Thursday, October 30, 2014

Travel: Yosemite National Park In Autumn - Day 2, Part 2

John Muir - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/50, 10/20 at 1:03 PM

We started off the afternoon in Yosemite Village. It wasn't necessarily crowded, but this had by far the largest concentration of people that we saw anywhere in the park. After a quick rest and some light refreshments we explored this area.

The first stop was the Ansel Adams Gallery. I've wanted to see this place for years, but what a disappointment! I was expecting some sort of exhibit, but this is nothing more than a store of (mostly) Ansel Adams' images. People are making big money off of the art of someone who passed away many years ago. They should have a little museum telling his story and exhibit his most memorable work. But that's not what this place is. Sad.

We made a stop at the little museum inside the visitors center. It was decent enough and the kids were entertained. We also made our way through the native-american village. The kids liked going inside the teepees. We then had lunch. 
Yosemite Girl - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 560, f10, 1/125, 10/20 at 2:15 PM
After that we hopped on one of the shuttle buses and rode it around to Curry Village. By this time of the day Curry Village was shaded and quite cool. Almost immediately we spotted nearby a mommy bear with a little cub. Talk about experiencing nature!

We spent about an hour looking around this area, visiting the gift shop and just being out in the forest. After that we got back on the bus towards Yosemite Village.

The shuttle dropped us off pretty much right next to our car. We loaded up and headed towards our final stops, winding down our trip.
Bears At Curry Village - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 3200, f5, 1/125, 10/20 at 2:40 PM
I had wanted to experience sunrise at Cook's Meadow, but missed the opportunity. I didn't want to leave the park without at least stopping at this site, and I was glad to capture a couple of images. There were several photographers "camped out" for the sunset.

After that we headed to Valley View. I wasn't sure exactly where the pullout was and I accidentally past it by. I saw a crowded lot, but by the time I decided that it was the well-known Valley View site, it was too late to pull in and park. Instead, I found a pullout just beyond Fern Spring, just on the other side of the Merced River from Valley View. I then hiked through the weeds (there was a trail--sort of) very close to the famous spot. I captured a few photographs and trampled back to the car.

The final stop was Tunnel View. It was still an hour before sunset, but the light was good. After snapping a few frames I placed the camera on the tripod for one last image: a family photograph.
North Dome - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 320, f10, 1/125, 10/20 at 2:42 PM
We got back in the car and left the park. We had a lot of driving left and still needed to eat dinner. The kids were troopers through it all, and I think we maximized the experienced.

Yosemite National Park was just phenomenal. There wasn't much in the way of water. Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls were dry, as was Mirror Lake. The Merced River was low. Despite that, the place was filled with beauty, and amazing sites were found around every corner. It was also nice to see the park with hints of autumn colors.

I plan to return to Yosemite National Park in the spring, perhaps in mid-May. I think that trip might be a bit longer. It will be interesting to see how much different the park is in the spring. Funny thing, my five-year-old son has been asking when we'll go back to Yosemite.
Royal Arches From Curry Village - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f5, 1/200, 10/20 at 3:08 PM
Two Bikes - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 2000, f4, 1/125, 10/20 at 3:14 PM
Yosemite Boy - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 2800, f4.5, 1/125, 10/20 at 3:18 PM.
Autumn Colors - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 1800, f4.5, 1/125, 10/20 at 3:27 PM
Cathedral Spires From Cook's Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 220, f7.1, 1/125, 10/20 at 4:20 AM
Half Dome From Cook's Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f7.1, 1/160, 10/20 at 4:25 PM
Valley View - Yosemite National Park, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020.
ISO 100, f2.2, 1/1299, 10/20 at 4:52 PM
El Capitan From Valley View - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 160, f9, 1/125, 10/20 at 4:52 PM
Cathedral Spires From Valley View - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 320, f10, 1/125, 10/20 at 4:53 PM
Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f8, 1/200, 10/20 at 5:04 PM
The Family - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 500, f10, 1/125, fill-flash and tripod used, 10/20 at 5:16 PM

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Travel: Yosemite National Park In Autumn - Day 2, Part 1

Autumn Leaves In Fern Spring - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 1250, f3.2, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:20 AM

My original plan for this day was to get up early, make the one-hour trek into Yosemite to catch the sunrise, head back to the hotel in Mariposa, eat breakfast and check out, then head back to the park with my family. But that plan wasn't very good and didn't end up working out.

Instead we stayed together, and were on the road by 9:15, heading towards Yosemite Valley. We were well rested and had a good breakfast at the hotel.

