Depth of Field Experiments – Parts 2 and 3

You might remember my previous experiments with depth of field - well, with my new camera (and new lenses), I decided to re-run those experiments.

As a refresher, this is the result of my first experiment with trying to control depth of field:

depth of field experiment 2 (wine)

This was taken with my old Canon PowerShot S3 IS camera, with an aperture of f/3.5, an exposure of 1/8th of a second, and a focal length of 25.2mm (equivalent to 159mm in traditional 35mm terms).

In other words, to get this effect, I had to zoom in a bit and set the focus as close as I could to the front bottle of wine. Even so, the bottles in the back, although blurred, were still identifiable. My old camera (like most point & shoot or non-interchangeable lens cameras) was just not capable of creating very shallow depth of field (at least, outside of super-macro mode when focusing on something only an inch away from the lens).

When I got my new camera, one of the first things I did was re-run this experiment.

dof experiment - final result

This was the best I could do with the stock (kit) lens that came with my new camera. This was taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 camera, using a 14-42mm (28-84mm in 35mm terms) f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The aperture was f/3.5 (as in my previous experiment) and the exposure was 1/13th of a second, with a focal length of 42mm (84mm equivalent).

As you can see, the results were pretty much the same as in my original experiment, with perhaps a little bit more background blur, due largely to the fact that my new camera has a larger sensor (and thus, as I’ve mentioned before, the same f-stop number actually means a slightly larger physical aperture).

More recently, however, I got a new, faster lens (that is, one with a larger aperture – meaning, a smaller maximum f-stop number). Specifically, I got a 20mm (40mm equiv.) f/1.7 lens.

Naturally, almost as soon as I got it, I tried re-running my experiment again. (I was in a bit of a hurry though, so I didn’t pull out all my wine bottles; instead I opted for just one.) This was the result:

depth-of-field experiment - take 3

The larger aperture (smaller f-number) of this new lens gives a very, very shallow depth of field, allowing me to completely blur out the background.

This picture was taken at the same place as all the others, but now the background (in particular, the orange & red wall hanging) is much, much more blurred out – almost to the point where you can’t make out what it is.

This last picture’s technical details are: 20mm (40mm equiv.), f/1.7, and 1/50th of a second exposure.

As you can see, with the much larger aperture, I was finally able to achieve that shallow depth of field I’d always wanted.

Even though this new lens has a fixed focal length (a.k.a. it’s a “prime” lens, meaning it can’t zoom at all), it is now my go-to lens, especially for indoors photos. That’s because, in addition to the nice shallow depth of field, the larger aperture also means it lets in more light, which lets me take photos in low light (e.g., indoors) at a faster shutter speed (and also, lower ISO setting) than my other lens or my old camera could.

In the end, all these experiments with depth of field and different lenses (and cameras!) have taught me a lot, and helped me get a “gut feeling” understanding of depth of field and focus and how they relate to one another. (Time will tell whether this actually leads to taking better photos.)

New Year, New Camera

OK, so it’s not quite the new year yet… but it’s close enough. I finally decided to pick up that camera I’d been looking at - a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 – and it arrived yesterday. So even before the battery is finished charging, I’d already started taking comparison pictures. (Why yes, I am a huge geek, why do you ask?)

canon powershot s3 is vs panasonic lumix dmc-g2 - from above

As you can see, the new Lumix DMC-G2 is almost exactly the same size (and weight) as my venerable old PowerShot S3 IS. This is great for me because I don’t need to buy a new camera bag or anything – it fits just fine in the bag I already have. Also, I don’t have to worry about straining my neck while carrying this thing, since it’s almost exactly the same weight as well. A big fancy camera is nice and all, until you have to lug it around all day on your neck.

canon powershot s3 is vs panasonic lumix dmc-g2 - from the rear

Like my old Canon, the Lumix has an electronic viewfinder built-in along with a swivel screen, both of which are features I really like. The Lumix does have a few more buttons on it, but it’s not really that many more.

canon powershot s3 is vs panasonic lumix dmc-g2 - from the front

Here’s a front view of the two cameras side-by-side – old vs. new. I keep the extension tube on the Canon all the time, which is why it looks almost the same size. If it wasn’t attached, the Canon would be much shorter – although when the camera is on, the zoom lens does extend a bit.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2

I opted to buy the “kit” lens to start with – it’s a 14mm-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens (with the 2x crop factor in Micro Four Thirds cameras, this means it’s equivalent to a 28mm-84mm lens on a more traditional SLR camera).

Some people look down at kit lenses, and I can understand why. Since the kit lens is often the first lens you own, you want to use it for everything (it’s often the ONLY lens you own, at least at first), so it needs to be reasonably good at many things… which of course tends to mean that it’s not particularly great at any one thing.

