Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Fish-eye, A Dell Monitor & Wireless Printing


The sexy looking OM-D EM-5, and the Bower 7.5mm Fish-eye


Today I want to tell you about three new gadgets that I've recently acquired. Hit the jump for the full post.

Almost one month ago, B&H made a very attractive discount on the Bower 7.5mm Fish-eye f/3.5 lens for micro four thirds. This discount went viral on the various blogs and forums, and the lens was immediately back-ordered in one day. Back then, the lens retailed for around $300, and B&H offered it for just $200, it was too good to pass, despite not being familiar with focal lengths wider than a 50mm equivalent. It arrived almost a week ago.

In color, to show you how it looks like

But I've never heard about that brand before, what is it?

This brand is of a Korean origin, and it sells under various brand names: Rokinon, Samyang and Bower. They make excellent lenses for several mounts. They make Cine lenses, and they even make fairly good tilt-shift lenses. All of their lenses have three common features, all manual operation, much cheaper than the similar Canon/Nikon counterparts, and they are usually very sharp and very good optically. As for the different brand names for the same lens, they are optically the same, but might be different in cosmetics, and the focus ring rotation direction.

Clicky aperture ring, smooth focus ring and a distance scale


And this one is no exception. I am not attempting to review it here (search the internet and you'll only find raving reviews), but given the price point and the optical performance that I tested for myself, I am very impressed with what I got. Here are my initial impressions:
  • Very solid, metal everything, really impressive.
  • Smaller than what I expected, it is no larger than the Panaleica 25 f/1.4.
  • The aperture and focus rings are very smooth and accurate, feels like a premium product.
  • The focus ring has a very long throw, but it is not a problem since I usually keep it close to infinity.
  • It has a built in hood that protects the lens, and the lens cap attaches to the hood.

Huge lens cap


As for shooting with a fish-eye, this is something totally new to me, and a bit awkward, so I'm still learning. Mic has posted a lot about how he uses a fish-eye or an ultra-wide lens, and this is what mostly got me interested in such lenses. I prefer the look of a fish-eye to an ultra-wide lens, which creates too much distortion at the edges to my liking.

Then there is the concept of de-fishing, I am no expert in the topic, but basically a program can take an image from a fish-eye and de-fish it to get a slightly normal-looking images, which will still be very wide. This might sound like a lot of effort, but fortunately for me, there is a generous user of this lens has created a correction profile for lightroom, which can de-fish an image immediately in lightroom with just two mouse clicks, and it works really well. Check the following example, which is not the best, but enough to illustrate the idea.

Vertical fish-eye view, this was shot through an opening just as wide as the lens body

After de-fishing in lightroom, look at the lower left white car

After a slight crop to get rid of the wooden edges



And to give you an idea how crazy wide the fish-eye lens is, check the image below, and look at the camera's LCD. The lens can see both the outer edges of the lenses in front of the camera, and can see below and above the lens cap.

Extreme wide-angle




Dell S2440L - 24" Monitor

Now to gadget number two, a new monitor that should be delivered by tomorrow. When I built my photo/video editing PC one year ago, I gave my Samsung 19" LCD monitor (max resolution 1600 x 900) to my younger brother, and bought the best 23" monitor I found at the shop back then, it was a LED back-lit Samsung 23" monitor with full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution. I also ordered the X-Rite ColorMunki at the same time to calibrate my screen. I was happy until I started viewing images with gradation in the shadow areas.

Imagine the following, you're viewing an image of a dark grey wall, with a spot-light lighting the center of the image. Normally, you'd expect to see a light spot in the middle, with the light falling off gradually towards the edges, yes? Not on my monitor, it shows you the center light spot, and concentric circles of decreasing brightness as you go toward the edges. It is downright ugly and disconcerting. I didn't know why this happened, my previous 19" LCD monitor didn't show such artifacts. I tried calibration, checking color-depth settings, changing the color settings of the picture viewing programs to no avail. Until I decided to pretend I didn't see it anymore and try to live with what I have.

Until a few days back, I saw a list of 10 cheap things a photographer should consider buying, one of them is the HP 27xi IPS monitor that sells for just $300. I became interested, and one thing led to another, I got to know about TN display panels (which is what my ugly Samsung monitor used), IPS panels, and AMVA panels (which is what my Dell uses). Turns out the TN panels are crap as they can only display 6-bit color, and they are the culprit behind the artifacts I saw.

I started researching the different monitors, and decided that I would buy one of two IPS monitors, either the HP 23xi or the Dell Ultrasharp U2412M. Funny enough, they are not sold anywhere in Egypt. I did everything, I called a zillion companies, the dealers, shipping companies, etc... I found out that I cannot get either monitor except if I bought one abroad, which would cost me at least an extra $150 in shipping and taxes! So I did the next best thing, I checked all the monitors sold in Egypt, sorted them by price (from high to low) to find the best panels directly, and apart from the $1,500 Apple 27" Cinema Display, the Dell you see above was the best one. I checked a few reviews and decided it would be good enough for me. Funny how things work sometimes.



Brother MFC-J825DW

And finally, a multi-function printer. I have always wanted to test printing my images, but never bothered to do it, until I went to a photo lab to print small ID photos of my daughter, and they cost me a relative-fortune to print 12 copies in 15 minutes. And they did it on a cheap inkjet printer with cheap quality. I was cross.

The next day, I went to buy a fairly good inkjet printer for myself, and without checking any of the printer reviews, the sales person convinced me to get this one, turns out it was awarded PC Mag Editor's Choice. Here are the highlights of the printer:
  • 4800 dpi printer, with full cartridges in the box.
  • Can print on CDs and DVDs.
  • Has an external feeder tray.
  • Can print duplex (front and back of paper) without external help.
  • Has a special tray for 4x6 paper.
  • Scanner, copier and fax machine.
  • Wifi connectivity (can even access your facebook, dropbox, picasa, etc... and print directly).
  • Touch 3.3" color LCD.
  • Can print directly from a camera through USB, or using the built-in card reader.
It was an attractive machine to be honest. I have tested a few prints, and despite it not being the best printer out there, I was impressed with the quality of my prints. It took me a few tries to understand how to print good images, turns out that the sharpening we use to view images at large monitors is totally different from what should be done to print something as small as 4x6 or A4.

The most impressive feature in my opinion, is the wifi connectivity. I have the printer away from the computer with just the power cable plugged in, and I can print from far away. What a bless.

Until next time, be safe.