Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Using a Server as a Desktop computer - Part II

Now that we have the video card physically connected, but does it work? Well, sort of. Tried 3 video cards: 1) ATI 9250 based card, 2) nVidia Quadro 1300, and another slightly newer (but not sure what it is) nVidia card. When the ATI was installed, the system could not find the SCSI RAID controller, possibly due to some IRQ conflict. With the Quadro installed, it sort of worked, but lots of issues with the video driver under Windows 7. The other nVidia card didn't work at all.

I didn't give up yet, so I went out and bought a cheap nVidia n210 card with a 64-bit memory bus. I figured since the PCI-e x16 is only working at half capacity, it might make more sense to buy the card with 64-bit memory instead of the more common 128-bit. Well, what do you know. This card works flawlessly. Not the fastest card around, but for what I need, it's more than enough. I can play 1080p files smoothly that my older computer could not do. I am very happy.

The sound card was a much easier task to solve. All I needed was a PCI-e card and it's more common. Ended up buying the Creative Lab's X-Fi. Worked fine.

Now, the only thing left is the noise. As it is, even when set to workstation mode, the fans are ridiculously noisy. I am planning to replace all 5 fans with quieter one, but, this will involve some soldering, as the fans in this server are snap-on fans with special connectors. Time to dust off that soldering iron!

So, after all this trouble, is it really worth the effort? If you are not much into computers, probably not, but the geek in me says yes! Take, for example, the following mouth watering specs:

Dual Quad Core Xeon 2.6 GHz Intel CPU with 8MB of cache each CPU
8 GB of Error Correction Memory, expandable to 64 GB (16 slots)
Adaptec Ultra320 SCSI/RAID
Onboard 6 channel SATA-3 with RAID
7 hot swappable drive bays plus 3 spare drive spaces.
Rack mountable chassis
Redundant power supplies
...and more.

Windows 7 runs like a dream on this monster! Ok, the video could be better, and when time comes to pay electricity bills, my money will fly out of my wallet as fast the quad core Xeon CPUs crunch numbers, but can't have everything, can we?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cubing Competition - Toronto Open Spring 2010

The Toronto Open Spring 2010 Cubing Competition took place on Saturday March 27, at the same place as last time - Seneca College's Conference Room. About the same number of people turned out as last time. I saw a lot of familiar faces: Harris Chan, Eric Limeback, Jai Gambher, Justin Jaffray, Sara Strong, Emily Wang, to name a few. First place for a best of 5 average was awarded to Eric Limeback, and Harris Chan was second, Emily Wang was third, as the last time.

At least 3 TV station crews were on the scene this time, probably due to the cubing article on the Toronto Star the day before the competition. CBCNews, and a Chinese TV channel was there. You can check out the CBC New Report here. You can even see Yours Truly taking videos of the CBC news crew in the background with my T2i at about 1:25:00 in the news segment.

All of my four kids entered this time. Dillon did the 2x2, 3x3, Square One; Ryan for Rubik's Magic, and 2x2; Megan for 2x2, and 3x3; William for Rubik's Magic. They all did great, but the biggest improvement was from Dillon and Ryan. Dillon was 17th out of 51 competitors on the first round with an average of 5 solves at 19.93 seconds, and fastest 17.31 seconds. Dillon advanced to the second round, but didn't make it to the final. Ryan placed 23rd the first time he entered for Magic, and this time, he finished 5th, out of 36 competitors.

Didn't take too many pictures this time, but instead, too a lot of video. I will upload them when I have the time. Here is one I uploaded of Eric Limeback solving a 3x3x3 in 9.50 seconds. Just be warned that the last time I viewed, it was not processed so it may look crappy.

Dillon solving a Square-One. Larger Picture.

Harris Chan solving a 3x3x3 one-handed. Larger Picture.

Eric Limeback doing a one-handed solve. Large Picture.

Jai and Harris trading tips. Larger Picture.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Fare -- G1 & Kiron 28mm f2 @ f2. Larger Picture.

Using a Server as a Desktop computer - Part I

Servers used to be, and still is, the high end of computers that are pricey but reliable and powerful. These beasts are built to last and are usually ultra reliable. You can find these servers on the used market for a fraction of what they used to cost, so the temptation to buy one as a desktop computer replacement is strong.

