Lens Wish List

December 30th, 2008, 2:32 pm PST by Greg

I have now had my Digital Rebel XT for almost exactly 3 years. As I have said here before, I do most of my shooting with a Sigma 18–50mm f/2.8 and also have a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 that I should get in the habit of using more. I also have a Speedlite 420EX flash, a decent tripod, and a Kingpano head for panoramas. Realistically, I have all the kit I need for most of the shots I’m going to take.

As with every good hobby/money sink, there’s always more stuff to play with. In my “Stupid DSLR Tricks” post, I talked about a lot of that. Every little while, I start thinking about picking up another lens, but it hasn’t happened since the 30mm for various reasons. Here is my wishlist if money suddenly rained into my life (in the order I could see myself spending real money on them):

Lens 1: Super-wide Fisheye, the Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 Circular Fisheye. As far as I can tell, nobody else makes (or perhaps has ever made) a lens this wide. The Flickr pool for this lens will give you an idea just how wacky it is. As you can see from the line on the ground in this shot, it is a genuine 180° fisheye (for an APS-C sensor).

I like taking panoramic pictures, and would use it for that. It would cut my current 40-ish shots down to 6 for a full 360×180° panorama. Every time I think about actually getting this lens, I think about how much joy I get from taking panoramas and come up with a number less than the US$800 you can get one for.

Lens 2: A Long Zoom. I don’t do a lot of nature or long-distance photography. In general, I figure that if I leave nature alone, it’s probably for the best. (Let’s call that “environmentalism”, not “carpetbagging urbanite”.) Still, there are times it would be nice to get closer to the subject. I have no problems with my Sigma lenses, but in this range, I suspect that going on-brand is worth it so I’d go for the Canon 70–200mm f/2.8 IS. If I had anything longer than that, I know I’d never carry it anyway.

At US$1500, I’m not in any danger of picking one of these up any time soon. The f/4 equivalent is only US$950, so that’s a lot more likely to make it into my camera bag in the distant future.

Lens 3: Something Wacky. I would still like to play with a tilt-shift, or bellows, or a Lensbaby as I mentioned in my older post. I haven’t seen that any of those get a cost-to-usefulness ratio within an order of magnitude of what I’d want to actually drop the money.

Maybe I’ll get bored enough to try a DIY bellows thing at some point. How hard could a bellows setup be? Medium format lens from eBay + body cap to connect to camera + some kind of cloth bag or flexible tube to hook them freely together. Hmmm…

Open House Menu

December 21st, 2008, 7:59 pm PST by Kat

So Greg blogged about his camera set-up, and I guess it’s finally time that I blogged about the food that we had at our open house. In typical Kat fashion, I planned for WAY too much food. But, it’s better to have too much than too little! πŸ™‚

So, here’s what we had out: (links to recipes where we can)

Here’s what we had left over:

  • 3 L apple cider
  • 5 lbs beef skewers
  • 3 lbs chicken skewers
  • 2 sides of salmon (which we were going to cook on the BBQ)
  • the makings for 180 mini crab quiche
  • mini sausages
  • 2 medium wheels of brie
  • cream puffs
  • 3 Costco-sized boxes of frozen appetizers (which we bought in case we didn’t have enough food!)

So yeah, I guess we went a little overboard on the amount of food. Greg thinks that for next year we should have twice as much of half as many things. I, on the other hand, like the variety, so I’m thinking we should have the same amount of what we had out. πŸ™‚

* from Greg

A few notes from me…

The beer/cheese/potato soup was nice, but I’ll never make it again in a million years. Because of the melted cheese, it fused to every surface it touched. I washed the slow cooker it was in three times, and Kat still rewashed it because it wasn’t clean.

For the butter tarts, I usually make a double pie shell worth of crust and double the recipe there. This time I doubled again because Kat encouraged me. πŸ™‚

The trifle has to have the best appreciation to effort ratio of any recipe I make. It’s dead easy, and everybody loves it. I use grocery store pound cake and the custard in the sidebar of the recipe (you need 1.5Γ— that recipe). I usually double the recipe (3× the custard) and make a big bowl, because it goes fast.

For the fruit coulis, I use a 600g bag of frozen berries, a little sugar, and cornstarch. Simmer to cook, and mash if the chunks are too big. Add a free-pour of sherry once it has cooled and you have enough for a double recipe.

Time Lapse Movie

December 15th, 2008, 1:32 pm PST by Greg

We had our first (annual?) holiday open house on Saturday. We had a good turnout: thanks to everybody that came. I think the whole thing was a success.

There was food, and Kat has promised she will blog about that sometime soon.

For me, the conversation piece was the camera on a tripod in the corner. It was hooked up to my laptop and taking an image every 30 seconds (then displaying it). The setup was based on somebody else’s instructions on creating a time lapse movie in a similar way.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with these pictures. I thought that a time lapse movie of the party might be cool. I thought it might accidentally capture some good images. What I didn’t realize was that neither Kat or I was going to have a chance to take any pictures anyway, so these were almost the only ones that we would have.

I have gone through the pictures in a cursory way and posted some (along with the few pictures we did take by hand) in our gallery.

I did put the frames together into a time lapse movie (that link is about 24MB; I also did a smaller 12 MB version, or use the direct link to the movie if you’re having plugin problems, or the Facebook version if all else fails).

I’m actually pretty happy with how the movie turned out. I kind of wish I had left the camera running until we had really finished the cleanup that night (with the last frame being lights-out, say), but that didn’t seem as important as actually cleaning stuff up at the time.

Camera Setup

I played with the camera settings for a while before I got it rolling. What I ended up with was the smallest image the camera would take (about 2 MP), my Sigma zoom at 18mm, ISO 1600, auto white balance, auto exposure (most shots were around f/2.8 and 1/30 s), manual focus at about 3 m (depth of field was surprisingly good for the wide aperture), LCD image review off (to save battery).

If I was doing it again, I might lock the white balance and aperture, just to keep everything in the video as consistent as possible.

I swapped out the battery in the camera twice during the day. I’m not totally sure that was necessary, but I didn’t want to take the chance of it running out.

The net result was 1800 exposures in 15 hours: almost as many as I usually take in a year.

Computer Setup

When I had the idea, I thought I was going to have to do some low-level USB hacking, but it turns out gphoto2 will do exactly what I want. The script to start it was this: (gphoto does die occasionally, which is why it’s in the loop)


killall gvfsd-gphoto2 2>/dev/null # kill program hogging the camera
gphoto2 --set-config /main/camera/setcameratime=1 # set time from computer

while true ; do
  killall gvfsd-gphoto2 2>/dev/null
  gphoto2 \
    --set-config flashmode=0 --set-config beep=0 \
    --capture-image --interval ${INTERVAL} --hook-script hook
  sleep ${INTERVAL} # keep going if gphoto dies

And the script “hook” that just bumps the display:

if [ $ACTION = "download" ] ; then
  gqview -r $ARGUMENT # press "f" for full screen

I did have a small problem with gphoto and the Rebel XT which was fixed with a one-line patch. Also, the original instructions above are pretty liberal with the bitrate: I encoded with 1000 and 500 bps for the large and small movies. I also had to crop the frames from the Rebel’s 3:2 aspect ratio to the 4:3 of your average video.