However, I wouldn’t knock this lens – I may not have much experience with interchangeable lenses, but this one seems quite solid, it’s not too heavy, and (so far anyway) the pictures it produces are quite nice and free of noticeable aberrations.

Eventually I’ll want to pick up a so-called “pancake” lens (a fast one – that is, one with a very low maximum f-stop number, meaning a very large maximum aperture) with a fixed focal length, but for now, this lens will do.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2 - back (showing swivel screen)

As I may have mentioned before, the screen on the DMC-G2 is not just a swivel screen, it’s also a touch screen, which is very clever. You can just touch the screen to set the auto-focus point, which is really, really, really easy compared to using the 4-way controller and the menus to move it around.

I doubt I’ll use the touch screen for more than the focusing, though. Most of the other menus are just as easy to get to using the 4-way controller, and that way I don’t have to get the screen dirty.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2 (back view)

One nice thing about this camera compared to my old one is that the eyepiece for the viewfinder sticks out a bit more – this makes it more comfortable to look through, since your nose is not squished up against the back of the camera. Very nice.

my new camera - lumix dmc g2 - left front view (with lens cap off)

For now, I’m leaving the lens hood on, but very soon I’ll pick up some UV filters for the end, and I think I’ll keep them on – I’ve never been a fan of keeping the lens hood on your camera all the time.

Fortunately, some of my old filters can still be used on this camera. My ND-Grad filters, for example, came with 2 mounts and 2 adapter rings, one for a 58mm mount (which is what the extension tube on my old Canon is) and one for a 52mm mount (which is what my new lens uses). I’ll need to get a new UV and polarizing filter though – but fortunately those are not at all expensive. (Which is a good thing, since the “pancake” lens I hope to get uses yet another different mounting size (46mm and 37mm, depending on whether I get a Panasonic or Olympus lens).

One of the things I’ll be doing right away is re-trying my depth of field experiments – I’ll be sure to post pictures from that as soon as I’m done.

Unfortunately it’s winter right now, which means the scenery is somewhat boring, and it hasn’t snowed since that one weird snowfall in October, so there’s no pretty snow to take pictures of either, so for the moment, I must content myself with taking pictures of things indoors. (My rabbits are going to get lots of screen time, I’m sure.)

Anyway, that’s my new camera – I’m quite pleased with it, and I’ll be sure to post more pictures and updates as time goes on!

Finally Time for a New Camera

Panasonic G2 + Konica Hexanon 50/1.7After nearly 5 years of using my venerable old Canon PowerShot S3 IS, I think it’s finally time I took a step up and got a new camera. After much research and thought, I finally decided that the right next step up cameras for me is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2.

This is one of the new Micro Four-Thirds System cameras – also known as “mirrorless interchangeable lens system” cameras, or sometimes “EVIL (electronic viewfinder interchangeable lens)” cameras. (And isn’t that an awesome acronym for a camera system?)

This camera has many of the same features I loved about my old Canon PowerShot S3 IS:

  • Swivel screen
  • Electronic viewfinder that shows a full view of what the sensor sees
  • Good zoom range (based on what lens you use, of course)
  • Decent lens speed (again, based on what lens you use)
  • Almost the same size & weight (without the lens)

And while it misses out on a few other features I really like (side-mounted memory card slot, standard AA batteries), I think I’m willing to give up on those for the ability to switch lenses and get more depth-of-field and better low-light performance. (The battery thing in particular is something I realized I’m just never going to see – so few cameras these days still use standard AA batteries anymore; and especially not any sort of DSLR or interchangeable lens camera.)

On top of all that, this camera is not too terribly expensive – which is something that always bothered me, since there really was a big gap in price between super-zoom cameras (which is what my old PowerShot S3 IS was categorized as) and any sort of entry-level DSLR or EVIL camera. For example, B&H Photo (which is an awesome store, BTW) has this camera (just the body only, no lens) for just $299 at the moment – and that’s not bad!

On the other hand, lenses for micro-four-thirds cameras are still a bit rare and a bit more expensive than their DSLR equivalents, but hopefully that will change with time. (And if not, well, there’s always adapters!)

So, I think I’m going to upgrade to this camera, because I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t get any more out of my old camera in terms of creative options. It’ll be interesting to see how I get along with having to switch lenses – something I’ve (obviously) never had to do before. It’ll also be fun to have a camera with a bigger sensor, and thus a larger possible depth of field.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited! I’ll be sure to post some photos once I get the camera, and maybe even re-do some of my experiments with depth of field for comparison. Should be fun!

(Camera picture by Flickr user senza senso.)