The company I work for allowed me to sign out a decommissioned server for personal use. This is a SuperMicro server that comes in a full sized motherboard and case. Specifically, this machine was a platform to test Intel processors before they were released as retail products. As a result, the Xeon CPUs in this server are beta versions of the final product, but they run fine.

Being a server, this machine has all the bells and whistles of a server, but some of the essential features are missing for desktop uses, namely, a PCI-e x16 video slot, built-in sound, etc. It does, however, comes with two gigabit Ethernet ports, SCSI & SATA RAID controllers, 7 hot swappable SCSI bays, redundant power supplies, and 5 fans that when run in server mode, sound like a jetliner taking off; it's deafening.

The biggest problem is the lack of a video card slot. The built-in video has 16 MB of video RAM that's not even enough to display a full resolution screen. To use this server as a desktop machine, the first thing to do is the find a way to install a better video card. This particular motherboard has two PCI-e x8 and one PCI-e x4 slots, and we know that x16 cards will run in x8 slot in reduced speed.

As far as I know, there are no current PCI-e x8 video cards on the market. However, there are adapters available to convert a x8 to x16 slot. This is what I bought. You can buy one of this converter cards from eBay for $0.99, with a $37 shipping charge. The picture below shows what it looks like:

This poses another problem, of course, because now the video card will be half an inch taller. It can't be screwed on the chassis like you would normally. Like everything else, if you want something really bad, you will find a way to get it. In this case it's actually quite simple. Just need spacers and I happened to have left over ones from the college days when we had to build microcontroller projects on prototyping boards. These spacers are available from electronics parts stores. If you live in Toronto, Active Surplus on Queen & Johns have them. The picture below shows the spacers with the video card installed:

Will continue on the next post...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Here's Looking at Ya

Drive By Shooting from car window -- G1 & Kiron 28mm f2. Larger Picture.

I really starting to like the Kiron wide angle fast primes. I have tried the OM mount 24mm f2, which is a great lens, and two 28mm f2 (one FD, and one MD mount). All are great lenses.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yellow Truck

Yellow Truck -- G1 & Cooke Ivotal (T.T.H) 25mm f1.4. Larger Picture.

It's unbelievable how much c-mount lenses have gone up in price, especially those made in England, like Dallmeyer and Cooke. I am glad I have kept a few of them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i - Video

The primary reason I bought this camera was to try the HD video. I am embarrassed to say that I haven't done much with the T2i's video. I did record the swim meet of my kids last week, and I would like to share some experience. If you are expecting to see sample video, sorry. I haven't found any app that allows me to do video easily.

Let me just say that doing video with the T2i (or any DSLR) is not easy at all. It will take a lot of time and practice to get good at. The primary problem is auto focus, and the holding of the camera.

The T2i has auto focus in video mode, same as live view auto focus. For video work, it good as not having it. On average, achieving focus in live view or video takes a few seconds. It's much faster focusing by hand, and for this reason, choosing the right lens can make doing video easier.

For action video, a zoom lens is preferred, for that matter, a push-pull zoom lens is ideal. I tried the twist zoom lenses and it causes the zoom action to be very jerky. The best lens I have found for video is actually the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L. This lens has adjustable friction for push-pull zoom action, and manually focusing is quite easy. The 70-200mm f2.8 is a bit harder to use.

For critical focusing during action, it's very hard to do. For swimming, I was able to manually adjust focus to follow the swimmer, and it didn't turn out too bad.

Another area that affects the video is how the camera is held. Holding it by hand is just asking for trouble. It's tough to hold the camera still, especially for telephoto. Using a tripod or even a monopod will help tremendously.

The T2i has manual exposure control, which is a real plus, as you can adjust ISO, aperture or shutter speed independently. However, for situations where lighting changes often, auto exposure works best.

Video quality -- for the short time I used it, I find that even at ISO 6400 the video looks quite nice. Anything below that, it's fantastic.

I think video with DSLR is best for movie making, where scenes are setup, you can pre-focus, and with fixed lighting, etc. So, don't chuck your video camera for your normal family video just yet!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Blue Bicycle

Blue Bike -- T2i & Kiron 24mm f2.0. Larger Picture.

It's a lot hard to manual focus using the T2i's optical view finder than my 5D, because the view finder on the T2i is noticeably smaller and dimmer. The Live-View is great for manual focus, but it's hard to see in the day light.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Green Umbrellas at The Black Bull

Green Umbrellas -- Canon 5D & Pentacon 29mm f2.8. Larger Picture.