The first stop inside of Yosemite National Park was Fern Spring. This is an unassuming pullout just past Pohono Bridge. There is a natural spring that someone a long time ago put stones around. It was a good stop to let the kids stretch their legs after the drive in.
The Merced River - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 1000, f9, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:29 AM
Across the street from Fern Spring is a short trail that leads down to the Merced River. I went by myself, and that turned out to be a good choice because the trail was quite rough at times. The river was obviously low, but it was good spot to capture some autumn images.

We then got back in the car and headed further into Yosemite Valley, making a very quick stop at the Bridalveil Creek pullout. After that we made our way to Cathedral Beach, which turned out to be a great stop.

We arrived at Cathedral Beach at 10:45 AM and stayed for 20 or 25 minutes. The river was low so the beach was large. At times we were the only ones there.
Merced River At Fern Spring - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 2500, f9, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:29 AM
Cathedral Beach is a great place to photograph El Capitan. I was even able to get a good reflection photograph of the giant rock, thanks to the smooth surface of the Merced River.

On this trip I kept the camera equipment light and simple. I had a Nikon D3300 DSLR with a 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro lens attached. I brought along a vintage Sunset aluminum tripod, which folds up small and is lightweight, and a circular polarizer filter, which I screwed onto the end of the lens at this stop. I also had my Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone with me and used it when I wanted to go wide-angle.

The next stop was Swinging Bridge, which offered good views of the Cathedral Spires and Columbia Rock (at least that's what I think it is called), as well as the Merced River. There was a nasty stench coming from the restrooms here, almost ruining the experience. We stayed for about 15 minutes.
El Capitan From Bridalveil Creek - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 200, f10, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:36 AM
Thy skies had remained bright blue during our visit except for a brief period before lunch when some high clouds moved through. It created a weird "rainbow" around the Cathedral Rocks that lasted several minutes. It also added some sky interest to a few of my photographs. Before long the sky was back to being blue.

The final stop for the morning was Yosemite Village. We arrived just before noon with the intention of eating lunch and visiting the museums, galleries and shops. I snapped a quick image of Half Dome from the parking lot.

At Yosemite Village we saw deer and all sorts of other wildlife. The kids really loved that part. We grabbed some refreshments and took a little rest before continuing on with our adventure.

Trees At Cathedral Beach - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 560, f11, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:47 AM
El Capitan Reflection - Yosemite National Park, California
I flipped this image so you wouldn't have to view it upside-down.
ISO 800, f9, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:48 AM
El Capitan From Cathedral Beach - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f9, 1/160, 10/20 at 10:49 AM
Merced River At Cathedral Beach - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 360, f13, 1/125, 10/20 at 10:59 AM
Merced River And El Capitan - Yosemite National Park, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020.
ISO 100, f2.2, 1/1404, 10/20 at 11:04 AM
El Capitan - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 160, f13, 1/125, 10/20 at 11:04 AM
River At Cathedral Beach - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 250, f13, 1/125, 10/20 at 11:04 AM
Merced River At Swinging Bridge - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 250, f9, 1/125, 10/20 at 11:24 AM
Rainbows Over Cathedral Rocks - Yosemite National Park, California
This was a weird phenomenon that briefly occurred.
ISO 100, f9, 1/800, 10/20 at 11:26 AM
Cathedral Spire Veiled - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f9, 1/400, 10/20 at 11:29 AM
Columbia Rock - Yosemite National Park, California
Captured using a Nokia Lumia 1020.

ISO 100, f2.2, 1/1372, 10/20 at 11:30 AM
Trees At Swinging Bridge - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 720, f13, 1/125, 10/20 at 11:37 AM
Half Dome From Yosemite Village - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 220, f13, 1/125, 10/20 at 11:58 AM

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Travel: Yosemite National Park In Autumn - Day 1

Half Dome From Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f10, 1/250, 10/19 at 4:59 PM
I visited Yosemite National Park for this first time just over one week ago. This was a two-day trip, with one night spent in the quaint town of Mariposa. This was both a miniature family vacation and a photography excursion.

We live about four hours south of Yosemite Valley. With three young children, this means a four hour drive is now five or six hours. It's also about the maximum time that the kids can handle being in the car in one stretch.

