Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lens, Too

The lens I talked about in my last post will be very useful under a lot of circumstances, but there are at least two situation where I'm going to need a longer lens; facial close-ups, and standing in front of my green screen without casting shadows.

So I bought one.

As you might be able to tell, this one is a zoom. I hadn't intended to buy a zoom, but I couldn't find a real bargain in the 60-90mm range I was looking in, and this one was less than $50. It's not a brand I'd heard of before, having been made by Sun Optics. After I had ordered the lens, I looked around for information on it and found that quite a few people are fond of the optics.

When I first got the lens, I couldn't get it to work. It would seat, but not lock into place. Some back and forth with the seller, who was very helpful, led me to think that an extra metal piece on the mount that I haven't seen on any other Nikon lens might be the issue. It was on with only two tiny screws, and when I removed it, the lens mounted perfectly.

And it takes very nice pictures and everything works very smoothly. There's only one remaining problem: it's a heavy piece of glass. So heavy that I worry that it could compromise the camera's mount if I place the camera on a tripod with no additional support. I can't find a collar specifically to fit this lens, so I think I'll be building some kind of tripod mount designed to hold the camera and the lens in concert, which might also serve as an adaptor for my poor-man's SteadiCam home-build.

I'll probably do some hand-held experimenting with the lens before I get to any kind of build, especially with more urgent building projects for my house which have to take precedence. Overall, though, I think that, between the two lenses, I have what I need to start doing the kind of movie shooting that I've been wanting to do for a while.

Now I just need to find the time. Between work and self-imposed book deadlines and a house perpetually under construction, it's going to be a squeeze.

But it will be worth it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Everything I Need To Know, I Learned By Playing Pool

I. No matter who you are facing in the game, pool is not you versus that person. It is you and that person versus the laws of physics. The player that takes the lesser beating is declared the winner.

II. The laws of physics are cruel.

III. Don't blame the tools. The table is not perfectly flat, the balls are not perfectly round, and the cue is not perfectly straight, and everyone who plays the game has to face up to that.

IV. Playing for position is an exercise in futility if you miss the shot.

V. Fancy trick shots mean nothing if you can't master the basics.

VI. When you make a lucky shot that you shouldn't have made, don't take credit for it, because then you can't blame bad luck for the shots you miss.

VII. Stroke, don't poke.

VII. Always follow through.

VIII. If you think that being an expert pool player makes you a very big deal, go humble yourself by trying a game of three-rail billiards.


As I mentioned in my last, all-too-long-ago post, I bought a lens for my new Nikon DSLR. It looks like this:

It is a modest lens, of a brand that has never garnered a lot of respect, though at one time Vivitar made quite serviceable low-cost lenses, of which I owned a few. The name has recently been sold off and the brand is not to be trusted, which I can unfortunately attest to from personal experience. But this piece of glass is from an older Vivitar tradition.

When I mount this new acquisition to my modern camera, I get a message at the bottom of the screen that looks like this:

This might seem a very disconcerting, even disheartening message, and probably would be for anyone who's used to shooting with a lot of automation. But to me, those are three beautiful words. They mean that the camera is not communicating with the electronics in the lens. Because, of course, there are no electronics in the lens.

Turning the control to manual solves this problem. The camera will not set the aperture or focus on this lens, because it can't, and it won't meter. But that's actually just the way I want it. With this lens mounted, I can use a thumbwheel to set the shutter speed and (while pressing another button) the ISO. And I can just leave them there, as I would normally do when shooting film, and use the aperture and focus rings to get just the effect I want.

I have not, so far, resurrected my light meter, and may not do so very often, because I can pretty well see the effect on exposure and depth of field using the viewing screen, which is the only viewfinder when shooting video, and shooting video is what this lens is for.

I have already shot a little video with it. I took it down to my green screen and set it up, It's a little on the wide side, and I have to stand closer to the screen than I normally like (I'll be fighting with the lighting to keep shadows off the screen), but this is just a test; I plan to get a longer lens sometime soon, something in the 75-85mm range.

The best part about shooting with this lens is focus. When I shot all of the other green-screen videos that I've made, I had to have a stand-in, not just for framing, but to lock the focus, and it didn't always work. Now I can literally measure the distance from the sensor (approximately—there's not film-plane marker on the camera that I can find; if you don't know what I'm talking about, I understand) to where I knew I was going to stand, then set the focus according to the markings on the focus ring.

That's right, markings. Actual distances that assist is setting the focus even when you can't see the image (or when you can't see it clearly), or when, as in the case of shooting myself in front of the camera, the object you are trying to focus on is just not there.

And the results? Amazing. Sharp and clear, with good color rendition. Not bad for what once was, even in the heyday of Vivitar, a relatively cheap lens.

Time has been a little short, but I expect I'll be back in front of the green screen sometime next week to show off my new acquisition.