This is probably the 4th copy of the Pentacon 29mm f2.8 lens I have had. The previous three had problems with one area or the other. This particular copy is near mint with original case. Very hard to get something this new, and has no workmanship flaws. I believe there is also a Meyer Optiks version of this lens. Pentacon has a cheaper sister lens, the 30mm f3.5 with pre-set aperture, which I used on the Pentax *ist DL with very good results.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Carl Zeiss Jena 58mm f2 M42 Lens

Unearthed more stuff that I bought from the last camera show. One of them is the Carl Zeiss Jena 58mm f2 in M42 mount (this lens also came in Exakta mount). This lens was a standard lens for one of the early Praktica M42 bodies. The chrome body, after decades of aging, still looks beautiful. The focusing is ok, but the greased has dried up a little and thus is not as smooth focusing as it should be.

The pre-set type aperture of this lens consists of 10-blades, giving an almost circular shape. This should make the out of focus areas a bit more pleasing. This particular lens does not even have the Carl Zeiss name on it, just plain jena. This was common because East Germany was barred from using the Zeiss name, and lens designs such as Sonnar, Biogon, Planar, etc, outside of East Germany, so in order to sell the lenses overseas, they used Carl Zeiss Jena, aus jena, and, T for Tessar, B for Biotar, S for Sonnar, possibly some other designations on the lenses. This lens has jena B 2/58, to indicate that the design was Biotar from Carl Zeiss Jena having a 58mm focal length and f2 maximum aperture.

Most Biotar designs are great performers and this is no exception. It has beautiful bokeh, and is very sharp. I like how this lens renders the pictures. It's one of those lenses that doesn't cost a lot, but gives you much pleasure in return.

Glasses! -- T2i & Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm f2. Larger Picture.

Cubes. The out of focus area is rendered very nicely -- T2i & Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm f2. Larger Picture.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Canon Rebel 550D T2i -- Play Back (Picture Review)

One of the best features of the T2i, is its gorgeous 3 inch 1 million pixel LCD screen at the back. This is the best screen on any Canon camera, to date. Even better than the 1D IV, 5D II. Reviewing pictures or video taken on the screen is a real joy.

Traditionally, Canon used a very small jpeg (about 200k?) file embedded in the RAW file for playbacks. Basically, you are looking at a tiny picture, however many times you enlarge it. For this reason, checking critical focus was a huge problem, because you can not be sure what you are looking at is representative of what the picture is. As late as the 1D Mark III, it was still done this way.

The T2i, surprisingly, seems to use the full resolution of the pictures for review (or a much larger embedded jpeg). You can zoom all the way in, and won't see jagged edges or artifacts of the tiny jpeg that used to be. Only one minor complain -- the image displayed on the LCD seems much sharper than the real image. This is usually not an issue as you can always sharpen the picture later.

Once again, an updated and refined feature that adds really joy in use, to the T2i.

Red Umbrella

Red Umbrella -- 5D & Soligor 70-220mm f3.5 M42 Mount. Rainy & dim day. ISO 3200.

It's funny how things seems to come together sometimes. I now have three copies of the 70-220mm f3.5 lens. Two Soligor (PK & M42 mount) and one Bushnell (OM mount). According to some Chinese Forums I have read, these lenses were made by Tokina and naturally there is a Tokina branded version as well. I believe there are at least three design revisions of this lens. The early version has yellow letterings and the later ones are green. The last design version has the focal length changed to 70-222mm. Never saw one of these, though.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Canon Rebel 550D T2i -- Auto Focus Update

Yesterday I took along the Canon EF 135mm f2L lens with me to try it on the T2i. The 135L is one of my favourite lenses. Light, sharp, fast focusing, and has beautiful bokeh. It's a bit long to be used indoors, even with full frame, but outdoors, this lens really is versatile.

I shot mostly f2.2 to f2.8, just to give it a tad more depth of field, but the 135L can be used wide open without any issues. It's one of the sharpest lenses Canon has made. The T2i handled it extremely well. I am very surprised that this camera is far more accurate than previous Rebels, and even the 20D & 30D. It can obtain critical focus most of the time. Of course, this was done in broad day light. Have not tried the 135L in low light conditions.

I am very happy with the performance of the camera so far. In fact, this little camera grows on you after a while. The light weight, instant response, HD Video, beautiful LCD, fast focusing, and great image quality at low ISO, all combined into one nice package at a bargain price, compared to my original 300D back in 2003.

