumindest die schwarz-weiss Belichtungen was geworden sind.
Zwischen Verschlüssen die hängen und einer Kassette die wohl einen Bastel-Fix braucht ist mein Spielraum also leicht eingeschränkt. Mit einer Kamer diesen Alters muss man wohl mal ab und zu mit solchen Wehwehchen rechnen. Die Lust aufs Photographieren ist mir aber auch nach den ersten Resultaten noch lang nicht vergangen.
07 November 2009
First Results - Akropolis in the first morning light
Got a few low quality scans
On the 21st of October, I had gone up Filopappou hill before sunrise, found my spot, waited for the sun to come out. Took several exposures in changing light conditions. This is the last one of the series. at 8:20, with the sun out over the Ymittos hills and hitting the walls of the Akropolis.
By clicking on the image, you can get to a flash "zoomify" viewer, with which you can zoom in to see as much detail as the cheap scan gives me. This is a really cheap scan (1.50 Euro for scanning 8 images). The largest size in the flash viewer is compressed a lot too.
Schneider Symmar f=100mm
Kodak Portra 160NC
I have other exposures from the same spot and morning, from before the sun comes out over the Ymittos. This one where the sun reaches the walls of the "big rock" is the one I currently like best.
10 November 2009
I didn't go
No picture today
Yesterday I had looked up the times and angles of the sunrise and the moon for this morning. It would maybe not be an ideal morning, but a good morning, to climb on the Lycabettus hill and take a picture of the city and the Akropolis in the sunrise, with the moon somewhere in the morning sky. Did I water your mouth with the description? Well, I didn't go. The weather report was not too sure. Before I went to sleep the sky was clear. When I got up at 6, I went outside and saw a sky with 80% cloud cover. I decided to go back to sleep.
When I finally woke up at 9, the sky was clear, except for a bank of clouds far off to one side. Too bad, no picture for me this morning. Yesterday my plan had been: Just go there and whatever happens, well, happens. This morning I was probably too sleepy to decide in this direction.
01 December 2009
Wieder was gelernt
Heute morgen habe ich 2 Filme vom Entwickeln zurückbekommen. Wie
anscheinend schon fast üblich, war ich erstmal entsetzt darüber, was ich
da schon wieder für einen Müll zusammenphotographiert habe.
Nachdem ich die Bilder jetzt eine Weile angeschaut hab und den Scans die
nötige Farb- und Helligkeitskorrektur verpasst hab, sieht es schon nicht
mehr ganz so schlimm aus. Da sind wohl doch ein
paar Bilder dabei, mit denen ich leben kann. Der Glockenturm hier ist
mal ein Beispiel. Immer noch keine gescheite Komposition, aber die
Farben und Stimmung sind ganz nett.
Was ich so gelernt habe: Wo ich mit der Digitalknipse spannende
Kompositionen probiere, bin ich bei der Fachkamera viel zu konservativ
und langweilig. Hab gestern die digitale Pentax aus der Reparatur
zurückbekommen und werd sie jetzt wohl erstmal als "digitaler Sucher"
Was ich auch gelernt habe: Der riesige Belichtungs-Spielraum von
Farbnegativ-Film ist ideal für mich, denn mit der genauen Belichtung hab
ich's noch nicht so. Dafür müssen die Scans ausnahmslos und immer
korrigiert werden. Wo man auf einem Dia sagen kann: "So hats
ausgeschaut", auch wenns gar nicht wahr ist, lässt das Negativ alles
offen... und ohne Korrektur sieht so ein Scan immer schlimm aus.
Aber nicht verzagen, ein paar Versuche lang kurz an den Kurven
gedreht und das richtige Bild kommt zum vorschein.
Die zweite schöne Überraschung war, dass ich wieder zwei Aufnahmen
mit Lichteinfall habe. Eigentlich hatte ich gedacht, dass ich mit den
zwei kleinen Löchlein, dich ich im Weitwinkel-Balgen geflickt habe, das
Problem gelöst hätte. Scheint aber noch ein Problem da zu sein. Wenn ich
da denke, dass ich mit der Arca jahrelang gearbeitet habe, ohne je so
ein Problem zu haben. Woran könnte es wohl noch liegen?
09 December 2009
Let them eat muffins instead...
The city is burning, the garbage is piling up... let them eat muffins instead. Blueberry muffins. A few days ago I enjoyed eating an overpriced blueberry muffin together with my lunch sandwich.
Now instead of posting pixx of the garbage piling up in our streets due to a strike of Athens' municipal cleaning workers, I'll post a few little compositions I took. Instead of pictures of demonstrations getting out of hand and police violating several laws, I show you various stages in the life cycle of the common blueberry muffin.
15 December 2009
Rain Hitting the Hills
Try catching a lightning
Our new (ok, not so new any more) office is in the 7th floor. We've got a wide view. Some days just watching the weather unroll is a spectacle.
Today there was a lot of rain and lightning. Not a drop fell on our building, but the hills that surround Athens took some beating. Large quantities of water coming down. Black clouds moving to and from.
I stuck my little Pentax against the window, hoping to catch a lightning. But no such luck. Obviously calculating the reaction time of me and then the camera, it's useless to see a lightning and hit the button... and expect to have it on the picture. The proper way to do it is make a long exposure (about a minute maybe) and be lucky. To do so, one uses ND (for "neutral density") filters, to prolong the exposure time without overexposing the picture.
Silly me, I had not brought my ND filter to work. In fact, I don't even own an ND filter. Maybe I should buy one. Still, I liked one or two of the pictures I took.
22 December 2009
Late afternoon sun on Hills
Same view... almost
Wanted to post this image for some days now. The same view as the last picture with the rain on the hill. Here we see the same hills, on an afternoon two days later.
Now the evening sun is hitting the hills. There are a few light clouds around to make things interesting. The sun brings out different features and the little hill that is so spectacular in the rainy picture is almost invisible. The bad weather picture is much more interesting.
The viewpoint and cropping of the picture are almost exactly the same. I think I got a few more pixels to the right this time.
31 January 2010
Sitting under a burned tree
Sunday photo hike
Took a little Sunday hike, took the Arca with me. I'm mostly walking, secondly thinking, but I even snapped one picture.
Now I'm sitting underneath a burned tree (all the hill has been burned down last summer) and doing more thinking. I can now hear you all asking in chorus: "with what?"
It's kind of cold, but not really, so I'll finish this post and move on. Walking will warm me up again. I want to take another picture, the little white church at the top of the hill.