Because we had some obligations on the first day of the trip, we were not able to hit the road until late morning. This meant that we'd arrive at the park in the evening, not far from sundown.
Half Dome Panorama - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 180, f9, 1/500, 10/19 at 5:01 PM
The first planned stop within Yosemite was Glacier Point, and we made it to the top at about 4:45 PM. Amazing! The overlook was my first view of the park (aside from the road in), and it is indeed a sight to behold! This truly is one of the greatest vistas that I've had the pleasure of seeing.

I wanted to pack light and keep things simple, so I only brought with me one camera (not including my cell phone) and one lens: a Nikon D3300 DSLR with a Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro lens attached to the front. I also brought along a circular polarizer filter and a cheap lightweight tripod that folds very small, but didn't use either at this stop.

We spent about 45 minutes at Glacier Point, trying to take everything in. I captured a number of images, hoping to create something unique. I'm not sure I accomplished that, but I did get a few photographs that I'm happy with.
Half Dome & Tree - Yosemite National Park
ISO 160, f14, 1/125, 10/19 at 5:16 PM
I was hoping to make it to Tunnel View by sundown, but we were a few minutes too late. There was still some dusk light, so we stopped to see the vista. I grabbed my tripod and captured an image.

On our way out we made a quick stop near El Capitan to see the lights of rock climbers spending the night on the granite. Then we headed to Mariposa, which is about an hour from Yosemite Valley, to eat dinner and check into our hotel.

Mariposa is a nice little mountain town that proved to be a good place to rest. The hotel was close to the historic downtown area. We had dinner at a pizza joint. While the pizza was cooking, I walked around the downtown shops with my camera, capturing a couple more photographs.

Arches From Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 200, f14, 1/125, 10/19 at 5:18 PM
Half Dome & Pine Tree - Yosemite, California
ISO 220, f14, 1/125, 10/19 at 5:27 PM
Two Photographers At Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 1400, f10, 1/125, 10/19 at 5:30 PM
Evening At Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park, California
ISO 100, f5.6, 1 second (tripod used), 10/19 at 6:33 PM
Gold Coin - Mariposa, California
ISO 3200, f2.8, 1/80, 10/19 at 8:44 PM
Creepy Man - Mariposa, California
ISO 3200, f3.2, 1/100, 10/19 at 8:48 PM

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Photographs Published In Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine

Hikers - Tomo-Khani State Historic Park, CA
Pictographs #1 - Tomo-Khani State Historic Park, CA

I just picked up the November issue of Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine, a local publication about all things Tehachapi. In that issue is an article about the Tomo-Khani State Historic Park, which is found in the hills just outside of Tehachapi. The park is celebrating its 20th year.

I visited the Tomo-Khani State Historic Park last year, and (as you might have expected) captured some photographs. The magazine wanted to use five of my photographs for the article. It's a two-page spread, plus an image on the contents page.

I figured since most of you will never read Tehachapi Lifestyle Magazine, I'll post here the photographs that were published. I hope that you enjoy! Oh, and if you ever find yourself in Tehachapi on a Saturday morning during the spring or fall, be sure to check out California's least known state park--Tomo-Khani.
Pictographs #2 - Tomo-Khani State Historic Park, CA
Trail Through A California Landscape - Tomo-Khani State Historic Park, CA
Guide, Explaining - Tomo-Khani State Historic Park, CA

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro Lens

Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro & Nikon D3300
Nikon has three inexpensive motorized prime lenses for their DX line of cameras: the Nikkor 35mm AF-S DX f/1.8G, the Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro, and the Nikkor 50mm AF-S DX f/1.8G. The 35mm lens has (in full frame terms) an equivalent focal length of 50mm, the 40mm lens has an equivalent focal length of 60mm, and the 50mm lens has an equivalent focal length of 85mm.

The 35mm lens and the 50mm lens have received plenty of attention. Many photographers who use Nikon DX cameras have purchased both lenses for their DSLRs. But the 40mm lens is often overlooked. Is it a "happy medium" option? Let's take a closer look.

The Lens
Purple Thistle Blossom Macro - Stallion Springs, California
The Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is actually two lenses in one. It is a standard prime lens and it is a macro lens. This combination is a bit unusual. Typically macro lenses are telephoto. While the 40mm lens is slightly telephoto when accounting for the DX crop factor, it is close enough to a standard "as-the-eyes-see" focal length that it should be thought of as a standard lens.

The lens is somewhat small and lightweight. At 2.7" x 2.5" and 8.3 ounces, it is very similar to other Nikkor prime lenses. It is the smallest and lightest Nikkor macro lens. There's a lot of plastic, but the lens doesn't feel cheap or fragile. There are nine elements in seven groups. It has seven semi-rounded diaphragm blades.