Ryan -- T2i & EF 135mm f2.0 L @ f2.2.

Dillon -- T2i & EF 135mm f2.0L @ f2.2. Larger Picture.

Oh my ear! -- T2i & EF 135mm f2.0L @ f4. Larger Picture.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Another Beautiful Day in Toronto

Blue sky & sunshine -- Digital Rebel T2i & Leica-R 35mm f2.

The temperature reached 18 degrees Celsius today. It felt like summer, minus its humidity. Took the kids out to the park and beach again, and of course, took more pictures!

Yashica Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7 M42 Lens

Yashica was one of the many camera makers that jumped on the M42 mount (also called the Universal Mount) bandwagon. The Yashica TL series were very popular, though not as much as the Spotmatics. I still have a few Yashica M42 bodies sitting on the shelf, from the meterless J to the TL-Eletro. All these cameras are extremely well made and still work today. They typically came with a 50mm/55mm f2 lens as standard. More expensive models usually came with a faster f1.8 or even f1.7 lens. The TL-Super came with a Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7 lens.

Typical of lenses made in that era, the Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7 was made to last. After decades, the lens still focuses smoothly as butter. The knurled metal focusing ring gives you a sure, positive grip that transmits joy to your fingers on touch. All lettering, including distance scale, aperture value, and infrared mark, is engraved. Some Yashica M42 lenses do not have a M/A switch for manual aperture stop down, but this one does. A chrome inner lens barrel gives a nice accent that complements the two-tone black & silver coloured TL-Super body.

Like most early lenses, this one does not have multi-coating. The lens is very sharp at the centre even at wide apertures, but the corners are not sharp until significantly stopped down. One of the things I like about the Canon T2i, is the live view with 5x/10x magnification. This really improved the focus accuracy. Colour is slightly subdued but lens like this one was designed mainly for black & white film.

Speaking of live view magnification, I thought I should mentioned that the Panasonic G1 (and possibly other G bodies) has a much better implementation. On the G1, when live view magnification is enabled, it goes back to the non-magnified view as soon as the shutter is half pressed. I like this a lot, because it gives you a glimpse of your composition before tripping the shutter. On the Canon, and probably other makes, once the live view magnification is enabled, it stays enabled until the picture is taken, and then it would revert back to normal live view. This gives me a false impression that I am taking a picture of the magnified portion only. I hope Canon would provide an option in the custom function on a later firmware update.

Back to the Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7. In terms of image quality, the lens is a so so performer. It's not bad by any means, but the corners could be better. But, then again, should I be complaining when it gives decent results for a few bucks?

Yashica Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7. Larger Picture.

Megan -- Canon T2i & Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7 @ f2 or f2.8. Larger Picture.

Waiting -- T2i & Yashinon-DX 50mm f1.7. Larger Picture.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Flash Back -- Roll Your Own Film Cartridges

Vintage Film Cartridges from left to right: Canon, Leica, Nikon. Back Leica Cartridge container.

Back in the olden days, way before auto focus, auto wind/rewind, auto aperture, auto think, and everything auto-magic, people actually had to do everything by hand, this included the option to roll your own film cartridges. Why even bother doing it yourself when you can buy ready made ones in the store? Well, film, like everything photographic, was very expensive back then. It was much more economical to buy a bulk can of 200-ft film, and roll it yourself. There is one other advantage to to rolling your own -- longer length (more frames), instead of the standard 12, 24 or 36 exposures.

Almost all manufacturers made a version of the DIY film cartridges. Most look similar and does the thing. The cartridge has a locked door that can be rotated to expose a door where you thread the header of the film, then turn the centre wind-up roller to wind the film into the cartridge. Once you have the desired length, you would then cut the film, and close the door, but leave a film leader outside the cartridge. Voila! A film cartridge read to be inserted into the camera for shooting. I do find the Nikon cartridge has one feature others didn't -- an ISO indicator at the bottom of the cartridge.

While cleaning up some of the junk for my annual photography yard sale, I found some of the "bargains" I bought from the Henry's Outlet Centre, as pictured above. All very interesting from historical point of view, but quite useless today. For the younger people who may not even know such things exist, this might be an interesting fact.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8

Have had this lens for a few years. It was in really bad shape with fungus inside lens when I bought it at a camera show. I had it cleaned and it's been working well, but has to be one of the most ugly looking lens I have, in terms of cosmetics. But hey, beauty is only skin deep, eh?

