Taking the plunge: Film/Print Photo Scanning

After considerable deliberation, I just ordered a photo scanner. I've done a lot of research and had narrowed my selection to models from Canon and Epson, with the Epson V600 winning out. I was prepared to spend $250.00 to $300.00 for a quality scanner, but I find there is a price gulf between "very good" scanners, which top out below $200.00, and the "great" scanners for which the low end is nearly $600.00.

Maybe later, but not now.EpsonV600.png

My main personal interest is digitizing about 20 years worth of negatives and transparencies. But the main likely business interest I have in a scanner would be to scan original photos (prints) for digital restoration. The former calls for a film/transparency scanner, the latter calls for a flatbed 99% of the time. So, while film scanning is a high priority, from a practical standpoint, I had to eliminate any film-only units from consideration. Fortunately, there are several options on the market that do both, though the film scanning on dual-purpose scanners is reported in most reviews to be at least a small compromise. However, I judged that the Epson V600 film/print scanner gets sufficiently good reviews from multiple sources for both kinds of originals to warrant jumping in with my debit card.

My plan is to scan selected images at an "overkill" resolution (I'm thinking about 6000 pixels on the long dimension, after crop, enough for a 20-inch print at 300dpi), and save a scanner raw file of each with any and all metadata that may be available for each image, which in most cases will only be the date the photo was taken (I filed by date) and any details I noted or can remember about the event that was photographed.

I cheaped out on shipping, so the projected arrival time for the scanner is middle of next week. I look forward to seeing what this baby can do and will share the results here.


Recycle the Shuffle?

In the most recent "Pundit Showdown" on the Macworld podcast, Chris Breen answered a question about what Apple products should be "recycled" by saying that 5 iPod Shuffles should be mashed together and recycled into "a single iPod that would actually be useful." I listened to this through a mist of irony since this podcast was delivered into my ear canal via . . . you guessed it, a 4GB 3rd Gen. iPod Shuffle.My green Shuggle with Skullcandy in-ear buds, shortened cord, and Scosche Tapstick

I commented in this blog three times (here, here, and here) last year on this newest Shuffle before I'd actually handled one, and I didn't comment in the most glowing terms. This is certainly a device that can leave one thinking. . . "Huh?"

But then, for Christmas '09, my wife gave me one. In green. You know what? I love it.

I come not to evangelize for the Shuffle. It appeals to me for very specific reasons that probably aren't applicable to a great many people. I like it because it's small and stays out of my way when I do physical work on my second job that serves to supplement my freelance photography income until the economy stops sucking. I like that it supports multiple playlists, unlike previous Shuffles. It took me a while to make peace with the proprietary headphones, and I thought Voiceover would be cumbersome and difficult to learn. But Voiceover is a breeze, and I soldered my preferred Skullcandy in-ear buds onto the Apple cable, which has been shortened with small rubber bands my wife had on hand for the college cheerleaders she coaches (for pony tails, don'tcha know). It's now the perfect iPod for me. Not for everyone, to be sure, but for me.

The only way to make it better would be to add an FM radio. I don't know if the that's possible in that small a package, but I can dream. (I visuallize a "playlist" of station presets that could be navigated like any other playlist on the Shuffle, similar to the way the original Griffin iTrip worked).

If you're into getting geeky with smart playlists, and aren't picky about being able to select one particular song to play at the slightest whim, (in other words, if you don't need or even particularly want a GUI interface) this could be the iPod for you. I have several podcast smart lists set up in iTunes that make me feel like I program my own radio station. Every time I refresh podcasts and re-sync the Shuffle, a new roster of news programs, tech podcasts, and audio fiction streams out and keeps me sane as I do the brainless work that guarantees me health benefits and that the bills get paid for one more month. With a few clicks of the in-line remote, I can switch to a different flavor of podcast, or to an audiobook, rock'n'roll, classical, or film scores.