As one would expect, this lens is tack sharp, corner-to-corner (it is just a hair softer in the corners compared to the center, but it is sharp across the entire frame). It is one of the sharpest Nikkor DX lenses available--there are a few that are slightly sharper, but they are also significantly more expensive. Peak sharpness is found at f5.6.
Triangles, Lines, Squares & Circle - Los Angeles, California
I could not find any examples of chromatic aberrations. This might be because Nikon's newest generation of cameras automatically removes any chromatic aberrations in-camera.

Distortion is almost nonexistent on the 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro. Straight lines are straight.

There is a small amount of vignetting when the aperture is larger than f4. It's an insignificant amount and nothing at all to worry about.

The maximum aperture is f2.8, which is good-but-not-great. There are prime lenses with larger apertures, but performance on those lenses are typically so-so when the aperture is larger than f2.8. In other words, you gain some light but at a small cost to image quality. Would a larger maximum aperture be nice? Yes, but it is certainly not essential.
Striped Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
When using the lens as a macro, as you focus closer the maximum aperture gradually increases to f4.2 at its closest focus distance. This isn't a big deal because as you focus closer, the depth-of-field decreases--you won't likely be using the maximum aperture when doing macro work.

Diffraction begins to show up around f13, although it's not really noticeable until f16. That's actually pretty good, and there are plenty of lenses that are worse. The smallest aperture is f22.

Bokeh looks nice and smooth. Highlights show up as soft circles. Lens flare is well controlled (I had trouble finding lens flare even when shooting directly into the sun). Sunstars have 14 points and look great.
Wind Turbines - Tehachapi, California
Auto-focus on the 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is quick and accurate, although (being a macro lens) there is a large range for the lens to move through if you are going from near-to-far or far-to-near. To help with this Nikon included an inhibitor switch which limits the closest focus distance by a couple of inches, reducing the range that auto-focus might have to move through. The Silent Wave Motor is indeed quiet, although not quite quiet enough for video (unless you are using an external microphone).

Manual focus is easily accomplished by grabbing the rubber ring and turning, which Nikon calls Manual Focus Override. Or you can place the lens in manual focus mode with the flip of a switch and turn the rubber ring. Both methods accomplish the same thing. The focus ring is smooth, although near the closest focus distance manual focus can be a little touchy.

The closest focus distance on this lens is about two inches from the end of the lens. That's really close, and perhaps too close. It is close enough to be a true 1:1 macro lens, but there are a couple of obstacles that such a close focus distance creates. The first obstacle is depth-of-field, which becomes very narrow, so you'll need to use a small aperture. The second obstacle is that you are so close that the lens may cast a shadow on the subject (depending on the lighting), and if the subject is a living creature it might not appreciate having a lens so close.
Evening At Tunnel View - Yosemite National Park, California
One thing that is missing is image stabilization (Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction). Nikon didn't include that on this lens, so you'll need a tripod for shutter speeds below 1/60th of a second.

The 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is a great "every day" lens--attach it to your camera and go. It is a fantastic standard prime lens. Of the three lenses mentioned at the top of this review, this lens is the sharpest and has the least distortion. The slightly telephoto focal length is good for pretty much any type of photography. You will not be disappointed using it as your go-to lens.

The 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro is a descent macro lens. It is plenty sharp enough, but it does have some limitations that some may find less than ideal. Really, this is not a macro lens, this is a standard prime lens that just happens to also be macro capable. So if you think of the macro aspect as a bonus, you won't be disappointed. If you're purchasing this lens specifically for macro work, you might not be completely happy with it.

Conclusions
No Trespassing - Tehachapi, California

The lens has an MSRP of $280, making it the priciest of Nikon's inexpensive prime lenses. Sometimes you can find it discounted a little--I paid $265 for mine (including shipping and tax). If you were to purchase both the 35mm and 50mm prime lenses mentioned at the top, you'd spend about $400. This lens does a good job of falling in between those two focal lengths, and you would save significant money purchasing this lens instead of the other two. Besides, the 40mm lens is the only one capable of macro.

If you own a Nikon DX camera you have some good lens options that aren't too expensive. None of the them are perfect, but they're all plenty good. This lens might be the best of the bunch.

The Nikkor 40mm AF-S DX f/2.8G Micro lens is a great option for those using Nikon DX DSLRs. It is sharp, versatile and not too tough on the bank account.