Haven't used this lens for while, because like many of the manual focus lens I have, the butt of the lens hits the mirror of the 5D (don't remember if it did on the 1Ds or not). The T2i does not have this problem. So, I dusted it off and took it out for a spin. Since I am on vacation, and the kids are having march break, we rode our bikes to the Ashbridges' Bay Beach, to give me a place to take some pictures.

Even after years of being discontinued, the Contax mount Carl Zeiss lenses are still very sought after, because they can be mounted on Canon DSLRs (and 4/3, Micro 4/3, Sigma, etc) with adapters. There are reasons for the big following, and the high prices they still command.

First, the T* multi-coating is one of the best. Flare is usually not the problem. Second, build and material is excellent. All Contax lenses used metal extensively and only the focusing and aperture ring skin is rubber. Third, optical quality is universally acclaimed.

The Distagons are among the most favourites for wide angle shooters. Cult lens such as the Contax Distagon 21mm f2.8, was sold for much more than the original price when new, to as much as $4000, until Zeiss released the new version to fit the Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Universal (M42) mount. Insanity! Other less expensive Distagons, such as the 25mm f2.8, 28mm f2.8 and 35mm f2.8 are also immensely popular. I have used all but the 21mm f2.8, and they are all exceptionally good lenses. Some refer to Zeiss as a disease because it's easy to get addicted and hooked. You can never have just one! I have had my share of this disease, and still have a few of them. It's hard to understand the craziness until you start using them.

My copy of the 35mm f2.8, even though it went through some surgeries, still performs admirably. Extremely sharp with exceptionally high resolving power. It's a perfect lens for high resolution sensors like the 18 MP sensor in T2i and 5D2 (if you can make it focus to infinity without hitting the mirror). Amazing details and definition at infinity, as well as at close range. The colour is also one of the traits that so many love about Zeiss. With digital, this is not really a big deal as with film, but if you start out with nice colour, you won't have to go through hoops to get what you are after.

The only thing I am not happy about, is that when mounted on the T2i, it's no longer a wide angle lens; it's more like a standard lens at 41mm. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable lens to use, and certainly would give lots of satisfaction from the images you create with it.

Not yet the dog days of summer, but a beautiful one -- T2i & Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2.8.

Planning to dig a hole to China -- T2i & Distagon 35mm f2.8. Larger Picture.

Shoes -- T2i & Distagon 35mm f2.8. Larger Picture.

Blue sky but no golden sand. Simulated Velvia effect -- T2i & Distagon 35mm f2.8. Larger Picture.

Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM Update

Ryan -- Canon 5D & Sigma EX 50mm f1.4 @ f1.8.

Though not used heavily, I have used the Sigma 50mm f1.4 lens for a few weeks now. Generally I am very happy with the optical performance of the lens. The focusing is also fine on my copy, on both the 5D and the T2i. Focus is quite and fast (though not as fast as the 50mm f1.2L).

The Good

1. Very pleasing bokeh. This is a good portrait lens at wide apertures, on both full frame and APS-C sensor cameras.

2. Well made. Better built than the Canon 50mm f1.4.

3. Optically excellent. Usable wide open.

4. Comes with effective and good looking hood. It's a $#%#@ $60 CAD accessory for the Canon.

Two negative points

1. The paint, especially on the hood, comes off very easily. I normally set the camera/lens down with the hood, and now there is a line of visible where the hood sits on the surface. If you are baby your stuff, you should be aware of this.

2. Expensive. For a normal 50mm f1.4 lens, it's quite a bit more than the OEM Canon 50mm f1.4, although, the Sigma is a better lens optically as well as better made. Sigma products do not hold the resale value very well traditionally, so keep that in mind if you do change equipment often.

The Hood

The hood I was complaining about? It was all my fault. I am so used to Canon lenses where hoods fit by a light twist. The Sigma needs a considerable more force to twist it until it clicks. I did not turn it hard enough to lock it in place, thus it was very loose. All my fault and I am quite happy with the hood. It's long enough for effective shade. The snuggle fit should protect the lens better should it drop on the hood.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Canon Rebel 550D T2i -- Normal AF vs Live View AF

Did a very brief and unscientific test on normal AF and Live View AF on the T2i. Accuracy seems to have improved quite a bit from previous Digital Rebels that I had used. When I purchased the original 300D, I had to send the camera to Canon for focus calibration twice. Even then, focus was still not very consistent.