Honestly, I wish Apple would go back to a design similar to the previous generation Shuffle. I never liked arm bands or belt clips, and the Nano tended to fall out of my shirt pocket when I bent over, which I do frequently, so the built-in "tie tack" clip shared by 2nd- and 3rd-Gen. designs is an ideal form factor. I'd like the remote control headphones to continue to be an option (controls are handy right next to your jawbone), but I'd like to see Apple put some actual buttons back on the Shuffle so the proprietary headphones aren't required. I have a Scosche Tapstick, which gives the Shuffle buttons anyway, but this is one third party accessory Apple should make obsolete.

I doubt I'm changing Chris Breen's mind, and I'm not trying to. But the Shuffle has it's niche and I hope it continues to evolve.


Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens size specs

I fear I run the risk of sounding like all the iPad prognosticators I grow extremely tired of hearing, but I have a little more data on the upcoming 85mm f/1.4 lens from Sigma.

I was really interested in actual dimensions and weight on this lens for better comparison "on paper" with comparable lenses by Nikon and Canon in terms of handling. In response to a post I made on another forum, I was handed a link to lens specs that do include physical dimensions, but still nothing on weight. Here, we see the Sigma measures 84.7mm in diameter, and 87.6mm in length. Weight is listed as "TBD." One might guess that some materials are still not settled upon with finality, which could affect lens weight.

We can now see the Sigma is somewhat larger than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens (80mm diameter and 72.5mm long) even considering Nikon's dimensions apparently do not include the lens mount flange. And Sigma comes in considerably smaller than Canon's f/1.2 hog, which measures 91.5mm diameter by 84mm long.

This Sigma lens, along with their previously introduced 50mm f/1.4 lens (shown at left), seem targeted to hit Nikon and Canon at points in their lens line where they are weak. Nikon recently introduced an upgraded 50mm f/1.4 lens, and canonrumors.com reports rumblings that Canon is about to follow suit with a 50mm f/1.4 update of their own. Would either company be likely to make a move on this type of lens without non-OEM competition?

How the Sigma lens will compare optically is a completely open question, since virtually nobody, save possibly for a few chosen souls covered by NDA, has shot with one yet. The added bulk of the Sigma compared to the Nikon lens may be explained by the HSM focusing motor, and will very likely be justified by better performance of the AF. The size reduction compared to the Canon offering will also with near certainty be accompanied by improved AF and MF performance at the paltry cost of 1/3 stop of light gathering power. (The f/1.2 max aperture serves Canon better in terms of bragging rights and profit margin than it does users in terms of usable lens aperture.).

While I enjoy and appreciate the faster apertures and (often) better optics of fixed lenses compared to their zoom counterparts, I don't own any right at this time and choose to rent them as needed, as Robert's Distributors in Indianapolis is a readily available source for me. I am normally reticent to go with non-OEM optics but Sigma has my attention with the 50mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.4. It is impressive to me that Sigma is competing directly on lens build quality and performance and not just on price. Their 50mm is actually pricier than Canon's and about the same price as Nikon's. The Sigma 85mm will pleasantly surprise me if it comes in much below $1000.00 US, which would be lower than Canon's price and roughly the same as Nikon.. Whether or not I end up buying one or both of these lenses, I appreciate Sigma's mixing it up in the fixed-length marketplace.


Sigma 85mm f/1.4 update

I heard back today from Sigma on my information request about their upcoming 85mm f/1.4 lens. They told me that can't give more detailed information at this time on precise dimensions and weight of the lens, so I still can't do a direct comparison with the Nikon and Canon equivalents of this lens.

However, they did burst my bubble somewhat by stating this lens will NOT be compatible with a teleconverter. I was salivating a bit at the prospect of a single lens/converter combo that could obviate my need to periodically rent Canon's 85mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2.0. If there were a matching 1.4X teleconverter, this lens could be both a very fast 85mm and a 119mm (which is close enough to 135mm).

Such is life. Hopefully Sigma will change their minds on this and issue a compatible converter, but I will continue to breathe normally in the interim.


Sigma 85mm f/1.4 HSM. Sweet.