From the first day of use, I found the focus on the T2i quite consistent. The test I did today showed that normal focus and Live View focus essentially yields same results. The interesting thing is the exposure is slightly different. Normal AF tend to expose a bit more on the brighter side whereas Live View is slightly more conservative.

Test Setup:
Tripod -- Velbon Carmagne 630 Carbon Fiber
Head -- Acratech Ultimate Ball head (original version)
Lens -- Canon EF 50mm f1.2L
Lighting -- Natural window light
Camera Setting -- Self-timer with mirror lock up enabled, ISO 200
Output -- In-Camera jpeg (RAW +jpeg)

100% crop -- f1.2 normal AF

100% crop -- Live View Focus f1.2

100% crop -- Normal AF f2.0

100% crop -- Live View AF f2.0

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Canon nFD 100mm f4 Macro Samples

So I went crazy last week and bought a bunch of lenses from Henry's Outlet Store, because they were clearing out manual focus lenses. This 100mm f4 macro was one of the many I bought. Before Micro 4/3 cameras came along, Canon FD mount lenses could only be used on old Canon FD mount film bodies, and prices for them were very low. The Micro 4/3 cameras give FD lenses, among others mounts, new life. If you work with telephoto or macro lenses a lot, this is even better because the Micro 4/3 cameras essentially make the focal length 2x longer. So this 100mm f4 macro lens becomes a 200mm lens. The slow f4 maximum aperture is not even a problem, as the Electronic View Finder will just make the view finder brighter to compensate.

The nFD 100mm f4 macro lens (I also have the older FD 100mm f4, which I will try later) is very sharp. Well, there are no bad macro lenses, but some may not perform as well at infinity as at macro. This particular lens is pretty decent at infinity. Too bad I haven't taken any macro shots yet, but a couple of sample below will give you some ideas.

Naked Tree -- Panasonic G1 & Canon nFD 100mm f4 Macro.

Hot Cross Buns -- Panasonic G1 & Canon nFD 100mm f4 Macro.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i -- Auto ISO

Canon came to the Auto ISO game later than most, and the early implementations were not as good as other manufacturers. On the Rebel T2i, it's a lot better, but one annoyance.

The Auto ISO is set to on most of the time on the T2i, and it works very well most of the time, except when you have a long lenses mounted. The reason? The minimum shutter speed is set too low. Often, when a 50mm lens is mounted, the shutter speed is set at 1/60 of a second, and this in some cases are too low when you multiply the focal length by 1.6. It should be around 1/80 to 1/125 of a second to avoid camera shake. Sure, you can use manual mode, but it's not as fast as AV mode, which I use almost exclusively.

Obviously, this can be enhanced by making Auto ISO shift-able. We already have shift-able Program mode, why not implement this in Auto ISO? Allow the shutter speed to be changed while maintaining the same aperture, and thus making the ISO change its value to compensate. This can even be done with a firmware update, but I doubt Canon will do it. Hopefully the next Auto ISO version will have this feature.

While we are on the topic of Auto ISO, as I have already mentioned before, the ISO can be incremented in 1/3 stops. But, this can not be done manually. The ISO can only be changed in full stops. This is puzzling move on Canon's part. Clearly, it's not a pro feature to be able to set ISO in 1/3 stops, as you can do that with the 30D, 40D, 50D, etc.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i VS Panasonic G1

If you are a first time DSLR buyer, you probably have thought about these cameras. They both appeal to first time buyers. Since I have both, I will chime in and give my 2 cents.

First of all, The T2i and the G1 are very capable but are in fact very different cameras. On one hand, the T2i has a traditional SLR design: optical viewfinder with interchangeable lenses; the G1 is an Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) camera. There are advantages and disadvantages to both designs: Optical viewfinder offers real time viewing without delays, but the pentaprism/mirror assembly makes the camera larger. EVIL cameras uses an mini LCD screen inside the camera in place of the optical viewfinder. The benefits are two fold: cheaper to make, and smaller/lighter camera.

Which one is better? As with most things in life, everything has its good and quirks.

Advantage for the T2i over the G1 include:
  • 1080p movie mode -- this is the primary reason I bought the T2i
  • Beautiful 3" 1 million pixel LCD
  • Slightly better image quality, especially in high ISO
  • Focuses faster, especially on tracking focusing
  • Faster frame rate
  • Selection of lenses
Advantage for the G1 over T2i:
  • Swivel LCD screen
  • Electronic Viewfinder (only an advantage if you use manual focus lenses a lot)
  • Smaller and lighter with kit lens
  • Very short lens to sensor register. This means it can take all kinds of manual focus lenses though adapters (an advantage only if you are a fan of manual focus lenses)
  • Less expensive with kit lens.
To me, the only feature that made me buy the G1 was the fact that it can take all sort of manual focus lenses, including some fantastic cine lenses. Small size, swivel screen, etc are not feature I consider deal breakers. If you mainly use auto focus lenses, the Canon has more selections, from 15mm fisheye, 50mm f1.0 exotic, to 1200mm f5.6 super telephoto. On the other hand, if you only want a couple of zoom lenses for travel, the G1 would be an ideal choice, just be warned that the only fast lens Panasonic has for micro 4/3 is the 20mm f1.7. Anything faster (brighter) would have to be manual focus lenses through adapters.

Please keep in mind that these are my opinions. What features you are looking for is probably different than mine.

Side by side from top. The Canon is chunkier. Notice the pentaprism housing. This is what makes the Canon larger.

Side by side -- the Canon is taller but not by much.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Visited Old Friend, and Found Step Brother

So, I went visit an old friend, Henry's Outlet Centre Plus today, on my day off. The Outlet store re-opened today in Mississauga. It's a nice size store about 3 times larger than the old one. Very spacious and open with high ceiling. It does indeed feel less compressed, compared to the old place. Lots of stuff, include new items which were missing from the old store. Only about half of the original sale staff made it to the new store.

Naturally, I could not restrain myself, and bought a whole bunch of lenses. Including one that had been on the shelf in the old store for many years -- the Tokina AT-X 80-200mm f2.8 Contax mount. I was waiting for it to drop to about a $100, but alas, it never did. Today, it was $25! Not that I needed this lens, but I was green with envy when my friend Tony, who bought the same lens in Nikon mount around 1983, for over $700, and that was dollars in 1983! Being a poor student, I could only salivate at an expensive lens like this. Well, 27 years later, I have my copy for $25, in like new condition. LOL!

Also bought a few Canon FD mount lenses, including a 100mm f4 Macro, 35-105mm f3.5, Tokina 24-40mm f2.8 and a Kiron 28mm f2, all for $25 each. What a bargain! I will be trying them on my G1 when time permits.

There is one more lens I bought today at the Outlet store. Last time I wrote about the Bushnell 70-220mm f3.5 lens, I was thinking who made that lens, because Bushnell, like many companies in its time, did not really make their own lens (although its parent, Bausch & Lomb, did make cine lenses and other optics). Well, three weeks later, I found its step brother in M42 mount -- the Soligor 70-220mm f3.5 C/D. Soligor C/D lenses are premium category of lenses, like the Vivitar Series-1. This indicates that the 70-220mm f3.5 should be a pretty good lens. Haven't used this Soligor version yet, but I expect identical performance from both lenses.

Separated at birth? Bushnell 70-220mm f3.5 on the left, and the Soligor 70-220mm f3.5 on the right. Note that Soligor has a rotatable tripod mount, and the Bushnell does not.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i - Low Light Samples

If you read the specs, you will no doubt be impressed with the low light capabilities of the Rebel T2i -- ISO 100-6400 and expandable to ISO 12800 if needed. How does it perform in real life use?

I have said it too many times, the T2i has way too many pixels. As a consequence, it suffers in the low light performance department. The noise reduction system works pretty well removing noise and the jpegs are quite clean, but details are lacking at ISO 800 or higher. Comparing ISO 1600 with the 5D, I prefer the 5D output. The T2i files show much more artifacts and look muddy. The 5D files are cleaner. This sounds wrong, considering that the T2i goes all the way to ISO 12800, and the 5D only goes to ISO 3200. But to me, I wouldn't use the T2i above ISO 800, but I would happily use ISO 1600 or even the 3200 on the 5D.

The high pixel count does have one advantage -- resize the files by half makes them look much better.

BMW Dealership building -- T2i & 50mm f1.2L @ f2.2, ISO 800. Larger Picture.

The Red Rocket at the end of King Street. T2i & 50mm f1.2L @ f2.2.