Sigma, long a competitor in the pro-sumer zoom lens market, has also shown it is not afraid to mix it up in the higher-end lens market. For several years they have had well-reviewed versions of 70-200mm 2.8 and 24-70mm 2.8 lenses. They have also pushed into fixed-length (see this post on why I hate the term "prime" - except when it's used properly) lens markets with 300mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4 and others. Soon (thought no date was given), their newest entry in their "fast and fixed" line will be the 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens.sigma85_1.4.png

In Sigma parlance, "EX" refers to the special finish and higher build quality on its higher-end products, and DG refers to a lens suitable for full-frame digital and film cameras (as opposed to "DC" lenses, which are only for "crop-sensor" cameras, such as Nikon D300 or Canon EOS 7D, to name a few). HSM refers to focus driven by Hypersonic Motor.

I have multiple times rented the Canon 85mm f/1.2L USM (both the original and the "II" versions) lens for specific occasions when I wanted insanely thin depth of field or was working in ridiculously low light, such as a local college dance group that seems fond of performing in near total darkness. The Canon is a great lens optically, but it handles like a shot put. In addition to being larger and heavier than seems necessary, both manual and autofocus are slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow. The "II" version improved handling compared to the original, but only incrementally. Sigma's new lens is shown here in a photo provided by the company, apparently in Canon mount. Based on the known dimension of the mount flange, this lens appears to by noticeably smaller than Canon's big-ass 85mm, while only being a measly 1/3 stop slower. I would also say it is somewhat more compact than the Nikon 85mm f/1.4.

Way back in the day (late '80's), when I was a Nikon shooter, I owned a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 for a couple of years. This was also a great lens optically, though I could never master getting basketball action shots reliably in focus with it at f/1.4. I may not do a whole lot better with that today, as that is very sparse depth of field. Nikon's current autofocus version of this lens appears to be the same basic design, though it uses the old-style body-driven "screwdriver" type AF rather than the newer, more reliable "hypersonic" style motor. Sigma's new lens will almost certainly be a faster, more accurate, and quieter alternative for Nikon users.

Do I sound like I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this lens for a test drive? Well, yes, I am. While Canon OEM zooms are my bread and butter, I do like a fast fixed-length lens at times for certain purposes, and am not married to Canon glass only. Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 lens is very attractive to me, though I've not sunk the bucks into one yet. It is well-reviewed around the 'net, but for my work, the 50mm is more of a "would be nice" than a "must have." That scale may slide once there is a sustained improvement in the economy.

With it's greater reach, the 85mm could rate as a "must have" for my work, particularly with the aforementioned dance/stage events, and also with high school/college diving and dog agility events, both of which involve fast action under dodgy indoor lighting and usually a ban on electronic flash.

Sigma's press release does not specify if the 85mm is compatible with a 1.4X teleconverter. The lens would almost definitely be a "must have" for me if it was 1.4X-ready, as that would essentially give me a dual-duty lens that would also replace a 135mm f/2.0 lens, which is another lens I rent on a recurring basis for similar events. I have an inquiry in with Sigma at this time. Not surprisingly, information on exact release date and price are not being disclosed at this time, though I was told June is a target for release. I also asked about precise weight and dimensions of the lens for direct comparison with current equivalent Nikon and Canon lenses and if the Sigma 85mm to get a better idea of the handling and flexibility of the Sigma. I am told answers on these questions may come by Monday.

I'll let you know.


She was truly a lady.

091114_Shania.jpgOur neighborhood is poorer as of yesterday with the passing of Shania, a lovely and charming Siberian Husky who shared her two bedroom, two bath, 1 1/2 garage home with my good friend (and best "man" at my wedding) Eileen Cantin.

Eileen writes in an email giving us the news: "Shania was an ambassador in the neighborhood, and a quiet greeter to anyone who came for a visit. She was a sweet companion who was much loved. She will be missed. Together she learned with Eileen after their buddy Silver died that life goes on in wonderful ways and good memories are a special gift."

Included with her message was this photo, which I took this past Saturday as we took a walk in the woods near Shania's home.