Ryan -- T2i & EF 50mm f1.2L. ISO 3200. Larger Picture.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i -- Exposure and Focus

Not too much surprise here in terms of focusing. I did some test with AI-Servo tracking mode and took pictures of my son riding his bike. The success rate at tracking a slow moving (~15km/h) bicycle is about 50%. For those that were out of focus, a few were very out of focus, but most are in the vicinity of the focus zone. This is about on par with the 20D and 30D I had before. Interestingly, I got more keepers when using all focus points (automatic focus point selection by the camera) than just using the centre point.

On the other hand, one-shot focus has been very consistent. I dare say more so than the 1D Mark III I used to own. There is still differences between the 5D and the T2i. My 5D is almost always spot on, even at extreme apertures like f1.2 and f1.4. The T2i, when shooting wide open with the Sigma 50mm f1.4 or the Canon 50mm f1.2 lenses, seems to have much less contrast and more green fringing than the 5D. Not really sure if this has to do with the sensor or not. I will do a separate comparisons between the 5D & the T2i in a later article on this topic.

The exposure, though, has been greatly improved over the previous cameras. It's very accurate and tend to give a much more balanced reading, instead of clipped highlights or tend to underexpose. This new 63-zone exposure sensor, which takes colour information into consideration, has tangible benefits over its predecessor. Add to this improvement, the Highlight Optimization feature works very well too, especially when there are shadows on the face. The exposure metering is one area I am really happy about.

I didn't own any Digital Rebels after the XT, both the original 300D & XT had very very small, tunnel like view finders. This incarnation of the Rebel T2i has relatively large viewfinder, which is a real plus when using manual focus lenses. On the whole, it feels nothing like the old Rebel in operation, in terms of speed, features and capabilities. I have not touched on the video yet, as I have yet to get a hang of it. It's one heck of a camera at a bargain price. My original Rebel with kit lens was around $1600 in 2003. The only thing I wish that were different is the sensor. It's got too many pixels and quality is not even as good as the 5D (to me any way, perhaps the RAW converter makes a difference). If you have no better camera to compare to, or you are not as picky as I am, you will be extremely happy with the T2i.

William on his bike -- T2i & Canon EF 200mm f1.8 @ f2.2.

William on his bike -- T2i & Canon EF 200mm f1.8 @ f2.5.

Future Gretzky? -- T2i & EF 200mm f1.8 @ 2.2.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i - More Sample Pictures

The Red Rocket -- T2i & 18-55mm IS kit lens @ f8.

Megan -- Canon T2i & Canon EF 50mm f1.2L @ f1.6.

Played a bit more with DPP. ISO 400 on the T2i is very acceptable. Not that much better than the 5D, if even. I like the image quality better on the 5D overall, but the T2i feels a lot more snappier than the 5D. Everything is faster and more responsive on the Rebel.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Canon Digital Rebel T2i - Fun with the Kit Lens

I think I made a good decision buying the T2i with a kit lens. This lens pairs well with the T2i and the combo is very light and portable. When I hold them in my hands, one word comes to mind: Fun! It's very different feeling in usage when a 50L or 85L lens is mounted on it.

The lens turns out to be quite a good performer. Surprisingly sharp when stopped down a bit, although, as with most entry level lenses, distortion is not well controlled, especially at the wide end. The far edges are actually very respectable. I have included one 100% crop on the satellite picture. This picture was processed in DPP. I played with DPP a bit today and I think I am getting a hang of it. Still not quite used to it yet, but the quality and colour fidelity is much higher from DPP than the in-camera jpeg.

I do wish the range is a bit longer, say 18-85, but then of course there is the EF-S 17-85mm. It will be sufficient for most occasions, though.

Discovered an oddity. The ISO on the T2i can only be manually changed in whole ISOs, like 100, 200, 400, etc. But, if you use Auto ISO, the camera will use ISO 320, 640, etc. Now, why not give us the same thing when we want to control the ISO manually?

I really do like the 18-55mm IS lens. I am actually happy with it. Now only if I can get a hood for it.

Still working on the focus test...

Calling ET -- Canon T2i & EF-S 18-55mm IS lens, f7.1. Please check out the edge crop on the next picture.

100% crop from the picture above at the lower right corner @ f7.1. Larger Picture.

Bird's eye view from a 13th floor downtown building on York Street. T2i & Kit Lens @ f6.3. Larger Picture.

A stroll on Queen & Soho -- T2i & Kit Lens @ f8. Larger Picture.